07/23/2009, Lookout Bight
We had to do it. We'd been talking about it since we bought our boat. It was our "holy grail" of seamanship; sailing on the ocean. All of our sailing had taken place on inland estuaries, rivers and the sound; it was a glass ceiling that we dreamed of breaking. We decided after having the boat for three years, we were ready. We were going to sail to Lookout Bight!
Ok, everyone who knows the area can stop laughing right now! For us, it was the great unknown. Eight whole miles, took us all of about one hour, forty-five minutes; all while sailing about a mile or two off of Shackelford Island. Ok, now the rest of you can stop laughing. It was the stuff of dreams for us! We kept high-fiving each other, and saying stupid, mundane things like "We're sailing in the OCEAN!" It was great! I'm glad we were alone, thinking back, it was pretty lame.
We arrived at the bight and set about finding a place to anchor for the night. We had studied the chart and headed for the spot we had selected. Unfortunately, the water wasn't as advertised, and we watched as the depth gauge went to five and a half feet. That's when I declared that we'd gone far enough, and ordered the anchor to be set. Now we had thought to get a lot further and were disappointed not to tuck in closer to the shore, but not going aground is more important. Of course, later that afternoon, we watched as two other (larger) boats sailed right past us and secured our first choice spot. "Gee, honey, the water must get deep again, I'm glad they came along and showed us that."
Now the current flow at Lookout is strong, and so we would hang first in one direction, and then as tide turned, swing around one hundred eighty degrees. This sort of stuff makes me nervous, (What if we drag? We could go aground!) When night fell, we still secure, but I set what we call the worrywart anchor watch.
Basically, I toss and turn all night, getting up every time the tide turns and I feel the boat shift around, to sit in the cockpit and check our position against other boats and shore objects (i.e. The lighthouse) Al sleeps quite well whenever I'm on worry-wart anchor watch. I finally succumbed to complete exhaustion around four AM.
Al was up by seven fifteen, and on our small boat, I can't sleep when he starts saying things like "Time to get up! You gonna make us some coffee?" I poked my head out and checked again, (still ok) and started getting breakfast ready.
Al went out to the cockpit after getting dressed and said, "We've moved." I leaped up and out. We had moved, were still moving, at a pretty good clip, thanks to the current.
Forget breakfast. I started the engine and sent Al up to retrieve the anchor. We could eat underway. Al pulled up the rode, as I kept us in place. Then he reached the chain.
I've only seen it done in the movies. First my hearing went. I couldn't hear the sea gulls; the wind went dead, no engine noise either. Dead quiet. Even my tinitus took a break. Total silence. Then my eyesight zoomed into the action on the bow. Then, clear as anything, the opening strands of "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY" started in Dolby surround in my head.
I watched as Al retrieved a giant ball of anchor/chain, or chain/anchor, or well, I can't really describe what the hell I was looking at. It was massive and it defied logical explanation. Al set it on the bow and looked back towards me. I could sense his fear. What was this? We had set out an anchor, on the end of fifteen feet of chain. This on the other hand, would never fit in the anchor locker. Carefully, I cleared my throat, and said the only thing I could think of under the circumstance. " I think you'd better see if you can untangle that mess before somebody looks over and sees it."
It worked. Al got right to work, horrified at the thought of someone spying the evidence of our making. We're nothing if not good at wanting to mask our mistakes.
We did untangle the mess, eat, and had a great sail back (in the OCEAN!) where we promptly went aground and had to be towed. But hey, it was Beaufort!
We shouldn't have been out there. Really. But we had a 'pointment with the yard to haul our boat, and couldn't delay it. So there we were, up to our armpits in storm.
The 'pointment was set by the yard; they pull on Mondays and splash on Fridays. Al has Mondays off, so Sunday was the day we needed to get the boat some 25 miles to the yard. First down the Pungo, then upriver on the Pamlico to Broad Creek. Usually a nice broad reach, most of the way.
