A Travellerspoint blog

Tangier Island

sunny 58 °F

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When we came in to Cape Charles and, again, when we left we saw seven ships anchored, maybe a mile from shore. They were not in a designated anchorage area, but that's not a big deal. What was unusual was that all seven ships were the same, identical, like finding seven white Toyota Camry's next to each other in the Wal-Mart parking lot. All had the same hull configuration, all had the same superstructure, all were painted the same color scheme, all were empty, riding high above their Plimsoll lines. And, there is no apparent reason for them to be here since there's no bulk commerce near.

Everybody on a boat obsesses about weather: too much, too little, wrong kind. We have a nice aneroid barometer mounted in the cabin. I have always paid it heed but it never seemed very informative, always operating in a fairly tight range, rarely below 29.90 and infrequently above 30.30. This trip has put paid to that point of view, the instrument having moved from 29.40 to 30.50. Maybe this was because we were so far south that frontal weather systems were much attenuated by the time they reached us. Now, I reset the movable arrow every morning on rising and every evening when we go to bed.

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I got up earlier than Carol and used the time to check the weather outlook. The outlook really wasn't that great; a frontal system was moving up the coast and the radar picture for the Chesapeake Bay was just covered up with colors, each pixel a bright harbinger that it was not going to be a great day for a sun tan. I heard echoes of the Clash (1982) singing, "Should I stay or Should I Go?" The case for staying was pretty good except that we had seen all of Cape Charles that we needed to see. By 0630 several working boats had exited the harbor, so, I figured, "Why not?" Why not, indeed? Maybe because about the time we were exiting the channel many of the working boats were returning to port. Undeterred, we continued north, along with the front noting that the clouds behind us we darker and lower than those in front of us.

We passed through the seven freighters, getting a much better look at them than we did entering port. They were, in fact, almost all the same, except .... many commercial lines have a color scheme, like racing silks. These colors and patterns are typically painted on the exhaust stacks of the ships. Each of these had something different on the stack.

We had to go about 45 nm, a good day's travel, so, despite the fact that there was enough wind to sail, speed mattered, so we motor sailed. We have generally been motoring at 2,600 RPM's, enough to push the boat at 5.0~5.5 knots without regard to wind and water. If we are going faster or slower than that range we can make reasonable inferences about the factors that might cause difference. The wind forecast was for 15~20 knots, and once we got away from the lee shore that proved to be the case and we made very good time, even with reefed sails. Then the wind got to be 20~25 knots and we made even better time, even with reefed sails. Our boat is fairly light at 17,000-lb's; so, when the wind got over 25 knots we were heeling about 25 degrees, even with reefed sails. Too much heel ... even the traveller could not compensate. So we took in more sail, the foresail to about the size of a bandanna, the mainsail to the size of some naughty thing from Victoria's Secret. And we still made more than 7.0 knots. I thought that this was way fun, flying across the water, spray from the bow forming its own deluge, the boat heeled over, tracking like the keel was in a slot. Carol, not so much. She loves to rock the carriage on the Ferris wheel, but that much wind is bothersome to her. There were some crab boats out but we never saw another pleasure craft and, certainly, no other sails.

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Regardless, we arrived at Tangier Island much earlier than planned, found the marina, and narrowly avoided a docking disaster due to the wind. Found out that Tangier Island has no cell service, ergo, no internet service for us. A two day stay became an overnight stay. The island's raison d' etre seems to be crabbing. The channel is lined, both sides, with piers and crab shacks, built over the water, no access to land. Presumably, the land is too expensive, too scarce or both. We stayed at Park's Marina and met the eponymous man himself, a very active, spry and nice 82 years old, so he told us. Carol walked about the island; I stayed on the boat hoping to warm up. She didn't walk very far; I didn't get very warm.

James Michner wrote many books with name place titles, including Chesapeake, which followed his predictable formula of describing the development of an area from when to earth was a smoldering rock, 4.5 billion years ago, through the development of the wild life of an area and then the introduction of humans. He seemed to regard the early humans and then newly come settlers as the good guys; subsequent generations he treated as being attenuated in vigor and effete in nature. He probably would have approved of Tangier Island.

Michner's description of the Chesapeake was as a boiling cauldron of life, all connected to the water, including the islands of migratory birds that once covered the water. I recall having read an article about oysters in the bay. Oysters are siphoning creatures and that at one point the oyster population of the bay could siphon all the water once a week, cleaning it in the process; now it's down to once a year, which still seems remarkable. It is something to wish to have been able to have seen.

Tangier Island served a purpose, although not the one we had imagined. It was a Motel 6 on I-80 in the middle of Nebraska. Stayed there, the weather changed, and we then moved on.

Posted by sailziveli 09:18 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

Cape Charles, VA

sunny 65 °F

On Wednesday morning we planned to get underway. The maneuvering space was cramped in the marina and getting out required taking the stern to starboard, something that boat and captain do not do very well. So, I referenced the handy-dandy Annapolis Book of Seamanship for a clue; got a clue, set the lines, coached Carol up and before the motor was even in gear, the wind was doing about ten times better than I ever could have. It's good to be lucky and nice to start on a positive note. Carol noted that in the few days we were at that marina she had the number of irises go from one to many; I saw the first robin of the season, a sure sign of Spring. All the trees are putting out buds so even if we haven't crossed the climatological hurdle, we are over the psychological one: IT'S SPRING!

