Offshore again

Passage making again-
What a difference a day makes.

We spent a month at Ft. Pierce City Marina. Time seemed to get away from us. We got lots accomplished, more about the month of projects, but we are finally ready to get some miles under our hull, and we set up a route for a non-stop run from Ft Pierce to Norfolk and to York River our desired destination. This would be our longest passage together on Southern Star, and we both looked forward to doing this 750+ mile passage over 4 full days, partly to test ourselves, but as I said, to get some miles behind us.

We ultimately hope to get up to Nova Scotia Canada, about 1600 miles from Florida. There is a flotilla of Nordhavn owners with about 17 boats signed up, most of which are Nordhavns, but a few other trawlers as well. This is an informal group with no scheduled events, etc.  It sounds appealing, as we have never cruised the area, and some common knowledge would be good. Besides, of course, we are finding the Nordhavn owners for most part, lots of fun and nice people.  Our friends on Roam, Clarke and Michelle are returning to NS again for the second year, and they played a big part if convincing us to join.

But things, my skin cancer diagnoses, and some required maintenance in Ft Pierce have slowed us and put us a bit behind.

Jenny worked on our route to Norfolk, planning to get into the Gulf Stream (GS) current to help boost our speed north.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. AND our planned 4 day passage would require some last minute improvisation.

We departed Ft Pierce on a hot still day at mid-day. Planning is pretty involved with estimating your speeds, our cruising speed is usually 6-7 knots, but we are planning to be faster with the GS pushing us along, and hope to make an average of 8 knots. The distance 770 miles/8 knots means we should take about 96 hours or a little over 4 full days. We want to arrive in York River about mid-day, and so we depart Ft Pierce at midday.

Our first 24 hours was great. In the past, we have made a number of 24-36 hour trips, but we hoped that we can learn the rhythm and get into synch better with a 4 day trip.

We rode the Gulf Stream, and topped out at over 12 knots at one point, averaging over 9 knots for 220 miles. This put us off of Jacksonville Florida, almost into Georgia.   Cool, we are flying.
Boat routine was getting easy. We do 4 hour watches each, with engine room (ER) checks by the person coming on watch, every 4 hours. We have a comprehensive ER checklist, and Jenny, unlike most Nordhavn wives, does ER checks. She is so meticulous; she often comes back with things for me to check. I love that girl.

Jenny made a series of ready to heat meals, macaroni and cheese with bacon bits. Yum, and fixed up a bunch of sandwiches (my skipjack tuna turned out to be ideal for tuna salad sandwiches).

We have lots of easy to eat snacks, and soda stream fizzy drinks for our sunset ‘mock tails’ as we do not drink any alcohol while off shore.

First night out nice sunset, dinner of mac and cheese, with a dinner salad prepared by Ted was ideallic.

Lots of time in the dark wheel house running with both radars, one at 16 miles, and the second at 3 miles, to alert of any traffic we may miss visually. The automatic Identification system (AIS) alerts us of most all commercial traffic with warnings if they get too close.

We run with few lights on to help us with our night vision, with our red lights to help us find our way around the boat. Off watch person sleeps in the salon, as we are travelling into a slight head sea which makes the forward cabin noisy and hard to sleep. Of course one of the best things about being on watch is being with yourself. You have time to think, the mind to wander, and to listen to our great collection of music as you can blast the Fusion stereo as loud as you like without disturbing the off watch person.

I was on watch from 12:30 to 4:30, Jenny on 4:30 to 12:30, both AM and PM for the day.
Our second day went fine as well. We watched our speeds giving us nice boost north. We stayed maybe 60-75 miles off the coast, so are well out of cell coverage, and there for email and most importantly, weather updates.

Our route was to stay well offshore and stay in the GS from South Carolina, where the GS turned out toward the east along the bottom of North Carolina, and then back north toward Virginia.
The weather changed some, with the predicted northerly change coming a day earlier than we had heard, and then this shifted to an Easterly wind. The Gulf Stream is heading East (flowing from West to East) and the wind is from the East. This develops a nasty wind against current stacking of the waves against the current.

We noticed the seas building in a matter of hours, this just a few hours before dark. We are now into over 40 hours offshore, and the second night looks like we will not be enjoying the ride. We decide to change course and head northerly toward South Carolina to get out of the GS. We are probably over 100 miles from the coast and at least 60-70 miles from getting out of the GS.
The seas continued to build as the NE winds built to 15 knots. Not very windy, but with the wind against tide, the waves created were large, 8-10 feet at times, and right off our beam. The waves are not like normal swells, they are confused and short and steep.

We found it difficult to move around the boat. As she rolled with the gruesome waves, so I changed course a bit more easterly to try to keep the waves a bit more off the forward quarter of the boat, and not at the beam. The ride was only slightly better; the stabilizers were working frantically and did a good job of buffering the ugly seas.

We decided that we would jump inshore, and so we battered our way toward Cape Fear North Carolina, some 75 miles away.

