Day 53, Year 1: The Home Stretch

Day 53, Year 1: The Home Stretch
Date: Friday, December 9, 2005
Weather: Winds 35 then down to 20 knots, Rough Seas
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F
Latitude: N 20 degrees 02.75 minutes
Longitude: W 63 degrees 34.65 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 13

124 miles to go to St. Martin!!! If we continue as we have, that means we should be headed into Marigot Bay about this time tomorrow. The last 24 hours have been rough, but things are starting to settle down. By 2200 last night, the winds had built to 28 to 35 knots and they stayed that way all night and into the morning. Finally around 1400 this afternoon, they started dropping into the lower 20’s and are now 18 to 24. But the seas were the bigger challenge during the night. They were a consistent 12 to 15 and sometimes there were monster waves that looked more like 20 to me. They have settled down as well, so we should have a good run into St. Martin.

We continue to stand our watches, but we have seen very little traffic. I saw a tanker about a mile to starboard this morning which is only the second commercial ship we have seen in the past eight days. We have seen two navy war ships and a sailboat, but that is about it.

I’ve mentioned before that every day at 1430 we check in with the weather net run by Herb Hilgenberg in Canada. I really don’t know what we would have done without that contact. He has a set protocol where everyone out here who wants weather advice checks in by calling and identifying the boat between 1430 and 1500, “Southbound II, Southbound II, this is Windbird, Windbird, standing by.” Boat after boat checks in and then at 1500 he groups the boats by area and talks to each one of us individually giving the current weather for our location. It takes him two hours to talk to each boat and he does all of this out of the kindness of his heart. He must love it and I know that from our experience, those of out here appreciate what he does more than a thank you can express. That 1430 check in each day has been our life line. Thank you, Herb, for your expertise and guidance.

I do hope to be sending the next log from Marigot Bay, the French side of St. Martin. Thanks to so many of you have sent e-mails of best wishes to us during this first passage of the voyage of Windbird. Let’s all hope for a successful conclusion of the Chesapeake to Caribbean passage tomorrow.

Day 52, Year 1: What A Difference A Day Makes

Day 52, Year 1: What A Difference A Day Makes
Date: Thursday, December 8, 2005
Weather: Winds 25 knots, Rough Seas
Air Temperature: 75 degrees F
Latitude: N 22 degrees 22.19 minutes
Longitude: W 63 degrees 44.19 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 12

Yesterday at this time, we were having a perfect day. That ended abruptly at 2200 last night when the 25 knot winds came a few hours earlier than predicted. Along with the 25+ knot winds came the 10 to 12 foot seas, so we have had a rip roaring ride all night and day. This should continue into tomorrow and then the winds should settle down to a mere 20 knots. I think that will feel like a walk in the park, at least, that is my hope. We have 263 miles to go to St. Martin. Unfortunately, we will probably get there late in the day on Saturday. We’re not sure we want to head into a strange port at night, so we might have to heave to and wait until Sunday morning to go into the harbor. In any case, after two weeks at sea, I’m looking forward to a nice long walk on terra firma.

Day 51, Year 1: A Cruiser’s Dream

Day 51, Year 1: A Cruiser’s Dream
Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Weather: Winds NE 12-15, Sunny and Warm
Air Temperature: 75 degrees F
Latitude: N 24 degrees 44.29 minutes
Longitude: W 63 degrees 58.72 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 11

Today is that kind of day. The kind of day cruising sailors dream about. The winds have been a steady 12 to 15 from the northeast, which is allowing us to sail south and be right on course for St. Martin. It has been a sunny, glorious day and the cobalt blue water has been calm. We have been out here eleven days since leaving the Chesapeake and probably have four more days before we reach St. Martin which is about 405 miles from where we are right now. The winds should continue to come from the north and then east, although the prediction is for 20 to 25 knot winds by tomorrow afternoon, calming back to 20 on Friday, and 15 on Saturday. Actually, we couldn’t ask for a better forecast, so it looks like our pushing to get to this latitude and longitude by today is going to pay off. The winds will be strong, but we’ll just reef down and enjoy the ride.

