**Pictures updated! Success in finding Wifi at a little place called Royal James Cafe in Beaufort, NC. **
November 3rd – 4th, 2013
Somewhere about 50 nautical miles off the Coast of New Jersey
39° 43.35’ N, 72° 38.94’ W
Did you know that NOAA ocean forecasts give the description of predicted swells in averages? Therefore, when swells are predicted to be 4-7 ft., the highest swells can be up to 14 ft. This is pertinent information for novices attempting an open ocean cruise during a bit of a Northeastern gale.
At about 4:53am at the tail end of Natasha’s 2nd watch, Sinbad, our beloved autopilot, fainted from exhaustion, unable to navigate the high seas. Two hours later, our mainsail blew out after we had just reefed it to ¾ for the first time. We rolled it up further to protect the damaged area, and sailed on. Thus began Sedna’s true test of her saltiness. For the next 36 hours we battled the swells through pure muscle and willpower. We didn’t get much sleep.
Disclaimer: Pardon the jumbled nature of this post, as time ceased to have all meaning…
Travis, the only crewmember without a hint of seasickness, was in an insufferably bouncy mood. He was laughing, dancing, and singing through the maelstrom. Meanwhile Natasha was off and on feeling nauseous and overly determined to do the dishes despite everything. Clay was doing his best not to grumble too much, though he admirably pulled his weight despite feeling horrid.
It is difficult to convey exactly what these experiences are like especially if you have never set foot on a small sailboat before. The best way we could help you visualize navigating a storm such as this one is to have you close your eyes and then violently shake you unexpectedly. But we will try and paint you a picture. It is pitch black. The only bit of ocean that is revealed is the few feet fore and aft of the running lights. Everyone else is asleep (or trying to be) and you are completely and utterly alone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, probably contemplating your existence (or else staring at the pretty warm light that is the compass and thinking about nothing). You are sitting on the high side of the boat, comfortably or uncomfortably navigating the relatively small, but incessant choppy waves. Perhaps you have the good fortune to look behind you and see that suddenly a large swath of stars is mysteriously blocked out. The boat pitches suddenly and you find that what was horizontal has now become vertical. The compass tumbles in its binnacle and you brace your feet against the low side of the boat, pulling the tiller with all of your might in an effort to muscle the boat back on course. Down below you hear spices, books, and occasionally people rattle dubiously in their places of rest. After a few moments of heightened adrenaline levels while simultaneously battling wind, water, and gravity, you find yourself surfing down the 12-foot swell that effortlessly just caused you so much stress. There is a brief moment of relative reprieve. And then 3 minutes later, it all happens again.
Let’s take a moment to praise Sedna and her brilliant Swedish designers. 98% of all those waves and swells we weathered, did NOT crash into our stern and over into the cockpit. Instead, this boat is designed precisely for conditions like these. It’s called reserve buoyancy and it’s what keeps the aft end of the boat above the breaking waves. Thank goodness for reserve buoyancy and for the knuckles on the sides of Sedna that keep the waves from crashing onto the deck. We actually stayed quite dry!
Sailing with just the jib after the winds threatened to completely shred our mainsail (with whisker pole attached to prevent it from accidentally luffing and causing undue strain on our remaining sail…)
Back to our description of the gale we sailed through. Imagine two hours of this little scenario repeated over and over again. Then imagine, to your delight, seeing that your fellow crewmember who is next on watch has awoken and begun dressing to come relieve you out in the cockpit. You watch as they struggle to pull on sweaters, socks, rain pants and a seriously beefed up foul weather jacket while the boat pitches back and forth (more than once knocking them over in some way). They crawl up to the deck, greet you sleepily, ask how your shift has been (to which you probably reply “Fine. The wind is shifting around, so the jib is luffing a bit, and I swear the swells are even higher now… but it’s been good. There’s one light up ahead on the starboard side. I think it’s just a fishing vessel…”) and then graciously they take over the helm. You sit for a minute to make sure they’re okay, ask if they want any food or anything, and then climb down below and begin peeling off layers so as to snuggle down for a few winks as soon as possible.
“Sleeping” is a gracious term for what happened. Rather it should be described as “dozing” punctuated with intense moments of wakefulness when the conditions abruptly changed. This would be caused by a variety of things, most commonly: the boom clanging due to swells, a sudden increase in the sound of the wind, a large wave slamming against the hull (which Clay and Travis insist sounds like the cops pounding on the door of your home), an item falling off a shelf onto a sleeping crewmember, or any impulsive expletive uttered by the crew currently on watch. It is also important to note how a very small item such as the nutmeg spice container can drive a person crazy for hours as they listen to it rattle back and forth in the shelf, each person too busy or bushed to fix it.
Despite the little sleep we all got, the tightly clenched fist that was Natasha’s stomach for several days, and Clay’s constant feeling of needing to hurl, we managed to stay positive and enjoy ourselves. The whole sensation of riding the huge swells all day and night was somewhere between a bucking bronco, a tilt-a-whirl and a slo-mo roller coaster that forces you to feel each individual 10ft drop. This motion forced Travis and Natasha to get creative (see pictures below). But that’s all part of the fun of it: sticking through the challenges and discomforts in order to conversely be standing at the helm feeling like the conquistadors we are.
Alright, that’s all for now! Captain Clay is insisting that we leave right this instant and that I should put the computer away immediately so we can “get outta here!”. And, he reminds me, as I complain about trying to update this blog without being hassled out of my writing reverie, “don’t you know that there are 4 of me trying to be in 5 places at once?” … yes sir, Captain Clay! All hands on deck to hoist the newly repaired mainsail!
~ Travis, Natasha & Clay