Annapolis to Key West October 24 - November 2, 2020
This trip report will include 9 days of sobriety at sea and 7 days of making up for that on land.
We were originally scheduled to move S/V Ganesha from Annapolis to Key West in April, but a pan-dammit reared its ugly head. It's now October with COVID still lingering in the air and the owner/captain/friend called and asked if I could help with his move....of course I said yes! He had 4 additional crew lined up, but unfortunately 3 out of 4 bailed with just one week's notice, his remaining friend had no experience other than day sails. I was able to convince 2 friends to join us! one with charter experience and the other...well, he'll also have to learn as we go!
S/V Ganesha is a 1995 Hylas49, she has character and has aged gently. A lot of work had gone into repairing, replacing and adding new equipment to her over the last many months.
A couple days before departure necessary work continued to ready the boat , a lot of work actually! She seemed ready and eager to go when we moved her to a dock the day before departure. We were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and blue skies the next morning. At 0800hr we hugged and kissed our family members who were nice enough to see us off. 5 crew on board... check!, no lines in the water... check! start the engine!... I said START THE ENGINE.click, click, click?....oh shi&! Would you believe the starter failed at that exact moment?! Fortunately it was Saturday and we were able to buy a new starter...4 hour delay start to finish, not terrible! Stay calm and remember that this failure was best found at the dock! One newbie was heard saying "are we sure everything we need is ready?...I answered "of course!" haha!!!!!
It felt so good to be on the water again, even just motoring under the Severn River bridge then passing the Naval Academy. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday and the Chesapeake Bay was very active with pleasure crafts. After a quick fuel stop all systems were go, the batteries were at 100% thanks to the new solar panels! The crew would spend the remainder of the day learning about boat operations and organizing the provisions etc. I mentioned that some of the crew were new to sailing, so all of the very basics had to be covered and covered again. The Captain, retired Navy and professional sailing instructor was enjoying teaching new "students" and they were eager to learn. Captain was relentless with nomenclature, he enjoyed not acknowledging comments or questions until the correct terms were spoken! for instance "am I sleeping in the bedroom behind the kitchen? which rope controls the big sail?" Captains eyes would roll! LOL! Night watch schedules were created, 4 hour shifts 2000-0000, 0000-0400, 0400-0800. The Captain and I did some overlapping the first couple nights, Radar/AIS, big ships passing relatively close in the dark will make greenhorns anxious at times! To be honest... I was a little rusty myself, it's been about 2 years since I've sailed overnight and simple tasks like knowing how to silence alarms, adjusting brightness on equipment, simply starting a pot of water on a finicky stove etc drove me nuts the first night.
Winds were not in our favor traveling down the bay, we burned 17 gallons of diesel, so we planned a fuel stop at Little Creek inlet near Norfolk. As we prepared to cross a shipping channel a large warship approached at speed, Captain raised them on the radio and stated our intention to enter Little creek, permission was granted to proceed. We saw several Navy ships out and about, liked that!
After quickly refueling our starter acted up again ugh, quickly found a loose wire and we were off! We were hoping for no more glitches!! Did I mention that our departure date just slipped behind Hurricane Epsilon? It was well North East of the Chesapeake, but when we exited the bay heading towards Cape Hatteras we felt the swells. Within an hour we had one crew member turn green and another fighting it back, ugh. They were not satisfied with their prescription patches! At one point, while "purging", a bird landed on his hat, he would be known as Sparrow the entire trip, although I think it was a Finch ha!! Entering the gulf stream the seas were quite confused and I'm guessing they ranged probably 6-8 feet, an occasional larger wave would wash over our bimini, dampness eventually set in.
Soon after starting our 0400hr watch I kept hearing some kind of music in my head? a rythmic base thing... I ask my watch partner, who was sitting well forward of me if she heard it and she laughed, she was repeating a mantra Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha..whatever keeps you calm I say! she stated that she was not exactly comfortable when we would heel over while cresting a large swell, she would eventually realize that the 32,000 lb Hylas was built for these conditions. The chant was actually quite appropriate since S/V Ganesha was named after a Hindu deity with a connection to maritime traders, known as a remover of obstacles, cool.
