Across the Gulf
03 January 2011 | Great Sale Cay
Beth / sunny, 70's, cooling after dark
After our fast decision at the coffee shop on Sunday morning to try a crossing that day, we hustled our little bodies through all the preparations and did it, arriving at Great Sale Cay about 4pm on Monday!
Once we made the decision to go, we returned the rental car, picked up our fridge and freezer contents from Nancy and Jim, loaded the dinghy, fueled wand watered up and pumped out and at 12:15, let go the mooring ball that has been Madcap's base for the last 28 days. We headed down the ICW to Fort Pierce in what was supposed to have been light winds. They averaged 15 knots instead and we wondered what we would face outside the inlet. We had an ebb tide that would have swept us out beautifully if not for the waves coming in! Instead, it was a pretty rocky passage out through the inlet with sea water sloshing over the bow, but we persevered, thinking it would probably be better outside - and it was. Unfortunately, it was too rough and the wind too much on our nose for us to hug the coast down toward Lake Worth as we had planned before striking out across the Gulf Stream, so after making about 6 knots in 2 hours, it was decision making time again. Go back to Ft Pierce? Keep slogging south the way we were? Turn out toward the Bahamas and start our crossing from further north? We opted for the latter and it worked well.
We set a waypoint for Little Bahama Banks, and then aimed 25 nautical miles south of that to counteract the current. Doing it this meant that we spent longer in the Gulf Stream than is normally advised, but it was preferable to pitching and slamming down the coast. (We found out later that it was also preferable to going down the inside because of the many pleasure boats roaring by on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the difficulty of timing bridge openings!)
The water stayed fairly sloppy for a few hours - Jim and I both popped motion sickness pills that kept our stomachs level and we stayed above decks for the first few hours to avoid problems. The wind still wasn't at a good angle for sailing and then it eventually died to just a few knots so it wasn't a sailing trip, but it was just fine all things considered. We each got some sleep through the night - taking roughly 3 hour watches - and we saw very little other traffic. We knew there had to be pleasure boats out there because of the weather window, but because they all left from farther south, we didn't see them except for one power boat that passed us in the morning. We altered course to avoid a couple of cargo ships during the night and saw two cruise ships go by in the distance. (The night before, we might have seen our daughter, Mary Beth's, cruise ship, the Norweigan Pearl cross in the other direction, albeit further south - so I'm only imagining that we might have really seen it...) A couple of fishing boats kept us alert as they flew along, and stopped and then flew along again. Along with our radar, the AIS that we installed last year is so handy for night time crossings. Between these two instruments and our own eyes, it is pretty easy to see what is out there.
Dawn brought that fabulous smooth, almost silky turquoise water flowing under the keel as we cruised along over the banks - 16 feet deep instead of over 2000. It also brought coffee and sunshine and the relaxation of knowing we had no more wondering to do about when to cross. It's curious that even when we think we aren't stressing too awfully much about the crossing, there is still a palpable sense of relief once it is behind us.
We were the 13th boat into the anchorage at Great Sale Cay in absolutely flat water. Our mooring buddy - Bonnie Lass - was there already and we had a great reunion with them at happy hour hosted by Linda and Wayne (Isla). Another boat must have come in after that because there were 14 of us when I counted in the morning. It was a true Bahama night - with a sky full of stars, the blessed quiet of no engine, no traffic, no partiers, and the gentlest of rocking as we crawled into bed .... at 7 o'clock!!