“The winds won’t be going northwest until we’re across the stream, and anyway, they’re light. And if we don’t go now, we won’t have another opportunity for two weeks.”
Never a good reason to go, but our flight home from Nassau was in less than two weeks—we’re coming home to do seminars at the boat show in Toronto—so as soon as the tide began to flow out of the Lake Worth inlet, we pulled anchor and set out. Me with some trepidation, Chris with all the confidence in the world. How bad could it be?
It started out okay. The winds were light, as predicted. We put the sails up but kept the engine running—it’s always a good idea to cross the Gulf Stream as quickly as possible because conditions can deteriorate suddenly. Ten miles offshore we began to feel the current pushing us north and see pieces of Sargasso weed—we were definitely in the wide, warm river of water that flows relentlessly from the Gulf of Mexico, up the coast of North America, and across to England.
As all the weather models had shown, the wind-driven waves were very light so didn’t fight much with the current. But what they hadn’t shown was a great swell from the north, left over from some storm off the eastern seaboard, that was meeting the current head on. As we moved further into the stream and the current increased, the waves grew steeper. And steeper. And began to break. This was about as bad as anything we’d seen in the ocean.
“These are a lot bigger than the four-foot waves they predicted,” I fretted.
“I’d say they’re six to eight,” Chris said grimly. And we were taking them on the beam so the roll was pretty uncomfortable. Lunch was cancelled due to lack of interest. Then the bucket came up.
Now Chris and I have very different techniques for dealing with seasickness. He wedges himself in the corner of the cockpit bench where he can keep an eye on the sails and the instruments. Essentially, he makes himself part of the boat.
I use a technique I learned from Bica we call “weaving.” I sit up very straight on one of the side benches, my feet planted firmly on the floor, and move with the motion of the boat, counteracting it as much as possible and keeping my eye firmly on the horizon.
Of course neither of these techniques really works when the seas are as lumpy as they were that day, but by nibbling dry crackers and sipping ginger ale, we managed to make it to the other side of the stream without deploying the bucket.
The cross seas slowed us down considerably and we had been swept north some distance by the current, so by nightfall, we were still 100 miles from Great Harbour Cay, our destination in the Bahamas. But we were in for a beautiful night sail. With the wind and the seas behind us now that we were heading southeast, the motion was much more comfortable. We had cheese with our crackers for dinner and settled into our night watches.
We were sailing across the Northeast Providence Channel, which runs between Grand Bahama and the Berry Islands and is probably one of the busiest stretches of water in the world. It’s a regular route for ocean-going freighters and oil tankers and all other manner of working ship, and a superhighway for cruise ships going to and from Freeport and Nassau. But the boats are well lit and, with the advent of AIS, visible on our chart plotter long before we see their lights. It helps that they are on the lookout for sailboats–nothing complicates a ship captain’s day more than arriving in port with pieces of sailboat hanging off the bow.
It was all worth it, because now we’re in the Bahamas, where we’ll spend the next four months. Except, of course, for our trip home to Canada next week.
Why are we doing that again? Oh yeah. The boat show.
Seemed like a good idea last August…