Friday, September 27, 2013

Our Gateway City Get-Away

Ah, St. Louis: the Gateway to the West, Mound City, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues, (Notice I did not include the St. Louis Rams. We don't like them right now.) gooey butter cake, Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard, St. Louis style pizza, Ray's Donuts, and our home in the beautiful suburb of Brentwood. It is good to be back.

Our drive from North Myrtle Beach was an interesting one. We picked up our one-way Enterprise rental car from the new international airport in Myrtle Beach, driven there by Dale of Sweet Pea during a very busy day for her and Jim. They are transplanted Massachusettsans having just recently bought a house a short distance from Barefoot Marina. As a matter of fact they are still living on the boat as they are having work done to their new home.

The car was bigger than usual one for us. Normally we would rent a compact car or crossover but the last couple of time that we've rented a car like that we have been dissappointed by how uncomfortable they have been. We are not youngsters anymore and our backs would usually scream bloody murder pretty quickly. I pleaded the case for renting something a bit more large in the hopes it would be a bit more comfortable. When we went to the lot to pick up our car the lot attendant asked us if we wanted free upgrade to a larger SUV, a GMC Acadia with all the bells and whistles, a leather interior with bigger seats. It looked nice and we made the switch. The comfort was only marginally better. My situation wasn't as bad as usual. Lisa was still pretty uncomfortable. We were both looking forward to our own cars, mine being an old Ford Focus station wagon beater, hers a Dodge pick up truck. We also have a Mazda RX-8 for kicks.

We were warned that driving to or from the Myrtle Beach area was a classic example of the "you can't get there from here" adage. Interstate 95 runs north-south past the area but is out west of the Grand Strand a good bit. Interstate 26, the first of several interstate highways that we would be on terminates at I-95 so there were quite a few smaller state highways to navigate. It seemed like it took forever to finally get onto a decent highway. But we did and that initial delay, plus rain much of the way, made for a slow first day. We finally pulled into a hotel in Clarksville, Tennessee for the night. The second day's travel was on familiar turf with beautiful blue skies after an initial bout of fog. The highways from Myrtle Beach made their way to Nashville from which we would travel on a familiar set of interstate highways on into St. Louis. They were familiar to us from our drives to and from Florida. But we had a very enjoyable stop to make first.

One of the interstate highway legs is on I-25 which runs from Nashville to the middle of southern Illinois. It runs past Kentucky and Barkley Lake on its way to Paducah, as well as Green Turtle Bay Marina, the oasis stop-over for loopers who have just finished the run down the Mississippi River from north of St. Louis. We knew that our friends Rick and Margi of Journey, along with the boats that have been looping with, were probably in the area somewhere. While we were about twenty miles east of the area we dropped them a quick text message asking them where they were. The response was almost immediate and it was the answer we wanted to see. They were at Green Turtle Bay. We soon found ourselves pulling into the marina parking lot reveling in seeing our friends once again. They filled us in on their adventure on the Mississippi which actually sounded somewhat mundane. Running up the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers sounded a bit more challenging but they were very happy with their progress and circumstances. As it was still pretty early we all went to breakfast together catching up with them and all their adventures. It was so good to see them again. We also met the crews of the other two boats they were travelling with.

Seeing them with their looping flotilla companions made us remember that we were utterly alone on the entire leg from St. Charles, Missouri all the way down to Dog River Marina at Mobile, Alabama. The only other loopers we came in contact with were Steve and John of Memsahib while we were at Kingfisher Marina at Demopolis, Alabama and that was only for a day as we were ready to move on and they were staying there for a while with engine problems. We did a lot of our loop by ourselves. The only real exceptions was through the first half of the Erie Canal, the first half of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a bit of Lake Michigan, the Illinois River, the panhandle of Florida and the crossing. We would have liked to have had the comraderie that comes with boating with others. But we always put the best face on things, and frankly, Lisa is a wonderful companion in every way and we always have fun together. We did just fine.

