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Sailing Karuna

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

Karuna Journal: October-November 2021

Note: After returning to Vermont for the fall, we found an opportunity to crew on a friend's boat that was sailing from Newport, RI, to Florida. The following is a journal of observations from that experience, a journey of 13 days and 1200 nautical miles.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021:

44° 28’ N

72° 39’ W

0700: Our friend and captain of Karuna, Steve, picks us up at Pucker Street. We drive down to Somerset, MA, where the sailboat awaits after a summer-long refit.

1115: We arrive at the Bristol Boat Yard. The weather is poor: Fifty degrees, raining sideways, blowing 30-35 knots out of the east. Karuna is tight on the dock, held fast while the wind pushes her against her lines.

We spent time loading our gear into the boat, sliding down the rain-swept dock. Once inside the well-protected boat, we met Skip, Steve’s friend who will be sailing with us. Both Steve and Skip have over 40 years of sailing experience, and know most of what there is to know about boats, the weather, and sailing.

We busied ourselves with some last minute preparations, and figuring out what we needed to get under way, which we planned for the next day.

1530: We headed out to Stop&Shop for some fresh food provisioning: fruit and vegetables, fizzy water, and snacks: pretzels and chips. All that we could need. We returned to the boat and unloaded and unpacked, then enjoyed a drink.

1800: We headed out again to go out to dinner. The first restaurant we tried was closed, so we found a Mexican restaurant and had a nice meal there. After returning back to the boat, we all turned in at 2100.

Thursday, October 28, 2021:

41° 45’ N

71° 07’ W

Departure day.

0700: Chlorinated coffee for breakfast. Steve had bleached the water tanks in an effort to keep them bacteria-free, but the water still retained some lingering bleachiness. So we made more coffee with bottled water, a vast improvement.

0830: We left the boatyard to go pick up Skip and head to West Marine. We didn’t find what we were looking for at West, but we stopped at Cindy’s Breakfast place for omelets, and by 1100 we were back on the boat.

1100: Boat work in preparation for leaving: sealing the base of the mast, installing the main sail, checking the engine and all the systems.

1400: We depart. For three hours, we sail down the Taunton River, through Mt. Hope Bay, and into Narraganset Bay, under power. We flew the head sail for a while, and at times made over 9 knots. There was plenty to look at as we sailed, including the U.S. Navy war college. We sailed under a draw bridge that opened for us, stopping traffic. We arrived in Newport at 1700, and tied up at the Newport Center Yacht Club, which is right off the center of the city.

1900: We walked over to Benjamin’s, a great, real local place, for dinner.

2100: Back on board and tucked in for a good night.

Friday, October 29, 2021:

41° 29’ N

71° 29’ W

0645: Up and making coffee. Turned all burners on for heat. Weather was calm, mostly cloudy, temperature 50.

0730: After coffee, up on deck. Mike from the Bristol Boat Yard showed up to work on the horn. He went up the mizzen mast. He was able to activate the horn by blowing through it, but could not get it to function with the switch and compressor. Finally he decided that there must be residual water in it, and he sprayed it with WD-40 in hopes of drying it out.

0815: Skip arrived onboard and we took on fuel. As soon as we finished we were under way.

0850: Depart Newport Harbor. Mostly cloudy with a few sunny breaks. Motored out of Narragansett Bay, with Westbrook, CT as a potential overnight destination. Once out near Point Judith the seas rolled a little. Steve deployed the centerboard.

1300: A nice sail, with the mizzen and headsail deployed, making 8-9 knots. We decide against Westbrook, and instead make for Stonington. This will mean a longer sail the next day, but Pilot’s Point Marina could only guarantee a slip for one night, and if the weather blew up, Steve wanted the option to stay a second night.

1430: After readying to enter Stonington Harbor, Steve discovered that the prop angle was stuck at 90—not good. It needs to be around 11 or the engine stalls. We entered the harbor and anchored while the problem was diagnosed. Turns out it tripped the breaker, so we reset it and made it to the dock.

1530: After docking, we strolled around the village, which is lovely and quaint. Then we met up with one of Steve’s friends on the Lark, another 63-foot sailboat, but much newer. The host had an array of whiskies ready for us, as well as tuna tartar and shrimp risotto. We enjoyed the hospitality, good food and good drink.

Saturday, October 30, 2021:

41° 29’ N

71° 54’ W

0700: Up for coffee and weather consultations. Rain was off and on, and winds were about 20 knots out of the ESE. We decide to sail for Port Jefferson, then NYC tomorrow.

