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Bahamas in Under a Week

by David Coffey

Crew:


Captain: David S. Coffey

Age: 39

Experience: Grew up on the Tennessee River skiing and fishing. Own a 1958, 20' cuddy cabin (Wendy I) used for fishing and family outings in Puget Sound and Monterey Bay for six years. Crewed on three barefoot cruises aboard 36' to 56' Hunter sailboats to the Bahamas while in college. Owned Mac 26X(2000) since December 1999. Sailed in the Florida Keys with family of six for maiden voyage, multiple lake outings and deep sea fishing off Carolina coast since then. Comfortable with powerboats lots to learn about sailing.


First Mate: Sean M. Coffey

Age: 9

Experience: Passenger aboard Cuddy Cabin.


Boat:


Name: Wendy II

Type: Mac 26X (2000)

Engine: Honda 50 HP (1999, 4 stroke)

Fuel Capacity: 30 gallons (2 x 9 gallon & 2 x 6 gallon)

Fresh Water: 15 gallons

Electronics: 25 watt VHF transmitter; Combination GPS/fishfinder/chartplotter

Stores: Food for one week

Sails: Standard plus 150% Genoa on roller furling system


Tow Vehicle:


Type: 1998 Ford 15 passenger Club Wagon

Towing Capacity: 10,000 lbs.


August 2nd, 2000

Sean and I departed South Carolina at 0800; drove 12 hours to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We traveled with all supplies in the van to keep trailer weight as low as possible. No trouble during towing. Trailer is equipped with surge brakes and was hardly noticeable. Went to several marinas, but most did not have boat ramps or would not allow leaving boat and trailer. Were finally directed to Municipal boat ramp, which has medium duration parking meters. We stocked up on groceries and ice then parked at the municipal boat ramp and spent the night on board.


August 3rd, 2000

Woke up around 8am, completed final cross-loading of supplies from van to Mac, and began rigging. Rigging and cross loading took longer than expected. Launched at 11am after putting max amount in meter (only good for 48 hours). Was informed by other boaters that fine for expired meter was only $20 and no threat of towing. Followed route on GPS/chart plotter to open sea. Took heading of 118 degrees towards Bimini accounting for Gulf Stream current. Weather was sunny and 90 degrees. Wind was out of the SE at 10-15 mph with choppy seas and 2-4' swells. Motored across Gulf Stream at steady 13-15 knots (according to GPS). Discovered that ride was smoother at higher speeds than at 10 knots. Arrived Bimini at 4:15 PM (approx. 5 hours travel time), and tied up at customs pier. Had raised quarantine flag upon arriving in shallow water. Went to customs to fill out appropriate paperwork. Need passports or birth certificates to authenticate nationality. Cost was $100 per boat up to four people and $15 per person after that. Price includes Bahamas fishing license and is good for up to six months. Used approximately 13 gallons of fuel for crossing. Fuel station on Bimini was closed, so motored over to Gun Key. Anchored on windward side in about 5' with two anchors about 50 yards from the beach. Three other boats also anchored in the cove. Went snorkeling and checked anchor before dark. Winds picked up to steady 17 knots and boat was whipping back and forth. No moon and very dark. Put rudders and keel down and filled ballast tank. Felt keel hit bottom at around 8pm. Jumped out of bed to find boat near the beach being held off the rocks by the rudders and keel. Feared the rudders would break, so jumped into waist deep water and pushed boat into deeper water. Yelled for Sean to wake up and come topside. Had him start the motor and put it in gear and head for the anchors. I jumped aboard and pulled in anchors. Was very fearful because charts showed multiple shallow areas and it was completely dark. Decided to motor to leeward side of island and try to find shelter from wind. Leeward side was all rocky with heavy waves coming off Gulf Stream. Consulted charts again and saw marina at Cat Cay. Motored about five miles very slowly and entered marina. Marina was sheltered and calm with expensive yachts all around. Tied up to derelict pier and fell fast asleep. No more banging or swaying. Starting to wonder if buying Mac and making trip was a big mistake.


