Ocean Passage May 14 to May 18 2012

Ocean Passage Log from May 14, 2012 to May 18, 2012

At approximately 0900hrs on May 18th, Steve says to Amanda “This is what a 30 foot wave looks like!!!!”

Amanda replies “Holy f*&#%@!”

Four days earlier…

May 14th, 2012 - the beginning of a very long day

We left Grand Cay, Abaco around 0830 with Steve on the first shift at the helm. Light winds out of the SW and overcast.

We were about five miles from Grand Cay when I noticed some water accumulation under the galley sink. I advised Steve of the problem and we quickly slowed down then put out an anchor to determine the source the leak. Turns out it was coming from the exhaust can; there was a crack in the welds where water was spurting out. Steve repaired the leaks with epoxy and we were back underway within an hour.

The Walker’s Cay passage was a very nerve-wracking experience. The route is very shallow – as low as four feet at low tide – with shifting sand. The marina has been closed since it was hit by a hurricane in 2005 so there has been no effort to keep the channel clear. Before today, we prided ourselves at not running aground in the Bahamas. So, it was only fair we ran aground here; our last day, as we were leaving! We exited the passage on a rising tide and the chart said we should have enough water but Diana came to a slow halt as she slid into a sandy shoal. We rocked Diana free and found some deeper water – 5.5 to 7 feet- and got through the channel and out to sea without further incident. We quickly noticed the large swells of the Atlantic and are very happy to be patched with Transderm V J as I would have felt nauseous for sure!

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Last view of the Bahamas…Walker’s Cay

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First sunset at sea

The winds were light with thunderstorms in the distance. Our first overnighter went well with no other boat traffic. The winds were a little too light out of the SW so we were on a broad reach for the entire night. Our auto-helm could not steer with the light winds which meant Steve and I had to hand steer all night – very tiring as we had to steer carefully to prevent an accidental jibe.

May 15th

Very light winds out of the SW. We motor-sailed for a bit. We do not have enough fuel storage on board to cover the 345 miles to Charleston so we are using the motor as little as possible. We expected much higher winds and are discouraged with the lack of forward motion. We averaged about 2 to 2.5 knots for most of the night.

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At least we are headed in the right direction

We are getting into the rhythm of the four-hour shift rotation and adjusting quite nicely. I would not have said that yesterday but we are both feeling pretty good about it today. We sleep for an hour or so after every shift in an effort to get about 6 hours of sleep a day.

Last night as Steve was coming on shift, he nearly got hit in the head with the boom as a result of an accidental jibe so he took some time to install a boom brake today. Many of you who are sailors will know what this is and are likely to already have something similar installed on your boats. For everyone else, it is often referred to as a “boom brake” or “boom preventer”. When the wind is pushing the boat from behind, the boom is often positioned far to one side or the other of the boat allowing the sail to catch as much of the wind as possible. Without a preventer a wind shift can cause the boom to swing instantly and violently all the way over to the other side. The risk of serious injury to a sailor or the rig should this happen is extreme. So, an inexpensive setup like the one Steve rigged, allowed us to control the boom in all points of sail and in very high winds and was thoroughly tested in 40 knot winds.  J

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Boom Brake– best piece of equipment for this passage!!!

We had several periods of dead calm throughout the day which was a little spooky. The breeze would pick up with passing weather to give us another knot of speed then, die back down again. We managed to by-pass a couple of storms overnight but the lightening in the distance is making the overnight passages a little unnerving.

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Flat calm

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Second sunset at sea

May 16th…

It was another calm day at sea with light winds out of the SW giving the water at times, a mirror finish. It all feels a little bizarre and not at all what was predicted. There are still a lot of heavy clouds threatening thunderstorms. This system was supposed to have passed by now. We are starting to get an uneasy feeling about all of this.

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Calm seas….

Our fuel gauge is not working properly so we are unsure as to how much fuel we have left. We emptied the two cans we had on deck and it did not fill the tank. Steve later repaired the tank which needed a new ground wire and seems to be working again. We estimate to have about 110 miles of fuel on board….we have about 180 miles to get to Charleston…with very light winds. We need to conserve as much as possible.

