Strider is now on the hard (or on the hill, as the Americans say) at Ross Marine, on John's Island in greater Charleston. Ross Marine is on the Stono River, about 90 minutes' motoring (but 20 minutes by car) from where we were anchored in the Ashley River just off the Charleston City Marina.
We had initially set off for Ross Marine last week Thursday, but after upping anchor and a short attempt against the current up Wappoo Creek, we realised that Strider was up to her sometimes evident wiles - despite high revs we were hardly moving. So we turned back and re-anchored close to our former spot to try and identify the problem. Ferdi (rightly, it later turned out) thought the prop was the culprit, so at 5am the following morning, at slack tide, he dived down in decidedly murky water to see if he could remove some of the sea creatures which we assumed had accumulated on the blades since our departure from Beaufort. He managed to scrape off some of the barnacles and around 9am we made a second attempt to leave, this time successfully and this time, with the current.
Around 10am, both of us realised it was my birthday - the first time in 43 years that I had failed to take cognisance of this milestone until so late in the day! One of the great things about cruising life is the fact that one day flows into another and we often don't know what day of the week it is, let alone the date.
After a short stint up Wappoo Creek, we turned right into the Stono River and soon arrived at Ross Marine. There Strider was hauled out and we could see for the first time the extent of the marine life that had taken over on the hull and especially the prop. Our boat was washed down with a high-pressure hose and transferred to her spot on the hard in the boatyard.
Captain Haddock would have said of our prop: "Blistering Barnacles!" Closer inspection also revealed that all three blades were bent - no wonder we had made so little headway the previous day. We also now saw the result of the loud crunch we had heard on our ocean trip down from Beaufort to Charleston (on my watch, you can imagine my angst!) We knew at the time that we had struck a submerged object (not indicated on the paper charts, but it showed up on the chart plotter as a defunct lateral marker), but had not been aware of what damage it had caused. So when we come back in October, the prop will have to be sent off (again) to beat out the dents. Why are we having such bad luck with this prop? (Although I must admit I'm grateful it was the prop and not part of the hull that took the brunt of the collision!)
Since we are not permitted to sleep on the boat at Ross Marine, we rented an apartment close by (and a car) for a few days. To celebrate my birthday and to make up for our earlier memory loss, we went to downtown Charleston later that evening and had a fabulous evening on the town.
Getting a boat ready to hibernate for three months is quite a task - Ferdi and I have spent the past few days working our butts off in searing heat and near 100% humidity. This is what we have done: removed the genoa and mainsail (folding them up neatly on the grass next to Strider and storing them below decks), cleaning the interior, having the heads (toilet) holding tank pumped out, cleaning and hauling up the dinghy onto the deck with the aid of a halyard (our dinghy is quite heavy, so this led to some cussing and a minor disagreement between the captain and his only crew), and covering most of the boat with tarpaulin to prevent weather damage (we had looked into having Strider professionally shrink-wrapped, but prohibitive costs led to us doing the job ourselves), and cleaning out the bilges.
One of the last evenings before we left Charleston was spent on Ulysses, the steel boat of fellow cruisers Ben and Kat Okopnik - Russian and Japanese Americans respectively, and their adorable two-year-old son Michael - who were anchored in the Ashley River next to us. We spent a lovely evening with them and were sad to say goodbye when they dinghied us back to shore from their boat.
With Strider now safely nestled between several other boats hauled out at Ross Marine for the hurricane season, we are really looking forward to getting back home for a while, both for a complete change of scenery and also to catch up with all our friends and family back home. South Africa, here we come!
(See new pics in the album "A Few Weeks in Charleston").
I got back to Charleston on Tuesday, June 9. In the two weeks I was gone, the captain had set to work on a few remaining projects on board Strider. These included removing the anchor windlass (a greasy, messy job), having it repaired and replacing it again, constructing a chainstopper block on the foredeck (which will relieve much of the pressure on the windlass), installing the wiring for our small flat-screen TV and hi-fi system, and effecting some last modifications to the generator.
