Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Quick Story – Darrell is a doofus.

We are currently tied up at Port Royal Marina at Port Royal, SC. It’s raining heavily and the wind is blowing pretty hard.

In past posts I have written that I’m a bit anal about the weather, and that there have been times that we have not left someplace because the weather predictions were in that maddening groove between acceptable and not acceptable conditions. Then, when we decide to not embark, I curse the sky and tell it, “Rain, damn it. Rain!” so that my decision to stay put is justified.

Well, as we sit here getting soaked, and the boat is being pitched about on the dock, for some reason my joking is all about us going ahead and heading out. “Let’s go! We won’t have any boats to pass. We’ll have the ICW all to ourselves. Let’s get out there!” Lisa, in all her love and understanding, sits across from me in the galley. She points out the dichotomy of my past-frustrated expressions about staying put, and now joking about going out. With tenderness in her voice, she says, “Darrell, shut the fuck up.”

Perhaps, that is exactly what I should do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Ten Day Run, part 1

Departing Barefoot Landing was a bittersweet event. On the one hand, we were back on the water, heading south, on a ten day push to get to Jacksonville, Florida. And that’s a good thing. It’s exactly where we like to be with Why Knot. That’s where she belongs.
On the other hand, we had to say good-bye to Rick and Margi. We thoroughly enjoyed the ten days that we had to spend with them. They’re lovely people and during this last summer, our activities were all measured around when we would get to North Myrtle Beach and see them again.
We also got to see Rick and Betsy of Rick and Roll. They live in Topsail, SC and had their boat tied up at Barefoot too. They came down to the marina a couple of times while we were there. Alas, their reason to be there is because they are selling their boat. They have decided that cruising up and down the coast was no longer for them. It was fun to see them also.
We didn’t spend the whole ten days sitting around the boat. There were always shopping trips to go on and restaurants to eat at, which the Grand Strand has a million to choose from.
We even took Why Knot out for a daytrip. She has a fuel capacity of 750 gallons and we wanted to make sure the tanks were full before we got down to Florida and the Bahamas. There is usually a price difference between Florida and almost anyplace up north by as much as a dollar per gallon as it is. But we found out that a marina twenty miles south of Myrtle Beach called Osprey Marina had diesel fuel at only $3.11(.9) per gallon, including taxes. That’s about as cheap as it comes, so with Rick and Margi as crew, we set out down there to fill up. We believe we are now fueled up enough to go to the islands and to piddle around Florida for most of the summer.
Our ten-day cruise plan to Jacksonville is an interesting one, mostly because it includes us anchoring out more; eight nights out of the ten. But, of course, nature has had a hand in us having to modify it greatly. The main reason is that it is just too damn windy and cold! So, for the first several nights, we are marina hopping with our first stop in Georgetown, SC, and then at the Harborage at Ashley Island marina in Charleston. The first leg down to Georgetown was uneventful, except for the windy conditions. But the second leg down to Charleston was quite interesting.
You experienced boaters can probably guess what I’m talking about, but you lubbers don’t. That leg has a reputation for having some of the shallowest waters on the entire eastern seaboard, especially around an area called Isle of Palms. And, of course, we arrived there at low tide.
The muddy shores were bare as we carefully picked our way through the narrowing channel. For most of the time, we followed two trawlers and fast moving sailboat. For most of the stretch our depth sounder rarely showed anything over seven feet under our keel, most of the time less than five, and a few times it showed the dreaded double dash lines that showed it was lower than two feet. We even bounced off the mud on a couple of occasions.
Then, with just a mile or two of the troubled stretch to go, we saw a group of four sailboats all grounded at the edges of the navigable gash in the channel. The two trawlers went first, then the sailboat, then us. We watched the two trawlers weave carefully past the bow of one particular sailboat that was stuck literally just a few feet from deeper water. The sailboat in front of us slowed to a crawl. I had Why Knot all the way back in idle speed, but we were still faster than them. Uh oh. Then, they made a slight turn to port and I saw an opening to gently glide past them and one of the stuck boats. We passed by the shoaled sailboat’s anchor with just two feet to spare, but we were in a VERY narrow strip of 10 feet of water. We got through. The sailboat that we had been following also made it through, barely. From there we motored on into Charleston.
Many boaters we know have said that that particular stretch of water has been a deal-breaker in their fervency to continue on being cruisers. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like it either. For the most part, I find the ICW to be a pretty innocuous thing. It’s like a certain road you have to drive every day that isn’t particularly in good shape, but it’s not dangerous and it gets you where you’re going…except that small strip that’s full of potholes and with pavement so rough it can break your back. You’d like to avoid it, but you can’t.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It Was a Weird Day

