Bye bye crazy beautiful Caribbean

It’s 1 minute past midnight making it the 31st May. We have travelled 1172nm from St Thomas, USVIs. We are plum in the middle of the Gulf Stream taking us north along the coast of Florida, passing Fort Pierce on our port side, some 35nm (63km) away. Our sails are down and we’re motoring as there is no wind but for what that lacks, it’s been made up for in the current. Our boat is motoring at 5kts, a jog on land speed, yet our speed on ground is close on 9kts, a Comrades winner’s speed run. Meaning that the current makes up for the difference, it’s own jog in itself. It’s really cool and slightly disconcerting to think about it’s power.

Gulf Stream welcoming party

When we set off from the USVIs 13 days ago, we had provisioned for 8-10 days at sea non-stop, wanting to clear out the larders and await cheaper food prices on mainland. Who would have thought we would be out for 14 days. Sailing day and night obviously plays havoc with the day-night, day-night routine our bodies are used to, and coupled with a bit of sleep deprivation, it’s hard to remember what happened when and difficult to refer to ‘last night’ when it feels like one long day. The passage gets rolled out into one long elusive timeline intersected with meals and school if I can summon the energy (but always good to keep those hungry brains fed to avoid unruly boredom) and checking weather updates, trimming and changing sails and lots of reading! I have demolished 4 books so far. So the kids have kept updating our sailing days on the calendar so I don’t have to calculate any complicated day counting on my fingers, let alone work what day it is! We surprisingly didn’t get cell phone reception in any parts of the Bahamas so it’s been a great electronic detox and of course dry boat benefits have been felt too.

Scenic setting of one of the Bond Films near Staniel Cay, Bahamas

It was a slow process getting my head around sailing double-handed, only Andrew and I taking turns at the helm for a solid 8-10 days without stopping to rest, literally being ships in the night and never sleeping at the same time. We seriously considered taking on another skipper and even interviewed a great sounding young guy who had worked at Ski Schools and ran the kids clubs at Club Meds, saying he just loved kids and was passionate about teaching them. Well I was sold right there, his sailing competencies suddenly diminishing in priority. But with careful consideration about the inevitable change in boat dynamics that would bring, and Andrew being pretty set on our ability to do this as a family as well as his desire to, I came round and we agreed to handle this challenge on our own. What a great decision that was.

After making a detour stop at Flying Fish Marina on Long Island (true to its name, probably 60 nautical miles long and a quick walk in width) where we anchored outside (having bobbed around until the light of dawn just outside) for protected waters whilst Andrew went up the mast (again!) and near the marina incase we required help, we were on our way to meet up with Alisara on the northern tip. Not to skim over the incredible handiwork from Andrew, he skillfully went up the mast (facilitated by his skillful first mate of course, while she simultaneously mediated a mutiny on board over a Barbie shoe I think it was), discovered the reason why our code zero was refusing to come down (the pulley wheel it rolls over had broken), then detached the top of the affected sail, tied a rope loop around the top, and sent it sliding down the forestay (where our fore sail genoa was rolled up). A genius plan. So we were soon safe to sail again without the risk of the code zero unrolling in parts in rough weather even if we didn’t have great downwind capabilities anymore.

Having detached the top of the code zero, Andrew fed the sail down the forestay. Genius plan!

But never fear, as soon as we got to Calabash Bay to meet up with Alisara, which is now honestly the clearest sea water I’ve ever seen, you can stand on the bow and see your anchor 20m away, Andrew was up the mast again. With a scrappy piece of paper, another sailor to scratch heads with and some sheer determination, the impressive pair had run the halyard (the rope that takes the sail up the mast) up the mast and popped it onto the spare wheel up there. Suddenly we were back in business. Whahoo! And of course, babe, while you’re up there, please take some photos!

Calabash Bay
Calabash Bay on Long Island all to ourselves

From there, Alisara and LodeStar traversed the rest of the Bahamas together. With the lockdown, the islands which are mostly what seems uninhabited for the most part, were eerily quiet. No tourist boats, no liners, no ferries. Just quiet exquisite bays to rest our weary sailor heads. We had some exciting sailing making it through a cut between two islands once Douglas has calculated and recalculated the tides for us to make it, 11 hours in advance. Getting it wrong could mean disaster from rough waters with a serious rip to too shallow. Seemed like there was evidence of a casualty as we went through.

