A lovely crossing ...
We left Crab Cay at about 0800 on Sunday, May 23, in a small weather window to sail about 50 miles to Great Sale Cay, which has a large anchorage used by cruisers as a staging area to cross the Gulf Stream to Florida or as a place to rest after arriving from Florida to the Abacos. It was a beautiful sail, a broad reach at 6 knots and better, and we caught a lovely Mutton Snapper and had it fileted and in the freezer before 0930.
About six miles out from Great Sale and squall hit us. We saw it coming and reefed the Genoa and main before it hit, but in the process we stupidly forgot to pull in the fishing line, and as we hove to to reef the main, the light weight line got caught up in the wind generator. I shut it down and did a high-wire act to try and get the line off. The best I could do was to cut the line and hope the remaining small amount didn't jam up the wind generator ... we've really come to rely on it for keeping the batteries up, which it does beautifully in 15-20 knots of wind.
Once the line was cut away from the generator, and Pen began pulling the end of it in to retrieve the lure, she saw that it was caught beneath the hull. Our motor was not on, so it couldn't get hook on the prop, and we thought it might be caught on the rudder. But what if the line was wrapped around the prop? We resumed our sail toward Great Sale Cay, and I said we could anchor under sail and then I'd dive the prop so see if the lure and line were caught there. But after the squall past, Pen said she'd feel better if we had the engine available while anchoring, so why didn't we just heave to and she'd dive the prop. I agreed, and she went over and found no lure and no line ... it had washed away ... so we continued sailing into the anchorage and in fact could easily of anchored without the engine, but we turned it on just for safety anyway.
Great Sale is an enormous anchorage, and initially only three other boats were there, easily a quarter of a mile apart from each other. A power boat was closest to us and a bit later a second one arrived, obviously traveling together with the first since they rafted up together. It continued to rain most of the night and cleared a bit the next morning, but my Sirius weather showed a forecast of continued low pressure and thunderstorms and rain. In the morning I concluded that our plan to go on to Grand Cay, where we could pick up some supplies, was not worth it, because the anchorage was not as protected there as the one we were in, so we prepared to sit for a while. Then I got the dinghy ready to go over to the power boats and see what weather reports they were getting, but just as I got the engine started, they began pulling up anchor and soon headed off to the west, we assumed to Mangrove Cay, another smaller staging point closer to the edge of the Bahama Bank.
In any event, we decided to dinghy out to the nearest sailboat. There we discovered Brian and Rob who were headed back to Florida and planned to go to Memory Rock, right at the edge of the Bahamas, later that day and anchor and then leave to cross around midnight. We shared weather thoughts, and I still thought we probably would wait another day or two. It was a lovely meeting, and it turned out they knew our new friends Brian and Sheree from the William H. Albury in Marsh Harbour. They had worked for Sea Base, the organization that does the charters for scouts, and now they had their own sailing school program operating out of Marsh Harbour. What a small world.
As the day went on, I continued to monitor the weather forecasts, and perhaps five more boats came in to the anchorage by 1800 hours. I noticed that Brian and Rob hadn't left yet for Memory Rock, so clearly they weren't going to sit out the evening at Memory Rock. Finally, around dinner time, a new forecast came up on Sirius. It showed a high in the Atlantic, which had just been sitting there, moving to the west and pushing the low that had been bringing a week of downpours, thunder and lightning to Florida, the Gulf Stream, and the Bahamas further to the west. It looked like a good window to me ... we'd still have some wind for 24-36 hours, before the high came to dominate the whole area, but we'd have to leave ASAP. So after Pen and I discussed it, we agreed we'd leave early in the morning. We pulled up the dinghy onto the davits and secured it. I rigged the jack line, got out the PDFs, harnesses, and tethers and we went over some offshore safety procedures. Then we had dinner ... snow crab in Alfredo sauce and pasta, of course with wine ... wonderful!