One of the most appropriate sayings about what the boating experience is like is this – Boating is long periods of boredom punctuating my moments of sheer terror.
Let’s face it, truth be told, sometimes this on board life is boring as hell. Routes through large bodies of water can be mind-numbingly tedious when all you have to do is select your next waypoint some twenty or thirty miles down the way, hit the auto-pilot button, and sit back and daydream. Oh, you keep your eyes focused on the water in front of you, but, like the boat, you’re on auto-pilot too.
Well, that was not the case on our cruise getting from Oriental down to Bald Head Island.
The first leg, from Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental to Casper’s Marina in Swansboro, North Carolina, was no big deal. But there were some telltale signs that things were going to get interesting. The biggest sign was the increase in U.S. Coast Guard and Navy traffic on the VHF radio. For instance, there obviously was a bevy of U.S. Navy ships out in the waters off the coast as we heard constant hails from the warships to pleasure vessels that were getting too close to their positions. Also, we heard more hails from USCG and USN patrol security boats. Then, after we passed under the railroad bridge in Beaufort, we started to see the patrol boats, several dozen of them, all flitting around Morehead City harbor and Bogue Inlet, and all of them were armed to the teeth with .50 caliber M2 machine guns, the venerable Ma Deuce killer gun. But the most troubling messages were the communications from the Coast Guard North Carolina Sector to all vessels telling us to go to channel 22A for unscheduled safety announcements which told mariners that the ICW in Camp Lejuene would be closed for long periods of time throughout the week.
After we got into Casper’s Marina that Monday afternoon, I got online and found out that we were smack dab in the middle of Operation Bold Alligator, the largest Navy and Marine maneuvers of the year. Twenty nations were participating in those games and it stretched from north of Norfolk all the way down the coast of North Carolina, and for a pleasure boater it meant one lousy thing; making any headway heading south was going to be a pain in the ass.
Our departure from Casper’s was on Tuesday and our destination was suppose to be the mooring field in Carolina Beach; a long day even with an early start. But the ICW in Lejeune was closed on Tuesday morning from 7:00 am to noon. That put a big crimp in our schedule. But at 11:00 am we undocked, went down to the northern end of the canal, and waited … along with a dozen other boats.
Exactly at noon the navy patrol boat scurried off and we all headed on down. There were two fast powerboats and they zoomed on down towards the Onslow Bridge, but the rest of us slow trawlers and sailboats all trudged along together.
The first obstacle was the notorious Brown’s Inlet detour. According to charts, a boat could just cruise on past it without a care in the world. The reality of it is that it shoals terribly and the green marker has been set way over to the red side of the channel to where a vessel has to dive way over to the red side and make a sharp turn to port to get through it. We remembered this little jaunt from before so we were prepared for it. But the other boats in our flotilla were not ready for it. We were fourth in line and the three boats in front of us were totally got caught off guard by it. They were zooming down the channel when they all of sudden got the picture and took hard turns to starboard to make it around the green buoy. There angle was bad. The first two boats squeaked by, but the third boat, the one directly in front of us, didn’t. He ran hard aground. Fortunately, the boat had a four person crew on board and two of them jumped up at the mast and rocked it back and forth until they got free. We then made it around the marker.
Lisa kept a close watch on the boats behind us and saw that they were all in worse shape. The last seven or eight boats were all sailboats and they were all bunched up together too close. The lead sailboat ran aground and the ensuing mêlée was, frankly, difficult to watch. It was a real mess.  
Okay, so we got past Mile Hammock (which was heavy with Navy and Marine shallow draft vessels of all kinds) and we had the throttle lever pushed up high. We knew that we were in a race with the sun to get to someplace safe before the it went down. But where? And we were entering that stretch of the ICW that because of all of the conflicting tides, we could be going ten miles per hour with a tide or six miles per hour against a tide. If we had one thing going for us was that weather conditions were calm and clear.
We kept pushing hour after hour but the math of the situation was clear. If we were able to get to Carolina Beach, it would be in the dark. Now, we have done some nighttime navigation and I’m not all that freaked out about it, but considering we were in the ICW, I was concerned. The thing that killed us was the damn swing bridge in Surf City. We had to wait forty-five minutes to get through. That sealed our fate. We weren’t getting to Carolina Beach at all. We had to settle for Wrightsville Beach. Lisa got on the phone and found us a marina on the back channel call Sea path Marina (a great stop, by the way.)
I believe that of all of creation there is only one thing that is 100% true all of the time – Mathematics – and the math was showing us that we would be navigating in dusk conditions or the dark for about ninety minutes. But we had no choice. We had to go on.
Remember when I said that the one thing we had going for us was calm conditions? That stayed true. There was absolutely no wind at all and we seemed to be following the high tide slack water all of the way after Surf City.
Lisa and I navigated from the fly bridge where it’s easier to see everything around us. I kept the boat on the magenta line while Lisa swept the channel with our handheld search light. I don’t want to say that it was easy, but Lisa and I made it finally down to Wrightsville Beach where we had to wait thirty minutes for the 7:00 pm opening.
I hate the bridge at Wrightsville Beach almost as much as I hate the bridge at Surf City. The currents can be horrendous and I was prepared for a nerve-racking thirty minutes of bridge dancing in the dark. But Poseidon smiled on us. We got to the bridge at high slack water with zero wind. I found a spot, put the boat in neutral, and we sat there almost totally motionless the entire time. The bridge finally opened and we made our way to the marina. They have a very long facing dock and the tie up was easy.
After all of that I sat in the salon and waited for the adrenaline to waft away. After about ten minutes, it did, and I crashed. Nevertheless, we made it safe and sound.
Our original plan was for us to get to Barefoot Landing from Carolina Beach. Instead, we are now at Bald Head Island for a few days. It’s Lisa’s absolutely favorite place. And if Lisa is happy, I’m happy.

