Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Go Slow

Fernandina Beach Public Library
November 30
We're going to slow down for a couple of weeks to work on the boat. In Fernandina Beach we're going to the same boatyard that we went to last June to paint the bottom. This time we're installing a cabin heater, and replacing one of the chain plates. I also need to repack the stuffing box (never did that before, hope I don't sink the boat trying)

Next Tuesday we're going to an outfit in Jacksonville to get a new dodger and a bimini (sun shade to landlubbers) built. If we sail in tropical waters we really need to keep the sun off our heads. That will take another week.

After these two weeks, we'll head south again.

The pace of all this work is sure different than when I was a project manager. It no longer bothers me though to sit and wait a week. Must be that I'm learning. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The USS North Carolina

Wilmington, NC N34.13 W77.57
November 21st

(p.s. Jenny typed in this blog for me after the fact. Thanks, Jen.)

Today I spent the whole day touring the Battleship North Carolina. Libby wasn’t interested, so she went shopping instead.

The NC was launched in 1941. It is one generation older than the Ohio class battleship. It is therefore the penultimate battleship design. Like the Ohio class, it has nine 16 inch guns.
Unlike the USS Wisconsin that I toured in Norfolk, the NC allows visitors to tour both above and below decks. The USS Texas though let me explore almost anywhere.

I got a lots of nice pictures. I will have to wait for my PC to get fixed before I post them. For me there is a picture of me sitting in the captain’s swivel chair on the fridge. For Jenny and Christian, there are shots of the bakery and the galley. The NC galley served 2000 meals in 50 minutes. For my friend John F. there is a picture of a G.E. reduction gear. It is driven by 5970 RPM cross compound G.E. turbines and the output is a propeller shaft at 297 RPM.
To entertain myself, John U., and Paul D., I took great pictures of the analog computers used for fire control. All three of us would have loved to design those babies. For my son John, the armory, there are shots of the 16 inch munitions . I also took a shot of the block and breech block of a 16” gun. Whoa, that's serious iron!

Libby and I were born in 1944. We are not boomers, we identify much more with the war generation. Myself, despite my love of digital computers, I wish I could have been 20 years older so I could have served in WWII with WWII technology. I feel most at home with the objects, the culture and the technology of the 40s. I guess that makes me an old fart wannabe.

Anyhow, it made a very enjoyable day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Catching Up

Fernandina Beach Florida Public Library
November 28

It' s been a while since my last blog.

Good news. Last Wednesday they had the closing on our house. It's done. We're officially homeless. Unoffically we're content with our home on Tarwathie. It's a tremendous burden and source of worry off our minds.

On Thanksgiving day we missed our family and friends. We often hosted thanksgiving at our house with children, grandchildren and the Undrills. Oh well. Libby said she is not homesick but peoplesick. We made the best of it. We stayed another day in Southport. Libby baked a turkey on the boat and we had thanksgiving dinner. We walked around the town and found a porch with rocking chairs at the tourist visitor center. There we rocked and read the newspaper to pass the afternoon. Very pleasant.

Friday the weather report offered a two day window with favorable winds. We decided to go outside and sail for Florida to escape the cold. The other reason was the the waterway from here south sounded less pleasant. The next stop south is Myrtle Beach where there is a free dock next to an outlet mall. Being near malls on black Friday sounded awful. Anyway, it would take 2-3 weeks to reach Florida on the ICW, compared to 48 hours at sea.

The passage south was pleasant and uneventful. No gales, no seasickness. The trip took 48 hours, and the winds lasted 40 hours. Then the wind died and we had to motor. The trip would be the envy of lake sailors. 40 hours sailing with just the jib, no need to adjust the sails or come about or to jibe the whole time.

When we arrived in Florida waters it got warm. We were wearing long underwear, top clothes, sweaters and rain gear, so we stripped down to t-shirts and jeans. Felt good.

We will stay in Fernandina beach for some repairs and improvements. We're going to install a cabin heater, and a bimini top, and I'm going to replace a chain plate and to repack the stuffing box. It ought to take a week. After that we'll head for Melbourne FL to visit my brother Ed and the Hacketts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tribute To North Carolina

Southport, NC

It may seem to you that we have been dawdling in North Carolina. It's true but only because we had so much fun here. What a nice state, and what nice people it had. There are blog articles on each place (the article on Wilmington and the battleship is not posted yet.), but here's my review of the state.

  • The Great Dismal Swamp canal. Wonderfully peacefule. Great Nature.

  • The North Carolina Welcome Center. Unbelievable hospitality.

  • Elizabeth City and the Rose Buddies. We stayed three days there, and would have gladly stayed longer. They made us feel right at home.

  • Oriental. We stayed there 40 hours, then went away, then came back for another 48 hours. Oriental is billing itself as the best sailing spot on the east coast. I'll second that. It is a wonderfully unspoiled small town with 2500 sailboats, and great sailing weather and great waters.

  • New Bern. If it hadn't started to turn cold here, I might have voted to spend the entire winter in New Bern. It's a very nice place.

  • Nags Head and the Outer Banks. I don't know what it would be like to live there, but it sure is a beautiful place to visit.

  • Bald Head Island. A little too yuppyish for Libby and I, but a wonderful island. Only golf carts on the roads, no cars. Salt marshes. Peace and quiet.

  • Wilmington looks like what Schenectady would like to be. Prosperous and bustling. They have the battleship North Carolina there and I spent a whole day crawling over it.

  • Southport. That is where we are today. The last stop in NC before entering South Carolina. Last night we bought shrimp and crabs from a fisherman two slips away. We gorged ourselves on the seafood last night. It was a gastric orgy. Today, we're just walking on the sidewalks of the residential and downtown areas. Southport is like Scotia, but nicer.

