A Mini Tour of the Bahamas -The finish!

March 16, 2011 posted by admin

Posted March 15, 2011

log date March 2, 2011
N25d10’ W79d50’’ – Cay Lobos to Miami Sea Buoy
0129 UTC  EST (the night before)
Log Reading 1245M
Wind N20 -28knots

Drifting toward the Sea Buoy with control would be one way of describing it.  Wishing I was strapped in with a five point hitch would be another!    Here’s the summary.  11 days out.  A potential sum total of 24 hours of cumulative sleep.  Busiest shipping lane in the world.  20+ foot square waves you can’t see in the dark and fifty miles to the finish!  I can honestly say at this point exhaustion was starting to win.  By 0230 I was loaded on my third coffee.  The rain was pouring across the sky.  The traffic was never ending.  Each time a new vessel would pop up on my AIS I would write it down in my book and hail them.  Most times they were headed directly in my path, headed for Miami or Fort Lauderdale, or south to the ditch.  We were all sharing the same bucket of water.  Thankfully they were all very happy to alter course to avoid.  Once we had confirmed positions and a collision was averted, I would put a check mark next to their name.  Then I would move on to the next.  The closest call came when one ship “thought” they saw me.  When they altered course to avoid me they actually came closer.  I opened the companionway hatch to see both bow lights staring straight at me.  I called on the VHF again and after several flashes with my spotlight, a 965 foot freighter banked hard right and brushed past us.  Everything looks bigger and faster in the dark, but I’m sure I could hear the waves smashing against their hull.  It couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile away.  Then again I was also up to seeing and hearing crazy things.  I could clearly see someone climbing in over the stern of the boat right where the safety gear was mounted.  On the one hand I knew it wasn’t real.  On the other, I was perplexed as to why this person was invading my cockpit, and at one point even ran back into the cockpit to address the issue!  Then, while stationed inside the cabin, I was hearing people talking.  Again I knew it wasn’t real, but it was amazing how clear and vivid the voices were.  I think everyone who has ever done a long distance haul will attest to those odd wee hours where the unreal starts to catch up to you and the brain suffers a little!  Crazy, but nothing a little nap can’t solve.  Unfortunately I wasn’t getting a nap.

