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Old 03-08-2011
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Ragged Passage - 2-9 to 2-11/2011

Ragged Passage - 2-9 to 2-11/2011

Me again :**))

We left you as we were preparing to get under way from George Town, Exuma to
Hog Cay, Ragged Islands, Bahamas. This trip will not have persisted long
enough to let you see our travels unless you've been following our SPOT
Locator link (tinyurl.com/flyingpigspot), but you'll be able to see our
recent movements in the area in the "Big Boat" - what everyone calls their
homes, as compared to the "boat" - their dinghies. Our delay allowed me one
last day of volleyball in George Town, and the opportunity to say goodbye to
the many friends I had on the beach, this time for real (folks were kidding
me about my supposed departure that day when I showed up for my last
exercise).

As seems to be our lot, the wind had shifted from what others had reported
to be a lovely, if very slow, spinnaker run down to Long Island's Salt
Pond/Thompson Bay on our originally planned day of departure to one where we
had very close winds for the direction of our travels. Still, it looked OK
for our passage.

As we'd be transiting some pretty hairy areas (shallow, or reefs present),
and our travels were easily done in a day, we left, this time, in the
morning. By 9AM on February 9th, we'd said our goodbyes on the net, and
made our way out the southern channel of Elizabeth Harbour. Given our
treatment at the hand of an associate (the taxi service is owned by the guy
who's also harbor control, with whom one is supposed to check in before
entering or departing the harbor; the party pooper was his partner), we
didn't bother to contact Harbour Control, but just went about our business
of getting to our next destination.

Our apparent winds were at 030-045* on a port tack at 15 knots on our course
down the harbor. By 9:40, we had to tack even further upwind to clear the
exit, putting us at 015-030* apparent wind on the starboard side. Once at
the exit, as we maneuvered through the dangerous coral shoals, we beat
directly into the 5' swells, which made for slow going!

That was short-lived, for which we were thankful, and we tacked over to port
again, putting the 10-13 knot breeze at 015-030*, again, on a course of
111*T. This allowed the stately speed (recall our shag rug under us to help
slow down our plunging forward) of all of 3.7 knots. Hm. Might be darkish
by the time we get to Long Island!!

By 11:20, we'd cleared Pigeon Cay. This allowed us to turn slightly
downwind to 117*T, slightly improving our point of sail. Unfortunately, we
also had a slight clocking of the wind to go along with it, and our apparent
wind remained at 15-30* at the same 10-13 knots. However, a large tidal set
worked to our advantage, allowing us to make 5.2 knots for that leg of our
travels.

Once we were well along, we had to tack again at 1:20PM to avoid the very
large shoals present off the southern end of Exuma. Our heading took us
nearly due east, at 091*T, keeping the 10-13 knot winds at
15-30* apparent on our starboard tack. Beating into the swells slowed our
progress to the leisurely pace of 3.4-4.0 knots. Hm. No way we'll be
anchored before dark! However, the weather was clement, and we'd been in
that route on two other occasions last year, so we weren't concerned.
4:30 had us on our final tack to 126*T. Winds remained at 10-14 knots, and
as it continued to clock around, despite our change, they stayed at a beat
of 0-15*, so we reluctantly turned on the engine, struck the sails, and
motored the final way at 3.5-3.9 knots into the swells. In the end, we
chose to anchor well off Thompson Bay, still in relatively shallow water,
but, happily, in internet range. A quick check of the mail, a late supper,
and we were asleep.

Our travels through Comer Channel, the connection point for deep-draft
vessels (other shallower draft vessels could come through the Hog Cay Cut
south of Great Exuma) making the transit to the Jumentos and Ragged Islands,
was controlled by the tide. Comer Channel is skinny water for us even at
high tide, so we'd have to wait for our departure until the tide was about
halfway up, being about 10 miles away from the entrance.

We awoke to very light winds, dang-it! Maybe a spinnaker run? The last
time we'd made the trip, it had been perfect weather for that... At 11AM, we
were under way, and had the spinnaker flying at 90-100* apparent wind by
11:30 on our course of 271*T. We enjoyed our 4.6-5.0 knot speed in only 3-4
knots of apparent wind, showing off the huge efficiencies of our enormous
sail, which was flown relatively high.

