November 7, 2012

Ahoy from Morehead City, North Carolina! After an unpleasant rounding of the infamous Cape Hatteras, which lived up to its reputation, Steve confessed that he is not quite ready for other infamous capes – i.e. Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope (aka Cape of Storms). But first….

The last few days in Hampton were busy. I had to get up at 5 am one morning to do a TV news blip as a ‘newbie’ to the Caribbean 1500/ARC Bahamas – along with Carib 1500 coordinators Andy and Mia. We all attended back to back seminars on Friday, ending with a safety demonstration in the hotel pool. Davis Murray, who has been on every Caribbean 1500 since it’s inception, and whose band entertained us all at the Bahamas Group Dinner at a local restaurant the night before, inflated a life raft and demonstrated its features and how to right it if it was upended. We really hope we never have to use ours, but at least we are more prepared in the unlikely event that we do.

Liferaft demonstration in the hotel pool

He also set off flares and had volunteer crew members demonstrate other flares. It was at the safety demonstration that we were told that due to a developing weather system, the organizers were recommending that we leave one day early if at all possible. It would be the first time the Caribbean 1500 would leave earlier than the scheduled departure, and rather than the showy group departure, this would mean a rolling departure as boats got themselves ready to leave.

Dawn on departure day

That afternoon and evening was spent in a mad scramble to get fully ready. I cooked up food for the fridge and freezer for the offshore leg, and the ‘boys’ busied themselves with above-board preparations – rigging, stowing the dinghy, securing the dinghy motor and attending to the final few safety inspection ‘to-do’s’ so we could get Johnnie back for a safety sign-off. We had a short break in the evening for our farewell reception at the Hampton Yacht Club.

On Saturday morning we were up early, busy with remaining tasks. Just before the final Skippers’ Briefing I bumped into Johnnie, the Arc Bahamas Coordinator, who told us that the organizers had a different plan for the Arc Bahamas fleet of 6 boats. The developing weather system, which would bring 50 knot winds in a nasty Nor’easter storm, could not be avoided on our route if we left right away. Instead they recommended that we leave on Sunday November 4th, and take the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) to Beaufort, North Carolina, wait out the storm there, and cross to the Bahamas as soon as it passed. By this time we were ready for the offshore trip, so the news was disappointing.

Final skippers briefing

We all attended the Skippers Briefing which provided pertinent weather, communication and navigation information to the Caribbean 1500, Tortola-bound boats. It was followed by a Bahamas-specific briefing. We quickly discovered that there were differing opinions and plans among the small Bahamas fleet, and we were bound to get split up quickly. Two boats had masts that exceeded the ICW restrictions so the recommended strategy would not work for them. The system was developing on Wednesday  (it was only Saturday) and they preferred to round Cape Hattaras on the outside, and if they felt that they could outrun the storm, make straight for the Bahamas anyway against the recommendation of the organizers. One local boat chose to stay in Hampton until the system passed and leave a week later. Another boat was still waiting for crew to join so would leave on Sunday to take the ICW. Another was not even sure when they would be ready, but would likely take the ICW. After consulting the organizers and other captain’s, we decided to go with 3 other boats and make the outside run around Cape Hattaras to Morehead City near Beaufort, North Carolina, where we would wait out the developing system. We were told the weather was fine for the next 2 days and nights. At the last minute the Arc Bahamas coordinator, Johnnie, decided to come aboard and ride with us to Beaufort to coordinate the fleet as it arrived there. So we earned another crew member just before departure. A delivery skipper and experienced young yachtsman from Cornwall (UK), now living on his yawl in the Abacos, Johnnie was welcomed aboard.

Tai Chi and crew ready to cast off

Meanwhile the Tortola fleet left and we waved them off and wished them well. We left at 5:00 pm that evening and our trip started well. We waved goodbye to Jake on the suddenly empty Hampton Public Piers and entered Chesapeake Bay as the sun set. Unfortunately, the engine died suddenly and inexplicably, before we were even out of the Hampton Channel. Steve bled the injectors and it started again. But we were worried.

We ate dinner as we passed through the bay bridge/tunnel system and headed around Cape Henry next to SV Mariannina, also in our Arc Bahamas fleet.  As darkness descended, the engine failed again. Luckily we had sufficient wind and were sailing by then.

Mariannina sets sail beside us – passing a tug and barge

As the wind lightened we turned east and headed more offshore to find more wind. Steve was feeling green as the seas built, and by the time he bled the injectors again, he was truly seasick. We stood watch the first night – Richard and I doing the first watch, Steve and Paul coming up for the graveyard shift from midnight to 4 am, and then Richard and I were up again from 4 am to 8 am. Johnnie, exhausted from the last minute rush of safety inspections and preparation, slept through the first night in the bouncy V-berth.

Over the next day the conditions deteriorated. We watched the low pressure system approach – on the barometer as well as in the sky and sea state – as we approached Hatteras. We caught the edge of the Gulf Stream flowing strongly against us. While the air and water temperature suddenly warmed up, our progress was severely compromised – we spent most of the day doing 3 knots over the ground while Frankie and our sails tried to carry us forward at 8 knots.

Steve watches the horizon as the seas and weather deteriorates

Conditions became uglier as the day wore on – the seas were a washing machine. Thunder started before sunset, rain and lightening followed. The wind was blowing over 30 knots with gusts to 40, straining our rigging. And we were going directly downwind, a very difficult point of sail given the huge swell and confused seas. After several unintended jybes we doused the main sail and sailed the rest of the night under a partially furled genoa. The engine gave out again, but we managed to keep up a good speed under partial genoa alone.

