Offshore is different

MARATHON KEY —  I sit here alone on Zennora. I am bloodied; not defeated but bloodied.

In all my years, I have prided myself in my ability to bend the world to my will. If presented with a task, I complete it. And not just on time, but usually well and under budget.

Buying Zennora and trying to bring her north has humbled me. I am not in NYC, nor will she be soon, and I am way over budget. So be it. After nearly eight years living on a sail boat, I know better than to plan on the water seriously.

And so, I have no real plan today about what is next. Zennora will remain here for a month. I will probably take my time during the winter moving her around to the east coast of Florida, hopefully to New Smyrna Beach, near my sister and mum, but who knows, perhaps Port Canaveral.

I will not leave Cape Hatteras to port until the early spring, probably in late April or early May.

I do know this: Zennora can handle almost anything I can imagine the seas could throw at her. I do, however, have some work to do to make it a bit easier on the crew.

We started the journey in Palmetto late in the morning on Saturday, November 14th. We had hoped to leave at dawn but at low tide, her 7′ 3″ below the water was solidly in the muck at Snead Island Boat Works.

Around midday, with the tide lifting her out of the mud, we shoved off into a nice stiff breeze, probably around 15 knots. The delay, however, turned out to be critical.

After making our way off-shore we headed south, reaching under a full main, mizzen and genoa.

As we moved south the wind and seas built, everything was a measure stronger and higher than the forecast had led us to believe. Sea-sickness struck most of the crew at various times.

We dropped the main, furled the jib to 80 percent and reefed the mizzen. Eventually we went down to little more of a hanky up front and the reefed mizzen.

We were about 35 miles offshore until about Naples so the fetch from easterly winds kept the waves from building too much. But it was a lumpy, confused sea with waves hitting us with no predictable interval, ranging from the northeast to the southeast.

winchesPast Naples, the coast fell away and we continued toward Key West. Still the winds continue building. And with the extra fetch, so did the waves. How big? No idea. Some rose well above the boat, so high you had to twist your head up to see their tops. And still they came from northeast to the southeast and with no real interval.

The biggest broke under their weight, crashing over the deck. This is how a force 7 wind is described using the Beaufort scale: Winds are 31-38 mph. “Sea heaps up. Some foam from breaking waves is blown into streaks along wind direction. Moderate amounts of airborne spray.”

I believe we sailed most of the way in Force 6 to 7 winds. As we approached Key West, the wind picked up again and some data stations indicated we were wrestling with gusts well into the mid 40s.

For her part, Zennora was remarkable. With very little sail up, she plowed through, kicking off the waves while often making way at 8 to 8.5 knots. She was barely heeling though life below deck was miserable.

We came into Key West at night under those conditions and without a chart-plotter that was wiped out by a large wave. Those precious hours waiting for the tide to rise in Palmetto was the difference between a daytime and nighttime arrival.

We navigated through the zig-zag channel using an ipad with navigation software and a watching for the channel markers while barking instructions back to the helm. I must give special thanks here to Chris Simpson who took the wheel after a wave washed my glasses off my face.

He would tell you it was the most terrifying thing he has done. I will tell you he was masterful. We made it in, traveling about 250 miles in 36 hours.

Once in Key West, we all needed a rest and Zennora needed some repairs. On the second day in Key West, we planned to rise early and head to Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, the weather had constipated all the marinas in Southeast Florida and a slip in Fort Lauderdale was no longer available.

We seriously contemplated a run up to New Smyrna Beach until we looked at the forecast. There was little chance of making it to Ponce Inlet ahead of the storm that is now hitting the east coast. That inlet is dodgy at best and downright dangerous in a storm.

With that, I knew I could never make it to NSB before Thanksgiving. And so my plans to bring her to NYC this year melted away.

Instead, we took an extra day in Key West, and on Thursday, November 19th, we motor-sailed the 40-odd nautical miles from Key West to Marathon Key, where Zennora will stay for a month.

But even that leg had its moment. As we left Key West, the engine temperature spiked and we were forced to return to the Conch Island Marina. Just as suddenly the temperature returned to normal. We set out again and never saw anything but normal temperatures. My best guess is a plastic bag fouled the water intake and fell away when we turned around around to return to the dock and throttled down.

I will put Zennora to bed this weekend return to New York. I will show up for work bright and early Monday morning.

I am a better mariner today.


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