Friday, December 28, 2007

Living the Dream

The other night, I returned to the boat to spend my first night alone since leaving Lunenburg. Justine is now home in Canada, and I've determined not everything in my experiences is meant for the blog.

I found it hard to be in St Augustine for Christmas. I was supposed to be in Cuba by now, after all. I'm trying, I really am, to at least appreciate the fact that I'm in warmer climates. This time last year there was an inch of ice on the hull as she lay dockside in Dartmouth. That was a miserable existence. I really do have something to be thankful for.

I again recall that first night, sitting on deck alone as Ed and Logan slept below, as I watched the last corner of Nova Scotia disappear into the darkness and the Cape Sable Island light fade into the horizon. I remember that feeling of, "I'm really doing it! My journey has begun!". As I sit feeling trapped in the St Augustine anchorage, unable to get further south on my own, I no longer spend the hours planning the next jump. My thoughts now turn inward on my reasons for doing this trip at all, why I make certain choices, and why I react the way I do and make decisions I regret. I've always believed in there being a reason for everything, but I have the feeling that the reason for my current situation will be a long time presenting itself. I feel it's more accurate to say now that my journey didn't really begin until I found myself here alone.

I'm putting the word out to any experienced sailors interested in sailing at least to Key West, and perhaps to Cuba. Mans or womans. If mans, please apply with photo.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa Drives a Boat

The words are not flowing as freely as before, and it cannot be for lack of material or inspiration, because I've met the most phenomenal people in the last couple of weeks, and I know the friendships created will last a lifetime. It's difficult to express just how astounded and grateful we are for everything that was done for us in Charleston. I will try to do my best.

Things began to look up immediately following my last entry. While on our way back to the dingy to row back out to the mothership, I said, "Hey, lets see if anyone is home on the boat with the nice deck lights, see if we can find out where they got them". We approached the fellow aboard, with the pick-up line, "Hey! Nice spreader lights!". He tried to tell us his name was Mark, but we're pretty sure his REAL name was Santa, because within 10 minutes of meeting him, it was decided that our sails would be taken to the nearest North Sails, and fixed properly. I was definitely on Santa's 'nice' list. In the coming days, we found ourselves with 2 new harnesses with inflatable life jackets, binoculars we can actually discern shapes and colors through, wood and a hand plane for various unfinished projects, including a name board for the dingy, which we've named James ("Home, James! And don't spare the horses!"). Then, as if that weren't enough, we were offered a berth at the finest marina we've encountered on this entire trip. He welcomed us on his boat, to use email and make long-distance phone calls, watch movies, and of course great meals and company! Even Effie took to wandering over, and before long started spending the nights there. I'm reminded of the old adage, "Practise random kindness and senseless acts of joy". I hope that one day I'm able to find a way to pass along the same kindness and practise the same selflessness he showed to us.

And he wasn't the only one.

Jeff and Jodi live aboard their sailboat in the marina, and we just clicked right away. My intuition tells me that we'll be in each others company again, perhaps back in Nova Scotia in a year or two, as they have plans of perhaps cruising up that way. I'm dumbfounded at their generosity and organization, as they loaned us their EPIRB until Annie Laurie is safely home in Nova Scotia. For those who don't know, EPIRB stands for 'emergency position indicating radio beacon', and if I were to find myself in a perilous situation, a flick of a switch would send a signal via satellite to the coast guard, and search and rescue would know exactly where to find us. Jodi arrived with the beacon, having already made the arrangements of changing the information that would be encoded in the distress signal, should we pull that switch. This includes the name of the vessel, port of registry, and its general specifications. This has provided us with such incredible peace of mind, as our communication system aboard is limited to a VHF radio, which, we have proven, is next to useless beyond 20 miles of the shore, or the nearest ship with the same radio. The digital signal from the EPIRB on the other hand, can be detected from anywhere on earth.

So as you may imagine, leaving Charleston was one of the hardest things I've had to do, perhaps aside from rounding Cape Fear. Thank-you Santa, Jodi, and Jeff. Hope to see you sooner rather than later!

Speaking of Cape Fear, that experience gave us that extra push we obviously needed to go over some essential safety training. Justine tried on an immersion suit, to get a feel for their awkwardness and to learn some of the important details involved in donning one. For example, if you don't make the effort to expel the extra air in the waterproof suit before you zip it up all the way, air can end up in your feet, and upon landing in the water, your feet will be where you're prefer to have your head, that is, above water.

