22 July 2015

Sailing In The Dark Without Any Cookies | Gulf Stream Crossing To Florida

You might find this hard to believe, but we did the Gulf Stream crossing without any cookies.

After a relatively uneventful crossing to the Bahamas with some rather mediocre cookies, I was feeling pretty comfortable about crossing back to Florida despite the fact that we didn't have any cookies whatsoever onboard. What if things turned to custard? What would I eat to calm my nerves? In a pinch, I guess a granola bar would have to do. If only I had bought the granola bars with chocolate chips in them instead of the boring honey and oats kind. {Sigh.}

There's an important provisioning tip. When stocking up your boat, make sure your snack foods have chocolate chips in them. Except for your potato chips, obviously. Although, now that I think about it, potato chips dipped in chocolate - that might be worth a try. Has somebody thought of this already?

We weren't really sure about the weather. But, we went anyway.

Now before you start thinking that we're a couple of idiots and leave us comments about how important it is to check the weather before you cross the Gulf Stream, let me explain. We had struggled to get weather information while we were making our way to Mangrove Cay, our staging point for the crossing from the Abacos to Florida. While we were in the southern Abacos, we could get our daily forecast on the Cruisers Net on our VHF radio. But once we headed up north, we were out of range and there really aren't any other sources of weather unless you have internet access or SSB radio, which we don't. However, once you get closer to the States, you can pick up the US marine weather forecast on the VHF.

When we were at Great Sale Cay (the last anchorage before you hit Mangrove Cay), we managed to get the US weather report in and it looked good for crossing on Sunday. So we pushed on to Mangrove Cay and tuned in again to get an update. Problem was, it was completely different than the one we had gotten earlier that day. Bizarrely different. If I didn't know better, I would have almost thought the weather folks were playing a practical joke on us. And the worst part was it looked like our weather window was pushed out now until much later in the week.

No cookies, running low on water and only icky things left to eat.

There was no way we could spend days at Mangrove Cay waiting for the weather to change. Without enough snacks, the crew might mutiny. That's always a worry, especially as I'm the crew. I guess getting some more water might have been an important consideration too.

We were debating what to do. Head back to Green Turtle Cay to stock up? Check out Double Breasted Cay instead? We hemmed and hawed. Then we listened to the weather again. It was looking like if we left right that minute the weather would hold out just long enough for us to make the crossing. So we picked up the anchor at 11:00 AM and headed off towards Memory Rock, the final waypoint before you start the crossing. We figured we could check the weather again as we got closer to Memory Rock and make a final decision then - proceed or turn back.

Easy, peasy. No cookies required.

Turns out the weather was fine. The crossing was easy. And the crew had just enough snacks on hand not to mutiny. We put up the sails for a while, but the wind just wasn't willing to play ball, so we ended up motoring. Bummer. We were making great time too and starting to talk about how we might be at the Lake Worth inlet before the sun went down. I know. One should never say things like that out loud. Tempting fate and all that.

Things got really weird at the border between international and US waters.

And I'm not talking my usual "I see aliens and spaceships!" weirdness. No, this was more your garden variety drug runners and poachers. Pretty much the entire time we were crossing, we didn't see one other boat. Then, the minute we hit the border, it was like they all came out of nowhere. Of course, it was pitch black, so boats always freak you out when all you see are their lights coming out of nowhere.

That is, if they have navigation lights on. We were happily motoring along, when a speed boat whizzed across our bow without any lights. I had been starting to feel sleepy before that. Thank goodness for that shot of adrenline - that sure woke me up. I'm thinking drug runner - either dropping off packages of "goodies" to be picked up by another boat or collecting them.

Then off of our starboard, a sailboat popped out of nowhere. They hadn't had any lights on whatsoever, then boom - they were all lit up, right next to us. Were they picking up the packages that the other boat left behind? Did they turn on their cabin lights so that they could stash the packages in their secret hidey holes?

Then there were all the other boats that looked like they were fishing. Lights seemed to be optional for these guys too. Poachers maybe? It was crazy. I almost was wishing for aliens instead. They would have been so much easier to navigate around.

Then we crossed into US waters and we were all alone again.

Remember that don't tempt fate thing? We really shouldn't have talked out loud about how fast we were going, because whoever is in charge of the Gulf Steam heard us and decided that we were getting a bit cocky. So they did something to the current to push the western edge really close to the Florida coast and turned up the dial that regulates the current flow. So we slowed down considerably. It was long and hard slog to make it to the Lake Worth inlet, but fortunately it was flat calm everywhere and we made our entrance easily.

We found the spot we anchored at Lake Worth before we left for the Bahamas and dropped the anchor there easily at 3:00 AM. There's times when you're happy the wind isn't blowing and anchoring at 3:00 AM in a mooring field is one of them.

I guess the border folks don't work at 3:00 AM. Can you blame them?

We're registered with the Small Vessel Reporting System with US Customs & Border Protection. That means that we just need to make a simple phone call to check in once we arrive back in the States. Turns out they don't answer the phone at 3:00 AM. They don't even have an answering machine on. And every time you press the button they tell you to on the call menu, it takes you back to where you started. Nothing like an endless loop on an automated government phone system at 3:00 AM. It's a lot of fun. We tried our best to check in and then we gave up and went to sleep. After a few hours of sleep, we woke up and tried them again, got through to a human and got our arrival number.

