After our recent glorious boating holiday in the Bahamas aboard a 41' Symbol Motor Yacht, we prepared for the crossing from West End, Grand Bahama Island, to Lake Worth, Florida. It's a stretch of approximately 60 miles and we had a chart plotter so it should have been a "piece of cake". However...
The ocean was rough but it was the best it was going to be for a week or two, so we prepared for the trip, set our course on the chart plotter and headed out. Our top speed was 7-8 knots so the trip would take seven to eight hours. Doug had to work each wave for the whole crossing because once we got out there, we had waves coming at us from both quarters. They were 6' - 9' coming out of the northeast from a three week blow and the southeast from a 2 day blow creating a wicked cross chop that we had to handle as we headed west.
We compensated for the Gulf Stream and were headed straight to the markers at the Lake Worth Inlet according to the plotter. Then, we realized that the cursor on the chart plotter wasn't moving. We were about three miles off the Florida shoreline and had no location on the plotter!
The seas were building as we approached the shallower shoreline and there was no room for error. From that distance, there was no way to tell where the opening in the shoreline was. Luckily for us, Doug never depends 100% on navigation software and he had been watching the shoreline closely, so had a pretty good idea of the approximate location of the inlet. He went totally to VPR (Visual Piloting Rules) as we didn't have time and it was too rough to fire up the laptop backup system.
VPR to the Rescue
Doug stayed on the helm and while we were using the binoculars to locate the markers, we realized that an approaching ship was probably heading for the same inlet. Then it was confirmed when we heard the ship call the port authority notifying them of their desire to enter the port authority area dock. Quickly, we called the ship on the VHF and let him know we would follow him in.
From then on, it was relatively easy. We were still surfing down the waves coming in, and Doug brought her in beautifully. Of course, once inside, it was calm and that we were ready for.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
This experience certainly backed up the recommendation that boaters should always have paper charts as well as electronic and use VPR all the time.
You need to be prepared for the unexpected.