While dockside, we also took the opportunity to take almost everything we could off the boat, to dry on the dock in the sun, and to reorganize everything that had dislodged itself from its proper storage place during the violent motions in the gulf stream. A bit more of the waterline got painted, and the transom went from black to white, to match the rest of the boat. We had a few spectators through the week as we did our maintenance, including a Ukrainian sailor who asked, "So, no mans?". I don't know how we do it, but somehow this boat continues to see great improvement, and gets from A to B, without mans.

After 9 days in Charleston, the boat and crew were better than new, and we set sail to wherever the wind would take us, which turned out to be St Augustine, Florida. It's the oldest city in America, and I imagine it's the most touristy too. I miss Charleston and our friends there. We've been 4 days in St Augustine now, and I don't think either one of us has met anybody 'from' here. But it's certainly gorgeous to walk the historic streets, all of which have the distinctly Spanish feel about them. The famous "Fountain of Youth" beckoned to us, but after arriving at the end of Ponce De Leon Blvd, we found they charged $7 each to enter the park. We took a photo of the fountain at the entrance instead, and I'm sure it's (almost) as nice. The pawn shops remind us that we're far from Scotian roads, and how, in many ways, America is a different world. The Dingy Police take their jobs very seriously around here when you tie your dingy in a Restricted area by accident, such as a marina. We were shocked, as I'm sure any boater would have been, when we got back to the marina early in the morning after a night at the A1A Brewery, and there was a lock and chain on our dingy! Apparently we we're meant to register and pay $10 to leave our dingy there, which, okay... I knew, but choose to ignore. So on principle, we had to find another way out of this situation. I went down the dock until I spotted a boat and a guy inside watching a movie. I knocked, and he lent me some wire cutters. Turned out they were too small for the job, so I eventually realized that the seat of our new dingy (around which the chain was wrapped) was actually easily removed with a #2 Robertson screwdriver. I ran back and traded the wirecutters for a screwdriver, and unscrewed the seat. I ran back to return the tool, as the Dingy Police were walking down the far dock, in our direction. We pushed off, as he ran down the ramp, asking us how we would like it if he phoned the police! Justine was on the ball, as she called back, "Our Captain... HE didn't tell us anything about a fee! He'll be in to speak with you in the morning, if you'd like!". Sweet success.

We will spend Christmas here, and are already planning to cook up a storm on our new BBQ, which we traded a small winch and spare ships wheel for at the famous Sailor's Exchange up the road. Merry Christmas to all our Family and Friends, old and new, from Laura, Justine, and Effie too.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

I sit in the comfort of the University of Charleston library, still finding it a bit difficult to relive the three day sail from Oriental to here. If I don’t write tonight though, it may be a while before my next opportunity.
I regret that our experiences after leaving Oriental were such that they overshadow all the good that came from our time at the town dock, so I will promise to give Oriental and the people we met the recognition they deserve in a future entry.
We left Oriental at 0900 one day last week. It was 4 hours of motoring down the ICW (with no more groundings!) before reaching Beaufort, where we could then leave the waterway and head back out into the Atlantic. Once offshore, a strong westerly breeze kept our speed up to 6 knots for hours… it seemed like we would be around Cape Fear in no time, and into Charleston late the next evening.
Then we learned a little something about the Gulf Stream.
The wind continued to pick up, and early on day 2, we had strong northwesterlies. We had both noticed the change in the water, primarily its warmth, but also the abundance of a certain kind of seaweed that is indicative of the stream. It’s around this time that things start to go a bit hazy… I don’t fully recall my decision making processes, or what I thought our situation was, or how I was reading the various signs. I think I doubted for a long time that we were in fact in the gulf stream, I never thought it would be so close to shore. I heard a lot of warnings about finding yourself in the gulf stream in a northerly wind, and the winds were already veering to the north, and the seas were building, and breaking frequently. Somewhere, sometime, one by one I guess, sails starting ripping. The line holding the clew (one of the corners) of the jib to the boom snapped, and that was it for the jib. I went up on the foredeck to try and tie it back on with another line, but it was flogging around madly, and when the bow went under and I went in to my waist, I thought, ‘this is ridiculous’. The downhaul for the jib is in the cockpit, so Justine pulled the sail down, and we left it at that… I decided to let the sail go, allowing it to flog around at will, and bit by bit over the following hours, or days I guess, we watched it go into pieces. I wasn’t risking going forward again unless it was absolutely necessary. In moments like these, you don’t really think about the monetary value of such items, despite their necessity for the trip south to continue. Well, you don’t think about it when one sail goes, but then when the mizzen busts to shreds and the reef point in the main tears a 2-foot hole in the sail, such things do begin to cross your mind. But safety of the crew and getting into the nearest safe port are first and foremost.

