Preparing to Go Offshore - SailNet Community

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Old 09-19-1998
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Sue & Larry is on a distinguished road
Preparing to Go Offshore

I’ve been trying to figure out when the transition took place. We’re about to sail offshore, direct from Norfolk, VA, all the way to Portland, ME, 509 miles—and I’m looking forward to it. That wasn’t always the case.

Before we left Florida, we told Joe, a friend who was moving back to Maine, that we’d meet him in Norfolk and sail up to Maine with him. Actually, Larry told him this. At that time I had no intention of doing it. Quite frankly, my perception of that particular part of the coastline just kind of scared me. My plan was to gently influence our course along the way, and make sure we traveled in shorter hops.

But somewhere along the way north, those fears pretty much dissipated. Maybe it was after the time I lay on the bow for 20 minutes, my body half out of the boat, playing with the dolphins who had sprinted from 300 yards away to join us. Or maybe it was after "Lucky," a small non-sea bird, found a place to rest on our boat, miles out at sea, so exhausted that even when one of our two cats aboard leapt up to try to capture him, he didn’t move. Whatever it was, I find now that I’m ready to experience a longer offshore passage, find out what else the sea has to offer,and learn from it. So I never had to admit to Larry that I didn’t want to go—until this article.

We arrived in Norfolk with a couple of weeks to spare before Joe was able to leave. This gave us plenty of time to prepare Safari for the trip. We began by putting a couple more coats of varnish on the brightwork. This was not exactly important to safety at sea, but it kept us up to date on our maintenance schedule, and made sure Safari looked good!

Then, Larry and I sat down and looked at the serious stuff. After all, we were going to be 60 miles offshore at times and shouldn’t take this lightly. We calculated the length of time this trip of 509 nautical miles would take at various speeds under sail. At an average speed of six to seven knots, this would be just over three days.

Next, we figured out the worst-case scenario of how much fuel we would need, should there be no wind or there be extremely bad story conditions. After determining that our existing fuel tank was sufficient for the trip, I still wanted to buy some additional Jerry cans for diesel, just for the peace of mind it would give us. Was this being overly cautious?

I remember on the day we were buying the extra cans, our friend Joe joked with me, "That’s what the sails are for." We asked him a couple of times if he had enough fuel on board his boat for the trip and he responded, "Oh,yeah, no problem." Well, he didn’t. He ran out about half way to Maine and had to go into Block Island and fuel up. I guess his sails weren’t working.

We spent several days checking over each of the boat’s systems, examining the standing and running rigging, and verifying our safety gear. These all looked good, and I still had no offshore butterflies. All that was left was to provision the boat and carefully prepare our food in advance for the trip.

Joe wanted to leave as soon as he finished his last day at work. We’d been following the weather systems and knew there was a big front coming through that night with thunder and lightning and potential 60-knot winds. Believe me, it was no problem for us all to agree to wait.

At 5 a.m. the next morning the front passed and the forecast was for smooth sailing. We set off, two boats together, sailing into the magnificent sunrise that engulfed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. As we entered the Atlantic Ocean, we each poured a dollop of rum over the side of the boat for the Old Man of the Sea, this being an ancient mariner’s practice to ensure good seas for the voyage. We then took a dollop for ourselves, for good measure, and . . .ugh! Rum before breakfast is not my favorite. Either we’re going to have to start our future offshore passages at night, or the Old Man of the Sea is going to have to start liking mimosas!

So, here I am with 502 miles to go. I’m content and full of anticipation. Maybe I’m going to be an offshore sailor, after all.

Surprises So Far

What are some of the surprises we've found since starting our cruise? Here are a few:

Our biggest surprise to date has been that we have had no need to go into marinas. In fact, we like being at anchor and have been very pleased with our onboard "power plant." The addition to Safari of a wind generator and a 120-watt solar panel have given us tremendous self-sufficiency and probably paid for themselves several times over.

Since setting off on our cruise, we've found that our "minimum requirements" for a boat where we feel we could be happy have gone down. There are lots of people out here on much smaller boats. They are experiencing all the same things we are, and they all seem more than content.

We've been surprised that such a small percentage of the boats cruising the East Coast ever go offshore.

The TV is gone! We bought a special one just for the boat but we quickly found that we enjoyed that time when it was turned off much more than when it was on. It's hard to believe, but we've never been bored on the boat.



Safety Equipment Aboard Safari

There is always a lot of interest in the safety equipment cruisers choose to place on their boats. Here is the safety gear that we have on board Safari.

  • 4-person life raft, Avon hard case (includes safety and survival gear)
  • man overboard horseshoe ring with strobe light attached
  • LifeSling 
  • radar
  • autopilot 
  • permanent GPS interfaced with autopilot
  • backup GPS, a handheld with battery power
  • 2 VHFs, each permanently mounted with separate antenna (one not on mast)
  • single sideband radio
  •  jacklinesled fore and aft
  • inflatable life jackets with built-in safety harness
  • radar reflector
  • extensive first-aid kit
  • bilge pumps: 1 electric, 1 manual, 2 five-gallon buckets
  • wood bungs for through-hulls
  • whistles on life jackets
  • float plan filed with friends or family
  • abandon-ship bag, contents: 406 mhz epirb, flares, handheld VHF, canned food, water, knife, chemical lightsticks
    (Note: with the exception of the VHF radio and epirb, all contents of abandon-ship bag duplicate and supplement the contents of survival gear in life raft.)

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