Our last post presented a laundry list of jobs we had knocked off to make our boat more ocean worthy. All the effort was undertaken to ensure that S/V Ingomar was ready for a 1,500 nm sail from Hampton to British Virgin Islands, offshore, ocean cruising.
We left Annapolis on October 29th and arrived in Hampton in time to attend some of the excellent workshops the Salty Dawgs were offering and to meet some of the fine sailors who would be in the rally. Many of the volunteers were helpful and we clued up some last minute items such as setting up route tracking using our Delorme, registration for the rally and ensuring our SSB was in working order. Being in the midst of the Salty Dawg group, some of whom we had met in Annapolis felt so good and all of a sudden we were pumped to do this! The volunteers who run the Salty Dawg group are the nicest people you will ever meet and they also know their stuff, having done this trip before. Bill, the founder, is always interesting to chat with about strategy. There were many workshops and unfortunately due to delays we missed most of them but we did get to attend the most important ones, a presentation from US Coast Guard on offshore emergency measures and rescue as well as attending daily sail weather briefings from Chris Parker. There were also a couple of evening happy hours and get togethers at the Blue Haven Yacht club where we were located.
We also got an opportunity to test out Single Side Band radio and with excellent coaching from Joan, discovered we could send and receive transmissions and feel pretty good about the setup in our boat. Now all we had to do was get our crew assembled, find a good weather window and we would be ready to go! On Sunday evening the weather prognosis had deteriorated and many were skeptical about what to do in terms of a departure date. Nov 2 had been the planned day of departure but with Chris’s update on Oct 31, predicting gusts to 50 mms, many boaters began to re-evaluate their plan.
Our crew, Ken and Wayne, arrived late afternoon on the 1st of November. Al and I had spent the morning doing last minute things like laundry, cleaning the boat, filling water and fuel tanks etc. so we were ready to go, if the weather forecast was favourable. Several boaters had left that morning to outrun the predicted front and you could feel the anticipation in the air, everyone evaluating when the best time to leave would be and how fast their boat would get them across the Gulf Stream. We all attended the weather update from Chris at 4:30 and afterwards we determined as a team, that leaving immediately was the best approach for Ingomar. We headed to the boat, untied the lines and set a course for the BVIs.
But first we had to cross the Chesapeake Bay at night and then cross the Gulf Stream. Both can be gnarly, but thankfully went off without incident. We got to see our first dolphins! Once we were clear of the Gulf Stream we settled down for a long sail determine the best route in relation to the weather. There was a front coming from the North but with daily updates via our SSB from Chris we were able to determine the best direction and strategy.
Ken and Wayne are experienced sailors and Al and I were delighted to have them on board for this trip. I took over the cooking and logging duties and the guys managed the sailing. We decided to do 3 hour shifts and rotate so everyone got ample rest. The weather was mostly decent for our transit and we were able to sail more than we had anticipated starting out. A fear was we would not have suitable winds and would have to motor more than our fuel reserves allowed. However, we were pleased to find good winds and excellent weather conditions for most of the journey.
As expected there were a few incidents such as losing our navigation lights on Day 2, and the halyard on Jib #1 breaking the same day but these turned out to be easy fixes. On Day 4, when the winds died down and we had a beautiful day on the water hanging out, Ken went up the mast to retrieve the halyard that had broken and repair our steaming light that had also blown earlier. Wayne and Ken also took the opportunity to jump in the ocean and go for a quick swim. The water at this point had turned the spectacular blue we associate with the Caribbean. That night our alternator began to overcharge but Al and Ken were able to fix it quickly and get our spare installed in short order. That night a sailboat passed us and as we had no lights or means to communicate, Wayne shone his flashlight on the sails to let them know we were present.
On the 5th day the front that had been looming for so long finally reached us and winds and seas ramped up rather quickly. We saw sustained winds at 30 with gusts up to 35 – 40 knots. The seas were high at 20-25 feet the first night but subsided to 15-20 feet the second day. Ingomar proved to be up to the challenge and we settled in for a couple of days of fast sailing. Unfortunately, thats when things went a little off track. The stay sail clew blew out and within a couple of hours we busted the topping lift. As a result we were forced to steam ahead under bare poles until we had enough light to make repairs. A sailboat is a much steadier vessel with some sail up, even in high seas and winds and as a result of having to motor only, that night was rough and tumbly and probably the least favourite for all concerned.
Up to this point Filbert had been enjoying himself but the motoring in rolling seas was just as miserable for him as us. Thankfully, the next morning we were able to unfurl the staysail, haul it down, Al had it repaired in short time. We were also able to get the main sail up to steady the boat. Once we were sailing we changed course from a southward direction to a more southeasterly route. We had changed our direction to a more southerly route that night to make the rolling less intense.
The temperatures had turned warm around Day 4 and we were sailing in shorts for most of the trip. At night, the sky was ablaze with stars, with an occasional boat sailing past. We had flying fish all around us and a couple made it on board overnight, with one hitting Wayne in the face!
Seas offshore are not the same as coastal seas; there are longer periods between waves, unlike the short breaking waves you experience in coastal cruising. But the sense of freedom out here, even in high seas and rough winds, was an experience none of us will forget.
Ingomar maintained a decent speed and we were making great time keeping up with much larger boats in the fleet. Daily chats via SSB radio and a weather update from Chris Parker kept us in the loop of the boats around us. Chris would also take our coordinates and suggest strategy to optimize our sailing.
We had expected to take 12 days in total but when we began to close in on the BVIs, it was closer to 9.5 days. Everyone played a role in getting us there, Wayne took the helm for a couple of nights towards the end manning the wheel by himself, Ken went up the mast offshore, in rolling seas and fixed some crucial breakages, Al managed to fix the things we constantly broke, including sails and mechanics and I made sure everyone was well fed and hydrated. Filbert, well he was along for the ride.
Filbert was a real trooper and seemed to be fine with the journey until we hit high seas and winds. After that he tended to stay down below and sleep most of the time. But he continued to eat and would often come up right before dawn to sit on the dodger and attack anyone who came close to him.
As we neared Virgin Gorda on the morning of November 11th, I think we were all feeling pretty great. This was an accomplishment that we were all stoked about completing. Once you sail offshore you realize several things:
- how great the ocean is and what respect you should have for it. We learned to reef early before winds ramped us and always pay attention to the sea and sky.
- the sea is different offshore and teaches you new methods for sailing
- assistance in any form is a benefit. The weather updates allowed us to plan and make the best route choices and chatting with fellow Dawgs was reassuring.
- working together as a team in this environment is crucial.
- you will laugh often and
- offshore sailing is a lot of fun and with the right crew, you might want to go again, and again, and again.
Al and I could never have done this by ourselves and are so grateful to Ken and Wayne for helping us get here. We had fun and will always remember this trip! I think we’ve all had a taste for offshore sailing and also think it won’t be our last.