5 February, 2016
Inertia can be a bad thing sometimes. Every day that the weather didn’t look good for a crossing, new projects reared their heads. Finally, we decide that we need to get off the dock, and all of the critical chores are done. So here’s the plan. We’ll cruise down the ICW to Fort Lauderdale or Miami, anchor out and wait for a weather window to slip over to the Bahamas. We set Thursday, the 4th as our target, leaving around Noon, and taking 2 days to get into position down south.
First, a word about all of this timing business. Running between the east coast of Florida and the Bahamas is The Florida Current, which runs from the Gulf of Mexico, and is the precursor of the Gulf Stream, which begins roughly around the Florida/Georgia border. This river of warm water begins its’ journey off the coast of Africa, where it becomes known as the Equatorial Current. From there, it flows westward to the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, where it turns to the north and flows northward along the east Coast of the United States. The Gulf Stream turns east just below Newfoundland, as the Labrador Current, then becomes known as The North Atlantic Drift, or North Atlantic Current before it reaches Europe, where it splits into the Norwegian and Canary Currents, flowing North and South, respectively. The Canary Current then feeds the Equatorial Current, and is off to the races, back to America. But, I digress. The deal is, that the Florida Current runs at about 3.6 knots, and is 30 or 40 miles wide. When the wind has a northerly component of any magnitude, it stacks up steep, high frequency waves in the Current, and to put it mildly, you don’t wanna be there. So far this season, we have had front after front racing across Florida with great frequency, and very little settled weather. This does not make for very long or predictable weather windows. As a Low passes, you get south winds on the front side, north on the back, with crummy, rainy weather. As a generalization, when a High goes by, you get the opposite-north winds first, then south with clear and windy conditions. So……. pick your poison.
Back at the dock, the Admiral and I are finishing our second bottle of wine (this becomes important later) when the late forecast comes out. To make a long story short, tomorrow, the 4th, looks like the best weather for the next 10 days to head across. Otherwise, we’d be at anchor somewhere down along the ICW until the weather settles. So much for “Plan A”. We tentatively decide that we’ll cross tomorrow, but will sleep on it first, then check the morning forecast. Nonetheless, we get the Girl all spiffed up and ready to stretch her legs after nearly 2 months of dormancy. The dinghy would have to wait until morning to be hauled up, as no potentially dangerous stuff after vino. After a restless night (da vino and da excitement), the new forecast hadn’t changed. Winds were predicted to be 15-20 out of the southeast, then clocking to the north by eight in the evening. Waves 2’-4’ out of the south, with a 4-5 second frequency, then subsiding to 1’-3’ in the evening. Not fantastic, but the best we could expect for the next week or so. We’d be across the current by the time that the wind changed, and have following seas most of the way to Great Harbour Cay, down in the Berry’s, some 30 hours after departure. We got off the dock by 0810. A little under 2 hours later, we passed the sea buoy outside the St. Lucie inlet. We were thinkin’ maybe 3’-5’ on 4 seconds. Wind steady at 20 knots-not good. We figured that the waves were just stacked up in the shallows, and that once we got into deeper water, that they’d lay down a bit. My first engine room check after being out in the ocean did not go well. Think hot engine room, slammin’ seas, lots of adrenaline, no breakfast and that second bottle of vino the night before. Whew doggie! Ah, didn’t feel so good. Meanwhile, the Admiral went below to tie the cupboard doors shut, as they were threatening to empty themselves onto the galley floor. I took the wheel. When she returned to the pilothouse, she reported that she felt a little funky too. By 1300, we had bailed on the notion of going to Great Harbour, and set our sights on Grand Bahama, only 70 miles away. For the rest of the day, that wicked witch, Mal D’ Mer had me in her steely grasp. I saw my belated breakfast twice, and couldn’t even manage to keep saltine crackers from spewing out the pilothouse door. Suz soldiered on at the wheel, and engine room checks were not on the program (thank you trusty John Deere and engine room camera). During the trip, we were joined at times by pods of dolphins, soaring out of the choppy seas, high into the air. Schools of flying fish skittered between the waves, under a canopy of blowing water. Meanwhile, sheets of water slammed into the windshields as waves broke on our bow-pretty spectacular. As the sun went down, and the sky darkened, I stood my watch from 1900 -0100, but it wasn’t pretty. The wind never came around, and the seas stayed up until around 0100. Furthermore, we had really underestimated the effect that the current would have on our trusty little vessel as we headed southeast against it. At times, we were making just a little over 3 knots. We arrived at the sea buoy for Bell’s Channel at Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama at 0330. Suz debated waking me up, versus just cruising for a few more hours to await sunup before entering a harbor that was unknown to us. In the end, she decided to wake me up to discuss a plan. The channel through the reef was very narrow on the chart, and was a mile or so long before arriving at the jetty. We decided to proceed slowly to the seabuoy to see how accurate our GPS was, comparing our position on the electronic chart to what we were seeing out the window. The plot was right on the nut, and since there was a pair of lighted buoys halfway to the jetty, we decided to go on in. We breathed a sigh of relief when the chart showed us to be inside the reef, and we traversed the mile of shallow water without incident. As we neared the opening to the harbor, Suz illuminated the jetties guarding both sides with our handheld spotlight, and we glided in at 5.2 knots on a flood current. Once inside, the harbor was dead calm, and a warm drizzle began to fall. We debated anchoring in the harbor, but opted instead for tying up to the fuel dock at Grand Bahama Yacht Club, where we slept the sleep of the dead until the drizzle gave way to a torrential downpour as a cold front passed over us, dropping the temperature from 74 to 62 degrees. But……..We at de Bahamas!