Posted on January 31, 2017
Obviously, there are limitations to your life when you live on a boat, but they aren’t necessarily the ones you’d think. If you want, you can park somewhere with really easy access to groceries, laundry and restaurants. There are always methods to get online, if you’re invested enough. You can make choices to insure a virtually-limitless supply of fresh, hot water. There’s always a trade-off—generally involving cold, hard cash—but most limitations are flexible. Two limits that every cruiser has to contend with, however, regardless of your resources: draft and weather.
Draft is always a matter of degrees; we have friends cruising in boats that draw less than three feet, and they’re rarely stressed about entering a new harbor or finding a protected spot. Still—what we see from fellow cruisers is a process of adaptation; regardless of the amount your boat sticks down in the water, everyone is inclined to get as close to the beach as possible, so even those friends in catamarans find themselves trying to squeeze into spots that won’t quite accommodate them. You think about your depth, you analyze where you might be able to go, and then you hope not to hit any coral heads.
We were warned that cruising the Bahamas with a seven-foot draft would be impossible. Not true, people! And we had plenty of support from folks with six- to seven-foot drafts who have been cruising these grounds for years, including the illustrious Pam Wall. There have been places we haven’t been able to go; but there are so many amazing anchorages, and so little time in the world, that we haven’t begrudged the spots we’ve missed. Helpful, in a way—there are already too many places to visit, and it’s good to have some kind of limit. We’ve been a little more careful about tides, and pretty on-the-spot with the visual piloting, but so far, we haven’t run into too much difficulty about our draft here in the islands.
Heading south from Georgetown posed a problem, though. To get off the Bahama Banks, most people go through a pass called the Comer Cut. We have it on good authority that it’s possible for us to get through there; our always-helpful friends on Runaway have made that passage with their just-over-six-foot draft by leaving with high tide at Nassau, and riding the incoming tide over the pass, never seeing water more shallow than eight feet eight inches. Sounds do-able, right? But that’s four hours of white-knuckle driving in the middle of nowhere, with only a foot and a half of water under us in the best of circumstances, and no help available if we get stuck. We looked at a route that would have brought us north from Georgetown to the Galliot Cut and following a circuitous path along the backside of the banks, keeping to water charted no lower than nine feet (which, in our experience, means more like twelve), and taking two days to get to the Ragged Islands; but this route also put us far from help if we ran into trouble, and exposed us to potential weather with nowhere to hide. Most deep-draft boats head around Long Island, instead; plenty of water the whole way around, no need to stress about hitting bottom.
The challenge of going around Long Island: you need at least two days of calm weather to get around the east side of the island, where the prevailing wind and waves from the northeast come straight from Iceland without impediment. We were lucky to find a three-day window for travel, and sped around the island on lovely travel days, tucking in to the southwest side of the island well ahead of the anticipated cold front that came through Sunday.
This is a long-winded way of saying: we are where we need to be to head south, but we are now stuck in a fairly uncomfortable spot while we are held up by that second, non-negotiable limit—weather. This is no ordinary, winter-in-the-Bahamas cold front that blows through in a couple of days—the high winds currently buffeting our yacht are being held in place by a confluence of low pressure systems, and are expected to continue along for almost a week and a half. As the winds blow, the waves build, making our upcoming passage even less comfortable. We are anchored a ways from shore in this shallow bay, so the boat is bouncing around, but there’s nothing much on shore—lovely beaches, yes, but not great weather for swimming, and no place out of the wind and rain. To get to civilization, we’re looking at either a three-mile dinghy ride, one-mile hike to the main road, and thumbing a ride to get where we’re going; or a short dinghy ride to the beach, but an almost-three mile hike to the main road.
It’s fine. We’re fine. We have water, food, fuel. The boat is safe and well-anchored. But it is not comfortable. The high winds are delaying our passage south, so that when we do arrive in Cuba it will be a dash to Havana. We managed the long dinghy ride yesterday, but it was a painful upwind ride back to the boat; we’re considering the short ride, long walk, rent-a-car option in a few days, to bring the boat back to a state of order instead of the scrappiness that’s descending. Mostly, we’d like this wind to shut it; the howling wears you down in a subtle way, and the constant motion brings us exhausted to the end of the day. This stint of being captive to the boat is making us very excited for some over-land travel in Cuba.