30-Hours Under Spinnaker

We last left off after a magical ‘recce’ past mythical Sable Island. While the scenery was dramatic and the mood aboard Isbjorn at perhaps an all-time high, the actual sailing left much to be desired. We’d been motoring for almost 24 hours through a very flat calm and very heavy fog. That all changed after our visit to Sable.

Click here to see a selection of photos on our Facebook page from Leg 8.

At 2100, David & I took over the watch from Mia. The sun was setting in the west, already over the horizon but the sky was still afire in pinks, reds and oranges. The first stars were starting to show in the deep blue sky overhead. A tickle of breeze sprung up from the northeast.

‘Let’s set the spinnaker’, I said optimistically, not really thinking there’d be enough wind to fill it and keep us moving, but looking for something to do. 

Mia, David & I went to the foredeck and hoisted the big asymmetric chute on the port side, the sailing filling with a satisfying ‘pop’ as we hoisted the ATN sleeve aloft. In the time it had taken us to rig it, the wind had filled in just enough, and we were off under sail again, the quiet of the night only overshadowed by the brilliant stars overhead now it was properly dark.

Isbjorn ghosted ahead. Our speed through the water matched that of the apparent wind. She’s a heavy boat, but boy does she do good in light air and a calm sea with that big, powerful rig. 

The wind just continued to fill in overnight, our speed creeping up little by little in the calm seas. Belowdecks the ride was smooth-as, the sleeping conditions for the crew ideal. By dawn, the wind was up enough to start forming whitecaps, and Isbjorn was barreling along at over 8 knots.

This continued throughout the entire day. For three or four watch cycles our speed never dipped below 8.5 knots, and we saw speeds in the double-digits as the big A-sail pulled us ever westward towards Lunenburg. It was a thrilling ride, especially for the guys who’d never flown a spinnaker before, let alone 150 miles offshore, day and night. 

By nightfall of the second night from Sable the wind had eased off and veered to the east. We’d gybed twice to setup a better angle for the final approach to Cross Island, the outermost mark on the way into Lunenburg. I was determined to carry the spinnaker as far as possible, right into the damned harbor if I got my way! This was going to be a special landfall.

As it were, the wind started backing back into the east and northeast by midnight and it became apparent that we’d have to douse before rounding Cross Island. From there, we’d make a 45º turn to the northwest, upwind, for the final five-mile leg to the breakwater that marked the inner harbor at Lunenburg. 

It was 0300 by the time we reached our turning mark. Dan was belowdecks navigating us in to the harbor while David remained on the helm. Mia was catching a nap and Doug was on-call with me to help douse the chute on the foredeck. We did so in the dark, only a mile off Cross Island, then set the genoa, hardened up onto a close reach and aimed the bows for the breakwater.

The wind held just enough, and from barely the right angle to let us ghost in past the breakwater, as close-hauled as Isbjorn could possibly have been, sailing at only 2-3 knots. At 0400 we let go the anchor just off the Zwicker & Co. wharf in downtown Lunenburg, never once starting the engine for the entirety of the long sail from Sable. Four weeks after Isbjorn had arrived in this same harbor while I stood on the dock watching, fresh out of my appendectomy surgery, and we were back where we started from. From Sable Island, it was a 31-hour nonstop sail, with 30 of those hours under spinnaker and two nights of stunning dark sky and incredible stars.

We said goodbye to David and Doug from Leg 8 over dinner at Rime in town on Tuesday night. A few days later, and we’re again getting the boat ready for sea, for the final 800-mile leg home back to Annapolis where Isbjorn will get 10-week rest before heading south again in the Caribbean 1500 in November. My good friend Tom and our podcast producer Liz joined the crew on Thursday night, Dan remains onboard, and Rand, our fourth, joins this afternoon. A cold front is forecast to move across the region tonight, which will make for a cracking sail tomorrow on departure, which is set for 0600. We’ll sail all the way to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay this time, adding 24 hours or so to the passage, but avoiding the drudgery and black flies that is the Delaware Bay in favor of a longer stint on the ocean. 

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