As a complete sailing novice but confirmed wannabe,
I jumped at Paul and Patrice Messina’s invitation to
help crew on their crossing to the Bahamas for the annual
Abaco Race Week Regatta. Cindy and I would spend ten
days on the boat.
We would sail as far as Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco,
participating in the crossing and two of the six races
scheduled, then fly back to Miami while two new crew
members joined the boat for the final few days racing and
the return trip to the Florida Keys.
Cindy and I had spent our share of time on small boats,
but had little or no experience with blue water sailing or racing.
I could tie a bowline, given enough time.
Cindy could cook.
We were pumped.
6.28.03 On Board Tranquility, a 30’ Nonsuch with our hosts Paul and Patrice
We will be crossing with Cynsation, a Catalina 42; Dave and Cynthia Boerner.
0800 Wind SE 10. Heavy overcast with t-squalls on horizon. Heading 060
Depart Plantation Key out of Tavernier Creek. Florida Keys.
Heading: East-northeast towards the Gulf Stream and Lands End- Bahamas.
We are boxed in on three sides by some nasty looking weather. The good news: clear
weather ahead. The bad news is that the black rolling shit on all other sides is catching us.
Cindy has never sailed through a real storm, and
there appeared to be no way around this one. It’ll be a hell of a start.
0830 Wind is picking up, starting to haul to the Northwest and becoming gusty.
Temperature has dropped and feels cool on our skin. Clouds are dipping
towards the horizon. We look for spouts while on a close reach. Paul starts
the diesel and explains the drill to reef the mainsail. He requests the dodger
be brought up and attached to our bimini.
0840 We are now ready for the squall. It comes quickly with a cold horizontal rain
and shifting winds. We tack, rolling over the six to eight foot rollers but do
not shorten sail. My toes dig in to the teak deck and I feel the rain sting my skin,
raising goose bumps. Tranquility climbs each wave and slews off to port as each
wave passes under her stern. Now the wind shifts to the right again and the ride
becomes truly sloppy as the waves creep down to Tranquility’s quarter. Paul eases the
mainsheet just before a cold gust of air hits us and clocks around, almost jibing the boat.
Paul brings the boat up and now the wind is back where it started. We are on
starboard tack, our lee rail in the water, and going like a batfish out of hell.
The weather starts to clear. Paul’s grinning, and now I am too.
0845 I have never felt more in this world. I giggle and let out a whoop.
1100 Out of the weather now, into the sunshine. Cindy and I shed layers.
Cindy on Tranquility
1300 A slowly developing wind shift necessitates a decision. We either turn into the wind
and motor straight to Bimini, arriving after midnight, or continue sailing this heading
all night, making West End, Bahamas early the next morning.
1700 Paul radios Dave on Cynsation, who has a weather fax. Dave feels the wind will
continue to veer throughout the night, heading us and forcing an eventual motor-up
to West End 12 hours later. We drop sails, turn southeast and motor the remaining
28 miles to Bimini. The GPS says our course made good is 55 degrees but we are
steering a compass course of nearly 120. I am awed by the power that the Gulf Stream
has just demonstrated. The big cobalt river-in the-sea was sweeping us north.
1815 Cindy and Patrice prepare dinner. Provisioning for a journey like this is, I am told,
a skill in itself. A skill we would learn as much about in the days ahead as boat
handling and seamanship. A few nights before, we all had gotten together at Paul
and Patrice’s and pre-cooked the meat items that were to go aboard.
“Man this is a lot of stuff,” Paul kept saying as he turned the chicken and
pork on the barbeque. “There had better be room in the ice box for beer
when all this is done.” Other than that, he kept quiet, preferring to keep
his role limited to running the boat. The galley was the lady’s’ domain.
His comment, however, proved prophetic.
Dave and Cynthia had the right idea all along.
“Thirty cases of beer” was Cynthia’s straight- faced response when asked
about their provisioning strategy. They volunteered no more.
Meanwhile, Patrice had told me and Cindy that the hardest thing to get in
The Islands was fresh produce, so Cindy brought veggies and fruit. She
also made potato salad. A lot of it. It went into Tupperware containers.
The night before sailing we couldn’t get it all in Tranquility’s ice box, so
Cindy put it all in an over-sized styrofoam ice chest. “Where the hell are
we gonna put that?” asked Paul before shutting up. It ended up on
Cynsation, with Cynthia showing remarkable graciousness, I thought.
