Crossing the Gulf Stream
Trip Start Jul 21, 2001
45Trip End Apr 22, 2002
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Some of you have asked why it is so important to wait for the right weather, hopefully the following will help explain the problem.
The Waterway Guide states: "Weather can change suddenly and strong winds from any quadrant will make the crossing unpleasant, but northerly winds can be downright dangerous. Never cross in even moderate northwest, north or northeast winds. They can turn the Stream's long easy swells into a maelstrom."
Since West End is almost due east of West Palm, east winds also make for very unpleasant head seas so you can see why we must be very cautious about when we leave. Each morning I turn on the HAM radio to listen to the Waterway Net at 7.2680 starting at 07:45 EST. The weather for the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Gulf Stream is given each morning plus vessels at sea or anchor can give position reports to friends listening. In addition, we listen to the inshore reports on our VHF radios and then in the morning discuss all the variables with friends and fellow cruisers.
"Should I stay or should I go;
If I stay there could be trouble;
If I go it could be double;
So you gotta let me know;
Should I stay or should I go."
(an early 80's song by a group called "the Clash" from the album Combat Songs)
It is Friday evening, January 11 and we are anchored just inside the Lake Worth Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean at West Palm Beach. This may be the last web site update for a long time as our AT&T cell phone connection will not work in the Bahamas. For the last week, we have been anxiously awaiting this evening and hopefully we have chosen correctly. We are among twenty or so like-minded boats ready to cross. Some have been waiting much longer than we have for this window and still aren't sure since they would really like better winds from the southwest. We'll take the quieter seas and be very happy, thank you. Another cold front with its north wind is due in two days so this is a short window of opportunity.
"One of the great ocean currents of the world, the Gulf Stream, separates Florida from the Bahamas. It flows northward in a powerful relentless current controlling the temperature of most of the U.S. East Coast, tempers the subarctic waters of Iceland, and allows palm trees to grow on England's Scilly Isles. Speed at the midpoint axis about twenty miles offshore is three to five knots, tapering to zero at the edges. For a fast moving power boat this is not a problem but for a sailboat heading directly across the stream at maybe six knots figuring the set and drift of the current is a navigational prerequisite." (Southern Waterway Guide)
The straight line or Rhumb line course from Lake Worth Inlet to West End is a distance of 56 nautical miles over a course of 099 degrees magnetic. Our boats will travel at an average speed of 5.5 knots: therefore, we add an extra 18.5 degrees south of the Rhumb line heading. This means we must try to maintain a heading of 116.5 degrees. We will also have the GPS co-ordinates plugged into our navigational computers and when we get within several miles of West End we'll switch from the calculated heading to the GPS heading. This will ensure the final correction and put us right on the mark - at least that's the theory.
Our three boats intend on leaving at 10:30 p.m. this evening. Nicou with its radar will lead, we'll follow and Riverdance also with radar will bring up the stern. Hopefully all will go well and there will be a phone message update to this site from some where in the Bahamas.
Thank you all so very much for your emails. We will certainly miss the regular contact that a number of you have kept up. Hopefully when we get to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos a month from now we will be able to have limited internet access and we can update this site. In the meantime, our very best to all of you who have accompanied us on this journey.
Roy, Margaret, Sinbad and Hercules.