Homecoming, Bruce and Kay

It has been a week since we got home and I am still self-debriefing. A lot of things happened during the last leg of our journey that are very much in keeping with the subtext of the Kay’s blog, ‘The Ups and Downs of Sailing Vessel Willow’. 
 After Kay arrived in Jacksonville, we immediately left the dock and within an hour we were 5 miles away from the US coast.  Kay had not had any open ocean sailing since we crossed to the Bahamas 3 months ago, so it was a special treat for her.  We had a favorable wind but it was predicted that it would change to a head wind within the next 36 hours so we were anxious to make as much distance as possible. Our initial goal was to make it to Southport NC, 42 hours from set-go. If the wind prediction prevailed we would have to break off from our open ocean sail and duck into the Intracoastal Waterway. We started with light winds, all sails up, and motor running. Eventually the winds increased enough to sail at 6 knots with the motor off.  It is almost worth running the motor for a while just to experience the Ahhhh moment when the motor is silenced. The temperature had warmed to near 60. The swells were 4 to 5 feet (Kay said 5 to 6.) They were 4 to 5. I would put them in the middle of the vomit scale with my mother at one end, who gets sick during planetarium presentations, and on the other end, someone that has shirked their responsibilities and had extended sailing experiences. 

This was shot on the bow of the boat and it was a bit rocky so I hope you don’t get seasick watching it.

 An hour before sundown our bow became a plaything for a pod of porpoises. There were approximately 25 this time. One never gets tired of seeing porpoises play. They were with us for about a half hour. The sun went down, our winter clothing went back on, and we started sailing in shifts; Two hours on, then two hours sleeping. Sailing in the dark; my favorite; Not. The sun reappeared slowly from behind the distant clouds. My layers of clothing came off slower than they had the previous morning. 
Since we were sailing straight to Southport and the coast is curved we got further away from the coast throughout the evening. By mid afternoon, we were 30 miles off shore. The winds were shifting erratically.  We were flying a light-wind 155% sail at our bow. (That means 55% of the sail extends past the mast.) We reefed it to 120% in preparation to tack in response to the shifting wind direction. We should have reefed to 100%, because as we turned, the sail wrapped around the mast and tore. It was taffeta thin and old. We had been babying it. Goodby baby.  We motor sailed, and when the wind direction changed to our rear, we put up the spinnaker. Again we were doing 6 knots so we killed the engine. Soon we caught a 1.5 knot current and we were going over 7 knots. In the meantime, Kay was preparing another one of her gourmet dinners. She had just filled our plates when the wind gusted to 13 knots. That pushed our speed up to 8 knots. We decided that if it went up to 14 we would have to stop eating and take down the spinnaker. I was woofing down my meal. The wind died down and then went up to 15.  OK, well if it goes up again to 15, then we would take it down. Damn! Damn! Damn!  It did it again. I put both our half eaten dinners on the gimbaled stove and we set about to take the spinnaker down. This was only the second time we had used the spinnaker and it would be the first time we had taken it down in NOW 18 knot winds. I had a procedure in mind but it was not practiced, and I never anticipated that we would be doing it in winds NOW gusting to 20. Oh, did I mention that Spinnakers are very large lightweight sails, meant to handle up to 12 knots of wind. We were now doing 9 knots. We were in danger of destroying another sail or something else. The spinnaker is held in place at three points. The plan was to release  one point and that would spill all the wind out of the sail. I would then be able haul it in on the second point while Kay lowered it from the third. We were both poised for success. I let loose the first point. The line started racing out. I grabbed the second point, unsecured it and got ready to haul it in. Unfortunately, the first point got caught on something and the sail refilled with air. The sail reacted like a crack of a whip. It ripped the line I was holding through my hand faster than I could let it go. The pain was immediate. I looked at my hand. The skin was gone on my fingers. No time to worry about that. Kay recognized the problem and freed the end of the sail. It was now flying from the top of the mast 40 feet above us. New plan. I would let the remaining line out as far as I had line to do so and hopefully it would drop into the water and we could pick it up. Auhhgg !  I didn’t have enough line so I quickly spliced on another line. It was enough for the sail to reach the water. We got it on board. The sail was saved. My hand was the only damage. The rest of the day and into the night we used one sail and the motor. We got a weather report from NOAA that said winds would be increasing near Cape Fear which is where we were headed at Southpoint and still 16 or more hours away. We decided to go inland earlier at Georgetown SC and regroup. We made it into protected waters by midnight and laid anchor at 2 am. I took some Ibuprofen and we slept. 

