Weather Window OPEN! and Crew Scheduled to Arrive

The time has arrived and we are totally ready to put on our sailing pants and GO! This time next week we’ll be sitting in the sunny Abacos, Bahamas with rum punches in hand, sand on our toes, and fresh fish for dinner. Don’t worry, I’ll send along plenty of photos to rub it in…um, I mean to share our experience at these new (for us) set of Bahamaian islands.

Our friend, BMac, has enthusiastically volunteered to join us for this offshore passage. We’re happy to welcome him aboard! BMac got acquainted with Rode Trip last year while during our visit in Annapolis, MD he took the helm without hesitation. This will be our first time with crew aboard for an extended, offshore trip and we’re looking forward to extra hours of sleep, flawless sail changes, and swabbed decks from this greenhorn. Ok, I don’t want BMac jumping overboard before we arrive! Brian and I have selected our weather with BMac in mind with hopes that we’ll have a smooth sail. We’ll review safety, use of VHF, use of radar (we’ll all be getting a crash course in the newly installed AIS), basic windvane and sail adjustment, charting and log book entries, and very important use of the composting head. Certainly it won’t be all business, but our goal will be for BMac to experience the ocean safely and to participate in whatever aspects of cruising he is comfortable. Wish us luck!

Groundhog Day

Rode Trip has safely landed in Bermuda; we chose a not so typical route departing from Grand Cayman Island and have traveled 1,824.6 nautical miles over a period of 17 days. I’m proud to say having completed our 1,000nm requirement we are now full fledged members of the Ocean Crusing Club (OCC)! But we still have a long way to go to get to the Mediterranean, we are only partway across the Atlantic Ocean and I’m sure you are all wondering, “What was that like?”

Remember the movie Groundhog Day, wherein Bill Murry wakes up to repeat the same day over and over and over again? Well, this was my experience during our longest passage. Not only did every day feel the same but during our watches if we weren’t on deck, Brian and I were peeking our heads out of the hatch like little groundhogs keeping a lookout for passing ships.

Days 1-4 were the worst; these were the “survival” days. Prior to this trip, our passages lasted five days tops. So typically, just as we were settling into our routine we’d arrive at our destination and then have a day of rest at anchor. This time the first four days were just the beginning. Not only were we adjusting to new sleep schedules and perpetual motion, but we’d departed in rough weather. To get ourselves from Grand Cayman Island and around the western coast of Cuba we’d decided to trail a potential tropical storm system that was north bound bringing along south-southwest winds. Great wind direction for our intended course and strong; 20-25 knots with seas at 6-8 feet (the seas felt much higher and maybe they were). Day one was filled with anticipation, excitement, and disbelief that we’d actually set sail…and my belly was also filled with nausea, my legs wobbly, and my entire self exhausted. The goal for days 1-4: eat, sleep, and keep watch. And that is just what we did.

Brian and I keep a six-hour watch schedule. During the day we sort of tag-team as we are typically both awake for the majority of the day. Whenever someone naps during the day, the other simply keeps a lookout. At night, Brian takes the first watch from 8:00pm – 2:00am and I take the second from 2:00am – 8:00am. These times work great for us because Brian is wired as darkness falls, being a bit tentative about night sailing and I’m totally a morning person. By day four we were settled into our sleeping patterns getting dreary-eyed at our respective 2:00am and 8:00pm bedtimes. All the while our Cape Horn windvane is steering course allowing us to move about the boat freely and tuck ourselves inside during rain showers or during nighttime. Sometimes the windvane needs adjusting, but overall it’s a great third crew member. At night time whenever we are in the cockpit or on deck for any reason we are tethered. Any time we do a sail change, day or night, we are both awake and on deck. If while on watch we can’t hold our eyes open we set an alarm for 12 minutes and snooze between lookouts.

On day four I’d learned from our trusty weather man, Chris Parker on SSB channel 4045, that the potential tropical storm that we were trailing had been officially named a tropical storm, Andrea. Thank goodness Andrea was ahead of us and our wind and seas were subsiding. On day four my stomach was making a comeback, I’d managed to keep down a granola bar and apple during my early morning shift. By mid-morning I was ravenous! Brian cooked up some home fried potatoes and with that my energy began to return in spurts. We don’t prepare pre-made meals prior to our passages because we have no refrigeration to keep a pre-made meal fresh. So during passage, Brian doubles as Captain and Cook. We typically eat breakfast together mid-morning which can be any combination of eggs, pancakes, canned fruit, fried bananas, or fried potatoes. We typically eat an early dinner (remember bedtime is 8:00pm) together which can be any variety of canned goodies such as; ham and baked beans, ham and potatoes, chicken curry, chicken fried rice with mixed veggies, rice and beans, pasta with clam sauce, pasta with tomato sauce, canned soups, etc. Other than our two cooked meals, weather dependent, we fend for ourselves and snack as needed throughout the day and night on foods such as dried fruits, canned fruits, nuts, granola bars, graham crackers, cookies, PB&J when fresh bread has been baked, etc.

By day six we were feeling pretty good and I was establishing that Groundhog Day routine. We’d entered the Gulf Stream on day six and it was wonderful to have the stream’s four knot current pushing us along because the wind had died to barely 10 knots and we were already antsy to get moving again. But calm days during passage make for productive “at home” days. I was able to hang out towels, sheets, and pillowcases for drying and/or refreshing, sweep the floors, shake and hang the rugs, and clean out cupboards that tend to need refreshing in certain leaky spots.