Unfortunately, the wind shifted yet again, backing around, in this cas, and
our apparent wind moved forward to a 75* apparent angle, increasing as it
did so, to 10-12 knots. Bringing the tack down to the rail level, and
tightening the sheet allowed Flying Pig to leap forward, making an
exhilarating ride at 6.0-6.7 knots. However, if this kept up, we'd have to
strike it, as that angle of attack made for some serious heel, and, as well,
we'd soon be overpowered.

Indeed, at 1PM we took down the spinnaker, shortly before the entrance to
the channel. A plentiful margin allowed us to bear off (come around so the
wind moved behind us) and a perfect downwind run for that part made for an
easy drop. Once down, on deck, we turned around, into the wind, and got the
mainsail up. Immediately after, of course, we turned around yet again, and
once the COG was established and under Otto's (the autopilot) control, I
trimmed the sails for the most efficient travel. While Lydia drove (well,
kept an eye on Otto), I cleaned up the lines and stowed the spinnaker, and
all was well a short 10 minutes later.

Comer Channel is really just a slightly deeper section of the huge sand
shallows in the area, so there wasn't any current to speak of. However, as
it shifts a bit in the currents which ARE there, a constant vigil was needed
to make sure we had enough water under us. Sure enough, we were able to
keep on the rhumb lines provided by Explorer Charts, the cruisers' bible in
these waters, and the fingernail-gnawing parts never materialized as we saw
1-2' under us at nearly all times.

The channel isn't a straight shot however, so our 8-10 knots of apparent
wind at 60-75* (in part, caused by our lesser speed forward) yielded a more
stately 5.3 knots over ground on our 262*T heading. We made the first
course change in the channel at 1:30, putting us at 251*T, making our 8-11
knots of apparent wind move forward to 45-60* - which produced a speed of
5.2-5.6 knots. At this rate, we'd easily clear the channel before the tide
fell enough to worry about, gladdening our hearts :**))

Ever busy, by 2:10 we were in mid-channel as we made our turn to the next
heading of 276*T. That put our 5-8 knot apparent winds at the ideal 90* - a
beam reach yielding a slightly lesser 5.0 knots speed made good. All this
time, we'd had our fishing lines out, having added the second pole when we
took down the spinnaker (the sheet runs in such a way as to make one of the
pole mounts unusable under spinnaker, learned the hard way as we lost a pole
to a flailing spinnaker sheet some time ago), and we were traveling at an
ideal trolling speed.

Happily, as we've struck out nearly fully in our attempts to gain our
dinners from the sea, at 3PM, we had a strike on our blue skirted lure.
Hooray! A "keeper" barracuda. (We find barracuda the most succulent,
delicious fish we have ever caught. Being in a totally sandy area, the
concerns for ciguatera poisoning were minimal, as there were no reef fish,
the source of the toxin which accumulates in predator fish, so we were very
glad to have him.) More on him later...

At 3:30, we turned out of the channel to 207*T in a 10-12 knot breeze at
15-30* apparent wind, yet another beat. Still, we were making 5.4-5.8
knots, good progress at that point of sail and wind level. However, it was
apparent that we'd not be able to reach our preferred anchorage in Water Cay
before dark. Given that there are some tricky parts with lots of
threatening coral between here and there, we didn't want to do that in the
dark.

Reluctantly, we looked around in our charts for a place to anchor. A little
out of the way, we saw an area of 10-15' depth rather than the 20-30' we
were in, so at 5PM, off we headed. The swell was not in the same direction
as the wind, so we knew we'd be in for a rolly night, and we weren't
disappointed (well, we were - maybe I should say that our expectations were
met, however negative they might have been!) when we put the anchor down.
Unfortunately, our Explorer Charts let us down; we had to settle for 25' of
water at 5:45, as the sun set, making us abandon the search for shallower
water. I put out about 250' of chain in the rocking and rolling swells and
very little wind.

Back to the fish...

Our usual modus while under way, to avoid having to clean the fish (which I
do on the stern platform) during a passage, is to take the gaff with which
we've hoisted the fish and secure it to the platform, leaving the tail
dragging in the water. This time, however, Lydia'd grabbed a gaff which we
were to learn had a serious shortcoming. The one we usually use has a
significant dip off the line of the pole - that is, it curves away from the
pole before returning to the pointy part. Despite my having put the safety
cap back on the point, thus having a line from the base of the gaff to the
point, ostensibly to keep any possibility of the fish flopping around and
coming off the hook, we were to discover, to our dismay, that the pole had
rotated such that our first fish in many months had fallen off! OY!!

