Landfall in Sweden (Redux)

Landfall in Sweden (Redux)

In lieu of my recent arrival to Sweden today (I flew overnight from Newark-Oslo-Stockholm, and am going on one hour of sleep and four cups of strong Swedish coffee), I wanted to re-post this blog from two years ago when Arcturus made her first arrival in Sweden. It was an emotional moment for Mia and I (especially Mia), and it seems simultaneously like yesterday and ages ago.

Arcturus has spent all of last winter hauled out in Öregrund - we'll launch her next week, and get back to living aboard for the remainder of the summer here in Scandinavia. No plans yet on where we're headed, but stay tuned. I'll be writing about it. In the meantime, enjoy this revisited post...

Rounding Cape Hatteras

It's 0823 on Thursday morning. Sojourner is in position 35 09 N, 75 19 W. Plot that on the chart - it's as close to Cape Hatteras as you'd ever want to be.

We made it here this morning, the outer edge of Diamond Shoals, a full three hours ahead of my most optimistic prediction of a day or so ago. That was based on six knots of boat speed, and assuming we'd be motoring to keep that, as the weather was calm and likewise the forecast. Shortly after my little math project to see if we'd have enough fuel, the SW breeze filled in and we've been sailing wing on wing ever since, the big genoa poled out to starboard and the main squared off to port. We earned a two-knot bonus riding the western edge of the Gulf Stream. Since yesterday morning, our speed rarely dipped below 7 knots.

In anything other than very benign conditions I'd be nowhere close to where were positioned now. In fact, were cutting the corner INSIDE the big platform marking Diamond Shoals themselves. The water quickly went from 66 degrees and 400 feet deep, to 58 degrees and 40 feet deep in the time it took my dad to go to the head. Despite the fact that its blowing only 8-10 knots from the west (and coming off the land), the deep sea swell from the south has turned into short, steep waves on the shoals, their tops tumbling off in foamy crests. With no wind, they're harmless, but it makes you think.

We ended up so close in because I decided to jibe at 0200 last night just after Tom relieved me on the watch. I went down into my bunk up forward but couldn't sleep. Over the course of my three hours on deck, we'd gradually had to ease towards the east as the wind slowly clocked around. With the pole set I had no options for sail trim and could only adjust our course. We were making about 060, when we needed 040 to cut it close around Hatteras. So I rose again, got my gear back on, and Tom and I furled the genoa, secured the pole and jibed the mainsail onto port tack. We redeployed the genoa and set a course for 035, the best we could do to keep wind in the sail (and not blanketed by the main). Hence six hours later, we ended up practically ON Diamond Shoals.

Yesterday was the type of day offshore that keeps you coming back. An easy breeze from the SW propelled Sojourner along bang on course, aided by the favorable current, and on a flat sea thanks to the several days of settled weather we've had since the little gale off Savannah. It was shorts and t-shirt weather. Schools if dolphins circled the boat and played in the bow wave almost hourly. Tom, perched at the pulpit, counted twelve at one point, bunched tightly together and escorting Sojourner towards the NE.

More wildlife joined us later in the day.

"Turtle!" Said Tom. He'd spotted it just off the starboard beam, but dad and I missed it.

"Was it big?" I asked.

"About the size of the dinghy!" Tom answered.

We'd seen bug sea turtles off the Nova Scotian coast on our way across the Atlantic in 2011, and were surmised to find them that far north. I guess this guy was heading in that direction for the summer.

We fished all day and landed three 'little tunnies.' Otherwise known as bonito. Dad was ready with the cheap vodka to knock him out and get him ready for the frying pan. He was beautiful, deep blue stripes on an almost reflective silver. Weird as it sounds, I saw my mom's spirit in that fish. She believed all living things had a soul, not in a religious sense but in a spiritual one, and I saw the life in that little fish and couldn't bring myself to take it from him. He patiently waited for me to remove the hook and I set him free to live another day. A few hours later a friend of his wound up on the hook and we did the same, releasing him back to the ocean after admiring him. Almost immediately we caught a third! Or maybe that second one was dumb enough to take the lure again. At any rate, as the sun was going down, that was the end of our fishing, and I felt strangely content with potatoes and chili for dinner.

