Atlantic Crossing Days 4-6: Roads? Where We’re Going, We don’t Need Roads.

Sunday June 15, 2014

There aren’t many milestones on a trip like this (are there?), so I was very excited this morning when we hit one of them. Time to turn east. No more following the coast of the US, but time to break off and venture into the open ocean, further than we’ve ever gone before. At least, that was the plan. Based on our trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini two months ago I knew that just ‘pointing east’ would not be that easy. Not when you’re fighting against one of the world’s strongest currents. I knew that even with our bow pointed at 90 degrees we’d probably only hold a course of 45. I had the idea last night of telling Matt that we should do just that, slowly making our way NE out of the stream until we could break free of it, but worries about the weather seemed more important and I wanted to wait until our 4 am download of the Weatherfax report before making any decisions to get ourselves further from land.

So just as predicted, at 8:15 this morning when we turned east, our course was between 55-60 degrees. Considering that we were actually moving more east than north I was satisfied with it.  Speed was still minimal at just over 3 knots, but I was ready to sacrifice about a day of getting anywhere for meandering, and pick it back up once we were in current free waters. I had no idea how lucky we were the first few hours of the morning to be making that kind of speed and that kind of heading. When Matt woke up at noon we were down to 2.5 knots. By three o’clock we were down to 2 knots, and barely holding a course of 35 degrees. So maybe this day of pitiful speed was about to turn into a day and a half. That’s ok. With so many miles and weeks ahead of us, the loss of a half day doesn’t seem quite as dire as it used to, back in the days when we could calculate down to within an hour or two of when we should be arriving to a place.

Trying to take my mind off our pathetic pace and do something I little productive I moved myself below deck for a few hours in the afternoon to work on the headsail. We finally took it down yesterday and found out there is some mending needed, but it’s only on the leech of the sail, and that’s good. Even if it is the entire leech, where the colored fabric needs to be reattached to the sail.

If I have one thing to be lucky about with these light winds it’s that it’s also making the seas quite calm and therefore not giving me issues for trying to concentrate on things like sewing. No motion sickness for this girl. Boredom though?, big problem. For some reason I can’t hold my attention to anything for long while we’re traveling. I don’t know what the difference is from being at anchor, but my attention span for any single project lately seems to be about one hour. Looks like this sail is going to take just a few days to repair.

For the third night in a row tonight I haven’t been able to go to bed at my scheduled time of 8:00 and stay there. Once more there were thunderstorms off in the distance and we wanted to be prepared if they suddenly came up on us. Which meant that instead of wrapping myself up in a blanket in my bunk I was instead wrapped up in fowl weather gear out in the cockpit. Other than being awake when I should have been sleeping though, the night was beautiful. Where we were sitting the weather was calm and we bobbed around on glassy waters while the stars and moon reflected in them. Sprawling out in the cockpit and kicking our feet up while we gazed at the stars above us, it was actually a nice chance to enjoy each other’s company and actually have a real conversation that had nothing to do with speed or sail changes. An hour later we realized the storm was moving behind us and it was safe for me to go back to bed. Turning the conversation back to speed, we decided this 2 knots just wasn’t doing it for us and it would be worth it to turn on the engine and try and motor the rest of the way out of the stream. Here’s to better sailing and pointing in the days to come.

trying to cross Gulf Stream

Georgie on torn sail


Monday June 16, 2014

I shouldn’t have spoken too soon. Why did I speak too soon??!! Oh, what I wouldn’t give right now to be able to maintain 2.5 knots. The forward momentum! The breeze(ish) in my hair! No, there is no longer any of that. When I woke up this morning at 8 and made my way to the cockpit I found out we were not moving at all. Alright, that might not be completely true. We were drifting. Honest to God, autopilot had to be turned off because we couldn’t hold a course, drifting. Do you know what boat speed our autopilot stops working at? 1.5 knots. Yes, we couldn’t even hold 1.5 knots. A little worse than we’d be doing with the genoa since we’re just working with our staysail forward now, but I mean, come on!

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning the wind had dwindled out to 3-5 knots. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever even seen it that low while out on the water. Those truly windless days actually exist? I kind of wanted to cry. Here I was hoping for a 30 day passage to the Azores and now on day 5, after having already only made 300 miles in the past 4, we were d-r-i-f-t-i-n-g. At this rate, we’ll never get there. To say that I wanted to gain speed in anyway possible was a little bit of an understatement. When Matt woke up from his afternoon shift I begged him to put the spinnaker up, which he normally gets very excited to do anyway, so we ran it up the hatch and 15 minutes later had it’s bright colors flying above us and moving us along at those 2.5 knots I had been craving earlier. With only 5-6 knots of wind behind us I was quite content to take what I could get. Until the storm clouds started coming in. Again.

