Even though it's a little bit delayed (we crossed on January 1st), we thought we'd share a little bit with you about crossing the Gulfstream and clearing into a new country on a boat. Our fellow sailors probably won't find this very interesting, but there is a fun video at the end! For our non-sailing friends - perhaps you will learn something!
What is the Gulfstream?
First things first, if you don't already know what the Gulfstream is - let me tell you. You've probably deduced yourself that it is a stream of sorts, likely running along the gulf... great job! That's correct.
You also might note that it originates in the Gulf of Mexico, and extends northbound along the east coast of North America until somewhere around Newfoundland, where it turns in the North Atlantic Current and branches off northeastward towards northern Africa and northwestern Europe... It seriously affects the climate of these places (they'd be notably colder if it weren't for this phenomenon). Pretty cool! I'm fairly certain it even reaches the Arctic Ocean eventually, but now we're drifting away from the topic at hand (hehe... pun intended).
Why is it a hazard to small boats?
It is less of a navigational hazard today, what with GPS being a common piece of equipment on most boats... but both Trevor's and my parents have told stories of almost "missing" the Bahamas due to it's strong northward push in the days of paper charts and dead reckoning.
Most small boats need to consider the unfavourable sea conditions that can develop quickly in the Gulfstream. Large, hazardous waves can develop more easily in the stream than in the surrounding ocean. Not only is it still exposed to Atlantic, but no matter what the wind and sea conditions are, the additional force of the current plays aggressively into the equation... The most important thing for us, being in a small sailboat, was waiting for the right wind direction.
The "Perfect" Conditions
For the second half of December, we were faced with the worst possible conditions: strong north winds. If you have wind blowing from the north onto a strong current coming from the south, you get massive, steep waves that would eat a boat like ours alive. Someone once told me to think of it like petting a cat from back to front... Don't get me wrong, there's nothing like standing in water up to your knees while struggling to hand steer your boat and dodge the ocean's big waves shooting up many feet above your boat, and coming down to punch you right in the face... but we decided to wait.
The wind finally started to veer just after boxing day, but it stopped in the Bahamas and blew right at us from the east for a few days. This is also non-ideal, less because of sea state, and more just because you can't sail a boat directly into the wind. The extra miles we'd tack on by zig-zagging our way to the Caribbean was tiring to think about...
A few more days and the wind died suddenly on New Years Eve... although still from the east, it blew at only about 4 knots. It wasn't forecast to pick up until the following afternoon, when a nasty cold front was to move in. Many of our fellow cruisers opted not to take this small window, citing (valid) reasons such as: the need to motor to make miles in such light winds, the lack of an exit strategy should the engine fail (sailing across in 4 knots would take much longer than the allotted 16 hour window), and the fear that large swell might still be lingering from the last few days of gnarly weather...
We took their advice seriously, but were both firm in taking this window. Although, we didn't deflate and deck-mount our dinghy, incase we needed it for a tow in the unlikely event that our inboard engine failed.
What were we faced with when we got out there? A calm, serene, perfect Gulfstream. Check it out!
Clearing into the Bahamas
Step 1: As you saw in the video, step one is to replace your courtesy flag with the Q-flag. In my (limited) experience with flag etiquette, I've come to understand that your starboard (right hand) rigging is the place to fly such things. Your "courtesy flag" is the national flag of the country who's waters you are sailing in. The Q-flag, otherwise known as the quarantine flag, replaces the courtesy flag of your previous port until such a time that you clear customs of the new country. It's official meaning, as per the ICS (International Code of Signals), is "my vessel is healthy and i request free pratique". If you're curious, you can find the entire phonetic alphabet with corresponding flags and meanings here.
Typically, you also fly the flag of your hailing country (in our case, the Canadian flag), from the stern or the leech (back) of the aftermost (farthest back) sail. But, moving on!
Step 2: Arrive at the dock only to find... well, nobody. As a pilot, I'm trained that means "sit there and wait... and do not even think about stepping foot outside of your vessel until customs arrives and gives you permission to enter their country". But in this scenario, that is not the case. What you're actually supposed to do is come ashore at your own leisure, do whatever you want for as long as you want. For example: make breakfast, take a nap, wander over to the marina office, finally get told that if you want to clear customs you have to take the bus to the airport, and no you don't both need to go if you don't want...
