January 24, 2009
This is an extra entry to our 2008 blog to hope that everyone had a peaceful holiday season and that all is going well in 2009. After a six-week hiatus from sailing (but not from the boat or traveling) in Fernandina Beach, we have resumed our maritime adventures and are now in south Florida. I have started a new blog for the next leg of our travels “Florida to Panama 2009” which you will find listed next to this one on the “Tregoning” page at: www.tripsailor.com/Tregoning If you were enthusiastic enough to have email notification when something was added to the 2008 blog, I do not think that this automatically occurs for the new one. So if you are still interested in knowing when we have posted something new, you might want to go to the “Florida to Panama 2009” blog and request email notification for that. We hope to see you there!
December 01, 2008
Our overnight run from Charleston to Cumberland Island was relatively straightforward. The wind was not as westerly as forecast so it was mostly from the southwest straight onto our bow and not particularly strong. With the scent of "home" in our nostrils, we opted to motor on a direct route, using the jib to assist where possible, rather than sail a more ponderous series of tacks. A bit of a "cop-out" but the prospect of warmer weather is a strong incentive. The night sky was clear and afforded a splendid view of the stars. By now we had expected to have spent more time learning new constellations but agreed that this would be a more comfortable prospect in warmer weather, when keeping one’s head outside the shelter of the cockpit would be more pleasant.
During my 10 pm to 1 am watch, we crossed the very busy shipping channel to Savannah. A one time, there were at least 11 ships showing up on the Automatic Identification System, the lights of 8 of which were visible. I had to take evasive action to avoid a close encounter with one large container ship, making sure that we cleared its stern with plenty of room rather than crossing its bow with less than 0.2 nm separation as the AIS predicted (assuming they held their course and speed). We saw relatively few vessels on the rest of the trip and only as we approached shore at St. Mary’s Inlet and started to hear people who were on the ICW, did we realize how quiet the VHF radio had been compared to the almost constant chatter we had heard since we left Hampton.
We arrived at the Cumberland Island anchorage, at the very southern edge of Georgia, in the early afternoon of Thursday (Nov 27th), Thanksgiving Day. As anticipated, it was fairly busy with about 10 boats, but the area is large and we found a good place to anchor not far from the dock where the ferry boat lands. We had debated about going to the town of St. Mary’s, a little further up-river from our anchorage, because it is a tradition there that the townspeople host a huge Thanksgiving Pot-luck dinner for any boaters in the area. Apparently there were about 100 boats involved last year. It sounds like a delightful idea and we had heard various comments about it from fellow cruisers on the VHF but rather tired after the overnight passage and not expecting to know anyone else there, we decided to save that for another year. Getting so close to Gainesville, I was focused more on seeing our old friends there rather than using the opportunity to meet many new ones.
Randall is a keen turkey-roaster so Friday was dedicated to preparing a Thanksgiving meal for ourselves, for which he did most of the work. It takes a bit of planning with a small oven (completely filled by the precisely measured bird) and only two small burners but we had a wonderful meal in the early evening with all of the trimmings. As usual, we had plenty to spare for later meals including a large pan of turkey soup. Staying at the anchorage on Saturday and Sunday, we started to attack our long list of things to be done before we leave for the Bahamas in January. This included a few minutes putting up our Christmas decorations, a process that used to take several days at the house. Low-power LED Christmas lights for inside the boat are on our shopping list. The weather was unpleasant on Sunday with wind and rain forcing us to postpone our planned trip to shore on Cumberland Island. We have been ashore there several times in the past and there are beautiful oak woods and beaches so it was a bit disappointing, but we will try again before we head south. I made the most of the rain by going out on deck in my swimsuit to wash off all the salt spray that had accumulated since we last rinsed the boat at the dock in Charleston.
Our anchor held well despite the 20+ knot winds on Sunday but given our misadventure at this anchorage at the beginning of our trip (when the two anchors we had put out got twisted and dragged), we checked our position regularly throughout the day and night. There were about five other boats in the anchorage at this time and just as it was getting dark the closest boat, which had appeared to be getting closer all day, was clearly dragging towards us. It was lucky that Randall noticed that they got within 20 ft of us because the occupants were down below and clearly unaware of their movement. Some loud whistling got their attention and with apologies and thanks they quickly started their motor, pulled up their anchor, and moved to a more open position downwind of us. So the curse of dragging anchors at Cumberland Island continues!
On the whole, had not had a problem with our anchor dragging since the beginning of our trip largely because we had learned that our single, large claw anchor with plenty of chain rode could hold us very well. The only exception was when we were near Boston and we moved a bit in the strong winds because we had a huge rock caught in the anchor. However, we had actually be hit by another boat dragging in Hampton, VA. It was a fairly small boat and the problem occurred within a few minutes of the captain setting his anchor (apparently not very well). It was only a gentle impact near our bow but the sound brought me scurrying up on deck. No damage and he was able to set a better anchor the second time but it was a healthy reminder that one should never that the process for granted. This is why we had decided to pay for a mooring for the month in Fernandina Beach rather than anchor for free.
December 1st dawned with clearer, colder skies and we greeted the end of hurricane season and the six-month anniversary since we set off from Fernandina Beach with some relief that all was well. We moved to the mooring just off the City Marina at Fernandina Beach and after launching the dinghy we made the short trip into town. It was good to be back and we were very happy to be in a familiar place. Some things had changed in six months (the West Marine Express store had closed, for example) but the ice-cream and fudge shop was reassuringly the same. We look forward to seeing how Gainesville looks at the end of the week.
This is the end of this blog of our shake-down cruise along the East Coast of North America. We plan to spend December in north Florida making improvements to the boat, visiting friends and attending appointments in Gainesville, and spending Christmas week in Duluth, MN, with Shev, Martha, Roxy (our dog) and Indy (Shev’s dog) while Heather, Kaeden, and Atleigh will be visiting family in Spokane. These are things that we will enjoy doing but are not the focus of these sailing blogs. Our next trip will start in January when we head to south Florida, where we hope to catch up with some of our many friends there, before crossing over to the Bahamas. We hope to meet up with our Nova Scotia friends in the islands and my eldest brother, Mike, is planning to spend a few weeks with us there too. Our intention is to relax in the Bahamas without having to rush anywhere too fast, but also to spend time testing ourselves on sailing techniques (such as sail-reefing and storm-readiness, using two anchors, etc.) in preparation for longer passages. By late March we will have made our way to the southern Bahamas so that in early April we will make the 1 – 2 week passage to Panama (around the east end of Cuba). Our plans after passing through the canal into the Pacific will depend on how things have progressed and our confidence about making the really long passages to Hawaii and then Alaska, or staying around Panama and Costa Rica before easing up the west coast. The latter is a slow route against the prevailing winds and currents but without the pressure to be anywhere by a particular time, we will have the luxury of choices once we are in the Pacific and west of the Caribbean hurricane belt. So the plan is to start a new blog in January and continue documenting our travels then. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and thank you for joining us on the Part I of our cruising adventures.
