Sunday, June 4, 2017

55-56. The Rest of the Story

I know we left you hanging and owe you a blog to wrap up our time in the Caribbean.  I have started to write this blog so many times but can never make myself finish it.  To be honest, it feels like the closing of a great book that you just don't want to end and by not bringing our story to completion, I can somehow keep it alive, like we didn't have to come back to reality :)
But we did and it has actually been exciting and new for a whole different reason.  So I think I can finally start to put into words how amazing our last few months at sea were.

As excited as we were to reach the Bahamas, we knew a big blow was headed our way and we needed to find a safe hole soon.  The southernmost island of the Bahamas, Great Inagua, may be the second largest island in the chain but it offers absolutely no protection for wind from the north, exactly what was heading our way.  So after a quick reprovisioning in Matthew Town, we spent the next two days island hopping to a safe hole to hide out the blow.  
On the way to our hidey-hole we found a deserted atoll in the middle of the ocean.  Nothing as far as the eye could see!  We enjoyed a snorkel and walk-about on the sandy spit.
We finally found a tiny but well protected inlet in the Crooked Islands called French Wells and happened upon an abandoned mooring ball.  We were so excited at our luck until we noticed that the boat wasn't rocking anymore.  We quickly realized the mooring ball had broken free but we hadn't gone far and settled in the soft sand of a shallow less than 10ft from where we started.
 Andrew (with a little help from Sky) dove to the block and quickly got us resecured.  He also added an extra line to be sure we would hold strong through the blow.  

Not many 14 year olds get their own private island view for their birthday but we spared no expense for our Paige Nicole :) We made the most of our windy isolation and had a proper celebration aboard Abby.  
    Pancakes and presents and cake - oh my!
When weather hits and you are in the middle of nowhere it is kind of like being snowed in, without the freezing cold.  We introduced the girls to Star Wars and watched a different episode every night with dinner!  
They have been enlightened :)
During our week waiting out the blow we also started learning new skills, Paige editing in Final Cut X and Sky becoming quite the baker.
 I really enjoyed being stuck aboard with my favorites but Andrew got a little stir crazy so one afternoon when the wind had temporarily calmed a bit, he and I ventured out.  We took the 30 minute dinghy ride to the nearest dock and walked 2 miles before we happened upon a lady who was kind enough to drive us the rest of the way to town to fill up our jerry cans and reprovision a bit.  
    The blue dot is Abby, the red line is our dinghy trail.
We were glad to get out and stretch our legs but the girls were even more happy to see us return as the sun was setting and the wind was picking up.

    Shenanigans aboard.

After a week of alone time, we were eager to get to some of the more populated Exuma islands.  We made our way to the east of Long Island
and even cut a day off our journey by squeaking through Hog Cay Cut (where Paige is pointing) at high tide - with only a few rubs on soft sand.  
    Our lookouts hard at work.
As we rounded the bend to turn north and realized Georgetown was in sight, the excitement bubbled over!  We could see the breadcrumbs of our Delorme path, we were about to complete our Caribbean loop and cross our own path from when we set out from Georgetown on our first overnight sail almost a year earlier!  
We started to reminisce about our previous Georgetown experience; when we barely knew our now very dear friends aboard Take Two, and how we spent hours aboard Alley Cat taking notes of all the recommended places to stop, and how many of the people that helped make this year at sea amazing we hadn't even met yet.  We were chatting, putting beer in the freezer for when the anchor was down and trying to get some tunes cranking when all of a sudden a reef jumped up in front of us!!!  Well, not exactly.  
We had exited the southern channel of Georgetown last year and knew it was a very narrow cut.  Hurricane Matthew had rearranged some of the marker buoys, but even that isn't fully to blame.  I think we just got complacent.  Our attention wasn't where it needed to be and that is all it takes to change your day from best to worst day at sea!
We hit the reef going 6 knots!  Andrew looked up from the chart plotter just in time to see the reef in front of us.  He quickly shut down the autopilot and turned us hard over to port which probably saved us the direct hit.  The rudder high centered on the reef and lifted our entire stern up, I'm sure only inches but it felt like out of the water, before we broke free and continued on, turning a large circle as the rudder was now jammed to port.  Andrew was quick on the draw, I got us out of gear while he got the anchor down.  It was just before sunset so we quickly radioed all in the harbor and had dinghies headed our way to help in no time.  We checked the bilge, no incoming water - phew!  Andrew jumped in to check the damage and it only appeared to have affected the rudder and shaft.  
We were able to hip tie the dinghies to either side of Abby and they escorted us to a great patch of sand off Sand Dollar Beach, just south of Chat & Chill.  Andrew was super gracious to the guys in dinghies who came and helped us get anchored but I can assure you he used every word in his sailor’s vocabulary as soon as they left us to lick our wounds!  You can't help but wonder how you made it all this way, this entire year, with no huge setbacks to then sail into familiar territory and hit a marked reef.  It was an amazing lesson to learn!  And if you have to be stuck somewhere to do boat repairs, you couldn't pick a better place or community than Georgetown!
    Georgetown sunset - January 16, 2017
We were up bright and early the next morning to join in on the cruisers net - a daily radio broadcast where anyone in the harbor can get the weather, ask for help, offer up items they no longer need or just hear what events are planned for the day.  Andrew introduced us, asked for help removing our rudder and had a few guys headed our way with scuba gear in hand before the hour was up.  
    We busted it up good!
It sounds like a simple enough task to drop the rudder while in the water but it was not as neutrally buoyant as we had hoped.  So after a lot of prying and wedging, we finally got the shaft free and our damaged rudder shot to the surface like a rocket.  
Andrew was then able to confirm that Abby had sustained NO damage.  
The back of the rudder was split open like a book and our 1.25” 316 solid stainless steel rod was considerably bent but the hull didn't even have a scratch!

Now as interesting as rudder repair can be, Sky had much more important matters to deal with!  She had not seen another kid (besides Paige :) for 2 whole weeks and desperately needed some fun.  So she got on the radio and asked if there were any other kid boats in the harbor.  Lucky for her, Anna answered and quickly arranged a beach date that afternoon with all her friends.  One of the heroes who came to our rescue on the reef was crew from Seraphim.  They are a family with two boys, Banks & Theron, who just headed out on their first liveaboard adventure and are following a similar path to the one we took.  The boys hadn't really met any other kid boats yet and my girls took it upon themselves to break them in!  
So with the rudder successfully removed, friends waiting to be made on shore and cold beers needing to be shared, we headed off to our first round of sundowners at Chat & Chill beach.  

Things learned aboard this week:
Never fear that “worst thing ever” happening to you because it may turn out to be the “best mistake ever”!  Nobody likes when things don't go the way you planned.  But how well can you roll with the punches?  The less flexible I am, the more painful the strain is.  But if I chose to see all the things I can be thankful for in a less than perfect situation I always seem to be pleasantly surprised with the even better plan that I find in the process.
    Missing old friends,
    but excited to make new ones.

Finally getting the story rolling has me so excited.  Can't wait to tell you about the rest of the rudder repair and the fun we had in the process!