Saturday, November 5, 2016

Putting Away Those North Carolina Bridges

It may seem repetitive to nonsailors, but we are preoccupied with those bridges on the ICW. The air draft under a bridge can be influenced by tides and/or winds, full moons and the wake of other boats. Just because Catalina has promoted our model with a 63'10" mast as Intercoastal friendly doesn't mean it is. The Army Core of Engineers never dreamt we would all crave bigger, taller vessels when they set that 65' standard. Time and settling have reduced some bridges, like the one we pass under tomorrow, to 64' in the best of circumstances. Now there is also the excess rainwater backlog from Hurricane Matthew that is flowing out to sea to add to our planning. 

We pushed really hard to get to River Dunes in North Carolina so we took two days to rest. It was a nice visit with other travelers and a pair of 80 degree days to renew our spirits. The restaurant offered a simple but delicious mariners supper for $15 that we didn't pass up. It gave us a chance to network and relax in their stunning clubhouse. 

When we did leave, we timed our late day departure to manage Core Creek Bridge just before Beaufort. We love this town and Beaufort Grocery and Blue Moon Bistro restaurants so the fact we stayed four days to stage for the next bridge was not a hardship for us! We took a ferry ride over to Shakleford Bank for the afternoon to do some shelling and enjoy the last day over 80 degrees with all the sunshine you'd expect on the Crystal Coast. Since the hurricane, the wild horses have been hiding and sure enough, we did not see any here or on Carrot Island either. Our souvenir from this stop is new custom sheets for the forward cabin compliments of Beaufort Linen Company on Main Street- beautiful and highly recommended. The shop is as adorable as the couple, Christina and Richie, who own it. 

Today we played the tides under the Atlantic Bridge just after we left Beaufort. A 7:30 departure took us under it at low tide, all we needed. It felt strange to be tied up at Dudley's Marina in Swansboro by eleven, and tied up in 15-20 knot winds, but it's all about the staging for tomorrow and not feeling beaten up by long days. Our only real stress today was the flotilla of small fishing boats in the channel and under the Emerald Isle Bridge. They are anchored and do not move, like we are able to maneuver a sailboat quickly! Caution if you travel this way (mm 226) on the weekends. 

For those of you monitoring hurricane damage, or for those of you who dislike Brown and Bear Inlets, we can share that all markers are back on station. We are leaving here at a reasonable hour to take those at high tide and still approach the U. S. Highway 210 Bridge, (milemarker 252.3, and just 64') at mid tide falling. We invested in large water jugs to fill and swing from a halyard off the bow in addition to all of our other tricks to lean Promise just a few more degrees. Fingers crossed, sailors. We are off to Harbor Village and then Wrightsville Beach for two days. The weather keeps holding though it's chilly, and setting clocks back tonight buys us an extra hour of daylight to keep on checking off those bridges each day. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

You Can't Beat Mother Nature, Or a Hurricane Named Matthew

We had been waiting fifteen months to make this trip; we made our arrangements and kissed the kids good bye, but we were not in charge this fall. Our departure date was originally September 15th.. This would be a leisurely trip south in the beauty and warmth of the Chesapeake in fall. Then some personal business forced us to postpone until the last week of September. What's a few days, we thought. Finally, on September 24, we loaded up the boat for an early departure. We sent our son Matt, who'd acted as delivery captain, back to Lewes with our vehicle, in a drizzle. After all, we have experience, we are fearless, and a little rain does not dissuade us, we are sailors. Yes, we had been watching the development of Matthew, losing sleep over a tropical depression like the weather junkies that we've become, believing it would not affect us. It would breeze by the coast and we could move on down the Chesapeake Bay.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our big 2016 adventure: the floorboards over the batteries grew warm late at night before departing, a sure sign of batteries boiling over. Despite having the batteries load tested just weeks before, we opted not to cast off on Wednesday morning and to order new batteries be installed. Observed: white knights from Gratitude Marina who responded to an early morning call from Captain Rick and marvel that new batteries were installed by 3PM that very day. Surely we will cast off in the morning we thought, we have lots of time to enjoy the Bay. We thought we would just refresh our weather information, check a few sources and chat with the dock master. Since it was now raining steady and blowing a good 15-25 knots, we buttoned up for the night. Our son called and offered to rescue us on Wednesday, we declined.

