21 || The Big Sail
Updated: May 14
Saturday 2nd May 2020 Frances Bay St John
And so, the day was approaching for us to leave the USVIs and start heading north to mainland America. We decided to join a cruising group called Salty Dawgs, who were banding together for the many ports along the east coast. Our first stop was West Palm Beach, Florida.
Iain had spent many days checking the weather and we deduced there would be light winds producing favourable conditions for us to unleash big yellow safely on our own. A new hoisting and lowering procedure was written up. We walked through every step practising and debating each permutation of each manoeuvre. We were ready. Big yellow was wrapped, packed and strapped to the deck.
Sunday 3rd May 2020
At 8am the following morning Iain burped the engine and we blasted the horn to say goodbye to our friends in Francis Bay for the last time.
We were heading towards the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was a very gentle start. I was glad. Iain was not. “This is too slow Jax, we’ll be arriving at Christmas at this rate”. He checked the Salty Dawgs tracker. Two other boats had left from a different bay, two hours ahead of us. His jaw set, I knew this look, I’d seen it several times, but usually during a campaign. What had I missed? I thought it was going to be a gentle trip to get me used to long passages? I thought we were cruising? I missed the apparent known fact, of “two or more boats travelling in the same direction constitutes a race.”
The bag was unzipped, the procedure was followed with precision timing and up she went. Big yellow whispered as she elegantly unleashed her beauty from her restraints and puffed her soft folds of silk into a perfect curve pulling us into a more respectable speed. Iain smiled and checked the tracker. Yes, the day was going to be fine. And so it was.
What I was about to learn about long passages is, the sails are set, the boat is pointed in roughly the right direction and they stay there for the duration, or until conditions change. We had the autopilot set on an apparent wind angle, the sails stayed perfectly trimmed changing my whole experience of sailing in an instant. We continued. Night came, we agreed a four hour watch rotation and so the journey was under way.
Iain had timed our departure to coincide with the full moon and he hoped for clear skies. We were blessed with both. There are so many cliches concerning the moon and the stars, the sky and sea, the endless beauty of the emptiness of the ocean, all of which I experienced on that first night and every subsequent night. I did not have time to be concerned. I never felt alone. Such perfection, could not be created for just me to witness alone. I felt safe. I knew Iain would wake if anything altered and big yellow held her course as steadily as a faithful
steed finding the way to safety.
Monday 4th May 2020 08:00 -170nm completed
The next day came as quickly as the night. We gybed following the procedures. A steady speed of 7knots was maintained and already we had settled into meticulously recording the miles and course every hour in our log book.
Originally, it had been agreed, I would fly home from the Caribbean and Iain would continue to take the boat up the east coast to Maine with our friend Charles Darley and possibly Dugald, Kevin and Chris Agar. A real boy’s blast. As time progressed, we realised it was going to be the two of us. I started to cook for the freezer. Every meal I prepared, I doubled and the week before we left, I had a day of bulk cooking. By our departure, I had enough food stored to feed the entire fleet for the week and I felt calm. Should I become ill, or we were stuck at sea for three weeks, Iain would not have to think about feeding himself.
Once again, Iain and I had great discussions about food and how to store the meals. He suggested, I produce a spreadsheet, and stack the meals in day order. I protested strongly, suggesting we may not feel like eating cottage pie on Monday, and surely we could make the choice each day? Iain would not have it. “Feelings to not come into it Jacqueline”.
It was at this point I remembered Sophia operates this same system for each passage, producing a spreadsheet of every meal and snack for an entire journey, stacking the meals in order in cupboards and freezer so no thought is needed during the passage. I realised this list and methodical stacking was for Iain’s peace of mind, and so I conceded.
Once again, I have to eat humble cottage pie, on a Monday, wether I fee like it or not. He was right. Both the spreadsheet and the stacking certainly made life much simpler and cut the time spent down below. A place which I am still not comfortable with when sailing. Yet again, I was wrong and apologise for being the ever loose cannon.
Tuesday 5th May 2020, 08:00 169nm completed
By the end of my night watch we had received a message from Salty Dawgs HQ to say there was an impending storm arriving in Florida by dawn on Sunday 10th May. We should anchor off Mayaguna Island, or Crooked Island to wait for the storm to pass.
