There's a First Time For...Sailing Offshore - Sail Magazine

There's a First Time For...Sailing Offshore

I took up sailing in my 30s after poking around Maine for some time taking photos. My first sailing experience was aboard a windjammer in Camden, and it was glorious, but it was the photos I’d taken of the small sailboats at anchor nearby that really stuck with me.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
First-Offshore2

I could not get Nova Scotia out of my head.

I took up sailing in my 30s after poking around Maine for some time taking photos. My first sailing experience was aboard a windjammer in Camden, and it was glorious, but it was the photos I’d taken of the small sailboats at anchor nearby that really stuck with me. Sailing lessons followed, as did the books of Lin and Larry Pardey. Soon my wife and I owned our first boat, an aging flush-decked 20ft double-ender. 

 Cruising the Gulf of Maine

Cruising the Gulf of Maine

Somewhere around the time we graduated to a 25-footer, I read an article about a race from Portland, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I wasn’t a racer, but the idea stuck: someday I would sail to Yarmouth. A decade or two went by, and then one day I saw a 60-year-old face in the mirror and told myself,“If you’re going to do this, you’d better get on it.” I called my buddies Jim, Carl and Peter to see if they were interested. They immediately signed on. Now I would really have to do this, but there was just one problem: I had never been offshore. 

Yarmouth is almost exactly 200 miles east of our mooring in Falmouth, Maine. It’s not like sailing to Bermuda, but it’s far enough and cold enough that you could get yourself into real trouble. The crew and I met that winter to bat around ideas. From that point on, the trip was not just a dream, but a plan. It was official. It was on our calendars for July. I figured on a two-night passage.

There was a lot of work to be done and, as these things inevitably go, a fair amount of cash to spend. The various tasks fell into three categories: 1) things the boat needed anyway; 2) equipment specific to this trip; and 3) trip planning.

Loda May, our 1984 Cape Dory 31 twin-headsail sloop, still had her original standing rigging, so I replaced it. The first reef in our mainsail was quite modest and our second reef was not that high, so I added a third one to be on the safe side. In anticipation of gale conditions, I also asked the loft to put a set of reef points in our hanked-on staysail, after which I mounted the necessary blocks and rigged the extra reefing lines.

I replaced the long-dead depth transducer. Since that meant getting inside the steering pedestal to run the new cable, I also lubricated the chain and checked the steering cables and attachment points.

Most of the boat’s fuel lines were outdated, so I installed new ones. I bought a spare electronic fuel pump for the Universal M-25 engine, and packed it along with the necessary hose barbs. A trip to Wal-Mart netted three excellent 5-gallon jerry cans, which I lashed to a length of composite lumber I U-bolted between two stanchions.

The elderly VHF radio needed to be upgraded to a new one with DSC. While I was at it, I dropped fifty bucks more for AIS reception. That meant doing some wiring between the radio and Loda May’s multifunction display, so we could see the ship icons on screen and let the DSC know where the heck we were. We installed an electronic hailer/horn on the mast, and ran wiring to connect it to the radio. Being able to sail or motor in the fog while the radio automatically generated a fog signal was a great improvement and very comforting.

I am not sure I would have bought an EPIRB just for coastal cruising, but for a trip like this one I felt it was necessary. I chose a unit with GPS, swallowed hard at the price, and felt better for it. I had never liked the way the lee cloths in the main cabin were attached, so I removed and reattached them. I bought a good-quality manual bilge pump and stowed it in the cockpit locker as a backup to the two bilge pumps already onboard.


 The crew enjoys picture-perfect weather

The crew enjoys picture-perfect weather

The four of us each threw in a C-note and rented a liferaft for the 10 days we might conceivably need it. The raft was assigned to the cabin sole and was tied to the table leg with a single easily released line. The first aid kit was updated, and I purchased new flares. We all bought personal strobes, and I replaced Loda May’s ad-hoc ditch bag with one that was properly stocked.

Nova Scotia research material began to pile up. An electronic chart for Canada arrived. My buddy Lenny gave me a Canadian courtesy flag, and I researched customs and immigration procedures. I also chatted up some folks who had already sailed the same waters. 

 Passing Maine's Petit Manan Light

Passing Maine's Petit Manan Light

I chose Jim as my second-in-command, based on his sailing experience. Carl volunteered to take on provisioning and maintaining the log book. Peter is a psychiatrist in the real life, so we figured all bases were covered. 

