ARC Bahamas Journal
The following is part 1 of a five part series written by Rick Pryor, one of our crew members from the ARC Bahama, many thanks to Rick.
ARC Bahamas 2014 (Annapolis MD to Portsmouth VA to Marsh Harbor Bahamas)
Wednesday October 29 – Sunday November 9, 2014
Where do I start?! When I first saw that JWorld Annapolis announced they would be participating in the ARC Caribbean/Bahamas I thought…wow a race from Portsmouth Virginia to the Bahamas sounded cool, but I really didn’t give it serious consideration. My family had just enjoyed a wonderful BVI charter in July and I figured the timing wasn’t quite right for a selfish blue water bucket list adventure for myself. Over the next several weeks I continued to daydream about what it would be like to really sail non-stop for days on end on the deep blue sea, especially with a crew I knew very little about! By the way the ARC – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers is professionally coordinated by the World Cruising Club, they offer ARC’s all around the globe including a 26000 NM circumnavigation if you have some spare time! check them out at www.worldcruising.com
My wife was very supportive during my decision making process, honestly she only provided pro’s and withheld most con’s that would make me balk at this crazy idea. I thank her for being positive and helping me make the right decision. After much soul searching, trading emails with JWorld Director Jeff Jordan, not to mention a couple visits to the JWorld docks to curiously check out the boat that would potentially be my home for 12 days, I actually convinced myself to join the unfamiliar crew on S/V Euro Trash Girl (ETG). By the way, ETG is a racing J120, at 40 feet in length she’s set up for racing with a few items that sort of resembled things I’ve seen on “charter boats”, she would require quite a bit of TLC before she could comfortably carry 8 crew members 850 miles. JWorld accomplished so much in just a matter of weeks, they worked on everything from electronics, engine maintenance, new running rigging, install new compass, install a dodger, sail repair, install rings for our safety tethers and perhaps the most appreciated item of all was the installation of a new holding tank and lines to give us a nice fresh start!!
JWorld packaged this ARC Bahamas experience as basically a multi-part offshore sailing course. Prior to our departure most of the crew met on 3 separate weekends to attend courses specific to ocean preparedness and the ARC. We attended courses in coastal navigation, coastal/offshore passage making, water safety and of course we enjoyed sailing Euro Trash Girl on the Chesapeake Bay. During an Ocean Preparedness Seminar we listened intently to a seasoned offshore veteran describe what our environment would likely resemble during the passage, he used the term “Expedition Behavior”, basically camping on the water. Every topic was covered, including safety check lists, maintaining log books, tool inventory, what gear was mandatory, what gear would be a luxury, how/when to hydrate, how and when to eat, water conservation, hygiene and the value of baby wipes and not to mention the benefits of sitting when men go #1.
In addition to learning in a classroom environment we enjoyed great hands on practical training as well, most notably the 8 hour water safety training provided by former Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Mario Vittone, by the way he is “the real deal”. He has 200+ water rescues under his belt which I believe is some kind of a record for the U.S. Coast Guard. Mario discussed everything from PFD’s, PLB’s, Communication options, when and how to call for help if needed, when and how to deploy a life raft, how to personalize the contents of your life raft before it’s packaged at the manufacturer, what to keep in your ditch bag and many more helpful and valuable tips. He demonstrated how to deploy 2 different rafts, a Viking and a Zodiak then we carried the Zodiak out into the water so folks could experience first hand how to climb into a raft from the water. Mario is a no BS type of presenter with a great teaching style and if you ever get the chance to attend his seminars do so! I think the most memorable comment from him was that he rarely rescued people who were prepared. He also said many times….DON’T go into the water if you can help it, stay on the boat! Another thing that he mentioned that doesn’t pertain to me, but it may apply to my crew some day, even if you’re just going out for a day sail make sure that any necessary daily medications are with the person who needs them. We have all read about people getting stranded, perhaps on a boat for longer than they had “planned” for, what if they were without their essential meds?! As I write this I can’t help but think about the folks in Buffalo that are held hostage in their own home by the 6-7 feet of snow that was just dumped on them! When the shit hits the fan it will likely be when you least expect it, it happened to us on this passage and we were prepared and I’m thankful for that!
As I reflect on the trip, I realize these weekends of preparation were not just about fine tuning our sailing skills and getting familiar with Euro Trash Girl, it was about building a team. The 2 captains and 6 crew members were from various backgrounds and ranged from relatively new sailors to seasoned salty dogs. To me it was the perfect mix and everyone contributed to the team and I for one learned a great deal. Here is what our crew looked like in Annapolis, we were short our Canadian crew member who would join us in Portsmouth and unfortunately one of the crew in this photo did not continue beyond Portsmouth.
I woke up early the day of our departure with many random thoughts racing through my head….do I have my Passport? Glasses? Cash? Phone? What’s today’s weather forecast? Charging cables? Cameras? Gloves? How many wool socks?? Do I have enough underwear??? I was bouncing around the house like a squirrel trying to find a nut. I scanned every countertop and looked in every drawer thinking “there must be something here that I just can’t live without for 12 days!” I had built in redundancy in my gear for the “what if’s”, but really….10 pairs of wool socks for a 12 day trip?, half the days would be warm! Spare light weight rain suit? I had coastal foulies! 3 mini mag lights and a headlamp? VALUE PACK of 30 AA batteries?? Running shoes…..I’M ON A BOAT!! Big can of shaving cream…REALLY! Did I mention that crew members received explicit instructions to limit ourselves to one large dry bag? Ha! I stretched it a bit by adding a medium sized OverBoard backpack for my…..good stuff! Seriously, I think the packing process might have been the most challenging part of this whole trip! I had to keep in mind that the temperatures could range from 25 to 85, a large storm with high winds and rain would meet us in Portsmouth and all I could think about was once things got wet on the boat they would probably be useless for the rest of the trip. It took a while but I finally saw the light and began to thoughtfully pack my one and a half bags with just enough stuff to keep me warm, dry and comfortable.