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Storm clouds rolling in before dark

As the evening settled in we were surrounded by dark ominous clouds delivering lots of lightening. Steve took over his shift at midnight while I got some rest. At 0145hrs Steve woke me up to help him reduce sail as we were about to get hit by a storm. I got dressed quickly and headed to the cockpit where Steve was busy reeling in the jib – our main was full up and it would stay that way until morning. Within a few minutes the wind picked up and Diana’s speed jumped by 2kts as she was carried away with the squall. Once it ended we decided we would both be on watch until day break as it seemed we were surrounded by squalls and having an extra hand was comforting. We took turns napping in the cockpit till morning. Sleep has become a luxury. There was some military ship traffic tonight as we passed the Jacksonville area; an aircraft carrier, a war ship and a couple of other unidentified BIG boats. I had to contact the aircraft carrier to ask if he “saw us” on his radar as it seemed we were getting a little close to one another. The carrier reassured us that it had and advised us it would be changing course in an opposite direction – thank goodness!!

May 17th…

At 0630hrs we eagerly listened to Chris Parker’s weather forecast where he offered his apologizes for an incorrect weather prediction earlier in the week. REALLY??!?!?!? We hadn’t noticed!!! The corrected forecast includes high winds turning to the NE with thunderstorms and squalls to continue. EXCELLENT (insert sarcasm)

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After a long night, storms in the background

The one thing we tried to ensure before leaving the Bahamas was to avoid entering the Gulf Stream in a high north east wind because when the wind opposes the current it makes for a very messy and dangerous sea. When we left we were to arrive in light SW winds but today the forecast has changed. We are now a 120 miles off shore in the middle of the ocean expecting high NE winds with nowhere to run. If we turn around, the weather will catch up to us anyway so we have no choice but to push through and continue to Charleston. We can only hope the winds won’t be too high by the time we get there. We put two reefs in the main, just in case…

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Stormy weather

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Wall of rain storm

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The stormy weather built up all day while the winds turned to the north east and gusted to 20 plus knots with passing storms. Steve and I are safely tethered to the cockpit and donning heavy weather gear. Overnight, we were surrounded by storms with lightening striking everywhere. The lightening would spread out across the sky like a spider web illuminating the storm filled clouds overhead. Steve and I stayed up all night together again taking brief naps between thunder claps and lightning strikes. Exhaustion is setting in. Throughout the night, we sat in the cockpit in the dark reviewing safety procedures in case of a lightning strike or in a worse case – the need to abandon ship. Almost in mid-sentence, lightning struck right beside us with an extremely loud CRACK. The charge of energy was so close we could feel the hairs on our arms stand straight up. The strike was so bright we actually were stunned by it as we had to blink several times to get our night vision back. Afraid one of us may have been struck we quickly asked each other if we were alright, thankfully, we were. At that moment, the denial of our current situation fell away and fear started to creep in.

The winds continued to build and Diana could not shake the storms. We were riding in them! The only good news was our speed was steadily over 4kts. As Steve and I are a pack of nerves, one of us was definitely having a good time and her name is Diana; with two reefs in the main and a reefed jib, she rocketed through the water with ease. If I were to anthropomorphize her at that very moment I would think she would be wearing a large grin shouting “YEHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, look at me!! Not bad for an old girl!!!!!!!!!!!”

As if our nerves weren’t frayed enough, during one of the lulls in wind and rain…in the dark….we heard loud SMACKS in the water by the boat. We thought nothing of it at first, perhaps in our exhaustion we were hearing things when we heard it again. SMACK SMACK on the port side, SMACK SMACK on the starboard side. Steve scanned the water with his head lamp and noticed something in the water. We thought maybe it was a whale warning us with a tail slap to not get too close but as the light met the source, we saw them – DOLPHINS – a dozen of them around the boat! It appeared they were hunting by corralling and stunning fish by smacking the water with their tails. Crazy!! A dolphin’s gotta eat right?!? ;) This was a welcome sight for sore eyes and helped lighten the mood on board J

May 18th…

We stopped taking our hourly positions by 0500hrs.

