Being Sisyphus & Leg 2: Bermuda to the Virgin Islands
March 1st, 2018 - By Patrick T. McBriarty
A week on Bermuda did, and did not feel like enough time. It was enough to get a sense of the island, despite usually spending mornings and early afternoons working. Blue did homework for his sophomore year of high school via the internet. Brian worked on boat chores, primarily rebuilding a broken daggerboard and bent rudder. I was doing emails, social media, and transcriptions of research (sadly not much real writing). Afternoons and evenings we explored Bermuda on rented scooters usually initiated by an errand for boat parts or supplies.
Choosing a single highlight of Bermuda is impossible. Standouts included our simple days – pleasant in themselves (no news or Trump or real cares). Beach hopping, particularly Bermuda’s north shore, Tobacco Bay and its beach bar, a half-day on a Bermudan fishing boat (only caught two Barracuda – disappointing but interesting experience), the Naval Dockyards to see where the 2017 Americas Cup was held, many island forts, and great weather (60s, 70s, and sunny most every day).
Twice we pushed back our departure to wait for better weather. Finally, it was time. The forecast promising days of downwind runs and no major blows after a strong cold front passed 36-hours before. Yearning to stay, but ready to go we untied the boat on Tuesday afternoon, queued up at the gas dock, fueled, stopped at Customs, cleared out, and motored from St. George’s harbor through Towne Cut to open ocean. In front of us, about 850 nautical miles due south, was the Virgin Islands. An expected passage of approximately 5-7 days. From the forecast (and Brian’s natural optimism) we hoped to do it in five, but I mentally steeled myself for seven days, preferring to be pleasantly surprised.
The second leg of the adventure aboard Dragonfly (a 33’ homebuilt, Kurt Hughes catamaran) had begun. Brian, her skipper, and his son Blue (15 years old) and I made up the crew. We would not have a moon, which made me even more grateful for a waxing moon that rose early and set late on our First Leg from Onset, Massachusetts to Bermuda. The hazards of braving the Northern Atlantic in November and crossing the Gulf Stream were behind us. The warmer, more stable weather south of Bermuda provided a sense of ease and bolstered confidence. We expected this passage to be straightforward, though thirty percent longer.
As stated in earlier posts, the trip was about something bigger. I was there in great part due to the loss of a good friend. Mark’s sudden passing re-connected Brian and I and led to my joining the adventure. I hoped the trip would bring me closer to finding some peace. My wants, fears, and desires were in conflict. I needed to try letting go. Some healing, trusting the universe, and opening myself to new possibilities. The experience of an ocean voyage might just give me the insights and space to shed everyday concerns and break some bad habits.
On the open ocean a small boat is subject to the whim of the waves, wind, and weather, yet sailing is a calculated choice of time and forecast venturing out to see what happens. Simple and mundane in many ways. The constant task is a steady surveillance of the wind and sea to make the best of it toward a destination. It can be a lot of waiting. Waiting for the right weather, the sun, or the trip to begin, waiting and wanting to reach the destination, but ideally finding pleasure in the moment and the journey.
This second leg provided a greater appreciation for cruising skills. Day after day it became easier to shelve my want, as a racing sailor, to constantly adjust course or the sails to small changes. Eighty percent was good enough. By balancing the sails – the main slightly under trimmed and jib slightly over trimmed – the autohelm more easily found its course. Overworking an autohelm by constantly tweaking the sails can burn it out. Brian had no intention of steering 24/7 so the spares included an extra autohelm (cost $500 to $600). We alternated watches and “racing the boat” was reasonable for a week-long crossing. That would be exhausting. The intention was to enjoy the trip, and a rested crew reacts and thinks more clearly, particularly, in a crisis.
Unlike getting to Bermuda this passage did have – for me at least – a singular highlight. It was on the night of the fifth day. Popular speakers occasionally describe having “an epiphany” dramatically changing their life view. Skeptical, my thinking is usually, “Oh sure you did!” As if that were possible?! Doesn’t that only happen to biblical characters? (Okay, yes my Catholic upbringing is showing.) The fifth night of the passage forever changed my tune, though not religious there was something spiritual about it and epiphanistic.
