anchorage St. George Bermuda

Atlantic Crossing Days 16-18: Houston, We Have a Pit Stop

Sunday June 30, 2014

anchorage St. George Bermuda

I’m just going to roll this all into one post instead of segregating each day, since I’ve kind of been stretching it lately trying to find something new to talk about every day. I’m starting to get to the point where if I don’t write down 1-2 short sentences of what happened the previous day, I can’t remember anything specific about it. Seriously. If you asked me exactly what happened on Friday my answer would be ‘Ummm…?’. I do know that there are three interesting things that have happened in that many days though.

1.) In getting ourselves within about 150-200 miles off the coast of Bermuda, we’ve begun to pick up their radio broadcasts on our VHF. Wow, ridiculously strong signal! We started to lose broadcasts from the US Coast Guard and NOAA about 60 miles off shore. It’s been nice hearing another live voice again that doesn’t belong to either of us, and it’s also super cute hearing those voices in British or slightly Scottish accents. All I can say is, these guys really watch the waters that surround them. You’re supposed to check in with them once you’re within 35 miles or so of shore, and if you get too close without calling in, they will call you.

Multiple times we heard a call go out from Bermuda Radio that would follow something like this: Vessel approximately 9 miles NE of St. George’s Harbor, traveling at a speed of 7.6 knots on a course of 182 degrees, this is Bermuda Radio, how do you respond? They know everything that’s moving out there. If you have an AIS transciever, they’ll hunt you down by name until you respond. Not planning on stopping there ourselves, we wondered if we’d ever get a call from them if we came too close. Vessel, or sea log, approximately 25 miles SW of Bermuda, drifting at a pace of 1.6 knots on a course of 78 degrees, this is Bermuda Radio, how do you respond?

Another thing we were able to pick up from them once we got a little bit closer is their daily weather report, which was broadcast on channel 27 about 3-4 times a day. It may have only covered an area with a diameter of 20 miles from Bermuda, but it was still nice to have yet another source confirming that we could continue to expect the 8-12 knots of wind we’ve been receiving. It also gives us…drumroll…the forecast from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Which leads us to our next interesting item.

2. Guess what? According to a recommended article, there’s something brewing out there. A tropical storm at the moment, but based on the reports we’ve been getting from NHC and Bermuda radio, the chance that it will develop into a hurricane is growing every day. We’ve seen it on our Weather Fax reports and have been watching it for some days now. From it’s predicted path, it won’t be veering out into the ocean anywhere in our vicinity, but we did enlist my dad to keep a close eye on it and let us know if it’s course changed and we should duck into Bermuda to ride it out, or just be safe if it looked unpredictable of where it might end up.

3. Even though this tropical storm shouldn’t be coming near us, we went to Bermuda anyway. In talking to my dad, even though the tropical storm status had yet to grow into hurricane, I personally didn’t feel comfortable being on the water with it out there. And more importantly, I wasn’t comfortable with what my mental status might become if we continued on. When day 18 at sea begun, I threw in the towel. We were steadily headed toward a 45 day crossing without a break, and I couldn’t take it anymore. The calm seas and comfortable ride, I could handle that. Our slow and steady pace of 2.5-3.0 knots, I could actually handle as well. The constant, never ending racket of the sails slamming in and out, all the hardware on our boom clanking and banging, all day and all night, that I could not take anymore.

When Matt and I were doing our shift change at 4 am this morning, I kind of nonchalantly mentioned, “We’re still about 43 miles from the entrance to St. George’s Harbor right now, if we want any chance of making it there by nightfall I think we’re going to have to turn on the engine”. He just kind of looked back at me like ‘Oh, so we’re actually stopping then?’. I think he was somewhat excited at the prospect of a 45 day passage. Like some kind of right of passage into long distance cruising. ‘How long was your longest passage? 32 days? Wow, that’s a pretty long run. We had 44’. Secretly, I kind of wanted to be able to say that too. Even though it probably would cement us as the worst cruisers ever, a testament of how not to sail across an ocean.

Once we were both up for the day it was time to put the boat back together and make her presentable for any customs and immigration that might come aboard. Thankfully, not only was she cleaner than any of our previous passages because we’ve been able to easily move about the boat without getting sick, and have for the most part picked up after ourselves everyday (you should have seen the mess we accumulated on our 2.5 day sail to Jamaica), but it was calm enough to have no problem really scrubbing her clean. Dirty sheets were tossed in the laundry, the cabin floor was swept, and the counters were 409’ed. The cockpit was rinsed and scrubbed, and many items were stuck out on deck to air. Plus, a big plus actually, is that with the 1-2 ft seas, it wasn’t a terrifying ordeal to haul our 55 lb Rocna anchor up on deck and secured to the bow again.

When we were about 15 miles out and were just starting to make out land on the horizon, a terrible storm came rolling in over us. I could see it from miles away, working it’s way toward us, and soon there was nothing but black sitting between us and Bermuda. I even heard a call on the VHF to Bermuda Radio that someone had spotted a waterspout.  Luckily all that ever came of it was a good fresh water rinse for the boat and some 20-25 knot winds.  We were soon back to cleaning, and all darkness was quickly behind us.  The sun was brightly shining in the sky and Bermuda was in full view.  By this time we had already gone through the process of checking in with Bermuda Radio, who required all kinds of information, like the brand of our life raft, our satellite phone number and the ID off our EPIRB.  I guess most of this can be done online before you get there, but we had never been planning on stopping.

Pulling into the actual harbor around 5:30 in the afternoon, we were given instructions to make our way to the dock for customs and immigration.  The officer was very friendly, but a little concerned as soon as he found out we had a cat on board.  Even though we’d just gone through so much work in Florida getting all the necessary paperwork required for the EU, it wasn’t good enough for Bermuda, we needed one specific to them.  However, they told us that if we were willing to anchor out and never bring her to shore, they’d pretend she didn’t exist.  Fine by us, we prefer to be at anchor anyway.  The rest of the paperwork took less than 10 minutes, and after handing over our $35/person and getting our passports stamped, we were cleared in and ready to relax.

I have to say, this is one of the best landfalls we’ve ever made.  Possibly because we haven’t seen land in over 17 days now, but sigh, just the sights and sounds.  Immediately we could hear gospel music ringing out from the churches as we happened to have come in during evening mass.  The hills were alive with the chirp of crickets, and scents of floral blossoms wafted out onto the water.  Pouring myself a glass of wine, something I didn’t allow myself to do on passage, I watched the sun go down and looked forward to my first full night of sleep in 18 days.

storm over Bermuda

St. George, Bermuda

*Ok, there’s actually 4. For the past few nights I’ve seen what looks like a very bright star, possibly a planet, that has been coming up just before sunrise, around 65 degrees ENE. The interesting thing about it, or should I say strange, or downright freaky, is that it fades in and out. I’m not even joking. One moment it will be so bright that it’s casting a reflection on the water, the next moment it’s gone. I had thought it was weird, but just chalked it up to low lying clouds blocking it out at times. But then last night, the sky was covered with clouds to the point that you couldn’t make out any stars near the horizon (where I always see it), yet the light was still there, fading in and out. WTF?!

