September 24-25, 2009... First Overnight Ocean Passage

We left Block Island late morning Thursday after planning our voyage to Cape May, New Jersey. We figured it would take about 40 hours to do the 200-mile trip. And we planned and planned. We researched the weather forecast, plotted it against our trip itinerary, and waited till the winds would be right. Then we left. And as John always says, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy -- read, the weather. In retrospect, the passage was like three separate events.

Thursday, the winds were still from the SW and west, but light, so we were able to make some distance under motor, awaiting the promised NW and north winds. We got as far as south of Long Island when the sun went down. The winds did shift after dark, and we were able to pull out the jib and motor sail, sort of downwind. And we flew. It was really an exhilarating ride, between 6-7 knots all night. We just had to watch for other boats as we were passing the shipping lanes in and out of New York. Not too much traffic though - that was good.

When dawn broke on Friday morning, we were about 100 miles from our goal. But the old saying is true, “red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” The skies were red hot. The clouds were going in all directions. And the seas woke up like lions. They were fierce. The waves were huge, looking to us like 8-10 foot swells. “The tiny ship was tossed.” We had too much sail for the winds, so the jib came down and the staysail went up. (Note: Hank on the staysail before leaving port! Our hero, John, almost fell off the boat, almost broke a rib, and took quite a beating getting that sail out of the bag and flying.) Keeping the boat on course was harder than we ever imagined. The waves just had their way with us. Everything below deck that wasn’t nailed down was on the cabin sole before the day was over. However, miraculously, nothing broke. We altered our destination to Atlantic City, to get into port before dark. We just didn’t think we would make it to Cape May and were changing duty at the helm every half hour because it was so tiring. And, being out in the ocean with land at least 45 miles away, we had no reference points to view to congratulate ourselves on our progress. Blips on the GPS just don’t do it. We had sailed previously on the Chesapeake Bay in winds as high as we encountered (15-20 with gusts to 25+), but had no appreciation for what those winds would do to the ocean waves (even though the forecast was for 2-4 foot seas). Live and learn.

Weird wildlife note: If you didn’t have to be out on the ocean yesterday, you wouldn’t have been. So why were there land birds 50 miles from shore? A yellow-shafted flicker circled our boat, then finally landed on a backstay and seemed to think it was a tree. It left and came back about a half hour later. Then some small, perhaps 3-inch brown birds came by, landed, then left. Birdwatchers, let us know what this means.

Would we do this again? Yes. But we would be more careful about the wind/wave forecast and try for something a bit tamer. It would have been nice to have some leisure time on the passage, which we weren’t allowed because we had to work so hard to keep going. And it was so cold! We had all our foulie gear on, hats, gloves, and neoprene booties. It is definitely time to go south. Where are those turquoise waters?

Atlantic City, NJ: +39° 22' 53.46", -74° 25' 18.72"

1 comment:

  1. Wow guys sounds hairy. You all must be pretty accomplished sailors now. Glad I was up in the Poconos playing golf and not out on the water. Chuck will be in town early next week. If you guys are going to back in Annapolis by then would really like to get together. Let us know. Thanks.