Mother Nature Has the Last Laugh

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

The different weather services can and do use different models to create their forecasts. Often two may agree but a third is somewhere out in left field. We always hope that when all the ones we use are in agreement, that they’ve nailed it.. because can they all be wrong???  Isn’t that a leading question? The answer is yes they can!!! And they were and we suffered… but not alone. Thursday was predicted by our two sources to be somewhere around 13-16kts, winds out of the SW, going to west and dropping way down as they clocked around to NW and then north.  Governor’s Harbor is exposed from WNW to NNW so we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of discomfort until the wind and waves moved north and then NE.

The trip began well enough at 8:15 as we began sailing right away in 10-12kts of SW winds. We wanted to sail the entire way before the wind dropped down too much. Oh what a joke. Within the first hour of the 3 ½ hour trip it became clear the forecast was oh so wrong. When the wind hit 20kts we reefed the jib and I began to envision a very unpleasant few minutes when the time came to drop the main. Have I mentioned that this process is not as simple as head into the wind and whoosh the main drops right down into the stack pack? Our speed often exceeded 8kts; great if we’d been racing, but funny, not single other boat departed Rock Sound.

A reasonably good-sized island, Levi Island sits a stone’s throw above the harbor and we briefly considered anchoring there for protection but with SW wind, it wasn’t any better than the harbor. We chose the lesser of the weevils, so we thought, and figured we could tuck in fairly close to shore in the southern corner. Wrong again. Some floating house raft thing with AIS named KhanTiki or something close to that, was anchored exactly where we wanted to be.

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Anchoring with the shore at one’s stern is not desirable and we could have moved to Levi, but the forecast had promised the winds would lessen and so too would the large swells entering the medium-sized harbor. To make things more interesting, the charts indicated “poor holding” unless you could find a sandy spot or get closer to the beach where sand was abundant. Our first attempt was perfect; the anchor grabbed right away, but we found our stern in 4ft and that was not going to work since the swells caused a great deal of pitching which made the rudders touch bottom. We eyeballed a spot that looked sandy further away and dropped the hook. I’m at the bow as usual and if I hadn’t been so focused on doing my job I might have noticed how large the swells had become and how much we were bobbing up and down in them. This was a new one for the log book.

The anchor didn’t grab right away but then it seemed to hold fast and after I attached the bridle and we pulled back again, she didn’t budge. Needless to say, we cursed the weather, watched the chartplotter to be sure we weren’t dragging, set two drag alarms, and waited in vain for the wind to shift to a non-west direction. I was extra bummed because we could see seafood being sold from two fishing cleaning stations over on the shore road that runs along the beach.

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

By 5pm the wind had dropped down to 10kts out of the NW but the swells, which take longer to change direction, were hitting us broadside so preparing dinner was fun. Two monohulls had anchored behind Levi and from a distance they appeared to have made the better choice.

I almost believed Russ when he assured me that, “tomorrow will be a better day and we can spend time ashore.” No doubt he still wasn’t giving up on the lunatic forecasters.  Mother Nature had continued to outfox us all; Friday was quite the weather day; it began with pouring rain at 5am, increased wind and distant lightning. Rain on and off all day, moderate NW to NE back to NW winds with a peak at 24kts one time.

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

During the day a small sailboat about 26ft anchored close to us and one of the two from Levi anchored on our other side a better distance away. Conditions were slightly improved once the wind shifted more north but those boats, especially the smaller one rolled from side to side and pitched in the swells that I was becoming seasick just watching. By 3pm things were looking calmer and a “better day tomorrow” for Saturday was beginning to sound believable. At least all anchors were holding; can’t rely on what the charts say either- for which we were immensely thankful. Note: we talked with the two Levi Island boats on Sat and they said that even Chris Parker was fooled by Mother Nature this time.

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A Typical Cruising Day

Dinette table in cruising mode

Welcome to a sneak peek into the cockpit, command central aboard Ortolan.  This shot shows the dinette fulfilling its daytime role as nav station. We have roughly two different types of traveling days; one is when we are in the ICW traveling through the dredged channel in rivers, sounds, bays and man -made land cuts and the second is non-ICW travel which was the 622 miles before reaching ICW Mile 0  at Norfolk, VA and any day we “go outside”.

The primary difference is that with non-ICW days we use the laptop as a backup chartplotter to the one installed at the helm. If the main chartplotter were to misbehave, we would have the laptop already running.  I generally keep an eye on it and make sure it jives with the main.  The ICW is well marked and getting the laptop up and running wouldn’t need to happen in a blink.

A typical ICW day flows something like this:
Breakfast before departing (most nights we are at anchor) around 8 – 8:30am. Until recently we had to run the heat to warm up but the Florida mornings are warm, a balmy 50 so far. Russ is at the bow using the electric anchor winch to raise the anchor as I man the helm and move the boat in the proper directions based on hand signals. No shouting allowed so we have devised our own signals when we can’t hear the other person easily. No, we don’t use THAT one.  The anchor rinsed and secured, moving ahead slowly, we head off.

I am in charge of the log book and will make the “start of the day” entries as soon as we are underway. Then it’s on to washing the dishes, being careful to conserve water.  We carry 136 gallons of water, 2 tanks in each hull but getting water only occurs at marinas- either when you fuel up or spend the night. We don’t do much of either.

Our typically cruising speed, when not greatly affected by currents is 7 knots (8.06 mph). When adversely affected by current or tides, which in Florida’s ICW change frequently with all the inlets, our speed drops dramatically.

Electronics are great, but nothing beats paper for lack of susceptibility to malfunctioning. Therefore no sailor worth his salt will be without paper charts. For the ICW we use a great flip style one that shows pretty much only the ICW, marks every five miles and contains notes along the side about bridges that need to open for boats and the schedule, if any. Bridges- well that’s another blog entry by itself. We also have another booklet that lists, mile by mile: good anchorages with comments, marinas, bridges with opening notes if they are ones that open, inlet info, and other helpful notes about transiting the ICW. I follow along with the two booklets while Russ runs the boat. I take over from time to time.

Lunch is eaten underway and we take turns so that one person is always at the helm. The auto-pilot is often keeping the boat on course but in ICW close quarters, taking one’s eye off the road for too long can lead to running aground or into something.  Ok, I exaggerate a bit, but some sections of the waterway are very narrow, with barely room for two boats to pass. Most of it is not like that but keeping in the channel is important.
Most days we arrive at our destination by 5pm. Dropping the anchor is generally successful on the first try. Ours is oversized; dragging is near the top of the “never want to do” list.

I finish up the log, having made notes about our day, what we saw, who we met and other things we want to remember. We also record mileage, engine hours, fuel consumption and where we end up each night, both by name and the latitude and longitude.