Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wine and Roses

Mile 716.5 ~Fernandina Beach,FL . I know some of you who are reading our blog often think this cruise is all wine and roses. See that jump in mileage - that is a jump out on the ocean ! My first. Don did several ocean passages last year when he brought the boat from Maine to Virginia. He loved them. I, however had lots of mixed feelings about trying it. The photo caption is " before the #%&@ hit the fan" So there we are out on the ocean. We went down the Savannah River and were nervous about the ship traffic because where the ICW crosses the river it is very narrow. Below is a photo I didn't zoom in of one of the markers in the river to try to show how narrow it is - remembering the size of the tankers that come up the river. We lucked out and didn't run across any ships until we were out in the ocean but still in the shiping channel as the shallows continue for about 4 miles out beyond the entrance. Don called the ship pilot to let him know we would cross to the red side where there was room for us to be out of the channel. Wow he was big ~ he safely passed us but it's impressive to be a tiny ant and watch thousands of containers go by on one ship. Another photo below shows the ships out a the end of the shipping channel where they wait for their turn to come in.

Our passage from Savanah to Fernandina Beach Florida was about 120 miles - 11:00 AM Thursday to 8:30 AM Friday . It started out very calm , sunny and surprisingly warm
The ocean temperature is about 70 degrees , making the air temperature the warmest we had felt I think since Beaufort, NC .We spent the afternoon enjoying the warmth, enjoying the relaxation of being in 35 feet of water instead of worrying about going aground, and discussing watch – what I needed to learn to be at the helm alone while Don rested. We would do 2 or 2½ hours on and off. Don is a day napper so I took over around 3 in the afternoon while he went below and rested. We have a GPS that has the nautical chart on it showing the water depths and the buoys but our navigation is always with our charts, our cruising guide and the GPS. I was to mark in a notebook our latitude and longitude every 30 minutes to an hour so we would have a good gauge if our electronics failed as to our position. We watched the sunset together at 5:22 ( in our notes ! ) , prepared toasted egg and cheese sandwiches for dinner, then I went below for a nap. Don’s notes show light winds from the WSW at 8:14 ~ at 9:03 he noted the winds had picked up slightly. I came out around 9:00 – we spent time together sorting out the lights we saw. A couple of large fishing boats and two very distant lights farther out in the ocean. At 11:37 I noted the winds were 14 – 16 knots and Don took over watch ~ at 2:00 AM we were at 21 11 32 N 081 08 47 W and that’s where the log ends. Fortunately we are here to tell the rest of the tale. Mind you our boat has an open cockpit and the "log" was a spiral notebook that got soaked. I came out from below and the first thing I said was "wow ! " The night sky was incredible. So many stars – Don told me about seeing orange lights or something high in the sky – they hung for a bit and then fell. He saw this five times.
Don sat out with me for a while because the 2 distant lights were now close , the lead boat close enough to be of concern. We tried to call – in hind site we should have been more generic. We were quite sure from the configuration of lights they were fishing boats. It turns out they were 2 sailboats traveling together ~ they had white lights mid mast making them appear shorter – like a fishing boat. Don finally made radio contact with the lead boat – she let assured us she was aware of us on her starboard and she would watch carefully. Don went below to sleep and 10 minutes later I told him we were on a contact course with them. I called her back and said I think we are headed for the same way point – what is your course and speed? She said she was on a course of 214 degrees, I responding we were on a course of 200 and that I had both sails up – they had no sails up – We now knew we were on a collision course – she responded she would have to consult with the captain who had gone to bed – I immediately backed off our engine as we were motor sailing but let her know I had not adjusted the sails. She finally came back on the radio saying they had sped up and I should tuck behind them – when I tucked behind them ~ mind you we are 8-10 miles off shore – in what felt to me like the middle of the ocean and I found myself less than a boats length from another sailboat ! How the heck?? The winds had picked up and our boat had not slowed much. I quickly fell off the wind 20 degrees to get them out of our way. It just felt surreal to me. I then listened to them call their friends who were 30 minutes or so behind and explain that we were too close – I’m not sure she grasped the reality of the fact we were sailing , she wasn’t and she should have adjusted her course – I’m pretty sure I’m right on that point. Anyway – a little excitement.
I then watched for other lights – feeling like the smallest person in the smallest boat on the biggest body of water – we have an automatic pilot that will hold the tiller for us – I didn’t need to adjust the sails, just keep us on the course Don had mapped out on GPS earlier in the day. I checked the wind speed a couple of times when it seemed really strong and it was 18 –20 – Very doable – not that scary – but by then I was already sea sick. It was around 4:00 AM and I could hear Don below, who I prayed was sleeping even though the boat was now really bouncing up and down through 5 or 6 foot seas, getting sea sick as well.
The challenge begins. I hung in there as long as I could and finally had to call Don to come back out. At around 4:30 he came back out to take the helm. I went below and never recovered. I got so seasick I couldn’t get off the bunk. Don had to sail the boat the rest of the way by himself including into St Mary’s inlet ~ the inlets can be dangerous coming off the ocean ~ at the very least they can be challenging depending on the tide and the winds the pull of currents can be very strong . By now the seas were 6 – 8 feet and the wind speeds were 30 knots. I could feel the current pulling our boat and finally got my head up - Don was quite the site. Hanging onto the mainsheet to hold himself steady ( he couldn’t get the sail down without my help and even with our life jackets and harnesses didn’t want to chance leaving the cockpit) he was freezing – the cold had come with sun rise and land fall, his face was red from the previous day’s sail, intense and concentrated ~ he sure looked like a sailor. A tired, stressed sailor – but a sailor. We called the marina here in Fernandina – this is a great spot – Cumberland Island and St Mary’s , GA are right here as well as this historic beautiful little waterfront town on Amelia Island of Fernandina , Florida.
We rented space on the dock for 2 days. Today is Saturday – we are recovered, spent yesterday and today cleaning the inside and outside of the boat, showers, laundry, walking around town, hired a cab to get to the grocery store, talked to lots of people on the dock. Tiller the hit once again. A cruise ship was parked across the dock from us – great entertainment for a bit – I was happy when they left – just a little too much interest in this crazy life we are living and the cat on a leash – I can’t blame them but enough is enough. Two nights out at a great Italian restaurant we are ready to continue south. Disappointed we aren’t spending time in St. Mary’s and on Cumberland but the cold won’t let up so south we go…….

We are the small fish on the far left of the cruise ship!


Greg-Argonauta said...

Hi Marg and Don,

Finally caught you after all you have been through. You missed the alligators at St Marys--A guy saw me kayak to shore and then said he wouldn't be caught dead in a kayak--he has a gator that lives in front of his house a mile up the river thats 2 feet longer than your 12 foot kayak--just when you thought it was safe on the water

Margaret said...

I ain't affraid of no gaters

Anonymous said...

Oh but a little garden snake and watch Marg reach for the sky.