Ahoy from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco Islands, Bahamas!

We are happy to report that we have successfully completed the offshore passage from Morehead City, North Carolina to Green Turtle Cay. We have had, for the most part, fair winds and following seas. We managed to avoid undue seasickness this time which resulted in high spirits of crew. Unable to make a direct approach to the Abacos due to strong north-easterlies for several days which create “rage” conditions off the reefs, making the channels between cays impassable, we travelled about 200 nautical miles out of our way to approach over the Little Bahama Bank at the very west end of the Abaco chain.

Tai Chi fully dressed with ceremonial flags in Green Turtle Cay

We entered the Middle Shoal passage early Tuesday morning, and travelled until sunset  over the calmer waters of the bank, dropping our anchor overnight at Hawksbill Cay near Foxtown on Little Abaco Island. We all slept through the night for the first time in 5 days, and were up before dawn to  leave with the first light to make our final leg (35 nm) to Green Turtle Cay, which we reached at 1:00 pm EST.

Day 157: November 14;
Distance travelled on this leg: 745 NM
plus 320 from Hampton to Morehead City – 1108 NM;
Current Position: 26° 46.67 N; 77° 20.27 W;
Left Morehead City at 04:10 on Nov 9;
Docked at Bluff House Marina, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos at 13:00 on November 14;
Total passage – 6 days, 21 hours and 15 minutes from Hampton to Green Turtle Cay

Tai Chi returns from successful sea trial at Morehead City late in the afternoon

Back to the beginning….The last day at Morehead City was hectic. The fuel polishing truck arrived at 9 am and left mid-afternoon, having cleaned the fuel and blown out the lines as best they could. The engine parts arrived at noon and the mechanic, JJ, returned in the early afternoon to install them, just as the mended foresail was returned by the sail repair guy. The first sea trial with the ‘fixed’ engine was a disaster – the engine failed a few meters from the dock. So back to the engine. My hunch all along (relayed at every opportunity to men who looked at me as if I had grown two heads – I mean a woman with an opinion on the engine – god forbid!) was that there was a problem with the anti-siphon (check) valve from the mid-ship tank. JJ checked this finally and found that it was faulty, cut it out altogether, reconnected the hose, and we took Tai Chi out on a successful sea trial with a working engine.

By this time it was 5 pm. Attempting to put the foresail back on, the halyard jammed. Meanwhile the boat was in total disarray from engine repairs. We ate pizza after dark and put the boat back together. Steve had to go up the mast in the dark to fix the foresail halyard and install a new wind instrument as the old one was faulty. Meanwhile, a companion boat in the Arc Bahamas, “Turbo’s Tub”, had arrived in Morehead City, and we planned to leave together, so we met the crew to discuss latest weather reports and routing and agree on a course. I made another batch of chicken stew for underway dinner, we finally finished repairs, tidied the boat, got her ready for offshore again, and hit the sack at 11 pm. We had set our alarms for 3 am, and left Morehead City, with Turbo’s Tub just behind us, at 4 am in total darkness. The entry channel in the Beaufort Basin looked like a Christmas tree of red and green lights, so we were thankful for modern iPad technology which helped us distinguish the correct route out in the black night.

Gulf stream crossing – Turbo’s Tub disappears behind the swell

We had 25 knots of wind and rough 3 meter seas as we rounded Cape Lookout and entered the Gulf Stream that first afternoon. We could tell by the sudden rise in temperature (air and water) and the current set that we had entered the stream. We had been unduly concerned about the crossing the infamous Gulf Stream, but if anything, conditions were somewhat calmer than the stretch around Cape Lookout. We kept in radio contact with Turbo’s Tub, who had their fishing lines out trolling in the stream that first night. As we exited the Gulf Stream around midnight, conditions calmed down even further.

Steve hoists the gennaker for a great downwind sail on the calmer day

The next day was sunny, calm and pleasant. I put out a fishing line, and the ‘boys’ brought out our gennaker and flew the kite for some lovely downwind sailing until the sun set. They had more success than I did!

The night watches were long tiring. There was not much of a moon, but it was lovely to see the starry, starry night, including a shooting star or two. A flying fish jumped into the boat and hit Paul’s leg on one night watch, giving him a little start when he went to see what hit him and felt the slimy fish in the cockpit.

