Thu 10 May 2012
Anchored in Wrightsville Beach, NC
I am happy to report that we had no problems with the weather last night and that my back is much better. It is still very sore and I need to be careful, but it is not nearly as immobilizing as it was. I will leave it up to Diane, but I am thinking we might want to spend the whole day here and leave tomorrow. The next logical stop is probably an 8 hour run, and that would leave little time to see, much less enjoy, Wrightsville Beach.
I think moving around today by walking and riding bikes might be better than sitting/standing at the helm for 8 hours straight, too. It is forecast to be clear after the front moved through last night, but only reaching 77F. With the cool wind out of the NW, the beach should be fairly protected from the wind and thus much more pleasant than in the NE winds forecast for tomorrow.
The past 4 days or so, Duane's morning coffee gave way to iced tea, as the temperatures were warming. This morning it had to be 65F in the boat, so it was hot coffee again.
With the decision made to stay another day/night, I elected to re-anchor a lot closer to wind protection and the public dock. Guess what I found when I tried to hoist the anchor? The windlass switch failed again after a half dozen usages. I guess those contacts are permanently fried and a new switch is the only cure.
So, while Diane defrosted the freezer and cleaned the refrigerator, I was on the phone trying to find one. The best I could do was a very close-by place that called me back 4 hours later to say he can have one here by 1000 tomorrow. I almost hate to mention that I could have probably got one shipped overnight from Defender for less money, but then we have to find a place willing to accept the shipment, and the poor parts guy had obviously spent a lot of time searching.
I think it makes sense to get the switch and install it before even attempting to weigh the anchor. I will just find a closer anchorage so that when we leave (maybe 1200 or so), we can make it with daylight to spare. Continual adjustments are part of the cruising life, for sure.
Enough of the mechanical failure reports; here is the good stuff. We got our bikes (and a load of trash) in the dinghy and motored all of 150 feet to the public dock at the SE end of the causeway bridge. We used the very clean public restrooms and then set off to the SW along the sound side (as opposed to the surf side) of the very narrow island. Before long we were at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort riding through the parking lot when a lady hailed us.
At first, we expected to be chastised for riding on their property, but it turns out she assumed we were cruisers from our folding bikes and started a very lengthy, but interesting, conversation about the cruising life she and her husband enjoy. He single-hands the boat over hundreds of miles while she works and then she takes several weeks off and flies to meet him for cruising in some neat locations in the Bahamas and Virgin Islands, and then flies back. She has done many overnight ocean passages with him, too, since their sailboat's mast is much higher than the 65 foot norm for the bridges on the waterway.
She is the owner of the resort and invited us to their sound side dock for the Manager's Reception at 1730 tonight. We will be arriving by yacht (9 foot rubber dinghy) dressed in the cleanest shorts and least wrinkled clothes we have.
After leaving Mary, we rode all the way to the SW end of the island where we enjoyed beautiful views of the ocean and inlet. Next, we rode on the beach side all the way back, noting numerous public beach access locations. Just a block from the causeway road was a neat store, Robert's Market, that had everything we needed (except a value-sized bottle of Ibuprofen). We were pretty impressed with all the little shops and cafes in that general area - nothing fancy or touristy-chic, just neat places.
Back at the boat, we spread Robert's "world famous chicken salad" on bread and had a tasty lunch. Then, it was off to the beach using the public access just 100 yards from the dinghy dock. As predicted, with the wind off the sound, the breeze at the beach was moderate and comfortable. It was bright and sunny with a few fair weather cumulus clouds to offer contrast to the blazing blue sky, and just absolutely delightful with a temperature in the mid-70s.
Having been in the retirement section of Florida for 8 years, we were not ready for the fact that about 80% of the beachgoers were 20-24 years old, with many more females than males. There is much truth about obesity amongst Americans (yours truly included), but it was not evident today on this beach. As my dear admiral cuts a fine figure in her own swimsuit, I scarcely had reason to glance elsewhere and busied myself with my book. I may have to re-read a few chapters, however, as my concentration was interrupted from time to time.
