We are now officially in Caribbean waters.
On Monday, 11/21/2016, after checking with our weather guy we made the decision to go. We left the marina. We made our way to the ICW and motored down to Morehead City to top off the fuel at the Yacht Basin. We were debating whether to continue on or wait for morning. We opted to go on and since it was now 5:00 pm it was time to talk to Chris Parker again. He has a set schedule on the single side band radio that we monitor. We asked his opinion on leaving or waiting until morning and he said it wouldn’t make much difference. As we were going out the inlet we met a Coast Guard cutter and they called us to tell us to turn on our navigation lights, it was just at sunset. Once out of the inlet we raised the sails and started to our first way-point. We expected to reach the Gulf Stream by morning and cross it in the daylight when the winds had dropped a bit. We were doing 8-9 knots and reached it much sooner. As we crossed the stream we saw speeds of 10-11 knots, about top speed for us. There is an old rule that you stay out of the stream whenever there is wind from anywhere north. The combination of the wind blowing against the stream builds some high and rough seas. We had a northwest wind blowing 20-30 knots. We ended up crossing the stream during the night with a very fast but rough ride. In the morning when we checked in with Chris Parker for weather updates he reported that we were out of the stream and ready to continue on to our next way-point. He helps with navigation by directing you to favorable winds and currents. During the morning the winds dropped as he had forecast and we ended up sailing at about 4-5 knots for the rest of the day. Had we waited we would have had a little better ride through the stream but it would have taken longer. We were now out in the Atlantic Ocean and starting to make some distance east. We needed to go east before going south to avoid beating into the east trade winds at the end of the trip. We were on our way!
By evening on Tuesday the wind had died almost completely and the sail was just flogging. We had taken down the mainsail and polled out the headsail to keep sailing, but after nightfall we were barely moving. We knew that the forecast was for some wind to catch up with us on Wednesday but for now we were going almost nowhere. We decided during the night to just roll in the sail, turn off the autopilot and just drift until morning. Since we had not seen a ship since leaving the stream we just went to bed and got some sleep. In the morning our chart plotter showed that we had drifted about 2 miles. The forecast wind shift came during the night and we now had winds form the SW and as the day went on they grew to about 10 knots, perfect for sailing our southeast course. Since it was Thanksgiving we celebrated with a batch of caramel rolls for breakfast and chicken and dressing for dinner. The oven is too small for a turkey. The winds held for the rest of the day and Friday but there was a wind shift coming.
By Saturday morning the winds shifted around from the west and climbed to 20-25 knots. This gave us waves hitting us on the side and made for a rolling and pounding ride. We had stuff rearranging itself down below, with most of it landing on the floor. Overnight the winds dropped but it stayed rough. The front north of us was getting closer and the winds shifted to the northwest then moving north with some rain squalls moving in. Fortunately the squalls only gave us some rain to wash the salt off of everything and no burst of wind. Now it was a rough and wet ride. The waves had shifted from the southwest to hitting us from the northeast, still hitting on the beam and occasionally breaking over the deck. These conditions continued through Wednesday with the wind shifting slightly from the east, causing us to occasionally change course more to the south to try to smooth out the ride. To say it was uncomfortable is putting it mildly but we were making good time running 7 knots for days but not getting far enough east.
Thursday, 12/2/2016, the winds started to drop a little but the waves did not let up. By this time we were traveling southwest instead of south east and were actually getting further from our destination of St. Thomas. It was time to fire up the motor and turn into the wind. Once under power the angle of the waves changed and it made the ride a lot smoother, calming down the tendency to roll.
By this time we had encountered a serious problem, on Tuesday, the 29th, the refrigeration quit. We needed to make a decision of where to find a repairman. We could continue on to St. Thomas or divert to Puerto Rico and make repairs. We opted for Puerto Rico since it was a little closer and we only needed to divert a little to the south.
Friday evening we could see the lights on shore and continued on until we reached the east end of the island taking the passage between the main island and a smaller island coming into Rada Fajardo Bay. I have always been a strong advocated of never entering a strange harbor in the dark but our other option was to stand off the shore for the night. The chart plotter and the charts on the iPad all agreed with what we were seeing as far as lights and buoys and it is a very wide passage so we continued in. Once in, we moved alongside one of the small islands and dropped anchor in about 15 feet of water. We had finally stopped moving. It was only about 9:00 pm but we were beat. After showers, the water was hot since we had been running the engine, we dropped off to sleep.
In the morning we woke up to a tropical paradise. There was land in almost all directions with palm trees, beaches, hills high enough that the tops were in the clouds and the sun was shining. After breakfast we pulled the anchor and continued on to the marina we had chosen, about an hour away. On the way a cloud bank moved in and we got a light rain that helped to wash off some of the salt. By the time we reached the marina the sun was shining again and with the help of a couple of dockhands we were tied up. Once were checked in we started the process of cleaning. Everything was covered with a coating of salt and needed to be rinsed and scrubbed off. Makes me wonder why we worked so hard to get everything clean before we left. We had to take a break from cleaning and get ourselves cleaned us and ready for a cocktail party the marina was hosting. We met a number of new people with a number of surprise connections. One had just sold his Pearson 424 formerly known as “Mikey Likes It”. We knew Mike from Oriental. When we were on Lake Superior our cruising bible was “The Superior Way” by Bonnie and Ron Dahl. When I mentioned having sailed on Lake Superior one of the couples stated that they had been sailing out of Bayfield back before the marina was even built and had sold their boat to the Dahl’s. It is truly a small world.
Trip completed…almost! We had traveled 1360 nautical miles, or 1565 statute miles, almost half way from New York to London. From here we will head out for the US and British Virgin Island in about a week.
What went right? 1) It was not as cold as we expected. The coldest part was the ride from Matthews Point to Morehead City on the ICW. 2) We changed shift schedules and seemed to not be as tired all of the time like in the past. 3) We were not out there by ourselves. We had twice a day communications with Chris Parker for weather updates. In the morning we would check-in with the Cruiseheimers Radio Net and in the evening with the Doo-Dah Radio Net. The Doo-Dah Net overlapped with our evening weather update and if we were late Dick would stay online waiting for us. As he said one evening “one of our boats is out there and I need to make sure they check-in and are all right.” At one point Valkyrie was relaying tips on troubleshooting the refrigerator from Rick on Sea Language. We were not out there alone. 4) We saw only a few ships, most just showed up on our AIS and were too far off to see. 5) My biggest worry was the amount of fuel it may take for the trip. We can motor for just short of four days if needed but would be out much longer. Fortunately we had good winds most of the trip. When the winds were light we were warned that there was no wind ahead of us and if we tried motoring we would run into the calms and end up with calm winds for even longer. We just needed to be patient and let the winds catch up to us. In the end we motored for about 34 hours using about a quarter of our fuel.
What went wrong? 1) The biggest is that the compressor for the refrigeration quit. 2) All of the podcasts that Cori was listening to somehow got deleted. 3) My mp3 player got wet and quit working. 4) One of the bolts connecting the auto pilot to the steering worked loose and after tightening it once it came loose again and dropped out to disappear into the bilge. We rigged it with another bolt but not the right size or type. 5) We found that a wave coming across the deck sideways will get under the forward companionway hatch and cascade in. This happened several times for several days. 6) We found leaks in a variety of places that had not shown up before. 7) First we were between two weather ridges with little wind then the front moved down and shifted our wind from the NE before we were able to get as east as we needed before turning south. Eventually we had to motor against the east wind to make our destination.
All in all it was a good trip. When you take into consideration what could go wrong very little actually happened. We were hoping for a boring and quiet trip and we came close to that.