Sister's Journal

Date: 27.February.2001
Location: Nassau Harbor Club Marina, Nassau, Bahamas
Position:  25 degrees 4 minutes North, 77 degrees 14 minutes West

The Bahamas

The trip from Havana:  After clearing Cuban Immigration/Customs/Harbor Master/Coast Guard (about 6 folks came aboard this time) we left Havana Feb 25 at 1000 and motor-sailed nonstop to Nassau arriving outside of Nassau Harbor on Feb 27 around 1800.  The first day out was great, the first night sucked and then the rest of the trip was a walk in the park.
Our route from Havana to Nassau is interesting.  On a map the shortest route leads east across the Great Bahama Bank and passes south of Andros Island into the "Tongue of the Ocean" then north to New Providence Island where Nassau is.  On a map it looks straightforward.  On the other hand a nautical chart showsthat if you were to "follow your nose to the Bahamas" your course would lead you across the Great Bahama Bank.  The chart shows that the entire bank is shallow, much of it is single digit depth and it is riddled with coral heads.  That's not to say that it's not navigable but navigating it is a risky proposition during good conditions and dangerous during poor conditions or at night.
Soooo, from Havana Sister motor sailed her big ol self northeast in the Straits of Florida to a point north of Bimini then east into the Northwest Providence Channel then southeast to Nassau.  It added considerable length to our trip but we were in deep water the whole way and I like it like that.
Over the last few years several cruise ship companies have bought entire islands in the Bahamas to use as private recreation spots for their passengers.   On our way through the NW Providence Channel we passed one of these islands (part of a group of Bahamian islands called the Berry islands).  Before we could see any trace of an island we saw a cruise ship.  Nothing unusual, we see lots of cruise ships.  We watched the ship for a while and decided that it wasn't moving.  It was pretty strange, could it be in trouble?  Next we saw something in the sky near the ship.  It was moving slowly and staying in close proximity to the ship.  We thought it might be a helicopter and that the ship might actually be in trouble.  Still no island in sight.  Finally we began to be able to make out an island.  Was the ship aground?  Nope!  It was just anchored at the company's private island and letting its' passengers have a go.  The "helicopter" turned out to be a parasail operation run from the ship.
Most boats enter Nassau Harbor via the main channel, which runs south into the harbor and then turns east to the cruise ship and commercial docks.  Soon beyond these docks the channel becomes much shallower and passes under  two major bridges (one guzonta Paradise Island and one guzoffa Paradise Island), past several marinas then on to the east and out onto the Great Bahama bank.  The clearance for each bridge is about 69 feet.  Sister's mast is about 73 feet tall.  Ergo we can't enter the harbor the way "most" boats do.  The only alternative entrance to the harbor is from the east where there is lots of shallow water, rocks and coral heads.  We definitely did not want to have to negotiate this entrance in poor light so, having arrived just before dusk, we decided to spend the night anchored in some of the shallow water and make the entrance in the morning when the sun would be at our backs.  The night was beautiful, the water was calm and there was a fine "sleeping" breeze blowing.  We anchored, ate, showered, had a couple of mediocre Cuban beers, congratulated ourselves on a good trip from Cuba and sacked out.
Our self raising anchor:  About 0100 the shit hit the fan.  Let me set the stage.  We were plenty tired and really needing a good sleep but it's tough for me to completely relax whenever we're at anchor and especially when we're in an unfamiliar, relatively open anchorage like ours.  Consequently I was sleeping fitfully when I heard an awful grating/grinding noise.  In the classic response I jerked up and thunked my head painfully on the overhead.  I would have laughed except it hurt so much and the awful noise was still going on.  The noise continued for several seconds then abruptly stopped.  I thought we could have been dragging the anchor and bouncing the hull along the bottom or along a rock but the weather was so calm that dragging the anchor was unlikely.
