Friday, April 11, 2014

St Mary's to Southport

We left our Cumberland Island anchorage on Tuesday, April 8 at 9:45 am. We had been checking the weather for days and just sitting at anchor. It is a very pleasant spot - made for 'just sitting'. We read more books. I read 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens. Sadly, I had to admit that I had read it as an English Lit assignment over 40 years ago. How can that be true? Junie then started to read it but decided it would be easier if I just told her the story. So, in the dark, in the cockpit, at anchor, I recapped the entire book which probably took longer than reading it since there are so many characters and twisted turns. Turns out, you have a lot of free time at anchor for five days.

SeaClearly at Cumberland Island.
Before the rains came.
Since last week, we had expected a weather window Tuesday - Thursday sometime. After all the evaluation, we decided that early Tuesday was the target. Monday night it was raining, storming and blowing. A selection of electronics went into the oven for lightening protection. We twisted around on our anchor as the wind and current competed for position. The current in Cumberland Island is not insignificant as the 6 foot tide comes and goes. When the wind is opposite or crossways to the flow, you get all sorts of strange positions - anchor chain under the keel, boat sideways to the anchor, anchor snubber stretched taut (the snubber takes the load off of the windlass and distributes it to the bow cleats on the boat), anchor snubber slack and hanging.

We woke up Tuesday morning to pouring rain. Radar showed that it should be moving away in a few hours. We got onto Chris Parker's weather webcast and posed our question to him. "We are planning to leave shortly to sail north from St Mary's GA to Cape Fear. Good sailing? Advice?" After an hour of hearing advice to cruisers in Antigua, Barbados, DR, BVIs and the windward islands (Carib hour, I guess), Chris finally got to us. He looked over our path and came to the same conclusion we had - leave right after the rain clears, be ready for some wind halfway through the trip off the coast of South Carolina followed by settled weather into Cape Fear. Thumbs up! We wanted to ride the tide out of St Mary's inlet so, instead of waiting for the rain to stop, we picked up the anchor in the pouring rain. Our foul-weather gear got a chance to do its job and we stayed warm and dry. We slid out through the inlet on smooth seas, into the ocean and turned north for another two night offshore run. Cool stuff.

Once the rain stopped, the skies cleared nicely and soon we were motorsailing along - because, naturally, the wind died behind the passing storm. No worries, it would come back later. We took advantage of the day and had a peaceful lunch (pre-made chicken salad), a wonderful dinner (pre-made shrimp gumbo and sweet potatoes) and got set for the night run.

For us, that means reducing sail to our staysail and double-reefed main. We have ignored this protocol once previously and gotten caught by the wind in the middle of the night. Lesson learned. We rig the boat for running, inside and out - strapping everything down, stow it, put it away. We always, always, always wear our PFDs (lifejackets) and tethers. And, especially when out on watch alone, tether to 2 points. We can't afford to lose any crew members. We did all this, watched a beautiful sunset over mild seas at around 8:00 pm. Junie wanted the eight-to-midnight shift so I went into the cabin to sleep. Lulled by the sound of the motor, I was asleep in minutes (as usual). I didn't sleep long, though. The motor rpm dropping to idle woke me up. I went to see what was going on and came out of the hatch into a very different night.

Foul weather fashion show
Junie at the helm.
SeaCearly was heeled over to 15 - 20 degrees, wind blowing 20+ knots and a beam sea rolling us along. I guess it was good that we shortened sail earlier. Junie was under control so I just played with the sails a bit and went back to sleep - wedged in between pillows on the downhill side of the V-berth. We would end up staying at this angle for the next 15 hours. I came out at midnight (maybe a little after) and had my 4 hours of rolling, watching for ships and correcting course. Horatio (our autopilot) takes the brunt of the steering load - which is considerable when dealing with the rolling seas. So, in the dark, you check the charts, routinely scan the horizon for lights and check the AIS for targets (especially big targets that are going fast). We have gotten much more proficient with our radar, which was such a mystery to us in our early days with SeaClearly. We can confirm the big targets, locate markers in the dark and recognize little boats that you can't see at all. We can mark the radar blobs as targets and track their movement in reference to us. All of this is extremely comforting while rolling around in the dark.

Note the SOG of 9.0 KTS. Also note the vessel
SV Harvey Gamage. She is a 101 ft sailing
training ship out of Maine. We saw her back
in Fernandina Beach, Florida with a crew
of about 25 kids just returning from a trip
to the Caribbean. She entered Charleston
in the morning.
Junie came back out at 4:00 am and it was still pretty active. I stayed out in the cockpit and slept huddled up in the corner in my weather gear, gloves and boots. The wind howled at 25 knots and gusting higher. SeaClearly, as always, just handled it. She just said, "I got this y'all. Just sit tight". And we did. As the wind increased, SeaClearly would heel over hard - but only to a point. Then she would just hold that angle and pick up speed. It is a beautiful thing to see. At one point, we were making 9 knots speed-over-ground. The water rushing by, the waves slapping the sides and the occasional incoming spray made for an interesting night. Just for the record, we were off the coast of north Georgia and South Carolina. Pretty much as expected, weather-wise.

The sun rose in pinks and reds (not a bad omen in this case) and we sailed almost the entire day with a much-settled ocean and 10 - 18 knots of wind - actually from a direction we could use. Just a wonderful day. We sailed past Charleston, roughly halfway through this trip, without stopping. No shrimp and grits this time. On to Cape Fear.

Night Two. Exact opposite. The wind died. I mean died. Sometime after dark, the ocean went glassy and stayed that way all nightlong. Sunrise was incredible. The reflection of Venus was dancing on a smooth, red-orange sea as the sun came up. Out on the ocean, on a day like this, you get to see that 'nautical twilight' really is about an hour before sunrise. You can see everything and it is amazing.

We, of course, had to go back to motoring and kept making good time toward the Cape Fear inlet. We adjusted our speed to get us there at slack-before-flood tide at 1:14 pm. It was easy to keep the schedule and, I swear, we passed the markers exactly on time.

Southport Marina from SeaClearly
We pulled into Southport Marina for two nights. Back in North Carolina. We were at anchor in Cumberland Island for 4 nights and then offshore for 2 nights so we are due for a stop. Southport is a nice town with that seaport, fishing village attraction. We met another Chocolate Lab named Roux - the only other one we have ever seen - on the next dock. That prompted another round of tears. We will do more exploring of Southport today. From here, we will start counting down the miles to make it home.