Bahama Drama

Jimmy Cornell is sailing from St Martin to the Strictly Sail Miami Boat Show aboard Kitty Cat, an Outremer 49 catamaran. Here is his last report.

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
Report 4- A Radical Change of Plan

We had a bit of a drama last night, while anchored at Cat Cay on the edge of the Florida Strait. We had tried hard all of yesterday to make it to Bimini before landfall, but as the skipper did not want to cross the last section of the Grand Bahama Bank in bad light, we decided to anchor for the night in the lee of this small island and continue to Bimini in the morning.

We were woken up in the middle of he night by flashes of lightning and heavy rain as a thunderstorm loosened its fury upon us. Suddenly the instruments alarm went off, but as Jean Pierre could not find cause, and the storm had abated, he turned all systems off and we returned to our bunks. This morning, however, as we prepared to leave, we found that nothing worked. No depth, no wind, no autopilot, absolutely nothing. Jean Pierre tried to call the backup service in France but it was closed for weekend.

Ivan working on an “app” for Cornell’s Ocean Atlas

So here we were at Cat Cay (obviously not a friend of Kitty Cat) with 8 miles to go to Bimini, and no solution in sight. So Ivan put his lateral thinking cap on, managed to isolate the suspected faulty section (everything is integrated on this boat – even the wine cabinet auto-locks when there is an electronic problem), but eventually Ivan the Unterrible got depth and autopilot back on and we managed to make it Bimini.

We now believe that we got a lightning strike – or at least a build-up of static – at the top of the mast during that thunderstorm. It was Friday night, after all!

Yes, but why Bimini and not Miami itself, which was, after all, our intended destination? Well, as most sailors don’t know, any non-US citizen who arrives in the USA on a private yacht must be in possession of a proper US visa. Unfortunately Jean-Pierre had been told by the US embassy in Paris that the usual visa waiver system applied to ordinary tourists included those arriving by yacht as well, which unfortunately is not the case.

So Jean Pierre, Valérie and myself had to board a commercial plane in Bimini for the short flight to the mainland, while Ivan, who had had the foresight to get a proper visa, took over as captain and, with the help of the Outremer agent, who has met us in Bimini, sailed Kitty Cat across the Florida Strait and delivered her, as planned, to the Miami boat show. Mission accomplished!

Sunset over North Miami
Sunset over North Miami

Our voyage from St Martin has been a very interesting and enjoyable experience for us two dyed-in-the wool monohull sailors, and also an eye opener into what long distance cruising on a catamaran might be like… although I must add that Kitty Cat is not just any alley cat, but a comfortable, well designed, well built, well equipped, and fast cat…. with a professional skipper on board and his willing wife to do all cooking and household chores as long as us boys did the rest, which wasn’t much.

And all this in a very French atmosphere, with apéritifs at midi (politely declined), and at sunset (warmly welcomed), three proper meals a day around a large cockpit table where glasses and cups stayed where you put them, just one three hour night watch followed by six hours of uninterrupted sleep in your own cabin on a comfortable double bed without lee cloths…Yes, I think I could get used to it.

Kitty Cat
Kitty Cat (Outremer 49) in St Martin

But before I give the impression that I am now converted to catamarans, I hasten to add that this voyage, and the long conversations with Jean Pierre on the suitability of catamarans for blue water cruising, have reinforced a view which I have always held, and which was also endorsed by Jean Pierre, is that here are three golden rules to catamaran cruising:

  • keep the boat light,
  • keep the route to downwind sailing,
  • and keep your cruising area to low latitudes.

Which is exactly what we did!

Au revoir.

Jimmy Cornell

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