After our big cruise round central America, J and Jenny of Gitane landed a fantastic job as the captain and mate of a private yacht. This means that their full-time job is shuttling the owner around the east coast of the US in summer, and the Caribbean islands in winter. And, of course, maintaining the boat, a huge job in itself.

So, twice a year the boat has to be moved between the east coast and the Caribbean; and for this trip, J and Jenny take on extra crew. Of course, they need people with good ocean sailing experience, and the great news is that this includes Rachel and me!

The bad news is that, being a sailboat, their schedule usually isn't too well fixed; and twice in a row that's scuppered my plans to join them. It looked like it would be three in a row this year, when they first asked me; the mid-November start date was an impossible conflict with my plans to move back out to the US.

But on the 7th of December, Rachel emailed me to say that after some delays, the departure date is now set for the 15th, aiming to get to the British Virgin Islands by the 26th. Could I make it? I ummed and ahed for a couple of days, as well as checking with my boss about vacation time and looking into shipping options for all my worldly posessions; but after all that, it's still tricky. Flying out on the 14th would mean leaving Inverness on the 13th - which would give me about 3 days to pack up my entire life for the trip to the US, instead of the 3 weeks I'd been counting on. Still, my boss says the vacation is OK, and it would be great to see J and Jenny again, quite apart from the sailing; so I'm going for it!



Rachel and Debbie cleaning some of the teak fittings.
Fri 15 Dec 2006 23:50 US/Eastern
Position: 38° 41.644' N 76° 10.151' W -- Oxford Boatyard, Oxford, Maryland; 0.0 miles since Oxford, Maryland

When we got to Oxford at about 10:00 p.m. last night, our first task was to find J and Jenny. Given that the boat was only launched on Monday, I had a feeling they'd still be working on her; sure enough, when we found the boat it was a hive of activity. First, we met Matt and Debbie on the boat; friends of J and Jenny, these are the other 2 crew for the trip. They walked us up to the spar shed, where J and Jenny were busy making up the running rigging (the large collection of ropes that control the sails). We were immediately pressed into service whipping lines. After working pretty late, we moved straight on to the boat.

Despite the late night, J was back on the boat bright and early; there was certainly no shortage of things to do. Pretty soon we were all back on the case; cleaning and re-fitting seats, liferaft mounts, and various other deck fittings that had been taken off for the painting; getting the booms back on; and dozens of other little tasks. One job I tackled was to replace the tackles of both the running backstays with complete new kit -- new blocks and ropes.

While we were doing this, the yard crew were finishing off the standing rigging, some of which hadn't been completed when we arrived. The yard's riggers were great folks, generously showing us amateurs the best way to fit rigging terminals.

Once it was too dark to work on, Matt, Debbie and I drove up to Baltimore airport -- Matt to return their rental car, and Debbie (she's also British) and I to check out of the country, backed up by letters from the captain (J) certifying that were were leaving the country on Saturday. This done, we treated ourselves to a generous dinner, and headed back.


Jenny, J, and Jimmy (from OBY)

So Saturday is officially set as the day of departure... but there's still plenty to do, such as fitting the headsails to the roller furlers in the dark. I have to say I'm sceptical.

Sat 16 Dec 2006 19:30 US/Eastern
Position: 38° 41.644' N 76° 10.151' W -- Oxford Boatyard, Oxford, Maryland; 0.0 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The day was spent in yet more preparation. We mounted the liferaft, the dinghy, the spinnaker pole, the mizzen sail, and much more. J took a couple of trips up the mast, fixing various things.


J up the main mast.

The day dragged on, but the list of projects got smaller and smaller; and by mid-afternoon, we were able to contemplate getting to the fuel dock before it closed at 4:30 pm. We actually ended up waiting for the previous boat to finish fuelling, but we finally got there about 5:00 or so.

Fuelling was laborious, with 400 gallons to take on (our tanks weren't empty, fortunately!) through a tediously slow fuel pump. Eventually it was done, though, and we were finally ready for the off.


The boat all ready (by Matt).

Getting away wasn't to be so easy, however. As J started pushng us away from the dock using the two main engines and the bow thruster (luxury!), we suddenly rebounded, as if there was still a line attached to the dock. After several attempts, we realised that there must have been a snag on the bottom just a few feet out from the dock. J finally reversed us out the way we came in, and we are off at last!

Sat 16 Dec 2006 23:30 US/Eastern
Position: 38° 20.995' N 76° 20.578' W; 26.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The first leg of the journey is from Oxford, down the Chesapeake bay, to the ocean; a trip of about 120 miles, or a day's sailing for a typical cruising boat. Having a schedule to keep, we're motoring through the bay, which is rather noisy but fast.

