We apologize for this overly delayed final post on our 2015 cruising exploits. The task kept falling out of our job jar as we first focused on getting the boat ready for hurricane season storage and then got busy catching up on everything after our return to Minnesota.
Nassau and North – April 7-9
Like last year, we had arrived in Nassau on Easter weekend. Again this year many if not most businesses were closed through Easter Monday, and we wanted to make at least one equipment purchase before leaving Nassau. Although our two big 4D house batteries were good, our two smaller Group 27 genset/starting batteries ended up with bad cells from the prior year in storage. We wanted to replace at least one of them before leaving Nassau, so on Tuesday Peter, owner/operator of the Nassau Harbor Club Marina, drove Bill to a battery shop where we took advantage of Peter's commercial discount to purchase a replacement. By 1:50 Tuesday afternoon with the new battery installed and our fuel topped, we untied the lines and headed off for Nassau Harbor’s west entrance.
Our weather outlook looked ideal with steady E to SE winds and clear skies predicted for the entire passage … plus for good measure a full moon on Wednesday night! Could it get any better?
With 17 knots apparent on the starboard quarter we proceeded out through Nassau Harbor’s entrance buoys and ran for hours with just a slightly rolled in jib. Later as winds eased a bit the jib’s small reef went out and the Main went up. Through it all the sailing winds were near perfect both in speed and direction.
To further improve on an already great situation, after 8:00pm that night we began picking up a 2-knot local current boost. The great weather and current boosts continued through our first night and on to the next day and night until we left the Gulf Stream. The passage was a pure delight.
The Gulf Stream can be rough and even dangerous when wind opposes current, but when the wind is with you while heading north with the current, the Gulf Stream is most certainly your friend. Our weather router Chris Parker periodically sends Gulf Stream analysis emails out to his subscribers. Per Chris’ Gulf Stream email a week or so prior to our crossing, the attached screen snap shows the approximate location of the west & east walls of the stream and its axis (location of highest current) in red superimposed on our Fugawi navigation screen while we’re running a full 10.7 knots “over the ground” in the middle of the stream. Our through-the-water speed was comfortably in the low to mid-6’s all this time. Life underway doesn’t get much better than that.
We typically see lots of commercial traffic … freighters, cruise ships, tankers, barge tows and the like … between Stirrup Cay in the NE Berry Islands and Freeport, a major trans-ship port at the SW point of Grand Bahama Island. Traffic seemed lighter on this trip, partially because most cruise ships are at their further east and south destinations mid-week instead of crossing back and forth to/from Florida and other US ports. Most of the shipping we encountered were cargo ships and tankers waiting to offload or load at Freeport (see photo at left). Plus of course, while we were riding the stream north there weren’t too many vessels heading south against the mid-stream current. Navigation around shipping was pretty easy the evenings of the 4th and 5th.
Unfortunately a little before 6:00am on Thursday the 9th the favorable winds eased down to the point where a little engine boost was required to keep our desired speed up in the lessening apparent winds, so we started our trusty diesel at low revs for the final 6 hours of our passage back to the states. We tied up at Cape Marina in Port Canaveral at noon on the 9th … a total passage of 295.3 miles in just over 46 hours.
Upon arrival we cleared back into the states via U.S. Customs and Immigration’s Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) program. The SVRS is essentially a pre-clearance capability we’ve used for several years now. Clearing with SVRS typically involves just one quick phone call. That completed, we were officially back in the USA!
The Final Leap Home – Port Canaveral to Brunswick: April 10-11:
After one night at Cape Marina we were recharged and ready for another two-day jump, this time from Port Canaveral back to our planned summer-fall storage port of Brunswick, GA. The weather Gods continued to be good to us, with fair weather, albeit relatively light winds, forecast for the entire passage.
The weather forecast also gave us a goal, as by late morning on the 11th the light S/SW/SE/E winds outlooked for our passage were forecast to quickly clock to the N and NE and increase right on our nose if we didn’t make it to Brunswick early enough. Accordingly we cast off our dock lines and departed Cape Marina at 7:00am Friday the 10th under clear skies with a light SE breeze.
It was a pretty bland crossing ... not much excitement except for having to wait a bit for a submarine to enter Canaveral's entrance channel and then turn off to the sub base there. After the sub cleared, the Coast Guard boat holding us all back literally blew a whistle and then quickly got out of the way, as more than a dozen medium to large sport fishing boats and two cruising sailboats hit their throttles to head out like a LeMans start on the water! Not surprisingly we didn't win the start, but it was kewl.
Although we tried to sail a few times, the winds were light to the point that we could only make Brunswick within our weather window by motor-sailing most of the way. So motor-sail we did. We again encountered very little traffic … a couple of barge tows, a cruise ship going into Jacksonville, and the typical gaggle of personal fishing boats near each river mouth or sound entrance. We did hit some light .5 to .7-knot counter-currents running against us in a couple of places, but nothing significant.
On entry to St. Simons Sound via the Brunswick channel it was nice seeing the St. Simons lighthouse welcoming us back to our boat-home in Brunswick, GA. We arrived at the Brunswick Landing Marina fuel dock a 2:30pm on the 11th after traveling 205.4 miles over 31 ½ hours.
2015 Cruise Epilogue
Even though our 2015 cruise was unusually short for us, we again thoroughly enjoyed our southern waters getaway. We had started out with plans to stay state-side and cruise the Florida Keys, but those plans changed as relatively cold, wet, weather persisted in Georgia and Florida this year with front after front blowing in across the lower 48. Leaving Brunswick much later than planned and with much less outside boat work completed than planned because of the weather, we decided at the last minute that our best course of action would be to change plans, jump across the Gulf Stream, and head to the Exumas where we knew it would be warmer. Warmer it was. It was delightful. And in heading to the Exumas instead of the Keys we were also able to connect with many of our Minnesota friends already in the Bahamas.
Further shortening our time in the Bahamas, we subsequently decided to head back earlier than originally planned so we could take advantage of an outstandingly good weather window. Although it shortened our time in the Bahamas, that, too was a good call, for as soon after we arrived in Brunswick crossing conditions deteriorated. Some of our cruising friends ended up pinned down in the Bahamas waiting for an unseasonably early tropical low (eventually named Tropical Storm Ana) to clear the area and head up to a Myrtle Beach landfall in the States (see Ana's path through the Bahamas and up to Myrtle Beach on the left).
All told, we still traveled a total of 1,247 miles (about 1,435) statute miles, over 1000 of which involved getting from Brunswick to Nassau and returning. This year’s cruise reminded us again how nice it was in the Caribbean where we could see the western extent of our Virgin Islands cruising area from our storage marina in Puerto Rico.
Our earlier than planned return to Brunswick also afforded us the opportunity to attend to projects that had gone undone during Georgia’s cold and wet February weather. In addition to our normal end-of-season cleaning and storage projects, the better spring weather allowed us to get to delayed maintenance projects like our external teak, much of which we brought down to bare wood before re-finishing. When we finally left the boat on May 1st our trusty magic carpet, the Jubilee, was looking almost new … and almost too good to part with (see below images), although she remains for sale.
Future cruising plans depend on what happens with the Jubilee. If she sells before next year’s winter cruising season we’ll be out trawler shopping. If she doesn’t sell we might bring her back north next spring-summer. Time will tell, but one thing is certain. In the interim we’ll be enjoying the northern summer to the fullest, sprinkled with some land trips over the summer-fall months. The adventures continue.
Have a great summer and fall everyone!!!