A possible lighthouse? I don’t think so, I’ve seen it four nights in a row now. Plus there’s been nothing showing on our charts about being in that area. It’s still east of Bermuda, so it has nothing to do with that. I’m so glad I can sleep through the darkness in an anchorage tonight and not have to worry about strange lights appearing on the horizon.

Matt's birthday decorations

Atlantic Crossing Days 13-15: What Seems to be the Problem Meow?

Tuesday June 24, 2014

It’s only 48 hours late, but I stayed true to my word to Matt’s mom and was finally feeling well enough to give Matt the birthday celebration he deserved but never received.  Still slightly getting over the effects of the waves that are still dying down, it took me two hours of sitting in the cockpit before my head stopped pounding enough to the point I could begin blowing balloons.  I think dehydration might be a part of my recent headaches, so I’ve been trying to down plenty of water in the past 24 hours.

Sitting at the entrance to the companionway with my butt in the cockpit and feet on the steps, I spent the next 30 minutes blowing up about 10 balloons, tossing them on to the floor of the cabin while Georgie looked on with curiosity, and simultaneously making myself lightheaded by depriving myself of oxygen for each balloon that was blown.  Once the ground was littered with them I brought out the Gorilla Tape and tore up a few pieces and set about with my ninja like skills to get them on the grab-rail above Matt’s head so he’d wake up to a colorful concoction of balloons and shiny streamers.  I was two balloons down when my cover was blown for this hopefully unexpected birthday surprise.  Matt’s eyes started to flutter open, and even though I tried the cliche line of ‘This is all a dream…just go back to sleep’, he knew what I was up to.

As I mentioned in the last post, he’s not into celebrating birthdays at all, so all I got out of him was a grunt and “Did my mom put you up to this?”, as he rolled back over and fell asleep once again.  Even though the surprise was ruined, I continued with my work until every balloon and streamer that was mailed to me was now decorating the cabin.  Just like two years ago when Matt woke up and wandered into the bathroom of his mom’s house (of which we were living at that time to save a little $ for the kitty), to find most surfaces covered in balloons and traditional crepe paper, it wasn’t so much for Matt as it was for us.  We like putting forth the effort and giving the surprise, even if he isn’t all that enthusiastic to receive it.  It does always bring at least one smile though.  And hey, I didn’t hear any complaints about the meatloaf dinner I made tonight, just in celebration for his birthday.

Matt's birthday decorations



Wednesday June 25, 2014

There is nothing I wanted more when I woke up this morning than to be able to relax in the cockpit with a cup of coffee while I whittled away the hours until Matt was awake again and I could either nap or just have the company. It’s all I’ve wanted for the past few days now. But just like the past few days, I’ve been on cloud watch upon waking up. Towering clouds off in the distance that I have to keep a close eye on in case they come our way, in which case sail has to be reduced right away as this new squall passes over us. It’s like the coast of Florida all over again.  At least this shift lets me watch them in the light though.  Ever since Florida we’ve both been able to enjoy lightning shows on our night shifts, every night.  Luckily none of them seem to make their way over to us, but instead just leave us squirming in our seat as we watch the flashes of light illuminate the clouds in the distance, checking the radar every 30 minutes to make sure the pink blobs aren’t getting any nearer.

I expected this morning to be like every other day, and night, where I’d watch the towering cloud while we kept our canvas to a minimum, and then it would pass 2-5 miles away from us where we never even got a gust.  This morning though I wanted to keep full headsail out unless I knew we were going to get hit, because our lack of progress is starting to get ri-goddamn-diculous.  So I sit there for the next two hours, watching this monstrous thing actually coming our way, and then I see it.  S%*t.  It’s forming into a shelf cloud.  The kind that, when they’ve blown over us before, usually bring 50 knot winds with them.  And we were finally starting to make 4 knots!

It didn’t look like the whole thing was going to hit us, just one of it’s outer edges, so I waited until it was two miles away before bringing in the headsail.  It looked like things were about to get ugly though, it took less than two minutes for winds to jump up 10-15 knots.  Realizing how close we actually were to the edge I threw on the engine, while all the noise that was being made roused Matt from his bed, and he came to put down the mainsail as well, just in case.  We were able to skirt most of it, avoided the rain, and had an increase of winds up to 25 knots for a total of about 20 minutes.  Nothing we couldn’t have handled.  But, better safe than sorry.  I just wish we could have kept those winds, although local weather had different plans for us.  Back to 6-10 knots for the rest of the day.  The way things are looking, our passage is going to be 45 days long before we get to the Azores.  Think they give out awards for slowest passage ever?

shelf cloud forming

sun & clouds on Atlantic



Thursday June 26, 2014

I can’t think of any new or exciting news to report for today. You know why? Because nothing interesting is happening here. Unless you care to hear about how Georgie is starting to go a little bezerk. Tearing about the boat in a feverish dash, trying to hunt down imaginary insects. At least, I hope they’re imaginary.

This really shouldn’t be much of a change for her though, the only thing that’s different is that she’s not allowed to go up on deck. So for the most part she’s been sleeping,…sleeping,…sleeping some more, and then throwing us glares with her eyes that question ‘Why are you doing this to me?’. Apparently someone who’s everyday living space has only been cut down by 25%, compared to ours of a much greater amount, is taking this trip much harder than we are. That’s ok though, her peanut sized brain will forget all about it once we’re at anchor again. She’s reliable like that.


Atlantic surface analysis

Atlantic Crossing Days 10-12: Birthday Celebrations on the High Seas

Saturday June 21, 2014

Some of you might be wondering how we’ve been getting our weather so far on this trip, probably actually feeling bad for us because we can’t seem to find winds to move us anywhere. The sad part is, we know exactly where they are. We just happen to not want to travel to those areas, mainly which are in the northern parts of the Atlantic, and you can refer back to my little freak out here to see why we’re so adamant about staying in the land of drifting versus following the route with more wind. As I said, we do know where the winds are, everyday, and that’s because we’ve been able to download forecast with Weather Fax, using our Single Sideband receiver. Similar to the single sideband radio, but we can only receive instead of transmit as well.

