Southbound

This is a recollection from our first southbound journey between Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Keys, over 25 years ago. We’d sold up, refitted Adriana and were setting off on what would become a three year adventure…

The seas had been building as the wind strength had increased over the past day and night. I’d reduced sail and Adriana was handling the conditions well but it was clear we were approaching the edge of our comfort zone – things below rattled and banged, the odd green wave broke onto the deck. The strengthening breeze had come round ahead of us and we were close-hauled, the sails pulled in tight so we could make our southerly course. We got too close to the wind at times and the sails rattled and cracked to remind us to pay attention at the helm. I’d ordered harnesses when on deck because of the conditions; we would hook our tethers to strong points before stepping out of the companionway onto deck. The sky remained a startling blue but cloud was beginning to build from the eastern horizon and I knew the wind would continue to build. Carol had gone quiet. I recognised this precursor to seasickness and clicked on the autohelm and went below to check the chart. I decided to head for Little River Inlet in South Carolina once we cleared Frying Pan Shoals. The shoals jutted out like a finger into the Atlantic for thirty miles and I needed to plot our course around them carefully.

Night fell, the wind stayed steady, strong, we made good progress. Once clear of the shoals we turned towards the shore, the wind behind us now and we barreled along under a storm jib and fully reefed mainsail, rolling from side to side as the following seas pushed the stern this way then that. The most seaward of the entrance markers dashed by and I could just make out the next, flashing its welcome through the darkness. The waves were breaking on the sandbanks on either side of the channel, throwing white spume into the air. Melinda was at the wheel, I was standing at her shoulder and Carol was in the quarter berth below, dry-heaving into a bucket wedged beside her.

At last we were in the river and I started the engine and went forward to drop the jib. Within an hour we’d put the hook down in an anchorage off the main river and Adriana settled head to wind, rocking gently. I gave Melinda a hug and told her she’d done well and sent her below to get warm while I tidied up on deck, furling the main on the boom and bagging the jib. I stepped below and found Carol up now, once the motion goes the seasickness goes with it, and she’d got the kettle on for a cup of tea. Henry had appeared from his hiding place in the forward berth, wagging his tail and no doubt expecting to be taken ashore but he’d got another think coming – I put him out in the cockpit and he peed on the wheel pedestal.