Vinni – Charleston SC to Bahamas

 

We’re in Copenhagen airport ready to fly back to the US. I happens to be January 4th, which incidentally is Carsten birthday (charming young man of only 66) and the best birthday present he’s gotten is the fast, professional and successful treatment at the University Hospital. He’s fit for fight again and we’re excited to get back to Capri and our lives as cruisers again. But, but, but – We’re heard the reports of a major ice-storm in the US, mainly in the north and central US. It probably won’t affect us, since we are going to the southeastern US, South Carolina, where it only snows once every 10-15 years and the residents mainly wander around in shorts and a thin sweater this time of year. Of course, as usual when Vinni and Carsten are coming, that which only happens rarely is certain to happen and happen in spades (sigh).

At the check-in in Copenhagen, we’re informed that our flight to the US is still on but the woman behind the check-in counter is unable to tell us if our flight to South Carolina is still on. Ok, we’ll take it one step at time.

On board and safely in the air, the pilots informs us that we shouldn’t worry, he has extra fuel on board in case we have to be redirected to another airport. When we get to Newark, we’re fortunately not sent to another airport but lazily circle for about ½ hour while the ground crews clear the snow off the runway. We see no other airplanes in the air and the airport looks almost completely deserted. Most of the passengers have a bit of adrenaline pumping as we land and we are all hoping that the plane does not skid off the run way. The pilot gets a long round of applause as the plane taxis toward the gate after a smooth landing.

Our disappointment is huge though when we get to the check-in counter for our further flight. All flights are cancelled and there is no way we can get out of Newark until 3 days later, Sunday. A feeling of panic starts setting is – 3 days? This is Thursday.  Where are we supposed to stay? The airlines won’t pay.  Weather is an “Act of God” according to them, and you can bet that hotel prices have doubled due to the weather.

Of course it helps to good friends around the globe, and this day good friends in New York. First we try calling Carsten’s old childhood friend Wayne, but he doesn’t answer the phone. One of his daughters, Dana has visited us 3 times in Copenhagen and said if we ever needed a place to stay in NYC we should just call. Dana and her husband, David and their 8 month old son live in a 3 room apartment on the 25th floor overlooking the Hudson river. We called, she said “yes” without hesitation if we would accept sleeping on an air mattress. We happily accept (we live on a boat – an air mattress is luxury) and spend the next 3 days in icebound New York City.

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You’ve seen this pic before, but it is worth seeing again – Vinni enjoying the view over the Hudson to New Jersey

It is strange to experience NYC with so few cars and empty of people (the ice and severe cold), but it is fascinating to wander through the streets and Central Park (only 2 blocks away). You can’t imagine how cold it gets in this city. The skyscrapers form wind channels and the wind accelerates down through them with a chill factor running to minus 15-20 degrees F.  Brrrrrr! We visited the Guggenheim and the NY Museum of Natural History – both places had the heat turned up. Neither of us have clothes for this type of weather – fortunately, we can borrow (and do) from Dana and David.

We invited Wayne and Kim (ex-wife) for lunch while we (mostly Kim) baby-sit Christian, who decides that he doesn’t need to sleep with all this excitement of strangers in the house. We have a marvelous time with Dana, David and Christian, Carsten appoints himself “Guest Chef” and we try to spoil the new parents with good cooking which is the least we can do in return for their hospitality.

The cooking also means we have to go food shopping on Manhattan. Here, you walk to the supermarket, most other places in the US you drive. All the walking (parking is almost impossible in NYC) means we see few fat persons here. We found a supermarket and I wondered why all the people were in line until it dawned on me that this was the line to the checkout counters – all 100 yards plus of a line! Ok – so we’re going to be here all day waiting to check out. A little further along, I see a sign that says check is fast because they have 32 registers going.  32? Yep, they did and it only took 15 minutes before we are checked out, paid, our goods bagged and on our way out the door. We’re tourists and therefore not as smart as the locals.  They put their shopping cart in line as soon as they enter the store and then they run around getting what they need so that right around the time the cart makes it up to the registers, they are done shopping. All this is fully accepted by everyone else – no sour looks, the people in line push you cart along for you. You should try this in Denmark! Being tourists, we shopped and THEN got in line.

