Eyelash in the ocean

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It shouldn’t, but it always amazes me that we can set out into the ocean, nothing but blue horizon ahead of us, and somehow make landfall exactly where we had intended.

This time we were aiming for a particularly small target—just a little eyelash of land in the Bahamas, if you can call a string of tiny islands that. The Berry Islands are somewhere between Nassau and Freeport, too tiny to even see unless you zoom way in on the chart plotter. And to get there from Florida, a journey of about 130 miles, you have to cross the Gulf Stream.

We had gentle winds from the south when we set out, so gentle that we put all our sails up: the main, the genoa, a staysail hanked onto the forestay (yeah, hanked: that’s what you do when you don’t bend a sail, you hank it on.) Chris loves having all the sails up, he watches the wind shift, fiddles with them. Like a big kid flying a kite. Three kites. Three really big kites. It’s almost enough activity for him…

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We hit the Gulf Stream just a few miles offshore—hit isn’t quite right: we noticed we were in it because the water changed colour, a different blue, don’t quite know how to describe it, and clumps of Sargasso weed started drifting by. And we started drifting too.

The Gulf Stream is actually a river, 20- to 30-miles wide off the coast of Florida and flowing northward at up to 5 knots in the centre. In the light winds, we were only holding 4 to 5 knots, many of them sideways. The bow was pointing east but the boat was moving north, just a little at first then more and more as the current grew stronger.

At one point, a big ship appeared off our port bow. Fine, we thought, and it would have been if we were moving forward, but we were actually drifting right towards him: we were on a collision course. Chris realized it in time to turn our bow north and run with the current, passing harmlessly behind him. It was a weird experience.

By the time we came out of the Gulf Stream, our path on the chart plotter was a long, smooth arc running west to east. After that it went back to a straight line and it was clear sailing through the night, with a full moon all the way. We saw dozens of other ships: oil tankers and cruise ships for the most part, a handful of sailboats, some work boats plying the waters between Nassau and Freeport. And just after dawn, The Berry Islands appeared on the horizon.

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Yes I know, we have a chart plotter to keep us on course, but still, with the vagaries of wind and current, not to mention unexpected course changes to avoid other ships, it still surprises me when we end out where we had hoped to. By noon, we were entering the narrow cut—and I mean narrow—into Great Harbour Cay marina.

We spent several days in the marina after clearing in, waiting for huge swells out in ocean to subside, and I mean huge—up to 24 feet in the Atlantic, a paltry 12 feet between The Berry Islands and Nassau, the aftermath of a winter storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada.

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It was an interesting place, Great Harbour Cay, once a playground of the rich and famous drawn by the beautiful beaches and a championship 18-hole golf course. According to the locals, Cary Grant danced the night away in the magnificent multi-story clubhouse. Brigitte Bardot graced the beaches with her beauty. Jack Nicklaus had a house on a hilltop along the back nine.

The golf course closed after pretty much draining the aquifer beneath the island and the club house fell to ruin, but the beaches are still stunning, miles of white sand in a sheltered crescent bay. We walked them every day, looking out over the ocean to see if the swell was subsiding, sometimes stopping for lunch at The Beach Club, a tiny open-air restaurant in the dunes.

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After three days the swells began to subside a little so we made a very rolly dash to a reasonably sheltered anchorage at White Cay, about 30 miles south along the string of islands. There we stayed for another three nights waiting out some big winds, which we weathered very well, our anchor having wrapped itself securely around a big rock.

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Once we’d untangled it, we enjoyed a very pleasant sail to the southernmost tip of The Berry Island, and tucked ourselves in between Frazer’s Hog Cay and Cockroach Cay. We dinghied to a narrow strip of beach and walked the road on Frazer’s Hog (and never a pig in sight) but decided not to go ashore on Cockroach Cay.

Monday night a massive cold front rolled over us with winds up to 30 knots in the squalls, but we weathered it well, our anchor firmly set in sand. By morning, the skies were clear, it was sunny, and a steady west wind had set in. Perfect weather for crossing to Nassau. So we did.

