03 May 2015
Well most of you have heard that we made it safely across the dear old Gulf Stream - technically the Florida Straights, but you haven't heard the details. We've been in "go mode" for several days - it's time to get back to the States, Roger has a couple of job interviews that are a little difficult to conduct from the Bahamas and the new house desperately needs our attention.
The weather was a huge question mark. Whenever we got together with friends over the last week, invariably, the first topic - the only topic - was the weather. Where's the front? Where's the window? Can we make it before it really gets bad or are we here for another 3-4 days? We left Treasure Cay on Thursday so that we could get a few miles closer to Great Sale Cay and so we could put The Whale Cay Cut behind us. We stayed at Manjack Cay which we really didn't do justice to - need to come back and do some shelling, snorkeling, and exploring in the dinghy.
The initial plan of heading to Great Sale Cay on Friday and then to Port Canaveral on Saturday was amended twice as we decided to skip Great Sale and head straight to Ft Pierce. No - we didn't consult with Casey as it would be a full 24 hour trip - yikes. After pulling down weather GRIBS and consulting with Chris Parker, it looked like Friday would be the milder day with lighter north wind while Saturday and Sunday had lots of east wind. We changed to Ft. Pierce solely because it was closer - Casey won that argument.
For the first 16 hours of the trip we looked like rock stars. The weather was just as predicted - mild breezes out of the northwest - calm seas. We were even greeted by some good luck charms: dolphins swimming in the bow wake and a full moon. We made it to Great Sale - went blasting right on past- and across the Little Bahama Bank. Roger had the helm as Sanderling emerged from the Bank out on to the Florida Straights and turned it over to Chrisy and went below for a little shut eye. The conditions were pretty perfect - 10 knots out of the north - a lite chop - no big deal. Time to sleep.
Not so fast. Twenty minutes later a rather anxious voice came through the companionway, "Roger - can you come up here and check this out?"
Why certainly dear!
I emerge to find that the wind has gone from 10 to 20 knots with gusts of 22+ and there's this dark ominous thing where once there were stars. Hum?
I take a seat in the cockpit - leave the driving to Chrisy as its her shift and desperately try to recreate my dream from ten minutes earlier - now where was I?
Nothing changes and I offer to take the helm. We eased the main as the wind had clocked to fully out of the north, and as I check the radar I'm told that there's a boat moving from our starboard to our port. If that's a boat it certainly creates the funniest radar image. Maybe it's one of those new circular aircraft carriers. That's not a boat. It's a full on squall. Funny, don't recall hearing anyone talk about those from the forecasts - then again - I don't recall anything about the sustained 25 knots of wind and gusts to 28 - from the north - which for the uninitiated is the worst wind direction for the Gulf Stream as it opposes the direction of the current and generally makes a mess. Fortunately, thanks to our friend Rick Butler and Chrisy's insistence, we were well prepared with a reefed main well before dark.
Well, there really wasn't any turning back. We travelled 16 hours across the Little Bahama Banks. We needed to deal with it and finish the trip. The only good thing about north wind heading west in the Stream is that you can foot off - head below your waypoint which gives you more boat speed and drive through the waves and use the current of the Stream to push you back on course. I began a little countdown of the miles until we reached the axis of the stream where the current is the strongest and the sea conditions would be the worst. Fortunately, the axis came and went without conditions deteriorating much past eight foot seas with a five or six second period.
The reality was that it wasn't all that bad when you consider that we had consistent winds of 25 knots and squalls that were strong enough to show up on a radar. The reason it wasn't all that bad is that Sanderling was born for these conditions. She won't be the first boat to the weather mark but give her 25 knots of breeze and eight foot following seas and she handles them like a champ. We love to complain that Sanderling is too big: too much teak to varnish, too much fiberglass to buff, too heavy to push around the docks. On nights like last night, we are thankful for every inch of her.
The postscript - I record all the forecasts and my conversations with Chris Parker. I recently listened to those forecasts again and the reality is that Chris didn't miss the forecast by much - maybe 5 knots. He consistently said it was a crossing opportunity for "Salty sailors" - guess we became a little more salty last Friday/Saturday.