Homeward Bound: the Final Five

The sun sets along the Maryland shore as we approach the mouth of the Delaware

The sun sets along the Maryland shore as we approach the mouth of the Delaware

On the first day of travel my Captain said to me, “Honey we’ll have a following sea.” On the second day of travel my Captain said to me, “Ignore those swells, it’s just a following sea.” On the third day of travel my Captain said to me, “Ignore that thunderstorm, wind will squash the swells and we still have a following sea.” On the fourth day of travel my Captain said to me. “Ignore the pouring rain, no more T-storms, swells are all gone and we still have a following sea.” On the fifth day of travel my Captain said to me, “Five hours of sailing, no more raining, thunderstorms all gone, swells nonexistent and we still have a following sea!”
Kudos to you if you can sing that one. That about sums up our final five days; departing the Chesapeake just after 6am on Monday, arriving Sandy Hook, NJ at 6pm Tuesday and taking three days to land back in Deep River. In between we experienced calm, boring, exciting, tense, heart-pounding, happy, and exhilarating moments that made for a memorable end to our fourth cruising year.
The majority of the 241nm trip from Cape Charles to Sandy Hook was a motor-sail thanks to not quite enough wind too close behind us for us to sail at the required average speed to arrive before dark. We really wanted to arrive by 6:30pm to spend time with Makai. So except for a 4 ½ hr period Monday late afternoon, we either motor-sailed or motored using two engines. Sleeping was easy and while we didn’t do “watches” we both managed to get more sleep than usual. The boats during the night were well-behaved and we never spotted any commercial fishing trawlers. The glow that is Atlantic City appeared long before we ever got close. The best part of this trip north is the short night; dark was present between 9pm and 4:15am, barely enough time to get acclimated to it.

To pass the time I kept tracking of stuff in the water and here is what I counted during daylight hours: 4 dolphin sightings, 1 dead bird, 1 baby bottle, 11 balloons and 2 “others” (undetermined)

Several motor yachts passed us throughout the trip but not until New Jersey (closer to shore helps) did we see other sailing vessels heading north. Many leave from Cape May or Atlantic City and by 8pm several had joined those already anchored at Sandy Hook.
A couple of hours before reaching the Sandy Hook Channel, marine warnings came up for thunderstorms, “capable of producing winds over 30kts, hail and cloud to ground lightning.” Vessels should seek safe harbor.” Sure, we’ll just zoom right in. We’d been watching the approach on the chart plotter; in navigation mode the weather radar (colored blobs showing rain, etc) is overlaid so you can see it easily. The wind had died to 8kts so we dropped the main and began motoring using both engines. Could we get in and anchored in time? Probably not, but we’ll see how it goes.
Who needs a report or delayed radar when you can see exactly what’s happening up ahead? By some miracle (me having used up every prayer and promise in my favor bank) the worst of what was nearby, passed just north of Sandy Hook. The wind kicked up to 24kts for a spell, shifted 180 degrees, the sky darkened but, sorry for the cliche, light shown at the end of the tunnel. By 6pm we’d dropped the hook next to s/v Makai who was anchored near the Coast Guard Station along with four others.

Once the light showers ended, Eric zoomed over to pick us up and get his long-awaited tour of Ortolan. Jackie prepared dinner for us and what a treat to enjoy someone else’s cooking! The protein was Mahi that Roy had caught off Hatteras; delicious. Cut into chunks and sautéed; along with the Mahi Jackie prepared sides of kale, sundried tomatoes and onion; steamed rice, caprese and slaw. Being on Makai felt so much like the Leopard 36 we chartered in BVIs, only it’s larger and easily accommodates 5 people and dog Topaz. Since it’s a charter version, each person/couple has their own cabin and bathroom. Our “meeting up with boat friends” luck was pretty crappy this year, but we are so happy to have met up with those we did. Much thanks Makai for being part of our cruising time.

