After a couple of weeks of provisioning, repairing, double checking and even hand waxing the topsides (who needs a gym!), we drove to Orlando Airport to pick up our broker-turned-good friend, Jeff Merrill, to travel with us on the first leg of our journey. We ventured out to meet some friends for a last evening at the “Chill and Grill” which was a great way to salute the first seven months of our boat life.
We waved off our new friends, Joe and Christine, in their Nordhavn 46 Legacy on Sunday. The people we have met have been wonderful, and we always are so grateful for the generosity and friendliness of boat folks. Jeff is a case in point. We met him about 4 years ago when we first began to seriously explore finding a boat. He has navigated us through this new world, including helping us purchase Granuaile. Somewhere along the way we went from clients and broker to friends. Part of his buyer-broker program is an offer to provide onboard training post-purchase, and we jumped at the chance. We definitely felt much more comfortable having Jeff, with his lifetime of boating experience, with us for our first overnight offshore cruise.
After researching multiple weather forecasting sources, we felt relatively confident that we had picked a good window for running north on the open ocean, for a grand total of 442 NM over the course of 2 days and 2 nights, Leaving around 10:00 am on June 15, and arriving in the afternoon on June 17. Neil set up our Garmin InReach satellite device for communicating with the kids and Neil’s brother Dave so our “land contacts” would be able to monitor our progress real time on a map and be able to contact via messaging. Here is a link to map displaying our cruising tracks: https://share.garmin.com/mvgranuaile. It is updated as we continue our travels. Select the “View Recent Tracks” button to see all of our cruising tracks to date. We also added a new section to the blog, “Location Map”, where you can find the above link.
Departure was easy, with our dockmate, Susan, helping with the lines and all systems working. We cruised down to Ft. Pierce and out into the ocean around 12:30.
We got out into the ocean, set our course, and began heading north, with John Denver’s Song, “Calypso” playing as an earworm in Kathleen’s brain.
Shortly into our cruise, it became apparent the sea conditions were rougher than forecasted. Waves were bigger with shorter periods, creating a ride similar to an amusement park roller coaster. Kathleen did ominously note that we did not see any dolphins on our way out yet.
Jeff has extensive offshore cruising experience and knowledge that he willingly shared with us which made us much more comfortable with undertaking an overnight passage. We worked together to set a watch schedule while getting our “sea legs” in rolling, often crashing, seas. There were many flying fish sightings throughout the day, which really seemed to be impossible – the fish literally flap their fins above the water and fly over the top of it for many yards at a time. They looked like something right out of Harry Potter.
Being out of sight of land again was less intimidating than the first time. However, we have renewed respect for those intrepid early explorers who left their homes and shores with no idea what they were sailing into, with only a compass for their guide. Polynesians didn’t even have that and they successfully navigated the South Pacific waters using the night sky as their map and an intuitive sense of the movement and streams of the oceans to move between islands. We’re really glad that we have redundant electronics (along with traditional compass and charts) to venture out into the ocean, over 100 miles from land.
The rolling, crashing seas were definitely “exciting” and we are very thankful for the person who invented scopolamine patches (frankly, he or she should be canonized…) as this miracle little patch allowed us to function during unsettling water without tossing our cookies, which goes a long way in creating a successful voyage. Neil was the hero for the day, as he was able to crawl into the lazarette and purge air from a raw water pump that caused the AC to stop working – not good in rolling seas where you cannot open doors and hatches to let cross breezes in. Then Neil and Jeff noticed that the tie down for the davit (the crane that lifts the dinghy on and off the boat) had loosened and the arm was not secure. Jeff turned the boat around so that the ride would be smoother while Neil donned his life jacket and ventured out to the upper deck to secure the arm to a railing, with a towel for a buffer. Jeff called out instructions on how to tie a trucker’s knot. In no time (that may have felt a little longer to Neil), the davit was made fast and we turned back onto our course.