We've been to a lot of places in the past months and had a lot of fun, but North Carolina takes the prize as the most fun place we've been to. We are very glad that we didn't skip it and sail south on the outside.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lessons Learned

Our experience with the gale was not our best moment seamanship-wise. Some of the mistakes committed were within the realm of things we knew about. There's a difference between knowing best practices and living the consequences of not following them. Therefore, I suspect we'll take the following list seriously. For each rule, I'll provide some background explaining what went wrong.

  1. A few things onboard are critical. Problems with critical items must be solved or a backup plan accepted before departure.

  2. The boat and contents must be properly secured before departure for a sea passage.

  3. We must have a dead reckoning navigation plan to use as backup in case of electronics failure.

  4. Pro-actively fix problems when they are first noticed.

  5. Sea sickness remedies must be taken in advance of any queasiness.

  6. All food and other critical equipment must be stored in waterproof containers.

  7. Every kind of operational maneuver must be tested and rehearsed at the dock.

  8. We need a crew plan for long passages. The plan must allow for one of us to be incapacitated.

  9. At sea we need a supply of ready-made food to use when the going gets rough.

Here are some of the things that went wrong that made us come up with this list.

  • On the spur of the moment, as we passed through Beaufort, we decided to go out to sea instead of staying in port one more day. This spur of the moment decision was the root of much of our trouble.

  • Things were stored on deck and stored loose under the dinghy. That worked well for several months including the rough weather we had on Champlain. In the height of the gale these things started getting in the way. Things came out from under the dinghy. We needed to close the hatch in the cabin because water was coming in, but the tarp stored under the dinghy got in the way and prevented the hatch from closing.

    I did dog down the cockpit floor and did a few other things as we departed shore. However, we need a checklist. We'll have to develop such a departure checklist and add to it as we learn more.

  • I made a hasty navigation plan using the GPS and without consulting the paper charts. The plan missed some shoal waters along the intended course. I didn't discover this error until I double checked with the printed charts three hours out. Good for me double checking, shame on me for poor planning in the first place.

  • A secondary consequence of making a dead reckoning navigation plan is that hasty spontaneous decisions to put to sea are eliminated. It would be a good practice to make it a big deal to transition from not-at-sea to at-sea modes of discipline.

    Compare it to your home versus driving habits. At home and office we leave everything laying around and do little or nothing to prepare for emergencies (unless you expect a hurricane). In the car you develop good safety habits. You make sure doors are closed, you fasten seat belts (don't you?) You see to it that cargo and kids are adequately secured. Our boat is both our home and our car so to speak, so we need extra ritual to remind us to switch from one culture to the other.

  • We noticed an excessive compass deviation of 3-10 degrees two days before leaving. We were still dinking around trying to diagnose it. When we left shore in Beaufort, it was still unresolved.

    When I discovered the navigation planning error, it made me realize that if we had a GPS failure right then, we would have been in serious trouble because we didn't trust the compass. A day later I realized that I have two other compasses onboard and we could have made a backup plan to use those.

  • With the rail underwater for so much of the time, we wound up with a lot of water inside. I estimate 30 gallons. It ran down the walls, through the food storage lockers and into the bilge. A lot of food in the lockers got wet and had to be discarded.

    We'll try to find and fix the leak but the reality is that leaks are inevitable on boats. As we fix some, new ones will appear. For ocean crossings, we must protect the food in waterproof containers.

  • When I tried to double reef the mainsail, it didn't work. The jiffy reefing line jammed somehow. It was dark and I couldn't see why. I let it go till dawn, sailing with the mainsail in a baggy shape, not flat. After dawn I see that I routed the line through boom bails and they jammed them. The real error was not testing the reefing while at the dock. I had never double reefed before. Still haven't triple reefed at sea. Yesterday at the dock we practiced single, double and triple reefing, and tried the manual emergency bilge pump (it didn't work). The lesson is to verify everything by rehearsals and drills.

  • The water streaming over the decks managed to untie three knots that I'm sure were properly tied. I never suspected that water could do that. Two of those knots secured the jacklines. The jackline is the line attached to the boat that one tethers ones safety harness to in order to prevent falling overboard. Jacklines have life safety importance! I don't know how to test each knot on each kind of line on each kind of fastener for all weather. I'm not sure of a silver bullet for this problem.

  • After dawn I saw that the lazy jacks and the running backstay were both fouling the double reefed mainsail, threatening to rip the sail. Then the light bulb in my head went off. Things were deteriorating and I was doing nothing about it. Each additional problem made it incrementally more difficult to deal with current conditions and with new problems; that's my definition of deteriorating.

    I was cold, tired, before dawn I was scared of doing things in the dark, I was short handed because Libby was sick, my muscles hurt especially my arms from bracing myself. Unless I eversed the trend, things could get very bad. That spurred me to action, and I started correcting every problem I saw until they were all corrected. I must have made two dozen trips to the foredeck.

    The point is, you have to be brave and pro-active, and not cower. It may be scary to climb out to the end of the boom to fix something in the dark in rough weather, but the risk of not doing it could be worse.

    A second point is that it is vital to recognize, as I did, when things are deteriorating, then act immediately to reverse that trend. That was part of my pilot training, and it served me well. Bad accidents usually result from a chain of mistakes, not single mistake.

  • A lot of things fell on the cabin floor. That's normal for sailboats. However, we had a lot of books stored in milk crates in the V-berth. They were secured with lines fastened to the wall. The boat got knocked around so much that the fastenings tore the screws out of the wall. Properly, secured means fasteners appropriately strong.

