Our friends have reminded us that our blog shows us lingering in the Alligator-Pungo Canal back in mid-May, despite the fact that we are comfortably ensconced at home in Vermont. An update is in order.
The day after our close encounter with the barge was busy on the waterway, filled with skiers of every sort, some experienced enough to do somersaults. The Coast Guard stopped us in Currituck Sound for a safety inspection in an area so narrow that we couldn't actually pull over. Instead they tied up to our boat, and Bob continued underway at the wheel while I did the show and tell. They were very polite and we received no citations. We ended the day at Waterside Marina in Norfolk, VA and were lucky to find a slip. There was a wine festival going on next door, an arts festival just a ferry ride away in Portsmouth, and a gathering on the dock of Great Loopers. Lots of activity and we did our best to fit it all in, as well as catch up with friends Mary and Mark last seen in Florida and window shop in the d'arte arcade of galleries en route to the MacArthur Mall to make the obligatory stop at the Apple store whether we needed anything or not.
Our trip north up the Chesapeake Bay against the current was broken by a pleasant stop to meet up with Forever 39 at their favorite anchorage, which they begged us not to mention by name. So this lovely spot shall remain nameless, but we attest that it a lovely protected place, so nice that we stayed for several days to do boat chores.
The next day we tried to continue north but the seas were too rough, so we went to Reedville on the Great Wicomico River. Yes, the fish plant was running but we managed to anchor upwind of it. Bob had a chance to determine he is still happy with the soft shell crab sandwiches at the Cockrell Creek Crab Restaurant there. The wind seemed to die down in the afternoon so we headed out, winced as the 3-ft waves threw salt all over our previously clean boat, and stopped for the night in a quiet spot off Smith Creek in the Potomac River.
We left very early, hoping for an easy ride, but we bounced a lot against an ebb tide, 4-ft waves and north winds gusting to 25 knots. We arrived safely in Solomons, to rest briefly and continue a flurry of boat chores and cleaning before leaving the boat there for the summer.
A heart-stopping moment thrust itself upon Puffin this morning in the Alligator-Pungo Canal.
We were preparing to pass an oncoming tug and barge and had worked our way over to the side of the canal in good time. Shortly before we were to pass port side to, I disengaged the autopilot as I like to do in a passing situation. This time the steering felt funny as I tried to edge Puffin a little closer to the embankment. It seemed to steer easily only to port; not good, since that would put us to close to the barge. I quickly re-engaged the autopilot to stay away from the oncoming barge, now only 300-400 feet away, but at least safely to Puffin's port.) However, within seconds, Puffin came to an abrupt stop, not slip-slidin' to a gradual stop as she has done on a previous occasion or two with mud and sand.
Puffin is now clearly hard aground on one of the many submerged stumps that line both sides of this canal. This is a new experience. I try reverse - nothing. Engaging the bow thruster does nothing. I mean there is no movement at all. Puffin is sitting like she's in a cradle on the hard. As the barge and tug slide by to port (*), I wonder if Puffin can shake free using the tug's wake, but I don't see much wake astern.
As the tug itself passed us, Puffin suddenly, within seconds, listed to port by several inches. An out-of-body feeling slips through my brain. What just happened and why? I'm beginning to think we'll need a crane to get poor Puffin afloat again.
While ruminating on this new condition I notice what almost looks like a standing wave perhaps a foot or so high trailing astern each side of the tug. (It looks a little strange - it is just a single waveform.) As it bears down on us, I prepare to try to move the boat again. Before I move the controls, Puffin suddenly floats level again and I notice the bow move slightly. I actuate the thruster and the bow moves slightly to port. That's all I need to put Puffin in forward gear and apply power. We wiggle forward inching toward the center of the canal and now Puffin is free.
As my heart slowly returned to idle, I reflected on this new and unsettling experience and realized that this barge and tug with its many-thousand hp engine is probably over 200 feet long, 50 feet wide and draws eight feet. It is moving smartly in a canal that is perhaps 300 feet wide or less and 12 feet deep. With its wide blunt bow, it is forcing water ahead of it and to the sides. Behind the bow it is actually lowering the water level it a few inches, with its huge displacement and that's why Puffin briefly listed while aground as the tug passed by. The stern wave behind it that finally freed us was water rushing from behind the tug to fill the void.
