Sunday June 2nd
By morning the winds were down to 5-8 kts and forecast to go to zero around noon. As the seas quickly flattened out it became a perfect day for the sport fishing boats to come out from North Carolina. Oh! passed several dozen boats that had come out to fish for the day and enjoy the calm waters.
Motoring along at 7 kts in glassy calm seas has its advantages. The early morning was ideal for getting some exercise on the foredeck; a full hour of yoga in the warm sunshine felt so good. That was followed by a breakfast favourite of hazelnut creme cold brewed coffee and vanilla yogurt with fresh mango, nuts and some cake. Breakfast is when I typically download the latest weather forecasts and do my morning weather analysis. On this particular day I had to make the final decision on whether to press on around Cape Hatteras if the forecasts were good; or stop at Beaufort NC, if the weather forecasts were not good. The morning forecasts were all pretty consistent and predicted good weather. It would be calm or light winds from the SW until I reached Cape Hatteras, then it would get more variable for the leg from Cape Hatteras to Cape Henry. The decision was made to head for Cape Hatteras and continue on to Norfolk, Va.
The calm seas and motoring were also excellent conditions to run the water maker to replenish the tanks with 150 gallons of fresh water. Having a large supply of fresh water is wonderful. I have spoken with several sailors that make it across the Atlantic on just 40 gallons of fresh water over 2-3 weeks and I am always impressed by their frugal consumption. However, warm fresh water showers and not having to be super strict on water consumption makes the passages so much more comfortable and enjoyable. The luxury of a hot water shower in the fresh air and warmth of the sun on the port sugar scoop, is a treat that I look forward to each day. Topping up the water supply while motoring just meant that could be enjoyed more often, or longer. It also allows for freshwater rinses of the windscreens and cockpit floor. On Oh! the goal is “smoothing it”, not “roughing it”.
Calm seas are a good time for getting computer work completed and photos backed up. The mellow seas make staring at computer and iPad screens for long periods much more tolerable.
By late in the afternoon Oh! was back to using wind in the sails. It is nice to have plenty of fresh water, but it is even nicer when the water maker is turned off and the engines go silent. During the day several ships past, as well as a yacht that stayed abreast about five miles to the east of Oh!.
Monday June 3rd
The weather conditions overnight were perfect, light winds from the south and west meant gentle seas, smooth sailing and plenty of naps. As the sun broke Oh! was well north of Cape Hatteras before the winds began to clock around to the north and freshen. By noon Oh! was beating to windward in choppy seas, but I was enjoying a fun sail. The only issue was that the combination of a south flowing current and north winds was making progress to Cape Henry slow. The silver lining to the north winds was that at least Oh! was no longer in the Gulf Stream where a north flowing current against south flowing winds would have been nasty. The 4 pm weather check showed that the conditions would continue throughout the night.
The slower progress north meant Oh! still had at least another 24 hours before reaching Cape Henry, which meant another night at sea. Over the past few days I had been slowly working my way through all the fresh produce, fruits and meats in Oh!’s stores. Several years before I had completed my first US clearance from offshore at Charleston, SC. The customs officers made a point of asking if we had fresh fruits, vegetables, or uncooked meats on board. They somewhat reluctantly accepted our freshly cut up fruit salad that was prepared to go with yogurt for breakfast as “cooked”. The thought of potentially losing any of those types of provisions to a CBP disposal bin has always stayed with me…so my goal was to arrive with as little as possible…just in case. That meant it was time to feast, eat up and enjoy. Beating to weather in choppy seas be darned…this is the catamaran Oh! and that pork tenderloin had me salivating for BBQ tenderloin and all the fixings – it was awesome!
The view off the stern of Oh! surging to windward as I enjoyed dinner was amazing – foaming water and sea birds soaring along the wave tops, or simply gliding beside Oh! while checking her out, made for a very dynamic evening.
Tuesday June 4th.
It had been a long voyage from Cape Hatteras to Cape Henry. North of Cape Hatteras the currents flow south, so Oh! was working against the current. Plus, the winds had been from every direction of the compass over the past 36 hours and ranged from 5 -20 kts as several small systems passed through the area. However, they had been dominantly from the north and northwest…where we needed to go. The final 10 hours before arriving at Cape Henry I deliberately reduced sail and slowed Oh! to get some extra sleep. My goal was to arrive at Cape Henry at day break after a night with plenty of naps. Being solo it was all about managing sleep and being aware of the periods when I would need to be awake for extended periods. The entrance to the Chesapeake is a very active waterway, with lots of pleasure boats, shipping and naval traffic. So it was a place I needed to be awake for at least 8 hours to get from Cape Henry to Norfolk. By slowing down I could nap more easily. Slowing down also gave Ted and Josefin on Stet time to catch up to Oh!. As dawn broke we entered into the vessel traffic separation lanes at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay together.
