05/22/2009, Great Bridge, Va
Blimp on test flight.
Well, the wind and rain did continue pretty much as forecast, but tucked in to Dowry Creek we were fine. Its an excellent marina for sitting out a few days of bad weather. It has a courtesy car and a cruisers lounge where we gathered with the others each night. As well as Seabird, there were a couple of other boats heading north after winter cruising, and a group of cruisers from Hampton, Va out for a spring cruise.
So we were in lots of company. But after two days, we had seen more of Belhaven than we would have wished, even to the point of browsing the dollar stores to amuse ourselves. So on Wednesday, with the wind still brisk and cool but forecast to drop, we headed out and up the remaining five miles of the Pungo River. At the head we motored in to the twenty miles of the Pungo-Alligator canal leading us to to the Alligator River. Its not what anyone would call pretty, but it allowed us to get underway while the wind was still stiff.
Running out into the Alligator, we pulled off the marked channel and anchored for the night. With cocktails in the cockpit with Seabird, we celebrated (yet again) a great winter cruising and said good-by (yet again) as we were parting in the morning with Seabird heading up the Virginia Cut to Norfolk and Estelle headed into the Dismal Swamp canal. (Bruce says his liver can't take any more good-by's.)
The wind did finally drop as forecast and at sunset we could see a dozen boats anchored in our area (one much too close to us) as people were anxious to get moving after being holed up for three days.
In the morning, we headed out into the Alligator and had a beautiful sail up the 25 miles of river. Half way up we furled our sails and motored through the swing bridge spanning the river. Often boats will motor-sail through bridges, but the story goes that last fall a boat tried to sail through this bridge (apparently not allowed) and the operator closed the bridge, dismasting the boat. So we decided not to test him. Once through, we set sail again and sailed out across Albemarle Sound and up the Pasquotank River into the headwaters of the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Part way up the Pasquotank, we passed the last Blimp manufacturing company in the US. There were three tethered on the ground and as we watched one took off and floated around, apparently on a test flight.
Through the bridge at Elizabeth City (motoring) we motored the last five miles up to Goat Island where we tucked in for a beautiful last evening on our cruise. In the morning we motored up the winding upper reaches of the river and into the lock at the south end of the canal. By noon we were passing through the north lock and out into the upper reaches of the Norfolk River to Great Bridge where we had booked a berth for a month. We tied up at the docks of Atlantic Yacht Basin, our winter cruise over.
We will spend a few days cleaning up and getting the boat settled, then drive a rental car to Maine where we'll pick up our own car, stored for the winter. From there, home to PEI for the summer.
But not quite, as we plan to go back to the boat later in June for a New England cruise.
Time to think about next winter's plans!
(No more posts until late June, but I'll post some more photos when I find time between tennis and gardening.)
05/18/2009, Dowry Creek Marina, North Carolina
We reluctantly wound our way out of Bear Creek yesterday morning. It is one of the nicest anchorages we have been in all winter. Getting ready to leave we read that the cruising guide recommends that only people with local knowledge try to enter the creek due to its winding channel, so that explains why we had it to ourselves. With a small beach ashore and the tall Southern Yellow Pine behind, we were in complete isolation. The nearest house was a couple of miles up the creek, so we were alone in the quiet of the morning.
Finishing our coffee in the warm sun in the cockpit, we were reluctant to move. But the forecast was for a severe front to come through late in the day so it was time to seek shelter. We had made a reservation for a marina about 25 miles further up the ICW. In fact, it was just a few miles past Belhaven where we weathered a similar storm two years ago. So we wound our way out of Bear Creek and into the Hobucken Canal.
This section of the ICW is actually quite pretty, and we motored through the five miles of canal and out into Goose Creek, where we rounded up and hoisted our sails. The wind was south west at a gentle 5-10 knots, so we coasted down the creek and out across Pamlico Sound where we headed up the Pungo River. In the lightening winds, our progress slowed until we realized that the black clouds forming ahead should be a signal to us to speed it up. We dropped our sails and began a hurried motor the last five miles to the marina. We contacted the marina for approach and docking instructions and made a run for it. But by the time we were motoring in the entrance channel, we were under a deluge of rain with lightning crashing down all around us and winds of 25 knots throwing us around. After a few tense moments we were safely tied up. With Seabird close behind, the squall blew through just after we got settled. Just a warning that we will probably not remember.
In the evening the front did come through with more heavy rain and wind, dropping the temperature from 80 to a chilly 55, temperatures we haven't felt since last fall! The forecast is for the wind and rain to continue through Tuesday night, so we'll have time to do a few chores and to borrow the marina's Courtesy Car and explore the area.
