Our first Gulf Stream crossing.

We spent several days in the very large north anchorage in Lake Worth stocking up on last minute parts at West Marine and groceries at Publix.  While it was a bit of a scramble to get across the beached dinghies, the anchorage was convenient with Publix only a block away and West Marine a few minutes beyond that.  We even were able to pick up some items for our friends on S/V Lone Star.  They have been in the Bahamas since early December and are running low on chocolate in particular.  This constitutes a crisis on their boat and ours!  With a small package of Dove costing $10.00 in the Bahamas, we were more than happy to pick up extra chocolate for them, to be hand delivered at some point down the road.

All the while we were keeping an eye on Sunday’s forecast which appeared to have great potential for a Gulf Stream crossing.  The Gulf Stream runs in a northerly direction so conventional wisdom says not to be in it when there is wind from the north.  The wind against current stacks up the waves, and depending on the wind strength the resulting ride can be anywhere from very uncomfortable to deadly.  In the winter the crossing windows can be few and far between due to the fronts that regularly drop down from the north.  We had been looking at Sunday for several days, and we figured if the forecast changed we would simply continue to head farther south towards Miami and the Keys, and leave from there.

When we woke up on Saturday it looked like Sunday would still be a go.  What followed was a mad scramble including a last minute run to Publix, installing the jacklines, and hoisting the dinghy and lashing it to the foredeck.  We also checked to make sure our running lights were working (we had discovered in Maryland that they had stopped working, but it was an easy fix one morning in Wharton Creek).  We wanted to move to the anchorage by the Lake Worth inlet which was a few miles away, and we also needed to top off our diesel and water tanks.  

It was late Saturday afternoon by the time we raised the anchor to move a bit farther south, and the boat traffic on the ICW reinforced our desire never to travel down the Florida ICW on the weekends if possible.  It was shortly before 5:00 when we radioed the City Marina to let them know that we needed to come in and get diesel (the fuel dock was full at the time).  There was a ketch just in front of us and we accidentally stepped on each other’s radio transmissions.  While I waited I heard the guy from the marina tell the ketch that the fuel dock closes at 5:00.  This was very surprising to us, given that it was a Saturday.  The ketch said he only needed to get 10 gallons and was planning to cross the Gulf Stream tomorrow, so the marina said to wait and they would wave him in when it was clear.  I immediately hopped on the radio and said that I was right behind the ketch, also only needed 10 gallons, and was also planning to cross tomorrow.  I could almost hear the guy at the marina sigh, but he agreed to also let us come in for fuel.  Not for the first time were we glad we had a small boat.  I suspect that if we had needed much more the answer would have been “We’re closed.”  

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This guy gets the right of way when we are leaving the fuel dock.

After getting our diesel and generously tipping the fuel dock guy for staying open late for us, we found a spot in the crowded anchorage and settled down to try to get some rest.  We were nervous and called our friends from S/V Cutting Class who were already in the Bahamas and had made this crossing many times.  They gave us some last minute tips and much needed encouragement for which we were very grateful.  Planning to shove off at 2:30 a.m., we turned the lights out at 8:30 and tried to sleep.

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Our last sunset in the U.S. for approximately three months.

Most people cross from Lake Worth to West End where they can check in and continue on.  West End’s anchorage leaves a lot to be desired, and after spending so much money last month we didn’t want to have to stay in a marina and risk getting stuck for several days waiting on weather.  Instead we decided to copy s/v Cutting Class and sail 100 nautical miles from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay where we would anchor for the night and continue on to Green Turtle Cay the next day, which was another 58 nautical miles.  We’d be able to check in at Green Turtle and then could go wherever we pleased.

Our departure time was dictated partly by Mother Nature and partly by when we wanted to arrive at Great Sale Cay.  The forecast called for 5-10 knots wind from the southeast with waves averaging two feet approximately six seconds apart.  The wind was going to clock around to approximately 10 knots from the north in the afternoon.  The western edge of the Gulf Stream is approximately 10 miles from Lake Worth and it’s approximately 40 miles wide.  By leaving at 2:30 a.m. we knew we could get through the Gulf Stream by noon, before the wind clocked to the north.  When the wind shifts to the north it takes several hours for the waves to build, so we weren’t concerned if it changed a bit earlier.  Leaving so early would also get us to Great Sale around 8:00 p.m. or so.  While we would have to anchor in the dark (which would be a first), we would also get a full night’s sleep after arriving.  An added bonus was that the tide in the Lake Worth Inlet was basically slack when we planned to leave so we wouldn’t have to fight the current on the way out.

