A Travellerspoint blog

Colonial Beach

rain 57 °F

We stayed in WDC for one week. First, to let the earth's axis tilt a little closer to the sun, hoping for warmth. We got the tilt but not much in the way of warmth. Second to visit the city. Our visit to the city was like a smorgasbord of appetizers; we were able to absorb small bites of many things but there was not much time for anything in depth, no entrees. After seven days I could not have walked another mile nor could I have stood for another hour in any museum or exhibit. It felt good to just sit down in the hand crafted boat chair and to drive the boat, enjoying the warm sun and the panoramic tableau served up by the river.

Most major cities were founded with access to water; in the interior they are on rivers, many at the confluence of two rivers. I was reminded that WDC has this trait when we were exiting the Washington Channel. We were at the point where the Anacostia joins the Potomac, just putting along, staying in the channel, when we were hailed by a barge and tug, the barge being bigger than our house, that was coming down the Anacostia River and wanted us out of the way. We moved! It was hard to believe that I had not seen that colossal chunk of moving metal, but I didn't. The tug was pushing the barge at a pretty good rate and after an hour or so it was not in our field of vision. Other than the tug/barge combo, the 60 odd miles of river were quite empty, only one sailboat headed to WDC and several small fishing boats.

I had rather planned a later start on Friday, knowing that there was no way to make the transit from WDC to Colonial Beach in a single day. The leisurely morning plan changed when Carol decided to open the companionway flooding the cabin with cold air. Given the choice between cold and miserable in the cabin and cold and miserable underway, we pulled away from the dock before 0700. We must have caught the tide just right because we were making monsterly good time. By 1400 we had hit the anchorage area I had thought that we would reach by 1800. A quick look at the charts and we decided to go another two hours to Colonial Beach. We needed diesel fuel and propane, having exhausted one of the LPG tanks that morning. We covered at least 65 nm in less than 10 hours, something that I had thought impossible in our boat.

Sailboaters in inland waters always worry about vertical clearance. Our boat needs about 52-ft. plus a little more for the flexible VHF antenna. Just above Quantico, VA there is a power station with high tension lines that span the river. If hitting a fixed object and damaging the mast is concerning, the idea of the mast engaging power lines is truly terrifying. I can read a chart well enough. After two passages beneath the power lines, done two different ways, I am not sure that we did it right either time. The charts, chart plotter, cruising guides and Active Captain all showed information that was not visible on the water. Obviously, no problems .... enough clearance. I've made navigation mistakes but this is the only instance that I can remember of not knowing how to navigate an area.

The first 50 miles of the Potomac entails well more than 100 miles of coastline. In all of those miles there is only one town actually on the water: Colonial Beach. The town has history as does much of the land in this area: it was founded in 1650. Like many such towns, it had its day but that day is long since past. We caught this sunset the first night there, probably the only sunset picture from the boat over hardwood trees. An unusual one seeing the sun despite all the cloud cover.

large_DSCN2364A.jpg

DSCN2391A.jpgDSCN2389A.jpgDSCN2392A.jpg

This marina is at the very tip of the isthmus and town is a pretty good hike away so we rented a golf cart for the grand tour. Colonial Beach actually does have a beach, reputed to be the largest around and a feature that was the town's attraction in days past. For all of the age of the town and its Victorian history, there are only two old houses left standing. The yellow one pictured was once owned by Alexander Graham Bell; it is now a bed & breakfast. The area got hit badly by a hurricane in the 1930's so that probably accounts for the paucity. It seems to be a somewhat reluctant tourist town now, having a Steamboat casino whose only connection to the water is a paddle wheel painted on the front facade.

Saturday was an easy day, get a few boat chores done and take the rest of the day off. The marina wasn't very crowded but during the afternoon things picked up. Some boats were down from Washington, DC; some may have come up the river from Deltaville or other places a few motoring miles from here. By evening it was generally full. There is a restaurant at this marina, not unusual, a feature of many marinas, usually a bar that also sells some food.

DSCN2395.jpg

This is a real restaurant with very good seafood earning Carol's seafood imprimatur. It seems that the plan is motor to Colonial Beach on Saturday, eat at the restaurant, then stay the night at the marina. Chairs appeared on the dock; dogs wandered about as beers were opened; people joined into clusters to share stories about boats and sundry. Early Sunday morning the boats started leaving with time scheduled to secure things in the home ports; by noon the last one had departed. Not a bad plan. The marina is also unusual in that it has two sets of slips with canvas "covers," protection for larger boats in the 40~60-ft. range.

I am tired of marinas; the convenience is nice showers, laundry, and, most importantly, power to run the heat pump. But, enough, already. The last couple of nights in WDC I didn't turn on the heat at night so that I could track the temperature differential inside the boat and outside. The statistically not significant answer is about 6o~7o warmer inside than outside. With overnight temps in the mid-50's this can work; temps into the 40's, not ever. The forecast is always throwing in a low ball number that makes me worry about freezing my skinny butt off. We even looked at a more powerful Honda generator, one to run the 16k BTU heat pump, but there was no possible match between physical size, weight and power output. So, marinas it will be until whenever the weather starts acting like Spring.

Monday broke ugly: cold and rainy, windy and gray, the perfect day not to be underway. So, we stayed put in Colonial Beach, where we stayed warm and we stayed dry. Tuesday, if the weather looks good, we will start a two day run down the Potomac and then across the Bay to Oxford, MD where we plan to stay through a cold weekend.... in a marina!

Posted by sailziveli 18:00 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating chesapeake Comments (0)

Washington, DC

all seasons in one day 76 °F

Two factual corrections to: Up the Potomac (1) The airport I mentioned on the banks of the Potomac River is Ronald Reagan Washington National, not Dulles. Should have known that! (2) When Washington was President the seat of government was Philadelphia, not Washington DC. He had no reason, as I had mused, to travel by boat between WDC and Mt. Vernon; he died in 1799 before the Capitol was moved in 1800. Did know that; got it wrong anyway!

DSCN2260.jpg

After a pleasant Friday, we woke up Saturday morning to a cold boat, not having needed to turn on the heat on Friday. One flick of a circuit breaker cured that problem. Carol let me pick what we wanted to do on Saturday so I picked the zoo, a place we had once visited when our son was still in the 3d grade. The day was clear and sunny, but quite cool, uncomfortable in the wind, very nice out of the wind.

Zoos have changed a lot over the years since we first visited them in the 50's. Those were the days of observation, looking at the beasties; today everything seems to be about conservation, an easy enough position to defend with the current rate of species extinction. The exhibit managers, formerly called zoo keepers, have become so clever in designing the display habitats, creating such natural spaces for the animals that half the time it was impossible to find the animal, a colossal game of Where's Waldo?, the elephants being an obvious exception; it's hard to make an elephant disappear unless you're in Las Vegas watching Siegfried & Roy. But it really didn't matter, the animals became ancillary to the to the day. The grounds of the zoo were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead; the nexus with our home is that he also did the grounds for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It was simply enough to walk around on a sunny day with trees and flowers blooming; the seemingly empty displays with reluctant, reclusive animals in hiding just added to the natural effect. It was a wonderful, interesting and delightful day and place to walk and to enjoy, which we did.

DSCN2277.jpg

There are those who will say that our current president is the rock star in WDC. Not so! The real rock star in this city is Tian Tian. He draws a crowd in a way that most politicians could only envy and everybody likes him. It's an interesting analysis: two pandas, being served and cared for by dozens of humans at an expense of many millions of dollars each year, and all because Nixon went to China. Even the most committed Nixon haters have to acknowledge this legacy. The pandas don't do very much; they just seem to sit around while munching bamboo, but they do look cute and cuddly while doing that. The zoo was interesting beyond that. We mostly hang out with older folks when cruising, most boaters being of an age. At home our county has an older demographic, many young people moving away to find work. It must have been Bring Your Kids to the Zoo Saturday; at the zoo it seemed as if every woman between the ages of 20 and 35, of which there were many, was pushing a stroller, carrying an infant or trying to herd her children. It was different and refreshing to see that much youth on display. Carol, at 67, being well outside that age range only had to herd me, not so hard to do now that I've lost a step or two. No bougainvillea, so Carol with dogwoods.

My favorite zoo picture of this year and any year: Flamingos Rock!!!

large_DSCN1893.jpg

DSCN2328.jpgDSCN2330.jpg

There were a couple of must visit places, first and foremost the World War II Memorial. Both of our fathers fought in and survived the Pacific theater; I had two uncles who fought in Europe. A visit seemed a good way to honor all of their contributions and memories. The exhibit itself was under repair, no water, no fountains, which was unfortunate. The memorial itself did not much inspire. The stars, however, added some gravitas; each star, there are 4,048 of them, represented 100 American lives lost in that conflict. There are lots of memorials, monuments and statues in this city. Some have a natural majesty, e.g. the Lincoln memorial; most don't, each in some way an Ozymandias. The only thing that I have ever seen that has gripped my heart is a national cemetery, row after row of white markers, each an individual story but those stories subsumed into the greater story of national sacrifice and collective achievement to make this country whole and to keep it free.

The other must see place for us was the Holocaust Museum. The day and time that we chose was also when a host of school field trips were also scheduled. Crowded and inconvenient, but few places are more educational and it was good to see so many students there. I had read about the Shtetl of Eishyshok exhibit. That exhibit and the shoes were very evocative to me. It's encouraging that the two busiest places we have been were the Lincoln Memorial and the Holocaust Museum; the priorities seem right.

