Throwback Thursday: Land Ho!

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

28 days after leaving Bermuda, and 48 days at sea since leaving Miami, we finally made landfall in Horta.  All of the nights of terror I been experiencing in the Bahamas and Miami earlier in the year prior to leaving were all for naught.  We did not get stuck in the 2-3 expected gales that one has on an ocean crossing (or so we read), and the storms we did encounter (other than our first night out of course), were nothing that us and the ‘Dip couldn’t handle. The few storms that had sent cannonballs of water against our hull only proved how strong all of us were.

Mostly the passage consisted of drifting along in winds under 5 knots and in glass calms seas.  It may have been an extremely long journey, but it was a comfortable one.  If we did one thing wrong I’d say that we may have provisioned a little light on food (mostly snacks) and are now arriving to our destination about 10-15 pounds lighter than when we left the US, but hey, a little fatigue and weakness is easily curable once you reach a land of plenty again.  And I was beyond ready for land, internet, and a full nights sleep again.

You can find the original post  here.

Wednesday August 6, 2014

Faial, Azores

When I woke up this morning there were only 45 miles separating us from Horta. A very dangerous distance because it gives you just enough hope that you will in fact be there before the sun goes down, but also allows you enough leeway to completely eff it up and leave yourself at sea for another night. We had 10 hours of daylight left and would have to average 4.5 knots to make it in time. Not normally hard, but the king of ‘I won’t turn on the engine, what’s another few days out here’ has seemed to move on board sometime since the Bahamas.

Luckily for me the winds have shifted behind us and built up enough, near 20 knots, that we were just holding that 4.5 average when I came up on watch. Through my whole four hours I watched the spedometer like a hawk, and even a momentary dip down to 4.3 would result in a sharp intake of breath. I was not going to lose landfall tonight.

Just as I was beginning to go crazy near the end of my shift since the winds were now almost completely downwind of us which was causing the headsail to flop around a bit (and drop into the low 4s..gasp!), Matt woke up from his sleep shift and I quickly ordered that we raise the spinnaker pole to get our speed back. That did the trick and we were comfortably coasting at 5 knots.

All afternoon I kept my eyes glued to the horizon in front of us for any sign of land or life. Directly across from the island we’re landing at, Faial, is another island, Pico, with a volcanic peak of 2350m high. It’s said that on a clear day you can spot it from 50 M away. This unfortunately, was not a clear day. After thousands of miles of nothing but sun and clear skies, our welcome back to terra firma was presented with low lying clouds and mist ahead of us. I had been burning holes into my eyeballs staring into the reflected light, trying to be the first one to yell ‘Land ho!’ while Matt napped below, but I couldn’t make anything out through the haze.

It wasn’t until hours later when I had given up and begun my showering routine to make myself presentable to people again after a month at sea that Matt was able to pick out a shadow through the clouds. After lots of pointing and references I was able to see it too, honestly a little disappointed that this barely visible outline was my welcome back to humanity. It was land though, and we were quickly approaching it with just enough time to eek in before sunset. Although I think it’s high time we finally update our clocks to the proper time zone, a full two hours ahead of what they’re currently reading.

If anyone was even going to be there to check us in at the now revised hour of 8:30, I wanted to make sure I looked very nice and hopefully distract them from the fact that I was handing over veterinary papers for our cat, just in case we didn’t have all the right ones. Plus I was just excited to have any reason to wear something different than the pajamas I’ve been living in for the past four weeks. Now came the very important decision of what to wear for my first night in Europe. Khakis and a cable knit sweater? My llama skirt from Peru?…there were just so many choices! I had finally settled on a pair of skinny jeans, a tank and a cardigan, but Matt stared with disappointed eyes. “I thought you were going to wear a dress?” he asked. “Have you looked around?”, I replied, “It’s cold out here”. I guess a drop down into the low to mid 70′s now makes freezing weather for us, and it was more than my Caribbean geared attire could handle.

Finally I changed into a somewhat nautical themed sweater dress and applied some eyeliner before joining Matt out on deck again to watch that shadow on the horizon grow larger. We were finally getting to the point now where we could make out features on land and spot little houses and villages on the hilltop. The nearly setting sun was throwing rosy glows off the clouds, and even though I had imagined coming in to the crystal clear images splayed throughout our guidebooks, the view of Faial as we sailed in was indelible. It was just as beautiful as I could ever have imagined, and I stood there slack jawed until I remembered that we actually had to begin taking steps to get ourselves in the harbor.

