Summer Cruise: A Reflection

Our summer trip of 2015 was originally planned as a 2 week trip, and we slowly added days to the trip until we arrived at our final 1 month cruise. 

The original plan was to sail to Charleston, SC; and as you can see, we didn't make it. I planned on us traveling 80 miles per day, getting out of the bay in 4 to 5 days and making our way offshore between the coast and the west wall of the Gulf Stream, crossing the Gulf Stream near Cape Hatteras, and then crossing over again to make landfall in Charleston. We both knew this was a bit of an overreach, but we figured that if we did make it to Charleston and had time to continue South, we would stop there and explore the city. 

I arrived at this overzealous plan from talking to other sailors, who turned out to be power boaters. They told me that they can make it from Baltimore to Norfolk in 2 days comfortably. I figured I would tack on a few days to that estimate since we would be sailing and I assumed they motored a fair bit. Talking to a friend who lives on a trawler, he does the bay in 2 days; first day from Baltimore to Solomons Island, second day from Solomons Island to Norfolk. It took us a week to get to Solomons Island! Turns out the old saying is true:

Whats the difference between a power boater and sail boater?

A power boater uses his engine 100% of the time,
a sail boater uses his engine 90% of the time.

When we finally set out on our trip, we were planning to head as far south as we could, take each day as it comes and enjoy the trip with no set plan for our destination. The illusion of "Heading to Charleston" became "Heading South". If we did make it to Charleston, then we would stop there and return North when we decided it was time. 

This mindset of "Heading South" kept us out of trouble. When we were in a storm just north of Cape Hatteras, we slowed down rather than riding the storm winds south, deeper into the storm on the cape.

If our destination had to be Charleston and we had no time limit, we would have hove to for a few days and waited for that storm system to pass by before approaching the cape. If we were in a rush, and jumped into that weather system, we certainly would not have had a wonderful time!

Patience is the most important item on a sailboat. When you rush is when you get in trouble. We pulled into St. Mary's River to wait out a strong thunderstorm that was passing by rather than riding the winds straight down the bay. We could have made excellent time that day, but it would have been a rough day of sailing. Instead, we waited for the bad weather to pass and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on the beach! We set sail the next day and continued with more easy sailing in the wake of the storm that was now gone.

Not having a strict schedule also made the whole trip so enjoyable. When we fouled our prop near Deltaville, we simply got towed into port (because I was afraid to jump into the murky water with the recent shark attacks) and enjoyed our time there. If we were in a rush, this would have been a horrible setback and a huge stress on the trips schedule. Instead, we enjoyed our time in Deltaville, exploring the small town and the local museum, relaxing in the pool and riding bikes on the small streets. We actually stayed an extra day because we enjoyed the place so much! Had we been in a rush, we would have missed out on this wonderful gem as the stress of a schedule would have altered our view of the situation.

While we didn't move very far each day, we also never stressed about it. We enjoyed the scenery and wildlife as it came by the boat. We were visited by dolphins, dragon flies, small birds, pelicans, and pesky flies (we could do without the flies). If we were power boaters, like most of my sailing friends are, we would have been worried about how much fuel we have, fuel costs, and schedules. Instead, we have an electric motor with a small battery bank. We never had to buy fuel, and instead used what would have been fuel money on meals and excursions. 

We also had a similar attitude towards the equipment on board. When the batteries would be depleted, we simply turned things off. When the fridge would consume too many amps and run the batteries down, we simply turned it off and limited opening it to try and keep as much cold in it as possible.

Our only method of charging the batteries while underway was via the electric motor regenerating power. Regeneration started at 5kn, which was very easy for us to achieve; so we always got a little bit of electricity from this process. Serious regeneration didn't occur until 7kn and would replenish our battery bank at a rate of around 6% per hour. If we left the fridge on all night, it would consume around 10% of the battery bank, and the morning winds would carry us along at 7kn for a few hours, allowing us to gain back all that was consumed during the night and give us a bit more for the day. On other days, we would maintain this speed all day and charge the batteries up to the point where we didn't have to worry about how much electricity the fridge was consuming. 

