Offshore Sailing is like…
The best way for me to describe an offshore passage is to have you imagine driving an RV across country…except instead of an RV, you’re driving a boat…and instead of traveling a highway it’s more of an amusement park ride, part roller coaster and part lazy river…and instead of being able to pull over when you get tired or the weather gets bad, you must keep going until you reach your destination. Got the picture? Yeah, I didn’t think so. If you want understand the details, I’ve written up a day-by-day log of our offshore passage. If you just want the highlights, it’s okay to just check out the videos.
Monday was a relaxing last day in the Bahamas. We completed all our preparations for a leisurely departure the following day and checked our email one last time before heading to the beach to watch the sunset. There was an unexpected email from Chris Parker at the Marine Weather Center who we had contracted with to advise us on route planning for our passage. He recommended that we leave earlier to beat an incoming storm near Beaufort…we should leave Monday evening…now.
While Snowcat was ready to leave, the next few hours proved that Dean and I were not mentally prepared to leave. We weighed anchor and motored into the Sea of Abaco to raise our sails. As the mainsail began to unfold, I watched in horror as 8-12 gallons of pent up rainwater drained off the sail directly into the salon through a top hatch that we had forgotten to close. Fortunately, our electronics dodged the deluge, but it was a reminder that we needed to get our heads in the game for this passage.
We motored out the Nunjack Inlet around 5 pm into confused seas. Over the years we’ve learned that frequent yawning is the first sign of impending seasickness…and I just couldn’t stop yawning. I hadn’t planned an offshore dinner, so I improvised with easy comfort food, grilled cheese sandwiches…not the smartest idea. Usually I can keep my queasy stomach from tipping into full blown seasickness by taking the helm. With the wind in my face and an eye on the horizon, my nausea subsided. Then the sun went down (so I couldn’t watch the horizon) and the waves kicked up…game over. Tossing my cookies over the side of the boat isn’t the best start to a four-day voyage, but there is nothing to be done about it now. Dean took the first 4-hour watch and I went below to try and sleep it off.
The second day at sea was calm with light and variable winds. Our plan was to travel an average speed of 6.5 knots for the 500-mile trip and we were well below that, so it was time to crank up an engine and motor sail. We continued to take turns at the helm with our 4-hour watch schedule throughout the day.
We’ve haven’t had much luck with fishing of late, so we were thrilled when we heard the whirr of the fishing reel paying out line. We have one fishing pole, but we also mount a reel on the railing and that was the lucky line. We slowed the boat while Dean hauled in a 4-foot mahi mahi!
When Dean woke me for my night watch I couldn’t help noticing the irony of the selection playing on the Sirius Satellite Radio. Fresh Air on NPR was discussing the investigation of two incidents of navy ships colliding at sea. I had some sympathy for those sailors as we sailed into the darkness.
We’ve passed the halfway point and I’m feeling like my old self after my rough start. We’re not seeing many boats on the horizon, so we can finally relax, read, and listen to audiobooks or the radio. I even whipped up a Key Lime Pie for a special treat.
At 1 pm we notice the water temperature has increased by a degree and our speed has ticked up a knot. We’re on the edge of the Gulf Stream – hooray!
By 5 pm we had hit the center of the Gulf Stream. The winds moved to the southwest and the seas started to build. With the wind and seas behind us we were comfortable and fast. The Stream was giving us 2 ½ knots of push and we were going 10 knots.
One big difference between a traditional sailboat and a catamaran is how you experience the wind. In a traditional sailboat, high winds cause the boat to tip over or heel, allowing the excess wind to spill out of the sail. In a catamaran, you don’t heel, so you just keep speeding up. We have a firm rule that when we see 17-18 knots of wind, we put one reef in our sail. A reef is basically shortening the sail to slow us down. Before my night watch the gusts were 20-22 knots so we added a second reef. We were still going 10-11 knots…into pitch darkness.
On day four we were ready to be back in the US of A. Our disrupted sleep schedule with watches of 4-hours on and 4 hours off was making us groggy. I still marvel at the fact that we sailed across the Atlantic on the first Snowcat in 2002 – 16 days of nonstop sailing. We were younger then and most importantly, we had an additional sailor so our watch schedule was 4-hours on and 8 hours off. Big difference.
As we turned west toward Beaufort, North Carolina we exited the Gulf Stream. As the boat slowed we were greeted with a pod of 12 dolphins that wanted to play and bow ride with us.
By 5:30 p.m. we were tied to the dock, safe and sound. We sailed 490 nautical miles in four days…life is good.1