Up the East Coast in Three Passages: Rough, Calm, and Just Right

I always think—after a horrendous event—that I should have taken more photos so I could share it better afterward.  But, the truth is, photos and videos never do it justice.  They never capture the breathtaking size of the waves, the surprising movements of such a heavy boat, or the sound of thousands of gallons of water being crushed under the boat’s hull.  So, many times, I’m glad I only took what I took, if anything at all, and I just soaked in the moment.  That way, afterward, I can relay it more effectively, or at least have a helluva time trying to, through my favorite medium: words.  

June, 2023

After completing our list of spring boat repairs (and, let’s admit it, some fantastic upgrades – it’s all about balance!) in sunny Ft. Lauderdale in April and May of 2023, we had our sights set on New England.  With the incredible summer we spent up there in 2022—our first in New England—we were eager to get back.  Port WashingtonNewportBristol,CuttyhunkMartha’s VineyardBlock Island … they were all calling!  We also wanted to get some good offshore time in as well as we’d been at the dock in Florida for several months.  Ubi was ready to get sailing.  It’s what she was built to do.  We set our ambitions high.  Why not, right?  We’ve got the boat for it.  Phillip and I started weather routing and planning for a trip straight from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newport, RI—roughly 1,000 nm.  It would be our longest on Ubi to date, and we were really looking forward to logging that sea time on her.  

We decided to bring in WRI Weather Routing, Inc. to assist.  We had called on them before when we were planning to make our longest passage on the old boat, our 1985 Niagara 35, from Eleuthera, Bahamas down to the BVIs via the I-65 route.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to complete that trip due to an engine part failure, but that wasn’t WRI’s fault (heck, it wasn’t even the weather’s!).  WRI did a fantastic job both in the planning and pre-departure phase of that ill-gotten voyage as well as the treacherous, becalmed return back, enough of a saga to warrant a write-up in SAIL Magazine.  

With the goal of leaving just after my 41st birthday at the end of May, WRI found us a pretty decent window of weather to get north.  They advised we had several days of east winds at 10-15 knots and seas less than 4ft (a nice forecast), but WRI expected a north front to start pushing down that might impact our conditions and force us to pull out of the Atlantic before making it all the way to Newport.  If that occurred, Phillip and I had designated Charleston, SC as our most likely ditch location.  Phillip and I decided to take it!  We stocked the boat up and off we went.  

For our first leg (as there was little wind in the Atlantic the first day), we decided to motor up the ICW from Ft. Lauderdale to West Palm Beach—a strip of the ICW we had never done before and it seemed like a fun day adventure, and a good way to get our first 50 nm behind us.  It turned out to be a visually engaging run with lots to watch along the coast and neat bridges to pass through. It also gave us an excuse to enjoy the last of the Florida sunshine at Peanut Island – a favorite spot of ours.  

The sunrise the following morning when we weighed anchor in West Palm Beach to head offshore also did not disappoint.  Phillip and I took it as a good omen for our passage.  

The first two and a half days went nicely, just as predicted, and we put an important 300 nm behind us.  We had great winds that let us cruise comfortably upwind. We even made “porkchop pancakes” (or so Annie dubbed them) and really enjoyed the start of the passage.

However, just as WRI and we had predicted, the winds started to pick up and the conditions began to worsen in the Atlantic on the third day.  Phillip and I are hearty sailors but we never choose to continue on in bad conditions if we can get Ubi and crew out of the mess and to safety.  As much as we wanted to sail straight from Florida to Newport, we decided to pull out of the Atlantic and head into Charleston.  However, we were still 100+ miles offshore, with the inlet to Charleston requiring another 3+ hours to navigate after we made it to the coast.  Meaning, we were still roughly a full 24 hours from port and the conditions were only getting worse.  We knew it was going to be a rough slog in.  But, what we hadn’t foreseen was the nasty blob that was brewing off the South Carolina coast that afternoon.  