Bringing down the spinnaker pole, we rolled in the genoa and coasted along with just the main for a little bit, until we were well into the channel between the two islands. As the engine was turned on and sputtered to life, we brought down the main and began running dock lines and hanging fenders. I swear, Matt and I can sail a whole ocean together and not have any arguments or communication issues until we’re landing. As I was trying to run the dock line at the bow it kept getting tangled in the wrachet straps for the dinghy, and since it wasn’t being done in a timely matter, a very impatient and agitated person was yelling at me from the cockpit until I became so flustered that I couldn’t touch anything and went to switch places instead. Since it was the only boat related spat we’d had since coming into Bermuda though, I think I’ll still consider our overall travel a success.

Faial, Azores, Portugal

Monte da Guia, Faial, Azores

Matt & Georgie coming in to Horta

Horta, Faial, Azores

Monte da Guia, Faial, Azores

Getting all the lines squared away we pulled up to the reception desk and music blasted from the main road. Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in the middle of Semana do Mar, or Sea Week. Horta’s biggest yearly event. Having read about it in our guidebook we knew that it was at the beginning of August, but we thought it only spanned one weekend and that we had already missed it. But from the sights and sounds on shore, it was still in full swing, lasting ten days instead of 3, and we could not wait to get out and partake.

Before we could go party though, ourselves and the boat needed to be checked in to Portugal. Having called many times on the radio prior to arriving and getting no response, I went to scour the office of the marina but could find no sign of life there either. Getting ourselves tied up to the fuel dock at 8:05, it looks as if we had just missed them. Our passports wouldn’t be stamped until tomorrow, allowing us one more day in a Schengen country. Darn.

We used up our last remaining hour of daylight talking to other sailors that had just come in within the past two days, many of them not faring as well as us. While we had taken a more southerly route and became trapped in the stillness of high pressure systems, most others took the northerly trade wind route and got a little bashed up along the way. We talked with one boat that had their autopilot crap out their second day out, meaning the crew of 4 had to hand steer the whole way. And to make matters worse, the halyard for their headsail broke not too long after, meaning they completed the rest of the journey with just the mainsail. Stories like that make me extremely happy we took the route we did, even if it means it took us twice as long to get there. Time we have. Money for fixing boat issues…not so much. Or at least, not that we’d be wiling to part with.

Bidding adieu to our new friends as our stomachs growled with the recognition that it had been about 8 hours since we’d last eaten, we pulled some Euros out of an ATM and went to join the throngs of people milling in the streets. One small section of park was set up with a stage playing what I’m guessing was traditional Portuguese music, and small food stands were set up all around it. Our noses guided us toward a mini doughnut stand where we happily handed over a few Euro for our first taste of fried sweet goodness in months. Continuing up the road we wandered into a tent filled with other food stands and restaurants.

Getting an eye full of this one stand that was selling huge sandwiches filled with sausage or presunto, we were sold. As Matt grabbed his sausage filled baguette and I asked for my presunto to be slathered in a creamy cheese, we ordered a few cans of Coke and went to sit with our new treasures on a wall overlooking the harbor.

Taking everything in as we enjoyed the food and the sights, I turned to Matt after about ten minutes and asked, “Does it feel strange to you to be sitting here, finally on land after 30 days, surrounded by people, and drinking a can of Coke? Do you feel as excited as you thought you would to be back on land after so long? Like this is what’s been missing from your life?”

He thought about it a second and observed, “No, not really. This is definitely nice, but it just feel like ‘Today we were at sea, now we’re on land’, easy transition, not as big of a deal as I thought it would be.” I pondered on it for a second, kind of surprised to hear myself say, “Yeah me too.” Smirking he looked over at me and asked, “So then you think you could go back out to sea for another month?” Laughing I looked back and him and replied with a resounding “Absolutely not!”.