Besides getting to know the locals, he also befriended a young Swedish couple, Johanna and Martin, at anchor close by on Snowbird. Martin and Ferdi had some adventures of their own...
Charleston at this time of the year is scorchingly hot, with accompanying high levels of humidity. The oppressive heat contributes to early evening squalls with high winds and thunderstorms which, in combination with tidal factors, can cause all the boats anchored in the Ashley River to swing about erratically in various and opposite directions. Unsuspecting newcomers anchored too close to their neighbours often find themselves somewhat unpopular with said neighbours when the squalls result in boat-owners jumping about on decks with fenders and boathooks to try and prevent scrapes and crashes.
During one such squall, a boat nearby dragged its anchor and drifted straight through the middle between Strider and Snowbird, narrowly missing both. Realising the owners had gone ashore and were not on their boat, Ferdi and Martin jumped into Strider's dinghy and sped toward the dragging boat, which was by then heading straight for some rocks on the other side of the channel. They leaped aboard, after which the two captains quickly set another anchor, securing the vessel and saving it from near-certain disaster. Much later, after the owners had come back from ashore and had located their vessel, they motored past Strider to inquire who had rescued their boat. A curt "thanks" was all our two heroes got for their efforts before the boat moved on. Some people!
One morning we woke up to a surprise - Shiver, the blue Oyster of Red and Liz Donnelly, our friends from our ICW trip, was anchored right next to us. We had parted ways in Beaufort in December, and they had just returned from four months' sailing around the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica. It was fabulous to see them and many an hour was spent on both Strider and Shiver catching up and exchanging stories. Their son Freddie appeared to have grown an inch or two since we last saw him, sailing obviously agrees with him!
Red advised us not to attempt to sail further south at this time of year. Ferdi had himself been toying with the idea for a few days, and what Red and others were saying confirmed his own thoughts. From July 1 our boat is not insured for incidents related to "named storms" occurring in the hurricane "block" for the duration of the hurricane period, which ends in November. So we have now decided to take Strider out of the water in Charleston or surrounds, and return to South Africa until November. Besides the weather factor, most cruisers will agree that one needs a break from your boat every now and again, and I think the captain has now reached that point! (He also needs to take care of some business interests in South Africa).
And so will come to an end the first chapter of the tale of Strider and her voyage around the world. We have spent almost 10 months getting her cruise-ready, and are very happy with what we have achieved in a relatively short time (it takes many boat-owners years to get to the same point). In shakedown sails all the way down from Bristol, RI, to Charleston, SC, we have identified and rectified various issues and problems that have cropped up, and we are confident that she is now more than ready to take up her journey southwards when we return to her in November.
We finally bade goodbye to Beaufort on Thursday, May 21. After setting our Rocna for the first time at Town Creek Marina, getting it up proved quite a process! Having a large, solid, dependable anchor also has a flipside - it is not so easy to retrieve. We spent quite a while dislodging it, with me behind the wheel and Ferdi on the bow cleaning off the mud and sludge that was raked up onto the deck as it came up.
After we motored out of the Beaufort inlet, we initially encountered a fairly oily sea, which after a short while became quite lumpy - a taste of the 5-6 ft swells we were to encounter throughout most of the night. The swells rolled in from abeam, so Strider was rocked from side to side incessantly for most of the 48 hour trip to Charleston. (Note to Strider's crew - get some sponge lining for some of the cabinets - at times it sounded as if everything inside was being smashed to pieces, which fortunately on later inspection proved not to be the case). Ferdi and I both sat in the cockpit until around midnight, after which we switched to 3-hour watch periods.
So what does one do while on watch? The main object is of course to be on the lookout for other vessels. One also has to check the sail trim, the engine temperature (if motoring) and the chart plotter (to ensure we are still on course). In between, there is time to contemplate life, the universe and everything, gaze at the vast expanse of stars above, marvel at the many shooting stars, perhaps do some stretching exercises or yoga (thanks for the tip, Carol!) or just enjoy the solitude and being in and one with the universe. An indescribable experience. At the same time, there is the comfort of knowing your partner and captain is catching some shut-eye in the cabin below and can be summoned to deck quickly should the need arise, with a sharp rap or two on the coachroof above his head.
