Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marinette: Florida to New York Spring 2011

I am home  again after eight days at sea delivering sailing vessel Marinette from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to New York City.  My friend John came along on this trip as crew.   John is one of those guys who is super easy to get along with.  Life offshore with John is easy even when he is sick he stands his watches without complaint.  I can pretty much throw any food item at him and never get a whimper, although he did kinda scowl at my suggestion on the last morning’s breakfast.  I was cold and needed something hot so I asked him if he would like some Tomato Soup... that look reminded me of my little son Benny when I tell him we are having pizza for supper and then after he gets a big old smile going I tell him it will have mushrooms on it.
It makes a BIG difference offshore when you have crew who gets along.  The very nature of an offshore passage will test any relationship to its maximum.  Think of two men trapped alone in the same space area as a medium sized living room for eight days, now start tossing and turning that room constantly and set it up so that in the dark there will occasionally be building sized trucks barreling down on the room that you have to dodge.  The only person you can converse with is the same person who may at the very time you need a little human contact be in the need of a little alone time.  
I have a rule for crew on passages that we never talk about religion or politics.  If you knew my family you would know what a HUGE challenge that is for me.  I grew up in a family that ate supper and discussed both of those topics almost every night, sometimes with very heated arguments developing and it was all just a part of life.  But those topics are just too volatile for an offshore passage.  You really don’t want to tick off anyone who can just push you overboard at will.
Don’t get me wrong though, John and I did spend a lot of time talking.  He is a very interesting guy who has led a very cool life.  He is 20 years older than me so he was also able to offer me some very fatherly advice, always given within the framework of a story from his own life.  
We had some great moments on this trip and on our delivery of Sweetest Thing in January.  This trip we went up to the bow and watched a large pod of common dolphins swim in our bow wave.  This was a real treat because usually we only see the little spotted dolphins.  These guys were huge and they were absolutely gorgeous!  They would take turns swimming close up to the bow and as we hung our heads over to look at them they would turn on their sides so they could look up at us with one eye and then I swear you could see them smile.  They swim along so effortlessly and it was quiet enough that when we listened closely we could hear them squeaking at one another.  Dolphin chatter... now that was pretty cool.
There were a couple of days we only sailed and the boat skipped along over some pretty calm water with the jib out to port and the main out to starboard flying along at the speed of a fast walk wing and wing down wind.  That was all John.  He is a real sailor and knows how to trim the sails to get the most out of them.  I would often come up for my watch to find the boat set up completely and drawing on a nice downwind track that i would have struggled to make without him.  
Even John’s sail trim couldn’t help us much when, after rounding Cape Hatteras the wind clocked around to the north west, right on our nose and as it built to 25 and 30 knots with gusts in the 40s in squalls that north wind bullied it’s way against he north flowing Gulf Stream current and the waves began to build.  Marinette is a well built offshore boat but she’s beamy and has a shorter mast than normal so she isn’t quite balanced perfectly and she really doesn’t go to windward in the best of conditions.  In these conditions as we tacked back and forth she actually went backwards at times.  We made only 12 miles toward our destination in 24 hours.  During that 24 hours the boat heaved and slammed against huge waves and just sitting for our watches in the cockpit became a real ordeal.  John has bruises and cuts all over his legs from just standing his watches.  Once, while i was on watch i saw him fly from one side of the salon area to the other and land heavily on his backside.  Not a curse word did I hear though.  He just got up and struggled on back to his berth for his off watch sleep.
When the wind finally clocked around we sailed for two days to New York City.  The winds were blowing 18 to 20 from the south and south west so again we were running downwind.  When I sail this stretch of coast I stay in pretty close to shore to avoid all of the shipping traffic just a few miles off the coast.  If you sail pretty close to the 3-mile line you don’t have to worry about big ships except where they go in and out of Delaware Bay.  There are a lot of fishing vessels though but if you maintain your course and speed they will work around you and always let you know if they want you to move.  These guys are not usually on the bridge so they won’t answer your hails so don’t bother.  They do pay attention though and tare experts at what they do.  Give me 10 fishing vessels over one big bulk carrier any day.
On May 7th John and I motored under the Verizano Bridge and past the Statue of Liberty.  I have done this many times now but it never gets old.  I can’t help but think of my ancestors getting off the boat from Sweden and signing their names on the books at Ellis Island.  
Thanks for coming with me John!
Captain Tofer

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