Open Oceans and Weather To Go

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You either like the open ocean or you don’t. I’m in love with it. Writing this as we cross Little Bahama Bank for Great Sale Cay (p. “key”) ( April 20).  We just completed our first overnight crossing the Gulf Stream ( I think that definitely deserves capital letters!). WE did it…alone… together!  It is hard to describe what its like… Solitude? Freedom? Beauty? It is one mysterious, captivating, powerful body of water. Sailors plan for days waiting, as we did, for the winds to be “just right”. A northerly wind of any kind irritates and aggravates the Gulf Stream. She raises her waves and swells in protest. And so, makes it difficult for travelers by boat to cross to other oceans or ports and in particular the Bahamas. But given a gentle East or South breeze and she is a happy as sheets drying on a line. That is what we wait for.
After watching the weather maps, computer wind and wave models, and having a detailed discussion with weather router, Chris Parker, we made the decision leave on a Tuesday night (our Northerly wind was switching to Easterly). Pretty simple, and reassuring.
Cruising travelers spend enormous amounts of money on monitoring equipment, apps, and subscriptions to weather forecasting services, as they should, to get the best guess on what the winds, waves, and weather will be for a passage thru a particular ocean or coastal region. As newbie cruisers, we read about all the well known forecasters and I guess wondered if we would ever get to the place where we needed their service. Why? Well we bought a boat that was already equipped with an ICOM 706 amateur radio, automatic antennae tuner and Pactor modem. What this means is that we can listen around the world to weather broadcasts, or even “hook-up” the laptop and get email or weather fax ! Well, that’s all good until you realize that you need the General Ham license ( which requires passing a test. So, ok I’ve studied for some pretty tough exams in my life but this stuff takes the cake unless your an electrical engineer. Passing the exam, I’m now known as maritime mobile KD9FQW. Feeling pretty good, thinking all I had to do was turn the dial and call my sign and I’m talking and listening to the world. How different could it be from tuning in a great AM station on the radio? I was wrong. I won’t bore you with details about radio wave propagation into the ionosphere, but it can be darn difficult at times. The great thing I found out this week is that if you are licensed amateur operator having difficulty trying to reach your uncle in Kentucky, so that he can communicate to family in Minnesota and North Carolina that you are safe, there are the kindest people that are ready relay your message. Thanks to you all!
We could have bought a satellite phone or marine SSB, which may have been easier to use, and we eventually may, but right now we are not headed off to the Pacific on some 3 week passage….in time.

Back to weather.

Right now the Sun has been up for a few hours, there are high cirrus clouds and the temp is 76, winds 12 from the East, the direction to our next waypoint. We are not sailing but motoring. If we were out for a day sail or didn’t have a Diesel engine, we might decide to raise the sails and do some tacking to get there at the expense of time. We anticipate good weather for the rest of the trip as we have a mostly high pressure settling into the Bahamas region. It is times like this that you realize you are very dependent on which way the wind blows. Back home we comment about the direction of the wind, we complain about the rain or snow, but we are able to navigate to work and play without much other consideration.
The water surrounding Lost Loon has turned a beautiful turquoise. We have gone from well over 2000 ft of water to 15.

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Bahama Blue

Our keel (the big piece of lead weight that keeps us from tipping over ) sits 5 feet below us . So, you can do the math and see that we don’t have much room for things sticking up off the ocean floor. So we keep watch. At night this watch is for ocean traffic and during the day obstructions and ships.

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The routine is about every 2-3 hours, sleep -watch-sleep- watch. This also entails managing the autopilot , steering to course, and watching depth.  You would think with thousands of miles of open ocean you would only expect to see a few boats. Last night’s crossing the Gulf Stream was like Grand Central Station at quitting time. At one point we had 4 boats on radar, all over 10 football fields in length, within 15 miles. Our closest approach was the Norwegian Getaway at 1 mile. At one point, we were headed for a 300 ft CPA , (closest point of approach- that is near collision in lay terms). I called on the VHF and thanked the captain of that very large and ominous passenger ship, headed for Nassau, for changing his course and speed so we didn’t collide. ( He did because we did not have the capability to increase our speed any further).  He did reply back to my contact . I think he said ” no problem” (possibly being cordial).  I’m certain he gets tired of 40 ft sailboats meandering their way at 3 AM across his path. The world goes around, and next time my schedule is off because of an unexpected event,  I’ll remember the captain of the Norwegian Getaway.

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