On Monday morning, we left Norfolk, Virginia, around 7:30am to head north into the Chesapeake Bay. The tide was with us, but not the wind. For the most part of the morning, we were pounding into the waves. Michael considered heading into Hampton and continuing the following day. I wanted to stay on course. We were, after all, on our way to a marina, so I was anxious to get there. Moving from place to place, day after day, is very tiring and the relief of a month at a marina kept me going. On top of that, we were traveling with Sea Gypsy and Shiver, who both had been to the bay we were heading to and knew where they were going. We arrived around 4pm, at high tide. The channel into the creek is quite shallow, so it was necessary to enter it at high tide, especially for Shiver, as they have a 7'9" draft.
Our first job was to find out who could accommodate us with our 6 foot draft. We anchored out for a few nights until we had checked out all the marinas in the area. We chose our present marina, because it offered the most at a good cost. On Wednesday July 1, around just after noon, we pulled into our slip for what we thought would be about a month.
Here, we have the use of a courtesy car, bicycles, a screen enclosed porch to BBQ and eat in, a small lounge with a phone and television (and a million channels!), a pool, swings for the kids - and adults too, I guess! - a large grassy, treed area for the kids to run and play and other kids for Zoe, Maia and Liam to play with. Nearby is a fantastic library. But, most importantly, the marina had a good feeling about it.
We settled in and began getting ready for our trip to Canada. The event: Michael's mom's 85th birthday. The surprise: she didn't know we were coming. I love surprises!
On Thursday July 2, we went to a nearby town to pick up a rental car and Friday morning we were off. I had hoped we would leave early, but we didn't. After three trips back to the boat for forgotten things, passports among them, we were really off! It was a 14 hour drive plus stops. We arrived at Ollie's (Michael's sister), between 2:30 and 3:00am Saturday morning.
Even though we were very tired, the excitement of surprising Baba, was so strong that we were out of bed early. What a moment when she saw us walk into Ollie's kitchen. It took her a few seconds to register and then her mouth fell open. It was perfect!
We had a great weekend. It was very nice to see family again. The kids loved playing with their big cousins, especially cousin Mark. Cousin Katya came and the girls played for hours.
The 'plan', and I have to laugh when I say that word, because the meaning of the word has certainly changed since the beginning of this trip.
The 'plan' was to find a marina, leave the boat and drive to Canada for a week or so and then return to the boat to build a dodger (a frame covered in canvas that keeps water, mostly waves, from splashing the person navigating and to stop water from going below through the companionway). Michael ordered a do-it-yourself kit. We were hoping that we could finish it before the end of July and then go exploring on the Chesapeake Bay.
On the drive to Canada, Michael mentioned that he might call work to see if they have some work for him; one day a week, work from the boat, sort of work. On Monday, two days after arriving in Canada, he did call work. On Tuesday he connected with his boss, on Wednesday he went into the office for a couple of hours to talk and on Thursday he started a four month stint.
What was I saying about plans and change? I have spent the last 9 months fighting and being frustrated by the constant changes that seem to be a part of the cruising lifestyle. Now, though, I'm seeing change in a different light. I've always enjoyed spontaneity and by shifting the way I see change, I'm beginning to feel a sort of excitement in it.
We spent time in Peterborough with Astrid and family - a great, but much too short visit. We went to the sale barn, where local farmers bring their livestock to auction. Astrid bought 4 little piggies. They'll be goin' to market in the fall! On the way back to the farm, we stopped at our favourite cheese factory for ice cream and a rare treat of very fresh cheese curds. They were the kind that made your teeth squeak. Yum!
Our final days were spent with Baba in St Catharines. She fed us our favourite borscht and perogies. With stores so near, we stocked up on some items that are impossible to find in the States: canned baked beans cooked with maple syrup and no pork, Dimpfelmeyer's sunflower rye bread and almond butter.
We set off at around 6:30 am on Monday, from St Catharines and arrived about10:30 pm. It was a good drive. The rental car came with a GPS. What a pleasure. It told me every turn I had to make. It made the drive so much easier.
We had left the boat in a bit of a mess. Once we got it a little tidied, we unloaded the car and made it a mess again. Then we tidied it up again!
We were supposed to have strong winds, so I tidied all loose things on the deck of the boat.
My life seems to revolve around tidying!
Things are finally getting under control, though, and that is a good feeling.
We do school every weekday morning, and if possible, we do a 'swimming pool' recess. After lunch, we borrowed the marina's car to grocery shop, or bicycle to the library. Most times, we stay here doing boat jobs and swimming in the pool.