Step 3: Don't worry, the bus will go to every other building on the island before it gets to the airport so you'll have plenty of time to fill out the forms for you and your Captain (who is taking a nap).
Step 4: Realize upon arrival that it is supposed to be the Captain that comes to clear his/her vessel and crew into the country... get new forms and fill them out again. Hehe - you are the Captain now. (Sorry Trev).
Step 5: Sketchily walk through some restricted areas to get airside and find the door to customs and immigration. Get asked 3 questions: do you have any weapons? What fishing gear do you have? Would you like a fishing permit?
Step 6: Pay the $150.00 fee for a cruising and fishing permit... Then, STAMP. They won't board your boat, don't want to meet the rest of the crew, and wish you a lovely time exploring their beautiful country. Run along now!
If you've been keeping up with our Instagram, then you know that we've been enjoying Miami, South Beach, Mexico, and Nicaragua. What were we doing in Miami for an entire month? How did we end up in Central America in the middle of December? Why did Jamie almost yell at P.Diddy? How did we speed up from our usual 5 knots? Who came to visit? It's all here...
On December 1st 2017, after a beautiful 12 hour sail down the coast of Florida from Palm Beach to Miami, we finally stopped the Southbound grind and decided to settle in for a while. A while ended up meaning exactly one month, because we are heading to the Bahamas tomorrow.
7 notable things that happened in Miami:
1. We had the pleasure of staying on a beautiful 65' Viking Sportfish in Miami Beach thanks for Trevor's friend Tom. We thoroughly enjoyed the air conditioning and hot showers (luxuries we do not have on our little Frannie). Thanks Tom!
2. Jamie got to go for a few flights to Key West (Florida), Bimini (Bahamas), and Cat Cay (Bahamas). This only fuelled her longing to get back in the cockpit, but it was a wonderful surprise. Nothing like breakfast in Key West, lunch in the Bahamas, and dinner in Miami! Thank you Caravan Chris!
3. We had some of our favourite people come visit us from Toronto - something that may not be so possible in the remote islands of the Bahamas... We loved being in such a central location!!! Jamie's cousin Nick and his new fiancé Ally, and our friends Morgan and Brendon!
4. We booked two last minute trips to Nicaragua (Trevor) and Mexico (Jamie) to visit family for 10 days. We left the boat on a mooring ball and had some wonderful time away from the boat.
5. We enjoyed this beautiful anchorage right next to Star Island in Miami Beach for almost 2 weeks! Although, we had one especially sleepless night when Jamie was feeling a bit under the weather... The music coming from the island was loud... by 4am, she almost went over to the partying house to tell them off - but it's a good thing she didn't because we later found out that P.Diddy was the culprit!
6. We got to speed up a little bit, hitting 72 MPH in Tom's MTI. Needless to say, Jamie was all over driving at those speeds. Thanks again Tom!
7. We had a wonderful adventure planning and executing operation "Christmas dinner on the boat" with the help of our friend Jim. (If you missed it, check out the video below).
Instructions for night watch:
It's okay though - you'll live, be happy, and finally get some sleep in the end.
Ok. Enough sarcasm, what's this really about?
A few days ago roughly marks the time we would have arrived in the DR had we not turned in to Southport after trying out the recipe above on our first night. My initial disheartenment has turned into thankfulness and a new excitement. Trevor shares these feelings too, and we both have huge smiles on our faces now as the sun (finally) beats down on Frannie and we motor down the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) towards Titusville, Florida. The Kennedy Space Center is just visible on the slightly-hazy horizon.
If you do happen to care how those 32 hours leading up to our daunted arrival into Southport went (with less sarcasm and more detail) we’ve put together a piece at the end of this post to explain further. BUT, primarily, that's not what this is about. We want to look forward and shed some positivity. From the very beginning, this trip has been on it’s own program and we are happy to report that we’ve finally accepted that we’re just along for the ride.
