Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Dismal Swamp south ...

We are back in Daytona Beach, Alizee safely tied up in her slip at Halifax Harbor Marina, and we made the trek from Norfolk in seventeen days, which is pretty good time considering we held up in Elizabeth City, NC, for weather for two days and spent half-days in a couple of other spots.  We left Norfolk on October 16th, the water so high there from the effects of a Nor'easter that it covered the fixed docks at the Waterside Marina and shut down the Great Lock south of Norfolk for two days.   But we had decided to go through the Dismal Swamp, whose locks were not affected by the high water.  It is the oldest operating canal in the United States, with locks at two ends, and a visitor's center dock about half-way through where one can tie up for the night.  We made it to the visitor's center this first day, spent the night tied up there, and departed early the next morning for Elizabeth City by way of the second, South Mills Lock.

North Carolina

We'd hoped to go further than Elizabeth City, but the Nor'easter brought bitter cold air, especially when in the open cockpit of a sailboat, so we spent a couple of days there, meeting some interesting cruisers, eating out,  visiting the Albemarle County Museum, going to a farmers market, and watching a replica 16th Century English ship sail into town.  A couple of fellows from Minnesot Beach, NC, who we'd met at the first lock of the Dismal Swamp, showed up in the same sushi restaurant we headed to one night, and I guess because we were special people, they bought us dinner.  Now that's North Carolina hospitality!  We also connected with David and Ginger on their Catalina Avalon, who we'd met earlier at an anchorage in Virginia and shared some photos with, and we met Richard and Robyn on Buiochas, another Cabo Rico.

On the 19th we set out motor-sailing down the Pasquatank River and across the Albemarle Sound to Alligator River Bridge.  Here we started retracing our steps from the trip northward.  We found a nice anchorage on the Alligator River, spent it with only another boat nearby, and quietly celebrated our anniversary of the first time we ever had contact via  Very sweet!

The next morning we headed out down the long Alligator-Pungo Canal, the Pungo River, past Bellhaven, and ended up anchoring in Eastham Creek, one of the spots we'd anchored coming up.  This time, however, we had company.   Avalon and Buiochas both came in and joined us.  I put the dinghy in the water, and we all wound up on Avalon having appetizers and wine until the sun set.

The 21st found us on the way to Oriental, where we got a transient slip at the Oriental Marina, fueled up, and then wandered around connecting with acquaintances from my stay there in 2008.  Wayne Lamm, owner of the Oriental Deli loaned us his pick-up truck so we could do some provisioning, and Karl Lichty drove in from New Bern to have dinner with us, stopping at our behest at the ABC store along the way to freshen our liquor supply.  Ross Pease, dock master at Oriental Yacht Harbor, was his old self, friendly as ever, and offered his SUV as well to get us around.  We had a wonderful dinner with Karl, joined by David and Ginger, at M&M's, where the best crab-corn chowder on the eastern seaboard can be found ... well, that's my opinion!  Oh yes, and Peter Waterson came by to look at my Sirius Weather system, which worked only part of the time and had recently not worked at all.  Turned out it was a loose connection in the Navpod on the pedestal, which I had not been able to check because I didn't have the "tool" to open the Navpod.  Bless his heart, Peter had an extra and gave it to me ... no charge for the visit at all.  Good man!

We'd hoped to spend a couple of days in Oriental, but we'd blown our extra time in Elizabeth City, so we headed out on the 22nd for Adams Creek and Morehead City.  As we crossed under the highrise highway bridge at Morehead City, acquaintances from our stay at the Dismal Swamp visitor's center and Elizabeth City just happened to be walking across it, and they snapped a couple of photos of Alizee making her way under the bridge.

Eventually we anchored at Mile Hammock Bay, which is in Camp Lejeune, NC, well-know home to the Marines, and I finally took note of how many more boats were on the ICW than when we came up in September.  In Elizabeth City there were at least fifteen boats hold up with us waiting weather.  Oriental had almost twenty boats in the harbor and on the docks, and here at Mile Hammock we found nine other boats anchored, all of us enjoying the touch-and-go landings being practiced by a marine helicopter.   Later in Charleston, the anchorage must have had 30 boats in it.

