Screamin’ along in the stream
What was initially planned as a 2 or 3 day visit in Marathon, with cruising friends Peggy and Joe ( sv Calcutta) turned into a 2 and a half week stay as we sat through 25 knot winds for the entire time. On several occasions, Joe said to us, “This weather is very unusual for this time of year. It is usually calm with a gentle breeze out of the S.” Well, it was definitely not a gentle breeze. And to our surprise (and everyone else’s) a Tropical Lo (beginnings of a hurricane) developed in the Gulf of Mexico. It became the 2nd named storm, co-incidentally on the first day of Hurricane season, and was heading for the Florida coast. What a welcome back to the US. Whoa! Tropical Lo “Barry” with its 40 – 50 knots of wind developed briefly into a hurricane off the west coast of Florida. By the time it was to make landfall in Tampa, a city on the northwest coast of the state, it was suggested by our weather guru, Chris Parker, that boats wanting to head north along the US East coast should start heading out and “catch the wind while you could”. It was thought that after the storm went through, there would be very little wind. We had 700 miles to go from Marathon, Florida to Beaufort, North Carolina and we knew we couldn’t carry enough fuel to motor half the distance. So, we got going late Saturday afternoon, after “Barry” went through in the morning.
Putting on the happy faces as we wait for the wind to stop blowing at 25 knots from the east for two weeks.
The first part of the trip was easy as we stayed in behind a reef for the first 50 nm. The reef protected us from building seas and with a full moon and light wind, it was comfortable. We dropped the anchor behind a cay for 5 hours to have a rest. With the anchor up, we headed east about 20 nm from the coast of Florida, to the Gulf stream – a significantly strong current that flows north along the east coast of the US and veers off from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to the east coast of Canada. It was our intention to jump in the Gulf stream (like the East Australian Stream in the movie Finding Nemo) and head for Beaufort, North Carolina (more than 500 miles away) or around Cape Hatteras as far north Norfolk, Virginia (850 miles), if the weather was fine. Jumping in the Gulf stream and going with it allows boats to increase their speed by at least 3 knots. Do the calculations and you can see we would save time, cover great distances, and use little fuel, to boot.
As Chris predicted, the wind was steady but light, blowing from the right direction for us and the seas had settled down. We had all the sails up plus the engine was running. David looked at our knotmeter and we were doing 8 knots. Whoa! this was fast for Amanzi. Staying in the Gulf stream, we paralleled the coastline, however, we were now about 80 miles offshore. Being that far offshore, we didn’t think we’d have any wind, but there was a high pressure being pushed down and the winds were building. Again, they were coming from the right direction but by early Monday morning, before dawn, we knew we were going to be in for a rougher ride. With all sails up, our first priority was to change the sail arrangement and make the boat more stable. It’s always easier to do that when it is light out but David was now doing it in the dark. the wind was up to 20 knots gusting to 22 knots and the seas were building. Our front sail, the genoa, was poled out ( we used a special metal pole to keep the sail out to the side of the boat) and although David managed to get the pole down, the sail could not roll up. So, with ropes and determination, David managed to tie up the sail enough to secure it. After an hour of sail rigging on the foredeck, David returned to the cockpit soaked and exhausted but satisfied that the boat was more comfortable. Our speed was now 9.5 knots.
Screaming along in the stream.
By morning, the winds and seas had been building and were up to 25 knots gusting to 30 and the seas were 8 to 10 feet. Our speed was now 10.2 and at one point we hit 11.4 knots. The wind self-steering had a temporary break and our new autohelm we purchased two months earlier was taking strain from these conditions. Another sailboat that was receiving weather from Chris Parker for the same trip was 20 miles south and east of us and radioed in to ask about weather. Chris was a little surprised by our conditions and hadn’t anticipated they would be as strong. It was a great reminder to us that the prediction of weather is tricky, to say the least and weather is fluid – it changes. We heard conditions would settle down the next day, and just hang in there.
watching a squall pass by.
To our surprise, conditions settled down as night approached. The seas dropped to 6 feet and the wind blew steady between 18 – 20 knots. Our speed did not change and we stayed in the Gulf stream – screamin’ along. The next 36 hours continued to be more comfortable but we could see that conditions were getting lighter. We planned our exit from the Gulf stream when we were 75 nm away from Beaufort, North Carolina. We decided not to carry on to Norfolk, Virginia, as we were ready for a rest. By dawn, on the 5th day, I woke David up for his watch and we motored into Beaufort inlet with a wonderful dolphin escort.
We decided not to stop in Beaufort but instead joined the Intracoastal Waterway and motored 20 miles upstream to the delightful town of Oriental. It was more stressful to go from wide open space on the ocean with plenty of deep water under the boat to a narrow 20 m wide waterway (with a narrow channel) with only 4 m under the boat. That’s more challenging than 10 foot seas and strong winds, I reckon. We had to concentrate on staying in the channel and not running aground. We arrived in Oriental by noon and had a well-earned rest after traveling more than 700 miles in 5 days. We were very pleased with the distance we’d covered and thanks to that Gulf stream, we did it in record time for Amanzi.