By Carol Bechtel, Becketwood Member
Introduction: In October 2000 my husband Dave and I left our dock near the Chesapeake Bay and began our cruising life, i.e., living aboard our 37-foot sloop Crimson Cloud and heading for warmer climes. I was scared. I kept a journal. By the winter of 2003 and the following journal entry, I had gotten rather good at living aboard, but my mediocre sailing skills had improved little. I still did not enjoy rough weather and I still anticipated overnight passages with dread. We spent most of our time in the Bahamas, where the following took place.
From my journal, Tuesday-Wednesday, February 18-19, 2003
During the day Tuesday was OK. Time was always a concern, although Dave said flatly we would have no trouble making Mayaguana by midafternoon the next day. At lunchtime we turned the engine on because the wind speed was way down, after tacking east with engine on for over an hour during the morning. As the afternoon wore on, the wind speed picked up and became more than we wanted. Dave put a second reef in the main and did so efficiently, tethered to our newly installed jackline--I did feel better about his being up there [on top of the cabin]. We sailed on the smaller main and the staysail until it was almost dark. Dave had decided that he would douse the main before dark and we would motor east during the night, which we did. As much as I hated the thought of motoring all night, I couldn’t argue. We had to go east, and I didn’t want him on deck in the middle of the night. So we did, and it was tough, beating into rough seas—bang, bang, BOOM, bang, bang, bang. I don’t think we’ve ever had the bow hit the water with such force; it was like smashing into a hard bottom or cement floor.
We tried a two-hour watch schedule, but Dave was more up than down during his off-watch time . I just tried to sleep as much as I could during mine. The forward compartment was so noisy and roll-y it was untenable. I began to think about the integrity of the hull, and THAT was no good. Leaving there, I tried the starboard settee and found it surprisingly comfortable. At one point when I was asleep there, Dave woke me up by beaming the flashlight on me. We needed to bring in the staysail.
That we had an almost full moon really did help. Once the moon was up--even when it was behind clouds. It provided a great deal of light, which prevented me from the feeling I was swallowed up in darkness. Far more pleasant than the night to Fort Pierce. I had no trouble staying awake when on watch and no problems. Disconcerting as the banging was, the motion bothered me far less than big following seas, so I had no reason to complain.
I awoke at 5:40 and went up to the cockpit. The new day had already begun dawning in a lovely sky. Dave went down for a few winks. So we began the day together about 7:00 and that was the hardest part. The light revealed how big the seas had become—a combination of waves and swells as much as 12 feet, I think. We were making lousy time, under 4 knots, and it was obvious that we weren’t going to be doing any more sailing if we were to get to Mayaguana in daylight. Now is the hard part, I said, feeling tired in spite of my three or four hours sleep.
Some time later, the wind went easterly enough so that we could set the staysail again, which improved the motion slightly and our speed a lot. We were then doing over 5 knots, which improved my spirits immensely. And so we continued, time creeping by, and the engine droning on, bless it. Seeing land, in the form of the Playa Cays, was encouraging—we really were getting somewhere. But in some ways, the last twenty miles were the hardest, since we were so anxious to have them over. When we were eight miles out from Mayaguana we thought we should be able to see it. We couldn’t. All we could see were waves, more waves—just like the ones we had been seeing all night and all day. Finally about five miles out, we could definitely identify land, and then we motorsail-tacked our way almost in. Three miles out we took the sail down and motored directly into the wind. By that time we were getting some lee from the island—Dave had been speculating whether or not this would occur—and it was the smoothest, easiest part of the whole trip.
But the end, though in sight, wasn’t with us yet. Anchoring in Betsy Bay proved no easy deal. The ideal of zooming in close to the beach and dropping the hook was not to be. We tried that, and I scared myself by almost going aground [I was always at the helm during anchoring]. Then we tried and looked, looked and tried multiple times. No holds. One and a half hours later we ended up far south of where we started, with the anchor grabbed by a rock, where we held. Yeeesh.
Hour upon hour I had looked at waves. Again to me they looked like nothing so much as emerging and disappearing mountain ranges. What I had never noticed before was how white caps form. The mountains, suddenly volcanoes, erupt, spitting up a fountain of tiny bubbles that spew downhill as the whole thing disappears. On and on, each different, inexorably the process continues.
With Crimson Cloud anchored under our rock, I went to bed shortly after 7:00 p.m. and slept soundly. Awake at 6ish the next morning, I could hear and appreciate the surf over the rock bar and onto the beach. I reflected on how dispassionately I had looked at all that water and wave activity for two straight days, and how much by contrast the lapping in of waves on the beach moves me. Recently I reread my journal entry of 2002 following the horrible night off North Cat Cay. I was surprised at how much it resonated--the thought that what I love is ISLANDS. I do not need to be surrounded by water, especially on a 37-foot boat in the middle of an endless sea. Far more I enjoy the shore, those places where sea and land meet, with the life that that engenders, both flora and fauna.