What was frustrating for the first 24 hours was trying to make our way west. We were 80 miles out, and southeast of Cape Fear’s ‘frying pan shoals’ and all we wanted to do was head back toward the continent. No matter how hard we tried, including motorsailing and steering a course of due west, we were going due south. In a current that runs 4knots in a northerly direction! South is good, but 80 miles out when all you want to see is land, west (or at LEAST southwest) is much better. I just didn’t get it… and I feel rather dense, slow, dimwitted, whatever you may want to call it, for not having gotten my head around it sooner. Perhaps lack of sleep, perhaps fear of the situation we were in, the incredible burden of responsibility I suddenly felt knowing I had another life in my hands, maybe all these things prevented me from accurately assessing the situation. Night was falling on Day 2, waves were frequently sweeping the entire boat and filling the cockpit with water, Effie was crying so loudly and mournfully, terrified and locked down below, and the wind was gale force… it bothers me to think of that sound. Justine later told me, that night as the sun disappeared below the horizon, all she could think about was, ‘There it goes… and it has to go all the way around the world again before it comes up. That’s so far to go!’. It was truly an awful feeling.
It was the longest night of my life, for certain. And I think Justine’s too. There was no moon, and the clouds began to hide the stars early in the evening. I could hardly bring myself to look at the waves, what little I could make of them from the whitecaps after they broke. But the seas were becoming confused, coming from the west as well as the north, and it seemed important to watch each and every one, and to steer into them rather than letting them hit the boat from the side. Of course neither of us slept, we each went down below for 2 hours each at some point in the night, the rest of the time we were on deck together, just for moral support. Although clipped in, Justine said that every time she heard a wave break over the boat, she would lay there, waiting for some sign that the boat was back on a good course, and that there was still a hand at the helm.

About an hour before sunrise, the boat lit up with an orangey glow. We looked off the stern, and there was a flare in the sky. Someone had fired a flare, perhaps from a vessel in distress, what else would it be? This remains one of the most disturbing parts of the passage. I tried calling the coast guard, but we were too far out for them to pick up our radio signal. We were concerned for our own safety at this point, still struggling to break out of the stream, shaking from cold, and seasickness and lack of rest and our inability to eat anything for the last 48hrs, so how could we possibly turn around to investigate? We couldn’t, yet it greatly distressed us, the thoughts that another small boat not unlike our own was in trouble, and people had fired the flare as a last attempt to call for help. We saw a container ship a few hours later, and tried to relay a message to them, but with no response. It haunts me.

In the morning, the waves had grown only slightly from what they were at the final light of the night before. The wind was now a northeasterly gale, and I finally realized that we were in some sort of counter-current, running off the edges of the stream itself, in the opposite direction. Now, with that mystery finally figured out, came the decision to run with it. Turn the boat southwest rather than northwest, and start surfing. This is where I approached the limits of my experience on small boats. It seemed a bit precarious to me, putting such massive waves behind the boat, it seemed like they could ‘catch-up’ with us, and as they were still breaking often, I just saw them rolling the boat over, as we surfed down the sides of them. Perhaps there was no danger of that at all, and that’s my inexperience talking; I worry about things I don’t know about, and always come up with the worst possible scenario. I call down to Justine that I was turning the boat around and the motion was going to feel a lot different in a minute. I waited for a lull in the waves, the most that could be expected in such conditions, and spun her around. For the next 18hrs, it took so much energy and concentration to keep her stern to the waves, and not allow us to become broad-side to the swells. Constantly looking at the compass, then looking behind, then compass, then behind. We often got warning waves… ones that would crash really close behind us, then would be followed by a train of the 3 largest waves of the last ten minutes. The sea was kind in this manner, because we were delirious and our minds would wander and eyes would close until we would hear these periodic wake-up calls.

Once the wind was behind us, I decided to set a sail. Why not, we still had one left to work with! I set the genoa, then realized the bottom shackle holding the tack of the sail had fallen off. That damn roller furl set-up has been nothing but trouble! Justine hauled it back in, and we set the main, double-reefed, since the single reef was torn, and this helped us remain more balanced and allowed us to throttle back the engine a bit and conserve some fuel.

Through it all we managed to keep our sense of humor and positive attitude. A visit from the gulf stream dolphins helped to lift spirits. Gulf stream dolphins are unlike the ones back home. For one thing, they’re huge! Another thing, they’re so rambunctious and energetic, they’re like the children you went to elementary school with that should have been on Ritalin. I saw a few Portuguese man-of-wars, the jelly fish with ‘sails’, and Justine yelled down to me asking if it was possible that there were hummingbirds way out here! She had seen her first flying fish.

