21 December 2011

Land Ho, Ho, Ho!

JOY proudly flies her Bahamian courtesy flag
Two pieces of cloth have forced wind to move us 467 miles over an ocean.  How is that even possible?  Fairly easy to understand; impossibly difficult to comprehend.  Days (3 of them) of nothing but water and sky, nights of water and starlight and not another ship in sight.

We make our way, aiming at a microscopic point on the face of the earth, trusting our instruments to "see" where we are in this featureless world and to point JOY where we want to go.

Jane is in her element, her reflexes honed to supple precision; I am dumb with awe, dimly able at best to assess situations in real time.  Jane periodically records Things of Significance in her iPad; I ponder continually and unsuccessfully how to relate this voyage, this event without resorting to hackneyed metaphors, unsure of whether there is anything to say at all since nothing is going wrong, but knowing that to describe it as "perfect" is to do it an injustice and to make for a short and boring tale.  All I can say is that we set our sights on making it back for the one year anniversary of this amazing, insane, life changing idea and wonder of wonders, we have!  I think if it and weep with disbelief and, yes, joy.

Beyond that, I give, I resign.  I try, but I can't.  I can't differentiate context from content, can't distinguish between the story and its events, the forest and the trees (for you hackneyed metaphor buffs).  This is not my tale to tell, clearly.  Jane?  This one's all you.  Take it away.

Day 1.  Anchor up at dawn and we're on our way.  Neither of us got more than a few hours of sleep - too excited - but adrenaline will fuel us through the first day.  Leaving from Port Royal Sound, we put up the sails, but the winds aren't quite right to keep us in the channel.  Motor sailing, we follow the channel buoys out.  And out and out.  The sense of anticipation is killing us.  We have done plenty of motoring so far - what we really want to do is GO SAILING.  As in, turn the engines off and use the wind as our energy?  As in, "Sailing, take me away to where I'm going..."?  Finally we pass the last buoy and we are officially "out to sea."

We look at each other.  Ready, set, sail?  Off with the engines!  We never did like dem daggone noisy breaky-down things.  And then there is that perfect moment, where we can hear only Joy's hull moving through the waves and Joy's sails moving through the wind. Six knots of magic.  And then the refrigeration compressor cranks up.  Whrrr, chugchug, whrrrrrrrr.  Dude, leave a tender moment alone!  And then.  Of course.  The wind dies.  Our weather guesser had predicted NW @12 knots, but instead we found light and variable.  (I like to call it L&V, 'cause it sounds cool.)  So, not even two hours into our "out to sea" and we are forced into a decision.  We have already motored for several hours; if we keep this up we'll use up our tiny tankful of diesel before we get to the Bahamas.  Besides the "inconvenience" of running out of fuel mid-passage, I fear that I would never hear the end of it, because when Ean had suggested that we fill up a jerry jug or two with extra diesel, I had scoffed at the idea. 

But here's the problem.  Under wind power alone we are making less than two knots.  The weather guy suggested we clear the Gulf Stream by Sunday afternoon at the latest, because of some building north winds - the kind that would lead the cats to mutiny.  The only way to even ENTER the Gulf Stream by Sunday pm, much less EXIT it, stage right, is to use dem daggone noisy breaky-down things, aka the fuel-sucking engines.  Sigh. 

We motor sail for the next several hours, until we are within about five nm of the waypoint that indicates the start of our Gulf Stream crossing (80 nm from Port Royal Sound).  Hitting the Gulf Stream late Saturday night (do we know how to party or what?), we decide we can use wind power alone, making a respectable four or five knots, and be out of the Stream ahead of the building bad breeze.  So here we are.  Our first time sailing at night.  Our first night at sea.  In the infamous Gulf Stream, in what the weather guy calls "confused" seas.  Perfect, since we are confused too! 

Our Gulf Stream crossing, by the numbers:
Water temperature off the SC coast: 58 degrees F
Water temperature in the Gulf Stream: 80 degrees F
Distance across the Gulf Stream: 25 nm
Course of Gulf Stream (where we crossed it): 040T
Course we were supposed to steer, to get across as quickly as possible: 130T
Course we would make good if we steered 130T (i.e. course over ground, as measured by the GPS): 110T
Course we actually made good: about 085T.  Yes it's true, our latitude was changing in the WRONG DIRECTION.
Maximum speed: 7 knots
Minimum speed: 0 knots ( although we actually went the wrong way for a bit, so that should probably count as -1 knot)
Accidental jibes: 3 (saved by the preventer - thanks Tommy!)
Times we started the engine (to regain steerageway after the accidental jibes): 3
Hours to cross the Gulf Stream: about 8
Average speed made good: Just over 3 knots.
Times we got cranky with one another: 2 (e.g. After one of unintentional jibes, Ean asks, "Do you think we should leave the engines running until we get through the Gulf Stream?"  Jane says, "No, I think we should learn how to sail to some minimal degree of competency!"  Ean: I can't imagine why you think we should be even marginally competent, but we are, at least, SAILING, aren't we?")

 After the Gulf Stream we find ourselves about 50 miles north of our intended route.  The Gulf Stream has had its way with us.  So ends Day 1.

Day 2.  We spend the next 24 hours surfing our way back to track.  After the Gulf Stream, the swells become bigger and the wind increases.  We should be heading SE, but we're making more easterly progress than southerly, because the wind is coming almost directly from the north in the morning, and turning to the south puts us on the road to Accidental Jibesville.  We keep the winds and the swells on our port quarter (NNE?  If only we had a working wind indicator....), and we're on a fun ride. 

