Wrapping things up (aka back to work…)

I can hardly imagine worst conditions to try to write and summarize the past whirlwind of a month. I am with my brother Dave and Adam Douglass absolutely slugging our way along in the Gulf Stream off the coast of South Carolina. Our speed is great and we are enjoying at least a three knot current boost. However, the wind is “on the nose” resulting in heavy seas and waves that we just keep pounding into. But if I don’t take the time to summarize my last couple of adventures it will not happen as I transition into full time work getting ready to launch a new business!

I left off after posting on the wonders of Barbados and the 29 day passage from Cape Town. In Barbados, I was joined by friends Jeff Geller and the Anderson brothers (Will and George- both of whom had completed previous passages with me on Alyosha. Out time together was comparatively short: about 3 1/2 days of sailing spread across 5 days. We left Barbados on Sunday, March 10th around noon and spent the first 24 hours sailing through the Caribbean with the winds and seas pushing us along. Our destination was St. Thomas, USVI but we had time for several stops along the way. The highlights included:

  • Our first anchorage of the island of Dominica, where we did not embark but we did take a break from sailing to do some swimming, grilling and generally relaxing;
  • The first use of the anchor posed all kinds of problems as the windlass was not working- not fun to set that anchor by hand! (subsequently fixed before any relaxing could occur!);
  • Before departing our excellent anchorage off Dominica, we took the dinghy over to Pigeon Island and enjoyed some of the best snorkeling I have done since the South Pacific;
  • We also anchored off Nevis for a night (about 16 hours in all) but really could only enjoy the city lights as we prepared for the next leg…
  • The absolute highlight for me was a 6 hour anchor off of the coast of Saba. I had been to Saba on a previous Caribbean adventure (25+ years ago) and it was exactly as incredible as I remembered: we did some snorkeling and Will and Jeff made the long journey up the rocky coast for a scenic view.
  • A great crew lunch and dinner followed our arrival at St. Thomas as we pulled into the Crown Bay Marina (thanks again for dinner, Will!)\

The second of four legs from Barbados to Baltimore kicked off with the Butz Family arrival at St. Thomas airport on March 15th. We wasted no time in getting started with “spring vacation” as we left the marina about 45 minutes after everyone got settled on the boat. All in all, we had a fantastic 10 days together exploring the various British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. (unsurprisingly, the family had opted for the 80 nm sail to San Juan, PR instead of the 880 nm sail to the Bahamas!) Highlights:

  • Our first night in Christmas Cove was memorable as we caught up as a family under a full moon on deck after ordering pizza from the “Pizza Boat”;
  • Everyone enjoyed The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. We climbed the rock formations and spent two nights enjoying the area;
  • Much of the BVI (and USVI for that matter) had been damaged by Hurricane Irma in September, 2017 and so many places we went were still fully rebuilding. The various family walks we took always brought us fresh perspective on the aftermath of a natural disaster;
  • Anegada- a coral island outlier just north of Virgin Gorda- was interesting an provided an excellent opportunity for the family to sail fast and pass multiple other catamarans! (ok, this was probably just a Dad highlight..);
  • We had a great family dinner at Pussers after checking out of the BVI in Tortola. Max found us a great beach/anchoring spot to enjoy….
  • We wrapped things up in San Juan, Puerto Rico after a fairly uneventful 80nm sail from the BVI. Puerto Rico was great (with a real highlight being the chance for Lisa and I to get dinner in Old San Juan!)

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my family at 3:30am for their early flight back home!

Less than 12 hours after that goodbye, after completing a major overhaul on the raw water systems of both my engines, I said hello to my next crew member, Tom Wheeler and we provisioned the boat for the trip up to Florida. Alex Figeroa, arrived that night and we left immediately (literally welcoming Alex onboard and casting off our lines!) As we were trying to beat some weather that was showing up on the long range forecasts for the transit up the East Coast.

