Pickles for Breakfast

To clear out of St John’s, I hitchhiked from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay. It’s only about half an hour by road, but the sail would have set me back by a whole day since Cruz Bay is to the west, and the prevailing winds are easterlies. St. John’s was the easiest hitchhiking I’ve ever done. The first car I got in reeked of epoxy resin, so I felt right at home. A local man named Chris was driving, and he took me most of the way to Cruz Bay. On the drive, he told me about his experience with Hurricane Irma. He and his wife decided not to evacuate the island, since the house they were living in had withstood several previous ‘canes. He said what they didn’t realize was that Irma would funnel right up between St. John’s and Jost VanDyke in the BVIs. Apparently hurricanes don’t pay attention to international borders.

Top of St. John’s

The top wind speed recorded was 300 miles an hour. Chris and his wife were lying in bed when their porch was blown 30 feet up into the air and then sent soaring off down the mountain. Throughout the night, the rest of their house slowly started blowing away. They heard the kitchen get torn off and flung into the sky. Then the roof blew off. The two lay in bed with the rain pouring on their faces, watching bits of their house circle in the air above them. Finally, they decided they should leave the house. Chris stood up, and a metal wall slammed into him, knocking him back onto the bed. He and his wife picked their way through the wreckage of the road to try to make it to the fire house in Coral Bay. “Everything over 12 feet was gone, man. The wind didn’t care how big around it was. It was just gone. Every telephone pole was knocked over. There were wires everywhere. It took us four hours to go only a few miles.” When Chris dropped me off, my head was reeling with his descriptions. It was hard to believe that the sleepy little island had been through so much trauma.

The dinghy tie-up in Coral Bay

Once I got to Cruz Bay, clearing out was straightforward. The customs officers were surprised that I was sailing by myself, and we had the typical conversation where they said I was brave, and I said it was probably due to a shortage of brain cells. I took advantage of being in a larger town to go shopping at a ‘real’ grocery store. The prices of food on St. John make me a little weak at the knees. The locals say that if you want to do a big provisioning that you should take the ferry to St. Thomas, but I was just looking for a few freshies.

Exploring Marigot by foot

Even with a loaded shopping bag, hitching back was equally easy, and I was soon back on my boat and prepping to leave the following morning. I’ve been dreading the passage from St. John’s to St. Martin for two weeks. It’s due east, right against the trades. The wind had been blowing 15-20 for the past week with no signs of taming. I came up with a multitude of excuses to stay in Coral Bay. I told myself that the less I wanted to leave, the more it meant I had to go. With that rousing pep talk, I upped anchor and took off.

Traveler after I took the load off but before I repaired it

 

Half an hour after leaving, I tacked for the first time and noticed that the entire starboard side of my traveler was coming off. There was a good three-inch gap between it and the cabintop. Ah! Here was my excuse! Ironically, I didn’t want to stop now that I’d started, but if I sailed with the traveler like that, I’d destroy it. I dropped hook in an outer bay and did a quick fix on the traveler. The two outboard screws had stripped out of the cabin top and were free-turning. I gobbed some 4000 caulk on everything and tightened it down. Not beautiful, but it would get me to the next port. Throughout the passage, I kept the main carefully centerlined on the traveler so that it woldn’t pull unevenly on either side.

View from the fort in St. Martin

As soon as I upped anchor for the second time and rounded the headland, the full force of the weather hit me. It was snotty. Gecko was plunging into the waves, and the spray soaked me every time we dived into a fresh one. I have yet to get seasick on my boat, but the motion had me feeling a bit queasy. Again, the thought of turning back crossed my mind, but I pushed it away. This passage was going to suck, but it was short and it would be over soon. Tired of getting sprayed by every wave, I went below to lay down. That whole night, heat lightning flicked across the sky above me. At first, I turned off my battery breakers and sailed totally blacked out. Eventually, I decided that the more immediate danger was of getting hit by another boat, so I turned everything back on.

Surveying Marigot town, St. Martin

It was so rough, I was unable to do much. The first day out, I ate most of a jar of pickles for dinner. It was hot and stuffy in my cabin with all the hatches closed. I wet a pareo and laid it over my bare skin so that the evaporation would cool me off. Somehow, I slept.

