Catching up - Florida to Beaufort, North Carolina offshore

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 11 Jun 2013 18:51
We left Marathon at first light with a gentle breeze to assist our progress. It was forecast to increase from a favourable direction but wind direction  became almost irrelevant as, to our horror, we were nearly dissected by a sports-fishing boat that was speeding out of Marathon towards the fishing grounds. Quite how he didn't see us was a complete mystery. We are hardly a stealth boat sporting a fifty foot high mast with big white sails, but just as we were wondering what action to take the skipper of the sports-fisher finally saw us and threw the boat into a sharp banking turn at the last gasp and passed just ahead of us. Was he on the 'phone' perhaps? In the end all we had to contend with was his large bow wave! We continued on our way wondering just what we would have done had we become impaled on his bows.
            Escaping Marathon                                    they had to build some very long bridges to span the  Florida Keys
All the way from Key West to Miami there is a shallow inner route called the Hawk Channel which is a favourite with boaters going north and south through the Keys. Depths in the channel are generally around twenty to thirty feet with numerous obstacles along the route all indicated by a generally excellent buoyage system. Basic navigation skills should see you through this sixty mile stretch of water. However, as the slight breeze became a good breeze and the sun absconded to the other side of the world for twelve hours it needed lots of concentration to negotiate the buoyage system whilst sailing at a fair lick. 'Skip' had enjoyed 4 hours of fast exhilarating sailing on his 1800-2200 watch but the 'Admiral' needed some adjusting time when coming on watch bleary-eyed when she was greeted by a mass of flashing red and green buoys stretching into the distance. And for good measure there were some unlit buoys that became evident as we sped towards them. But she soon adjusted to the conditions and 'Skip' scuttled below for some rest.
Having sailed past the less populated Keys through the evening we sailed ever closer towards Miami. There was something quite magical about sailing past this huge sleeping city in the early hours just a mile or so off the coast. All the large skyscrapers (are they still called skyscrapers?) were lit up blotting out the more distant stars of the pitch-black night sky in the Keys.  Despite the population of the USA there are only a few cities of any real size between Miami and New York on the east coast. Miami certainly looked impressive when viewed from our boat in the early morning hours. Our only company out on the water were cruise ships 'stooging' around waiting to dock either in Miami or Port Everglades. Miami airport was also still active at 0200 hours as passenger planes took off into the east over our heads as we were conveyed northwards by the Gulf Stream, that magic carpet of warm water flowing all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe. Just off Miami this current is squeezed between the USA mainland and the Bahamas which boosts progress by 3-4 knots. It was no surprise to see nine to ten knots on our SOG (Speed over ground) reading. That represents excellent progress for us slowcoaches that usually bumble along at four to five knots. Weather-wise, our luck held as we stayed firmly entrenched in the middle of the 'stream' so there was little to concern us as the miles whizzed by. A four hour watch would see well over thirty miles logged.
We had previously caught a small snapper and now hit a shoal of Mahi Mahi. In fact it was one of those rare fishing events when 'Skip' had just changed the lure on the electric reel and had gone across to do likewise on a hand-line we were deploying on the starboard side of the boat. First, the line on the electric reel screamed out indicating that we had a fish hooked. Then as 'Skip' had the hand line in his clutches yet another Mahi attacked that very lure, leaping out of the water as it struck. Unfortunately the hook was immediately spat out by the fish, a trait expertly exhibited by this species, but we still hopefully had one on the other side of the boat. This we gratefully reeled in and had it despatched, filleted and in the freezer within thirty minutes.
                                                                                    Freshly caught 5 lb female Mahi Mahi  (three meal size)                             
Following the centre of the Gulf Stream means that your course northwards takes you further offshore away from the Georgia and South Carolina coasts until once more closing in on the coast at Beaufort in North Carolina, which is just below Cape Hatteras. The wind increased from a south-easterly direction as we sailed along the stream and whilst conditions weren't dangerous in any respect we did start to ship the odd wave into the cockpit.  One in particular slapping the starboard hull and soaking the 'Admiral' on one of her watches. These are the good days in the 'Stream', because should the conditions change and the wind shift into the north then it's time to exit and head for shelter or offshore. It's then no place for a small boat to be sailing in.
As we progressed towards Beaufort another challenge materialized throughout the night hours. Shrimp boats working the Gulf Stream became more evident.  They were the main talking point on our watch handovers as both of us had difficult decisions to make throughout the four hour watches. The main problem was that not only did we have three or four boats working the immediate vicinity, or just over the horizon, but as they made a run through a stretch of water they would lay a trail of strobe lights and light sticks in their wake which had us dodging and weaving all over the place in the boisterous conditions. One particular Shrimper approached from the east which made us the 'give way' boat although we were sailing fast across their path. We had to change course and run down their port side at a distance of just two hundred meters not knowing when we could safely resume course as they refused to respond to our VHF calls. Daybreak was a welcome sight as the boats tend not to work in daylight as the shrimp leave the surface and descend to the depths again.
        it's raining over there but we were dry                                and then follows the inevitable rainbow
The weather held all the way to Beaufort and we motor-sailed the last 50 miles as the wind died away, making meaningful progress difficult without arriving in Beaufort at night, which we preferred not to do. We entered the inlet with over 600 miles sailed over the ground from Marathon. We would now be above 35 degrees north at the start of the hurricane season which our insurance underwriters insist on
        Views from our mooring at Beaufort                                         
We've finished offshore passage-making until later in the year. We are now transiting the rivers and 'ditches' of the Intracoastal Waterway System once more with a long jobs list to keep us busy for most of the summer.