On the eve of Tuesday, January 15th, Brian and I were ready for "the BIG crossing." We had been watching the weather all week and determined that we had a window to leave directly from St Augustine to land in Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas. Rode Trip was ready and we had completed one last checklist (we can generate checklists very easily now). That evening we headed into St Augustine for showers at the marina, dinner out on the town (a second taste of the delicious A1A Brewery beer), and meeting Matt and Jessica for a final sendoff (again). Jessica even requested a fancy fire table which perfectly suited our mid-January, outdoor bar.
That same evening back at the boat we called each set of parents to inform them of our plans. Not only does this keep them from worrying, but it also ensures that someone knows our anticipated arrival date(s) and location. Safety first! Before getting some shut-eye we couldn't resist one last check of the weather forecast. Uh oh...the wind had changed! Maybe we'd had one too many beers, maybe it was past our bedtime and we weren't reading the forecast correctly. Ok, don't panic. But if it did change what do we do tomorrow!? Do we leave earlier and stick out another day on the Intracoastal Waterway? Sleep would be the cure.
On Tuesday, January 15th, the forecast was the same. Light 10-15 knot winds out of the south with a cold front predicted for Thursday, January17th, that would bring 15 knot winds from the west. We did not want to be mid-ocean during that front because on Friday, January 17th, the winds would increase to 30 knots and include rain. Being a bit overcautious (now looking back) since our last hellish passage from Beaufort, NC we opted to still go oceanside and continue south down the Florida coast. We'd have an opportunity for a pleasant passage, save diesel, practice our overnight routine, and still be able to duck out of the cold front by coming back to the Intracoastal Waterway via one of many inlets. At noon we set sail from the mooring ball and headed out the St Augustine Inlet. We'd planned accordingly for this "doomsday" inlet and timed our departure for an outgoing tide during nearly slack current. Brian obtained a printout of the current buoy locations and we had no trouble navigating through, although we did drop the jib and add engine power to the main sail mid-way just to ensure steerage.
We had beautiful sunny days, warm breezes, and calm, crystal clear nights. This was a pleasant way to get back into the swing of sailing. Our only complaint was, which we knew ahead of time, that the wind was from exactly the wrong direction and so we were zig-zagging (tacking) upwind along the coast. We were pointing the boat as high as we could, which also may have slowed us down a bit. After our previous passages we were perplexed why we could only make 3.5-4 knots consistently. Remember the winds were 10 knots, not the blustery 20-25's we just had from Beaufort. We started to doubt our sailing abilities and then decided to blame an ocean current (which may or may not have existed). Regardless, I was able to move freely about the boat without getting seasick. We soon settled into our 4-hour watch shifts. Shifts involved A LOT of reading, random snacking, as well as watching for other boats and maintaining a course.
Here come the dolphins! This was on Wednesday, January 16th.
For nearly 1-hour dolphins from various pods, which sometimes seemed to converge around our boat, were swimming alongside and leaping toward the front to swim at our bow.
On Thursday, January 17th, the anticipated cold front rolled in right on schedule. We had thought we'd make Cape Canaveral, FL by this time but our slow sailing hadn't gotten us to the inlet quite yet. Now at the end of the day the inlet didn't seem plausible; there were also locks and bridges to get through just to get to an anchorage. We decided to deal with the situation and stay in the ocean.
At about 3:40pm (using log book notes of how this really went down) the wind kicked up to 15-20 knots and the seas to 5-8 feet. We dropped the stay sail and double reefed the main. This was incredibly easy now that we have the auto pilot (Cape Horn wind vane) because we can work on sails together. No roller furling here! Also remember we are guessing the wind based on the 'ol Beaufort Scale because we don't have fancy gadgets. On the VHF, cruise ship captains were reporting due to "sustained 30 knot winds" they needed to "use bow thrusters to stay on the dock [Cape Canaveral]. By 4:46pm our log book wind estimate was 20-25 knots and we dropped the jib. With a double reefed main, Brian fired up the Perkins to motor us closer to the coastline. This would hopefully subdue the waves so we could be a tad more comfortable.
There was no rain, it was warm. We made sail changes without foul gear and were pelted with warm ocean water from the waves. This warmth during bad weather was very strange. While motoring, Brian was outfitted in his foul weather gear. Waves were crashing over the bow and filling the walkways because the scuppers couldn't drain quickly enough. Waves were crashing into the cockpit, filling it as well while the drains were draining with all their might. There was no rain, it was warm, we were drenched. I stood in the galley warming soup to put into our thermoses. I figured we'd need something cozy during our night watches. Twice the kitchen floor filled with water that needed bailing. The first time it came rushing in from the un-drainable cockpit - overload came down from the aft hatch. The second time it came rushing over the the hatch. Mmmm...salty soup!
Our next log entry was at "approximately" 7:00pm when I noted that we'd taken down the main sail and set the stay sail. The waves were lower, we guessed now a whopping 4-6 feet. Through the night we'd fly the stay sail and hug the 3-mile line of the coast. There was no rain, it was still warm, and the sky was clear. We logged the wind speed at 20-25 knots through the night and guessed it settled to 15-20 knots by 1:00am. Now we actually needed to slow down so that we could make the Fort Pierce Inlet by daybreak.
At 6:00am on Friday, January 18th, our shifts changed. I went for a quick nap while Brian circled awaiting the sunrise so that we could safely enter Fort Pierce Inlet. At 7:00am I was back in action to take down the stay sail so that we could motor through the inlet. The wind was still about 15-20 knots, seas about 4-6 feet. We had no difficulty through Fort Pierce Inlet. Back onto the Intracoastal Waterway we kept on truckin'...