“There had better be enough room in the ice box for the beer,” Paul said
again slowly, showing perhaps the first hint of testiness I had seen. Paul
and I looked at Dave, with his thirty cases stowed forward in Cynsation.
He just smiled.
“Oh well,” I had volunteered. “At least we’ll have plenty of potato salad.”
I have finally made it.
I have wanted to come here ever since reading Islands in the Stream. Unfortunately,
we have no Gin and no tonic, although we do have limes and paper towels to wrap our drinks with. On the other hand, we are too damn tired to drink after dropping the hook. Tranquility is anchored just off shore Cynsation’s starboard side. Paul had me take her in behind Cynsation while he handled the anchor. Having never piloted such an approach in the dark before, I was scared shitless.
0630 I will not have the opportunity to visit Hemingway’s hill or the Compleat Angler, as we are pulling out early. Paul and Dave want to make West End and clear Customs before they close, this being a Sunday. Paul says there is nothing to do here anyway, and from what I see, he’s right. Just a lot of Australian Pines growing out of a flat hunk of rock. Last night Cindy and I slept together on the portside cockpit seat. There was a fair seaway rolling under us. She awoke with an impression of Paul’s engine key on her ass.
1615 West End, Grand Bahama Is
We check in at West End Marina- they have no slips available, so we have the choice of anchoring off the beach or sailing on to Mangrove Cay, a couple hours distant. We choose the beach. No palms here- just more Australian pines.
1705 As we motor around the riprap, which guards the harbor entrance, we can see many beautiful patch reefs just off shore, shining green, some with yellow-brown coral heads just under the surface. Wonderful- we will raft up with Cynsation and spend cocktail hour snorkeling the patches and walking the beach.
We idle up in front of Cynsation, which draws another foot than we do and I go forward to point out the coral heads back to Paul at the wheel. It soon becomes apparent that there is one hell of a current working here. While we are negotiating our way through the coral heads, Cynsation’s stern whirls around and they are aground.
Attempting to go back to them help pull them off and are now coming dangerously close to the same fate. I throw a line to Cynthia on Cynsation’s bow and we start to back down. Not the best way to do this, since we are exposing Paul’s $1800 variable pitch prop to the reef. But the current will swing our stern into Cynsation’s if we attempt to go forward and turn. After a few white knuckle maneuvers expertly executed by Paul, Cynsation pivots off their perch.
We immediately anchor in a down current sand patch while Dave and Cynthia opt to demonstrate the better part of valor and retreat to deeper water near the harbor entrance. Tranquility’s bow will not come up in to the wind upon anchoring. Instead, the current pushes her stern back on her anchor line. No raft-up tonight. And no snorkeling, other than to check the anchor. And no beach walks, since we dare go no further. We have an inflatable dingy but it won’t be deployed until we get to the Abacos. Instead, we deploy tag lines, swimming noodles, and boat drinks.
1720 Dave radios over and reports his instruments are recording a nine knot current. We can barely hang on to the tag lines and decide to have dinner. Chicken stuffed pitas and Cindy’s potato salad served in the cockpit under a glorious setting sun. After dinner we christen this spot Nine Knot Anchorage.
The author trying do do something.
0750 Wind East-Southeast at 10. Mostly sunny. Tranquility enroute east to…? We’ll know when we get there. Ultimately, we must steer this course to clear Coopers Town on the north end of Great Abaco Cay, then a right turn south-southeast for Green Turtle Cay- 2 days distant. We will make a decision later on which of the many small islands, or “cays” that dot our path to stop for the night. Spanish Omelets are served for breakfast.
Afterwards, potato salad and other perishables are moved from bulky Tupperware containers to “soft-sided” Ziploc bags. This frees up considerable space in the icebox, allowing a full six-pack of beer to chill. Dave and Paul were right. After three days at sea, a couple cold beers daily at 1700 became a very good thing.
The icebox was still a nightmare, but we sure were eating well. Thank God Cynthia had agreed to carry the “cooler from hell” on Cynsation.
0900 This part of the Bahamas does not seem to use the standard international rules and signs of navigation. Forget “red right returning”. Instead, wooden arrows, just large enough to make out when you are right on top of them, are nailed on old pilings. The arrows point to the correct side to steer the channel. During the day, it’s dicey. At night- blind prayer works better.
0930 Spending most of these days doing two glorious things. Learning how to steer the boat, or reading to Cindy on the bow.
Every day I make more than several bone-headed mistakes. Each time I try to learn from them. Paul, an experienced and skilled skipper, is patiently imparting to me the proper way to balance boat speed while maintaining course. My helmsmanship is fair for a novice, however now Paul has given me a glimpse of the secret to being a good helmsman.
1100 It is at times like these that I truly appreciate how lucky I am that Cindy has consented to spend this time with me. She cooks fabulous meals on board, knows a Phillips head from a crescent wrench, and is the most beautiful woman I have seen in the Bahamas.
1315 Lunch. More potato salad.
1440 There is a rock off our port beam that the chart calls “Center of the Earth”. Indeed. Paul reads his cruising guide and suggests to Dave via VHF that we spend the night between two small cays called Allans-Pensacola. They concur.
1830 ALLANS- PENSACOLA
A gentle wind from the east. We lay at anchor off Allans-Pensacola, twin beach-lined islands known mostly by the cruising crowd. The moment the hook was in the water and post- anchor chores were done, Cindy and I hopped on a noodle, tied our swim suits to it, and paddled away from the boat. Within minutes we are approached by a jolly old man in a wooden sailing dink, who, after tacking over, also appears to be sans-clothing. He hails us, asking if we are “OK so far away from the other boats” and “do we need a tow or a ride in”? How noble! After getting close enough to hear our negative response, and after getting a good look at Cindy, he tacks over again and heads off, under a sun just starting to dip towards the horizon singing “Come play, come play in my dingy… “
2230 Made love at the masthead in a Bahaman breeze under a quilt of stars. God I love this woman and this place.
1015 Wind ESE @10. We depart Allans- Pensacola, heading for Green Turtle Cay. We can’t get the mainsail up. Paul thinks he sees something askew on the mainsail track about halfway up the mast. We cut the motor and idle while breaking out the boson’s chair. I winch Paul up the mast and the girls send him the tools he requests. We change to the emergency mainsail halyard and, with temporary repairs finished, we hoist and set sail for Green Turtle.
1330 Cindy earns kudos from the skipper for preparing and serving a hot spinach salad while on a bumpy close reach. Nice alternative to eighty pounds of potato salad. During lunch we site the first dolphins riding our bow wave.
1500 More complaints below regarding refrigerator space- and no ice. Inflection sharpens. Approaching Green Turtle Cay.
1515 I walk back to the cockpit from the foredeck after writing a little and am greeted with the news that Cindy is below with a sprained ankle. It appears she took a mis-step into the cabin. I go below and there she is, lying on the settee with a Ziploc bag of cold chili on her ankle, presently swollen to the size of a zucchini.
1600 We anchor off New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. You can see the brightly painted buildings on shore through the forest of masts. We are one of hundreds of yachts arriving for the start of race week, which unofficially opens tomorrow with the Stranded Naked Party. Paul and Dave decide to raft up since Dave’s got cold beer- as well as ice for Cindy’s ankle. Tomorrow morning we’ll dink in and pick up our own ice, as well some fresh Bahaman coconut bread and cheese for breakfast.
1830 After dinner we check Cindy’s ankle, now turning all sorts of interesting colors. She insists she’s OK. Since she’s an ex-paramedic, we all believe her. Before heading below for the evening, I notice one of Cynsation’s anchor lines is slack. Ours is tight and I figure Dave and Cynthia are simply turning on one side of the hook- no big deal.
0350 Green Turtle Cay
I awake to a jolt, the sound of feet on the deck and Paul’s voice topside saying “did we hit…?” I hear the Cummins start up. I’m half way up the hatch before remembering I won’t be much help without my glasses. After returning below for my eyes, I find myself tripping forward on deck, in the darkness, grasping at the shrouds to guide me. Nearly falling over the side, I remember that this vessel has no shrouds.
“Ready”? I hear Dave snort on Cynsation.
“Ready,” calls Paul on Tranquility. We separate, and start backing away
from the 41’ Morgan we had both plowed into. I start to get
the ground tackle ready, sure that Paul will call for an anchor set as soon
as we get far enough upwind for it. I hear the engines slide into neutral
and our way slows.
“Ready?” Paul asks in a normal talking voice. I can hear him above the idle
and reply in kind.
“Let her go,” he says. I do and Paul puts the diesel in reverse. We slide
back and check the set. We’re dragging. I bring it all in and we do it
again. We reverse and Paul guns a little more reverse.
“Nope”, I grunt back towards him.
“Shit” whispers Paul: then to me: "Sorry David, pull her in again."
Again we move forward while I haul in sixty feet of anchor chain and 300 feet of nylon. Now I’m dragging. I ask Paul if we are having fun yet. He grins.
