One of my favorite things about being at sea is “The Big Sky.” No, not the state of Montana or the great 1952 lubberly movie with Kirk Douglas — THIS big sky over me. Growing up in the hilly country of New England, the celestial vault never took up much more than half of the view above the horizon. Here, far off the coast of Georgia, a fairly calm sea permits a 180-degree perspective on the heavens. The sights and sounds of this big sky, both during the day and at night are highlights of a trip offshore.
Gregg and Greg are both standing at the helm, examining the chartplotting laptop as dawn arrives on our second day at sea. It’s still mostly dark, but a faint tangerine swath on the eastern horizon suggests where the sun will rise. As Greg Kaufman takes his watch, we agree things are running smoothly. Our speed over the ground (SOG) has risen to well over 10 knots, as the wind and swell have veered into the southeast, and the ride has smoothed dramatically. The engines are still only burning about 6.3 gallons per hour, combined, and the faint hum we hear from them in the pilothouse is accompanied by the sounds of the rushing water along the hull; a rhythm that shifts quietly and constantly with the set of the waves and wind.
The tangerine deepens at its heart and bleeds a rose stain farther along the horizon and up into the sky and then, abruptly, the orb of the sun rises from the sea. It happens quickly, and the drowsy pilothouse is suddenly flooded in warm, yellow sun. Gregg has been drinking coffee on his 2-6 watch, but a fresh pot brewing in the galley awakens my breakfast appetite and soon enough I’ve got a bowl of cereal and some fruit in hand. The ride is so smooth now I fling caution to the wind and climb the steps back up into the pilothouse without “keeping one hand for myself and one for the boat.” Apparently, Poseidon was still asleep, because I make it to the settee in the pilothouse without spilling anything.
After breakfast, we check the decks for flying fish who had one-way tickets. There are none today, which is a little surprising, given that we could see and hear them during the night, occasionally running into the hull. It’s probably just as well that we didn’t find any; flying fish sushi at this hour seems less than appealing. Gregg uses the freshwater washdown on the foredeck to rinse the Portuguese bridge and pilothouse windows of their salt crust from yesterday’s bash. I’m taking some time to wander around the yacht, taking pictures and making notes for a more detailed article about the Krogen 58′, which I’ll write up when I get home.
The wind continues to veer and by midday is mostly from the southwest. We’re also in the core of the Gulf Stream and our SOG has risen above 12 knots — quite a fantastic speed for a trawler running at an economical cruise setting of 1,850 rpm. Gregg managed to download the latest GRIB files before we were over the horizon, so we spend some time in the morning looking at the forecasted winds overlaid on the chartplotting software on his Mac laptop. It looks like a good day, with the winds behind us, at least until sometime early tomorrow morning.
While today’s cruisers do not HAVE to be completely disconnected from the rest of the world, with Internet phone, TV and data services available by satellite, we don’t have any of those resources so my cell phone is silent and my laptop is without any connections. My brain eventually also catches up to this reality and it’s then that I really begin to notice little details — like how I can see the differencein direction of the wind waves and ocean swells. I look more closely at the old radar set we have and I realize I can see that difference in the “sea clutter” returns on the screen, too. That will be handy at night when I can’t see the waves visually.
There’s more life out here than first meets the eye, too. We’re regularly visited by bottlenose dolphins; big, gray athletes running across our course who suddenly change course to check out our pitiful bow wave and then, unimpressed, move on. There are large patches of Sargassum seaweed; orphans snatched from the great Sargasso Sea by eddies of the Gulf Stream — each a haven for entire food chains floating underneath them in the water column.
What looks like an Audubon’s Shearwater swings lazily by, evidently concluding we are not edible and then darting off to check out a suspicious surface swirl off our port beam. These birds periodically pass us and I wonder how they manage so far from land. The Gulf Stream this time of year is beginning to fill with the pelagic birds as they begin northward migrations. North Carolina, incidentally, is a great place to take some offshore pelagic bird trips. Check out this website of Brian Patteson’s.
