Written December 6, 1992
It was a dark and stormy night... Wait a minute! More about that
later. Let me bring you up to date regarding all that happened since we left
Annapolis, October 25, 1992.
Bob and I left Mears Marina on Sunday morning with a NW wind
which blew us down the Chesapeake Bay to Solomons Island, MD in record time. We
then took a leisurely few days sailing to the St. Mary's River off the Potomac,
Reedville, VA, Fishing Bay and finally to Norfolk, VA. We arrived at the
entrance on Oct. 30th at twilight, entering with a submarine and 2
large cargo ships. After some excitement and long motor, we finally arrive at
Waterside Marina. This is a beautiful marina situated right in a shopping area.
It is a Rouse-designed area similar to Baltimore's Harborplace. We spent 2 night
there where we rendezvoused with friends from Annapolis who where going south to
Monday morning, November 1st, we left with our
friends to start our trip down the inter-coastal waterway (ICW) to Beaufort, NC.
When travelling the ICW, you motor all day and tie up in a marina or anchor
somewhere for the night. This was a somewhat interesting, somewhat exciting,
somewhat boring trip. It was interesting to see all the little towns and
shipping traffic on the waterway. The bridges, which are numerous, make the trip
exciting, as you and several other boats try to remain stationary in a 20-knot
wind, while waiting for the bridge to open. The canals, I would say, were
probably the more boring part of the ICW experience.
We made it to Beaufort on November 5th. This is the
major jumping off place for the passage to the Virgin Islands. Now we just wait
for good weather. And we waited and waited. Finally a front came through that
had winds of 15-20 knots out of the NE with predictions of them lessening and
switching to the South and SW. While in Beaufort, we linked up with several
other boats that were going south. PUFF, with our good friends Dave and Nancy
from Annapolis, SEA WOLF, with Wolf and Sharon and SIMPLEX, with Fred and Pam.
SEA WOLF left a day ahead of us to sail to Puerto Rico, PUFF left to sail to
Charleston and then the waterway to Florida and the Bahamas. SIMPLEX and LONG
PASSAGES left on Monday, November 10th, to sail to the Virgin
Islands. We established a radio schedule with all the boats in the morning and
evening and I really enjoyed our "check-ins" with everyone.
We motored out of Beaufort Inlet and put up the mainsail with
2 reefs in, a reefed mizzen sail and a staysail. Little did we know that this
was an indication of how the whole trip was going to be for us. After sailing
for about 5 hours with SIMPLEX, they developed engine trouble and turned back to
go to Charleston for repairs. We were left alone with SEA WOLF a day ahead of
The Gulf Stream was very close to Beaufort and we encountered
it approximately 8 hours out. There were somewhat confused seas and we spent an
uncomfortable night, but we made it across the worst in about 4-5 hours. After
the stream crossing, we spent a frustrating day being set South of our rhumb
line. We then tacked over and spent the night sailing back North of the rhumb
line. We made very little progress east, which is where we wanted to go. In
order to sail to the Virgin Islands, the recommendation is to get as far East as
you can while also going South to a point about 25 degrees N latitude and 65
degrees W to 64 degrees W longitude, depending on your destination. At that
point, the easterly tradewinds are supposed to start and you are then able to
sail South to the Virgin Islands while on a nice reach. If you don't get far
enough east, you are faced with prospect of beating you way to the VI or only be
able to go to Puerto Rico, or even the Bahamas. Oh well, so much for the
"ideal" situation. Our winds continued out of the NE and east, so it
was very difficult for us to sail east.
One of the first things we did, upon leaving Beaufort, was to
set up our Monitor windvane self-steering device. This device steered the boat
for us. We named our windvane "Betsy" after a friend of ours. Betsy
was the best crewmember on the boat and worked tirelessly under less than ideal
conditions. With just a couple of exceptions, she steered the boat for the
entire passage and didn't eat or drink anything. The windvane is entirely
mechanical and requires no electricity. We also have an electric autopilot,
which we name "Alan" (also after a friend, Betsy's husband) and he was
a great help during all the motoring down the ICW.
The next 2 days in the trip were spent feeling the effect of
another approaching cold front and then having the front sloooowwwwllly pass
over us. During the worst of the squalls, the high water alarm in the bilge went
off. Bob and I spent the next 30-40 minutes letting Betsy do her best to steer
us in 30-35 knot winds, while we pumped out the bilge and tried to determine
what happened to fill it up. Well, it seems that we had some leaks and that the
small automatic bilge pump was broken. The large pump is turned on manually and,
fortunately, worked just fine to pump out most of the water. After that little
episode, we just waited for the alarm to go off and then turned on the large
pump. As best we could find, all 17 chainplates started to leak and maybe some
stanchions as well. Since, so far on this trip, we were going to windward, the
decks were frequently awash and the rail in the water a lot.
When not contending with leaks and bad weather, we had time to
entertained by several large schools of dolphins which would swim alongside and
in front of the boat and, at times, leap straight out of the water and come
splashing down. They looked as though they were having great fun. One night,
during a meteor shower, I saw a shooting star with a brillant tail that looked
as though it landed right in the water. The stars at sea are so bright and there
are so many more visible than on land.
Well, the cold front that passed over us turned out to be
front from hell. We were looking forward to the north winds to assist us in
going east, but we got NE winds 20-25 knots and then the front stalled in front
of us. We were facing the prospect of sailing through it again and then have it
move back over us. Then, another little interesting development occurred. A
trough (low pressure) formed along the front and seemed to be moving slowly NE -
right toward us.
