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Our Gulf Stream Crossing

Our Gulf Stream Crossing

Sunrise on the ocean

Wednesday, March 22 was the day. The seas were forecasted to be calm, winds almost nonexistent. Our provisions were bought and stored in lockers, our belongings stowed securely, the engine check was complete and we were exhausted…but ready to embark on a new leg of our journey- to the Bahamas!

We set our alarm for 6:15 am, plenty of time to get ready for our 7am departure from Ft. Lauderdale to meet a bridge at its opening at 7:30am. Unfortunately, we awoke to the emerging sun and a dead cell phone at 6:55am! We scrambled, but were able to pull up anchor and leave the anchorage just a couple minutes past the hour. It was a sleepy cool, calm morning; a perfect day to cross the gulf stream.

The view from our cockpit
As we leave the inlet, heading out into the sea
The gulf stream is a current of fast moving, warm water in the ocean that flows north along the east coast of the United States. It flows at an average speed of three knots, and can be tricky to cross. Winds from the north can create large dangerous swells, winds from the east means your boat will be beating into the wind, both scenarios create a very uncomfortable ride and should be avoided. We wanted winds from the south or west, and we had a very light west wind, which was perfect. However, Thursday was forecasted to bring in high winds, so we had just one day to cross and find a protected anchorage to wait out the coming nasty weather. One day would be more than enough, since we were anticipating the trip to take us about 10-11 hours.
As we left the inlet and headed out into the ocean, the waves gently rocked our boat, a unique motion that we were becoming familiar with.
The sea
Mommy and the girls relaxing in the cockpit
s/v Totem up ahead
 So what do our passage days look like? I (Brittany) have come to really enjoy passage days, provided of course I have taken a little motion sickness medication. Passage days, whether on the ICW or the ocean are different from our normal days. Chores are put on pause, cooking is light, school is done only if the girls want to. Mostly we spend time in the cockpit, keeping Daddy company, excitedly looking at all the new scenery, keeping our eyes peeled for birds, fish and especially dolphins.
Passage days on the ocean are especially laid back. The motion medication makes Marlee and me drowsy, so I take time for a couple of short naps and the girls will usually sleep longer in the afternoon too. I like to spend most of my time in the cockpit, feeling the rush of the ocean breeze on my skin, watching the waves and documenting our adventures with my camera.
This trip, the girls were really excited to try out their new tethers and harnesses. The harnesses we bought, but we made their tethers out of very strong webbing. They loved being able to roam the cockpit without the bulkiness of a lifejacket, but still feeling secure.
Marlee, deep in thought, watching the sea
The harnesses wrap around their torso, and the tether is attached to a jackline running along the floor of the cockpit. The tether is attached to the harness in the middle of their chest with a strong, locking carabineer.
Hannah with her harness on
Our little monkeys
Besides having small toys out for them to play with in the cockpit, I’ll have play dough or coloring books ready to go on the table. I’ll also usually set up a movie for them on our computer during ocean passages, and they also love reading books on my Kindle.
Reading a book in my Kindle

On this trip we got a fun surprise! It was still morning, we were motoring and enjoying the sapphire blue water when we saw something flutter over our heads. At first we thought it was a butterfly, but then Mike spotted it, a tiny bird that landed on one of our lines!

Hello little bird

This adorable bird stayed on our stern for about a half an hour. We wondered where he had come from and what he was doing so far from land. But soon enough, we saw another little bird, just like himself, fly towards us and they flit and fluttered off together. We had fun the rest of the day making up stories about this cute little creature!

Soon we noticed we had lost speed; we were entering the gulf stream. Because we were going east, we anticipated that we would lose a little time in the gulf stream; its fast moving current would hinder our movement. But since our winds were from the west and very light, we didn’t have the large uncomfortable swells that would have formed in different conditions. It was a very pleasant ride.

Later we noticed that we were gaining speed once again and could assume that we were leaving the push of the gulf stream.

