Saturday, February 20, 2021

Royal Island Harbor, Nice Downwind Sail

Intermezzo is anchored in snug little Royal Island Harbor, a lagoon within Royal Island, a small island at the northwest end of the Eleuthera archipelago. The wind is blowing strong from the northeast and is supposed to get even stronger tomorrow. We'll sit here at anchor and let this cold front pass through.

We were up before dawn this morning as we had over 60 nautical miles to cover and only about 11 hours of daylight. It was raining pretty hard as we prepared the boat to weigh anchor, had coffee and checked the weather forecast. The wind had clocked from the south to the north overnight as the predicted cold front approached and were blowing about 10 knots. Winds were forecast to increase steadily through the day, just what we needed to keep the boat moving fast.

As soon as it was light enough to navigate out of the small cove on Lynyard Cay in which we had anchored, we motored carefully through shallow waters towards Little Harbor Cut, the southernmost pass from the Sea of Abaco into the Atlantic Ocean. We raised sails in heavy rain and then proceeded out the cut, motoring through steep waves with breakers crashing on the reefs on either side of the channel. It was a bumpy half mile or so and then seas smoothed out, but were still confused and lumpy as we switched off the motors and started sailing.

In an abundance of caution, I had put two reefs in the mainsail in case the winds were blowing stronger on the ocean. The weren't, so we shook out a reef and got the boat moving along on nearly a run at our minimum target boats speed of six knots, the sails wing-on-wing.

The rain stopped, the skies brightened a bit and a small pod of dolphins came to swim alongside us, much to Amy and Robin's delight. The swells also become more regular, smoothing out the ride but unfortunately the wind decreased and we had to turn on an engine to keep boat speed up for a couple of hours.

Around noon, the winds started piping up again, we shutdown the engine and were soon romping along at 6-7 knots, surfing down waves in the high eight's. Amy recovered enough from feeling seasick to try hand steering on a broad reach with following seas. She's got a natural talent and her wake was straight as an arrow for almost two hours.  The autopilot doesn't steer that well. I'm not sure I do, either. It helped with her seasickness but didn't cure it.

As we drew closer to our arrival waypoint located well off the reef bordering Egg Island, the wind started gusting close to 25 knots so Robin and I put the second reef back in the main sail. I have honed my technique of reefing downwind, avoiding the unpleasantness of turning upwind and crashing over waves to reef.  I call it "inchworming" the reef...lower the halyard a little, crank in the reefing line a little, lower the halyard, crank the reefing line...little by little the sail is lowered to be able to clip in the reefing cringle at the tack. There are a few details to pay attention to, but it seems to be a reliable reefing technique.

When we reached our waypoint, we furled the jib and turned upwind to lower the mainsail. The wind was blowing a solid 25 knots and there was a pretty steep chop in the shallow waters behind Egg and Royal Islands. We motored along bashing through the waves which diminished as we drew closer to the lee of the islands.

The entrance into Royal Island Harbor is through a narrow channel between a point of land and a big rock. There are a half dozen boats sharing the anchorage with us, all taking shelter from the howling wind. 

Tomorrow will be a lazy day of waiting out the front, peppered with some boat chores and figuring out where we will go when the weather improves.