We settled for one of our usual dinners, which are always delicious under
the hand of Chef Lydia, and examined our options for moving on the next day.
Our location would allow us to go through Pear Cay Cut, well north of Water
Cay Cut, on the way to an expected re-entry from the Atlantic to the Great
Bahamas Banks either at Raccoon or Nurse Cay Cuts.

Early up on February 10th, we had the long chain pulled back in by 7:30 AM,
a very early start for us, usually. Curiously, the chain - perhaps because
of its swinging in the sand, or perhaps from the nature of the water there -
didn't stain the deck on the way down the deck to the windlass.

Unfortunately, once the anchor was secured, Lydia got the whim-whams about
our course to the Atlantic (she's the Admiral, and has veto power over any
previously-taken decisions), so we didn't actually head for the Pear Cay Cut
until 8AM, having reassured ourselves of the wisdom of that cut.

Once again, the wind gods conspired against us, and we were heading into
both large swells and winds at only 5-7 knots apparent, once again on our
nose at 15-30* - so we reluctantly motorsailed on main only at 4.0-4.4
knots. However, once through the cut, we put out the genoa, increasing our
speed to 5.2-5.7 knots as the wind backed and filled. We were seeing 8-11
knots now, and the apparent angle improved to 45-60* - a very efficient
point of sail for Flying Pig.

9:30 saw a huge fish strike, running out a lot of line before I tightened
the drag sufficiently to prevent him from spooling the reel. Whatever it was
had lots of energy left, so it took a while for me to retrieve the line he'd
run out when he grabbed the tuna plug I'd put on. That tuna plug was the
result of another sharp-toothed fish having eliminated the diamond-shaped
plug I'd had before by not only cutting it cleanly, but leaving tooth marks
well up the 150# test monofilament leader. This guy was a lot of work,
bending the pole and putting enough stress on it that I couldn't crank the
reel, having to turn it a half turn per time with my hand. Eventually, we
got him tired enough, and the boat slowed enough that we got him to the
boat. As we didn't know where he'd been, at 9:50AM we released the 4.5'
barracuda we'd carefully gaffed to get the hook out without undue injury to
the fish. He swam away happily :**))

Where there's one, there's frequently another, so we put the line out again
immediately as we tightened sail to resume our forward march. Sure enough,
at 10:05 we landed another, this time a keeper, and had him secured by
10:15. This time, safer than sorry, I put a line through the hole the gaff
had made at the point of his jaw and tied it to the platform by going around
one of the slats, well off the side. Should he do some flapping, which
didn't appear likely given our dosing him with alcohol in the gills, he'd
not be able to fall off!

Our travels were pretty benign, other than that we were very closely hauled.
The seas were relatively from our beam, and the stiffness of the sails
caused little rock and roll despite their height, helped by their relatively
long period (long time between wave tops). By 10:30, we were seeing 8-10
knots, still at the apparent wind angle of 15-30* as we made or 4.8-5.2
knots on a course of 208*T.

Ever changing, the wind clocked, so we altered our course to 192*T, favoring
Raccoon Cut. That put our apparent wind at a slightly (only ever so little!)
better 20-40* apparent wind of 10-14 knots, improving our speed to 4.5-6
knots. If this kept up, we'd be to the cut a bit early, but not in
mid-tide, when the current is the strongest. We still had to watch our
speed, though, as, while well marked on one of the charts we have, the
Raccoon Cut is a bit less forgiving than Nurse.

Uh-oh... Wind's dying, to, now, only 8-10 knots, still on a tight pinch of
15-30*. That meant we should probably think in terms of Nurse Cut. However
our point of sail, should we make that decision, would be much easier the
closer we got to it, so we figured we'd do Nurse, due to our reduced speed.

