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  #1  
Old 06-03-2008
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Sailor's in the hands of an angry ocean.

This in response to the "Go" thread. I went.

Well, the ocean wasn't really angry, just a little moody as anyone would be who is spread out all over the globe. The course over the ocean between Tortola, BVI and Provo, TCI is about 400+ nm long that we were going to sail.
My sailing background had been basically all coastal cruising on pretty small boats and after reading too many sailing related books I really wanted to experience some 'blue water'. A friend had crossed the Atlantic as part of the ARC last fall in his 51' First Benneteau and I had monitored his progress from right here on my couch. I was amazed that he could receive and send emails from his boat via Sat-phone in the middle of the ocean. I kept him up to date on his position in the race to St. Lucia.
This boat was a proven blue water machine and the skipper quite knowledgeable so I felt safe signing on to help out crew the 400 or so nm on this one leg of a delivery to the northeast. I guess that no one else was available and I got the thumbs up from her skipper. I made my airline reservations and then had to tell my wife about it. I was quite nervous and excited by what I had done. My wife is a wonderful creature and gave me her blessing to go for just under a week. I was still a bit nervous about what was to ahead.
We left Soaper's Hole on Tortola this past May 28th heading WNW for the Turks and Caicos Islands. The wind was largely under 20 knots from the east and my skipper put a preventer line on the boom as the BVIs slowly drifted by. Not having blue water experience and not knowing this amazing boat I was still nervous as the quartering seas rocked, pitched and yawed the boat as they passed underneath. As darkness approached my anxiousness did not subside and was quite happy when the skipper asked me to cook dinner as I felt that engaging in any task would take my mind off worrying about where I was. Cooking was fun in the galley with the boats motion. It wasn't a great meal but it was hot: spaghetti and meatballs and alas no grated cheese. It occurred to me that the big pot of boiling water on the gimbaled stove could easily end up scalding me but dinner was served and I was agile enough to avoid hurting myself.
After diner came the disappearing horizon which was what scared me most perhaps. At night on a heaving boat the sounds of the rigging are more noticeable than the dubious horizon and I heard sounds that reminded me of a dog barking (the metal boom), birds chirping (could have been anything), and the sails flogging. I had drawn the 2300 - 0200 watch and was enjoying watching the glow of light over what must have been the city of San Juan, PR some 50 miles away. The lightning in the clouds above was fun to watch if a little disconcerting, but hey, this is the tropics (20' N lat. or less). The waning moon rise brought some definition to the ocean swells and some relief from the darkness.
So far, I had not felt seasick and would not for the rest of the passage. Radar augmented our nighttime lookout and it was nice to know we had all the safety equipment we should have including jack lines, harnesses (always worn after dark), life raft, ditch bag etc. Each successive sunrise made me feel better and more comfortable even though there was no land in sight. As we covered about 140 nm per day we moved into a different weather region.
The mackerel sky indicated a change in weather which brought less wind and tropical rain. The rain was welcome but the possible funnel cloud formations made me nervous again. I was glad I had bought some beer for the trip as it would help me relax a bit but I had to be careful not to cross the line and allow it to become a liability. We began motoring after covering more than half the distance under sail alone. I was fine with that as I had an airline ticket on Sunday, June 1st to go back to NY. This was really a delivery after all so no shame in motoring.
The only surprise I remember is waking up Saturday morning and the engine was off and the boat was moving about in an unfamiliar way; only the jib was deployed. My captain told me that we were nearly out of diesel and he was waiting for me to get up and help him add the several Jerry cans into the tank before starting up again. I was actually relieved as I was afraid he had bagged the idea of a Saturday landfall in favor of taking it easy and reaching Turtle Cove Marina, Provo on Sunday. I really wanted to get to shore and tie one on.
We reached the marina with little more than fumes in the tank and proceeded to check in with the customs and immigration officer at the marina. He wondered where our 'Yellow Flag' was and we had none. Apparently this is a punishable offense but we had no firearms to give him and he dealt with us in a relatively civilized manner (and did accept a tip I noticed).
We met the three Frenchmen on the boat in the next slip and ended up draining 2 bottles of rum and wine with them. We had dinner and I was still just able to get aboard without falling in. I had had a great time with this new experience, even though it was pretty serious business and a little like work I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was a bittersweet parting the next day (Sunday, June 1st) as I had spent the last several days mostly with only 1 other person and had become somewhat used to the routine. I also looked forward to going home and sleeping at least 9 hours at a stretch.
I just went and it was not nearly as scary as I thought it might be, although I did have to grapple with my own demons within. My longest passage on ocean waters so far. Just go...
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  #2  
Old 06-03-2008
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Very well written account of a eye opening trip.
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Old 06-03-2008
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Old 06-03-2008
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Thanks guys.
BTW, Freesail99, I enjoyed your post about sailing ships and wine deliveries as well. Brings to mind James Bond's favorite phrase: 'shaken, not stirred'. Of course this applied to martinis rather than wine.
Edit to add: there was a lot of planning I did not participate in as this boat and her captain had just completed the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) last fall. I am quite impressed with my friend's abilities after this short hop (from his perspective).
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Last edited by CalebD; 06-03-2008 at 10:50 PM.
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Old 06-03-2008
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Nice post Caleb! I was in Turtle Cove for about a week...going in the other direction...which I can tell you is not as much fun! Nice place to hang out for a bit after a few days at sea.
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Old 06-03-2008
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Well done! Glad it worked out for you!
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Old 06-03-2008
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Thanks Cam. Yes, going with the waves seems to be the way to go in terms of comfort. This being my first real blue water passage I was still uncomfortable at first. I am sure it is worse beating into the (mild 3 - 6') waves we had.
Turtle Cove was great once you get past the reef and coral formations. I had been to Provo before but only to the 'Beaches resort'. It is much more fun getting around by boat than by air even if it takes a lot longer if the weather co-operates, and we were pretty lucky that way. I suppose it depends on the time of year you were heading south down to the islands but the 'trades' are generally out of the northeast down there. Provo ain't a bad stop over point though, IMHO.
I know what you mean about going the other way though as we actually lost our dinghy at one point because the tow line chafed and I was in the cockpit and noticed it quickly. After we headed back into the waves we moistened some of the forward ports and bunks while rescuing the inflatable off of N. Caicos. If it had been ten minutes later we might not have ever found it.
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