Ship's Log

October 25th, 2008 / Norfolk, VA:

What does it feel like to spend years counting your pennies, selling, giving away or tossing out 90% of your possessions, spending almost every single moment of your spare time fixing up an old boat, walking in the snow from a dirty public shower each winter evening back to a bizarre plastic bubble, and striving through a thousand other small indignities in the name of someday doing something you’ve never really done before? 

To resign from your comfortable job that pays you more than you’ll probably ever earn again in your life without another job in sight? 

To say goodbye to your dearest friends and family that you’re about to propel yourself thousands of miles away from? 

To come up with a grisly, comprehensive list of supplies to cover every conceivable contingency that could arise for you, your spouse, your pets and every life-supporting system aboard the boat, and then try to purchase those supplies and have them all fit aboard the boat along with all your everyday living stuff? 

To be ready to accept the blame for being unprepared when something awful happens that you didn’t think of and plan for?

What is it like to constantly work towards such an immense, all-consuming goal, and then have the achievement of that goal finally in your grasp? 

Getting ready to go cruising can stir up some heavy topics if you stop and think about what you're doing for a moment.  Happily, (or unhappily?) you’re so busy you don’t have the time to reflect on such abstract things.  There are too many important concrete items to buy, last minute errands, must-do boat projects to make the boat seaworthy, friends and family to say goodbye to, and then more things to buy.

But then Wednesday October 15th, the day we'd been anticipating for so long, finally arrived and there were no storms in sight.  Time to go!

Leaving the slip for the last time.  Photo courtesy of Ada Williams.

Off we go!  Another great picture of Frank and Ada's.  
They also got some fantastic HD footage of us by zooming around us in their dinghy as we left the marina

Seeing our home port fall away in the distance and having the huge unknown loom ahead inspired our pride, disbelief, sadness, giddy excitement, triumph and anxiety.   We spent so much time immersed in the nuts-and-bolts preparation for the cruise that we didn’t also consider that we’d be saying goodbye to our past lives.   It all of a sudden hit us as we waved goodbye to New York City and all the people and things we love there.  It was high noon.  What the heck had we just done?  Do we know how to do this?  Lord, that ocean looks big!  Will this trip be worth all the backbreaking effort?

So long, New York City.....

Only one way to find out:  we kept on sailing.   The cruise has officially begun!  For more details on how we prepared, click here.

We officially set our first destination to be Cape May, NJ but things worked out a little differently.  The winds were south easterly, coming from just the direction we needed to go.   If you know a little about sailing you know that beating into the wind is not a fun ride for very long.  It means sailing almost right into the waves and the boat gives a jolt as each one hits, with lots of spray flying over the deck and into your face.  And you've got to zig zag your way to your destination, meaning it takes you much longer to get anywhere and you've worked much too hard for every bit of progress.  We should have just waited at home for the wind to shift to a more workable direction, but we were antsy to go and decided to leave anyway.  

Because of our restlessness, we had to bash into the waves for 32 hours, taking turns to go below and rest every few hours.   About halfway in, the wind kicked up, and the seas grew accordingly.  Being unaccustomed to ocean rollers, the waves looked huge to us, but the National Weather Service claims they were only 4-6 feet tall.  Then, in the middle of the night, a short in some wiring knocked out Ned the Autopilot, the depth sounder and the knotometer.  We gritted our teeth and began the drudgery of steering by hand.  

"What babies," you might be thinking, "complaining about steering by hand."  Well, steering to windward is fun when you're daysailing out in the New York Harbor, tacking here and there to avoid traffic, pretending you're the Master and Commander before heading back to your cosy, sheltered slip.  But when your spouse is asleep down below, all you can see are waves, tacking is every few hours, not minutes, and the wind is howling and cold, it's not fun anymore.  You need to steer a constant heading in order to get where you're going ASAP, and so you're stuck there at the helm, staring at the compass and fussing with the wheel to keep your bearing, and you can't leave your post to go to the head or make some tea to warm up.  Even adjusting the sails becomes a challenge when you're alone with no Ned.  The constant concentration on the compass is draining and tedious, and the chill and the newness of it all really sapped our energy.  

