Cruising with Grace

19 November 2017 | Duplin Creek - very nice spot
14 November 2017 | On a mooring at Beaufort SC
10 November 2017 | Price Creek
05 November 2017 | Osprey Marina, Socastee
02 November 2017 | South Harbor Village Marina (5+ miles from Southport)
29 October 2017 | Beaufort Town Docks
26 October 2017 | River Dunes Marina and Resort
23 October 2017 | Dowry Creek Marina
20 October 2017 | Great Bridge VA
18 October 2017 | Bluewater Marina, Hampton VA
16 October 2017 | Deltaville Marina
12 October 2017 | Cove opposite Oxford MD on the Tred Avon River
10 October 2017 | Sailing Associates Marina, Georgetown, MD
08 October 2017 | Summit North Marina on the C&D Canal
05 October 2017 | Atlantic City
02 October 2017 | City Island NY
01 October 2017 | Essex CT
29 September 2017 | Pocasset MA
26 September 2017 | Needham MA
13 September 2017 | Needham MA

Miscellaneous observations from my recent travel

19 November 2017 | Duplin Creek - very nice spot
started overcast, now clear skys and nice night
I have lots of time as I move from place to place along our route. Because the ICW channel is frequently narrow and winding, and navigating along it always requires attention, I am more-or-less in the cockpit all the time - looking at the chartplotter, looking for marks, checking the depth, looking around at the slow-passing scenery. This leaves lots of time for thinking.

I do not think deep thoughts, and it's highly unlikely that I will have some great epiphany that will change my life. They are more observations than thoughts. Here are some:

Dolphins. I've mentioned the dolphins previously. What I haven't said is that they are everywhere and lots of them. They are out in deep water, they are in the smallest creeks. They come into marinas. They pretty much ignore the boats. While always cool to see them, there are times as I motor along, see a black shape 30 ft in front of Grace, and think 'Oh no - a rock! Turn the wheel'. Or 'Oh no - a log! Turn the wheel'. But then the dark shape disappears, and I realize 'Oh, it's a dolphin...'.

Birds - especially pelicans. I really wish I knew more about birds than the dozen or so I can roughly identify. You see a wide variety as you cruise the ICW - even though my friend Gene says most have migrated south. There are different color cormorants. There are many different 'tern-like/seagull-like' birds diving down for fish. There are trees along the way with flocks of white egrets in them. There are big birds, and little birds that dart above the water. But my favorite are the pelicans - which are common. They glide long distances about 1 1/2 feet above the water, looking like prehistoric pterodactyls.

The smell of the marshes. The Carolina and Georgia ICW is lined with marshes. Sometimes, as I motor along, I can smell the marshes.

The Magenta Line. This takes some explanation. The ICW route is marked on charts, and on my chartplotter as a thin magenta line - sometimes cruising the ICW is called 'following the magenta line'. This line is quite specific - with precise turns even when in the middle of large bays. Some cruisers follow the magenta almost slavishly - I'll see a boat 200 yards to my right as I navigate using the charts, marks and depths. Then I'll see the boat go out a distance, and in the middle of nowhere, make a turn. 'Oh - he's following the magenta line'. The rub is this line was laid out decades ago, and I don't think its placement is updated very often. Channels shift and shoal. Marshes expand and shrink. The result is the line is not very accurate, and even goes over marshes. I wonder why people follow this as slavishly as some do. Charts are not always accurate, and even marks may have moved - but they are still better to follow than this line.

Anyways - since my last blog post:

The rally boats spent two nights in Beaufort SC. Beaufort is a lovely town with large oak trees covered by spanish moss lining the streets. Some of the old houses are very impressive - I will have pictures in the blog Gallery when I can upload them. I used my morning there replacing the raw water pump on my engine (and had No Problems! A First!). The afternoon I had lunch and explored the town. That evening, several of us met at a bar/restaurant for dinner.

The next day we had a short run to the Windmill Harbor Marina on Hilton Head Island. This marina is entered through a lock where they raise the boat up to the level of the water in the marina. We spent three nights there (not sure why the itinerary had three nights here). But I was able to go to the beach one afternoon (didn't swim, which I will always regret), and the second day, a bunch of us got to take small 20 ft sailboats out and race against each other. A small boat is so much fun to sail!

