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  • sailorstacey

4,000 miles and Home at Last!

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

Delfina finally reached her home mooring in Keyport, NJ on May 25, 2019, after a journey to the Bahamas and back of more than 4,000 miles. Our trip home took me on a personal journey from edgy anxiety to pure exultation.

Owen arrived at Marsh Harbor on April 1 to crew home with us. The next day, we had a beautiful sail through the Whale Cut to Green Turtle Cay, one of the Abacos barrier islands, and anchored in White Sound. An old wooden ketch anchored near us floated toward shore as her anchor dragged, and Christoph and Owen went aboard to help the single-hander re-set. Our sturdy Rockna held, but the stiff winds prevented us from taking our dinghy over to New Plymouth; instead we had a late lunch at Bluff Marina.

We departed Green Turtle Cay on April 3 for a sunny full- day sail, arriving at Sale Cay, our staging anchorage, at 17:00. Chris Parker had provided us with a customized 4 -night, 5 -day route to Norfolk along the Gulf Stream, with an updated forecast that arrived just before we lost our cell signal. We knew our trip would be sandwiched between two fronts, and this knowledge set me on edge. However, we were determined to make the trip; Owen had a few days before he needed to get home to Vermont, and I wanted to be back home in time to host Passover/Easter festivities in Lambertville.

Christoph and I had made many overnight passages together, but I had never made a continuous 5 -day ocean passage. While grateful to have Owen along as crew, I was filled with trepidation at the prospect of being so far from shore in the Gulf Stream with unpredictable weather ahead.

An East wind wind propelled us from Sale Cay into the Gulf Stream at an average speed of 6.5 knots without power––an auspicious beginning under a sky that matched the azure waves. However, as the wind shifted overnight to ESE and South, it strengthened to 23 knots; the building swells rolled us violently from side to side, and doused the sails. None of us slept much and fatigue fed the anxiety that began to overtake the thrill of making the crossing.

I was further shaken by radar images of the broad line of approaching storms, and too exhausted to relieve Christoph for my watch at 03:00. At 03:30 Christoph modified our course further westward, but still following the edge of the Gulf Stream. I came on deck to stand watch at first light, but had a strong desire to get off the ocean. We finally changed course to northward at 13:30, heading toward Fernandina Beach. A pod of dolphins joined us at 17:00, swimming across the bow and spinning through the air––a welcome sighting of Delfina's namesake. The wind lightened, and we continued on, eventually arriving at an anchorage near the bright lights of the paper mill, where we anchored after midnight. Large jelly-fish glowed as they streamed past the hull, and a strange flying object with red and green lights made two overhead passes––evidently, some sort of drone. Were we being surveilled? No matter; we were off the ocean, back in the US and I slept soundly.

We checked-in with Customs and Border Protection on the iPad at 08:30, and it couldn't have been easier. We submitted our information on line; an officer asked to see us on camera and we were done. The sea had turned flat and winds were NE to ENE as we motored all day at a bearing of 50 degrees, straight into a stalled front north of Charleston. Dark nimbus clouds and flashes of lightning surrounded us soon after we crossed the frontal boundary, and my anxiety spiked. I knew I couldn't make it to Norfolk, even if the thunderstorms passed us by (which they did).

After a long day and night of motor sailing, we arrived at the Cape Fear River and dropped anchor at 01:00. We slept for a few restful hours. At 06:15 we weighed anchor in thick fog and made our way upriver, motoring with favorable current at 9-10 knots. We were hailed by both the local sheriff and Coast Guard, who were surprised to find us traveling upriver––a crane was being piloted through the river, and all marine traffic had been suspended. Since we were headed to the Cape Fear Marina, we had to make the 10:00 bridge opening; fortunately, we were allowed to proceed, with Coast Guard escort. We pulled into our slip at slack tide, then packed and cleaned Delfina with stunning efficiency. Owen drove us in a rental car from Wilmington, NC to Lambertville, NJ in 9 hours, including a quick stop for Chinese food along the way. I was bone tired, but thrilled that I would get my wish––to make matzoh balls and Easter baskets with my granddaughter Juniper.

Juniper making matzoh balls with Bubbie

After several weeks of getting my land legs back, and adjusting to home life in Lambertville, NJ, Christoph and I headed back down to Wilmington, NC on May 15 to sail Delfina home. We pulled out of the slip at slack tide in time for the 10:00 bridge opening, and stopped at Port City to fuel up behind a touring replica of the Santa Maria.

We made our way through Snow's Cut as the tide ebbed, and found the Carolina Beach bridge eminently passable at 67'. We dropped anchor near Masonboro to be ready to head out the inlet at first light.