The 23rd found us in Wrightsville Beach, where we anchored after navigating Motts Channel.  On the way up, I had gone aground in Motts Channel ... local knowledge would have told me that there was a high point right in the middle of the channel ... and this time I called ahead to a marina as well as to Boat US to check the path through the channel.  Again we found twenty some boats anchored in the main anchorage, so we went to a side anchorage, and dropped the hook virtually by ourselves.  Well, I say that tongue-in-cheek because soon after we settled in we had the University of North Carolina Wilmington Sailing Team doing there work out in "our" anchorage. "You're okay where you are," said the coach who waved at me from his little outboard boat.  "They won't hit you!"  Well, one came mighty close, but they didn't and it was a treat to watch these really good young sailors doing their stuff.

The next morning we headed out for Southport.  The trip would have been uneventful but for two incidents.  At Carolina Inlet, a tug with a barge loaded with gravel or such was stuck temporarily in the shoaling waters at the inlet mouth.  We watched as he muscled his way out, turning the barge back on to course and heading south.  We'd heard several exchanges on the radio about shoaling, which I made note of, but when we went through, wouldn't you know it, we found ourselves driving right up on to one of those shoals near the red markers (all the radio talk had been to stay wide of the green markers, which we did).  I thought we were stuck, and a fellow in a small power boat was going to try and help us off, when I realized that the tide was coming in and the swells were sort of lifting us, so I managed to back off and get on our way.

The second incident occurred on the Cape Fear River.  A squall came up the river and caught us in driving rain for about twenty minutes.  We had no sail up, but the wind on our beam hit over 30 knots and literally drove us sideways across the shipping channel.  I could barely see, had to rely too much on instruments, and all the while was aware that a tanker was coming down the channel from Wilmington at 14 knots and about fifteen minutes behind us.  The storm lifted just about ten minutes before the tanker appeared, and by the time we reached Southport, it was as though there had been no storm at all.

In Southport, we were the only boat to try and anchor in the little harbor.  It took us two tries, but we got snugged in, just as we had on the way up.  This time, I took down the dinghy and got us ashore.  We walked around town, and with the squall fresh in mind, Pen bought herself a nice new slicker.  We had fresh shrimp at a port side restaurant, and then we bought some of the best large fresh shrimp we'd ever seen at a little fish market on the waterfront.  At $4 per pound, it was truly a steal and later we kicked ourselves for not buying more than one and a half pounds.

Off shore toward Georgetown

While devouring fried shrimp on Alizee in Southport, we weighed the decision of going off shore to try and make some time.  Weather forecasts suggested the Nor'easter was behind us and we had 10-15 knot NE winds along the coast, gusts to 25 and 30, but only well out past twenty miles.  We plotted courses to both Port Royal, SC, and Georgetown, SC, and decided to try it.  Next morning, the 25th, we weighed anchor, went by the Bald Point Marina on the mouth of the Cape Fear River and topped our fuel tanks and pumped the head, raised sails and headed out at 0945.  We had 14 knots of wind on a beam reach, and made 6.3 knots out to the end of the Cape Fear channel.  Then we turned down, putting the wind dead on our stern, and sailed under the main at 5.7 knots.   Around noon, the Sirius Weather reported that we'd probably get gusts of 25 knots that night, so we decided to head into Little River, a prudent target, although we'd have saved no time from going down the ICW.  We put the trolling line out, and sailed along with the wind more to our starboard.  Then we changed our minds.

I'm not really sure what led to our decision.  We certainly still knew we'd get 25 knot gusts later, but we decided to tack 45 miles our so out to bear on Georgetown, which we decided we could make in 20 to 24 hours, putting us there in mid- to late-morning the next day.  We tacked, re-rigged the preventer on the main, made sure our jack line was in place, had our life jackets and tethers handy, and off we went.  The wind initially was about 11 knots and we were doing 4.7 knots.  It was a pleasant ride, but the wind was building, so imperceptibly we hardly noticed it.  By 1600, it was blowing 20 knots with four foot swells, and we were flying along at 6.3 to 7.8 knots.  We caught ourselves a mackerel, put it in the freezer, and pulled in the fishing line.

