Sunday, June 30, 2013

Quick Update and Signing Off For a While

Quick update - We are at Atlantic Yacht Basin at Great Bridge, Virginia, waiting for the weather to brighten up a bit before going on further north into Chesapeake Bay. A string of low pressure systems are in control all along the east coast and the forecasts are pretty much a mash up of higher winds, waves and rain. We are hesitant to move further north today, even just up to Hampton Roads.

Which brings me to my next point.

This will be my last post for a while. I find myself being discontented with things and I don't want what I have to say to end up sounding like a bunch of whining. Perhaps it would be best if I just stayed silent until I have more pleasant things to say. I feel particularly guilty about any bitching and moaning that I am doing in light of what all the boaters are going through trying to get up into the Erie Canal and beyond. We especially feel for our friends Rick and Margi of Journey. In comparison to their situation I have nothing to complain about. We're just waiting for weather to improve. They're waiting for much more to happen.

He who rides the sea of the Nile must have sails woven of patience.
     - William Golding

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ok, This Just Stinks

Its not that we don't like Coinjock Marina. In fact its not a bad place to hang out except for the fact that it is isolated. The docks are very good, the staff friendly, the on-premises restaurant is outstanding, they have pump-out capabilities at each boat along their monster dock...but there ain't anything else to do except watch videos and write blog entries. And it is here we are waiting for this dreary and unstable air mass to pass on through.

This part of the east coast is just getting pounded by low pressure systems, one right after another. (Basic formula - low pressure begets lousy or worsening weather. High pressure begets good or improving weather.) The barometric pressure has been in a free fall for the last seventy-tow hours or so and the overall conditions between here and anywhere in Chesapeake Bay and all the way up into New York state are, according to our mission rules, at best marginal, at worse unacceptable. The folks in New York are particularly getting a stiff dose of miserable as the rain has been torrential to the point that the Erie Canal system is closed. It has been for about a week (or more!) and will be for at least a few more days. There are a lot of loopers including our good buddies Rick and Margi of Journey that have been just plain ol' stuck. The canal operators have even put out a notice for everyone to sit tight and don't even bother moving further north. There apparently are too many boats in queue at Waterford.

Our situation further south is not so bleak, but it is terribly inconvenient. Our next destination is the marina operated by the city in Hampton Roads, VA, which is very close to the I-64 tunnel/bridge in the St. Elizabeth River. This highway has become the official demarcation line between Norfolk Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. Currently on this side of the line it is calling for two foot seas and winds in the ten to fifteen mile per hour range. On the other side of the line the prediction is the same but we know damn good and well (and confirmed by some good local knowledge here at Coinjock) that that is not to be believed at all. The waves will be taller, which could spill back onto the harbor side of the line. Other complications include the possibility of higher winds as we are negotiating the Great Bridge lock and negotiating other swing bridges before that.

So, anyway, we had planned today to be our goboat day. Here's the deal. Winds are higher than ten miles per hour, mostly in the fifteen mile per hour area. Higher in open water, such as Norfolk harbor. Waves in the harbor are predicted to be two feet, which to me means three feet. Wind direction has been and is to be unchanged. I want to see a clockwise change of direction. The NWS has used the dreaded word "unstable" to describe conditions. This is codeword for, "We have no frikkin' idea what will happen." They use that word to cover their...sterns.

But then again, I could be wrong.

Lisa has said "no" to going today. Our rule is one no vote wins. End of conversation.

I'm frustrated. Can you tell?

Now, you saltier captains may say I am a weather wuss.


Wait, wait, wait.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Whirlwind Tour of Manteo and the Northern Outer Banks

Ok. Manteo and Roanaoke and Kitty Hawk and Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. Where do I begin? I mean we had the car for only a day and there was lots to do and see. Here goes!

Manteo is on Roanaoke Island where the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke was, or is, or whatever. The island is connected to the mainland on the west side and the outer banks on the east side. Our marina, Manteo Waterfront Marina is located about a third the way down from the top of the island near the channel on the east side. But on Monday, our get-out-and-see-everything-we-can day started when Enterprise Rental picked us up at the marina about 9:00 am and drove us back to their office on the bank. The first thing you see is that this is very much a resort area. The outer banks (known as OBX) is a thin strand of sandy island that is not very wide and there are only a few north and south running roads. There are a lot of the typical rental houses, hotels, beach stuff stores, all you can eat pancake houses and other shopping. There are shopping centers all along the way. The beaches are very popular with swimmers, sun worshipers and surfers alike.

After we left Enterprise our first stop, because it was close by, was the national memorial of the historic first flights of the Wright Brothers. Historical Accuracy Point #1 - Kitty Hawk gets all the credit but actually their daring deeds were done at Kill Devil Hill. Kitty Hawk got the glory because that is where they sent their "we did it!" telegram from. Historical Accuracy Point #2 - The fact of them being the first at powered flight is up for a great deal of debate now. There are recorded occasions of it actually being done by a German-American immigrant in Connecticut about a year earlier. But the thing that the Wright Brothers certainly get credit for is that their flights were CONTROLLED powered flight. They were the ones to correctly figure out the whole 3-axis controlling system on an airplane. Historians are quick to point out that their contribution was by far more significant than any previous example. For instance they were the first to fly from a starting point, out in a circle and back to the same starting point. In other words they figured it all out and got it all to work correctly. This correct flying ability is otherwise known as "not crashing and dying." The monument is very interessting with the exact strip of land that they flew their first four powered hops in December of 2003, with markers showing where they landed, and a large monument on Kill Devil Hill.

