After a week in Miami we finally got the weather window we were looking for. With 384 miles to cover on this leg, we figured it would take 2.5 – 3 days of nonstop sailing. Since this is a rather long trip, we had a friend join us to help out.
Here was the predicted winds for our 3 day trip; Day 1 – 20 knots from the South East, then dropping to around 15, Day 2 – 10 knots from the East, Day 3 – 5 knots from the North East. With these conditions we thought the first two days would be good sailing and that we would end up motoring the third. Certainly doable. However, Mother Nature doesn’t always follow the weather reports. We started with the 20 knot winds as predicted so we put up just the main sail with a double reef and motoring (reefing is something you do when you do not want all of the sail up because the winds are too strong). Our plan was to get to the Gulf Stream as fast as possible in order to get the extra boost from its current. Once in the Gulf Stream we would let out the Jib, turn off the motor and act like a sailboat.
The Gulf Stream travels South to North while turning North East along the way and getting farther from shore. In order to stay in the Gulf Stream you wind up pretty far offshore by the time you are as far North as Jacksonville. We did the math and figured that even though we would be further East, the benefit of riding the Gulf Stream for 200+ miles would be faster than staying close to shore and not taking advantage of the extra push. We hit the Gulf Stream within an hour off the coast of Miami. Here the Gulf Stream is only around 5 miles off shore. It was obvious when we were in it because our speed increased from 6.5 knots to around 8.5. Once we knew we were in it, the wind shifted and was off our nose. Even though 5KNOTS sails well into the wind, she can’t do it when the wind is coming less than 15 degrees off the nose. So we would just have to settle for motoring.
The further North we got, the further east we went and as we had hoped, we just kept getting faster. We were consistently doing 10.5 to 11.5 knots and pushing 12. At one point our speed hit 12.4 knots which is the fastest we had ever been. This all while cruising at 2000 RPM. Normally at 2000 RPM we would be doing 6.5 knots so we were very pleased. The seas were confused (waves coming from multiple directions) with 6 foot rollers. We continued through the night with Renee, Gary and I taking 3 hour shifts.
We had covered more that 200 miles in less than 24 hours. Once we were as far North as Jacksonville we had about 84 more miles to go and we were around 60 miles offshore. We did not see the benefit of continuing in the Gulf Stream any longer so we set the auto pilot to take us to the safe channel marker at the entrance to Brunswick, GA.
I had the midnight 00:00 to 03:00 shift and everybody else was below trying to catch up on some well needed sleep. I had to change course in order to give a cargo ship heading towards us plenty of room. Shortly after this I noticed red lights off our port side that were not on the charts and they appeared to be moving around. Not knowing what they were, I just kept an eye out. Then I hear the VHF, “This is Navy Warship 84 trying to reach the vessel at a specific Latitude/Longitude”. When I heard the call I was still hanging off the port side looking at the lights and did not put two and two together. At this time Renee woke and came to join me in the cockpit. Again we heard the Navy over the VHF. This time I checked the chart plotter to see what our location was and I told Renee I think they are talking to us. After the third call, I knew it was us they were calling and I responded back. The Navy was in the middle of some night manurers and were completely blacked out so we could not see the ship. They wanted us to keep a safe distance of 3nm from them. Might sound easy but if you do not know their exact position, it is impossible. We asked them to provide a heading that they would like us to take. We immediately altered course to follow their instructions. They must have turned on some faint running lights because as we neared them we could now see a green light. The red lights I had seen earlier were now gone. We assumed they were helicopters landing on the warship. After continuing for awhile on the new heading we radioed the warship and asked if it was safe to resume our original course to Brunswick. They said yes we were cleared and thanked us for our cooperation.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful. The wind died to 5 knots and the seas were about 1 foot, easy-breezy. We arrived at the Brunswick Landing Marina around 12:30 which means we covered 384nm in 44 hours.