Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wherever the wind takes us

Posted by Scot.  Written Jan. 4, 2014.

Lots of times, when people ask us where we are going, or what our plans are, we respond vaguely.  Often we say something like, “We are heading south, and we’ll see where the wind takes us.”  This isn’t a reflection on our terrible planning skills.  In fact, for those of you that know Sara, if it was possible, she would have every stop for the next several months planned down to the minute (in a good way Winking smile).

In reality, we have been intentionally open to changes in destination in recognition of the number of unknowns involved in a trip like this.  In addition to the unpredictability of the weather, we need to leave room for equipment failure, fatigue, the kid’s needs, and the uncertainty in our own preferences.  Never having travelled long distances by sailboat before, we don’t really know what we like yet.  Do we want to do lots of extended open water passages and night sailing, or are we happier staying close to land and doing day hops?  Would we rather be out in the wild on a deserted beach, or do we want to spend time in cities with culture and amenities?  Are we willing to slog out long days into the wind with heavy weather, or do we want more comfortable, calm downwind sailing?

So far, in the Bahamas, we have seen a lot of empty beaches and deserted places.  Our sailing has been mostly day hops, with a couple of night passages early on.  The weather has been variable, and we have had a few days of upwind grinding, some of which were decidedly unpleasant.

In Dollar Harbour, just off Long Island, we wrestled with most of these issues. Our discussion lead us back to our “wherever the wind takes us” philosophy, and a change in plans.  When we left Georgetown, we were headed for Long Island, which was to be followed by an open crossing to Crooked Island, then Acklins Island, and finally to Inagua.  From there, we were going to head through the Windward Passage, eventually bound for the south coast of Cuba.  For those who don’t want to pull out a map, what this generally means is several days of southeastward sailing, with some long open water passages.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast showed several days of strong winds coming directly from the southeast.  We had experienced some of that just getting into Dollar Harbor, which had taken hours of crashing into big waves from Hog Cay Cut.

So, sitting in the calm of Dollar Harbor, we were looking at spending at least four more days waiting for favourable weather to make our plans work.  Or, we could change our plans.  So that is what we did.
Instead of working our way southeast, into the wind, we decided to head southwest to the isolated chain of tiny islands known as the Jumentos, or Ragged Islands.  We left Dollar Harbour, and had a glorious broad reach back southwest to Water Cay.  As we sailed, and the waves built behind us, causing us to surf down the front of each one, we congratulated ourselves on the decision not to sail into this weather.  Crossing the cut around the north end of Little Water Cay got a bit scary, as the big waves hit the shallow water, and were breaking all around us, and behind us.  For about 20 minutes, it was hard to keep the boat steered straight through the narrow cut.  Wrestling the wheel kept us off the rocks on either side, though, and before long we were sailing south with the protection of the Jumentos keeping us out of the worst of the waves.  We spent the night off the lone pine tree on Flamingo Cay, with a fair bit of swell working it’s way around the island, and keeping the boat rocking all night.

At first light we upped the anchor and worked our way further down, to Buena Vista Cay.  We crossed some big open breaks in the Jumentos, and the waves crashed through making for an uncomfortable morning, but every hour or so brought us behind another small cay, and gave us some relief.  Buena Vista Cay was a beautiful spot, with a huge, deserted beach, and reasonable protection from the waves.

This is not actually the beach at Buena Vista Cay, but this is what it looked like.  I guess they all kind of look like this.
The next morning, though, the wind worked its way south again (just the direction we wanted to go), finding it’s way into our anchorage and rolling the boat around some more, so we motored on to Hog Cay, just north of Duncantown.  As we sailed the weather began to settle and the wind died down for the first time in at least a week.

We pulled into Hog Cay at around 10:30 in the morning, and saw the first sailboats we had seen since leaving Georgetown.  Eight of them, all anchored in the dead still water!  Duncantown is essentially at the bottom end of the Jumentos, and is one of the most southerly points of the Bahamas.  So it is a bit of a collection spot for boats.  From there, a lot of people stay awhile, then turn around and head back north, since to go further south means to enter Cuban waters, which is forbidden territory to Americans.

The bay at Hog Cay, just north of Duncantown.

Most of the Cays in the Jumentos have little trails across them, marked by various bits of garbage that have washed up on shore.  The kids called this one the "Dead Baby Trail."
The trails are also marked by shoes hung in trees.  It is amazing how many shoes wash up on beaches.
We spent the afternoon in Duncantown, with Sara and the kids heading out to explore the beach.  I stayed on the boat, and caught up on work, since this would be our last access to a cell tower for the foreseeable future.  The wind stayed calm, just as forecast, which filled us with hope for a quiet night crossing to the north coast of Cuba!

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