Frank and I have worked to build our sailing experience and increase our passage lengths gradually so we would be comfortable when the time for our first long passage arrived.
Sunset our first night
Our first overnight passage (13 hours) was in May 2015 when we sailed from BVI to St. Martin. Since then we have made a few other overnight trips and a couple of two night passages to help us become more comfortable and confident with sailing off shore.
Of course, any trip is only as good as the weather, so we do our very best to research weather and plan our trips to insure favorable seas and winds and currents. Then we pray that nothing unexpected comes along!
Even with building our experience and choosing the best weather window we could, I was nervous about the 855 nautical mile (nm) sail from the BVI to Marsh Harbour, Abacos. We expected the trip would take around six days but I mentally prepared myself for seven so I would not get impatient.
Sunset from the helm with the jib out.
Most sailing blogs state the passage specs, but I tend to find the experience itself interesting.
Here are the facts about the passage to satisfy the sailors who prefer the data only:
Distance: 855 nm
Duration: 5 days 21 hours
Average speed: 6.1 knots
Highest speed: 13.4 (surfing waves is fun!)
Most miles in a 24 hour period: 160 nm
Days 1-3: excellent wind with mostly following seas. Daytime we flew our asymmetric spinnaker alone or with our main. Nighttime we sailed under the jib alone.
Day 4-end: motor, motor and more motor as the wind died.
Other Vessels we saw: barges and container ships = 5 sailboats = 0
Container ship pulled by a tug boat. Something we definitely have to look out for.
So those are the facts, but what is a passage like?
This passage was six days in the company of only my husband and our dog. There is a lot of time alone because generally we traded off naps and watches until we adjusted to the schedule.
Daytime is a vista of blue with occasional surprise visitors like dolphins or birds.
A lone dolphin came to visit.
Nighttime is vast darkness, using only red headlights to protect our night vision and sailing by sound and feel since you can’t really see the sails.
I found the passage experience humbling in the sense that we are so small compared to the vastness of the ocean and the power of nature.
Just prior to our departure, my uncle passed away and this passage became a time of prayer for me as I turned to God for comfort in the loss of my uncle, in the vastness surrounding us, and in the recognition of how vulnerable and fragile we are.
I was pretty nervous about the passage and I have tried to identify what factors cause me to feel skittish. Here are the main things I think create my jitters:
- Knowing I am relying completely on our boat and our wits if something goes awry. I know the boat is well made and that we keep it in excellent working condition, but one never knows if something is going to suddenly fail.
- Being alone and isolated if something does go wrong.
- Fear of seasickness.
- Stepping outside my comfort zone.
- Lack of visual references: there are no landmarks to tell me I am going the right way.
Our original departure from Cane Garden Bay, BVI was delayed by 3 days due to a little cyclone named Bonnie. We didn’t want to sail into a mess and we wanted Bonnie to show her true intentions before we left the safety of the BVIs.
Seeing this storm pop up and develop so quickly only reinforced number 6!
We departed Cane Garden Bay around 10:30 am on Monday, May 30th; Memorial Day in the States. Our first day was beautiful with excellent winds and calm seas. We raised our main sail and red spinnaker. We fairly flew along.
As the sun began to set, my nerves began to mount because it seems like any time things go bad it happens at night!
Goodnight sun, I wish the moon would shine.
At sundown, we lowered the main and spinnaker and flew our jib for the night time sail. Because we were sailing downwind, we added an outhaul line to move our clew out further from the center of the boat and catch more wind. With just this genoa and the following seas we were still managing between 6.3 and 8.2 knots!
That first day was our fastest and LIB ate up 160 nm the first 24 hours.
Each evening as the sun went down, I had to talk to myself about being calm and having confidence in LIB and us. We had no moon and the sky was cloudy so we were devoid of light. The absolute darkness can be frightening on the sea and my imagination can go into overdrive if I don’t control it! I have never suffered from panic attacks, but I think that could be an issue on a passage for those who do.