With a light swell, fair weather, and an array of dark rain cells scattered around us we were sailing through beautiful and dramatic vistas. During the day these cells looked pretty and benign. But after sunset guessing their size and power based on starlit outlines and patches of clear sky they felt more ominous. Of course, the largest, scariest looking cell was directly in our path. Miles ahead it intermittently flashed cloud obscured lighting. The first flash seemingly out of nowhere hurried our dinner and prompted us to reef the mainsail. By midnight, alone on deck the dark beastly tower of billowing clouds was blotting out more and more stars and scouring the ocean below with sheets of rain as we sailed closer and closer. This looming danger contrasted with the otherwise pleasant and steady 8-12 knots of southeasterly wind and clear sky directly above us. Ten to fifteen degrees to the left (east) of our current course offered a clear lane between the monster and smaller rain cell. Yet steering any closer to the wind and waves (to the east) would slow us to a crawl. And tacking was out of the question as it would take us away from our destination. Our course if not our destiny was set.
One consolation the ugly formation was not part of a larger system. Therefore I reasoned, it could not have that much wind or rain passing through it. Right? Yet 100-plus miles from land, on open ocean I had no desire to find out. As the watch progressed we drew closer. Amidst my fear hope arose as the cloud formation increasingly dominated the horizon. Logically the beast must be gradually moving (with the wind) diagonally northwest across our path. We might possibly only pass through the last third of it…
Earlier that day, I had discovered I could “ooch” Dragonfly as if sailing my Laser (a small 13’ racing sailboat). Certainly not as dramatically, but by suddenly shifting my weight to windward (similar to a hip check) at the top of a wave I could urge the boat to track down the face of the wave. This helped the autohelm steer a straigher course slightly closer to the wind (in this case easterly) instead of getting pushed down by the wave (westerly) causing the autohelm to oversteer in its feedback loop to holding the selected course.
Wanting to change our fate I began ooching. As the boat rose to crest the wave I pushed down and out against the windward side of the cockpit. At night unable to really see the waves I did this by feel for 10, 15 then 30 minutes, with occasional breaks to survey the horizon for other vessels, check the sails, course, and boat speed. After 45 minutes I guessed I might keep ooching for an hour. Eyes forward, mentally projecting our course, hoping to avoiding colliding with the monster fear spurred me on. I picked a few wispy clouds in the distance to windward beyond and clear of the beast as a goal.
An hour, then an hour fifteen minutes passed. The boat rises, tops a wave, I ooch the boat to glide down the face of the wave to rise on the next one rolling through from the port-aft quarter. Wave after wave (3-6 feet with some chop) follows, ooch, glide, rise, top, ooch. I piston my arms as if doing presses against a mid-drift high bar. Rise, top, ooch, glide, rise, top, ooch, glide, the cycle repeats every few seconds as we slowly close the miles of ocean between us. We have not seen another boat for couple of days. Is that normal? Are we crazy to be out here? Surely other sailboats must be making for the Caribbean – it is that time of year!?
An hour and a half passes, rise, top, ooch, glide. The wind has to be pushing the beast across our path, but it is so big and constantly staring I am not sure whether it is moving or not. Would we sail right into it? Are my efforts making any difference?
A raw fear and a sense of purpose continue to urge me on. I am responsible for the safety of the boat with Brian and Blue sleeping below, oblivious to the battle I am waging on deck. The first hour I thought of ooching as just a workout and experiment. Hell, I’d hardly gotten any exercise, beyond the few steps up and down from my bunk to the cockpit and up onto the deck or trampoline forward and back again, innumerable times each day. Sure I was also balancing, keeping myself upright on a constantly moving boat, but how much of a workout could that be? As these thoughts pass I kept at it – wave, ooch, glide, wave, press, track down the wave, rise, thrust – using my arms like springs to catch me from banging my chest against the top of the hatch on the portside of the cockpit. Then press myself up right as Dragonfly glides down to rise and top the next wave I thrust sideways again to 30 degrees from upright, and press up again as we glide forward. Rise, peak and ooch again.
Thoughts of the Greek myth of Sisyphus drift through my mind. Futilely pushing a rock up the mountain, only to have it tumble down and begin again. Would the gods be amused by my game? Thoughts race through my mind. The patchy starlit panorama of ocean, black clouds, and sky began to oppress. The smallness of our boat, of me, and my endeavor on this vast planet. To fight the wind and waves with tiny pushes. Were the gods upset by my defiance? Wave, ooch, glide, it seemed I was making a difference and might avoid the squall ahead. As soon as that thought occurs, I look ahead and my efforts appear completely futile. The impossibility of changing our course with a small shift of weight… who was I? So small and insignificant on the vast ocean. Contracting my perspective did not help. In the immediate time and place – reasonable weather and waves so close to what we needed. Could we avoid the monster cell ahead? It did seem a matter of inches. Yet, how conceited to believe I might “outwit” nature. Were a few gods smiling upon me and allowing some grace and avoidance? Was I significant? Did I matter? Still working the boat rise, top, ooch, glide. Did my effort amuse them? Pushing for a small difference, a few degrees. Could I pull a fast one while the wind and wave gods were distracted?