By noon on Thursday we were pooped.  We were unused to sleeping underway and found it difficult to rest while the boat rolled and bucked her way along.  We worried about our failed navigation instruments and wanted to stop somewhere to fix them.  Alicia had spent much of the passage struggling with seasickness.  We wanted some real sleep, and we were concerned about Louis, who still hadn't cooperated in going to the bathroom.  
Had we been traveling in a straight line we would have made Cape May, but as it were we weren't even at our halfway point!  We consulted our charts, and saw that the only viable option was a small fishing town called Barnegat Light.  In a few hours, we pulled in to a tiny marina, ran Louie ashore, and passed out with the heater blasting.

The next morning, we got our wits about us and moved to a nearby anchorage.  Brian was able to revive Ned and the other vital instruments within a few hours while Alicia baked bread, canned some pumpkin and cathartically cleaned the boat from top to bottom.  The weather service forecasted a gale warning, with wind still from the south east and this time we knew better than to go out.  We bided our time for another two days on the anchor waiting for the proper wind direction and tinkering with the boat.  Louie was finally inducted into the ranks of the "Doo Doo and Wee Wee Aboard Group" (DDAWWAG) and has been a thrilled, relieved member ever since.

Tired furballs:  Louie and Bustopher recuperate..

When the wind shifted to come from the north west, we headed out again and made a run to Atlantic City.  It was a satisfying, comfortable sail.  Since we were only staying the night, we gave the gambling a miss, but Bus disappeared for a few hours and came back broke and really tipsy. We took on fuel and water at the kitschy Kammerman's Marina - the lady who works there in the morning is a really lovely person - and then headed off into the ocean again with a quartet of dolphins following us out of the channel.

Casinos off the port bow!

With the wind working in our favor but forecasted to become a bit fierce later on, we were able to finally make it to Cape May in one 8 hour sail.  We dropped our hook around 5pm in a crowded anchorage in front of the Coast Guard station.  We waited out the blow with about 6 other boats, and hardly anyone ever ventured out of their cabins.  The only sign of life on board were the cooking smells emanating at dinner time, and the glow of cabin lights at night.  We had torn a portion of our mainsail cover during our trip from Atlantic City (it snagged on the boom crutch), so Alicia busted out the sewing machine and made repairs.  Brian babied our engine and generator with fluids and filter changes.  Louie enjoyed his new club member status and ran happy circles around deck after each successful trip "outside".  Sheba, as usual, slept and complained.  We were all settling into a routine built around weather reports, boat chores, stealing wifi signals to check on election news, and planning our next passage.  

The sun sets on Cape May.

Our trip from Cape May to Norfolk, 135 miles, was sort of our "take two" overnight passage and we made sure we were better prepared for this one.   Alicia baked some medicinal ginger snaps and donned a Scopolamine patch to keep nausea under control.  We stowed everything much more securely so things wouldn't fly around the cabin, and we had lots of snacks and some easy, hearty meals at the ready.   We left Thursday at noon and sailed on a beam reach the whole way.  It was a much better experience now that we knew what to expect, and we anchored in a sheltered bay just after dark on Friday evening.

A view of our course (the green line) from Jersey City to Norfolk (a bit cut off at the bottom, sorry), exported from our excellent navigational software.  
Thanks, James!  Note the ridiculous zigging and zagging right off the bat.

On Sunday we'll head over to Mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway and meet our friends Scott and Kitty aboard TAMURE after going through our very first lock!  Soon after we'll be in Alicia and Louie's home state of North Carolina.  When we get to another good, strong wifi signal and something of interest has happened, we'll update this website again.

Please note that irregular updating does not necessarily mean that we are dead and/or lost- it probably has more to do with SARABANDE's internet capability.  

Thanks to everyone who's been supportive of us taking this trip!  We're really thankful to have such brilliant friends and loving family.

Your Pals,
Alicia & Brian


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