Once more and we hold. The sun is coming up. We make coffee and begin some quiet conversation as the ladies sleep below.
Paul and Patrice are the most wonderful hosts. Paul is an experienced, low key
1030 sailor- no yelling, very patient, etc.
The only thing I’ve seen rankle him so far has been a shortage of refrigerator space for his beer. I am learning so much from him, and in the close confines of a 30’ boat he’s a perfect gentleman.
Patrice is always up, gracious and encouraging. A week together with casual friends on such a journey can and has sometimes turned disastrous for other folks. I’ve found that if you help out and respect the boat, you’ll be invited back- even if you’re a lousy sailor.
1735 On our way back from the stranded naked party, sulking.
The Stranded Naked Party Boat
A short story is in order.
It was an unbelievable party, where the owners and crews of 150 six and seven figure yachts drink Margaritas and Rum Punches on Fiddlers Cay just south of Green Turtle Cay. Actually, the place doesn’t even exist on the chart. A local entrepreneur (Stranded Naked Swimwear) sponsors it, and brings in distillers and grocers to donate food and drink. As usual, Cindy got more than her share of attention with the men and I went off to sulk. As I did so I spotted a 24’ Bayliner named “Maxim” running backwards thru the make-shift anchorage.
That’s a long way to be backing down an anchor in this shallow water I thought.
A second look told me no one was at the hem-no one aboard. Maxim was kick-assing backwards downwind and down current heading straight for the flats on a lee shore of another small cay. She was trailing an anchor which was
spraying up white clouds over the marl, beginning no more than 20’ from her stern.
“Idiot,” I muttered, already pissed at myself for being upset at Cindy and now this. No one else had seemed to notice the boat.
I swam out and dove down to the anchor careening over the bottom. It was a Danforth of adequate size attached to a FooFoo rig. You know, the all-in-one rig you buy from Kmart for $19.95 consisting of that white coated chain and 20’ of quarter inch nylon. The rig appeared to be propelling the boat backward at a knot and a half.
I tried to stick the anchor twice in the soft bottom but there wasn’t enough scope. I came up, took a breath and looked around. So far no other boats had been hit- a miracle. And no one else seemed to realize what was happening or care- a situation I seem to aspire to. I tried to stand and simply hold the boat, hoping someone would notice and come by to help, but no luck.
“Fuck ‘em- let the dumb shits sue me.”
Against my better judgment, but trying to do the right thing, I boarded
Maxim and went forward to see if there was any more ground tackle aboard. There was none. I left the boat floating towards disaster and swam back to shore.
Weaving through thongs and tongs. I ran up on the beach to the DJ,
explained the situation to him, and aksed- asked him to make an announcement. The music came down a half a decibel and he said over the PA:
“Hey Mon, Maxim bein’ a drag- go grab her.”
Then the music came back up.
I didn’t want to be a pain in the ass, but after seeing no reaction, I went back up, grabbed the microphone and turned down the music.
“ MAXIM, MAXIM, MAXIM, YOU ARE ADRIFT, DRAGGING, AND HEADING FOR A LEE SHORE…”
By the time I swam back out to the Bayliner a skiff was headed towards the boat. It deposited two surfer dude-types Both stumbling aboard with one hand while clenching a doobie in the other. I called “do you need help?” and they waved a no thank you.. At that point I saw Cindy and the rest of our crew heading towards our dink.
Time to return to Tranquility. As we hopped in and Paul started up the little Yamaha, I looked back to see Maxim still floating towards the flats with Huey and Dewey sharing a toke at the doomed little boat’s stern.
Friday, June 4
0700 It’s Race day! The first in the Abaco Race Week series. The Green Turtle. We will have four marks in the shape of a turtle. We’ll, that’s what the race committee says. Actually, the course is a square. Cindy and I wake to Paul’s pre-race cleaning of the boat. Everything must be squared away and stowed. Before the race, Cindy and I will take the dink in to town. We have three goals:
1. Get beer
2. Trash removal, and
3. Ridding ourselves of the Cooler from Hell.
I make coffee while Cindy wipes the sleep from her eyes and Paul works on brightening the boat. We leave for the course at 9:30. The ten-minute gun sounds at 1100.