Johnnie on the helm as we round Hattaras

By morning we were still making slow progress in heavy seas, adverse wind and current conditions. Steve struggled up from a terribly sea-sick state to attend to the engine, and found that the racor filter was full of gunk. He changed that, had to siphon diesel by mouth at one point, and returned to throwing up, huddled round the mast on the sole floor! When he commented that the diesel tasted the same on the way up as it had on the way down, I gave up my valiant fight against nausea and succumbed to sea-sickness. Rather than catching fish as I had hoped, I was feeding them. Thank goodness for our crew and their iron guts. Johnnie and Richard took turns helming in churning seas while Paul assisted Steve and tried to catch the SSB net.

A pod of dolphins came along and played in our bow wake for most of the afternoon, returning again in the night to provide cheering company. A tiny bird also took shelter inside our dodger, returning a few times before losing us in the dark, as phosphorescence sparkled on the sea foam. Meanwhile our rigging took a beating, the foot of the staysail breaking off, the hem of the foresail cover ripping, and a baton coming loose in our mainsail. And sea water started to encroach our boat interior as the powerful waves crashed over the cockpit, sending trickles through our hatches, which we thought we had made so airtight.

Richard keeps crew morale up!

Already miserable, the engine added to our woes, especially when we rounded Cape Lookout and tried to turn north toward Morehead City. We were beating into the wind and making no progress. We really needed the engine. Steve valiantly roused himself once again to change the primary fuel filter as we rocked wildly. Johnnie retrieved the jerry cans from the sloshing deck and helped him rig a fuel line directly from the jerry can. Paul assisted, Richard helmed and I tried unsuccessfully to overcome seasickness to help above deck. By this time we were 11 nautical miles from the Beaufort/Morehead City inlet. They got the engine going again. It conked out again. This happened several times before I gave up and called Towboat US.

Under tow as skies cleared

The sun finally came out as the dispatcher called to say a towboat was on its way to us. Seas started to calm down a little, but the wind was still strong and unfavourable. Steve, Johnnie and Paul got the engine running again straight off the jerry can, and we motored to meet the towboat. A really friendly and helpful towboat captain, Greg, and his lovely dog Sailor, met us about 9 nm outside the channel, and hooked on a towing bridle to tow us back. The engine died again after a short while, slowing our progress. We finally got into Morehead City and tied up on the face dock  just before sunset – 48 hours and just over 200 nm from Hampton.

Johnnie jumped ship to stay with a friend – we don’t blame him, given the unexpectedly horrible trip. The rest of us spent a little time tidying up the passage-messy boat before heading for showers, and very welcome food and drink at a local restaurant, with a most unusual name  – The Sanitary! Apparently it used to be a fish market (and partly still is) and wanted to let everyone know that the market was clean and sanitary.

Safe on the dock – Morehead City, North Carolina

With the strangest of coincidences typical of our voyage so far, I turned the VHF radio to Channel 72 to see if I could reach any other boats in the now dispersed Arc Bahamas fleet, only to overhear a conversation between the three QCYC boats from our home club in Toronto. Tapas and Silver Fox were in Beaufort, but we chatted briefly before leaving for the restaurant where we were able to catch up in person with Ken and Denna from SV Allure – they were docked near us in Morehead City.

We all slept well. The next day we were up early, addressing the long task list of repairs. We still hop to get the boat ready again to go offshore after the system passes on Thursday. But it does depend on getting the engine fixed and reliable. We cannot believe what bad luck we have had with Frankie. We really thought that he was 100% ready after the 3 weeks of expert attention in Lockwood’s. On that note, Lockwood’s was devastated by Hurricane Sandy – and poor Dave’s boat was damaged when it floated off its cradle and ended in a jumble of boats. Check out the pictures of the devastation on Lockwood’s facebook page.

Boat repairs

Meanwhile the Arc Bahamas fleet is all over the map. It is disappointing that we are not all making our way there directly, and even more disappointing that we are so split up. Two boats are well on their way, having crossed the Gulf Stream, trying to outrun the developing system. Another is ahead of us, having rounded Hatteras and then ducked into the ICW, headed for Charleston where they hope to launch from for the crossing. Two others are on their way here, down the ICW, and one is still in Hampton.

On a positive note, the manager of the marina here, Denard, is wonderfully helpful and friendly, and the facilities are great. There is even a free laundry – a first in our experience on this trip. Morehead City is a lovely little town, and there are a number of good restaurants nearby. We all went out last night and met up with Johnnie and his friend Kathleen for dinner and a drink at Ruddy Duck’s after a busy day of repairs. Richard, who has taken on the role of  crew morale champion, enjoyed his strong beer called Arrogant Bastard, and a very spicy hot burger called a Voodoo Killer.

The Arrogant Bastard and Voodoo Killer!

We are getting the fuel polished here today. Richard is busy with rigging repairs and working on our route and waypoints for the rest of the trip. The engine mechanic has ordered another new part which he thinks will fix the current problem which may or may not be related to our previous engine woes. Paul is making our ports more airtight and helping with other minor repairs. Steve is busy coordinating and pitching in with all repairs and I am doing laundry, shopping, and of course, fulfilling my role as Communication Officer!


View our photo journal for the trip around Cape Hatteras.


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