NORTHBOUND LUNACY 2024: The Return of Capt. Cripple—Solo from the Virgins All the Way Home


May 23/2024:  I did try to enlist crew to help sail the good ship Lunacy home from St. Thomas, but I will admit I didn’t try very hard. A good part of me wanted to do this singlehanded, fractured wrist or no. I had previously done some solo passages between the W’Indies and Bermuda, and I once sailed solo from Bermuda to New England, but I had never put the two legs together into one solo voyage all the way between the W’Indies and home. I felt it was time for that.

I actually wasn’t too worried about the wrist. Two visits to the orthopedist confirmed it was heeling nicely, and I also dramatically improved my wrist-stabilizing technology. Well-designed Velcro splint/braces for wrists are easily found in drug stores these days (see image up top), though it would be nice if they came in colors other than black. I dope-slapped myself for not trying to score one in the W’Indies right after I injured myself. In practice, I found wearing the brace gave me all the confidence I needed to handle sails and move about the boat while underway.

The first hop was a small one, from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie. I sailed the whole route, to confirm my wrist was functional, and was not disappointed. Once planted in the anchorage at Charlotte Amalie, I had a fine view, inevitably, of cruise ships coming and going


My immediate neighbor was a guy named Matt, who lives with his dog on this boat, named Charlenn. I asked him what kind of boat it is, and he said he didn’t know. Someone had just given it to him, and he was still getting used to it. My guess is an Alberg 37. That flat Carl Alberg sheerline is fairly distinctive, and the portlights on version 2.0 of the 37 look like a good match. Matt’s dog, a 4-year-old mongrel bitch, was a hoot! Returning to the boat from shore in the dinghy, she launched herself boldly from the dinghy’s bow, swam the last 20 yards or so to Charlenn, then re-boarded the dinghy, scrambling up its transom unassisted, so as to then hop aboard the mothership


Another neighbor, an apparently derelict day-boat schooner named Doubloon. The harbor at Charlotte Amalie is filled with boats custom-designed for short day charters with large groups aboard. Most of them now are catamarans and salty-looking schooners like poor Doubloon are left to rot on their moorings


I sailed out of Charlotte Amalie bound for Bermuda on April 20, a Saturday. I wasn’t certain I had a good weather window to get all the way there, but I was anxious to get going. It actually looked like I’d be able to sail the distance, with no motoring, which seemed attractive, but with a chance I’d end up hove to for a day or so, waiting out a big northerly close to Bermuda. I figured I could live with that. Fortunately, my old pal and erstwhile shipmate Jeff Bolster—who felt semi-guilty, I’m guessing, because he declined to join as crew for this jaunt—volunteered to serve as weather-router. I shared my Garmin inReach track with him and we communicated daily via text.

Jeff is hardcore, consumes raw flying fish to boost his omega-3 fatty acid intake, so as to stay super-smart for weather analysis. He did a great job! I refer to him now as Prof. WX Dr. Bolster, in deference to his impressive academic credentials


The first few days out of St. Thomas saw great conditions with us closehauled and then close-reaching at speed. I decided to exercise my Windpilot windvane, first time in a while, and it did great


On day three of the passage, getting on toward halfway to Bermuda, I received disappointing news from my WX doctor. My one day of strong northerlies close to Bermuda was instead likely to be several days of extreme unpleasantness. The doctor recommended maybe diverting to the Bahamas. I instead decided to point myself at the Carolinas.

Nice wing-and-wing set sailing toward North America the first evening after diverting from Bermuda


The second day after my diversion, I made an alarming discovery—the sump under the engine was flooded with clean saltwater. Three big buckets full I found, after extracting it all by hand. I had previously noticed very small amounts of water under the engine on a few occasions and thought this was from potentially loose hoses in the engine’s raw-water circuit. I had tightened those up and hoped the problem was solved. But this was a huge amount of water and somehow had come aboard during a long period of time in which the engine was not running at all. Very mysterious!!!

I began obsessively checking on the engine bay, and the next day, after switching on a wind shift from a flat wing-and-wing set to a well-heeled closehauled set, I found the source of the leak.