Soon our reunion had to give way to the reality that we had to move on. We left Green Turtle Bay back onto the interstate highways that took us to our home in St. Louis. Everything is as we left it. We will be here for a week before we head off to Denver for a few weeks. We will then fly back to St. Louis for a tad before getting back into another one-way rental car to head back to North Myrtle Beach.

One more thing...Go Cards!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Reach To Myrtle Beach

As I said we like Whitaker Pointe a lot. And this time our stay there was enhanced by making some new friends. Rex and Dixie of the cat sailboat Wonderland were tied up to the facing dock next to our slip and we had fun getting to know them. Their boat is wiiiiiiiide, like twenty-four feet wide. Its a beautiful boat and they are experienced cruisers. After a fun evening of docktails they left the same time as us on a clear but breezy Sunday morning. They headed to the anchorage at Beaufort, NC as we pulled into Morehead City Yacht Basin. They were looking to head on further south going outside with freshening winds from the north and northeast. We were looking to stay at the marina for a day or two for the same reason.

I have often written about the consternation I feel when weather forecasts are on the borderline. I hate that feeling of indecisiveness when the forecast sits smack dab on top of the upper limits of our mission rules. Sometimes we lose a perfectly good cruising day. Other times all hell breaks loose or at least things turn out to be unpleasant. This was one of those times. Monday would have been a perfect day with calm winds and sunny skies. But the next forty-eight hours after that didn't  look too good. Pre-sunrise on Monday I was hemming and hawing terribly about whether to go or not. The problem was that the next two nights we would be anchoring out, at Mile Hammock and Wrightsville Beach and I wasn't liking what I was seeing for those two days and nights. But a good day is a good day. Lisa, in her infinite wisdom, saw my conflict and she finally said the word that I needed to hear, "NO!" That was it. Our rule is that one NO vote always wins. We didn't go. I was content. Oh, and by the way...a surprise thunderstorm ripped through the area Monday afternoon. Ah, sweet vindication. And the winds grew extremely strong overnight into Tuesday morning and persisted the entire day.

Wednesday was a different story, sort of. The overall forecast for Wednesday through Saturday presented a perfect window to make the four day reach to Myrtle Beach, our stopping point for us to make our shore leave back to St. Louis. But the problem early on was that the winds were from the west-northwest which pinned us to the long facing dock we were tied up to. There was another trawler close on our bow and we could not see a way off. That was a bummer! Were we to lose another decent day? Nope. About 10:30 am the winds shifted over to the northeast. We scrambled to disconnect from the dock and the winds gently pushed us straight off the dock and off we went.

We pulled into Mile Hammock, a deserted man-made bay off of the ICW at the southern edge of Camp Lejeune, the giant US Marine base that occupies a big chunk of the real estate in that area. During our trip there we saw crazy looking tilt-wing aircraft flying just to the north of us (Our direction was generally to the west.) and dropping paratroopers out. That was different. And after sundown after we anchored we were pretty much constantly being buzzed by Marine helicopters on night maneuvers. Of course we were already in bed trying to go to sleep. Damn noisy neighbors. Mile Hammock is a very popular anchorage for the boats making their way north in the spring and south in the fall as it is big, well protected and with room for a lot of boats. But we are ahead of the southbound set so there was only one other boat on the hook there.

In the morning we pulled the anchor up and headed out at the same time as the other boat, September Song with Bob and Stephanie on board. We ended up buddy boating with them all the way to their destination, Wrightsville Beach. This was to be our destination also but early in the morning I had an epiphany. That was that if we went another twelve miles further to Carolina Beach, to a mooring field in Myrtle Cove to be exact, we could make it to Barefoot Landing at North Myrtle Beach from there in one long-ish day on Friday. September Song seemed like a nice couple of people. The captain had a pretty good sense of humor and it was an enjoyable day with them. Their final destination for the winter is Fisherman's Village Yacht Basin in Punta Gorda, Florida. We will try to find them when we pass that way on our way to Tarpon Springs. So on Friday, September 9, we untied from the mooring ball in Myrtle Cove and started on our sixty mile reach down to Myrtle Beach. All was well. The conditions were good and the boating very uneventful and we are now at Barefoot Marina. It is from here that we will start our fall shore leave back to St. Louis and Denver.

