Blue skies, gentle rolling waves, and excellent sailing winds, greeted us as we passed Cape Santa Maria Beach. The inn and cottages looked more like dots on the beach however. Just ahead, lay wide-open seas. We would be crossing the “banks” where the sea would plunge to 2000 ft. However, the charts showed over 6000 ft. further out. WOW! I began to feel wild, free, and adventurous. I could imagine how Columbus felt leaving port and disappearing in the horizon.
We sailed past Columbus Point at the very north end of Long Island, Bahamas. John nor I had not ever seen the island from this point of view before and could not be sure where we were since we were a lot further out from land than I had anticipated. I guess I had a notion that we would sail up next to it! Naturally, with all the reefs near that point, that would be impossible, as I remembered snorkeling out into the ocean there numerous times.
The morning forecast was for 7-9 ft. seas with 9 second swells. Winds were to be 060 degrees due east at 20-25 kts. Great for sailing….but as we entered deep water it seemed to exceptionally rough to me. We bounced a lot, it was tough to sit up, and almost impossible to walk so I stationed myself in the corner of the cockpit and hung on!
The boat would rise on a wave and I could see far out onto the horizon. Then it would dip and all I could see was water around the entire edge of the boat. It appeared the next wave would swallow us. Captain Ed seemed to think this was not bad at all.
Suddenly, Ed says,”OH NO!!”. A squall-what I would call a storm. I could look out starboard (right side of the boat) and take pleasure in blue skies although to the port side (left) were dark blue, intimidating clouds. We thankfully caught the tail of that storm but got allot of the winds from it before it passed. We rode up and down on the swells and banged down full power into an empty wave. Captain Ed smiling, called out, “No problem,mon!!”. I tried to laugh but began to worry. Was this a good idea? Were we all going to be lost at sea?
We rode out over 10 of these squalls (storms) all day long. There was plenty of wind in each and most had considerable amounts of rain. When the sun was out, I could handle the waves but with each passing storm, I grew more worried. Ed would order Eileen and John to crank in the jib or tighten the main sail and I had no idea what this meant. He then shouted to close the companionway (the stairs to go below). “Just in case a large wave comes over the boat it will not swamp us or the saloon below,” Eileen explained. She gave us the “man over board lecture” and showed us where the life jackets were. She was not smiling.
Around 1 p.m., I went below to try to relax some; my knuckles were white and tired from hanging on so tight. On deck, I could not relax at all because there was too much activity going on. As I made my way slowly below, it looked as if there had been a tornado. Pots and pans had fallen out of the oven, the navigation station lost everything onto the floor, drawers were hanging open, one cupboard had unfastened, and papers were all over.
I put a book in front of my face and tried to forget where I was and what was happening around me. I remember when I was young, reading for four hours one way to visit my grandparents in Pa. Those were the days before highways and it was a two-lane country road all the way and my dad drove 70 miles an hour passing on the hills and curves- or so it seemed to me at the time. I would be so frightened that reading a book was all I could do. In addition, there were four of us in the back seat. Not permitted was talking or fighting. Something my sister, and two brothers and I did allot! Reading became my safe haven!
By 2 p.m., I finally made my way to the “head”- bathroom. It was a struggle to walk, hanging on along the way for dear life and then to sit. Ok- I will not even go into how impossible it was to pull up my pants……I know, I know….TMI… =+)
I was so nervous I fell into my berth and tried to sleep to pass the time. Yet, the thunderous creaking of the boat hitting the waves over the bow, washing over my porthole and hatch, and the pulling of the sails in or being let out, kept my imagination going with all the movies I had seen about being lost at sea.
All of a sudden there was a loud cry of “OH NO” again…..there was a large ship in the distance but with the waves and swells Ed had a hard time making out which way it was headed or to be able to tell if it was coming towards us. The radar was almost useless because of the deep swells, rain, and winds. He was relying on his vision, but in the poring rain and cloudy horizons; it was close to impossible to make out what was what. After half an hour and much discussion, Ed decided that it was a large barge with a tugboat and we would miss it.