Through the next few hours we raised the spinnaker, lowered the spinnaker, raised it again, lowered it again, and tried our our stormsail just for fun while a myriad of different storms swept over us, sometimes bringing the wind up to 20-25 knots while they lasted, but ultimately leaving us with nothing in their wake. At some point in the afternoon we became lazy with the constant sail changes and just went back to drifting, while both the main and staysail flogged in the lack of wind.

While having dinner tonight out in the cockpit while I seriously contemplated motoring up to Charleston to refuel and wait for a window that actually has wind to propel us across the ocean, I saw a group of dark bumps surfacing out of the water. Getting super excited, because we’ve never spotted any before, I yelled out “Whales!!” as my bowl of food almost clattered into my lap. Down to the cabin and back to the cockpit in a flash, I had the binnoculars in my hands and was quickly searching the water for the same spot I had seen movement. Hmmmm, were these wales? We were still some distance away, and they don’t quite looks as massive as I thought they might be, but dolphins don’t just hang out at the surface not doing anything, right? Matt and I passed the binoculars back and forth between each other for the next twenty minutes but had to shrug our shoulders in defeat. I guess we’ll never know for sure what was out there or if we can add a whale sighting to our list of creatures from the sea.

**Editors note: After looking up a few different types of whales online once arriving to land, I’m pretty sure they were Minke whales. So yes, we did actually have our first whale sighting!

reflection of sail in water


Tuesday June 17, 2014

I will fully admit it. After 1 month of sitting at anchor in Miami and then spending the last four or so days traveling with winds under 10 knots, when they jumped up to 12 today my stomach started to clench. What if they get…higher? What if they get up to 20? Ugh, I hate what I’ve become. We’ve spent the past 18 months cruising in nothing but 20-30 knot winds, constantly, and here I was frightened that we might top out in the high teens. Dios mio!, what might become of us in those kind of conditions? I blame all these sudden and forceful storms that we’ve been getting. Already my brain is beginning to associate any kind of gust with a gale that’s going to take the boat down. Or maybe in the recesses of my mind I know that my comfortable passage complete with moving about the boat as if we are at anchor will be disturbed, and it can’t stand the thought. But the gales make me sound much tougher, so I’ll go with that.

This afternoon Matt and I found ourselves participating in our new favorite pastime of this crossing so far. Trying to decipher the clouds. I may have mentioned in a earlier post how much I’d been studying weather and weather patterns before we left Miami, and I’ve found that clouds can be big indicators of current conditions and what’s to come. I had been so sure of my new skill that two evenings ago I saw a string of mares tales coming from the west and proudly pointed out to Matt that we should see deteriorating weather, coming from that direction, in the next 12-24 hours. Most likely that a front was headed our way. So we waited, prepared, kept an eye on the sky, but other than a few passing showers it never changed from it’s brilliant blue. What the…? Not that I’m sad we never got the bad weather supposedly heading our way, but I had been so sure, according to all the books and articles I had read.

Time to break out the big guns. If I couldn’t figure it out just by looking up and guessing, I was going to match them to a cloud chart I had on board. A large sheet of paper that had photographs of just about every type of cloud along with a quick description of it. Couple that with a notebook full of information I had complied way back in Michigan of what kind of weather each of these clouds brings, and it would be a foolproof plan to see what we could expect in the next day or two.

You know what I found out? That while sitting on your boat and looking up to the sky, Altocumulus and Cirrocumulus clouds can look very similar. According to my guides, Altocumulus will usually precede a cold front, bringing crappy weather your way, and Cirrocumulus usually means fair weather. So we were still completely confounded.

Then I realized I’ve been doing this all wrong. I don’t need to try and read the clouds based on how they appear to me in the sky. I need to make a proposal to the great minds of the universe to come up with the best invention ever. Are you ready for it?: AIS For Clouds. Imagine being able to select a cloud on your chart and be able to see it’s speed, it’s direction, and if it’s actually going to pass over you. To know what kind of winds are coming your way, and to be able to exactly identify it to see what kind of weather is on the way.

Yes, I know that this will never happen, or if it could, it would be years and years and years away. But a sailor can dream……

calm waters on Atlantic





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