Saturday, October 31, 2009

Where are the Monarchs?

Daytona Beach, FL
29 09.28 N 080 58.55 W

Where are the monarch butterflies? In August I saw a news item in Vermont saying that sightings of monarch butterflies are non-existent or greatly diminished this year. That sensitized me to keep a watch.

In past years, as we migrated south down the east coast, we sighted monarchs almost every day. Even out at sea we saw monarchs. I remember in particular the sad case of a monarch I saw at sea. He or she was trying mightily to fly to Tarwathie. But he or she was loosing altitude by the second. Finally, the poor thing hit the water and drowned just one or two meters away from the safe haven of the boat.

This year, since being sensitized, I've spotted zero monarch butterflies. What is your experience? Have you seen them? Are there more media articles about their fate? I'd like to know.

p.s. Today is a really beautiful Florida day. Tonight we're going out to diner with high school classmates from Fayetteville-Manlius. I'll write about it tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fort Matanzas

Fort Matanzas, FL
29 43.01 N 081 14.45 W

Several times before, cruisers told us that Fort Matanzas was a great anchorage. I think it is a favorite of Done & Margaret & Tiller and of Pat & Walt. Always before, we passed it by because of fear of running aground at the entrance. This year, we arrived at the entrance at high tide, so we took the chance. It worked fine. We saw no depths less than 8 feet entering. Tomorrow morning at 0644 it will be high tide again and we'll exit.

So what's so nice here? In the first place, is the Fort. Fort Matanzas was built by the Spanish in 1740 to keep the British out. It was also the site of a massacre of 300 Frenchmen by the Spanish in 1565. Today it is part of the national park service. We took the dinghy over to the park office, and rode the park's ferry over to the fort. The fort is very small, very basic, but because of its superb strategic location is was invincible and could not be challenged. The fort needed only a compliment of six men. We learned a lot of history.

We also hiked on the park's nature trails. It is a wonderfully pristine area of unspoiled Florida nature. The inlet also abounds with fish. Alas we don't have Florida licenses and there are Florida Wildlife Commission men running around checking up on the fishermen. It is interesting that neither the Spanish nor the French were able to survive here without external provisions of food. One wonders why they couldn't simply fish for their supper.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, FL

We're making a quick one hour stop here in Saint Augustine. I want to shop at The Sailor's Exchange -- like a pawn shop for boat stuff.

Yesterday it was cloudy. We peered and peered in the direction of Cape Canaveral at the time of the rocket launch, but we couldn't see anything. Too bad.

I listened to The Cruisheimer's Net on SSB radio yesterday. It seems like the median cruiser is still in Elizabeth City North Carolina. I'll bet they'll have to deal with a lot of cold before getting here. We're glad to be ahead of the pack. One disadvantage though; the no-see-ums are alive and thriving. They drove us nuts last evening.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Place Memory

En Route, Pablo Creek, FL
30 20.88 N 081 36.22 W

You know what it feels like to drive the road between your work and your house. You have become completely familiar with the route. You know every twist and turn and you probably have some memory associated with each twist and turn. Well that is the way we have become with the US East Coast; both on the outside and on the inside (ICW). The exceptions are Long Island Sound where we have still never sailed, and the New Jersey ICW which is too shallow for us to attempt.

One major difference between driving and boating is speed. If you drive south down I95, then each mile passes in less than one minute. In a sailboat, the same mile would take 14 minutes. That gives us much more time to notice the setting, the scenery and the adjacent objects of interest. Therefore, I estimate that the acclimation ratio is 100:1. That is for each one pass via boat, one builds up the same mental acclimation as 100 passes via automobile. The route between your home and work you have probably traveled many thousands of times.

In the past week or two, I noticed that I have much stronger memories of some places than others. Seemingly innocuous places like the 300 yard stretch between green markers 184 and 186 I remember very clearly, and then a related but different memory of the 186-188 stretch. Strange. Delving into my own memories, I realize that I remember best those places we passed under sail or under adverse conditions. Sometimes the weather is against us and we really have to work hard to make the next mark without tacking. Sometimes, we are worried about approaching bad weather, or a change in the tide or approaching sunset. The more challenging the experience, the stronger the memory. When I think really hard about what I remember about 184-186 the answer is almost always how strong the wind was, from which direction it blew, and how hard we had to work to get where we're going. Alternatively, we may have passed 184 on another day with gentle breezes and blue sky when we were enchanted by the beauty. I conclude that we don't remember the places so much as the exciting life experiences. Passing by those places once again triggers recall of those memories.

I guess that is a large part of the reason why we love the cruising life so much and why so many blog readers wish that they too could cruise. The secret is that we really live life more intensely. We generate non-repetitive and memorable experiences almost every day. If we lived on land, how many days would pass where we did nothing more than watch TV, read a book and drive to the store?

To what do we owe our good fortune to be able to live such a life. Brushing modestly aside, I'll admit that it takes a little courage and a lot of determination. Equally important is good heath. If either of us had serious health problems we couldn't do it. We can thank our lucky stars for that.

I usually shy from offering advice, but this time I'll make and exception. If you enjoy good health, good for you. But you have no idea how long that will last. If you want to live the cruising live, do it ASAP, before some misfortune robs you of the opportunity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Terror On The Lake

Fernandina Beach, FL

Here's a blog post that's been sitting in my out box for some months.

Remember the day when we got hit with a boat full of kids and grandkids on Valcour Island, when the wind came up and blew like Dickens. We had a heck of a time sailing back against that wind with kids getting scared and sea sick. I wanted to give up and seek shelter until the wind died but we didn't. I wrote a blog post about it here. Well, after the fact, I learned of two real life dramas that were playing out on that same afternoon close to the same location where we were.

