Right now, we are in Lucaya, near Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. It is a bit more lively area than West End, which is great. We had a delicious dinner out last night at The Flying Fish, a little restaurant we can easily drive our dinghy to. Lucaya also has beautiful white sand beaches, one of which we visited yesterday. Taino Beach had white sand out stretching out far enough into the waves for me to want to go for a real swim. Lovely. Today and tomorrow are forecasted to be super windy, so lots of boats have come to the docks, and I’m sitting on SV Banksy in the growing wind, writing this...
We hadn’t planned to come down towards Freeport next, but we were antsy in West End, waiting for a weather window that was long enough to get us safely onto the Little Bahama Bank, headed towards Spanish and Green Turtle Cays.
We really need two days to get to get from West End to Great Sale Cay with our speed and style, but we would have settled for one very long day. We average about 5 nautical miles per hour, (or 5knots / 5kts). I love the wind to be under 30kts, and the seas to be under 4 ft. We have learned that wind against strong swell or current is nasty. We want to be in daylight when sailing into new anchorages or docks. We also want to be able to do some visual navigation, looking into the waters, as we do our first narrow inlet and real shallow sailing in the Bahama Banks. Finally, we need time at the end of the sailing day to choose and test an anchorage with good holding and protection from prevailing winds.
We were waiting for weather that fit that description, and it just didn’t come. There was a day that had been forecasted to be a good long day where we could make it to Great Sale Cay*, but when we woke, there were lightning storms rolling by… There was no way we were heading out in that! We stayed put.
There was a day where the sailing was going to be nice…but the winds were going to be very strong and clock around (change direction clockwise) that night. Those 30-40kt winds changing directions didn’t fit the wind and wave protection at the anchorages at Great Sale Cay, so we decided to go to Lucaya, instead…
*Fun fact: “Cays” is pronounced "keys".
It was a beautiful light-wind, low-seas sail from West End to Lucaya. We were flying the code zero and our little boat was beautifully doing up to 7kts. Flying! I tried SeaBands, and didn't feel bad, and didn't need anything else. Wonderful!
When we went to raise our sails, we noticed that the autopilot wasn’t working. The chart plotter system said “no autopilot computer”. Hmmmm. Not cool. The autopilot is wonderful because it allows you to automatically follow a heading—or even a wind angle! We knew we weren’t going to be able to do the wind setting with our wind instrument out of commission (more on that in a minute), but now we had no “third crew member” to hold a heading while we wrangled our lighter wind sail, aka the code zero.
We decided that a day of hand steering would be fine. Hand steering takes a lot more concentration, but of course is totally doable. It was a bit funny (and sometimes annoying) to see how often I would end up sailing to whatever wind felt best (amazing!)… or whatever item on the horizon caught my attention (squirrel!). It was good practice. But why did we lose autopilot functionality on a two-year-old boat? Well, it turns out that this is pretty common after a big lightning storm…
The day after we arrived at the Old Bahama Bay resort in West End, there was a lightning storm. Ryan and I were on our boat, inside the salon (main living area, a small living room/kitchen combo). The newer lagoon 42s have a gorgeous, almost 360-view of the surroundings. We listened and watched as the thunder and lightning grew closer and closer.
Have you ever been above tree-line on a mountain top when a fast storm moves in? The air is charged and you can feel it on the back of your neck. You try to make it downhill before it hits, into the trees, into an area where there are lots of things taller than you. Our boat was one of a handful of tall-masted sailboats in the marina. The only thing nearby that was taller than the couple of sailboats our size was a nearby radio tower. The lightning storm was all around—super prolific. There was nowhere to run down to, nowhere lower to go. We sat. We watched. We listened.
The thunder rolled in closer and closer, and we felt the electricity build. We saw the light of a very-nearby strike and heard the thunder right on us. When the lightning struck, it was close. So close. I could feel the pulse in my jaw! Or maybe that was just me clenching it in nervousness. We heard something sizzle in the distance. All was quiet for a moment…and then… there was a funny sound in our boat: Our radio had turned itself on?!
We waited for the storm to move on before we went outside to see what in the marina had been damaged. The lightning strike didn’t seem to have hit us directly—but sheesh was it close. There was an acrid smell along the dock, and we later learned that the local shop had been hit.
Weather- and supply chain-dependent
With the lightning pulse being close enough to turn on our radio, we did a bit of research and decided we should check all our electronics. There was one thing that didn’t seem to work—our wind instrument. Ryan went up the mast to look for evidence of lightning (none) and test and retrieve the windex so we could do further tests. We checked every single electronic thing on the boat, I think. Except… the autopilot?
It’s not pleasant to do long sails without the autopilot system, quite frankly. Everyone says you can sail short handed (just the two of us) no problem without lots of modern instruments, but when you say autopilot, they pause. “Ugh, I mean, you can do it of course, but that’s just not fun.”
We will probably hang here in Port Lucaya until we get an autopilot replacement system, though we might end up heading back to Florida. Meanwhile, Lucaya (at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club) is not a bad place to be waiting for parts and weather. Tuesday looks like good sailing weather and seas! :)