As we pointed toward Charleston in the mid-afternoon, a shelf cloud started to appear on the horizon.  It was a dense, deep blue wall building in front of us.  At first it seemed like the storm was starting to move north and might miss us. But, it was still bringing us winds upwards of 20, then 23, then 25 knots forward of the beam with seas of 3-5 feet and building.  That’s just not comfortable, no matter what boat you’re on.  We reefed the main and jib and Ubi continued to beat into it.  Then the rains set in, diminishing our visibility.  It was difficult to tell if the ominous cloud was looming over us or pulling away.  The winds increased to 27-28 and the storm stayed on us for an uncomfortable, dicey three hours.  But, we were fine.  Ubi was clipping along, pushing the water out of her way, although we were heeled and being tossed about a good bit.  Phillip and I were relieved when we finally could see sky peeking through the horizon. This might be it, we thought.  And, then the sun emerged.  The storm eased its way north, but the wind did not stop.  It continued to blow upwards of twenty into the evening as darkness set in and 18+ through the entire night with big lumpy seas that were knocking us around.  We were making 9.5+ for most of it. Fast, but not fun.  It was a long night.

You want to know what I was thinking about during my shifts that night (Phillip and I hold two-hour shifts during the night)?  Sail trim?  No.  My next blog post?  No.  My mind was full of one thing, and one thing only.  BBQ.  That’s right.  I was a straight up meathead out there.  Charleston has some incredible BBQ.  There’s one spot in particular that Phillip and I found last year that we were super excited to get again: Lewis BBQ.  We steered Ubi to keep the wind upwards of 40 degrees off her starboard bow.  While Ubi beat into some pretty thick seas that night, I was day(night?)dreaming about brisket, and pulled pork, and short ribs, and cornbread, and collard greens, and … Lewis really got me through.  Drained and beat, Phillip and I were super relieved when we pulled into the Cooper River in Charleston the following day and made our way toward our anchorage by the Yorktown.  We finally dropped the hook around 4:00 p.m. after a three-day passage, and—after the obligatory shower and cocktail in the cockpit—I’m pretty sure we both passed out mid-movie around 8:00 p.m. that night.  Post-passage is the best sleep.  

It wasn’t a fun passage, but not all of them are.  It’s the lessons and accomplishments you take away and the adventurous, unforgettable moments that make all passages worth it.  Not to mention the destination.  Charleston is brimming with a vibrant history, succulent food, and a great music/arts scene.  And, of course, Lewis BBQ, which did not disappoint … again!  


From Charleston we made it around Frying Pan Shoals to Beaufort, NC in another day and a half passage.  In a staunch contrast to our last passage, there was very little wind, and we had to motor-sail and mostly motor the entire way.  It’s not our favorite way to move the boat, but as long as our boat is happily moving, it’s our favorite way to get anywhere.  She has an 80 horse-power engine for a reason.  And, what was our reward for surviving our beatdown into Charleston and continuing toward our New England destination?  DOLPHINS!  Yes, I squeal every time.  If I don’t squeal when dolphins arrive, assume I’m dead.  We really got a fun private show out there on our way into Beaufort, NC.    

Beaufort also offered an unexpected live band downtown the evening we were there which was a real treat, with most of the locals (and their super cute dogs) coming out for the festivities.  At the advice of fellow cruisers (shout-out to Peter and Patty on Outbound 44, Hull No. 7, Serendipitous!), we sauntered across the bridge and enjoyed a decadent, sunset meal at City Kitchen (a new place for us) that was really impressive.  

I also love the chance to see the wild horses across the way on Shackleford Banks.  I also squeal at horses.  Dates back to my Alabama roots.  Have you met me?

