We left Green Turtle Cay at 0750 (7:50 AM for the landlubbers) on March 23 with some fairly confusing weather forecasts which suggested that we might be able to get across the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream without too much trouble in the next few days. It's like the person with two watches who never knows what time it is. When you have 7 different "authoritative" weather forecast on the internet, VHF radio, and SSB (single-sideband) radio, you haven't got a tinker's chance in hell of knowing what is going on!
It is a long day's trip to Great Sales Cay, about halfway between Green Turtle and West End. There is nothing there except for a nice harbor in most conditions. We chugged our way there against 17-20 knot headwinds and chop. It wasn't bad for Sesame which has lots of power but the sailboats were sometimes slowed to less than 3 knots by the chop right on the nose.
We got there in time (1455 hrs) for cocktails and a leisurely dinner as we watched for the sailboats to arrive just before dusk.
The only forecast available at the edge of the world was Chris Parker's on the SSB radio which only Bravo was able to receive and shared with the rest of the fleet over VHF radio. Chris suggested that the weather window was getting questionable and we left for West End at 0700 hrs still thinking that we could stay there and leave very early (0300 ?) the next morning. The sunrise foretold a nice day in the offing.
The sailboats took advantage of a little breeze to do some motor-sailing. The beautiful day more than made up for the unpleasantness of the day before. We had run into the two green sloops a few times. Strega is the far one in the picture and he spent most of his time single-handing on a tight budget. Like most of us, he had no interest in being stuck at West End's very expensive marina for any length of time.
Bravo and Exhale (the catamaran) were with us for the entire trip from Green Turtle although we could travel a bit faster. We were all planning to stop at West End for the night until we started to pick up more weather forecasts as we neared "civilization" again. The window was closing and the faster we made the passage, the better.
Sesame had to stop at West End for fuel in order to make it across the Straits as quickly as possible, but could not go above "trawler speed" (7+ knots on the way to West End for fear of running out of fuel. We had used quite a bit of fuel pushing her through to Great Sale the day before.
So we got to West End around 1400 (2 PM) and had our last conch burgers (still the best in Northern Bahama) at the straw bar on their beach, filled the fuel, and were just getting underway again at 1500 as Bravo and Exhale came in for fuel. At 1515, we were on the way for what promised to be about a six hour passage pushing along at 10 knots. The passage was not at all bad for the first 4 hours until we hit the western side of the Gulf Stream and 5-6 foot swells with confused seas on top of them. After about an hour, these subsided somewhat and we saw an "interesting" sunset off the coast of Lake Worth. (If you click on the picture and blow it up to full size, you can barely see some buildings on the lower right side.)
We got to the inlet at 2100 and were at anchor in the harbor at 2200 (10:00 PM) after a 15 hour day. When we awoke, we found Exhale and Bravo anchored in front of us. (Actually, something woke The Admiral up in the middle of the night and she found Bravo drifting down beside us and had time to welcome them back to the U.S. as they got organized to re-anchor.)
In the other direction, tied to a dock at Peanut Island, were the reproductions of the Amistad and the Bounty.
After calling in to customs with our "Local Boaters Option" numbers, we said a temporary good bye to our Canadian friends who had a far more tedious check-in procedure to follow. Actually, the US government never knew we left (there is no law that says we must check out of the US, nor do we have to check out of the Bahamas when leaving there) so we wonder why so many of us go to the bother of checking back in? Methinks that the paranoia created by terrorism has also resulted in some very foggy thinking in Washington!
We worked our way up the ICW to Manatee Pocket in Stuart the next day as we headed back north. News from people who waited a day or two to cross indicated that they had a passage all the way across that was like our lumpy hour off the west side of the Gulf Stream. We had even considered running down to Lucaya (less expensive marinas) to wait for a window if necessary. A few days after we got back to the US, there was a tornado in Lucaya which did major damage to boats and marinas.
So -- we are on our way back north with no real agenda except to avoid going so fast that we catch up with the cold weather.