We were greeted by three high speed navy hover craft, and a constant chatter of Coast Guard and naval traffic over the VHF. They were firing off restrictions and warnings of closed areas, or construction projects underway along the entrance to the Chesapeake and approaches to Norfolk. The most interesting notice to mariners was the warning to stay at least a half mile away from and never pass in front of a submarine that would be heading for the open sea. The submarine was escorted by several chase boats that scrambled after any boat that even looked like it might get close to the submarine. Fortunately for us, the outbound submarine passed Oh! just as we both transited the bay tunnel choke point – which meant we got a great close up view! That was pretty cool. It still prompted a call from the patrol boats on the radio confirming our intentions and firm directions to stand well clear of their submarine.
I thought that would be the most impressive moment of the sail into Norfolk until we passed the “grey mile”. That is the nickname of the stretch of water that is home to the US naval yards and dozens of massive naval ships – including 3 huge aircraft carriers, many escort ships, supply ships and finally at Norfolk, the retired battleship USS Wisconsin. Needless to say, the submarine seemed like small stuff by the time Oh! arrived at Tide Water Marina to clear into the USA.
Our appointment with the US customs and border patrol was for 4 pm at our respective slips. That gave just enough time to finish off the rest of Oh!’s uncooked meats (that tenderloin) and veggies. Josefin from Stet had been craving meat and so the two of us enjoyed an early dinner of bbq pork tenderloin with cooked and raw veggies topped with fresh basil while waiting for the customs officers. You never know if the CBP officers will take the uncooked meats, fresh fruit and veggies away or not, sooo…eat them! It was a treat for her since Ted is a vegetarian and they had no meats on Stet during the passage and a yummy early dinner for me.
While we waited I also made some banana mango pecan oatmeal muffin tops to use up my fruit. They were awesome – and enjoyed by all on Stet as well as several of the CBP officers. By 5 pm we were officially in the USA, fed and happy! All we needed now was a cruising license, for which we already had an appointment setup for the next day at 8:15 am.
Wednesday June 5th.
Argh… it’s those crickets again! I love the sound they make and they always bring a flood of incredible memories from the past 14 years. They were the sound of my alarm waking me from my first full nights sleep in the 9 days since leaving Nassau. It was 6:30 AM and I had a 7:30 ferry to catch for the 8:15 appointment with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to get a US Cruising License. It was a beautiful morning and Ted and I were off to finish the formalities of clearing in Oh! and Stet. The fresh morning air, warm sun and surprises around every corner made the exercise a treat. Norfolk’s waterfront is a kaleidoscope of colour, pedestrian areas, public art works, cafes, markets, festival areas. The mix of modern and colonial era architecture all come together in a very clean and appealing setting. We thoroughly enjoyed our wander through the waterfront area and our discussions with the CBP officer. I am looking forward to revisiting Norfolk to explore the museums and spend more time there when I return with Oh! in the fall.
Ted and I got back to Oh! At 11 am and prepared to go our separate ways. Stet was provisioning to replicate the Atlantic Circuit I had just completed, and Oh! had a haul out appointment in three days 145 nmi north in Annapolis. The past 4 weeks sailing with Ted and his crew mates had been a lot of fun. I truly wished we could just continue sailing together and repeat the Atlantic circuit all over again. But after 19 months in the water, Oh! needed some TLC and a haul out. I wanted a break from the sea as well to enjoy some of my many terrestrial and airborne passions over the summer.
By 1230 Oh! was fueled and under way heading out to Chesapeake Bay as the bluesky slowly turned grey. The forecast was for 15 knot south westerlies which would be perfect for the sail north. However, there was also potential for some rain and scattered squalls. As I sailed down river past miles of grey Navy ships I recalled our Uber driver “Mike” and the discussion we had the night before of his life on one of the US aircraft carriers currently at Norfolk. He served on the big one in the picture above. As I have said so many times, cruising is not about the sailing – it is all about the people I meet and the experiences we have. As Oh! passed by his giant grey aircraft carrier it was interesting to recall Mike’s descriptions of daily life aboard that massive ship.
At Thimble Shoal Light Oh! turned north into Chesapeake Bay. The skies slowly faded to grey and the weather slowly deteriorated as Oh! sailed up the Chesapeake. The afternoon was spent looking for as many easily accessible anchorages as possible so that there were lots of options later on as night drew near, or if conditions got so bad Oh! needed to seek shelter. After a few hours 6 possible anchorages had been found along the western shore, all of which could be approached safely in darkness, or poor visibility should the need arise. The objective was to get as far north as possible by sunset.
By mid afternoon Oh! was facing another conveyor belt of big squalls with lightning and heavy rain. They lasted until 1930 at which point Oh! had finally gotten north of the SW-NE line the squalls were forming along.