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On the way, Chris managed to catch a fish head–well, he probably had the whole fish on at one time, but something made short work of it before he could reel it in. Next he caught an impressive-sized hunk of Sargasso weed. I told him that if he caught an onion and a couple of carrots, I could make a nice soup for dinner.

We’re in Nassau now, about to set out to explore the Exumas, another chain of islands in the Bahamas, these considerably longer than an eyelash. Cel signal might be sketchy, so you may not hear from us for a while. But know that we’ll be thinking of you as we swim in the clear waters, walk the sandy beaches, and enjoy a glass of prosecco on the foredeck as we watch the sun go down.

Velcro beach

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We had planned to stay here a night, maybe two, but Vero Beach is very hard to leave. Velcro beach, the cruising guide calls this place. We’re on a mooring ball in a pretty mangrove swamp, just off the intracoastal waterway, manatees drifting lazily by the boat, pelicans plunging into the water beside us.

osprey (1)An osprey has made himself at home in the rigging of the boat behind us (not our boat, thank goodness—their windscreen is covered with white smears, not to mention little bits of fish.) He calls out to other osprey as they pass overhead. My boat. Not your boat. Just keep moving. Nothing to see here.

Every evening at dusk about the biggest great blue heron we’ve ever seen glides silently to the stand of mangroves off our bow, stalks slowly around the edge of it, hunting. What is he walking on, I wonder? All I can see are roots disappearing into the murky water.

The beach itself is just a short walk away, through the town. It’s nice having a strip of land between us and the ocean. The last thing we want to hear in the night is the sound of breaking surf, and break it does on the miles of hard-packed sand. Water foams around our ankles as we walk, little flocks of tiny sandpipers, balls of fluff on stick legs, really, following each wave as it recedes, winkling little creatures out of the sand with their pointy beaks. They turn and run as the next wave breaks, somehow managing to stay just ahead of it.

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This place is a nice change from Titusville, where we spent ten days in a largely unsheltered anchorage recommissioning the boat after three months on a mooring ball. We removed the bird netting (yay! no osprey!), put the sails on (bent the sails, you’re supposed to say), then Chris did a bunch of boat maintenance–checking things, greasing things, tightening things–while I cleaned and aired out down below.

Not that we worked all the time. We would go for walks each day, across the long bridge that spans the intracoastal waterway there. We managed to watch a bit of a midget wrestling competition in the park beside the marina one day, on a makeshift stage. The huge crowd of people in front of it attracted our attention. Midget wrestling. Yes. Really.

Laundry, many trips to the grocery store to provision, fill the water tanks and the jerry cans, and finally we were on our way. Almost. First we took the boat into a dock so a diver could scrub the green gunk and barnacles off the bottom. Our top speed on the way into the marina was .7 knots. Yes, the decimal is in the right place.

fancy houseFlorida is an interesting and troubling place. There are mansions here that make Chris’s sister’s home in Lawrence Park look like a starter home. Their gardens are a delight to behold, palm trees surrounded by pretty hibiscus bushes, benches in the shade. But never a person. Chris says they stay inside, in the air conditioning.

Not like the man who lives in a boarded up gas station in Titusville. We passed him on the way to the supermarket one day, sitting in his wheelchair just outside the door, trying to catch what little breeze there was, a growing pile of cans—pop cans? beer cans?—a short throw away.

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Later that day we sat on the bow and watched the launch of the Falcon Heavy, really an incredible sight, the rocket rising straight up out of a white, billowing cloud into the sky, a loud cheer from the hundreds of people lining the bridge. It disappeared into the clouds, but still the people watched.

“What are they waiting for,” I asked Chris.

Then another cheer as two booster rockets sailed into sight, sun reflecting off them as they sliced down towards the ocean, a loud boom reaching us only after they had disappeared from view.

A man living in a gas station. A Tesla headed into outer space. I have trouble putting the two things together.

Then there’s the shooting at the school in Parkland, not far from here, which we’re all having trouble making sense of. Some people are buying the facile “mental illness” explanation.

