“Hattereen” was definitely an easy way to remember it. Phillip and I weighed anchor in Norfolk, VA preparing to head out into the Atlantic for the first time on our new Outbound on October 31, 2021, Halloween. It was a spooky day as we were preparing to make the voyage that had caused us the most fear of our entire cruising this season—the arduous passage around Cape Hatteras. The name of this body of water around the Cape—the Graveyard of the Atlantic—definitely conjured ghosts and goblins.
Sunk ships give me the heebie jeebies. While I have mentioned my thalassophobia here before, one particular item that I do not like to see submerged is a ship. My mind populates it with the sailors that may have sunk with it, their souls lurking below in the dark bellows. Knowing the Diamond Shoals which we would be sailing over has claimed over a thousand ships (a thousand!) with its uncharted shifting sand ridges hidden beneath the turbulent sea did give me a healthy dose of nerves mentally preparing for the trip. And, yes, “uncharted” is accurate. Even in this day and age the area is considered technically uncharted because the bottom shifts so often that hydrography and charting is out of date before it gets published. These waters deserved some serious respect.
Also, rounding Cape Hatteras would be our first offshore sail on the Outbound—not quite the first jaunt you want to make on your new-to-you boat, but we were dying to take her offshore. We technically have a mast height (63.5′) low enough to allow us to utilize the protection of the intracoastal waterway, so that was an option. ObiQ’s former owner had utilized that option in a pinch previously. However, we wanted to embark offshore and SAIL south rather than motor.
Phillip and I spent a (very fun) week in Norfolk watching the weather patterns and planning our trek around the deep jut of Cape Hatteras out into the Atlantic Ocean. Two major ocean currents—the Labrador Current (a weaker current flowing to the south) and the Gulf Stream (a wicked, strong current flowing to the north)—converge off the Cape. Combine that with the shifting shoals, depth in the mere teens, and low-lying hard-to-spot barrier islands and we had ourselves a very challenging body of water to sail through. As for weather, we wanted enough wind to sail—because: a) we like to and prefer to sail; and b) the boat would have better steerage and make better, more steadfast headway if she was under sail as opposed to trying to motor through a formidable sea state—but not so much wind that we would be uncomfortable. While wind behind the beam would be ideal, the north fronts that kept coming during that time of year typically carried stronger winds than we wanted to sail offshore in: 25 knots or more. In the end we found a two-day window of winds that were predicted to be out of the NNW to W at 12-17 knots.
It looked like a nice passage window and both Phillip and I were giddy at the thought of finally (finally! after our summer-long saga with the lost riser/elbow) sailing our new Outbound offshore. Her offshore performance was one of the main reasons we purchased this boat and, after a summer living aboard, we were finally going to be able to truly feel what she could do when she got out there in the ocean and stretched her legs. Damn, does she have some legs.
The voyage kicked off with a boding omen when I raised the anchor out of the water to find it cloaked in this dreary, haunted cloth. Turns out our anchor had dressed up for Halloween! A pretty nice ghost rendition if you ask me. This was October 30th.
We weighed anchor that morning to get the two-hour motor over to Comfort Point behind us and get staged up there just for the night so we could jump out before sunrise the following morning. We were planning on 200 nautical miles for the voyage. Estimating a boat speed of approximately 5-6+ knots (although we were hoping to go faster, we’re always conservative when voyage-planning) that would be, roughly, a 30-35 hour trip. So, leaving at 5:00 a.m. on October 31st would put 24 hours behind us at 5:00 a.m. the following morning and give us the entire day to log the remaining 6-10 hours and make our way around and into Beaufort so we could navigate the inlet and get anchored in the remaining daylight hours. When voyage planning, one of our primary goals is to arrive in daylight and with a favorable tide.
We spent an incredible day sailing. The winds were a little more WSW than W or even NW. We were surprised to see NO north in the wind. None. That put it a little forward of our beam, but not uncomfortably so. The Outbound just absorbs and picks up speed without the old groan and heel we would typically feel on the old boat at winds approaching 15 knots on the beam.
We had the Gulf Stream pushing against us which slowed our actual speed, but she was making 7-8+ knots speed through the water with such ease it was astonishing. This voyage told us we were definitely going to have to re-plan our voyages at a much faster average speed. While our new super-sonic sail speed took some getting used to, boy, the boat did not. She is unbelievably comfortable underway. Solid, sound, and just in her element out there. After all the work and struggle that went into this decision to buy a new boat, the purchase of Ubiquitous, and the summer we spent aboard, THIS was our reward: the bridle off and our gal galloping out in the Atlantic. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces.
