June 5, 2014

The Crossing


North, south, east, west
And all points in between,
Raise that main up on the mast
and ride the ocean green.

Port, starboard, forward, aft
and all other bearings.
Keep this vessel headed south, 
our floating dream.

I wrote my painted dream
when I was 26
Under a captain's spell.
Little did it seem but I was in a fix,
I learned my lessons well.

So come on now, enjoy the pace,
And lift forth my candle lit smile.
We leave no evidence or trace,
As we ride the nautical mile!

(Lyrics from "Everlasting Love"  jcg)




BACK TO AMERICA

Dear Friends… You will find there's far more narrative, and less photos, in this post than what I usually post. Please bear with me, as I had time to do a lot of thinking on this passage… Thanks for dropping by.


May 28, 2014 The Crossing from the Bahamas back to Florida is upon me now. For some reason I've been a little nervy about it.  I guess it's because suddenly, I'm raising the anchor and about to point Glory Days due west into the open Atlantic Ocean.... There will be no inviting islands along the way or places to stop if I need a break.


I fully realize that my little 60 mile trip across the Atlantic from the Bahamas to Florida may not seem like a big deal to other sailors.  My crossing today will pale in comparison for those sailors who make much grander crossings that require days, or even weeks, over hundreds of open miles at sea.   

But for me, today’s “crossing”  is a big deal... Vessels have capsized in the Gulf Stream  Some of the people have survived such tragedies by the skin of their teeth Others have died in these waters ... So it is a big deal for me, and here is why.

Number one, I’m a single hander, and I can only depend on myself if something goes wrong.  Number two, it's my first time crossing the Gulf Stream without the comfort and assurance of a buddy boat cruising nearby.  Number three, it's a mystery.  There are lots of unknowns out there still, no matter how many times I check, and recheck every detail from safety gear to the weather forecast.

By the way, I am always humbled and amazed at the respect single handers like me get from other cruisers.  Some just can't imagine piloting a boat alone, but it just seems natural to me. To be honest,  I oftentimes envy the happy cruising couples I meet out there .... "Gosh, that could be so cool", I say to myself... But the cruising life is not for everyone.... The living quarters are tight and there are rough times among all the wonderful glory days in the sun and that perfect anchorage... So for me, it is what it is, at least for now.... Maybe one day my ship will come in for a compatible and loving partner to share this passion of exploring the world from the comfort of an able yacht.... Until then, I'm still chasing the sun.

I almost jumped at the chance to buddy boat with a guy named Chuck and his wife aboard Brisa, this Caliber 33.

It was very tempting to go with Brisa as a buddy boat, but they were leaving at 6 PM TODAY with plans to sail all night long to Ft. Pierce.  But I had just sailed 7 hours from Mangrove Cay and was going on little sleep and just couldn't see continuing on another 14-16 hours to the Ft.Pierce inlet with no rest.  The decision was made. I would go it alone.


In a matter of minutes, Brisa was just a dot on the horizon headed west as I got ready for an early night.

I went to bed at 9pm, but I just could not sleep,,, there was just too much anticipation thinking about it all.... Did I remember this? Did I remember that? What if I screw up?  Laying in my bunk, I found myself surfing in and out of light sleep all night long, before finally surrendering at 2:39 a.m.   "Get your coffee and get your butt in gear", I told myself... By leaving at 3 am, I could assure myself to easily make landfall in daylight... That seemed like a good goal.

When I planned this trip I knew there would be times when I would just have to button up, shut up, and just do it.  Taking the first step forward any scary situation is half the battle.....Sixty miles is not really that far, but you still have to plan it out carefully to make certain you actually arrive at the correct inlet you have chosen as your landfall.

Yes, I’ve studied the weather carefully, over the past several days, and today’s weather window looks ideal.  Frankly, I wouldn’t mind having a bit more wind to push me along faster... but be careful what you wish for... I’ll always prefer too little of wind over too much wind any day.  

So in preparation, I try really hard to imagine any little thing that could possibly go wrong along the way.... And what BIG things could go wrong... What if? What if? What if?

