Well, the trip hasn’t been going exactly as we had hoped. Nothing serious, but the weather has been uncooperative.
At Sandy Hook we were planning to start sailing, but there was only a very slight wind and it was square on the nose. At 1500, I took the helm for my watch. Our plan was to work our way around the gentle curve of the New Jersey coast until Barnegat, at which point we could pick up our SSW heading for the 300 mile run to Cape Hatteras
My watch proceeded quietly with my main task being to gently nudge the autopilot a degree or two westward to keep us in 30 or so feet of water off the Jersey shore. Through my watch, however, the wind kept picking up, unfortunately from directly off our nose.
With the increased wind came increased waves, and because we were inshore they were very close-set and choppy. By the time the wind hit 25 knots, the boat began to pound fairly frequently coming off the larger waves. Peggy suggested that we turn a few degrees off the wind to ease the ride. Shifting the autopilot a few degrees to the east helped, but did not eliminate the pounding entirely.
As we powered down the coast, Peggy made dinner, breaded chicken cutlets and angel hair pasta prima vera. It was done at 1745, just before the end of my watch. Peggy took over for the last few minutes of my watch and the first few of Joe’s so we could eat.
After dinner, I went below to my bunk to try to catch some sleep before I was on again at 2200. I tossed and turned for quite a while and actually dozed for a bit, I think. Before I knew it, it 2145.
I got up, stuck my head through the companionway and said hi to Peggy. She said that conditions were about the same. I got dressed in warm clothing and full foul weather gear and went on deck for my watch.
At the beginning of my watch, I saw we were about even with Barnegat and well offshore, so I switched the waypoint on the GPS to Diamond Shoal Light Tower, the light off Cape Hatteras. I adjusted the autopilot to the new course, and then shifted a few degrees port and starboard so I could get the smoothest ride possible. As we were offshore the waves were longer, though bigger, and the ride wasn’t too bad except for the occasional heavy pound off a particularly sharpsided wave.
Once those chores were done, I had an entirely boring watch. There were no targets or activity to be seen anywhere around me, either by eye or by radar. As I sat huddled under the dodger in the front of the cockpit, the only thing keeping me from falling fast asleep was the slam of the hull pounding every once in a while.
When 0000 rolled around, I looked below and saw Joe asleep, wedged into a cabin chair so he couldn’t move. I woke him up for his watch, and a few minutes later he came up. While I was waiting for him, I saw my first target of the night, a light several miles off the port bow. I also noticed that the wind had spun up to 30 knots or so.
I climbed into my bunk and slept soundly until 0330, when I woke up but stayed put for the next 20 minutes, dreading going on deck for watch. When I could put it off no longer, I got up and greeted Peg who reported no change. I got dressed and took my place on deck.
Just as I was settling in, the engine slowed and shut down. I jumped back to the controls and tried to restart the engine, but it would not come on again. Peggy quickly came up to see what the problem was, and when I told her that the engine would not start, quickly began to put up the mainsail.
Once the main was up, I headed off the wind to build up some way under sail while we figured out the problem. Peggy’s first guess was that we had run out of fuel in the starboard tank, though this was a bit earlier than she would have expected it to have run out. Her guess apparently proved correct because when we switched to the port tank, the engine started up just fine. As I steered the boat back into the wind and onto course, Peggy furled the mainsail.
Once she was done and things were beginning to get back to normal, I realized that I was seasick. After engaging the autopilot, more-or-less on course, I turned around and vomited repeatedly over the stern rail.
After puking, I got the boat settled down and resumed my position under the cockpit dodger. It was 0500 and I still had an hour of my watch to go. By this time the wind was a steady 30, with gusts of 35 knots or more. I saw a few lights way off in the distance and the first stirrings of dawn in the east but fortunately nothing that would require me to move much at all.
Joe came up at 0600 to relieve me, though it wasn’t entirely a relief. As I went below, queasiness overcame me, and I rushed up on deck to return the last bits of my dinner to the sea.
After sitting quietly on deck for a bit, I again went below and got into my bunk without further unpleasantness. Normally, the few times I get seasick I can vomit once or twice and then my body adjusts to the motion of the sea. This time it seems I wasn’t so lucky. Fortunately, I have not yet had a problem once I’ve gotten into a bunk and let my whole body just follow the motion of the vessel.
Since my next watch wasn’t until noon, I had a full six hours in which I could sleep uninterrupted. I woke up around 1100 and as soon as I came out of my bunk, the queasiness hit me again. I threw on the nearest garments, put on my safety harness and rushed to the stern rail to upchuck. I realized that I hadn’t fastened the buckle of my harness properly, so I sat in a cockpit seat to fix it and was overcome by nausea once again. Unable to move, I just turned to my right and threw up out of the starboard side of the cockpit. Spray coming off the bow quickly washed away my puke.