  • Libby felt fine until we changed course at 0300. Then she got seasick within seconds. She has a wristwatch like seasickness device but she wasn't wearing it and she didn't ask for it until five hours later. She was down for 12 hours before recovering enough to help me again. We must prevent seasickness if possible, not remedy it after the fact.

  • Libby and I will have to think carefully about the crew problem. Always requiring a third person on board could seriously cut into our around the world plans. We need to improve our physical condition and stamina, our skills, and we sometimes need to add more crew members. Fatigue at the helm leads to poor performance and errors.

  • Through all this, Tarwathie behaved well. No excessive heeling, no knockdowns, no broaches. The Westsail 32 is a seaworthy boat. I'm very glad we have her. If we were in a modern Hunter, or Catalina or Benetau boat I would have been more scared.

Anyhow, I expect that we'll refine this list and live by it as time goes on.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Thursday we left Oriental headed for Cape Fear. The plan was to head for Beaufort, NC where the inlet to the ocean is, then decide whether to overnight there or to continue. When we got there, it was noon, it was sunny, it was warm, it was breezy. We said go for it.

We sailed southward with a 20-25 knot wind behind us. I only had the jib up. Tarwathie flew. Several times we hit 7.6 knots, not bad for a boat with a hull speed of 6.5 knots...

There is a shoal that sticks out 30 miles from Cape Fear. We steered for the end of the shoal, planning to turn right when we past it. We got to the turn at 0330, way ahead of my planned schedule. When we turned right is when the trouble started.

We were close hauled into the wind and there was too much wind. The rail was underwater much of the time with water streaming over the deck. I finally took the jib down and replaced it with a staysail plus a double reefed main. The reefing didn't work right. Libby got seasick and went below, leaving me single handed. Then, about dawn the winds picked up to force 8. I estimate 35 knots, which is a gale. The spray was blowing off the wavetops forming spindrift.

To make a long story short, it took 15 hours to go that last 30 miles. When we got there, we were both exhausted. We put into a marina on Bald Head Island, and slept and rested for 36 hours before continuing.

The gale was an excellent learning opportunity. I'll write up a lessons learned blog article soon.

Today we're in Wilmington, and I plan to tour the battleship North Carolina tomorrow. Tropical storm Gamma is approaching, and we'll have to find a place to hide out to avoid that. Boy what a year for storms.

Our next goal is Fernandina Beach, Florida. We may have to stop in Charleston, SC first. I'd prefer to sail it outside rather than use the ICW. We'll see.

Right now I'm in the library, and they limit users to 30 mintues. So I have to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oriental Again

Oriental, North Carolina N35 01 W76 42
November 16th

Yesterday we sailed from New Bern Bay back to Oriental. I wanted to work on the engine and if I got stuck, it would be easier to find a mechanic in Oriental.

It’s funny here at the public dock. Across the street is a coffee shop where people sit on the porch drinking lattes. When a boat comes in or out, they jump to help with the lines. I think they are all armchair sailors.

A nice armchair sailor came to chat. He had a nautical belt, a nautical hat, and a beard. He bent my ear for 45 minutes about mishaps at the locks in Beluga WA.

There is a steady stream of people that come to admire the Westsail 32.
2500 sailboats in Oriental and less than 2500 people; they know sailing.

My new computer suddenly died last night. OH NO! I mailed to off to the repair shop today, 2-3 weeks before I get it back. Until then, I will write blogs longhand and mail them to Jenny to post for me. Thanks Jenny!

We have a new destination as of today. We contacted Americare and volunteered for Katrina Relief. We are going to Pas Christian, Mississippi to help rebuild the town. Tarwathie will be anchored in nearby St. Lois Bay. We need confirmation that we can anchor. Other than that, it’s a go.

Next stop will be Wilmington, NC. We hope to see Walt, a long-time friend, this weekend.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Vacation From Sailing

New Bern, N35 06 W77 02
Last night is the first night in more than a month that we slept on land. Libby luxuriated by turning up the heat in the motel room because we woke up to a cold morning every day in the past month also.

I know that we’re living life as if it were a permanent vacation. Nevertheless, we decided to splurge and see those places in the outer banks that we couldn’t get to by boat. We left Tarwathie at the Sheraton Hotel Marina in New Bern and rented a car. Last night we slept on Roanoke Island. Before going to bed we went down to the waterfront and looked across at the banks. They were lit up like the Las Vegas strip -- not very appealing. There was an Elizabethan Festival going on in Roanoke over the weekend with period costumes, reenactments, and falconry. We would have stayed for that but then we would have missed the Outer Banks.

See pictures after this post.

We started early at 7AM this morning and drove across the bridge to Nags Head on the Outer Banks. The first impression wasn’t good. First we came to a strip that looks like route 15 in Kissimmee, Florida just east of Disney World. We switched streets to see the ocean, but there was a solid wall of houses that blocked the view of the ocean and nearly blocked the sky. It looked like Marco Island, Florida, a place entirely visitor hostile. Luckily, we saw all the bad stuff before 0800, the rest of the day was nothing but good.

We found an access point and walked out onto the beach. It was lovely. Nice clean sand. Water not too cold. Lots of fishermen and people taking their morning walks with coffee cups in hand. Libby and I love to walk on ocean beaches. When I do it, I feel compelled to walk barefoot in the surf. It reminds me of the two weeks I spent in Recife, Brazil where I ran barefoot in the surf every morning.

Next we went to a state park that featured 90 foot sand dunes and a hang gliding school. I promised Libby that I’d take a hang gliding lesson if she would. The park was great. The dunes are amazing. The sand is very fine. There was no wind today so we didn’t see the sand blowing, nor did we see hang gliders. From the top of the highest dune one has splendid views of the Atlantic to the east and Pamlico Sound to the west. I have several pictures but none of them give an idea of the scale of these dunes.

