Thursday, 30 May 2013

Heading east.........sort of.

It seems a lifetime ago that we were anchored in the Harbour of Refuge at Cape Henlopen having enjoyed a motor through the C&D canal, feeling homesick as the countryside reminded us so much of England...........at least until we saw the buzzards hanging around by the waters edge. We'd read a lot about the currents and shipping through this canal but it treated us well even when this one loomed out of the mist at the approach to the western entrance.
Something large slides out of the mist........
 We left Russ and Alison a day or so previously and worked our way north toward an anchorage for the night. An early start the following day gave us time to enjoy the scenery and the journey down from there was ok, helped by the engine we pulled into the refuge late one evening.

Think we spent a couple of nights there, complete with thunderstorms, before pulling up the hook about noon on Sat May 11. The start was good with reasonable winds and speeds but by the evening the seas were big and lumpy but the wind was dying. Not a pleasant state of affairs and a situation that had Bee throwing up from sea-sickness and even left me feeling a tad quesy. Worse was to come. In the early hours of Sunday morning we gybed as the wind shifted (the self-steerer was in command...) and as we struggled to bring her back on course on a pitch black night the boom came over with a crash. No rigging was lost but the mainsheet caught around a dorade and ripped it completely off the box and another unidentified line ripped a cleat from the boom. Not a happy chappy as I cursed and fumed about the perils of crash gybing gaffers in the dark. The rest of the day improved, the sun came out and we were able to get stuff dried, speeds were good and we both felt optimistic.

Osprey nests
  Falsely as it turns out as the trip was a mixture of light winds, drifting interspersed with a day ot two of strong blows. One day had us bouncing around in 5 metre seas with the odd one or two coming aboard. Thankfully the changes we'd put in place over the winter seem to have paid off and very little came below. However one wave, which seemed to fill the cockpit, succeeded in taking both our favourite winch handle (newly acquired as a cast-off from Morgans Cloud) and a great diving knife which we used mostly to puncture tins before casting them to the deep.

Our route had taken us firmly off-shore as I wanted to avoid the fog and fishing boats off the Nantucket Shoals and then again off Nova Scotia. So the primary benefit was we had fog free days and very little inter action with fishing boats. The down side was we were out of range of the weather forecast and we resorted to calling up ships for a report. They were. for the most part, pretty useless and seemed, in retrospect, to be completely out of date or possibly for a totally different area. On one occasion we resorted to calling up a Canadian Surveillance aircraft that flew over us. They answered our call and responded to our request with great civility although their response of "cloud cover at 4,000 feet and good visibility from here to the mainland" (140 miles away) was not really what we had in mind for a forecast. We pushed our luck and asked if they could obtain a marine forecast for us and although they tried they were unable to get anything specific. Our final "request" for a pizza delivery was met with barely suppressed hoots of laughter as they wished us well, turned and flew EXTREMELY low over out mast tops. Nice folks and good natured with it.

Toots modelling her new hat, a present from Alison!

So the trip went on. In keeping with our philosophy of "why motor when you can drift" we achieved some startling mileages. 5 miles in 4 hours was not uncommon, even 3 miles between 12 noon and 4 pm on May 22nd which all helped to keep daily mileages below the 100 we work on when "planning" a long trip. At some point we did become fairly disgruntled about the whole thing, Bee wishing we'd taken a route closer to shore but still outside the fog banks and both of us contemplating changing course for Cape Breton and even, at one bottom of the barrel moment, saying stuff it and we'll just keep going and head for Iceland/Scotland or wherever our destination ends up being. A tally of the amount of water we had left knocked that idea out but for some hours it was definitely the choice aboard!

By Friday 24th the inevitable happened and we had gradually moved northwards and into the fog and life changed. I really do not enjoy sailing in fog even though we now have radar but we spent the next 48 hours moving slowly through the wet dreariness of life in a fog bank. Very little wild life could be seen or heard, from time to time we'd hear or see a radar image of a fishing boat or large ships on the AIS but otherwise our visual world was reduced to a grey wall. Not until, as it did last time, we rounded Cape Spear just 4 miles from St John did we glimpse and then see land. We had, of course, long ago given up the idea of going to St Pierre so entering the Narrows was very welcome. Surprisingly at this time of the year there were already 2 boats moored to the docks and unsurprisingly one of them was BO, a Dutch boat we'd last seen in Castine as we all sheltered from some hurricane or other. There are only 2 individual docks and one had no gangplank so access to the shore was non-existent. We rafted up, tidied up, phoned the Customs and settled down to await their arrival. A couple of very laid back officers arrived, cleared us in with the least fuss we have received anywhere and departed. An hour later we were aboard Bo, downed a hefty glass of Cuban rum to celebrate our arrival and soon after crawled off to bed. 15 days and change for 1200 plus miles, so a slow trip.
The Battery, St Johns from the Narrows

Since then we've sorted out a few jobs, showered and done laundry at The Mighty White. Not only do they have cumfy seating but they also have free wi-fi on site lending itself to a pleasant couple of hours catching up. A day or so later I happened to be on deck one evening and heard someone call my name, turned and found myself meeting someone who had followed the blog for a number of years. Hedley had worked out that if we were going to St Pierre we might well turn up in St Johns and had swung by the waterfront on the off chance. He and Karen came aboard for a glass and a chat and as Karen later pointed out it must be strange, for us, to meet folks who know so much about who we are and what we've done when we have never met before. They're like a number of people we have met who seem to have evolved a great lifestyle that involves a mixture of land and water. Like us they have no inclination for heat and crowds, love the solitude that sailing around here provides but can retreat to a rural winter isolation and simplicity. Or at least that's how we see it.......In the meantime they've generously put themselves at our disposal and made life a whole lot easier.

So that's the first leg over and soon we'll think about the next one. An early look at PassageWeather showed a band of fog stretching from here, eastwards for 700 or 800 miles or more. Luckily it seems to be short lived but it'll be something we'll be checking on before we push off. Our initial thoughts are to move away from here and find ourselves a quiet spot to get ourselves ready. St Johns is a great place but is noisy with the amount of shipping moving in and out daily plus the docks are opposite the entrance to a SE wind will lump the seas up quite quickly we suspect. However the east coast does not have an abundance of good sheltered anchorages so we'll head down to Fermeuse or round the top and into Conception Bay. After that we'll head east to clear (by a long way) Cape Farewell on the south of Greenland before turning for Reykjavik. Well that's today's plan. Stornoway is also in our minds as a landfall and I'm thinking we won't really know until we get there.

St Johns, Newfoundland