Sunday, December 22, 2013

Engulfed by the Gulf


There are palm trees growing in Glasgow, Scotland.  Theories around this phenomenon support the Gulf Stream as the mode of passage for the tropical seeds.  This ocean current begins in west Africa, crosses the Atlantic, runs north along the US east coast up into Canada and then back east into the north Atlantic over to Europe.  With speeds of up to 6 knots, the stream carries its own weather system as tropical waters cool in the journey north.  Water temperatures in the Stream are up to five degrees warmer than the surrounding waters.  We watch our water temperature gauge to know when we are in the Stream.  It rises within seconds of crossing into the current.

We really care about this fascinating formation, perhaps not as much as trading and war ships of the past who used it to propel them back to Europe, but enough to know that it can make a voyage lovely and fun, or absolutely miserable.  Our 7-day offshore passage from Southport, North Carolina to Exumas, Bahamas was of the misery type.  If you look at the above chart, which I downloaded and we used throughout our trip, Southport is at 34 degrees N latitude and 78 degrees W longitude, the middle of the two crescents.  We headed southeast to 76 degrees W Longitude and then turned south.  We thought we would have a couple of days in the Stream, crossing at an angle to it to reduce head-on waves, wind, and the current.  We were mistakenly optimistic, and spent six days of the seven bashing into lumpy seas, Martin's term for the irregular wave directions and heights that toss us around.    Friends Maite and Ed were along for the experience as they are picking up their new Antares in the new year, and Martin made us a group of five.  On longer and rough passages, we usually get a break of a day or two where things smooth out and we can move comfortably around the boat but the Stream just wouldn't let us go.   I couldn't shake my incessant nausea, and was exhausted by day two from the rocking and rolling.  Walking around is an exercise in trying to estimate where the floors are as they drop out from under one's feet.  Walls smashed into my elbows as I tried to grab hand holds.  Forget about cooking, although food is the last thing on anyone's mind.  I had faithfully prepared stew, chili, and soup in advance and they all sat in the fridge as we tried to keep crackers and fruit cups down.

Photos from Maite and Ed
There were, however, moments of awe.  We were hardly out of Southport harbour before we spotted several dolphins hunting on our starboard side, and were greeted by several more upon our arrival in the Bahamas.  The winds backed to the east so we were able to sail most of the way, peaking at 11 knots every so often.  My favourite indicator of Stream proximity was the trail of bioluminescent light sparkling in the wake of our transoms.  These creatures live in warm water so while I lamented at how long they were hanging around and therefore that we were still in the Stream, I loved watching the green glowing lights dancing in the foamy waves.

Most importantly, we arrived safely and soundly, and are now anchored at Stocking Island.  We have been here before and love the white sandy beaches, along with access to provisions and fresh water.  It has absolutely been worth the trip.

                                             


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