Thursday 28 May, passage Cayman to Chesapeake day 14, departure from Cape Lookout inlet:
It’s a mixture of sun and rain storms today. Thunder storms are forecast, but we only hear the very occasional thunder clap as each black rain cloud comes over one after another.
At breakfast we discuss departure plan. Our aim was to leave tomorrow (Friday) morning, have just one overnight at sea and anchor in Deltaville once in the Chesapeake. And wait there till the northerly cold front blew through. But we instead decide to leave this afternoon and try to get all the way to Herrington Harbour. It will mean bigger seas, stronger wind and 2 nights at sea, but Oana is really keen to get all the way there (more like to be over and done with).
For the first 14 nm, we will need to head due south to get around the Cape Lookout shoals before we can turn NE. This short stretch, down the west side of the shoals, will be motoring directly into the wind and Atlantic waves. It won’t be pleasant. But once around the shoals and onto a ENE track to the Hatteras, we will be off wind, beam reaching. Then a gybe at the Hatteras and a broad reach or run along the sheltered shore of North Carolina and Virgina Beach to the Chesapeake entrance. It should be a good fast sail. Just those first 2 hours will be miserable, and I warn Oana the same.
After breakfast I sand and apply the third coat of varnish to the companionway woodwork. It’s getting to be a morning ritual. Not sure it’s a great idea having tacky varnish just as we set out on a passage though! Meanwhile, Oana makes bread and a meal for us to re-heat at sea tomorrow. Then lots of little things to get ready, sunshades off the bimini, halyards tight, dinghy drained of rain water and re-secured. All the usual stuff. Though I have a hankering feeling I’ve missed something. I later find out what.
At 4.30pm we have a last look at the NoAA radar to make sure the worst of the rain squalls have passed, then we pull the anchor by 5pm. We debate about waiting 15 minutes as rain is coming but we decide to go ahead. And we get soaked! We would have made it back to the cockpit before the rain if it wasn’t for the thick gooey black mud we had to wash off the chain. It was almost like tar!
We motor slowly out the inlet in the rain. As we pass other anchored yachts, we wonder just how many of them must think we are mad! Well, you know what they say …. there are mad dogs, and Englishmen!
As soon as we are out of the inlet we start to feel the effect of the Atlantic swell. These erratic waves and swell keep on building all the way to the end of the shoals. Cloudy is soon pitching and bouncing into this oncoming enemy and it gets Oana is instantly sick. Even I have to swallow my pride and take a pill. The motion is just horrible. And we can’t put any sails out to pin us down because we are direct into wind. The last few miles are the worst. Every other wave Cloudy is dipping her bow in and throwing the top of the wave over the boat. They come rushing over the clash roof and some even up the windscreen and over the sprayhood. The decks are permanently flooded with the scuppers having no chance to keep up.
And here is my mistake before departure. I knew conditions would be like this, yet I left the dorade vent cowlings facing forwards. And worse, the vents inside are open. Now, inside those dorade vents are fancy balls that float if/when one gets flooded, blocking the water from going down the vent. Well, this system may work to some extent, but not very well. The result: under all the forward vents we have seawater sprayed inside the boat. My bad again, and again Oana not amused. Windows, vents and water combination are not on my clever list.
Finally, we get to the buoy that marks the end of the shoals and turn eastwards towards Hatteras shoals. With 15kts just aft of our beam and apparent wind dead on the beam, we are quickly up to hull speed with full genoa and main. Much more comfortable than the motoring we just did, but the 3m waves are now on our beam too. So not exactly comfortable for Oana, who by now has taken to her lying-down-in-the-cockpit position. I know she’s really not well when she does that. All I can do is try to make sure we get there as soon as we can. I suggest slowing Cloudy down but she is not interested in prolonging the experience.
As for the sailing, well it’s quite something. We are thundering along eating up the miles. The bow wave can be seen curling off each side of the pulpit. Like a horse galloping for home, Cloudy has the bit between her teeth and her head down! And we have one knot of current running with us as a bonus.
As we had departed Cape Lookout Inlet, I had spotted a 52ft catamaran coming out from Beaufort, heading in the same direction as us. As it came into view it was hobby-horsing like crazy over the oncoming waves, much worse than we were. This cat, Cameo, was just behind us as we passed the end of the shoals. Once we both put our sails out, I was a bit surprised to see it catching us up. They came on the VHF asking if we preferred to be passed to windward or leeward. I felt like answering “we NEVER prefer to be passed by anyone. Just stay in your place back there, thank you”!
I actually replied that I had no preference and I would just hold course. “Ok thanks” came the reply “because we are going to carry on motoring this leg”. Ah ha… that explains it. Cheaters! But I do wonder why a 52ft cat (even as it is, the caravan type of cat) would miss a stonking good beam reach sail like this. Maybe he’s just a delivery boy. It gradually passes us about 1/2 kn faster with engines revving and its full main sheeted tight into center with its head falling off something awful. And the genoa over strapped in too. Clearly trimming sails is not their forte. Or they just want them in tight for motoring. Shame, I just fancied a little race to keep me entertained.
By midnight we are already 2/3s the way to Hatteras. The wind is now constantly over 20kts so we have one reef on the genoa and same in the main. Other than the waves rolling us, it’s a fast stable ride this far. And Cloudy continues what she does best into the next day.