What has been unsettling, to me anyway, is the level of security we have encountered. To get into the Holocaust Museum, there were x-ray machines to check backpacks and bags; metal detectors and guys with wands; and a dozen armed security personnel, all at the entrance, none in the interior of the museum. The National Archive was almost the same way, except the armed folks were more distributed. I realize that it has only been a week since Boston and that the Holocaust Museum has a definite nexus with Israel and the Middle East's problems, but it just seemed like a lot.

Carol, with some ineffable 6th food sense, chose a marina that is about 100 yards from the Washington sea food market, one of the oldest in continuous operation in the country. It's not a Tsukiji, but they not only sell the raw seafood, there are also several places that cook it. This past Sunday the traffic at the place was intense, many more cars than room for them. The place is much larger than this picture conveys.

large_Fish_Market.jpg

The National Archive was a good visit. I had probably known, but forgotten, that the US Constitution is written on 4 pieces of parchment. Throw in the Declaration of Independence and the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and there are six separate pages. Add the Magna Carta and there are seven pages that literally changed the world, all written in English.

DSCN2313.jpg

We also visited the National Gallery of Art. There the security appeared to be much lower. The 2d floor, where most of the paintings are, was just magnificent. There is a rotunda with huge black marble columns; the rotunda dome was reminiscent of the Pantheon; under the dome was a stylized fountain. The galleries seemed to go on forever, a warren of art in which it was easy to get lost, physically as well as in the senses. I had no idea that we had so many pieces of art by so many European greats as well as the American art of folks like Gilbert Sullivan, which I particularly enjoyed. This was a place I would visit again just to be in the building.

Turns out that I was right about the cherry blossoms, but missed the larger point. The peak of the blossom cycle this year was early April, which we missed, as we had thought that we would. But, there are several types of cherry trees here: the Yoshino, which is the most prevalent type, produces a single white blossom, like we saw in Norfolk. The Kwanzan blooms two weeks later, producing a pinkish flower with double blossoms. The Kwanzan trees were what we saw coming into the Washington Channel. There are many fewer of these trees than of the Yoshino but the flowers are quite remarkable.

DSCN2354.jpg

More museums, more neat stuff. There is so much that is so interesting that after a while the mind gets overloaded and the senses rebel... just too much to take in. Went to the Museum of Natural History and, surprising to say, Cabela's and Bass Pro do game presentation about as well as does the museum. Washington DC has many large things to command attention, but there are many small delights. Today, just walking from one place to another we saw a sign for a "Sculpture Garden" sandwiched between two large museums. Having nothing better to do we entered, found a nice European style restaurant for lunch, and then sat by a marvelous, large fountain and watched little kids feeding the ducks. My favorite sculpture? Sometimes I cannot see the trees for all the bowls inside them. This tree will not create that problem.

Friday we will leave WDC with the intention, once again, of staying in Colonial Beach, VA. It should be two easy days to get there, arriving Saturday. The stop in Washington has been a nice interlude. We have not interacted with the boat in any way other than as a hotel room... no maintenance, no cleaning, no worrying about boat stuff. We will have to do fuel and water before we leave, but that's all.

Posted by sailziveli 19:35 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Up the Potomac

There are channel entrances to the east and the west of Tangier Island. When I first studied the charts it seemed necessary to enter and exit from the east side. The entering part was OK, but exiting to the east added about 25 nm to the mouth of the Potomac River. Mr. Parks said that there was enough water for the boat in the western channel so we tried it, on the half tide, and everything went well. Of course, then the 45 nm trip for the day was only 20 nm and at 1000 we found ourselves where we thought to be at 1700.

I ran some numbers, using the old reliable circular slide rule for the first time in many years. The decision was fairly easy: we had planned to stay at Colonial Beach on Thursday so we would change the reservations to Tuesday and would complete the transit by 1600. Carol called the marina early and, the poor darlings, they only work from 9 am to 5 pm, almost unheard of, most marinas opening at 8 am and the rest at 7 am. Oh, and by the way, 9 am to 5 pm does not include the 9 am to 5 pm on Tuesdays. We didn't want to anchor out, thinking that it would be cooler than it turned out to be. So, we ended up at a place across the river called Cobb Island, in Maryland. There was enough water, by inches at low tide, to float the boat; the marina has all of the grace and charm of an abandoned FEMA trailer park in the lower 9th ward of N.O. But it had power to keep me warm and a restaurant with fresh crab to keep Carol fully nourished so it's OK. One thing struck me on the way in was the number of pairs of ospreys here. Just about every day mark has a nest with two birds. Caught the morning sun across the river.

large_DSCN2208.jpg

DSCN2206.jpg

This is our first time on a true river; many bodies of water called rivers along the coastal plains are not. It's about 100 nm from the river's mouth to WDC. The mouth of the river is 9~10 nm wide, and for the first 50 miles, or so, the river is several miles wide. The river narrows about 50 miles inland and at that point there is a bridge, the only one until WDC. We saw this: literally a lighthouse, something about which I had never read or ever seen. It is on St. Clement's Island, about 30~35 nm up the river, on the Maryland side.

Carol has been lusting after fresh crab meat; I find the prospect less engaging for practical reasons. There cannot be crab cakes without crab traps to catch the little buggers; there cannot be crap traps without buoys to mark the traps' positions; we cannot traverse the bay or river without doing the sailboat slalom to avoid all of the above at the risk of fouling the propeller. Been there, done that! No encores are necessary. Mostly crab traps are in fairly shallow water, rarely in water much more than 20-ft. deep. Crossing the bay we found some that were in more than 50-ft.

The Chesapeake Bay has an incredible amount of navigation markers; swing a cat by its tail and you'll hit three or four. Some tell you where you are; most are to tell you where to go; the rest where not to go. The thing that is different here is that the physical locations of many of these markers are also a named way points on the charts. If the GPS ever indicates that the distance to a way point is 0.00 nm, we're probably going to be dealing with fractured fiberglass and bailing out the boat. We had a Close Encounter of the Buoy Kind on the way to Cape Charles. If the hull hadn't been so clean, we would have removed some barnacles.

In south Florida and over into the Bahamas the VHF traffic on channel 16 was constant. At one point we heard sequential USCG broadcasts from Key West, Miami and Jacksonville, FL. With all of the personal watercraft down there the cross talk was annoying, folks not understanding that the channel is a hailing frequency, not a cell phone. Here, not at all. Maybe one USCG broadcast a day; no local chatter. This is good, but at times I become concerned that the radio may not be working because it is so quiet. Speaking of cell phones, our Verizon coverage has been surprisingly poor. The only time on the whole trip that we had five bars on the iPhone was in Cape Charles, the marina being 200 yards from the tower. Most of the time, though, we have had LTE coverage which is pretty quick. Our early conclusion about the iPhone is that it is, in fact, a very smart phone, but not a very great phone. We have an old, heavy duty Motorola phone that Carol has preferred using; it just works better with weaker signals.

large_DSCN2162.jpg

I took a picture of this sea gull, figuring that at almost full life size on the computer screen I would have an easy time making the ID. Not! My best guess is that it is, maybe, a Herring Gull, the most common along the eastern seaboard. These gulls have a distinctive mark on their bills which this bird has cleverly hidden in its pose. Anyway, I liked the picture, a good contrast between the water and the bird.

DSCN2211.jpg

We cannot arrive in WDC before Friday, mid day, so we laid over a day at Cobb Island to do chores: clean the boat, defrost the fridge, a couple of minor repairs. Part of the rationale for stopping a day was rain and thunderstorms, predicted to start at 1 pm on Wednesday. At 2 pm, still sunny and in the 70's. Of course when the going gets tough, the tough ...... take a nap? Carol is not handling the stress of being 67 very well.

============================

Got up Thursday morning to the weather that we had expected to see on Wednesday, the weather we laid over a day to avoid. Blowing hard, low sky, intermittent rain showers. Checked the weather forecast ..... clearing by noon and sunny. So, who do you believe? Your own eyes or the weatherman? We decided to give it a shot, assuming that, somehow, we could get the boat off the dock with a heavy wind hitting us broadside. We didn't wreck the dock (no one would have noticed) and didn't wreck the boat, but we would not have gotten any style points from the judging panel. We hit the bridge, where the river narrows, about 1000. Narrow for the Potomac is a relative word; it went from several miles wide to 1~2 miles wide, not exactly close quarters. Then, a miracle happened: the skies cleared as predicted, it got warmer and sunny. The last/best anchoring spots are about 25 miles from WDC, so we picked a spot, maybe 2 miles north of Quantico, VA, and put out the hook. Not a great spot, too narrow, and, with the wind from the east, the boat swung too close to the shallow water behind it. But the holding was OK and we're not for moving. There was enough wind to turn on the wind generator, which seems to work fine.

I love to look at sailboats and, when we're at a dock, I always walk about to look at the boats and I've noticed two things about sailboats in the Chesapeake area. First is that more than half the boats have whisker poles, a device to improve down wind runs with foresails and spinnakers. These are not so common in the cruising community; I've only seen two cruising boats with poles deployed. Second is that the CQR anchor (letters to mimic the word: secure) is almost the sole anchor on the bows of boats. We had one and abandoned it in favor of the Manson Supreme, a choice I have never regretted. But, when I see so many "votes" against my decision I wonder if there is some critical information that I have missed, or whether it's just a case of blind, mindless group-think. The point of this is that our anchor worked wonderfully in the soft mud of the river, a bottom that is reminiscent of South Carolina's "pluff mud, but without the needless drama of naming rights. Anchoring out was a check list item, something that we needed to do to get comfortable with it again.

