Friday, November 30

The Passage, Part II

Maggie took her first 6 am watch!  I got to bed an hour earlier, which allowed Craig to go to bed an hour earlier and we both could sleep longer.  Yippee!  It was sunny and calm when I came up from my sleep and Maggie reported a sailboat off our starboard stern.  There was no wind and no waves to speak of except for the lingering swells slowly rolling by.  We hove to and jumped in to celebrate with a halfway party, complete with a freshly baked pineapple upside down cake!
The morale increased by ten fold when we jumped in the water.  It was so warm and clear and soooo very refreshing.  Especially since the only 'bath' we had was done using baby wipes.  You can imagine how good it felt to get my hair wet and actually wash it.  We were once again revived and motivated to keep going (as if we had any other option).  We saw one little fish while we were enjoying our swim.  He was very curious as he hung out under the boat the entire time.
Water Temperature:  78.5F
SOG: 0 - 6 knots

750 miles down, 750 miles to go!

Olivia jumping off the side of the boat

9.0 - his toes are crossed

BVI's or Bust

The beginning part of the night was windless and loud with the motors running.  There were no boats in sight as the waxing moon set over the western night sky.  The shooting stars were unreal, there were so many.  And the phosphorescence was so bright and exciting to watch.  It was like bright shining rhinestones trailing behind each pontoon and flowing out from the splashing waves on the side of the boat.  As Craig came on watch, the wind started to fill in.
Water Temperature:  78.3G
SOG:  7 knots

By morning, the wind had picked up enough to raise the sails.  It turned out to be great conditions for a perfect sail.  As the wind steadily increased, so did the squalls.  We had multiple throughout the day.  In fact, we hit 30 knots and took the main and the jib down and motored parallel to the waves.  As nightfall came, Craig encountered a lot of lightning in the area, so he put all our electronics in the microwave and oven for safe keeping.  Luckily, we never had any lightning directly overhead.  In the wee hours of the morning, slowly we were able to shake the reefs out and sail once again.
Water Temperature:  80.3F
SOG:  5-7 knots

 Taking in a nap

We still had one reef in when the sun came up behind the clouds.  We could see that things were clearing up a bit in the east.  Craig reported that neither one of our bilge pumps was working properly.  Hmmm, they worked before we left.  As the day wore on and the wind was predicted to die the following day, we were all stricken with a bout of depression knowing we would not make it to the BVI's by the end of day 10.  We were really concerned we would run out of fuel and immediately went into super duper hyper conservation mode.  We didn't use the lights or the autopilot that night in hopes to conserve whatever energy we made during the day. It was brutal hand steering all night.  I literally dozed off while standing up at the wheel.  I think that is hard to do.  I awoke with the sudden downward motion of my head.  The southern direction of the wind continued to push us west, which was also a problem.  We were supposed to be heading more east.  The morale on the boat had stooped to an all time low.
Water Temperature:  81.9F
SOG:  4.5 knots

 More after the other!

Where there is rain and sunshine, there are beautiful rainbows!

Craig did a few calculations and determined we had 48 gallons of fuel left.  Things were suddenly looking brighter.  Then he actually used a pre-marked fuel dipstick to check the tank and he was right on the money!  Yippee.  We might make it there after all.  Things were definitely looking brighter.  We turned on a motor and were going at a snails pace, but at least we were going.  We had 209 miles to go yet.  We definitely wouldn't make it by day 10.  But our spirits were rising as we thought we might make it in the next 48 hours. We joked with s/v Celebration that it was a little like Groundhog Day, waking up with new hope and were met with the same southerly head wind day in and day out.  We made very slow progress.  At each watch switch we hoped things would improve.  I think we made a measly 70 miles instead of the usual 120 miles.
Water Temperature:  82.3F
SOG:  5 knots