Every morning at 0800 UTC, Matt hooks up the SSB to my computer and fiddles with the dials until he can fine tune a station from Boston that transmits a fax audio signal to us for the next 24 and 48 hours*. The app on my computer deciphers the tone and turns it in into files that we can read, giving us a surface analysis of the entire Atlantic, as well as a separate wind and wave forecast. Each morning we read these forecast through the images, much the same way we’d look at the GRIB files through Passage Weather, to find out what the winds in our neck of the woods are going to be, and also tracking low pressure systems to make sure that we can stay out of their way. Here’s an example of both a surface analysis and a wind & wave forecast from our Weather Fax.** ***

Atlantic surface analysis

Atlantic wind & wave forecast

While keeping an eye on these images for the past few days we’ve noticed that a cold front is heading our way, which is going to bring us some stronger winds and unfortunately, probably some bigger waves with it too. We’re trying not to be near the center of it, but our file is telling us that we can expect 15-20 knot winds and waves at 2 meters. Treating it just like we always have our Passage Weather forecast, we’re interpreting that to mean the winds will actually be anywhere in the 20-30 knot range. To be fair to our Weather Fax though, it was showing data spread all the way across the Atlantic, and what we were experiencing was local weather which is very hard to pinpoint down to a few degrees of latitude and longitude when you’re looking at an entire ocean. But why is it that winds always seem to be higher than forecast when they’re stronger than we want them, but never when they’re forecast for 5-10?

We’ve started to see an increase a little bit tonight in both wind and waves, already reaching those predicted 15-20 knots, and seas going from less than 1 meter, up to the 1-2 range. The pressure is starting to drop on our electronic barometer, and although I am enjoying logging these miles while we finally push along at 4.5 knots, I have to wonder what the next day or two will bring. Hold on to your hats, it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

*There’s also a 96 hour forecast that we can receive and sometimes go through the trouble of getting later in the afternoon.

** If you’re interested in learning more about using Weather Fax, tips and tricks, or a schedule of broadcast frequencies and times, check out a great post that our friends Brian and Stephanie wrote while they were making their own Atlantic crossing last year, here.

*** We’re also very lucky to have my dad, who’s the best for helping us out with this, send us reports from Passage Weather via a text message on our Sat phone, so we have multiple sources to confirm forecasts.


Sunday June 22, 2014

I had one goal this morning when I woke up. Something that’s been in the works for weeks now, and that was supposed to be decorating the cabin with balloons and streamers for Matt’s 32nd birthday while he slept. All the necessary items were shipped to me weeks ago by Matt mom and all I had to do was display them. Waking up and looking around though, I realized it was going to be a lot easier said than done.

The low pressure system and cold front that we had been watching on our Weather Fax for the past few days and were beginning to feel the effects of last night, was now in full swing. When Matt woke me up at 8 am I stumbled out of bed and poked my head out the companionway to see gray skies and building seas. Winds were now steady at 25-30 knots and waves appeared to be in the 8-10 ft range. Carrying on at 3.5 knots under a triple reefed main alone, we were looking at a long and uncomfortable day ahead. Even though I was planning on spending most of my shift in the horizontal position on the open settee below, I was still strapped into my harness in case I had to run out into the cockpit for any reason. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a seasickness patch on. After doing two straight runs of them I was not willing to become cross-eyed and I was weary about putting another one on. That’s ok, this is now 10 days at sea, by body should be able to handle a little motion, right? Wrong.

This is how my four hour morning shift passed: Lay on the settee where I had a wrist-watch next to me, and after dreading each time the clock hit the quarter of the hour, I would roll myself off the settee and onto the floor. Slowly standing up I’d walk the few steps to the companionway and rest for a moment while my dizzy head gained itself and I could trust my body to walk again. I’d go up 2-3 steps while still keeping myself in the companionway, check the wind speed, check the sail, check for boats, and then rush back down the stairs and throw myself back on the settee for the next 12 minutes until I had to do it again. It looks like the balloons were going to have to wait another day.

The rest of the afternoon and evening followed the same suit. When Matt woke up I took a short nap. When I woke up we cuddled together on the settee and I kept apologizing about what a horrible birthday he must be having, as if I had any control over the situation. Matt, not being one to care about birthdays, laughed it off. His grand birthday dinner which was supposed to be meatloaf ended up being a can of Progresso soup that he had to heat up himself because I couldn’t be bothered to move. Happy birthday my love, I’m glad you were able to spend it taking care of me.

Matt on his birthday


Monday June 23, 2014

Today is day 13, and the madness is beginning to set in. Not because of our time at sea. Not because I have been almost two weeks from land. It is the damn sails and their consistent flapping. 10 knots of shifty wind behind us and they are flogging all over the place. Slamming in and slamming out. Every 5 damn seconds. I could even handle the snails pace of 2 knots we’re currently moving at if it weren’t for the racket going on above my head. It makes any kind of concentration impossible. Adding to the madness are the low but rolling swells that are passing through. Our limited speed is keeping us from riding on top of them, so we are left to bob between the crest and trough, constantly wallowing back and forth. My body can’t handle it. I can’t even take up the simple task of reading at the moment. You’d think that after 12 full days at sea it would be a non issue for me now. That any seasickness would be long gone due to the length of time we’ve already been out here. Granted though, the first 8-9 days were ‘at anchor’. How could my body grow accustomed to a bobbing sea that was never bobbing? Since the real motion hasn’t started until two or so days ago, I’m praying that I only have two more days left before we can be violently thrown about and I won’t even shrug a shoulder. I’m starting to miss being becalmed.

On a different note, a fun story that I forgot to mention yesterday on Matt’s birthday, and why we’re moving at just over 2 knots even though the wind hasn’t dwindled all the way out yet, is that we were hit with another surprise squall. Just when we were beginning to think that we were safe from them. It was late in the afternoon, and since it’s been cloudy for a few days now, we had to run the engine for an hour or so to charge the battery. Just as the winds were beginning to die down again and our speed was dropping, so it seemed like a win/win. I was hoping to be able to pencil in a 100 mile day, and the extra power from the engine was looking like it was going to get us there.

Just like our first night out from Miami, Matt was in the cockpit and I was down below when it came. It took me about 2.5 seconds to realize that something seemed wrong, and then about 10 more seconds to put my harness on and race up to the cockpit to see what it was. Once again Matt had the sheet for the headsail in his hands, which he was desperately trying to release slight tension on while trying to roll it in at the same time. Unlike last time though, between the two of us, we were able to gain control of the situation before I was going to spend another week making repairs to our genoa. With daylight on our side this time it wasn’t hard to see how many degrees we needed to fall off to put ourselves downwind and take pressure off the sails. The sheet to the headsail was passed to me, and still having it wrapped around the winch, without the full pressure on it now I was able to ease it little bits at a time while Matt furled it in from the other side of the cockpit.

