The Park is run by the Bahamas Conservancy, which means by independent donors. Luckily there are a lot of benefactors as this is really a jewel. The Park is staffed by volunteers and is very well run. For boaters, the Park offers mooring balls. These mooring balls are spaced around the park so one doesn't have to worry about dropping their anchor over a coral reef. Additionally, the balls are moored deeply into the sea bottom, so you don't have to be concerned that you are going to drag the bottom and float away if a big storm were to come up. The balls have a heavy line attached to them, so all one needs to do is to drive up to the ball, pick up the line and attach it to your boat. Sound easy as pie, right?
Well the trip down from Norman's Cay to the Land and Sea Park started out as most of the days did on this trip. Clear skies, warm temperatures and a light breeze. A cold front had gone through the day before but the forecast called for diminishing winds and calm seas. After our experiences the day before, we were ready to put Norman's behind us and start over.
Around eight in the morning, the Bahama Bums (Maya, September Song and Tides In) weighed anchor and headed south for the 25 mile run to the Park. In boater's terms, 25 miles is around 3 hours or so, just about the perfect distance for an easy days run. As soon as we got away from shore, we noticed that the waves were a bit higher than expected. We are lovers, not fighters and we normally don't like to see any waves over three feet tall. Even thought we have stabilizers attached to the boat, seas over that height make the trip uncomfortable.
But all in all, it was tolerable. The forecast didn't say anything about the waves being that big, so we just figured that residual winds from yesterday's cold front were still kicking things up a bit. The thought was that it would calm down some as the day progressed.
Well, it didn't.
It got worse.
For the next three hours or so, we got beat up. It wasn't terrible but it wasn't fun either. They say that the boat can take way more than her sailors can, and with that I would totally agree. Maya, as all Defevers, is designed to be out on the high seas. Three or four foot waves are nothing for her. But, they are something for us.
As they say, 'Hope springs eternal,' and I believe that sentiment is what kept us going that day. We kept believing that it had to smooth out soon. I mean, how could the forecasters have been so wrong? Plus, we were only going 25 miles. You can do anything for 25 miles, right?
Well, we made it down to the Park in one piece. In some ways it was good experience for us. At least now we know what we can tolerate and what we would not want to do again. But, we were with our friends and soon all would be well. All we had to do was to pick up the line on our mooring ball and all that was left for the day was to meet on the beach for happy hour.
Normally as you get closer to shore, the waves tend to diminish. This is mostly because the surrounding terrain acts as a wall to block the incoming wind and resultant wave action. Today was a bit of an exception as the island that we were going to be moored along side was on the wrong side of the winds. In the Bahamas, 99% of the time the winds are out of the east. That day, the winds were out of the west, and fairly brisk. There would be no protection for us as the moorings were on the west side of the island. There was nothing between us and the waves except open water.
We have picked up the line from a mooring ball several times in the past. Generally what happens is that Kim drives the boat so that the bow of the ship is right over the ball. I take a long pole with a hook on one end and snag the line that is attached to the ball. I pull that line aboard and attach it to other lines that are connected to our boat. Once all the connections are made, you can sit back and relax, knowing that you are safely tied to the sea floor and that you aren't going anywhere.
Because of the high winds and wave action, we decided that it might be easier if I drove the boat and Kim caught the line. Maya has a high profile and in higher winds, she gets pushed around a bit. It takes a little bit more finesse to keep the boat over the mooring ball while the other person tries to grab the mooring line. It is not unusual to take several passes at grabbing that mooring line. In calm winds, its a piece of cake. With the winds and waves we were seeing that day, it was going to be tough.
The first pass was primarily a practice run for us. I wanted to see how much the wind and waves were going to affect us. Additionally, there are other boats right next to you, so you have to be mindful that you don't inadvertently float into them while you are trying to catch that mooring line. The next run at it had Kim on the bow with the boat hook. I brought Maya up to the ball, but because the waves were raising us up and down two or three feet at a time, it was hard for Kim to snag the line before the winds pushed us away. Unfortunately for us, we were assigned a mooring ball that had a fairly short line on it. (BTW, these lines are called pennants) That meant that we had very little slack to work with in bringing the line onboard. It also meant you had to be very quick in the handling of the lines as the waves and wind were constantly changing and I was having difficulty keeping Maya right over the ball.
The next time around, Kim was able to snag the line on the mooring ball. But, because the waves were raising us up and down so much, she was unable to hold onto the line and the boat hook. Something had to give. Unfortunately, it was the boat hook. It departed the boat and splashed into the water. Not to worry though. We had three of those thing onboard.
So we went around again and I lined up Maya on the mooring ball. Kim grabbed the line but once again, the wind and waves were too much for her. The power of the water literally took the boat hook out of her hands. It too hit the water. Now we were down to our last boat hook. We decided to change places and have Kim drive and me handle the boat hook. Kim got Maya close and I was able to grab the line. But because of the wind pushing Maya away from the ball, I couldn't hold it either. I tried to disconnect the boat hook from the line but couldn't get it done before the hook disappeared from my hand and landed in the water.
Luckily for us, September Song was moored just a few hundred yards away from us. Bob had been watching us try to pick up the line (they got theirs on the first try). When he saw what was happening, he went to put his dinghy in the water so he could come over and hook up the lines from in the water. Since our pennant was so short, it would be easier to take the longer lines from Maya and attach them at the ball in the water. But it was not to be. As Bob was trying to get into his dinghy, the up and down wave action caused him to lose his balance. He fell on his swim platform (sound familiar?) and broke a couple of his ribs. We didn't know it at the time, but he was very close to losing consciousness as the pain was very intense. His guardian angles must have been watching over him as his wife Stephanie heard the last of his plaintiff calls for help. She got him aboard just in time.
Once again, a fellow boater came to our rescue. He was already in his dinghy and was also watching the show we were putting on. He managed to pick up all three of our lost boat hooks and return them to us. He also picked up some lines from Maya's bow and attached them to the mooring ball from his dinghy. This saved us from having to reach over and grab that darned line ourselves. What a lifesaver!
As it turned out, he was very busy the rest of the day as most of the other boaters coming into the mooring field were having the same problem as we did. He was able to attach most of the bow lines to the mooring balls for the other ships that day.
So a rough trip down from Norman's and a bad experience picking up the mooring line from the ball served to remind us that boating is not for the feint of heart. The saving grace was the beautiful sunset that soothed our battered souls. We thought to ourselves, 'surely today was the worst it was going to be'. Had we only known.