26 January 2010 | Fort Lauderdale
Tony; Active weather
Voyage of the 46' sloop "Harmony"
CRUISING/SAILING THE FLORIDA KEYS
Choose your weather window and reef early!
As a professional sailing instructor and USCG captain, I was contracted to sea trial a 46' Bruce Roberts sloop late this summer.
Everything went satisfactorily, the deal went through, and the new owner asked me if I would be interested in delivering the yacht from Port Everglades to Galveston, Texas, crossing the Gulf of Mexico. My work schedule did not permit this, so I offered to teach the new owner Veli-Matti Alho American Sailing Association certifications Coastal Cruising and Bareboat, with extensive practical offshore and advanced passage-making.
Beautiful weather accompanied our trip south to Miami, and we sailed into Biscayne Bay later that night. Engine/charging problems meant we could not re-start the engine, so we were required to sail through the Biscayne Ship Channel in the dark-a daunting prospect, but successfully accomplished.
Several days of repairs followed Veli and I tracked the weather closely-a late season tropical storm was developing into Hurricane Ida and heading rapidly west of Cuba heading for the Gulf of Mexico.
As the storm hurtled up the gulf, Miami experienced gale-force winds from the east-good direction but not good for us! Harmony strained the docklines, safely tied up at Dinner Key Marina.
The third day brought 20-25 knots from the south (our direction-Key Largo and Key West).
Day four forecast was 20-25 knots north-west-a great prospect!
We left Biscayne Bay around 10.00am and put up all sail-a conventional mainsail and a 150% genoa.
By late afternoon approaching Key Largo, I suggested we put on the heavy-air staysail and put a single reef (reducing sail area) in the mainsail. (See video)
Our strategy was to head south and south west outside the reef since our draft was 6ft 8ins, and the Hawk Channel would require too much concentration (we were hand steering).
Overnight, as expected the wind accelerated to 20 plus knots with gusts into the mid-upper 20s.
We were able to progressively take in the large genoa from the cockpit to reduce the force on the rig. A great example of the offshore flexibility of the cutter rig.
We were running on the ocean side of the barrier reef that extends all the way down the keys, from near Key Biscayne to Key West, 150 miles. Even so, waves were choppy and lumpy.
Dawn came slowly-all night we were sailing at hull speed or above, pushing towards 9 knots of speed-exhilarating, but definitely work and not conducive to sleep!
The second video shows a boiling sea to starboard (north and north west) and encouraging light from golden- red sunrise off our port quarter.
As we approached Key West, we realised we had covered 154 nautical miles in 22 hours-certainly the fastest voyage I had ever made.
The moral of the story is choose your time carefully for favorable winds (admittedly only possible in coastal cruising situations), and be ready for increasing winds/deteriorating conditions by reefing down early and preparing the boat and crew.
Captain Tony Wall
Sailing Ventures International
Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy
Captain Tony WallL
Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy
Tel 954 243 4078
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