The first story you are getting third hand. I heard it second hand from a cruiser in Vergennes. That same afternoon, as we departed Sloop Cove on Valcour Island, another group of boats were anchored near by in Smugglers Cove. Smugglers Cove is very small but it is marvelously sheltered from wind and waves in almost all directions. But on that day the wind and waves came from that particular direction that funneled waves in to the north end of the cove. Well, as the story goes, there was a house boat anchored at that spot, and before long its anchor dragged and the boat was driven up on the beach where it would be pounded by the towering waves.

Since the beach was fine gravel, and since house boats have a relatively flat bottom, I think the skipper's best choice would be to do nothing and wait for the weather to change (it did change 5 hours later). But that's speculation. I was not on the scene. The house boat skipper, called for tow boat assistance. There is no Sea Tow or Tow Boat US franchise on Lake Champlain, but he did manage to contact someone willing to help. That someone appeared with an ordinary cabin cruiser, no towing frame or special equipment.

According to the story I heard, a crew man jumped off the tow boat and swam ashore with the towing line. (SWAM???) The tow line was attached to a bridle connected to ordinary cleats in the stern. In case you don't know, cleats are not nearly strong enough to use to anchor a tow line. What an amateur! Then, as they were towing, the house boat family, man, woman and children, waded in the surf and pushed on the house boat as the tow boat tugged. The witness telling me the story said that he feared that the people would be crushed under the heaving boat. Finally, the boat was freed from the beach. The family swam out the the boat. SWAM!!!??? Then the captain of the house boat swam to the tow boat to settle the bill. SWAM!!!??? All this was transpiring both boats drifted toward a rock cliff in the fierce winds. A witness said that he thought that both boats were about to end up on the rocks. Oh my God. The whole thing sounded like a recipe for death and injury caused by massively bad judgment.

A second story. Jenny told me that the newspapers reported that on that same afteroon a large sailboat was washed up on to the rocks near Valcour island and ground to bits between the waves and the rocks. The crew was rescued.

What is the point? Just that safety, seamanship, and good sense are sometimes needed just as much on an inland lake as in the open sea.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guru Chris

Ferandina Beach, FL

In yesterday's blog I said that weather Guru Chris Parker had said that Sunday night would not be a good night to be off the coast of Georgia. There was potential of a tropical story formation. The official NOAA weather service data contradicted him. They said the tropical storm broke up and their forecasts for wind and waves showed mild conditions. Guess what? Chris was right. Numerous boats, including some very big ones, tried to leave Ferandina this morning, but they all came back saying "too rough." I guess that's why we call Chris a guru but we never say that about the NOAA National Weather Service. The bottom line: we are really glad that we arrived yesterday rather than today.

We're glad to be back in Florida. The temperatures and humidity yesterday and today have been so pleasant. Today it's partly rainy and blustery, bus in between it still feels good. Can't stay here too long though. Florida north of Vero Beach gets pretty cold in winter.

Tonight, we're invited to dinner with Charlie and Mary. That is a couple that we met two years ago at the Welcome Center on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. Cool.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Florida Express

At Sea
31 01.06 N 081 12.40 W

Beaufort is a nice place. I wouldn't have minded staying there a few days. However, Libby met some cruisers in the laundry. One of them had been consulting with weather guru Steve Parker. Steve said that Sunday night would not be a good time to be on the coat of Georgia. There is a possibility of tropical storm formation. That motivated us to leave ASAP.

ASAP meant turn of the tide at 1430. However, the wind was still blowing from the south. The forecast said that it would turn NW then N after midnight. I had my doubts, but off we went.

Getting out the 12 mile long channel of Port Royal Sound against the wind and seas was miserable. Tarwathie performs poorly when motoring against a chop. She porpoises, dives her nose into waves, lifts her propeller out of the water and loses forward momentum. The best speed I could manage with full throttle was 3 knots. It was miserable.

When we finally got to the end of the channel, I was able to raise the main sail. That stabilized us. It also put us on a tack pointing toward Africa. Not for long though. Within an hour, the forecasted wind shift came. Soon we were sailing with a double reefed main, plus jib. We were making 6-6.5 knots and heading for our destination.

The wind continued to freshen. An hour later she was moving 7.5-8 knots and becoming impossible to steer. I had to take the main sail down. We still did 6.5 knots on jib only.

The wind still freshened. About four hours later we were sailing 7-7.5 on the jib only. We were nearly close hauled into the wind, and she was becomming difficult to steer again. Finally though, the wind veered to the North (behind us) and the wind speed began declining. We were still able to maintain 6 knots until 0600. Now (0800) we are motor sailing. We expect to reach Ferandina by noon. Remarkable. What a fast passage.

We are also about to cross the magic 31 north line of latitude. It is magic because our insurance policy says we aren't covered for named storms below 31 north until November 1. So if a surprise hurricane pops up in the next 6 days we'll have to perhaps turn around a flee northward. I think the chance is slight.

Is our migration complete? No. Reaching Florida is a milestone but we still migratory until we reach Vero. We'll take the opportunity to poke around Northern Florida for a week or so. We have friends in Ferandina and we have places not visited yet.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Its Too Darned Hot

South Carolina ICW
32 30.51 N 080 37.70 W

One hour after sunset last night it was 78F (26C) in the cabin. We couldn't open the windows because of a swarm of no-see-ums outside. "It's too darned hot," I said, "Maybe we should go north again." Just kidding. But what a remarkable change of climate. We have arrived at warmward.

My plan for our offshore passage was to arrive at Steamboat Creek to anchor before sunset. We dropped anchor just 4 minutes before sunset. Don't misunderstand me, our punctual arrival was not the result of skill in planning or execution. It was just a coincidence. When sailing a passage like that with the vagarities of wind and current, arrival plus or minus half a day is as accurate as we get.

The passage down was mostly uneventful. No ships tried to run us down. One exception. In mid afternoon as Libby napped, I was scared out of my socks by a terrifically loud BANG BANG. What the heck? Were we in the middle of a Navy live fire zone? I looked all around us and saw nothing. After a while, I understood. It was a sonic boom, probably from a F18 because F18s make two shock waves when they fly supersonically, hence BANG BANG rather than just BANG. I wonder how close to us he was.

