Wednesday, February 1, 1995

Bahamas Adventures Part 1 - MacGregor 65

Sitting around at work one afternoon last November one of my friends asked me when I planned to take my MacGregor 65 south for the winter. I had thought about it but couldn't seem to quite get organized, but I told him, "Maybe tomorrow." This set in motion a frantic series of phone calls to various previous crew members so that by 8 p.m. when I set out to shop for provisions the plans were set.

My friend and employee of 4 years, Mark Talbott agreed to sail as far as Solomon's, old sailing buddy Gordon Rutkai met us there and helped sail to Hampton (a great day! --one long close reach 80 miles down the Bay). Racing partner Fritz Wray jumped on from Hampton, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina.

Fritz and I had light winds and a variety of sailing, motoring and motor sailing along the Virginia shore. Past Cape Hatteras the wind increased from the south and a close reach took us to the cape behind which is Beaufort, North Carolina. The decision to go inside is not easy because it is 20 miles in and 20 miles back out, but as it was raining and rough we bagged it in favor of a good night's rest and walking tour of the quaint Beaufort waterfront. Departing early in the morning we had an upwind slog to Cape Fear where shortly the wind died and we motored to Charleston. Along the way I tossed a lure overboard. It must have been the right spot because in 5 minutes I had a "whopper" pulling on the line. The 40 lb. Wahoo took 15 - 20 minutes to get aboard and an hour to clean and carve into five 5-lb. bags of fish steaks. These steaks were so good when we baked them for dinner we had extra portions for dessert!! (Chef's tip: Bake covered 350 deg. for 12 - 13 minutes with salsa and butter. If it looks underdone, it's perfect.)

Fritz flew out from Charleston leaving me stranded with no crew and I had about made up my mind to single-hand it to Jacksonville when I lucked into the son of an old acquaintance who was living aboard at Charleston Marina and who volunteered to sail with me. I wonder if he had second thoughts when the engine quit as we motor-sailed out of the harbor jetties into 20 knots of east/north-east wind and Cap't Bligh Jim ordered the staysail hoisted and engine be damned. In 20 knots we can sail 10 - 15 knots and don't need an engine! Later that evening, slatting on a calm sea, I purged the diesel of air in the line and we motored to Jacksonville stopping just up the St. John River at Mayport, a somewhat neglected old fishing village where every restaurant featured "Mom's Home Cooking." After early dinner and diesel fill up (198 gallons) we headed off for West Palm Beach (250 miles) arriving two days later around noon where we tied up at the Rivera Beach Marina. Total distance about 900 miles and 7 days with several stops. The same trip towing takes 18 hours driving time or 2 days for most folks, but we would have missed the Wahoo. Plans call for bringing the family down to West Palm Beach at Christmas for a Bahamas adventure.

With the Dodge van fully loaded, the family of four, Jim, Joyce, Janet (20) and Steven (15), set out December 22, 1994 for a long anticipated Bahamas adventure. I actually planned this trip while on the original delivery of the M-65 from California. Because the delivery schedule was tight we averaged better than 150 miles per day for 36 days. During the somewhat grueling trip I fantasized about loafing along in the Bahamas sailing maybe 20 - 25 miles for 3 - 4 hours per day.

On our way south we stopped briefly in Williamsburg for a candle light tour of the colonial city, then on to Hampton to drop off some sails and equipment borrowed for the Annapolis to Bermuda race. (We dropped out due to light winds and a desire to party in Bermuda.) Arriving in West Palm Beach around midday on the 24th, we readied the boat for the Gulf stream. Wasting no time, we cast off at 7:00 am Christmas day. This was to be our second Christmas day Gulf stream crossing. The first was in 1991 aboard MacGregor 19 #002. We did feel like we had improved our boat a bit! It was an easy and comfortable crossing with 10 - 15 knot NW winds a bit too far aft for maximum speed but 8 hours and 57 miles later we were docked at the West End of Grand Bahama Island.

