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.