This section of South Carolina is particularly beautiful. It is an area of salt marshes, seemingly endless twisty little creeks, wooded islands, prolific dolphins, pelicans, and egrets, not to mention the fish. It's pretty flat though so it defies my attempts to capture its beauty with my camera. Libby says, "This area allows us to see the beauty of the Georgia salt marshes without ever really going there." True.

This morning I gave Libby the helm while I relax on the forward deck just watching the scenery, sipping my third cup of coffee and reading the Wall Street Journal. Wait a minute? How did the WSJ get out here? That sounds incongruent. A while back I got an offer from Delta Airlines. My flyer points were about to expire, would I like an alternate gift. I chose 39 weeks of the WSJ as my gift. They go to Jenny in Burlington. Once a month or so she gathers them with other mail and forwards a package to us. Right now, I'm up to mid September in my WSJ reading.

Why read old papers? I love the WSJ, not for its news of the day or its stock quotes but for its wonderful in-depth feature stories, and columns and letters, and editorials. It is one of the few remaining sources of quality journalism.

Tonight we'll be in Beaufort, SC.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Look Out, Look Up, Look Down

At Sea
32 39.93 N 079 37.50 W

It is 0130; the middle of the night. The wind and waves are light. The sky is clear and moonless. It is surprisingly warm for a clear night; 69F (21C) In those circumstances, I like to move up near the bow to stand my watch rather than sitting in the cockpit. That gets me away from the lights of all those instruments. My eyes adjust and I can appreciate the night scene better. Tonight there is lots to see.

Looking out horizontally, I am amazed that I can make out the fine details of waves up to 100 feet away by just starlight. I guess there is a vast difference between a dark moonless clear night and a dark moonless cloudy night. Modern man who is seldom far from artificial light sources doesn't get mush opportunity to study outdoor scenes by starlight very often. I for one, tend to underestimate how much starlight there is.

Also, looking out horizontally I can see the lights of Myrtle Beach reflecting on the sky to the north, and the lights of Charleston to the southwest. Before it got dark I could also see the band of clouds that mark the Gulf Stream about 20 miles eastward. Since we're heading south, we don't want to be anywhere near the Gulf Stream.

Looking up, the stars and the milky way are beautiful. But that's not all. There is a very active meteor shower in progress tonight. I see about one meteor per minute and one veryl big one every 10 minutes or so. One in particular was outstanding. I didn't see it streak across the sky but I did see an intense burst of light. It was comparable to the light of one of those big bank rockets at a fireworks display. I looked in that direction and I could see a glowing smoke trail. The trail stayed visible for a minute. Wow; that was very cool.

Looking down, I see the phosphorescence in the bow wave that Tarwathie throws off the hull. It glows blue-green and it is flecked with fleeting sparkles of brither white light. Actually, this phosphorescence is moderate. I saw much brighter phosphorescence off the coast of New Jersey. Someone told me that the phosphorescence is due to chemicals manufactured by bacteria in the water. If that's true it should be called bio luminescence rather than phosphorescence.

Is is possible that the bio luminescent glow of Tarwathie's wake could be detected by a satellite? I think not. However, the sensitivity of those instruments grows rapidly. I would not be surprised to hear of wake tracking by satellite within a decade or two. How about deep space probes? The day may come when they might be able to detect bio luminescence in the night sky of planets in distant solar systems. I think a spectrographic analysis of that light would show conclusive proof of the existence of the organic molecules that glow. That would be extremely strong evidence of life on another planet. I think detection of bio luminescence is an excellent candidate for the first detection of life on a distant planet. Not in our lifetimes but soon.

As I write this, I'm entertained by a pod of dolphins that are following us. It is exciting to see them jump so high out of the water and to crash back down with an enormous splash. That's the third pod we picked up so far. I'll take that as a good omen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Warmward Ho!

At Sea
33 50.29 N 078 02.47 W

We're trying something new. The wind for the next two days will be very light. Probably too little to sail. The waves are also very small. In those circumstances, why motor down the ICW? Why not motor on the outside?

We travel on a straight line. No zigs or zags. No tidal currents to impede us. No shallow spots or shoals. No wakes from passing boats. We make progress 24 hours per day instead of 8/10 hours on the ICW. In rough numbers, we make as much progress south in 24 hours on the outside as we would make in 1 week on the ICW. Why not indeed?

What are the down sides? The weather could turn bad. (The chances are slim.) We normally hate motoring at sea because the boat rocks and rolls too much in the swells without the sail to stabilize us. (There are almost no swells today and tomorrow.)

So that's what we're doing. We just departed from Cape Fear. We'll motor to North Edisto River, with bail-out alternatives at Little River Inlet and at Charleston. In North Edisto, we'll anchor and sit out forecasted adverse weather on Saturday. Then on Sunday, the winds should become favorable once again, and we'll go to sea again.

More news. I just made our AIS work for the first time. Horray! What the heck is that? I'll explain more in a few days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Surf City, USA

The intersection of the ICW with Brown's Inlet is one of the scariest parts of the passage. It constantly shoals and the shoals move around. It is also the site of a mass of conflicting information.

One has the normal red/green markers showing where the channel is. But on my chart I have a penciled note that says, "60A is off station. Go east of the ICW channel between markers 60A and 63." Leave the marked channel!!! It goes against all instinct. Another note says, "Shoaling near marker 63." Wonderful, now the notes are contradictory. Both these notes are more than a year old. Could the channel have shifted again? Could 60A be back where it should be? Which set of advice should I follow?

The most recent note I have says, "Don't go anywhere near this area at low tide. Half tide or more only."

A good way to relieve anxiety is to follow a bigger boat with a deeper draft. If he passes OK, then you will. If he runs aground, you can stop and back up. This morning, we were the only boat in sight. Nobody else to follow.

Yesterday, we quit early to avoid passing this spot too close to low tide. This morning, I got here almost exactly at high tide. The water would be four feet deeper than otherwise. That way, even if I chose my strategy wrong, we would hopefully not run aground anyhow.