The next morning was still rough, so I ate the rest of the pickles for breakfast while I checked my course. I was going to get in some time around sunset that evening. That thought cheered me up, and I went into the cockpit to tweak the sails. I was still getting soaked by every wave, and I soon became encrusted in salt. I would wash this off with buckets of saltwater. Sounds weird, but it works.

Beautiful sunset in Marigot Bay

Finally, just as the sun was getting ready to disappear, I arrived in Marigot Bay, St. Martin. It’s a long approach, and I was urging Gecko forward as though she was a race-horse. The bay is packed with boats, and I didn’t want to try to find a spot to anchor among them in the dark. The wind was strong, and I was zooming in under full sail at 6.5 knots. At the last minute, I rounded up and dropped everything, then motored to the edge of the anchorage where I dropped the hook. I had just finished stowing everything when the light disappeared.

The next morning, I rowed ashore to go clear in. There were some local islanders hanging out by the dock, and one of them came up to me as I was stepping onto the pier. “Man, I thought you was a dude out there rowing!”, he said. This is the second time I’ve been mistaken for a dude while doing something on my boat. I think it’s pretty funny because I don’t exactly have a boyish figure. That day, I was wearing short shorts and had my hair in two braids. People just see what they are expecting, I guess. Since we were already chatting, I asked my new friend where Island Water World is. This is a local marine hardware store that will also clear you in somehow. “I’ll take you there, man”, I was told. We had a pleasant walk. I leaned his name was Rodrigo and that he was from Anguilla. His girlfriend lives in St. Martin, so he comes over on his boat to visit her. Rodrigo dropped me off at Island Water World and waved goodbye.

After clearing in, I wandered around town. St. Martin is French-owned, and their food is amazing. I’ve been eating so much cheese and bread and good cheap wine that I’m worried about the freeboard on my dinghy. I’ve found everyone I meet to be extremely friendly- both the local islanders and the French. I had a religious moment at the giant grocery store- the SuperU. I hadn’t been in a grocery store this nice since leaving the Statees over a month ago. The prices were reasonable, and the produce so beautiful it made me want to curl up with it on a blanket and watch the sun set. I’m planning on staying here until the end of the week, and then my next stop is going to be Antigua! The adventure never dies.

Life’s a Dance

 

 

I wanted my first step on land to be a wobbly lurch, as though I needed to prove to myself that I was ‘really a sailor’. Instead, I skipped nimbly off my dinghy, and made a disappointingly graceful entrance back into life on solid land. This didn’t last long. Since I hadn’t looked up information on clearing in and out of Puerto Rico from the mainland US, I walked to the customs office to let them know I’d arrived. Customs in Culebra is located in a little office in the tiny airport, about a fifteen minute walk out of town. A blast of cold air met my face as I walked in, and I found myself sitting across from a middle-aged woman with a cheery smile.

“Where did you come from?” I told her I’d sailed directly down from North Carolina. “So why are you here?” I thought this was an odd question, but started talking about how beautiful I’d heard Culebra was. Was it suspicious that I’d come to this tiny island? But no, the question was directed at my presence in the customs office. Since I was coming from the mainland, I didn’t actually have to clear in. Ah. Well, live and learn, I suppose. Instead of being mad that I’d wasted her time, the woman behind the counter began to tell me all the things I should see and do while I was in the area. She wrote me a list of grocery stores, and told me that since it was Easter weekend, there would be parties for the next few days, and lots of live music.
“It’s Easter?”
“Yes, that’s why there are so many people here. Our population increases five times this weekend. Normally this is a peaceful oasis.”
I wasn’t sure if I was glad or disappointed that I’d ended up in Culebra during a non-oasis weekend. This was a holiday weekend second only to New Years. I decided to be glad, since I didn’t really have a choice anyway.

Colorful murals in Culebra

The first night, I told myself the party wasn’t going anywhere, and went to bed at eight. I got a glorious ten hours of sleep, and woke up feeling more functionally human than I had in days. I had met a lovely South African charter boat captain the day I got in, and that morning he took me and another boat in to do laundry. My whole vberth was completely salt-water soaked, and all my winter blankets had been festering in their own stew for over a week. I’ve never been so excited to do laundry in my life.

Laundry Day!

