Atlantic Crossing Days 2 & 3: Be Careful what You Wish For

Friday 6/13/14

It turns out Matt was right when he said a few hours sleep would bring about a bit of perspective. Not only were last night’s events more distant and a little less terrifying in my mind when I woke up, but it also came with the realization of how much I do want to get to Europe and what comforts I’m willing to sacrifice to get there. It did not mean that my wishes would give us an expedient arrival though. Even though I told him to turn the bow north again as I went to bed (Europe if I changed my mind or New York if I still felt the same) we should have been getting pushed along by the Gulf Stream all night, we somehow must have wandered out if it for we had only gone a distance of about 12 miles in the 4 hours I had been sleeping. The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent pointing the bow NE and and trying to find our ticket back into a speedy ride north.

Later in the afternoon we were convinced that we may have found the outer edges of it as our speed jumped to a whopping 4.5 knots as a gentle breeze of 7 knots came from behind. When both of us were actually up for the afternoon after trading hours of sleep shifts and naps, we turned to something that’s hopefully going to keep us entertained every few days for the remainder of the trip. Back in Miami I had drafted Matt’s mom to put together a series of small gifts to be opened by us during the passage. She had come through with flying colors and sent us a bag full of wrapped presents to be opened every five days, beginning on day two, for the next thirty-seven days. Just as excited as if it were Christmas morning, I tore open the first gift to find two books of puzzles and a little bag of treats containing things like mini candy bars, gumballs, and single serve instant coffee. I set about right away on the puzzles while Matt decided that he had been awake entirely too long and needed another nap.

Compared to what our other passages had been, and with the exception of the storm last night, we’ve had nothing but light winds and calm waters. By late afternoon I was praying for some kind of wind to pick up and speed us along, but as the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true’. No sooner had I started to lament our lack of wind power when a set of dark clouds formed off to our northeast. Winds were still steady out of the south and I assumed this dark mass would be coming nowhere near us, until 20 minutes later when the winds shifted to the north. Again.

Now these are the kind of situations I hate. Everything was still calm…for the moment. Do I bother waking Matt and telling him that something might be coming our way?, or wait until that ‘oh shit’ moment where it’s too late and I can no longer handle it on my own? Luckily I didn’t have to worry, for two reasons. Matt had just roused himself out of bed as I was contemplating what actions I should take, and the dark mass of clouds moved just enough to our east that we only caught the very tail of the storm, winds only jumping into the high teens and nothing more.

The late afternoon and evening remained calm, and once again we were able to enjoy a nice dinner out in the cockpit.  One I would have been fully capable of making from scratch since the water around us was so calm that it was like being at anchor and my seasickness would have in no way been aggravated, but since we now had six days of meals already prepared I just threw a few slices of our remaining Domino’s pizza in the over and filled our glasses with Coke.  Everything was pointing toward us continuing to have a calm night where I could actually sleep through my entire shift without storms blowing our way, but once again, that was not the case.  Just as the sky was growing dark and I was finishing up the dishes before I hopped into bed, the sky in front of us was alight with lightning.  F*@k.  Just after that, our VHF began it’s loud siren alerting us to bad weather, and after last night’s episode we were glued to each word, listening to the county names and trying to find them on our charts to see what was coming our way.

Since I was caught so off guard last night with our storm which left me scrambling into the cockpit in the midst of all hell breaking loose without any clothes or a harness attached to me, I decided tonight would not be a repeat performance.  Putting on my foul weather gear and a harness, I arranged a group of cushions and pillows on the floor as a makeshift bed and tried my best to go to sleep.  Every time I heard the wind gust up I would whisk up the companionway steps to see what was happening.  Both of our nerves were on terror alert high.  But…since we were prepared this time, nothing came of it.  By the time my shift began at midnight all the dark clouds had disappeared and I was able to enjoy my shift in relative peace, where my only worry was the speed and direction of the dozens of tankers out on the water with us.

shelf cloud on Atlantic

AIS traffic in Gulf Stream

 It’s a party out here on the Gulf Stream!