Well, just as I passed 60A at the point of maximum anxiety, the water depth seemed fine; 11 feet. Just then I heard a tremendously loud WHUMP WHUMP. WTH did we hit? My heart rate soared for about 10 seconds, then my brain analyzed the sound. They were explosions. We were in the middle of Camp LeJune and those marines were out on exercises. Jeez what timing. For the next half hour we were treated to the sound of a hundred or so other explosions. It was like being in a combat zone. I didn't care though; we were past the shoals with no further danger of running aground until tomorrow morning. Besides, now it has become entertainment. The marines are cris-crossing the ICW in amphibious vehicles. It's fun to see those big armored vehicles plunge into the water, don't sink, and to effortlessly scoot back up on land on the other side.

One of Libby's favorite stories concerns the night when I was supposed to drive home from Connecticut to Burlington Vermont. I missed my turn and soon found myself facing signs that said Duane/Customs. Uh oh. She tells that story at every opportunity. Today, I got even. Libby took a wrong turn and wandered several miles up the New River before noticing that she wasn't on the ICW any more. Now we have to go back and we lost an hour. Tsk tsk. Revenge is sweet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold To The Core

Swansboro, NC
34 38.98 N 077 05.99 W

Yesterday's decision to stay on the inside is going to cost us a week or more of motoring on the ICW. Nevertheless, it was the right choice. Last night it was bitterly cold. When Libby and I finished anchoring for the night just before dark, we were both chilled to the core. To have put out to sea in an open cockpit would have been folly. Boats with enclosed cockpits have a big advantage in circumstances like that.

Tonight the winds are favorable again skies will be clear and it'll be even colder. We might even have ice on the decks in the morning. Brrrr. Not the time to be out to sea.

This morning, we set off at first light from Spooner's Creek where we spent the night. Anyhow, we tried to set off. Another sailboat left just ahead of us and that boat ran aground in the exit channel and blocked it. We had to wait a half hour for them to free themselves. Then, as the morning progressed the sun came out and warmed us up. It felt good. I checked the charts and the tide tables. Uh oh. Ahead is a stretch of the ICW near Camp LeJune that is posted with a caution. Do not attempt to pass this spot at low tide. My calculations would have put us there close to low tide; too close. Therefore, we stopped here at Swansboro at 11AM making it a short day.

Libby and I both elected to take a walk. I went to the Piggly Wiggly to buy some bagels. Libby went to find a present for our granddaughter Vicky. Poor Vicky is recuperating today from an emergency appendectomy yesterday. It must run in the family, her brother Nick had an emergency appendectomy too some years ago.

So we missed our window. Last year I wrote a blog called Passa På where I idolized the rule for sailors. When a window opens up, take it. Farmers say, make hay while the sun shines. This year, we did the opposite. I have no regrets though. We had so much fun last week that it was well worth it; no regrets.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Man, What a Party

Hancock Creek, NC
34 56.21N 076 51.47 W

How lucky can we be. Jeff and Wendy on the W32 Calypso are the editors of the Westasail newsletter. They invited us to visit them here at Cherry Point Marine Air Station. Hancock Creek Marina is public yet on base property. They have a yacht club here and Jeff and Wendy are members. We arrived yesterday just in time for a shrimp/lobster boil/pot luck dinner in the afternoon.

What a feast! That had to be the best meal we've had in many years. The many people we met from the yacht club were also lots of fun. Boy oh boy did we have a good time. After the dinner I returned to the boat for a quick nap. I soon learned that the party wasn't over. It had moved out to the tiki bar beside the docks. We joined that after party too, but boy was it cold. That was a hearty bunch sitting outside by the water in such cold damp weather.

After that, Jeff, Wendy, Libby and I had a great time comparing and contrasting our Calypso and Tarwathie. Every time we see another Westsail, the reaction is the same. Everything is alike but very much is different. The basic layout and features are alike, but the details of how things are arranged and painted or varnished are unique to each W32. We all learn from each other by exchanging ideas. Lots of fun. Alas, we have never managed to connect with any of the Westsail rendezvous where we could compare and contrast many Westsails.

Thank you Jeff and Wendy for inviting us, and thank you

Speaking of cold damp weather, it's time to get our behinds out of here and make a bee line for Florida. We'll go out to sea from Beaufort today. Then we have two plans to choose from. We can stay outside and go through the marked buoys at Frying Pan shoals, or we can go back inside at Masonboro and out again at the Cape Fear River. Frying Pan shoals is the most treacherous spot on the whole East Coast so we treat it with utmost respect. Keep tuned to hear how we decide.

Anyhow, if weather persists, we'll be in Florida in about 4 days. We sincerely hope that they have warm Floridian weather to welcome us.

STOP PRESS! I wrote the above two hours ago while we were sitting in sheltered environment of Hancock Creek. Now we're out on the Neuse River. The temperature is 47F (8C), the wind is blowing 20-25 knots, it is damp, and Libby and I are struggling to find gloves warm enough to keep our fingers warm. We don't want to go out to sea in these conditions. We'll stay on the ICW today, probably tomorrow, and we'll see what happens then. We may miss our window. That's too bad; we aren't masochists.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Too Much, Then Too Little

Oriental, NC

Today we're going to visit with friends at Cherry Point, after that we'll head south and go outside to sea at the first opportunity.

When might that be? It depends on how we read the weather forecasts. Some forecasts make it sound like two days of too much wind followed by two more days of too little wind. Other forecasts make it sound like four days of just right wind. Keep posted to see what we decide.

I got a comment on yesterdays blog from Linus in Oriental. He wanted to meet us. We're still here, but alas I have no way to contact Linus.

