05 July 2016

Sailing Boston to Nova Scotia - Shakedown Cruise

Captain Linda Perry Riera
1 July 2016 - 4 July 2016

For the short of attention span and/or uninterested (or red styles), an Abridged / Cliff Note version is provided immediately below.  Details and great photos are shared for sailing geeks and the otherwise curious.


The Good: We made it!! Boat and crew all safe. No seasickness. Dolphins. Whales. Learnings. Sunrises and sunsets. Increased confidence. We still like each other. We arrived relatively rested (un-exhausted?) thanks to sticking with our watch schedule.
The Bad: Wind directly behind us (requiring vigilance to avoid gybing and interfering with straight path). Misjudged ideal course causing slightly longer route (had a chance to put some in the bank Saturday but did not). Late with spinnaker both hoisting and dousing (resulting in slow progress for a spell, then quick broach and tangled chute in high winds).
The Ugly: Saturday night - heavy winds / bigger seas, hit something, flailing jib, scary venture on to foredeck. Humbling.

Stats: - Total trip distance 290nm, average speed 5.8kts, 4 Gal. diesel
Note: These are approximates because I unplugged the GPS receiver from the lap top that was tracking and saving our actual course. Whoops.
Departed Constitution Marina 0640 Saturday 1 July; arrived at Shelburne Yacht Club, Shelburne Nova Scotia 1210 Monday 4 July (54.5 hours which included about 5 hours of motoring).

Pre trip preparations studying charts

Unabridged Recount:

Shakedown cruise (def) - Sail conducted to assess the readiness of a vessel and crew.  Will serve to get the crew accustomed to the vessel as well as to adjust machinery and systems, and to determine additional needs prior to full commissioning.  Term origin is from when motor vessels were beginning to replace sailing vessels; the engines caused vibrations in the ships that were not present in sailing vessels, and engineers had scant experience with, hence upon initially commissioning it was important to see what would "shake loose" or "shake down" during practice runs.

Although this is Argon's third sailing season and we have logged over 3500nm already on her, a shakedown cruise focusing on open ocean sailing is prudent prior to the start of our one year trip that will involve several long open ocean legs. Open ocean / blue water sailing is fundamentally different and more challenging than coastal cruising.  Boston to Nova Scotia was chosen because it is a fairly short blue water trip (2.5 days vs. 5-8 days that are in the plan in the coming year; for reference, it can take 20 or 30 days to cross the Atlantic or Pacific).  In addition, we have never been to Nova Scotia thus would love to explore her beautiful coasts a bit.

Background - This was Argon's first open ocean voyage and a key milestone in preparing to sail off for a year starting in September.  We have been learning, installing, buying, doing, tweaking, and spending a lot over the past couple of years to get Argon and ourselves ready for blue water sailing and extended cruising. See the last blog post Converting a Tartan 4000. Although we have done extensive coastal cruising over the past 10 years including several overnight sails with solo watches, I have never sailed off shore; Bob has done just one open ocean passage to Bermuda last December crewing for a sailing friend on her boat.  See Melissa's blog at: Sailing Acedia Rhode Island to Bermuda.  Sailing to Nova Scotia was going to allow Bob and I to test ourselves and the boat, learn from our experiences and mistakes, and contribute to creating a final punch list prior to September, and importantly, allow us to assess if we can indeed handle Argon off shore with just the two of us.

Teamwork to prepare and execute our first offshore voyage
We had been planning to sail to Nova Scotia sometime in July based on a good weather window. During our recent Safety at Sea Seminar in Newport, we met Ken McKinley of Locus Weather and have since decided to use him as our weather router for off shore legs to guide us in selecting departure dates, and to provide valuable atmospheric and ocean data during the trips to help us plot our course and prepare for conditions along the way. Ken confirmed a good three day forecast if we departed the morning of Saturday 2 July. The prior week was full of non-sailing activities with Bob in NY and me finishing up my final week of work (I have resigned to take a career break for a year or two) so when we received the positive weather report, we had to scurry around all Friday afternoon/evening for final preparations (dinghy on foredeck, provisioning, chart review, systems review, new network router (because ours recently bit the dust), etc.  And, importantly, to get emotionally ready.  Late Friday evening Christian (my son) came by for a visit and well wishes - now I was ready (and so was Bob).

