It’s Friday morning and we are about 200 miles south of Cape Hatteras and just a bit more than half way home. For the last two days we have been navigating from waypoint to waypoint provided by Chris Parker, the weather router, with the goal of staying in the middle of the Gulf Stream to make the most of the 3-4 knot northward flow of this north flowing “conveyor belt”.
As I have mentioned, and you probably know, the “stream” is a massive “river” of water moving up the coast from the Gulf of Mexico toward the North Atlantic, carrying a huge amount of tropical heat along with it. This flow has a dramatic effect on the climate of the North Atlantic as well as coastal areas such as England and parts of Europe which would be substantially cooler without the heat that the stream delivers.
As I understand it, this flow is a result of the strong easterly trade winds that blow relentlessly, day after day, month after month, across from Africa toward the Caribbean. As these strong winds blow from west to east, they cause currents to form that flow toward the west, through the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, water builds up as it reaches Central America and has to go somewhere. And, the only place for this water to go is around the north side of Cuba, past the Florida Keys and north between the Bahamas and Florida. I don’t know how much water the Gulf Stream pushes past Florida each hour but when you consider that the Gulf Stream is about 40 miles at that point and about a mile deep, that’s a lot of water moving along at an average speed of say 3-4 knots. Let’s see, I guess that would be about 12 cubic miles of water every hour. Hmm… Hard to wrap my head around that one. It’s probably safe to say that that’s more water than flows from every river in the world, combined. I can’t “Google that” so perhaps you can tell me if I am on the right track. Well?
Anyway, we are still in the midst of the Gulf Stream and making our way north. Another thing that strikes me when I am on passage is just how S-L-O-W sailing really is. Brenda left Nassau and flew home in a few hours. Us, we will take a week. They say that the world is getting smaller but when you are on a sailboat it’s still VERY, VERY BIG. As a rule of thumb, it takes a day in a sailboat to go the distance a car can go in a few hours. That’s unless, of course, unless you live in New York. Never mind, it’s too early for such sophomoric comparisons and is probably akin to questions that I might have asked when I was in college, late on a Friday night like “what if there was no gravity”.
Ok, so here’s where we stand. With 200 miles between us and Cape Hatteras, we have covered about 570nm (nautical miles) from the Bahamas and have about 620nm left to go for a total distance of about 1,200nm. However, the distance that Pandora has gone “through the water” is less as the Gulf Stream has been giving us a boost for several days of between 3-4 MPH. Because of this, the mechanical log, a small paddle wheel on the bottom of the boat, only shows about 400 NM. That’s a big difference; a combination of the positive flow of the Gulf Stream combined with any problems with the calibration of my mechanical log. One way or the other, by boat, it’s still a LONG way home…
Some time back I noted that cruising is often described as “boat repair in exotic places” and we got a small dose of that yesterday. When we are using the engine, I open up the engine compartment a number of times each day to check and to be sure that all is well. I check coolant levels in the engine, signs of oil leaks and look for any stray water in the bilge. Yesterday during one of these checks, I noticed a very small amount of water weeping from a drain hole that comes out from behind the engine. So, I pulled up the cover to the engine in the aft cabin and discovered that there was a small leak in at the top of the muffler where cooling water is injected into the exhaust. The leak was more of a drip but I could imagine it becoming a BIGGER leak over time. And, if it really broke, we’d have water and diesel exhaust being pumped into the boat. That wouldn’t be good, not good at all.
So, we stopped the engine and sailed as best we could, given the very light winds at the time, and considered how to address the problem. Happily, I carry lots of spare parts and “goops” of various sorts. In this case, I had some epoxy putty that hardens in about 20 minutes and is very sticky and turns rock hard when cured. We cleaned up the offending area and gooped it up using half of the package. When this was hardened we fired up the engine again. Alas, there was still a very small leak where we had ended the patch, half way around the fitting. Happily, I still had half of the package left so we continued the “patch” the entire way around the fitting. SUCCESS! No more leak, for now… Fingers crossed. No, make that fingers and toes crossed. I’m optimistic.
I was pretty proud of myself to have had something aboard that would solve the problem. The difficulty in having spare parts and repair “potions” aboard as it’s impossible to know what’s going to fail, and something ALWAYS fails. In this case, while I didn’t have a spare for the piece itself, I did have “goop” and goop can solve a lot of ills. Problem solved, at least for now. As Gilda Radner used stay “It’s always something”. Yes, indeed and double that on a boat.
As I write this we are motoring along merrily, still with a 3-4 kt boost in speed over the bottom, compliments of the Gulf Stream, that we will carry for the next 200 miles until we reach Cape Hatteras and exit the Gulf Stream. At that point, it’s a straight shot of of about 380 miles to Montauk Long Island where we will enter Long Island Sound.
According to Chris Parker, the weather router, we should begin seeing solid SW winds beginning tonight or tomorrow ,Saturday, as we exit a fairly windless ridge that is between us an Hatteras.
It’s amazing how wind speed and direction can vary, even over very short distances. Our friends on Kalunamoo left the Bahamas at the same time we did but left from the Abacos, about 100 miles north and east of Nassau. While we have had wind of about 10-15kts much of the time, they have had to motor the entire way, usually on glassy calm waters with virtually no wind. As of two days ago they were about 200 miles east of us and just a moment ago we heard from them on the VHF radio that they were able to work their way west and are now about 40 miles behind us in the Gulf Stream. And, now they are the ones sailing and we are under power. However, as they enter the area where we are now, they will likely lose the wind and not pick it up again until they clear Hatteras. Are you following this? I sort of am…
So, as we continue to head north I am hopeful the Chris Parker’s forecast will hold and we will pick up wind tonight and carry these SW winds for the rest of the trip.
So, when will we be home?
If we can carry an average speed of 7kts for the rest of the trip, and we probably can even do a bit better than that, we will be in Essex at some point on Monday, a six day run from Nassau. That would be quite good. Well, we’ll have to see what Mother Nature has in store for us.
And, I have to remind myself that we are only half way home and a lot can happen between here and there. Besides, we still have to pass Hatteras, the “graveyard of the Atlantic”. No, probably not a threat in the next few days but hey, you never know.
“Bob, Bob, stop it, you’re getting dramatic!!!”.