We could have been hit by another boat but I couldn't hear another boat and it just didn't feel like we'd been hit.  I checked our anchor light to make sure we were visible to other boats ... it wasn't on.  I flipped a light switch but the light didn't come on.  I tried another ... no light.  I went above to check out the surroundings.  Allowing for a little swing on the anchor we were pretty much in the exact spot where we had anchored.  Further, there were no other boats in sight.  There was no apparent damage to the boat but we had no 24 volt DC, which meant no lights.  Investigating with a flashlight I found a major (160 AMP) fuse blown.  The fuse fed most of the lighting and, here's a clue, the anchor winch (the windlass).
I went forward and saw that the anchor had been partially raised.  At risk of providing too much detail here's what had happened.  After setting the anchor I usually tie a nylon line (we call it a snubber) to the chain, set the bitter end of the line on one of our forward cleats and let the anchor chain out until the snubber goes taut.  Now the chain between the windlass and the point where the snubber is attached to the chain is slack and there is no more strain on the windlass.  The whole point is to reduce the wear and tear on the expensive windlass.  What had happened was that the anchor "system", completely of it's own accord, started lifting the anchor.  It was doing nicely until the snubber wrapped itself around the windlass which caused the windlass to grind to a halt, putting a huge load on it's electrical supply and blowing the fuse.
I knew that I had a fancy anchor control system but I also knew that that system did NOT have any sort of "auto raise" feature.  By this time I was just happy to have isolated the source so, after blowing one more fuse (a $40 fuse as it turns out) during the diagnostic exercise, I turned off the windlass system and went back to bed.
The next morning I traced the problem to the electronic windlass control on the pedestal in the cockpit.  I disconnected this device from the windlass relay, turned the windlass power back on and the fuse remained in tact.   We were able to use the foot switches on the foredeck to raise the anchor.
It was nearly two weeks later before I disassembled the anchor controls and found what had caused the problem.  The manufacturer had discovered an error on the printed circuit board (pcb) in the controller.  To fix the error he had soldered a resistor onto the board.  One resistor lead was connected to +24VDC, the other to a component on the board.  The resistor leads were unprotected and inevitably the lead that was connected to +24VDC contacted another trace on the pcb.  Unfortunately, for us, the other trace went to a connecter and ultimately to the "UP" control on the windlass and up came the anchor ... at least until the snubber saved the day (or saved the night in this case).
Hallberg-Rassy says that ours is the only boat that they've ever installed this type of windlass control on (they weren't enthusiastic when I ordered it).  The windlass manufacturer says he's changed the design to the problem should go away.  I'm going to try to convince him to recall the defective units.
Our experience was not so awful if you consider some of the possibilities.  We could have been ashore with Sister anchored without a snubber, in which case she would have been set adrift to find shallow water and/or rocks and/or other boats and/or ???  We could have been at sea and lost our navigation and autopilot systems when the 24VDC went away.  Someone could have been entangled in the suddenly operating windlass/anchor chain/snubber.  We've read about folks losing limbs in windlass/anchor accidents.
The next morning:  As the crow flies we were about 3 miles outside of Nassau.  The route we had to follow, avoiding the aforementioned rocks, coral and shallow water, was about 6 miles long.   We proceed cautiously, at about 3 knots, with Andy on the bow looking for submerged hazards.  It's not that we were completely blind.  We had paper and electronic charts for the area and I had plotted a "safe" course for us to enter the harbor.  We followed the course precisely.  On the other hand the Bahamas are notorious for shallow water and underwater hazards and it was our first time in Bahamian waters so we were, perhaps, a bit over cautious.  In any event we arrived at the marina, Nassau Harbor Club, without having touched anything but water.
Customs and Immigration check-in was a breeze.  One Customs lady came to the boat, interviewed us, took our $100 check-in fee, issued us a cruising permit and a fishing license and left.  Soon thereafter a representative from Immigration arrived and it took about 2 minutes to deal with him.  We dropped our quarantine flag and relaxed.

Copyright Ames Lake Systems 2001-2002