Winds and gales continue to follow me down the coast (or am I following them?). The day I sailed out of Long Island Sound and past the Statue of Liberty, it picked up to 25 knots again. I had heard that the body of water around the S of L and Manhattan was crazy with boats and taxis, but I found it to be quite empty except for a few ships and ferries. I suppose this isn’t the time of year for quaint nautical expeditions.
After leaving Long Island Sound, I zoomed over to Great Kills Bay, hoping that it did not live up to its ominous name. In my temporary patriotic zeal, I had somehow forgotten to conduct my regular routine of at least dousing the jib before heading into an unfamiliar bay in strong wind. I suddenly found myself cruising at 7 knots and white-knuckling the tiller as a steered around channel markers in the 9-foot dredged channel. I believe my mantra was “you’re so dumb, you’re so dumb, you’re so dumb”, but I can’t really remember because my brain is already hard at work blocking that particular memory. I finally turned up into the bay and dropped the jib, running forward to wrestle it down and lash it into submission. As I was up on the bow, I noticed that I was right next to a mooring. I bent over and grabbed the pickup, securing to my bow cleat, and then ran back to douse the main. I had somehow managed to sail into a bay in 25 knots of wind and onto a mooring. I chalked it up a fool’s luck and vowed to never do it again.
I waited in Great Kills for almost 24 hours before I caught my next “weather window”. I was planning on sailing straight through to Cape May, a distance of about 120 nautical miles. Tuesday morning, the boat was dancing around so much on the mooring that I was getting vaguely queasy. I was trying to cook a big stew for my upcoming passage, but every time I looked at it, it appeared so vile that I ended up throwing whatever was at hand into a pot and letting it simmer, figuring that if I was hungry and cold enough, I’d eat basically anything. By the afternoon, it was still blowing 25 knots in the mooring field, but I decided it was time to go. I was jumping between two weather systems and I was anxious to get a move on and make some miles.
I motored out of the bay (no sails this time), and was greeted with a seven-foot chop that had kicked up in the shallows. Putting up my main took almost half an hour. Since my electric autopilot was broken, I was lashing the tiller and running forward, but the boat would invariably get knocked off course by a wave and I’d have to run back and re-position. Once the main was finally up (with two reefs), I set the jib, and began the most harrowing part of my journey to date.
I was sailing out around Sandy Hook, and the depth was around 20 feet. The waves that were being kicked up were towering over the back of the boat, and the wind was up to 30 knots. Remember my mantra of the other day? It was back. Luckily I was going downwind, and as Gecko surfed over each wave, she reached over 10 knots! The problem came when I had to turn broadside to the weather to make it around a dogleg in the channel. Gritting my teeth, I turned the boat, and immediately the wind threw her over on her side and a wave broke over the windward side, filling the cockpit. The entire port side of Gecko was underwater and I was standing on what usually was the vertical part of the footwell in the cockpit. Weirdly, at this moment, my whole body went calm and I knew that Gecko would be fine and I would be fine. The gust ended and Gecko was upright again.
That night, the wind had died down to a tranquil 20-25 knots, and I was plowing along with my windvane doing all the work. A little after midnight, in between 20-minute naps, I went to go use the head and I found water sloshing over the floorboards. I grabbed a flashlight and a bucket and started bailing. After tackling the immediate problem, I sat back and tried to think of all the places the water might be coming in from. For the pounding that Gecko had been taking for the past 10 hours, even if it was a leak, it wasn’t a serious one. I checked the thruhulls but they were dry. Following the source of the water up to the very bow of the boat, I realized that the water was coming from the anchor chain locker. The locker doesn’t have a drain, and the door leading to the compartment isn’t water-tight. This was a glaring oversight in my overhaul of the boat this winter, but I couldn’t have known it was a problem before because I’d never run the Geck so hard.
Water was pouring through the ports where the anchor chains exit onto the deck. It had filled the anchor chain locker, and was flowing over the top of it, through the v-berth, down along the bilge, and pooling in the head bilge. I grabbed a pump and started hauling gallons of water out of forward section of my boat, pausing every 20 minutes to check outside for ships. I don’t usually get seasick, but pumping water out of the very front of my boat in 25 knots of wind did make me feel a little nauseated. For the rest of the night, every few hours I would repeat the process until the winds died down at around 5 in the morning. The wind continued dying down until it was blowing less than 5 knots and I had to motor into Cape May, a fact that I found ironic and amusing. I dropped the anchor and finally relaxed. I had made the 120 mile journey in under 24 hours.
After I made it safely to Cape May, I sat on anchor for two nights and then headed out into more weather to make it to Norfolk. Stay tuned for more!