Friday, December 14, 2012

Cape Hatteras on a Bad Day

We planned a long run south from Charleston; the schedule was calling and there were gales forecast up in the Cape Fear area later in the week. We made preparations for a departure on Sunday morning and then we just needed to wait for the tide to stop running so we could get out of the town marina safely. They have depth issues and very few slips have over 5 feet at low tide so we were shoe-horned between an evening cruise boat and the pilings. To exit demanded slack tide and sideways movement of some 30 feet which would have been impossible with the outgoing tide; as it was all was good and the exit was smooth.
Day 1, Night 1 and Day 2 were fine, in fact the weather was excellent with wind less that 10 knots. An issue arose at dusk on Night 1 when I discovered that our port light bulb had blown. I had checked it was working only an hour earlier but it would not be practicable to change it underway with the daylight going. It was on my mind all night. Around midnight somewhere ahead Warship 66 announced a live firing exercise and an exclusion zone of 15 miles so we had to change course to go around the area. All you need is to know that the navy are launching shells somewhere near you in the middle of the night! And it was all very well but, thinking about it, all vessels in the 30 mile corridor would be making the same course changes .............. yes, it meant that we were all going to converge in the dark and go round the same corner. Sure enough a couple of hours later a German tanker was coming up quickly to overtake us at 17 knots with a CPA of only 300 yards. Mindful of our less than perfect port lighting (in spite of having AIS) I turned on the boat deck lights and the floodlights. Never seen a more rapid change of course. In the morning I constructed a suitable harness and climbed up and changed the bulb. That certainly felt a lot better.

Closing on the Florida Coast I tuned into the Coastguard weather forecast as usual around 5pm. Some increase in wind forecast, and veering across us from SE to SW unfortunately (ie head seas); then we heard an announcement that there was a possible tornado warning in the North Florida area. That did not seem to be too much to worry about but we had been experiencing a general increase in wind speed as the afternoon passed.

The storm hit us exactly at sunset with very little warning some 25 miles north of Cape Canaveral. The radar burst into life with a huge red rash and, worse, the storm was full of lightning. Rain and wind are fine but a lightning strike and a boat full of electronics don't mix.The first wave of the storm was between us and the shore and was just full of lightning; we changed course towards the SE and increased to full speed to stay away from the front; I ran the wing engine just in case we needed it and also the generator for AC since the temperature increased substantially.


The picture on the right shows one of the storm waves advancing on Last Mango; the storms were moving at around 25 miles per hour and changing all the time. Just when one died down another sprouted to take its place. The wind increased very swiftly from 25 knots to a maximum of 42 knots (the picture above shows a read of 40 on the wind speed indicator). The barometer dropped 7 mb in four hours. Aboard we had already carried out our routine of securing loose items but we had to revisit that quickly since the sea was getting up and we really needed to get anything that had the potential to become airborne into a cupboard or somewhere secure. It turned out to be a long night. The first phase lasted for some 5 hours from 6pm to 11pm; at that point we were nearly round the Cape and away from the worst of the storm waves; but the fronts kept coming through until around 5am. We had decreased speed and were turning 5 or 10 degrees away from the wind and the head seas from time to time but still the wave heights were very significant, we have no idea how high in the darness but the pilothouse was taking constant spray and the bow dipped into the sea every few seconds. The tensioner securing the anchor came undone in spite of having a locking nut so that was another excursion for yours truly at 2am to crawl onto the deck and resecure the anchor with a mooring line. (The tensioner was retrieved later from behind a fender tied to the deck) We saw only 3 other vessels. A fishing boat did not seem too troubled but another cruiser shadowed us through the night as we dodged the storm fronts; a northbound sailboat was assisted by the Coastguard as they were taking on water over the bow in the heavy seas. A Coastguard storm warning was issued at 2am so not really much help by then.

Looking back on it all it is hard to see how we could have forseen this one. Of course it would have been easier to just cruise in daylight down the coast in short hops but that would have taken more than a week to work down the coast or the ICW. In the end the analysis is that we had an uncomfortable night; once in a while you will get caught. What was impressive, again, was how well our little ship shrugged off whatever Cape Canaveral threw at us. One thing is for sure, I would not like to have been out there on any boat less seaworthy than ours.

Arriving in Old Port Cove we hear tales of the weather being rough out there ............ 25 knots! Mmmm we think ............ that sounds like a cake walk!

We have been away on our summer cruise and adventures from OPC for eight and a half months and it is like coming home. The social calendar is filling up rapidly from the Nordhavn network of other boats here....... the Small World of Cruising.

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