Even though we are still more than half a week of sailing from home, I feel like I am almost there. That’s interesting as we are just abreast of Bermuda, about 150 miles to the east, which is still a long way from home, by any measure. Not to put too fine a point on it but, we are at just about the same latitude as the Florida/Georgia border.
It wasn’t that many years ago when that distance remaining in our trip was the entire distance that I’d be sailing to get Pandora home from a winter of sailing in the Bahamas. How perspectives can change. Somehow 700 miles to go doesn’t seem all that long. Heck, I can still remember when a single overnight to Maine from the Cape Cod Canal seemed like a really long way. Hmm…
Yesterday was a day of motoring, nearly 24 hours as we approached a front, causing the wind to clock from the east, the south and ultimately to the southwest, where it has settled for now. It’s not possible to sail at a decent clip when the wind is that light and from directly behind. Happily, shortly after midnight it had moved to the SW and freshened to the mid-teens, making it possible to sail again. Now, with the wind solidly in the mid-teens, we are making good time again.
As a point of interest, we have now covered, according to the plotter, nearly 900 miles and have only put 33 hours on the engine after five days at sea. Unless they are involved in long passages it’s unlikely that most will ever have that much time under sail, and certainly not in a single trip.
I have had difficulty in reaching Chris Parker on the SSB radio during his morning broadcasts but at 18:00, when he broadcasts on a higher frequency of 12MH, he has come in as clear as if he was on board with us. It’s during this time of the day that a group of cruisers and Ham operators operate what is called the “SSCA trans-Atlantic cruisers net”. It’s a terrific service for those of us making passage in the North Atlantic. It’s during this net that cruisers, mostly those crossing to the Azores on this trip, check in, give their position and share how things are going. Hearing their voices lets me know that we are not out here alone. Well, we are actually quite alone, but it’s nice to know that there are others making passages too. To at least hear a voice counts for something.
So, here we are, sailing along on a nice broad reach with fairly solid wind and smooth seas. However, that’s not going to last for long as the wind will go away as we cross the front over the next day or so. After that, things get complicated as we will be approaching a “cold eddy” and then the Gulf Stream.
As the Gulf Stream passes Cape Hatteras, it is deflected from it’s more or less northerly path and veers sharply out on a east-north-easterly direction. That sharp change in direction, as a result of the shallow waters of Hatteras, causes the Stream to become more confused, with less defined boarders or “walls.” Along with the spreading out of the current, eddies form where the waters of the GS mix with the adjacent stationary colder ocean waters, causing offshoots, or eddies, often running at 3-5kts. This is particularly pronounced on the south side of the Stream.
As a result, it is critical to hit the “right side of these offshoots as it can mean the difference between a “lift” in speed of a few knots or a current against you at the same speeds. For a boat moving along at say, 7kts, this can mean an over-the-bottom speed of 9-10kts with a favorable current or 3-5kts OTB against the current of the eddy.
With this in mind, Chris Parker has given us coordinates that are supposed to put us on the “right” side of the eddy. After that, I have two coordinates, one to enter and the other to exit, the Gulf Stream. All of this will unfold over the next two days or so as the eddy is about 250nm north of us, and the exit out of the GS about 200nm beyond that. Interestingly, the core of the GS is only about 50 miles wide in that area with the rest of the area, literally hundreds, dare I say thousands, of square miles of ocean affected by this “river” of water marching north from the Gulf of Mexico.
The relentless trade winds blowing from Africa toward the Caribbean literally push water into the Gulf of Mexico and as that water piles up toward Central America, it has nowhere to go but around the western end of Cuba, through the Florida Straits, up the east coast of the US and into the north Atlantic. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this is the largest movement of water, or “river”, on the planet.
So, after a winter of sailing south on a port tack and a return trip nearly all the way to Bermuda on a starboard tack, the rest of our trip will require contending with constantly shifting wind speeds and directions. With perhaps four days remaining for our voyage, we will likely be faced with conditions that range from nearly windless to near gale force.
As my Dad used to say, “Bob, that comes with the territory” so I guess we will just have to see what happens next and deal with it.
And, speaking of “dealing” we plan on pulling down the main when the wind lightens up to see how our repair is holding up.
Right now, great sailing on a broad reach. We will see what the next 12 hours brings.
Stay tuned, I hope.