The passage from Key West to West End, Bahamas was fast, but rough. We left Key West on Saturday afternoon. The short term forecast was for southeast winds, 15-20 kts, decreasing to 10-15 and shifting to the south late Saturday, and then south at 10-15 on Sunday, decreasing to 5-10 then increasing again Sunday night to 10-15. Lots of wind changes, but generally a favorable forecast for sailing east then north. The seas were forecast to be 2-4 ft. We got off the fuel dock at 2:30 pm, and decided to head out since we had nothing else to do and we were ready to go offshore (we thought).
The SE winds were more like ESE ( and we never saw S winds), but once we got into deep water we felt committed. There is a channel inside the reef that is fairly wide and carries 25+ feet, but at some point you have to cross out and we didn't want to do that at night, so we opted for the offshore route. Plus, we could get into the Gulf Stream, which sounded like a good idea.
We ended up motorsailing into fairly heavy seas the first 9 hours. Once we started turning northeast, a little past Marathon in the middle Florida Keys, the winds also shifted a little more south, so we cut the motor and sailed, still pretty close to the wind and into fairly heavy swells (4-6), with lots of water coming over the bow and the occasional big splash hitting the dodger. Upside - we were making good time, over 7 kts and sometimes 8. We found the Gulf Stream a little after midnight, and the winds shifted a little more, and we started moving steadily at 8 - 9 kts, occasional 10+. (Note that our boat can only go a little over 7 kts by its own power, unassisted by current, and we figure 5 kts for passage planning, so we were flying!) However, we got hit by a squall around 4:30 am that formed around us for over 5 miles in each direction - nowhere to go, although Dave tried for an hour. Now the winds were out of the NE, which is not favorable in the Gulf Stream that also runs NE (This means that the wind and the waves are opposite each other, making for larger and rougher seas.) We ended up motorsailing with only a reefed main for 4 hours, seeing sustained 30+ kts, gusting to well over 40, and got soaked (upside - it was fresh water).
Once the seas calmed down, around noon or so, the sailing was good until midnight Sunday night when we arrived at West End, Grand Bahama Island. In the meantime, we caught two Pompano Dolphin fish (relatives of the Mahi-Mahi). One got away, and one will be dinner! We were very excited. It was a positive note to an otherwise not so good passage.
To get in to West End, we had to go through an opening, sided by rocks, so we really didn't want to do that in the dark, even though we have good charts, because we had never been here and didn't know exactly where to go once we got in. So, we hove to, drifting southwest at 1.5-2 kts., in a fairly steady motion, but passed constantly by ships on both sides. Around 3:30 am it was squall time again, and when the light came up we turned the motor on, dropped the freshly washed sails and motored to the harbor entrance as the heavy downpour diminished. Upside - all the heavy salt crust washed away, even from the sails. We anchored, showered and ate, squared away the boat a little (raised/unfurled sails to dry them out then covered them, sopped up a little water, etc.) then headed to shore to clear into the country.
There is a marina/resort here in the basin. When they are not full, they will not allow you to anchor and make you take a slip. As it turns out, we need this slip. We need the unlimited fresh water to wash our cushions, pillows, etc., then the docks to spread everything out to dry (and we have a lot to dry!) On this passage, we once again found every leak in our boat. We ended up taking a lot of water on board, much through the unsealed hawse pipes where the anchor chains come into the bow of the boat. Turns out the anchor locker drain is plugged, and the anchor locker filled completely with water until it started spilling under the locker door onto the V-berth (where the boys sleep). We were heeled on a starboard tack for the entire sail, and on Saturday night around 3:30am Chris told us (just as the squall was starting) that there was a puddle of water in his berth. Dave gave him a towel to mop it up, and he said it was a lot of water. Once the squall passed Dave went below to check it out (Nancy was too seasick to go down below), and found his mattress floating in over 4" of water. He bailed it and got most of it up, but the rest of the ride was pretty wet (and Dave didn't figure out about the anchor locker until we were in the marina). So, now we are tied up at Old Bahama Bay marina, washing and drying out the boat, cushions, pillows, books, etc.
On the passage from Key West we covered 232 miles in 33 and one half hours, a really fast clip for us, dodging ship traffic the entire way. We have an AIS (Automatic Identification System, required to be used by large ships) on board that puts all commercial ship traffic on our chartplotter screen, and gives their speed, course, and most importantly, their name and our CPA, or Closest Point of Approach (the closest distance that Liberty and the other vessel will come within, assuming we each maintain the same course and speed). This information is important, as it takes out a lot of guesswork and figuring and we can hail other vessels if the CPA is too close for our comfort. After using the AIS in the Gulf ICW and then in the very busy Straights of Florida, we have come to appreciate this new piece of electronic gear on board.
Our first night out we were approached by a large vessel that seemed to be maintaining an erratic course. It got closer and closer, and Dave started hailing it when it was a couple of miles away on the radar - it didn't have AIS. It ignored his radio calls, and when it was a half mile off and bearing down he got the spotlight out and shined it first at the ship, then at our sail, then at the ship, then back on our sail, and called out "this is the sailing vessel Liberty, with the lit up sail, calling the ship that's about to run me over, please acknowledge immediately". He probably sounded pretty scared too. This time, a quick reply - "this is a US Navy warship, sorry captain, we didn't see you" - this from a ship that can track inbound missiles but couldn't find a sailboat with wire rigging and a radar reflector and both masthead and bow/stern lights on, plus calling on the radio. He was pretty apologetic, and we were pretty upset, so Dave made the last radio call that went unanswered - "the US Air Force wouldn't have gotten so close".
Anyway, that's the passage report, and we are now safe and sound, and warm, in the Bahamas.
"Life is good, mon."
The one headed for the grill!