Sunday, May 3, 2009

We Are Sailing, We Are Sailing, Are We There Yet, Not Even Close

Conception Island, Bahamas
23 50.7N 75 07.3W

We have just arrived in Conception Island after our longest ever passage - 584 miles, taking "only" 80 hours at an average speed of 7.3 knots. For sailors that's really fast, for joggers it's pretty normal!

This will be a long blog entry as we wanted to put in, both Linda and my views on the passage, which proved to be remarkably similar - which is a good thing I guess!

Tim's Notes:

So the big day finally dawns, we have a leisurely breakfast and then are the second boat to leave which is unlike us. Panache a motor yacht lead the way, then us and just behind Sol Y Mar and Perseverance. We motor for an hour or so and then the wind fills in nicely once we are clear of the shallows. It's more northerly than we had expected so we are beam reaching rather than poling out the jib, but we are roaring along at 7-8 knots so who cares!

The first casualty is the auto pilot which starts drinking oil, so we rapidly switch to the wind vane which does sterling service, no current draw, silent and reliable. The first day takes us in grey but non squally conditions on a very fast beam reach up around the hourglass shoals, as we near the shoals it's quite rough with seas over 2.5m we know the forecast is for less later but that doesn't make it comfortable now - thankfully because of our speed we are round the shoals and calmer before sunset covering the first 75 miles in 10 hours! Our speed means we have left the two other yachts for dead, Panache have turned around following a mechanical problem so it's just us out here now.

We carry on this sort of average into the night, Linda goes off watch and struggles to sleep because of the waves, but we fly along, by midnight we have already knocked off 114 miles so "only" another 465 miles to go!

Our second day at sea dawns clear and sunny, we are well past Cabo Samana and are heading offshore round Cabo Frances Viejo, the Dominican Republic is visible on the horizon off to port. The seas are calming a little now, down to around 1.9m, the wind is still on our beam and we are having a fast and comfortable sail. Our first 24 hour run is 183m at 7.5 knots so quite a start for us!

The big event during the day is the fishing, we get a big bite early morning not long after putting the lines out, and whatever it is takes all the gear, so a new lure takes it's place and we settle back to sailing.

Mid morning, off goes the reel again and this time I manage to stop it running eventually and begin the long process of winding in what feels like a big fish. The fight lasts about 20 minutes and we realise with our first view that it is a nice big Mahi Mahi, we get it alongside, I gaff it and lift and it just keeps coming out of the water! It's huge, 48" long, but fat and heavy somewhere towards 18kg I would think - WOW!!

We decide that is enough fishing for the voyage, it should feed us for a few weeks! So with no fishing and Matsu bowling along at 7-8 knots on a reach in the sunshine there is little else to report. The miles tick by, 200m, 250m and the miles to go reduce 400m, 300m and all the while we read, sleep and listen to pod casts.

We have superb fresh Mahi Mahi for dinner, then it's my watch as we pass under the banks and the seas start to calm further, Linda comes back on at 1am as we round the bottom of the Turks & Caicos banks, this calms less than we had thought, but with the wind vane steering we are giving more room to them than we would normally so I think that's the reason.

Just before midnight and the watch change we pass half way, I head off to bed and then wake well rested the next morning to find us closing on West Caicos, another 175m in our 2nd day's run and the average for the whole voyage staying near that 7.5 knots. We are tired today, but in the rhythm of the passage, so it passes slowly but we keep the boat tidy, eat our meals and navigate - the odd adjustment of the wind vane and the odd ship are all that stimulate.

Strangely today drags, I think because we are near land, we wake "near" West Caicos, then it goes dark just as we see Mayaguana. It feels like we haven't gone anywhere despite the evidence from the log and the charts. We are sailing all day at around 6-7 knots and we cross into Bahamian waters which is all very exciting.

Around sun set we get more wind and we climb back into the 8 knot range and fly along while Linda tries to sleep, another watch hand over as we pass the Acklins, and on we go. I get the first evidence of fatigue on this 3rd night, struggling to identify the lights on a tug and tow, I know what it is but my tired brain can't work out which direction it's going despite it being bleeding obvious, luckily I am still sensible enough to get a 2nd opinion from Linda and all is well.

