May 2007 – The Rapid Return Offshore Adventure

So why did we decide to turn around… while in the D.R. we received a job offer from a company in Switzerland that I had worked with in the past.  Although this would not be finalized until a subsequent trip to Switzerland in July, the prospect of taking the family overseas for an adventure of another sort was just too tantalizing.  We decided we would turn around and make fast tracks back to the U.S. so we would have time to see family, get Grace safely stored, and pack up for the next adventure.

Having reached the D.R. we now truly felt as though we own our cruising life.  We know we can do this.  We can return to it when we choose.  It will always be ours.

The trip back was an amazing series of tight weather windows that allowed us to make an amazing rapid return.  The credit for our speed lies firmly in the hands of Megan, Grace’s chief meteorologist.  Megan held the primary responsibility for monitoring weather broadcasts (Chris Parkers and the NOAA Offshore Reports).  And while I would hope for a perfect window to fit with the optimal course I had charted, Megan would quickly adapt our plans to fit the weather we could actually expect.  As a result, we never missed a weather window, stayed ahead of really nasty weather that left many people weeks behind us, and made record time back to the Chesapeake.  During our rapid retuen we will sail 1500 miles in 3 weeks which include 6 days spent in Nassau!

We also developed a multiple overnight strategy.  This is a real challenge with small kids when you need a full-time helmsman and a full-time parent.  With the unpredictable needs of the kids you can’t really develop a good watch rotation.  But we learned we could work around this for a maximum of 48 hours.  Megan doesn’t tolerate sleep deprivation and 48 hours is the brick wall limit for me.  Our strategy is that I take the helm as much as I can stand and she sleeps whenever she possibly can.  That way she always has some degree of rest and can spell me for a couple hours at any point when I decide I need a break.  Usually that would mean a couple hours right after dinner and a couple hours around dawn.

The crew that set sail from Luperon was infinitely more confident than the one that sailed from Conception a month earlier.  After seeing that Megan’s mom was safely delivered to the airport in Santiago by Nino (Lois came to visit us for a week in Luperon), we made preparations and set sail in fairly rough seas.  We left alone in 8-10 foot following seas so steep that you could look up over the arch and see the crests.  But magically, Grace’s stern would lift up and let them pass harmlessly below us at the last minute.  A few would slap the side and send spray over the cockpit.  Amazingly, this was not a big deal to the crew.  We knew conditions would improve over the next 10 hours and that this departure time would allow us to reach Mayaguana by daybreak 2 days later.

Fortunately we were able to sail the entire way and only ran the engine to charge the batteries to run electronics.  After sitting in Luperon for a month, our prop was covered in barnacles and I was NOT getting into that harbor/sewer to scrape it off.  Every time I’d run the engine while underway, I’d notice it was running hot.  When we did arrive in Mayaguana, I dived underneath and found that the prop looked like a ball of white fuzz.  The fuzz was a layer of barnacles about ¾ inch thick!  It took an hour to scrape the prop and shaft and I didn’t even touch the hull which had a layer of ¼ barnacles despite what was supposed to be really good bottom paint.

We checked back into the Bahamas in Mayaguana and set sail the next morning.  Chris (SSB weather guy) indicated we had a brief window but could go that day.  Some other boats in the harbor elected to wait one more day to rest.  High winds and squalls descended up on them.  Days later we’d hear them calling Chris Parker wondering when the misery would end so they could leave.

From Mayaguana we sailed another 30 hours to arrive back in Calabash Bay, Long Island.  I spend another hour under the boat scraping barnacles.  Then we get “take out” dinner!  We dinghy into the beach resort and order a feast which we take back out to Grace.  The next day we explore a little by dinghy, swim and prepare to get underway again.

