September 3 – 4, 2012
Early Labor Day morning, we hoisted the anchor and motored out of Camden Harbor. We had planned for an all-day trip to the Booth Bay area, a journey of about 45 miles to the south and west. When our day began, we had no idea that we would end up on Cape Cod a day and half later!
We had been motoring along on our planned route when we decided to listen to the weather forecast. It was important to determine the wind direction for when we arrived at our next anchorage. When the weather report was finished, Wil and I both had the same thought in mind. Make an offshore, overnight dash south to Cape Cod. The weather forecast had indicated that our gentle ESE winds would gradually change back to strong SW winds with SE swells and building seas. It was now, or wait a week. We chose the “now”.
In that split second decision, we were suddenly and sadly saying good-bye to Maine. We sailed past Monhegan Island and out into the Gulf of Maine, headed for Provincetown. We watched the rocky shores disappear behind us. Our time in Maine had been an incredible experience to cherish for years to come.
We turned our focus to the immediate future. We had just decided to do an offshore passage. Things needed be stowed and harnesses and warm clothing brought out. The cockpit needed to be cleared. With our new bustle of activity and a SE swell, the kids were having a difficult time focusing on their studies, so school finished early for the day.
It was still afternoon as we were moving along at about 7 – 8 knots, close hulled and motor sailing. While I was at the helm, Wil went into the port engine room to check the oil. I was keeping a watchful eye for the long line buoys that we periodically had to dodge. Suddenly, there was a massive bump from under the port keel and rudder. Within milliseconds, the entire port side of the boat lifted up and bounced across something hard below the water’s surface. “What was that!” I yelled and worried for Wil in the engine room. Wil appeared from the engine room after having felt the boat bump and rise up. We scanned the water for signs of any objects or whales, but there was absolutely nothing. The port bilges were immediately checked, and thank goodness, we weren’t taking on water. We were confused and stunned. We were in deep water with no land in sight. Had we just hit a whale? What else could cause a boat of our size to rise up out of the water? We hoped our keel was okay. If it was a whale, we hoped the whale was okay.
[Later, we spoke to someone with a 42 foot Crowther catamaran who possibly hit a whale off of Gloucester in the Stellwagen Bank area. They were doing 22 knots when they hit something hard, breaking both of their daggerboards. Yikes!]
Excitement didn’t end there. Ahead of schedule, our gentle ESE breeze clocked around to a SW 10-15 knot wind, pushing us to a more westerly course. As darkness approached and the moon came out, we could see the shadows of the SE swell that were getting steeper and closer together. They weren’t big waves by any means (~ 1 meter), but they were choppy. For the first time since we’ve had this boat, we experienced quite a bit of the bridgedeck slamming that catamaran people talk about. It didn’t feel so bumpy on deck or at the helm, but everything inside the cabin was being rearranged. Since the weather forecast had indicated only light winds and small seas, we had only stowed certain items and not prepared for any major offshore seas.
Justine described getting into her bunk in the forward cabin. As she was climbing up to her bunk, she suddenly found herself airborne to the ceiling before landing softly on her mattress. For the rest of the night, she was unable to sleep because her body was constantly lifting off her bunk with every wave. Since Colin sleeps in an aft cabin, he was able to sleep a bit easier. Only the noise would keep waking him.
Wil and I took turns trying to sleep in the main salon, and we shortened our watches to 2 hours. While there wasn’t any weather helm, we were sailing so close to the wind, we had to work extra hard to keep the sails from luffing. We were motor sailing with a reefed main and the jib, and needed every bit of that to keep us steady in the bouncy seas. Our bodies were tired and tense by watch’s end, but getting any sleep was nearly impossible. There was the slamming, the sound of things falling or rolling around the floor. Drawers slid open and drinking glasses fell over. Anything on a table or seat, ended up on the floor. As I was trying to sleep, a heavy, decorative pot fell and missed my head by a centimeter. I hate to think what kind of bump or concussion I would have received from that one!
On deck, it didn’t feel as rough, but there was a large amount of green water coming over the bow. Just about every wave brought spray to the cockpit, and the water’s force at the bow tore apart one of our new PVC hatch covers. (Notice the perfect key hole punch made at the hatch handle!)
We were cold and wet, but we had to continue on our course. When we were on the starboard tack, falling off the wind and riding the seas meant getting too close to land. On the port tack, we could be further off the wind, but sailing directly into the seas. Since we weren’t desperate enough to turn around, there was no way we could win, except to tackle the seas at hand.
By dawn, the seas had finally subsided and we were arriving to the Stellwagen Bank area. We had planned another detour to see if we could find our fellow humpbacks again. Wil was at the helm when he saw a large humpback breach the water 4 times. The splashes were huge and he cheered for each. The kids were still sleeping, and I was in the forward cabin, so the rest of us missed the only show given that morning.
With the wind against us, and rain coming, we ditched the rest of the whale watching, and bee-lined it for Provincetown. When we dropped the anchor that afternoon, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief, and hunkered down for the next bought of foul weather.
The next day, we never even went ashore in Provincetown. We stayed indoors while the wind howled and the rain poured. We slept late and caught up on school. We needed a day to recoup.