In the time it took me to write the above, we seem to have cleared the worst of Diamond Shoals. We're around Hatteras now, and it's saved it's fury for another day. The waters back to over 100 feet and those big, deep sea rollers have flattened right out. Well spend today running up Virginia Beach, and if our luck holds, will be back in the familiar waters of the Chesapeake sometime in the next 24 hours.

Take the Long Way Home

It's 0600 on Wednesday morning. April 2nd. Sojourner is in position 33 28 N, 77 53 W, motor sailing ENE and headed straight for Cape Hatteras, which lays about 100 miles over the horizon ahead. Venus, now the morning star, is about ten degrees above the horizon off the starboard now, to our east. A glimmer of sunlight, the new day dawning, is visible just below. But to me, in the dark cockpit, it's still night, and I'll savor it's last death throes while all remains quiet on board. While my dad and Tom sleep, this is my time. The time at sea I treasure the most.

We departed Charleston yesterday around 1100 after seeing Billy off for his long drive back to Chestertown, MD. His work schedule, combined with our longer-than-expected journey home forced him to bail. But he wasn't leaving us in the lurch by any means - three people offshore is really my ideal number anyway, and Tom has proven himself a more than capable ocean sailor and, more importantly, fantastic, friendly company. He first sailed with us up from St. Croix to Marsh Harbor in February, and we quickly invited him back for the leg home. He and his wife Darlene plan on accompanying me on the return delivery aboard Sleijride after the Newport-Bermuda Race.

My plan when I set the calendar back in January didn't include a stopover in Charleston or a twelve-hour day motoring up the ICW. Dad wanted help bringing Sojourner home from St. Lucia, his farthest landfall since leaving the Bay with the Caribbean 1500 in the fall. For the last seven years or so we'd always planned to do that trip together - hell, it's part of the reason he bought the boat he bought, a Wauquiez Hood 38 and an eminently capable ocean sailing yacht. But life interfered, in the worst way. My mom, his lifelong partner and first mate - they'd been married for 37 years - died after a protracted experience with brain cancer in the spring of 2012. Our family has never returned to normal since then, and it never will. But we make the best of it in mom's honor and live on.

But Dad persevered, and with a dogged determinism and renewed vigor, set about to do the trip anyway, which my mom undoubtedly would have encouraged him to do. As I was now running the event, we wouldn't be able to sail together. In a fitting twist of fate, his cousins, both experienced sailors, and a friend agreed to join him and they had a hell of a run south in one of the rougher Caribbean 1500's in recent memory. Early on, I committed to helping him bring the boat north, planned around my busy travel schedule, and here we are, 1800 miles from St. Lucia with still about 350 to go.

I did not plan to take this long way home from Marsh Harbor. Up until the last week, we'd been able to make a beeline from St. Lucia. Besides the brief stop in St. Croix to change crew (which I need to mention included my dads new girlfriend Marcia, whose new to sailing but is remarkably keen. It's still strange seeing my dad with a different woman, but he's happy and I'm supportive. I think it'll always be strange - it has to be - but that doesn't mean it can't also be good. Life goes on and we do our best to enjoy the time we have. My mom would no doubt approve, and therefore, so do I). ANYWAY, the nine sailing days it took to go 1200 miles from St. Lucia to Marsh Harbor were arguably the best nine consecutive days I've ever had offshore. We broad reached ahead of 20 knot winds, clear, dry skies and a long regular swell. We should have known better that I couldn't last.

It's decidedly early in the season to be sailing north, particularly with this crazy winter we're having, what with the par vortex and all. Billy and I flew south from Dulles only a week ago, and as the plane took off the snow was still coming down. Such an early-season passage requires conservative planning. Instead of going direct to Hatteras offshore, like I would have preferred, we aimed instead for Jacksonville, 300 miles NW but really in the wrong direction. But we had to, for another low was brewing and we were only offered a 48 hour window.