The problem was that we tended to have a few days of wind followed by a few days of no wind. When we had wind, we would charge up our batteries and keep them charged. But the days of no wind took their toll on our battery system, depleting it down to the point where we would have to turn off the fridge and wait for windy days.

The windless days were also cloudless days, and with plenty of sun beating down on our boat. That is why we have decided to install solar panels on our transom to give us charge during those windless days and to keep the fridge running. 

The fridge was a major stress during the trip. Do we have enough power to run it? Is the food going to spoil? When can we turn it on again to keep the food cool enough? Luckily we had a good attitude about it and didn't let it get us down. The fridge and freezer were packed with food, but we also had enough canned and dried food to feed us comfortably for weeks. If all the food in the fridge went bad and had to be thrown out, we were not going to starve. Having a non-electrically dependent back up plan kept us from worrying about the fridge situation too much. Once again, we took each day as it came. 

We did change our planning process for future trips though. We decided not to use the fridge on future trips and eliminate that source of stress completely, unless we have solar panels that can feed it; and we will do canned and fresh foods that do not need refrigerating. If we make a big meal and need to store leftovers and have plenty of battery power stored, we will turn on the fridge to keep the leftovers. Otherwise, we will feed it to Morty, our dog and happy recipient of anything we were also eating. 

Anchoring was another issue we had on the trip. The southern part of the bay has much stronger currents than the northern part. I used to drop the hook anywhere and we would always point into the wind and waves. As we moved further south, the boat would lay to the current. This meant that we would spend half the tidal cycle riding over our rode and taking all the seas on the stern. The long overhanging stern kept us dry, but the slapping noise kept us both awake. 

Another thing that kept Maddie awake was me! I would wake up multiple times a night panicking! I could feel the boat pitching and rolling as the sails flogged as the wind howled! I would stumble my way to a port hole, only to find that we were laying peacefully on still water or tied up in a marina. Never were the sails up or was it blowing like stink! Poor Maddie got tired of talking me out of it, only to have me refuse what she was saying until I saw it for myself; she learned to shove me out of bed and let me go take a look so I would pipe down faster and let her get back to sleep. This happened every night of the trip when we were anchored or tied up in a marina. When we were hove to, I didn't wake up in a panic because I was getting up every hour or so to do a watch. The night that we were far enough offshore, I also slept peacefully, even though the sails were set hove to and we were rolling with the ocean swell. I guess I just feel best when out at sea!

What really drove Maddie through the roof was when we got back and immediately had to house sit for a friend. We were in a large house, sleeping in a large bed inside a large room, and I still woke up in a panic about the sails flogging and no one is at the helm! When I looked out the bedroom window and saw trees, I really started to panic yelling at her that we ran aground! Then she turned on the light and I saw that we were not on the boat, we were not sailing, and we were in a house!

Oddly, once I took the sails off the stays and bagged them up, all these night panics ceased. It's almost as if the act of bagging the sails gave me closure, knowing that the trip had come to an end and we were in our home port again.

The wildlife we saw was amazing! When you have no engine noise, you don't scare away the timid creatures. We would quietly pass through areas without disturbing a thing and get to observe what was living there! This also gave us the opportunity to watch them for a period of time. If we were moving faster, we might have missed such sights, but moving along at sailing speed, we had plenty of time to watch ospreys hunt and return to their nest, pelicans fishing, and dolphins jumping. 

While we didn't cover as much distance as we had originally hoped to, we did enjoy every moment of the places we visited! The electric motor helped a lot on this journey as well. It was as reliable as the sails, always there and always willing to move you! It allowed us to creep into or out of anchorages without disturbing anything, as well as providing us with our electrical charging systems needs while underway. While it has its limitations with battery charging (you need to sail fast), it was already there and installed, and I didn't have to shell out more money before our trip for solar or wind systems. 

On our trip, we were able to capture wonderful photographs of light houses, sunsets and wildlife! This cemented our love for cruising and got us both looking at far away destinations to sail to in the future.