05/16/2009, Bear Creek, North Carolina
Well even Charleston can loose its charm and we were ready to go before the weather cleared. We arrived on Sunday and had some chores to do on Monday and West Marine required a second trip on Tuesday to pick up a battery I had ordered but that was shipped to the wrong store.
On Monday night we went to dinner at The Peninsula Grill, a very nice spot. We went with Glen and Elsa, a couple from Chicago aboard the J46 Wyndera moored ahead of us on the dock. The food was excellent and we had a nice time chatting with new friends.
Tuesday, after another West Marine visit, we had a chance to walk around the beautiful downtown area, always finding new sights to see and to do a bit of grocery shopping. I was on the lookout for new deck sandals as one of mine jumped overboard un-noticed and left me with only a left foot. But no luck.
By Tuesday we were ready to go, but the weather for Wednesday was still strong northerlies. So we decided to motor up the ICW to Winya Bay, about 50 miles north, from where we could jump offshore again. Heading out, we circled Wyndera to say goodby, passing a British boat, Alsaheer, also getting underway. Wyndera was waiting the weather out in Charleston as their mast height, 66', prevents them from using the ICW at all. All fixed bridges are just 65', and some are barely that. So we left them waiting for a window to head offshore to Chesapeake Bay, a three day run.
Motoring down the harbor against the 20 knot wind, we fell in with Alsaheer and were soon chatting on the VHF. We passed through the Ben Sawyer Bridge, running across to Isle of Palms, a Charleston suburb. It was our only opening bridge of the day. Here I told the bridge operator that I had read a posting about her on the SSCA web site saying she was the best operator on the ICW, She was delighted.
Past Isle of Palms, the ICW quickly begins winding through salt marshes of the Cape Roamine Wildlife Preserve. Although beautiful, we had had all we could take of it by mid-afternoon and turned in to McClellanville for the night. We have passed this town before, always in a rush to get somewhere, but today we decided to stop. Our plans had changed as Thursday's forecast had changed to strong easterlies and our offshore route to Beaufort was north-east, so we had an extra day. The cruising guide describes McClellanville as a town time has forgotten, and it was right. We had no idea what to expect when we turned in the tiny creek. Rounding a bend we found a fleet of shrimp boats tied up waiting for the season to open next week. And next to it, a tumbledownn dock with an old man standing on it signalling to us. There was no question... we were to tie up here for the night. Ashore he shuffled up to a barn and told us the owner would be down "sometime" and to just wander around and enjoy the town. He directed us to the retail shrimp outlet where we bought some fresh shrimp (the offshore area is already open). Then we wandered through the town and confirmed the description from the guide.
It is a pretty old southern town that is just dozing in the hot sun. Back at the "marina" we settled in and had excellent shrimp sauteed in butter, garlic, peppers and Pernod, on top of grits... Excellent! Finally the owner shuffled down and we paid him his $25 for the night and we settled in.
Thursday we pushed on to Winya Bay and ran up to the town of Georgetown, another pretty, but more active town. Here we anchored and went ashore for a few "essentials" (excellent Orange Marmalade, among other things) at the Kudzu Bakery. Not to be missed!
In mid-afternoon we dropped down the bay and anchored behind Alsaheer for the night. We chatted on the VHF and confirmed they were also heading for Beaufort, an overnight run of about 125 miles.
So Friday we headed out Winya Bay with the last of the tide at 6:30 am and set course to clear the Frying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear, about 75 miles away. Over the 26 hour sail we had a bit of everything, beautiful sailing in sunny skies, teeming rain in squalls, and lights through which we motor-sailed. By 8:30 am we were entering Beaufort's inlet and dropped the sails. From Beaufort we motored up to the Neuse River where we hoisted sail again for a beautiful afternoon of sailing and napping.
In Beaufort we met Seabird again. They left Miami three days ahead of us, and we didn't think we'd see them again this spring, but they had slowed down while we took a number of quick offshore hops. So tonight we are together in a beautiful anchorage and will travel together for the next week or so.
But the next few days are sounding like storm days with north winds of 25-30 knots, not weather in which to travel north. So we'll hunker down and wait it out.
05/11/2009, Charleston City Marina, Charleston S.C.
We got inside the breakwaters of Charleston Harbor at 1:30 pm yesterday (Sunday) and just dropped the sails when the first squall hit. We saw it coming with the lightning crashing out of the black clouds. But the local boats just seemed to ignore it, coming and going as usual. We decided that these storms are so frequent here that they just carry on through them. But the rain pelted down and the lightning flashed as we motored up the harbor to the City Marina. Here we arrived between squals so easily got tied up and settled in.
