Sunday, November 30, 2008

The League of Women Sailors Rises to Ascendancy

The Annual Meeting of Pursers and Quartermasters, St. Marys, GA

Rita from El Rio demonstrates technique to Barbara Ann from Onward,
Connie and and an unidentified practitioner of the rites of sailing -
Notice there are no men at this table


Meredith made its way from Jekyll Island to St. Marys GA in a short though not uneventful 40 mile day. The passage, over shallow bottom in narrow passageways, kept the helmsman and crew on its toes hoping to avoid tows.

Each year about the last day in November a fleet of boats converges on St. Marys GA.

No Notice to Mariners or encrypted message from COMFLEETATL preceeds this massed movement of men and material. Rather, just as the Black Pearl's Compass drew Jack Sparrow to pirate treasure so does the rumoured promise of roast turkey cause all compasses in the amateur fleet to divert to St. Marys.

The Fleet at St. Marys Anchorage. In the three hours following this shot the population doubled.

St. Marys, you see, puts on a free Thanksgiving Dinner for Cruisers. (Despite the similarity in appearance and quality of diction of the diners a free dinner for cruisers should not be confused with a similar function held at the local Men's Mission on the same day.)

Whenever a disparate group of sailors finds itself in a new and strange port nature takes over and all are drawn lemming like to the nearest bar. In the photo at the outset of this post Rita from El Rio was demonstrating proper barroom technique to to her compatriots.

The guys already had it figured out:

Gary from Going South, Mike from Resolute, and Karen and Kent from Breezeaway have already had their lesson from Rita.

(Faithful readers will recall that Meredith first met Resolute on the docks at Waterford, NY.)

The affair started years ago as just dinner on Thanksgiving Day but, as these things do, has grown. It now occupies almost a full week ending on the morning after Thanksgiving with a "Hair of the Dog" Mimosa party and swap meet.

On the day before Thanksgiving there were three separate drinks parties so everyone could get to know everyone else. Meredith only attended one of these. We had to find our way home after all.

Dinner itself is a real Stone Soup affair where every boat brings a side dish and the townfolk cook turkeys. Mind you this year they cooked turkey for 189 people who arrived in 69 boats and several cars. (you remember the story about the vagrant who showed the poor villagers how to make soup from a stone)

Men walked the docks all morning, homeless, having been thrown off their boats while each woman prepared their best Thanksgiving side dish. With pride of the galley at stake there was no room on 38 feet of boat for mere men.

But the dinner.... well... Can you imagine Thanksgiving Dinner with 69 side dishes, each prepared by an experienced cook determined to preserve her self respect and place in proper society? No you can't. Trust me.

Meredith took the Budget Committee's famous Chorizo Rice Pilaf served in a foil wrapped clay flower pot cum Heater Element cum serving dish. The clay pot serving dish was preheated before being filled so the dish would be proper serving temperature.

Despite each woman taking quantities of food sufficient to feed 4 boats not one boat took food home.

At the end of it all there was nothing to say but

"Dear, I am going to loosen my belt now".

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Quick Primer on Hazards to Navigation - Jekyll Island to St. Marys GA

We rode past this little critter on bikes. He had just had a drink out of the ditch and turned and hissed at us. He foamed at the mouth.


1. Big Ugly Shrimp Boats Bearing Down on You with Their Spider Arms Out to Catch Your Mast:
Majestic Shrimper or Malevolent Pinhead

No Matter What Course I steered to avoid collision this Knight of the Sea changed course to match - but his was a collision course. He only stopped when Connie stood full on the bow with her camera taking pictures. Lucky He did not know we have really poor telescopic lens on this camera. We should have listened to Randy.

2. Attention Grabbing Mistakes:


This was Once a Sailboat and is now a Landmark

Try sailing past this without loosing your concentration. The entire vessel is being consumed in the bottom muck leaving only the mast above water. And this was high tide.

3. Unusual Channel Markers


Is This a Derelict Boat or a Channel Marker - It is Really Effective as Either Let Me Tell You

This former vessel marks the North edge of the St. Marys River just past St. Marys. Very effective Notice to Mariners Let Me Tell You.

