Bimini to Fort Lauderdale, high seas mayhem
The Bahamas is a slow paced paradise for people looking to not do much of anything for a few weeks or months. I loved the spearfishing, although the sharks often shortened my time in the water, but the lack of anything to do and the limited food variety eventually got to me. I’d visit again but I doubt I could spend more than a few weeks.
While everyone waited for a weather window to head further east, I looked for a window to head back to Florida. My Norwegian neighbor also wanted to head west but he destroyed is outboard while maneuvering in the marina, so I was leaving alone.
The first weather window promised 15 to 20 mph winds from the east. This sort of wind meant following seas and moving slowly toward Florida, while getting tossed around. The second window consisted of south winds. South winds are the most favorable you can get. Since the wind and the waves are going the same way, the waves are flattened. The problem was that the south winds were likely to not last an entire day, and they were really strong.
I chose the second window and left at 5 in the morning. I calculated that I could make it to Fort Lauderdale in a little more than 8 hours if the wind held at 15 mph. I hoped to be in Florida at 1; before the inlet was swept by an outgoing tide.
I woke up at 5 but it took me a few minutes to talk the dredging boat to get out of my way so I could leave. I eventually made it out and sailed into the night towards Fort Lauderdale. I pointed toward Miami (270 degrees, due west) to counteract the Gulf Stream.
I sailed at 6 miles per hour in waves that kept increasing in size until they reached two to four feet. It was quite manageable, but I had to crawl on the deck to reef my main sail. About 20 miles from the Bimini, I was forced to reef it again. I got tossed around while I reefed, but the autopilot held the direction. I’m sure the boat would have reached Miami had I fell overboard; a real possibility in such seas. Here is a video of me about 10 miles from Bimini :
The quick sailing lasted long enough to cover 40 miles. At that point, I could see the city but ominous dark clouds were in the way. Turning around or trying to get around them was not possible, so I cowboyed on.
The rain brought strong gust but a few minutes later I was totally becalmed. I started the engine to fight the Gulf Stream. I was 14 miles from the coast.
I motored for a while on the calm sea and the rain stopped. Eventually I saw scary ripples on the water ahead of me. The wind hit me at 20 mph with gust in the upper 20s. The wind came from the west. I had to go in the direction of the wind. I could not tack without making a major detour or stalling since the current was pushing me north at 3 miles per hour. I pushed the engine to 2500 rph, not far from its max. Still, I was merely doing 1 to 2 mph into the wind. I was very intimidated by what was happening. At that rate, it would take me 6 to 12 hours to get to Port Everglade, but what were my options?
For two hours I tugged against the wind. I felt very uneasy. I prayed for the engine to keep going.
I counted the miles; eleven, then ten, then nine miles from Fort Lauderdale. Suddenly the Gulf Stream let me go. I was able to steer the boat at 300 degrees instead of 240. At 300 degrees my main sail caught the wind. I opened my jib at about 60% and pulled it tight. I was sailing again. I flew at 6 mph towards my objectives in winds in the higher 20s! Unfortunately, as soon as the Gulf Stream let me go, the waves increased to 3 to 6 feet! Somehow the boat had no problem moving through those seas.
I was very happy but I feared the inlet. The waves were big and i expected the water would be rushing out of the inlet; a bad combination that promised rolling waves. Again, what options did I have? I’d do my best.
When I got in front of the inlet, I saw that the wide and deep opening was not really a problem. The skies were black, the wind was crazy and the coast guards watched the solo crazy sailor entering the inlet under full sail and motor.
It was 4. I still had plenty of daylight although the clouds dimmed the lights quite a bit. I got to Lake Sylvia, set my anchor and paddled to the Raw Bar for some food.