Light Air Sailing in the Old Bahama Channel

April 7, 4:03am
22 36' N, 077, 56' W

Greg and I are on watch. I just had my second cup of coffee, and Greg just re-appeared from the galley with his. Isbjorn is meandering along the north side of the shipping lanes in the Old Bahama Channel, about three miles off the Grand Bahama Bank, sailing slow with just the mainsail up (the jib was slatting too much). In these parts the depths go from the thousands of feet in the channel to less than 20 feet, in under two miles. Some wild underwater topography. The loom of some unknown town in Cuba is visible off to the left, and there's a lighthouse over yonder too. There is no moon, and the clear sky is super dark, studded with stars, 'down to he horizon,' as they say. It's true.

It's impossible for me to glance at the chart in this neck of the woods and not let my gaze drift over towards the Bahamas. The Exumas are only 125 miles to the northeast. I haven't been this close since I was a kid on my mom & dads Allied Princess 'Sojourner', with my sister and two cats rounding out the crew. I was 9, Kate was 7. It was the spring of 1994.

Scrolling over the Exumas just now on the iPad charts, all these familiar places pop up. Georgetown, of course, the furthest south we got then. Norman's Cay with the downed airplane. Warderick Wells, Allan's Cay (with all the iguanas), Pipe Creek, where I was nearly eaten by a hammerhead shark (though didn't know it at the time). I'm amazed at how clearly the memories are of that trip, jostled loose from the cobwebs of my head at 4am by a simple glance at the chart. Even the shapes of the islands are familiar, and I can pick out spots we anchored. I haven't looked at those charts since we were actually there! Cool stuff.
We're inside 300 miles to Havana now, and it's actually a blessing that the wind has shut off a bit. Until last evening we'd been averaging a blistering 170 miles per day, and at that pace would have gotten to Havana just after dark on Friday. The entrance to Marina Hemingway is non-negotiable at night. So our more leisurely pace of about 4.5 knots right now is better suited to properly timing our landfall.

After our swim and complete calm the other day the wind turned on in earnest and was touching 25 knots overnight. Mia & Rob got me up around 10pm to reef down. Isbjorn was hauling ass, and had we been racing, could have easily flown full sail, but it was tense on the helm, dark in the overcast night, unnerving and tiring. I could sense it from my bunk and was just waiting for the call. We took two reefs in the mainsail and rolled part of the genoa. Even under reduced canvas we made 8.5-9.5 knots all through the night. Our adjusted 24-hour run - from 3pm after the calm ended, until 3pm yesterday - topped out at 197 miles, a new record for the boat under our stewardship.

But of course the fun never lasts that long, and you've got to learn to avoid the 'at this pace...' trick to stay sane. It's kinda like golf - you can't birdie the first hole and then expect to shoot 18 under par. Past performance in offshore sailing based on ideal weather rarely projects accurately into the future.

As I write, we're quickly running out of real estate on the edge of the banks, so Greg and I will jibe the mainsail over and see if we can hoist the jib again on the new course. I haven't written anything about Cuba yet, by the way, but believe me, it's on our minds! The Cruising Guide and Fred's Lonely Planet book have been making the rounds among the crew, and our discoveries within have been the daily topic of conversation at lunchtime. For my part, I'm holding off on thinking too much about it, trying to stay in the moment and enjoy this passage, the longest I've done on Isbjorn since we bought her (by the way, we've sailed her some 7,200 miles in the year since that first trip south from CT last April!). But the closer we get, the harder that becomes!