Monday, May 31, 2010

Esaping The Madhouse

At Sea
39 18.39 N 074 18.76 W

As much as we expected Cape May to be a madhouse on Memorial Day weekend, it exceeded our expectations. Going through the canal on the way in it was like driving in heavy traffic on the Long Island expressway. Worse. Unlike the expressway, the boats coming the other way threw up big wake waves. Tarwathie pitched and heaved. It was all I could do to control here. It was much harder on the occupants of the small boats all around us. I heard a constant stream of screams and giggles as bikini clad women in these small boats were tossed around and splashed with water.

At one point Libby panicked. We were about to pass under a 55 foot bridge near low tide when the actual clearance was 57 feet. We need 47 feet. Still we pitched and rolled so much that Libby glanced up, then in a very scared voice she said, "Dick! We're not going to make it under the bridge. Reverse!" It was too late to stop us anyhow and a second later we passed under the bridge OK. Poor Libby though. The scare was real. The best remedy for sailboats traveling under low bridges is don't look. Depth perception doesn't work looking straight up and you scare yourself needlessly.

We ran aground 4 times in less than an hour! That's by far a new record for us. First, in the canal. I moved over to the side trying to put some space between us and the other boats. That was a mistake. Bang we were aground. We were able to back out. Then, we pulled into a side creek to buy diesel fuel. I was worried about depth because the tide was low and still dropping lower. We ran aground again trying to back out of the fuel dock. Then, trying to exit that side creek we hit bottom and had to plow our way out scraping the bottom. 20 minutes after that, we grounded again when trying to anchor.

After all that, we just sat in the cockpit and watched the constant traffic of small boats returning at the end of the day. There were so many of them. The stream of boats didn't end until an hour after dark. We even spotted three boats with red running lights mounted on their starboard side! That is a boating error I never expected to see in a lifetime, yet here were three locals who did it.

Around sunset though, it became very peaceful in the harbor. We were anchored in front of the Coast Guard station. We could clearly hear the military band playing patriotic songs for their memorial day celebration. Mercifully, we couldn't hear the commandant's Memorial Day address. Who needs to hear such speeches anyhow, they're all the same. At sunset we watched the four Coast Guard cutters at their berths beside us. All four had a man at the stern witn and honor guard at full attention to strike the colors at the moment of sunset. The well executed military discipline was impressive. However, the playing of Taps over the base loudspeaker was preempted by the band inside the auditorium that played the Star Spangled Banner at that exact moment.

Today our plan was to leave around noon to pick up an afternoon wind. Instead at 0700 the harbor was calm, peaceful and there was almost zero traffic. We took advantage of that calm to leave early. We were able to sail out the Cape May Inlet seeing only one other boat. (I wrote before how that infamous inlet is where the country's least polite sport fishermen zoom by at full speed.)

Our reward is a lovely day out here at sea. The wind is gentle, yet enough to make us go 5 knots. The waves are very small. There is almost no commercial traffic, and the holiday revelers don't seem to be out fishing. Perhaps on this last day of the long weekend, they're home nursing hangovers.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

As Good As It Gets

Delaware Bay
39 01.15 N 075 03.13

I'm reminded of how differently people see things.

Yesterday we chatted with another sailboat on VHF as we left the C&D Canal. We were both heading for Cape May. The other captain said he wanted to make Capy May before sunset. I said that we were in no hurry and that we might anchor along the bay before reaching Cape May. Then the other captain said that he wanted to push ahead so that they could depart Sunday for New York. He didn't want to risk having the window close. Huh? How could that be? According to my weather sources, the window doesn't open until Monday afternoon. After some thought I realized that his definition of window was no wind, no waves, and that he planned to motor to New York. Our definition (see the recent blog post) requires wind.

I also mentioned the other day that we need to find places to get away from other people on holiday weekends. Well just now (Sunday morning) we passed through a fleet of 150 or so small boats all in a big clump, all anchored and fishing. Trying to see things from their point of view, I realized that today is about as good as it gets. It is a long weekend, the beginning of summer, sunny, warm, no rain, no wind, no bumpy waves. For those people tired of the drudgery of being indoors all winter, it was a prime day to get out here on the bay. There must be some reputation that fish bite in that particular spot in Delaware Bay, 8 miles from Cape May. Looking at my charts I can't see any underwater feature. If it's not the fish, I can't understand why they all anchored in a clump close together given hundreds of square miles of bay with similar bottom all around. Oh well, different strokes for different folks.

Our plan today is to buy fuel. Then, if the anchorage looks uncrowded, we'll spend the night at anchor there. If it is crowded, we'll find someplace else to anchor, even near the beach on the open ocean (which we almost never do). Monday, we'll head for New York. Monday afternoon, the wind is supposed to blow 10-15 from the southwest. Cool. It takes us roughly 24 hours to sail from Cape May to the Verazano Narrows.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Soft Shell Crab

Chesapeake Bay, MD
39 24.11 N 076 03.80 W

Yesterday was one of those days when the weather radio is full of warnings of severe thunderstorms all around us. They announce the warnings by county and since we don't know the names of local counties, every warning sounds like it is for us. Rather than trust the soft bottom mud to hold firmly, we elected to go to the Crab House Restaurant in Kent Narrows. YOu buy dinner there and you can stay overnight free at the dock.

Believe it or not, this was the first time ever that Libby and I tasted soft shell crab. It was very good. I had a soft crab sandwich. However, while eating I learned the real way to do it. The locals just order a dozen crabs. They come with wooden mallets, melted butter, vinegar and cajun seasoning. It looked like great fun and it was terribly messy. Next time we'll try that.

