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The Gulp Scream

Including our sailboat, there were five boats crossing the Gulf Stream the  night we crossed. Safety in numbers? Sure, if something goes wrong, it’s always comforting to know there is another cruiser within the range of your VHF all too willing to assist. Boaters are just like that. Very friendly and willing to help. Tomorrow it might be your turn, so you will always wave and be friendly and if someone looks like they are in trouble you’ll help out.

We were all anchoring in Lake Worth – close to a class A inlet – meaning a big, easily navigatable channel connecting inland waters with the Ocean. The word spreads out – everyone crossing is asking around who else is waiting for a good weather forecast to make the jump. Generally a sailboat would sail this stretch overnight, to be on the shallow banks of the Bahamas in the day, this way you can see the reefs, rocks and sandbars on the other side in the daylight.

The other tricky part is to pick your weather. The Gulf Stream is notoriously difficult in any wind blowing from the North-East. The current is swift – 3-4 knots and in the opposing winds the sea swells are big, steep, confused and can overpower a small craft and create trouble.  That’s why cruisers will wait even for weeks on end for that window with favorable winds and good weather for this relatively short stretch of the Ocean.

We were all fueled up, filled our water tanks and headed towards the inlet. After several “conference calls” over the VHF radio we called ourselves Bahama Five, to avoid repeating the names of all five boats each time. Soon after dodging massive, commercial ships and dredges at the entrance to the harbor we set a mainsail and motor-sailed through the inlet. One after the other we were shooting out of the inlet, into the Ocean, like little white arrows. Others in our group quickly set towards South-East to compensate for the strong current. This required motor-sailing and we were quickly behind, since they were all doing 7-8 knots to our 5. We also opted for sail-only and soon after sunset we were not only behind, but also way further North than the rest of our group. We were still in radio contact, but by the time we decided to run the engine we were really falling North quickly and in a big chop. The forecasted Westerlies did not materialize and we couldn’t make up for the drift. Then there was a nasty surprise – our engine completely cut-out. Right away I suspected the fuel system. We bought the boat with some diesel in it and it’s anyone guess how old it was and what else lived in that fuel tank the last two years the boat was sitting unused. Once we got into heavier seas and the boat started dancing around and up and down the swells, the fuel in the tank got a very good shaking and mixed up all the crap that lived at the bottom of the which clogged our fuel lines, or filters, or both. Game over. Now it’s only sailing for us.

In the darkness we dodged a couple of bigger boats by carefully monitoring the seas.  A good trick is to shine a flashlight at the oncoming vessel so that they can at least see a small dancing light… You hope to God they see it otherwise a big tanker can take off all your rigging and won’t even know it until the next morning when they go to the bow of their boat and say… Oh crap we must have hit a sail boat.

We arrived to the tip of the banks of the Bahamas at 5am the next morning.  The current had taken us about 40 miles off course.  Thank God we made it to the banks otherwise we would have been floating to Bermuda.  We decided to sail south to make up some lost time.  We searched high and low for protected waters so that we could get a good night sleep.  By 6pm the next day there was no protected bays so we anchored in open water took sea sickness medication and went straight to sleep. Maciek was a trooper that day… He sailed for 26 hours straight with about a half an hour break, which really wasn’t a break because he was sleeping with one eye open while I drove.  He is my hero. 

It seems like we are not the only ones who have a story about their gulf stream crossing.  The crossing has been named  the Gulp Scream.  We met  a crew of about  6 boats who make the crossing every year and one year made their crossing turned ugly.  A storm was suppose to come in the day after their crossing but came upon them as they crossed.  They ended up in 60 mile per hour winds and a massive thunderstorm.  The coastguard had to rescue one boat and another boat got hit by lightening.  The moral of the story…  Never Ever make the crossing if you know there is a thunderstorm coming in the near future.

The next day after anchoring in unprotected waters we decided to head to Fox town which is a typical Bahamian town.  There are a couple hundred people on the island. check in at Spanish cay.  We docked at the marine and spent the day recovering.  We met a few young Americans on a Catamaran.  We had a few drinks with them that night and exchanged stories.  We ended up buying our pole spear from them for $20… Score!!!

More to come

4 Responses to “The Gulp Scream”

  1. Darek Kolda Says:

    It’s great to hear that you managed to cross over. Good job.

  2. RHill Says:

    Been a bit worried about your guys. I knew that your ability to post would be limited but 24 days… Yikes! Glad to hear that you’re safe on the other side.

    Just a bit about myself. I live just inland from Oswego, NY. Found your 2003 blog very fastinating. Just purchased a 25′ Catalina, which is a step up from my 17′ day sailer. Anyway, I don’t know where my new(er) boat will take us but your blogs have opened up my horizons. Thanks and good luck. Rob

  3. William Says:

    I’ve now read your entire blog and am so jealous. Your trips look so amazing and fun. I would love to sail down to the Bahamas one day. You guys have me actually looking at buying a sail boat. A small one at first since I have next to no sailing experience. Keep your post coming. I love reading about your adventures.

    William
    Jacksonville, FL

  4. Laurie Says:

    Hope that sailing continues to go well – love reading ’bout your journeys! Oh btw – Happy Birthday!! Bless ya today & beyond – LOTS!!

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