Day Eighteen and Nineteen: Sailing from Key West to Provincetown

We ended up leaving Beaufort Docks, NC a little sooner than we had planned. The weather window closed at the end of day 19, June 5th at our destination, Hampton, VA. You see, when making a sail plan we have to work backwards from when we wish to pass through a hazardous place with the right angle of daylight and when you plan to arrive at the destination. In this case, we had to arrive before the forecasted thunderstorms in Hampton, VA, over 200 nautical miles away. That was a difficult sail plan. If we didn’t make our speed or had a repair to make that might slow us down, we would be hit with a gale at sea.

We decided to leave anyway and go for it. If we didn’t, we would be stuck in Beaufort for about a week until the winds shifted back in our favor. With the prediction of the wind turning behind us in a few hours, we decided to fill up with diesel and water before checking out of the Beaufort Docks Marina.

While we were headed south to get around the treacherously shallow bar of Cape Lookout, then wind didn’t shift on time. Go figure, the forecast isn’t accurate again.

I have to admit, I didn’t like the feeling I was getting when I saw the whitecaps on Cape Lookout and the ETA on our chart plotter for when we were due to round Cape Hatteras. There is a reason it’s called the “Graveyard of the North” and we read up on all of the situations in which we were NOT supposed to be near there. Namely, any wind from the north is bad because the Gulf Stream is rolling to the north at over 3 knots. The wind was supposed to clock around from NE to SE over the next 10 hours or so and increase in velocity from 15 to 30 knots by dawn or mid morning. We had to trust that was going to happen or we would be in a dangerous sea state.

So we trusted it was going to happen and kept the engines running to go as fast as hulls would let us. I decided to veer out to the east and try to catch some of the Gulf Stream to help us get north faster. Our ETA got better and better as the wind did eventually shift down to the south of east. We had to go up and over the waves from the north for most of the trip to Cape Hatteras because the wind was just shifting at the time. It was bumpy and hard to get the speed up to the required 7 knots to make it to Hampton before the gales started. I was nervous the entire day, and tried to get some rest after sunset as Lindsay took the helm to round Cape Hatteras around 11pm. By the time I went down below to our cabin, we were going almost 11 knots due to the Gulf Stream pushing us north. There were loads of ships going both directions.

Lindsay went around the Cape singlehanded. I was impressed she didn’t need to wake me up as she jibed and turned hard to port to aim NW towards the Chesapeake and our desination anchorage in Hampton. I bet there were many ships to keep track of as she did. She set a waypoint that was as close to the Outer Banks as we could get before we could turn a bit more to the west to get there. I woke up at 1:30am with a few hours sleep. Lindsay was fading fast and needed sleep badly. So I made a pot of tea and took the helm. There was no moon. I was hoping there wouldn’t be any lobster pots to tangle in the props because there would be no way to see them coming. We have a spotlight but those bouys are so small they are too hard to spot in the waves. I just sat at the helm and waited for the sun to rise.

We didn’t have enough consistent wind to make our ETA at 5:30 pm before the thunderstorms were due to arrive. We’d heard about these storms bringing 50 knot winds and HAIL, so I wanted to be in a safe anchorage before they hit, not at sea. If we were are sea, the waves would be gigantic and that would be very hard to drive the boat up and over them without the wind turning us sideways. If the wind turns a boat sideways it’s very hard to get it pointed into the wind again. Then another wave comes at the boat broadside and throws water inside the cockpit and breaks on top of the boat. That can break things and get water into the engine room. Needless to say, shit can get worse from there. So, we really want to be near a shoreline or on anchor when the gales arrive.

We didn’t make it to our anchorage before the first gale arrived. Take a look.

Strong winds before the thunderstorm arrives. See the rain ahead?
The rain arrives and we are wondering when it will hail.
The worst is over but there is more coming….

We arrive safely but shaken up quite a bit. I noticed that I’ve bitten my tongue and it’s sore. Our first choice of a spot to anchor was going to be too exposed in the direction of the next gale so we sped full steam to the second, farther anchorage in Willoughby Bay. It started to rain again by the time Lindsay lowered the anchor and the wind was up over 30 knots. However, the waves were very small and we sat safely on the hook through the next several thunderstorms. We were safe at last.

We decided to have a couple of whiskies (that’s plural of the Scottish type) and watch Deadwood on Netflix to take our minds off the past couple of days.