CONVERSATIONS OF THE SEA

Cruz Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands – Annapolis, Maryland
April 27th – May 27th, 2020

“And if I had a boat
I’d go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I’d ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
I said me upon my pony on my boat”

Lyle Lovett

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Goodbye Caribbean!
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Moored at St John, looking at St Thomas, missing home and people, worried about the upcoming journey.

     When I was a little girl oh so many moons ago, I loved horses. I had every horse book, read every horse story.  Dreamed of horses. Tried to ride friends’ horses every chance I got – rode horses at various camps. I was crazy for horses – but I was never much of an equestrian.  When my sweet, indulgent daddy finally got me a small horse, my first ride on “Peppy” (appropriately named!) was a wild one – she sensed my inexperience and blasted off with me on her bare back, soon going at full gallop all over the back field with me hanging on to the reins, to her mane, to her neck for dear life! But she couldn’t get me off her back that day, and I finally learned a few tricks to be able to ride under a little more control as time went on.

     I was thinking about my little Peppy as we were hurdling along on Apogee on our passage back to the States – across a dark sea at night.  Before the moon rose, I couldn’t see squat.  I mean, the stars were incredible, showing off in all their twinkliness, but there was a sense of us just hanging on for dear life to Apogee as she was leaping, pouncing, and tearing through the darkness.  It was exhilarating – it was terrifying! Kind of like bouncing around on Peppy all those years ago.

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I wish this beautiful place didn’t get hurricanes so we could just stay here a little longer.

 

     A few days before we left our Caribbean paradise we were fortunate enough to meet up with some friends from Nashville. Lance and Fenghua are just a year or two behind us in their journeys, living on their beautiful boat and doing many of the same East Coast travels as we did, before turning south and heading for the Caribbean. They were moving toward Grenada and we were heading north, so it was great meeting in the middle in the same anchorage there in St. John and catching up with their plans. We just threw some hamburgers on the grill, but Fenghua treated us to wonderful, homemade pork dumplings that were scrumptious!

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Lance and Fenghua, our neighbors from Hamilton Creek Marina finally catch up with us and come over for dinner.
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Catching up and telling tall tales
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Lance and Fenghua went hiking up on St John and sent us this picture of our two boats (Apogee (left red dot) and Tieve Owna (right red dot) moored below.
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Bandits or Pandemic?
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Our little dinghy makes its last trip into one of its many exotic ports.
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Saying goodbye to Lance and Fenghua
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By the time we left, St John had zero active Coronavirus cases. We felt like we did our part to keep it a safe place, and that the locals also did an outstanding job.
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Final steps: lashing the dinghy on deck, where a large sea is less likely to destroy it.

So we finally left our safe haven there in St. John on Tuesday, May 5th and you know, after being in that one mooring spot for almost 2 months and practically “resting on our coffee grounds”, as they say, it just felt good to get away at last. No more planning, no more worries about the right or wrong time to leave. The decision had been made – and we were outta there!

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Early morning departure: just 1400 miles to go.

     Land slowly melted away as we started off on a downwind leg – meaning the winds were behind us – and we were moving on! It seemed that every time I looked at our knot meter, we would be making 7 1/2 – 8 1/2 knots – plus the occasional 9 – 10 reading caused by a gust – so we were really making tracks for our little boat. We had a visitor on our very first night. I was on watch just after sunset and Lee had gone down below to sleep, when I heard a loud thump over my head. I meekly peered over the bimini and was suddenly nose to beak with a big brown bird! These guys, called brown boobies – yes, really! – are everywhere in the Caribbean, and are expert fishermen.  But apparently this guy wanted an easier way out of town, because he stayed with us for hours, all tucked up, mostly sleeping. I felt kind of honored he chose us for his journey!

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By mid morning, the land disappears.
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Sunset, night number one.
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At sunset, we get a stowaway: a Brown Booby decides to spend the night with us!

     Another thing I noticed during my dark night watch in those first few days – as we were gliding along, slooshing through the black water – was that the seas were yakking up a storm. No, I wasn’t hallucinating and I wasn’t on any drugs stronger than my seasickness patch – but as the water burbled and gurgled underneath the boat, it really sounded at times as if I was hearing voices and or occasionally as if dogs were barking – like I was in a crowded hall of people picking up different pieces of conversation or maybe in the middle of the Westminster Dog show! And it wasn’t a Twilight Zone kind of experience – really, it was rather reassuring!  Maybe it was God trying to comfort me – He surely knew I didn’t want to be there in that boat, in the middle of the deep, blue sea, as I had reminded Him so many times before! 

