Passage from Chesapeake Bay to Antigua.
Early November 2020
Now I can sleep. But when I lie in the cabin, the boat movements become more and more violent. The lean angle is extreme. In between there are loud bangs when the boat crashes into the waves. Not only is it impossible to sleep, but the 🤢longer I stay down there, the worse and worse I feel . It doesn't help, I have to put my sailing clothes back on and go up on deck. Experience has shown that things should get better then.
When I come on deck the skipper yells: "We have a problem 😱". A bolt of the genoa furling system has torn off. The headsail can no longer be rolled in or out electrically. The sail and the sheets flap. My seasickness doesn't matter right now. The skipper has to roll in the bow and the sail by hand in this rough sea. It's extremely exhausting. I have to use the corresponding lines at the rear, which only works to a limited extent, as I feel overwhelmed with the whole situation. After what feels like an eternity, the sail is hauled in. Fortunately, escape has two headsails. To replace the genoa, we roll out the smaller self-tacking jib. The wind is so strong that we can make good progress with it.
When the skipper is back in the cockpit, it happened to me. Seasickness "breaks out" in the truest sense of the word 🤮. It's so fast that I can't make it to the railing or the skipper could get a bucket in time. It's good that so much water is currently coming through the boat that the damage is not too great. The skipper only has to clean a few pods the next morning.
From then on, the passage becomes a torture for me. The whole time I lie apathetically on the leeward bench (the lower bench on the side of the boat facing away from the wind), the only place on the boat where you don't have to clasp convulsively to slide down. Sometimes I even find it difficult to keep water with me. But since I know that food and fluid intake are important in order not to make things worse. I take something to myself now and then. Until the end of the crossing, I only eat corn flakes with water, a little banana and applesauce. Medicines only help to a limited extent. Scopolamine patches would help, but I haven't been able to take them for several years because of the side effects. So I suffer silently, sometimes more sometimes less. I try to show optimism
Volker is busy maneuvering escape through the rough seas, he regularly studies the weather report, checks the course and corrects the sail position. To my horror there is no change in the weather in sight. We drive extremely close to the wind the whole time, through high waves, in the meantime there is a wave that completely floods the boat. The fact that the waves are not exactly small can also be seen from the fact that we actually manage to surf a wave at over 15 knots, as can be seen on the tracker.
There is another place where I feel less sick, the steering position. So I crawl backwards every now and then and sit for a while at the helm with my seat belt to let the wind blow around my nose. You can imagine it as something like if someone who doesn't like to ride a rollercoaster has to ride a rollercoaster for hours, lap after lap. Or like when you sit on the roof of an off-road vehicle and drive up a river bed in the pouring rain. The worst thing is: there is no way out. I have to go through there now, there is no land in the vicinity and it is already too far to turn back.
While we were sailing directly from Hampton to Antigua, most of the other boats in the Salty Dawg Rally drove a long way east before heading south. This route should be a little more comfortable. Some boats spontaneously make a stopover in Bermuda to recover from the strain. For us, however, that is too far away. I later learn that Chris Parker, the weather advisor for the Salty Dawgs, expressly states in one of his emails that he did not recommend the escape course. The skipper has his own mind and nobody asked me ...
So days three, four and five of our passage go by. Even the skipper now avoids being below deck for a long time because it is so uncomfortable. He suffers a lot. No, not because of me, but because it hurts him every time escape crashes into the waves. He blames himself for exposing her to such hardships. But unlike me, she fights bravely and fights mile after mile through the waves. The skipper always says to me: "No problem with your seasickness, after three days it's all over". So on day six of our passage I wake up in a good mood and think that I will feel better from now on. Nothing, a short time later I'm hanging over the bucket again. Hopelessness spreads. It still takes a few days to go to Antigua and the thought of continuing to spend it with permanent nausea and vomiting scares me. I lay whimpering on my bench and sob "I can't anymore"😭. Fortunately, the wind and waves make it so loud on the boat that the skipper doesn't even notice. Or maybe he's just pretending? 😉But he cares for me carefully. He brings me food and drink. If I ever need something from the cabin, he'll get it for me. I still can't go downstairs without feeling even more sick. If I have to go to the bathroom for a moment, he changes course and takes the position out of the boat so that I can somehow manage.