Emotions began to well up inside me, including thoughts of my late wife, Barb. A wave of emotion breaks me into tears. I lose it for a moment and try suppressing a real cry. Oh, the irony and futility of wanting what I cannot have! “I do matter,” I was surprised to hear myself whisper. As if my soul and inner pouty child in anguish cried out… I again heard myself repeat the refrain, quietly but more firmly, “I do matter. I do!” Stubborn at the core, teary eyed, rise, top, ooch, glide. The revelation brought more anguish, anger and frustration. A wave of an all too familiar feeling – wanting and trying so very hard for something good to be rebuked. Gritting on I kept ooching, tears running down my cheeks.
The damn cloud formation I picked as a goal felt so far away. Looking from above at my pathetic self, I saw the futility and grinned, then half-laughed out loud, thinking, “This is all in your head… There are no witnesses, no one cares! Ha!” Still I resolved to keep on for two hours fighting for a few degrees. Yo-yo-ing between an in and out of body feeling, pushing this tiny boat. Was it was enough to reach those clouds? Damn it! Even if it was just in my head! A foolish battle against no one and nothing, beyond my control. I was NOT trusting the universe, but compelled to fight, fearful of quitting for my sense of pride my resolve was boosted.
To this day I still do not know. Dragonfly made it past the nasty cloud, without a drop of rain. The wind held steady and after two hours of struggle I was empty. Whether it had blown past or I bought a few degrees or both I will never really know. After a few hours of sleep coming on deck that morning I pointed out our track on the GPS to Brian. It showed a very slight curve east, about the time I was on watch. I tried explaining effort. Brian smiled and made no comment.
I had no exact take away, even months later. Fighting fear, the boogieman in the cloud. I felt a shift in the end that the experience changed something within me, significant, emotional but intangible. Most likely it could only have happened through a journey, removed from everyday life, mildly sleep deprived, alone on the ocean in the middle of the night. Disappointingly no sudden eureka moment, no clear meaning. Rather two hours before waking Brian for his watch, I felt cleansed and inkling it was (made up or not) good for my soul.
We made it to the Caribbean in one piece. Though not Tortola in the British Virgin Islands as planned. Instead St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 36 hours later I caught a ferry to Tortola made my flight to Cleveland and Thanksgiving.
In early-February 2018, I retuned to the Caribbean and met Blue in Antigua with a plan to take an evening ferry to Monserrat and rejoin Brian and Melissa (Brian’s girlfriend) on Dragonfly. Maybe more time aboard will allow me to figure it out . . .
The Appendix below is a transcribed ships log of the journey for those interested.
Leg 2: DAY 1
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 –Left at 2:45 pm.
6:21 pm – Sailing Rhumb Line 180°. Left Bermuda about 2:30 pm today light wind from aft then abeam. Caught an amber jack and ate it sushi style with some soy. Was more white-ish than red and not as good as prime sushi, but good none the less. Motorsailed a few hours and about 6 knots or so the wind went aft to 120-150° and moving along at 6-7 knots now. Distance to Tortola is 817 nautical miles (NM).
7:10 pm – Back to motoring. Wind went aft then died to a few knots, raining steady, heavier at first, now just steady. Very dark. No moon until late and then not much of one as the full moon was 8 or 9 days ago. Wearing foul weather jacket, t-shirt, pullover, board shorts, and barefoot.
11:01 pm – Motoring. No wind after dinner of Hogfish, broccoli & potatoes (thanks Brian) and then took a nap. Just came on watch after about 3 hours off. 795.5 NM to go on Rhumb Line of 180°. Very dark only a bit of light from Bermuda behind us.
11:05 pm – Bermuda Radio asks a passing ship for their “last port of call,” destination, type of vessel (chemical tanker is the answer), gross tonnage, cargo, and, “do you have us shown clear on your chart,” “keeping well clear,” “safe passage” and “back to 16.” We are monitoring channel 27 (Bermuda Radio’s frequent working channel).