Behind Lisa is the plain where the Wright Brothers made their flights (at the far end)
If you look carefully at the far end you see four granite markers in a row that indicate where their first flights landed. The first three are kind of bunched together, the fourth is further down. Fyi, we have all seen the pictures of them on a sandy surface. The grass was added later to prevent erosion.

Speaking of Kill Devil Hills, along with Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, they form the seamless ribbon of touristy stuff. 'Nuff said. Ya seen one tourist trap, you've seen them all.
Eh, no thanks. I'll pass.

Our romping on OBX included, of course, a trip to West Marine, two grocery stores, a couple of hardware stores and picking up odds and ends that were on our shopping list.

Once we drove back onto Roanoke Island we headed to the north end of the island where the aforementioned lost colony of Roanaoke Island was, or is. (I guess it depends on if you are a past-tense or present-tense kind of person.) We visited their little museum and watched a short movie about the colony and how it was founded and losted, so to speak. It was quite interesting. We were not able to actually walk to the site itself because there was major tree trimming going on over the walking path to it. There was also an informative display covering the possible reasons the colony disappeared. These reasons included being attacked by Spanish soldiers (England and Spain were at war at the time), being wiped out by the local natives, or that they packed up and moved to the bank down near Hatteras and were assimilated by the natives. Historians are mostly leaning towards this third option as the most likely. This is because in quite a few years further on in the timeline some of the natives in that area were found to have lighter skin and blue and grey eyes and spoke with a more anglicized sentence structure. But there is nothing concrete one way or the other. I believe there is another possibility that archaeologists have not considered. This is that the settlers were sucked up into a giant time vortex and were resettled in Ohio sometime in the 23rd century. Only time will tell.
Didn't know I had a restaurant, did you? Neither did I. (And they spelled it right.)

The next morning we made the trek back to Enterprise to return the car. Upon our return to the marina we started tinkering around the boat. Our fresh water has been twitchy lately. When we used the shower the pressure would run down to a drip after about three minutes of running time. I had talked to Shurflo, the maker of our pump, and they gave me some tips on how I might be able to fix it. And fix it I did! Now we have no running water at all. And on top of that there is a slow pressure leak of water into the bilge. Great! Captain Carl gave us the name of a technician in Coinjock, NC that he said was terrific. I called the guy and since our next stop was Coinjock itself we figured we could stand twenty-four hours without running water. I don't know how Lisa does it but she seems to be totally unaffected by this. I, on the other hand, am coverd with a crust and I smell like a monkey.

Tuesday afternoon we toddled around Manteo itself and it is a quaint town with shops and restaurants. It actually is very modern in an old-timey way. After a short while I headed back to the boat for a nap and Lisa did her shopping thing. She says she has bought a new outfit that will knock my socks off. I can't wait!

We woke up early Wednesday morning to make the trip up to Coinjock. The conditions were not, shall we say, ideal and we did get rocked and rolled, but it was manageable. So we are now in Coinjock waiting for our technician to show up. And yes we are having prime rib for dinner tonight. And yes I will have my socks knocked off, too.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hey, Boaters! Ever Hear of Engelhard, NC as a Stop? Me Neither.

First, a couple of parting shots of Ocracoke.
the view from our sundeck as I was a total lazy bum Friday afternoon

Why Knot at the National Park Service docks

Nice looking boat leaving

Our goboat day on Saturday, June 23 was finally upon us. The conditions weren't the best but they were within our rules except the winds would be a bit more. So we followed the ferry Silver Lake out of the harbor at Ocracoke at 7:30 am. Our destination for the day was a small marina at a town called Engelhard just thirty statute miles up and on the mainland side of Pamlico Bay.

As I said the conditions weren't great but they were manageable. There was a storm system coming up from South Carolina and the rain front hit us about 6:45 am, but it was short lived as a gap in the system that we saw on weather radar moved over us. So out we went. And we were able to stay put in that gap the entire way. We could see both the system that was ahead of us and behind us. But for us things were stable. We pulled into the small commercial fishing village of Engelhard almost exactly four hours out of Ocracoke. The small marina called Big Trout Marina was empty and the village was still. For a big boat Big Trout is actually quite accommodating. There is a large facing dock with 30 amp power (only!) and plenty of depth and maneuvering room. The channel coming in is a bit of a different story. There are a couple of skinny spots that you've got to pay attention to. (The channel has only green markers.)
The fishing village of Engelhard, NC

We walked on shore looking for a dockmaster to pay but everything was closed and locked down. Finally a couple of local fisherman in a runabout came in the marina. We asked them who we needed to pay and one of the guys said, "That would be Frank and right now he's probably taking a nap. He'll be around sometime." Well, as a vocal proponent of napping myself I appreciated the situation and we pretty much spent the afternoon being a couple of laze-bags. Frank did finally come around and confirmed that he was in fact, as he said, asleep in his recliner for a time. We gave him a check for $40.00. It was a peaceful night.
Gotta like a nice long dock!
looking out the inlet towards Pamlico Sound
Big Trout Marina is not a big fancy marina. Nor does it need to be.

The reviews of Big Trout Marina on are a mixed bag. A few people said that it was not great but Aok. One guy said it was the worst experience of his boating life, which I think is a matter of having too lofty an expectation of any marina. (Not every marina can be a 5-star resort-type experience, can it?) My take is that if a boater would think of it as an anchorage with a dock (or a free dock somewhere) their expectations should probably be calibrated correctly. Isolated, quiet and without any amenities like an anchorage but with the security of actually being tied up at a dock. Plus, on the south side of the inlet there was a very pretty wilderness area with aquatic birds all around. It was actually very nice.