We motored for most of the first night, but toward the early hours of the morning, Ferdi unfurled the genoa to take advantage of the increasing north-westerly, and we were able to switch off our engine for a few hours.
Throughout Thursday night and the whole of Friday, we headed away from land to avoid the infamous Frying Pan shoals, a "peninsula" of shoals (sand banks) jutting out to about 35 miles from shore between Beaufort and Charleston. A map we had consulted earlier showed these shoals as being littered with shipwrecks - an ominous warning. By Saturday morning, we had rounded the tip of the shoals and could head back to a course south much closer to land. Our aim was to head all the way down to Fort Lauderdale (another 2-3 days of sailing), and the weather seemed to favour our intentions. However, when we got close enough to land to obtain a cell phone signal, I called home (to my mom in Pretoria) and received the terrible news that Oom Piet, my stepfather, had passed away. So we headed into Charleston and anchored at the City Marina. Two days later, I flew home to South Africa for two weeks while Ferdi remained in the USA with Strider.
Tuesday turned out not to be D-Day. We in fact spent most of the day moving back onto Strider from our rented apartment, and our boat was in complete chaos for at least another day after that. It took us both hour upon hour of cleaning, packing away, and various small repair jobs before we were satisfied that Strider was now good and ready. Finding the right spot for everything in limited and often awkward spaces was a real challenge - most other cruisers we have spoken to reckon it takes at least a year before one has worked out the best way of storing things. We also have to be extra careful to balance the boat properly - the large fridge installed above the starboard salon settee has in the past tended to make Strider list to starboard. So heavy items like cans and large tools are stowed mostly on the port side. For example, under our berth there are presently the following: a 100 gallon diesel tank, various spare lengths of cordage (ropes) and mooring lines, halyards and sheets (still ropes), a compressor, some extra bottles of dishwashing liquid, and at least 150 cans of cool drink. Of course I've had to make a list of where everything is - one couple we know found a lost can of beans years after stowing it away in a remote corner and then forgetting about it!
Our first evening back on Strider (still docked at Town Creek Marina) was fabulous, after living between four walls for so long, it was great to be back on board. We are now for the first time feeling really at home on our boat, after all the months of hard work. We spent most of the evening sitting in our cockpit watching the sunset over the creek and observing other boats coming and going.
However, for that first and the next night, we were really perplexed by a strange noise, a continuous, loud crackling sound we could hear only when below deck. Ferdi lifted the floorboards and peered into the bilges with a flashlight to try and identify the source, to no avail - it seemed to be coming from various parts of the boat. I thought it may be dolphins communicating with each other - we see them around us almost every day. Our perplexion was relieved a couple of days later when I read somewhere that the Neuse River area is full of krill - and the strange noise was these tiny creatures munching the algae off the hull of our boat! Seriously noisy eaters, they are.
Since a cold front had been predicted for the next few days, we decided we would postpone our departure and leave Beaufort on the back of the front, probably around Wednesday. On Saturday, we thought we may as well leave the dock and anchor out while waiting out the bad weather. I was a bit nervous about undocking with Wimpie no longer here to help, but our first two-person attempt went off without a hitch. We motored around to Beaufort Docks, but Ferdi decided the anchorage there was too crowded so we returned to Town Creek and dropped our new Rocna there. So far, despite winds of 20-30 mph the past two days, she has held fast!
So we now use our dinghy (with the smaller outboard, the 3.5 hp Mercury installed) to get to shore and back. Late afternoon Saturday we sped around to Beaufort Docks and had a beer with Phil and Anne, and after calling in at one of the other anchored boats, we returned to Strider. This novice made an incorrect knot while tying the dinghy painter to the boat - I quickly realized the crucial function of certain knots after struggling to untie my own handiwork!