After that we went to Nags Head Wilderness, maintained by the Nature Conservancy. It is a forest and swamp so well sheltered that one has no idea that he or she is so close to the ocean. It is replete with many rare species of plants. It was delightful.

Then we drove south toward Cape Hatteras. I was happy to see the developed part stop abruptly as we entered the Hatteras National Seashore. The next 30 miles we saw wonderful nature. From east to west one has the Atlantic Ocean, beach, dunes, road, tidal flats (i.e. lagoons and estuaries), scrub forest, Pamlico Sound. It’s pretty no matter where you look. We stopped a couple of times to walk over the dunes to see the ocean. Each time we found splendid beaches. We saw some cars that drove on the beach, men fishing in the surf, and we saw surfers.

60 miles south of Nags Head one comes to Hatteras Lighthouse. We took another hike there, partly in the lagoons and partly on the beach. It was nice again. The lighthouse itself was closed to visitors for the winter so we didn’t climb up. Our memory of passing Cape Hatteras by boat was from last June. We passed the Hatteras marker near dusk, and land was nowhere in sight. That night we sailed north and made Virginia Beach 24 hours later. It must be that the offshore waters there are very shallow for many miles out from the beach.

After the hike near the lighthouse we continued south. Our plan was to take two ferry rides and then return to New Bern completing a circle tour. When we got to the first ferry we saw signs that the other ferries were fully booked. We couldn’t continue. That was a disappointment. Not only did we miss a ferry ride but we had to make a 120 mile detour to return by land. Still it made a splendid day.

On the trip we saw several of the places where we came down by boat. We saw the place where we anchored in the fog, and the Little Alligator River where we anchored the night before that. We drove by the marina where the nasty man was and we made an appropriate obscene gesture as we went by. We could see the place at the Alligator River entrance where we ran aground. By the way I read a footnote in a cruising guide that said that the buoys at the entrance to the Alligator River had been rearranged ten years ago. But, unfortunately, even the newest charts do not show the new arrangement. When I wrote in the blog that we made no errors in navigation that night, I was wrong. A truly professional skipper would buy that phone book size book entitled “Notice To Mariners” and read all the thousands of footnotes about errors and changes on the charts, then make pencil notes on every chart he buys. I didn’t do that; duh. But, I can no longer claim that I made no errors.

Anyhow, we returned to New Bern and Tarwathie by 1800 on Sunday, making the end to a very fun weekend.

My morning's accomplishments

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A Live Oak tree in the wilderness

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Libby loves lichens

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Hmm, can I get Tarwathie in to this wilderness?

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These cotton balls aren't rotten

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Hey, I found a new painter for the dinghy.

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On Top of The Dune World

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On the beach at Nags Head

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Coochie Coo

Neuse River, N34 58 W 76 45
November 11. It is such a splendid morning under sail out here on the river that I found myself inventing a song -- “Five knots two. Sky is blue. Coochie Coochie Coochie Coo. We’re on the way to New Bern town.”

Last night in Oriental was a lot of fun. We went to an amateur theater production of “Sylvia”, an adult comedy in two acts. Out of two hundred or so people in the audience only a dozen or so were sailors. It was easy to tell. The sailors wore levis and t shirts while everyone else was dressed in semi formal evening wear. No matter, everyone had fun.

The easy social live of cruising sailors also became a little more apparent yesterday. We talked Alan and Laura, the couple on the other Westsail, into going to the play with us. While we were talking, another sailing couple, Richard and Pat, just happened to overhear as they were walking by and said they too would like to go to the show. So the six of us went together. Before the show, we six were sitting on the deck having cocktails when a fourth sailing couple came into the harbor in a little dingy. They rowed up to our boat, passed up a bottle of wine and asked if they could join the party. They were Tom and Rosie.

We needed a propane bottle refilled. The store is about one mile away. I was trying to lash the bottle to the bicycle, much to Libby’s dislike. She was afraid I‘d fall and the bottle would explode. I had to admit that the worry was somewhat justified, but I wasn’t going to walk a mile with a full bottle of propane. Just then a strange man came along and said, “Come. I’ll give you a ride up to the store.” The man’s name was Ed, he moved to Oriental recently, and he was just being helpful. Boy what nice hospitality we’ve found in North Carolina. The horrid man at the Alligator Marina was the only blemish.

The social contacts are easy to make. Interestingly though, the sailors and the power boaters seldom mix.

Remember that young couple we wrote about before? Sam and Jackie. They showed up last night too. While Libby and I were relaxing two days in Oriental Harbor, they had been pressing ahead under sail in rather rough weather. Sam, told me that his only out-of-pocket boat expense since leaving Maryland has been 13 gallons of gasoline. I still admire their spunk.

I met another sailing couple on the sidewalk, Jim and Paula. They are from New Jersey and it sounds like they have extensive cruising experience. We talked about vagabond sailors. I told them the story about Misty Isles that I blogged about last June. They told me about Chuck. Chuck had a Bristol 28. He sat at anchor in New Jersey month after month. One day he was gone. Jim asked other boaters about Chuck and they said, “He scraped up $100 so he headed south as far as the money will take him.” Jim and Paula met chuck a few weeks later 50 miles southward. The money didn’t take Chuck far. They met him again a year later in Saint Augustine Florida. Jim and Paula took a cruise to the Bahamas, the Keys and the Tortugas then headed north again. Eight months later they got to Fort Pierce, Florida and there was Chuck. However this time Chuck had a woman onboard. She had jumped ship from a 49 foot luxury yacht to sail with Chuck. Wow!

