First Offshore Passage After our Post-Hurricane Re-Fit
Valiant 40’s are offshore boats, and we have sailed CHANTICLEER offshore a fair bit in the last six years. But we hadn’t ventured far from the coast after our major re-fit until now. We needed a shakedown – “shake it and break it” under somewhat controlled conditions. And it was too COLD to imagine 24/7 watch-standing, with no breaks. But here we were in Morehead City, NC, with Christmas muzak in every shop, and nearly 1,000 miles behind us in the first month. It was time to point her for the Caribbean and go!
We left with a propitious forecast. (Translation: no imminent gales despite it being December.) We thrashed our way out of the Morehead City inlet in steep seas, due to wind against the tide. The boat plunged, the spray flew, and the portholes leaked. Yikes: we hadn’t seen seas like that before this fall, so our “shakedown” was continuing. Jeff got the Allen wrenches and honked down on the porthole gaskets.
Our first 30 hours, crossing the Gulf Stream, went pretty well. It was a bit boisterous, but we had a fair breeze and the boat went fast with just headsails. It was meant to fill in from the South in a few days, however, so we headed south while we could. A few days later the breeze came in fresh from the south, as promised. 25-30 knots forward of the beam is not too comfortable, reminding us that “Gentlemen (and ladies) don’t sail to windward.” Nothing to do but hang on and drive her to weather. We had several days of wet and wild, until the front caught up to us and the wind just fizzled.
We had hoped for a bit of a respite, and were imagining just motoring south in the calm. Our Westerbeke engine had other ideas. As soon as we started, it overheated. Jeff replaced the salt water pump impeller, but still couldn’t get it to suck. So we hove-to in what little breeze there was, and settled in for long-overdue naps. It is always easier to think mechanically on a bit of sleep!
After some finagling the next day, the engine started. Eureka: it is always nice when the engine works. The Trades were light this year, and well south, so we motored for a few days. Christmas at sea meant a lovely sunrise and fresh gingerbread a la Molly. But no mountains of wrapping paper to deal with – just the occasional flying fish. Two days later Tortola and Virgin Gorda appeared out of the horizon ahead at first light. And that day, Thursday afternoon, we picked up a mooring in Francis Bay, a beautiful corner of St John, US Virgin Islands. It was a 12-day passage – pretty slow, actually, due to head-winds and no winds.
We’ve been in the Virgins for 8 days now, and feel as though our long trip is finally beginning. We are not cold. We are not rushed. We work on the boat (that’s a daily occurrence), swim, take walks, drink, and enjoy first light in these lovely mountainous islands, jewels of the northern Caribbean. The cocks crow continuously, so CHANTICLEER is right at home. The US Virgin Islands were Danish for centuries, so we fly our Danish yacht ensign as a courtesy flag, and are occasionally hailed in Danish.
Two days ago we rendezvoused with Charlie Doane and Clare O’Brien and their girls Una and Lucy on LUNACY. Molly gave Lucy a knitting lesson, and Clare opened a hair salon in our cockpit to trim Molly’s hair. Great to see old friends and to transform Great Harbor, Peter Island, into “Portsmouth South.” We are hoping to head down island in a few days …..