Leaving Oxford, Maryland, and into the Chesapeake Bay

Around the first part of the trip, near Oxford, there were a number of posts and fish traps in the water, so a bow lookout was needed; I foolishly volunteered for this job, and discovered that it was absolutely freezing in the wind on the foredeck. The job of lookout was made considerably easier by the boat's night vision scope, a mini-telescope which magically turns night (almost) to day. The only snag is that everything is green, so it's no use for differentiating a vessel's navigation lights.


The spacious cockpit. By Matt.

Soon we were out in the open bay, and I was able to retreat to the sheltered comfort of the cockpit. J and Jenny gave us a briefing on the boat's safety systems and procedures, and introduced the watch schedule. This part is absolute luxury -- with 6 people on board, we can keep two on watch at any time, give each person a relatively short watch, and still have time for plenty of sleep.


Matt on secondary watch.

The plan is to have each person stand primary watch for 1½ hours, during which they have to stay alert at all times; then secondary watch for another 1½ hours, during which they have to be in the cockpit, but can read or sleep; and then we get a glorious 6 hours off. With the time needed to change out of foulies and de-salt after each watch, this still means spending a good part of our off time in bed, but it's a lot better than managing with just two people.

So, with my first watch at 4:30 a.m., it was swiftly off to bed for me.


Matt and Debbie in the cockpit.
Sun 17 Dec 2006 06:00 US/Eastern
Position: 37° 28.409' N 76° 10.409' W; 81.9 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The alarm went off way too soon, and it was time to get dressed and get on the bridge. At this point, still in the bay, the boat was still reasonably level, so getting dressed didn't require too many athletics; however, it still took a full 15 minutes to put on all the layers:


Rachel wearing about 20 layers at the helm.


Debbie at the wheel, kitted out against the weather.

All of this while manoeuvring in a tiny area of pitching and rolling floor space. There's more space out in the saloon, in fact too much; an unexpected roll would send you crashing ten or fifteen feet into the sides.

At least with all this kit on, and in the shelter of the huge dodger and bimini, the watch was comfortable. Rachel, who was on secondary watch when I was on primary, kept me well supplied with hot drinks and snacks, so the hour and a half fairly flew by.

Sun 17 Dec 2006 15:01 US/Eastern
Position: 36° 30.256' N 75° 30.508' W; 152.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

After retiring at 7:30 a.m., leaving J and Jenny on the bridge, my next watch wasn't 'til 1:30 p.m., so I turned in for a good long sleep. The noise of the engines made this a bit trying at first, but somehow sleeping at sea is never very difficult -- you always have enough tiredness banked up to send you off.


The view ahead.

When I came up at 1:30, I found that I'd missed one of our major milestones -- the boat's impressive speed had already knocked off the 120 miles of the Chesapeake Bay, and we were out in the ocean. Land is still visible astern and to starboard, and will be for a while longer, as our course is almost parallel to the coast until beyond Cape Hatteras. One pleasant surprise is that the weather is somewhat warmer; with the south-west wind, we're no longer in the wintry climate of the US north-east, but in warmer air blowing up from the Bahamas. With the mainsail up, to give us a slight speed boost but also to reduce the rolling, the journey is already much more pleasant than I'd expected for the Atlantic in December.


The freighter passing us.

We had one bit of excitement on my watch; there were several ships passing, but with the aid of the radar (and ably assisted by Rachel) we calculated that one was on a dead collision course. The key to handling this is to turn hard and early, so while it was still several miles away we turned hard to starboard, miles off our course, and the ship was left well to our port side. After half an hour or so we were able to get back on course.


Jenny at the wheel.
Sun 17 Dec 2006 18:00 US/Eastern
Position: 36° 11.581' N 75° 11.482' W; 177.0 miles since Oxford, Maryland

With the beautiful conditions it was too nice to go below, so I spent the rest of the day up in the cockpit. It's amazing how I never get bored at sea -- just watching the water go by is infintely entertaining. And, of course, with 6 people on board there's plenty of company -- when double-handing you tend to never see the other person, as one of you is always sleeping.

To further enhance the social aspect of the trip, we've decided that every evening will feature a crew dinner in the cockpit at 5:00 p.m.; the person who would have been on watch at 4:30 will skip their watch to cook. This skipped watch also means that the whole watch schedule rotates by one person each day. J made our Sunday dinner tonight, and very nice it was too.


The ensign at night, lit up by the stern light.
Sun 17 Dec 2006 22:33 US/Eastern
Position: 35° 41.450' N 74° 41.290' W; 215.9 miles since Oxford, Maryland

By the time I came up for my 9 o'clock watch, the weather was slightly warmer again, a very nice change. There were still some ships around, but no more head-ons.

The temperature has continued rising through my watch, as we are now just entering the main flow of the gulf stream, so both the air and water are being channelled up from the Gulf of Mexico. However, the approaching Gulf Stream is also making for much more rolly sea conditions.


