The Home Stretch! 80% of the Way Home

It’s Wednesday noon and we are motoring along in glassy calm conditions.  It’s hard to believe that the sea is so calm, like an August day in Western Long Island sound, when we are 100 miles from land.  And, it’s a particular contrast from yesterday’s squalls and really rough conditions.   Today is living proof of the statement “what a difference a day makes” or perhaps better yet, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a day” or in this case, leave the Gulf Stream.

With only 150 miles between us and Montauk Long Island, only 30 miles from Essex, it’s looking like we will arrive sometimetomorrow (Thursday) afternoon.

It’s interesting, and perhaps a bit counterintuitive, that time seems to pass more quickly, for me, at sea the longer we are out.   The first day or two always seem like they will never end and I find myself wondering how I am going to deal with being underway for a WHOLE WEEK.  However, after a few days out I find that I settle into a different perspective and don’t look quite the same way at how many miles and days there remain on the passage.

Back when I was a “youngster” (“Bob, don’t kid yourself, you can still pass for an annoying, overactive difficult child”).   Thanks for that and to that point, did I mention that a few months ago Brenda finally realized that “I’ve been married to a puppy for the last 40 years and one that is always asking for cookies and pooping all over everything”.    There are others that agree, it seems.

So, back to the point:  In my “relative youth”, I doubt that I would have been able to sit still long enough, or have a boat big enough (a relative term to be sure) that I could stand being confined to a tiny space for a week with two other guys.  However, somehow it seems to work.  Well, it works for me at least.  And, so far, Dave and Chris haven’t tossed me to the fish.   Perhaps it’s because I have the toughest stomach and someone’s got to cook.  Yea, that’s probably it.

So, as we are now half way through our fifth day at sea, not that I am counting, the days seem to blend together  and I no longer find myself blurting out “are we there yet?” nearly so often.

I can’t say that I love passage making but Dave put it well this morning when he remarked “there’s something about being places and doing things that few others experience that make a passage like this special”.  Well, that’s not exactly what he said but I think that’s the gist of it and I agree.

Another thing about being on a, sort of, long ocean passage, and I think that 1,000 miles qualifies as such, is the many types of weather conditions that you experience.  Yesterday’s squalls were pretty challenging but they only lasted a few hours and what a contrast to today’s flat calm.   While I’d prefer to be sailing instead of listening to the engine droning along, another advantage of the flat calm is the chance to see dolphins and whales that are a lot easier to spot when it’s calm.  I am sure that we pass them regularly when we are underway but when it’s really glassy, they show up from a long way off.

In particular, today we have seen dolphins as well as whales.  Seeing dolphins is common but I have not seen whales very often outside of the Gulf of Maine.  On this trip we have been treated to sightings of what we believe were pilot whales several times including one that came right up to within a few feet of Pandora.  We also spotted an Ocean Sunfish today and diverted from our course to take a better look.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get any good photos due to the glare on the water.  These fish are very slow moving and look like a huge oblong fatty disk, perhaps 5′ in diameter with a large fleshy fin on the top and bottom.  Their eyes are huge and they have a mouth that’s impossibly small.  They tend to lounge on the surface of the water and as they are such slow swimmers, it’s pretty easy to get close to them.   Their meal of choice is jellyfish, likely the only prey that they can swim faster than.  The law of nature “you eat what you can catch”.  Yum.

So today, we have sighted dolphin, whales, ocean sunfish as well as two sightings of what were either swordfish or perhaps sharks.   We didn’t get close but to see the dorsal and tail fin slowly moving along on the surface suggests that it was indeed one or the other.  Whatever they were, they were neat to see.
Swordfish, in particular, swim slowly on the surface, with their fins showing and as such they are easy prey for fisherman who spear them, standing out on long bow sprits that stick some 20′ out on the front of their boats.   Seeing this variety of critters along with a few seabirds and Portuguese Man of War jellyfish has made for an interesting morning and well worth the tedium of motoring in a flat calm.

Today got off to a particularly nice start with a beautiful sunrise.  One of the most wonderful moments in a day at sea is the instant that the sun pops up from the sea, bringing with it a new day.  And today’s rise was particularly dramatic.    My favorite time to stand watch is the “dog watch”, and the one that I have been doing on this trip, is from 04:00 until 08:00.  I enjoy being alone on deck as the sky slowly brightens and the sun ushers in a new day.



Last night was particularly dramatic when I came on deck to begin my watch as it was overcast and pitch dark with not a star in sight.  As the boat moved along, it left a bright green trail of phosphorescence behind fading off into the distance about  100 yards in our wake.  As I came on deck and first saw the glowing waves on either side of the boat I thought that there was a bright cabin light shining out the porthole and then realized that it was the phosphorescent glow of the wave parting as Pandora moved forward.
The glow or green fire, as it sometimes seems, is actually caused by millions of small plankton and jelly fish that glow like fireflies when they are disturbed by the passage of the boat.  Waters in the north are rich in these creatures so the glow can be quite bright especially on a moonless night.   In the Bahamas and the waters of Cuba, in particular, there is very little plankton so there is very little glow when sailing at night.   This phenomenon is certainly tangible evidence of the rich sea life in more temperate latitudes.

Yesterday we left the current of the Gulf Stream and as we moved out of the grip of this “river of water” the temperature dropped over ten degrees in less than a mile.   You could actually watch the thermometer count down the drop as we crossed the wall of the Stream.  It’s really dramatic to see this transition from the warm 80+ degree tropical waters of the Stream to more chilly New England waters.   The water color also changes from a deep indigo to a more grey blue.  It’s still very clear but the water has a very different look.  You can actually see the line in the water as you cross.

It’s also remarkable how quickly the air temperature drops and the water surface calms as you exit the confused waves of the Stream.  There is also a marked difference in the speed of the wind with an average of about 5kts more wind in the Stream.   It is often said that the “stream makes its own weather” and I’d say that’s true.  In Florida, where the Stream runs the hardest, say 4-5kts, there is generally a band of huge cumulus clouds running up the coast, marking the Stream.  With that much hot water moving along there is a huge amount of evaporation which makes for some dramatic thunderheads and a tendency for quickly developing squalls.

Yes,it’s a beautiful day here in the “middle of nowhere” but it’s nice to be here, wherever “here” is.

However, it’s nearly lunchtime so I’d better sign off.  The menu:  Fresh Pandora made focaccia bread (new to my repertoire:  Thank you Brenda) with “Progresso” made soup.  For dinner, pork tenderloin with teriyaki sauce and a salad.  Yum…

Hope that the crew agrees.    Actually they had better like it as it’s a long swim to take-out.

That’s all for now and tomorrow, Essex.

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