The new plan.  At the current calculations, I will drift north with the Gulf Stream at 4 knots.  I should be adjacent to the Miami Sea Buoy (my finish) around first light.  There’s an anchorage just inshore from the Sea Buoy.  The plan is to finish, sail west in to the anchorage, drop a hook and wait it out.  Then turn around and head south back to Coconut Grove or head in through the main channel.  My next course of action was to radio the US Coast Guard and inform them of my position.  I often live by the “just incase” rule of thumb.  Although the Coast Guard was a little perplexed as to my VHF call, they took my information and agreed that even though the anchorage was a lee shore, that it was probably a good idea.  By daylight I was ready.  I had almost 300 feet of anchor rode and chain.  I poked my head outside of the cabin to see what life really looked like.  Holly cow!  The seas were gigantic!  I was about 8 miles off shore and I couldn’t see the city when I was in the troughs.  There was no power when I was in the troughs.  Then we would rise up to the crest of the wave, 28 knots from the north would hit us.  We could have sailed in this but the new concern was getting in…or more specifically when something went wrong trying to get in.  Any channel would be narrow and have deep chop.  I would have to sail in.  The engine’s prop wouldn’t even touch the water.  To get to an anchorage would be feasible, but would my anchor set?  What if it didn’t?  I have a fortress anchor, which is the correct size for the boat but is one of the lightest ones you can get.  Would it even make it to the bottom before we got picked up by another wave and pushed in to the lee shore?  That close to land we wouldn’t have a northward push from the Gulf Stream.  We would be completely at the mercy of the wave action, wind and counter current pushing us onto the lee shore.  I called the Coast Guard again.  Gave them the details and asked for support to get in safely.  At 0712 on March 2, 2011 I finished.  Not only was I past the Miami Sea Buoy, but now I was heading north quickly!  Coast Guard agreed to come out and pull me in.  Sea Tow also rang me up on the VHF and offered to tow in.  Rand from Sea Tow was familiar with the boat and campaign, as we had been moored in the same basin.  They offered to come out free of charge!  It’s amazing what the human spirit is capable of!  Coast Guard arrived first, then Sea Tow.  Rand dropped a towing bridle into the water and floated it downwind to me.  I hooked it up to the primary winches.  We towed to weather and everything looked good.  Then we stopped for me to take the main down.  If my brain had been working a little better I would have realized the error I was about to make.  The next step was to drop the main.  Remember, I was heaved to.  The main was what was holding me still.  As soon as I dropped the main and the sail lost its anchoring ability, the boat took off like a rocket down the face of the next wave.  Rand said “one minute you were there, the next you were gone”.  We started screaming along with a wave and as I was at the mast trying to drop the main, I wasn’t steering, and I hadn’t thought to put the autopilot on to drive us into the wind.  Then the next wave picked us up and we started to scream even faster.  Rand saw what happened and gunned it.  He dropped the hammer on 400 some odd horsepower of outboard strength and tried to run ahead of us.  Remember….we’re now hooked together by the tow line.  Rand couldn’t catch up fast enough.  I ran over my towline and face planted into the next wave.  No damage, and now we were parked for a second and I got the rest of the main down on deck.  In the process, the towline had wrap itself once around the keel and up through the rudders.  A bit of a mess to say the least, but nothing a knife couldn’t fix.  To help, the Coast Guard put a body on deck with me.  Poor kid!  Two years in service, struggling with a bowline and plopped onto a boat with a crazy blonde who prefers to control her own domain!  He was very helpful and did everything I told him to do.  Plus he had a great time!  Eventually we got the towline sorted out and were on our way.  Then we deployed the drogue to slow us down and control our ride in.  Kyle from the Coast Guard was having a little difficulty negotiating the lumpy seas and the big gulp coffee he had slammed!  The whole towing process took 7 hours.  By the time we got to the main channel entrance to Miami, the Melges 32s that were headed out for the offshore regatta were turning around in the channel because they couldn’t get out.  Another support boat came out.  My wonderful new friends at Coconut Grove Sailing Club Nick, Dave and other helpful hands came out to lend assistance.  Nick came onboard to replace Kyle when he had to leave and said “let me drive…you need a break”.  I’m a bit possessive to say the least when it comes to my Mini, but Nick offered me a fresh tuna sandwich on a croissant, fresh fruit and a Gatorade in exchange for the tiller…..I thought it was a good deal!  Three bites into the sandwich I switched to the fruit.  Three pieces or so into the fruit my brain said “that’s it…..time for a break”, and I passed out cold.  Next thing I knew we were pulling up to my mooring ball and my little adventure was over.   
Finished 1212 UTC  0539 EST – N25d38.65’  W79d 54’


4 Responses to “A Mini Tour of the Bahamas -The finish!”

  1. jdglobemasterone Says:

    Fantastic ending Diane. From this end sometimes it’s best not to know what’s really going on out there….and wow did you ever have it going on. It’s fortunate help was there when needed given the weather and exhaustion.
    Well written….enjoyed the trip and the recap. Thanks for the great ride. I hope to soon read about the champagne bottles opening when your confirmation arrives from France. Good luck!

  2. Michelle Says:

    Diane, I felt sick when I read your last post.
    I’ve never had sea sickness on my boat but I had it at the breakfast table this morning. Your stamina and endurance are turning you into a new animal for sure. I’m so grateful that I’m not an adrenalin junkie.
    Whatever your next challenges are, I’m sure that you’ll find a way to succeed over them, I’m just glad that I can enjoy them vicariously from my armchair.

    Congratulations Diane, well earned.

  3. Jim McLellan Says:


    Congratulations on your accomplishment. I think it may have been even harder than sailing in the open ocean with all the traffic.

    I have some sympathy with your mental state near the end . I remember that while doing the lake Ontario 300 during the third night. I looked up and had no choice but to pull the tiller hard over to avoid the freight train that was coming down the lake towards me. Amazing what lack of sleep does to you.

    Well done.

  4. Michael Says:

    Congratulations Dianne!!

    Everything came together on this one. With your amazing support crew you can achieve anything.

    Congrats to everyone

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