Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Captain Curmudgeon and the Budget Committee Sign Off for 2009.

The crew of Meredith returns home for a Christmas break with the family.

While home we will boost our Cuba charting resources and catch up with family, not necessarily in that order.

Once back in Green Cove we will travel south to Vero Beach for provisioning. Then it is off to Cuba either via the Bahamas or from Key West. The Homeland Security position reporting thing has put us off to the point where we do not wish to travel in the former land of the free any longer than necessary. As a result entering the Bahamas is the most likely bet pending change in our attitude.

Merry Christmas. May the New Year find you prosperous and happy.

Capt. C. and BC

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Budget Committee Strikes Back; (sub nom Dutch Volcano Erupts).

December 4, 2009
Green Cove Springs, FL

The best thing about Jacksonville is its Florida Times Union newspaper. Probably the best small market news and editorial content in the entire USA this newspaper's editorials take on all issues large and small and they play hardball.

Much of the rest of the town is a hot and cold sort of thing. An uncultured city it has ambition, in a 1950s American sort of way. Old Jacksonville is rotting away, traveling fast on the road to decay and dereliction. Out of the rubble soar shiny new hygienic monuments of glass, steel and concrete, especially concrete. There are some amazing highway access ramps in this city, all on display downtown. One of these disgorges its automobile effluent downtown at the base of a building "for sale". Sale is unlikely as the 20 story building has a crack big enough to catch a football in the eight lower floors. JAX is juxtaposed.

Jacksonville Landing is a marvellous free dock right downtown capable of mooring 100 boats or more. We were one of three boats. Housing about 50 restaurants none of them offer anything other than standard frozen nuclear chain food. "Wanted: Microwave Chef".

(There is a bakery on the landing, not a chain, that turns out the best peasant bread this side of that little Russian grocery on Staten Island.)

Thursday morning, hitting the tide just right at 8 a.m. Meredith left the Landing and passed through the CSX railroad bridge on the flood. Twenty Five miles of the tedious St. Johns River left us in such a state of ennui we lost the ability to speak. The Hell of the Potomac has been visited upon the South.

Leaving on the leading edge of the flood tide gave us favourable flow all the way to Green Cove Springs. We arrived at 11:00 a.m.

This was when the day started to unravel.

A mooring ball was picked up but not before we ran aground in the mooring field, a problem because we came in on high tide. Once settled we dinghied to shore to register and check out the facilities. The office was closed. The Budget Committee wanted a shower. Washrooms were out of service. Check in took another hour. We went to find the two groups of friends who keep their boat at the facility and discovered had left the day before, one pair to New England and the other to Wales. It started to rain.

We returned to Meredith in descending spirits, settled in and started to read.

A half hour later we could hear a dinghy approach. Water being such a great conductor of sound sailors are always alerted to anchors being weighed, boats departing and dinghies approaching. This dinghy came quite close and circled the boat once and then again. Then the motor slowed and quit. Interesting.

The Budget Committe perked up. Always an optimist and always looking for diversion she moved to the companionway and turtled her head out hoping to find someone wishing to "meet and greet". I stayed below. It was where I belonged in my mood.

Instead of a new sailing companion she met the owner of the boat moored 0n the ball next to Meredith. Standing on his stern he yelled "You are getting a little close aren't you." There is no question mark on this as it was not delivered in the form of a question.

The tone of the exchange was not too promising. I lowered my book and made for the companionway. Exiting I saw Meredith stern to the adjoining boat. Our boats had taken different paths when the tide changed. About 1/2 boat length separated us. Not much at anchor but we were all on mooring balls.

Until that point the decibel level of the conversation rendered individual words unintelligable. That ended.

"Well the marina knows where they put their mooring balls so I assume we are just fine" said the Budget Committee. Trouble was afoot. The tone was strained and the volume at half scream.

"They did not put them in so they don't know anything" said Mr. Petulant. "I'm not asking you to move" he continued "but I was here first".

"Bull" yells BC. "You want us to move we will damn well move. I won't spend another minute beside someone like you." With this BC jumped to the diesel panel, slammed the protective cover up and startled the Beta into operation.

"What the Hell's your problem Lady" screamed Mr. Petulant.

"Problem. It's your problem. I don't like whiny little cowards". Never ask the Budget Committee a direct question. Her Dutch genes render it impossible for her not to answer directly. "You are uptight. I could solve your problem. I have a plank on board. But we don't have a drill bit small enough for you get any friction".

With this she stormee to the bow and started uncleating one of the mooring lines. Loudly.

