As we talked to various cruisers about our plans for heading north, everyone assured us that it would take much less time than the trip south. The weather would be better, and with the additional daylight we could make more progress each day. Well, they were absolutely right. Going north is MUCH faster.
Granted, we’ve done a few passages in order to get some miles under the keel, but there’s no question that this has been a quicker trip for us. There have been very few weather delays, and the warmer temperatures leave us less fatigued so we can put in longer days.
Readers of this blog know that typically we move along very slowly. We like to take our time and poke along. So why the big hurry? Well, we would like to spend some time this summer cruising in southern New England again. But before we can do that, we have a few projects that we want to do on Pegu Club, we have some medical appointments to take care of in Connecticut, and we want to visit family in Rochester and the west coast. We also want to leave to start heading south much earlier this time – ideally by mid-August. Between all of those things, if we want to have ANY time to cruise our home waters we need to put the pedal to the metal and get north. If we went at our usual slow pace, we’d have to turn around and leave as soon as we arrive!
Honestly though, this pace is working out just fine for us. We wouldn’t want to do it both ways, but we do think that we’ll stick with this strategy in the future – take our time going south while moving quickly north.
After leaving Belhaven, NC we picked up the pace again, anchoring for the night on the Alligator River before heading north up the Virginia Cut and anchoring in the North River. After killing hundreds of bugs that had made themselves comfortable on the deck of the boat overnight (a distinct disadvantage of traveling this route in the spring vs. the fall), we had a sporty ride up the Currituck Sound and managed to snag a spot at the North Landing free dock just before the Great Bridge Lock.
The next day we were off to Hampton, VA where we had another snotty trip across Hampton Roads. I don’t know what it is about this body of water. Last fall when we crossed from Hampton to Norfolk it was blowing over 20 knots with rough seas. The only thing that made it tolerable was that we were sailing mostly downwind. This time there was no such luck.
Although the forecast was for 10 knots of wind and there had been virtually no wind all day, once we passed the shipyards the wind steadily increased so that by the time we hit the river it was over twenty knots, this time on the nose. Pounding our way across, we agreed that this section completely sucked as we listened to the Coast Guard on the VHF handling a few calls from mariners in distress. Looks like we weren’t the only ones caught off-guard by the inaccurate forecast.
We counted down the minutes until we finally arrived at the approach to Hampton Creek where we ducked in and tied up in a slip at the Hampton Public Piers docks. In October we had anchored right across from here, but the holding had left a bit to be desired so this time we decided to splurge on a slip for a few days.
The weather turned a few nights into four, but it was worth it. The Public Piers are in a great location – right downtown – and extremely well protected from the wind. We took advantage of the laundry and daily unlimited hot water showers, along with an extensive herb garden that cruisers are welcome to use. We enjoyed a great visit with my Aunt Rebecca who drove up from Charlottesville, we went to the Virginia Air and Space Center right next door to the marina, and we used the free marina bikes to buy a few provisions at Food Lion in anticipation of our next passage. By the time we left we agreed that we would stop here again when we return in the fall.
One of the things keeping us in Hampton was that we were hoping to get a weather window that would allow us to go non-stop to Groton, CT, a distance of around 375 nm. When it became clear that a good four day stretch wasn’t happening any time soon, we decided to do the next best thing and go from Hampton outside to Cape May, NJ. While we could have gone up the Chesapeake and down the Delaware Bay, the timing for the current on the Delaware was not going to be in our favor for several days so we decided to make tracks on the outside.
Hampton to Cape May is 155 nm so when we saw a forecast that gave us 10-12 knot winds from the southeast, we took off at dawn. It appeared that we would need to motor for a few hours but we would be able to sail for most of the trip. Alas, it was not to be. What we got instead was four final hours of sailing before having to motor the entire rest of the way to Groton.