Sunday morning rolled around. We left Big Trout Marina at 6:15 am. Again, the weather forecasts were not ideal but manageable. According to locals the typical summer pattern is for winds from the south at ten to fifteen miles per hour which can be very tricky as that makes for a lot of fetch as you travel further north which kicks up swells and breaking waves. And as Pamlico Sound narrows going north this could make for some very uncomfortable situations the further up you go. Our destination was Manteo, North Carolina on Roanoke Island on the north end of Pamlico Bay, a fifty-one statute mile reach. I expected it to be sloppy the entire route and it started out that way for the first ninety minutes or so. As our first leg out of the channel of Engelhard was decidedly northeastern we were getting some beamy two foot swells pretty consistently. We were getting jostled around and we had no expectation that the winds would subside. But then, almost all of a sudden they did! It went from winds in the ten to fifteen mile per hour range to zero! And the waters laid down almost immediately. So much so that the an oppressive humidity that was being blown away with the winds was able to settle in. It was hot, muggy and uncomfortable, but we weren't complaining. So the vast majority of our cruise to Manteo was downright boring. Pamlico Sound was placid. Things didn't really start kicking back up until we started our route around the northern end of the island to get to the Manteo Waterfront Marina. (There is a southern route that is a few miles shorter but it is reported to be a bit skinny to navigate.)

Captain Carl, the dockmaster at the marina met us at our t-head dock and helped us get tied up. Carl is an interesting guy. He is an outer banks guy through and through with a very thick accent, which I think he was trying to soften as he spoke to us non-natives. The reason I think this is that I heard him talking to a buddy on his VHF radio. His voice changed. He now had as thick of any accent as could be found anywhere in America. I honestly could not understand a word either of them said. But he is a very nice and friendly guy.

Manteo is a major planned stop for us, unlike Ocracoke of which the week spent there was not part of our plans. We are renting a car to provision up pretty heavily. Our next destination is Coinjock which will be the last marina that we will be seeing for a while. After Coinjock we will be anchoring out at the end of the next three or four legs. We also have to make the ritual visit to West Marine, an auto parts store and a hardware store. We are also going to do some sightseeing. Kitty Hawk is nearby and we are looking forward to exploring this interesting area.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hangin' Out in Ocracoke

Ocracoke is a nice destination. As I write this on Tuesday, June 18, we are sitting at the National Park Service dock all snug and comfy...and alone. The place has cleared out. We are the only boat at the park service docks.

Our first full day here was on Father's Day. We got the bikes down off of the sundeck and took a whirlwind tour of the island...which to be frank didn't take very long. The town of Ocracoke itself is not very large though on this particular day it was very busy with not only day boaters but a large crowd of folks that came over on the ferries. But it is a pleasant enough place. There are lots of little shops to peek into. Lisa, as is her tradition, spent Monday afternoon by herself combing through the shops on one of her mini-shopping sprees. She came back empty handed. Back to Sunday.

We ended up popping into an outdoors local beer and food joint called SmacNallies which is on the north shore of the lake. It is part of the Anchorage Inn Marina and we thought this would be a good place to take in the scene. The food was decent enough. I had the Redneck Burger which is a cheezeburger with barbecue sauce and cole slaw. Lisa had the Black and Bleu Burger which had some Cajun seasoning with bleu cheese. Not bad at all. As we sat there a solo musician showed up and started setting up his gear. He was to be the entertainment for the afternoon at the bar and as we were not in any kind of hurry to go anywhere we decided to hang around and take in a little live music. I figured we would listen to his first set, drop a couple of bucks into his tip jar and head out. Turns out that this guy, Brent Nultemeier, who's act goes under the pseudonym of SoulOne ( was terrific! He does this crazy thing where he builds all of the different parts of songs on a looping recording device that he controls with his toes.

So as he starts a song he quickly and seamlessly records and adds all of the different parts, bass, drums by rapping on his guitar body, rythmn parts, riffs, shaker sounds, even background vocals, and so on until he produces a very full bodied, complex and very satisfying musical style. Lisa and I both have musical backgrounds ourselves so we found him to be very entertaining. We ended staying for his entire four hour performance. We initially were part of the first throng of people at the joint that listened to him. Then we were his only audience members. Then a second wave of patrons filed in for the latter third of his set. He also didn't take any breaks playing for the entire four hours. We talked with him frequently as we were down front near where he was set up. He did all cover songs and wanted requests of which I scored a perfect zip.
A nice crowd on a beautiful day

Eva rockin' the house. A diva in the making? I think so. Love the shades.

Charlotte adding some moves

Brent making some cool grooves. The conga player just kind of showed up and jammed. 
His wife and young daughters even showed up. Charlotte, the middle child, danced ballet steps on the deck in front of him. Eva, the oldest (all of seven years old), came up and sang two songs. Now this kind of thing can sometimes turn out to bomb but Eva nailed it. She was on-key and knew all the words to Wagon Wheel and burned the place down. (They have a third infant girl that was taking in the scene from her stroller. I'm thinking she'll be a producer. "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" "I want to be a media mogul. Oh and dad, you need to add some Little Feat to your playlist for that really nice couple from Missouri.") All and all it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was a beautiful and mild day. Perfect.

On Sunday evening we were hanging out on the boat when we heard some people on the pier checking  us out. I poked my head outside and the husband immediately said, "Are you really from St. Louis?" having read out transom. I confirmed that we were. Well, they wanted the full story of which we were happy to provide. It turns out they are shortly going to be empty-nesters and were looking forward to doing something when the chicks have flown the coop. Boating was on their short list of things to do and we happily told them all about the lifestyle. They had been thinking about a sailboat but were wary of what seemed to them to be cramped living quarters. Well, we introduced a new concept to them: TRAWLERS. We invited them onto our boat, showed them around and at the end the husband kept repeating the word "trawler" over and over again as if the firmly lodge it into his mind. Mwah, ha, ha! Our evil plan of trawler world domination is working once again.

