Weather Windows

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

Waiting for a weather window can be frustrating, but by moving to a staging anchorage in a new area, we're having fun while playing it safe!

Waiting for weather. It’s one of the key features of cruising. For certain passages, you just need the right wind direction, strength,  lack of squalls and so on.

The Bahamas – crossing the Gulf Stream from the US – are one of those destinations. And that’s where we want to head.

The Gulf Stream flows north, averaging around four knots but as high as 5.5 knots in places. That means that any significant wind with a north component to it kicks up nasty, steep, short period wind vs. current waves. So we don’t want that.

We’ll be heading almost due east (the Gulf Stream will give us the northing we need) so strong winds out of the east aren’t too favorable, either. Unfortunately, the strong trade winds here come out of the east . . . so we’re going to need a slightly unusual weather pattern. And we don’t want a strong possibility of windy squalls . . .

The past three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – had perfect weather to go from Florida to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, life conspired to put us about 24 hours too late to take advantage of the window. First was Dave’s surgery to remove a small skin cancer spot. And then the insurance approval of my daily medications for an extended “vacation” took longer than expected, and there were a few delays due to a “new-to-us” dinghy that we were buying. More on these last two in posts to come.

Are we disappointed? Sure. We’d love to be heading to the Bahamas right now.

Instead, we’ve taken the opportunity to stage up in Key Largo – about 17 miles from the “departure” anchorage we’ve chosen at Angelfish Creek (this route works for shallow draft boats such as ours but not for deeper draft boats). In other words, when it looks like a window will open, it’s just a half day trip for us to get there. Hopefully that means we’ll be rested for the crossing.

Yes, we could have waited a bit longer in Marathon until we had a possible window, then moved up to Angelfish Creek. We love the community there, but it was good for us to both get closer to our jump-off place and also just to get underway again. It gets us in the mindset of “being on the move.” We often did similar things on our previous boat, Que Tal, when preparing to cross the Sea of Cortez — go to a staging anchorage to wait.

Rather than bemoaning the fact that we’re “stuck” in Key Largo while we wait for weather (and right now it looks like it could be a week or more that we’re here), we’re going to try to make our stay here a plus:

  • It’s been a fun trip coming here – we had one of our best-ever days of sailing on Saturday, with a perfect beam reach moving us at 5 to 6 knots almost the whole way. While it turned out to be a fast trip, the lack of a schedule gave us the chance to keep sailing at times when the wind was light: we knew we didn’t have to make it to a certain destination.
  • Dave can’t go swimming until his stitches are removed . . . next weekend. So getting to the Bahamas and not being able to get in the water would be a major bummer.
  • We’re getting a chance to explore a new area at a leisurely pace.
  • We’re in a beautiful anchorage – Tarpon Basin in Key Largo – with a nice dinghy dock and good access to everything we could ever want ashore.
  • After running around like chickens with our heads cut off for the past week, trying to get everything set so we could leave Marathon, it’s nice to have a couple of days (at least) to recover a bit . . . sleep in, no appointments, just enjoy life. As we’ve had a little down time the past few days, we’ve realized that we’re just plain exhausted. A few days’ break will hopefully result in some mental refreshment . . .

On one hand, going to the Bahamas from Angelfish Creek will be a day sail of about 55 miles. But it’ll be the first time we’ve crossed the Gulf Stream in our own boat (20 years ago we helped a friend take his boat from the Bahamas back to the US), and this will be the first “open water” passage we’ve done with Barefoot Gal.

We know that the wrong weather can make it anywhere from an uncomfortable to scary to even disastrous trip (a friend lost his boat on the crossing a couple of months ago; luckily he and his girlfriend were rescued safely). We’re willing to wait for the right weather window.

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  1. Key Largo sounds like a very nice place to “wait it out”! Happy sailing and safe trip!!

  2. Take your time. The Bahamas will still be there when the conditions are right and will still be amazing. Have fun and wait for the perfect window.

  3. Enjoy the “now” !

  4. One of our favorite places to eat in Key Largo is the Buzzard’s Roost. If you have time and the money for an off boat splurge, it’s worth checking out. Hope your window opens up soon! Safe travels!! ☀️⛵️

  5. Claire Ford says:

    There’s a reason for everything, and it may not be immediately apparent. Just take those “down” days as they come,miso you’ll be more than rested and ready when the window opens. I want to read the “boring” story,Minot the hair raising one.

  6. Wise words about having patience to wait for a good weather window. Enjoy this restful time before making the jump to the Bahamas.

  7. Are you a duckling or a duck?

    The weather will never be perfect.