We have been to Barefoot Landing marina before and we feel very secure about leaving the boat there. One thing that will be different about it this time is that after we leave to head back to St. Louis the boat will be getting a new bottom job. For you lubbers that is a new paint job. The boat hasn't been hauled out of the water in a year and there hasn't been an inspection of the bottom since then. We did hire a diver in Annapolis to give the bottom a quick cleaning and he told us that everything looked fine except the anti-fouling paint had warn off and needed to be redone. (Again, for the lubber readers...anti-fouling paint prevents algae and other critters from growing on the hull.) We have contracted with a local boat maintenance guy that Barefoot Marina recommended and instead of us driving the boat to the boatyard to be hauled out he is going to have a captain come and get the boat from the marina, take it to the yard and return it after the work is done. This fits into our plans better. While we are here we get to get together with Jim and Dale of Sweet Pea again, always a delight.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Washington, NC and Back Again to Whitaker Pointe

After anchoring in Pungo Creek which is near Belhaven, North Carolina, we went on down the Pungo River and turned west heading up the Pamlico River thirty miles to Washington, North Carolina. This side trip was my idea as I read some interesting comments about it as a boating destination. It was a good idea.

Washington is a town that dates back to near the revolutionary war. It was considered of strategic importance to the British because the area is surrounded by tall pine trees that were needed for ship's masts. Tar could also easily be extracted from the environs which was also important to naval vessels. The location of the city is interesting in that it's location is kind of a crossroads of sorts. Down river from the town is the wide and easily navigable Pamlico River, but up river it becomes the narrower and less navigable Tar River. But enough history.

Washington seems like a great town and a very worthy destination for cruising boaters that are looking for someplace to tie up some lines for a bit. Again, it being thirty miles up river you basically have to plan on a day's cruise both ways. The course through the main part of the river is wide with plenty of water. Up closer the well-marked channel gets a bit more shallow but its not a big deal. There is a railroad swing bridge near the town that only is operated from 7:30 am to 10:30 am. Otherwise it is open. The town's basin is very deep and the town's municipal marina has mostly long tee head docks for transient boaters. (There are slips but they are only big enough for day boats.) And you have a choice whether you stay at a dock with power for $1.25 per foot (electrical included) or at free tee docks for zip for forty-eight hours. (First come first serve. $.75 per foot after that. No electricity.) The town is well equipped to and eager to cater to boater's needs. There is a West Marine about five blocks from the marina and there are shopping centers, including a Walmart Supercenter, about a mile away.

Downtown is interesting. While it does have some vacant properties it is by no means tired or rundown. We somewhat jokingly said as we approached the town, "Hey! Look! People! Cars! Activity!" Yep, there was a buzz about the place. The shoreline has a very long, well-lit and new-ish grand sidewalk where people were actually congregating and milling around. There are quite a few very nice restaurants both downtown and down at the south end of the shoreline. There is an interesting museum called the North Carolina Estuarium. There are things to see and do. It presented itself very well.

The only problem for us is that we did not get to enjoy it for very long. Unfortunately we spent only one full day there as the weather was due for a change shortly and we felt we had to get going. And more unfortunately, the day we were there we had to do some hefty maintenance. During our anchorage on Pungo Creek the evening before making the trip to Washington, we discovered that some gucky mud from another previous anchorage got into the workings of our windlass which froze the wildcat clutch plates. This meant that the anchor could not be lowered by the normal method of releasing the clutch and letting the anchor drop. I had to let the chain out by hand. On top of that the mud in Pungo Creek was so gooey that it caused the chain to actually slip out of the wildcat's teeth making for a difficult time getting the chain and anchor to rise. I had to let out all of the anchor, tear the windlass apart, clean and re-raise all of the chain cleaning it as it came back up.

Even with this workload we did get to walk around the town and see that good things are happening in Washington. We did go out to eat a couple of times and the food was good. We ate at an Italian restaurant called La Bella's and had a tasty calzone that was the size of a small car. We also had dinner at a restaurant called Grub's. Grub's was a surprisingly upscale eatery with a very interesting menu that would, if we stayed there longer, justify a second or even third trip. And as I said there were several other interesting looking eateries mostly on the southern end of the walkway. There were also several shops (jewelry, crafts, artwork) that Lisa did get to hop around to.