So, what's next? There is some rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for late today (Tuesday) through Wednesday. (Its raining right now, at 8:15 am.)  We have changed our cruise plan a bit. Originally we were going to go straight to Manteo from Ocracoke but it would be a very long day over seventy miles with winds shifting to the north. The change we are making is to go to a marina in Engelhard, North Carolina one day and then bounce up to Manteo from there. Both of these news legs would be about forty miles each. We are waiting until Saturday to do this because a front is moving through as we speak, finally exiting the area early Thursday. We'll giving Pamlico Sound a day to settle down on that day. Saturday and Sunday look good so that we won't have to linger in Engelhard. Also we seem to be following a sailing regatta that packed the docks here in Ocracoke. They too went too Engelhard and are to stop at the same marina we were intending to stop at in Manteo, clogging up all of the available spaces there. So waiting here until Saturday will give them time to clear out before we get there.

I must admit that I am getting anxious to get under way and log some miles heading north. I sometimes feel that I am being overly cautious and that we could probably go on days that I shy away from. But I am trusting that my experience as the captain of Why Knot has so far been beneficial to us. I trade good cruising days in favor of waiting for what could be great cruising days. Lisa assures me that it is better to trade getting-somewhere-no-matter-what-the-risk days in favor of days where we get somewhere safely and soundly. And, I guess, for me the bar for what constitutes safe and sound conditions is high. Can we handle more vigorous condtions? Of course we can. Does it mean we have to? Nope. In the context of cruising Pamlico Sound this means that it's well earned reputation of being unpredictable and surprising is not to be triffled with.

rule #1     Wait
rule #2     Wait
rule #3     Wait

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Making Our Way to Ocracoke

We pulled out of Swan Point Marina at Sneads Ferry, North Carolina with what could only be described as near-perfect conditions. The skies were clear and bright and what winds there were were just light puffs that barely moved the burgees on our flybridge. The aforementioned high current in the channel of the marina was minimal.

Our first reach was to cruise the ICW through Camp Lejeune. Boaters will relate to what I am describing but you lubbers won't. Camp Lejeune is a monstrous U.S. Marine training base along the North Carolina coast. While we were still at the marina we frequently saw military helicopters out on training maneuvers and could hear the distant rumbling of artillary fire at their practice range. The ICW goes right up the eastern edge of the base with only a narrow barrier island seperating the channel and mainland from the ocean. As we cruised up the water the sounds of the blasts got louder and the percussion of the explosions could easily be felt in our bodies. The boat would shake a bit. We both remember that during our first passage of this stretch the first blast we heard and felt was seemingly close and, not knowing what to expect, we thought something happened to the boat because of the great thud that was felt. It was if we hit something in the water. The shock wave can be felt that easily.
Sea Gate Marina, a nice little marina. $1 beers on Wednesdays

On June 12, passing Swansboro, Moorehead City and Beaufort our destination was a nice marina on the ICW called Sea Gate Marina. (Note to mariners - Sea Gate Marina is in the ditch between Beaufort and Neuse River. The entrance to the marina is easy enough with them wanting you to do a starboard tie-up. You would probably then need to back out when you leave which would be ok in calm conditions. The channel is lined with rocks. If you wanted to leave bow first you would either need to walk you boat around which could be tricky for bigger boats {50' plus?} or go just a tad further to where the marina turns left into a basin and turn at the turn, so to speak. This is what we did and all was aok. Bigger boats might find this problematic.) It was our luck that on Wednesdays the marina sells cans of beer for only a buck, so the deck was full of locals and live-aboards. It was a classic docktails situation but the conversations were a bit different than what one would hear during docktails with loopers. These people were all boaters with varying degrees of saltiness. Some of them have cruised the coast extensively, others have centered their activities to the Carolinas, some where fishermen and others lived in the housing development of which the marina is the centerpiece. We were the only loopers. But the comraderie was lively, the lies and fish stories abounded and we got some useful information about the next leg of our cruise.

It seems the weather is stuck in a four day pattern. It goes... good day / so-so day / crappy day / so-so day then back around to a good day, which is detrimental to making any serious headway. That was certainly the case while we were at Sea Gate. We came in on a beautiful day. The next day was clear but pretty windy. Then there was thirty-six hours of unsettled weather with overnight thunderstorms, rain and high winds. Then it was so-so again leading up to the next good goboat day on Saturday. And this was a good thing because our next destination was Ocracoke Island on the Barrier Islands of North Carolina, which means we had to traverse the Neuss River and Pamlico Sound and we would need all of the good weather we could find. This is because these two bodies of water have well deserved reputations for making weather forecasters look like idiots. We were looking for waves less than two feet with winds less than 10 knots.

Fortunately on the day we chose to make Ocracoke the smart people at the National Weather Service got it right. Their forecast called for sunny skies, mild winds from the west or southwest and swells of a foot. This is pretty much what we were looking for except I think the following swells may have been around two feet. This made for an awkward cruise. The swells were punching us up our transom most of the day, making it at times a bit rolly in a tilty-stern-to-bow-side-to-side way. Boaters will know the feeling. I could not get enough speed going to offset the rolling.

Running the entrance channel to Ocracoke was pretty much a non-event except for two things. First, there is a pinch not too far from the outer markers were the channel narrowed and shallowed. And Ocracoke is a busy ferry port. One ferry was heading out advising us to veer off and wait and another had been following us slowly but surely catching up to us. After some helpful communications with the ferry captains we did turn ninety degrees to the west and waited. The Carterette made her exit and we let Cypress Island go in ahead of us. We followed her in.
Silver Lake, the basin at Ocracoke Island

a golden sunset

neighbors. Wadaya gonna do.