DAY 10
Need I write another day of southerly head winds.  Or can I just write "Groundhog Day" and you'll get the picture??
At around 10 pm we entered a big storm.  Although we didn't know it was that big until it was over.  The wind picked up quickly from the west at 25 knots.  Before we knew it, we were sailing fast, skipping over the waves and trying to stay dry in the monsoon like downpour.  All of a sudden it was over.  The wind stopped and the rain stopped.  One part of me was relieved it was over because it makes me uneasy to be in those conditions at night.  The other part of me was bummed because we had to turn the motors back on because there was no wind.  Then, as quickly as it stopped, the wind completely changed directions and whipped up to 25 knots from the southeast.  And the rain, I mean monsoon, resumed as well.  We were screaming along at 8-10 knots.  We sailed 40 miles in that 5 hour storm.  We were elated with our progress and knew we had a definite possibility of making it to the BVI's by day 11.
During the storm, our sailing dinghy, nested inside our other dinghy, filled with gallons water.  No big deal really, except we had put our garbage bag in there for safe keeping until we made landfall.  Once we realized the garbage bag was there, it was too late.  The bag had been sloshed back and forth so many times, it exploded.  Then there was soggy trash sloshing back, forth and over the edge with every wave.  Oh, this gets even better.  I clipped myself to the radar arch and had to extract the soggy gross trash out of the dinghy with the monsoon rain pelting my head and keep my balance as we thrashed in the waves.  I got about half of it done and then Craig did the rest.
Water Temperature:  83.4F
SOG:  8-10 knots

Last sunset on our passage!
DAY 11
Groundhog Day!  Imagine that, more southerly head winds.  We passed over the Puerto Rican Trench, where the water depth is over 24,000 feet deep.  We were moving at a snails pace with one engine going, lamenting how we were never going to make it to the BVI's when I proposed we turn both engines on and make a run for it.  We did more calculations and decided to go for it.  We would make it to Gorda Sound on diesel fumes if we had to.  With that plan, we were once again very excited about getting there before midnight.  We put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and sprinted to the finish.  I baked some brownies to celebrate as we pulled into the mooring field at the Bitter End Yacht Club at 7:30 pm.

 Filling out customs and immigration forms

Virgin Gorda as we woke up the next morning.....ahhhhh, feels so good and so worth it!

Bitter End Yacht Club

View looking north

Tuesday, November 27

The Passage, Part 1

We were as ready as we were ever going to be.  The high priority projects that pertained to the safety and comfort of the boat and crew were completed.  The list of remaining boat projects had to be put aside as we cast off the dock lines.  We had spent the past 2 weeks working our fingers to the bone, enduring sleepless nights and 15 hour days getting ready.  Not to mention the little hiccup along the way named Sandy!  We had a lot of help from Por Dos (thanks again!) as they graciously let us tag along to the various stores for provisions and a helping hand getting stubborn projects done.  Don't worry, it wasn't all work and no play though.  We had the Salty Dawg Rally activities and many meals and wine with Por Dos!

I will try not to bore you with the minute details of each day, but rather the highlights of our 11 day passage.

We left Hampton, VA. at noon on a chilly Friday afternoon, November 9th.  The  sun was bright and high in the sky, the wind was very light as we motored out of the marina.  The forecast called for 30-35 knots from the north all the way to the Gulf Stream, 120 miles east.  We waited until noon to leave on purpose even though many boats left in the morning.  The Gulf Stream can get pretty ugly with a northerly component to the wind, making the seas confused and big.  The seas were predicted to decrease in size significantly as the days passed.  We were not in a hurry, so we decided an uneventful trip across the Gulf Stream was a wise choice.
We were, unfortunately, met with no wind right from the start!  Where were those northerly 30 knots, we wondered. This did not seem like a good omen, nor was it how we wanted to start off our 1500 mile passage.  We were forced to  motor with both engines into the night.  It was so bleak, we even took the sails down.
Water Temperature: 58F
SOG (speed over ground):  6 knots

Leaving Blue Water Yachting Center

View of Hampton, VA as we pulled out

 Por Dos leaving at the same time, sailing to the Bahamas

So long our friends, Mark, Marta, Alec and Roan

 Happy to be going to the Caribbean!
The wind picked up a bit in the morning as we raised the sails on a broad reach at 10-12 knots.  By noon the wind was inconsistent at less than 10 knots.  We entered the Gulf Stream at 1:30 pm.  We could see the large rolling waves miles before we entered the GS.  It was a bit intimidating to say the least to look out over the calm horizon and see these big rolling waves that you knew you had to go through.  Once we entered the Gulf Stream the wind quickly picked up on our beam and we turned the motors off and were sailing at a brisk pace.  We passed 2 fellow Salty Dawg monohulls, Goldilocks and Dragon's Toy.  I spotted a third boat on our stern that night, off in the distance.  The crew settled into a routine quickly, playing games when it was calm or watching a movie when the engines were on.
Water Temperature: 61.3F before the GS; 77.4F in the GS
SOG: 8.8-10.7

 Sunset in the Gulf Stream

Girls sleeping in the salon - sometimes it's too rough to sleep in their cabin.  Kate often sleeps outside in the cockpit.  She doesn't like to sleep in her cabin while on passage.  Usually Maggie and Liv sleep together b/c Maggie can't sleep in her cabin at the front of the boat (way too bouncy).