“Guns don’t kill people,” said a woman wearing a “Not a pepper spray kind of girl” T-shirt. Yes, she trotted out that tired argument. In the next breath she admitted proudly that she had a Glock in her handbag and she wouldn’t hesitate to use it. “In the right circumstances.”

But most of the people we’ve spoken to know that it’s more complicated than that.

“Sure the kid was troubled,” one man said. “But give a 19-year old an assault rifle and what do you think is going to happen?”

We’re heartened by the response of the students at the school, who have gone public in their indictment of policies that put guns in the hands of mass murderers. Right now, their voices seem louder—and ring truer—than the voice of their president. Maybe there’s hope.

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It’s not just the pleasant anchorage and the beautiful beach that are keeping us here. Neither is it the farmer’s market, though that is excellent too. You can buy bags of cheap oranges, fresh produce, exotic orchids, alligator heads, if you want.

“What do people do with alligator heads,” I asked the man.

“They buy them for their grandsons.” Why not their granddaughters, I wondered. Maybe Keira would like an alligator head? Just a small one.

“And what do you do with the rest of the alligator?”

“We sell them for meat, tan the hides.”

Oh.

No, what’s keeping us here is more a hesitation about moving further south, where things just get stranger. The population density increases, as does the gap between the rich and the poor. The cruising guide warns us that there are fewer places to anchor because the waterway is lined with expensive houses, the police will tell you to move along. In the few places it is possible to anchor, say in front of an abandoned condo development, it’s not really safe to go to shore at night, the guide says, because of the homeless people wandering the waterfront.

We’re waiting for the right wind to pop out into the ocean and sail south, avoiding southern Florida altogether, but the trade winds have set in and are blowing steadily from the southeast, exactly the direction we need to go.

So I guess we’re stuck here at velcro beach until the winds shift.

There are worse places to be.

Winter in the meadow

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Since we’ve been back in Ontario, we’ve been spending as much time as we can at the boat—no, not the one in Florida, the other boat, Meadowlark, the one we’re building on our family property up north, I’d really rather not say exactly where…

We have 50 acres of land, 60 now that we’ve purchased the adjoining property with access to a three-season road. Before that, we depended on the good graces of our neighbours to get in and out of our place. In winter we have to hike in a couple miles on a snowmobile trail then hop a fence and snowshoe across a farmer’s field to get in.

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But the isolation of the property is much of its appeal. It’s on a lake in the middle of the concession block, surrounded by farm land. There’s an old log cabin down by the lake, where my sister Brenda stays, built long before the township decided that because we are on a three-season road, we can’t build any more dwellings on our property.

So we’re not. Chris and I are building a boat up in the meadow.

Now Meadowlark is no ordinary boat. Sturdy post and beam construction, tongue and groove oak on the hull, an oak deck. Skylights. Discreet eavestroughs along the scuppers. You starting to get the picture?

Chris designed Meadowlark during long winter nights in our townhouse in Waterloo. He produced a set of working drawings that are themselves a work of art, then we set to work building round windows in our garage in Waterloo.

Once we broke ground in the spring, many hands helped build the boat. Our friend Rick, a carpenter by trade, helped us with the finer details, such as fitting the posts and beams—painstaking, exacting work. But the finished result is worth it. (Rick may have a different opinion on this…)

The outside is complete now, but there’s lots of finishing still to be done on the interior. Chris spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s building kitchen counters out of ash to match the dining room table we also built in our garage in Waterloo. (The neighbours at the townhouse hardly minded the sound of the table saw and the router, the smell of varnish late into the night. Really they didn’t.)

Sure, living in Meadowlark is a bit like living in a construction site—plywood floors, most but not all of the drywall installed but still bare, vapour barrier ceilings. But the boat is well insulated, and we have a full-size woodstove, so even on the coldest of winter days, it’s as cosy as can be.