With regard to why the steering seemed jammed earlier I can only speculate that a small stick may have been jammed in the rudder opening, momentarily.
A more rewarding moment in the Alligator-Pungo Canal occurred about 20 minutes later when Nancy spotted two deer swimming across the canal with just their heads and big ears poking out of the water. What a treat! All's well that ends well.
(*) Note to land-bound friends: Virtually all barges on the ICW are pushed from behind by tugs that are tightly secured to them and essentially act like one very large boat.
If you read our previous blog, you already know that we left Charleston four days ago, and you've read about the highlight of our passing through McClennanville on our first day out, watching the freshly painted shrimp boats with multi-colored flags flying pass out to the ocean after being blessed. (Cruisers take note of the very shallow depths at low tide from Awendaw Creek to McClennanville!) Here are a few more details of our recent travels.
Our last week in Charleston was spent primarily waxing the hull and polishing the stainless fittings, with a few other maintenance jobs thrown in for variety, and we just barely finished those jobs. Not our usual activity in this city with so many interesting sights, but we did take a few quick breaks from our work routine. Walking the MegaDock to oogle beautiful boats is always a treat and this time we were not disappointed; there were several gaily painted 40' ocean racing sailboats tied up, mostly from foreign ports, prepping for the second annual Atlantic Cup which will run from Charleston to Newport and New York.
And we bicycled through the French Quarter one afternoon to enjoy the cool shade from overhanging trees on the narrow streets on an otherwise very hot day. On our last night in Charleston, we were treated to the most beautiful fireworks display we'd ever seen, and the boat was a perfect viewing spot. I have no idea what the occasion was, other than celebrating a Friday and the end of a workweek!
Once back out on the Intracoastal Waterway, we began to see dolphins and a variety of birds every day, and have seen three bald eagles so far. On our first night out we stopped behind Butler Island in SC, a very pretty setting and the locale of a second nightly explosion. This time it was thunder and lightning, right overhead, with buckets of water pouring down and 30 something - knot wind gusts. The following day ended with a quick stop at Cricket Cove Marina - great diesel prices and delicious food at Snooky's restaurant on-site.
Our trip up the Cape Fear River in NC was slow, with 3.5 knots of current working against us. Fortunately the 25-knot winds were in the same direction as the current so we moved smoothly, if slowly. Our stopover in Carolina Beach was peaceful - we had the anchorage area to ourselves. In fact we see very few cruising boats as we continue our journey north.
Today we followed tug Evelyn Doris with its huge load to take advantage of the priority given to commercial traffic at the several bridge openings facing us. The tug made for such a nice picture that I photographed it, and I guess boating writer Tom Neale agrees, because he passed by on his sailboat "Chez Nous" and also took a picture of it. But only his will make its way to a magazine!
We have reached Mile Hammock Bay in time to watch the marines from nearby Camp Lejeune performing maneuvers in their small boats. What must they think, trying to be serious as they practice their new skills, while we sit leisurely on the back deck snacking and toasting another successful day on the ICW. We wonder if the peacefulness will be disrupted by night maneuvers of the Marines ..... We were the absolute first of seven boats to anchor here tonight - quite a switch from the usual 30 or so that crowd in here. Lucky us.
Note on the banner picture: Maybe someone can explain the significance of the plastic palm tree and parking meter, perched in the water just north of the Surf City bridge. Or maybe it's simply existential - it just is.
Heading north today gave us our first taste of really stifling heat after a beautiful month in Charleston, South Carolina. We piloted from the flybridge to catch the occasional breeze and found ourselves in direct confrontation with legions of monster flies that bit painfully. They filled the cabin until we shut all the unscreened openings. These flies were so big I saw two of 'em trying to make off with the dinghy that fortunately was tied to the deck.
At McClellanville, we saw several small boats gathered at the mouth of the harbor when a blue light flashed on one of the boats. The police boat hailed us and asked if we would stay put for a few moments as they were having a blessing of the fleet and the shrimpboats would be shortly be crossing the ICW in front of us.
Normally this would be a treat and an opportunity to take some pictures. However, this particular portion of the waterway gets both narrow and shallow. We had watched our depth sounder slowly work down to 7-1/2 ft for the last mile or so since it was virtually dead low tide with a tidal prediction of 9 inches below mean low. Both wind and a slight current were pushing Puffin ahead. It seemed like every time I framed a picture the depth alarm would sound (that means 6 ft and dropping).