The beautiful beach was deserted. The empty hotel rooms with the gaping sliding glass doors were mute testimony to the shift of tourism to more modern facilities elsewhere.

Day 2. After checking into customs the next morning we quietly departed and enjoyed a swift broad reach at 8 - 11 knots to Lucaya. Steven and Janet took turns steering, occasionally reaching 10 - 11 knots boat speed. We negotiated the narrow entrance canal of the Xanadu Hotel and Marina and were soon enjoying happy hour in the cockpit. While the family hiked along the beach I commandeered an abandoned lounge chair and watched the sunset. Later we went to downtown Lucaya for dinner and toured a luxury hotel, the Lucayan Princess, with walkways, waterfalls and lighted pools in a beautiful tropical forest setting.

Day 3. By 7:00 am we were underway towards Great Stirrup Cay, northernmost cay of the Berry Island chain, a 62 mile distance. A great sailing day: a beam reach in 10 - 12 knots, boat speeds of 7 - 9 knots. We set one "false alarm" reef when the boat was temporarily overpowered but the reefed mainsail slowed us down and we eventually decided to shake out the reef. A speck on the horizon became a Tartan 37 sailing along nicely. They arrived two hours after we did at the anchorage. That two hours was prime windsurfing time: Steven and Janet both tried it out.

Day 4 was "relax in the islands day" and we intended to set still the whole day, but by 2:00 pm the inviting breeze beckoned us to a leisurely 20 miles sail to Frozen Cay and anchorage off another beautiful white beach with just enough time for windsurfing before dinner.

Day 5 Steven and I took the dinghy and motored into a small manmade harbor that had a canal through the island into a lagoon. We circled the island and were about to land on the beach when YIKES! --a large guard dog bounded into the water and started swimming furiously towards us. I yanked the starter cord and headed back out. Dogo got within 30 feet and I thought he was going to follow us all the way back to the 65', but he eventually turned back and proceeded to watch us from a rock jetty. We were thankful he didn't jump us in the narrow canal. It could have been "Cujo" all over again. Beach combing thwarted, we motored 1 cay north to "Flo's Conch Bar", a true island hangout, for cold beer and picturesque vistas. The proprietor told us the bar was named for his mother. Hurricane Andrew had wiped out his new house, but the old house/bar, which his father had built in the 40's, withstood the blast. They don't build 'em like they used to. We snorkeled over a large ray in our tiny anchorage. Three anchors kept us off the rocks 20' away. We headed south, intending to curve around to Whale Cay but with the MacGregor self-steering on a close-hauled course to Nassau, we sat back and let it take us there arriving at the harbor entrance at 9:00 pm. It was a little confusing, what with the bright lights of the coast glaring and half the marker buoy lights not functioning. I noticed a large powerboat standing by the entrance, which then followed us in. Just chicken, I guess. We spent Day 6 at the downtown beach, Day 7 touring the island with a rented VW beetle, and Day 8 at Paradise Island Beach. The renovated (20 million) casino was unbelievably landscaped to look like walking through a theme park with underwater tunnels, huge aquariums, multiple pool and waterfall areas, several bars and restaurants, all lit up at night. We went back several times, but avoided the casino, which we suspected somehow paid for it all.

Day 9 we motor sailed over to Rose Island only a couple of miles away with a deserted beach and good snorkeling. Carelessly anchoring in 8' of water we returned from the beach excursion to see a bit more bottom paint than normal. Yep--hard aground. What goes down comes up, so a few hours later I was able to reposition into somewhat deeper water. This was a great windsurfing place.

Day 10 we motored back to Nassau, stopping to snorkel at a popular wreck off Athol Island. Imagine my surprise when the dock master at the Nassau Harbor Marina berthed me next to another MacGregor 65! The owner was aboard and helped us get tied up. Turns out he only had the boat a month, had never sailed except casually with friends, and this was his first sailboat. The family had tickets out that afternoon back to BWI, so after they left with a few hours to kill before my replacement crew arrived, I went out for a sail on the other 65 with the new owner and some other folks at the marina he had met. We had a great time and were busily drinking it up at the marina bar ($1 shots at happy hour) when longtime sailing buddy Wally Szot walked in fresh from Maryland. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" I asked Wally. "Head for the Exumas," he said.