Saturday, we left Windmill Harbor for what was planned as a 50 statute mile/43 nautical mile run to where we were going to anchor for the night. But... In one of my early blogs, I talked about Hells Gate in New York City. Well, there is a second Hells Gate on the ICW. This one is notable because it's less than a mile long, but poorly maintained, shoals constantly, and as a result is very shallow. We arrived at it at almost exactly low tide. I and Rick on Carly decided to try it, rather than wait for the tide to rise. Carly is a catamaran and draws on 3 1/2 feet. Grace draws a little less than 4 1/2 feet (all the other boats in our group draw more). So we felt our way in, with the shallow water alarm beeping constantly and the numbers getting lower and lower, ocassionally running into the mud and backing out. (I go veerrry sloowwly, and the mud is soft). Carly made it through, and I decided to sit where I ran into the mud and wait for the tide to come up. Eventually Wally Moran - the trip organizer, found a deeper channel, and I followed him. The rest of the rally boats were able to get through in the following half-hour. And so after a long day, we all got to Kilkenny Creek, where we were anchoring, after sunset. Fortunately, this was a very nice anchorage.

Today we progressed uneventfully to another nice anchorage on the Duplin River, where I am now. Tomorrow we head to Jekyll Island.

A word about the weather...

14 November 2017 | On a mooring at Beaufort SC
Overcast and (you guessed it) cold
For every post I make, I put a description of the current weather: "cold and clear", "overcast and cold", "cold and windy". Sometimes I say 'cool' rather than 'cold' - but result is the same - it's cold and I'm getting tired of it (as are the others in our rally group).

With apologies to my friends in New England, where I know it's getting really cold, we are talking about something different. Living on a boat is just one step up from camping (more than one step for a few - day before yesterday I motored the dinghy over to visit the people on Carly. Cele told me that their generator isn't working so that evening they wouldn't have (ahem) electric heat...). On Grace, it''s definitely just one step. For the past weeks, when I get up in the morning, the temperature is low-to-mid 40s. High temps have rarely broken 70, and we have days in the forecast where the highs are in the mid-50s. Long underwear and my fleece are constants in my attire. In 1 1/2 weeks, we'll be in Florida, so I am HOPING we get warmer weather.

On Friday I motored into the Charleston Harbor Marina - across the Cooper River from Charleston proper. (it was cold and windy). Charleston Harbor Marina is an 'upscale marina' - a bit pricier. Oh - and on top of the pricier slip fee, they tack on a $18 ''Resort Amenities Fee", which covers the use of the pool - if you feel like getting into it! 'Amenities' does not include heat in the bathrooms and showers. Cold. On Friday night they did have an outdoor festival, good band, and a BBQ competition with local restaurants. To make the competition even, everyone served only wings. So dinner that night was BBQ wings.

Saturday morning I left the upscale marina and motored across the Cooper River to the Carolina Yacht Club for the next night. Laura's Uncle Doug Plate has been a member for many years, and got me a slip. Doug is a retired Navy admiral, and the club refers to him as Admiral Plate. Doug, Laura's nephew Sam and I had lunch at the yacht club restaurant, discussed boats and they both visited Grace. This yacht club is right in downtown Charleston, so that afternoon I got to see the Veteran's Day parade - led by 100+ motorcycles. Also did a little provisioning at the grocery store.

Sunday morning the group headed down the ICW to spend the afternoon and evening anchored at Steamboat Landing. This is a very nice anchorage - salt marshes to the west, and trees to the east. I did a little marsh exploring in the dinghy, went over to a landing, walked with Dave Pelkey and Sparky, and talked crab fishing with a few locals.

That evening, as we anchored, we had dolphins. A pod of about 6 was swimming around, and clearly playing. They would jump clear from the water and splash around. They were so close, you could hear their snorting as they came up for air.

Monday morning was - you guessed it, cold. The next leg took us through a very scenic - but very shallow stretch of the ICW. There are numerous spots in the channel where the depth was only 5.5 ft - and it's hard to admire the scenery when your attention is on the depth meter - which beeps continuously when the depth is less than 10 ft. (Grace draws less than 4.5 ft, fortunately. Others draw more and a few had troubles during this day) We arrived at Beaufort SC (pronounced BEW-fort, to distinguish it from BOW-fort NC) that afternoon.

Today I will be replacing the water pump on the engine (which started leaking two days ago), and seeing the sights in town.

Did I mention that it's cold?

(side note - the Sailblogs photo gallery function is really dumb about the order is has the pictures. So I'm starting a new Gallery for the trip from here to Ft Lauderdale.)

Making my way towards Charleston, South Carolina

10 November 2017 | Price Creek
Sunny finally, but cold!
This blog post describes the route from the Osprey Marina in Socastee to an anchorage 20 miles away from Charleston. I will get to Charleston today.

