I’m Comin’ Home

I’m comin’ home,
Made up my mind that’s what I’m gonna do.
Can’t love nobody on the telephone,
I’m comin’ home to you

—Robert Earl Keen (added to hjsailing playlist)

Author’s Note: While I still have some hurdles to clear prior to my departure and our exact embarkation date is uncertain, once the curfew is lifted, things will move very quickly and I’ll have limited time for updates. Therefore, while I was charting out my homeward course for my own benefit, I documented the process here along with my thoughts on the routing for all of you. Enjoy!

What we hope to be doing in a week or so

I was talking to one of my harbormates Rachel the other day. We got to the subject of being so-close to having the 24×7 curfew lifted and being able start moving our boats, then—at the last minute—getting word the curfew was being extended. She likened it to a dog on a fixed leash in the yard. The dog sees a cat and takes off running, single-focused on the feline. Just as the dog is about to clear its yard, the leash and collar tighten, the dog is lifted into the air, yelps and crumples back to earth—dejected. While our situation is like the dog and the leash, I and my harbormates are anything but dejected.

Several years ago, I read the book Pollyanna by Elenor H. Porter. What got me started down the path of reading it was how often in business we would refer to a Pollyanna in a negative light: as someone who just can’t conceive of anything negative in the world. As I cracked open the relatively short book, I wasn’t expecting much—I just thought it would be a fun to understand Ms. Porter’s original intent. As I got into the book and finished it, I was blown-away and it’s become one of the most powerful books in my life. In the book, Pollyanna’s situation is much more nuanced than what we throw around in a business context. While I won’t spoil it for you, a key element of the story is that Pollyanna and her father (a preacher) play a game they call, “The Glad Game”. The basic rule of the game is that when anything bad happens to you, while you accept the bad as a realist, you also consciously think about something—anything—you can be glad about. Her family is desperately poor and when Christmastime comes they must dip into the church’s missionary barrel for gifts. Pollyanna has the last gift in the barrel and she is hoping against hope for a doll. She reaches in the barrel and pulls out a pair of crutches. While Pollyanna is initially crushed, on-the-spot and in an effort to save the day and save Christmas, her father creates The Glad Game. Together, they think and think about what they could possibly be glad about. Finally, they decide that Pollyanna can be glad that she doesn’t need the crutches and furthermore, she can give them away to someone who does need them. It’s such a simple but powerful way to live a life. I read the book a couple years before Colleen died and it helped me through the dark days after her death, and helps me to this day.

My Glad Game with the 7-day curfew extension was pretty easy. It’s given my time to savor my surroundings and my harbormates. While we are all still mindful of social distancing, none of us has been out of the bay in 14+ days and the only visitors have been sanctioned food delivery (with masks and gloves) and trash pickup. That allows us to relax and talk a bit more which is precious. If we had all blasted out of here this last Monday (4/20), I wouldn’t have had this time. While there is so much tragedy and anxiety in the world at the moment, it’s amazing how a being anchored in one place for a month, with so much time to be intentional, has changed my life.

It is what it is, so let’s find something to be glad about.

This morning, I spent several hours charting my course home. On the paper chart below, the dotted line starting in the lower-right and heading west-northwest and curving northward is my planned route to get home (don’t squint too much there’s a clearer view coming shortly). This represents 1,055 nautical miles of sailing (1,215 statute or land-based miles). Another interesting thing about this paper chart is that is also has my track from the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands on it (starting in the upper-left quadrant and arcing east then south).

My homeward course plotted on a paper chart, white indicates deep ocean >30 meters (100 feet), and blue is shallow, <30 meters

Given the trade winds are easterly (blow from east to west) and the Gulf Stream and its offshoots circle the North Atlantic clockwise, my route should be predominantly downwind and down-current which will make the sailing aspect a blast. As you can see from this chart, my sail to the Virgin Islands was the converse—upwind and up-current which made it a lot slower and at-times downright arduous. For reference I hope to make 100-140 nautical miles per day on my sailing home (sailing 24 hours per day). That’s about 9 days to get home.

You can also see in this chart how, prior to all the border closings, I hoped to island-hop my way home. Oh well, next time—playing the Glad Game, I have that to look forward to!

I’ve plotted 8 waypoints to help me navigate. If I had several crew onboard with me, I could deal with the waypoints after we got underway; however, as a singlehander (a.k.a., a creepy loner) it’s important to have as much prep work done prior to weighing anchor.

The picture below is of Hazel James’ navigation station as I was laying out my course. It’s important to have the course plotted both on paper and electronically for redundancy and to help uncover any waypoint errors. An erroneous waypoint followed blindly can be catastrophic.