From Calabash Bay we sail up the Exuma Sound overnight to reach Warderick Wells before dawn.  Leaving Calabash we hook our biggest fish a beautiful Mahi! Once again this comes near sunset. As we’re nearing Warderick Wells in the wee hours of the night we experience our first and only serious equipment failure while underway.  During the night I smell something like engine oil burning, not the engine burning oil but like it was spilled on the engine and is cooking on the valve cover.  I check the engine.  It’s fine.  The smell gets stronger and I think perhaps the transmission is overheating (we’re motoring most of this 30 hour stretch).  No. That’s fine too.  Finally Megan notices it is worse in the aft cabin.  Thinking that perhaps the autopilot is cooked I pull back the matteras and nearly burn my hand.  The fiberglass over the starter battery is toasty and the starter battery is even hotter!  The second output terminal of the alternator has decided to force 16 volts into our 12 volt starter battery.  I shut everything down and am able to disconnect the starter battery from the system and use the house batteries to start the engine.  We’re back up and running.  And fortunately we didn’t have an explosion of hydrogen gas!

We continue across the banks to make Nassau by the afternoon.  Here we stay for a week while we wait for weather, fix the alternator (and get a spare battery), get the windlass motor rebuilt (did I mention that died on us in Mayaguana?), visit with my cousins the Brownriggs, and get to visit Atlantis again including the brand new part with an amazing kids pool (once again thanks to the Brownriggs)!

Megan makes another great weather decision in Nassau.  A window is closing.  We should go today and try to get to Florida.  I had hoped to stage to Bimini then do a really long offshore run with the benefit of the Gulf Stream to get to the Carolinas.  If we wait for my window, we might get stuck.  Megan makes the right call and we go.  During the night we are joined by hundreds of small birds flying around the boat.  Then during the day, we have another small flock of little songbirds join us in the cockpit and even in the cabin.  We’re probably 80 miles from land.  Who knows where they came from but these little guys are so tame they are nestled on the sleeping children.  It is phenomenal.

 We have to do some motoring but we have an uneventful Gulf Stream crossing and make Port Canaveral 50 hours later.  Some of the boats that decided to stay another day when we left Nassau, will still be there 2 weeks later as miserable storms descend on the Bahamas.

We don’t let up on the pace.  We motor up the ICW to Titusville, drop the hook and do some laundry.  The next day we motor a full day to Daytona.  Then we motor the next morning to St. Augustine with the plan to get a few hours rest and sail out the inlet for Charleston that evening.  In St. Augustine we have an unexpected reunion with Snow Day

Don’t get much rest that afternoon, but we do get off on time and have a great run to Charleston.  All night we are surrounded by dolphins racing through bioluminescence.  They are green glowing missiles darting all about the boat. They stay with us for almost the entire trip.

In Charleston, we treat ourselves to a fancy marina and take a break for a couple days.  We meet a nice couple on Anania, a beautiful Taswell 43 (designed by the same designer as Grace, perhaps that should be our next boat?).  We also are reunited with Amicus who has heard us on Chris Parker and meet us in Charleston.  Many people we met cruising have heard us calling in for weather reports and can’t believe the time we’re making up the coast.  Many also don’t know why we’ve turned around and why we’re going so fast.  It’s fun to tell them of our Swiss opportunity.

From Charleston we have one last offshore push to Beaufort, NC where we’ll avoid Cape Hatteras by getting back onto the ICW to the Chesapeake.  The last offshore run is the worst.  And it’s my fault since I decide to go early before the weather has moderated.  The first 9 hours were pretty miserable with high winds and large swells on the nose.  Once underway none of the crew, myself included, was happy with my decision to go.  Conditions didn't moderate until much later than I expected.  But eventually the crew forgave me (I think... Megan may still hold it over my head for a while...) 

5 miles away from the Beaufort inlet, we get a call from our friends on Spoony (a catamaran with a family with 4 little girls).  We spent a lot of time with them in the Exumas and last saw them the day before we sailed for the D.R.  They were 20 miles behind us and bound for the same anchorage.  After they arrive we head over in the dinghy and are greeted by the crew in their new fancy black dresses (gifts from a recent visiting relative) and hand made signs welcoming Grace back to the U.S. 

This trip back has been very fun and fortitious in terms of reuniting with friends made along the way.  We haven't made many stops in the US but at almost every one we've discovered friends we made along the way.  It's been a really nice way to return! 

[Back to Log] [Homeport]