This morning Alan and Laura left bound for Moorhead City then Bermuda. Richard and Pat left for the Bahamas. Sam and Jackie were going to rest a day before continuing. Libby and I left for New Bern. New Bern is up the Neuse River a way. It is said to be bigger than Oriental, but still unspoiled. We’ll check it out.

They sure make big rivers down here. The Neuse River is 16 miles wide at one point and 150 miles long. Compare that to Lake Champlain which is 13 miles wide at one point and 125 miles long. But this is a river! Northerners like us though have a hard time grasping how shallow these bodies of water are. Champlain has some shoals but mostly it’s deep from shore to shore. Down here the lakes and rivers can be only 2 to 3 feet deep for mile after mile and from shore to shore. They have narrow channels, some natural, some man-made. One has to pay close attention or risk running aground.

I confess that having a chart-plotting GPS makes an almost irresistible temptation to become dependent on it. It is so graphic, so easy to use and so accurate that it’s a pleasure. It would be much more challenging to navigate this trip with only paper charts and compass. I really need some days with the GPS turned off to keep in practice. I intend to do that real soon now.

Libby is spending the morning practicing tying bowline knots. She’s been trying to master the bowline for a year now. Laura Grayson taught her a simplified method of tying a bowline. Libby is profoundly grateful to Laura for that.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lost Address Book

When I dropped my computer in the water several weeks ago I lost access to the contents of the hard disk. I have a backup but it will take me several weeks more to restore it.

The reason I'm writing this is to appeal to my friends to resend their email addresses please. That way I can rebuild our address book. Please email your email address to


Oriental, North Carolina, N35 01 W76 41
November 10. Oriental is a nice little fishing village with perhaps 1,000 people living “downtown.” The city harbor is filled with shrimp boats. The harbor and the surrounding creeks are also filled with sailboats. There are marinas, boatyards, marine supply stores, marine repair businesses, and outfitters. It appears that nearly everything in Oriental is oriented around boats.

Last February, when we were shopping for Westsails, we stopped in Oriental. Libby and I were charmed by the place at that time and it hasn’t changed. It is an unspoiled little paradise. Compare it to Boothbay Harbor from 40 years, but North Carolina rather than Maine style. Kathy Messitt said that Oriental is also a real estate hot spot with soaring property values. We hope is remains unspoiled.

We can ride our bike to the local stores. We’d like to stay here another night and go to a performance from the local amateur theater tonight.

We’re considering hanging around Oriental or nearby North Bern for some weeks. New Bern might be somewhat more affordable because it is off the Intercoastal Waterway.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mud Bunnies

Oriental North Carolina,
November 9. Robb Pike gave us a nautical dictionary as a present. Today Libby invented a new term for it. I was remarking about the bits of mud that gather in the bow after we raise the anchor. The mud is brought up by the chain and the anchor. We wash it away but it seems that for hours and days after that new bits of mud continuously appear on the foredeck. I remarked that they must be reproducing under the bowsprit. Libby said, “They are Mud Bunnies.” That’s our contribution to the nautical dictionary.

This morning we heard a very strange sound. It sounded like a Gaia Burp. A loud and low pitched vibration sound lasting about a second. It surprised us because we were more than 6 miles away from any land or any vessel. The sounded repeated once, then we heard a boom like an explosion. A study of the charts shows a prohibited zone about 12 miles away from us, ringed by numerous warning buoys. There is also a Marine air station nearby. Putting two and two together, I thing the sounds were those of a Vulcan Gatling Gun burst. I have new respect for notations on a nautical chart that says “prohibited.”

The Gaia burp reminds me of my first time ever on a sailboat was on Fräs, the boat of Karl Gnospelius, in Trösa Sweden. Karl and his family took me to an island where we walked around. We found a big sign on the shore. It said, “Forbidden. Military Bombing Target Area.” Karl laughed it off, saying that it was nothing serious. Luckily he was right, at least about that day. I had such a nice time that day, I resolved to get a boat and sail myself. The rest is history.

We arrived in Oriental and rented a slip at the Oriental Marina. 15 minutes later, Moon Song with our friends Alan and Laura pulled in behind us. They were smarter than us. They tied up at the free city dock.

I biked up the road and got the package that Jenny sent to us general delivery. It worked. Thank you Jenny. That’s the first mail we got while cruising.

Oriental is a very nice place. I’ll write more about it later.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Eastham Creek, N3518 W76 36

November 8. Today started off with dense fog for the first time this year. We could only see about 25 meters until 0945 when it lifted and we could way anchor. I suspect that we sat in a little patch of fog. There was no wind to blow it away. Boats that sat 200 meters away could leave two hours earlier. Oh well, it’s not as if we’re in a hurry.

We came up to the young couple that we met in The Great Dismal Swamp. They appear to be about 20 years old. They appear to have only one set of clothes (hooded sweat shirts). They have a small 23 foot boat. They wash dishes in the sand. When we came up on them they were dead in the water but they looked totally relaxed. We stopped to ask if they needed a tow or other assistance. They said, “No. We ran out of gas and when we get around to filling the tank from this jerry can, we’ll go.” Boy I admire their spunk. Perhaps I’m a little envious that they live the cruising life at 20 rather than at 60. How will they make the world a better place by their existence? I don’t know but they are still young enough to start a family or to start a career so it’s too early to judge. I wish them well.

A sailboat passed us and the people got all excited and waved and shouted. They are friends of Al Hatch, former owner of Tarwathie and they thought I was Al. They veered so close to us they almost made me collide with a third sailboat nearby.

Now it’s 1430, not even mid afternoon, and we’re anchored in an idyllic quiet spot. Why so early? No good reason, it is a nice day and that’s a nice place, enough reason. Commercial fisherman dock their boats further up this creek so we’re hoping to flag one down and buy some fish or crabs. Boy this cruising life is hard to take.