Wednesday morning as Makai prepares for the very short trip to Atlantic Highlands

Wednesday morning as Makai weighs anchor for the very short trip to Atlantic Highlands

 

Fort Wadsworth sits below the Verrazano Bridge, guarding the entrance to the Upper Bay

Fort Wadsworth sits below the Verrazano Bridge, guarding the entrance to the Upper Bay

 

Looking up at the underside of the Manhattan Bridge

Looking up at the underside of the Manhattan Bridge

This carousel sits between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Lots of kids waved as we passed

This carousel sits between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Lots of kids waved as we passed

 

Tower One fills in the skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge (or maybe it's the Manhattan) across the East River

One World Trade Center fills in the skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge (or maybe it’s the Manhattan) across the East River. At 1,776 ft tall, it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere

And for the Hell Gate report- max speed 10.4 kts because although we were there near maximum flood (current with us heading toward LIS) it wasn’t as strong as other times. A fun ride and since we’d have the current against us by the time we entered LIS, any help is appreciated.

A very scenic cove at Short Beach (Branford) made up for Bridgeport

A very scenic cove at Short Beach (Branford/East Haven) made up for Bridgeport

 

Got a great view of the Thimble Islands (Branford/Guilford line) as we sailed near shore on Friday

Got a great view of the Thimble Islands (Branford/Guilford line) as we sailed near shore on Friday

I’d like to know how often any forecast for LIS weather is even close to accurate. When the rain stopped we decided to leave our Bridgeport anchorage and chose Short Beach as a perfect spot. The wind was to be enough to sail the few late afternoon hours, but we only managed 1 1/2 hours in a 3 1/2 hour trip. Increased north winds at night never happened either but our spot offered great protection as well as scenic beauty.

As you know, good things come to those who wait and boy was it good! Friday’s forecast from a couple of days ago was saying 15-20kts of NW winds; perfect direction and boy would we fly with that much wind. Seas would be low (near the north shore, because LIS runs east to west) and off our stern. That morning as we got up, Russ checked three sources that all said NW 5-10; no sailing in that teeny bit of hanky wind. Again, who needs to read about the weather when you can hear it. As we cranked the engines you could hear the wind pick up and we raised the main asap, headed out the small cove and sailed well for several hours in the Sound before the wind backed down, forcing us to jibe a few times. The benefit of not being pressed for time is you can tack or jibe to keep sailing, rather than douse the sails and begin motoring.

The lighthouses at the Old Saybrook breakwater welcomed us at noon and even the Old Lyme Draw (Amtrak bridge) opened promptly; perfect timing on our part, not anything to do with Mr Grumpy bridge tender.

By 2pm Ms Ortolan was attached to the mooring we’d call home for the coming month. So much to do in that time before leaving for a two month cruise to Maine.

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Breakin’ Away

A classic sailboat sunset at Great Sale Cay

A classic sailboat sunset at Great Sale Cay

Once we departed Allan’s-Pensacola Cay, it was the beginning of the end. From this point we’d be working our way west, only this time, with so many favorable crossing days, we planned to not do an overnight. 🙂 This would be a welcome change from years prior when we quickly got our act together and crossed over 200 nm in one fell-swoop.

Paul Simon assures us that there’s 50 ways to leave your lover, well let me assure you that nearly as many ways exist to leave the Bahamas! Given our current state of drunkenness, we used the 3-step method of ever-increasing daily distances. Not only would this keep us in the Bahamas just a little while longer; we’d also score pirate points by staying past the 120 days Mr Grumpy allowed on our visa. The boat gets one year, but we don’t; however you can extend your time by visiting a nearby customs/immigration office right before (not sooner!) your time expires.

Step One: sail to Great Sale Cay from Allan’s-Pensacola. 30nm, 85% sailed. Gorgeous, low humidity day. Cleaned and began to pack away my beach treasures. Great Sale is three miles long and its main purpose (maybe only) is to provide anchoring protection. Winds out of the east through south allow you to use the north side; just pull up and drop the hook in the area noted on the chart as “good holding.” By nightfall nine boats were comfortably nestled in for the night. Or so we thought. Anchoring etiquette notwithstanding, common courtesy should come into play, not to mention common sense.

In the middle of the night a boat dropped their anchor and noisy chain about two boat lengths off our starboard (sleeping) side. What was wrong with our plenty-of-room port side? Or farther behind us? I bet others lost some sleep too. In the morning, we noted the boat name, Bad Betty! Darn right she is. Too funny. Close enough to hear them talking, I had no trouble seeing the captain remove the steering wheel; “bad wheel, you made me get too close!”

Step Two: sail to a banks anchorage in the Goodwill Channel approx. one mile above West End, Grand Bahama. 48nm, 81% sailed. Another lovely day with an accurate forecast. Watched several boats (all monohulls here except us) raise anchor, raise main, turn about 60 degrees south and head off. Would have been our MO too, if not for too close s/v Bad Betty.

After raising the anchor- oh let me backtrack a second- sometimes the anchor comes up with gobs of sand that takes a few minutes to rinse off, so Russ lets the anchor dangle then finishes bringing it up and securing it. I make sure to proceed very slowly until the anchor is secure.

Ok, so we raise anchor and Russ comes back to the helm to help me reverse far enough so we have room to get the main up and turn behind BB. We make this happen successfully and get going on course. I hear a clanking noise and go into detective mode, first checking where the sound seemed to emanate from; the bow area. Uh oh. “Honey, the anchor is still down!!!” she cried out urgently. Well, not all the way, just still dangling in the water. Note: when you are old and deaf you shouldn’t go cruising.

Several boats were ahead of us headed toward West End, maybe the marina, maybe to anchor in a bit of land lee on the banks just above West End. One was way behind.

Find the blue A; that's about where we spent the night. Alone with no other boats to worry about

Find the blue A; that’s about where we spent the night. Alone with no other boats to worry about

Our selected spot was going to look and feel very weird; dropping the hook practically in the middle of nowhere in shallow water with the Atlantic Ocean (Straits of Florida) one mile away. This was preferable to anchoring about 10nm further north on the banks at Memory Rock with no land in sight and no shallows to cradle you. The wind would settle in around 8-10kts but then pick up during the night (sure, why not?) so that we’d be seeing 14-16kts into the early morning hours.

Anchored in Goodwill Channel, looking Northeast at nothing but water

Anchored in Goodwill Channel, looking Northeast at nothing but water

Around 5:30 a sailboat came down Goodwill Channel and we watched her go around and enter the marina. Umm, s/v Bad Betty perhaps? Then we hear the dockmaster calling, “sailing vessel attempting to anchor in turning basin, this is Old Bahama Bay.” No reply. Again. No reply. Third time brings in that charm thing and s/v Bad Betty answers. Oh boy, the anchoring baddies. A very annoyed woman returns, “I guess we were mis-informed.” You know that tone of voice; I know it’s one I would be tempted to use, but know better. (at least not over the air waves) Then when she asks the dockage rate, the dockmaster says they don’t discuss rates over the radio. Can you picture the faces, screwed up, pissed off and steamin’ mad? Entertainment for the rest of us who enjoy a diversion from thinking about the upcoming night and the 80plus nm trip on Saturday.

A clear view in 5ft of water near sunset

A clear view in 5ft of water near sunset

Sunset off West End, Grand Bahama Island

Sunset off West End, Grand Bahama Island

Step Three: crossing to Ft Pierce, an 88nm trip that took 14 hours. About 6 hrs able to sail. We allowed 14 hours so that our coming in to the channel would not be right at full raging out ebb tide at over 2kts. This meant the alarm chimed at 4am; nice and dark with some West End land lights helping. Our path in was the same as we’d take back out to the channel that led from the banks into the ocean.

Having a path to follow when you can’t really see is immensely helpful. Within 10 minutes of raising the anchor (and securing it too!) we’d left the banks and were in open water, crossing through small breakers we knew were there, but we hardly felt them. By this time the wind was blowing around 16kts and the angle would give us an excellent sail. I always dread raising the main in the dark when I can’t see outside and can barely read the dimmed dials. But when you do this out on the open water, no other boats, land or objects close-by, the fact that you have to do this by instruments and the Captain’s direction only, is no big deal; it only feels that way.

We zoomed along between 8 and 10kts, hitting 10.4 for a few tense (only for me) seconds once. The swells were coming at our stern quarter, maybe 4ft high but a comfortable 10 seconds apart. No matter; I wasn’t too keen on looking. By sunrise, the wind dropped down and for much of the remainder of the day, was generally no more than 10kts- oh and it shifted, which made sailing very difficult.

