Sun 20 May 2012
Docked at Coinjock Marina, NC
[photo: Duane at the helm during the nasty crossing.]
The evening was an early one; Diane suggested that Duane go to the TV room ashore around 2030 and he almost fell asleep there. Otherwise, it was a good night's sleep and then up at 0500 to check weather. Four different sources had similar forecasts, but surprisingly wide variations of wind speed and wave heights. We chose to go, as did most of the boats at the marina.
Our passage across the Albemarle Sound can be described as horribly frustrating. It wasn't that it was unsafe, and the discomfort was not really all that bad. What made it horrible was the spacing and steepness of the waves (no more than 4 feet or so, by my reckoning). The bow would pitch up on a big wave, then plunge down just as the next wave would hit and bury the bow. We had green water sluicing over the deck frequently.
Early on, the repeated force on the anchor was so bad that the lanyard parted (broke) and only the chain was holding the anchor in place. Normally, that would be OK, but with the windlass malfunctioning, the chain was not as taught as I usually keep it, so the anchor was hanging half off the bow roller. I crawled forward on my knees with a new line to lash it down, while Diane took the helm. Yes, the bow did crash down into the waves while I was up there, and yes, I did get water inside my foulie jacket and bibs.
Still getting to the frustrating part - with the wind blowing almost 20 knots on the nose with no sail power, the poor engine is barely giving 4.5 knots of speed in the smaller waves. Once the frequent big wave trains hit (usually three big waves in a row), the speed would drop to 2 knots. It would take a while to get back close to 4 knots and then you would be slowed again. At that rate, it was over 4 hours to cross.
Out of the Blue radioed that they were trying a tactic of putting out as much headsail as they thought appropriate and bearing off the wind so they could motor-sail at 6-7 knots. You are no longer sailing towards your destination, however, so the increase in speed has to make up for the zig-zag route. It did not, really, but what it did in this case was to bring us closer to shore faster where the waves were smaller. Additionally, the sail kept the boat heeled and drawing through the waves much better, and finally, the angle of the bow to the waves was much better.
After close to 5 hours of travel, we were out of the bad waves completely, but still had strong winds from ahead plus occasional rain, and often poor visibility. Diane came up to assist at the helm and with the sails. She wasn't exactly comfortable, but there was no sense in both of us being damp and chilled. I should also mention that it was good that the bypass cooling pump was upgraded; the engine was run at a higher power setting today to try to get across the sound quicker and there was no hint of any overheating.
Near 1330, we got to the Coinjock Marina after a 42 mile run. In this weather and feeling the way we did, we ponied up for yet another marina stay. The only downside to the berthing arrangement is that the current forced us to dock with the cockpit, rather than the bow, facing the wind and rain. We will not have any real shelter topside, but that's manageable by just staying below.
The marina is just one long (1,200 feet) dock, but the showers are pretty good and the laundry is fine. The water here looks and tastes fine, so we topped off our tanks. The cockpit was laughably dirty (where does all this dirt come from?), so that got a good washing, too. The rest of the boat got rinsed very well and after the permeating salt spray, so that part was welcome.
We dined at the marina restaurant with Ed and Jane from Out of the Blue and had some food that was close to very good. If the fish had been cooked a little less and the potato wasn't cold, it would have been a very good meal.
The plan is to make 50 miles tomorrow through numerous bridges and one lock to anchor in Portsmouth, VA.
Sat 19 May 2012
Docked at Alligator River Marina, NC
The day dawned in muted light as there is still a thin overcast cloud layer. The refrigerator did not keep me awake with its "short cycling" and I can only hope that problem is behind us. Despite very little direct sun, our solar panels have been almost keeping up with the demand, so our deficit after almost 48 hours with no engine-alternator charging is just 50 Amp-hours. The weather looks like it is moderating enough that we will leave tomorrow morning to cross the sound, so sun or not, we will have the engine-alternator to charge us back up.
I started to take a bag of trash to the dumpster and then go to the office to pay for another night, when I saw Ed from Out of the Blue heading over to Manatee with the bosun's chair. I offered to assist, and with no self-tailing winches at the mast, it took us all to get Ken safely up the mast to put the new VHF antenna on. It is a long story with many twists, owing to the difficulties presented, but we were finally successful. The total elapsed time was 3 hours, since we had to wait for my battery-powered drill to charge in order to drill a new hole in the mast.
