28 October 2012

Sandy update

I fully expected to have some gory pictures showing the wrath of Sandy as she pummelled us with her fury.  Lucky for us, it never really happened.  We saw 40 knots of wind this morning, but that was about it.  We are so well protected here that the show was not all that impressive.  I am okay with that.  In a perverse way, I am a little disappointed.  I am a self-confessed weather junky.  I love to witness mother natures power, as long as it has a happy ending.  I will have to take comfort in the fact that we were never really in harms way.  It isn't over yet, we are still forecasted to see an increase in intensity again tomorrow as she begins her new path to the North-West.

We definitely got to play the game.  I spent most of the day Friday tying more ropes, stripping down all exterior items.  I removed all the flybridge windows.   I removed the dinghy and tied it up at another dock, upside down like everybody else.  I filled the engine room with all sorts of accessories that may get blown around.  We put together an evacuation kit, just incase we decided the boat was no longer a place that we wanted to be.  But, in the end, all our preparation was just that, the right thing to do.

Today, we just put in time as we watched the wind blow.  Stuck here.  The only difference now is the suspense is all gone.  We now know what Sandy was going to look like for us.  As the day wore on, the club house started to fill.  Some took in a Sunday football game, others playing board games.  Gone was all the anticipation.

Macara and I had even put some markings on one of our pilings.  The National Weather Service had forecast the possibility of a 4'-6' storm surge.  We had markings 6' up the piling.  We got 1 foot.  I thought we might as well make this a learning opportunity.  I guess the words will have to do.

It doesn't look like we will be moving anytime soon.  Most people have resigned themselves to the fact that it will probably be at least Wednesday or Thursday before we start moving again, but are happier with the notion that we are safe.

Go away Sandy.  You brought me no joy.

Good luck to all that still expect her to visit.

25 October 2012

Sunday is fun day.

We have made our choice and now it looks like we are stuck with it.

Hurricane Sandy has got us surrounded.  We can't head north, that is where she is predicted to make landfall.  Somewhere just north of Chesapeake Bay is where the weather guys are saying she will hit.  Heading south would be rolling the dice.  Getting into South Carolina would have put us further from the eye of the storm, but between here and there are a lot of bridges.  A lot of these bridges that don't open if wind speeds are greater than 30mph.  If we found ourselves between bridges with no place to hide, that would be game over.

So, we have made our choice, River Dunes Marina (http://www.riverdunes.com/).  Let me say, there are worse places to wait out a storm.  Check out the menu!

Us and 397 other boats.  River Dunes is a 400 slip marina and as of when we pulled in, there are only 3 slips left.  If anybody asks you if it is too soon to hide from a hurricane, the answer is, it is never too soon.  I am very glad to be in and have my spot.  I had envisioned being up some mosquito infested creek, this is much better.  For those back home, it is very much like Cobble Beach, without the golf course.

This is our hurricane hole...

Zoom out on our location widget to get the big picture of where we are.

Here is the weather map that helped us make our choice.  Heading back north isn't a good choice.  Being further south would have been nice, but it is getting too late to try that now.
With the current forecast, we are expecting winds from the North or North-East.  Our slip has our bow facing that direction.  That is a good thing in my mind.  Tomorrow we will tie up the boat the best we can and strip down all exterior items that may become loose.  This is our first tropical storm, but if all things are equal, we have seen winds this strong before.  It just a matter of being prepared.  Just in case the weather guys have it wrong.  That would never happen???

On the fun side, we spent the last couple days in Ocracoke, NC.  A known hideout of Blackbeard the pirate.  Eventually, the location of his death.  We dinghied around in Teaches Hole and saw the tree line that he used to hide the masts of his ships.  This morning we rented a golf cart and toured the village, picking up provisions and taking in the sites.  Hopefully, on the way home we will get a chance to visit Ocracoke more thoroughly.
Mom playing with a hermit crab.
Another great way to get around Ocracoke.
On the way into Ocracoke we saw our first wild dolphins.  If moments like that ever fail to put a smile on my face, book me a flight home immediately.  These were the first wild dolphins that Macara has ever seen.  Needless to say, she was pretty pumped.  The first pair of dolphins appeared to be a mother and a juvenile that popped up right on my bow.  All I could do was hope that they dove back down before my props got them.  How unpopular would I be if I 'manateed' the very first dolphins that we saw???

