As of the last blog entry, the battery monitor was not working and this was really bothering me; Carol, too. I knew that we relied on this thing but we didn't realize how much until we had the prospect of a long trip without it. As Sherlock said: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. When I ran the radar cable into the cabin I must have jogged the small wires and two had come loose, a fairly quick fix. The panel seems to be showing accurate battery bank voltage, so we will leave with some peace of mind.
Order of Travel: Cape May, NJ to Portsmouth, VA
The days are getting shorter now, maybe an hour shorter; it's been several weeks since the summer solstice. Sunrise in Cape May wasn't until 0550. We were away before that, by a few minutes, and got to see this sunrise over the bascule bridge spanning the New Jersey version of an ICW.
We had the devil's own time crossing the mouth of the Delaware Bay. We were pushed east and slowed down. I can account for either one of those happening but not both at the same time. By noon, things were better and we started making good time, very good time, sliding from New Jersey, through Delaware, past Maryland, headed for Virginia. The reason to leave when we did was the promise of a NW wind at the expense of some thunderstorms. Nothing much happened until midnight when things heated up, a bit, literally. The thunderstorms arrived ahead of the NW wind. It was kind of interesting watching XM weather on the laptop, the radar screen and out the "front window," sort of like Rashomon for weather. Rain on the radar screen forms dark smudges that look like amoebae having sex. First there is one blob, then it splits into two, and does it again, some disappearing, some merging and others welling up to replace them. Regardless of the number and direction of the several blobs, they all seemed to converge on the center of the screen, all the time: our boat. The wind and waves weren't much; the lightning, however, was concerning. It's fascinating to watch an electrical storm on the open water. There is nothing on the horizon to obscure the show, and what a show it can be. Beautiful to behold and terrifying to think that all that energy, when discharged, could use our mast as a path to get to ground. For a brief period, a gibbous moon hung in the night sky, lighting one quadrant of the horizon while next to it lightning strikes provided an even greater intensity of light across another.
Regardless, this sunset showed that the maxim about, "red sky at night, sailor's delight" is just a maxim. Finally, about 0300 the NW winds arrived. We were heading about SSW which put this wind on the stbd. stern side, making for a wallowy ride. I came up for watch to see Carol hanging her head over the side, feeding the fish, despite having put on a scopolamine patch. She's done this enough times that she has learned to go to the lee side of the boat. The silver lining benefit of the storm .... cooler temperatures for the next few days.
Norfolk is very close to being halfway between Cape Cod, the northern apogee of our trip, and Brunswick, our southern destination. Carol and I both felt the same thing: Norfolk has a home court advantage for us, a place with which we are familiar and it's part of the South, Amen! We get to use our venerable Chart Kit for Norfolk to Florida, first purchased in July of 2007 in anticipation of moving the boat that August from Charleston, SC to Oriental, NC. It is dog-eared, pages are torn and smudged, stained with boat supplies and meals eaten underway, messy from drinks spilled and notes scribbled in haste. For all that, it is as comfortable as the proverbial "old shoe." We're glad to be here.
No free day on the boat is complete without adding to or deleting items from the eternal, inexhaustible To-Do list. Our layover day in Portsmouth was more of the same: work as a kind of (oxymoronic) rest therapy. So, we worked. There will be no more rest days, save for weather, until Morehead City or Charleston, SC.
Order of Travel: Portsmouth, VA to Morehead City, NC
Heading south from Norfolk & Portsmouth means dealing with bridges and locks for the first 15 or 20 miles, a timing and coordination challenge only slightly less complicated that the invasion of Europe in 1944. We actually did pretty well on that, only having to wait for one bridge, that one about 15 minutes. There were a couple of interesting moments along the way. As we approached a turn to head towards the first bridge, this monster came from the other direction. Too big to make the turn itself, it had two huge tugs to handle those navigation issues. We passed within 50 feet of it and the boat, Carol and I felt small, vulnerable and insignificant. The other incident came later. There was a rowing shell with a crew of four coming towards us; it moved left, we moved right and everything was OK ... until they were about 50-ft. away and decided that was the time to cut across our bow to the other side of the river. Our boat doesn't have any water brakes but we jerked the engine to reverse and avoided a disaster. It would have been our fault, regardless, because we were the vessel under power.
Going from Virginia to NC we traveled a canal, straight and true. When we had last seen that area, 100 days ago, it was green, but a weak, winter green, the green of life surviving with no sign of Spring on offer. Now, 100 days later, the green was rich, deep and bright vibrant with life. In 130 miles, so far, we have seen beaucoup cypress trees along the banks and even more cypress stumps in the water. The lone sentinel is the only cypress tree we have seen thriving in the water, well away from shore. Few of the hundreds of osprey nests that we saw going north are now occupied; presumably the hatchlings have fletched and flown, and are now surviving on their own.
