Thursday, April 30, 1998

Nassau, Bahamas Delivery Trip - MacGregor 26X - March 1998

"Can you deliver a MacGregor 26 to Nassau?" the caller asked, Sure thing, No Problem.

When do you want it?

How soon can you do it?

How soon can you pay for it?

When the details were settled, the boat finished, plans were soon made for the delivery. The classic mistake in sailing is to put on a schedule a weather dependent activity. The purchaser, having paid for the boat, understandably wanted it ASAP. I wanted my 19 year old son to go along as first mate, and he only had a week of spring vacation from college. So, the boat was finished 3pm Tuesday, loaded with everything I could think we would need to live on board for several days, and son Steve and I left Wednesday morning for Florida. I lamented the fact that there had not been time for sea trials, and was not entirely happy with the purchaser's selection of a Mercury 25 hp outboard, knowing full well that the diminished speed possible compared to the normal 50hp would prolong the trip. A last minute check with the weather was not encouraging. A low was stalled over Florida, with strong easterly winds. Maybe it will shift by the time we are ready to go, I hoped. Maybe bears will fly.

So on we drove. Steve got some miles driving with the tow for good experience. We got a few hours sleep in the boat Wednesday night and arrived in Miami about 2:30pm Thursday. Weather had been sunny and nice all the way down, and it was easy to forget about the predictions. While rigging the boat at Crandon marina on Key Biscayne, I discovered a small oversight on my part. No mainsail! Oh well, with east winds 20-30 mph, there would not be much sailing, anyway. Several marina workers asked our destination, and, after hearing of our plans, shook their heads sympathetically. After last minute provisioning of ice, gas, etc. we headed out for No Name Harbor at the tip of Key Biscayne. The little Mercury ran smoothly but seemed to lack power. The engine had no tachometer, but I sensed that the propeller might have had a bit too much pitch. It takes a certain amount of experimentation to get the right prop, and we hadn't done it for this motor. Arriving at No Name Harbor, the destruction of hurricane Andrew was evident. Most of the trees were gone from the park.

We got a good nights sleep, had breakfast (I knew that would probably be it until Bimini), and departed 6am Friday. As we headed onto the Atlantic and into the waves, it seemed like we could make about 8 mph, which wasn't bad. 47 miles @ 8mph = 6 hours. We can do it! As we went out a couple of miles further offshore, the waves got worse. We had to keep slowing down to prevent pounding of the hull, eventually slowing to 3mph. By 9am we were 10 miles out and ol' Cap't Jim was feelin' a little green about the gills. The first 6-gallon tank ran out of fuel. Our fuel consumption was much worse in these conditions than I had planned. I quickly tried to switch the fuel line to one of the two nine gallon tanks, but to my annoyance the fittings did not match. Only the six-gallon tank would work with the motor, so the fuel would have to be dumped from one tank into the other. A homemade funnel made from a gallon water jug helped, but the mess and gas fumes pushed me over the edge into "mal de mer". (Later I discovered the fittings fit larger mercury models but not the 25 or lower). Recalculating the time, fuel consumption, increased drift from the Gulf Stream at the lower speed, and the fact that the waves would be even bigger in the stream (not to mention the mal de mer) the trip was starting to look like a disaster waiting to happen. The decision was made to head back to Florida and regroup. Even going downwind in the rough seas was not that easy, with continual attention to steering necessary to avoid broaching. Back at Crandon Marina we confirmed the marina workers suspicions that it was "too rough". One said he was surprised we made it as far as we did before turning back. I was not sure if he meant that we were tougher or more foolish than he had thought. We parked the boat in a fenced storage yard, none the worse apparently, took the offending fuel fittings with us and drove off for a delightful three day "road trip" through Ft. Lauderdale, Daytona Beach, Savannah, and Charleston. It was great to spend a week with my son, even though the delivery was a bust.

MacGregor 26x Nassau Delivery Trip Part 2 4/98

Hunched over the computer Mark Talbott, longtime associate, and I reviewed the latest weather information from the Coast Guard's weather buoy off Fowey rocks, just outside Miami, Florida. The van had been packed and ready for days while we double-checked every available weather source. It looked good. The new fuel fittings, propellers, mainsail, etc. had been loaded, so we blasted to Miami in 18.5 hours non-stop.

