ARE WE THERE YET? Guest blog by Diana and Heidi
This blog has been brought to you by Starbucks, providers of hot cocoa mix for this El gato voyage. *Disclaimer – Do not consume a banana after you have enjoyed a cup of Starbucks Hot Chocolate as it might result in a PV** event. (projecti.. v.mt.ng). Who knew? See, we are ALL lifelong learners! 🙂
Those aboard the Catana Cat El Gato never had to ask that question, for as soon as dock lines were dropped, we were where we wanted to be! Sailing is the destination and we were Bahama-Bound. Captains Annie & Eric and guest crew Heidi and Dianamal were already unwrapping this early Christmas Gift with Glee.
Heidi: Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Our first glimpse of El Gato was from underneath the boat, not really the preferred perspective when afloat.
The boat was on the hard at Dennis Point Marina on the Potomac in Maryland. She had a fresh coat of Sea Hawk bottom paint and we were overcome by how sturdy and immense she looked!
Right, so now time to launch the sexy beast, and the equally sexy and sturdy (it’s a thing…) Men of the Marina set to slinging and travel-lifting El Gato into the chilly harbor. A tight fit with literally two inches between dock and beloved hull x 2, Eric instructed the crew to gently push against the hulls, as she was lowered to ensure clearance – close only counts in horseshoes and Bocci Ball, so we were good to GO!
As we boarded the regal Cat, suffice it to say she looked like she had coughed up a hairball. Tons of tools, random systems parts, a plethora of pillows and sexy sailboard gear filled the spacious cockpit as if it had already spent a tumultuous time at sea.
To Eric’s credit, he had already spent many many hours sorting through gear and said systems, and this was “the look” that all boat owners sport before leaving their home country for years to come. That’s okay with us and Eric used his new crew effectively as we went hands-on from the get-go. Annie and Heidi hit the streets for provisioning and weather windows, using PredictWind, and software programs filled every screen from minute one. Local Annapolis sailors Captain Holly V. and her Significant Other Dean jumped in the trusty Volvo and delivered El Gato’s mainsail and brand new Gordo furling headsail, not to mention still warm blueberry bread. Many thanks to these two, who know just what it takes to winterize a boat by Heading South as fast as possible!
So we all fell to our tasks and bonded as crew too, sharing a hotel room and food bites at the Longhorn Steakhouse (Heidi loved her Lobster Baked Potato) and the Zanzibar Marina Inn. Who knew how exotic remote Drayden Maryland could be? “WOW,” a true Eric Exclamation, NOW we’re ready to GO!
BOOM, heading down the Chesapeake Bay and loving life, our 0700 Dec. 3 departure saw a typical misty morn with temps reading 18 degrees Centigrade, whateva that means.
It’s Cold and Time to Make Tracks! After approximately 80 nautical miles of getting to know the boat heading out of the Chesapeake Bay, the 13-mile span of the Bay Bridge Tunnel lay ahead. We crossed over the submerged section as El Gato’s masthead was a bit close for the 74-foot bridge section clearance. And as evening fell, sailed smoothly through this gate to the North Atlantic and our Gulf Stream Crossing.
After clearing Chesapeake Bay with the setting sun, Annie guided us south, following a dark coast searching to find the best break in the strong Gulf stream current. She used Passage Weather to pull her best image of Tuesday’s Gulf Stream prediction and we headed for the Southeast-angled gap that led us through a smooth crossing while we acclimated to our watches and ocean life.
As we sailed out of sight of land, there were events over the next few days that seemed miraculous to us. The dolphin escort,
the two chickens that continued to feed us meal after meal and the fact that we never had any head winds or waves. Still, we knew the breeze was coming Wednesday, and would be our next challenge after a successful and cooperative crossing of the Gulf Stream. Some excerpts from the trusty log show us making the most of things at 0810 with 398nm to go on a course of 210 degrees “Hauling Ass!” True dat baby, El Gato, she be our sleigh ride South! The 0900 entry saw a top boat speed of 15 knots by Captain Annie, followed by fresh Biscuits and Bacon by Annie & Heidi.
Eric and Di were grateful for this and Eric had been brainstorming a number of projects onboard and nailing every one! Di & Heidi made their goal of breaking the 350 nm half-way mark to go, with VMG of 9.5 recorded in the log. Happy crew, happy boat!
Now as evening of the third day fell, the wind and seas joined in building together just as expected. The wind shifted from west to NW big-number 40 degree shifts and breeze from 23-39.5 knots! We performed our new Offshore Cha-Cha with our larger and smaller headsails with Dancing with the Stars Names… Gordo, Flecko, REEF REEF REEF!