Some rules specific to off shore were established in advance (part of risk mitigation):
  • Life vest at all times; tether to jacklines whenever venturing out of cockpit (regardless of how calm the seas may seem)
  • Tether in cockpit when alone on watch or seas/wind at least moderate
  • Adhere to watch/rest schedule as much as possible to mitigate exhaustion
  • Prophylacetic sea sickness medicine; stay hydrated with plenty of water; eat light, healthy, carefully chosen food to go easy on our bellies
  • No alcohol
  • Take it all in; experience it; be in the moment
Some rules were added to the list above during/after the journey as our wisdom expanded (aka after making mistakes or not mitigating certain risks):
  • Foredeck and general check/inspection each evening prior to dark - to look for anything amiss.  For instance... Do both the jib sheets have stopper knots?? Is the furling line caught around the windlass??  See more below for why these items are called out.  Basically - is there anything that does not function properly that would require a risky and unnecessary trip to the foredeck?
First 24 Hours
This leg of the trip was the most challenging as well as the most informative.  It was filled with inconsistent wind, many sail changes, a few mistakes, and (to be honest) a scary night.

Watch Schedule:  After working together for the first four hours, we implemented a modified three on three off which included a couple of four hour shifts to hopefully provide better rest time.  Three hours off usually means only two hours of rest as there were many times that we were both needed to handle sail changes, confirm weather, prepare a bit of food, etc.

It took us an unexpectedly long time to even get out of Boston Harbor and the initial several hours of our sail were extremely active.  After first topping off diesel (maneuvering in the high and building winds) we decided to start with a reef main as we headed out the harbor alongside a docked battleship.  However, we had a foul in the reefing line causing the main to flog and flail violently in the now 20+kt winds and for the harbor police to blow their whistle at us to scoot us away from getting too close the battleship.
Harbor police had to direct us away from approaching this docked battleship too closely as we struggled with a jammed reefing line
The building winds unexpectedly softened and shifted direction but then were back up to 28kts resulting in lots of sail configuration changes.  By the time we hit Grave's Lighthouse (less than 10nm from home), we had tacked and gybed several times as well as reefed the main, unfurled the jib, unreefed the main, sailed wing on wing, furled the jib, unfurled the genoa, furled the genoa, reefed the main, unfurled the jib, etc.  

During all this wind shifting and sail changing, we quickly learned that the dinghy (secured upsidedown on the foredeck) was too aft interfering with the the jib sheets.  We nudged the dinghy a bit forward, re-secured, and switched the rigging for the jib sheets from the manual tracks to the self-tacking set up.

Finally, after passing The Graves, we were on a steady course of 74 degrees COG (course over ground) pointed at Cape Sable Nova Scotia about 250nm away broad reaching with a reefed main and genoa in 17kts of wind forecasted to increase.  Phew - a lot of activity during these first few hours...  And the Step App on my phone was sending me a message that I was not being active enough! I don't think so.

Finally passing The Graves Lighthouse Saturday morning almost 10 miles from Constitution Marina
My first solo watch began and I would periodically peer over my shoulder to see the Boston skyline dwindling.  Beautiful blue skies, comfortable temperatures, very few boats in sight as Argon pulled further away from land.

Pulling away from the Boston skyline

Boston now out of sight
The winds were lighter than forecasted all day Saturday (but stronger than forecasted at night, we would learn).  Our sail configuration during the day ended up being too conservative since we were anticipating stronger winds that did not come so we shook out the reef and hoisted the full main. After several hours of only 12kts of wind, we finally (later than we should have) dug the spinnaker out of the sail locker and hoisted her around 1600hrs. This was our first mistake of the day - we should have put up the chute much sooner as we lost about two hours given our modest speed.

