Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hilton Head

Well, we didn’t make Beaufort, but we did have a safe journey to Hilton Head, SC. At the point where we had to turn NE in the Gulf Stream to continue to Beaufort, the wind had not switched to the SE as forecast, nor had it decreased to the 10kts as expected. So rather than motor into the wind and the 5 foot seas, we decided to call it a day and sail into Hilton Head. It’s funny because at the beginning of the winter we said that we’d come back to Hilton Head and continue where we left off last October when we turned south and headed for the Bahamas. The decision to head in early was a bittersweet one, in that we had to leave our friends on Second Wave, who decided to tough it out and continue to Beaufort. But they must return home to Toronto before July 1, so they are under the gun to make mileage.

Our crossing began on Monday as we departed the Strangers Cay Cut through the barrier reef into the rolling ocean with 5 foot swells and 15kt wind from 80 degrees. Along with Second Wave, we saw speeds of 7kts or better on the beam reach. Skies were mostly clear with scattered cumulus. As land sank out of sight the wind picked up to 20kts and the swell increased to 6-8 feet. Second Wave’s mainsail ripped near the top of the sail and they were very dismayed and worried about it getting worse but decided to press on. Rachel got seasick, and Kathy wasn’t feeling very well either. Linda and the two boys on Second Wave were sick as well, but Matthew reported later that Nick (9 years old) was “chipper and eating junk food again” But at sunset the wind piped up to 25kts and seas increased to 10 feet. We veered more to the west to keep the wind slightly aft of the beam and keep the ride as smooth as possible. Watching the big swells bear down on us was something to see. They would rear up and threaten to topple the boat, then would lift us into the air, pass by underneath, and gently lower us into the next trough, leaving foamy whitewater washing away downwind of us. I thought it was quite thrilling, especially when we surfed down the wave at 11kts, but the girls did not share my sentiment, It would have been fun if Kathy and Rachel had been feeling better.

The wind continued to blow at 20-25kts all night long. With the full jib and the main reefed to 1/3 the boat was nicely balanced and the autopilot did a great job, never faltering as usual. That’s one piece of equipment which has performed flawlessly- good ole “Otto”. The moon was almost full, so visibility was good, and the sails were glowing in the moonlight. 4 big ships were sighted, with one of them coming within 1 mile of our location, but not requiring a course change. Matthew stayed in the cockpit most of the night as well, and we occasionally chatted to help each other stay awake. Kathy was able to relieve me for 2 hours during the night which got me through ok, and she and Rachel felt better towards the morning.

During the next day, the winds dropped some to 15-20, still out of the east, and as we sailed into the Gulf Stream, our speed increased to 9-10 kts with peak speeds above 11kts. We would watch the speed indicator and chant, “11-1, 11-4, 11-8, 12!” Kathy and I swapped off at the helm so that by the end of the day I was up to a total of 6 hours of sleep for the last 30 hours. But this was the point at which we continued on our NW track, as Second Wave pressed hard into the wind trying to stay enough east to avoid the big turn into the wind and waves which they eventually had to do anyway. So we saw them get smaller and smaller until their mast disappeared below the horizon. We stayed in touch on the radio until they were 30 miles away, and said our tearful goodbyes just as they faded out of range. Rachel napped in the cockpit, which we discovered was the one place on the boat which was comfortable for her. She had some ginger ale and canned peach slices and started smiling more.

Tuesday night the winds decreased to 10-15kts, so with full sails up and still in the Gulf Stream, we continued to book along on the usual beam reach. With smaller swells and the absence of chop the ride was quite nice for all concerned. Kathy and I shared 3 hour watches all night and that worked well. Towards morning however, the instruments died and the autopilot shut off. Thankfully I was at the helm when it happened. I woke up Kathy from a deep sleep who thought the world was coming to an end if I needed her help so bad. She took the helm while I checked out the boat and found a loose battery connection. With that fixed and the generator spun up to recharge the batteries, we were in business again. The wind died, and we put the sails away and motored the last 40 miles to Hilton Head.

Kathy woke me up as we entered the marked channel to Tybee Roads into Savannah. We mixed it up with the numerous shrimp trawlers as we motored across the flats into the Calibogue Sound, and on into Hilton Head. Whitefoot in particular was prancing around and looking all over the place, probably saying to herself “Look at all that glorious land to do my business on!” She had managed to relieve herself some during the trip, by having us turn downwind to steady the boat for a few minutes, but it was pretty tough for her too.

Going past all of the multi-million dollar homes on the waterfront made our eyes bug out after what we had seen in the Bahamas. We anchored in our old spot in the Broad Creek next to the Palmetto Bay Marina. I called customs only to find out we could not clear in from Hilton Head as we had thought. So after a great night’s sleep we pulled anchors and headed for Savannah where we are now, at the Thunderbolt Marina. 2 customs agents came aboard, one with the mysterious name of Mr. Bravo, who was plain-clothed. I wondered what he thought of me since my beard is now a little long and a little grey, kinda like Bin Laden”s. As Mr. Bravo poked around cabinets, we covered the paperwork with the other guy. They confiscated all of our expensive food left over from the Bahamas, and even my bag of coconut pieces which I had liberated from the friendly trees. They also confiscated our 3 bags of trash, since it is Bahamas trash, and I thanked them for that at least.

So we’re plugged into the dock, with all the power, water and air-conditioning we can use which really feels wasteful. It’s nice to see that the systems we haven’t used for 4 months still work. There is a nice couple with a little girl next to us on a catamaran which they just bought and are about to start a similar cruise on. They didn’t really know how to dock, and had 20 fenders down the side of their boat. As they approached the dock, I told the woman she needed one more fender near the bow, and when she said ok and started to get one I had to tell her I was only kidding. No one ever seems to know when I’m kidding. But Jeff, the captain did a great job of docking as I caught a dock line from Tracey the admiral and I wondered where they store all those fenders. Maybe that’s what the other hull is for. They remind me of us only one short year ago.

We’ll motor the 3 hours back to Hilton Head tomorrow in the ICW and stay there for a week and celebrate Rachel’s 13th birthday in a place we all enjoy very much. Mom and Dad will try to meet us there as well which would be terrific! I can’t believe my little girl is about to become a teenager. I would grit my teeth in resigned anticipation were she not the most wonderful person I know.

Oh yes, the stats on the crossing, as Dennis always asks for are: 350 miles sailed in 52 hours. 6.7kts average and 12.8kt max! Straight line distance, 334 nm. Items lost overboard: one bag of saltines.


Anonymous Dennis said...

Next time I see you, I will bring some saltines!
Thanks for the data. Sounds as though it was a good transit even if it was a little lumpy for the girls.
Welcome back to country!

9:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

we missed you by three days (?) as we were on a company trip to St. Simons, passing through Savanah on the way home The boys are engrossed in swim team with our first meet on Monday evening. I know we will hook up eventually. Glad you are back in the U S A safely and healthy. got that cell phone?

4:50 PM  

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