Day 11, after a quick reprovisioning trip to the local liquor store, Wally and I departed for the Exumas, approximately 32 miles away. Another great sail: 32 miles in 4 hours on a beam reach to Ship Channel Cay. We attempted to enter the small harbor shown on the chart and bumped bottom for the 4th time of the trip. Anchoring in the lee of a small island, we launched the dinghy for a little exploration. The pattern for the next few days was to sail south 20 - 25 miles in the morning, anchor by 12 or 1, swim, snorkel and windsurf 'til Happy Hour, fix dinner (Wally was quite a chef!) and B.S., listen to tapes, or read until bedtime. Day 12 we visited Highborne and Hawks Bill Cay; Day 13, Bell Island and Staniel Cay where we snorkeled at the fabulous "Thunderball Grotto", a natural hollowed out island used in the filming of the James Bond movie. I had visited some of these places in 1981 and again in 1986. Day 14 at Rudder Cut Cay we found the home of a drug smuggler who was busted and left behind a beautiful abandoned home with airstrip, paved road and Cadillac limo, all awaiting his return.

Day 15. After departing Rudder Cut Cay for Georgetown, we tried a little impromptu sharp shooting of wine bottles with a new 12 gauge stainless steel Winchester marine shotgun that I saw in a pawn shop and had to have. Accuracy was not too good, and the noise was deafening! Target practice was interrupted by the whine of the drag on the fishing reel. We had a strike! A few minutes of struggling later, we had a large Barracuda with BIG TEETH! Carefully extracting my line, we dropped Mr. Barracuda back in and he swam off. That was enough fishing for me, temporarily. At last we arrived at Georgetown Harbor around 3 pm, checked out the many yachts anchored at nearby Stocking Island, and anchored ourselves outside of, but near, Georgetown Harbor. We were soon ensconced at the bar of the "Two Turtles Inn".

Day 16 (January 9th) A perfect day, sunny and breezy, for exploring Great Exuma Island in a rented jeep! The 50 mile long Great Exuma is the largest island in the Exuma chain. Roads varied from O.K. to primitive. Outside of Georgetown, the former plantations were gone and overgrown. The surviving town was populated by descendants of slaves who commute to jobs supporting the tourist industry. We stopped into some nice resorts and a couple of local hangouts for a cold Kalik (Bahamian beer) and a great view of the island chain from the highest point on the island. Dinner at the Fisherman's Inn in Bassoterre seemingly materializing from nowhere. The inn was deserted when we stepped inside, but a smiling bartender/waitress soon appeared and I think the cook was summoned from her nearby residence. We were soon munching on a seafood platter spiked with the hottest hot sauce on record! One taste took 2 Kaliks to quench! Evening found us again at the Two Turtles friendly outside bar.

Day 17 was a big breakfast day aboard: pancakes, sausage, fried apples, etc. Then Wally departed for the airport, leaving me alone with 3 1/2 days to fill before the next crew arrived. I pulled up the anchor and motored over to the Peace & Plenty Beach Club on Stocking Island, did some boat chores, windsurfing and beaching. Being a bundle of nervous energy, it was hard to loaf around for three days, but there were no nearby destinations.

