Takeoff – Rounding a Great Cape and Leaving the USA

Although we had been sailing all summer, both cruising and racing, from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Maine, it felt like we hadn’t left the clutches of mother liberty. After over 2000 miles of sailing, we were still in the northeast United States in November. It was getting cold!

We had stopped in Annapolis, Maryland, for the United States Sailboat Show in October. We still had a big to-do list for the boat to work through, but we had planned on sailing south and completing it in North Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. We grabbed a dock for the boat show at the famous Jabin’s Yacht Yard. My parents and aunt and uncle were coming to visit, and we felt the ease of walking to the boat via a dock rather than transiting an anchorage in the inflatable would better suit their visit. It did, and it was nice being “off the hook” for a bit.

We enjoyed the show. We picked up some mission-critical items such as a new life raft at great deals. We also splurged on some water toys, a floating inflatable “dock” (Curtis’ storage and weight nemesis), and a second paddle inflatable board. We also met some great industry people that gave us some great help and advice. Thanks, Alden @ Edson and Steve @ Marlow!

It was also interesting to see the impact YouTube was having on the cruising sailor and the sport in general. Many new sailors were drawn in by the appearances of quasi-famous Vlog sailors such as SV Delos, Sailing LaVagabonde, and Tula’s Endless Summer. We also realized just how different we were from those sailors. With our racing backgrounds, we tend to push a little harder and a bit further. Our cruising friends say we need to slow down, we shall see about that, as I am still waiting for our first 200-mile day.

Post boat show, we were about to leave to go south. In passing, we suggested to Jabin’s that we had a worklist requiring a haul out. Surprisingly, they said they could accommodate us if we could be there at 8 am the next day. We took the offer, expecting just to spend a few days on some minor touch up and inspection. What we didn’t count on was meeting up with the experts at Beasley Marine. It just so happens we met once before, in a horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island a few months earlier.

As it turned out, Mike Beasley, the owner, and round the record-breaking world sailor himself, offered to do the carbon fiber work to our rig to install the inner forestay that I had wanted all along. We couldn’t refuse and got right to work. He also inspected our rudder bearings and assisted us with the replacement and retrofit of new Jefa bearings to replace the existing Harken bearings, which were no longer in production. Lastly, while we were waiting, we figured we would re-wire the boats 12v system and relocate the batteries under the guidance of Andy @ YES (Yacht Electrical Systems). The autopilot was sent out to be inspected and rebuilt. Lastly, the sails were taken to the loft to be recut to accommodate the forestay, batten pockets reinforced, and a third reef added. What started as a quick three-day inspection and bottom paint touch up spiraled into a month-long major refit.

We didn’t “need” to do anything and could have sailed the boat for years as is, but, seeing as we sail more like racers and less like cruisers, the modifications make the boat much more of a weapon offshore and also safer. The IFS and staysail combination along the with the additional reef in the main gives us the ability to safely and efficiently sail in a greater range of conditions, especially upwind (where most cruisers never venture). The relocation of the batteries gives not only optimal charging, reliability, and balancing; it also centralizes and lowers their weight in the boat for lower COE (center of effort), and increased stability.

The rudder bearings were perhaps the improvement which I am most grateful for. They were expensive, but give much greater confidence in the boat when we are pushing her hard. We routinely reach double-digit boat speeds; having reliable steering is very important. Not only did we glue the bearings in after careful alignment, the man himself, Beasley, also added fiberglass reinforcement to ensure the lower bearing would never fall out.

The bad part, the clock was ticking, it was getting cold. We had to get out of dodge and get south. We used a plethora of portable heaters to keep the boat and materials warm enough to work with. Finally, after the year’s first snow, just before thanksgiving, Jabin’s splashed the yacht just in time. Keith, the Dockmaster, even gave us a free night at the dock to get things sorted before we left. As it was, our weather routing had us setting off the next day, perfect!

As a side note, Bert, Keith, and crew at Jabin’s are top-notch! Everyone from the front office to the travelift drivers were on their game, helpful and friendly. If you haven’t had the privilege of stopping at Jabin’s, you need to. It is a cruisers (and racers for that matter) dream boatyard. They were DIY friendly, but you also had access to some of the east coasts best marine service techs, composites, and riggers. There were cruisers from many places, an excellent social mood, a free stuff trading table, clean laundry, and bathrooms. Some say that it is pricey. I say that you get what you pay for.

We were off the dock in the dark, heading into a rainstorm, just three days before thanksgiving. There would be no turkey dinner for us, just November rain, but we needed to get south where it was warmer, out of freezing weather. We were routing for the Abacos, Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas. If we pushed through the night down the Chesapeake Bay in the rain, we should have fair weather and optimal winds for the remainder of the trip. This time of year, weather windows can be short and fluky. You take what you can get, when you can get it.

