Chesapeake Bound - Day 11
26 May 2014 | 21 miles southeast of Nags Head, NC
We're almost there! We should be going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel sometime around midnight tonight. Yesterday was a beautiful day but pretty uneventful. We motor sailed all day and all last night. The wind is from the southwest now and starting to pick up. We should be able to turn off the motor soon and sail most of the rest of the way to Hampton.
The big event last night was crossing the Gulf Stream. As I said before, the Gulf Stream can be challenging and, at times, very dangerous. The Gulf Stream is a huge river of water in the ocean moving north along the US coast at up to 5 knots. You never want to cross it if the wind direction has the word "North" in it unless the wind is very light. The reason is that when the wind is against the current it can build up very big waves and, even worse, short steep waves. These can be deadly. Last November when the Salty Dawg Rally was heading south, they got caught in strong north winds in the Gulf Stream. Although most of the over 100 boats participating made it through with just a miserable experience, two boats were so damaged that they had to be abandoned and their crews rescued by US Coast Guard helicopter. Two other boats were dismasted. It's also important where you cross the Gulf Stream. After it gets north of Cape Hatteras, the stream turns to the east and creates eddies, meanders, and whirlpools. There aren't the kind of whirlpools that can suck you down but the currents can go in unexpected directions and cause the kind of dangerous waves I mentioned even when the wind is not from the north. Chris Parker guided us up to a straight section just south of Cape Hatteras. The winds were mostly from the north but only at 3-4 knots. We crossed the 60 mile wide stream in the early morning hours today with no issues at all. The waves were small and the water calm. It's amazing to think how bad it can be in the same spot with different winds. A few of the rally boats just ahead of us had to stop and wait for 10 hours for the wind to subside before crossing at the same place we did. Sometimes it pays to be the slow boat bringing up the rear.
The practices of navigation are steeped in history and go back for hundreds of years. We just made a course change for reasons that really aren't part of that tradition. We adjusted our course to take us within eight miles of Nags Head, NC so we can get cell service to reactivate our phone. Of course, those hearty sailors never updated their blogs by email either!
We are now 21 miles southeast of Nags Head, NC and about 100 miles from the Chesapeake Bay.