When friends sent a Facebook message asking me to crew offshore on their 42 foot Hunter, S/V “Nemo” (yes, as in the fish) from Urbanna, Virginia to the Morehead City Yacht Basin, how could I refuse? We would be buddy boating with other friends of ours on their catamaran, S/V “SeaQuell.” It been about a year since Michael and I delivered a boat up to Middle River, just north of Baltimore on the Chesapeake. This time he was on an ASA 104 and suggested one of our ASA 105/ASA 106 Advanced Coastal Cruising students accompany me on the trip. So, Scott agreed to make the trip! I had complete confidence in Scott’s sailing ability as he has chartered boats in the Bahamas.
Friends picked us up in Morehead, and we were bound for Urbanna. What a quaint little village on the Rappahanock River on the west side of the Chesapeake. We stowed our gear on “Nemo” and went over the systems on the boat with the owners. Later, off for a dockside great dinner of quinoa salad, fresh baked bread, chicken pasta casserole, salad, and vegetarian chilli. They sure know how to feed a crew! Afterwards, we all hung out on “SeaQuell”. Scott liked the newly done hanging sofa out in the cockpit so well, he slept there under the stars that night!
The next morning, the beautiful orange sunrise over the Rappahanock nicely unveiled the silhouettes of not one, put a PAIR of gorgeous
American Bald Eagles sitting in a cypress tree looking for breakfast. Casting off lines, we set off down the river towards the Chesapeake. Scott took our heading and coordinates and logged them in his book, plus charted us on the map down below at the nav station. He did this regularly throughout the trip. We crossed several shipping channels going towards Hampton, VA, our anchorage for the night. Inclement weather from a cold front covering a third of the nation was headed North Carolina’s way and we were making the decisions there if we needed to go down the ditch or outside! The night before the Captain of “SeaQuell” and I sat down with his IPAD and checked various weather sites great for sailing to see what the general consensus was. Were the 3 models being used by NOAA in agreement? Passage Weather indicating a low? Buoyweather issuing marine advisories? Did it still look sketchy to be offshore ahead of the front?
The Currituck Sound which the ICW runs through was forecasting 30 knot winds and SCA’s. Though shallow outside of the channel, it might be rough since we were drawing a 5 foot draft. Also, checking behind us, (checking ahead of you is prudent, but the front was coming down behind us, too, so it gave us an idea how fast it was traveling towards us coming from where we had been.) It was still possible to make our destination outside by late Monday morning.
Arising the next day in Hampton, we sailed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and past Cape Henry with its lighthouse. Scott was looking up lighthouses we passed in the Bay and gave us all the details on them. Again, Scott plotted coordinates, headings and did running fixes. You never know when your instruments can go out and we were going to know our last know position if they did. The weather was beautiful, sunny and not a cloud in the sky.
We passed the Currituck lighthouse. Before sunset, we reefed the Main, the jack lines were already in place from day one. Scott and I did the over night watch from midnight to 4:00 a.m. Tethered to the binnacle in my life jacket, a fleece blankie worked great on the cockpit settee. A beautiful night, hazy, but no clouds…could see some stars and chilly. Not a bad night!
The next morning,“SeaQuell” did some dynamite fishing on the way down to Cape Hatteras. A shark, a Dorado and others, too. Michael had taught me much about the Gulf Stream on our Bahamas sailing trip this past winter. We went out a little further offshore to go around the Diamond Shoals at Cape Hatteras due to the draft. It got a little warmer, we shed our fleece jackets, the water color changed and flying fish emerged airborne. The smell was a little different. Must have been the edge of the Gulf Stream!
“SeaQuell” lost their instruments, but got them all restored and back shipshape. Clouds started building on the land side, some cloud tops were getting high and columnar. Hmmm…mentioned to my crowd that it did not look too good to me. They all seemed to think it would die out before reaching us. My last NOAA Marine check (no cell connection that far offshore) was calling for Sunday night to have 20-25 knots of wind, 5-7 foot waves, dominant period 4-6 seconds…EWWWW…I hate 4 second intervals. Gets me in my gut every time. The last buoy check behind us was 20 knots out of Cape Henry so I knew it was sneaking on in. But in the meantime, we checked out the owner’s Stay Sail and had a great day on the water.
