Gulf Stream

Our Gulf Stream Crossing

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.

Sailing the Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream is a current of water that is shrouded in mystery and confusion. This is all due to a lack of study of the water instead of actual lack of information available about the water.

The Gulf Stream has been studied for decades and is very well understood at this point in time. It flows from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, up by Florida and the East Coast of the United States, and then over towards the UK. The Gulf Stream is composed of warmer and saltier water than the ocean water it contacts, and it has its own wave pattern to it.

Now, there are a few horror stories that will commonly come out of the Gulf Stream. First, has to do with navigation; the second has to do with weather.

When you enter the Gulf Stream, you enter a body of water with on average a 3.5 knot current. There are areas that can even exceed 4.5 knots! When you are sailing East or West, you will be pushed North at this rate. The problem with this is people won't realize they are being pushed north and then get pushed off course!

If your crossing takes 10 hours, you can expect to be pushed at least 30 miles north! If you are not expecting this, you may find yourself never reaching the landfall you planned.

The second issue has to do with weather. Since the Gulf Stream has such a powerful current, any wind out of the North will kick up the seas in a horrible and fierce manner. Any north wind will produce a stereotypical "square" waves with steep faces and float tops. These waves can make the journey less than enjoyable.

The trick to avoid these waves is to only cross when the wind is blowing out of the South, East, or West.

To cross the Gulf Stream in an uneventful fashion, all you need to do is prepare to be pushed north (so start out further south than your destination) and only cross when there is no northern component to the wind.

As you cross, you will know you have entered the Gulf Stream because the water gets warmer, a new swell can be seen in the water, and the bioluminescence at night is magical!