30 Green Turtle Cay to Vero Beach, FL

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As we entered Green Turtle Cay, we had mixed emotions. We were eager to keep going and get back across the Gulf. We were also reluctant to leave the nice time we were having in the Abacos. The weather forecast gave us the excuse to stay awhile longer. We put down two anchors since the winds were forecast to go to 30 knots. If they did, it would probably happen at night and we wanted the extra peace of mind of a second anchor. The forecast proved to be accurate and that night the high winds hit. One or two checks proved we and the boats around us were holding firmly, and we settled in for a somewhat uneasy night’s sleep. As it turned out, we were there for 5 nights all with high winds.

Waiting for a weather window was fun. We explored Green Turtle Cay finding new sights and experiences we’d missed on our first visit. One morning we took a long wet dink ride to the opposite side of the cay. There on a sand bar exposed at low tide we went shelling. Had a grand time finding sand dollars, sea urchin shells and shells we have no idea what their names are.

Green Turtle seemed to be the place for dinghy trouble. As we returned from town, the dock boy ran up to explain that our dinks had gotten trapped under the dock on the rising tide. They’d managed to get Eriskay’s dink out, but the motor on our dink was trapped under one of the 2×10 dock beams. I climbed in and tried to lever the motor down and under the beam. Didn’t work. Then the classic solution, I let air out of the dink. As the dink partially deflated, the motor sagged back and we were just able to slide it under the beam without dunking the motor or sinking the dink. A few minutes with the air pump and things were back to normal.

Two days later, Barasway, another boat we were keeping company with, had a similar experience. They have a wooden dink and it’s edge caught under the dock while we were out exploring. When we got back, they had a flooded dink with the edge still caught under the dock edge. Bill jumped into the dink to free the edge. As he hit the dink, he realized it was a bad move and immediately tried to get out, but as he attempted to scramble up, the dink proceeded to sink lowering him up over his shorts. It was funny to watch, but also sad since the dink had a motor and it got dunked and will have to be cleaned before it will run again. We now all make sure our dinks are secured in such a way that they won’t get trapped under the docks on a rising tide.

Our 5-day wait for a weather window put us back in a cruising mode again. We figured once the wind moved out of the north and began to clock that we’d island hop our way to the edge of the Gulf. In the mean time we continued to explore and enjoy Green Turtle. Lots of beach walking, some nice lunches out and even a good by Goombay Smash at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar.

Getting good weather reports was a challenge. We were almost out of range of the Cruisers Net and the morning forecast. We could only get the evening forecast with a relay from another boat closer to the source. Most importantly, we could just barely receive the NOAA forecast from Florida when weather conditions were right. It turned out we had better VHF reception than most other boats, so we ended up serving as the local relay for the other boats around Green Turtle. We were all waiting for a wind shift and NOAA to drop: “waves higher in the Gulf” from their forecast. Friday night the forecast changed to east winds and waves only 5-7 feet in the Gulf.

Saturday morning was still high winds at Green Turtle, but now from the east. We got the anchors up and took off planning on going to just Powell Cay about two hours away. Once outside the harbor, with a reefed main and working jib, we found fantastic sailing. As we approached Powell Cay, we decided to head for Great Sale Cay 8-hours away. Barasway elected to put in at Powell Cay.

The sailing was terrific. We were heading downwind and Eriskay called and volunteered to loan us their broken whisker pole to help hold out the jib. It helped and we had to depower Tranquility to keep from sailing away from them. As we reached Great Sale Cay we were in contact with other boaters debating the same question we had. Should we continue on at night over the Sea of Abaco and then out across the Gulf the next morning or should be stay overnight at Great Sale? We had the latest NOAA weather, and it sounded favorable. The sailing was still terrific and we decided to cross. Eriskay agreed and we sailed off into the night.

Our passage over in January had been miserable. We had motored all the way into head winds. This sail more that made up for our earlier crossing. The seas were running 3-5 feet and the boat motion was comfortable. We had a new moon so we had no moonlight to dull the stars. They seemed especially bright.

About 3 AM I had to go forward to adjust the whisker pole. As I worked, I became aware of pinpricks of light in the waves. As I looked more closely, I realized I was seeing the phosphorescence that sailors making passages had commented about in their writing. I had always though of it as a wave glowing like a glow in the dark toy. Instead there were thousands of little point of light blinking on and then going out as the wave released them. It was beautiful and to my delight lasted until the end of my watch so that Ruth could enjoy the phenomena as she came up to relieve me. We both sat and watched our own private tiny light show.

The Gulf Stream was easy to identify as we entered it. The water temperature went up 3 degrees and the waves got a little steeper. However it was still a comfortable ride. We continued on enjoying the sailing. The autopilot did the steering, so all we had to do was stand watch for other boats and adjust the sails for the wind shifts. We held our speed so we stayed just ahead of Eriskay. They don’t have an autopilot and steering was easier for them if they could steer for our stern light rather than spend the night trying to hold a compass course.

As we approached Fort Pierce inlet we checked the tide and current tables for inlet conditions. It couldn’t have been worse. About the time we were going to arrive, the outgoing tidal current was going to be at it’s maximum of 5.5 mph. We figured it would be slow going, but that we could get in without much of a problem.

As we got close to the inlet Ruth was steering. She asked me to check the charts because she thought she saw waves breaking on what looked like a sand bar just at the entrance. The chart indicated the water was over 20 feet deep. It was then that we realized that the east wind blowing against the outgoing tide was setting up a tidal rip. There were huge standing waves that we would have to negotiate to get into the inlet entrance. It looked like a very angry whitewater river.

We headed in figuring it wouldn’t take long or be very bad. The outer edge waves weren’t bad, but as we got further into the whitewater the waves became higher and very steep. We crested one that I estimated to be 8-10 feet and began the slide down into the trough. Ruth spun the wheel to hold the bow straight and keep us from turning sideways and broaching. As she fought to maintain control, the bow stuffed itself into the trough of the wave, Tranquility shuddered, shook off the water and started up the back of the next wave. From below there were the assorted noises of books, pots, gear and anything else not secured rearranging themselves down onto the cabin sole near the front of the boat. We had just enough time to recover, realize we were ok, and get ready for the next wave. On about the third wave, Ruth had wired the boat handling and we were in better control. However she commented that she now understood how a boat could pitch pole. Our bucking bronco rodeo ride lasted for maybe 20 minutes. Then we got fully into the inlet, lost the effect of the east wind and just had slow going up the remainder of the channel. Over the ground the GPS indicated we were only making one mph. The knotmeter said we were going over 6 knots. We developed a new respect for outgoing tides.

Eriskay had attempted to come in and elected to back off and wait for slack current. They had less engine power and would have been in the conditions longer with less control. We wished them well and headed up the ICW for Vero Beach. They planned on stopping at Fort Pierce because being Canadians they had to stop and get a cruising permit.

We motor sailed up the ICW and late Sunday afternoon after 33 wonderful hours of sailing we tied up to a mooring at the Vero Beach Marina.

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