'Just need a mermaid sighting now,' said Jim from his bunk.
Position 7 April 2015, 8.30 am
35° 39’N / 075° 22’W
Light wind, under motor
0340 Tuesday morning. That conversation happened yesterday. I was on watch in the afternoon, alone, the rest of the crew napping down below. It was great napping conditions...warm, calm sea, broad reaching, just a gentle rocking to knock you right out.
It startled me actually. I was just kind of daydreaming and staring off to starboard. The sun was to port, so casting shadows on the water from the rig and sails. Then this larger shadow sort of entered my vision, but must have missed my consciousness for a few seconds. I saw a tail right under the boat - and I mean RIGHT - just forward of the cockpit. My first reaction was SHARK! but of course it wasn't. As soon as my conscious brain jolted awake from my daydream I realized it was a small whale. I rousted the crew (that's easy when there are whales about), and by the time they got on deck, 4 or 5 pilot whales were playing around and under the boat. They'd swim up alongside, then dive and dart aft, surfacing again about 100 yards astern and spouting, then they'd swim forward to the bow and repeat the process. Not unlike dolphins, just bigger and slower.
Since our short-lived gale the other night we've been rewarded with nothing but fabulous offshore sailing. The leftover sea from the weather quieted down by Sunday evening, and the wind continued veering to the south allowing us to ease the sheets and open some hatches. Earlier in the day Monday I finally shook the last reef from the mainsail. In the big picture, each of us now believes for certain that doing what we did - sailing into that front, knowing it was forecast - was the right decision. I'd have done a few things different in preparation had we known it was going to blow THAT hard (more on that later), but the overall plan remained the same. Before and since the gale it's been a perfect passage.
Just before dinner yesterday we thought we'd come under artillery fire. No kidding. Just off the port beam - and remember, it's clear blue sky, maybe a few puffy, fair weather clouds, but not a thunder head in sight - we heard a deafening ka-BOOOOM! Exactly the sound that lan old-timey muzzle loaded rifle would make, two distinct 'booms' the second louder than the first. I was in mid conversation with Les, which got immediately derailed. I don't even recall now what we were talking about. My first thought was that the Navy was out dropping bombs or something, maybe firing off the gun from the front of a battleship. I almost went below to check the chart to see if we were in some kind of exclusion zone. But 100 miles offshore? Didn't make sense.
My dad hit the nail on the head - sonic boom. The air pressure explosion that occurs the instant a jet breaks the sound barrier. You never hear it over land, for a reason. It's effing scary! So presumably the Navy was out messing around at supersonic speeds in some new fighter jet and we were in the neighborhood. Shortly after the first, maybe half hour or so, another one hit, even louder and closer than the first. ka-BOOOOOOM! We quite clearly could feel the sound waves in our chests. If you listened closely afterwards you could hear the jets heading into the distance, though we never caught sight of them.
As I write this we're rounding Cape Hatteras, that infamous headland where the Gulf Stream meets the land and which has caused so much havoc for sailors throughout history. You'd never know it now. We're broad reaching on port tack, aiming right for the Chesapeake having already turned the corner. I can see the Hatteras light about 20 miles west of us. The Stream is still giving us a little boost (yesterday we were touching 10 knots over the ground! Since 0300 Monday, our last 24 hours, we covered 176 miles thanks to the current!). The sea is as close to flat as it can be with any wind offshore, and the sleeping conditions below are marvelous! So there's nothing to fear about this place - respect for sure, which is why we chose to leave when we did, to time this rounding - but in the right conditions it's a walk in the park.
But man am I glad we were 250 miles offshore during that little gale!