This is a good place to state that we are really enjoying this spot. We are anchored for free in a great location; there is a well maintained floating public dock close by; there are public bathrooms, many shops/eateries, a grocery market, and public beach access all within a few blocks of the public dock. That is a hard combination to find anywhere.
A few words about Clyde, since some of our cat-loving friends have asked: He is doing well, but we notice he is not as social as usual. He heads into the aft cabin to his special spot in one of the baskets tucked well aft that we cannot access without difficulty. It is his little "cave" where he can escape. He has ceased to be eager to go on deck before dawn, but maybe it is just that there is often heavy dew and he doesn't care to get wet.
Unlike our cruise to the Bahamas in 2008, where we had visitors in our cockpit 3-4 times a week, we have only had people aboard about a half dozen times so far. He still comes up to visit as long as the sun is not too bright. He is eating and drinking well and seems healthy, but we know he would rather be back at home in Punta Gorda on dry land.
Skipping back to the evening activities, when we left just after 1730 to dinghy over to the Blockade Runner Resort pier for the happy hour, we decided to put on the anchor light just in the off chance we got back after dark. We already had our meal prepared for the evening and it just needed to be reheated.
We were the only ones there for a short bit because the dozen or so others were on a mini-tour of the sound by pontoon boat. We had 5 very eager staff to chat with and had very interesting conversations about how they all got there and decided to stay. Whitney suggested we stroll the grounds to see how lovely the landscaping was (and it was) and perhaps try their 4-course meal for $25, which sounded good. We also wanted to see Mary and thank her.
Whitney found Mary for us and she convinced us to have a drink at the bar while she finished up and then we would dine together. I told Diane this is one of the moments you just have to seize, so we sipped a cocktail at the attractive bar and had a terrific conversation with two visiting ladies here for a wedding. When it was well past our time for us to eat, we got a table (leaving room for Mary, if she could make it) and ordered our courses.
Mary arrived just as we were finishing the lobster bisque and ordered as well. From that moment on, the stories just flowed. Turns out she met her husband on a ski trip (as Diane and I met). We made sure she had our contact info and hope she will do so in order for us to stay in touch. Again, it got way too late and I asked for the check, at which time Mary softly told the server to just forget it. It was completely unnecessary, but very generous of her.
She walked us back to the dinghy in the cool air and we got back to the boat in short order where Clyde was awaiting us eagerly. He enjoyed some time in the now chilly evening. It was almost 2300 before we got to bed.
Wed 9 May 2012
Anchored in Wrightsville Beach, NC
[photo: Riverboat cruise at N. Myrtle Beach. SC]
It was an interesting night in that Diane fell asleep in the main saloon after I struggled into bed, so I didn't notice her MIA in the v-berth until I awoke at 0300 needing to get up. It was a difficult process to move without causing the back to spasm in pain, but I managed after a while.
Diane took that opportunity to switch to the v-berth, and there was no way I wanted to try to crawl back in there, so I took some more ibuprofen (Mike, you mentioned anti-inflammatories; I generally take 800 mg per day for my leg pain, but it is now temporarily up to 2000 mg). As of early this morning, the pain was worse, but as I type this at 1500, it is considerably better and perhaps better than yesterday.
The diver, Justin, called at 0740 from Wilmington to report his progress. He arrived at the boat just after 0900 and got to work. I asked Diane to help me ready the boat for departure if all went well and by 1000 Justin was paid and on his way with a nice tip. His level of service was hard to beat.
We got underway at 1020, over an hour past the optimal time I had computed to take advantage of the fierce tidal currents. The slight gamble paid off fine, however, as we rode the back half of the flood tide up the Cape Fear River and through the Snows cut into the ICW on the far eastern side. Not only did we have a favorable current for 80% of the time, but we had good winds to help about 80% of the time, too. We saw speeds of 8.3 knots at the maximum, and only had to endure a short section of 4.6 knots.
