CURRENT LOCATION: The Atlantic Ocean
33 29.195' N, 077 32.951' W
Dear Reader, the following is a blog entry which covers the dates between 07-Nov and 09-Nov, 2007 for
Prudence and crew. Sheryl and I considered breaking this story into separate entries for each day; however, our experience of this time period was one of a single VERY long day (without the normal milestones of eating and sleeping which tend to separate one day from the next). Therefore, we present to you this story of our first REAL offshore experience as a continuous scribed soliloquy. Brew yourself a strong pot of coffee, then sit down to enjoy...
We woke on Wednesday morning to a palpable air of excitement. We were ready to go! A final check of the weather bore no surprises. We double and triple checked how all our stuff was stowed. We took off and plugged our cowl vents and thought about any other items which would make the boat more secure for the pending offshore passage. We were stalling in order to time our exit from Beaufort Inlet at slack low tide.
Finally, the time came to start the engine and pull up the anchor. The winds were 15-18 knots, so Sheryl motored up on the anchor while I pulled in and tried to clean off the anchor rode with our deck wash. I did well until the final few feet. With the boat getting pushed off the wind in a crowed anchorage, Sheryl needed to get the boat moving in order to steer so I pulled up the last 15 feet of rode and anchor, covering myself and the forward deck with nasty black mud.
We had to time a bridge opening and navigate through Beaufort before entering the turning basin near the coast guard station, so I left the deck in its state of disarray, and joined Sheryl in the cockpit. We have found that any situation which requires close attention to navigation is best accomplished using the 'pilot/navigator' approach. In this situation, Sheryl was the pilot and I the navigator. Her responsibility is to drive the boat (making any and all final decisions in that regard), and mine is to provide information to assist her in making those decisions (such as: data from the chart, visible navigational aids, and the positions & bearings of other vessels around us).
Once we reached the turning basin, I was finally free of the navigator role and turned my attention back to the forward deck. I tried my best, during this limited time, to spray off the big clumps of mud, but I only succeeded in breaking them into little clumps and spreading them all around the side decks. With both myself and the boat deck covered in mud, I retreated to the cockpit. It was time to don our lifejackets (a rule we have aboard Prudence
whenever transiting an inlet). In short order, we were out on the ocean, with the motor off and sailing under a full genoa and a single-reefed main.
Our speeds averaged about 5.5 knots, with wind and seas from our starboard quarter. It was a comfortable point of sail and we enjoyed a hot meal for lunch. The plan was to have a relatively loose schedule of pilot duty during daylight and early evening hours, then stick to the following schedule for what would normally be our sleeping hours: Doug pilots 10PM - 2AM and Sheryl pilots 2AM - 6AM. That would give each of us an opportunity for up to 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Any additional requirements for sleep would come in the form of sporadic napping.
As the day turned to night, with a spectacular sunset on the ocean horizon, we took a look around and saw no land in sight. We decided to take down the main in the diminishing rays of twilight, just in case the winds picked up (neither of us wanted to be on deck after dark). Besides, slowing down to about 4 knots was in our plans, so that we would arrive at Frying Pan Shoals in the daylight hours. Seas in that area have been reported to be 'confused' and we wanted to be sure that we could see
what we were up against. Toward that end, we even furled in the genoa a bit to achieve our desired pace. We made no mention of turning right and heading for Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach (our backup plan in case things out on the ocean were not what we had hoped). All was going well and according to expectations.
Darkness settled around us and there were a billion stars in the sky. They served as our only source of light, since we are sailing with a new moon. Eventually, the sensation of sustenance from our hot lunch began to dissipate, and Sheryl went below to make some pasta for dinner while I piloted the boat. I don't recall exactly
when it happened, but at some point during those first few hours of darkness, the seas had begun to build. By the time dinner was ready, the boat was displaying some rather unpleasant motions. In particular, she had a tendency to roll considerably and without any consistent pattern.
Neither Sheryl nor I suffers from seasickness. Therefore, it was surprising to me when I noticed that Sheryl was not eating her pasta. Otto (our electronic autopilot) was steering the boat and we were both sitting in the cockpit with a bowl of hot food in our laps. Never one to complain about any malady, Sheryl said quite simply, "I am having a little trouble with my inner ear." I finished my pasta and ate most of hers before dumping the remainder into the sea. After which, the dishes went unwashed while I piloted the boat and Sheryl tried to focus on not feeling poorly. She later described the sensation to me as being so much more than simple nausea. She experienced a rapid heartbeat and trembling extremities. It certainly didn't help that it was a brisk night on the ocean, and that cloud cover was forming to block the starlight which was our only reference to the line between sky and sea. We were enveloped in cold darkness.