Phew, crisis averted. But now, just as we were starting to let our guard down about squalls and thunderstorms, we don’t trust that we won’t be hit with one out of nowhere and have gone back to keeping minimal sail up, even in these 8-12 knot winds we’re now getting after the front.

rainbow after storm

fish swimming by stern

Atlantic Crossing Days 7-9: Catch & Relase

Wednesday June 18, 2012

We’re not alone out here! No, we didn’t find a buddy boat out on the water to enjoy sundowners with as we both sit and drift (although how cool would that be), but we’ve been joined by a family of fish that have taken to following us and using us as some sort of floating reef.  We’re not really sure what kind if fish they are, although we did see them on Monday, little babies or adolescents with what looked like two mahis occasionally swimming by as too.  Well, they’re still here with us.  

With no wind again today we decided to try our hand one more time at fishing.  According to our Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, drifting is almost as good as doing 5-6 knots when you’re trying to catch a mahi, so at least we’ve got that going for us.  Pulling out all of our tackle we had a bunch of new lures to try out, thank to one of our readers, Ben, so we’d spend about 20 minutes with each one at the end of our hand real.  All of the tiny fish that I’m now basically adopting and considering part of our family, would scurry to check out the lure each time it was plopped down in the water, but luckily had the good sense not to bite at it.  It could be because the lures were about 2/3rds the size of their bodies, but that’s not here or there.

All afternoon we’d toss the lure out and reel it back in, as the peels to our oranges floated within eyesight of us since we’ve been cursed with no wind again today and have gone back to locking the wheel and drifting.  There had been a few times that a larger mahi would swim by the boat but seemed to have no interest in the multiple lures we were tossing out, covering every color of the rainbow as we tried to attract him in, all to no avail.  Then as evening fell and I was getting ready to prepare dinner, the mahi was back and we decided to take one last shot, wrapping sliced ham on the end of the lure to see if it was any more appealing to him.

The ham did help us to catch a trigger fish that was also hanging around the boat, but the mahi was impervious to it.  And then…I threw some tomato scraps from my dinner prep out into the water and a second mahi came shooting out of nowhere to eat it up.  I threw tomato slice after tomato slice into the water, and once that was what the mahi was expecting to hit the water in front of it, we threw the lure and it clamped right on.  What the what?  It’s actually on the lure?  We were not actually expecting this and were fully unprepared.  As Matt pulled the huge fish in, who was surprisingly not putting up any kind of fight, I scrambled around the cockpit trying to find our gaff hook.  After Matt had been holding the fish on the side of the boat for a minute I ran back up to him with the gaff, and just as he was about to pass me the line to hold while he gaffed this golden meal in front of us, it was gone.  Giving itself a few shakes it managed to release itself from from our line.  Huh….there goes our dinner.  I guess we’ll have to be quicker with the gaff hook next time.

fish swimming by stern

caught & lost mahi

 (sorry for the bad quality of photos, these were transferred from video)


Thursday June 19, 2012

worked on headsail, patch made me sick. Watched Law Abid Citz & Dex. Made chx tacos, winds 15-20 after 7 pm.

As much as I keep trying to put this task off, and without any good reason, since really, what am I doing anyway?, today was the day to hunker down and get as much work done as possible on the headsail so we can finally get it flying again.  After about an hour of work though, just as I was about to stick it away for the rest of the day, just like I’ve been doing every day so far, I realized the reason I can’t work on it is that it’s hurting my eyes.  I think it has to do with the scopolamine patch I’ve been wearing for seasickness.  Usually I only have one on for 1-3 days and get to tear it off before any kind of side effects begin to mess with me, but I had a plan of keeping one on 24/7 for this trip so that no matter what kind of weather arose, I would be covered.

Nope, not going to work out anymore.  These things are seriously messing with my head, so I decided to rip it off, possible seasickness be damned.  Since the relief isn’t immediate though I was able to talk Matt into letting us use up our full battery banks to plug in the tv and watch a movie while we just kind of drift around out here.  And I figured since we were lounging around watching a movie, what better time to break into my 64 oz bag of Skittles than now?  I’m actually surprised I’ve lasted this long without tearing into them yet.

Tonight we’ve finally run out of already prepped meals, so I decided to try my hand at cooking again since conditions are so calm.  Not knowing how much longer we’ll have flat seas though, I went through and made one of my favorite meals, tacos.  I have no idea what it about me when I set out to make a meal, but I swear, each time I do it takes about 60-90 minutes.  You’d think I was making my own tortillas or something.  I guess I’m just really slow at chopping vegetables.  When I finally had dinner on the table it was only 30 minutes before my bedtime.  Guess who went to bed an extra 30 minutes late because they wanted to make sure they had a clean sink?  This girl.  Normally I’d let them sit until morning but winds have actually picked up into the 15-20 knot range, and for once I’m hoping that because we’re going so fast I won’t be able to get them down tomorrow.  I think we could use a little speed in our lives right now.



Friday June 20, 2014

It’s taken me a week worth of work, with nothing but time on my hands, but I’ve finally gotten the headsail finished. I’m still amazed at my personal level of laziness and keep thinking to myself that faced with the same project back at anchor, I would have completed it in two days max. With taking plenty of breaks in between. I really do blame the scopolamine patch for messing with my head and my vision. Things were getting to the point that even though I haven’t touched my contact lenses and have been wearing my glasses since the day we left, I was starting to do ALL my tasks with my glasses resting on top of my hair, a makeshift headband, since putting them on made my eyes almost cross, as if my horrible prescription was non-existent and I was trying to view the world through Mr. Magoo’s goggles.

Through an hour here and an hour there though, we are back with our genoa, and holy crap, I tell tell an immediate change. Our speed went from it’s usual 2.5 knots up to 3.5. There is hope after all. Now if only one of us had the guts to jump in for an mid-ocean bottom cleaning, we could probably gain that other half knot of speed and begin traveling at our conservative estimate of 4 knots. At least our ride is still as comfortable as ever. Even with the extra knot we still feel like we’re in a fairly protected anchorage. Which means I might still be able to cook a few decent meals on this trip before resorting to cans of Progresso, or worse, Chef Boyardee.

sewing genoa

shelf cloud on Atlantic

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.

