June 9, 2020
No matter how many times the story is told, it seems to always surprise people that I get seasick. It doesn’t surprise me anymore, I just accept my fate that my brain doesn’t appreciate the abuse that I put it through.
So far, moving the boat North, out of the range of hurricanes has been a test, mostly due to COVID-19 and getting back into the US. I haven’t had internet for a couple of days, is that still a thing? Perhaps everyone is over it already? I hope not, viruses don’t care what we believe to be true. It’s still a thing!
After arriving at the boat on Thursday, I began prepping the boat, checking systems and so forth. On Friday I found crew (findacrew.net) that was willing to join me offshore and/or through the ICW for a week or so, and by end of day Friday had decided that, ready or not, I was departing.
Trusting the boat is a really important part of the journey if you are going to engage in a three or four hundred mile journey off shore. As I lay in bed on Friday evening all the preparation for Home Free that had been done ran through my mind and all of the things that didn’t get done also ran through my mind. Sleep did not come easy. The ‘didn’t get done’ list was pretty long. Trust the boat. Trust the boat.
Saturday at 5:30 I rolled out of bed, started the engine and slipped my lines and I was off. My crew member, Marianne was joining me at Port Canaveral, and that would give me a day to feel out the boat, imagine any problems and solutions that must be considered and also, if I stopped in Port Canaveral for the night, give me one more chance at sleep.
The trip to Canaveral was relatively easy. The seas were a bit rough at the beginning, but there were only two unscheduled fish feedings (my term for tossing my cookies, if you are new to my vocabulary), and the ride ended with more flat seas than anything.
I picked up a bit of fuel, paid for a floating dock for the night and waited for my crew to show up. One last, very short bike ride just to make sure my legs still worked and then a meal and sleep. Glorious sleep. Not really, I woke up early and was still exhausted, but I have crew, so I will be able to sleep enroute with Marianne to keep watch.
At 5:30am again, it was time to rise, start the engine and slip the lines. This time for two days off shore on the open seas. As a reminder for viewers, I have never done that before. The Med and the North Atlantic are different beasts. Weather was consulted, downloaded, poured over and it didn’t seem so bad. I don’t know what perfect looks like, but this looks pretty good.
Departing Port Canaveral was really rough. The unscheduled fish feedings progressed with some abandon for both myself and my new crew, but after a few hours of rough stuff, the seas settled out, my head stopped rolling and things became a bit more ‘normal’.
The goal here is to get the boat North of hurricane zones, and our chosen location is in Chesapeake, VA. That’s about 800 nm North of Fort Pierce and there are generally four ways to get there.
- Transit the ICW the entire way (yuck, this is way, way too much work)
- Hop along the coast of Florida on the outside until you reach Beaufort, NC and then go inside to the ICW
- Go way, way out into the Ocean and jump into the Gulf Stream and ride it North to Norfolk, VA
- Jump into the Gulf Stream until just before Beaufort and then head into the ICW for the last few days.
My new crew was looking for off shore experience and I trust that my boat can take me across oceans, and so I opted for idea #3. This was a last minute decision based on weather, how the boat ‘felt’ and so forth.
So from Port Canaveral, we headed Northeast and despite being bounced around, within a few hours the effects of the Gulf Stream were apparent. The boat, cruising at about 6.5 knots on her own power, sped up to the 9 knot range and even up to almost 11 knots in a few places. This speed brought a smile to my face more than once. The turn North was made and the boat was heading toward Cape Hatteras.
The sea was generally good to us on day one. The bumpy morning meant that no food was consumed until around dinner time, and even then it was a pretty light meal. By then things were calm enough most of the time to allow eating.
Monday, was pretty calm. The skies were very ominous and hung low over the water, but there was almost no wind, so the seas were easy to manage.
At some point overnight the boat slipped out of the Gulf Stream and slowed back down to the 6.5 knot range which was frustrating. I spent a little time moving East and West trying to get back into the stream and those 9.5 knot speeds, but decided to just go North until I ran into it again. It took a few hours, but it did show up again and the boost was eye opening again. 10 knots based on a 6.2-6.5 ‘normal’ boat speed. Yay!
Around dinner, I decided to alter my plan. My goal is to get the boat to the Chesapeake safely and having the opportunity to run in the Gulf Stream contrasted with the time off shore where I had no access to updated weather. At this point I have no idea what happens 80 nautical miles off shore in the North Atlantic when a 15-20 knot wind blows. That was the maximum wind forecast at the time of departure, but who knows what lay ahead with the updated forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and perhaps Friday.
On top of that, one of the reasons for bringing crew was to help if I decided to go through the ICW, and Marianne has covered the route from Beaufort to Norfolk (the necessary territory for Home Free), three times in the last year. Yay. We are going to play it safe, head to Beaufort and do the final bit ‘inside’ even if it is slower and more work. Risk management.