Jenny was thrown against the wheel house table during a big roll. I was afraid she had hurt a rib, as she is particularly susceptible to rib fractures. But she caught this one in her right breast.  She was fortunately okay.

We pitched up with a big wave on the bow, and then down as it passed, the refrigerator door and both freezer drawers flew open. Luckily nothing spilled out.

At one point it was so hot, as we had to close up to keep the salt spray out of the boat, that I felt very uncomfortable.

I broke down and went into the engine room and did a quick generator check and started to generator. It was hot in the engine room, over 40 degrees (110 f) as the engine was working hard, and the stabilizers were working hard.

With the generator on we fired up the AC units and the living conditions improved greatly. The boat was still tossing wildly, but at least we were not smothering in the heat.
Huge squalls showed up on the radar screen, as large elongated red and orange with weird shapes, looking very daunting, and then the lightning flashed nearby, with the thunder roaring a few seconds behind.

At one point Jenny was pretty scared, and I tried to sooth her. I told her to trust the boat, she is big and strong and she will take care of us. I never at any time felt that we were unsafe, just that it sucked to be knocked around so much. The squalls came and went, dropping a deluge of rain on us.

Salt spray sheeted across the bow, and sprayed the windows of the wheel house. Neither of us was able to sleep much. And we looked forward to getting out of the washing machine and docking at Bald Head Island Marina, seemingly so far away across the very broad Gulf Stream.
Daybreak came and now we could see the seas. Not so sure if that was a good thing or not. But slowly it got a bit better, and we finally hit our approach waypoint for Cape Fear. This is at the end of the Frying Pan Shoals, and is about 30 miles from the fairway. It felt like we were just crawling at 6 knots. It’s funny how you can get used to speed.

We docked alongside a 100 foot Hatteras Superyacht in a superyacht space. The crew from the superyacht and a nice Canadian guy on a small trawler helped to catch lines, as the dock master was gone by the time we got in.

We were sooo tired. We plugged in and got the AC on and cooled the boat, and had a much needed and deserved drink. The decks were crusted with salt, and everything felt sticky, but we were just too tired to even think of wash down.

We sat on the fly bridge with our drinks and watched the 4th of July fireworks over Southport harbour.

More entertaining was the superyacht had a party in progress, with a gaggle of young sorority girls dancing on the boat deck, doing line dances together, complete with a sparkly disco ball hung from the dinghy crane.

We had another drink, watched the fireworks, the line dancing, and throngs of party goers at Bald Head Island as they park their golf carts to watch the fireworks. A parade of small boats went out and returned to watch the fireworks. It was a nice pleasant feeling, everyone was enjoying the beautiful night, and we were enjoying not being rocked around.

I write this blog tonight, as we are now making way toward Cape Lookout. We have been underway now for 7 hours. It is night, we have made the day to night transition, dimming the instrument lights, going dark in the wheel house (except for this dang laptop monitor). The pilot house doors are open; a gently soothing breeze cools me.

It’s dark as the moon is not yet up, lots of stars; the sea is only 2 feet and is slightly off our starboard forward quarter.

We slowed the boat as we made a planning error, thinking the run was 150 miles, when it is only 114 miles. Departing at 2:30 we would get in before sunrise, so we slowed the boat to 5.7 knots and an ETA in Morehead at 7:30 am.

It’s so amazing how much nicer it is out here tonight, when last night was so rough. What a difference a day makes, and the GS is quite far offshore and not affecting the seas, and they winds are now ESE.

I took the first two watches as Jenny had a bad sinus headache, and I really enjoyed the passage, sitting alone at the fly bridge until dark, and we are now running from the pilothouse.
This passage making is a bit of love and hate. It can be so nice and yet at times so bad.
We had planned to make our way all the way to Norfolk VA, but a last minute weather check, warned us of a front coming sooner than predicted this morning. That we need to be out of the open water before Friday night, when we could expect 30-35 NE winds. This morning it looked like the winds were to come in Saturday, when we would be making our way into Norfolk channel. But Friday night means we would get some strong winds before we could get into Norfolk, and we are a bit shy about another rough passage. And so we are instead stopping in Morehead City, to wait out the front, and hopefully move on first of next week.

Passage making, make plans, estimate times and speeds and arrivals, and then change plans again.

We did learn from the past few days, to use the GS currents when we can, but to stay well to the western edge of the current, so that we can opt out of it if need be. Also, we need to get weather information, via satellite services, like Iridium so that the changes don’t surprise us. Today’s planned passage from Bald Head to Norfolk changed after we read Chris Parker’s weather update, which we missed as we were too far offshore a couple of days ago.

But passages like tonight remind you of how nice it can be out here, and why the call of the seas is so intoxicating.  

What a difference a day makes.

We made our waypoint at Cape Lookout at about 0700, it was calm and flat. We made our way into the channel and called Morehead City Yacht Basin.

I sit here now, after a nice nap, with the AC on and cooling the boat, looking at the weather updates. The weather that stopped us from trying to go all the way to Norfolk may develop into a tropical depression.

It is good to be tucked up nice and safe.


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