We were moving downwind fast and smooth with the spinnaker

Before daylight, I could feel the tide changing and the boat turn 180 degrees. By the time the sun came up we were in 3.75 knots of current. That’s a lot. I would never knowingly anchor in current that strong. Our maps said the maximum current would be 1.75 knots. Our anchor held. We got a weather report indicating that the strong winds predicted in the ocean would not arrive for another 10 hours. We decided to make a run for Southport. We pulled anchor and we were spit out of the harbor. We ran the engine and moved with the current. We were flying at 9 knots (5 knots from our engine and 4 knots of current)!  The marked channel took a left turn but the current went straight. You guessed it. We hit a huge channel marker broadside. The impact stalled the engine and did some damage on our starboard side. It also ripped open a tube of our dinghy. I got the engine restarted and we continued. We were still doing 8 knots. As we got further out, the opposing winds became apparent. The waves became formidable. We had to turn back. Unfortunately, the current was now against us and we could only do 2 knots. After 3.5 hours we were back where we started. At this point I felt Kay and I had differentiated ourselves from most of our sailing friends and we weren’t done yet. We motored for the next 5 hours through SC. We saw a lot of Hurricane Florence damage. We found an anchorage just before the ditch (a long, 15-20 mile section of the ICW that is very narrow and no where to stop). Bedtime came early and so did morning. Willow and I were showing our misfortune, but it was a new day, albeit a foggy one. We got off to an early start once again. Like every other day, it got colder. We made it to Southport at 4:00 (70 miles and no mishaps) and picked up a free slip at a restaurant there. Again, the next morning we got an early start. We made pretty good time motoring with the current and arrived at the Wrightsville Beach bridge at 12 noon. The bridge tender told us that the next bridge (Figure 8 Island Bridge) was being repaired and would not open until tomorrow or later. We took a narrow cut from the ICW to the Wrightsville Beach Sound. We got on the wrong side of a bouy and ran aground. The tide was coming up and we could have floated off in a short while but we had not used our membership to Towboat US in a three years so we gave them a call. I should mention here that we have a propeller that folds up to reduce drag while sailing. It virtually has no reverse. If we had a standard propeller we  could have backed out of our predicament. We anchored at Wrightsville for the evening. The next morning we decided that we would go to the Figure Eight Island bridge and anchor until it was repaired.  Sailing off-shore was not an option. It was cold and we were facing a strong head wind. At 11:30 we got through the bridge. We were just out of site of the new Surf City bridge when, AGAIN, we got on the wrong side of what we thought was a channel marker. This time we decided to wait and see what the tide would do. We discovered the tide was going out. We called Towboat US again. It was the same guy that pulled us out the day before. We were fast becoming friends. He pulled us off and we prayed we could get out of his jurisdiction before we ran aground again. Of note, it was cold and we were taking shifts at the helm so one of us could be warm below. We decided we needed 4 eyes instead of 2 to watch the markers along the ICW. It was 5:00pm and there were no anchorages ahead of us so we backtracked and spent the night anchored in a poorly protected anchorage with tide and wind.

It was a cold morning with strong NE winds (see the whitecaps) and it was raining but this amazing rainbow gave us a some hope.

