The storms stayed at bay, and cheerfully, we sailed onward.
Our first sight to make the empty sea seem less lonely was a NASA commissioned ship, out to recover the booster rockets from a launch at Cape Canaveral two nights earlier. I called them on the VHF for an update on the tropical cyclone probability, as we were now out of range of the regular shore-based broadcasts, and last I'd heard there was a high probability of tropical storm development with a particular area of low pressure in the eastern Caribbean. If development had continued, I was considering ducking back towards the mainland, and possibly pulling in to Charleston to hide from the weather if necessary. The ship informed me that the low had dissipated, and so we continued to aim for the waypoint at Beaufort.
As night number two fell upon us, the skies were crystal clear and the wind was steady, pushing us along at a comfortable 6 knots, as we continued to get a bit of help from the Gulf Stream. The wind continued to build as midnight approached, and though I'm sure it never exceeded 25kts, I became increasingly on edge. The seas were confused and I still have no idea why; the current was from behind, the wind was from behind. It was still hot, so Dad and I both stayed on deck as the autopilot did the work. As I laid down snuggling into my flannel pillow case and a super-cozy blanket Phil had sent along for the trip, I thought about how great it was that my little boat was such a 'dry' boat (no matter what the sea conditions, the cockpit generally stays dry). So, before I knew it, I was drenched and choking on a load of warm seawater. My new favorite blanket and only physical reminder of Phil would now be slimy and salty for the next 4 days and would not be there for my comfort.
Aside from being soaked, the incident left me with the feeling that something worse was on the way. The wind was already 15 kts higher than forecast, and I had a million things running through my head. After the 'rogue' wave, dad had retreated below to avoid a soaking in the case of a repeat performance. He popped his head up for a second and asked something along the lines of 'Is this normal?', to which I said, 'Yeah! This is nothing...'. He believed me, and it was in fact a true statement, though I really didn't feel that way at the time. I tend to lose the nerve required to be at sea in a small boat when I spend too much time living the easy life ashore, as I'd done for close to 6 weeks in Miami. Well most of it was the easy life, except for the part when I got hit by lightning.
Aside from the NASA ship, the sea was completely devoid of traffic until 4AM on the 4th day, when both Dad and I had inadvertently fallen asleep on deck, and he woke first to see a city of lights just off our starboard quarter. He jumped up and quite innocently asked, "What is that?". It took me a few seconds to process what was happening. Every single deck light was brightly lit, it looked like a city skyline. I couldn't find a red or green light amongst the sea of lights to indicate the direction in which the ship was traveling. I figured one of the hundred white lights I could see was a stern light, and the ship was moving away. But as my eyes came into better focus I could see the ship's green light, indicating they were moving across our stern, meaning we had just cut on front of them. We had just completed a game of chicken with a very large ship that was probably never aware we existed. This was exactly why I hadn't wanted to do this trip alone, so someone could always be awake and be on the lookout for 200-ft ships bound for Charleston. It happened anyway, but we were lucky.
At the end of Day 3 on the ICW, we arrived at the Great Bridge Lock. Last time I was here, my good friend Ben lived down the street. He and his wife had since moved to Cape Cod, so while I was a bit sad not to have friends in Virginia anymore, I had a reunion to look forward to later, that would mark the three-quarters-of-the-way-home mark, before the final hop back to Nova Scotia.
After that squall, the sky turned an unnerving shade of grey, and for awhile the winds increased to 30kts, and whitecaps were appearing on the larger swells. Just 18 more hours, and we'd be in the safety of Buzzards Bay, west of Cape Cod. So anxious to get there, I decided to haul the sails in tight and motorsail the rest of the way. In the rough seas, I realized it would only be a matter of time before the remaining crud in the bottom of the fuel tank would be stirred up and clog the filters. At least this time, I could just just replace the secondary Racor filter, and wouldn't have to go through the hell that is bleeding the air out of the fuel lines of a Perkins engine.
I believe it was around 2AM when that old familiar racing sound of the fuel-deprived engine began. My newly refurbished autopilot had stopped working (electric motor was the culprit this time) so I had to wake up Dad to come steer while I went to replace the filter. Unfortunately, replacing the Racor did not fix the problem. I once again faced bleeding the engine, which, if you've been paying close attention since I began this blog 2 1/2 years ago, I have never managed to do, without killing the starter batteries and eventually relying on outside help (shorepower, borrowed generators, one person to press the manual fuel pump on one side of the engine while I cracked the various fuel lines on the other side). This would be my first attempt of this at sea. If I was unsuccessful, it could mean a very slow slog the rest of the way to Cape Cod under sailpower alone, and in the current weather conditions, this could take days.
When I had last seen Ben and Brigid on my journey south, they had a new addition to their family, a very excitable, energetic Chesapeake Bay retriever named l'il Bud. His personality hadn't changed at all, but l'il Bud wasn't so little anymore. For one of the most friendly dogs I've ever met, he has a most vicious 'smile'.
Looks like there will have to be one more blog.