I've had a lot of curious questions about what it's like to be at sea on a small boat like ours. Here's a little taste, answering the most common question: what do you do at night?
If you choose to read on, take this post with a grain of salt because it's a rather idyllic representation (were lucky enough to have extremely pleasant weather on this sail)... but here it is:
2 Days from New York, NY to Norfolk, VA
As you can see by scrolling through the images above, we had nothing but calm seas for our first ocean sail on Frannie C. Crewed by myself (Jamie), Trevor, and a little bird named Fred, it was a very peaceful sail indeed.
Here are some quick stats to get us started:
Why so much motoring?
It was unfortunate to run the engine as much as we did, but we had a timeline to keep. I had a flight to catch out of Norfolk to complete one last week of flying before being finished work for the winter! We agreed that if our speed dropped below 5 knots, we’d start the engine to keep at least that speed. As it turns out, this ended up being almost the entire journey...
Pros of this? We didn't have to worry about electricity (the engine keeps the batteries charged) - we can run the fan, blender, toaster oven, etc... and still have lights & nav equipment working!
Cons of this? SO. LOUD. The steady PUT-PUT of our single-cylinder diesel engine echoing throughout the boat causes unavoidable headaches.
What do you do out there?
The short answer is not a lot. If you're lucky, some "exciting" things will happen, such as: a little bird appearing (seemingly from nowhere) and hopping around happily for about 10 hours. Eventually he'll warm up to you and follow you around a bit. You'll become fond of him but he'll fly away and you'll be a bit sad.
Or you'll come across a over 10 anchored ships & get to hand steer as you weave through them!
So... yeah - activities are limited. Activity #1 is to stay on course and not hit anything. During the day, we're both generally up (except a few naps), so we share this responsibility simultaneously. Other daytime activities include: reading, listening to music or podcasts, staring blankly at the empty horizon, arbitrarily moving around the boat to various sitting/standing positions, absent-minded yoga, having a few drinks, realizing that was a mistake because now staying awake for night watch will be nearly impossible, etc...
Well, as you can imagine, someone's got to be up at all times to do the whole "get where you're going and don't hit anything" activity... With only 2 people on board, this can be tiring. We agreed on 4-hour night watch shifts: 1900-2300, 2300-0300, 0300-0700 (doing opposites each night).
What we ended up doing was probably ill-advised (although fine considering we only had 2 nights to deal with). The person with the first watch would stay up as long as possible (usually about 0100), then the next person would wake up and do the rest of the night.
During night watch, we have a few rules/responsibilities. Before I explain them, I'll describe some of our worst nightmares that they're designed to prevent:
Now, those are unlikely scenarios - but even so, we abide by the following during night watch:
Sailing Through the Night...
Sometimes, it's the most peaceful thing in the world. Picture yourself surrounded on all sides by an empty horizon, no vessel or land in sight, the moon and the stars glistening off the water, only the sounds of breaking waves and wind on your sails... (and in the case of this voyage, the put-put of our Yanmar... but if you're picturing it, maybe leave that part out). It's a nice feeling to absorb...
Night watch activities vary slightly from during the day... I'll give you a sample:
You're perched in the cockpit enjoying the picture I painted above, a little more bundled up than during the day. You're doing a crossword by the soft light of your precious red headlamp. Suddenly, your leg starts vibrating and you realize 20 minutes has passed. You hop to your feet and head for the cabin door, you've got one foot down the stairs when something stops you - oh, that's right, you're attached to the cockpit seat.
You're down below now, looking at the small AIS screen, nothing has changed except that now there's a new little triangle on your port side headed for land. Curiously, you scroll through the vessel's information: a fishing vessel, doing 8 knots headed for Delaware Bay, CPA (closest point of approach) 2NM, TCPA (time until closest point of approach) 52 minutes... interesting. You're sweating now, it's hot down below in your foulies...
Next, you unlock the iPad & open Garmin Bluechart - you see your little icon has changed from last night's pirate ship to a large rubber duck (thanks to your mature boyfriend/Captain). Good news is it's resting right on the red trackline, pointed maybe just a few degrees to the east. Just to satisfy your OCD, you hit the autopilot-to-starboard button 4 times (for 4 degrees).
As you start settling back into your comfy crossword corner, you realize you forgot to look for that fishing vessel. You stand up, one hand on the dodger, and stare hard at the black abyss that lies on your port side... nothing.
Here's where night sailing can become not so peaceful... two 20-minute alarms later, you've started to make out some abnormally bright lights on your port side. Looks like a damn city in the middle of the ocean. Yep - that must be the fishing vessel. Down to the AIS to see if anything's changed... CPA 0.1NM, TCPA 12 minutes... For those of you who don't know, AIS is not exact (it's a prediction), but even if it were exact, 0.1NM is still not a sufficient distance for a small sailboat to be from a large fishing vessel.
You have right of way on two counts: you are sailing, and also on his right. This doesn't make you feel any better, though. No more crosswords, you are glued to the horizon. After it becomes clear he isn't going to move, you radio him. The gruff, slightly pissed off, & tired sounding voice of an old fisherman blares back at you... Clearly indifferent to whether or not he runs over a tiny sailboat, he disregards the rules completely and says: "take my stern".
Sigh. Alrighty then. You hop back up the stairs, remove the autopilot from the tiller and gently bring your bow to port until you're pointed just to the left of the blinding mass of lights. As a few minutes pass by, this mass becomes a more distinguishable silhouette of a tall metal ship, large metal arms protruding out over the water. Not only is it blinding, but it's also loud. They must have some heavy machinery running on deck. Standing there thinking holy shit, you realize you're now looking at it's stern... shaking it off, you steer the boat back onto an approximate compass heading and reattach the autopilot.