Sunday morning arrived and we could read on the net that the Charleston airport was once again open, we caught our flight and at midnight we arrived at the boatyard where Capri was standing on the hard, buried in snow. The cockpit was filled with snow and Capri was cold as an ice block. Fortunately our diesel heater worked and shortly we were sitting with a glass of wine in our hand, enjoying our home. The bed, however, was another story – shit! Was it cold, and we moaned and complained was we crawled under all our covers, still dressed in all our warm clothes. Next morning we splashed her and got her ready for sea and did some final provisioning. We ended our long stay in Charleston by inviting Debbie and Marshall out for dinner as a Thank You for all the hospitality they have shown us.

Now we’re ready, we’ve slipped our lines and Capri is floating like a swan down the river towards the Marina where we will bunker fuel and the mouth of Charleston Bay.

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Smiles all around – we’re at sea again! Boatyard in the background

The sun is setting and it is bitter cold. On top of that it has begun to drizzle. Cautiously I ask my skipper if it wouldn’t be a good idea to grab a quick overnight in the marina and make sure we still have a weather window to sail in. The low pressure fronts are standing in line to hit us after the ice-storm, so it is difficult to find a weather window. Fortunately, I don’t have to use all my persuasive powers to convince the skipper that it is a good idea to spend the night.

First 3 days later are we able to sail, but the temperature is still below freezing.

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Good-bye Charleston – still freezing

Even with the wind coming from aft – we’re frozen. Our neighbor boat leaves at the same time as us and when they pass us (bigger boat, 50 feet, more sail, more length, more speed) we can see the older couple (Norwegians living in the US) sitting warm and safe inside their cockpit tent while we are sitting outside in our open cockpit freezing our proverbial asses off. When we reach the next harbor, it turns out they have frozen more than us since their heater didn’t work – so they couldn’t even go below and get warm like we can.

It is so cold in the cockpit that we are unable to stand our normal 4 hour watches – 2-3 hours is all we can manage. After that we are simply frozen solid and need to get below where it is warm and lie under our duvet, shivering for an hour or two until we have gotten warm again, then sleep for an hour until we have to take another turn at watch again. I’m dressed in 4 layers of clothes under my Scottish Bikini, woolen cap, the hood on my foulies, winter gloves and my thick hiking boots and 2 pairs of socks. And I’m still freezing and stiff from the cold that seeps right into my bones. Food is a cold sandwich – we‘re unable to hold a knife, fork or spoon in this cold.

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Ready for my night watch – I’m wearing every warm piece of clothing I have

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Coming off watch – Where is my warm bed and duvet?

Tired and frozen we arrive at Brunswick Georgia after 145nm and almost 30 hours of sailing.

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Finally warm again, one glass of wine and the sandman is calling me from the bunk

There’s not much to say about Brunswick (read Carsten’s blog), but I want to praise the marina we stayed at. Excellent service from the harbourmaster, who every morning dishes up with free fresh coffee and where all the sailors meet for a cuppa java and a morning talk. Later in the afternoon at happy hour he serves up free(!) beer. The facilities are absolutely top-notch – free laundry, cozy little TV room, with a computer and internet.  Internet on the docks that actually works. What more could we ask for?  Oh yeah – better weather.

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Brunswick Courthouse well hidden behind trees covered with Spanish Moss

The next leg is 200nm to Cape Canaveral (Florida). It is still cold, although not as biting a cold as we’ve had the past few days – it has warmed up to almost 45 degrees F. I’ve never dreamed that I would need to be dressed in 5 layers of clothes when I sailed down along Florida’s coastline – but I am. We sail right by NASA’s launch area and see the rocket they are going to launch.

