Monday, November 11, 2013

Passage to Turks and Caicos - First Three Days

We left Beaufort on a cold, sunny mid-afternoon. While still in the protection of the harbor, we hoisted sail and were quickly flushed out into the Atlantic by a strong ebb through the short channel. We even got to see a few dolphins along the way.

Leaving Beaufort, NC

Things were pretty nice for a while after that. We rounded up as far into the wind as we could while still being able to clear the sand bar at Cape Lookout and had a fast sail in flat conditions.

Once we approached the point, seas converging from the other side tumbled through the gaps in the shallows and met ours in a confusing jumble that caused Begonia to pitch and roll in a staccato of small, quick, uncomfortable jerks. I was hoping that a little more distance would steady the situation and it seemed to for a while.

I went off watch and fell quickly to sleep, although it didn't last long. There were too many strange motions as well as bangs and creaks to worry about. I had been spending so much time at anchor or at a dock that the boat's normal sea noises would take some getting used to.

Maryanne woke me for my watch at midnight and seemed more nervous than I had expected her to be. While I was dozing in fits, she had sailed right into the Gulf Stream. The strong current was pushing Begonia sideways right into twenty knots of wind in a heaped up mess of a sea. Once I was standing up in the cockpit on my own two feet, I understood her concern. Moving about the boat was pretty difficult and even trying to stand still took some work.

I was confused and annoyed by this. I had taken great care to check on the forecast location of the Gulf Stream from a variety of sources and had been watching its progress for weeks. The Gulf Stream is a dangerous piece of water when the wind is blowing against it and finding a safe way across had been the lion's share of my planning and worry about the passage.

I had specifically planned our route to stay on the west side of it until we were well south, where it was forecast to take a brief but favorable turn to the east-southeast. We planned to join it there and motor the length of the bend in calm winds where we would exit as it resumed its run north.

We were over one hundred miles west of the Gulf Stream's forecast position, yet we were being set north at over three knots and the water temperature had risen 10C in minutes. If this wasn't it, it sure seemed like it. Perhaps it was a mini-side eddy. At that point, there was nothing left to do for my watch but ride it out and hope it would be over in a few hours.

When I got Maryanne up at six, the current had died down to a knot but the winds were up, so we got no relief from the seas for a while. At least it was considerably warmer than it had been the last few days in Beaufort. The warm water was helping with that. As the day wore on, the wind slowly faded to nothing. At least they had the forecast right about that.

With the wind gone, the seas started to subside. By nightfall, the sails were down and we were motoring in a smooth swell. I was still optimistically headed for my rendezvous with the eastbound turn that was still showing ahead of us on the morning's forecast. My hope was that if it was going to be calm and if we were going to have to motor, I at least wanted a little help getting in some easting. The Turks and Caicos are mostly south of Beaufort, but the hard part of the sail is getting far enough east before the trade winds push you back west further south. Progress is measured less in miles sailed than lines of longitude crossed.

With the opposite side engine providing a nice hum, sleeping conditions were perfect in the slow swell and we were both soon caught up on our rest. It was more of the same the next day.

We passed 100, and then 200 nautical miles from land with only about a ship or two passing in the far distance. The radar picked up a couple of others too far away to see. There were no birds or marine mammals or fish evident. The only sign of life was the bioluminescence streaming past the hulls at night. Our wakes looked like two rockets with green fire, the brighter of the two being churned up by our propeller.

Our Gulf Stream boost seems to be missing so far. Perhaps it's just a little south of where they thought.

As much as I would prefer to shut down the engine and wait for the wind to return, the forecasts are becoming increasingly clear that there is a gale coming in a few days. All indications are that it's best to be as far south and east as possible when it hits. Hudson Canyon off New York is expecting 55kt winds and 20-foot seas. Way down where we expect to be, it looks like we should see 33kt winds and 15-foot seas, which at least will be going our way. After the initial blast, we should be able to enjoy a fast sleigh ride the rest of the way in trade wind conditions - provided we can get far enough east.

Meal time, sunrises and sunset 'together time' are the clock for our day

[Maryanne]I've been amazed how quickly the two of us have fallen into our watches. Neither of us seem especially tired; this time at least it seems to have come naturally. Also neither of us have been seasick, nor had any of those uncomfortable periods on the edge that sometimes happens at the start of a passage. Yay - good news for this passage. The water is already an amazing blue. Strangely the best view of this is not from the boat looking down across the water (where it appears more of a sparkling gray), but from the bathroom escape hatch window; it's just beautiful!

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