Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Passage from Chesapeake to Rhode Island - Day 4

[Kyle] By 2 0r 3 in the morning on the fourth day, the wind finally started to fill in from the South and I shut the engine down. Then the wind died. Then it came back and shifted to the North. Then it died. Then it finally started coming in very lightly from the South and stayed there. I was able to get the boat moving very slowly in the right direction. I hoped the wind speed increase would follow soon because there was no way I'd make it to work in time at this speed. I alternated between thinking I could just make it to thinking there would be no way. The only thing we could practically do was keep trying. We still had hundreds of miles to go.

Maryanne came on watch and suggested we put the screacher (our biggest sail) up since there were two of us awake and we'd be able to help each other. The boat picked a little bit of speed and I went off watch to get some sleep.

I awoke mid off-watch to a boat that was almost perfectly motionless apart from an almost barely detectable rolling of about half a degree either way. There was, however, this...noise - a high pitched hissing sound. I went out to see Maryanne and was treated to the sight and sound of our two wakes just tearing apart the ocean behind us. The sea was still flat and the screacher was pulling us hard. I went back to sleep smiling. By the time I came on watch that afternoon, the waves had increased to a foot or two. Then the great wind just died again. Footprint slowed to a stop, drifted sideways and then started to roll back and forth. Back and forth. Slam - SLAM! Slam - SLAM! Slam, slam - SLAM!! We didn't have enough fuel to power away from it so I just put the sails down, sat down with a magazine and gritted my teeth through it. Fortunately it was only short lived and soon the sails were back up and we were chugging along towards Rhode Island again.

At about 1630, I was at the helm when right next to us, maybe 15 feet away, a Humpback whale slowly surfaced and spouted on our starboard side. It was about ten feet longer than Footprint! I ran inside and called Maryanne. She was in such a deep sleep that I had to keep yelling louder and louder. By the time I woke her up, I was yelling so loud she thought the boat must be sinking and she FLEW out of bed. We went outside and waited. Then we waited some more. Then we waited a little bit more. Maryanne was starting to give me that look - the look that says "Did you just wake me up because you saw a piece of driftwood that you thought was a whale?" Then the whale spouted again on the port side and lingered on the surface for a while, again, only about 15 feet off. We could see a group of about 5 areas that appeared to be bubbles from other whales further off but this one was the only one that surfaced. The whale shadowed us for about five minutes, surfacing and spouting several times before finally peeling off and diving away towards the other bubbles. Perhaps this one was sent to figure out what we were. Incidentally, whale breath at close range is just about the foulest odor I have ever encountered.

The wind and seas increased and we reefed and reefed again as the night progressed. The sea ended up being very much like the first two days except this time we were going with it and the strain on everything was much less. Instead of the ba-bang, ba-bang, ba-bang of going upwind, Footprint would just roll and pitch gently as the crests of the big waves slowly rolled under her.

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