A Radical Change of Plan

Jimmy Cornell is sailing from St Martin to the Strictly Sail Miami Boat Show aboard Kitty Cat, an Outremer 49 catamaran. Here is the 4th of several reports that he is sending along the way.

If you missed them, you will find his earlier reports below:
Report 1- Delivering a Strictly Sailing Cat to Miami
Report 2- A Good Old-Fashioned Spinnaker Wrap
Report 3- Testing Times on Kitty Cat

Cornell's Ocean Atlas - Caribbean Sea - February
Caribbean Sea & Bahamas – February (Cornell’s Ocean Atlas)

We had carefully timed our landfall at San Salvador to arrive off the island late in the night or just before dawn, heave to if necessary just as Columbus had done all those years ago, then sail along the island’s west coast, stop at Cockburn Town, clear into the Bahamas and start our eagerly awaited mini-cruise.

But, as often happens with even the best laid plans, our carefully constructed scenario came apart when we received an email from the Outremer agent in Fort Lauderdale that the boat had to be delivered as quickly as possible to his base as there was of long list of things to do before Kitty Cat could be exhibited at the Miami boat show. With no choice but to proceed at a fast clip to Florida, we decided to stay on an offshore route, pass to the east and north of Eleuthera and then cut across the Grand Bahama Bank along the Northwest Providence Channel to Bimini.

Our drastic change of plan cannot have pleased Aeolus because as soon as the decision was taken to sail this route, the trade winds which had given us such an exhilarating ride from the moment we had left St Martin, dropped to next to nothing, so did our speed, and, to make things worse, we also noticed a strong contrary current slowing us down to a few knots.

Now with a deadline to meet, we had no alternative but turn on the engines and hope that the current would change with the tide and, judging from the look of the sky, that we would also get same wind. Wrong! Six hours later, the current was if anything even stronger, so tidal it was not.

From what I remembered, east of the Bahamas there should be a north-setting current, a secondary branch of the North Equatorial Current, whose main body turns north through the Yucatan Channel becoming the Gulf Stream. The MaxSea charts showed such a north-setting current east of the Bahamas, and so did the current pilot chart for February.

So I flicked open our own Ocean Atlas to the page showing the February chart for the Caribbean and Bahamas, and to my great surprise, I saw that our own data did in fact depict such a south-setting current in those very same waters. Ivan looked as pleased as I was when I pointed this out. However, as a scientist, he was inclined to more skeptical of any data which could not be checked against another source, and tried to dampen by enthusiasm, whereas I, being of a more pragmatic inclination, was very happy to have yet another proof that the data obtained from the meteorological satellites, as used in our Ocean Atlas, has once again been shown to be more accurate than the current pilot charts, most of which have not been updated for many years.

I cannot think of anything more frustrating and boring on a sailing boat, especially on such a good sailing boat as Kitty Cat, than to be motoring to a deadline, but at least for a few hours the monotony was enlivened by a lively debate, with Jean-Pierre and myself being ready to accept the accuracy of the latest data, and, rather bizarrely, Ivan, who had actually processed that data, telling us not to jump to any conclusions as in the world of science nothing is as clear cut as that.

Of course it’s not”, I said, “and you scientists don’t believe in superstitions either. But how can you explain why whenever anything goes badly wrong on a boat, it always happens on a Friday?

… As indeed happened to us the following day. But more of that tomorrow!

Jimmy Cornell

Next report: Bahama Drama

Back to Top