Sailing through steep seas with reefed main

Sunday was the roughest day – winds built back up to 25-27 knots, gusting to 30, and the seas increased to 3-6 meters.  We took turns hand steering to give “auto” a break as Tai Chi surfed the huge swells with ease. We pulled ahead of Turbo’s Tub and lost radio contact with them. The steep seas towered over the boat at times, and the wild ride, wave slapping and rigging noise made sleep elusive during off-watch sessions. But amazingly, no-one was seasick, and with wind on our tail and following seas, we made good progress on our rhum line, down the 75th longitude, or “Highway 75” as Richard took to calling it.  Cooking was impossible, so I was really thankful that I had prepared several wholesome dinners that just needed re-heating underway. And sadly, no tuna or Mahi Mahi on our trolling line.

Richard enjoying walm weather and calm conditions on the Little Bahama Bank

The strong north-easterlies made a direct approach to Green Turtle Cay through the Nunjack passage impossible, so we angled over to the west end of the Abaco chain to make the approach over the Little Bahama Bank. Once we were on the bank, conditions were calm, the water turned from a deep navy blue to a light turquoise, and it was easy going. We dropped the anchor at sunset near Hawksbill Cay, had dinner and slept through the night for the first time in 4 days, but were underway again at first light for our final approach into Green Turtle Cay.

We took on a couple of hitch-hikers along the way. A small sparrow joined us for the first day out and stayed a little while. On Monday morning we found a large brown booby resting comfortably on our solar panel. He took no notice of us at all, and let us approach closely, but he left some unwelcome gifts on the transom before he flew off. A very discourteous freeloading guest!

Hitch-hiking booby!

We sailed the final leg on Wednesday, close-hauled with plenty of wind. We noticed a large ketch sailboat up on some rocks near Hog Cay as we passed, and then saw another sailboat approaching the Nunjack passage from offshore. Checking our AIS, we saw that it was Galadriel, another boat in our Arc Bahamas fleet. We contacted them by radio and found out that they had lost their motor and auto-pilot, and were making the dangerous passage under sail alone. They were very stressed out, but we saw them pass safely through the passage, and were happy when they were finally safely at anchor in Black Sound, not far from us.

Paul on the helm

We were hugely thankful to have extra crew, Richard and Paul, along for the passage. Neither of them get in the least bit seasick (our main criteria for crew selection). Paul was a true gem – an all around ‘caretaker’, he was always there to help out and support Steve with repairs and tasks, do logbook entries, wash the dishes and even prepare meals if I was not feeling up to it. As our communications officer, he got on the SSB net each day and downloaded daily weather and position reports. He was always up and ready for his watch and helped everyone else keep on schedule, switching watches with me at one stage.

Richard taking a ‘solar’ shower on deck in rough seas

Richard is an adventurer par excellence. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was always willing to go up on deck to move the preventer, check rigging, get sheets unjammed or whatever needed doing, even in steep seas at night. An experienced sailor he was helpful and instructive on sail trim. He proposed course and navigational strategy, and had tons of cool gadgets, including a GoPro video camera. He shot plenty of footage, which we hope to post on the blog in due course.

Spectacular sunrise underway

We all enjoyed special moments – the star-studded night skies, sunsets and sunrises, the closeness of elements when there was nothing else in sight – no other boats or even birds. One day the only living things we saw were flying fish. An ocean liner came within sight on Monday. We checked his course and heading, saw it intersected with ours and hailed the captain on the radio. He was very polite and friendly and offered to change course and cross behind us, which he did.

Docked at Bluff House Marina

After the nightmare trip around Hatteras, this passage was a piece of cake. Pleased as I was to have this experience, the best part for me was still making landfall in the Bahamas. It is sunny and hot here. The beaches here are white, the water an amazing clear turquoise colour. Bluff House has great facilities, including a pool-side bar and the island is good for exploring by golf cart. We celebrated our arrival with a “Tranquil Turtle” cocktail – a pineappley rum punch. I am really ready for some rest and relaxation. Off to the beach now!

View our photo journal for this passage.

Map:

View Tai Chi: Journey 2012 in a larger map