4. Leaving Old Friends

Benoit and Andree with Connie on the Waterfront in Savannah

We have been travelling loosely with Benoit and Andree on their vessel Douce Folie V. They have become very good friends. Our arrangement, "No contract" as Ben says has been a loose arrangement to share food drinks and problems. They are proceeding on from Jekyll Island while we are compelled to leaving our boat nearby to return home earlier than planned. We will miss them until we next encounter Douce Folie V in Bahamas.

And that is all for this post.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Jekyll Island - A Pictorial Essay


Jekyll Island was once a private hunting club owned by the ultra rich of the turn of the century - families like the Vanderbilts, JP Morgans, Goodyears and so on. Each family maintained a cottage for its use in the winter and there are some stunning designs.

Now I say ultra Rich but when JP Morgan died his estate was valued at $80 Million. On reading this John Rockefeller commented "And to think he wasn't even a rich man".

Eventually the government forced the end to the private reserve and took it over as a state park which is now open for public viewing.

The Island maintains a transit System:

Connie Uses the Jekyll Island Transit System

Which leads to Head Shots Like this:

Connie Rides Past Some Other Dead Rich Guy's House

The transit system is reliable but there are some hazards to navigation:
Odd Little Creature Which Runs Freely on the Roads Around Here

And that is all I feel like writing today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Little Off the Top

Al Redmond's Parliament

Nine days had passed since Connie and I had left Meredith our 38 foot sailboat and it had been a month since my last trim.

Walking down the parkway in Beaufort, SC we passed "Redmond's Barber Shop". Properly unassuming this building had the right feel, even from the street.

I hate going to a new barbershop, especially a good one.

Walking into this one I encountered Al Redmond, the barber and moderator of the discussion group at Redmond's Barbershop.


"Don't Shut That Door" comes the gruff tone of a man whose domain had been improperly intruded upon. This was Al.

"Sorry" was the sorry response I muttered as turned and reopened the inside door I had so carefully closed a fraction of a second earlier".

"I like to see who is coming up on me" says Al.

This was what I hate about new barbershops: you have to prove yourself every time you go in one.

Sizing up the room I see Al clipping the hair of a man already in the chair and whose name I never got. Beside the is Mike, a wiry man.

Wiry describes Mike's personality as well as his build. Mike did not offer up his name until the very end of this adventure. Prickly would be another good word to describe Mike, but only until he gets to know you.


In a new barbershop you have to start slow and ease your way into the conversation. My merely walking into the place had lowered the cones of silence, ending all conversation.

I was third up so I had about 40 minutes to put in and 40 minutes of uncomfortable silence was not looking survivable.

"Holmes on Homes" was on the tube so I tried "You guys like Mike Homes?"

"Usually watch the game shows about this time" rejoins Al. Nothing but mumbles from Mike or the man in the chair.

"I hear he is gay" Usually this will get things going a bit. "He is very popular back home".

"So I suppose you support this Proposition 8 then" asks Al. Oh, oh. This is the gay marriage proposition. Al's idea of a gentle probing question is the verbal equivalent of caressing the listener with barbed wire. Ouch.

"We have had gay marriage back in Canada for about 5 years now" I answer, hoping that is the proposition to which he is referring. Having committed myself to a position I carried it a bit further: "So far the social fabric has remained intact. So, yes, if I was in California I would support it".

Al tried to stifle his disgusted reply but manages only to give himself a coughing fit. The man in the chair laughed. Mike just sat there.

"Well, you asked". I said turning to find my jacket to leave.

The man in the chair "yes you did, Al, He's got you there".

This opened it up. "Sit down. It's not your turn yet" says Al.

The four of us spent the better part of an hour talking Obama, economics, bored stupid rich people, the "heritage" of Beaufort and a whole lot more.

In the course of the discussion I learned that both Al and Mike had served in Vietnam. Mike served two tours of duty. As he explained to me, motioning to his wheelchair "The second tour was short. It messed me up". These guys earned their opinions and at times they left me speechless, sometimes with mirth, sometimes in wonder.

My hair trimmed I had to take leave, rejoining the Budget Committee who was tending to the laundry. On the way back from the laundromat we passed again in front of Redmond's barbershop.

I waved from the street knowing that Al would see. This was a comfort.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Naval Gazing: Boat Heater and Travel Plans

Meredith's Cabin Heater

With the temperature back in the low 40's the Budget Committee finally broke down and agreed to buy a propane fired cabin heater.

The problem was the $30 heater was at Walmart and Walmart was a $35 cab ride away. No bus system in Beaufort, I mean Bewfort.

