Crew’s Log

I just returned from a guy trip. Most who know me are aware that I have played on sailboats for the last 35 years. I have done a little cruising in the BVI, the Great Lakes, both coasts and several inland lakes. We also raised our children racing as a family on several kinds of boats, primarily Thistles, all around the country. But this time was different. I sailed from the Chesapeake Bay to the Bahamas in one hop – six days and five hours – with a couple of guys. Really, it was more than a sail, more than a simple guy trip; it was an adventure and I’m sure glad I said yes.


It all started after one of my son’s high school classmates read my last article and just happened to be back in town. The lovely Miss Puddy and I taught him, and his twin brother, in Sunday school 30 years ago. Who knew we would meet again as adults and go on an adventure together? In his previous life Captain Tim had traded energy futures, worked for a hedge fund and then disillusioned by the whole sorted business just sailed away to the Caribbean on his 36-foot sailboat. After a few years of leisure cruising he landed in the Dominican Republic for a while. He returned to Louisiana via South Africa this spring and after he happened upon my latest column on the Internet he gave me a call. We had lunch and talked sailing. He mentioned that he might be bringing a boat to Bermuda for a friend. Another skipper would ferry it down to the Dominican Republic for the second half of the trip. Somehow I let slip that if he needed help with the transport to just give me a call, as I had never sailed on a long North Atlantic trip.


A couple of weeks later an email appeared in my inbox from Captain Tim asking if I wanted to go to Bermuda. After about two seconds of consideration I tapped out “yes!”  And so it began…


Captain Tim flew ahead and checked out the boat for a week or two. I scheduled a little time off work while we waited for a one-week weather window to depart.


The following is an account of my blue water adventure:


Thursday April 17th:

The trip is on for the middle of next week. Buy airline ticket and be in Richmond, VA, next Tuesday. My sweet wife happens to leave today to visit our daughter and new granddaughter in Michigan.


Friday April 18th:

Dig out my son’s foul weather gear just in case I need it on the trip.


Saturday April 19th:

Home alone with the dogs. Taking care of last minute business details all day.


Sunday April 20th:

Wash any clothes that I need and start a short list of items to pack.


Monday April 21st:

At the office all day squaring things away. Tell everyone I will be gone four or five days. Come home; realize that I really should pack. Cannot find old duffle bag so made a late night run to Wal-Mart to buy soft luggage for the boat.


Tuesday April 22nd:

Fly to Richmond and meet Captain Tim at the airport. He tells me there is a change in plans (first of many). The boat owner wants us to go to the Bahamas instead of Bermuda, as the insurance surcharge would be an extra $5,000 for going so far offshore. We stop by the grocery store to provision the galley.


Wednesday April 23rd:

Gregg drives down from the upper Chesapeake Bay area to join us as our third.  We make a quick trip to the local West Marine for last minute items. Run last minute checks on the 2007 49-foot Beneteau sailboat and make sure we are ready to depart early tomorrow morning. We have several beers at the dock to celebrate our impending departure.


Thursday April 24th:

We’re up early and cast off around 7:00 am and slowly motor out of the harbor and into Chesapeake Bay. It’s quite cool but the water is pretty flat. We motor through the channel, dodging traffic and getting used to the navigation system. The navigation system has all the charts with navigation aids incorporated into the system with GPS tracking on the chart. This is all saved to the autopilot and displayed on a 12” screen at the helm. We raise the sails and cruise past Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk, then over the Chesapeake Tunnel and into the Atlantic. As we round Virginia Beach and I go below and prepare salad, baked potatoes in the gimbaled stove and pan-fried rib eye steaks on the range for our first dinner at sea. Everything is great and I’m getting a bit of experience cooking on a gimbaled oven/stove in the little galley. It’s sort of like the Airstream (going up and down a very bumpy road with several tight curves). The winds are about 10 to 12 knots and we’re making seven knots or so under sail. It has been a great first day. We decide to take four-hour night watches. Captain Tim takes the first watch from 8:00 pm until midnight, Gregg decides on the second watch from midnight until 4:00 am and I volunteer for the last watch from 4:00 am to 8:00 am. The plan is for us all to keep an eye on things during the day, but only one person up on deck at night so the other two can sleep.