We had also never stopped at Cape Lookout before but had heard great things from fellow cruisers about it, so we decided to add it to our list this time up the east coast and pop in before we rounded Hatteras.  Phillip and I (and Ubi too!) were exceptionally pleased with what we found there—a huge, deep inlet that would be super easy to navigate at night, a massive anchorage with tons of space and protection (I love space and protection!), a very cool lighthouse, museums, and community grounds to explore ashore, beautiful stretches of beach both on the interior and the Atlantic side, and some of the best shelling we’ve done anywhere, including the Bahamas!  Cape Lookout proved to be a real treat for any sailor in need of a serene anchorage, a reconnect with our beautiful coastlines, and a good night’s rest, particularly right after—or before—rounding Cape Hatteras.  

After one night at Cape Lookout, we weighed anchor again and set our sights on rounding Hatteras.  We knew it was going to be mostly a motor but, ever since Phillip and I started rounding the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” in 2021, we’ve always said motoring is one of the best ways to get around Hatteras.  As long as you get that treacherous patch of the Atlantic safely behind you, it doesn’t matter how you do it.  Check your ego at the ocean, friend.  She’s the boss out there.  One bonus, though, if the conditions don’t require a lot of your attention, it does leave time for some fun, long put-off little chores to knock out on the boat.  During the gentle passage, I was able to bang out a few dyneema shackles for various uses that had been on my list for a while. 

We also never hesitate to eat well on passage, but with calm, motor conditions we are able to put together some of our more elegant offshore meals with sauces and complicated sides and such.  Anyone else like pork tenderloin with homemade BBQ sauce, roasted broccoli, and dirty rice?  I figured. 

Hampton (aka “Comfort Point”) also offers a secure, protected anchorage to prepare for making the passage offshore up to Sandy Point/NYC or taking the inside through Chesapeake Bay.  This past June we were totally in offshore mode, craving the blue water and hoping to do some nice sailing, which we hadn’t really been able to do yet in our previous passages.  We got WRI back on board to send us another meteogram for Norfolk to NYC, which looked very promising!  Ocean voyage here we come.  


Our last leg, from Norfolk VA to NYC—roughly 250 nm, 40+ hours— was such a memorable offshore treat.  Gentle steady winds quartering us on the starboard stern, moved Ubi along at a nice clip: 6 knots SOG.  And, Atlantic City in New Jersey lit up the entire coast, like we were sailing right by a huge tri-county fair!  It didn’t really even feel like the middle of the night with that much light illuminating our path.  We hardly trimmed a sail the entire night.  It was as if the Atlantic was rewarding us for being patient and continuing to make way, even when the conditions weren’t ideal.  Even as I write this (late into October) I believe that passage will count as our best of 2023.  I will never forget what it looked like when I came up for my midnight to 2:00 a.m. shift and saw a glittery lit-up coastline with Ubi zooming by.  The dark water zipped by her hull with this beautiful, soothing slooshing sound.  

I was also listening to 90s on 9 (which I’ve since decided is my favorite night shift soundtrack – our Sirius satellite radio on Ubi is such a treat on passages) and singing happily along to just about every song that came on.  TLC, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, N’Sync, Color Me Badd.  Good stuff.  Fun share for you – Annie back in the 90s. Big poofy bangs, a home perm, rolled up jeans, with my matching sweatshirt and socks. Me and my brother, showing love for the Chicago Bulls. Good times.

It was the quickest two hours on shift that I can recall.  I almost didn’t want to wake Phillip for his.  Almost.  One of the other most rewarding things about passage is the swiftness with which a full body, deep sleep sets in.  Minutes after I lay down I sink deep into a zombie like slumber.  It’s bliss.  

Our last passage up the coast this past summer was a great reminder of why we sail offshore—despite the crap passages, the chance of bad weather and uncomfortable conditions.  Offshore sailing offers the highest of highs and lowest of lows.  When it’s good, it’s the best sailing can offer.  Pure magic, being propelled solely by the wind in a vessel that impresses and thrills you.  While Phillip and I were eager and excited to begin another summer in cool New England, a small part of us was a bit sad our offshore time for the summer was over.  But, NYC here we come!!  

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