I piloted on while Sheryl did the best she could to take care of herself. She tried some time at the wheel, while I at least rinsed the dishes with salt water. "I can't take the smell
of food down there," she indicated. She tried to sleep below, then tried to rest with eyes closed on the cockpit seat. At one point, she was rolled off of the seat onto the cockpit floor, somehow tearing a hole in her jeans. We forgot the schedule entirely, and I did the bulk of the piloting throughout the night. The hope was that things would improve for Sheryl once daylight returned. Trooper that she is, though, she did give me ample opportunities to step away from the helm, stretch, and get a cup of coffee.
While piloting, we both tried to steer the boat to achieve a more comfortable ride. This was hard to do in the ever-growing confused seas which we could not see. We gybed the boat in one direction, then another, seeking some direction which would save us from the rolling caused by big breaking waves. The only points of sail which would have made life a little more comfortable would have been to point in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go or to point toward shore. We didn't want to do either, so we soldiered on. Hour after hour we rocked and rolled. Fatigue and anxiety began to settle into my bones, and I counted the minutes until daybreak.
Each hour we wrote down our coordinates and put a dot on the chart. For the first eight hours our path had been relatively straight and along our rhum line. The next eight hours would find our dots zigging and zagging across the rhum line as we sought relief from the relentless unseen waves breaking around us. Would the daylight I so desired reveal a scene which I did not want to see? Perhaps dealing with the conditions in darkness provided a blissful ignorance of severity of the conditions.
The eventual sunrise brought slightly calmer seas (so the peak of the sea state that night remains a mystery), although the rolling motion was still there. We rolled out a little more genoa, bringing our speeds up to 5 kts and set our course around Frying Pan Shoals and onto Charleston. I finally got to spend a little time below, only to find that it wasn't the utopia I had imagined. The sounds below were incredible. If we did not know better, one would assume that the boat was being torn apart with each roll of the boat, slap of a wave, and gust of wind. Sleep would come only in short bursts, and any movement below required enormous effort to prevent being thrown about. I rested a little, then washed the dishes, then needed to rest again before taking the effort to dress in preparation for returning to the cockpit.
As the morning turned to afternoon, our muscles began to protest the constant exertion and lack of sleep began to affect us both. Then mother nature turned up the wind and seas again. We were registering 25-30 knot winds and surfing on big seas (I'm not any good at estimating sea height). It began to be a bit too much. This was not the forecast NOAA had promised. And there was no way to turn it off. No way to take a break. We were 100 miles from our destination and miserable. We briefly debated heading in to a closer inlet, but that would have put us at a dangerous angle relative to the big waves. We were stuck and simply had to deal with the circumstances. We rolled in the genoa to control our speed at an average of about 6 kts and turned on Otto. We sat and watched him steer the boat and grimly noted our progress as each dot was plotted on the chart.
Although film cannot capture the true motion, here is a small taste of what we experienced for about 24 continuous hours...
By sunset, we found relief from big winds and big seas. Our second night on the ocean was to take a very different turn. We had too little
wind. We unfurled the full genoa and ran with the wind just off the quarter. We debated about adding the main, but decided that we should not because the winds may pick up again and cause us to go on deck in the darkness. Instead, we each spent our shifts (yes, this night we stuck to the planned shift schedule) trying to keep the genoa full of wind and striving for a 4 knot average speed. On our off shift, we tried to get some sleep amidst the feel of the occasional roll of the boat and the loud whumping sound as the genoa refilled with wind. Sleep was interrupted almost hourly by big boat drills. Anytime the one piloting the boat saw lights on the horizon which suggested a big boat, we called the other on deck. Big boats move very quickly out on the ocean and they often don't pick up a sailboat on their radar. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make certain to take steps to avoid any close encounter. During the previous night and day, we had dodged a few which came within a mile or two of us, but this night all big boat drills were false alarms.
With first light, the winds shifted slightly to put us on a beam reach for our course. We went on deck for the first time in 36 hours to raise the main and got a little lift in our speed (but not much). By late morning, with 25 nautical miles yet to cover to reach the Charleston inlet, we fired up the engine and motor-sailed our way through the home stretch. We had to make the slack low tide or risk having to spend another night out on the ocean waiting to enter the harbor.
