Bahamas and Gulf Stream Crossing

We have a 1992 Mac26c, and I have pondered trailering the 2500 miles 
to Florida and heading to the Bahamas.  We primarily sail on the Canadian
West Coast now, but I miss the warm water of the south.

I want to add some information on the Bahamas and the 
Gulf stream... from 1994 to 1996, and in 1998 my wife and I spent a 
total of 9 months living in the Bahamas on our previous boat, 
an Endeavour 40 (just slightly larger than our Mac...) 
Just a brief background on the boat - she 
was 40 feet LOA, 13 beam held nearly to the stern, 5 feet 
draft full keel with a cutaway forefoot, masthead sloop rig 55 feet 
high, displacement 28,000 pounds, Perkins diesel, 2 head / 2 
stateroom, with a center cockpit, etc., etc.

Anyway, we cruised the entire East Coast some through the waterway, 
some offshore, and traveled extensively 
through the Bahamas from Grand Bahama Island and Nassau, Bimini / 
Gun, through the Berry's, Exuma chain, Eluethera, Cat, Long Island, 
and the Ragged Island chain near Cuba.  The draft of the MacGregor 
would have been great on the Bank crossings - on the 80 mile trip 
across the Great Bahama Bank we frequently scuffed the bottom at low 
tide, but its just sand so you get used to it.  But not to dwell on 
the Bahamas... we loved cruising there and would love to go back for 
another extended trip, but it will be a few years before we do that.  

I wanted to mention the 'getting there' part.  We have crossed the 
Gulf Stream six times over the past 4 years.  In good conditions it's 
a great trip.  One time it was as smooth as glass with not a sniff of 
wind.  The water is a deep, awe-inspiring blue in the Stream, and it 
was erie when it was so calm.  A few hours out a pod of dolphins swam 
around the boat for a while, easing our minds.  Another time it was 
extremely rough when the wind shifted unexpectedly to the 
North.  Uncomfortable in a 14 ton 40 footer - disaster in a little 
MacGregor.  No offense to our boats intended, but they weren't made 
to take a lot a pounding.  And for the X's out there - don't even 
consider that you would be able to pound through the seas at 20 
knots.  Unless it is really flat (like our one lucky day) count on 7 
or so plus the current.  If you don't believe me, consider the fetch 
given a wind strength and its effect on the waves.  25 knots is a 
good, invigorating sail on my local lake - maybe a one or two feet 
chop.  On open water, waves would be 7-10 feet, and 14 feet or so in the 
Gulf stream

The Gulf stream is an interesting force of nature to study.  There 
have been numerous articles in Cruising World, and many other boating 
magazines.  It is not a force to fool around with.  The general rules 
pleasure cruisers (not delivery guys or commercial charters) follow 
is to anchor in Florida, and 'stage' waiting for a weather window 
(defined below).  We always left from West Palm Beach at the 
Lake Worth Inlet by Peanut Island, and set course for Lucaya,
or Nassau depending on the weather.  

People in sailboats generally leave at about 2:00am, so you arrive in 
Lucaya for check in mid afternoon the next day.  In late December 
1994 we caught a weather window on December 14.  The next time people 
were able to cross was mid January.  Some people tried to cross on 
Christmas Eve because they 'had to be there for Christmas'.  One boat 
was wrecked as the exhausted crew was trying to get into West End.  
Another was severely damaged.  Both crews were OK.  Imagine what 
happens when large waves in the 2400 foot deep Stream meet the 12 
foot deep banks of the Bahamas.  The people said it was quite a ride!

I am not trying to scare or dissuade anyone from making the trip, just 
be aware what you are dealing with.  Our first time we didn't have a 
clue, and it was frightening watching the lights of huge freighters 
disappear as were in the through of a wave.  The forecast had been 
for relatively light winds which would have been fine, but the wind 
shifted to the North.  Anything over 10 knots from the North (against 
the current) picks up some interesting waves.  Also, the wind had 
just dropped from a blow for a few days and we didn't give the sea a 
chance to settle down.

The Stream is flowing Northerly at an average of 2.5 knots, with parts 
of the axis moving at 4 knots (I am sure higher recordings have been 
made so don't flame me).  A weather window means no northerly component 
whatsoever of wind expected for at least 24 hours, to give you some 
room in case of problems.  East is also a problem unless you enjoy 
beating.  Southeast through West is OK, but the only time the wind 
clocks around through the South to West is ahead of a cold front.  
And, it is never advisable to leave if the wind is greater than 15-20 
from any direction when traveling the stream, because wave patterns 
can get sloppy and unpredictable.  In the winter with fronts blowing 
through steadily, these conditions might be met once every week
or so.  More often in the spring or if you're lucky.

Its a great trip when the weather is right.  We only had one 
unenjoyable trip across, and that is because we didn't know what we 
were doing.  On the rest of our crossings we waited for the right 
winds and had a very pleasant time.  We never had to wait more than a 
week - this can be a problem with a tight schedule.  I would never 
contemplate a trip across without at least 4 weeks total time available.  A
tight schedule makes people do stupid things in a boat.

Hope this was somewhat helpful.  Let me know if anyone wants any 
further info.

Best Regards,

Mark Sopher
"Abracadabra Too"  Mac26c