January 3, 2015
This is the final post from our summer cruise written by Bradley in Sept as we headed from Nova Scotia to the Chesapeake Bay.
As I write this (Saturday 27 Sept), we are halfway between the southwest tip of Nova Scotia and Provincetown, MA. We have been having a perfect passage with wind in the single digits, sea swell less than half a meter from the port with 8 second period and most importantly, clear skies. No fog, no clouds, nothing but stars. We are one day into a new moon, so it is very black outside. Like a pilot, one must trust the instruments, especially our two radars. One is set for 2 to 3 miles and the other 12 to 16. Throughout the night, we have been dodging long line fishing buoys (high flyers with radar reflectors). Luckily for both the fishermen and us, they now set open ocean lines/pots with special radar reflecting poles 8 to 10 feet tall. One several occasions last night I was called on watch as we approached multiple targets. They are impossible to spot even with our huge spotlight without the radar to help direct the beam.
The sun just came up and it was a beautiful red morning sunrise.
Red sky at night sailor’s delight.
Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.
We know that weather is coming up from the south in the next couple of days. The only real question is will it arrive on Monday or will we get lucky and it arrives late on Tuesday – just as we enter the Chesapeake Bay.
I guess I need to start at the beginning. As you know from a previous blog we were in Port Au Choix, Newfounland. From there, we traveled non-stop to the Bras d’Or Lakes in Nova Scotia where we had to stop at St. Peters for a day. The St. Peters Canal had just gone to winter hours and does not operate on Wednesday, so as we arrived on Tuesday, we had to tie up and wait for the next opening. This was great as we had a chance to meet locals Greg and Dawn and an owner of several local fishing boats who generously gave us some wonderful halibut for our freezers. The it was on to Mahone Bay where we were able to catch up with several friends and have a wonderful dinner at the German restaurant with our fellow cruisers Rob and Tish from Kittiwake. Then it was on to Halifax, where we spent 6 days. Over all it was a wonderful stay.I was able to get a 30 mile bike ride in last Saturday, even with the wind blowing 25 to 30 knots all day.
We also had our challenges – because we decided to equalize or condition our batteries. Lately they had been showing their age, and only lasting 8 hours between charges. Without getting too technical, as batteries age, they can develop a buildup in the internal plates that reduces their effectiveness. By turning up the charging voltage from 28.8 to 31.4, you in essence slowly cook the growth off the plates. As it turns out we must have had a lot of growth, because as ours cooked overnight this past Sunday they created huge amounts of heat and more rotten smelling sulfur gas than expected. At one point the batteries were 150 degrees and the smell of rotten eggs permeated the boat. This meant that Kathy and I spent all of Monday and Tuesday wiping down the entire boat, including giving the Mechanical, Battery and Tank deck a very detailed cleaning. We spent hours and hours wiping everything down and changing our buckets of water, which were turning black very quickly. After the cleaning, I wiped all the metal items, like through hulls, and stainless with Corrosion Block a special marine lubricant and protectorant we use.
Also while in Halifax Matt – the deckhand who had joined us for the summer – decided the fun part of the trip was over and he was not going to remain with us through October as he had committed. Matt’s parents were hoping to replace Matt and do the trip south with us, but the timing was off by a week. We suspect we would have very much enjoyed the time with them. Instead, Matt’s father Peter very kindly put us in touch with a RNSYS member, Phil, who has extensive cruising experience and unlimited time, as he is retired and Phil signed on for the passage back to the US.
As we cleaned up Shear Madness, we were of course watching the weather for a window to continue our trip back to the USA. One of the primary differences between cruising north in the late spring and south in early fall is the general weather pattern. On the way north, one basically has periods of good weather, interrupted by short periods of unfriendly cruising weather. Heading south in late Sept, one has much longer periods of cruising unfriendly weather interrupted by opportunities to move south comfortably. The second major difference is the amount of daylight vs darkness, as we are now at 12 and 12, vs 15 & 9 on the way north. I key on sunlight and the more of it there is, the less I sleep. By Tuesday 23 Sept, it had become clear a weather window was going to open for a crossing. We decided to depart Thursday morning around 9:00 and move the boat south stopping someplace just before the sunset to anchor and have dinner on board. We knew the weather was not going to be perfect for this leg, but it would help position us for a move on Friday and then the 36 hour crossing on Saturday morning. The weather was looking like we would have single digit winds and flat seas, just what we were seeking after the last several moves had provided us double digit plus winds and seas on the nose.
We got underway about one hour behind schedule at 10:00 on Thursday 24 Sept, but it was a promising morning. The wind was less then predicted and since it was going to be on our nose that was good. Just that morning I received an email from Jerry and Dee, the new owners of the Nordhavn 68 Grace of Tides. They were only 60 miles away at Herring Cove near Liverpool & Brooklyn (Nova Scotia). They expressed an interest in trying to catch up, and we had been hoping to cross paths with them on the way south. We had met them early in the year in Old Port Cove Florida, just as they had taken possession of GOT. She was the first 68 to be resold. At first we were making such good progress, we thought it would be no problem to arrive at their bay by 18:00. As often happens, the wind decided to build and the currents were also working against us, so our average speed was in the 6.5 to 7 knot range – even with the RPM up a little higher than usual. What’s an extra 10 gallons, other than $40.00. It looked like we would not make it in until between 19:30 and 20:00. They very kindly indicated, No worries, they would like to invite us to dinner and even offered to pick us up in their tender, to save us having to launch our tender.
