Saturday, March 11, 2017

Gulf Stream Crossing - Fort Pierce to Little Grand Cay, Bahamas

We kept waiting and moving, waiting and moving. Baby steps south until we got a green light to head east across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. I think we were very patient. But, finally, we were sitting just inside Fort Pierce Inlet, looking at the ocean and ready to go.

We had a ‘going away’ dinner Wednesday evening, with our friend Bob, at Chuck’s Seafood right on the waterfront in Fort Pierce. It was an easy trip for us since we were anchored directly in front of it. Excellent fried shrimp. Then, it was back to SeaClearly for final preparations – lift the dinghy, secure the cabin, review charts and tide-tables and run through our ‘Ready for Sea’ checklist.
Chuck's Seafood at Fort Pierce Inlet

Our trusty dinghy waiting for us to finish dinner

Thursday, March 9th, we were up at sunrise (actually, a little before), drinking coffee and counting down to an 8:00 am departure. That was when the tide would come slack and start to flow out of the inlet again. The wind had, pretty much, died and it was a beautiful morning. It was obvious that we did not have any patience left and the current was almost finished so, at 7:30, the anchor was up and SeaClearly was on the move.

We have been through this inlet a few times but there was never a passage any calmer than this one. There was barely any swell, no waves, negligible current, clear skies and calm breezes. A good start to a Gulf Stream crossing. And, we had dolphins to escort us out.

I could make up some stories about the challenging conditions and the fearless crew but the reality was very benign. We had waited for, and gotten, a good weather window. Several miles offshore from Fort Pierce, we reached the baffling blue waters of the Stream. I wear a start sapphire ring that is a remarkable match for the Gulf Stream Blue. I can hold it up as a color match when we hit the Stream.

Happy sailor guy
We certainly felt the effects of the Gulf Stream current. One minute we were cruising along at 6.5 knots at a course heading of about 107 degrees to achieve a Course Over Ground (COG) of the same 107 degrees. A few minutes later, we were driving a course of 153 to try and hold the COG at 107. Our speed dropped to 4.5 knots as we steered into the current. Realistically, we could have done some things to lessen the effects - driven more of an S-curve south then ride the stream back north, blah, blah, blah. Given the calm weather and moderate current on this day, it seemed like the time and diesel would work out about the same either way so we took it straight on.

Junie, consulting chart data as we drive into the morning sun

The only brief weather encounter of the day
was a 10 minute shower from this cloud

Sunset looking back towards the US as we
approach the Bahama Bank

Our goal was to reach Manzanilla Shoal, the northernmost entrance to the Bahama Banks, by sunset or shortly after. Not that there is much to see or celebrate when you get there. You are still miles and miles from land and there aren’t any significant features to let you know you have arrived. Except for the sudden decrease in depth. As we approached the Banks just after sunset, the depth gauge, which had last received a response hours ago, finally found bottom again as it rose from 2500 feet up to 36 feet in the distance of less than half of a mile. Suddenly, you are in the Bahamas – technically. Sitting at the helm, turning on all of the night equipment and preparing for an overnight run, it doesn’t seem that you have ‘arrived’ anywhere. We had another 10 – 12 hours to cover before we reached our chosen destination at Little Grand Cay.

We started settling in for the evening / night. We had thawed out some leftover Seafood Gumbo, from Christmas dinner with Emily and Tyler, to have ready for this evening and the seas were nice enough to allow us to eat in the cockpit as we cruised along. Seriously good dinner. Then, it was 8:00 pm - my time to head down into the cabin while Junie drove the big boat into the night.

Nighttime travel on a sailboat is a whole different thing. You are really reduced to driving by faith to some degree. You have to believe that the charts you have are accurate. You have to believe that your instruments are giving you good information. You spend a lot of time cross referencing what you see with your eyes versus what your charts, your radar and your AIS tell you. You are in your little cocoon wrapped in darkness with the dim glow of iPads, Raymarine and compass lights just ramming along into the night. You are out there by yourself and responsible for the safety of the ship and the crew. Stopping to dwell on it is not advised.

I couldn’t sleep much so I came up at 11:00 and took my watch. We had been making good time so our arrival at the anchorage outside of Grand Cay was estimated to be around 4:00 am. We would be coming into a strange anchorage, surrounded by some shallow water and rocks, in the dark. And, we were racing the moonset. The three-quarter moon that had been with us all night would dessert us If we were any later than 4:00, it would be the pitch-black right before dawn.

We came in right on schedule but it was somewhat unnerving. We approached the anchorage slowly, concentrating on the charts and the depth – two critical items in the Bahamas – and inched our way to our chosen spot in 10 -11 feet of water. We did a slow circle of about 300 feet to verify that we had good water all around our area and Junie dropped the Rocna anchor into the clear water. Even in the dark, I could see the bottom. We snubbed the anchor (hooked a line to the chain and tied off to a cleat to take the pressure off of the windlass), backed down on the anchor and declared ourselves landed. We set the anchor alarm and headed down for some sleep. Our total trip was just under 21 hours. We had no issues to speak of with weather, SeaClearly or us. All things considered, a very good crossing.

Next up – clearing customs and officially entering into the Bahamas!

1 comment:

  1. I am impressed y'all hung on to the gumbo that long! It lasted about 1 month in our house! So happy you made it safely! Please continue to post pictures! We love y'all!