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Habits of Health: Caribbean 1500 journal

11.13.12 |

Journal entry # 1

Greetings from the Habits of Health!
As you know, for the last 4 years, the sailing vessel, Habits of Health has embarked from the port of Hampton, VA for the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We are part of the annual Caribbean 1500 sailboat race. Each year dozens of boats set sail on this, the largest offshore sailing race in the Americas and one of the last remaining big adventures of our times. I am writing you today to chronicle our progress on this journey.

The Habits of Heath is a 54 ft. sailboat built by the Moody Company in England. It is a gorgeous, well-equipped, and state-of-the art vessel owned and skippered by Dr. Wayne Andersen and his wife and first mate, Lori. I have been with them as a crew member on this voyage for the past 3 years and have joined them this year along with first time crew mates, Terri and David Miller We converged together in Hampton at the mouth of the Chesapeake on Friday, November 2nd with the expectation of starting the race on Sunday morning, the 4th.

Arriving in Hampton

When I arrived at the docks in Hampton late Saturday afternoon, the marina was abuzz with activity. The sailboats were lined up along the dock side by side with brightly colored banners – including the colors of the 1500 waving in the late afternoon breeze amid a backdrop of the colors of the fall leaves and their reflections in the water. These magnificent boats reminded me of a group of thoroughbreds lined up at the beginning of a race. Well provisioned with crews and captains making last minute adjustments and checks, there was that excitement that comes with great expectations. These boats couldn’t wait to get out into the blue water of the North Atlantic and their crews were anxious to experience the thrill of sailing offshore.

Being the last to arrive that day I was greeted by the captain and crew and told the good news! The organizers of the race had made a determination that because of impending weather there was a very good chance we would depart a day earlier than expected. The final determination to go on Saturday would be made the next morning… We would have to wait to find out. That night, we all attended a reception at the Hampton Yacht Club with the captains and crews of the other boats in the race.

Saturday Morning and the Decision to Go

When we woke up Saturday morning we generally had a sense that we were going to start the race that day. What we learned was that in along the southeastern seaboard of the United States, a large winter storm was forming from northern Florida along the coast all the way to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The storm would be very large and pack gale force winds. If we didn’t leave on Saturday, we would have to wait the storm out, which might mean up to a week’s delay. However, with this tight weather window, if we could get south and east of Cape Hatteras, we just might be able to dodge it. And therein lied the challenge… getting south and east of the storm. If we missed the storm we’d be ahead of schedule and could use the energy of the storm to propel us further southwest to Tortola. But, if we didn’t get to our waypoint, we could find ourselves in the middle of a nasty and violent storm. Looking at our options and assessing the risks, most of the boats elected to leave on Saturday. We did too.

Leaving Port

Pulling calmly and effortlessly from our slip into Hampton Harbor we began our journey of 1500 miles over open ocean. It was early afternoon and simply a magnificent day. The bay was smooth as we made our way towards the mouth of Chesapeake.  The sky was a picture perfect blue with soft cumulous clouds and the air was clear and crisp. It was mid afternoon and the sun seemed to highlight reds, oranges, greens and yellows of the tress. The docks were vibrant with people and all kinds of watercraft from sailboats like ours, to fishing boats and power craft. Everyone in the cockpit of the Habits was smiling and in high spirits… we were on our way!

We passed the naval yards or Norfolk with their impressive aircraft carriers and headed for the Chesapeake Bay and Bridge tunnel… Once we crossed over the tunnel, the race had officially started for us. It was 2:38 in the afternoon.

On this first day we sailed along the Virginia coastline with the shore in sight. We passed numerous lighthouses and the great resort town of Virginia Beach. Our conditions were calm: light winds, light seas and the steady rhythmic up and down motion of the waves beneath us. As darkness approached, we had ate dinner in the cockpit chowing down a salad along with chicken and bow tie pasta. Perfectly delicious!

Captain Wayne and the crew discussed the schedule of who would be on watch the first night. I took the 9 PM to 1 PM shift, Lori and David took the 1 AM to 5 AM shift, and the Captain from 5 AM on. Our goal as to get to the Outer banks of North Carolina, west of Cape Hatteras, and then we take a southeasterly change in direction and crossing the Gulf Stream. The shifts were uneventful… we all encountered other vessels on our radar physically spotted a few other boats.

As night descended upon us, the air temperature became noticeably cooler. We all had to bundle up… wearing our long johns and layering warm clothes. On my shift, at around midnight, I experienced a spectacular moonrise over the water. If you’ve ever experienced this on the open seas, you know what I mean. The skies changed from plethora of brightly shining stars in a background of absolute black to a big yellow orb rising from east and lighting the night sky in the twilight of the moon’s glow. This moonrise was particularly pretty because on the horizon stood a bank of intermittent clouds outlining the moon in a golden array of splendor.

Day 2

On morning’s light Sunday, November 4th, we had indeed made our waypoint east of Hatteras. We were now crossing the Gulf Stream. What is always interesting when you cross the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic is the change in temperature. We went from water temperatures of 59 degrees to 83 degrees once we entered the stream. It is always a reminder to me just how critical this ocean current is to keeping North America and especially Northern Europe warm. Without it, much of the Northern Hemisphere would be significantly cooler.

Our conditions on the water were much like those of the day before… mild mixed and variable winds and mild seas. The outside temperature was quite pleasant and we found ourselves in short sleeves clothing in the cockpit. For the morning hours and into late afternoon these conditions pretty much remained the same. During this time we whiled away the time engaged in conversation, listening to music, and listening to satellite radio.

One unusual observation we witnessed in the afternoon was the sighting of a great blue heron over the ocean. This was a unexpected as we were now more than 100 miles offshore and one does not commonly see this species of bird this far away from shore. We could only speculate that perhaps it had gotten blown offshore in the storm.

