23 June 2013


Things went so much smoother when I brought the boat home in 2011.

The weather has been very unsettled this spring.  So, we had to make some different choices.  Fortunately, for me and the crew, they were all good ones.  Well, most of them.

You know how when you are driving home from a vacation and all those thoughts (of what you need to do) that you had managed to push aside, all start rushing in... imagine that after an entire year.  Our real world 'to do' list is starting to grow.  We are starting to realize, that we would like to get home.

Phase One:  The Atlantic Coast.
Given the size and speed of our boat, our trip should look something like this: St. Augustine, FL > Charleston, SC > Oriental, NC > Norfolk, VA > Atlantic City, NJ > Albany, NY.  That's if the weather cooperates.

We had always said that we will leave South Florida sometime in early June or when Hurricane Season kicks up.  For us, that happened on the same day.  As soon as we untied our lines, TS Andrea got organized and took a run at us.  We hadn't even reached the ocean yet when we got that news, so we stayed on the ICW and tucked into Vero Beach for a couple days.

Not entirely sure how long it takes for an ocean to settle down after a tropical storm we decided to hang out in the Intracoastal for a couple more days.  All thing considered, we made pretty good time and made it to St. Augustine in a day and a half, with a stop in Daytona Beach along the way.  Not all bad.
Next stop, Charleston, SC.  200nm north and taking us some 45nm offshore.  You want a nice day for that one and we got it.  Even at 23.5 knots, it takes a while to cover 200nm.  When we got to Charleston, all we wanted was a drink and a nice meal, but first we needed to fuel up and wash the boat down.  "Hey, the boat really stinks like diesel", Kerri says to me.  "We just fuelled up.  It's nothing", I said.  And off to dinner we go.  When we got back from dinner, the complaining was more intense.  Apparently I was not getting on the issue quick enough, because Kerri was the first one down in the engine room.  "There is a big puddle of diesel under the port engine!" she says.  Not at all what I wanted to hear.  I cleaned it up and hope that this was just an over-fuelling issue.  Typical 'stick my head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away while I sleep on it' response.  Nope.  A new puddle the next morning.  Insert expletive here, maybe two.  Here we go again.  I suppose there are worse places to breakdown.  Like compared to yesterday when we were 45nm offshore.  Or any of the last few months while out in the Bahamas.  But, that is only a small consolation.  Within a short time I have located a drip.  It seems to be coming from the port side engine's fuel pump.  Not any easy place to get to and quite possibly beyond my level of expertise.  I want this done quickly, so I get on the phone.  It is time for professional help.  Fortunately, a pro says it is just a loose fitting.  He borrows one of my wrenches and we are fixed.  Wow!!!  We got lucky on that one.

The next days' weather forecast is marginal to say the least, but we have an urge to get moving.  North on the ICW we go.  The ICW is not too bad between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, so we make good time.  Until we get to Myrtle Beach.  OMG!!!  If I never travel the ICW through Myrtle Beach ever again, that would be a blessing.  And to the Bridge Operator at Little River... insert expletive here.  Southern charm?
My time in the United States has led me to come up with a saying, "Nice country, just too many Americans."  Before anybody comes unglued, hear me out.  Most Americans are really nice people.  I have several that I call friends.  But, on any given day, and lately I have been getting them back to back to back, you run into that jerk that brings the entire country down.  He's the exception, but I think that he is looking for me.  So, today, I am going to make it harder for him to find me.  I am going offshore, even out of my way.  I am just not in the mood for it anymore.  Next stop... Oriental, NC.
We arrive in Oriental and 'he' is waiting for me.  'His' boat is in the slip just next to ours.  At first I didn't recognize 'him'.  'He' starts off very cordial.  'He' begins asking about our winter in the Bahamas.  'He' has been there himself.  'He' seems to be a like minded soul.  Then out of nowhere, 'he' starts ripping me about my flag configuration.  'He' informs me that my Canadian flag flying higher than my American 'courtesy' flag is a declaration of war and was offensive.  With ever increasing agitation, I respond quite quickly,  "You'd be correct if I were flying the two flags on the same halyard, but I am not.  This is the exact configuration that is shown on the US Power Squadron website, as well as a couple others that I cannot remember at this time, said that I should fly them."  He still doesn't get it and still wants to belabour the point.  I am forced to repeat myself.  You'd be right, if blah, blah blah, but you are not right because I looked it up.  Finally, the penny drops for him, "It appears you did your research on this", he says.  Lately, I am starting to feel like Dorothy.  There is no place like home.  There is no place like home.  There is no place like home.  Next stop... Norfolk, VA.