24 October 2012

Too good to be true. Here comes Sandy.

When we started planning this trip, I had accepted this as an eventuality.

I was pleased in May when the different weather agencies began calling for a below average hurricane season.  But, most were quick to remind us that it only takes one hurricane to ruin your day.  So far, I there has been more named storms than they said would happen.  Fortunately for us, none have them have had much impact on the Atlantic coast of the USA.   Until now.

When we left Norfolk, VA and entered the ICW there was no hurricane action in the Atlantic basin.  Then suddenly two tropical depressions formed in a 24hr period.  Both have since strengthened to Tropical Storm status.  Tony is way out in the Atlantic, no cause for concern.  But, Sandy is forecast to come much closer.

Many thanks to the information age!  Between the VHF broadcasts and internet connections we get many updated forecasts per day.  Good thing, because sitting here today, I would be totally clueless of what is ahead of us without it.

So, here is what I see this morning...
Mariners 1-2-3 Rule.  Places to avoid in the next 72hrs.

Statistical model of predicted wind strength
No matter how you slice it, it is going to be windy in the Carolinas this weekend.  Right now, the marine forecast for Pamilico Sound is calling for 30-40 knot winds come Sunday.

When we started planning this trip, my biggest fear was that when a hurricane hole was needed, all the locals would have it filled by the time we got there.  Fear not, we are booked in a very tiny little marina for the weekend.  A hurricane hole if I have ever seen one.  That and when I Googled Carolina hurricane holes, it was one of the first hits.  Great Master Mariner I am.  hahahaha

Manteo, NC by Macara

On Sunday, when we pulled into the marina in Manteo North Carolina. I saw kids playing at a playground.  Once we were tied in our slip, Mom went to pay, Dad cleaned the boat and I went to play at the park.  I met new friends.  Their names were Ainsley and Hadley.  Ainsley is 9 years old in grade three and Hadley is 6 years old and she is in grade one.  We played together all afternoon on Sunday.  I invited the girls to see my boat.  Their Dad Matt and Uncle Jimmy came over and had a beer with Mom and Dad, while we played on board.  When they left we made plans to meet again tomorrow.  The next day, the girls and their Dad came to the boat and asked if we wanted to go out for the day.  Mom and Dad were still cleaning the boat but I was allowed to go.  We went to their Uncle Jimmy’s store. We got to pick out a sand bucket that had a shell, a turtle, suckers, and a sticker.  I put the sticker on the front of my bucket.  I also got a mood ring.  Thank you to the girl’s Dad and their Uncle Jimmy!  We went to the beach for a few hours.  We made sand castles and played.  We had lots of fun.  We came back to the boat.  Mom and Dad were finished cleaning.  Ainsley and Hadley asked us to go with them for dinner.  Mom and Dad said that sounds great.  We would meet after we got cleaned up.  Mom, Dad and I were picked up and driven to the restaurant.  Mom and Dad got to meet the girl’s Mom.  Her name is Blake.  When we got to the restaurant, their Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Parker and their grandparents were already there.  Everyone chatted and it was a good dinner.  When we were done eating we were driven back to the marina.  I was sad that we were leaving.  They have our boating card that has our blog and email address.  I hope they write to me.


22 October 2012

ICW Day 1

Our fridge quite working.  Just not acceptable.  We lost a little meat, but most importantly we realized that we could not go on like this.  Lucky for us, it could not have happened in a better place.  In one day, I had diagnosed the problem, found a part and actually had it delivered to the boat... all in time to have a shower and go out for dinner.  In the eyes of the girls, I had earned it.  I wish all problems worked themselves out that easy.  While I was in fixit mode, I also connected the GPS to the VHF.  A 'project' that I have been working on since we left.  You know... Knot Yet.

