Day 203, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 9-This IS a Test
Date: Sunday, May 15, 2011
Weather: Overcast and Stormy, 73 degrees F; Winds SW’ly 15-40 knots
Latitude: 31 25.200 N
Longitude: 077 35.115 W
Miles Traveled: 1052
Miles to Go: 160
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

We’ve decided that this passage is a test we must pass in order to complete World Circumnavigation 101. The last eighteen hours might well be the hardest stretch without relief that we have had since our horrendous passage from Norfolk to St. Martin in 2005. That passage was off the scales, so it will remain our #1 worst passage, but this one might well come in as #2. Since our rocky beginning in 2005 we have had some rough weather, especially in the Indian Ocean, but neither of us remembers anything so bad as the last eighteen hours. We have had gale force winds (above 33 knots) for extended periods of time throughout that period with the seas that accompany such winds. During that 2005 passage all our books on the shelves in the v-berth flew off the shelves. Once in St. Martin, we installed heavy-duty webbing strips to hold the books in and those straps have done the job until today. This time, even with the straps, all the books are off the shelves and on the v-berth. Here’s what happened.

It all started at about 10:30 pm last night when I got up for my first watch. Mark had had a fairly relaxed first watch with 18-22 knots of wind. We were making about 6 knots but that was not going to be fast enough to get us to our destination on Monday night. So we decided to reef the main to slow ourselves down. As soon as we did that, we saw that it wouldn’t slow us enough, so we shook out the reef and decided to go for it. No sooner had we done that than the winds increased to 35 knots. Now Mark had to go back out on deck to reef the main in really nasty conditions. We just weren’t prepared for the 35 knot winds. Where did this come from? We didn’t have our Don Street make-shift preventer installed and it was going to be too complicated to install with the strong winds and seas, so Mark had to go out again and attach our old preventer. The 35 knot winds settled a bit but we were flying through the night. Mark went to sleep and on my watch we continued to have very strong winds, gusting to 40 knots at times during squalls. There was lightening to the northwest and to the north and the seas were building. Not conditions for the faint hearted. Lucky Mark had to motor during his shift as the winds died down to 11-14 knots and we had a considerable negative current against us. But as soon as I came back on watch at 5:30 am the winds immediately built to 18 to 24, gusting to 27. The seas were 3 meters and we had more than one knot negative current. At this point we started to realize that even if we shook the reef out of the main, we were still not going fast enough for a Monday arrival. But then things got so rough that we haven’t even thought about an arrival time all day. The main goal was survival. All day long the winds were roaring, the skies were totally overcast and darkened with storm clouds, and the steel gray seas were churning like a boiling cauldron. The auto pilot certainly got a good work out and Windbird did her best to protect us from the raging winds and seas. It was when one of the monster waves would hit us broadsided that it was scariest. It was just not one of our favorite days.

But as is often the case, just when I was getting ready to come downstairs to write this log, the conditions changed. It seems that 5 o’clock in the afternoon in the North Atlantic is time for a change in conditions. Those 30 knots winds died down to 15-18 and the seas instantly started to settle. As I look outside now, I can see tidbits of a blue sky and a little sunshine. We have no idea what the night will bring, but all we can hope is that the current conditions continue. Mark said he would be happy if the winds just die completely and we have to motor the rest of the way. I feel the same. Today was so rough that flat seas and no wind sound great. But we now know we will not be making it in tomorrow. We are going to stay reefed down and go slowly. Right now we have a double reefed main and double reefed staysail out with no headsail and we think we will keep it that way and slowly make our way. We’re guessing this test won’t end until we are safely tied to a dock at Lighthouse Marina just off the Intercoastal Waterway in Little River, South Carolina sometime on Tuesday morning. We’ve often thought it, but this time I think we might literally kiss the ground when we arrive!

Thanks to Alan Kanesberg and Rich Corbett for sending weather information. One thing we have learned from this passage is that never, ever, ever, never should one leave port on a passage without complete weather information and connection to a weather net. We took off this time because of Mark’s medical situation, but we have been sailing blind without a full understanding of what is happening out here. Even with the weather info sent by Rich and Alan, we still don’t know where the extremely high winds we have had the last eighteen hours came from, but let’s just hope they don’t return.