Gulf Stream Crossing,
December 11, 1996
Once, I compared a bad Gulf Stream crossing to being in a blender; on Liquefy. I found little white beans all over the forward cabin for months after.
This time, it wasn't quite so bad. The blender was only on Pulse. The boat's gyrations spun the top off a small peppermill; there were little peppercorns all over the forward cabin. But not as many as the beans, and soon cleaned up.
The weather reports were all for southerly to southwesterly breezes, just right for us, heading northeast. As soon as we got offshore after an all hands watch during our dusk passage out of Biscayne Channel, we found the wind to be mostly east. It was rough and windy so we only put up one sail (called a genoa, out in front), had to haul it in tight and leave the motor on all through the night as we thrashed our way into a nasty chop for 15 hours. A need for a fuel transfer at three in the morning really tested the anti-seasickness wristbands I was wearing. They worked.
After one of those nights when one mildly questions one's sanity (not serious questioning, that's for worse weather) we sighted West End, the tip of Grand Bahama Island. My crew, John Thomas, Richard Brown and Silas Yates, all of whom have been friends of mine and each other for over 20 years, wanted to keep going and so we did. We put up the mainsail too, got on our course and charged off, getting to Mangrove Cay 23 hours after leaving Biscayne Channel, Miami.
From Mangrove Cay to Green Turtle Cay we had some of the best sailing we'd ever done. Once, ALNILAM ticked 7 knots and we all went wild. This, for a 31 year old wooden cruising boat weighing 12 and a half tons, loaded with food, people, supplies, two dinghies and two dogs, was what I would call a peak experience.
Then we ran aground. Reality reappeared. We got off in a few hours with no harm done, properly chastened.
John, Richard and Silas left from Green Turtle and I waited for several days until the ocean passage to Marsh Harbour, around Whale Cay, had settled down after the winds that had blown so well for us. I left Green Turtle at 7 am, Thurs. Dec. 19. The genoa was up and the wind kept going more to the south so I raised the main and turned the engine off. The Whale Cay passage is nearly always impressive. After the choppy, short steep seas of the Gulf Stream and the relative smoothness of the banks passage, the first taste of real, heaving ocean swells is always a thrill. ALNILAM was in her element at last and she charged ahead like a happy horse.
I wasn' so happy. Several other boats were also making the passage, but there still were a few breakers rolling through the channel. I was tense until we got past the area where the breakers peaked and crashed over shallower water. It didn't help to see a freighter coming the other way. . . it SURFED in. Slowly, his bow went down, his bow wave grew huge, his stern rose in the air and he just flew down the face of the wave he was on. A great, rusty old steel box, going like a freight train at a 45 degree angle. . . down. But he did come up, and we dodged the breakers.
Once we rounded Whale Cay the wind went more south, the breeze was up to about 20 knots and we just surged ahead. We made the entire passage from anchor up to anchor down in four and a half hours, and had the satisfaction of beating one other boat solidly and not letting another get ahead.
Rough passages are no fun, but the sheer joy of the great sailing we had made me very sorry that this passage was, for the time, over.