The question is, "WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?"  But more importantly, what will I do IF such and such happens?  It'll occupy your mind for days if you let it.

Here are the top dozen "what if" scenarios that have raced through my mind like a freight train more than once today.  Also, here is my plan to address them should they rear their ugly head while at sea.

#1.  What if I fall overboard at sea?  It's a sailors worst nightmare, so don't even go there I tell myself.  But I do have a plan for that, just in case.  First of all,  I wear a life jacket at all times, and I always attach myself with a safety harness and tether in the event I have to go up on the deck for some reason like a tangled line or snag.   I also carry an emergency GPS Spot SOS locater device and a portable VHF radio attached to me at all times should I fall in.   The radio would only reach 15-20 miles but it's worth a try if faced with being out there in the water ... for the rest of your life. 

Another thing I do is I always drag an emergency line trailing about 80’ behind the boat.  It has loops, or footholds, every 4’ just in case I fall in and have to immediately grab that line and somehow remarkably pull myself back aboard... Some sailors refer to this emergency drag line as the “Oh shit!” line...  You hope you never have to use it.  Yes, the drag line is  a long shot for me saving my own life, and it would require herculean strength on my part to actually pull myself back on board a moving boat in the middle of the ocean at night .... but I don’t rule out any superman strengths I might draw upon if I'm dragging in the water and suddenly its a matter of life or... SHARKS!


#2. What if I encounter a ship in the night heading on a collision course with me?  First of all, you gotta keep your eyes open and always on the lookout for them, especially at night... Cargo ships and freighters can travel at 20 knots or more, and one can sneak up on you in no time.  It is always best to head this off before it becomes an issue. 

 I am very happy to have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) system on board Glory Days, and I have already spotted 4 ships with it in the first 2 hours this morning.  Thankfully, it will be daylight in another hour, and deciphering their course or their collision course will be much easier in daylight... Ships at night are very difficult to figure... They are just a big blob of blurred lights, and very difficult to estimate their distance from my vessel.... thankfully, the AIS system gives me a complete reading of all their information like their speed, their name, their course, and their estimated collision course to me if there is one... Since AIS gives me the actual name of the ship, they are more likely to answer my radio call when I hail them by using their correct vessel name.  That always sounds much better than yelling on the radio "hey you big ship, I'm out here! Please don't crash into me!"  Technology has come a long way to enable a simple guy like me to navigate successfully on the high seas.

#3.  What if the engine just dies for no reason way far away?  I have sails to get me there and food no matter how long it takes.  Carry on sailing and read the owners manual to trouble shoot the problem while under sail.  

#4. What if an engine belt breaks?  I carry spare belts, hoses, gaskets, etc. on board...and the best Craftsman wrenches.

#5. What if the water pump impeller goes bad causing the engine to overheat?  I have a spare one and know how to install it.  It's a potential problem that is waiting to happen. Be ready.

#6. What if I misjudge the chart and completely miss my point of arrival?  Son, Florida is a huge state.... and as long as you continue westward from the Bahamas, you WILL eventually find land...

#7. What if my GPS fails?  I carry a back-up, to the back-up, to the back-up just in case.



8. What if the weather and seas get nasty?  This is always a possibility, but the forecast I’ve studied so carefully indicates low wind and small seas.  What else can you do but go on that?  If conditions turn into a rage, you deal with it.  You'd be wise to reduce your sail area well BEFORE those conditions occur... plan ahead, study the weather changes coming at you, and react BEFORE its too late to do dangerous things such as climb on the deck to fix a problem or try to take a sail down during a raging storm... 

#9. What if the boat suddenly starts taking on huge amounts of water from a collision with floating debris or some other unknown reason?  Rule #1 of seamanship: keep water out of the vessel.  If this tragedy occurs, the First course of action would be to announce a MAYDAY MAYDAY on the VHF radio, and pray someone is out there to hear my call....Any vessel within 20 miles should be able to hear my call..... Next, be sure to have your GPS coordinates ready to give them if they do happen to answer you.  