Annie’s midnight watch stood with Di just for fun saw Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride video game in the salon’s glowing Command Center. Annie sported her new auto-helm clicker technology as we were clicking to the shifts, laughing and holding on, 3 reefs and ¼ Flecko, gazing astern as the stars were also breezing by in the big shifts with waves dancing in El Gato’s 5-9’ seas & white-capped wake. No moon, stars with clouds, ships passing in the night with AIS technology. Visual checks every 10-15 minutes, and no worries as a mysterious glow became an island of its own, a glowing cruise ship off uh, I don’t know, one side or the other, Florida or Africa baby, she’s out there! (Funny story – ya had to be there ☺)
Thursday morning we saw a balmy 24o C and replaced our boots, socks and heavy jackets with shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses.
Now, our final challenge presented itself, Could we make it to Abaco before sunset Friday? Annie told us the story of the Caribbean 1500 Rally from Chesapeake to BVIs 8 years ago. A fellow traveller had decided to stop in Bahamas for a rest, but it was after nightfall, and seas were big. The other boats advised them not to attempt to cross the rocky shallows of the Bahamas in the dark. They ended up on a reef, forced to abandon ship and barely make it to the beach. One crew member was never found. With this story stuck in our minds, we raced for our goal of arrival by sunset on Friday.
Dolphin spotted again at 1700 on Thursday, 25 hrs out Spinners this time and Annie Sings to them! Enchiladas that evening (chix of course) with domino training to follow – sober! Good thing as there is a lot to Dominos. I made the comment that this would be good to use in our older age. And Annie gently reminded me – Di, you are here. This is when you play dominos. Wow, as our wonderful Eric often exclaims – another revelation!! Game on baby – I’m going to need a new moniker – Domino Dianamal! With less than 100 miles to go and the need for speedy VMG, Di also broke out her 1989 lucky still serviceable Green Flash bra that had nestled me well during lots of deliveries and racing.
Our last morning at sea saw twin fishing poles and a hand line out pulling and at noon our 30-pound tuna chomped the challenge! Phone cameras clicking and all biceps bulging, our skipjack tuna boarded El Gato after a worthy fight that traversed both hulls.
Ceviche a day later was the best evah, but back to the Action as time spent catching our fish meant with four hours to go till the need to navigate the reef strewn Whale Cay channel ( are ya with us?), Tigger and a full hoist main came out to Play!
Winds light and inconsistent so with only 2 hours to go it’s engines full speed ahead!! And we’re doin’ It!! Barreling downwind to race the clock to arrive before dark, Spirits high with no room for error. Our 5:30 date with sundown meant ‘stayin’ out all night’ if we didn’t make curfew and you know how much trouble that can mean ☺ with the powers that be.
Land HO! Spotted by Annie and confirmed by Di at 4pm Tea Time on Friday. Hardly time for a true high tea, it was Eric and Heidi forward for a Tigger down douse, main centered.
We could see the Abacos, but the sun was low and only about 45 mins of day remained. We were not going to make it before sunset. Annie charted a new course to cross a safer opening in the reefs, and we pressed on. The ease of the actual passage was ironic compared to the nervous last minute navigating, waypoint entering, and locating a sheltered place to anchor overnight. I sat on the bow stared in extremely shallow waters with just the glow of post sunset. It all seemed to happen quickly and easily. We made the cut entrance at 1720, 4 minutes after sunset! Annie made the call to shoulder the risk as we entered Whale Cay Channel, entering Chart Waypoints with one hand and Navionics on her phone display in the other, while steering with her teeth – Ah the stuff of legends! And Poof! We’re there – the question is answered! Yes darling Yes! We are there – 107 hours to the minute and approx 800 nautical miles, as anchors away at exactly 6 p.m., nestling nicely in the white sandy bottom in 2 meters of crystal clear 80+degree salty water off No Name Cay in the Abacos.
Settled in quietly just South of Green Turtle Cay, we celebrated our first Caribbean cocktail hour. Martinis were deployed, as well as a bit of rum, ginger beer and lime taboot. For dinner Chicken quesadillas, the end of our stalwart chicken buddy, signaling the end of our simple miracle trip.
Thanks for reading sailing friends, from your El Gato Captains and Guest Crew, We are most grateful for the mighty El Gato, her trusty engines and suite of sails, and most of all Annie & Eric too! Happily we said of our time together, “Ya’ do whatcha Do & Cheers to You!”
Editors Notes: Here are some photos from after we entered the Abacos – Green Turtle, No Name, Man O War, Great Guana, and Elbow Cay (Hope Town). The girls only stayed for a few days so we packed it in with watching wild life and being the wild life!
Eric and I wish to thank Diana and Heidi for being such wonderful shipmates and for helping to make our journey south a safe and memorable one.