Trip Summary

    So what of the off-shore trip you ask? Are you ready to cross oceans? Was it exciting? Boring? Adrenalin filled, how did the two of you do together? Lots of questions out there as well as kind of banging around in my own head. I have been thinking about drafting a sort of summary and haven't yet. Been having too much fun. Things like seeing old friends, visiting our home-away-from-home Oriental, walking around Target gazing at the stuff we really haven't missed at all (yet strangely drawn by the multi-million $ marketing research woven into the packaging, displays, descriptions telling me my life will not be full without this item) and enjoying the cool nights as we poke our way north. I do however owe a great deal of gratitude to those who helped us stay in the loop. Thanks to Amanda who posted updates and Ian, Anne, Greg and Gail who all helped with the locations. We appreciate the concerns from those of you who saw crap weather approaching and were left hanging as to our whereabouts for a couple days.

   For what it's worth I'll give it a try today. Maybe a bit of commentary on us, and a bit on crossings in general as we have seen yet another ARC depart on "schedule" with boats and crews thrown to the weather gods...more there later.  Our trip was for the most part just basic sailing. Most of it was well off the wind, roughly 80% of our wind was from aft of the beam. A tribute to the time of year and the wind pattern gathered through history, proffered by the pilot charts, looked at briefly by me before I fell to the software solution offered by Virtual Passage Planning. Simple way to plug in your route and get a report of wind direction, change it if it looks tough and try again. All based on the historical averages of course but it is almost the best avaialble when off shore for longer than a 2-4 day forecast.  There are other things in the weather mix, but more there later.

The Obligatory Sunset Photo
    The good ship Celebration did just what she was designed to do; sail smooth with her narrow beam, true to the course with her full keel, take care of us with her blue-water construction and run fast (not like a racer of course) with her supersized sail plan. Even with most of our run well off wind we rarely had the full sails in the air. We, and she, prefer to have the vessel upright and even slightly underpowered on long crossings to enjoy what comfort and leisure can be splitting a 24 hour watch schedule just two ways. More so at night as we never go into darkness with a full main and often carry a double reef just so we won't have to reduce sail at night. How can you stand to do that my racer friends ask? Easy when the crew is but two and both must be well rested just in case the unexpected would occur. Besides, we do this for fun, as we both left work to make this extended journey. Stressing gear, me, crew, breaking equipment, tearing sails makes it work. Even so we did have a bit of sail repair underway.
    The stationary front we encountered midway between the Caribbean and the US was our "big" engagement. My watch, I knew it was there and we'd been approaching it for a few days had seen the lightning the prior night so no surprises. Right. I allowed the wind vane to steer us down the face of it on a reach until we were abreast of an area where the wind "seemed" lighter and I was sure I could see well into the weather. Confident this was a more gentle area than the rest I rolled up and in. In minutes I was aware of my poor judgment. With a small part of the working jib flying but only one reef in the main we were grossly overpowered. No more chance of a quick cut through the front we ran off doing 10 knots and our old worn out underreporting wind meter showing 30. Short lived but a little stitching was required afterward. Like always there was a dead calm after the storm so we putted along under power with the jib and the Kenmore (sewing machine) on the foredeck putting a bit of thread back in the line channel at the sail foot. Maybe a bit of Sunbrella re-stitched too but who needs to count. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the blow didn't cause the damage, but the accumulation of Caribbean sun and wind did, today’s blow just moved it up on the repair/maintenance list.
The Route as Planned. Later Turned into a Large
Zig/Zag North, Even into Florida, Finally to Beaufort

    In all other aspects the days were quite slow. Preparing food, eating, doing basic chores around the vessel, sending e-mails, and getting weather faxes/files really took up some time. Then reading. The wind vane Rejse steered, and navigation is easy when off-shore and heading in a general direction. In fact the planned course had but two turns between the end of St Thomas and Beaufort Inlet. Way easier than coastal cruising.
    By the time of our last (after Beryl) leg we had a lot more figured out despite the numbers of off shore miles under our belt already. We followed Beryl up the coast from Florida to North Carolina as it was pushed out to sea by a significant front. We were of course not fast enough to stay ahead of the front. As it overtook us the wind was our wind, headed our way pressing us ahead. But the squall lines leading well, were squall lines, stronger than the gradient wind and with thunderstorms, driving rain. The first approached, we set sails accordingly and sat in the cockpit waiting for the excitement. The wind picked up 35-40 knots, the auto-helm steered, the rain rained, and Celebration headed on her course without a blink or waiver. Lynn and I looking at each other sitting in our full foul weather gear; pelted by the driven rain and smiled, “no problem” we said and broke into our regular night watch schedule. Both dealt with squall lines through the night and neither off-watch had to be awakened to help.

     What did we learn: We still don't know if we want to cross oceans but are confident we can cross oceans, and by ourselves if we opt not to take extra crew. Two people can easily handle a well found vessel if she is not pressed. The self steering must be functional and capable of handling weather when small crewed. Wind steering added to our comfort and speed as it adjusted to minor directional changes, even in light downwind conditions, backup is the electronic auto-helm. SSB is important to us if not for the weather and mail, hearing and talking to friends on the cruiser nets was a  nice link back to the continent, more so as the days went on. Schedules are bad. Lastly weather patterns must be given grave consideration.
    Weather patterns and schedule lead me back to the start, sailing crossings on schedule. Unfortunately as I write this at least one boat sits in the Azores doing repairs after departing on schedule with the ARC Europe. Just like two recent Caribbean 1500's the show went off per the booking, this case while weather patterns created a high probability of storms impacting the North Atlantic. Meanwhile, we have friends underway right now to Europe, one from the Caribbean, and one from the US both of whom heeded this forecast and departed after the patterns changed. We too heeded the patterns by planning our route closer to options than we would otherwise have done and in the end took the option when prediction models indicated tropical storms. My point is just this; being part of a group does not make offshore sailing safer in itself. Worse yet, departure dates and locations may be driven by impacts beyond weather making it far more dangerous. I love the concept of the Rally, but the sailor must make his/her own decisions, have the right ship, have shaken down the vessel themselves after major repair/upgrade, know how to sail their own boat safely, and maintain/repair at sea the items that will jump up on the list. Sorry, a little rant maybe but being part of a rally will not make up for poor weather decisions, a well found ship, or crew experience. Unless it is truly unpredicted and brutal we cannot simply blame the weather and the ocean.

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