It was cold at sunrise. With our confidence at an all time low, we got motoring towards our next debacle.  That occurred at 5:00 pm. We were in an excavated channel just south of Morehead city. It was marked indicating shoaling. We slowly worked our way along the shoal looking for an opening. Eventually we hit the edge of the channel and could not back off it. Towboat US was there in 20 minutes. It was a different guy. He pulled us backwards a very short distance and we had just enough water at the channels edge to get through. Now it was windy, cold, and a driving rain had decreased our visibility. In a couple hours it would be dark. We should be able to make it to an anchorage in Beaufort. We managed to stay in the deep water and put our metal down near the new Beaufort bridge. It felt good getting out of our wet clothes and listening to rain from inside. 
In the morning, we sailed home to Oriental and got back to our slip in record time with the help of the wind and tide. When we got there, there was no welcoming committee, not even Towboat US. Dockmaster Don came by just in time to jump start our car that had been sitting there for 5 months. 
Except for the un-Bahama-like weather that we had been reintroduced to, I cannot say that I was too distressed by the last couple of days. Kay wasn’t either. I like fixing things and we both like laughing. You can laugh too if you want. It’s on us. 
One more night on the boat, and all that would be left to do is write about it. And of course, get ready for the next adventure.

Bruce enjoying his first egg mcmuffin on the drive home to Chapel Hill.

Bruce solos St Aug. to Jacksonville

I awoke at 9:00am but I felt rested. The last time I was anchored here, Willow’s manifest included, Don, Mike, Kay, and myself. We had planned on going further south but the engine had blown a head gasket, the swing keel was stuck in the down position, and we had destroyed our head sail. I did not have three weeks of repairs to do this time so I visited some of the attractions St Augustine is famous for. In a couple days, I reluctantly sailed away from St. Augustine and set my autopilot for Jacksonville, 5 hours away. It was an easy sail, that brought me to another place I had anchored before. I got there just before dark. I dropped anchor, again confident that Willow would stay put for the evening. Throughout my telling of our journey, I have left out the non-events, and while in and of themselves they may not seem significant,  cumulatively, over 5 months, they are. For instance, I spent quite a few casual mornings writing or reading. I walked a couple hundred miles, without a stop watch. I observed tides, winds, storms, and other boats. I had conversations with boaters, merchants, locals, young and old. I enjoyed the intimate access to friends and family that became a part of this journey. I found a greater appreciation of myself and others. I am telling this now instead of at the end of the journey because, tomorrow at noon, I will have picked up Kay at a nearby boat dock. We will be together for the next week, to complete our journey home. Kay and I were married in 1988, so joining up for another voyage would seem like a non-event to most people, but just like the cumulative effects of the tides and the storms, mundane events became the threads in the tapestry of our lives. I was warmed with an expectation of the coming week. With that in mind, I wanted to make a grand gesture for Kay’s arrival. The boat dock was made to serve trailerable boats. The end of the dock was supposed to be 4 feet deep, but one can never trust published bathymetric information. My initial plan was to dinghy to the dock and pick her up, but wouldn’t it be cool if, when she got there, this great big sailboat was pulled up, ready for her to step aboard. I would need 4 feet 8 inches of water to do that. I would need to fight a 2 knot rising tide also. I would have to do it alone. I had the morning to think about it and then I ran out of morning. I pulled anchor and motored towards the dock. I pointed my bow into the current. The wind was 12 knots on my port. The dock was on my starboard. I let the wind close the distance between the boat and the dock. Willow matched the current speed which kept it at zero land speed next to the dock. The wind did its part. The boat slowly moved closer. 10 feet, 8, 6, 4. Willow touched bottom parallel and 3 feet from the dock. That’s OK. That was part of the plan. The tide was coming up. It would be high tide when Kay got there. I left Willow under power and jumped to the dock to tie her off. I cut the motor and adjusted the lines as the tide rose. Kay was surprised to find her ride conveniently hugging the dock. I was quite pleased with myself and quite pleased to see the week start with a pleasing greeting.

