Saturday, December 25, 2010

Georgetown

We rolled into Georgetown late afternoon and headed straight ashore to inquire about the mail ferry leaving the next morning.  Abby had a flight home to catch out of Nassau and the ferry was the cheapest, most interesting way of getting back there.
Nate, Abby and I wandered over to the ferry docks where the ferry was tied up and loading was almost complete.  As we drew closer I was surprised to see passengers already seated aboard.  When I'd checked online, the scheduled departure was not until the next morning.  We asked about the departure time.  Five minutes.  It would take us ten minutes to get back to the boat.  Apparently, they had moved the schedule up so they could get out ahead of the cold front that was coming in.  Sorry Abby.  We trudged back to the boat.
The next morning we took on water and fuel and food and Abby looked into flights from Georgetown to Nassau.  They were only $25 more and would shave 19.5 hours off her travel time.  It seemed worth it and anyways, it was the only option so she booked a flight for Sunday morning.  That gave us two whole days more with her to explore the island.

We walked a lot of beaches over the next couple days, drank a lot of rum punches, played a lot of dominoes, answered a lot of emails, generally took it easy.  It was delightful.  Sunday morning we made our goodbyes to Abby.  She caught a cab to the airport.  We listened to the weather on the VHF.  Cold front coming in that afternoon.  We decided spend one more day in Georgetown, letting the front pass, and set sail again Monday.

All day Sunday was beautiful and calm with a steady west wind.  We spent the day wandering the trails and beaches of Stocking Island, the island the forms the northern border of the harbor all the time wishing we were sailing.  There was the wreck of a sailboat we had seen when we first sailed in and we went to see if we could salvage any parts.  Stainless steel screws and deck fittings always come in handy.  It was pretty well picked over but we got some good stuff.

We set sail Monday as planned.  The predicted weather front arrived just after we left the harbor, 24 hours late.  The skies turned ugly.  The waves grew taller and steeper.  The wind increased.  With the tiniest smidge of a storm jib set and the motor on full, we thrashed our way northeast towards the northern tip of Long Island.  

The winds were straight out of the north and I had the idea that if we could just round the tip of Long Island, we could run with the front and fly along the thirty-five miles South down to the harbor at Clarencetown.  Of course, we had to round that tip.  It was twenty-two miles away.  Five miles and four hours out of Georgetown, with winds gusting to thirty-five mph and the bow plunging underwater as it smashed through eight foot breaking waves, the crew prevailed on me to turn back.  Mark admitted later that he was pretty scared.  Becca admitted at the time that she was close to tears.  Only Nate seemed to be doing alright but then, he's a bit crazy.  

Why the big push?  Because I had the irrational notion that I could make it to Puerto Rico in time to fly home for Christmas.  I've never missed a Christmas with my family.  In fact, no one in my family has ever missed a Christmas with my family.  I was determined not to be the first.  Sailing, however, doesn't work well on a schedule.  Inevitably, you end up feeling pressured to head out in weather you shouldn't be.  This was one of those times. 

By deciding to turn back to Georgetown I would be, in effect, deciding to spend Christmas on the boat.  It was a hard decision for me, knowing full well what it meant, and it took me a long time.  I stood there at the helm in the howling wind, blinking the salt spray out of my eyes, vacillating.  Ultimately, what decided it was that I couldn't justify putting my friends in a potentially life threatening situation against their will.  I put the helm over and we reached back to the safety of Georgetown.

As we turned off the wind and took the waves on our starboard quarter, things became noticeably calmer.  Mark came out of the cabin.  Becca picked her head up from between her knees.  We even took some pictures.  

 Back in the harbor, protected from the waves, we took the opportunity to do a little sail training.  Anyone can maneuver a sail in light air, though it may be done poorly and slowly.  High winds aren't as forgiving of mistakes and sloppiness.  I was shocked by how much my crew still didn't know.  It was the first time this trip using things like winches in conditions where they actually needed to be used.  We didn't look pretty.  We didn't look like a crew that has been underway now for nearly a month but, by the time we dropped anchor, I felt a little more confident.

The next day the weather had settled and we headed out once more.  This time we did not return.

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