Diane had Clyde ashore again and he had his short romp. It is a lazy day, otherwise. I should be polishing some stainless steel (many friends tell me that it customarily the Admiral's duty, but I guess Diane never got that memo), but it is nice to just relax for a change. That reminds me an exchange between friends: "whatcha doin?" "nothin' " "I thought you did nothin' yesterday." "Yeah, but I didn't finish."
It was an exciting afternoon, but I missed the really exciting part. A number of boats came in very close together and there (apparently) were some close calls with near collisions. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I looked over at the fuel dock and saw a large hunter sailboat named Aurora and realized that had to be Dennis and Shirla from our home town of Punta Gorda; we have been following their blog since they started on their cruise N (with no particular destination). Mind you, we had never met them, but mutual friends, John and Marilyn, got us connected via email. Anyway, when I arrived there to say hi and see if they needed any help, there was quite a bit of splattered blood all over the cockpit and aft deck areas; Shirla had a hatch slam onto her head and head wound bleed profusely. It turned out she was fine after later examination by Dennis.
I offered to jump on board to help them get into the slip, but Dennis did a masterful job and there were no exciting moments, except for a small runabout that was having trouble staying out of the way of the large boats. With Shirla nursing her wound with a bag of frozen peas, we quickly made our "hellos" and agreed for them to join our ever-growing docktail group at 1700. When I mentioned that we would have to split into two boats, they generously offered their large cockpit. At the appointed hour, 11 people were in their cockpit (without crowding) and enjoyed very interesting and varied discussions. Dennis even made Dark n' Stormies for several of us!
Dinner aboard Diva Di was while clam sauce (canned clams, of course) over pasta with fresh steamed broccoli. Yum!
[Posting early Sun morning, Weather forecasts and current conditions seem to allow us to move today. The first 3 hours will likely be the hard part.]
Fri 18 May 2012
Docked at Alligator River Marina, NC
[photo: We have a new foot warmer in our V-berth. Clyde has decided he likes it there now.]
Even though it was blowing hard all night, and we don't have great wind protection, the lack of wave action made it a restful night. Duane was up just before 0500 and used the time to look at options for the next few days of travel, whenever they may occur. The winds are pretty strong from the wrong direction for crossing the Albemarle Sound. Being "stuck" here is not so bad. The marina is a gas station/convenience store/grill restaurant in the middle of nowhere, but the docks are sturdy and the bath house/shower/laundry facilities are decent enough.
There are two other sailboats here and we met them at the counter when we were picking up a few items and they were finishing breakfast. They are very nice and we have plans for cocktails at 1700 and then dinner at the grill. Supposedly, the food is good.
The morning boat chores were to clean the fridge and find the source of the nasty odor. It turned out to be spillage in several of the plastic baskets that Diane uses to keep things easy to find and well-stowed. With that done, she got laundry started and we got a bag of ice for the refrigerator. Here is where another "issue" has returned: the refrigerator compressor/fan started "short cycling" just the other day. It usually happens only when the evaporator coil is covered in frost, but there is no frost this time. The compressor and/or fan come on for minute, and then shut off, and then within 3 seconds the cycle starts all over. I need to contact the manufacturer to see what this might mean. In the meantime, a cheap bag of ice is allowing the compressor to stay off for a while.
Clyde got some "shore leave" on the large expanse of close-mowed grass. He actually seemed to enjoy it, although it coincided with a break in the cloud cover, so he wasn't thrilled about the bright sun.
I had been postponing the change-out of the existing 500 gph bypass cooling pump with the 800 gph unit due to the contortions needed and in consideration of my sore back. Today was the day, however, and within a half hour it was done. We will see if it helps the next time I need to push the engine beyond a "low cruise" power setting.
Next, was some trouble-shooting of the occasionally recurring refrigeration problem. I checked the voltages at various points from the battery, through the circuit breaker, through the switch, to the compressor itself, and found more voltage drop then I thought acceptable. I then cleaned every connection and retested and there was a significant improvement. With a bag of ice in the box, however, it won't be a good test to see if the short-cycling is fixed.
A nice hot shower ashore followed, and then we had the other two sailboat crews over for cocktails and snacks. It was a very enjoyable conversation, although half was dedicated to the weather forecasts and the strategy for timing the numerous bridges on restricted schedules in the lower part of Virginia.
