Swing Set

Apr 28, 201309:08 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

"The Whale" and on to Marsh Harbor

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I'd said we had two options to get from Green Turtle Cay to Marsh Harbor. They were taking the Whale Cay Cut, or taking the Don't Rock Passage. The other option I didn't mention was a shallow, twisty passage just west of Whale Cay, and that's what I thought we would try, considering we'd be going at high tide. But I wasn't ready for what we found.

On Sunday morning, we got up early and had a nice breakfast of a spinach, bacon and cheese omelet with a side of toasted Bahamian bread. Don't forget a couple cups of hot coffee.

A sailboat in front of us had just pulled anchor, and I called him on the VHF. He'd just come through the Whale Cut at noon on the day before, and although he said it was "bumpy," he thought it wasn't too bad. I knew he came through in much greater wind than we had this morning, and he also said we would have better conditions going through than he did, if we left now. We were pulling anchor as I spoke to him, and we headed out.

The Whale is a narrow cut that dumps deep ocean water onto a shallow area of the Sea of Abacos. The swells roll in, even in good conditions, and they rage in bad conditions. A strong northerly wind, coupled with an outgoing tide, result in breakers that will wreak havoc with even the largest of vessels. My approach was to get a visual on any breakers before we committed the boat to the cut.

When we made our turn to pass through the cut, we could see that the ocean wasn't breaking in the channel, but the swells were big, the biggest we'd encounter so far. But since there were no waves breaking, our curling over, I figured we had a shot. I also realized why taking the Don't Rock Passage or the Whale Cay Cut were equally treacherous; trying to negotiate a shallow and twisty passage with the giant swells would be tricky. I considered attacking the swells head-on in a straight line to be our best chance.

When we passed through the cut, we only rang the ships bell twice, but sea spray was blowing over the top of the bimini. We had our isinglass closed, and we stayed dry and nobody barfed, but I had a grip on the wheel just trying to keep us on a straight course. I know now that if we ever encounter waves taller than the boat, I will simply crap my pants.

After getting through the cut, we had to make a turn to the south and take on beam seas to head for the Loggerhead Cut. The Loggerhead Cut was dredged more than 20 years ago to make a channel for cruise ships transiting the cays in this area, but the route was abandoned soon after because it was too dangerous. As we were headed for the Loggerhead Channel, we could see a huge wreck in our path that wasn't on any chart we had. I wasn't sure if it was in our way or not, until we came right up on it.

With the swells to our stern, we glided into the Loggerhead Channel, keeping distance from the old steel posts that used to mark the channel. Once we got Guana Cay on our port side, the seas calmed and we made a beeline to Marsh Harbor, eight miles away. I was a nervous wreck.

Entering Marsh Harbor is no easy task. The channel twists and turns through several shoals, plus boats are at anchor throughout the harbor, so it was hard to tell where we were supposed to go. In these situations, I always figure that it must be deep between any two  boats, so I used that method to get into the back of the harbor.

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