What does my Groundhog Day look like? Well, on early morning shift I did a stretching and exercise routine (very minimal and holding on most of the time using upper body to steady more than anything). I’d stretch calves, hamstrings, quads, hips and arms, and then do a few lunges, toe raises, and pull-ups. Then I’d journal the previous day to keep track since they all seemed the same. Then I’d read and lookout, sometimes snooze, and to end my shift I’d listen to Chris Parker’s weather forecast and send our SPOT location. After a morning nap, I’d have breakfast with Brian. Then while Brian napped I’d clean the dishes, sweep, and read, read, read. If the weather allowed in the evenings we’d watch a movie together after dinner and dishes. I read four novels, one guidebook, did some pre-planning and guide reading for Mallorca, Spain and started lessons for Level 2 Spanish in the Fluenz program.

Day twelve brought along another weather concern, a cold front moving quickly that Chris Parker had forewarned would bring thunderstorms, waterspouts, 60 knot squalls and possibly tornadoes. Yikes! We hugged the 32nd line of latitude while traveling east as the front was not forecasted to move south of this area. Of course the front moved toward us at sunset; we could clearly see the billowing, ominous line of dark grey clouds. Lightening was illuminating the horizon line. Lightening was striking across the clouds spreading like spiderwebs. Thank goodness it was Brian’s shift! I went to sleep but not before reefing the main and watching the spectacular lightning show. We were fortunate, one downpour and winds kicked up to 20-25 knots for a few hours. By morning, the front had passed.

Groundhog Days…until finally on day 17 Brian sighted our destination. HOORAY!! Can’t wait to drop that anchor at Bermuda, we’re in need of a good rest.

Lake Worth, FL to Berry Islands, Bahamas – January 21-23, 2013

We stayed in Lake Worth just two days, keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. The forecast on Monday, January 21st, was calling for 5 knot southerly winds and 1-2 foot seas. This was a good forecast to cross the Gulf Stream. On Tuesday, January 22nd, the wind was predicted to build from the north 15-20 knots. We opted to take this opportunity since the next window wasn’t predicted until Friday and we did not want to spend the week dawdling around in Florida.

While in Lake Worth we met new friends aboard sailing vessel Ching-Tu; Pierre and Deborah welcomed us aboard and we had an evening of wonderful conversation. We had to peel ourselves away to get home and prepare for the following morning’s departure. Thanks for a lovely send-off! We’ll see Pierre and Deborah in the Bahamas soon enough!

Monday morning we set out at 7:00am. Making complete hypocrites of our sailing selves, we planned to motor across the Gulf Stream. We’d heard so many cautions about the Gulf Stream; mind the current, maintain an eastbound course, absolutely do not attempt to cross with a north wind. This was a bit intimidating. We’d also heard of the changes we’d observe; warm, green water full of life. This was a bit exciting. We exited at the Lake Worth Inlet and our anticipation grew. Only four miles until we should be entering the Gulf Stream. I had visions of a green, flowing river filled with seaweed, fishes, and sea turtles. And so we motored…and motored…and motored. The chart told us we had entered the Gulf Stream, but we had few visible signs. It looked like the plain ‘ol ocean to us.

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We did spot several Man’o’War jellyfish and a few patches of seaweed.

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The US coastline was drifting farther out of view.

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I made ready our quarantine flag; this would be raised once in Bahamian waters to indicate that we’d not yet cleared customs.

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We motored for approximately six hours, eastbound, when the chart showed us we had exited the Gulf Stream. The 3-knot current had pushed us 13-miles north from our plotted course. As evening came, we set sails and headed south downwind. As predicted on Monday night the wind entirely stopped. Our main sail boom was banging loudly as each wave beneath knocked the wind out of it. It was a restless night.

Tuesday, January 22nd, the wind did build from the north. The waves grew to 3-5 feet. It was an overcast day. We cruised along downwind in the Northwest Providence Channel with a double reefed main and the jib. We hoped our speed would bring us to the Berry Islands by sunset. Unfortunately, it did not. By sunset we were still 7-miles away from the entrance channel to Bullock Harbor, our intended anchorage. We decided to sail through the night, a very long night. We sailed on a reach away from the Berry’s. This was entirely uncomfortable and the boat’s bow and starboard toe rail were repeatedly dunked into the water. We made sail changes, took down the jib and set the stay sail instead to minimize heeling. As Brian shares in sailing language, “We were sitting on our ear.”

Wednesday, January 23rd, morning came after what felt like days. We’d gotten the snot kicked out of us again and so when we approached the Berry Islands in the daylight our enthusiasm had dwindled. Our first view of Little Stirrup Cay (pronounced “key”) as we entered the charted channel. Little Stirrup Cay is owned by a cruise line, ships anchor out here and let off passengers to bask on the beaches and zip around on jet skis.

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We’d arrived at the northern Berry Islands. As we neared, the water indeed became crystal clear. It was strange to sail over various shades of bottom; sand, grass, rock. Brian relied on the chart and the depth sounder to navigate safely to Bullock Harbor where we dropped anchor. Finally, not moving! We’d arrived at 11:45am and were ready to eat, dry out our soaked boat, and sleep.