    We definitely have to pay attention to the forecasts. You will not die crossing the Gulf Stream with a North component to the wind. Florida to Bahamas in N 10 might be a little bumpy for a few hours but it isn’t that bad. You won’t be baking any souffles. *grin*

    Two days of N 20 off Florida will be mightly unpleasant. Your decision comes down to a value proposition. Just how long do you want to sit in Lake Worth?

    On a recent owner-aboard delivery we rounded Cape May headed North with W 15-20. The owner asked if we should turn back to Cape Henlopen. My answer was to keep going. The biggest impact was changing the dinner menu – roast pork tenderloin with roast vegetables and a salad was just not the right answer; homemade corn soup served better in the rolls. Tied up to the dock behind Barnegat Light the owner thanked me for the call: he gained confidence in his boat and in himself.

    Crossing the Gulf Stream in an East wind is not so bad either. Take a port tack and you are likely to find that the northing from the Gulf Stream makes up for the southing from your tack.

    There have been a number of times when I’ve been trundling down the docks with provisions heading out on a delivery when some old salt asks if we are leaving. “Yep.” “Forecast is NE 10-15.” “Yep.” “You’re gonna die.” “Nope. Done this a bunch of times. It’s my job.” “Hmm. Can I follow you?” “Sure. You just have to keep up.”

    If you are retired and don’t mind hanging out in Florida you can wait for a forecast of no wind long enough for the seas to flatten. If you want to go to the Bahamas crossing the Gulf Stream is easier than conventional wisdom would lead you to believe.

    • You’re a delivery skipper, we’re not. We choose to wait for weather that’s to our liking.

    • Yep, we’re wimps. Dave is 78, I’m 56. Our boat is a coastal cruiser, not a bluewater passagemaker. We’re not on a delivery. When we were — serving as crew for a friend — we did cross in rougher conditions when other people said we were nuts. That was 20 years ago. Now, we opt for a better window. Yes, we’re retired and we can. It all comes down to choice.

    • Which is what I said … if there is time wait as long as you like. My point is that a little mild discomfort is not “you’re gonna die” (which is not what you said, but what many people believe) and if you want to get out of Florida and too the Bahamas you don’t have to wait for perfect, only for good enough.

  8. There is ‘safe’ and there is ‘comfortable.’

    I frequently deliver boats in seas that I’d prefer not to cruise in given the choice. Indeed, we just crossed Albemarle Sound with 25+ on the bow and steep, short seas. It was a rough 3 hours to the North River but nothing broke and we were tied up at Coinjock enjoying cocktails laughing about the crossing. Boats are tough.

    I’m with Dave on this one…

  9. Sunday wasn’t that great, trust me.

  10. Donna Blagg says:

    We just made the weather window you just missed. Left Rodreguez Key in the wee hours Sunday morning and arrived in Bimini in early afternoon. We too were concerned re: weather window and waited for one to suit us. It has been about 25 years since our last crossing. As it turned out the wind was light and off our port quarter. We cranked up the iron jib and were able to keep the main full to steady us. We picked up the Gulfstream immediately after clearing Molasses Reef with boat speed jumping from 5.6 to 8.4 knots. While we would have enjoyed a bit more air, I could have not been more grateful for our calm, uneventful crossing.
    Safety first.

  11. Annie B says:

    Hope you have a safe crossing! Interesting to hear the discussion about acceptable weather. Can’t wait until it’s our turn to try it …

    • Yes, it is interesting. We’ve done “deliveries” — helping move boats — in the Gulf Stream twice where we had time constraints, and both times we chose weather that was safe but not real comfortable. And this winter we’ve had several friends get really beaten up on the crossing . . . and a few years ago, bad crossings convinced a couple of friends to sell their boats. It’s nice to not have a schedule and be able to pick weather that we hope is a little nicer — but we still won’t know until we’re out there in it. Sometimes you get the forecast, sometimes not . . .

  12. Jacquie says:

    I’m with you, boring is good. I’m Bahamian by birth but last 35 years in US. Did the crossing with Dad many times growing up and remember one particularly horrible trip that ripped a full size fridge out of galley on a 48′ wooden trawler. Vividly remember life jacket on, sitting on side of helm station for hours listening to it slamming back and forth as Dad wouldn’t let sis and I out of sight and we were way to small to fix it and he couldn’t do both. Boring is good!

    Just took my own boat “home” for first time last May. I’m thrilled to hear you are going over opposite time of the snowbirds! It’s the only time I’ll go home, there is actually room to anchor. Wishing you safe passages and totally agree, boring is good! Enjoy the trip. Be alert in Bimini, human factor not wind, tide or weather. Sad to say, it’s not what it used to be, but you can still get an awesome loaf of bread if you get there early enough!

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