Next stop from here – Barefoot. We’re coming Rick! We’re coming!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Seven Days

It took us seven days to get out of Chesapeake Bay.
Weather was the culprit as it whipped up two storms that swept through the area in quick succession. The first was a gale force storm that held us up in Solomons for three days. During that stay at Calvert Marina, we were fortunate to be on the south side of one of their floating piers. The wind was from the north and our lines held us off the dock about a foot and a half. It wasn’t too bad for us, but the boats on the north side of the docks got rocked pretty hard. The crews were out almost hourly as they adjusted their fenders to protect their boats.
There was one unfortunate crew of a thirty foot cruiser that made the mistake of actually going out into the bay on the first day of the storm. They limped their way into Solomons on one engine. All of us gathered on the dock and helped them get in and the crew looked beaten and bruised. After we got them tied up, the main question on everyone’s mind got asked almost immediately. “What was it like out there?” The captain of the small boat, Dofu 2, at least was honest enough to say, “It was someplace we shouldn’t have been.”
While in Solomons, we befriended a crew from Canada, Frank and Kathy of Salty Paws. They were cruising with another couple, Dave and Jackie of Tempo, also from Canada. Salty Paws was tied up with us at Calvert while Tempo was at another marina for some quick repairs. We all traveled together from Solomons to Deltaville (sort of). They went to the anchorage on Jackson Creek, the south side of Deltaville.
After Solomons, we had one good cruising day and made it into Regatta Pointe Marina in Deltaville. There we sat for only two nights, with some of our dockmates from Solomons tied in also. That storm was not as bad as the previous one, but enough that it made things rough in the bay.
We all left our moorings on that seventh day out of Chesapeake Bay and headed on into Norfolk under nearly perfect conditions. The conditions were so good that we skipped outr original destination, Hampton City Pier, and motored on down with Salty Paws and Tempo to the free dock at the mouth of the Dismal Swamp canal where we enjoyed docktails and a peaceful night.
In the morning, they all went down the Dismal Swamp. We headed on down the Virginia Cut to our destination, Coinjock. My god, the boating was sooooo slow. We first had to wait for the Steel Bridge to open, along with ten or eleven other boats. Then it took forever to get everyone into the Great Bridge Lock, out, and past Atlantic Yacht Basin. Then, for the first time ever, the railroad bridge between Great Bridge and the Centerville Bridge was down for a train. We had to wait for that. That threw the timing off to get through Centerville. Then, we had to wait for the North Landing Bridge. All in all, it took us four hours to cover 12.5 sm. Eesch.
Crossing Albermarle was a real treat, and I do mean that sarcastically. The 15 mph winds were from the southwest, and just like it always happens at Coinjock, all of the boats peeled off the docks shortly after sunup. There was, again, a line of a dozen or so boats that made their way down the North River out into the sound. The faster boats made their way easily and quickly, while us slower boats and to sludge through the two to three foot close swells until about midway through the sound. After that the wind lost some of its fetch and things calmed down enough that it was tolerable. But that first half was pretty rough. Our bell rang twice on its own.
We were going to anchor out in a large anchorage field just at the northern tip of the Pungo River, but the weather reports we were getting were beginning to sound a bit ominous. We decided instead to pull into Dowry Creek Marina and sit out a day. Overall, from Coinjock, it was an 81 sm day. That next day, s it turned out, the weather reports were wrong and we learned it was a pretty good day out there. But we committed to stay put and, actually, we’re glad we did. I was exhausted. I pretty much collapsed and slept in a lot of the day.
As I write this on November 1, 2014, we are at Whitaker Point Marina in Oriental, North Carolina, where we will once again sit out another gale force storm that is churning its way into the area. Here, we’ve made some new friends already; Larry and Sue of K’ten, from Troy, New York…or Connecticut…or Delaware. They’re like us in that they have several properties in different states and declare their residency to suit their needs.
And low and behold, Salty Paws and Tempo have made their way in here also.  

So what of the future? Well, starting on Monday, it looks like we are going to have some very good boating conditions. The winds are going to pretty much lay down, and with us entering the heart of the ICW, we expect to get into Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach by the end of the week. After a few days there, we will continue on down to Jacksonville where we are still thinking we will have to head back to St. Louis and Denver for a short stay each.