November 26, 2008
Staying for two nights in Awendaw Creek was an excellent idea and a beautiful, restful place. In addition to dolphins, pelicans, cormorants and terns, we were treated to the sight of a couple of northern harriers hunting low over the saltmarsh. At low tide, oyster banks were exposed at the edge of the saltmarsh and small flocks of American oystercatchers with their long, vivid red bills delicately stalked around probing in the soft mud.
We put the free day to good use, digging down under the forward berth to our "deep storage lockers" to exchange some reading books and rescue our small bags of Christmas decorations. We also organized and listed all of our charts, including a large number that were generously given to us by Don and Mary in Gainesville from the South Pacific, Red Sea, Mediterranean, and various other exotic places that got us dreaming about possible future voyages. Monday morning brought us back to reality with a thin layer of ice on the deck but the sky remained clear and we had a glorious 30 mile run into Charleston.
We stayed at the Charleston Maritime Center which not only had very reasonable rates but had staff who were extremely helpful and friendly. We were even given a ride to pick up our replacement shroud and refill a propane tank, leaving us plenty of energy to jog and bicycle around the most attractive parts of the city. Charleston is one of our favorite cities and having just visited in June 2006, when we were delivering the boat, we were able to enjoy revisiting the areas around The Battery, the Market, and East Bay Street that we had toured then. It is called the Holy City because of the many churches and the sunshine made everything look particularly fresh and attractive.
On Tuesday, I was hoisted half way up the mast to reinstall the shroud, not once but three times… It should have only been once but somehow despite trying to be very careful (I blame slightly cold, stiff fingers) I dropped one of the bolts which obligingly bounced on the bimini top and then the deck. Unfortunately, Randall didn’t have time to catch it before it then dropped into the water and it was too deep and muddy to try to scoop it out. So off to the hardware store, which was luckily nearby, for a replacement. At the same time we visited the adjacent grocery store to get our fixin’s for a turkey dinner. We were the only people at the turkey freezer with a tape measure, looking for a small bird that would fit in our little oven!
By the end of the afternoon, the shroud was fixed and we tested all the others to make sure that they had no twisting strain on them (they did not). As much as we would have liked to stay in Charleston for the holiday, the weather was looking good for going out to sea and heading straight for Florida, so we set off with an outgoing tide around noon on Wednesday. We will likely be at sea for Thanksgiving (tomorrow) but will probably have our turkey dinner on Saturday as we get settled back into Fernandina Beach where we plan to stay for December. So until our last entry for this particular blog when we get back to Florida, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
November 22, 2008
It seemed that we were destined to slog it out in the "ditch" through the Carolinas again…but that was OK. Given that we were not going to get our replacement shroud for another week, we decided to play it safe and stay in the ICW rather than head out to sea. Although we would have probably been fine, the winds had stayed fairly lively and with the attendant wave action we chose not put extra stress on the remaining shrouds. It meant burning more diesel that we had hoped but with the NW winds we were able to use the jib to boost our motoring speed in many places even in the ICW.
The passing of the cold front on Saturday (Nov 15th) was fairly dramatic with 20 – 30 knot sustained winds and gusts up to 40 knots. Of course, this occurred after dark which makes it all seem a bit more ominous but we were fine in our South River anchorage. It was a little bouncy and I found the shrieking wind rather unsettling for a while but I have learned that I am better off in the cockpit watching what is going on rather than being in the cabin, just hearing and feeling the swinging motion on the anchor. There were tornado watches for our area on Saturday morning and evening but they did not affect us (other than encouraging us to look outside more frequently). However, a couple of tornadoes touched down in the Carolinas causing terrible damage and some deaths, one about 45 miles from us, the other 90 miles away.
Predictably, the north winds with the cold front dropped the temperatures considerably and by Wednesday morning it was near freezing outside and a nippy 42F in our cabin (thank goodness for the hot-water bottles!). There was even talk of snow flakes in the area but we did not see any. But most of the time the sun was back and blue skies do make everything seem better, so the runs on Sunday from South River to Swansboro and on Monday to Wrightsville Beach were pleasant enough. In addition to the clear skies, we also saw dolphins for the first time in weeks…a very encouraging sign that is bound to lift the spirits. Pelicans were becoming commonplace again, kingfishers were frequent, and there were a few good-sized flocks of the majestic, white, great egrets along some of the marshes bordering the ICW. On the warmer afternoons, flocks of tree swallows entertained us with their aerial acrobatics, and despite the cooler weather, we even saw a bat one peaceful evening on the Waccamaw River. The beautiful wildlife does much to improve the scenery, especially in the areas were waterfront development is on the increase.
The small anchorage at Swansboro was busy and the parade of boats on Monday was rather tedious. First we had to pass through Camp Lejeune the Marine Corps training area. They broadcast early in the morning that the ICW would be closed for four hours for live weapons training so there was a rush to begin (and complete) the transit of the area before it was closed. Then there were three swing-bridges and two of them only opened on the hour. This meant trying to time one’s approach so as not to be too early or late, inevitably meaning that a dozen or so boats were trying to be in about the same place a the same time. Not very relaxing! At least there were plenty of places to stay near Wrightsville Beach, so despite the feeling of being crowded at the bridges our anchorage there was not very busy.
With 25 – 30 knot gust predicted for the day and night on Tuesday, we decided to stay an extra day in Wrightsville Beach where we knew the anchoring conditions were good. Wrightsville Beach was the only place at which we stopped on all three of our ICW passages and we had hoped that this time we would be able to go ashore. However, the winds were sufficient to make that prospect unpleasant (having to get the dinghy off the deck, etc) so we gave up on that idea. Instead we had a productive and satisfying day working online and on the phone making arrangements for our Fernandina Beach / Gainesville stay in December.