I never felt like we weren’t going to make it… it was just knowing what we had to face between ‘now and land’ that was difficult. The boat took an awful beating, far worse than anything I’ve ever put her through, and likely worse than what her previous 2 owners had as well; she’d never before lost sight of Nova Scotia. So there was always that uncertainty… that she’s not been put to the test like this before, and despite my every effort in the last 18 months to make her sound and seaworthy, perhaps I missed something.

But here we are in Charleston, having arrived at sunrise on Day 4. Safe and sound, and three days later, beginning to get back to our old selves. We have done more work to the boat in the past 2 days than I think I have done since replacing the stem last spring. We get up early and go for a walk, then come back to the boat and buckle down to work. Replacing worn-out halyards and other lines, stitching sails, making chafe-gear, mousing shackles… doing absolutely everything that comes to mind, so there’s nothing left for Neptune to say ‘Ah-ha, but you forgot about THIS!’.
I renege all offers I made for selling the boat for cheap. Still, most of my thoughts during those days, when not begging the sea itself to let go of the boat and let us out of the stream, were of Nova Scotia… of the last place my feet had been on her shores, and how when I get back, I don’t think I’ll be going to sea again for a while.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Motorboatin'

Portsmouth marked mile 'zero' on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), an often narrow sequence of rivers, canals, and sounds. Motoring has been essential for much of the distance we've made along the waterway thus far, and it's been great having a reliable 50hp engine. At times we must call ahead and wait for bridges to lift for us to pass under.

Our first stop was my friend Ben's place, just north of the Great Bridge Locks. Ben and his wife Brigid (and l'il Bud!) were so welcoming and provided us with every comfort. A cosy home to have showers, do laundry, wonderful dinners, bottomless glasses, a car to run errands, and a cosy bed for a couple nights reprieve from a damp chilly boat. The two short days we spent there ended too soon, and Ben was there to cast off our lines after we made a call to the Great Bridge Locks to inform them of our intent to catch the next lock opening.

There has naturally been more boat traffic in the ICW than out in the open ocean and many passing boats have been offering an ego boost for the boat, with their thumbs up and hollers of 'SUCH a pretty boat!!'. Justine and I are becoming very proud and are really enjoying the attention. We have more incentive everyday to make as many improvements as we can. Painting and tying on the baggy wrinkles have been at the top of the list. The weather is gradually getting warmer, and is helping to make all these tasks more pleasure than chore.

Navigating down the narrow waterway is proving to be challenging and a bit stressful. We're somewhat dependant on random advice from passing boats, such as the gentleman at the dock one day who said 'Look out for the second red mark at the mouth of the Alligator River after mile marker 80, stay to the green... even if you're in the middle of the channel, you will go aground. The dredge hasn't made it out to re-dredge the channel". If it wasn't for such incidences, then we surely would have been aground more times than we already have. Oh yes, our record is 5 in one day I do believe, for times run aground. Some groundings are worse than others, in terms of how stuck we are, and for how long, but so far we've managed to use the engine to power ourselves off the mud banks. It is all mud in this area, so running aground is not as serious as it may sound, it just has the potential to create a great inconvenience if we were to become stuck for long periods of time. We were under sail the other day, well within our marks, when we found ourselves hard aground for about 1o minutes, though it felt like much longer. It's impossible to know the depths for sure with the current technology aboard (though a friendly couple at the flea market yesterday in Oriental donated a proper lead line for sounding the depths and we can now retire the rock on a string we've been using until now). Even with an electronic depth sounder, it's generally too late in such narrow channels if you're on top of a shifted river bank.

About an hour after this grounding, we got up the courage again to set all the sails, as the Goose River opened up into Pamlico Sound and we had more sea room to play with. We approached Oriental a couple of hours before sunset, and motored in around the anchorage and docks looking for a good spot. Without a dingy, of course, ideally, we're looking for free docks so we don't have to swim ashore, and Oriental does have a transient dock. On our way to the dock, we realized we had stopped moving. There were boats everywhere, so I just assumed there would be enough water, but apparently they draw less water than us. We were good and stuck there too for a while. A little later, we were able to continue to the dock, and it was full when we arrived. A very friendly Brit named Mark tried very hard to accommodate us by moving his boat 'Jem' as much as he could to make room on the small wharf, but there was not enough water, and again, we were aground. Once we pushed ourselves out of there, we tried the other side of the wharf. We tried to tuck in by the concrete wall, as the locals said, 'Well, there's not much water there, but there MIGHT be', and, well... you know. What I won't do for a free parking place!