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Rocket on the launchpad

This one is unmanned though. We’ll have a front row seat from the marina and we’re excited to see the launch. I’m surprised that we are allowed to sail this close – here I’m thinking of terrorists. But before we get there, I’m awakened by a Pan-Pan call on the radio (Urgent message – although not life-threatening). This was an interesting experience and Carsten will tell it since he was awake.

The night Capri was sent by the US Coast Guard to rescue the US Navy

Yep, you read that correctly, Capri was sent out to rescue the United States Navy. Vinni was below enjoying a well-deserved sleep and everything was peaceful. Although I noticed that about 50 degrees off our port bow at strange orange light come on and then extinguish. It disappeared quickly I was convinced that it was the landing lights of an airplane making a turn preparing to come in for a landing somewhere in Florida. This happens often and their headlights flash across the sky for a short moment.

A couple of minutes alter the phenomena appeared again and now I was completely convinced that it was an airplane. Immediately thereafter there were three lights at the same time and now I was unsure. A helicopter? I grabbed our binoculars and just managed to spot the three lights before they went out. Certainly not a helicopter. Just as I continued my speculations and began thinking they might have been flares, the Pan-Pan message came over our radio:

“Pan-pan, Pan-pan, Pan-pan – This is the US Coast Guard. All ships, All ships, All ships – We have reports of emergency flares off the coast of Florida at Daytona Beach. Can any ship confirm this? All ships are asked to keep a watch for emergency flares off the coast of Florida at Daytona Beach”

Well now – so they were flares. I immediately called the Coast Guard and advised them of our position and that we had seen the flares about 50 degrees off our port bow – so at a bearing around 140 degrees. I also told them that I had no signal of ships on our AIS. They asked for more information and I gave them what I could (not much) and said I would fire up our radar, which I did.  A couple of minutes later I could tell them that I had no radar contacts out to 16nm, which is about as far as we can “see” with our radar.

Now they asked if we would provide assistance and sail out to the area, which we naturally immediately said “yes” to. I did, however, tell them that we were a sailboat and in these heavy seas, our maximum steaming speed was about 6 -6.5 knots which meant that with the flares having been launched from over the horizon, it would be 2 hours before we could get there. That gave them pause and they asked to stand by. A few minutes later, they came back on the radio and told us that we could continue on our way, the flares were being launched by the US Navy as part of a drill – the Navy had just forgotten to tell the Coast Guard that they were going to do it.

What a night – it’s not every night at a Danish sailboat has to go to the rescue of the US Navy – but this night,  Capri did. 🙂 (carsten)

If that’s not enough, when I later go below after my early morning watch, the Pan-pan comes again. It is again the Coast Guard and again because of some flares being fired near Daytona Beach. Carsten called back on the radio and told them that earlier during the night the flares were from the US Navy. The Coast Guard admitted that they had not been told that when they changed watch.

Even later there is another Pan-pan and this time the Coast Guard can tell us that it is not the Navy but someone else.  We are now far south of the reported position and can offer no assistance, so continue on our way. A long night with many disturbances.

I’ve been excited all day about the rocket launch. We gotten ready I full sailor battle gear and have a bottle of red wine with us as we crawl up in the bitter cold in the cockpit to watch the launch (I mean – ow often does a cruising sailor get a chance to see this?).

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What the well-dressed girl wears when going to a rocket launch

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Her equally suave and debonair escort flashes his evening dress – a sailor tux

We stand expectantly in the cockpit as are others in the marina when our neighboring boat can tell us that 7 minutes before launch, NASA have called it off and postponed the launch for a day due to technical problems. Shit! What a dud.

Next evening we are again in full battle dress, ready for a launching, this time without wine though, as we are at sea on our way to Ft. Lauderdale (140nm) Carsten has found the NASA webpage on his mobile phone and is following the count-down. But as he reaches 7, we see a huge fireball on the horizon north of us on its way through the atmosphere. The count-down on the webpage must have been a few seconds delayed. We had our camera ready but didn’t manage to film the launch 70 nm from here.

