Offshore to the North Shore
We made it to the North finally! (We're actually in Maine now, and arrived in the north July 2nd.) After a long tenure in Fort Lauderdale (we had that town mapped out like the back of our hand) at Pam's dock doing boat projects and having a blast with Pam (and being thoroughly spoiled by her in more ways than being able to use our air conditioning at the dock), we were all anxious to get North for the summer. Hurricane season had officially started and we didn't want to hop, skip, and jump our way up the coast like we had done to get south in the spring.
I casually brought up the idea of going directly to Maine, offshore, and Kai didn't flinch. To be fair, Kai rarely flinches at my suggestion of any sailing, but I don't always realize that in the moment. We've been looking forward to getting continuous offshore miles under our keel and this was just as good of a time as any. And, we'd have the Gulf Stream to nudge us at a swift 3-5 knots of current.
We finished the boat projects (new solar panel additions, securing our new anchor chain, my favorite: metal waxing, etc), and began weather routing and planning to go north, offshore, until we hit North. When we were good and ready, we didn't leave. We stayed another day and went out for Thai dinner with Pam one more time. Plans are always fluid when fluid is your medium.
We left early in the morning and within two hours, we were all embodying some form of seasickness. Rev and I threw up. Kai made sour faces for awhile, but held it together because we have an unwritten rule that when one adult is seasick, the other one probably shouldn't be. I ate chips and drank bubbly water while trying to convince the crew and myself that they were magical cures. It worked for a few minutes, which doesn't sound like much, but with seasickness, one will take any reprieve they can. I had taken a fair helping of Meclazine hours before starting, but it wasn't doing much more than the bubbly water cure, so I caved and took the heavy duty Dramamine.
With the throws of seasickness as our woeful companion, we continued north as the day melted away (seriously the butter status was at liquid down below, so you can imagine what the cockpit felt like), and the hours blended together. The white swaths of clouds turned orange and then red as night fell, and the indigo ocean waves faded into the darkness. The horizon disappeared and it was just us and the stars. I feared we would wake to greener, browner waters and said a soft goodbye to the 84 degree, oh so beautifully blue water.
Kai and I agreed on our watch rotation which I feel is in my favor. Most crews do a 3-4 hours on, 3-4 hours off schedule but we've been trying something new ever since our supremely sleepless passage to the Bahamas. We now have Kai watching from 8 pm - 12 am, me from 12-2 am, Kai from 2-4 am, and me from 4-8 am. This way we each get a 4 hour chunk of sleep at the times of the night where we each need the sleep: me in the early evening when I put Rev to bed, and him in the morning after a long night of sort of sleeping
. It's not a perfect schedule but it has been working better than the traditional way. After waking up every 2 hours for years when Rev was born, my body is used to lots of interruptions. Others on the boat don't fare so well, but I won't name names.
I feel strangely confident at night on watch. Maybe it's the distraction of the last six months worth of podcasts or the pure darkness enveloping my world around me and making me forget just how small we are in comparison. We know a lot of sailors who don't do overnights or don't have a single person on watch. I think we're both too impatient to get to a new place for this option (but we'd like another crew member or two at times if you're interested). It's a strange confidence because I am under-experienced and didn't expect to feel this comfortable at this point. Perhaps it's the seaworthy security this new boat brings that is so different than any other boat I've been on. I have about 1500 miles of offshore experience, which, to me, feels like 1500 more than I ever imagined I'd have. Thus, 1500 times more than 1 is a good number. Even seeing that in writing is laregely surreal. Perhaps my best asset is having a lot of naïveté to feel like that's enough to single-hand a 28,000 pound vessel in the night, miles away from civilization, at the mercy of the sea. But do you know what? I'm confident in my ability to know when to ask for help. My ego is not so inflated as to be prohibitive to safety, and the only way to get more experience is to do more offshore passages.
Our journey north was largely uneventful for the most part, which was exactly what we hoped for. We started out wearing only underwear and expectedly found ourselves in layers of wool and down, head to toe, upon our arrival. Our second day was filled with squall after squall. I wasn't too concerned until we noticed the water spout ahead of us, but a good distance away. A water spout is a tornado that forms over the water. This is generally not something we want to intersect if we can help it. With our (hopefully) trusty radar we swerved between the squalls, keeping comfortably clear of the spout. The wind picked up nicely which was, of course, Kai's favorite part, as did the rain, which reminded us we need to re-apply waterproofing to the bimini canvas.