We would like to return to Washington someday. When looking at the city's website it is obvious that the height of the season is Memorial Day to Labor Day. They have concerts and fairs and they're obviously making an effort to be attractive to boaters and lubbers alike. In summation I guess I would say that we definitely had our whistles whetted. We would like to see more.

As already mentioned Washington is off the beaten path. Our cruise leaving Washington was very long. It was sixty-four miles to Whitaker Pointe Marina near Oriental. But that was ok with us. If you have kept up with this blog from the beginning you would have already read about our fondness for this marina. It is, in our opinion, the very nicest marina on the entire coast. The docks are fantastic with big roomy slips, wide fairways, a wonderful world class clubhouse, a pool and a loaner car to get into Oriental. Oh, and the rates are low. We love it here. Lisa joked that it's too bad this marina isn't another two or three-hundred miles further south because we could easily call it home. I agree. And darn the luck! The winds picked up for a few days so we just have to stay here for a bit. What a coincidence.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Southward Bound

After leaving Yorktown we made our way once again to Hampton Public Pier Marina in Hampton. You know how you when you are moving on the water or road and you are in the vicinity of someone that maybe "we'll pass you somewhere?" Well we did. Rick and Betsy of Rick and Roll were leaving that same marina as we were approaching it. We literally passed them somewhere, that being there. The main purpose of stopping at Hampton was to do laundry and to jig the head to make it flush more readily. Mission accomplished on both counts.

In heading south out of Norfolk we had this bold plan to high-tail it all the way down to Coinjock Marina, about sixty miles south. We left technically before sunrise and as we entered the Elizabeth River, aka Norfolk Harbor, we could see most of the familiar landmarks of this area: Norfolk's skyline, the distant shore, and the seemingly endless line of US Navy warships at the Navy base. And it is hard to not miss them, too. There were four aircraft carriers sitting there as well as frigates, hospital ships, destroyers and various other battle monsters. But the distant horizon was hazy. The landmarks started to dissappear. Norfolk's skyline just vanished as a thick blanket of fog started to roll in from the west and south. Soon the monsterous aircraft carriers that were big as day and not too far from us vanished too. The western end of the harbor became non-existent to our eyes. We could see the wall of the fog approaching us. We decided the safe thing to do would be to head back to Hampton marina and wait an hour or two for the fog to burn off. So much for our bold plan to get to Coinjock. On top of that the trip down through Norfolk was dreadfully slow. For the first time that we've transited the harbor we had to wait for two of the lift railroad bridges. Time was getting eaten up. Then as if a punctuation mark on everything one of the last drawbridges that had to be transited, The Dominion or "Steel" Bridge, was slow on opening because of heavy traffic on the roadway backed up by the construction of it's replacement fixed bridge. We limped into Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge around 2:00 in the afternoon. So, including going back to the marina because of the fog it took us eight hours to cover twenty miles. That just plain sucked.

After Great Bridge we went to a few of the usual stops along the way, Coinjock (Yes, I had the prime rib.) and Alligator River Marina. Crossing Albemarle Sound was a bit roll-y but very manageable. After leaving Alligator River Marina, cruising down the Alligator River and a very long canal that connects it with the Pungo River our anchorage for the night was at a very accommodating anchorage on Pungo Creek, near Belhaven. Lots of room, plenty of depth and decent protection from the sort-of stiff southeastern winds that came up in the late afternoon and early evening. Very nice place to stop.

Next stop...Washington, North Carolina.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Summer 2013 - It Was Very Good Indeed

We spent last summer, the summer of 2012, in Canada as we were en-route on our Great Loop adventure. Cruising through Canada (and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, I might add) was an experience that was unparalleled in either of our lives. It was magical. Beautiful landscapes, waterways and towns, all mixed together with the wonderful people of our special sovereign friend to the north made it a time of wonder and happiness. Plus, to make it even better, we spent much of that time with our friends, all cruising through the Trent-Severn, Georgian Bay, the North Channel and Lake Michigan. Wow. It was great.