This night our sleep is also disturbed, although it is Carsten who is trying to sleep. I’ve got the dogwatch when I hear Capri being called on the radio. I would have answered, but we were very close to the coast and surrounded by fishing boats and small skiffs so I didn’t want to leave the helm and called for Carsten to answer. It was our neighbor boat from Cape Canaveral and the skipper, who had the dog watch was bored so he called us to chat. He chatted about totally unimportant things and he kept it up. I’m sure he thought that since it was the dog watch it would be Carsten on watch as, most often, it is the man who takes the dog watch. Carsten was pissed when he eventually got back to his bunk. You don’t call other boats in the middle of the night just to chat – there is always someone trying to catch some shut-eye.

In Ft. Lauderdale, we bought books and charts over the Pacific. Many other sailors shake their heads at us for still having paper charts, they only use electronic. We use both and have found that it is safer if we have a paper back-up in case the electronics fail, f.eks because of a lightning strike. WE have known 2 Danish boats that have been hit by lightning.

We also have the opportunity to visit Carsten’s daughter, Kara and her boyfriend Michael’s new apartment, where they made us a great shellfish dinner.

We’re now ready to cross the infamous Gulf Stream that runs northeast along the American coastline. In the narrow straits between Florida and the Bahamas the current is particularly strong, running at up to 6 knots. From Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, where Lene and Ove are going to join us is 200nm. There is no way we can make Antigua in time to pick them up so they have rearranged their flights and will meet us in Nassau. But first we have to cross the Gulf stream – 50nm wide here and running an average of 2.5 knots across the entire 50nm. In the middle it will run 5-6 knots.

Capri will be sailing sideways. We want to hit the New Providence Channel between Bimini and Grand Bahamas and follow that to Nassau. So now we can go back and reread our textbooks on just how to figure a triangular crossing with an average 2.5 sideways drift. Assuming it will take us 12 hours to cross (5 kntos speed per hour) then we will drift almost 30 nm northwards. Meaning we ah veto sail down to Miami first before turning east.

So much for the course – what about the weather window? Under no circumstances do you want to attempt a crossing if the winds are from the north (wind against waves would mean horrible seas). Winds from the north are exactly what we have had for the past week. We need to be in Nassau Friday as Lene and Ove are arriving Saturday. The weather reports say there is a probable weather window Tuesday and Wednesday turning into a gale Thursday. We figure on 1.5 days from Miami and would prefer to make Nassau during daylight so Monday afternoon we set sail from Ft. Lauderdale for Miami.

We know that the evening and night will mean a hard sail where we will have an apparent wind of 15-20 knots right in our faces and 2 meter high waves, also right in our faces. But it is the only window for at least a week and the following week looks even worse. It is not possible to tack across the Gulf Stream – all you can do is set the sails you can and fire up the engine and try to get across as fast as possible.

It is an uncomfortable sail and Capri fights for every meter. Sleep is difficult, but we manage to get some.

The waves have started crashing across our bows and suddenly in the middle of the night we hear a loud crash up front. Going on deck in this weather is not something you do unless really necessary. Carsten tries shining a light all over the front end of the boat but we can’t see anything wrong. In the past we have seen that the hatch to the anchor well has come loose and even though it seems to be lying where it is supposed to, I hook my tether to our lifelines running along the deck and crawl my way forward. We have our engine running turned on so I can see the deck and therefore I’m not wearing a headlamp. That means I can only see the anchor hatch and not further out into the darkness. Up front, the anchor hatch is secure and nothing seems wrong. I give the lock an extra twist just to be sure.

Later, as I stand below changing clothes I think I can hear our anchor chain rumbling, but Carsten doesn’t think it is important.