Changing boats, plans, crew, and routes - from the very beginning.
When was the very beginning? It all started back in February, after we had spent 3 months travelling to Nicaragua, Mexico, and Thailand together. It was also after my potential job in New Zealand fell through. We were on opposite sides of the planet suddenly without a plan. At this point, I can’t even remember how the trip came about. Did I suggest it? Did Trevor? What I do know is it happened very fast & we didn’t think very hard about it either. I also know that we haven’t looked back since making the decision: let’s drop everything and go wander the Caribbean by sailboat this winter.
By mid march, we had pretty much narrowed it down to a C&C 37’, an 37’ Irwin, or a 36’ Islander. The day Trevor discovered Frannie, I wouldn’t even be bothered to go with him to the yard to take a look. “29’?! No fridge, shower, or V-berth?! Come on… this is so far off the mark.” It’s funny, because I don’t even think it took him 12 hours to convince me to go back there with him. Within the 15 seconds it takes to fully tour Frannie in her 29’ of glory he had me sold. You can find out more about her and what we did to get her ready for the trip here or here, but let’s move on.
We were going to leave in November, this turned into mid October, and then late September. Reasons including weather, lock schedules, weddings, and pure wanderlust played in here. These timeline changes cascaded into work conflicts, and eventually into Trevor leaving without me. Luckily, we had our trusty pilot friend Dave step in and help him get the boat to New York.
My joining the boat was going to happen late October, but when the Seneca faculty strike was called, this turned into early October. What actually ended up happening was thanks to my other (non-faculty) flying job. I flew Trevor to NYC myself on an empty leg down to Teterboro, then finished up work that night in Toronto and hopped on Porters last flight back to Newark. From there we sailed the boat to Norfolk, Virginia, where I got on a plane once again to Toronto. I stayed less than 10 hours before jumping in the Pilatus and flying a charter to Miami. After a week of lounging in the sun while my airplane sat on the tarmac (and Trevor worked hard motoring the boat further south) I arrived back in Toronto for the last time. I slept at my moms for about 4 hours, then flew down to New Bern, North Carolina where I met back up with Trev and the boat. This was a crazy few weeks that definitely wasn't originally part of the plan...
If I haven’t completely confused/bored you yet, there’s still the part where our (ambitious) two crew passage to the BVIs (Trevor’s birthplace) turned into a two crew passage to the Bahamas, which turned into a three crew passage to the Dominican Republic, which turned into a 3 crew motor down the ICW to Florida.
Lessons and Positivity!
So yeah, this trip isn't at all what we had planned, but we've realized it's even better. I hate to say it, but a lot of the clichés that we love to hate are actually true: “it’s about the journey, not the destination”, “follow your gut”, “everything happens for a reason”, etc…
With that, we're also not afraid to admit that we have learned some hard truths. Despite both having respectable boating/sailing resumes, we aren’t invincible and we still have a lot to learn. We will always be learning. Embracing the fact that we can't always be in control was difficult, but now that we have, it's awesome! Our new rule is we don't plan more than a few days ahead, and it's been working out pretty well.
The last few weeks have been lots of motoring, sprinkled with a bit of sailing. We've gone offshore a few times to make miles - and have gotten ourselves down to Florida in pretty good time!
At the end of the day, we've seen and done a lot more coming down the ICW than we would have otherwise. For example, the thrilling hobby of bird watching:
Yes. I know. Try not to get too excited.
We also saw a lot of the damage Irma left behind, which is both tragic and shocking.
My greatest accomplishment over these last few weeks? It's probably a tie... one day I got Jim and Trevor to eat carrots instead of pretzels (see above for evidence), but I've also successfully gotten Trevor addicted to The O.C...
Anyways... that's that! We are looking forward to spending some time in the Miami area, and then hopping over to wander the Bahamas. Also, we've got some fun videos coming for you guys too.
Now, if you're interested, keep going for some at sea storytime. Otherwise - until next time! ☀️
As promised, I shall tell you a tale...