Today we won't make great progress. The tide is against us almost all day. We're heading for Chesapeake City. If we get in there, we'll stay there all day Saturday. It's not too far from Havre de Grace MD. We heard that our daughter in law Cathy will be in Havre de Grace this weekend, so we might get a chance to see her.

UPDATE Saturday:
Well our plans went completely awry. When we arrived at Chesapeake City it appeared to be completely full of boats. No place at the dock, no place to anchor (it is Memorial Day weekend after all.) Worse, we ran aground at the entrance. We were able to back off the soft grounding (thank goodness.) What next? It was almost sunset so continuing on to Delaware Bay was a very unattractive option. We had to back track and go back to the Bohemia River on the Chesapeake. Still worse, we motored against current all day long and arrived at Chesapeake City at exactly low tide and when the current reversed direction. That meant we had the current against us when we backtracked. How unkind.

We never stopped in Chesapeake City before. Several of our cruising friends have stopped there and they speak highly of it. However, the basin is very small with limited capacity and shoaling seems to be a constant problem. If we did plan to stop at Chesapeake and upon arrival we couldn't stop, what then? Currents in the C&D canal can be very swift and motoring against the swift current is not practical. So, what happened yesterday fulfilled our worst fears about Chesapeake City as a destination. Too bad for us.

Today, we're trying again. We'll be on the Delaware all day heading for Cape May. What happens when we get there? The anchorage and the marina may also be full. It's still Memorial Day weekend. I think perhaps Libby's policy is best. All cruisers should find quiet out-of-the-way places to hide out during the big holiday weekends.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things Change

Chesapeake Bay, MD
38 44.83 N 076 25.17 W

We cut our visit to Solomons short. We're heading for Kent Narrows to anchor for the night. There is a front with thunderstorms supposed to pass about 1 hour before we get to anchor. Hope we don't have too much trouble.

One of the reasons why we cut short our Solomons visit was that the laundromat Libby was used to using went out of business. In Libby's words, "That makes Solomons a much less attractive stop for cruisers like us." True.

Recently in Elizabeth City we also had a conversation about changes. The Carolina Theater, the hardware store, and the health club all closed in the past few years, and our favorite host, Fred Fearing passed away. Elizabeth City isn't what it used to be.

Now it occurs to me how much I've changed in past few years. Libby is fond of saying that it took me years to unlearn being a project manager, always looking at the time and the date. True, but there's also a more profound change. My entire career was largely based on embracing and promoting change; mostly technological change. While others shunned change or feared it, I welcomed it and thrived on it. Now, I'm in a mode where I expect everything to be the same year after year. I also used to thrive on stress, but not any more.

Resisting change could simply be one of the many symptoms of getting old, but I think there's more to it. I think that living the cruising life is changing me in ways I haven't fully appreciated. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I can't regret the changes; the past 5 years have been among the happiest in our lives.

Speaking of change. I'm considering a technological change that's very close to the core of my identity. We have Sprint cell phones. Sprint's coverage in the areas we frequent is poor. "Do you hear me now?" "No."
Our contract is done and I want to switch to Verizon. One option is to keep our old phones and have no contract with Verizon, but they make that hard to do. Therefore, I've been studying phones and phone plans. I'm 80% convinced that I ought to get a modern smartphone such as the Droid. (I don't want anything to do with Iphone because I seriously dislike Apple's ways of doing business.) If I do that, daily use of my PC is likely to fade away. I could do all my blogs, and emails and surfing on the phone. The laptop could be needed only to watch the occasional movie on hulu.

Wow: weaning me off my PC could be almost as profound a change as getting used to my PC. I started with a Commodore Pet in 1979. In 1981 I used to carry an Apple II with me on business trips to Europe. It was barely lugable. I've never been without a PC ever since. I started with the Internet in 1989. using email, gopher and Usenet. I had a personal web page in 1994; a time when there were only tens of thousands of web pages in existence.

Six years ago I had a Blackberry and I loved it. Two years ago I tried a smart phone for 24 hours. It was terrible. My fingers were too fat for the small buttons and my eyes were too poor for the tiny fonts. Now, with the Droid, I think that the text and the on-screen keyboard keys are bigger. Here's hoping.

By the way, even with a smart phone I don't plan to tweet or to Facebook. I think that this blog is plenty and that it is better suited to my style of writing than Twitter or Facebook. Do you think I should reconsider?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dog Days of May

Solomons Island, MD
38 20.24 N 076 27.64 W

Dog days are supposed to be part of summer, not May.   That's what it was like today however.  Hot, humid and still.   We motored all day long to get here out on the Bay waters that were almost smooth as glass.

We skirted the bombing target area.  We avoided the anchored target warship.  I searched the sky every time I heard the roar of a nearby fighter plane.  (I saw it only two times out of four.)  Does it sound like a military area?  It is.   We are just across the river from the Pawtuxet Naval Air Station.  That's where they do test flights.   

Anyhow, we were cool enough out on the bay.  It made for a nice day.  In an hour or so we may get to see a spectacular full moon rising.

Coming into the Pawtuxet river we were boarded by the US Coast Guard for a safety inspection.   First time since 2005 if I remember right.   We had all the required equpiment; no violations.  I'm a big envious of those Coast Guard guys who get to drive those very fast, very rugged boats that look like inflatables.   They aren't really inflatable, they are aluminum boats surrounded by rings of rigid foam flotation.   They sport two enormous outboards on the back.  I bet they can do 60 knots.

