Position: N 37 32.902 W 076 19.823
We’d hoped to spend some time cruising the Pamlico Sound and North Carolina’s outer banks, but we also really wanted to get back to the Chesapeake. Between the high temperatures, the lack of wind, and the smoke from forest fires, we elected to carry on northward. We forged our way up the Intracoastal Waterway at a pretty brisk pace and finally made Deltaville yesterday.
We spent two days with Jeseph, Mark’s son, and our granddaughter Tiger Lily. They stayed aboard with us for a couple of nights and travelled with us from Southport up to Wrightsville Beach, near Wilmington. We had a lovely time together and they really enjoyed their time on the boat, even though we weren’t able to go sailing.
Now for some of the promised details of our crossing back from the Bahamas.
We set off from Great Sale Cay at 5pm on May 27th with our friends on Amida and had a lovely sail across the banks overnight. Amida is a Valiant 37 – we found that she and Rachel sail at about the same speed, allowing us to “buddy boat” back to the US together. It was a great fit, both boat-wise and crew-wise.
By the morning of the 28th we were leaving the banks and getting into the Atlantic at the northwestern tip of the Bahamas. We headed northwest to the center of the Gulf Stream where the current is the highest. By our 2nd night we were blasting along on a close reach attaining an all time high speed over ground for us in Rachel of 9.8 knots – we usually sail at around 4.5 to 5.5 knots, so this was really fast. Wow, what an exciting night! We took 3 hour shifts and tried to sleep during our off times. The first 2 days of this are always the worst until your body settles into the routine, and you get tired enough to sleep on demand!!
The next day, the 29th, the wind died to almost nothing. We were still making around 3 knots in the stream but decided to power up the engine to make better time. The forecast was for light and variable winds for the next couple of days. The sea was like glass but there was a slight northeast ocean swell of a foot or so. By mid morning the swell had grown to a gentle 4 to 6 feet - still no problem. In the early afternoon we started to get some wind from the north, maybe 5 knots, and the sea was starting to get a little more boisterous. At this point we began to feel uncomfortable about being in the stream with wind opposing current. Every sailor hears horror stories of boats caught in this situation, and we didn’t want to become another statistic.
We called our friends on Amida and had a discussion. They weren’t as concerned but conceded to join us in heading west to get out of the stream as quickly as possible. The western edge of the stream was about 30 miles away (5-6 hours at Rachel’s speed).
It wasn’t much more than 2 hours later when the winds picked up to 20-25 knots from the northeast and the seas grew to 10-15 feet. Where the heck did the wind come from? There was nothing in any of the forecasts that mentioned a NE wind, let alone coming in at 20-25 knots! Well, here it was, so we had to deal with it.
We were getting flung around like a toy boat in a bath tub. Rachel once again proved herself to be a real lady. Thanks to the wind being on our beam, she stood up straight the whole time, even when we dropped off the back side of a particularly steep 14 footer, sliding down the back face of the wave and landing as neatly as if we’d planned it. Not once were we worried about making it – it was pretty uncomfortable and a lot of work, but we knew Rachel would take care of us and we’d take care of her. By nightfall we were on the edge of the stream in “normal” 20-25 knot seas and decided to heave-to for a couple of hours to get some rest and see if the wind would shift around.
Note: Heaving-to is a maneuver which is used in storm situations to calm the boat and give the crew a more settled space. The sails are set so no steering is required and the boat makes very slow progress to windward. Here’s some more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaving_to
Once hove-to, Rachel’s movement was much more settled, albeit a bit rolly. We weren’t far from Charleston, SC, but we still wanted to try and make Beaufort, NC. So we got back under sail and beat our way in a northerly direction hoping for a break.
By morning we realized we would not make Beaufort easily and after more discussion with Amida over the VHF, decided to set a course for Southport, NC just inside the mouth of the Cape Fear River. After another day and night we arrived. We were pretty worn out, although we had got into the swing of the 3 hour shifts.
We were a bit disappointed, but not too badly. We hadn’t made Beaufort (remember – in NC it’s “bow-furt” and in SC it’s “byew-furt”) but felt we’d made the right decision in getting out of the Gulf Stream when we did and are quite satisfied with our first ‘big crossing’ on our own with Rachel. It was a resounding success for both boat and crew.
Now we’re looking forward to taking it easy for a few days and visiting with our friends on the Bay. After that? We’ll just have to see where the wind takes us….
All our best,