Another observation we discovered was that the mail sail had a two-foot tear near the foot of the sail. Captain Wayne and I went on the deck to try to temporarily repair it and at least prevent it from ripping further. We don’t view the ripped sail as a safety hazard nor should it affect our ability to get to our destination on time.

A Rocky and Wild Night

The mild conditions of the day belied what was about to happen at night. During the day we had been tracking various weather patterns on our radar. We were offshore somewhere between the latitudes of Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear and had been trying to avoid these formations but around 6 PM we got hit with the outer bands of a fairly significant storm. The first salvo from this storm hit with a vengeance. Heavy winds, micro blasts of up to 50 knots and a raging sea made for an interesting 45 minutes or so. The captain had the crew go downstairs into the main cabin while he and the First Mate donned their life jackets and were harnessed into the lines in the cockpit. Heavy winds, rain, and hale hit the Habits pretty hard and we were healing at times well beyond 30 degrees…but she’s a tough boat, and after nearly an hour, the winds calmed again.

What we didn’t know was that this calm was to be sort lived… long enough for us to eat dinner and determine our shift schedule. Then, just like before, we encountered several cells of high energy and the real impact of the storm was about to begin..

Captain Wayne took the first watch and experienced a relentless pounding of weather…rain and lightening everywhere with heavy winds reaching gusts past 50 knots. Water was not just simply running over the gunwales, at times t was completely covering the cockpit. Lighting was striking everywhere lighting the horizon like fireworks on the 4th of July. Captain Wayne witnessed one fireball hitting the water and sending an iridescent blue wave for hundreds of feet around. This celestial demonstration was unrelenting for nearly all of the night.

Since we were still in the Gulf Stream and under heavy wind, the wave action was choppy. Well.., choppy doesn’t exactly describe it! With all of the weather upstairs, the conditions below were less than favorable. We were dry and warm… that was good. But, the boat was healed beyond 30 degrees so it made for some challenging maneuvering in the cabin. And, sleeping on a slant this steep is always interesting…especially if you are healed the wrong way for comfortable sleeping, which we were. But, the most unnerving part was the frequent crashing of the bow of the boat as it slammed into the waves.

The storm lasted all night. Lori and David spelled Captain Wayne on the second watch and Terri and David sat with me for the 3rd watch. Finally at around 7:30 the rain ended.

Day 3

As I just reflected, today we started with a storm but by mid morning, we were seeing some gray skies that eventually cleared to a few clouds and sun. This has been a good day for sailing and we’re making good time. Everyone is in great spirits and glad we are experiencing this adventure together. Right now we are about 250 miles from Cape Hatteras and 350 miles from Bermuda. We are in the beautiful cobalt blue oceans of the Atlantic. Night will be approaching in a few hours and we are anticipating a beautiful sunset…

This is Crew Member Dan Bell signing off until next time!

PS: you can track our progress at:

http://www.worldcruising.com/carib1500viewer.aspx

Journal entry # 2 

Greetings from the habits of Health

I am writing you today, Wednesday November 7th, somewhere southwest of Bermuda and Southeast of the Abacos in the Bahamas – over 600 miles  from Florida on the mainland of the United States.  It is late in the afternoon and we have had a great day of sailing so far.

We could not ask for better conditions. In a word, they are ideal… we are on a starboard tack with winds out of the southwest at approximately 20 mph. The Habits of Health is in the groove at 9 to 11 knots.  “Beautiful” doesn’t begin to describe what we are seeing and experiencing.  The temperature is warm and pleasant, the colors are vibrant – from the deep blue  of  the sea to the pastel light blue of the sky dotted with the billowing white towers of cumulonimbus clouds.  It’s a great day to be at sea!

Much has transpired since I last corresponded with you 2 days ago.  So now I will fill you in with all that has happened both at sea and on board the Habits.

Close of Day 3

When I last wrote to you it was late afternoon two days ago. we were anticipating one of those spectacular sunsets that are seen from the water looking west.  And, as much as I have seen them in the past,  i never tire of seeing the incredible majesty of the sun going down at sea.  Often staged through the filter of great clouds in the distance, the vibrant hues that range from blue to pink or golden to burnt umbra – and practically all colors in between – seem to be displayed on a larger scale from the sea.  Each sunset is a work of art, both unique and magnificent for its own sake…and short lived, ephemeral in its duration.  Our sunset on Monday night was one of those incredible sights…it did not disappoint us.

We all enjoyed a great dinner in the cockpit and then Captain Wayne set up the watch schedule for the evening:  David took 9 PM to 1 AM, Lori from 1 AM to 4 AM and Dan from 4 AM to & AM.  However, Terri decided to help Lori at around 3:15 and she went on watch solo from 4 till about 5:30.  She and I took watch from 5:30 on and were joined by David at around 6 AM.

Unlike the previous night, nothing unusual occurred during our watches in the early morning of November 6.. with the exception of David, Terri, and I experiencing  the dawning of a new day and the sun rising over the east.  Like the sunsets, these too are generally very impressive and inspiring.  However, on this day we had a heavier than normal cloud cover and so this sunrise – although beautiful – was somewhat muted

Day 4

At daybreak yesterday morning we were greeted with a  bluish gray cloud cover and we thought that the day  may turn out to be a bit dreary.  But, as the morning progressed, the gray clouds gave way to a perfectly beautiful day, transforming the sky to a clear blue with wispy high sirrus clouds.  The sailing conditions were also very good… good winds, mild waves, and a comfortable sail.

We were excited about a two things that day… first, the great progress we were making and second, anticipating and listening to the unfolding of the results of the US elections taking place.   The Habits is equipped with satellite radio so at any time during the day we could tune into Fox News to get the latest updates.

