Our summer was spent easing back into land life while making regular trips back to Charleston to do boat projects and check on things. We also experienced the unexpected loss of our dear friend, Lendy, to Covid, and Andy’s friend, Ryan, to colon cancer. We were friends with Lendy (and Glen) from church, and she worked with Andy back in the mid-1990s. Lendy was an amazing person, a quick learner, and a wonderful employee. She was incredibly detail-oriented and organized and could manage a smile on the most trying of days. Ryan was a dear friend of Andy’s from Kiwanis. Both of them passed without much warning and left a real void. We were reminded that life is precious and fleeting. All the more reason to keep sailing while we can. Both of these friends, we think, would agree.
As fall approached and the weather got cooler, we bought our one-way airfare to Charleston, which always feels strange and risky. An open-ended ticket acknowledges that, while we have a travel plan, it’s not set in stone. We don’t know exactly when we’ll be returning or from where. That’s part of the adventure!
We arrived on Wednesday, October 27th and hit the ground running! We needed to provision for at least a week of coastal sailing, manage the final repair of our steering system, monitor the weather, plan our 520-mile route in some detail, make reservations, and get the boat ship-shape for travel. We also wanted to squeeze in a couple more meals at our favorite Charleston eateries as we don’t anticipate being back there anytime soon!
We finally cast off the dock lines on Saturday, October 30, about 7:30 a.m. Andy couldn’t wait to raise the sails and navigate south! We started off with jackets and long pants, but those would soon get stowed away as we made our way to warmer latitudes. We had bouncy and borderline-uncomfortable seas, but we made swift progress, intending to arrive at Daufuskie Island near Hilton Head just before sundown.
A Tough First Day on the Water
Of course, there were challenges. Just before noon, with our mainsail and our jib out and the wind on our stern (running “wing-on-wing” if you’re a sailor), the wind fell off, and Andy decided that our jib was limiting our sight lines and doing us no real good. He began to furl it in, getting about halfway before the line grew excessively taut. We’d experienced that before when the furling line had gotten tangled around the drum, and he assumed that was the problem. He called me up to go investigate, but I found nothing amiss with the drum. And then I looked up… to see that our spinnaker halyard had gotten fouled in the rolled-up part of the sail. This made the jib unmovable – we couldn’t roll it in and we couldn’t let it out. And we wouldn’t be able to stop the boat safely until we resolved the problem.
We’ve learned by now that in situations like this we need to slow down and take the time to think the problem through. After a few minutes of putting our heads together, we concluded there was no way to untangle the mess from deck level; someone (Andy!) was going to have to ascend the mast while we were rolling around in the Atlantic.
Being hoisted up the 75-foot mast is nerve-wracking for all concerned in the best of circumstances (i.e. tied securely to a dock on a clear, bright, calm day). Our circumstances were out in the bouncy Atlantic, miles off shore, with help hours away. But we saw no better choice, so Andy rigged up the boatswain’s chair, and I began hauling him up. We were both sweating it. This was the first time he had been all the way back up since the ill-fated August 6, 2020, but we took it slow and easy, focusing on the task at hand. As soon as he was at the top, Andy was able to grab the wayward spinnaker halyard and free the jib from its clutches. Once I lowered him back down, we tightened that halyard as much as we dared and resumed furling the jib. Then we decided we’d had enough excitement for the day and diverted course for a familiar, closer anchorage at Monkey Island. Neither of us had the heart to press on and anchor in the dark after this extended adrenaline rush.
Calmer Seas and the World Series
After a good night’s sleep we both felt a renewed energy. We had great wind and following seas, so our sail to Daufuskie was much more pleasant and uneventful than the previous day had been. We anchored in a serene spot up Bull Creek and dinghied over to the Old Daufuskie Crab Company for dinner and drinks. It was Halloween, but we were more interested in another event: Game 5 of our Atlanta Braves in the World Series! We don’t have great WiFi on our boat, so we couldn’t watch the game, but every night they played we splurged on cellular data to listen to the games over Sirius XM. It reminded me of when I was a kid, sitting with my grandparents and listening to Braves games in the 1970s over AM radio. Even though you can’t see the action, you can paint the scene in your mind as the announcers describe the plays. And although the Braves didn’t win Game 5, you can bet we were jubilant when they DID eventually clinch the Series and bring that Championship back to a city very thirsty for one. We were proud Braves fans, even from afar.
