Day 1, Saturday November 2nd. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy skies, winds NNE at 6-12 kts increasing to 12-18 kts in the afternoon with occasional showers and temperatures in the 60's during the day and 50's overnight. We had originally planned to leave Port Annapolis Marina around 9:00 am but due to an unusually low tide we weren't able to get out of our slip until almost 2:00 pm. Our first stop was the fuel dock at Annapolis Landing Marina where we took on 57.72 gals of fuel at 102 engine hours and filled 5-5 gal. Jerry Cans. We were finally underway at 2:40 pm headed down the Chesapeake at slack tide with the wind beginning to fill in at our backs, comfortably motor sailing downwind to Norfolk. We encountered some brief rain squalls overnight and arrived Norfolk at 9:30 am (18 hours and 45 minutes later) amidst a steady 15-20 kt wind and following rough seas.
Day 2, Sunday November 3rd. The day was partly sunny with the winds continuing to blow from the NNE at 18-20 kts. Although still chilly it was warm in the sun and relatively calm within the protected and narrow confines of the ICW. We arrived Coinjack, N.C. at dark and were safely tied up to the bulk head at Coinjack Marina by 6:30 pm, 1 lock, 13 bridges and 9-1/2 hrs after reaching Norfolk, VA.
After dinner onboard and a few bottles of wine our SPOT message "We're okay at this location" became the mantra for the remainder of our trip.
Day 3, Monday November 4th. We departed Coinjack Marina at 9:00 am amidst sunny skies, winds NNE at 13 kts and 50 degrees. We went aground where some shoaling extended just inside channel marker # 130 but managed to free ourselves with a little maneuvering. At 2:00 pm we crossed the Alligator River Bridge. We anchored just outside the entrance to the Alligator River Canal at 35-40'.289" N and 76-5'.613" W at 5:00 pm with 138.5 engine hrs and winds 15-20 kts.
Day 4, Tuesday November 5th. We weighed anchor at 7:30 am and entered the Alligator River Canal. It was sunny and warm with light NNE winds. Aside from several sailboats assisting another sailboat who lost their engine and went aground just inside the canal the day was relatively quiet and uneventful. We passed under another 3 bridges and anchored in Bonner Bay just off Davis Island Point at 35-09'.122 N and 76-35'.176" W.
Day 5, Wednesday November 6th. We weighed anchor at 7:00 am. It was partly cloudy and warm with E winds 10-12 kts. We arrived Beaufort Docks in Beaufort, N.C. at 2:30 pm with 156.5 engine hrs. The forecast called for winds 25-30 kts gusting to 40 kts ahead of the cold front on Thursday and Friday so we decided to wait until Saturday morning before going off shore.
We took on 62.02 gals of fuel, traveled 343 nm and put on 54.6 engine hrs since leaving Annapolis. We spent our time doing some routine maintenance and system checks, replacing a corroded SSB coaxial connection, re-provisioning the boat and familiarizing our selves with Beaufort. We were okay at this location.
We visited a grave of a young girl who according to legend, traveled to England with her father who promised the child's mother to return her safely home. Sadly, on the return journey, the young girl became ill and died at sea. Desperately wanting to keep his promise to return home with his daughter, the girl's father purchased a barrel of rum from the ship's captain to preserve the child's body. He placed his daughter's lifeless body in the barrel of rum and returned to Beaufort where she was buried in the rum cask at the Old Burying Ground Cemetery. Visitors leave gifts of shells, toys and trinkets on top of her gravesite pictured below which is marked by a wooded head stone.
The weather forecast from Commanders on Friday called for fair weather with a chance of showers on Sunday and Monday, light and variable NNE winds and seas 3-5 ft. through Tuesday. A strong cold front will bring a surge of very strong NNE winds as far south as the Northern Bahamas on Wednesday with wind speeds to 30 kts making for some very rough conditions off shore. Our objective was to make Treasure Cay before the affects of cold front arrived.
Day 8, Saturday November 9th. We departed Beaufort at 6:00 am. We had 3 waypoints on our off-shore route to Whale Cay, our entrance to the Abacos, Bahamas:
We were well on our way along our route towards our first waypoint marking our GS crossing when we heard Securitas, Securitas, Securitas on ch. 16 on our VHF radio. This is U.S. Navy Warship 44. We are conducting live fire exercises in the vicinity of coordinates such and such which were right on our route towards our first waypoint. All ships must maintain a 10 mile perimeter. If we go West we are directly in the line of fire. If we go East we get forced into crossing the GS too early. The Warship eventually gave us permission to pass to the West under 10 miles without going too far off course and putting ourselves in any danger of their live fire exercises.
