Chapter 8: The Return--Solo Sailing without an Autopilot

Saturday September 25, 2005.  I am up at daybreak to do a final sea trial.  The Sirius II fails her test, which I knew she would, but I am prepared to depart north for George Town anyway.  The first stop will be an anchorage on the leeward shore at the northern end of the island, Cape Santa Maria.  I make it well before nightfall.  The seas are calm enough to allow me to use the autopilot about half the time.  The next day, with following, calm seas, the autopilot is worthless.

Arrive in Georgetown a little past 1:00 p.m.  Time enough to have lunch at Two Turtles and do my monthís collection of laundry.

Monday September 27, 2005.  Top off with fuel and water and prepare for an overnighter to Nassau.  Barometer holding steady at 30.05.

On Tuesday I wait for the sun to rise before I cut through at Ship Channel Cay and cross the shallow, unmarked Banks for Nassau.  I steer most of the way as the autopilot does not work at all when I have following winds.  Nearing Nassau, I am approached by The Bahamas Coast Guard.  They ask me several questions and one of the crew appears ready to board the Sirius II.  I am prepared to tell him that if he boards my vessel, he better be prepared to work.  Navigating through this passage by myself is very stressful.  They must have seen the determination on my face as they soon lose interest in me, a slow moving sailboat, and go about their business of chasing down more challenging vessels.

There now is 80 running hours on the new engine.  Time to change the oil and oil filter, which I plan to do Thursday morning and be underway before noon.  Wrong.  Changing  oil in a boat motor requires a pump to suck out the used oil through the oil dip stick tube.  The tube on the oil pump that has served me well for over 10 years on two different engines is too big for the new dip stick tube.  I traipse over to the local marine supply stores to find small tubing to modify the pump.  In the process, I break the pump.  One of the stores has a new pump in stock (at double US price), which will work.  By now the day is turning to night.

While walking around looking for the hardware stores, I end up at the shopping mall that includes Winn-Dixie.  Wow!  After weeks at grocery stores that had more bare shelves than food, I encounter an American style super market.  Food galore.  I found myself eager to start buying food stores, even though I really didnít need anything.  Good marketing works wonders!

Friday September 30.  Finally underway for Bimini, another overnighter.  Good sailing until mid afternoon when a rain cloud I have been watching for several hours catches up.  Except that it is a squall, a huge squall.  Rain pelting down and winds to 40 knots for over two hours.  I was just barely able to pull in the sails before the squall hit.  Wind, rain, thunder and lightning throughout the night.  Arrive Saturday early afternoon at Weeches Bimini Dock.  The wind is still vicious and blows the boat away from the pier.  Two dock mates show up to assist the docking.  OtherwiseÖ.

Elect to stay over waiting for the wind to subside.  Sunday night I have a beer at End of the World and was greeted by Sunday Night NFL.  Is this football season all ready.  What a surprise.  What happened to summer and baseball?  Mother Sara, with daughter Sherry, is tending bar.  Sherry, kiddingly, still wants to go skinny dipping with me.  Yeah. Sure.

For two more days I wait for the wind to subside.  I wander about the town.  I meet again  Pistol Pete, an entertainer who has traveled the world, and who remembers me from the last time I was in Bimini.  An 80 year-old musician with his memory intact?  Who could believe this?  I canít even remember where I am going as I walk down the pier.

Some of the powerboats have left as they can cross the 40 mile Straits of Florida to Miami before the seas build up before noon.  I canít.  Finally, on Wednesday October 4, I gather the dock personnel and others to help fend me off from the dock, and depart Bimini in 20+ knot winds out of the east.  The wind subsides quickly upon leaving the island and initially the sailing is good, but within a few hours the winds fall and shift to the south.

Crossing the Gulf Stream means sailing into the current.  I calculate at least 36 hours for the passage (whereas the passage to Bimini took less than 30 hours), which is almost right on, and arrive in Key West about 9:00 Thursday night.  I elect to anchor off Fleming Key and proceed into the Garrison Bight Marina Friday to clear customs and immigration.  Friday night I sleep on the Rejoyce.  For the first time in nearly eight years, Key West feels like home.

Now, all I have to do is secure both boats for the predicted arrival of Hurricane Wilma.

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Copyright © 2006 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.
2005 Bahamas