Captain's Log, Stardate:

4/11/04

Arrived Samana in the Dominican Republic!

Hello to All:

Hope you had a good Easter (or other) holiday.

If you can tolerate reading these "Chronicles of the Sea" about the "adventures" of Lee and Mary Bakewell aboard their sailing yacht, "Escape Cay,", you may wish to visit the web site instead (www.escapecay.com/tales.htm) where I have photographs imbedded (awkwardly, I must say) in the text. On the other hand, if you do not wish to receive these "travelogues" anymore, please click "Reply" and then type "Remove" in the subject line.

I last reported that I was alone on the boat in Mayaguana, the Bahamas, after Mary had gone home to be with our new grandson Sean and our daughter Tara. Actually, I wasn't totally alone. Their were 13 other boats in the anchorage the day Mary left. Many were waiting to continue on to the Turks and Caicos like I was (but couldn't because I had no crew). A cold front was due and, as is typical, the wind clocks to the NW and N before blowing like crazy out of the NE and E. It is at that precise time, when it's out of the NW or N, that the wise mariner makes a run for it. So it surprised me that not a single boat took advantage of that window. They probably all figured they'd catch the next one. It was just as well, though, because it gave me the opportunity to turn the wind into wine and not just by changing a single letter.

Recall that we now have two wind generators on the boat plus 8 solar panels. After the cold front passed, the wind blew 20-30 kts for seven straight days. As our batteries quickly filled up, I "made water" until our 2-hundred gallon tanks were both full. And still the wind blew. I just couldn't bring myself to shut down the windgenerators and waste all that "free" energy. (That reminds me of one of my favorite boat names, "False Economy.") There being no water available at the town dock, boats began running out of fresh water so I put out a notice on the radio for anyone who might need some water. Chuck, on "Atalanta" made trips in his dinghy for a total of 38 gal as did Michel on "Parouge" and Randy on "Windy." Randy actually tied a bow line to my stern and took on 34 gal via our garden hose. The thing is, all of them gave me either wine or rum. So I'm hoping for a Nobel Prize for the first man to turn wind into wine. You are, of course, invited to the ceremony. I'll let you know when I get the call.

Chuck in his dinghy taking on water from garden hose >>>

In the meantime, the rumor got out in late February (very late) that the skipper of Escape Cay was having his 15th birthday so Richard and Chantal on Zend'o invited me over to their beautiful catamaran to dine on fresh fish and even baked a cake!

After 5 days of the blow, with the wind still howling, I invited five couples to a "Sundowner" on EC. These are the only ones who showed up, given how rough it was, because they were certain to get wet on the upwind ride to the party. Clockwise from the left, Chuck from Atalanta, Bunkie & Jeff from Everden, Linda from Atalanta, Bill & Soon from Gaia, Michel's mate & Michel from Porouge, and Richard & Chantal from Zend'o, a one-off cat made in Canada or the US. All had a good time despite the 2.5' waves in the anchorage!

I've been doing email since about 1995-6 and it was about then that I met a couple on the internet who were interested in sailing. William and Lisa had been talking about coming down to join us for some eight years and finally made it into Mayaguana in early March. It was almost like a high school reunion!

The very next night after their arrival, William being quite the fisherman, caught a shark while at anchor. Besides the shark, we dined on other fresh seafood that William caught and then turned into gourmet meals, with the assistance of Lisa of course, during their too-short stay aboard Escape Cay.

Then, the day before we left for Grand Turk, William noticed some people in the water waving, waving frantically as it turned out. William and I jumped in the dinghy and zoomed out to the reef some 300 yards from us. It was Chuck and Linda from the boat, "Atalanta," one of about 10 boats still in the anchorage. (Several had turned back downwind giving up their goal of the Turks or beyond.) Their dinghy had dragged anchor in 25 kts of wind while they were snorkeling on the "outside." It dragged into the heavy surf at the reef and capsized. She lost her fins, mask & snorkel and was faced with trying to keep her balance on the reef with bare feet . . . or drown! We got to him first, loaded him in the dinghy, then got her. They were both VERY glad to see us and said they were exhausted after trying to recover, right, and save their dinghy. (A dinghy is vital to the lifestyle of a "yachtie;" without it, you are trapped aboard and even if you have the funds to purchase another, it would be impossible to find one in such remote areas as Mayaguana.) They both had blood coming from various cuts and scratches about their arms, legs, and feet. They would have had to swim ~300 more yds to get back to their boat. We perhaps saved their lives. In any event, they treated us as if we did in what they said (thanked us profusely) and the gifts of wine and rum they gave us.

After dropping Linda off at her boat, Chuck, William and I, then joined by Michel from "Perouge," returned to the reef to try and salvage the dinghy. Chuck, though still bleeding (and in his mid to late 50's I would guess), got back in the water in heavy surf and retrieved the anchor. The dinghy began floating free, albeit half submerged, in 3' of water, then 2! William and I got a line on it and started trying to tow it. My prop bottomed out and several waves almost capsized us. Michel was completely thrown out of his dinghy one of the two times it was nearly capsized by a big wave! After bouncing the prop on the rocks and having my motor quit twice because of a gas line problem, we abandoned the effort. We also were almost out of gas and had about 6-8" of water in the bottom of the dinghy which I couldn't bail while running the motor, plugging the fuel line back into the motor and getting the tow line caught in the prop twice. Each time I was distracted, a large breaker threatened to capsize us too. (William was busy holding the tow rope amidships so the load wouldn't cause us to lose steerage.) After we left the scene, Michel and Chuck took over the efforts and finally were able to tow it back to "Atalanta." By then the dinghy had floated across the reef (on a rising tide) into deeper water inside the reef with much less surf. Also, Michel had the presence of mind to anchor his dinghy first while they got the various tow ropes and painters sorted. I do not know whether Chuck ever got his outboard running again nor whether he was ever able patch the two large tears in the dinghy to refloat it. Just another "crummy day in paradise" as the yachties like to say.