We were getting really good weather info from Herb, a fellow
in Bermuda, who broadcasts weather info every evening to all boaters in the
Atlantic and we also tuned into NMN weather from Portsmouth, VA. So we decided
to head South - SW to try to avoid the trough. Well, that brings us to the dark
and stormy night. We ran smack dab into the worst lightning storm I've ever seen
and hope never to see again. It was around midnight and the sky was black as
pitch. There was continuous strobe lightning for about 30 minutes. Bolts were
striking the water all around the boat and the winds were gusting to 30-35 and
maybe 40 knots. The seas were up to 6-10 ft. and, due to all the unsettled
weather, a large NE swell had developed. It rained so hard that cockpit filled
with water. Bob had the engine on and was trying to steer the boat into the
wind. I had my sea boot off trying to bail out the cockpit. That's when it
happened. The main mast was struck by lightning. Sparks flew everywhere and I
felt a small jolt of electricity from a steel deckplate on the cockpit floor.
Fortunately, Long Passages has a wooden wheel, so Bob felt nothing.
When this happened we were approximately 21 degree N latitude
and 66 degrees W longitude - approximately 3 1/2 days from St. Thomas, VI. We
were up all night recovering from the storm and finally, at dawn we were able to
steer toward a clearing area in the sky. We hove-to and tried to rest and
discover how much damage had been done by the strike. The bonding system on the
boat worked well and no thru-hull fittings were blown out. The VHF antenna was
vaporized along with the wind speed paddle on the mast. Additionally, we lost
the knotmeter instrument, depth finder, HAM radio tuner, shoreside battery
charger and stereo. We still had our GPS and SATNAV units working, though, and
the RADAR survived. We could transmit on the HAM radio, but could not tune the
antenna, so we couldn't transmit very far.
We only rested about 2 hours before getting the boat moving
again, trying to avoid any black squally clouds. We had a somewhat easy sail,
but I was still jittery after the storm. That night and the next 2 days we were
still feeling the effects of the front. Winds were between 15 and 25+ knots,
mostly NE and east, and seas were 6-15 ft. There was still the NE swell to deal
with. When Long Passages reached the crest of one of those swells, it looked as
if were sitting on top of a 5-story building, looking down. Some of those waves
were about 18 ft. high (not breaking, though). With such big seas, we were off
the wind and the good news being that we were on course heading SE. The bad news
was that we could not let Betsy steer because she could not react quickly enough
when the waves kicked the stern around. Bob and I were now taking 1 - 1 1/2 hour
tedious shifts at the wheel, with the other person trying to sleep in the
cockpit. We were facing about 30 hours of this, but fortunately, after about 8
hours, the seas moderated to the point so that Betsy could steer, but she
required constant vigilance.
We just could not get away from the front and the wind and
seas generated by it. Wet, wet, wet conditions with the swell sometime slapping
the side of the hull and coming on board. When we were about 10 hours from St.
Thomas, we put us as much sail as we felt we could safely carry, hardened up on
the wind and, rail in the water, clawed our way east enough to get safely
through Virgin Passage where we would enter the Caribbean Sea.
But, the seas and front were not yet done with us. It has one
more little surprise in store for us. The depths offshore were about 1000
fathoms, but once we got closer to St Thomas, the sea floor came up
dramatically. This caused the already large seas to become steep and closer
together. As we were approaching Virgin Passage, we were hit broadside by a
breaking wave and knocked over about 50 degrees. The boom touched the water and
my reef-runner shoes went scooting up the gunwales of the boat. But, remarkably,
other than to shake up the remaining strands of our nerves, nothing was lost or
damaged. We were under sail and I was at the helm. I saw the wave, as did Bob,
but could not take any action, as it all happened so fast. We finally got
through the passage, into the lee of the island and away from those horrible
We motored in Charlotte Amalie Harbor and dropped our anchor
at about 2230 hours and collapsed. I think we'd had about 5 hours sleep over the
last 3 days. We arrived on Nov. 22nd after leaving Beaufort Nov. 10.
Since our arrival, we've done nothing but dry out everything on the board and
seal chainplates and stanchions. We did go into a marina in order to have access
to fresh water and electricity. During our stay in the marina, we talked to
several other boats that were sailing during that time and learned that they
also experienced the same rough conditions and some even worse conditions than
we did. One boat (a 50 ft. Hinckley) has a 20 ft. wall of water sweep across
their stern that injured the helmsman and carried away their liferaft,
inflatable dingy, kayak, some stanchions and cockpit dodger.
Ten days later, the boat and my nerves are finally back to
normal. We are planning to enjoy the beautiful weather (80-90) and crystal blue
waters of the Virgin Islands. Once we get new instruments installed, we plan to
sail to St. Johns and the British Virgin Islands and then head "down
island" to Grenada.
St. Thomas is a pretty island, but the downtown area is like a
small NYC. It is crowded and dirty, with hucksters everywhere. . The people are
somewhat friendly. The island is somewhat chaotic, with little strip malls
thrown everywhere, roads in disrepair, and houses stuck just anywhere. There is
a lot of construction going on, though, and the economy seems to be improving.
In contrast, the yachts in area are incredible. 60, 80, 100 and 140 ft. sailing
yachts dwarf our little boat. They are unbelievably beautiful and talk about
Well, time to fix a rum and tonic (gin and tonic for Bob) and
watch the sunset. Please write as we find that receiving mail from our friends
is very exciting and we look forward to hearing from everyone.
Judi and Bob