============================

DSCN2213.jpg

Friday broke rainy and windy with thundershowers in the forecast. We got underway early to try to beat the worst of the weather. The river has its ways with boats; there is a tidal current, even 80~100 miles from the bay; there is a river current that is, at some points, eroding the shore line. Most of the spots we saw were on the Maryland side, a small state getting even smaller. I don't have any sense, yet, for how to plan for these effects in the distance, rate, time equation. Throw in the wind and it gets confusing. Even unplanned we made good time against whatever current there is and with both high and low tides.

On Thursday, I thought that I saw an eagle. It was low over the water, hunting, so I never got to see the underside; but the body was dark with a bright white head and tail; I gave it an 80% confidence rating. On Friday, just below Mt. Vernon we saw one on a buoy, no question, no doubt, a 100% confidence rating and an exciting thing to see. I was almost ready with the camera when a small boat went by and spooked the bird. Maybe on the return trip .....

DSCN2216.jpg

We saw this house along the way. It kind of reminded me our our house, both houses being set back from the water about the same distance. I have to admit that Panther Branch must yield to the Potomac River in terms of scope and scale. Modest though it may be in width, it need concede nothing to the Potomac when it comes to the natural beauty of the place. Most of our time on the boat has been spent in Florida and the Bahamas, the trees there being pointless iterations of pines and palms with some shrubbery added. The anchorage last night was about as close as we'll ever get to anchoring in Panther Branch; it was surrounded by hardwood trees, oaks, maples, etc. just like home. Most of the homes we saw lining the river were older, having a quiet stateliness about them even when they were very large. They are, I suppose, are a testament to the fact that not many people have ever gone broke contracting to do work for the US government.

DSCN2238.jpg

When I was researching the trip I found that Mt. Vernon was along the Virginia side of the river. I didn't know if it would be visible from the water. At green marker "71" there it was, plain to see. The General chose well, a beautiful location maybe 15 miles south of the capital, but that was a fair distance to travel back then. My guess is that he may have made the trip by water since the house is on the other side of the river from the Capital. On the way back, we may try to find a spot to anchor nearby so that we can dinghy to site for a visit. Looking at the two house pictures, what would happen if there were a law prohibiting any house being larger than Washington's at Mt. Vernon.

large_Ft__Eashington.jpg

This I had never heard or read about, Ft. Washington, on the Maryland side. It was built to protect the city. Completed in 1809, it was abandoned during the War of 1812, allowing the British to raze the Capital; it may not have protected very much but it looks great from the water. The old yellow house is hard to see but it looks like it might have been the commandant's residence.

The trip was hardly pedestrian but when we cleared the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, it almost took my breath away. There, not two miles distant, were the Washington Monument to the left and the Dome of the Capital Building to the right, the dome, seemingly lit from above, dominating the horizon. The marina Carol picked is close in to the city; we're not quite moored in the Reflecting Pool, but we're pretty close, less than 3/4-mile from the Washington Monument itself. Way Cool! There are cherry trees in blossom .... saw some on the way in; pictures to follow, I hope. I have never flown into or out of Dulles Airport. As we came up the river from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the airport was on the left side of the river, tight along the river's western bank. And, just upstream from there was the bridge which the Air Florida flight hit that winter day. It was so easy to see and to understand when viewed from the water. With the winds today the planes were coming in low over that same bridge to land; taking off they headed straight south along the axis of the river.

We have no set plans for the visit, not even how long to stay. There's lots to do, it's all touristy, and it's all great. The critical component seems to be Carol's appointment to get her hair done, red now being mixed with visible gray. There is one night next week forecast to be in the 30's so that will, surely, figure into our plans.

Posted by sailziveli 14:27 Comments (0)

Tangier Island

sunny 58 °F

DSCN2166.jpg

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.

========================

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.

large_BDE29AE22219AC6817B6B98A49A4C00F.jpg

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.

DSCN2107.jpg

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.

==========================

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.

DSCN2120.jpgDSCN2118.jpgDSCN2122.jpgDSCN2108.jpg

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.

DSCN2113.jpg

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.

large_Cement_Factory.jpg

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

DSCN2115.jpg

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.

large_DSCN2137A.jpg

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.

DSCN2029.jpg

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.

DSCN2031.jpg

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.

large_DSCN2039.jpg

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.

DSCN2048.jpgDSCN2049.jpgDSCN2050.jpg

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.

large_62A2940B2219AC681716E9774B58984D.jpg

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.

DSCN2062.jpg

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.

DSCN2004.jpg

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!

East_Lake_..ading_north.jpg

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!

DSCN2005.jpg

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.

DSCN2015.jpgDSCN2017.jpg

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.

large_Panorama_1.jpg

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

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.

DSCN2000.jpg

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.

large_Panorama_2.jpg

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.

DSCN2001.jpg

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)

Pre-flight #2 - 2013

sunny 33 °F

We have made the segue from house to boat, a more difficult one this time. As much as we are looking forward to this trip, it was very tough leaving the house. The physical transition was much easier; since no one will be staying at the house this time, other than, maybe, a visit, there was much less work to do... just pack and go. But the drive on I-40 felt like 10 years ago on Rte. 53, driving to work.

But the time away from our home seems to be more dearly purchased every year. Our "front yard" is a 2~3 acre orchard, maybe 100 feet from the front door, through some trees. The orchard was the critical element in our decision to purchase this land for our home. In the orchard are many apple trees and several huge Dogwoods all of which will, most years, bloom in absolute profusion. I have looked down from the knoll at their dense mass of flowers, the trees gravid with white, blending together, the acres so thick with color that I could imagine standing feet on the ground and head above the clouds. This will be the 5th year in a row that we will have missed this Spring cycle, an affirmation of life renewable. I am loathe to miss this again.

Dogwoods_i..st_04_24_04.jpg

Later, when the blooms have fallen from the trees, the beauty moves from tree tops to shoe tops. Seemingly, thankfully, wonderfully, every type of trillium that ever existed has found a firm purchase in these mountains. In some places they carpet the ground; in others, a flower grows by itself, a precious solitaire, a gem sparkling in the dross. For reasons I know not, of the hundreds of flowers which grace this place from April through September, these are my favorites. I am loathe to miss them again.

Trillia_05_09_06.jpgNodding_Trillium_04_20_03.jpg

The other thing is that we have said an awful lot of good-byes these past years, leaving our dear friends and family for too long; and then leaving all of the wonderful new friends we have made while on the boat. It's a conundrum, almost as if we exist in two parallel universes.

==============

TS Eliot may have been a great poet but he was a lousy meteorologist and had never lived in these mountains. March is the cruelest month, an ineluctable fact. We planned to leave very early on 03/21. Took the dog out late the night before ..... no hay problema! A few hours later: una problema grande .... the temperature is 17 degrees and there are 1~2 inches of snow over ice. We should have been on the road by 0500; didn't start until 1200 and were lucky to get away then. NCDOT had, improbably, salted Panther Branch; that plus a few rays of sun and the roads were drivable. Of course, the hiatus was filled with scenes like this of the eponymous Panther Branch behind our mailbox.

DSCN1986.jpg

In the context of heading north on a boat, the snow and ice evoked several words including s___, iceberg and Titanic. Having looked at the temperature forecast for the next week, we may be two months too early to be trying this.The drive to the boat seemed to reinforce this. No new green on any trees from the house to Oriental, almost 400 miles moving from 3,300-ft. in altitude to about 3-ft. The only trees in bloom were the Downy Serviceberry trees, almost always the first to flower. The point being: Spring is not very close even this far east and for this Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing global warming, or some such thing.

Since it has been so cold, so late in the Spring looking at the Jet Stream seemed like a reasonable endeavor. So I found a web site that has 10 day projections. On Friday, 03/22 the flow had dipped so far south that the graphic had it touching Mexico at the western end of Texas. Forecasts being what they are, the last week of March looks to be more of the same; early April maybe more normal or, at least, less bad.

Link to Jet Stream Forecast

==============

I got to the boat a day ahead of Carol so it was my job to make the bed, always an awkward task in the cramped rear cabin with zero head room. As I started pulling out the pillows, it seemed that the pillow supply would never end. That got me to thinking that there are some things which regular guys will never be able to understand one of which is the endless fascination which many women, including Carol, seem to have with pillows, a fascination followed closely by candles. It must be an XX chromosomal thing, women getting in touch with their inner interior decorating selves or, perhaps like Shirley MacClain, channeling former lives when they were, in fact, interior decorators. It's a fact that even cave walls were "decorated" during the ice age. It's certain that the guys were too pooped from mastodon dueling and saber-toothed tiger wrestling to waste their time and precious calories on such trivial pursuits without some external motivation. It's a good thing that I'm kind of puny, not taking up much space in the cabin, not competing with the pillows. If it were to come down to a choice between me and the pillows, Carol might have a hard time arriving at a decision.

