Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Kandahar, AFG

There are certain moments in our lives that are amazing in such a way that words cannot relate the experience.  Yet, anyone else who has experienced what you are trying to describe will smile and nod their head knowingly because they have experienced it too.  Those who have not, can only get a glimpse of what you are describing.  Crossing the Gulf Stream onto the Bahama Banks is one of those moments. 

The Gulf Stream (GS) is basically a river of water moving generally from south to north off the east coast of the U.S. It actually begins in the Gulf of Mexico and travels east/northeast around the tip of Florida and turns northward along the east coast of the U.S. and then takes a more east/northeastward route toward Europe.

The GS can be a treacherous body of water to cross under the wrong conditions.  Since the current moves north along the east coast, any wind with a northern component will oppose the northbound current and create an adverse condition for those crossing.  The stronger the winds from the north, the greater the danger and difficulty with a crossing.  Ideally, you would love a breeze from the south, southwest, or even from the west….that would enable you to sail all the way in benign seas.  This seldom happens.  Most of the time you wait for the winds to clock around from the north to east and you fight a headwind, motoring or motorsailing most of the way.     

You begin your adventure either in late evening, or middle of the night, from Florida’s southeast coast so you can arrive at the shallow waters of the Banks with good light.  Good light is essential in ‘reading the bottom’ ….cruiser code for distinguishing deep water from shallow water, and sandy bottoms from coral heads visually. 

Sunrise Crossing the Gulf Stream

Since your departure time was close to, or after, sundown, you will sail or motor sail across the deep blue Gulf Stream...probably all at night.  The sunrise will be magnificent and since you are heading east, it will be right off the bow. 

Then, as the morning sun rises higher in the sky, the dark blue, almost violet, deep water begins to change….. adding greenish, the turquoise hues.  Within a mile the ocean floor rises from thousands of feet to only twenty feet, where the color of the water changes to the most amazing turquoise, pale blues, greens, completely clear water you have ever seen.

The lighthouse at Gun Cay, Bahamas

Eating lunch on the Bank.

The native Bahamian grows up on boats, learning to recognize the water color as it relates to the depth, and the make-up of the bottom.  As a result, there are far fewer navigation buoys, than you are comfortable with.
Each color reveals something to the trained eye about the depth of the water and the bottom that lies beneath.  At first, you are anxious as you struggle to learn this new language. 

 Starfish in 18 feet of water… is so clear it looks about 4 feet deep.

From the bow, we can look through the clear water and see starfish and coral gliding by beneath us.  In a of lot places, the water is so clear that you can see the ripples in the sandy bottom from 25 feet.  The shallow sandbars soon stand out in contrast to the safer, deeper waters.  At a distance, the darker, brown areas warn of probable coral heads lurking below the surface.

 Getting read to drop anchor in the middle of the Bank.

By sunset, 24 hours after departing the southeast coast of Florida, you anchor in 12 feet of water in the middle of the bank.  In all directions, you can see no land whatsoever.  Yet it is shallow, and relatively calm. As night falls, the beauty of the waters beneath us is replaced by a starry sky with more stars than you have ever been able to see before.  These billions of stars are made brighter by the complete lack of artificial, man-made lights anywhere. 

The sights are phenomenal, the sounds of water lapping against the boat hull are soothing, and even the salt-air smell is pleasing….all of this reminding you that you are living the dream.

Be careful out there, dullards are everywhere!


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