It was a beautiful day for a "drive down the river," little wind, tide not a factor, sunny, warm and pleasant. If the ride itself was not interesting, all of the stuff that we saw was, to us at least. In sort of order in which we saw things: DSCN2066.jpgDSCN2069.jpgDSCN2074.jpgDSCN2075.jpgDSCN2076.jpgDSCN2077.jpgDSCN2084.jpgDSCN2087.jpgDSCN2088.jpgDSCN2098.jpgDSCN2104.jpgDSCN2099.jpg

  • I did not count the number of derrick/gantries that there are in Norfolk for unloading containers; there must be 50, probably more. It was disturbing to see so much capital deployed and so little of it being used. There was one ship being handled and we saw one more along the way.
  • I had never before seen a hospital ship. Pretty distinctive and easy to spot.
  • We saw the third one of those ships with the two big tower things. From this angle it was clear that they must have something to do with helicopters; the rear deck is open and flat and there is a big "garage" door to put the choppers inside the boat. None of this explains the twin towers.
  • We saw one ship get underway and exit for the open sea. It looked like a war ship, bigger, faster and far more lethal than S/V Ziveli.
  • There were several more of the, seemingly, same class of ship moored; I think I counted more than six. All had a nominal turret and gun forward.
  • There were several aircraft carriers there with no apparent activity aboard, 4 or 5, although one may have been for helicopters. I have read that we don't have enough carrier groups to be able to project power around the globe and all of these things sit idle.
  • When we exited Hampton Roads for the Chesapeake we saw the two markers of 18th century planning: a lighthouse to mark the entrance and a fort to defend it.
  • In our cruising experience, these are unique to Chesapeake Bay. It is a lighthouse, some 55-ft. tall marking hazardous water, Thimble Shoal, out in the middle of the bay. I assume that it is weighted and that it rests on the bottom. I have seen drawing of old ones, maybe 100 years ago, and they were occupied by light tenders. Now, solar panels seem to do the job.
  • Two pictures of some sort of Darth Vader catamaran. A very strange vessel; US Naval color, haze gray, but no US Naval markings and the finish was in a state of disrepair which no naval captain would allow.
  • The last is a USCG vessel called a buoy tender, probably the only USCG ships with black hulls. I have seen many over the years but never one that was actually messing with buoys.

This is an interesting marina, certainly the premier one for sailboats in the area. It's about a 15-min. trip to the point where the sails are up and the motor is off. Today was a good evening for sailing and we probably saw 20 sailboats leave and return. We are used to a cruising world where 95% of the time one boat means two people and most of the rest is one boat, one person.

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The traffic we saw today was quite different. Small day sailers had 4~6 people and larger boats had 6~10 people. The one crew we were able to observe looked quite practiced in knowing mooring procedures which got me to thinking that maybe these crews/friends also race the boats so that they are regulars on a given boat. Anyway, the other weird protocol here is that boats always back into their slips. We are the only boat on this dock that is bow in; of course, we are also the only boat on this dock carrying a dinghy and O/B motor on the stern which complicates things. We watched several boats back down the long runway between the docks and, then, back into their slips doing so, as the French would say, with cran. I would have been intimidated were I concerned about peer pressure. Being old and somewhat slow, I don't really care about all of that and Carol and I were able to look out over the stern and amusedly watch the parade go by. The other interesting thing is that the marina(s) share Little Creek with the US Navy. Private boats enter the channel and turn right; the Navy ships go straight. It may be 200 yards from the end of this dock to the nearest Navy vessel. The Little Creek area is also on the flight path of both the Naval Air Station and the public airport.

In retrospect, we should have headed across the bay on Tuesday or Wednesday, which we could have easily done. But, we were both tired from the trip and the preparation; the idea of some downtime seemed like a good one. Now, in retrospect, maybe a little too much down time. If we get to Maine, the earliest we would want to arrive in 07/01/2013 which gives us almost three months for the Chesapeake and Long Island Sound. That sounds like a lot of time but, probably, will not be.

There is a rhythm on our boat that is familiar to any farmer: early to bed and early to rise. It is a rare evening when one or both of us is not nodding off, book fallen to the bed cover, by 9:00 pm. Carol has, at least once this trip, been snoring by 7:00 pm. Regretfully, we have both been able to watch the first fingers of morning twilight clutch the horizon every day of the trip, so far. Sleeping late, i.e. past 0500, just hasn't been part of any day's planned activities. As for the rest of the aphorism, healthy, wealthy and wise, forgetaboutit!

In the downtime we have been doing tasks, necessary, fairly easy things to accomplish without much investment in energy or time; we're trying to avoid projects for now. While working on a task yesterday, I needed something from the very bottom of the starboard lazarette, which required a fair amount of "digging" to access. When we brought the storage bag up it was dripping, a bad sign because this is an area where I have done some work, and if the work had been poorly done it would have compromised the water tight integrity of the hull, not a pleasant thing to contemplate. The absolute first thing to do in such a situation is to taste the water, fresh or salt. Having the better sense of taste, Carol declared it to be fresh water, the better of the two outcomes. The only obvious source of fresh water there is the swim platform shower plumbing, which we tested, and which did not leak. Everything else in the area was bone dry save this one small cranny. The only other guess is that somehow during a fresh water wash down water got inside and settled there. Several days later came the EUREKA! moment: Carol was the last person to have used the 75-ft. garden hose, topping off the water tanks while still in Oriental. Since she never worked for a 250-lb. cigar chewing 2d class Bos'n's Mate named Nails nor had she ever done any firefighting, she didn't drain the hose before stowing it. A fairly credible explanation that meets the test of Occam's Razor: it's the simplest explanation that fits all of the facts. I hope the hose was the source of the water; the alternative scenarios stretch from bad to terrible.