The trip from San Juan, PR to Fort Pierce, Florida, went about as expected: plenty of motoring, an 18 hour period of heading directly into the wind (never fun) and some sailing towards the final days. More highlights (and lowlights):

  • Tom’s guitar playing and singing was a nice change of pace, he also managed to break a long streak of no fish and caught a Mahi Mahi on our final night;
  • Many thanks to Tom for two memorable meals: Our “Mofongoes” at the Puerto Rican diner before we left and the wonderful welcome meal at the marina bar in Fort Pierce;
  • It wasn’t particularly popular with the crew, but after arriving in Fort Pierce after 4 days of sea we picked up Martin, the parasail guy, and flew our new Maryland-themed spinnaker for the first time!
  • There were a couple lowlights: first, the welcome back to the US coast was of course coupled with a nice lightning storm once we reached the Gulf Stream;
  • I might never be able to forget waking up to waves crashing ON THE STARBOARD!!! (we were heading north) as Tom “got a bit off course” and nearly drove Alyosha onto the beach!!! Definitely caught a lucky break there…

I flew home and spent four days working and catching up with some of my next endeavors… It became clear that there would be another weather window to move Alyosha all the way to Baltimore (with a quick pit stop in Ocean City). I am so thankful that my brother Dave and Adam Douglass stepped up to assist.

We flew back down to Florida on a Friday afternoon, provisioned the boat for the trip in about 25 minutes in an Aldi grocery store, fueled up just before the pump closed at 6pm and were underway… This trip ended up being one of my most difficult legs but it did not start that way, we motored for two and a half days before finally setting the sails!

On the first night, on my midnight watch, I was treated to one of the most spectacular lightning shows I have ever seen, at a very comfortable distance (+100nm away)… We did have another short period- 12 hours or so, where the wind turned north against the Gulf Stream and within 15 minutes we were banging into 3-4 foot waves!

The big event, however, was my final night at sea, coming across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay heading to Ocean City. When we got internet off of the coast of North Carolina, near Cape Hatteras, it became very clear that we were going to have a front come through. According to the marine weather, it would happen on Tuesday morning, just before we arrived in OC. But the regular weather had us getting slammed on Monday evening- and that is exactly what happened! Imagine: at this point I had sailed around the world and the very worst storm I saw was my final night at sea when the winds clocked in at 45 knots and the lightning struck all around us! Visibility was terrible, less than 1nm and the 3 hours I spent trying to look for other boats and wondering when we would are struck by lightning were absolutely no fun…

Tuesday morning in Ocean City brought us cold, cold air coming off the Atlantic to meet the warm spring air on land. Visibility dropped to less than 100 feet as we navigated our way into OC to check on Alyosha’s summer spot. Brother Jim jumped on board and he and I were back underway for the final 20 hours to Baltimore.

So many things happened during that last day, and there was so much emotion in having completed this dream… The Delaware Bay proved to be very tricky with the foggy conditions and several boats passed us very close as we used fog signals to figure out where they were.

I had an auto carrier pass me on the C & D Canal, this required me taking Alyosha all the way up to the edge of the channel and then watching this giant ship pass within 10 feet!!! On my port side.

Jim and I anchored in the Bohemia River for three hours that night, and we were back up at 6am to finish things off. It felt so good to motor up the Patapsco River to my city.

Lisa and Kiwi (and Will Anderson) were there to greet us at Fort McHenry and take some pictures, and my brother surprised me with a fire boat hose tribute!

It would be hard to surpass the great feeling I had finally tying the boat up in Baltimore. (it didn’t last too long- I went right to work from the boat.)

I am now going to wrap this blogging up for awhile. Maybe I will post again in the fall, with some perspective on the whole adventure. I really appreciate any and all of you that decided to stick with me and read this through to the end. Thanks for the support.

It is time for me to get back to work.

Steve Butz

Author: Sailing Alyosha

family of 5 sailing Baltimore to New Zealand

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