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Heading Home: A Haiku

Gibbous moon above.

Scorpio rising astern.

Gliding, homeward bound.

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Day 6: “Everything that slows us down . . . is a help” May Sarton

The great capes are weather pivot points.  As we rounded Cape Hatteras, cool moist air enveloped us.  We added layers to the tee shirts and shorts that had been sufficient to the Cape’s south.  The sun inched up over the horizon, joining the moon which had risen late and remained high in the sky.  Cape Henry, the entrance to Chesapeake Bay lay less than 100 hundred miles away.  At 6 knots we would enter the commerce-dense Bay in darkness.  We preferred day light.  As the south wind gusted to twenty knots, we reduced our jib to a napkin.  Elizabeth Jean mosied her way up the Outer Banks at a leisurely 2 knots.  Slowing down helped us savor Elizabeth Jean‘s last day on the Atlantic Ocean.  With daylight’s arrival the following morning we passed the Bay’s fishing fleet putting out to sea and joined the cargo ships and naval vessels entering the Bay.  Around 1300 (1 pm),  we tethered Elizabeth Jean to the fuel dock at Salt Pond Marina in Hampton Virginia.  Four hours later, the squall hit.  The torrential rains and arcing lightning, when viewed from our secure dock, reminded us of our decision six days earlier to leave the Bahamas rather than linger and shorten our weather window.  Had we stayed in the Bahamas we would have been weathering the storm rounding Hatteras. 

Rounding Hatteras brought cooler weather.  Eric reviews possible marinas on his iPad and in the Waterway Guide for Chesapeake Bay.  Go Hawks!

Ocean Jedi, Aircraft Carrier #69, steamed towards Norfolk as we made our way to Hampton.

 

Elizabeth Jean, secure at Salt Pond Marina, over seven hundred miles from the Bahamas just hours before the squall hit.

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Day 5: “Elizabeth Jean in her element” Captain Sullivan’s note in the log

By midnight at the beginning of our fifth day out from the Bahamas, the wind was gusting up to 16 knots, rewarding our earlier faith in its return.  Elizabeth Jean’s reefed main and full jib powered us along at seven knots; Perkins rested.  Much of South Carolina’s coast was now behind us.  The coastline jutted northeastward into the Atlantic, shrinking our distance from land.  Cape Fear, north of the South Carolina–North Carolina Border was under 100 nautical miles to the east, northeast.  Shortly after sunrise, we altered course towards a safe point off of Diamond Shoal, the beginning of the long passage around Cape Hatteras.  The morning weather forecast predicted another two days of good sailing before the cold front that would close our weather window arrived.  Our VHF radio, silent for much of our passage, hummed with reports of naval maneuvers, Coast Guard reports, and towing activities.  Cargo ships, also on their way to Cape Hatteras, accompanied us at a safe, but imposing two mile distance.  By 2100 (9 pm), Elizabeth Jean was nimbly gliding over the three to four foot seas with the wind gusting up to 27 knots.  As the midnight watch began, only the stars in the moonless sky and the Cape Hatteras Light abeam studded the dark, dark night.  Elizabeth Jean had rounded the fabled Cape in style.

Hatteras winks at Albatross as he hovers above North Carolina.  Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC.

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Day 5: “Elizabeth Jean in her element” Captain Sullivan’s note in the log.

By midnight at the beginning of our fifth day out from the Bahamas, the wind was gusting up to 16 knots, rewarding our earlier faith in its return.  Elizabeth Jean‘s reefed main and full jib powered us along at seven knots; Perkins rested.  Much of South Carolina’s coast was now behind us.  The coastline jutted northeastward into the Atlantic, shrinking our distance from land.  Cape Fear, north of the South Carolina–North Carolina Border was under 100 nautical miles to the east, northeast.  Shortly after sunrise, we altered course towards a safe point off of Diamond Shoal, the beginning of the long passage around Cape Hatteras.  The morning weather forecast predicted another two days of good sailing before the cold front that would close our weather window arrived.  Our VHF radio, silent for much of our passage, hummed with reports of naval maneuvers, Coast Guard reports, and towing activities.  Cargo ships, also on their way to Cape Hatteras, accompanied us at a safe, but imposing two mile distance.  By 2100 (9 pm), Elizabeth Jean was nimbly gliding over the three to four foot seas with the wind gusting up to 27 knots.  As the midnight watch began, only the stars in the moonless sky and the Cape Hatteras Light abeam studded the dark, dark night.  Elizabeth Jean had rounded the fabled Cape in style.

Hatteras winks at Albatross as he hovers above North Carolina.  Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC.

 

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Day 4: “Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze” Carl Sagan

Moonrise and a shooting star brightened the quiet midnight watch as Day 4 began.  With winds hovering below 10 knots, Perkins (our faithful British diesel engine) kept Elizabeth Jean‘s pace above 5 knots, fast enough to reach the Chesapeake before our window closed.  Sunrise caught up with us at 6:15, 150 miles east of Savannah, Georgia.  At this point we had run Perkins for over 36 hours.  Over 300 miles still separated Elizabeth Jean from Chesapeake Bay’s entrance.  We expected the wind to freshen in a day or two.  However, to conserve fuel we turned off Perkins and hoisted our spinnaker to test our progress as the breeze stirred.  Our experiment lasted only an hour.  To fill our sail it was necessary to sail off our course.  While we had enjoyed our respite from engine noise, we concluded that the forecast of winds to come was sufficiently certain to risk consuming more fuel to keep us on course.

