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Australian yacht's account of stormy Gulf Stream crossing

by Andrew and Clare Payne/Sail-World on 10 Nov 2013
Crossing a stormy Gulf Stream can be a challenge .. .
Australian cruising sailors Andrew and Clare Payne on their boat Eye Candy, this year joined the 'Salty Dawg Rally' to make their way south from the North American mainland to the Caribbean. Here is their graphic description of how they crossed the Gulf Stream and dodged the fronts successfully while others ran into trouble:

So we left Hampton four days ago and we have now completed 526 miles of the 1350 mile passage to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs).

Most of the fleet (116 boats) left on Wednesday but a few including Eye Candy left Tuesday on the back of a cold front. Our intention was to get across the Gulf Stream and travel sufficiently far south to miss the worst of the next cold front which was due Thursday night.

The first 120 miles was an uncomfortable close reach but that was nothing compared to the next 80 miles across the Gulf Stream. This was our fifth encounter with the Gulf Stream and let me tell you what we have learnt about this nasty piece of water - get cross it as fast as you can and if possible don't go there. The stream has strong currents, counter currents, eddies and very confused seas and its own set of convective squalls. At one stage we were doing a boat speed of 5.8 knots but only making 1.9 knots across the ground. It's a bit like a 80 mile wide twin tub washing machine - it spins you around and spits you out all wet.

Once we got through the Gulf Stream some 20 hours later, it was a further 100 mile sprint to stay ahead of the next cold front which forecast 50 knot squalls. Through the ordeal Deb went into economy mode and didn't eat for 2 and 1/2 days; sick and all as she was, she, 'Determined Deb', didn't miss a shift and so thankfully we all got sufficient rest. Now for the good news, our master plan worked and during the second cold front we mostly experienced 25 knot winds with squalls of 35 knots.

Now some of the boats that left on Wednesday were still in the Gulf Stream when the second front came through. Unfortunately they got 40- 50 knot squalls and lumpy seas. Two boats were dismasted, 2 lost their rudders, 1 broke a broken steering arm, 1 had a damaged toe rail and was taking on water and last but not least one boat broke up with a delaminating bulk head. That crew was air lifted to safety by the Coast Guard and the boat was abandoned.


So now on day four all is well, we have 15 knot winds on our aft quarter and we are on track for the BVIs. The forecast for the rest of the trip is light winds. Deb is now eating regular meals and now no longer wishes to die. Andrew has started the water maker and so we will all have showers today.

At 12:42 PM9/11/2013 (utc) our position was 31°48.09'N 069°17.01'W

The US Coast Guard has had to respond to five distress calls in a 24hour period as the main fleet crossed the Gulf Stream in stormy conditions - see Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/NH/Caribbean-bound-yachts-head-south---five-rescues-in-24-hours/116494!story

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