Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sailing Offshore

For those of you who haven’t sailed distances in a small boat, I’ll introduce you now to some of the essential (to us) gear. In this picture you see our cockpit, which is where we spend much of our time (When it’s rough, this is where Anne spends all of her waking hours to avoid mal de mer). It’s got a dodger (like a windshield), which keeps us out of the wind and spray, a bimini (overhead) and side sun shades that keeps us in the shade, and our instruments. The instruments are, from left to right, our wind gauge, global positioning system (GPS), and depth sounder. The wind gauge shows the wind speed and direction, helpful for optimizing the sail configuration. The GPS is invaluable – you plug in your waypoint coordinates (latitude and longitude) and hit the Go To button, and it tells you what your bearing (direction to go) should be, your actual course over the ground (which can be influenced by currents that push you sidewards), your speed, and your estimated time of arrival. Of course, the GPS is absolutely literal; your waypoint may be on the other side of an island, and it will direct you right over the land, so you always have to double check your course on your charts. This may seem obvious, but there actually are people who have hit things and run aground because they set their GPS and just followed whatever it said to go. The depth sounder also is invaluable, because in Florida, the water can shoal up pretty quickly and you can run aground. Ours, unfortunately, is not functioning and we’re waiting for a new one to be delivered, so we’re being very careful.

A fun part of being offshore is the wildlife. So far we’ve seen at least four large turtles; lots of schools of smaller fish, and some being fed on by larger fish; birds galore; and everyone’s favorites, dolphins! We’ve seen both bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins. These spotted dolphins in the picture showed up and played around the boat for 10-15 minutes. Strangely, they didn’t seem to want to play in the bow wake, which is what the dolphins usually do. Instead, they stayed around the stern and the cockpit area, perfect for viewing! They’d roll over and look up at us, dart off and come racing back, criss-cross each other’s paths, and just generally looked like they were having a ball.

When traveling long distances offshore (called a passage), we’ll often be out for several days. Sailing at night can be absolutely beautiful: clear skies with so many stars you can hardly make out the constellations, peace and quiet, perhaps a full moon making a silver path along the sea. Stormy nights are awful, but we won’t discuss that. The beauty of this cruise is that we’re not on a schedule, so we can wait for good weather to make our passages, and avoid bad nights. Yeah!

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