Tue 15 May 2012
Tied to the Free Town Dock, Oriental, NC
[photo: They have some intersting fauna here. This dragon was not quite ready to leave the shell yet.]
We had a good soaking rain last night, which helped wash the boat down and was welcomed by the locals for their lawns and gardens. We were both up well before 0600 in order to leave the dock with minimal current and not be faced with an adverse current on our way north from Beaufort. We exited the slip like pros and made our way back to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in good fashion. There was a confusing junction at one point and we came upon a Canadian flagged sailboat circling, with two people in the cockpit conferring over the chartplotter. We waved and got no signal of distress, so we carried on. We then realized they were right behind us; I suspect they were temporarily perplexed and needed some confirmation.
Surprisingly, we had a fair (following) current for much of the run, and for perhaps two-thirds of the time we had a nice following breeze to help us along with our headsail flying. There were no issues except a few spots where the depth in the center of the channel went to 8+ feet, and that is not a comforting feeling. This is a good time to note that (according to publications and shared knowledge) there are no more periodic (lunar influenced) tidal effects for a number of miles. The bad part about that is if you go aground, there will be no tide to lift you off.
Crossing the Neuse River to Oriental, NC was a nice motor-sail with waves more than 2 feet. We had one semi-close encounter with a barge/tow, and I say that only because the dark gray colors of the barge and tug made it hard to spot in the gray light of this overcast day. We never got closer than 200 yards.
Coming into Oriental, our goal was to get a spot against the free town dock (48 hour maximum stay). One of the benefits of leaving Beaufort so early was that we were at the town dock by 1020, and the hope was that someone there would have left to create a space and that no one else would have come in. The dock was empty when we arrived and even though it was a bow-in, downwind approach, there is no current and that made it all very easy. We take up 80 percent of one side of the dock. The other side and one bulkhead section are open, so 3-5 more boats can come in, as long as they don't draw much water. We saw 5.5 feet and we draw a little over 4.5 feet. Again, with no tides, it should be the same when we leave tomorrow morning. There is precious little room to turn around here, so I am sure the local slip owners on our starboard side are not happy when their maneuvering room is reduced even further by boats here.
It sprinkled on and off after we docked, and so we puttered in the cabin for a short while (starting to swelter in the humidity, to be frank). After an early lunch, we got the bikes out and set off to explore. Without the aid of a map (could have used the smartphone, if needed), we made a large "circle" and got back to the boat. We had to stop twice along the way due to downpours and were able to stay fairly dry. We next explored the adjacent streets and found a mix of interesting homes and many every-day family homes in not such good repair.
With all due respect to the people of Oriental, what we saw along the main drag (Broad St.) was pretty run-down. Many businesses were closed and many looked to be in bad shape. Not every town has to be pretty and quaint, of course; I will repeat my friend Bill's remarks, "When you get to Oriental, lower your expectations."
As for biking, if you get off the main streets, there are many small, residential streets where you can bike comfortably and safely. Riding on Broad Street, even with minimal traffic, you are on the narrow road with no comfort zone. The sidewalks we saw were not conducive to riding as they were very uneven and often had no ramp to cross the streets at each corner. We passed some interesting-looking eateries and nautical shops, which we may check out later.
As of this moment, we have plotted navigation for the Outer Banks, starting tomorrow. I would be happy to get some local knowledge before we commit. Hold that thought...
Rather than just sit on the boat while it rains off and on, I elected to prep tomorrow night's dinner - chicken medallions Marsala. We'll cook the pasta and fresh broccoli that night. For tonight, we're sharing a 7 oz. Ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and pan-roasted Brussel sprouts with bacon. [Hope our doctor isn't reading this.]
As I was preparing the meals, I heard some commotion topside and realized that Diane was helping another sailboat tie up on the other side of the dock. Later, a small sailboat with a younger couple came in and tied up across the end of the dock (which is only 8 feet wide). Our dinghy, hanging off the davits, was impeding them a bit and I apologized, but explained that we ran out of water when we tried to get farther in.
Diane suggested we go back out biking since the rain had passed (at least for a while); we wound up retracing much of the first excursion's route due to our desire to stay off the busier streets. We stopped back at the boat, and then walked the short block to the Inland Waterway Provisioning Company to check out their wares. It looked like a cross between a marine consignment shop and a nautical boutique. We chatted with some nice folks and then returned to Diva Di, where we will host our dock mates for happy hour at 1700.
Just before 1700, some nice folks who own a Catalina 34 came strolling by and we invited them aboard for a drink and conversation. Then the younger couple on the Columbia 26, were coerced to join us, and finally the original invitees arrived. It was a great time with many interesting and varied stories being swapped; we didn't break up until about 1900. Fortunately, we were able to pan-sear the steak and warm up the other veggies in short order. Too much happy hour on an empty stomach is not good for us.