The leg from the Osprey Marina to Georgetown follows the Waccamaw River. The Waccamaw River is reputed to be the most scenic stretch of the ICW, and one of the most referenced scenic rivers in the US. It wanders through cypress forests with water around their roots - dry land isn't very apparent for the first part of this leg. As the recommendation of another cruiser I met, I took Prince Creek, which is not really a creek but rather an alternate channel around Longwood Island. The creek is narrow, windy and deep. I took pictures while steering - a bit risky at time as while I was taking them, Grace would veer off course - thankfully, the creek is deep all the way to the trees. (pictures were taken with my old motorola phone, as my new Pixel phone died our last night at the Osprey Marina).

The Waccamaw river is very muddy and full of floating plants. It's not a uniform muddy water - but rather clouds of mud separated by slightly clearer water. Since I had to pay attention to the course as I motored my way down the river, I had lots of time to admire the muddy water.

The group spent two nights in Georgetown SC. The marina was right in town on the main street - a welcome change from many of the marinas we've stayed at, so it was easy to see the town, and get out to restaurants and bars. I went with others to the Rice Museum - dedicated to Georgetown's history as the leading rice producer in the world during the 19th century. I also walked around to look at the houses, walked 2.5 miles to the Verizon store to get my phone problems addressed, got a haircut and beard trim, went out to breakfast, and went with other group members to have drinks at the bars along the waterfront. Georgetown is noted for the oak trees planted along all the streets. Very charming - but before you think of moving to Georgetown, immediately outside it is the largest kraft paper mill in the world! Yes, Georgetown sometimes smells like those papermill towns in Maine...

The group was planning to spend three nights in a marina (an expensive marina) in Charleston. I decided to go a bit slower, spend two nights anchored out, and two nights in the marina. This stretch really gives you a sense of why this is called the Low Country. Salt marshes for miles with not an island or tree to break the vista. At high tide (tidal range is 5 ft here), only the tops of the marsh grass are visible, and low tide, the sides are mud banks. My first night's anchorage was at Five Fathoms Creek and my second was at Price Creek. Both places, the anchorage is in the middle of these marshes, with the nearest trees a mile away. These would have been very pretty places, but the weather is cold and rainy, and the damp penetrates you after a time. It's very nice to be able to get into the cabin after a day motoring along - but even in the cabin, everything feels damp.

Quick note for those considering making an ICW cruise who do not have a shoal-draft boat. The ICW has a 'charted depth' of 12 ft - but that is at best a good intention. As I was following the channel, my shallow water alarm - set at 10 ft, would often go off, and on several occasions, the depth got down to less than 7 ft. When that would happen, I would slow down, and wander left and right trying to find deeper water. At least one other person in the group has a draft over 6 ft, and several have touched bottom as they've progressed down.

As of yesterday, I've been on this journey for six weeks. In five weeks more, I'll be at Ft Lauderdale, and then fly home for two weeks over Christmas. Then it's back to Grace, and 19 weeks more cruising until I cruise into Hewitts Cove and my marina mooring.

A short (er) blog post

05 November 2017 | Osprey Marina, Socastee
Evening clouds.
I don't set out with a length expectation when I write a blog post. They could be very short - a 'strictly facts' narrative, but my goal is to share the experience, not just the route and stops along the way. But this one will be shorter. Why? Because I finally uploaded the photos referenced in my last blog post, and feel I need to post something saying 'they're there!'.


I wrote the last blog post while sitting outside the laundry room at the South Harbor Village Marina. After I finished it, I walked in the dark down the docks to Grace. At the end of the main dock is a fish-cleaning station. There were 3-4 people there, talking to everyone walking past, with Two Wheelbarrows Full Of Fish. All kinds of fish - barracuda, grouper, ... One was an old, white-haired black man - very talkative. As I chatted with him, I made a comment about him having too much fish to eat. He explained that he will be eating this fish all winter - and then he gave me a fish. I'm not sure what kind - some sort of bass.

The next day, as I was leaving the marina ahead of the others, Kathy from Gentle Presence threw a bag of seasoning to me. As I went down the channel towards the ocean, someone I'd met 6 days earlier at Downey Creek named Rolando passed in the other direction and yelled 'Hi Alex'. Great start to the day.

The group went off-shore down to our next port - the Little River, a beautiful run of 25 miles, with a nice breeze and I got the chance to finally raise the mainsail after not taking the sailcover off for a week. While the rest of the group was going to a marina, I decided to anchor out in the Calabash River. Very tricky, shallow spot to get into - I actually ran into the mud two times (very soft mud. The boat doesn't stop as much as slow to a stop, and it's easy to reverse out of it.) Rolando was already there, and he got on the radio and guided me through the shallows. After anchoring in 6.5 ft of water, I put the swim ladder down and swam over to his boat. We had a nice visit, and he told me about some of the very attractive sections we'll go through tomorrow.