As we finally neared the island of Bimini in the Bahamas we raised a little yellow flag on our starboard spreader: our quarantine flag. This displays to all that we have just arrived and have not yet reported to customs to check in.

As we rounded the little island and began looking for our anchorage, we couldn’t believe the bright turquoise clear water! It was shades of light green, blue-green and clear turquoise. It was like looking at a swimming pool, and we could spy sea grass all the way at the bottom! The girls were exclaiming in delight over the bright sparkling sea.

It took us more than an hour that first evening, to find the perfect spot to drop anchor, but eventually we did and we could relax after a long day of travel. But we were here! We had made it to the Bahamas! We knew strong, high winds and rain were coming our way, but we hoped that soon we could experience all the treasures this island, and others could offer!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

The trip didn’t begin as planned. We got the word from our friends on s/v Totem, whom we were traveling with, that we got our window of good weather to leave at dawn for our passage from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. We were expecting to stay in Charleston for a few more days, but when planning ocean passages, good weather is everything. As our friends on Totem like to say, “misery is optional.” So on our last day docked in Charleston Harbor, we provisioned and got our boat ready to leave.

We were up just before the sun the next morning, but what we saw we didn’t like: fog. Not just a little fog, but thick dense fog, the kind that forces you to stop in your tracks. And stop we did. We decided to wait until noon to give the fog time to burn off. Since the passage was only about 29 hours, we could leave that afternoon and still make it to Jacksonville before sunset the next day. It could still work, but deep down I was hoping someone would call the whole thing off and tell us to wait a few more days for more pleasant weather. No one did.

I was nervous about our first time on the ocean. While our boat had plenty of experience out on the open sea, carrying the previous owners on a circumnavigation, I had no experience. Would it be exhausting taking watches day and night, while watching three small children? Would the children like it? What would the waves be like? Would the darkness fall around me, with nothing but water surrounding me, and would I wish I was on land? All these thoughts and more swirled in my head.

Charleston Harbor as we left

Noon came and it seemed we would be able to leave after all. The fog was slowly beginning to dissipate. It still clung to the tops of bridges and buildings, but it was lifting off the water and our visibility was increasing. We untied the dock lines and motored out of the marina. Our trip began.

s/v Totem

It wasn’t long before we realized the fog had no intention of leaving. It grew heavier and sank down again in front of us, limiting our vision and creating a gloom around us. I was already nervous, but the fog seemed to echo my fears and I couldn’t get them to lift. Getting to the ocean required us to go through an inlet, one producing choppy waves that we were not expecting. We heard the ocean would be calm and fairly flat, so we didn’t worry too much about sea sicknesses, that is, until we went through this inlet. It soon became clear that we would need to worry about it, and so I gave myself and the girls a dose of medicine. With my stomach already upset, I would pass the next few hours praying for that medicine to kick in.

We have, literally, no pictures of the rest of that day because of my battle with sea sickness which the fog only worsened (how am I supposed to look out at the horizon if I can’t see it?) and because Mike was doing everything else. At this point, I truly could not see how this trip was going to be a success. I was not able to help him with anything, the girls or the boat, and we still had more than 24 hours left to go. I really wanted to turn around, find an anchorage and wait for sunshine, but knew that might not be a possibility. Weather was forecasted to only become worse throughout the week, not better. It was then I asked him, “Can you do this by yourself?” And when he answered “yes” I knew that we were in this. Together we were committed, and whether I felt great or terrible, I was going to embrace this time and knew that whatever happened, in the end I would be ok. And so I clung to the deck of the boat, tried to imagine a horizon and prayed.

We were following behind Totem and so our job was relatively easy: stay behind them, but the fog complicated the matter. We wanted to be close enough to maintain visibility of their boat, but not too close as to pose a problem. Luckily, our girls, drowsy from the medication, slept most of the afternoon and we had little other responsibility.

