Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May 25, 2009.

*Warning* Very long trip report. Grab a sandwich; I’ve got a lot to say.

I’m in a little bit of a quandary about how to begin this installment of the blog. I could go with the time tested….Hey, Guess who got their asses kicked? But it wasn’t that bad and that headline is getting a little old. So I’ll borrow from the classics, to quote Snoopy…………..
It was a dark and stormy night……

It really begins with us leaving the fuel dock in Vero Beach at 0800 hours. We didn’t get underway earlier because we wanted to hear what Chris Parker said about the weather before we even slipped the mooring lines. It boiled down to two choices. Leave on Saturday and face the prospect of a continuous line of squalls marching north along the Florida coast. This would provide wind for sailing but the squalls could contain anywhere from 30 to 40 knots of wind. Or we could wait until Sunday and have less squalls but very little breeze and probably have to motor the entire way north. We’ll take windy and stormy weather for $100 Alex.

We pulled out of the mooring field and into the ICW and were immediately hit with a 30 knot squall. It passed quickly and we motored the 2 hours south to the inlet at Fort Pierce. As you pass through the bridge at Fort Pierce you can catch a glimpse of the Fort Pierce Inlet. When Christy saw it she said “Oh my God, it’s all breakers”. That’s never good. We turned down the channel leading to the inlet and we took a wide turn so we could both catch another glimpse before committing to transiting the inlet.

The water was a little rougher than I had hoped, but the breakers looked to be fairly small. Right at that moment we were set upon by another nasty little squall with instant wind and a quick downpour. We decided to pull off to the side of the channel and drop the hook and let this squall pass while we decided what to do. I booted up the laptop and found that we had internet so I again checked all the weather sources we have and things still pretty much looked the same.

At around noon a little patch of blue came sliding up the coast so we decided it looked like an opportunity for us to get going. We hauled the anchor and turned the corner and got our first real good look at the inlet.

The waves were breaking all the way across with one row of white water after another heading in. We rode the ebbing tide out as the wind came in, so what we had was a rage. As we got closer to the oncoming waves we realized that they were a lot nastier than they at first appeared. Then we also realized that they weren’t moving. They were just kind of standing there…waiting. The tide rushing out and the wind blowing in had formed these perfect malevolent walls of standing water. People in their little center consoles were driving out to the beginning of the inlet to take a peak before turning around and heading back in to safety. Both jetties were lined with fishermen, photographers and people out to look at the conditions. I’m sure there are a few spectacular pictures of us circulating the internet right now, probably with the heading “What the hell were they thinking?”

The waves were 8 feet tall or so and very, very close together. They were so close together that it was deceiving as to their apparent size, ya know, until it was too late. When we rode up the first one we kinda collapsed onto the second one causing a huge explosion of water out from beneath both sides of Verandas bow. Before the bow could recover we drove down into the base of the third wave. We’ve driven our anchors into waves before, but this was the first time we’ve ever buried the entire bow rail. We literally had the first third of the boat completely buried. Then the rise of the next wave lifted Veranda up and flung all that water up in an enormous explosion of water and spray. Once the boat started to move forward again we repeated this series of events 2 more times until the waves got a little further apart. It had to be impressive as hell to watch from the jetties, being in the boat, well, it made me kinda sad.

Everybody I know has a story about getting their ass kicked in one of the cuts between the Bahamanian Cays, us included. Now I laugh at those stories.

Once out into the ocean things weren’t great, but they beat the hell out of the inlet. The 4 to 6 foot seas we had been promised were more like 6 to 8 feet. We had decent wind to sail north, but we had no chance of getting out to the Gulf Stream due to the continuous line of northbound squalls between us and the Gulf Stream. We opted to parallel the squalls and hope for a break to dart through to the Gulf Stream. You know, as fast as our 30,000 pound boat can dart.

Finally, our decision was made for us as the parade of squalls started to veer towards shore. So right after dark we took our shot and headed offshore. We actually hit a perfect spot and were rewarded with some of the best stargazing we’ve ever done. Beautiful stars against a circle of black sky above us. Once out in the Gulf Stream we found ourselves a part of the procession of storm cells headed north. All the cells around us were alive with lightning striking the water.

Eventually the storm cell behind us overtook us and our stargazing was done. What we received in exchange was the most beautiful, most horrific display of lightning we’ve ever seen. It was intense, it was spellbinding and it would have been a whole lot cooler if we weren’t bobbing along in our boat in the middle of it. There were huge bolts of electricity blasting down out of the sky and they would splinter off into several probing “fingers” that danced along the surface as the power discharged into the water. It was like watching the hand of God at work. It was humbling and scary as hell, oh yeah and loud too.

Thankfully, our individual storm cell decided it was through with the light show and decided to teach us something about rain. I can’t begin to describe how hard it rained.

The scuppers on our boat are designed too put the ocean back in the ocean when it makes its way up onto the boat. It rained so hard that our scuppers were overwhelmed and the water filled the bulwarks to the brim and the excess water cascaded over the toe rails and into the ocean. We literally could see nothing at all, I couldn’t see the water next to the boat, it was almost disorienting. I had no idea that rain could be so loud, we really couldn’t speak to each other. It rained that way for close to 4 hours straight…..and then thankfully it stopped.

The whole time we were barreling along anywhere from 7 to 10 knots with a double reef in the main and a very small slice of jib out. As each squall overtook us it showed us some lightning, some gave us some rain and they all threw some wind our way. After 150 miles the remaining squalls were turning in towards the coast and running up on shore near the Florida / Georgia border. This left us 70 miles offshore with just a hint of breeze riding the Gulf Stream north.

We were only “sailing” at about 3 ½ knots with the streams boost bringing us up to a respectable 6 knots or so. Right when we got to our decision spot, the wind died completely. Absolutely no wind. We still had about 200 miles to get to Beaufort, NC so we decided to head straight north for the 100 mile trip to Charleston.

Another factor in our decision to divert to Charleston was to give me some time at anchor to attend to a few “issues” that had come up.

Our lazy jack system suffers from a serious design flaw. The lazy jacks support the stack pack (large bag that contains the sail when it’s down). So we can’t really ease the lazy jacks as they should be when we’re under sail. During one of the squalls the port side lazy jacks parted and flopped to the deck. This requires a trip up the mast to repair.

We made the whole trip with a double reef in the main. We were a little slow when the wind was light but we couldn’t take chances having too much sail up when the squalls were overtaking us in the pitch dark. But anyway, our reefing line sort of exploded during one of the violent little blows. The line was several years old so I was glad it failed rather than having the sail get shredded. I made a temporary repair by switching the first reefs line over to become the second reef line.

One of the semi bright spots of our trip was the fact that we caught a large fish. We fought and successfully landed what we thought was a Little Tunny. Unfortunately it turned out to be the almost identical yet regrettably inedible Frigate Mackerel. The bad part about this was that the only way to tell them apart is to fillet them. I felt bad about killing a fish that we ended up not eating but probably not as bad as he did.

So after 340 mostly boisterous miles we dropped the hook in the Ashlee River in Charleston, SC. The trip as a whole really wasn’t too bad. The inlet had all the ingredients of a disaster film, the lightning was truly terrifying, the rain was miserable but other than that it was pretty good.

I repaired the reefing line and jury rigged the lazy jacks. I figured that we would be here for a day or two but then Christy told me that we were heading out in the morning. So in the morning we’re once again off for Beaufort, NC. It’s about 200 miles so we’ll be up and underway by 0500 to assure a daytime arrival the next day.

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