The weather forecast will allow us to reach Ocracoke on the Outer Banks with no problems tomorrow, but the forecast for NE winds would then make the next few days miserable, or force us to wait 3-4 days before moving. We elected to move up the protected waters of the ICW for those days and continue our trek northward.
Mon 14 May 2012
Docked at Beaufort Docks, Beaufort, NC
[photo: tour bus]
After a very restful sleep, Diane performed her morning ritual with the interior of the boat while Duane researched the navigation, weather, and tidal info for the next few days. Near 0900, we got the courtesy car that dockmaster Neal described as "very humbling to drive," and took off for groceries, beverages, ibuprofen, and new hair clippers. Duane's clippers finally wore out last night as it took way too long to buzz the scalp and trim the beard.
It took another hour to get the provisions aboard, liquid transferred from glass to plastic bottles, all the unwanted packaging removed, and everything stowed as desired. We grabbed an early lunch aboard, freshened up, and then set out to tour the town's offerings.
First, was the Carolina Maritime Museum, which we found to be absolutely well done. The building was large, bright, and airy with numerous exhibits of the maritime history. There were so many very interesting artifacts, as well as boat models (and full-size boats), that both Diane and I found it fascinating. Their special exhibit was all about Blackbeard the pirate and his famous ship, Queen Anne's Revenge. Entrance to the museum is free, but donations are well worth it.
Next, we strolled several blocks to the visitor center and purchased tickets for the double-decker bus tour of the town. While we waited, we sat in a charming bistro and had a refreshing wine for Diane and ale for Duane. The bus tour was great (about 45 minutes), and very comfortable, especially with Duane's back getting extra sore from all the walking through the museum.
Other seaports we have visited have most of the main attractions near the water, of course, but this has been one of the most convenient places so far. When we get off the boat, the boardwalk is 50 feet away, then another 30 steps to the bath house/shower. The main street (Front St.) is another 10 steps and within 8 blocks are numerous shops and eateries, many with great charm and visual appeal.
While this is what we hoped the cruise would be like, I must return to the reality of boat maintenance. With the sore back, I do not want to suffer the contortions needed to swap out the current bypass cooling pump for the larger capacity one just yet. This one is working fine, and at least I have a spare onboard, if needed. I briefly suspected that the problem with the windlass might be the main switch, but testing today didn't show that.
We next strolled up to the Dock House restaurant and cashed in our two wooden "nickels" (part of the marina package) for a beverage, and we got a small order of hot chicken wings to go with it. All was good, despite the gray skies and chilly winds blowing. Dinner on the boat was a simple, but tasty, pizza and red wine.
Clyde was particularly eager to spend time with us up in the cockpit, perhaps because of the muted light, so we donned our jackets (yes, even Duane) and enjoyed the view up there for an hour. We chuckled as we watched the sporadic tourists gazing from the boardwalk to the boats, and we pretended to read their minds: "Wow, wouldn't it be great to have a boat and just live a life of luxury?" or "Man, that must be nice just hopping from one port to another without a care in the world!" Little do they know how much work and effort can be involved. Still, it is an incredible adventure.
We have done a lot of research today in the off hours (when we weren't live life of leisure, that is) and decided that if weather permits, we will go next to Oriental, then across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke, then Hatteras, then Roanoke, and then get to Elizabeth City. These are not short runs, so we may not do that in just four days. Time, and weather, will tell.
Sun 13 May 2012
Docked at Beaufort Docks, Beaufort, NC
Happy Mother's Day!
It was indeed an early bed time last night, but Duane was up at 0430 wide awake. The wind was much stronger than forecast, although still less than 10 knots. Looking at the restricted opening bridge just 4 miles "down the road," I realized we needed to weight anchor by 0710, and needing to use the manual method, it took longer than usual. We were blessed, however, with a fair current and we got to the bridge in time, not needing to wait for the next opening a half hour later.
For the first three-quarters of the run, we had fair currents and a nice breeze to motor-sail (either close-hauled or close reaching), so our speed was about 30% better than just motoring in calm water. Only when we got closer to the New River Inlet near Morehead City and Beaufort did the adverse current make a big difference. Once in the Beaufort area, there were numerous channels and navigation aids to confuse you unless you were very careful, but we got to the town docks just fine.
One encounter worth mentioning was near the end of the run when 5 boats were in trail, leaving a channel with the current. Technically, my approach had me on their starboard side and they should all have stayed clear of me, but I realized that they might not know the rule, might feel that they were in a channel and therefore have the "right of way," and that it was easier for one boat (us) to stay clear of them until they all passed. What made it notable was the very strong current sweeping us down on a huge steel navigation aid while we sorted it out. [Note to cruisers coming this way - watch the strong currents!]