Once inside Silver Lake, which is the main basin there, you have three options on moorings. There is a very adequate anchorage on the far end, a very nice but expensive marina called Anchorage Inn Marina, and lower priced docks operated by the state. Those state docks were our first choice, with Anchorage Inn Marina as our second choice. While we were still in Sea Gate we made some phone calls and along with ship to ship communications en route we learned that Silver Lake was very busy. The state-run docks were full. We were able to make a reservation at the marina but not until Sunday. So our plan was to anchor out and move there on Sunday, all the while keeping an eye on the state docks. While we were still coming in I radioed ahead to the marina to see if anything had changed so that we could come straight in. They responded that there was still not any room for us there. We informed them that we would anchor out and come in Sunday morning. Low and behold, we then got a hail from a boat at the state docks saying that they eavesdropped on our conversation (and we all do it, don't we?). She told us that there was a fifty foot section of the state dock open, but it was inside. We veered over there and I determined I could shoe-horn Why Knot in there. It was tight but I got her in. Bingo! So we are at our desired location on the state dock and all is well.

And the basin was indeed busy. There was a gathering of motor boats at Anchorage Inn Marina, thus the non-availability of docking space. And there was a sailboat race from New Bern, North Carolina to Ocracoke that day. We snuck into the docks just before the racers arrived. It was crowed when we tied up. It got even more crowded by dinner time. But early Sunday morning most of the boaters started peeling away. All of the sailors had to make their way back to New Bern which was going to be a slow affair because they would be facing the wind all the way back. That would make for a very slow day for them.

The weather forecast for the next several days falls right back into the pattern I mentioned above. It was a good day Saturday, Sunday would be so-so, Monday should be rotten and Tuesday so-so. Wednesday looks like it could be good to go. As I write this at 8:00 am most of the state run docks are empty. We are going to walk Why Knot back to the end of the pier so that when we finally do get out of here it will be easy. But for the next couple of days we are going to explore and enjoy Ocracoke.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We're at Sneads Landing and It's...

(Sorry there are not pictures. I'm getting lazy)


Just had to get that out there.

We left Bald Head Island Marina (6/9) on a fairly calm day which was helpful because Why Knot was on a t-head down a large main thoroughfare...pointed in the wrong direction. It had been my intention to get the boat turned around the day before our departure with the help of a dockhand or two but the wind was still coming right down the chute which would have made it difficult. But on our goboat day the winds were calm and I was able to back her out pretty as a picture.

The conditions for the day were for a heavy cloud cover with a 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms. We did catch a little rain but it was an otherwise uneventful sixty-eight mile cruise to Swan's Point Marina at Sneads Ferry, North Carolina.

If you haven't been to this marina it is a different kind of a place. Using a boater secret codeword it is "rustic", with a wicked current running by it that made pulling in a bit of a chore. But the people here are incredibly nice and we are staying three nights to wait for a front to pass over us. The people in charge took over the marina July of '12 from a previous operator that, I guess, didn't give a rip, and they are trying very, very hard to make things go right. Our original plans were to stay at Mile Hammock anchorage a mile further north but the forecasts were for a stormy day on Monday. Our next leg is a short forty-two mile day to Moorehead City.

Which brings me to one of my biggest gripes: the infamous precipitation percentage forecast of the National Weather Service. According to the NWS the precipitation percentage is not a statistical chance of it precipitating but a historical perspective. The way they get the number is to go through all of the historical data for near the same date and roughly the same conditions. Their forecast percentage is the number of times it rained. So, as I said, today had a 50% chance of rain. That meant that on dates with the same conditions it rained 50% of the time and not rained the other 50%. So on days that it says there is a 30% chance, three out of ten times that there were the same conditions it rained. Get it? I do. Always did. Still do. But my gripe is not the formula its me making the wrong call on whether we goboat or not. Like here at Swans Point. We could have made it to Moorehead City if we had been at the anchorage and able to leave early when we wanted to rather than waiting for high tide at 10:am-ish to pull out of here. Oh well. I am getting some chores done and Lisa has promised some of her homemade chocalate chip cookies and some decadent little cakes with blueberry filling.

Its a small price to pay!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Conservency Tour and Andrea Makes Her Presence Known

Thursday morning came and we got our bikes back down off of the boat to make the trip back to the Bald Head Island Conservancy for our guided tour. It was an overcast day with predictions of rain in advance of tropical storm Andrea. At this time she was still in the Gulf of Mexico on track to hit the Florida panhandle right about the area that the Gulf crossing is made. Reports were coming in from Tampa Bay and they were not good. High sustained winds and lots and lots of rain. The track of the storm would head in a northeasterly direction right across the state and on a beeline up the coast. For us up in North Carolina the main part of the storm would arrive Friday morning with predicted sustained winds of thirty to forty miles per hour with gusts up to fifty...with lots and lots and lots of rain. But Thursday was still looking good if we didn't mind the high probability that we would get a little wet.

The Bald Head Island Conservancy is a very modern facility that appears to do a lot of work. As this is a vacation island they were holding a summer day camp for the vacationing island kids. But they also to research and rescue work. Our tour guides for the morning was a very funny and friendly pair of young adults. Zach, a young man from Ohio and working as an intern, reminded us a lot of son-number-two, Kevin. He was tall with a very bright and friendly personality, just like Kevin. Kendall, a young lady who was a paid staff member is a New Jersey transplant. Her thing is birds. Along with two other couples we loaded onto some golf carts and started our tour.