The captain and mate, J and Jenny.
Mon 18 Dec 2006 07:36 US/Eastern
Position: 34° 55.712' N 73° 25.895' W; 293.5 miles since Oxford, Maryland

As it happened, I slept through the main part of the gulf stream, and by the time of my 6 a.m. watch we were just about leaving it; however, the weather is a lot warmer, so there are fewer layers under the foulies this morning.

The dressing and undressing process, however, is taking longer than ever due to the rolling. With the wind from starboard, our cabin on the port side has the bed "downhill" from the narrow strip of floor beside it. This means that the person changing has absolutely nothing to hold or lean against while doing all the layers. Hence the 25 minutes I spent getting ready for my watch today.


Matt in the cockpit.

To make matters worse, there's a lee board (a big strip of wood) at the side of the bed to keep people from rolling out, but it's so fragile that it's more a liability than an asset, as none of us want to damage the boat! At one point, as I was changing, a sudden lurch sent me flying into the lee board; to avoid breaking it, I just managed to leap over, landing heavily on the bed. A nice manoeuvre, for which Rachel, who was in the bed, sadly paid the price. Oh well, she wasn't too badly bruised.

Now, at the end of my watch, I've got my jacket off, and there's a definite tropical feel to the weather, despite the fact that we're were still about on the latitude of Cape Hatteras.


J checking over the sails and rig.
Mon 18 Dec 2006 08:30 US/Eastern
Position: 34° 49.246' N 73° 20.587' W; 301.5 miles since Oxford, Maryland

It's now Jenny's watch (with me on secondary), and J and Jenny have decided that the wind is good enough for sailing; so up went the jib and staysail (well, not "up" really, as they're both on roller furlers), and off with the engines. The quiet after so much time motoring is glorious. The only fly in the ointment is that the mizzen sail is out of action -- we tried hoisting it the previous evening, but it refused to go up the last few inches, perhaps because of a problem with the sail track near the masthead.

Now this is sailing! In fact, despite being pretty badly in need of sleep, I can't possibly bring myself to go below.


Ian and the mizzen.
Mon 18 Dec 2006 09:30 US/Eastern
Position: 34° 42.640' N 73° 13.908' W; 310.2 miles since Oxford, Maryland

We had another stab at the mizzen, thinking that we should be able to fix the problem in the daylight -- or at least figure it out. But when J tried hoisting it it went straight up with no problem. The only clue was a bang as it got tensioned -- probably the shackle at the head of the sail had been caught the wrong way round, and it had finally fixed itself. So now we have all our plain sail set!


Debbie at the helm. By Matt.
Mon 18 Dec 2006 12:30 US/Eastern
Position: 34° 21.821' N 72° 53.161' W; 337.1 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Wow, it's getting warmer! And a major milestone has been passed, much sooner than I would have guessed -- I'm in shorts and T-shirt! Now this is sailing!

In fact, it got so hot that we've rolled up the side windows of the bimini to get some much-needed ventilation. It would have been nice to open the dodger's front panel, but in the rough conditions there was enough spray to make this a bad idea. Still, there was plenty of breeze; in fact, we're sailing at 9.4 knots, which is pretty amazing!


Sailing. By Matt.

Our speed is measured by the GPS, of course, but there's also a "paddlewheel" speed sensor under the hull which measures our speed through the water. This is useful for judging the current, but unfortunately ours was reading way too low. After several hours with the manuals for the boat's incredibly sophisticated system of instruments, I figured out how to calibrate it, and now I've got it reading closer to the correct speed.

The ocean was pretty quiet during the day -- in fact, it was deserted, there was just us and the sea. But it has started getting cloudy and somewhat colder -- the effect of the gulf stream is apparently wearing off, and the foulie pants are back on.


Matt and Debbie dolphin watching.
Mon 18 Dec 2006 16:09 US/Eastern
Position: 33° 58.769' N 72° 31.744' W; 366.3 miles since Oxford, Maryland

At about 4 p.m. -- it had warmed up again, which was nice -- we were discussing cruising with Debbie. This was her first offshore trip, so seeing the land slip over the horizon was quite an experience for her.

I was remarking that we'd had a fantastic trip so far, when I thought I should comment on the fact that cruising has other things in store; so I mentioned that boats are quite often visited by dolphins. Debbie made a comment to the effect that she'd love to see dolphins; then, just seconds later, jumped up shouting "there's a fin!".


A dolphin in the sunset. By Matt.

Sure enough, the dolphins had chosen that exact time to visit us. There were about 15 or 20 of them, smallish bottle-nosed dolphins, about 3-4 feet long. Debbie and Matt had a great time observing them from the side deck, and snapped some good pictures. And what timing!


Rachel watching the sunset.
Tue 19 Dec 2006 00:09 US/Eastern
Position: 33° 13.118' N 71° 49.064' W; 424.2 miles since Oxford, Maryland

After another great dinner -- Jenny's turn this time -- I went below to grab some sleep before my watch at 10:30 p.m. Sleeping with the engines off, and with the water gurgling by the hull, was fantastic.

