November 23, 2012
~Part One ~
One moment of indecision could quite possibly change an entire course. For us, it was a moment of commitment that took us across the treacherous waters of the Gulf Stream, and put us on a direct course for the Bahamas.
After a week of studying weather forecasts, the day after Thanksgiving was our time to set sail. There was going to be a small break in the north winds, making it possible to cross the Gulf Stream without the wind and current being against each other. However, it was such a small window that we needed Plans A, B and C for where and when it would be safe to cross the stream.
Friday morning, we rushed around completing all the last minute pre departure chores. Stowing new provisions, as well as putting away everything that had managed to come out during our weeks at anchor. A final grocery run. Final usage of a fast Internet system; posting a blog, writing email messages, and checking passageweather.com. Final phone calls were made to family with the last of the money on the prepaid cell phone. And then, in a split second, we decided to make the 11 o’clock bridge opening. It was 10:48 a.m.
After passing through the Beaufort drawbridge, we went to Beaufort Town Docks to top off the water and fuel tanks, dump the trash, and say good-bye to family.
While we were at the docks, another sailor asked us where we were headed. “Out” was our reply, and then “to the Bahamas.” So was he, but he was still trying to decide when. He too had been studying the possible weather window. He was also using Herb, a popular weather router for high seas sailors, and Herb had said that it was still a bit dicey for crossing the stream. The seas need time to settle after many days of north winds, and they weren’t settled yet. Therefore, this guy was going to wait until morning to depart. Something in our gut was telling us it was time to go.
Our excitement grew as we sailed out the Beaufort Inlet. We were off again, only this time we were on our way to warmer waters.
As we pulled away from land, the predicted north wind for the beginning of our journey was nowhere to be seen. The wind was out of the southwest at 10-15 knots. All previous plans went out the door.
We decided to sail directly towards the Gulf Stream to get a feel for the sea conditions. If we didn’t like how things were, then we would parallel the Gulf Stream until the seas settled.
As we sailed further out, we were feeling good about an immediate Gulf Stream crossing. However, we had weather reports coming in, showing about a 12 hour window with west winds, before returning to the north again for at least two more days. We assessed our speed and decided that we should go for it. Then, came some moments of indecision.
There were three other boats that had departed Beaufort around the same time, and Simon on Cat was one of them. After speaking with Simon over the VHF about our plans, the other two boats joined in with further weather input. One had sea state conditions from a buoy located in the middle of the Gulf Stream. Eleven-foot northeast swells with an 11 second period between them (not bad), and opposing 5-foot southwest waves with a 6 second period (not great). Put them together and you have some rough seas.
All three boats decided not to cross the Gulf Stream with those conditions. Knowing Simon’s boat, and the fact that he was sailing solo, he was making a wise choice. He was about an hour behind us, and cruising at a slower speed. He would be caught in the middle of the stream when the winds clocked back the north, making the seas even more dangerous.
My mind was racing. What if we were making the wrong choice? What if we get out there, and the winds change back to a northerly direction sooner, rather than later? We had the speed to get across, but what if something happened to slow us down? Surely, the seas would have time to settle some by the time we got to the middle of the stream, or would they? If we did get caught in the middle, we would only have to endure the roughness for no more than 5 hours, but what if something happened and we couldn’t get out?
The moment of decision was now. We only had a chance to make it across the Gulf Stream if we went without hesitation. Any hesitation would have us caught in the middle. With a firm and final decision, and trust in the boat’s capability, as well as our ability, we committed ourselves to a continued southeasterly course.