We are currently tied to the dock at the Old Bahama Bay marina in West End waiting on some strong winds to pass and it’s given me some time to think about “what’s next.” After all, we are nearing the end of Year One of this cruising adventure and I’m really astonished that the year has worked out the way it has. We’ve just about done exactly what we set out to do. But for the crew of All In, the future is mighty uncertain right now. I really don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing even 6 months from now. Maybe next year we’ll continue to cruise and explore beyond what we’ve seen so far. Live abroad in some sort of exchange program? Maybe we’ll find a place to settle down for a while. Maybe we’ll…gulp…get jobs. But into that unknown, I will take with me an incredible lesson learned over the last 4 years. I’ve learned more than anything else that you can make it happen. You can accomplish your goals. Your dreams can become reality. What sounds like an enormous cliche, now pours through my veins like my own personal religion. I know in my heart that whatever comes next will bring enjoyment and fulfillment. I believe in our ability to get it done. This is not to say that we confidently attack our ideas without looking back. It’s actually more like the complete opposite.
We’re constantly doubting ourselves. Questioning whether or not we can do it. Whether or not we are cut out for the cruising life. We often feel like frauds, because we’re regularly surrounded by seasoned sailors with extensive sailing resumes and a lifetime of experience. Our sailing plans have always been very conservative. We take baby steps and keep our ambitions in check. A surprising number of people, early on in this endeavor, would ask if we hoped to sail around the world, to which we would laugh and admit that we just hoped to make it out of Beaufort in one piece. More often than not, we just hoped to find the next playground. We considered our travels a success if we made it to an ice cream shop.
But here’s what I’ve learned. You just keep pushing and you keep moving forward. Our day to day plans almost never worked out, but our overall goals came together beautifully. Eyes on the prize. We got out of Beaufort. We crossed our first state line into North Carolina. We survived and overcame the setback of running aground and having major repair work done. Inch by inch, we worked our way up the Chesapeake Bay. We dodged two hurricanes, sailed offshore through the night for the first time, covered the entire east coast of Florida from Jacksonville to Key West, planned and prepped for a Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas and then sailed through the night to make it happen. And doggone it, with the exception of an unexpected side to trip to Vermont last Summer, which was excellent by the way (thanks Jan!), wouldn’t you know that is exactly the way we sort of arbitrarily planned our first year of cruising to happen way back in early 2016. Until now, my life has NEVER happened like that.
In 2013, we decided to do this. Everything was completely uncertain at that point except our commitment to the idea. Could we really save enough money? Are we actually going to sell our house and cars, quit our jobs and give up our happy life in Beaufort? Are we actually going to buy that boat? Can we handle living in 37 feet of space with extremely limited water and power resources? And are we really going to do all this with two little girls in tow? Day by day, month by month, each of those questions were answered. So here I sit in West End, Bahamas on top of mound of questions answered and goals accomplished feeling incredibly proud.
I think that our most recent obstacle to overcome is what has got me feeling so philosophical and reflective. In our minds, it was a big one. Leaving the country. Leaving all sight of land and crossing an ocean current reknowned for its ability to throw an incredible tantrum under the right conditions. More accurately, it can be downright deadly. Leaving behind the luxury of unlimited access to resources. Leaving behind the familiarity of culture and customs. And probably at the forefront of our minds, leaving behind the shelter of safe harbor tucked inside the coast of Florida.
We’ve been reading about crossing the Gulf Stream for months now and talking with anyone who has done it before and is willing to offer advice or suggestions. For those who don’t know, part of the Gulf Stream current flows along the southeastern coast of the US bringing warm water from the Tropics north and then across the Atlantic toward Europe, affecting weather patterns on a global scale. Off the coast of Florida, the Gulf Stream can flow at a rate of 4 knots or more at times. Often, the seastate will be far more energetic in the stream than outside of it. And if the wind is blowing from the north, opposite the flow of the water, the conditions can become incredibly dangerous very quickly. For a slow moving vessel like All In, watching the weather and planning carefully for this crossing is imperative. We decided to wait for the right moment to cross from Palm Beach, which is about 56 nautical miles from West End. We expected the trip to take about 12 hours.
After three weeks of watching and waiting, it appeared a weather window was finally taking shape. It wouldn’t be a lengthy window of opportunity, but perhaps about 36-48 hours. Very quickly after that, a powerful front of northeastern winds would set in and stay for several days. We took comfort in knowing that another boat near us in the anchorage would be attempting a crossing at the same time, but really hoped to have another person on board to help with the girls and to provide an additional level of safety for all of us. Incredibly, my dad answered the call and agreed to fly down to Palm Beach on Tuesday to join us for the crossing.
The plan was to leave at about 4am on Wednesday morning because, as best I could tell from the different weather forecasting instruments at my disposal, that would be the time when the waves were the gentlest and the winds the mildest. For our first crossing, we hoped for calm seas.
Monday and Tuesday were filled with activity. Last minute food provisioning, filling water, gas and diesel tanks, checking sails, rigging, engine, and communication and navigation equipment. We also had to find time for the girls to play on shore and ride their scooters. All very important tasks. Tuesday morning, the weather appeared to shift forward several hours, tightening our window even more than it already was. While my dad was boarding his plane in Charleston, we decided to change our departure time from 4am Wednesday to 9pm Tuesday…we would leave just a few hours after his arrival in Palm Beach and sail through the night.
I’m happy to report that this turned out to be a fantastic decision. The skies were clear all night, allowing the moon and stars to illuminate the atmosphere. The waves rolled by mostly unnoticed all night long as there was a 10 second period between crests. The winds were light, but helpful, filling our genoa just enough to provide lift. The girls slept soundly until sun up. We passed several sailboats returning from the Bahamas, two cruise ships, a few cargo ships, and some other vessels making their way through the night. Except for a momentary loss of direction during which our boat headed due North instead of East (I was downstairs asleep at the time while Laura and Dad manned the helm), I would call it nearly a perfect crossing.
We watched the sun break over the horizon directly in front of us as we approached the first of the Bahamian islands. An hour later, we entered the harbor of the West End settlement on Grand Bahama Island, tied up to the dock, and headed to the customs and immigration building to clear into the country.
Now, several days later, we sit and wait for the weather to clear so that we can continue on into the islands of the Abacos for about 8 weeks before heading back to South Carolina for a summer of weddings, family, friends, and air conditioning. We’ll also be making plans for next year, but, for now, it’s awfully exciting that those plans are totally up in the air.