At the moment, however, we are not even contemplating going ashore - the weather is too horrible. We are cosily holed up in our boat, spending the time reading, pottering about and catching up on emails (we are picking up on the Town Creek Marina's wifi). The rain and wind are due to subside by tomorrow.
(See new albums "At Anchor in Town Creek" and "Inside Strider" in the Photo Gallery).
Yes, I know, it has been ages since I last wrote a blog entry. We've been in Beaufort, North Carolina for just over four months, spent mainly on upgrading our beautiful boat and preparing her for many sailing years ahead. Most of the work we've done will in all likelihood not have to be repeated for a good few years (yay!).
Here's some of what we've accomplished:
� Sanded down, stained and varnished almost the entire interior cabinetry and teak bulkheads.
� Sanded the teak-and-holly cabin sole and stained the teak. We then covered the entire cabin sole with clear epoxy - our floor is now gleaming like a clear lake!
� Lifted the generator out, had it rebuilt, and lifted it back in again - a back-breaking task!
� Installed a watermaker, part by part, underneath the galley sink. We can now produce up to 20 gallons of fresh water per hour (not that we will need this much). This was Ferdi's task, he had to teach himself step by step how to do the installation.
� Made sure both the fridge and the freezer are in working order and added refridgerant.
� Replaced various check valves to ensure everything flows in the right direction (diesel from the bilges bubbling up onto the shower floor was a bit disconcerting....)
� Spray-painted the interior of the coach roof, as well as the ceiling.
� Replaced the ceiling in the master cabin.
� Sanded down the deck and replaced ALL the bungs (around 2000 of them, no jokes) - there is no way our boat can leak now! We also recaulked almost the entire deck.
� Sent our feathering prop to the manufacturers in Maine to be serviced (more about this later).
� Lightly sanded and polished the topsides (the upper part of the hull).
� Upgraded our ground tackle by adding a 73 lbs Rocna anchor - it's definitely the biggest we've seen in Beaufort on a boat of comparable size - unlikely that we will drag anchor again!
� Installed a removable teak cockpit table (another ingenious installation by the captain).
� Purchased a small sewing machine and made fender covers, hatch covers, a padded cover for the cockpit table and various other small protective items.
� Repaired the small microwave oven in the galley.
� Replaced the hatch covers with thick, durable perspex.
� Installed a chart plotter in the cockpit - no more running up and down to the nav station to check our position while underway.
� Ensured we are US Coast Guard compliant in terms of environmental and safety regulations.
� Had the sail cover and spray dodger above the companionway repaired.
� Installed a flat-screen TV with built-in DVD, amp and 2 kick-ass speakers. Anyone who knows the captain will be aware that he can't be without his music for too long.
The list goes on and on....we've also been stocking up on crucial tools and spare parts for the engine, generator, watermaker, heads and other cruising necessities - Ferdi joked that we could open a marine hardware store with all the bits and pieces we have to take with us! We have to cater for almost any eventuality - there's no popping out to the local store if something starts acting up at sea of course.
Until 1 April, we were docked in the marina at Beaufort Docks. On that day, we moved Strider around the corner to the Town Creek Marina, where she was taken out of the water using their travelift, to enable us to have the prop serviced. She was there until about two weeks ago, when we attempted to put her back to water, but it wasn't to be.....a piece of plastic attached to one of the travelift straps got snarled up in the prop the moment Ferdi started the engine, with the result that a local scuba diver had to be called in to untangle the mess. We were promptly hauled out again to estimate the damage, which a local prop shop declared was not too hectic.
While all this has been going on, Ferdi and I have remained in the small apartment we have been renting above Beaufort Docks. We have met the most fabulous people in Beaufort, friends that will remain in our hearts long after we depart these shores. There's Phil and Anne (not forgetting their incredibly cute Jack Russell, Orbit, who literally grew up in front of us!), Rusty and Fifi, Manny and Theresa, and Jim. And all the locals and visitors who shared boating and other stories with us in Taylor's Coffee Shop in Front Street and the quaint Backstreet Bar across the road from our apartment.