Tuesday morning, 0130, I was up making coffee and getting Alizee ready to sail. Instruments on, sail up, running lights and steaming light on, coffee in my cup, I began raising the anchor ... it awakened Pen, and by the time she was up, we were motor-sailing out of the anchorage in 10 knots of wind. Our destination, Manatilla Shoals, a recommended exit point from the Bahama bank. The night sail was lovely, and we agreed that we'd take three-hour watches, with Pen starting her first one at 0600.
Once the sun came up and Pen came on watch, I set out our fishing lines ... a hand line on the port side and the trolling line on the starboard. After a couple of hours we had our first fish on the hand line, a barracuda, which we had a heck of a time retrieving the hook from and setting it loose. Then, every fifteen minutes for the next forty-five we caught another barracuda, each on the trolling line, and letting them all go ... we got pretty good at retrieving the lures. By midday, we were out of the Bahamas and into the Atlantic heading toward the Gulf Stream, when we caught another fish. Hoping for tuna, we were really dissappointed to find yet another barracuda, which we threw back.
As the evening approached we started feeling the effect of the Gulf Stream, which came propitiously just when the wind started dying and I had to turn on the engine again and motor-sail. After sunset we started picking up a lot of AIS targets. This is the time of evening when cargo vessels from south Florida head northward in the Gulf Stream, most heading toward Jacksonville Florida. We must have had five or six targets on the screen most of the time for about three hours. Later, on her early morning watch, Pen woke me up once or twice to verify what she was seeing (I'd told her not to hesitate a moment to awaken me), but she got it down pretty quickly.
I took the midnight to 0300 watch, and at 0100, when we were going up the Gulf Stream at well over seven knots (getting a 3.5 knot push by the stream), the sky suddenly lit up to the east out in the Atlantic. It was without question a missile launch from a naval vessel of some sort, and I've got to say I was pretty surprised to see the missile drop its booster and then arc far out of site. What the hell? Who? Why? Then a VHF call to the coast guard from a mariner, who asked what was this thing he'd seen. The Coast Guard started to put him off with "we can't chat about things on the radio" but this sailor was pretty sharp. He immediately said, I want to report a flare sighting, which the CG could not ignore and asked for position and bearing and such. Then a moment or two later the CG came back with a not-to-worry "what you saw was a NASA exercise." The mariner seemed to accept that, and about twenty minutes later another sailboat skipper also reported the same thing and got the same answer. Well, NASA maybe, but I'm sure it was a military exercise, not a NASA exercise. The CG said NASA, I think, because we were all just off Cape Canaveral.
Pen took over at 0300, and I got some very comfortable sleep in the V-berth. When I awoke, the ocean surface was like a mill pond, and the sunrise was spectacular. The high in the Atlantic had done exactly what had been predicted, and the seas flattened out to almost nothing. We gradually slowed as we left the Gulf Stream and began heading toward the Florida coast. While Pen was sleeping, I got our last fish on the hook, a fighter, definitely not a barracuda, but it was too fast for me and slipped the lure after I'd got it in about half way. It was probably our tuna ... damn/spit. We'll have to buy tuna this time.
At 1200 we entered the channel markers for Ponce Inlet at New Smyrna Beach. We'd been sailing for 33 hours, traveled 194 miles, and averaged 5.6 knots. Tired, we followed the channel toward the Intracoastal Waterway and to and anchorage just nearby. Pen had been there before many years ago and as she looked at the chart said to turn in just after marker #22 ... my chart plotter seemed to agree with that. Oops! We were aground, suddenly and quickly in two-and-a-half feet of water, and the tide was going out! I quickly put all sails out to heel Alizee, but no luck. We were stuck! How embarrasing was this? Just finish a great crossing and we're stuck on the ICW. I called Boat US on the radio ... he knew exactly where we were ... and it 30 minutes we were off ... and he was richer (the bill was $750, which, of course, I never pay ... he'd really negotiated a sweetheart deal with Boat US).