When I left you last month; Dena, JD and I had picked up a 43’ cutter named Surprise in Trinidad and were moving it 2000nm to Savannah, GA. We had sailed up behind the Caribbean island chain, and west of St. Thomas, sailed out into the open Atlantic. From there we sailed northwest, staying outside of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.
The conditions were perfect, we had full warm tradewinds aft of the beam. Aft winds make for a flatter boat and a smoother ride. We had some clouds but mostly it was beautifully sunny. The wind was strong enough so that we were usually reefed. I like this because it gives us the option of going faster if we want to by shaking out a reef. We mostly ran with a reefed main and full stays’l. We furled the big headsail as conditions warranted it.
And we had great crew. Good crew makes all the difference. The boat is a small place and you want people who get along easily with others and keep their good sense of humor, even when things seem a little crazy. Good crew respects your space, cleans up after themselves and keeps their gear in their area. It’s also nice when each crewmember finds their niche on the boat -- a thing that they can do that helps the boat run smoother.
Surprise had no solar panels or wind generator and without wind steering, we had a big draw from the autopilot. Other big amp consumers were the refer and the old school nav lights. This all made for a lot of generator running -- about 2 hours, twice a day. Ouch. But that’s all I really had to complain about. We were still enjoying great meals and lazy downwind sailing conditions to go with our beautiful sunsets.
And then there were the ways to pass the time. We were playing the crew watch game with a point gained for spotting a whale, a pod of dolphins, a turtle and, of course, a ship. Two points awarded for spotting a ship on another crewperson’s watch. Points also awarded for guessing when we would arrive at 1000nm out, 500nm out and five points for guessing our arrival time. Winner gets their first big shore meal free, courtesy of the rest of the crew.
We had JD’s 24th birthday out at sea. Dena baked him a cake from scratch, of course, and we had pizza for his birthday dinner! We played Trivial Pursuit. Not the normal way, we just read the cards and tried to answer the questions. And Dena kept pulling out candy that she had brought.
Before I left home I photocopied the relevant sections of the pilot charts. The pilot charts give you a lot of information including the average wind and sea and current conditions in a given month. They were telling me that we could pick up a knot or more of current if we cut in closer to the Bahamas and later cut over to the Gulfstream. They will also tell you the frequency of squalls of each area and, in hurricane season, the direction those monsters are likely to take. Other info provided is typical swell height, water temperature and on.
Before we cleared the top of the Bahamas the wind shut off. We fired up the engine, furled the headsail, dropped the stays’l and sheeted in the main. I use a preventer on the main to stop any side to side movement. You’ll get away with that movement for very short sails but over longer adventures that movement wears the gooseneck. I suspect that this is why you hear a lot about gooseneck failures when out cruising. Our windless condition turned into days of motoring. JD finally asked, "Is this what powerboating feels like?" I couldn’t recall. We still had sunny and warm but now we added flat and rumbly. We made the most of it with bucket deck showers (fresh water rinse) in the hot part of the day and sunset coldies to welcome the night.
After days of calm motoring the wind switched back on, light at first. With full sail we trimmed for every tenth of a knot so we could keep the motor off. I had turned the boat more west to dump us into Gulf Stream so we could pick up some free northing. Before we knew it we had spotted land and were prepping for some river navigation.
Where I live there isn’t a lot of shallow water. To get Surprise from the Atlantic to her up-river Savannah home I had to put on my east coast murky shallow water navigation hat. We came in at night and there was some confusion as to what the bouys were trying to tell us. We decided to anchor out at the sea buoy (in 15’ of water) for a couple hours ‘til daylight.
As we made our way in I called my local friend Wade and he gave us the low down. “They‘ve moved some buoys out there because of the shifting shoals and the new wreck." From his description of the route we must have just missed the wreck beneath us. Soon as we got to the actual river, things turned real nice. We cruised by big green areas and then plantation homes and resorts. We found the boat’s intended home at a boatyard but it looked like she wouldn’t make it under low bridge just before it. We took it slow and discovered we had room.
We got her parked and had our arrival coldies … first thing in the morning. Customs tracked us down a little later -- cute girl, real easy check in. JD was researching ways he could get home. He had been great crew so Dena offered the kid one of her buddy passes with United. Jerry, the broker we were working for, took JD to the airport. In the mean time my friend Wade swung by and dragged Dena and I over to Tubby's for lunch and another coldy. Then he took us all the way out to Tybee beach across from Hilton Head. It was a bitchin little beach party town. On the way back we hit Joes Crabshack, the real one, not the Mickey Mouse franchise you see everywhere (I go there too). Wade showed us the 65' yacht that he runs and offered us to stay onboard! I wasn't sure I was ready for aircon just yet and thought I should keep an eye on our little boat until we turned her over.
In the morning we three went down to the Savannah waterfront for lunch before putting Dena on a bus to head south to visit her vacationing parents. Savannah is a beautiful city. The older architecture is very kewl but mostly for me; it's the trees that make it. Wade told me that there is a local ordinance that says you can't take out a tree without replacing it. We need that rule at home. Thank you Wade for your unbelievable hospitality -- southern style. It was much appreciated.
Early the next morning I flew to DC to offer my friends Laurel and Joe advice on greening their home and creating a more comfortable and healthier environment for their new baby boy.