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Story by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tales


© 1987 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved


"Land ho!" cried my mate when the tiny island of Bimini first appeared. "Right on schedule" I boasted in reply, inwardly relieved. We’d just made a night crossing of the infamous Gulf Stream, from Miami to the Bahamas, in order to arrive in full daylight.

It was the Fourth of July 1975, America’s Independence Day, and my 40-foot gaff-rigged ketch, “Autant,” was as traditional as the holiday. Built in 1927 of double diagonal strip planks, Sitka spruce spars and lanyards & deadeyes, she had almost no modern amenities and, most notably, no auxiliary engine. Needless to say, I was grateful for the steady breeze that carried towards our landfall.

I knew, however, that we were soon to lose the wind. The entrance to Bimini Harbor stretches long and narrow in the lee of South Bimini Island, where tall casuarina pines block the prevailing easterlies entirely. While the air is still, the water is not; a strong tidal current runs. We'd have to enter with the flood and rely on it to carry us through the channel to the open harbor, where we could regain the breeze.

Our timing was perfect; the tide was mid-way and rising when we arrived. In no time we were in flat water, ghosting up the channel in between a beach and a sandbar, wafted along by the current, the sails limp yet still yielding just enough way for token steerage. After the turmoil of our offshore passage, the silence was so complete we found ourselves whispering to each other.

Then all at once the harbor came into view through the narrow mouth ahead, and the contrast struck us like a brass band blaring Anchors Aweigh in double-time. The anchorage was jam packed with boats of every description - sailboats, motor yachts, sport-fishermen, runabouts, dinghies and skiffs – most of them anchored too close to each other, some rafted together, others motoring about haphazardly. It looked like every boat owner in Miami had decided to spend the Fourth of July weekend in Bimini 

Just then the current compressed at the harbor mouth, increasing to 3, maybe 4 knots. Autant was flung into Bimini Harbor as if by slingshot, and as we cleared the trees a 12-knot breeze instantly filled the sails. Into the chaotic mass of boats we flew under full sail, at a total current-plus-sailing speed of 9 knots!

The next few moments were a blur. Near panic can do that to you. We were dodging boats, rodes, dinghies and swimmers all at once. I caught glimpses of wide, disbelieving eyes and gaping mouths as we sped by yachts loaded with festive, beer-swilling sailors. In desperation I hailed the tipsy crew in the cockpit of an open fisherman. "Is there room to anchor farther back in the harbor," I yelled?

One of them waved his bottle vaguely in the direction we were going and slurred, "Jus’ anchor anywhere!"

Anywhere, indeed! There was nowhere to go and no way to turn back. We were hemmed in, moving much too fast, and the congestion seemed to thicken ahead. I made a snap decision to stop RIGHT NOW.

I headed Autant into the wind, aiming her bow at my amused advisors in the fishing boat. The sails luffed and I started forward to lower an anchor off their stern. But I had never before anchored in such a strong crosscurrent. To my surprise and utter horror, I realized that Autant was now sliding sideways at 3 knots, drifting straight into the open arms of a pair of anchor rodes at whose apex was a very beautiful, very expensive yacht. My life flashed in front of me.

Autant still had way on, just enough for steerage. I put the helm hard over and prayed. The bow shifted ever so slowly to starboard yet still the sails luffed. Adrenaline pumping, I grabbed the mizzen boom and hauled it out to starboard, backing the sail to push the stern around. Less than two boat-lengths away down current disaster awaited us if the jib didn't fill NOW!

It did. Autant fell off onto the new tack, her sails filled, and after another agonizingly long moment she was stemming the current. We hung there, eerily suspended under full sail, neither moving forward nor drifting back. The gleaming yacht's anchor rodes ran along our port and starboard quarters, her bow (and my financial ruin) scant meters from our transom.

Then Autant began gaining on the current ever so slightly. We inched forward, all sails trimmed and drawing. I gave my mate the helm and stationed myself at the mainmast. Just before we hit the wall of boats ahead, I let go the jib and main halyards. Down came the canvas and Autant stopped almost immediately. Quick-stepping to the bow, I lowered our 60-lb. anchor into the shallow water about 2 feet off someone’s transom, ran out some scope, strapped on a facemask, dove overboard and hand set the hook. I couldn’t afford it to drag even a little.

I climbed back aboard Autant and as I stood there on deck dripping wet, my heart pounding, some fellow puttered by in his inflatable dinghy. "Nice sailing, skipper," he offered with a friendly smile, and moved on. It suddenly occurred to me that to the casual observer the entire maneuver must have appeared planned and controlled. He actually thought I had done that on purpose! 

"Thanks, mate." was all I said, with the casual indifference of a guy who does this sort of thing all the time.

~ End ~

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