A day of boat maintenance was rewarded with a kid day.  We dinghied around the USS Wisconsin (a 887ft Iowa Class Battleship) and then went inside Nauticus, a waterfront US Naval museum/exhibit.  Then ended the day at once again at Joe's Crab Shack.  They have a Snow Crab and cob of corn meal on the kids menu!  And they have a kids play area were Macara got to hang out with other kids.  All good!!!

The next morning we were up and gone bright and early.  We have another 1000 miles to go to put us in the heart of Florida, that means we have to keep moving.  But, this is a fresh start, a new beginning, Mile 0 of the ICW.

As we pull anchor and begin our day a couple other sailboats and a trawler pull out of various marinas.  The first few miles is speed controlled, so the four of us glide along together on a beautiful morning.

The first bridge that we encounter was Gilmerton Bridge.  Under construction, this bridge only opens once an hour, at the bottom of the hour.  Not by request, as was her usual habit.  And, you guessed it, we arrived at 8:40am.  So, we wait.  While we wait and the boats mill about, I get a moment to talk to the other skippers.  The lead sailboat appears to have done this trip many times.  He appears happy, relaxed and confident with the routine.  I talk to the trawler and we discuss our speeds.  We agree on a speed for in the canal, but I said that we would likely pick it up for a short while once out in the sound.

We continue to wait and the boats that had the 9:30am opening timed start to arrive.  A lot of them.  And this is when the day started to get a little weird, at least for this ICW newby/polite Canadian.  A couple 100' yachts slowly, but surely allowed themselves to drift to the front of the pack.  9:30am arrives and still the bridge does not open.  9:45am and still no opening.  I call the bridge tender on the VHF and he informs me that just on the other side of the bridge is a railway bridge and they are expecting a train.  He won't be opening until after the train comes through.  I thank him for the info.  The wait is always easier when you know what is going on.  Finally, a power catamaran, that was late for even the 9:30am opening starts to snake his way through 16+ boats.  You could hear a few snide comments floating around and he just gestures, what are you going to do about it.

Here is a link to one of the 100 footers that we ran with for the day:


ICW day 1 is loosing some of it's lustre.

The next several miles are packed with more bridges and a lock.  All of the bridges are low and require opening and none of them open on request.  We seem to be stuck in a bit of a rat race.  Boats are over taking other boats and then milling around as we wait for the next bridge.

Having thought about it for a couple days, I suppose it makes sense that the faster boats leave the bridge first.  It saves them overtaking a slower vessel under power and waking them.  It just didn't seem right at the time seeing the powerboats glide to the front of the line when others had been there well before them.  Maybe it's just me.

Enough of that.  The ICW offers two choices leaving Norfolk, Dismal Swamp or Virginia Cut they are both the same distance and will meet up again in Abermarle Sound.  In our pack, I don't think anybody took the swamp route.  With the bridges now behind us, the group is starting to thin out.  The Virginia Cut is a nice mix of marshy canals and sounds and rivers.  There were duck blinds everywhere.  There was one little opening in the marsh grass that was so packed with mallards that I don't think another would fit.  But, nothing will top the duck blind we say back on Wye River.  It had a boardwalk from the house out to the blind.