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The full moon on Cathy’s midnight watch.
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Early morning, day 2. We both got decent sleep on our first night.
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“Wing on wing” downwind sailing with the big Genoa poled out….this rig works well on Apogee, but we didn’t have a lot of downwind sailing.
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Hot dinner in the cockpit: Cathy’s good beef stew that Lee thawed from the freezer and heated up.
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Day 3: we had really good sailing and made great time the first 5 days.
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Nice!
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This ship is two miles away and as close as any ship came to us. 99% of the time, the ocean was empty except for us.
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Real sailors collect the flying fish off the deck in the morning and fry them up for breakfast  (Cathy: Uh, no – just… no)
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Amazing to see white tailed tropicbirds 600 miles from any shore.
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Sunset at sea….Day 4: so far the trip is near perfect.
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Pre-dawn. Morning light is a welcome sight at sea. (About 5am)
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Every morning at 7am was a busy time for the captain. Since we departed at 7am, I would gather the information for my daily log update (We also kept log entries every 2 hours and every course change.) This day’s 156 nautical miles set an Apogee record! There was also a SSB radio net that I would check into at this time every morning. Then at 7:30 am the weather radio net would last about 20 minutes and I could also talk to my weather guru if I had any questions. I would check my engine oil and coolant if we weren’t motoring. Soon after all of this, Cathy would wake up and we would eat breakfast.

     But, as they say, all good things must come to an end – and by day 4, the waves were getting rougher and we were having to bash through some tough seas. By Mother’s Day – aka the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – we spent all day rocking, rolling, swerving and zig-zagging all over.  The kind of day that made just standing up in the cockpit a huge expenditure of energy, much less going below to the bathroom. The kind of day that, while contemplating life sitting in a soggy cockpit after being doused with salt water for the 20th time, you were sure the sea was out to get you, and the sea was going to win.

   

   Then, rounding Cape Hatteras and the outer banks of North Carolina, we had the strangest experience. Absolutely and completely calm glassy seas and no wind! We had made it to the gulf stream so we had considerable current with us, but we still had to motor to keep moving forward. So for several days, we would be joined periodically by big groups of playful dolphins that apparently wanted to drag race! And because of the clear, undisturbed water we could see every inch of them – such beautiful, joyful animals – and they came in like the cavalry to save the day! We also had another bird visit – so folks, this is really how birds migrate! – a little passenger that stayed with us for many miles.

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The still water lets us see dolphins better than we ever had before
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5 or 6 times we had dolphins swimming at our bow
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Another stowaway. This one stayed around a couple of hours.
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Another dawn at sea. Note the calm seas coming for day 9.

 

     It was really surprising how little sea traffic we encountered – I can probably count on one hand how many ships and other boats we were close enough to see for most of the trip. Our tenth and last night at sea, however, was quite busy as we were approaching the mouth of the Chesapeake, so there were lots of ships and fishing boats out there to dodge and maneuver around.  But “land ho!” never looked so good – and while we had been planning on making landfall at a marina in Hampton, Virginia, we decided to just keep going and anchor north of there in a quiet cove in Mobjack Bay. And so we finally dropped our sails and our anchor, safely nestled amongst the crab pots, at 7:45am on Friday, May 15th – hallelujah!!

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Land Ho! Cathy spots the lights of Virginia Beach.
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Sunrise half way across the Chesapeake Bay
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Anchor Down! in 10ft of calm water in Mobjack Bay, just north of Hampton, VA.

 

     What better way to celebrate our passage than a big breakfast with homemade biscuits! Closely followed by a 3 hour nap – and I think we both slept the sleep of the dead! 

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Anchor down at 7:45am at the beginning of day 10…..celebration breakfast at 9am, followed by a 3 hour nap!

 

     We were so fortunate to be safely secured in the Bay and not be out in ocean waters when Tropical Storm Arthur unexpectedly made his disruptive and dangerous debut – we only had the inconvenience of having to wait out some residual rough seas and winds in several calm anchorages in the Bay for several days on our way to Annapolis, Maryland, our final destination. We arrived in our marina in Annapolis on Friday, May 22nd – 1500 plus nautical miles from St. John and certainly another “praise the Lord” moment for us both! Apogee safely secured! Unlimited fresh water! Showers! No more rocking and rolling! Going to the bathroom without risking serious injury! Takeout restaurant food! Lettuce!!! Ah, the simple joys of life!

