Kristen here – Today is Monday 6/15/09. It is currently 4:40 in the morning. I came on watch about 50 minutes ago. Chris is amazing. He stayed up until 4:30 this morning. Tonight has been just like two nights ago, big following waves. This time though, they’re a tad bit bigger. I was hoping we wouldn’t have a repeat of that sail, but I guess not. My teeth are chattering together. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m nervous or cold. Maybe a little bit of both. I hate big waves at night. On a positive note, this time we have our mainsail up. So, now when the boat tries to rock back and forth, the sail pushes against the wind and slows that motion. It makes these seas bearable, and you don’t roll off the bed as much!
A lot has happened since we decided to head into shore yesterday. When I last wrote, we were wrestling with the decision of staying in the Gulf Stream or heading into shore. We took what we thought was the safe route and high tailed it to land. As we traversed the 60 miles we remained glued to our Sirius satellite weather. It tracks and updates the storms about every 10-15 minutes. It shows us the storms direction, rain intensity, speed and lightning strikes. All the good stuff!
This storm was moving fast. Every time it updated it was 3 miles closer. It was a race between us and the storm and the finish line was Ponce De Leon inlet. In one hour it closed half the distance. This was when we were still two hours from the Ponce De Leon inlet. Oh yea, that was the other thing. The guidebook described the inlet as having shifting sandbars, 5-7 knot currents, and it was not to be attempted without local knowledge. It still seemed like a better idea than staying out in the storm. So now we’re about 1 ½ hours out and sport fishers are racing into shore all around us. We tried hailing a couple of them, but they never responded. We thought they might have more knowledge about how storms generally run around there, and how tricky the inlet was.
The funny thing was that during this time, the sky looked fine. It was a beautiful sunny day with not even a hint of bad weather in sight. If we didn’t have the satellite weather, we never would have guessed a storm was coming.
Now we’re about an hour out and thank goodness, the storm has ever so slightly slowed its movement south towards us. I had previously given up most hope of making it in, but now it looked like we had an ever so slight chance. At this time we’re still over 5 miles out, and there are a couple of 20 ft. skiffs out fishing. I thought to myself, “I sure hope they know what’s coming!
By now we were in sight of land, and that fact alone was quite relieving. Chris and I kept running the numbers in our heads. The storm is moving 3 miles every 5 minutes. It’s 27 miles away. That means it will be here in 50 minutes. Then we check our chart plotter which says when we will get to the inlet, 30 -45 minutes it says. It’s going to be really, really close. This is where I turn to God. I’m saying my Hail Marys, singing hymns, and reminding him that I’m a good person. Just a couple more minutes God!
There was nothing to do but wait and see. We prepped the kids for the storm. We were certain at this point that it was going to hit. They were instructed to stay below and not bother us unless it was an emergency. We needed to focus and concentrate. I was not overly nervous, now that we’ve been thought one of these already. The wind was currently calm, so whatever hit us was building upon no wind. This storm however was twice the size of the one that hit us outside of Spanish Wells. We would handle it, we had no choice.
On the way in I started focusing on memorizing the chart of the inlet. I can still remember the configuration. Red buoy on the right, green on left, another red and green and then there’s a red/white on the breakwall. Follow the breakwall till you hit green bouy #7 on the left. Turn to green #9 and anchor behind green #9. Now I didn’t have to worry about losing the chart.
Also on the way in we called the coast guard and SeaTow. The coast guard told us to watch out for funnel clouds and small hail…great! We were hoping they would have info about the storms wind speed. The satellite weather showed the storm moving at 30-50 knots, but with land based wind speed at 10 knots. That just didn’t make sense. Once again we chalked it up to we’ll deal with whatever hits. SeaTow was a much bigger help. They told us that as long as we stayed in the channel, we would be fine with a 6’ draft. They were also the ones who said we could anchor and ride out the storm behind buoy #9. After that bit of relief I almost cried. At least now we knew the inlet was safe. Our destination was now a haven instead of a possible second disaster. Back to focusing on the storm.
The cockpit is cleared, everything is tied down and the kids are below. I can see the buoys leading us to the inlet. It’s our first US buoys in about four months! Then I look to my right and see clouds that are absolutely nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Starting over the inlet and traveling away and to the right is a massive wall of the darkest grey clouds I have ever seen. In front of this was a rolling white cloud. As if the sheer force of the storm was pushing the air so fast that the pressure created this rolling cloud. Power boats are screaming past us at top speed.