HJ’s navigation station with paper charts on the desk and settee (couch), and GPS chartplotter in the upper-left
Close-up of the GPS chartplotter

The green circles on the chartplotter are my 8 waypoints. I overlaid the numbers on the picture for cross-reference in this blog post. The red “Xs” are other waypoints and the black track is my route from the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands.

In addition to the upwind versus downwind and up-current versus down-current aspects of my two passages, one thing you’ll probably notice is that while my trip south was open ocean, my trip north will be close to land masses. In many ways this gives the two passages diametrically opposite challenges. On the passage south, I saw very few ships and had plenty of “sea room”. That is, if I felt I’d be better off a hundred or so miles north or south of my intended course, I could go there. Also with my southbound sea room, if I ran into bad weather I could drift or get blown a long way without having to worry about running aground somewhere. However sea room brings the challenge that if I ran into serious problems, I was hundreds of miles from any land. Conversely on homeward passage, if I had serious problems I could duck into some harbor somewhere and would be offered shelter. With the pandemic though, I wouldn’t play that card lightly…especially with Cuba. Also, I won’t have near the sea room and will need to stick to my “rhumb lines” (lines between waypoints) carefully. Also, while the pandemic has shut down the cruise ship industry, the global supply chain and the freighters that support it is alive-and-well and I’ll be traveling routes with heavy shipping traffic.

Here’s a quick rundown of my waypoints and what I expect to encounter. The nautical miles listed (NM) are the distance from the previous waypoint. The numbers cross-reference to the above picture of my GPS electronic chart.

0. West End, Tortola, British Virgin Islands; 18° 23’ N, 62° 42’ W – The West End of Tortola is one of the few BVI immigrations points of entry and exit that are still open given the pandemic and it’s operating on reduced hours—9:00 AM to noon weekdays. After the curfew is lifted and I get permission to move Hazel, I’ll give it a few days for the initial shopping rush to die down and then sail 4-5 miles across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from Peter Island to Road Town on the island of Tortola. I’ll re-provision (food, water, diesel, propane) which will probably take me a full day and then make a short sail to West End and spend the night in that harbor. The next morning I’ll visit BVI immigration and checkout of the country…next port of call, Pompano Beach, Florida!

1. North of Cabo Viejo Frances, Dominican Republic; 310 NM; 20° 00’ N, 70° 00’ W – This is the longest leg and it’s important to hit this waypoint pretty close. Just north of the waypoint is the Navidad Bank and Silver Bank (seen clearly on the paper chart, north and east of the Dominican Republic). While we tend to think of the earth as either land or ocean with a very small interstitial space where the two meet, in reality there are many places where the ocean floor rises up to nearly meet surface of the ocean (or just break the surface). These “seamounts” (submarine mountains) are very dangerous with breaking seas and the possibility of a hard grounding of your boat in the middle of nowhere (not good).

2. South of Great Inagua Island, Bahamas; 195 NM; 20° 35’ N, 73° 25’ W – This waypoint is between Great Inagua island, and the Windward Passage that separates Hati and Cuba. This area is very well written about in the book “Into the Storm” by Tristram Korten. The book chronicles two ships caught in the 2015 Hurricane Joaquin. It delves into the contrasting decisions of the two captains and the outcomes of those decisions. One of the ships attempts to transit the Windward Passage and the U.S. Coast Guard station on Great Inagua island factors heavily into the crew’s rescue. If you’re a fan of Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger-style adventure writing and, from this blog, intrigued with the sea and this part of the world, I think you’d really enjoy the book. To my Coast Guard friends, Semper Paratus (Always Ready) and thank you for what you do.

3. Old Bahama Channel (OBC) East; 235 NM; 22° 05’ N, 77° 20’ W – The Old Bahama Channel is approximately 100 miles long but only 15 miles wide and separates Cuba and the Great Bahama Bank. On the paper chart you can see the thin strip of white between Cuba and the Great Bahama Bank. As you might imagine there is a large amount of freighter traffic concentrated in the channel. So much so that like a road, westbound ships are to keep to the north of the channel and eastbound ships to the south. This is my entrance waypoint to the Old Bahama Channel and, given the tight maneuvering and shipping traffic, I’m going to do my best to hit this waypoint an hour or so before sunrise. That will give me daylight hours to transit the channel. To do that, when I’m about 100 NM out from this waypoint, I’ll adjust Hazel’s speed to arrive at the Old Bahama Channel entrance shortly before sunrise.

