Well, not exactly… What is that terrible smell? Maybe it’s me, I haven’t really showered in a few days. Nah, I don’t smell THAT bad. What IS that smell? Maybe it’s that fishing boat we passed four miles ago, can smell travel that far? Nah, man I must be so tired I’m losing it. Then I hear it, “flap plop flap plop”. What the….? I grab the flashlight to investigate and right next to my seat in the cockpit is a flying fish that flew up onto the deck and was flapping around like crazy trying to get back in the water. And the little fella did! I sat back at the helm and tried to regroup from that bizarre experience and I hear that noise AGAIN! “flap plop flap plop,” this time from the other side of the boat. I leap up to investigate again and I’ll be darned! Another fish was flopping around on our deck. But this time, not for lack of trying, he couldn’t propel himself back into the sea. I run down to the galley and grab a spatula and then proceed to try and help flip him back overboard. There I am standing in the dark, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, holding a kitchen spatula, flipping flying fish off the deck and I started to laugh, “Wow, how in the world did I get here?” Logan and I both ended up flipping fish back into the ocean all night that night – probably at least a dozen made their way aboard from all directions. We added one more lesson to our bag, flying fish smell terrible.
During our 4.5 days out at sea, we learned more than we ever thought possible. It was a serious challenge, but nothing could beat the sense of accomplishment and pride when we arrived here at Charleston Harbor. The best news is that we had an absolute blast, to be honest we are still trying to process the whole thing.
Lesson 1: Sleep More – This biggest surprise to both of us was how incredibly taxing the trip was on our bodies physically. The sailing was the typical “90% boring and 10% way too exciting,” so nothing all that tough came up. But by the end of the trip, we were both completely out of juice. We slept in three hour shifts the first two nights. I slept from 9-12, Logan from 12-3, me again from 3-6, and Logan from 6-9. And that seemed to work OK and if we had added a nap each during the day, it may have worked for the whole trip. But the third and fourth night we were battling weather and the elements, so we both stayed up all night and then tried to make up sleep when we could during the day… we didn’t get enough. The lesson is simple: sleep whenever you can. Force yourself to go lay down for hours at a time. Sailing 24 hours a day wears you out, mentally and physically, so give your body as much rest as you can or else you may start to lose it. Night 4 we crossed the Gulf Stream and both of our bodies were fighting us the whole time. And after one night’s good rest here in Charleston, we realized that we put our mainsail cover on without the sail ties! We thought that was second nature by now….woops. So, sleep.
Lesson 2: Reefing Masters – We have slowly been learning how to best utilize our reefing system (reducing our sail area) for different weather conditions. This trip got us close to master status. We always threw in a reef in both sails before the sun set, and often shook them both out as soon as the sun rose. We got better at realizing we could reduce our heel without having to sacrifice hardly any boat speed by easing the main out a bit and pulling in a bit of jib. And before the ominous Gulf Stream when the winds started to blow like hell, we double reefed the main and brought the jib down to about 50% which most likely helped us survive the night in our zombie like state. “Reef early, reef often.” We knew the saying, but now we UNDERSTAND it. They are no big deal to put in or take out and they can make all the difference in comfort and safety.
Lesson 3: Respect the Gulf Stream – Yeah, we knew this one too, but we got a powerful reminder on this trip. With as long as it took us to wait for a weather window to cross from Marathon back in May, it was a bit of a shock that the weather looked great for crossing exactly when we wanted to. Winds were predicted to be ~10kts out of the ENE. A little north component there, but the winds were light, so we thought we would just hop in the stream and ride it up to South Carolina. Well…..not the case. The winds started howling – blowing 18kts the ENTIRE time, gusting up to 23kts. AND then backed around to be mostly out of the north. So we bashed into winds and waves for 6 hours…in the dark…with no sleep. Water was crashing into Stella from all directions – the northerly component created a washing machine of confused seas. Sure we were cruising at a steady 9kts, but it was uncomfortable and pretty frightening. When I finally saw the first 12kt reading on our wind instruments at about 2am, the relief I felt was indescribable. So from here on out, regardless of what the weather is predicted to be, we will always respect the stream and prepare for less than favorable conditions.
Lesson 4: The Theory of Compound Failures – A wise captain Mike that we met in Georgetown introduced us to this theory. He said that any one failure/problem could be handled fairly easily, the real trouble comes when that failure triggers something else to fail and so on down the ladder until chaos overwhelms! OK, not always that dramatic, but he is right. If something goes wrong and you have time to focus and resolve it, no big deal. When you try to juggle everything, bad decisions get made and it’s just tough. We learned this one again on Friday night. The winds were light and variable, so we were motor sailing along. Logan had a line out in the water trolling for a fish. I was down in the galley making a big dinner that we could eat for the next day or two. All of a sudden out of NOwhere, the winds backed and picked up. Then we hear,”zzzeeeeeeeee.” There was a HUGE fish on the line. Logan grabbed the rod and I leapt to the helm to head up and slow the boat down. Then the seas turned. The winds were putting waves right on our nose, so we were smashing into them and the swells were still rolling in from the E/SE, so they were confused seas on top of that. Luckily the fish got off, I had turned off the propane down below before I came up, and we were able to just focus on the boat and getting her better managed for these new conditions. Any one of those things wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but of course they all happened at once. The lesson is to keep everything exactly how it should be, it’s OK to be a little OCD about it. The less you have to figure out and work through when the unexpected comes up, the less risk there is for compound failures.
Lesson 5: Keep in Contact with your Buddies – When we decided to up anchor and get out of dodge, we told our friends Craig and Vicki on Wings what we were doing. Just so happens they were discussing similar plans the night before. Just as hastily as we made our decision to head north, they did too. We were sailing within a mile or two of each other for two days keeping in frequent radio contact. Once the chaotic events of lesson 4 took over, we ended up on a more northerly track than Wings and before we knew it darkness set in and we were out of VHF range. Sunday morning comes along and we are being hailed by the Charleston South Carolina Sector of the United States Coast Guard as we make our approach. Craig had alerted the coast guard that we had lost radio contact and thought we may have lost our electronics. There was plenty of lightning around that night. When traveling with other boats make sure that everyone is aware of each others intentions. Also, the folks at the USCG are pretty damn cool. Thanks to everyone for keeping a look out for us.
Lesson 6: Night Sailing – I love it. I wish we could sail everywhere at night. The stars out there in the middle of the Atlantic are unmatched. When you can’t see anything, your other senses perk up. The sound of the water, the feel of the warm sea breeze….or even the smell of a freaking flying fish as it hits the deck.
The trip felt like a culmination of everything over the past six months. We finally can honestly say that we feel like we know what we are doing out there. We are beginning to trust our own judgement and have confidence in our abilities. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a zillion things to learn and to improve on, we are just starting to hit our stride out here.
We are docked here at the Charleston City Marina for the month. It’s refreshing to be around some of life’s luxuries (A/C, hot showers, plenty of power, easily accessible free unlimited water, cable tv, convenience stores, fresh produce, etc, etc) for a bit. And the town has a seriously good vibe to it. Now it’s time to figure out why it is that this town beckoned.
The last of our Bahamas Photos….