Saturday, February 6, 2016

When sailing is like being born

Sun is pouring through the windows, enticing my eyes with glitter and gleam. That turquoise reflecting upwards, smiling at the sun above. See it! Breathe it, feel it. The palms are the greenest of green, the epitome of nature’s bounty, breeze blowing the tops, heavy with coconuts below, shining, glowing. We’re in the Bahamas. 

It’s not important that we’re anchored near the construction zone of Resort World, tractors, cranes and mountains of man made dunes all around. The point is that the sun is shining, I am not cold, I may even be a tad warm! We’re expecting a huge cold front with it’s signature downpours and high winds tomorrow. But for now, for this moment I am basking in the sunshine promises of the Bahamas that have brought us back for yet another season. Exhale…

But some passages are difficult. Take birth for example. Many would argue that the end result is worth the drama, pain, anguish. But halfway through, both mother and baby are convinced that they’ve never experienced anything worse. That no human should have to endure the sheer hell that is this hours long journey.
Yesterday we were that baby in the birth canal. A 12 hour long voyage where nature not only refused to cooperate, but fought us the whole way. We arrived near screaming, feeling like we’d been hung upside down by our feet and slapped on the ass. And that first night in our new world was not easy. We were shoved and rolled by the swell of the ocean, the raw lack of protection out here, far from the safe womb of Miami’s inshore waters.
Maybe we should have read the signs. 
When we tried to lift anchor and found ourselves utterly stuck, the symbolism knocked me over. And while our windlass groaned and the chain squealed like a pig with it’s leg in a snare, I actually smirked. Some force, perhaps our own complacency had become an active antagonist – we weren’t ready to go. Half an hour later, after much strain on the boat and captain, we pulled up an abandoned anchor and chain. It was someone else’s perilous sea story, but for us it was only the first sign of many. We dropped it with a watery thud and headed out the channel; America spat us unceremoniously out.
Out into the growing waves and building winds. Directly against us. And within an hour the gulf stream was shoving us with the power only mother nature has, north, sideways, and way, way off course. To compensate, we were forced to head further south, into the oncoming everything, and while glasses toppled in the cupboards and cherished family photos fell flat on their faces inside, we came to a near halt, now making headway at under 2 knots. Smash, crash. Groan, slam. The sounds of the day’s toll on Shiloh accosted us. While on the VHF radio, the captains consoled and coerced each other.
“This is insane!”
“Yeah but it’s getting a bit better… maybe”
There were a few times we seriously considered giving up and heading back to the relative calm and safety of the states, but as we all know, once a labour begins, there really is no turning back. We were on this one way trip and at the other side was the other world we needed to reach.

So we held on, salt spray everywhere, waves splashing and slamming the boat, the front windows crying, the crew near crying. We exclaimed with incredulity from time to time how many miles we’d come and yet how many we still had to go. The 40 mile expectation became a 60 mile journey, leaving us no chance to get in the tricky dog-leg river entrance of Bimini during daylight, and realizing that we’d have to anchor offshore for the night, whenever it was we arrived.
When land was in sight, with it’s promise of a calming of both the wild waves and the wind, we were happy. As much as someone in extreme pain can be happy that it might soon end. But it was premature. Our labour was stalled. And so, hours after the darkness had enveloped the ocean and it’s foolish adventurers, we edged forward toward the land and prepared to drop the anchor. But no matter how close we got to land – we could even see the lights of a few cars – the huge swell didn’t dissipate. We were stuck side on to the swell, facing the wind. The result – every few seconds the boat would lunge sideways, and shudder. One hull up then down, and then the other. Over and over. Dishes still slid and slipped, the crew tossed from side to side, to our peril, should we attempt to stand and move without holding on firmly to something…
So we were stuck in the birth canal, thrown around for the night, waiting sleepless for the break of dawn to make our final entrance into this world.
Only, as dawn arrived, it brought with it a monster. A wall of black cloud, billowing forward, approaching like an army of sky ninjas, arm in arm, approaching swiftly from behind us. We took one look, threw t-shirts over sleepless unkempt hair and crusty eyes and started the engines. With wild eyes we pushed Shiloh, so rudely awoken, as fast as she could go, and we rounded the corner, amongst the breaking waves, into the tight channel just as the wind whipped up and the stinging rain hit. 
We made it up the 3 mile channel under the full force of the storm. I could barely see and held my jacket hood against the side of my face, a barricade to the pelting rain and wind.
But we did arrive, into the small anchorage, a dredged out square at the edge of the new resort, protected on three sides by the construction materials, a barge and some new unused chalets. And though the wind still blew, we sat inside and sighed.
It was our birth story. A bit anti-climactic, but ours all the same.
The sun was yet to come. After some homemade soup, some restorative sleep and the chance to awake truly to this new world. The Bahamas! We’ve arrived.


  1. My heart was a lump in my throat reading this! So relieved you are safe...and warm! XO

  2. This sounds oh so like a passage we made to Bimini a few years back, also arriving after dark and having to anchor out in crazy seas. Ugh! Glad you are tucked in and safe. We made it in just ahead of a front also.

  3. 5years ago on our first trip to Bimini we got caught in a storm out of the north and all of a sudden we had 52 knot winds. This was before the new channel was dredged and no way would we be able to enter until the next day. I was terrified! Luckily someone heard us on the radio and we were told to head to Nixon's harbor and anchor there. The north wind and 6 foot seas qpushed us there and an hour later we dropped the anchor and I realized we were going to be okay. That 40 mile trek can be very scary indeed!

  4. Crap. I really wish I hadn't read this before we cross to the Bahamas. :(

  5. Crap. I really wish I hadn't read this before we cross to the Bahamas. :(

  6. A truly long, painful labour. Glad to hear you're safe and sound.

  7. Thanks for your article and sharing your expertise, it's really appreciated. It helped me a lot for what i was searching for. Keep it up.
    Sailing in Greece