The wind was decreasing and the port engine was turned on.  As the water temperature rose, the air temperature also increased.  It was notably warmer and we slowly shed some layers during the sunny daytime hours.  The deep blue color of the water was beautiful as we spied 2 whale spouts off in the distance.  We lost our computer as a glass of water was spilled into the back vents.  This was not a good thing!  We didn't have a back up (perhaps foolish on our part) and this was the only way we could receive our weather routing information.  It was a sad sad day on Anything Goes.  Luckily we were within VHF range of Dragon's Toy, who updated us on the weather.   There was a possible tropical Low pressure system forming southwest of our position. During the late night hours, the wind increased to 25 knots and we were sailing with a double reefed main.  Everyone on board seemed to be managing the whole sea sickness thing with round the clock dramamine or the scope patch.
We both witnessed nearly countless shooting stars that lit up the water below and the clouds above.
Water Temperature:  73.7F
SOG: 7.3 knots

Wendy going off watch, Craig rested and ready for his watch.  This was a big transition day as I wore my hat and foul weather gear during the night and Craig is now wearing his t-shirt for the first time.

 Sailing in a t-shirt and shorts - Yee Haw!

Kate assuming her reading position.  This child is amazing, reading in all sea conditions!

Look at that water - so clear and beautiful

Do you know the saying "Yellow sky in the morning, sailors take warning and Red sky at night, sailors delight"?  Well, there was a very yellow sky that looked spectacular, but I was hoping that it wouldn't hold up to it's namesake.  The seas were building and we had to turn more south in order to stay comfortable.  We had strong winds all day and threatening thunderstorms to keep us on our toes.  It was sunny and warm, the first day in shorts and a t-shirt.  The seas were choppy and by the end of the day, the swells were 10-11 feet.  Let me just say that when you are in the trof of an 11 foot swell and you have to look up to see the top of the wave, it's just a tad bit intimidating.  That's higher than most peoples ceilings!  We were still sailing under a double reefed main on a beam reach by nightfall.  We spotted another boat off our stern, way out on the horizon, but never learned her name.
Water Temperature:  74.8F
SOG:  6 - 7.7 knots

Squall on the horizon as the sun comes up

Rainbows everywhere

More squalls throughout the day and the entire 11 day trip

We have sailed as far south as the Florida/Georgia border.  We did a little hand steering to cool off the autopilot, as it was working hard the day before and into the night.  As the wind let up, we shook out a reef while listening to Jimmy Buffet, dreaming of our arrival in paradise.  There was no yellow sky in the morning, thank goodness.  The seas were choppy and big but began to reduce in size by afternoon.  As the sun set on the big ocean blue, the wind picked up and we were sailing under a double reef again.  The sky was clear and filled with millions and millions of stars.  We had to make more progress east, so we could take advantage of the trade winds that blow from the ENE.  It was not very comfortable to say the least.  However, the air temperature was so warm, I didn't need a jacket on my nighttime watch.
We got settled in our night watch routine.  As it turned out, I did the 7 pm to 12/1 am shift and Craig did the 1 am to 6 am shift.  Then it was my turn again.  We took naps during the day as necessary and it seemed to work well for us.  If we were feeling good, then we'd let the other one sleep a little longer and vice versa.
Water Temperature:  76.3F
SOG:  6-7 knots

We found a flying fish in our sailing dinghy (that sits inside our motor dinghy on the davits while we are underway).  Craig put it in the freezer to use as future bait.

Liv playing her invented game of a ping pong ball attached to a string, trying to make a hole in one in the paper cup on the floor.  The kids get pretty creative at passing the time.

Wednesday, November 21

We Made It!!!

The good news is we made it - in 11 days, in one piece and safely!  The bad news is our computer broke the second day out.  Unfortunately, a cup of water was spilled.  So while I can use the I-pad to post, we can't load pictures from our camera.  We will keep you updated on our computer disaster.

Sorry to those of you who may have worried because our spot didn't show steady progress.  We were pressing the button everyday - I promise!  Come to find out if the Globalstar satellite is not overhead, it doesn't register.  In the future we will leave it on longer in order to catch the satellite.

We ended up coming straight to Virgin Gorda to join the Salty Dawgs at the Bitter End Yacht Club.  We are truly in paradise, reunited with friends.

