It’s been a few days since I arrived back in Essex and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
I arrived home on Monday afternoon after 11 days at sea, my longest northbound run to date.
And, less than 24 hours later I was on a train to MD to visit our grandchildren and back again.
The run from St Thomas was something…
We had every imaginable weather condition from flat calm, 75 hours of motoring, gales with gusts to 50kts in the Gulf Stream and sailing west and east, nearly to Bermuda while waiting for things to clear up north of us.
And to cap it off, after 1,750 miles, the shaft coupling for the prop came loose about a mile from Essex, our destination and we had to be towed to our mooring.
Even our departure was a challenge. As you might recall, we were delayed in St Thomas with a leak in the engine circulating pump and then headed north but after an additional day in the marina we were underway.
As the days unfolded we caught up with the rest of the fleet that had left a day before us. However, as we approached the latitude of Bermuda, conditions were still nasty to the north so we had to delay, first sailing west toward the US east coast and then backtracking east toward Bermuda while waiting for conditions to improve.
After a frustrating delay we finally turned north, directly for the Gulf Stream and CT. We knew that conditions were going to be sporty but the wind ended up much stronger and as we crossed the Gulf Stream, we encountered sustained winds in the 40s with gusts to 50.
With the wind blowing from the south, perpendicular to the current in the GS, things were plenty rough. And, to make matters worse, as the wind was directly behind us, we were unable to set ourselves up for a reasonable crossing and ended up stuck in the GS for a lot longer than expected, pointing more toward Nova Scotia than Montauk.
For hours we were pointing to far to the east, spending more time in the Stream than we were expecting. We wanted to jibe but that wasn’t practical as that would put us nearly directly into the eastbound current, which would have slowed us even more. It’s impossible to get a shot of a wave that does justice to what we were encountering. Every once in a while, a wave would hit the stern windward quarter and slew us around so we had to be constantly cautious not to end up in a violent jibe. As we made our way across the GS, we decided that we had to jibe at about 02:00 to keep from going to far to the east before exiting the current. We must have spent about 15 minutes setting up the preventer and getting ready to switch tacks. It was uneventful but plenty unnerving with more than 40kts on the stern.
With all that wind we spent hours going at double digit speeds and more than once were going upwards of 14kts through the water. Earlier in the run we had also encountered winds topping 40kts and had been reduced to a third reef and a nearly fully furled jib.
For hours our speed was quite high and as we entered the Stream it was amazing to see how quickly the water temperature went up to the mid 80s and then just as quickly dropped into the low 60s after exiting the GS. These transitions were very rapid, with a swing of more than ten degrees within about an hour. It’s hard to believe how much hot water moves north with the Stream.
I can only imagine what would happen to the climate if this enormous “conveyor belt” of heat were disrupted. An uncontrolled jibe in those conditions could have taken out the boom or worse.
While the rough stuff was the most memorable, we had plenty of beautiful calm sailing and motoring. More like a lake than ocean.
Every day I did a “walk around” to be sure that everything was ok. One morning I found a nut on the boom gooseneck had backed off quite a bit. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if the nut had fallen off and the bolt backed out, allowing the boom to separate from the mast. That would have wrecked our day, that’s for sure. We saw some amazing sunsets, including a “green flash” that was the most amazing that I’ve seen. The sun set below the horizon and then there was a very bright green flash that was more like a flashbulb than a sunset.
We had wonderful sunrises. I always do the last watch from 03:00 to 07:00 and the mornings did not disappoint. Nor did the sunsets. Or, was this another sunrise? Hard to say but beautiful, never the less. Our last sunrise at sea as we rounded the eastern tip of Long Island, Montauk.And the historic Montauk light. I always look forward to the run up Long Island Sound to the CT River and hope for a fair wind and favorable tide. Wishing for a gentle sail to cap on the last leg to finish up a long passage is much like me wishing for a white Christmas when I was young.
However, this year, it didn’t disappoint. Finally, as we entered our 11th day at sea, the Saybrook Light marking the entrance into the CT River.We continued up the river, dropped the sails and contacted the Old Lyme Drawbridge. George, who was at the helm, put the engine in neutral.
Finally, the bridge operator told us that he was going to open so we should come up closer. George put the boat in gear and n-o-t-h-i-n-g happened. The prop shaft had come out of the coupling and no amount of messing around could fix it.
After decades of being a member of Boat US towing, and never a tow. Who’d have guessed that after sailing over 1,700 miles we’d have a breakdown within a mile of our destination. As the tow began to build speed, the prop spun wildly and fully separated from the coupling, threating to back out entirely with nothing to hold it from dropping out to the bottom but the shaft zincs. I had to secure it with an abrasive pad and Vicegrip pliers. After that, a side tow the rest of the way and a lot slower. Finally, on the mooring and a hearty thankyou to our rescuer.We made it. A happy crew all around. Every year I seriously think about leaving Pandora in Trinidad and never do. And, about half way home I begin to really question my decision and this year was no different.
Having said that, the run this year was challenging, took way too long and was, at times, painful. We had EVERYTHING, plus, plus. Flat calms, gales, big waves and even mechanical issues. Fortunately, we are home now and all that’s behind us.
And now that Pandora is back in CT and we can look forward to a summer of time on the water, I am glad that I made the decision to come north.
Now, I can turn my sights to getting Pandora ready for the run south next fall. It will be here sooner than you think.
Better get going as the gardens won’t plant themselves.
No rest for the weary cruiser.