Unusual Citing

At 9 AM we were probably 350 to 400 miles off the mainland when I noticed something I had not seen before in the 3 other 1500 races I experienced.  Coming low to the deck straight in front of the boat I made out two bright lights heading towards us.  We quickly determined that it was a low flying plane that looked to be of military origin, perhaps a C-130.

It is rare to see any aircraft this far out to sea but not completely unusual.  What made this different was that this aircraft was very low to the sea and was systematically flying in a predictable pattern, back and forth as if it were covering a specific grid or quadrant.  The plane flew over or very near to our vessel at least 4 to 5 times.  Then, after about 20 minutes it flew out of sight.

Shortly thereafter, we saw in the distance near the horizon – about 3  miles away we spotted another aircraft.  This time it was a large helicopter.  And, like the airplane before it, it began a crisscross systematic pattern of flying…. low to the deck as if it were looking for something or someone.  We were able to get a close- up look of the chopper as it circled our sailboat.  It was large and gray and appeared to be a US Navy aircraft.  Like the lager plane before it, the helicopter was with us for about 20 minutes and then flew out of site.

We are not exactly sure of the mission of these two aircraft but we speculate that either they were engaged in some type of training maneuver or else they were on  a search and rescue mission.  We have not heard any information from Fleet Command to assume the latter so we suspect they were engaged in training.

Friendly Visitors
In mid-afternoon, Terri spotted from our starboard side something that got us all excited and all of us out of the cockpit and onto the front deck!  What we observed was a large pod of about 25 to 30 spinner dolphins!  If you’ve ever been in a boat and had dolphins swim alongside and crisscross in front of your vessel, you know how much fun this can be!

Spinner dolphins are absolutely beautiful sea mammals. They are speckled and colorful, are about 3 to 4 1/2 feet long, and are unbelievably playful and enthusiastic.  They stayed with us a least 10 minutes – maybe longer – jumping out of the water, crossing in front of the boat going back and forth, and swimming in pairs or threes.  Their water acrobatics were amazing!  David stayed at the bow and videotaped the whole event… and by the way, getting completely soaked in the process but loving ever minute of it!

What was curious to me was this: humans and dolphins are both mammals. We share more in common they you might imagine.  But the environments we live in on this planet are very different.  So, here we were, human beings passing through the domain of these magnificent sea creatures.  We were passing through their world – a world where these wonderful friendly animals live with their families and experience this world at a much different level than we do.  But, on this day, these carefree beings welcomed us with their enthusiastic smiles. They were living as free spirits, exploring their world with curiosity, being with family and friends… and having fun. And then it occurred to me, on this day and sailing far into the ocean,  so were we.

Near Miss at Sea

Unfortunately, I am going to have to end my correspondence to you now and to be continued tomorrow.   But, I do want to finish the narrative of what happened in the evening of Day 4 and the early morning of Day 5.  Suffice it for now for me to tell you that in the dark of the night, the Habits of Health dodged a very real and scary bullet.   More information to come in my next post…

Until nest time… this is crewmember, Dan Bell, signing off

Journal entry # 3

Greetings from the Habits of Health,

It’s another picture perfect day on the Habits of Health.  Today I am writing you approximately 400 miles from our destination in Tortola, BVI.  We are in the home stretch of our Caribbean 1500 adventure and our Crew and Captain are just as excited about our journey as when we departed on Saturday afternoon.  The Habits is again in the groove sailing at 8 to 10 knots on a starboard tack with the winds close to our bow in a close reach.  Because the weather is so spectacular, all of us have ventured out of the cockpit and onto the aft deck.   We are in the subtropics and enjoying temperatures in the low 80s.   And, if you stand and look around, you see sky and water everywhere – and nothing else – for 360 degrees.   If you’ve never sailed offshore, it may be hard to imagine how incredible this experience is… but let me just say that if you ever get a chance to do it, then do it!

Yesterday when i concluded my correspondence I left you with the following heading:  ” Close Call on the High Seas”

Allow me to explain…

In my last post I relayed our encounter on Tuesday afternoon with spinner dolphins and our anticipation of another glorious sunset.  All of that took place as our backdrop for dinner in the cockpit that evening.   That night we dined on meatloaf with vegetables and mashed potatoes.  It was excellent as usual

One thing we all appreciate on this trip is the variety and quality of the meals we eat.  What you may not realize is the preparation it takes to have all of this happen.  In a word, it’s a lot of work! On the weekend before the race Lori cooks all of the meals and freezes them.  Then, for the race she has a schedule detailing on what day each of these meals will be served.  And amazingly, it seems to work every time.  Imagine sitting in the cockpit of the Habits every night and eating a great home-cooked meal while you are with friends, feeling the rhythm of the sea beneath you, and observing a fabulous sunset every night diner is always one of the highlights that makes this race so special.

So, we had a wonderful dinner and that evening we were all riveted to satellite radio.  Tuesday night, of course, was election night in the United States and all of us were listening to Fox News.  As you all know, the races in the battleground state were very close and it became apparent that the results of the election might not be known until the early morning hours on Wednesday.  We are now on Atlantic Time, one hour earlier than Eastern – so we decided that we needed to stick to our night watch schedule.   I took the 11 PM to 2:30 AM watch, David and Terri were to take the 2:30 AM to 5 AM watch, and Lori was to take the 5 AM to 8 AM watch

My watch was uneventful from a sailing perspective with the exception of stunning moonrise.  I continued to listen to satellite radio and learned of the election results while still on watch.  At 2:30 I woke up David and he and Terri began their watch.  I then went to bed.  Little did we realize then that something potentially very hazardous was about to happen.