DSCN1988.jpg

So, the mathematical expression to describe our sleeping quarters is: total pillows, T(p) = 6; Russ' pillows, R(p) = 1. So, how many are Carol's pillows, C(p)? As Mr. Ray would have said in SMSG Algebra I solve for C(p):

R(p) + C(p) = T(p)

If I have time to set up an Excel spread sheet I may provide the answer in a future blog entry.

==============

The first stop in town was straight to the Yanmar dealer, Deaton's Yacht Service, to pick up the new start switch. It looked pretty much like the old one, a good omen. I had taken all of the pieces I was able to locate of both switches back to the house and made my best effort to cobble together one good switch from most of the parts from two ruined switches, the switch that could not be bought at any price. There was a certain logic to the switch once the OMG panic passed and focused desperation took control of the mental processes. Miracle of miracles .... the new one worked as promised and, an even greater miracle, so did the one with which I messed at the house. We are back in business! And, even if we are not in any danger of leaving soon, it's just nice to know that we could if we wanted to do so.

It's interesting how boat repair and maintenance changes your financial value perspective. Paying 10 times too much for a part seems like a pretty good deal when the only other viable option would cost about $2,000. So, the denouement is: I screwed the pooch big time, scrambled to a solution, learned a lesson at a price that will reinforce the learning but which obviates the need for suicidal depression and serious therapeutic drugs. Yet another in a long line of a boating humility transplants, none done with the benefit of anesthesia.

This must have been seriously weighing me. Because, now that this issue is resolved, I am much more enthusiastic about the trip.

==============

I had thought that the boatyard work was done, and it was until I changed my mind. When the new engine was installed in Ft. Lauderdale, the folks said that there was no way to have individual gauges for the engine; the only choice was the built in control panel alarms. The problem with alarms is that they only sound when a problem is beyond remediation. I have missed the gauges we had with the old engine, ones I had installed, and have occasionally felt quite vulnerable without them. Every boating publication or website recommends gauges. So, while at the Yanmar dealer here in Oriental I decided to ask the gauge question again. What a non-surprise! These guys know their business and we are getting oil pressure and engine coolant temperature gauges installed, along with a new fuel gauge which matches the other two. I can only wish that we had had the engine installed here because I trust these guys.

DSCN1989.jpgDSCN1992.jpg

It will take a few days underway to "learn" the readings of the new gauges, i.e. what's normal. Once done, we'll feel much better, much safer when the engine is running. Of course, with the old engine we had many reasons to worry; it was bad for overheating among its several other failings. With the new engine ... no worries, but it will nice to know.

Of course, even the most mundane things, like going to a boatyard, provide lessons. We had some local knowledge about the area but it has been, over the years, largely forgotten. One of the forgotten things was that winds from the SW literally blow water away from the area causing shallow waters to become even more shallow. Coming into Whittaker Creek I was trying to steer while talking on the VHF, multitasking. While not looking at the depth gauge in a normally OK part of the channel I ran hard aground. After a few minutes we managed to get free, but this was more difficult than it should have been because I couldn't guess where the water might be deeper. Once again I had to admonish myself about the "unguarded moment." The other was a more serious lesson/reminder; the wife of the young man doing the work on the boat has stage 4 pancreatic cancer; they have two high school age children. This reminder just seemed to forcibly reorient my mind to the glass being 98% full and how very, very fortunate Carol and I have been getting past our several serious health challenges. This reorientation is a good thing for us; it is just sad that the currency to purchase it is someone else's tragic misfortune.

Link to Deaton's Yacht Services

==============

On Monday, March 25th, 2013 Carol had her 67th birthday, the fourth consecutive such occasion on the boat. It may actually be five in a row; I don't recall whether she came to the boat from Tallahassee in 2009 to celebrate; that year she was deeply invested with helping Joan, her sister, through a very difficult time. Anyway, if she's no longer the potential Playboy hotty selection she once was (she really, truly still believes that the guy really, truly was a Playboy photographer), when AARP magazine starts its new centerfold program I'm sure she'll be a much sought after age group candidate.

large_Carol_at_67.jpg

==============

While working on trip preparation I articulated a thought that is so blindingly obvious but one for which I had never put the right words in the right order. As a "captain" I spend most of my time actively involved in risk management, no different from my career or, I suppose, much of my life. Identify the risks, figure out which can be avoided and which can be attenuated, rank order the rest and have plans to deal with them and never, ever allow yourself to be surprised, surprise being the ultimate failure in managing risk because, a priori, there has been no preparation for the situation. Thinking and acting on the fly under duress exposes all our human frailties.

Obvious risk management: the new gauges, proof reading the way point list, inspecting the anchor chain, the new water separating fuel funnel, belonging to both Sea Tow and Towboat US, etc. ditto, ditto, and more ditto. Since we've already been doing this the insight is not transformative but it may lend itself to new ways to organize the several tasks we have been doing as a matter of course.

Of course, the serious business of managing risk occasionally becomes farcical. To wit, I carry two belts on board, just in case. These were same style that millions of servicemen, including me, have worn. Old technology, proven to be durable and reliable except that in the space of about four days both buckles broke. Imagine the odds. Not a catastrophe but with my deficient butt my jeans were tending to ride around my knees. Had it not been for the cold temperatures I wouldn't have minded this very much; others with more delicate sensitivities tended to be put off by the whole idea so Carol bought me a new one one the way to the boat.

==============

large_William_A__Ward.jpg

Not from a sailor, who would have said trim the sails, but good advise, regardless.

==============

So, boatyard work is done. Two more projects on board: do the 100-hr. maintenance even though it was done fairly recently. Some things just have to be looked at before setting off on a long trip. Having just overhauled the marine toilet, I decided that it is not working as it should, perhaps a factor of it being 11 years old or, maybe, just Carol's overuse and abuse. Regardless, I have decided to replace the entire pumping mechanism since I have no good reference on how it should really work, having first used this one at 5-yrs. old. A poorly functioning head mechanism could make for a very long trip and an unhappy crew.

All will work be done by Sunday, March 31st, or not; the closer we get to 04/01 the more items get posted to the to-do list and there is less time to complete the work. The list sort of accentuates the differences between our different natures. I add to the list many times a day; Carol looks at the list, maybe, once a week. Then I go nuclear because things are not getting done and she wonders what the problem is.

After completing our work, it will just be a waiting game on ambient temperature. The trip north to Norfolk is about 155 nm. up the ICW through largely unpopulated areas with few marinas. This may mean a minimum of 2 nights anchoring out, an enticing prospect unless the temperatures are in the 40's, or lower, over night. The good news in this is that the Vernal equinox was 03/20/13, so we now have light for at least 12 hours, useful light of at least 11 hours. Making the trip in three days is a stretch, but possible. I suppose it qualifies as irony that I know more about our plans for Maine than I do for the first leg of the trip. This needs my attention

Posted by sailziveli 09:10 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Pre-flight #1 - 2013

sunny 34 °F

It's pushing a year since the last blog entry, a welcome relief to all including the humble(d) blogger. After arriving safely in Ft. Pierce, FL, from the Bahamas, Carol and I rested a bit and then took the boat north, to Brunswick, GA in a totally uneventful two day trip.

The pleasant trip to the Bahamas in 2011/2012 ended several years of mishaps, misadventures, frustrations and boat repairs. Having gotten it right, finally, we decided to forgo an encore visit (why risk a successful string of one in a row?) and to stay home for the winter.

Our decision to stay home was not a choice against boating and cruising but, rather, a decision that what we wanted to try next was a trip north, winter generally being a bad time for skinny, cryophobic people to do that. As we went through the logistics of that possible trip a couple of things were obvious: there was some work that we wanted done on the boat, specifically standing rigging, that we only trusted to be done in Oriental, NC, at Sail Craft Services. Also, Oriental, NC is 500 ICW miles north of Brunswick, ergo 500 miles closer to where we wanted to go. So, at the end of September we left Brunswick and headed north, another uneventful trip save for three things: (1) Carol's inexplicable decision, while at the helm, to make a detour east for the Cape Verde Islands; (2) the ever unreliable autopilot again failed so we laid over in Charleston, SC while I ordered a new one and then installed it; (3) as we headed north, due to the autopilot layover, we were then paralleling hurricane Sandy, which, at the time, didn't seem like a big deal since the storm had been tracking well off shore. The boat and the hurricane arrived in NC concurrently but, very fortunately for us, the storm stayed far enough out to sea to be a non-event in NC.

The boat is back at Sea Harbor, the same marina from which we headed south in November, 2008. This is a great place with nice people but we seem to be in a slip where marginal cell phone and wifi frequently tends to converge to zero. So, for lack of a better idea, I have tried using the wifi antenna which seems to work very well except when Microsoft Inc. sends out automatic updates which wipe out the driver, which in turn seems to require about an hour for re-installation and then reconfiguration. But a strong signal with no service doesn't accomplish very much. We cannot even place or receive cell calls much of the time. It's hard to accept that guys like Capt. Cook could explore the world and we cannot move across the river without a computer, cell phone and GPS navigation.

Oriental is little changed, save for the universal economic depredations of the past several years. Some old businesses gone, some new ones in their places, but everything is mostly the same.

