We have been underway from Anguilla for over a week now. The days have been gorgeous. There hasn't been much wind (the engine has been on 66% of the trip), but the light breeze has made for blissfully calm seas. We began the passage sweltering in the heat and humidity, but as we've reached higher latitudes the air has become cooler and crisper and we've dug out sweaters and blankets. We had some mild squalls during night watch the first few nights out, but the last few night watches have been beautiful. There is no moon, so the stars are just brilliant. The big dipper is poised just above the horizon as though it is about to take a scoop out of the ocean.
Each day Sten has been setting out a veritable pu-pu platter of lures and teasers to try to entice the fish to bite, but other than one small mahi (which I turned into a tasty Thai green curry), we haven't been catching anything. Because we are motoring at a fuel-conserving speed, we probably haven't been going fast enough to fool the fish.
But all that is about to change. The wind is supposed to fill in this afternoon. Tonight we should be making fast miles north towards the last big challenge of our adventure: the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream has been likened to a river running in the ocean. It is more like an overflow drain. The prevailing currents in the southern half of the North Atlantic are westbound. Those currents push a massive amount of water into the Caribbean and up against the east coast of the United States. All that water needs to go somewhere. The Gulf Stream sucks a huge portion of it back out into the North Atlantic. At times the Stream can be 100 miles wide and run at speeds of up to 4 knots. It is not a thing to be trifled with.
During periods of unsettled weather the prevailing wisdom is to cross the Gulf Steam at right angles to minimize the amount of time spent in the Stream. But in settled weather a ride in the Stream can cut hours off of a trip. The last time we crossed the Stream, southbound to Bermuda three and a half years ago, we spent an entire night riding the Stream. Mata'irea's speedo was pegged at over 11 knots for several exhilarating hours. Next week the Newport to Bermuda Race fleet will be attempting to do the same thing.
Similar to when riding the Agulhas current around the east coast of South Africa, the key is to not be in the Stream when the wind is blowing against the current. Light breeze blowing against strong current can cause short choppy seas, which are unpleasant, but not dangerous. Stronger winds can stir up standing and breaking waves, which can be dangerous.
There is currently a big eddy bending the Stream and creating a northbound section of current between 66 and 68 degrees west. We can either ride this eddy or divert 200 miles west to cross the stream at a right angle. We've decided that the weather looks settled enough to take a ride in the Stream. We expect to enter the Gulf Stream Monday night and be through it by Tuesday morning. We'd better be. The winds are forecast to clock around to the north and begin blowing against the Stream early Tuesday.