Offshore, No Big Deal
Adventure stories peppered throughout sailing magazines have always held me in awe of the offshore sailor. When I finally got the courage to try it for myself, it was to sail an 800-mile path between Tortola, BVI and Bermuda. I had anticipated a much-magnified version of the coastal conditions we new Englanders endure—screwy currents and tides, fickle weather, and “perfect" storms. Call it beginner’s luck, but what I found instead was peace, consistency, and predictability (of all things).
Throughout the entire trip, our crew experienced only one short squall; and I was the only person who got seasick. There were no obstacles blocking our view, which was six miles out to a barely distinguishable horizon that circled around our boat. We could spot weather systems approaching and retreating, and the captain’s good sense in hiring and consulting a weather service helped steer us clear of storms.
Blue-black seas undulating with deep waves lacked the familiar coastal chop we experience here, at home. Once we hoisted and set our sails, they remained up for seven days. We sailed 800 miles on the same tack!
Our trip was so calm and windless that I made more headway knitting my granddaughter’s sweater than our boat did progress. Even the fish were lazy. Our efforts to catch dinner resulted in one ambitious Barracuda, whom we quickly cut loose. We dined instead on meaty meals—steaks barbecued off our stern, roast turkey with all the trimmings—and enjoyed occasional glasses of wine.
I must say have felt more risk of treachery sailing through Watch Hill passage on a foggy afternoon, or to Block Island in the rain than I did on this, my first offshore passage. Here at home we thread through pot-cluttered channels, fight crosscurrents and tidal pulls, and need to take care not to run aground on shoals or crash against elusive rocks. Coastal cruising means having to constantly pay attention to avoid colliding with anchored fishing boats, barges under tow, and sailboats blithely crossing our paths.
Had I opted to crew the Gulf Stream leg, known to be more turbulent, I’m certain my first impression of offshore sailing would be different. I know offshore sailing can be fearful, uncomfortable, and hair-raising at times—just like the magazines say; but what the stories don’t tell you is that mostof the time it is just plain boring.
Offshore boating presents a great challenge, not necessarily for what actually occurs; but for the threat of what could happen, especially to the unprepared sailor. All I can say is, once I arrived home, I found our first sail in our local waters of Fisher’s Island Sound pretty darn scary.
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Stuff I experienced in my 35+ years of cruising and how-to info worth sharing.