A Travellerspoint blog

Aim for the North Star

sunny 49 °F

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.


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.


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.


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

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