Chubb Cay to Dollar Harbour, 30 January 2014, Thursday,
It’s Oh Dark Thirty, really, 3:00 a.m. If I want to get to Cat Cay today, it’s 76 nm @ 6.5 knots, that’s 12 hours, plus the usual hour of hijinks, so I either leave now or drive in the dark. Since for the first few hours this morning I can follow the route I took back in December, it’s better for me to leave now in the darkness, but on a known route. I also can’t wait to try my new driving lights, but as there is nothing in front of me, I don’t see anything.
Hauled anchor, at 3:45 a.m. and am now underway. I’m very close to the cold front. Forecasters had it between Florida and Bimini, but the winds switched around last night to the NW meaning it or part of it, passed thru, however, as I get underway, I notice the winds are again from the SE and I can sense buildups just to my west. Sure enough, in about an hour, I am going thru heavy rain for about half an hour. Once again I am passed the front, hopefully this time for good. (Sadly, was not the case and the third time, was at the most critical time.) As the sun came up at 6:30, the very light NW winds just caused barely a ripple on the ocean. Good cruising weather.
I picked up a hitchhiker for about half an hour.
Been anchored here in Dollar harbor (thanks to Active Captain) 30 minutes, since 17:15, a 14 hour day, just got out of the shower and now, finally It’s Miller Time, but I’m having stiff drink. As my mother would say, a highball.
So let’s go back to the videotape. The plan worked well. Would have worked even better had I remembered to look at my Explorer Chart Book of the Bahamas, which was three feet away on the chart table in front of my face all f…day. (the downside of getting up at 3 a.m.?)
So all was going well. By leaving so early, the seas were flat for the first 9 hours, it wasn’t till early afternoon that the southerly waves picked up in the shallow water west of the tongue of the ocean. Small waves about a foot, but once in a while they would hit the boat strangely and cause a disconcerting thump. I’m making good time too, 1600 rpms, but averaging 7 knots.
At this point, it’s midafternoon and I’m only about 10 nm Southeast of the Cat Cay lighthouse, and I am following the exact route I took coming out, but am wondering why I took that route as it seems a little off from what my Navionics charts are saying. Especially when I got to the real shallow area that I had come straight thru last month. Shallow, so cruising slowly for an hour, like 5 kts, with only 1 to 3 feet under the keel. Luckily, as the water got skinny, I made sure I was exactly on that track, though I did test it, by going north and south of the track to see if it improved. It didn’t. OK, so I get thru that part and now I’m 3 nm SE of the lighthouse, but it my Navionics says I can try to get to Dollar harbor by coming from the NE on the east side of South Cat Cay.
Interesting. Not one to pass up an opportunity (to save an hour)I slow down even more and give it a try, within minutes the rudder becomes sluggish, I immediately make a sharp U turn and add power as the depth sounder stopped sounding, which means it’s in the mud, sand. Within a heart stopping 30 seconds, I have at least some water underneath. OK, all is good, I retrace my steps, get back on course a and once again head NW to the lighthouse and the gap between South and North Cat Cay.
Now, in part because of the wasted time, this storm that has been building is now here, so I go thru the narrow cut south (must hug shore to within 100 ft) of the lighthouse in raging seas and wind. 100 m visibility in heavy rain and wind. When I get to the west side, it is far worse, as there seem to be two different wave trains and their both 6 to 8 ft. I realize at this point, that I need sea room no matter what the seas, so I continue west into the deeper water, >40ft, before I turn South,
Now, I’m wondering what to do, The rain is so heavy, I can’t see the inlets or the rocks just to my left, I don’t trust my chart plotter or my navionics App and the wind is from the North, so continuing on and crossing the Gulf Stream is out of the question.
A light dawns, Like the sun burning though the morning fog, I remember my trusty Explorer Chart Book. Open it to the pertinent page and low and behold it has all the answers. It showed why I had previously taken the route I had, plus it showed that the only way to the Dollar anchorage was from the southwest.
I decided to play it safe for once and come all the way south of Wedge Rocks as the channel there looked a bit deeper and wider, on the chart, so I just gritted my teeth and accepted that I would have a rough ride for the next 30 minutes. The visibility was still bad enough I could not the rocks or breakers, so I wondered about turning into the inlet when the time came, but as it was it was all anti-climactic. As soon as I was south of the rocks, I turned, and the seas died down to just 2-3’. Looking at the chart it confirmed the AC advice and it was a piece of cake. I had 14 ft. of water all the way to this anchorage. There was some wind, but absolutely no boat movement (and for a full displacement boat, that says a lot). There is a strong current which is keeping Dauntless parallel to the channel, but this is the quietest anchorage I have had in the entire time in the Bahamas.