The trip is 180 nm from Portsmouth to Morehead City. On the first day we did exactly 45 nm, one quarter. We stopped in Coinjock, again, because there are no anchoring alternatives without much more travel south. Also, Carol has a predilection for the restaurant there which pretty well iced the stop. The irony was that she had what will probably be her last crab cake of the trip and she said that it was the worst of the trip.
The second day was just plain work. On the water, underway for more than 12 hours, covering more than 70 nm. We stopped a couple of miles short of Belhaven, NC; for practical purposes we did in one day going south what we had done in two days going north. The highlight of the day was when two tug/barge combinations tried to pass each other, in opposite directions, while in the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal. The three vessels ended up occupying a very small, piece of watery real estate. The thought for the day was: when elephants dance, mice tremble; we were the mice.
We could have made it through to Morehead City on day #3 of the ICW trip, but we decided to stop near Oriental, NC to see a friend. Probably just as well; lots of rain and poor visibility. The next morning, the trip from Oriental to Morehead City was short and easy.
Order of Travel: Morehead City, NC to Charleston, SC
Things are supposed to get easier with practice, unless you're on a boat. In Morehead City we checked the offshore weather forecast: lots of 10~20 and 15~20 knot winds from the SW which, generally, is the direction we needed to go to get to Charleston. We could have waited a good while for the right weather and then still have had a two day trip south. Waiting did not fit my agenda ..... at all! We could get to Charleston in five days on the ICW. So that afternoon in Morehead City lots of stuff got done: laundry, shopping, oil change, other filters were changed. No lay over day.
We hate the ICW because of the "killer bee's:" bridges and boredom. We cannot go fast enough to make all of the schedules for the many, many bridges that still swing and lift. And, it's a challenge to hold station while a bridge gets ready to open with a single propellor vessel. This stretch of the ICW is, basically, huge chunks of boredom interspersed with the frustration and aggravation of waiting for bridges. The pattern seems to be that if an opening is supposed to happen on the hour, then that's when the bridgetender starts to think about finishing his/her cup of coffee.
As much as we dislike travelling this waterway, there is a certain ironic symmetry to what we're doing. We took possession of the boat on August 1st, 2007 and started moving it from Charleston to Oriental via the ICW. On August 1st, 2013, exactly six years later, we find ourselves moving the boat from Oriental to Charleston, via the ICW.
It's been almost five years, November of 2008, since last we saw these waters. Most of it is not memorable but I remember with pellucid clarity all the places where I got confused (many), screwed up (several) and places where I ran aground (two). It's good not to repeat past mistakes so that we have the energy and enthusiasm for making new mistakes. There were some moments of nostalgia, actually lowlights, from the trip south in 2008. We saw the dock where we arose, one dark morning, to a boat, dock, mooring lines, electrical lines covered in ice. We passed the marina where Carol heaved her Thanksgiving dinner over the side (that's her in 2008 on the side of the boat) to a beautiful sunset. We passed Awenda Creek, where we tried to tried put out two anchors and fouled the propellor. We were so much younger then; we're wiser than that now.
Some things have gotten better over the years. One of those is my boat handling skill. On the very first trip to Oriental the captain we hired let me try some stuff, waiting for bridges, exiting marinas. Totally clueless! I have no idea about how well I do on an absolute scale; relatively the improvement has been exponential. If I don't know a lot, I do know enough to handle whatever has been served up.
It's been rainy, raining almost everyday since we left Cape May. These are summer rains, warm when they're falling and steamy when they're over. As I demanded my due on the way north, shore power to stay warm, Carol has been getting her due as we head south, shore power to stay cool. Neither one of us has been sleeping very well; that would be worse without the A/C.
It's summer, it's near the weekend and the stupids are on the water in force. Who are the stupids? They're people who:
• think it's their God-given right to anchor their fishing boats in the middle of narrow, shallow channels, made more shallow by the tide, because that's where God put the fish and the beer.
• cluster their boats in the center of the channel under 65-ft. bridges because the water is deeper there, ditto the fish and beer thing. Had to use the air horn to get their attention.
• cut in front of sailboats while pulling their children on tube floats so that the kids can fall off in the tubes in the center of the channel between us and a bridge that just opened while we're going full speed.
The jet skis don't even count, the people having the excuse of not being boaters. We must have seen every jet ski in South Carolina at least twice, some four, six and eight times as they buzzed by and buzzed by again and again.