I must first relay to you that unless you find yourself in a shipping lane, it is rare to see any freighters – or other vessels for that matter – this far out at sea.  We see them, but not frequently.   In fact, it was Tuesday night and we had been at sea since Saturday and we hadn’t encountered many freighters on this trip once we left the Chesapeake

David and Terri settled into their watch, checking the boat’s instruments –  radar, AIS (an automatic tracking and identification device) – and physically observing the surrounding sea using sight and binoculars.  For the first hour, their watch was uneventful like mine.  Then, around 3:30 AM David spotted something on the radar – a large slow moving object.  David and Terri had observed large freighters before on radar and also visually, but usually these ships move though the ocean at a fairly swift pace… 15 to 20 knots and some can go as high as 30.  This object was moving, but just barely.  Terri then checked the AIS and confirmed that it was indeed a large cargo ship, the Nuevo Vega, coming from the northeast and headed to the southwest…it was very close and directly in our path.  It was on a direct collision course with the Habits of Heath if we didn’t act fast.  Terri and David concluded that it was time to wake the Captain!

Captain Wayne got to the helm and assessed the situation.  Yes, it was a large cargo ship and yes, it was headed right for us.  Using VHF, he hailed the Captain of the Nuevo Vega but to no avail.  After several attempts, there was no response.   The ship was closing in and a fast avoidance maneuver was in order.  Fortunately, the freighter was moving slowly which allowed Captain Wayne enough time to turn the Habits 90 degrees to port and allow the big cargo ship to pass to the west and for us.  Once past, he then tuned our vessel 90 degrees to starboard and put us back on our Rhumb line to Tortola.

After the excitement and relief of avoiding the Nuevo Vega, skipper Wayne went back to bed and Terri and David completed their watch.  At 5 AM Lori took over.

Lori’s watch on this morning is one where that begins while it is still dark outside.  Then the darkness gives way to twilight and eventually the dawning of a new day.   Lori was informed by David and Terri of our near miss earlier in the night and was told of the conditions of our surrounding environment… specifically if their were any vessels close by.  David and Terri informed her of one sailboat we knew about who was off our port side about 6 miles away.  Other than that, everything seemed to be quiet.  Lori settled in behind the helm and began her watch.

At 6 AM – and still dark – Lori spotted another large vessel on her radar and confirmed it by both AIS and visual sighting.   This too was another large ship, a tanker that was sailing from the southwest.  Like the other ship earlier in the night, this vessel was also going to be intersecting our direction at roughly the same time we were.  But unlike the Nuevo Vega, she was moving faster at 15 to 20 knots.  Acting quickly, Lori pointed the bow to starboard changing our course by slightly moving to the west and then adroitly passed the tanker to her stern.

Two in one night!  That’s never happened to us before!

Day 5

Yesterday when I wrote to you, I gave you a glimpse of just how great a sailing day it was.  Honestly, it was about as perfect as it gets… great winds, modest seas, great temperatures, and a very comfortable sailing for all.  The day was fun, fast, and relaxing.  We all got on the decks for some sun and fun.  David started fishing… and lost a good-sized mahi-mahi (sorry David).  All in all it was a terrific day culminating in another vivid sunset and a great dinner.  And, we made excellent time in our quest for Tortola.

As night began to fall, the sea swells became larger and some clouds rolled in.  The nor’easter that brought the cold and rain to the mid-Atlantic and new England had remnants that stretched very far south in the Atlantic.  This storm was a big source of the fuel that filled our sails for the past several days.  But, as night came, we were facing the possibility of some heavy squalls, wind and rain.  And, as you will learn shortly, last night was another wild ride… not once, but 3 separate times.

First on watch last night was David, beginning at 10:30 PM and lasting until 1:30.  Knowing that we might run into rain David kept a close eye on the weather, particularly our radar.  At around 12:30 we were hit with our first bank of squalls…  heavy driving rains, big swells, and powerful winds with micro-bursts up to 50 knots.  Of course, with this kind of energy the boat heeled steeply on he port side.  There was lots of crashing as the boat drove through the waves and we were moving fast..

As he had done the previous night, David woke the Skipper to make sure we rode this weather safely.  Captain Wayne, with assistance from David, quickly adjusted the sails and got the situation under control.  However, as it turns out, this wouldn’t be the only time tonight that the Captain was awakened by the night watch Crew.

Terri took over watch duties at 1:30 AM.  She was informed of what had happened earlier.  For the majority of Terri’s watch, things were relatively smooth… some rain here or there and a few incidences of strong winds, but nothing to awaken the Captain over.  At about 4:30 I woke up, made some coffee and climbed the steps of the companionway to the cockpit to relieve Terri of her watch.  As she reviewed the current conditions with me she pointed out a squall line that appeared to be quite menacing.  I evaluated the situation and suggested she wake up the captain again, which she did.  Sure enough, we had a repeat of what had happened 3 hours earlier with about the same intensity.

After getting through this bit of uncooperative weather, both captain Wayne and Terri went back to bed and I began my watch.  As I have relayed to you previously, the last watch of the night is my favorite.  I get to see the glory of the beginning of a new day.  So, my usual routine is a freshly made hot cup of coffee to drink (and wake me up), a nutrition bar to eat, my iPod with a great selection of music to listen to along with my Boise headset speakers…. and  I get the privilege of observing the birth of a new day over the ocean.  It doesn’t get much better than this!

Well, here I was listening to music, drinking my coffee, and eating my food bar all the while checking instruments and observing what is outside.  The ride was a bit rougher than the previous day and I observed lots of squalls on the radar.  One line looked particularly problematic.  It was coming from my west and moving east in the direction we were heading.  At first it looked as if we could out run it, but the formation shifted and began to flank the boat.  From experience, I knew what this could mean.  So, reluctantly and for the third time of the night, the captain had to be awakened.  And, just in time I might add.  The squall line hit us with significant energy and just as in the two previous encounters we were in for a short-lived wild ride… until we were able to sail through these conditions.