My wife and springer spaniel were nice enough to drive me over to Annapolis in the morning to meet up with the crew. Would you believe after all that packing nonsense that I actually forgot my favorite sunglasses and I left my HH windbreaker in the house Ffff%&&^%dge!! We were half way to the marina and I’m cursing myself when my wife said she would overnight the stuff to my Portsmouth hotel, she’s awesome! When we arrived at the JWorld docks there were a lot of last minute details to take care of, we received our new (PLB) Personal Locator Beacon from ACR-ResQLink+ which JWorld registered for us and a nice mail in rebate was completed. After Mario’s water safety course I decided why wouldn’t I want this great technology strapped to my life vest for less than $200? We were issued new Deckvest 5D Hammar PFD’s with double Spinlock tether. Each crew member completed a medical form that listed all known medical issues, allergies and med’s, I sealed this up in an envelope with my name on it and put them in the Nav station, it’s all about the “what if’s” and preparing for it! JWorld surprised us with new HH crew jackets complete with the Euro Trash Girl logo and a nice red team polo, we would be styling when we check in at Portsmouth! Bonus… my wife would not have to overnight the jacket I left at home!
I would soon look at my wife and say well it’s that time…..I walked her and the puppy back to her truck and gave her a big hug and a kiss declaring we would miss each other. Realizing it would be 12 days until we saw each other again I’ll admit some tears were fought back. We are often apart for a few days for work, however 12 days is well…12 days! Standing still in the gravel parking lot it felt like summer camp all over again, all that was missing was my butterfly net! Wearing my snazzy new team jacket and life vest with two dry bags over my shoulders I watched her put the truck in gear. With an outstretched hand and a grin I waved goodbye, fortunate to catch a glimpse of her waving back at me in the side view mirror before she made her turn…sniffle.
OK, all of our gear is stowed now let’s get this show on the road…uh.. on the bay! Last second head count, 7 crew? check! any lines in the water? negative!…fire up the diesel Aye Captain! Do we see exhaust water? Roger! We had become a well oiled machine!! The staff at JWorld is awesome and several came out to help us off the dock and bid us farewell, especially JWorld’s other Director Kristen Berry who would greet us in the Bahamas and Carole Jordan who coordinated a large portion of this trip, THANKS GUYS!. Farewell Annapolis!
I have spent a lot of time on the Chesapeake Bay, however I have not ventured very far from Annapolis. This was a big part of the adventure for me. As you probably know this is a very busy body of water. We were soon under full sail enjoying an average speed of 7 knots as we navigated the bay. We spent most of the afternoon organizing our gear and discovering where all of the provisions had been stored. Each of us spent time studying the AIS system which is priceless in a busy shipping channel. We soon broke into our watch groups and tried to program our minds and bodies for the long journey ahead. The first 1400-2000 hour shift was my down time and I’ll admit I didn’t sleep a wink. I think I might have stretched out in my bunk for an hour or so with the sun still up, but I was too excited to sleep.
It was decided that the oncoming watch would always be greeted with hot water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate and the off watch crew would prepare meals. This system worked well. At 2000 hours we assumed our watch with coffee in hand and I was amazed at the amount of ship and pleasure craft activity on the bay. We would all need to learn how to move about quietly to not disturb the resting crew that were in their midship bunks. We learned quickly that the person assigned to the watch would have to be very vigilant, ships that were several miles away on AIS would quickly be upon us. All in all the overnight trip down the bay was uneventful and I actually did benefit from a couple hours of sleep along the way.
Euro Trash Girl quickly got us to the mouth of the bay just outside of Norfolk at daybreak. What a beautiful sunrise. We would see our first dolphins and a large sea turtle this morning. As we approached the restricted military waters of Norfolk we dropped our sails and proceeded to motor the rest of the way into Portsmouth Virginia. Seeing our extensive Navy presence in these waters was impressive to say the least!!
My Watch Captain Tony just retired as a Chief Navigation Officer in the Navy after 32 years, his experience and knowledge is very impressive. Tony still teaches sailing at the Naval Academy and I was fortunate to spend our watches together. It would take almost 2 hours to motor from the mouth of the bay to our marina in Portsmouth. Once at Portsmouth we hailed the ARC officials and they assigned us to our slip. This is Euro Trash Girl making it’s turn into the marina courtesy of the ARC staff!
Once safely on the docks we were met by an ARC official who would conduct our safety check out. This is a mandatory safety check and it is thorough and it is a good thing! I really didn’t want to leave the boat, but we planned to be in port for 2 nights so we gathered our gear and walked to our hotel.
Part 2 previews…..Tropical storm conditions REALLY? How to pass the time? Making the decision to cross the start line with spinnaker, “this could be epic or a shit show”?? sea sickness, medical emergency 150+ miles off shore and the Coast Guard…., kites, fish, I’m not alone…what the hell was that?! and gourmet food!