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Trip Report: Offshore Ocean Passage Aboard Catamaran Zuri

-by Our Very Able Crew, The Rainfords

The Rainfords SailingThe Rainfords bought a catamaran, Persistence (sistership to Zuri), from us in 2010. We have remained good friends ever since. They have always wanted to take an offshore trip with us to further hone their sailing skills. This offshore passage from Florida to the Chesapeake was the perfect opportunity to invite them along.

Ocean Passage Preparations

We had various things to do to prepare for the passage, starting with our annual haulout, checking sails and rigging, and servicing saildrives, engines and ground tackle. We studied the weather patterns for the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream conditions for that time of the year to make our plans accordingly. We started watching the weather about two weeks from when we planned to set off. We have long since learned that making firm plans to leave on an ocean passage, on a set date, is total folly so we waited for a good weather window. The weather forecast is fairly accurate about 3-5 days out and when we decided that the window was good, the Rainfords were ready to fly to us at a moment's notice. We provisioned, fueled, and filled the water tanks for the last time and set off. Below is the Rainfords' account of the offshore passage aboard catamaran Zuri.

Crew Rainford Aboard Catamaran Zuri

EPIRBS renewed with updated info at NOAA - check. Have our automatic inflatable lifevests – check. Have our snorkels, masks and flippers - check. Bags packed – check. Passports in hand – check.

These are a few of the many checklist items that had to be prepared before we started our trip. We were invited to crew for the Cockcrofts aboard Zuri on her journey from the Bahamas to Annapolis during the third week of April. And we were excited!

This was not our first journey up the eastern coast; Bob and I had sailed our 45' Prout Catamaran, Persistence, back and forth from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Annapolis, MD during 3 seasons. This was the first time, though, that we sailed with an experienced team, Stephen and Estelle Cockcroft, and saw it as an opportunity to hone our sailing skills learning from the masters.

Leaving the Bahamas

Our journey began on Wednesday from West End, Freeport, Bahamas, after a leisurely day basking in the Bahamas sand and sun. The weather window was "perfect," so we set sail around 9am with beautiful blue sky and moderate winds from the south. We sailed in the Gulf Stream for 3 glorious days, with moderate winds and following seas, and plenty of sunshine.

enjoying Island Time in West End, Freeport, Bahamas

On Friday, we caught a beautiful 3 foot Mahi-Mahi, which Stephen and Bob expertly filleted into large steaks. Later that afternoon, we also experienced a 20-minute squall with gusts of wind 35-40 knots and pounding rain. After the storm passed, we were delighted to greet our traveling companions as a school of about a dozen dolphins rode along the waves with us.

Avoiding Weather

We also caught "wind" of a turn in the weather, and decided to make for port at Beaufort, NC, on Saturday. We used the opportunity to refuel, take on fresh water, walk on land, and eat ice cream. It was nice a break, since the rest of the journey turned out to be a little more tedious.

Fishing on ocean passage netted a huge mahi mahi

Leaving Beaufort on Monday was no problem. After rounding Cape Hatteras in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, we sailed straight into a storm that lasted hours throughout the night. We experienced a brilliant lightning show, with a sharp lightning strike just 50 feet off our bow. This was on our watch, and I cheered Bob on at the helm from my perch inside the salon.

Monday night brought more storms than I had been used to. I have been lucky on my voyages to have experienced decent weather. This trip challenged my nerves and skill. Stephen changed our 2-hours-on/6-hours-off watches to 2-hour double team shifts throughout the stormy night, so as not to tax the strength of the crew.

Sailing an offshore passage

Arriving in Chesapeake Bay

Tuesday turned out to be a gray, breezy day with 7 – 10 foot waves from the east broadside to our course; it was a very rocky ride up the coast into the Chesapeake Bay. We made it to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay around 6pm Tuesday evening. Once into the Bay, the seas calmed, and we stopped into Cape Charles to wait out another day of anticipated bad weather. We explored this quaint town and met some wonderful people in Kelly's Pub. We stuffed ourselves on some fresh Maryland blue crab and local seafood. It was cuisine heaven!

Leaving Cape Charles on Thursday, the plan was to motor sail up the Chesapeake and arrive in Annapolis early Friday morning. Stephen put us on 1-hour double team watches to ensure alertness to the busy the Bay traffic throughout the night. We arrived safely at 4am on Friday, picked up a mooring in Spa Creek, and slept peacefully, safe, secure, and exhausted.

The journey was filled with all varying speeds of wind, sea states, and warmth. Bob and I were able to learn how to take advantage of little wind, and how to work through a storm. Estelle gave lessons on provisioning, and had pre-prepared a week's worth of meals so there was little preparation on board needed; just heat and serve. We also never failed to enjoy our daily 5:00 p.m. happy hour.

Catamaran Zuri sailing offshore

Offshore Sailing Lessons Learned

Some lessons learned that we took away from our trip were:

  • sail trim and configuration to improve speed and performance
  • sail trim in both light and gusty winds with growing seas
  • how to turn nose into the wind during a squall with the wind shifting 360 degrees
  • how to replace a diesel fuel filter and bleed injectors while underway
  • and playing with new technology, such as the AIS, My RadarPro, and the GoPro camera.

The food and company was fabulous; the skill and confidence of Stephen and Estelle made this trip a pure delight despite the weather and shaky lighting storms. We now love our Prout more than ever, and look forward to playing with Zuri on the Bay this summer. So when is our next journey?

Check out the photo slideshow nd video. Aso read our Top Ten Tips for Offshore Passage Making.

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