The next day, the wind settled down and we left for West Caicos in the island nation of the Turks and Caicos. In the clear waters there, we launched the Airline for some wonderful diving. But we were on a fast track and so continued on toward Grand Turk. When we were about five miles out from South Caicos, we noticed some huge breakers back toward the west. But there was no land at that position. The inescapable conclusion mesmerized us: We were being treated to a once-in-a-lifetime show put on by several humpback whales breaching, then falling back sending up walls of white water visible from, literally, miles away in the brilliant late morning sun! The binoculars confirmed it! We could clearly see a whale come completely out of the water and then fall back throwing up a huge wall of white water and foam. How did we know they were humpbacks from that distance? Because 85% of the entire humpback whale population of the North Atlantic migrate to and from an area called the Silver Banks a mere 90 miles to the east, and because humpback whales like to do that. Wouldn't you too if you could?

On March 12, I had to say "good-bye" to William and Lisa and "Hello" to Mary's cousin Eric. He and I became "stuck" in Grand Turk waiting for the winds to let up enough to embark on what I had been calling the "whale-watching" leg on www.escapecay.com. We were able to make it down to Great Sand Cay where we again launched the Airline for some great diving.

Then, from our anchorage, we saw a whale saunter by maybe a 1/4 mile away. In the binoculars, we could see him doing a side stroke swinging a huge pectoral fin high in the air as if waving to us and saying, "Hey boys, follow me to the Silver Banks!".

 

But finally, after five days of "waiting for weather," we set out for the Silver Banks. The winds would be especially important because we would be "out in the middle" with not even a small island to hide behind for protection. The Silver Banks are a 100 square mile area where the water comes up from a depth of thousands of feet to 5-80 feet. I had heard about them on the internet and then, last summer in Freeport, I talked to a professional skipper who took research teams out to the Banks. He gave me the lat/long of the area where he would anchor so we had that to go on. Nonetheless, it was the blind leading the blind. The wind was forecast to be E @15-20 backing to the NE so we set out beating into 20 kts. Although the wind dropped to 15, it never did back to the NE so we had to beat the entire way there turning an 85 NM direct route into 155 NM.

Maybe this extra distance was the reason we were blessed with an especially nice 19 LB mahi-mahi.

Some 20 hours after departing Great Sand Cay in the Turks and Caicos, we neared the Silver Banks and sure enough, a whale surfaced a mere 50 yards off our starboard quarter and dipped below the waves after a couple of puffs, heading apparently, in the same direction we were.

It was odd. He didn't "sound" per se but rather simply went under. I've seen whales sound before and when they do, their tale flukes come entirely out of the water. This one didn't do that and soon, it became clear why she didn't. How can you sound and still give a visiting yacht a WHALE ESCORT?

Although they regularly hold their breath for 20 minutes or longer, this one stayed under for five minutes at the most and when he next surfaced, she was just 50' off our starboard quarter! He was on a line parallel to our course but now just 50 feet to starboard! We were doing about 7-8 kts at the time and I got the impression he had trouble keeping up because the next time he surfaced, he was somewhat further back. After another five minutes, he dove and we never saw him again. But an hour or so later, we got the same treatment from another whale (I think)! Two whale escorts in a row! I think they were trying to say, "Welcome to the Silver Banks!"

I heard some radio traffic and one transmission was from the boat I had met in Freeport last August so I called him. I proudly told him my prediction that we might meet up again in the Silver Banks was coming true. But he seemed embarrassed. He quickly said for all to hear that he had told me last summer we needed a permit to enter the Silver Banks as they were a whale sanctuary administered by the Dominican Republic. Later, the sanctuary warden came on the radio and told us the same thing. I told him the truth, that I wasn't aware of that and that we had been beating all the night before and all day; we really needed to rest for the night. This nice man allowed us to pick up a mooring on the promise that we would be gone the following evening. Whew!

As we motored the last couple of miles toward our mooring, I again (and Eric for the first time) saw huge walls of white water in the distance, over and over again. We looked in awe through the binoculars. At this point, we were well onto the Banks and presumably, the whales couldn't breech in the shallow water we were in and were putting on this show just on the other side of "the wall," where the water suddenly drops off to over 3,000 feet. The sun set over open water as we picked up the mooring after 23.5 hours under sail. There was no land in sight. In fact the nearest was a point of land jutting out from the Dominican Republic, 64 miles to the south. The only thing in sight was the hulk of a large ship that had apparently run aground on the banks, and one other "research vessel."

The next day seemed like magic! You could not look in any single direction for more than a couple minutes without seeing a spout followed by a black shiny hulk with a dorsal fin. We learned we were in what's called "the nursery" (and that permits to enter the sanctuary were never given to private yachts). Whales, mostly with a single calf, were all around us! Several came to within 100 feet so we got in the water hoping to see one while in its domain.

We did this only once but now both wish we had kept at it until we had encountered one in the water. Part of the problem was that, while floating in the water waiting for one to appear, I couldn't help wonder if that would be a good thing or not! I had trouble imagining what it would be like to see such a behemoth glide by . . . or attack me to protect its calf! I usually feel a little safer carrying a spear while snorkeling but against a whale?

 

The fabulous day came to an end and, although the warden had left, we kept our promise and departed for the long sail to Samana in the Dominican Republic where we arrived the next morning, all on one tack.

Escape Cay remained in Samana until Eric flew home and, a few days later, Mary arrived armed with a CD full of pictures of you-know-who.

Hope all is well with you and your family!

Lee