Friday, November 9

Warm weather, here we come!

Today is the BIG day.  We are leaving Hampton, VA. at noon and sailing 1500 nm to Tortola, BVI!  We are soooo excited to finally be at this junction of our trip.  Let alone the warmer weather.  This cold weather we have experienced this past month was just plain NOT FUN!  We are anxious to shed our multiple layers, hats and foul weather gear.  We are READY!  The boat is chuck full of provisions stowed in every nook and cranny.  The projects are done.  The food is cooked and ready to eat.

From this moment on, we will no longer be reachable by our cell phones.  They have been turned off.  We will be completely unplugged from the US.  While we are sailing south, we will be out of contact via e-mail as well.  As soon as we make landfall and have wifi again, we will post a message, which will be your clue that you can send an e-mail.

But don't fret, you will be able to follow our progress on our 1500 mile journey a couple of ways.  1.)  You can go to our 'track us' page and view our SPOT, which is real time.  We will update it every 12 hours or so.  2.)  You can track our progress with the Salty Dawg Rally.  Hover over "Fall Rally" at the top, scroll down to "Follow the Fleet (GPS)".  A map will come up and all the boats with SPOT trackers will be on the map.  This is not a race and there are many different types of boats sailing....big, small, monohulls, multihulls, slow comfy boats and fast big boats.  Everyone is leaving at different times, so we will be spread out on the map.

This journey will take approximately 10 days, sailing 24/7, no land in sight out on the ocean blue.  Our course will take us almost as far east as Bermuda and then south to the BVI's.  This route will take us  about 500 miles offshore.  If we have fantastic wind, our trip will be shorter.  Conversely, if the wind dies, it will take much longer. We can not motor the whole way, so we will most certainly be at the mercy of the wind.

Wish us luck, we'll catch up from a beautiful sandy beach in the BVI's!!

Salty Dawgs

What's a Salty Dawg?  It is a rally for cruising boats.  What's a rally?  A rally is essentially an organization that helps boats get from point A to point B, usually covering a great distance, together as a group.  Sometimes a rally is a race and sometimes it is just for fun.

We have joined the Salty Dawg Rally this year to get from Hampton, VA. to Tortola, BVI.  The Salty Dawg Rally is in it's second year with 50+ boats.  Not too shabby considering they had 33 boats last year.  Bill and Linda Knowles, along with their Jack Russell Terrier, Brie, organize this amazing circus of activity.  I don't know how they do it, but it awe inspiring.  Check out their website to see all that we gained from joining.

Conducting a science experiment

 baking soda, vinegar and shaving cream

Result:  A Soapy Volcano

 Life raft safety and deployment seminar from Winslow Life Rafts

Getting a view from inside the life raft

Provisioning at Costco

 Craig and Mark (Por Dos) replacing the rear main seal

 Mark's better side : )

John, friend sailing with Por Dos, holds a 'class' for the kids on bird watching

Kate and Alec (Por Dos) getting ready to fly her kite

 Olivia's homemade sailboat made from plastic bowls and spoons
Fixing our zipper on Marta's machine

Ready to Go!!  Por Dos and Anything Goes headed for warmer waters.

Wednesday, November 7

A Lesson Learned

As we made our way south from DC, we unfortunately did not have the wind direction in our favor.  Our progress down the Potomac was slow, at best, with the use of only one engine, wind on the nose and a reverse current.  It was painful to motor along at 4 - 4.5 knots!  Finally, we rounded the bend, put the sails up and increased our speed as the tide started changing  We found a spot to anchor for the night, almost in the same place we anchored on the trip north. 

We woke up to a thunderstorm and had to wait for it to pass before getting underway.  The wind was again on our nose and we were headed for another slow day.  We kept going even after the sun went down.  We planned our night stop in an anchorage where the Potomac meets the Chesapeake River.  There was a narrow inlet, with a dredged channel, navigational markers with lights for a nighttime approach.  It seemed straight forward enough.  How bad could it be, right?

It was about 8pm when we started our approach toward the inlet.  It was really shallow on either side of the entrance.  We approached slowly and cautiously, as we should, looking for the navigation lights.  I had the binoculars standing on the bow,  looking for the lights/markers when Craig said he had a feeling we were going to run into something.  I could see something in the dark, but couldn’t make it out.  I quickly grabbed the spotlight and turned it on, only to see the green marker about 200 feet in front of us.  Craig put the boat in reverse as we adjusted to the light and noticed that the marker was sitting on a pile of rocks!  We narrowly missed running into them.

