Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running with Dolphins – 12/20/2011

It starts with the sound of a large splash next to the side of the boat.  We’ve run "the ditch" for almost a thousand miles.  Across bays, up and down rivers, but mostly it’s tracking from buoy to buoy down a narrow dredged channel through vast expanses of shallow water and marsh. Red to green,  green to red,  ICW greens to port, ICW reds to starboard.  We listen to the monotone drone of our 54 hp Yanmar diesel, typically at 2600 rpm pushing us forward at 7+ knots, jumping to 9’s or dropping to 6’s with the ebb and flow of the ever changing tides and winds.  I usually keep the Raymarine remote control for the auto pilot in my right hand.  It beeps once when  I add one degree to port then a few minutes later two beeps and two degrees to starboard constantly fine tuning our course so we don’t run abruptly out of the channel.

The trip has been truly beyond my imagination, an ever changing panorama of nature in an almost undisturbed state.  Birds, birds and more birds; focks overhead, on sand bars, at the edges of the marshes or in the trees.  Osprey have reappeared as they’ve migrated South with us, clouds of turns and gulls, herons of several colors and ibis.  Cormorants dry their wings in the sun and most every buoy has a resident.

Every day is planned in anticipation of the days tides. Can we squeeze our 64 foot mast under a 64 foot bridge?  Will we have enough water for our 5 foot draft during a stretch at low water of only three feet?

But the dolphin sightings and visits are most treasured every day. Serendipity! A most pleasant surprise just when the day may begin to drag on during the passage of another 20 or maybe even 50 miles.  At high tides we see their fins cruising at the edges of the marshes, chasing shrimp and minnows in and out of the grasses.  We’ve seen them trap schools of bait in small cuts in the banks.  Every day we see them ahead or behind, foraging in almost every inlet and creek, then slow or pause when we see them frolicking dead ahead.

The splash, followed by the sound of another splash and then a third or fourth, in a cadence, a signal it’s time to look for them.  Through the brown muddy or tea stained water, first the 6 to 9 foot shadows begin to appear beneath the surface, then a fin appears, or maybe a blow and then a magnificent form crashes up and out of the stern wave and leaps just a foot or so next to the boat, surfing as it is, into complete view.  Is it a loaner? A large male? Probably not. They usually travel in a pack as they may be called. Then two or three or more appear, we watch for a youngster in between.  Are there distinguishing marks?  Too often we see the marks of a propeller, or cuts in a dorsal fin. Taking turns for the lead, they follow along for 3, 5, sometimes 10 minutes or more. We can see them eyeing us too, looking us over just the same as we are watching them.  So much intelligence they display. Are they teaching the little one to surf for the first time? If only we could communicate with them? They seem to play like young kids on a play ground at recess in the spring: running, jumping, frolicking in the sunshine.

Then just as mysteriously as they appear, they are gone.  Have we motored through their territory, has the water become too shallow?  Am I still in the channel?  I’d better look for the next marker as I’ve been distracted. Yesterday we were even treated to a salute after the ride, a young dolphin jumped clear out of the water a few yards off to the side and then they were gone.

They don’t return, but we know we’ll see more dolphins. They’re the ones that choose if or when to hitch a ride from a passing boat.
Oh. we've just discovered Manatees in the marinas,  but I'll cover them when I get a chance to blog again. Best wishes to all for the holidays.  Retirement is great.  Never a dull moment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Help! We're trapped in Daytona Beach and we can't get out. Dec. 16, 2011 ICW Mile Marker 878

Sometime the best plans are not to be. On Friday, Dec. 9 we happily tied up at Halifax Municipal Marina, Daytona Beach, FL., safe, out of the wind and rain headed our way. We did all the tourist things, sans the beach as it would have required another cab ride like groceries did. We passed the wet weekend doing small projects and taking in a a movie at the “Cinamatique.” There we reconnected with the couple from Timaru and saw Margin Call (highly recommend it) in a very intimate/dinner theater. On Sunday we walked to a Chart House for Susan’s birthday dinner, a great meal despite the rain. Laundry done, well rested, we made plans for a Monday departure.

Plan we did, sail we didn’t. The rains in our county were record breaking, filling the Halifax River with run off. Winds continued (it was a week of wind by now) at 25 Knots from the N, NNE and we had an astronomical high tide, though tide here has about a foot range. The Port Orange Fixed Bridge was 1.6 miles south, almost in sight from the moment we left the marina inlet. Are you ahead of me on this one? When we approached the bridge at dead low, the bridge board read 63 foot and we had to abort our transit.