August 4th, 2000


Awakened by "Frederick" the harbormaster of Cat Cay who informed me that we were in an unauthorized location and would have to leave or move to a slip and pay. I dove overboard to inspect keel and was amazed to find no damage. I was convinced it had snapped off the night before. Fuel station at marina was out of gas so we left the marina. Motored over to leeward side of Cat Cay and found a beautiful little protected cove. Weather mostly sunny, winds SE 8-12 mph. Water temperature 84 degrees. Dropped anchor in 5' of crystal clear water next to a 105' yacht. Discovered that Cat Cay is a private island that does not allow boaters to land uninvited. No problem since we stayed in the water. Went snorkeling all day with Sean. Saw turtles, barracudas, and rays. Was invited onto yacht for lunch while Sean swam with kids from the yacht. Amazed at how well Sean is swimming and how comfortable he is in the water. This is his first time in the ocean. Cooked supper on the Mac. Alcohol stove works amazingly well for how simple it is. Heats very fast. Went to sleep worn out and slightly red and convinced that the Mac and this trip were the best decisions I had ever made.


August 5th, 2000


Awakened at 3am by thunderstorms, but cove is protected and boat is fine. After breakfast, motored back to Bimini (approx. 10 NM) for fuel and ice. On the way we encountered large school of bottle nosed dolphins. Watched them play for about 30 minutes. Had trouble docking at Bimini because of cross winds. Bow hit concrete dock very hard but could find no damage. Boat is too light and catches to much wind for those conditions. No damage but very embarrassing. Gas cost $3.03 and ice was $5/ 20-pound bag. Don't know how the bigger boats afford to fuel up. Stopped in Honeymoon Harbor on north end of Gunn Key and snorkeled all day. Saw several turtles and a 5' shark swam around the whole day but did not bother anyone. Harbor got very crowded in the afternoon with fishermen taking a lunch break and teenagers from Florida who sped over for the afternoon. Around 4pm we motored back to west side of Cat Cay to same protected harbor as night prior. Dropped anchor just as rain started. Winds picked up and boat was swaying, so put out dual anchors and snorkeled over to be sure they were set. Then went on deck and took shower in the rain. Around dusk, felt boat hit something. Came out on deck to find ourselves on the beach once again. Lucky to have ended up in soft sand and not against rocks or other boats. Considered staying on beach but was afraid rocking would cause sand to damage gelcoat. Dinghy motored over from large yacht and helped to reset anchors. By now wind had died down and no more problems. Getting very frustrated with anchor problems. Huge safety problem and all other boats around me, including very light native boats all ride straight into the wind. Starting to think about selling Mac. Things could have been much worse if wind had been toward rocks, other boats, or open sea.


August 6th, 2000


Departed Cat Cay at 0300. Storms moving in from the east with lots of lightening. Worried that if winds pick up I might end up drift into expensive yachts this time or worse. Figure if I have to be awake anyway then I may as well be making way back to U.S. Storm still looked a little ways off, but looked very rough. Seas were calm and the sky clear towards U.S. Rain started to sprinkle just as I put the motor in gear. Considered putting anchors back out and riding out storm but seas were still calm so I headed out. GPS showed the exact route back to the launch ramp at a distance of 52nm. Sean was sleeping below. Wind was 5-10 knots from the SE (tail wind). Swells were 2-4' with no chop. Was able to make 17 knots with following wind and seas and no ballast. Lightening intensified to north and east and seemed to be enveloping me. Started to think I had made a very bad decision. After a couple of hours it became clear that I was outrunning the storm and the ride was still fairly smooth. As the sky began to lighten around 6:30, I was feeling much better about the situation. Unfortunately, with the sun came increased winds and chop. I was able to make out the lights of Miami/Ft Lauderdale about half way across. Sean woke up about 8am and brought me up some Pop Tarts for breakfast. A few minutes after he came up, the boat healed hard to starboard and remained that way for several seconds. As it heeled it also turned broadside to the waves and I was certain that if it didn't right itself before another wave hit then we would go over. In seeming slow motion it did right itself and I got us on a heading back towards Ft. Lauderdale. I started off slowly, but the boat seemed to be behaving well so I gradually increased speed back to about 15 knots. Since I didn't see anything on the boat that could have caused the heel, I attributed to large following seas, which were making for a squirrelly ride. The chop and swells were getting worse as we approached the coast. Mac was riding quite well, but I was very nervous because of the unexplained heel and because I was hearing several reports of capsized boats on the coast guard frequency. Also, as we approached the entrance to the intercoastal waterway, I could see very large waves where the current of the waterway was impacting the incoming waves. I could also see that just beyond those waves the intercoastal was calm and smooth. I was very nervous, but approached the entrance, timed between waves, then accelerated through to the calm water. It was actually very anti-climactic and I felt relieved to be idling along in calm, protected waters. I now knew we would survive the trip. I was now trying to decide how much I would be willing to lose on selling the Mac. Not only did it have anchoring problems, but it heeled dangerously hard for no good reason. As we idled the couple miles back to the municipal ramp, I wondered if the van would still be there. It was there, and as expected, I had a ticket for $20. Not a bad price for guarded parking for 5 days (there is a police station in the same parking lot). Upon trailering the boat, I felt something hit the trailer. I went to pull on the rudder line to ensure it was up all the way, and found it was no longer attached. I was able to trailer the boat as it was because the board on the trailer forced the rudder up and held it in place. It didn't take long to de-rig the boat and load everything back into the van. We arrived at 7:30 am and were on the road by 8:30 am. It had taken us 4.5 hours to travel the 52nm back to Florida. The drive back to South Carolina was delightfully uneventful and we were in our own beds by about 9:30 PM.