0845 Cindy and I take the dink, loaded with trash bags and the Cooler from Hell and head across the bay towards the town pier. New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay is a funky little village with quaint white and pastel painted cottages lining a main street resembling a large sidewalk. Every shop is owned by a Pinder or an Albury. We pull up to a sandy beach rather than the pier, as Cindy’s foot is still rather swollen and sore and is wrapped in cold potato salad. We pass two Bahamans sitting at the base of the pier in front of a tramp freighter and offer them the cooler in exchange for allowing us to dump our trash in their dumpster. They agree happily. We procured beer as well as some fresh Bahaman coconut bread, cheese and butter to enjoy back on board before casting off for the race course. As we head back out towards Tranquility, God hits a switch and the harbor of Green Turtle Cay transforms from slate gray to electric turquoise with the rising sun.
How can it get any better than this?
1035 Cynthia is explaining the duties of a “bow bunny,” my designated duty during today’s race ( BOW BUNNY?! ) The bow bunny stands at the bow of the boat and, when Tranquility is three boat lengths from the starting line he sticks out three fingers, then two, then one. The idea is to hit the line with the boat at top speed preferably on starboard tack (right of way ) immediately after the gun. While Paul and Dave and Cynthia discuss wind shifts, preferred side of the line, and other boats in our PHRF rating, I stand on Tranquility’s bow pulpit and learn to count. One… Two… Three…trying to judge speed and distance. Five minutes ‘til the warning gun.
1335 Tranquility is doing nicely in the race despite a poor start (not my fault- no one was paying attention to my stupid counting and wagging of fingers anyway). We are approaching the penultimate mark- a jibe- and then return to the Start- Finish line and the end of the race. My job in this jibe maneuver, where the stern of the boat passes through the eye of the wind, will be to help get the mainsheet across the boat, which on a Nunsuch like Tranquility, is on the stern.
I will do this by pulling on the mainsheet while Dave winches it up to get the mainsail started across the stern before the wind pushes it the rest of the way. If done correctly, it assures a smooth turn. After this maneuver, we will be on a beam reach for an easy final leg to the finish line.
“Stand by… ready,” calls Paul.
I pull and the mainsail starts to come over. Then I see a lot of slack
in the mainsheet.
That is the last thought I have before being slammed to the opposite side of the boat, my arm being dragged across the stern by the mainsheet. When I wake up a second later, I am slumped on the starboard quarter and I can not feel my arm. For the first time in my life I am frightened I may not have one anymore.
I look down, afraid what I might see. My arm is still attached, but badly burned and bruised. There is a small red and blue knob below my elbow. I feel faint. Dave notices I am not moving and asks if I’m all right.
“No” is all I can muster. Cindy hobbles over and by now has her “paramedic hat” on. A cold gel-pack goes on my arm. Within minutes I can feel my fingers again.
We are sailboat racing under a blue Bahamian sky. Cindy is holding me and Paul pats my shoulder. I look up and smile. Life is good.
1330 We are at Green Turtle Cay, waiting to board the dink after the post race awards
party. Everyone is smashed.
That’s what happens when the race committee hands out complimentary Rumrunners-in pails.
Cynthia is nearly unconscious and as she approaches the little beach where all the dingys are tied up, she trips over the small retaining wall and breaks her big toe. She is in agony. The rest of us are feeling no pain what-so -ever.
We head out in to the harbor, now a lit up city of mast lights. All except ours. Tranquility is nowhere to be found. Paul remembers now that he may have forgotten to light it up before leaving.
We slosh around the drunken harbor, looking for the 41’ Morgan that we ran into the other night, or any other boat that was near us.
“ MORRRRRRGAN… MORRRRRRGAN…,” screeches Patrice,
“JEEESUS CHRIST, LADY,” comes the distant reply. “THERE’S A THOUSAND OF ‘EM OUT HERE- WHICH ONE YOU WANT?”
We all giggle and try not to fall out of the overloaded dink while attempting to comfort Cynthia. We finally spot Cynsation and up a hundred yards, Tranquilty.
I take a look around me to see good friends- fine people allowing me to share in what is for me, an experience I could only have dreamed of growing up as a kid in Wisconsin.
What a night. What a trip. What friends. What a life.
Cindy and I just boarded our American Eagle flight out of Marsh Harbor for the hop back to Miami. My mind is full of memories. Many, like Orchid Bay and Nippers on Great Guana Cay, I have not mentioned. Suffice to say that for all I have written in this log, there were many other stories.
I must thank Paul and Patrice Messina for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. They and other friends with boats have allowed me to live better than I perhaps have a right to, as I love boating and the ocean more than almost anything on earth.
Most of all I want to also thank Cindy and the Messinas for their companionship and patience, because good times with good friends is what I treasure most of all on this earth.