Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Traveling up the Chesapeake ...

We departed Norfolk on September 26 under overcast skies and with a variable wind of around 10 knots.  Down the Elizabeth River and past the line of naval ships (what few are in Norfolk these days, with all our investment in the Middle East), we had a lovely sail as the wind built to 15 knots.  The water was flat and we glided along at over six knots.  But it was not to last, for as we turned east on the James River to enter the Chesapeake Bay itself, we turned right into the wind.  For an hour we beat into the wind, Pen actually having the fortitude to make us a couple of sandwiches for breakfast, and then we shifted to a northwest course and things smoothed out a little.  At 1400 we reached our destination, Claxton Creek, where we anchored and snub in in six feet of water, amidst a could of duck blinds and a ration of crab pots.

Claxton Creek reminded me of anchorages Pen and I stayed in on our way out of the Abacos last May.  Perhaps it was the threatening overcast skies, for on our way out of the Bahamas we had ten days of stormy weather and spent a lot of time waiting for windows in which to seek out another anchorage a little farther along.  We'd left Norfolk in just such a window and sought out Claxton Creek as a refuge to avoid marina fees and wait out a bit more weather.  But it was also the somewhat exposed nature of Claxton Creek, which allowed the 15-20 knot winds to blow right across us while not really disturbing the water, and it was also the fact that we both felt so comfortable at anchor, with a good spaghetti dinner (thanks to Patricia, who'd made it for the trip) and really meaningful conversation about life, the universe and everything ... 42.

At 0730 on the 27th we were up having coffee and spent the morning planning how we would work our way up to the Solomons on Maryland's western shore to meet friends Karl and Lucy Lichty and John McCartney and Gail Lapetina, who were joining them from the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda for a week long cruise on the Chesapeake.  The rainy weather faded by noon, and we weighed anchor and had wonderful broad-reach and some wing-on-wing sailing up past Mobjack Bay to Horn Harbor, a nice little protected spot but one with awfully thin water.

Arriving in Horn Harbor, we took three tries to finally get anchored in six feet of water on the south side of Horn Creek between markers 12 and 14, discovering a twist in the anchor shackle after the second try that had caused the anchor to settle on its side and not dig in.  The spot we did anchor in was that recommended the Guide to Cruising the Chesapeake Bay (2008), and in finding our spot we discovered that the guide has a couple of big errors in it concerning Horn Harbor.  It reminded us that cruising guides are just that: guides.  Once dug in, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset, marred only briefly by our dropping red wine on the foredeck, and then we were in bed by 2030 after a good chicken curry stir fry.

September 28 at 0615 we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise and by 0645 were weighing anchor and working our way out of the Horn Harbor channel with the beginning of the ebb tide.  At one point the depth meter read 3'7", and by past experience we know we are going aground at 3'2", but we made it out, raised the main, and motor sailed out to Wolf Trap Lighthouse, one of the Chesapeake's several classic lights marking areas of shoal and danger.  We laid in a course of 354 degrees true for entrance to Ingram Bay and our next anchorage at Mill Creek.  With wind out of the southwest at 10 knots, we sailed on a broad reach and breakfasted on a Western omelet.  After three hours the wind shifted to out of the south, and we went to wing-on-wing and skmmed along at almost six knots.  Finally turning into Ingram Bay, the wind had picked up and we hit 7.2 knots and a school of porpoises swam along with us for about 10 minutes.  They had a great time playing with Alizee and gave us a distraction for the 25 knot winds.

Mill Creek is a wonderful spot, completely secluded, ten feet of water almost up to the shoreline and quite protected from high winds.  One still gets a breeze, but it's gentle and comfortable.  It was the perfect spot for us to ride out the predicted cold front moving across the Chesapeake that evening.  We passed another cruiser in a nice ketch and at 1330 anchored by ourselves one more bend up the creek.  I took advantage of the time provided by the early arrival to change the oil and filter on Alizee's engine, and as the sun waned and clouds began to move in we enjoyed feeding stale crackers to a couple of seagulls, had our evening cocktail, and cooked a pork stir fry.  The cold front finally blasted through with perhaps 30 minutes of rain, lightning and thunder and high winds, and then the stars came out and the temperature dropped into the 50s.  Out came the sweaters and the jeans and even socks. 