We gave up and went out to the anchorage. It was crowded with other cruisers, and I found a narrow spot between an American boat and a Danish boat. I snugged a bit closer to the Danish boat, and then... aground. Stuck. Teeter-tottering on her keel. Justine threw the anchor over for looks, we went below and made dinner and went to sleep!

In the morning Mark called us on the VHF to let us know he was leaving the town dock, so we could sneak in for 48hrs of free mooring. We will be visible on the webcam for the next 18hrs at least, www.towndock.net. I would recommend Oriental as a destination to any sailor, there's an interesting myriad of characters in this town, and so many people here are so interesting and helpful on all accounts, especially with our dingy search. We may just stay here a while, it seems as good a place as any to find a new tender.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Life Doesn't Always Go As Planned

Winds weren't favorable and charts were scarce for heading up the Delaware Bay, so we decided to head offshore and go direct to Norfolk, Virginia. Justine (Ed's sister) joined us in Cape May, arriving late in the evening but ahead of schedule, not knowing where to find the boat. Of the many docks and marinas, she asked the cab driver to drop her off at the one across the street from where we were moored. I just happened to be on a payphone at that other marina, and after only a few weeks in the States, it's pretty easy to spot a Canadian. We had never met, neither of us knew what the other looked like, and she walked right up and interrupted my call with, "Are you Laura?! Oh thank God!"

We met a lovely Canadian couple in a neighbouring boat, with whom we shared a couple of great evenings, cooking dinner for each other, and sharing stories of our journeys thus far. Before leaving Cape May, we arrived back at the boat after an afternoon ashore, and the entire starboard side of the boat was loaded with groceries. We know who the culprits were. (Thank-you Mike, Jan, and Beauty! We never got to say goodbye, perhaps see you down the road again one day soon!)

It was miserable weather when we left New Jersey; rainy and windy and cold. Once outside the breakwater, we could add 'bumpy' to that list. It was great wind for making some good distance, but it was not so easy on our stomachs. I commend Justine for not 'swallowing the anchor' after that first passage with us. It was as bad as any hazing ritual one could imagine, but she's still here, and the beckon of Cuba is allowing us to overcome the current temporary discomforts.
Ed decided to head home to Scotia after arriving in Norfolk. I understand his reasons and am very appreciative of the fact that he was so open with me about his intentions and that he made sure he wasn't leaving me in a lurch. We didn't know each other very well when he joined the boat in Surrette's Island, and I was relying on the recommendation of a couple of friends that he would be excellent crew. He had so much initiative when it came to taking care of the boat and getting things done, and was very attentive, responsible, and reliable with navigation. He was absolutely everything that Dave and Logan said he would be, and I will miss him.


It was his wish to be rowed across to the other wharf for a final voyage in the dingy, even though we were actually dockside at the time. Justine and I said our goodbyes and got back in the dingy. I think it was probably due to my knot-job when we got back to the mothership that night, but when we awoke in the morning, the dingy was gone. As much as I complained about how ugly it was, and how it was next-to-impossible to row in a straight line, it was actually a convenient thing to have! Justine and I borrowed a dingy and did an extensive search down the eastern branch of the river where the north winds of the last few days would have likely carried it, but we returned empty handed. We need to find another one soon, as we will be anchoring more and more as we head further south.

In preparation for warmer weather, we have begun painting the boat white. It will take quite a few coats and a bit getting used to, but it's standard practise when a boat is going to be exposed to the hot tropical sun.

Today, Justine and I are going to tear ourselves away from this lovely cafe we've enjoyed in Portsmouth for the last few days since we crossed the river from Norfolk. We are bound for a dock just north of the Great Bridge Lock, where we are going to see my friend Ben this evening, an old shipmate from the 130ft brigantine Eye of the Wind. We sailed together for 8 months about four years ago, travelling from the Caribbean to Denmark together and I haven't seen him since we said goodbye somewhere near Copenhagen. There's nothing quite like seeing old friends !








Friday, November 16, 2007

Fickle Winds and Shallow Waters

Logan left us in Marion, Massachusetts (as planned) so it's been just the 2 of us for the last ten days. We departed Marion the morning of the 10th, vaguely aiming for Newport, Rhode Island. Once out in Buzzards Bay though, we decided the wind was not in our favor, and perhaps it's be more interesting to head out to Martha's Vineyard. So we did. We managed to pass through a tricky little area known as Woods Hole at the proper tide (finally!) and we sailed into Vineyard Haven just before sunset. Upon going ashore, we were both shocked and dismayed when we discovered that America has these places known as 'dry towns'. We were told it was 3 miles to Oak Bluffs, where we would find both the nearest bars and liquor stores. It was a nice walk.