We had a good passage through the attractive, steeply sided Snow’s Cut on Wednesday morning and a helpful current carried us down the Cape Fear River to Southport. We had originally intended to spend the night at anchor in Calabash Creek (where we had stayed on our own in June) but by the time we got there, there were eight boats already lined up long the narrow river so we decided to treat ourselves and stay at Cricket Cove Marina. We were a bit surprised that the place was not busier but it was a very long walk from our slip on the extensive dock to the on-shore facilities and even further to town, which might put some people off. We did not worry about it because we got on our bikes and rode a couple of miles to stock up at the grocery store. We also enjoyed a very good dinner at the marina’s new restaurant but sadly we were the only diners. Admittedly it was a Wednesday night in the fall but not a very optimistic sign for the business.
When we left the next morning, there was ice on the dock but we had enjoyed the luxury of running the heater in the cabin using the shore power. Even colder weather was predicted for the following days as another cold front approached, and with anchorages planned we knew that we would miss the electric heater. From Cricket Cove Marina we motored through the worst part of "the ditch", a narrow canal section call the "Rockpile" with unforgiving rock ledges along the edge and overly ostentatious development onshore. This is followed, however, by one of the best parts of the ICW as it joins the Waccamaw River. We anchored in the river a short distance upstream of the junction with the ICW for a very peaceful evening on our own surrounded by graceful cypress trees. We could not help but notice a few water hyacinths floating at the edge of the channel and some clumps of the tall native grass, giant cutgrass, both of which were species on which we had done research at UF.
On Friday we made a relatively short run enjoying the meanders along the Waccamaw River and stopping in the early afternoon at Butler Island (mile-marker 395, a few miles short of Georgetown, SC, and the site of our first anchorage after leaving Cumberland Island in June). With sunshine and a good breeze for solar- and wind-power generation we were able to wrap ourselves in blankets in the cabin and enjoy watching a couple of DVDs. Five other boats joined us later in the afternoon but we were getting the impression that the ICW parade was starting to thin out which suited us fine.
The next morning there was ice on the anchor line, the cabin was only 38F, and the daytime temperatures were not forecast to get above 45F. We started to wonder if this had to be the coldest November on record in the Carolinas. We had asked for our replacement shroud to be sent to Charleston on Monday or Tuesday so there was no rush to get to Charleston. The anchorage there is not renowned to have very good holding and 15 – 20 knot winds were predicted for Monday night so we decided to book a marina slip for Monday night. Thus, on Saturday we had a cold but pleasant run between Butler Island and Awendaw Creek at mile-marker 436. The anchorage there was surrounded by saltmarshes protected in a US Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Refuge. With only a few houses visible on the horizon and with pelicans and dolphins greeting us in the creek, we felt that we were in a remote, wild place. It was a good place to stop and relax before we approached the crowded development of the Isle of Palms leading into the city of Charleston.
November 15, 2008
The two problems that we wanted to get resolved on the boat while we were in Oriental were an inefficiency in the refrigerator that caused it to cycle on and off repeatedly when the battery voltage was low (but not as low as it should be able to tolerate) and a leak at the top of the rudder-post, which had been putting a steady trickle of water into the bilges whenever the boat was underway. The former problem was quickly resolved by Acer who replaced the power cable with a bigger wire. He pointed out various other things about the wiring that could be improved but we hope to address these more completely during our December sojourn in Fernandina Beach.
The rudder leak had been a problem since we had owned the boat and although Randall knew what needed to be done, he was reluctant to attempt to fix it himself because of the potentially severe consequences of making an error and having the rudder drop out, leaving a significant hole below the water level. Instead, he watched Jorge, the mechanic from Deaton Yacht Services, expertly make the appropriate replacements and adjustments. Jorge turned out to be an interesting person who is a fifth-generation resident of Oriental and whose great-, great-, great-grandparents had arrived in the area in the 1870s. They had been involved in the naming of the town as a result of his great-, great-, great-grandmother finding the name-plate of a sunken Union troop-transport ship (from the Civil War) on the beach in the nearby outer banks. The ship had been "The Oriental". Jorge could remember that in the late 1960s his father owned the only boat kept in Whittaker Creek (where Deaton’s was located). Now the town of Oriental with a permanent population of fewer than 1,000 is supposedly home to more than 2,700 sailboats, many of them in marinas and boatyards along Whittaker Creek.
Thus, Acer and Jorge were finished with our repairs by the end of Tuesday (Nov 11th), the day before we had expected them to even start the work! Having arrived in Oriental on the Veterans’ Day Holiday, we could not get our mail from the Post Office or our order from West Marine until the next day so we stayed for the night anyway. An evening stroll proved to us that it is a small town that, as reputed, is indeed very oriented (!) towards boating needs, which, of course, suited us just fine. On Wednesday morning, we decided to remove the broken shroud so that we could ship it back to the manufacturer to be replaced. This sounded easy but after I had been hoisted up the mast and then hoisted Randall up, it became obvious that we did not know exactly how to remove the end of the shroud that was attached half-way up the mast without risk of dropping parts down inside the mast (which would require the expensive lifting of the mast off its base on the keel for recovery). Luckily, Wag, the rigging expert from Deaton’s was able to describe to us how the attachments were made and on my second trip up the mast I was able to remove the shroud. Needless to say, by the end of this exercise our arms were tired from winching each other up the mast. Everyone was shocked to see how badly the shroud had failed (only 2 of the 19 twisted strands of wire were unbroken)and it was like nothing Wag had seen before. We were all curious to hear from the manufacturer how this could have occurred…and for us, most importantly, how we could be reassured that all the other shrouds and stays that were replaced at the same time were safe.
Having shipped the shroud off, and collected our mail and equipment order, we motored out of Oriental and across the Neuse River to a protected anchorage on the South River. Having picked a suitable bay surrounded by pine forests, we anchored just at the sun was setting and settled down to ride out the passage of a couple of rainy fronts (a warm one followed by a cold one). As predicted, Thursday was wet and windy for most of the day so we kept ourselves occupied indoors. Friday was more of the same. So was Saturday… Although we could have moved on down the ICW, we decided to wait-out the stormy weather at our South River anchorage. At least with only distant neighbors in the River, we did not have to worry about the proximity of other anchored boats swinging around in the strong winds as we would have had to at the next intended anchorages in Swansboro or Wrightsville Beach. Also, we had two tornado watches on Saturday (in fact, as I write the second one does not end for another 3 hours) indicating the potential severity of the weather, so staying in at anchor rather than having to move around with other ICW traffic seemed less stressful.