It was at this point that we should have reefed (if not sooner).  By 1800 the sea swell was six to seven feet and the wind gusts were closing in on 30 knots.  I decided that if we were going to jibe and change course back to Georgetown, we'd better do it now, before the sun set, rather than go on another couple of hours as we had planned.  At 1830, we jibed, but just as we did a 30 knot gust hit us, the main sheet flew around (although we'd pulled it in for the jibe) and a shackle holding one of the main sheet's three blocks to the boom snapped, leaving only two shackles holding it.  We got the preventer reset, and now had a second, totally accidental jibe, this one snapping a line holding the preventer to the deck.  The swells nearing 10 feet and the now steady 25 knot wind with 30+ knot gusts were too much for us.  We rolled in the Genoa, turned on the engine, managed to drop the mainsail and secure it with a couple of ties, and we started motoring toward Wynyah Bay and Georgetown, over 34 nautical miles away.  To stabilize the boat, we deployed the staysail, and shut down the engine, and Alizee started behaving like a thoroughbred, dancing along the following sea of 8 to 10 foot seas at between 5 and 6 knots.  At this speed, we reached the channel markers leading into Winyah Bay at 0200, pitch black since the moon was hidden in a overcast sky, and I navigated the markers with the invaluable aid of my chart plotter.  The winds hardly let up, and we found ourselves motor-sailing up the Winyah River at close to 7 knots, following the lighted channel markers and range lights.  At 0430 we finally dropped anchor at Rabbit Island, just off the channel, drank a couple of drams of rum and collapsed into our bunk.  We'd covered 85 nm in 16 hours, averaging 5.5 knots with top speeds of nearly 8 knots.  And, we'd learned yet another lesson about miscalculations, the danger of not reefing when you should, and just what a good boat can do when it's set up correctly.

When we finally awakened around 1130 on the 26th, we found ourselves facing a drizzly day.  Pen made some poached eggs, and we motored just fifteen miles to Minim Creek off the North Santee River and anchored with three or four other boats.  We cleaned the mackerel and Pen found a recipe to try with it, which sadly turned out to be pretty pedestrian.  Maybe we just weren't in the mood.

South Carolina

On the 27th, recovered more or less from our adventure off shore, we motored down to Charleston, getting the Genoa out only as we crossed Charleston Harbor.  We took a berth at the Charleston City Marina, did laundry, showered, and used the internet.  I cooked us a stir fry for dinner, and by morning we were truly ready to move on.   We continued down the ICW to anchor for the night at Alligator Creek on the South Edisto River.  It was lovely, and we barbecued our second rack of lamb, which we'd been carrying with us in the freezer since we'd started the trip.  It was a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful anchorage ... until the sun went down and suddenly it turned into the Great Mosquito Massacre of Alligator Creek.  We must have killed a hundred of the pesky little bastards, all filled with globlets of our own blood.  Ugh!

On the 29th, we got a fairly early start and head south to Beaufort, SC, where we decided to take a marina slip for another night.  The Link 20 monitor on my charging system has not been working and the batteries don't seem to be holding a charge as they should, so I thought shore power would be nice.  Also, Beaufort is supposed to be one of the more picturesque historic towns along the way, so we could spend an afternoon there.  We arrived just before 1300, took the marina's courtesy car over to West Marine, where I got a shackle to replace the broken on the main sheet, and to the grocery for some provisions.  We walked around a bit, took a historic "carriage" ride (really a wagon with twelve of us on board), found a restaurant that served wonderful sushi and Thai appetizers, had an it-turned-out-to-be-not-very-good pizza for dinner, and watched the town's kids enjoying a night of trick-or-treating with all the businesses downtown and enjoying a movie on the riverfront.

Slammed on the docks

The next morning we were up at 0700.  We showered, made coffee, and got ready to cast off.  We were going to try another off shore jaunt, this time to Jacksonville, FL, which we could make in 24 to 28 hours.  The only hitch at the moment seemed to be the current in the Beaufort River.  My God!  It was churning along through the marina at at least three or four knots, and the dock master had put us head in to a slip from which we had no choice but to back out ... straight into that current.  Now I've gotten pretty good at backing Alizee, but I was worried.  This would require me getting up to speed quickly and not letting the current swing the stern.  With Pen on deck to retrieve lines, the dock master (a pretty young guy) and his assistant (even younger) casting off lines, the dock master let the stern go too quickly.  That was it, the current caught the stern and started pushing it port (the direction of my prop walk anyway).