We awakened on the 29th to a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning.  We were underway at 0800 for what turned out to be a real adventure getting up to and into Ewell on Smith Island.  Out of Mill Creek there was barely a 10 knot breeze, and on the bay it remained gentle and very comfortable even as it built to 15 knots.  But by 1100, it was blowing 20 with 25 knot gusts, the seas were rolling up and we had 30 minutes to the entrance of the Ewell channel.  We had a struggle bringing down the sails just outside the channel in the high winds, and Pen got a rope burn on her fingers fighting with the genoa.  We would have left up the sails in gentler conditions, but all the information we had was that this was a pretty narrow and thin water channel passage.  Both frustrated, Pen hurting and me nervous, we start entering the channel.  I tried to keep to the center of the channel, but drifted to the starboard side (the wrong side, it turns out).  The almost breaking wind waves behind pushed us along, I put the engine on hard forward, and suddenly we were literally bumping across two and a half foot depths.  If it wasn't for the wind waves (literally surf), we would have been hard aground, but we got over this bad spot just after the entrance to the channel, the depths became seven to ten feet, and we found our way to the ferry dock.

Sad to say, I made a bad and elementary decision at this point.  We had put the lines out on the starboard to go right alongside the ferry dock.  Because the wind was behind us, I should have switched them to port and come past the dock and around to come along side into the wind.  But, oh no, the Captain just plowed on ahead.  Pen got off the boat with a midship line, but the wind was too strong, and my going into reverse to stop the boat being pushed by the wind just blew the stern out from the dock.  Pen could not pull in the boat with the midship line or get it tied off.  I couldn't throw a stern line to her, and the bow had become the fulcrum up against one of those ugly pilings so common on eastern seaboard docks.  Pen finally had to let all lines go, I gathered them in before the prop caught them, and I went out for a second try.  I don't know whether it was the first or second try, but on one of them I crunched the bow lights ... damn, I feel bad about that ... I hurt my Alizee.  Anyhow, on the second or third try, John, a fellow from the only other cruising boat in the harbor, a nice little two-foot draft, dagger-board Francis Herreshoff design gaff rigged two master, came over, and with his help we got tied up.

Afterwards, I walked a few steps over to the little marina where John had his boat and asked the marina operator, Steve Eades, if the ferries were running in the wind we were having.  "Well, ya can't stay there," he said.  "Do you have a tie-up for us?"  "Sure do, right here beside John's boat."  So, John helped us untie from the ferry dock and met us at the marina dock and tied us up.  Only problem is the slip depth declines from five or six feet at the entrance to only two and a half feet two-thirds of the way in, and that's at high tide.  So, the front of our keel grounded, and we can only leave at high tide.

All afternoon and through the night the winds have been 20 to 25 knots, finally subsiding this afternoon to about 14 knots.  We, along with John, have decided to stay another day and night, for the winds are predicted to lessen to 5 to 10 knots tomorrow and the seas flatten out considerably to one-foot.  The wind will also shift a bit to come out of the west, not northwest, which is the direction of our next destination, the Solomons.  Consequently, this morning we enjoyed a lovely sunrise and have spent a relaxing day aboard Alizee, helped a 55-foot motor yacht tie up at the far end of the ferry dock (he really had no choice), and caught up on more internet stuff. 

Tomorrow we'll leave at the 1130 high tide and try and find our way out the channel.  The locals have told me to hold very tight to the green markers on the way out and I should have five to six feet of water.  When we bumped our way in, I was closer to the red markers.  And with the wind down to 5-10 knots, we shouldn't have the surf problems at the channel entrance that we had coming in with the 25 knot gusts.  At least we've got power, internet, and nice shower facility, and little grocery down the street, and we can have soft-shelled crab, the best probably anywhere on the bay.

More photos

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Captain's story ...

Great plans! We set out from Daytona Beach's Halifax Harbor Marina with a freshly pumped holding tank, fuel topped off and twenty gallons more in Jerry cans, and a sunny day predicted for our jaunt down to Ponce Inlet at New Smyrna Beach. We considered the possibility of spending a night at anchhorage just off the inlet, but when we arrived it just looked too nice to delay, and we headed out into the Atlantic.