With the ICW not winding around like in Georgia and much of South Carolina, we could trim the sail and not have to touch it for 10-20 minutes at a time. As before, Diane was a trooper and did all that was asked of her. We arrived under bright blue skies and anchored with about 6 other sailboats. There is plenty of room here, which is comforting.
Diane enjoyed a well-deserved rest in her lounging chair on the deck, reading her book and sipping a beverage before dinner, which was all the leftovers from our meal at Umberto's at Barefoot Landing. It was fabulous a second time, as well. We ate a little earlier than usual so we could be done and cleaned up before the large line of thunderstorms hit near 1800. Having the ability to watch weather radar via a smartphone's internet connection is a great thing. When out of range of shore-based Internet signals, there is always the satellite weather solution.
As of 2100, we have experienced the first wave of storm/rain and I am very happy to report it was a non-event - moderate rain with wnds less than 15 knots. A second band is approaching but RADAR shows it to be even less intense.
Tue 8 May 2012
Docked at Southport Harbor Village Marina, Southport, NC
It was a very restful night and Duane had no back pain of note, but then I didn't need to get out of bed, either. When 0630 arrived and time to get up, the pain was still horrible. Gentle stretching was probably smart before attempting to move around too much, and I can only hope it helped.
Diane rose to the challenge of doing a lot of the things I would normally do in getting underway and did them well. Our run so far (I am below supporting my back while Diane is at the helm) has been pleasant. First, however, we had to transit the "rock pile" just N (actually E, but in the ICW you are either going N or S, regardless of the actual direction) of Barefoot Landing, where we stayed. The caution is that the canal diggers ran into a lot more hard rock than they bargained for so they simply cut the canal narrower and left many rock ledges for boats to hit if they stray too far from the center of the channel. That sure gives you a big incentive to be extra careful.
Much of the waterway is very close to the ocean and there are numerous, if small, inlets. The water is some of the clearest we have seen in a long while. As we approached within a few miles of Southport, there was a marina right on the waterway where we elected to stop for fuel since it looked like an easy in-easy out.
All went well until we tried to depart and before the last line was cast off, I noticed that I did not seem to get thrust in either forward or reverse. I heard a faint and unfamiliar "clunk" when I first put the transmission in reverse gear, so whatever that was must have been the problem. I am very grateful that we did not lose thrust capability when slowing to tie up behind the other boat at the dock. It might not have been possible for the dockmaster to take the stern line and belay it on a cleat in time to prevent ramming the other boat.
Diane went ashore to pay the registration for the evening, and Duane steeled himself for the diagnosis with a very sore back. Inspecting the shaft, transmission, and coupling inside the boat showed no problems. Diane worked the shift lever and I confirmed the shaft locked in the appropriate manner. Next, we started the engine briefly and Diane shifted into forward and reverse and all seemed OK. What did that leave? I told Diane that as unlikely as it sounds, we may have lost the prop.
The water was about 77F when I went in with just a mask and gloves (and swim trunks, of course). I had no idea how many sharp barnacles might be on the rudder that I had to grip to get to the prop shaft, and the gloves proved to be a good precaution. Sure enough, there I stared at a shaft with bare threads and no propeller. I did not care in that swift current and with no SCUBA apparatus to attempt a closer examination, but it needs to be determined if the shaft and threads are OK before we know if we can simply mount a propeller back on.
Despite having my own dive gear, I elected to enlist the services of a local diver to find the lost prop. Bill, the marina manager, recommended Justin and he was here in 15 minutes (just after 1700). I asked him to first inspect the shaft and he said it looked fine. The cutless bearing play (not a factor in the prop loss) was acceptable for now, but needed replacement at the next haul-out. He then went down in the location where we were when the prop was lost and found it in less than 2 minutes. The prop, too, is undamaged. So, we will need a new key, washer, nut, and cotter pin, all of which he will help to procure. So far, this setback is proving to be surmountable.