Second course of action for a flooding vessel is to fire up the Honda generator and start pumping the water out with the electric sump pump and garden hose that I carry on board.  Unless the water is really gushing in, I could probably stay ahead of it with enough fuel to last  at least 48 hours or more as I wait for help.  There's nothing more handy too than the ever reliable bucket for getting water out fast.... 

Thirdly, find the freaking leak and plug it up!  I carry a variety of wooden cone shaped plugs just for that purpose in case one of the thru hull fittings should fail or blow out.  If all else fails and my boat is going down to sink, I will grab the Ditch Bag and resort to the inflatable boat as a survival raft.  An emergency ditch bag should always be prepacked on board any vessel and full of emergency supplies like flares, portable VHF radio, batteries, compass, flashlight, fish hooks, line, sunscreen, snacks, just to name a few of the emergency essentials.  

She is.
Made of.
Fiberglass and wood.
She is not afraid of,
Anything she should.
Everlasting love  is her name.


#10. What if my boat is demasted in high winds?  Never a good thing this one.   It's only happened to me once and on a much smaller boat while lake sailing.  I make sure to carry a good set of sharp bolt cutters easily assessible.  I may need them to cut the stays (guy wires) free of the mast in order salvage the mast and sails, and to clear them off the deck quickly so I can try to straighten out the mess and carry on.  Hopefully your head sail or auxiliary engine will get your crippled vessel home safely if you lose a mast.  I would consider this as reason for a MAYDAY call as well.

#11. What if a sail rips? Again, this has happened to me before but it wasn't the end of the world.   First of all, get that sucker down pronto before a small rip quickly grows into a larger rip.   If the rip is relatively small, I carry adhesive sail tape which will work in a pinch.  If the tape doesn't hold or the rip is too large, you may be SOL with using that sail for the rest of the trip.   Or if I'm feeling really industrious, I might try to hand stitch a patch using the stitch kit I carry on board.   If I can get by without that sail, I will carry on using only the remaining sail.  Be careful, because If you take a chance and cause it to rip even more, it may become useless and unrepairable.... Brand new sails are not cheap at all.  

#12. What if the steering cable breaks and I have no rudder control?... Another bummer that could occur.   Most boats, including mine, carry an emergency tiller on board.   It's a separate hand controlled tiller that fits directly onto the rudder shaft from the cockpit and "should" allow you to steer the boat temporarily in an emergency situation. I'm ashamed to say I have never taken the time to test out my emergency tiller should this horror ever occur... It is on the list of things to do as is refinishing all the woodwork and stopping drinking.

#13. Speaking of that matter, what if I run out of beer?  There was this one time when that almost happened ... It was a very close call, matie.  It happened while cruising down the Intracostal with my buddy, Dixon, way back in January.  It was such a close call as our supply was down to one beer.  thankfully no one got hurt, and we lived to tell about it.

So you might say, it sure seems like a lot of trouble and risk to go out on the ocean in a sailboat?  I say, what’s the alternative when you are driven to do this? 
The Boy Scout motto always prevails: Be Prepared.

So here's how the day of May 29, 2014 went ... From my log notes.

3:17 a.m.   Up and at 'em, cold water on face, hot coffee If I were a smoker, now would be the time for one.  Up with the anchor and a quick departure from West End into the dark abyss of the Atlantic.  Wow, its darker than the inside of a cow out here.... I'm toodling along under power with a light East wind nicely making way.

Within the first 30 minutes, I have encountered a freighter on my port beam on a collision course with me ... A series of lights is difficult to discern... thankfully, the AIS gives me her exact location, speed, and course over ground... I am forced to back off, cool my jets, and let her pass a half mile off my bow... In this darkness, I take no chances.  Unless someone on the ship is looking at the radar screen, they don't always see you out there, and a collision with one of them is just unthinkable.... The ship might not even feel the impact of the collision with my little boat and just keep on going.  