Those first two days were good sailing, but tough on the crew, who all, except for dad, were seasick, myself included. I wore a scopolamine patch for the first time, and though I never puked, I wasn't real comfortable. As we approached Jacksonville, the SW wind was holding steady. A couple thunderstorms passed north and south of us ahead of the cold front, with strong lightning all around and heavy rain - but no wind. It quickly cleared and a gentle breeze filled in behind it, so we decided to press on and try to make Savannah, another 12 hours distant.

All was well as we sailed in a port tack with a nice westerly breeze. Until about 0100, when the front, a strong one, finally overtook us. I was in the vee berth an was woken to crashing and banging and bouncing about an hour before my watch was set to start. I laid there for a little but knew we were really overpowered and that I'd have to go up and help Billy shorten sail. I geared up - by now it was into he low 50s at night - and emerged on deck to a howling northwesterly. The skies were crystal clear as a cold winters day, and the stars were out in force. The loom of the mainland USA was visible to the west. And Sojourner was taking a beating. Billy and I struggled to furl the genoa, which rolled so tight in the string wind that we ran out of furling line, leaving a tiny scrap of headsail exposed. With two reefs in the main and now beating, thanks to the wind shift, we motor-sailed the last eight hours towards Savannah, crashing into steep waves that continually found there way into the cockpit. The water temperature read 57 degrees and felt colder.

Dad was on watch as we entered the inlet, now aiming directly upwind. I furled the mainsail, and with the nine screaming, we pushed on at barely 3 knots through the northwesterly gale, the waves finally abating as we found shelter in the ICW. Had the wind been from th east there is no way we'd have been able to make that inlet, as the seaway it would have created would have been dangerous. The NW wind, though howling, was coming off the land, and the water was more or less protected inshore. Not wanting to backtrack up the river to Savannah, we called customs and arranged for the to meet us the next day in Charleston. We spent that first night on the ICW cooped up at anchor with the Q flag flying, and it wasn't until 7pm the next day that we could finally get off the boat after dealing with the authorities.

So now we are nearly on the home stretch, though its taken longer than I'd hoped. I miss my wife Mia and am anxious to get home, but I want to see this trip through to the end with my dad. It's kind of fitting that after we drop Tom off in Deltaville it will just be the two of us for the last bit up the Bay. I'm pretty happy with how our plan played out. You're always at the mercy of the weather offshore, but particularly in the margins of e seasons, you've got to play it safe. Hatteras remains a daunting obstacle, but it's just over the horizon now.


Hurricane Eggs & Tornado Warnings - Day 3 Offshore

Mmmm, hurricane eggs! My friend Andy Staus taught me about these last year during the delivery of Susie Q on this very same route at this very same time of year. We picked up a couple of loads of fresh-made Bahamas bread in Marsh Harbor (unsliced of course). For the last two mornings I've been slicing off big chunks of the stuff, cutting a hole out of the center and grilling the bread with 2-3 eggs cracked in the hole in our cast iron skillet. There is just something about the combination of grilled bread, gooey eggs and butter that creates something truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Sojourner, as of 1030 Saturday, was in position 30 10 N, 080 58 W, making 5-6 knots under power on a course of 310 degrees true.

It's a grey, chilly and damp morning. After having to shorten sail around 0200 this morning, we are now motoring in a relative calm, the wind having gone to the EAST somehow! As I was cooking brekkie, dad tuned in the NOAA weather radio on the VHF - we are close enough to Florida now to do that - and heard them issue a thunderstorm and tornado watch for the area just to the south of us.

I'm aware that sailing north towards Hatteras in March is not the smartest idea. Particularly with this relentless winter we are having. As we were prepping Sojourner in Marsh Harbor, NOAAs offshore weather had winds blowing 70-90 knots south of Nova Scotia! With 45 foot seas! Yikes! So yeah, getting north to Annapolis in one go was probably unlikely, even with a boat as well-equipped to handle heavy weather as Sojourner. Dad and I have nothing to prove, so why be uncomfortable?!