The not so lucky taken out by the cut or a hurricane

But we made the overnight sail and the cut at exactly slack tide into a James Bond set, can see why, and got to visit the swimming pigs of Staniel Cay, have Alice for a sleepover and explore the Thurderball grotto, another Bond scene.

A mushroom shaped rock from the outside, but a quick breath and swim down and under the lip, and you suddenly find yourself in a tagine shaped hollow. Open at the top, damp roots dangling from the roof and an aquarium around you like no other. Probably 40m in diameter. Coral varieties and volume of marine life, it really felt like a Planet Earth episode. And of course, all to ourselves during ‘this time’.

Apparently usually lined up with tourist boats awaiting their turn. Hundreds of Sargent Majors (black and white fish with shades of yellow) swim around you somehow managing to just avoid dart 8 desperate little hands wanting to touch them. The light from the outside shining blue under the water at the entrance makes us feel like we are in an aquarium tank with a solid window.

After countless ‘wows’ and ‘this is just ridiculous’, Hermione and I decided to swim the 1.5km back to the boats instead of taking the dinghy, as exercise as well as to face our shark fears head on. We had three large nurse sharks under our boat. They couldn’t have been less interested but still!

The green stuff seemed to only grow where the piggies relieved themselves in the water – hmmm
Friendly little piggy wiggies
The kids even braved a stroke of the nurse shark as it glided under the tender

From there we headed overnight towards the Berry Islands, another set of remote and wild little chunks of land with deep inland water pools. It didn’t take long for Andrew to Geronimo off the edge into the water, followed closely by Erin, to my surprise and pride, since it was a ~6m drop which of course created a domino effect, none of the party of 8 avoiding the challenge.

Hoffman’s Cay Blue Hole
Braving the jump

After a quick early supper, of tuna! sprouted lentil and cabbage salad, and potatoes we still had left over, our provisions wearing thin, we weighed anchor at 7pm to complete our final stretch to mainland America. Alisara heading directly across the Gulf Stream channel to Palm Beach to meet friends on mainland and ourselves, taking advantage of the current, to get further north. We could have lingered longer but besides our provisions running low (although we always seem to be able to last another week), the bad weather coming in, Andrew needing to get to Megs to assist post shoulder op, we also were not wanting to take advantage of the compromise the Bahamian government had afforded us to stop, rest……and move on! So here I am on night 2 again at sea. Certainly not nearly as scary as night sailing used to be.

There’s a little part of me that feels I haven’t earned my stripes for a non stop passage of 8-10 days but given the choice up front and looking back, it couldn’t have been a better trip. We’re still being nice to each other and we got to see some of the exquisite Bahamas. Perhaps we’ll have to do them properly next season.

For now, we need to sail north of the hurricane belt from an insurance and safety perspective, the upcoming season threatens to be a bad one with two named storms already (Arthur and Bertha) in May which is apparently rare. We’ll find a safe anchorage so that Andrew can fly to San Diego to assist his sister post her rotator cuff operation whilst the girlies and I stay on Lodestar. Thereafter, who knows what’s in store.

Mainland I anticipate will be very different. Swimming won’t be a daily default, we’ll be overwhelmed by the ability to buy and access anything we need in excess (certainly some appeal in that), it’ll be back to big cities and crowds of people and we don’t know what the Covid-19 atmosphere will be. But those are just perceptions.

‘Ok, let’s do it!’ hasn’t let me down so far.

One comment

  1. The scenery is awesome and hard to even think all in such turbulent times! It’s fabulous you’re all experiencing such a a beautiful existence. Love your stories Claudia, giving a perfect picture of the awesome swimming escapades, how the girls are totally confident with all marine life! Looks like Andrew has 3 Mermaids on board!Once again compliments to a brave sea woman, you’ve become an important member of be crew! Now responsible on Night watch’s, something I’ve still to experience!😉 It’s fabulous you are sailing with others, great solidarity within sailing community. Love it!
    Just to let you know, the Mediterranean borders should be cleared on 15/06… Allowing people to start cruising freely again. 💞⛵⛵🙏 Stay safe all and good luck in USA!!!!!!


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