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.

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