Remember that thingy on the engine that I said took hours to screw in, and then caused a runaway engine? We’ll I didn’t mention that when we took it out it had a mangled rubber washer. I tried replacing the washer with an O ring when we put it back. Now that thingy is dripping diesel fuel when the engine runs. That means taking it off again - groan. Richard the mechanic said that we need an articulated extension to get at it. That’s a curved open end wrench that attaches to the end of a socket extender. I have no idea where to buy such a thing.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Pungo River, N35 34 W76 28
November 7. We had a very strange experience this morning. We stopped at Alligator River Marina to buy diesel fuel. The man there who helped us was belligerent and rude. I don’t know what we did if anything to provoke this man but nobody should treat customers the way he did. Fortunately for us, we didn’t get overly upset and it didn’t ruin our day.

It was a fine fine day for sailing. We sailed some motored some and motor sailed some. We navigated some very narrow channels. We traversed the Pungo River canal. The canal is 18 miles long. It goes in a dead straight line through a wildlife refuge. The nature is very pretty. We didn’t see creatures except for a big dead tree full of vultures. The tree looked like a prop for a Hollywood movie.

Today for the first time it was really warm. I went for my after lunch nap on the foredeck but it was too hot. I had to go below.

Tonight the strangest sailboat I ever saw anchored next to us. It appears to be about 40 feet long with a 19 foot beam. The cabin roof is only one foot above the deck with black glass wrap-around windows, otherwise the deck is flush. The windows look like slits in a Nazi pillbox. It makes me think of the Monitor and the Merrimack and of the James Bond movie Doctor No.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Moon Song

Little Alligator River, N35 56 W76 01
November 6. We met a great couple with a Westsail 32! Alan and Laura Grayson on the W32 Moon Song. Alan is from the south Island of New Zealand. Laura has a dazzling smile that could capture a man’s heart at 50 paces.

Like us, Alan and Laura sold all their land bound stuff and set off to see the world on their Westsail. They’ve had Moon Song for 6 years and did a lot of custom modifications. We had great fun inspecting each other’s boats and picking up ideas. I love the way they made chart storage in the V-berth. Alan loves the sitting navigator’s station we have in Tarwathie.

Alan and Laura’s immediate destination is Bermuda. Sounds great to me. Good luck Moon Song.

We left Elizabeth City around 900. I would have liked to stay yet another day but we were already one day over the two day limit for free docks. We passed the Coast Guard station and the blimp factory and the Fugi blimp. The blimp hanger is 180 feet tall, and big enough for three football fields to fit in side. There are ruins of yet another hanger twice as big that burned down. The Rose Buddies said that hanger was the biggest wooden building in the world at one time. I can imagine the local volunteer firemen staring at that on the day it burned.

Today is very nice for sailing except that after noon we came to a leg dead into the wind. We sailed that for 4 hours making very slow progress. Then, to get to the anchorage before dark we doused the sails and started the engine.

Something went wrong within 10 minutes of motoring. We were making less than 0.4 knots at maximum cruising throttle! We must have snagged a crab pot. I looked over the side and can see nothing. We put her in reverse to clear the foul. That helped, and now we’re making 3 knots into the wind. Still 1 knot less than normal for this RPM. I’ll have to go swimming at the anchorage to inspect the propeller and the bottom. Water temperature is 60 degrees. Brisk but not impossible.

It took nearly three hours to motor in to our anchorage. By the time we got here and changed course beam to the wind, the motoring speed had returned to normal. We’ll see tomorrow if I have the will power to go swimming to inspect the bottom.

We ran aground just after passing through channel markers. We didn’t make any errors. According to two charts and one GPS, we should have been clear of shoals. Nevertheless, we ran aground. The thump thump as the keel hit bottom at every wave trough was awful. Fortunately we were able to back out with little trouble. It’s a reminder though of how easy it is. Bottom conditions change.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I Should Have Staid In Bed

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
Oh what a bad day this has been. The story actually starts yesterday.

Friday I changed the engine oil. I resolved to do it right because the last time I did it I made a terrible mess. One changes the oil in a marine diesel engine by first getting the engine hot, then sucking the oil out through the dipstick tube.

I have a hand suction pump used for many purposes including oil changes. I attach a long tube to the pump, put the tube down the dipstick, then use an empty gallon container to catch the dirty oil. Before starting I got everything I would need lined up. The pump, oil absorbant pads, plastic shopping bags to hold oily rags and the waste oil bottle, soap, water. I also stripped down to just an old pair of pants.

Well that was the theory. It went awry when my suction pump broke right in the middle of the suck out operation. I had to take it apart, repair it and put it back together. But it was full of oil at the time, so the operation was very messy. When that was done I changed the oil filter. I tried to be careful and enclose the filter in a plastic bag before beginning. It was no help. As I loosened the filter oil squirted out everywhere, and dripped out of the bag. I had to go below to get more bags to triple bag it. Libby was doing the laundry so I had to do it myself. Then I saw the triple bags leaking oil. I scrambled to get the whole mess ashore.

By the time I was done there was oil everywhere. All over inside the engine compartment. Oil in the cockpit. Oily footprints on the stairs, down below, and on the deck. Oil on the teak. Oil on my hands, my face, my arms, my pants, my shoes, my socks, even my feet. What a mess. It took me three hours to clean it up.

Last night Libby and I decided to stay two more days and rent a car to see the outer banks. We would move the boat to a nearby marina. This morning first thing I checked the marina but it was full. We had to cancel those plans.