After we passed the most onerous weather, the captain again went downstairs to try to get some sleep and I continued on watch.

By mid morning we were again experiencing great weather, a swift sail, and warm clear temperatures.  David got to fish again today and was able to land a nice Mahi (way to go David!)

As I close now, it is late afternoon and we are gearing up for the close of another day on the Habits of Health.

This is Crew Member Dan Bell signing off until next time.

Journal Entry #4

Greetings from the Habits of Health,

We are fully into Day 6 of our amazing journey to Tortola.  Right now we are on a port tack with winds coming from the northeast.   Behind us is a gentle following sea that is providing us with a very smooth and comfortable ride.   Cooler temperatures today make this sail peaceful and relaxing.

We are now in the warm waters of the Caribbean Ocean, roughly 250 miles from the finish line.   To our west is the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola and to our south are the British and US Virgin Islands.

Every time I sail here I am always struck with the realization that these waters, these skies, and these stars are the very same waters, skies, and stars that Columbus experienced well over 500 years ago.  I often wonder what he and his crew may have been thinking the very first time they made the passage from Spain to the Americas:  How much further would they have to go? What would they discover?  Would they perish at sea?  Would they find what they were seeking? Would they be able to get back home to Spain?

I marvel at the courage and leadership it must have taken to Captain that small fleet of three vessels and to sail in these uncharted waters with no guaranteed outcome and the very real possibility of disaster.   I also think about the skill and grit it must have taken to sail in those old square-rigger boats.  How different their technology was from that of today.  Here we are now, sailing in a state-of-the art sailboat with all of the conveniences and safety you can imagine and at a level of comfort those ancient mariners would not believe.  The reality of their conditions was harsh, difficult, and unforgiving.  And, although we may never think of it, we owe a debt of gratitude to those early sailors whose dreams and bravery led them to exploration and discovery.

Sailing the Deep Blue Sea

As I write this, we are currently sailing over the Puerto Rico Trench, a massive canyon in the ocean floor.   Below us is over 28,000 feet of water… imagine, nearly as much water below sea level as Mt. Everest is above sea level!   It’s always a bit unnerving to think about this reality especially when you are right over it!  I know someone can drown in a few inches of water… but there is something about knowing there is nearly 5 miles of water below you!  By the way, geologists tell us this trench is still forming as the Atlantic oceans widens with the movement of the tectonic plates and geologic forces below.

Our Progress Since I Last Wrote

I finished my correspondence with you yesterday in late afternoon just before we were about to eat dinner.   Let me get you up to date with what transpired since then.  We had another fabulous dinner in the cockpit and settled in for the evening.  But, after a sunny picture-perfect day our conditions started to change as nighttime fell.   Clouds filled the skies and it started to rain.

Because of the change in our conditions, Captain Wayne took the first watch from 9:30 PM to 1 AM.  During his watch, the winds rotated from the west to the north and eventually to the northeast.  As a result, the Captain adjusted the sails accordingly and tacked from starboard to port.  This made for a more comfortable ride and also for a more comfortable sleep for those of us not on watch.

Lori was next on watch with hers starting at 1 AM.  She was supposed to be relieved by me at 4:30 AM but instead was feeling wide-awake and kindly didn’t wake me up until close to 5:30, giving me another hour of sleep, which I appreciated.

So I began my watch at 5:30…just in time to see another sunrise.  Around the same time, Terri and David, who had the night off for being on watch both woke up early and joined me in the cockpit.

It rained off an on during the night and into the morning and as day broke we were greeted with a panorama of the rich pastels of an overcast tropical sky.   Down here, an overcast day is not simply shades of black, white and gray.  On the contrary, here the gray skies are slate gray or silver-blue or a variety of shades in between.  And, as the morning progressed, the rains abated.  Since then, the sail today has been smooth, calming, and relaxing as I mentioned earlier.

Seabirds and Boats

For the past couple of days – and because we are getting closer to land – we’ve had more sightings of sea birds.   Yesterday we were entertained for over two hours by a brown booby flying alongside the sailboat.  This aerodynamic and skilled flyer with his big yellow raincoat-colored feet was following us for a very good reason… as the Habits cuts through the water it regularly stirs up flying fish that dart – often for long distances – over the tops of waves.   And, when this happens, the brown booby is not far behind looking for an opportunity to eat breakfast.

The bird would soar back and forth over the mast of the boat – or just to one side or the other – and then, in kamikaze fashion, would dive into the waves or swoop down, turn, and skim the crest of the waves in pursuit of his prize.  It was a lot of fun to watch!

Today we’ve been visited by a few more birds…mostly terns.  And as we get closer to land, we are eagerly anticipating that the frequency of our sightings will dramatically increase.

In early afternoon today we spotted a large freighter sailing to our starboard on a northerly route.  The vessel passed us at about 3 miles away.   Also this afternoon we caught a glimpse of the mast and sails of a sailboat near the horizon about 6 miles away.

Tonight

In a few hours we’ll be settling in for our evening’s routine: another tasty dinner in the cockpit with a muted sunset tonight.  Then, depending on conditions, we’ll figure our watches.   We are figuring that this will be our last night at sea.  Depending upon wind and conditions, we hope to have the Habits crossing the finish line and safely in harbor by late tomorrow evening.

A Thank You

As I sign off today, all of my crewmates and I want to acknowledge and thank those of you who have held us in your thoughts and prayers as we’ve traveled on this odyssey from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the warm waters of the Sir Frances Drake Channel in the BVI.  Your concerns for our safety and your support are greatly appreciated and mean more to us than you know.

