After enjoying Bimini and making many friends, it was time to move on to Grand Bahama Island. The twelve days in Bimini had flown past. Pastor O.J. Ellis and his congregation had been loving and kind. Linda, Howard, Percel, Tommy, Ansil and the whole Ellis family were just a blessing. We also met a nice family anchored next to us on a sailboat named “The Aslan”. Gunner and Jenny with their three small children had made the gulf stream crossing shortly after us. They choose to cross at night. They told of large seas with lightning strikes all around them and one striking the boat. They were totally exhausted from the trip. It took them several days to recover.
The Aslan’s captain, Gunner and I had been continually checking the weather reports. We also checked the weather on VHF from Miami and thought that it was favorable for our next hop to Great Isaac Light House (approximately 23 miles away). The weather on Tuesday for our departure was light winds and scattered showers. I said goodbye to Pastor O.J. Ellis at Bimini Blue Water Club while getting stocked up on water and gas. The Aslan crew was making ready to sail as we said goodbye heading out of Bimini Harbor at about 10:30am.
We motored towards Great Isaac encountering a few showers but the weather cleared as we passed Hens and Chickens. Upon arriving at Great Isaac Lighthouse, we were impressed by the size of this lighthouse and remaining structures. It looked like something you might see in Maine or New England with it’s large menacing solid rock cliffs. This is something I had never encountered before. We circled this large rock formation looking for a cove or safe anchorage.
I had inquired about Great Isaac from locals at Bimini. They had told me that the fisherman anchored their boats there at night. As we continued with our circle of the island checking for depth, we found that it was calmer on the Grand Bahama side. But the depth was 30 ft and was exposed to the gulf stream. I could see freighters traversing the deep water on that side, so we continued back around to the The Bimini side, which was shallower.
There was a sandy spot surrounded by grass in twenty feet of water and what seemed like a safe distance from the island’s large rocky shoreline. We dropped our largest anchor and backed down on it with the engine. The anchor took hold and we began to take pictures of the lighthouse. The water was calm and clear. We discussed exploring the island but it appeared to difficult to dingy over and climb the rocks.
Gina thought we might be able to catch some fish for dinner. So I began to fish, as we could see large beautiful, blue runners surround the boat. I tried to entice the blue runners into biting but I could not real the lure fast enough. I tied on a sabiki rig and caught some small jacks. I cut these into pieces and soon had a nice yellow-tail snapper on board. Then the problems began. I would hook a fish start reeling it up from the bottom only to have a barracuda take the fish. I could see all of this happening because of the clarity of the water.
The saga continued. I’d hook the fish reeling it in as fast as possible. The fish, grunts and a small porgy made it to the surface . The chase continued the next grunt was grabbed and the fight was on with the barracuda. Then suddenly a five foot shark eats my barracuda. From then on every fish hooked up had a shark or a barracuda chasing it to the boat. I could see bigger sharks below circling on the sandy bottom. I got to keep four fish and was thankful. The rest were eaten or to small to keep the sharks and cuda interested. We had a nice fish and hamburger dinner as we were trying to get rid of food in our freezer. Hey it sounds like a good reason to have a feast.
Everything looked good with the anchor holding and a nice gentle breeze as we went to bed. At 2:30a.m. I woke up to the wind increasing. I figured a small squall had kicked up. I checked our position which looked OK. I noticed the lights from Bimini and also lighting flashing east of Bimini’s lights. The wind was increasing. It did not appear at first to be anything to worry about. As time passed the clouds caused the lights from Bimini and the stars in the sky to vanish. One problem with the wind increasing was that it was coming from the Bahama Banks blowing us towards Great Isaac’s solid rock shoreline. The anchor is holding well but the seas are increasing.
It’s funny how a sudden change in circumstances can cause your mind to go to songs you have heard. “The Anchor Holds,” was one that came to mind. “Jesus Pilots My Ship” was another. “Rock of Ages Cleft For Me.” “Rock of Ages” yes! “Rock of Isaac” No!
My lovely wife is now up at 4:30 asking what time is daylight. Not soon enough. The winds and waves are increasing causing great distress aboard “In His Time”. We started formulating a plan. Ditch bag ready. Our position still the same but that safe distance in the calm was not a safe enough distance in the storm. I started the engine just in case the anchor pulls. I was very aware of our deteriorating circumstance. I did not want alarm my wife, but it was becoming more dangerous as the dawn approached.