Horta Harbor, Azores

Horta fuel dock, Azores

Horta insignia

Horta harbor at dusk, Azores

 

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Throwback Thursday: Birthday Celebrations on the High Seas

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

When we last left off on TT, just after leaving for our Atlantic crossing we had hit terrible storms just off the coast of Florida about an hour after the sun had gone down and weren’t even sure if we were up for that 3.000 mile journey anymore.  Deciding that it was most likely a freak incident that we would not experience again, we kept going.  It turns out that more storms were on their way for us, although luckily anything bad came during the day in full light and with lots of warning.

Getting as far north as Georgia, we turned our bow east and started making real miles offshore.  Or tried to at least.  Even though our nights were filled with thunderstorms which would always come a little too close for comfort without actually passing over us, our days were left with no wind and we were lucky to make 70 miles a day.  We tried to fill those days of bobbing around on glass calm seas by doing a little fishing, and did get a mahi on the line once.  It happened to outsmart us while bringing it onboard and escaped our grasp, but since we were only a week out I don’t think our fridge and freezer could have handled all that meat at the time.  There would be more chances.

Things out at sea were becoming a bit boring…until Matt’s birthday came upon us.  Just when I was looking forward to calm seas to throw the best at sea celebration I could….we were hit with another storm system.

You can find the original post here.

Saturday June 21, 2014

Some of you might be wondering how we’ve been getting our weather so far on this trip, probably actually feeling bad for us because we can’t seem to find winds to move us anywhere. The sad part is, we know exactly where they are. We just happen to not want to travel to those areas, mainly which are in the northern parts of the Atlantic, and you can refer back to my little freak out here to see why we’re so adamant about staying in the land of drifting versus following the route with more wind. As I said, we do know where the winds are, everyday, and that’s because we’ve been able to download forecast with Weather Fax, using our Single Sideband receiver. Similar to the single sideband radio, but we can only receive instead of transmit as well.

Every morning at 0800 UTC, Matt hooks up the SSB to my computer and fiddles with the dials until he can fine tune a station from Boston that transmits a fax audio signal to us for the next 24 and 48 hours*. The app on my computer deciphers the tone and turns it in into files that we can read, giving us a surface analysis of the entire Atlantic, as well as a separate wind and wave forecast. Each morning we read these forecast through the images, much the same way we’d look at the GRIB files through Passage Weather, to find out what the winds in our neck of the woods are going to be, and also tracking low pressure systems to make sure that we can stay out of their way. Here’s an example of both a surface analysis and a wind & wave forecast from our Weather Fax.** ***

Atlantic surface analysis

Atlantic wind & wave forecast

While keeping an eye on these images for the past few days we’ve noticed that a cold front is heading our way, which is going to bring us some stronger winds and unfortunately, probably some bigger waves with it too. We’re trying not to be near the center of it, but our file is telling us that we can expect 15-20 knot winds and waves at 2 meters. Treating it just like we always have our Passage Weather forecast, we’re interpreting that to mean the winds will actually be anywhere in the 20-30 knot range. To be fair to our Weather Fax though, it was showing data spread all the way across the Atlantic, and what we were experiencing was local weather which is very hard to pinpoint down to a few degrees of latitude and longitude when you’re looking at an entire ocean. But why is it that winds always seem to be higher than forecast when they’re stronger than we want them, but never when they’re forecast for 5-10?

We’ve started to see an increase a little bit tonight in both wind and waves, already reaching those predicted 15-20 knots, and seas going from less than 1 meter, up to the 1-2 range. The pressure is starting to drop on our electronic barometer, and although I am enjoying logging these miles while we finally push along at 4.5 knots, I have to wonder what the next day or two will bring. Hold on to your hats, it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

*There’s also a 96 hour forecast that we can receive and sometimes go through the trouble of getting later in the afternoon.

** If you’re interested in learning more about using Weather Fax, tips and tricks, or a schedule of broadcast frequencies and times, check out a great post that our friends Brian and Stephanie wrote while they were making their own Atlantic crossing last year, here.

*** We’re also very lucky to have my dad, who’s the best for helping us out with this, send us reports from Passage Weather via a text message on our Sat phone, so we have multiple sources to confirm forecasts.

 

Sunday June 22, 2014

I had one goal this morning when I woke up. Something that’s been in the works for weeks now, and that was supposed to be decorating the cabin with balloons and streamers for Matt’s 32nd birthday while he slept. All the necessary items were shipped to me weeks ago by Matt mom and all I had to do was display them. Waking up and looking around though, I realized it was going to be a lot easier said than done.