So, stealing the idea from Lynn Pardy, we went to Grayco, the local hardware store of choice and bought two pottery plant holders for $3. These we placed over the burners on the stove and the burners were lighted to a low flame.

Cabin went from 48 degrees F to 60 F in 30 minutes. Virtual heaven.

This morning I wired up an old used computer fan and we now run on 1 burner with a fan supported on the other flower pot, I mean heater element. On one burner at 1/3 burn I am now in shirtsleeves at the computer. And we are using the large gas tanks not the little ones at $3 a pop.

Thanks Lynn Pardy.

Gord, a good friend of ours on Mystic explained cruisers' attitude towards spending money: "The wind is free." Gord says "Everything else should be"

The crew of Meredith flies into Ontario on December 3. This is a couple of weeks earlier than expected. Asked by friend Tim McKinlay how we were traveling I explained: "A couple of Red Bulls and We will Grow Wings".

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Bottom is Soft, the Eggs are Medium But We Have Propane

Meredith At Anchor in Factory Creek, Beaufort, SC


Meredith is waiting out some forecast unpleasantness in the heavens here in Beaufort. If we are lucky friends in Douce Folie V will be able to join us in a couple of days. We look forward to human contact having been restricted to the 38 feet of Meredith nonstop for 9 days.

Last night was the corker. Factory Creek is a great anchorage but is a bit narrow. The tidal range is 10 feet so there is a strong current which keeps all boats anchored in a nice line pointing upriver in the outflowing tide and downriver in the incoming. However for the hour or so surrounding slack tide a boat at anchor is at the mercy of the wind. Last night at 11 p.m. the winds were blowing 20 knts and pushed Meredith to within 6 feet of some ugly pylons.

The Budget Committee had been restless and uneasy all night with the wind. She caught the problem early. We roused out of bed, donned the necessaries and reset the anchor in total darkness. Before we were done we had run aground trying to get the anchor as close to the far shore as possible.

All in a night's work.

One of the good things about Beaufort is the local shopping mall which we like for two very good reasons:
The Really Kule parking lot is one of them, and the other is Bill:

One half of Bill's store is devoted to beer and only beer. There is not a microbrew bottled in the 50 states that does not sit on Bill's shelf. All of them are fresh and Bill can comment on each one from personal experience. Marvellous store. Nice guy.


Connie is happy only because I will now shut up about our empty propane tanks. We emptied the first in Annapolis and were left with only a partial tank as backup. There are very few places that fill propane tanks any longer and those that do are miles from any marina.

Gray's Hardware in the mall does fill propane and we filled the empty. Returning to Meredith we checked the other tank to find it totally empty. It was so low I figure when we heated our water for tea this morning bwe were burning the gas left in the line.


What About Those Eggs?

For a year now we have teased our friend Randy Chamberlain about his standard breakfast order of "Eggs Over Medium". Sometimes we go to breakfast just to hear him place the order and then explain what he means (white hard, yolk hard on the outside but a little fluid on the inside).

Well at the Huddle House, located on the way to the mall from the dinghy dock:

We ordered our standard breakfast: "Eggs Over Easy". The waitress left the table and returned a few minutes later to ask "When you say Over Easy you mean with the whites cooked and yolk runny, right?"

We agreed.

"Well then, honey, you mean to order them eggs Over Medium or you are going to get runny whites"

We agreed.

So Randy the phrasing of your breakfast order is legitimatimized. However even here if you order eggs over medium you get runny yolks. May you mean "Eggs Over Easy Plus" or "Eggs Hard Light".

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beaufort SC

We are anchored Beaufort SC. (Pronounced Bewfort).

Cold front last night with wind and rain. Rain continues today and we wait for the Cold Front echo ridge (the line of turbulence which seems to follow each cold front) in the next day or two.

We sailed right past friends of ours with whom we anticipated reunion due to joint miscues and poor assumptions on our part. Part of the general exhaustion of running hard down the waterway trying to escape the cold.

We look to the British for the correct line of thought:

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. ~G.K. Chesterton,

When you are going through Hell, Keep Going! ~Winston Churchill

(of course this line of thinking was what motivated Scott of the Antarctic who, the reader will recall, died of hunger, exhaustion and extreme cold in a futile expedition to be the Second man to the south pole)

All it takes to overcome any complaining on our parts is to think of what our life would be if we were back in London living our old lives. We are nothing but smiles after that.

