May 9 – May 10, 2014
Like we mentioned in a previous post, we were starting to think that it was time to end our lovely stay in the Bahamas and head back to the less clear, but more protected waters of the USA. There was a big area of high pressure off Bermuda that had parked itself and decided it wasn’t going anywhere for a while which gave the central and northern Bahamas and southern Florida a very predictable weather pattern. The forecast was the same pretty much every day for about a week; dry with an easterly flow. The part of the trip out of the Exuma Cays and to Nassau was covered here. So we left Nassau and headed into the Exuma Sound with an east wind in the range of 10-15 knots. It took us about 8 hours to cross the Northwest Providence Channel and get to the Berry Islands. The wind picked up throughout the day and so did the seas. It was tolerable, but a little rollier than we would have liked it to be. The seas were about 3-4 feet with an occasional 5 footer that always seemed to come from a different angle and give us a big roll. When the waves are that big our autopilot does not like to work so well and sounds like it is going to break so we have to hand steer.
When we got to Frazier’s Hog Cay we saw that the bottom was covered with grass, the nemesis of all anchors. So we decided to head for some sandy patches behind Bird Cay but even that was a struggle. Even though the bottom looked sandy, it was hard to tell because the wind was blowing in the upper teens in making the water pretty choppy, there had to have been some grass there because we had a heck of a time getting our anchor to set. We made 6 attempts at setting the anchor before finally getting it to hold. Our anchor almost always sets the first time, occasionally we’ll have to do it twice, but NEVER 6 times! There was a catamaran there that hailed us on the VHF and gave the brilliant (sarcasm) suggestion to look for a sandy spot. Thanks buddy, we didn’t know (more sarcasm).
We weren’t in any rush to get going the next day since we wanted to get to the Northwest Channel, a narrow channel where the Exuma Sound ends and the Great Bahama Bank begins, at slack tide in the afternoon. So we slept late and then made our final preparations for our crossing. As we were getting ready to haul anchor at about 1pm, our friends on Motu hailed us on the VHF and said they were getting close to where we were and had a similar plan for getting to the Northwest Channel at slack tide. So off we went, back into the Exuma Sound for the last time of the trip.
The seas were pretty calm but the wind was right on our stern so we motor-sailed until we got through the Channel and could change our point of sail. Once past the shoals, we were able to shut off the engine and sail with both jib and main for a while. The waves on the Great Bahama Bank were actually larger than they were on the Sound. Again this meant hand steering for us. The wind was in the upper teens by then and we were making such good time that we actually rolled up the jib after only about an hour so that we would not end up in the Gulf Stream in the middle of the night. We had the idea that we wanted to see what we were getting into and wanted to have the option of bailing and heading to Bimini if the waves were too big. It was about this time that Motu had caught up to us and asked what our plans were. They were heading to Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale) and knew of an inexpensive place to dock the boat. We had tried a couple of different angles to the wind and waves and found that it would be a more comfortable sail if we headed to Port Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale. Lake Worth would have been doable, but way more rolly. Since the wind was expected to increase to 20 gusting 25 knots over night, we also reefed the main before sunset. So we sailed a course for Ft. Lauderdale with a reefed main all night long. At about 3am, the wind had shifted and we couldn’t maintain our course without jibing, not something you want to happen inadvertently with that much wind (and in the dark), so I had to wake Drena up to help out since the autopilot couldn’t handle even a short time of steering, while I took care of the sail.
We made it off the Great Bahama Bank and into the deep water of the ocean at about 5am. It was still dark, but not for very long. The waves in the Gulf Stream were larger than on the Bank, steady 5 footers, but they had a pretty long interval so it was about the same level of comfort as we had had all night. We were able to keep the boat on the same heading all morning and into the afternoon, pointing south of Ft. Lauderdale and letting the Gulf Stream push us north, and only had to change course slightly once for a tug towing an oil rig (that was cool.) We definitely did not want to be in his way!
The wind had died off some during the morning, so we unfurled the jib to keep the speed up. We made it to the entrance channel at about 2:40pm, and Motu had informed us that the Las Olas bridge was under construction and only opening once an hour at a quarter after. It was at this time that we started the engine back up to make a little better time and rolled up the jib and stowed the main shortly after getting through the inlet. We are able to make it under the 17th St bridge, which we got to just after 3pm and had the bridge tender close the spans as we were still passing through, glad we had that previous experience there to know we weren’t going to lose our mast. I am not sure what the bridge tender was thinking. We did make the 3:15pm opening of the Las Olas bridge thanks to an altercation between two other sailboats holding things up and then headed to Bruno’s Zo0, a quirky little “marina” where we would tie Journey to a dock in the US for the first time since the beginning of December in Thunderbolt, Georgia. Overall, the trip took 26-1/2 hours to cover 134 nautical miles at an average speed of 5 knots over the course of the whole trip. It was our longest passage to that date.