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Old 12-12-2008, 12:04   #1
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FL to Bahamas, What's the Real Deal ?

So I have some rather irreverent questions about the Gulf stream crossing.

I have been reading a lot about this. And it seems that the ususal approach is to go to noname for the jump-off.

This is where i start getting confused. Why are people convoying such a short hop, and how come everyone is looking for the "perfect" Conditions?

I understand the counterflow of the Gulf stream vs. A northerly component has wavebuilding action. But where i disconnect from this is in the actual conditions.

If people have boats that can circumnavigate, how come they are so deathly afraid of having any northerly component in the wind.

Is this because it is a "first leg" and people haven't gotten used to it yet. Or is there really something in the gulf/northerly combination that is truly dangerous even with a light wind?
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Old 12-12-2008, 12:23   #2
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The issue with Northerly winds on the SE coast of Florida in the Winter is they are almost never light. The winds typically clock around from NW to NE and die down following a cold front passage, but by the time it gets to NE the stream is still in a rage because the NW and North winds have already had their effect. By the time it gets around to East the rage has started to die down. I have never been in the stream while it's in a rage but I have seen it from the air at low altitude. I would not want to be out in a small boat (less than several hundred feet) in those conditions. I've heard it described as being inside a washing machine. I myself have never seen a washing machine look as rough as the gulf stream from the air with a 20-30 knot north wind. I used to live in Melbourne near sebastian inlet and seeing that inlet on a full outgoing tide with 10 foot seas and 30 knots of wind opposing the tide looks about the same, except at Sebastian the rage is only a few hundred yards long. I've seen many boats destroyed trying to run sebastian under even more benign conditions. I can't imagine trying to cross 35 miles in anything close to that.
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Old 12-12-2008, 12:32   #3
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Well thank you, that makes perfect sense.

But the issue then is the wind strength? as you said, winds are rarely gentle in winter here, but should this be a problem at 5-10 knots as well? or is the passage more gentle at those times?

I keep hearing people waiting for weeks for a wind with no northerly component, and having lived here for about 6 years, I've never seen the winds at the 20+ mark for that long.
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Old 12-12-2008, 12:35   #4
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The waves become brick walls....not good for sailing. What usually takes me 6 hours from Miami to Bimini took me 17 hours this June. This wasn't even from the north, but the east in the 20 - 30knot range.

I see you're in Lauderdale. Take the ferry across in a northern storm, and you will get a good idea of why you don't want to expose yourself. While being on the ocean circumnavigating you have little choice to get exposed to bad weather. Most of it on the quarter, so that's a huge difference. If you have a choice when it comes to the stream. Then sit it out is GOOD advice.......i2f
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Old 12-12-2008, 12:41   #5
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I lived there for over 20 years and don't really remember winds in the 5-10 knot range out of the north in the winter, by the time they drop down that low they've usually clocked around to at least NE. Assuming that you did have those wind speeds you should not underestimate the effects of hundreds of miles of fetch in even 10 knots of wind when it is going against the current. Five however is pretty benign, but you can't neccesarily rely on it staying at 5. Keep in mind that without the friction of the land winds are often substantially higher offshore. So while it might be 5-10 near the beach 20 miles out it could be 15 and a whole different experience. Last time I was coming back from the Bahamas despite a forcast of S-SW we got off the banks about 10 miles and found a patch of Northerly winds of about 10 Knots and while not a rage the seas were 2 to 3 feet higher than in the areas where the wind was southerly
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Old 12-12-2008, 13:00   #6
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I just made an east to west crossing from Great Isaac Light to Hollywood last month. The wind was northerly at 15-18 kts, but the Gulf Stream wasn't too bad. Waves were 6-8' from two different directions for most of the trip. By the end of the nine hour crossing, near the Florida shore, the waves had built to 8-10' and were getting steeper and more rambunctuous.

The thing about the Gulf Stream is that if it gets "bad", it can be VERY bad. Current-driven waves, prevailing ocean swells, and wind-driven waves will typically come from three different directions, and they all combine and cancel each other to create conditions you'd describe as a "washing machine". Two or three 6-footers suddenly combine into a single 12' pyramid that joins you in the cockpit, or sweeps down your cabin roof and crashes into the dodger. Then a couple of waves will cancel each other just as you reach the crest, and the bottom drops out from beneath your keel--SLAM! John describes the waves as "brick walls", which is what they feel like when they crash into your boat, because they're so steep. The motions are violent and unpredictable.

In seven Stream crossings, I've seen such conditions twice. Once was with a NW wind at 18-20 kts, and the second time was in a squally stalled front with winds up to 50 kts from wherever the squalls chose to send them at us. By contrast, the times we chose to head out in the light southeasterlies following a cold front passage, the Stream was as flat as a lake.