I was shooting for an offshore window Cape May-New York next Monday.  When I checked this morning it change to a window on Sunday and another on Tuesday.   (Any weather forecast 7 day in the future is highly speculative.)   If we shoot for Sunday offshore, then time is short.  We'll have to leave Solomons Thursday morning, and motor Thu, Fri, Sat to reach Cape May.   Libby planned on doing groceries and laundry here tomorrow.  Maybe we'll do a half day and motor past dark.   Tomorrow night will be only one day past full moon.  If the sky is clear it could be very pretty to be out there at night.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weather Windows

Deltaville, VA

I've been asked what weather we look for to call it a weather window. OK, fair question.

To suit us, a weather window is best described as what it's not:
  • Not headwinds, especially not headwinds more than 20 knots. Sailing directly into a headwind of 20 knots, the best we can do on Tarwathie is to average 2 knots made good. That's too slow. It's also very uncomfortable.

  • Not windless. For our purposes following winds less than 10 knots or head winds less than 7 knots make our sails ineffective. Without the stabilizing effect of the wind on the sails, the boat rocks mercilessly in the waves. The rocking also makes the sails flog back and forth as the masthead waves around. That forces us to take the sails down entirely. Motoring in such conditions is very uncomfortable.

    Exception: if the waves are only two feet or less, then motoring is no problem. We've done that for 24 hour sails Cape May to New York for example. We may need to do exactly that next week.

  • Not a gale or a storm.

    Actually, if the winds are offshore (such as West winds on the East coast) and one is less than 10 miles offshore, the waves don't get that big. In those conditions, we are perfectly comfortable sailing in a gale. We did that 18 months ago when we sailed from Fort Meyers Beach to Marathon in 30-35 knots of wind. It was fun.

    Come to think of it, we also crossed the Gulf of Mexico in a gale, and it was fine. So, it is not all gales we avoid. Let me then narrow the focus. I hope to never get stuck out at sea in one of those Noreaster gales/storms that are common on the US East Coast.
  • After a big gale or a storm whips up the big waves, it takes 24-48 hours to settle back down. Thus the day after a storm is also a no-no.
Therefore, we define a window as a time period long enough to get us where we're going and that is not any of the above 3
no-nos. For Norfolk to New York, that means 48 hours.

If a storm or a gale is approaching I add another 24 hour safety margin. In other words we would depart Norfolk for New York if we had a 48 hour window plus no storms expected for 72 hours. I've read too many accounts of sailing disasters caused when bad weather arrived earlier than expected.

Of course we usually have backup plans for places where we can duck in and cut a passage short if needed. That's the main difference between coastal sailing and ocean crossing blue water sailing.

One more thing, between Florida and The Bahamas, most cruisers avoid the Gulf Stream whenever there is wind with an N in it. That might be a bit overdone if the wind is only 12-15 knots, but north winds of 20+ and the Gulf Stream don't mix.

By the way, is my favorite place on the web to scout for weather windows. It gives everything, wind, waves, Gulf Stream, all up to 1 week in advance.


Deltaville, VA

Osprey are wonderful birds of prey. The thrill of seeing them ranks just below sighting of bald eagles, and above sightings of turkey vultures and hawks. After 5 years we are also used to the squawks and sounds that Osprey make.

Osprey are great fishermen. They swoop down and grab surface fish with their talons showing great skill. Most fun is watching an Osprey trying to fly away with a fish that's much too big and too heavy to handle. That happens more often than I expected. Usually, after a valiant try the overloaded osprey drops its catch from several hundred feet up.

We see Osprey all the way up and down the East Coast. Here in the Chesapeake however, their numbers are overwhelming. It seems that each and every post stuck in the mud of Chesapeake waters for any reason has an Osprey sitting on it. Many of them also have nests. As we pass close to the red and green day markers we are used to catching glimpses into the nests to see youngsters waiting for their food. If mother is home, she squawks angrily at us for passing too close.

p.s. We changed our minds about staying in Urbanna yesterday and backtracked to Deltaville. Today we'll enjoy showers, Internet and washing machines. Tomorrow, I think, we'll head to Solomons.

The weather report for the next week shows no signs of a window to go outside. Therefore, I'm resigned to motoring up the Chesapeake and down the Delaware. That sounds bad, but only in comparison to the high of making an offshore passage. The inland route is also 200 miles longer and we'll have to motor almost all of it. I'm afraid we have become spoiled by two years of unusually good luck in finding the right winds at the right times to do our passages.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Favorite Hoax

Urbanna,  VA
37 38.16 N 076 34.16 W

Welcome back to Urbanna.  This is one of our favorite places to spend a few relaxing days.  There is no weather window to go outside now through Friday.  We also have to choose whether to go back down the Chesapeake to go outside at Norfolk, or to continue up the Chesapeake and down the Delaware to go outside at Cape May, NJ.  We'll decide in the next few days.

Today we passed the sight of one of my most successful hoaxes ever.  It made me chuckle just to think about it.  I think I wrote about it once before in this blog; but what the heck, it's worth retelling.

A few years ago, we made a date to meet some friends in Urbanna and to take them out for a day sail.  The day before, we sailed up the Rappahonnck to Urbanna.  To get there, one needs to go around red buoy number 6, then head straight for Urbanna.  I remembered the day before setting up a route that this last leg from R6 to Urbanna had a heading of 292 degrees.   

On the day of the sail, one of the guests was Mr. T.  T is a naval officer. In fact he is Commander T.  I won't identify him further lest the men he commands might find this blog.

At the end of the day sail, we were heading back to Urbanna.  Commander T had the helm.  I was up on the forward deck talking to the women.  Commander T shouted out to me, "What heading should we take back to Urbanna Captain?"  I looked out. We were right next to R6.  I knew that Commander T back in the cockpit was lookng at the GPS and that he was testing my seamanship.  I couldn't see the GPS from where I was, but I knew from memory that the heading was 292.  I was certain that the big fat number 292 was on the screen right in front of the Commander's face.