"That woman is crazy. What is her problem". whined Mr. Pet. The tone was still a bit aggressive but clearly he was taken aback and the volume was a horse whisper.

"I think she told you her problem". I swear I was calm when I said this and sober faced too. "She does not like whiny little cowards. She also thinks you need to get laid but this is unlikely because of your unfortunate penis size". I cannot keep from laughing. My diaphragm is quivering.

"Well You tell her..." started the petulant neighbour.

"Tell her yourself" I said as I turned to the bow and yelled "CONNIE" as loud as I felt I had to.

"WHAT!!!!!" She was so angry she was having trouble uncleating the mooring line and the foredeck was a bit of a hash. She stood up and kicked the line. She was still pissed.

"This guy wants to talk to you" I relayed. As I did so I turned and gestured to the cockpit of the boat behind us.

It was oddly empty. No one in sight. "Nevermind" I finished.

I joined the Budget Committee on the bow and we removed both mooring lines. BC swore she was calm now. I did not believe her.

Meredith drifted back a bit in the gentle tide, and the gap between her and the neighbouring boat was only about 10 feet.

Moving to the cockpit I waited until we were no more than 3 feet off the stern of the other boat. No one appeared in the other cockpit. The point having been made I put Meredith in gear and we moved to the next mooring field to pick up another ball. The Budget Committee stayed on the bow.

As we entered the next mooring field, all part of Green Cove Springs, we passed a steel boat named Anna Lee. In its cockpit, enjoying the show, was a beard with a weathered face and very bright eyes. As we passed him I said "I guess now we know who keeps Anna Lee company". The beard was old enough to know the song.

"Yup" he replied. "I spend a lot of time with her." He smiled. "Otherwise she gets sort of ... interesting". A pause. His smile broadened. "I like interesting women".

Me too, bearded guy, me too.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Meredith Races a Stationary Object

December 3, 2009
Green Cove Springs, FL

Still smarting from the armed invasion of our home by GMIBs (G Men in Black) Meredith and crew carried on up the St. Johns River into Jacksonville. Three hours of seething silence.

The air was fragranced with aromatic burnoff from the endless hectares of petroleum tank farms and petroprocessing plants which comprise the entire south side of this odd city. Nothing subtle about this fragrance JAX stinks worse than Sarnia ever did.

Enroute we weighed competing potentials: our emotional need to escape from the land of the formerly free competing with the money we had committed to flights home that would be lost if we left the country.

We're cruisers. Money won.

4:15 p.m. found us about a mile back of the Main Street bridge, the only bridge on the St. John's River which we needed to open to permit us entry into JAX proper. At 4:30 p.m. the bridge locks down for rush hour and no further openings are allowed until 6. The bridge must start to close no later than 4:27 p.m. It did not seem we would make the bridge so we slowed to search for an anchorage.

As we lost way the bridge operator hailed us on the radio. "Meredith, We cannot start an opening after 4:23" he said. "I do not make the rules but I do have to follow them. If you want an opening you are going to have to move".

I firewalled the Beta, our trusty diesel, and replied "Affirmative bridgemaster. We are full ahead. Understood if we don't make it we will have to turn off."

The diesel pinned at 2800, Meredith making 8 knots in the water, 5 and a bit on land due to the tide and river current and a 15 knot headwind, we steamed for Main Street. Bits of foam comprised of 20 illegal pollutants drained by industry into the poor St. Johns river flew off our bow wave - and our stern wave!!!! We were totally toxic man.

Totally forgotten were the goons in black.

Yes, yes, yes. But the bridge: it was going to be very very close.

"Meredith" came the call. "I'm going to start an opening now so you can hit the span at full speed. It's not how I'm supposed to do it but I want to see this. You have to judge and if you can't do make it you tell me cause I will close on your mast if you aren't through."

The wind on the bow died to zero. We hit the gap with the bridge still rising. With our mast mid span we called the bridgemaster and advised we were clear. No second to waste he spit out "YUP" and the klaxons burped the closing warning.

"Main Street Bridgemaster that was the most fun we've had all week. Thanks from Meredith"

"Meredith when are you coming back down? I want to be here."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BOARDED!!! And In The Wrong

December 1, 2009
Jacksonville Florida Reeducation Camp for Foreign Sailors

This is a personal account. For independent verification see the cruisers' resource site www.noonsite.com.

After Cuba, the USA has the most repressive treatment of foreign cruisers in all of North and Central America. Maybe all of the Americas but I have not checked South America yet.

