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Greg and Lynda Coombs’ adventure aboard Escape Velocity

Tuesday, 14th July 2020

Our sailing story started in 2017 with a decision to make a break from the life we had been living and do something a bit left of field.  We have been avid boaters all our lives and had been involved in sailing at different stages.  Travel has also been a big part of our lives so why not marry the two, sailing and travel.

We started looking for a suitable yacht to meet our needs, this search covered most of the world but concentrating in Europe and the USA, for yachts between 40’ to 50’ and something that could be sailed shorthanded.  After searching literally thousands of yachts we came across a centre cockpit 48’ Sparkman and Stephens in Annapolis Maryland built in 1992 on the east coast of the States.  The yacht was built for shorthanded cruising and racing with a great custom fit-out, a spacious two cabin layout with loads of living space and, as with most American boats, all the bells and whistles.  We purchased the yacht in June 2018, travelled to the States to inspect, have a survey done and returned home to start preparation to pack up our lives and move to the States.

In March 2019 we made the move and worked on the yacht for five weeks before splashing her. We spent the next few months sailing around the Chesapeake Bay area, getting used to our new home.  We were not disappointed, the yacht sailed very well and is a true, blue water performer.

Sandringham Yacht Club and Annapolis Yacht Clubs are associated and have reciprocal rights, so we spent several evenings enjoying their hospitality.  Annapolis along with Newport are considered the sailing meccas for east coast sailing; the amount of yachts is unfathomable.

We headed off from Annapolis heading north in June with our first taste of the Atlantic Ocean from Cape May to New York where we anchored directly behind the Statue of Liberty – an amazing experience.  From there we sailed up the Hudson River and anchored around 79th Street and spent several days touring the Big Apple.  One of our most memorable sails in New York was sailing up the East River under full sail, under the Brooklyn Bridge and onto Long Island Sound and completed several circumnavigations of Long Island during our summer of sailing – such an amazing place, great sailing conditions with winds generally around 10 to 15 knots and like many places, you could spend a lifetime in these waters and not see it all.

We sailed onto Newport Rhode Island and anchored outside the Newport Sailing Club – which was more like a castle.  As it happened the 12 metre World Championships were being held that week with 21 12 metre yachts all pre-1986 competing.  Two Australian yachts were there, Kookaburra II was one of them, sadly it is now owned by an Italian.  But it was amazing to see all these beautiful yachts in the one place and racing hard.  We sailed onto Martha’s Vineyard and Cuttyhunk Island, where the rich and famous spend their summers, then sailed back to Annapolis for the Annapolis Boat Show – a great opportunity to purchase some much needed yacht equipment prior to our crossing to Bermuda and Eastern Caribbean.

Spring was well and truly upon us with winter just around the corner, by the time we departed Annapolis it was now November and cooling down.  The weather window for crossing the Atlantic this time of year is fickle.  With wild cold fronts coming off the US mainland colliding with the warm air and seas moving up the Gulf Stream, we sailed to Norfolk Virginia and waited for an opportunity to leave.  We waited about two weeks and finally an opportunity presented.  We had a professional weather routing service provide a sail plan for us with way points and possible weather conditions.

We departed on our six-day passage for Bermuda.  The first few day were uneventful crossing the Gulf Stream at Cape Hatteras with no issues.  Then on day three, we were welcomed with a southerly front of 30 to 40 knots on the beam which lead to some conditions for the next 24 hours.  We were then greeted by a northerly change at 3am with 55+ knot winds and 8 to 10 metre seas.  With some quick reefing, we were sailing with a storm jib only, surfing the biggest seas I had ever seen and were seeing up to 15 knots on the downhill.  After three hours of hand steering, I let the auto pilot take over, other than the initial shock of the size of the seas and the noise that is produced we felt very safe.  The SS handled the condition with ease, as no doubt most have heard the saying that the human fails long before the yacht, so it was back to the sea bunk and rest up.  We sailed into Bermuda with a wet boat and damaged mainsail, but alive.  On arrival we learnt the sad news that three yachts were missing (and never found) and one other yacht lost three crew overboard with one not recovered, welcome to the Atlantic.

We had good friend and sailor fly in from Australia to spend a month with us and help on the next leg from Bermuda to Antigua.  This was a seven-day passage with some exciting sailing averaging around 175nm per day.  One day out from Bermuda, we lost all our instruments for no reason, no radar, no AIS, no auto pilot, no plotter and of course this happened at night.  Unable to find the fault, for some reason the auto pilot came back to life but nothing else, we used our phones and iPad to plot our course.  On arrival in Antigua, all the instruments started working again and to this day have not faulted.  Some say it was the Bermuda Triangle; there are lots of stories.

From our arrival in the Eastern Caribbean until now we have been island hopping our way down the island chain.  It is a sailor’s paradise with, trade wind that blow every day from the east between 10 and 25 knots, the islands running north south latitude is a beam reach up and down and without fail the temperature is 26 to 30 and water temperature of 27 degrees.

Some of the islands we have visited are; Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

We had planned to sail up to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs)and US Virgin Islands onto the Bahamas, but we have been waylaid due to the virus and locked down in Grenada for 3 and a half months.

As it is now hurricane season, even if we could move it would not be wise.  Grenada is on the edge of the hurricane zone and was last hit in 2004 by hurricane Ivan, which destroyed most of the island.  So, a lot of time is spent listening to the weather forecasts and always being ready to make a run for it if one is predicted or head for a hurricane hole in the mangroves.

Life in Grenada is pretty good, not too expensive and a large cruising community.  We are located at Hog Island on the southern end of Grenada, where there are a few Aussies, lots of drinking holes and beach bars – one is 200 metres from our yacht. Need not say any more.

Going forward we have several options when things open up.  One is to sail to the ABC Islands off Venezuela and onto Columbia or head north to the BVIs, Puerto-Rico, Bahamas, Cuba and onto the Western Caribbean, Belize then haul the yacht for the next hurricane season and head home for a few months and get back to Sandy Yacht Club. 

To sum up, it’s been one of the best things we have done, it’s not all beer and skittles, there has been some tough times and home sickness can be one, but the longer we are away the more relaxed we get, the more we look forward to the next destination and adventure.

All the best to the members of the SYC.

Greg and Lynda

SYC Member Greg Coombs (and his wife Lynda) who when at home at Sandringham sail as part of the Oasis (David Keyes-Tilley) crew.