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Crossing and Issues

I've often heard that when faced with an intense situation, a person says their life flashed before their eyes. I always assumed they meant their life up to to that point. For me it was my future. My whole future life. We made out from Treasure Cay around 9am on October 1. A quick stop at the fuel dock and we we on our way to Spanish Cay. Sailing with a 15kn East wind gave us good speed, and trolling with ballyhoo on the line we hoped to get a bite for dinner. No luck there. The anchorage between Spanish Cay and Goat Cay to the south provided good holding, protection and a great breeze to keep us cool. We headed to the marina store for a few things. They offered to make us a couple cheeseburgers and we couldn’t say no. They hit the spot. After all, it was paradise. Leaving Spanish Cay a bit late the next morning we made good time on a broad reach. It felt like perfect sailing. The wind and waves were helping and we threw another ballyhoo in the water.

Bam! A 3 foot barracuda nailed it and we brought him in without the gaff. Zack made the mistake of grabbing the line and trying to wrap the leader around his hand. At the same time the ‘cuda ran. Cut Zack's hand off. Just kidding. But it did give him a nice slice across the top.

We ended up catching three barracuda. Each one bigger than the last. We cleaned the first one and cut it into steaks. Looked like a good night to grill it. Zack said he wasn't a fan of barracuda, but he was enthusiastic about grilling it that night. We both knew ciguatera was a possibility. A few hours later I went inside and had to clean up Tito's vomit from being seasick. I decided right then that I wasn't taking a chance with ciguatera and we tossed the barracuda steaks in the bait bag. The Pensacola Cays looked beautiful, but just west we rubbed on shifting sand. It didn’t hurt anything, but our speed dropped and we got off that sand bank quickly. That night Great Sale Cay was quiet and protected. Dinner was grilled and we enjoyed an awesome sunset with some sundowners. Up early, we headed for West End. Once again it was perfect sailing. Following seas and enough wind to get us in an hour early. Old Bahama Bay resort is a great place to relax, and Zack took into the sights before we grilled some cheeseburgers for dinner. If the weather held we were going to be up at 2am and sailing for our Gulf Stream crossing to Ft Lauderdale. It looked to be 81 miles in seas a little heavier than we usually like, but certainly manageable. Weather forecasts held, and we made the plan for the next day. I usually sleep lightly before crossing, and it was a normal night. I was up at 2 o’clock making coffee and getting the last preparations for the day. In the first of a bit of foreshadowing, the anchor was stuck on a rock. I’ve anchored in that spot three times before. Always rocks strewn about in the sandy bottom, but this time we stuck on one. I woke Zack up to move Faith forward so I could crank the windlass and try to maneuver the anchor out from its hold. I told Zack I needed to dive the anchor to see what I could do. He thought that was a bad idea. I'll admit, it wasn't a great situation as I would have to get back on Faith as she floated away if I was successful. However, right then she freed and we were on our way. The winds were forecast out of the east at 15-18 with a gusts up to 20. The seas were forecast at 3-4 feet out of the ENE. Forecasts were not accurate. Ten miles West of West End we knew we were in for a bumpier ride than we anticipated. Seas were out of the east at 5-6 feet and wind was still NE. Very little consistency to the swell and lots of chop. But, it was following and we felt confident it was still good to go. By about four hours in we found developing changes not in our favor. Seas were 6-8 feet swells and chop on top. Very uncomfortable. Zack and I have not been sea sick before, but if we had this would have brought it back. Faith was up and down over and over. Tito was not enjoying himself. All told, he threw up 4 times that day. The Gulf Stream began to limit our progress about 9 am. Slowing was expected, and we knew it could cause the chop and swell to get nasty. That was good, because it did. There was no way we should have crossed that day. Our concerns were justified when we saw ZERO other small vessels the entire day. Not a sailboat, fishing boat, power boat or luxury boat. Eight cruise ships and freighters were our only company. Oh, and one US Coast Guard aircraft. We saw it coming and watched as she made a circle around us and headed back to Florida. I am sure they wondered about the decision making of Faith's crew. But we persevered.

About forty miles into the day I mentioned to Zack we were at the half way point. Knowing he wasn’t thrilled I tried to bolster his mood by throwing in that we were in fact 80% done with the entire trip. In another bit of foreshadowing he responded, “Let me know when we are 95% done.” Oh boy. Soon after we must have hit the axis of the Gulf Stream. Rollers and chop started hitting us from most every angle and nothing was consistent. Every third wave was higher than the helm station and Faith was disappearing in each trough between the waves. The deep sea fishing we had hope to for on the crossing was far from our minds. At 20 miles of the coast off Florida the crazy waves angles subsided. Once again they were big, but mostly from the stern. We grew more comfortable and more confident. Zack went in for a nap and I relaxed at the helm.