Our destination for the evening... Buck Island, just south of Coinjock, VA.  I didn't see the posted fuel price, but I had heard that is a good place to top up.  Unfortunately/fortunately we didn't need fuel, but I pretty sure everybody else stopped for fuel.  I even noticed a couple stopped for fuel and then pressed on.  Buck Island is just another 6 miles south of Coinjock, VA.  The description in our cruising guide stated that you can get well off the channel and charts displayed a nice 8' cut in behind the shoal that ICW passes around.  In theory, it sounded great.  When we got there, there was already one sailboat anchored.  This will be home for the night.  What wasn't in the guide, that nice 8' cut well off the ICW was littered with crab traps.  There was no room to swing back in there.  Instead we anchored up close to the sailboat, just off the channel.  So, close I felt obligated to go join them for a quick drink before dinner.  Nice couple with plenty of stories.  They made one comment that now sticks with me about this anchorage.  They wanted a spot with a nice breeze.  I thought they wanted to leave their hatches open for the night.  As soon as night fall came, those words took on a whole new meaning.  We were soon inundated with bugs.  They looked like a mosquito, just slightly bigger and they didn't bite.  I knew they were out there, but I had to go outside and pull up the dinghy.  One quick opening of the door and our cabin was full of them.  Soft and squishy they made a mess of everything as soon as you touched them.  A vacuum soon made short work of them.

Next stop Manteo, NC.  I had been to the Outer Banks in my early 20s on a windsurfing trip.  I had always said that that was a place that I would like to take Kerri back to some day.  Ocracoke, NC looked like a natural stop.  But, while in Solomons Island we chatted with a gentleman that insisted that we would love Manteo as well.  So much so, that we came back a second time to give us the dockmaster's personal cell phone number.  Manteo was a perfect break in a bit of a long run to Ocracoke and with that kind of a recommendation... next stop Manteo.

The ICW proper leaves the North River, makes short work of Abermarle Sound and heads for the Alligator River.  That's where everybody else went.  I guess we are taking the scenic route.  The sounds have a reputation for building up an annoying chop.  As soon as we got out in the sound, that 20 knot northerly did what they said it would do.  I guess that is why everybody went the other way, for the protection.  The sound is also very shallow everywhere and too shallow in a lot of places.  And surprise, it is full of crab traps.  I did here on the VHF that another boater, that day, had got one caught in his props.

Mike, if you are reading, thanks for the Manteo tip.  We just booked a second night.  We arrived on a Sunday and all the shops were closed.  There is a kids playground right by Manteo Waterfront Marina. Macara made some friends there.  Soon, the two girls, dad and their uncle were aboard visiting.  So much for washing the boat, there is always tomorrow.  Well, today is tomorrow.  Those bugs back at Buck Island, when mixed with water their droppings turn green.  It looks sort of like bearing grease.

The next few days look pretty nice.  I think we will enjoy the Outer Banks for a little while.

18 October 2012

The Snow Birds are starting to gather

A little over a week ago we were in pools and swimming.  We walked in the evening, still in our shorts and t-shirts.  Then a cold front came through and I was forced to put on my jeans for the first time since leaving home.

Baltimore was just so much fun we had to do it one more time.  Plus, it was a convenient place to have parts shipped.  We now have our new toilet.  It's not installed yet. :-p  We stayed a fourth night in the area anchored off of Canton (Baltimore suburb) in order to hit a Westmarine and pick up some groceries.  We woke up the next morning to 36ºF!  That's not good!!!  New plan... let's head south.

Before leaving Baltimore I have one piece of Americana to share.  I may have heard this before, but it never really stuck.  It has left much more of an impression now having seen it with my own eyes.  The Star Spangled Banner was penned in Baltimore by a Francis Scott Key.  The short story is that he was being held captive aboard a British ship during the British attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  Now a Stars and Stripes buoy marks the location from which he witnessed the battle.

The green patch in the middle is Fort McHenry
The first leg is about a 70nm run to Solomons Island, MD.  We bypass the major marinas and head about another mile to Mill Creek.  Our cruising guide suggests that the bottom holding is not the best.  There are already 4 boats anchored and I am focused on finding the best spot for us to drop our hook.  Kerri is up on the bow making the anchor ready as I spin the boat around into the wind.  The boat nearest us catches my eye and I notice it is flying a Canadian flag.  "Hey Macara look, a Canadian boat", I say.  Totally unimpressed, she replies "so is that one and that one."  Snow birds.  All of us.  Four Canadians and a Michigander.  The following night we will all gather on 'Chances' for sun-downers and stories.