After the alarm went off we did a last minute weather check.  All systems were still go.  We quickly got ready, turned on the running lights, and Jeff went up front so we could raise the anchor.  That’s when he discovered the starboard running light wasn’t working.  What?  It was working last night!  I thought quickly.  There was no way we were passing up this weather window.  As far as I was concerned, this was similar to having the light stop working in the middle of the night while we were already out there.  Fortunately Jeff remembered that we had bought battery operated running lights for our dinghy, so he grabbed some duct tape and wrapped them heavily to the bow pulpit.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing.  With that, we raised the anchor and headed out.

This was our first time motoring through an anchorage and out an inlet at night, and although it was stressful we worked us a team to get through it with no issues.  Jeff used the spotlight as needed, we relied on the chart plotter and our eyes, and the next thing we knew we were out in the ocean and on our way.

Just like when we went down the New Jersey coast, there was no moon (maybe someday we’ll get to sail at night with the moon lighting our way).  Fortunately that’s where the similarities between the two passages ended.  The wind was approximately 6 knots from the southeast so we pulled out the headsail (man I love that furler) and easily motorsailed along.  The two foot waves were on our forward starboard quarter which was no problem at all.  After about an hour the air temperature felt warmer and more humid.  A quick check of our instruments said that the water temperature was now 82.6 degrees so we knew we had entered the Gulf Stream. 

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So cool!

We traded shifts every hour while the other person napped below.  We were able to see the phosphorescence in the water which was a first for us, and very cool.  Although we had heard there could be a lot of heavy boat traffic, the only boats we saw besides others making the crossing was a cruise ship lit up like an office building.  

The only time I got really nervous was when the depth sounder suddenly showed 30 feet when we should have been in over 2,000 feet of water.  What the???  I actually may have had a small heart attack.  Then it reverted to a string of dashes again.  About 30 minutes later it happened again, resulting in a smaller heart attack.  There was no way we could actually be in 30 feet of water out here in the middle of the ocean – and the water wasn’t acting any differently in these spots – so I decided that the transponder was acting a little wonky given the depths and relaxed.  

Once the sun came up the fun increased.  We saw several Portuguese Man O’ War floating by, getting carried by the Stream.  Unfortunately they went by too quickly to get a picture.  Jeff also saw several flying fish, jumping at least 100 feet each time.  The water was a deep, dark blue and the foam was a bright white against it.  The whole experience was surreal, and so very cool.

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Sunrise on the Gulf Stream – the first time we’ve ever been completely out of sight of land.

By now the wind was around 3 knots so we had furled the headsail and were motoring along without any issues.  If we accidentally turned a bit to the south our speed would slow down to under 4 knots.  Conversely if we pointed farther north we would speed up.  It was a cool demonstration of the Gulf Stream current in action.  As the hours passed, however, our course variations began to have less of an impact so we knew we were almost through (confirmed by the chartplotter, of course).

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Good morning!

As we approached the banks of the Bahamas the depths went from 2,500 feet, to 1,000 to 500 to 50 to 10 in literally the span of a couple of minutes, and as the water shallowed its color changed from dark blue to light green to turquoise.  It. Was. Amazing. 

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From this. . . 
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To this, in literally a few minutes.

But then it got better.  The light wind suddenly died completely, and we watched as an invisible eraser moved across the water, the little ripples disappearing and leaving a surface as smooth as glass.  At that point we could see straight down to the bottom.  Pegu Club motored as we stared down, mesmerized.  We could see starfish on the bottom, brain coral, fan coral.  We saw more flying fish.  Jeff saw a sea turtle.  We could see the shadow from Pegu Club and our silhouettes on the bottom as we stood at the mast looking around.  This was freakin’ awesome.

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The water doesn’t get any glassier than this.

Jeff took advantage of the calm conditions to fix the starboard running light (yay!), and we both took advantage of the solitude and the warmth to take cockpit showers as we hummed along towards Great Sale Cay.  Clean and refreshed, we ticked off the miles towards Great Sale Cay and enjoyed a stunning sunset. 

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Welcome to the Bahamas!

Once again it was pitch black but there were tons of stars to enjoy, and by 8:15 p.m. we were dropping the anchor.  It was a large anchorage with plenty of room, but the conditions were so calm that we placed ourselves a bit farther out to ensure that we wouldn’t accidentally swing in to anybody during the night.  

With that we turned the motor off for the first time in almost 18 hours.  We were immediately struck by the silence.  There was no noise at all.  No airplanes.  No cars.  No one talking.  No wind.  Nothing.  It made Fishers Island sound as noisy as New York City.  We automatically found ourselves whispering to each other out in the cockpit.  It was yet another unexpected delightful surprise in a day that had been filled with them.  We could not have asked for a better crossing, or introduction to the Bahamas.  

12 thoughts on “Our first Gulf Stream crossing.

  1. Congrats guys on making it safely to the Bahamas. I’ve been following you on Garmin, and when I woke up one day last week and saw your track heading east I got all giddy inside.

    Liked by 1 person

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