Reminder: When you post comments on this blog I get an email asking me to approve it. I approve all non-spam comments. However, that leaves me with no information about how to contact the commenter. In a case like Linus' comment I'd like to propose to meet at The Bean this morning, but I can't. Email is better than comments for 2-way communication.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Apologies and Retraction

Oriental, NC

The other day I posted what I thought was an amusing quote of the day by our friend Andre. Andre didn't think it was amusing and he reminded me that the quote was out of context and that he didn't mean to disrespect any North Carolina women. Of course, he is correct; I did take it out of context for what I thought was humorous reasons.

I removed the offending post. Andre, please accept my sincere apologies. Other readers, please don't judge Andre by that quote.

Watch Us On The Web Cam

Oriental, NC Public Dock
35 01.74 N 076 41.94 W

See us on the web cam here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hot and Cold

Oriental, NC

Rain rain go away, come again some other day. Nobody likes rain except farmers, right? Who wants rain when you’re out on a boat? We do under the right circumstances.

Late at night, when we are snuggled in bed and the big T (Tarwathie) rides at anchor, it is very peaceful and soothing to hear the pitter patter of a gentle rain on the deck above our heads. It makes you sleep even more soundly.

What about when it’s stormy, cold, bumpy, and the wind howls? Well, in those circumstances we have the anxiety of worrying about whether the anchor will hold or not. Nevertheless, the more miserable it is outside, the more delicious it feels in our nice warm bed. We burrow deeper into the covers and cuddle even closer.

Come morning, like today, it is not easy to get up before dawn, dress in our rain clothes, and go outside to stand a watch at first light. I don’t mean to suggest that we suffer. On the contrary, we bend over backward to pamper ourselves. Notwithstanding that, sometimes one has to brave a little discomfort in order to gain in the near future. This morning we moved from Broad Creek to Oriental.

We have had a propane fueled cabin heater for 3-4 years now. We don’t feel the need to use it very often. Even when it is cold and miserable outside, it is usually comfortable inside Tarwathie without heat. We use the heater perhaps 4 times per year. On very cold mornings, we turn it on for 20 minutes to warm up the cabin enough to convince us to get out of bed. After that, it’s not needed.

The secret is that so much of the cabin walls are hull area below the water line. No matter what the outside air temperature, the inside air temperature stays close to water temperature. That moderating factor helps us avoid the need for heat or cooling.

Many cruising yachts do have air conditioning. That’s hard for us to understand. We are so stingy with use of battery power, that we can’t imagine running an air conditioner on the batteries. Of course that adds to the reasons why we go so far north in the summer and south in the winter. If we tried to winter in the Chesapeake or to summer in Georgia we might have an entirely different view on heating and cooling.

Not Our Fault

North Carolina

Our blog readers love it when we screw up. Disaster stories seem to be our most popular blog posts. That's why we post them despite the embarrassment. Therefore, please forgive Libby and I for enjoying some other boater's discomfort when they screw up and zero percent of the blame belongs to the crew of Tarwathie. See the pictures below from today's news in Sweden.

Swedish ferry runs into the dock.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mon Cher L'bee

Ocracoke Island, NC
Mon Cher L’bee
by Dick Mills

On one dark night on Lac Champlain
De win' she blow, blow, blow,
An' de crew of our Wes’sl sailing ship
Got scare an' run below.

For de win' she blow lak hurricane,
Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de wav rais’ up on Lac Champlain
Green water towards the fore.

De Captinne walk on de front deck,
An' walk de hin' deck too,
He call de crew from up de hole,
He call de wife up too.

De wife she's name was L’bee,
Was com from Syracuse,
Was captain’s girl sin’ 64,
She o’fer no excuse.

De win' she blow from nor'-eas'-wes',
De sout' win' she blow too,
W'en L’bee cry "Mon Cher Captinne
Mon Cher, w'at shall I do?"

Den de Captinne trow de big ankerre,
But still de boat she dreef,
De crew he can't pass on de shore,
Becos' he los' hees skeef.

De night was dark lak' one black cat,
De wave run high and fas'
W'en de Captinne tak' L’bee dear,
An' tie her to de mas'

He take de helm ‘tween his knees,
An cut de anker lin’.
He curs’ de win wid all his mite,
“Y’ll not drown this wife a min.”

Nex' morning very early,
'Bout haf' pas two-t'ree-four-
De Captinne-boat-an-Libby dear,
Clear de point on Valcour shore.

"For de win' she blow lak' hurricane,
Bimby she blow some more,
Tar-wa-tee, she like ol Lac Champlain
From her stern up to her fore.

Now all good Wes’sl sailor man
Who would takle Lac Champlain
Go an' marry some nice warm girl
T’ share ‘ur bed ‘n feel ‘ur pain.

De win' she blow on Lac Champlain,
An' den she blow some more,
You can't get drown on Lac Champlain
So long you stay on shore.

Apologies to William Henry Drummond,
author of “The Wreck of the Julie Plante”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ah, Open Waters

Silver Lake, Ocracoke Island, NC
35 06.77 N 075 59.06 W

It was another fine day for sailing. A bit gray and cool, but just the right amount of breeze. We sailed as a flotilla; the Vessel Rachel, and Aruba II and Tarwathie. The purpose of bunching was to share knowledge of the treacherous channels, shoals and markers.

Long time blog readers will remember that we ran aground about one year ago attempting to get out to Old House Channel.
I wrote a long blog post about it. The area is a place where numerous channels intersect, where buoy numbering starts over at one, where sandbars and shoals intrude into the channel and where the red-green marker convention switches to green-red. All in all, it is about as confusing a place as it gets.

Last year, we were attempting to go around a dredging barge when we ran around. This year as we rounded the corner, I looked. Oh no! There was the same barge in about the same place. This year however, the captain of the barge gave us clear instructions so we were able to go by without problem. Soon we were out in the open waters of Pamlico Sound and under sail. Life is good.