On days like these I was very grateful for the ability of the combined AIS and Radar systems to penetrate these variable shades of grey and the alternating poor to no visibility conditions. At one point during the heavy squalls, visibility dropped to a boat length as torrential rains gave Oh! a much needed high pressure fresh water rinse driven by 35 knot winds. Thankfully, the only other vessels I had seen within a few miles over the past few hours were also on AIS so at least the threat of collisions was manageable. Even with the AIS and radar, it was a very unsettling feeling to be in zero visibility in mid day.
Many people that have sailed on Oh! have commented on the unsettling feeling of sailing into the pitch dark of night while making passages. Yes it is unsettling…yet so different to “zero visibility”. No matter how dark it is, if it is clear out, you can still see a long way at night. As long as it is not raining, even on overcast nights you can still see many miles all around you (hopefully you just don’t see anything, or if there is a vessel it has its lights on). But zero visibility is different, you have no visibility – period. Yesterday was my first ever encounter with that…thank you to Christian Hüslmeyer for developing the first rudimentary radar, and whoever developed AIS – thank you to you as well – you have given us the ability to see, when we cannot.
It had been a long day and with 20 kt winds and darkness approaching it was time to seek shelter. Oh! could just make the southern most of the anchorages that I had identified earlier in the day before it would get dark. Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy played some tricks and the first attempt to anchor in Godfrey Bay along the Piankatank river failed. After slowly dragging for over 300 m trying to get the anchor to set, there was no other option but to pull it up in the dark, reposition in the bay and try again. The second attempt worked, but by now it was almost 10 pm. I was cold, damp and tired from a long day. My dinner plans had been replaced by the need to re-anchor, so dinner would wait until breakfast – a warm blanket and pillow were calling.
Thursday June 6th
It was 6 AM in the morning and way too early for the crickets to be chirping and calling me to get up. I had been in a very deep sound sleep and my body felt like a brick, stiff and very tired. However, today Oh! had a long way to go. So, after a single 5 minutes snooze, I forced myself to do 3 lower back bedtime yoga stretches to try and regain some flexibility, then dragged my bleary eyes out of bed. First stop, get the engines running, second get the instruments running, third weigh the anchor and get underway. Breakfast and all the rest of the morning routine would wait until Oh! was safely through the tight “S” turn at the mouth of Piankatank river and into the open waters of Chesapeake Bay. It would probably take 14 hours to travel the 86 nmi. to Annapolis and there were only 14.5 hours of daylight to do it.
So….Giddy up and go little Oh!.
If Ireland is the land of infinite colours of green, and the Bahamas have every shade of blue; over the last two days, the Chesapeake has had every shade of grey – not just “50”! The sea was sparkling silver to deep grey, or muddy grey brown and green grey. The land was varying shades of muted greenish grey with the greyed out white trim of buildings dotting the shore. The sky was everything from white grey through bluish grey to just plain ugly and threatening greenish dark grey (the later frequently punctuated by the brilliant flashes of white lightning bolts). Grey was the common and dominant colour. What a change from 17 months of beautiful clear blue waters and mostly blue skies, vivid greens, vibrant flowers and the earth tones of the Atlantic and Caribbean circuit. While watching the shades of grey passing by I had time to just kick back and reflect on my solo passages. Based on my experiences and discussions with other long distance solo sailers; solo sailing is all about sleep, time management and risk assessment – all of equal importance. It can be very relaxing and also at times exhausting. One thing was certain though, I was now comfortable that I had gained sufficient skills to safely make solo passages – as long as there were no pressing time requirements.
Late in the day I decided to stop about 2 hours short of Annapolis and enjoy one last quiet evening on the hook. This was it… the last anchorage of an incredible journey that began 547 days ago. On Dec. 6th, 2017 Oh! had cast off her lines at Jarrett Bay Boat Works, NC. Tomorrow, Oh! would be hauled out at the Bert Jabin Yard in Annapolis, Maryland. What a journey this had been! To think this all started 46 years ago when I read the book “Dove”. That same book also inspired Ted who was one of the crew that joined Oh! last year to sail from Charleston, NC to Bermuda to get a taste of the sailboat cruising lifestyle and ocean passage making. Ted has gone on to captain and sail his own Catamaran, a 42’ Lagoon he took delivery of in La Rochelle, France and then sailed it across the Atlantic. He is now 2/3 of the way through his own Atlantic circuit. By chance, Ted and I stumbled on a new copy of that mutually inspiring book at a bookstore in Norfolk, VA after obtaining our US cruising licenses – that copy now resides on Stet. Teenage dreams can come true, you just have to believe in them….
“Follow your dreams, for only in your belief of their reality, lies their essence”.
Rod Morris, penned on the cover of my Grade 10 English notebook after reading “Dove”.
Hey, the English class was boring, so why not dream a bit! I can assure everyone….the dream has not been boring. The question is where now?…and my best answer is “to do it again and beyond”.
Cheers to all