Ship's Log

December 17th, 2008 / Abaco, Bahamas:

First things first:  we did it!  We're anchored just off Elbow Cay in 8 feet of the most outrageously candy-colored water, listening to Christmas carols in bare feet and tee shirts, sipping wine and grilling fish.  

Brian on the way to our current anchorage from Marsh Harbor.

Baumer's face gets aired out on the Sea of Abaco.

But before you hate us too much, take some consolation in the fact that we paid for this fair and square.  Getting here was not a tea party!  Here's a little summation of the past few weeks, and the story of how we got here.

We left Oriental, NC and headed to Morehead City, NC with the sole purpose of eating at the legendary Sanitary Fish Market, where the hush puppies are so good you might cry.  We were going to have dinner there and clear out the following morning.  

The restaurant has a dock for customers to tie up to, so we snuggled the boat up for the night and took a picture of SARABANDE to email to our favorite Southern lady, Janet McCaulie.  Her extended family owns and operates the restaurant, and we thought she'd get a kick out of seeing the boat tied up there.  Here's the picture, taken before we proceeded to stuff our faces:

Lemme at them puppies!

Janet also happens to be the significant other of Mr. Joseph Sanacore, SARABANDE's brilliant former owner, and our great friend.  And when we returned to the boat, bellies bursting and deeply satisfied, we had a voicemail from none other Joe himself, telling us that he and Janet  were going to be in Morehead City for Thanksgiving.  We were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Janet's family at the restaurant if we still happened to be in the area. Speak of the devil!  How perfect was that? Of course we accepted!  

A couple of days later, almost two years exactly after handing us this amazing boat, Joe and Janet were aboard SARABANDE.  We showed them some of the recent work we'd done, served up a little rum, and asked Joe a few last minute questions about his old boat.  It was a rare treat of serendipity to be able to spend some time again with those two, particularly on the holiday for giving thanks.  We're thankful to be cruising, and thankful to be doing it in this good, strong boat, and Joe and Janet have everything to do with that.

Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful.  They close the restaurant to the public for the day and use the kitchen to turn out a feast for family and friends. Janet's family made us feel so welcome and they fed us like we were their own.  It was the tastiest Thanksgiving dinner we've ever had.  Thanks, everybody!  

Sunset in Morehead City.
After the holiday, we motored the short trip to Beaufort and anchored in Taylor Creek.   We were a little anxious, since there was a big decision to be made:  should we head offshore offshore and to the Bahamas in one fell swoop, or should we break our trip up into several shorter hops down the east coast?   

Breaking the trip up into hops sounded much more manageable, but we were also fascinated with the idea of heading way out there.  We didn't know which one to do, but either way, everything depended on the weather.   We spent the next week listening to ham weather nets (Chris Parker at 7:00am and Herb of Southbound II at 3:00pm)  and obsessively checking and NOAA's offshore forecasts.  Between forecasts, we listened to a lot of NPR ("Car Talk" is as awesome as it ever was), and tried our best to get prepared for the ocean, in whatever capacity we were going to face it.

While biding our time in Beaufort, we visited the "wild" ponies on Carrot Island....

.....and watched the dolphins come through the creek.  Will dolphin sightings ever get old?  We doubt it.

The days were going by, and still not a suitable window in sight for any sort of movement whatsoever.  We'd completed every chore that Beaufort had to offer:  the diesel tanks, water tanks and propane tanks were topped up, we'd re-provisioned at the Piggily Wiggily, and the laundry was done. The weather had turned cold and we were getting weary of the biting wind.   We weren't alone:  the harbor was full of sailboats like ours, waiting for the weather to change so we could all get a move on.   Beaufort's a beautiful town, but we were restless and even playing with the idea of tooling down the ICW just to make some progress southwards.

Then it came:  on Monday, December 1st, the weather showed an opening later in the week, a window for heading way offshore.  All the sources confirmed it, and we unanimously agreed to head out there.  A Gulf Stream crossing, way offshore with all the trappings.  Several other experienced boats were leaving Beaufort in this window for the Caribbean, so at least we wouldn't be completely alone out there.  

Wednesday the 3rd we left with the falling tide, and motored our way past Lookout Shoals.  We pointed our bow southeast and glided our way towards Bermuda.  
Why not just run directly south?  We needed to head east for about 150 miles before turning south in order to cross the infamous Gulf Stream.  

The mighty Gulf Stream is more like a river than a current.  It's a powerful flow of warm water rushing north along the southern half of the Eastern US before heading off towards Europe.  It's a force to be reckoned with for boats of any size, and great care must be taken when crossing it.   There are lots of sailors out there with ugly stories about trips gone wrong.  When a north wind opposes the Stream's flow, a steep chop forms, making the ride nasty or even dangerous, depending on the velocity of the blow.