Friday April 25th:

It’s cold on my watch so I wear a thermal layer beneath my foul weather gear while on deck. The autopilot drives the boat, but we make minor course corrections for the wind changes to keep sailing on course. The sunrise is quite spectacular. Shortly after sunrise several large fishing boats come charging out of Cape Hatteras heading due east while we round and then turned slightly Southwest along the North Carolina coast. We still have cell phone coverage so I call Puddy and report our position, speed, and direction. I take a short nap and awake to “the washing machine”. The wind has picked up to 20 knots and the seas are angry. The boat pitches up and down, side to side and then yaws (all at the same time). Captain Tim complains that this particular boat doesn’t seem to have enough handhelds above or below. My bruising starts today. It seems every corner in the galley, at the navigation station and in the head is out to hit my hips and/or legs. I relearn how to walk in a strange sort of dance trying to keep my feet under my body as the boat moves beneath me in a random, unpredictable manner. The canvas bimini cover rips and tears away from the frame. I cut away the remaining canvas, trying to keep my balance while wielding a sharp knife. We have jack lines on the boat, this means I’m wearing a harness with a lanyard connected to the life line so I won’t fall overboard in the storm. However I could fall and hit any number of other things in the process and acquire yet another bruise (did I mention I am holding a sharp knife and standing on the transom of a boat pitching violently?). Later that afternoon after sailing for 35 years I experience my first bout of seasickness. So this is what my sweet little wife complains about whenever she forgets her medicine. Not even a ginger snap on the boat. Just suck it up, skip dinner and go to bed early. I wedge myself into my bunk to keep from rolling around and fall asleep exhausted. Tonight my dreams consist of jumping ship and swimming to shore at Myrtle Beach, or maybe Charleston.


Saturday April 26th;

Up at 4:00 am for my watch, feeling a little better. We have just cleared Cape Fear. The shoals go out quite a bit east of the Cape and we are trying to keep a safe distance from their wrath. There are also shoals south of the cape that we try to avoid in the dark, just to be safe. On deck Gregg has made several tacks trying to clear the shoals south of the cape but the wind is being difficult. Captain Tim suggests we forget about following the coast down to Charleston. The wind has shifted southeast and we will be head to the wind down to Charleston. So we change course and head due south out into open water. The moon is low and bright on our port hip. The stars are out in a clear sky and visibility is pretty good tonight. The wind is up and it’s a close reach headed south. The boat sails like a dream in light seas. It is possibly the best sail of my life. After Gregg and Tim go back to sleep I am alone on deck and all is right with the world. The sun comes up and it is a beautiful day. I grab a short nap after my shift. I wake up and get a bowl of granola cereal with blueberries and go up on deck. A large sea turtle swims by headed north against our course. We have entered the Gulf Stream and have turned from due south to southeast in order to get across it quickly.  The current is about 2-3 knots and is trying to carry us back North. We’re out of the Gulf Stream before nightfall and turn back South. I break out the satellite phone and call Puddy to give her another position, course, and speed.  Captain Tim cooked chili this afternoon which is perfect as my stomach is finally ready for a full meal.


Sunday April 27th:

Up at 4:00 am for my watch. Seas have picked up and Gregg has spent his watch sitting under the dodger with his feet on the companionway steps.  Big lightning storm in progress off the port bow a few miles off. Gregg said it was all around us earlier during his watch. The boat is pitching pretty good so I follow Gregg’s lead and sit in the front of the cockpit on the companionway and jam my feet on the corners of the top step and hold on tight for four hours. Thankfully the autopilot does not kick out and I’m able to stay fairly dry under the dodger. I watch the stars through the starboard side of the dodger and they remain in roughly the same place. The moon stays on my port hip so we are still moving in the same direction for four hours. I pray, I sing hymns, I sing any and every song that I can think of tonight. My stomach is now used to the sea and behaves. I eat a quick breakfast after my shift and catch a short nap. By the time I awake from the nap the storm has blown over. A pod of a dozen or so dolphins swims with us for an hour or more. I cook the last rib eyes and prepare the last of the salad for an early dinner. I call Puddy on the satellite phone once again and reported our position, speed, and direction. We are about 300 miles East of Jacksonville, FL.  Since we are now well out to sea I start marking our position on the paper chart at the nav station once or twice a day just in case the electronic nav system fails. We stay up late and talk this evening as the winds have dropped and it’s pleasant on deck. We talk about sailing and we talk about the state of the economy and we talk about our lives in general. I’ve always appreciated how well you really get to know someone on a small boat. I turn in around 11:00 pm.


Monday April 28th:

Up again at 4:00 am for my watch and the seas are kind. The wind is about 15 knots and we’re tacking our way due south, back and forth every few hours. Just before my shift is over Captain Tim comes up and we decide to tack the headsail.  I set the autopilot to tack and man windward wench, while Captain Tim is at the leeward wench. Halfway through the tack the headsail catches the mast spreader and RIIIIIIIPPPPPP.  The sail tears a four-foot gash along the seam right at the mast spreader. We quickly furl the headsail before it’s damaged further from the wind. Without the headsail we cannot sail on the wind closer than 70 to 80 degrees. We start the little Yanmar diesel and begin to motor due South straight into the wind. We’re making decent time at about three and a half to four knots. Did I mention the owner only has one headsail on the boat? We can’t find a sewing kit anywhere onboard. We have over 100 gallons of fuel left so we should be okay. There is only about 200 miles to go. I cook red beans and rice with sausage for dinner and we stuff ourselves with the last of the fresh food.  After today we are going to have to hit the dry rations. We talk of movies and Captain Tim mentions the boat has a copy of “Fight Club” in its inventory. As I have never seen it and the seas are light we decide to have movie night down below while Tim runs up and down on his watch. Great movie but I will need to watch it again after the surprise ending. Go to bed running the movie back through my head trying to remember the earlier parts and make sense of them.


