Christmas Comes Early Aboard Roam

img_0110Christmas came early for Michelle and me! But there were no trinkets under the tree, there wasn’t a shiny new banana seat bike Parked in the living room, and there definitely wasn’t a new BMW in the garage. Our Christmas gift to each other was a trip to the Bahamas.

Getting across should be simple. At 62 miles from West Palm Beach to West End, it is a 10-11 hour trip, so you can either do it over night to arrive in the AM the next day, or leave at first light to arrive just before sunset. The challenging part of the trip is crossing the Gulf Stream, a huge, invisible river that is charging north at about 2-4 mph between Florida and the Bahamas. You would think that calculating the effect of the north bound current on a boat would be a problem for navigators and you’d be right if we were talking about attempting a crossing before around 1980. GPS and electronic mapping, proceeded by Loran and several other navigational advancements, has simplified the process of calculating the north set of the Gulf Stream in order to arrive at your intended destination (rather than in the middle of the Atlantic).

The real challenge in getting across the Gulf Stream safely is understanding how the sea state between Florida and the Bahamas is affected by wind and current. Even a moderate north wind will oppose the north bound current and cause the water to pile up into big, steep waves that can make for an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous crossing. A prudent captain will watch the weather carefully and decide on the right time to cross based on the weather, the size/condition of his boat, and his experience.

Every year when we get ready to cross the stream, we see boats gathered at likely anchorages, waiting on the right conditions. Some captains never seem to find the right time to cross. Michelle and I have been caught off shore in some knarly conditions and while we’re not anxious to experience bad weather again, we trust our boat and know our limits and we will go when many others would not. Never the less, when the weather is good, you GO!

Christmas came early for Michelle and me this December, when a weather window opened up on December 1 and we jumped across to West End Bahamas. We had a spectacular crossing with another Nordhavn 47, Dragonfly and arrived just before sunset. We pulled in to Old Bahama Bay Marina, where the dockmaster and customs people waited past normal hours to help us get docked and cleared in to the country. Welcome to the Bahamas and Merry Christmas!!

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