The low pressure system and cold front that we had been watching on our Weather Fax for the past few days and were beginning to feel the effects of last night, was now in full swing. When Matt woke me up at 8 am I stumbled out of bed and poked my head out the companionway to see gray skies and building seas. Winds were now steady at 25-30 knots and waves appeared to be in the 8-10 ft range. Carrying on at 3.5 knots under a triple reefed main alone, we were looking at a long and uncomfortable day ahead. Even though I was planning on spending most of my shift in the horizontal position on the open settee below, I was still strapped into my harness in case I had to run out into the cockpit for any reason. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a seasickness patch on. After doing two straight runs of them I was not willing to become cross-eyed and I was weary about putting another one on. That’s ok, this is now 10 days at sea, by body should be able to handle a little motion, right? Wrong.

This is how my four hour morning shift passed: Lay on the settee where I had a wrist-watch next to me, and after dreading each time the clock hit the quarter of the hour, I would roll myself off the settee and onto the floor. Slowly standing up I’d walk the few steps to the companionway and rest for a moment while my dizzy head gained itself and I could trust my body to walk again. I’d go up 2-3 steps while still keeping myself in the companionway, check the wind speed, check the sail, check for boats, and then rush back down the stairs and throw myself back on the settee for the next 12 minutes until I had to do it again. It looks like the balloons were going to have to wait another day.

The rest of the afternoon and evening followed the same suit. When Matt woke up I took a short nap. When I woke up we cuddled together on the settee and I kept apologizing about what a horrible birthday he must be having, as if I had any control over the situation. Matt, not being one to care about birthdays, laughed it off. His grand birthday dinner which was supposed to be meatloaf ended up being a can of Progresso soup that he had to heat up himself because I couldn’t be bothered to move. Happy birthday my love, I’m glad you were able to spend it taking care of me.

Matt on his birthday

 

Monday June 23, 2014

Today is day 13, and the madness is beginning to set in. Not because of our time at sea. Not because I have been almost two weeks from land. It is the damn sails and their consistent flapping. 10 knots of shifty wind behind us and they are flogging all over the place. Slamming in and slamming out. Every 5 damn seconds. I could even handle the snails pace of 2 knots we’re currently moving at if it weren’t for the racket going on above my head. It makes any kind of concentration impossible. Adding to the madness are the low but rolling swells that are passing through. Our limited speed is keeping us from riding on top of them, so we are left to bob between the crest and trough, constantly wallowing back and forth. My body can’t handle it. I can’t even take up the simple task of reading at the moment. You’d think that after 12 full days at sea it would be a non issue for me now. That any seasickness would be long gone due to the length of time we’ve already been out here. Granted though, the first 8-9 days were ‘at anchor’. How could my body grow accustomed to a bobbing sea that was never bobbing? Since the real motion hasn’t started until two or so days ago, I’m praying that I only have two more days left before we can be violently thrown about and I won’t even shrug a shoulder. I’m starting to miss being becalmed.

On a different note, a fun story that I forgot to mention yesterday on Matt’s birthday, and why we’re moving at just over 2 knots even though the wind hasn’t dwindled all the way out yet, is that we were hit with another surprise squall. Just when we were beginning to think that we were safe from them. It was late in the afternoon, and since it’s been cloudy for a few days now, we had to run the engine for an hour or so to charge the battery. Just as the winds were beginning to die down again and our speed was dropping, so it seemed like a win/win. I was hoping to be able to pencil in a 100 mile day, and the extra power from the engine was looking like it was going to get us there.

Just like our first night out from Miami, Matt was in the cockpit and I was down below when it came. It took me about 2.5 seconds to realize that something seemed wrong, and then about 10 more seconds to put my harness on and race up to the cockpit to see what it was. Once again Matt had the sheet for the headsail in his hands, which he was desperately trying to release slight tension on while trying to roll it in at the same time. Unlike last time though, between the two of us, we were able to gain control of the situation before I was going to spend another week making repairs to our genoa. With daylight on our side this time it wasn’t hard to see how many degrees we needed to fall off to put ourselves downwind and take pressure off the sails. The sheet to the headsail was passed to me, and still having it wrapped around the winch, without the full pressure on it now I was able to ease it little bits at a time while Matt furled it in from the other side of the cockpit.

