Monday, May 18, 2009

Bahamas to Beaufort

On May 13th we awoke as we always do at 0630 to tune in to Chris Parker, our weather provider, on our high frequency, single side band radio. We had planned to depart the Bahamas on May 16th, Saturday, based upon prior forecasts. But, with today’s update we mutually agreed we should shake a leg and leave today, hoping for 5 days and nights at sea to get to Beaufort, North Carolina.
I don’t deal well with spontaneity, especially when it involves the possibility of squalls hitting us following a day where we had Mooch, our new Yanmar, sputtering with what we hope was bad fuel clogging the filters. I also don’t like travelling alone, and we had not lined up any buddy boats. But in the interest of relationship maintenance, I agreed. At 0730 we lifted anchor and headed to Spanish Cay to top off the fuel tanks and buy a pint of Cookies and Cream ice cream. We immediately started dodging rain-bearing clouds, clearly visible on the horizon. This became more difficult as we progressed during the day, as along the Lily Banks and Barracouta Rocks your “legroom” is limited. Dodging continued through the night, by which time we had made contact with John on No Smoking, a single handler, and Gigi’s Island, folks we had met before.
Lightning lit up the sky, clouds were high and abundant, but we heard no thunder. Nerve-racking nevertheless. Squalls were all around us, but we continued to evade them throughout the night.
On May 14th, Parker said the squalls would continue but diminish and be gone by midnight. The prior evening’s squalls contained 40 knots of wind, so it was good that we were able to maneuver around them. We decided it was still a “go” to continue sailing to Beaufort, and the Sunday morning deadline Chris gave us yesterday extended to Sunday sunset, as the approaching cold front had slowed down and lost steam.
Mid day on the 14th, we still had not hit the heart of the Gulf Stream. Waves were over 6 feet, hitting us from behind, along with the wind. It was not comfortable. But we pushed on and no one suggested we cut in at a closer inlet. We have lost track of Gigi’s Island, but periodically we spot No Smoking or John hails us to chat.
Later, the seas settle, no squalls appear, but dolphin perform! We can almost hear the NOAA weather report on the VHF. It’s great to be back in the US. With the wind on the beam we are making over 8 knots sailing in the Stream.
Great sailing continued into Friday the 15th, with full advantage of the Gulf Stream driving First Edition between 7 and 8 knots, with an occasional 9 knots thrown in for excitement, and glorious sunshine and blue skies. Winds averaged between 8 and 13 knots and all was well with the world. That is, until the seas started to give birth to 12 foot rollers opposing the wind driven waves. Read: washing machine. Grab the Stugeron. No Smoking suggests he might pull into Charleston if it continues.
Stugeron is a miracle drug. It is not FDA approved, and therefore we stock up heavily while in the Bahamas. So far I have not lost hair or teeth, developed any unusual growths, or lost my eye sight, but neither Peter or I have experienced any seasickness. So, fit for the purpose intended. Don’t leave home without it.
In a matter of minutes it seems the seas drop to 4 feet, and we all decide to continue to Beaufort.
On our third night at sea we finally were overtaken by a squall. Usually, squalls are visible in the daytime and on radar at night, and it is pretty easy to track their direction and head off in an opposite one. I was watching these cells thinking they would pass us by, and reluctant to change course as it would have awoken the Captain from his off-watch sleep. Well, that was not a good strategy. As my off-watch came due at 0400, I called Peter and suggested he hurry it up so that we could release the boom preventer, and take in the headsail. All of this was accomplished in the nick of time, as winds jumped from 10 knots to 40, and it poured cats and dogs. Once again, we lost track of No Smoking.
I slept like a baby during my off-watch but awoke on the 16th to the boom swinging back and forth in confused seas and little wind. We finally had to put Mooch on, and begin motoring. The Captain topped off the fuel tanks from our jerry jugs, spilling not an ounce. Hours later the head sail was taken down, as the slatting thing caused by the wind on our stern moving ever so slightly but enough to cause the jib to tack was making us crazy. With squalls continuing all around us, but little wind to help with our forward progress, at sunset we dropped the main, and continued motoring along. Peter says we have a wheat field growing under First Edition (long strands of yucky grass cascading with us and slowing our speed), and it was difficult to maintain five knots for a while. We had abandoned the Gulf Stream as that was where all the storms were. (The warm water in the stream contributes to the convectivity, and wow, what a light show.) At 0300 on Sunday early morning I record that lightning is all around us, but no thunder is heard. No Smoking does not answer any of our VHF calls.
We hit Frying Pan Shoals off of South Carolina right before sunset and feel like we are back in the States, although we have been for days now. It was right around here that we struggled with our main sail last year, fighting to get it down before big winds arrived, and Rick from Sojourner volunteered to jump from his boat alongside to get on First Edition to help. To wife Linda’s relief, I loudly forbid such assistance. But heh, it is crap like this that sailors do to help each other. We are all nuts, but friendly.
At 0700 Peter awoke me to announce we were approaching the G3 marker off of Beaufort, our goal for the last 96 hours. Fearing arrival in squalls or heavy rain, I stuck my head out of the companionway to bright sunny skies, with clouds in the distance portending the future.
At 0840 we tied up at Beaufort Docks, hauled up the quarantine flag, and congratulated ourselves on a fine passage, slightly less than 97 hours and about 600 miles later. Having never, not once, suggesting that we cut the trip short or divert to a closer port, I feel jewelry in my future.
About 50% of the time we had pure sailing. The rest of the trip Mooch contributed and justified the time and the money expended last year for his purchase and installation. Thank you Captain.


skb said...

welcome back! sounds like it was an exciting trip -- now you will have some R&R......
talk to you soon ! s&b

Beth said...

Wow! I feel like i just finished a cliffhanger novel! It's as though I was there living it with you guys. Thanks for the juicy play by play Lynn. What an adventure. I'm so glad that you are back safe and sound. Now hurry up to Newport! Xx's