That night, I ventured out for my first brush with civilization in two weeks. I started at the Dinghy Dock Bar, which is exactly what it sounds like. There was a live Bomba band playing, and people were dancing to the music: three musicians and five drums, their hands flying and their eyes gleaming. I bought a drink and decided to join the dancers. Having never danced to music like that before, I watched the dancers for a while, to mimic their movement. Then I joined the pack, trying to blend in, until one of the girls bumped into me. She apologized in Spanish and I responded in English.
“You’re a gringa!?”, she said. “You dance like you’re from Puerto Rico!” She and her friends adopted my for the night, and told me that Bomba, even though originating in Africa, is the traditional dance and music style of Puerto Rico. They instructed me on different dance steps, and insisted on paying for my drinks. After they moved on to the next bar, I lingered behind and chatted with the band after they wrapped up their set. Two of the men in the band were born and raised on Culebra, and to me they seemed to be the very spirit of the island. They spoke almost no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, but we sang songs back and forth to each other, and danced around in parodied intensity. The third band member had spend a fair amount of time in the States, and he acted as translator. We went out on the town, and it seemed that everyone knew those three. It was the best introduction I could have asked for to the island. I didn’t get back to my boat until almost five the next morning, and I sank into bed exhausted but radiant.

A local reminder from the hurricane

Back in the States, I remember hearing about how hard Puerto Rico was hit by the last hurricane, but it wasn’t until I started talking to locals that I realized the lasting extent of the damage. Although the hurricane hit in September of 2017, Culebra had just gotten power back from the mainland two months before I arrived. That meant that the whole island had been running on generators for well over a year! Almost all the coral in the surrounding waters is dead, because their sewage treatment plant wasn’t fully functional under reduced power. The ensuing pollution killed almost all the coral around the island. People are working to get a grant to try to bring the local coral population back to life, but in the meantime it’s a sad reminder of a situation that could have been avoided with more help from the mainland.

I dove on Geck to check her underbelly. Everything looked great, but the bottom paint is already starting to chip off

Despite the lack of funds for cleaning up and restoring their island, the locals and visitors who call Culebra home have done an amazing job of using what resources they have to keep their island beautiful. Their hearts all lie with their island, and I could tell that everyone gave more than just their time to bring their land back to life.

Fueling up!

After five days in Culebra, I sailed over to a gorgeous bay in St. John’s. Ditliff Bay is part of the larger Rendezvous Bay, and besides a few houses it’s very private. It’s also the last anchorage before the national park, where you have to pay to stay on a mooring. I noticed that one or two boats would come to anchor for the day, but I was the only one who stayed past late afternoon. This meant I had sunset and sunrise to myself. The water was amazingly clear, and the snorkeling was a five-minute swim from my boat. After the busy Culebra harbor, it was amazing to have a tranquil little bay all to myself.

Gorgeous sunset in Rendezvous Bay

In Coral Bay on St. John’s, I met an amazing community of local boaties; everyone here is incredibly friendly and welcoming. I went sailing with some new friends, and we anchored by a little floating taco restaurant where you call in your order and they deliver your food to you by Zodiac. Having friends to talk with while sailing is such a nice change for me. I laughed at myself as we sailed out of the bay. I’d been so worried while I was coming in about hitting reefs around the edges of the channel, but we sailed right up to either side without a problem. Local knowledge is better than any chart. As we sailed back into the bay, I realized that I’d finally found my community of sailors. And I’m only just getting started!

Sailing around Coral Bay with new friends

PS- check out my YouTube channel for more of my daily life! Videos are slightly behind the blog, but that just makes it more exciting!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnJ3QXRI-whcqJBrW-z_htw

 

Home (freezing cold) Home

March 2nd was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and blowing. The airport had lost my bag, so I made my way to Gecko with just a backpack and a down jacket clutched around me. My mom was visiting for a break from the cold Maine winter, and she followed me down the dock wearing all the clothes she had packed. Luckily our friends Tim and Jennifer had loaned me a space heater, and we were soon huddle around the tiny white beast while I put the kettle on and grabbed blankets. I felt like I’d never left.

Not many moms would visit their kid on a cold, snowy, unheated boat

 

For my mom’s entire visit, the temperature never got above 50 (in the sun, out of the wind). She can do anything, so she never complained. When she left, her shorts sat unworn in the bottom of her bag. That was when my work began.

