We’re alive! We made the crossing back over the Gulf Stream and are now in Vero Beach at the Vero Beach City Marina. We have been here now almost a week, on Saturday it will be a week, and have been waiting for a big storm to blow through tomorrow and Friday so we will leave Saturday morning. It’s hard to imagine, after the trip across the Gulf Stream, that we would every say we were ready to move, but after being here for a while and getting ourselves back together, we’re actually looking forward to moving again. Whew!
We left Powell Cay last Friday morning at 7:00 am, which is still in the Abacos. We knew it would be a very long trip so we were prepared for it. We passed Great Sale Cay about noon and continued west. Chris Parker, the weather router, sent us a great forecast with where to enter the stream and what we would expect in terms of waves and wind, so we were set.
The wind was basically behind us as we left, and remained that way for the vast majority of the passage. We first put out the headsail, but without a whisker pole it was hard to keep it filled because of the wind direction, so we pulled it in. We then put out the mainsail and that ended up doing well. The wind was 11 – 13 knots from behind so I kept the mainsail sheeted in somewhat, so it wouldn’t gybe, and it helped stabilize the boat somewhat. We didn’t roll a ton, but with the wind from behind and the waves coming from behind, the stern had a tendency to be thrown around a bit and so the autopilot had to work especially hard to keep us on track. At this point the waves were minimal, but enough to move us around a bit with the following seas.
Interestingly, and without planning, when we passed Crab Cay, about an hour after leaving Powell Cay, we saw three other boats who were on the Sail to the Sun Rally with us last fall heading out as well. Two of the boats were making the crossing and we pretty much saw them on AIS the whole trip, despite them taking a more northerly initial track than us.
Throughout the afternoon we maintained great speed. We had moved the mainsail out a bit to catch more wind, using a preventer so we wouldn’t gybe, and at an easy RPM with the wind and waves continuing to be behind us, thereby helping our speed, we were averaging 7.6 – 7.9 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground) and were often hitting 8.0 – 8.1 knots. At those speeds we were a bit concerned about getting to Ft. Pierce too early, but figured we would slow down the closer we got. (That didn’t work out so good, as you’ll read below!)
Mid-afternoon we spotted a rain cell up ahead and as time went on we got closer and closer to it. I took some pictures of the rain as we approached it, but it pretty much ended up being a non-event when we were finally in it. We did get rain for about half an hour, but nothing drastic with crazy winds or anything, so that was good. As we were approaching the rain we did pull the mainsail in in case there was some wind gusts, but put it back out later on. As we went through the rain cell it was interesting to watch the wind literally circle around 360 degrees in the unsettled air. It was never a hard wind, but fun to watch it swing around.
Through the evening we continued on our westward direction and could tell as we entered the gulf stream we started also moving more north which we wanted. The winds continued to be from the east, from behind us, and the waves continued to build a bit. Thankfully the waves were in the form of swells, so we didn’t have any banging up and down on the water, but you could feel and see the boat rising and falling as the swells passed under us. The swells were probably only 3 – 4 foot at that point so it wasn’t a huge deal. We also continued to make very good time in terms of speed so we were thinking again that at some point in early morning we would have to try and slow down a bit. The mainsail was still out and we had backed the motor down to 2000 RPM, but were still doing 6.5 – 7.0 knots. Even at that speed we would hit Ft. Pierce an hour or two before it started getting light, which is something we didn’t want to do. The saying goes that you never want to enter a port or inlet that you don’t know in the dark, so we knew we would have to slow down or circle around until it got light. Right!
We continued on and did well even as it got dark. The weather predictions were for 11 – 13 knots of wind and a slight NE swell throughout the night. However we ended up with winds more in the 15 – 16 knots range and swells that were building probably into the 5 – 6 foot range from the east. Not bad conditions, but a bit different than the forecast.
Around 12:30 am with Sharon at the helm we began a game of “Cruise Ship Dodgeball.” I don’t know if you have ever played it, but it begins with three huge cruise ships almost all in a line coming from behind and to the left of you blocking your intended path. Because of their speed they approach quite quickly, and we ended up doing circles and even heading south in order to let them pass as they certainly have the Right of Way over us.
