December 6, 2020
On Friday, the weather window opened up for a crossing to The Bahamas and so I took it. After all of the work done to the boat there was much to worry about and so I also opted to bring one of my old crew mates, Marianne aboard for the journey.
Marianne had helped me on the transit last spring from Port Canaveral to Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, VA. Originally, I was expecting to head South through the ICW to Fort Lauderdale or Miami before crossing to The Bahamas, so similar assistance in the ICW was needed. She graciously agreed to join as my crew, but what I found out is that crossing the Gulf Stream on a small boat was on her bucket list . . . yeah, what I’m really saying is I was doing her a favour. (Kidding Marianne, thank you for joining me).
I have listened to folks for a while about the crossing and there is much to worry about with such a venture (North winds being one of the biggest worries), but also the Gulf Stream’s constant push North means a lot more time crossing than one might think. That is particularly true on a slow boat like Home Free (cruising speed about 6.5 knots). At the Lake Worth inlet (West Palm Beach), the Gulf Stream starts right at the inlet at about 0.7 knots, peaks at about 2.9 knots about 10 miles off shore and then drops down gradually to about 0.5 knots at Freeport on the other side. But it’s a constant push North. Here is a near real-time view from PredictWind of the current this morning.
In the end, I decided that spending a day to go South to Fort Lauderdale was a wasted day because crossing the Gulf Stream directly would only cost me an extra two or perhaps three hours. It’s about 83 nautical miles (straight line) from Lake Worth to Freeport, its about 90 nm straight line from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. PredictWind calculated my time for each in the very specific amount of 0.5 days (they have more granular calculations, but it was a difference of less than an hour). And almost as importantly, I wanted to see Freeport. I have never been here before.
In any case that was the plan, Marianne agreed to join me even though I wasn’t going South first (that was my original request, was for help in the ICW) and the die was cast. Here is the path that Home Free actually took:
After a few trips to the grocery store for frozen and fresh goods, some clean up of the boat and some additional delivery of spares for the boat, we untied, went to the fuel dock and loaded the dinghy. We secured the dinghy and all of the other items on the boat and began our journey. Unfortunately, I lost my best pair of glasses here . . . another gift to the depths of the ICW.
During the stay in North Palm Beach, I had a lot of service completed on the boat. Not the least of which was a decision to put a new transmission on the wing engine instead of fixing the errors of the last service person in Greece. Now I know I have a good, new, working transmission. None of those issues had been tested when we pulled off of the dock, so there was some consternation about what could happen and how. We had serviced the davit (would it work properly?), a new rudder bearing (is the rudder properly centered?), new fluids on all of the engines (any leaks?), a new wing transmission (leaks, seals, proper operation?) and of course there is the normal course boat things that one worries about (is everything tied down).
As you might guess, by that lead in, the answer was that everything was not okay. To be clear, service people are not immune to small errors when large scale work is done. I always have high hopes, but as I was doing my final check before leaving the dock I noticed that the transmission guy hadn’t quite put everything back together. I did this work, it was simple, with just five or six screws to put in and then run the engine.
Alas, this was not enough. After leaving the inlet, I started up the wing engine to give it a proper test. After about 10 minutes, the temperature rose quickly and set off the alarms. I shut it down immediately and headed to the engine room. The exhaust manifold was roasting. It took me all of 10 seconds to figure out that neither the transmission service guy or I had opened the thru-hull to let water back into the engine. Ooops. This thru hull is right beside the shaft of the main engine, so I had to put the boat into neutral before doing anything. I got the boat to neutral, opened the thru-hull and got the boat moving again. I restarted the wing and made sure (this time) that there was a flow of water through the wing engine. The temperature began to drop and all seems well. I will test the engine more over the next week when I move on from Freeport.
There are two subsequent stories from all of this that are worth telling. The first is a repeat. I use YachtTech in North Palm Beach for my service, in part because they sold me the boat, but also because they pick up the phone when I call. I figured out what was wrong on my own in under a minute, but I called someone from YachtTech to review what I should be concerned about. As I was running straight East and running out of cellular service I had to choose to either turn back and make sure the boat was in good shape or make the decision to keep going with confidence that all would be well. I got Jay from YachtTech on the phone twice in a 10 minute period to tell him what was wrong, to review what concerns I should have and to let him know that all seemed well and I was progressing East. This is why I use these guys. Thank you YachtTech.
The second point is that just about the time all of this was going on I was entering the fastest part of the Gulf Stream. Home Free was in idle forward or Neutral for all of about 15 minutes. The Gulf Stream pushed me North by about 1 mile in that time. Wow. When you hear stories about boaters ending up in parts of the world a long way from home after a dead engine, this is cause. (It’s also one of the reasons many start their journey to The Bahamas so far South, if you have a problem, you have hours or days to get attention before being pushed out into the broader ocean, a long way from help.)
As it turns out, this was a very small problem. It cost me about 20 minutes of time on the transit and off we went. One of the other ideas that I had was to push as FAST as possible through the fastest parts of the Gulf Stream and then turn south afterward. When you do that, its an uneasy feeling as you are going the wrong direction really fast. Then you are going the right direction, but painfully slow. I kept to the plan and I arrived in Freeport within about 20 minutes of my intended arrival time. That is about how much time/distance I lost bobbing in the Gulf Stream while getting the wing engine sorted out. Pretty good overall.
We crossed in modest winds, modest waves and dropped anchor just South of Freeport around 4am. While it was a bit bumpy where we dropped anchor, we were in 25 feet of water about 1 mile from the Grand Bahama Yacht Club entrance. This is a completely new place and so I wasn’t going to try to finesse the anchorage at 4am. The water goes from 1000 feet deep to shore line in less than a half mile of water, so I was expecting a bit of current/chop and I didn’t want to guess where the change was from 20 feet to zero feet.
After catching three hours of sleep, we moved into the bay and sidled up to the dock for a customs and immigration check in. One of the key concerns for many surrounds getting into the country, with a boat, during COVID. Here is that story.
First of all, The Bahamas has a pretty nifty system from what I can tell. On their website you have access to an online travel visa (Bahamas Travel Health Visa). Before you go, login, create a profile and then provide proof that you are not a COVID carrier. This is done through a PCR test.
I found a free clinic in West Palm Beach to get a COVID test, including a result within 24 hours and created my profile there too. Now I have a profile with The Bahamas government, a profile with a testing centre in West Palm Beach and I did get my result back in 24 hours, just like they promised.
It goes without saying I don’t have COVID, or else The Bahamas would have rejected me. In any case I provided my (and later Marianne did the same) data to The Bahamas and they approved the trip over. I am still not completely clear if I need to fill in the visa as I move between islands, but I will clarify that over the next day or two.
Having progressed through the registration of the people and the boat into The Bahamas I made the decision to sit here, tied to a dock for the next 4-5 days as there is a weather bomb coming through on Monday/Tuesday (its the same one that is expected to hit the North East of the US/Canada. It’s a big, big system). The safe option is to stay here and not be anchored in 25-30 knots of wind for no good reason. (In the picture below, I am where the little green dot is.)
Marianne will depart for home today, and I will see how the roads are here for cycling (hopefully better than Nassau) as well as cleaning the boat and enjoying some sunshine and checking out the neighbourhood.
Next update once I have some pictures of Freeport instead of all this navigation/weather stuff.