Bright sunny weather allowed a nice calm departure from the dock at River's Edge Marina in St. Augustine. First stop: The marina at the Bridge of Lions for fuel. I say stop, but bump would be more accurate as I managed to test the fender material on the dock with 30,000# of misdirected boat. Fortunately, the fender was nice and bouncy, so no damage done.
We filled both our diesel tanks - with only 57 gallons (the boat holds 160). An hour later, after passing through the raised Bridge of Lions and out in the Atlantic Ocean, the crew discovers that in fact we have 4 diesel tanks and we've only filled two of them! Decision is agreed - we're not turning back!
We had established a three hour watch system for Me, Mike and Peter with Laurie fulfilling the galley slave role admirably with excellent food for the crew all the way north - including pasta, beef stew and yes, freshly baked bread!
Our route took us straight out to the Gulf Stream, which we reached at 2:00am on Friday - as noted by the change in water temperature from 76 degrees to 83.
In the gulf we encountered somewhat choppy seas, but enjoyed a positive current of at least 1.5 knots - and sometimes as high as 4 kts. The downside is that the weather is a little more on edge - and most evenings saw the development of squalls with rain and sudden high winds. The wind, combined with the waves, made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride - although, down below, everything seemed to iron out and the ride was really pretty smooth for the most part.
Gale (windvane) and Otto (autopilot) were the heroes of the trip - and since Otto(despite rumors to the contrary) seemed to be functioning well, he was called upon for most of the trip and performed admirably.
Our course was pretty close to the planned route all the way - taking full advantage of the Stream's push. We pushed past Cape Hatteras just before midday on Sunday about 40 miles offshore and carried on riding the Stream until the early hours of Monday morning. Water temperatures dropped to the 40's.
We'd been able to keep in touch with land through the SSB radio and a ship to shore conversation with Diane Sterrett shortly before reaching Hatteras let all know that we were in high spirits. We were also able to reach Commanders for updates to the weather. Unfortunately however, when we called Commanders after passing Hatteras, the connection was exceedingly poor. We understood that we were in for some heavy weather on the Monday evening - with winds to 30kts from behind. We then had various interpretations for the Tuesday forecast - general consensus that the wind would be northerly, but it's strength from 10 kts (what I heard) to 40kts (what Mike heard). Unfortunately, Mike must have been right...
Monday night was frightening. At dinner while Peter was on watch, I observed him manhandling the helm as we bucked and rolled over the building waves. Having inhaled my dinner (really good Portuguese beef stew), I relieved Peter and, well, Deer in the Headlights seems an apt description. We were surfing down the waves and routinely getting speeds well over 9kts through the water.
We shortened sail to a furled inner jib and double reefed main. This brought the boat into much better control, but as the light left us we were left screaming along with waves building to 15 feet and winds steady at 30kts with gusts to 35. Things were somewhat tense! The noise in the cockpit was deafening - wind and waves combining to yield an absolute cacophony of sound.
The boat performed fantastically. Down below you could tell she was in some rough stuff, but there was little jarring motion and for the most part everything was pretty quiet - apart from the infrequent times when the airborne bow slammed down onto the next wave with a thunderous clap.
We had decided to move to a two person watch schedule during these difficult times - a good plan as it was far too frightening for one mortal to endure alone!
Tuesday morning the wind abated and turned to the north and we had difficulty keeping on track, heading more towards New Jersey than towards Rhode Island. We motor sailed as close to the wind as we could. In the early evening, the wind began to build again so we put a precautionary reef in the main. Fortunately, it carried a little easterly component - so we were able to point towards home.
The wind built further and Mike's prediction began to come true as it rose to well over 30kts as we approached Block Island. We put in the second reef - but the reefing system is a little awkward, and we ended up with a very baggy sail - a problem since our heading was critical at this point as we were all tired and wanted to lay the Sakonnet for a fast return. We missed the lee shore of Block Island early on Wednesday morning by just 2 miles and had a bead on the entrance to the Sakonnet River. The wind and waves grew, with frequent gusts in the low 40's and waves at 15 - 18ft. The boat did fantastic - albeit the Bimini gave up the ghost and a small tear in the leech of the mainsail spread to half the leech!