Sunday looked bad. Overcast, windy as all get out; we could see the whitecaps on the Pungo from our slip up in Jordan creek. The wind was from the Southeast; don't really bad storms come out of the north? Whatever.
We made our preparations to leave, and they did include listening to the weather on the WX. Small craft advisory. Well, there it was. But we'd been out in that description before, so how bad could it get? Bad.
Of course, we left anyway. 'Pointment, remember? Our first clue (which we ignored) came as we lined up for the Creek channel. The wind was so great it swung us around and we were suddenly facing our slip again. We didn't get the hint. Al brought the boat around after considerable effort and through the channel we plowed. Our engine was working hard to get us, well pretty much nowhere. Our speed was about 1.2 MPH, and that was wide open. We eventually reached the river proper, and turned slightly to starboard to head down river.
We finally looked up and saw numerous bands of gray to black clouds low on the horizon dead ahead. Not good, not good at all. Oh the naiveté of the clueless! Our speed had dropped to .3 MPH when the first band hit. The waves were around 9 feet or so, when we dropped into the troughs, we could see no shore, only water.
Al yelled (you had to, to be heard) "Do you want to head back?" I looked back at the channel, now directly downwind until the turn where we would be crossways to the wind. "Are you kidding? We'd never make it, lee shore; we'll lose the boat if we try. We're in it now, just keep her pointed into the wind."
We fell off and I yelled at Al to keep her pointed into the wind. "I can't bring her back up," he yelled, and he had to let her fall all the way off and round up on the other side. OK, that was scary. Broadside to the waves? I don't know much but I know that isn't a good presenting profile.
Anyone sitting in their house looking out at the storm would have wondered why the stupid people in the little sailboat were out in that storm, doing doughnuts. We did about 5 before Al figured out the reason. Windage. The wind was blasting in a shearing straight line, and our bimini was now acting like a weird parachute affair, trying valiantly to lift our boat's rear end into the sky. Kind of like the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz, but in Technicolor. Al yelled for me to take it down. (Really, we were only yelling because we couldn't HEAR over the wind, we like each other fine)
Now picture for a minute me against that wind and rain standing up and removing a bimini. No, wrong picture, it was much worse. (I'd like to take a moment to shout out thanks to Bob Perry for his design of the rear railing on our boat; if we had only lifelines across the back, I might be dead right now, and wouldn't that be a different blog!)
Then the marble sized hail started. I'm not making this up! Al shouted over, "I'm buying goggles for if we ever have to do this again! It's hitting so hard, I can't keep my eyes open! I just have to take a peek every now and then. Keep a lookout and tell me if I'm staying on course." Do it again? I looked around wondering where our stunt doubles were.
The wind was getting stronger, and it was raining now so hard we couldn't see past the front of the boat. This was taking on all the signs of a true biblical thingy. I was waiting for frogs to start pelting us. At least the downpour seemed to flatten the waves a bit. Or maybe I was just getting used to them.
We needed to find the river junction, a tall tower that we could usually see from the river buoy near our creek approach. Not today. We watched the plotters and hoped the GPS had this thing pegged, although hitting the marker at .3 MPH probably wouldn't have hurt much. We saw it when it was about 15 ft away; we were already rounding it by then. Then we made the turn into the Pamlico River, and suddenly the rain and hail stopped and the wind was coming off the port quarter, so at least it felt like it was better.
We learned how to broach the boat a few times (a valuable sailing skill, I think, since I've seen racing videos depicting it) before we decided to roll the genoa up and go with the reefed main. We could see another storm band rolling across the Washington area ahead of us, but we lucked out and missed it. (Ok, we were slowed due to a foul bottom, and couldn't get there in time to experience the fun for a second time)
After tying up and walking into the yard office, William greeted us with an incredulous, " You came on your BOAT?" Apparently, just 40 minutes earlier, the docks had all been under water due to the wind and storms. He called us over to the computer, where he had been watching the satellite loop and pulled up the last 6 hr loop for the Pungo river. Seriously, it looked as if someone had shrunk a hurricane down to a 12mile diameter, and placed it where we had been traveling. I freaked. "We were in THAT?" "You came right through that," He said. "I really didn't expect to see you today." "Yeah, but..... we had a 'pointment!"