 

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Day 3: “The first man who ever saw a flying fish probably thought he was witnessing a miracle” Elizabeth Gilbert

The winds dropped throughout our third day enroute from the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay.  By 18:00 (6 p.m.) the sea was so flat that the flying fish were leaving wakes on the water.  A warbler, far from land, circled Elizabeth Jean and finally landed to rest.  Amidst the calm, we assessed our own progress.  At 30 degrees North latitude, we were off the Florida-Georgia border.  At this latitude, the Florida Current, unconstrained by the Bahamas to the east meanders creating south flowing counter currents along the Gulf Stream’s eastern boundary.    For the last eighteen hours, while enjoying the relative quiet, a 1.5 knot counter-current had been silently slowing our progress.  We headed Elizabeth Jean west to return to the favorable Gulf Stream.

Photo credit: Luther Bailey

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Day 2: “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts . . . ” Psalms 42:7

It wasn’t their noise that captured our attention, it was the black bottomed clouds, from which the spouts emerged.  After an uneventful day of light rain, clearing skies and brownie baking, suddenly we were among the thunderheads.  The dark fingers of water that reached from the clouds to the ocean surface seemed to be the work of Voldemort or some other malign agent.  Eulalie turned on the radar, which captured the storm impulses as distinct targets on our chart plotter.  By avoiding the targets, Elizabeth Jean again safely passed north.

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Day 1: “I don’t want to overstate my concern about the squalls” Chris Parker

Chris Parker, our weather guru, strongly dislikes thunderstorms, squalls and lightning.  His forecast the morning we departed Little Sale Cay started with this energetic trio for the first day or two.  We could delay our departure a couple of days to miss the squalls and face several days of motor sailing.  A delayed departure would also shorten our weather window for reaching the Chesapeake by two days.  We pressed Chris on the trade offs between the risk of the “nasty-squallies” (Parker’s term for unsettled weather) and a shorter overall time to reach the Chesapeake.  Parker restated his strong bias against lightning squalls and then concluded, “I don’t want to overstate my concern.”  Ok, we decided after weighing the risks.  As we departed the anchorage, Eulalie saw a ragged dorsal fin approach our bow.  She recognized the distinct fin from the day before.  Shark? we wondered.  A cluster of fins fell in behind Ragged Fin and criss-crossed Elizabeth Jean‘s bow.  Dolphins!!! A good omen as we left protected waters for the Atlantic Ocean.  Eleven hours later, during the 9:00 p.m. watch, lightning tattooed the sky over Florida’s coast.  Had we made a colossal mistake?  If the squall reached our position, 160 miles offshore, a lightning strike could knock out our engine and electronics and cripple us.  We watched the light show nervously for a couple of hours.  Fortunately, the squalls stayed close to shore.  As the 12:00 a.m. watch began, stars overhead winked reassuringly at Elizabeth Jean as she made her way north under 25 knots of wind.

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It’s show time; finish strong.

We named our sailboat for our two daughters, Beth and Jean.  We explained to them that by so doing we would have them near us as we traveled.  Not surprisingly, over our four years of cruising, Elizabeth Jean helped connect us to her namesakes as they pursued their distant and separate paths.  At the same time, Elizabeth Jean became alive to us, possessed with her own personality: solid, steady, comforting.  In a word, beautiful.  As we thought of what would be our final passage together, we thought of these characteristics.  Too, we thought of Beth and Jean.  Beth, who found her voice on the stage, abandoned her inherent shyness at “showtime” to deliver one remarkable performance after another.  Jean, always the most coachable member of her many athletic teams, always followed her coachs’ advice to “finish strong.”  Thus, for our passage from the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay we elected to take the 700+ miles in one long six day at-sea passage, rather than a series of shorter hops.  Now, it was show time.  We intended to finish strong.

Albatross scopes out the passage from Great Sale Cay, east of Florida, to Chesapeake Bay (shrouded in clouds above Cape Hatteras).

Beth and Jean, together this past winter, always in our hearts.

 

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“There are days when solitude is a heady wine.” Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

The Abacos are one of the Bahamas most social cruising grounds.  We know vessels who spend months moored in Hopetown, a popular gathering spot.  Moorings, the bare-boat charter company, has its base in Marsh Harbor a short sail from Hopetown.  We understand why.  Within the Abacos’ protective outer reefs numerous small towns offer their version of conch salads and rum punch all within a couple hour sail of one another.  The VHF radio and cruisers net crackles with vessels planning their on-shore rendezvous.  By early May when we arrived, however, our Bahama clock was running down as other priorities pulled us north.  Thus, we generally eschewed socializing and shore for quiet anchorages as we moved steadily towards Grand Sale Cay to position ourselves for our return to the United States.  Grand and Little Sale Cays, our last two Bahamian anchorages, afforded two more nights of solitude.  Watching sun dogs paint the sky after an afternoon of snorkeling while lazily cleaning Elizabeth Jean’s hull, Eric wrote in the log “it is crazy to stop cruising.”

The above chart depicts the Abacos in relationship to Grand Bahama (where we began our Bahama visit in February at West End).  Grand Sale Cay, one of our last anchorages three months later, is immediately to the right of its label on the chart.  Grand Sale is approximately 100  nautical miles from West Palm Beach Florida.

Light refracting through ice crystals form sun dogs, or are they just magic?

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