Homeward: The Gulf Stream

Weather has rhythms and patterns. In a land-based life, the usual rhythms and patterns are more of a convenience or inconvenience, for cruisers the patterns command our lives. We were moored in Hope Town in the far northeastern corner of the Bahamas when we decided to begin our journey back to Lake Ontario. For the next week or two we would have to weave our plans into the patterns of the weather.

Before setting sail for home we would have to traverse over 125 nautical miles to the northwestern corner of the Little Bahamas Bank. Prior to leaving it would be necessary to clear customs and immigration, the Bahamians want to know when we leave, refuel, and prepare for a 400-mile offshore passage in the Gulf Stream, our longest passage yet. The passage would take 48 to 60 hours on a course as much as 100 miles offshore; a passage not to be taken lightly.

We committed to the crossing on April 26 with a forecast for a weather window later that week, one which we could not make, and another early the next week. We would leave the Bahamas in the second window, one month after our arrival.

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Memories: Lamb's Marina and Elizabeth City

Water levels in Eastern North Carolina are driven by wind more than tide. As it is on the Chesapeake, winds from the North draw water out of the creeks, rivers, bays, and sounds while south winds flood these areas. Awakening early at our Goat Island anchorage we hurried to reach Lamb’s Grocery and Marina before the levels dropped further blocking our entrance to the marina.

Under gray skies, building north winds and cold, we motored the few miles to Lamb’s Grocery and Marina, racing the lowering water levels. Reaching the creek leading to the marina, we slowed down. The creek’s depth was reported to be 5 feet, precisely the amount of water Second Star needs to remain afloat. Gingerly crept up the creek as the water become shallow. The last few yards found Second Star plowing a furrow in the creek’s soft mud bottom; the five-foot depth was an optimistic estimate. After a few tense moments, we were once again afloat and, in the marina, secure from the ensuing foul weather.

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The Not So Dismal Swamp Canal

The race was on. Arriving at ICW Mile 0 on Halloween we were on schedule. In three days, it would be us against the cold weather as more cold fronts would pass through. Might our cold weather gear remain sequestered? How dismal would the Dismal Swamp be? These were some of the questions on our mind as we sailed and motored into Hampton Roads and Norfolk. 

Located in southeastern Virginia, at the confluence of three major rivers, James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond Rivers, Hampton Roads is a large deep-water port at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay. The world’s largest navy base, Naval Station Norfolk is located in the city of Norfolk along the Elizabeth River. Entering the river, we passed an impressive number of naval vessels from small support craft to large aircraft carriers while helicopters passed overhead.

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The Crossing

Note: Photos will be sparse for the next few weeks. We are currently in the Abacos out islands where reliable and fast wifi is not readily available. We do have internet via cell phone hot spots; however, photos consume a lot of data which our plans don’t have. The waters here are gorgeous shades of turquoise and gin clear, the bottom can be seen in 15 to 20 feet of water.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022: The weather forecast for Gulf Stream crossing on Friday afternoon looked promising. Winds would be light and shifting from the southeast to the southwest. Caribbean weather guru Chris Parker said, “E bound sailing vessels can depart Fri1 morning from FL with the mildest conditions in the S ROUTE. Sat2 is more uncertain, but a possible E bound motor-sailing day, best in the S ROUTE.” Time to begin final preparations.

High on the To-Do List was receiving the new prop for our new electric dinghy motor. The new gas fueled Honda was not reliable and needed warrantee service not available in Marathon. As a result, we purchased an electric outboard, a purchase we had been considering anyway. Within days of the new motor arriving, I managed to break the prop. A new one (and a spare) was on its way via UPS overnight service.

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Transmission Woes, Again.

A lot has happened. We left St. Augustine last January and headed south. Arriving in Vero Beach (aka Velcro Beach) we rafted off a friend’s boat in the mooring field. A week later, resupplied with food, beverages and our new snorkeling gear we were again southbound. Dreaming of snorkeling the reefs in the Florida Keys we arrived in Key Largo meeting with friends sailing a sistership to Second Star. Then, on February 5th, it all fell apart, literally.

The transmission we had replaced last August, broke free of its mount. We were dead in the water, fortunately the transmission failed in a large empty anchorage and not a marina Just to add a little drama to our story, while sitting on an anchor with a broken transmission, we were thrust into the dark with the failure of our main DC on/off switch, no lights, no radio, no refrigeration. Yuck, warm beer just when a cold one was desperately needed. Since the February 5th incident, we have been consumed with repairing the transmission, updating the website has fallen off the priority list.

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