Large Run

Davit is finally fixed and we are ready. At 11:30 AM Tivoli backs out of her slip at Old Port Cove Marina bound for Maine. The plan is to run offshore as far as weather and crew allow. A window of several days is available and we expect to travel nonstop from North Palm Beach to Morehead City/Beaufort, North Carolina. Deanna and I have not run the boat nonstop for over two days “dual-handed”. We’ve run the boat from Hilton Head to North Palm with brother Jim and Captain Bernie Francis aboard, the two of us alone have typically done overnight passages. Longer multi-day runs will be necessary as we travel further afield. The boat is well stocked with food; she is fine-tuned in all respects; we take on fuel and finally motor south down the ICW, past the now-familiar Fisher Island, around Peanut Island, and out into the Atlantic…excited to be traveling once again.

The first night is typical; nobody sleeps much. We settle into a routine of random “watches” during the day with fixed 3-hour watches at night. I take the 9-midnight watch; Deanna enjoys the midnight to 3 AM watch; and I finish the evening with the 3-6 AM shift. During the long days of summer this works well as it covers the short nighttime hours. Seas are calm and we hum along ticking off mile after mile. The Florida coastline slowly passes; Juno, Jupiter, Hobe Sound, Stuart, Ft. Pierce, and so on. After a bit one simply focuses on the essentials; where are the neighbors? are we on course? what is happening with the weather? are all systems aboard running normally? We do engine room checks every 3 hours; we started with hourly checks but these have evolved into an on-site visit every three hours with near-constant monitoring of all systems via cameras and sensors. Nothing replaces the personal visit to detect unusual noises and smells but for coastal cruising we feel 3-hour intervals are sufficient and work nicely with our 3-hour watch schedule. Can you imagine checking your car’s engine compartment every hour? This is likely overkill but “better safe than sorry”. If we were to cross the Atlantic we would likely revert to hourly checks.

The weather is typical south Florida summertime weather. Hot days, showers pop up over land masses with spectacular cumulus clouds evolving into thunderheads. Highly scattered showers dot the coastline. These can bring torrential rain and lightning in biblical proportions. I hate lightning. The thought of a lightning strike taking out all electrical systems and electronics and potentially sinking Tivoli is daunting. But there is no waiting for a lightning-free time in Florida during the summer; it is the lightning capital of the world, after all. So we endure. There is plenty of time to contemplate what one might do in the worst-case should a brilliant flash of light and instant boom darken the boat and kill the engine. Think about it. We place critical backup electronics, cell phones, VHF handhelds, the DeLorme InReach, and EPIRB in the microwave (Faraday cage). We also have all safety gear at hand; life jackets, ditch bag, etc. I review the location of all underwater through-hull fittings, the crash pump, and other items that might be of use in the worst case. Can’t be too prepared.

Dusk falls and we prep the boat for nighttime running. We dim all the electronics to the max and, in some cases, apply neutral density film over displays that remain too bright after dimming. The goal is to eliminate all reflections on the pilothouse windows so we can see the navigation lights of approaching vessels yet still see the critical radar and chart displays. It has taken some time to refine this to an art.

 
 
We are treated to yet another spectacular sunset and are soon engulfed in near-total darkness; no moon, it’s overcast and the coastal cloud cover largely obscures the light one normally sees from coastal cities. Cloud-to-cloud lightning is everywhere but, fortunately, it looks as though the cells will remain largely over land as there is little wind to move them offshore. We motor on.

 
 
We regularly scan the horizon for traffic with our binoculars, we watch the radar screens with a critical eye as every green pixel could represent a potential collision threat. We prefer a course-up display, continuous course trails, bearings in relative degrees, and a feature Simrad calls True Motion that holds fixed objects in place with no trails allowing only moving objects to quickly reveal course and direction. This is handy for vessels that don’t transmit AIS data and allows a quick back-up for the unreliable Simrad MARPA function. By having one display zoomed out to 12-16 nm one can see, at our speeds, all traffic an hour or more before they would represent a hazard to Tivoli. One easily sees their direction of travel and relative speed relative to Tivoli’s direction and speed. The new Doppler radars up the ante by displaying objects that are not in motion or moving away from you in green and those that are moving toward you in red; a very nice feature in busy harbors.

Time passes surprisingly quickly given the need to constantly verify one’s safety and monitor boat systems. The boats motion also takes a toll. When the end of one’s watch approaches sleep is soon to follow.

