The last leg
Well, you haven't heard from us in a while and we hope you can probably understand why! It is now time, however, to go back to the final crossing and let you know what happened in the final couple of days.
We were positioned on Cat Cay, 8 miles South of Bimini in order to give us a fighting chance against the infamous Gulf Stream. A mass of water greater than all the worlds rivers combined flowing North at between 1-6kts (although some people advised us it may reach 8kts).
After a 60 mile crossing from our uninhabited island off the North coast of Andros Island to reach Cat Cay on Christmas eve our plan was to rest up Christmas Day and set off at around midnight for our final crossing. Fully packed and ready to go we were just 2 hours from departure when the bombardment of messages came through. Will's dad back home had been on the phone to the US Coastguard explaining our planned crossing. This was routine procedure, despite the fact that the coastguard was non existent in many of the islands, we would always try and alert them to the two crazy guys paddling their way in a kayak .
The Americans took this slightly more seriously than all the other coastguards. We were strongly advised not to set off that night, alerting us to the daunting fact that by the time they reach the approximate location of a distress call their search area is the size of a US state. This was the general rule for a yacht/ pleasure cruiser. Searching for a small kayak bobbing in the waves at night would be next to impossible to locate. On top of this a small craft advisory warning was in place.
'Issued when winds have reached, or are expected to reach within 12 hours, a speed marginally less than gale force'.
Although incredibly frustrating, with the weather updates coming in and the information from the Coastguard, the decision not to cross became a no brainer. So we turned our hopes to boxing day night. The pristine beaches and glistening water were no longer a relaxing sight. After 3 months of longing for the next rest day (admin day) we were now utterly sick of being stuck on land. The weather wasn't letting up and the small craft advisory was still in place until the morning of the 27th.
We spent every 10 minutes of boxing day checking our list of weather stations. Lengthy discussions with the US Coastguard ensued and finally we were given a slight approval to cross. They advised us to wait until daylight but this was impossible given the length of the crossing. The small craft advisory warning would stay in place but we knew we had paddled in worse weather than what we would face. We sat down for our final dinner, the wind was blowing and the nerves were building. The concerning factor was the countless captains and yachtsmen we met that night. We had heard so many stories of the Gulf Stream along the way, strong winds mixing with the incredibly strong current causing 'monster' waves.
At dinner we met a couple of families who were intrigued by our story. Learning of our plans they were adamant we should not go that night. Two captains of a boat in Cat Cay had also heard of our plans and came to have a chat with us. Having flown across from Miami that day they stated that they wouldn't even cross in these conditions. It's fair to say we weren't overly pleased hearing these words. Personally and I think for Will as well the overriding emotion was immense frustration. The weather forecast was absolutely fine but we just had no idea what these 'crazy' Gulf Stream conditions everyone loved to tell us about would be like. We had spent extra money on charts, received all forecasts possible and still we were utterly clueless as to what we would face.
As Midnight approached we checked any last messages, completed our final weather check and sat down to make the decision. The weather had not improved, the coastguard had left the small boat advisory warning in place until the morning yet all our weather forecasts were adding up to manageable conditions. As T.S. Eliot said 'Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go'. We went.
1am arrived and at last we were climbing into the boat to face the closing stages of the expedition. If there was ever a sign not to go we probably had it as soon as we set off. In total darkness and fortunately in the shelter of the marina the rudder started to play up. On the opposite side to where the rudder cable had snapped a couple of weeks earlier we were strangely barely able to turn left. Continuing on we next realised we had left our prized GB flag in one of the hatches. Unused for 3 months and waiting for our arrival in Miami we simply had to stop to get the flag out. Having only just left the marina we scanned the tip of Cat Cay with our torch to find a suitable place to land. Once landed we quickly unpacked the flag, had a play with the rudder and all was good. 5 minutes later and we were back on the water, heading into the frantic shipping lanes in the Gulf Stream.
10 miles out to sea and the first ominous lights appeared about 8 miles to our South West. Briefly visible as we reached the crest of a wave before disappearing as we were plunged into the trough. Unlike pleasure cruisers which have a green light on their starboard side (right), red light on their port side (left) and a white stern light. Oil tankers and container ships are slightly more problematic. I'm actually not familiar with the lights they are meant to display but the only lights we could see were two white dots. Totally clueless, Will thankfully knew that the white light at the stern should be raised higher than the white light at the bow. This gave us a slight upper hand on the direction of the ship but lights tend to be incredibly deceptive at night. It was virtually impossible to tell how close or far away these boats were. In the knowledge that container ships average around 20 knots and oil tankers at around 16 knots we really had to make sure our decision to slow down or speed up to get out the way would be correct. This is where I attempt to do some maths. The furthest we could spot these ships was from 10 nautical miles. We travel at around 3 knots. If we assume the vessel chasing us down is a container ship travelling at 20 knots then it gives us half an hour to get a mile out the way. A mile takes us 20 minutes ....
We spent the next 6 hours of darkness constantly looking over our shoulder. Fearful that one of these vessels would appear at any minute directly behind us. At this point I realise I've failed to mention anything about the weather everyone was so concerned about. If we're perfectly honest the waves weren't anything like what we had been expecting. Their size not as big as let on and the wave pattern predictable. There's no doubt the Gulf Stream in the wrong conditions becomes pretty perilous but the concern over the conditions we faced was not necessary. With our weather concerns subsiding our attention turned to the power of the Gulf Stream. Having struggled to predict how far up the coast of Florida we would be pushed we had a number of potential landing points. Fort Lauderdale being the most Southerly point and West Palm Beach hopefully being the most northerly. The power of the Gulf Stream certainly shouldn't be underestimated. Looking back on our tracker we were averaging around 6/7 knots in the middle of the stream. Consequently we made seriously quick progress. Setting off at 1am we arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 2pm on the 27th of December.
Overriding emotions were probably of sheer relief. Relief that the countless dangers have finally disappeared for the last time. Sharks, thunder and lighting, squalls, dehydration, weather concerns and reefs were no longer. The strangest feeling of all, we wouldn't have to go through the daily routine we had experienced for 3 months.
So where does this leave us?
Well it would be fair to say that none of this would have been possible without so much help from so many people. The list is genuinely endless but a few very special mentions must be said. David McCreadie (Will's father) was simply fantastic, always keeping a watchful eye on our progress, alerting us of any ships in our area, supplying weather updates, keeping coastguards informed of our location and handling any enquiries back home. We're extremely grateful for all our financial sponsors, equipment sponsors and accommodation sponsors. Vital in every aspect of the trip. Lastly a huge thank you to everyone who has donated. Although the trip has finished work with the Get Exploring Trust has just begun and we're extremely keen for people to keep donating, promoting the charity and now choosing our charity in your fundraising activities!
Please share our page and pass it on to friends and family to donate: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/goldenarcexpedition
Life following the blue dot tracker may have ended for now but there will be so much for everyone to get involved with now we are back home. Keep an eye out for news on our talks, fundraising dinners and the premier of the film! We would love to see you all there!