Winter in the mountains, after four years of avoiding the season, was predictable: it got cold, we were snowed in many times and iced in once. For all of that, our little patch of land is a paradise, beautiful 365 days of the year; it's just that some days require a little bit more work to see the beauty than others. A view from our steep and tortuous driveway this past winter.

large_DSCN1859.jpg

The boatyard work on the boat is mostly done, the only unanticipated change being a new water heater; our work ...... never done. I read a book this winter about an around-the-world sailing race in which the author cited someone else's quote about boat maintenance:

If you do not make your boat a little bit better every day,
it will make itself a little bit worse.

To me, this is boat wisdom and advice we have intuitively followed over the several years we have owned the boat. It was difficult to attain the mindset which I labeled preemptive replacement: don't wait for a failure, make the change now before it even seems that a failure is possible.

To wit, Carol and I have made several short trips to the boat this year to do the assorted, endless small things that always seem to need doing, trying to make the boat a little bit better every day. We have several small Excel programs which I use to manage both scheduled maintenance and ad hoc repairs. I don't know whether it's age, the unfamiliar complexity of this/any boat or, probably, both; I cannot keep track of all this stuff in my head. Regardless, these make daily planning a breeze: tackle an item, then change its status to completed in the data base; the computer never forgets.

We took the boat to the Yanmar dealer for some simple warranty work and the young man who did the work took one 10 nanosecond look at the engine and told me of several places where cables and lines were chafing against the block. One included a fuel line, another a hot power cable that would have shorted against the metal engine. All stuff I should have seen a year ago; all stuff the installer should have addressed; all stuff with major downside consequences. An hour, or so, and a lot of zip ties took care of everything including moving the fuel line, way above my pay grade.

That got me to thinking that any place on any boat where power lines run or hoses carry fluids is covered up with zip ties, black or white, holding things together in nice, tight, neat bundles. The only problem is that no human has ever devised a way to cut the excess length without creating a razor sharp end that will slice and puncture. It's hard to stick a hand or an arm into some tight spaces without it coming out shredded and bleeding, made worse if you are on some blood thinner like Plavix.

Preparation this year seems to be a little bit less frantic, maybe because this is now somewhat familiar ground for us; we know how, for example, to clean and purge the water tanks. When we first spent time together on the boat, August, 2007, it seemed like two grown people trying to coexist in a shoe box. The size of the shoe box has not changed but the boat now seems, if not comfortable, then at least more accommodating. Our total days on the boat must now exceed two full years, newness and strangeness gone, and if we do not know a lot about boats, we have come to know a great deal about this boat.

Of course, we (read I) seem to be unable to complete any trip preparation, frantic or otherwise, without some sort of self-inflicted disaster, this year being no exception. Getting old is its own indignity; getting simultaneously stupid is just too much to handle. This year in trying to unplug the control panel I guessed wrong and opened the two rocker switches from which fell many small parts. Not a problem, solvable with a few bucks under most circumstances. However, when the circumstances are that those parts are no longer being manufactured for Yanmar ..... big trouble! I'm not sure how this one plays out; the only saving grace is that there is a Yanmar dealer about one mile away frpm the slip.

The "sort of" plan for this trip is to head north to the Chesapeake, the time there including a side trip to WDC up the Potomac River. We would like to wend our way north through the Chesapeake, cutting over to Delaware Bay and down to Cape May, NJ. From there we think we might head to the eastern end of Long Island Sound and the islands. Then up through Cape Cod and, if things break right, a shot up to Maine and then we would work our way down the New England coast. We would like to leave on April 1st, the fool's aspect of that date held well in mind. Hurricane season starts in June but is generally ugliest in August and September. So, being in a safe harbor by early August seems prudent.

We've got most of the route planning done. The ugly job is entering the way points into the navigation system and then proof-reading the work, a job too tedious to be done without a hearty dram and too important to be done with one. We'll end up with 150 ~ 200 new way points for this trip and will almost certainly add more along the way as we change our plans. We'll use the ICW from here to Norfolk, VA, a trip of 155 nautical miles. The alternative is going outside from here to Norfolk and I have sworn that I will never have Cape Hatteras to the west of my vessel. This thought was reinforced after having read a long article about the sinking of the Bounty during hurricane Sandy last October. That captain was experienced but, maybe, not too smart about that trip; he died along with another crew member. The tentative plan is two long open water reaches: Cape May to Montauk, NY on the eastern end of Long Island, and, if we think we can handle it, another from Cape Cod to Maine. Each is about 200 nm and can be completed in less than 48 hours, barring emergencies. Three days and two nights seems to be the limit of our functional stamina underway.

The chart plotter calculates that we will travel just shy of 700 straight line miles from the slip in Sea Harbor to northern Maine. Allowing about 20% for turning a straight line into a road route, this is a distance we could cover in one very full day of hard driving. In the boat we'll need more than two months.

This trip will be less tense and nerve wracking in a couple of aspects: (1) we should have access to cell service and the internet in most of the places we are going; (2) Tow Boat US and Sea Tow should be just a phone call away. The fuel contamination problems that we had last year made an impression. For a while we were dead in the water with little availability to ready help; I'm not really sure why the fuel system didn't shut us all the way down a second time. A long wait for a tow is better that no choice at all. We also invested about $20 in a fuel filtering funnel that has a mesh so fine that water cannot pass through it. All fuel this trip will be filtered before it goes into the tank or into any jerry can. We continue to learn from our mistakes but it would be nice to avoid at least a few of them.

Posted by sailziveli 09:35 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

So, What Happened Was ....

Blog Sign Off for This Trip

overcast 81 °F

So, what happened was.... on Tuesday morning at 0700 Carol's tenure as social director was abruptly ended after 14 uninterrupted hours. We were sleepily listening to Chris Parker's SSB weather report and forecast and he was greatly exercised about a 1,000 millibar low pressure weather system in the western Gulf of Mexico that was headed east. That's pretty low but nowhere near hurricane low pressure. Then, he said, that there would he a high pressure system bringing high winds from N-NE. Anyway, that sounded like the Gulf Stream was going to become impassable, for us anyway, by about Friday and could stay that way for a week, probably more, effectively postponing transits to the states almost until the beginning of May.

I was not the only person to reach that conclusion. The chatter began soon after the broadcast. I talked to Bob on New Passage who was concerned but not yet ready to pull the trigger. David and Alice were in the indecisive mode. I wasn't enjoying the Abacos that much after the wonder of the Exumas; being stuck there did not sound too great. It sounded even less great when weather strategy was added into the mix: I did not really have one. Rather than spend more time agonizing over this Carol and I had the anchor up by 0730, Carol wisely having wisely accepted the fact that I am still the captain and she was going to lose so why not lose gracefully and graciously. We were the third boat out of the anchorage headed for Whale Cut, about a half hour behind the first two.

After a couple of hours we had passed those two boats, Loon and Draco, both traveling about a knot slower than were we. Carol and I had thought that we would head to Great Sale Cay as we had planned to do at a later time. At Great Sale Cay we would anchor and then head west to Ft. Pierce the next day. I had not even run the numbers for distance, and I always run the numbers, thinking that we had another week or two, although I had entered all the navigation way points. I did not even know if we could make it to that cay in daylight and there were no Plan B (bailout) anchoring options obvious on the charts, good or otherwise. Turns out that Sea Span and Alice Mae did get underway, but a couple of hours later than we did. We could not talk to either of those boats directly but Draco, in the rocking chair, relayed the conversations back and forth.

Sometime after lunch we started looking more closely at the immediate next day, or two, of weather. I had XMWeather on the computer in real time; Draco had SSB email weather and Jeff, on New Passage, was getting some sort of radio broadcast. The consensus was that Tuesday/Wednesday was going to be the best time to cross; Thursday was starting to look like the early low from the west would start to arrive. Since we had to do an overnight, regardless of whether we anchored or pushed straight through, we collectively decided, but as individuals, to follow Jeff's suggestion to make the crossing Tuesday night to arrive at Ft. Pierce on Wednesday. As we passed Great Sale Cay it was plain that more than a dozen boats had decided to wait. That did not deter any of us as we saw that cay recede over the stern.

We hit Great Sale Cay at about 1730 where Carol and I decided that we needed to top off the fuel tanks in order to cover the 125 nm in front of us. Since we had a good fix on the distance from Great Sale Cay to Ft. Pierce, the stop also gave us a realistic estimate of what the next 20 odd hours would look like. Since we had as many gallons of water on board as miles to travel, Carol and I treated ourselves to hot showers underway, Carol even washing her hair, probably a first. A long night standing watch is tough; scroungy makes it tougher.

The whole trip was a little like Matthew 20:16: so the last shall be first. In this case the last, i.e. slowest, is the only boat ever to have been passed by a kayak on the ICW: ours. Having replaced the sails, the engine, the propeller shaft and, finally, the propeller itself, we have been flying past every boat on the horizon, big as well as small. This trip was no exception, and a good thing too, because speed matters when running ahead of weather. We made such good time to Great Sale Cay, that I dropped the engine speed a little, and we still ran over 6.5 knots motor sailing, almost impossible to imagine after the first few years on this boat when four knots was the norm and five knots was only an unanswered prayer.

