Cruising in Fast Forward

Sailing to the Bahamas on a 54-foot catamaran? Sign me up!

Cruising in fast forward is the only way I can describe the trip I just came back from. I signed on as crew to help deliver a Nautitech 542 catamaran, _Greenboat 1_, from Miami to the Caribbean (I only had a week to give, however, so I unfortunately had to jump ship in George Town, Bahamas). What makes this trip a little different is that the captain of the boat is my brother-in-law, Jesse, and we had sailed these waters before, 10 years ago. So this trip was part delivery, but with a dose of fun in there too.

We left Miami after the boat show on the evening of February 21 and headed out Government Cut around sundown, happy to be under way. The wind was blowing of course from the east, so we motored into it making for a super-splashy ride across the Gulf Stream. I'll admit that it's been a while since I've been on night watch, and this boat is a far cry from the boat that I last did this trip on (a 1965 Pearson Vanguard), so I was a little bit intimidated. Since the conditions were snarly and we were in a busy shipping lane and most of us were new to the boat, we doubled up for watches that night. Sleeping was almost impossible with the pounding, but we managed, and had an uneventful crossing and were on the Bahama Banks by daybreak. Having a full complement of crew is a luxury, and we dropped down to single watches around this time. With six people that meant two hours on and 10(!) hours off. How civilized.

Other than Jesse and myself, the crew included my friend and co-worker David, Amanda, who's been crewing on the boat with Jesse since its launch last fall in France, James, a really experienced sailor and old friend of Jesse's, and Jacob, a newbie to sailing.

We set out the fishing lines and caught a gorgeous mahi-mahi before anchoring off of tiny Green Cay, just off of Rose Island, near Nassau. Delivery portion done for the day, we set about to more cruisey-type activities such as watching _Captain Ron_ in the cockpit and serving up the catch of the day. The next day allowed us some sleeping-in time followed by pancakes and scrubbing the hull. Need I mention that two 54-foot hulls are huge underwater? Fortunately, there's a great reef nearby, and we got in some excellent snorkel time that included a sea turtle sighting.

Once the light was good enough for coral head spotting, we weighed anchor and headed toward the cruising paradise of the Exumas. But first we had to cross the Yellow Bank. While the Bahamas are fairly well charted, the waters are also quite shallow and filled with reefs, coral heads, and sand bores, and the Yellow Bank can be a stressful stretch of water. Good, polarized sunglasses are key as is a sharp lookout.

Jesse and I were both glad to be back in the Exumas and seriously wished that we'd had more time to spend there. We dropped the hook off of Norman's Cay, then enjoyed an amazing sunset and ribs on the grill. By now we were all settling into the rhythm of cruising—looking for the elusive green flash (Jacob and David didn't believe me. They probably still don't.), eating treats from the galley (thanks Jacob!), getting annoying songs stuck in each other's heads (that's all you, James), practicing celestial navigation (well, James and Amanda anyway) and peppering conversations with Captain Ron quotes ("…does not navigate, and in my opinion, steers badly.")

A huge difference that I noticed this time while in the Exumas is that the islands didn't feel quite as remote as they did the last time. Maybe it was because we got there so fast (we're in fast forward, remember?) or it could be that I rarely lost cell coverage. Either way. (I think that gone are the days of wandering a remote Out Island looking for the BaTelCo office in order to make a phone call. Which is a shame in some ways.)

The next morning, Jacob, David, Jesse, and I took off to explore Norman's pond, which has a downed plane in the middle of it, a relic from the island's seedy drug-running past. We chatted up some cruisers anchored there and learned that the next day started the George Town Cruising Regatta (that harbor was getting too busy for our new friends). Once we got back to the boat, it was time to head out and make our way to George Town. In order to time our exit from Norman's, our pass through Wax Cay Cut to Exuma Sound, and our entrance into George Town all in good light, we needed to leave Norman's around 4 p.m., have a leisurely night passage, and enter Elizabeth Harbour in the morning.

Of course the windex only points the direction that we want to go, so it was a night of motoring, but other than that, what a night it was. Rarely in my cruising life have I been blessed by the night watches that other cruisers rave about. My nights have typically been filled with squall lines and ships. But this night was different. When I awoke for my 0200-0400 stint, I was strangely full of energy. I went up to the nav station to relieve Amanda 10 minutes early and enjoyed one of my favorite night watches. Ever. Totally peaceful, with a crystal clear sky and a bright full moon (and great music—solo dance party, anyone?). It really was magical, and for the first time ever, I actually didn't want my watch to end. Since it was my last passage (I'd be flying out from George Town the next day), I decided that I'd wake up early to catch the moon set and the sunrise, so I slept for a couple of hours and then joined David on his 0600 watch. I even made coffee cake for the crew.

Entering Elizabeth Harbour, outside of George Town, brought back memories. The first time my husband, Green, and I sailed in there, it seemed such a remote, hard won, upwind destination, and this time, while still upwind, it just seemed easier. I was shocked when I'd realized that we'd only left Miami four(!) days before.

Jesse and I listened to the VHF chatter on the morning George Town cruisers' net—it was indeed the first day of the Cruising Regatta (volleyball games! pet parades!), which runs through March 8. Unfortunately, us crew (this was still a delivery) had some chores to do, so we weren't able to participate in the festivities. That night though, it being my last night and all, we all headed into town and went dancing at the Rake n' Scrape at Eddie's Edgewater, which was a perfect ending to my super quick cruising/delivery experience.

The morning, of course, came way (way) too quickly, and I was off to the airport to catch my first of five flights home. It was a brutal day, and totally surreal. Even now, as I'm sitting at my desk in Rhode Island on Friday afternoon, I'm wondering, was I really cruising in the Bahamas, like, four days ago? As I left the boat Tuesday morning, Jesse tells me, "don't worry, this trip is about to become a lot more like work. Your timing is excellent." Indeed, a few hours later, they shoved off and started making tracks to the Virgin Islands, which was about five days of light-wind close reaching away.

Fortunately, I heard that they got to use the sails for more than decoration.

(You can read about that part of the trip in David's post On to the Caribbean)

Check out a photo gallery of the trip.