Our stay was short and uneventful.

We sailed the following morning for Block Island, Rhode Island. We're quite determined these days to motor as little as possible, so despite the passage from the Vineyard to Block Island being only 30 miles, it took us 24hrs. We were tired and very cold at sunrise as we wrapped around the north of the island to approach the harbour on the west side, but we felt very privileged by the nighttime sights, which daysailors would know nothing of. The dolphins had come out to play, and the phosphorescent wake they left as they danced around the boat was surreal. We also got to practise our ability to recognize various lights on the shipping traffic in the area, tugs, barges, pilot boats.

We almost managed to sail the whole way through the very narrow channel, but then the wind came around and we had to fire up the engine for a few minutes, to avoid landing on the beach about 15 feet to our right. We eyed up a dock in the inner harbour and decided to go alongside, rather than anchor. Ed was up in the rig, keeping an eye on the water depths. The water was very clear, and the bottom was sandy and white, and at times it looked like there shouldn't be enough water beneath us to float the boat. Oh well, we said, it's only sand. So when we felt the little nudge, and she came to a halt about 50 ft from the dock, we just laughed. Ed suggested setting a sail to heel us over, and the wind was favourable to drag us off the underwater beach. But before we could do anything, the windage of the hull itself was sufficient to do the job. We slipped off the beach, and then cast our lines onto the wharf.

We're considering writing a cruising guide to 'sailing out-of-season'. Everywhere we've gone seems to be all packed-up and dismantled for the winter. Block Island was no exception, it was rather desolate. It's covered with expensive summer homes, owned mostly by folks who seem to enjoy sunsets rather than sunrises, as the west side of the island is freckled with hundreds of these New England style shingled cottages. There is only one town, on the east side, where all the tourist shops were closed, the post office was open from 10am until 1pm, and the grocery store closed at 6pm. There was one main road that circled the island, and it took me a little less than 2 hrs to do a full circumnavigation, and visit some of the centuries old lighthouses.

We waited out a nasty nor'easter, then one morning, we bit the bullet and motored out into high seas, with the forecast promising things to diminish throughout the day. We struggled a bit with the decision of whether to go inside of Long Island Sound, or just go directly to Cape May, New Jersey. Dave W.'s advice was to go outside the sound, avoid the shipping traffic and hassles of the Coast Guard when passing New York City. He's never steered me wrong with any of his suggestions thus far and I quite respect the way he goes about things with his own boat, so naturally I was inclined to take his advice. Adding to that argument was the fact that I didn't have the charts for the Sound. My only hesitation with going outside was knowing that Ed and I would be very tired after what would likely be 2 full days at sea. It would be nice to have more crew for an extended passage. But we decided we could do it. So off we went, passing Montauk Point at the eastern tip of Long Island around noontime. We had great wind for the first 12 hrs, and we estimated that at this rate, we would be in Cape May the following evening. Unfortunately, the wind died on day 2, and we were well over 100 miles from land. We had gotten the forecast periodically over the VHF radio, and we knew there were strong southwesterly winds approaching. Nothing too nasty, 30kts, 7 ft seas. So we sat in the cockpit, becalmed, flat seas, knowing that conditions would change fast when the wind started to pick up. Night fell, and the seas began to build, and the rain set in. We found ourselves in the New York traffic lanes with reduced visibility from the rain and mist (for the non-sailors among you, yes, there are designated traffic lanes on the ocean, generally at the entrance to any busy harbour, which commercial traffic is required to follow). We don't have a radar, and despite having a radar reflector, a little wooden boat still isn't the ideal vessel to be on if you want to be clearly visible on another ships radar. The boat was feeling over pressed with the amount of sail we had up, so I grabbed my harness and went forward to take the mainsail down. While doing this, a little green light appeared ahead of us. It can be very confusing in the dark and in high seas, trying to identify what exactly you might be looking at. The way another ship is lit tells you which way they're going, and can give some indication of the size of the vessel. But it's often difficult to tell how far away it is, and how fast it's going. After studying the bobbing green light for about 10 seconds, I determined it was a sailboat, and was very close by. I went back and grabbed our bright spotlight, and shone it on them, then shone it on our rig, so they would have a better idea of what they were encountering too. They shone their spotlight back, in acknowledgment, and I determined then had the right-of-way, and we altered course. It's funny to be 100 miles offshore, with so much ocean around, then to pass within 100 ft of another vessel. Ed and I both agreed that it was somewhat uplifting to see another sailboat out, experiencing exactly what we were experiencing, probably just as cold, wet, tired and seasick as we were.

