Restoring Heretic to seaworthiness and making our first offshore passages proved a steep learning curve….
When Seth and I met in July 2006 and decided to sail together, he was already restoring Heretic, which was not yet fit for the open ocean. Then in early September the work kicked up a notch when we left Heretic‘s homeport of Blue Hill, Maine to sail to a boatyard on Mt Desert Island to complete the enormous refit.
While all the other boats were being hauled out of the water for the winter, the four of us were hard at work re-bedding all Heretic‘s fasteners, stanchions, hatches; re-attaching the sheer-clamp that joins the deck to the hull; bolting down big items like the center table so they wouldn’t fly through the air if ever Heretic capsized; and installing safety equipment like a life raft, radar, and radios.
I painted and varnished above decks, gel-coated a new collar for the new mast, and installed new propane hoses for the galley stove.
Seth and his friends installed a ground plate for our long-distance SSB radio and rewired almost all the electrical circuits. Seth re-did all the plumbing, and he and I installed a new tube for the line controlling the centerboard—the original was rusted through at waterline and could have sunk the boat!
One the biggest projects was installing a new rig – mast, boom, running rigging, etc.
We didn’t know much of anything about boat repair, so we often learned how to do our projects the hard way. . . .
Fortunately for us, though, Heretic was very simple (primitive?!?). Unlike almost all modern boats, she had no refrigeration and certainly no freezer, no water-maker (we had two 100 gallon tanks), no oven, no heat, no electric anchor windlass or winches, no electric autopilot, no chart-plotter, no generator, no hot water, not even pressure water. We rowed our dinghy instead of having an outboard engine; we took bucket showers on deck; and we lighted the cabin with kerosene instead of electricity.
The four of us finally left Mt Desert Island on October 7, 2006 after the first hard frost. The boat was still not really in ocean-going condition, but we had a good forecast for the 24-hour sail to Freeport, Maine.
There we continued the outfitting and did most of the provisioning. We were ready to go by October 28, but the first big winter storm blew through the next day, bringing winds up to 60 knots. We left in the calm that followed, on Halloween, and had an unseasonably warm passage through the Cape Cod Canal to New London, Connecticut, spotting a few fin whales off the Massachusetts coast. We were thankful for the balmy weather considering the lack of heating or insulation on board. Then conditions turned raw and cold as we approached Rhode Island and raced down Long Island Sound.
But we had a clear day to transit New York City’s East River! We enjoyed seeing all the monuments: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and Statue of Liberty, and the constant barge traffic certainly kept us alert!
We continued down the New Jersey coast and beat to windward up the Delaware Bay to enter the Chesapeake at its head and run down to Rock Hall where we spent a couple of weeks in a marina, once again repairing Heretic and waiting for weather.
Once we reached the mouth of the Chesapeake at Norfolk, Virginia, we decided to continue south in the Intracoastal Waterway to avoid a bad storm off Cape Hatteras (a ship reputedly sank in this storm).
The ICW is also an interesting stretch of rivers and canals through forests and marshes. We entered first at the Dismal Swamp Canal and found our passage blocked by a downed tree! Not something one expects when setting off on an ocean voyage! My article Thanksgiving on the Intracoastal Waterway recounts the incredible generosity of the people who helped us out of this situation.
Eventually we arrived in Beaufort, NC where we first encountered the welcoming community of cruising sailors and where we did our last-minute provisioning and maintenance on the 40-year-old engine before our first big offshore passage.
We headed out to the Gulf Stream on December 9, 2006. We crossed the powerful current in a complete calm under engine but one day later the clouds built and we had strong winds from ahead, inducing some serious seasickness made worse by one crew member’s unpleasantness. To try and help others avoid this I wrote Learning from Experience: My Biggest Disaster and What It Taught Me about how I overcame seasickness on the voyage and my tips for managing it.
Happily we sighted the Bahamian islands in mid-December and were soon tied up in our first foreign port!
Read about our adventures in the western Caribbean on the Towards Panama page 🙂
All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2015, All Rights Reserved.