Undaunted, we accepted the situation and returned to the marina, leaving the departure date open until tide and winds subsided; that, good friends, was not until this morning. Rick spent the week marking the cement pilings at different tide stages so we could track reality against the guides. We could see by the local weather reports that this was not an error on our part but truly a combination of runoff, winds and tide that pushed water into our passage and prevented us from moving south. Our new calculations were confirmed by “locals” for a Friday, Dec. 16 departure at 6:30 AM.

But wait, the adventure continues. Rick woke at 5:15 today and by 6 we were heading down the channel from the marina to the ICW channel, with me on the bow with a flood light to read the markers. When it was time to make our turn, I came on board and in that split second, we were aground. Mind you it was still dark, Tow Boat US didn’t answer until we resorted to a land line, but they did responds and a tow boat had us off our 2.8’ lump by 9:30. Boat US Membership: Priceless! We lost three hours but now it was light and we made our bridge, smooth sailing ahead. The boat is fine, I have my confidence back, but Rick has a bruised ego. We have traveled over 1,000 miles with no incidents and were feeling quite immune. Note to self- plans are only plans.

Since we had days to fill, we took a cab to the famous Daytona Beach. It is amazing to me that one can just drive out on the beach here which is what precipitated the auto and motor cycle races early in the 19th century. When air flight shared the same beach at the same time, things got really busy, especially for bathers and tourists. Later an airport and the Daytona Speedway would elevate the risks at the beach; tourists continue to flock here in season for all the combined attractions the area offers. Henry Flagler and his partner John Rockefeller developed this area as well. Like most of America devastated by malls and urban sprawl, Daytona Beach today has little focus, though the art deco restoration in a 10 block stretch is admirable and is really busy in season. We took in a second film (The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez. Fabulous!) The beach area has also experienced restoration and preservation, but it doesn’t compare to the Jersey Shore. On the day we walked the beach, we were shocked, then impressed, that this huge expanse of beach was covered in a foot of seaweed that will not be recovered by man. In a beach restoration effort, it is the law that you cannot clean the beach any longer, nature rules. We like that idea, even if conditions were not ideal for us that day.

You can see Cape Canaveral from the waterway, the shuttle hanger soaring in the sky. We are sad there are no launches for us to see. Today we are on our way to Titusville for the night, then off again early in the morning, trying to get to the Palm Beach or Miami area before Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Augustine and Marineland, FL ICW M 803 Dec. 3-9, 2011

Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, FL
Bridge of Lions

December finds us in the St. Augustine area. The trip here was great- everyone warned of "skinny" water but careful planning made the day a breeze, no groundings yet! Once inside the welcoming St. Augustine waters you are greeted by the recently restored Bridge of Lions, complete with a pair of lions at either end. There are hundreds of moorings and ample anchorages but we enjoyed the municipal marina right in the heart of the historic first city in America. It is classically Spanish in flavor, dense with history and tourism, and the influence of Henry Flagler. He was Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil and later developed the railroad system to the Keys, hence opening the coast to tourism and industry. He built his own hotel when he needed a place for his wife to recover from TB. The building is spectacular, filled with Tiffany windows and chandeliers, which were not Tiffany's main medium. After many years, the hotel became the private Flagler College and the main building is the women's dorm. You are left speechless by the wealth taken for granted then but shared by young students now!

The Ballroom at Flagler College,
now used as the dining room, original furnishings,
Tiffany windows and frescoes included.

Flagler College


Flagler's life was steeped in a strong work ethic, religion and tragedy. Son of a Presbyterian minister, he wove religious themes in the architecture of his hotel and he held high standards of everyone around him. When his daughter died in St. Augustine shortly after she gave birth to a daughter, he commissioned a memorial church be built with in the year to honor her. The results are a wonder when you consider the distance all materials and craftsmen had to travel, and of course, Flagler spared no expense. His first wife died soon after his daughter and all three are buried in the church. (Flagler did marry twice more, but the stories require a book!) Today the parish is thriving.

Presbyterian Memorial Church
St. Augustine, FL 
Our trolley tour fee included a ride to the beach so we took advantage of it. Clear skys, 80 degrees, surfers to entertain us. That should have been our warning the weather would change. The best part of our stay connecting with sailing friends, one set from Norfolk, another from the Chesapeake. We got caught up, shared knowledge and plans, and two great meals.

On Wednesday, we left for Marineland. That's actually the name of the town twenty miles south of St. Augustine, but it is also the name of the marina and a dolphin research/education facility. The marina is new, small and only a dollar a foot. Safe but only 7-8 feet of water, so mariners, weigh the tides carefully. We were challenged to get in here at 25 knots and low tide so, you guessed it, we cruised the river again until conditions were right, just in time for a storm to open up.