With less than a dozen miles to go, on a bright sunny afternoon, we were surrounded by the biggest pod of dolphin we had ever seen. There were dozens of them to the left of us and dozens to the right. They zoomed across our wake and played off our bow. Again, a mere movie can hardly do it justice, but this may give you a flavor for what it was like...
Finally reaching the inlet, we battled the last of the ebb tide through the jetty, then began to be carried by the start of the flood tide through Charleston harbor. We had planned to anchor in Wappoo Creek, which required going through an opening bridge. The guidebook had warned us against getting caught with a flood tide pushing us towards the bridge. "...be sure to check with the bridge tender to be certain of their opening schedule...,"
it read. Taking the warning to heart, Sheryl contacted the bridge before we made the turn to Wappoo Creek and told them we planned to make the 3:00 opening. The bridge tender said we had to be there at exactly
3:00 for the opening. It was going to be close. We gave the engine everything it had and rounded the corner within sight of the bridge with 5 minutes remaining. The bridge tender hailed us and indicated that we were still too far off. We would have to wait until the 3:30 opening. Damn! If she had held the opening for two lousy minutes (note that there were no other boats waiting), we could have made it.
Instead, we had to turn the boat around and stall for time. Fortunately, the tidal current had not yet achieved its full force, and we were able to slowly circle the boat in the creek for a half hour. The only challenge was dodging the small boat traffic in the creek. Finally, 3:30 approached and we closed in on the bridge. The current was a little stronger now and we tried to time it just right (believing that this bridge tender had a habit of operating with the efficiency of a Swiss watch). As the clock ticked 3:30 we were in perfect position, yet nothing happened. I was to the far left side of the creek just in case I needed to make an emergency turn. However, as I put the boat in reverse to slow down a trimaran overtook me directly on my right side and effectively boxed us in. Sheryl frantically called the bridge, and without a response, they finally started putting down the auto gates on the road (about 2 minutes late). Finally it opened and we passed through. Despite the rather rude treatment by the bridge tender, Sheryl indicated that we were safely through with a radioed, "thank-you."
Our luck improved considerably from that point on, as the anchorage we sought was nearly empty (amazing, since the anchorage we had passed in Charleston harbor was an absolute zoo). One other sailboat and a small skiff swung on anchors. We had plenty of room to select a spot. The guidebook warned of strong tidal currents and suggested that we put out two anchors. Fortunately, Sheryl and I had already stragegized on how to approach this anchoring and we knew exactly what we intended to do (even though it would be our first Bahamian mooring).
Laying out the Bahamian mooring would go something like this: we would head into the current, lay out one anchor and set it. Then we would pay out additional rode and drop a second anchor. We would then pull back on the first rode while laying out the second until we were about midway between the two. This would allow us to be held on one anchor at a time, alternating between each anchor as the tidal current shifts. The only drawback to this approach is that the anchor rode may get caught by the keel as the boat swings over. We solved this by tying the two rodes together and adding a weight (called a kellet) to hold the rode down below the level of the keel. Our kellet consisted of a ball of spare chain tied to the rode.
Finally at rest, with sunset approaching, we quickly divided up a chore list so that we could once again live normally aboard. Sheryl worked topside (sail covers, etc), while I worked down below (cleaning out the v-berth and stowing lifejackets, foul weather gear, and safety harnesses). Once we had the boat in order, we took a few moments to watch the sunset over the still waters of the creek. We expressed our love for one another and toasted our success. We had worked as a team to move us and our home from North Carolina to South Carolina. The first big accomplishment of many to come.
For those of you who may be interested in some of the statistics of this journey, they are as follows:
distance traveled: 246.1 nautical miles
total transit time: 54 hours
engine running time: 12 hours
appx fuel consumption: 6 gallons of diesel
meals consumed: 1.5
Since the passage did not allow for anytime to write down any of the story related above, I put these thoughts down on the morning after the hooks went in the water. Certain things are subject to selective memories. I am certain that time will temper the memories of the more difficult moments out there on the water (seasickness, fatigue, and despair at not being able to make the uncomfortable motion stop), and heighten the more spectacular moments (beautiful sunset and sunrise, a billion stars in the sky, and greetings from a huge pack of playful dolphins). Bottom line, though, we were entirely safe throughout the journey. We have a good solid boat which is made for doing just what we did, and we did it together. And, after a bit of rest, Prudence
, Sheryl, and I will do it again.