Night Passage|Abacos|Little Harbor|Nassau|Bahamas

We spent the day preparing for our overnight sail from Little Harbor in the Abacos to Nassau to pick up our soon arriving guests. There is a lot of work involved in preparing for an overnight crossing. The journey must be mapped out with the paper charts then entered into the chart plotter and the GPS then reviewed once again for verification. Some say that it is nuts to do all this repetitive plotting but we feel it is important since we will be traveling through skinny water with scattered reefs as well as 10,000+ feet of water with Atlantic swells, if we were to have equipment failure our back up plan is already in action and we believe there is no such thing as too much planning. After our course is plotted the next important preparation is to get our fishing gear ready to be dropped as soon as we reach the ledge, fish for dinner, very important! Sandwiches must be made, in case no fish are caught, another backup plan, plus the Captain likes to snack on his watch so the Chips Ahoy must be assessable. The sea cocks in the head and galley must be closed; any heel over 10 degrees causes’ water to back up in the sinks which puts us at a risk of taking water on board. Then we must assess the cabin area, all loose items must be securely stowed, it’s amazing how objects can find their way unbound and go flying across the cabin in a 20 degree heel. All systems must be checked such as the level of oil in the engine, amount of fuel on board, belts are checked for wear, seals for leaks, and an overall visual of the engine compartment. The dinghy must be brought on board and secured as well as the 75 pound out board motor which is not an easy task. Sail covers removed anchor up and stowed.
The list goes on and on, it is quite a chore preparing for an overnight passage.

Once underway I am in charge of the watch schedule and set up, we normally do 3 hour watch rotations with 30 minute lapse time in between to allow the person coming off watch to wake up and freshen up, it also allows the person coming off watch to unwind before going below to rest. We also use this time to give a brief report of what is going on, what has happened, and just say hi to each other.

Now it’s time for night watch on Mary Rose, close your eyes and join me.

The night breeze is blowing; the air is damp and brisk as it passes over the side of your face. The coolness is not uncomfortable but just enough to keep your senses vitalized. It is early morning and the only sounds you hear is the whoosh of the water as it moves out of Mary’s way the sound is rhythmic almost hypnotic, then you can hear the occasional flutter of the mainsheet as excess air spills over its massive sides and the gentle snoring of the captain as he rests below. The air is damp and smells of fish and musk. The scenery is dark, all you can see is the vast blackness as you peer out into the water and the white trail of sea foam the rises out of the darkness and surrounds you as Mary’s bow cuts through the water. In the water you also notice the dazzling bio luminous that salsa through the disturbed water, giving the image of diamonds in the water. In the distance you can make out the vague line that separates the sky from the water. The sky is cosmic and painted the darkest blue like a blank painters pallet sprinkled with zillions of silver twinkling stars, no moon, no clouds just vastness. Your senses must stay alert as you sail into the darkness. Keeping ever watch on the horizon and radar for others wishing to invade you space. You stand ever so often and meticulously scan the horizon, a slow 360 degree turn in search of white, green or red lights that appear and disappear as vessels approach closer and closer. There just ahead, you see a red light, you quickly refer to the radar screen to validate what you see, but there is nothing there, you ask yourself if maybe your senses are playing tricks, you verify visually and yes they are there and they are approximately 2 miles off your bow. You transform in to action mode and try earnestly to hail the approaching vessel, “Vessel on the south east side of Great Abacos heading north, this is sailing vessel Mary Rose on you port side. Do you have a visual on us?” You wait with annoyance for a reply, nothing heard. You repeat this time with more passion, “Vessel on the south east side of Great Abacos Island heading north, this is sailing vessel Mary Rose on you port side. Do you have a visual on us?” Still nothing heard as the red light approaches closer and closer! Within nano seconds your mind begins to seek through all the information you know and have learned about sailing, and then in an instant it hits you, you have no option but to change course!! You jump below as Mary dances through the rocking seas and you flip the engine switch to the on position, you jump back into the cockpit with lighting speed and grab the tiller off of the autopilot and fiercely push Mary Rose’s bow off the wind , she responds quickly, her course changes dramatically and you pass the sailing vessel approximately a quarter of a mile to your starboard side, collision avoided! The scoundrel boat must be oblivious to what has just occurred as they sail along through the darkness with no radar reflector, no one manning the helm what kind of idiot can this person be? Hence, one reason there is constantly the need for night watch! After avoiding a near collision it is time to get Mary back on course shut down the engine and drink a cold glass of milk to calm the nerves. As the adrenaline wears off you return to the challenge of keeping your body alert and aware of your surroundings…coffee time! You settle down in the cock pit as you look around you realize that the Atlantic swells are living up to their reputation, the swells have grown to 5-8 feet and are approaching about every 3 seconds. Mary’s bow is crashing through them with both power and with reverence. We are wrapped in two of the most powerful forces on earth, the ocean, the sky and either could open up and devour us at anytime, and this fact we have great respect for. Sailing is all about respect. As your night watch advances forward, your body grows tired as well as your mind. You begin to think about things, people in your life, mistakes made, regrets discovered, loves lost before their time, upcoming week’s menu, for me, tonight, my thoughts this early morning is my surroundings. It is incredible the concepts your mind will divulge when your body is fatigued. You park yourself in the cock pit, body fighting not to give in to the fifteen degree heel that resulted from an unpredicted increase in wind speeds. In a quick glance you notice under the boom that there is a light off in the distance, you struggle to stand and maintain your balance to evaluate the situation. It’s bright and elongated, your first thought is it’s one of those pesky cruise ships, but within a split second you realize it’s the moon rising! What a glorious sight to behold, large bright and orange and interconnected with the ocean. You stand in awe, giving little consideration to the struggle you body is fighting, your focus is this magnificent sight but in your mind you realize with the rising of the moon come new obstacles! The light of the moon is tremendous and lights up the surroundings. It seems to magnify the water and the swells that you knew were there before but now come to life. You look around and no longer is there just the darkness but now you behold large ominous outlines of the enormous swells that Mary has been pouncing through. You also notice there is a wind driven chop on top of the frequenting swells. Totally different visual! The waves crashing over her bow are now illuminated as tons of water and sea spray shower the deck. You look around at the sights and notice dried salt all over the cabin top, the stainless steel glistens as if it were covered with crystals. The phrase of, “out of sight out of mind” comes in to understanding during times like this. It is a stunning but also an intimidating view. Mary Rose relentlessly beating forward, determined to deliver her crew safely to port with the occasional rogue wave coming up over the bullwork causing an embankment forcing the trapped water to gush back towards the cockpit and finally exiting through the scuppers. Your thoughts are interrupted by a new sound….beep,beep,beep,beep comes from below. You find yourself feeling bittersweet, your body wants to rest but your mind knows that there are treasures that may be missed with sleep. The Captain pulls himself up the companionway with that usual big beautiful smile, “How’s it going!” You look around and smile as you think to yourself this is all a true blessing! I am blessed to have the opportunity to follow my dreams...this I realize.

Kisses and hugs to the Captain; now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one... characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.
Henry David Thoreau