There's a mantra we have, adopted from our time with Phillip, a very
experienced charter captain we'd become close to in St. Petersburg during
our refit: Wait 15 minutes...With the wind clocking, it became too close to
sail efficiently, so we abandoned the Raccoon Cut at 10:30 and changed
course for Nurse Cut. However, by 11:00, the wind built again, so, ever
flexible, we resumed our course for Raccoon in the familiar 10-14 knots at
20-40* apparent wind, bringing our speed back up to a respectable 5.5-6.1
knots.

Heh. Not so fast, bucko. 12:30 saw the wind dying again, this time only
6-10 knots, dropping our speed back to only 4.8-5.2, still on a course of
192*T. By 1:15, we gave up Raccoon for roadkill, and headed back downwind a
bit, this time on a course of 206*T. That allowed our speed to pick back up
slightly, managing 5.5-5.9 knots with our apparent wind still at a pinching
angle of 30-45*

Nurse Cut is a wide and friendly entrance to the Banks, and, even better,
has a tide chart location on our chartplotter. Ideally, as there's lots of
current there, we'd make that passage at slack tide, or close to it. We
made our turn into the Nurse Cut at 4:45, putting us at 235*T under 4-6 knot
apparent winds which yielded at a much more favorable 70-80* angle to our
sails. The light winds propelled us at the comfortable speed of 4.6-5.0
knots. It appears we'll make the cut just a little before slack tide, a
comfort :**))

Through the cut with no excitement, the seas, of course, on the Banks,
diminished greatly, smoothing our way for a slightly faster passage. At,
5PM, mindful of the approaching sunset which, in the tropics is IMMEDIATELY
followed by darkness, we headed off on 180*T, avoiding the reef nearby,
making, again, a sharp pinch to 15-30* apparent wind in the light airs of
only 6-9 knots. Almost there, our slow progress of 5.1-5.4 knots didn't
alarm us, and, indeed, we dropped the sails at 5:25 and were tucked in,
anchor well hooked, by 5:30.

This trip has been wonderful so far, with benign seas, and, every time we
were rocking and rolling, we turned on the fuel polisher. As that was
fairly constant, we should have pristine fuel at this point! Fish Dinner
Tonight!!!

So, here we are in what the locals call the Ragged Islands. Most
less-informed (indeed, we were, until just a few days ago) folks refer to
them as the Jumentos. We didn't learn of this until, in conversation with
one of the local fishing boats, we saw their blank looks when the Jumentos
was mentioned. "Oh! You must mean the Raggeds! We call the entire chain
the Raggeds." Now, whether that's from all the population being on Ragged
Island or something else, if one want's to be understood by the folks in
these parts, it's best to refer to them as The Ragged Islands :**))

Explorer Charts splits the difference, referring to the northernmost
islands as Jumentos, and those in the relatively north-south line as the
Raggeds. No matter; we're where we want to be, and we should have no
difficulty making Hog Cay in time for the celebrated Valentine's Day bash
put on by the local food and other-stuff vendor, Maxine. She's a bit of a
legend with cruisers, more on which in a later log.

And, with that as a valedictory, I'll leave you here. Until next time, Stay
Tuned!

L8R

Skip

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Old 03-08-2011
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Interesting read, Skip. The only thing I found concerning is the consumption of barracuda. The incidence of Ciguatera is relatively high in this particular species, and there is no litmus test that will tell you whether or not the fish has the neurotoxin in its system. Cudda from as far north as Virginia Beach, VA have been found with ciguatera in their system, and in most instances, it was at highly toxic levels. Keep in mind this is a neurotoxin, one that causes paralysis of the diaphragm. If you were to contract even a moderate dose of ciguatera you would likely die of suffocation within a few hours at best. The fallacy about ciguatera is that if the fish is relatively small and caught from an area well away from the coral reef it is safe to eat. All fish migrate to some degree--even barracuda. Consequently, there is no way of telling where that fish was foraging just a few weeks earlier, which could easily have been on a reef or other form of structure that was covered with a dinoaflagllate algae. It's just too risky to subject yourself and crew to the consumption of barracuda. The other fallacy is that small fish don't carry the toxin. Keep in mind that this particular toxin is bio-accumulative, therefore the larger fish are likely to carry higher levels. Smaller fish can still carry relatively high levels as well, but it's unlikely that those levels will be lethal.

Thanks again for the above post, and I loved looking at the photos you posted on the rescue and restoration of the Flying Pig.

Gary
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