With our hearts in our throats, we slowly turned around and decided we would continue south to find another, safer location to stop for the night.   Lesson number one:  Don’t enter a new anchorage, harbor, marina etc. at night. 

As we slowly made our way back out to deeper waters, unbeknownst to us, we were gliding through a crab pot mine field.  I was down below when I heard a weird thump, thump, thump echo through the hull with a loud winding down sound.  I shouted, to no one in particular, “what was that?”  I raced up asking if that was our engine quitting.  Nope, we snagged a crab pot!  Fricka, fracka… could that happen?  We made it all the way to Maine and back without hitting a lobster pot, thank you very much.  Something we are quite proud of.   We thought we were in the clear.  You just can’t let your guard down.  We had grown complacent I guess.  That and it was pitch dark and we couldn't see them.  Let me reiterate....don't enter an unfamiliar anchorage, harbor or marina AT NIGHT!

What to do now, what to do??  We, unfortunately, wrapped the crab pot around the one working engine, so now we were down two engines.  This was not a good thing.  I had that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, in my throat and a burning sensation in my ears!  I immediately instructed Maggie to help me check the engine compartment and bilges to make sure we weren't taking on water (which we were not).  We spent the next 30 minutes going over our options; 1.)  Drag the crab pot with us to a safe place to anchor.  This was not a good option because we could snag more crab pots and damage our sail drive and the nearest place to stop was at least 8 miles away.  2.)  Anchor in the shallow waters and dive down to untangle the line.  This wouldn’t work because there were a slew of crab pots and we would have surely been in a spider web of crab pot lines.  3.) Go to deeper water, anchor and dive down.  This was Craig’s first choice and my “over my dead body” choice.  It was dark, blowing 20-25 knots, waves too big for swimming, the current was too strong and how would he keep from being swept away.

Reluctantly, for Craig, and happily, for me, I called the coast guard on the VHF asking for assistance.  This was the only logical choice with all that was at stake.  I am quite certain we could have ‘rescued’ ourselves had it been daylight and less wind!  The coast guard put us in touch with BoatUS, which is a towboat company.  By the time they found us, it was midnight and we had drifted 3 miles out into the Chesapeake River.  We had to contact several tugs and ships passing by and let them know we were adrift and could they please try not to hit us!

Well to make a long story a little bit shorter….the husband and wife duo from BoatUS was able to cut the line loose from our prop after an hour and a half of diligence.  Afterwards, they told us where to find a sheltered, easy to approach anchorage 8 miles south.  They followed us for a while and then called several times to make sure we were okay, with a final call the following day.  Now that’s customer service!  Craig dove down the next morning and there was no damage to our sail drive.

While Craig and I were a little preoccupied to take any pictures or press our spot tracker...Maggie wasn't.  She caught a few minutes of the nightmare on video!

....And a few pleasant shots of our trip down the Potomac to Hayes, VA.

Potomac River trees changing color

Thunderstorm moving out

A bald eagle in flight

A barge completely covered with pelicans the morning after our crab pot ordeal

Dolphins again!

Monday, November 5

Say Uncle!

What the heck!?  Mother Nature didn't think it was cold enough?  She didn't think we had enough rain with Hurricane Sandy??  Geez.  Come on, we have had enough already.  Now, we are expecting another storm, a Nor'easter,  that will bring more rain, wind and Brrrrr, cold weather!  We say "Uncle"....uncle, uncle, uncle!!!  We've had enough, we are getting' outa here....Friday!

Sunday, November 4

Pirates and Ghosts and Statues, Oh My!

The clouds finally parted and the sun came out for the first time in nearly a week.  What a sight for sore eyes!  It was Halloween and there was dressing up and trick or treating to be done.  We had dinner aboard Anything Goes with our friends on Por Dos.  The kids got dressed in their costumes and off we went in true cruiser fashion.

Lady Liberty gets her make up on

The headless ghost (Alec) gets his eye holes cut in  place by dad (Mark)

One of the many decorations made by the kids

The gang ready to go.  Police officer (Olivia), Pirate (Maggie), Statue of Liberty (Kate), Captain (Roan), Headless ghost (Alec)

We went to visit the boats of the Salty Dawg rally, but no one was home.
Hmmmm, where could they be?

So, we visited other boats in the marina

Everyone was happy to see the kids.  Some were prepared with candy and some were such great sports about scrounging up something to put in their bags!

Even the mega yacht found some treats

Aaahhhh, we found the Salty Dawg crew in the bar!