This is the top of the vented loop for the engine’s raw-water intake and that slender grey hose crammed between the two parts is the vent for the PSS prop-shaft seal. Very astute WaveTrain readers may recall that back in 2019 a Boreal 44 named Quid Non? came into Maine Yacht Center with a mysteriously flooded engine. The clever MYC crew finally figured out that the flooding was caused by some clueless tech who previously worked on the boat and connected the top of the shaft-seal vent to the down-facing vent on the intake loop. If you didn’t understand what the two bits actually do, it did sort of look like they should be joined together. To prevent this ever happening on my Boreal, it seems some thoughtful soul at MYC lowered my shaft-seal vent well away from the top of my intake loop without ever mentioning to me they had done this. It was low enough, I finally figured out, that water was slopping out the top of the vent whenever Lunacy was heeled hard over on starboard tack (the relevant hoses are all on the port side of the engine bay, thus are much lower when the boat heels in that direction). It was a very easy fix once I understood what was going on. This photo shows the shaft-seal vent after I raised it up again


Much of the sailing after I diverted toward the Carolinas was on a reach or close reach in northeasterly wind. This shot was taken around sunset on Friday, April 26, as we were flying a double-reefed main and a reefed genoa. Not long afterward I rolled up the genoa entirely and substituted the staysail as the wind speed started topping 30 knots


The morning of my last day on this passage, April 28, just inside the Gulf Stream, I found myself in a scrum of four U.S. Navy warships engaged in various high-speed gyrations. Interesting, for sure, but it does make you nervous. This is the one that came closest to me, just about a mile out, with a big bone in her teeth doing better than 20 knots, I’d guess. Showing no AIS signal! After working through the warships, I hit a fleet of sportfishing boats working the western wall of the Stream, which is to be expected


I had a perfect landing in Beaufort, NC, that same evening. Entered the inlet just as the tide turned in my favor. Got an anchor down just before sunset, after nine days at sea


Seen at Beaufort: feral horses grazing on Town Marsh, just behind the anchorage


Seen on Town Marsh: tiny fiddlers crabs fighting over a tiny hole in the ground


Strolling around town I found, for the first time, this fine old cemetery. Don’t know how I missed it before!


Poor Vienna died much too young!


After four full days at Beaufort, I motored a short distance down to Cape Lookout, which has a well-protected anchorage I’ve always wanted to check out


Immediately on going ashore there I found this ruined automobile chassis buried in the sand. Must be pretty old, as the wheels have wooden spokes!


And lots of old conch shells, which surprised me. I didn’t know conch were a thing in North Carolina


A ruined house in the so-called “village” behind the beach


And lots of people in giant vehicles fishing on the beach itself. Which kind of surprised me, seeing as how this is a national park


I departed Cape Lookout in the afternoon of May 4, thinking I’d make straight for Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. In fact, I ultimately concluded, this was too big a jump for a singlehander (at least one my age) to make on a near-shore route.

During the nine days I spent sailing from St. Thomas to Beaufort, I saw hardly any traffic and it was very easy to get big bolts of sleep. I’d previously sailed solo up and down the U.S. East Coast a good bit, but I’d never done a leg as long as North Carolina to Massachusetts. Near shore there’s much more traffic to worry about, and it’s impossible to sleep for very long. After a couple of days, I realized I was getting too tired and decided to put into Cape May, New Jersey. Arrived there around 0430 hours on May 7 and was afraid to transit the inlet, because it was both very foggy and very dark. Visibility was literally less than zero. Even with a chartplotter to look at, it was just a bit too intimidating. So I just mucked around outside for a bit and went in after the sun rose.

I spent the first day in the anchorage, then realized I’d be waiting on weather for a while, so snagged a berth at the South Jersey Marina. Gave me a chance to visit with my brother and also my old law school roommate, who lives in Philly and has a beach house at Cape May.

Me and John Christmas, the Fresh Prince of Cape May, hanging on the beach


A friend and fellow sailing scribe, Chris Museler on his boat Happy, a sexy Pogo 12.50, also appeared in the marina! He and two crew were en route from the Bahamas to Rhode Island. The Pogo is Chris’s idea of a family cruiser. He claims his kids like it much better than the schooner they sailed on before


I also made a new cruising friend. Char Gauthier, age 70, formerly a surgical nurse and a truck driver, has been cruising and living aboard her Pacific Seacraft 34 Blue Dancer for the past three years

I left Cape May on Sunday morning, May 12, in grey, rainy conditions, close reaching in a firm northeasterly. Not exactly comfortable conditions, BUT the general yuckiness allowed me to transit the Jersey coast without any flies coming aboard. The last few times I was off Jersey, I was literally mobbed by hundreds of flies, in spite of being well offshore.


A reader recently wrote into SAIL, complaining he had never seen a photo of me smiling. So I’m trying hard to reform. Here I am smiling as Lunacy and I approach Block Island sailing downwind on the afternoon of May 13

I spent the night of May 13 anchored at Cuttyhunk, spent the next night at Provincetown and finally arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the Wentworth Marina, on the evening of the 15th. Another northbound voyage done and dusted.

It was good to be back after a whole month away. It felt good, too, to have done it all on my own.

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3 Responses
  1. Ernest Lykissa PhD

    Good crossing single handed lol. John asks about orcas and it’s my untested theory that they pick any color of keel other than black and they are upset about Portuguese boats taking their fish.

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