Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bimini to Great Bahama Bank, Bahamas

24.3 nm
Wind: NE 5-10 knots
Seas: 1-2 feet, flat on Bank
Latitude: 25°29.48’N
Longitude: 078°59.89’W
Maximum speed: 5.1 knots
Maximum speed under sail: 4.9 knots
Average speed: 3.7 knots

“A weather window starts only after swells have abated, but when it starts, take the leading edge of it and don’t delay. If you really want to attend one more beach bonfire, or one more dance at the Peace and Plenty, or you already invited the boat next door for cocktails, then enjoy yourself and wait for the next window.” --Bruce Van Sant, The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South

This is advice that we did not take today. This guide, which traces what is called the “thorny path” from Florida to Venezuela, has become our Bible. Evidently it’s everyone’s Bible down here from talking to other cruisers. It’s funny, because before we left I asked for advice on books in an online sailing forum, and one person recommended it. Everyone else jumped on him because Van Sant was too opinionated. “It’s his way or the highway,” someone grumbled.

Let me tell you, though--that’s what you need out here. It’s called the thorny path to windward for a reason, and the reason is that you have to sail 700 miles into the face of the wind. Karl and I are just beginning to wrap our minds around that. That’s why some people recommend the Mexico route, despite the 400-mile passage.

I didn’t even know what trade winds were before we left, nor, I imagine, do you. They are the wind that is sucked into the equatorial zone to fill the void left by the super-heated air that ascends up into the atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere they’re sucked east by the Coriolis Effect and the equatorial current, in the south, they’re sucked west. This means, for all practical purposes, the wind blows east. All the time. East: exactly the direction we need to go. So Bruce tells us how to do that, how to use the wind and the islands and the fronts and the troughs against themselves. He obeys Francis Bacon’s dictum: “Nature, to be commanded, must be understood.”

So that’s our task over the next three months or so, understand nature and bash 700 miles to windward, and to do that we need to be able to wake up in the morning. Not exactly our strong suit, if you are a follower at all of our meanderings. Or if you know me. Or Karl. We especially need to be able to wake up to get out of town on a day when the wind is blowing a lovely five knots out of the northeast and can carry us on a lovely close reach all the way across the Great Bahama Bank where the water is completely flat.

As usual, however, we did not do that. Instead, we stayed up until two in the morning chatting with Adam, of s/v Eve (hardeehar), a single-hander from Brooklyn who pulled into the marina yesterday, and listening in our cockpit to the live zydeco versions of Beatles tunes from the bar on the water next to the marina, and frying up some delicious summer squash and tomato over rice at midnight. So we didn’t leave Bimini until noon and wasted half of a lovely fading cold front. Oh well. We’ll get the hang of it eventually. Either that, or we’ll end up beating into 35-knot trade winds and eight-foot seas for an eternity. I don’t think it’d take very much of that to learn our lesson.

It was still a gorgeous sail. The Great Bahama Bank is a shallow stretch of water that stretches fifty miles from Bimini to the Berry Islands. After we got comfortable with depths of 7-8 feet, we pulled out all our sail and had a lovely gurgling beat at around four knots across the Bank. Sometimes I think Secret sails best on a beat at 5-10 knots. She flies across the water, with the least bit of a tilt sideways, the water burbling past. It was exhilarating.

Even more exhilarating is our anchorage tonight. There’s absolutely nothing out here, so the guidebooks recommend anchoring two miles below the rhumbline to cross the Bank, to put out an anchor light, and hope you don’t get run into by another boat on a night passage. So we’re anchored completely out of sight of land. It’s just us, our little house, and the almost full moon, in the middle of the great wide ocean.

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