Friday was rainy, as predicted. Carol did laundry and I decided to do the 100 hour engine stuff 15 hours early; it was just that kind of day. One thing I check during every scheduled engine cycle is the tightness of the many bolts that hold the motor mounts to the stringers and the engine to the motor mounts. A lot of the boat maintenance is fairly interesting; much is tedious and mindless. This job is the only one I hate to contemplate and detest doing. The bolts to the stringers are impossible: three of eight are moderately accessible with enough room to get two wrenches, one for the nut and one for the bolt, onto the business ends and to turn the wrenches. Four of the eight are very difficult, access to the nut or bolt, but not the other. The eighth is simply impossible for me with old hands, a weak grip and an inflexible body. In Nassau, when I had the engine aligned, the guy and I together spent almost 30 minutes on this one nut/bolt combination with only moderate success. The problem is that these nuts always seem to have an eighth of a turn of available thread, so they always demand attention. Yanmar engines have a reputation for solid reliability but also for being vibration prone. So, I always worry whether the engine has gone out of alignment and I become hyper sensitive to the feel of the vibrations through my feet. An issue without any apparent resolution.

On Wednesday Norfolk hit 89o breaking the record of 87o set in 1922 but this efflorescence of summer was evanescent. With the storm front and the rain came more normal, if less appreciated, temperatures in the 50's and 60's.

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I woke up about 0300, the boat was rocking, the lines were squeaking, the shrouds were singing and the wind was still from the south. Got up at 0530 and the wind had shifted about 180o in those couple of hours as the front passed through the area, calmer but still pretty breezy. The 0700 departure plan was tabled in favor of breakfast and a 0900 departure which we made. For all the wind, when the front passed there was not enough to push the boat, so we motor sailed the 20 miles of open water. A cruising guide had cautioned that there was a 1.8 knot current in the Cape Charles area, neglecting to mention direction or location. We discovered both, traveling at an average of 7.5 knots for the last 90 minutes, frequently exceeding 8.0. There was not enough wind, the engine RPM's were too low, the boat's waterline to too short and the captain is not good enough to account for all that pace. Regardless, it was fun while it lasted.

I expected a mad rush of boats exiting the marina on Saturday morning. We were the only vessel underway from the marina; we saw just two freighters and a crab boat underway the whole trip. The marina had told us that we would be the only transient boaters over the weekend but while here three other boats did arrive. Based on the dates of local festivals and events, I guess that we are about two weeks ahead of the normal weather curve.

Cape Charles is the southernmost community on the Delmarva (an acronym for states of DELaware, MAryland and VinginiA, arranged both in alphabetical and north to south order) Peninsula on the eastern shore of the bay. We arrived by boat to what was a railroad town but is no longer that.

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They have the makings of a fairly interesting train museum on site, on rails over which few trains has moved, since all the rails were well covered with rust. The original Eastern Shore Railroad built homes for their workers, in various stages of repair each pushing 100 years old, and sent rail cars onto ferries headed to Norfolk. The Bay Coast Railroad, according to Wikipedia, still operates in Cape Charles; the state of the tracks belies that.

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I had been watching this for many miles as a point of reference for holding course to Cape Charles. From a distance it was "obviously" a lighthouse, one which I could not find on the chart. Turns out that it is only a water tower done up to look like one of the old time lighthouses; from the water it sure fooled me.

What Cape Charles does now have is a cement plant which dominates the southern side of the harbor. The cement is shipped throughout the Chesapeake area for construction.

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No bougainvillea here, so Carol with her favorite flowers, the purple iris.

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We went to a nearby restaurant last night, Carol having her heart and mouth set on fresh crab only to find out that the water temperatures have been so cold that no crab was available. We did have some raw bay oysters, truly delicious, even better than the ones we had in New Orleans in January.

The ubiquitous sunset across the dunes and the bay.

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Today, Sunday, the only task at hand is fueling, no more than a half hours work. We've been testing fuel-filter funnels, trying to come up with a way to reduce the contamination of anaerobic bacteria in the fuel. We've always had some minor issues but the bad fuel in the Bahamas caused us to get serious about keeping any water from the fuel tanks. These filters work very well, keeping out water and other particulate matter. The problem is that they are awkward to use and add too much complexity to the process of transferring fuel from jerry cans to tank; it would have been impossible to use them underway on the open water. So, we're back to the old, reliable super-siphon by itself, straight into the tank. The fall back measure is that we will not fuel from pump directly to tank, always filling the tank from the cans. This way, at least, we can see what's going into the system through the clear siphon tubing.

Tomorrow, Monday, if the weather holds, we will head north to Tangier Island, our jumping off point for the trip up the Potomac River to WDC.

Posted by sailziveli 11:06 Archived in USA Tagged boats bay boating chesapeale Comments (0)

Still in Norfolk

sunny 83 °F

One of my main on board responsibilities is checking the weather: move or stay! There are lots of sites that predict the weather and, I have always assumed, they all pull from the same NOAA data bank and reformat the data in different ways. If they all use the same data, then all the weather forecasts should be generally analogous in outlook, which is, of course, never the case. Like the compass, what do you believe? There seem to be a lot of guys who think that writing a check to buy a boat instantly makes them master captains and PhD. meteorologists. I can only wish! My preferred method was borrowed from Rock/Paper/Scissors, the best two of three, or three of five: find some sites that seem to agree and go with the majority report. This usually works well enough until it doesn't, always an unexpected surprise; more wind, higher waves, different wind direction or becalmed. Surprise always works on the downside, rarely to our benefit. There was a whole lot more wind in the inland waters we just traveled that any forecast predicted. Now I am trying to figure out when it will be OK to leave here for Cape Charles. There is a front passing through sometime late Thursday or early Friday that will make the Chesapeake Bay a little bit frothy and the temperatures a bit cooler.