I must confess that, unlike Randall, I still get rather tense when I hear the anchor line creaking at the bow and gusts of 25 knots or more whistling in the rigging but I suppose that I am getting used to it…or at least the wind-speeds that make me nervous are gradually increasing. And looking on the bright side, the wind generator had been very effective so we have been able to use the laptop all day and even watch some college football on TV (but sadly did not get the channel with the Gator game). (The internet access is too slow to post photos on the blog but I will catch up with those soon…) The forecast is for the rest of the week to be sunny, breezy, and very cold with NW winds so we hope to head further south tomorrow…but we will likely stay in the ICW until the seas calm down later in the week.
November 11, 2008
One of the welcome sights in Hampton, VA, was the first brown pelicans that we had seen for months. This is about the northern limit of their non-summer range so we finally started to feel as though we were reaching "The South". So far it seemed that our autumnal southward journey had not been as rich in wildlife as our summer route northbound so it was a particular pleasure to have something other than seagulls to observe. Marine mammals had been absent for weeks or, at least we had not seen them, so we were all the more glad that we had been so lucky in our observations earlier in the year.
Although the morning of Friday (Nov 7th) started off cloudy and cool, by the afternoon the sun was shining and finally things were calmer, warmer, and we and the boat were beginning to dry out. We had a good cruise through the busy city of Norfolk, weaving between many Navy, commercial, and cruising vessels, and the VHF radio was abuzz with the routine warnings, requests, and other ship-to-ship communications of the Navy and commercial traffic. Once we had entered the ICW and were waiting for the various bridge openings and passage through the one lock at Great Bridge, it soon became apparent that we were not the only cruisers heading south.
In fact, the ICW was such a parade of boats going in the same direction that it was hard not to feel that one was part of a cult being drawn by some force towards a common place…but then I suppose that actually sums up the fall migration of snow-birds and full-time cruisers pretty well. Everyone was trying to get south to warmer climes without getting caught in the tail-end of hurricane season. If you had deviated from the ICW channel, you had to wait your turn to merge back into the stream of boats going south. Soon they will need to issue tickets to reserve a place in line… The radio was also alive with captains of large powerboats warning slower boats that they were about to pass on the port or starboard side, or someone warning of a dead-head (submerged log) in the channel. Generally, everyone seemed to be very civil and few were rushing along causing problems with their wakes. The desire to get to a suitable marina or anchorage before they filled up, resulted in most boats (especially the slower sailboats) setting off around dawn (6 am) and pulling into the night’s stop-over site between about 3 and 4 pm (sunset being at 5 pm). Most people appeared to have made the trip before or were following the same cruising guide, so some of the anchorages were very popular.
We had been along this route twice before but both times in June, which is late in the boating migration season, and the first time (when we were delivering this boat to Florida) we were going against the normal direction of travel. So we did have a good idea of where to stop and how long each passage should take but we were not at all used to the shorter days and the density of traffic. Suddenly, our cruising life which had seemed rather bold and unusual when we were further north looked a bit more common and mundane! And the prospect became more apparent of the Bahamas seeming very crowded in January. However, if you explore away from the main ports, the Bahamas are large and spread-out with plenty of room for anchoring, and we had to remember that the ICW was concentrating nearly all the southbound boats into a narrow channel during a few weeks in November. If the weather was cooperative, sailing out at sea south of Beaufort, NC, was starting to look even more appealing!
We made our first stop on the ICW early on Friday afternoon at the marina at Great Bridge just 12 miles south of Norfolk. It was our first marina stop in three weeks and a good opportunity to do laundry, refuel, get a pump-out, top-up with water, and have an excellent sushi dinner as Randall’s delayed birthday meal. It was lucky that we arrived early as the marina was soon full. Saturday night was spent at anchor on the north side of Buck Island (Mile Marker 59) and Sunday at Tuckahoe Point (MM 104) both sites we knew from our June passage. The skies were clear and the early sunsets were beautiful.
With the fall colors in full display the scenery along the northern part of the ICW was gorgeous. This was fortunate because the paucity of wildlife compared to our summer passages continued. It was now obvious that outside nesting season, the ospreys and bald eagles that we had seen so frequently in June were much less active or were busy elsewhere.
On Monday afternoon we anchored in the bay at Belhaven and rowed ashore to revisit the location of our enforced sojourn on the way north (when we had problems with the starter motor). When we walked into the grocery store, we saw that there was a nurse providing ‘flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Although we have been remarkably healthy throughout our shake-down cruise, it occurred to us that it would be a good idea to be protected for when we visited Gainesville and the university campus in December (a notorious time for virus exchanges after students return from traveling over Thanksgiving). The convenience was an added incentive so there we were at the end of the cookie aisle in the Belhaven Food Lion getting shots! A dawn start and a following wind on Tuesday allowed us to get to Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental by lunch time and even though the work order was set for Wednesday, Jorge and Acer were working on the boat by 2 pm. That was efficiency!
November 07, 2008
As if the NYC Police did not have enough to deal with between the Halloween Parade and election day the following Tuesday, we had learned during our walk around Central Park that the NY Marathon was being held on Sunday (Nov 2nd). A record number of participants was expected (over 38,000) so there was no question of being able to jog along the same route as I had accidentally done at the Newport Marathon. Thus, we decided that leaving on Saturday before the city was taken over by this event was a good idea. The forecast also encouraged us to leave early so we motored out of the harbor under sunny skies and on calm seas. In fact it was calm enough for us to be able to watch the Gator football game (thrashing arch-rival Georgia) on TV as we cruised down the New Jersey coast.