Here it comes. You can see the line of wind and rain approaching as we pass the first red buoy on our right. 10…20…35 knots of wind speed register as we pass the second red on the right. Heavy pelting rain starts, and in seconds we are drenched through.
Chris is steering and I stand outside the dodger to spot buoys and tell him where to go. He is driving blind. When the wind and rain are so heavy, you can’t see through our windshield/dodger. I will stay outside with the binoculars until the lightening starts getting close.
Now we’re at the breakwall and the storm is at full force. The lightning and thunder are all around, the rain is pouring. I can see cars lined up on the breakwall, and people standing next to them watching all the boats rushing in. Thankfully I can spot all the charted buoys and even a few extra small buoys that get moved according to shifts in the channel. The lightening starts hitting and I duck under the dodger only occasionally sticking my head out to sight a buoy.
At the end of the breakwass we round buoy #7 and have #9 in sight. I had prepared the anchor earlier, before the lightening started in order to minimize my time exposed on the bow. Chris turned in behind buoy #9 and immediately got pushed by the current. He had to do a quick turn to avoid betting swept into shore. There was only about 2-3 boat lengths between the buoy and the beach. Once he came around again, I heard the words, “Drop anchor!” I dropped, and we didn’t move. We were grounded. The wind was still howling, rain was pelting, and I could see the current waters rushing like a river against our hull. We were heeled at that odd angle that happens when you ground. Oh well, the chart says it’s a weedy bottom and the tide is rising. We’ve made it in and for the most part we’re now safe. I headed straight back under the dodger. I tried several times to go check the anchor line and see if we were lying on it, but every time I poked my head out, the lightening pushed me back in.
We listened to the VHF as we waited and heard all the calls for help. One of them was from a 20 foot skiff caught 8 miles out. There was only one out there that we saw. We passed right by him. Next time I’m going to stop and warn people. We saw multiple coast guard boats leave the harbor. I just hoped everyone was alright.
As we rode out the storm, I watch the bow to make sure the anchor holds. The SeaTow boat drives by and asks if we need help. We tell him we’re grounded and that we’re going to wait for high tide. He is between us and shore and says his depth meter shows 10 feet. I go forward to look at our chain and am surprised to see that it is now fully extended and we are floating. So I’m not sure if the funny tilt was grounding or just opposing wind and current. Either way, the storm was over and we were afloat! YAY!
At this time we decided to re-anchor a bit further away from the beach. We never set our anchor before, so we wanted to make sure we got a good hold. Then, as we were maneuvering to a new spot, Chris proposed going to the marina. We had called and reserved a spot earlier, but gave up on getting there. There was a bridge between us and the marina that closed at 7:00 PM. The SeaTow guy said it was open 24 hours though. There was about ½ hour of light left and I desperately wanted to be tied up to a dock. So I said we should go for it. There was reported shoaling on the way, and the SeaTow guy mentioned a…bump.
We followed the buoys, went under a bascule bridge and took the path that SeaTow suggested. As we approached the marina, there were no signs and it was now dark. I saw an open slip and told Chris to take it. We weren’t even sure if we were at the right marina. “We’ll sort it out in the morning”, I told him. The slip was right there! There was a large trawler and a sailboat next to it, so chances were the depth was OK. We looked around desperately for anyone on their boats or on the dock. Then…people! Three of them appeared on the dock. At 7:30, we were not expecting that at all! “Are you Pelican?” They asked.
Amazingly enough, in our desperation, we choose the exact slip at the exact marina we had called and reserved earlier. They said, “We were wondering if you would show up.” They helped us tie up, introduced themselves, told us to quickly settle in because there was food available but quickly disappearing at the beginning of the dock. WOW! What a welcome! Apparently they were having a little marina pot luck dinner. They welcomed us in as if we were old friends. The rest of the night was spent eating, drinking, telling stories about the Bahamas to eager ears, and making new friends.
That night I dropped into bed fully clothed with shorts, shirt and fleece jacket, and didn’t move until 8:00 the next morning. That morning Chris and Casey took a ride to WalMart that was offered to us the night before. Kaitlin and I took the opportunity to go out to breakfast. We found a place within walking distance that had…WAFFLES! Kaitlin has been wanting real Belgian waffles for months. She was quite excited. When the waffle cam out she ate every last bi8te and begged me to order another for later! We had a wonderful time, just the two of us hanging out. Kaitlin tends to stay below and watch movies when we are on passage. Therefore, we don’t see much of her. Believe it or not, we miss her. This breakfast was a nice opportunity to reuinite.
