We left Key Largo at noon on Sunday, the 3rd of June. Seas had finally calmed after two weeks of north winds which had been threatening our departure.
We motor sailed up Hawks Channel until about 1700 when we reached Fowey Rocks Light. As we motor sailed into the Gulf Stream, the wind freshened but was dead astern. Wing on wing was the order of the watch and with the Gulf Stream, as calm as it seldom is, we were able to keep both sails filled with only the aid of a mainsail preventer and no whisker pool. 7 knots through the water and the Gulf Stream giving us more of a lift every few minutes!
I had to ask myself “Does it ever get better than this?” Well no, it doesn’t, and it doesn’t stay this way for very long! After congratulating ourselves for waiting the extra day, the wind slowly started to veer. We jibed the main and our speed picked up even more. We were now beginning to see 10 knots on the GPS. After doing this run several times, I know the trip can be a good fast one, but the pitfalls of over confidence in the weather and ones ability, have been the downfall of many a sailor!
My watch was over. After settling Dave in for his first offshore watch I headed for some sack time (first night out…it may be short!). Just before the change of watch I awoke, feeling that ‘Second Chance’ was not sailing at her best. ‘Second Chance’ is a brand new Hunter 38 that WellFound Yachts sold to Jan at the Miami Boat Show. The vessel wintered with us in Key Largo, allowing Jan to enjoy her until delivery to Connecticut in the spring. When I got into the cockpit, I was surprised to see that the wind had veered even further and was now westerly. Sails were stalling. As the forecast was for southwest winds diminishing 5 to 10 knots, I was only moderately surprised by this change of fortune. Still, trim the sails a little and we are sailing great on a reach. Steve came up shortly to relieve Dave at 0200. Winds were now veering and blowing a steady 15 knots.
Back to bed for whatever sleep I could get before my watch at 0600. Seemed like only 5 minutes later I was up again. The wind had continued to veer to the northwest and increased to 18 knots or so. As our course was ‘north-ish’ to stay in the Gulf Stream we sheeted in some more and altered course a few degrees to starboard, back to bed in hopes of a few winks before 0600. Soon I was up again to find that we were barely able to make a course of 35 degrees, not what we wanted or needed to stay in the stream. In fact our ground speed was back to 8 knots, a sure sign that we were on the west side of the stream. With the Bahama Banks on our starboard side sailing more northerly was definitely something to work for. Fortunately the wind was back to 15 knots and had backed a little, so a north course was doable. Northwest would have been better!
As we sailed out of the Gulf Stream, the sun began to rise…BEAUTIFUL! Yes, this is why we go to sea! As the morning progressed the wind backed some more and dropped to around 5 knots. Not enough for sails, so on with the “iron Jennie”. So how far to the west do we want to motor when our course to Hatteras is northeast? Well I have found that compromise is often the path of least resistance, so I chose to try to make good a course of due north.
As we left the Bahama Banks to the south we motored into a very strong easterly current. Well, I for one, never knew we could expect 2 knots easterly current to the north of the banks, but as I looked at the chart I could see that the water could certainly spill around the north side of the banks in that direction and a narrow flow of easterlies could be expected. We were affected by this strong current for over 8 hours. It seemed like going perpendicular to the current would get us out in the clear the quickest.
Spirits were high as the day progressed. It was a beautiful day even though the promised 15 knot southeast wind never arrived. It never pays to put all your money on a weather forecast, especially when you get the forecast from ‘don’t NOAA’. Noon showed us having made 160 miles good over the bottom. Not bad all things considered, but I was kind of expecting to be able to make more like 200 miles if we had been able to stay in the Gulf Stream.
Beautiful day and great food. In the light wind we motor sailed northerly until about sunset when the wind increased enough for us to sail in a westerly direction. Oh well, things were bound to improve! If it backed some more we could jibe and if it veered we might be able to get back to heading north!
“David, call me if the wind changes. Yes keep an eye on this little needle here. Don’t worry about the course, the Maestro will do the steering”. Maestro is a brand new RayMarine auto pilot that had been doing a sterling job. The Maestro in reality is the name that we have given to one of the best helmsman that I have ever had the pleasure to race and sail with…Dave Calvert. The Maestro was on board ‘Play Station’ when she shattered the TransAtlantic record! I dare say his steering helped that team to do the crossing in a little over four days. Now if I could only get him to listen to the navigator when we try to beat our string of second-place finishes during the last several Fort Lauderdale to Key West races on the ‘Green Flash’.