The tour consisted of stopping at several points all over the island. First was a fresh water pond well known for its turtle population and a few alligators. The turtles apparently are conditioned to people throwing treats at them so they swam right up to the observation deck with their little heads looking up at us looking for a handout. The resident alligator was not to be seen. We then went along a long deck into the salt water marsh. The variety of flora and wildlife is remarkable here. I asked about the mix of hardwood trees and palm trees and Kendall said that this was about as far north as palm trees are to be found. We then walked a ways on a path into the forest where we stopped at the biggest and widest oak tree I have ever seen. If you have seen the movie Avatar you will recall the tree of life (or whatever its called) that the natives lived in. Picture that tree and bring it down in scale a bunch and you'll know what this oak tree was like. The last stop was a bit of a drive to the next island north of Bald Head Island to a secured and secluded area. This range is set aside as a bird sanctuary and it was lush and full of birds. Kendall was able to rattle off the names with little effort. "Oh look. There's a Yellow Breasted Squirrel Killer...and there's a Great Blue Brain Sucker!" or whatever they were called. But she knew them all.

I know that I have used the word "beautiful" a lot in my descriptions of Bald Head Island. It just works.

Then Andrea showed up and put a damper (pun intended) on things.

Friday 5:30 am - Tropical Storm Andrea finally rolled into the Cape Fear area overnight Thursday into Friday. There was some rain overnight but not as much as we would have thought. It is getting windy though. The updated predictions are still for sustained winds in the thirty miles per hour area with gusts in the high forties. Fortunately Bald Head Island Marina is very well protected. It is a man-made basin that is rectangular in shape dug out of a relatively high terrain area of the island. Plus there are houses and other buildings all around. We are tied up well to a t-head dock towards the more enclosed end, so while we certainly will get some motion during the storm's passing we do not expect to get rocked.

9:00 am - The winds accelerated. According to the dockmaster the largest gust they had on their weather station was thirty-four miles per hour. Gusty would be the way to describe the winds. We seriously thought of ditching the boat to the shoreside buildings as the boat was getting jolted around on the dock lines pretty hard. But we have a good set of lines on Why Knot and so we stood pat.

2:00 pm - All during the morning and early afternoon the gusts died down a bit to the point that the winds were mostly of the straight line variety. I measured the winds several times on our anemometer and they were showing to be fifteen to twenty miles per hour with only an occasional gusty burst to thirty-five. There has been less jerking on the lines as the gusts have been replaced by steady winds. The boat has settled into her lines well so the motion on the boat is pretty normal. I was even able to take a nap.

Our plans are to leave on Sunday. The wind speeds on Saturday will still be outside of our mission rules. Sunday looks better. Besides there is a rule of thumb to let things have a day to settle down after a storm. Our next route ends at an anchorage at Hammock Bay at Camp Lajeune.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bald Head Island

No, I'm not going to make any cracks about hair challenged men. I'm instead going to talk about one of the biggest surprises of our cruises at any time - Bald Head Island in North Carolina. Holy cats, this place is beautiful! If you don't know where it is Google it right now! And if you are a boater and have not come in here for a few days instead of stopping at one of the marinas in neighboring Southport you are making a mistake. It is a resort island with all of the good stuff you expect wrapped in a quaint and picturesque setting. Laura and Ross of The Zone gave this place two enthusiastic thumbs up so I knew we had to stop here. They have very discriminating tastes. That is why they have us as friends. 'Nuff said.

BTW, apparently the name of the island comes from how inlet pilots would stand on the point at the the bay's opening to boat out to approaching ships. There was so much foot traffic on the point that it eroded all of the vegetation away, thus making it barren, thus bald.

Today is Tuesday, June 4, 2013 and it is a special day. It is Lisa's birthday and I wanted to make this special somehow for her. She is the most giving and caring person I have ever known and she deserves it. Now, if you remember when we got married back in Sarasota I was left in charge of the wedding arrangements and I exhibited my typical high class, forward thinking intellectual and romantic prowess by having our wedding cake decorated with a hula girl and a hockey player. Smooth, wasn't it? I wanted this to have the same kind of penache. For her birthday present I gave her what any wonderful woman would want, a genuine Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver. And men, if you don't buy one of these jewels for your loved one you are missing out on a romantic bonanza. Wait! What? You don't know what a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver is? Sad. Very sad.
This is a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver, the most remarkable device in the universe.

The real goal for her birthday was to get here, Bald Head Island. I was hoping that it was as nice as it is because I wanted to make this an intentional multi-day stop. And this place has all the right stuff. Lisa likes to bicycle. Check! Interesting places to see. Check! Quiet natural surroundings. Check! A place that oozes loveliness. Check! It is an actual vacation destination rather than just a marina on the way to an anchorage on the way to another marina. Game. Set. Match.
The birthday girl looking good at dinner

Bald Head Island Marina

Our first full day here, Wednesday, was spent on our bicycles exploring the island. There are no cars here except for service vehicles that come to the island on a ferry barge. Most people get around on electric carts of all shapes and sizes. There are the typical golf cart style runabouts that hold four people on up to eight passenger stretch versions. These longer ones have a wheelbase longer than our cars. While we peddle they voosh by with only the sounds of the tires on the pavement to let you know they are coming up behind you. There is a beautiful salt marsh that covers a great deal of the island. The dense foilage is a strange mix of tropical palms and hardwood trees. The beaches are wide. The homes are almost all wood with only a few masonry buildings. They are all modern construction.