It's really hard to sleep when the sun is shining and you're hungry.

So we got dressed, found a place to park our dinghy (for free at the Palm  Beach Sailing Club), walked to a nearby bodega and bought some incredibly cheap chicken. Not sure why it was so cheap. We don't speak Spanish and the guy at the butcher counter didn't speak a lot of English, so we couldn't get to the bottom of why they were selling it off so cheap. Sometimes, it pays not to ask too many questions. I'm not sure I want to know why it was so cheap. It tasted good and that's the important thing. Right?

Then it was time to head back to Indiantown Marina. Boo.

When we made our way from Indiantown to Lake Worth on our way to the Bahamas, I kept thinking how much of an adventure it was. Our boat was new to us. Going through locks and under bridges was new to me. Making your way down inland waterways was eye opening. It was pretty exciting. This time though, heading back to Indiantown, it was kind of disappointing. Probably because we knew our cruising was done for the season. Cue the cruiser blues.

LOGBOOK NOTES | Saturday, 6 June - Tuesday, 9 June 2015
  • Nautical Miles -135
  • Anchor Up - Mangrove Cay, Abacos, Bahamas (Saturday)
  • Anchorage #1 - Lake Worth, Florida (Sunday)
  • Anchorage #2 - Pendarvis Cove, Florida - across from Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart (Monday)
  • Final Stop - Indiantown Marina, Florida (Tuesday)
  • Total Crossing Time - 16 hours (Saturday-Sunday)
  • Number of Cookies - Zero 

Next time on the blog...we recap our Bahamian adventures and feel a little blue that our shakedown cruise is over. 

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  1. Glad you had a safe crossing. Didn't pick up any "square grouper" on the way? Seriously, did you come up the Intracoastal from Lake Worth to Stuart? If so, Peck lake is a nice anchorage about a mile South of the St. Lucie inlet on the Intracoastal.

    1. We definitely avoided all the "square grouper" out there. I actually had to google that - didn't know what it meant, but now that I do, I love it. What a great term! Now, if there had been square cookie parcels floating out there, that might have been a whole other story :-)

      We did go up the ICW to get from Stuart to Lake Worth and passed by Peck Lake. Other folks have told us that it is a really nice anchorage too. We'll have to put it on the list for next time we head down that way.

  2. Welcome back. Glad you made it safely.You need to pack more cookies next time :)

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

    1. I have definitely learned my lesson on the cookie front! So hard to be back in Indiantown writing about our Bahamian adventures during May/June and thinking about how much fun it was. Can't wait to get back out there :-)

  3. Glad those drug runners weren't pirates, mind you if they were pirates they would have been disappointed that there were no cookies onboard! ;-)

    Glad the crossing went well. You mentioned that it is the last sail for the season. Will you stay onboard or will you go back to Scamp? You do still have Scamp don't you?


    1. Scott has had to go to Scotland for a few months for work and other stuff, so while he's away I'm living on the boat in FL and tackling a long list of boat projects. Scamper is stored nearby so I can check on her often and make sure she is still okay. We had hoped to go out scampering this summer, but I don't think it is going to work out.

  4. What are your plans for the next cruise? I would recomend the SW Florida coast for a great place to go. Anclote Key/Tarpon Spring to Key West. You don't want to miss Fantasy Fest at least once.

    1. To be honest, we're not sure exactly what out plans are. We do know that we'll head down to the Caribbean, but not sure where. Cuba is on the top of the list, but other than that we're still up in the air. What's the Fantasy Fest? That sounds intriguing.

    2. Fantasy Fest is Key Wests version of Octoberfest. A wild time that could only happen in a place like Key West or the Conch Republic as it is sometimes known. Also good jumping off place for Havana.

    3. We were in Key West earlier this year with our Scamper and it was crazy as it was. I can't imagine what it must be like during Fantasy Fest :-)

  5. I don't know if my last comment posted so I am going to rewrite is as best I can...I have been reading your blog for about a month now and you seriously crack me up! I laugh while reading all your posts. Can't wait until the day my husband and I are off on our sailing adventure.

    1. Thank you so much Brandy! That's so nice of you to say!! When are you and your hubby thinking of heading off on your own adventure?

      PS It doesn't look like your last comment went thru. Blogger is very fickle sometimes - sorry about that :-(

    2. We are not sure but hopefully soon! :)

    3. Such an exciting time planning and preparing to cut the lines! Keep us posted and maybe we'll see you out there on the water.

  6. Be sure to get to Double Breasted Key on your next trip. It is one of our favorite Bahamas Out Islands. And a note on crossing the Gulf Stream. You can save several hours on your crossing by not trying to keep your boat on the rhumb line , which forces the vessel to turn and stem the current, thereby losing forward speed. The slower the boat, the greater the time improvement. Instead, pick a destination say 25 miles south of your intended landing and keep to that bearing all the way across the stream. Correct course only after the stream caused offset speed has decreased to almost nothing.
    You will be able to maintain your yacht speed through the water, and the current will gradually set you northward back towards the intended destination. It is tempting to use the GPS for exact positioning and that is where it starts. . We started our sailing with dead reckoning before Loran or GPS, and I find the old ways still work best.

    1. Hey BDB - have posted your comment. Was great to hear from you!


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