All in all our trip was 445 nautical miles, run in 55 hours of beautiful sailing.
We'll wait here, enjoying Charleston's fine restaurants and cleaning the boat up, mostly from the salt that is everywhere, and push on when the winds sing south again, probably later this week. We're now looking for a place to leave the boat somewhere down here, North Carolina or the Chesapeake. Then we'll come back down for some summer sailing taking it up to Maine for cruising there, which we miss.
But tonight, dinner at The Peninsula, Charleston's finest!!
05/09/2009, 85 miles off St Augustine, Florida,
A fuzzy picture of us at the restaurant at No Name Harbor
By late afternoon we had picked up the gulf stream with a vengeance and even in the light (less than 10 kts) wind we were making a steady 8.5 knots. As the sun set and we cleaned up from our roast chicken dinner, the wind kindly backed enough to give us a very comfortable broad reach (on starboard tack) with speeds moving up to the 10 knot range. The night was uneventful, but we had lots of company, both commercial shipping and military. I lost count of the commercial ships we met, but only had to contact a couple of them to clarify our passing.
About 2:00 am I saw eight targets on the radar, all approaching at the same time in two neat rows, and soon I heard a Columbian Navy ship contacting somebody a few miles south of us. They identified themselves as a multi-national task force. It was difficult to tell, but they seemed to be frigate or destroyer size. In any case they passed without fuss, and headed south down the coast.
This morning the wind clocked into the south-west and picked up to an ideal 15-17 knots, so we gybed at dawn and we're flying up the Florida coast again, but in company. The cruise ship Maasdam has been running on a course parallel to us for about 4 hours with the same speed and destination. According to their AIS signal they are heading for Charleston, planning to arrive about 10 am tomorrow morning, just a few hours ahead of us. When we leave the Stream, we'll fall behind and not arrive until noon. But the forecast still looks great and we expect excellent sailing all the way.
05/08/2009, 8 miles off Ft Lauderdale, Florida,
Drinks ashore at Boca Chita Key
We're underway again after a nice sail up the Keys. Our last night in the Keys was at Boca Chita, about 20 miles south of Miami. Being Sunday night, the only boats there were a few cruising boats, so it was quiet.
On Monday we headed up to No Name Harbor where we planned to spend four nights. Tuesday we rented a car and ran across Alligator Alley to retrieve our bikes that we had stored with friends Bruce and Dianne MacDonald in Naples. We just went across and back, then grocery shopping and a few other jobs.
On Wednesday, Jeannie left for a meeting in Toronto and I had lots of jobs (mostly engine-related) to do. By Thursday I had located the part I needed for the transmission, so I spent a nice 2 hours on my stomach in the cockpit locker draped over the engine. But I got it fixed, changed the oil, the fuel filters and the alternator belts. Its hot here in Miami and the wind has been light, so it was a warm job, but its done.
This morning we hoisted the anchor at 7:00 am and motored out around the southern tip of Key Biscayne to head for Charleston, a distance of about 450 miles. No Name Harbor, about 5 miles from downtown Miami is a very special place. Located in a state park, it is well managed and is a beautiful and remote anchorage (on week days). Located on the southern tip of Key Biscayne, itself a unique place, it is a quiet and peaceful anchorage virtually within a city of 3 million. Perhaps suprising, we enjoy Miami, in large part because of this beautiful anchorage.
Bruce and Nancy Montgomery on Seabird left No Name on Tuesday and we spoke twice each day on the SSB Radio. In the light winds and with the Gulf Stream pushing them, they were closing in on Charleston last night after a beautiful sail. And our forecast is similar th theirs, so we're looking forward to more ideal sailing. With the stream, we can expect to average 8-9 knots even in the light air, so expect to arrive some time Sunday, just ahead of a weak cold front.
We need to beat the front not because it will bring any significant weather, but because the winds will swing north behind it for a couple of days. But it's not expected until some time Monday, so we should be fine. In the mean time, I'm enjoying the beautiful sailing and reading the Canadian newspapers Jeannie brought back.
05/02/2009, Anchored off Islamorada, Florida,
Key West street
Like Hotel California, where you can check in but can't check out, we thought we would never get out of Key West. The wind continued to howl out of the east and kept all boats trapped.
