Call For a Tow

Take It When It Comes

By Tom Neale, 1/5/2012


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It was our first winter in the Bahamas. Wed chosen our weather carefully to cross the Gulf Stream from Miami to the Bimini Chain. We entered between Gun and Cat Cays, cleared customs and anchored, overwhelmed by the beauty. You just cant believe it if you havent seen it before. The next day was just as beautiful so we stayed to smell the roses. Thats what its all about isnt it? The next day all hell broke loose.

A cold front ripped across the stream. It was earlier than forecast and it caught us anchored to the east of Gun, in a very exposed area to the northeast winds, with a rocky lee shore, and seas tossing and swelling no matter where the wind came from. We considered briefly trying to get into Honeymoon Harbor. Its a little basin between two points of land, open to the north. We didnt consider long. We could see the masts of several other sailboats which had ducked in there for shelter. They were whipping about so badly we thought they might snap off. The seas were wrapping around those points and creating a maelstrom inside.

Anchorage at Chub Cay on a calm day.
So we hung in there for a couple of days, rocking and rolling, pitching and heaving, wishing wed had the sense to make the long trek east across the Great Bahamas Banks that second day, when the weather had still been beautiful. By the third day it was a new world and the weather was perfect for heading east. We were underway at first light, and we reached our next anchorage at Chub Cay in time to see well enough to anchor. The next day was also beautiful. Wed planned to have our first major stop in the Bahamas in Nassau to see friends, to fuel, to provision some and just to see the place. We hadnt planned to stay long in Nassau because our ultimate destination for this part of this trip was the Exumas and we wanted to just get there and hang out. So we should have taken off across the Tongue of the Ocean that next day. This passage is only around 40 miles or so, but it can be unbelievably rough when the wind is up because of some very strong converging currents. We knew this, but we also knew diving and fishing was good around Chub, and conch, at that time, were plentiful. So we remained and had a great day exploring. That night another cold front blew through. It hadnt been predicted to be much of one, but they lied. By morning as the winds shifted from northwest to northeast our anchorage was becoming horrible. Huge seas were wrapping around the little finger of rock that protected us from the east (we thought) and were taking us on the beam. You could barely sit down without holding on.

We knew we couldnt stay there. We saw two choices. One was to go into the marina which was very protected, but also expensive. The other was to go around that little finger, pass through some tricky reef and seek the reputed anchorage near Frazer's Hog Cay. I said, reputed. We pulled anchor, ventured out into the unprotected sea, ever mindful of the reef around us, which included Mama Rhoda Rock which we knew to be a serial killer of boats. We finally found our way between the reefs and rocks and into the anchorage.

This was a place, typical for the Bahamas, where tide ripped, first one way and then the opposite way, between the islands. The channel was deep, typically with a scoured out rocky bottom. Off to the sides, closer to the islands, its frequently much more shallow (too shallow for most cruising sailboats) although sandy and with better holding. We carefully found some sand toward the side of the channel where the water was still deep enough for us, and put over our first anchor. We knew we needed two anchors because we knew that when the tide changed the wind would blow us to the side and we didnt want to take a chance of being blown up onto the shoal. So we dropped back and set the second. I wasnt quite so sure as to how well that second one had dug in.

We let out a long line off the stern which streamed away on the current, tied securely, of course, to a stern cleat. I put on my mask, snorkel, wet suit and flippers and dived over. The plan was to drift back and check that second anchor. We could have done it by launching the dinghy and using a look bucket but that would take a while and the water was very choppy. I dove on the anchor and found that it was set in well, then started to swim back upstream to the boat. Not so fast.

Tom’s Tips On Good Light

1. Never underestimate the importance of having good light when youre making a landfall or even entering a familiar harbor.

2. Good light is important for reading the water in places like the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Click Here for More Tips

Wed planned for a tough swim against a strong tide, but not that tough. I was barely gaining ground and tiring. I was beginning to think about how glad I was that wed had the sense to string out the line and angled toward it. That was when I hear Mel and both our daughters yelling at mevery urgently. Something had broken water just behind me. Something that looked like a shark. I hadnt seen it and wasnt sure what they were seeing, but I could tell from the look on their faces and their pointing fingers that something wasnt good.

I started kicking furiously, so furiously that I kicked off one of my flippers. If you havent ever tried swimming with only one flipper---dont. It doesnt work well at all. I could see it settling to the bottom and I made a desperate dive to fetch it. As I grabbed it and shoved it back on I knew I was being swept further from the boat but that I hadnt come to the end of that line yet. I grabbed for it and, kicking and pulling, was soon back to the boat where I frantically climbed up the boarding ladder. We were never sure if it was a shark, but I was sure that I was glad I hadnt found out.

We hung out there as the wind got worse and worse. Then the tide changed and things really began to get interesting as it ripped out against the wind, lumping steep high chop all around us. The high seas weather called for continued building during the night, so we decided to give up while the light was still decent. We pulled in the anchors, very carefully picked our way back around the point, and went into the marina. We spent a lot of money for several days as the wind howled and the seas cascaded into the air over Mama Rhoda Rock. But we were safe.

As weather does, it finally got better. We boogied over to Nassau the first good day, took care of business there as quickly as possible, and moved on to the Exumas. Wed had yet another lesson nailed home, very firmly this time. When youre trying to make a destination, take the good weather when it comes and use it. Because its going to change.



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