Although it's a little cooler now, and the wind has slackened off a bit, we're still having a great sail, and making 7 knots. The sky is clear, with incredible numbers of stars; and best of all, we still have the ocean to ourselves.


Debbie getting ready for her watch. By Matt.
Tue 19 Dec 2006 08:59 US/Eastern
Position: 32° 24.077' N 71° 04.844' W; 485.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Sometime during the night the wind slackened off enough that the engines were started -- got to keep to the schedule! We still had all the sail up, though, so the engines weren't flat-out, which made for a quieter ride, and didn't upset the sleep too much. When I came on watch at 7:30 a.m., we were cruising along in a gentle breeze on a beautiful morning.


Jenny and the giant winch (electric, of course!)

By now we're 268 miles south-east of Cape Hatteras, and 326 miles west of Bermuda -- well inside the Bermuda Triangle! (According to some authors -- since each writer on the subject redefines the boundaries to fit his/her personal theory.) Anyway, we haven't seen any UFOs yet, though they'd be welcome to do a flyby so we can get some photos. We now have over 900 miles to go, and have run about 470 miles since Oxford; and the nearest solid land is 3 miles away -- straight down.


Debbie on lookout. By Matt.

The weather is once again shorts-and-T-shirt, at least for me, which is great, and it's already looking like it might be staying this way for the rest of the trip. This is amazing for this time of year in the Atlantic, but we're not complaining! Now that we're well out of the gulf stream the sea is very calm, and still deserted apart from ourselves.


Ian and the bandana. By Rachel.
Tue 19 Dec 2006 14:36 US/Eastern
Position: 31° 48.490' N 70° 33.173' W; 530.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Another great day for hanging out in the cockpit! I passed some time by trying out various banadana configurations; including the "sheikh", to keep the sun off my neck (a great success).


Rachel enjoying a book by Walter Cronkite.

Another pleasant diversion was sorting out the pictures to date; I have the laptop set up in the saloon (no shortage of power here!) and showing a slideshow of the voyage to date.

Now I'm listening to Koyaanisqatsi on my birthday iPod (thanks Rachel!) as we cruis along at a pleasant 8 knots in light winds. One engine is running; the starboard engine was making some possible rattling noises, and J & Jenny have shut it down just in case something was loose on the shaft.


J tending to the engine.
Tue 19 Dec 2006 18:55 US/Eastern
Position: 31° 21.239' N 70° 09.457' W; 564.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

I've just got into bed, and I'm exhausted from the effort! It's got rolly again, so changing and cleaning up for bed (the idea is to keep the bed as salt-free as possible) is quite an effort.


Sailing in the sunset. By Rachel.

Tonight was my turn at dinner, so instead of a watch I made cheeseburgers with chips (American: fries), a nice easy option, specially with oven chips. However, as the first "visiting" crewmember to cook I had to figure out the vagaries of the stove; such as only one of the burners being able to stay lit. I asked J for help, and he said yup, it's busted. Of course, after cooking, when I mentioned the "broken" burners to Jenny, she told us both how to get them going!


Jenny. By Rachel.

After dinner we watched a film on pioneering sailor Irving Johnson, courtesy of the boat's entertainment system, then did some stargazing under the beautiful, crystal-clear sky.

Right now we're still cruising on at 8 knots, with the port engine running -- unfortunately the one under our cabin!


The cockpit, under sail.
Wed 20 Dec 2006 03:23 US/Eastern
Position: 30° 33.885' N 69° 29.147' W; 623.1 miles since Oxford, Maryland

I got the midnight watch tonight, and what a beautiful night. The wind is shifting astern, which is making the sails restless, and we're still using the port engine; but the conditions are lovely.

We had our first traffic for ages on my watch when a huge cruise ship passed our port side. Other than that, though, it's been as quiet as ever.


Matt at the helm.
Wed 20 Dec 2006 09:15 US/Eastern
Position: 30° 01.972' N 69° 00.490' W; 663.9 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The wind has continued shifting, and we've gybed, which is to say that we're now sailing with the wind coming over the port side, instead of the starboard. In fact, at about 8:30 a.m. the wind shifted quite quickly, so the good news is that we now have a good beam wind instead of the awkward stern wind we've been dealing with.


Debbie on watch, and J.

Unfortunately, this has brought some disadvantages. The new waves pushed up by this northwest wind are contesting with the old swell left over from the southwest wind, so we have an awkward sea which is making the ride very rolly indeed. Also, with the wind now being northerly, it's noticeably cooler; the bimini side curtains are back down for shelter. And we're also seeing squalls around.

But the really good news is that we're sailing again! The engine's off at long last, and the boat is once more quiet.


