Well we finally left Hampton this week, after a few stops and starts and a few more trips to the hardware, marine and grocery stores. I think we have successfully discovered every nook and cranny on this boat and shoved those spaces full of provisions!
At the start of the week, we spent time with Ray Smith, our new crew member, to get him oriented to the boat and the rally. Ray’s a very amiable fellow, and plus, he owns a Jeanneau sailboat so he can’t be that bad! We all headed over to Bluewater Yachting Center on Sunday morning, Nov 5 with great anticipation for our departure the next day. However, the favorable weather window we had was closing rapidly and the rally organizers decided to postpone the start until Wednesday or Thursday. Although we were experiencing an exceptionally pleasant high over the area, there was an intense low moving towards us and would put us in rough conditions the first few days out. It was great to hear that the organizers made this decision, as one of my reservations about joining the rally was the likely pressure they would feel to send 75 boats, with crew members anxious and return flights already booked, off on schedule despite the predicted weather. The last thing I wanted to do was be out in rough conditions the first few days, especially in the Gulf Stream, which we would probably encounter about 24 hours into the voyage. So now we had even more time to prepare. If we weren’t ready for the trip with this extra time, shame on us! We spent one afternoon out on the Norfolk harbor practicing tacks, jibes, and reefing so that Ray could become comfortable doing these kinds of things, in the middle of the night if necessary. We also conducted a process called swinging the compass. This process measures the amount of error the ship’s compass has compared to a normal magnetic compass. With the many pieces of equipment, wiring and other objects that may throw off the compass onboard, it is good to have a deviation table of these errors, and the rally inspectors required it too. It is done by comparing the ship’s compass to a hand bearing compass every 15 degrees on the compass rose. When I’ve done this before, and when we did it now, it caused a bit of confusion to other boats in the area. I imagine they wonder why we can’t keep to a respectable course and why we continue in circles!
Each day during the week, we had a morning briefing with the rally and the latest weather was of course the main topic of discussion. At this point, we had become pretty used to the dinghy ride from our home at the Hampton municipal docks to Bluewater Yachting Center, the center of the rally and where most boats were docked. Here we are on a particularly bright clear morning. That’s Ray in the picture as well.
Here’s a shot of everyone in the rally tent, being briefed by the Carib1500 head, Steve Black. On the last few days before the start, no one skipped these briefings — we were all weather fiends at that point!
On Tuesday, it looked like we were going to be set for ‘launch’ the next day. The low would be passing over us in the evening with heavy rain at times. We decided to not dip into the ship’s stores so close to departure and instead opted for dinner ashore. We had been advised by the fleet doctor to not drink the night before. He said a sure guarantee for sea sickness would be fatty foods and alcohol, so we decided on a simple Italian restaurant and got loaded up on carbohydrates instead!
The evening passed as forecasted with steady rains and a morning that was bright and clear. One fellow boater on the dock that morning said I looked like I had a ‘bone in my teeth’! I’m sure I did, as we had been at the dock here for almost 2 weeks and we were all anxious to get moving! The start was set for high noon off of Thimble Shoal light. At 10am, we disconnected our shore power (bummer, no more heat!), cast off the lines, and headed out the harbor. Here we are, standing on shore in the States for the last time for many months!
As we approached Bluewater Yachting Center, we came to an immediate halt — this was the equivalent of the SF Bay Bridge at rush hour!
You can’t see it too well in this picture, but there is a continuous line of boats in front us out the channel to the harbor!
Once we finished the procession out the channel and entered the harbor of Hampton Roads, we were quickly enveloped in a layer of fog, not unlike the heavy fog of Maine. Where moments before we were surrounded by boats, now we could only see one or two at a time. Then, boats around us started to make erratic turns this way and that — what craziness was this about? Seconds later it became clear, as the superstructure of large containership loomed above the fog ahead of us! You could see the bridge, but not the hull, and to make matters worse, this ship was not blowing fog signals! The navigable part of the harbor in this area is very narrow, and knowing that half of the fleet was still behind us, this looked like imminent disaster unfolding. Ray grabbed the VHF and contacted the captain on Channel 13, letting him know that there was a fleet of 75 sailboats all around and in front of him. This captain blew Ray off by saying ‘Yeah, I can see them all’. Right! Even if he could find them all on radar, that doesn’t mean that our fellow sailors wouldn’t make a sudden last minute move unknowingly in his path. He passed through the fleet without incident though, and we all started milling around the start line. Here, you can faintly see the race committee boat in the fog.
Here’s some new friends of ours on Heaven Won’t Wait, a Beneteau 42. They are from Halifax so you know we had a lot to talk about! They also have their 10 yr old son Devan aboard. Coincidently, two of their crew, Linda and Mike Whitehouse know some of the folks we met in Rogue’s Roost, Sue Vey and Ben Doucette — indicative of the small world we are living in presently!
The start was more like a power boaters affair, as nearly everyone decided to motor across the start line. In this rally, you are allowed to motor if you wish and your total engine hours are logged and incorporated into the scoring. So there we went, motoring to our destination some 1500 miles away!