Next I wanted to call ahead to the next marina southward to see if they had diesel fuel. A lot of fueling facilities around here were damaged by hurricanes and thus out of service. My cell phone said I couldn’t call. It was because my bill wasn’t paid because my old credit card expired. I tried to pay the bill on the phone using my new credit card. It did not work. I tried to pay the bill with the computer. It didn’t work. I retried with the computer 4 times. On the 5th time it worked, but my cell phone still didn’t work. I thought we’d have to wait till Monday. I went ashore and tried to use a pay phone. It swallowed my money but wouldn’t call anywhere.

All those troubles put me in a foul mood, but little did I know what was coming. We left the dock and headed south. Only one mile away the engine suddenly died. I checked the fuel filter and the reservoir was dry. Uh oh. That meant that there would be air in the fuel lines. Diesel engines don’t run if there’s even a little air in the lines. We couldn’t continue under sail because there is another narrow canal ahead. The only choice was to try to sail back to the city docks we just left.

Poor Libby. She had the helm and just then a tugboat towing a barge came around the bend. Libby had to scramble to get out of it’s way. We sailed back to the city docks, and prepared to come in under sail.

It almost worked but my bowsprit hit a handrail on the dock and broke it. The boat rebounded so we couldn’t reach the dock anymore. The wind also died, so we were adrift, no power, no sails, in a crowded harbor. I had to shout for help. Fortunately some people did come to help and I threw them a line, and they pulled us into a slip.

First chore was to double back and repair the railing we broke. Next was to fix the engine and bleed the lines. I opened up the covers and looked in. The whole sump under the engine was covered with diesel fuel! I looked around and soon found the problem. The return fuel line, a rubber hose, had been pulled off. I must have stepped on it yesterday when changing the oil. The open end of the return line would pump out fuel while the engine was running.

All in all, no nincompoop could have done worse at the oil change job than I did. Not only did I make a huge mess, I broke the engine as well.

I pumped out a gallon of fuel from the sump and got rid of that, Then I started on the job of bleeding the engine using the methods I learned from Ernie, the mechanic in Fernandina Beach, last summer. I paid Ernie to teach me how to do it. It requires loosening each fitting in the fuel system chain, and working the fuel pump by hand until fuel squirts out. Then to the next downstream fitting and the next. The hardest part was the air bleed screw on top of the anti-stall device on the fuel pump. It is a screw within a bolt within a nut. Three coaxial pieces, each using a different size wrench. Worst of all, it was in a spot so cramped that I couldn’t get my fingers in there from any angle. I tried with open end wrenches, and sure enough I unscrewed the wrong part. The whole thing fell off and went down into the sump.

Three hours later, with both Libby and I trying everything possible, we managed to get the part screwed back into place. But then as I tried to complete the air bleeding. It didn’t work and the engine would not start, not even cough.

The man who helped pull us into the slip said he was an engine mechanic for 30 years and he would help if I got stuck. His name was Richard. Reluctantly I went to ask Richard for help.

Richard came and I showed him all the steps that I had done, but still no fuel to the fuel injectors. He looked and said, “You even have self bleeding injectors.” “What,” I said. He showed me the bolts to loosen to bleed the system. Ernie never touched those and never told me about them. Obviously Ernie didn’t know about self bleeders. (Ernie was a jet engine mechanic by background). All those steps that Ernie had showed me were unnecessary. Richard bled the injectors with the self bleeders and the engine started right up.

But wait, the story isn’t done. Now the engine raced to redline speed. It wouldn’t respond to the throttle at all. It wouldn’t shut down when we pulled on the fuel cutoff. We had a runaway situation that could have caused the engine to explode! Fortunately by Richard pulling hard on the fuel cutoff, the RPMs reduced. Under Richard’s directions I undid a hose clamp and pulled of the air intake cover, then I used my palm to block the air and shut down the engine.

The problem was that piece that Libby and I took four hours to screw back in. We screwed it in too much, and it held the fuel orifice open. Richard worked to back off the screw turn by turn until the engine once again responded to the throttle and the fuel cutoff. Phew. Engine repaired.

After several hours cleaning up once again things are almost restored to normal. I swear though I’ll think twice before changing the oil myself again. When at a marina I’ll hire a mechanic to do it. When in some remote island with no mechanic around, I’ll either have to do it myself or let Libby do it. That would make me feel guilty though. That’s not a proper job for Libby.

The rest of the day was much better. We met another Westsail couple at the wine and cheese reception. They too sold their house and will cruise the world. We have a lot in common with them. They came aboard and to look at Tarwathie. We’ll board their boat tomorrow morning.

Then we took Richard and his wife Margaret out to diner to thank him for his valuable help with the engine. I might have blown it up with a runaway if Richard hadn’t have been there.

Richard and Margaret are from Toronto. We had a very pleasant evening with them swapping stories about sailing.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Libby Off With The Laundry

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The Harbor of Hospitality

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
This is a very enjoyable place. Nice facilities. Friendly. We’ve been looking around on foot and on the bike. The docks are full of sailboats of others heading south. Most are Canadian and most are heading for the Bahamas.

Good news -- we heard that our friend Rollie is on the road to recovery. Outstanding!

A wizened man who reminds me of Steve Randal pulled in on a Tanzer 27. Anorlunda, our previous boat now in the hands of John and family was a Tanzer 27. I’m embarrassed to say I thought it was a Catalina.