Temperatures are back in the low 40's tonight and forecast for several days.

Oh Good: Another Adventure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Olympic Sport for Whistler, Signs We Have Arrived

To quote MC Hammer: "Can't Touch This".







Dolphins off the stern of Merdith, a smile on the crew.

While the photo is lacking sighting a Pelican also produces gleeful laughter aboard our boat.





















We propose a new sport for the winter olympics: Sailing the ICW, or Polar Sailing as we have come to know it.

The first entrants will be the crews of:

Chanceux out of New Bern, NC:





















Ronin out of Newark, NJ:






and of course, Meredith, out of Bayfield, ON:


All photos taken November 10, 2008 entering Carolina Beach NC anchorage.

The unrelenting pace and unyielding cold are taking their toll on moods and other psychological resources. Blogs will be fewer and terser (perhaps thankfully I hear someone say?) for the next while.

Those of you who are back in Ontario: we will be back early in December to renew friendships and catch up on all the gossip. If it is any good you may see it here so try hard. You still have two weeks.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Herds of Migrating Sailors are In the Army Now


Living in Sewage

Last night as you can well believe from yesterday's post gave us problems with anchor setting.

Try as we might the old CQR would not take hold and when Meredith revved up to 1500 in reverse we pulled free everytime. We were forced to resort to tough measures.

We carry a Fortress anchor with 15 feet of chain for just these little problems. Shackle the fortress to the head of the CQR, drop the Fortress over the bow followed by its chain, followed by the CQR and proper scope and voila: It could have blown 150 mph last night. We were not moving.

The removal of the fortress showed why the CQR was reluctant to set: the bottom consisted of a very fluid black paste comprised almost exclusively of raw and partly treated sewage. No kidding. Obviously the very expensive homes around the little bay could not afford monthly sewage charges so about 45 homes are dumping direct into a protected little body of former water. Things were probably manageable until the condo went up this year adding 40 of the 45 homes.

The Budget Committee washed the deck with bleach solution.

In the Army

Running Bogue Sound, which is really Onslow Bay but is separated from its parent by a small strand of land, takes you to Camp Lejeune. Camp Lejeune is a military site used for live fire training exercises and gunnery. The sign pictured above warns you quite simply that if you enter the camp when the lights are flashing you will blown up.

Traversing the camp can be interesting. There are remnants of bombed out vehicles such as these pictured all along the Camp waterway. Here is a missile launcher and some formerly turreted vehicle.









Is It Herd Instinct or Pioneer Spirit

Sailors pride themselves on their rugged iconoclasm. True individuals we. When we pulled into Mile Hammock Bay there was one boat at anchor. Thirty minutes later we had 9 boats anchored or positioning. And it was only 12:30 p.m. The video confirms and, yes, that is another Cabo Rico anchored just behind us.

There may be more to this herd thing than one is prepared to admit. At least we were first in. If it is a pack animal I am then best to be lead dog.


video

This actually arises from one problem with this section of the ICW: anchorages are inconveniently spaced. In a sailboat you are limited to about 40 miles of travel per day as the anchorages are 40 miles apart. We find 80 miles brings us into an anchorage after dark (daylight starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How Do You Insult a Kiwi?

We have escaped New Bern. This is our farewell shot.



Leaving New Bern requires that first you pay the price for going there: You must slog 24 miles back down the Neuse River to rejoin the ICW. Half the day's travel wasted just getting to the starting line.

Just for interest sake we want to show you what the Americans call a "Creek". Here is a shot of the mouth of Adams Creek. Creek, mind
, not river.





Of course some d
ays it is out of the pot and into the fire. Here is the welcoming view of Beaufort, NC. (that's Bow fort and don't you forget it Yankee scum)


Finally we anchored south of Beaufort about 15 miles down Bogue Sound. We found a nice anchorage in the midst of an ocean wasteland. Then we encountered, for the Second Time, the guy who sails, alone - no surprise, in Ivory Moon. He is New Zealander.

I
n this blog we discuss the result of today's competition in which the question posed was:

What is an appropriate phrase to describe the ignorant kiwi sucking New Zealanders in Ivory Moon who are perennial pains the ass of right thinking North American sailors everywhere who are just trying to anchor their boats


Well, the response in the anchorage was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries.