Bruce’s solo trip Cape Canaveral to St. Augustine

I looked around the anchorage one more time. No boats had come or gone. I would not miss this ambience of abandonment. I started the engine, raised the anchor, and called the lock master to request an opening. I waited at the lock with several porpoises that somehow knew the lock was opening. The gate opened slowly, the porpoises went through, and I followed.  I was on my way to St Augustine 20 hours away. The winds were light so I put up as much sail as I had, and kept the engine running. I would loved to have seen Willow from aside as she cut through the waves, her white sails fully inflated. I have never seen her in this state except in photos others have shared with me. Willow has a swing keel that drops down below her fixed keel, that gives her a keel depth of 8+ feet. I put that down, set the autopilot for a point just outside of St Augustine and settled in. If all went well I would not have to make any changes to the boat until I got to my destination. Theoretically, if I went overboard, Willow would show up in St Augustine and do circles until she ran out of diesel fuel in 36 hours. Obviously, all went well. Coming into port in the dark is a challenge that I do not enjoy. You cannot safely follow the map alone, and the channel markers are difficult to discern in the dark .  I made it, and only set off my depth alarm once. There was comfort in knowing that I was anchoring at the exact coordinates as I did when I was on my way to the Bahamas. At that time I had experienced 30 knot winds and the anchor held. It was 6:00 am when I silenced the engine. It was a good passage, but my eyelids were heavy. I said goodnight to the moon and goodnight to the Sun coming up too soon.

Cape Canaveral, Bruce/Don

Don and I made port in Cape Canaveral at 9:15 pm after a 36 hour passage. The canal into Port Canaveral has a lock, and its last opening is 9:30 pm.   We dropped anchor in the dark. It is not easy getting any sleep during overnight crossings and we were tired so we skipped our usual Spades card game and went right to sleep. Upon awakening the next morning, we were surprised to see that were were surrounded by anchored derelict boats and several sunken ones.  The water was silt-red and the natural beauty of the Bahamas had been replaced with industrial infrastructure and mega cruise ships. It was the ugliest anchorage I had been in since starting the trip. Since forever really. Using a new US Customs app., we were able to check-in using FaceTime on my cell phone. That saved a lot of time. We dinghied ashore and walked to a city museum. I had not seen anything modern and informative like this for the last 4 months so it was a nice welcome home. It was about this time that I noticed Don had gotten a little too much sun. (Spoiler Alert) His face peeled when he got back home. The next day we Ubered to Canaveral Space Center. It was quite informative and enjoyable. Don rented a car for his trip back to North Carolina and the next day, before he left, he brought me to a grocery so I could re-provision for my solo sail to Jacksonville and beyond. Kay would meet me there and we would make our way back to Willow’s home, in Oriental NC. The weather prediction for the next ten days was not in our favor.

Passage back to Florida, Bruce and Don

The wind and waves growled us towards the shore of No Name Cay at 5am, the morning of our pig event. We anticipated that this might happen, and when it did, we started the engine and repositioned ourselves back into the waters deep. An evening of vigilance and bouncing left us somewhat sleep deprived, so when we got to our next destination we payed for a secure mooring in a protected harbor. We slept, and gave our queasy stomachs a respite from nature’s wrath. We did not do much that awakening day. We walked around the town (Green Turtle Cay) of 500. We gathered some supplies. We checked out at Customs.  Our intention was to hop from island to island for the next three days and then to make our final hop through the Gulf Stream to the US. We stopped at Manjack Cay. We snorkeled over a ship wreck, explored a mangrove, and snorkeled an oceanside reef. I gathered and prepared several conch. We also caught a fish. I don’t know what kind, but it was good. After another good nights sleep, we sailed to Spanish Cay and anchored off-shore to eat lunch. We got the last weather report we would be able to get before we got to the US. In three days, the weather would force us to tuck behind the south side of an island. There really wasn’t much that fit that description. In two days we could be in the US if we entered the open Atlantic earlier and skipped the island hopping. It turned out that both Don and I were craving some open ocean sailing so we weighed anchor and headed out into the deep blue. We did not have any wind but wind was forecast for the evening and beyond. The open ocean was eerily smooth.  The water was clear. The ocean bottom was visible until about 60 feet. We watched flying fish glide a foot above the water for the length of a football field.  Don has better eyes than I do. He spotted a porpoise breaking water a half mile away. I had not seen one since I got to the Bahamas. The porpoise  got close enough for me to see. It got yet closer, and it almost looked as though it was pursuing us. As it got even closer, it was joined by another one, and then another, and another. They were definitely coming to intercept us.  Soon we had 8 porpoises at our bow. They were swimming from side to side, looking at us from eye to eye. They would swim over, under and around each other, bumping, and breaking the surface to exhale and inhale through their blowhole. I have seen porpoises at our bow before but never in water this clear. At one point, there were 14 porpoises. Anyone that has imagined intelligent life beyond our solar system would be enthralled to discover it at the bow of a sailboat. These animals were having fun, showing off for us. What an experience. A couple of them rejoined us within the next hour, but after that, darkness obfuscated the theater beside and below us, but it expanded it to infinity it above us. And then came the wind.