This is one of my favourite legs of the trip, but it sure keeps me busy.  First off we run the Sounds in behind the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Sounds are littered with crab traps.  I need to be on full alert and an extra pair of eyes definitely helps.  But, it is fun.  It feels like a short cut.  Then it is up the Elizabeth River and the Virginia Cut.  This is a blast!  Running a big boat like a little sport boat = so much fun.  Again, I have to be on full alert.  The driving is busy enough, but I would hate to wake a little 'Jon boat'.  In these close quarters I am afraid that I would flip one for sure.  But, damn, it is so much fun!

Like I said earlier, the weather is very unsettled this spring.  Forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms are the norm.  Our arrival in Norfolk was no exception.  The night before this system had it's fun in the mid-west.  Weather forecasters were having a tough time with this system.  They all could see it, they were just having a hard time gauging it's intensity.  Some had forecasted 100knot winds.  The story on the fuel dock was that the Navy had their tugs on full alert to hold their big battleships in position.  We arrived in Norfolk with a little over an hour to spare.  Last minute forecasts were to expect winds topping 50knots.  We put out some extra lines just in case.  Yep, we saw 50knots+.  Now we need some canvas repairs.  A little duct tape will have to do until then.  It's 'yacht white' duct tape, don't you know.  Next stop... Atlantic City.

As you can imagine with Norfolk being such a large naval port, there is plenty of commercial activity, as well as recreational traffic.  Absolutely love my Marine Traffic AIS app.  Having fun with it, I call an outgoing barge by name.  I get a "You're fine, keep her coming."  What I wasn't prepared for was the sincere "thanks for checking in".  A nice start to the day for sure.  That is how life on the water should be.  Hammers down and we are off towards Atlantic City.  Another gift of a day to be on the water.  It is so nice, that I consider an 11hr run straight up to New York City.  Tomorrow's forecast is a little iffy.  Oh come on!  We are not at war here.  Stop and enjoy the view. So, that is what we did.  Atlantic City is a fairly busy inlet.  There are always boats coming and going.  On our way in, there is also a tug/barge dragging it's dredging equipment.  Not a single boat seems to be slowing down for it, but I can't do it.  Captain Chris would have my hide if he heard that I ever waked a dredge.  Now, I never hailed the tug boat Captain, his intentions were clear, he was holding to green cans.  I was going to hold the reds and give him a slow pass.  There wasn't much to talk about.  As soon as we clear the tug, we get hailed on the radio.  "Hey, inbound sportfish... Thanks for the slow pass, very much appreciated", he says.  At first, I wasn't exactly sure if this wasn't a backhanded slam at all the a-holes that had waked him all day.  There were at least two boats as big as me or bigger, in the area at the time, that should have slowed down and didn't.  But then, a good number of his crew are now giving a 'thumbs up' or a 'tip of the hat'.  Could this be?!?!  Twice in one day!  Is it too soon to say that my faith in humanity has been restored?  Let's just call it a good day.  Jersey Boy, take a bow.  There seems to be some good ones where you come from.  Next stop... somewhere up the Hudson River.

Now remember that I said the forecast for this leg was a little iffy.  I was relying on about 15ยบ of offshore breeze to keep the waters calm.  Fortunately, any errors in forecasting were in our favour.  We had a great run up the Jersey coast.  Add to that, any day you can run your own boat past the Statue of Liberty is a good day.  Life was treating us pretty good.  The Atlantic Ocean was now behind us.  A few days of river running and we are back on The Great Lakes.