After the lentil stew, we reefed the Main again for the evening. The owners were pulling watch until 10 p.m. , so Scott grabbed some shut eye and I went in the aft cabin, with my gallon sized ziplock “sea bag” since I was getting queezy. I had worn my SPOT hand held on my left arm the entire trip, but took it off and laid it on the nav table so I could get some sleep. That was to become my last SPOT activation for the next several very uncomfortable hours.
The sensation of being in a washing machine and being tossed all over the cabin in between two closets on either side, coupled with the sounds of things crashing into the floor awakened me. I could see lightning out the ports, so bright the horizon line was lit up. Several times the water covered up the aft port on the port side. Scurrying into the salon, I found one of the owners on all fours in the floor in foulie gear. I thought he had fallen and went to help, but he was trying to pick up all the screws and things that had fallen from a closed container with small hand tools. Could hardly hang on and keep my balance at all with the tossing boat and things on the floor. Did I say queezy? He told me I could go lay back down, Scott and he were in the cockpit. Clutching my “sea bag” I wished I could throw up. It would feel better, but it just would NOT happen.
I thought if I could make one Facebook post it would be, “Please don’t let that lightning hit us with a 65 foot lightning rod stuck up out here in the big bad ocean.” Lying there, “putrified sick”, I began to do anything I could think of to get my mind off being sick, but being thrown about down there made it hard. Waves come in sets of seven, with one a little larger than the others, so I started counting waves, tossing to and fro in the cabin. Staccatos of more crashing items including the glass coffee pot carafe added more to event. At one point I was face down like an “X” with my hands and feet pressed against whatever I could reach to keep from hitting something. My shoes were in the salon, glass was in the floor and Jane just sick. There was no way to sleep. The washing machine was still on the wash cycle.
Periodically, I could hear them talking on the radio to the other boat, but it was not clear. At one point for several hours, we lost radio contact with the other boat. We went further offshore around Cape Lookout for better seas. As daylight set in, I did not care where we were. All that mattered was that the seas were calmer, just wished my stomach was. Fresh air was on my mind. It would help!
When I got in the cockpit, thought I might get the chance to use that zip lock which was still in a death grip in my hand. The three people I saw before me looked as wild as I did and we were happy! No bath in three days, hair all over the place, bearded men, two happy women and Beaufort Inlet was in sight! Oh happy day! Home! (obviously stricken with excitement, but only 18 miles from where we live!)
Very overcast, heavy misting rain, we barely got the mast under the Arendell Street bridge with the incoming tide on route to the Yacht Basin. Pulling into the fairway, a man on the dock was pointing to our slip. We prepared the boat for docking, (“sea bag” still tucked in my fleece jacket) and safely tied up in the slip. While tying up, I looked over at the dock, and the man that had been pointing to the slip was MY Captain! Boy was I glad to see him!
The “SeaQuell” crowd had about as rough a night as “Nemo” did. They were so tired they came into the dock with the jib still up! But it’s all about the stories. My take: Put in your jacklines early, wear your life jacket offshore and ESPECIALLY at night, tether yourself to the binnacle in the cockpit on a night watch, keep your SPOT device on at all times & keep your shoes on. Know visible land sitings BEFORE you go, (lighthouses, bridges, etc., they let you know where you are by sight.) Put a “sea bag” in your pocket, don’t just get your weather from one source & KNOW your clouds. Learn what the waves look like indicate on the Beaufort wind scale, and never think you can outrun a storm. Don’t sail on a deadline and pick your days. This time of year we start into a 3-day weather window pattern. Learn how to plot your coordinates, fixes, and headings on a chart like Scott did. Instruments DO go out sometimes. Above all, stay safe and you will have a great time like we did.
And this grand offshore adventure comes to an end. All I had on my mind was a shower and to sleep on something that was not moving and not go far to have it… Hello Motel, and off we went! Am very proud of myself and what a way to usher in your birthday! Can’t wait for my fourth offshore adventure, my ASA 105 & ASA 106!