6.12.14 (4)

Atlantic Crossing Day 1: Never Leave For a Passage on Thursday the 12th

Thursday June 12, 2014

6.12.14 (1)

They say that you should never leave on passage on a Friday. Sailor’s supersition that it’s bad luck. We were almost caught leaving for our Atlantic crossing on Friday the 13th. Does that make it doubly worse? Or do the two negatives cancel each other out and make a positive? I wasn’t sure and made SURE that we busted our butts so that we wouldn’t have to find out, leaving one day earlier on Thursday the 12th instead. I think we would have been better off taking our chances with Friday the 13th

The morning should have started with relaxing, enjoying our last cup of coffee for the next month where we didn’t have to hold everything down on the counter to make sure it didn’t slide off, before completing last minute projects like stowing everything away and deflating the dinghy. It did not start like that. Just as we were going to bed last night we realized that the fitting on our bow water tank had broken, leaking all of it’s contents into our bilge. Since this was to be our back-up source of water for our crossing, only taking from and refilling our port water tank, this was an issue we needed to fix right away.

The new goal was to wake up first thing in the morning and walk to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the replacement part. Knowing that we were already going to get very little sleep as it was, since we had stayed up well past midnight since we had pushed off all that evening’s projects to enjoy a hot pizza and an episode of Sherlock, I was vexed, and truthfully, terrified, at the thunderstorm of epic proportions that rolled through our anchorage at 5 am, bringing with it 50 knot winds and leaving me wondering if something similar could roll through the next night while we were on passage. Letting ourselves sleep in just a little bit longer we ended up with a late start to our morning, but we were back to the boat with the issue fixed by 11 am. The other small projects took a little longer than we anticipated, as they always do, and the anchor wasn’t weighed until 1 pm. Spending another 45 minutes circling the anchorage as we calibrated our autopilot we were finally off, exiting the Government Cut at Miami just after 3 pm.

Even though the sun was shinning down on us on our way out it didn’t take long for the clouds to roll in, and we watched Miami become consumed by darkness and rain which we were soon swallowed up by as well. It wasn’t anything more than a nice rain shower though, and winds continued to stay around 10 knots and we glided up the Gulf Stream in glass waters at 5 knots under headsail alone. Based on sheer excitement about the journey ahead of us, we even frolicked out in the rain for a bit (or Matt doing whatever the manly term for that would be) while taking in a free shower during the downpour. Things cleared up a few hours later as we passed Ft. Lauderdale and we even managed to catch a decent sunset while enjoying left over pizza in the cockpit.

6.12.14 (2)

6.12.14 (3)

6.12.14 (4)

Before I even knew it my eight o’clock bedtime was before me and I was more than ready for it. I’ve learned that the key to a good first night on passage for myself is collecting no sleep the night before we leave so I am more than ready to conk out at such an early hour. Sliding in behind the lee cloth that we’d set up on the starboard bunk in the salon, I slid easily into sleep. Something that normally takes me three hours to do our first night out.

I had been lying in my bunk for just over an hour when I heard a loud ruckus on deck. I knew it was Matt messing with the headsail, and even though all sounds are amplified below deck, this seemed much louder and as if something were wrong. Jumping out of bed I raced over the companionway boards and into the cockpit. It was immediately evident to me that we were in trouble. I looked at the chartplotter to find winds nearing 60 knots and we were being pushed so far over that our rail was in the water. Matt was feverently working to get the headsail rolled in, but had enough good sense to yell at me to get back in the boat and get a harness on before I could topple out the boat and into the Gulf Stream.

Rushing back below deck I tore through the cabinet to search for our second harness. Usually we never have both out at the same time unless we know bad weather is coming, normally just trading off the one harness between ourselves, but this storm came upon us so suddenly that we barely had time to react.

Finding the second harness I raced once more into the companionway where the headsail was still being overpowered by winds that were now sustained in the upper 40’s. With the furling sheet in hand, Matt was still trying to save the sail by bringing it in, asking me to gently release the sheet for the headsail still wrapped around the winch. The strain on the line was so heavy that I couldn’t even loosen it from the teeth that hold it in place, all the while trying my best to work it free while we’re still heeled all the way over in Force 9-10 winds. Finally Matt realized this was not going to work and it was very likely we’d tear the sail in half while working to winch it in. Looking up through the dark and thinking that we’d already blown it out he slid over to my spot he released the sheet from the winch and let it flap in the wind while he quickly grabbed the furling sheet back to get it in. Eventually the sail was rolled in, though the lines were a knotted and tangled mess that would have to be saved for another day.

Now at hand we had to deal with winds that were still blowing in the 45-50 knot range and showed no signs of relenting. Not wanting to keep any of the sails up we turned ourselves downwind and began to ride the storm out with bare poles as we were pushed along at two knots of speed.  The winds were coming directly out of the north which meant that we were now moving south, working against the current of the Gulf Stream, had absolutely no sail up, no engine on, and were still making that kind of forward progress.  Bolts of white and pink lightning were crashing down on each side of us as buckets of rain began to pour down.  The whole experience was miserable and I think both of us began to start rethinking this whole ocean crossing.  As I stood behind the wheel to hand steer us, Matt sat clipped in under the dodger and confessed, “This just isn’t for me.  I can’t do this anymore.”  Can’t do an ocean crossing?  Or can’t do cruising?

Seeing that we were only 12 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale we tried to start setting a course there to ease our nerves and see what steps we wanted to take next.  As I tried to keep us ass to the waves, I was going just by feel for the wind direction and slipped up a few times where we took the building waves on at a bad angle and they’d crash over the stern and into the cockpit, soaking me in the process.  Yes, a break from cruising sounds pretty good right now.  Immediately my mind went to us leaving the boat in Ft. Lauderdale while we hopped a plane to Guatemala to backpack for a few weeks while visiting friends, and then returning to Michigan for the rest of summer to spend it with friends and family.  It all sounded so tantalizing that it was probably one of the only things keeping me from breaking down while we continued to fight this monstrous storm which was showing no signs of letting up.

For another hour I stood behind the wheel, knees growing weak and teeth chattering until the winds finally let up into the mid 30’s and the autopilot was able to go back into use.  Somehow I was still wired even though I’d only gathered about 5 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours, and sent Matt to bed while we pushed on toward Ft. Lauderdale with the engine on, still fighting the Gulf Stream and moving at 2 knots.  Two hours later, while he was resting his nerves and gaining a little perspective while I stood awake and continued to daydream of a life back on land, he came to relieve me and discuss our rash decision.  By this point I was beyond exhausted and finally started to break down.