THANK YOU LORD!!
Later John explained that it was a dreadfully large ship maybe four miles away. Ships that large do not turn on a dime!
I was just beginning to fall asleep when I heard “OH NO”….again….it was a BIG cruise ship on our port side only two miles away. There was much discussion about this and I guess it looked awfully over powering. The consensus was that he changed his course and went around us because we did not come near one another.
By 4 o’clock, we were on the edge of Cat Island…YEAH! At last, I got the nerve to go topside although we were still rocking, rolling, and bouncing dreadfully. I looked out and couldn’t believe what I saw……after 5 1/2 hours of rough seas I barely made out land ahead nor any trees in the distance. I had envisioned seeing a beautiful QUIET harbor!!
Nevertheless, now the lay of Cat Island harbor was more north and the winds were out of the north so we were “on the nose”-winds coming right at us and even though we were sailing at 5 kts we were only gaining 2-3 kts with the current and winds. It would be yet another 3 hours to go 10 miles into our safe haven……YIKES!!
For my sanity, I returned to my berth once again. Most people cannot be below nor read while traveling like this because they get very seasick but it was my only means of keeping my mind off what I had no control over and thankfully I had not felt the least bit sick.
The waves were still crashing over the front of the bow, banging up and down tremendously, yet I feel asleep. What seemed like seconds later, I awoke to allot of activity topside. Ed had started the engine. Both guys had on safety harnesses and the helm cushion was thrown below. I could not even begin to imagine what was happening and thought for sure we were going down. I had a knot in the pit of my stomach the size of a football. I was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, terrified.
The guys had put a line out again to try to catch a fish and they were just being prepared with all the bad winds. It would not be easy to reel a fish in with the rocking, rolling and bouncing but THEY WANTED A FISH!!! I was somewhat relieved but mad too that they had created all that fuss!
Oh- by the way- NO fish!!!!!!…….
We finally reached NEW BIGHT, Cat Island around 7 pm. As we watched the sun set, we dropped anchor. We were still bouncing and rocking but we were safe and I could see land- FINALLY!!!!!!! It was allot like Thompson Bay, Long Island, a wide curve of a harbor with land on 3 sides but at least 10x’s bigger. They said it was ten miles from point to point by way of the crow but at least 30 miles if you walked it.
I began to look around and reflect on my day, to figure out how to relate what I had experienced. All I can say it was like being on an airplane for 9 hours in very bad turbulence and the “no seat belt” light stays on the whole time (but there are no seat belts!). And, just when you can’t hold it any longer, you go the bathroom and that is when the pilot announces that if you have left your seats get back in them NOW! ALL day long I wanted to yell “ STOP, pull over and let me off”…
Eileen made a great dinner of steak, broccoli, sweet potatoes and lots of WINE flowed…the first food any of us had had since our quick bowl of granola at 8 am- 12 hours before!! We all slept til after 7 am the next morning.
Sunday- moving very slowly, we enjoyed coffee on the deck, reading til almost 10. Eileen made a tasty omelet of onion, tomato, sweet potato, and cheese….mmmmmm……
We met up with Passe Port III on the beach by 11:30 to start our climb up the road and a steep hill to Mount Alveria, Fr. Jerome’s Hermitage which he built at age 62 and lived in until he died in 1950 at age 80+ yrs. It is the highest summit in all of the Bahamas- 260 ft. Stone steps led past the Stations of the Cross to the chapel that had a small stone alter and one kneeler, (no padding) barely large enough for one person. There was a bell tower, his personal quarters of only a small wooden bed, a cookhouse, a well, and his grave. It had an outdoor shower and two fireplaces-to keep warm not for cooking- and the windows were situated perfectly to catch the cross breeze. I cannot imagine how he carried all the rocks up that huge hill and made the cement in those days. It all mesmerized John-my builder. A path to the northwest thru the bush, led to a cave where he lived while building the hermitage. It was large enough for John to stand up in and it had two large rooms with an alter…bats and all!!
