There to Here – Heading to Paradise

There to Here – Heading to Paradise

After more than a year of traipsing up and down the US east coast with a one month foray to the Bahamas, we were growing accustomed to living aboard Nine of Cups and slowly becoming aware of our own capabilities and shortcomings as well as that of the boat. We had equipped her with what we thought was necessary for safety and comfort and it was time to get serious about cruising. Leaving the USA on a more permanent basis was a big step and we worked up to it gradually, but confidently. As we exited the calm, placid waters of Lake Worth to head across the Gulf Stream once again, we did so with excited anticipation and few qualms. We were ready.

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Culebra to St. Augustine - Days 7-8

sj to sa Day 7 - 278 nm to go

Thick clouds on the horizon made for a blazing, orange-pink sunrise this morning. The sun only peeked through a small hole of the dense clouds to check out the day, then disappeared altogether, as if deciding whether or not he would shine today … evidently not. He left us with a grey, overcast day.

The wind god is on holiday. I watched he wind indicator needle trying hopelessly to settle on a wind direction, but with 0 knots, it plays spin the bottle with the compass directions, but finds no direction to kiss.

We've been motoring the past 24 ours with nary a breath of breeze other than what wind we're generating ourselves. The mighty Atlantic is as calm and benign as a duck pond and Cups cuts through the water like the metaphorical hot knife through butter.

A white-tailed tropic bird, its long, graceful single white-feathered tail distinguishing it from all other sea birds, circled the boat several times. I was hoping it might land (versus a poop-filled noddy), but after careful surveillance of Cups, it flew off looking for a better ride.

The moon is full now and she's glowing brilliantly when we can see her. There have been showers and some lightning to the west of us and the clouds obscure our view.

Day 8 – 126 nm to go

We've been checking the tide tables for entering the St. Augustine Inlet which tends toward shoaling. With the full moon, the high will be higher and the low will be lower. We're hoping it will be calm for entry. We have two different tide predictors and they disagree significantly … by about 6 hours. We had to email a cruising friend in Florida to verify which tide table was correct.

I won't bore you with too many Day 8 details, other than to say “Only 126 miles to go – Hooray”. We alternated motoring and sailing throughout the night and day with fickle winds that blew and stopped as if on a timetable. There were squalls during the night and lightning cut through the skies all around us. Our days begin and end at 1000 when we consult our log and calculate the daily mileage. I usually collect our thoughts and impressions on the past 24 hours and those become our passage notes. Little did we know that the last day of this pleasant passage would be the most challenging. Stay tuned!

Culebra to St. Augustine - Days 4-6

san juan to st. augustine route map Day 4 -  675 nm to go

Another gorgeous day in paradise. The change in winds has been delayed, it seems, and the E/SE winds along with that half knot current, continue to move us along smartly.  The current is a faint vestige of the North Equatorial Current that snakes its way along the northeast side of the island chain and eventually joins forces with the mighty Gulf Stream. We've seen nary a nasty cloud nor a raindrop since we left Culebra and we wonder when our wonderful weather bubble will burst. Maybe tomorrow.

It was a rather momentous day. Around dinner time, we marked 1000 miles sailed since leaving Trinidad. With no oceans to cross, it's harder to get higher mileage. We keep bumping into land and stopping. Around 2200, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer (~23.5N) and officially exited the tropics. I slept through it (my off-watch) and woke to find I needed a fleece and blanket. Actually, the early morning hours between midnight and 0600 seem to be quite cool and we enjoy needing a long-sleeved shirt or light blanket for a change after the recent sweaty, humid temps of the tropics.

Typically, there's a ring of thick clouds on the horizon that encircles us each morning with a clear blue sky above, like the tonsure of good friar's head. The waves have increased in size to 6-10' (2-3m) and we can feel their push as they pass under us. I sometimes contemplate the amount of water volume and force necessary to sweep 20-ton Cups along like a twig in a fast-flowing river. It's the same feel as body-surfing a big wave at the beach when it surrounds you, picks you  up and carries to shore with a gush.

Being in the Bermuda Triangle has conjured up all sorts of images in my mind. I half expect to see a huge, long, suckered tentacle reach out of the sea on my night watch and wrap itself around Cups and drag us down to the depths. I've obviously been reading too much BT lore which I realize has “mostly” been proven to be exaggerated and downright wrong. Still … we've seen very few birds and no dolphins or whales. Maybe they know something we don't?

Day 5 – 534 nm to go

The winds diminished and changed direction to <10 knots from the south between 0300-0600 and we slowed down considerably. It was still a pleasant ride, but we were noticeably off our course line. The wind god finally ran out of wind altogether late in the afternoon as predicted. When we fell below 2 kts/hr, we reluctantly cranked on the engine, knowing if the forecast was right, it would be on for the next 24 hours.

By the change of the 2100 watch, the south wind was unexpectedly, but thankfully, back. It wasn't much, but enough to sail along at 4 knots on a broad reach. It prevailed all through the night, long enough for David to pick up the revised weather forecast which showed exactly what we'd been seeing. Thank you, Neptune.

We've been making plans for the rest of 2016, as well as contemplating short-term projects on Cups. The trim around the portlights in the saloon and aft cabin all need re-varnishing. In preparation, I removed all the window coverings, rods and hardware and have decided all the “drapes”need to be replaced. If the good weather continues, we might get the portlights sanded and prepped before our arrival in St. Augustine, allowing us a headstart on getting the project completed before heading further north. The usual number of things are breaking, i.e. the manual foot pump for the fresh water isn't working and needs either repair or replacement. David also thinks it's time to replace all the water hoses for the watermaker. He's still pondering the refrigeration issue and tinkers with it daily. Always, always, always a list!

Day 6 – 418nm to go

It was a slow, slow day, but we were still sailing. We saluted Gentry, our web mistress, as we sailed by Gentry Bank off the Turks and Caicos.  As we passed by the Bahamian islands, we reminisced about the time spent there more than a decade ago … Mayaguana, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Eleuthera, the Abacos ... so many little islands, so many memories. Imagine how Columbus and crew must have felt when they arrived in this paradise.

The days are noticeably longer. Dawn's first light is around 0530 and the residue of sunset is still on the horizon at 2000. There's much to be said for heading north as summer approaches. The wind left us again just after noon and in a huff. A bit of a gust was followed by a drenching shower, the first rain we've seen since leaving Culebra. The downpour cleaned the dust and dirt off the decks and the cockpit looked refreshed. The rain seemed to wash all the color from the day. The blue, sunny sky we've grown accustomed to was sapped of its brilliance, replaced by a washed-out blue-grey, overcast sky that merged with the horizon and the now drab waters of the Atlantic. We expected more showers, but they never came.

Once our speed dropped below 2 knots, we cranked on the engine again. The seas were flat and calm with nary a wind ripple to disturb them. The wind indicator showed 0 wind speed … we were smack dab in the middle of a high pressure.

We've been reading Mark Twain's “Innocents Abroad” … it's a free download on Gutenberg.

If you've read  Paul Theroux's curmudgeon-y travel books and enjoy his caustic humor, you might enjoy this Twain classic. Talk about an “ugly American”, Twain's flowery prose mixes with acerbic wit as he travels with fellow Americans in the late 19th century through Europe, northern Africa and the Holy Land.  David finished it before I did. I refer to it as “Innocents Asleep” and trudge through  a chapter just before it's time for me to go off-watch. Robert B. Parker's Spenser series has kept me awake during the midnight-0300 watch.

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