11:15 pm – It stopped raining sometime after dinner (was just spitting by then) and it is so dark can barely make out the horizon. Ludo & Pavel are off the port front quarter on Soben (Tom’s boat), a 40’ Cat that was parked next to us the past two days at the St. George’s Sports & Dinghy Club. They are in their early 30s – late 20s & both captains. They get paid about $2/mile or about $12.50/hour. Nice guys. Luder is from Italy & Pavel is from Slovakia and both grew up on islands. Luder now calls Venice home & is boisterous, positive, & fun loving. Pavel is quiet, well dispositioned, nice, and rolls his own cigarettes. There is one other boat off our port front quarter a bit further off – unknown.
11:42 pm – Put on XM Radio & found a Beatles station through a search. Standing scanning the horizon can feel the flex & tightness of the scab on my ankle from the scooter capsize on Bermuda about a week ago.
12:03 am Wednesday 11/15/17 – There has been a hint of phosphorescence in the wake of the outboard. Having a tangerine. Wind shifted off the port at 20° off our course of 180° at 2-3 knots. We are motoring at 4+ knots 790.9 NM to go. The wind was at 20-30° off starboard and switched about 15 minutes ago. Now on the nose.
12:23 am – Wind on the nose at 5-10 knots forcing me to change our course by falling off (West) 18° to keep 4+ knots of speed. No longer see the glow of Bermuda off the stern. Clouds and still no stars.
12:42 am – Wind has come up a bit and have been able to come back up 4-6° closer to Rhumb. Added some jib & going at 4-5+ knots.
1:47 am – the wind had come up to just sail for a while 15-30° off Rhumb. However about 10 minutes ago it dropped again and I decided to add the engine and take back about 15° to motorsail at 190 to 195° at 5 knots. Really dark and Luder & Pavel must have tacked off to starboard when the wind went on the nose. Cannot see them anymore.
2:01 am – A bit of rain – grabbed a foul weather jacket from below. 781.9 NM to go.
2:20 am – It’s a little more than 840-850 NM to Tortola from Bermuda excluding the navigational bits to and from open ocean or about 900 NM. Apparent wind just dropped to about 5 knots, essentially the speed we are motoring.
2:46 am – Wind is starting to come in from the N or North by NE. The apparent is up to 7-8 knots and we are motor sailing at 5.5 knots. A NW breeze is what is expected to fill in later today. I’m going to wake Brian in a bit to take over and change shifts.
6:45 am – Oily seas of slopy 2-3’ rollers and no wind. Motoring. 762.5 NM to go. Speed is about 4 knots under overcast high clouds & scattered Cumulus clouds with more behind us than in front.
8:15 am – Everybody is up. Starting to see wind on the water. Still motoring with main and a bit of jib that is working occasionally doing 4.5 knots on the Rhumb Line. What wind there is, is 40° to port or about 140° on the compass and of less than 5 knots apparent.
11:50 am – Had about a 2 hour nap after cleaning up from Breakfast (eggs in the hole by Brian) and now we have the spinnaker up & it seems pretty stable. Apparent wind of 8 knots at 110-120°. We are sailing Rhumb at a pretty consistent 6-7-8 knots, sunny with a few clouds 70s, seas 2-4’ rollers with some chop. 737 NM to Tortola.
1:20 pm – Radio call from Soben as Ludo request 22 and couldn’t copy. firstname.lastname@example.org First: Ludo Last: Seno
Gave him Brian’s email and Melissa’s email to let Melissa know our Satellite network is not working and not to worry. Power cord overheated and corroded the connector to the unit. (So we are on our own without communication with the outside world unless we turn on the EPIRB (http://www.epirb.com) which we would only do in an emergency.)
Spinnaker still up doing 7-8 knots, course of 180° on the Rhumb Line, making good way! 724 NM to go.
4:00 pm – Course 160° and suddenly the rebuilt dagger board broke up about 30 minutes ago when the spinnaker collapsed and then jerked the boat as it quickly filled with a popping noise. 711 NM to go. Dismayed we soon settled into the realization there was nothing to do until we got to harbor. We could continue fine without it.