When I reached for a banana this morning, I realized we ate the last one yesterday. We have also run out of fresh green veggies except for some baby spinach and lettuce. We still have Clementine’s, apples, and a cantaloupe, but other than that we are going to have to start digging into the canned goods.

I finally found the strength to tackle the piles of books on the v-berth today and get them back on the shelves. Most survived, but I found a few damp ones that I have brought out into the cockpit to dry. Other than that, reading is the activity that fills our time. We have both finished reading Kite Runner-great book, and now I am reading By the Grace of the Sea and Mark is reading a Nicholas Sparks book, The Guardian. By the Grace of the Sea is the story of Pat Henry’s circumnavigation. She called herself the oldest woman to first round the world in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The book was given to my by Laura Wuellenweber, our office assistant back in the Concord, NH, school district. Thanks, Laura. It is a great story.

Moonsong, Shaboomi, Tranquility, Abudea, Sweet Mary, Alvin, Traveler, Alice, and Paradise are the nine other boats in our general area headed for Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, and St. Martin. One of them passed us during the night last night, but that was our only ship traffic for last night. The moon is helping us out at night now. It is starting to fill and serves as our night light during the early part of the night. It is directly overhead right now and is ready to guide us as soon as the sun goes down.

Day 50, Year 1: Heat Wave

Day 50, Year 1: Heat Wave
Date: Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Weather: Winds SE, Sudden Rise in Air Temperature
Air Temperature: 87 degrees F
Latitude: N 26 degrees 47.03 minutes
Longitude: W 63 degrees 57.83 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 10

We are once again motoring as the winds persist in coming at us from the southeast, precisely the direction in which we need to sail. We are hopeful that by tomorrow evening we will reach the trade winds and have fair sailing to St. Martin. But of course, that is our hope. We shall see what really develops. One thing that has definitely happened in the last 24 hours is that the air temperature has increased. We needed no polar fleece vests last night on watch and today we had to take out most of the panels in our plastic cockpit enclosure. That enclosure has been a life saver for us in the past month and half, but it did feel good to be able to roll it up and prepare for warmer weather.

We are starting to plan for our arrival in St. Martin by making lists of all the things we need to do once at an anchorage. We are also carefully reading the Caribbean cruising guides to plan other stops on our way to St. Lucia. We will not be stopping at many of the islands as we hope to be in St. Lucia by December 19 to greet our kids who are flying in for Christmas. But once we reach St. Lucia, we can slow down a bit and enjoy just being there.

051206 Day 50 Passage to Caribbean–Change in the Weather

Day 49, Year 1: Changes in Latitude

Day 49, Year 1: Changes in Latitude
Date: Monday, December 5, 2005
Weather: Moderate Winds
Air Temperature: 74 degrees F
Latitude: N 27 degrees 58.62 minutes
Longitude: W 65 degrees 09.54 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 9

Yesterday our latitude was 30 degrees North. Today it is 28 degrees North. We are making progress. It is 1640 (4:20 pm Eastern Standard Time) and the sun is dipping below the horizon. I find it interesting that out here there are always clouds on the horizon in all directions, but not overhead. We had a beautiful day and a nice surprise with the wind. Around 1100 the winds picked up and we have been able to sail since then. Because of the wind direction, we are having to travel further south than we would like at this point, so we will probably use the engine tonight at some point to help us get further east. We have used all of one of our three tanks of fuel and part of a second, so we have to choose the times carefully when we do use the motor. All in all, things are looking positive for a weekend arrival in St. Martin.

Mark spotted dolphins today swimming along side, but by the time I came up from the cabin they were gone. The only other sign of life today was a beautiful white bird with a very long tail and black wing tips. Since all of the books are still in disarray, I can’t easily find my bird guide, but hopefully I can dig through the books tomorrow and find out what kind of bird we were seeing. I baked bread today and Mark is currently working on one of our bilge pumps. We have a monster bilge pump but right now it is bringing more water into the bilge than it is taking out. Because of the tack we are on, the through-hull (hole in the boat) that transports water out of the bilge is under water and that is what allows the water to come back in. We thought we had fixed this problem but obviously not. We have two additional smaller bilge pumps, but one of them has stopped working. None of this is serious problem, but since the seas have calmed down it seemed like a good time to work on this.

