21 September 2016

Training Run: Off Shore to Cape May NJ

Argon's anchor was weighed in the dark, pre-dawn hours on Thursday 15 September in a windy Great Salt Pond Block Island and to a spectacular full moon setting on the western horizon. As we carefully motored our way out of the skinny inlet in to the choppy seas, the sky became pitch black but speckled with stars as the moonlight diminished. Then, as if waiting for the moon to depart before appearing, we were greeted by first light and a brilliant rising sun behind as we sailed a broad reach in choppy seas and18kts of wind towards Cape May.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

We had two routes to chose from as we sought to make our way further south pulling away from New England. The more common route for recreational cruisers is to stay in the relatively protected waters of Long Island Sound between Long Island and the Connecticut shore heading to New York City; then hug the coast of New Jersey to its southern tip, Cape May. We desired more off-shore experience and chose the direct route to Cape May traveling south of Long Island in the exposed Atlantic waters. As our trip was only 220nm, and not directly away from shore, this was like a training run, a mini off-shore, helping to prepare for the main events that will come later in our trip (650nm to Bermuda followed by 900nm to Antigua).

This is our route from Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island to the southern tip of New Jersey:



The winds had been high and out of the southwest for a couple of days earlier in the week; we were waiting for a shift to a better direction to avoid having to beat heavily up wind. The winds quickly altered about 180 degrees, exactly as forecasted, shortly after midnight a few hours before our early morning departure. And the seas were confused and choppy, exactly as predicted. But we were rested, bundled up, and prepared.  Another thing we did for this trip was enlist our (very) trusty weather router Ken McKinley at Locus weather. We wanted to go through the process of getting forecasts and recommendations and making decisions based on that. Once again, everything Ken said would happen... happened.

We practiced our 3 hours on and 3 hours off shifts which was needed during the initial 24 hours especially as the heavy seas and winds low downwind required diligence and active steering. I had some anxiety going in to this off shore leg anticipating a long, dark, windy night in potentially difficult seas and reflecting on the challenging night we experienced on the way to Nova Scotia back in July. But I also knew it was important to face this unease and get more practice in the open ocean. 

Bundled up for the chilly, windy morning before dawn. Full main and genoa were hoisted just outside Great Salt Pond. The seas were initially confused and chaotic but then fell in to more of a pattern of generous waves in the 18kt northerly winds. (I do not feel as horrified as my face looks in this picture.)
Bob helming as we welcome first light a few hours in to the first day.
Actively navigating the following waves while enjoying the fast speeds. Argon maintained well over 7kts the first 140 nm.

The first 24 hours of this mini off shore passage were in 3 to 5 foot seas with many 6 footers. However, with the winds mostly 18-22 kts (gusts to 26), this was very manageable with diligence.

Brief video midday of Day 1 after the sun had risen, temperatures had warmed and the seas had calmed a bit:



In anticipation of the large following waves and swells, we decided the prior night to not travel with the dinghy on the davits (as is standard for coastal sailing), but rather to tie the dinghy to the fore deck. This requires some rather arduous maneuvering to lift the outboard motor from the dinghy and attach it to a mount on the stern rail (we have practiced a method several times now which minimizes the chance that the outboard, or Bob, will fall in the water); and, using the main halyard with a lifting sling, hoist the dinghy on to the fore deck securing upside down with several dock lines.

Securing the dinghy on the fore deck the prior evening in anticipation of generous following seas. Normally the dinghy hangs off the stern on davits for coastal cruising but it is safer on the fore deck for off shore as large waves may hit up against the bottom of the dinghy causing damage to the davits or come up over and in to the dinghy adding dangerous weight.

The rhumb line from markers near Block Island to Cape May indicated we were to aim for a course of 227 degrees true and the total distance was expected to be 220nm if sailing a straight line. But with the wind blowing precisely the direction we were going, we stayed north of the rhumb line the first 30nm to maintain a broad reach, then jybed over to starboard tracking a bit south of the rhumb line. However, as predicted the wind slowly veered and we were able to gradually curve our way back towards the desired heading as the wind veered more easterly over the ensuing 15 hours. Sailing directly down wind wing on wing was impossible due to the consistently zealous seas and winds reaching 25kts at times. The boom preventer was secured virtually the entire trip as we worked to sail very low and keep the rolling waters from causing us to accidentally jybe.

Broad reaching towards Cape May with full main and genoa enjoying brisk winds, clear skies, and warming temperatures.

Coffee break. Side cockpit panels were attached on the windward side helping us stay warm.

Preparing for nightfall still moving along nicely at 7+kts.
 


The skies were clear and beautiful for the entire transit and we were swiftly following a current averaging well over 7 kts for the majority of the trip.

Initial glimpses of Atlantic City with the full moon setting the morning of Day 2.

Welcoming first light the morning of Day 2. Seas have calmed quite a bit since departing Block Island nearly 30 hours ago.
Atlantic City skyline. Another 40nm to Cape May.

We hoisted the spinnaker as the winds lighted up.
Our initial brisk average speed (yes, 7.5kts is fast for a sailboat such as Argon!) was thwarted during the final 30nm. But we still made the transit in a respectable 35 hours. And although this was just a mini off-shore trip, it was good to practice our helming and another overnight in the open seas. The trip to Bermuda will be much longer:  4 1/2 days and 650nm. I guess this is like a another training run for the real event.

Until next time.... we AReGONe!!

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