We hunkered down between Big Major Spot and Little Major Spot waiting for the forecasted big blow. We arrived on Friday 15 February and were having a pot luck dinner on board Allure on Saturday evening when the squall line of the front hit, with rain showers followed by stronger winds, which had been building throughout the day. Since the prevailing wind (trades) come from the East, the west side of all the Exuma islands are generally in the lee, so this is where most of the anchorages and some marinas are located. Not so safe when the winds blow hard from the west. In fact, nearby Staniel Cay Yacht Club which is totally exposed to the west evacuated their docks before the blow, to the disgruntlement of some mega yachts and larger fishing cruisers. Why anyone would want to stay on an exposed dock during a storm is beyond me. As Saturday progressed more vessels sought shelter behind the Thunderball rock and between the Majors where we were. After saying goodnight after another great pot luck dinner to Ken, Deanna, Claude and Marie and returning to T’ai Chi, we decided to leave our VHF radio on overnight during the blow – just in case.
As it turned out, we heard a nearby boat come on Channel 16 at 3:30 am to say that there was a power boat adrift between the Majors. Steve got our search light out and went up on deck but in the pitch dark night it was hard to see anything other than to verify that we were OK, and so were Allure and La Toison D’or. At 4:00 am, we heard a distress call from a guy who said his anchor had broken and he was on the rocks near us, in Big Rock Cut. At first he failed to identify himself or his boat but through questions from other boaters we quickly ascertained that he was alone on a new 64 foot powerboat called “Off the Grid” and that he was in no imminent danger himself but the boat was aground on the rocks. He was looking for anyone with a tender in the water with a 40 hp motor or better to help pull his stern out so that he could power off the rocks. He kept calling every 5 minutes, sounding more and more desperate.
It was a dark night, with vicious winds and waves and Big Rock Cut has dangerous currents. I just about had to physically restrain Steve from going out to help him in our small, 8 hp dinghy – which would have put him in more danger than the guy on “Off the Grid”. Other boaters made phone calls to try to get help to him and suggested he call BASRA, which he clearly did not want to do. At first light around 6 am he changed his call to a Pan Pan and asked for any dinghy to assist. At this point a cat near us, Alesto, answered that he would go over there in his 15 hp dinghy if someone would accompany him, and Steve volunteered. Shortly after they reached the power boat on the rocks, a couple of people with a 90 hp Boston Whaler (from a large teaching yacht in Big Major Spot, Geronimo) also came over to assist. Between them all they helped the guy get another anchor out and also took our spare anchor over to keep his stern from bashing so much on the rocks.
Others kept making calls and eventually reached the salvage boat at Sampson Cay Marina, who came to assist around 8 am. They really knew what they were doing, and dove the boat to check its position on the rock before directing the operation and pulling him safely off the rocks. Luckily there were no holes in the hull, but the prop was damaged and he was unable to use his motor, so Off the Grid was towed to the still-evacuated Staniel Cay Yacht Club. By this time the wind was clocking to a more favourable position and they agreed to accept him on the dock. Meanwhile, as a thank you for helping him, Off the Grid’s captain gave both Steve and Joe from Alesto each a large bag of mahi mahi from his freezer.
Steve got back to the boat around 8:30 – hungry and tired. He put our anchor back, had some porridge which I had cooked for him, and we both went back to bed for an hour. We spoke to Allure and La Toison D’or and agreed to use the slack tide winder between 12:30 and 1:30 that day to move our boats around to the anchorage on the other side of Big Major Spot which would provide better holding (and less current) and protection as the wind clocked from north-west to north-east during the day.
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