And living in a meadow in the middle of winter, miles from the nearest road, is absolutely magical. The moon was full when we were up there between Christmas and New Years, and each night we’d look out across the snow, hoping to see a deer, or a coyote, or even a rabbit. But we didn’t see another creature the whole time we were up there, not even a mouse, though every morning we’d wake to fresh tracks in the snow all around us.

The silence in the meadow is profound, just the gentle sound of the wind chime from time to time. And the roar of the Argo.

Yes, we have a new addition to the fleet up at the farm—a sturdy tracked vehicle that laughs at snow. Once we’ve hiked in, we can zip back out to the car in the Argo to haul all our gear in rather than pulling it in on a sled. And we know that in an emergency, we can get out in a hurry.

Plus it’s just plain fun to drive around in! I’m still getting used to the skid steer—I often end out quite a ways away from where I thought I was going—but (surprise) Chris has mastered it completely. He can even do a perfect spin stop, braking hard on one side and doing a 180 before coming to rest. Very fancy. And a little hair raising.

We can’t think of a nicer place to be in winter. Except possibly on our other boat, somewhere warm. We try not to look at the weather in Florida—oops, just did. Twenty-five degrees, and sunny, light winds. Same as yesterday. And the day before. How boring.

Hmm. I could do with a little of that kind of boring.

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What’s that white stuff?

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As I write this, I’m sitting at Brenda’s kitchen table looking out over her back yard. The maple tree is bare, the last of its leaves long fallen, the bird house in its branches long empty. The ivy trailing along the fence is still green but everything else is grey. Or brown. Or grey. And… what is that white stuff on the ground?

We’re back in Ontario, at my sister’s place in Guelph, after a month of unrelenting travel. We’ve been on delivery, moving the boat from New York to Florida in stages as the weather has allowed.

After an easy summer in the peaceful Bras d’Or Lakes, the Atlantic seaboard of the United States was a bit of a shock. First and foremost, there’s the ship traffic. If possible, these waters are busier than they were when we travelled through them 13 years ago. At one point, as we were sailing at night past Atlantic City, we were tracking three tug boats, half a dozen big fishing boats dragging nets, several cargo ships making their way to and from New York City, a Coast Guard boat, and a handful of other sailboats trying to make their way south through all of this.

One thing that has changed, and it has made sailing in busy waters much less hair-raising, is the advent of AIS—Automatic Identification System, which is now the main way to avoid collisions. We still run our radar regularly—not all boats have AIS—but we now have all kinds of information on the ones that do. By clicking on the little triangle that shows up on our chart plotter, we can find out the name of the boat—very useful if you have to hail them—the type of boat, its direction and speed, and sometimes its destination. So you know if that white light on the horizon is a 648-foot cargo boat, a cruise ship, a fishing boat, or a tug boat pulling a train, as they call a series of barges. The system even tells you if the train is on a short or long line—sometimes the barges are as much as a mile behind the tug boat.

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Curiously, Coast Guard boats don’t show up on AIS, but I guess if they’re looking for illegal activity, they don’t really want to announce their presence. It’s funny, in Canada, members of the Coast Guard seem like friendly, helpful people who are there to assist if you get into trouble. In the States, they seem to take border patrol more seriously. We often hear Coast Guard helicopters hailing boats and questioning them, and once we had to skirt an area where Coast Guard boats were engaging in firing practice. Do Canadian Coast Guard boats even have guns? I’m not sure.

But the Coast Guard’s bold presence is nothing compared to the many fighter jets that screamed over our heads on this journey. Sorry—we have lots of pictures of where they were two seconds ago but only one actual glimpse of a jet to share with you. Those things are fast! We spent two memorable nights at anchor in the Alligator River waiting out weather, which is one of the places these jets practice manoeuvres. They would streak out over our boat then shoot straight up in the air and disappear in the clouds. A minute later, they’d come screaming back. It was pretty neat—our own private air show. Okay, it was neat during the day time…

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The further south we travelled, the quieter the coastal waters became. On the last leg of our journey—a five day passage from Beaufort, North Carolina to Florida—there were very few other boats around. We had a peaceful sail—warm, sunny days, star-filled nights, with the full moon to light our way. Oh yeah. That’s why we do this.