Three more ships are soon spotted on the horizon, but the nearest is 8 miles safely away... a Bahamas cruise ship is lit up like a Christmas tree, and thankfully headed 260 degrees south to Freeport, away from me. Thank you again AIS.


Oh my...  The stars.  
The galaxies are above me. 
It’s a dark night with no moon... I see a meteor jetting through the sky and I smile... how can little old me even begin to conceive what is in the skies above me?  I could never begin to understand it all.  I can’t even understand how they sell unrefrigerated milk on the dry shelf without it spoiling, much less ponder the depths of the galaxies above me... still tho, it is enlightening to know I am so small and yet so large in the whole scope of things in this universe.   

Please wrap me in your arms and hold on fast,
As we make the doubters believe.
No aberration shall pierce our path
Or cause us to concede.

Then whisper your life away tonight,
And don't fear the matrix love.
A nimbus are we gliding so high,
As we give the stars a hug.
Everlasting Love .... will be our home

5:41 a.m.... I can now barely see that things are starting to get a bit lighter... dawn will be here in an hour. I'm glad the dark is done.

Morning has broken...


DAYLIGHT! 
5:55 a.m.

Another ship passes, 2.2 miles to the east of me...

At around 9:30 a.m., or about halfway through the journey, I begin to feel the northerly pull of the Gulf Stream... I think I must be entering it now, although it is not a real obvious thing just yet.... My course on the plotter is slowly shifting north, tho i made  adjustments to my heading... 

Thankfully, I have accounted for this shift and should be able to gain at least one knot of speed as I fall off my heading now and allow the stream to take me along it’s northerly flow... Winds are still relatively light, maybe 10 kts if that... I’ll make more adjustments once I find myself in the middle or leaving the Stream.

I just hope I calculated enough navigational fall to still ride the stream and make my port entry into Lake Worth.... Time will tell  hopefully I don't end up in New York....but then suddenly...

Suddenly... LAND FREAKIN' HO!!!  
I sighted land and condo towers after about 10 hours, and within 12 hours I soon find myself back in the safety of Lake Worth harbor at West Palm Beach…. Thank you Lord for a safe, and rather calm passage… 


I had so heard so many horror stories of the ravenous Gulf Stream and how it can reek  havoc with sailors that I must admit I was shaken' in my boots at this crossing… but once again, I am spared as I tip toe again under the nose of another sleeping tiger ... 

I know the day will come when I will be forced to deal with undesirable and relentless seas.  But in the meantime, I will consider each calm passage I make as just another chapter in the training grounds for what will surely face me one day.  

Suddenly high rise condos were a welcome site to see.

As I entered the pass into the harbor, I noticed my trip log has now turned over 1100 miles! … I decided that each mile I log prepares me for the next … and the next, and the next.  You Learn by doing.

Ahhh.... An actual red marker leading me into the channel! .... It had been months since seeing one of these.... Bahamian waters rarely have navigational aids such as this.

Entering the jetties to Lake Worth around 4 pm.

Once at anchor, all newly arriving vessels are required to fly the official yellow quarantine flag until you have cleared Customs.

I found an easy anchorage right away, and then proceeded to take the longest, deepest and best nap of my life... For 3 hours!  Soon I would prepare dinner and wait until tomorow to go ashore for check in at the US Customs office. 

A part of me is still missing the lore of the Bahamas .... But now when I think about it, the good thing is I GET TO EXPLORE FLORIDA!!!

That night I couldn't stop dancing and singing that old classic song from West Side Story, "America!"  Here's the link to a rollicking and fun version of America! Check it out! (Now why can't I write songs like this?!)

CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO, "AMERICA!"



STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT POST COMING SOON.... "LOCAL LOGIC AND BACK TO THE ICW!"












2 comments:

  1. I can totally relate to your story. Tonight I am at Lynyard Cay, tomorrow I will sail to Little Harbor. This evening I figured my courses to the Berry Islands, then Bimini and back to Florida. 3 crossings, it will be exciting. Congrats on a successful crossing, another mile stone down your belt. Fair winds for the remainder of your trip.

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