Conditions were nearly calm, and with the new propeller we could make about 12 mph, not bad for 25hp. We departed as soon as we could, about 1:30pm, heading straight for Bimini. This time it was a different ocean, with relatively calm conditions. This is the "window" sailors speak of, the time between fronts and high pressure areas, where the prevailing east to southeast winds shift to west or calm for a day or so, before a northwest front or east breeze picks back up. It is not desirable to sail directly upwind across the Gulf Stream in any boat, regardless of size, if more favorable conditions can be obtained by waiting a little. Even on the Bahamian banks, most sailors stay put if east winds blow 20mph because the choppy waters make for an unpleasant trip to Chub key. Within a few hours of departure we hoisted the small jib and sheeted it on the centerline to steady the boat a bit as we passed over the ocean swell, and had an uneventful crossing 47 miles to Bimini, arriving just after dark. There was a near full moon out that night which aided our approach. We gazed through the clear water as the wavelets reflected the moonlight off of the white sand bottom as we neared shore. No fuel was available until 8am the next day, so we settled in for a much needed night's rest.

After fueling, we immediately left Bimini, past the concrete ship (which is one of my favorite snorkeling places), and ran into the 10-15 kt east wind, which quickly raised a chop on the banks that slowed us to about 8 mph, with 85 miles to go to Chub key. If we had been able to fuel up, we could have run all night while it was calm, which is the fastest way to do the crossing, arriving in Chub early am. As it was we pushed on steadily and pleasantly but just barely made it to Rum key (about 7 miles from Chub) just before dark. I remembered the nasty reefs in the immediate area from the 1995 trip and wanted to be anchored before dark, definitely. The 15 mph east wind had been predicted, and although a little rough when we got to the tongue of the ocean area, we never had to add the water ballast for additional stability. We anchored in the lee of Rum Key, and set a 2nd anchor off the stern (to hold the bow into the surge to dampen rolling). Motoring into Chub key in the morning, we fueled up and paused briefly in the harbor to admire the starfish visible on the bottom in 6-8' of water. As the boat drifted slowly sideways, the smoothed water was like looking into an aquarium. We would have enjoyed staying an extra day there, but the forecast was for increasing winds and the MacGregor is a small, light, trailerable boat. On the previous trip in '95, I was reminded how we had pushed on into Nassau in the 26X on a day a 37' boat had elected to wait for more comfortable conditions, so usually the crew wears out before the boat, but prudence is generally a good idea.

With the 15-20kt southeast wind (on the nose) we stayed inside the reef and headed east up the coast of Chub and Whale keys to increase our angle on the wind a little. We reefed the main and started across, sailing well balanced, but on a course that would have completely missed the island of New Providence, and at a speed that would have meant a nighttime arrival. We were soon back under power, with the small jib again sheeted amidships, plowing into 4' waves, but faster and on course. As we passed a large sportfisherman headed downwind, the skipper gave us a "hats' off to you" with his cap while we motored our "small" craft relentlessly upwind.

One of the differences between a delivery and a cruise is the delivery is usually more time sensitive. We did not know exactly our destination, but the purchaser had marked an "X" on the chart and described it, so we headed towards the "X", and in due time spotted the 14' high bridge under which we had to pass, about 10 miles west of Nassau. With the protection of the shoreline, dropping the mast went smoothly and we were soon into the basin area. We phoned the purchaser from a neighbor's home, and with the additional smiling crew made it to his dock. Although we had safely delivered the boat, I didn't consider the job done until I had instructed the new owner in the use of the boat, and most particularly in dropping the mast to pass under the fixed bridge. They became quite adept at it in time, and their expertise impressed a couple neighbors enough that they bought small sailing cruisers and copied the mast system of the 26X. Mark enjoyed spending an extra day in Nassau, while I attended to some business back in Miami, and we linked up at West Palm Beach airport for the run back to Maryland.

The tale of the two delivery attempts, one unsuccessful but educational, one successful, serve to illustrate the point that proper preparation and attention to weather are the keys to a safe, fun trip. The ocean is large and our boats and ourselves are small, but that is the grandeur and the challenge of it!

Happy Sailing - Cap't Jim