It's been sixteen days since we left the farm. This is the first chance that I’ve been able to sit back, collect my thoughts and put some into words. It has been nonstop work, travel and troubleshooting. The drive from Ohio to Florida with Velocir on the trailer was about as smooth as it can go, but the minute we hit the boatyard, it was go-time. We worked from sunup to past sundown for two days to complete our necessary projects and rig Velocir for her return to water.
Within three hours of launching, we set sail to catch a weather window like I’ve not seen open in months. There was a low pressure system parked off the coast of North Carolina generating sustained northwest winds for several days. With these winds, we would be able to reach deep into the central Bahamas in one passage of 300+ miles.
The Gulf Stream – To sail from Florida to the Bahamas, it’s necessary to cross the Gulf Stream. This is one of the most powerful ocean currents in in the world. It travels south to north, bringing warm, tropical waters and creating its own micro-environment. We knew going into it that the northwest wind opposes the current and has the potential to create rough conditions. Since the weather forecast only showed sustained 13-15 knots, I figured that it wouldn’t be too bad. After all, we would only be in the Gulf Stream for eight to ten hours. If it got nasty, it wouldn’t last long.
It got nasty - really nasty. The forecast was wrong. By 1:00AM, we were seeing sustained winds at 25knots with 32knot gusts every ninety seconds. This kind of wind opposing the current creates conditions like a washing machine. The confused seas were building to eight to ten feet and sloshing in every direction. At 2:30AM, our self-steering system broke. After hand steering for fifteen minutes, a wave broke over the side of Velocir and filled the cockpit. There was no way I was going to do this for another four hours.
Heave-to, go to bed – There is a magical maneuver you can do with a monohaul sailboat. It’s called heave-to. When you turn the boat across the wind and allow the sails to stay in the “wrong” direction, it stalls the vessel in the water. Rather than being out of control, like most would think is the case, heaving-to creates a controlled drift. The boat lines up nearly perpendicular to the wind direction and leans to the side. As it’s being pushed slowly through the water, it creates a calm patch of water on the windward side. It is like a miracle to watch a ten foot wave coming at you broadside, then just seem to break up before reaching you.
We went from chaos to calm in ninety seconds - from getting pounded to gentle rolling. It was quite literally like someone turned off the switch of the washing machine. We continued our two hour watch rotation through the night. Rather than managing a multitude of tasks sailing, watches turned into only two things 1.) Stay awake and watch for ships. 2.) make sure the helm stays lashed hard over. The rest of us would go below and sleep till daybreak.
I’m thankful for the experience. I will never be bold in the face of the ocean. I will forever approach the wind and water with a humble respect. I will also never forget that the best chances of success in any tough situation will come with a calm mind.