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Great Sale Goof-Up A Run from Green Turtle to Great Sale Cay, Little Bahama Banks By Rebecca Burg


unning aground is a drag. When flying downwind in 18-22 knots, hitting bottom is outright scary. Singlehanded caravan cruisers Angel and Defiant were on a day’s 56-nautical mile run from Green Turtle Cay to Great Sale Cay. When we passed Carters Cay Banks in the afternoon, a new misadventure began. There was no way to gybe my cutter-rigged boat in time. I could see the sand bar rush up and, THUNK! Angel’s keel plowed into a mound of sandy silt. Startled by the abrupt halt, I fell forward. The frazzled sailboat jolted to her feet and tried pivoting away on her full keel. Heeling over with the sails, I slid from the bar only to bounce into a larger one. Angel surrendered to the falling tide, the depth sounder now taking notice and displaying those unhelpful two dashes. I doused sail, too ensnared to kedge free until the tide returned. The grounding might make a dramatic barstool story, but in truth it was as dangerous as tripping into a feather bed. A sightseeing gunkholer with a wide, flat-bottomed shoal draft keel, I habitually flirt with soft shallows. For common sense’s sake, Angel does give coral heads, reefs, sponges and thick sea grass a generous berth. “Not again!” Bill, on Defiant, lamented. Naturally protective of Angel, Defiant turned to help, but nothing could

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really be done. Defiant’s deeper draft couldn’t get close enough without compromising Bill’s own safety. The simplest plan was for Bill to continue to Great Sale, and I would just have to catch up when the tide freed me a time later. Reluctantly, Bill sailed on, uneasy about leaving me in a potentially vulnerable state. Suddenly feeling anxious, I watched Defiant disappear over the empty horizon. Far from human activity, I saw no other vessels. I hailed Bill on the radio. Negative contact. Too uneasy, I didn’t do much except pace the deck and monitor Angel’s vital signs. A storm formed upwind. Two hours passed and Defiant was angling around Great Sale’s northern tip. So far, Bill couldn’t raise Angel, and the silence was unnerving. “Angel, Angel? Defiant.” No response. Defiant swayed, toying with the idea of turning around, but the setting sun would make a safe search impossible. Bill had watched a dark squall pass over Angel’s last known position. That ill weather and the mysterious radio silence compounded his unease. Defiant swerved to and fro, not sure what to do. Oddly, Defiant was the only vessel there, restlessly circling in Great Sale’s western bight. The island offered good shelter on its west and east sides. Positive holding with lots of room made it a popular rest stop when exploring the Little Bahama Banks or heading from West End to the Abacos. The six-nautical-mile-long Great Sale is uninhabited. Bill finally settled by a low spot with a clear view of Angel’s direction, allowing him to scan the darkening horizon with binoculars. A few times, he heard Angel calling on the radio, but when he responded, all he got was silence. Other than that puzzle, there were no signs of his lost partner. Defiant was alone. Angel’s nemesis, Carters Cay Banks, is a series of shallow, silt bars near a common route to and from Little Abaco Island. The charts can’t keep up with this shifty piece of seascape, and eyeball navigation is necessary. In the crystal seas of the Bahamas, navigators read water depth by its color. One way to become familiar with the water depth and color relationship is to explore in the dinghy and sound the bottom with a boat hook or lead line. Pale tan, sandy white