When we got back to the dock, Chris and Casey were just returning with a cartload of goodies. Chris greeted me with, “Guess what I paid for a case of water?!?” We had been paying $20-$25 in the Bahamas so I guessed $10. “Three dollars!” he excitedly said. Somebody in the Bahamas is making a LOT of money on water. He also got a bag of chips that weren’t all broken from shipping, actual cardboard sleeves of soda (instead of flat open cases), and pop-tarts. Casey got some new shorts that don’t fall down all the time. He said they opened a “whole new world” for him. Now he could run without fear of loosing his shorts! Oh and Chris got me some diet Mountain Dew! I took one sip and was in heaven!
As soon as everything was on board, we started the engine. Or should I say attempted to start the engine. It seems as if our starter issue isn’t quite resolved yet. I then changed the oil and fuel filters, and Chris switched the fuel tanks. We think that the vent on our starboard tank is clogged. When we filled that tank in Old Bahama Bay it kept gysering out of the fill hole, indicating the pressure had nowhere to escape. So with a vented tank and new filters, the engine started right up. Add checking the vent to our to do list!
With our engine started we headed out to the ocean once more. The seas were calm, the sun was shining and there were no storms in sight. During the day yesterday, Casey and I made eggplant parmesan. Before doing that though, we were up top while Chris slept below and Kaitlin watched a movie. We spent several hours of time just hanging out and chatting. N I commented that we would never have that kind of time at home. And, even if we did, we wouldn’t use it to sit around and chat. Being on a boat provides some wonderful, unique opportunities.
Now it is 8:14 AM. The sun has risen and the waves have calmed down just a little bit. Chris talked with Chris Parker who said the wind will die down a bit today. Things are looking good. We’re due to arrive in Charleston around 1 or 2 AM tonight. There are some thunderstorms forecasted for Charleston, but only a 30% chance. Casey is awake and we just spotted a huge sea turtle off the port bow.
There is a clunking noise coming from under my feet every time a large wave hits us from behind. It has been going on for a month or so, but it’s hard to research because it only happens in high seas. I think I’ll use this time to check it out. Keep your fingers crossed!
Now it’s 10:05 AM. I finished checking the noise and found its source. Our autopilot is bolted under the cockpit, through a plate of some sort, then the fiberglass deck, the wood deck and then a metal plate on top of the wood deck in the cockpit. From what I can tell, the plates are rubbing together. I can’t see the movement, but that is where the sound and vibrations are coming from.
As I look out onto the horizon I see nothing but a straight line. This morning there were spikes on the horizon, indicating big waves. I am a bit worried about Casey though. Currently he is singing to the dead flying fish on the deck. He is singing, “Hello there Mr. Dead Fish. How are you doing today?!” I asked if we needed to call the crazy chopper, but he said he was OK for now. The crazy chopper is what we call the coast guard. We watched a show about a single handed around the world sailing race where one of the contestants went crazy. Apparently being out at sea for weeks at a time can drive you mad. HA! They should try just a couple of days with us!
Now it’s 11:04 and I just saw a Mahi Mahi jump out of the water about 20 feet off the side of the boat. That reminds me that I forgot to tell you about our tragic loss. While underway yesterday we caught a huge mackerel. I pulled it in and called for the pliers, my filet knife and…HAY! Where is my cooler top fish cutting table? It was sitting loose on the deck before the storm. Oh…darn! It must’ve blown away in the wind. I never tied it down. So while we were debating how to clean the mackerel without getting blood and guts all over, it jumped off the hook. Decision made! We haven’t put lines out since because we don’t want to stink up the decks. That Mahi Mahi is just taunting me. Either that or it’s looking for its cousins in my freezer!
Now it’s 2:05 PM. Did I mention that passages can get boring? The seas are just about completely flat again. I remember saying to Casey this morning, “Why can’t the seas be high during the day and flat at night?” That would be much easier! We were getting frustrated earlier because we were only going at 4.4 knots. That’s very slow. Usually we go at least 5 knots. When Chris made his scheduled call to Shiver, they said they hit a counter current in this area. This means the water is moving against us and slowing us down. Our speed has slowly been picking up, and now we are back up to 5.5 knots. Oh! And If it wasn’t obvious, Shiver caught up and passed us while we stopped for the storm. They are now only about 8 miles ahead of us. After all this time, we’re practically in the same place!
Right now it’s 2:30 on Tuesday 6/16. We have arrived at Charleston! YAY! I’d be more enthusiastic, but I’m exhausted.