Jan 23 – Jan 25.
In which: Omens Are Ignored, Weather is Excessively Benign, Protagonists are Lulled into Complacency by Proper Functioning of New Gear, Big Brother Hovers, and Ghost Reef Attacks
Nor’Easter Jonas, which dumped snow from Dixie to New England, also affected us in Key West. Saturday, January 23rd, we had a full day of 25-30 MPH west wind and heavy rain. Our new shipmate Bob, the bobble headed Dalmatian, nodded non-stop. (We prefer lying at anchor when Bob just stares without nodding.)
Sunday morning brought north winds at 15 MPH, and the long range forecast said this same 10-15 MPH wind would slowly shift east until the next front came through on Thursday. That should be a wide enough window for us to sail the 340 miles to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
So, with all fluids topped off, and a week’s worth of meals prepared, we set out. Duwan put in her new contact lenses for the occasion. We were both dressed for the cold weather. We filmed a short video clip, planning to assemble an action-packed recap of the passage.
The engine died as we raised the mainsail. We quickly finished raising it and Duwan sailed around while I went below. I pulled off the 20 lb. companionway ladder and the 40 lb. engine cover and tried bleeding the fuel line. This got us running again. Usually, when “things happen”, Duwan takes the helm and I tug on lines, furl sails, and turn wrenches.
The engine died a couple more times as we motor-sailed out the five mile crab pot lined southern channel. Oh well, the engine had been sitting idle for almost five weeks. Maybe some air had crept into the fuel line. We’re sailors. We plan to sail, not motor, to Mexico.
We steered out of the channel once to give a cruise ship a wide berth. I stood on crab pot patrol. Snagging a crab pot line and float in your propeller isn’t the end of the world. But today it’s too cold to be diving into the water to cut line off the prop. (Not to mention we that could be without steerage next to a busy channel.)
Out of the channel we unfurled the headsail, shut off the engine, engaged the autopilot, and sailed southwest. Actually we made more progress west than south. Skies were cloudy, wind was still 10-15 MPH. Waves were one foot high and five seconds apart. We made a couple more videos. We sailed along at about four knots for several hours, gradually slowing as the wind slowed down.
We were really spoiled by the autopilot on our sail down from Ft. Myers to Key West. According to Duwan, the AP would have to be pried out of her cold dead hands. Now, in the afternoon she sat back and thought how nice it was to have a fresh battery bank, new solar panels, new chart plotter, high efficiency fridge, and working autopilot. Confidently she glanced over at the battery gauge. Horrors! With no sun and little wind we were killing the batteries! They were so low we couldn’t start the engine to recharge them.*
We cut off the auto pilot and decided not to waste energy charging the camera for videos. After sunset the wind really died down. We cut off the fridge. By midnight we only had enough wind to point the boat southwest. The current was dragging us northwest. After that we had some brief puffs of northeast wind, enough to let us jibe and move southward.
At dawn we turned our running lights and chart plotter off. The winds slowly built from the northeast, and we were able to sail about 3 knots. It was still cloudy, but by 11 AM the batteries were charged enough to allow us to start the engine. Now we could make some progress and do some serious recharging. We were behind our planned schedule, but could still make it to Mexico before the next front. Since we were moving faster than the wind, we tucked the sails in tight to keep them from luffing. If we ever got the wind that was forecast, we could adjust them and shut off the engine. I went below for some lunch.
“This is the United States Coast Guard, Zero-One-Seven-Six Calling Sailing Vessel Blue Wing. Do You Copy? Over.” It was the plane circling overhead. They wanted to know our port of departure and our destination. They also asked what flag we were flying. Hmmm. If they could read our boat name off the stern they could see our flag. They must be recording the conversation. Satisfied that we weren’t going to Cuba to aid and abet the enemy, they left.
Duwan goes below to get some lunch. I see something on the SE horizon. Breakers. It looks like a reef. I throttle down. I look again. Breakers stretch all along the SE horizon, How can this be? I call to Duwan to check our position on the tablet. I look down into the cabin to see her confirm that we are 40 miles from land. Then wham! We are hit by a solid wall of fast moving wind.
The boat heels over immediately, rail in the water. Spray is blowing off the waves, which are now up to ten feet, less than a second apart, and coming from all directions. I turn left into the wind. The rail is still under water. We climb a huge wave…
Will Blue Wing make it to Mexico? Will the crew get to make more videos? Will Duwan ever get to finish her lunch? Find out in tomorrow’s post.
* We use the house batteries to warm the glow plugs for a minute in cold weather. This draws a constant 15 amps. Then we switch to the starter battery to crank the engine.