I looked out toward Urbanna.  I said, "Well."  Then I looked up into the sky (which was overcast).  I spun around in a circle looking up.  I spun around again.  "Well," I said, then added a pause, "If I had to guess, I would say head 291."   Commander T's jaw dropped in surprise.

It took all my will power to conceal my mirth.  It doesn't get much sweeter than that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lake Drummond Trip Pictures

Deep Creek, VA

Along the ditch

Toward the vanishing point

Dinghy takes a trolley ride

Entering Lake Drummond

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Someone Had To Die

36 38.81 N 076 22.25 W

We should take more side trips on our journeys. Each one seems to be a memorable treasure. Today we took one such side trip to Lake Drummond.

Lake Drummond is the water source for the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. It is connected to the canal by a ditch 50 feet wide and three miles long. We wouldn't try taking Tarwathie up that ditch, but in the dinghy using the outboard motor it makes for a fine trip.

Of course the down side of using the motor is that we make noise. We didn't see the bears, the deer, the racoon or the otters or the cotton mouths or any other animals; just turtles, lots of turtles sunning themselves.

There were some other critters that we couldn't see directly. They were hidden underwater in clumps of lilly pads. We could tell they were there though by watching the disturbances in the lily pads as they swam down below.

At the far end of the ditch is a dam. They use that dam to regulate how fast water drains from the lake to the canal. The canal needs at least 16 million gallons of water per day to service the 8 cycles of the locks.

Beside the dam, there is a little trolley that one operates oneself to lift the boat from canal level to lake level; a difference of about four feet right now. The trolley moves at about 1/4 the speed of a baby crawling. It is very quaint. We met the caretaker who maintains the grounds and equipment. He works for the US Army Corps of Engineers. I told him that he found a wonderful job for himself. I asked if he had to wrestle with other Corps men to get this assignment. He said, "No, but someone had to die for me to get it." I believe him.

Lake Drummond itself is a depression in the peat about three miles across. At one time, before men dug drainage ditches, there must have been lots of water on the ground all around. After all, it is named Swamp. Last year as we passed by, there was a major underground fire near Lake Drummond. It was the peat burning. Indeed, an ancient peat fire ignited by lightning is a plausible explanation of the existance of Lake Drummond.

We didn't spend much time in the lake itself. The only thing visible was water and shorelines with cyprus trees and lily pads; exactly the same as the canal and the river. We backtracked to the boat trolley area where we ate a picnic lunch.

That was a great side trip. We're really glad we did it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pastoral Peace and Beauty

Dismal Swamp Welcome Center,
NC36 23.17 N 076 17.18 W

We spend last night at one of our favorite anchorages. It is a semi secret spot. It is a branch of the Pasquotank River that is not on the ICW. We can travel up this side branch a mile or more in 11 feet of water. When we anchor, we are surrounded by pastoral peace and quiet. No wind. No noise of motor vehicles in the distance (except for the occasional airplane). We just love it.

I took a sun shower on the forward deck without any fear of being surprised by a passer by. The day was cool and the sun-warmed water felt deliciously good.

Surprisingly, there aren't many song birds. We listened and heard only a single mourning dove in the distance. There are a number of state placed bird houses along the river, each with a sheet metal cone that presumably prevents snakes from getting in.

We visit this area only in the spring and fall. Neither is the season for insects, especially mosquitoes. I imagine that is might be a lot less pastoral in mid summer. The few mosquitoes we did see seemed sluggish and heavy and not in a hurry to bite.

Wherever a log from a felled tree lies with one end in the water and one end out, it forms a ramp. Turtles love to climb those ramps and sun themselves. There were lots of turtles out yesterday. It reminds us of why we are lucky to be warm blooded animals. The turtles are probably hungry but before they forage for food they have to build up a little energy first by warming in the sun. If there was no sunshine today, they may have to continue going hungry.
We'll spend the night here at the Welcome Center. We love this place and we've wasted many a day here just enjoying it.

Anchoring for the night

Panorama of our view while eating breakfast

Waiting for the South Mills Lock this morning

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Superhero Librarian Not

Elizabeth City, NC

I heard a recent segment of an NPR program espousing librarians as a kind of superhero capable of feats ordinary mortals can hardly imagine. Today, I encountered a rather ignominious counter example here in the EC Library. It was the following notice posted on the wall of the mens's room.

Tobacco and Moving Trash Cans
People caught moving trash cans and spitting in them will be asked to leave the library. This includes sleeping.

That reminds me of my all time favorite video which also has to do with libraries.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Big Grin

Elizabeth City, NC
36 17.92 N 076 13.10 N

We had an interesting passage on Saturday from Manteo up to Elizabeth City. Total distance is about 40 nautical miles.

The day started out badly. I had been expecting light winds because that's what the NOAA weather radio said. (Grrrrrr I have to stop listening to NOAA). Instead we found stiff headwinds right on our nose. We had to motor into the wind making only 2.5-3.5 knots at full throttle. I hate that. It also seemed that we would have to do it all the way to Elizabeth City.

I thought about turning back. I thought about finding a sheltered place to anchor until the wind moderated. But we just kept on. After a while, the wind began to lessen and the direction shifted just enough to allow us to motor and sail. I did that for a couple of hours, then I wanted a break and called Libby to take over.