0910: Depart Stonington with a good following breeze. Made a good run early, past Fisher’s Island, out into the Sound. Intermittent rain showers.

1100: Steve and Skip decide we should try to sail beyond Port Jefferson tonight and get as close to NYC as possible, so that we can enter the East River tomorrow by 1000 to time the current. That means sailing through dinner until about a 2100 arrival at Manhasset.

1300: Winds are up near 20 knots, and seas are 4 to 6 six feet, but following. Rain squalls are lashing our progress, but we are ripping along under all three sails at 9 to 10 knots. We encounter a ferry heading to NY and after it crosses our path it jogs to the right in a strange pattern. There are few other vessels around.

1500: The wind has died off and the rain has mostly passed us, leaving us with a gorgeous rainbow. But the engines have started and we continue through the Sound at 7 knots.

1730: Crew dinner: Beef stew, under way. Steve eats on deck to maintain the watch.

1900: Nightfall. Sailing through the dark, but the low cloud ceiling means that the lights of the city are reflected, giving the appearance of more light.

2100: We make for Manhasset Bay, rounding the entrance and sailing south into the protected cove. The rain begins again, and we are encouraged to set the anchor, which we do after determining the anchoring field.

2200: A drink to celebrate a long sail. Slainte!

Sunday, October 31, 2021:

40° 49’ N

73° 41’ W

By 0845 we were up and holding steaming coffee mugs and motoring out of Manhasset Bay into the East River. We were overwhelmed quickly with things to look at as we sailed: the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, SUNY Maritime, Riker’s Island, Roosevelt Island, the Upper East Side, FDR expressway, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the famous skyline of NYC, including the Chrysler building, the U.N., Pete Madden’s apartment building, and the Freedom Tower. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives.

We were spat out in front of the Statue of Liberty, then we raised the sails and headed out under the Verrazano Bridge. The rest of the day was spent sailing down the Jersey shore. The plan is to sail on a 24-hour schedule until we reach Beaufort, NC, so we are all on a 2-hour watch schedule: Chantal is 1200, 2000, and 0400; I am 1400, 2200, and 0600, Skip is 1600, 0000, and 0800; and Steve is 1800, 0200, and 1000.

1930: Dinner was chicken curry over rice. I’m feeling a little gnarly after dinner, so I don’t push it. I crash in the salon and wait for my turn on watch.

2130: I’m up and ready for watch. Chantal is ready to be off watch. She briefs me about the conditions, which are—as the French say—sportif. That means steady true winds over 20 knots, with apparent wind gusts up to 30 knots. Up on deck I can see the lights of Atlantic City, clear and close, and the refrain from Springsteen’s song of the same name comes to me:

Put your makeup on

Fix your hair up pretty

And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.

The watch is uneventful, except for the winds. We rip along at 9 knots. When Skip comes up to relieve me, he eases the sails, which were already reefed. The ride smooths out, and I go to bed using the lee sheet to hold me in the bunk. I’m worried that it might be too awkward, but I’m asleep quickly.

Monday, November 1, 2021:

39° 09’ N

74° 12’ W

0530: I’m up from my sleep and feeling pretty good, despite the dreaming activity. I’ve had seven hours of sleep in the last 12 hours, which is good for me. Chantal is ready to come off watch, and she said she did not sleep that well before she came on watch. She heads to the stateroom, where she gets a good 1.5 hours while I’m on watch.

The sky is lightening toward nautical twilight, and I’m watching a big channel buoy on the chart plotter. We are dead-on to it, but I wait until we approach closer to make a decision about changing course. We end up keeping well off it, and as the light comes up, something weird happens.

I switch the charp lotter screen from night mode to day mode, and while doing so I notice that the autopilot has gone from 210 to 160. I tap the screen a few times to turn it back on course, but it runs past the heading, up to 340. The sails luff in anger, and the boom rattles, threatening an accidental jibe. Steve is rousted from sleep and comes on deck. The boat is spinning around, so I take the mainsheet and haul it in to prevent an accidental jibe. Steve fiddles with the autopilot and the boat gets back on course. I ease the mainsheet once we are back, and the boat runs up to 8 knots again.

0730: Chantal is up now, wondering what’s going on, and she fires up the coffee. While she and I and Steve are on deck, we spot a dolphin off our port quarter. Not much later, the humpbacks make an appearance, blowing and showing us their flukes. A little later they are on the opposite side of the boat, this time close enough for us to hear them burping.

