Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Thunder Knoll

En route from Providencia Island to Cayman Island there’s an enormous stretch of reefs and shallow water. It lies outside the coastlines of Honduras and Nicaragua, and stretches half the way to Jamaica. There are some serious considerations to be made before crossing this area. It’s dangerous in heavy weather, with strong currents and wildly breaking waves. The best thing would be to sail around it.

But most cruisers seem to wait for the right weather window, in order to take a short cut; the narrow passage that exits close to Thunder Knoll.

It’s tricky sailing. We left Providencia Island in force 6, beating against the prevailing trades. But the wind calmed as we entered the passage.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenIn the early morning we saw a fishing boat hovering around Thunder Knoll. We started to think about two American boats that were robbed a week earlier, adding more horror to the area.

We changed course, but didn’t want to venture too far out in the shallows. There was a swell, and hidden obstructions 7 meter underneath. 7 meter feels really shallow when crossing an ocean, without any land in sight. We couldn’t trust the chart either, as all the hurricanes had stirred up the reefs.

The fishing boat changed course, too. They seemed to be blocking our way. We changed course again, and they followed.

Nina prepared a bag of money, booze, canned food and various valuables, ready for a handover. The main thing would be to avoid pirates entering Bika, and I told Nina to put clothes on and stay bellow.

It was an old rusty vessel. At least twenty mean-looking men were hanging in the rigging or standing by the gunwale, staring, and none of them waved back when I saluted in my friendliest way. Please excuse that I didn’t take pictures of this. The camera was in the bag at my side, ready to be given away.

Then the kayaks started to pop up from the troughs of the swell. I'd guess maybe ten kayaks, with men holding lobsters and shouting “Whiskey! Whiskey!” I would love to trade, but I would not risk the men coming close. “No whiskey,” I shouted, smiling.

The wind died out almost completely, and Bika crept slowly through the bizarre scene. Of course, fishermen are lonely out there, and it’s normal to be friendly with other people on a waste ocean, but I stood tall in the cockpit, hoping that they wouldn’t cross the line and lay their hands on Bika.

The kayaks started to fall behind, but everybody were still staring. The chimney belched out black smoke when the fishing vessel showed some muscles and took a half-turn.

I was a bit shaken. We got more wind, though, and I gradually started to relax.

Suddenly they called us up on the VHF. “Bika, Bika,” a man said in a teasing voice, “were are you going?” We didn’t answer. They may have had a good laugh at the white man, with all his fear and belongings. I was more than happy to provide them with laughter.

We passed the confused sea and wild currents at Thunder Knoll. Around midnight we had a gale, but the worst was over.