We left chilly Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday morning at slack tide (about 3AM) to sail for the Caribbean. The plan was to sail about 900 miles to Turks & Caicos where I could be connected to Internet by Monday morning to do a day or two of work and where there’s supposed to be great diving, and then on to Culebra or Puerto Rico.
But first ~ unpacking! Upon our return to Golden Glow after being away for a month, we had a huge stack of boxes that had accumulated. Since we’re pushing off on a circumnavigation and not planning to bring Golden Glow back to the USA, this was an important last chance to bring things on the boat that would be difficult or expensive to acquire or send to ourselves overseas.
Next, because the marina where we’d left Golden Glow for the month of November, Cooper River Marina, did not have fuel, we headed toward the mouth of the Charleston Inlet and stopped at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina where they have a 24-hour fuel dock. After fueling and doing some last minute emails, we headed out in very thick fog that stayed with us for many miles offshore. Eventually, though, as the morning progressed, the fog lifted, the winds picked up, and we were on our way to the Gulf Stream.
The reason we took off at 3AM – rather than the next high tide as was our original intention – was that Chris Parker, our weather guru, had alerted us to anticipate increasing northerly winds across the gulf stream on Thursday. Those winds would be coming directly opposite to the Stream’s current, which presents the worst conditions for crossing the Stream because that’s what kicks up steep waves – high and coming in short intervals.
As I covered in a previous post, the Gulf Stream off Charleston is wide and strong, with a current often between 3-5 knots, and there continue to be eddies on the far side. Given that the winds were fairly light, we motor sailed when necessary to arrive at the Stream as early as possible. Ideally, you want to sail through the Gulf Stream during daylight hours, but because of the expected higher winds, and the timing of our arrival to Charleston, we enjoyed a siesta at sunset on our first night, and then pushed on toward the high cumulus clouds that line up over the warmer water of the Gulf Stream.
I can happily report that our passage across the Gulf Stream was uneventful. It took the better part of a day and a moonlit night and we enjoyed one of the prettiest sunrises of our passage in the Stream.
The water temperature was 66 when we left Charleston and steadily climbed as we got closer to the Gulf Stream where it was over 82. And just as we’d read, after we exited the stream, the ocean temperature settled back to around 77. For the rest of the passage, we enjoyed watching the ocean temp climb to what I’ve been looking forward to: Caribbean mid-80’s ~ Yeah Baby!
After we got through the Gulf Stream, winds began to pick up steadily (we later learned we sailed through near gale force winds) and looking backward toward the Stream, we saw those notorious “elephant” sized waves that you do not want to see on approach. Good timing to rush to leave so early on Wednesday morning as it turned out. Thank you Chris Parker!
The next few days of the passage to our stopover in Turks & Caicos were heavenly. Strong winds and high seas (which Golden Glow handled beautifully), delicious meals, many card games and “onesies” (the Deckwar’s spin on Backgammon) tourneys, several wonderful books finished, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, a full moon two days into our passage so every night was bright as day, and well-rested sailors thanks to having our very dear friend Jack aboard to provide a third shift.
Winds became very light as we neared Turks & Caicos but the seas were still about 3,000 fathoms deep….and warm and azure blue. What better time to slow the boat down and take some running dips in the Bahamian waters.
Our approach to Turks & Caicos required caution. T&C have a well-deserved reputation for treacherous reefs. For some reason our Furuno charts and even Navionics and iNavx apps did not have T&C, so we relied on our paper charts combined with instruction from The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thornless Path to Windward, Waterway Guide Bahamas 2015 (Dozier’s Waterway Guide. Bahamas) and other advice from cruisers.
We were warned not to transit the Sandbore Channel with the sun in our eyes, and that proved very good advice. We found the wearing good polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat helped greatly. We made it through in one piece – luckier than this poor boat that suffered severe prop and shaft damage on Molasses Reef. It’s not just damaging the boat that is the concern; coral reefs are very fragile and the damage to the reefs from boats can be devastating to the ecology of the ocean and take many years to recover.
We chose South Side Marina on Provo for a few reasons. First, we needed internet so staying at anchor wasn’t an option when we first arrived. Our second reason had to do with navigation and avoiding reefs. The waypoints marking the Sandbore Channel, (which is how you get through the coral heads to reach safe harbor) were specified in the Waterways Guide, and confirmed in other books. There was a pretty big north swell that made coming in from the north to Grace Bay and Turtle Cove Marina less attractive than choosing the sheltered south side of Provo.
Another reason was South Side is owned and operated by Bob Pratt, a lifelong sailor, and is very cruiser-friendly. He very kindly took us to the grocery store and the snorkeling beach on different days, and hosted a pot-luck dinner for all the cruisers in his marina on our last night. We greatly enjoyed meeting other cruisers and sharing resources, ideas, tips, and friendship with these people with whom we instantly bond over shared interests and experiences. The cherry on top in staying at South Side Marina was its free internet.
Tomorrow we head further south. Our plan is to exit again through the Sandbore Channel, and then head south to sail between Turks & Caicos and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic), but staying to the north side of the channel where we hope to see some of the magnificent whales in the area. We will continue on to the western side of Puerto Rico.
More on our southern passage to come!