That night we were enchanted by the bioluminescence which lit the leading edge of the bow wave a bright, neon, turquoise and made the wake glow green. But by 4 am, when I was due to take over a three-hour watch from Randall, the wind had increased from 5 knots to 25 knots with 30 knot gusts and the glassy seas now had 6 ft waves with occasional 8 – 10 ft waves and a short interval of only 4 – 5 seconds. The wind and waves were racing past us from behind and it took me a while to get used to seeing wave crests behind us that were several feet higher than the deck…but which passed under the rising stern of the boat without a drop getting on deck. We dropped the mainsail, which we had raised in the evening, and flew along on just the jib. These conditions continued through Sunday and most of that night and by the time we arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay early on Monday morning, anything that could move had either been placed or shaken onto the floor, and we were pretty exhausted.
After motoring alongside the shipping channels heading toward Norfolk, and being passed by a submarine with a Coast Guard escort, we anchored in the harbor at Hampton, VA, and slept for much of Monday (especially Randall who managed longer watches during the rough conditions than I did). We stayed in the boat on Tuesday and Wednesday which were very wet and windy. On Tuesday night we anxiously watched the election results on TV and when Obama’s victory was announced we were happy to hear the cheers, and see a few fireworks, from the neighboring Hampton University (no prizes for guessing how we voted). Since we were in Virginia, we were rather pleased that this swing state ended up supporting Obama, although it was a close call. On Thursday we took our bikes ashore and cycled around in misty drizzle to get groceries and run a few other errands before our departure for the Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW).
We had talked about making the outside run around Cape Hatteras but our rough passage to Hampton encouraged me to argue that this part of the ICW would be less stressful than the ocean route. We also wanted to have a couple of things on the boat looked at in a boatyard and the one in Oriental, NC, was well recommended. We had not stopped before at the "Sailing Capital of North Carolina" so we were looking forward to visiting Oriental for a few days which would also give us a chance to catch up with our mail. We might go back out to sea from Beaufort, NC, to avoid the more boring "ditch" part of the ICW but that would be determined by the weather.
The marinas and the anchorage in Hampton were busier than we had expected. We had become rather used to being on our own heading south from Nova Scotia as marinas, yacht clubs, etc, closed for the season behind us. One reason for the crowd was that a yacht race to the Caribbean that had been due to leave Hampton before we got there had been held up by the stormy weather in which we had arrived. They were then being further delayed by the threat that the strong Hurricane Paloma, which had just developed in the western Caribbean and was aiming to pass over the center of Cuba and the southern Bahamas, might cross the racers’ route somewhere in the North Atlantic. Little did we know that our experience of the crush of boats in Hampton was just the beginning of a southward parade of boats and crowded anchorages/marinas on the ICW, the like of which we had not experienced before.
November 01, 2008
Having recovered from our pounding on the mooring ball in the Hudson River on Tuesday (Oct 28), we decided to stay in NYC a bit longer than originally planned, delaying our departure for Norfolk, VA, until Saturday. The weather after the storm was clear and sunny but still pretty cold in the mornings with the cabin being only 44F when we got up and our main source of heat (without shore power) being cooking on the gas stove.
On Wednesday afternoon, after assuring ourselves that the boat would be all right despite the continued breezes, we visited Macy’s Department store which was celebrating its 150th Anniversary. We also wandered around the surrounding areas including Herald Square, Bryant Park, and, as darkness fell elsewhere, Times Square. We went downtown on Thursday to see how things were going on Wall Street (the Dow Jones Index actually went up that day) and visited the Federal Hall (across Wall Street from the New York Stock Exchange). Federal Hall was where George Washington was inaugurated on April 30th, 1789 (New York was the US Capital from 1785 – 1790). It was also where Congress first met and adopted the Bill of Rights and created the Departments of State, War and Treasury, and the US Supreme Court. Given our tour of the sites in Boston that were significant in the creation of the nation, it seemed appropriate to see where the first President of the United States of America was inaugurated. Inside, there was an exhibition of interesting and candid newspaper pictures of various US Presidents from the 20th Century which fit well with the buzz of the approaching election. Interestingly we had not noticed many election posters or signs in New York City, whereas in places like New Hampshire there had been signs for competing candidates all over the place. To add to the sense that we were at the font of American democracy, there was a small demonstration in progress outside Federal Hall, protesting the vote to remove term limits for the NYC Mayor, which would allow Michael Bloomberg to stand for a third term.
We also walked around the huge Ground Zero site. This was a bit disappointing as there is not much to see other than massive construction and even that cannot be viewed from anywhere very well. There is a Visitors Center / Gallery to try to cater to the many sightseers but the lines were long and we decided to leave that for another time. Having visited in December 2001 when everything was still so raw and disorganized, we were a bit surprised that the huge construction site makes the place seem a bit mundane at the moment. I am sure that the area will be more suitably reflective once the new buildings are finished and the memorials are complete and open.
We then walked up West Broadway to met our niece Olympia at her cool job in the Anthropology store in Soho and have a lovely dinner with her. She is in charge of the design of the displays and this store is all about interesting displays of the clothing, small home-items, etc., not only in the beautiful windows but throughout the store. She clearly enjoys her job and living in NYC and it was wonderful to see where she worked. As we dined in a bar/restaurant where we were surrounded by intriguingly carved pumpkins, she encouraged us to try to attend the Halloween Parade the following evening although she warned us that the crowds were large and formed early.
Having cruised past the United Nations Buildings when we came down the East River, it seemed like a good idea to take a tour of the place, which we did on Friday morning. As might be expected, there were visitors from all over the world and it really was inspiring to see the flags representing the 192 member countries fluttering outside. The wait for the hour-long tour was not too bad and there were many interesting sculptures and displays to peruse outside and while waiting in the lobby. That day the General Assembly Hall was open (but not the Security Council Room) and the guide did and excellent job of emphasizing the purpose, jurisdiction, and operations of the UN. There were various interesting exhibits in the corridors outside the Hall, including exotic gifts to the UN from various nations (such as the incredible carving made from eight elephant tusks given by China in 1974 – prior to the ivory trade ban), items recovered from Hiroshima that were burned in the atomic explosions, and "Plumpy Nut" a 5,000 calorie food ration based on peanuts that does not need to be refrigerated and can be fed to starving children. It was amazing to sit at the back of the General Assembly Hall which can seat more than 1,800 people and see where so many global issues are discussed and decisions made. The pairs of representatives from each country are seated alphabetically in the hall but the starting point (at the front of the hall) is randomly changed every so often. While we were there the first country was a country beginning with B (maybe Brazil…I forget) so the A’s were all at the back (Argentina’s desk is visible in the photo).