We made landfall at Ponce de Leon Inlet and spent a leisurely Saturday motoring along the Intracoastal Waterway to Titusville, where we are keeping the boat while we’re home for Christmas. All along the way we could see evidence of the havoc wrought by this year’s hurricanes. Smashed up docks, sunken boats with just their masts sticking out of the water, boats washed up on shore, most of them abandoned now. It’s a very sad sight.

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It was sunny and 80 degrees when we left Florida just a week ago, with a nice cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. It took us three days of driving to cover the 2,000 miles it had taken us a month to travel by boat. We still wake up in the night and wonder where we are. On passage? Is it time for my watch? Are we at anchor? Why is the boat so still? Wait, we’re in a bed. What motel is this? What city are we in?

Oh yeah. We’re in Guelph. And that white stuff on the ground is a skiff of snow. Sure it’s cold here, but we’re getting used to it. And to tell the truth, I’m okay with sitting still for a while.

River run

IMG_2807We had it all worked out. If we left the anchorage at the southern tip of Long Island Sound at 8am, we’d slip under Throgs Neck Bridge and start our run down the East River with the current in our favour. Our aim was to hit the aptly named Hell Gate at 10:30am, which would give us enough time to get out of the river before the tide turned against us.

Now the East River is not really a river. It’s a 14-mile tidal strait that begins in Long Island Sound and ends in New York Harbor. Eight bridges span it—all high enough for a sailboat to pass under. They’re not the problem. It’s the current, which can run as high as 5 knots. That’s our top speed under motor, so running against the current was not an option. Even running with it would require expert helmsmanship. Fortunately we have some of that on board.

We weren’t the only sailboat running the river—half a dozen of us entered the river at the same time, which was reassuring: clearly we had the timing right. We were moving along smartly at six knots, seven. In no time we were under the first two bridges, the waterway still nice and wide and more or less straight.

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This part of the run was anything but scenic—old industrial buildings and abandoned piers, rows of rotting wooden posts jutting out into the water. Power plants, low-rise apartment buildings, a road running along the shore teeming with traffic. The odd ferry or water taxi crossed from one side to the other. A charter boat passed us, heading out to the sound, bristling with people and fishing rods.

The river doglegged to the left, ran straight again for a while. By now we were travelling at a heady 8 knots, buffeted by the current, but there was lots of room and little other boat traffic.

Then Hell Gate Bridge appeared.

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Now the bridge itself is lovely, an arched steel structure with stone towers at each end, built in the early 1900s. And travelling at 8.5 knots now, we were under it in no time.

Then a sharp dogleg to the right and we were in Hell Gate itself, where the Harlem River pours into the East River. It was a boiling, foaming mess. Chris wrestled with the wheel to keep us more or less in the centre of the narrow channel, while I watched the shore whizzing by, and then we were through the gate and into another long, straight stretch.

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Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Chris was able to let the autopilot take it and we both relaxed a little. It was a grey, foggy day so we could barely see the Manhattan skyline emerging from the gloom.

“Look, Chris—I think thats the Empire State Building.”

But Chris was looking at the traffic ahead of us. Suddenly the river was thick with ferries, tug boats pushing huge barges, little fishing boats drifting with the current, all kinds of pleasure craft. A helicopter took off from a pad beside the river. There was a sailing regatta underway out in the harbour. Spinnakers bloomed as the boats rounded the mark for the downwind leg.

“Have you got that ferry?”

“Which one,” Chris said grimly. “The small one zipping in around the tip of Manhattan Island, the fast ferry coming up behind us, or the huge orange ferry approaching our bow?”

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The big orange ferry—the Staten Island Ferry—passed within thirty feet of us, people smiling and waving at the little sailboat beside them. Little. That’s not how we usually think of ourselves. Whoa. A huge oil barge, painted red and tan, being pushed by a matching tug boat. More fishing boats to dodge. Then the open water of New York Harbor at last.

The Statue of Liberty saluted our successful passage as we sailed by, such a nice lady. We made our way easily through the many cargo ships anchored in front of her, waiting for clearance to go to dock.