6:08 pm – Going 5 to 6 and occasionally 7 knots on a heading of 155°, wind is 9-12 apparent at 100-120° off the Port. Therefore we have a NE wind from about 60°. So it has clocked 10° eas. Seas are confused rollers from two different directions. Just got dark and the night is the worst part of these passages. Unable to see much (no moon until 3:58 am) and a crescent (waining) moon at that.
6:47 pm – Was able to fall off 5° in the past half hour and keep our speed while heading closer to the Rhumb Line. Sailing 165°. 695.9 NM to go. Tired. Long day. Brian is napping, Blue just went down below.
11:32 pm – Been up for almost an hour. Brian & Blue both sleeping below. Wind is consistent 20-25 knots since sunset. Little scud clouds passing by vary the wind. Sails have been set for a while. Tracking just east of 180° (Rhumb) sailing (170°) at about 6 knots. Wind off the port at 110°, waves seem a bit bigger. Autohelm is pretty amazing. Fatigue would be a real issue if not for it. Bad enough just keeping watch, the tradeoff is the autohelm has less feel for the wind and waves. 665.2 NM to go. Making good distance last 12 hours.
12:09 am Thursday, 11/16/17 – Wind picked up for a bit. 661 NM to go. Still sailing about 180° (Rhumb). Wind off port at about 120° at 14-15 knots apparent. Speed over ground is 6-8 knots. Tired. Going to have a snack (Kind bar).
12:45 am – Same conditions with 18-25 knots of wind from about 40° (NE), scud clouds. The stars, sans moon, are very reassuring as they show against the clouds to give a sense of the size and patches of clear sky seem friendlier. Snack helped some, but will wake Brian at 1:30 if he isn’t up on his own before then. Boat is humming along with apparent wind 12-13 knots at 120°. If helm goes to the left and the apparent moves to 110 or 100° the apparent wind jumps to 14-16 knots and our speed jumps to 8-9 knots. 667.5 NM to go.
3:40 am – Mostly same. Brian went to bed and I just got up. Average speed 6-9 knots 639.3 NM to go. Still sleepy and need a shower – later today! Feel grungy.
3:50 am – Watch duty at night is long. Not exactly uneventful or monotonous as the wind and waves have their own rhythm to tune into and there are stars and hopefully a moon (expect moonrise at 3:58 am) in a few minutes. There’s a sense of duty and what if’s to keep you busy and checking the horizon for lights/ships, checking the sails, course, speed, apparent wind and wind speed – then starting all over again until it is time to switch watches or the sunrises and a new vista appears and everything brightens.
5:18 am – Fighting off sleep to stay on watch until first light about 6 am. Really tired. 629.7 NM to go.
5:57 am – Going to wake Brian. The wind has come up (a little) with the dawn and the moon was so small. Done for now. Same conditions.
1:54 pm – Had a nap and made breakfast and took another nap. Got some sun, made poop, and took a shower, then made lunch. Wind is blowing from 90-110° (the East) giving us an apparent wind of 120° at 9-14 knots. 572 NM to go.
5:07 pm – Wind pretty much the same (NE) sailing on or very close to Rhumb (180°). Apparent wind is 100° at 9-11 knots and we are making way at 6-7 knots near sunset. The starter battery is full, but the house battery (for lights, autohelm and accessories) is at 57%. Sails blocked sun to solar panels most of the day. Fridge has been shut off since last night and we only gained 7% over the course of the day. Next time the engine is run we will charge the house battery. For now keep sailing. In the last 22 hours we covered 146 NM. Everybody is up and well rested.
9:29 pm – 530.4 NM to go. Wind went a little to the right (header) and we fell off some to keep the wind on the beam and get closer to the Rhumb line. Averaging 6.6 knots with apparent wind of 11-14 knots. Almost dinner time (pork chops & alfredo).
12:10 am Friday, 11/17/17 – Just got on shift. Brian is down. Motorsailing as the wind dropped so Brian put on the engine and set it up to charge the house battery. Going 5+ knots down the Rhumb line. 515.6 NM to go. Clear skies, stars, and no moon.
1:10 am – A little while ago went forward to use the head. Finished and was going to clean my bruise with some paper towel but the roll was out on the starboard side. So I went back below to the bow behind the head when the engine quit. It restarted on the third try. Hearing the change, Brian came up from below and was standing in the companion way peering forward. A bird flew out of the dark and passed right by his head. Freaked him out a bit as it brushed his hair. He then turned to the engine and played with it a bit. We chatted and he went back down for some more ZZ’s. Light apparent wind of 70° and 10 knots. Boat speed in the 6s. Lots of stars tonight.