We had decided not to make any effort to move until light. I felt like this would only compound our problems. We discussed our options. I was very concerned about retrieving the anchor. Gina had been able to pull our small anchor during good weather. But we had switched to our heaviest anchor. Now with the stress of the storm it would be impossible and dangerous for her to attempt retrieve the anchor. I believed it might be necessary to just leave the anchor. The only problem with that was the conditions were so bad that I was afraid the boat’s propeller would start to cavitation and into the rocks we would go.
As daylight arrived, we decided to coil the remainder of the anchor line. That way the line discarded would not entangle the prop. Gina got the line coiled and tied. We could drop the line and motor away instead of trying to retrieve the anchor. The waves are now rocking so hard that the dingy bottom is almost hitting the water while on the davits. We prayed for help and protection from God as we began to execute our plan. Gina would operate the boat while I tried to pull the anchor. We had noticed a pattern to the waves that might work in our favor. Gina began motoring towards the anchor. I began bringing in the line and soon to my surprise the chain was in my hands. Next the anchor was up and on deck. Then suddenly a wave crashed over the front filling the anchor locker. I got the anchor and the hatch secured. I began making way to the cockpit while Gina was giving more throttle. I slipped and thankfully fell into the cockpit. We were able to motor away from The Isaac Rock!
Whew! That was close. I could envision in my mind all that could of happened. None of it was anything less than a disaster and shipwreck. But OUR God is able to deliver. I know being a boater that we were way beyond our strength and abilities. But He is able!! Now we are making distance away from that large rock. On a heading to Grand Bahama Island. The question is what lies ahead? The wind is blowing in the general direction of where we want to go. But I have an inkling that The Northwest Providence Channel may not be a lot of fun. We discussed going back to Bimini but that would have been heading into the weather. So we decided to make a go of it!
Again going into a situation that quickly went beyond our capabilities into His supernatural ones. The waves are increasing and I can not let go of the helm. We have the jib out but because of the sea conditions (10 -12 foot swells) we did not attempt to raise the mainsail. We are going from 5.5 knots to over 7 knots surfing and being blown across the channel. Dark menacing clouds and squall lines are all around us. Every time I take my eyes off of our course we are pushed way off course. I was concerned that the steering might fail due to the strain of the 6 LONG hours necessary to make it across.
My prayers were to God for failing to protect my wife who is now sick and throwing up. We continued on course but it took all my concentration. After many hours we saw freighters coming out of Freeport. This only compounds problems. They are hard to avoid in good weather,now we are surrounded by dark clouds and squalls that block our detection of them. Now we are getting closer to our arrival at a unfamiliar destination. This presents a new set of problems. A large storm is looming dead ahead. We found out later that the cloud was a tornado. I prayed that God would give me light for our path. As we neared the waypoint, and at the exact time I needed it, most of the storm cleared.
We arrived at the waypoint for Ocean Reef Club. I am trying to find channel markers like a big red one. Something your are likely to see in Florida. Hoping to do the red, right returning thing to get us in the harbor. Gina and I are both seeing different things that possibly could be the entrance. Now is definitely not the time to be indecisive. We are in a reef filled area unfamiliar to us. My mind is telling me to look for an inlet and expect the worst. I did not realize I had passed the entrance and was now in very shallow water heading to the beach. The depth gauge is reading about 6 feet and less. I decide to turn around. The waves are now steep and short. Not a good thing, Remember the cavitation problem. When this happens you don’t move forward. But again by God’s grace we move away from shore.
Gina attempted to get instruction for entry from Ocean Reef Club, but no one answered. Finally, Bahama Sea and Air Rescue came over the radio and assisted us with instruction to get us in. I blew the approach. I just could not believe that this little rock ledge and point was an entrance to something. It looked about 20 feet wide from on top of the waves we were on. I felt like I was trying surf a wave in on Hermosa Beach, Costa Rica. Just as scary!
Now I’m lined up for a hole shot on the entrance. Full power and and a guess on how the following seas and current might throw us into the rocks. Thank God we made it! Everything is smooth going into Ocean Reef. We dock the boat after much difficulties. We had not been to a dock in months. Finally we are all secure.
We get more information from a commercial fisherman at the dock about the weather and Great Isaac lighthouse. Leslie tells us that a tornado had just touched down on the beach about the time we had arrived. He also gives me a little more local knowledge about Great Isaac Lighthouse. The commercial fisherman do anchor there. Its where they clean the fish. The largest bull sharks and tiger sharks are found at that spot. He said it was not a good place to snorkel. Well now its time to recuperate. Long story short. When things look the worse. Look to God for strength and direction. He will never fail!