Sunday, July 1, 2012


Our retreat from the Roanoke Bridge (see June 28 post) which at first seemed like a defeat has proven to be true serendipity.  Not only did the event result in our having a delightful time in South River with the Med Herd, our next two days (which would not have happened had we made that bridge) have been spectacular as well.

The weather report showed light wind Thursday building to 20 knots from the southwest on Friday, so we had a day to kill before starting our passage to the Norfolk, Virginia area in better sailing conditions.  We decided to sail to Cape Lookout for Thursday afternoon and evening.

This cape is a sandy button-hooked point of land along North Carolina's Outer Banks with a great little cove tucked in behind where we anchored for the night.  

After getting our anchor down we took the dinghy to the beach for a walk.

We found some seashells...

...and enjoyed the sunset behind some sand dunes...

We had read and heard about Cape Hatteras.  Feared by mariners for centuries for its attraction to bad weather; proximity to the two opposing currents; the mighty northbound Gulf Stream and the southbound Labrador current closer to shore; shifting Diamond Shoals that extend miles to sea; and, if that isn't enough, magnetic disturbances of up to 6 degrees (don't you just hate those?).  Over 600 wrecks on the outer banks in this area send a stark message, one we read loud and clear.

After a nervous night's sleep, we awoke Friday morning to 20 knots from the southwest and got underway. To clear the cape we  motorsailed due south with a reefed mainsail and the staysail, punching into a short steep chop and 27 knots apparent wind* for two hours until we were able to bear off to the north around the Cape Lookout shoals and then we were on our way.  We shook out the reef in the mainsail and rolled out the jib and it was "off to the races".  For the next 14 hours, sailing downwind in 26 knots true wind*, we had the sail of our lives, covering 154 miles in 14 hours, or an average of 11 knots.  Along the way, our earlier fretting about Cape Hatteras long gone, we enjoyed watching the knot meter and SOG (Speed over Ground derived from the GPS) reading out newer and newer record highs.  13.7 knots was the record highest speed we were able to witness.

What Mr. Brookes and Mr. Gatehouse say

What our eyes tell us
We were helped by the Gulf Stream which we could see was adding to our sailing speed, nothing at first, then a knot, then two.  But it was the surfing that brought us our peak speeds.  

Click to watch video

Click to watch video

After rounding Cape Hatteras by a very safe 17 mile margin, we jibed and sailed due North for Virginia.  Slowly the following seas we had enjoyed surfing so much dissipated while the wind held at 25 knots. We eventually found ourselves sailing 9 knots in smooth seas under a half moon and starlit sky.

John tried to sleep below but was still way too amped from the thrill of the day's sailing to nod off, so finally came on deck to take over and let Deb go below after midnight.  Discovering an overcast sky had concealed the moon and stars, then some distant lightning beyond our bow, John tuned the NOAA weather station on the VHF radio to hear an urgent weather notice advising of a wind front with 50-60 knot winds advancing at 35 knots across the Albemarle Sound.  The RADAR confirmed some dense rain about 20 miles ahead.

Between our 8-9 knots advance northward and the storm barreling south at 35 knots, we had to prepare quickly, so John woke Deb at 0200 to come on deck where we doused the jib and main.  Just as we finished the wind veered 180 degrees and grew to 30 knots gusting to 35 right on the bow.  The most we saw was 37.5 knots true (our 5 knots motoring into the wind made it 42.5 on deck) and before long, the wind let up and shifted NE, then East, SE and finally back to the southwest where it had been before the storm.  RADAR confirmed the center had passed about 10 miles to our East so we had dodged the worst of it.  The rest of the morning until dawn Moonshadow slamed straight into the short chop left over from the quick moving storm.  At 0600 we were close to the whistler buoy outside the entrance to the South Chesapeake where we checked our progress to find we had covered 226 miles in 24 hours for an average of 9.41 knots.  Ask anybody and they'll tell you anything over 200 miles a day is great sailing and that's a fact!

From the Sea Buoy, we still had to motor about 32 nautical miles to reach this osprey nest where Mr. Osprey pointed out Hampton Yacht Club is that-a-way.

Passage Trivia:

  • Rounding Cape Hatteras was our longest passage
  • 262 miles in 29.25 hours for an average 8.95 knots
  • Top speed 13.7 knots
  • Top wind 37.5 knots true, 42.5 knots apparent

Moonshadow Cruise Trivia:
  • 1553.25 nautical miles
  • 209.5 hours underway
  • 11% of our time has been underway
  • 7.41 knots average speed

*  True vs. Apparent wind:

"True wind" is the wind you measure standing on the surface of the earth without moving.  "Apparent wind" is the wind you measure on a moving boat.  Both the speed and direction of the true wind are altered when measured from a moving object.  The weatherman might tell you the wind is 15 knots but sailing at 7.5 knots upwind aboard Moonshadow, you will feel something over 20 knots and look for warmer clothes.  Then when we bear off to sail downwind, you'll shed those outer layers and complain of the heat because the apparent wind is down to 7 or 8 knots on deck.

Moonshadow's new Brookes and Gatehouse instruments measure the wind speed and direction from the masthead as well as the boat's speed and heading; then do all the trigonometry to convert those measurements into true wind speed and direction.


Anonymous said...

John and Deb,
This is amazing. I just found out about this and started reading and am just captivated by your narrative and photos. Please keep them coming often. I am living this adventure vicariously through you and still not done reading.
Jim P. (SDYC)

John and Deb Rogers said...


Thanks for the kind words. Glad you are enjoying our blog. We're having the time of our lives.

John and Deb

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