Bahamas Bound – Crossing the Gulf Stream By Paula Shur After the front passed through, a rainbow appeared in Boot Key Harbor in the Florida Keys.
weathered man on an anchored sailboat flailed his arms toward the stern of our Catalina 355 as my husband, Ken, and I left Boot Key Harbor in the Florida Keys. The man shouted something at us. Acid pumped into my stomach. I feared something was wrong. The dinghy is not secured? We are dragging a line? We hit something? I hailed the shouting, waving man on the VHF. We switched down from channel 16 to 14. I responded, “Island Time on 14.” “Yeah…hey—my boat is named Island Time, too.” “We are just beginning our first crossing to the Bahamas today. You scared me.” “Have a good trip.” “Thanks.” My stomach calmed a little. I did not want anything to keep us from our much-awaited launch into the wild purple yonder of the Gulf Stream. When we arrived in Boot Key ten days prior on April 12, 2016, Ken requested a custom weather forecast from Chris Parker, Marine Weather Center Services, for our ambitious course to the Exumas. We wanted to cross from Boot Key to Chub Cay, passing by South Riding Rocks (30plus miles south of Bimini) in the daylight. From Chub we wanted to sail to New Providence, our jumping off point for the Exumas. Island Time’s average boat speed prevented her from reaching any of our destinations before nightfall. The Great Bahama Bank could turn nasty with an East wind. The scary deep Northwest Channel could become fierce when the wind opposes the tide. Chris instructed us not to delay and provided an alternate route through Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. Within twenty-four hours, the north wind would return. We would need a safe harbor in the Bahamas to weather the next batch of storms. We were not ready. We needed fuel, water, food, and rest. We also needed time—to transform our Portland Pudgy dinghy into a life raft, to recharge our electronics, and to wrap our heads and our guts around the crossing. During the twelve years Ken and I cruised together, we 46
learned to trust our guts. We made decisions that gave our guts warm fuzzies, those pleasant, calming feelings. Rushing to the Bahamas without proper preparation filled our guts with cold pricklies. We did not have a schedule. Our 15-page boat inventory included a float plan with possible stops and probable dates, but no rigid schedule. Neither of us had to return by a set date, one of the many benefits of retirement. We notified Chris Parker we would wait. The mooring field with its helpful, knowledgeable staff and eclectic mix of friendly boaters was a wonderful place to be stuck while the north wind howled. We dinghied to Sombrero Beach for a refreshing dip. We ate obligatory, over-rated lobster Reubens and watched the sunset at Keys Fisheries. We filled up our fuel and water tanks. We provisioned at Publix. To pass the time during our wait in Boot Key Harbor, I practiced driving our sunset-yellow Portland Pudgy. As I was tying up to the dinghy dock on the sixth day, a seasoned salt called over to me. “Can I ask you sumthin’?” “Sure.” “How come your husband has to sit in the forward seat with his arms crossed and a scowl across his face?” I burst out laughing. The old salt had watched us for over a week. I had not noticed Ken’s curmudgeon look when I drove. We renamed the forward seat the Curmudgeon Seat. “Where are you headed?” we were asked. “The Bahamas.” “Best advice I can give you, avoid the Bahamas or at least just go on through.” “Why?” www.southwindsmagazine.com