Thursday dawned following a windy night, with Matthew exploding into a CAT 5 hurricane. It was howling and raining fierce. We thought perhaps it was wise to stay put and wait and see. Again our son called with a lifeline and we said, not us, not ready to quit.

By Friday the path of Matthew looked like it would move up the coast to the Chesapeake, the exact point where it would come ashore was still up for discussion, after all, Matthew had yet to reach the Bahamas. We did not leave the slip again that day. Instead we studied our options and the local forecasts. Could we make River Dune/Grace Harbor in Oriental, NC, in time to be safe from a hurricane? No, we didn't want to be rescued on Friday.

By Saturday morning, it was growing clear that devastation would hit one of our destinations, either Florida, Charleston, Hilton Head, or maybe even our home port in Maryland, it was yet to be determined which one. Enter Prudence and Disappointment and then that phone call to our son. Yes, please come get us. We off loaded the food and a banjo, little else because we would return in a few days. At the end of four rainy days, it was great to see Matt and his friend Lee, but  it would make saying good-bye again harder in a few days.

Not to worry, a few days turned into four weeks as we watched Matthew saunter up the coast, leaving a year's worth of rain and destruction in his path. The Upper Chesapeake was spared but many of the marinas we use in the Carolinas and Georgia suffered damage that will impact our travel. Indeed, the water inland had put a pause on our departure, it all had to get out to sea before we can get under bridges. The Great Dismal Swamp is now closed until spring. More waiting followed, but we were grateful to be safe and sad for those affected.

We have learned that joy and sorrow are both short lived and so on Monday, October 24, yes, October 24, we cast off with beautiful skies and wind at our back, having waited until there were better reports down south and a local weather window presented itself.  In short order we've put Solomon's Island, MD, Deltaville, VA, and Portsmouth, VA, behind us. Winds have been brisk and we are traveling about 50 miles a day in a pack of a dozen or more boats each day. Marina reservations are hard to get because there are so  many boats pent up ready to move south. On Thursday we entered the Intercoastal Water Way and began the 1300 mile journey to Miami. We anticipated storm debris in the waterway but that wasn't a  problem. Taking the Virginia Cut was our only option. It was a bit wild getting into Coinjock marina and we were just about the last in for the night.

Recent reports are that water levels are about back to normal and so far, so good. We have tickled a few bridges that read 64' with our antenna, but today we did the same at the Coinjock Bridge at 65' (?). Today we docked early at Alligator River Marina and have staged for a fifty mile run to Bellhaven and Dowry Creek Marina. The day will involve two bridges that have settled to 64 feet so we will celebrate when we get under the last one!

Where are our photos, you ask? Our waters have been too rough and rolly-polly for photography but the trip is not over yet.

Things to celebrate: we reconnected with Bill and Jeanie on Nemo our second day out, friends from 2011. In Portsmouth ran into the folks from Bolero who we will see again in Miami. We are traveling with Baltimore/Miami friends Jack and Jackie on Serenity, if just by email this week.

And it is not lost on us how fortunate we are to be able to cruise like this and that our friends and family were concerned about us before and after Hurricane Matthew. Things happen for a reason, including battery failure. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Mile Marker Zero: The Push for Home.

The weather in the beginning of our trip was noteworthy, absolutely gorgeous and tides were favorable for each day's run. We made five runs on the ocean, enough to convince us we are fairly done with the Intercoastal Waterway. I credit my Captain for careful planning around the natural factors to insure good passages. We passed through Georgia and South Carolina at a steady pace, no days off. It grew cooler (can't say cold) each day and we were wishing the sun rose earlier to allow for longer runs. The weather was also a bit threatening, building to foggy and windy the time we reached the South Carolina border.

It's a tough decision to make but we opted out of Charleston again this year. Pulling in there meant staying many days, it's so hard to leave Charleston. But staying just south of the city at St. John's Marina and leaving at first light allows us to make the first morning bridge in Elliot's Cut, cross the Charleston inlet at "high enough" tide to pass through Isle of Palms and all of the shoaling that follows. The weather was really lousy but we cleared Mc Clellanville and made Georgetown on a Sunday night after hours. The boat ahead of us caught our lines and we had a safe but rainy rest for the night, no restaurant or tour of town.