Linda's watch has a few ships as they pass down the channel between the Acklins and Long Island bound for Panama. Our final day dawns with more sun and a bit less wind, it's finally gone more east so we may need a pole we may not, rather than the reaching we have been doing so far. Another 174m run (Matsu is so good!) and we should now comfortably make Conception before it goes dark.

We both independently decided yesterday that we have no desire to cross oceans, we don't fear it, we just can't be bothered, there is way too much to see round here with short passages and day sails - the Bahamas, West Indies, Virgins, Colombia, Panama, Belize etc etc plus the USA. Why cross a bloody ocean to see things when you can't even see all the stunning things where you are! The thought of 20 days of this is too much, when we could be spending 20 days playing and having fun!

We have our first pfaffing of the trip on the last day, with some squalls sucking all the wind away for a short while, we motor round them and then sail from Rum Cay to the gorgeous Conception arriving at 1630 and finding the anchorage crawling with boats. Georgetown of course has emptied post regatta, they are all heading south. That said despite the "crowd" we find a lovely spot at the south end, in crystal clear water and white sand - it's so lovely here.

We head ashore for a walk and a beer which leaves me barely awake, then after enjoying a gorgeous sun set we have more Mahi Mahi and an early night.

And Now For Linda:

If you are a sailor and have already done a long passage, don’t waste your time on the notes below. They are trivial, usual, ordinary, common and frankly boring. If you’re not a sailor or never experienced more than one night at sea, it can be of some interest for you.

Towards the end of this uneventful passage, I shared with Tim that I had no interest in doing a Pacific/Atlantic crossing involving 20-30 days and more at sea. I love sailing, especially on a sunny day in a good breeze and if it lasts for less than 6 hours. Otherwise I find it quite boring really and will do it if we need to but do not find great pleasure into it. I was not really that surprised when Tim said he was feeling the same way and we started planning our next 10 years or more of coastal/island hopping cruising round here.

On the list are the Bahamas, Caribbean, Central America, East and West coast of America. Tim would like to include Alaska to this list whilst I experienced too many years in freezing cold Canada to think about visiting Alaska in anything smaller and less luxurious (and warm!) than a massive commercial cruise ship. So we’ll have a small point to resolve when we will have done the San Blas islands, the sea of Cortez, Belize, the ABC’s, Cuba, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, California, British Colombia, the rest of the Caribbean, Maine, Nova Scotia and returning to the places we’ve already been and really liked without thinking of all the other coastal destinations we’ll hear about and want to explore.

Until then we’ll argue about more important things!

Thursday 30th May – 580 miles to go

8.45 We’re leaving Boqueron in Puerto Rico with 3 other vessels. Panache, a 53 foot motor cruiser, Perseverance, a 42 foot Manta catamaran and Sol y Mar, a 46 foot Beneteau. The anchor chain needs brushing before stowing, obviously spent too long in Boqueron ! And the salt water pump isn’t working; bad start of a long journey. Fortunately, Tim finds the problem straight away. He had disconnected a wire while stocking (lots of!) beer in the adjacent locker. It’s working again, the chain is now cleaned and we’re off. It’s a pond out there, not a breath of wind. We motor out of the anchorage.

9.45 Someone just turned on the switch. We’ve got 15 knots wind and are now happily sailing.

10.00 Let’s have a little nap!

11.00 The hydraulic steering is still a worry and we do a casual check to make sure everything is OK. Unfortunately, it’s very low and needs urgent attention. First attempt at refilling it is a miss. Oil goes everywhere, cushion, floor, clothes, everywhere …. Should have used the funnel. Clean up every thing and try again more successfully. This recurrent problem is driven us mad, we can’t find a leak in the system but it’s drinking a litre of fluid every 100 miles or so. Alcoholic? We set up the wind vane and are soon sailing well with it. We can try to ignore the problem until we arrive somewhere where we need steering ….

11.35 zzzzzzzzzzzz. We’ve got a fish on the line. A big one! Suddenly SNAP, no more fish and no more lure. Tim rigs it again and puts it back in the water.