We will report on the town later, but first impressions are good. For better or worse, the Beaufort Docks where we staying are right in the heart of downtown. The boardwalk, where many visitors promenade, is 50 feet away but we are in the outside slip, which is far better than right next to the boardwalk where people could look right into your boat.
After a nice clean-up in the shoreside showers, we dressed for a special dinner at the Front Street Grill at Stillwater, recommended by the dockmaster. We dined on the upper deck, which was covered, but open to the cool breeze. The food was very good and we enjoyed a nice bottle of wine as an accompaniment. We want to thank those friends in our home of Punta Gorda who chipped in at our farewell party for this special treat. We think of all of you every day and count our blessings to have so many people who we love to spend time with and care about.
We sat in the cockpit while Clyde strolled around the deck, but the breeze was cool enough to chase us below before too long. Tomorrow we will borrow the courtesy car to get groceries, then visit several museums, and enjoy the town's ambience. We will be here another full day, and then leave, probably for Oriental, NC on Tuesday.
Sat 12 May 2012
Anchored in Mile Hammock Bay, Camp Lejeune, NC
[photo: Someone's idea of lawn art near Surf City, NC]
With a light wind, it was an incredibly peaceful evening, and just cool enough to be comfortable but not chilly. That, and our morning coffee and cereal were just about all that was good for the day's start. When I went to haul the anchor with the newly installed and tested windlass switch, it worked fine for several pulses of the switch and then nothing. I was, admittedly, very dejected for a few moments, but decided to carry on using the manual handle, which is not the best thing for my sore back, but far better than hauling the rode by hand. With the anchor up several minutes later, I directed Diane to start heading out the channel.
When I returned to the helm, I looked at the markers and my chartplotter and elected to follow the same course I took inbound. That would have worked if the tide hadn't been about 5 feet lower. After briefly grounding, losing 1 minute in our (now) race to the bridge, which only opens on the hour, I resumed course and hailed the bridge tender. We were running a tad late and I thought if he just delayed a minute or two, we would make it. I had the throttle at 85% of full power, watching the temperature gauge, and then on the right side of the middle of the 30 foot wide channel, we ran hard aground.
I immediately hailed the bridge and said to let the other waiting boat go through and we would just have to catch the next opening an hour from now.
Diane was getting less and less happy at this point, with good justification. I should explain that in the absence of any guidance as to where deeper water lies, it is generally safe to assume it would be on the side where a marina has 50 foot boats tied up. We ran aground 20 feet from those boats. I managed to extricate us from this grounding after 5 minutes and decided to tie up temporarily at an empty marina dock just 100 yards from the bridge. A boater strolled by a few minutes later and when he learned of our grounding, he informed us that those 50 foot boats never seem to leave their docks, and opined that maybe if they did, the depth wouldn't be 4 feet at low tide right there.
We got through the bridge at 0900 and then had to be at the next bridge by 1000 for its opening. I used the "time to go" feature of the chartplotter to ensure that we got there in time and kept throttling back as we neared so that we were not circling for 10 minutes. The next challenge was to make the third bridge in 3 hours (at 1300), and this proved to be no problem; again, we adjusted speed as we neared in order to save fuel and avoid circling.
After the last opening bridge, the wind direction and strength was such that we could put out about 60% of the headsail and get about 0.3 knot advantage. There were times when the having the whole headsail unfurled would have worked great, but some of our slight turns took us too far into the wind, and a full sail would have flogged and been damaged. With a partially furled sail, we can sheet it tighter and avoid that.
Two notable things occurred while en route. First, my old deck shoes had worn to where they were dangerously slippery, so they went in the trash and Diane brought up three selections of newly-purchased shoes for me to choose. When I selected a pair that was apparently not of her liking, she started with her all-too-familiar line, "well, I thought you should use this pair." I assume this happens with all couples, and in most previous circumstances, I have replied in an exasperated tone (usually to my regret), "well, if you weren't going to give me a choice, why the heck did you even ask me?" This time, I realized she had endured a stressful morning, so I silently acquiesced. Later, we laughed as she brought up the fact that while I had said nothing, my facial expression said it all.
The second thing was when we were furling the sail at a sharp turn in the waterway and we wound up on the extreme left side. A fast runabout was approaching from the opposite direction and passed us starboard to starboard, rather than the normal port to port. It wasn't a "close call" at all, but we got very dirty looks from the captain and his mate, plus their son seemed to be shaking his fist at us. This made me laugh because...
The vast majority of boaters we have seen moving on these waters in the past several days have been small fishing type boats (20-26 feet), and almost without exception they come by in either direction at full speed only 20 feet from you. They appear heedless of their wakes' effects on other moving boats or the nearby docked boats. Yet, the perfectly acceptable, but not customary, event of passing starboard to starboard ticks this boater off! That reminds me of the many drivers I have encountered in my 7 years of commuting to work in FL; there are (usually older) people who obey the speed limit to a fault, yet think nothing of blocking the passing lane, failing to signal turns, pulling out in front of traffic without yielding, etc.