Owing to the schedule of the grill, we broke up the party at 1740 to go order supper. Some of the food was remarkably good for the price and location, and some was just OK, but dining with the group and meeting two other boat crews in the "dining room" were enjoyable experiences. We had our second dessert treat of the cruise with some butter pecan ice cream as we strolled back to the boat. The chilly N winds made us wonder, however, why we ordered ice cream.
We have decided to stay another day since the winds are likely to be no better tomorrow than today. We plan to leave Sun morning to head for the Coinjock Marina (no good anchorages that we could see), and then on to Portsmouth (adjacent to Norfolk), where we hope to get space on the free dock/wall and spend a full day or more there.
The best news was saved for last; Diane had a brief bout of disorientation a few days ago before getting out of bed, and since it passed quickly we were not too alarmed. When she went to read her book later, she noticed she could see well enough with just her normal eyeglasses that she did not need the large magnifying glass she had needed since the stroke. We were both elated at the news, but she wanted to see if she could read a newspaper, as that was her biggest challenge. With the paper delivered today, Diane found she could read it pretty well. So, it seems official that her brain has done another "rewiring" to bring her lost visual acuity closer to normal. We feel very blessed and thankful for that improvement.
Quick post re: weather and plans -
It is blowing hard out of the N and forecast to be NNE for a few days, moderating to 15 mph tomorrow (Sat). We will hold here another day. Researching the Great Dismal Swamp route via Elizabeth City, I see very recent reports of 5-5.5 feet water depths and many encounters with submerged logs. I am not keen on damage to the rudder and dread the thought of seeing less than 6 feet in depth dozens of times, so we will skip that route and go through Coinjock.
Having said that, so far it doesn't look like there is anything at all interesting between Oriental and the Chesapeake, nor is there a good selection of anchorages spaced out for two good runs. It looks like we might have to run 58 miles the next day we travel, followed by about 25 miles. I invite others to correct me with your knowledge and experiences.
Thu 17 May 2012
Docked at Alligator River Marina, NC
We had a light rain shower during the night, but we didn't even need to close the hatch over our berth since the rain was not blowing in very much at all. It was otherwise a very quiet and restful night and we were very thankful that we had not received any of the major storms with damaging hail that must have hit just to the south of us.
With an early bedtime, Duane was up before 0500 and discovered that this was the first place in a while where mosquitos were pretty numerous. I wound up closing up the boat again as soon as Clyde had his brief topside time.
Diane was up early and we cast off in dead-still air at 0640, knowing we planned a long day. We had no wind to sail for most of the trip, and while the Pungo River was pretty enough, the Pungo-Alligator canal is one long, ugly and boring stretch (almost 4 hours for us).
We kept hearing what sounded like thunder, but we knew it didn't quite sound right. Sure enough, as we got farther along, we could see (and definitely hear) two F-15s doing high-G turns in a race-track like pattern. I have no idea what the goal of the exercise was, but they were fun to watch with all the moisture condensing in the wing vortices as they pulled Gs in the tight turns. When they egressed the pattern, they flew right over us (deliberate?) at about 1,000 feet of altitude and the roar was still almost deafening. It still wasn't as good a show as my friend, Dan, gave us with his RV-7.
Exiting the canal into the Alligator River, we could see heavy rain right up ahead. We prepped the boat by bringing everything below and Duane donning the foul weather gear. I must admit that I don't remember ever before being in zero visibility conditions in a narrow channel; it is not a comforting feeling. If the GPS and charts are accurate, and the GPS keeps working, you can safely navigate in a soft-bottom channel like we were doing. The problem was that even with our navigation and steaming lights on, no one could see us, and we could not see anyone else (radar-equipped boats excepted).
Slowing down is one prudent action, and we did, but you can only slow so far before you can't steer safely. The zero-vis condition lasted only 15 long minutes, and then about 20 minutes later a large cruiser (maybe 60 feet long) passed us going the other way in poor, but not zero, visibility.
Duane's smartphone would not get a signal, so we could not check weather radar, but our eyes could discern the dark clouds and those with shafts of rain beneath them, not to mention sections of the coastline where you saw nothing, meaning it was a very heavy rain. Knowing the surface wind direction, we could try to forecast if something was likely to hit us, or miss us ahead or astern.