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Storm in the distance at dawn…last picture I took...

The winds continued to increase as the day began to break over the horizon…no sun today just more heavy clouds. The rest of this story is a bit of a blur so I will try my best to re-tell it.

We believed to have been about hundred miles offshore when the sea decided to show us her ugly side and we felt the full effects of the Gulf Stream in a Nor’easter.

The wind picked up and howled through the rigging at 30kts to 40kts as Diana screamed through the water. I was hanging on to the dodger taking deep breaths trying to digest what my eyes were seeing when Steve shouted “This is what 30 foot waves look like!” and I replied “F*@!”. At that very moment my body gave way to fear and I literally froze up. My entire body went numb from my toes to my stomach to my hands. I was worried I might just pass out with fear. I turned away from the waves and started to talk myself out of a panic attack. Within 10 minutes, my body finally unclenched and I couldn’t help but cry a little with relief – it felt so good to let it go and come back to my senses. I looked at Steve and asked if he was ok. He said “I’m hanging on but we need to eat and drink something soon” RIGHT!!! Back on target – must save life and limb! So, I managed to get inside the cabin to drudge up some water and snacks we could quickly shove into our faces between the crashing waves. I reviewed our position for any hazards and ensured we had enough space to ride this thing out. Hours and hours passed with storm after storm on the horizon. It truly felt we would never see the end of it. Diana held it together, close-hauled riding giant waves, at times dipping the jib in the process. We were not the only boat out there as two tankers were also making their way North on our port side – safely far enough away. As a storm would pass between us the wall of water would camouflage them into the sea. As time passed Steve and I tried to relax and talk about how scared we were then cracked jokes to lighten the mood because there was no escaping this weather.  No matter where we looked it was more of the same dark storm clouds filled with rain and misery. We had no other option but to get to a destination or die out here. By early afternoon we realized there was no way we could get into Charleston no matter how hard we tried.

An aside: Fricken’ Charleston!! The last time we tried to come into Charleston from the ocean was in 2006 and we were in the middle of a bloody tropical storm …also named Alberto… we cannot believe we are in the same situation six years later – what are the odds!!

I went to the charts to find an alternate destination and our options were as follows; head south about 50 miles or so to Port Royal, a familiar inlet but would mean another overnighter, or try to get into St. Helena Sound, an unfamiliar inlet about 25 miles south where I found a little marina off the Edisto River. With tears of exhaustion filling our eyes we opted for the closest and unknown option as we could not have imagined doing another overnighter. Steve had been at the helm for 14hrs and was determined to see us to our destination. I plotted our course to Edisto.

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Back in the land of reliable navigational aids!

The closer we got to St. Helena Sound the less the waves and wind were. I could finally sort out the cabin for passing out in later. It smelled awful with four days of wet everything so I bagged it all up, sprayed Febreeze just about everywhere then made up our beds. When we were close enough to land I managed to contact the Edisto Marina to reserve a slip, ensure there were showers and got the internet access code as we were two days late and knew family would be worried. The man I spoke to reassured us with all the information we needed. The level of our exhaustion has not entirely hit us yet but the relief on our faces was obvious – we are going to stop soon YAY!

The sun was setting as we entered the South Edisto River from St. Helena Sound when we made a hard right onto the Big Bay Creek. It is a shallow entrance with shoaling. We almost ran aground coming into the creek but managed to pull off before we hit the mud. As we approached the marina we realized the current was running too strong to allow us into our assigned slip so we tied up to the fuel dock grateful to be stopped after five full days of continuous movement. Once stopped, the exhaustion fully hit us. Our bodies were stiff and our legs were dead weight as we moved about the boat securing Diana to the dock. Once tied up, we peeled off our heavy rain gear, grabbed our shower stuff and dry clothes then hit the showers. We admitted later that we were both experiencing auditory hallucinations at this point as the drains in the bathrooms where speaking to us albeit in gibberish ha! ha!

All clean, we poured ourselves a couple of stiff rums, popped a couple of muscle relaxers, sent some quick emails home then passed out. We made it!