Matt and J.
Wed 20 Dec 2006 10:25 US/Eastern
Position: 29° 53.736' N 68° 55.813' W; 673.3 miles since Oxford, Maryland

A little earlier J had the idea of lowering the centreboard. The boat is built with quite a shallow draught for her size -- just 6 feet -- but has a retractable centreboard, which should improve her sailing performance when the wind is abeam or ahead. Of course, the board is a monster, and so there's a motor to raise and lower it; but the connections to the motor are lost in the maze of wiring that is the boat's electrical system. So, the backup hand-cranking system has to be used; this involves 110 full turns on the bolt at the top of the motor, and there's only room for a quarter turn at a time.


J cranking the centreboard down.

So J valiantly got into the bilge and started cranking. Unfortunately, the board doesn't seem to behave well in rough seas; sure enough, with the board partly down, it could be heard knocking against the sides of its case. So up it came again. Poor J.

The squalls are getting to be a problem. I was tracking one on radar, about a mile off to port, and astern; then another one suddenly appeared a mile to starboard and astern. As they moved towards us, it looked like they might pass to either side; but things got more worrying whtn the port-side one suddenly sprouted 2 or 3 friends.


J reefing the mainsail (see the gritted teeth!).

As they passed over us, the wind blew up all of a sudden, and the boat turned sharply and heeled well over -- a mild knockdown. J handled the situation very calmly, and soon we were back upright and sailing normally with no harm done -- or almost none. As we heeled over, everyone had mustered on deck pretty smartly -- except Debbie. When she fially appeared on deck, it turned out she'd been in the head at the time, and found herself in a very awkward situation!

Anyway, now we're sailing with a reef in the mainsail, in case of any further squalls.


The crew watching the orcas. By Jenny.
Wed 20 Dec 2006 12:53 US/Eastern
Position: 29° 37.757' N 68° 44.842' W; 692.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

We've spent the last few hours barrelling along in rough seas, rolling hard. Several more squalls have passed by, but no more direct hits as yet. All of a sudden whales were spotted alongside the boat -- what seemed to be 4 orcas (killer whales)!


An orca fin. By Matt.

All hands were on deck pretty sharply, but the whales, about 15 to 20 feet long, were hard to spot. They seemed to be swimming south, about parallel with the boat; every so often one would break through the face of a wave, and then the distinctive black and while markings could be seen.

Unfortunately, photos were hard to come by; but Matt did manage to capture a fin on camera.


Jenny snoozing in the cockpit.
Wed 20 Dec 2006 18:05 US/Eastern
Position: 29° 06.264' N 68° 23.867' W; 729.0 miles since Oxford, Maryland

By the time of my 4:30 watch we were about half way to Tortola. It's warm and sunny, but still very rolly in an awkward cross sea. Still, we're making 7.5 knots under sail, which is excellent. Rachel was on dinner duty tonight, and made an excellent lasagne with salad, which I ate (since it was my watch) sitting in the captain's chair overlooking the rest of the crew. Ah, luxury!


Ian and J on the side deck. By Rachel.
Thu 21 Dec 2006 03:05 US/Eastern
Position: 28° 13.210' N 67° 48.172' W; 790.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

It was very rolly during the night, which made sleeping very difficult; a problem I've never had under sail before. In a proper sea-berth it's no problem, but with 2 people in a double bed, it's hard. On the uphill side, I'm clinging to the mattress with my fingernails, trying not to be knocked loose by the big lurches; while on the downhill side, Rachel is permanently cringing against me crashing down on her (which sometimes happens). The flimsy lee board that she's leaning on doesn't help, and creaks ominously when I knock her into it. This isn't terribly conducive to a relaxing sleep. A good sea berth is narrow enough to wedge yourself in (with the aid of pillows) so you don't move even when it's rolly.


Sailing.

By the time of my 1:30 a.m. watch, the rolling had abated somewhat, but there was still plenty of wind, so we were making over 7 knots. The sky had cleared somewhat, and the air was cooler with the wind now in the north-east.


The crew in the cockpit.
Thu 21 Dec 2006 09:34 US/Eastern
Position: 27° 34.406' N 67° 23.690' W; 835.3 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The sea has calmed down a bit now, which is nice, as it's noticeably less rolly; and the air has warmed up again. In fact, the conditions are so nice that all six of us are hanging out in the cockpit.


The offwatch crew avidly studying...
Thu 21 Dec 2006 11:34 US/Eastern
Position: 27° 24.082' N 67° 16.528' W; 847.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

As the wind is lightening we've set the staysail again, although it's still rather gusty, between 15 and 18 knots. The staysail has lifted our speed from 6.4 to around 7 knots, which is nice.

Since it's my watch, I'm keeping a lookout in the cockpit while the offwatch crew watch The Office down below. The British Office, I'm glad to say, which is a surprising cult hit in the US.


The Office.
Thu 21 Dec 2006 12:30 US/Eastern
Position: 27° 18.974' N 67° 13.059' W; 853.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

With the wind still easing we've now unreefed the main, and the boat is now balanced out beautifully with all sail set. It's hot and sunny again up above, but still rolly, though less bad than before.


J and Debbie in the cockpit.
Thu 21 Dec 2006 19:35 US/Eastern
Position: 26° 30.559' N 66° 50.065' W; 906.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

We had a beautiful evening on the boat, with our anticipation of dinner heightened by the mouthwatering smells wafting up from the galley; and at 5 p.m. we sat down to a delicious stir-fry, prepared by Matt.

Now, though, the weather has turned cloudy and windy again, and the boat is still rolling nastily in the persistent cross sea.


Sunrise on the 22nd. By Jenny.
Fri 22 Dec 2006 04:35 US/Eastern
Position: 25° 36.235' N 66° 31.205' W; 963.5 miles since Oxford, Maryland

It's windy and rolly, and getting cold -- altogether a miserable 3 a.m. watch (at least by the standards to which we'd like to become accustomed)! With the gusty wind we're motorsailing to keep the boat moving smoothly.

At some point while I was asleep we passed our farthest point from land, around 365 nautical miles. At 3:00 we were 394 miles from Bermuda, and 350 from the Turk and Caicos islands; with 454 miles to go to Tortola.


Jenny at sunrise. By J.
Fri 22 Dec 2006 11:45 US/Eastern
Position: 24° 48.668' N 66° 15.185' W; 1013.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Trying to get to sleep last night was absolutely insane. The boat was bouncing around and heeling in huge crazy lurches. Rachel was trying to avoid leaning too hard on the lee board, which was still bending like mad, and I was digging my nails into the mattress to try to avoid crashing down on Rachel. Every so often the boat would settle down, and with the aid of pillows and rolled-up blankets I could wedge myself in place; but then another lurch would send me thumping into Rachel. At least the engine was eventually shut off, so it was quiet.

Now I'm up on deck, getting ready for my watch (but really just giving up on sleep). The good news is that the boat is roaring along under sail, albeit still rolling and bouncing on the crazy seas. Hanging out in the cockpit is a lot more relaxing than staying in bed!


A tether hook. By Jenny.
Fri 22 Dec 2006 13:51 US/Eastern
Position: 24° 35.783' N 66° 09.033' W; 1027.5 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The steering system seems to have gone a bit wonky, potentially an awkward problem (though the boat has a backup steering tiller). The wheel is connected to the rudder by a hydraulic linkage, and it may be that there is some air in the system; anyway, the autopilot is having trouble keeping us on course, and the wheel feels rather "jittery". So for now we're hand steering; something of a chore, but not too bad for a 1½-hour shift. It means that the secondary watch person has to stand lookout duty, though, as the primary watch is too busy steering.

Easing the mizzen sail balanced the boat out a little better and seems to have helped, but meantime J and Jenny are having a go at greasing the mechanism on the rudder.

The problem is made worse by the awkward sea state -- there are still two distinct wave trains hitting the boat, so it's still very rolly. At least it's warm and sunny; and we only have about 300 miles to go.


J making the daily status report to the boss.
Fri 22 Dec 2006 16:37 US/Eastern
Position: 24° 15.892' N 66° 02.504' W; 1048.4 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Earlier on I noticed that the booms were moving quite a lot, which is not the best thing for the efficiency of the sails. So (with the capn's permission) I rigged running vangs -- tackles to pull the booms down toward the side deck. Fortunately, having replaced both running backstay tackles in Oxford, we had two complete tackles, with cam cleats, which were easily rigged to the booms. Having said that the main boom was awkward -- getting to it means standing on the cabin top, normally not a big deal, but this boat is so huge that getting to the cabin top, a good three feet above deck level, means going well forwards, stepping up to the lower front section of the cabin, and coming back again.


Debbie cooking. By Matt.

All in all, it was hot work, even with the wind blowing 19 knots and gusty. But the sails are better controlled now.

Now it's overcast and cooler, and becoming quite blustery. The good news is that the steering is holding up OK, though we're still hand-steering (Matt has the duty right now). The even better news is that Debbie is cooking up a storm in the galley, while listening to Duran Duran on her CD player, now attached to her back by a home-bade backpack consisting of a plastic bag, some blue tape, and her headlamp as a strap.


Captain J. By Jenny.
Fri 22 Dec 2006 20:55 US/Eastern
Position: 23° 46.691' N 65° 56.678' W; 1078.2 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Debbie's chili was a huge success, absolutely delicious. The sea conditions, unfortunately, are still bad, and hand-steering for the last hour and a half through the nasty waves, punctuated by frequent squalls, was a little trying.

Fri 22 Dec 2006 23:39 US/Eastern
Position: 23° 26.274' N 65° 51.330' W; 1099.3 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The Tropic of Cancer: we entered the tropics as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer southbound.