The Marineland center is across the road on the Atlantic and worth the stop. We wanted to have an "immersion experience" and get into the dolphin tanks, but temps dropped 40 degrees, yes, to 40 degrees, so we just toured the facility. Originally built in 1938 by some of the wealthy we are learning about, including Vanderbilt, Whitney and Tolstoy (Leo's grandson) as an oceanarium and underwater film studio, it was the first marine show in the country. Following a hurricane in recent years, it was completely rebuilt. There is a singular focus on dolphins now and in January the Georgia zoological system incorporated the center. It is now a nonprofit for education purposes; the dolphins do not present "shows" but they provide great research opportunities. Right next to the marina office is the Florida State auditorium and there was a free lecture each night, one on the history of Marine Land. If you have time, we suggest you take a day to stop here. If nothing else, it's a quiet rest.

Our son sent us the storage bag for our dingy and it arrived today. The deck is neater and safer now. The care package came with Christmas lights, an Advent calendar filled with chocolates (Rick won't share) and a pine tree air freshener in case we don't get a tree. Very clever!

We have a week of poor weather ahead. They call it a nor'easter, but I think it has different connotations than it does up north.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fernandina and Jacksonville Beach, FL ICW M 748 Dec. 1-4, 2011

Welcome to Fernandina Harbor Marina
Shrimp on Parade, 2009

Fernandina Beach, downtown historic district
Directly across from the marina
Fernandina Beach was charming. The municipal marina is convenient, on the ICW, in the middle of the historic district. We enjoyed the history and Spanish architecture in homage to King Ferdinand but we never made it to the beach or the resorts on the other side of the island. There is always the return trip! Two days were enough for winds to settle down and for us to walk a lot, but by Friday Dec. 2 we were anxious to move on. Temps have warmed up considerably (we had 30s overnight while here) but you can tell we aren't in Jersey anymore, it is generally warm and it's December.

Fernandina Beach

It was a joint decision to pass on visiting Jacksonville until spring and move on to Jacksonville Beach just as a lay over. The bridges were a time challenge on this trip- we cleared the first bridge of the day fine but had to sail up and back for three hours to clear a second bridge that had settled just a bit, enough that we needed a lower tide to get under it. That mast has become our pride and our curse. Note to self: there is nothing here in Jacksonville Beach but a safe spot in a storm, though I enjoyed the day sewing and Rick read all day. We actually had to stay here an extra day because we could not reserve a slip in St. Augustine for Saturday night. Tonight, several boats from this marina left decorated with Christmas lights and we realized tonight was the boat parade of lights in St. Augustine, hence no slips available. The boats looked great but we are skittish about rigging lights to the mast, etc. Call us purists or safety freaks, we can't do it. We'll be in St. Augustine Sunday Dec. 4 and we look forward to the history there.

Post Office
Fernandina Beach
From the fountain at the Post Office

Blue Heron and Great Egret across from our boat here at
Jacksonville Beach, Beach Marina.
Note the low tide in the background.
It's the 4-9 foot tides that determine our departures,
bridge travel and docking schedules.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to Florida ICW M 716

They say that Florida is the Sunshine State, they never promised it would be warm! We are here, it is sunny, but it is really cold.

Our road trip to DC was two days each way. We made a stop in Richmond for baked goods and a birthday cake for Micah and found a great brasserie, Can Can. Shades of Paris put us in a land lover mood, we savored this treat, then ignored the traffic for the rest of the day. I actually got chills as we entered DC, feeling a city fix for a few days, and no, I didn't go shopping. It was warm and comfortable to visit with Leslie and Micah and Leslie's family, and they did a wonderful job on Thanksgiving dinner. The only drawback to the kids cooking dinner was the we didn't have leftovers when we got home. On Friday night we walked through the National Zoo for the holiday light display and ate at a cute place called Medium Rare, we highly recommend it to sailors but you'll need a cab to the Cleaveland Park neighborhood.