After sitting still for a while in the fresh air, I began to feel a bit better. Peggy told me that she had decided to turn in for Ocean City, Maryland and that we should be there sometime past midnight. Though we had changed course a bit, the wind had followed us to remain on our nose, and the boat was still laboring over the ever-increasing waves.
By the time my watch was about to start, I thought I was well enough to try some oatmeal. Running below to put a pack of instant oatmeal in the microwave, waiting on deck for the two minutes it heated, and then ducking below again to pull it out didn’t sicken me, so I began to eat it slowly as I took over the watch.
After eating about half of it, I took another trip to the stern rail – the oatmeal’s sojourn in my stomach was short. Once this business was finished, I settled in for what turned out to be another quiet watch. I guess no one was stupid enough to be out in this lousy weather, or if they were, they kept well away from us. I periodically took sips of water, and about halfway into my three hour watch ate what was left of the oatmeal.
At about 1500, Joe came up for his watch, and I foolishly mentioned to him that I had kept down about half of a cup of oatmeal. Silly me. I promptly was nauseated and deposited the remainder of the oatmeal to my right, over the edge of the cockpit and onto the starboard sidedeck. Immediately after this, I realized that the waves had died down a bit and seas were not washing over our sidedecks as they had been previously.
After my stomach settled somewhat, I figured that there would be some larger washing waves to come, so I went below to my bunk, off duty until 2000. During my watch, we had only been making three to four knots of headway toward Ocean City over the waves, so I wasn’t sure how far past midnight it would be when we got in. Each time I checked the GPS, it gave a different projection, the worst of them being that we would arrive after 0600.
At about 1830 I woke up and realized that the boat’s motion had significantly eased. I dressed and went up on deck. The wind was still on our nose, but it had died down substantially. Our speed had increased, putting our anticipated arrival time again at just about midnight. Peggy was looking exhausted and I was feeling what passed for chipper in the circumstances, so at about 1900 I offered to relieve her. After a short pro-forma protest, she agreed and went below.
This watch was as quiet as the others, but much more pleasant. The one point of interest was that at almost exactly 2100 the wind shifted abruptly from southwest to northwest and became a steady 25 knots with gusts above 30.
Since the wind was now on our beam, the boat began to heel a bit. Between the extra hull in the water and the extra thrust generated by beam reaching under our bare poles, our speed increased to almost eight knots.
When Joe came up for his watch at 2200, I stayed on deck. At about 2310, when we were a mile or two from the buoy outside Ocean City Inlet, Joe went below to wake Peggy.
Piloting an inshore channel at night is always challenging because the lights on buoys and fixed beacons can be difficult to distinguish from other non-navigational lights ashore. When the harbor you’re entering is a seaside resort entirely awash with brightly lit waterfront attractions, the challenge is multiplied. Proceeding slowly and carefully, we worked our way in.
Peggy had previously arranged with the White Marlin Marina to tie up on their fuel dock overnight. Although the White Marlin had one of the several well-lit docks in the harbor, its sign was unlighted. After creeping past it, we realized that we had gone a bit too far.
With the outgoing tide and northwest wind, when Peggy took the boat out of gear we began to drift slowly astern and slip to starboard. From our position, with virtually no maneuvering, we slid onto the end of the White Marlin’s fuel dock. As we touched, Joe and I jumped off with dock lines to tie the boat down. At 2345, the boat was secure and we went below, glad to finally be in port. For a few minutes we all sat around the cabin staring at each other until it sank into our sea-addled brains that we should be in our bunks.
I read for about an hour before falling asleep, waking a bit before 0800. Peggy came into the cabin to make coffee and breakfast. I got out of my bunk as Peggy was frying up her famous “brick”, which she served on kaiser rolls with cheese.
Munching on our sandwiches, Peggy and I went ashore to the dock office to see if we could get the boat fueled before heading out. On the office door was a “back in 15 minutes” sign that I strongly suspect had been there since the marina had closed the night before.
Back aboard, as we awaited the dockmaster’s return, we pulled out the charts to plan our next steps. Although it may still be possible to round Cape Hattaras and make Charleston in the time we have, the timing would be close and we wouldn’t have a lot of good options short of our destination. Peggy’s alternative is to sail down to Norfolk and work her way up the Chesapeake to Annapolis to leave Reality there for the winter.