Getting There -
October 30, 2003
There's always lots to do before we set out for an open water passage of a few days' duration. Getting prepared seems to be the better part of getting there. When we wrote last week's entry ("Going Outside") we were waiting for weather in Beaufort, North Carolina, intending to head down the coast to Florida. A front had gone through the night before, giving us the favourable wind shift we needed. We decided to spend the rest of the day getting the boat (and ourselves) ready and leave at first light the next morning, by which time the seas should have settled down.
David began our pre-passage ritual by genuflecting before our sometimes cantankerous diesel engine, murmuring promises of clean fuel and an early oil change if it would agree to function when we needed it. The engine oil, transmission fluid, and coolant levels were all fine. The V belt was tight. No obvious drips or corroded electrical connections. For all appearances, six hundred pounds of contented metal.
While David was communing with the engine, Eileen set up our pilot berth on the port saloon settee. She arranged cushions and tightened the lee cloth so we'd be snug when the boat pitched and rolled. Then she set to work restraining every potentially mobile object down below. It takes just one loose bottle of hot sauce clanking away in the far reaches of an unknown locker to deprive you of a night's sleep. Eileen's soundproofing technique involves stuffing vast numbers of towels and articles of clothing into every locker, drawer, and cabinet on the boat. It usually takes a few weeks after the end of a passage for David to retrieve the last of his T shirts from some remote corner. There's at least one pair of socks he hasn't seen for years.
David went up on deck and rigged our jacklines from bow to stern, one on either side, so we'd have something to clip our safety harness tethers to. We're always clipped on at night and whenever we leave the cockpit to go forward. David slid the storm trysail onto its separate track at the base of the mast, leaving it bagged but otherwise ready to hoist. He got the storm jib out of the sail locker so it, too, could be hanked on and raised at a moment's notice. Genuflecting once more, he silently prayed we wouldn't have to use either sail.
Eileen continued preparations down below. She assembled in easily accessible locations all the food items we'd likely consume over the next five days. She got out the big pot and our two "passage" bowls and secured them on top of the gimballed stove. Our cooked meals while underway tend to be one pot affairs eaten out of deep bowls rather than plates (lessening the likelihood that we'll be wearing our dinner). She closed the dead bolts on our cabinet doors and secured all the ports and hatches. She joined David on deck to assist him up the mast.
David always does a masthead inspection before we go for an extended sail. He checks the lights and makes sure the expensive things stuck to the top of the mast look like they'll remain stuck. He inspects the tangs and rigging terminals and other bits and pieces whose primary purpose is to keep the mast in a vertical position. He looks for signs of wear on the sheaves and halyards. He has learned that it is best to do this inspection when he and Eileen are on good terms. He's found that his negotiating powers are severely compromised when he's suspended in the bosun's chair fifty feet off the deck and Eileen, main halyard in hand, decides to reopen some long-standing, still unresolved issue.
We looked at the charts, decided on a course, and entered waypoints into the GPS, including some that would act as alternative routes if conditions required a change in plans. We got out the safety harnesses, tethers, gloves, wool caps, and foul weather gear. We made tidy piles of clothing that we anticipated wearing for the duration of the trip, knowing that the piles wouldn't remain tidy for long. Eileen laced weather cloths to the lifelines around the cockpit to keep spray out.
David plugged our super bright searchlight into the cockpit DC power outlet and mounted our handheld VHF radio and binoculars on the steering pedestal. We use these items mainly to identify and contact other boat traffic. We've found that flashing the light on the sails at night is an effective way to identify ourselves to passing ships. We have differing views on night encounters with other vessels. David is of the opinion that, with all the water out there, the probability of being in exactly the same piece of ocean at precisely the same point of time as another moving object is very small. He doesn't worry too much about the lights he sees at night off in the distance. Eileen, on the other hand, is convinced that the bridges of large commercial ships are populated by a particularly depraved breed of psycho killers who delight in running down defenceless little sailboats in the dark. "They're aiming for us," she mutters whenever she sees lights appearing over the horizon.
The final thing we did before retiring for the night last Wednesday was to clamp the dinghy's outboard engine to the stern rail and lift and secure the dinghy on the foredeck. We weighed anchor just before dawn the next day and motored out Beaufort inlet into the open ocean. We raised our sails and, with the wind and waves on our starboard quarter, frolicked along at a good pace.
Over the next three days we had several visitors. A flock of tiny brown birds joined us off the chilly Carolina coast. They shivered in the shelter of our cockpit dodger and eventually left when it began to warm up. On the second night out, David spent most of his watch trying to discourage a very persistent sea gull from perching on top of the mast. A large pod of dolphins visited us off the coast of Georgia on Saturday. They were a frisky bunch and played in our bow wave for over an hour.
The wind shifted more and more to the south as we progressed along the coast. What started out as a broad reach on Thursday morning became a beat by Saturday night. As we closed in on Florida, the coastal weather forecast called for strengthening winds from the southeast, which just happened to be our intended heading for the final 180 miles of the trip. Maybe not such a good idea. We decided to bale out at the entrance to the St. John River. It was just after sunup when we rounded the entrance channel buoy and got sucked up the river by a fortuitous flooding tide.
It would have been nice to have sailed the last leg to Fort Pierce inlet on the outside. Instead, we've spent the last four days motoring along the Intracoastal Waterway. But we can't complain. The engine started when it was supposed to. The mast remained vertical. The storm sails stayed in their bags. We eluded all those killer container ships. And, hey, we're in Florida now. That's not so bad.