Crossing the Stream II
23 April 2016 | Gulf Stream
To review, the Gulf Stream flows southwest to northeast with a current of around three knots. Wind contrary to current can create nasty, step waves and a very uncomfortable, if not dangerous, passage. So all cruisers listen to the weather gurus for a favorable weather pattern of at least two days.
So we thought we had our window...10-15 knots east going southeast, 4-6 foot waves.. Before getting to the Stream we had 50 miles of Little Bahamas Banks to cross with the advantage of shallow water (15 -20 ft) so the waves couldn't build. Then we'd have another 55 miles to cross the Stream to get to Ft Pierce. Our plan was to leave the anchorage at sunset, travel the Banks at night, to arrive at the edge of the Stream at daybreak so we could do the crossing in daylight. We would have only other cruisers in the Banks, but potential for large ships in the Stream to watch for.
We hoisted sail at sunset and had a lovely downwind run to the west. For a while.... unfortunately, the autopilot does not like downwind, so she doesn't work at all in the conditions. We took turns handsteering and waiting for the wind to go south. It never did. We did get to the end of the Banks quickly...by 5am. We waited for the usual lull in the winds that comes at sunrise. It never materialized.
As we continued west, the wind and waves built. We were flying on main alone dead downwind. The usual tactic is to aim for a point south of your intended destination and the Stream pushes you north. We tried to aim for St Lucie... but didn't get set north much at all. By midday, the waves were coming from several directions creating confusing seas... 10-12 footers...and still dead downwind. By a little after 2pm we were within a few miles of Ft Pierce.
But..... we couldn't get there yet. We had been warned about entering the inlet in an east wind with an outgoing tide. The tide wasn't set to turn until nearly 5pm. So we took long jibes offshore, Bill at the helm, me gulping candied ginger for several hours. We heard reports from the Coast Guard warning of shoaling in some of the other inlets because of the high seas and winds.
Finally we set our course for the center of the inlet to avoid the shoaling that was obvious in the brown stirred up water on the south side. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we got into calm protected water and made our way to the Ft Pierce City Marina.