Why Aren’t You Moving?

That’s a good question, and one I’d like to try to answer. Notice I said try. So here goes.

I know that a lot of people have been looking at our track, seeing where we are and wondering why we haven’t been moving lately. We’re so close! From anywhere outside of Florida it looks like we are just a short hop away from The Bahamas, and in reality we are. We could make the 35 miles further south to North Palm Beach and Lake Worth in one relatively short day, drop our anchor for the night and make the 58 mile crossing to Grand Bahama in one relatively long day of sailing and we’d be there right? Right? Yes, technically, and in reality that is exactly what we will do, but there is one little (um, major) thing standing in our way. That being the Gulf Stream. For those non-mariners out there and those unacquainted with ocean travel the Gulf Stream is a river of warm water that circulates around the planet within the larger context of the oceans. Say what-who-what? There is a current flow of water that moves around the oceans called the Gulf Stream (in the Atlantic Ocean).

Let’s start with a physics lesson. And before your eyes gloss over, this will be extremely simple and something you might find fascinating. Everyone knows that heat rises right? You stand around a fire and warm yourself in its radiant glow. If it’s cold enough outside you probably even rotisserie yourself around in a circle to warm your backsides, and as you do you can feel all that luxurious heat rising into the air. It’s why fireplaces have smokestacks, the heat rising pulls all the smoke out with it and keeps your house warm. But really most of that heat is going upwards and is why your food cooks on the grill (yum, BBQ!). Okay, so heat rises and we are all on the same page there. So when the scorching sunlight hits the ocean water near the equator it causes it to warm up. How much? I’m not sure and I don’t have those numbers in front of me, but it’s like a couple of degrees or so. Doesn’t sound like much but were talking about a few gazillion gallons of water being warmed up and causing it to rise to the surface. So when all that nice bathtub-warm water rises to the surface it causes colder water to fill into its place from below. Where does this water come from? Um, the arctic, like Canada and up there, eh? And where does it go? Over the millions of years, this has caused the warm water at the equator to flow north at the surface of the water (remember heat up, cold down) and once it gets up north to where the sun isn’t so powerful and it’s cold it has also cooled somewhat and then it sinks to the bottom of the ocean and becomes another river of cold water running along the bottom of the ocean back south to the equator where it fills in and heats up again on its never ending cycle of flow.

This warm flow of water in the Atlantic Ocean runs up along the coast of Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico, circles around down the west coast of Florida and makes a hard left past the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida. It cruises north between Florida and The Bahamas up the east coast of the United States. Somewhere around Cape Hatteras it zings off in a northeasterly direction towards Iceland and England before losing its cool and sinking into the icy abyss of the North Atlantic Ocean to continue its journey as a cold river along the bottom back towards the equator. Not incidentally, this is also the reason why Europe has a habitable climate, because the Gulf Stream brings warm water that far north from the equator. Otherwise Europe would be essentially in an ice-age, covered with possibly miles of ice. But I’m not getting into that right now.

The water we’re interested in right now is the part that lies between Florida and The Bahamas. That little barrier of a river (25-40 miles wide) of warm water that is moving north at somewhere between 2 and 5 miles per hour. Which brings us to our Meteorological lesson of the day, Wind-against-current. When the winds are blowing one way and the current is moving the opposite way (into the wind) this causes the water to stand up into massive waves. How big? Well, from what we can tell, ten knots of wind (a pretty nice sailing day) going against two knots of current (pretty mild and easy to handle) can be 3-4 foot waves. 15 knots of wind against 4 knots of current can be 5-8 foot waves. These numbers are hard to imagine, but we’ve seen them already with examples experienced in our own travels on the Hudson River, the Chesapeake Bay and the ICW. Why would you have 3-4 foot waves on the ICW right? It’s wind-against-current, and when the tidal flows of water are right and the winds are wrong it can get messy fast. There is just a lot to consider when you’re out here doing it. It doesn’t make it any less fun, in fact we revel in the complexity of it all, but it can be hard to imagine from a comfy chair somewhere in the Midwest why we aren’t going anywhere.

We are seeing reports of 10 foot plus waves in the Gulf Stream and there are many, many sources of qualified and helpful information telling us that it is really not the time to be out there right now. And this coming week we are seeing winds of 25-50 knots, the kind of Perfect Storm type of yuck that we are not about to go out into. And so we wait. And wait, and wait, and wait. But we’ll get there. Believe me, we can’t wait to be in that beautiful turquoise water of The Bahamas and swim and snorkel and fish and walk on beaches and take pictures to show everyone, but we’re not going to do it at our peril. There are enough things out here trying to kill or eat us that we aren’t going to help the weather hurt us too!