The big question for us: where to exit the Little Bahama Bank and to engage the Gulf Stream? The Gulf Stream is, literally, force of nature that cannot be avoided, especially by small boats like ours: it was going to push us north, the only unknown was how far north. The last time we crossed the Gulf Stream, east to west, we started 17 miles south of the Port Everglades and ended up 7 miles north of the harbor entrance, an error factor of more than 40% and not a performance I wanted to emulate. Since Ft. Pierce is 27o 28' north, we settled on an exit point of 27o 08' north, giving us 20 miles for Gulf Stream abuse. It was interesting to watch: we steered 270o, due west, for more than eight hours. As we got more into the Straights of Florida the actual course traveled over ground grew and grew: 280o, 290o, 300o, 305o being the highest number we saw. And then, as we got into shallower water and moved behind the lee of Palm Beach, the numbers started to reverse and get smaller. We probably used about 17 of those 20 miles by the time we were into 100' of water and, then, steering directly for the Ft. Pierce channel entrance.

It was a tough night on old bodies but one with wonder nonetheless. Caught this sunset and fancied it as an appropriate metaphor for this whole trip: we were also headed west; our trip, like the day we had just enjoyed, was ending. No more sunsets for a while.

large_DSCN1066.jpg

Watching the sun go down was like being lowered into a well: the amount of light shrunk and shrunk until there was only darkness. There was no moonlight or other ambient light; we were surrounded by an unbroken wall of black. The boat was moving, a lot, and when the horizon disappeared it was impossible to tell if a light was a star in the sky or a boat on the water. The night was blissfully devoid of traffic, and the little boat traffic that we saw was behind us, save one. Some kind of boat had entered the Little Bahama Bank on a reverse course from ours. Whatever type of vessel is was, it had two enormous white LED spotlights/headlights that consumed the night and destroyed any hopes of night vision. If it had been a working boat, like a shrimper or a seiner , deck lights would have made sense; it was neither. We passed close enough for me to see the bow wave in the dark; that's way too close.

Carol has the 0600 to 0900 watch as part of our standing rotation. She woke up on Wednesday morning at about 0530 and heaved chunks for the next 20 minutes. The Gulf Stream passage was very mild with winds less than 15 knots and seas of 3-ft. or less. However, the wind and waves were of a combination that caused the boat to roll port to starboard, pitch fore and aft and yaw right and left. The roller coaster-like corkscrew motion was her undoing, strange because she loves roller coasters and all such things. She relieved me 10 minutes early not out of enthusiasm for watch standing but out of a need to be topside in the open air.

We have been into and out of the Ft. Pierce inlet many times; few of those times have been easy and this time did not disappoint. The tide was flowing out; the wind was blowing in. I watched another sailboat enter the channel a few minutes before we did. The mast looked like some steroidal metronome keeping time for Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee; it was ugly. We got past that, got through the marina channel with the wind and tide both going the same way, and the tide being low. We moored at the Ft. Pierce Municipal Marina at 1230 on Wednesday, 04/18/2012. Did the immigration and Customs thing and then we collapsed. I got 30 minutes sleep on the passage; Carol more but not a lot more. Carol fell asleep while reading; I was awake but could not focus on or read any words, everything blurring before fatigued eyes. David and Alice arrived a few hours later and we got together to share a modest dinner of delivered pizza and buffalo wings.

Our departure plans are Scarlett O'Hara-like:I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. We are catching up with folks on the phone; we have the 100 maintenance to complete before we can leave; the weather is going to be dodgy for a while; we're both still very fatigued from the trip.

The trip north to Brunswick, GA, is a detail; we'll either go up the ICW or make a passage outside, preferred. Regardless, we have done both several times; there is no mystery or wonder in any of that, so I'll make this the final blog entry for the trip.

Posted by sailziveli 11:05 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating Comments (0)

Man-O-War Cay OOOOPS! Great Guana Cay

sunny 79 °F

Sunday was a work day, at least during the afternoon. Carol had intended to do laundry in the morning but the marina had no power, no water and no washee, washee. So after lunch we got down to it: the cooler air and cooler water had made the dinghy a little squishy so we put some air into that. I had created some horrid black marks on the hull leaving Cave Cay, about six weeks ago, so those got cleaned fairly well. We brought on fuel and water so those are just about topped off. Finally we brought up the dinghy and motor to leave on Monday morning for Man-O-War Cay, a trip of about 5 nm.

Much of the harbour cleared out today, it being Sunday. In Marsh Harbour, maybe 6 nm away, there are large boat rental operations for The Moorings and Sunsail. Carol's guess was that Sunday was probably the day to return the boats to their slips. A few other boats went out as well, seemingly unconcerned about the state of the tide; it was low.

We liked and enjoyed Hope Town. Whatever stereotype may exist for Party Hearty sailors sucking down rum all night has been put paid here. We're all old and we are all in the bed/sack/bunk/berth well before the bars close. In fact, it is unusual to see dinghies moving much after dark.

Home has been more on our minds as the trip winds down. The boat next to us has a fair sized dog on board, at least 40-lb., maybe a few more. It has a similar coloration to Wile E so Carol has been much entranced by it. I have been watching the owner clean up after the dog when it does its business on the bow of the boat and that doesn't seem quite so entrancing to me. The next boat over is named Coyote, and has a large, almost life size rendition of the original Wile E Coyote sans the Roadrunner, our pooch's namesake. It will be good to see the old hound and it will be good to see our mountains and our friends.

High tide was at 0530 so we planned to get underway at first light, well before sunrise. The trade off seemed OK, more depth under the keel but less ability to read the water. Carol has good color perception and is getting decent at reading the depth of the water by its color; for depths of 20 feet or less she can usually get within 2 or 3 feet. The depth meter tells the depth where the boat is; it's good to be aware of depth where the boat will be. In the low morning light that is not possible. But, that issue proved to be irrelevant because the sky did not lighten very much with the sunrise. A heavy layer of altostratus clouds covered almost all of the visible horizon allowing only small, crooked slivers of blue to be seen, and those not for very long as the clouds conjoined to shut out the sun. These clouds looked like they could contain squalls, and if the base line wind is 20 knots the squall winds would be even higher. So, to mollify Carol's safety and security issues, we stayed put, turned on the radio and listened to the weather reports which sounded much more optimistic than the sky appeared.

While waiting for sunrise to get underway, I actually spent some time looking at the light from the lighthouse. It was not nearly so bright as other lights we have seen on the US coast. This lighthouse is still lit by a kerosene flame as it was when it was built however long ago; my guess is that most US lighthouses are now lit by more powerful electric, maybe even LED, bulbs of some kind.

Despite our earlier efforts, this is the first trip where we have spent an extended period of time in the Bahamas. We probably should have guessed the weather pattern but did not. It's winter and fronts roll southeast every five to seven days. Each front brings, on average, at least two days when it's a bad idea to go anywhere in a small boat. I suppose that most seasoned cruisers adapt to this rhythm, have their hunker down spots, and plan on hunkering down for the duration. This winter some of those hunker down periods have seemed, to us, quite protracted and very inconvenient.

On our weather minds now are two passages we will have to make to return home. The first is the Whale Cay passage north of us. Boats with keels or deep drafts need to go east of Whale Cay, into the Atlantic Ocean, in order to head north. The local Abacos cruisers net has daily updates from folks near the area to relate local conditions and the advisability of making the transit. The other, of course, is the Gulf Stream, still a couple of weeks away, but between us and Florida. We will do that late in April, when we hope the month will be more ovine that leonine.

The ambient temperatures the past few weeks has been interesting: too cool for me in the morning, but good for Carol; too hot for Carol in the afternoon, but good for me.

We waited until 1430 with about one foot of tide having come in. We crept from the anchorage around the shoal at the harbour's entrance, crawled through the channel and over the shallow approach and then cruised for Man-O-War Cay, about three straight line miles but more like five miles when the angles were added.

It took about an hour to get there but only because we were cautious about the water and its depth: there were some areas along the way that demanded attention. Either the depth changed, the bottom composition changed or both. Regardless, it was an easy transit to the channel. The channel entrance was like threading a needle with a 12.5-ft. wide piece of thread but that was OK. When we turned the corner to go to the north mooring field BIG TROUBLE! The water ahead was all white stripes, and not the band. This was not was was in the chart book, but that is now three or four years old. It was shoaled in to the point that I turned the boat around in the narrow, shallow channel, thanks again to Joe V. for showing me how, and we headed back out.

Next stop: Great Guana Cay about seven miles north which we reached in a little over an hour. We went into the harbor to check out the mooring balls: too shallow, less than five feet at low tide. Turned around again and we headed north to the anchorage at Fishers Bay where we saw several boats. On the second try the anchor held and at 1730 we shut things down. It looks like old home week here. Alice Mae is here as is Dharma. New Passage, from Brunswick is here, as is Sea Span with whom New Passage is traveling. Some of the other boats we recognize but do not know. This is an OK anchorage but the bottom is grassy and the holding is not great. There is enough wind to make this an issue but not overly concrning.

I've decided that I don't like the Abacos very much. They suffer from the same problem as Eleuthera: there are few places to anchor and you need to travel only to those locations. After the Exumas, these islands are not nearly as much fun. These islands also have draft issues and at 5.2-ft. we are not a deep draft boat. And, the whole area seems quite developed. This anchorage is, literally, parking in someone's front yard. It lacks any sort of intimacy or charm and I am having trouble seeing the point other than being on the boat.

large_Great_Guana_Cay.jpg

Carol has been appointed the social director for this portion of the cruise and is grappling with the responsibility for making command decisions. Her plan, this evening, is to stay here another day and to leave on Wednesday for Treasure Cay, an even more developed place than here. But, she wants to go so we will unless she changes her mind.

