Calypso is still in Vero Beach, approaching the end of our expected stay here, and completing the last of the tasks we’d hoped to complete before moving on. My Black Friday shopping extravaganza was at the nearby Publix, where I filled a teetering cart and spent more money then I care to think about … but it was my last bulk grocery shopping trip.
As a treat to ourselves, for all the work we’d done, we drove down to Ft. Pierce with Skip and Harriet to do some more impulsive/exotic grocery shopping (gorgeous organic tomatoes, pineapple pepper jelly — stuff like that) at the waterfront farmer’s market.
Moments after we arrived, a stiff wind rolled in off the water, forcing the vendors and customers to hold on to their hats and their wares. The wind wasn’t much of a surprise to us, since we’d been studying the weather very carefully, and were not planning to leave for points south just yet — for reasons which included that stiff east wind.
Before even undertaking our journey, I had a half dozen weather apps on my iPhone. We’ve added additional weather-guessing technology to our arsenal since, including a subscription service provided by maritime weather guru Chris Parker. More than ever, weather is essential to our plans. We have much to consider before we can make that last hop over to the Bahamas.
The biggest physical obstacle between us and the Bahamas is the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a huge river of warm water which flows just off the U.S. East Coast — you can actually see when you’ve entered it, since it’s a different color and temperature than surrounding waters. The current flows north at an average rate of 4 miles per hour. We, on the other hand, travel at 7-8 knots (or 8-9 mph) under optimal conditions. If we were to be going against the current, our net speed would be reduced significantly. For that reason, many sailors hoping to get across the Stream to the Bahamas actually travel south close to the U.S. coast (west of the Gulf Stream) so that when they finally leave for the Bahamas, they are traveling north with the Stream when they make the crossing.
Another factor is wind. Though not perfect, since we are after all a sailing boat, absence of wind can be dealt with — we turn on the engine and burn some diesel. (Our engine has acquired the name “Marge” from some of our crew, for she is the “Iron Lady,” like Margaret Thatcher.) Too much wind is a problem, which can range from being simply uncomfortable to dangerous. The wind direction is essential. If it’s going north when you are trying to go south, it’s unpleasant and you don’t go as far/fast as you want. Moreover, a north wind, bucking up against the north-flowing Gulf Stream, will kick up choppy, confused, heavy and nauseating seas.
Yet another element to consider is daylight. Cruising down the ICW during the night is not an option, as narrow and shallow as it is. Arriving at your destination — be it a location on the Florida coast or Grand Bahama — in the dark is not wise either. So timing is essential, especially when you figure in fewer daylight hours in the winter, as well as bridge opening times.
These are a few of the factors we are considering as we formulate our plan and our schedule for the coming week. Plan A, which is the plan in which all would go perfectly in accordance with our wishes and plans, is for us to leave Vero Beach on a day with mild winds with a northerly component. We would go down the ICW to Ft. Pierce, exit through the inlet to the Atlantic Ocean, and push all the way through to Lake Worth, where we would anchor to rest for the night. The next day, the wind would turn obediently to the south or southwest, and we’d make the 55 miles to West End, Grand Bahama — ideally under sail. We’ll likely settle for a less-than-perfect combination of components, and make our decision to leave on a few hours’ notice as the weather and sea conditions reveal themselves. (For that reason, you may not hear from us for a few days, since we’ll be leaving WiFi range when we do that.)
In the Meantime…
While we do that, we’ve been enjoying (well, not always enjoying) crazily variable weather here. It seems to rain every day where we are, regardless of the weather forecast. On Thanksgiving morning, it was 43 degrees here, but when I bundled up for bed that evening (down comforter, sweat pants), I found myself waking up hot and sweaty, as it had warmed up to more seasonable temperatures. Generally, mornings and evenings are cool, with daytime temperatures reaching the mid-70s, and warmer inland.
We’ve enjoyed the beach and the waterfront. We’ve also tried to sleep while listening to howling winds and the creaking of our docklines. And when the wind dies down, the no-see-ums come hungry.
As we wait to move on, we did have opportunity to share Thanksgiving with friends and express our gratefulness for the unexpected gift of our journey.
Rick and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our home for whatever members of our families could join us for the last 21 out of 24 years, so it was strange not to be home for the holiday we’ve made our own. But we got to contribute to a feast at Skip and Harriet’s home, where we also got to catch up with familiar faces — Ed and Tina (Merlin) and Joe (Onward). I sharpened my knife and made my traditional stuffing, and then applied my skills to the turkey afterward, by cleaning the carcass. We broke out the bottled wine (as opposed to the box wine which fits so nicely in our lockers and will do for everyday) and the nice clothes for the occasion.
Cruisers clean up nicely. And we can cook, too.
We are very much up in the air these next few days, but one thing is certain: we are very fortunuate indeed.