Normally we just try to keep Peace below 9 knots of hull speed through the water because that is when she is traveling fast enough for our pleasure and above that, she starts to get a little splashy well forward and it begins to be noisy. So what's the hurry? We are older folks and we like to sail gently and then sit around on the foredeck and be comfy with friends at sunset appreciation time. The truth is that we really like 5 knots because it is so peaceful.
The main result of all this interest in speed restriction is that we have gotten to be quite good at it and we have never bothered to develop skills that any normal, red blooded yacht club racer learned with his very first boat. Lucky for us, Peace already knows a whole lot about speed sailing, and she gave us our first lesson during the wee hours of yesterday morning.
For a couple of weeks, we had wanted to leave the Bahamas and return to Florida but some social obligations held us back and then the weather took over and frustrated every passage plan we made up. While we waited, a friend cleaned some growth off the bottom for us.
It finally became clear that we would need to make the passage from Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, to Fort Pierce, Florida in short weather window starting at dawn on Mar 7 when Gulf Stream winds were predicted to be southerly before going west again 20 hours later which would be on the nose, and then go north and strengthen which would make the Stream rough. Anchorages along the way are not secure and the weather was expected to persist unsettled for the next week and get worse too. So we decided to make a dash for it.
The trip from Green Turtle to Ft, Pierce non stop is about 180 nm and we know it well, but with the expected contrary wind shift after the 20 hour opening, we had a race on our hands. The coral reefs, rocks, and shoaley sand banks would be our race buoys during the daylight part of this race and we had the expected wind shifts as our competitors later on in the Gulf Stream. Some of the weather predictions included possible 25 to 30 knots, but this boat has seen us safely through much worse weather than that, and waiting for a better weather window was no longer an option.
We left at first light with all sail up and both engines running at half throttle in very light air doing about 8 knots. When we passed Crab Cay, the south wind was gradually increasing so first one engine was stopped and lifted with no change in our hull speed, and by the time we passed Great Sale Cay, the other engine had been put to bed also and Nev was sunning on a dry deck while Peace gave us between 8 and 9 knots in around 15 knots of wind.
Nev did a quick repair of the Autohelm and then took a nap before sunset and I struggled with our wimpy VHF radio being mostly unable to hear the American weather reports. The American NOAA weather stations came clear only after we were already committed to crossing the Stream and they predicted much stronger winds than we had expected. We heard bits of forecast about possible dawn thunder storms with maybe hail over 1", embedded tornadoes and water spouts, and wind gusts from 45 to 60 knots! The predicted daybreak wind shift was proving to be a stiff competitor, indeed!
We calculated that we could probably get past the Stream before it hit if we were quick but we thought it would be wise to keep our speed well up and head directly west allowing the 2 to 3 knots of current to provide some of the northing we would need to reach Fort Pierce on the other side, and we planned on saving the rest of the northing to ease our heading in case of heavy seas or early wind shifts. And if we made a landfall in Florida well south of Fort Pierce, that would be ok because we could always sail in the lee of the land turning a west wind shift into a reach for Peace at the end of the voyage in relative safety. And Fort Pierce is an easy entry, well known to us.
As we came off the Bahama Banks, the wind strengthened and Nev took the Foremain down and just tied it on the foredeck. In the darkness, with Peace doing an average of 9 and 10 knots through the water under Main and jib, my eyes flicked from the speed through the water dial to the speed over the ground dial. I often saw 10 and 11 knots through the water and Nev says he saw a 12 at one point.
There was no moon and only a few stars, but you could see the white flash of phosphorenence and hear the waves hitting us broad on the port side. Spray smoked along the deck and Peace shouldered her way through the building 6 foot seas in wind that we guessed to be about 15 to 25 knots gusting higher. It was an impressive performance and an exhilerating ride. Peace was off her leash and enjoying herself and seemed right at home. I would have enjoyed less salt spray in my face, but was glad to have foul weather gear that worked well on the rest of my body.
I eased the sails as the wind increased to spill some of the wind in the higher gusts and hauled them in again when conditions allowed. Our two part main sail sheeting worked very well and the new boom Nev made last summer was greatly appreciated.
I saw several sets of lights out there and one set headed right for us, until I shone a flashlight on the sails and felt much gratitude for that freighter that turned sharply to pass aft of us.
Our plans turned out well and we were across the Stream and on soundings well inside the 20 hours and we hove to outside the Fort Pierce harbor entry with only a scrap of Jib holding us nicely. We could see flashes from a violent thunderstorm just north and east of us. In the early dawn the west wind arrived just as we motored in through the jetties (tide with us) and got the anchor down south of the harbor where we know the holding is good and the current somewhat less. Some hot tea, toast, and then we were off to bed.
I do think it is good to learn how to sail fast and we will now try to learn how to do it properly. These boats are ok at speed and sometimes it is a safety factor to have it.
While we were sleeping, the wind shifted from west to north and heavy rain cleaned all the salt off our decks. It must have been quite nasty in the Stream then. It can be dangerous out there with strong wind against current. But to tell the truth, we never even heard the storm passing over us. We were ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz asleep!
Love, Ann and Nev
© Anne and Neville Clement, 2005