Methodically we trudged through the ICW up to North Carolina. Our final day involved a half light departure from St. James Marina in order to run the Cape Fear River at the closest we could come to Slack tide. Once back in the ICW the currents reversed to we we slowed down considerably. Arriving at Seapath Path Yacht Club mid afternoon was exciting for many reasons. Overconfident we had our slip in sight in this small creek, we ran aground, just as the Dockmaster radioed us to watch the shoaling in the middle. Sailors take note, the deeper water is practically in the marsh grass on the south side so hug the greens on your approach. Once secure we turned our attention to a week on land. We had a rode trip to Washington DC on our calendar and we were thrilled to have made our deadline and tied up in a safe, familiar marina.

Another bonus to our locations was getting a rental car and connecting over dinner with a NJ friend, Sharon and her delightful husband Bert. It was just the social boost we needed. Before heading north we visited Fran's Sewing Circle, owned by the sister of my oldest friend. You guessed it, Fran and staff helped me plan and cut a quilt, to be known as my North Carolina Beach House quilt. Great shop, great friends, great town. Once on our list for possible retirement homes, Willmington/Wrightsville Beach lost out because we don't like to sail the sounds.

We enjoyed our family for a brief twenty four hours, more planning and driving than time for hugs with the kids, and made our way back on April 20th. We took a lunch break in Richmond at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit of flower paintings that ended with works by Monet, Manet, and Van Gooh. Never let it be said that my captain sits still or that he passes up an opportunity.

It rained a good deal the week we were on land and the winds picked up, kicking up the ocean again. We could not see it laying down any time soon so we scratched a run to Beaufort by ocean and split the distance by stopping in Swansborro. We made Beaufort by eleven A.M. and did not hit the Atlantic Beach Bridge for the first time in six trips. We thoroughly enjoyed town but missed dinner at the Beaufort  Grocery as there was a private party taking place. It seems to be Wine Festival season, we are bumping into it everywhere. We made the usual runs to River Dunes, Dowry Creek (clinked at Wilkerson) and Coinjock, fighting weather and winds on the Albamarle up to 26 knots. Curritick Sound was slightly better. There was lots of relief to pull into Norfolk for what we thought would be five safe days during a nor'easter, and we planned our stay with lots of anticipation. However, the Dockmaster informed us we couldn't stay that long as he had a Looper Rendezvous booked there all weekend. Really?

So, after studying the weather all evening, we made the decision to move on to Cape Charles while we could, Saturday having predicted winds of 35 knots. Make way while you can folks, right? We connected with Bruce and Jeannie on Main Break at their new marina, laughed until dark, and bid them good-bye as we elected to cast off at high tide, seven A.M. for Deltaville. Here we are waiting for the end of this ugly (but not as ugly as predicted) storm, it's Solomoms Island on Sunday, Monday its dinner with Paul and Anita in Annapolis,  and Tuesday we will be back in Rock Hall.

We left Miami on March 30 and had four weather days and a week off for a family event. If we dock at home on May 5 as planned, the trip will have taken 28 days of travel, only two of which did we sail. We were a few weeks ahead of the snowbird pack, running with mostly delivery captains. The weather was colder than we enjoy as we got north and it is crab pot season now. But, when it's time to leave, we never dally around, we make for home and don't look back, forget the "journey" philosophy we usually embrace. Still we enjoyed each day of our return trip and we had no mechanical trouble, no caught-in-a-storm moment, just a successful 1300 mile run dotted with a few visits with friends along the way. Time to focus on Delaware Beaches and the grandkids, enjoy spring sailing on the Chesapeake and plan the next trip.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Homeward Bound

Some have asked what we did all winter, and now it's time to leave Miami. Well, we think we have become true Grove-ites, immersed in everyday life with a simple routine. Rick played his banjo(s), I quilted, and we drove to destinations like Key West, Sanibel and Key Largo. Good friends Bill and Laurel were in Florida for two month just an hour south so we saw them a few times. We became members of Fairchild Gardens and enjoyed photography of the new Chihuly installation. And then there were endless boat shows, festivals, art fairs, and quilt shops. Yes, a dozen quilt shops and the Lauderdale Quilt Expo. We caught the Frida Kahlo Exhibit in Lauderdale another time and we ate our way through Sunday's in local restaurants. Need I say, we went to the beaches at least once a week. Once we returned to Miami in the end of January, time flew.

