Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back to Florida

The Open Window
May 26 – May 28, 2007

Here it is, already June 2. I'm sitting in the pilothouse with the wind howling, intermittent rain tapping on the windows, and FLUKE straining at her home dock lines as the remnants of tropical storm Barry are blowing by. You didn't miss anything by not being with us for our great escape from the Bahamas.

On May 26 we felt like a weather window was beginning to open up enough for us to consider making the jump from the Exumas chain over to the big island of New Providence, which most of you would know better by the name of its principal tourist port, Nassau.

We endured a sloppy, mostly uncomfortable ride in seas of only 2-4', but directly on the starboard side which kept us pushed back and forth more than we like. After being underway for 7 hours, as we neared New Providence, we decided to try to drop anchor in Southwest Bay. The bay is located off a residential area near the airport and would give us a good head start on the westward path we would have to take the next day. Most cruisers choose to just go into Nassau harbor, but we didn't want to expend the effort or money to get into a marina and be hampered the following morning if we wanted to leave very early.

We put out 200' of chain, backed down tight on the anchor and knew that the winds would remain mostly the same and felt secure enough. The anchorage was fairly comfortable in the 15-20 knot winds until it got a bit rolly around 0400. We needed to get going early anyway and were underway by 0630.

From the VHF chatter it was apparent other cruisers were trying to decide to make a move westward too. Their boats had been restrained much too long. We wanted to get us much distance under the keel as we could to try to stage ourselves to take advantage of the tiny crack in the persistent pattern of the relentless blowing winds that looked like it might open within the next 24 -36 hours.

So, we beat ourselves in 3 – 5' seas across the deep water of Northeast Providence Channel and anchored in a sand bore area of the Banks west of Chub Cay. The shallows of the sand bores gave us some protection from water surge, but virtually none from the wind. It was so noisy in the bow area from the anchor chain, water slapping, and wind howling, I elected to sleep on the settee in the salon. I didn't worry about the anchor dragging since we were in the middle of nowhere with no one around to run into and plenty of open Banks area to move through without getting hung up on anything.

We were underway by 0615 on May 27 and headed toward Bimini with an eye to the NAVTEX and VHF to try to gauge incoming weather reports to see if we should stop at Bimini as we approached mid afternoon or just keep going and try to make the jump across the Gulf Stream. Weather info indicated we had about 12 hours of the same weather we had been enduring and within 24 hours, winds were likely to pick up more and the little weather window would be closed for 3 days or more. That meant we would be stuck in Bimini for an undetermined amount of time. Since FLUKE was doing such a fine job of dealing with our conditions, we elected to make the jump across the Stream. Poor Eddie had been seasick for 2 days, but he was going to be sick under most any choices that lay ahead anyway.

So, we passed north of Bimini not taking long to leave the last sight of land behind us, angled northwest, sometimes approaching speeds of almost 11 knots as the Gulf Stream current pushed us along. We were thankful that the winds had shifted more easterly, taking some of the northern edge off the waves and giving us a better ride in 4 – 6' seas. I felt safe knowing that FLUKE could handle the conditions even when we were hit by errant waves that heeled us way over to port. Some dark clouds and a bit of rain briefly crossed our path. We cautiously watched a waterspout form from a tiny spike out of a black cloud, growing a long tail until the force of its vortex was enough to draw up the water from the sea into its swirl of activity. Fortunately it was moving predictably to our west, well out of our path. I posed the questions "Do they form at night, and if so, how are you supposed to see them?"

Our 22 hour straight passage, although rather uncomfortable, was mostly uneventful. Wayne and I got in a big argument when the lights from the port of Palm Beach were clearly and closely in view just before midnight. I wanted to get out of the rolling ocean and go into port to anchor and rest for 5 or 6 hours and then spend the following day getting to the home dock via the calm waters of the ICW. Both guys outvoted me by saying they wanted to just keep going and get back ASAP. So, we pulled into the fuel dock in Ft. Pierce at 0400, got a couple hours sleep, took on 550 gallons of diesel fuel and made the 2 hour trip to the home dock, tired but safe and secure.


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