Nonstop

The cruising life is dependent on weather. You sit tight when its bad and go when its good. Sometimes, the good is all too brief. That was the case as we sat at Harbor View Marina; one cold front after the other passing through hampered our plans and lengthened our stay. In addition, the bow thruster failure dampened my enthusiasm for pulling into strange new marinas. The “back and fill” method used to rotate a single engine boat works but is not as precise as one might like. Like many, I’ve become used to the convenience of a bow thruster in tight docking situations. We could have found anchorages along the way but as I examined the charts I found the majority favor the easterly trade winds common here and there are precious few that favor the westerlies we were having. When the winds reached 20-30 knots I was content to stay at a marina. That’s what we did. And, we were lucky to have John and Susan Spencer on Uno Mas for company.

 
 
Uno Mas examined the weather, like all of us, and decided they were heading for Ft. Pierce; leaving on Thursday and running overnight to their destination. I looked at the same weather and decided if we should pass up this brief weather window we would end up staying yet another week in Marsh Harbor. While there are things to do there we had already spent more than enough time there and were ready to move on. Besides, it’s always fun to go with a buddy boat.

Before dawn on Thursday we are up prepping the boat for departure. You might think you turn on the key and back out, be on your way. Not really. You have to manage your power, transfer loads from shore power to genset if needed, disconnect the shorepower cord and stow that, disconnect the water hose if you have one in use, same for cable TV if you use that. Then there are the dock lines. We were caught in a web of lines in our slip to contend with the high winds, so each had to be removed in the right order and stowed. Fenders have to be pulled up and stowed. The checklist is carefully reviewed; engine room, pilothouse, deck gear, etc. All electronics have to be started and configured. The engine is started and warmed up. You often have to corral someone at the dock to cast off lines and you have to plan which to part with and when; particularly if the wind is up and you don’t have a bow thruster. Finally, after maybe 30-45 minutes you can back out of your slip and be on your way. After all that we eased out of the harbor without fuss with our friends on Uno Mas close behind.

Our route back to Florida nearly reverses the routes and waypoints we had used on entry into the Bahamas. But like all things in boating you have to be flexible, you need to move a waypoint if needed, cancel navigation if needed, plot a new course if needed, etc. Our route took us back across The Whale, past Green Turtle, Manjack, Spanish and many other out islands. The Whale crossing was thankfully uneventful but the passage in general was sloppy; with seas remaining from the last front that had moved through the day before. We traveled a bit more slowly than Tivoli usually does. Uno Mas is a tad slower so we throttled back to a stately 6..5 knots but current and tide took their toll and often we were seeing only 5 to 5.5 knots speed over the ground. Scenery passes by slowly at that speed; plenty of time to smell the roses. This slower form of what is already a slow form of transport was quite nice, easier ride, quieter, significantly less fuel consumption and a reduced risk of spilling your beverage. We opted for a southerly route around Great Sale Cay thinking the ride might be smoother; it wasn’t. By the time we rounded the southern tip of the island and its off lying shoals the wind and seas had died down. The latest forecast indicated decent crossing conditions once we exited the Little Bahama Bank and enter the Gulf Stream. So we pressed on into the night. Weather was calm but a few lingering showers remained in the area. A full moon provided some light on the seascape but I appreciated the night vision FLIR camera we have mounted on the pilothouse roof as it gives a clear view ahead in total darkness. Radar is, of course, the prime tool of choice when passagemaking at night. That and AIS data. If it doesn’t show up on radar or display an AIS target one tends to think that it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately there are plenty of boats out there that don’t reflect radar well or have AIS. In some cases they don’t even display navigation lights.

We motor on to a waypoint at Mangrove Cay. Here is where Uno Mas and Tivoli part ways. Uno Mas is going further north to exit south of Matanilla shoal and cross to Ft. Pierce and we are staying south to exit the banks at Memory Rock and cross to Lake Worth.

I’d been tracking Uno Mas on the radar using MARPA and their track was clearly visible; they made their sharp turn to the north to intersect with an Explorer route and slowly moved away from Tivoli. Soon, they were too far away to track. We continue to exchange calls on the VHF radio until even that is difficult. It now seems to be much darker and foreboding outside than it really is. Having friends and help nearby in these remote places is always comforting.

