Dodging Cruiseships

Orion’s belt shines brightly beneath dark clouds on the western horizon. The sun has set, the moon doesn’t rise till 12:34 AM, it is dark. Seas are flat and winds light as Tivoli charges westward down New Providence channel. We left Great Harbour Cay Marina at 11:30AM for a 20 hour run to North Palm Beach. We have a cruise ship chasing us; the Norwegian Sky has left her anchorage at Great Stirrup Cay and is heading back to the States. She is doing 15 knots; we are doing 7.5. We can see her radar return from 24 miles out; her AIS data doesn’t appear on our chartplotters till about 15 miles out. Given our speed differential we expect her to pass in short order; but she slows down and it takes many hours before, finally, she eases by to port about 3 miles south of us as we pass Lucaya. Having a large vessel bearing down on us makes me nervous. We are happy she is finally past and turning south toward Miami.

We are at the 20-mile gap between the island of Grand Bahama and the Grand Bahama Banks. Traffic funnels through this gap; 5 ships are sitting still off Freeport awaiting berths, several additional fishing boats pass in all directions, and another cruise ship, the Independence of the Sea, makes life interesting. Bound for Nassau the Independence is headed straight at us from 12 miles out. I detect a slight change in direction toward our port side and make a turn to starboard to pass port to port (the 1 whistle). I quickly get a call from the captain politely asking if we would pass to starboard. No problem, the Independence looks like a floating skyscraper from 10 miles out, who’s to argue? I turn to port and put a couple miles between us before we pass. I can imagine the passengers on the lido deck having drinks with umbrellas wondering who in their right mind is on that little boat way out here?

We have trouble slowing down. Current and a light wind are pushing us west and I see our ETA changing from 7:30AM to 6:30AM…..we don’t care to arrive in the dark so I reduce engine RPMs to reduce speed. There is a limit; 50% of wide open throttle is as slow as one wants to run these engines; i.e. 1150 RPM. At that RPM I’m still seeing 7.5-8.0 knots; we are flying. Not surprisingly once we enter the north-flowing Gulf Stream we again get a boost in speed. I’m almost committed to a night entry into Lake Worth Inlet; it is well lit and should be easy. But, that will not be necessary as another passing situation eats up some time. A tug towing a large barge 1000 feet behind is wanting us to pass to starboard as he is only doing 2.3 knots. We modify our course to oblige. Then he calls again on the VHF and wants to pass to port. Once again, we oblige and turn Tivoli in the appropriate direction. This is made slightly more complex by the extreme “crab angle” we have; our course is 300T but our bow is pointed at 270T into the Gulf Stream to compensate for its northward flow; i.e we are pointed 30 degrees away from our direction of travel. So determining where the tug is relative to our course, not the direction in which we are pointed, makes for some interesting moments. But, all went well and soon the tug and tow passed and we were able to resume navigation to our waypoint just off the Inlet.

The light is brightening; sunrise is at 6:30 or so. It is clearly time to go fishing. Our radar looks like a fireworks display as dozens of small, fast, center-console fishing boats spew from the entrance. Doesn’t anybody work on Friday anymore? They buzz around us like mosquitoes. Once we have entered the harbor things calm down and we motor north up the ICW, finally dropping the anchor in Lake Worth at 7:30.

We checked our fuel burn and were pleased to see that idling back to the States burned 50% less fuel than the trip out to the Bahamas. A fitting end to a terrific two-month stay in the islands. What an experience!

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