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Sunset at “almost home.”
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Apogee fueled up and resting in Solomons Island inner harbor.
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Almost ashore (but not quite) after what seems like years at sea. (While Lee picks up carry-out at the restaurant at the end of the dock.)
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Last day coming home is a rainy day.
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We were really blessed to have very little rain on our travels.

     We are here still, working on various projects and cleaning on our Apogee.  She served us well and she deserves the TLC. We are grateful to her and to John, Lee’s brother, who deciphered various daily weather reports, boiled them down to a text and sent them along to Lee, without fail, every day we were at sea – giving us another layer of safety – thank you John!!  And, finally, thank you to my excellent O Captain, My Captain and partner-in-life Lee, who did all the real work on this trip – always in constant motion trimming the sails to make us go fast, heating up our food, receiving our communications about weather, keeping us safe, etc. – as I was incapacitated by motion sickness and a shoulder that didn’t want to work too good. Oh yeah, and the fact that I am still a pretend sailor. And let me just make clear to anyone who cares that I will not – repeat – will not! – be doing another passage of this magnitude ever again!! But I am truly glad to have made the journey! Hope to see most of you soon!!

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Apogee is safe and secure…..not so sure about the masked crew!

CAPTAIN’S ADDENDA:

GREAT CREW:  Cathy’s claim to not be a sailor is in error.  She has NEVER missed her turn to stand watch.  I could sleep soundly in the off watch, because I knew Apogee was in competent hands.  Even with one arm out of commission, she pulled her share and more.  Thank you, Cathy.

DEPARTURE PLANNING:  We made our 10 day passage at perhaps the best possible time this year and this season.  There were over 100 boats who waited behind us, mostly for “better” weather, and got “worse” weather.  There are two opposite problems in picking the right departure time.  Avoiding gales at and north of Cape Hatteras and not having enough wind to sail the middle part of the passage so that you run out of fuel.  So as soon as there was a good chance of no gales up north and the wind was blowing down south, we took off.  My advice is to avoid the herd mentality and just make the best decision you can.

WATCH SCHEDULE:  Our watch schedule worked great.  Rather than a fixed watch schedule, we were flexible during the night.  I can sleep….it is my gift, so we would eat an early dinner so that at 6pm I was free to do my radio net with the latest weather data.  By 7pm I was on my way to bed.  Cathy could adjust to her solo night watch while the sun was still setting.  Her instructions were to stay up as long as you don’t feel miserable.  We would change watches either when I woke up or she got tired; that ranged for 12:30am to 3am.  She would then sleep until she woke up or I needed her: from 7am to 8:30am.  Other than the last night when we were both excited about landfall, we were not sleep deprived.

8 Comments

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  1. I love reading every word of your adventures! Thanks so much for sharing! I’m Lynn’s friend and neighbor, and would LOVE to meet you guys when you get home to Tennessee. I think we have a lot in common, Cathy! ( Horse crazy kid, too) Glad you are safely back to the mainland !

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  2. Wonderful and breathtaking! So glad you are safe, and what an adventure! Cathy, I love the photo of you on midnight watch. Love to you both. Susie

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  3. Donna Cummings May 27, 2020 — 9:11 PM

    I knew you would make it. I have prayed you all the way home. Sure glad to get this blog and know you made it. Can hardly wait to be able to get social again. ❤️ Donna

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  4. Wow, what a great story! We are so lucky meeting with you two in St John, which became another sweet memories. We followed your inreach all the way and noticed you two were doing good speed. So happy for you! Best long passage ever!!!

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  5. Love hearing of ya’lls Adventures! The pictures are incredible! So glad you all are safe!

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  6. As always, love reading your blog and seeing your awesome pictures! I’m so glad that Lee was able to experience part of his life’s dream and ya’ll had some remarkable experiences over the last years with Apogee! Ya’ll are a perfect team…. on the seas and in life! But I’m glad you are home safe!!!! Now we can be together when we want to! Missed you!
    Love ya,
    Debbie

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  7. What an adventure you all have had. Glad you are safely back at home. Just don’t get out and get the coronavirus. Hope to see y’all while you are home. Would love to see more pictures of St John. Did you go to St Thomas? Stopped there for a day on a cruise. We did a bus tour of the island. I was sick and mostly saw the bathrooms at each stop. Welcome home!

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  8. Incredible pictures and you are such a gifted story teller !! Thank you for sharing your journey !!

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