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In 45 years together I have discovered that there are three things that Carol cannot do: turn off any light, close any window or lock any door. I have not yet figured out whether these non-actions are the result of emotional, psychological, physioligical or genetic barriers, probably never will. It has been interesting to see these same things play out on the boat, just in a different context: port holes remain open, even in the rain; the companionway "door" is left open even in freezing weather, air circulation don't you know; the all time favorite is the electrical panel. My job is to be the power miser, minimizing all extraneous amp hour usage so that the refrigerator does not wipe out the batteries. The power panel is pretty obvious, if red LEDs are on, circuits are live, consuming power. There are just a few patterns of the 14 lights on the panel that should be seen in different situations. Our favorite on board pastime is for me to look at the panel and see unnecessary LED's on and ask, "Why is the _______ (fill in the blank) on?" Hers is to say, "Oh, I'm done with that, I'll just turn it off." If we were to keep the boat another 5.5 years I will still be asking the same question and she will still be making the same reply, one brick wall, two heads banging against it several times a day. Sounds like a marriage.

We visited the Gen. Douglas MacArthur museum; it was sort of like reading American Caeser but with the real artifacts instead of just pictures. He was a fascinating individual, one of two men, the other being Huey Long, who, in my opinion, might have been able to disrupt the political process of this country. One a populist, the other a nationalist, both would have had to struggle against long but not impossible odds.

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Some time in the 90's Chicago and had an unusual art deal. Someone had the idea of taking life sized fiberglass cows, having the cows sponsored and then the sponsors having the cows decorated by local artists in a theme that might reflect something about the sponsor. It was called: Cows on Parade. So, for instance, the Chicago Bears commissioned a cow as did museums, businesses, professional groups. The decorated cows were put on the sidewalks, in lobbies, parks, places where something that big and that colorful would surprise, even amaze. It sounds goofy but it was really pretty cool and the cows were later auctioned off for big bucks. Norfolk must have done something similar with mermaids except that the city kept the mermaids on permanent display. We must have seen at least a dozen as we walked the downtown area. This seemed too good to pass up: two red headed mermaids; in memory of Patty G, who Carol loved, and all of Patty's mermaids. Can it be anything other than a cosmic non-coincidence that Carol was color coordinated with the red headed mermaid?

Link to Pictures of Cows on Parade

Link to Pictures of Mermaids on Parade...

Carol and I lived in the area in 1971. At the time downtown Norfolk was dying commercially and the city was being hollowed out, people and businesses moving out to areas like Virginia Beach, where we lived. There is little here that I recognized or remembered; the old downtown Norfolk Sears store is long gone. I did recall the Virginian-Pilot newspaper building and the Scope arena, at the time the home to the Virginia Squires where I got to see the all time great, Dr. J, play before he went to the 76er's. What a difference four decades makes. This downtown area, at least the part which we can cover on foot, is new, vibrant, busy and interesting. There is a an unusual mix of commercial and residential properties in close proximity and it seems to work.

Having missed the blooming trees at home, I had thought that we might see the cherry trees in Washington, DC. That looks doubtful since the cherry trees are in full blossom here. I have only seen cherry trees in bloom one time, in the early 90's in Osaka. There is a walkway near the Japanese mint that I visited which is quite famous, rightly so, for its cherry blossoms, Sakura. I'm not sure quite when churches got serious about spires, probably early in the 2d millennium CE. Church spires should seem anachronistic today when buildings routinely erupt 1,000-ft. or more from the earth, but to me they don't. The best of both.

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Had a bit of a walk about on Sunday, a sunny, warm, perfect day, the first in 2013 for which a t-shirt was appropriate; had a gin & tonic to celebrate and we ate dinner in the cockpit. What a nice surprise that was. The marina has generally been devoid of human activity except for us and the young man that tends the dock. Today was so nice that many people came down to their boats just to sit in the warm of the sun near the water.

Four days underway and already we have a list of things to change, repair or replace. No trip on any boat is complete without a trip to West Marine, this one being no exception. On Monday Carol wanted to rent a car for a trip there as well as to the Portsmouth side of the river, so we did. Weather-wise it looks like we will be unable to leave until some time this weekend. Norfolk had not been a part of the trip, a destination; it was simply a gateway to the Chesapeake Bay through which we had to pass. It looks like we will be doing the lemon/lemonade thing and finding ways to enjoy the sojourn here. This is where Carol is at her best, she being an irrepressible, unapologetic, incurable optimist able to find the good in a glass that is 2% full, especially if the 2% includes restaurants and dining out; I tend to get grumpy when the glass is 2% empty.

Got to West Marine, got what we needed, for this stop, anyway. We decided to drive to the Pembroke area where once we lived and worked. The apartments, built in about 1960, looked better than they did when we lived there. The Sears store, where I worked, also built in about 1960, not so great. It looked like a two tone, deserted warehouse, a sad sight to me. It was interesting all the various memories that came back to us both; things that we would never have recalled without the evocative side trip. It was kind of fun sharing that history. Carol wanted to go to the beach, a trip we had made on bicycles several times with 4 year old Sean loaded in a seat on the back of my bike, well before the time when helmets were required for anyone. Got there and had a ride on a ferris wheel, then walked to the boardwalk. We decided to use the new iPhone for direction to get to a place to make a minor repair to our canvas. The first time Apple maps put us closer to our house than to Mike's Marine Canvas. The second attempt at least got us into the same area code, but not the same zip code. Google Maps .... dead on. All the criticism I have read about Apple's mapping software is correct; it's junk.

