In the golden age of Formula 1 when the greats of the sport such as Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher took to the track there would always be a race within a race. It was almost a forgone conclusion that one of these guys would get the chequered flag and so while the rest of the field raced for the scraps the guys at the front just raced each other. After receiving the game changing email from Chris Parker we not only raced Ruffian to the coast of the USA but also raced to make landfall in daylight. Our very own race within a race.
With the decision made to change destination and head to Beaufort, NC and try to get in before the weather changed our focus was all on boat speed. While we had wind we constantly trimmed sails and adjusted our sail plan, in and out went reefs, up and down went the kite and when needs be on and off went the engine. Our eyes were constantly glued to our instruments and the magic number of VMG. This new focus showed daily as we reported our position and daily runs to our weather router. Never had we focused so hard on boat speed and it was paying off.
After a few days of having this new focus we were pretty happy that we’d make it to Beaufort before the shocking weather was due to batter us. We were slowly getting ahead of schedule and getting to the point whereby if the wind had completely died we’d be able to motor to the safety of harbour. Before however we could get into harbour we had to work out our strategy for crossing of the Gulf Stream. This is a massive warm body of water that could threaten to sweep us north past our destination and straight into the weather we’d been working hard to avoid.
With the boat speed being maintained at a new all time high life onboard Ruffian continued. We were very much into living in shifts and sleeping in 3 hour snatches. We’d take turns in cooking and cleaning whilst off-watch and Ruffian was running like clockwork. With cooking duties in the hands of Iain one evening he took to ‘modifying’ and ‘improving’ the left over savoury mince that Fiona had cooked the day before. He took to turning this into chilli with a twist. The twist was that he massively underestimated the power of ginger and created a pot of the most bizarre chilli ginger tomato mince with a splattering of sweet potato that man has ever created. Never again will Fiona let the words ginger and mince be used in the same sentence.
The instruments were slowly counting down the miles to go Beaufort and its associated ETA, we’d had a blistering days sail and it looked like we’d be getting into Beaufort in the early hours of the morning and with a slowly building tide sweeping us into safety. Someone was clearly smiling on Ruffian. All we had to do now was get across the Gulf Stream.
Our weather router had given us a proposed track to cross this piece of water but it meant that we’d be giving away valuable sea room, we’d also then have to fetch along the edge of a shallow bank of water that runs for miles offshore, before turning north again. We felt that the most seamanlike thing to do would be to take a route further south; this would be slower but at least if it all went wrong we’d not find ourselves washed up on the rocks. Sounded like a great plan.
We entered the Gulf Stream at a point where it’s about 120 miles wide and all was looking good. Our ETA was still in the morning and the weather was fair. As the evening drew into night things deteriorated from fair to moderate, moderate to rough and then from rough to scary. The problem with the Gulf Stream is that the water warms the air and this then rises. As this hot air rises it hits cold air falling and this is the perfect recipe for thunder storms. We were treated to thunder storm after thunderstorm where the rain was so torrential that we couldn’t even see the compasses let alone the instruments.
The rain however was nothing compared to the lightening. The night was dark with the moon obliterated and the skies blanketed in black clouds. We sat in the cockpit punching current and were sitting duck as the storms flew over us. Lightening would strike the water and at the same time Ruffian would shake and shudder as the booming thunder shook us to our core. In the instant of light we’d be given a view of the sea that was covered in spumes of foam and white horses. This was scary sailing knowing that we were the only lightening conductor for miles around.
As we sailed through the thunder storms with our ETA being pushed later and later dawn finally arrived. We were wet, tired and smelt like sheep, but thankfully we’d survived the lightening. Our bunk was soaked and smelt of wet sheep as we’d now been hot bunking for 10 days and the bilges swum in the rain water that had found its way downstairs. None of this would prove to be a problem however as we’d exited the Gulf Stream, our last barrier and a safe haven was within our grasp. We’d now start our race within a race. Would we make it in before dark?
It is recommended that you do not make the entrance into Beaufort at night because the channel is constantly shifting and seeing the marks against the background lights is near impossible. If dusk came before we arrived we’d be standing off a lee shore and knowing that the bad weather would get us. Finally, after watching our ETA deteriorate for what felt like hours, we were able to turn right around the Cape Lookout bank and we watched with delight as our ETA changed from night to evening to lunchtime. We’d win our race within a race.
So after being at sea for nearly 11 days, covering over 1250 sea miles, negotiating an ever changing high pressure system and sailing in the worst sea conditions that we have ever experienced we dropped the anchor off the picture postcard town of Beaufort, North Carolina. We’d arrived safely in yet another country and once again our confidence in Ruffian and each other has reached a new high.
The pot of stew had been on the go for so long it was considered to be our 3rd crew.
More sensational sailing into the sunset.
Fiona scares Iain by telling him that she has ‘A bun in the oven!’
Mid ocean and the kite is popped. Anything to keep the VMG up.
Mid ocean and the iron sail is deployed. Anything to keep the VMG up.
The Salty Dawg Rally rocks.
More kite up action.
Ruffian romping along. Well done Ruffian. Will we make it on time?
This is what we must avoid. 30knots of wind against the Gulf Stream. Scary stuff.
So where has the sunshine and fair wind gone.
And the sailing becomes more and more difficult.
Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That’ll be a sign of a wet trip. Everything drying out.
American beers in America.