Within moments we were abeam the current and up against the dock master's shack.  We still had one line from the bow to the slip we had been in, with the dock master and his assistant holding it, and now we had four bystanders trying to fend us off the dockmaster's shack and the dock to our stern.  We thought it through.  First a line to the dock astern from the sheet winch on the starboard side.  I winched us ever so slowly up and away from the dock master's shack, at the same time a sailor more experienced with lines helped to warp the bow line in a bit onto the finger dock where we had originally been tied up.  This lifted our stern away ... slowly, ever so slowly ... from the dock astern Alizee.  Then with my spare halyard (about 100 feet long) from the main sheet winch on the housetop to a shackle affixed at the bow, thence to the dock astern of us, we slowly winched the bow around, into the current (stopping to continue winching us away from the dock master's shack and getting the stern off the dock), and finally pulling Alizee all the way around and tying her up.  Whew!  That's the hardest way to turn a boat around I can recall seeing.  We managed not to break anything on the docks, didn't get a scratch on Alizee, and we celebrated with back-pats and handshakes all around.  I don't think that young dock master will again put a sailboat into that slip; certainly not bow in.

Skipping by Georgia off shore

It was now 0945, and Pen and I managed to get off the dock and underway ... oops, a fender fell off, which the dock master recovered and we picked up as we scooted by the outside of the marina.  We'd had our excitement for the day, for sure, so we motor sailed with the current and the Genoa down the Beaufort River, passing a couple of shrimp boats coming up river as we headed to and out Port Royal Channel.  We put up the mainsail going out the channel, which gave us a nice boost, but once we turned south we realized we'd be better with just the Genoa, so we hove to and dropped the main.  Although with a bit of yaw, we set out at 5+ knots southward to the St. Johns River and Jacksonville.  A Coast Guard helicopter buzzed us just after we dropped the main, and I wondered if he thought we were in trouble.  Maybe it was written all over us, a big sign on the sails perhaps that says: "Help, we don't know what we're doing!"

This sail turned out to be wonderful.  We got used to the yawing, the breezes never got much over 15 knots, and we made good time.  At Savannah's channel we had a quarter-mile close encounter with the C. I. Breves, a cargo ship heading for Mobile.  We watched him drop off the Savannah pilot, then called him on the VHF to alert him of our course and intention, and he adjusted his course to give us space.  Pen set up a watch bag filled with snacks and such, which she hung from the front of the pedestal, and after cocktails, we set up for three-hour shifts.  Pen really loved her night watch, from midnight to 0300.  She had a full moon, really nice seas and breezes, and she danced away to I-Pod music the whole watch.  She didn't wake me once on her two watches, something for which she was rightfully damned proud.  And, since I took the 0300 to 0600 watch, she didn't have to deal with cargo vessel Somers Isle coming within a 1/4 mile of our stern on its way into the St. Mary's inlet and Fernandina Beach.

At 0900 we arrived at the St. Johns River inlet, and in 45 minutes we were up the river and back on the ICW headed toward St. Augustine.  I took the opportunity on the flat water of siphoning 20.8 gallons of diesel from the Jerry cans into the main fuel tank, and we had a peaceful trip down to the anchorage just north of the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine.  Although we'd planned to spend the afternoon and evening in St. Augustine, we were pretty tired, so we elected just to lounge about in the cockpit, have a couple of cocktails, call a couple of friends on the phone, and barbecue a steak for dinner.  We agreed that we are going to drive up for a weekend and night in a bed and breakfast in December, so we can really enjoy St. Augustine.

On November 1st, we caught the 0830 Bridge of Lions (we had forgotten that day light savings time ended over night, and thought it was the 0930 opening, until some other boater reminded us of the time change), and we had a peaceful motor sail for a couple of hours until the wind died, and then continued motoring down to the Palm Coast Marina at Mile 802.9 on the ICW.  Along the way we were treated to a wonderful site of a flock of white pelicans along the waterway.  Uncommon this far north, they were truly spectacular.  We went ashore to the local "European Village" shops and had a gigantic, scrumptuous pizza at Mezza Luna, of which we took half back to Alizee and munched on it for the next two or three meals.

November 2nd was our last day of travel down to Halifax Harbor in Daytona Beach, and we arrived at 1300, stopped at the fuel dock and filled the diesel tanks up (it only took 15.7 gallons), and pumped out the head and ran clean water through it.  Once in our slip, we gave Alizee a good wash down, cleaned the cockpit and cushions, cleaned her up inside as well, and enjoyed a nice stir fry dinner.  Now a couple of days ashore, busting in on Erin, who is living at Pen's house in DeLand, a quick trip to California for Lisa's birthday, and then we'll be back and forth from the boat to the house for the next couple of months, re-varnishing all Alizee's teak, checking over her rigging, engine and electrical system.  In January we'll move back aboard Alizee completely for six months and head out to the Bahamas by way of the Florida Keys.   But for now, it's nice to be sort of in one place for a while.


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