Traffic is pretty light and we seem to have the sea to ourselves for the day. The southwest winds persist and we make great time, racing along in the middle of the Gulf Stream. It’s clear from the forecast and our progress that it’s going to be a race to the North Carolina coast for us. Our hope is to get as close as possible to North Carolina before the wind quickly shifts to the northeast, courtesy of a fast-moving cold front coming from the mid-west. By day’s end, we’re fairly certain there will be more head-bashing before we get where we’re going.
After an early sailor’s dinner, Gregg heads below to get some sleep. The other Greg and I enjoy a spectacular sunset. The wind has picked up but it’s still calm enough for me to wander around the side decks experimenting with my camera. There are enough clouds around that the sunset has some canvas to paint on and it gets better and better as each moment passes. And then, as suddenly as it rose 13 or so hours earlier, the sun sets and a gray haze mutes the colors.
Our ship sails steadily northward through the descending night. The pilothouse is darkened; all the lights and screens dimmed as far as possible to preserve night vision. I periodically step out onto the sidedeck to look at the stars. Low in the west, Orion poses majestically in full hunter glory. The dark skies of the moonless night pull the stars into three-dimensional relief and the constellations now truly resemble their ancient namesakes. I can even see the Orion Nebula, M42, with my naked eyes. Overhead a cloud stretches to the eastern horizon in a broad belt. As my eyes continue to adapt, I realize I’m looking at the Milky Way — an edge-on view into the heart of our very own galaxy, with its dense “cloud” of stars and gas paving my own sky.
Later, on watch, stars rising from the ocean play tricks on my eyes and I think they are ships hull-down at the horizon. I have to watch them steadily to reassure myself they are indeed off-world and not the approaching range lights of some container-carrying leviathan. I have to move my gaze constantly to pick up faint lights with my more sensitive peripheral vision. Thankfully, the radar faithfully confirms or denies each apparition. I would be significantly less comfortable without this modern aid.
Gregg comes up to the pilothouse shortly before his 2 a.m. watch and does an engine room check. We each check it at the beginning of our watch and once at mid-watch, which means someone has eyes on all the running equipment every two hours while we’re underway. We look for leaks in the shaft seals, hoses and thru-hulls; loose belts or pulleys; signs of oil or fuel anywhere, and finally check the sight gauges on the fuel tanks. We know to a small fraction of a gallon how much fuel we’re using, thanks to the digital information buss on the John Deere engines, but it’s nice to be reassured by a logical level in the sight glass.
As I handover the watch to Gregg is the wind is picking up and beginning to complete it’s veering circle of the last 36 hours. By dawn we are once again bucking a stiff headwind and sea. Despite the pitching of the boat, I have no trouble getting some sleep in the forward stateroom, although eventually something in the anchor locker forward of my stateroom bulkhead decides to knock against the bulkhead in rhythm with the waves.
This time we only have to endure the bashing for a couple of hours and then we begin to feel the lee effect of North Carolina. By mid-morning on Sunday (I think it’s Sunday; you lose track of the time and the day of the week quickly out here…) we are approaching the entrance to the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington. We follow a tug towing a barge up to the city, but duck out of the river and across to the Intracoastal again and head for our marina at Wrightsville Beach.
Gregg brings the big Krogen up the channel toward the face dock at the marina and executes a beautiful 180; the starboard side coming within inches of the dock as he completes the turn. He’s done this a few times. I step off the boat because I’ve got a plane to catch back to the other real world, but the two Greg(g)s will pick up another crewmember and continue northward on Monday.
Our leg from Jensen Beach to Wrightsville Beach took approximately 47 hours. We traveled as far as 120 nm offshore and in the core of the Gulf Stream saw speeds as high as 12.6 knots. The engines ran at a nearly constant 1,850 rpm and the smaller of our two generators also ran the duration. We burned less than 300 gallons of diesel fuel and suffered no mechanical or systems failures. The yacht handled breaking waves in the departure inlet of greater than 10 feet and serenely traveled through both head, quartering and following seas without complaint or wander. It was a great trip on a seaworthy yacht and I won’t forget it.
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