Phew, crisis averted. But now, just as we were starting to let our guard down about squalls and thunderstorms, we don’t trust that we won’t be hit with one out of nowhere and have gone back to keeping minimal sail up, even in these 8-12 knot winds we’re now getting after the front.

rainbow after storm

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Throwback Thursday: Never Leave for a Passage on Thursday the 12th

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

It finally happened that our time in Miami was finished and we were ready to cross an ocean.  The boat had all of it’s needs addressed, we had provisioned, and the weather forecast had started to slide back into it’s normal patterns.  Our 7 day outlook was looking pretty good and there were no more excuses to keep ourselves stateside.

Hindsight is always 20/20 though, and if we knew then what we knew now….we probably would have hung tight in our spectacular little anchorage in Miami Beach.  We could have enjoyed a few more episodes of Sherlock on our hard drive, stocked up a little more at Publix, and just enjoyed sitting still.  But at the time we knew that any excuse to stay another day could turn into another week or two and we were ready to take any opening we could get.

And we learned…why you should never leave for a passage on Thursday the 12th.

You can find the original post here.

Thursday June 12, 2014

6.12.14 (1)

They say that you should never leave on passage on a Friday. Sailor’s supersition that it’s bad luck. We were almost caught leaving for our Atlantic crossing on Friday the 13th. Does that make it doubly worse? Or do the two negatives cancel each other out and make a positive? I wasn’t sure and made SURE that we busted our butts so that we wouldn’t have to find out, leaving one day earlier on Thursday the 12th instead. I think we would have been better off taking our chances with Friday the 13th

The morning should have started with relaxing, enjoying our last cup of coffee for the next month where we didn’t have to hold everything down on the counter to make sure it didn’t slide off, before completing last minute projects like stowing everything away and deflating the dinghy. It did not start like that. Just as we were going to bed last night we realized that the fitting on our bow water tank had broken, leaking all of it’s contents into our bilge. Since this was to be our back-up source of water for our crossing, only taking from and refilling our port water tank, this was an issue we needed to fix right away.

The new goal was to wake up first thing in the morning and walk to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the replacement part. Knowing that we were already going to get very little sleep as it was, since we had stayed up well past midnight since we had pushed off all that evening’s projects to enjoy a hot pizza and an episode of Sherlock, I was vexed, and truthfully, terrified, at the thunderstorm of epic proportions that rolled through our anchorage at 5 am, bringing with it 50 knot winds and leaving me wondering if something similar could roll through the next night while we were on passage. Letting ourselves sleep in just a little bit longer we ended up with a late start to our morning, but we were back to the boat with the issue fixed by 11 am. The other small projects took a little longer than we anticipated, as they always do, and the anchor wasn’t weighed until 1 pm. Spending another 45 minutes circling the anchorage as we calibrated our autopilot we were finally off, exiting the Government Cut at Miami just after 3 pm.

Even though the sun was shinning down on us on our way out it didn’t take long for the clouds to roll in, and we watched Miami become consumed by darkness and rain which we were soon swallowed up by as well. It wasn’t anything more than a nice rain shower though, and winds continued to stay around 10 knots and we glided up the Gulf Stream in glass waters at 5 knots under headsail alone. Based on sheer excitement about the journey ahead of us, we even frolicked out in the rain for a bit (or Matt doing whatever the manly term for that would be) while taking in a free shower during the downpour. Things cleared up a few hours later as we passed Ft. Lauderdale and we even managed to catch a decent sunset while enjoying left over pizza in the cockpit.

6.12.14 (2)

6.12.14 (3)

6.12.14 (4)

Before I even knew it my eight o’clock bedtime was before me and I was more than ready for it. I’ve learned that the key to a good first night on passage for myself is collecting no sleep the night before we leave so I am more than ready to conk out at such an early hour. Sliding in behind the lee cloth that we’d set up on the starboard bunk in the salon, I slid easily into sleep. Something that normally takes me three hours to do our first night out.