Although I’m not one to usually comment upon, or particularly enjoy gift shops, there were some very good ones in the basement at the UN. Some sold items from the UN agencies’ catalogs (e.g., UNICEF cards and gifts), while the main one had not just generic UN items but also specialty products from a huge variety of different countries, all neatly displayed and labeled by country of origin. It was a global exhibit in itself. The gardens outside were closed for renovations and there were signs to explain how the whole UN complex was undergoing an overhaul to make it more sustainable.
While in an international mood, we took the subway to Chinatown and walked along some of the busy streets. It was remarkable how much it looked, sounded, and felt like being in China, a privilege that I enjoyed in 2006 when I went with my friend and colleague, Kaoru, to Hong Kong, Hainan Island, Kunming, and surrounding area. After much debate we finally selected a restaurant for lunch where we were seated in the far back (only Chinese patrons in the window seats) and enjoyed an excellent meal. It was lucky that we had a large, late lunch because we ended up staying in town for the Halloween Parades and having got a front-row place to stand, dared not leave to get any dinner!
From Chinatown we went to Greenwich Village and wandered around looking for the streets and bars, such as The Bitter End Bar, that Randall had knew about from the Beatnik days. When we found ourselves surrounded by small children in costumes we realized that there was a children’s parade before the main event. The stores that sell costumes must do very well in that area! We also noticed that children (with their parents) go "Trick or Treating" in the small, local stores, restaurants, and even into places like The Bitter End Bar… We also saw masses of NY Police Officers being assembled in preparation for the parade. Presumably parades are regular enough events in NYC that their organization is routine but we were impressed to see so many cops gathered together.
We found a place on a barrier near the beginning of the main parade route on 6th Avenue about two hours before it started and waited for the sun to set, the crowds to amass, and the parade to begin at 8:30 pm. The crowd was good natured and the route was well patrolled by police officers who generally seemed to be in relaxed moods. This parade is a bit unusual (in our experience) in that anyone in costume can participate. It starts with some organized teams walking on stilts in ghostly costumes or working puppets and banners that sweep out over the crowd. There are bands or music at various intervals along with coordinated dance groups or floats, and between them are random collections of folk in costume just walking along and having a good time. Yes, we saw some Sarah Palin’s (one was amazingly similar to her) but mostly it was the usual Halloween themes (photos with next journal entry).
We decided to leave before the end, thinking that this would give us a better chance of being able to get on the subway sometime before mid-night. We did manage that but only after being squeezed along in the densest crowd I have ever experienced to get from our vantage point on 6th Avenue out to a side road. We were not the only people wanting to take the subway but the police were allowing people to enter in groups so that the platforms and turnstiles did not get over-crowded. While it all looked chaotic and rather alarming to us, NYC parade neophytes, it was all remarkably well organized and well worth the effort to experience.
October 29, 2008
We had left Florida on June 1st and had hastened up the East Coast to try to distance ourselves from the summer heat and the most frequent targets for hurricanes. Now the challenge is returning to Florida after hurricane season is over (end of November) but without getting too cold or caught up in too many frontal storms. We are learning that the latter may be inevitable. The winds had whistled over us in Oyster Bay on Saturday night (Oct 25th) with 40 knot gusts that created a steady 1 – 2 ft roll of white-capped waves under us, even though the fetch (distance upwind of us to land) was not very far (less than half a mile). The anchor held us very well and after various adjustments to the securing lines, the dinghy bounced around behind us quite happily (happier than me at times…wishing, after our recent dinghy-flipping incident, that we had hauled it up on deck or at least removed the motor.) We didn’t try to venture to shore for the Oyster Bay parade so we do not know if it went ahead as scheduled despite the strong winds. But if it did, at least the rain held off until later in the afternoon.
Sunday, however, dawned sunny and relatively calm allowing us to hoist the dinghy on deck comfortably and easily get a pump-out (of the toilet holding tanks) at the free, do-it-yourself, hand-cranked, pump-out station on a dock floating in the bay’s mooring field (every harbor should have one). With empty tanks and happy hearts we motored out of the bay and west, into the wind, towards the familiar skyline of New York. We anchored in the early afternoon on the northeast side of City Island which is just three miles from the imagination-inspiring, Throg’s Neck Bridge that marks the west end of Long Island Sound and beginning of the East River. It was such a lovely afternoon that we considered relaunching the dinghy and going ashore to explore on our bikes…but instead opted to relax in the sun and enjoy watching the week-end sailors who had been denied their fun the day before.
Passing through New York City on the East River on a week-day is recommended because most of the traffic will be commercial boats who are experienced with the conditions there. For boats such as ours with a low maximum motoring speed (about 7 knots), there is some debate as to the best time to get to Hell Gate, an infamous section of the passage where 7 knot and shifting currents are not unusual. The most conservative approach is to aim to reach the Gate at the slack of high-tide just before the current starts to ebb out into New York Harbor. This requires motoring for an hour against the current to get to Hell Gate at slack water. We had studied the hallowed "Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book" and read numerous online sailing discussions and settled on a plan that should be a bit more exciting, getting us to Hell Gate an hour after stack water when about a 4 knot current would carry us through. Thus, our Monday morning objective was to get to Throg’s Neck two hours after high tide at The Battery (the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island) which that day was at 7:47 am.
A large barge and two local sailboats passed us on our way to the bridge but otherwise we saw remarkably little boat traffic which allowed us to thoroughly enjoy the ride through the city. It was another beautifully sunny day, although hazy at water level, and we swung through Hell Gate at an impressive 10.6 knots (speed over ground) although we were probably only motoring through the water at 6 knots. As we zoomed past we studied: LaGuardia Airport, the partly dismantled Shea Stadium, (but we couldn’t identify the World’s Fair site beyond), Rikers Island (a huge prison complex), Hell Gate (where the Harlem River joins the East River), Roosevelt Island (a narrow island that divides the East River into an east and west channels for about a mile), the high-rises of the Upper East Side, the United Nations Building, the gleaming pinnacle of the Chrysler Building, the familiar Empire State Building, the lower buildings of mid-town and the East Village, the high-rises of the Financial District (including the hyperactive Wall Street – the NY Stock Exchange gained 900 points that day), The Battery, the Statue of Liberty, and around into the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan Island. We passed under about 10 bridges including the Queensboro (59th St) Bridge over Roosevelt Island, and the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. By taking the western channel around Roosevelt Island we avoided the only bridge that we would have needed to have opened for us (at 110-130 ft the rest are easily high enough) which is just as well because it would have been interesting trying to hold against the current to wait for a bridge to open. With the buildings gleaming in the sunshine it was an excellent ride and we were very glad to have been encouraged back in Newport to make this passage. In addition to the constant buzz of small commercial and sight-seeing helicopters around the harbor, as we started up the Hudson River a formation of six miliary helicopters flew low past us.