After dropping anchor we had a stunning evening with them. Dee prepared a wonderful meal of huge steaks & asparagus on the barbie, a very fresh salad, perfectly cooked polenta and ice cream Sundaes with fresh chocolate dipped strawberries. They served such a stunning wine, that I even broke my normal rule (24 hours bottle to throttle) imbibing 1½ glasses. We had come much further south than originally planned, so we would have only a short cruise on Friday to position ourselves for the Saturday crossing – or so I thought at the time. We very much look forward to returning their hospitality as they head south later this year.
Jerry returned us to our boat, which was safely anchored in the magnificent and calm Herring Cove around 23:00. So far, the newly cooked batteries were looking very promising, as their voltage was still above 26. Since we did not have a set departure schedule we elected to let the battery alarm wake us, expecting it to go off around 0500 or 0600. By 0700 it had not gone off, and the battery voltage was still well above 24, which is the indication that it’s time for a charge. We lazily got up, did the engine rooms checks, prepared SM for passage and did a weather download. We ended up with over 12 hours on the last battery charge, before we cranked the Generator and started the main engines. So the conditioning did seem to help!
The weather forecast had indicated it would be a perfect day with winds in the very low single digits, little to no waves or swell and not a cloud to be seen. We hailed Grace Of Tides on the radio, saying our goodbyes and headed off around 09:00. Once underway, we realized just how perfect the day was looking and started to wonder why would we want to stop in less than 6 hours. After carefully reviewing the weather and looking closely at the very strong tides around Cape Sable, we elected to continue non-stop on our crossing. Depending on our speed, we would arrive at the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal with favorable tides on Sunday morning around 0300. This would provide us with a great advantage as we are expecting adverse weather to develop by Tuesday morning, so it would be nice to be entering the Chesapeake Bay before then. This jump-start by 18 hours would help greatly with that goal.
It is now 09:12 and I have been on watch since 05:00 maintaining a watch, performing hourly engine room checks, dodging long line fishing buoys (high flyers with radar reflectors) and writing this blog. We just had an incredible dolphin show, with a large school feeding and coming straight for us from the port side. Hopefully one of the 100+ plus pictures I snapped off will be a keeper. Thank goodness for digital cameras.
Wow – we had a stunning crossing. The weather never got above the single digits, even if it was on the bow. We opened and used the fly bridge for the first time in 3 months, except when we used it to map a course through the ice flow in Greenland. We made such good time, that we even had to pull the throttle back as we approached the Cape Cod Canal. While our original plan had been to stop for the evening at Provincetown, it would have meant missing the tide at the Canal and in Buzzards Bay. Five hours out from the canal, I realized we would be arriving approximately 1 hour early. We pulled back on the rpm but our speed just did not fall enough. We arrived about 30 min. early, and experienced a 1 to 1.5 knot current against us, for the first couple of miles of the canal. However, it may have been a blessing in disguise, because as we came out of canal, we had a great push all the way down Buzzards Bay.
I came on watch at 00:15 Saturday morning and turned the watch over at 07:15 Sunday. I do not think I have had such an intense watch in a very long time. Coming through the canal at night was interesting and required a little more focus than cruising through in the daytime. Just as we exited the canal, while still in the control channel, we passed a tug pushing a fuel barge. Buzzards Bay is extremely well marked and on this Saturday evening was extremely busy. We had two tugs with barges that were anchored due to mechanical issues, one directly in the channel. Working outside the channel while shorter is easy in daylight, but at night the lobster pots and fish traps are much harder to spot – especially on a moonless night. In addition we were back in waters with extensive bouys, lights, markers and depth – pieces of information we had not had in several months of cruising up north. I was so busy moving between the pilot house where we have better information and the fly bridge where there is better visibility on dark nights, that at the end, I felt like I had a good workout. I went to bed and slept for 3 solid hours before hunger roused me.
The rest of Sunday was a wonderful day, with the winds staying in the single digits. We had a bit of excitement just before midnight. Phil was on watch, dodging the high-flyers when we were awakened by an ominous bang. We had hit one and its line became stuck on our stabilizer. All hands were on deck within minutes and the throttles were pulled back to neutral as we assessed the situation. Unfortunately, despite going in reverse and trying to maneuver our way out of it, the line remained wrapped around the stabilizer. We had no choice but to cut it free. In the meantime, the Norwegian Breakaway, a cruise ship, called on the radio. He had noticed that we had stopped and wanted to know what was happening as he was rapidly approaching us. We explained the situation and he said he would alter course to give us good clearance. Once the line was cut, we were free and continued on course. No damage done, but we kept a very vigilant eye on the radar after that!
After a near perfect passage, we entered the Chesapeake Bay where we anchored for a night before heading to Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth. On the way in, the Navy gave us a nice show, with a small aircraft carrier and a submarine passing close by! After giving the boat a good cleaning, we said goodbye to Phil, who flew back to Halifax. It was time for some relaxing after a strenuous summer.