12.30 Lunch. Oh dear, bread is all mouldy. Even American bread does not last for ever! Provisioning superstar also bought tortillas so no drama, ham lettuce and tomatoes tortilla it is. Check on Charlie, he’s fast asleep on our bed.

17.00 We had planned to go a week earlier and I had, as usual, made a few meals in advance. I find it easy on passages to reheat an already made meal. My stomach is never very strong when spending lots of time down below the first day or when it’s a bit rough out there. Unfortunately, we left a week later and as a result, the yummy looking “pasta au gratin” is now made with blue cheese and we feed the fish with it. Luckily the chili con carne has survived the delay.

18.00 We eat dinner together, discuss the night watch plan and decide to stick to our usual 6 on, 6 off so I’m off to bed. Panache calls, they are turning around and heading for a marina in Dominican Republic. They have an oil leek and, being a motor boat, have no alternative way to carry on. The though of a peaceful nights sleep in a marina isn’t all bad. We however carry on sailing!

22.00 Awake. Had a good 3 hour sleep. Check on Tim to make sure he is OK to carry on. The fist night at sea is always the worst one. Staying awake until midnight while having a drink and a chat is easy but while watching for lights on the horizon and being by yourself tend to be a little more difficult! He’s OK, so I’m back to bed.

Friday 1st May – 450 miles to go

01.00 I woke up before, looked at the clock and decided to get dressed and ready for my watch. I had quite a bit of sleep and ready to do the rest of the night knowing that I will be allowed to go back to bed until I need it in the morning. It’s warm outside, a few clouds around but mostly a starry night. Matsu leaves a wake of phosphorescence as she goes along. There are no ships around, all is good. Charlie is now asleep on the rug in the saloon and meows every time I’m down below at the chart table. I refuse to feed him, imagine if he was to get into this habit!

03.00 I’ve been monitoring a “light” coming toward us for a while. The configuration takes a while to take form. Finally, there’s 2 whites and a red. I’ve been following “the light” on the radar for 12 miles and it’s coming straight at us. I’m sure it will be OK but at the same time, it’s the first time we’re sailing at night with the wind vane and I know I can’t adjust the course and take evasive action easily and quickly if needs be. I wake Tim up. He quickly assess the situation and no course change is required so he goes back to bed leaving me feeling a bit guilty for waking him up but reassured none the less. We crossed port to port less than 1 mile apart which seems like a close call at night, believe me!

06.00 Divine apparition from the cockpit. He’s awake, I’m off to bed. Tired!

08.30 I’m back, well rested.

10.30 zzzzzzzzzzzz. Another bite. This time we land it. A magnificient Mahi Mahi of 4 feet and around 40lbs. It should feed us for a while. We just provisioned in Puerto Rico, the freezer is full and we decide that no more fishing is necessary , it would be a waste. Charlie reluctantly leaves his sleeping spot (our bed) to have a look at the latest catch. He’s quite surprise by the size of it and “helps” Tim gutting and filleting it, cleaning out all the little bits and pieces. Good kitty.

11.15 There’s something “wild” about having a shower outside and if you combine that with being in the middle of the ocean, it really is a special feeling. We both have a long shower in the back cockpit, suddenly feeling refreshed and happy. Love it!

12.00 Nap time for Tim. Seas and wind are calming down. We just took a reef in the main sail. All’s fine but it’s still a bit bumpy. I can’t read when it’s like this, I get sea sick. I’m the kind that gets “motion sick” reading in a car so no hope really! I could listen to music or listen to a book or a pod cast but I’m quite happy sitting there looking at the world go by. It’s amazing how I have become very good at doing absolutely nothing. I seriously think it’s an underestimated skill, wouldn’t you like your 3 year old child to be good at sitting still?

16.00 We change sail configuration, poling the jib out just to see if we could sail that way which would make it a lot more comfortable for the night. Until now, we have been sailing on a beam reach with a beam sea which means we are tossed around right and left and right and left and right again, non stop.

