Sailing a raceboat all your focus is on boatspeed. Sailing a cruising boat everything is about boat preservation. Ruffian is a pretty good cruising boat and we were happily preserving her as we headed north from the BVI's. An email then came through from our weather router that suddenly turned Ruffian from a cruising boat into a race boat. Our focus changed from one of chilled out low stress sailing where our biggest concern was keeping our sanity sailing in 7 knots of wind, to one where VMG was everything and where we'd deploy the trusty donkey when usually we'd sail.
We bid the Caribbean a fond farewell, bound for either Hampton, VA or Bermuda and slipped out of Nanny Cay after our first night in a marina since November. It felt like we were doing the teenage 'walk of shame' as we slipped past by our Salty Dawg friends at dawn with not a breath of wind moving the water and with the sun just starting to make itself shown over the islands. In front of us lie 1500 miles of sea and a massive high pressure system that we knew would test our patience and probably our reserves of diesel.
Once clear of the BVI's the Caribbean gave us a parting gift of the most blistering sail that we have ever had. Ruffian romped along and we had high hopes that we'd be putting in a record 24hour run. Ampie was deployed giving us more power than we needed and sleep was easy coming with Ruffian being flat, fast and not making any scary creaking noises that your ears always focus on when far from safety. Life at sea was not just good, but great. It was lovely to be free of land, free of those worries and have once again a single focus.
After putting in a massive 165 mile day the following days tested not only our patience but also the strength of our sunscreen. Ruffian almost sailed herself as we busied ourselves with the joys of breadmaking, reading and enjoying the blue, blue skies and water. We didn't want to turn the engine on as we still had a long long way to go and wanted to keep our reserves for later, we were however happy to coast along at just a couple of knots. We were also still not sure of our destination. Would we go to Bermuda or would we make it all the way to Hampton?
The further offshore we headed the bluer and clearer the water became. As the wind died we were left in a flat calm with not even little wavelets on the surface. We could see the suns rays penetrating the water for what looked like miles; it was after all over 5 miles deep. We decided to test just how deep we could see and found ourselves a bight yellow piece of candy to drop. Plop, in it went. With our boatspeed at just about 0 we watched the sweet sink and sink for what felt like forever. We are sure that had we not drifted away we would still be able to see it slowly falling to the seabed. It is these funny little moments that can't be scripted that we will treasure forever.
In Northern Europe we are well versed to the cycles of the weather offshore. Typically, if it has been a warm day and there is not a lot of gradient wind it will slowly peter out until you are left with only zephyrs. We'd fallen into the thinking that this would also be the case on our way north. More fool us and so we learnt the hard way about a new meteorological term; the diurnal wind.
This is a wind that comes after a hot day of light breeze. As the air that has been heated all day cools it falls and as it does it can easily double the gradient wind. We saw the wind build from 10 to 20 to 30 knots and it kicked up the shortest and steepest of chops. We were about to have a hard night of sailing. With the chop being so steep Ruffian sailed through the waves instead of over them bringing 100's of litres of water into the cockpit and soaking Iain & Fiona. This was all too much for poor 'Rachael' our autopilot and so we spent the night on deck hand steering for 1 hour and then sleeping in the cockpit in full offshore gear for another. It's these little moments that once we are warm and safe in port we will soon forget.
With a new day dawning and the sun shining we knew everything was going to be OK and we could sort out the chaos that the wind and bought. Going downstairs we found our first and only casualty. All our bananas and it had not been a quick or painless death for them. All night they'd been bashing themselves to bits on the side of the boat. Splatters of banana were everywhere and if they'd been leaking blood, we could have filmed a great 70's slasher movie.
Since leaving the BVI's we had been heading towards an imaginary point about 300 miles south west of Bermuda. The wisdom of this is that if the forecast for continuing north to America is not ideal then you can divert to Bermuda and wait for a better one. As we went north we were getting better and better vibes that we'd be making for Hampton, we also knew that Bermuda was now 300 miles exactly upwind making a diversion both slow, wet and uncomfortable. We'd also only burnt 30litres of diesel and so could still motor of 100's of miles if need be. We then had the email from the soothsayer who is known as Chris Parker.
As part of the Salty Dawg Rally we were being given daily routing advice by Chris Parker. He proved to be right at every turn and able to see things in the future that are hidden from us mere mortals. It was therefore with some gravity that we read in his email. "Divert to Bermuda or make landfall by Friday. You're in a for norther, a bad norther." We were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
We didn't fancy sailing upwind for 300 miles and worked out that if we were to get to America in a timely manner then we'd need to average over 5 knots VMG, speed that we can only maintain in ideal conditions and we knew that conditions were going to be far from ideal. What to do? We mused over the decision and decided we'd make for Beaufort, NC.
Making for Beaufort is still going to be a stretch and so our focus now is very much on boatspeed. We'll burn diesel if the speed ever drops and working Ruffian as hard as we dare. Watch this space to see if we make it.
Goodbye Tortola. Goodbye BVI's. Goodbye Caribbean. You've been epic.
That's a sure sign we are offshore. The flags come down.
A rare moment captured. Fiona actually holding the tiller. Usually she has Ruffian so well balanced that she can just sit there.
Ampie working his magic.
Ruffian romping along. At this rate well be in America in 7 days!
Another sign we are offshore. Iain is allowed to eat lollipops.
Woohoo. Happy numbers.
Errr. Where has the wind gone and most importantly will it ever come back?
The flat sea was blue, blue, blue and so clear we think we could see the bottom. It was only 5000meters deep.
The usual evening entertainment. Sailing and great sunsets.
Iain can find amusement in all sorts of things. Here gets distracted after boiling some eggs.
Yep we'll be going north. Full cold weather gear is deployed.