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Under the bridge at the narrows—oops, one more surprise for us: we were overtaken by about the biggest cruise ship we’ve ever seen—and then we were in the wide open bay beyond, the Atlantic Ocean not far in the distance, nothing but water between us and the Azores.

But that’s not where we’re headed right now. It’s too late in the season to think about crossing, so we’re back where it all started 13 years ago, almost to the day, tucked behind Sandy Hook waiting for the right winds to make our way south to the Bahamas, where we’ll spend the winter.

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It feels so different this time. Last time, we had never been in the ocean in our boat, were both feeling a little daunted by the prospect. (Well I was. I’m not sure Chris is daunted by anything.)

We now have 10,000 miles of ocean sailing under our belts, but that doesn’t make us cocky. If anything, our respect for the seas is even greater. But then so is our confidence.

By the way? We hit the Hell Gate Bridge at exactly 10:30am.

 

Wild ride

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It all started out so well. We left Shelburne at noon last Saturday, motoring into a gentle east wind as we made our way out the 10-mile-long inlet to the ocean. It was sunny and warm, the seas had calmed, the waves were less than a foot, and when we rounded the headland and turned to the south, the wind filled our sails. This is as nice as it gets.

But then (why is there always a but then?) as we sailed around Cape Sable Island at the southernmost tip of Nova Scotia, giving it a wide berth—sailing friends had warned us about the currents there as huge amounts of water flow into and out of the Bay of Fundy—the wind picked up sharply and went west. In no time, the seas kicked up and we were taking three-foot waves on the beam. Then four. Five. Six. Our only options were to turn and run with the seas, which would have taken us far off course, or just tough it out. We chose the latter.

It was a long, rolly night. Fortunately there was an almost full moon, so we could see the waves coming towards us, brace for impact, relax for a minute, oh, here comes the next one. It was exhausting. At one point, I didn’t brace myself in time and was thrown across the cockpit, bruising my knee when I landed. And my dignity.

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We went on short watches—two hours—but neither of us really slept that night. Waves slamming into the side of a steel boat make a lot of noise. By morning the seas had calmed some—not much, but some. The wind was still coming from the west, the direction we needed to go. We knew that if it didn’t start going north soon, we would miss Cape Cod and end out in New York.

Around nightfall, the wind finally began clocking to the north, and we followed it, staying as tight on the wind as we could, trying make as much westing as possible. The problem is, seas take longer to shift than the wind does. We pounded into huge waves all night, spray crashing over the bow and drenching the cockpit windows. And worse—dislodging our anchor. We heard, but couldn’t see, it smashing against the bow of the boat.

“We’re going to have to heave to,” Chris said.

Which was easy enough. We just turned the boat into the wind until the foresail backwinded, then cranked the rudder so the boat stalled. Suddenly, all was quiet. We were just bobbing up and down. Chris snapped on the spreader lights then clipped himself to the lifeline and went forward.

The anchor chain had popped out of the roller so he couldn’t just bring it up with the winch. He had to wrestle it back on board. Which was no small feat. It took him several tries, but finally he had it secured on deck.

Reluctantly, we went back to sailing, this time just a little less hard on the wind.

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By morning the wind had gone fully north and the seas had calmed. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny fall day. You know that scene in The Perfect Storm, a movie I probably watch too much, when the fishing boats who weren’t lost in the storm motor peacefully back into harbour? It was just like that.

I sent Chris down for some much-needed sleep, made myself a cup of coffee, fetched my book, curled up on the cockpit bench. This is nice, I thought.

But there was one more surprise in store. A smudge appeared on the horizon, quickly resolved itself into container ship, heading our way. I put my book down, checked the chart plotter. We have AIS now—Automatic Identification System—so I could see the name of the vessel, its size, and its course and speed. I forget its name, but it was 900 feet long and moving towards us at 11 knots. Exactly perpendicular to us, actually. We were on a collision course.