Later the following evening, the winds and waves had subsided, and once again, we found ourselves becalmed. What should have been a 24 hour passage became 4 days and 3 nights. It's nice to experience being out of sight of land for a while. The days feel completely different. Your mind is not cluttered with the worries of navigating around shoals and rocks and shoreline. The water out there is at least 200ft deep, so I really do breath a sigh of relief when we in open water. Instead of running up and down the companionway, plotting positions and whatnot, we sit in the cockpit, reading books, writing letters, working on making 'baggy wrinkles' for chafe gear, to prevent any more wear on the sails where they lay on the stays and shrouds. When the weather is fine, a lot of this time is quiet time, though we do talk as well. Ed talks about Louise and what she's up to and plans for the future in Scotia. I mostly just think about what's going to happen next, short term and long term. I think of scenarios... and what I would do in various emergency (or otherwise) situations on the boat. Then sometimes situations present themselves and you have to spring into action.

One such situation occurred on our last morning out on our 4-day trip to Cape May. I had laid down at 5am after taking the bulk of the night watch. It was rough once again, and I was so cozy to be down below in my sleeping bag, warm and dry. I could hear the sound of water sloshing along the hull, it sounded like we were making good speed. It crossed my mind that the sloshing sound seemed a bit more... what's the word... distinct, perhaps. I wondered if the ocean had been sneaky in the night, and had crawled into the wrong side of the boat. Nah, I'm just slightly paranoid, worry too much about things. Then the boat heeled over, and my eyes were drawn to the corner of the ice box where water was bubbling up from beneath the floor!

It could have been a number of things. I do have an automatic pump on board, and it could have been the case that it was pumping like mad and there was still a large amount of water aboard from a large leak somewhere. I may have panicked if that thought had crossed my mind, but I didn't think about that scenario until later. I assumed the bilge pump had burned out, because it had been making unusual noises the day before, which I had chosen to ignore I guess. This turned out to be the case. It took us a little while to pump out using the manual pump in the cockpit, because it was well clogged as well. Once we got it cleaned out, we were able to pump the bilge dry, and later take the automatic pump apart and clear out the gunk that had caused it to blow its fuse.

After dealing with that, I decided I would look at the detailed chart of the approaches to Cape May. It didn't take me long to figure out that I actually didn't have it. We were about 5 miles off Atlantic City, with 18 miles left to go. I was considering winging it, assuming that any hazards to navigation would probably be well marked. What other choice did I really have? Well, perhaps call someone on the VHF for some advice, why not? I wasn't too proud. And perhaps it would serve to avoid a later search and rescue operation. I called the Cape May Coast Guard station on channel 16, and requested advice. Channel 16 being the international distress channel, it's acceptable to establish contact with another station, then you're supposed to switch over to a 'working' channel. I don't understand it, but we tried a few other channels, but the transmission was broken and unreadable. So we had to carry out the conversation on 16, which all vessels underway are required to monitor, so I think we provided a bit of entertainment to some of the local sportsfishers. I explained that we were a Canadian vessel just west of buoy R2, approaching Cape May without proper charts, and were there any hazards I should be aware of. I gave him my co-ordinates, and my true course, and he said he'd plot it and get back to me. A few minutes later he called back to say there were no shoals or wrecks, and our course would give us a safe approach to the breakwater. He added to this statement, "That said, ma'am, you are soley responsible for the safe navigation of your vessel". I acknowledged and thanked him, which he followed up with, "But, you know, if you have any other questions or concerns, please contact us again". Ed likes to imagine his name is Gil, and I agree. He sounded quite striking.

The breakwater at the entrance provided a daunting approach, with 2kts of tidal current opposing us. Steering was tricky, and the channel was very narrow. The night seemed darker than usual somehow, and the light from the spotlight seemed to fall dead before lighting what we wanted to avoid. We had a cruising guide that detailed the inner harbour, though not to scale. We used the spotlight to find our marks, many of them un-lit, and we just hoped not to run aground, as the cruising guide talks about the necessity of frequent dredging to keep the waterways navigable. But was managed to find a dock and tie up safe and sound by about 8pm. We hardly had the opportunity to shut the engine down when we were greeted by another Canadian heading south with his boat. Jean-Paul invited us over for wine, and we learned about his goodwill mission to Haiti. The top deck of his boat is loaded with bicycles to give away, and if I spoke french, I might know more about his journey. Ed was able to converse more extensively with him, being somewhat proficient in the language.