Chute finally up; humming along beautifully; until the winds shot up.....
Enjoying the sun set from the foredeck
GPS showing us about a third of the way to Nova Scotia
After several hours of comfortably sailing under main and spinnaker, just after we had enjoyed a beautiful sunset, we made our second mistake of the day which was to leave the spinnaker up too long as the winds steadily and quickly inched to around 20kts and we progressed from broad reach to beam reach; suddenly we broached. The boat had been tipped to starboard severely (about 50 degrees) and the spinnaker dipped in the water during a gust.  The wind was consistently blowing over 20kts now (having quickly built) and it was a real struggle to get the sock down to douse the spinnaker. Bob was on the foredeck fighting with the spin (clipped in with tether!) while I steered and loosened the sheets. We messily got the spinnaker down and then quickly reefed the main bouncing around the building seas. We let out the jib back on a broad reach and composed ourselves.

Spinnaker tucked away as the winds built
By now it was time for Bob to begin his off deck time and he asked me if we I thought we should furl in the jib since the winds were a steady 20+kts.  I replied no, we were fine... third mistake of the trip.

Life vest on and clipped in with tether while steering in the cockpit
Less than an hour in to Bob's rest shift, in the pitch black moonless but starfilled night, I heard and felt a substantial thud under the boat, potentially on the rudder. Crap - I hit something but had no idea what. Nothing evident behind us or nearby. [Bob: I usually don't ask "what was that"? when I hear a new noise. But this time after the thud, I heard "Bob!" from the cockpit]  The steering seemed to work fine and I could only hope nothing was damaged but my heart was racing a bit.  More importantly, I was struggling to keep control of the boat as the seas were building to 6+ feet (coming up along our rear port quarter) and winds jumped to 30kts.  We needed to get the jib in and I could not do this alone so time to call Bob up again in the cockpit for help.

The jib fiasco:  The winds were whipping, the seas were tossing us around and it was pitch black (about 2200 hours).  The jib is always difficult to furl in when there is so much load on the sail but something was wrong.... the jib furler was jammed completely and we were unable to bring in more than a couple of feet of sail.  We were healing over severely since we were overpowered and then the jib sheet pulled out of the block and in addition to the foresail, this thick line was flailing violently in the wind forward.

Needless to say... there are absoultely NO pictures of this night as we had all we could do to handle the boat for the next many hours.

We were confused as to why the jib would not furl and now a bit frightened about how to fix this mess especially with the starboard side jib sheet loose from the winch. Whatever we did, had to be quick since the sail was up there flogging itself to death. The wind and seas were howling and with the added noise created by the angry snapping of the foresail, communication was difficult; throw in some subpanic emotions.  Bob then ventured up on deck with headlamp on and tether secured to jacklines to try to fix the jib.  Venturing on the foredeck at night in conditions like this is very serious and I admit I was slightly terrified.  Although he was tethered in, there are so many ways to get hurt in conditions like this; falling overboard while tethered keeps one attached to the boat but can result in hanging over the side getting banged up against the hull; there is no easy way to get back on the boat, especially at night in rough seas.  Having a flailing jib and not yet knowing what the issue even was, having a loose jib sheet, and being 100nm away from land in these conditions.... this definitely was a test of skills and emotion.

Bob was able to retrieve the jib sheet and thread it back through the various blocks (and re-tied the stopper knot!).  Apparently, when trying to furl the first time, the two jib sheets twisted upon themselves making furling impossible.  With the sheets now untangled, the jib could be furled in.  The next morning, we would also learn that the furling line was fouled around the windlass also interfering with furling (see new rule above).

With the boat and crew now under control (only a reefed main was out) and the winds 25-30kts and the seas tossing the boat around, I spent a couple more hours of active manual steering in the dark of night unable to even gaze up and enjoy the stars momentarily as every ounce of focus went in to controlling the boat and keeping an eye out for traffic (which was sparse, thankfully).  It was important that I be in the cockpit alone so that Bob could get some rest and, importantly, so that I could practice helming in these conditions alone as this is needed off shore. Bob came up to relieve me after midnight to continue the struggle through the difficult night while I went below to rest.  Several ours later, just as first light was appearing, I awoke to relieve Bob; the wind was calmer although the seas still 6-8 feet. We made it through a challenging night.

Second 24 Hours:
Except for sunny skies with mild temperatures, Sunday was dichotomous to Saturday. The winds were pleasant and consistent at 15-22kts from the W/SW.  We were averaging 6.5kts sailing lower than ideal as our COG was closer to 80 degrees instead of the target of 72, but the conditions were wonderful.