Sunrise... and the seas are down, so too the wind and with it our speed

Sunrise… and the seas are down, so too the wind and with it our speed

The northward pull of the gulf stream means us slow boats need to set a course at least 20 degrees less than the 305 degree heading called for to get from West End to Ft Pierce. Sails up and down, in and out. Heading changes; yep at least 50.  An active day passes the time. A couple of hours out found us motoring in flat, calm seas as the ridge of whatever weather moved out, down, or away.

Did the flag exchange and when cell service was good enough, Russ called to clear us in. Easy. Switched the chip in my phone to remove the Bahamas one and put my U.S.one back in. We anchored for the night behind Causeway Island, the same place we left from on Dec 1.

Sunday would find us on a T-head at Ft Pierce City Marina. Hanging out to have our Frigoboat freezer repaired (please,please), re-provision, deal with misc chores and maybe some historic downtown sightseeing.

A Lonnnggg Crossing

As we turn East away from the Florida coast, the sun peeks out from the Bahamas

As we turn East away from the Florida coast, the sun peeks out from the Bahamas

A simple crossing would be direct from say, West Palm (Lake Worth inlet) to West End, roughly 60 nautical miles. With a wide open crossing window we wanted to make full use of it to advance as far south as possible in the Bahamas, which meant clearing in at Nassau. How is it we find ourselves there again when we said, “not again” last December??? Sigh.

The various weather prognosticators may stand and take a bow; they nailed it pretty darn well. We knew that leaving out Ft Pierce Sunday 1:30pm, the swells would be generous but diminishing with time and distance overnight and into Monday. The trip out the inlet was the worst; large, steep swells coming in from the NE as we exited, giving our bows a thorough salt water wash.  We’d hug the coast, only out about one mile until ready to cross the GS somewhere between Ft Lauderdale and Miami. Passing by the hi-rise condos along North Palm, Palm Shores and Palm Beach (so many Palms!) at night felt odd to be so close.

By morning the wind had shifted out of the west, we raised the main and motor-sailed for a few hours. A fair amount of big ship traffic south of Ft Lauderdale encouraged us to take a “keep out of their way” path, so we turned east toward the GS approx. 10 miles north of Miami. The west edge of the Stream lies about 4 miles off the FL coast here so it didn’t take long to be in it and start to be pulled north. Set a course 20 degrees off our intended for that classic “S” curve you need to make unless you enter the GS much further south of your destination on the Bahama banks. The main was OK with wind right on our tail but not the jib, and both we and Ms Ortolan were extremely grateful for a following sea (waves at our stern) pushing us along rather than us pounding into them- which we do not do anymore!

In the gulf stream with a following sea around 11 am Monday

In the gulf stream with a following sea around 11 am Monday

Neither of us felt like eating much but sipping water and staying hydrated is important so we did that. Dinner time Monday, with the wind and waves backed down some we ate a meal of salad, cheese and crackers and focaccia bread. A couple of hours later I was starting to be sorry for even that much, but it didn’t last long.

We heard a few others on VHF but never saw any until later on Monday. We heard s/v Elvis make arrangements to go in to a Bimini marina; he keeps following us.

Sunset on the Bahama banks as we head toward Mackie Shoal

Sunset on the Bahama banks as we head toward Mackie Shoal

Daybreak found us a mile off the northern shore of New Providence (Nassau) running parallel for a good and first time look at this part of it. Compared to the other Bahamian islands we’ve seen, it’s quite large and has that glow at night from all the land and coast lighting. Wind was down to less than 10kts and we dropped the main easily in 1-2ft waves. Two cruise ships were arriving- one at 7am and the other at 7:30; we were ahead of them. Next came the tricky part.

Nassau Harbor is busy and you must check in with Harbor Control before coming in to the western entrance because that’s where all the ship activity happens. Customs & Immigration come to the harbor’s marinas and to your boat for clearing in. The past two times in Nassau- one taking Benj to the airport and last year, picking him up – the marinas balked at giving us a slip that could hold a longer boat, but we needed it because of our width. In Vero another frugal cruiser told us that he’d anchored and dinghied in; walking to the govt bldg. in town to clear in. When our crossing plan solidified to include a likely clearing in at Nassau, we figured we would anchor in the harbor or at a cay nearby and Russ would take the dinghy into town. The backup plan was to stop and clear in at Chubb Cay which we would pass by (sort of) on the way to Nassau, but that process would take several hours and cost $100 even if we didn’t get a slip at the expensive marina.

