Hope everyone rang in a very Happy New Year. We celebrated 1/1 aboard The Fox and underway.
We spent 2 nights tied to a dock in the Fort Pierce Municipal Marina, waiting for a weather window to take a short hop further south, outside the Fort Pierce Inlet to the Lake Worth (West Palm Beach) Inlet, about a 50-mile trip. It is a simple matter that boats do all the time. It is much faster and less stressful than the same trip along the dread Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), where there were almost no anchorages to accommodate our 6-foot draft; 3 areas that had to be traversed at or near high tide; and in which the last 11 miles included a total of SIX bascule bridges, each of which we had to hail and patiently wait to open. And did I mention the VERY heavy power-boat traffic, drunkenly and/or impatiently blasting up and down the ICW during this holiday week? I hate the ICW.
I got a very favorable forecast for offshore weather for January 1: Easterlies at 10-15 knots, seas 3'-5' at 6 seconds; and moderating during the afternoon. Not willing to believe everything I hear, I verified this info using 4 different weather sources, including one live human being. The absolute worst that could happen, I was assured from all sources, would be 17-to-20-knot winds in the morning, dropping to the 15-knot range or below during the afternoon when we would be approaching the Lake Worth Inlet. Nice.
What we got, was easterlies 17 to 24 knots from the very beginning, with 6' waves at 5 seconds, which rolled us beam-to-beam like a washing machine. Due to the high chop our forward progress was less than 3 knots per hour. At this rate we would make the Lake Worth Inlet in the middle of the night when the weather was forecast to get really bad, so we decided to reverse course and run back into the Fort Pierce Inlet just after low tide.
Note: the Fort Pierce Inlet is at its worst on an ebb tide in easterly winds. They say in such conditions the inlet is "rough." We didn't just have an ebb tide; we had an ebb spring tide - meaning, even stronger than normal currents against us. And also too, the currents in the inlet generally run strong - about 2 knots - for longer than an hour after the actual times of the high and low tides. Plus, our strong easterly winds were directly opposing the outflowing strong current. Summary: the bottom of a low spring tide with strong opposing winds is the worst possible time to try and enter the Fort Pierce Inlet.
What we got in the Fort Pierce Inlet at the precise moment of low tide, for the "rough" description of the entrance, was a half-mile gauntlet of 8-foot pyramid-shaped standing waves (i.e., well above our heads and our cockpit) coming from 3 directions. It had initially looked doable (and I guess it was, since I am here to write this), but at 2 points when the tall standing waves collided with both sides of The Fox simultaneously, it felt to me as if our rudder would snap and we'd be thrown on the rocks of the inlet's jetty. GB said later that the water conditions were so bad, and we were tossed around so heavily, he was surprised our engine had not faiedl. Go, Fox!
Years ago we crossed the Eureka bar and transited Cape Mendocino in California right before they closed the bar due to bad weather, and those conditions were nothing like these we faced at Fort Pierce Inlet. Punch line: Florida NEVER closes their inlets, regardless of how bad the conditions get. Everyone is invited to take their own bootstrappy chances.
We eventually got inside the Fort Pierce Inlet into calmer waters, with the NOAA radio forecast still cheerfully reporting easterlies no stronger than 13 knots and seas flattening from 5' to 3'. We cursed all the weather forecasters and resumed our long slog down the ICW.
Lessons learned: (1) even if 4 weather sources agree that the next 12 hours are good for moving a boat offshore? They lie. (2) winter weather along the entire US East Coast is impossible to predict. The conditions change literally every few hours, and no weather source is reliable. At times, it actually seems as if you're being punk'd. It is misleading, and thus worse than having no weather information available to you at all. (3) never, ever, EVER enter the Fort Pierce Inlet from offshore until at least 2 hours after low tide. Especially if you have easterly winds. (4) if entering any inlet along the US East Coast, make sure your boat has a powerful engine in top working condition, and a helmsman with a strong constitution for getting through some risky waters. We really and truly got close to losing everything yesterday.
Meanwhile, we heard over the radio that at least one other sailboat - a 42-footer - got suckered into the bogus forecast, and had to be towed in to Lake Worth Inlet when its engine failed.
And yet, now, 24 hours after the fact? We are safely sitting in a nicely deep ICW anchorage with 3 feet under the keel at an hour before low tide, on a very hot and windy afternoon in front of a bunch of Floridian McMansions and with weekender hammerheads jetting around us on jet-skis, runabouts and motor yachts whose helmsmen do not know how to observe the posted speed limit. Ah, Florida.
And so the year begins -- traveling very close to the edge, with The Fox having kept us safe, and us having kept The Fox safe. Wishing the same for all of you.