The fish was not what I'd hoped - not only was it small after cleaning, and it was an oily fish. Still, a nice break in my menu.

Yesterday was another long, boring motor on the ICW, past Myrtle Beach - I posted a picture so you can get an idea of 'the scenery'. I am now in the Osprey Marina in Socastee SC (we crossed from North to South Carolina yesterday). Today was a typical marina day - washing the boat which had gotten filthy, going to the grocery store, working on the engine, reading, and writing this blog post. Tonight the group is having a potluck dinner. Tomorrow we head down the Waccamaw to Georgetown SC.

That's it for my 'shorter blog post'. Look in the Gallery to see the pictures I finally uploaded.

More life on the ICW Rally - and lots of dolphins!

02 November 2017 | South Harbor Village Marina (5+ miles from Southport)
Nice night. Sitting outside the laundry room)
As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent three nights in Beaufort - the first night just settling in (and my dinghy trip to the wildlife refugee), the second day was to explore the town, the 3rd day was a 'stay-in' day due to the storm, and then leaving the next morning - Monday.

Saturday evening, I went with Dave Pelkey to try some bourbon, and we were joined by Wally - the rally organizer. Wally is a Canadian. His passion (aside from boating) is politics - and he finds US politics much more interesting than Canadian politics. Wally is also a bit (ahem) more to the right than I. After some debate, we agreed to disagree. We did pick up the discussion in Swansboro - but the only common ground we found was that the Canadian healthcare approach is much better than the US one, and the Republicans are stupid not to support something like it.

Sunday started off with rain, and rain continued through much of the day. I went for a walk to dispel cabin fever, and got soaked to the skin. In the afternoon, the rain stopped, for a while the weather was pleasant, and then around 7, the wind piped up from 10 kts to 30+ kts, with gusts above 50. When you are in a marina with the wind blowing like that, someone's halyards are slapping against their mast - making a racket, and sleep difficult. At 2am, I deduced that mine was one culprit, and went out to loop it around the spreaders so it wouldn't slap. But there were others...

Monday was clear, but windy (15-20 kts). I left before the others to make the trek to Southboro, which is about 25 nautical miles down the ICW from Beaufort. Since I am the slowest at motoring, they all caught up to me as I arrived in Southboro. We planned to stay two nights in Swansboro, and the rally itinerary said the full day was to 'explore Southboro'. Only one catch - it takes about 1 1/2 hours to 'explore Swansboro' It is a very small town, mostly houses, and with a number of restaurants and gift shops. Sadly, nothing practical, like a marine store... The people there are very nice and gave us a reception on the dock with finger food and wine, and goody bags (tee-shirt and candy). Trivia - it is clear they have an election coming up based on all the lawn signs - and the mayor's race is contested.

Wednesday, we left Swansboro for a long motor (with genoa up for 1 hour) to Wrightsville beach. That's when I saw the most dolphins I've seen on this trip. They were all around the boat, with their graceful arcing as they came up for air, and even going under the boat. I've seen dolphins as early as Cape May, but here they are plentiful. No pictures, unfortunately - although Ronda Baldwin on Morningside posted a video on the Rally Facebook group.

Not much to say about Wrightsville Beach. It was an anchorage, fairly full of boats. I tried to go for a swim but the air was cool and the water, too. At 3am I woke and heard the sound of waves breaking on the beach - and thought 'what the?, we're anchored in a cove.'. Went on deck and the sound of waves was coming from the other side of the peninsula that formed the cove - a peninsula filled with houses and high-rises. Must have been a big surf.

Today we motored to Southport, where we will spend one night (maybe...). Unfortunately, Southport is 5+ miles from the marina. I tried to get a Lyft car, with no luck (very frustrating), and then went for a walk. About 1/2 mile from the marina is a large park on the side of Dutchman's Creek. I found a spot to wade on a nice sandy stretch, looked at the shrimp in the water, and got into a conversation with two young guys on a sailboat anchored in a little cove. One had just bought the sailboat - an early 80s Newport 30, for $90. The catch - well the engine wouldn't start and smoked when the switch was turned on. The owner was learning how to sail and knew nothing about boat systems. We had a nice conversation, and I told him the situation with $90 boats is they cost a lot more to get ready to use... BTW - this creek seems to be where people put their boats when they don't care about them anymore - see pic in gallery.

