Close your eyes and imagine being on a sailboat safely tucked away behind an uninhabited island in clear turquoise water. Imagine that all you can hear is the gentle lapping of the ocean against the hull of the boat and the occasional sea gull. We are in Great Sale Cay, Bahamas. Once we dropped anchor and shut down the engine, it took all of 2 seconds to sigh and say, this is what makes living on a boat so awesome. A sensation of tranquility sets in and we smile.
Great Sale Cay is a stopover for us to sit and await some nasty weather. We plan to be here for about 3 days and then we’ll move on and check into customs and immigration somewhere. Right now, we are flying our Q flag. This is a yellow flag (from the nautical code flag alphabet) to indicate we are still a vessel in transit on our way to a port of entry. We are quarantined to the boat while flying this flag.
Backtracking a little bit; our stay in St Augustine was longer than planned. After our arrival from Norfolk VA, we thought we would stay for about 2 weeks while waiting for a weather window to cross the gulfstream. The gulfstream is a very strong current that runs from south to north off the southeastern coast of the USA. Any aspect of a north wind in the gulfstream can churn up the sea making it a godforsaken place to be on a boat. Even diehard old salts will respect this area. To sail from the St. Augustine to the Bahamas our requirement was 3 days of suitable weather. Each day we checked the forecast and each day we saw north or northeast winds for the next seven days. If we are going to be stuck for a little while St. Augustine is not a bad place to be caught. While talking to other sailors and the marina staff, they told us about the lighting of the city for Christmas. “You don’t what to miss that” is what we kept hearing. So, we gave up checking the weather and stayed. After the lighting of the city, which rocked, we started to look at the weather again. Nothing doing through Thanksgiving. We ate turkey in St. Augustine. We toasted life on a boat. Seriously, we live on a boat and are at the beginnings of traveling the globe. What’s not to be thankful for! We toyed with the idea of sailing further down the coast of Florida to shorten the trip across the gulfstream. We thought we could hang out at anchor in Lake Worth. Then, a very small window appeared in the forecast.
Our lifestyle is seriously dictated by weather forecast. Gone are the days where our lives and schedules were managed by customers or bosses. But, NOAA weather charts are our new boss. When, NOAA says go, we set off. When NOAA says wait, we hang around. We saw three days of 15 knot east winds, followed by south winds. We needed only 2 days of easterly winds to sail comfortably down the coast. When the winds turned south, we could steer east to the Bahamas all the time avoiding any rough sea conditions. Perfect! This was the good consequence of our enjoyable 5 week wait. It was time to go.
Once and a while, NOAA gets it wrong. We headed south down the coast with our forecasted 15 knot east wind. I made the mistake of saying, “isn’t this great!” I should know better. I certainly should have known better than to say this on the first day of a three day voyage. Perhaps it was the excitement of leaving for the Bahamas. But, I should have known to keep my mouth shut. The winds shifted to the southeast a day sooner than planned. We couldn’t sail this close to the wind. (Sail boats do not sail when pointing into the wind. They need to be greater than about 35-45 degrees off the wind to sail.) We started the engine. For the next two days we motored to the Bahamas. Gone was the small weather window opportunity. But, on the bright side, we didn’t have horrid conditions in the gulfstream.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, when underway on a sailboat, things are not exactly peaceful. I know, when you see the video of the boat at the boat show, they show it gently sailing on the calm ocean with serene music playing. They are lying. They want to sell you a boat. If they showed you what it was really like, nobody would ever buy a boat. Wind is howling through the rigging. Things go clank clank, flap flap, bong bong, thump thump all the time. This all happens while one is hanging on for dear life trying to avoid the waves of salt spray flying over the boat. Or, we can listen to the droning sound of the diesel engine for hour after hour after hour after hour. Or, we can combine the two and have strong winds on the nose and the engine noise. Let’s mix that up with the current of the gulfstream. Cindy swears at one point we were sailing backwards. During all this, we are expected to eat, sleep, shower and be jolly. We look at each other and say, “livin’ the dream, huh”. And then, we arrive.
Close your eyes and imagine being on a sailboat safely tucked away behind an uninhabited island in clear turquoise water. Imagine that all you can hear is the gentle lapping of the ocean against the hull of the boat and the occasional sea gull. We are in Great Sales Cay, Bahamas. Once we dropped anchor and shut down the engine, it took all of 2 seconds to sigh and say, this is what makes living on a boat so awesome. A sensation of tranquility sets in and we smile.