The trip up the Hudson River was more familiar to us as we had come this way with my brother Mike in May 2007 at the beginning of our trip south to deliver the boat to Florida. This time we passed the grand Surfside 3 Marina where we had spent the night on that trip (listening to golf balls being pinged out towards to the river from the adjacent sports complex and multi-story golf-driving range) and kept going north to the publically managed, West 79th Street Boat Basin where we picked up a mooring for a reasonable $30 per night. Although the marina is packed in the summer, there were several mooring available at this time of year and we recognized at least one of the other half-dozen or so cruisers that appeared to be stopping for just a few nights like us. The moorings are fairly close to each other in three rows running parallel to the Riverside Park on shore on the east side of the river and typically the boats swing around to face up- or down-river depending on whether the tide is flooding or ebbing. There are some waves as ferries or barges pass by but normally boats are held relatively steady by the current.
We launched the dinghy and went ashore for the afternoon to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful day and autumn colors as we wandered around the Upper West Side and through Central Park. Later in the evening we returned to shore to have dinner with friends, Curtis and Alastair, who have a wonderful residence in a classic, turn-of-the-century New York building just three blocks away from our mooring. We shared an excellent meal and swapped New York, Florida, and sailing stories well into the evening. It gave us a chance to ask lots of useful questions about things to do during our stay and made us feel much more involved with life in the city. Pleasantly wined, fed, and cheered, we returned to the boat and had finished securing the dinghy just as the forecast rain started to fall.
During Saturday’s storm in Oyster Bay there had been some discussion that the weather would again deteriorate on Tuesday but as the day had approached the forecasts kept increasing the severity and duration of the storm as a pair of low pressure systems converged over us and winds were sucked in from a high pressure system to the northwest. We were prepared for Tuesday to be wet and windy and had planned indoor activities (such as a tour of the UN) accordingly. Instead, we did not leave the boat before Wednesday afternoon, having been rudely tossed out of bed by a violent sideways rolling of the boat early on Tuesday morning. The winds had picked up a bit earlier than predicted and a 30 knot north wind with 40 knot gusts was howling straight down the Hudson River at us. The problem was that the tide was flooding upstream at the same time and the conflict of the opposing wind and current was making 4 to 6 foot waves that were rolling by us in very quick succession. The scene on the mooring field was chaos. Boats were being blown and pushed by the water in all directions so that much of the time the waves were broadside (hence the violent rolling which dumped many cabin items on the floor). Like us, other cruisers were scurrying out on deck, some to find their dinghy cast adrift (luckily it floated on its own into the marina), others to fear that their mooring was not holding them in place and they were dragging towards the marina or out into the channel. Other than being tossed by the waves, our biggest problem was being blown ahead of our mooring and alarmingly close to the wildly swinging, unmanned, boat ahead of us. While three other cruisers decided to abandon their moorings and either tie up at the marina (there were only a couple of deep-enough slips left) or try to pick up a mooring in a less crowded area, we started the engine and put our boat slowly in reverse, gently pulling against the mooring and away from our wild neighbor. This position put our stern pointing into waves which is not streamlined like the bow, but our boat actually handles stern waves quite well. Slightly more alarmingly it meant that the dinghy was regularly surfing towards us, threatening to be launched onto the stern deck but never quite getting there. To make sure that the dinghy lines did not drift down into the propellor when slack, I sat on the stern deck and held them for a while until it started to rain at which time we devised a better system using bungee cords to hold the lines out of the water.
Eventually the wind dropped a bit and the tide turned so that the waves calmed down and we could turn the motor off. Instead of taking watches sitting in the cockpit as we had done for a few hours, we both stayed in the cabin and set the kitchen timer to remind one of us to look outside and check that all was well every 15 minutes. As it turned out, the dawn madness was the worst it got because of the particular wind and current conditions but the forecast was for the strongest winds to occur mid-evening. Thus, although we were less anxious than we had been when things had felt rather out-of-control during the morning, the day was not exactly relaxing as the second blast was anticipated. The news was full of stories of flooding from the more-than 2-inch downpours and the exceptionally high tides, power outages from wind damage, and snow blanketing the inland areas of New York and New Jersey. The NOAA weather reports described the "unseasonably cool air temperatures" and movement of an "anomalously cold airmass" creating these unusually early snow falls and strong winds…just our luck!
However, for us plenty of wind means lots of power generation so we watched a DVD and some TV as the winds whistled around us, and Randall learned about the joys of the hot-water-bottle (never needed during his central California childhood) as temperatures dropped close to freezing with the north winds. Luckily, the winds backed to the west during the day so that even with the stronger gusts on Tuesday night there was no repeat of the alarming waves because the fetch was short across the river and it did not oppose the currents. Randall slept in the salon for most of the night fully dressed so that he could check outside whenever anything sounded or felt unusual. With a lot of debris, including some large logs, floating by in the river it was not unusual to hear things bumping along the hull. By Wednesday morning, although cold and still gusting to 20 knots, we felt much more confident about the boat and dinghy’s safety and were willing to plan a short venture to shore between tide changes in the afternoon. We enjoy visiting New York City and we like reasonably priced places to stay…but we will happily skip the news-worthy storm conditions next time.
October 25, 2008
We had thoroughly enjoyed the visit from Martha, visiting Cape Cod, the islands, and Newport but now it was time to head further south (well, technically, it would be west at first). Before departing Newport on Saturday (Oct 18th) we wandered through the Seafood Festival being held at the wharf adjacent to ours. Despite the bitter north wind whistling between the buildings, the event was well attended with a good variety of fare available but overall it was small affair compared to the Shrimp Festival we had attended in Fernandina Beach in the spring. Still, it made a nice send-off from Newport.
