Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Lake Worth, FL 26º46.055N | 80º02.693W

Rainbow just after sunrise, between Vero Beach and the Fort Pierce inlet.
"Now that's how you want to start your day. A rainbow has to be a good omen, right?" I said.

Chip said, "There's something in my weather book about a rainbow in the morning ....."

Neither of us bothered to look.

I was way too focused on a beautiful day offshore, 5-10 knot east wind, 3-6 foot swell, no ICW, no bridge tenders.

A line of six sailboats ahead of us had to be another good omen. The chatter on the VHF said Chris Parker declared today a good weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Yahoo!!

Our first sign of clouds on the horizon was when all but one of those sailboats passed the inlet and headed on south on the ICW. Strange, I thought as I turned east down the inlet channel.

I knew we would be headed out the inlet on a falling tide, with the water going out, and with wind coming toward us. However, with such low wind predicted, I thought it might be a little rough but fine. And so far, as predicted, the winds were zero when we left Vero and had picked up to 7 or 8 before the inlet.

We followed the other sailboat down the channel into more and more swell as we approached the ocean. The other boat, Imagine, was about 200 yards ahead, and we could see him getting tossed around at the end of the channel. Then really, really getting tossed. At one point we could see the entire length of his boat -- from the top, as if we were flying over it.

It was the first moment I thought of turning back. I was at the helm. I should have. I did not.

As we neared the end of the channel the swell turned into huge, unorganized chop. I mean, really, can't someone get this shit organized? Who's in charge here? I tried by my very will to get it organized, you over there, hold back, you ahead, calm down and proceed forward. You, way up there .... Yikes.

It was hopeless. Each pounder would send the bow straight down into the water, then rock us, sometimes side to side, sometimes hobby horsing, ending with the bow pointing straight up.

Chip took this photo of one uphill run. We both tried to take photos.
It was not possible to both hold on and take pictures.
We think they were only 8 to 10-foot waves, but they weren't swells. They were steep, smashed up together and unpredictable.

Then it got really crazy.

Chip asked if I wanted him to take the wheel, and I said YES. He's much better at reading waves than I am -- a misspent youth body surfing really pays off.

He manhandled us through while I sat on the floor of the cockpit trying to tie down the cockpit table that had come loose was pounding against the helm.

I kept thinking, please engine, please don't shut down now -- LIKE YOU DID YESTERDAY.

We cleared the inlet and turned into large, choppy swell with 20+knots of wind, and not perfectly east for our southeast trek. It was clocking south, just hovering enough east that we could get some traction.

"Hello all stations. This is United States Coast Guard Miami Station, United States Coast Guard Miami Station, United States Coast Guard Miami Station, please tune in to Channel 22 Alpha for information regarding a small craft advisory."

Great. From the time we left Vero, we had gone from a predicted 5-10 knots and nearly calm seas to a small craft advisory. The swell and wind were, as we already knew, much higher than predicted, and on top of that, there was a nasty chop on top of the swell. Not dangerous, just bumpy -- not the glorious ride I was hoping for.

Our plan was to make the 50-mile hop to Lake Worth (Palm Beach), anchor until 3 a.m., and then set off again for another 50-mile hop to Miami, but the swell had us slowed down to a pace that would put us at Lake Worth well past dark -- and, even if we went in, it would be with wind, against current, a lesson very fresh on our minds. The only other option would be to keep going all night, slowing down to make Miami just after dawn.

We got on our line, adjusted as much sail as we could manage (reefed main, jib and staysail) to give us the easiest ride possible for the conditions (full sails give you traction in the water, making the pass through waves much smoother, less rocking).

We motorsailed to get our speed up, and, most amazing of news, according to our GPS, we would be in range of Lake Worth between 5 and 5:30, just before sunset, WITH a rising tide peaking at 5:12 (wind with current going in).

I had been fighting seasickness all morning, but my usual shot of Pepto before going offshore was keeping it in check. The worst place to be for getting seasick is below in the cabin, so to get what we needed I would dash below and run back up, dodging the array of stuff strewn about the cabin floor. We had "stowed" before going offshore, but a few months of soft inshore travel had made us lazy -- plus, we did not expect the thorough tossing we got from the inlet.

By about 1 o'clock the seas started backing down and the wind moderated to an easy 13-15 knots. Aside from a rolly swell, we were travelling in relative comfort and were able to regain order below. No major spills, no breakage, just a few things tossed about.

At 3:20, we were only 11.4 miles from Lake Worth, the wind was down to 13, and the sea was growing very kind.

Palm Beach. A happy sight.
At exactly the dot of high tide, we traversed a calm inlet and turned to drop the anchor in seven feet of water. I looked down as the anchor sank and -- for the first time since June in the Bahamas -- I could see it go all the way to the bottom!

I watched as the anchor spun into position and nestled itself cozily in the sand. I could almost swear it was smiling.

So was I.