A group of old guys and gals called The Rose Buddies live in Elizabeth City. They take it upon themselves to be the dockmasters and the hosts of the daily wine and cheese reception for visting boaters. How nice for them and how nice for the boaters. I bet it enriches their lives.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Roll Over Boltzmann

Elizabeth City, North Carolina, N36 18 W76 13
Imagine a number of vessels confined in a small area. They, like me, are waiting 90 minutes for a bridge to open. The wind is blowing and the tidal current is moving and the river is too deep to anchor, therefore, none of the vessels can stay still. It became interesting when there were three of us dancing about trying to avoid collisions. Now imagine the same scene 60 minutes later when there are more than 25 boats in the same space doing the dance. It seems improbable that so many free moving atoms in a small space could avoid collisions. In fact, Boltzmann invented the statistical laws of how they should behave. Amazingly there were no collisions. The behavior of these boats is the antithesis of a perfect gas, so what should we say? Not imperfect gas. Perhaps they form a superfluid. Perhaps the captains are all Maxwell’s demons. How about a Maxwell craven as opposed to a perfect gas.

We spent the night rafted up with a lot of other boats at the NC visitor’s center. We took off early this morning at 0700. Boy was it cold. The weather down here is very pleasant in the afternoons but at night it gets really cold.

The canal leads to a river and the river leads to Elizabeth City. What a nice place. Free docks, free water, free WI-FI, free shuttles to the grocery. More -- at 1600 there is a free wine and cheese reception for boaters every day. Apparently this place is famous among boaters. I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Great Dismal Swamp

NC Visitor’s Center, N36 27 W76 20
What a romantic name, The Great Dismal Swamp. Actually we’re going through a canal on the edge of the swamp and we haven’t seen any bears or brer critters. Still, it’s nature and it’s nice and it’s quiet and peaceful. Just what the doctor ordered.

It’s 195 miles to the nearest outlet at Beaufort. We’ll take a good long time getting down there, perhaps the whole month of November. Our son David should get a leave from basic training around Christmas and Libby would love the chance to see him.

We heard from a couple of people today about how difficult the Panama Canal passage sounds because of regulations. We’ll have to research that some.

In Norfolk we watched two tugboats move a barge with a big crane from one pier to another one a half mile away. The tugs signal each other with shrill whistles and it sounds very charming. I thought it would be hard to learn their code, but after watching and listening I deciphered it. Toot - “I’m pushing” Toot toot - “I’m pulling.” Nevertheless, it was lots of fun listening to the melody of the tugs.

Last night a huge cruise ship, the Princess Star, decided to turn herself around 180 degrees in the river right in front of where we were docked. It was a majestic sight. It took nearly 15 minutes. She did it under her own power. The scene was reminiscent of the docking to the space station in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. All we needed was a Strauss waltz to make it complete.

The ship had a balcony for every cabin, and highest on deck above the swimming pool was a TV screen the size of a drive-in movie screen. It was so big and so bright at night that it made a very impressive sight. Unfortunately for the passengers, the choice of programs is not better. It was showing some awful action movie. If I’m not mistaken the Princess Star is the ship that claimed to be hit by a rogue wave last April. In the Soundings Boating magazine we read, it hinted that the accident was more a case of poor seamanship than a rogue wave.

The bridges and the locks in Norfolk only open 4 times per day, so there is a whole flotilla of boats that go through together. After passing the dismal swamp lock we were the first boat out, but within 30 minutes all dozen or so of the other boats passed us. I guess we’re still the slowest thing around when using the motor. So be it.

We're spending the night at the North Carolina Visitor's center. It caters to motorists and to boaters. The people are really nice, they have bathrooms and water and Internet. They sure make good ambassadors for North Carolina Hospitality. The boats here are rafted three deep along the docks. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Wisconsin

Norfolk, Virginia, N35 51 W76 18
November 1. Today we stuck with the plan. Libby and I went to the Nautica Museum, and then I continued to tour the battleship Wisconsin. We judged both a bit less than expected.

I think Libby and I seem too old for modern museums and modern presentation methods. We seem them as dumbed-down and sterile. Further, displays that use electronic wizardry need maintenance. Nearly 1/3 of the such displays in the museum were out of order. Notwithstanding the above, se saw some high points. I liked the liquid vortex generator and I liked the liquid filled globe that demonstrated the coriolis effect in wind patterns. We also got to pet a shark with our bare hands. Never did that before.

The USS Wisconsin was the last and the most modern battleship built by the USA. She’s magnificent and she’s huge. No person could help being awed in her presence. She even has 4 acres of teak decks that are in freshly scrubbed condition. My only complaint with my tour is that visitors are only allowed to walk above decks. None of the interior compartments can be viewed. Too bad.

When I toured the USS Texas last year I crawled around in almost every compartment below decks. I consider myself an old steam power plant man and I loved puzzling out how the Texas’ mechanical, thermal, electrical, command and control systems worked just by staring at them. I love the challenge of staring at a piece of equipment to trying to understand its engineering function.

On the Wisconsin I had to imagine instead what it would feel like standing on the foredeck as she accelerated to 33 knots. I avoided imagining what it would feel like in the same spot when she fired her 16 inch guns because that feeling would be very unpleasant.

Some of the more modern touches on the deck included Harpoon ship-to-ship missile launchers and Tomahawk ship-to-shore missile launchers. I knew about such missiles before and I understand their basic construction. Before today I never appreciated that their on-deck launchers must be shielded by a couple of inches of armor to prevent them from being damaged by enemy fire. As a matter of fact, almost everything on the Wisconsin for every purpose gets protected by a couple of inches of armor. That makes a lot of armor.


Of course the Wisconsin suffers from the ultimate irony in that her perfection of the battleship weapon art came 4 years after Pearl Harbor rendered battleships moot. She was designed to meet and beat the Japanese Yamato and the German Bismarck but neither she nor her sister ships ever fought such a battle. She lends credence to the criticism that our military designs for winning the last war, not the pending war. Posted by Picasa