I think people tend to be a bit over-cautious in advising sailors who've never made a crossing to wait for perfect weather, but that's probably a good thing, because if a newbee gets caught in the Really Bad Stuff, he (or his crew) might just decide to sell the boat and take up golf.
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Old 12-12-2008, 13:02   #7
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I think Dirty Harry said it best "A man has to know his limitations."
I feel like the Gulf Stream between the Bahamas and Florida gets a bad rap everytime someone tries to cross completely unprepared.
Either the boat, the crew or both are unprepared for a good pounding. The short passage becomes the focal point of their sailing life. Its the first story they tell around other boaters and the circumstances of the actual event grow more harrowing each time the story is retold.
I believe knowledge and preparation are the keys to successful and enjoyable boating in general.
Instead of taking as gospel the account of one bad passage to any destination I suggest getting many opinions as you are attempting to do here.
Learn about the weather patterns for the area you plan to travel from reliable sources and make sure your boat is ready.
Educate your crew. A friend recently arrived in Marathon from the Bahamas and his wife announced she will no longer be going out of sight of land on the boat.
The boat is a superbly maintained IP and the conditions by my estimation and her husband were quite benign.
The waves were estimated at 6-8 feet. Her perception..they were big as a house.
In the end whether it takes you 6 hours or 16 if you arrive safely with crew and craft intact does it matter that much?
All I would say is don't cast the lines off and tell everyone you will be in the Bahamas in short order if conditions indicate otherwise. Be prepared and plan for the worst.
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Old 12-12-2008, 13:04   #8
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You can cross with northerly winds of about 15 knots. The crossing will be uncomfortable. In 20 kt range...very uncomfortable. It also depends on how close to the wind you have to sail...the more angle you have off the wind and waves the less severe the ride. The more direct your angle into the wind/waves (worst scenario)...turn back unless you enjoy falling off steep square elephant sized waves. What I am trying to say is if you can sail an angle to wind and waves that's more on your beam then up to 20 kts is manageable just not comfortable. Also, from Key Biscayne it's pretty much an easterly direction until you're in the current and have to point the boat an extra 30 degrees toward the south in order to maintain your heading towards Bimini, which then changes your wind and wave angles considerably.
Hope I didn't confuse the subject, but it can be confusing when you're out there and dangerous. I know of 100 foot motorboats that wait due to the danger. It's a captains choice and decision.
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Old 12-12-2008, 13:42   #9
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would it help to start at a more southern point .. say marathon?
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Old 12-12-2008, 14:03   #10
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I think it has more to do with why we go cruising. I don't believe any of us plan on setting out in our boats to get thrown around, having something break or just be downright miserable. We have never had a bad crossing because we pick our weather and wait. Others have not and been taken off boats and more. But the point is, we cruise for the pleasure and enjoyment. Getting bashed in the Gulf Stream is not considered enjoyment to most but to each his own. It has more to do with common sense than fear and an understanding of the possible conditions and the boat and crews limitations as well as comfort levels. We have indeed been misinformed about weather and had a window slam shut on us. we almost lost the boat as a result and it had nothing to do with seamanship, the boats capability or anything other that the conditions were such that any vessel or crew making even the slightest error or any piece of equipment on the boat failing, which the crew has no control over, the vessel and or crew would be lost. So why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to that. It is one thing when this happens and you are not expecting or advised of it and another when you intentionally put the boat and the crew at risk. Ultimately it is the choice of the skipper.
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Old 12-12-2008, 14:19   #11
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It all comes down to judgement and as the old adage goes; "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."
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Old 12-12-2008, 14:22   #12
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Chuck,

I think you bring up an excellent point that its ultimately the skippers call and make a distinction between those who cruise for pleasure and enjoyment and those who circumnavigate.
Not that people don't go around for enjoyment but I think the average boat owner would, and often do make the trip from Florida to the Bahamas with little preparation. That would classify the passage as more of a recreational day on the water in my mind. Those who set out to see the world, normally, prepare in a much more detailed fashion.
The unforseen including boat problems and changing conditions affect everyone and must be handled to the best of the crews ability. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don't. Bad planning however can always be avoided.
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Old 12-12-2008, 14:40   #13
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To start from Marathon which is quite west just adds time and distance. The northerly wind component stacks up against the northerly flowing Gulfstream. When you are just starting out on your trip, if you wait usually less than a week you can get a nice sleighride from a southwest wind after a front. I have done many crossings since 1980. If you take going to Bimini for example, I have made it in around six hours (the sleighride) and as many as fifteen tacking like crazy, getting beat up, to hold ground against the stream when the wind veers. Weather windows work and are predictable...take your pick!
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Old 12-12-2008, 14:48   #14
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I've left from angelfish creek a couple of times with good results. It doesn't move you too far west and if you take a heading of about due east, the stream takes care of the northerly component of the trip. I am assuming a sailboat and a cruising speed in the 5-7 knot range.
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Old 12-12-2008, 15:11   #15
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My worst trip was my first. Fourteen hours No Name to Gun Cay. Twelve boats left, all of us newbies and only two kept going. I was one of them and preferred staying out to trying to get back through the shallows. Of course I didn't know what I was letting myself in for but the boat was sound and I was a lot younger. They don't call them marching elephants for nothing. Now I wait and if there's an eight hour window I'll go. Weather predictions are a lot better nowadays.
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