Mon Ile said 'let's not call them anything, let's just ignore them'

The crew of Agapi said they couldn't think of anything more derogatory or insulting to be called than a New Zealander.

In the end we settled on two choices: this number from our own Budget Committee: those short ugly people with bad teeth and bad breath and all those green kiwi stains on the fronts of their shirts;

The winner was undoubtedly also the Budget Committee who said absolutely nothing but stood on the bow of her boat with her face screwed up waving her arms like an ADD three year old who had used its Ritalin as a suppository on its teddy bear, staring down the Miserable Fat Kiwi Bastards.

Important Literary Note: No boat named in this post actually said anything about the Miserable Fat Kiwi Bastards. We heard them thinking it however.

We do apologize to Monty Python but we are just too tired to make up our own ideas all the time.

New Bern To Be History - No pictures: This Town is Not Worth It.

The skipper escaped the life trogloditic last night about 11:00 p.m. or so he thought.

His work was done.

He left the bilge with all structures constructed, all wires wired and all logic.... well sadly some of the logic, seemingly so important in this day of boolean tables and computing machines, had visited a place where logic is not generally appreciated.

Three days of careful contorted construction and his new autopilot did not work.

He knew it was the final relay. A relay to operate a solenoid that operated a valve. What? Why?

All night the skipper tossed it around in what was left of his brain. Dawn brought a brilliant insight which as with most overnight schemes of brilliance tarnished quickly into a failed leap of faith.

Two more failed fixes and the brow of the skipper resembled a freshly ploughed field, each crease the product of worry and growing concern.

It was enough to cause a man to doubt his general superiority over others of the species.

No terror of the sea had so thoroughly challenged the ingenuity of the skipper. At least at sea he could fake confidence and rely on his boat to bring him home.

He had quite a boat.

This time the jig was up.

Oh. But check the fuses. The second from final fix which was guaranteed to correct everything, restore order to the universe and supremacy to the skipper had blown a fuse. This meant the final fix had yet to be tested.

Could it be?

Meredith leaves New Bern tomorrow and no one on this boat will lament the leaving. What a pompous, boring overstated stop. If it were not cheap it would have no personality at all.

In the meantime we have achieved the following while winds blew and rain pelted other boaters at anchor:

Cleaned the topsides,
fixed numerous blemishes in the teak inside and out
polished the stainless
washed everything in the boat whether it moved or not
installed the new Balmar alternator
troubleshot the Bluesea battery combiner
installed and troubleshot the autopilot.

Quite enough for 5 days. We want to leave - badly enough that we will leave tomorrow even though we have a free night of dockage tomorrow night..

Meredith has never shipped in such shape.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Stuck in New Bern, NC

Well, the last 5 days have been relaxing if nothing else.

Things grew pretty dull after the near alligator sighting on the Alligator Pongo Canal. So we motored for the day and pulled in somewheres when it looked like dark was approaching.

When we went to bed there were two of us anchored. When we woke up there were 8.

We left.

Nothing I hate more than neighbours. Unless they are good neighbours. Never happens.

On the way we hit Pamlico Sound and got it out of the way. We passed Oriental, NC which everyone raves about and which has always left us cold. Uninteresting place with no services other than a good hardware store. We found a better one.

Anticipating a stretch of bad weather we pulled Meredith into a nice little marina in New Bern, NC.

The Sheraton hotel here maintains a marina with full hotel privileges and at very reasonable rates. Weather being forecast at 25 knots, rain for three days and nasties all over we decided to try the marina.

Glad we did.

I took advantage of the time to install the autopilot. Well, it is not really installed yet despite 3 days of hard labour in the bilge. We are close though.

While I was working the bilge the Budget Committee took care of everything else. She washed the decks, glued the floor, touched up some of the toerail, vaccuumed the salon and beat the carpets, polished the stainless cleaned the toilet and went for propane refill.

Every hour or so my head would pop out of the bilge and if the work was still going on my head would pull right back into the bilge. No fool me.

Wind is down tonight (thursday) so we will sea trial the autopilot tomorrow, do the groceries and head out early on Saturday.

We are running for Florida so we can leave the boat and return for Christmas. Yeee Hah!

Skipperbob

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pongo-ing the Alligator


Leaving Elizabeth City at daybreak on October 31 Meredith braved the Albemarle, a required test of nerves before you can enter the Alligator River. The Albemarle is shallow, winds are always 10 knots more than forecast and waves build quickly. While not threatening to competent sailors in decent boats this body of water gives most of us concern for good reason.