Then WTF?!?!  Really?!?!  Some county sheriff wants to pull us over and see our papers?  It's bad enough we have to call in our location every night, but now we are getting delayed too.  I try to see the positive in that this is the first time it has happened to us.  By the way, thanks for the boot prints on the deck.  Those are really nice.  After then were done, then things get worse.  I cannot even begin to type a word that describes the horrible sound that followed.  We were cruising along at our happy little 23.5 knots and I will use the word 'bang', but it is way more disgusting than that.  The entire crew knew in an instant that something very bad had happened.  We hit a submerged log.  And, now a horrible vibration is shaking the entire boat.  I slide the starboard engine into neutral and the vibration stops.  I put it back in gear and the vibration began again.  Back to neutral.  Typically, this would be a moment to inspire a truck load of curse words that would make any sailor blush.  But I quickly resigned myself to the fact that when you run your boat for over 5000nm in unfamiliar waters, bad things are going to happen.  And this would be one of them.  We called the closest marina that could haul us out and we called the closest prop guy.  Of course, this was Sunday and nothing was going to happen until Monday morning.  Just as we were in the entrance of the marina I decided, to heck with this, if nobody is going to help me, then I am going to help myself.  I got some time.  I am going to do a little in water diagnostics.  But first,  I need to back out this channel.  Just then two mangled pieces of wood came floating to the surface.  There was our vibration!  Cautiously, I began sliding the throttles forward.  Smooth as silk!!!  Before long, we were once again sailing our way up the Hudson River, rounding our way past the West Point Military Academy and the beautiful mountains that border our path.  Once more, we are sincerely thanked for our courteous boating behaviour.  It doesn't take long to forget how horrible things seemed just moments ago.  Then it happened again... whack!!!  Dammit!  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me.  It's time to slow down.  What is going on you ask?  What can't I get through my thick head?  It's spring.  We are coming from sunshine.  Here they are emerging from a horrible winter/spring and a tropical storm just dumped all over that.  The Hudson River is full of all sorts of crap.  We saw so many tires floating down the river.  Wood.  Pieces of dock.  All sorts of junk.  Get me off this river.  Kingston, NY looks real good right now.  And it was.  Great meal and more incredibly friendly people.  Next stop... Albany, NY.

Albany is not that far from Kingston, maybe 50nm.  A bit of a lazy day.  Our plan was to rent a car and pick up some things.  Maybe, have a little fun.  We have been pushing it pretty hard lately and the worst is behind us.  Just before reaching Albany, I pick up the phone and call ahead to a marina in the Erie Canal system that I remembered having cheap fuel.  I would hold off topping up if he is still cheap enough.  Sure enough he was.  "$3.75 per gallon", he boasts.  "Cheapest on the the canal, but you will have a hard time getting here for a while.  The canal is closed.", he continues.  Once again I am struggling with this four seasons thing.  I never even thought.  I switch over to the VHF radio to see if the Albany Yacht Club to could take us for a couple days until the canal opened up again.  I got a one word reply... "negative".  This is quickly starting to feel real bad.  There aren't a whole lot of marina choices in this area and Albany was the big one.  And that dry reply made me feel like the elephant in the room.  I am starting to realize these people have been stuck here a few days and I am naively pulling in thinking that I am going to get a slip.  Kerri quickly begins thumbing her way through The Waterway Guide.  I am tapping away on the GPS.  "Try this number... now try this one".  Luckily, thankfully, the Forever Young Health Club and Marina was able to take us in.  They just had to move a couple boats around.

Now what?  Just wait?  We worked so hard to get here.  We could have played around a little along the way.

Today, we picked up a car today and ran some errands.  Tonight, we even took Macara to a Chuck E. Cheese in recognition of her putting up with some long days on the water.  Tomorrow, we are off to Rhode Island.  What the heck, we are in the area.  A 3hr drive is nothing compared to 9 or 10hrs on the water.  That should kill the weekend.  Hopefully, the canal will be ready to go by Monday.