Michael has had me busy with a list of jobs that needed to be done on the boat. So far, I have put biocide into the fuel tank and run the recirculation pump, removed and cleaned the fridge's water cooled pump strainer, changed the fresh water pre-filter and reset the fridge temperature limits.
Next, I'm going to go up the mast to measure how much farther the mainsail can be winched up in the mainsail track. We want to raise our boom crutch, (a boom crutch holds the boom safely above our heads, when it is not being used). The crutch is too low at present and it causes Michael to have to stoop over while at the wheel. Michael will sketch the crutch extension and I'll take the drawings to two companies I have contacted to quote the job.
I've also been getting quotes on a new dodger. Michael and I had planned to build one ourselves, with a kit from Sailrite. Plans change. I'm here, he's there - no homemade dodger.
The mainsail measurement needs to be done soon, because I have to take all the sails off and stow them below decks. This is a safety precaution for when strong winds blow. If a tropical storm is forecast, Gromit will be hauled out of the water, so everything loose or anything that can catch wind must be removed.
It was busy while we were underway and it is busy while sitting in a marina. No chance of boredom any time soon.
Wednesday June 17, 2009
Leaving the Bahamas
At 6:30am, we turned on our SSB radio to talk to Chris Parker, weather router. He gave us the thumbs up. The weather was looking very good to make the journey to Jekyll Island; about 48 hours away. We also asked how the weather looked 2 days beyond, just in case we decided to carry on north bound. It is now considered hurricane season, so we were hoping to make a big jump as far north as the weather would allow. Chris told us that all looked good for continuing north, but to check in with him on a daily basis.
It was a calm morning and as a result, it was already starting to get hot due to lack of wind. We scrambled around trying to get Gromit ready for our first true ocean passage.
Decks cleared, cockpit tidied, all projectile-like objects stowed below decks, dingy firmly lashed to the foredeck, a bunch of other little details taken care of and we were off.
Always when cruising, there is a chance to hit bottom. In the Bahamas, the bottom consists of sand, coral, grass or marl, (a limestone type of rock). If traveling in unknown or minimally charted waters, it is a good idea to do so on a rising tide. If you run aground, the rising water will hopefully lift you off any obstruction.
With that in mind, we left Manjack Cay around 1 in the afternoon on a rising tide. We headed for the ocean via a pass just to the north of where we were. After about an hour of motoring through the Bahamian, turquoise and green water, we began to see the transition to the darker, more purplish water of the ocean. It was the shade of periwinkle blue and violet. Absolutely breathtaking. There was no wind, which seemed to make the colour even more vibrant.
Into the evening, there continued to be no wind, which meant no sailing. The only thing that was giving us any motion, apart from our engine, was a gentle ocean swell gently lifting us up and down. Thinking back to our first ocean experience; leaving Ft. Pierce in a brisk wind, we all breathed a sigh of relief. This was a much calmer start.
We motored all night and motorsailed the next day, putting a sail or two up when there was enough wind. Unlike our first ocean experience, none of us got seasick: thank you Gravol - for the kids and anti-seasickness patches - for mom and dad!
We motored northwest along the top of the Bahamas and eventually into the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream, is a powerful, warm and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Strait of Florida and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It travels between 2-4 knots off of the coast of Florida and then lessens gradually as it goes north ward, eventually spreading out and becoming weaker around Cape Hatteras.
When doing a passage north, tapping into that current is extremely beneficial. It can cut hours and days off a trip. I liken it to walking through an airport on one of those moving sidewalks; without expending any extra energy, you arrive at your destination more quickly.
Early on day three, we contacted Chris again on the SSB radio and asked what the weather would be like north of us over the next couple of days. We had to decide whether to turn west, leave the gulfstream and head toward shore to return to Jekyll Island, or whether to continue to Beaufort, N.C., roughly 48 hours farther north. It was a really tough decision. There were so many pros for going back to Jekyll. The thing that made us stay on course to Beaufort, though, was the memory of racing southward last fall, under great pressure, to stay ahead of the cold and sometimes snow. The situation was now opposite, yet the same. We weren't running from the cold, we were running from the bad, stormy weather; the possibility of hurricanes. So, when Chris gave us the forecast, we took advantage of the settled weather to get north as fast and far as we could.
While on watch, I spent countless hours looking out over the endless water. I was completely enraptured; the motion, the colour, the sound, the smell.
