Hey, Let’s Try This Again

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!

 

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Crossing

 

We are back in the Bahamas!  

We spent several days creeping our way from Satellite Beach south, spending a few nights in Sebastian and a few more nights in Vero.  True to Vero Beach’s alternative name of Velcro Beach, we stayed one night longer than planned but we got to see good friends one more time, it was a good few days. The plan was to keep slowly working our way down to Lake Worth (Palm Beach) and wait for a weather window to cross, there wasn’t one forecasted for at least several more days, but when we got the report Friday afternoon it surprisingly showed a calm as calm can get crossing starting that night! After some deliberating we decided to go ahead and take it before it closed out.  We went from mosey mode to mission mode pretty quick!  We spent probably at least an hour going over everything to make sure everything was secure and wouldn’t go flying after everything else on our pre-departure checklist was complete. We don’t necessarily have full faith in forecasts.  

The extra care in stowing everything extra securely was for no reason.  We left at about 2:30am under a bright moon and barely a wisp of wind and a flat sea-which became even flatter as the day went on.  It was more like a car ride than a sailing trip, we just sat there and drove.  Keith had a large white bird come land on the dinghy while I was napping and toward sundown we had two curious little finches join us and provide us entertainment. They had no fear and fluttered and hopped on and in everything including climbing down into the anchor locker and inside the cabin.

At sundown we were treated with a spectacular full moon rising on our bow. A treat, indeed.  At about 2:00am and still a good mile away from Great Sale Cay, where we planned to anchor, we called it “close enough” dropped the hook and dropped into our bed.  In the morning we were greated to clear waters as far as we could see–felt like coming home.  We carried on after coffee and tea to the un-inhabited cay of Allens-Pensacola.  We had the anchorage to ourselves and took a long awaited for swim around the boat.  We didn’t go ashore since we hadn’t cleared in yet, not that there would be anyone to know or care. We didn’t want to clear in on a Sunday so sailed to Manjack the next day and anchored again so that we could sail over to Green Turtle Cay first thing on Monday morning.

I’m glad we waited until Monday, we had the nicest Customs officer who had the discretion of charging us either $150.00 or $300.00 for our cruising permit based on the length of our boat.  Under 35 feet is $150.00, over 35 feet is $300.00-we are 35.1 feet.  Sometimes we’ve gotten charged the lower amount, but recently they have been asking us for the larger.  She chaharged us the lesser so it was pleasant way to start the morning.

Once we were cleared in, we stopped in to say hi to some of the shop owners, got our cell phone data topped up, and put the final touches on our hurricane plan for this area.  Then it was back on the boat, back to Manjack, and out to the reef! Keith had a hogfish for us after being in the water for less than three minutes.  I am serious. I love being married to my Aquaman!

^^ The Gulf stream about as flat as it gets.

^^ Kai usually has to stay in the cockpit underway but it was so calm we let him enjoy the extra breeze on the deck for a bit.  Still tethered in of course.

^^ I was wrong, it can get even flatter.

^^ I see a beach!!!

^^ Relaxing after a long, uneventful crossing.

 

^^ Beer-battered fish tacos in the making.

^^ The other morning I almost stepped on this little crab.  I was not on the beach-he was inside our boat! He is now back swimming in the ocean.

It’s like we were just here!

We are back in Florida…..It’s like we were just here!

We had anchored and staged for the crossing at Great Sail Cay.  Keith did all the maintenance and gave all systems a good inspection and we stowed everything away.  Other than that, we relaxed most of the day and at 5pm raised anchor and began our treck back to Florida.  The forecast was for SE to SW winds 8-15 and seas 2-3 and very little chance of squalls.  Sweet sailing

The Little Bahama Bank was choppy but we had good sailing winds and made good time, even the currents were in our favor.  We hit one squall, but reefed before we got to it and all was short lived and uneventful. We had already sailed off the Bank and I went below for a nap around 5am thinking we would be in Fort Pierce just after lunch with these speeds.  When I woke up around 7am, the wind was from WSW and dying, shortly after it was out of NW (right on the nose) and barely detectable.  The seas were ice-rink smooth and we settled in for a slow easy motor across the stream.  Wasn’t the forecast, but no complaints!  The Gulf Stream was calmer than any of the anchorages we’ve had for the past two weeks!