Day 1 of being home. Note the clean hair, nice clothes, and well-rested face. Yep, definitely day 1

My work list looked something like this:

-Working jib (get one)

– Fix stupid leaking anchor chain locker

– Sew new slugs onto main

– Sun shade (make one somehow)

– AIS receiver

– Waterproof foredeck hatch

– Get charts

My first task was acquiring a sail. My dad had loaned me his working jib for my trip down with the stipulation that I send it back to him when I arrived. I was trying to figure out how to get a used jib inexpensively when I ran into Crazy Joe and his newly purchased marine surplus store. Oriental is home to a large population of sailors, both transient and local. It also has a marine surplus store with a colorful history of owners and inventory. When I sailed in in November, it was under different ownership but I had gone in to check out their vast inventory of sails. Nothing was marked or organized, and I spend a fruitless morning sifting through jib after jib and finding nothing. When I came back in March, Joe had purchased the place and he offered me a deal: if I helped to measure and organize the sails, I could take what I needed in return. I agreed, and thus came into two beautiful new jibs.

Sail inventory at the marine salvage shop.

The other projects on my list were more straight forward. To waterproof the anchor chain locker, I first rebedded the hawseholes themselves. There was a tired gasket under each one, and the screw freely turned in the deck. I realized that most of the water that had been getting in was probably washing between the ports and the deck. This might have accounted for much of the large volume of water I’d been pumping out.

Re-bedding the anchor chain ports

I entirely sealed up the starboard anchor chain port. The ports themselves are too big for the boat and are an enormous hole to have right in the front of your boat. I figured with half the hole volume, I’d get half the volume of water. I then bought an inspection port and installed it into the door of the chain locker. I used putty and boatlife caulk and sealed the door in place. That done, I decided to see how the locker did at sea before I drilled a drainage hole in the bottom. It’s always better to wait before you drill holes in your hull. Perhaps the water coming in will be insignificant enough that I can get it out with a pump occasionally and not worry about flooding the compartment.

Waterproofing the anchor chain locker. It’s so nice to work from bed

I’ve decided I would like an ais receiver for passages. If I can set a guard alarm for ships, I’ll be able to get better sleep offshore, and I’ll be able to hail them at night if I’m unsure of their course. I looked into several options, including a receiver with a wifi antennae that I could pick up on my iPad. However I soon realized that the cheapest option would be to buy a new vhf that came equipped with an ais receiver. That way I wouldn’t have to install a new antennae, run new wires, or spend a surprisingly large sum of money on the string of electronics I’d need to make the luxury of wifi work.

Wiring in my new VHF with AIS capabilities!

For a sunshade, I found an old sail and cut it to make it fit over my cockpit. I sewed a slit with velcro to fit around the toppinglift, and then lashed the ends to the mast and shrouds. My only complaint is that it’s a bit bulky, but it’ll be great for catching rain water and withstanding heavier winds without tearing.

Sewing my new canopy from an old sail

I’m hoping to leave Oriental in the next few days! I still have a few projects to get done before I go, but I’m almost there. I’m so excited to get going!

Oriental and Away

My last two weeks run to Oriental were blissful compared to the cold windy slog I made from Maine to Virginia. I ducked into the intracoastal waterway after Portsmouth and motored through the Dismal Swamp. In order to make it between two of the locks at either end, I had to crank up Geck’s little engine to 5 knots, the fastest it’s ever gone.

My first lock! It was pouring rain, but I enjoyed every minute of it!

This was the absolute slowest I could go between the locks and make the next timed opening. To accomplish it, I had Geck’s 10-horse at full throttle. Funny smells wafted out of the cabin as all the carbon burned out of the twists in the engine piping. Luckily there was no wind or current against me, and I obsessively checked engine temp and the sea strainer to make sure I wasn’t going to overheat. I barely made the second lock, and then breathed a sigh in relief as a throttled back to a happy 3.5 knots.

First sunny day in the intracoastal. I’m down to only one layer of clothing!

I sailed down the Alligator river and anchored at one of the bends in the bottom that night. When I arrived well after dark, I saw the anchor lights of at least 10 other boats scattered throughout the two large bends that served as a protected anchorage. I had finally caught up with a fleet! The next morning I woke up with the sun and left before anyone else. Since there was no wind and I was motoring again, I was slowly passed by every boat within the first few hours. They all waved cheerily, and I felt as though I was really getting somewhere (except for the part where everyone else was getting there faster. Wherever THERE was).

