Onwards to Florida - and don't spare the horses

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Thu 9 Dec 2010 00:00
As the trip to Charleston had been a miserable affair we were, like most cruising yachtsmen, eternal optimists feeling that a really nice passage lay ahead. The weather files we had downloaded gave cause for such optimism as we surged out of Charleston Harbour on the ebb tide. A plan to  head along the coast just in case the predicted bad weather for later arrived early was soon aborted as we were sailing at less than 40 degrees to the wind and slamming into short seas. There was nothing for it but to head offshore and take the hypotenuse route south which is more logical if you look at the coastline but should we get caught out then we would just have to stay at sea as we would have difficulty in closing the coast again with the strong northwesterlies.
By the early hours we were wallowing in light winds and running the engine to keep up speed. We did not have enough fuel to reach Fort Pierce in Florida so with some concern we shaped a course for Jacksonville in case the wind died completely. Mr Flappy our cruising chute made another rare appearance in the mid-afternoon of day two and gave a good performance in the light airs pulling us along between 2-4 knots until at 1830 the wind started to kick in meaning we could get on our way again. The boat was now flying along and by early next morning we had lots of wind, 20-30 knots from the northwest and it was time to reduce the main which was causing the boat to slew in the stronger gusts. With big seas running this proved more of a problem than we would have liked and in attempting to get the sail down we broke 3 luff slides and almost put a hole in the sail when it was pushed into the lazyjack lines by the following wind causing the whole lot to become snagged between mast, rigging and lazyjacks. A real mess.
The seas gradually built over many hours as the winds continued to increase.
Dolphins turned up again to play and later on a solitary Atlantic Spotted Dolphin arrived to swim in our bow wave. Going forward we noticed to our sadness that his dorsal fin had been badly damaged at the tip. We wondered if he had been a bruiser in the pack and been thrown out by the elders. Who knows - we don't understand what all the clicks and squeaks mean.
Down below the slewing motion was causing problems as well. Not having a full under bilge wine cellar like many yachts our supplies of 'Chateau Cardboard' (a five litre plastic bag of wine in a stiff cardboard box) are stowed on their sides under the aft cabin wardrobes. Unfortunately the lively motion was causing them to slide out and across the cabin floor and at one point the Skipper jumping out of the port aft berth to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night nearly ended up wearing a pair of sloshy cardboard slippers - on the left foot a rather nice drinkable burgundy and on the right a Cabinet Sauvignon (well chilled) which had inconveniently slid to just where a large pair of feet would land on the floor in the dark!. The boxes were quickly repositioned under the cupboards by a drowsy skipper but an hour later at the watch change had re-appeared in the same spot with almost the same consequence.
This light tower was located 30 miles off the coast                                    Up and down we go...                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Outside the 'Admiral' splendidly regaled in her fluffy hat and balaclava had been sat resolutely glued to the helm seat which has now developed a loud creak at every lurch of the boat. After four hours on watch this is guaranteed to drive you absolutely mad. The skipper's antidote to this annoying trait is to play the MP3 player with Pink Floyd at full volume which also does a great job of overcoming the sound of seas crashing around the stern of the boat as we surfed down waves at up to 10 knots.
In the cold, allowing an extra five minutes to climb into the multiple layers of vests, shirts, jackets and foul weather gear was essential, and with both of us in the cockpit on the watch change,  the 'Admiral' itching to get into the nice warm bed recently vacated by the skipper and the skipper irritated that he now had the 0200-0600 watch (the coldest) we had trouble communicating with each other with the wind and sea noise due to having to shout at each other through our respective balaclavas. We looked like two seasonal Father Christmas bank robbers.
As we approached Cape Canaveral (no rockets today) we were again scrutinising the weather grib files downloaded on the computer in Charleston and were anticipating that the almighty powers that be would soon be turning the fan speed down to a low setting as we passed about 12 miles off. Not a bit of it. At 0200 on Friday morning the Admiral logged that we had been surfing under a double reefed genoa at a constant 30 knots for over an hour (whilst the skipper slumbered peacefully below). By now the sea state was on the high side and in less than 100 feet depth was also a tad steep.
Daylight brought the promised reduction in wind strength which had exceeded what had been forecast due (according to NOAA) to an 'inverted trough' Obviously Mr Piggy had gone mad at someone inverting his trough and had commanded the wind gods to jolly well do something about it.  But as we closed the low coast line of Florida with by now a full genoa out and with the sea state subsided the skipper remarked "Well that wasn't so bad was it?" The Admiral's glance told a different story!
We retrieved the towed water turbine propeller as we slowed to enter the inlet and were horrified to find that a some point in the night we had obviously exceeded the rated speed of the propeller which had leapt out of the following seas and become entangled in its own line that leads back to the turbine itself. We had been very lucky not to loose the whole propeller assembly. (££££££)
Fort Pierce inlet with the approaching fog line in the distance                 A lone flying fish found on the deck on our arrival - ironically the emblem of the OCC !
Entering Fort Pierce inlet we hit dense fog at the entrance. A pea soup which lasted for about a mile. But that didn't stop the fishing boats screaming out of nowhere heading straight for us to go out for their day's fishing. This is Florida and no quarter given. With the fog finally clearing we commenced the 20 mile motor along the ICW towards Hobe Sound where we were due to attend an Ocean Cruising Club function that evening. We had just made it in time.