Sailing across the Gulf Stream can be a stressful time for new cruisers who view the waterway as a mysterious path through unknown waters. With enough study and research, the veil can be lifted and logic brought to the situation.
We crossed the Gulf Stream when two factors were predicted to be at hand: less current, and a west wind.
Less current means that you will experience less northward push as you sail across the stream. It also means that weather will have less of an effect on the sea state.
West wind gives us a nice push that will carry us on a downwind course across the stream, allowing us to fight the current and make it towards our destination with ease.
Aside from these conditions, we also looked for conditions that would make the Gulf Stream much calmer for us. First, we wanted to have the days before we left to have a South Wind, that way the wind and current are flowing in the same direction. This will subdue the seas and make the passage much easier on the crew. The second thing we looked for is for light conditions before we set out. If the winds are from the south at 5 knots, they will produce little wave action, but if they are blowing 25 knots, it will be like climbing into a washing machine!
We had our calm current, our calm days preceding our voyage, and the predicted west wind. Everything looked like it was going to be in our favor! So we set out at 11pm, and left Lake Worth Inlet with the outgoing tide.
As soon as we made it out to sea, we found that the predictions did not match the actual conditions. The winds were from the North West, and the current was much stronger than estimated. Our bow was pointed at 150 degrees, while our heading was 90 degrees. In other words, we were sailing South-South-East but moving due East! We managed to use the Northerly wind to fight the current and keep us from drifting north, but it did generate some seas in the process. Thankfully, with our bow pointed South, the seas were following and we were able to comfortably ride up and over all the waves without any breaking over the stern.
This worked out well, and we were all comfortable, but it was a very slow journey. We were using all of our speed to fight the current, and only moving East at 1.8 knots. When you have a 60 mile journey, this quickly becomes a long trip!
When the winds were starting to lighten up, we went full sail and pointed our bow due east, allowing the current to drift us north with it. We picked up speed and made it out of the Gulf Stream before the winds got too light to sail in, which would have forced us much further north! We arrived in the wee hours of the morning near Memory Rock and anchored in a deep section to avoid colliding with a coral head in the dark. The next morning, when the winds returned, we finished our sail south to West End where we checked in with Customs.
The entire journey took almost two days to complete, but we did manage to make it there under sail with our little electric motor.