It seemed like forever, but we eventually made it through the carnival ride known as the Gulf Stream, I believe it was early Tuesday morning. We always let our 2 queezy crew members sleep as long as they needed. When they eventually woke up we had entered the doldrums as we suspected, they liked the flat conditions. The grib weather files we downloaded on Sunday showed very little wind for the next 48 hours, so we motor sailed mostly. My 2 buddies hadn't eaten anything and drank very little water in almost 2 days. I knew they were feeling better when they asked if there was coffee! Once they were hydrated we grilled up brats...they wanted that ha!! I told my bourbon drinking buddy it's hard to tell if he was sea sick or going through DT's!...fyi, we do not drink on these passages, don't like it...but good rule! Next 2 days were filled with watching dolphin, playing cards, cooking, fishing, talking about beer and discussing how far down the Florida coast we wanted to go until crossing back over the Gulf Stream.
Colors were vibrantly different and amazing each sunrise and sunset.
Early Thursday we were lucky to make 5 knots, hard to sail into the wind! so we decided to begin crossing back over the Gulf Stream, in hindsight we should have stayed the course and turned closer to the Bahamas!
The conditions were dreadful, we motor sailed beam reach/close hauled about 3/4 of the way through the turbulent stream, making 7-8 knots until the engine abruptly quit. It was 0330 hr and this was a serious downer. Not only did the engine quit but the winds were shifting so much that the auto pilot could not keep up, so I was stuck steering Ganesha for the next 4 hours. Our heading towards West Palm was not a good one and not wanting an accidental jibe I kept adjusting with the wind. We tried sailing starboard tack and couldn't make more than 2-3 knots with the current and 6-8 ft seas, so back to port tack to maintain 6-8 knots. After sunrise we were 30 miles off the coast when conditions settled, but unfortunately way north of our target! We tried our engine again and it started, thankfully. We believed we should have about 40 gallons of fuel left, not including our 15 gallons in jerry cans, but we decided to pull into Fort Pierce to top off. It was just after sunset and the marina said our 64 foot mast could clear the bridge, NOPE not at high tide! we diverted and tied up to Harbourtown Marina and they were closed!! Only diesel around was on land, so we considered sleeping at the dock until 0700 when the pumps open, there's a pub!! but we were in 8 ft of water at high tide with a 7 ft draft, we'd be in the mud until 0930 high tide.... that would put us 14 more hours behind schedule...did I mention my wife was flying down on Saturday to meet me?? We decided to call an UBER to see if they would make 2 trips to the gas station to fill our jerry cans, HE SAID YES! Thank you UBER MAN for the assist! You might ask, why did we stop when we might have had 30-40 gallons left... honestly I think we were spooked when the engine abruptly quit and questioned our consumption calculations.
My wife was aware of our current situation, so once underway I texted her to advise on a potential noon arrival in Key West on Sunday, she was happy! and so was I. Once the sun climbed over the horizon conditions were just right to fly the spinnaker! Not only did it look awesome but we were averaging 10 knots too! It was a glorious sailing day! We made it to Fort Lauderdale and with a storm front approaching we took down the spinnaker. In the rain we motored into Lauderdale and through the draw bridge to top off the tanks, 78 gallons! our consumption calculations were just about right after all.
Quickly back out we were trying to make up time. It seemed like in no time we were making the turn around the keys. Spaghetti and meatball night!! Saturday night around 2000hr we were heading back into the wind, tried to furl the genoa and it jammed, why now?, it's dark, it's choppy, there are shoals 2-300 yards off starboard!! I put my harness on made my way to the bow, JAMMED!! I had to physically work the line out of the drum one revolution at a time, all the while being splashed and bounced around! I kept handing back line to my buddy until it was all out, my knees were shot so I traded places with the Captain and he wrapped it properly back into the drum, 1-1/2 hour delay!!
At 2200hr the captain said he and I would be steering the final nighttime leg, he napped 2200-0000, my watch partner and I slept 0100-0400...once the sun began to rise I felt some sort of relief and I felt surprisingly awake believe it or not. It had been a very long sleepless day/night. At 0800 I was relieved by the Captain, but with less than 6 hours to go my watch partner and I chose to stay up with the Captain. In Annapolis my watch partner was new to this, but by the end she called everything by the proper name, she knew which lines did what, she knew how to navigate and steer, she sensed when help was needed and didn't hesitate to help, she earned my respect. Her efforts were rewarded by a large pod of dolphins providing escort the last couple of miles.
2 hours from our destination a short squall came through and rinsed the boat off for us and then a beautiful rainbow appeared over Key West. My wife said that she was my pot of gold waiting there, I said in my mind I pictured a bucket of Budlight ha!!
To be continued...on land! CHEERS!