We spent several days waiting out a weather system at our hidey hole by Green Turtle Cay before moving to Great Sale Cay where we would leave for our crossing back to the U.S. We have spent approximately one week in this Green Turtle anchorage during our time in the Bahamas, and we really do love it. We have had it to ourselves every time except for one night, and the protection is superb. Turtles and rays come by every day and we discovered some nice snorkeling on this last stop. However, it was time to go so we sadly waved goodbye until next time.
After many discussions over the past few months, Jeff and I agreed that we were ready to try a multi-night passage. Up to now we had only done two single overnights. We had the awful one down the New Jersey coast, and we had a mostly wind-free 20 hours when we crossed from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay in early February. We had gained a lot of confidence while sailing in all kinds of conditions in the Bahamas, so it was time to push our comfort zone a bit more.
We set up custom weather routing with Chris Parker who is well-known among cruisers for his forecasting. Although we wouldn’t have cell service off shore and we only have an SSB receiver, he would be able to send detailed forecasts through our inReach device. When a good weather window opened up, it was time to go.
Our hope was to go from Great Sale Cay to Georgetown, SC or even Beaufort, NC if the stars aligned, but we agreed that we wouldn’t hesitate to bail out early if we wanted to. That proved to be a very good plan.
We left Great Sale on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. and had good wind for sailing all day. The wind angle was a bit different than forecasted so right away we weren’t going to be able to aim for one of Chris’ suggested waypoints, but we kept chugging along with Bob (our Monitor windvane) steering like a champ.
Once we left the Bahama bank, the sea state became more confused and Jeff started feeling nauseous. This was VERY unusual for him, but he was hanging in there. Around 7:00 p.m. we could see storm clouds approaching with thunder and lightning. We put a reef in the mainsail (something we were planning to do for each overnight anyway), and the storm hit shortly thereafter with the wind dramatically increasing.
Jeff suggested we furl the jib and I suggested that we turn more downwind (the mainsail had a preventer on it). Between the two of us we felt we had a good strategy, so we changed our point of sail to a deep reach and Bob steered us straight as a bullet while the winds hit 35 knots. This was now the heaviest wind we had ever been out in, and talking about it later we laughed to discover that neither of us had wanted to look behind us to see how big the waves were. All we knew was that the wind was blowing the foam off of the top of the waves. However, we were more nervous about the lightning than the conditions. We were on a comfortable point of sail and Bob was amazing.
After twenty minutes or so the storm passed and the wind died for awhile, making for a rolly sea. This did not help Jeff’s nausea, and finally he barfed over the side. We were both hoping one time would take care of it like I experienced on our New Jersey passage, but alas it was not to be. Poor Jeff barfed for the next twelve hours and felt absolutely miserable. I felt awful for him, and was very thankful that I was not also seasick. Both of us out of commission would have been problematic.
Before leaving we had agreed that we would take four hour watches if possible. Despite feeling terrible Jeff was able to do most of his watches, but at some point during the night while he was lying in the cockpit with his arm over his eyes, I decided we needed to adjust our course to try to get a more comfortable ride for him. The wind was around 16-18 knots and the seas were lumpy. Time to try to make this better. I steered us a bit more downwind and the motion improved.
When morning arrived Jeff was starting to feel better, but by now between the course changes for the thunderstorm and to improve the ride, we were well off of the waypoints that Chris had suggested. We decided that Georgetown, SC was not going to happen, let alone Beaufort, NC. A front with some north wind was supposed to be coming through but it was of no concern if we had been on our projected track. As it was, we were worried that it would be a problem where we were, and the last thing we wanted was to be in the Gulf Stream in a north wind. It is no exaggeration to say that boats have been broken in those conditions.
We weren’t going to get a forecast update from Chris until later in the afternoon, and I started feeling very anxious and vulnerable being in the Gulf Stream so much farther south than planned at that point without a current forecast, so we decided to turn west and get out of the Stream as quickly as we could. We could handle north winds as long as we weren’t in the Stream. The wind was light so we fired up the engine and pointed Pegu Club west.
By the end of the day Jeff was feeling completely better (hooray!) and the wind had completely died (boo!). Bob doesn’t work without wind, so this meant hand steering. Yuck. We are now debating buying an electric tillerpilot for these situations. On the bright side, no wind meant the sea was completely flat and it was a gorgeous night. We watched a sliver of moon rise in the sky which was amazing, and the stars were incredible. Finally we could see why people like sailing at night.