LESSONS LEARNED


  1. Know where you intend to park before you head down. Make sure there is a launch ramp and that they let you leave your vehicle for as long as you intend to be gone. Parking worked out for us, but it would have really ruined the trip if we returned to find the van had been towed.

  2. Short trips don't leave much time for sailing. We motored the whole time and the sails were relegated to back-up power status.

  3. The Mac has serious anchoring considerations. Since this trip I have learned about techniques that sound like they may work, but haven't had a chance to try them myself. Always consider wind direction when choosing your anchor site so as to limit damage should you drift. I.e.-always anchor upwind of a nice soft beach, not open sea, rocks, or boats.

  4. Don't assume that because the keel line is in place that the keel is. From this chat room I have discovered that I am not the only person to have the keel line separate on a relatively new boat. As the owner's manual advises, you should not exceed 5 knots with the keel down as it will act like an airfoil and gain lift which forces the boat to heel over until the keel breaks the surface or until you slow enough for the heel to lose lift. I can tell you that at 17 knots it makes for quite a hard jolt. I am amazed that neither of us went overboard. Had the boat heeled to port it probably would have been worse because I had more weight on that side and the waves would have been breaking into the boat. As disturbed as I am that the line broke, I am very glad that there was a reason to explain the Macs naughty behavior. If not, I probably would already have sold the boat. As it is, I now routinely inspect that line and the keel.

  5. After the first night at anchor, I learned that it was a mistake not to have trained my son to operate the boat and the radio in advance. Although only nine, he was of immense help in getting the boat safely off the beach as I stood in the water and yelled directions to him. The next day I taught him more about starting the motor, raising and lowering the outboard, reading direction and location on the GPS, and using the radio for an emergency transmission. After that it was much easier to raise anchors with him at the helm and I didn't have to worry about leaving him helpless on the high seas if anything serious were to happen to me.

  6. Although we had to overcome several obstacles, the overall purpose of the trip was to give my son an experience that he would enjoy and remember the rest of his life. We did accomplish that. I also learned a lot about the idiosyncrasies of the Mac and now feel better informed and prepared to deal with them. I expected certain compromises when getting so much boat for so little money and now feel confident enough in the boat and my skills to take my whole family out.

  7. I made this trip for less than $300, not including the gas for the drive down or the cost of the Mac26. If I manage a few more trips anywhere near comparable to this one, then I will consider the Mac to have been a good investment. This is what I bought it for. To take my family places that other boats I can afford simply cannot go. Although it was a substantial up-front investment, it saves me transportation and lodging costs when I do travel. What other boat could you trailer 800 miles, launch, go to tropical islands that even commercial planes can't get to, and get back in five days?

  8. Apparently we were supposed to check in with U.S. Customs prior to departure and upon return from foreign waters. I had wondered about this prior to departing, but assumed we would see some signs or pass a customs office on our way out to the channel. I don't know what the penalty is for not stopping in, and I don't know what the fee is if you do stop in, but apparently we got away with it in our ignorance. I only bring it up because, if anyone else should read this story, attempt the same adventure, and get caught not checking in with U.S. Customs, I don't want it to be my fault for posting incomplete info.


Email: David Coffey : davidnwendy@mindspring.com


Images
Img. 1David and Puffer Fish at Cat Cay
Img. 2Sean at Honeymoon Harbor
Img. 3Dolphins near Bimini
Img. 4Sea Turtle at Cat Cay
Img. 55' Sand Shark at Honeymoon Harbor
Img. 6Stingray at Cat Cay
Img. 7West Side of Cat Cay

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