Justin is under the boat getting off the barnacles as I type this. His fee is $75 for a visit, and he noted that it was time for a quick cleaning, so it is a good time to do it.
As of 1900, the mildly bad news is that after finishing the cleaning, Justin went to the local suppliers and found nothing that would suffice. He will have to drive to Wilmington, NC early in the morning to get the required hardware. The bill will now be higher, but I am confident he will be fair and this setback will be resolved in short order.
We had planned a meal ashore, so we went to the "Dead End Saloon" for some comfort food. The chicken cheese steak sandwiches and fries were great. We heard many patrons praising their meals, so this seems like a good place for "junk" food.
We have met a few cruisers and liveaboards here who offered much support and encouragement. It cannot be stressed enough that most of the boating community is very helpful and friendly.
Mon 7 May 2012
Docked at Barefoot Landing, N. Myrtle Beach, SC
[photo: inside of a gift shop at the Barefoot Landing]
The evening was cool with the NNE breeze coming off the nearby ocean. It was such a comfortable night that Duane slept as long as Diane, until 0700. He found out that being in bed when Diane awakes of her own accord has its rewards.
It was a leisurely early morning, and then Diane set out to stroll the shops, literally at our back door, while I set out to diagnose the windlass problem. I had to partially disassemble the V-berth (forward) to access the motor and switch and quickly determined that the switch was the problem. With Diane's help, I could loosen the screws from the upper side of the deck while Diane prevented the guts of the switch from disappearing down the vast cavern in the bows.
When I saw the switch contacts were severely worn, I realized I could file/sand the one portion, and simply flip one contact over and use the opposite side of the movable section. With that done, we reassembled it and it worked great. I enjoy the occasional challenge, but I would be quite happy to have my challenges for this cruise behind me. I know; that is fanciful dreaming!
After lunch, we got on the bikes and rode to the beach; this time we timed the traffic lights well and didn't almost get killed. The beach was great, even though there was (and for Duane, because of) little unbroken sun and lots of cool wind. I am still amazed at how hard packed that sand is, even 100 feet from the surf line. It wasn't uncomfortable to lie on, and actually was beneficial for Duane's latest malady.
It seems that the mighty struggle with the heavy chain and anchor in that wild current/wind situation yesterday morning left Duane's lower back muscles (spinae erectors, to be precise) in agony. It is an agony that grew slowly through the morning and didn't manifest itself as near-excruciating until the bike ride. Once at the beach, lying on the hard sand and performing pelvic tilts seemed to stretch the muscles out and allow temporary relief.
Getting up after almost 2 hours was interesting, shall we say. From then on, the pain was no longer near excruciating; it was full-fledged excruciating. We got back to the main drag (Hwy 17) and stopped to pick up some fresh produce and milk. Poor Diane had to carry the backpack since there was no way I could with my back, and my weight alone is already pushing the bike's limits.
Back at the boat, I got the hose connected to fill the water tanks (averaging 5.6 gallons per day, by the way) and will be washing off the boat after I perform a two-step medical treatment. Step 1 is to apply a heat pack to my back. Step 2 is to apply a carefully-measured liquid analgesic (gin). I am enjoying both as this is typed.
Okay, the pain-relief treatment worked to a small, but measurable, degree and the deck is now free of all the mud stains and the dirt that accumulates. I was happily interrupted at least three times by passers-by (cruisers and tourists) to chat. It is nice to have that sporadic social interaction and it helped take my mind off the back pain for a few minutes at a time.
Earlier today, I spent over an hour researching the tide/current information on the Internet in order to determine when we should leave from here to reach Southport, NC and then when to leave there for Wilmington, NC the following day. Reports are that rampant that heading up the Cape Fear River against the tide in an underpowered boat is pointless.