The weather is warmer, with more on the way.

1400: During my watch we were visited by a small songbird, perhaps a goldfinch. It does not belong out here, and it looked distressed. Perhaps it can stay with us through the night and spring to land in the morning when we get closer. Right now we are so far off short that we are out of cell coverage, so no internet.

1600: After finishing my afternoon watch, I came down to read because I was cold on deck. The promised warmer weather never materialized, and we are in for a chilly night before we reach Cape Hatteras in the morning. Winds died down, and we are motor sailing for the first time since we left New York harbor.

1800: Dinner tonight was chili served over cheesy polenta. The captain authorized a beer with dinner, gratefully accepted.

This is a good time to talk about food on board during passage. When in port, at a marina, we usually take advantage of the local community to dine out—nothing extravagant, but there are usually a couple of good-value dining options near marinas.

On board there is always a communal dinner, which is tradition. It offers an opportunity to share a meal in convivial, relaxed setting. It also offers the skipper the chance to communicate higher-order information: decisions about the passage, etc.

Mornings, despite the watch schedule, mean coffee and usually fruit for early—or “first”—breakfast. Everybody is up by 0800, consulting weather plans, thinking and discussing the day ahead. By mid-morning, it’s time for second breakfast, and this is usually catch-as-catch-can: yogurt and granola, toast, more fruit, whatever it takes. Lunch is variable. Some like sandwiches, some like last night’s dinner leftovers, some need nothing except a pretzel or piece of fruit. Late afternoon usually means tea, with a snack, before dinner prep begins.

If it sounds like we eat a lot, that’s because sailing burns many calories. While a majority of our time is spent lounging, reading, bullshitting, storytelling, that time is undercoated by a constant state of readiness and adjustment. That heightened state of consciousness amps up the calorie-burning, requiring more food. Or at least that’s the justification.

While on passage, my watch schedule has dictated my sleeping schedule. After dinner, I usually read for an hour, then sleep for an hour or so before my 2200 watch. After that watch, I go to bed and get 5 good hours of sleep, before my 0600 watch. Then, usually late morning, I have one more 1-hour nap. That’s usually enough to get me by.

2200: A quiet watch tonight. We are passing Cape Hatteras, NC, and there are now more sailboats traveling with us—and by that I mean that they are visible on the AIS. With the binoculars I can make them out as arrangements of lights: mast light, running lights, stern light.

But the big development is that we have a cell signal for the first time in 24 hours, so I am able to process my email and upload a couple of photos. We have been in a black hole, too far offshore, for over 24 hours. As long as this doesn’t last too long, I will be able to manage my classes. There were no student emails, which is good, but I will need to put some dedicated time into both classes soon. It looks like later this afternoon or this evening we should be back withing hailing distance of the coast.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021:

35° 07’ N

75° 31’ W

0600: After a dream-filled sleep I’m back on watch, relieving Chantal. We’ve rounded Hatteras and are motoring along at 7.5 knots. The breeze has shifted to the southeast at under 10 knots, thus we run under bare poles. The moon is but a sliver, a fingernail set against a black dish, and the sun chases it from the sky.

0700: While fiddling with the chart plotter, I hear a splash. On the starboard side, there is a flash of gray and the spray of water and a fin: dolphins! First one, then another, then a pod of them, darting in and out of the bow wave, surfing the waves rising beside us. The older, larger dolphins are spotted. I see them rotating their bodies so that they can get a look at me watching them. The younger pups are sleek and unmottled. They burst from the waves, slapping their tales before plunging down and away. They stay with us through the end of the morning.

1000: After first breakfast, we break out the fishing rod, and rig it with a cedar plug. After only a couple of minutes in the water, I get a hit, and reel in a small tuna. We decide to release it, in hopes of finding bigger game, but after almost an hour I give up and come in for a late morning nap.

Skip keeps the line out, and we get a hit. He reels in a small bluefin tuna, and carves off four good loins for dinner.

1400: Afternoon watch. A sunny day, but cooling down from the warm morning. We watch as dozens of sport fishing boats return from fishing the Gulf Stream. Steve makes contact with the sailing vessel Vanishing Point and finds they know a lot of the same people. The dolphins return for an afternoon visit. It’s a big pod, and they aren’t shy about showing off for us.

1800: We dine on deck under mild skies, and a gorgeous sunset, the sun a cliched orange ball of fire. Skip prepares the tuna loins crusted in sesame and seared to barely medium rare, served with a wild rice on the side and a big salad. This was eaten while the sun set behind us.