Ocracoke is a place we really like. It is Charming as can be. We'll stay here a day or two, just walking around and enjoying the place.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Girls

Manteo, NC, Roanoke Island
33 54.53 N 075 40.10 W

Today was the kind of sailing day one dreams about. We had a steady 20 knot wind on our beam from the north. Waves were very small. I loved it, Libby loved it (see the pic), and Tarwathie loved it best of all. She heeled over 15-20 degrees, took the wind in her teeth and away we went flying right across the Abemarle Sound, 38 miles to Manteo. We averaged 6.6 knots for the day and hit a peak speed of 7.8 knots. Yipeeeeeeee! One of the best sails of the year.

Cheerleader parade in Elizabeth City

USS Harry Truman under construction, Norfolk.

The Informant

Elizabeth City, NC

We were planning to leave E.C. Saturday to head for Manteo on Roanoake Island. However, a cold front is supposed to pass here at 3PM bringing numerous thunderstorms with it. They get really nasty thunderstorms around here, and Abemarle Sound is not a good place to be in a storm. Bottom line, we'll wait until Sunday morning to depart.

Friday night we enjoyed an evening at The Carolina Theater & Grill. It is a movie theater with dining tables at the back. You can eat your dinner, then stay at your table as you watch the movie.

We saw The Informant with Matt Damon. Wow, what a story! It was based on real life events, but it contains more twists and turns than any spy novel you ever read. We were stunned by the story and recommend the film.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Optimized for Blue Water

Chesapeake Bay,

Not all readers of this blog are boat experts. For their benefit I'd like to explain the difference between full and partial keels.

Have a look at the picture above. It shows two sailboats propped up by jack stands at Deltaville Boatyard. The boat on the right has a full keel. The boat on the left has a partial keel. We say that the left boat has a fin keel and a spade rudder.

Keels serve several purposes on a sailboat. Most important, they provide resistance to to boat moving sideways through the water. They also provide ballast that helps the boat resist heeling (tipping). They also help the boat to resist yaw; keeping the bow from swinging right and left. Finally, they provide a little bit of lift, like an airplane wing, to help pull the boat to windward.

Boats like Tarwathie will full keels, do all the above very well. They are optimized for blue water sailing where making the boat keep moving straight ahead with no slip and no yaw is most important. Unfortunately, full keels also produce a lot of drag in the water, which makes the boat slower.

Most modern boats use fin keels and spade rudders, like the boat to the left in the picture. They are much lighter. They have less drag, which makes the boat faster. They also allow the boat to turn on a dime, which is advantageous for racing and when maneuvering for docking.

The fin keel spade rudder design has its own disadvantages. The rudders are attached via rudder posts which go up through a hole in the hull. Many such boats have problems with water leaking in around the rudder post, or worse getting the rudder stuck. Running aground is also risky for those boats, the fin keel and the spade rudder are easy to damage in such situations. Indeed, many of the boats being worked on in this boat yard have rudder post problems. Note Tarwathie's rudder in the picture below. She has no rudder post at all. Her keel, rudder and propeller are also well protected from damage when we run aground.

Another advantage to partial keel boats is that they are steerable when backing up. Full keel boats are very difficult to back. In theory, Tarwathie should pull to port when backing because of the direction the propeller spins. She does that about 2/3 of the time. The other 1/3 of the time she does the opposite. It's very exasperating and embarrassing when I need two, three, four or more attempts to back in to a slip while everyone is watching.

You may also note that Tarwathie is a double-ended boat. That means she comes to a point both at the front and the back. Compare that to the squared ends on the two boats in the first picture. That pointy rear end costs us a lot in terms of usable storage. The advantage comes when at sea. When a big wave comes from behind and smashes into the flat back of most boats, it tends to make the boat yaw. They can become very difficult to steer. Double ended boats are much easier to keep pointing straight ahead.

Every boat design trades off one feature versus another. Blue water boats are optimized for blue water sailing. They are best out there in the ocean where one never backs up, and where one continues day after day in a straight line.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Watch Us on The Web Cam

Elizabeth City, NC

We love the Posquatank River. Every time we pass it, like this morning, the beauty of the cyprus swamps plucks the strings of our hearts.

This evening we got to see a local parade. It was the football homecoming celebration for the local school football teams. After the parade, there was a cheerleader competition in the nearby park. It made for good local color.

Watch for us on the Elizabeth City Web Cam.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Welcome Center

North Carolina Welcome Center
36 30.41 N 076 21.35W

The weather was supposed to turn nasty today. That was all the excuse we needed, so we decided to stay here at the Welcome Center all day today. As it turns out, it is not nasty at all. It's sunny and breezy; a very nice day.

Libby is collecting pine needles to make more baskets. I think she'll have a year's supply before we leave here. She's also teaching the women on the other boats how to do it. Our friend Patty on the yacht Reflection taught Libby and others, so now Libby is passing on the knowledge.

Me? I've been puttering. I woke up this morning to a nasty surprise. The radio wouldn't work. Checking, I was shocked to see that the battery voltmeter showed only 10 volts!!! That's terrible, a completely flat battery. But wait, our Link 10 battery monitor also measures battery voltage, and it showed 13 volts. What the heck?

I started by checking the wiring to and from the battery switch. Nothing found there. Then I raised the cockpit floor to get access to the batteries. Sure enough, they said 10 volts. I opened the plugs to check the water level. The water was low and the battery plates exposed. That's very bad. It can permanently damage the batteries. I can't remember the last time I checked the water, perhaps 6 months ago. Shame on me. I'll have to make checking the battery water part of my routine for oil changes.

So first thing was to put water in the batteries. I carry distilled water on board. I used up all we had, and a few plates were left. Too bad, I had to fill them with regular water.

I have a separate starting battery, so I switched to that and started the engine. Then I could switch back to the house batteries to charge them. So far so good. Next I noticed that the battery voltmeter said 14 volts but the battery monitor said 13 volts. Huh? That shouldn't be possible, they both measure the same thing and they always agreed before.

Back into the engine compartment to investigate. Sure enough, I found that the battery cable which connects the two house batteries in parallel had pulled out of the terminal. Instead of a single bank of two batteries, we had two separated house batteries. No doubt I stepped on the cable some time in the past. I repaired that, and now the two batteries are balanced.

