Eleanor Across the Atlantic: Sailing into Sunrise

Cruising World editor Herb McCormick left Saturday for a Transatlantic voyage on board Billy Gammon's Valiant 42, Eleanor.

Report #1: July 13, 2015

So it’s not so unusual when out sailing to have a couple friendly fishermen in a 20-odd-foot runabout come alongside with an offer of fresh fish (or something), right? Unless, of course, you’re several hundred miles from land. On the open ocean on a dark night. Sailing across the Atlantic. However, that’s what happened a few hours ago on our 42-foot cutter, Eleanor, bound from Maine to the British Isles. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Welcome to the first installment of the Log of Eleanor, now beginning our third day at sea after leaving Belfast, Maine, on an ebbing tide at 0830 on July 11. There are four of us aboard: owner Billy Gammon, skipper Dave Logan, mate and sailmaker Carol Hasse, and your typist: Me.

As sailors are wont to do, I spent my final night ashore in a Belfast watering hole called Rollie’s, downing Alligash Whites (delicious) and a tasty baked haddock dinner (ditto) while watching the Red Sox get dismantled by the dreaded Yankees (not as palatable). At least this voyage will put me out of that misery for a while.

And so far it’s been a fair voyage indeed. After topping up the fuel tanks one last time, we motored out Penobscot Bay with not a breath of wind for accompaniment. But almost precisely after leaving Matinicus Rock to starboard, a gentle southwesterly filled in and off we went, close reaching on a starboard tack in flat water with blue skies shining.

We’re still on starboard, haven’t tacked once and put several hundred miles between Belfast and us already. There might be better ways to start an ocean sail, but at the moment, I can’t think of one.

If there’s one drawback, it’s that the breeze has been almost too consistent, at least in direction. Sure, it’s been up and down a bit in pressure, ranging in true wind speed from a low of 10 knots to a high of 21. So there’s been a bit of reefing the main and furling headsails, un-reefing and un-furling, setting the staysail, etc. But, even though we’re currently on a broad reach, we’re still tracking a bit further south than we’d like. Our general plan leaving Maine was to get down to 42N and head east until past Newfoundland, at least. There’s been more ice in the North Atlantic this summer than usual; the navigators in the recent transatlantic race from Newport, RI to England had to honor an “ice-exclusion zone” right along the 40th parallel that kept them away from the cold, hard stuff before altering course north for the finish line. Watching their tracks was instructive and we were more or less planning the same tactic (though on a slightly more northerly track). But we’ve already crossed 42N and at the moment are continuing to head slightly southeast. We may be setting a spinnaker or poling out a headsail, so we can steer a due east heading of 090 degrees, before too long.

In the meantime, the sailing's been pretty darn delightful. The night skies are full of stars, the days are warm and sunny, life's good. We even had a visual treat yesterday morning: the classic yawl Whitehawk crossed our bow soon after dawn, bound for Halifax. She was beautiful.

Oh yes, there were also those fishermen. I was sound asleep at the time, but Logan and Billy, who weren’t, found the entire encounter puzzling. They came alongside a couple times, showing no lights, asked a couple questions (“Is Lyle onboard?”), dropped back, shone a light on our hull, then disappeared. Earlier, Hasse and I had seen a distant loom to the north, and surmised that a fishing operation of some sort was underway. Was that it? Did a couple of bored boys make off with a skiff for a midnight adventure before returning to the daily grind? Or were the lads on a bit of an adventure, having zipped the hundred miles from Nova Scotia?

Out here on the Atlantic, it’s a mystery with no clues, and an answer we’ll probably never know.

You can follow along with their trip using the tracking system Yellowbrick or via www.predictwind.com.

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The crew spent several days in Belfast preparing the boat for the Transatlantic crossing and enjoying everything the town has to offer.Courtesy of Herb McCormick
The crew gets ready to set sail across the Atlantic onboard Eleanor.Courtesy of Herb McCormick
Eleanor heads southwest into the open ocean in a brisk southwesterly breeze.Courtesy of Herb McCormick
Spirits are high onboard Eleanor.Courtesy of Herb McCormick
Conditions could not be better for the trip, clear skies and steady breeze ensure the crew is happy onboard.Courtesy of Herb McCormick