We sailed into Ft Pierce inlet in Florida on Tuesday afternoon, ending our first Bahamas trip successfully. Leaving Green Turtle Cay finally on Sunday, we had a beautiful fifty mile sail in 20 knot breezes to Great Sail Cay which is a launching point for boats returning to the States. Great Sail is uninhabited, but has a large safe anchorage for boats to wait until a good weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. There were about 35 boats overnight there as there had not been an opportunity for the past week to cross and many were waiting.
While at Great Sail there was much discussion on the VHF among boaters as to the best time to get going, with 2 conference calls on Monday. The wind was still quite strong, possibly causing the Gulf Stream to be a bit uncomfortable, but there was also a cold front due to reach FL on Wednesday.
There was also an example of the special assistance that boaters provide to each other. There was an older couple on their boat who had significant problems, ranging from engine over heating, a broken chain plate, and lost refrigeration. A mechanic boater went over and fixed their overheating problem, others were offering spare chain plates, and others, food if they needed it. We could hear all of this over our VHF radio, and it was an amazing display of people helping people, which is what it is all about.
At sundown on Monday at least 15 boats left in a flotilla to make our way during the night across the Bahama Banks to the Gulf Stream which we would reach at about 8am on Tuesday. This was the first night crossing for us, but not for most others. It was amazing to see all these boats with raised sails leaving just at sunset. Joe and I took turns at the wheel while the other napped off and on. Some boaters have scheduled watches, three hours on, three off, but we just played it by ear and easily fell into about 2.5 hour stretches.
With a new moon the only light as we sailed through the night was lights from the other boats. It was a little eerie and disorienting after my first nap to come up from below and be in pitch blackness with some boat lights off in the distance. The farther along we went, the more spread out the boats became, which actually made it easier to sail. We were in radio contact throughout the sail, often hearing conversations between boaters or calling to boater friends ourselves. It was very comforting to have friends checking on how we were doing, especially with our history of engine overheating.
The biggest question in our minds was whether our engine coolant system, temporarily fixed, would work sufficiently enough to prevent engine overheating. With the wind directly on our stern and needing to sail 115 miles before landfall, we would need to run it. I went below about every hour for the first three to check, as well as Joe watching the temperature gauge like a hawk. I found one small leak which was readily fixed with some tape and another clamp and after 20 hours of engine running we were in Ft Pierce where we will keep the boat at the Harbortown Marina for repairs over the next 10 days.