The Jekyll Island Club
Traveling back to Georgia over the weekend was exhausting as there was steady traffic, but it also felt good to get back to the boat. We made the most of the rental car on Monday by exploring the historic sights on Jekyll Island. There are 29 of 34 "summer cottages" remaining from the founding "club", including members like Pulitzer, Rockefeller, Gould, Crane, and Theodore Vail, (whose yacht was named Speedwell.) We indulged at the Jekyll Island Club for breakfast and dinner at the Crane Cottage. Both were deserted- how do they stay open? In retrospect, I wish we had played croquette because that's what the founding members would have done. The original heat plant has been transformed to a turtle rescue and education center; it’s a huge endeavor and we were moved to visit the sea turtles in the hospital on the grounds.
Mistletow Cottage
Summer home of the Rockerfellers
Details on Mistletoe
The water was too shallow to sail Promise
in the wake of the great yachts of the past. Sorry, captain.  
The weather kicked up again so we stayed on Jekyll another day. By Wednesday morning the winds were predicted to be down to 5-10 knots so we left the dock early and eagerly for Fernandina Beach, Florida. (Note: we'd like to fire Noah when our windex says 18 knots and when he warns us of the 33 degrees we expect tonight.) We traveled past the ruins of the "cottage" owned by the Carnegie family on Cumberland Island, 20 miles of pristine seashoreline and nature reserve they eventually gave to the state of Georgia, complete with their herd of  wild european horses Mrs. Carnegie desiganeted would run free after her passing. We are secure in Fernandina Beach for two days with a host of sailors hunkered down with stories of wicked winds in recent days and dread for tonight's Florida frost warnings. We know not to go out in those 25-30 knot winds (what were they thinking) but we can't change the temperature, just our attitude! We are grateful to have heat tonight and we are excited to be in Florida.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jekyll Island and Home for Turkey Nov. 21, 2011 Mile Marker 684

St. Simon Light from the village
It's hard not to tell you the last few days have been glorious again, temps in the 79-80 degree range. We laid over for two days on St. Simon Island where we biked into town to see the light house and have lunch. (A ten mile ride is Rick's way of unwinding, I guess.) But when we left on Tuesday at noon, we moved out into the inlet to photograph the lighthouse on the other side. The ocean was like glass- perhaps we should have gone on the outside to another stop !? 

Our late departure was calculated as this is a really shallow section of the ICW, and it was one of those days we had to travel at midtide tide to traverse the ten mile stretch and still make it under a highway bridge. We circled the opening of Jekyll Creek until 1:15 PM and when we entered the creek, we never had less than 8-9 feet of water- a perfect job, Captain! Four other boats followed our water tracks and had a good passage as well. We are tied up at the face dock at Jekyll Harbour Marina for the week. I understand we are going to a low country shrimp boil tonight, come as you are!

Yesterday we made a last minute decision to rent a car and drive to Micah and Leslie's for turkey. We would have had a rough week's layover for a pair of storms here, so . . . gobble, gobble it is.

Happy Thanksgiving, 'yall. Next stop, DC, then on to Fernandina Beach, Florida!
St. Simon Light from the inlet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Roller Coaster Weather Nov. 17, 2011 Mile Marker 590

When the water is 67 degrees and the air temp is about 80, the result is dense fog that lingers for three days! Harbor Town was a great marina to stay in under these conditions. Each day several boats left only to return. We road bikes to the beach one day, took a cab the next to another beach. What's not to like about being fogged in?

All good things come to an end so on Thursday we left for Isle of Hope, which is on the south side of Savannah. This is the home of a state park featuring ruins of the oldest structure in Savannah, GA, so we borrowed a courtesy car and dashed over to see it before the sun went down. The winds are howling now and the temp will drop about 25 degrees tonight. It's a good thing we had the generator repaired as we intend to anchor out tomorrow as a way of cutting the next 80 mile run in half. In the morning we'll head to New Teakettle Creek.
Charleton, SC
Historic homes and Palmetto trees along the waterfront.

The Big Chill House
Private residence, Beaufort, SC
Promise at sunrise
Beaufort Town Dock, November 15, 2011
A mile of Live Oak trees dripping with moss:
Entrance to Wormslow, constructed in 1736,
the oldest structure in Savannah, GA.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are we in South Carolina or Georgia? Nov. 5- 15, 2011 Mile Marker 565

This has been a great ten days, albeit a little confusing. We started Nov. 5 th. in fabulous, warm sunshine, sailing to Georgetown. By day's end we found that foul weather gear really handy as condition went from flat water to high winds and rain for dockage in this little South Carolina town. Here we learned all about the Northern War of Aggression and who's fault it was that South Carolina suffered an economic downturn after Reconstruction. Georgetown had a viable shopping area, a few restaurants and a Rice Museum, yes, rice. This is where the world got its golden rice in the early years of our country; remnants of the ingenious lock systems are still visible along the rivers that are part of the ICW, which fronts the remains of old plantations. Two days were enough here to see town, enjoy their Tasting Festival, (how many ways can you eat shrimp and grits?) and do some boat maintenance. While docked here, we had a preservice call from the marina scheduled to do work for us down the way.

We spent an uneventful night at Isle of Palms, complete with a short walk to the ocean and a glorious sunset walk on the beach. No photos, just a relaxed night. In the morning we made way to Charleston where we reconnected with traveling friends, ate every meal out- don't miss a morsel in Charleston, and enjoyed 70 degree weather for three days of sightseeing to exhaustion. This was not our first trip here or our last. Rick even took me to a quilt shop and the Gibbs Museum, their art institute, southern style. City Marina is huge and a bit rocky, but it is easy to get transportation and walk everywhere. While our friends took to the outside to get to Savannah, we had a commitment down the ICW at Ross Marine.