Departure was bittersweet, we were torn between wanting to stay and needing to go- but on March 30 we cast off for home. A weather window opened up and we took the opportunity to leave Dinner Key and head north. We felt we were slightly ahead of the pack but not so early that the Bay would be cold when we arrived. We have family obligations up north, we miss our kids and their families, and it is almost Beach Season in Delaware.

It became apparent that the boat bow was pointed high, that we were overloaded in our stern. Remember all those quilt shops? The spinnaker, extra duffles full of off season clothes and quilt fabric, lots of fabric from each store, are now stowed with the sewing machine in the center of the boat. It appears to have made a significant difference in our getting under bridges.

Tuesday we left Miami through Government Cut to the ocean; we ran in the Gulf Stream on a calm sea, making as much as 9.4 knots. Our destination was Old Port Cove Marina on Lake Worth, Palm Beach, where just slips down we reconnected with the Simons on their beautiful new boat. It was a quick catch up Wednesday morning before we headed back out the Lake Worth inlet and north to Ft. Pierce for an unremarkable day. The Ft Pierce City Marina is greatly expanded but fairly empty right now. We had reservations about this inlet because there is a sunken barge below the surface, but it was easy to traverse, well marked and simple to do. There were fewer boats in this inlet, more courteous and less flashy than our rough exit out of Palm Beach!

On Thursday morning we exited the inlet again and headed to Cape Canaveral inlet. The day was grey and threatening but the rain held off. We were not fans of the Cape Marina but the location allowed us to catch the first bridge opening before the Canaveral Canal Lock that opens on demand. Note we had power trouble here, 135 volts coming into the boat, a situation the staff said they would look into. Bonus, we were treated to a pod of dolphins as we entered the canal, and we locked through with a pair of manatees. It was three days of 1-2 foot waves and no wind, I mean no wind. We were beyond disappointed to not sail as there are days ahead where we will have to motor.

Friday was our first day on the Intercostal Waterway and it was a reminder as to why we have moved to the ocean. It was Good Friday, spring break, the weekend, 85 degrees and anyone who owned a water craft was out, qualified or not. It was also our first day of dreaded bridges. We had two scary moments, the first at the Matanzas River, green marker 81A, where we bumped hard in four feet of water. Then, as winds picked up and rain threatened we approached  the mooring field south of St. Augustine, and we ran out of water! Both times Rick powered off the lumps and we were safe, but we were disappointed not to know about the shoals in advance. Boat US and the Coast Guard were aware of both issues we reported, yet we had not heard of any warnings. We made it to Camachee Cove Marina before the rain hit. The current at low tide rips through there until you get to the marina channel. Good news, no need to wash the boat down as it poured overnight. We borrowed a loaner car, hit a quilt shop and a grocery store before crashing for the night.  Sunday was Easter so we called a cab to take us to the Cathedral of St Augustine and later, brunch at the Floridian (the best!) The cathedral celebrated 132 years in St. Augustine and reopening after a full renovation. It's the oldest parish in the country, founded in 1595. The church was beautiful as was mass.

From St. Augustine we made it all the way to Fernandina Beach, our last stop in Florida. We were in early enough to get to another quilt store and walk around town. (Do you see a pattern here?) The Marina is being dredges so there are few slips to be had right now. We finished Florida in just a week. This morning winds were negligible as we motored out of the St. Marys River inlet, seas were predicted to be 2-4 feet. This twenty mile run felt longer because we had higher waves and fog. The gift of the day, Rick spotted a four foot across sea turtle. By the time we came into St. Simons inlet we were beat, hungry and ready for land. Again, no sailing, but we are in Georgia at Morningside Marina!

A note about the bridges: we have run with tides in our favor very successfully and have only clinked on one bridge. We were pushing our luck and the bridge is a foot low. Looks like our weight redistribution was worth the inconvenience in the salon. We are headed inside now for a week so there's no sailing on the horizon. We are moving daily as insurance against weather that would hold us up. Today we will stay up the Midway River at Sunburry Crab Company. Tomorrow, Hilton Head, totally opposite experiences.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Back in Miami!