At night, I saw thunderstorms on the horizon with nonstop lightening. I saw starry skies unlike any I've ever seen. I saw phosphorescence that sparkled like diamonds as it tumbled about in the waves.
Endless water. Endless, endless water. It was beautiful.
On our last night out, between day 3 and 4, the wind picked up. It was coming from the West/South West at a speed of 10 - 20 knots. This wasn't too bad, except it meant that the wind was creating waves of between 3-6 feet, which were hitting us on the beam (on our side). The boat rolled from side to side. This is not a comfortable point of sail. We ended up changing our direction to minimize the roll. Happily, around mid afternoon on Sunday, June 21, we arrived in Beaufort, North Carolina.
We had taken down our Bahamian Courtesy flag en route and hoisted our bright yellow 'Q' flag. Any boat entering a foreign country must fly a 'Q'uarantine flag until they have checked in with Customs and Immigration and, if allowed to stay, can then hoist a small courtesy flag of the host country. While flying the 'Q' flag, only the person designated to clear customs may leave the boat, passports and boat papers in hand.
It was Sunday. We figured no customs guy was going to come to check us in. Nevertheless, Michael called the Customs and Immigration Office. Our cell phone only had 8 minutes left on it and Michael kept telling the Official that the phone would soon run out, but the Official continued on unconcerned. Eventually, the connection was cut and we were not checked in. We wanted to add more minutes to our phone, but to do that, you need to have minutes to contact the service provider. We were stuck, more or less stranded on our boat. That was OK, though. We took the time to rest and reorganize after our 4 days out on the ocean.
Monday morning, Michael was preparing to take the dingy to 'Sea Gypsy' - friends of ours who had arrived the day before. He was planning to borrow their phone to buy more minutes for ours. When he hailed them on the VHF radio, he got an answer back from the Beaufort Town Docks. We were told we needed to come to the docks, because the Customs Official was there waiting for us. So much for a relaxing morning. Now we were into pulling up two anchors - no small feat in an anchorage with a very strong current- and heading to shore. Within about an hour, we were finished with checking in. The dock master said we could leave Gromit at the dock for a little bit and we went in search of ice cream! We hadn't been on land for over 2 weeks! The island at our last anchorage in the Bahamas was so buggy, that we just didn't dare go ashore again! And then 4 days on the ocean!! We were ready to go exploring.
We spent a couple of days at Beaufort with 'Sea Gypsy' and 'Shiver'; both are cruising families. All our kids, 6 of them in total, had a great time running, yelling, laughing and getting all that energy out.
Sea Gypsy and Shiver were both heading to Chesapeake Bay, and, as that was our goal too, we left Beaufort with them on Wednesday morning.
Our first day on the Intracoastal Waterway, found us at Belhaven, about 50 miles north of Beaufort. Our next day, which started at 5:30 am and was much more ambitious than the previous one, found us at Coinjock, more than 80 miles onward. It was a long day.
The Intracoastal Waterway, is mostly narrow rivers and canals, so sailing is rarely possible. Today though, we were able to sail in some sections because they were wide open and, for a change, the wind was not directly in front of us.
We left Coinjock around 8am and arrived at Great Bridge late afternoon. There, we went grocery shopping and finally bought some fresh fruit and vegetables. We were absolutely out of anything fresh. Our last shopping stop had been in Marsh harbour in the Bahamas, some 3 weeks before.
On Saturday, from Great Bridge, we proceeded through the 'gauntlet', as I call it! This is a short stretch of waterway, about 12 miles, with 5 bridges between Great Bridge and Norfolk. At our boat's speed of about 5-6 knots speed, 12 miles should only take about 2-3 hours to cover. But, add bridges and you can spend a whole day covering that distance, as happened last fall on our journey south. Timing is everything! Some bridges only open at certain times. Others open on request. This time we were lucky. We left Great Bridge at 9 am and arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, at around 11 am. Yahoo!
We got some fuel, anchored and went ashore to explore Nauticus, a maritime museum
Well, the time has come to say good bye to the Abacos.
We have spend the last few weeks traveling from cay to cay, swimming, snorkeling and relaxing. It has been wonderful.
The weather over the next few days look farvourable. And, as it is getting late in the season, we will be taking advantage to of this good weather to cross back over to the United States.
Our plan is to go back to Jekyll Island, but if the weather allows, we will try to stay on the Atlanic to continue northward as far as we can. The farther we can get, the less time we will need to spend on the Intracoastal Waterway. The waterway is nice, but slow.
Once we are back in the States, I'll write about some of great place we've been and people we've met here in the Abacos.