We are happy to report that thanks to Ross Marine on Johns Island, we have a new starter in the generator, a designated starter battery for the engine and numerous other "on the list" items installed or replaced. And thanks to all the "construction" on the boat, we had to rent a car and visit Savannah, GA, for two days. What can I say, it isn't Charleston, Paula Deane's Restaurant is highly over rated, and one should not take a trolley tour during the Veteran's Day Parade. It was also brutally cold again. We wanted to see more than we did, but we can cross this off our list. We did see enough to rent "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "Forest Gump" again to repeat our sightseeing on the big screen.

From Johns Island on Saturday we motored to Beaufort (Bew-Fort), SC, and the temperature shot to 75-79 degrees. The town is charming and has been the sight for many movie shoots, including "The Big Chill." Once again we took the tour, (count them: three in a week) and then returned on foot for photos. Military presence is the surviving industry here. On Sunday we left for Hilton Head. Thirty mile days are much less exhausting than 50 or 60!

Harbour Town is interesting because it is the first planned community in the US, built in the 60s. It is complete, self-contained golf and boating on a sound inside the ocean and it has really held its purpose and value through the years. Unfortunately our day here may be extended due to heavy fog. It was 79 yesterday, will hit 80 today, but rain will drop temps by Thursday. We plan to pass on sailing to Savannah as we are growing eager to get to Florida.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cypress Knees, Spanish Moss and Mistletoe: Welcome to South Carolina Mile Marker 402

Waccamaw River ICW SC
We scheduled our departure from North Myrtle Beach with the tides in mind for today. There were nine fixed bridges, three swing bridges and a railroad bridge to navigate. Rick really timed it correctly and we pulled off all twelve bridges with adequate clearance and timely openings.

The ICW was beautiful today. The first populated section was narrow and scenic, but once we entered the Waccamaw River, the scenery look like something from a swamp movie. It was full of cypress, moss and mistletoe. The river eventually got very wide and began to switch back on itself. We only saw three boats in eight hours over our 57 miles.

The last hour and a half we had steady 25 knot winds and rain so Georgetown, was a welcome sight. Tied up, all we cared about was being safe and warm. We'll make a weather dependent decision in the morning to stay or move on to Isle of Palm.
Spanish moss in an Osprey nest: you're not in Maryland anymore.

Welcome to South Carolina

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happy Birthday Rick! Mile Marker 346

October 28- November 3, 2011
We left Beaufort but it was a very tense day. We circled for an hour in front of the Atlantic Beach/Moorehead City Bridge because the water was too high and choppy for safe passage. We spent a rainy day bouncing on the ICW with plans to anchor out, but two attempted coves later, we ended up at Dudley’s Marina for the night. There we met John on Star4, hailing from Montreal. We traveled the next few days together, plotting those 65 foot bridges.
In the morning we maneuvered a tall bridge and then a swing bridge; again the day was blustery and we put all of our foul weather gear to good use. We knew in advance that we would need to anchor in Mile Hammock Bay for a few hours in order to clear the next bridge, a great plan if there are no winds. But since it is the season of 35 knot winds, our anchor dragged and our generator wouldn’t start. By noon Rick found a one slip marina at New River Marina and we pulled up our anchor and headed down the ICW for safety and warmth. We learned later that four other boats were in there that night, all dragging into each other. Good call, Rick.

Staying at New River was a cultural experience! There is an RV park at the water’s edge and the other two slips are reserved for the gas dock and sand dredge, not exactly Osprey Point. Well, the good people of North Carolina helped us dock in those strong winds and invited us to dinner- they had been roasting a pig all day. We learned it is not a pig roast but a pig pickin’ party, complete with homemade barbeque sauce, hush puppies and birthday cake. We froze around the bon fire but took in what the locals had to say.

We were off on Sunday before first light to complete a plan with John. Good planning prevailed; we cleared all of our bridges safely. We went into Seapath Yacht Club at Wrightsville Beach for three days, got some rest and networked on our generator problem. John moved on to keep a schedule. We’ll see him again, we see everyone again!
On Wednesday morning, we left Seapath for Southport, home of St. James Plantation and Marina. Bridges were not a problem today and seas were calm until we hit the Cape Fear River, aptly named by the way. We had a following sea until we got back into the ICW. It felt great to tie up early. Happy Birthday, Rick! We celebrated quietly and prepared for the morning when we have a fifty mile day ahead of us.

