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Alone Across the Gulf Stream

Updated on June 2, 2016

From Memory Rock in the Bahamas it’s 58 nautical miles to St. Lucie Inlet. At five-knots (six-miles per hour) a sailboat can do that in one long day—no problem. But in between those two waypoints is the Gulf Stream; and that, dear reader, changes everything.

As long as I have been at the helm of a boat the passage across the Gulf Stream has fascinated me. From the Yucatan to the UK its raw and majestic beauty stretches out before the mariner, a great wall to be breached for earned access to the Caribbean or Bermuda. First published by Benjamin Franklin and romanticized by Ernest Hemingway, for many it is the only blue water passage they will ever do. For me, it is the first time across the world’s largest and deepest river alone.

The cruising guides and old salts admonish you, “don’t rush across, wait for the south wind.” And I did, at least that’s what’s in the online forecast. It will take about seven-hours to reach the east wall of the stream from my position, a little bus shelter of an island named Mangrove Cay. I want to arrive at my destination in the daylight so I get underway in the gloaming at 2000 after a nap, a meal, and two-Dramamine.

The wind is southeast at ten knots and the waves about 3.5-feet. The temperamental autohelm, however, won’t hold a steady course and I have to steer by hand through the inky dark. Hmm, 17-hours to go, better make some more tea.

How true is it that what the chart says is not always what the eyeballs see. For hours I peer into the night for that light on Memory Rock that lies at the western end of the Little Bahama Bank. When the GPS tells me I’m one-mile from it I stubbornly concede that there is no light and carry on. Within minutes the waves increase in size and the depth sounder goes from 15-feet to dash, dash, dash—we’re in the Atlantic now, no turning back. But in the distance the soft glow of Miami provides encouragement and ocular reference for my strained eyes.

I’m on the lookout for ships and fishing boats, but for the balance of the evening there is not a soul on these waters save me and my Catalina 34, Ukiyo. The night drags on; I resist looking at my watch. Finally, mercifully, the faintest wisps of pink and purple appear in the northeast and within a half hour the running lights are off. A check on my position shows that the current has pushed me way north and, since I’m going all the way up the coast of Florida, I adjust my landfall to the next inlet north, Ft. Pierce.

Another cup of tea, a flick of the radio dial, the thought of home and family after all these months away. The swells build with the wind and the rising sun. Glad I’m not going south today. At 1220 tiny square smudges pop up over the horizon. I set our heading on these condos and at 1600 I’m splitting the jetties of the very boisterous inlet. The full ebb and large swells make for a very slow entrance back to the US. The anchor down, a good hot meal. Next on the “to do” list is… sleep.

Robert Beringer is a freelance journalist and holder of a USCG 50-ton masters license. His first book, Water Power! a collection of marine short stories, is available at BarnesandNoble.com. For a free sample go to www.smashwords.com/books/view/542578

© 2016 Robert Beringer

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