1:26 am – Sitting here reading in the doghouse when a flying fish lands in the cockpit two feet away. On the third attempt to grab it I am able to throw him overboard. Man do they smell fishy! Washed my hand well with Joy soap to get rid of the smell. The fish left a trail of quite large scales (given the small size of these fish) on the deck that I wiped those up with paper towel and tossed it overboard. Somewhere in the process it dawned on me that it must have been a flying fish and not a bird that buzzed Brian’s head earlier this morning!
2:29 am – Tired. Will probably turn watch over to Brian at 3. Light wind, motorsailing toward Rhumb (180°) at about 6 knots. Same as before. Worked on 1812 project reviewing letters in the doghouse.
7:19 am – Looking back I actually got Brian up at 3:30 am then I went down to sleep. 474.4 NM to go. Motorsailing at about 6 knots on the Rhumb line.
3:45 pm – Light wind after attempting the spinnaker for several hours from about 8 am – 1 pm. The take down was not the best.
[I had come on deck from a nap to see Brian at the bow bringing in the spinnaker himself. However, it got down in the water and was a serious crisis for about 15 minutes as we struggled to pull the sail against the pull of the boat and weight of the water in the sail. In racing we call this “shrimping” as the sail gets so full of water and the pressure of moving boat can pull not just the sail but crew members into the water if not careful. Eventually we got the spinnaker on board without tearing it or breaking anything. We were all a bit humbled by the experience which contrasted with the sunny beautiful bluebird day.]
Then went on to motor under jib and main. Wind finally came up about 3 pm from NE. Partly cloudy and sunny most of the day. Now getting into some overcast and scattered cumulus clouds.
5:50 pm – 420 NM to go, half way there in just over 3 days.
3:08 am, Saturday 11/18/17 – Going downwind with main and jib, seas from behind doing 6-8 knots. 367.5 NM to go with wind astern and slightly to port. Probably pretty big seas. Super dark night. I just got up and Brian is down.
4:17 am – One of the scariest hours of my life. Coming on deck Brian said to watch out for a gybe not long before leaving me to look after the boat. The apparent wind was 9-15 or 16, speeds of 5 – 10 or 11 knots. Apparent wind direction 120 – 150°. Dark and scared – the relief of morning was euphoric! In charge/command but not in control. Subject to the autohelm, wind, waves & nature. Good talks with Brian before and in the morning.
1:01 pm – Motoring at 5 knots, sails up but not drawing anything.
1:15 pm – Wind came up from NE again motorsailing with main only at 4-7 knots.
4:05 pm – Wind filled in under some black clouds that came in from the NE with NE breeze. Apparent wind 11-14 knots, sailing a bit east of Rhumb at 6,7,8 knots. Main only.
5:56 pm – Amazing sunset. Motorsailing at 5-9+ knots on the Rhumb line, wind at 130-140° apparent to course at 10-11 knots. Brian went down for a nap. We finally had cheese & crackers at 5 pm tonight. Dragonfly tracks nicely downwind with both boards up. Does not dig in and want to round up.
7:27 pm – 271.3 NM to go, wind has lightened a bit and or moved a bit aft. Speed over ground is not as good 6-7+ knots. No bumps to 8 knots (Red pen ran out of ink). Now they are back to 8s!
8:01 pm – We are all anticipating our arrival in the Virgin Islands now that we are potentially 2 days away. Current average speed is 6.7 knots (last 5 hours) and 267 miles to go. If we can keep this we are about 40 away – so about Monday night arrival. Of course I’ve probably jinxed it even calculating & writing this down.
9:17 pm – Nice night motorsailing along and spot lights on horizon. Large ship – stopped and we passed to the east of him. Scary! Got Brian up. After I made sandwiches and we discussed what happened. The ship did not respond to hails (3 or 4) on Channel 16 well before the near miss. I changed course going up 10° (to port) – it was the wrong way to go. [However in my defense it would have meant gybing to go the other direction as we were almost dead downwind already.] Brian took the helm and we gybed and ducked the other way then gybed back.
2:41 am – Busy shift on watch. Wind up and down on edge of not, and then needing, the engine to maintain speed. Now motorsailing on the Rhumb, wind abeam at 8-10 knots or 11. 223.1 NM to go and shifting wind fore & aft between 70-100° apparent wind direction.
