Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Alexander Fuller a.k.a "Ali" has been working for one of the gaming companies here on island for longer than my company has been around, and doesn't get to go out boating as much as he did when we were kids. Back then we were out almost every day either boating or windsurfing. Anyway, the late nights at the office keep him off the water way too much. He was due a holiday in May and decided to come along with me to collect the boat from North Miami Beach. All we had to do was outfit it with all the life jackets and anchors and general safety stuff. Getting bits for the boat in Antigua isn't always easy so we made sure we had everything we needed. The trip was 1350 nautical miles to Antigua and I knew how much open ocean there was going to be too. We got some nice rain jackets too just in case and a few other things. We Antiguans always shop too much when we go to the USA.
I thought about the problems i had in the Dominican Republic on my last trip down from Florida and decided that i would try to make the 350 mile trip from Grand Turk to Puerto Rico skipping the DomRep altogether. I needed more fuel than our tank held so we got 12 5 gallon tanks from Wal-Mart too. Don't u just love Wal-Mart? When buying our GPS (global positioning system) i made sure it was a very good chart plotter and got the chip containing the charts for Florida and the Caribbean. When i go to big boat supply stores i just want one of everything. My mother had urged me to buy a life raft, but i knew that my money was tight and had to decide between the latest EPIRB and the expensive life raft. An EPIRB or Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon sends out a distress signal that allows the beacon to be located by the satellite system and search and rescue aircraft to locate the people, boats and aircraft needing rescue. The one i was looking at was registerable which meant that you send in your info along with your closest family’s contact numbers. When the coast guard first receives the signal they get in touch with your contacts to make sure it’s not a false signal. This also alerts your family of a problem. I had heard too many stories where the end of those stories was "if they had an EPIRB they would be alive today", so i went with the US $1300 EPIRB. After all, if we sank and had the life raft instead of an EPIRB it could be days before anyone knew there was a problem and then where the hell would they start looking. The best option would be to have both, and next time i will.
Ali warned me that this was a holiday for him, and he wanted to 1) Eat well 2) do some fishing and 3) sleep in hotels each night. I knew where all the good fuel ports were from Miami to Antigua and knew that all had hotels and restaurants. I also knew that this boat was way way way faster than the Eco Boat (arawak odyssey), so went over the planned course with Ali who agreed that it looked good. We paid and thanked bob, loaded all the gear into the boat, got 360 gallons of fuel and set off for Chub Key which was gonna be the fist place that we could clear customs and immigration. Just as we were leaving the fuel station, a boat came in and said that they had tried to go out but it was too rough....!!!!! Great! Just GREAT!!!!!!!!
Ali and i had to get back in a week so that he could get back to work, so we were not gonna stay in port unless it truly was bad. Also, if anything was gonna go wrong with the boat, i wanted it to go wrong close to Miami. We left north Miami beach like a bat out of hell going directly into the grey waves. We left much later than we wanted to because the fuel station was having trouble processing my credit card for all that fuel. We were late and I was pushing it pretty hard and the boat was crashing as hard through the Gulf Stream’s nasty waves. Bam Bam Bam Bam CRASH CRASH....after an hour ali said we had to stop for a pee (and cigarette break) and to stretch the sore legs. Bob had told me when i first spoke with him about the boats "you will break your body before you break my boat". I smiled, shook my head and put the three engines back into gear. It got very rough at one stage and we did have to slow down, but we finally arrived into Chub Cay at about 4:50 pm. It had taken us four hours, and as we pulled in the fuel attendant told us that the customs and immigration people had already gone home. The thought of sitting and wasting time in tiny Chub Cay until the next morning when they returned to "clear" us into The Bahamas didn’t sound good to me, so i looked at the charts and decided to make a run for Nassau, New Providence which was another few hours away. We arrived at dark and pulled into a tiny marina on the main stretch on the Nassau side opposite Paradise Island and Atlantis Hotel. Technically we were not allowed to leave the boat until we had cleared customs (as with all countries), but we were tired and Ali had made me promise hotels. Don't tell anyone, but we did check into a nice hotel next door only to return the next morning to clear in and get fuel.
When we were collecting the boat from Bob we met up with Nigel, the owner of Powerboat Adventures on Nassau, who was checking out another boat that was being built. He knew that my engines were brand new and offered me the use of his boat life to do my 10 hour service. He also called his mechanic in Nassau who agreed to do the job for us if we brought the oils and filters. These high tech engines are the most expensive "four stroke" variety which are way more fuel efficient and have way lower emissions than the older models. They need careful maintenance, so we took the boat over to Powerboat Adventures and left it there to get the very important 10 hour break in service done.
Time for a "full english breakfast" which is one of my bro's favorite things in the world.