About a mile out we hailed Harbor Control and then switched to the working channel. Provided the requested info: boat name, Doc # and last port. The last question was, “to which marina are you going?” We both cringed and held our breath when I said we planned to anchor then clear in. No,no,no. You must clear in first and the woman directed us to the concrete dock by the yellow building where we could tie up to clear in, “and then you have to leave.” Yikes. If only she’d told us the dock was on the eastern side of the cruise ship piers then we wouldn’t have been nearly run down by Carnival Sensation. At least we didn’t get a major chewing-out like the sailboat who was headed to that dock just ahead of us. They hadn’t called Harbor Control soon enough and boy she laid into them. But good fortune for us, because we had someone to toss a line to, otherwise it would have been quite the process.

Cruise ships in their berths, Ortolan in hers- all in one piece

Cruise ships in their berths, Ortolan in hers- all in one piece

I think the tall bldg. is Harbor Control and the green is Customs & Immigration

I think the tall yellow bldg. is Harbor Control and the green is Customs & Immigration

By 8:30, cleared in with 120 days Russ had to beg for, we anchored near the eastern entrance to eat breakfast. Our trip was 261 nm, 42 hours with 21 hours pure sailing. After breakfast we moved a couple of miles to anchor off Salt Cay for some much-needed sleep and when we got up at 12:30, the sun was shining brightly, the wind was low and the water was crystal clear.  🙂

depth, temp

The view out our front window- panel rolled up of course.

Where Does IT Happen? Cap’n Ron knows.

With each passing day we pinched ourselves to be sure that everything was really
going our way. We bid farewell to Port Washington along with three other sails,
motoring down the East River through New York harbor, the current sweeping us
along. No noticeable pleasure boat traffic and minimal commercial traffic- a
nice change from last year’s Saturday trip.

New York City skyline, Tower One in center and Brooklyn Bridge to left

New York City skyline, Tower One in center and Brooklyn Bridge to left

Don’t look now but we are starting to show our experience, or maybe we could call it confidence. 🙂  The paper charts remained MIA- oh those silly things that consume 75% of the table space; oh I did pull them out eventually for the trip down the lonnggg NJ coast. Gives me something to look at, plus I find the charts provide a better “big picture” than the chart plotter. We raised the main in the harbor; a walk in the park event today, a terrifying moment if this had been Year One.

West winds allowed for fine sailing through the lower bay, around Sandy Hook and along the New Jersey coast. Seas could not have been more than a foot (and I’m being generous here) thanks to low winds for the past couple of days. The Pride of Baltimore was sailing just ahead of us and made for a lovely view and of course the requisite photos.

The Pride of Baltimore apprx 3/4 mi to our port side and 1/4 mile ahead

The Pride of Baltimore apprx 3/4 mi to our port side and 1/4 mile ahead after rounding Sandy Hook

After a short time I noticed our apparent wind was hanging around 60 degrees with 8 to 13 kts true and some higher gusts. About 3 seconds later Russ predictably states that we should use the screecher, “the wind is gonna stay low.”  I agreed. A day earlier “gusts to 20kts” were in the forecast, but had been removed as of the morning. In went the jib, out came the screecher; our speed increased and we were closing in on The Pride.(you can bet she was motor-sailing)

No, no NOAA, when will we ever learn not to trust you, you miserable substitute for a forecasting entity. Sigh. This time we can’t blame NOAA entirely; we failed to pound that proverbial nail into the horse’s shoe and blew out our flip-flop. About an hour and a-half later we heard a loud POP sound and I raced out to see what I could see, but my wondering eyes proved useless as I looked up at the screecher from both sides. We could hear a flap-flap sound, reminiscent of the awful sound the sail made last November when we got caught in BIG wind that tore the sun protection material. Russ figures it out and we try to roll in the darn thing, which is not easy to do well as it doesn’t wind on a pole but on a halyard line. As soon as it was mostly wrapped we released the halyard and dropped the whole thing into the ocean.  In my dreams perhaps, but in reality we dropped it on deck, tied off the halyard and tied up the very bulky mass with a few dock lines. Naturally the wind was gusting during this time, but overall we were lucky that conditions were calm and Otto was doing his usual good job.  The Pride pulled farther ahead since we don’t go as fast with the jib and we were left wondering where she’d be in the morning.

