Arcturus made it to Florida. Barely.
I'm writing from St. Lucia actually, sitting in the restaurant at the Palm Haven hotel, where across the street at Rodney Bay Marina over 200 boats are tied up, having just completed the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a 2800 mile Atlantic crossing from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to the Caribbean. Which is why it took us only two weeks to cover the 1100 miles between Annapolis and Ft. Lauderdale. We were in a hurry.
Arcturus is resting comfortably in Pompano Beach, about one mile down the road from my grandparents winter home. Incredibly, Mia has agreed to live with me in their guestroom for the winter - hard to imagine that this is actually the second winter in a row that I've lived with my grandparents. Though I shouldn't joke, they are wonderful people and it's equally wonderful being able to spend time with them. Pappap is supposed to be bringing my golf clubs down in the car with them after Christmas, so hopefully I'll get into the weekly team matches, maybe even win some money (though more likely will lose it).
I'm hoping that our boat hasn't sank yet at the dock. During the first three days of the trip down the ICW, we noticed a small leak in the bilge. I knew that the packing gland needed re-packing, but the bilge was starting to fill faster than it had in the past - so fast as to require 100 strokes of the manual bilgepump per hour while motoring. It turned out to be a pinhole exhaust leak in one of the hoses - which, of course, was directly underneath the engine. I cursed it, though didn't bother fixing it. This trip was about getting south south south, and any delays were out of the question. I could cope with 100 strokes per hour, as long as it didn't get worse. We'd deal with it over the winter.
On day one, the engine decided to quit. This before we discovered the exhaust leak. Rather inconveniently it was in the first 50 yards of the Dismal Swamp Canal, which is rather narrow, to say the least. Thankfully there was one boat behind us, a Canadian single-hander, and he offered us a tow while I changed the filters. We didn't miss a beat. An hour later the engine roared back to life, though I had given in an arranged for our fuel to be polished in Elizabeth City the following morning.
Dave from USA Fuels dropped by early in the morning and had our fuel filtered and back in the tank before 10AM, so the delay was minimal. The engine purred like a kitten, though it was still an enormous struggle to motor 5 knots. It's incredibly how easy she sails, and how difficult it is to make her motor.
After a lovely stay in Oriental, where we took an accepted delay, laying over for the day in the rain. We met Roy of Aeleolus, a sistership to Arcturus. Roy was a reminder of how very interesting and welcoming it is to be a Seabreeze owner. His boat was gorgeous, docked just behind his equally beautiful house on a small creek near Oriental, NC. He had dinner with us onboard. Afterwards Mia and I joked that between the US and Sweden, we have more friends in their 80s than we do our own age. I guess we're just very mature beyond our years. We love them all.
I got fed up with the engine when we left Roy's the next morning. It sputtered to a stop again only 30 minutes out of Oriental, before the sunrise. I changed the filters yet again, and we rumbled on, finally making Wilmington, NC a few days - and a few more engine shutdowns - later.
That was it. Between the engine shutting off and the 100 pumps of the bilge every hour, I'd had enough of inland 'sailing.' We decided to go offshore at Wrightsville Beach. I know little of diesel engines, but I know lots about sailing, so that's what we decided to do. At the dock in Wrightsville I spliced twin backstays from Dynes Dux, the synthetic rigging that Colligo Marine is supplying us for the entire boat. It was all we had time to do, and I thought it a good idea before heading offshore. The splicing was surprisingly easy and rather entertaining, and after 1 hour up the mast trying to figure out how to modify what was once a single backstay into two, we had a sturdier mast and a more confident skipper.
With the seawater intake seacock shut, we set sail outside the inlet and headed south towards Fernandina Beach, 300 miles away. We'd save nearly 500 ICW miles and let Arcturus stretch her legs, for she loves to sail. By sunset, the northerly wind had built enough that we were reduced to jib and mizzen, surfing down wave crests and having a hell of a ride. It was just Mia and I, and with no autopilot, we hand-steered for three on / three off for the entirety of the trip. This was challenging in large following seas. You became a prisoner to the helm, not even able to trim sails efficiently without calling the other up from their berth, so it became sail, eat, sleep for the next three days.
Incredibly, with only a 24-foot waterline, we reeled off 160 nautical miles in the first 24 hours, averaging a speed faster than our boat is theoretically supposed to go. The good sailing wouldn't last though, and far too quickly a low pressure system was upon us, and we were in the middle of our first storm at sea in Arcturus. And of course, it was at night.
The wind and seas built and built, until finally we were making 8 knots under a scrap of jib, with lightening all around and rain coming down in sheets. Mia had just woken me up to hand the mizzen and reef the jib, and it was just in time. The storm only lasted a few hours, but managed to shake up the sea fairly quickly. Strangely, when it passed, it took all the wind with it, and we sat becalmed for the next 12 hours in a wretched sea that was coming from all directions. I layed down in the cockpit on my watch, with no sails up, drifting without a trace of wind, and had to hang on to the coaming so as not to get thrown off the seat. Mia actually did fly out of bed, for we don't have lee cloths yet and it was a rather violent motion.
The next morning dawned clear and the NW breeze finally arrived with the sunshine. We took showers in the ocean, hung out our foulies to dry, and set full sail, close-hauled in a gentle wind that quickly flattened the sea from the storm. We made Fernandina after another 24 hours, taking just under 3 days to get there, our good average destroyed by the 12 hour calm. We did manage to sail all the way in the inlet for fear that the engine wouldn't take us in safely. We anchored for the day, now two full days ahead of our most optimistic schedule, ate an enormous breakfast and slept.
The rest of the ICW trip was uneventful. Arcturus seemed to thank us for the wonderful sail, for after one more filter change, the engine didn't cough one time in the next 5 days. It still took 100 pumps per hour on the bilge, but at least we were moving. We tied up in Pompano and immediately went ashore to "Checkers," the surprisingly authentic German restaurant that I'd become a regular at last year and devoured 2 litres of beer and a 2lb. pork leg each.
Now the boat sits again, awaiting our return from the Caribbean, where we have so many memories from the summertime. St. Lucia has proved less touristy that originally thought, at least if you get off the beaten path. We're headed to St. Martin on Sunday to do another Broadreach trip, this time dive-focused and with college kids. Three weeks sailing and diving in the Leeward islands shouldn't be too bad. We return to Florida in the end of January, with the hopes that our boat - newly rigged with synthetics by then - will appear in the Miami Boat Show, representing Colligo. Good times.