Day 18. I decided to sail 25 miles to Long Island out the back way, southern exit, of Elizabeth Harbor. There was a nice breeze blowing from the east, so I reefed the main and stared sailing slowly, 4 - 6 knots south. The charts showed some coral heads but the intermittent sunshine was OK. The trip almost ended in disaster. Distracted by a huge private yacht anchored near the unmarked channel and momentarily "blinded" by a huge cloud, I got a little too much to the right and collided with a coral head. The depth finder read 12'-4'-8'-12' in quick succession. An attempt to turn slightly towards the center of the channel caused the rudder to strike either the same or the next head a pretty good whack. I regretted having no one on the bow for better guidance and also felt foolish for being under sail in unfamiliar and unmarked waters. Fortunately, the sun reappeared and illuminated the way so I was able to exit onto the ocean without further difficulty. After setting the staysail I began to sail towards Long Island, dead upwind in about 15 - 20 knots of wind. Being worried about the rudder, I decided to bear off and enjoy some faster sailing back to Georgetown via the northern "marked" entrance, thereby circumnavigating Stocking Island, about 10 miles. The self-tacking staysail made beating back to the Peace & Plenty Beach anchorage fun, and over all too soon. After lunch, a quick dive over the stern told me the story. Scrape marks on the keel and a fist sized chunk missing from the lower forward rudder corner. No serious damage but a humbling experience.

Days 19 and 20 were spent goofing off, beach combing, windsurfing, snorkeling and reading in a 65' completely self-contained little world. I did meets an unusual fellow who sailed a 20' 1968 Newport Sloop from Florida to South America, leaving in 1990 to "take a year off". Dismasted in 30 knots near St. Lucia, he had traveled all the way to Georgetown under jury rig and no motor and was planning to sail the remaining 300 miles back to Florida the same way. His damaged mast was lashed topside and his boom was rigged as a small mast. He sailed mostly downwind at 2-3 knots and stayed anchored during unfavorable winds. He seemed to be enjoying what most of us would consider the trip from Hell! I was a little embarrassed to tell him what boat I was on when he asked. After re-anchoring that evening in Georgetown Harbor, I chanced upon the Two Turtles Friday night Feast--all you can eat buffet ($8.95) The 10 pm dinghy ride back to the 65 was memorable in 30 knots of wind as rain pummeled down filling the dinghy with water. I was momentarily jealous of folks in a Gemini catamaran snugly anchored in calm shallow waters much closer to the dinghy dock. It was a very soggy sailor who gratefully stepped into the hot shower. Tomorrow, day 21, will bring new crew and new adventures.

Day 21 brought longtime friend and sailing companion, Mark Svenson, down from the frozen north. Mark is Paul Svenson's youngest son and has been sailing with me for 20 years. He co-captained the 65 delivery from Newport, California to Jacksonville, Florida. But that is an even longer story. With Mark's help I moved the 65 to a berth at the one marina in Georgetown, and we enjoyed being "land based." While Mark did the usual tourist routine in G-town, I attended to some routine chores and maintenance. Later that evening we walked up to the Peace and Plenty hotel and into a romantic scene. A young man was on bended knee, his proposal was accepted, and it was free drinks for everyone at the bar. What timing! By the time we staggered out Mark and I had been kissed and hugged by the bride-to-be (who later collapsed and had to be hauled off) and felt like old friends of the family.

Day 22, Sunday January 15. Two more crew arrived, friend Bill Thompson and his friend Josile. Bill had sailed with me out of West River and owns a 22' sailboat. Together the four of us found a terrific resort with big screen TV and watched the football division championship game. The cozy beach with palm trees provided a picturesque foreground for the rising full moon. It really did seem like a tropical paradise. (Typist's note: some people go out for dinner on their birthday; Jim goes out of the country!)

Casting off Day 23 it was back to Stocking Island's Peace & Plenty Beach Club Bar for a relaxing day. Mark windsurfed and Josile showed off her cooking prowess. Day 24: Heading north again. All the windy weather of the previous week, E, ESE & S, was replaced by NW 5 - 10 so it was upwind all the way back to Nassau. Stopping first at Rudder Cut Cay (again) I was starting to feel a lot like a tour guide.