4. OBC Midpoint; 45 NM; 22° 36’ N, 77° 54’ W – The Old Bahama Channel is not totally straight, in the middle it arcs slightly to the north. This waypoint at the midpoint of the channel will help me track to that arc.

5. OBC West; 50 NM; 22° 50’ N, 78° 45’ W – I’ll breath a sigh of relief when I exit the Old Bahama Channel!

6. Santaren Channel; 60 NM; 23° 40’ N, 79° 20’ W – The Santaren Channel separates the Cay Sal Bank to the west and the Great Bahama Bank to the east. The Cay Sal Bank is an example of a massive seamount and is one of the largest atolls in the world. It’s also nothing to be trifled with. In addition to the entire area being shallow, there are 96 uninhabited islets above the water’s surface. While we think of atolls in the exotic South Pacific, it’s neat to think of one straight out from the Upper Florida Keys. Note to self…where there are islets named Deadman Cays, Muertos Cays and Dangerous Shoals, you probably want to give them a wide berth. Also, since I will have entered the Old Bahama Channel in the morning, I should exit the channel at night and likely pass the Cay Sal Bank at night. I’ll have plenty of sea room at this point, just need to keep an eye on my position and not get too far west.

7. East of Fowey Rocks; 120 NM; 25° 35’ N, 79° 51’ W – Previously in the passage I will have been helped by mild, 1-2 knot currents that are offshoots of the mighty Gulf Stream. As I get close to Fowey Rocks, I’ll enter the Gulf Stream and its currents will boost my speed over ground by 2.5-4.5 knots. The current is so fast that I’ll need to keep a close eye on the weather. A strong wind from the north, blowing against a current flowing to the north can create short and choppy, and sometimes dangerous seas. About this time the US mainland will hove into view for me, it will be fun to call out “Land Ho!” and also be in familiar waters for the first time in 3 months.

8. Hillsboro Inlet; 40 NM; 26° 15’, 80° 04’ W – Hillsboro Inlet is Hazel James’ hailing port (the port painted on her hull under her name and on her Certificate of Documentation registration). It’s our usual entrance into the North Atlantic Ocean for day sails. The beautiful Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse stands guard at the inlet. From there, it’s two draw bridges and a couple miles of steaming under Ox’s power to my backyard, where I departed January 18.

As my friend Jessica commented and I recently blogged about, it’s a neat aspect to think that I departed from my backyard and—with fair winds and following seas, and a lot of preparation and a little luck—I will conclude this voyage in my backyard.

Hillsboro Inlet, Hazel James’ hailing port (note from previous blog post “Runaround Hazel”, the self-steering gear “Otto” is hanging off her transom)
Picture of the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse from a couple years ago (my paddleboard in the foreground)

Finally, to help with the visual, I’ll be doing a lot of downwind sailing and hope to fly my asymmetrical spinnaker for a good portion of the voyage. Below are some shots of it pulling us along on our passage south.

Fair winds and following seas. I hope to be able to make some quick posts prior to my departure. Once I’m home I’ll compare and contrast what I expected on the passage versus what I got.

15 thoughts on “I’m Comin’ Home

  1. Dan, Good luck and godspeed getting home!

    An adendum to your Eleanor Porter/Polyanna post: In 1868, Eleanor Porter was born in Littleton, NH (where you visited more than a few times growing up and where Brandon and his fiance are now sequestered, trying to avoid the coronavirus). There’s a statue honoring Eleanor Porter in front of the Littleton Library. We’ve always thought that it was entirely fitting that your ceaselessly optimistic aunt (and my mom) spent so much of her life in Littleton!

    1. Daniel: Oh wow, that’s fascinating. As I listened to the audio book, I wondered where it took place and it seemed like a NH/VT type town. Yes, Aunt Martha played a lot of The Glad Game in her day. Best to Brandon and fiancée.

  2. Well looks like you’ve charted a good course. First and third legs are pretty good pulls, have fun with them and the others as well. I’m sure they all will have their own special moments…

    As Del Gue said “Keep your nose in the wind and your eyes along the skyline”.

    1. Burt: Glad you got something from it. I should have said in the post I actually listened to the Audible recording of the book Pollyanna. If you have regular drive time it’s worth the time to listen (or read).

  3. Wow, that sure sounds like a high workload trip. Best wishes for an exciting and inspiring trip home Dan. Concluding the voyage in your own backyard will be an amazing achievement.

  4. Fascinating Dan. I love to see the details of the plan behind the plan. “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small” (Sun Tzu). Have a safe and enjoyable trip home!

    1. Jeff, love the quote and yes I’m going through Hazel’s systems today making sure everything restarts properly after being laid-up for a month.

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