I had been lying in my bunk for just over an hour when I heard a loud ruckus on deck. I knew it was Matt messing with the headsail, and even though all sounds are amplified below deck, this seemed much louder and as if something were wrong. Jumping out of bed I raced over the companionway boards and into the cockpit. It was immediately evident to me that we were in trouble. I looked at the chartplotter to find winds nearing 60 knots and we were being pushed so far over that our rail was in the water. Matt was feverently working to get the headsail rolled in, but had enough good sense to yell at me to get back in the boat and get a harness on before I could topple out the boat and into the Gulf Stream.

Rushing back below deck I tore through the cabinet to search for our second harness. Usually we never have both out at the same time unless we know bad weather is coming, normally just trading off the one harness between ourselves, but this storm came upon us so suddenly that we barely had time to react.

Finding the second harness I raced once more into the companionway where the headsail was still being overpowered by winds that were now sustained in the upper 40′s. With the furling sheet in hand, Matt was still trying to save the sail by bringing it in, asking me to gently release the sheet for the headsail still wrapped around the winch. The strain on the line was so heavy that I couldn’t even loosen it from the teeth that hold it in place, all the while trying my best to work it free while we’re still heeled all the way over in Force 9-10 winds. Finally Matt realized this was not going to work and it was very likely we’d tear the sail in half while working to winch it in. Looking up through the dark and thinking that we’d already blown it out he slid over to my spot he released the sheet from the winch and let it flap in the wind while he quickly grabbed the furling sheet back to get it in. Eventually the sail was rolled in, though the lines were a knotted and tangled mess that would have to be saved for another day.

Now at hand we had to deal with winds that were still blowing in the 45-50 knot range and showed no signs of relenting. Not wanting to keep any of the sails up we turned ourselves downwind and began to ride the storm out with bare poles as we were pushed along at two knots of speed.  The winds were coming directly out of the north which meant that we were now moving south, working against the current of the Gulf Stream, had absolutely no sail up, no engine on, and were still making that kind of forward progress.  Bolts of white and pink lightning were crashing down on each side of us as buckets of rain began to pour down.  The whole experience was miserable and I think both of us began to start rethinking this whole ocean crossing.  As I stood behind the wheel to hand steer us, Matt sat clipped in under the dodger and confessed, “This just isn’t for me.  I can’t do this anymore.”  Can’t do an ocean crossing?  Or can’t do cruising?

Seeing that we were only 12 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale we tried to start setting a course there to ease our nerves and see what steps we wanted to take next.  As I tried to keep us ass to the waves, I was going just by feel for the wind direction and slipped up a few times where we took the building waves on at a bad angle and they’d crash over the stern and into the cockpit, soaking me in the process.  Yes, a break from cruising sounds pretty good right now.  Immediately my mind went to us leaving the boat in Ft. Lauderdale while we hopped a plane to Guatemala to backpack for a few weeks while visiting friends, and then returning to Michigan for the rest of summer to spend it with friends and family.  It all sounded so tantalizing that it was probably one of the only things keeping me from breaking down while we continued to fight this monstrous storm which was showing no signs of letting up.

For another hour I stood behind the wheel, knees growing weak and teeth chattering until the winds finally let up into the mid 30′s and the autopilot was able to go back into use.  Somehow I was still wired even though I’d only gathered about 5 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours, and sent Matt to bed while we pushed on toward Ft. Lauderdale with the engine on, still fighting the Gulf Stream and moving at 2 knots.  Two hours later, while he was resting his nerves and gaining a little perspective while I stood awake and continued to daydream of a life back on land, he came to relieve me and discuss our rash decision.  By this point I was beyond exhausted and finally started to break down.

I complained about how it seems like everything for the past six months has been working against us and maybe this is a sign that we should stop before something really awful happened.  He told me to grab a few hours of sleep, but for him, removing himself from the situation for a little bit made him realize that it was just frazzled nerves that made him want to quit before, but he thought that moving forward and continuing our crossing was still the right decision and what we really do want.  He made the comment that it was extremely unlikely that we’d go through anything like that again and the worst of it was probably out of the way.  We might hit the random storm here or there in the future, but none of it would likely be worse that what we’ve already seen in our cruising history.  Hmmm.  Guatemala, Lake Michigan, friends, family…….or 3,000 miles of open ocean and uncertainty ahead.  I think a few hours of sleep might be necessary to make that decision.

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I am FREAKING Out Here People!