Wouldn't you know it, as soon as Libby took the helm, Tarwathie seemed to wake up and we traveled faster and faster. Then, something unusual happened. The wind abruptly shifted from blowing from the West to the East. Usually, winds shifts are punctuated either by an hour of dead calm, or by storms and a passing front. Not this time. Well, that easterly wind was just perfect and in no time Libby and Tarwathie together were making 7.5-8 knots. Wow, what a ride.

In the picture above, you see Libby with a big grin on her face. She absolutely moments like that

I also snapped the second picture as we went zipping past the Elizabeth City blimp factory (the only such factory in the country.) It appeared that a mother blimp was sitting out there with her baby blimp securely at her side. It reminded us of dolphin mothers and pups.

Left Handedness

Elizabeth City, NC

We'll stay here in EC a couple of more days waiting for a package. Next Sat/Sun could be a window to make a passage from Norfolk to New York.

My daughter Jenny commented on my over and under post. She remembers Libby complaining about the damn left handed skipper making everything harder. I had forgotten about that.

Here's the point. Everything having to do with the lines on a sailboat needs to be standardized. Lines always wrap around a winch clockwise; regardless of which winch from which manufacturer. Once you learn that, you never need to stop and wonder which way again.

Ditto with lines on cleats, and coiling of lines, the conventions need to be standardized. For each cleat on my boat I have a convention such as wrap-wrap-cross-cross and under. See the picture. For my anchor snubber I add an additional wrap to make it extra strong.

The Knot

The purpose of standardization is so that anyone on the boat knows how to tie the line securely, and so that it can be untied in the dark without guessing as to how the previous person tied it.

Now for the controversial part; coiling the lines for storage. This too needs to be standardized for all the same reasons plus. The plus reason is that if you drop a coil of halyard on deck, then try to recoil it in the opposite direction, it twists and knots and makes a hell of a mess.

But should the standard direction of coiling be clockwise or counterclockwise? Further, which way would clockwise mean when you can look at a coil from either side? The only possible answer is, "The way the captain says." That is the standard answer on every boat and ship going all the way back to the Phoneticians I bet.

It just so happens that I'm left-handed while Libby and most of my guests are right-handed. The way I instinctively coil is the opposite to their instinct. When I find that they coiled it the opposite way I get cranky. When they try to recoil a line the opposite way that I did it, they get cranky.

Sorry Jenny, this is one of those rare cases where the only way to define right and wrong is, "Do it like the captain says." No arguments, no suggestions, no pleas, no resistance. In most other things, I'm a softy. I'll listen to reason and perhaps can be persuaded to change. Not in this case.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nocturnal Misadventures

Elizabeth City, NC
36 17.92 N 076 13.10 N

We're in a rut. We arrived at Elizabeth City the day of The Potato Festival; same day as last year. Like last year; we elected to anchor our until the festival was over because of the loud music. It was a choice we came to regret.

We anchored in the Pasquotank River, above the Elizabeth City bridge. It was a lovely quiet evening with a great sunset. We really enjoyed it. The enjoyment didn't last till morning. At 0430 I woke because the boat was heeling over and I could hear the sound of powerful winds whipping us. I estimate the winds at 50-60 knots. I scrambled to get up and put some clothes on to man the tiller for an anchor watch. I knew that the soft mud on the river bottom made poor holding and that the anchor might drag.

Well it did drag. Before I could get out in the cockpit we had dragged several hundred feet. I jumped in the cockpit, started the engine and tried to hold Tarwathie's bow into the wind. It did no good, we thrashed from side to side. It was very dark, and raining torrentially. I had a rain jacket on but the water ran down my neck and soaked me. I could see around us in the brief flashes of the frequent lightning. There was a tree sticking up out of the water only 20 feet behind us. Uh oh.

I poured on more power and we began to move away from the tree. Horray. But we didn't move far. Soon she seemed to be stuck fast. I couldn't even turn her left or right despite the fact that the winds were dying off now. I looked behind us. In the lightning flashes I could see the top of a stump sticking up (very bad). Behind the stump was the float for our anchor trip line. Oh no, to retrieve the anchor we would have to get behind that stump once again. Still I couldn't move her in any direction. We were 't aground. The depth meter showed 10 feet.

By now Libby was up on deck. I gave her the helm and went searching for the cause. Up at the bow I was shocked to see the anchor chain wrapped around three more stumps sticking up just a few feet away. Oh no! But wait, maybe that wasn't so bad. Those stumps would hold us firmly until the storm passed. I decided that the best remedy at that point was to go back to bed. We did go back to bed but there was no way I could sleep. My blood was full of adrenalin and my mind was racing. How would we rescue Tarwathie from this predicament. At 0530 I couldn't stand it any more. The storm was past and it was light enough to see. I got up and rousted poor Libby out of bed too.

My plan was fourfold. Launch the dinghy. Use the dinghy to take the second anchor (a Danforth), 50 feet of chain and 200 feet of line out to the middle of the river. I dropped the anchor way out there, and then we pulled the line taught. That would prevent Tarwathie from being blown closer to shore once we got her free.

Then, I rowed the dinghy over to the anchor trip line float. (A trip line is a rope attached to the back end of the anchor. Pulling the trip line allows the anchor to be raised easily. A float on the end of the trip line keeps the loose end at the surface.) That worked fine and soon I had the anchor in the boat. Then I just started pulling chain into the dinghy until I had it all the way up to the stumps holding us. I tried and tried to unwrap the chain from the stumps but I couldn't.