Saturday June 14, 2014

We were comfortably sitting in the cockpit enjoying our afternoon and trying to make our way north when that now dreadful and heart thumping siren went off from our VHF, signaling more severe weather in the listening area. Being 30 miles off shore now we were starting to lose the signal just a little bit and had the volume all the way up as we strained to hear the forecast. Beginning to catch the words, I wish we hadn’t, although ingnorance isn’t always bliss. ‘Destructive winds, 50-60 knots, 52 knots recorded over land, seek shelter inside a sound structure’. These were the words broadcasting themselves into our little cockpit. Did they just say destructive winds? Seek shelter inside a building? If they were giving those kind of instructions on land, what the hell was to become of us in our little 34 ft boat, out to sea with nothing to protect us?

Catching the names of towns that were being listed we figured out that yes, we were just east of these areas, and yes, this storm was headed right our way. Again, I looked around and noticed that if we were to get hit, our saving grace would be the fact that we were once more starting with clam seas. The oncoming storm might build them up, but not much, so luckily the winds would be our only concern. Over the next hour we watched the sky turn from bright blue to partially overcast on the horizon. At first it didn’t look like much, more of a haze than anything, but as it came within 10 miles, the menacing traits came along with it. Up close and personal, we could now well make out that this was a shelf cloud, and it spanned the horizon for as far as we could see. Even the power boats had no way of racing around this one. If you check the image of the shelf cloud we were just able to skirt around yesterday, this one extended even further out, with the rolling clouds on top appearing as if they were extending out miles to us. I took a spot behind the wheel and clipped my harness in while refusing Matt’s offers for a jacket, or even to take my spot while he sat next to the companionway and listened to Georgie’s meows while she was locked down below. It is the best to see the website for the best jackets and vests.

Turning on the radar to judge when it would hit us along with how long it would last, we brought down all sails when it was within just a few miles of us and decided the best course of action would be to motor right into it. The winds hit us before the rain, a sudden and angry gust causing our guages to jump from 13 knots to 58 in one swift blow. The intent had been to point the bow directly into the wind, but once the winds started in, even with the wheel hard over I was struggling to keep us within 45 degrees of it. Small whitecaps started to roll on the water, and, shortly after, the rain set in, pelting me with a ferocious force as the winds subsided into the mid 40’s and stayed there. Based on how much rain was showing on our radar, and the broadcast’s stated speed of which the storm was moving at, I figured it would all blow over in 30 minutes, and as uncomfortable as it was I could handle that.

Keeping the wheel hard over, I fought to keep our spot 45 degrees into the wind instead of being pushed beam into it. That work wasn’t so hard, but as the rain battered down on me at well above gale forces, I began to regret turning down the jacket from Matt. My body wasn’t too bad though, it was mostly my face that was stinging from the drops, my eyes luckily protected by the glasses that were now fogging up and blinding me. It wasn’t too bad, and I counted down the minutes as the little whitecaps began to turn into small swells, all the while thinking to myself, ‘Only 20,…15,…,10 more minutes. You can do this.’ But then the original five miles of storm in front of us extended into five more. The pink blob on the radar just wouldn’t end. Jesus Christ, 30 more minutes of this? I give up. Finally relenting my position behind the wheel, I let Matt slide in as I sought shelter under the dodger from the wind and rain. Also slipping a jacket over my wet body I was immediately warmed up and begged myself to answer the question of why I always put myself through so much unnecessary torture. Oh Captain, my captain…I guess I feel I should be the one to experience the brunt of it all.

As soon as those next 30 minutes were up the storm was gone with it, and we were back to our measly ten knots of wind.  Back to going nowhere.

6.14.14 (3)

Georgie’s so proud of providing her own meals when a flying fish ends up on deck.

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