We first rode to the nearby Old Baldy lighthouse that stands tall near the marina. It is no longer functional and is open to visitors for $5.00. For that you can climb the two-hundred some odd steps to an observation area. No thanks. From there we went down the main drag of the island called Federal Road that cuts straight across the island first past homes, then through a state maritime forest. There is a small "village" about half way down the road where there is a hardware store, a grocery and a few other shops. At the end of Federal Road there is a stop where the Bald Head Island Conservency is. More about that in a minute. We then took another road that took us a short distance right to the beach. It was a very breezy day and there wasn't much going on there. The waters were very rough looking but there were a few hearty souls out in it including one guy on one of those kite-boards. He was certainly getting his moneys worth. Looking at both directions there were many homes with what would be beautiful views of the ocean. Instead of going back to the marina the same way we came we took the outlying road that skirted along the coast, first going west then turning the corner at the point of the island back north to the marina. Again there were many homes but there was also what looked like a condominium complex and a country club with a pool and a golf course. Eventually we made our way back to the boat and a nap.

While we were back at the Bald Head Island Conservency we signed up for a guided tour of the environs of the island for Thursday morning at 9:00 am. We looked forward to that a lot because we anticipated that we would get to some of the more remote areas of island. This is a beautiful place and we wanted to see more of it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good Ol' Barefoot

There is something reassuring about returning to a familiar marina. When you're cruising the loop everyday is totally different. You never quite know what you are getting yourself into. Ever since we made that big left turn in Stuart and crossed our wake everything is now in our memories somewhere. We know the marina layouts, we know what the waters are like and we know the pluses and minuses of each locale.

Having been to Barefoot Marina before we knew ahead of time what to expect. The docks are first rate, the shoreside facilities are pretty good but access to things such as stores and restaurants kind of sucks. That is unless you have a car. Barefoot is a large planned resort area in Myrtle Beach, which itself is a long resort town with all of the typical kind of trashy resort stuff. There is a small facing dock marina named Barefoot Landing Marina on the east side of the ICW. It backs up to an outlet mall kind of thing and is just a basic long dock with shore power and nothing else. Barefoot Marina, where we are, is on the west side of the ICW and because of road layouts it is actually a long way from the other side of the water, even with a bridge just north of the marina. When we were here the last time Lisa and I walked to the other side and found it to be a pretty good hike to get to nothing, really. However Jim and Dale of Sweet Pea are here and they are becoming transplants. During our time here they were trying to make a deal on a home a few miles away to become official South Carolinians but with thick Massachusetts accents. They also have a car. Sweet.

It was a bright, sunny and warm day on Saturday and after a few chores on board we all went for a drive. They first took us to the house they are trying to buy and then to a small IGA market for a little provisioning. Later in the day we all went to dinner at a restaurant called Ella's in Calabash, North Carolina. Pretty good food! It was all deep fried but it came across as light and tasty. Going back to the marina we crossed the necessary bridges to go into the heart of Myrtle Beach's tourist area. I think it's Highway 17 and it goes for many, many miles. There was all the typical tourist trappings: all-you-can-eat buffets of all different cuisines, loads of grotesquely lit tourist gift mega-marts, pawn shops and bail bond offices. Jim and Dale said that it can be a pretty rowdy place.

Sunday was just as nice with the wind picking up in the afternoon ahead of front that is coming through. It was movie day. We all went to see the new Star Trek movie which was quite good. Go see it even if you are not a trekkie. Monday was a rainout. Yuk.

So our time here in Barefoot was a good one. We got to see two great friends, Jim and Dale of Sweet Pea.

Oh, and by the way, as many of our friends have pointed out there is another Nelson trawler docked at Barefoot Landing Marina. But of course it is not as nice as ours. That's because we do always have the best boat in the marina...every time!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Charleston, Georgetown and Barefoot

As I said we had high expectations about Charleston. Many of our boating friends told us to make sure and spend some time there because there is a lot to see. Our first day in Charleston was indeed very nice. The marina shuttle took us to East Bay Street and dropped us off in the heart of the historical district with its many homes, restaurants, galleries and shops. And it is a very pleasant place indeed.
Why Knot sitting pretty at Ashley Marina
We were fortunate that we were able to meet up with our friends from One September, Good Karma and Jim's Joy again and we spent some time with them during docktails and dinner. But we were unfortunate that they had already been in Charleston for four days and they left the next morning. One September was only a few days away from finishing their loop and Good Karma still had to make their way up north. I think they are putting their boat up in New York state somewhere and resuming their loop next spring. Jim's Joy calls Charleston their home port. They have been wonderful to cruise with and we hope that we will be able to cruise with them again soon.
Adios Good Karma

Adios One September

The first thing you notice is the architecture. It is job-dropping beautiful. Many of the structures are from the late 1800s with a few dotting the landscape from even before that. Its hard to put a finger on what style of buildings they are. They are not exactly colonial in design and not exactly far southern.

Its also not 'french quarter-ish". There may be a smattering of Meditteranean styling. One thing that is obvious is that Charlestonians like color as the stucco and brick buildings are all painted a variety of soft-pallet, though bright pastel colors. They glowed wonderfully in the bright and sunny May skies.

Preservation of it's past is obviously something that Charleston takes very seriously as the main part of the peninsula that Charleston occupies takes one back in time. The lack of modern building styles is conspicous. The central business district is a bit more modern but still quaint. Not having a car at our disposal prevented us from exploring the outlying areas. I would think that modern suburbia is more prevelant there.

As we walked around the main streets of the historic district, mostly on Broad and East Bay streets, there were numerous old buildings with placques that would briefly say what the building was and when it was constructed, along with a description of some historical fact. We learned that during its history Charleston has pretty much been destroyed and rebuilt several times, falling victim to either large fires, hurricanes, and of course to the Civil War. One such interesting building is the Post Office on Broad Street.