Last Weeks in the Bahamas, Bruce and Don

Cool Sunset in Marsh Harbour

It is 2am. I am anchored in front of an uninhabited island with my friend Don. There is nothing protecting us from the wind and waves. We are rocking just enough to keep me awake and I feel fortunate. Things could go either way. They rarely stay the same. I am checking an app on my IPhone every hour to make sure we are not dragging our anchor. Kay is back in Chapel Hill and she too would be able to detect our movements on her phone, but she sleeps, and she would if she were here. It would take a gale and a command of,  “All hands on deck.” For her to do otherwise. I am not complaining, just explaining. We make our choices, and my choice is to be here, gently-ish rocking. Don and I are on our way to cross the Gulf Stream on our return voyage to Chapel Hill. The island we are in front of, either has no name or it is called, ‘No Name Island’.  It has become famous for pigs that swim, (walk on tippy hooves really) to get food from approaching boaters. There are quite a few chickens too but they do not understand the ‘tourist thing’.  We are floating outside of pig range but I can’t help but giggle every time I hear what sounds like hoofs scratching against the hull. Don says it’s a pig offering us three chickens for some food. We got here one hour before sundown and I used the remaining daylight to dive for a couple conchs, which I chopped up for the conch salad Don prepared. We will visit the pigs in the morning. They are probably not laying awake thinking about it.

Bruce misses our dog, River!
Don is deciding which one to bring back to NC for a pickin’
Our usual evening entertainment. Rumicube, bananagram, yatzee, cards. This was a friendly game contrary to Dons abstract expressionism. 

Another Dinghy Mishap

Chris Krueger sailing Willow

We had a nice week with our friend from Chapel Hill, Chris Krueger. We wanted to go to the the Songwriters in Paradise event but the wind direction/velocity did not cooperate. One day we were anchored at Man O War Cay. A big blow was coming in with 20-25 knot winds. Bruce had been suffering with a bad back for several days. Because of this and the blow he opted to stay on the boat while Chris and I took the dinghy to shore for a 5 pm walk and a beer. Man O War is a dry island but one Marina has a restaurant and bar. When we returned to our dinghy around 7, it was quite dark but we were prepared with a flashlight. Of course, we had secured the dinghy quite well so there was no problem there. We dinghied the short distance to the boat in very high wind and bouncy waves. Bruce was there helping us get from dinghy to boat. I hopped aboard and Bruce took the dinghy painter (the line we use to tie the dinghy to the boat). Chris was stepping onto Willow when a big wave came along and Bruce lost the line. The wind was blowing the dinghy away quickly as Chris stood on Willow’s ladder. Bruce said “Chris, you have to swim for the dinghy” Chris jumped in the dark, cold, very choppy water with the wind howling, with clothes on and was able to grab the line and pull it back to the boat. If he hadn’t gotten it, the dinghy would have quickly blown away from us and out to sea. Chris had completely submerged with wallet and walkie talkie but luckily no cell phone. What a savior. Thanks Chris!!!!!!

After this we had mostly sunny, warm days with enough wind to sail but not too much. Here are some photos from the week.

Bruce and Chris on Manjack Cay
Opening a coconut
An apple a day!

Oh, what a week!

Had a great week with Susan who had been learning to sail on Lake Michigan. She brought a lot of fun and laughter to our week and we are glad she could join us. Susan and I started doing 30 days of Yoga with Adrienne. It was fun despite the added balance issues of doing yoga on a boat.

Gotta go lower in warrior two

We have had a week of awesome sailing, swimming, snorkeling, eating, drinking (tea of course) yoga and meeting new people from around the world. Today, February 12, we say goodby to Susan and look forward to another fun week with Chris Krueger who joins us soon.