Screecher down, jib out, The Pride pulls further ahead.

Screecher down, jib out, The Pride pulls further ahead.

The night was uneventful and we both got some sleep, motor-sailing with only the main in 8-12kts that had moved to SSW. Warm too; the low for the night was only 67. Ah, now I can relax a bit; how great to be done with my least favorite overnight so quickly- not that I like any of them mind you.

Sunrise off Cape May, NJ

Sunrise off Cape May, NJ

Crossed the Delaware with ease; the big ships not awake to terrorize us yet. By 8:30 Thursday morning, 24 hrs later, we were anchored in Breakwater Harbor at Cape Henlopen near Lewes, DE.  After a short nap we’d deal with that white pile on the tramps.

Stunning sunset at Breakwater Harbor

Stunning sunset at Breakwater Harbor

The Final Four Hundred

Miles that is. Weather forecast still good. Check. Diesel tanks full. Check. Offshore preparations done. Check.

From Top Rack Marina we still had one remaining opening bridge to contend with. For some reason the Gilmerton Bridge is no one’s favorite. Possibly because it’s at a bend and you can’t easily see boats heading the other way, but also because it’s the closest to Norfolk and gets more traffic. Since spring of 2011 the old bascule span has been replaced by a lift bridge that will raise to 135ft max, normally open to 75ft and sit closed at 35ft. More boats will be able to pass under in the closed position and that should relieve some congestion.

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

The 37nm trip would take us through the big ship area between Norfolk and Portsmouth, then cross over the channel to head for Kiptopeke Beach on Cape Charles, just below the old ship breakwaters and in between the fish trap stakes.

We’re not crazy about anchoring in 20ft- so much chain and then the time to rinse it all off. The local dolphins however love the area and at least a dozen were playing and eating around us; some even mistook us for talent scouts when they jumped high out of the water providing a free show.

Up and going bright and early with breakfast underway before we rounded the tip of the Cape to head NE to New York. Sounds so simple when put like that. Main got raised early; we hoped to at least motor-sail for half the 240nm trip. The weather usually runs true to forecast for the first half of the trip, but after that the accuracy drops miserably; oh visions of last season’s trip make my stomach churn. Overall, the trip was relatively boring and uneventful, but the anticipation of 15kts ratcheting up and the waves along with it, made me a nervous Nellie for more than a few hours.

Crossing the Delaware entrance area where several big ship lanes converge, plus you always see a bunch at anchor waiting for their turn to go in, takes a good four hours. We are always doing this at night. A nearly full moon was invisible thanks to overcast skies and approaching rain. The “off-Delaware entrance” passage was easy and not once did we need to alter course to avoid a ship; most were at anchor so that helped. If only they showed a different color on AIS that would be a huge help. Checking 8 green triangles to see if they are moving or not takes a while, then what if they begin to move? The triangle becomes solid red and enlarges if the distance or approach becomes dangerous. Various options allow you to set up your warnings based on time and distance.

My fears of big winds and seas off New Jersey were for naught- thank goodness, but I was too anxious to get any sleep. When sailing or motor-sailing the daggerboards and base of the mast move around, making too much noise for me to sleep. Russ did better, still; we knew Monday night would be a long, wonderful slumber.

We found a trip speed calculator on our Garmin that would display our average speed. We also did a check every three hours of distance to go and the speed we had to average to arrive by 7pm Monday. An average speed of 6.7kts would do it and anything more was gravy. Between all possible combinations of two sails and two engines we had no difficulty maintaining the required average, in fact during much of the “off New Jersey” stretch we sped along when the wind picked up . The main stayed up the entire trip, but Mr Finicky Jib fusses at apparent wind less than 40 degrees so he did his best squeeze box imitation- in and out. No feathered visitors, precious few pleasure boats and dolphins; the trip did prove to be mostly uneventful. As you well know, it’s not over until it’s over… and anchor down. But even then, maybe not.