Lest you think we are discouraged by winds, tides, bridges and repairs, we are not in the least. First of all, Rick sets the tone that this is an adventure, not an ordeal. He always says boating is repairs in exotic places. Second, every day’s scenery is better than the last. Even on our worst days in the past month we have traveled with dolphins and pelicans, and those shrimp! This morning we were treated to a flock of terns whose wings sparkled like snowflakes in the sun. We have heard people say the Intercoastal Waterway is boring, but we think it has been absolutely gorgeous. Sunrise and sunset on the ICW and the ocean are breathtaking and the evolving architecture fascinates us both. We wouldn’t miss this for anything, and besides, this is a journey, not a destination.

Rick: Hurricane and Hero Mile Marker 284

October 24-28, 2011

Beaufort wasn’t on our list for a long stay, but stay we did. Hurricane Rick could not outdo a 35 knot gust when docking on the Alligator River; hence we were in search of repairs to our stern pulpit. Once we connected with a really nice craftsman who was willing to fit the job in, we were committed to four days in this seaport town.
Beaufort is full of 200 year old coastal homes and the people are very accommodating. For cruisers, the Town Dock is convenient to 26 restaurants and there are a few things to see and do. Each morning the Shackleford Ponies come to the water’s edge on Carrot Island, directly across from the marina. Strong winds and choppy waters prevented us from a dingy ride- it was a tease to watch the ponies so close by. Dolphins swim in the harbor; we never take their sightings for granted.
On Wednesday, October 26, a consortium of university, ecology and selvedge groups raised a cannon from the ocean’s floor about 6 miles off the coast of Beaufort. It was the thirteenth of twenty three cannons from the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, belonging to none other than Blackbeard, the Pirate. Some speculate that he actually ran his ship aground in a downsizing effort, trying to reduce his fleet of 300-400 men. Beaufort celebrated, closed the streets, and the cannon was brought into town for a quick peak before it was moved to Eastern Carolina University for a three year cleaning/restoration. the barnacles and artifacts crusted to it were as amazing as the 700 pound cannon itself.
Friday we were awakened at 4 AM by a man, well in his cups, swimming around our boat. With help from two mates across the dock, Rick pulled the man out of the water (twice, because he fell back in.) We called police, Rick suggested he needed a hospital as it was 33 degrees out, and once he was safe in an ambulance, we tried to sleep because this was to be departure day. At first light we discovered he had tried to steal our dingy!
Our serviceman came early to return the pulpit. He was very helpful in putting all the canvas back on and we managed to cast off lines by 10:30, days late but in good shape to handle the poor weather coming our way. We feel like we have had three weeks of high winds that are even unpleasant at the dock!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In Case You Are Wondering . . . Mile Marker 173

In case you are wondering about our dates and where-abouts, we have posts and photos ready to share, but even our handy Verizon air card fails us in many locations. It seems the hurricane damaged a lot of infrastructure, and signals are limited. Hence, all the catch up postings!

Our stay at Dowry Creek Marina was safe, relaxed and very hospitable. They hold cocktail hour at 6, and Wednesday’s turned into a pot luck. The significance of this is that we were able to meet other cruisers, gain local knowledge and build a safety network that has already come in handy (like info on where to stay and who to use for service.) I made split pea soup and dark chocolate brownies :) to share. Two boats from our stay in Norfolk were here with us and you will never guess who pulled in on Wednesday from Osprey Point: Mark and Debbie on 4Play with Norm and Nancy on the vessel True Love, who are showing them the ICW ropes. Small world.

We set off Friday with a gorgeous forecast and sailed ourselves across the Pungo River to the Pamlico Sound, across the Neuse River into Broad creek. We are nestled Grace Harbor, in the high end real estate development of River Dune, with restaurant/club, pool, work out room and steam showers, a luxury cruisers can relate to. What can I say . . . we are enjoying this fall weekend with amenities we expect are few and far between! We also took time out for a real estate tour since this was once on our list of potential "new home" locations. (That puts us near Oriental and New Bern.) Still gorgeous, still very remote, yet new kinds of sailing to offer. Ocracoke on a sunny afternoon, anyone? 

And in case you are wondering, now that we are back in salt water, we have snapping shrimp again.

Holding Our Breath! October 18, 2011, Mile Marker 125

 Again we left before dawn. The entrance to the Alligator River required a swing bridge opening, an easy step when the bridge tender is pleasant at an early hour. We had a pleasant trip to the turn into the Alligator-Pungo River canal but the whole day required we motor as one had to be vigilant about depths and markers. The canal had about twelve feet of water in it and was yet another cypress swamp with submerged dead head trees. We were comfortable heading under the 65 foot high Fairfield Bridge with our 65+ foot mast. Anxiety built as we approached the Walter B. Jones Bridge because it is charted as 64 foot vertical clearance and stories abound about people having to turn around or incurring damage. Rick had to radio a huge cruiser to back off and not wake us before we started under the bridge. Engine in neutral, we drifted slowly, listening to the antenna clink several times until we cleared the far side of the bridge - we made it with our own story to tell. Neither of us remembered to photograph the bridge board as testimony to our stress. The rest of the bridges are a piece of cake after this.