Now our fantastic and trusty all bronze windlass came into play. I passed up the anchor end of the chain, so that now we had both ends of the jammed chain on deck. Using the windlass, I started pulling up on one end of the chain, then the other. In low gear that windlass gives me a mechanical advantage of 50:1. It's very powerful. Working it that way from both ends it took only 5 more minutes to break free. Crisis ended; or was it? Just then I looked up and another thunderstorm was heading right for us. Fortunately that second storm (and the third, fourth and fifth storms that passed in the next 2 hours) brought only rain and a few flashes; no strong winds. We just sat below and made a Sunday brunch cheese omelet for breakfast as they passed over.

So, what could I have done differently to avoid the problem in the first place? I knew that the soft mud bottom made for poor holding. However we had lots of room to play with. If I had put out 150 feet of chain in 10 feet of water, instead of 80, we probably would have been OK. It takes a very large force to lift 150 feet of chain off the bottom before it even begins to tug at the anchor.

By the way, I was originally tempted to entitle this post Night of Terror. It is a gripping term guaranteed to capture the attention of any reader. But then I thought, it wasn't true. We were in a small to medium size river. No rocks around. The shores were lined with cyprus swamps. There was no reason to fear for our lives, or fear injury or fear that we could sink Tarwathie. I only feared getting blown aground such that it would be a heck of a job refloating her. Since I wasn't scared, Libby wasn't either. Terror would be a gross overstatement.

We took these pictures during the rescue operation.

The stump behind us. Our anchor float behind that.

Our chain wrapped around stumps that saved us.

Retrieving the anchor.

Retrieving the chain.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Over and Under

Roanoke Island, NC
35 54.42 N 075 38.63 W

People not used to boats, especially sailboats, have a hard time understanding why the captain is so fussy about which lines (ropes) go over or under which.   Believe me, once you do understand it is very important.  Often there is one and only one correct way to route a line.  No compromises nor approximations can be allowed.

The most important of all over and under rules is your own body.  If you lay or sit on the deck you must never ever lay or sit on top of any line (rope).  The reason is that line may suddenly come into play and be pulled taught.  If you're on top of it you could be launched into the air, or worse thrown overboard.   An anchor line could loop around your foot and pull you overboard and down to the bottom of the sea.  That certainly earns being deemed important.

Other cases can be more confusing.  Guests frequently volunteer to help put the sail cover on to be helpful.  They're less than pleased to hear me orderer, "No not that way.   Route the cover under all the halyards and over all the lazy jacks. "  What the heck?   Who knows what all that nautical lingo means anyhow?   I can make it a bit easier by saying, "Route it under all the ropes with colored markings and over the white ropes."  That avoids nautical lingo but it doesn't seem to help much; guests are equally confused.

The problem repeats everywhere.  "That line goes under the top lifeline and over the lower one."  Huh?  

By the way, for the benefit of landlubbers.  A rope is a rope when it is on the shelf or stored in a locker.  As soon as it is put into use it becomes a "line."  Each line has a specific name.  That's so that we can communicate accurately in the dark, when upside down, backward and with our eyes closed.  Ditto with port/starboard instead of left/right.  If you're in the cockpit and someone below shouts, "Where's the toilet paper," you can't offer left or right as an answer if you don't know which way the person is facing.

A related problem to over under is working versus bitter end of a rope.   Let's say you hold the anchor line in your hand.  The working end of the line is attached to the anchor, the loose end of the line is called the bitter end.   Never mixing the two up is important.   For example, to tie the anchor line to a Sampson post, you take the bitter end, wrap it around the post 3 times, then wrap it around twice more with a half loop each time, forming a clove hitch.  If you did the same thing with the working end it is just as easy to tie and results in the same knot on the post.   However, as the anchor tugs on the line overnight it will pull that knot so tight that it may take you half the day to work it loose. 

Women do many things as well or better than men (Oh God, don't get me started on that.)  It is said however that they are not as good at spatial visualization.    In this context, it means the mental talent to never confuse the over/under or working/bitter end rules, even in the dark, in a storm, when your tired, with your eyes closed, and behind your back.  Believe me, there will be times when such gymnastics are necessary.  From what I've observed, it seems to be true.  It is much more difficult to coach a woman (including Libby) to route the lines over/under working/bitter correctly.   She learns the rules, but then gets confused 1/4 of the time and does it wrong.   Oh well, since that is just about her only fault, I'll keep her.

By the way.  We had a really pleasant sail today.  Pamlico Sound is delightful when it isn't stormy.   We made it from Ocracoke to Manteo in just over 7 hours.  We came at low tide and yet saw no water depths less than 7.5 feet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ocracoke High

Ocracoke Island, NC

Ocracoke is definitely a tourist trap. Three ferries stop here. Tourists touring the outer banks debark on one ferry and later embark on another. In the meantime they can tour this island, visit the shops and see the sights. The tourists love it. Ocracoke thrives on it.

Normally, Libby and I avoid all tourist traps. We don't like them. However, for some reason we love Ocracoke anyhow. Somehow is feels genuine, not phony.

Today, we just walked the streets, visited the shops and sipped the coffee. I bought two fresh bluefish fillets in the seafood shop for supper tonight. Only $3.70 for the two.

Right now, I'm on WiFi at The Ocracoke Coffee Company. They provide overstuffed chairs, coffee and WiFi. The locals provide good conversation. It's a fun place.


Silver Lake, Ocracoke Island, NC
35 06.82 N 075 59.11 W

This is the third or fourth time we've come to Ocracoke. The anchorage here in Silver Lake is very well protected. However, to get here we have to come in via Big Foot Slough Channel.

That channel is treacherous. There are very shallow waters bordering the channel on both sides. For some reason, every time we come and go here, the wind blows like the dickens just as we pass through the channel. That makes it stressful.