We pulled out of Beaufort just as the tide was going out. Making over 6 knots with a decent breeze and a cloudless sky, we were pretty proud of ourselves. Engine problems fixed, a third crew member picked up, and finally some decent conditions for crossing the gulfstream. We’d later admit that this “weather window” was a little bit constructed, and that we all had a pretty good case of “get-there-it is” – but we’ll get to that part later.
As I was down below stowing the last few loose items, I looked forward to being at sea. Despite the inevitable seasickness, lack of shower, minor injuries, etc… there is a certain peace that comes with being forced to slow down to 5-7 knots with nothing and no one for miles. Finally getting to actually sail the boat pleased me – all this motoring was wearing away slightly at my excitement.
My thoughts were quickly interrupted by Trevor: “Come check this out… you are not going to believe what’s anchored out here!”.
A lot of you may recognize this boat as FPB 78-1. For those of you who don’t know, this is the first of two existing FPB 78 yachts. FPB 78-2 is called “Greywolf”, and Trevor is it’s former Captain. Neither Jim or I had seen an FPB in person, as Trevor’s time with her occurred in the Europe, the Arctic, and Oceania. We agreed it was just as cool looking as we’d thought from pictures.
Pulling out of the inlet was uneventful, but after a little while Jim was hand steering Frannie through the growing swell as North Carolina grew smaller and smaller.
We’ve known since we first sailed her that Frannie was prone to a very uncomfortable roll. We hadn’t seen her in swell greater than about 5’, but Trevor often joked that Frannie floated comparably to a cork so we should have known what we were getting into. Before leaving the dock, we’d moved the large water jugs from deck to down below in an attempt to positively nudge her stability.
With the swell coming from our aft quarter and the boat as heavy as she was, our tiller pilot still couldn’t hold a course. The wind vane didn’t stand a chance either. As the swell grew, she was rolling more than ever before. Although the mood was generally high, all of this was making us silently dread night watch a little bit…
After the excitement of leaving port wore off, the cockpit party was over so I decided to go get some sleep before taking the first watch. The night watch schedule was to be 2000-0000, 0000-0400, 0400-0800 (Jamie, Trevor, Jim). As I descended through the companionway and my socked foot hit the floor, I nearly ate the kitchen counter. The floor of the cabin was completely soaked!
Trev, springing into action as usual, quickly traced the water to the engine room. The leak, which he knew about, comes from the drive shaft. Usually, the water politely drains into the bilge from the basin under the engine. Today, the angles Frannie experienced had reached new heights, allowing the water to slosh around under the engine and escape consistently out of the cracks into the cabin. We used towels to try to “plug” the crack under the stairs, but it didn’t help much.
Jim, sitting on his bed next to the engine through the excitement, interrupted our exasperated conversation: “guys… it’s wet here too”. Lovely! A second leak, this one from the deck. Poor Jim’s bed was soaked. We moved his bedding to the berth opposite ours, put the last of the spare towels on the floor, and moved on.
As if our acceptance of the leaks angered the universe, some books came crashing onto my pillow seconds before I planned to lay my head on it. Sigh. A little disheartened, I quickly drifted off.
As I rocked awake, my first sensation was that it was several degrees colder than when I fell asleep (and a lot darker). Still half conscious, I made out some murmurings coming through the companionway… “way worse than I thought”… “really unstable”… “not handling this well”… “40 knot squalls”… “gut feeling”… Poking my head out from the top step, Trev explained.
After the leaks were discovered and he helmed the boat for a while, he decided she felt off. She wasn’t handling the conditions well, and by then we only had 20 knots and about 6’ of swell (which shouldn't be a lot).
Upon consideration of his gut feeling, he and Jim had pulled out a detailed 10-day forecast from Chris Parker. Reading through the forecast, it wasn’t quite the window we had conjured. On Monday (3 days from then), a passing cold front could bring winds up to 50 knots along our route. Upon examination of potential alternates (the Bahamas or Bermuda), there wasn’t a feasible way to escape these winds without crossing back over the gulfstream to Florida (something you don’t want to do with high winds from the North: wind against strong current = standing waves that would eat our little Frannie).