Two months on land in Delaware were great. We saw most of our family and wrapped up a final (we hope) "new house" issue. The holidays were lovely, they passed too quickly, but everything does these days. Winter weather threatened but ultimately spared us and before you knew it, the New Year came. We welcomed a new grandson on January 13 and once we met him on January 15, then hit the highway for Miami! 

Three days on the road- ouch. We will retract any complaints about the waterways- just get us out of the car! Our boat was a welcome sight and the first week here in Coconut Grove temps were in the 80s, and we had no complaints. After all, the weather is why we come here, first and foremost. Then there's the proximity to the Bahamas. We spent lazy days on Key Biscayne at the state park the first week, avoiding the South Beach crowds. 

But the fronts that have affected the weather up north are partly responsible for our drop in temps now, though we are not wearing jackets or shoveling snow. We had our first rain today, not bad for three weeks. Our biggest issue has been strong winds. Those winds kept us in our slip in 2012 until April and we hope not to have a repeat season. Some sailors have crossed over, some plan to on Monday, but we think we'll wait until the front cycle, every three days, breaks.  

So what do we do all day? Well, we allow for one maintenance task a day. The boat could be an all day project but we have learned to let go of a lot in favor of being outside. Susan is back to walking daily, and Coconut Grove is a good location to walk everywhere including for groceries. Since we have limited storage, we buy groceries every other day. Again, no complaints, we have a Fresh Market store just past the marina. Susan is quilting daily, too. Rick has a new travel guitar, a small Martin, and he has a rebuilt banjo arriving tomorrow. With these hobbies we have connected with other boaters, and then there always dinners out in the Grove and conversations on the dock to pass the days. 

There is a very active Cruisers Net at 9 AM each morning on our VHS radio. It's full of information and ways to connect with other cruisers in the marina and anchorage. They also share what's going on around town, things for boaters to do, networking of sorts. That's where we learned there was a new Dale Chihuly glass installation at the Fairchild Gardens so we got ourselves over there as quick as possible. Two weeks ago the Gardens hosted a Chocolate Festival, it was 80 degrees out and sunny, perfect for viewing the Chihuly glass. We opted not to bring our camera as it's just too hard to get good shots when there are crowds in the way. We just enjoyed the exhibit but quickly returned midweek to get some photographs. Fairchild offered a class on photographing Chihuly at night so we've signed up for mid -February, we can't wait. The Garden has hosted Chihuly work before but for this exhibit, all the work is new, though if you've seen his work before, it feels familiar. We never tire of Dale Chihuly or the Fairchild Gardens, complete with the butterfly house. 

Monday we drove down to the Biscayne National Park headquarters in Homestead for two purposes. First, there was an exhibit of art quilts focused on our changing planet. Second, we wanted to get a map of places to snorkel, sunken boats and reefs in Key Biscayne Bay. We got our map, some local advice, and enjoyed the free quilt exhibit. The snorkeling will also have to wait for winds to subside. 

This week we will spend two days at the Miami Boat show. A few classes have our interest and we want to see what's new in navigation systems. Promise will be five years old in May so we are curious about things we should replace or upgrade. Then there's always the thrill of new boats! 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Home in Two States!

Traversing the ICW in Florida became a ho-hum adventure. We love the mansions that dot the shore lines, but when they are set in narrow channels with bulkheads, even our own wake creates a ricochet effect we tired of. Sure we saw "a pony upon a boat" south of Daytona  Beach and dolphins and manatees kept us company, but we grew destination orientated. We spent two nights in Melbourne, Fl, for rain and wind, followed by two nights in New Smyrna Beach. We tried the newly expanded marina in Ft. Pierce, which is where we should have gone outside and blown down to Miami. Instead we opted for a single night in Old Port Cove Marina and Resort in Palm Beach, right on Lake Worth where we have anchored in the past. Nice find, we would recommend it, even if you split your wait time with the Lake. 