Dewey mornings south of Alligator River

I actually allowed myself to take a weather day in Belhaven (it was raining). I was ahead of schedule at that point, and I realized that I didn’t have to stand in the pouring rain all day if I didn’t want to. So I stayed below and made cookies, only venturing out for a walk during a lull in the weather. I even went for a swim in the disgusting brown water when the sun came out later.

Downwind run to make an anchorage before dark. Spoiler: I made it two hours after dark

After spending two nights in Belhaven, I sailed an easy 30-mile day and ended up anchored out in a small deserted bay halfway to Oriental. That night was the first time it was warm enough to sit in the cockpit and watch the sun set. I brought out a book and my down jacket, and felt an immense happiness settle over me. The night was whisper calm with a full moon. The water was glowing in the starlight, and I did a crazy moon dance around the deck, whooping and singing loudly at the empty night. At least I think it was empty. If anyone was trying to sleep near Bonner Bay on November 20th, I’m accepting tips for the show.

My first sunset in the cockpit of the trip

I arrived in Oriental on Novermber 21st, the day before Thanksgiving. My initial plan was to make my way into Whittaker Creek, where I would eventually be leaving my boat for the winter. However, I ran aground a couple of times in the channel so I gave up and went around to anchor by the bridge. I later found out that you have to stick close enough to the reds that you can high-five each one as you pass it. If it’s still looking sketchy, you can go outside them. And if you still can’t get in, wait for the wind direction to change and it’ll blow more water into the creek.

Almost to Oriental and finally not wearing pants

I spend a lovely Thanksgiving in Oriental with some old family friends, and then successfully (this time) made my way into a slip at Whittaker Creek Marina. Nine days after arriving in Oriental, I said goodbye to Gecko and got on a plane to fly back down to work. While it wasn’t the most relaxing sail, I had pushed Gecko hard and fast and made it from Maine to Oriental in 25 days. The only times I used my engine were for stretches of the intracoastal, and the occasional push if the wind died. The average wind speed I experienced was 20-25 knots, with temperatures averaging in the high thirties. Leaving the Geck to return to work was much harder than I’d anticipated. I had another work list of projects that had to be completed before I left for the Caribbean, but I hadn’t had time to start any before I took off. I patted Gecko on her stupid leaky bow and told her that I’d be back soon.

Back in Punta Arenas in the canopy of a tree

 

 

 

 

Homelessness and the Final Push

I left Cape May when it was blowing 20 knots in the anchorage. I was waiting for the wind to switch from the south to the northwest. As it swung around, it grew in intensity until my boat was bobbing around and the rigging was clattering for attention. I didn’t want to go out where it was blowing 20-25 with 7-foot seas. I had just come through enough weather getting to Cape May and I was sick of it. Why couldn’t it blow 15-20 with a nice gentle swell? I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would be stuck in Cape May for at least another three days because of another system that was due to roll through. Once again, my choice was to jump out between two storms. I was tired, my legs were covered in bruises, and I was sick of the cold, windy, wet overnighters.

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Days of pre-dawn departures were starting to weigh on me

At around nine that morning, before the wind had finished shifting, I laid on my back in the main cabin and called my mom. My parents circumnavigated on their Cal 25, and sailed up in the Arctic on their 33’ sloop. They’ve seen more weather than most, and I felt like I needed a pep talk. My mom was sympathetic: “You should just go”, she said. “If you can handle a little breeze, you’ll be so glad you went. Otherwise you’re going to be stuck in Cape May hating yourself”. She was right. So I went.

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Cozy mornings in my PJs are a rare treat compared to my usual pre-dawn departures

To prepare for another offshore trip, I had blocked up the anchor chain ports as much as I could with my limited resources on hand. The starboard hole, I sealed off with a plastic bag held in place with hair ties and sealed with putty stuffed into the cracks. The port hole was trickier because it had my anchor chain coming up through. After upping anchor, I stuffed a bunch of plastic bags in the hole and hoped for the best. I pulled back the v-berth cushions away from the locker and staged the pump. I was as prepared as I could be.