The majority of the first night was motoring into driving rain and 20 knots of wind down the Chesapeake. We dodged 1000 foot container ships and tugs in tow. At one point, we hit a fishnet with the prop; thankfully, we had installed a line cutter while on the hard during our refit. Our experience in Maine would never let us motor confidently at night without one. The net slowed us down for a few minutes, but no dangerous nighttime dive under the boat was required to free us.

The rain subsided early in the morning and allowed us to set sail on the way to Virginia Beach. We desperately wanted to stop in there to re-fuel, but that would have cost us valuable hours in our weather window. Later, we would regret this decision. We pushed on under sail, pacing with a 70ft Hylas. The race was on down the coast of Virginia and North Carolina as we both headed to Cape Hatteras. As we entered the ocean off of VA Beach, the wind clocked off the shore and built to 30 knots. We sent Kate up the rig to clear a halyard so we could three sail reach. We were plowing along at 9-11 knots in flat water.

Conditions sustained, we held the 70 footer off, keeping him and a 500 ft freighter just off our starboard quarter and passing another 46ft cruiser. We were barreling toward Cape Hatteras as night fell. The freighter had been hanging so close it was almost as if he was pacing up. After dark, I gave him a call on the radio to make sure we wouldn’t have any issues through the night. His response was, “you are going around the Cape in that small boat, it is rough tonight.” This wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, but we discussed forecast models. After a few minutes and his review of updated forecasts, he realized that my forecasting was better than his companies weather routers. He wished me luck and decided to speed up as he was less worried about the forecast.

If a 500 ft ship captain had been slowing down to miss adverse conditions, what was I doing headed in the right direction at full speed? Kate was sleeping and was soon to be overcome with seasickness. I was single-handed around the USA’s great Cape in the middle of the night in big breeze. Was I worried? A bit. This is where my racing experience kicked in. I knew to have confidence in my weather routing and forecasting. I knew to have confidence in the boat. We were set up to rip to the Bahamas and have our fastest 24 hour run under sail yet. Send it!

Cape Hatteras was as described. A mess of current and sloppy short chop tall waves. We were tossed around considerably as we skirted the minimum distance from shore to avoid the adverse Gulf Stream current. We wanted to cross it at 90 degrees just after the Cape. The motion of the Cape put Kate down for the count. She spent any time not in bed on the edge of the cockpit, sharing her dinner with Poseidon. I felt terrible, but the only choice was to push through the conditions as fast as possible. We put down 185 miles in 24 hours through the Gulf Stream, an average of 7.7 knots. Fast for a fully laden single-handed cruiser.

The next morning the seas subsided along with the wind. We were through the stream but left with less wind than forecast. Not enough to sail. We downloaded the next satellite weather update from Predictwind and IridiumGo. We could sit and wait for more wind, but it would come on the nose and hard. We could motor, making VMG at the Bahamas, but again be met with wind on the nose in 24 hours. We would also use the last of our fuel, remember we skipped our fuel stop in Virginia. We got the charts out and weighed our options. We decided to motor to Cape Fear, NC, just at the edge of our fuel range. It would equate to our first upwind tack, a day ahead of the breeze. Plus, we could fish and get a nights sleep on anchor before we re-fueled.

We crossed the Gulf Stream for the second time in our trip in mirror glass water conditions. We caught a Mahi for dinner, our first offshore fish. We re-fueled and met another cruising couple in the marina; they were headed north to sell their boat and go back to work. They passed us their cruising guides for the Bahamas and wished us luck. We set off once again for the Bahamas. Yet a third crossing of the stream this season (we would end up crossing it five times this year).

We knew we would be slightly cracked off upwind and could one tack Abaco based on our new routing. We set sail off Cape Fear in a gentle breeze and flat water. It would gradually build to 8-foot steep chop and 30 knots of breeze. We sailed loud and fast under reefed main and full #2 Genoa, eventually reefing it and then going to the mainsail only to slow the boat. Banging and jumping off waves at speeds over 10 knots at times, setting us up for another 180-mile day. Kate’s dinner was once again uncooperative, but we had islands on our minds.

Things eventually subsided into an excellent broad reach in 18 knots. Perfect conditions. We let the autopilot drive and relaxed a bit in open water. We were over 200 miles offshore, out of reach of the coast guard. We were indeed on our own now. A day or so later, we would be in warm weather and turquoise water with a Mahi on the fishing line.

‘Till next time.

  • Jim Weyand
    Posted at 07:06h, 19 February

    Thank you for sharing. Good luck to both of you.

    • sweetruca
      Posted at 12:33h, 19 February

      Thank you Jim!