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We made it to Portsmouth on Tuesday, taking the ferry across the river. Got another good look at the work being done in the yards.

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It's hard to tell these days what purpose a USN ship serves; is it part of the tiger's tooth or the tiger's tale? Things used to be simpler; if a ship had a lot of 16-in. guns it was a battleship; a bunch of 8-in. guns and it was a cruiser; a few 5-in. guns and it was a destroyer. Subs and carriers were self explanatory and everything else was about logistics, moving stuff across the water. The ship in the tent in the background must be some sort of carrier; it has a sign about jet blast and rotor wash. The one in front looks like something a precocious 4-year old would have built with Lego blocks; what is with the two towers? On the far right, hard to see, are several ship's bows that look like they belong to predators not cargo carriers.

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Right at the ferry disembark pier was the fresnel lens from a decommissioned light house. It was not lighted, of course, but it was turning and the lens acted like prism which I found fascinating. Portsmouth was pretty interesting, many old churches, pre-1800's with cemeteries having similarly old head stones. There is also an "old town" covering several square blocks. It is not as big and dense as Charleston's but it covered a larger span of years with houses into the early 1900's. It was a good visit, worth more time than we were able to give it.

The past several days have just been delightful, closer to summer than Spring. T-shirts during the day; heat off at night. It's been sunny enough to get Carol back into her SPF 50 mode, hanging towels in the cockpit to keep out the sun and, of course, buying new sun hats. Given her history it is hard to take issue with any of this.

So, we have a sort of plan. I had thought to anchor in Willoughby Bay and to leave from there. The coming weather makes that a bad idea. Leaving from here adds almost 12 nm to the crossing, too many for one day. On Wednesday we'll switch marinas to one that is outside the main harbor with a straight shot across the mouth of the Bay to Cape Charles. We hope to leave on Saturday when/if the weather has settled down.

Posted by sailziveli 19:42 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

On to Norfolk

sunny 43 °F

Nautical questions on an early morning:
• The person at the helm of our boat has three devices indicating the course on which the boat is traveling. The analog compass, of course; the chart plotter which uses GPS and trigonometry to calculate the heading; and, the autopilot which uses a flux gate compass to calculate the heading. The latter two can be set to true north or magnetic north and we use magnetic. None of the three ever agree; it always takes at least 5 degrees to span the difference between the three headings and, more often, 10 degrees is required. Occasionally the auto pilot compass gets stupid, being kind of close on one heading and then being 20 degrees of after a course change. It's not important to know why but I'd like to understand. The magnetic compass is the default device; it got us from the northern Berry Islands to Nassau when not a single electron of electricity was flowing on the boat. But, which reading is most likely to be the nearest to correct?
• One of our yellow Marinco power cords failed so we replaced it. The new one had an LED at the boat end indicating whether the cord was powered or not. This is such a great safety feature that we bought another one just like it. The subsidiary issue is that they pack these things into coils the size of beer cans for shipping and we haven't had any warm weather that allows the plastic insulation to lose this "beer can" memory; they're hard to coil and store. In addition Marinco changed the coupling on the boat end from threaded to something else. The population of 30 amp threaded Marinco fittings installed on the sides, sterns and cockpits of American boats has to number in the hundreds of thousands. Why would they do this?
• Carol and I are both early risers and usually get underway with the first light, now before 0700. Part of our discipline is to do a VHF radio check, usually around 0630 or so. We have yet to receive a response any time this year. Are we the only guys up?

Mornings on the boat when underway are quite different. No iPad reading of the WSJ, a quick minute for email and no relaxing. Get up, get dressed, get systems up, get the weather, get charts and guides positioned, get things stowed and plan the departure. My mornings now, again, include keeping the log in the book Stan and Connie gave us for our first trip in 2008. The page on which I started 2013 had this citation from a poem by Keats:

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen ...

The real estate along the ICW really is a realm of gold.

Day one started ugly and ended fair; day two was the obverse, fair to ugly. When we left Belhaven I was looking at a weather system moving north from the border between the Carolinas. We had all our foul weather gear laid out and ready. The clouds arrived at 0900; the wind at 1030. The rain was forecast to start at 1100 but, thankfully, held off until after we were moored. It's good to be lucky.

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Most of the day was driving the boat through the Alligator River/Pungo River Canal, a 22-mile ditch carved out of the south annex of the Great Dismal Swamp. Most of the way the canal is fairly narrow, lined with the stumps of cypress trees, seemingly close enough to touch from the boat. The canal is almost without human habitation, completely undeveloped. I suppose that there is beauty there, but if there is, it's not a very interesting kind.

This was our third transit of this canal, having gone north to Norfolk and back in August, 2008. We were returning south to Oriental from Norfolk and got about a half mile into the eastern end of the canal when the engine oil pressure alarm went off. We had the music cranked up and almost did not hear it, the alarm sounding like an instrumental part of whatever song was playing. We shut the engine down and looked in the motor compartment to find one gallon of oil on the deck, one gallon coincidently being the total capacity of the engine. We were too far away to reach any station on the VHF so we tried the cell phone; there was a hint of a signal but we could not connect. A small sailboat passed us so we gave those guys our position and Towboat US membership number and asked them to call on VHF when they could get a response. A good idea except that their boat broke down about a quarter mile from ours. Desperate, I went I went up the mast where the cell signal was stronger, but only for about two minutes. Called Towboat US and gave them our position to which the young lady replied, "But that's on land!" Since we had drifted onto some cypress stumps at the very edge on the canal that was just about correct. The signal then faded, the call was dropped and I wasn't sure if things were set in motion. Luckily for us, they were. The unnamed Belhaven individual in addition to running the marina, restaurant, B&B, and boatyard was also the Towboat US guy which is how we initially met him. There are many legitimate criticisms which can be made of us as boaters; no one can criticize our time on the boat as having been boring. (We also have never again played music or the radio when we are underway with motor or with sail.)

