Saturday, April 30, 2016

Return from Bimini

Westward track from Bimini to Miami - Thank you, Brian!
As predicted, the northeasterly wind continued to clock around and by Wednesday, April 20, was blowing out of the southeast again. Nan, Brian, and I readied Whispering Jesse for a departure early on the following morning and drafted our marina mates for assistance. With the boat positioned as it was and the wind blowing at least 15 knots, we did not have enough engine power to safely make the hard turn to port against the wind needed to enter the channel, so Brian rigged up a spider web of dock lines and instructed our marina mates in how we would use them to manually pivot the boat around the corner of the pier and point the bow into the wind for a safe departure.

We all met in the pink light of dawn at 6:30 the next morning, coffee cups in hand, to see if Brian's plan would work. After a single false start and a minor correction, we were off, with much waving and yelling of thanks. We hope to meet up with those kind sailors again in future travels.

The route out of the channel was considerably easier in daylight, and we adjusted our course to match the one taken by our snorkel trip captain, which put us on the wrong side of one of the markers but also prevented any unwelcome contact with shoals. We motored southwest into deeper water for several hundred yards before rounding into the wind and putting up the mainsail. When we turned back around and put out the jib, Whispering Jesse took off on a fast broad reach. Within moments, we were doing better than 7 knots and heeling just a little too dramatically. We adjusted the traveler to leeward and eased the main, making for a less death-defying ride. We didn't need to make any further adjustments until we entered the Gulfstream, where the dramatic wave action added to the roller-coaster effect and caused us to ease the main a little more. But we were flying! Occasional gusts pushed us above 8 knots, and it felt that we would be back in Miami in no time.

Click this image for a brief video - Thanks yet again, Brian!
The slight jog to the north in our otherwise due west track was caused by a course correction needed to avoid being T-boned by a large freighter. Boats under sail have the right of way, but don't try to explain that to a freighter captain who believes that might makes right. It's easier to just assume that nobody on the freighter is paying any attention and take whatever evasive action is necessary.

It took only 10 hours to return from Bimini, compared to 18 hours to sail there, and the vastly different tracks tell the story. Speed is the key. Without at least 5 to 6 knots of boat speed, the Gulfstream's 3.5 knots take control and push the boat northward. It may be possible to crab across in a slow easterly direction, but is that any faster than simply using the available wind to get past the Gulfstream and then adjusting southward? Maybe. The best advice is to wait for a southwesterly wind for the passage over to Bimini and a southeasterly wind for the passage back. In other words, trying to sail on a schedule is almost never going to be the safest or most comfortable way to go.

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