Sailing Home – The Voyage (Part 1)

With preparations complete, or as close as they were going to be, we were anxious to get underway and put some miles between us and Annapolis. It was time to feel the ocean move below, the wind blow aloft, and to release the tensions of the previous week. For it is true that the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean. The final piece of the puzzle was the official word that we had been insured. Within moments of receiving confirmation, we slipped the lines and backed out of the slip.

The first day of the trip was an inland trip up the Chesapeake Bay towards the C and D canal. We sailed and motor-sailed along, making good speed, and constantly seeking shelter from the relentless August sun. Temperatures hovered around 95 degrees and the wind was but a whisper for most of the afternoon. Nonetheless, we were underway! Oh, what a relief. We inspected the sails and running rigging, traced halyards aloft, and learned the ways of our new vessel. She is quirky but purpose driven. From her rugged hard dodger to her removable inner forestay, she is well thought out and thoroughly proven. We fell in love with her because the previous owners had made modifications to her over the years that were in line with the sort of vessel we sought. Despite her many failing systems, her defining features, and her integral structure are intact and reliable. We were giddy as we made our way through the inland waters, anticipating fair winds offshore to carry us home.

What we didn’t anticipate, but became quickly acquainted with, was her aging engine. The Perkins engines are common to vessels from the 70’s and relatively well renowned for reliability. But even the best of engines gets tired eventually, and “Perky” has been around the block. Actually, not just the block, the world! Of the many lacking systems on the boat, the surveyor and broker both lauded the integrity of the engine. “Just clean her up,” they said, “she’s got plenty of hours left in her.” Just how many hours are left in her remains to be seen, but I can assure you she needs more than a cleaning. Within the first few miles, it became quite apparent that the cooling system had a leak somewhere, and the engine was quickly overheating. We did our best to keep the coolant topped off, and committed to regular engine room checks.

By the first evening we were exiting the C and D Canal, and turning south, outbound on the Delaware River. As the sun set, the wind came up. Tyler and Tiffany went below to rest as we began our regiment of nightly watches. Skye and I left a moonlit wake as we tore down the river on a broad reach. There was an array of commercial vessels, including a particularly annoying tug and barge who seemed to need the entire river to himself. He apparently couldn’t comprehend that we were sailing, after midnight, down a busy river. Now I know what you are thinking, “These are the kind of sailors that give us all a bad name!”  But I assure you we knew exactly where we were, how much room there was to maneuver, and how to make appropriate passing arrangements. At the risk of being cliche, this is what we do for a living…literally. We know how to read lights on the horizon, calculate the risk of collision, and how to avoid hazards accordingly. On many occasions while working in the wheelhouse of tugs, supply vessels, and even research ships I’ve often heard “Those goddamn blow-boaters! Always in the f@(k!$* way! Don’t they know I can’t just stop this damn thing on a dime!?” You have to remember, us merchant mariners are a diverse group, but a common denominator is a foul mouth and an inflated sense of importance. So to ease the burden of the tug mate who was clearly uncomfortable with a nighttime passage down the river, I rounded up into the wind and waited for him to pass.

A few hours later I was awoken by the other watch requesting extra hands on deck. We were at the mouth of the river, sailing downwind in a lively swell, and the traffic was particularly dense. We skirted along the green side of the channel, allowing massive container ships to pass and minding the shoals just outside of the channel. It was an exhilarating night. I felt truly alive as we nimbly avoided jibing in the steep quartering seas, dodged dredges, and made our way across the choked channel to the open water off of Cape May. As the sun appeared off the starboard bow, we beat into a shifting wind, bound for Cape Cod.

The wind was forecast to build from the Southwest, but for that first day offshore it showed no intention of doing so. We sailed upwind as well as we could, successfully gaining ground to the East, and hoping for a backing breeze at nightfall. Aeolus, the god of wind, must have pitied our pleas for cooperation. On this first night offshore, and on all that followed, the wind reliably arose from the Southwest carrying us along at over 8 knots. We maintained 9 knots on several occasions and approached 10 as we surfed the following seas. Gently rising up on the back of a wave, we surged ahead as the next rolled beneath. We accelerated down the face of the wave before a cloudless sky and an amphitheater of bright stars. It was an affirmation. We are on the right path.

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.