We were wrong once by just a small margin and endured another 3-minute squall, which was just the edge of it. Our last heading had us in a direction where we could put out about 40% of the headsail and sheet it in tight. Just that little bit of sail helped us go from 4.7 to 5.7 knots in the short, steep waves, which allowed us to get north before the last big cell slid just below us.
We got to the Alligator River swing bridge and requested an opening. The bridge tender was very kind and polite, and said he would stop traffic when we got within a half mile or so. I hailed him when we had to turn almost straight into the wind and waves and said we were only doing 4 knots, so not to open too soon. He appreciated the info, but he still opened too soon and that traffic had to wait for another 3 minutes before we even got to the bridge.
Despite being well over budget in marina fees, the weather (20 knots NE) this afternoon and the forecast for the next few days (20-30 knots N and NE) means we might be at the Alligator River marina at least 2 nights. It is just senseless to pound into steep, nasty waves across the Albermarle Sound in those conditions.
As of 1900, we have finished the delicious leftover chicken Marsala and fresh broccoli and met another pair of storm-weary sailors that just pulled in after a trying day. The facilities here are interesting; the office is the Shell gas station on the other side of the slips, and there is a mobile-type home that houses a large TV room and 3-4 shower/bathrooms (haven't quite got the count right). The showers were clean and large and there was plenty of hot water. It took a while to get the Dish TV figured out since all it takes is the last person to mess up the remote control and you are out of luck. We will report again later, but so far it seems like a decent place and the BoatUs discount rate is pretty good.
We will close for now and pick it up again tomorrow.
Wed 16 May 2012
Docked at River Forest marina, Belhaven, NC
After a very restful night, we each got a toasted whole wheat bagel from The Bean, a coffee shop across the street from the town dock. It was our first bagel in over two months and it was very tasty. By the time we were ready to leave, our dock mates, Dave and Paul, were up and about. They were ready to help, but the wind right off the stern made it easy to reverse out of the tight quarters, spin around in the lee of a huge shrimper, and then motor out into the Neuse River again.
We were able to motor-sail in S winds for a while, but once we entered the Hobucken Cut, we had to furl the sail. With no current and flat water, running at 2000 RPM we made a steady 5.6 knots. There isn't too much to comment on except for the numerous crab traps encroaching in the channel, and the very annoying large flies that came onboard the minute we got close to land. They didn't seem aggressive to bite you, but they buzzed around and lighted upon you frequently.
It was very nice in the open water sections not having to check your course and the depth meter every 5 seconds. There was no shallow water along the course (for the most part) and very few markers to worry about. We were passed by a few large trawlers, but many of them were apparently heading for Ocracoke or Hatteras.
We noticed quite a bit of lightning and thunder to the S of us, but we suspected it was sliding to the NE as we were headed due N, and the hope was it would miss us. There were two sailboats trailing us at about 0.7 and 1.5 miles and at one point the farthest sailboat almost disappeared in the rain squall. The storm was not on the same course as us, but it was catching us obliquely. The good news was that its outflow winds were almost dead astern and we put out half the headsail to keep our speed up to 6.8 knots or so to help stay ahead of its advance.
Knowing that we would not have another opportunity for fuel after Belhaven until we were running on fumes, we elected to stop at the River Forest marina. The dock master and another cruiser were very helpful getting us to the lee side of the dock in the 20 knot winds. I wish, however, that I had not followed the instruction to come alongside downwind. I should have turned around in the basin and come back upwind to the fuel dock. When all was done, we were fine.
Looking at the radar on the smartphone, we could see a massive squall line working toward our area, and much of it could have hit us during the evening, so I asked what the nightly rate was and whether we could stay right where we were. It took a little while getting the boat tied up properly for the conditions, but it was the safe, more comfortable option and we are glad we did it. Duane was on hand when several other boats came in (to avoid the storm) and each docking was interesting, to be sure.
At 1700, we took showers in the modest, but very adequate, facilities. The hot water felt good after the cold, driving rain. Back at Diva Di, we cooked the pasta and reheated the chicken Marsala and Brussel sprouts and enjoyed a terrific meal. The original plan had been to go another 10 miles today, but we ran 47 miles and that is good enough.
Tomorrow should see us at an anchorage in the Alligator River and then one more stop before Elizabeth City, NC. After that, we will enter the Great Dismal Swamp and enjoy that new experience as we head into Virginia.
As I type this at 1900, we have no Verizon cell signal at all and the local Wi-Fi is too weak, so I will post tomorrow as we can.