Around 3pm Monday our trip average speed hit 7kts- sweet. Russ changed over the display that showed that number and I made a log note, also noting that we were off Long Branch, NJ. Don’t ask why I wrote down where we were; just seemed like a good idea at the time. Long Branch is about 6 miles north of Asbury Park and we were two – three hours from arrival. Roughly an hour (more or less?) later the CG made a Pan Pan for a report that a white sailboat might be in need of assistance off Long Branch. Hey, that’s the place I made that notation at 3 o’clock. We didn’t see anything although at that time we were about 2 ½ miles off the coast; much closer than the 12 miles earlier in the trip.

When the wind picked up a bit I’d stowed some loose counter items figuring being over-prepared works every time. As we approached the Sandy Hook Channel I put them back out- hey we’re almost there. We’d just discussed if big ships used that channel (it’s the smaller of three) when I looked back to see Mr Big heading in, checked AIS and sure enough he was moving along at 10kts. He’d be right there when we wanted to enter the channel and cross it so we could jibe and continue in. Pulled throttles back to 1000 rpms and bobbed along until he passed, but before he came by I re-stowed my counter items just in case his wake was yucky. (it wasn’t). The Coast Guard patrol boat was heading out from the station at Sandy Hook.

By 5:30 we are anchored near the CG station – in 20ft again! No debris spotted bigger than a foot long piece of wood once or twice. Balloons won as most spotted- at least 10 for the entire trip, just bobbing on the water. We ate and crashed, running the genset so the heaters could run for a while. Cold here and no sun all day. 54 degrees and colder at night. Brrrr. My warm weather PJs gave way weeks ago to a long-sleeved night-shirt and non-matching PJ bottoms- but who cares, right? Matching or not they keep me warm. Russ’s mantra is “electric blanket.”

Winkin’, Blinkin; and Nod are upon me when I hear an odd sound (the anchor chain?) then a horn/siren noise. What the? Russ is asleep. I hear the horn noise again and instantly I know who it is. Do you? The Coast Guard patrol boat paid us a visit. I tell Russ to get up (just in case) and I go up, dressed in my night best, open the stern panel and stick my head out. No, we’re not getting boarded (phew), nor asked to move (double phew), they want to know 1) where we came from 2) did we stop and 3) are you ready?- did we hear the announcement about a vessel in possible need of assistance? I answered and by the second question I realized that they were trying to determine if WE were the subject vessel or did we see anything. Not us and didn’t see anything. But isn’t it really weird how I made that notation off Long Branch and that’s where the sighting took place? We didn’t turn the VHF back on but I know the CG went out there (took them what 30 mins one way) and found zilch. Came back and saw us. Figured they’d better check. Good-night, sleep tight, do not let anything else disturb us tonight!

A good motor-sail to Charleston

Define “good”. For me, the fact that the word motor-sail follows the word good, tells it all. Any offshore hop, especially an overnight, with winds too low to sail, but enough to motor-sail, lands on my top five list. Russ would have preferred to sail, but the forecast of SE 10-15 faithfully predicted for days, crapped out to SE 5-10 forcing (aw darn) us to motor-sail the entire 163nm. We did this motor-sail using one engine plus saving 50nm versus traveling inside on the ICW. Both got enough sleep to last us through the day once we arrived at the Charleston Maritime Center 10:30 on Wed.

An even better “good”, was an event we didn’t expect to witness. No sorry, not a whale sighting, although the Coast Guard announces the “right whale” warning with an aggravating frequency, but a whale of a submarine!  The one we’d heard of on Monday, apparently had gone out and now was returning as we motored out Cumberland Sound/St Mary’s channel into the Atlantic. What a splendid and unique sight. Vessels are required to keep 500 yds away so we made sure to be outside the channel.

Submarine with escort vessels

Submarine with escort vessels

A few minuts later, the papermill smoke from Fernandina visible.

A few minutes later, the papermill smoke from Fernandina visible.

During the night we passed by Tybee Roads, the entrance into the Savannah River. I slept through the fun Russ had altering course a few times for the cargo ships coming and going. AIS is the best thing since sails, for a boat. When that green triangle pops up, sometimes as far as 10 miles away, you can keep your eye on the ship. Touching the symbol brings up information about the vessel, such as name, speed, heading, time to nearest approach and destination.  If you really want to keep track of it because your paths might cross, you can select “activate” which enlarges the triangle and displays speed and name. After that nonsense, I took the helm while Russ caught some zzzzzs.