With the boat still pointed east towards the gulfstream, Trevor made the difficult decision to turn back towards mainland. None of us wanted to do this, plus Jim and I didn't have much to contribute since we're comparatively naïve when it comes to offshore sailing. This is part of what makes Trevor exceptional at Captaining boats - and I know how hard it can be because I've faced similar pressures in airplanes.
The three of us discussed, and despite how uncomfortable we all were, we wanted to make miles. So instead of turning back to Beaufort, we altered course towards Southport, North Carolina. This sail would take us through the night into the following afternoon, but we looked forward to accomplishing something.
We finally dropped the hook in Southport right as the sun was setting. In the past 24 hours, Trev and I had eaten half a pepper and some hummus between the two of us. Jim had eaten all the carbs on the boat (Pringles, chips, pretzels, cookies, etc...). We were all hungry (including Jim, somehow) so we feasted on a giant bowl of pasta, made with some homemade pesto I had whipped up before we left Beaufort. By then, we were laughing about the crossing, starting up a backgammon tournament, and plotting our next week on the boat.
I've had a lot of curious questions about what it's like to be at sea on a small boat like ours. Here's a little taste, answering the most common question: what do you do at night?
If you choose to read on, take this post with a grain of salt because it's a rather idyllic representation (were lucky enough to have extremely pleasant weather on this sail)... but here it is:
2 Days from New York, NY to Norfolk, VA
As you can see by scrolling through the images above, we had nothing but calm seas for our first ocean sail on Frannie C. Crewed by myself (Jamie), Trevor, and a little bird named Fred, it was a very peaceful sail indeed.
Here are some quick stats to get us started:
Why so much motoring?
It was unfortunate to run the engine as much as we did, but we had a timeline to keep. I had a flight to catch out of Norfolk to complete one last week of flying before being finished work for the winter! We agreed that if our speed dropped below 5 knots, we’d start the engine to keep at least that speed. As it turns out, this ended up being almost the entire journey...
Pros of this? We didn't have to worry about electricity (the engine keeps the batteries charged) - we can run the fan, blender, toaster oven, etc... and still have lights & nav equipment working!
Cons of this? SO. LOUD. The steady PUT-PUT of our single-cylinder diesel engine echoing throughout the boat causes unavoidable headaches.
What do you do out there?
The short answer is not a lot. If you're lucky, some "exciting" things will happen, such as: a little bird appearing (seemingly from nowhere) and hopping around happily for about 10 hours. Eventually he'll warm up to you and follow you around a bit. You'll become fond of him but he'll fly away and you'll be a bit sad.
Or you'll come across a over 10 anchored ships & get to hand steer as you weave through them!
So... yeah - activities are limited. Activity #1 is to stay on course and not hit anything. During the day, we're both generally up (except a few naps), so we share this responsibility simultaneously. Other daytime activities include: reading, listening to music or podcasts, staring blankly at the empty horizon, arbitrarily moving around the boat to various sitting/standing positions, absent-minded yoga, having a few drinks, realizing that was a mistake because now staying awake for night watch will be nearly impossible, etc...
Well, as you can imagine, someone's got to be up at all times to do the whole "get where you're going and don't hit anything" activity... With only 2 people on board, this can be tiring. We agreed on 4-hour night watch shifts: 1900-2300, 2300-0300, 0300-0700 (doing opposites each night).
What we ended up doing was probably ill-advised (although fine considering we only had 2 nights to deal with). The person with the first watch would stay up as long as possible (usually about 0100), then the next person would wake up and do the rest of the night.
During night watch, we have a few rules/responsibilities. Before I explain them, I'll describe some of our worst nightmares that they're designed to prevent:
Now, those are unlikely scenarios - but even so, we abide by the following during night watch:
Sailing Through the Night...
Sometimes, it's the most peaceful thing in the world. Picture yourself surrounded on all sides by an empty horizon, no vessel or land in sight, the moon and the stars glistening off the water, only the sounds of breaking waves and wind on your sails... (and in the case of this voyage, the put-put of our Yanmar... but if you're picturing it, maybe leave that part out). It's a nice feeling to absorb...