Our wood looked like crap. Well it did match the rest of the boat at least. I figured if I could paint a room, (and I could) I could varnish the teak. By the time I had read half dozen articles on how other people do this, I knew I couldn't. But by then I had already told Al that I was going to, well, that's how I usually end up in trouble. So I plunged ahead.
Things I wouldn't do: varnish naked (yeah, one guy I read about swears by it), remove said teak, (I did end up removing all the drawers and cabinet doors and doing them at home) or spray the varnish on. (Come on, really? You don't see the over spray nightmares in that?)
So I read more articles and narrowed the list even more. Had to be high gloss, I just think it looks yachty. Couldn't be that plastic varnish product, looks too fake. One article showed fabulous results using 3 layers of epoxy followed by 5 coats of varnish. The small picture showed 5 guys laboring away on the project. I looked around, my dock was empty. Oh, well, next? Two-part varnish? Love the look- yikes, the price!
Ok, suddenly, all the marine varnish looked to be out of my meager budget. Given that all the "pros" said to touch up the varnish on a yearly or 2-year schedule, why would I need anything more than Cabot's helmsman marine spar varnish? (19.95 per gallon) I bought a gallon.
Brushes. I looked through the articles and saw that several "pros" use foam brushes. OK by me, they're cheap, I'm cheap, it's a match. I sanded vigorously. All the "pros" agreed that surface prep was the key to a great finish.
Outside went well. I put on eight coats and that was last spring. This year it still looks good, even if I can tell where I might need to sand and touchup a little here and there.
Inside, the teak was dark so I bleached it first. More of that "pro" advice that I was reading. Oxalic acid was hard to find, so I used Clorox. Now the wood was light, but dry and dead. It looked like old driftwood. Minwax golden oak stain took care of that. (Yeah, I know its TEAK, but believe me the golden oak color was right on.)
Next, I applied 8 coats of varnish, using a mini foam roller, and tipping it as I went. The job looks good, it won't win any varnish contests (I'm not a "pro", I only play at being one), but I learned enough to have my own set of Tips from the not "pro".
1. Put up the bug screens. Keep them up.
2. Wear the same dirty, smelly clothes each day until you're done. You will throw them away at the end.
3. Use fresh brushes each day. Not cleaned; new.
4. Wait to cut your hair. That way you can determine your next hairstyle by where the varnish resides.
5. If a bug flies into your wet varnish, teach him a lesson and leave him there. You wouldn't believe the mess you can make trying to get him out.
6. If you sweat and drop said sweat into your wet varnish, leave it alone. Water and varnish smear something fierce if you try to correct it. You can plan to sand it out the next morning, but you probably won't find it again till you finish and clean up.
7. People will stop by and offer advice. When you get tired of it, hold out a brush. They will leave.
8. If suddenly you notice that that last coat looks like alligator skin, you need to: a. learn to love it. Or b. be prepared to sand down to bare wood again. I don't know why this is, it just is.
9. Realize that if you take your time, and do your best, it will look mounds better than it did. Ours does and has received unsolicited complements.
10. It's just varnish, not rocket science. No matter what the "pro's" say.
By the way, the job cost $39.00 to complete. If I'd spent $150.-250. more to do the job, it wouldn't have come out any better. I'm not a "pro", can't achieve "pro" results and after everything I've read, I don't want to be. They make varnishing sound a lot harder than it actually was. I must have done something wrong, I had fun!
When we bought our boat, the former owner freely acknowledged that the bottom hadn't been painted in 6 years of ownership. On the hard, after pressure washing, it looked ok to us.
