Welcome to the US
16 April 2009
So, we're about five miles off the Lake Worth entrance and the conditions are looking foreboding. Lots of boats of all sizes are now converging on or leaving from this very busy harbour. This evil looking storm cloud seems to be sitting on West Palm Beach and lightning is now regularly cracking down the sky. I check on my radar which if you tune it properly will show very precisely storm clouds. Sure enough, it's right on top of the entrance and seems to be stationary. Some boats are turning around to outrun or outmanoeuvre it - easy enough if the storm is localized and contained. I've done this many times in Grand Lake on hot, late summer afternoons where the thunderstorms course across the Lake. With skill, some guts and a bit of luck, you can literally wend your way around these storm cells.
We're tired and anxious to get to the shelter of the harbour so we turn up our engine as high as possible and hope to make the entrance before it gets too bad. Just as we get into the fairly long channel which leads into Lake Worth, all hell breaks loose. The seas turn tempestuous, rain comes pelting down, lightning is striking all around and the wind howls. We're committed so with life jackets and rain gear on, we continue our way into the channel. The rain is so heavy that we cannot see beyond the bow of the boat, and this is entering a very busy and complicated harbour which we've only been in once before. Not much we can do except try to keep from running into something, hope no one runs into us and hope we do not get hit by lightning. One might strike hit's the water so close to us it seems I could have reached out and touched it (not a smart thing to do) and you could smell the acrid, ozone smell if the sound and sight were not enough. Google tells me that a lightning bolt can reach 30,000C, five times hotter than the sun and that air can often smell 'burnt' after a lightning strike.
My Canadian Power and Sail Squadron training tells me that sailboats present a "cone of protection" so long as you are within a 60 degree cone from the mast and not touching metals. If you get hit the boat may blow apart and you can drown but you won't fry - a small consolation. So I order Judy to turn off as much of the switches and instruments we can and still run the boat, and to not touch anything. I use the autopilot as much as possible so I don't have to have my hands on the metal wheel but I do need to maintain the ships heading.
The wind and the rain are whipping us and our bimini and dodger, which have been exposed to the sun (and I meant to treat with conditioner to restore their waterproof ness but didn't get around to) are leaking like sieves. We had closed all the ports and hatches excepts those for the aft cabin which are in the cockpit and virtually never allow water in because they are protected by the bimini. Rain drives in so hard, coming sideways that we get a good dose of water in our cabin and bedding.
The best I can do is try to keep the boat stationary and wait it out. We cannot see well enough and it's too winding to try to anchor, so I head the boat into the considerable wind (don't know how strong because I've turned off the instruments) and rain and keep it at an idle speed such that we're just holding our own into the wind. Judy and Chopin are justifiably scared but we've been through this before. I must say that Judy has great confidence in me and I've learned over the years that even if I'm terrified, if I don't show it and remain calm, Judy will also. Chopin gives us one of his usual baleful looks as if to say, "so, you're doing this to me again, you ba#$%^&d".
After a while the storm starts to abate and while it's still quite wild, we can see a bit and the wind and lightning lessen. We work our way into the anchorage and Judy does a great job of bringing the boat into good position so I can deploy the anchor. It catches first try and we feel relieved and exhausted. By this time we're soaked despite wearing foul weather gear and our cabin is also soaked.
We hear later that the torrential rains washed away roads, that boats were dragging anchor in Lake Worth North and that various boats were hit by lightning.
But, we're back in the US, having made the crossing safely and while it is bittersweet in that our journey is approaching an end, we feel content and satisfied with ourselves.