Something Fishy Muddies Up the Day

Morning was as we remember the Bahamas from 40 years ago, but less humid and 10 degrees cooler as that SCUBA diving trip was in July and August. The breeze in the Old Bahama Bay Harbor offered a hint of the strength and direction offshore. We cleared the office and said good bye to Sharon and cleared the slip at 0936.

It would have been simple had not a 30 foot center console with twin outboards decided to pick the same time to zip into the slip downwind of us to pick up his charter for the day. Thankfully, he had the horsepower and good sense to back out of the situation because we were at that moment of hanging between forward momentum and reverse momentum where corrections come slowly.

Outside the harbor the wind was as expected, 16 knots and on the backstay. The Island Packet flotilla decided to take the Indian Cay Channel at low tide. Those boats must draw much less than we thought because the consistent story across cruising guides is five feet at mean low water. We motored, rolling and surfing, up to Memory Rock before we turned to cross onto the Little Bahama Bank. This added two hours to our day and two years to our lives (reduced angst, don’t ya know). Once we were across the nine foot bar onto the bank, the water deepened, and we set the genoa jib and took off like a rocket. Course set for Mangrove Cay, we reveled in the speed, the relative quiet, the colors. What a day.

Halfway to the Cay the wind dropped just a bit, and we added the main. We were rocketing again. I know for some folks, 7.5 knots ain’t even bottle rocketing, but after months of the confinement of motoring, to be sailing again was sweet.

Two thirds of the way to the Cay, we crossed a “fish mud.” [Pictured Above] These are tremendous masses of sand stirred up by simultaneously bottom-feeding bone fish. They turn the fifteen foot deep bottle green water almost white. The Muds look like sand bars (here, “sand bores”) instantly tossed in one’s path by some antipathetic genie. The first one we crossed extended a quarter mile, was 100 yards across and looked solid. Forewarned, we kept on sailing. The second one had a diaphanous look as the sand was already settling back to the bottom.

We fetched Mangrove Cay as late as you want to be anchoring if the color of the water is important to your navigation — around 1600. Here, “Visual Piloting Rules” trump technology. We anchored in deep bottle green water (about 9 feet) in clean sand. The shelter here is “iffy.” With settled weather, picking the right spot is no problem. With shifting weather, the best place changes with the wind, and quickly. And at Mangrove Cay, no place is good with winds predicted from the north.

Well, we have a front approaching. A strong one. So our strategy is to stay here until there is enough west in the wind that northwest is soon to follow. Then we scoot the twenty miles to Great Sale Cay hoping to arrive in the Northwest Harbour anchorage (this is an uninhabited island) with the wind now having enough north in it that the harbour provides shelter. This harbour is good for winds from west through south-southeast. We may find ourselves there until Thursday as 20+ knot north through easterlies are predicted till then.

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