At 06:00 we headed outside in WSW winds blowing at 11-15 knots. As soon as we raised the jib, Christoph noticed a vertical tear, about four feet long, along the luff, close to the seam. We couldn't use the sail. Fortunately, we had a hank-on staysail in a deck locker that Christoph was able to rig, using the running backstays, while we were underway. This sail would be our saving grace until we could repair the jib in Deltaville, VA.

Christoph rigging the staysail

We rounded Cape Lookout at 15:00, and motor-sailed on a broad reach in moderateSW winds. At 17:00, a dozen dolphins jumped and dove around Delfina's bow, entertaining themselves and us for more than an hour. I stood watch after dinner while Christoph rested, and was sound asleep as we rounded Cape Hatteras at 23:00. We continued motor sailing northwest and finally headed into the Chesapeake Bay; we made it as far as Back River, where we anchored at 18:00 and took down the trusty staysail. We had made arrangements with Ullman Sails to repair the jib, and let our friends Greg and Glenda from Ti Amo know that we'd be spending a couple of nights in Deltaville, where they live.

We tied up to a face dock at Regatta Point Marina, and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool. Greg and Glenda picked us up for a great Friday night dinner at the Raw Bar. We took advantage of being at a marina, with plenty of fresh water, to give Delfina a deep clean, removing rust from all the stainless, and waxing the decks. The repaired jib was ready on Monday afternoon, and Jerry brought it down to us at the dock. Greg came by to help us hoist the jib as the wind picked up. We fueled up at Norview and made it to Pittman's Cove, where we anchored at 19:00, finishing our dinner just before the rain showers.

By 07:00 on Tuesday a north wind was blowing 15 knots and gusting over 20. Waves broke violently over the bow as we attempted to head north on the Bay toward Sandy Point. We considered turning around, when the lazarette bilge pump alarm startled us with its loud, insistent buzz. Christoph went below and cleaned the bilge pump filter, and the pump started up again, but we wanted to anchor and make sure there wasn't water in the lazarette. We arrived at Sandy Point, dropped anchor and ate lunch. Christoph rewired the connection from the lazarette float switch to the bilge pump while I cleaned and dried out the contents. We relaxed in the protected anchorage while the sun shone brightly and the wind blew.

We resumed our sail towards home at 06:15 in NW wind blowing 12-16 knots. The wind came around to the East, and at 08:45 we put up full sail and turned off the engine. Aaah. Unfortunately, the wind abated and changed direction throughout the day, requiring the motor again. We anchored in the tranquillity of the Rhode River at 17:30. There were only 7 sailboats in the spacious anchorage that gets crowded with loud motor boats on summer weekends. We were 45 miles from the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal, and relishing the last few sailing days of our first live- aboard adventure.

We weighed anchor at 06:05 and motor-sailed in SW winds at 8 knots. Severe thunderstorms were expected, so instead of anchoring at Reedy Point, at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, we opted to find a protected harbor. There was no room at Chesapeake City, where motor vessels lined the dock, and the tight harbor was crowded with smaller sailing vessels. So we continued another five miles to Summit North Marina, and tied up at the dock. Once again, the storms we had tracked all day on radar never came near us! One benefit of being at the marina was the opportunity to enjoy a meal al fresco at Grain H2O, a gastropub with live music. Another benefit was the fuel dock. In the morning, we topped off our tanks and departed at 08:30 for our final day on the Atlantic Ocean.

As we exited the marina, a Northwest wind kicked up to 15-20 knots, gusting 24. This was perfect for sailing down the Delaware Bay. With the jib reefed, and the current running in our favor, we flew down the bay at an average speed of 8-9 knots before the current changed and the wind subsided. We traversed the shoals off the shore of Cape May, and after a sunny day sailing up the New Jersey coast, entered the Manasquan Channel to Atlantic City. The colored lights of the casinos and the amusement park competed with the pink glow of the setting sun. It took a few attempts to get good holding near the bridge, where current ran strong, and five other sailboats were anchored. Once the anchor was set, we zipped up the enclosure against the raging no-seeums, and enjoyed a final dinner on deck. The hip hop music and shouts from shore died down after a few hours, and we slept soundly.

Approaching Atlantic City

At first light on our last day, Delfina made her way through the chop in the channel, where the wind opposed the current. The wind soon came around from West to Southeast, building through the day, as we sailed home on a broad reach. We came around Sandy Hook and into the Raritan Bay, and picked up our mooring at 17:40. We were thrilled to find out that there was room for us at the Keyport Yacht Club's Opening Night Dinner. We were warmly welcomed by our Keyport sailing friends and happy to celebrate Delfina's arrival home!

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