Given this history, Carol's mission on Thursday was to call someone every two miles through the canal to see if there was cell coverage; there was, the whole way but only for calling, not for data transfer. It was really just an excuse to call all her friends and talk.

When we hit the open water of the Alligator River there was a 10 mile straight run with the wind in a useable position. So, we put out a sail and Carol took the helm to get the feel of the boat with pressure on a sail. She did well enough. I have to give her some credit; if she cannot handle lines well, it is, at least, her job to rig the lines and fenders for mooring. Today was a particularly unpleasant day to do that, the day being cold, windy, bouncy and wet with spray from the bow. She schlepped around the deck in a life vest and safety tether and got lines and fenders out without complaint even wearing a knit cap for warmth at the risk of crushing her curls and "depoofing" her hair, a fashionista catastrophe. For decades in Chicago Carol wore no hat; she was always cold but her hair looked great.

The weather must be a factor in peoples' plans, or maybe we are just stupid. We saw two boats underway yesterday and two boats underway today. We were the only boat at the marina in Belhaven; we are the only boat in the Alligator River Marina. In fact, this marina isn't even open but they accommodated us because of the bad weather. Very nice!

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This picture was taken on our trip to Norfolk in 2008, no more than two miles east of the Alligator River Marina, the other side of the river in East Lake. The lake isn't much deeper than our boat's draft and there must have been a few thousand crab pots between us and our anchorage. I like the picture even if it is not contemporary.

The second day was neither taxing nor demanding. But at day's end there was little difference between a boat with a mast or a cave with a fire: an elemental satisfaction that the labor had ended, we were sated, we were safe, we were warm and we were dry. Maybe that is simplicity after all.

We, read I, had thought that we might lay over for a day and wait for the weather to break. We had a leisurely morning but by 0800 I had the travelin' jones. It seemed that the wind had calmed a bit. There are two ICW locations that are notorious for bad shoaling: Ft. Matanzas, FL and here, where the Alligator Rover flows into the Albemarle Sound. I went on Active Captain and some cruising forums to get advice on how to navigate that 0.5 mile of water. All agreed: throw out everything you know about reading a chart and honoring navigation markers; do a specific thing a specific way for success/survival. So we did. And, it worked never saw less than 10-feet of water. Ain't the internet wonderful!

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The wind, on the other hand, had just had a brief time out making Friday morning pretty much an instant replay of Wednesday morning but, with one critical difference; instead of going directly into the wind and waves we were running at an oblique angle. The wind did attenuate to 15~20 knots after a while and we made the run across the Sound motoring with a reefed mail sail. I had wanted to work on our weather legs and this run seemed engaging without being threatening. It was good to have the boat running hard with a sail up knowing that we could bail at any time. Carol is in danger of losing her title of Nordic Princess. Here she is huddled under a blanket while I, the king of cold weather weenies, tough it out.

The crossing took a couple of hours and was fun but bouncy. Here is a few seconds of video with Carol at the helm and, yes, I was having trouble standing up and holding the camera. Carol at the Helm

After that it was a quiet few miles to the marina. We have been watching birds, hoping to see an eagle, something we did on the trip north in August, 2008. There have been lots of sea gulls, quite a few pelicans and every single cormorant in eastern North Carolina. Today was a serious raptor day, but without the eagle. This is a pair of ospreys and the other is most likely a red tailed hawk, or some other hawk, although there is about a 1 in 100 chance that it is an immature or juvenile eagle but, even allowing for distance, it seemed too small for that. I don't know why raptors hold such a command of our, and my, fascination. They are some of nature's perfect predators perfectly adapted to the ether; maybe it is the grace which they exhibit in the air and on the hunt, appearing to defy the laws of mass and gravity, seeming weightless as they float on rising thermal currents. Maybe they hold the embodiment of mankind's desire to, "slip the surly bonds of earth." On the last leg, to Norfolk, we saw several dozen osprey nests all with white heads tucked low into the nests. We assume that there were eggs being tended, soon to hatch.

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The last day was a fitting finale. We had about 15 nm of open water to cross and did it into winds that were 20~30 knots. Dull, tedious, boring but also very tiring. When we were into sheltered waters the muscles of my neck and shoulders were badly knotted and very tight; I had been gripping the helm so hard for so long that my hands were numb.

In Coinjock a lady asked for help in very poor English, she being French; maybe she picked us because we have a Beneteau. Anyway, the last 15 miles into Norfolk has several swing, bascule and lift bridges; they were concerned about conversing with the bridge tenders to arrange passages. So we traveled together, our boat handling the communication chores, in this case Carol doing the talking. Listening to Carol on the VHF radio is painful; terse and telic are not words that immediately come to mind.

Carol and I have been reminiscing about this same trip some 4.5 years earlier. We have recounted the Belhaven imbroglio; there was also the Norfolk electrical problem and the Norfolk incident where Carol literally walked off the dock into the water with our only cell phone. We had had the boat one year and we were so naive and inexperienced despite having worked so hard to learn about boats and boating in that year. We are still naive but less inexperienced having put some 5,000 miles of water under our keel. Not a lot by some cruising standards but a lot for us.