I complained about how it seems like everything for the past six months has been working against us and maybe this is a sign that we should stop before something really awful happened.  He told me to grab a few hours of sleep, but for him, removing himself from the situation for a little bit made him realize that it was just frazzled nerves that made him want to quit before, but he thought that moving forward and continuing our crossing was still the right decision and what we really do want.  He made the comment that it was extremely unlikely that we’d go through anything like that again and the worst of it was probably out of the way.  We might hit the random storm here or there in the future, but none of it would likely be worse that what we’ve already seen in our cruising history.  Hmmm.  Guatemala, Lake Michigan, friends, family…….or 3,000 miles of open ocean and uncertainty ahead.  I think a few hours of sleep might be necessary to make that decision.

waves b&w

I am FREAKING Out Here People!

Tuesday May 20, 2014

waves b&w

Do you know what I was doing this morning at 4 am? I was lying awake in bed, thinking off all the terrible things that could happen to us as we cross the Atlantic in a few weeks. Here’s another fun question for you. Do you know how many boats were abandoned just last week while taking the same route that we are? Two!! That’s right. Two boats with a larger number and more experienced crew than the two of us had to leave their boats behind while making the same trip we’re about to do. I am FREAKING out here people! Granted, both of those boats appeared to be passing through a very nasty low pressure system a few hundred miles east of the United States around the 40th degree latitude, but all I could think of through the whole night was ‘That could be us!’. One of the two crews was picked up by the USCG, but the other crew, as I currently write this, are still missing; their boat believed to be abandoned in the Northern Atlantic.* Pardon my French, but that is some scary shit!

For the weeks and month leading up to our departure from Miami and across the Atlantic to the Azores and then through Gibraltar, I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself as much as possible. Prepare for the monotony of being at sea for 30 straight days, and prepare for the onset of at least 2-3 fairly rough storms during our crossing. In my mind, and according to most of the books I’m reading, the worst part of these storms usually pass you in a few hours and all you’re left with after is maybe a day or two of overcast skies with some rain and the drudgery of waiting for the seas to settle back to their original state. The weather systems that we’ve been tracking for the past few weeks though to get a feel for what’s going on out on these waters, is showing a completely different story.

I will admit to you now that we have never once listened to a Chris Parker forecast. We have taken his information while cruising with friends that do get up at the ungodly hour of 6 am to listen, but personally we’ve always been fans of Passage Weather and have used that to prepare for any passage we’ve taken. This does require internet, of which we will not have once we leave on our crossing, but at that point we’ll be relying on downloading forecasts from our SSB twice daily, something that should give us a four day outlook that will be very similar to what we’ve always viewed on Passage Weather. While keeping an eye on it at the moment though, these are the kind of images that we keep seeing pop up.

front over Bermuda

front over Azores

You can see where I’ve labeled Bermuda and the Azores, and our approximate intended route (terrible job with the paint brush, I know). You can also see all that yellow and orange showing up in areas close to where we’ll be, and that’s very, very bad. If you follow the wind indicator at the bottom, you’ll see that yellow represents winds of 30-35 knots, and orange represents 35-40 knots. That would be bad enough on it’s own, but I may have mentioned to you before of our learning of reading Passage Weather, and have pretty much found it to be true. Always expect 5-10 knots higher than it shows. If it’s reading 30-35 knots, expect 35-45. If it’s reading 35-40, well, you’re S.O.L. It’s why we never go anywhere when a forecast is reading over 20 knots. Even though we always travel in weather that shows 15-20, we experience at least 30 knots sometime during the trip. Every.Single.Time.

So you can imagine why these images are getting under my skin. They never end. There might be two days of calm in those areas before another front develops. This is not normal, not for this late in the season, and it has me terrified that nothing will change before our intended June 1st departure date.

So as I laid there wide awake, waiting for the sun to come up, my mind was filled with alternative routes. I was thinking to myself, ‘You know, since we were about to take on a 30 day passage anyway, we could make it to Panama in 10-12. And you know who’s in Panama? Brian and Stephanie on Rode Trip. That would be so fun!!’. I actually lulled myself to sleep with false promises that we would stick to the Caribbean where we would never be more than 200 miles from some form of land.

Reality did set in this morning though as I realized the light of a few very important things. 1. We don’t have to go if everything is showing the same in a week and a half. Have those fronts not showed any sign of leaving, we will wait for them to do so. Or, hightail it to Panama. 2. Based on years and years of data, they should be changing any day now. The Bermuda/Azores high should be settling in, and things should start to look much calmer on those waters. And 3. Downloading a 96 hour forecast twice a day should keep us on top of any fronts that could arise. If we see anything that looks like it’s coming up, we have no problem backtracking or adding extra miles to avoid it. We are going to be very cautious cruisers on this trip, and that is fine by me. I would much rather arrive even a week later than anticipated if it means we’re not surfing down 20 ft waves in 40 knot winds. Ever.

preferred weather

Now this is the kind of weather I’m looking for!


* On Friday May 23rd, the USCG found the hull of this second boat, the Cheeki Rafiki, but with no sign of the crew.  The life raft was still on board and never inflated.

night watch

Night Watches

Wednesday May 14, 2014

night watch

Lately I’ve been reading lots of accounts, through Facebook groups or blogs themselves, of how many other people out there don’t enjoy night sails. No one ever goes into much explanation of why…just that they don’t feel comfortable with them or would prefer not to do them if they don’t have to. Being no stranger to them myself, I thought I’d take a moment to go over my own personal pros and cons of these supposedly apprehension causing passages.

I can’t say that I’ve had the luxury to be afraid or uncomfortable with them. Right from the beginning I was thrown into night watches without a choice. Our very first long distance excursion in Serendipity was an overnight sail from Muskegon to Milwaukee, back in 2010 with a couple of friends, complete with thunderstorms and sustained 30 knot winds. If that doesn’t prep you to be less afraid for what future night ventures might hold, I don’t know what will. Even our first leg of this journey was an overnight from Muskegon to South Manitou, a 120 mile jaunt. Maybe it was the nerves getting the better of me of having just left my whole life behind, but I remember going to bed just as the sun was setting with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. When I woke up for my three hour shift and all I had to do was sit in the cockpit for the next three hours while we gently rocked back and forth in Lake Michigan as I stared up at the stars, I realized it wasn’t so bad.

Ever since then I’ve never really been fazed by night sails and actually prefer to take them when possible since why would you want to waste a whole day traveling on the water when you can do it at night and spend half that time sleeping instead? Friends had started asking me, especially once we got into the open waters of the Atlantic, Doesn’t it scare you to be out there in the dark where you can’t see anything? Wouldn’t you rather do it in the daylight? In reply I had to answer that it was actually better. Without being able to see anything, how could you be afraid of it? Those menacing graybeards that I had to stare down through the afternoon were now blended into oblivion. I couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see me. In fact, on the really dark nights where you can only see a foot or two past the boat are the best because then you’re really just living in the space that is your boat instead of imagining all the empty miles between you and your next landfall.  It’s kind of like being in your own cocoon.