1930: After dinner and reading, I toddle off to nap before my watch.

2200: Watch begins uneventfully, with light winds, mild temps, the engine humming, bare poles, and 7.5 knots of headway.

2300: The wind abruptly changed at 2300, picking up instantly to 27-28 knots and gusting to 31. Suddenly we were tossing and rolling, the wind ripping through the rigging, howling and singing. I clenched the rails until Skip relieved me. Steve got up, too, and they raised the jib, with a reef in it, and turned off the engine.

When I got to bed, the rocking and rolling of the boat kept me from nodding off, and Chantal was awakened by the roll. She moved from the bed to the settee in the salon, and I was eventually able to drift off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021:

33° 17’ N

79° 02’ W

0600: I take over the watch for Chantal, and the wind is still blowing 30. Seas are building to 10 feet and rocking the boat in a swivel. Sunrise reveals scores of mountainous seas following us, pushing us as they wish.

0800: Chantal sleeps in while Skip and Steve and I have coffee. No decision about what our next port will be—Charleston, St. Mary’s, or all the way to St. Augustine. I offer that it would be nice to be close enough to land to get a cell signal. Work is piling up for me. Steve concurs, saying, “We can make the decision around noon, either way.”

1000: Chantal is up after sleeping in a little, and she offers oatmeal. While she is preparing it, Skip mentions that he is going to do a walkaround inspection. This is no small feat given the winds and seas we are experiencing.

Chantal and I are down in the salon when we suddenly hear the engines fire up, and the headsail roll in. We exchange surprised glances—we have learned enough now to know that was unexpected. Something is going on.

Skip and Steve hustle down the companionway stairs in succession, moving quickly forward into the tool room. As they head back out, Skip says something about a headsail pin breaking, and they are quickly back out onto the fo’c’sle. We learn that the clevis pin that sits inside turnbuckle bracket has slipped out because–for reasons unknown—the bracket itself has bent under the force of the headsail. Had it not been detected and a temporary fix put on, the base of the genoa could have snapped free, ripping the hydraulic lines out, destroying the sail, and leaving us in a dangerous situation.

The decision has been made for us: We are heading to Charleston.

1700: We arrive at Charleston. We are unable to find a berth at a marina, so we dropped the hook across from Big Safe Harbor Marina. It is cocktail hour(s).

Thursday, November 4, 2021:

32° 46’ N

79° 57’ W

0730: After a good sleep on anchor, we hit the coffee and discuss the weather and the day’s activities.

0900: What happened today almost defies explanation. We sailed into port knowing that we had a real problem with the hardware that secured the foresail to the deck. It had been bent under the strains of 30-knot winds. But the pieces of hardware used on a 63-foot boat just aren’t available in any West Marine.

So Steve and Skip jumped into action, first calling the boatyard that did the work on Karuna, then calling people that they knew in the business. That led us to St. Bart’s Yacht Sales, here in the marina near where we are anchored. The manager there pointed us to a machine shop in North Charleston, and he offered us his car to get there. So we drove up there, and the machinist was able to manufacture the piece while we waited. Amazing.

After that, we headed into Charleston for a late lunch, then to Publix to reprovision, then back to the boat, where we installed the new rigging hardware and tightened everything down and we were good to go.

Friday, November 5, 2021:

32° 46’ N

79° 57’ W

0730: We woke with only a vague plan of what we wanted to do today. For us that meant going to the USS Yorktown for a tour & experience. I decided to take a shower, and when I turned on the water, nothing happened.

That led to a major project of troubleshooting, ripping floorboards up, pulling tubing out, replacing the water pump…but nothing. Finally, it was decided that there was problem with the port water tank, and that refilling the tank would solve the problem. Chantal and I left for the Yorktown, and Steve and Skip stayed to tinker with the water.

1100: We meandered around Charleston, on the way to the water taxi, admiring the architecture, which is colonial and reminiscent of places like Boston and Philadelphia. The city is charming and very walkable.

1300: We missed the water taxi at 1145 and had to wait for the 1245. We made it over to Patriot Place and walked around the Yorktown for several hours. The technology on board was truly remarkable, and the ship was a fascinating tour.

1645: We taxied back to the city, and met Steve and Skip at High Cotton for drinks and an early dinner. A long, wet walk back through the city got us back to the boat at 1930.

The weather has been unpleasant here. Tomorrow it is supposed to be worse.

