So, as you all may know by now, we decided that instead of motoring our way up the ICW in Florida, we wanted to get some open ocean sailing experience, and have a taste of overnight sailing, so we decided we would take the “outside route” from Fort Lauderdale from St. Augustine. Lest you think we are completely nuts, we did enlist Cap’n Bruce to make the trip with us, so we could get a bit more education in, not to mention split up the watch shifts and try to get a bit more sleep!
We had been watching the forecast for Monday the 15th pretty closely, and it seemed absolutely perfect…until the morning we were to leave! We came out of the Port Everglades inlet with storms and waves and winds. I went down for my first cat check, and poor Stevie was a mess – drooling/foaming at the mouth and scared out of his mind. We were a little panicked, because we didn’t want the poor guy to get dehydrated or really, really sick, but we did take a look at the internet and found that the drooling was a symptom of nausea, and knew that he was probably just seasick. Poor dude, we felt terrible for him, but at that point, we were sailing out towards the gulf stream and it was too late to do very much.
So, speaking of the Gulf Stream, the plan was to make our way out about 11 miles from shore and take advantage of the current to speed up the trip. The Gulf Stream can add about 3-5 knots to your speed if you’re northbound, and provided the winds cooperate. The plan was to follow it even as it veers out eastward, and then start inching our way back to the mainland about 60 miles south of St. Augustine.
As we worked our way up the coast, we had some great speed which really boosted our spirits – our dead weight of a boat actually hit 10-11 knots at some points! But then as the evening came, we started seeing more storm clouds on the GPS radar, and all around us, and knew we weren’t in the clear weather-wise.
At one point in the evening I step away from the helm for a few minutes, and when I get back, I notice the anemometer isn’t working any longer (that’s essentially the Garmin wind meter that tells us speed and direction). Bruce can’t figure it out either, and we realize that we’re going to have to live without it until we reach our destination, as the only thing we can do is to go up the mast and check it out up there – not something you want to do 30 miles offshore with winds whipping, swells building and storms all around you. But Bruce doesn’t seem all that fazed – when I ask him what we will do, he says, “keep looking at the wind vane up at the top of the mast.” “But what about when it gets dark?” “Have a flashlight handy!”
I start my first “all alone” watch at 8, while Brian and Bruce catch up on some sleep below. All was going pretty well until about 10:30, and I see a pretty big storm on the radar, and try to figure out how to properly track it. I am hesitant to wake the guys because I don’t want to be a wimp, so I just keep watching…and watching…and then, in about 30 seconds, the rain starts pouring down and the winds change direction from ESE to NNW, and I’m realizing I’m clueless about what to do with the sails all by myself, so I suck it up and holler down to Bruce. He tells me we’re going to tack and so we do that, and what I realize is that I don’t think that it will be all that easy for us to single-hand the jib.
He stays up with me as we get through the storm, and then I go down to wake up Brian so he can relieve me at midnight. I’m completely exhausted at this point, but no sooner do I fall asleep than we start rolling around.
This is what I learned about being in the boat in heavy seas – not only are you rocking and rolling (and yes, even in a catamaran), but the waves banging on the hull sounds like bombs going off or as if the boat is being torn to pieces. It’s really scary, and I was pretty much a nervous wreck. I think I only really slept for about 2-3 of the 5 ½ hours I had off of watch, and the times I was awake, I was feeling pretty panicked.
I got up at 5:30 to relieve Bruce, and I was looking forward to watching the sun rise out on the ocean. What I also realized was that even if the swells and waves seem like harbingers of death when you’re down below, even 5 foot swells aren’t so bad when you’re up on deck.
The sun rise didn’t disappoint…
I made it until about 9 AM and then went to wake Brian, but not before I successfully dodged some debris out in the ocean (it looked like a semi-submerged dinghy with a poor marooned bird on its bow), and a shark sighting (eeeekkkkk!).
I got another hour or so of sleep before I decided to come back up on deck. After a few hours the guys decided to tackle a smelly head problem (yup, still not completely free of those, well, hopefully now we are), and I stayed at the helm. I was tired, stressed, scared, you name it, but then the moment came that made it all better.
Dolphins! About 12-15 of them, playing on our bow and in our wake! It was absolutely amazing, and made all of the stress of the night before just slip away.
One more breakage problem we faced – at some point in the afternoon, Brian turns towards the port stern and notices the stanchion that supports one of our satellite dishes and our wind generator is bent back. Not a good thing to happen 30 miles offshore. The guys do manage to right it and secure it with some ratchet straps – just days before, when Brian said he wanted to pick some up, I was like, what the heck are those? Thank god he had the foresight to get them, as they saved us from losing some pretty pricey pieces of equipment.
In the evening we start making some good time as we approach St. Augustine. We know it’s going to be dark when we arrive, so all of us start poring over the charts and books to make sure we are prepared for the entry into the inlet, which is notoriously tricky. As soon as we approach it, those northerly winds kick up again and we’ve got some vicious chop happening, but despite this we get the sails down outside the inlet with not too much trouble and start inching our way in. We almost hit 2 day markers that weren’t on the charts, I screwed up calling the bridge, and as we entered the marina, we are totally freaked out in terms of getting ourselves attached to the dock, in no small part due to the crazy current running through and the big fancy boat we’re afraid we’re going to hit in the slip adjacent to us.
But we don’t hit it, or the dock, and we get ourselves tied up, and we take our dirty, exhausted selves across the road to the bar. And it was the best pint of Guinness that either of us have ever had.
Next up…St. Augustine!