Once we made the decision to head back to the U.S., we had to get the boat ready for a passage. The forecast showed excellent conditions for sailing most of the way which was good because we wanted to make the trip non-stop from Lee Stocking, and we didn’t have enough diesel to motor the whole way. Some of the marinas in the Bahamas were closing so access to fuel wasn’t guaranteed.
Being able to use the white floppy things on our boat is always our first choice, and now we were REALLY glad we had them vs. owning a motor boat and being dependent on fuel. An added bonus was that our weather window was several days longer than what we needed, giving us added flexibility to creep along under sail if the wind was lighter than forecast. We really couldn’t have asked for a better situation, giving us the additional confidence that we were making the right decision.
The wind had been blowing 20+ knots for several days (a theme for our stay this year), so we wanted to stay on the bank side of the Exumas. We were going to need some help from the tides to pull that off because heading north on the banks from Lee Stocking requires boats to go through the Pimlicos, which is shallower than what our boat draws. Fortunately a quick check of the tide tables showed they were in our favor, sparing us from very boisterous conditions on the Sound side. With everything stowed and the jacklines installed, we set the alarm to leave at sunrise on Saturday.
Our original plan was to go to Miami because it was a significantly shorter distance than Lake Worth farther north. Further research showed us that the boost from the Gulf Stream would allow us to make Lake Worth in only one additional hour despite being 75 miles farther north. Well that was a no-brainer given that our plan was to go to Vero and stay for a month while we waited to see how things shake out. Lake Worth it is!
The forecast called for 10-18 knots behind the beam on Saturday and Sunday, with lighter winds for Monday which was when we would be crossing the Gulf Stream. Excellent! Did we get that? Well, more or less.
We started the trip on Saturday with really light winds that gradually increased through the day to a steady 16 knots just forward of the beam. We had fun sailing along, tacking when necessary, visually soaking in the beautiful blue water one last time, and frankly just really enjoyed not having the engine on.
After the sun set the wind dropped, but since it had blown pretty steadily all afternoon the water was pretty agitated. We spent the first night rocking and rolling on the banks, experiencing the gamut of weather: squalls, too much wind, no wind, heavy rain for 10 minutes, etc. The washing machine waves combined with the inconsistent wind had us both fighting seasickness for a few hours (me more than Jeff), and when the wind really disappeared we fired up the engine for a bit trying to get to a deeper area hoping that it would give us a smoother motion. Needless to say, neither of us slept well the first night at all.
By sunrise on Sunday the motion had improved somewhat and the engine was off, but we turned it on again in the afternoon when the wind died and we were once again getting tossed all over in the Northwest Channel. We thought we would NEVER get to the Great Bahama Bank – no doubt our impatience was exacerbated by the knowledge that once we got there the conditions would be MUCH better. But finally, finally we were on the Bank, the wind picked up, and the engine was off again.
As darkness fell we could see the bright lights of dozens of cruise ships that we had previously read were anchored just off of the Bank with no place to go. Their lights made up for the lack of a moon all night! The second night was substantially more comfortable than the first, thank goodness, so we were each able to get a bit more sleep.
By sunrise on Monday we were exiting the Bank, marveling at the sheer number of the cruise ships – something we will likely never see again. I didn’t think to take any pictures, but I found these on Facebook which shows exactly what it looked like:
Sailing along we knew we had conserved plenty of fuel by this point to motor all of the way to Vero if we had to. And it’s a good thing we did, because the wind dropped – as predicted – to literally zero knots.
Firing up Big Red one last time we motored through a flat calm Gulf Stream. We really couldn’t have asked for anything better. We saw a few dolphins, plenty of flying fish, and some Portuguese man o’war. The VHF had been pretty quiet up until that point, but as we got closer to the U.S. we started hearing calls for TowBoat US, along with general chatter – another sign that this year’s trip to the Bahamas had come to a close. Otto-Bob (our electronic auto pilot) was doing a great job so we read our Kindles and relaxed as the U.S. drew closer.
A few miles offshore we officially cleared back in to the U.S. with the Roam app (CBP didn’t even request a video call like they did last year), and shortly before sunset we dropped the anchor south of the Lake Worth inlet. We were back.
Ultimately it ended up being an excellent passage, sailing 2/3 of the way and motoring the rest. At 299.4 nautical miles we beat our previous longest passage by five nautical miles. Although we were sad to leave, we knew we had made the right decision and we were glad that we had lucked out with a long stretch of great weather – particularly given how lousy the conditions had been for most of the winter!