It is amazing to be out here and see nothing but ocean in all directions hour after hour. The water is so blue. The temperature today was 74 degrees and I am finally wearing shorts and a tank top. I’ll still have to layer for the night watches, but last night was much warmer than the night before. That change in latitude is starting to make a real difference. And the even more amazing thing is that even though it looks like we are alone, we know there are other boats within 30 to 60 miles. At 1430 every day, we turn on the Ham radio and check in with Southbound II. That’s the weather net. Everyone that checks in gives there current latitude and longitude and that’s how we know where they are. You feel like you know these people. I’m looking forward to meeting some of them once we reach St. Martin.

The crescent moon is out already and twilight is here. It is time to start the night watches, so until tomorrow this is Windbird standing by.

Day 48, Year 1: Feast or Famine

Day 48, Year 1: Feast or Famine
Date: Sunday, December 4, 2005
Weather: Little to No Wind, Counter Current
Air Temperature: 72 degrees F
Water Temperature: 72 degrees F
Latitude: N 30 degrees 08.32 minutes
Longitude: W 66.degrees 02.35 minutes
Location: Passage from Norfolk to St. Martin, Day 8

Is there really any such thing as a happy medium in life? Maybe. But I’m not sure there is out here on the high seas. It seems we are always getting way too much wind from the wrong direction, or not enough wind from the right direction. It is feast or famine, often not “just right”. Early this morning, I think we were as close to a happy medium as we might get. The sun rose just after 0600 and the moderate winds we had during the night decreased to five to twelve knots. The winds were light, but they were allowing us to move slowly in the right direction at around five knots. That’s not as good as the seven knots, but at least we were moving in the right direction.. I guess that is a happy medium. And then around 0930, the winds just died and we had to start the engine so that we could reach the ridge Herb had encouraged us to cross today. We are currently in front of that ridge and our new challenge will be to stay on the west side of a cold eddy sitting at N24 degrees by W64 degrees. We will continue to motor through the night and into tomorrow and Tuesday, unless the winds increase, and that should bring us to the west side of the eddy. We will then use the current on the western edge of the eddy to give us a boost south and east.

The temperature differentiation out here from morning through the night is fairly consistent. The air temperature at sunrise has been about 64 degrees the past couple of days and the temperature at sundown is usually 70 or 72 if it is a sunny day and 68 if it is a cloudy day. With the north winds pushing us along from behind, we get a fair amount of wind in the cockpit at night even with the enclosure, so on night watch we continue to wear layers of clothes. During the day the layers come off and we put on the day attire, which is a short sleeved shirt and a pair of lightweight pants. For night watch, I will put on a turtle neck over the cotton top I wear during the day, my trusty LL Bean wool sweater, a polar fleece vest, and finally a light jacket. The wool socks and wool sweaters were retired the first night we spent in the Gulf Stream, but when the wind shift came to bring winds from the north, the wool sweaters were resurrected. There is a story that goes along with that sweater that I would like to share with you. During the summer of 1985 we were living in Salisbury, Maryland. Mark volunteered to go along on a Salisbury University freshman orientation trip to Hurricane Island in Maine. The orientation was to complete an Outward Bound experience. The group had stopped in South Freeport at LL Bean on the way up and Mark bought us both wool sweaters. When he brought the gift home and the temperatures in Salisbury were hovering around 92 degrees with about 100 per cent humidity, I thought he had lost his mind. Why would I ever need that wool sweater? Well, now I can list about a thousand needs and will be very sad indeed when that wool sweater gets too worn to continue to be useful. It is now in its twentieth year and going strong.

A little side note: We caught our first fish during the night last night. Flying fish somehow jump up out of the water and “fly”, sometimes landing on the deck. We caught one last night. Let’s see if we collect more tonight.