Today is the first of two days at sea. Our route will take us through the Straits of Florida and then into the old Bahama Channel located between the South end of the Bahamian islands chain and Cuba. Eventually by tomorrow morning we enter the North Atlantic Ocean after passing Great Inagua Island heading towards Puerto Rica. Then it is sailing above the island of Hispaniola (Haiti & the Dominican Republic) until we make our landfall at Puerto Rico around 10 am.
The first part is going through the Florida Straits. Here we have the Gulf Stream that pushes us forward and if the Navigator manages to find the Axis it can help with up to 3 miles in the hour. Finding the axis is true statement as the strongest flow of the Gulf Stream is not always in the same location. Sometimes closer to the Florida Coast; sometimes further away. However that won’t last very long as the ship then has to head into the Nicholas Channel, followed by the Old Bahama Channel. Once it is there it comes under the influence of the Easterly Trade Winds. That is a steady wind which results in a steady push on the waves towards the West and it results in a Westerly current. So here we will lose what we gained with the Gulf Stream. The steady – opposing- trade wind varying between 15 and 25 knots costs us about 0.5 knot of speed. The opposing current is on average 0.5 knots as well and that means that the ship has to go a knot faster each hour than the average speed to maintain. That does not make the Chief Engineer very happy as it costs extra fuel to keep the schedule. Normally we make up for it again by the time we sail west from St. Lucia and later NW from Aruba to Grand Cayman and back to Tampa.
What is of more interest to the Guests is there something to see while we are sailing on this route. Yes there was this morning. While in the Gulf Stream we are too far from away to see the low laying land of the Florida Keys. Cuba is a different matter. It has a very high mountain range running along the island and on our courses we are sailing close to the Northern Cuban shore, just outside the territorial waters. We cannot go much further out anyway as the Old Bahama Channel is quite narrow at certain places (under water that is) and we have a Traffic Separation System in place with keeps the SE and NW traffic separate. To the north we have the 1000’s of reefs and small islands which form The Bahama’s and we do not see those either. Same as with the Florida Keys, most of them only stick a few feet above water and are not visible with the naked eye from a distance.
So, once we are clear of Cuba we will not see anything until we make our land fall at Puerto Rico. That is land we will not see. There is always abundant wild life out there, especially when land is not too far away. So we had all sorts in the morning. Sea Gulls, Brown Boobies, flying fish and guests reported seeing small dolphins, most likely porpoises. I think that it will diminish later on as there is more wind expected than blows normally. The Trade winds are normally good for 15 to 20 knots but 25 to 30 are expected tomorrow, courtesy of a Cold Front looming in the distance which might reach us after arrival in San Juan. (If so, that would mean a rainy day in that port.)
Cold Fronts are very common here in the winter. Florida normally has one every 3 days, big or small and that plays on into the Caribbean. On the one side it makes the temperatures a bit more pleasant while cruising the Caribe, on the other hand it increases the amount of rain and the wind…………………. It can be very windy on occasion in San Juan and as the docks are perpendicular to the prevailing wind, it can make docking an interesting experience.
Sailing here in the winter time can be very interesting as the area is caught in between the steady weather of the Tropics and the variable weather of the north. A good snowstorm cannot only upset the whole of the USA but it has direct implications for the weather further south.
Tomorrow we will find out how the weather is developing and how it will look for the coming days.