Our day starts at 7am when we turn on the SSB to channel 4045 and listen to weather guru Chris Parker. He lets us know how the day and week are shaping up, and it determines everything. Should we stay or should we go. How long until we can head east? When is the weather window? Will we anchor on the south, on the east? Will there be squalls?
While waiting in Hampton Virginia with close to 80 boats preparing to head for the Virgins there was a video feed every afternoon with Chris Parker broadcasting from Florida just what to expect. Well over 100 people grew silent as he spoke from on high about the low forming, and just when the best time to cross the Gulf Stream would be. He is like the rockstar weather man. People talk about Chris Parker sightings, Those that have actually met him brag about it.
Once we left Virginia, 600 miles from land his soothing tone became even more anticipated. When he says follow the rhumb line to the Virgins because just 50 miles to the east there is a low that has stalled off Bermuda that is kicking the winds up over 30 sustained, with gusts of 35-40, and 15 foot seas, there is a deep down sense of well being knowing that he is watching out for you.
When he speaks on the radio you can feel that he truly cares about you. He’s a sailor. He looks at weather through a sailors eyes. When the winds are picking up, the swells growing, and headed right for you, he lets you know your best plan of action, and that it is going to be alright, and that this too shall pass. You can call him by satellite phone, or call him on the radio. When he answers, “Orion, come back with your position”, you know that all of his attention is locked on you alone and is focused on your best interests. If only all of our gods were so attentive.
In terms of the weather, It’s not just the wind, or the squalls. Sometimes the biggest component is the swell. How big are the waves, how long the duration, and from what direction. They can make all the difference between a smooth, beautiful day on the water, or a ride through the washing machine from hell. And then, as we learned in the Anegada passage, there can be wave trains coming from 2 different directions. These are, what are called, confused seas. The motion is not smooth, even, but up down, side to side, bam, bam, bam. At these time Orion creaks like on old Spanish galleon. Wherever you are sitting you are braced on at least two sides from an unexpected motion. When we slam into an especially nasty surge there is a bell below that clangs to punctuate the sensation.
When the swells get over 8-10 feet they feel more and more like walls of water coming at you. They are massive, and our 42’ boat starts to seem like a toy. The entire boat can be down low in a trough and looking out you see a wave coming in, high above your head. But instead of crushing you beneath its volume our lovely ship floats on up the side of it and then down the other side. When they are behind you they push you along, and you surf down the frontside, focusing on nothing other than to keep the bow pointed forward. The last thing that you want is to get sideways to a large breaking wave.
We have some friends that did just that. They had hired a “captain” that told them he had been doing this passage for years and years. No need to pay attention to Chris Parker, go east, then go south. That’s how it’s done. They went east of the rhumb line. They got into the big seas, the huge waves. In the dark a random surge came out of nowhere breaking over the side. filling the cockpit, and gushing like a waterfall down the companionway. There were screams from below. Everything in the cockpit and above decks was swept overboard. All of the lines were dragging in the sea. It was a solid ship and the water drained quickly. The boat was fine. The people were shook up. The “captain” perhaps not quite so smug. I believe they have learned their lesson and have converted to true disciples of Chris Parker.
At this point we are in Antigua. We have done basically done all of the upwind, easting that we have to do. Now it’s just gentle tradewinds aft of the beam. Gentleman don’t sail to weather. And with Chris Parker on our side neither will we.