Our course took us directly into winds from the east that came down on our nose, but we persevered, motoring with the mainsail up for balance out toward the Gulf Stream. I figured we'd make the stream by evening, and once in it, turn north and, with the wind on our beam, shoot up the stream to Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina (or at least Beaufort, a bit south). Best laid plans, as they say ...

Winds from the east. Well, quite simply the Captain did not know enough about the Gulf Stream and did not take into consideration that it really doesn't run true north-south but bends eastward. We'd been in the stream (on the western edge, actually) for perhaps three hours when I finally began to understand my error.  But for a time it was pretty nice, and as the sun set gradually in the West, we had cocktails and enjoyed a not too unpleasant ride.

The problem by then, of course, is that we were committed for the night ... returning through Ponce Inlet, a good six hours back, at night, was not going to happen.  And, as the wind shifted more and more to the Northeast and headed into the current of the Gulf Stream, we found ourselves almost unable to go down below.  We were reduced to munching on hard boiled eggs, cooked chicken that I'd thought a good idea (this was about all we had while off shore), and and a few crackers.  As Penelope put it so well: "It was truly horrible!"

Next morning when the sun arose, we were barely abreast of St. Augustine, Florida, where, if we'd stayed in the ICW the day before instead of going off shore, we would have been when the sun came up.  It was depressing, and so Pen and I conferred and I finally decided it was too disheartening to go into St. Augustine now (a six to eight hour sail), so why not spend the day off shore and one more night and head out of the Gulf Stream and into the ICW around Port Royal, South Carolina.

This we did.  And the seas did calm a bit as we left the Gulf Stream, but we were beat up, tired, so much so that we never even put out a fishing line, and when we finally ghosted our way under sail into the ICW at
Port Royal, the inland waterway never looked so good to any sailors anywhere ... at least, that's our story!

So, mark this humbled Captain's words: know the waters you are going to sail in and talk to those who've done a fore you.  That is, unless you want to persuade your crew that the only thing you should do is keep your boat tied up to the dock and spend your days at the yacht club bar.

Fortunately, my crew gave me a second chance ... at least I think so, for here we are in the Chesapeake Bay, enjoying more adventures.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A view of Alizee's trip to the Chesapeake ...

Even though I haven't had time to get the story of our trip up to the Chesapeake put together, Penelope has jotted down her perspective on it all.  So she and I thought we'd share it with you:

"We made it to Norfolk yesterday and Pat, who made the trip with us, flew out today. I miss her already.  What a trip this has been so far. We spent 52 horrendous hours offshore, getting beat around and slammed all over the place by bad seas… very, very unruly seas, much like the crew at times, like when we were hove to, reefing sails in the dark, as we watched  a monster ship steaming right at us!  [Yes, but it was a couple of miles away.]  Despite a couple of squalls, there was very little real danger from the weather.  The real danger of serious injury was from the being thrown around so much especially below decks. That old rule of "one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat" is a crock of you-know-what. You need at least three hands in those conditions...two hands for the boat and a third hand to tend to yourself, like trying to get your pants down to use the head! I can't tell you how bruised and battered I was. We all were.  In fact, one of us rammed a head locker door so hard it stove it in! James said he had never been in such miserable seas.  Speaking of miserable seas, Pat and James were pretty green at the gills several times due to the unrelenting reeling and roiling.   In retrospect, I say the whole ordeal was a lot like giving birth-in the midst of it, you hate the son-of-a-bitch who got you in that condition but as soon as it’s over and you’re at a peaceful anchorage watching a beautiful sunset,  the pain begins to fade.  But please, if you ever hear me say I'm going to go offshore again for more than an afternoon sail, please do me a favor and have someone come put me away!  Or better yet, have them lock James away! 

"Because of conditions the captain says he didn’t anticipate, the trip  to Norfolk that he had hoped would be 3 days of offshore sailing  and a couple of days up the Intracoastal has ended up being 2+ days of an offshore nightmare and 12 days of motoring up the IntracoastaI which we caught at Port Royal, South Carolina.  I doubt I’ll ever let him live down that miscalculation! And remind me sometime to tell you about another thing I'll never let him hear the end of. It has to do with orders to "Get on the boat!"  and "Get off the boat!" that only a trained professional or a crazy first mate might actually obey.  Despite all of this, sailing still has its rewards even if there are times I want to mutiny or  jump ship!  Of course, I knew I wouldn't like this part of the trip, whether on or offshore or not (I hate the Intracoastal except when we’re just coming into it from offshore. Then I want to kiss the land it’s been cut through!) Right now I’m remembering that we’ll be cruising the Chesapeake next which like the child that makes you forget the labor will fool me into thinking that sailing is worth all the trials and tribulations.