Here's a heat map of the North Atlantic.  The Gulf Stream is the golden stripe from Florida to North Carolina.  

For all its ill repute, we wouldn't have even noticed our entrance into the Gulf Stream at all if our instruments didn't happen to display the sea temperature. The seas were calm and there was hardly a whiff of breeze, but at 5pm the water temperature had been 54 degrees and at 10 pm, it was up to 70!
 We motored along through flat seas with a glowing green trail of bioluminescence in our wake, and oohed and aahed as the depthometer registered deeper and deeper readings - 200 feet........250......300..... The air was getting balmy.  We were happy to be making this famously difficult passage in comfort.
Dawn found us making our way through water the exact shade of a ripe blueberry.  SARABANDE had crossed the continental shelf, and the water below us was more than 1000 fathoms deep (one fathom is about 6 feet) and 76 degrees.  We'd never seen the ocean look so beautiful!  Still not much wind to speak of so we kept our motor running.  We wanted to get across as quickly as possible while the calm conditions prevailed.  

A little later that day, it was time to turn south.  Our Gulf Stream crossing had come and gone without a hiccup, and we were pointed directly at some tropical islands!  A distinctly different mood settled over the boat - the worry we'd had over something going wrong in the Gulf Stream vanished and we relaxed a tiny bit.  

Thursday turned into Friday, and by Friday night relaxation time was over:  a cold front was moving our way. Thick clouds crowded in, diffusing the bright moon and turning the sky a dappled, dark grey.  Squalls rushed into the scene as dense, Satanic-looking masses low on the horizon, utterly black with downward flashes of silent lightning.  The wind began to howl and one by one, each cell hurtled it's way over and across us, blasting hot and cold gusts and soaking us with torrential rain.  The clouds were so low and close as they passed over it seemed as though our mast could just brush them.  The waves grew with the wind, bigger than we'd ever seen.  We took turns hand steering, feeling that the situation warranted only human judgement at the helm.  It was absolutely miserable.

By Saturday morning, we had sailed through the squalls, but we were left with some rather large waves for company.  Nothing SARABANDE couldn't handle, but we weren't too thrilled.  And according to the ham weather net, we were going to be stuck with these swells, and bigger, for some time.  Time dragged on.  Our first squalls at sea had left us drained and it was hard to recover lost energy.  The waves did indeed get bigger, and with them the motion of the boat got more pronounced.   The wind was shifting from the northeast to the southeast, and the thought of beating headlong into waves this big made us very, very unhappy.   The boat was in her element and sailed happily along, doing just what she was designed to do.  We hadn't been designed with this in mind though, and weren't holding up as well. The increased motion made Alicia queasy in spite of a scopolamine patch, and sleep was pretty impossible for both of us.

It was Tuesday and we were exhausted and sort of delirious.  Although the water was turning an encouraging Kool-Aid blue, we felt like we'd been at sea forever and we knew soon we'd have to turn the bow east and start pounding into these big bruisers to get to the Exumas.  The morning weather forecasted increased southeasterly winds, and no abatement in the seas.  "Yeah, it's going to be a rough time out there for you guys," said Chris Parker.  

Ugh!  At this rate we'd be out two more days at least, and they were going to be awful.  We worried that, as tired as we were, we'd make some sort of stupid mistake and mess up our boat or ourselves.  Brian pulled out our charts and spent a few minutes hunched over them.  

Brian:  "The Abacos are just 80 miles up ahead, and all we'd have to do is steer this exact course!"  
Alicia, after less than one second's hesitation:  "Woo hoo!"  

Hot dog!  Only eighty miles left and no bashing into scary waves!   We ran our idea by Herb on the afternoon weather net and he agreed that the Abacos vs. the Exumas made a lot of sense.  We'd see the Exumas soon enough - for now we really needed a place to land and a good nights' sleep.  Morale improved immediately, and we started fantasizing about the junk food we were going to order ourselves once we were safely ashore.  Discussing elaborate banana splits carried us through until we spotted land, when adrenaline kicked in to help us from botching our approach.

Our totally goofy-looking course.  

On December 10th around 12pm, we dropped anchor in sunny Marsh Harbour after sailing over 650 miles.  In a few hours, we'd cleared customs and then we did what sailors arriving in port have done for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years:  bellied up to the bar.  But there was little carousing.   Our drinks hit us head on, and we hurried blearily back to the boat to luxuriate in the first heavy, dreamless, coma-like sleep we'd had in a week.


And the next day we woke up in a strange new land.

Happy Holidays, everybody!  

Alicia & Brian


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