Until next time, this is crewmember, Dan, signing off.

Journal entry #5

Greetings from the Habits of Health,

We are now in our 7th day of sailing and bearing down on the finish line of the Caribbean 1500 race.   It’s been nearly one week since the Habits of Health last saw land and we are anxiously anticipating seeing the peaks of the British Virgin Islands later tonight.

I must say that it’s always thrilling to spot land after such a long trip.  We haven’t seen any yet today, but we know we are getting closer with each passing second.  Everyone is excited knowing that in less than 70 miles we’ll be arriving at our destination in Tortola.

Last Evening

Last night we probably observed the most spectacular of all of the sunsets we’ve seen on this trip.  To just say it was “spectacular” does not do it justice.  I am not going to take the time to describe it to you in detail today but suffice it to say that it was as beautiful as any sunset anyone would want to see.  Out here the close of the day ends in a big and majestic display – like the crescendo of an orchestra in the final movement of a symphony – and we are privileged to have front row seats in a theater that can only be experienced by being here.

By now you are getting accustomed to reading about the ritual we have every night on the Habits… a great meal, maybe the playing of a card game or two, great conversation, terrific music to match our environment, and then we each either go to bed or take our watches.

David and Terri took the first watch from 9:30 PM to 1 AM.  Lori followed at 1 AM until 4:30 and I followed after that.

In the late evening and in early morning hours of today, the Habits was dodging a series of thunderstorms, squalls, and rain.  Because of this, Captain Wayne was called up to the cockpit several times during the night to work with crew to make sure our sails were adjusted correctly, that we were maximizing our speed and efficiency, and most importantly, that we were sailing safely

At the end of Lori’s watch and the beginning of mine, Lori called the Skipper back up to the cockpit to supervise an encounter we had with another slow moving freighter.   This was not a near-miss situation as we had plenty of time to maneuver around the cargo ship, but it did pass very close in front of us.  In fact, it passed close enough to where I could smell diesel fuel from the ship.

Sunrise

As spectacular as last evening’s sunset was, this morning’s sunrise surpassed it in majesty.  There was a heavenly feeling to this day’s beginning… it was another reminder – in stunning color – of God’s promise of a new day.

As the darkness turned to light we witnessed in the east, first the muted announcement of a few clouds on the horizon.   This then gave way to a palette of colors that got brighter and more intense as the morning light unfolded.  Clouds looked as if they were touching the water.  Above them we saw a display of pink, and gold, yellow and orange, and streaks of bright blue that heralded the sun’s arrival before we could see it.  Further, with all of the reflections coming from the clouds and the deep intensity of the water, the seas to the horizon turned to dark brown…in fact, one could portray the ocean as chocolate in color.

To the west, the sky unfolded a different set of pastel colors; slate blue clouds with turquoise skies and shades of pink and orange.  To our north, the foreboding darkness of the thunderstorms we had just sailed through gave a stark contrast to light we were now reaching towards.  To the northwest, a large thick rainbow bore witness to the optimism we were all feeling on this morning.  And, above us, we observed a most unusual cloud formation.  These clouds appeared as rounded, globular, fluffy clouds arranged in a distinct repeating pattern that, from below, looked like a giant egg carton.  It was amazing.

Finally, looking east again at the intersection of sky and sea, we saw a line of flaming bright red making it appear that the water itself was on fire… Then, as if emerging from the ocean, the fiery glow of a large red sun ascended in chorus of clouds.  It was a breath taking morning!

Picking up a Hitchhiker

One thing I’ve realized in the four Caribbean 1500 races I have participated in is this:  they are never routine, never the same, and often something unexpected happens….

At around 10:30 PM last night on David and Terri’s watch, a hitchhiker visited the Habits of Health.  The interloper, an immature sea gull – not fully-grown and still with his darker plumage – landed on the aft deck of the Habits… and has been on the boat now for nearly 17 hours! I am not sure how he got over 200 miles from land to find us but he was quite exhausted when we sailed by just at the right time for him!

Allow me to describe this feathery fellow to you…

He’s about 2/3rds fully grown with a white underside and with his wing feather coloration that is darker; a beautiful mottled brown color.  He has a brown-grayish back and a speckled head.  His beak and webfeet are also very dark brown – almost black – in color.  His eyes have a dark brown pupil encircled in white.  One side of his two black tail feathers – the ones on the left side – is missing a few feathers, which gives him character.  In short, he is a very handsome/cute little fellow.

During last night and this morning while it was dark outside, he primarily stood on the port deck just outside the cockpit.  Of course all of us adopted him immediately and he’s been eating the food we’ve been giving to him – chicken, ham, hamburger, bread, etc.  Lori even put out some fresh water for him to drink.  It’s a bit surprising to me that he’s been with us for the best part of this entire day.  But, I think this little bird figured out that he’s found a good thing by landing on this sailboat!

Once the sun came out, our bird started to do some exploring on foot. He walked to the bow and then turned around and strolled to the stern.  He did this a few times and also explored the entire stern.  But mostly he hangs out on the port side just inches from the cockpit.  Every now and then he’ll get closer and look curiously into the cockpit and study each of us closely.

A few times our feathered friend flew off the Habits only to return again.  (One time when he was on the bow, a wave splashed on him and he took flight.)  Coming in for a landing on a sailboat moving at 8 to 10 knots – and bobbing up and down – is quite a feat, especially when he lands between the cockpit and rails.  It’s not quite as dramatic as an F-18 landing on the deck of a moving aircraft carrier but nonetheless he’s a pretty accomplished flier to do this with such precision even at such a young age!