Eventually, I started to feel better. The fog still stuck to the ocean and sky like an ugly blanket, but I was beginning to have hope that things were going to get better. The waves were not difficult, but the motion of the sea still required an adjustment. The girls woke up and occasionally complained of an upset tummy, so we decided to turn on a movie for them, and it worked in distracting their minds from the boat’s rocking. With my newfound energy and our day light slowly fading, we decided to begin shifts so we could get in as many naps as we could through the evening and night.

Before we left, I thought that night on the ocean would be frightening. I assumed I would feel like a little girl being tucked into bed, begging for a night light to be kept on. But when what little sunlight we had began to drift away and night settled in, I was relieved. The darkness concealed most of the fog and we could even see a bit of light emanating from the horizon. It seemed, in a strange way, that the night brought more light than the day.

The night became a comfort to me. The day was done. We had made it through our first daylight hours on the ocean. All that was left was the sunrise, and that brought me hope. And then, suddenly, Mike called out “a star!” And one by one tiny brilliant lights began to appear as the fog parted like a curtain parting before a show. Within moments the heavens displayed glorious hosts of light, stars and planets, each one a miracle. We truly were comforted by their presence, and knowing our Maker’s hand was behind them, our fears were calmed. We entered into that night with hearts full of awe.

As night fell, all we could see was Totem’s two lights ahead of us

Mike was down below, resting and I was alone on deck. I was on watch and that meant scanning the horizon to look for any other boats or structures, and to stay behind Totem. Unfortunately, our starry night was again soon shrouded by thick clouds and fears began to creep back in. I could barely see anything through the clouds. What if there was something just ahead of us that I couldn’t see? I fixed my eyes on Totem’s lights without wavering. We had charts and AIS and radar, but I knew they would also alert us if there was anything up ahead, of that I was sure.

All that was left to do now was to keep watch and stay awake. As I sat under the protection of the dodger, my eyes heavy, all I could think of to do was to sing praise songs to my God. I shuffled through old songs embedded in my memory, songs from childhood, from the churches I attended with my family and from my years in the youth group. I struggled to remember all the words from songs I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade, but the words and melodies came back to me, tumbling off my tongue, and I sang them out with only God as my audience.  Old songs and new songs, under that dark night sky, with nothing but water and fog, those songs meant more than they ever had. You called me out upon the waters… Now here I was, out on the waters, the great unknown, and just like the song goes, it was there I found him in the mystery, in oceans deep. That night became something beautiful and intimate, something words can’t really describe. His grace abounded in those waters, and he met me there, filling my soul and cleansing me from my fears.

Mike and I changed shifts and he spent the darkest hours of the night compelled, as I was, to worship the Creator of all things. I didn’t mean to sleep for five hours, but I did. Whether it was the medicine that made me so drowsy or the comfort of that bed after a challenging day, I don’t know, but Mike tried to wake me up sooner, without success. Finally about 5:30 in the morning I arose and relieved him of his watch. I would get to welcome the dawn.

dawn breaking

On the boat that morning I knew one thing: each sunrise is a miracle. Night is swept away, shadows rolled up like yesterday’s newspaper. The sun rose, an old day vanished, and with it the fog and challenges it held.

A miracle, a gift

Our second day on the water was just the opposite of our first. It was clear, bright and beautiful. The water was unusually flat and glassy. We were relaxed and rested, and we would be in Florida by dinnertime. We were thrilled!

Mike and Marlee on the bow gazing at the serene, flat waters
Our view of Totem on the glassy sea

The rest of the day we talked, read, took naps and I wrote in my journal. It was a perfect day. And soon we spotted land- Florida! Palm trees swayed on the shore and it was finally warm enough to put away our heavy jackets. We couldn’t believe we had made it to Florida!

Florida!

I’ll never forget our first time on the ocean, the songs in the night, the comfort of the stars, the brilliant breaking of day, the stillness that followed the turmoil. I’ll never forget how God met me there and revealed the beauty of the deep. It was there waiting for me all along.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand