NIGHTMARE in Paradise

Sell the Boat and Fly Home!

It’s been almost 2 years to the date since we had our worst day at sea. A day we have nicknamed, our terrible “10ft sea day”. No time ever before had we been in anything close to what we experienced. There was so much that went into why we found ourselves in those conditions, which I will explain. You need to know that boaters, do not ever wish to find themselves in terrible conditions, but sometimes all things go wrong and you have no choice. So let’s just get to it.

It was October 31st, 2020, we had been having generator trouble since entering the Bahamas October 11th, since then we have recommended and wish we had redundancy when it comes to power. We had no solar and old batteries. Our issue, later we found was a clogged fuel filter that was not on the generator diagnostics, but instead added after and we didn’t know it was there.

Back to October 31st. We carved pumpkins in the beautiful Staniel Cay anchorage of Big Major just off “pig beach”, we couldn’t get the generator to start and a hurricane was coming. Hurricane Epsilon had just passed to the north of us and caused some yucky wind and waves, but Hurricane ETA was very indecisive and had a scattered path, we felt we would be better protected if we could get into a marina and plug in to shore power until we figured out what was wrong with our generator. We absolutely could have stayed put, but without any power, our batteries would die and we would be floating ducks. (Oh, did I mention this was during Covid lockdown, and we were the only boat in the anchorage. For those who have been to this anchorage you know how rare that is, but this was our first experience with cruising the Bahamas, and we felt utterly and hopelessly alone.)

In addition to our generator trouble, hurricanes luming right over us, we also has old batteries that were losing a charge faster than Dale Jr at a Nascar race. The planning, worrying and uncertainty went well into the night. The boys were fast asleep and the weather predictions for the next week lit up our phones like New Years fireworks. We knew we didn’t have any good weather window to get to a marina, and the marina a few hundred yards from us in Staniel Cay was #1 not accepting boats due to the pending hurricane and #2 it was beyond out of our price range. The closest marina we could afford was in Georgetown, a good 8 hour cruise for us from where we were. With the batteries edging closer and closer to being completely and utterly unusable we decided to start the engines and leave them running while we got a small bit of rest and leave the anchorage in the middle of the night, praying for calmer water and hitting Gallot Cut at slack tide. (If you know cuts in the Exumas, they can be treacherous, causing what is known as a “rage”, or wall of water slamming into your boat and causing very uncomfortable and many times dangerous conditions, which is exactly what we encountered.. but don’t let me get too far ahead)

It’s 4am now on November 1st, our engines have been running for a few hours while we took turns on watch, alternating checking the gauges and trying to get some rest. The clouds were overhead while pulling anchor, which gave a feeling of utter darkness, there was no other boats to maneuver around which was good, but also we had to rely 100% on our navigation to get through the shallows of the bank and cuts. All was going okay, all things considered, until we got to Gallot Cut. … The sun was just peering over the horizon when we saw the cut, which would have been magical if we didn’t learn in that moment what a “rage” was.

Let me backup for 1 moment and explain our route in a bit more depth. We were cruising on the west side of the Exumas where the depths vary between 5 and 20ft, causing a much more calm condition and protection from the east winds. However, we couldn’t continue on the west side for much longer due to the shallow shoels in the more southern parts of the Exumas, we would also need to enter the marina in Georgetown from the east side of the islands. We read all about routes and the best most comfortable routes all said Gallot Cut would be the widest, most easy to traverse route to get on the east side of the island chain. The downside was there was no protection now from the wide open ocean and waves tossed out from these 2 opposing hurricanes fighting for power in the Atlantic.

So here we are, back at the sun rising and we are now turning into Gallot Cut, the first experience we will have ever had learning first hand what a “rage” is. The winds, current and tides all matter. Anything in opposition could cause the water to stack up higher and bigger along with the depth coming up to the shallow bank. We quickly noticed this would need full focus and attention. We hoped it was simply a rage through the cut and things would calm down. However, that is not what happened.

We were 4 hours into our passage for the day and just experienced a rage, that we did not like at all. It was only then that things went from bad to worse. The farther out we went, away from shore things did not calm down. Infact, they just got worse and worse. The 4 to 6ft rage began to double over the next few minutes. The ocean was white capping as far as the eye could see and the winds picked up. At this point we all put on life jackets and all sat up in the upper fly bridge together. This was to insure we knew where everyone was. Chase bagan to get ill and vomit with each wave crashing. The boat would slide down the back of a wave into the trough of the next impending wave and as we would then start to climb the 10 to 12 ft hill of the next wave we would all hang on to a a piece of the boat structure, something we felt would hold even if everything began to fall off. It was in this moment Chris looked over at me, and said, “Take the wheel, I have to go secure the anchor. ”

See what had happened is the waves were so powerful, it caused the anchor and chain to bounce off the windless and free fall. (Yes, a rookie move on our part. we now tie the anchor to the boat, Every. Single. time we cruise. No matter how small the passage. Life lessons right…)

We count ourselves fortunate because the chain got tangled and didn’t let out all 200 ft of chain. Which would have gotten tangled in the running gear, and possibly ripped out the shaft and or we could have lost our anchor all together. Instead, only about 6ft of chain let out, which caused its own problems. Each hill of water we would climb would cause the anchor to fly high in the air above the bow like a toy ball waiting to be caught in the cup. However, there was no cup to catch the anchor when we would slap the trough, there was just a hull and a 105lb mantus anchor. The anchor would slam into the hull with such force, now we feared risk of sinking due to a hole in the bow of our boat. Chris knew things could go from bad to absolute worse case in a matter of moments. Which is why he asked me to take the wheel, while he went to the bow of the boat and devised a plan to pull the anchor and chain back onto the boat. This was risky in itself as he had to maneuver the drops and falls of the 10 ft seas of the bow of a boat, but in addition, how was he going to be able to catch, or grab this 105lb anchor while it was swinging to and fro into our hull. The windless would not pull it up, due to the tangle in the chain. But after seeing a line, or rope nearby, Chris grabbed the rope made and monkey fist and dropped it down into the water while the anchor was below the bow. Our Mantus anchor has a hoop Chris was able to get the line through and the end of the line or monkey fist swung back up to the bow where Chris caught it. Now he had a little control over the anchor as it swung. He pulled both sides of the line and lashed the anchor to the side of the boat, cleatting it off. There was no way in those conditions he was going to be able to get the anchor up and over the railing. But it was no longer swinging and attempting to puncture our hull. Somewhere in the chaos of it all Chris managed to break a finger or 2.

Over the next 4 hours, we sat as a family anxious and scared, deadly silent, besides Jolene’s occasional songs of prayer. We did tie Chase and Caleb to Jolene incase we found ourselves floating in the Atlantic. On paper it was a little less eventful. We would slide down a wave and climb up the next, sometimes splashes of waves would come over the helm, some 18ft off the water. We did lose many items overboard. The most memorable was our kayak, which later was found by a local, we watched as the line slowly let loose and slip right off the top of the boat, sitting next to our Highfield Dinghy. When we saw it slip off the back of the boat, it was gone in about 30 seconds. A little eye opening to the boys to see how fast a man overboard would disappear. All in all we just sat counting down each and every single .1 nautical mile; 27.4nm, 27.3nm, 27.2mn, and so on…. When we could see the marina we had 1 final obstacle to overcome.

Taking the seas broadside. 10-12ft waves, the final turn was the much anticipated move of the afternoon. We all knew it was coming and there was no way around it. We would have to take these waves on the beam. We didn’t know if Illuminate could handle it and could bounce back. But we would also be so close to shore, we all knew the risk was a necessary one. Here we go…. Chris waited till the absolute last moment, a swift turn at a carefully timed moment. Unfortunately we were just enough off shore we took 3 waves on the beam. The first was rough, but the second found the port side of the boat slipping into the trough knowing the looming 10ft waves would toss Illuminate to the Starboard. Everything not bolted down flew, slid and crashed. A couch flipped over, all our games, papers, books and decor danced around the boat like someone had stook us up.

After 3 waves on the beam, we crossed the breakwater of the marina, the water calmed, the 10ft waves disappeared to a memory that would haunt us. Pulling into the marina all the dock hands were shocked that anyone would pull in that day, with the weather on the ocean. As Chris docked the boat… Jolene jumped off and all the emotions, adrenaline and fears came rushing in. In that moment, Jolene was ready to sell the boat, and fly home. Giving up all the dreams and plans. Fortunately we were safe and tied up.

The next few weeks brought 50 knot winds, and generator troubleshooting. It also brought experiencing a new island and places we have now fallen in love it.

Published by Wandering Knapps

We are a young family with 3 boys learning life on a boat. Every week we explore, learn something, fix something, answer something and try to share the true essence of boat life. We also love this boating community. But no matter what your passions are in life and where your life leads you. We want you to enjoy the journey.

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