Atop the lighthouse.
susan learning more about sailing
Yummy conch salad made by soaking conch in lime juice and adding fresh red onion, green pepper, tomato.

We spent the last day in Man O War Cay and collected conch to make our favorite conch salad. Man O War Cay is famous for superior boatbuilding for over two centuries.

Singing the lost dinghy blues

Beam reach in the Ocean, 15 knots of wind. It doesn’t get any better than this!

After a nice walk around White Sound and Tahiti beach we pulled anchor and went out into the ocean at Tiloo cut. We had a beautiful three hour ocean sail in brisk winds. We then entered the Sea of Abaco at North Bar Channel. We anchored at Sandy Cay and went snorkeling. Sandy Cay has the world’s biggest collection of Elkhorn coral and the flora and fauna were amazing. After of full afternoon of diving, we pulled anchor (there was a little too much wave action for a comfortable sleep) and had a short sail to an anchorage in the lee of Lynyard Cay. Soon after anchoring while we were cooking, a dinghy came by and invited us to a bonfire on the beach with the Marsh Harbour Yacht Club. We hopped in our dinghy and went over to meet some folks and have a beer. We arrived on the beach at about 6 pm and went to head back to the boat for dinner at 6:45. It was dark and as we walked to the shore to get in our dinghy, we looked among the 15 beached dinghies but could not locate ours. Panic began to emerge and swear words were flying. It was really dark with no moon and our dinghy was gone. Must have floated away as the tide rose. But we were there such a short time! How could it be? Bruce found someone with a flashlight and out they headed in his dinghy to look for our dinghy. Susan and I and now many other folks paced on shore fretting. What would we do without our dinghy? After about 30 minutes we see a light coming toward the shore. Wait, it looks like two lights. Yes, they found it floating about 1/2 mile off shore. We hopped into it, a little embarrassed, tail between or legs and headed back to our boat for dinner and a game. It was a very emotional moment. Such gratitude for that dinghy!!!

Our beloved dinghy. Anyone want to name it?
Dinner is Cumin-Roasted carrot, Israeli Couscous, Arugula salad
Back in Hope Town, we enjoyed this band at a little music festival. Our favorite song they played was the Lost Dinghy Blues.

Back in Hope Town (a couple days later) we went to a small music festival and listened to friend Steve play and sing a song called the Lost Dinghy Blues about losing his dinghy. We heard the whole story from his wife, Elaine. Boy, could we relate.

Hard Aground in the Bahamas

Not the post, I wish to write but now that it’s been a few days, I can tell you I learned from my mistake! We were headed south from Hope Town to Sandy Cay to do some diving. It was a lovely day as usual. It’s a pretty narrow passage on the “inside” between Elbow Cay and Lubber’s Quarter but I had entered the coordinates into our wonderful B & G navigation system. Turns out in my haste I missed the very first navigation point. That was the first mistake and the second was relying too much on that point. Should have been watching the water and the navigation system. Bruce was busy looking into some mechanical issue, Susan was enjoying the sail and no one was watching the depth sounder. So sailing along merrily, we suddenly went hard aground just outside White Sound. Two power boats came to our aid. With one pulling our boat onto its side by pulling from the top of the mast and the other pulling the boat forward at the same time. They gave it all the horsepower they had but Willow was stuck. It was 1 hour to low tide. We had to wait for the tide to go all the way down and then start to rise. The boat really healed over lying on its side. as the tide went out. Bruce took advantage and cleaned the bottom of the boat.

Bruce takes advantage of being hard aground by cleaning the bottom of the boat. Here he is standing on bottom in waist deep water.
This shows how much our boat was healed during our unfortunate grounding. Bruce is really standing straight up.

After about 5 hours, of scrubbing (Bruce only) reading, cooking, listening to good music and watching an amazing sun set, the tide rose and we floated off at 8 pm. Luckily, there was a super good anchorage only about 15-20 minutes away. We dropped anchor in the dark at Tahiti Beach on Elbow Cay.