Beautiful ink colored water as far as one can see

Sailing happily enjoying the solitude
In the light of the morning after the sun had risen, we discussed the prior night critiquing and reviewing what had happened, how we handled it, what we should have done differently, what we did well; and we both admitted to being frightened.  It was probably one of the top three most scary times sailing we have experienced.  Had we not been so far off shore, we probably would have had much less fear.  We discussed that had we not been able to get the lines unfouled and the jib in, the next step would have been to release the jib halyard and pull her down (although getting the jib below deck would be quite difficult given that our forward hatch is covered by the tied down dinghy).  Experiences like this are humbling but help keep us alert and driven to be prepared.  And today, we enjoy the calmer conditions while staying alert for shifts and changes.

Enjoying the many visits from schools of dolphins

Calmer seas, good breeze

Another beautiful sunset
As we sailed in to our second evening, our speed increased as we rode a positive current. At times Argon hit 9kts SOG (speed over ground) and was consistently over 7kts. This night I took the midnight to 0400 shift and I was thankfully able to gaze up at the multitude of stars and clear cottony Milky Way.  I kept a close eye on the anemometer staying alert for signs of upward trend but the wind remained steady at 15-20kts all through the night.  The rolling waves coming up upon the stern quarter necessitated using the preventer to keep the boom from flopping in the swells and from accidentally gybing.

Temperatures drop during my night watch around midnight (I suspect most of our friends celebrating the holiday weekend in Boston were not bundled up like this!)
Slightly more northern latitude brings very cool mornings; seas are calm and we are close enough to our destination to enjoy a cup of coffee for the first time during the trip (we avoided coffee earlier to lessen the chance of getting sea sick)

The Final Leg to Shelburne:
Monday morning brought calmer seas and lighter winds.  Our previously positive current had now turned against us and with the lightening winds, we eventually fired up the diesel and motored our way along the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. As we were now only six hours from our destination, we both stayed up enjoying more visits from dolphins and whales as well as the first sites of land.

More than a dozen whales frolicked off our port about 15 nm off the Nova Scotia shore
Cape Negro Lighthouse
Sandy Point Shelburne Harbor

Motoring up Shelburne Harbor.  Hello Canada!!
Shelburne Nova Scotia is a beautiful coastal town with a population of less than 2000.  Fishing and ship building are the primary industries which used to support a population of five times the current.  Upon arriving to a new country by water (similar to by land) one must check in with customs.  Shelburne Yacth Club is an official port of entry for Canada so our first order of business was to obtain clearance from authorities.  The procedures and requirements differ from country to country but one commonality for boaters is that one must initially raise a small yellow "quarantine" flag upon arrival to indicate that permission to enter the country has not yet been granted but is in progress; the skipper of the vessel is to immediately initiate the procedure and, when permission has been granted, the yellow quarantine flag is replaced by a flag of the hosting country.

Hoisting the yellow quarantine flag in Shelburne Harbor
To improve efficiency and cut costs, the Canadian government has instituted a fantastically simple way for most boaters to clear customs.  The TRS/M is the Telephone Reporting Site/Marine and requires a phone call to the authorities from an official port of entry and provision of information about your vessel, crew and intent.  Then posting of your permit number on the vessel.  Not even a fee is collected here.  Thank you Canada!  Prior to each country to be visited, I will research the requirements and will add to a developing spreadsheet for quick reference as it is different everywhere.

Approaching the very friendly town of Shelburne and Shelburne Yacht Club
Various boat information needed to relay to customs official were prepared and handy to facilitate the process

Secured safely at SYC with Canadian courtesy flag flying after clearing customs
We will be in Shelburn only for two nights and then venture off to another harbor northward somewhere depending on our moods and the wind.  Until then, we will explore the area by foot, clean the heavy layer of salt off Argon, top off the water tanks, and rest up for our next passage (short passage!).
Post Script:  We stayed in Shelburne only one night afterall departing about 1800 the evening of the next day.  And.... we did not do a short passage but rather 80+nm through a very foggy night all the way to Ludenburg.  More to come about this trip!


  1. Wow! I was terrified and exhilirated reading this! I can only imagine what the real experience was like. Sending my wishes for safe travels and looking forward to the next post. Molly Aalyson

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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