About an hour later, those ominous skies made good on their forecast of what was to come and just as darkness set on Monday evening a wall of rain and wind encompassed the boat. There was hope that it would just be a small passing stop but it wasn’t.
The rain didn’t last very long, only a couple of hours, and the winds that kicked up from the East developed significant waves that hammered the boat broadside. They were not too large, only two to three metres, but they kept coming, again and again, and again.
Here I must give a shout out to Tony Fields, who works for Yacht Tech in West Palm Beach. As one of the earliest employees for Trac stabilizers, he knows his stuff and through the winter, one of the things that he did is worked on my overheating stabilizers (and various other bits) to improve my setup. Not once did my stabilizers scream at me about temps. They worked like a charm and the boat experienced almost no roll, almost the entire time, despite being hammered for eight hours. [Also making sure your boat speed is properly set makes a HUGE difference in heavy seas, the default of 14 knots leaves you rolling about a lot more than by setting my actual speed of 8-9 knots.]
To be sure there was lots of pitching and slamming and it was uncomfortable, but the worst of the discomfort was the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Would the weather get worse? How long would this last? Was there a significant change in the forecast? All of these things made the decision to head in at Beaufort more appealing.
As the night wore on, things did not get worse, but the waves just kept pounding the boat and by around 11pm the worst seemed to be over. The winds were steady in the 14-18 knot range but the rain had stopped and the skies had cleared. There were some stars out. A bit cruel since going on deck was not safe or reasonable at this point to enjoy the view of those stars.
Despite having help on board, through the night I set my alarm for 20 minute intervals and at each interval got up to check the boat; speed, direction, traffic, temperature, winds/waves, it was a long night and by early morning, about 4 am, things had calmed down such that the boat wasn’t getting hammered. It was just progressing.
There are a few interesting bits in here. First the funny story. When a boat is getting hammered by weather, there are lots of bumps and thumps. Water, particularly salt water, is very heavy, it makes a big sound. Somewhere in the night as I was lying down I heard an unusual thump and I rose to check the important information. Nothing bad was apparent. As the sun rose this morning, I see a big ugly smudge on one of the pilot house windows. I check it out. It has fish scales attached. At some point during the night a fish jumped from the sea, smacked the pilothouse window and apparently got away safely. There are a few tiny, dead, flying fish on deck, but this one was clearly larger. That unusual thump was likely a fish trying to clear the boat while chasing prey/feeding in those waves. Very cool.
By around 2 am it was clear that my decision to go to Beaufort was the prudent choice. I had a 3-4 day old weather report on my iPad, and the weather we just transited was slightly different in position and intensity than I expected. Best not to go further without updated weather, but by the time you get internet service, you might as well just stay inside. (My boat is really slow, I can’t just zip in and zip out to the Gulf Stream which is 70 miles off shore in North Carolina).
Somewhere in the night I had lost most of the benefit of the Gulf Stream. My boat speed was down to 7 knots, well below the 9 knots I was hitting during the storm, and so I decided to turn West (really North from where I was) right away and start heading toward Beaufort. My speed dropped to 6 knots within 30 minutes. Ugh, that’s going to be a long, long run; 95 nm at 6 knots.
At this point I decided to go looking for the Gulf Stream again. I knew that turning to port took me out within a half hour (and cost me about 1 knot of boat speed) so turn to starboard and go look for the middle of the stream. About 2 hours later I was flying along at 8.5 knots again (so I gained 2.5 knots of boat speed) but it was carrying me slightly away from Beaufort. No worries my ‘VMG’ or velocity made good, the speed toward your actual destination, was significantly better. So I progressed in the stream until about 8 am, taking the boat within 60 miles of Beaufort before turning to port once again.
That last bit of time in the stream brought on a second happy encounter with Dolphins. The first one was on Sunday, after leaving Port Canaveral and after the seas had calmed down. There was a small pod of dolphins who came over to say hello and play in the bow for a minute or three. It was apparent that they were busy, ‘enroute’ to somewhere as they turned to come to the boat, stayed for just a minute and then resumed their progress eastward. Still exciting.
This morning (Tuesday) a much larger school of much bigger, darker and more interesting dolphins joined the boat for a few minutes, dancing and playing around the boat. A very exciting experience. These really are beautiful creatures. There were lots of flying fish and birds as well throughout the journey. It is quite beautiful to see it all first hand. I will upload the second video perhaps another time.
[See the NC dolphins playing here: Dolphins]
That’s It for now. I am tied up at Jarret’s (??) on the path up the ICW and looking forward to a good meal and a great night of sleep.