I believe there are mainly three reason that made this long passage possible: Tranquility, the weather and Roberto.
Starting from Tranquility I can only be happy about her. We purchased her following a positive feeling we had when we stepped onboard for the first time in a random yard (and positive reviews, especially on atom voyages website). We were anxious about testing her offshore, to confirm the accuracy of our intuition and the reputation of the Columbia 29 as capable of offshore sailing. The crew feedback is positive and unanimous: easy sail controls (reefing is a piece of cake), no sprays on deck (and on us), well balanced rig and performing sails (made in China) that allow to reach hull speed with winds of 10-15 kts. We felt safe for the entire trip, even during the most challenging moments.
We picked a very fortunate weather window departing Block Island last Tuesday at 11pm with northwesterlys blowing 20kts. The complicate part was leaving Great Salt Pond with the wind on the nose. We motored our way out the channel at about 1 knot, slow but steady, without pushing the throttle too hard worried about loosing charge and finding ourself stuck in a dangerous situation. As soon as we cleared the channel, we were in full sail on a beam reach passing Montauk and Long Island on our starboard side. The forecast was very accurate and we had costant NW winds with temperatures in 30s and 40s, cold but not too much. We experimented occasional light winds but for most of the passage we had constant favorable wind that made us decide to keep going and leave Cape May and Ocean City behind, aiming for Norfolk VA. A plan that SW winds forced us to abandon in favor of a stop in Wachapreague, 65 miles away from Norfolk. The perspective of having a dinner in a restaurant and a hot shower far outweighted one more night and morning at the helm. Navigating the salt marsh inlet was not a joke and we felt the mud under the keel more than once, but we eventually got there and had a great dinner, a deep sleep and a touristic morning waiting for the next high tide. The last portion of the leg was an easy and happy sail down to Cape Charles and the Chesapeake entrance where the approaching cold front got us and forced us to reduce sails and to a “sporty” cut to Elizabeth River and Norfolk; two long, cold and windy hours till we safely moored in Waterside Marina Sunday Morning at 2am.
The third and very important reason was our temporary help, Roberto. This passage wouldn’t be possible without him. Two crew and no autopilot would have been too extreme for a winter passage in the North Atlantic. We would’t have enough stamina and skills to do it. Plus Roberto is a kind of sailor I admire: even though he is a commercial licensed Superyacht captain with many years of experience he still has the enthusiasm and the feel for adventure to accept and enjoy such an unconventional and challenging trip. One image is representative of his contribution to the trip and Kate had the pleasure and the thrill to witness it: when she emerged from down below after her rest time she saw me and Roberto disassembling and reassembling the tiller while simultaneously steering the boat in choppy seas. His contribution was not only in terms of hands on deck, but he also suggested and performed important upgrades while keeping a joyful presence onboard. A fresh pair of eyes like Roberto’s couldn’t have come at a better time, when Kate and I needed a push and new ideas after the long, tiring and winding summer refit.
Now we are sitting in Norfolk, waiting for better weather, resting and upgrading our little home. We feel cozy in here and we can’t wait to continue our trip south along the Intracostal Waterway, a severe and interesting test for our electric engine as motoring will be crucial.
We finally left on Sunday morning, with SE winds picking up. The morning was warm as we passed the hurricane barrier leaving Fairhaven and New Bedford, our home for the past six months. At first we were a bit surprised of the light wind around the end of Buzzards Bay, but soon the wind speed increased up to 15-20 knots and we reached top speed, our knotmeter and GPS agreeing on 6,5 knots. We encountered some rain along the way but the wind never stopped to push us and we completed the 54 miles of the trip in 9 hours. It was dark at 5:30 pm when we finally docked in Champlin’s Marina, completely deserted in this cold time of the year.
Along the trip we started to adapt to our new sailing home, feeling a bit sea sick and adjusting our gear to better performance. The tiller needed a special modification not to lose precious steering angle. We still have to know how the boat behaves, but so far we keep being astonished by Tranquility’s sailing performances: good tracking; easy sail controls and boat handling; almost no spray coming on deck even in 3-5 feet swell.
Roberto was a fundamental addition to our team. His expertise and energy are helping us a lot underway and at the dock where we keep improving the perfomances and habitability of the boat. It feels great to have a competent and personable crew member to share the joy and fatigue of sailing and he is also a great help in Kate’s italian learning process, as we frequently speak italian onboard.
The weather forecast forced us on a two day stop in Block Island. We spent Monday and part of today fixing things but also enjoying the exploration of the island, a place that sees very few visitors during winter time. We really like the pictoresque island and the locals seems very curious about these crazy people sailing during winter on a small boat. A community of 850 people live year long on the island and you know nothing passes as unseen in this place as we were spotted crossing the south cape pounding into the waves as later somebody reported to us.
Now we are waiting for a good weather window, probably happening later tonight when the wind will decrease and veer to NWN. We are hoping for a good passage to Cape May NJ, aproximately 200 miles away and with the option of closer refuges along the Jersey Shore. You can keep track of our progresses trough our Spot tracking page.
There is nothing like a boat with no wi-fi connection to help the writing process. Now that Tranquility is launched I have the luck to enjoy Fairhaven Shipyard and finally live on my boat. There is no fresh water, no working head and no lights, but everyday a new improvement happens and soon all the liveaboard necessities will be satisfied.
There is a small electric heater and comfortable bunks where I can nap or read or write under a warm blanket. Days are becoming shorter and there are so many projects to do and sea trials to run before we can possibly think to set sails for the south. We have a deadline though: leave on the first possible weather window from November 15th.
It looks like it is going to be a hell of cold and we have a lot of miles to sail before we can possibly say that we are out of the winter. So far New England has been very magnanimous and fall has been mild with unexpected hot days. But that won’t last for very long and we are trying to do our best to get going. Freezing northerlies already showed up and it’s catching one of those that will take us out of the harbor for our first leg of the trip.
Everyday Tranquility looks more like a boat, a pretty one after all the care she received in the last six months. The first sail test was amazing. On a cold windy day we manouvered all around the New Bedford Harbor, tacking and gyibing with all our sails up on a 20+ kts day. Yankee, staysail and full battened mainsail are all brand new from Leesails in Hong Kong and they all fit the new beefed up rig. At the helm Tranquility was so governable and with my surprise she was not heeling too much when close hauling. The electric engine keep taking us in and out of slips with almost no power consumption.
A harbor seal showed up to salute the first sail of Tranquility. We hope it’s a good sign for the future.