We had planned to be there until Monday when we were to get our Cruising Permit, but were there longer than planned. We arrived at the Customs and Border Protection office just as the power went out, a transmission line blowing into a distribution line, so all computers were down. Back again on Tuesday, the system was still not operating properly, but the Officer took pity on us, not wanting us to have to come back a fourth time, so printed one off as best he could. But the date is wrong, and it says it was issued in Charleston, which is also incorrect. He wrote down his badge number and stuff, so we'll go with it but I expect lots of questions.
That took us to Tuesday. Every day the forecast promised lighter winds the day after tomorrow, sort of like the sign in the bar "Free Beer Tomorrow" with tomorrow always receding. But by Wednesday, we began to consider the alternative of heading up the keys by the "Inside Route". It involves heading up Florida Bay then up the protected side of the keys. So even if the wind is still blowing, the seas would be relatively small. The negative is that there are large stretches of water with soundings of 5', our draft, and a couple of 4' readings.
Finally Friday promised lighter winds on Florida Bay. With a forecast for Easterlies of 15-20 knots we decided we could face it for 25 miles, and Friday morning, after sleeping through the alarm, we were off by 8:00 am and heading up the bay. Winds were as promised and we tacked our way up in 20 knots and a short steep chop. Tacking in to shore made it much better and by mid-afternoon we were heading down Big Spanish Channel. It is "big" in width, but not depth, and we tenderly worked our way through 5 miles of shallow until we anchored in the lee of Bahia Honda Key at 7:00 pm.
One reason for heading up the back side was that the wind forecast is consistently 5 knots lighter than on the Hawk Channel (ocean) side. And the next morning confirmed is. We could see the strong winds through Molasses Cut where we watched the high seas beating ashore on the windward side. On the inside, we set out in a nice 10-15 knots of wind. Sailing in these conditions until mid-afternoon, we had one of the most beautiful sails of our trip... perfect winds and flat seas. By mid-afternoon, we decided to furl the sails and motor as we came to the very shallow areas. So we spent the last two hours watching the depth sounder showing between 0.2' and 1.2' beneath us. By 5 pm we were safely anchored behind Islamorada (pronounced Isle Morada) where we spent a beautiful evening... after I fixed the transmission.
Anchoring, I shifted into reverse to back down on the anchor. Then when I shifted back to neutral, nothing happened. We remained in reverse. After letting the engine cool down and crawling around I found the linkage between the cable and the transmission had separated, pretty well worn out. I managed to re-assemble it and jury rig a mechanism to keep it together until we get to Miami where I hope I can find a replacement part.
From here, we'll continue up the keys with our course changing gradually more northerly. Coupled with the wind finally moving south-easterly, we expect some more nice sailing. Boca Chita tomorrow night then No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne on Monday.
04/27/2009, KEY West, Florida,
Fort Taylor, Key West
Well, we got to Key West five days ago and did beat the wind in. Our concern was getting in before the winds clocked east and came up. That would have left us out in the Stream with the wind dead on the nose and in huge seas. But we made it OK.
We motored into Key West with Seabird about a mile ahead at about 2:00 pm. Although it seemed slower than our passage down, in fact it was 18 hours faster. It was a much more direct route which made the difference. And during the day the other boats that we were crossing with came in as well, with the last one straggling in next morning. They had gotten too far south and were well trapped in the stream and had a long struggle north to escape. But all are safely in.
We checked in on Thursday with no problems. Our Cruising Permit was due to expire on Friday but we were told we would have to come back on Monday to renew it. I had expected something of the sort from last year. Apparently "the computer" won't allow them to start the renewal process until the old one has expired. But it didn't make any difference as the weather was keeping us here in any case.
By Thursday afternoon the wind had arrived, and in strength. Since Thursday afternoon it has been blowing 20-30 knots out of the east, our destination. Seas outside the reef are reported to be 10'-15' and higher in the Stream. So we have stayed put. Every day at least one boat goes out and tries it, and returns soaking and shaken. Yesterday it was a Manta 42 Cat next to us. But they were back before noon, and spent the rest of the day blaming each other and drying out the boat.
Up to yesterday we seemed to fill the days with "real" projects such as shopping, haircut, re-fuelling, replacing lost or broken stuff (spare GPS, etc) but yesterday we did some touristy stuff, visiting some local historic sites and just walking. And if you have to be stuck anywhere, Key West is as good a place as any with its excellent supply of weird sights. The wind is not supposed to let up until Wednesday but this morning it started lighter, so perhaps we'll get out tomorrow.
But today's project is the Cruising Permit. From here, we're off up the coast to Miami, then we'll rent a car to run across to Naples to pick up our bikes that we stored at Bruce and Dianne MacDonald's last fall. Then if we can get a decent weather window, we'll go back offshore to hop up to Charleston. But that's a long way away from today.