High winds and a two day storm will keep us in Belhaven, Mile Marker 130, at Dowry Creek Marina for a few days. It will be a bumpy ride here in the slip as winds are still out of the SE and there are no protected places to hole up. A 36 foot Columbia lays in the marsh across from our slip, never to be reclaimed because it rests in protected wetlands you may not disturb when you conduct salvage, compliments of hurricane Irene. Funny how nature works, providing this beautiful scenery but teasing you with risk and rules to protect itself.

Compliments of Irene

The Dismal Swamp October 15 - 16, 2011 Mile Marker 7 to 70

Leaving Norfolk at 7:30 meant we caught an 8:30 bridge opening. Immediately after the bridge you make a right to enter the Dismal Swamp. We caught the 11 AM lock opening, what an experience. You tie your boat up, work to keep it off the lock wall and monitor the boat as water rushes in the canal. Fifteen minutes later, we and two other boats are on our way to the North Carolina Welcome Center with free dockage for about four boats. All was good until Rick went to the center, I went below to make dinner, and three more boats came in to tie up. Tradition holds that you raft together, a new thing for us. Everyone gathered at Promise and bonded over plans for the next day which meant a 7:30 departure to catch the second lock. There the water was let out of the lock and required the captain and mate to ease the lines out for the fifteen minutes. Whew!
The swamp was at once incredible and disappointing. It was beautiful, going from a narrow passage through hardwoods in a misty morning fog, to a wide stretch of true cypress swamp. While we counted egrets, turtles and bald eagles, we never saw a reptile or anything larger. The swamp opens into the Pasquotank River and that was breathtaking, lots of wide turns and autumn color.

We spent the night in Elizabeth City at the free docks. Despite the claim to hospitality, no stores were open on a Sunday save one: Page after Page Bookstore, heaven! Basically, we geared up for Monday's run on the Albemarle Sound, something we have dreamed about for a long time.

October 17 and the sound was Rick's last chance to set the sails for a few days. Winds were out of the SE at a steady 20-22 all day with lumpy seas again. We got out of the wind at Alligator Marina just before we entered the Alligator River. (The alligators do not come this far anymore. Whew!) Remember the great food we had in Norfolk? Our option here was limited to whatever Ms. Wanda has in the kitchen at the Shell Station, which runs the Marina.

The great news is we were safe, out of the wind, with shore power. The bad news is that the winds made getting into our slip quite a challenge and we incurred some damage to the stern pulpit on Promise. For a captain with a stellar reputation for docking skills, this was a huge blow. Oh, well, we hear there are great repair facilities in Oriental and further south.

Sights from Norfolk, VA October7-15, 2011

Sailors and Ships and Mermaids- Oh my!

Hampton Roads is a trilogy of shipyard and naval towns: Hampton, Norfolk up the Elizabeth River, and connected by a paddle wheel ferry across the river, Portsmouth. We spent seven days in Blue Water Marina at Norfolk waiting out weather and the finish of the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (read Save the Bay.) Because many other cruisers made the same decision, we made lots of new contacts for this adventure. Indeed, the best part of our stay was these wonderful folks we met. There is knowledge, safety/support- and laughs- among numbers. I provisioned at a Harris Teeters with three other admirals, what a riot trying to get back in one cab with four boats worth of groceries.

Portsmouth is a quiet town with empty storefronts and many churches. More important, it is the beginning of the Inter-coastal Waterway, our 1,100 mile path to Florida and the namesake to the Mile Marker Zero Marine Store. We took the ferry over twice to patronize him, have lunch and we discovered a kitchen store and artisan bakery.

Norfolk was interesting, even in the rain. The city created a destination waterfront in the 80’s and they are about to replace everything with high end retail, restaurants and condos. Walking access to restaurants, a downtown Mall (can you say Nordstroms?) and city attractions are perfect for cruisers. When in town try Byrd and Baldwin Brothers Steakhouse and 456 Fish, great meals before the ICW. Like the Cows on Parade, in NYC and the Horses of Far Hills, NJ, Norfolk has a trail of Mermaids telling a folktale around town. One can also follow the Virginia Music Walk of Fame. Who knew Ella Fitzgerald, Bruce Hornsby, and Clarence Clemens were from Virginia?

One cannot ignore the presence of the Navy in these three towns. The naval shipyards create canyons of grey dockage and construction, well lit and manned by skilled labor around the clock. The site fills you with awe and pride.