I have to admit; the first 2 years we didn't do anything about it. Then we started to notice everyone else was going faster than we were. When we saw a seagull paddling away from us one day while we were heeled over at about 25 degrees and practically standing still, it was clearly time for action. I looked at our speed: 1.2 MPH.
Al decided the best course was to clean the hull; by getting rid of the growth surely we could beat a stupid bird next time out. Since we are both divers, it was fairly simple; tank, reg., a 25 ft. hose.
Al decided he would do it the first year, and then we would alternate. Our way of sharing the fun.
So in summer of'07, Al geared up and disappeared under the boat. There must have been a lot of growth because I didn't see him again for over 2 hours. Our boat isn't that big. He spent the time scrubbing and scraping 1000's of barnacles from the hull. "Wow honey, was it fun for you? That's alright, it'll be my turn next year."
As I looked at him dripping on the dock, I noticed there was whitish stuff covering his wetsuit. "Did you scrape off the old paint?" I asked as I went in for a closer look. No, it wasn't paint; it was small cylindrical shapes, billions of them. What was that?
I stepped even closer.... Ughhhh! They were MOVING! Billions of tiny marine maggots, crawling and squirming all over Al, his suit, his bare neck, must have been some sort of larvae- Gross! I hit him with as much hose water as I could before he mentioned that I was drowning him, and then ugh, helped him out of his suit. I mumbled something about a project inside that needed me and stumbled below while he cleaned up his gear.
Well, last year we must have hit the jackpot or something, my brain cell isn't clear on the how, but we pulled the boat and sanded, and painted the bottom a beautiful red. The paint is "multi season" but last year it spoke loudly. Hahahahahahaha, no bottom cleaning for me.
Sometime this spring Al started with the "This year it's your turn to clean the hull honey" routine. I love to dive, and cleaning the hull is part of boat ownership. But the prospect of a close encounter with marine maggots; well you know my reticence to the task.
Last weekend, I donned my wetsuit, checked for the ninth time that ALL my hair was tucked inside my dive cap, and went under my boat for the first time. The water was warm. Good. I approached the prop. A few barnacles clung to the floppy prop, and I dispatched them easily. I started to feel my way across the hull with the scrubber. This is Braille diving: dark, zero vis., but the growth I expected was nowhere to be found. The hull had a light coat of slime, easy to scrub off. I was done in less than an hour.
The maggots have moved on to some other poor sap who doesn't paint his bottom. Multi season, hmm.... I told Al I'll clean it again next year, I enjoyed it so much. I figure that by 2011, those icky maggots might be staring to lust after our boat again. Then it's his turn.
We have a saying aboard Journey; "If we're aground, we must be in Beaufort!" Truly, it must be a great destination, we always go aground, and we keep going back. We won't discuss the relative intelligence of the sailors who keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.
In fact, I'd like to make the case that we are perfecting our grounding technique, and I will stand up and challenge anyone that we are more proficient in going aground in Beaufort than any of you. The first time we went, we were warned we might go aground. "Throw caution to the wind, Honey, we're going anyway!"
We were heading to Discovery Diving's dock on Town Creek. Al is in the diving business, and so the owner is a friend. We take advantage, I mean graciously accept the invitation to free dockage at least once a year.
We checked the charts, used the plotter, stayed in the ICW channel, and promptly went aground. We called the dock. Apparently, that leg of the ICW is now a "Spoil area". We back up, turn around, go back, and take the Russell Slough channel; which is the suggested route nowadays.
The next time we came to Beaufort, we were smug. We now had the insider's secret. We made it all the way to the turn into Town Creek before going aground. We called the dock. "I believe we've arrived.... We're aground." We powered off, and made it to the dock fine, if not a little less smug.
