Time to head south, but heading south from Green Turtle Cay can be tricky because you must go through one of the toughest passages in the Bahamas…..”The Whale.” Even the name is spoken with respect by sailors. There is a sandy shoal that extends from the tip of Treasure Cay on Great Abaco Island to Whale Cay which prevents “deep-draft vessels” (translate that to almost any sailboat) from traveling directly through the Sea of Abaco. Instead they must take the detour out and around Whale Cay into the ocean for a brief time.
Before you consider this trip south, you watch and listen to all the weather reports of the wind and sea conditions for “the whale,” and look for a relatively calm and quiet passage. If a vessel picks the wrong day to go through the whale, it will face a “rage.” That sounds as nasty as it is. A rage is when deep ocean waters are churned up from easterly winds or stormy fronts. These high seas break through the narrow cut between the small islands and force themselves into the shallower waters – angry, churning waves and whitecaps that are not kind to you or your boat. I have heard people talk about seeing “elephants dancing on the horizon,” which is what a rage looks like from a distance, but I’m having trouble with that image ….. elephants??
Sooooo…. On our first trip in the sailboat, we did the Whale Cay passage (had no choice.) We picked a benign day and everything went well. I even had some nice photos of our passage around the whale (Clearing Customs in Green Turtle Cay). Now that we have gone to the “dark side” (a trawler with a 4-foot draft) there is another option, known as “Don’t Rock Passage.” The advantage of this option is that the route is a shorter distance and takes less time. The disadvantage is that this passage is affected by the same conditions as The Whale is – if there are breaking waves on the outside there is likely to be breaking waves on the inside. Not only could it be just a rough in Don’t Rock Passage, but there is the risk of running aground. The weather forecast indicated that the wind and waves would be settling down on Monday. The only other factor would be the tide so that we could go through with plenty of water beneath our keel.
Before we were out of bed that morning, Al pointed out the moon and a star that he could see through the hatch above our heads.
Another early morning and we were up while it was still dark. We planned to leave White Sound at first light shortly after high tide to have as much water as possible under the boat. We promised ourselves that if things did not look good out there we would just come back to Green Turtle.
Things became interesting very quickly and it had nothing to do with a whale or a don’t rock. At about 6:45 am, Al heard a boat named Ambergris on the VHF asking for anyone with an SSB (single side band radio). Ambergris! I recognized the name from a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) on FaceBook. Yes, FaceBook, can you believe it? Al had seen it via Live Aboard Sailors and I had seen a posting by our friends on Magnolia. Ambergris had left Florida the same day we had, December 2nd, and had not been heard from since then. Al quickly responded on the VHF asking Ambergris if he was the missing boat. Brian, single handing on Ambergris, seemed calm and unruffled. Under sail only, he was heading to Marsh Harbor for engine repairs and was hoping someone could get a message to his friends and family that he was ok. Al told him that we did not have an SSB but would be with a boat that did in just a few hours, thinking of Magnolia in Hope Town. With the very last remnant of internet access, I messaged Annette on Magnolia about our contact with Ambergris. It was hours later that we finally heard what happened after that. I’ll let FaceBook tell that part of the story.
It felt really good to be a part of the sailing community and help out in this team effort. Kinda cool. 🙂
Back to our passage. Heading out to the Sea of Abaco, there was a cloud with rainbow colors in the sky, an iridescent cloud. This happens when especially tiny water droplets or small ice crystals individually scatter light.
It wasn’t a great day for this passage, but it was doable. Besides the overcast skies, again, there was a whole lot more bounce in the waters than I expected! Here we go again – 4-5 foot seas coming in from the Whale were rocking and rolling us.
We experienced a near broach at one moment, as a large wave hit us broadside and rolled us over farther than anytime before. Or perhaps it just felt farther because we were up on the flybridge? Al calmly steered this baby through it all, keeping control and holding steady. The drama was short-lived, and not that awful, overall.
Then it was time to go through the shallow water of Don’t Rock Passage. We had researched and studied the route ahead of time, finding several diagrams on the internet that showed the way, as well as our own detailed guides in chart books. Al had the route carefully charted in both the Garmin plotter and on the iPad.
We cautiously maneuvered through the passage, from Sand Bank Cays to the other side, Don’t Rock rock. At least, if we grounded while going slowly it would only be on sand. The depth was at least 5 feet most of the way through with an occasional 4 foot. We churned up a little sand behind us, but never touched bottom. Whew.
Everything was much calmer on the other side, but in tones of grays and blue-grays.
We calmly carried on towards Elbow Cay for another 2 ½ hours.
We are here. Our home away from home for the next month. Or maybe longer……Who knows?