Other item of note on the run today - I had my first real 'ship to ship communication). As I motored down the Cape Fear River, a Very Large container ship was coming up the channel. He hailed me "sailboat going downstream by , this is the ship 'Katy P'. Please acknowledge and switch to Channel 13". He was calling me to tell me his course intentions, and ask me to say all the way over the side of the channel. Which I did!

Tomorrow (maybe tomorrow - there is a mix-up in marina reservations) we go outside the ICW - into the Atlantic, so as to avoid a challenging stretch.

Observation for the day, or past week, or coming weeks... The ICW is boorrringgg. It's straight in most stretches, but narrow so you need to pay attention. The engine runs continuously, with the attendant droning. The scenery is interesting, but very similar - mile after mile. I don't know how those in our group that don't use an autopilot handle this... (I wonder about myself).

I'll post again in about 3 days.

Beaufort (pronounced 'bow-fort'), North Carolina

29 October 2017 | Beaufort Town Docks
Grey and rainy. Big storm coming thru tonight.
We spent two nights in the River Dunes Marina and Resort. The extra day was spent - as usual, on boat projects - 1st, finding/fixing a leak in my fresh water system that was spraying water over my silverware, and then cleaning the boat cabin top-to-bottom. While River Dunes is a resort, with a pool, hot-tubs (that weren't turned on), restaurant (did eat dinner there with the group our second night) - none of us took advantage of the resort facilities. This is typical of our marina stays - the weather just doesn't make you want to lounge by the pool.

Two days ago, we headed to Beaufort. The route went across the Neuse River, down Adams Creek - very pretty with dense pine trees and little sand beaches along the way (very tempting to drop anchor and go for a swim!), then through a canal to the Newport River and Beaufort. I arrived around 3:00.

Beaufort is a very pretty little town near the coast and Outer Banks. The marina is right in town - it's called simply Town Docks, as the docks line Spruce Creek on one side, and the main street with stores and restaurants on the other. Across Spruce Creek is a string of islands that are part of a Rachel Carson refuge. This is much nicer that some of the other marinas we've stayed at - a destination in itself.

After I arrived there, and did the necessary hook-up tasks, I rowed the dinghy across Spruce Creek to the first island, landing on a sandy beach. There was a man and woman there, with the man - very tanned, swarthy and black beard, fishing for shrimp using a throw-net. Turns out they are living on a small, old sailboat moored in Spruce Creek, and they fish for their meals.

As I mentioned, these islands are a wildlife refuge, and their featured residents are a herd of feral horses. I walked into the island to see if I could find any - did see a LOT of horse poop and for a while that's all I thought I'd see. But as I finished the trail loop and came back to the beach - far off I saw two grazing in the salt marsh. I was able to row relatively close to them and you can see the pictures in the gallery. The water is relatively warm by my standards (my guess 70o), and quite clear (4+ feet visibility), I went for a swim, and then rowed back.

Later that evening my brother-in-law Peter Volin and his wife Faye came by for a visit. We sat in the cabin, caught up, and looked at the charts for the Bahamas. Our plan was to spend yesterday (Saturday) together - although they had to change plans and so we could only visit in the morning. After they left, I joined the group for a visit to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and climbed to the Widows Walk at the top of the building - great view as you can see in the Gallery pictures. Later, I took my next door neighbor David Pelkey and his dog Sparky to the island so that Sparky could jump into the water and swim.

The group agenda was to spend two nights here, and then go 25 miles down the ICW to Swansboro. But the weather, in the form of Tropical Storm Phillipe, combined with a front from Canada, are changing those plans. So we are staying here a 3rd night (at $70 marina fee per night...) and are not positive that we'll leave tomorrow. We'll see. But at least there is the town at my doorstep.

On the Grace front - I made a great discovery! The boat has a refrigerator that runs off of the batteries. I hadn't been using it because of the drain on the batteries. But I discovered that once the refrigerator is chilled down, it uses much less battery. What does this mean? Well, for the first three weeks of my journey, I mostly lived on canned and dried foods like rice and pasta. But now I run the refrigerator, which at present contains one ribeye steak, 4 chicken thighs, a package of North Carolina ham, a package of lettuce, 1/2 of a tomato, 1/2 of a green pepper, salad dressing, onion, a six-pack of Ballast Point Sculpin Ale, a quart of milk, cheese - the list goes on. And I can make ice cubes! This, in my opinion, is the height of luxury.
Vessel Name: Grace
Vessel Make/Model: Catalina 320
Hailing Port: Needham MA
Crew: Alex Cullen
Extra: This trip will be my 'transition to retirement'
Grace's Photos - Main
September to December
93 Photos
Created 29 September 2017