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Other prep involved making baked potatoes to stuff into my pockets on deck as homesteader-style hand-warmers

I unenthusiastically upped anchor and headed out into the swell. The waves were bigger than any I’d seen yet, although the wind wasn’t gusting to 35 like in Sandy Hook, so at least there was that. “See,” I told myself, “It could be worse.” Once the sails were up and Gecko was pointed in the right direction, I actually began to realize that this trip was going to be just fine. The wind was strong enough that I was making good speed without the thrilling gusts that dipped the rail under. The waves were large, but they were hitting me on the quarter, and Gecko was scooting along as happy as a clam, and just as wet, I thought to myself, as I turned up the collar of my jacket. I set the windvane and settled back in the cockpit to watch the sun ride across the sky and plop below the horizon. Once darkness hit, I started my routine of napping for 20 minutes, popping up on deck to check for ships and adjust my course, and then heading below again. It was so cold that I pulled my blankets over my head and curled up in a little ball to get warm. Right when I started feeling cozy, my alarm would go off and I’d have to get up. I slept in my full foulies, sea boots, and harness, because it was so wet in the cockpit, and every second I spent adjusting my gear was a second I wasn’t spending sleeping.

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Another boat sailing next to me. Nice bottom paint!

I kept up this routine until about one in the morning. There was a shoal that I was going past and I wanted to keep my eye on it until it was safely behind me. I went below and pulled the sleeping bag up to my chin, but instead of going to sleep, I kept my eye on the chart plotter to make sure I didn’t veer off course and over the shoal… I woke up an hour later feeling great and wondering why. With a start, I realized I was sitting up with the chart plotter in my hands. I frantically checked my position and realized I’d sailed right past the shoal. Fool’s luck, coming to the rescue once again.

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I’m a big fan of fool’s luck

I arrived in Norfolk the next afternoon. The wind never stopped its insistent blow, and Gecko sped down the channel. Navigating around all the container ships and navy cruisers on a half-working brain probably would have been more stressful if I wasn’t so tired. It’s kind of like a built-in anxiety destroyer, I mused. The more tired you are, the less you care about your limited functionality. I remembered the morning after I spent my first night sailing across the gulf of Maine. There were so many ships that I hadn’t had more than about an hour total of sleep that night. The wind died as the sun rose and I was motoring and falling asleep at the helm. At one point, I remember thinking: “It’s ok to go to sleep. Holly’s steering. She knows what she’s doing.”

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What I was wearing when I was mistaken as homeless

I spend that night in Portsmouth over by the Navy hospital. My legs were itching for exercise, so even though I was exhausted, I went ashore for a walk. I decided to go to the Food Lion and get some more provisions. On my way back, I found myself suddenly flanked by two woman wearing head-to-toe fleece, and big smiles. They told me that their church was having a free dinner and that I was welcome to join. I smiled and thanked them, thinking they were looking for new recruits or something. My sleep-deprived brain was too addled to realize what was actually happening. The women looked at me with concerned eyes, and started talking about how all hard times come to an end and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Then they told me that they would walk me to their church. At this point, the truth started dawning on me and I realized that not only would I not get out of their free dinner, but that they thought I was homeless. It’s incredibly hard to refuse charity once people decide to give it, and the ball was already rolling. My protests only strengthened their resolve. I was ushered into a warm little room and given a fried chicken dinner from more sympathetic eyes and smiles. I tried to appear grateful and homeless so as to satisfy their need to provide aid to the destitute. How do homeless people act? I looked at the ground and smiled shyly at their compliments and kind words.  Finally I was set free. I somewhat guiltily made my way back to my boat, the first home I’ve ever owned, and the first time I’ve had a permanent place of residence in over four years. The dinner was a beautiful display of charity, and I was touched by the church warrior’s generosity. I was also convinced that I had been thoroughly been initiated into the live-aboard shabbiness that seems to befall so many of the cruisers I’ve met. I was officially Boat Trash. I was psyched.

Leaks, Gales, and Liberty

 

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.

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Sailing under the Brooklyn Bridge

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.

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Saying goodbye to Manhattan

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.

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The average wind speed for my trip has been over 20 knots, with temperatures hanging in the low 40’s

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.

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A deceptively beautiful sunset. Gecko was surfing downwind at 7-10 knots

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.

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I feel like I’m being sustained on a mixture of luck and long underwear

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.

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Pumping water out of the chain locker at 2am

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.

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Beach Adventures in Cape May. I found a (much needed) five gallon bucket on that walk!

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!