We learned the true reason for our groundings. TIDES. Water comes in, water flows out, and we arrive in Beaufort at low tide. In our defense, we don't have tides; the only way the water leaves our creek is when the wind blows hard for a full day or more, from the west, near a full moon, after a black cat walks across the dock.... Well, you get the idea. In short, if I'm standing on the finger slip, and get blown off my feet into my boat, the water might be getting shallow enough to cause fret to our neighbors with deeper keels. But TIDES. Well, that's a whole different ball game. One must plan for TIDES. That requires a TIDE Table. We promptly got one. Now we were prepared, and would never go aground in Beaufort again. We were set. We were smug with our newly acquired knowledge.
The next time we went to Beaufort, we checked the chart, used the plotter, checked the TIDE Tables, and planned our arrival. Of course this meant that we had to spend the night at anchor near Adam's Creek, set off at an ungodly hour to arrive at high tide, but we did it! We were headed directly through Beaufort to Lookout Bight, and we made it through unscathed.
On the way back, we needed to cross over from the Morehead City side of the channel to get to Town Creek. Al suggested we use the ICW connector that he had seen captains use in past years. Good. That would shave several miles off our trip. We made the turn and went aground. Aha! Low TIDE. I had Al throw the anchor and about 10 ft of chain off the pointy end. We would just wait; the TIDE was rising.
In less than 5 minutes, a Tow Boat US boat came motoring our way. This was good. We are members, I would ask for local information from him. Well, turns out that Al was a little disorientated about the whereabouts of the connector channel. I asked if the captain could show us where it was. In fact, I'm pretty sure I asked if he could lead us there, so we could follow him to avoid going aground.
He towed us. For free. (We're members) I didn't feel embarrassed. After all, our engine worked, we and the boat were fine and we had floated free, but hey, why turn down a free tow to the dock?
And now we know where the connector channel is. We are set. We are smug in the knowledge we won't go aground in Beaufort again. We're headed there this summer. I'll get back to ya.
July 2007. It must be said that we had to get back to our slip. My daughter would kill us if we didn't have our grandson home for the first day of 2nd grade. We had been on our annual 2-week "little great circle" of Pamlico Sound and adjoining ports of call. I call it THE PAMLICO CRAWL. Hell, we're lucky to go 5 MPH.
There were small craft warnings for the sound the morning of our departure from Ocracoke Island. I went up to the marina office and conferred with Marco. He said that a 35 footer had left ½ hour earlier headed to Washington. Great! Company, even if there was no hope of catching up with them. But their bravado gave me the courage I needed. "It's a go!" I announced when I stepped back on board.
Now, Al always lets me make these command decisions, and I've never wanted to know why. If it works....
It had been a wonderful trip. We took our 7 yr old grandson, Caleb to play pirate in Oriental, where he searched for dinosaur eggs and made friends with the towndogs. Next to Beaufort, where, the sailing museum, darts at the waterfront restaurant, and a pirate shirt hooked him. Then 3 days of Bluebeard's hideout at Ocracoke, beach, bikes, swimming in the pool, enough memories to last.
Granted, we'd had issues. Our batteries conked out one day into the trip. But we have an engine with a hand crank, so we just charged up at the 2 docks we had stayed at with power, and dealt with it best we could. We left with a "full" charge that morning to head across the Pamlico, towards the Pungo River and home.
We knew we were in for it when we left Silver Lake and headed out Big Foot Slough channel. The wind was tremendous! We felt we would have more trouble if we tried to return, because it would mean heading back into that tremendous wind.
Besides, we collect experience points. We feel that within reason, we should deal with whatever Mother Nature dishes out. Sailing a little outside our comfort zone is a learning experience, and should be done to stretch and expand our sailing skills. Yeah.
Ok, tremendous wind continued as we made our way into the Sound. I know you're asking yourself why I don't just mention the actual wind speed. Well, I had no idea. Our wind gauge has never worked. When you get a $1.00 boat, be glad it floats, and has a working engine, with a hand crank!