Watching the ocean move around, under, and at times, over our boat creates such wonder. The ocean is indeed a living entity, not just for the denizens who live in its vast depths. There is a power, movement, force that is daunting in its strength. So many poets, songwriters and singers have tried to capture this essence. This cruise was an amazing chance to experience this mystery.
As the sun started to set on the first evening, nervous energy was palpable for both of us. Kathleen had the 9-midnight watch. It was surprising how subtly darkness falls on the water. The horizon is unbroken as the sun sinks in the west, but it is amazing how long light lingers – it didn’t get truly dark until about 10:00, and by that time, Kath was comfortable with steering by radar and autopilot.
It is quiet and calm during the night, punctuated by moments of extreme alertness when the radar picks up another ship moving towards your general direction. You strain to catch a glimpse of the white steaming light which is usually the first sighting of a distant vessel, and then tracking its course in conjunction with your own, calculating your course (with the help of AIS, GPS and radar) to avoid coming near each other. It’s funny that while we’re cruising on this huge expanse of water two boats can even inadvertently come close to each other is a thing – and it happens a lot. Much music was listened to, and kindle books read while on night watch.
With the wind and waves on our bow either directly or near so, causing the rough seas and very slow forward progress, we determined that our original plan to arrive at Cape Fear between noon and 3:00 on Wednesday was not going to happen. We slowed further and committed to another night on the ocean, with plans to enter the inlet at (or near) slack tide, 6:00ish am on Thursday morning.
We had to do a bit of creative navigating to draw out our trip as we arrived a bit sooner than we thought we would, but we entered the Cape Fear inlet in less rough waters, and docked at our new marina, South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC at 8:00 am. We were on a facing dock between two boats.
Once secured, Jeff volunteered to wash off the accumulated pounds of salt from the boat, Neil went up to sign in at the marina, and Kathleen made veggie cheese omelets for the weary crew. While washing the boat, Jeff discovered that we had “landed” our first fish – one of the flying fish didn’t make it over our upper deck and unfortunately expired sometime during our journey. And no, we did not cook it up – it was returned to the sea with a ceremonious fling. Fair winds and following seas, Mr. Fish.
After well-deserved (and needed) showers, Kathleen and Neil ventured into Southport to explore, while Jeff tried to nab some sleep and catch up on work, emails and phone calls. Neil and Kathleen had more fun. Southport is a beautiful colonial town, picturesque and the site of many movies. We enjoyed some shellfish and sunshine, exploring the town for a few hours.
Dinner that evening was chicken enchiladas on board, rounds of Mind Blocks (a game Jeff invented) and early end to waxing philosophical, as we all needed a good night’s sleep. Oh, and Jeff pointed out a family of dolphins that were casually fishing in the river near us. NOW Kathleen knew all would be well.
Friday dawned beautiful and calm.
On the way up to the marina office, Neil encountered some of the local wildlife, calling Kathleen to come check it out. Yup, that is a six foot alligator swimming around in the marina. Apparently, dinosaurs are found all over the South. This “little guy” hung out for a bit, but got irritated with a golden retriever who disrupted the early morning quiet with excited barking, and with a few powerful swishes of his tail, slipped under the water and disappeared. Needless to say, we did not swim or paddle board here.
The rest of the day passed quietly and seamlessly. We debriefed with Jeff on his observations and suggestions for making cruising easier, whether it be added amenities to the pilothouse (i.e. – drink holders) to improvements on engine room check logging forms. We are sooo grateful for his easy manner with good ideas. His calm demeanor and ability to turn any situation into a fun adventure made this cruise for us. We cannot wait for another trip with him, and hopefully, his wife, Pam. Oh, and he introduced us to the music group, The Cordovas, which is awesome.
Update 9/29/2020: Jeff Merrill (JMYS – Trawler Specialists) produced a video of our offshore adventure/training. Please view at the following YouTube link: