Crossing The Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream staggers the mind.
At the height of the current in the Straits of Florida, more than 30 million cubic meters of water are moved per second, To put that force of water into perspective, consider this: if you combined the Amazon, the Mississippi, the St Lawrence and every other river that empties into the Atlantic Ocean, they would move a whopping 0.6 million cubic meters per second. For those of us that sail the Great Lakes think of the entire mass of Lake Ontario moving at a speed of 5 knots.

Crossing the Gulf stream

I left from Peanut Island at Lake Worth Inlet ICW mile 1018 in a 26 foot sloop similar to a Bayfield25. This is a good anchorage to get ready to make a crossing of the Gulf Stream to West End in the Bahamas. The first thing I will say is check the weather and wait. Wait for the weather that gives you enough time to motor across .Yes I said MOTOR across. If you haul up a piece of sail consider it a bonus but get the trip over as quick as possible there is better sailing waiting on the other side. Don't leave if the winds are from anything North. A north wind against a north flowing stream will generate a short choppy sea and the stronger the winds the higher the chop. That kind of a choppy ride will tax the boat and you. You don't get much of a choice about the course the Gulf Stream is flowing north and you want to go east. The stream has a recorded flow of 3 to 6 knots in places. If you can only make 5 or 6 knots then you are going to get swept north. The most common coarse a sailboat takes looks like an "S" when plotted on the chart. This is to get you started heading south on a southeast coarse. Then the stream sets you north .You keep on the same heading. When you get out of the stream you will probably be north of your desired landfall and hopefully in calmer waters. I did the trip with a promise of winds clocking to the southeast from south and diminishing. Well it did clock but the winds increased. All the muck in my fuel tank decided to mix with the fuel and clogged the filter, enough to reduce my rpm's. Its quite disturbing to hear your engine sputter and then race to full throttled only to sputter again.Once out of the stream the seas were confused and there was no comfortable course to travel. As the bow dove through the waves the caulking holding the lens in my forward hatch let go and a 1 inch hole allowed a lot of water to soak the forward birth. The auto bilge pump came on regularly, about twice per hour for 10 minutes . We thought we were sinking and had no idea how the water was getting in. It was to rough to go below to find the leak, objects were flying everywhere. We found new gods to pray to. When we sighted land and altered course our dingy surfed towards the transom. It flew into the backstay and took out the Bar-B-Q. It was now too heavy with water and the tow line broke. We preformed a man overboard drill in heavy seas to retrieve it. Without it we would be seriously handicapped. Landfall was made at Westend in the Bahamas after 15 hours of this abusive crossing. That was my first crossing
Stonecutter drying out everthing on deck in the sun . I've done a few since then, some on water so calm it was glass and the fish swam in the shadow of Stonecutter to avoid the sun. I will not leave on a promise from the weatherman. I will wait for the weather I want.

Setting a Course
The 55 NM (nautical miles) across the Gulf Stream from Lake Worth Inlet to West End Bahamas can be a piece of cake or the worst part of the voyage . The first thing is planning it carefully course, weather, and timing. In the days leading up to a departure get out the charts and plot you're coarse across the stream. Chart No# 11460 or 26320 shows the Gulf Stream crossing the best. Lets go into the calculations for the crossing as taught by the Powers Squadron, Coast Guard Auxiliary and Colleges teaching coastal navigation. First establish the distance and bearing of West End, Bahamas and Lake Worth. I came up with 94 degrees true and 55 nautical miles almost due east. Your GPS will be more exact. You must estimate your speed over the bottom against the stream. To do this draws a vector diagram representing 1 hour of travel on a coarse of 95 degrees. The Gulf Stream averaging 2.5 knots North for calculations across the entire ocean distance. On a clean page of paper with compass and dividers spread the distance you will travel in one hour at your estimated speed and If you haven't done any routes before that have be affected by a current this is one course that the helmsman/person and the navigator better collaborate on. It's a good idea to act as a team on all trips planed . I know I would have saved me at least an argument or 2 Had I paid more attention to the next days coarse.
A note don't use 3M 5200 to seal a lens on a hatch or port, its sensitive to UV and will degrade.


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