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Posted on June 5, 2017 | 0 comments

Squall!

Squall!

At 2am we float quietly away in a dead calm from Ft. Lauderdale’s Harbor Town Marina. Allen and his son, Grant, are at the helm. Down below in our separate berths are Cara, Kate (Grant’s fiancée), and me–sound asleep with the promise of waking to a tropical vacation in the Bahamas. As we enter the Atlantic Ocean, we take a southerly route seeking a better angle on the Gulf Stream. The dark night skies are a perfect canvas to various lightening strikes and distant storm cells on the eastern horizon. They are far away so Allen and Grant just enjoy the show.

A new cell appears and begins approaching from the south. Father and son debate about turning around and returning to Ft. Lauderdale, but decide it’s possible to squeak between the two cells and so they press on. A nice southerly wind comes up, blowing about 12-14 knots, so the small crew raises the sails and sail close-hauled on a course just north of Bimini. After four hours of sailing, we are about 10 miles from Bimini and most of the crew is still sleeping. Another cell approaches from the west. The early daylight exposes the very dark, black ominous color of the approaching storm so we decide to bring down the sails.

Allen gets the jib in and immediately notices that in addition to the dark color, the approaching cell has very strong winds and is rapidly approaching. Just as he starts to lower the large main sail, the incoming 45-knot blast strikes the boat. The wind rotates Gémeaux about 90 degrees and rips the sail off the top two cars that attach it to the mast. As the wind continues to rock the boat, a three-foot section of the sail remains clinging to the top of the mast as the rest of the heavy canvas sail collapses on the deck. Grant is at the helm trying to maintain our position into the wind to reduce the amount of blow onto the boat. I’m sound asleep when I hear Cara at the foot of my bed yell, “Mommy, you need to get up—we’re in a big storm and we lost the sail.” Gathering my wits and fumbling into my life vest, I stumble up to the boom where Allen is wrestling with the wind trying to stuff the sail back into the bag. The boom swings back and forth several feet as the wind whips us around. I’m grateful to have had enough wit to put on my life vest as I’m sure it’s only a matter of minutes before the boom sends me flying over the edge into the sea. Or worse, it sends Allen overboard, the only person capable of sailing this vessel. The broken sail, no longer attached to the mast, is hanging off the back of the boat—the wind determined to blow the sail completely overboard. Adrenalin and teamwork collaborate as Allen pushes on one side and I push on the other and slowly we negotiate the unwieldy mass of canvas back into the sail bag. The tropical vacation in the Bahamas has begun.

We limped into Big Game Club Marina with our 3-foot storm souvenir hanging sadly from the top of the mast. Allen sent me up in the bosun chair to fetch the remainder. Dinner ashore that night was especially nice and all slept well. Heavy winds continued the next day as we pushed off the dock at North Bimini for Honeymoon Harbor. Waves, current, and 13-15 knots of wind, gusting up to 30 knots made progress slow. We decided to duck into a nearby bank which was much smoother but still windy. Honeymoon Harbor had waves breaking across the entrance so instead we anchored off the east side at Gun Cay.

Determined to see Honeymoon Harbor, we took the dinghy to shore and enjoyed a magnificent welcome by 20-30 stingrays surrounding our approaching vessel and slithering around our ankles in the shallow water. A little creepy at first but a very cool experience. Winds finally dropped around midnight finally providing calm.

Winds remained light the next day as we departed Gun Cay and finally anchored in Honeymoon Harbor. Snorkeling proved fruitless as the wind had stirred up the seas so much that visibility was really poor. We left around noon and headed to Nixon Harbor at South Bimini, where we anchored about ¾ miles offshore near the marked channel to an abandoned marina. After we navigated a very shallow anchorage, we snorkeled around Round Rock where we discovered lobsters hiding in the rocks. Determined to have a lobster feast, Grant and Kate made some very creative attempts to catch the spiny creatures with very effective claws. The lobsters won.

The tapering winds seemed the perfect invitation for mosquitos to take up residence on Gémeaux. Grant and Kate appeared to have the best-tasting blood as most of the mosquito army targeted their berth. Of course, we discovered the newly-installed generator wasn’t yet working so without air conditioning, we had to choose between blood thirsty biting beasts or hot, sweaty temperatures.

There was a lot of shuffling between indoor and outdoor sleeping spots and finally at 4am, we declared the mosquitos victorious and took up the anchor and headed out in the dark. Wind was dead calm, which didn’t make any difference since our 3-foot sail remnant wouldn’t have been sufficient to sail anyway. One final mean-looking storm cell hovered over the distant Miami and Ft. Lauderdale skyline but turned out to be only a fabulous photo opp. Alas, a 6-hour motor back to civilization landed us back in the safety of civilization, car accidents, and random shootings. Wonder if we’ll ever get Kate and Grant back on Gémeaux again?

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