As we approached the mouth of the Sakonnet, Peter at the navigation station relayed instruction to me at the helm via Laurie to adjust Otto by one degree at a time. Everyone was shouting at each other to make themselves heard. Peter was threading us through the entrance to the Sakonnet carefully and as a precaution, I had him hail the coast guard - just in case things should go amiss. Everything went well - and as soon as we were in the river, the waves died down - the wind however remained high - and marked the first occasion that Laurie and I have sailed up the river with anything even approaching a breeze!
We made our mooring at Pirate Cove Marina at 10:15am on Wednesday morning - just under 6 days out from St. Augustine. Mike described the situation perfectly: "I don't get this wet in the shower!"
We left on Thursday April 7th at 11:15am.
We arrived 10:15am on Wednesday April 13th.
Total Hours: 143 hours
Planned Route Distance: 905NM
Speed: 6.33kt (made good)
152 Miles per day average (made good)
Our thanks to Mike and Peter. We could not have made the trip without you guys - and you made the whole thing fun and a great memory that we will both treasure. What a wonderful shakedown cruise for the new Toodle-oo!
I've been trying to work out how to describe the journey back from St. Augustine to Florida. A daily diatribe reads very monotonous. So instead, here's a retrospective overview of what we faced...
Bringing our new boat home was a challenging proposition for a number of reasons:
Negotiations to buy the boat had been emotional, and we really didn't know what to expect when we arrived to inspect the boat on April 4th, before handing over the dough. What would be on the boat? What would we need to augment? Do we even know what we'd need to augment?!
The trip home is a 900NM offshore trip, close to or in, one of the worlds more serious currents - the Gulf Stream. Preparation for such a trip is not to be taken lightly - and here we are, planning to set sail on just such a trip aboard an unfamiliar boat, with unfamiliar equipment, days after acquiring the boat!
We have never sailed with crew before. So OK, we like the two fellows that are helping us - but our normal relationship involves drinking far too much alcohol and telling silly stories of past embarrassments and minor successes through a drunken haze. We now have to think about living with these two for a week or more, hot bunking in a particularly confined space which is constantly in motion! Moreover, we'd decided that there would be no alcohol on board for the trip - (well hardly any!) - this was going to be different indeed. I was to find myself as captain of a crew with vastly more experience than me. Bless their hearts, they clearly realized this and enabled the whole thing to go off smoothly. Fortunately, decisions were easily agreed upon since we all had sort of the same intuition.
Laurie and I were somewhat immobilized following the decision to purchase on Monday. What had we bought? Fortunately, Rob Lawnsby our broker had travelled down with us and remained for a few hours to sort some systems out. Things moved slowly but familiarization was at least beginning.
I concentrated on understanding the various systems aboard - navigation, communication, battery charging, ensuring we had a capable tool box, etc., while Laurie concentrated on cleaning things up and provisioning.
We were pretty unsuccessful in most things we tried to do - but at least we were gaining familiarity. Searching through the navigation station, Laurie came across a note identifying various items that were apparently not working. One was the autopilot. We used this list to focus some activities, a priority being to get the Monitor Wind-vane (self steering system) up and running should the autopilot fail us.
By the time Wednesday arrived, we were gaining some momentum and having some successes in getting things to work. Gale, our newly named Wind-vane was fixed up, navigation lights were fixed, the SSB antenna was attached and communication established with WLO, who we'd be relying upon for ship to shore communication with our weather routing service, Commander's Weather.
We removed bagful after bagful of stuff from the boat - the sort of stuff that naturally accumulates through the years. For the previous owners, the items probably had meaning - but since we were so unfamiliar we decided to ditch anything and everything for which we did not know its purpose. The waterline must've gone up an inch!
Our good friends Mike Eslinger and Peter Sterrett decided they were willing to risk life and limb with the Balmes and help us move the boat north. I picked them up on Wednesday afternoon and brought them to the boat - where they immediately set to assisting in the preparation - Mike concentrating on things mechanical and electrical, Peter focusing on sails and rigging. Progress was being made. Good job since time was of the essence - Commanders had approved a weather window, so our plan was in motion to set sail at 11:00am the following morning.
Wednesday evening we enjoyed steak and a couple bottles of Cabernet aboard Toodle-oo! The last of the wine was gone.