Ah, feel the breeze in my face.

Ah, feel the breeze in my face.

We look at one another

We look at one another

Every time we make an overnight jump offshore, a feathered visitor stops by. The photo on the right was taken through the Strataglass, so kinda hazy.

We also spied a snoozing sea turtle who quickly awoke and dove below the surface. Dolphins of course and Northern Gannets.

Morning dawned peaceful with a lovely sunrise and about the calmest waters I’ve seen offshore. Entering Charleston harbor was easy, with only a couple of cargo ships to admire.

Sunrise at 7am, about two hours south of Charleston

Sunrise at 7am, about two hours south of Charleston

Mr Very Long steams past us up into the harbor

Mr Very Long steams past us up into the harbor

A Homeland Welcoming

Finished the big trip preparations; dinghy with her extra strap, jacklines on cockpit roof, loose counter items stowed, rag towels handy and departed Treasure Cay anchorage basin around 9:30am.  Low wind still which ensured a calm transit using the Don’t Rock path to get past Whale Cay. The charted path through the shallow sand bar area is good for shallow draft boats only; the closer to high tide the better. We motored through around mid-tide, seeing depths mostly deeper than 5ft, but for a few seconds 4.5ft popped up on the display.  I looked back for one more beautiful water view and crossed my fingers that we’d have a pleasant crossing.

Until next time, the water and skies so blue

Until next time, the water and skies so blue, we leave Treasure Cay behind

We had enough wind to sail which became plenty of wind to sail which made us reef as we zoomed past Green Turtle, Spanish Cay and west out of the Sea of Abaco into the wider open Little Bahamas Bank.  One sight that surprised us was the 20+ boats (one a MC 30) heading east into the Abacos. Bahamas in spring is lovely if your home base and/or schedule permit.

Dinner, which I’d prepared earlier, was eaten in calm sailing as the wind had backed down a bit and by 7pm an engine was started to assist in keeping our speed over 5kts. By midnight Ortolan was again enjoying unassisted sailing. Russ managed to get a few hours sleep, but was too noisy for me until we began motoring again at 5:15am.

At one point during the dark of this cloudy moonless night we heard a crash of thunder and watched as the area ahead of us lit up like stadium lighting accompanied by cloud to ground bolts. Uh oh. Russ quickly switched on the chart plotter’s weather/precipitation screen; I refused to look. Let’s see, we are out on the water, the only vessel with a mast. One monohull was behind us earlier, but we lost sight of their lights hours ago. Needless to say, I was extremely concerned. The showers and T-storm skimmed passed just to our south, shooting down lightning bolts that were way too close for comfort.

By 9am Tuesday the wind had completed its shift to west and with that we dropped the main in 1-2 ft seas. Exchanged the Bahamas courtesy flag for the yellow quarantine flag. The captain was happy to hear we’d sailed nearly 15 of the 27 hours we traveled to reach the beginning of the Ft. Pierce inlet.

With an incoming tide and low wind, the inlet was a piece of cake. Last year we returned on a Sunday with so much local boat traffic that I was happy to have this return be on a weekday.  One tiny problem with being one of a very few boats flying the Q flag is that it becomes a red flag for Homeland Security; as in, “hey we want to stop these guys, they’re returning from the Bahamas.” Fortunately, the distance into Ft Pierce to the ICW turnoff is long enough so if you proceed slowly the visit ends before you have to turn. Three guys, one stays on their hot-shot vessel while two come on board. One of them asks if he can look around and proceeds to do so wearing gloves. The other guy checks our boat’s documentation paperwork and Russ’s driver’s license, then asks us all kinds of questions about where we were in the Bahamas, did we have visitors, did anyone approach us to buy drugs, etc. Of course, they also pose the obvious queries about weapons and drugs on board, even including prescription drugs; no, no and no. They were polite and decent and so I gave them the courtesy of asking if I could take their picture as they left; “just get my good side” says one. Well, I guess I did 🙂

The welcoming committee departs

The welcoming committee departs