The swells continued to build in the early hours of the morning. At this point we were starting to see lights along the shoreline, but with the swells growing the lights would disappear as we went into the troughs and then the lights would be visible as we rose up onto the swells. Very eerie.
The track we were on turned out to be great in pointing west but being pushed north because of the gulf stream. About 5:30 am we were within about 4 miles of the Ft. Pierce inlet. Then things got dicey!
As we approached the inlet we had a number of things of going on. I was down below trying to get enough cell signal on Sharon’s phone (mine was still on the BTC network of the Bahamas so couldn’t use it except for navigation) to get us logged in on the CBP ROAM app to get us checked back into the US. It took many tries to get us checked in, and while we were going up and down with the swells I had to re-enter all of our passport information in, including taking a picture of our passports, and get checked in.
The wind at that point was 15 – 17 knots from behind and Sharon was at the helm as she was feeling very, very nauseous and we still had the mainsail out. It was also still very dark out. Because of the way Sharon was feeling she said we had to enter the inlet to settle her stomach even if it was dark, windy and we had huge swells. This was definitely not something that was good or that we wanted to do, but we had no other choice at that point. I also noticed while I was doing the CBP ROAM information that our battery voltage was quite low, but I had to choose to ignore it as there was so much of everything else going on. If our instruments quit or whatever, we’d just have to deal with it.
So, I took the helm and together we started to identify the navigational buoy colors and headed into the inlet – still in the dark. The red and green buoys were there, but it was so hard to identify the distances between them and exactly where to go, but we eventually made it all the way in. As we came in past the first few buoys the swell grabbed us and pushed us in, and thankfully we didn’t broach the boat as we reached speeds of up to 10.2 knots!
Once we were in the inlet far enough to reach flatter water things got a lot better. It started getting lighter as we reached the end of the inlet and the beginning of the ICW and we turned north. There is a bridge just north of the inlet that only opens on the hour and half hour, and unfortunately we were about 4 minutes too late for the 6:30 am opening. But that was alright as we were in flat water, so we just circled until the 7:00 am opening and headed north on the ICW headed for Vero Beach, a distance of only about 12 miles.
We arrived at Vero Beach City Marina about 9:00 am and thankfully got the last slip they had available – thank God! Needless to say, after getting tied up and set in the slip we crashed for the rest of the day.
For the past two or three weeks our chartplotter has been acting up and not responding to touch most of the time. Thankfully it worked as we entered the inlet and came up the ICW but quite working just as we reached Vero Beach. We also had been using my phone for navigation so it was good to have that as a back up.
Sorry this is getting a bit longer, but it was a crazy ride in to Vero Beach. Since arriving we took a few days to get ourselves back together and rest. I have consulted a number of people around here about our battery voltage issue and think I understand now what was happening so don’t think there was a real issue going on. I have also now packaged up our chartplotter and sent it back to Raymarine for them to look at what is going wrong with it. I hope to have it back in the next month or so. And we have spent a lot of time cleaning the boat, doing laundry and getting the boat set to head north again.
We had originally planned on spending only a couple of days here, but because of the weather and a big storm predicted to hit tomorrow we decided to stay here through Saturday. We also ended up staying at a slip rather than going to a mooring ball as it has been so nice and convenient. There is a great community around Vero Beach so we have gone on many walks to stores, coffee shops and enjoying where we are. We have met some great people and have had a great time here.
Once we leave on Saturday we will head north and see where we end up in the next couple of weeks. Our short term goal is to get to a marina in Beaufort, SC, where we have a reservation to stay for up to a month. We should arrive in the second week of May or so, and during our stay there we will rent a car and drive back to Michigan to celebrate my Mom’s 80th birthday on May 24. In the first part of June we’ll be back to the boat and head up the rest of the ICW and then up the east coast of the US.
I have to end this now as it is so long, but it has been a good week of being back in the States. One of the exciting things of being in a slip here is the free water we have at the dock! Sometimes I turn the water on and just watch it run out of the hose! How cool!