We are averaging over 7 knots, but we frequently get an extra push by a wave that sends us over the 10 knot mark.  When Steve Slack had warned us that we would hear the non-feathering prop spin at 10 knots, the possibility of ever going 10 knots seemed unlikely, to say the least.  But there it is - he's right, that prop spin becomes noisy.  The wind clocks slowly east, and we turn carefully SE, and then more S than SE.  Our weather guy recommended making most or all of our easterly progress by Monday morning, since the wind is forecasted to come from the east as we get closer to the Bahamas. 

Meanwhile, the seas continue to grow, and the ride becomes "a bit uncomfortable" (as predicted by weather guy).  We're guessing 7-9 feet swells, with some wind chop on top.  Neither of us is seasick - hurray!  I have been taking dramamine since we toodled through Port Royal Sound, because we've read that it works much better as a preventative than it does once seasickness has already started.  Ean takes a couple dramamine Sunday evening, and he says they brought him back from the brink.  The rocking/rolling/banging is definitely wearing us out, but we are moving more slowly and not trying to do too much.  Watch and rest and eat: these are the only truly important tasks.

Generally, I have been taking the first night watch, from 2000 to midnight; Ean takes 2400 to 0400; then I do what we used to call the "rev watch" when I was a Navy gal (short for reveille), 0400 to 0700.  When Ean gets up, I go back to bed for a while, and we both nap during the day.  Easy peasy.  Some cruising couples like to bring extra crew along for the really long passages, but based on this short experience, I think we're both getting enough sleep, and we could continue on this watch schedule indefinitely.  Also, is there anyone, save Ean, with whom I would be willing to be cooped up on this boat for several weeks?  I think not!

Day 3.  We're still rockin' and rollin' in these "uncomfortable" seas.  But JOY seems seaworthy and safe, and we are becoming accustomed to the bangs and jerks of a catamaran under sail in a big ocean.  We did a pretty good job of preparing the boat for sea, so we don't have things sliding around or loose.  A few of our portholes are leaky - need new gaskets, I guess. One of our cabinet doors doesn't latch properly, and it bangs back and forth a few times before we jam a hankie in the door and wedge it shut.

The cats are incredulous.  Isabel keeps looking up at us and meowing as though to say, "What have you gotten us into?"  She is always on the scene, either in the salon or outside in the cockpit, demanding attention.  Percy has mostly been holed up in port forward (otherwise known as the laundry room, because the washer/dryer combo is here).  Tucker, small-brained dull plodder that he is, is least fazed of the three by the motion and the noises.

Ean makes zucchini nut bread - it is SO good.  We have been eating quite well - a big salad with tuna, the meatloaf that I made when I couldn't sleep before our departure - making meatloaf at 3am, how crazy is that? - with baked potatoes and asparagus!  We have eggs for breakfast.  And LOTS of gingersnaps - because ginger is suppose to keep your stomach settled.  No actually, because they're really yummy.

We have run the generator for a couple hours, mainly so we can have hot water.  We continue to be amazed, hour after hour, as Joy is powered - wow! - by the WIND.  I hope we never take it for granted.  Seems like such a miracle to us, even after all these miles.

Mid-day, we start estimating our arrival time.  It becomes clear that we are due to get to Whale Cay VERY early on Tuesday.  We will actually need to slow down... but that's tough, because we're having such fun with the wind.  During my 2000-2400 watch, I try adjusting course to sail a bit too close to the wind.  Joy doesn't like sailing too close to the wind, and she slows considerably.  But, with the big swells and poor Otto working hard to keep us on course (Otto is our autopilot, obviously), we were bound to end up in irons eventually - okay now we're goin' REAL slow.  We end up hove to,and I just sit there and watch it happen, because Ean and I, like most cruising couples, have firm rules about the watchstander leaving the cockpit and handling sails while the non-watchstander is sleeping.  Rules due to the unwillingness of the non-watchstander to wake up minus a partner....  But the flapping of the sails wakes Ean early, so by 2330 we are on our way again.  Now we've burned enough time that the sun will be up before we're close to Whale Cay.  I sleep a few hours before Ean gets me up, and then we're both up and alert for the rest of the morning.

We've heard a lot about the big Cruiser's Net in the Abacos, so we tune in at 0815, hoping to get some info about the Whale Cay Channel.  But I think we must be too far away.  The only thing we hear is a couple of "commercials" for events happening in the cruiser community.  Finally, we see a sport fishing boat come out Whale Cay Channel - he is looping around Whale Cay and popping back in to the Sea of Abaco via Loggerhead Pass, which is where WE want to enter.  We call him on the VHF and ask if he has info about conditions in the channel.  "Uh, no, but it looks okay to me...."  Okay, he must be a local.  He thinks we are idiots.  Look with your eyes, silly catamaran!  We have our sails down by now (we took them down a little earlier than was strictly necessary, needless to say), and we motor through the pass and into the shallow Sea of Abaco, no drama.  As we tuck behind Guana Cay, the swells drop to barely perceptible.  We are here!  Another couple of hours and three potential groundings later (ha ha - we're not even fazed, because of all our experience in six feet of water on the ICW), we are making fast at the Treasure Cay Marina, the marina manager calls customs and immigration for us, and I call my mom, who is VERY happy to hear we have arrived.  Mango daquiris and conch fritters await at the Coco Beach Bar.

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