17.00 It is a lot more comfortable but unfortunately, we are not going in the general direction we need to go so we’re back to sail plan A. It’s rolly, it’s bumpy, it’s fast and it’s where we need to go. It will have to do. Charlie doesn’t seem to mind, he’s fast asleep, this time on the saloon sofa.

18.00 Dinner time. Fresh caught Mahi Mahi, yum yum!

18.30 Night watch starts, I’m off to bed, not slightly tired!

21.00 The wind vane needs a course adjustment. Tim wakes me up while he does it, a safety precaution as he needs to lean over the back of the boat while making it. Course change made, Captain still alive and on board, I’m back to sleep!

Saturday 2nd May – 280 miles to go

01.00 I’m on watch. We’ve made some adjustment to the course and are now sailing a little bit more down wind.

03.00 Tim’s awake, just checking on me. I take advantage and suggest another course adjustment in order to stay well clear of the reef off the bottom end of the Turks and Caicos. This course adjustment should also make the boat more stable enabling Tim to get some restful sleep.

06.00 It’s light. It’s been a very quiet night. Not a single ship on the horizon, the VHF radio remained silent, no rain, no squalls, just a long, long night but a good one. I’m tired, I can’t wait for Tim to wake up, I just want to go back to sleep.

07.00 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This time it’s me snoring!

09.45 Awake and refreshed

10.00 Just had a visitor. A plane flew very, very close above us. White and red plane. Maybe coast guard checking on us?

10.15 Tim’s off for a nap. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we’re making good progress. If it’s stays like this, we’ll should be in Conception Island before dark tomorrow. We are now in the Turks and Caicos and many anchorages are available to us. It’s very tempting to stop and have a good rest but we both want to go as far as possible on this weather window and we resist the pillow’s call and decide to carry on. We still have over a thousand miles to travel before we arrive in Maryland and both decided that our resting and playing ground will be the Exuma chain in the Bahamas.

14.30 First squall of the passage. A bit of rain, just enough to rinse the very salty boat. Some wind with it but not much.

15.00 The squall has passed taking the rain and the wind with her. We turn on the engine just to get out of this, so we have to de rig the wind vane and go back to the hydraulic steering. Checked on the hydraulic fluid, it’s low again. More is added.

15.45 The squall and its effect is now gone and we are sailing. Charlie came on deck for a little while after we started the engine maybe thinking we were just about to arrive somewhere. He’s now back to sleep. Lucky pussy.

18.00 Dinner is made of pork chops and mashed potatoes. I’m off watch soon after.

Sunday 3rd May – 102 miles to go

12.30 Tim wakes me up. He can’t make up a set of lights out there. It’s a tug and tow, I get it quite easily and realize he needs a rest. It’s not like him to get confused about light configuration, even a confusing one like this. I send him to bed and stay on watch.

01.15 I wake Tim up. A ship has been coming straight on us for the last 8 miles and will not move, it’s now only 3 miles away. Just as Tim comes to see, the ship finally takes evasive action and passes in front of us. Sorry Timmy!

02.00 There’s always a ship light in the horizon. It really keeps me awake and alert. Nothing comes close but nevertheless, it needs constant monitoring. I’m wide awake. Not sure if I’m just getting use to the rhythm of night watches or if it’s the more busy sea keeping me alert. The seas have calmed down a lot, I’m able to read my book between look out.

06.30 Tim wakes up with only two chapters to read … bad timing! But happy to go and get some more rest.

09.00 Back on deck, feeling great.

13.00 The wind just died. We are only 30 miles from Conception Island but still need to make an average of 5.3 knots of we want to get there before dark. We start the engine but after 90 minutes, the wind is back and we’re making good time under sail.

16.40 We’re now safely anchored in Conception Island. We thought we would have the anchorage to ourselves being so late in the season but to our surprise there are about 10 other boats there. Most of them are bound south and have left George Town on the first available weather window after the famous George Town regatta and are now waiting there for a calm day to go to the Turks and Caicos and beyond. Conception Island is as magical as I remembered. White powdery sand, crystal clear water, beautiful reef all around us and even a dolphin jumping around to welcome us. - we’re in paradise.

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