This fact was driven home with prejudice aboard Meredith yesterday. We were boarded by agents of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). We were not properly documented.

Under the Homeland Security Rules once a boat enters the USA from a foreign country the master must report to CBP every change of location or place.

Every time you move your boat the rules say you must call and inform the government. Without delay. Meredith did not do this.

Most Canadian boats do not comply with this rule. This is not out of willing ignorance of the rules but out of genuine confusion as to what the rules are. We know from experience that if you try to report you often cannot find a phone number to call. If you do reach a number the telephone head answering same often has no idea why you are calling and can even grow angry at your wasting of their valuable time.

Confusion amongst Homeland Security Border staff is so bad many boats enter the US without proper papers because the border guys, most of whom are friendly and trying to be helpful, don't know what to issue. One couple we travel with does not even have a Cruising Permit. When they crossed the border they were told they did not need one. This couple, one a bank auditor and the other a school principal, do not violate any law ever. Truly I hope they are not boarded.

Until now the USA has not enforced the reporting rules.

Well, there has been a change in the sea state baby. This country we are in just got unfriendly in a big way.

How big is the change? Well there are now convictions for failing to report in Maine and Florida. I In a case before the Florida courts at present a boat was charged with failure to report because they moved from one marina to another in the same city but failed to immediately call CBP.

Penalties are $5,000 for the first offence, $10,000 for each additional. I am sure that if they can prove you stopped 4 times enroute that constitutes 4 separate offences although no such case has come to my attention.

CBP Patrol boats are prowling the major inlets full time stopping every foreign flagged boat, vetting papers and making sure each boat has been reporting to the local SS, I mean USS detachment.

Yesterday was Meredith's turn. As I said like most Canadian boats we have not been reporting.

As we approached the junction of the ICW and the St. John's River a powerboat containing 4 agents of the CBP approached from our stern in the middle of the river. They may be government agents but forgive us for thinking of them as little better than armed thugs: four men dressed in flak jackets all wearing full wrap MIB sunglasses, hands resting on gleaming sidearms.

Boarding us they spent 30 minutes copying down every bit of information from every piece of paper on the boat. Polite but humourless (use of a "u" in this post may expose me to additional penalties for unamerican activity) when these guys finished with the paperwork they elected to grill us personally. Polite but firm.

It was insulting and unpleasant. And damned well unnecessary.

Their country, their rules.

There is no recourse. If we don't like their rules we can leave.

Meredith will remain here over the holiday. Flights are booked and mooring contracted. On our return we will leave this country. The rules are unacceptable to us and we choose not to live under them.

You might think it a loss to the US economy if large numbers of Canadians fail to populate their waterways. I mean Meredith has spent over $40K this year alone and we make no demand on any services.

US sailors are decent people and we have made many friends amongst them. Sadly the sailors do not make or enforce the rules.

Since I began writing this the Customs and Border Patrol boat which rousted us has cruised slowly past Meredith three times. It sickens me. If you are a foreigner in this country it is a hostile place.

Last night on arriving in Jacksonville Meredith called to report our arrival. There is no number listed for Jacksonville so we called Fernandina Beach CBP. When a machine answered we left our details and phone number. No return call. We called Cape Canaveral CBP. A machine answered, we left message and phone number; no return call. Called West Palm Beach CBP. Got a machine and a recorded message. Machine did not take messages.

The guys that boarded us cruised by late last evening and we hailed them. Informing them of our unsuccessful attempts to report we asked them what the hell we were supposed to do. They, all four, looked at the deck of their boat. Nothing was offered up. I asked what the Jacksonville phone number was. One said that they had about 20 numbers and you could not find it anyway. I again asked what the number was and after an extended delay one guy offered up what he thought was the local information number.

The gun toting drug smuggling terrorists aboard Meredith have now fully informed the USA of our intentions. The phone call, when we were able to find someone to take the information, was another 20 minutes repeating all of the information the CBP boat copied down earlier: Boat registration number, passport numbers, cruising permit number, how long would we be in Jacksonville, where had we come from, where were we going.

We now have this to look forward to every day we remain here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dithering Away In Cumberland Land

November 29, 2009
Cumberland Island GA

Cumberland Island is very famous. For what I am not so sure but I am sure that every cruiser we meet tells us how wonderful it is.

Until now Meredith has been able to resist the somatic properties of that opiate of the herd: conformity. No longer. Today Winston Smith finds his desperate little bar a bit more crowded. Make mine Victory Gin. A double.

Cumberland Island is a very large national park located just south of Brunswick GA.