Oh well, back to now, and I am getting the feeling that I should get out of the bunk and back on deck. “Nice evening Dave, what about this wind change?” “What wind change?” he says as I start dialing in a nice new course on the Maestro.
The wind is veering again and we are starting to get back onto due north and do I see, the current is finally beginning to give us a bit of a push again? Got to love this new electronic package. Even has a nice little blue line on our present position that gets thicker as the current increases and points in the direction of the drift. As my buddy Curt would say “indeed we live in wonderful times”. Well Curt, certainly in a technological point of view!
Buddy Curt was due to leave Horta in the Azores about the time we left Key Largo. He is on a 50 plus foot Catamaran bound for Spain. We had been getting regular e-mails from him. Oh yes…very informative! “Day 6 out of Bermuda and we are on our last eggs!” Fascinating stuff Curt. What about a quick update on sea conditions? But instead of that I wrote him back with…
“From Bermuda bound east
The gales are least
When Spring is near end
The oceans’ your friend.
If leaving in May
There’ll be little delay
Keep the wind on the quarter
Tis’ a fair breeze for Horta.”
(Excerpts from “Ocean Crossings” by Capt. Jack)
We had cast off on our own adventure before I was able to get a reply to that!
Throughout the rest of Dave’s watch and all through Steve’s 0200 until 0600, the wind kept veering and when I came back on watch at 0600, we were flying along back in the stream doing 10 knots across the bottom and surfing down the waves seeing 7…7&1/2…8&1/2…there is 9&1/2 and 10. This is some fine sailing! Wind is southwest and blowing up to 25 knots. We rolled in half of the main and almost half of the jib. Want to keep on as much jib as possible to help the Maestro keep this lively lady from broaching!
Now sailing past the Northern Florida Coast and starting to consider our landfall off Cape Hatteras. Any one who has sailed off Hatteras knows how changeable the weather can be there. Indeed the last time I sailed past that infamous Cape, I was in a 47 Trintella, and I got ‘my ass handed to me on a plate’. Southbound that time in 50 plus knot winds surfing down the waves at up to 13 knots! “What the heck, what am doing out here in this &^#$&$% stuff AGAIN! Will I ever learn?” Thank God the Trintella is a stout ship because I was not feeling so tough that night but the ‘Rouge’ looked after us like the true pedigree that she is, and we made it past Diamond Shoal Light unscathed…but none the less shaken!
This time I was determined to get past Hatteras like a gentleman even if we had to go inside through Pamlico Sound and Dismal Swamp. This is not the preferred route as it would take us at least an extra day, and as usual I had ignored my ‘golden rule’ when Steve said “sorry Mark, but I have to be in Texas by the 14th”. Well that gave us 14 days if we left by June 1st. The ‘weather gods’ saw to it that we didn’t get away till the 3rd. Well that should still be plenty of time! Sunset arrived and we are still having the sail of our lives, does it ever really get this good? Seems like I shouldn’t be asking myself this question!!!
Mark! Get up here! “Oh not again, will I ever get any sleep on this trip?”
On deck I come up to see lots of lightning on the port quarter. Yes, that stuff is coming off the coast but should dissipate before it gets to us. An hour later I find myself hand steering ‘Second Chance’ in the pouring rain and a ‘light show’ like one only gets out at sea in the middle of the night. Steve had joined Dave and I, and together they had pulled in the jib; we were flying along under half of the main. I am steering not because the Maestro was having any problem, but only because of the wind shifts, and well, I have to admit, it is the adrenalin rush that I feel at times like this that keep reminding me why we really do go to sea!
The squall was short lived and over in about 45 min. I left the guys to watch the dwindling light show while I went below to get dry and check my eyelids for any holes that may have developed.
When I woke up to relieve Steve, it was a gorgeous sunrise and we were still making great speed. Surely today we would get that elusive 200 miles that had been escaping us. As we were coming abeam Wilmington, N.C., I was checking the weather to see what the day had in store for us. Not that the forecast had been accurate yet! Still, bound for the light off Cape Hatteras, things had been looking good for an easy rounding… perhaps too good? As the day progressed the winds died and we turned on the engine. As we had only motored about 10 hours in the last 3 days I didn’t mind motoring and felt we still had plenty of fuel left (40 gallon tank and 39 h.p. Yanmar).
For the first time I was ship mates with the new XM radio weather forecasting that connects directly to my Garman 474 GPS, which like your American Express card ‘should never be left at home!’ Well, the radar images were fantastic. You could always see when the storm cells and heavy rains were developing. Although the wind arrows were pretty and basically from the same quadrant, the 5 knot winds that the half feathers were showing off the east coast of Florida and Georgia had been much more like a 20 to 25 knot average. Who was I to complain, we were having a great sail, good company and great food! We still had eggs (smile) and were likely to have them through the remainder of the trip. After all “Mighty Muffs” had become a tradition on my deliveries over the past 20 years (recipe below).
Now that the wind was down and the seas were calm I could really take a look at the ‘XM thing’. Hmm… looks like the weather might be a little extreme around Hatteras in the next 24 hours. Heavy thunder storms and ‘Mariners are cautioned to make safe harbor as soon as possible!’ O.K., so we head for Morehead City, we can always head out for Diamond Shoals if the weather is good or head for Dismal Swamp if it looks bad. Seems like a fair plan. Still, if it were any calmer right now we would be motoring across a mirror!!
Well I slept like a baby that night, all the night dreaming of an accurate weather forecast.
The morning dawned bright and clear. No wind and still the heavy weather warning. It was decision time. The forecast hadn’t been right yet so why would it be right now? I sure didn’t want to be caught off Diamond Shoals again in 50 knot plus winds.
We only need 8 hours of decent weather and Diamond Shoal Light will be on the quarter! I guess if it goes into the North and blows we can always run back to Morehead city in the lee of the shoals!!! I would rather be sleeping than deciding. Well indecision can be as bad as the wrong decision, so lets push up the rpm’s and make a good course for Diamond Shoal Light. Course is north of east and we are making 7 knots across the bottom. Looks like we are getting some easterly current and that will certainly be helpful. We should make the light by 1600.
Half way through my watch, the winds fill in from the southwest at 10 knots and with the sails up and motor turning over we are making a good 8 knots over the bottom, which by the way, is only 30 feet away!
The day was glorious. The engine purring away in the background, and our little ship healed over and sailed along in flat water. Every now and then, dolphins would come and play in our bow wake. A custom Carolina Sport Fisherman would pop up over the western horizon and disappear in the direction of Diamond Shoal light releasing our tension of the possibility of bad weather. Noon came to end our fourth day at sea with still no 200 mile days. Day 3 that had started out so promising had disappeared when we had to turn on the engine and motor in the calms. Ah the good news is that because of our 8 knot average this morning it looks like we will get around Diamond Shoal ahead of the original estimate.
Indeed 1400 came and we were able to motor sail inside of the Diamond Shoal light cutting off a few miles and proving once again that our friends at ‘don’t NOAA’ certainly do live up to their name! Hey, it can’t be an easy job. Still, if they were able to look out of their windows, they may have a little more information to go with!
Northeast course until about 1700 when the wind veered into the southwest and we were able to jibe and sail along the North Carolina and Virginia coasts past Kitty Hawk. This is where the Wright brothers had their chance to play with the ever shifting winds that we were enjoying off this coast. By sunset we’re in close enough to heat up our cell phones and speak to our loved ones. “Yes of course you haven’t heard from me, I have been 100 miles off shore!”
The evening passed uneventfully. The wind veered some more and then went light. Sunrise found us motoring along at about 6&1/2 knots on a straight line course for Ocean City, Maryland. Oh yes, we now have an interesting forecast calling for north winds starting some time late tonight. Well we were planning on putting into Ocean City to refuel, but it may be better to make hay while the moon shines and carry on until we get headed by the wind. Lots of places to put in along this coast. Cape May looks pretty good and then again there is always the old stand-by, ‘Mr. Trumps Kingdom’ of Atlantic City.
As the sun set the wind began to fill in from the southwest and we were able to kill the engine and sail across the shipping lanes of the approaches to Delaware Bay. Lots of incoming traffic and a spectacular light show coming off the New Jersey shore line. The wind continued to veer until by first light we were close hauled and the wind was blowing across the deck at 25 knots. Nice work here, we were only 3 miles off Cape May, so the seas were still nice and flat and with half a main and half a jib were going along at 6&1/2 knots.
The coastline was providing a nice lee and as we approached the ‘Kingdom of Trump’ it became clear that the nice lee we were sailing in was going to turn into a very choppy seaway in a few short hours.
“Looks like we could be beating into Atlantic City by about 1000!” By the look on everyone’s faces, I knew this would be a favorable decision. A few short tacks later and we rounded the sea buoy and started our approach. Our plan was to top up the fuel tanks and see if the intra-coastal waterway that winds inside this coastline would accommodate 5 feet of draft and 60 feet of mast.
I stumbled ashore at the fuel dock, muttering something about old age and the lack of sleep. The dock mistress kindly let me check out her local pilot book, which led me to believe that any mast taller than 35 feet would be just plain out of the question!