Apart from us, a single sailing yacht has chosen the direct route. The SY Fatjax, a Shipman 63, is extremely fast with skipper Iain. As much as the people try, Fatjax is faster. However, it only weighs a third of escape. We received a message from Iain via IridiumGo (our satellite email system). "Hello, this is not the way to the Bahamas" 🤣. Iain writes that he is one-handed and that he and Fatjax also have to struggle with the harsh conditions of this passage. The skipper just says: “It's good. He just has to sail one-handed. I have to sail alone and at the same time I am also a nurse ”.😂😂😂
On day 6 our autopilot suddenly sounds strange. The skipper looks and notices that we are pulling a thick rope with several small buoys and a spherical fender about 80cm in diameter 😲. With the boat hook and sail knife the skipper removes as much as possible. But part of the rope apparently got wrapped around the propeller. The engine runs but has no forward thrust. Normally you would have to dive and remove the line now. An option that is out of the question here, in the middle of the open Atlantic, with this swell and our crew strength (or rather, crew weakness 😄). So we turn off the engine and keep sailing, wind is enough. We postpone diving until our arrival in Antigua.
Even on the last days of our passage the weather did not get any better. The waves are not that high anymore, but now there are regular squalls, short violent rain storms in which the wind increases and often turns completely, so that the skipper has to be constantly careful so that escape does not get out of hand. On the last day of our passage there is another particularly thick one. It's raining heavily as we've never seen it before, and not for a short time, as is usual in the Caribbean, but for hours without a break.
It is pouring out of buckets, there is water everywhere, not a single spot on deck is dry anymore. The rain doesn't bother the skipper that much. He is glad that all the salt that has accumulated on deck over the past few days is being washed off again. Besides, the rain is warm. We pass through Barbuda overnight. In the morning the rain subsides a little. It is day 8 of our passage from Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean. In front of us are the green hills of Antigua. I feel a huge relief 😅 . Finally land in sight again 😃. My seasickness is gone too.
Now we have to solve our problem. We still have a piece of rope in tow. Unfortunately, the drive didn't solve it. On the nautical chart, the skipper looks for a large bay where we can enter under sail. There is no other boat there either. We're dropping anchor. The skipper immediately takes the scuba tank out of the locker and wants to start. He ignores my advice to take a nap first to relax a little before going into the water. In fact, there is still a thick piece of rope wrapped around the propeller. It takes the skipper a lot of work to cut everything with the sail knife.
We dragged this piece of rope with us for two days
OK, now that we have solved this problem too, we can now relax here in the bay before we continue to English Harbor. At least that's what I think. But once again my husband surprises me. He wants to move on immediately. How can that be? He's hardly slept in the last few nights and hasn't had a proper meal in a week. Still he doesn't want a break? Anyway, I'm not trying to understand but I need a break😬. After a hard fight, I managed to get us to rest for at least an hour. I need this time just to fill out the forms for clearing in for the authorities. I also have to read the information from the Salty Dawgs about what we actually have to do now when we arrive at our destination in English Harbor. Originally I wanted to do that during the passage, but reading or even writing was simply not possible in my condition.
We cover the last few miles to English Harbor under motor. The bay is empty, a quick anchor maneuver and we made it. After 8 days and 1500 nautical miles, the second boat in the Salty Dawg fleet has arrived.
For 50% of the crew this passage was a real nightmare, the other 50% enjoyed sailing at least for a time. Later, when exchanging ideas with the other Salty Dawgs, there are some who found the trip as uncomfortable as I did. Many agree that the Atlantic crossing was less violent than this cruise, even though it was more than twice as long.
Seasickness can hit you again and again, even if you haven't had anything to do with it for a long time. The psychological component should not be underestimated. In situations that I found threatening, things immediately got worse.
In the future I will deal more with what is to come. But my plan until the day of departure was only a four-day trip to the Bahamas.
After the second day of our passage has quietly come to an end, I do the first night watch. It is quiet; the skipper sleeps down in the cabin. I'm happy when he comes up around 0.30am and takes over the watch.