The Gulf Stream may seem like a thing of wonders, but it is no different from any other waterway. It has its tendencies and if you learn how to navigate it, you can use it to your advantage.
The Gulf Stream is a very warm current that flows up the east coast of the United States. This warm water is teeming with life, as the nutrient rich water flows through the ocean like a river on land. At night, the bioluminescent dinoflagellates will glisten your wake as you sail along. By day, you will be escorted by all sorts of marine life that is hitching a ride on this ocean sized moving walkway.
The current is usually around 3 knots, but at times it can be as high as 4 to 6 knots. If you are sailing along at 5 knots through the water, you will actually be doing 8 knots over ground! Riding this current may seem like a dream come true, giving you free miles as you close in on your destination.
While this waterway may give you a push, it will also give some punches! When the wind blows with the current, the journey will be uneventful and quick. When the wind blows opposite the current, the waves will build tall, steep, and boxy. They will break quickly as the current pushes them forward and the wind pushes them back. These conditions are only a windshift away and it will change from mundane to hell in a few minutes!
To avoid a situation like this, it is best to neglect the potential push from the Gulf Stream and always sail next to it. When the winds are good, you will move at an acceptable pace. When the winds are bad, you will be glad you are not in that cacophony of waves. Ideally, you only want to be in the stream when you are crossing it, and you want to keep your time there brief. Make quick crossings when the winds are blowing with the current and the weather looks stable. On average, the Gulf Stream is 40-60 miles wide, so if you enter it in the morning, you should be able to exit the other side by that afternoon.
To see if you have entered the stream, you can measure the water temperature. The Gulf Stream will be much hotter than the surrounding waters, usually in the 80Fs. As you get deeper into the stream, the water temperature will rise slightly more. As you exit the other side, you will see the temperature decline rapidly.
The Gulf Stream is a magical place, but it can turn on you with just a whisper of wind.