The very first time we came here, a cold front passed and the wind started blowing 40 knots just as we entered the channel. Not only that, the channel was shoaled in spots and we came in trying to decipher very confusing written directions for how to avoid the shoals. Wednesday afternoon, it was only blowing 25 and the channel has been dredged. Still, it felt dangerous.

As we came in, the wind was against us so we had to motor. I kept thinking; what would happen if the motor failed just now? If that happened, the only remedy would be to drop the anchor fast. With strong winds on our beam, I doubted if we could do it fast enough. Then, the truth hit me. If we acted with A class seamanship, we would have rigged the anchor to be ready to drop on an instant's notice. We could also have posted Libby or me up in the bow, ready to drop anchor. Never mind that it was cold and windy and waves were breaking over the bow. An A-class skipper and crew would have done it anyhow.

We could also have set the stay sail so that on an instant's notice we could have turned around and sailed ourselves back out the channel instead of anchor. We didn't do that either.

So, I'm forced to admit that our knowledge of seamanship exceeds our practice of seamanship. Should we change our habits in favor of more discipline more vigilance at the expense of extra effort and exposure to discomfort? Perhaps so; I'll have to give that serious thought and talk it over with Libby.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Inarticulate Freedom

Oriental, NC

I finally figured out that the primary attraction to the cruising life is freedom. There are very few niches left on this planet for people to live as freely, without restrictions, as we do. One of the telling aspects of freedom though is what you do with it.

Libby and I choose to exercise our freedom by migrating north and south in a constant (and largely successful) search for fun. Others choose to circumnavigate or to at least sail to exotic places. Others might choose to exercise their freedom by staying at the same place forever at anchor, not paying rent or taxes, and rowing their dinghy in to work every day at their jobs. Still others stay fixed, pay no rent or taxes, and drink lots and lots of alcohol.

The cruising community is very egalitarian. People of all backgrounds, all ambitions, people with wildly different income levels, reputations, and appetites for alcohol mix pretty freely. In other words, they tend not to be snobby.

Sadly, those with a great affinity for drink don't last as long. It is they, I believe, who are responsible for most of the derelict vessels (DVs). DVs are a big problem. Taxpayers and local residents hate seeing them, and even if the law is against them, they often succeed in getting rid of the DVs. Sometimes, the process leads to anti boater sentiments and restrictions.

The sailboat above in New Bern is what I call borderline derelict. It appears to be in good shape. However there are no sails visible. That's not a good sign. Worse, it is stuck in the mud. You can see it heeling over in the picture despite the lack of wind or currents. Deeper water is just a few yards away. It is also in an area were several other boats sit stuck in the mud. How did that happen? It could just be a mistake, but most likely it was blown there during a storm. Stormy winds and high water can cause the anchor to drag. Year after year, if the boat sits unattended it becomes a little higher and drier after each passing storm. Therefore, I suspect that this is a sound boat that is destined to become a DV. That says nothing about the owner. He or she may simply be absent having voluntarily or involuntarily abandoned the vessel.

So, what is my point in this blog post? Muddled I guess. It was triggered while contemplating the sailboat in the picture on the same day that I was reminded that freedom is the true essence of cruising. The two are connected, but I have not yet found to articulate a conclusion.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oriental Dreamers

Oriental, NC
35 01.48 N 076 41.72 W

The package we were waiting for arrived today. Now we can (reluctantly) leave Oriental tomorrow. We really like this place. I'll confess part of the reason. More than any other place, Oriental is filled with people who dream about Westsail 32s, and about living the cruising life. It's an ego trip for us.

Oriental claims to be the sailing capital of North Carolina. I think the claim is well deserved. There seems to be a 3:1 ratio of big sailboats to people around here. Thousands of boats fill the marinas up Whittaker Creek. Curiously, on a splendid day such as we've been having lately, only a dozen or two of these thousands of boats are out sailing. Even on a weekend.

I mentioned this to a local. He explained that this is a retirement community. Many of the residents are lifelong sailors. Many have impressive histories. However, now they're old and perhaps not up to much physical activities. They keep their boats more for sentimental purposes.

Still, many of the admirers we meet are in their 30s and 40s, too young to be retired. What about them? It turns out that many of them are second generation sailors. Their parents are retired in the area and their parents indoctrinated them in the dream of living the cruising life.

We recently learned that the Westsail Company succeeded largely on the basis of a marketing campaign that didn't overtly sell boats. They sold people on the cruising life. Owning a cruising boat is merely a means to that end. Based on what we see, I think that marketing pitch could still succeed today. Anybody want to partner in a new cruising boat venture?

p.s. Right now there's some very un-Oriental-like stuff going on. A squad of US Marines are practicing urban warfare in the streets of Oriental. They are calling in close support air strikes. Helicopters and very very noisy F18s are making strafing runs just above our mast. How's that for a clash with the idyllic scene?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Watch Webcam

Oriental, NC

Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning, watch us on the web cam. Tarwathie's bow is pointing at the camera. The Bean coffee shop is seen at the left.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Battle of New Bern

New Bern, NC
35 06.02 N 077 02.56 W

Today we went to the reenactment of The Battle of New Bern. It was more fun than I anticipated.

Never mind that the reenactment wasn't as historically accurate as it could have been. The real point is to entertain the reenactors and the spectators alike and that they did in style. The booming sound of the cannons and the muskets was real. The smell and sight of gunpowder smoke enveloping us was real. The men, their uniforms and equipment all seemed real. That was all the reality needed to have fun.

The scenario was that a Yankee fleet would arrive and bombard Union Point at New Bern. At the same time, Yankee troops would arrive chasing retreating rebels in front of them. The troops attacked soon after the ship bombardment and overwhelmed the defenders.