I am on the 3-6 AM watch and see a light appear without any warning dead ahead. There is no return on the radar. I watch and wonder if it is a bright light on a large ship miles away out of radar range or a small vessel very close with little radar return. Time passes and we close the distance; finally a single pixel on the radar display turns green a short mile ahead of us. It is a small vessel very close. It appears to be moving from my port to starboard, then turns toward us a safe distance to the east. I watch with binoculars trying to determine what we are dealing with. I see no navigation lights whatsoever…extremely unusual. A single bright white light; nothing else. As we approach the light starts to flicker. I wonder is this meant to be a distress signal? Do I see three shorts, three longs, an SOS? Maybe, hard to tell. The flicker stops and the boat moves past with the white light shining steady until it grows small. I pan the FLIR around to try to get a better image of the vessel. It is hard to tell but is clearly a small vessel of some type and soon disappears in the distance. The mind can race at such times. Was this a vessel in distress that I just passed by? There were no flares, no persistent signaling with the lights, no radio calls, no Coast Guard reports of anyone in distress. But still? I contemplate turning around but convince myself that the vessel was moving under its own power to cross in front of us and thus should be fine. Probably just fishing but it remains a mystery. We motor on.

By dawn we are off Jacksonville and turn toward our next waypoint off Charleston. Tivoli is purring smoothly, mile after mile passes in relatively calm seas….a nice ride. Deanna is at the helm; I’m sound asleep in the forward cabin. She is startled by a sea creature swimming along our starboard bow. We are accustomed to seeing dolphin ride our bow wave but this was different. She describes a large 6-foot wide creature with a ribbed back and grey/brown in color. She states this was one of her best hallucinations as she saw it surface twice! We guess it might have been a small whale

By day two a routine starts to establish. Quick catnaps become easier. The 3-hour watch routine seems somehow normal. The hours and miles pass. Fernandina Beach, Brunswick, and many other places we’ve visited before on the Intracoastal pass by un-noticed. Of course, we are also bypassing bridges, traffic, ICW navigation, shallow water, and the coastal thunderstorms. We prefer the offshore route any day. Boredom could be a hazard here though; we didn’t bring along enough entertainment; movies, audiobooks, good novels, etc.

Soon it is dusk and once again we are treated to a brilliant sunset with spectacular thunderheads looming all along the coast. Weather overlaid on our charts indicate these cells are moving in various directions with no particular threat to offshore traffic. Just like last night we are fortunate not to encounter any squalls, high winds or rain. We do see the predicted diurnal winds; light during the day, stronger at night. Along with the wind comes wind waves and a rougher ride at night; but still quite manageable.

Pitch dark, I’m on watch and worried about the weather. It seems to be closing in. Lightning off the bow and to starboard. Visibility is getting poor. I glance at the FLIR and am impressed with how clear the view is. I’m thinking the FLIR can cut through haze; should be a great tool for that purpose. Finally, it dawns on me, I flip on the wipers and clean the condensation off the windows; magically the visibility improves dramatically! It’s definitely time for a watch change; I’m getting loopy.

Day three finds us off Charleston and headed for a waypoint at Cape Fear. We are now acclimated to the routine. We were told that once you’ve been offshore several days then you can do several weeks. Not sure we are ready for that but we are quite comfortable; rested, and fully capable of additional days at sea. The only “problem” we’ve encountered in the boats systems is the persistent LED warning light I installed in the engine room on one of our Balmar alternator smart regulators. The red light is on one minute, then off. The error codes on the device suggest an alternator temperature that exceeds the default limits. I check the alternator with an IR gun and its fine. I finally read the manual (last resort) and determine that the default temperature setting is 108F. I find this laughable; the alternator’s normal running temp is about 140F. An easy programming fix will solve this “problem”. Can one have too much information? (Correction: our friends on Duet kindly pointed out that the 108 is C not F…my bad…must be another problem. This is the kind of incredible support one gets from the Nordhavn community…amazing!)

Night after night it’s the same. Every ship on the east coast is determined to cross our path and generally on a collision course. Time after time ships present on our radar and their courses intersect with ours with closest points of approach less than a mile; way too close for my comfort level. An enormous ocean to travel upon and everybody wants to be in the same place at the same time. Of course it takes hours for the scene to play out at these speeds. We are averaging 7.5 knots and most commercial vessels are doing 15 knots; so we pay close attention. On two occasions I alter course just to maintain a wide berth. It’s funny that on land we pass vehicles a few feet away at breakneck speeds and think nothing of it; at sea we get nervous if a vessel passes within a mile at lawnmower speeds….of course the vessel might be the size of a small city.

The third night out we cross Cape Fear shoals and head for Morehead City. Yet again, thunderstorms build over land all along our route and a few drift to seaward. Fortunately, we manage to avoid any offshore rain and Tivoli and crew survives the journey to our destination. As we enter the harbor Deanna goes on deck to get our dock lines ready and discovers we’ve caught two fish! Two flying fish have committed suicide by launching themselves onto the port side walkway. Tivoli’s first catch!

We arrive at Morehead City Yacht Basin at noon completing a 74.5 hour, 564 nm journey without incident.

 
 

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