Days 9-10, November 10th-11th. At sea. Weather was variably cloudy with light and variable ENE winds and 2-4 ft. seas. The 2nd cold front which Commanders warned of developing over the east coast would bring a surge of very strong 20-30 kt NNE winds making for some very rough conditions off shore as far south as the northern Bahamas by Wednesday so our main concern was to get into the Abacos before this next frontal system arrived. The decision was to either arrive Whale Cay at dark before the expected cold front and rough conditions or arrive during daylight hours the next day with the cold front and winds at our back. We chose to stay as far ahead of the cold front as possible which would put us at Whale Cay at dark. The decision then would be whether to enter the notorious reefs surrounding Whale Cay at dark or wait until first light.
Day 11, November 12th. We arrived Whale Cay at 11:00 pm. We had been monitoring and comparing the accuracy of our depth finder, paper and electronic charts and taking range bearings as we approached Whale Cay and were comfortable that our electronic charts were accurate enough to enter Whale Cay in the dark with only the light from the moon. What we didn't expect was for our chartplotter at the helm to lose its backlighting.
We had originally planned to take Loggerhead Channel but decided on the straight approach to Treasure Cay. In hindsight this turned out to be a prudent decision because we later found out that a barge went aground on the shoal at the entrance to Loggerhead channel which we may have not seen in the dark. So using a flashlight to backlight our chartplotter and our crew strategically
positioned on deck as lookouts we were able to navigated our way through Whale Cay into Treasure Cay and arrive safely at our slip at 1:50 pm on Wednesday, November 13th, day 12.
11/9-10 116 nm
Total off-shore 487
Total combined 830 nm
Total fuel used including 5 x 5 gal. jerry cans = 188.34 gals ~132.5 eng hrs = 1.42 gals./hr.
Below is a plot of our actual route vs our planned routes superimposed on the Gulf Stream data. In summary, we nailed the southbound eddy just to the east of the GS at 32 40 N and 076 11W. There was also apparently no place for us to go south of the eddy where we hit the adverse current if we had altered course. Based on the departure data we were exactly where we were supposed to be in the eddy but the current had changed against us. Maybe the storm from the preceding Thursday and Friday changed the direction of the current in the eddy.
The U.S Navy also ultimately forced us to use the northern GS crossing instead of our alternate southern GS crossing which would have put us in an adverse current much sooner. By altering course from S to SE we increased our SOG from 3.8 to 5.5 + kts. and were on the best VMG possible under the situation.
In hindsight we probably should have taken advantage of that SE route for a few more hours which would have put us further east given us more south bucking a weaker adverse current and potentially picking up some fair current the last day. Nevertheless in the end we were able to average 5.5 kts. off-shore, beat the 2nd cold front and arrive Treasure Cay safely.
Unfortunately the Caribbean Rally's didn't fair as well. They elected to depart Beaufort, N.C. for the BVI's on the Wednesday we arrived in hopes of beating the first impending cold front where forecasters had predicted gale force conditions off-shore on Thursday and Friday. The USCG assisted by the U.S. Navy reportedly saved four lives and responded to five sailboats in distress. Two sailboats, Ahisma and Wings were abandoned due to hull damage and gear failure and their crew rescued by the USCG. It is believed that the Ahisma has sunk while Wings is adrift and awaiting salvage by their owners.
Two other sailboats, Like Dolphins and Nypa were dismasted and made it back to port under their own power. Three sailboats encountered rudder problems and were towed into port by the USCG and the Braveheart returned to port with one crew member with a broken arm.
There have been a number of other reports of torn sails, gear breakdown and system failures and these boats diverted to Bermuda and/or the Bahamas for repairs under their own power.
In response to the above, the USCG issued the following Marine Safety Alert: Inspections & Compliance Directorate for Offshore sailing. http://wow.uscgaux.info/Uploads_wowII/P-DEPT/1_and_2_14.pdf.
I would like to thank my crew Capt. Mike Bancroft, Capt. Bob Clark and Capt. Tom Lanzilli for their time and help to make this a safe and successful passage but most of all for their friendship and the camaraderie which evolved from our having to rely solely on each others experience and seamanship skills to succeed.
Good judgment comes from experience but experience comes from bad judgment.
The Mai Toi will remain cruising the Abacos until the spring of 2014 when it will return to Guilford, Ct. for the summer after a short stop in Annapolis, Md. for some routine maintenance and repairs.