The last 10 miles, or so, into Norfolk are fairly industrial, interesting but not engaging. The last two miles are heavily invested in USN ship repair. It's not easily apparent from the picture but there are whole US naval vessels inside the tent like structures; plus there were several that we saw to the south that cannot be seen from the marina. What I have recently read is that we are down to about a 300 ship Navy. If that's the case, then several per cent of that Navy is under repair here in Norfolk & Portsmouth.

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When we arrived in Norfolk, and had the boat secured, I decided that I needed a beer to celebrate. The first place we found that served Newcastle Brown Ale was a Hooter's restaurant. This was the first time that Carol had ever visited such a place, naively believing that the chain exploited women, not wanting her dollars to support or continue that exploitation. Sadly, it is the other way around; the guys are exploited by paying too much for bad food and poor service, tipping too much for the privilege sitting in the midst of tight orange shorts. The beer, on the other hand, was frosty and went down easily and quickly. Carol got to pay the bill and to calculate the tip.

We haven't thought too much about next action steps. The trip destinations are planned and routed. What's missing is the weather to enjoy the destinations and the travel. Nights are going to be in the mid-40's for at least the next week, maybe longer. The jet stream continues to be intent on its southerly course. Right now it is warmer in Chicago (47o) than in Norfolk (43o). Go Figure! There is some stuff we can do, e.g. it's almost time for an oil change, but nothing pressing. So, after almost three solid weeks of getting ready to leave, and then the trip to Norfolk, we might just hand out for a few days; one marina is pretty much like another as long as there is shore power.

Posted by sailziveli 08:15 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Aim for the North Star

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Well, that's a bit, actually a lot, over the top but it conveys the general concept: we're underway in a northerly direction.

The last few days at the dock were very focused and very busy. In boat terms, everything went well meaning only the usual amount of aggravation. The new head went in well enough; but, then the bright, clean parts made the other old parts, neither bright nor clean, look very dingy which, of course led to a concatenation of replacement so that now the whole thing looks pretty good. The old one must have needed replacing because the new one performs way differently which is, I assume, way better. We cleaned and mounted the dinghy and tested the O/B motor. The motor worked great but a perpetually recalcitrant hose coupling became impossible. Easy enough to solve with a credit card and a short drive to West Marine.

As we have been testing the equipment we have also been testing ourselves. Does the SSB radio work: yes. Did I remember the Mhz for Chris Parker's 0630 broadcast: no. Was I able to tune to that frequency: yes. Did the O/B motor start: yes. Did I remember how to start it: yes, but I had to think about it. There will be more stuff like this as we move on a regular basis, engaging more equipment, old patterns remembered through fog and haze. Having come to boating late in life we are not practiced in the rhythms of the boat.

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Most of the boats here are for local use, maybe a weekend trip to the outer banks or Point Lookout. As we have begun loading our cruising "stuff" onto the boat our vessel has become the marina's ugly duckling as we have added lines, fenders, jerry cans, etc. to the deck. The sleek, graceful lines have become hidden under the accretion of necessary cruising essentials, barnacles for the topside. This trip is going to be different from any of ours to the Bahamas, successful or not. The mentality for cruising there was: bring enough of it if you're going to need it; spare parts as well as consumables. Cruising domestically we ought to be able to find extra virgin olive oil, Colgate tooth paste even if we have to rent a car to find the nearest Walmart. I don't think that either one of us has yet internalized this distinction. I was looking at our Rotella motor oil and we have only two gallons which almost brought on a panic until I rationalized that any place that we bring this boat on the east coast will sell Rotella oil. Water will be the big difference. In the Bahamas if water was available at all it came at a price. I assume that we will be able to get free water anywhere so that absolute water conservation will not be very important this trip.

The inside is getting filled also. Thoreau's admonition was:simplify, simplify, simplify. I suppose, life on a boat is simpler in many aspects. There are no cars or TV's, fewer distracting possessions in general but it's no Walden Pond. We seem to have become a digital Noah's ark having a pair of cell phones, a pair of iPods, a pair of iPads and a pair of computers. We may not be able to see the shore but life on land will never be very far away.

We were discussing our plans with a friend in Oriental and he asked me if I subscribed to Active Captain, a web site, with which I was completely unfamiliar. So, I joined and what a deal it is. It has some aspects of a wiki, boaters updating information in real time about navigation, markers, marinas, anchorages, etc and displaying that information on a chart facsimile. I don't know if this can replace a cruising guide but it is a great complement to one. On this trip we should have decent cell coverage most of the time which means internet access to this website underway. This web site paired with Google Earth may make new places somewhat familiar before we depart for those destinations. Stress reduction is good!

We like the place and the people but the slip in we are is just too small for our boat. We're about 4-ft. too long and at least 1.5-ft. too wide. To go bow in and have access from the finger pier we had to allow the bow to touch the dock with a flat fender between the two. Stern in is a little bit better fit but backing a too wide boat into a too narrow slip seems like threading a needle and my marginal boat handling skills diminish to zero in reverse.

On the Friday evening before we departed it seemed as if the whole trip had become undone. We had gone to New Bern for dinner and a new 12v charger for the computer since the old one, apparently, had stopped working and the battery life of this Dell is about three hours, at best. The new one didn't work any better than the old one which is to say, not at all, and the battery was still draining. Not yet time for panic. In lieu of a working computer, I decided to enter a new way point in the the nav. system. The system would not power up. Time for panic! The system is 11 years old; since boat years are longer than dog years, that's way, way old. Because the nav. system is integrated with the radar unit, the replacement cost with installation would be north of $4,000, much further north than we had planned to go on this trip.

