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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"It was all going so well until then..."

To quote Captain Ron! Well...how things change! Things never go exactly as hoped or planned, but flexibility is key! We've been keeping an eye on the weather, which, as you know, has been blustery. While the breezes are appreciated to a point, especially in the summer heat, it's also been a tad frustrating when the winds keep kicking up the seas. It's especially frustrating when we're sitting in the middle of prime diving spots! So the weather has been a bit disappointing of late.

This morning as Ron was looking at various weather sources, from the 24-, 48- and 96-hour wind and wave predictions to the NOAA zone forecasts, we realized that the weather wasn't going to get any better for at least a week or more. The best weather window we were going to get was actually....today! So, we confirmed times of tides in the Abacos, and at the St. Lucie Inlet, calculated travel time with Tingum in tow, and discussed all the variables before deciding we'd leave in the afternoon with the high tide at Wells Bay. That way, we'd hopefully take advantage of the diminished winds in the evening and overnight hours, and make the crossing while the passage conditions were reasonable. If we weren't towing Tingum, we'd not worry so much about the forecast of seas of 3'-5', since we know Equinox can handle that easily, especially in a following sea. But...towing does add an additional factor to consider!

The mid-morning hours were spent stowing items and battening down the boat in preparation for the crossing. It was hard to believe we were leaving, since mentally I was thinking we'd have another week or more to relax and enjoy the islands before having to go! It seemed especially bittersweet when we received an invitation to a potluck dinner on the beach by Aroha and Eagle, and we had to decline. Another time, hopefully, but not this trip.

We weighed anchor at 4:00 p.m. and set off across the Little Bahama Bank en route to the St. Lucie Inlet. We were making great time, even with Tingum in tow, since both wind and seas were following. It was an easy cruise, and especially pretty when the light turned golden on the water as the sun dipped lower in the sky. We were in a bit of a quandary, though, since  we didn't want to arrive at the St. Lucie Inlet in the dark, yet also didn't want to arrive when the outgoing tide was in full swing and opposing the easterly wind and waves. With the low high tide being 4:00 a.m., it was a bit of a no-win situation. Thankfully though, we've been in and out the inlet in both daylight and darkness, as well as in some rather nasty conditions to boot, so it's not entirely unknown to us. We slowed a bit before we left the Little Bahama Bank, making adjustments to Tingum, turning on her mast light for visibility in the dark, among other things. 

The crossing itself was uneventful, although not entirely comfortable. A few rain squalls moved past without anything more than a few raindrops for us, which was nice. However, the winds didn't diminish as much as we'd hoped, but instead piped up to 20+ knots, which wasn't so nice, so seas were definitely closer to 5 feet.  The NOAA Weather forecast said it all, when we saw the update on the Sirius Wx receiver:
.MARINE...


TONIGHT...WAVE HEIGHTS WILL RANGE FROM 3 FEET NEAR DAYTONA BEACH TO
5 FEET FURTHER SOUTH ALONG THE TREASURE COAST. THE SHADOW EFFECT
FROM GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND WILL CAUSE SEAS TO BE MUCH CHOPPIER SOUTH
OF SEBASTIAN INLET WITH PERIODS OF 4 TO 5 SECONDS. NORTH OF
SEBASTIAN INLET...PERIODS WILL BE AROUND 9 SECONDS.

I admit, the hardest part was my imagination, worrying about Tingum in the chop. Yet each time I checked, there she was, tracking straight and smooth behind us, up and over the waves as we went! Whew! (I sure wish worry had a purpose...but it doesn't do a darn thing except expend energy....which I'm good at!)  Nevertheless, the crossing was uneventful and we arrived at the inlet in the dark, about 5:30, as expected. Thankfully the outgoing tide didn't create much chaos with the opposing wind, either, and while it was a little stressful finding all the channel markers in the dark, we slid into the Inlet without an issue.  


Once inside the inlet though, we let our guard down at the wrong moment as we reached the crossroads of the ICW and the channel heading up the St. Lucie River. In the dark, we went too far to starboard just past the crossroads, and went on the wrong side of the red channel marker. Not good! And, since it is shallow outside the channel, we immediately nosed into the soft mud. UGH!! Shades of the Chesapeake! Quickly realizing our error, we halted forward movement, but with Tingum in tow there was no immediate reversing. We stopped, definitely aground, and pulled Tingum in to keep her from being a hazard. After some discussion, we shortened her tow line, and...used her to our advantage! With Ron at the helm of Equinox, and me at the controls of Tingum pulling on the tow line in reverse, we moved Equinox out and free of the mud. Whew!! Being aground there was NO place to be on a falling tide, for sure! Thus, another learning curve was completed, thankfully, with no harm done to Equinox! (Did I mention I LOVE our protected running gear?) 


We continued our journey up the river, aiming to join Concrete Idea at The Harborage, where we are berthing Equinox for a couple weeks until we haul her out for safety during the heart of hurricane season. After the post-adrenaline shakes of pulling Equinox back into the channel, it was a joy to hear Kerry break into our conversation on the VHF as we made our way north up river; they'd been up early and were monitoring the radio, knowing what working channel we use. With their local knowledge of the marina, we pulled in and docked easily, called customs for clearance and our crossing was completed. Nothing like being greeted by good friends with hot coffee and condolences -- or congratulations -- after a bit of excitement on the water!! As Ron later said, after telling the story: "It was all going so well until then!" 

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