Ian and Rachel on watch. By Jenny.
Sat 23 Dec 2006 06:21 US/Eastern
Position: 22° 41.875' N 65° 43.200' W; 1144.5 miles since Oxford, Maryland

My 4:30 watch this morning was a lot easier than the previous one -- mainly because the autohelm is back on! Yay! It seems that J and Jenny's lube job on the steering system did the trick, helped perhaps by better balancing of the sails. There still seems to be some air in the hydraulic system, but it doesn't seem to be causing major problems, just a little jitteryness.

We officially entered the tropics last night, and this morning it certainly feels like it! The weather's fantastic, and the wind is lighter; the only snag being the continued unsettled seas, and consequent rolling. Attempts at sleep last night were once again pretty hopeless.


Jenny at the helm.
Sat 23 Dec 2006 09:26 US/Eastern
Position: 22° 26.720' N 65° 39.547' W; 1160.1 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Yup, it's hot!

A little more wear and tear on the boat today, as the jib halyard just failed -- it parted from the head of the jib, where it apparently reeves through a webbing strap, which looked to have chafed through.

J decided to have a go at climbing the mast to fix it -- quite a trip, up a 60-foot mast in very rolly conditions! He spent some time getting ready, including getting a crash-helmet on, then Jenny, Matt and I hoisted him. It looked like he had quite a bumpy ride up there, specially when he lost his hold and swung out from the mast and back in, but he got up and got to work. Unfortunately, the webbing had indeed failed, so there was no hope of repairing it; but he at least retreived the heavy, steel-wire pendant before it did any major damage to the brand-new paint job.


Matt's highly functional hat.

On the way back from the foredeck we found a large flying fish -- proof that we're really sailing in the tropics!

The bad news is that the engine is now on again, since we can't make enough speed with no jib. And we still have that awkward cross swell. And it's hot! But, luxury of luxuries, I cooled off and cleaned up with a genuine shower this morning -- this boat has so darned much water on board that you can just leave it running and get clean. It's quite an exercise, showering in a very cramped closet on a wildly-rolling boat, but well worth it; much more refreshing than the usual sponge bath.

Our ETA is now sometime tomorrow evening... we'll see!


J the barber. By Jenny.
Sat 23 Dec 2006 15:04 US/Eastern
Position: 21° 50.593' N 65° 30.122' W; 1198.1 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Even hotter!

I had another quiet watch; in fact, I haven't seen any traffic since that cruise ship. Even better, the squalls seem to have gone. So, we're just plugging along with the sails and one engine; although the wind has oddly shifted around to the south-east, not what we're expecting.

J's shaggy locks (for which he's taken some comments!) have gone, courtesy of a slightly bumpy clipper job. Definitely looks more suited to the tropics, if a little uneven (a hazard of hairdressing at sea). Meanwhile, Jenny made some superb cookies, which are going down very well indeed.


Debbie and the sunset.
Sat 23 Dec 2006 22:33 US/Eastern
Position: 20° 58.034' N 65° 13.318' W; 1253.1 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The weather is still great, clear with lots of stars; it's a shame we still have that nasty lumpy swell, which is kicking up lots of spray. The cookies are going down well, though.

We've now covered 1,239 miles on the GPS, and -- all being well -- we should be moored at Tortola by this time tomorrow!


The ship on radar, 4 miles ahead. By Rachel.
Sun 24 Dec 2006 09:00 US/Eastern
Position: 19° 42.073' N 64° 52.398' W; 1332.2 miles since Oxford, Maryland

We had a great sunrise this morning, probably our last one at sea -- in fact, we've got less than 100 miles to go, so it should be no problem.

At 6:30 a.m. we had to dodge another freighter on a collision course -- our second of the trip, and both on my watch! So once again I benefitted from Rachel's help. It was the same drill as before -- turn way off to starboard while it was still miles ahead of us. The ship seemed to be pretty much crossing our course, so we guessed it was heading from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to Europe.


J's off watch, but always on call. By Rachel.

Now we've just turned the engine off, since the wind is up; and we're making 7 knots under sail, on a fine, hot morning. It's great to have the motor off again; lovely and peaceful. Oddly, despite the fact that we're getting close to land, we're passing over the deepest point on the trip: the water here is 25,000 feet (4¾ miles, or 7,620 metres) deep here. Strange to think that we're cruising so far above the solid ground below, and there's absolutely nothing to show for it here.

Sun 24 Dec 2006 13:55 US/Eastern
Position: 19° 14.949' N 64° 49.201' W; 1359.7 miles since Oxford, Maryland

The wind's lightening, so the motor's back on -- boo.


Is that land? By Jenny.
Sun 24 Dec 2006 19:30 US/Eastern
Position: 18° 35.174' N 64° 46.905' W; 1399.6 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Excitement reigned at 4:17 p.m. as Matt claimed the prize for the first sighting of land and for having correctly guessed that the sighting would happen on my watch. (I'd guessed Debbie's watch.) Most of us couldn't see it, though; the southern horizon just looked hazy to me. So some of us were regarding this as an unconfirmed sighting.