Tuesday April 29th:

Up at 4:00 am and the little engine that could is still chugging away. If everything holds together for another 24 hours we should make it to the Bahamas. I watch the oil pressure and engine temperature like a hawk. Everything seems fine. I go over our options if the engine does quit for some reason and we can’t get it restarted. Since the wind is out of the south we could raise the mainsail and put the boat on a beam reach and just head west. The Gulf Stream would catch us and carry us north a bit since we would be moving slow but we should reach landfall somewhere around South and North Carolina… in about three days. We should have enough dry food to hold us over and there is plenty of fresh water.  We would not complete our trip but we would be fine if the wind held up. The little Yanmar engine just keeps on keeping on throughout my watch. This early morning is a fine morning and as I sit at the wheel I thank God for just how lucky I am. I’m on a great trip, have a wonderful wife and family, and have lived a great life so far.  I feel truly blessed.

Since we left we have been trailing a fishing rod with a single trailed line. As it just so happens… today, the very day we have run out of fresh food, we catch an eight to ten pound Mahi-Mahi! We carefully reel the fish into the boat, pour some gin on its gills and it quickly and mercifully dies on the deck after only a second or two. We set to work on our catch and cook half for lunch then the other half for dinner. We are miserably full all day, what a great fish. God provides just when we most need it. I call Puddy on the satellite phone and report in at about 50 miles north of the Bahamas and then I fall asleep.


Wednesday April 30th:

Up at 4:00 am for my watch. Our watches are becoming a part of our body clocks. We have reached the outer banks of the northern part of the Bahamas. I motor around the northeast edge in the dark, being careful to stay at least 12 miles off the reefs, until we reached Whale inlet where we should sail through the reefs and into the shallow waters of the Bahamas at dawn. The chart shows the current seas to be thousands of feet deep. Just an hour or so before daylight I turn 90 degrees to starboard and head straight for Whale inlet. The sun is up as we near the inlet around 8:00 am. The depth gauge shows the bottom quickly rise and all of a sudden we were through the cut and the ocean floor was only 25 feet below us. We sail toward Marsh Harbor on Grand Abaco Island for about four hours on a shallow sea of crystal clear glass smooth waters only 10 feet deep. The Bahamas at last! The little engine that could has held out for us with plenty of fuel to spare. We radio the harbor and are assigned a slip.



After six days and five hours we tied up on the dock and set foot on land once again.  We brought our passports to the office and they called a customs officer to come by and check us into the country. The dock master suggested we wait in the bar and have a few drinks and a snack since it might be an hour or so before she arrived. The customs officer came to the bar and welcomed us into her country, examined our forms and stamped our passports right in the bar.  There were no metal detectors, no lines, no automatic weapons, and no silly questions trying to trip us up. Captain Tim then walked out on the pier and showed her the boat and that was that. The Bahamas is such a civilized country! We celebrated our passage and toasted the Yanmar diesel engine several times. I booked my flight home in the bar for the next day but vowed to return and sail around the Bahamas with Puddy and enjoy the smooth waters with her another time. I showered ashore and finally shaved a week’s worth of grey beard. We had ribs with new friends we met from South Africa at the bar across the harbor that night and then the next morning I was off at the airport and my adventure was over (except for the trip home by air, but that’s another more boring story).


It has been a couple of weeks since I returned and I still have a goofy grin all over my face whenever I think back on my sail. We sailed through rough seas and storms and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Even a 49-foot boat can seem small in the middle of the great North Atlantic at night with a vast sky full of stars.  It can be a very humbling experience. You also learn to fully trust someone when you hand over the helm to your crewmate during a storm and go below and fall asleep. You depend on each other and God to get your through the storms. I suppose it was not that dangerous, but at the time it felt like we were living on the edge.


In a world where we could spend days reading about out of control government spending, too much debt and the economic collapse that is sure to come it is easy to forget to live our lives one day at a time. Most important of all we must remember to enjoy every day as a unique, personal gift from God. So make out your bucket list and start checking items off!


by Larry LaBorde

The following two tabs change content below.

Elizabeth LaBorde

Latest posts by Elizabeth LaBorde (see all)

Larry LaBorde's Articles0 comments

Comments are closed.

Product Prices These are our most commonly sold products, but we have many more!

Hover over product to see pricing.

{{}} (*) (**)

US Price: ${{getPrice(product)}}

Price Outside US: ${{getPrice(product, 'non_us')}}

Ounces: {{product.oz}}

* (15 oz foreign Min) ** (When available)