The Great Bahamas Cruise
by Jim Smith
When last we heard from Jim, he was recuperating from the disappointment of a cancelled delivery from Portland to Hong Kong. Things were looking up when he got the chance to cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas. Or so he thought . . .
After a long flight with Delta, I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale more or less on time. As always, my luggage was among the last on the carousel. In fact, its never been among the first. I suspect the airlines have twenty or so dummy bags they put on so no one is ever the first.
I like a person thats where they say theyll be when they have to meet you. Bob passed this test by being right where he said hed be. We drove to his house and got acquainted on the way. Dinner that evening was at a local Mexican restaurant with his wife, Maria, and daughter Julie.
The next day looked a little overcast and windy, but we put all our gear in the car and drove to the boat. Questra was an Ocean Cruising 40 built by Hinkley. Nicely maintained, with an in-mast furling main and roller-furling jib, she would be no problem for two experienced sailors to take to the Keys and Bahamas.
With the food, ice, and gear stowed, we checked the weather again. The winds were already at 22 knots with more promised. Bob quickly made an executive decision not to leave in deteriorating conditions and we phoned Maria to come rescue us.
The next morning looked equally nasty, so we removed the frozen food from Questra and waited another day. The following day was still pretty blustery, but showed indications of improvement, even if the breeze was still mostly from the south.
Bob thought we could make it to Miami with no problem, even if we had to motor most of the way. We put the food back on Questra and started out. When we cleared the channel from Port Everglades, it was blowing about 20 knots from the South and Southwest.
We got the main out, a simple matter of pressing a switch and tightening the outhaul with a winch. We angled out to the Southeast, under about 2/3rds of the main and about the same of the Genoa.
Wed gone less than two miles when the shackle holding the mainsheet to the traveler came apart. Bob started the engine and held us into the wind while I struggled with securing the main. Fortunately, I found the missing pin from the shackle and stuck it in my pocket. I was still trying to secure the main with a line around a sheet pulley to the traveler when Bob yelled that the engine was overheating so we had to shut it off. Finally, we got the sail under control and installed a new shackle.
With Questra hove to, Bob worked on the engine while I kept an eye out for traffic. Meanwhile, we were being blown north (opposite of where we were headed) at a nice pace. By the time we had everything fixed, we were miles north of Ft. Lauderdale instead of being well on our way to Miami. Bob decided to go back into Ft. Lauderdale and anchor for the night while we rechecked our work on the engine and sail controls. Total distance covered, effectively zero.
The next day, the wind was still against us, so we motor-sailed to Miami. Other than contrary winds, we had no problems and anchored in the upper part of Biscayne Bay for the night. On Thursday, the winds were still from the south, so we mostly motored sailed to Pumpkin Key for the night. It was a revelation to me to find the water so shallow so far out into the bay. With a draft of only five feet, we still drug twice. In two places, there were narrow channels marked with poles and numbered signs. We fortunately had good charts and my Garmin GPS II Plus to guide us.
Bob found a really nice spot and we enjoyed dinner on board anchored amidst nine other boats. The weather cooperated by giving us a glorious sunset over the bay. Friday, the winds finally smiled on us and came in from the west a little. We decided to go down to Rodriguez Key, near the south end of Key Largo.
We motored through a little channel out to the Atlantic Ocean and began sailing south. Around one PM, the wind lightened up, so we unfurled the rest of the mainsail. Bob looked up and said, "Oh No! That was supposed to be next years project!" He was referring to two long rips in the sail. Hed had it resewn recently and had hoped that itd last until next year when he planned to replace it.
We rolled enough of the sail back in until the rips were out of the wind and continued to Rodriguez Key. The Bahamas were now out of the question. No way could we go there with over half the main sail unusable. By late afternoon, we were anchored at Rodriguez Key and prepared a monster dinner. We had a lot of food for the Bahamas, might as well enjoy it.
Originally, Bob thought we might continue to Marathon key and have the sail fixed there. After thinking about it, he realized that we were at the season when everyone was getting sails fixed, and that wed be stuck for at least a week waiting for even a simple repair. So he decided that the best thing would be to return to Ft. Lauderdale and have his regular sailmaker do it. At least we could wait in his very comfortable home.
Naturally, now that we were crippled as far as sailing went, the winds were totally in our favor the next day as we sailed back up to Pumpkin Key. We anchored on the other side this time as the wind was now from the south east.
The next day (Sunday) we enjoyed a really fine sail back up to Miami. Even with an unbalanced sail plan, the Hinkley handled beautifully. Theres something to be said for quality, like "No substitute."
With the wind where we wanted it and the sailing so great, Bob thought we might be able to continue on to Ft. Lauderdale. Hah! When we arrived at Miami, it was still only about noon, but the winds had built up to 25 to 30 mph. With the seas at seven to eight feet, Bob felt that it wouldnt be any fun, and we could stay in Miami for the night.
We anchored in the Miami Marine Stadium and settled down to another pig-out meal. We checked the weather report and it predicted the winds and seas would calm down by morning. We relaxed in the cockpit and spent the evening monitoring the jet ski and bikini activity.
About eight PM, it began looking better and Bob thought the predicted change was arriving earlier than expected. "If this keeps up, maybe well leave tonight and take advantage of the conditions." So about nine-thirty we hauled the anchor and started out. Even with the partial main sail, we had a really beautiful sail up the coast. The lights and sights in that area are something to behold when sailing at night.
We finally reached Bobs slip in Ft. Lauderdale about two AM. We straightened up the boat and collapsed into our bunks. The next morning it poured down rain for about an hour, confirming Bobs decision to sail at night. His wife picked us up around ten AM and we drug our gear and food home again. With the Bahamas out of reach and a possible lengthy wait on a sail repair, I decided not to test Bobs hospitality any longer. With the luck Id been having, I was afraid his roof would collapse or his car would explode. A couple of phone calls got me a flight out of town before any more disasters occurred.--
Beware of any project that starts with the words, "Remove old finish."