Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter 7: West End to Green Turtle Cay

Having arrived at West End, Grand Bahama, we were still separated from our chosen cruising ground, the Sea of Abaco by the breadth of the Little Bahama Bank. The Little Bahama Bank is a huge shallow sea about 80 nautical miles wide. Most of it is too shallow for navigation, dotted with rocks and reefs. Fortunately, mariners have found a limited number of safe routes from point to point on the bank and the routes cross each other at nodes or junctions. As long as one enters the bank at a safe point and then travels from node to node, one is safe. It's like the way we drive on roads at home.

On the middle of the bank, we were as alone as people can be. There was no sign of people, boats, or human habitation from horizon to horizon. Often there was no land in sight, either. It looked like we were in the middle of the ocean, until we checked the depth gauge and saw that we were in only 13 feet of water!

It takes two days to cross the bank in a sailboat. Conveniently, there is a safe anchorage about exactly half way across, at Great Sale Cay (pronounced “Key”). After a good two-day run, mostly under power because the wind was “right on the nose” we reached a safe harbour in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chapter 6: Palm Beach to West End

The crossing between Florida and the Bahamas is a lot like that square on a game board labeled, “stay here until you roll a 6.” One needs to wait for good weather before one sets out. The largest river in the world flows northward at up to 4 knots just off the Florida Coast. The Gulf Stream is 100 km wide, 1000 m deep and transports a volume of water that is 50 times the combined volume of all the rivers that drain into the Atlantic Ocean from North and South America, Europe and Africa. It cannot be crossed in a small boat if the wind is against the stream.

We needed to get at least as far south as Fort Lauderdale before entering the stream so it would deposit us near Grand Bahama, about 40 miles farther north, when we emerged on the other side. We left Palm Beach on a lovely, clear day and sailed south, staying a couple of miles offshore, in a fine easterly breeze, and arrived in Fort Lauderdale before dusk. We picked up a mooring and spent several days waiting for weather, visiting family and getting Seabbatical ready to go to sea again.

After the two weeks of northerly winds that brought us south from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale, and a week of strong easterlies while we waited in Florida, we jumped at the chance to cross the stream when the weather service predicted lighter east winds and diminishing seas. We left Ft. Lauderdale at 2 AM and by about 04:00 we were in the stream with the wind right on the nose. Not the 10 to 15 knots predicted; not diminishing, but a steady 15 - 20 knot wind all night. It was a slow, bouncy trip, but, in the end, we made it OK. Seabbatical is a sweet little ship.

Chapter 5: Annapolis to Palm Beach

It’s been a long time since Annapolis and we think that perhaps we are becoming better sailors than bloggers. At least, we’ve had plenty of practice at boat handling in the past few weeks.

While in Annapolis, we stocked up with spare parts, cleaning supplies and stuff for various projects, and Mark got a fabulous set of foul weather gear for his birthday. Doesn’t he look stunning in his birthday suit?

We left Annapolis in a in a rain squall which was entirely appropriate because it had poured non-stop for the three days we were there. The winds were gusty, the visibility crummy and the seas rough. To add to the tension, we left the harbor just as a fleet of J-Boats darted out to start a race. Our timing was impeccable. An all day and overnight passage down Chesapeake Bay put us in Norfolk where we felt as though we were piloting a wing fighter past the Death Star as we moved our small vessel alongside the mammoth steel hulls of the Naval vessels docked there.

Just off the Walter Reed Naval Hospital in Norfolk is Mile 1 for the Intra-Coastal Waterway. The ICW is a combination of protected rivers and canals that can take you all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to Galveston, Texas. It’s a safe, inside passage when the weather is bad or the coastline dangerous. Some of the scenery along the ICW is quite beautiful, but travel is only possible during daylight, so progress is slow. We were very happy to be “inside” and tied up in the quaint town of Belhaven, North Carolina when the remnants of a hurricane Noel blew up the coast.

After about 300 miles of being passed by motorboats, trying to hold our position with a gaggle of other craft while waiting for bridges to open and anxiously looking for the dredged part of the channel, we made a break for the wide-open ocean as the weather became favorable. We had 4 days and 3 nights of glorious downwind sailing from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Palm Beach, Florida.

We pointed our bow at St. Augustine, because that’s as far south as one can point without entering the Gulf Stream. When we got to St. Augustine, the winds were still great, so we headed on down the Florida coast. Passing Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center during the night was especially memorable.

When making a passage, one of us is on watch and the other is trying to sleep. Of course, nobody gets much sleep and we were both pretty exhausted when we pulled into Palm Beach. Could you drive from coast to coast in 4 days and 3 nights if you never stopped the car? Imagine how you would feel. That’s how we felt.