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So, What Happened Was ....

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So, what happened was.... on Tuesday morning at 0700 Carol's tenure as social director was abruptly ended after 14 uninterrupted hours. We were sleepily listening to Chris Parker's SSB weather report and forecast and he was greatly exercised about a 1,000 millibar low pressure weather system in the western Gulf of Mexico that was headed east. That's pretty low but nowhere near hurricane low pressure. Then, he said, that there would he a high pressure system bringing high winds from N-NE. Anyway, that sounded like the Gulf Stream was going to become impassable, for us anyway, by about Friday and could stay that way for a week, probably more, effectively postponing transits to the states almost until the beginning of May.

I was not the only person to reach that conclusion. The chatter began soon after the broadcast. I talked to Bob on New Passage who was concerned but not yet ready to pull the trigger. David and Alice were in the indecisive mode. I wasn't enjoying the Abacos that much after the wonder of the Exumas; being stuck there did not sound too great. It sounded even less great when weather strategy was added into the mix: I did not really have one. Rather than spend more time agonizing over this Carol and I had the anchor up by 0730, Carol wisely having wisely accepted the fact that I am still the captain and she was going to lose so why not lose gracefully and graciously. We were the third boat out of the anchorage headed for Whale Cut, about a half hour behind the first two.

After a couple of hours we had passed those two boats, Loon and Draco, both traveling about a knot slower than were we. Carol and I had thought that we would head to Great Sale Cay as we had planned to do at a later time. At Great Sale Cay we would anchor and then head west to Ft. Pierce the next day. I had not even run the numbers for distance, and I always run the numbers, thinking that we had another week or two, although I had entered all the navigation way points. I did not even know if we could make it to that cay in daylight and there were no Plan B (bailout) anchoring options obvious on the charts, good or otherwise. Turns out that Sea Span and Alice Mae did get underway, but a couple of hours later than we did. We could not talk to either of those boats directly but Draco, in the rocking chair, relayed the conversations back and forth.

Sometime after lunch we started looking more closely at the immediate next day, or two, of weather. I had XMWeather on the computer in real time; Draco had SSB email weather and Jeff, on New Passage, was getting some sort of radio broadcast. The consensus was that Tuesday/Wednesday was going to be the best time to cross; Thursday was starting to look like the early low from the west would start to arrive. Since we had to do an overnight, regardless of whether we anchored or pushed straight through, we collectively decided, but as individuals, to follow Jeff's suggestion to make the crossing Tuesday night to arrive at Ft. Pierce on Wednesday. As we passed Great Sale Cay it was plain that more than a dozen boats had decided to wait. That did not deter any of us as we saw that cay recede over the stern.

We hit Great Sale Cay at about 1730 where Carol and I decided that we needed to top off the fuel tanks in order to cover the 125 nm in front of us. Since we had a good fix on the distance from Great Sale Cay to Ft. Pierce, the stop also gave us a realistic estimate of what the next 20 odd hours would look like. Since we had as many gallons of water on board as miles to travel, Carol and I treated ourselves to hot showers underway, Carol even washing her hair, probably a first. A long night standing watch is tough; scroungy makes it tougher.

The whole trip was a little like Matthew 20:16: so the last shall be first. In this case the last, i.e. slowest, is the only boat ever to have been passed by a kayak on the ICW: ours. Having replaced the sails, the engine, the propeller shaft and, finally, the propeller itself, we have been flying past every boat on the horizon, big as well as small. This trip was no exception, and a good thing too, because speed matters when running ahead of weather. We made such good time to Great Sale Cay, that I dropped the engine speed a little, and we still ran over 6.5 knots motor sailing, almost impossible to imagine after the first few years on this boat when four knots was the norm and five knots was only an unanswered prayer.

The big question for us: where to exit the Little Bahama Bank and to engage the Gulf Stream? The Gulf Stream is, literally, force of nature that cannot be avoided, especially by small boats like ours: it was going to push us north, the only unknown was how far north. The last time we crossed the Gulf Stream, east to west, we started 17 miles south of the Port Everglades and ended up 7 miles north of the harbor entrance, an error factor of more than 40% and not a performance I wanted to emulate. Since Ft. Pierce is 27o 28' north, we settled on an exit point of 27o 08' north, giving us 20 miles for Gulf Stream abuse. It was interesting to watch: we steered 270o, due west, for more than eight hours. As we got more into the Straights of Florida the actual course traveled over ground grew and grew: 280o, 290o, 300o, 305o being the highest number we saw. And then, as we got into shallower water and moved behind the lee of Palm Beach, the numbers started to reverse and get smaller. We probably used about 17 of those 20 miles by the time we were into 100' of water and, then, steering directly for the Ft. Pierce channel entrance.

It was a tough night on old bodies but one with wonder nonetheless. Caught this sunset and fancied it as an appropriate metaphor for this whole trip: we were also headed west; our trip, like the day we had just enjoyed, was ending. No more sunsets for a while.

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Watching the sun go down was like being lowered into a well: the amount of light shrunk and shrunk until there was only darkness. There was no moonlight or other ambient light; we were surrounded by an unbroken wall of black. The boat was moving, a lot, and when the horizon disappeared it was impossible to tell if a light was a star in the sky or a boat on the water. The night was blissfully devoid of traffic, and the little boat traffic that we saw was behind us, save one. Some kind of boat had entered the Little Bahama Bank on a reverse course from ours. Whatever type of vessel is was, it had two enormous white LED spotlights/headlights that consumed the night and destroyed any hopes of night vision. If it had been a working boat, like a shrimper or a seiner , deck lights would have made sense; it was neither. We passed close enough for me to see the bow wave in the dark; that's way too close.

Carol has the 0600 to 0900 watch as part of our standing rotation. She woke up on Wednesday morning at about 0530 and heaved chunks for the next 20 minutes. The Gulf Stream passage was very mild with winds less than 15 knots and seas of 3-ft. or less. However, the wind and waves were of a combination that caused the boat to roll port to starboard, pitch fore and aft and yaw right and left. The roller coaster-like corkscrew motion was her undoing, strange because she loves roller coasters and all such things. She relieved me 10 minutes early not out of enthusiasm for watch standing but out of a need to be topside in the open air.

We have been into and out of the Ft. Pierce inlet many times; few of those times have been easy and this time did not disappoint. The tide was flowing out; the wind was blowing in. I watched another sailboat enter the channel a few minutes before we did. The mast looked like some steroidal metronome keeping time for Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee; it was ugly. We got past that, got through the marina channel with the wind and tide both going the same way, and the tide being low. We moored at the Ft. Pierce Municipal Marina at 1230 on Wednesday, 04/18/2012. Did the immigration and Customs thing and then we collapsed. I got 30 minutes sleep on the passage; Carol more but not a lot more. Carol fell asleep while reading; I was awake but could not focus on or read any words, everything blurring before fatigued eyes. David and Alice arrived a few hours later and we got together to share a modest dinner of delivered pizza and buffalo wings.

Our departure plans are Scarlett O'Hara-like:I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. We are catching up with folks on the phone; we have the 100 maintenance to complete before we can leave; the weather is going to be dodgy for a while; we're both still very fatigued from the trip.

The trip north to Brunswick, GA, is a detail; we'll either go up the ICW or make a passage outside, preferred. Regardless, we have done both several times; there is no mystery or wonder in any of that, so I'll make this the final blog entry for the trip.

Posted by sailziveli 04/19/2012 11:05 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating

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