Carl agreed to bring his handheld GPS to back up my handheld unit, which backed up the ship’s plotter. We planned to keep jacklines rigged the entire trip, and all crew would be required to stay clipped on at night. The skipper’s naptime was proclaimed sacrosanct. I created a waypoint at the spot where we’d need to change chart cards. Call me compulsive.

In June, we went for a shakedown sail in snotty weather. We inspected Loda May again from stem to stern. Sometimes I thought, “This is overkill,” until I remembered all that could go wrong if we weren’t adequately prepared. A few times, I wondered if I was really ready for this, until I remembered that in this life, there are no guarantees. So finally, at some point long before we left (maybe, say, eight hours), I declared we were ready.

On a clear, windless July morning, we set out on a heading of 88 degrees true from  Casco Bay’s Halfway Rock. After motoring for four hours, we were gifted with a perfect 10-15 knot breeze out of the south-southwest. Up went all three sails, and then, having eased away from the lobster-trap-strewn Maine coast, we deployed our Sailomat 601 windvane. We staggered our four-hour watches so that two of us were always on, but a body changed every two hours. The wind held steady, porpoises swam alongside, day turned to night, shooting stars crossed the sky, and tall tales were told. The next thing we knew, it was morning and a large courteous container ship was changing course to pass astern of us. We just kept trucking along at 6 knots.

 Arriving in Yarmouth Harbor

Arriving in Yarmouth Harbor

At some point, it dawned on me that at the rate we were going, it would only be a one-night trip. I guess you could say that was my only “disappointment.” Perfect conditions continued, up went the Canadian and quarantine flags, and by 1700 hours on Day 2 we found ourselves safely tied up in Yarmouth Harbor. We had never changed course, never added or subtracted sail area, hardly touched the vane gear, and here we were! Thirty three hours had just sailed by. The dream had been fulfilled. Just like that.

Yarmouth is a funky, friendly town and deserved a longer visit. But my three shipmates had only a week to go cruising, so we spent one night there and sailed for Brier Island around noon the next day. Over the next two nights we enjoyed a brief tour of the Bay of Fundy, complete with breaching whales, fresh crab cakes and massive tidal ranges.

We re-entered the United States at Bar Harbor, Maine, where we tied up on the splendid waterfront, cleared customs and capped off the trip with a festive dinner ashore. I traded out the guys and the liferaft for my newly arrived wife and cat, and began a slow two-week cruise back to Falmouth. 

I’m glad I chased my dream, and encourage you to pursue yours. As you do so, remember that no matter how much you prepare for the worst, there is simply no way to guarantee that things won’t turn out to be absolutely perfect. 

Photos by Dean Abramson

Related

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThink Deeply When chartering, I am always maddened to be told that the echo sounder is calibrated “to depth under the keel, plus a bit for safety.” Such operators seem to imagine that the instrument’s sole ...read more

180612-01 Landing lead

Painful Sailing in Volvo Leg 10

It’s looking to be a case of feast or famine for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean fleet as it continues the epic struggle that has been Leg 10, with it having been all famine thus far. Painful is the only word to describe the light-air start in Cardiff, Wales, on June 10, as the 11-boat ...read more

01-13_07_180304_JRE_03695_4605

Tips From the Boatyard

Within the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard sits a communal sail loft which provides service and repairs for all seven teams sailing in the 2017-18 edition of the race. The sail loft employs only five sailmakers who look after 56 sails in each stopover. If you’re thinking, “wow, these ...read more

sailCarwBasicsJuly18

Sail Care for Cruisers

Taking care of your canvas doesn’t just save you money, it’s central to good seamanship  Knowing how to take care of your sails and how to repair them while at sea is an important part of overall seamanship. The last thing any sailor needs is to get caught on a lee shore with ...read more

Ship-container-2048

The Danger of a Collision Offshore

This almost happened to me once. I was sailing singlehanded between Bermuda and St. Martin one fall, and one night happened to be on deck looking around at just the right time. The moon was out, the sky was clear and visibility was good. Still, when I thought I saw a large ...read more

New-MHS-Promo

Multihulls on the Horizon

Fountaine Pajot New 42The French cat powerhouse has been on a roll these last few years, cranking out new models that not only replace their older line but take a step forward in design and user-friendliness. The New 42’s “real” name had not been revealed as we went to press, but ...read more