Four of us are from the Great Lakes and have similar stories.  The fifth boat is from the Halifax area.  When you live in Nova Scotia, everybody from Ontario is from Toronto.  Not us, so I take a second to describe where Kincardine is.  She counters with "close to Point Clark?".  I am stunned, "yes???"  It turns out she has had a pen-pal from Point Clark for years.  Stranger still. the pen-pal's husband has taught a few of my courses at work.  Six degrees of separation, wow!  It is a small world.

The next morning we part ways.  The forecast suiting sailboats better than power boats.  I hope they had a nice ride.  Nautical data buoys were recording 23knots of wind out on the bay.  Not my idea of a good time.

We decide to give it another day.  The weather the next morning is fantastic.  We are underway by about 7:30am.  And, so is everybody else!  A trawler that we shared Mill Creek with got out just before us and by the time we arrived at the mouth of Solomons Island there was so many boats that we had to yield to traffic.  A flock of over a dozen boats left the Patuxent River all at the same time that morning and by the time we made the Potomac River we made quite the flock.  Mostly sailboats and trawlers moving a nominal 20nm a day.  There is no wind today.  But, that is great for us and we have not yet shaken that chilly morning in Baltimore.  We are driven to head south.  We keep pushing on to Norfolk, VA.  It is has been a while since we have put in a 100nm day and it felt great.

Out on the bay we had our own little air show.  Military jets of all makes and models flew above us.  On the water we saw everything from a schooner loaded with 14 cannons to some sort of military hydrofoil.  An awesome sight for sure.  Unfortunately, I did not have my camera on the bridge.

I would be remiss to pass through Norfolk and not post at least one picture of a Navy ship.

So, here we are over 2 months on the water.  1255nm travelled to arrive at Mile 0!  That's right, Mile 0. The start of the ICW proper.  The Intracoastal Waterway.  A series of rivers, sounds, and canals all connected from Norfolk, VA to Miami, FL and beyond, all the way to Texas.

Here is a bit of an idea of what lies ahead for us.  Open this image up and look for the magenta line starting in the upper right.

The Carolinas ICW

07 October 2012

How low can you go?

The exhaust on Caterpillar 3196s is an 8" pipe straight out the back of the boat at water level.  To mate the boat with the engine, there is an expansion joint (a rubber sleeve held in place with hose clamps).  Mine had developed a pencil stream leak.  Messing around a 8" hole in my boat while sitting on the water is not my idea of a good time.  I need professional help... again.

While in Baltimore I mentioned to my neighbour, "Where can I get good help in the area?"  Without skipping a beat,  he and another guy that overheard my question both said the same place.  Anchor Bay East, up Bear Creek.  So, I gave them a call.  They can help me, but not until Tuesday.  No problem, we can always head back to Stoney Creek and try our hand a crabbing.  This time we will get some chicken necks!

We went back to the exact same spot that we had been before and first thing the next morning Macara and I were in the dinghy and heading for town to get some chicken necks.  And with chicken necks came a whole new learning curve.  The buggers kept stealing my bait.  Something still ain't right.  We are using the same bait in the exact same spot and we aren't catching crabs like they were.  Oh well, it's fun as heck!

We crabbed until 3pm.  The plan was to be at Anchor Bay East the night before so that we could be fixed and on our way first thing Tuesday morning.  The problem with making plans...  Our chosen anchorage is behind a draw bridge with a 16' height.  With our outriggers up, we need closer to 30', so we need a bridge opening.  No problem, on weekends the open on the top and bottom of the hour.  During the week they open on request.  There is also a rush hour restriction, but I couldn't remember what it was.  I assumed it was the same as weekends, every half hour.  It took us a while to load the dinghy and pull anchor, so we missed the 3:30pm opening.  No problem, we have time.  We arrive at the bridge and mill around with another sportfish almost identical to ours.  The other boat hails the bridge operator a few times without answer.  That's strange???  Then, all of a sudden, the other boat hesitantly proceeds towards the bridge and slides underneath it.  With only inches to spare!  And he doesn't have outriggers.  What's going on here?  Did he just loose patience?  We hail the bridge one more time.  Still no answer.  So, we make our way closer to the bridge.  The sign reads, No bridge opening between 3:30pm and 6:30pm.  Bridge opens week days on request 7:30am to 5pm.  A little confusing, but we soon realize that we are locked in for the night.  

