I’ve always thought of weather as this totally random thing that some rolly polly guy on TV pretends to be the expert on even though he is always wrong. According to The Annapolis Book of Seamanship this is not the case. Weather is predictable and with a barometer, the direction of the wind and knowledge of the different kind of clouds, I too can predict the weather.
I became interested in this whole weather thing and how to predict it after aborting the first leg of our trip to Eleuthera.
We had left Marsh Harbor the day before and had sailed down to Snake Cay. It was an extremely pleasant day and the sailing was great. On the Cruiser’s Net that morning people used words like glass and millpond to describe the many passages that led from the sea of Abaco into the Atlantic Ocean. Snake Cay had great protection from the light southwest wind and served as a good jumping off point to go through the North Bar Channel into the Atlantic the next day.We rose early the next morning and missed the Cruiser’s Net, so we didn’t hear the reports on the various cuts from the sea to the ocean. The water was calm and we saw several people with fishing poles on the shore as we left the anchorage. We raised sail and set our course to the North Bar Passage.
As we made our way to the inlet the water became less settled and the wind picked up. Now we have sailed in 20 knot wind before without a problem, so this seemed no big deal. Once the inlet came into view I could see it was really rough. The waves appeared to be about 12 feet high and the spray from them, just as high. I considered suggesting that we not go through, but since Greg seemed to be exhibiting little concern, I just kept quiet. I thought, once we got through, if the water was no worse than it was in the Sea of Abaco at the time, all would be well.
Before I describe the actual passage let me first point out a few things to address any concerns, worries or fears. We picked the North Bar Cut because it seemed the safest; it is the widest and deepest inlet to the ocean. We went through at high tide, which gave us even more water under the keel. We were wearing our life jackets. It was daylight and visibility was good. I am good at staying on a heading. We had the main raised, but we also motored. Greg didn’t seem to be concerned at any point during the passage. And neither did the 5 guys who weren’t wearing life jackets and were hooting and hollering from the helm on the top floor of a gigantic 3 story fishing boat as they zoomed past us over a massive wave in the middle of the inlet.
If we had stopped time mid-passage and had taken a vote of all of the human beings in the cut at the time as to whether we were having fun or not, I would have been soundly outvoted (of course this is before Greg realized that my vote counts for 6).
Now, let me describe the actual passage. Blue Wing pitched back and forth as we entered the inlet. Huge waves splashed over her bow. But we held steady. Then she rode up a 12 foot wave, the wave broke, and Blue Wind dropped back into the water. Imagine that you weighed 7 tons and did a belly flop off the high dive at the pool. It was sort of like that, except the sound was more of an extremely loud, ominous thud, than a splash. I kept her true to her heading. We belly flopped two more times and then we were through.
Once on the other side things were better, but not good. The water was much rougher than it was in the Sea of Abaco. We had left the 12 foot waves behind, but Blue Wind was still pitching back and forth beyond comfort. I had forgotten to put on my sea bands that morning. I sent Greg below to retrieve them, but he could not find them and I didn’t want to leave the helm to go look. The wind was coming from the south, the direction we were heading, so we were going to have to tack back and forth to get to our destination. I brought up that the anchorage that we were going to had no protection from southerly winds. We considered heading to more protected anchorage father south down the coast of Abaco. We tacked and sailed on. We pitched back and forth. Blue Wing’s bow was bobbing up and down too much for me to get a fix on anything on the horizon, so I held the course by watching the numbers on the compass. I felt ill and suggested that we go back. Now, Greg didn’t think it was a good idea to go through the passage. I began to have trouble mentally focusing on the numbers of the compass. I couldn’t go on. We decided to head the Little Harbor inlet and go back to the Sea Abaco. We dropped sail, cranked the engine, and Greg took over the helm. I promptly got sick.
The Little Harbor inlet was much calmer than North Bar. We motored through and anchored the boat off of Lynyard Cay, after which I started to get interested in the weather. I wanted to know why this 20 knot wind was so different from any other 20 knot wind we had sailed in and I though maybe it had something to do with the weather. I pulled out The Annapolis Book of Seamanship and read about the daily weather cycle, prevailing winds, thermal effects, fronts, low-pressure systems, barometers and clouds. I am not sure I understood much of it and I am not sure it answered my initial question, but now we keep and eye on the barometer, wind and clouds. We track the changes every day hoping to glean any small bit of information of what we may be facing out there as we sail the beautiful Bahamas.