The passage was uneventful as night fell. We were sailing, Bob the Windvane was doing a great job, and I had volunteered to take the first four hour shift so Jeff went down below to get some sleep. About half an hour into my shift I looked over and saw some pretty threatening storm clouds building along with lightning, but I thought it was far enough away that we would miss it so I continued to sail along (as you will read, my depth perception isn’t particularly good). Ten minutes later a commercial fishing trawler passed us about a mile away. Five minutes later the VHF went off with a weather alert, and Jeff came up to see what was going on. He took one look at the storm clouds and said we needed to turn on the engine so we could try to outrun this thing. Uh-oh.
By now there was a lot of lightning approaching, and we could hear thunder. We dropped the mainsail and furled the jib, and I suggested that we radio the trawler so we could ask him to let us know what he saw on his radar. He answered right away, and I explained that we were the 30’ sailing vessel from a little while ago. Could he give us a weather report?
He gave it to us straight which I really appreciated. He said it was a pretty big storm but moving along at 40 knots so it should pass quickly. However, it was definitely going to hit us and it was substantial. I thanked him for the information, Jeff inserted the hatches, and at the last minute we decided to clip ourselves onto the pedestal in an abundance of caution.
The wind went from 5 knots to 40 knots in about 20 seconds and the rain started coming down in buckets. There was lightning everywhere but at that point we didn’t care because we were focused on steering off of the wind on a deep reach. As we had done going down the Jersey Coast in October, we worked as a team with Jeff telling me which way to steer while I tried to keep us from heeling too much.
About ten minutes into the storm the trawler called us on the radio to check in and see how we were doing. He told us that the storm had almost passed and I tried to let him know what we were seeing. He paused and said, “Well, I can hear you talking but I can’t understand what you are saying. Sounds like you’re getting a lot of wind and rain. Hang in there. It’s almost over.” It gave us a great sense of comfort to know that there was a vessel within 30 minutes of us that knew we were out there, and I really appreciated his call. Sure enough, in another ten minutes the wind had dropped to twenty knots, then ten knots, and then it was over. I called the trawler and thanked him, and he was extremely nice and said he hoped to see us on the water again at some point.
Even though the storm had passed there was still tons of lightning (but again, past us). We hoped that there weren’t too many other boats caught out in it, and were thankful that we had come through unscathed with the exception of a few psychological scars! It was definitely the most severe weather we had experienced since cutting the dock lines, although our October trip down the Jersey shore ranks right up there given how long it lasted and how bad the seas were.
The next day we read that a wooden boat capsized 60 miles off of Atlantic City around the same time that we were in the thunderstorm. The boat sank and its owners had been rescued by the Coast Guard. Obviously it was a different storm cell, but it was sobering nevertheless given that it was only around 100 nm from us. It just goes to show that you can do everything right, but you also need a bit of luck because Mother Nature is ultimately going to do what she wants.
Fortunately the rest of the passage was completely uneventful. At one point on my watch the wind went from 5-20 knots within a few seconds for absolutely no reason and I felt my heart rate increase, wondering what was going to happen next. I was on the verge of calling Jeff up when it just as quickly dropped back down to 5 knots. Weird.
A huge pod of dolphins greeted us as we approached Cape May, and we dropped the anchor and took a nap for a few hours. After we woke up we checked the weather and it quickly became clear that the next day was our only option for the next week or so to get to Atlantic Highlands. We were tired, but we needed to push on.
We left around 11:00 a.m. the next morning with the current pushing us out of the Cape May inlet where we saw several more large pods of dolphins. Banging a left towards Atlantic Highlands, there was absolutely no wind. While it certainly made for a much calmer passage down the Jersey coast compared to the previous October, it also meant that we had to hand steer for twenty hours. Sigh. At this point we started kicking around purchasing an electronic autopilot.
Arriving in Atlantic Highlands the next day, we had several days to rest before the weather and the timing of the East River currents cooperated. Eventually though we were bringing the anchor up before dawn and motoring against a strong current until we went under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. Then it was a grand sleigh ride up the East River to Port Washington, a hop to Port Jefferson the next day, and then a final long motor against the current to Shenny in Groton.
We had done it. We had completed the circle – Groton to the Bahamas and back. So what adventures will come next? Stay tuned.