We motored further north into Narragansett Bay, under the suspension bridge that had been visible from our marina slip and was so attractively lit at night, and eventually around the north end of Conanicut Island which separates the East and West Passages into the Bay. We could then sail downwind on just the jib to our anchorage on the west side of Conanicut Island, in the north end of the cove of Dutch Island Harbor. During our passage south from Boston, we had noticed that one of the shrouds (guy wires that support the mast) had begun to unravel from its top. This is not a good thing… especially when all the shrouds were new in March. At least this was one of three shrouds on the starboard side and only went half-way up the mast, and we had put our spare halyard (rope that runs over a pulley at the top of the mast and is used to hoist sails, etc.) in a supporting position. We had decided not to worry about it during Martha’s visit but were being careful not to put too much pressure on the sails. We initiated calls to find out what could be done about replacing the shroud, which we hoped would be covered by a warranty, and getting a gratis check of how all the others looked. In the meantime, we decided to try to limit ourselves to one sail at a time unless the wind was on the port side (in which case that shroud would have been relatively slack anyway.) As it turned out, over the next few days the winds were strong enough and in suitable directions that we were able to get good speeds sailing on just the jib most of the time.
We stayed in our anchorage for a couple of nights to get things on the boat back into two person mode (i.e., loading stuff back into the fore-cabin) and to wait out some particularly gusty north winds. On Monday, with a good north breeze we sailed south out of the Bay, around Point Judith, and about 30 miles west to Watch Hill, the westernmost town on the Rhode Island coast. After cautiously motoring along a narrow channel in the shallow bay between Stonington, CT and Watch Hill we had a lovely anchorage just on the north side of a sandy bar that separated us from the eastern end of Long Island Sound. The evening was actually very calm and we enjoyed listening to the waves rolling ashore on the other side of the sand bar.
We had discussed visiting Mystic, CT, specifically Mystic Seaport Museum, a simulated 19th century working port and sea-faring village with a variety of interesting boats including a tall ship and others being restored and preserved. However, our cruising guide was not encouraging about places to anchor that would be close enough to dinghy into town and the prices for marina slips were surprisingly high. We were also in the mood to keep going west and south so we decided to save Mystic for another trip. In the glassy conditions of Tuesday we motored 55 miles westwards, close to the north shore of Long Island Sound and anchored in "The Gulf" north of Charles Island and near Milford Harbor. As forecast, the north winds picked up again resulting in a rather noisy and bouncy night.
On our way north in July, we had sailed straight from Lewes, Delaware to Block Island, RI, on the ocean (south) side of Long Island. This time we were going to take the "inside passage" and stay in Long Island Sound until we passed through New York City on the East River. Having not been in Long Island Sound before, we were interested in the new potential ports of call and were slightly lulled into thinking that sea conditions would not get too bad. Thus, it was rather foolishly that we headed out on Wednesday morning with the dinghy still in tow, as it had been since Martha’s Vineyard. With north and NW winds of 20 – 25 knots and gusts up to 30 knots forecast, we set our sights on crossing the sound and getting to a sheltered anchorage in Oyster Bay on Long Island by early afternoon. We did reach our target but several hours later than expected…via a detour to Bridgeport, CT.
We were rather pleased with ourselves when we left our anchorage at Charles Island without having to start the engine. After hauling up the anchor, we were steadily blown out of "The Gulf" under "bare poles" (no sails) and then pulled out the jib for a swift ride down the Sound. The choppy waves were at least the forecast 2 – 4 ft height and there were frequent 30 knot gusts but we were making good progress and all seemed well until there was an odd noise from the stern and we looked back to see the dinghy still attached but upside-down. The good news was that the outboard motor was on its mount on Tregoning and not on the dinghy (of course, it might have weighed it down enough not to flip over but a submerged outboard is not a happy engine). Also the oars were well enough secured to the top of the dinghy tubes to survive being towed under the water. Remarkably, the only loss/damage was the wooden seat (needed for rowing) was gone by the time we turned the dinghy over. We apologize for leaving it in the Sound.
It was too rough and windy to deal with the dinghy in open water so we started the engine and prepared to head for the closest shelter. This was Bridgeport about 10 miles due north of us. It took a huge effort to furl up the jib and in doing so the jib sheets (lines) became tangled into a massive knot that took about 10 minutes to untie once we were sheltered. But we did get the jib in and slowly motored against the wind and waves into the shelter of Bridgeport harbor. In the lee of a large power plant we dropped an anchor and flipped the dinghy over, hoisted it up on deck, untangled the jib sheets, and secured the mainsail with extra sail-ties. We were thankful that loss of the seat was the worst damage from the event and that we had coped with everything all right but we could not quite believe that we had been stupid enough to try towing the dinghy under those conditions. Another lesson learned on the shake-down cruise!
From Bridgeport the crossing to Oyster Bay was fairly straightforward. We used just a partial jib and flew across the Sound. As we headed southwest, it was exciting to realize that one of the towers starting to appear on the western horizon was the unmistakable shape of the Empire State Building, a good 30 – 35 miles away.
We anchored in Oyster Bay Harbor and after studying the weather forecast and tidal currents in the East River decided that we would be staying there for several nights. This was our first visit to Long Island and the following day we relaunched the dinghy and motored it to the town dock from where we explored the small town. We took our bikes into town on Friday and rode out to the grocery store as well as mailing our absentee ballots. This was my first Presidential election and we wanted to be sure that our ballots arrived in plenty of time for election day.
Many of the large houses that we passed on our way into Oyster Bay were probably summer or weekend homes for New York City dwellers and the stores in town reflected this along with the change in appearance of pedestrians between Thursday and Friday. For example, we were told that Billy Joel has a house across the bay from where we were anchored. The citizens of Oyster Bay are particularly proud of their link to Theodore Roosevelt who had a house on the adjacent Sagamore Hill (now open to the public). There is the attractive waterside Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park with a "stone chronology" of his life (an annotated collection of stones and bricks from places in his life), a large statue of him on one of the main streets, and on Saturday was to be a parade to celebrate the 150 anniversary of his birth. We had hoped to go the to parade but, as forecast, strong winds and a threat of rain encouraged us to stay on the boat at the anchorage. Saturday night was predicted to be particularly wet and windy although with the wind from the south, it was at least warmer than it had been with the north winds. We planned to leave on Sunday, spend the night at the west end of the Sound and then go through the East River to stay on the Hudson River on Monday.