Ready, Set, …Wait

We’ve been cooling our heels in Emerald Bay Marina, which is adjacent to the site of the ill-fated Fyre Festival. I went for a run this morning to go view the festival site, which is now the beginnings of a neighborhood development. As someone who has deep interest in both project management and events, the Netflix and Hulu documentaries about Fyre gave me cold shivers.

We are ready to sail Gratitude to Turks and Caicos, which should take five or six days, but there has been this little problem of the wind. It’s blowing strong and from an undesirable direction. While we are waiting to set sail, I wanted to write about the process we go through before we undertaking a passage.

Step 1 – Passage Planning. There are whole books written about the passage from Florida to Grenada, which is the big picture of what we are undertaking. It’s commonly known as the Thorny Path. It’s a more technical and complicated route for us, and we have both put a lot of research into this. My general approach is to research what others have done and to review routes, depth charts, and wind conditions and then pick our intended anchorages. I pay particular attention to the next leg or two of the trip and pore over charts and depths and sometimes factor in tides.

The screen shot below is from Active Captain, which is a great tool for us when we have internet access. It’s sort of a Google Maps and Yelp mashup for reviewing routes, anchorages, marinas, and more. We use this for high-level planning and then our on-board chart plotter for the more detailed navigation.

One of the charting tools we use for passage planning

Step 2 – Meal Planning. We are anticipating 18 meals (3/day) at sea, snacks, with some contingency rations in case we are delayed. Obviously, I hope we catch a fish or three along the way. Coming up with that many meal plans in advance takes a bit of work. Of course, this is small compared to what some people do when they are on a major crossing.

Karen, doing meal planning for the trip

Step 3 – Provisioning. We used the weather delay to rent a car and go into George Town. The only real complicating factor here is that they drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas, with the steering wheel on the right. It takes some time to adjust. We bought groceries, went to several marine hardware stores, and filled our propane tank. In the process of this, we discovered there was a diesel shortage in this part of the Bahamas, and to make matters worse, some guy just took 4,000 gallons of diesel for his mega yacht, so we were left with a decision as to whether to proceed with our tanks half full or wait five days for more fuel to arrive. They had a little bit left that they were carefully rationing out, but Karen saved the day by sweet-talking the dock master out of 100 gallons, which was enough to top off our tanks.

Step 4 – Making Ready. This involves last-minute checks, securing everything that could get knocked over or fall over, moving things from outside to inside as needed, tightly securing the dinghy, and closing all hatches and vents. With each pass you make, you tend to find “one more thing” that needs doing.

Step 5 – Not So Fast There! Weather really matters when you’re on the sea. I still tend to think about weather the way an airplane pilot would, but being on a sailboat is an altogether different undertaking. In a plane, oftentimes you can change altitude if things get rough. That is not a desirable option for a sailboat. And even relatively slow planes can probably make about 60 mph over the ground, so you can outrun or dodge a lot of bad weather. Sailboats like Gratitude are happy to make nine mph, so you could easily get caught in some nasty stuff if you weren’t careful.

While we were planning our departure and trying to get fuel, our weather window collapsed. The winds shifted direction and increased, and the seas got very stirred up. We had to stay put. The winds have been blowing hard for days now, and the next possible weather window looks like Monday (Memorial Day) or maybe Tuesday. One thing we have learned to embrace, however, is that waiting is part of the journey when you’re sailing.

Speaking of weather, we use a couple of sources for weather forecasts and information. We subscribe to Windy (below) to show predictions for wind, seas, tides, and more, and we also subscribe to a weather forecasting service where a meteorologist, Chris Parker, emails us a marine-specific forecast for our area each day. He focuses on the Caribbean, Bahamas, and the East Coast of the US, and most sailers we meet are very familiar with his forecast for the day.

Windy shows wind and current data and more

Speaking of other sailers, when you talk about making a trip like this, something funny happens. We spent a few weeks in Chicken Harbor (AKA George Town) a few miles south of here, and there you will find no shortage of opinions about this passage. Most of those opinions are negative. In fact, we were advised early on by one seasoned sailor to avoid George Town altogether, since hundreds of boats wind up there each year and decide to go no further (hence the nickname Chicken Harbor). The reason is that they talk each other out of going anywhere. The concern is that once you leave the harbor, the seas are rougher, the winds are stronger, and you have to venture from the protection of the Exuma Sound into the more open Atlantic Ocean. There is no question that it is a more demanding journey. Hopefully, we will soon have this leg of the passage behind us.

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