Night watch activities vary slightly from during the day... I'll give you a sample:
You're perched in the cockpit enjoying the picture I painted above, a little more bundled up than during the day. You're doing a crossword by the soft light of your precious red headlamp. Suddenly, your leg starts vibrating and you realize 20 minutes has passed. You hop to your feet and head for the cabin door, you've got one foot down the stairs when something stops you - oh, that's right, you're attached to the cockpit seat.
You're down below now, looking at the small AIS screen, nothing has changed except that now there's a new little triangle on your port side headed for land. Curiously, you scroll through the vessel's information: a fishing vessel, doing 8 knots headed for Delaware Bay, CPA (closest point of approach) 2NM, TCPA (time until closest point of approach) 52 minutes... interesting. You're sweating now, it's hot down below in your foulies...
Next, you unlock the iPad & open Garmin Bluechart - you see your little icon has changed from last night's pirate ship to a large rubber duck (thanks to your mature boyfriend/Captain). Good news is it's resting right on the red trackline, pointed maybe just a few degrees to the east. Just to satisfy your OCD, you hit the autopilot-to-starboard button 4 times (for 4 degrees).
As you start settling back into your comfy crossword corner, you realize you forgot to look for that fishing vessel. You stand up, one hand on the dodger, and stare hard at the black abyss that lies on your port side... nothing.
Here's where night sailing can become not so peaceful... two 20-minute alarms later, you've started to make out some abnormally bright lights on your port side. Looks like a damn city in the middle of the ocean. Yep - that must be the fishing vessel. Down to the AIS to see if anything's changed... CPA 0.1NM, TCPA 12 minutes... For those of you who don't know, AIS is not exact (it's a prediction), but even if it were exact, 0.1NM is still not a sufficient distance for a small sailboat to be from a large fishing vessel.
You have right of way on two counts: you are sailing, and also on his right. This doesn't make you feel any better, though. No more crosswords, you are glued to the horizon. After it becomes clear he isn't going to move, you radio him. The gruff, slightly pissed off, & tired sounding voice of an old fisherman blares back at you... Clearly indifferent to whether or not he runs over a tiny sailboat, he disregards the rules completely and says: "take my stern".
Sigh. Alrighty then. You hop back up the stairs, remove the autopilot from the tiller and gently bring your bow to port until you're pointed just to the left of the blinding mass of lights. As a few minutes pass by, this mass becomes a more distinguishable silhouette of a tall metal ship, large metal arms protruding out over the water. Not only is it blinding, but it's also loud. They must have some heavy machinery running on deck. Standing there thinking holy shit, you realize you're now looking at it's stern... shaking it off, you steer the boat back onto an approximate compass heading and reattach the autopilot.
By: David Hogg
Dear Frannie C readership,
My name is Dave & I will be your guest blogger for today. A bit about myself:
To read the rest of Dave's guest post - click "read more" below!
April 20: After changing the oil, cleaning, replacing a few parts, and painting the bottom, our next task was to somehow swindle our way into the water so that we didn't have to wait until May 1.
April 25: Still no progress at the (impressively disorganized) yard in Port Credit. Trevor remains homeless, and both of us very impatient.
April 26, 0800: Trevor comes to the yard to wax the hull.
April 26, 1300: A beautiful man named Pat Sturgeon hooks it up HARD.
April 26, 1400: Jamie is teaching an Aeronautics class at Seneca Newnham campus.
April 26, 1500: Trev calls Alex to come assist with the last minute launch.
April 26, 1700: Frannie is wet (see below). How exciting!
April 26, 1800: Trev, Kylie, and Alex are so excited they decide to go for an inaugural rip.
April 26, 1830: Jamie receives a voicemail:
"Hi babe, the boat is in the water... she floats! Alex and I are just running the engine around the marina, maybe you can come by after class and..."
April 26, 1900: Jamie drives to the yard, half excited half worried.
April 26, 2000: Once receiving a more accurate description of the "fire" from the boys, it becomes clear that it was just a bit of spilled oil burning off after they'd run the engine to temperature...
April 26, 2030: Inaugural rip 2.0, this time with Jamie on board. Alex takes pics and Jamie happens to be nautically dressed from professor-ing.