We’re baaaaaack! It was the best sail of our whole cruise! We departed from Old Bahamas Bay Marina, Bahamas West End at 7:30 a.m. crossing the powerful Gulf Stream destined for Florida’s St. Lucie inlet.
Twelve miles away from the Florida coast, with land in sight, we met with another dreaded daily storm…this one a doozie! We were heading into a black wall. Multiple storms were converging so we prepared well in advance bringing in the sails, battening down the hatches, setting out the foul weather gear, and doing a final check below decks. Dogs were sequestered in the guest cabin with pillows and padding, side ports locked.
Then, the inevitable. Winds climbed to over 41 knots and Roger battled the mounting ten to fifteen foot waves. I watched the frothy white caps blow off, horizontally. The force of the winds was such that we were being pushed backwards, our engine barely able to cope. We sought out storm escape routes on the GPS monitor to no avail. It was now a matter of time and doing everything right.
We spotted a small open fishing boat in the distance trying to escape the onslaught and wondered how they would manage.
We were safe and managing the challenges however if the situation worsened, well, we might be in trouble…so, we made a decision and I VHF-radioed the U.S. Coast Guard. We didn’t want to call it a ‘Pan-Pan’ although we could or should have…but I did give them GPS coordinates and advised of our situation, and mentioned the fishing boat.
We had a good exchange of info and when I confirmed that we were not in immediate peril, they promised to check back on us in 15 minutes after attending to a ‘May Day’.
To put this into context, the radio call was not exactly easy…I was shouting to be heard above the winds and reception was full of static and intermittent. Eventually the Coast Guard locked us on Channel 16 as we were unable to connect on an alternate channel. Even so, we had to repeat often; ultimately I gave up expecting to hear everything they said and just hoped they heard me. All the while I was pitching about despite Roger’s best efforts to steer over the mountains of waves coming from multiple directions.
Oh yeah…there was rain, lots of hard driving rain. Obviously I don’t have pics of the worst times – that’s when we’re working hardest to survive the challenges!
We got through it all but we had more hurdles ahead of us!
The storm set us back two hours from reaching the inlet. One should never enter an unfamiliar harbour by dark. Timing was critical as the St. Lucie inlet is narrow and inside are a series of narrow channels to negotiate. We arrived when the sun was on the horizon and directly at eye level blinding us…after much deliberation we gratefully entered into Florida waters!
Almost immediately we touched ground! The sandbar wasn’t on our chart and we subsequently learned that this was a local knowledge hazzard. It was dark, confusing, and busy with post-cocktail early Friday evening boaters. Lucky us, one of the boats went out of their way to redirect us into safe depths.
There were several corridors to choose from and we had to figure things out quickly. If we made the mistake of venturing outside of these dredged waterways we would be aground and screwed – did I mention that we were tired and spent after getting through the storm?
By moonlight and GPS technology we slowly and carefully threaded our way, and soon were the only boat around. Cautiously we manoeuvred under two fixed bridges, and one old railway bridge (thank God the Bridge Master was working late on a Friday night!).
I waved around our mega-flashlight to search out markers red and green while Roger stuck to the helm. Once we had to stop the boat and orient ourselves – there were so many tiny lights around to confuse us, and many directional options – after all, Florida is the boating capital of the world and her waterways can be almost as complex as an urban centre!
We were exhausted and at times miserable. We had our turns at ‘expressive venting’ borne out of fatigue and frustration, but we were best at working through everything together and propping each other up as needed.
Eventually we arrived at the gas dock of Sunset Marina, Stuart, FL. The dogs were thrilled to visit a grassy patch. Roger and I were dazed, relieved and relishing our much earned generous portions of Scotch. We spent much time gazing up at the full moon appreciative of her fortuitous lunar schedule. We marvelled at the day’s events and said a few prayers of thanks.
Then we retired to our bed, and unlike la bella luna, went out like a light.