Day 25 Rudder Cut to Staniel Cay. Lunch at a Bahamian institution, The Happy People Marina Restaurant, with the best conch chowder of the trip. Of course, another snorkeling trip to the Thunderball Grotto. Mark, Bill and Josile were suitably impressed. Josile had never snorkeled before so it was fun to introduce her to the sport. We really appreciated the M-65 stern steps and hot shower. We pushed on a few more miles to Rocky Dundas. We anchored behind a large rock island and were content to stay there, not going ashore at all. I always wondered what it would be like to have a boat so long when you wanted to go for a walk you just walked to the bow and back. By then it was time for a refill of rum punch.

Day 26. A calm day motor sailing on the inside in 15 - 20' of beautiful emerald green water. The inside, or banks passage is calmer but there are more shallow water hazards such as the coral reef outside Allen's Cay. That one we missed, and we anchored between Allen's & Leaf Cays in a narrow channel. Upon checking the anchor I discovered the bottom was as hard as concrete and the anchor was just laying there, so I wrapped the chain around a rocky lump and hoped for the best. Leaf Cay has a large population of iguana lizards. I was familiar with them because my daughter, Janet, had a big one for awhile. Josile was apprehensive and it didn't help when Mark threw bread crumbs at her feet. All the iguanas rushed her and she nearly fainted. I was afraid there would be no dinner in retaliation, but being a cheerful person, she quickly recovered from her fright. There were foundations of old houses and one could but wonder what had been there in years past.

We ran into a German sailor I had sailed with briefly in Nassau on the other M-65. He and his friend were heading south and joined us for some rum punch and conversation in the cockpit.

Day 27. Early a.m. departure for Nassau in good NW winds on a close reach, 30 miles in 3 1/2 hours, about 1 1/2 hours ahead of a 48' ketch which left Allen's Cay moments ahead of us. After lunch at the "Poopdeck" Restaurant the "tourists" went downtown while I returned to tidy up the boat. Surprise! My niece, Diane, came walking up. I thought she was coming Saturday. But she came a day early and hoped I would be there! While Mark stayed downtown, Bill, Josile, Diane and I went to dinner at the Paradise Island Casino and enjoyed a Las Vegas type show. Very entertaining and quite a change from the iguanas of yesterday. The Paradise Island Casino had recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation and the landscaping was unbelievable, combining Disneyland with "Fantasy Island". An underwater clear glass tunnel through shark infested reefs led to an "Atlantis" styled bar. Courtesy lighting on steps slowly changed color as you walked by, a neat touch.

Day 28. Bill and Josile said good-by Saturday morning. Mark took Diane to the beach. More crew arrived in the form of Doug Freeman and his friend, Rosemary. In the small world department, I had once sold a Tartan 27 to Rosemary and another man several years ago before she met Doug. I told her customers with complaints would track you down anywhere! Returning to the Paradise Island Casino once more for dinner (there were four restaurants) I reminded the new crew to "eat, drink, and be merry" for tomorrow we sail!

With all new crew, the MacGregor 65 aptly named "MacGregor 65" departed Nassau, leaving Mark Svenson behind on the dock. He was flying out the next day and would pass overhead while we were making our way home. But first a stop at Chub Cay, the westernmost cay of the Berry Islands. We had trolled our fishing lines 35 miles since departing Nassau and Bingo! A large bull dolphin (the green variety, not a bottle nosed). Poor Diane, being a vegetarian, was not prepared for the gore that the 25 lb. fish liberally splashed around the cockpit. She retreated to the bow to suffer in silence while the rest of us cleaned up the boat and Doug cleaned the fish. Diane was also a snorkeling novice, but took to it quickly, spending about 3 hours in the water. It was a lovely calm anchorage and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset.

