May 13, 2015
We had a few “Night to Remember” moments crossing back to the U.S. on Monday and Tuesday but are now snug and secure in our old slip at the Loggerhead Marina in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
The long delay in Sylestial Star and Carolina Moon departing for the states from Leeward Marina on Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas was primarily a function of the development and passage of the pre-season Tropical Storm, “Ana”. Once it slowly moved into the Carolinas, a “weather window” opened and boats began leaving Leeward Marina to begin their homeward journeys, to the Fort Pierce Inlet, Brunswick, Georgia, Fernandina Beach, Charleston, or, in our case, the Lake Worth Inlet in Florida.
After our departure from the Leeward Marina, we headed northwest and dropped the hook overnight at Powell Cay and then Great Sale Cay on our second night out. The next morning we departed our anchorage at 9 am and began our long last leg back to the states. As we headed west from Great Sale Cay, the whitecaps on the shallow Little Bahama Bank proved to be an early indicator of what we might expect when we reached the ocean for our overnight crossing.
A forecast southeast wind increased at 5:30 pm, almost as soon as we completed our 8 1/2 hour run over the Bank and through the reef just south of “Memory Rock” and then onto the ocean. Ten to twelve knots now became fifteen to eighteen knots with gusts blowing to twenty four.
This “weather window”, which we had waited almost 2 weeks for, did provide us with the opening we needed to return to the states. It did, however, nessesitate a rather sloopy ocean run throughout the night with 3′ or more waves running against our port stern quarter from the southeast. With a wave period of only 4 seconds, Sylestial Star was constantly being twisted and turned as we(or our autopilot) maneuvered unevenly up, over and down swells and occasional cresting waves. The masthead light of Carolina Moon, with Mike and Bejay aboard, swayed in the darkness 1/2 to 1 mile away as they accompanied Sylestial Star on our return voyage.
Earlier, once we passed through the reef and onto the ocean, we had turned south to compensate for the effect of the strong northbound Gulf Stream current and allow us to better angle our passage northwest to our destination, the Lake Worth Inlet. This resulted in wind and waves more on our port beam for several hours until we turned northwest, bringing the weather against our port stern quarter for the rest of the passage. We deployed our headsail throughout the night in an effort to counteract the sloppiness and stabilize the boat.
Throughout the evening we monitored the track of multiple storm systems moving across the nightime sky from the southeast. Ugly clouds, rain and lots of lightning provided us with quite a spectacle, but none of the storms passed close, so our passage was a dry one, at least as far as the effects of rainwater were concerned. Lightning over a nightime ocean has always seemed somewhat errie when experienced from a sailboat.
We eventually settled into a routine with the sea conditions during the night, interrupted occasionally by the effect of a cresting wave on our port stern quarter. The waves continued rolling under us with a frequency of 4 seconds. As we expected, the sea became sloppier the closer we came to the shallower waters off the U.S. east coast. That’s when the real fun began!
It is a real challenge to enter an inlet against an ebb current of around 2 knots with ocean waves of 3′ or more rushing toward shore in opposition. So, the original plan was to enter the inlet at the break of dawn, as long as possible prior to the appearance of the maximum ebb current flowing out to sea, thereby allowing for a smoother entrance.
The untimely arrival of an incoming cruise ship in the pre-dawn darkness, however, caused a significant delay in our entrance run. And so we circled offshore, riding up and over cresting waves in the darkness as we awaited the ship’s arrival. At one point, we saw Carolina Moon dissapear from view after taking a direct broadside hit on a wave crest as we waited in the turbulent waters outside the inlet.
The cruise ship, “Grand Celebration” eventually informed Sylestial Star and Carolina Moon that it was going to wait outside the inlet for the arrival of a Harbor Pilot who would bring the ship into port. Rather than continuing to wait any longer, we decided to run the inlet now that dawn provided us with better visuals and to avoid entering later at maximum ebb current. We began our run as the pilot boat pounded its way by on its way to the cruise ship.
Carolina Moon, with more local knowledge, went first. The rapid exit of a large fishing boat knocked her sideways in the witches brew of confused water that passed for the inlet. She recovered and we both hugged the port side jetty as close as we dared in order to minimize the effect of the turbulence. Amazingly, the cruise ship began bearing down on us as we were half way thru the inlet. At full throttle, we eventually slid into calmer water ahead of her, passed Peanut Island and turned north on the ICW, arriving at our slip in Loggerhead, Palm Beach Gardens, around 9am. A very interesting 24 hours!
We bring back with us many special memories from our 6 week adventure in the Bahamas. Beautiful waters and islands, getting to know the character and history of the people(when there were any) on each island. Seeing old friends and making new ones and sharing adventures with them and our fellow travelers, Mike and Bejay on Carolina Moon.
So what will our next chapter be?