Lisa had a few letters to mail so made our way there. Inside we were treated to beautiful old architecture that has been painstakingly preserved. The woods are dark and warm with understated but large bronze flourishes...and the marble was incredible! There was even a small, one room Charleston Post Office history museum which was entertaining and interesting.

East Bay Street is the center of all things touristy. There was a six block long covered market with booths selling all kinds of knick-knacks.
Baskets must be popular as there were a half a dozen or so booths all with someone in the corner basket-weaving away at the same style of baskets as the other basket booths. There were booths selling everything from soaps, necklaces, hats, tee shirts and whatever else the vendors could come up with to sell to the tourists. There was even a foot massage booth. Now that was tempting!

Food! As I have noted in many previous posts the quality of restaurant food has varied widely on our journey. Wonderful places such as the Mel's Riverdock Restaurant in Hardin, Illinois, the restaurant at Coinjock Marina, Patty's 1880s in Kentucky and only one or two others were exceptions with their wonderfully delicious food. (Overall the best eats have been from our own galley. Lisa's cooking is amazing.) Now I must add a restaurant named SNOB, which is an abbreviation for Slightly North of Broad. We were urged by Judy of One September to stop there for a meal and to order the shrimp and grits. We did, and wow, are we glad we did. It was outstanding. It is more in a style of a jambalaya with the grits instead of rice. The varied tastes just melted in our mouths. Outstanding. Plus we had a pleasant conversation with a couple from Colorado there on vacation, Tim and Sharon. They asked us a lot of questions about our boating life and we both got the feeling the Tim was letting himself get sucked into the idea that maybe they too could do this. Sharon appeared to be intriqued.

We walked down East Bay to the end of the penisula to the battery park. There were old cannons and stacks of cannonballs but it was covered with trees making it a cool and pleasant place to rest. We decided to walk back to the marina which allowed us to take in many of the beautiful homes in the area. The conditions of the homes varied from painstaking restorations to modern updates that never strayed too far from the original styles. There were a few more run down homes that were being worked on. But all of them were filled with a southern charm that delighted us.

Among the many relics we found this. A pay phone?

Our second day in Charleston was just as interesting as the first. We got a ride on the marina shuttle over to the Charleston Maritime Center where we hopped onto a water taxi to Patriot Point, a large development that includes a large marina and an exhibit of World War 2 ships.

The first ship we visited was a post WW2 submarine called the USS Clamagor. The exterior of the sub is badly rusting away but the inside was in good condition. We had visited a sub in Mobile that had actually seen combat. Man, sub duty must have just sucked. I'm six foot tall and there is no way I could have existed on one of those things.

The second ship was a destroyer, the USS Laffey, that had seen extensive duty during the war. It was in pristine condition and was the best exhibit of the three ships. The Laffey had been bombarded, strafed and hit all kinds of ways by the Japanese but she stayed afloat. She is a bit of a legendary ship having survived an incredible beating of five or six kamikaze strikes in one battle. Oh and she took several direct hits by dive bombers. She was featured on a History Channel show which was playing as a continuous loop in a small theatre.

The big party piece is the the USS Yorktown, a WW2 aircraft carrier. As you would expect she is massive with lots of aircraft in static displays in her hanger deck and on the main launch deck. It was certainly facinating but we both got the feeling that too much of her available touring space was devoted to displays that after a while began to be a bit repititous. It was however a great exhibit.

During our time in Charleston a large city wide arts festival was going on. One of the exhibits we wanted to see was a painting exhibit devoted to the Coast Guard, but we had written that off because we could not figure out where it was. Well, it turned out that it was on the Yorktown and we bumped into it. There were two guardians there and we enjoyed talking with them.

Upon returning to the Maritime Center we hopped onto one of the free trolley buses that crisscrossed the city. On it we were able to run through the real heart of Charleston, the downtown district, and it looked as charming and interesting as everything else we had seen previously.

All in all we enjoyed out time in Charleston quite a lot. Its a great destination and we heartily recommend anyone to stop and spend some time there. But it is time to head out onto Georgetown.

Georgetown - Not much to say here other than we stopped at Georgetown Landing Marina for the night. We also took on 550 gallons of diesel fuel which added a hair over two tons of dead weight to the boat. This added weight was apparent with our reach to Barefoot Marina in South Myrtle Beach, SC. It was sloooooow. Not only did we have all that extra weight but we also managed to hit all the outgoing tides. We were only able to get over seven miles per hour a few times. Most of the time we were going at six and a half-ish. But the weather was great! The breeze was just enough to keep the bugs away, there was a 70% clound cover that kept the bright sunshine slightly obscured and it never got very hot at all. Other than that it was a routine day. One of my favorite strips on the ICW is in this stretch. I think cruising the Waccamaw River region is beautiful, with its tall thick cypress tree lined shores.

Waccamaw River
We arrived at Barefoot about 3:00 and met up with Jim and Dale McGovern of Sweet Pea. It has been a bit over a year since we have seen them and we were looking forward to this reunion. They are from Massachusetts but have sold everything off there and have transplanted to this part of South Carolina. They are funny and delightful people. Good times.

We will be staying here for a few days. The weather pattern is shifting to the typical summer thing of there always being a 30% to 40% chance of precipitation in the afternoon. After here we will make the usual stops on the way up to Chesapeake Bay with a few exceptions. We will be staying at Bald Head Island in Southport instead of in Southport itself. We are also going to drop anchor in the Camp Lajeune Basin for something different. Also, instead of slicing through North Carolina on the ICW we are going to swing out to the outer banks and visit Ocracoke and Manteo. I have things plotted out up to Norfolk, Virginia so far.