It was at the Donald Trump Marina, just across from this very fuel dock, that a few years ago I picked up the ‘Rogue’ for our fateful Thanksgiving cruise around Cape Hatteras in 50 knot winds. As clean as that marina is, I was not looking forward to spending a night or two there. Our kind dock mistress directed us to a nice small local marina just around the corner from where we were. Five slips were available and at half the price of the luxury spot across the basin… it seemed like a great choice. Our new dock mistress directed us to a slip on the T-head with the wind blowing us off the dock. We were right next to a few restaurants and the Atlantic City Aquarium, who incidentally, own these slips.
A good rest was had by all. And the next day I was able to procure a wonderful foot massage just off the boardwalk. Yes… it was still blowing pretty hard out of the northeast.
Monday morning we set out to sea again at 0500. Seas and wind calm. Course northeast along the coast, bound for Sandy Hook and the next morning to Transit New York Harbor on the tide.
The day passed uneventfully. We anchored just inside Sandy Hook before the sun went down. A beautiful sunset with a kind forecast for the next morning. Departure would have to be at 0400 in order to catch the tide at Devils Gate. We all turned in early to be awoken around midnight to the sound of thunder and the boat healing over as if we were going to weather at 8 knots! And then the rains came down! Now that was a nasty squall without the adrenalin rush of being able to steer. But I did go outside in order to get a look around and see that we weren’t dragging. After drying off I got to bed in time to check those eyelids again.
Awoken by the smell of freshly pressed coffee, it was calm and dark, but we got under way in hopes of being able to see the Statue of Liberty and delivering the ‘Second Chance’ to her owner in Stratford, CT, 35 miles into the Long Island Sound.
New York itself is impressive! You see the city from miles away and it keeps on growing as you make your approach through the shipping lanes. The first thing you notice when sailing past the narrows is the smell. After being at sea, the stale smell of big city is overwhelming.
Through the narrows and off to port you can just make out the Statue. She gets bigger and more impressive as she gets closer. By the time she is alongside, the famous skyscrapers of the city are right there in front of you. Being a country boy myself, I have to admit I was both awed and terrified by the structures that we saw. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler building, the noise and the smell all came together to give me that claustrophobic, feeling that I used to get as a lad when I would visit London, England.
With a fair tide we were cruising through Manhattan at more than 8 knots and as we sailed past Rikers Island, the East River begins to open up to the Long Island Sound. The northern shore abounds with marinas. There are hundreds of sailboats lying out on moorings. Truly a Yacht Brokers Paradise! At this point the Long Island Sound is magnificent. Coves and inlets abound. It seems like all these moored yachts have thousands of miles of sheltered cruising all the way north into Buzzards Bay. Summers here must be awesome!
After an uneventful motor sail we arrived in Stratford and tied up at the Brewer Stratford Marina and boat yard. The boat yard is clean and the people friendly. Jan came down to meet us and check out his ‘Second Chance’. Jan had been on board and sailed her a few times in Key Largo. Now he had her in home waters where he will cruise and hopefully enjoy sailing her in this paradise as much as we enjoyed sailing her north to him.
One final piece of irony.
The next morning dawned rainy and overcast. It was time for all to go our separate ways. After a final breakfast of eggs (smile) and fried rice left over from our Asian meal the night before, Dave put his pack on his back and walked down the dock headed for New York City and then back to Montreal.
Steve and I jumped in the rental car bound for Hartford Airport. We said our good byes at the airport…he bound for Texas for a family reunion, that I am pleased to say he will make on time, and I bound back home to the Florida Keys. Yes… the weather finally caught up with me! As I fly to Charlotte, I will miss my connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. My flight to Charlotte was delayed for 2 hours due to inclement weather!!!!!
‘Second Chance’ is a 2007 Hunter 38. Full battens in her in mast roller furling, main and a furling fractional jib. In a delivery lasting seven days and covering over 1100 miles in winds from calm to gusting over 35 knots, we had no major breakage (a towel rack came off the wall in the head) or malfunction. Weather forecasting even with the XM satellite was just as it had always been, unreliable at best. But now in ‘real time’ having said that… the radar images were magnificent and well worth the ‘price of admission!’
MIGHTY MUFF RECIPE
More often than not, a slice of ham, turkey & cheese
Topped off with a slice of tomato.
Failing that, whatever’s left over from the night before…fits into the muffin just fine.
More recipes from the ‘Captains Diner’ are available. Write firstname.lastname@example.org