The only thing I have to do is make it through 3-4 hours while listening to music or a podcast until my shift is up and I can crawl back into bed and sleep half the night away. Sail changes rarely have to be made, maybe a little trimming or easing here and there, but for any of the major things I’d wake up Matt to help me, and what’s the difference between doing that in the dark vs daylight anyway?  Ok, maybe it was a little hard sometimes while going down the east coast, but once in the Bahamas we spent a few days rigging all lines to the cockpit, so it doesn’t need to be left unless something is really wrong.  Or the boom vang has to be brought from one side to the other.  But we run jacklines and wear harnesses, so that’s not usually a biggie.*

If I did have one contention of night sails though, it would be the fact that you do get an interrupted night of sleep. You can’t have your yin without your yang. Although I do love the fact that I can sleep half of the trip away, therein lies the problem as well. I’m only sleeping half of it. If you ever learn one major thing about me, it’s that I love my sleep and I am horrible under sleep deprivation. It can lead me to be moody, forgetful, or even downright sick. (Honestly, if I get less than six hours a night I get light headed and go into dry heaves at some point). If you ever got in the way of me and a good nights sleep, be prepared to be on the wrong end of the worst cussing, name calling, or possibly even property destruction that I can throw at you. (Ok, maybe I won’t actually destroy your property, but it will be the first thing to jump into my mind) That’s how much I love/need my sleep.

Not getting a full night’s sleep unfortunately goes hand in hand with night shifts, and it’s usually the debate I have in my mind on if it’s worth it. There are set schedules worked out on Serendipity where I sleep from 8 pm – 12 am, go on watch from 12 am – 4 am, and sleep again from 4 am – 8 am, meaning I should still get my eight hours in with just a four hour break. Which sounds perfect in theory. And that’s where everything is perfect, right?  In theory. Unless we’ve been on passage for at least two days I can’t actually force myself to fall asleep at the unholy hour of 8 pm. So I lay in my little bunk, rocking back and forth, for two to three hours until I finally manage to drift off, usually only gaining one hour of sleep until I have to be up again. The second day of passages we usually find ourselves sleeping away most of it, trying to catch up on the actual hours of sleep that we missed while waiting for it to come as we laid in our bunks the previous night.  It kind of reminds me of how I explained passages to our friend Nate before he joined us on a 380 mile journey from Grand Cayman to Utila, Honduras: “Passages are not exciting. They basically consist of sleeping, or counting down the hours until you can go to sleep again.”.

We’ve heard and sometimes realized ourselves that the longer you are on passage, the easier it is to fall into a routine, and after four to five days you’ve slipped into falling asleep when you’re supposed to, staying awake when you’re supposed to, and hopefully best of all, gaining your sea legs which means it’s much easier to move about the cabin without getting sick. That’s the big payoff that I’m hoping for.

So, between a few off tangents, there you have it, my feelings on night watches. If I can get my sleep schedule down and get a minimum of six hours in before being sent off to do anything that requires too much concentration, I am completely fine with them. Which kind of makes me laugh, although it’s kind of not funny, that because I’d had a collective two hours of sleep on our ride over from Bimini to Miami last night/this morning, I totally missed that I had us anchor right next to a submerged cable and almost right on top of it. My eyes were not even on the chart plotter, but instead of that wide open spot between a few boats in the anchorage. Let’s just hope I don’t suffer more severe consequences next time. I’ll let you know how it all goes once we pull into the Azores after four to five weeks at sea. Hopefully that schedule will have really settled in before I can do anything stupid.


*We also have a safety system that during non daylight hours, whoever is on watch in the cabin always has to be harnessed in.  No excuses.



Exuma Banks

Making Miles

Wednesday May 7, 2014

Exuma Banks

There was only one thing left on my Exuma wish list, and sadly, I did not get to complete it.  The last item on the list that we missed out on last year and I wanted to squeeze in this time around was stopping at Norman’s Cay, just about 10 miles north of Warderick Wells.  This spot is famous for being the headquarters of drug smuggling operations for Carlos Lehder (even featured in one of my favorite movies, Blow), and even though the drug runners have been gone for about 30 years now, this little island still has a few draws.  There’s the famous McDuff’s restaurant where we hear you can pay $20 for a single burger (thanks, I think we would have passed on that one), and the sunken remains of an airplane that lies just a few feel below the water and is perfect for snorkeling.  That is the reason I wanted to visit.  But according to Kim and Jereme, whom had just come from there, getting to the plane from the anchorage we would have been in on the west side of the island would have been very far in the dingy and very hard at times with the current ripping through the cut between islands, where the wreckage lies.

Well, since our intended plan had been to anchor at Norman’s Cay, then Allen’s Cay; Nassua, Berry’s; Great Bahama Banks; and finally Bimini, and now it wasn’t likely that I’d even be able to see the one sight I wanted to go to Norman’s for, we decided to skip it all.  After talking to a couple from s/v Sea Witch while out snorkeling the other day, they mentioned there would be steady east winds for the next three days that they themselves would be riding directly back to their home port of Palm Beach.  We took a moment to think about it, and this is what we came up with.  We need/want to be back in Miami by May 15th to give ourselves at least two weeks to prepare the boat for our Atlantic crossing with a departure date for that of June 1st (weather dependent).  If we were to still hit all of these intended anchorages, even just staying for one night, that wouldn’t put us back to Bimini until the 12th.  Doable, but any bad weather could quickly put us behind schedule.  Or…we could skip all of that and head directly back to Bimini from Warderick Wells.  So that’s what we decided to do.

Matt was a little more enthusiastic about this ‘go go go’ idea than I was, I wasn’t ready to give up these excruciatingly beautiful anchorages just yet, but he’s been indulging me throughout all of the Bahamas so far, so he did not hear any complaints from me when he asked for this one favor back.  He was ready to get into ocean crossing prep mode, and after 8 days, I was just excited at the thought of getting internet back.  Anchor was weighed at 9 am yesterday under sail power alone, and we slid out into the calm waters of the Exuma Banks.  Due to the east winds and still being so close to shore, we enjoyed a good five hours of extremely settled water where it was hard to tell we were even moving.  Poor Georgie, who probably assumed we were still at anchor since it was so calm, didn’t understand why she was being reprimanded as she tried to wander the deck.  We still never want to take the chance that she might go overboard while underway and contain her to the cockpit, but unless conditions are pretty rough we won’t actually force her leash secured leash on her, letting her wander the cockpit and cabin.