06 June 2013

Day 1: Heading North... STOP!!!

Our trip north is admittedly off to a slow start.  We aren't quite ready to give this all up yet.  But, it coming.

We sat around West End on Grand Bahama for the better part of a week.  We got a taste of the marina life and frankly, it just led to a couple 2 day hangovers.  Finally, we got what we were waiting for, one nice day for shark diving and then another for our crossing back to the United States.

I have done several shark dives.  I did one a couple weeks earlier in Nassau.  But, those were Caribbean Reef sharks.  Beautiful as they are, they are a lot smaller than my target species this time, the Tiger shark.  For comparison, a large Caribbean Reef shark may be 8ft and weigh up to 150lbs.  Tiger sharks on the other hand typically grow to 12-14ft and weigh in somewhere around 1200-1400lbs.  Couple the large size discrepancy between the two sharks with the fact that records for shark attacks on humans place the Tiger shark as a Top 5 offender, I needed to try this for myself.

Once again, I found myself diving with a Stuart Cove resort.  Andrea, my divemaster, was dead serious when he told me "... this is nothing like Nassau".  Okay, he has my attention.  I am all ears.  The dive briefing is pretty similar with a few exceptions.  Instead of 15 divers, there is just 3 of us.  This is not a shark feed, we will us a chum bucket.  We will sit directly under the stern of the boat and each of us will be issued a stick.  A stick?!?!?  Yep.  Not for beating or poking the shark, just to expand our personal space.  Point the stick at the shark whenever she gets too close.  My camera proved to be an acceptable substitute, I didn't get a stick.  Finally, the dive times.  This is a two tank dive, each dive will be 90min long. AWESOME!!!  I have never done a 90min dive before, let alone two of them back to back.

A little fish oil in the water as we first circle our dive site.  Our anchor barely hits the bottom and our first Tiger shark appears.  Suit up, it's show time!

The first shark at the site turns out to be Charlotte, named after a previous divemasters' girlfriend.  Charlotte is now pregnant.  Andreas says she is a beautiful shark and that he believes she likes him, but insists he is not the father.

Charlotte is with us throughout both dives, as well as some 10 other Lemon sharks.  For a while we had a two other Tiger sharks join us.  They were not as comfortable with the routine and never came as close as Charlotte.  The one had a deformed dorsal fin and Andreas recognized her.  The other, he claims to have never seen before.  The Lemon sharks are impressive in the own right, but I was there for the Tigers.

How close were they?  All images were taken with a 16mm fisheye lens on a Nikon D200.  Check out the video.

Great Whites, you are next.

With our Bahamas 'grand finale' now complete, it's time to return to the United States.

West End to Palm Beach turned out to be as easy 53nm as we have met on this trip.

However, our Customs and Immigration check in was a little more exciting than we would have liked.  It turns out there was a small issue with our Cruising Permit.  We had one, yes, but we were not following the rules of the Cruising Permit.  You see, sailing to Florida is not the same as driving to Florida.  If I were to drive to Florida, I would cross the border, do my stuff there and never talk to another official until I returned to Canada.  It turns out our border agent made a lot of assumptions when I requested a Cruising Permit, like I knew what I was doing.  Apparently, he expected that I was to report to Homeland Security every time I leave one county and check in to the next.  Who knew?  Well, I do now!  Some 2000nm of oops.  Sorry.

Up next, a couple weeks of boat maintenance and evenings of indulgence.  Fix the boat by day, some light to moderate beer drinking by night.  Let's just say we got a lot of both done.

That was fun, but even that has to come to an end.  Get your tears ready, it is time to start heading home for real.  We said our good-byes and loose the lines.  Day 1 of some 14 days to get home.  Unfortunately, all day a disorganized low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico is starting to intensify.  Crap!!!  We are cut-off!

So, another night in Vero Beach.  Get going Andrea, we will following you home.  Please, don't make too much of a mess.