It is possible that we have been running on one battery for an unknown time. For the past month or so on the canal or in the boat yard, we had shore power so much that I hadn't noticed battery performance. Yesterday, I did notice a half volt disagreement between the voltmeter and the battery monitor. I shrugged it off without thinking. Shame on me again.

This afternoon, another sailboat arrived. It was our friend Andre on Aruba II. Long time blog readers should remember Andre. We met him first in Jacksonville, Florida, then again in Elizabeth City, then again at this welcome center, then up in New Bedford Massachusetts where we sailed together to Block Island, then down in Fort Meyers Beach, Florida. Now he's here at the welcome center yet again. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, we both travel north and south on roughly the same schedule.

Both Libby and I were happy to see Andre. We'll have him over for supper tonight.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie

Elizabeth City, NC

One of the best memories of the past week was when Libby and I got to share a sweet potato pie.

Sweet potato pie??? Never heard of it. Well, last week I was riding a borrowed bike up the road in Deltaville, VA. There was a farm stand there by the road. This was a real farm stand. It was on the property of the farm and they sold the products of their own creation, including sweet potatoes. The proprietress was an old lady. She called all of her customers darling. I called her sweetheart back.

I picked out some fresh tomatoes to bring back to the boat. Sweetheart said, "Can I interest you in a pie?" "Did you make it yourself?" I asked. She said, "Yes." She had apple, and berry and sweet potato and Japanese sweet potato pies to sell. I chose the sweet potato. I had to precariously balance it on the handlebars of the bike to get it back to the boat. Luckily, I didn't drop it on the ground.

To make a long story short, that was one of the best pies Libby or I can remember.

There's much to be said for local color. Much indeed. We should see more of it, and to do that we need to make an effort to get off the boat more and to explore more widely the shore bound treasures of the places we visit.

Deltaville to Deep Creek

Deep Creek Lock, VA
36 44.96 N 076 20.20 W

What joy! I was surprised at the emotional rush of joy both Libby and I experienced as Tarwathie splashed yesterday morning. Even though our stay in Deltaville was very pleasant, we apparently have a strong attachment to Tarwathie being in her natural indicator to how emotionally attached we have become to Tarwathie, our home.

I had slight hope of being able to return to Norfolk under sail. Nope. There was too little wind. Three or four times Libby or I detected a rush of breeze on our cheeks and scrambled to unfurl the foresail. It was pure wishful thinking. The breezes never lasted more than a couple of minutes.

Our timing was also bad. We had tidal currents against us for almost the whole day. Oh well, we couldn't have left at midnight.

I was determined to get past the urban hustle bustle and ugliness of Norfolk and Portsmouth, and to anchor for the night in the bucolic natural beauty of Deep Creek. The limiting factor was the Gilmerton draw bridge; the only draw bridge we are required to pass in the Norfolk area. During the week this month, they're doing bridge work. The bridge opens only once every 2 hours after 8PM. We needed to buy diesel fuel in Norfolk, and to make the bridge before 8.

Estimating our progress was difficult because of the strong and constantly changing currents. Our speed soared as high as 6.7 knots and sank as low as 3.2 knots at the same RPM. For the last 10 miles, I really poured on the steam, hardly pausing to admire the 5 spectacular aircraft carriers and other warships we passed. Despite my efforts, our final ETA at the Ocean Marine Center fuel dock was only 15 seconds before they closed for the day. We stopped instead at Tidewater Marina, our second choice.

After fueling it was back to full steam. I figured 7:40 to reach the bridge. Then we came across a surprise. A railroad bridge that I have never seen closed before was down. A very long train moving at the speed of a slow walk was crossing. Oh no! After what seemed like an infinite wait, the bridge opened. We made the Gilmerton bridge at 7:55, with only 5 miles to spare.

Our reward came this morning. We awoke to a beautiful and quiet scene in Deep Creek. Mist rose off the water's surface. It could have been the Mohawk River in upstate New York, except that there are no hills in sight.

Next comes the Great Dismal Swamp Canal and the Posquatank River; our favorite stretch on the whole migration route.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Never In The History of Mankind

Chesapeake Bay

Never in the history of mankind has so much time effort and money been spent to accomplish to little. OK, so I exaggerate the story of our deck paint projects a bit, but still ...

The problem is the non-skid areas of the top decks on Tarwathie. The hull has built-in non-skid areas with dimples of fiberglass that stick up. They are fine except for paint preparation. If one tries to sand the dimpled surface, the only thing accomplished is to wear down the tops of the dimples and the valleys remain unsanded.

Three times before in the past 4.5 years, we set out to repaint the decks. We used Interlux Topside paint which is supposed to be right for the application. It's expensive, costing $45 per quart at West Marine. In each case we did what we thought was adequate preparation and applied two coats.

The results have been dismal. In some places the paint flaked off after a year. In other places it turned dark and dull. Worst of all, it has not been durable. We have several places where the paint wore through all those layers of paint to bare fiberglass.

I resolved to fix it once and for all in our fourth try. Last year in Vero I researched the problem and selected Duraback 18 deck paint. It was advertised to be non-skid and very durable; just what the doctor ordered. It is the kind of stuff used on gang planks, stair steps, and working boat decks.

Well, the Duraback proved to be too much and too little. It went on very thick. It made a finish that is very non-skid, so much so that it hurts to walk on it with bare feet. It should be very very durable. However, it flunked on color coverage. We were overpainting dark blue with light beige, and the blue showed through everywhere.

So for the fifth repainting, we went back to Interlux and painted through the pores in the Duraback. That covered the colors. One would think that the issue was settled. Right :) Wrong :(

I prepared the old surface using paint remover and then dewaxing chemical.

When Libby went to remove the masking tape, she found that the tape lifted up all the paint with it. It seems that it forms a 1/8 inch thick rubber-like layer that is extremely tough. Where this layer covered both deck and masking tape, and when we pulled the tape up the paint-to-paint strength was much stronger than the paint-to-deck adhesion.