With each time he has taken flight – only to return again – he has become more comfortable with us.  In fact, now every time he lands, he’s ready for some more goodies!  As a result of this ability to get us to give him food, the crew nicknamed him, “Moochie”!

With about 70 miles to go until land, I think Moochie may make it Tortola with us!

Sailing in Tonight

As I have already stated, we are in the home stretch of the race.  We expect to get into Tortola later this evening…probably after midnight.  I will be giving you one last report after we arrive in Tortola.

Special Thanks

We want to give a special thanks to the World Cruising Club and the employees of the Caribbean 1500 for all work that has gone into the creation, implementation, and administration of this great event.   We love the camaraderie and the sense of community that you provide for the crews of each sailboat.  Additionally, we appreciate the opportunity for our friends and families to participate vicariously in the race through your website.  Your love of sailing and the sea has made it possible for us to experience the thrill and adventure of sailing in this blue water race and for us to store up memories that will last a lifetime.

This is Crewmember, Dan, signing off until next time.

Journal entry #6- the final post November 11, 2012

Greetings from the Habits of Health,

It was late afternoon yesterday when I last corresponded with you.  As evening approached, the stronger winds we were expecting all day finally arrived.  Earlier in the day we had unfurled our large foresail, the code zero, which served to increase our overall sail area.  And, when the heavier winds began to blow, this large sail helped to drive the Habits even faster through the water.

Given the distance we needed to travel, we knew that our arrival at the finish line of the Caribbean 1500 race would come sometime after midnight.  We were on a port tack with winds coming from the north/northeast.  In early evening we experienced a few squalls containing rain that was heavy at times, but these soon gave way to an amazing black starry night.

Sailing Amongst the Stars

Every crewmember was excited with the realization that our goal was drawing near.  Some of anxiously were counting down the miles, especially every time another 10 were completed.  Our spirits were upbeat and no one wanted to go to sleep.  We started this journey together and we all wanted to be awake when we crossed the finish line.

The final hours coming into to port were almost surreal.   There were very few clouds in the sky and so we were treated to an endless canopy of stars.  The little sliver of a waning moon had not yet risen, giving us a pitch-black night.  With no ambient light to speak of, we could see thousands upon thousands of stars.

In our modern artificially light-filled world there are few places to go today to observe this kind of celestial display.  Here, the “milk” of the Milky Way was clearly evident.  Familiar constellations we routinely view in the North were now seen in unaccustomed locations in the tropical night.   Constellations like the Southern Cross, not seen in most of the Northern Hemisphere, emerged to become a welcomed part of this Caribbean night sky.  An occasional sighting of a falling star punctuated the visual feast we were experiencing.

Our approach to Tortola this year came from a more easterly direction than in past 1500 races.  Our course would take us just west of the Anegada reef system that lies on the eastern edge of the British Virgin Islands.  This reef system is one of the largest in the world and its coral make-up is the prolific home to thousands of marine species.  It can also be a treacherous sailing ground as the coral heads lie close to the water’s surface.  In fact, in the early days of sailing these waters, many a ship met its demise here.  Sailing at night, we were grateful to have the advanced electronics and charting capabilities of the Habits enabling us to avoid these potential hazards.

The Anegada reef gives rise to the most unique of the BVI islands, Anegada.  This treasure is a coral in origin, and very flat – in contrast to the other islands in the BVI system that are of volcanic origin and which rise majestically and vertically from the sea.  I’ve been to Anegada and it is quite remote…very few people live here.  On its eastern end are large saltwater marshes that are home to flocks of pink flamingos, a natural phenomenon rarely matched elsewhere in the world.

The late evening coming into Tortola was warm and balmy.  The seas were calm enough to enable me to sit on the aft deck and take in the entire experience.   Being at sea for this many days heightens one’s senses, so I was keenly aware of the smells and the sights around me.  In the distance we began to make out glimpses of light coming from the BVI.  First appearing as a glow, the vague shimmering of illuminations of the islands became more defined as we drew near.

So, as we traversed in the night with only the sounds of the wind in our sails we passed the Anegada reef and its island to our east.  We could make out the beacon from the island’s lighthouse.   We could see the darkness of Anegada interrupted sporadically by a few faint points of light from the remote parts of the island.  We could see and hear the gentle lapping of the waves caressing the sailboat as we glided stealthily past this place where for eons time seems to have stood still.

Crossing the Line

We had come to the point where we had less than 10 miles to go.  The ancient volcanic islands of the BVI now came plainly into view.  These islands emerge out of the Caribbean in spectacular fashion.  Some of them rise as high as 1300 feet from sea level.  (If you have ever visited here, you know they make for some of the most stunning and picturesque scenery in the world.)  And, although it was very dark outside, the hillsides of the islands were bejeweled in twinkling lights.

Tortola, the largest and most populated of the islands was nearly straight ahead just off our starboard.   Also to the west we could make out Great Camanoe and Scrub Island (one of the points of the finish line).  To our port, were the Dog Islands, the eastern coordinate to the Finish Line.

The rhythmic oscillation of the lighthouse beacon of Beef Island served as our harbinger that we were nearly home.  The realization that we were accomplishing our goal had all of us on the Habits ebullient with anticipation.  Then, just before 2 AM it happened; the Habits of Health crossed the finish line. This great race over 1500 miles sailing the open ocean was now completed.

We logged our time – days, hours, minutes, and seconds – and then the Captain called in to the Caribbean 1500, “Rally Control, Rally Control, sailing vessel Habits of Health.  We have just crossed the designated finish line.”    Captain reported our times and then signed off.