Saturday, November 6, 2021:

32° 46’ N

79° 57’ W

The weather, as advertised, was much worse. We decided to go ashore at mid-morning but the dock was flooded on one side, and we had to dingy around to another side. The roads were flooded all over the city. We stopped at the convenience store to pick up some water, then went over to the liquor and wine store just to kill some time. None of us wanted to get back on the boat, so we decided to indulge ourselves with lunch at Salty Mike’s. By the time we made our way back to the marina, it was after 1400. We watched two movies all afternoon: The Princess Bride, and Moulin Rouge. Then drinks and dinner and bed.

Sunday, November 7, 2021:

32° 46’ N

79° 57’ W

0730: This morning we are up and ready to set sail. The weather is still gnarly, but should be improving, so the goal is to head out with the tide after 1000.

1230: After prepping the boat, we head out. It is a brisk and bumpy ride out of the channel, but once outside, 25-knot winds drive the genoa with one reef in it at 9 knots.

1400: I am back on watch. The sun is out, the wind is brisk, the seas are big at 5-10, and there are no other boats around.

1600: After trying to fill out the Grenada travel document needed for entry into the country, I discover that it will not submit because a previous record of our entry already exists. I discover that the previous entry must be deleted first, and for that I will need to call the hotline.

1800: Chantal prepared jambalaya for dinner, which we ate up on deck, quickly, before settling in to the night watches. Seas are still big and rolly. I stay up on deck until around 1930, as we approach Savannah. There are at least a dozen container ships standing off, waiting to enter the port, and it looks like an interesting passage through them, but I’m tired from the sea state, and I go down for a 2-hour nap.

2200: Watch is windy and the seas are still tossing. Steve is up a couple of times, adjusting the heading and tweaking the sails. When Skip comes up to relieve me, he helps with some of the sail adjustment.

Monday, November 8, 2021:

31° 09’ N

80° 30’ W

0600: When I get on watch, after a night of being tossed around the bunk, the seas are still huge. Steve is up again, and decides to gybe at about 0645, in hopes of improving the wind angle and the sea state. But the seas continue to build from behind, tossing everything in the boat that is not secured. Making coffee is a challenge, drinking it more so.

We are scheduled now to arrive in West Palm around noon tomorrow. The plan is for us to get on the train to the airport, and make our way to the hotel for the next day’s flight. We still need a negative PCR test before we can board the plane.

1000: I am able to call the Grenada travel office and get our accounts deleted. Then I am able to fill out and submit the forms online, with all the appropriate documents. I will probably need to call them back tomorrow and ask that they be expedited, however.

The seas are still incredibly rolly, and simply moving about it difficult.

1600: The seas may have begun to smooth out, but they are still rolling with gusto, tossing the boat, and making it hard to do things in a straight line. I’m hoping for some decent cell coverage as we near Daytona.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021:

27° 48’ N

80° 11’ W

0600: We are well tight to the Florida coast, and we are on track to arrive in West Palm at 1230. From there we will Uber over to the train station, and then at the Boca Raton station Cindy will meet us and drop off the envelope. Then on to the Miami airport, a PCR test, and then to the hotel. Somewhere in there we hope to get our travel approved by Grenada.

1300: Arrive in West Palm Beach. We make our way into the ICW and find our dock. High water has been a challenge here as well, but after some careful maneuvering, Karuna is secure. The sun is out and it is 83 degrees.

26° 45’ N

80° 02’ W

1506: We board the Tri-Rail for Miami.

1537: Cindy meets us on the Boca Raton platform and hands off the envelope with our French insurance information. Thirty seconds later, we are off.

1506: We arrive at Miami International Airport and begin hunting for the PCR test spot.

1800: We cough up something—not Covid; rather, $175 each for rapid PCR tests.

1920: We check in to the Ramada and set to work repacking our bags and washing salt-encrusted clothes.

2230: Collapse asleep.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021:

25° 47’ N

80° 17’ W

0800: Shuttle to the airport.

1045: Depart MIA.

1506 (AST):

12° 01’ N

61° 45’ W

Arrive Grenada, take another Covid test, make it through customs and immigration, then taxi to the quarantine location: Captain Harris Suites, Grande Anse, Grenada.

12° 00’ N

61° 43’ W

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Mireille Audiffren-Arnoux
Mireille Audiffren-Arnoux
Nov 12, 2021


Quelle aventure!


Nov 12, 2021

Shawn, this was a fascinating read. What an adventure!


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