But we have a time constraint. My dad wanted my help to bring the boat north, and I wanted to do it. We really enjoy sailing together, and this was the only week I had available all spring, so here we are. With the winter in mind, our plan is a very conservative one. Another weak cold front was expected sometime tonight into Sunday, and we figured we could get about 300 miles on the southerly winds before it passed us. This time of year is not the time of year to gamble that the front will remain weak - we are assuming the opposite.

So we're on a course for Fernandina Beach in northern Florida, and should make it there in the next 8 hours. At which point we will reevaluate the weather and discuss continuing on up the coast, or playing it safe and riding up the ICW until a better weather pattern emerges. Ironically, due to the curvature of the US east coast, Fernandina Beach is only 100 miles closer to Annapolis than Marsh Harbor was! But well be back on home turf, and it will give us options.

Until Next Time, Andy & The Sojourner Crew

Sojourner heading north from Bahamas

Sojourner heading north from Bahamas

I got a phone call from Andy this morning from the Sat Phone. The number start with 8816.. so it is easy to spot. Everyone who has been following the weather (or just looked outside the window the last couple of days) know it is not ideal conditions out there. Noting dangerous, but not as ideal as the 15 kt from behind and blue sky like they had on their last passage up to the Bahamas.

Beginning the Journey Home

"So go and tell the boys for me we're leavin' here today!"

That Blaggards song was playing on my last run in Marsh Harbor this morning, and its in my head now as we prep for departure. The short, but likely difficult, as its March, hop offshore to the US east coast and ultimately Annapolis represents the final stage of Sojourner's journey home from St. Lucia.

We've got an awesome crew - me, Dad, Billy Rudek and Tom Herrington, who sailed with us earlier rom St. Croix. Plan is to depart here within the hour and aim for Charleston. Another cold front is on the way. If the forecast holds, we have until Saturday night to be somewhere sheltered. If we get caught out it won't be dangerous, but it wont be pleasant either. They're calling for 25-35 knots fom the N-NE off Hatteras on Monday, and that'd be unpleasant indeed. So well leave here on a nice SE'ly breeze and see where we end up!

As usual, ill try and keep this updated with our position as we go. Thanks for reading!

-Andy & the Sojourner Crew

Offshore Sailing in Photos: St. Lucia - St. Croix - Bahamas

Offshore Sailing in Photos: St. Lucia - St. Croix - Bahamas

Thanks to our crew member Kevin King, who was constantly taking photos during the passage north on Sojourner, I've had an enjoyable evening drinking a glass of red wine, listening to St. Vincent and organizing an album of the trip. Since I've already written what there is to be written about (see the past 5 or 6 posts), here's a pretty sweet gallery of images with captions. If you've never been offshore before, there is nothing quite like it. The photos are Kevin King's, unless otherwise noted. Thanks!

Video of Wilson the Minke Whale

Video of Wilson the Minke Whale

This has been all over my Facebook page the past couple of days, thanks to Kevin King, who crewed with us and took the footage. When the whale first approached, we were in awe, and just enjoyed his company. Kevin wanted to film right away, but I kind of discouraged him - if you're always behind the camera, you can't appreciate what's right in front of you. But the whale kept coming back! I was afraid jamming the camera down in the water might scare him off (he thinking it might be a harpoon!), but eventually we gave it a go. I think it was worth it! 

Day Four Offshore: Sunrise and Dirty Underwear

Day Four Offshore: Sunrise and Dirty Underwear

I know for certain that I'm going to jinx us by writing what I'm about to write, but I'm going to write it anyway. It's the dawn of our 4th day at sea on Sojourner since departing St. Croix, and if you count the leg from St. Lucia, today marks the start of our seventh consecutive sailing day broad reaching on starboard tack with 20 knots of wind off the stern quarter. Remarkable sailing.