Finally, the perfect weather for crossing the gulf had arrived!
We’d left our very comfortable marina berth at the Loggerhead Marina, Hollywood on Monday, 20th, exactly 25 days after boarding Mahia in Fort Lauderdale, 11 days of which the boat was hauled out in a boat yard, and after almost 2 weeks at the Marina. The kids were itching to get to the Bahamas to try their newly purchased snorkelling gear, and we were all going a bit stir crazy after 3 days of wet weather and howling wind, swinging on the pick in an anchorage in the Intercoastal waterway of Florida. Weather wasn’t looking great although a small window appeared to be coming in the next couple of days, so Pete sought the services of a weather and route planning consultant familiar with the weather patterns, just to make sure that our first major sail was not a disaster.
The report came back on the Wednesday evening, just as we were Ubering to a 6pm movie, that the following day would be our best chance for a comfortable gulf stream crossing. With the kids surprisingly supportive, we abandoned movie plans for returning to the boat to prepare for a very early start the next morning. It was so exciting to be finally on our way, although I went to bed somewhat nervous about what the crossing would be like. Despite the great weather forecast, scenes from the movie, The Perfect Storm, kept me tossing all night and I was awake well before our 4am alarm.
Leaving the safety of the waterways involved passing through 3 draw bridges, all which operate through the night. Just before sunrise at 6.30 am we were finally at Port Everglades, the exit point to the Atlantic. With the sun rising in the east behind grey clouds and the occasionally lightning strike (quick weather check – phew, storm heading away from us) we headed through the seaway into a very calm Atlantic Ocean. The only bit of drama was a huge container ship entering at the same time, that we had to scurry out of the way of – they move so fast and our boat is so tiny in comparison.
Although a bit chilly all day, the sun came out and we had a smooth sail, averaging about 6 knots for the entire day. The sea was so calm that I even managed to whip up a bolognaise sauce for dinner that night, just as we crossed the famous gulf stream. For those non sailors reading this the Gulf Stream is a large body of warm water flowing from the Gulf of Mexico, that can very tricky to cross if the wind is in the wrong direction. Fortunately for us we had a steady south westerly pushing us along.
As a family we’ve had a couple of sailing holidays in the past and the kids have always coped well with the motion of the boat. Tom felt a little bit nauseated to the point of requiring a Travacalm tablet after lunch of noodles in a box (already a favourite for sailing lunches, even with me although I had vowed never to eat them), and both he and Ben slept for a few hours which helped pass the time. Max spent most of the day researching snorkelling locations in the Biminis and after my kitchen effort, I stayed up on deck with Pete and Max keeping a look out for any ships that may cross our path. This area of the ocean is a busy shipping lane and there are also many cruising liners which can come upon you in the time it takes to make a cup of tea!Land (Bimini island, the closest Bahamian island to Florida) was sighted at 3 pm and we arrived just in time to clear customs located at the local marina. As it turned out entry into Bimini was our only adrenal rush filled moment of the day, as the waves became quite choppy near the bar, throwing us around a bit just before we passed into the stunningly blue, protected waters of the island. It looks exactly how it appears in the guide books. The water is so clear you can see the bottom at 15 to 20 feet and the sight of a stingray jumping out of the water in front of the boat completed this amazing scene.
Whilst Pete completed the customs and immigration formalities, the boys had their first snorkel off the back of the boat. Much to their excitement they spotted a number of large fish and a couple of sting rays, just before the sun set and I dragged them out of the water. We finished the day with the Gulf Stream bolognaise on deck, a glass of bubbles and the knowledge that our cruising life had finally begun.