After 42 miles and 8 hours, we are anchored in a very peaceful anchorage (Mile Hammock Bay) where the marines from the surrounding Camp Lejeune have staged numerous exercises. We are not permitted ashore, of course, but there are no wakes here and life is good. I will likely have to haul the anchor manually in the morning, but that should not be a big problem. At this point, even though I know the old switch was bad, I am wondering if it could be the motor brushes. With an intermittent problem (defined by Webster's Dictionary: A problem which disappears when you test, but reappears when you need the device to work.), it will be difficult to diagnose further.
By the way, Duane's back is still very sore and mobility is an issue, but it is getting better and is certainly much better than those 2 excruciating days a short while back. Diane is doing very well, but has the typical bruises one gets on a boat and remarks that cruising can be exhausting, even when you don't think you are doing all that much.
Dinner was a simple affair, yet tasty after a long day's run. The anchorage remains very peaceful with just two other boats and we have just spent a long time relaxing in the cockpit while the sun sets behind a vast layer of stratus clouds.
It will be an early night to bed.
Fri 11 May 2012
Anchored in Wrightsville Beach, NC
[photo: the beach at the Blockade Runner Resort]
The evening got quite cool, but not cold. That is certainly preferable to stinking hot and humid when you are not plugged into air conditioning. We had a leisurely early morning while we awaited a call that the windlass switch is ready for pick-up. Diane suggested that maybe I should go ashore early with the bicycle and ride the 2 miles or so to the West marine to pick up the new pump I am using for bypass cooling; it has a higher capacity and I will then save the original as a working spare.
The ride was nice, but somewhat strenuous going up the steep inclines of the 2 bridges when my sore back is considered. Successful at West Marine, I rode back to Atlantic Marine and found that the parts supply had just arrived (early) and within a few minutes I was out the door with the windlass switch. I noted that they had the same cooling pump I just bought, and that would have saved me the long bike ride, but c'est la vie.
This is where the fun started; I opened up the v-berth to replace the switch, but found that it wasn't an exact match. It didn't take too long to get that sorted out, and with too much confidence, I buttoned up the v-berth before even testing that it worked. When I tried it, it was "no go". I was puzzled and somewhat annoyed at myself, so I took the switch out from the top and carefully re-checked voltages at the appropriate terminals. The only thing I could surmise was that the connections were not electrically sound, so I had to take apart the v-berth again.
Careful inspection showed that the slight physical differences meant that the cables contacted the terminals in a different orientation, and that was apparently enough to keep it from working. I filed and sanded the copper lugs and then reassembled everything, again! This time it worked great, but I had cost myself over an hour just by taking a shortcut.
I suggested to Diane that by the time I got this all cleaned up, it would be late to start to another anchorage or marina, so I suggested she get ready to enjoy another gloriously sunny and comfortable day on the beach while I attended to more boat chores, at a relaxed pace, and then rest my back. The unfortunate part was that Diane had been very helpful to ready the bikes for stowage and get the dinghy ready for hoisting, which we both had done. It was now time to undo the dinghy part to take her over to the public dock, but it was well worth it.
I just had a very significant revelation. My good friend, Dennis, was a work management consultant and he taught me (through his soon to be published book) that "planning for something" and "accounting for something" are two very different things. If you are doing a project and you plan for 10% errors by the workforce, you will get 10% errors (or more). My problem was that my budget allowance for repairs was $1,200. As of two days ago, we were still under that budget, so we had another failure (windlass switch) to ensure that we reached it. Now, if the converse works, since we slightly exceeded our repair budget, we should now be all done with repair expenses. Don't we wish!
Diane called on the cell for me to collect her at the public dock about 2 hours after she left. She had a great time at the beach, but wisely decided she had enough sun for one day. Our short round-trip in the dinghy (all of 300 yards) had us faced with several boats crossing our path and several more racing by while we were attempting to disembark. Their wakes were bordering on dangerous for a small dinghy, but the local marine police officer said there is no "no wake" requirement in this area. He agreed that courtesy would suggest they go slow with minimal wake, but that doesn't happen very often. Most of the offending boat traffic is filled with 20-somethings.
After more much-needed relaxation, dinner was the chicken fajitas I had prepared yesterday afternoon and then refrigerated. It has to be reiterated however, that the frequent wakes from the inconsiderate young boaters were very disruptive to our routine before, during, and after dinner. We are glad to be leaving Sat morning before the weekend mayhem begins.
Our plan is to anchor in the neighborhood of Camp Lejeune and then get to Beaufort, NC the following day.
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.