I opened the electrical compartment to feel for a loose power supply cord to the back of the unit. Nada. Working back there is always a problem; the wires are many and it's like trying to move through 500 years of accumulated spider webs without breaking a single strand. I didn't succeed; I managed to rip out a pair of wires for the nav. station lamp. There were no nav. system wires loose, so I took everything apart. Nada! Tried the unit on the binnacle. Nada, but this was good news, maybe. Seemed like a power supply issue to the system not a problem with any particular component, an interesting insight but one for which I could not imagine any useful application.

Decided to work on the computer problem, and in doing so, shorted out a fuse and simultaneously contrived to have the ground end clamp of the continuity tester fall into pieces. What I discovered with the computer was that the 1 socket to 2 socket adapter was bad. Replaced that and the fuse. The surprise was that when I fixed the 12v outlet computer problem the nav. system started working again, radar too. These are on separate circuits and should not interact in any way; and, maybe they didn't. But it seems to me that there must have been an unholy imbrication in the electrical system well beyond my understanding. Of course, people have believed many strange things such as devils and dragons being the "logical" explanation for events; I'm willing to believe that there is/was a devil somewhere in those wires. I suppose that it's not important that I understand as long as things work and I'm relieved that they do. I love the boat and cruising. But, this was one of those several times in the past five years and eight months when I have felt totally overwhelmed, inadequate for the task, frustrated beyond measure and a complete idiot for ever thinking that boating is something that we could reasonably do at our ages. For someone like me, that is a crushing way to feel; never liked it, never will.

On Sunday, leaving the shower room I saw two familiar faces, Bruce & Rosie, Bruce having been a colleague at Sears during my last several years there. They live about an hour north (by car, farther by boat) of Oriental. Bruce had picked up the blog, knew we were in Oriental and, having no way to contact me they drove down to see us. This was a total surprise and a great treat for me. Bruce also likes our mountains so maybe they will accept our invitation for a visit in the Fall.

We were in Oriental for two weeks prior to leaving. If the trip down was bleak, Spring has finally sprung here. The redbuds are in bloom, trees are putting out new leaves, forsythia are in flower and the iris are up and open. The pine trees are prolific in their germination, the nascent cones putting out layer upon layer of yellow pollen, coating cars and boats and everything else. Wash any surface and within 24-hours it is back to school bus yellow.

We got underway on Wednesday, 04/03/2013, planning a three day trip in four days so that we could stay in a marina every night with electrical power for the heat pump. Spring may be in the air but winter has not yet released its grip on the overnight temperatures. The plan was to use the last few days of unpleasant weather for the trip to Norfolk, only a transit, not part of the trip, so that we could be there, at the mouth of the Chesapeake, when the weather breaks fair. We saw this scene over our stern as we headed to the pump out dock on Tuesday evening.

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Tuesday looked pretty good; Wednesday, not so much. It was raining as we disconnected shore power and made ready to leave. There was a brisk wind, but not concerning. As we headed out Pierce Creek into the open water of the Neuse River the wind picked up. By the time we hit Pamlico Sound it was blowing 20~25 knots on the bow and we were getting beat up heading into the winds and waves. Since the river and sound are fairly shallow, +/- 20-ft., the water gets choppy with a very short period between waves. Our boat doesn't handle chop well. After a certain number of waves the bow digs in and speed drops to not very much. We made 3.5 kts. while the engine had RPM's for at least 6.0 kts. The first three hours were very long, unpleasant, uncomfortable and cold without much apparent progress north.

A larger boat, motor sailing, passed us so I decided to give the sails a try. Looked at the mast head fly and the wind was coming over the port beam which, had I been thinking I would have known was impossible. Set and trimmed the sails accordingly and we slowed down. Wrong answer! Gave up on that and headed into irons to take the sails down, checked my heading into the wind and it was still over the port beam. That registered but we were too busy with too much wind to worry about the anomaly. When I did pay attention it was simple to understand the problem. In January we had a new VHF antenna installed, at the top of the mast. The antenna was mispositioned and was blocking the fly from turning, stuck on the port beam. A rookie mistake by the yard.

When we hit Bay River and turned away from the wind we put sails up again and made almost 7.0 knots. The rest of way was sails down but with a clean, newly painted bottom we flew right along and hit Belhaven, NC about 1500. Then it was Carol's chance to shine. The approach to the dock was not difficult but the wind was pushing the boat away from the dock. Carol's job was to get a spring line to Eddie on the dock so that I could bring the boat alongside and moor. First throw ... straight into the water and we're getting farther away from the dock. Second throw, after slowly, meticulously, maybe even aesthetically, coiling the line ..... worse than the first and just as wet. Finally I got the boat to where she could hand Eddie the line; that worked. Then it was up the mast to deal with the antenna: 30 minutes of preparation for 5 minutes of work, but it's fixed, sorta. I just hope that I did not screw up the antenna.

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Carol and I were stranded in Belhaven in August, 2008, when we had an engine problem that turned into an electrical problem due to a bad shore power supply. A very long story with a very interesting character who will not be named in the blog but whom many boaters seem to know. It seems that this marina has fallen on hard times. They still have golf carts that boaters can drive around town. When we went out for dinner it seemed that the city itself was doing less well than in 2008. This wonderful old mansion is the one in which the unnamed character grew up, a legacy from earlier generations whose fortunes were built on railroads, pine trees and turpentine, in that order. In 2008 it was a bed & breakfast with a large restaurant and bar. Now it's for sale, a sad testament to the times. If someone had the time, money and inclination to restore it, it would be the jewel of much of eastern NC.

Anyway, it was an interesting first day out, sort of an immersion course in all the weather elements of sailing to remind us that we're not in the sunny, serene, warm Bahamas. I think that we'll both sleep well tonight.

Posted by sailziveli 18:54 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

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