Friday, July 31, 2015

'Tis the season - when wind hits the boat

It’s 8am on a Friday morning, Grand Cay at the top tip of the Abacos islands. The tiny harbour is abuzz with fishing boats of all sizes prepping for the day. Americans in neon shirts emblazoned with pictures of regal jumping fish, sipping coffees and supervising local guys with massive carts of ice bags down the docks. The freezers are being loaded, awaiting today’s catch.

Though the sky is uncharacteristically grey and cloud mottled, and there are distant thunderous rumblings, there is no evidence of last night’s mayhem. All is calm. For now.
But this is the hurricane season and squalls are whipping through and can do so at any time.
8 hours ago, night had descended on Grand Cay. We’d just returned to the boat from supper onshore and left the tropical rhythms of the beginnings of a street party behind.
We knew there was rain on the radar and we expected it’s approach.
But what came next can never be expected. A delicate calm gave way to distant thunder. And then we were smashed with a solid wall of wind. The boats in the nearby marina groaned and the vicious wind howled and shoved at us with all it’s might.
JW and I scrambled to get the wind instruments on so we could clock the speed. Immediately adrenaline levels rose. Rain began to pelt us, an assault carried on the wind. The waves below us started to build and rock and slam.
And we stood huddled in the cockpit and watched. And then it happened. The wind was winning and the buildings alongside us were sliding out of view. We were dragging! Behind us only feet away, our buddy boat Alleycat loomed closer by the second.
Engines revved on and up, black smoke billowed out behind us as we pushed forward with all the power Shiloh has. And still we barely moved. I shot a blinking, soak-eyed glance at the wind meter. 45 knots. Slamming. Us. Hard.
I realised in that moment that I had never faced such a force, such an intense, barely manageable emergency. A situation that required more than my full attention, but something extra. Something I found with glee that I had inside me.  
I actually smiled to myself amidst it all, thinking of my earlier whining about insects and anchor watches.

Of course we didn't get a picture last night but here's about what it felt like!

We managed to pull away from the boats and the nearby jetty with 60 feet of rusty chain and a heavy anchor somewhere below us, scraping along the thin sand layer of sand and shale.
As I held the boat as still as possible, turning carefully back and forth so as not to get caught on the side and blown out of control backwards, JW shouted from the bow,
“We need to get this anchor up!”
It was far easier said than done. I blinked the searing water from my eyes and glanced around. All the boats on anchor were careening around as if on ice. We were all skating in circles with little control.
Alleycat had their anchor up and were powering toward the dock with an audience of power boaters jumping and running about and yelling as they approached.
With a near miss of a large pole, they managed to get onto the dock.
We were on our own now out here – time to really focus. I needed to not only hold us at bay from imminent disaster, but actually find and hover over our anchor amidst utter chaos.
The next 15 minutes was an hour. The rain, the wind melted away into insignificance. It was just the prevailing condition and what had to be done was not going to wait.
We got the anchor up and though we were far from out of trouble, I shivered. It was a high.
Some choose bungee jumping; some of us lounge around drinking rum in exotic places awaiting the unknown storm that will require immediate action, skill or blind determination – no panic.
Both are an adrenaline not to be matched. 

The wind dissipated to a mere 30 knots and I held Shiloh still, powering with full force, each engine while JW and Alan on his dinghy below us, pondered and shouted against the weather, where we should try to pull in. It was decided that we could get into the fuel dock.
Al climbed aboard and we ran around grabbing lines and fenders from the locker below while moving past the docked boats and growing audience onshore.
We got close enough, JW jumped from slippery boat to slippery dock and managed to get the bow line tied off. And an immediate calm fell over the world.
We were ‘safe’. IF the dock could hold us and IF the wind stayed at a manageable level and didn’t shoot back up to 45kts or higher.
I don’t know if it was still raining. Was there thunder? Were the waves bashing us against the docks, asking so much from a few inflated fenders? Who knows. Adrenaline is a high maker that alters time and sensation.
30 minutes later I realised I was drenched and peeled my clothes off for a shower.
We spent the night checking the lines as the tide rose and fell, and in between I slept the best sleep I’ve had in ages. I felt alive and secure in the knowledge that nothing is actually secure. That when shit hits the fan, or wind hits the boat, you have to step up and handle it. And that’s when you know you are really alive. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paradise compromised - living the dream with a few glitches