After spending all that time getting current and tidal height info and analyzing it, I came across an Internet posting that a certain publication, Skipper Bob, recommends leaving N. Myrtle Beach two hours after low tide to head to Southport with the maximal benefit of the current. This finding does not conflict with my analysis, so the plan is to leave tomorrow at 0730 and see how it goes.
We strolled (sort of) to an Italian Restaurant named Umberto's and we were really happy with that choice. Diane's eggplant parmesan and my seafood over pasta were terrific and the appetizer/salads that they serve before the meals are tasty and filling enough that you almost don't need the meal.
Sun 6 May 2012
Docked at Barefoot Landing, N. Myrtle Beach, SC
[photo: Diane finally at the beach for the second time.]
The thunderstorms came close but not too close last night; we did get very little bit of beneficial rain. Owing to our situation and looking at the tides, it was a very early start today - 0600. Diane was not happy, but she had been forewarned. As it was, I readied the boat in all respects except that she was needed to tend the bow line when we finally cast off near low tide.
The funny thing about these river sections is that when the tide ebbs (flows out to sea), there is a strong current that lasts a long time. When the tide floods, at least in the upper regions of the river, the beneficial current for someone traveling up stream is very small and short-lived. We hardly saw more than 3.7 knots of speed for the first several hours, and then gradually we surpassed 4 knots. Only at the very end of the journey did we see 5 knots. Our 31 mile run took just over 6 hours.
Today's run was interesting in that the first part was through beautiful trees. Their roots were visible at low tide and made many interesting patterns. Although the recommended track for the waterway brought you very close to the trees with 20 feet of water depth, I tried to stay at least far enough away that a fallen tree couldn't be lurking easily beneath the surface.
The second part of the run was in the man-made canal (or cut) that runs somewhat parallel to the beach in the Myrtle Beach area. It is not as pretty, but there is much development going on so there are many homes of all sizes and types to observe. In fact, there was one stretch where I saw more variety in the architectural styles than I ever noticed before.
We were passed close aboard by two gorgeous motor yachts of perhaps 80-90 feet in length; one was from Annapolis and one from Newport. At one point, you pass under an overhead tramway with cars that transport golfers from one side of the canal to the other at a height of about 70 feet, so that sailboats can pass under.
We are currently docked at Barefoot Landing on the long dock (S) side of the canal. The other side is a full-fledged marina, but we don't really need access to the showers or laundry and this is closer to the beach and other things we might want to visit. Clyde got a short walk ashore but was typically not too interested.
We just returned from a biking excursion to the beach. Even with our small tires and Duane's weight, we were able to ride along the hard-packed sand of the very wide beach. It was a mostly cloudy day, however, so not many people were there. Then again we have no idea what crowded is on this beach, part of the "Grand Strand." The way back was slightly different, but still entailed crossing the busy and not-so-friendly Rt. 17. That highway is not set up well for pedestrians or bikes and we had a few close calls.
Getting back to the Barefoot Landing (a large assemblage of shops, restaurants, attractions, and entertainment), we relaxed with an al fresco ale. Back on Diva Di, it was time for some boat chores and then supper - fresh shrimp with three vegetables. We have tried to cut down of the heavy starches so far and substitute more vegetables. It seems to be working to keep us feeling healthier.
Being alongside a long dock with other transient boaters means that people are strolling by often. We have had several enjoyable encounters with other cruisers, as well as some visiting tourists. The evening temperature is wonderful with low humidity and no bugs. There is a lot of light from the lanterns along the promenade, and the setting is far from natural, but pretty nonetheless.
Tomorrow, Diane will get to the beach in her suit for the second time this cruise.
Sat 5 May 2012
Alongside Fuel Dock at Wacca Weche Marina, SC
[photo: Just a few of the shrimp boats based out of Georgetown, SC.]
