Monday, September 13, 2010

Salt Stains on my Hat!

Tom's River, NJ / Block Island, RI / Essix, CT / Huntington Bay, NY / Atlantic Highlands, NJ / Tom's River NJ...more than 80 hours under way, 15 hours of night sailing, 20+ knots of wind at times, 10' following seas on the first night out in open water, a 14 hour bash to weather, through Hell Gate - down the East River - down (and up and down) Sandy Hook, 5 bridge openings, a man-made canal that was like being in a washing machine...and I missed my boots. (Though I did spend a couple of hours feeding the fish on day two; I loves me some sea-sickness patch but I should have put in on before we left port!)

Sailing the open ocean is a lot like launching into the flight levels. Make a plan, check the equipment, go. Then simply deal with what comes up.

Our planning lacked a little, the worst being a serious miss in estimating boat speed. As a result it took 6 days, not 5, to finish the trip. After the first 0700 departure the routine was of 0500 wake-ups to be under way by 0600; and we still needed an 0300 wake-up on the last day to get back to Tom's river at a reasonable hour. It was anything but an easy schedule and not a reflection of a cruising lifestyle. Had we been on our own boat and without schedule deadlines, Deb and I would have taken at least 2 weeks to make the same passage. One could easily spend a whole season exploring Long Island Sound and still just scratch the surface.

The equipment lacked a little as well. Our ride was a 35' Person that was a school / training boat; rode hard and put away wet - really wet. We pumped the bilge twice a day. Leaks in the stanchions, bow pulpit, hatches and ports sent water sheeting down the inside of the hull whenever we took spray or green water over the foredeck. (Something we did on a regular basis.) We think the forward water tank was leaking into the bilge as well, since we kept putting more water in it than we could have possibly used on each passage. Everything in the V berth was soaked with water pooling on shelves and in low spots. (Of course Deb and I were supposed to be sleeping in the V berth.) At one point I had to fix the alternator charging system and we brought the boat home with some 22 discrepancies. But things never seemed to be getting out of hand, we just figured out some way to handle what needed to be handled and kept on going. (We had duct tape and a Multi-tool - DRIVE ON!) The boat lacked a Bimini, Dodger, auto-pilot, any in-cockpit reefing system and had only one set of reef points. In a backwards kind of way we learned a lot about how a boat should be equipped and prepared, (at least any boat we call our own) before heading out to open water and extended trips.

Six days on a small boat with 3 strangers turned out to be fascinating and, for me, the most profound aspect of the trip. The Captain, John, was (as one would expect) vastly experienced, knowledgeable and a good instructor. We were told he was a cautious, conservative sailor; something I'm not sure you could prove by our passage. In any case as long as the rest of us wanted to give something a try he sat back and let us have at it. The first waterfall of saltwater I took at the helm had me shivering and laughing at the same time, so maybe he just wanted to see how crazy we really were? Looking back I think John let us sail up pretty close to pushing things to hard, but never let us go over the edge.

Otto was a Hobie sailor with the experience of a single ocean delivery on a cabin boat in his log. He was at least as willing as me to see how much we could handle. At one point we were sitting on top of the cabin, at the mast and working on the main when the bow reared up, pointed at a dull grey sky, and fell like the ocean had been sucked away. Green water buried us up to our waists, the bow completely under. He laughed as hard as I did. His wife, Terry, was "just along for the ride." She turned out to be the backbone of the crew. Within hours of leaving Tom's Creek everyone on the boat was looking out for, and taking care of, everyone else. Equipment failures, leaks, various inconveniences, (think "head /holding tank") interesting weather, whatever came up we worked it out with each person adding a bit of knowledge, a little muscle, or just the perfect quip when a laugh was needed. I have never experienced anything quite like it.

Truth to tell I am still working on getting my head around the whole thing and there are a bunch of lessons to sort through. But the open ocean has captured my attention and my imagination. Salt spray rattling off my hood, the sun sinking into the sea, no land to be seen in any direction, white water hissing as it foamed around the bow, the "thud" of the hull falling into the the flight levels there is a kind of living out there that must be dared to be experienced.

Deb took dozens of pictures and I'm sure they will start showing up as soon as she gets a chance to sort through them. One thing for sure though, coasting in Saturday afternoon sleep deprived, hungry, tired and sore...if we could have headed out that evening on another long passage, we would have jumped at the chance.


RichC said...

Salt stains? Sounds more like you should be thankful to still have "your hat!"

S/V Veranda said...

We're from Toms River and have made that circuit ourselves although not in anything close to less than a week. Sounds like it was quite the experience.