2:50 am – Light rain again.
4:13 am – Stars above and below flickering out of our wake of phosphorescence. Still motorsailing just east of Rhumb. Seas seem confused.
4:17 am – Was not for some time but now spitting rain again.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at 7:43 am – Loose beat to Rhumb line apparent wind at 60° and at 14 knots. 191.5 NM to go.
8:10 am – Brian used a dead flying fish and caught a dolphin fish. Brought her to the end of the line and handed me the rod. I tried to get the fish closer to the boat while Brian went to the swim platform with the gaff hook. Couldn’t quite get him as the fish kept moving away from the swim platform, reeled him in a little more and then suddenly the line broke and we lost him. Was flashing beautiful greens, yellows, and blues almost iridescent in the sunlight. Probably 16-18 inches long. [We were all hugely disappointed, though would have hated to kill it. A part of me was silently glad it got away, though it would be swimming along with the lure in stuck in its mouth.]
9:27 am – Wind is up to 15-16 knots apparent from abeam as we sail down the Rhumb line. 180.6 NM to go.
2:45 pm – Have been motor sailing very close to the wind for several hours trying to stay on the Rhumb as the wind went south and is almost (20° to port) on the nose at about 10 knots.
4:38 pm – By myself on deck as the autohelm drove, I helped steer the boat like a dinghy by ooching in the waves to keep us on the Rhumb line until the wind lifted us. [By throwing my weight to windward at the top of the waves these “ooches” kept us tracking along closer to the wind.
5:56 pm – Wind shifted 30° to 180° which is right on the nose! Now motorsailing 40° off the Rhumb to the west.
7:40 pm – FON* at 8-10 knots motorsailing as close as possible to Rhumb at 205-210° or about 25-30° off the Rhumb. Worried about having enough fuel. 122.5 NM to go.
Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 at 12:00 am – 103.9 NM to go. Course 212°, wind 65°
2:00 am – Two hours of fighting to matter to bend the course of the boat.
2:04 am – Was trying to push against the world. I think it mattered if to no one else than to me. Wanting to get there. Wanting to make a difference, to create a shift in the universe where I might find peace, where losing Barb doesn’t hurt so much. A new beginning with someone? A fight that was epic and probably all in my head. One person 100 miles from land on the ocean repeatedly pushing against the side of the boat as if it were a dinghy, trying to keep it on a straighter path, higher to windward, than the seas and wind might otherwise allow… [Sisyphus form Greek mythology] were the gods listening? Amused? Who knows, but I think it changed something in me. I do matter, but we and I are very insignificant and maybe this battle was years, centuries in the making and it may have at least changed the course of the boat enough to avoid a cell with lightening to leeward and giving me an opportunity to feel good about myself?
Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 at 2:19 am – Orin seemed to overlook from the starry perch a few of my efforts and provide some inspiration as a warrior in my imagined battle with the conditions.
2:38 am – Orin has long been my favorite constellation possibly because it is so easy to identify and so frequently present in the N. Hemisphere. I find a certain comfort in seeing Orin in the sky most any night, but he has been particularly reassuring on this trip so far from land and home and family and friends.
We are fighting up wind with the motor and sails to get closer to the islands. Currently our course is 227° (SW) and if continued another 100+ miles would intersect with Porto Rico near San Juan. Once daylight appears the plan is to look to tack or possibly an easier sea state will allow us to motor more directly to our Rhumb line to get to St. Johns or St. Thomas or the B.V.I.s.
This seems a regular occurrence in passage making on sailboats there is often one more challenge. We have come some 700 miles and the last 140-120 or so the winds come up right from the south where we want to go and push back our time of arrival by as much as 12-24 hours.
We have two things scheduled. Picking up Melissa (Brian’s girlfriend) in St. Thomas on Tuesday afternoon and my flight out of Tortolla (Beef Island in the B.V.I.s) on Wednesday afternoon. It being early Monday morning and the navigation application is putting us one day and four hours to twenty-two hours from our selected point between Jost Van Dyke and St. Johns Island. We have some options but none that will likely shorten that time in any significant way. So we slug on and wait for morning.
2:57 am – Everything has a greasy-salty coating to it. Even your hands and face – washing helps for several hours but eventually it returns. I have to every hour or so on watch have to wipe my glasses which get the same coating and then gradually become blurry to see out of.