But we completed our Great Loop and we had to pick new destinations and new horizons to cruise to. What was that going to be like? A big motivation for us was that we wanted to change our modus operandi from a busy boat on a mission to a more laid-back crew looking for nice places to drop a hook or to tie up to a piling and settle back and enjoy the downtime. We wanted to be more recreational. But there was a slight concern. Would this new way of boating going to be boring in comparison to the majesty of last year? Would this more pedestrian lifestyle pale in comparison to the constant onward momentum of looping over the top of the loop? Would the summer of 2013 be as awesome as the summer of 2012?

Well, certainly it was. But it was different.

Let me recap.

Memorial Day, the beginning of summer, saw us in Charleston, South Carolina, and we both fell in love with this town. We got to do a lot of sight-seeing and the charms of this place are numerous and glowing.

Myrtle Beach - We just kind of hung out at Barefoot Marina with our friends Jim and Dale of Sweet Pea. Relaxation molecules (They do exist, you know!) permeated our flesh as we enjoyed the company of these fun people.

Bald Head Island - A special destination for a special event, Lisa's birthday. Laura of The Zone turned us on to it. Why this place is not a regular stop for every crew and boat from every state in America is beyond me, besides the fact it is, you know, on the eastern seaboard and getting there could be a pain for a boat from, let's say, California, Oregon, Washington or Wyoming. It is a must-see. Go there. GO THERE!

The Outer Banks, Ocracoke and Manteo - Ok, admit it. You would like to boat there but you're afraid of the big, bad Pamlico Sound. Well, so were we. But we sucked it up, threw away our calendar and nit-picked the weather forecasts to get us up the sound stopping at Ocracoke and Manteo without breaking a sweat...sort of. It is worth the effort.

Hampton, at Hampton Roads Public Pier - Sometimes ya' gotta dig for those little hidden gems. Great place.

Fort Monroe, Hampton – Ya say ya want a house with a strong security? How about a home in a fort with a mote? They are available at Fort Monroe. Best. Houses. Ever.

A month in Annapolis - Ok, now I'm getting all misty eyed here. We spent a month at Annapolis Landing Marina and it was terrific! Annapolis was already one of our favorite places and getting to spend mid-July to mid-August there was great. Plus we got to hang with our friends Ross and Laura. Son#2 Kevin came and spent a week with us. We went on several day cruises, did the whole tourist stuff and we even went sailing. Kevin now gets to brag that he actually sailed a boat on Chesapeake Bay. Of special note were the early mornings that we would all hang out on the sundeck. How did Kevin like it? Near the time that he went home he told me, "Dad, this is a pretty good way to live." Yes it is, Kevin. Yes it is.

The eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay - Remembering what I said in a recent post, there were definitely some disappointments on the east shore. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot. The anchorage at San Domingo Creek, otherwise known as the back door to St. Michaels is, we think, our favorite anchorage of all, or least in the top three. St. Michaels was very good. Go the the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Onancock was cool. Tangier Island was fun. Special props to Capt. Mark Crockett of the Joyce Marie II.

Spending part of the day with Brooke and Susan in Deltaville.

Yorktown - Labor Day weekend. With a way-cool waterfront and overflowing with history, this great place did not disappoint.

And, actually, we have to say that being part of the flotilla with Sareanna, Good Karma and One September before Memorial Day was a helluva lot fun, too.

Oh, and by the way, the weather was very comfortable and the bugs were seemingly all on duty somewhere other than where we were.

So, according to the unofficial American calendar of seasons, with the advent of Labor Day summer is over. Now we all know that this is only a technicality. We boaters can be in summer conditions all of the time if we want. And we do. September will see us heading south towards warmer climes.

Perpetual summer. What a concept!

It was a great summer. A great summer.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yorktown - Damn Colonials!