When the sun rose we looked at where we were and, knowing we didn’t want to enter any inlets at night, we decided to head for Jacksonville, FL. With the need to get there before sunset and only 5 knots of wind, we continued to motor. I watched a sport fishing boat head toward us before turning away, and decided to increase the throttle to give us a bit more speed. That’s when I discovered that increasing the throttle didn’t give us any additional RPM’s. Hmm. That’s not good.
We turned off the engine and set up Bob. We can use the Monitor in 4-5 knots of wind, and fortunately that’s just we had, so we were able to continue making progress, albeit slowly, while we waited an hour or so for the engine to cool down so Jeff could do some inspecting. Not really sure what to do, he put the throttle linkage through its entire range of motion. We turned on the engine and the problem seemed to be solved, so we continued on.
Two hours later the engine died. Shit. Now what? We set Bob up again (we still had that 4-5 knots of wind), and decided to start with the most obvious first – changing the primary fuel filter. It turned out to be filthy, so after bleeding the engine we started it back up and we were off.
An hour after that, the engine died again. SHIT! Jeff removed the one-hour-old primary fuel filter and it was filthy. Clearly we had bought bad fuel in the Abacos at Orchid Bay Marina in Great Guana Cay. Yes, we put our fuel through a filter before putting it in the tank. And yes, I’m naming the marina so people know not to buy fuel there. We are sure it was their fuel because the engine was running fine until we poured the first jerry jug of diesel in, which came from Orchid Bay Marina.
Rather than continue to go through primary fuel filters, and not wanting to risk having the engine die in a bad spot (like the St. John River inlet), we decided it was time to call TowBoat. By now the wind had picked up to 15 knots and we were able to aim for the inlet on a beam reach, so we let them know our ETA at the inlet.
As the water depths lessened the waves were VERY choppy. TowBoat asked if we could sail into the inlet past the jetties where he would then attach the tow line. If we weren’t wiling to do that he would go ahead and hook up to us, but it would be a lot more risky in those conditions. Fortunately the wind angle meant that we would could enter the inlet downwind, and although the current was against us the wind was strong enough that we could still make 3 knots, so we readily agreed.
I was at the helm and sailed us past the jetties, feeling like a real badass! A few years ago I never would have had the confidence to do that. Heck, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to do it when we cut the dock lines. But now I knew I could do it.
As predicted the sea state was much calmer past the jetties. TowBoat quickly hooked us up and towed us to Beach Marine in Jacksonville Beach, FL, to the south of us. No! We’re trying to go north! Oh well. What are you going to do? 299 nautical miles later, our longest passage ever, we were in a slip at the marina.
Beach Marine actually turned out to be a fantastic stop for us. Everyone was so incredibly nice, particularly our dock neighbor, Jamie. When he heard us discussing how we could go about emptying our fuel tank, he said he had a 12 volt pump that he would be happy to drop off the next morning. He also offered us the use of his dinghy so that we could go to the restaurant across the river. The smell coming from there was incredible, but we were really tired and ended up eating Ramen Noodles for dinner and crashing.
The next morning at 8:00 there was a knock on the hull. As promised, Jamie was there with his pump and hoses that we could use to pump the fuel out of our tank and into our jerry jugs. He also offered us the use of his jerry jugs if we needed them. It was so kind. Everyone that we met there was So. Nice. We agreed that if this is typical of Jacksonville Beach, then it has moved to the top of the list of places to live when we swallow the anchor.
Within a few hours we had the dirty diesel from Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay (can you tell I’m annoyed with them? We paid $6.50/gallon for that crap!) out of the tank, and fresh diesel at less than half of the price from Beach Marine in the tank. We also took a picture of the pump that Jamie had loaned us, and are definitely planning on buying one in case we run into the problem again. It made the task of emptying our fuel tank easy-peasy.
We agreed that while Jeff changed the fuel filters and bled the engine, I would go to Publix and stock up on passage food to get ready for our next offshore hop. Yes, in spite of the seasickness, the thunderstorm, the bad fuel, and our first tow, we weren’t deterred and were going to try again. We checked the weather, contacted Chris Parker telling him that we were going to aim for Georgetown, SC or Beaufort, NC once again, and settled in for a good night sleep before heading out again.
To be continued.