J's lassoo attempt.

Just as we were staring forward, straining for a sight, I noticed that the spotlight had come loose from the port spreader, and was swinging around at the end of its wire. This meant another trip up the mast for poor old J, once again helmetted and hoisted up by Jenny and me. Well, first, he had a go at lassoing it, to see if he could stabilise it that way; but that was a pretty far-fetched plan, although he gave it a good try. So up he went, and after some careful work -- making sure to fasten the light to himself rather than drop it -- he came down with the lamp safely in tow. And he was able to confirm the sighting of land -- so Matt won after all.

That Jenny was able to help with this was pretty amazing considering the meal she was working up -- basically a full Christmas diner with tofurkey and all the trimmings, including stuffing. It was absolutely fantastic, though I wasn't really able to do it justice.

After dinner I decided to grab a couple of hours sleep, in preparation for the anticipated mooring...

Tortola!

The sunset.
Sun 24 Dec 2006 21:45 US/Eastern
Position: 18° 23.057' N 64° 42.356' W -- Sopers Hole, Tortola; 1415.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

We're here! We've successfully tied up at the owner's private mooring (fortunately vacant), after a careful entrance through the islands around Sopers Hole. J posted lookouts all around the boat, just in case -- it was pitch dark by this time, and of course there's a lot of vessel traffic between the islands.


Sopers hole.

We had a surprise when Jenny picked up the pendant from the mooring buoy. The first the rest of us knew was an exclamation from the bow -- "What the..." -- followed by laughter. It turns out that Remar, a friend of the owner (and of J and Jenny), had attached a bottle of fine champagne to the pendant as a welcoming gift -- very nice!

So we're here, having run 1,396 nautical miles by the GPS, at an average of 7.3 knots.


Pelicans by the boat in Sopers Hole.
Mon 25 Dec 2006 21:00 US/Eastern
Position: 18° 23.055' N 64° 42.356' W -- Sopers Hole, Tortola; 1415.8 miles since Oxford, Maryland

Merry Christmas!

We had a fantastic awakening on Christmas Morning -- on going out, we found pelicans diving all around the boat, hunting the huge school of fish that had taken up residence under the hull. It wasn't long before I was in the water, checking out the fish; some huge tarpon, as well as a host of smaller fish.


Pelican on the bow.

The pelicans, unfortunately, had to be chased off the boat, as they have a habit of making a terrible mess of anything they perch on; so we rigged up some fluttery plastic bags as bird-scarers, which did the trick pretty well.

Tortola is beautiful. the islands rise steeply out of the water, in contrast to much of the Caribbean, and are covered in green; a contrast to the nearby US Virgin Islands, which seem to be very heavily developed. Sopers Hole is a great little harbour -- just a little too popular -- whose main attractions are the Jolly Roger and Pusser's, two restaurants that serve great food and great (mainly rum-based) cocktails.


Looking west from Sopers Hole.

Our Christmas Day was mostly taken up with work, though. First and foremost was cleaning the boat -- getting all the salt off before the marine-grade stainless steel started rusting (which doesn't take long in the tropics). Even my swim was partly work, as I gave the bottom a good check over (unsurprisingly, given the speed we'd been keeping up, it was clean as a whistle) and checking the starboard propeller and shaft for any odd rattles -- no sigh of problems, though.


The crew eating at the Jolly Roger.

It wasn't all work, though, as we got over to the Jolly Roger for lunch, and were entertained by Matt's endless pirate stories -- including the one of how Blackbeard sank a persuing ship right here in Soper's Hole, firing the fatal shot from a cannon secreted at the very spot where we were sitting.

For the evening, we were invited up to Remar's house (a beautiful place, hanging over the cliff, with fantastic views and the sound of the surf directly below) for mimosas, then back to the Jolly Roger for Christmas Dinner -- I had the wild boar, which was fantastic. Back on the boat, the evening wasn't over, with a round of presents under the Christmas stocking.



Trellis Bay, by the Beef Island airport.

Epilogue

Happy New Year! I'm back in California at last, having enjoyed a fantastic, but all too short, vacation in Tortola. We managed to get some fun in, swimming and snorkelling around the islands, as well as helping J and Jenny preparing the boat for the owner's arrival.

Our journey back was somewhat epic; we flew out of the tiny airport on Tortola on the 30th, thinking that we would be home the same day, well in time to organise our new years' celebrations. However, missed connections, airline incompetence, and general New Years' Eve travel chaos meant that I got back to the bay area just a little late, and celebrated the new year on the way back from San Francisco airport, on the local train in Oakland!


The boat in Soper's Hole.

Still, I managed to hook up with some friends here for a belated celebration. So that was our trip, my first ever yacht delivery... but if J and Jenny need crew next time, I'm sure I'll be available!