It is also adjacent to the ultra secret Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Repair Facility close to St. Marys Ga. Warnings abound about the need to avoid entering the waters constituting the grounds of the facility. Here, we are told the guards shoot first and don't bother with the questions.

Kings Bay works hard in the unending efforts of the local government to keep the world free of all political interference save US political interference. It also keeps our water nicely active on the Geiger scale.

Apparently there are wild horses living on this island. I know this because the Island's brochure tells me where to drive so I can see them. It may just be me but I find something quizzically paradoxical about being carried to observe former beasts of burden in the very machine that obviated the need for said beasts existence.

Like Edsels horses just won't go away.

The Budget Committee, loving all things furry and still nurturing a life long love affair with horses, is looking forward to it. Which means I will enjoy it too. A bit curmudgeonly perhaps and certainly at the greatest vicarious and physical distance from the beasts as possible.

No gin on the boat I will have to numb my senses with a double rum and whatever. But not until I have changed the oil on something first.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Still Going Nowhere

November 27, 2009
St. Marys, GA

Thanksgiving has long passed. Meredith has not moved.

We have 2 1/2 weeks to make 60 nm so there is no pressure to do anything. Temperatures in the low 60s during day and mid 30s overnight have us pinned in St. Marys.

Our destination for Christmas is Green Cove Springs, a working yard situate 30 miles up the St. John's River at Jacksonville. As a place to leave Meredith it had the overriding virtue of being well priced. Also a number of our friends keep their boats at the yard and we are intrigued to "check it out".

The crowd of boats attending Thanksgiving this year is about half gone. Fewer people visited this year than last. It is unlikely we will be in the area again for a decade. If we do find ourselves close we will not rush to reattend.

One reason to avoid the popular anchorages is so you can avoid the "organizers". In North America much of the cruising population is retirement age and, although they make their way to seemingly exotic locales such as the Bahamas, this group is largely sedentary. The Abacos marinas are full of boats on 3 or 4 month leases.

Wherever people coagulate you find the "organizers". There is a little PTA (Home and School Association for Canadians) in every sailing community. The members arrange social events. Partly it is done to occupy idle time. Partly it is done to provide contact with people off the boat.

There is a darker purpose too I suspect. Human organizations provide structure: rank is granted and power distributed. It is fun listening in on the "cruisers net" in popular anchorages to the machinations of the social ladder climbers fighting for position on committees to plan races, hold drinks parties or whatever. A very rigid pyramid of power exists and all who participate are working (or fighting) their way to the top.

It is all so IBM.

The rest of us benefit from the events which materialize with no effort from us. Mostly the events are enjoyable and we are appreciative if somewhat distainful of the process and its participants.

When two clots (groups of coagulated corpses) encounter one another there is competition and struggle for dominance. Last year the St. Marys Yacht Club was intimately involved in the Thanksgiving. They were offering to organize wireless internet for boaters; they gave rides to boaters bussing scores of us to local stores.

This year we were informed curtly that the St. Marys Yacht Club was no longer involved in any way. There had been a falling out. Some Yacht Club members were helping the "Committee" but the Yacht Club had nothing to do with thanksgiving. Full Stop.

We did not pursue the matter but it sort of looks like the transient "organizers" have wrested control of a years old event away from the permanent residents. No doubt this is perceived to be a major triumph by someone.

We suspect it merely heralds the decline and ultimate fall of the event. You best get here while you still can. It is fun.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Does Size Matter? Three Boats

St. Marys, GA November 24, 2009

Align CenterSunrise, St. Augustine

Meredith arrived in St. Marys late yesterday in anticipation of this community's annual celebration of American Thanksgiving for sailors. The town puts on a full Thanksgiving dinner for all visiting cruisers every year. It started this out of sympathy for cruisers who were separated from their families at this time of year.

It has grown into a week long celebration: nightly happy hour at Seagle's Hotel hosted by barkeep Cindy the Porn Queen, boater's swap meet, daily drinks parties put on by various visiting cruisers and townfolk. It is a lot of fun.

With only eating, drinking and partying going on there is not much sailing stuff to write about. Today I look at Boat Size. Does Size Matter? Here are 3 boats at or under 30 feet.

How Big a Boat Do You Need?

No one sailing from Ontario into Florida will ever have a big enough boat to compare to the locals. Down here retired farmers buy new 45 foot boats for weekend sailing. No one we know will ever have a boat big enough to make even the second tranche of the size awards.