Mike then discovered a problem with the engine. A water hose had been resting against the large muffler hose and worn a hole right through the water pipe - and nearly through the muffler. This would have been a major problem - but following a shopping run with Laurie on Thursday morning to procure the necessary spares (plus some much needed pillows!), Mike was able to replace the offending water hose, and we now had a replacement muffler hose to hand should that actually fail too.
We were as ready as we were going to be...
After some protracted negotiations, things finally came into alignment and we purchased Hull #27 a 2007 Outbound 44 on Monday April 4th.
The boat has been sailed from Maine to the Caribbean, across the pond to the Azores and spent a couple of years in the Mediterranean in her short life. She has been equipped for long distance cruising and her new owners plan to continue that tradition in spades!
Toodle-oo! is bought - and paid for. We are boat-less :(
Now in the hands of Bob Livingston - very nice bloke - if you see him on the water next year, be nice - it's not us! :)
With Toodle-oo! nearly sold (offer accepted, just the survey to complete), Laurie and I took advantage of a beautiful day on Saturday and sailed across to an old favorite, Potter's Cove.
The air was crisp, and it certainly wasn't hot - but at 60+ degrees on a November morning, nobody could really complain! There was just enough wind to make it interesting - without making it feel too cold.
We reached PC for a nice casual bottle of Kris and some cheese and crackers and sat in an almost empty cove enjoying the autumnal air.
Coming back was interesting - broad reaching across the bay and then tacking several times up to the harbor.
Sad to part...
Toodle-oo! has been a great boat for us. Very forgiving, she's also responded really well to improved trimming as I have learned through the 5 years we've had her. When set up right, she really goes pretty well.
She's seen many changes under our ownership, with lots and lots of new stuff, from sails and rigging to wiring and electronics. Building up those systems has really taught me about the systems and what I want in the next ship.
Toodle-oo! will certainly be missed, but I fully expect that her new owner will treat her well as he gets to enjoy the fruit of our labors - and adds some of his own into the mix!
Next boat: Not sure yet... other than she'll probably be named "Toodle-oo!" too...
With plans to store Toodle-oo! this year in Bristol - close by the broker who is trying to sell her - we had to get the boat to Bristol - and although the weather forecast wasn't great I decided to tackle this myself yesterday.
Single handing the boat is not something I have done much of - and this was certainly the most ambitious trip to date, with an estimated voyage time of 10 - 12 hours. The trip was made very interesting as the winds grew to 20 - 25 kts in Buzzards Bay, with a nasty 4 - 6 ft choppy sea. Wet!
I left at first light - 6:30am and motored out of the anchorage with just 6 or 7 knots of wind, but by the time I made the turn into Buzzards Bay, it had already reached 10 - 12 kts, so I sailed with full sail on a close reach, headed for Cutty Hunk. A couple of hours later, I shortened sail by reefing the main - which was easily done with the lines led aft. Shortly after that I lowered the staysail and with the decreased sail area saw my speed increase by a good knot. By the time I was near the entrance to Cutty, the seas had built substantially, with the current in my favor, but the wind against current. I was thankful to make the tack back north, not heading into the waves - made for a much easier time. I then continued to tack my way down the bay, trying to keep close to land where both the wind which was now routinely upto 25kts and the waves were more manageable. I made good time to the Sakonnet, reaching there just before 2pm.
The Sakonnet jinx reared it's head again - we've never had much luck sailing up there - never any wind. This time however, I was delighted that the jinx came to play - I was pretty tired and a nice reaching motorsail up the river was my reward - the seas were thankfully flat!
I spotted Dave Saurette as I motored through Tiverton - he was headed towards me through the narrows of the old bridge area - I mean right at me! - and then veered to my port and I immediately recognized the boat and gave a friendly wave - as did he.
The rest of the sail was uneventful, reaching my mooring in Bristol at 4:15 - 9 ¾ hours for the trip.
Tidying the boat up after such a wet ride was not really possible - since the launch would cease operation at sunset. It takes a lot to stow the boat when you're by yourself!
It was certainly nice to have accomplished such a long sail without mishap or horror - especially when I was dealing with some pretty challenging conditions. Pat on the back!