We got back as the service finished and off we went into the high winds and choppy waters off Nassau. We were on a long run to Long Island passing the beautiful Exumas. It was a long day covering well over 200 miles i think. We were about 20 miles away from the marina and hotel on Long Island when a gear cable came undone. When we stopped for a break out there one of the engines got stuck in neutral. After spending about 45 minutes inside the cramped consol, i figured how to temporarily fix it by jamming it into forward gear and over-riding an electrical control which stopped you from starting it in forward gear. We were on our way again and rushing one more time. Rushing....It is the thing i tell all new boaters to never do. You never should rush when you are out on a boat unless you are in a race. It is dangerous! Anyway, i didn't know the place well and wanted to get in before dark. We finally got in just after sunset and immediately started getting attacked by the most aggressive mosquitoes we had ever seen. Luckily we were met by the hotel mini van who rushed us off to the hotel. We had a lovely shower to wash off 8 hours of salt spray and sunscreen, and headed for the restaurant. We had seen two of the Powerboat Adventures boats in the Marina as well as another fancy powerboat, and remembered hearing Nigel say that his boats were helping a film shoot. At the bar downstairs we saw what it was about......There were actors and crew from the new Disney Pirates Of the Caribbean movie. If you saw the second one then you will remember the scene when they are sword fighting on a beach...., well that was 30 miles from Long Island in the Bahamas. Each day the boats had to transport the crew and actors out to that deserted spot to film. If you see it again check how windy it was!!!!! Windy = Rough!
So the next morning bright and early we set off on a long trip to The Turks and Caicos Islands. We studied the charts that we had and saw that there were several routes. One was shorter and took us outside Long Island into the rough seas which were super rough at that point....too rough. The other zig zagged along Long Island (which didn't get its name by chance) around a few other Bahamian islands and shallow spots. Ahhh yes......shallow spots..hahahahahaha
So we say that the chart said a 6 feet deep sand bank for like 30 miles along our route. We figured we would take this route because it was just too rough outside the island. Anyway, we needed just over 3 feet to be safe and figured that we would not go around the sand bank adding another 15 miles onto our trip. We would go over it.......BIG MISTAKE!!!! DONT RUSH!!!!!
We could see it getting shallower and shallower as the tide dropped, until we finally slowed down and decided to trim up the motors and fish slowly. We only had 2 more miles to go and we would be in deep water on our way to The Turks and Caicos in no time. We started fishing trying to see where it was deepest zig zagging through the very shallow spots on the sand bank. The tide kept dropping and I told Ali to reel the line in as we had more to worry about. I could see nice deep blue water up ahead but there was not a deep enough channel to it. So close and yet so far. We were starting to churn up sand behind the boat too. All of a sudden we were aground. we were only doing about 2 miles per hour so we revved her in reverse and got off, but now where?. We turned off the motors so not to suck up any sand into the intakes and stood up on the front of the boat to see if we could figure out how to get out of this sandy maze. We had to laugh at our situation......the most beautiful colours in the world, great fishing, calm seas clear skies.....but we were in danger. We possibly were stuck for 5 hours until the tides came up. In Antigua we don't have to worry about it because our tided are about 18 inches at a max and even that is in extreme cases. Here it seemed to be 4 feet. Ali jumped over and pushed the front of the boat around to face the 90 degrees off to our right pointing us toward the detour we had opted not to take. If we made it there it could be 12 miles just to get to the blue that was right in front of us on the other side of the sandy shallow spot. The water reached just above his knees. What a joke! We had some nasty white bread, mustard and packed tuna fish. Lunch first, and then we would try for the original detour. Anyway, after lunch we set off in the 3 feet of clear water just above the sand bank and carefully made our way out to what we knew would be a much longer but deeper water trip. After about 10 minutes when it got a little deeper, Ali saw something and told me to look off to our left. There was a 12 inch line on the bottom cutting through the sand and grass going in the direction we wanted to go. Some bigger boat had experienced the same thing but didn't have the luxury of trimming up their motors. They had kept on going cutting a tiny path through the sand bank. We looked at each other and knew that if they had done it then we could too. All we had to do was follow their "dredged" channel very carefully and very slowly. We did and in an hour we were in the deep waters at the bottom (south-east) side of Long Island. Yeee ha! We had a problem now......we were very late and not even half way to Provodinciales. Anyway, we zoomed down past Crooked Island, and then past Acklins Island each time staying on the leeward sides. It was about 5 pm when we got to the end of Acklins Island and i knew we wouldn't make it into The Turks and Caicos until way way after dark. It looked like with the winds and seas that we were now seeing it would be an all night session. Screw that i thought. Let’s get into a safe harbour as close as possible to the Caicos Islands and then set off first thing for "Provo".
Gosh it was rough! Pounding straight into oncoming waves that shook the boat and our bodies, i didn't like it one bit. The sun had now set and we were over 50 miles from Mayaguana Island which would be our last (unscheduled) stop in the Bahamas. The funny thing is that on my first trip down with the Eco Boat, we had also slept in Mayaguana. Both times we arrived at night in the dark into what the charts said was a small harbour protected by a barrier reef. Thank god for the GPS chart plotter. If we didn't have that we would have been just another of the thousands of wrecks across the West Indies. We could hear the waves breaking when we arrived but couldn't see them. We slowly powered into the harbour until it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. Xtreme as we were calling her for the trip, has a nice cabin and we had no choice but to try using it for the first time. There would be no proper hotel for Ali tonight, but we slept like babies with the gentle rocking and nice moonlight that reminded us of camping trips we did as kids. Before going to bed, we had more tuna and white bread with mustard sandwiches. YUM!
This journal entry is getting out of hand huh? A bit long.....so i will end it here for the time being. The pic above was taken by ali when we were beating through the waves on our way to Mayaguana. As you can see....it was rough!