Now vessels under sail have the right of way over ships under motor, but we never count on that. I went down and woke Chris (he had just fallen into a sound sleep) and he came up and confirmed my assessment of the situation. We had to tack out of his way. So we did.

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We watched as the ship passed at a safe distance behind us. It was sitting low in the water, its deck piled high with colourful containers, looking for all the world like something our granddaughter would build with Lego.

We resumed our original course, I went back to reading, Chris went back to napping.

By late afternoon, we had curved around Cape Cod and were sailing along its western shore, heading for the sheltered harbour inside. I had always thought that Cape Cod was, well, just a cape, a bump of land sticking out from the mainland, but it’s not. It’s a long sandy hook curling way out into the ocean, miles and miles of golden sand backed by low dunes topped with beach grass. We rounded the lighthouse at the tip of the cape and headed into the quiet anchorage off Provincetown, dropping anchor just as the sun set.

“Cruising has two pleasures,” the saying goes. “One is to go out in wider waters from a sheltered place. The other is to go into a sheltered place from wider waters.”

We certainly enjoyed both pleasures in our race from cape to cape.

Cone of uncertainty

Jose

It’s not a term I’d heard before, but I’m certainly familiar with now. We’ve never sailed in the ocean during hurricane season, so studying forecasts from the National Hurricane Centre has never been a morning ritual. But it is now. Actually, I check the forecast several times a day. And in the middle of the night. I’ll admit that it’s turning into an unhealthy obsession. Sometimes Chris hides the iPad.

Hurricane forecasts are based on computer models, satellite data, and the actual movement of a particular storm. The cone of uncertainty, which represents the probable track of a storm, is designed to show that the further out the forecast is projected, the less sure anyone is about a storm’s track.

A couple weeks ago, some long-range computer models had Jose making landfall exactly where we were, in Lunenburg. So we left our comfortable mooring ball there and scooted ten miles up a nearby river to wait it out.

As we rounded the final bend in the river, a wall of derelict fishing boats and a huge old navy vessel loomed out of the fog.

“This can’t be right,” Chris said.

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We double-checked the chart. Sure enough, we had reached the public wharf in Bridgewater, at the head of the La Have River. Ample room for visiting sailboats to tie up, our guide said. But there wasn’t. We circled a couple of times, then finally squeezed in front of the navy ship. Its grey hull rose high above our stern. I climbed onto the rough concrete dock and secured our lines around a couple of huge, rusty bollards. A flight of pigeons settled on the bow of the ship behind us, peered down through the gathering gloom. On the wharf beside us was an old steel sailboat, waiting for the cutting torch. Nearby were the remains of another boat, Just a transom and a couple of winches. It was a sad sight.

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We spent a week in Bridgewater, in the fog and the rain, waiting for Jose—which never did hit Nova Scotia—to be downgraded to a tropical storm and head off to sea. Which he finally did.

But Maria was hard on his heels, with a massive cone of uncertainty that blossomed out into the North Atlantic. Forecasters were saying that Maria would miss New York and Boston, but might brush the tip of Nova Scotia and merge with the remnants of Jose before heading out across the Atlantic.

Might brush the tip of Nova Scotia. It’s the uncertainty that gets me.

Chris is pretty Zen about it all. He works on the boat, reads his book, flies his drone when the fog lifts. What’s for dinner, he asks. Another day has slipped by.

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After Jose headed offshore and before Maria moved our way, we managed to sneak along the coast to Shelburne, a pretty little town near the southeastern tip of Nova Scotia. We’ve been waiting here for Maria to make up her mind, which she finally did. The night before last she passed well offshore of us and headed out to sea. But the wind in the night was unbelievable. I sat in the cockpit wrapped in a blanket and watched waves breaking around the boat in the anchorage, even though we’re a good ten miles from the ocean here. Then the rain came.

But this morning has dawned sunny—and sharply colder. It will take a couple days for the seas to settle down enough for us to make the three-day passage to Cape Cod, but it looks like we’ll be able to start heading south over the weekend. I’ll just check the forecast…

Wait a minute. Where’s the iPad?