This day stretched the standard of boring and uneventful but did not break it and that makes it good enough. Anyway, we had a pleasant if not spectacular sunset to end the day, we are on the boat and life is good.

large_DSCN1049.jpg

Posted by sailziveli 19:50 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

Hope Town on Elbow Cay

sunny 77 °F

It was an easy run up from Lynyard Cay, 12 direct line miles and, maybe, 16 or 17 travel miles. Along the way we saw this sandy beach on an unnamed bit of land. Everyone says that the beaches in the Abacos are the best. We also saw this house with an annex made up to look like the Hope Town lighthouse, although we did not know that at the time.

DSCN0992.jpgDSCN0993.jpg

We had no reason to hurry north. Hope Town suffers from the same issues as does Spanish Wells, very shallow depths on the approach, some less than 4-ft. at mean low water. So, we timed our arrival for 1230, dead high tide. Despite the extra 2.94 ft. of depth, it was challenging approaching the channel. The channel itself is remarkably well marked; the approach is not marked at all so you take your best shot and hope that you're right. We made it without mishap but much of that was luck; there is a shoal where the channel enters the harbour of which we were unaware. I'm not sure why we did not hit it but we didn't. Now, it's noted on the chart. We also found out, after the event, that a tethered red fender was actually a navigational aid marking the closest approach boats should take to a small coral island. Not knowing this and thinking it was somebody's anchor marker we went on the wrong side. Had it not been dead high tide we would have been hard aground.

large_Hope_Town_Approach.jpg

Mooring balls here are different from from any other place we have visited. The harbour is very small, so to cram more boats into the limited space the tethers attach directly to the bow cleats. This has the effect of making the swing radius for any boat much smaller. When first we arrived we picked the worst possible mooring spot, only one tether and that was in terrible shape. So, with the approaching winds we decided to move to another spot, maybe three boat lengths from where we first were. The new mooring was in tighter quarters, with boats all around so a nice couple came by in their dinghy to hand Carol the tethers making the whole process much easier and less nerve wracking for her, anyway. I had to turn the boat around once to head into the wind and then back up because we wanted a different mooring. So, my nerves were properly wracked.

large_Hope_Town_Harbour_2.jpg

We went ashore our first evening here for dinner, Carol having cooked for at least seven straight nights. Carol loves to eat and loves eating even more when she does not have to cook.

This is a place which Carol has wanted to visit ever since we first started thinking about the Bahamas. It is charming, quaint, and, Carol hopes, suitably romantic. The old town, around the harbour, is beyond belief. It looks like Disney theme park for how a Bahamian island town ought to look. Or, maybe it's the movie set for some Bahamian version of The Truman Show except here Truman Burbank would likely be Truman Pindar or Truman Rolle. If either of those two clans ever had a family reunion it would take a huge island to accommodate all the attendees. Several islands in the Exumas have a Rolletown. The houses are all old, some dating to the late 1800's; they are all immaculately maintained; the profusion of bougainvillea astounds. Most have shutters and these are not decorative affectations; when closed for hurricanes they will completely cover the doors and windows. The Queen's Highway is a concrete oxymoron; it is one wagon wide or two abreast for people on horseback. It seems that many of the houses are for vacation rental and not being lived in by the owners. There are golf carts but most people seem to take shank's mare and hoof it from place to place; the distance around the harbour cannot much exceed one mile.

DSCN1011.jpgDSCN1009.jpgDSCN1008.jpgDSCN1007.jpgDSCN1004.jpgDSCN1002.jpg

The amazing thing is that all of the old town around the harbour looks like these pictures except with more colors.

And, dominating the island and the harbour is the lighthouse. It sits on a small rise and is 120-ft. high although I don't know if that is the height of the structure or the height above the water. It is the last manned lighthouse in the Bahamas, lighthouses everywhere falling prey to the ubiquity and accuracy of GPS.

large_DSCN1043.jpg

Going up the lighthouse was an experience. The front door is open to all comers; the rules are mainly concerned about matches and lighters, there being lots of kerosene about. There are no warnings that falling could be hazardous to your health; there are no yellow and black safety lines on the floors or stairs. All the hallmarks of our overly litigious society are absent, the Bahamians trusting the common sense of adults. From the outside there is a clear wedding cake design where each higher tier is somewhat smaller that the one below; inside the walls were even, allowing a smooth surface for the circular stairs. At the windows the wall thickness must have been at lest three feet.

DSCN1022.jpg

The kerosene fuel tanks that feed the flame for the light.

DSCN1025.jpg

After almost five years on the boat Carol learned that lighthouses each have signature light patterns to distinguish one from another and that they focus light through fresnel lenses.

DSCN1039.jpg

Prrof that I have been there, done that, and I did get a t-shirt.

DSCN1032.jpg

Having already visited Russell Island I now got the chance to walk on Russell Lane.

DSCN1005.jpg

At Brunswick Landing Marina I met Bob and Gail F. who had sailed their boat, Tulum III, around the world, taking ten years to accomplish that. Bob said that when he returned he had 200 t-shirts, which is about 1.7 t-shirts per month. I am on a pace to eclipse that number easily. I guess the existential question is: if you don't have a t-shirt were you really there. I saw one I liked for Hope Town, and then saw one I liked even more. Forget the stars, my Michelin guide has this as the only two t-shirt rated stop on the trip so far. I cannot imagine why I would want to live here but this is the first island that I could imagine coming back to visit after the boat.

Carol & the Dinghy:

  • We have had this dinghy and motor for well over a year now and Carol had not once started or driven it. So, this being a small and sheltered place, it seemed like a good time for her to learn. I reduced the starting to four simple steps which even she could master and, hopefully, remember. Since the engine was already warmed up from earlier use, starting it should have been pretty easy. Watching Carol pulling the starting rope was like watching her try to throw a baseball overhand for a strike: it was a painful and unnatural motion. To her credit she did get it started, drove it across the harbour, stopped the engine and got it restarted and back to the boat.
  • The only thing worse than watching her try to start the dinghy is to watch her getting into it. She seems to have no confidence in her balance and the dinghy rarely stays stationary to accommodate her fears. She has only fallen all the way into the water, once, at Vero Beach, maybe two years ago; the times she has almost deep sixed herself are too many to count. Watching this, which I have done a lot, is painful and time consuming.
  • The dinghy is our pickup truck carrying us, trash from the boat and provisions to the boat along with our several jerry cans. Carol divides the dinghy into halves, the front being hers and the rear, since I usually drive, mine. The rear section gets the 3-gal. fuel tank, the swing radius for the O/B motor handle, the pump, all the cargo, oars, me, etc. She gets all of the front all to herself needing a larger targeted landing area for her graceless landings, flops, and plops, frequently loud and always awkward.
  • But wait, there's more! On Friday morning, Carol, now deeming herself both accomplished and expert with the dinghy having twice started the already warm engine, decided that she was ready to run some errands all by her big girl self which was fine by me. She left and I remained below reading that day's edition of the WSJ when I heard my name being called, presumably by Carol. I went up to see what the deal was. The deal was that Carol had violated rule #1 of dinghy-ing, one which I have stressed with her many times: never free the dinghy from whatever it is tied to until the motor is running. To make matters worse, when the dinghy is attached to our stern I tilt the motor forward, removing the motor stem from the water to prevent marine growth in the small water circulation cooling channels. Carol did not even know how to lower the engine so that it could be started. So, there she was drifting to the windward shore of the harbour with the engine still in the up position. The oars are attached and easily have been used except the seat has to be in to actually row and she doesn't know how to put in the seat. The solution turned out to be simple: I put on my bathing suit, jumped into the fairly foul water, swam to the dinghy, hauled myself in, lowered and then started the motor. Too much stress on an old body that early in the morning, too much reminiscent of the lobster pot debacle and not what I imagined would be part of the for better, for worse deal to which I agreed several decades past.

There is room for about 40 boats to moor here. Since there is the prospect of weather there's no room at the inn. We saw David and Alice this morning before they headed over to Marsh Harbour. Wind Dust was here and Megerin arrived this afternoon. Dharma, which was traveling with Debbie, is here; Dharma and Wind Dust are both nominally home ported in Oriental, NC as we are. In our travels this year we have seen a few of the other boats moored here but we have not met their owners. French Kiss is somewhere in the area since we have heard them hailed in the VHF radio. It is a small cruising world, collapsing up to the Abacos as a staging area for folks to head home a thought that was much on my mind until I saw the 31o temperature earlier this week.

Carol and I toured the island on another golf cart. Once we left the old town the island was just another place being developed with some fairly big homes and, certainly, pricing native Bahamians out of the market. Just in case our dear friend Moose decides to move to the islands there will be an opportunity for him to serve in the VFD.

DSCN1021.jpg

The weather has been a little breezy and will stay that way for another day or three. We have paid for the mooring through Sunday night and hope to move on Monday, maybe to Man-O-War Cay. The nice thing about this stretch of islands is that going from one to the next the miles are measured in single digits easy, non-stressful days. The only near term trick is getting out of here on a high enough tide. Having been to the top of the lighthouse, I was able to see the water and where to go to avoid the biggest problems.