From there we made what I consider one of those "I'm not-doing-that-again" decisions. Temperatures were in the high eighties, we couldn't sail any of our old haunts, and we elected to clear the final 22 bridges in ten hours. It would have been a shorter day if two of the bridges had not had mechanical difficulties. Flagler Bridge is now opening only once an hour at quarter past. After an hours wait there, we waited more than an hour for the next bridge to be opened manually and under duress. This waiting always results in us fighting current and trying to hold our position, doing donuts or sailing back up stream and lapping the waterway until the tender says we may pass through. This year we added the stress of paddle boarders crossing the waterway at Boca Resort, a service the resort should not provide! But all ended well, we made Lauderdale by 5:15, had a cheap dinner on A1A across from the beach, and crashed before our last day on the water. This trip it is the admiral who is saying, "No more ICW. Seen it, been there, give me ocean sailing next year." 

Our run to Miami was as uneventful as this whole trip was. Sadly, we had 4-5 knot winds, 4  foot seas and we were forced to motor all the way. The good news is that we were safely  tied in our new slip in Coconut Grove about 1 PM and we were ahead of the cold front expected Friday. We made our November 15 goal by two days and had a safe, simple passage. 

So, from Miami it was a two day drive home to Delaware for family time. It was hard to leave that tropical feel when you knew it will be so cold up north but we will enjoy the family and look forward to Miami after the New Year. Happy holidays to all and best wishes for fair winds and safe crossings to our sailing friends. We will see you in the Bahamas!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Alligator in Every Pond Before Florida. Mile Marker 803

The original plan for the rest of this trip was modest progress, safe plans, and none of the fatigue or risk that a long day presents. But . . .

Currents were so good we skipped Port Royal and moved to Hilton Head. I know the weather up north is chilling and you've had some rains, we do follow the rest of the country. But our weather has been amazing. We ran the rest of South Carolina and Georgia in the 80s. We broke a 90 degree record in Hilton Head where we took a two day break just because. It was there we began to see alligators sunning themselves, some in the company of turtles, a fact I can't reconcile. We keep an eye open as they sit on the bank with their mouths open, you can't miss them.

We moved to Isle of Hope, Georgia, Sunbury Crab Company, St. Simon and Jekyll Island in successful hops. That required careful planning to make bridges with 6-8 foot tide swings, all successful until that last bridge before St. Simons! You guessed it, no bridge board going south, 63 feet going north. Normally, we would sail for the three hours we needed to wait; this year we had zero wind, but we waited anyhow. We were feeling really good about our transit of Mud River, but this long 11 hour day burst our bubble. Good news, we had a safe face dock, free muffins and a free morning newspaper delivered to the boat at Morning Star for the two day blow (45 mile gusts.) Following the cold front we moved just six miles to Jekyll. Check, safe in skinny water in Jekyll Creek, 7-8 feet at mid-tide on November 2. The state of Georgia, accomplished.

We are beginning to realize we should really keep moving in good weather. Something about the date on the calendar upped our motivation. We ran 59 miles to Fernandina, Florida, then the next day about the same to St. Augustine. We gave up visiting familiar haunts in order to prepare for the next days ahead as we can see weather turning, too. The new experiences here were Nana Theresa's Bakery in Fernandina (amazing!) and Comanche Cove Marina before the Vilano Beach/Uniso Bridge (mile 775) just before St. Augustine (safe in and out so we could wait for better tides in the morning.)

One of our biggest disappointments on this trip is the fact we have made few new friends or cruising companions. We are just enough ahead of the pack that days like today we sailed alone, not a boat ahead of us or behind us. But that's OK, our eyes are on the charts to Miami (just a week away,) Windfinder Pro and the Weather Channel. We can see weather ahead on Sunday so we plan to be in spend two days in Melbourne until it blows out. There is not such a huge tide swing here in the Daytona area (18 inches.) Talk on the dock is that the state of Florida has remeasured all the bridges and they read accurately now. We shall see. Tomorrow we don't leave until noon in order to slip under the next bridge and then run with the ebb tide all the way to New Smyrna. 
Dataw Island, SC,  is a lovely golf community on an old cotton plantation.
The properties, like those on Hilton Head, are dotted with ponds and marshes.
Every pond has a resident alligator. Look hard near the yellow stake.
His close up follows.