“Duwan, we have a problem. Do you feel good enough to steer for a bit? The mainsail is coming off the mast.”
It was about midnight. The wind was blowing over 20 mph, and our boat was bucking like a bronco in the Gulf Stream.
There was no prior indication that the sail and mast wanted a divorce. Not when we sailed down from Stuart to West Palm Beach a few days earlier. And certainly not while we stayed in Lake Worth, preparing to cross to the Bahamas. But the rocky Gulf Stream puts all relationships to the test.
We had started the trip by leaving the Lake Worth at 5pm to sail all night and arrive during the day. We sailed for a couple of hours before Duwan realized that her super seasick medication wasn’t going to work this time. She was able to steer long enough for us to furl the headsail, though. But with just the mainsail up we couldn’t make any headway against the wind and Gulf Stream, so I cranked the engine and motor sailed.
I crept along at under 2 knots, keeping an eye on cruise and cargo ships to make sure we were out of their paths. (Thinking, of course, that I could walk this distance faster.)
Our sail is held to the mast by a series of fittings. Plastic slugs slide into a groove on the mast, and plastic rings hold the sail to the slugs. These are probably original 30-year-old parts, and I was just asking too much of them. Four of the slugs broke before I noticed the great gulf between mast and sail. With the increased flapping they would all break soon.
Duwan was able to steer while I climbed out of the cozy cockpit onto the heaving deck to lower and tie the sail. Now we made even slower progress.
The only other excitement occurred when a big cruise liner passed from south to north in front of me. I had been watching it for a while to make sure our paths wouldn’t meet. I felt relief as it passed, then confusion as it stopped. It baffled me even more by going back to the south and stopping again. It was lit up like a city and surely full of passengers. Why weren’t they going anywhere? Should I pass to the north or south? I chose north. As I came abreast of it, about a mile off, it started moving again then accelerated back south. Relief once again.
At sunrise we were about halfway to West End on Grand Bahama Island. With the Gulf Stream behind us we picked up a little speed. But it was still 4:30pm before we made it to West End. Exhausted, we decided to stay at Old Bahama Bay Marina.
As we pulled in, sailed wadded up and tied, everything on deck knocked askew by waves, boat and sailors covered with dried salt, Kirk helped us dock. He gave us a lower-than-advertised rate and asked the customs/immigration officer to stay late and clear us in. The officer was very kind, and cleared us quicker than it took us to fill out the paperwork.
So here we are in the beautiful Bahamas, with friendly Bahamians, and cruising neighbors to chat with. Gulf Stream, what Gulf Stream? All is well. Oh, we better fix that sail. Maybe we should replace those plastic fittings with stainless steel ones.