Aboard SHIBUMI from Beaufort, NC USA to the Azores, June, 2003
Emily Davis and I met the vessel at Town Dock’s Marina in Beaufort, June first. After provisioning, review of the boat man over board drills and awaiting a weather window we left for Cape Lookout on June 4, withstanding gale force winds of 50 knots while at anchor in the bite. Our morning departure on June 5th was met with light seas and 15-25 knot winds. Under sail we passed the last sandy shoals of Cape Lookout by early afternoon.
After an early onset of mal-der-mer, symptoms passed, and life settled into a routine around watch cycles. With a crew of six, we stood as two with 3 on, 3 off, 3 on, 6 off. Nap time revolved around watch, sail changes, reading, watching DVD’s, exercising, meals and onboard chores such as laundry, vacuuming and my favorite egg/tomato turning.
Each day brought sunrise during the 0300-0600 am watch a little earlier, so we adjusted clocks to match the sunrise three times, and then again on land. Many days we did not see another vessel, though we were often frequented by porpoises jumping our wake. It was a big hit to spot a vessel on radar, tack, and try to make contact. Until day 11 we had not seen another sailing vessel, only commercial freighters and cargo ships.
On the hour, each hour, a log was completed with lat, long, wind speed/direction, course over ground (cog), barometer and temperature readings. After the noon sighting each day, we determined our distance made during the last 24 hours. On our slowest day we covered 134 nautical miles, compared to a blistering 206 nm on our fastest day. Seas ranged from 8-10 feet to a day of almost glassy seas as we sat in 4000+’ of clear blue water one half way between land masses.
The sound of the fishing reel zinging out brought all hands on deck about every other day. A bonito and dolphin provided great sport and scrumptious meals, while sail fish and “LARGE” Marlin proved a bit much for our crew to bring on board. Another “LARGE” (Volkswagen size) something also bettered our crew as backing down on a fish under sail in a sailboat is a hoot. We used a nifty trick, an alcohol “club” sprayed in the gills to stupefy fish, making filleting and clean up a breeze on the aft deck.
Our daily contact with Herb Hillgenberg, the weather guy, became a rallying point around the single side band. Each day 20 or so offshore boats checked in to listen to his weather forecasts for their area. His projections for SHIBUMI, the lead boat to the Azores made our passage MUCH more comfortable. We supplemented his comments with daily weather faxes, and weather info was overlaid over the computerized tract. Passage is dictated by high and low pressure systems.
Emails to and from home, while limited in number, provided a sense of comfort in the knowledge we were still in touch! Transatlantic cruisers are part of small family of sailors making such cruises, but we are not like the pioneers of earlier years as we enjoy such comforts as water makers, hot water showers, pilot houses, air conditioning, generators and trustworthy diesel engines…scrumptious meals, and a substantial vessel under us.
Jackie provided a well stocked galley and assorted cookbooks so we might exercise our culinary sills under her watchful eye in bouncy seas. Bread making became an art as several of us tried variations on a tried and true focaccia recipe…for us all to enjoy! Fourteen days out and we still enjoy fresh tomatoes, oranges, apples and a bounty of dishes from the freezer.
Cats, Cats, or shall we say as the hair flies! Nevis and Saba are great playmates, and love the attention, brushing and sometimes tormenting we give them. As boat mates, they keep us awake during night watches while we try to make sure they do not jump ship, and they curl up with us (or in their favorite hiding place) during the day for kitty rest period.
Blue water cruising is totally different than river or lake sailing. It is also vastly different from motoring to and from offshore dive sites. Starry, starry nights take on a new meaning with NO ambient light. Wind and waves impact our path as we alter waypoints and course routes daily. Are we 3 days from land or 5? Only the weather gods know. After 20+ years of boating, I am pleased to add a transatlantic voyage to my captain’s resume.
Life at sea is reminiscent of an old amusement park. For a thrilling evening ride we sail bow forward into pitch blackness at 9-10 Knots. Winds howl with eerie noises as if from a grade B movie . Scupper monsters gurgle each time we heal, much to the cat’s observant disregard. One day they may actually catch one! We constantly stagger on uneven footing, grabbing a handhold on each step. One rogue wave and we careen around in an off beat jig like drunken sailors…even at 0700. In the v-berth I hold onto the bed, sometimes with the aid of a lee cloth, as the sounds of water pound beside, over and all around my napping place.
Simple things count. Seeing sunrise, moonrise and sunset which few others see are everyday highlights. Site of land is daunting and holds surprises. The quiet and rural nature of the Azores remind me of quaint little seaside vilLajes I visited many years go with a back pack and eurailpass. Friendly locals, great vistas, delicious meals and a chance to go diving in the clear waters, IF I had only brought my c-card, as the local police checked certifications!!
As we explored the “flower” island of Flores in the back of a pickup we saw, narrow roads, steep hillsides, miniature fields/ pastures ringed with rock and filled with cows. Tropical plants snuggle under cedar trees and hydrangeas, cannas and multi-flora roses grow everywhere. Tidy vegetable gardens are cultivated all over the island with not a weed to be found. Lights shimmer in the distance as we make a night run to a new port. On the midnight to 0300 we double check the radar, double check the computerized charts to site the dramatic volcanic cliffs plunging into the sea off our starboard bow. Are those lights really 16 miles ahead? Looks like a good night as we make it to the anchorage to await (long) customs in the next port-o-call.
Favorite meal: Father’s day shrimp lunch picnic on aft deck, Favorite sightings: Tip of Cape Lookout & Flores, Azores.. Favorite treats: Bosun’s chair to the top of the mast (66′) & hot showers. Favorite education: Learning the autopilot. Favorite book: Any Rand – We are the Living, & Joe Coomer – Sailing in a Spoonful of Water. Least Favorite chore: cleaning the oven. Least Favorite memory: Back winding the sails as we lost the “LARGE” Volkswagen size fish diving under the boat! …a close second is leaving the vessel to return home.