We ran across two long weedlines and took the time to troll along them for a few miles, we could see a few small fish but we didn’t catch anything.

Kai was more than happy to have a lap to sleep in for the whole way. Other than being a great snuggle-buddy his watch-keeping skills while under way are worthless, we even had a little hitchhiker sneak aboard.  I’m not sure where we picked up a little pigeon but Kai didn’t even notice him until we were just off the coast of Florida.

We pulled up to the Fort Pierce inlet around 430pm and hit the peak outgoing tide.  It took us a full hour just to get through inlet, at some points we were doing less than a knot! Whew, that’s a current!  We took down our poor shredded Bahama flag and hoisted our Q flag. Don’t worry we already have a new Bahama flag ready to go, it will be flying again soon!

Oh, we finally played with the radar.  We like radar!  We saw the squall, how big it was and where it was going. Neat-O! We could pick up all the little fishing boats and everything else that doesn’t have AIS.  Too bad it broke only a few hours after we figured it out.  Oh, well.  We added it to the growing list of things to get done while we are here in Florida.

So what did we do as soon as we got back to Florida? Uh, besides fall asleep and clear in.  We went to 7-11.  We’ve been twice today, actually.  Old habits come right back, we used to be regulars at 7-11.  Sadly, I guess we still are.  We bought a $4.99 phone and two Big Gulps on the first trip.  We bought a case of Diet Coke and Yuengling beer on our second trip.  Internet and drinks, the two things we missed.  That was kind of embarrassing to type.

 

^^all set to sail, one last walk before we loaded the dinghy on deck

^^Keith changing the oil and checking the fluids (Kai supervising)

^^ …and we are off!  Keith and Kai on watch.

^^ weedlines but no catches (see, no exaggeration, ice-rink smooth gulfstream)

^^snuggle-buddy

^^the past few weeks have been a bit windy!

^^our Bahama pigeon is now a Florida pigeon.  We are pigeon traffickers.

Crossing

We poked our heads out of the Fort Pierce channel as the sun was rising, the wind was pretty non-existent and there was jut a little bit of leftover swell.

 

^^Kai, making sure we were lined up between the channel buoys.

Just about the time we got into the gulfstream the winds picked up out of the north, not enough to be antagonistic to the current, but just enough to fill the sail and ease the motion of the swell.  It was a beautiful crossing.  

So that’s what they can be like, sweet.

As we began to exit the east side of the stream, Keith caught and reeled in a pretty Mahi, putting the icing on an already wonderful sail. It was the first time we caught a fish on this boat and had to figure out how to get it up on deck, but it worked out well and Keith scooped him up with his big net. Dinner!

^Keith and Kai tethered to the mast taking a “walk”

We settled in for the evening as the winds clocked around and for about four or five hours the winds were directly on the nose as we came up to the Bahamama Bank, once on the bank our course and the winds changed enough to pull out the sails again and we made a slow and comfortable sail to Grand Cay and arrived just after daybreak.  

^^Grand Cay is getting colorful

We dinghied into Grand to clear customs because the customs shack on Walkers is still being worked on.  It was being worked on back when Keith took the fishing trip over here five months ago.  Island Time.  Clearing in was easy, the customs agent was  just as friendly as could be. A local offered us a ride back down the hill on her golf-cart, we were exhausted and gladly accepted. We still love Grand, it’s just a little fishing village with the most welcoming people.  In Fort Pierce we ran into a boat that warned us that we should just skip Grand, they said it was just a run down rough fishing village with nothing in it.  I guess it’s all perspective.  Yes, the back side of Grand looks rough and dirty, the word intimidating might even be used, but if you look a bit closer all you see is smiling friendly people who are content with what they have and are very welcoming to you, no one passes you without a greeting. Happy people are not nothing, they are everything.

On our way back to the dinghy dock we ran into some familiar faces.  Recognize them from our send-off party?  Yep, Tom and Jonathan made the trip too!  Ok, so we knew about their last minute plans but didn’t expect them to arrive until the afternoon but they made great time leaving from Port Canaveral almost beating us in even.  Jonathan caught a Mahi on the way across as well.  We are so stoked to start off our trip with some friends even if only for a few days.

^^Tom and Jonathan on Happy Healer

^^Keith raising the Bahama flag.  We made it!!!

 And now to get some sleep so we can go enjoy this insanely clear water!