Tuesday May 20, 2014

waves b&w

Do you know what I was doing this morning at 4 am? I was lying awake in bed, thinking off all the terrible things that could happen to us as we cross the Atlantic in a few weeks. Here’s another fun question for you. Do you know how many boats were abandoned just last week while taking the same route that we are? Two!! That’s right. Two boats with a larger number and more experienced crew than the two of us had to leave their boats behind while making the same trip we’re about to do. I am FREAKING out here people! Granted, both of those boats appeared to be passing through a very nasty low pressure system a few hundred miles east of the United States around the 40th degree latitude, but all I could think of through the whole night was ‘That could be us!’. One of the two crews was picked up by the USCG, but the other crew, as I currently write this, are still missing; their boat believed to be abandoned in the Northern Atlantic.* Pardon my French, but that is some scary shit!

For the weeks and month leading up to our departure from Miami and across the Atlantic to the Azores and then through Gibraltar, I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself as much as possible. Prepare for the monotony of being at sea for 30 straight days, and prepare for the onset of at least 2-3 fairly rough storms during our crossing. In my mind, and according to most of the books I’m reading, the worst part of these storms usually pass you in a few hours and all you’re left with after is maybe a day or two of overcast skies with some rain and the drudgery of waiting for the seas to settle back to their original state. The weather systems that we’ve been tracking for the past few weeks though to get a feel for what’s going on out on these waters, is showing a completely different story.

I will admit to you now that we have never once listened to a Chris Parker forecast. We have taken his information while cruising with friends that do get up at the ungodly hour of 6 am to listen, but personally we’ve always been fans of Passage Weather and have used that to prepare for any passage we’ve taken. This does require internet, of which we will not have once we leave on our crossing, but at that point we’ll be relying on downloading forecasts from our SSB twice daily, something that should give us a four day outlook that will be very similar to what we’ve always viewed on Passage Weather. While keeping an eye on it at the moment though, these are the kind of images that we keep seeing pop up.

front over Bermuda

front over Azores

You can see where I’ve labeled Bermuda and the Azores, and our approximate intended route (terrible job with the paint brush, I know). You can also see all that yellow and orange showing up in areas close to where we’ll be, and that’s very, very bad. If you follow the wind indicator at the bottom, you’ll see that yellow represents winds of 30-35 knots, and orange represents 35-40 knots. That would be bad enough on it’s own, but I may have mentioned to you before of our learning of reading Passage Weather, and have pretty much found it to be true. Always expect 5-10 knots higher than it shows. If it’s reading 30-35 knots, expect 35-45. If it’s reading 35-40, well, you’re S.O.L. It’s why we never go anywhere when a forecast is reading over 20 knots. Even though we always travel in weather that shows 15-20, we experience at least 30 knots sometime during the trip. Every.Single.Time.

So you can imagine why these images are getting under my skin. They never end. There might be two days of calm in those areas before another front develops. This is not normal, not for this late in the season, and it has me terrified that nothing will change before our intended June 1st departure date.

So as I laid there wide awake, waiting for the sun to come up, my mind was filled with alternative routes. I was thinking to myself, ‘You know, since we were about to take on a 30 day passage anyway, we could make it to Panama in 10-12. And you know who’s in Panama? Brian and Stephanie on Rode Trip. That would be so fun!!’. I actually lulled myself to sleep with false promises that we would stick to the Caribbean where we would never be more than 200 miles from some form of land.

Reality did set in this morning though as I realized the light of a few very important things. 1. We don’t have to go if everything is showing the same in a week and a half. Have those fronts not showed any sign of leaving, we will wait for them to do so. Or, hightail it to Panama. 2. Based on years and years of data, they should be changing any day now. The Bermuda/Azores high should be settling in, and things should start to look much calmer on those waters. And 3. Downloading a 96 hour forecast twice a day should keep us on top of any fronts that could arise. If we see anything that looks like it’s coming up, we have no problem backtracking or adding extra miles to avoid it. We are going to be very cautious cruisers on this trip, and that is fine by me. I would much rather arrive even a week later than anticipated if it means we’re not surfing down 20 ft waves in 40 knot winds. Ever.

preferred weather

Now this is the kind of weather I’m looking for!

 

* On Friday May 23rd, the USCG found the hull of this second boat, the Cheeki Rafiki, but with no sign of the crew.  The life raft was still on board and never inflated.

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