“Stop?” I heard him shout from below. “Do they think we’re in a barge?” The gauntlet was down. His jaw was set, calculations were rehashed, sails were tweaked. It was decided, we would arrive before the storm. Iain reassured HQ we would make it before Sunday. I could hear the sharp intake of breath from the team as the email flew through the ether.
Wednesday 6th May 2020 08:00 197nm completed
In the early hours of the morning we crossed two members of our flotilla as they were heading to the shelter of the Islands.
With constant regularity we filled the log, checked the weather, course and every other boat in the fleet of Sailing Home with Salty Dawgs. We were in the correct position. All was well.
We had big yellow up for nearly 3 days and were becoming more confident using it with just two of us. As daylight appeared on day 3, Iain decided to push the boat a little deeper downwind and passed the sheet enabling big yellow to swing to windward filling with more wind and hence produce more speed. We stayed alert for several minutes on this new setup and then assuming all was well, Iain went for a few hours sleep.
And so we thundered on. All was progressing until the wind started to increase. At 08:00, the change in boat movement woke Iain. Just as he came up the hatch big yellow collapsed, but quickly recovered. I was quizzed as to how often this had happened during the watch, “just twice, and just now” I said looking up,” but she’s never done that”.
The spinnaker had collapsed again and instantly decided to start wrapping herself around the snuffer line. The autopilot was turned off and the boat was turned into the wind to try to fill the sail. It was too late. Big yellow continued to spin, wrapping herself into a tighter twist. All hands rushed to the foredeck, instructions were given at great speed which I followed precisely. Luckily most of the spinnaker was wrapped, having the same effect as the snuffer. Only the top third was free and bellowing. So with our course altered to directly downwind to shield our untamed lady, the engine on full, to take as much apparent wind from the sail, we attempted to bring her to the deck. She did not tear, and only her skirt kissed the water’s surface as Iain heaved with all his might and I lowered from the cockpit bringing her safely to the deck. We secured her in the bag. Calm was restored. We had a cup of tea and a piece of cake.
Finally, all was well within my capability which gave Iain permission to spend much of the day napping. He had been alert for days.
Thursday 7th May 2020 08:00 173nm completed
By the next day, we had lost all our sailing companions who were sheltering and probably enjoying a cool rum punch while we sailed on. The only company we had was a lonely tanker.
It was calm on board. The sea was flat, so flat domestic life took over, and the washing machine was switched on. Iain started washing the salt off the spinnaker fittings.
We listened to music and even an audio book. One of my Desert Island books, Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While our story is very ordinary, and bears no resemblance to the love of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, this book of an endless journey across the seas seemed fitting. Equally, I do smile whenever I hoist the customs flag on arrival in a new port.
We maintained our speed throughout the day. At 3:30 it began to rain quite heavily but we could see the sun on the horizon so were not worried.
We hadn’t had much company on our voyage until now. As we were approaching the Old Bahamas Channel, we spotted Lady L, a 45m luxury motor yacht who was heading to Fort Lauderdale. We were sailing, she was motoring and we maintained the same speed for some hours.
Friday 8th May 2020 08:00am 190nm completed
Well, true to his word. We were steaming ahead towards the Florida Straits. We maintained a steady speed of 10 knots for the whole day, which gave us both a great thrill. By 20:00 hours, as predicted, the wind dropped and we took the sails down and proceeded under motor.
Saturday 9th May 2020 08:00am 221nm completed
The traffic had increased greatly being so close to land. The monitor resembled the shipping lanes on the East Coast. I felt very comfortable watching the monitor and the horizon as I ticked the names and destinations off as we passed each other. By the end of my shift we were on the edge of the Gulf Stream, and like Nemo, we were surfing the waves. The Stream added another
4 knots to our speed which was a great help. As the sun rose we had a very welcome sight of
Lady L who came up beside us and once again we travelled for a few hours side by side until she crossed in front of us entering Fort Lauderdale. We were extremely happy to be within sight of our destination.
The boat was romping along with the auto helm in complete control. It was time to get the boat looking smart. The water maker was on, Iain started to hose the topsides down and I changed all the bedding and started the washing machine again. I wonder how many times, the coast of Florida has seen a washing line go sailing past at 8 knots? Very soon our chariot was clean, tidy and looking majestic for her final approach to our destination.
By 11:55 we were anchored in Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, both feeling a little relieved at completing our very first two handed voyage.