By the sheer will of
my superhuman husband we made it to Cape Cod, but it was far from the ideal
first overnighter we were hoping for. We left Rockport around 6:30am on Tuesday
while the wind was blowing hard and the waves rocked us around. Since the weather
was supposed to improve, the plan was to travel into better conditions. I
hadn’t been expecting quite such jarring conditions, and the anxiety I had been
suppressing about making the trip reared its head and told me that I, in fact,
was not at all ready. But not wanting to spend a year in Rockport, we at least
needed to get moving South and would decide whether we could make it to our
destination after we got to Monhegan Island.
By 9:00am things
were looking up and as I steered us downwind at speeds I was formerly
uncomfortable with, my outlook also improved. To aid our decision about how to
proceed, we obsessively listened to the radio weather forecast which had
morphed into a small craft advisory for everywhere along the coast we could
possibly be headed starting early the next morning through 8pm. After talking
it to death we ended up turning West to a protected harbor where we could wait
it out. Though once we turned toward land, we both had a strong feeling that it
was not the right move and that we would unnecessarily miss our window and get
ourselves stuck waiting around for ideal conditions that might never come. From
where we were we could just day-hop slowly down the coast, but that might mean
we skipped Cape Cod altogether. A depressing concept since we had been looking
forward not only to being in Cape Cod but to making our first long voyage. We
decided to just get some sleep and take off again at midnight, which would give
us just enough time to make it to Cape Cod before dark the next day.
The stars and moon
were completely obscured by clouds, making the motion of the waves a mystery
until they swept beneath us, and each lobster pot on our way back out to sea
was a surprise we barely avoided as Jon stood at the bow and waved me around
them. In the darkness we motor-sailed along leaving a wake of green
bioluminescence as we careened around the glowing red compass dial,
concentrating on keeping the arrow pointing at 206 degrees. The closer we
steered to the correct course, the further into daylight the GPS estimated our
arrival time. For a while it was looking like we would make it to Provincetown
around 5pm.
The only distressing
moment was when our depth-finder sounded its alarm and showed that we were in 8
feet of water. The chart said we should be in 600 feet. After triple checking
the chart and wondering aloud what could be happening – umm, are we on top of a
whale? – the depth slowly started to increase to 24 feet, then 30, and finally
218. Jon remembered that the device can only read up to a certain depth and
after that will show only erroneous readings. Because Jon had already gone over
our plotted course to make sure there were no shallow spots along our route, we
didn’t really need to be too concerned. But it still about gave him a heart
attack and in the moment of panic we managed to back wind the main. Luckily we
had a preventer rigged, avoiding an accidental jibe.
After green torpedos
speeding through the water alongside and underneath the boat alerted us that we
had an entourage of porpoises making the journey with us, the hours quickly
ticked by and soon it was morning. Once again things were looking up. Being able
to actually see the water was helpful so we splashed into the waves to reef the
main to help manage the increasing wind. With no land in sight the only sign of
civilization was a light from the sole ship we would see, which had passed us
by 7:00am.
For awhile it was
semi-smooth sailing though the wind and waves continued to build, but we were
feeling confident despite the number of hours yet to go. After that, things
took a turn. I was getting sea-sick and Jon was beyond exhausted, having not
gotten any sleep or much of a break from the helm. It had been our plan that I
would take the wheel for a few hours during the more manageable wind and waves
so that Jon could sleep. But those favorable conditions never came and Jon had
to work hard to keep us on course and at the right angle to the wind and waves.
So, that is how we spent the next incredibly tense and distressing eight hours
as the rain started to fall. A bright spot came for Jon when a little finch
landed on our boat. It was certainly not a water bird and must have gotten
swept out to sea by the wind. It happened upon our boat where it stopped to
catch its breath. Landing on Jon’s leg, it allowed him to hold it to warm it
up. Jon tried to shuttle it underneath our spray dodger where it would be dry,
but instead it flew onto one of our reef lines on the boom and there it stayed
for hours. Though it abandoned ship long before we found land, hopefully the
finch managed to make it to a safe port as well.
Our predicted
arrival time had steadily been downgraded from around 5pm to closer to 8pm.
Despite reaching speeds of 9 knots at times as we surfed down the faces of
large waves, we were no longer able to steer a steady course, taking away any
chance of being safely anchored before dark. We finally reached the tip of the
cape just as it became dark and the 8 foot and larger swells from the East were
mitigated by land, but there was no change in the wind gusting to near 30
knots.  Somehow we got the sail down and
made our way toward the lights of Provincetown. For the second time in so many
days we were in a situation we knew was dangerous, heading into an
unfamiliar port in the dark. But staying out at sea was not really an option as
the conditions were supposed to get worse throughout the night and next day.
Luckily our chart plotter did not choose that hour to inexplicably shut itself
off as it has in the past. We expected to find ourselves among hundreds of
boats moored inside the breakwater, but instead we could only see two or three
ship-shaped shadows against the bright lights of the town. We wondered whether
a hurricane was coming and all of the well-informed and wise boat-owners had
taken their vessels to more protected waters. But with little energy left to worry about anything more that
night, the only challenge that remained was seeing through the rain to pick up
the first decent-looking mooring we found. After seven or eight tries we had
it. And at 9:30pm, soaked and completely spent, we climbed into a rocking and
rolling berth that never felt so welcoming.   
Had it not been our
very first crossing overnight and if we hadn’t been sleep deprived, it probably
wouldn’t have felt as extreme. But as it was we rightly freaked ourselves out
by consciously ignoring a lot of the good advice we’d taken care to gather. I
knew that Jon had been afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep going when he started
making me all kinds of promises that he would never so endanger my life in the
future, apologized for ignoring my protests and putting me into such a
situation in the first place, and said that we could do all kinds of boring
stuff when we got to Provincetown, like sit in a coffee shop and go shopping
and to museums. And even if the conditions may not have been all that bad in
retrospect and wouldn’t even touch the chaos that others have sailed through,
it was a lot for our first try and we are both relieved to know that we won’t
be repeating that experience for a very long time. Or ever, hopefully.
What else did we
learn? Don’t choose glasses over contacts when you’re sailing at night in the rain and are nearly
blind without them. Also, as much as I
do not wish to be the weakest link in our sailing equation, there is something
to be said for the chivalrous experience of being rescued from sea misery by my

4 thoughts on “Long Trip, Long Story”

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