Our watches on these night passages is not formal. We generally share helm duties till 9 or 10 PM then take 3-hour shifts at the wheel. I retire to the main salon and attempt to catch a few winks on the settee; nearby in case anything comes up. Generally it does. Sleep is a rare thing on this night. Deanna calls me up to the pilot house. She has been watching a small boat apparently crossing in front of us without paying any attention whatever. I suppose we could have blasted them with our air horns which sound like a locomotive is approaching, or brightened their day with our super bright LED search lights, or made a comment via the hailer mounted outside on the stack. Instead, we throttle back giving them plenty of time to slowly cross in front of us. They appear to be fishing and apparently were curious to see this boat out on the banks at night. My vivid imagination conjures up all sorts of scenarios. I ask Deanna to lock the doors just in case they are pirates. We motor on.

I once again take a stab at sleep; I’ll only have an hour or so to catnap before we arrive at the crossing waypoints so, once again, get little sleep. but I want to be at the helm as we cross off the banks out into the Gulf Stream. Never know what the sea state will be or the effect on the boat and I want to be ready for any circumstance. I even note the compass heading and reciprocal in case the electronics should all suddenly die and I need to resort to the old fashion methods….what an anal guy. As we approach the moonlight dims, a dark cloud looms ahead, the Sirius/XM weather data displayed on my charts shows a shower dead ahead. Great, let’s exit the banks in the dark and, for good measure, in the rain. Luckily, no rain materializes but its still dark. I carefully watch the radar to note the passing of Memory Rock. The two miles through here seems to take forever. Finally the depth sounder goes from 7-8 feet to 80 feet to 800 feet. We are clear of the banks and on our way across. Conditions off shore seem mild as predicted. It doesn’t last.

I take another stab at sleep. It doesn’t last (By the way Deanna managed to get 3 hours or so earlier and seems more successful than me in this department). No sooner had I become comfortable when Deanna calls indicating she has already managed the passing of a freighter and is well clear but there is a second freighter approaching from the south on a collision course. We are in the Gulf Stream and the shipping lanes. AIS data indicates this vessel as a hazard and so all eyes are on deck to deal with it. It is doing 13+ knots and headed our way. The CPA (closest point of approach) is under a mile…way too close for comfort as these are calculated estimates and often change. I hail the vessel by name (an Asian name) on VHF 16 and get a unintelligible response. I reply we are crossing 4 miles in front of them and should be well clear; I get an unintelligible response. I push the throttle forward and increase our speed as we carefully watch the radar and the vessel’s lights, as ever so slowly, they move aft until I see her port red navigation light. She is behind us and we are safe. No chance of me getting any sleep now.

We motor on and the further into the Gulf Stream we get the rougher the ride. Wind is 15-20 knots; not the predicted 5-10 and out of the northwest not west. Not good. We motor on, waves slapping the hull, things rattling on the boat, rocking and rolling in spite of the stabilizers best effort, a roller coaster ride. No sleep now either.

The moon sets to the west; an orange disk under dark clouds. There is a halo of light to the west from the Florida coast cities and a halo of light to the east from Freeport and Lucaya on Grand Bahama. We concentrate on the horizon scanning for any traffic; particularly those vessels without AIS. We closely monitor the radar; any blip heightens our attention. We encounter no additional freighter traffic this evening. As dawn breaks we decide to alter our course to the north to head into the waves for a smoother ride. This helps but we are still on a roller coaster. Swells often rise up the height of the pilot house window; probably 10 feet or more. Definitely not the predicted 2-3 with occasional 4s. Tacking the boat to provide a smoother ride will take us away from our destination as the Gulf Stream pushes us north but we feel as we approach the Florida coast the swells will subside and we will then be able to ride a following sea south to the Lake Worth inlet. This works as planned. We arrive at N. Palm Beach about noon, 30 hours from the start, tired but happy to be back in the USA.

We motor the 5-6 miles to Old Port Cove marina and learn they are full so we drop the anchor in North Lake Worth and settle in for some long-denied rest.

All in all, a terrific shake down cruise. A month in Bahamas, fun with brother Jim and friends, an enormous learning opportunity. Tivoli is in fine shape and proved her heritage in the rough Gulf Stream crossing. She is a tank, well built to safely carry her crew anywhere.

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