"Now I want to know what's going on in your neck of the woods? What's it like to take hot showers in privacy whenever you’re dirty and sweaty, flush paper down the toilet and not have to carry to the effluent with you as you go, do grocery shopping and not have to decide which you’d rather have-wine or bread with no thought to which weighs the most.   And do remind me what it's like doing laundry without having to dump your skivvies into the same tub that a few minutes ago was having a go at some stranger’s dirty ones? Somebody please tell me what it’s like ashore."

So there you have it.  An unbiased report from the first mate on Alizee.  As you can tell from the photos, it wasn't all bad.  Oh, and by the way, you can find more photos on Flickr.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Norfolk, Virginia ...

We are in the Waterside Marina, which is in downtown Norfolk.  What we thought would be a week to ten days getting here turned out to be two weeks, primarily because we couldn't make the offshore trip up to North Carolina.  But that's life on a sailboat ... one is victim to the vagaries of the winds and the currents.

Nonetheless, the trip from Port Royal, South Carolina, up the ICW to Norfolk was a fun experience.  Through the Carolinas we were about the only cruising boat on the waterway, and that is a good story in itself.  Not until we reached the Albemarle Sound did we begin to see a few cruisers coming south ... it's beginning to look like the exodus of "snowbirds" is beginning, and we're getting questions from those who hail us or see us ashore such as: "Aren't you going the wrong way?"

Well, truth be told we'll be starting back not too long after mid-October, since it's likely to take us two weeks and a day more on the way back.  But for now it's finishing off laundry and setting off to sail the Chesapeake for three weeks or more.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Somewhere on the ICW ...

Seems to be little time to be blogging, slogging one's way up the ICW.  Had 52 hours offshore starting on the 9th, and subsequently sought refuge from nasty seas and winds.  Too bad the Pacific Coast doesn't have spots for rest ... an inland waterway.  Now in North Carolina, far behind schedule ... although our only schedule was to try and hook up with Encinal YC friends Karl and Lucy Lichty and Sam and Chris Benson.  There's still a chance we'll connect.  Anyhow, more to be posted later.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Getting Alizee ready ...

Looks like we've recovered from our cross-country road trip enough to prepare for our next adventure, a sea voyage on Alizee to the Chesapeake. 

During the summer, the local Spectra Water Maker mechanic repaired our system ... new end-caps on the membrane housing, a rebuilt Clark pump, a clean sighting glass on the instrument panel, and a fresh-water flushing system rigged.  Yesterday I got a good briefing on it, changed the oil and filter in the Yanmar engine, mounted a teak spice rack and teak magazine rack (I'd varnished them over the past week), put a couple of coats of satin varnish on the moulding around the galley counters, put the bimini canvas back on, and generally straightened things out. 

Penelope's sister Patricia is coming with us for the first ten days or so, and she's very excited.  She's been down to the boat with us twice this week, the first time to just get to know Alizee a little better and to help us take inventory of the provisions already aboard.  Yesterday she came along and helped Penelope wash down the topsides and clean the Bottomsider cushions in the cockpit. 

We've been watching the weather, particularly the development of cyclonic systems off Africa.  There are two out there now ... one about 1200 miles west of the Azores and another about 500 miles west of them.  It looks as though neither will develop into anything serious, but one never knows and next week is when they might pose a problem for us.  So, we just keep preparing and crossing our fingers.

Tomorrow we'll defrost Alizee's freezer, get a couple of reels loaded with good line, and start buying the provisions we've decided to take.  We found a couple of fellows in Deland who are raising their own eggs, and they are harvesting us three dozen to take aboard ... unwashed and unrefrigerated, they will last up to six weeks if they are kept in a dark relatively cool spot and turned every day.  I have just the spot in a couple of drawers beneath the forward berth.

We're getting excited!