I am blinking wildly at my reflection in the mirror.  Doughy red rimmed eyes stare back at me under a mop of salt caked, matted, sweat soaked, unbrushed hair. My skin is at once shiny and dull, like I’d been having far too much fun with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken in my sleep.
The reality is far more banal. In the three hours of restless sleep I’ve had, I’ve sweat like an Olympic athlete. The heat. The heavy, cotton wool air of a boat cabin in 35 degree Celcius weather, without a breeze.
This annoys me and I frown. Immediately I’ve scared myself. I look like Eileen Wuornos – famous serial killer. Though I’ve only been killing mosquitos. Hundreds and hundreds of mosquitos. It’s becoming the norm these days. 

By day, sunshine interrupted by billowing, encroaching bursts of darkness then thunder and rain. Between, there are flies. Lord of the Flies in number. We start the culling process with a rolled up paper, but it’s futile really. We are no match for the fly swarms of the Bahamas in August.
Approaching storms

Then come the no-see-ums. The tiny, wretched pin pricks of the insect world that have us jumping like somewhere someone is stabbing at our own personal cursed voodoo dolls all day.
We don’t have sufficient netting/screens to keep the mosquitos away, but even the two we do have are no match for no-see-um stealth.
Suddenly, being rocked to and fro by an alarming side swell on the boat, I realise through my haze why I’m awake. I’m lucky to be supported physically by both sides of the tiny head/washroom. Only a few inches each side of me as I grip the edge of the basin. I splash a bit of water on my face and carefully dart up the three steps to the lounge, Shiloh’s main room, to see what’s going on.
It’s 5 am and our drag alarm has started. JW sprinted up immediately to assess.
It’s dark and the wind is howling and as far as we can assess, we are closer to the rocks behind us. The ripping current in the channel where we’ve anchored is fighting the wind and we are caught at a strange angle with waves slapping at the side and setting us a-wobble.
“I’ll have to stay up and watch” says my brave and stoic captain.
“Ok, call me in 30 minutes and we’ll trade off” I say casually and bound back down the stairs to the stifling comfort of my bed. How times have changed. An incident like this in the past would have signaled my adrenaline and I’d be in high anxiety, action mode. Now I am calculating the number of hours of non-quality sleep I’ve had and will have if I manage to get this 30 extra minutes in…
We’d been up til 1:30 trying to kill all mosquitos that had infiltrated the fortress, and preventing any others from entering. It was a team project – I spraying the two mosquito nets we own with poison and JW fitting them to the hatches with duct tape and a bit of imagination. Our little Black & Decker hand vacuum has become our weapon of choice and life saver in insect attack situations. The morning after finds the semi translucent bulbous middle of the device pocked with tiny blood stains and a twitching mass grave of insect matter. It’s disgusting and I want nothing to to with cleaning the aftermath. Not my job!
Turns out the drag alarm must have been a bit confused by all the currents and rocking and we didn’t have to re-anchor.
JW now snores gently down below, trying to make up for lost sleep. The sun is shining and smiling all around us, oblivious to the struggles of the night.
Outside is paradise. An extensive sand bank is forming, as it does every low tide, the turquoise waters slowly ebbing and parting so the snow white sand can take the spotlight for a few hours at a time. It beckons. Swim swim!

The water here is a vibrant and lively ecosystem as well. Stingrays, numerous sharks, pencilfish and thousands of clear gelatinous jelly fish are everywhere. They swim under us, around us, with us even.
One such gelatinous mass nudged me yesterday as we lounged in the shallow waters. I think I jumped the length of a swimming pool and let out a yelp that was heard throughout the Bahamas. Oops.
I admit - we are loving paradise in a selfish way. We’ve left the comforts of civilization, the sounds of blasting music and the bikini clad crowds of the southern Abacos behind, and we are trying to enjoy the remote beauty of these out islands before heading into the whole new world of the USA.
The bikini girls of Southern Abaco party life

We are right there at the top - at Double Breasted Cay

Our hair is unwashed, we wear the same salty clothes, we are feral, living wild. Alleycat caught us a fresh mutton snapper for supper. There is nothing like it. Out here on our own, eating fish from the sea.
But we miss fresh milk and veggies, and who invited all these bloody creatures to paradise???!!!