Even the best-laid plans are subject to change when you're cruising. Usually it's the weather that keeps you holed up for longer than you'd like, but tbe next most likely culprit is the boat itself. This came true with a vengeance this past Sunday, as we began to position ourselves for the crossing to Bahamas.
Final (?) Preparations
We left Nettles Island on Wednesday, January 10th, in 20 knot winds. Another exciting departure. We moved to an anchorage in the north end of Lake Worth at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where we would wait for the right weather to cross to the Bahamas. Before departing, we topped off our water tanks and filled all of our spare water jugs, which we then mounted on deck.
Dave had applied for our customs sticker the first week of January, but it didn't arrive in time to have it sent to us before we left. We asked our daughter to fax it to us for re-entry to the Bahamas.
We continued to buy more provisions. The final opportunity to get fresh meat before leaving also gave us the chance to pick up more of those "essentials" (like diet cola), that we couldn't live without. We continued to find creative places to store it all, and Cathy kept track of what and where it all had been stored. We hung an extra hammock in the Main Saloon and began taking over lockers and shelves originally dedicated to other purposes.
We would make one last stop just before crossing to top off our diesel and fill all of our diesel and gas cans, which were also mounted on deck. We topped off the water again as well. This gave us 25 extra gallons of water, 15 extra gallons of diesel and 15 extra gallons of gas. Now we looked like cruisers.
To cross to the Bahamas, the ideal wind and wave conditions can make the difference between an uneventful crossing and a miserable one. Winds with any northerly component will oppose the north-flowing Gulf Stream current and create high waves. Winds from the south are better because they calm down the Gulf Stream. This time of year, the winds tend to be higher speeds and from the north. So, winds from the south are less frequent and quickly "clock around" to the North. The trick is to find a big enough window with winds from the south, which ensures the Gulf Stream will "lay down" and the trip will be more pleasant.
To find our window, we had to collect whatever weather information we could. We, of course, used the marine weather forecast from NOAA. Also, Dave downloaded the GRIB files from the National Weather Service which gave 24, 48 and 96-hour forecasts for the Atlantic wind, waves and highs and lows. It includes forecasted wind speed and direction, wave height and frequency, and the movement of the highs, lows and the fronts. By studying these forecasts, we could identify the likelihood of favorable crossing conditions.
It looked like a window was opening up on Monday, January 15th, Martin Luther King Day. It might last as long as Tuesday, but would close by Tuesday night. Having finished our provisioning, we pulled anchor and headed a few miles south to the Lake Worth inlet to be better positioned for our crossing on Monday.
Ready to go, but . . .
However, this wasn't meant to be our time to go.
As we left the anchorage, we took advantage of the time to complete the "sea trial" step of our autopilot compass calibration, which involves making 2 large slow circles. As Dave pulled out of the circles, he noticed that the engine did not want to engage. Cathy had similar problems as we approached the fuel dock against a strong current, for our final re-fueling stop. We had occasionally had problems over the last year (more?) when we were starting from neutral against a strong current, which frequently was followed by a loud thumping noise as the engine finally engaged. However, this was worse than it had ever been. At the fuel dock, Fred from Marianna boarded to help Dave analyze the problem.
It began to point clearly to a transmission problem.
We moved on to the new anchorage, but recognized that we couldn't leave for the Bahamas with a bad transmission. After calling many marinas in the area, we identified a local engine repair shop that was recommended by several of them. We called them, even though it was Sunday, in the vain hope we might talk to someone about the problem. Miraculously, they called back and we arranged for a mechanic to meet us at the closest marina first thing the next morning. Marianna graciously agreed to delay their crossing to see what we would find out the next day.
After another exciting docking against the current with no power, Cathy pulled the boat into the Riviera Beach marina fuel dock. The mechanic boarded soon after and confirmed we needed a new transmission. We were going to have to stay and wait for one to be sent from the supplier. We decided to have Boat US tow us into the slip, since we had had enough high adventure dockings in the last 2 days. Dave spent more time negotiating the price of the transmission, talking to contacts in Annapolis and Fred's contacts in New Hampshire to save several hundred dollars off the original estimate.
We sadly informed Marianna that we would not be joining them on their crossing.
The Good News
Needless to say, we weren't the only ones trying to take advantage of the weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Sunday night, the anchorage by the inlet was packed with boats anticipating the good weather.
When we woke on Monday morning, we were in a ghost town. Only a few boats stayed behind in the hopes that Tuesday would be the better day. It wasn't long before we heard radio conversations of those who had left who were facing 20 knot winds from the east and seas of 3 to 6 feet. Those who had stayed behind seemed to have made the better choice.
For Marianna's sake, we were glad that we had held them back. Tuesday's crossing conditions turned out to be much better for them and the few other boats that had waited. They left at 4am and were safely in West End on Grand Bahama Island in the afternoon, well before dark. On Monday afternoon, we dinghied over to see them at anchor, taking a bag of ice. "Did anyone order some ice?" We would miss our cut-throat games of Milles Bornes and Sequence, but we knew we would see each other again sometime.
We were pleased to see White Bird and Puddle Jumper, 2 boats from Charleston, again at Lake Worth. They dinghied over to see us one afternoon at anchor. They crossed to the Bahamas on Monday and were still there to greet Marianna when she arrived Tuesday.
The Waiting Game
Since we would be waiting for the transmission for several days anyway, we took advantage of the time to have our mail sent to us and to order some zinc's for our engine from Annapolis. To our surprise, the mechanic appeared on Wednesday afternoon with our new transmission, which was installed with no problems. The engine now appears to reliably have power upon shifting into gear.
But we still need to wait, not just for the anticipated mail deliveries, but also for the new weather window. As predicted, Tuesday's good weather disappeared on schedule and the winds clocked back to the north with the latest cold front. We haven't identified when the next window will open again, so we will likely be in the area for another week.
We will take care of other projects on the boat and get ready for the next crossing once the engine is repaired. We'll keep the radio on to find others who will be crossing at the same time.
And so, we wait. . . But at least we're in shorts and T-shirts.