Except not on October 31. Winds never reached 5 knots and the water was a flat as...Well, never mind, conditions were flat.

We reached the Alligator River in record time and started down more protected waterway. The day passed quickly. We pulled off the Alligator River just before the Alligator River Bridge to go to the Alligator River Marina for some Alligator River Shrimp and Diesel.

The Alligator River Marina is a perennial favourite of ours. Run by an aging "Miss Wanda" and tended by an aging black "ancient" this marina has fabulous grounds and facilities but never has any boats staying there. The fuel prices are the lowest in the state and here's the best part - they buy fresh shrimp from the local shrimpers and steam it for you while you wait. Fresh steamed shrimp for lunch seemed pretty good to us.

Not that day. The steamer was broken.

Still a full tank of diesel, at $2.79 a gallon compared to $4.52 a gallon in Worton Creek, and we were off.

Quitting early we pulled off the channel at Marker 41 and anchored. Here was the scene when we arrived and an hour later:



















Up at dawn the next day we headed for the Alligator River - Pongo River Canal which perfoms a rather obvious task.

As always Douce Folie V got an early start:















The canal is pretty benign except for numerous deadheads, poisonous snakes, mangrove spikes and of course Alligator River Alligators:




Ok, Maybe there aren't any Alligators in the Alligator River but they didn't call it the Alligator River cause it was full of frogs now did they? There might be alligators. Big man eating alligators with sharp teeth and a penchant for human flesh.




Here you See some of the nearly hidden spikes -
and LOOK AT THAT WAKE: it is the wake of a passing alligator
. I know it for a fact.


My only protection was the Budget Committee. All I could use her for was an hors d'oeuvre, hoping the alligator would take time to savour the morsel while the main course escaped. But the Budget Committee is pretty skinny by now so I had virtually no protection at all.

It was pretty scary let me tell you.

Elizabeth City and Beyond

Well, we made the bridge blocking our path into Elizabeth City. This bridge opens on demand except at rush hour when it opens, at 4:30 p.m. The sun is down by six so you do not miss the last opening.

Anyone reading the last post will know I have my times a bit out of synch but this is what happens when you write from memory.

We were timing our approach to the EC bridge and I could not see how Meredith could make it. Next opening was more than an hour away, the sun was going down and cold was making its ugly presence felt.

The reader will remember that we were at the head of a line of four boats. This gave us leverage with the bridge. I radioed the bridgemaster and voice dripping with honey requested a delay in the opening by 5 minutes to accommodate four more boats. The bridgemaster was no dummy and in turn she radioed the vessels that were already waiting for an opening indicating the delay could be 20 minutes. Seems some people lie about their ETAs when they want to make a bridge.

Go figure.

As luck would have it the two vessels awaiting an opening were the two trawlers I had let pass at the South Creek Lock out of the Dismal Swamp. They both consented to the delay. What sweethearts.

The bridgemaster relayed the mutual agreements to us just as Meredith rounded the bend and came upon the bridge. Exactly on schedule for the 4:30 p.m. opening. I sure hope bridgemasters talk to each other 'cause I may need a favour someday soon.

Now, EC is famous for two things: They have 14 free docks for cruisers, and they put on a free drinks party any night there is more than four boats at the docks.

We made it in time for the drinks party. Steaming into the free docks, engines full ahead, we see standing on the dock, the most wondrous scene: Our very good friends Benoit and Andree from Douce Folie V were standing dockside waving a greeting and waiting to take our lines.

And Tony Sellick from One Day was there to help them.

Winning the lottery must feel like this. We have to be the luckiest people on the planet.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bubble Navigation; Real World Piloting on the Pasquotank River


"What...Do...You...Mean...You don't know which way to turn!"

Not usually a sensitive sort of guy I did pick up on the displeasure of the Budget Committee, my earnest wife, Connie. Our boat Meredith was approaching a fork in the Pasquotank River and my long suffering spouse had just been told that I did not know which branch to take.

Not much turned on the choice: the correct branch took us to a free dock and a wine party in Elizabeth City, the other left us with several hours of trying to break free from the cold muck and buried tree stumps which seem to comprise pretty much all of North Carolina.

We were cold. Night temperatures on the water had been in the mid 30's. It was now 4:30 p.m. and the sun held only another half hour of honest heat.