Libby is a great companion and a willing and hard working crewman. However, she does have a few quirks that seem almost obsessive-compulsive; quirks like picking at a scab. She started picking at the paint where it had separated from the deck. Libby called out for me to come look. It took me 5 minutes to get there. In those 5 minutes she removed almost 2 square feet of the Duraback and Interlux. When I got there and saw what was happening, I yelled at the top of my lungs STOP. But the damage was done. See the picture.

I learned that one needs to cut the paint layer with a sharp knife or razor blade to make a seam between the painted deck and the edge of the masking tape. After the cut, the tape can be lifted.

Did we fail to prepare adequately yet again? I'll never know for sure, but I suspect that the strength of that Duraback layer to tearing will always be stronger than its adhesion to the deck and resistance to lifting.

So now, we face a sixth attempt at painting to repair the ugly spot. I'm too cheap to pay another $150 for another gallon of Duraback to repaint that spot, so any remedy from now on will never ever match the surrounding deck and will remain forever as an irritating reminder of our stupidity.

How could we have screwed up so badly? I can't think of a valid excuse. Lots of people successfully repaint their non-skid area with little or no trouble on their first attempt. I must admit that this is perhaps the the biggest example of incompetent bumbling that we've ever committed while on Tarwathie.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Projects Complete (sort of)

Deltaville, VA

Tarwathie's new red, white, and blue color scheme.

For the past week, I didn't write much on the blog. I've been saving it up until our projects were finished. Now we're finished and my inbox is overflowing with complaints and inquiries from blog readers.

Also, just a few minutes ago I opened a can of fogger insecticide in the boat. We had an infestation of fruit flies. I can't return to the boat for 2 hours so that leaves time to blog.

Libby is fine. She never did get a black eye or a bruise from my sock. Thank goodness.

We could have finished and splashed (i.e. put the boat back in the water) on Friday but we decided instead to wait until Monday. It's a good thing. After deciding, I heard on the local radio that the Gilmerton Bridge in Norfolk would be closed for maintenance from Friday evening until Monday morning. That is the only draw bridge we must pass under to get to the Dismal Swamp. If we had arrived there Friday night and learned that we would have to wait 2.5 days for it to open I would have been furious.

So, what have we been doing? Here's a list of the things we accomplished this week.

Propeller: We have a Max Prop brand propeller. More than just a piece of metal, it has internal gears that allow it to feather automatically. Complexity means maintenance. The propeller needs to be greased. We squirt grease in with a grease gun until there is no room for water to get in. That can only be done when we are on the hard.

I also found that two of the four screws that hold the propeller together were missing. Ay ay! If all the screws came out, the propeller would just fall off and disappear into Davy Jones' Locker. I replaced the missing screws and secured them with cotter pins. I sure hope that holds.

I polished the propeller. Now it gleams like polished brass as it should. That helps propeller efficiency, but only for a few months until it pick up slime once again. There are special antifouling paints for propellers, but most people don't use them. Perhaps next time I'll give it a try.

We also replaced the zinc that goes on the end. If you remember, about a year ago I whined on the blog about breaking off a zinc screw while changing the zinc under water. I fretted about having to haul out to fix it. In the end, I let it go and fastened the zinc with two screws instead of the normal three. It worked OK. Indeed, that zinc lasted a whole year, longer than average.

Now was the time to get the old screw out. I bought a so-called screw extractor tool. Then, I was supposed to drill out the core of the old screw and insert the screw extractor. It went badly. I broke three cobalt drill bits trying to drill the hole. Then, when I inserted the extractor its tip broke off in the hole. The extractor's metal is much harder than the screws so I can't drill that out. To fix the whole mess will require removing the whole propeller with an acetylene torch and taking it to a machine shop, probably for a week or more. I didn't want to do that now; so for the next year, I'll have only two screws once again. Perhaps we'll haul out again in one year rather than two.

Dinghy: We remounted the oar bracked which kept falling off. We fixed (hopefully) the crack that was allowing water to leak in. We used epoxy resin to do that. We also mounted a new pair of oars and oar locks. The blade on the old oar had split. Our new oars are 7'6" long, compared to 7' for the old ones. We hope that the extra 6" will make a big difference in rowing efficiency.

Hull: We put on three coats of antifouling bottom paint. That was straight forward. However, as the boatyard guy helped us to move the jackstands so that we could paint the spots covered by the jackstands, he said, "You have some spots of bare fiberglass showing through. You should put on primer paint before the bottom paint." Darn! I had just covered over most of the bare spots without using primer. Nothing like being told that you did it wrong just when it's too late. Sigh.

Deck: We repainted the non-skid areas of the top decks once more. What a big disaster that is!!! I'll write a special blog about that soon.

Hull and deck: I used gel coat repair stuff on the many small dings and gouges in the fiberglass. Poor Tarwathie has suffered lots of bumps and scrapes in the past 5 years. I don't think we are less cautious than most boaters but we do seem to pick up more dings. Then we used rubbing compound to clean the surfaces and two coats of wax to protect it. Tarwathie looks much better cosmetically.

Mechanical: I repacked the stuffing box using dripless packing for the first time. If it proves to be truly dripless, we may achieve a totally dry bilge for the first time ever. Many other boats have dry bilges but we never did.

Electrical: I converted our two fluorescent light fixtures in the main cabin to LED. I did it in a DIY manner using strips of warm color LEDs. See the picture. The actual conversion was easy.

Now, our main cabin lights are 100% LED; both white and red for night use while at sea. Eacg fluorescent light used 7 watts of power. The LED replacements use only 1.5 watts, and they make more light. Since energy consumption is a very big deal for us, LEDs are a major improvement. We'll feel freer to use overhead lights liberally.

Next up: Does that bring us to the bottom of our to-do list? Hardly, we still have a lot of exterior varnish work to do, interior varnish, and a little bit of interior painting to do. Actually reaching the bottom of the to-do list must be a warning sign of the Apocalypse.