Finally, the schooners came in Friday from noon to midnight, beaten up by 35 knot winds from the SE. Rough race, but then again, that’s why we holed up for a week. Rick tracked it in our PC and was very disappointed not to see sails up as the official finish of the race was back at Thimble Shoal light.

Tomorrow, the ICW.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Last sail on the Bay

Thimble Shoal Light, Hampton Roads, VA

Our last sail on the Bay until spring.

The view from our slip, Hampton University.

Honey, “ . . . it’s too rough to feed ya.”

Taking a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald . . .

We left York River Yacht Haven after a delightful stay relaxing and touring the historic triangle with a forecast of 10-15 knots NE and seas of 1-2 feet.  Prior to departure we topped off the fuel tanks with 45.7 gallons of fresh diesel which after 40 running hours since leaving Rock Hall calculated to only 1.1 gallons per hour.  Not bad compared to the consumption of the large motor yachts we see on the bay.
We motored down the York River on a heading to clear the Poquoson Flats South of the river entrance to find winds already building 12-14 knots and seas running 2-3 feet.  A couple of hours later it was finally sails up, but only to half reef close hauled into  SE building winds and rolling seas. As we cleared the Poquoson River entrance we were finally able to fall off to a reach as the winds went ESE but now gusting 17-18 knots with seas building a choppy 3-5 feet against the outgoing tide we’d ridden down the river earlier. Hence, no lunch till we reached calmer waters.

A couple of hours of pounding into the choppy seas with many items bouncing around in the cabin the winds fell off to 10-12 as we approached Thimble Shoals.  We finally let out the rest of the jib as we crossed a mile to the inside of the Thimble Shoals Light safely with 12-14 feet of water under the keel. We were visited by dolphins again which brought a smile to both of us to lighten up the mood during this trip.
After docking up the Hampton River at Blue Water Yacht Center we went to the Surf Rider restaurant while we waited for the floor to stop moving.  Only 3 engine hours for a 6 hour trip.  I finally got some sailing in, and was glad we didn’t try to beat across to Cape Charles. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photos from this week's road trip

Ben Franklin in front of the Smithfield Times
Sometimes the best part of the ferry ride is right at the dock.
The Capital in Williamsburg.

Still love Williamsburg, after all these years.

Rick rented a car for two days while we waited out weather here in Yorktown. We took a ride through  Jamestown where we boarded a 15 minute ferry ride to the other side of the Pagan River. From there we followed our nose to Smithfield,VA,  where hogs are king and hams are made. Rick addressed his fantasy head on: yes, we have a Smithfield ham and lots of Virginia peanuts on board now. It's a cute town of two blocks, and one trip in a lifetime to Smithfield is enough. We were glad we drove and did not sail up here.

Tuesday we drove to Williamsburg 30 minutes away. That completes the "historic triangle." Our first visit to Williamsburg was forty years ago and we continue to love this destination, it never grows old (OK, it is old, but we love it.) We had a guided tour of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and enjoyed reenactments in the Charlton Coffee and Chocolate Shop, the Governor's Palace, the Fife and Drum March before sunset, and of course, dinner at Christiana Campbell's. The weather was spectacular and it was nice to visit without feeling we had to see everything in a day. 

Today was a lazy day with a little provisioning for Thursday's sail to Hampton, VA. This port is new to us so we are excited to see it. Great news, the winds look good for sailing tomorrow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Snap, crackle and pop. It's not an electrical short it's the shrimp

Saturday morning as we were getting ready for a courtesy ride  to Yorktown, Susan asked me to listen to a new funny sound on the boat.  We turned everything off and could hear a faint crackling sound that we thought was coming from the bilge.  As we started to open up the floor boards the sound became more distinct, but couldn't pinpoint the source. We kept pulling up the cushions, opening up the access and storage compatments and just couldn't find the problem.  Susan went up the the service department to ask for help, while I started to investigate if the sound was also comming from the dock or other boats.  As I was laying on the dock for the boat next to me, Susan came back to say it was just snapping shrimp.  It turns out the local Grass Shrimp feasting on the bottom of our boat are territorial and when another shrimp apporoaches they snap their claws to defend the spot.  An hour later we'd put the covers and cushions back and were off to another adventure.

More later,


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

Tools of the trade, crabbing on Tilman Island.
The Osprey have left Solomons Island.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Light Houses and Our First Dolphins

Friday morning we set off early to beat the predicted seas of 4-5 feet. Yet another day of winds on the nose with the expected seas! Land lovers, we call those "lumpy seas." However, Rick always finds the best in everything so here's our sights for today. We are settled at York River Yacht Haven across from Yorktown. We'll be here several days to enjoy Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown.
Wolf Trap Light

Mother and Baby