Although we were headed in a NW direction, the winds had clocked just south enough to keep fairly downwind the whole way.  Things did start to pick up yesterday evening where the waves began to build just a little and even though our apparent wind was only in the 15-20 knot range, we were keeping a steady 7 knots under our hull.  We passed Nassau just at sunset and then I was sent to bed.  Even though we were speeding along and would normally reduce sail once the sun went down (just so a reef doesn’t have to be put in when one person is trying to sleep…we just take care of it beforehand), there was an unspoken wish between us that we might actually cover all our miles to Bimini before sundown the next night, but we needed to keep going fast to do that.  It was only when I had been down below for a few hours, never actually catching any sleep, that I felt a sudden knock on our side.  A big gust had come up and basically thrown us over and rounded us up into the wind.  Ok…time to slow down a little.  Matt brought in the headsail, but even in doing so we still managed to keep 6 knots under our hull until getting in the lee of the Berrys.

The NW Channel was crossed over at 3 am, and something we would normally never do in the dark, except we still had our track on the chart plotter from the first time we passed through and we made sure to stick to it exactly.  Surrounding us were the lights of anchored boats that had dropped hook in the shallow waters just before the pass, waiting until morning to make their run through it.  By this point I had been on shift for three hours, and since I had not managed to accumulate any sleep from my first shift below, Matt let me go down early to catch a few hours even though I still owed him two more. (We made sure to both be up for crossing the channel)

The rest of our sail today through the banks was rather uneventful, although I wish some excitement would have come in the form of fish biting on our line.  We didn’t even have any barracuda to throw back.*  I guess in the world of yin and yang though, we had to give something up to get something in return.  Our journey might have been fish-less, but it was also fast.  We rounded the North Rock of Bimini at four in the afternoon, plenty of time to get ourselves to a comfortable anchorage for the night.  Since the tide was now coming out though and we would prefer it to be at our backs instead of fighting it on our way in, we decided to anchor outside of the harbor for the night.  Which not only satisfied my wish for at least one more beautiful anchorage, but it might satisfy my wish for good snorkeling as well.  Because we have just put ourselves in a prime spot to check out the Bimini Road tomorrow morning.


*Imagine my disappointment when, as soon as I logged into our Facebook account after having scheduled a bunch of post to go up as we were heading up the Exumas, one of our readers pointed out to me that the first time we crossed the banks our first catch was not actually a barracuda, but a mackerel!!  Something we could have eaten!!  Thanks for letting us know Ben, we’ll make sure to keep a sharper eye out the next time.  It was those damn big teeth that had us confused the first time.


storms going to Nassau

Come Snail Away

Thursday April 17, 2014

Matt walking Gorgie

Tuesday evening found us in a little anchorage between Frazier’s Hog Cay and Bird Cay in the Berry’s. It took us until 6 pm to drop anchor there, having spent 11 hours at sail to make around 38 miles. This slogging and beating into the wind is starting to drive me crazy. The day that we get down to Georgetown or Long Island will be a day of joy, because at that point we’ll be turning around to head back to Miami, and should have the wind at our back, or at least on our sides, the rest of the way back. No more getting stuck for days at a time while waiting for the wind to shift off you nose. Why go back to Miami you might ask? I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it yet or not.

Miami is going to be our new jumping off point to cross the Atlantic. It was originally going to be St. Martin, but our extended stays in Isla Mujeres and Ft. Lauderdale left us without the time to get ourselves all the way down there by mid-May to prepare ourselves for a June departure. Unless we wanted to skip everything along the way. Then it was going to be from either Georgetown Exumas or Calabash Bay in Long Island, but while taking Georgie to the vet in Ft. Lauderdale for her rabies titer test, something that’s required to get her pet passport which will allow her into Europe, we were kicked in the butts with a nice little surprise. After her titer test came back, four to six weeks later, she needed to be checked out by the USDA before finally having her paperwork stamped that she was rabies free, healthy, and free to enter any EU nation. Well, by the time her results actually came back and she would be allowed to see the USDA, we’d already be long gone for the Bahamas. So now, we go back.

It’s not to bad actually. We’re having to hurry a little bit more than we anticipated, but we both think it will be good to do last minute preparations and provisioning in the states. Everything we need to get will be much easier to get in the states than in the Bahamas. I’m sure it’s not going to be until the week before we leave that we think to ourselves ‘Oh crap, we need to get x, y and z, and they can only be ordered online. Time for Amazon prime!!!’. Since that’s kind of how it worked even when we were just leaving for the Bahamas. You’d think that we’re prepping ourselves for two months at sea, or headed to a developing country, none of those being the case, but it’s now our minds work. ‘I want/need this. I can get it here. I should do that’.

So those are our near future plans. But for the moment, we’ve still been trying to slowly make our way to our friends in the Exumas. Yesterday was spent in the anchorage, waiting out SE winds that of course shifted north by 11 am. What would have been perfect sailing conditions for us to get to Nassau. So we made the most of the day and took Georgie on another shore leave. Just a little bit different than the Florida Keys, she was much more content to stick right by our side for the first 20 minutes until her interest got the better of her and she began running away. Right into a thicket where I had to hunt her down and pull her out…in my bare feet. Which, when I put her down for two seconds so I could pull thorns out of my heel, she ran right back into them. We made sure to keep a tight grasp on her leash after that.

Georgie in Berry Islands

Georgie on beach

Georgie inspecting coral

Today we made, ugh, another slog from the Berry’s to Nassau. Only 10 hours for that 35 mile haul. After a few hours of motoring the wind actually shifted enough that we were able to turn off the engine and motor sail alone. Just as I was thinking that things were finally going our way and had gone below for a late morning nap, Matt woke me up 45 minutes later to let me know a storm was coming and we had to pull in the geneoa. Which took away all of our speed and our pointing capabilities. All of a sudden we were back to pointing straight down to Andros. An hour later it passed and we were able to get the headsail back out again, but for the rest of the afternoon we watched storms off to our left and right and prayed they wouldn’t come any closer to us. Three of them off our starboard side seemed to collide with each other just behind us and form one mega cloud of nastiness that I am so thankful we were not caught anywhere near.

We pulled into the bustling harbor around 5:30 and at that point, it could have rained all night if it wanted to. I just wanted to get our anchor down before it happened. Once more we were surrounded by cruise ships and the glittering lights of Atlantis in the distance. Visiting the first island that we’d already been to last year, we’ve now come full circle. Now if only we can get out of here ASAP and check out some of the islands we flew past last year. The sunken piano on Musha Cay, Boo Boo Hill on Warderick Wells, Duffy’s at Norman’s Cay. I’ve already got my list going.

storms going to Nassau

storms on way to Nassau

Atlantis at night