The view from the hermitage was breathtaking, overlooking both sides of the island, out onto the blue waters and rolling waves. Its peacefulness restored me.
We made our way back to the beach and had a wonderful lunch of brie cheese, fruit, veggies, and wine. The warm, azure blue water, lapping waves, and sunny skies relaxed us as we laughed about our sail the day before. The guys mentioned something about 12 ft. waves but that was all I wanted to know.
During lunch, a white truck pulled up beside our roadside picnic. An older Bahamian man got out and approached us introducing himself as the Rev Carrol Johnson. He welcomed us to Cat Island, explaining he was a local preacher at the Baptist church and a teacher.He was selling vegetables out of the back of his pick up, asking if we would be interested in some. Quite the entrepreneur, we thought! We said of course and he said he would return around 5. It was already 3 so we decided to walk the beach and meet him later.
The beach was on the leeward side of the island so shells were not too plentiful. We enjoyed a wonderfully shallow beach as we strolled along looking at the cassarina trees and palms. They were at least 40 ft. high and gave a wonderful tropical effect to the beach along with the little multi-colored shacks.
Suddenly, we noticed a commotion further down the beach. A couple of Bahamians on a small fishing boat had come ashore. They had been fishing in the deep-water just out from our sailboats. As we approached them, we found they had speared a 8 ft. tiger shark!!!!!! The shark had come into the harbor and they speared him from their boat. He quickly took off but returned, slamming into their boat so they speared him again and again, finally pulling him into their boat with the spears. I cannot imagine how they got him into the boat and he did not bite them or tear them to pieces! HE WAS HUGE- 2 pallets long. The children took turns sitting on the shark, getting their pictures taken. I touched his skin- it was razor sharp like very sharp sandpaper.
The men were extremely proud of their catch and showed us the shark’s teeth. Although he was bleeding a lot, he would once in awhile jerk and move, scaring everyone!
We walked as far up the beach as we could, enjoying the sun, water and time together. The Rev. Johnson came around 5 as promised and we bought our fill for the week.
We got back to the boat and Eileen fixed lamb chops on the grill, cauliflower, rice, and plenty of wine for all! We were all ready for bed and had a great- NON rocking night of sleep!!
Monday- we had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and applesauce and headed out with Passe Port III to rent a car for the day and see ALL of Cat Island together. We dingied into shore and anchored at the primary school, walking over a mile to the convenience store that also rented cars.
I can now understand why sail boaters walk the islands……not only do they sit a lot while sailing but as we walked along the little road I began to notice many flowers, old ruins, goats, cats and dogs and local people that I would have drove right by in a car, not being aware of them.
We had a 6 passenger diesel Mitabushi Jeep for the day. FUN! We headed north. The road was narrower than on Long Island. Many more curves. Most of the road is right on the beach- a lot like Deals Beach area.
We were looking for a road to go to the north side- the shelling beach- we hoped. We had to stop a few times to ask and most Bahamians looked at us with curiosity, “why are those crazy tourists going there?” we would soon find out they were right! We drove for over 15 minutes, down a narrow, bushy, bumpy road that led to a beautiful beach. We were very excited….Eileen, Joann, John and I could smell SHELLS!!!! We walked on a very windy beach with little or no trash and NO shells. HOWEVER, John and I found over 100 buoys. I only took a lime green one ( YES- Cathie and Gary, I got my lime green one finally!), because I doubt Ed would have let me take them all onto the boat!
I saw 2 small dead trunk fish and John found 2 interesting bottles. We walked for over 2 hours and by the time we regrouped we realized we were hungry….it was almost 2!! On Long Island, if you do not get to a lunch spot by 1, you usually do not get much in the way of good food and we sort of knew it would be the same here. But we found a cute place on another beach- Paradise Club- a purple painted building and she said she had some rice and peas and fish left….and cold beer for all!!!! We were ready!!! The service was pretty quick considering how starved we were!!!
During lunch we plotted out the rest of our day…… another wonderful adventure lay ahead us…..but this time on land so I was more at ease!!!!