Friday 29 May, passage Cayman to Chesapeake day 15:
At midnight, Cloudy is thundering towards Cape Hatteras shoals, doing a steady 9-10kts in 25kts wind. In an effort to slow her down, I added yet another reef to main and genoa, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to her speed. Cloudy is clearly on a mission! As usual with the Hatteras shoals, which juts out into the Gulf Stream, the sea is disturbed and at 10kn I’m having to hang on tight as we fly across this ploughed field at more than full speed. For goodness sake Cloudy, think about your crew!
At this point we have caught up the catamaran, Cameo. Maybe they did turn off their engine after all. We also have another yacht off our port quarter. I was totally unaware of its presence until receiving a VHF call “Cloudy Day, Cloudy Day… this is (garbled), how are we looking?” I reply that I don’t see him. He says he is off our port side. But I can’t see him on AIS, radar, nor any nav lights. I suggest changing to ch06 but get no answer. He must have AIS because he knows our boat name. I again scour the port side and believe I can see a very faint green nav light, disappearing in the waves. So it’s a sailing yacht with no masthead nav lights (the only lights are at sea level). Why even bother turning them on in a big sea like this?
15 minutes later: “Cloudy Day, I need to avoid the shoals, so I’m coming across your bow”. Again, I try to change him to a working channel, and again no response. I search on radar and find a very faint blip occasionally appearing 3.8nm behind and to port. Unless this is Hugo Boss (or similar pedigree of racing yacht), I very much doubt it will be coming across our bow from that position! The little green light turns into a green and a white, so they must have now turned the engine on. Still, they have no chance to pull in front on us and they end up falling in behind us and the catamaran as we round the shoals and turn northwards, one after the other.
Again, I’m shocked at the terrible range (or even serviceability) of many AIS systems on pleasure yachts. This is yet another example. And their weak nav lights? Maybe they borrowed the bulbs from a Christmas tree? 🙂
As we come around the shoals we also come off the wind. I now need to set the pole but don’t want to do it in this state of sea. I learned my lesson on that one last week. So we deep-reach, keeping the genoa pulling, until the sea settles a bit. On this point of sail, with the sails no longer pinning us down, we are rolling all over the place. I dare not even think how Oana is faring down below, in the aft berth!
After 20 minutes the sea dies down enough to gybe the main. It’s deeply reefed, so it gybes very easily onto port tack. Then the genoa gets poled out to port and we are goose-wing sailing due north towards the Chesapeake entrance 120nm ahead. Just like last year, as soon as we have rounded the Hatteras and passed the shoals, the wind drops and the sea calms. It’s like it has its own little weather system going there. But we still have a good 15-18kts of wind which is powering us along nicely at 8kts.
We finally got passed the catamaran which is now falling behind. Up until recently I had the impression that when off-wind sailing, cats were always faster than monohulls. But clearly Cloudy doesn’t believe any of that nonsense! The other ghost yacht’s fairy lights have long since disappeared. Goodness knows where they went to?
Dawn is on the horizon and I’m getting pretty tired now. I needed to stay awake until we got the Hatteras behind us. I was just thinking of waking Oana (if she has slept even a single wink!) to come and relieve me, when the wind suddenly drops and veers onto the beam, backing the genoa. I flip the genoa over to starboard side then change the radar to “weather”. And sure enough, as expected, lots of “purple” (rain squall) about to descend upon us. So I delay waking Oana until it’s passed.
I reduce the mainsail in preparation and sure enough the wind peaks at 32kts just as the rain front arrives to our position. With the intense rain flattening the sea, Cloudy lifts up her skirt and takes off on a rampage. She sits steadily at 10-12kts, so perfectly stable you wouldn’t know the speed without looking at the instruments or seeing the bow wave curling off each side. Amazing. But it’s a short-lived thrill and the wind soon goes back to normal as the squall passes. At least there is no lightening here, unlike those nasty squalls in the southern US states.
NoAA radar tells me we are in for lots of these rain storms and it’s not until the 3rd one that a very sleepy Oana appears from her agitated nest below. She is not amused at the way Cloudy has been throwing objects, including her, around the cabin last night! I leave her to quietly curse Cloudy (and likely me) and I head down to sleep.
By mid morning the visibilty is down to just 200m. The water temperature has dropped from a balmy 28degC in the Gulf Stream by the Hatteras, to just 18degC here. And with this moist southerly air stream coming over the cold water, a mist is forming. If we had a few lobster pots around us we could imagine we are in Maine on an average summer day!
Half way up the KittyHawk coast, the wind drops to just 5kts and the engine sadly goes on. Well, we need to do the last top up on the water maker anyway. Don’t want to be making water in the Chesapeake river with all that muck that flows out of Washington 🙂
While the water is scolding hot and we have plenty of it, we both go down for one of those rare long full-stream hot showers. Such luxury! Unfortunately though, Oana manages to step on my shaving razor, which fell into the shower base last night, and has badly cut her toe. Hmmm, is this a deja vu from last year coming into the Chesapeake, precisely when she broke her toe?
The rest of the day the engine is on and off and back on again several times as we try to nurse the fickle wind along the Virginia Beach coastline. Finally, just as the sun sets in a very red sky, we pass through the causeway and officially into the Chesapeake Bay. Gone is the Atlantic swell and peaceful flat sailing ensues. The remainder of the evening we are goose wing sailing north in a gentle 12 kt breeze from astern, then finally motoring by midnight.
This is our 3rd time on the Chesapeake and Herrington Harbour. Somehow it feels like we are coming back to our home port. Cloudy certainly seems to think she’s going home. Guess she made a few friends there.