Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stumbling Through the Bahamas, One Mistake at a Time

We spent a couple peaceful days anchored out in Old Fort Bay swimming around and checking out some of the coral.  On the third day after Ashley's arrival, we had to move Moitessier to West Bay, due to a wind direction change.  Since the wind was coming from the north at about 25 kts, Old Fort Bay was no longer an option for a sheltered anchorage.  Since we were planning on going to the Exumas the next day, we figured we would just head over to West Bay, get up early in the morning, and head south around Nassau and make our way southeast to Allen Cay.  Getting into the anchorage proved to be quite simple, with visual piloting around some coral heads, but leaving proved to be quite a debacle.  

In West Bay, there are 2 ways to get in and out of the anchorage.  One is from the north, which we entered from, and another is in the south.  We stupidly decided to leave early in morning without the sun high in the sky to help us read the water.  Since we hadn't entered through this cut, we had no reference really as to where the shallow water began and ended.  We were relying on our chart-plotter which didn't have too much information on depths, as well as on our paper charts which also weren't too helpful, but with a time crunch to get into Allen Cay with daylight behind us, we foolishly left early in the morning against our gut instinct.  What a mistake that was.  With me at the helm, I watched the depths quickly drop from a safe 10 ft to 6.5 ft within seconds.  By the time I had realized what was happening and put the "brakes" on Moitessier, it was already much too late.  We ran aground onto a large, camouflaged coral bed.  

I must say, that may have been the longest 5 minutes of my life.  With every bashing on the coral Moitessier was taking, I felt my heart breaking.  The waves were thrashing Moitessier up and down, and the boat was rocking back and forth.  Any longer and water would've started to enter the bulwarks.  At this point, I was still at the helm when Frank told me to back off the coral. Frank was shouting don't back up into a coral head.  He hadn't thought to help look behind me and in his frantic state, he was concerned that I would hit the rudder or prop straight into a coral.  With Frank panicking and shouting, I ended up making him take over helming as I became the eyes behind the boat.  We were all freaking out and I figured that it would be easier if I just told him which way to steer.  After what seemed an eternity, Frank finally reversed us off of the coral bed.  We finally started to gain depth and watched the depth-sounder slowly rise again as my heart rate slowly dropped.  

By far the most frightening experience thus far.  Of course the trip to Allens was delayed another day as we went back to our anchorage to assess the damage done to our poor baby.  Surprisingly, actually very surprisingly, Moitessier had only suffered a few cosmetic scratches and where we scraped the bottom against the coral, the paint simply had chipped away.  A testament to the resilience of older built boats.  We were so proud of her and apologized for our wrecklessness.  Chalk it up to another lesson learned through us not listening to our instincts.  Though it was a bit traumatic, I'm glad we learned the lesson that we can't ignore our gut and that in the Bahamas, it is extremely important to have sun behind you for visual piloting.  

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