I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that we’re headed north again. Not just north, like from the Caribbean to Bermuda is a ‘northerly’ course, but north, as in towards THE north. We’ve only just crossed the 40th parallel, but it feels like an altogether different ocean here. The water is darker, colder. The air crisper. The sunrises and sunsets linger longer.
Which brings me to today’s topic. Mistakes. We’re at sea again, heading towards home waters on the Chesapeake, motor-boating through a completely flat sea and trying to get out ahead of the seasons first tropical disturbance, which we’re hoping doesn’t turn into a tropical depression. We’re only going 5.8 knots, with full sail up and the engine ticking over at 1,400 RPMs, because we didn’t fill up diesel in Bermuda. Mistake.
On deck she’s a bucking bronco. I was getting frustrated yesterday afternoon for our sluggish progress - it felt like we should have been able to easily make 7-8 knots in this breeze, even despite our horrible headsail (more on that in a sec). But all along we’d only make 6-6.5, and the boat would slam hard in the troughs of the bigger waves. So yesterday before dinner I tweaked a few settings, took the helm and ICEBEAR took flight.
Thus far we’ve covered 687 miles in a flash. The run up the Gulf Stream from Key West was fast and smooth, the wind from the southeast and never more than 12 knots, allowing us to lay our course around the Keys and never once kicking up that gnarly Gulf Stream sea. The current boosted us past 10 knots SOG and we rounded the turn north of the Bahamas in just a little over 24 hours.
Next morning we hoisted sail for a very brief blast up the coast to the underwater sculpture park off Moliniere Point. All the moorings were taken so Mia & I dropped the crew off next to the dive site and just drifted offshore while they explored. We anchored up again for the night just off the beach in 12 meters and did some more free diving before dinner. We left early the next morning, bound nonstop for San Juan.
This is different. ISBJORN’s been at sea over 20 days now. The world we’re about to re-enter won’t be the same from the one we left. Three weeks is enough time to guarantee that. We’ve been well and truly cutoff. Not so much as in the old days - I can text friends and family and we get weather reports of course. But no email. No news. I have no idea if the US government has re-opened yet, nor do I know anything else about the world outside our little bubble. Sailing across oceans is like traveling in a steam-punk time machine. In slow-motion, we’re moving into the future with no knowledge of what’s happened in the interval.
Welp, we did it. Mia & I got complacent and paid the price of letting our guard down. I figuratively kicked myself the first time I was at the top of the mast in the dark, freeing a horribly twisted spinnaker halyard, and then promised myself I’d not make the same mistake twice the second time I was up the rig cutting the wrapped sail down from the forestay and swinging around in the swell like an idiot.
About a week ago I had found a broken screw on deck, and had quizzed the crew at dinner to figure out where it had come from. I knew of course that it had come from the pole track on the front of the mast (it’s never good by the way to find broken screws that have fallen out of the rigging!). At the time we noticed just that one and two others - three, total - that had succumbed to the shearing forces of the sail on the pole. We just repositioned the car higher or lower on the track and figured that’d be fine.
A whale came to visit on my mom’s birthday, after I had written that tearful post about stargazing early in the morning, before dawn. Later that day the rains came while I was on watch, again alone, and RIGHT next to the boat a 20-30-foot minke whale made his presence known with a puff of air and a glimpse of his dorsal fin. He stayed with me for over an hour, diving and playing under the boat.
My mom would have turned 69 today had she lived. Today marks the second birthday I’ve celebrated at sea on this trans-Atlantic passage - mine, with Mia’s birthday balls dessert on Jan 25; and mom’s this morning, where on my 0200-0400 early morning watch I shared a quiet cry and contemplated the sea and the stars for two hours by myself in the cockpit, gazing out at the vastness and just being.
Note: The title - and gist - of this post will come back to haunt me in the next installment…
So much for the January Trades. Shortly after my birthday balls celebration the weather pattern took a turn for the weird. A not-unheard of cutoff low spun up at the tail end of a strong cold front much farther north and began meandering around to our north, just west of the Canary Islands, disrupting the classic easterly tradewind pattern we were so very much enjoying prior. By sunrise on the 25th, the wind had started veering into the SE, then S, and getting lighter...we dropped the spinnaker that evening as the apparent wind moved forward, and have been fighting for every mile since.
In the days before accurate longitude at sea, trans-Atlantic skippers followed the by now cliched “sail south until the butter melts, then turn right.” Once the New World was discovered, and in turn mapped, sailors knew where the different islands in the West Indies lay, north-south anyway. They’d have known the Virgin Islands were about 18º30’ N, for example. Or that Nelson’s base on the south coast of Antigua was at exactly 17º N. They’d have known too, with a good trade wind blowing, roughly how many days after the butter melted it would take to get there. But they wouldn’t have known exactly.
NOTE from Andy, Feb 14, 2019: I’m hesitant to publish this, for risk of it being too personal, causing too much interference with the public persona I’ve created about myself and of the business. But you know what - f&%k it. If I don’t publish this, anything I do publish would just feel like propaganda. Yes, there are certain things I’ll never publish - to this day there doesn’t exist an online photo from our wedding, for example, and while I talk all the time about the decision to have kids or not, you can safely bet that if the day comes, you won’t read much about it here. That said, re-reading this now, which I wrote over 3 weeks ago while tired and just getting started on the trans-At…well, as I sit on the new Swan 59 publishing this, all the feelings I describe below are basically gone - I’m STOKED! But, this is how I felt then…here goes.
I’m tired this morning, a little weary. I didn’t sleep well last night, despite being in my bunk for about 12 hours. Not uninterrupted. The night was strange. Just before dinner we gybed the chute (flawlessly I might add) and rocketed off to the south while Mia served a chicken quinoa dish. ISBJORN was loving the big sail and I didn’t want to take it down. Some funky looking clouds on the northeastern horizon made my mind up for me. I wanted to sleep, and it’d be easier with the spinnaker in its bag belowdecks.
I put my head out the companionway and saw the leading edge of the earth’s shadow just beginning to take a bite out of the brilliant full moon. I made a pot of coffee for Mia, Walter & I, plus a cup of green tea for Fred. We shut off the tri-color and the instrument lights, put a towel over the VHF and started sailing by feel, wanting to black out any source of artificial light to give ourselves the best show.
T-minus 5 hours until departure. This will be our longest passage to date on ISBJORN, and the longest, mileage wise, of my entire sailing career. It’ll be Mia’s 5th trans-Atlantic, my 4th, and the 1st for the four crew - David, Walter, Etta & Fred - that joined us in Las Palmas two days ago for the voyage to Antigua. As I write it’s 8:10am, Mia’s making breakfast, the crew is stretching their legs one last time ashore in search of a shower, and I’m about to make the long walk down to the border police at the other end of the harbor to clear us out of Spain.