From Battle of New Bern

From Battle of New Bern

Video from Battle of New Bern

From Battle of New Bern

From Battle of New Bern

Video from Battle of New Bern

Meka II (see below), the square rigged boat with the steam engine also turned out to be more than I expected. I looked up on the Internet and found a story of a modern day privateer and cruiser extrodinare. Read it yourself here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Rumor Day

New Bern, NC
35 06.02 N 077 02.56 W

Yesterday morning Bert and I were chatting about the Gulf oil spill as we waited for the fridge to charge up. Bert said that he heard that as far north as Moorhead City, BP had scoured every West Marine and other marine supplier and bought every available anchor. The purported purpose would be to help tie down that massive dome they are lowering over the well head. That doesn't sound very credible; I have a hard time believing it. On the other hand, acts of desperation are often not rational.

On the afternoon news, we heard about a massive drop in the stock market. This time the rumor was that a fat fingered trader typed billion when he meant million. This one sounds very credible. However, nobody seems to know the name of the trader, the commodity traded, which exchange, or who was the source of the news story. Shame shame on all those reputable news organizations that reported it as news. I'll bet a dime to a dollar that this rumor is debunked within a week.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Best and Worst of Repairs

New Bern, NC
35 06.02 N 077 02.56 W

Well, this morning I was well humbled. All winter, the performance of our refrigeration system has been degrading. After leaving Vero it quit almost 100%. Libby and I had all sorts of theories of what went wrong. We kept trying to add more R123A refrigerant, but that didn't help.

Our friend Les recommended a local journeyman, Bert. We contacted Bert before leaving Florida and set up a long term appointment in New Bern. Today, Bert fixed everything. We had air and/or moisture in the system, and the R134A was low despite our efforts. Bert sucked out the old gas with a vacuum pump and then recharged it. Now it works great. Best of all, he only charged me $85. A real bargain. Thank you Bert and thank you Les.

What about the worst of repairs. The worst repair is when you misdiagnose the problem and repair the wrong thing. (I suppose you could do still worse by destroying things attempting the repair.) Well, we bought two new thermostats, thinking they were the problem. I even blogged about how unhappy we were that thermostats failed so quickly. The real problem had nothing to do with the thermostats.

So. It is still sound advice for cruisers to plan on doing all their own repairs themselves. However, today's experience demonstrates that it is sometimes better and cheaper to get a professional to fix things. I think I'll also start sending more appeals for help and advice on this blog. In recent months, when I did that, I got excellent advice back from my loyal and experienced readers. Thank you everyone.

p.s. Last night we had dinner on board Viking Rose with Richard and Penny and new friends Kathy and Roger. They talked us in to staying longer in New Bern. There will be a Civil War reenactment of the battle of New Bern on Saturday. That should be fun.

After returning to Tarwathie I told Libby how much I admired Viking Rose. She's a beautiful and comfortable boat. Libby said, "Yes, but too much boat for us." She's right of course. Tarwathie suits our needs perfectly. How fortunate we are to have found such a good match.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

New Bern Pleasures

New Bern, NC
35 06.19 N 077 02.14 W

We visited New Bern a couple of times before. However, each time we come back we find new things to like that we didn't notice before. This time it was Mitchell Hardware store. It is a throw back to the 20th century style of hardware stores and a pleasure to visit. Unfortunately, few stores like Mitchell's remain.

Our task for today is to get the refrigerator repaired. We had a date set with Bert. Bert is a local expert recommended to us. So far no Bert. I haven't been able to get him by phone either. Oh well, there's still 4 more hours in the working day.

Tonight we're going to have dinner with our friends Richard and Penny on Viking Rose. They spent the entire winter here in New Bern. We must admit, between what Les told us about this area and the nice things Richard said about this area, it sounds very attractive to spend a winter season here. Will that ever happen? Never say never.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Proud Parents

Blackbeard Sailing Club, New Bern, NC

We finally got to a place with a signal for our Sprint cell phone. We had a chat with our son Dave in Alaska. Dave had some great news for us. He won the competition to become NCO of the year for the Alaska National Guard. Congratulations Dave, your parents are very proud.

As Dave described it, the competition was a combination of written and verbal skills, an iron man physical test, and purely military skils like shooting. Having won at the state level he next competes for the West/Pacific region title. If he wins that then to the national competion. The Army makes a big deal out of NCO of the year. I'm sure it's a great morale builder.

We are staying two days at Blackbeard Sailing Club, courtesy of our friends Les and Suzanne. We've said it before and we'll say it again. The hospitality and friendliness of the people of North Carolina are outstanding. Tonight I think we'll really appreciate the shelter. It is supposed to be stormy and blow 40 knots. That could make it uncomfortable anchored out in the river.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

It's Libby's Fault

Oriental, NC
35 001.91 N 076 41.46 W

A while back, we were departing Jacksonville via the St Johns river inlet. For the first part of the trip we were accompanied by the Westsail 43 Trouvere. Trouvere is a beautiful boat and she sails beautifully. Our friends Charley and Raivi were on board.

We were taking turns photographing each other's boats as we went. Believe it or not, getting a picture of your own boat while under sail is one of the hardest things to do.

At one point, Charley said on the radio that they would make one more pass by us. I said, "fine." A while later, Charley called back. He said, "You're pulling away from us. I have to put up more sail to catch you." I laughed, and called back on the radio. "It's Libby's fault," I said, "Whenever her hand is on the tiller, Tarwathie goes a half knot faster." Libby overheard that on the radio. I loved the big S.E. grin on her face as she heard that.


Trouvere seen from inside Tarwathie