That’s when the iPad fell. Just a simple thing like our chart plotter falling can set into motion a chain of unlikely events that seems to intensify. The holder had held for three months. Sailing calm seas and rough seas. Wind and rain and bumping and all sorts of knocking had been involved and she held. But then, as I sat collecting my thoughts for the last few hours of our sail, it just let go. In the moment it seemed so innocuous. I caught it and began to remount it. I decided to remount it slightly to the left of the original spot. The whole process took ten seconds. And that’s when I noticed the engine revved higher. I looked down and saw that the iPad had fallen onto the throttle and knocked Faith into full throttle. I immediately pulled her back and listened for any change or problem. Nothing was apparent and I relaxed. I hopped in the helm seat and returned to scanning the waves. Within ten seconds the engine alarm went off and I knew we had a bigger issue than I thought. I turned the engine off and made sure we were on course for the trim of our sails. An accidental gybe would have put us in a pretty bad spot. Zack heard the alarm and came outside. We spent a few seconds discussing the situation and looking at what was happening. I restarted the engine and we immediately saw the cooling system was not working with no water coming out of the Honda. A good solid stream of water, not unlike urinating, is normal. That’s not where you want to be. Still in the Gulf Stream, on a tight weather window and a tighter daylight window and no power except the sails. We knew we could still make it to Florida, but there are no marinas or anchorages on the outside coastline. Everything is inside the intercoastal waterway and in more protected areas. These are not areas we could sail into. They require motoring. But we began our new tack toward the coast and decided we would think through the problem with more options as we got closer. Additionally, our cell service would be available as we approached the states and we could enlist others to help. As we got closer, several things happened. Our cell service picked up enough to get a few quick messages out. Also, we were able to use GPS to find an inlet with a semi protected anchorage just inside. One we could possibly sail into for the night. We tried the Honda a few more times just to see if the cooling system was working again. She wasn't peeing, and we didn’t want to burn her up. So it was decided to sail for Hillsboro Inlet and anchor in Wahoo Bay as our best option. We headed that way and began to take stock of our day. There is no doubt we were pleased. We felt blessed that the iPad had not fallen off the helm 20 miles earlier in the “axis of certain death”. That’s dramatic, but it did feel lucky. The more I thought about how well things had gone on the crossing and how fortunate we were to have only this one smallish problem the better I felt. I even managed a chuckle. I said to Zack, “With this crazy series of events, I wonder what God is going to teach us tonight.” Ya. Dumb question. We soon found the sun setting and we were still an hour out from the lighthouse at the inlet. I studied the charts. Hard. If I was going to break a basic rule of sailing I was not going to do it without my best effort. Everyone knows you don’t enter and new harbor at night. That’s just dumb. But times call for decisions and this one called for getting out of the now 5-7 foot swell.

We made our plan. We would sail south along the coast until we passed the inlet. Then we would gybe around the channel bouy and head straight into the well marked channel. Red light on the right and green on the left were flashing brightly. It seemed doable, if dumb. We approached the bouy and the wind doubled. Then the rain hit. We had seen the storm far off 30 minutes earlier. But in our planning and discussions we didn’t notice it had caught us. The front end winds were ferocious. Gusts over 30mph for sure. We made the choice to execute anyway. We gybed 160 degrees to starboard and tried to furl the jib. Now, Zack it pretty solid muscle, but 125lbs wasn’t nearly enough. I helped out, and all we had up was the small staysail powering us. We approached the channel and Zack called out the three unlit green pilings we hadn’t seen. I was getting a bit nervous, but still had no idea what I was about to see. Within 90 seconds I knew it was a tremendous mistake. The inlet was not at a 45 degree angle from the coast. It was parallel. The approach we lined up for was going to be tight with no room for error. But that’s not what I saw that scared me. I was looking at the tightest inlet I had ever negotiated. (Now, as I write this I am obviously leaving out the south entrance to Man O War. So I don't need anyone there reminding me how tight that cut is at low tide.) Rock breakwaters on both sides and rocky shoals all along the coast line. My angle was tight, but if I missed this, it was not going to end well. I spent a micro second to realize their was no way out. I had to go. Zach began to tell me he had faith in me. He couldn’t see my face in the dark, but he must hard heard my heart pounding. This was ridiculous. In a second, just a flash, I realized my boat, my house, my possessions, my pet, my hobby, my job and my career were all on the line. I should probably get this right. The surf was pounding and crashing over the breakwater. The small stay sail was moving us at 1.8 knots. I looked up and saw the USCG rescue station beside the lighthouse and it all hit me: this is a clearly marked dangerous spot. Ugh.

I called out loud, “Help me Jesus!’ Zach echoed. I called out again. Then again and again. I must have spent the next six minutes repeating myself as I sailed into Wahoo Bay. Not a scratch on Faith. It felt like I was sailing in a miracle. We made our plan to anchor and dropped anchor in the sand. She didn’t catch. We couldn’t stop. I yelled, and just as I did she caught and we swung around with absolutely no room to spare. And here we are to talk about it. I'd like to tell you what happened the next morning. It's fascinating, and even more unbelievable. I don’t wanna be silly. But I’m a little different now.

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