The Whale, Frontal Dissipation, and Tarpon

Whale2The Whale is a consequential piece of limestone that requires boats drawing more than ~4 feet to go out into the Atlantic to reach the eastern portion of the Sea of Abaco. At its northern end, there is a relatively narrow diagonal cut through a reef. At the southern end, the passage is much wider and deeper and in moderate weather can accommodate cruise ships (except they quit coming after conditions across this wider opening were so bad as to not let them pass).

The three+ mile fan of sand behind the Whale has been depositing there, consolidating and hardening pretty much since the last ice age. Storms have pushed the top layer around, but the hard stuff just sits there. At low tide there is less than three feet in the two channels (which can be choked with post hurricane sand) that might allow a deeper draft boat to pass behind the Whale. For us this would have to be done on a high spring tide (full moon and three following days). If one ran aground one could be there for two weeks or longer… A non-starter for us.

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Six foot seas turn into 18 foot breakers. Reef cut is to right.

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New wreck at south end of the passage. Hurricane Sandy perhaps?

Yesterday’s passage around the Whale was uncomfortable but safe. We had 3-6 foot oceanic swell from the NE, wind driven seas 1-2 foot from the NNW, current with us through the pass stacked up the swells for a while, but the wind was with the current, so white capping (and boarding seas) were minimal.  We would have been better off going the day before but the forecast was for thunderstorms — 70% confidence. What we had was no precipitation at all (I had to use dock water to rinse the boat of salt). and winds less than 5 kts from several directions…

Which brings us to Frontal Dissipation. Like salmon swimming upstream, blue Cold Fronts turn to red Warm Fronts, loose muscle mass, can no longer eat, and become bear and eagle food when they reach this vicinity. As a consequence we have far more variability in day to day forecasts here than on the upper east coast. To some degree there seems to be an inclination toward overstating the weather outcomes — perhaps because people are more inclined to forgive “it wasn’t as bad” than they are “it was worse than expected.” To some degree I think Weather Media hyping affects the process, but for the most part it seems to be genuine uncertainty.

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It heralded worse than arrived.

In any case. when sailing these waters, where all but a few anchorages have significant wind and swell vulnerabilities from some direction it pays to be one’s own weather forecaster. Ending up in a bad harbour is bad. Ending up stuck in a good one for days is not so bad. Ending up in a marina, paying big bucks and constantly adjusting fenders with waves splashing into the cockpit is not fun. So here we sit in a completely surrounded anchorage  with two dozen plus boats watching the predicted winds drop from 35-30-25 and contemplating when it will be comfortable to move on to someplace less secure.

When facing the prospect of this self imposed geographic lock down, one gets crafty — as in making things. So we made a waterproof container for a spare anchor light so we could light the waters off our transom like the big sport fishermen do. When night came we attracted the food chain from the smallest to the largest local — six+/- foot tarpon! They would arrive suddenly, snack on the smaller (6 in) fish (which would disappear a second too late), and turn side to us, flash their scales and leave the light to let the buffet return. So much better than TV.

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Best Friend, Conch Chowder, Johnny Cake, Peas and Rice, what’s not to smile about?

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