Recap: Offshore…Finally!

Headed back under the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, Ga., this time bound for the Atlantic

I met Jill in Hampton, Va. in November. I was there aboard Further, having just journeyed down from Annapolis and she was there to crew aboard a catamaran about to head to Antigua as part of the Salty Dawg Rally. We had a couple of beers, chatted, and agreed to stay in touch since she was looking for crewing opportunities and I was hoping to find experienced crew who were able to help me move Further south to the Bahamas.

Fast-forward to early January and Jill again had a crewing opportunity lined up, this time in Jacksonville, Fla. But before then, she had a couple of weeks and was interested in helping me get Further down to the West Palm Beach area, the area where I’d stage and wait for a weather window in which to jump across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. So Jill flew into Jacksonville, the nearest airport to Brunswick, and met me in the marina—right after a massive thunderstorm blew through the area. I was out buying supplies for the trip and man, oh man, I wound up drenched through and through by the time I got down the dock and back aboard Further. Jill arrived that evening and, after we discussed our planned trip, settled into the aft cabin.

After breakfast the next morning, we secured everything on board and headed out of the slip. A quick stop at the fuel dock to top off the diesel tank and then we were riding a swift outgoing tide as we motored under the Sidney Lanier Bridge headed toward the Atlantic.

Out the channel between St. Simon’s and Jekyll islands and then we turned to starboard and set a course just a bit west of south. The wind was out of the west so we were kind-of reaching, kind-of beating under a reefed main and genoa, but after about an hour the wind eased a bit—and was forecast to drop through the day and overnight—so I shook out the reefs. I anticipated sailing until around dinnertime and then motoring through the night.

Further back in her element, romping in the open ocean

And a delightful sail it was. Oh man, Further fairly leapt into the conditions, reveling in being back in her element. All through the day we made decent time down the coast, tracking the sun as it crossed the sky and eased down behind the continent a few miles to our west.

We passed Jacksonville as night fell and only encountered a few big ships—US Navy and commercial vessels—off in the distance. We continued to work our way south when I went below around 11:15 p.m. to take a cat nap for a couple of hours.

I made it forty-five minutes. Something woke me up and I scrambled back to the cockpit where Jill informed me the wind had jumped from the low teens-gusting-to-17 that it had been doing to the 17-to-20-with-higher-gusts it was now doing. We were a little overpowered with a full compliment of sails up so off the mast I went, tucking in a reef in the main as spray blew over Further’s length and the deck pitched at a nice, steep angle in the raucous conditions.

The golden hour. See? The wind WAS easing as night fell. Little did we know…

We got things under control and I took over in the cockpit as Jill went below to get some rest. I stayed at the helm, periodically dozing off for a few seconds at a time, through the night, but at this time of year there was literally no one else out on the ocean so there really wasn’t any danger. And it wound up being a nice night of good sailing down the coast of Florida, on a wind that gradually eased over the course of the overnight hours.

As the sky brightened for morning, the forecast drop-off in wind materialized and by sunrise proper were were motoring our way past Daytona Beach. Soon it was the north end of Cape Canaveral and then we were past the big gantries of the launching pads and rounding our way into Port Canaveral. We pulled into Cape Marina and got secured to an end tie and tidied up the boat after our journey south.

The trip I had planned to take thirty hours turned out to take twenty-nine. We had some great sailing for most of one daylight stretch, a bit of a wake-up call at midnight, a mellow sail overnight and then a straightforward motor to our destination. All in all, in good trip, and a welcome return to both the ocean and sailing after having been confined to motoring down the ICW for more than two months.

Sunset off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida

The lone takeaway was that old rules about sailing are old rules for a reason: they represent the combined wisdom and experience of thousands of years of seagoing vessels and humans. In our case, the applicable adages were: “If you’re thinking about reefing it’s already time” and “Reef before it gets dark.” Sure, we were sailing along fine as night fell but we were right at the edge of where reefing might be in the cards. With the forecast calling for the wind to drop, however, we opted to continue under full main and genoa, so when the wind not only didn’t drop but instead increased a bit, we were forced to scramble a bit in less-than-ideal conditions.

Oh, and by “we” I mean “me.” As captain, it was my duty to have been proactive about reefing. The buck stops with me.

All’s well that ends well but it would have been better to have reefed at nightfall, maybe given up a little speed but been safer and more under control, and then shaken out the reef as the wind finally dropped as forecast. Lesson learned.