Last night's forecast severe thunderstorms did not appear, thankfully. Unlike so many previous cruises, I was able to active my smart phone's hotspot and use my laptop to watch the weather radar. When I checked at 2100, it was a very large nasty cell, indeed, still 30 miles to our W. By 2200, it was dissipating markedly, and I went to sleep expecting a little rain and very little wind, which was what we got.
After the morning boat chores, plus the first sweaty job I have done so far (replacing the zinc anode in the heat exchanger), we cleaned up and dropped the dinghy to go ashore with the bicycles around 0900. This is a great town for short biking excursions; there are several areas to dock larger and smaller boats and there is a quite an attractive waterfront. Rather than drop the dinghy, the smart thing to do would have been to simply weigh anchor and move Diva Di to the dock. That would have been quicker and easier than the dinghy, but we didn't think of it until it was a moot point.
We enjoyed s delightful slow ride all around the area surrounding the waterfront, stopped at a farmer's market in the park where Diane got some incredible cantaloupe and corn. On the way back, Diane stopped at a hair salon and was told to come back around 1030 for a quick cut. We rode until then and she waited in the salon while Duane went to the local seafood market where the independent fishermen and shrimpers sell their catch. We are having tuna steaks for dinner. By the time I got the fish back to the dinghy and the bike stowed, Diane was there, too, all set to go. We got the food in the refrigerator and hoisted the dinghy.
There are a few museums here in town, a Maritime Museum and Rice Museum, but we elected to pass on them at this time. We would recommend a stop here to anyone cruising this section of the ICW.
Had we planned a bit better, we would have spent a few more hours in town. I knew that leaving too early would subject us to a very foul current the whole 20 miles to our next intended anchorage, but we were a bit bored to be sitting there and there was a very wonderful wind blowing in a favorable direction, so we left earlier than planned at 1300.
Raising the anchor proved to be a challenge because the electric windlass suddenly failed to operate. [Lest someone get the impression that the boat has been neglected and everything is falling apart, I will tell you that this is a brand new windlass as of 2 years ago. I suspect it is a switch problem and will tackle that later.] There was a 2 knot current and 12 knot breeze right on the nose as Diane carefully motored forward and I attempted to raise the anchor chain by hand. There used to be leather gloves in the locker but they had rotted away, so there were none. The mud on the chain was slippery, and as I have stainless steel chain, there was no pitted/rusted galvanized surface to grip. It was very difficult, but I finally got the anchor up as Diane navigated safely out of the anchorage into the channel.
The passage would have taken less than 3 hours with no current, but as we had at least 1-2 knots against us, and the wind died after 2 hours, the run took us 4.5 hours to go 20 miles. That is very slow and frankly we would not cruise if this was our average speed. The scenery was mostly tall trees and the wide, deep water of the Waccamaw River.
Arriving at the intended anchorage, we were disappointed to see that it was extremely narrow and with lots of pleasure and sightseeing craft buzzing in and out. There was a marina immediately adjacent, so we tried calling, but they were closed for the day. I elected (with an inoperative windlass) to tie up at their fuel dock (a fixed dock with no cleats reachable at low tide) for the night as a prudent measure.
Diane and I are sipping a very cold beverage while we decompress from the drama of the day. Dinner was pan-seared tuna steak, bronzed in a teriyaki glaze, with fresh corn on the cob and green beans almondine. The chef sweated profusely in the heat, but dining al fresco on deck with the live music from the shoreside guitarist/singer was magical. Truth be told, we have had no problem finding and preparing great tuna and green beans since we moved to Florida 8 years ago, but the corn on the cob was the best we have had since our last visit to the NJ/PA area. It was still not as good as "Jersey corn", but quite tasty.
Clyde was especially entertained tonight by the dozen or so swallows that live under the dock where we are tied. It was a very pleasant evening until about 2100 when the bugs appeared and we headed below. There are thunderstorms to our W, which I will be tracking on the Internet radar.