We had travelled 80 miles in about 16 hours across the Atlantic Gulf Stream when we finally reached the Shallows of the Little Bahama Bank. If I were walking, it would be at 5 mph, a good pace. But I’m not and we had motored at the best speed possible for the 54 hp Yanmar and the weight of Lost Loon. (Mike would say too many canned goods! We will never eat all that.). Our first days journey takes us into opposing East winds and Northeast winds of 12-17 kt. We carry on and look forward to days end and rest. We had spent endless hours planning our crossing and where we would make landfall. Would we need to make a short trip to West End or could we manage to make it to Great Sale Cay? Into that calculation, we had to figure in our stamina, how far we would be able to manage in 24 hours, with fatigue combined with the excitement of new travel.
The previous night, we had decided to anchor at Lake Worth, Pal Beach FL briefly to rest, before our 18 hour cruise. We had just come 8 hours (motoring) down the ICW from Stuart FL to reach our staging grounds for the “jump off ” into the Gulf Stream . We made a simple dinner, cleaned up, and napped for about an hour or so before we were both ready to go. (I don’t think either of us slept…adrenaline was on the rise.) We spent an hour getting Lost Loon ready to take us across the Gulf Stream. This detail had us readying lifelines, checking lights, double checking our rigging, reviewing our routing, and of course preparing coffee. By this time it is dark. We have just anchored her for the first time successfully and now we need to retrieve the anchor in the dark. We managed to pull up much of the mud bottom, but we were on our way.
We had all our safety systems in place. Within 5 minutes, as we round the corner to open ocean we were confused by the number of red markers(or lights). We had made a dry run to the inlet earlier that afternoon and made note of the markers, so when we made the night approach we were familiar. Well, one seemed to be moving toward us…..it was the Coast Guard. Now, this had been a concern of mine. So I had documentation papers, Canadian deletion papers, we had forgotten our documentation sign at home, so we wrote our vessel number on the fiberglass in Sharpie ( would that pass?). We had our flares, whistle, horn, life jackets, fire extinguishers in place, waste disposal signage ( in a binder) and passports ( and birth certificates….got documentation?). We were both thinking..were they really going to stop us? in the dark? and delay our time getting out to the ocean? Upon close approach, they inquired of our intended destination, where we had come from that day, and number of passengers aboard. They even asked if we had ever been boarded before. In all honestly, we of course said NO…. with trepidation …..thinking that maybe saying yes they would let us pass? ( like the scene from Wizard of Oz). We wait as the second officer communicates to Oz at the helm……he turns back (our hearts pounding and ready for a boarding) and tells us to have a safe trip. Really? No boarding? we can go? To the Bahamas?? Yes !!!!… We are gracious , beyond belief, and expressed our thanks, they turn off.
Lucky. We laugh, look at each other, smile, and in Family Feud fashion say “good answer”.
We motor cautiously out the Lake Worth inlet, still not sure what we will find 10 miles out at the Western edge of the Gulf Stream. We leave with the thought that what we see at the coast could drastically change once on the Stream. Goodness it is our first crossing alone. But we do have the knowledge and spirit of all of the good sailing friends and instructors we have had the good fortune to sail with and learn from. About 2 hours later we find 7-8 ft swells left over from the giant low pressure that is now moving north into the Atlantic. The winds as predicted are 12-17. We do have some confused swells and waves for a bit, until we reach the middle of the Stream. By 0200 we can feel things settle and no longer have the enormous swells that seem to hit at the same time as a wave, sending the boat heeling to port briefly. The items in the storage bins and cabinets have also found rest. At one point while off watch, trying to sleep I had felt As if I were placed inside a pinball game with tings and clunks going off all around me.
Daybreak brings us closer to our first anchorage. We have managed to trade out the night with short rest periods and are quickly re-energized by the rising sun, fresh coffee, and warmth of the day.
How to pick an anchorage? We know most anchorages are pretty secluded.We have perused the Navionics charts and read the guide books on what to watch for and where to set anchor. We desire seclusion and privacy, along with a bath, shower or swim. Great Sale ( yes, as in yard and garage) Cay is just that, but a few fellow cruisers seem to also arrive as the afternoon went on.
A word about anchorages. We prefer one that seems to blunt the direction of prevailing wind so as not to have such a rolly night. This means that if we can find a piece of land that breaks the waves from the direction of the wind the boat sits calmly through the night. Weather is also monitored for changing winds. We make sure that if we set the hook (anchor) with a west wind, we are set well enough that if the wind switches southwest we we won’t move , or most worrisome lose anchor and drift. We are pretty sure that during the night there will be a calm east wind that will persist through the night. With yours truly at the bow and Mike at the helm (we make it look easy) and set anchor easily for the second time. After we check the hold we can finally turn off the engine for the first time in about 24 hours.
Needless to say as soon as the engine was off I was preparing for sweet submersion. Towel, soap and shampoo… Oooooh what? It’s not bath water temp? The water was initially a bit chilly, but nonetheless satisfying and refreshing all around. Finally, in the choice of anchorages one must highly consider the direction of the setting sun, ours was perfect that night.
It’s finally Captains hour, with a glass of wine we relax and reflect …..WE ARE IN FOREIGN WATERS ! We did it! ..Day one is a wrap. Pretty much a first for us, Lost Loon has some smugness though, she’s been there, done that a few times….we sleep easy this night. Our travels continue in the morning, we have a few more days of full day sailing ahead to arrive at our destination where we pick up friends.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the thing you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.