Sailing to Nanny Cay

After we crossed the finish line, the Habits still had over 10 more miles to sail to reach the marina in Nanny Cay.   Running on adrenalin, the Crew was wide-awake in the cockpit and we felt humbled in knowing that we had made this journey safely to our destination.  The Captain thanked the crew for their help and we thanked him for getting us to this point safely.  We also remembered and acknowledged our family and friends who held us in their thoughts and prayers over the past week while we made this sojourn.

We slipped by the eastern point of Beef Island and could see Virgin Gorda in the distance.  To her west we could make out the lights of Spanish Town shining in the night.  Then the Habits entered the Sir Frances Drake Channel – the body of water that is the main channel flowing between the islands of the BVI – and we headed the sailboat to the towards western Tortola.

The winds in the Channel were very light and so the sail to Nanny Cay was quite slow.   At this hour, other than the Habits coursing the waters, there was hardly any activity in the channel.  It was serenely quiet.  Standing on the deck and looking back to the west, I could see a sliver of moon appeared as large yellow cup over the horizon.  Off our portside we could clearly make out Road Town, the capitol of Tortola.

The physical and emotional toll of this last and long day now descended upon us and we realized just how tired we all were.  All of us were ready to reach the marina and get some well-deserved rest.   As the Captain sailed the Habits on a course to the cut at Nanny Cay, the masts of the sailboats in the marina came into view.  Our Captain hailed the Harbor Master and we were given our slip number.  Then, Captain and Crew skillfully docked our sailboat stern to aft.  At last the Habits of Health was safely in harbor.  We had completed our journey.

Postscript

As I write this it is a bright morning in Nanny Cay.   The weather is a comfortable with temperatures in the low 80’s.   There are hundreds of boats docked in this picturesque harbor and the place is alive with activity.  The white beaches, blue skies, white clouds, and the turquoise color of the water make this the quintessential Caribbean harbor.  There are palm trees swaying in the breezes of the Trade Winds, bogenvia in bloom, and tropical vegetation all around.

Today we casually strolled along the marina promenade down to an open-air café for breakfast and coffee.  It has been one of those mornings when one feels fully aware of being alive… sights, sounds, and fragrances all taken in with a different sense of perspective.  Soon we will be departing this place and go our separate ways back to our homes, families, and work.  Yet, those of us who participated in this Caribbean 1500 race will long remember this journey and the adventure we shared.

Thank you for participating with us.  I hope you enjoyed this this journal of our time together.

This is Crew Member, Dan Bell, signing off for the last time.

Crew comments

Additional Comments from Another Crewmember, Terri Miller

Comments from the crew:

First of I would like to thank Dan for his journaling.  This trip has been so incredible that there is no way that I could remember the whole amazing experience.  I look forward to reminiscing time and time again though his blog.  His journal was written for the ears and eyes of his sons 5th grade in class in Colorado to understand the science and experience of the sea and sailing.  Though it appears that all audiences have enjoyed it.

When Wayne and Lori asked if we would like to be part of the crew of the Carrib,1500 the answer immediately was “YES!!!”  Saying “no thank you” would have been like saying “No” to life.  Dr. A, Lori and Dan (The Trio) have already taken us mentally and physically to many places that we have never been and we suspected that this experience would be no different.  We tried to imagine what it would like to be sailing 7-10 days in the open sea… let me just say… we were wayyyy offf!!!

OH MY GOODNESS, WOOOZA, OH MY!!!  What an adventure!!!!!!

I have often sat in amazement on how the Trio stays the course of Our Mission without growing weary.  I now see it is that they take “off time”.  They refresh their souls.  We have visited a little on business, a good amount on politics (as you would suspect)  though most of our conversation has been around movies (of course), stories of life experiences, playing cards, reading and dreams for the future and observing the beauty of what God created.

First of all I want to put your concerns to rest on the safety of this trip.

I feel as safe on this 54 ft. Habits of Health Sailing vessel out 600 miles from anything as I do anywhere.

Captain Wayne and first mate Lori were fully prepared.  Anything we might need sit in waiting in the tidy organized compartments.  Wayne’s mantra that we often hear, “leave nothing to chance”, and “inspect what you expect” is displayed well during this voyage. Even down to the sailing music on the Ipod. This reminds me of hearing Tim Rife saying from stage one time “how you do anything is how you do everything”.    If you personally know this Trio, then there should be no concerns.  All measures were taken for a safe, eventful experience!!

Just as in life, being prepared and excepting constant change is key.   The crew;  Captain Wayne is a master sailor, Lori, his First Mate by his side, Dan who has been on 4 of these races is ready for any possibilities, David, Swab, who has become quite helpful … and me… well lets just say my job is to stay out of the way and to assist to refuel and refresh the crew. 🙂

The “night of the 2 freighters” that Dan wrote about might have concerned you, though it was truly a display of amazing organization and team work.  It was like observing a well rehearsed play.  We all had our roles and all was executed quite nicely.

I thought I would share with you a day (or night) in the life on the Carrib 1500.  What is that prayer? “accept the things you can not change, change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference”…Well Captain Wayne knows how to have the Habits react to the ever changing weather that he can not change.  I have enjoyed observing and learning about sailing as he selects which sail is best for the wind condition that we are currently in.  When light winds prevailed the Captain was prepared with his “secret weapon sail” (Code Zero) to keep our speed over ground.  Every day/night is different, always with the plan of doing our best and reaching Tortola 1st.  Having a plan, observing the circumstances, adjusting and then staying the course toward the goal.

In closing, I want to thank the Trio for refreshing their soul…. Wayne shared with me once “that if he ceases to take us to places we have never been, then he ceases to be our leader”  well he and the rest of the crew have displayed an experience like no other…

We have 2 days left on this race and I am not sure how it will end up…I have my suspicions 🙂

We feel your prayers from home and we hope that you have had fun tracking the race.

Terri Swab