We quietly left the dock bright and early yesterday, and lucked out when we found ourselves in a mooring field, and a couple who had just hauled their boat out for the winter kindly offered us their mooring. So it's here in Cape May where we will stay for another day or two, make sure the bilge is clean and the pump is working, fix a few other odds and ends. Next stop, somewhere in the Delaware Bay.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I Was So Sure He Said Low Tide

The boys had a great last night in P-Town, and the conse- quences left me feeling like I was just on yet another solo passage from Lunenburg to Halifax. While they slept off their indulgences of the previous night, I sat on deck, motoring along (there was not a breath of wind) to the Cape Cod Canal. I had a frustrating day, as she doesn't steer herself quite so well under motor alone. She is very well balanced under sail, you can go for hours with only ever making minor adjustments to the wheel. This gives you the opportunity to do other things, as staring at a compass can become a bit boring. I like to read, practise my piping music, or any other small project that one may do on a rainy day. But when constant frequent adjustments to the course are necessary, there's little you can do but stare at 240 degrees on the compass when crossing Cape Cod Bay. I resorted to my discman, listening to some local east coast greats such as Lennie Gallant, J.P. Cormier, and David Myles, all of whom I never grow tired.

Timing is critical when arriving at the East Entrance of the canal. Advice offered to me made it clear that by arriving at the entrance as the tide was rising would give us the proper current to transit the approximately 5-mile pass in about 1/2 and hour. The correct time is actually turned out to be high tide. Things began to feel wrong as we entered the turbulence at the beginning of the narrows. We had been motoring a steady 5.5 knots. Slowly and surely, I watched the speed on my handheld GPS drop, 5 kts, 4.5, 3.5, 2.... We went about 1/2 a mile, and when I saw our speed drop to 0.8, I knew we were in definitely danger of losing steerage soon, as our charts showed the maximum current increasing by another 2 knots upstream. I decided to bail. We turned around 180 degrees, and our speed instantly increased to 6 knots with the engine in slow ahead. Having noticed a marina just off the canal a few minutes earlier, we made a run for it. It was slightly unnerving as we tried to get through the little gap in the sea wall, the current pushing so hard that I was forced to throttle her up to 2000 RPM and aim not for the gap, but for the concrete wall beside it. Once inside, all was calm, there was little indication in this little hideaway of the raging currents just meters to the north.

Here, we re-grouped and waited for the tide, which meant 4 hours to wander around the town of Sandwich and pick up some fruits and vegetables and the ever-important supply of dark chocolate. While Ed cooked dinner, Logan decided to get serious about plotting our course through the canal, for which he made a paper model of a lovely schooner to envision the passage of our boat between the dozens of green and red buoys on the Buzzards Bay chart.

The next few hours we motored through the cold and dark, and eventually a growing southwesterly swell once we were spit out the west exit of the canal. Our original destination when setting out from P-Town that morning was to make New Bedford, but we were tired and had enough for one day, so decided to seek out a safe anchorage somewhere. Marion seemed to have a well marked channel, so we altered course. Turned out that none of the buoys were lit markers, so with the 12-volt spotlight we scanned the harbour entrance for each successive mark, missing the one indicating the western edge of Ram Island. I don't remember now how we figured out we were heading for a bad place (islands are essentially invisible on moonless overcast nights) but we eventually spotted our red buoy #6, about 1/4 mile behind us and far off our port (left) side.

Once into the mooring field, we were faced once again with one of my favorite maritime games, bumper boats. Marion is very much a sailing community, and there are upwards of 100 boats moored in this harbour. Many empty moorings provided the added challenge of dodging the attached lines, which could foul-up in the propeller. BUT, all is well, and we were all relieved to tie up at the first wharf we could find.

Today we finally cleared customs, during which I received a scolding and very stern warning. There are no Customs officers in Provincetown, but apparently we were meant to at least place a phone call to the nearest Customs office, to make them aware of our arrival, then when we arrived in an official port of entry, we would do the paperwork at that time. Technically, said Officer McQuaid, he should seize my boat. I bit my tongue; play the game, just play the game. I know this may sound terrible, but as I stood down below with the officer, looking over his shoulder at the boys sitting on deck in the cockpit, all it would have taken was one wrong look from Ed, and I would have burst into laughter. McQuaid was very professional and I know he was only doing his job, so I played along, "Yes, sir, I'm terribly sorry, sir. I'll know for next time, sir". Without too much more ado and a payment of $19, I received my cruising permit, and Annie Laurie is now legal in American waters for a year.