As night approached, so did the Cape.
We were poised to round around 1-2 am. Of course. The diciest part of the passage was set to occur at nightfall, but we were prepared for that. What we weren’t expecting was the shift in conditions.
Although Phillip had read that the temperature gradient around the Cape can cause its own local weather pattern, with the possibility for sharp storms and shifting winds, it’s one of those little facts you tuck away hoping it’s not entirely true. Turns out, it is. As we neared the Cape, the temperature fell at least ten degrees and the winds picked up from the 12-16 knots it had varied between during the course of the day and evening to 20+ and rounded further south, even more on our nose. Phillip and I decided to furl in the genoa and pull out the jib to get the boat more comfortable. The solent rig on the Outbound offers a great option in that regard in that it’s easy to switch from a larger headsail to a smaller one (or vice versa) as they’re both rigged and ready to deploy. Furling the genoa took some effort as the winds continued to increase, but once we got the jib out and trimmed, we knew it was the right call because the winds continued to climb to 23-24+ knots.
UbiQ took it in true stride. She picked up speed and pushed thousands of gallons of water out of her way. While we found we were spending most of our shifts under the protection of the dodger, watching intel on the display mounted above the companionway, when I stepped out during our most severe conditions to check the rigging and look for chafe, I was shocked by what I found. The experience under the dodger, and particularly below, was worlds away from the reality of what the boat was doing out there. She was thundering along, charging through the salt and spray. It was surprising to see and experience the exciting, noisy, wet world topside but thoroughly comforting to know a mere step down below the dodger seemed to pack all that away and close the lid on it. I knew then and there, wherever we wanted to sail on Ubiquitous, she was capable of taking us comfortably. I felt like UbiQ and I got our deepest introduction to one another out there. I hope she was just as pleased with what she found in me as I was with the strong, salty spirit I discovered in her.
Our auto-pilot also found this the perfect moment to introduce himself as well. We have Sirius satellite radio on the boat and we’ve found it is an everyday asset for nice dinner-making or morning-coffee music but it’s also a great entertainer during offshore passages. We would often listen to not only music, but podcasts, interviews, and particularly stand-up comedy (my favorite during night shifts). We had the Sirius playing while we were switching from the genoa to the jib and as soon as we got it dialed in and the boat took off—making 9.2 SOG—it felt like a bit of a record scratch moment when the radio kicked over to a new song at a seemingly louder decibel than it had been, all on its own. Or, all at the direction of “Maestro” we later concluded, when we decided that was the name of our auto-pilot as he orchestrated our passage and hand-selected the music that would accompany it.
As we whipped around the Cape at record speed at two in the morning, Maestro picked the perfect song to kick off. “IN YOUR HEEE-EAAAD. IN YOUR HEAAA-EEYAA-EAAD. ZO-HOM-BIE. ZO-HOM-BIE!” Phillip and I shouted the lyrics into the wind, our voices swallowed by the Atlantic. “ZO-HOM-BIE. ZO-HOM-BIE!” This trip around Cape Hatteras had definitely got in our head in the weeks prior, picking at us, worrying us, stressing us. And, here we finally were, thundering around the bend in the new boat just slaying it. Phillip and I couldn’t sing loud enough to match the exuberance that was flowing out of us. We were doing it! Really doing it! Galloping offshore in our new boat. It is a moment I will not soon forget.
And, it was in that same moment that Maestro reminded us, with his wickedly clever music selection, who’s in charge and who decides the vibe of our voyages. As the last Zombie lyric slowly spun out and the winds seem to calm just a bit to match it, Maestro strolled his fingers through his record collection and picked the next perfect record.
“Party in the city where the heat is on … ” pumped out as we put that infamous Cape in our rearview mirror because that’s exactly what we were in the process of doing. “Going to Miami. Welcome to Miami” It was as if the boat knew. Maestro knew. UbiQ knew. And, Phillip and I knew. This boat was going south. Finally.
Amazingly, we sailed almost the entire voyage around the Cape. With winds mostly forward of the beam but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Ultimately, we sailed 210 nautical miles in about 32 hours and recording our fastest offshore speed yet at 6.6 SOG, average. We made our way into the inlet to Beaufort, NC around 2:00 p.m. and, many thanks to the enormous tankage on the Outbound, we were able to give the boat a nice rinse-down and scrub.
She certainly deserved it. The scrub was our thanks to her (and Maestro) for carrying us safely over the Graveyard of the Atlantic, while handling mostly everything in the process, including the entertainment and song selection. The boat had no tricks for us. Only treats. And, she gave us a Halloween for the books!