Sunrise on the Waccamaw River
At Charleston, we will have travelled 469 miles from Norfolk/Portsmouth on the ICW; most of those miles meet W. C. Fields' criteria that, "I would rather be living in Philadelphia." There are, however, some miles that were meant to be savored. South of Myrtle Beach the ICW enters the Waccamaw River. The place we stayed that night was about three miles into the Waccamaw. It has, in our experience, a unique channel, reminiscent of the channels we saw in the Bahamas that were cut through the rock of the island. This channel was cut through the woods .... the trees were felled, the stumps pulled and the remainder dredged. It seemed that if you had the wingspan of Shaquille O'Neal you could have touched the trees on both sides as you entered. A pretty cool boating experience ... going through the woods.
The Waccamaw River is about 30 miles long and 20 of those miles are atavistic of the times before humankind walked on two legs. You could almost imagine Francis Marion, himself, stepping from behind a tree or, maybe, Mel (The Patriot) Gibson. The ride is/was gorgeous, the beauty unspoiled by development or other traces of human activity. The water through that stretch of river has an odd brown color, maybe the color of diluted Coca-Cola. I have been told that it is caused by tannin that leaches into the water from trees, probably cypress since they dominate. Interesting to look at, but it discolors white boats with a golden ring around the water line, which washes off, but not easily.
Along the way we saw many of these clumps of yellow flowers growing at the water's edge. They seemed to have a propensity for the bases of cypress trees, which is where these were growing. Those 20 miles almost pay the freight for all the rest.
On Sunday, we arrived in Charleston, taking five days to do what should have been done in four except for the dozen, or so, bridges for which we had to wait. Nine days, overall, from Norfolk/Portsmouth, about 52 miles per day, not bad but not great. Carol and I had mused that the Charleston City Marina might be an exception to my rants about public marinas being poorly managed. That debate was settled when we were about 50-ft. from the dock and the little princess not too bright on the VHF radio insisted that we switch all of our mooring lines and fenders from starboard to port. That did not happen; we moored at a place of my choosing.
It was and is good to be in the South, again. We have made the reacquaintance of several southern traditions: mosquitos (annoying), gnats (infuriating), deer flies (ouch-ing), humidity (sweating) and, for Carol, grits (yukking). We laid over a day there to accomplish several things. First, Carol wanted to get to Hyman's Restaurant, a mecca of lowland cooking, most of which has grits for dinner. I wanted to clean the cockpit to get rid of the several ka-jillion dead deer flies that we dispatched in transit. Finally, we scheduled appointments with two boat brokers to get a feel for the process and the options.
Order of Travel: Charleston, SC to Brunswick, GA
We concluded our business on Monday. This trip on the boat, probably our last trip on the boat, was NOT going to be down the ICW for four days .... been there, done that, didn't like it, ain't gonna do no mo'. On Tuesday the wind cooperated, sorta, being generally from the SE as we headed SW. We headed out the channel early, against the current, caring not a whit. From the Charleston sea buoy to the Brunswick sea buoy is a straight line, two waypoints 126 nm apart, pretty simple navigation, a trip we have made, both ways, several times. That part of the trip is easy: set the autopilot, lean back and enjoy the ride. It's the 35 nm going out one channel and then into the other where the time adds up, especially running against the tide.
The trip went faster than we had imagined and was not without some excitement. About 2000 on Tuesday Carol noticed that the bottom of the mainsail, a hook & loop system, was loose. A fairly simple fix, we had things back in order in about five minutes. The only obvious explanation is that the halyard stretched, but it's relatively new at about three years. Perplexing, but not to worry about now, at least. And, what trip would be complete without autopilot problems? Ours came at 0400 on the way to the Brunswick channel entrance. One of three things went wrong, two of which I can fix and the other is under warranty with Raymarine.
We started the trip to take the boat north to Oriental, and beyond, on October 10th, 2012. 301 days later we are back where the northern journey began. The bridge over the Altamaha River was sort of like the finish tape for a running race. When we broke that plane the trip was over; all that was left to do was to motor up the East River, toss some lines and get hugs from Sherry and Cindy to welcome us back.
Trip Coda: This trip back to Georgia has seemed long to me. Notwithstanding the fact that it was long, about 1,000 net miles, it also took many days. We left Cape Cod on July 8th and arrived here on August 7th, a month in transit. It finally dawned on me that all our other return voyages were from the south; we could get to Brunswick from Miami in three days. This took 30 days, although a few of those were to accommodate Carol when she was sick.