How Did We Get Here?

Leaving the Dismal Swamp southbound Meredith, along with 6 other boats, was locked down 8 feet at the South Mills Lock. This dumped us in the Pasquotank River, a deep but narrow and twisty river which would carry us to Elizabeth City, NC.

Being a polite guy, who knows that sailors have long memories, I pulled Meredith over and slowed to allow the two trawlers amongst the 7 boats in the locking to pass. As the trawlers passed my wife commented on how filthy the water was: both boats left a frothy wake in the brackish water.

My actions were not as humanitarian as it may sound.

For those who have not been, the Pasquotank River is a waterway with an awful lot of turns in a very short distance. A navigator who would manually plot his boat's position at every turn was the kind of guy so anal he would take his suppositories orally.

This did not describe the pilot of Meredith.

Allowing the trawlers to lead, I reasoned that now I had a guide through the byzantine twists and turns of the Pasquotank. At many points in this river there were tributaries and feeder streams as larger as the river itself.

Everything worked very well for the first two miles. Then the trawlers, travelling at 8 knots to Meredith's 6.5 pulled far enough ahead that we could not keep them in continuous visual contact. Not too worrying though as they were still in view as we exited each bend we would still spy them and regain our visual guide.

Too good to be true you are thinking?

Well of course it was.

As the river widened the turns increased in radius. Finally Meredith came around a final bend to find .. NO TRAWLERS.

And of course A FORK IN THE DAMNED RIVER.

Quick, look at the map and find your ... Forget that. A snakes and ladders game had fewer twists and loops than the Pasquotank.

Not to panic. Just examine the two branches carefully. One of them had to have some physical feature that suggested it as the proper route.

No luck.

Nothing to choose from and the time to do something was approaching rapidly.

Time to admit our situation to the Budget Committee. Oh ignomy. Disgraced before the Budget Committee.

After her initial restrained comment, reported above, in which she so artfully blended both surprise and dismay my wife grew supportive. "Well, we have to do something, and fast. Why don't you slow down?"

"Nope" was the monosyllabic response.

Every sailor reading this will know why I could not slow down. Meredith was first boat out of the lock. We permitted two trawlers to pass for good reason but the other four boats were still behind us. There was no way I could slow my course and admit incompetence to any of those four boats.

The fork loomed large ahead. Feverishly two minds in the cockpit of Meredith addressed the need for navigation input as armageddon bore down on us, or, more correctly I guess, as we bore down on armageddon.

"Bubbles" cried the Budget Committee.

"What?" was my reasoned response.

"Find bubbles" she asserted. "Look for wake residue. There has to be some froth or something".

She took the bow and stood before me, an armless figurehead. "I see it. I see froth."

Her left arm shot out. "Hard to Port".

Some men would have dismissed the whole venture as too outlandish.

I turned to Port. (of course I started out following trawlers, so what did you expect?)

Turning at 6.5 knots Meredith did not successfully fight all the heel in the sharp turn and it was a bit hairy for a second or two. Things hit the floor belowdecks.

More Seconds passed.

We did not hit bottom. No slithering to a dead stop, our full keel encased in North Carolina's finest swamp bottom. No cedar logs chewing away mighty chunks of our fibreglass hull.

When the seconds accumulated to a minute we knew we were on to something. "It works. Keep looking for spittle".

For the next half hour the Budget Committee held the bow and guided us unerringly, one patch of soap suds at at time, to the widening of the river we had been expecting.

Coming into a final turn, approaching a long train bridge with a narrow passageway the vessel behind us surged forward gaining on us, its the crew yelling. We figured they wanted to pass us before the bridge so we slowed to let them. There was not much fight left in us.

"No. No. We don't want to pass." comes from the other boat. "We are following you. But turn on your radio".

Turning the VHF back to 16, from which I had switched to stop the incessant chatter of nitwits disturbing my earlier mental efforts, I was informed that the boat behind had no idea how to navigate the river. They were following us but we were so definite in our navigation that they had telephoned ahead and confirmed that there were free docks for all of us in Elizabeth City. Could we please speed up a bit so they could make the bridge opening?

The captain offered compliments to my "guide" for her unerring navigation. He had been taking his cues from her.

"She is very good" commented the captain. "What signs does your wife find up on the bow to figure out what channel to take?"

I faked radio interference.