Day 30. Wind shift to the south--yes! We started out with great sailing with the wind gradually dropping and shifting northerly that soon put us back under power. We anchored in Bertrams Cove on Great Stirrup Cay about 1 p.m. Norwegian Cruise lines owns the beach and has facilities there for 800 to 1000 people with a full time staff. There being no ship that day, we had the run of the place: Hammocks, beach chairs, good snorkeling and we broke out the windsurfer and the rum punch! Around 4 p.m. there was a sudden wind shift and soon it was a struggle to get back to the boat. The unprotected harbor had a noticeable chop in it by the time we pulled out. One thing about small islands: if it's windy on one side, it's calm on the other side. We motored around to the other side and anchored for the night. About 3 a.m. Doug woke me up and said he could hear the anchor dragging. I checked and sure enough we had dragged 1/4 mile. Luckily we were dragging toward a sandy beach and not towards a reef. We set a second anchor and went back to bed.

Day 31. Windy and rough, 62 miles upwind to Grand Bahama in 25 - 30 knots on the nose. What had been a pleasant 8 hour sail going south became a crashing, banging, 14 hour struggle heading north. The dinghy was bouncing around on the stern prompting us to deflate it. Quite a job in a rolling, tilting cockpit to remove the outboard, seats, and floor and put them below. It should have been done before we left that morning. Arriving in the lee of Grand Bahama at 10 p.m. we crept into 20' of water and anchored. Some left over spaghetti sure tasted good after a tough day.

Day 32: A great sail on a close reach for 40 miles along the reef beside Grand Bahama Island with beautiful water color and calm water. There are moorings for boats next to the reef for divers and snorkelers. Originally I planned to stop in at West End again, but since it was after noon we voted to push on across the Gulf Stream 57 more miles to West Palm Beach. In 18 - 22 knots and somewhat rough but a fast and fun 6 1/2 hour run. We were tied up back at the Riviera Beach Marina in time to go out to dinner. But the adventure wasn't quite over. In order to avoid transient overnight charges of $4 per foot we moved out to the anchorage and anchored 100' in front of a large powerboat. At 3 a.m. there's this yelling as the powerboat is across our stern and bumping. I looked around. All the sailboats were pointing the same way, the one powerboat was perpendicular. Weird! The current from the tide shift seemed to affect the powerboat more (or less) than the sailboats (There was no wind.) I obligingly stepped on the anchor windlass switch and moved the boat up, intending to re-anchor but the anchor would not budge. It seems we had snagged some kind of cable. Fearing all the lights on shore would go out if I pulled real hard, I just left a little tension on the hook and turned back in. Problems are always easier to solve in the morning.

Day 33. After breakfast the plan was to drop some slack in the anchor, about 30 feet, and motor straight forward, hoping the anchor would pull out from under the cable. It worked! Free again, we checked into Cracker Boy Marina and made arrangements for 3 p.m. haul out. We had 5 hours to wash the deck, wax the stanchions, clean the interior, remove and wash the Bimini and Dodger, change the oil and filter, pack our clothes, unload the dinghy, outboard, and windsurfer, clean the galley, defrost and empty the fridge, hoist, wash and sun dry the staysail before folding and stowing it, remove the backstay, barbecue grill, life sling, mob pole, fishing rods, etc. Whew! We probably averaged 1 day of work on the boat per week, but spread out over the week. This was a tough day, but the 80% weather helped us work on our tans some more. By 5 p.m. we were heading up 95. All in all, a great trip: 750 miles in 32 days for a 23 mile per day average. That's cruisin'!

Happy cruisin' to all.

Cap't Jim

Post script: Macgregor decided to discontinue the 65 in 1995, and my boat was put on the market that spring, eliciting inquires from far and wide. (Hong-Kong, New Zealand, etc.) I hoped to sell the boat in West Palm Beach, but no buyers arrived in time so, with the able assistance of Rai Aubrey and Mark Talbott, We set sail 30 min. after Rai's arrival for a quick (4day, 6hour) trip back with generally favorable weather and no problems. The Chesapeake delivered its usual wind on the nose for the final leg up the Bay. Joyce, Steven and I spent 2 days unloading and cleaning the boat. It was a great 18 months, 11,000 miles, Cabo, Acapulco, Panama, Cancun, Key west, Annapolis, Bermuda, Nassau, of course there's still the Atlantic crossing, the Med, England, etc. I can still dream. Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia.........