A 450 nautical miles (830 km) crossing was ahead of us, and with no diesel available on the small island of Grand Cay where we were staged for our crossing, there was no way we could get to South Carolina by motoring alone. The hurricane season was approaching, and we had to find the wind and to leave the Bahamas. If we didn't get far enough north on this first offshore leg, we knew we wouldn't make it to Nova Scotia by August.
Over the last few weeks in the Abacos sea we were lacking some wind. Most days, the clouds would start rolling in late morning and by afternoon it we'd have a heavy thunder storm with plenty of rain and lightning. We were eager to start our long journey back to Canada, as the hurricane season had already started up, and these daily thunderstorms were a clear sign of the start of summer.
Finally, after about 3 weeks with no wind, some wind appeared in the forecast, but it would not make it down to our location. To find this wind out in the ocean, we had to motor north far from land. Our goal was to reach Charleston, this would allow us to ride the Gulf Stream (and nearly double our normal cruising speed!) as long as the notorious Gulf Stream storms weren't too bad.
The day of the departure came on June 20th, so we pulled our anchor and cautiously motored around all of the reefs until we were in the open ocean. Amazingly, right on schedule, after twelve hours of motoring north, we found some wind and hoisted the sails. We could feel the pull of the Gulf Stream growing and growing until our speed was a swift 9.5 knots. Wow we were flying! A pod of playful dolphins joined us, and traveled side by side with us for about an hour, playing in our wake, jumping up and down. Once the dolphins swam away, we had another bit of excitement - Jeff caught our dinner, a beautiful Mahi-Mahi. As soon as Jeff was done cleaning the fish and cockpit, the fishing reel went off again with another Mahi-Mahi! The conditions lightened a bit and it was a perfect opportunity to BBQ our freshly caught Mahi-Mahi and have some dinner.
We were just about done our dinner, when a dark and deep band of clouds stretching the length of horizon began building and rolling towards us. The Gulf Stream is such a large fast moving current of warm water that storms and squalls are a frequent occurrence, and it seemed as this would be the first storm we'd have to weather if we wanted to take the free acceleration of the might Gulf Stream. Sure enough, 10 minutes later a big squall hit us. Luckily it was still daylight and we could see it coming, giving us enough time to prepare DD by dropping our jib and mizzen sails and double reefing our main sail to heave-to and to wait out the squall. The violent squall past by us almost as quickly as it approached, but we definitely had some luck in avoiding the worst as the sky behind our path was ridden for another hour with the heaviest lightning and thunder we'd ever seen. In no time we were hoisting the sails and back to a speedy cruising pace of about 8 knots.
The Gulf Stream treated us well and we were making a remarkable progress. With winds perpendicular to the current, we had fairly lumpy seas, making it nearly impossible to use DD’s auto pilot. So one of us always had to be at the helm at all times, and the night shifts began taking their toll. The second night was tiring, and the third night was downright exhausting, but we were making better time than expected, eating fresh fish tacos and getting amazing open ocean experience, so we were in good (but tired) spirits!
Land! Finally on the morning of the fourth day at sea we finally saw land! Only an hour away from the inlet to Charleston and we were slammed by another squall. We hove-to again. Jeff stayed on the deck to monitor the situation around us as I went below the deck to keep Znak some company as he was getting pretty stressed. The sky was lit with lightning all around us and I was hoping that we would not get strike by it as it was extremely close to us with only 2-5 seconds intervals between each thunder and lightning. It took a few hours before the squall dissipated and we were able to sail into Charleston.
The culture shock of returning to a big city was overwhelming. The boat traffic, the noise and the general rushing around was hard on our hard-earned island lifestyle we'd adopted. Hilariously, the only place to dock was among the multi-million dollar yachts at the Mega Dock in Charleston City Marina. We cleared the customs and immigration and the feeling of land under our feet and especially Znak's paws was indescribable.
Charleston was beautiful, with historic charm but modern feeling and walk-able districts. We stayed there for a few days to do some site-seeing, re-provision and clean the boat. Staying at the marina was a big treat, taking long warm showers, washing machines and electricity to air condition the boat.
At slack tide on June 27th we were off again. Our next obstacle was Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The place were the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream meet and head east out to the ocean, was well known for generating its own weather and storms. With little wind in the forecast, we decided on the shorter in-land route by going through the Intracoastal Waterway. It meant three uneventful but relaxing days motoring through the dredged canal full from crab pots and muddy bottoms. We finally reached Norfolk, just above the official hurricane belt! We anchored downtown and had front row waterfront seats to enjoy the 4th of July fireworks!
In Norfolk, we were joined by my parents, who arrived from Kyiv, Ukraine. The day after their arrival there were two hurricanes passing by offshore nearby. It took almost a week for the weather to settle down and we could continue travelling north.
My parents got to experience some pretty swift sailing with us from Norfolk to Rhode Island. As we travelled up the US East coast, we slowly had to put on more layers of clothes. First, for the night sails and then for the day sails as well. They also got to experience the thrill of catching a fish and grilling it while under sail, and after an overnight stop in New Jersey, we were sailing to downtown New York City!
We slowly sailed to the big city, stopped by the Statue of Liberty and eventually made our way to the 79th Street Boat Basin in the heart of Manhattan. What an incredible place to moor our boat! We were amazed by New York, its beautiful parks and streets, where every corner reminded us of some famous movie scenes. The Hudson River had some extremely strong reversing currents, so getting in and out of the sailboat and into the dingy was a challenge especially with wind against current.
After three fun days in New York City, we had to continue our journey north for my parents to catch their flight back in Boston. We sailed through some stiff winds through Long Island Sound for a few days and one morning we felt we were in a nature documentary when the boat was completely surrounded by fish. It felt like we could have walked to shore on the thick ball of fish swarming around.
On our way to Newport we sailed in very high winds, our cockpit got washed with water a few times and our mizzen sail also got tear from pushing through the wind so hard. On July 25th, we drove my parents to Boston, and said our farwells. It was a memorable time with them and we are so grateful that they came and were able to taste a little bit of a sailing life with us. The next day, we managed to host Jeff’s friend Florian and his kids who live in Rhode Island.
On this trip from the Bahamas to the US Northeast, we piled up a good number of overnight and multi-day sails and we were out of the main hurricane zone. Feeling more experienced, and nearing our end goal, but a bit lonely, we pulled anchor, leaving the sailing capital of Newport Rhode Island and continued northeast.
Alena, Jeff & Znakie Boy