Typically, I took the first watch from 7-midnight and I was very happy when my shift was finished the first night so I could go below to sleep. I was tired at the end of my shift, but mostly I knew if I slept, when I awakened, the sun would be close to rising!
Sun up means stress down for me.
My pattern of being comfortable and relaxed during light, then becoming more tense when the sun set, recurred for the first 3 nights. Thankfully, I became more accustomed to the absolute solitude and darkness of night watches and my confidence in LIB increased with time. I actually enjoyed the last two evenings on watch when we had periods of clear skies and I could watch the stars. I counted four falling stars one night.
Day two was the most exhausting one for Frank because he crawled into bed just after sunrise and 30 minutes later, a BIG fish attacked our fishing line. I couldn’t helm and reel in the fish so Frank had to get up.
LIB was cruising along at about 7 knots with only the spinnaker up and Frank was having a hard time making any progress with the fish. After about 15 minutes, we socked the spinnaker and the boat slowed to around three knots. STILL too fast to fight the fish. I finally had to put the engines in reverse and Frank was able to land the fish 45 minutes after he started the fight.
His effort was worth it as he caught a 4 foot wahoo!
The spinnaker went back up and Frank set about filleting his fish. Between fighting the fish, filleting it and cleaning up, Frank was at it for about two hours! He was extremely tired but we had about 12 servings of fresh fish on board!
The remainder of day two and most of three we were able to move from spinnaker to jib and make good time sailing. But June 2nd ushered in a window of no wind. The seas became flat and the wind died so we ended up motoring the rest of the way to Marsh Harbour.
We still managed about 6 knots with only the engines, but sailing was definitely faster – and quieter.
Captain likes to help me nap.
I am happy to report that Captain did very well on the passage. She is pretty relaxed when we sail and there isn’t much noise created by waves banging the boat or sails flapping. These miles were relatively quiet and she seemed comfortable.
And to answer the NUMBER ONE question I get – yes, she does go to the bathroom on the boat. We have a piece of artificial grass that we keep at the back of the boat and she uses that. We don’t want her to go to the front deck during the passage and we have a fresh water hose at the back that we can use to clean up after her.
However, for those who plan on taking a dog along – teaching Captain to “go” on the boat is not a complete success. If land is nearby, she refuses to use the fake grass and waits to be taken to shore. On this crossing she waited FOURTY-EIGHT hours before she used the mat!!!
(Dog lovers don’t shoot me, I was plenty worried without getting criticized!)
Captain was much happier after she went and we praised her and gave her plenty of treats but she was still reluctant to use the turf. Hopefully time will erode her resistance.
Guess who was very excited to see land?!
Looking back at the passage from our safe harbor in The Bahamas, it went as well as I think it could have gone. The sailing weather was fabulous and when we had to motor, the seas were very calm so the boat motion was excellent. Using just the jib at night made managing the sail very easy and reduced stress.
Our next passage will be from The Bahamas to Beaufort, N.C. We are waiting for a good weather window and we will have the benefit of the gulf stream to push us along. All told, we expect that passage to take three or four days.
I think Frank and I both have a sense of pride and accomplishment about completing this six day passage. Does this earn us “big boy sailor pants?” Probably not.
I’m not sure how we can actually earn that moniker, but successfully completing this passage certainly increases our experience and our confidence.
The Bahamas are visible just after sunrise.
I mentioned our dog, Captain, in my last post. This Christmas was her first visit to Let It Be.
Initially, Cap was not a fan of being underway, especially if engines were involved. Mostly she hid under the table of the cockpit, closed her eyes and pretended to be somewhere else.
However, English Shepherd dogs are very adaptable and like to be involved in the decision making. So pretty soon Captain was up and about, making sure we were heading to a choice mooring ball:
In fact, by the end of her first two weeks of sailing, Captain was living up to her name and taking her turn at the helm:
And like any good captain, she took breaks, but stayed nearby in case we needed her help when she wasn’t at the helm:
I won’t be at all surprised if some day I find Cap has managed to make her own posts on this blog!