So the tremendous wind was out of the northeast, which for us, meant that wind and waves were off our starboard rear. There's a looooong fetch across this section of the Pamlico, and we were getting rollers around 6ft high every 7-9 seconds. We do have a clinometer. It was showing a 20-degree port list with no sails up.
We could see the 35 footer ahead of us. She was looking fine, all sails up, leaning way over, scooting along like a champion racehorse. Al looked across to me. "Well, do you want to put up some sail?" I gulped," Hell, I'm afraid to raise my hand! The thought of raising sail terrifies me!" "That was my thought too.," he said.
Caleb had retired to the cabin with his Game Boy. We settled in for a long 8 hr motor home. We decided to take the shorter route, through Middle Ground. There are numerous shoals to avoid, but they are fairly well marked and we had a chart and a plotter. Granted, it is a little tricky, since the markers are so far apart and if you miss one, you can work your way into a dead end, But we thought that eventually, the nearer shore would cancel out some of the tremendous wind. Yeah, well, it's a low lying, marshy shore, so not much help there. Sail and learn. Or as we were, motor and learn.
We were almost halfway through middle ground when the chart plotter lost the satellite signal. WHY? Thankfully, the good folks at Standard Horizon don't want sailors to panic, so that notice on the screen was immediately followed with the message LOW BATTERY. Then it died. Great. Back to charts. Besides, we were out of the worst of it. We knew it wasn't just a battery problem. Our 30-year-old alternator must have crapped out. With all of the equipment that was included in the sale price of the boat, I figured the 2 batteries and alternator were worth around .00019 cents each, so we had gotten our moneys worth. It was time to start replacing a few things.
Then Caleb called up, "Grandma, There's water on the floor down here." Al was at the helm, so I headed below, thinking maybe the drain was left open on the cooler. I stepped into water up to my ankles. "We're sinking," My voice was strangely calm. After all, I had always figured that given time, we would eventually figure out how to sink the boat. I tore up the floorboard and stared at the bilge. Water, and a bilge pump that was silent. I headed over to the main switches to hit the manual switch.
It's not so stupid. How many times has the power gone out at your house, and you've walked into a room and hit the light switch? DUH! I reached under the sink, pulled out the hose for the whale gusher, stuffed it into the bilge and went topside to start pumping. "Is it fresh or saltwater?" Al asked. I looked back at the grimy water. "You want to know, You can taste it, I'm not. Move upside, I need to get the handle for the pump."
Al moved and I opened the lazerette and started pumping. After a few minutes, I asked, "How long should this take? It doesn't seem to be doing much." "Let me look. Al and I traded places, and then he announced, "The diaphragm on the gusher is shot. There's a hole in it."
I looked back into the cabin. Caleb still on the Game Boy; water still only ankle deep. I sighed, "Well, it's a controlled sinking." Al got a flashlight and leaned into the lazerette. Our stuffing box wasn't dripping. It was flowing at a pretty good rate. We couldn't do anything about it with the motor turning, and the best thing seemed to monitor it and keep going as we were now an hour from the dock.
Well, we could always call the Coast Guard if things got dicey, oh wait, we had NO BATTERY. I'm also worried that this will be the last time Caleb will be allowed to come with us, if we sink before we get to the dock.
Strangely enough, I never panicked. And I still don't know why. I was worried about the boat, but I'm not known for my composure in scary situations. And then it hit me... I must be cut out for this life, sailing, being on the water "at sea". I had finally found an area where I could function in an emergency and not freeze. Either that, or I'm dumb as a stone.
Yes, we made it back in one piece, drained the water, tightened the stuffing box, and glossed over the story enough with my daughter to ensure that Caleb still plies the waters with us.
2 new batteries -$180.00
New Balmar alternator -$535.00
New Whale Gusher -$89.00
Spending the time with my guys and the Tribulations we experienced..... PRICELESS!