But it was still fun to watch nearly a dozen of the spiffiest shrimpboats I've seen pass by, each boat overloaded with enough extra revelers to make several of the boats list as they passed in front of us.
This evening Puffin is anchored off Butler Island in the Waccamaw (one of my favorite names) River. The sun is down and a blessedly cool breeze has come up. And the SuperMoon is shining brightly above.
We wanted to make good time getting from Stuart Fl to Charleston, but weren't sure that day trips out on the Atlantic would save us time. And the lock on the Cape Canaveral Canal was closed the first time we would have considered it, and that threw off our schedule for other possible forays outside. We didn't have the patience to sit and wait in order to position ourselves for another outside jaunt. We decided to just keep on moving every day as long as we could - up early with first light and anchor late, before dark. It became remarkably easy to fall into the routine. We had plenty of food aboard, ate and slept well, found plenty of comfortable anchorages, and were helped by good weather (two thunderstorms were brief and our Krogen handled them well - banner picture is T-storm in Fishing Creek ).
We first dropped anchor just off the ICW south of Melbourne Bridge in Florida, and something similar the next day at Daytona. Pine Island was a very attractive, quiet place to stop, and we even were able to anchor right in St. Simons Sound and enjoy the sunset. Next was the Herb River and then Fishing Creek, both a bit deeper than charted, but good holding. And then there we were, in Charleston.
So, how did we do? Well, we finished the trip in 6 ½ days much to our surprise. On the way down in the fall, it took us 9 travel days to get south. But then, we do have more daylight hours now. That helped a lot.
The only temptation along the way was having to pass right by friends in Krogens either tied up at a dock or anchored somewhere along the way at normal cocktail hour time, and not stopping to chat for the evening.
We'll continue the blog after a break to attend a family reunion.
After leaving the Ding Darling Refuge in Sanibel, we spent two weeks exploring the rest of Pine Island Sound on the west coast of Florida. We stopped to anchor behind lovely, well manicured private island Useppa and dinghied from there over to nearby Cabbage Cay, which has an informative nature trail, a resident gopher tortoise, and a resident otter. The east side of Useppa provides a quiet, pretty resting spot with good holding. While here we spotted Escapade, a boat that had gone through one of the locks with us on the Okeechobee, and we joined owners Ken and Linda for drinks and snacks. At our next stop in Venice, we were treated to a very entertaining, live performance by singer/piano player Ken McBride when we stopped for dinner at T.J. Carney's. Venice is an attractive town with lots of outdoor cafes and, naturally, Italian restaurants. Across from our marina, the Crow's Nest, it was heartening to see so many people at the public park fishing, picnicking, and watching the gorgeous sunset. out on the breakwater.
Sarasota became our final northern point on this journey. This is a wonderful city with so much to do that we know we'll be back. We loved the Selby Botanical Gardens and the Mote Aquarium, the outdoor cafes, the sunsets, and the live music every night at our marina, Marina Jack. While here we were able to visit with friends Nick and Sherri from Sweet Time, whom we see at Krogen gatherings, and friends Doc and Linda, whom we spent numerous weekends with boating on Lake Champlain. And Doug and Michelle arrived on their boat Changer in time to join us on the aquarium trip and have dinner.
On the return journey, we crawled into Punta Blanco, a tiny anchorage near Cayo Costa that was very peaceful, though shallow enough to make us set an anchor alarm. Then it was back to Fort Myers where we reconnected with Ken and Linda, and Doug and Michelle.
Changer accompanied us on our eastward trek back to the east coast of Florida, and we had several enjoyable dinners, recounting the day's events and gator sightings., of which there were many. Unexpected guests joined us in the Franklin lock - a few manatees that fortunately knew enough not to get too close to us. At the final lock, St. Lucie, we learned that it (and the Franklin lock) were now on restricted openings due to the drop in the lake level, so we spent some time at anchor while we waited for the lock to reopen again. Then a day in Stuart to replenish the larder, and we are on our way north.
We made good friends on this trip, had a great time, enjoyed the incredible warm weather, and know that Pine Island Sound and the west coast of Florida beckon us to return so that we can visit all the places we missed on this first trip.