Posted by sailziveli 20:13 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (0)

April in the Abacos

Lynyard Cay

sunny 84 °F

Carol really liked Spanish Wells; I thought that it was OK but it was not where I wanted to be. Carol seems to be better at the lemon/lemonade thing than am I. At $1.00/ft. it was not an expensive interlude. Oddly, we did not eat out any night we were there. With Good Friday and then Easter Sunday most of the restaurants were closed; the only one open served only fried food, now not part of my dietary regimen.

The big decision was when to leave and where. Having been convinced that Sunday was a bad day, it was, Monday looked somewhat better and Tuesday looked good, I bowed to the inevitable, WEATHER, and we stayed in Spanish Wells on Sunday. Monday we waited for high tide, about 1000, and got underway for Royal Island, again, as a point of departure for Tuesday. We arrived and anchored at Royal Island before lunch and just lazed the rest of the day away, stirring only to watch other boats entering the harbour.

On Tuesday, transit day, we woke early. I checked the weather on the internet and using our XMWeather. XMWeather had been showing a wedge of high waves jutting into the Northeast Providence Channel; for several days the isobar like lines of wave height had been showing 8 and 9 feet, the reason were stayed at the dock. On Tuesday morning that wedge had been replaced by a rhomboid of 12 foot waves. That didn't make any sense so I decided not to tell Carol lest that send her anxiety levels soaring to heights as high as the purported waves.

When we looked out we saw that two other boats, Megerin and Wind Dust, were already underway. Knowing Megerin from Royal Island and Wind Dust from Spanish Wells we decided to follow suit and had the anchor up before the sun was up and headed though the harbour's cut. We were in the open water by 0730, headed north with a little bit of wind to help us on our way. When we were far enough north, out of the lee of the islands the ocean swells were, maybe, 4/5 feet but with a long period between, giving the boat a pleasant, gentle rise and fall. This sunrise, versus the last one at Royal Island, seemed propitious.

large_DSCN0955.jpg

We left trailing behind the two other boats, at 46-ft. and 44-ft. When we cleared the cut between Little Egg Island and Egg Island we saw two more boats ahead of us. The closer of the two was a catamaran and the other was too far distant to distinguish. Given the math of hull speeds I assumed that they would leave us far behind their sterns. But we were able to hang with them.

DSCN0962.jpgDSCN0966.jpg

We motor sailed, running the engine at 2,700 RPM's, the fuel/speed sweet spot, and put out both sails. There was more wind than we expected but the direction was a little more north than expected; after about 15 nm we were almost a mile west of course from trying to keep some wind in the head sail.

One of the five boats, the one farthest north, turned right, for Africa, leaving just four. We were the only boat with a foresail out and we ended up just passing everyone, to the point that I dropped the engine speed so the other boats could catch up and allow us to follow them through the cut and to the anchorage.

It was a good trip and interesting, too. While I was mindlessly eating lunch I saw a line go flashing along the port side. Turns out that the halyard holding the radar reflector to the top spreader had parted, dropping the reflector about 40-ft. to the water where it was water skiing behind the boat. We recovered it with no apparent damage to the boat or aluminum reflector.

We heard Jesse, on Wind Dust, over the VHF offering the other three boats fresh fish because he had just caught and landed a 4-ft. mahi mahi while trolling on the trip north. This got me so stoked that I broke out my rig and in a few minutes had caught and landed .... a wad of Sargasso seaweed. Not nearly so tasty and the mahi mahi that Jesse, good to his word, shared and that Carol and I had for dinner. He said that this was the first fish that he had caught in the Bahamas in 12 years of trying.

Over the last 12 miles of the trip there was a current pushing us faster than we had any right to be going based on the wind and the engine. Even trying to go slow we made over five knots. The 49.3 nm trip over the open water took about eight hours but we would have been much quicker had we not slowed down to follow the other boats through the cut and to the anchorage.

At 1530 we exited the Atlantic Ocean and entered the Sea of Abaco for only the second time with about four hours of daylight to spare. We used one of those hours anchoring. The first and second tries the anchor would not set well so we moved on and tried again until it finally did. When I dove to look at the anchor it was poorly set in a thin layer of sand and grass over rock. But, there's not even enough wind to crank the wind generator so a dragging anchor is not a high concern.

This trip, like the run from Nassau to Royal Island, was about as nice as could be. It met the standard of dull, nothing important broke or stopped working. My concerns about the fuel gauge were misplaced; it did work so I do not have to swim in diesel fuel again. The weather was beautiful. With the arrival of the most recent high pressure weather system things have been cooler; some mornings have broken below 70o and one below 60o. On Monday night Carol actually pulled the bed spread over herself for the first time in many weeks.

A colorful ending to a great day!

large_Sunset_at_Lynyard_Cay.jpg

Posted by sailziveli 10:02 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating bahamas Comments (0)

Spanish Wells

sunny 82 °F

When all the weather that was going to happen had happened, it just wasn't worth the effort. We could easily have gone north to the Abacos on Thursday and Friday; we could easily have stayed in the harbor at Royal Island. Of course, had we stayed on anchor we would have been boat bound, not a pleasing thing for Carol.

On Thursday, the day we arrived at Spanish Wells we saw the worst of the day on the short trip between islands although one boat that came arrived in the afternoon had seen 40 knot winds, but just in a squall that quickly passed.

On Friday, late in the afternoon, we saw this knife edge of the front slice its way south. Behind was marshaled a host of low, lumpy cumulus clouds, dark and swollen with rain and linked each to the other with horizontal bursts of lightning, none being wasted on the ground, a comforting thought when your tiny home has a five story lightning rod in its middle. 60 minutes of rain and it was all over. We saw nothing of the 60 knot, hurricane force winds but we're not complaining. The thing is, though, that you cannot know where that Fickle Finger of Fate is going to point. Here, it was a non-event; five miles away may have been a disaster. So, safe and tethered to a dock is OK.

large_Panorama_2A.jpg

We have two barometers on board. One is the standard analog dial and the other is digital, part of a weather/temperature station. I am not assiduous about recording the readings but I do pay attention. In the past month, or so, I have not seen any readings below 30.00 inches of mercury; on Friday the pressure dropped to 29.80, not an alarming number, but unusual. 29.92 is normal at sea level.

This is an interesting island, quite different from the other small islands that we have seen; small in this case is 2-mi. x 0.5-mi. Tossing out Freeport and Nassau, Spanish Wells is, by far, the wealthiest place we have visited. It has nothing to do with tourism and everything to do with reaping nature's bounty from the sea. There are seven marinas on this island and only one, Spanish Wells Yacht Haven, accepts pleasure craft. All others are reserved for working boats and all of the working boats collect fish and shellfish. Almost all of the catch is sold off the island through distributors, there being few restaurants here. In our travels I have seen lots of working fishing boats but I have never seen boats as immaculately maintained as these. There was not a rust streak to be seen anywhere even though the lobster season just ended. Sunrise over the fleet.

large_DSCN0944.jpg

It also the whitest island we have seen, probably more than 90%.

We rented a golf cart for 24 hours to see the island. It has been four months since I have been at the wheel of anything but the boat and we/I had to drive on the left hand side of the road. It is focusing when a monster Ford F150 is coming in the other direction. There were no traffic fatalities during our drive so I guess we did OK. There are lots of for sale signs about and the prices here are not nearly so scary as they were in the Exumas. Most normal people could find a way to buy a house away from the water. Spanish Wells is mostly built out; there are very few empty spaces on which to put new construction. Most of the lots are very small but on the north side of the island there is a stretch of what might be called estates: larger homes on about an acre with old, wrought iron gated entrances. Down by the old harbor there are some old frame houses that may date to the 1920's. Most, like the boats, are beautifully maintained.

DSCN0930.jpgDSCN0931.jpg

The majority of the houses look like south Florida when Eisenhower was president: smaller in size, concrete clock, bright pastel exteriors, tile roofs and crabgrass for lawns. I may have missed the lawn flamingos.

large_Spanish_Wells.jpg

We went out again on Easter Sunday morning, less traffic, a safer drive. The Methodist Church has a small garden near the road which we visited. It was in some disrepair but there were these lilies (?) and some red flowering trees.

large_DSCN0950.jpglarge_DSCN0953.jpg

These are all named as separate islands but, when the tide is low, a person could walk across the flats from one to another. This is the flat between Spanish Wells and Russell Island.

large_DSCN0912.jpg

There are several stores on Spanish Wells, enough for the population except for a liquor store. For that Carol had to take a ferry ride from Spanish Wells to the northern tip of Eleuthera, maybe a half mile from dock to dock. This is the very tip of the island.

large_Eleuthera_..h_Wells.jpg

We also drove over to the non-eponymous Russell Island which is quite a bit larger and almost undeveloped. There were some land clearing projects going on, maybe to support new homes.

DSCN0954.jpg

So, here we sit on Easter Sunday; I wanted to leave this morning but others cautioned against that. They may have been right. It's not so much about the wind as the waves. On the north side of Spanish Wells is open ocean; call it the Northeast Providence Channel or the Atlantic Ocean. Regardless head east and you'll hit the Cape Verde Islands and then Africa. Right now the seas are running 5~9 feet between here and the Abacos. So, by Monday or Tuesday things may have settled down enough to head north. We might hire a pilot to take us out through the reef to the north; we might go back to Royal Island and leave from there.

Posted by sailziveli 10:42 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boats boating bahamas Comments (0)

(Entries 76 - 90 of 186) « Page 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 .. »