On the second night of our voyage to The Bahamas, after slugging it out with considerable rough seas and busy container ship traffic, electrical problems caused us to turn around and head back to Ft Lauderdale. We were very appreciative to have had an extra set of hands on board to help us through the ordeal. However, we weren’t going to make The Bahamas for Eric’s flight, so he returned to Dallas that same day from Ft Lauderdale. Thanks again to Eric for his help on a very rough passage.
JoDon and I decided to spend several days in Ft. Lauderdale to rest and recuperate. Alas, the weather had other plans so at 5pm after only one night at the dock, we hurriedly left Ft. Lauderdale to take advantage of the winds. As it turned out, we had a beautiful sail for the first 24 hours; calm seas and good winds. It was a glorious moon lit night; our first to be in open waters alone.
We anchored between two islands to catch some rest before the next 24 hours of sailing to reach Marsh Harbor, Bahamas. During the night strong winds returned and we were tossed around, but fortunately we had a good anchorage. The winds were again very strong, 20-30 knot winds, with no let up predicted for another week. Since there was no hope for better weather, we decided to pick up anchor in the afternoon for a night passage. Leaving the island was more challenging than expected, the breaking waves challenged all 110 hp of our diesel engine to make it out of safe harbor, but we made it. Once out it was rough motor-sailing until we reached Marsh Harbor 26 hours later.
From Ft Lauderdale to Marsh Harbor, JoDon and I continued with our schedule of 3 hours on/3 hours off of night watch. Amazingly the time passes quickly during the night; checking the course, checking radar for other ships, sail trimming, eating snacks, and taking small catnaps. We have a timer that we set for every 15 minutes so that if we fall asleep we can awake to check the radar and look ahead for other ship traffic.
When approaching Marsh Harbor, Abacos, our auto pilot (we named him “Otto”) went down, but no big deal to steer the final two hours. We knew how to make the repairs since it had gone out before. However the next day, while still at anchor, our entire steering mechanism collapsed. Thank God that the screws holding the helm fell off while at anchor! It would have been a horror story to try to repair the steering while in rough open seas or when approaching a dock! Al Hum d'Illah (praise God)!
March - June 2007
We purchased our sail boat, El Regalo, December 28, 2006 while living in Amman, Jordan. We moved on board the last week of March and began the process of getting to know and understand Madam El Regalo. Although El Regalo was immaculately clean, for three weeks we worked from 7 am to 8 pm cleaning and doing maintenance chores. Looking back, there were many things we could have done in recent years to better prepare us for sailboat ownership. I have not-so-jokingly said, “I wish I would have had two years of Yoga to better prepare my body for the twists and turns to do repair work on a sailboat. Crawling through the engine room and compartments with my 6’ 3” body frame is no easy task!
Finally, on April 26th, we went to sea with the assistance of our Dallas sailing instructor, Matt Meadows. Without his guidance we would probably still be at the Brunswick, Georgia Marina. When we got out to the open ocean we had 20-25 knot head winds and rough seas, pounding into about 6’ foot waves. JoDon and I both experienced seasickness, but we got over it within 12 hours. JoDon and I were alternatively on watch for 72 hours with Matt providing assistance when needed. Our shifts were 3 hours so we had to sleep fast while not on duty. The first night I was sleeping well in the aft cabin. We had the engine running continuously since we were attempting to sail almost directly into the wind. I awoke to the noise of our engine sputtering and finally dying. Nothing like being awaken to a crisis at 3 am, seasick and dead tired! Matt identified we had a fuel problem, we switched tanks and Mr. Motor continued on its way. There is A LOT more to this story, but again, a learning experience, although scary while out 40 miles from shore.
I have often said, the best cure for seasickness is to catch a fish, so by mid day of Day 2, I put out a hand line and within one hour I caught my first (of many) dolphins (mahi-mahi). Despite unpleasant sailing conditions it was a great learning experience but we were grateful to arrive Key West Monday evening, April 30th. It was a long and arduous trip, but there will be plenty more of that in our future. Our thanks to Matt that we now have the confidence to face it on our own.
While in Key West we fixed, or had contractors do some needed repairs for El Regalo. As expected, during a first “shake-down” cruise, things happen and we were blessed to be in Key West with facilities and competent repair people.
Key West is an interesting community that overflows when the cruise ships arrive (everyday). Key West is a mixture of sailing bums, cruise ship tourists, wealthy yachters and a very large Cuban community (it is only 90 miles to Havana).
While in Key West we finally took some time off with our good friend Carlos. Although the winds were still strong we managed to snorkel, catch fish and relax for a few days. As soon as Carlos left, my brother Eric flew in. He had volunteered to make the passage to the Bahamas with us to meet Nathan, Vanessa, Ashley and Ryan (my son and daughter with their significants). Again, the weather was not favorable but we set sail trying to make the arrival schedule.
Family arrived to The Bahamas; we had a good time despite the high wind conditions. We spent most of our time on land since it was very rough at sea. Riding bicycles and hanging out at beach bars is not a bad lifestyle.
On the morning of May 30th we left Marsh Harbor because our boat insurance policy excluded us from being in a hurricane zone by June 1st. We sailed due north toward Beaufort, North Carolina and made it out of the “hurricane danger zone” @00:15, June 1st (15 minutes after our insurance had expired). We considered sailing on to the Chesapeake Bay but Tropical Storm Berry unexpectedly developed. 20 foot waves were projected so we motor sailed the final 12 hours to make it to port ahead of the storm.
We arrived to Beaufort the afternoon of June 2, none too soon. The winds were already picking up and by 2 am we were being pounded into the marina by 40 knot winds. We were totally helpless; there was nothing we could do to keep El Regalo off the docks. We had put out all of our fenders (cushions) to keep El Regalo away from the docks but the winds were so strong that the boat heeled over to one side and made our fenders drop below dock level. El Regalo weighs 45,000 pounds when cruising so it’s impossible for us to physically push her around. At 3 am we could no longer stand the feeling of helplessness and worry so we got up and started drinking whiskey and watching movies to take our mind off what was going on outside. At daybreak, to our surprise, despite terrible noises all night long, there was not a single scratch on Madam El Regalo. Once again, Al Hum d'Illah!
After 4 days of waiting for good winds and re-provisioning in Beaufort, we left on the afternoon of June 7th bound for Chesapeake Bay. The first part of our journey was rounding Cape Hatteras, the graveyard of many ships. Due to better than expected winds and the strength of the Gulf Stream, we rounded Cape Hatteras a few hours ahead of schedule which translates to “in the dark”. Thanks to GPS and very well lit markers, we made it around The Cape and the stretch up to the Chesapeake Bay entrance was trouble free. On June 9th we dropped anchor in Chisholm Creek, Virginia 30 nm inside the Bay entrance. We had put in just over 2,000nm and hosted seven guests since we first set out from Brunswick GA. Whew, we're going to relax for a while!
Journal 1; The First Passage