The weather has improved markedly, last time I wrote it had been snowing, but we are now well into Spring and are enjoying 26-30 degrees C days. Water traffic in Beaufort has also picked up considerably, with boats of varying sizes coming and going from Beaufort Docks. At this time of year, many boats that had gone down south for the winter season, start migrating north again (here they call them the "snowbirds"). One or two superyachts have also graced our local docks, including a 100ft luxury cruiser which we heard around town belongs to Billy Joel, on its way from the Bahamas to New York. Unfortunately the singer himself was nowhere to be seen (he had obviously sent his cap and crew back with the boat while he used a different mode of transport). We had hopes of him making an impromptu appearance in the Backstreet, but alas....
Our disappointment was short-lived, however, since this past weekend saw the Beaufort Music Festival in the area in front of the docks - we've never seen so many people in this small town. The major attraction was undoubtedly folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens, well-known for his opening performance at Woodstock in 1969. John Lennon once said Havens "plays a pretty funky guitar" - we couldn't agree more. The local bands that took part were also of a very high standard. Ferdi took some video footage - we'll post a link as soon as he has had time to edit it.
We now urgently need to get a move on down south, firstly to Fort Lauderdale in Florida (briefly) and then the Bahamas and Cuba. The hurricane season starts in June, so we then need to be below 10 degrees N. Our current thinking is to spend the season in either Panama (the fabulous San Blas islands are beckoning) or Cartegena in Colombia. The wind is not co-operating at the moment, however, with southerlies most days. But after many weeks of keeping a close eye on weather opportunities, Tuesday seems to be D-Day, so we are now running around organizing last-minute things, getting Wimpie back to SA, seeing to stocking-up, saying goodbye to friends, and a million other odds and ends!
So long, Beaufort.
(See new pics in the album "Regrouping in Beaufort" in the Photo Gallery).
Wish I could say Sun, Sand and Sea......but we're not quite there yet. We've been in Beaufort for just over two weeks and it appears we'll remain here for at least another - we've decided to try and finish most of the remaining work on the boat here before continuing down to Florida.
We've invested in a new, smaller outboard, a four-stroke Mercury 3.5 hp, in addition to the Yamaha 15 hp, which we're still fixing. It's convenient to have two outboards. The smaller, lighter one is handy in anchorages close to the shore, whereas the larger, heavier one is ideal for longer distances as it will actually put the dinghy on a plane. Besides, there's safety in numbers - they have minds of their own and don't always work!! We also repaired the anchor windlass; marked the anchor chain; and are in the process of relocating both outboards and our (yet-unused) stainless steel barbecue to Strider's port side in an effort to correct her slight list.
For the past few days, Wimpie has been sanding down Strider's teak interior in preparation for a couple of coats of varnish, and in order to escape the clouds of dust we've moved into an apartment overlooking Beaufort Docks for a week or two. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in with a paintbrush!
We had a minor incident one evening while still on the boat - we were cooking supper and chatting in the galley when I suddenly noticed a fireworks display inside an open cabinet in the aft cabin (leading to the cockpit). Our boat was on fire! After staring at the sight in utter shock for what could only have been a second or two, Ferdi grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher and ended the crisis. It turned out to be a short at the shorepower inlet, which was duly repaired the next day. We did get quite a fright though - what if we had been away from the boat at the time?
Other news is that Strider now finally has her name affixed to the stern. The job was done by a local signage company, which is also putting together a name card for us and has designed some Strider T-shirts for her crew and friends. We decided against the customary champagne-bottle-on-the-bow celebration (not after her recent spray job!!) and opted for a beer or two in the local pub instead.
This morning we woke up to a white world outside and by the end of the day were trudging about in five inches of snow. We really thought we would be in warmer weather by now (especially since we are so close to the Gulf Stream). However, sunnier weather has been forecast for later this week.