I am looking forward to flying in to Cleveland and civilization on Wednesday to make Thanksgiving with my family, if not just for the hot showers and comfortable bed and ability to sleep through the night and not be jostled around by the waves and wind on a rocking boat.
At the same time also look forward to simply arriving at an island to rest and recover some normalcy, take a shower, swim or snorkel and also sleep through the night without having to wake up every 2-3 hours for watch duty.
We have been on the water since Tuesday afternoon – self sufficient and making way south. Mostly the wind has been with us. So to be 1/8th of the way from our goal and encounter head winds is to say the least frustrating and disheartening. It is why making plans when sailing to a destination is not always wise. I also told myself before we left to expect it to take seven days and if it was less great. So far it could now stretch into a seventh day. In the morning we will know better.
3:23 am – Got a lift of about 10° in the last ten minutes. Adjusted our course up 2-3° at a time and the wind changed. Seems to be holding so far and a bit more pressure, 13 knots apparent, at first looks like I can take a bit more ups – but maybe not…
5:15 am – Popped up to check on Brian. He had pretty much come up with a plan given the lift we had gained a few hours earlier and wanted to create a new route. Instead of our plan for Tortolla we would go for St. Thomas. The east winds have us in line just to the west of St. Thomas and we could then go to the inner harbor at Charlotte Analie. I helped Brian put in a new route. We were 88.6 NM to go to the old waypoint between St. Johns and Yost Van Dyke Islands. Since the southerly winds pushed our track west we would go to the west side of St. Thomas and be able to meet Melissa and determine our options from there. Brian had been to a marina there several times on the inner harbor and they should have everything we need and can get the boat and even our clothes cleaned up.
10:31 am – Had breakfast around 8:30 – pancakes and eggs. Tried a nap and just dozed then got some sun on the tramp and had a shower. Found a sixth flying fish on the starboard trampoline and Brian used it for bait to troll behind the boat for fish.
Brian just fired up the second outboard to increase our speed and power. The jib is rolled up and boards are up. Occasionally hitting 7 knots of speed. Shorts and bare feet it’s 80s and sunny with high fluffy clouds.
Flying Fish Count: 8
thrown back 2 – hit the deck of the cockpit while I was on watch
2 – found in the trampoline, 1 a day ago, 1 this morning
2 – came in the cockpit while Brian was on watch
thrown back 1 – Blue found on the tramp and was thrown back
1 – discovered on top of the doghouse under the solar panel
1:57 pm – Just got done sending Blue up the mast to the first spreaders to take some pictures. Still motoring and now only 34 NM to go for our waypoint off the west end of St. Thomas. Ocean rollers and 5 knots of breeze from the east. Both motors running. Expect to arrive this evening about 9 or 10 pm.
3:49 pm – We are down to one engine and several gallons of gas. 24.8 NM to our waypoint. We can see the island of St. Thomas on the horizon. Was sighted about 30 miles away. Light 5 knot east wind is a little help in the main. We have 5-7 hours of motoring to make it in. Tantalizingly close and yet far away. The next milestone will be getting cell service via AT&T for me or Verizon for Brian and Blue.
[3 sketches from the electronic chart for navigating into anchorage in St. Thomas.]
We finally approached St. Thomas well after dark past the unlit rocks named Cricket, Cook, and Dutch Cap Cay on a heading of 130° quietly motoring between Salt and Kalkum Cay and West Cay and Big Current Hole. We were soon loosely following the north west shore of St. Thomas and the predominately dark greens of the tropical growth extending all along the heights with the lights of an occasional house or compound perched on one headland or another. As we came to David’s Point we turned left to a heading of about 80° toward the airport and eventually tucked up into Brewer’s Bay. Dropped the anchor and backed down on it to be sure it was set and after 6-plus full days could relax. The tension of keeping watch and being underway fell away to excitement to have made it safely to harbor. In the morning we would motor around to Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas’ great harbor) and dock at a marina. We would refuel, wash the boat, rinse and dry the spinnaker and almost a full day’s worth of boat chores including clearing in with Customs. The next day I caught the morning ferry to Tortola to catch an afternoon flight to San Juan and Cleveland for Thanksgiving at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with the rest of the family.
 FON – Fucking On the Nose is a most annoying situation for sailors forcing one to tack the boat and zig-zag sailing extra distance to make the destination. It is not possible to sail into the wind and often not possible to motor into the wind given the wind driven waves and sea conditions.