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We’re motorsailing with our mainsail up and our engine on

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Sunrises are impressive out here – peaceful after a hard night

We hit the “hole” (New Providence Channel) after 18 hard hours and the both the winds and the swells begin to fall. Unfortunately, we did not, as we should have, go up to the front of Capri to check again now that it is daylight. Live and learn. The wind has turned to the southeast and we can sail with full sails.

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Carsten changes out the American courtesy flag with the Bahamian flag

That evening, the wind dies completely and we fire up the iron jenny (engine). We do wonder why we are only able to make 5 knots even with the engine turning over at 1900 rpm. Do we have something wrapped around the keel?

Wednesday morning we arrive in Nassau where we have reserved a space in a marina as the next 4 days we will be experiencing gale force winds. Carsten is landing Capri and I’m out at the bows setting a line in the forward clamp. What the hell?  Where is the anchor? Mortified I see the catastrophe. Our entire bow platform and anchor (wrapped in a plastic bag it had picked up along the way) was hanging down in the water like a huge drogue. That explains the low speed. I waited until we were all tied up before I told Carsten – he didn’t need to think about that during a difficult landing.

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The whole platform was knocked down in the water

Carsten is furious. We’ve just paid 20,000 Danish kroner in Charleston to have a need bobstay (and davits for our dinghy) made. The bobstay (this is what bent causing the accident) was to have been changed out with a much more heavy duty version. This new bobstay has bent in the heavy seas and finally ripped the clevis attaching it to the platform out. Without any support – the platform crashed down. The result is the platform is bent, the attachment points on the bows are bent and Capri has been damaged when the anchored hit her bows.

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The strut that bent that was the cause of all the misery

We tie a spinnaker halyard to the front of the platform and haul the whole mess back up. WE manage to unhook the anchor and it takes Carsten almost an hour to unscrew and hammer the platform loose so we can take it for repair.

Pissed off is the not the word. Are boatyards impossible to trust? If the anchor had managed to drive a hole completely through Capri’s hull, we could have been facing a truly disastrous situation that might have cost us the Capri. Happily, things didn’t go that badly, but there is more than enough damage to Capri. Carsten has mailed the boatyard that we want our money back. We’ve found a stainless steel shop here in Nassau that says they can repair it and reinforce it. The fiberglass work on the bows we’ll do ourselves.

At the moment we’re on our third day of strong gales and it doesn’t look like it is going to get any better before next Tuesday – maybe. The swells are high out there in the Atlantic – only 150 nm from here. Noone is sailing out in this weather. We hope the repairs can be done by Monday and we can remount the platform ourselves. It won’t be easy while she  is in the water.. We’ve had to change plans. Lene and Ove have flown directly to Antigua as originally planned since we can’t be sure we can reach St. Martin by February 10 when their flight goes home. The 11th February, Mario and Graznya show up and we have warned them that we might be late (wind and weather). WE are not sure when we can sail from Nassau and it is a 900nm non-stop run to St. Martin. We can’t be sure that we will have a weather window for the 6-7 days required for the run. We are at the tail end of the phenomena known as Christmas Winds (which supposedly die out by mid-January – but this is Vinni and Carsten we are talking about) that can generate up to 5-6 meter high waves.

Accidents rarely come alone as they say – frequently you get 3 in a row. First the damage to our rudder bearing by the boatyard, then Carsten got sick and now this. The weather is hopelessly against us and we are having our patience tried to the limit. I’m not surprised, as a cruising sailor, that the weather gods decide when and where we should sail, but I am surprised that boatyards and bad repairs can have such a huge negative influence on our lives. If the rudder bearing incidence hadn’t occurred, we would have been safely in the Caribbean before the Christmas Winds began. If Carsten had gotten sick in the Caribbean, we would have flown back to Denmark from there and we would now be in Antigua ready for our friends to come aboard and sail with us.

Anyway – we’re fine and Carsten heart is acting perfectly normally.

 

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