Squalls are curious things when you're in a sailboat. There are moments in the anticipatory stages where we are unsure of just how strong the storm will be, where it will head, and what the wind will do. We try to gauge how quickly its moving. We question whether to reef the sails should it be a big wrecking ball of wind, or keep them and our speed up to outrun it. We worry about getting struck by lightening and frazzling all of the electronics in the entire boat. We put the handheld VHF radio in the microwave to protect it from lightening. It's sometimes a lot of preparatory acts made with haste and anxiety.
I gathered Kai was a little concerned when he told me to take Rev downstairs. I unhitched her from her tether and quickly scrambled downstairs with as much grace as one can have in a rolling sea. She protested a bit because she loves a good storm but also likes to stay dry, so she agreed. Then Kai requested I put the bottom hatch board in the companionway. This is basically the door of our house, which separates the inside from the outside of the boat. We do this to keep the inside dry and protected should a wave come over the cockpit, in from the back, and from rain, lots of rain. I quickly put the board in, asking Kai if he was expecting something more rough than I was. He didn't answer, so I assumed that was a yes.
We made it through storm after storm and the weather that followed was dead calm: clouds, no wind, no waves. I usually enjoy dead calm, unlike most sailors. I took advantage of the still evening by making a dinner that was a little more sophisticated than Indian packets and rice. Rev and Kai watched the sunset on the bow as we gently sailed over the glassy waters.
Four or five days into the trip, we found ourselves near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Our friends Kristian and Nancy had a cabin on the beach rented for the week and invited us to stop as we passed by. There are no protected anchorages in this vicinity but we decided it would be nice to see them and get off the boat for a bit, and Rev can never say no to a good beach run.
We anchored in a rolly spot and did the arduous task of getting the dinghy off the deck and set up. We were exhausted, which isn't the ideal state to lower a dinghy and outboard motor off of the boat in decent waves. With sufficient yelling and whining and 2 hours later (we stopped to eat and nap at times) we were on our way to shore. Shore was full of surf and we got a little wet as the waves crashed us into shore but we had made it! Solid ground at last!
We were a little brain dead and slow-moving from our trip but we had a lovely dinner with friends and Rev was pleased as a peach to play with their son. Getting back to the boat was a bit of an issue. We had to fight the surf to launch the dingy and found ourselves with waves crashing over the bow, Rev inside, and Kai and I holding it steady while he tried to start the motor. The motor wasn't starting and we were now up to our chests in cool, salty water. We weren't far enough into the ocean to be beyond the crashing point of the waves, so every few seconds a wave would crash into the dinghy filling it with water. I was scared. I didn't want this dinghy mowing me over and I didn't want to get swept away by the undertow. My mind quickly went through the things that could go wrong so I could prevent them from happening. Atop my list was the motor finally starting at the same moment I lost footing, cutting my leg off or worse. Finally Kai realized the on/off switch to the motor was set to "off" instead of "run." I cannot tell you how many times we've made this mistake. He quickly changed it and off we went, dinghy full of water, 3 soaked passengers. Rev wailed with the conviction we would sink with the amount of water entrapped in the dinghy, but we reminded her that's the benefit of being an inflatable dinghy with a drain hole. The next morning we went into shore for a luscious breakfast and had a plan in place to prevent this from happening again. We launched that dinghy in the surf like pros (with the help of Kristian) and went on our way north.
The final stretch north wasn't eventful besides the increase in passing ships. The winds and seas grew and we found ourselves a little tired of the constant movement. With the waves approaching the boat from the stern, it gets a little washing machine-like inside. Add sleep deprivation, minor sea sickness at this point, excitement to get to land, and a bit of cabin fever, and we all get a little short with each other at times. Seven days into our trip, I voted Rev most patient and Kai announced that the wind was perfectly sailing us toward Block Island, Rhode Island. We decided, why fight it, lets just follow the wind.
We plopped our anchor down in Block Island harbor on July 2nd, just in time for the 4th of July fireworks that evening. The approach to Block Island was filled with majestic rolling hills atop cliffs that abruptly dropped hundreds of feet to a rocky and sandy shoreline. We hadn't seen elevation like this in some time, or ever really, and in my state of fatigue, I magically convinced myself we were in Ireland. Had eight days turned into 25 days without my notice? We began hearing New York accents and noticing how nicely kempt the boats were, and I snapped back to reality.
We spent a few days exploring gorgeous Block Island and then headed to Newport, Rhode Island, which I will write about in another post.