From Onancock we went to Deltaville for two nights, staying at Dozier's Regatta Pointe Marina. This is one of the regular stops for an awful lot of cruisers for a couple of good reasons. First, this first class marina is stratigically located on the route pretty much inbetween Norfolk and The Solomons, and in our case about equi-distant from Onancock and Yorktown, where we would be spending Labor Day. The second is that Deltaville, while not a vibrant swingin' burg is a good stop for provisioning and equiping. Those are a couple of activities we needed to get involved in. Regatta Pointe has some loaner cars to use to head into to town to make the stops at auto parts stores, a hardware store, grocery store and a West Marine. But we had a better idea.

Waaaay back in our initial ascent of the east coast last year, waaaay back in Georgetown, South Carolina we met Brooke and Susan of Liquid Therapy. The are a lovely couple and they are from Deltaville. They are regular readers of this blog and stayed in contact with us so that when we were in town this time around we got together for lunch, and they kindly acted as our chauffers to the grocery store, hardware store and auto parts store. The restuarant that we went to was not too far from the marina as the crow flies, just further up the Rappahancok River on the other side of the highway bridge that crosses it, but a bit of a drive by car. The road leaving Deltaville does not directly intersect with the highway crossing the bridge so we got to see a bit of the countryside. After a pleasant time with them we hunkered down for the night.

The weather for our cruise to Yorktown was ideal. Seriously. I mean that. It really was. The National Weather Service called for almost calm winds and the subdued seas that go along with it. And that is what we got. There was only a hint of a swell the entire way. The marina for our stay is called Riverwalk Landing Marina right on the waterfront of Yorktown. Susan, the dockmaster, along with some the help of some York county workers got us in and tied up very nicely. The current on the York River is very fast and we fortunately got to the marina a tad bit after low tide so the current was slack. The docks are humongous floating concrete piers. Susan is a former Coastie and she certainly knew what the hell she was doing.

Our initial impressions of Yorktown were positive. The little downtown area is very new with lots of restaurants and shops. There is a public beach right there and there were a lot of people milling about, having lunch or swimming. Our hopes were high. Were we going to be disappointed, falling victim to such a nice initial impression and expectation? Nay, we were not disappointed with Yorktown. Yorktown is a winner to us.

While there are things to do and see in downtown Yorktown the main attraction is the Yorktown battlefield operated by the National Park Service. A free trolley encircles all of Yorktown and the battlefield and all you have to do is jump on at one of the many stops along the route. (They are well marked.) After being dropped off at the battlefield visistors center you can instantly see where most of the battle emplacements are. But the best thing to do is to go inside and pay the $7 per person fee and take a forty-five minute guided tour of the place after watching a short video about the battle. Park Ranger Dan was our guide and he was not only informative and engaging but funny as hell. Lets just say he gave an interesting slant on not only the battle but how history has framed this battle. For instance, shortly before the battle Lord Cornwallis withdrew British troops from forward redoubts leaving them to be walked into by Continental and French forces helping them gain a protected forward position and a decided advantage. Why did he do that? No where in history does Cornwallis ever disclose why he did that. This was just one of several huge blunders made by Cornwallis ever since he set foot on colonial soil. Ranger Dan connected those dots brilliantly. He also showed that the good guy's success at Yorktown was helped by an unusual mix of luck and happinstance. The good guys brought big, long range artillery. The British had mostly lightweight short range field guns. The colonials correctly surmised that the Battle of Yorktown would be an artillery battle and rained thousands upon thousands of rounds of big, fat ol' cannonballs on the British position. The British basically had pop-guns. Also, Cornwallis had given the command to evacuate his troops over the York River a short distances to Gloucester Point. This was a failure. First, most of his flotilla of ships were either destroyed in the battle, scuttled or otherwise unusable. All the British had were rowboats. So an order to evacuate using rowboats was issued. Good plan except for the freak storm that flared up and sank most of the rowboats. After nine days Cornwallis surrendered.

Anyway, I don't mean to get all history-ish on you here. But this is an area very steeped in history.

The only downside, and I mean the only thing, is that the current can be a bit tricky if you arrive by boat. Call the dockmaster before hand to see when the best time to arrive might be on the day you want to get there.

We liked Yorktown. So will you.