A Sobering Mayday and a Serious Storm
Back to our sailing account: On Monday, Nov 1, just as we crossed the state line from South Carolina to Georgia, we heard a Mayday call about 11:25 a.m. These are rare and are reserved for dire emergencies. (If you call Mayday and it’s not something imminently life-threatening, you are subject to six years in prison and $250,000 in fines). A clearly panicked captain of a fishing vessel radioed the Coast Guard, stating that he had capsized off Wassaw Island. The conditions were quite calm, so we were surprised at the drama that unfolded over the next hour. We listened intently as he radioed that he had one passenger with him but still had one person in the water. This was all happening just a few miles from us. The USCG was dispatching a rescue chopper and a dive team, but that afternoon they broadcast a message that a body had been recovered. We were sobered and sad that the person in the water did not make it. He probably thought he was just going fishing, and somehow things went horribly wrong in a flash. We never heard the full story.
When we arrived at St. Simons, we got a big return on our radar. Then we saw a huge structure coming at us in the channel. Rules say that you generally give way to the heavier ship, so we diverted, leaving them to our starboard. In this case, it was the structure that had been used to carve up the Golden Ray for quite some time. We saw the work being done in 2020, and so it was a good bit of closure to see the structure being towed away at precisely the same time we came in.
That night we anchored off of St. Simons and dined at The Coastal Kitchen, one of our favorite finds from last year. And then on Tuesday the 2nd we sailed to St. Augustine to catch a mooring ball and hopefully spend a couple of nights enjoying the city.
However, Mother Nature had other plans for us. When we went to bed Tuesday night, we’d decided to press on to Ponce Inlet and then to Cape Canaveral, Fort Pierce, Lake Worth in West Palm Beach, and then Fort Lauderdale, but just before Wednesday’s sunrise, Andy checked the weather and discovered a major storm was developing. It was so big that some of the coastal states north of us would preemptively declare a state of emergency! And even though the worst of this nor’easter would remain north of us, they were still expecting sustained winds of 45 – 50 miles an hour and heavy seas in our area.
Andy and I both believe that kind of storm should not be life-threatening aboard Gratitude, but we also have absolutely NO interest in testing that belief. So we changed our plans on the fly and decided to bug out of St. Augustine just before noon and sail all the way to Lake Worth (West Palm Beach) in one 24-hour shot. It would mean trading off constant watches at the helm, but we agreed that we only had two choices: this one long sail, or hunkering down in St. Augustine and delaying our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale by at least a week. Our choice seemed clear, if we wanted to keep all the boat service appointments we’d arranged.
So on Wednesday, November 3rd, we passed under the majestic Bridge of Lions just before noon and rounded Cape Canaveral around midnight. The good news was that this put us in safe waters, having outrun the storm. We spent the next several hours trading watches at the helm before setting our anchor in Lake Worth at 1:00 p.m. the next day, where we got some dinner and had an early bedtime to catch up on our missed sleep. On Friday, we scudded along in rainy, blustery weather and bouncy seas until we were safely to our dock in Harbour Towne Marina in Dania Beach, FL about 3:30 p.m.
We had some wiring projects that we needed professional help with. We were also due a major service on our engines, and we had decided to change out our underwater lights and put our folding propellors back on (this last one might have been a questionable decision since we had serious trouble with these props last year). We also wanted to have our sail rigging professionally inspected before we went any further east and south, and our dinghy, Patience, was due for her annual engine service. Gotta keep Patience happy if we want to be able to go ashore!
When we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, we discovered that Chris and Chris aboard Scintilla, a couple we had previously met in Charleston, had arrived there a few days ahead of us. While in Charleston, Chris gave us our first lesson in splicing lines, which is a way to join two ropes together without using knots. Among the many benefits of splicing, it’s stronger than tying knots, and it’s been on our list of things to learn for some time. We got a tour of their boat and were amazed at the remarkable job they had done of networking their various systems together. He had also engineered his own water maker, which left Andy very impressed.
Now, we are in that state where for one brief, shining moment, everything on the boat seems to be working. It won’t last; after all, we’re on a sailboat! We are spending our remaining few days before Thanksgiving enjoying the warmer weather, doing our final provisioning, and planning our passage east to The Bahamas in just a few days.