So we are in Stuart, Florida now on a mooring ball at the Sunset Bay Marina. We originally intended to be here for 2-3 days before moving on. That was Christmas. Last year. We’ve grown roots here waiting for a nice weather window and still it looks like it may be another 5, 6, 7 or who knows how many days before we can cross over to The Bahamas. With all this waiting, I can only imagine that there will be an armada of other boats crossing over with us that have been waiting also. We may look like Gilligan’s Navy invading when we finally poke over the horizon towards Grand Bahama, and I hope that it doesn’t cause congestion and backups at marinas and customs that cause other issues. We’ve heard stories that something like a fourth as many boats are over there now as normal for this time of year. Nothing we can do about that, we just do what we do.

After a day of grocery shopping it all has to go back to the boat to get put away!

Luckily, Stuart Florida is a great place. We lucked out to get a mooring ball when we did because they’ve been full-up for most of the time we’ve been here. The marina has fast Wi-Fi, a great captain’s lounge, nice bathrooms and laundry, and they host a lot of cruiser-friendly events. Movies outside on a giant screen with free pizza every other Sunday, pot-lucks, live music on the patio on Thursday nights, 2nd Sunday of the month continental breakfast for everyone, and on Tuesday is a trivia contest for anyone who wants to attend with appetizers and prizes. There is a very nice boardwalk along the St. Lucie River that leads to town and a bunch of great restaurants. There seems to be live music playing somewhere almost every day, and happy-hours with different specials everywhere you go. The Marina has a shuttle bus that we’ve ridden to West Marine, Walmart, Home Depot, Publix (the grocery store) and other places. It’s not like we aren’t in a great place. We have been enjoying our January in shorts and t-shirts, bare feet and sandals, and getting a lot of things done on the boat that we really haven’t had time to until now. Basically we’re ready to go. The shopping is done, the boat is stocked up, the oil is changed and everything is cleaned up, polished and prepped. We’re just waiting on the winds to stop beating up the Gulf Stream and to calm down enough to let us pass. And it’s hard to complain when the rest of the country seems to be getting hammered by the weather also.

We’ll get there. When we can. Without drama hopefully, and with a greater sense of what it takes to live with the weather patterns and not try to make stupid decisions based on what we want in direct contrast to what the weather will let us do.

We have enjoyed seeing all of the comments on the blog and knowing that you all are tempering the snow and cold outside with our pictures and stories of warm water and weather. We wish we could share more. We will as soon as we can. And when we do get there, you’ll see it here first!

Take Care,
Dave and Marge Back
s/v Wandering Toes, and Verne!

14 thoughts on “Why Aren’t You Moving?”

  1. Super fun to follow you the two of you. Great to see you made it to the Bahamas. We are super jealous. I was just showing Olivia how we could get out out of the Great Lakes. Happy wandering.


  2. David, Great post and sound thought process. Hang in there, when it is time you will get there!!

    Have fun and keep enjoying it.
    Penny & Dennis


  3. All looks lovely there. Marge did you get your hair done? It looks so shiny. We had 6″ plus of snow yestetrday and last night. So it is a winter wonderland here. Enjoy the sun and warmth! Love you guys.


  4. Thanks for the update. We past through Stuart years ago but did not stop as we arrived just as a very short window was available. We went overnight to near Memory Rock , North of Grand Bahama and into the Abacos. The ride was really bumpy a little before we got into the Bahamas but beautiful from then on.

    Take your time and be safe.


  5. Ahoy there,

    Loved the beautiful photos and short lesson on the Gulf Stream. Makes perfect sense to me. So have fun where you are until the wind and waves die down out there and you can safely sail on.


  6. Dave & Marge,

    Thanks for the update – so glad you are enjoying warm weather. While you are stuck in Florida, I am stuck indoors. The temperature highs have not hit zero lately and yesterday the only time I breathed in outside air was when I opened the door to view the bloody super moon. (You might be glad to read, that I am not just sitting idle. I’m working on a stained glass project for Tracy & Lori, a walleye, and am hoping to expand on it).

    To survive my ‘cabin fever’, I will live vicariously through your update, while standing in front of a heater vent with a pot of boiling water, close my eyes and imagine it’s warm ocean air. It feels great!


  7. Hey David, did you ever consider starting your own kids show on weather and physics??? Hehe, loved it! Glad you are at a good place and relaxing. No hurries, right? The rum probably tastes the same no matter where you are 🙂 Love you guys!


  8. Great blog David…. A very good lesson and a lot of information we don’t think of. We’re glad you have such a beautiful place. It sounds great. We’re just cold here. Enjoy and be safe. Your brother and family are in Orlando this week. They chose a good week to be gone, as this is the coldest we have had. Love you both


  9. Hello from rat cay 🙂
    Just back from a fishing expedition with the small
    8’ Zodiac in one of the cuts ( Thomas cay inlet)and we caught a 2’ mutton snapper that we will have for super.


  10. Nice post! Yep you’ll get there eventually… been watching your weather window. Might not be till February! Crazy man crazy.
    Enjoying your adventure!

    Troy and Barb Lutz


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