Since we bailed out of the Bahamas to avoid Matthew we haven’t had good weather to get back over to the islands. Finally an itty-bitty one popped up but it was much shorter than we would have liked, the window was preceded by days of nasty weather with 20-25+ knots of wind and closed with a strong cold front bringing harsh 20-25+ knots of north winds on the backside. We need 24 hours of sailing time and a cushion in the beginning to let the seas settle and a cushion in the back to allow for any pre-frontal squalls or mechanical delays. This one we weren’t sure met all the requirements, but we hoped. Strong north winds and Gulf Stream don’t mix. Period. We thought we would be cautious and use the earliest part of the window possible to cross decreasing any chances of getting caught by the bad weather if something were to go wrong-especially since it looked like we would be motoring into the wind at least for the first 12 hours.
We staged at Lake Worth, got things all battened down and checked over. In the afternoon the winds finally started to decrease and we pulled up anchor at 5:30pm to use the slack tide to go out the inlet. We knew the seas were going to still be churned up, but also that they would only get better as the night went on so as long as they were doable we’d go. We got out the inlet and things weren’t too bad at all. I’m bad at guesstimating wave height maybe 3 foot rollers, but still steep and confused. It wasn’t comfortable but we were okay with it. We also knew the Gulf Stream would pick it up a notch which we weren’t looking forward to. Once we got at the very edge, Oh my God, it was like a switch had been flipped. There was a distinct and dramatic change to the seas to say the least. Again, not good at guesstimating but I think 5- 6 foot is a safe guess, but it was more how close together they were that caused the issue. That, and when they doubled up. It was steep and even more confused. Total washer machine. We had expected them to be more on the bow but many were hitting us directly on the beam (side). Our boat was getting rocked rail to rail and since we couldn’t get the sail up with the wind on the nose we had no buffer to the motion. The door to the oven slammed open tossing a pan and my pizza stone out (oddly the left over lasagna from dinner remained in the oven), the contents behind the cabinet doors crashed and tumbled around (thank goodness only one latch let loose), and the tub of items we had under the dodger went airborne and toppled down the companionway to join along with the pizza stone and pans sliding back and forth across the floor. I was pretty sure my big clam shell was going to get tossed- that was going to do some damage. It was noisy and uncomfortable. Something was going to get broken. To be clear, this wasn’t a dangerous situation at all it was just an unhappy one. It took effort to just hang on and stay in place. Keith tried changing course to find a better angle, but nothing made much of a difference. We decided we were “not having fun”. We are not what you would call salty sailors especially when it’s not necessary to be! It wasn’t worth it. We turned around and headed back to port and contemplated trying again in a few hours. The sunset was pretty though and since we were out of the stream and going with the waves we enjoyed it. We weren’t sure how much the seas would settle or how close that put us up against the cold front on the other side of the window, but for us this crossing just wasn’t happening right now. We tried to go too soon for sure.
^^Didn’t snap a pic of the ugly seas, but did get the sunset on our way back in when it got calm again!
On the way back in we got hit with a downpour, we had to open the enclosure windows to see out because they fogged up and the reflection from all the city lights made it impossible to see. We got soaked. Puttering in in the dark, we found that a catamaran had taken the spot we had been anchored in and were hoping to come back to so we had to, still in the rain, search for a new spot amongst the other boats. We settled into our new spot, stripped off our waterlogged clothes, cleaned up the items that had gone flying, and took another look at the weather. There looked like there was enough time to wait a few hours and try again. There was almost no wind so maybe it would be all better. I still tied the oven door shut and pulled the big shell down, just in case it wasn’t.
A few hours later the alarm went off, we climbed out into the cockpit to have coffee, stare at the city lights, and get ready. Then we heard the wind- that had been dead for the last few hours-pick up. And then pick up some more. Huh. Maybe a short squall? An hour later we were still waiting for the wind to settle down. The whole time we were going back and forth of whether to go or not. We wanted to go SO bad but didn’t need to shake ourselves or our boat up either for no reason- we don’t have a schedule, but…. we really, really didn’t want to miss what turned out to be a good crossing. Ugh, decisions. I think they can be the hardest part of this whole cruising thing. Around this time we pretty much decided that this weather window just might not happen. I know this because we had in fact already climbed back into bed around 1:00 am. There wasn’t another window in the foreseeable future- so that sucked. About this time our friend Craig who had left out about an hour before and called back to give us a report. The first few miles were rough, but not as rough as they had been a few hours ago. Also, once away from the land’s effect the winds had settled AND, big bonus here, he was able to get a sail up and was sailing- not motoring into the wind. He said things were pretty comfortable out there. Knowing we were going to hate not taking a doable crossing in the morning we slipped back into our wet safety harnesses and headed back out. We can always turn around. We have no qualms about changing our mind.
It was calmer, not calm, but calmer than it had been. When we got to about the same point where we turned around the first time we still were not committed completely. That section of water was rough. Craig had said he was now seeing 18-20knots out of the north. Did I mention north and Gulf Stream are bad? We weren’t feeling it; we weren’t having fun. In fact we had decided to turn around but just hadn’t actually turned the boat around yet. At least this time with the sail up the motion was much easier and we were making better time. The seas got less confused right about the time we got the message that the wind was letting up ahead of us. We stuck it out. In a few hours the choppy, jerky motion turned to more of a rhythmic swoosh-swoosh one. We were still sailing. By sunrise it was beautiful. By lunch time we were on the bank and it was flat and gorgeous. We kept saying how upset we would have been to have missed this crossing, so happy we did it. We pulled into Great Sale Cay about an hour after sunset, with the last sliver of purple sky fading.
^^ By sunrise all was well.
^^ Tanker being towed by a tugboat. Glad we came across this duo during the daylight-even with AIS. We altered course to go behind them.
Now we are having fun.
Oh, and we beat the cold front with plenty of time to spare! We could have left in the morning and probably had smooth sailing from the start. Oh well, we tried to error on the side of caution. Add it to the experience bucket. Always learning.
I looked back at snapshot I took of the Gulf Stream currents I had grabbed before the crossing. See where the two arrows are pointing towards each other? That’s about where it went from okay to not-okay. I wish I had noticed it earlier, it would have been easier to push through to the other side knowing the entire stream wasn’t going to be that messed up!