That just won't do!  That guy just got under the bridge, maybe we can?  We have a pair of 19' VHF antennas, they will have to come down, but the outriggers?  Even when they are in their fully dropped position I had estimated their height at 18'.  We need to get under 16'.  So, I dropped them down, then I let them fall out the side as well.  Then ever so carefully, I backed the boat towards the bridge to size things up.  The one side fits, the other, not quite.  Then Kerri grabs the outriggers lines and pulls down, flexing the outrigger.  That will do it!  I pull forward, flip the boat around and we try it for real.  In gear... coast... in gear... coast... it looks so close.  I flip the hatch open to look on top of the flybridge.  We are going to make it!!!  Sixteen feet, our lowest bridge yet.  It's so much fun, when you win.

Bear Creek.  Maintenance.  This part is never fun.  You never know how much the final bill is going to be.  I am bracing myself of a "boat buck"  B.O.A.T (Break Out Another Thousand).  Not this time!!!  Free dockage if you are there for maintenance.  That is nice.  I had assumed that I was going to need a haul-out.  Not here.  After hearing my story and having a quick look, the next thing I know he is jamming at it with screw drivers!  Loosen the hose clamps, slide the bellow back into place and retighten the clamps.  "There, that out to do ya", he says.  Final bill $67!!!  Then we stayed another night, that was also free.  In return, we ate at their restaurant.  Great deal.

We had planned for my mom and dad to come visit us for a week or so, between hunting seasons of course.  Unfortunately, there was a last minute change of plans.  Lucky for us, we don't really make plans.  Where to now?  We spent a couple nights anchored in Swan Creek near Rock Hall, MD.  The second night was one of those nights that you dream about.  Dead calm.  Hardly a boat in sight.  The sky full of stars and then shortly after going to bed, a full moon beams in through one of our hatches.  This is golden!

Even without mom and dad, we decided to continue on to another port that I had planned to bring them to.  Sorry mom, but you would have liked St. Michaels.  We were warned to make reservations in advance.  We managed to get one of the last remaining slips.  Even at that, we couldn't stay in that same slip for both nights.  It is Thanksgiving Weekend back home in Canada, what I didn't plan for was Columbus Day here in Maryland.  Both Friday and Saturday we nice and hot.  Naturally, when Macara saw there was a pool here, that is where she wanted to go.  Soon after we were joined by a couple more young kids and their mother.  The older boy is almost the exact same age as Macara.  Finally!  It's been almost a month and a half since Macara has had a chance to play with some kids her age.

When I titled this post 'How low can you go?' I knew I was going to talk about escaping under the Stoney Creek bridge.  Unfortunately, I have another low feeling.  After having a couple amazing nights on the hook up in Swan Creek and starting to develop a feeling that this trip is going pretty well.  BANG!!!  WTF WAS THAT!?!?!  I double check the depth sounder, we are still in 100' of water.  We are in the middle of Chesapeake Bay.  There are no crab traps out here.  What happened?  We were cruising along at our usual 23.5 knots.  I quickly bring the boat down off plane and circle back to the point in question.  There it is... about a 20' long, 3" thick branch almost broke in half.  Enough to make you sick.  I never saw a thing.  It still sits mostly submerged.  With the small chop and tea stained water, I never stood a chance.  Not much of a consolation after the damage is already done.  Exactly how much damage has been done?  The steering feels fine.  I tried a bunch of different engine speeds, no vibrations.  We achieve our normal cruise speed.  I would like to think it is not that bad, but until I get a chance to dive on her, I won't know for sure.