After putting “Nor’easter” to bed for the winter at Jamestown Boat Yard mid-September, Jamie and I returned to Sandusky to enjoy our home, which I hadn’t seen in two years. Fall in Northern Ohio can be delightful, and this year was no exception. I played golf and tennis almost every day, and Jamie and I took hikes, rode bikes, played pickle ball, and enjoyed the fall colors. However, after eighteen months cruising the world, being suddenly removed from the sea left me feeling a bit “adrift.”
Fortunately, when one of my yacht captain friends, Mark, had asked me months ago if I would like to crew on Swan 60 from Newport to Charleston, SC., a 700 mile jaunt, I left open the possibility. The plan came together late in September, after Mark had delivered his own boat, a Swan 42, from Newport to St. Augustine. The big boat is “Nai’a,” which is Hawaiian for “dolphin,” and it is owned by friends of ours we met while moored in Caneel Bay last spring. They generally do their own passages aboard, but since they needed to move their car south as well as the boat, Mark and I got recruited for the latter. Another professional “yachtie,” Ben, would be joining us. He had helped Mark bring the Swan 42 south just the week before.
With our weather window set to open on Election Day, I flew in from Cleveland November 2, connecting in Newark to fly to Providence. Unfortunately, upon approaching the final destination, 45 knot crosswinds forced us to abort two landing attempts, and we ended up at Logan in Boston. Weather had been wild all that week, but I was hopeful Monday’s blast of cold north wind was the last gasp before the nice weather ensued. Once safely on the ground at Logan, United told me to arrange my own transport to Providence, I caught a UBER to Newport, and moved aboard the luxurious “Nai’a.”
The next day remained blustery, and we considered waiting another day, but by 1400, winds had died down to 20 knots out of the northeast, we slipped our lines, bid farewell to the owners, and headed to sea. It was sunny, but cold, and the initial 20 NM close reach to clear Block Island, where we could turn downwind and head southwest, was bracing. We flew just the #3 furling jib, which kept us nicely moving over 8 knots. Since it was so cold, 45 degrees F, we opted for a 2 on, 4 off watch schedule. I took the 1800-2000 shift, and after putting on all the warm clothes I brought, wolfed down a bowl of tortellini with pesto Ben had prepared, and faced the elements. The pleasant, sunny day had become a dark, freezing night, with 32 knot winds and 9′ seas. My lack of sea legs, coupled with the quick work I made of the pasta, had me feeling the beginnings of seasickness, but dinner stayed down and I was fine by the time Ben took over. When my next watch rolled around, midnight to 0200, I was rested, warm, and happy to be at sea again. However, the wind had completely died, it was raining, the sail was furled and we were motoring, which was pretty much the drill for the rest of the trip. The infamous Cape Hatteras, littered with shipwrecks throughout the ages, was two days away, and the only somewhat challenging part of the voyage.
Life on board during a professional delivery, even in November, is both fun and relaxing. Once we got south of New Jersey, the weather was a bit warmer during the day, and we switched to 3 hours on, 6 off watches, and all got a lot of rest. Each of us has extensive offshore credentials, so the off-watch crew never worried about the guy on deck. We also had private cabins, with our own heads (bathrooms in land speak), the galley was large and extremely well-stocked, thanks to the owners’ generosity, and my fellow crew were great companions with a wealth of stories, from their lives both at sea and ashore. The time passed quickly.
As the election got underway the day we left, we missed most of the drama. Being a “Blue” crew, we were anxious to learn the results, but had only Ben’s “Iridium Go” satellite device to receive texts from his friends and family. We were happy to hear on November 5, from Ben’s brother, that Biden had won Michigan and Wisconsin, but lost Ohio. The morning of November 6, Ben got a text from his girlfriend erroneously stating Trump had carried Pennsylvania. We all spent the day in a funk, figuring our guy was going to lose, and I started feeling achy with chills, which I immediately suspected to be COVID. Talk about going into a funk! I retreated to my cabin for the entire 6 hours off-watch, during which time we rounded Cape Hatteras in big, confused seas, but light winds. The boat, with no sails flying, rolled unpleasantly for six hours. I didn’t sleep at all.
Around dinnertime, with the fragrant aroma of lasagna wafting from the galley, I emerged from my cabin to learn Ben had received another election update, this time from his parents, and that Biden was in fact winning PA as well as other swing states. Mark and I suggested Ben dump his girlfriend as soon as possible. After enjoying two servings of lasagna, and sleeping 5 hours, my COVID symptoms started improving, and by the next day, I felt perfect.
Once around Cape Hatteras, the sea water got warmer, skies cleared, and we were sailing in shorts, tee shirts, and bare feet. Our last night at sea we had chicken Cordon Bleu, with “sundowners” before dinner. We motored the last few days with the wind too far behind us to use a sail, but it wasn’t unpleasant, just boring. Sailing “Nor’easter” for a few hours is like a Crossfit workout, grinding winches, handling lines, and setting spinnaker poles. “Nai’a,” even in sailing conditions, has power winches and hydraulic roller furling on the jib, so all one needs to do is push a button and the sails go in and out.
Below decks, a 60′ Swan is flat-out luxurious. “Nai’a” has a gorgeous custom teak interior, complete with a cabinet filled with Baccarat crystal secured for life at sea. The galley has 2 spacious front-loading refrigerators plus a deep freeze, instant boiling water, a filtered drinking water tap, a 4-burner stove, oven, and microwave. The owners have blue canvas covers for virtually every varnished surface that the crew could scratch, but being Swan owners ourselves, such precautions are unnecessary.
Around 1100 Saturday, just as we came within sight of Fort Sumpter, NPR announced that the election was over. It was a warm, sunny day as we finally docked at Charleston City Marina, with the owners there to meet us. We spent a few hours washing the salt from the boat and polishing the stainless, than adjourned to “Salty Mike’s,” the local yachtie bar, to celebrate our successful delivery. We were later treated to dinner with the owners, then the crew had a final night on board before heading home. I had a 0430 Lyft scheduled to take me to the airport for my 0615 flight, and after walking the 1/4 mile to the dock entrance, discovered the gate was locked, and I didn’t know the exit code. With no time to spare, as my driver had already arrived, I slung my duffel over the 10′ gate, scaled it, and dropped on the other side. That was probably the most physically challenging moment of the entire trip.