The question is: what is the minimum size of boat you need to cruise the Caribbean? Here are three boats all under 30 feet covering a wide range of initial investment.

Serenity: 1969 Columbia 27. Investment $10,000 maybe

Sailed by Chas Serenity left Norfolk headed for Bahamas. Bryce was a passenger who paid Chas a small fee to teach him about offshore sailing. Bryce got a full lesson and then some.

Serenity or
What's Left of Her
Lands in St. Augustine

About 160 nautical miles offshore this intrepid pair ran into unexpected weather: 50 knot winds and 30 foot seas. The 27 foot Columbia handled beautifully in these overwhelming conditions. The boys did admit that that standing sideways in the cockpit for 3 hours at a stretch with the keel out of the water from heeling grew a bit tiresome. Chas: "After the 3rd or 4th knockdown you learn the boat really is going to come back upright and then everything is ok".

Sure it was Chas.

After a day of sailing at a 60 degree angle of heel the sails blew out. The boys started the engine and headed for land.

In the business of sailing when your string of bad luck looks like its turning around you just did not look closely enough. Serenity's prop shaft found an interminably long fishing line which snaked around the shaft choking the life out of the engine. Waves and wind were so fierce they were afraid to go over the side to cut the line off.

Serenity found and foundered on a shoal. For 24 hours these two guys sat on their boat and were bashed onto the shoal.

Conditions improved enough to allow them to dive on the shaft and cut the fishing line free. Once again they headed for safety of land. They ran out of fuel.

Here is what we helped land at the dock:

Connie talks to Bryce and Chas about their Harrowing Experience



The genoa was tatters, the main was torn in half, the headstay was broken and the mast seemed to be held up by the foil from the furling.

The boat was late 1960's with no improvements or upgrades. Sails may have been original and are being replaced with used sails from Sailor's Exchange in St. Augustine. Nothing seems to have been done to this boat since it was new.

But the boat, a 27 foot 35 year old poorly maintained Columbia, kept them safe and saw them home.

Whisper: 1972 C&C 30 Investment $25 - 35,000 (my guess)

Victor and Marilyn are a pair of septuagenarians out of Green's Harbour, Nfld. ('If you can say underSTAND you can pronounce NewfoundLAND' says Vic). We met them as they sailed into St. Augustine harbour. They waved to us as they passed the stern. The Budget Committee is an inveterate waver and so we had to visit.

Victor owned the Home Hardware store in Green's Harbour until he retired and sold out. In anticipation of retiring he started sailing and bought the C & C 30. Victor found ocean racing and took it on with a passion and Marilyn was quick to tell us that no one wanted to be on the boat when Victor started giving orders: especially her sister, "poor dear, she nearly dieeeed of mortification and apoplexy and her only just out of therapy the poor little thing"

Victor repowered installing a small diesel in place of the old Atomic 4 fitting to the original C&C's. Then he took the rudder off and studied it. Not liking the design at all he built his own rudder with "stainless tabs that run right to the hind end. Even if my rudder falls away I still has a rudder" says Victor.

Not satisfied with the internal layout Victor redesigned his C&C and then came down to Ontario to talk to George Cuthbertson, designer of his boat and one of the Cs, specifically about what Victor saw to be the shortcomings. George and Victor got on famously.

Everything on the boat is made by Victor. The cockpit table is a pine plank which Vic and Marilyn have varnished into a piece of furniture. Unadorned save for the varnish it is a clever cockpit table and then some. It fits the narrow space beautifully. Likewise the rest of the boat has been reconstructed by Vic using materials at hand - no expert carptentry, no electronic wizardry - just careful attention to the job at hand by determined amateurs.

For our friends back in Bayfield: Victor knows Jake very well and discussed design of the Bayfield line with Jake at length. Vic told me a bit of the story behind Jake's own Bayfield "For Sale".

Victor and Marilyn are headed for Cuba and sadly will leave before us. Marilyn had a little notebook full of all the stuff she had gleaned from all the cruisers she met along the way and it was a compendium of knowledge all of it accurate according to the bits we had researched. Our research found itself sadly lacking in the presence of Marilyn's unrelenting questions.

We would have had a much better time with them as companions.

Babykiller B: Bertram 30, investment - I won't guess online but more than a base 6 figure amount.

Frequent readers will be familiar with Babykiller B and its unique owners, Randy and Donna. The Bertram was not designed as a cruising boat. But Randy liked the attributes of the Bertram, starting with its design philosophy and build quality.

Randy knows power boats. He wanted a quality built efficient design with proven speed and comfortable layout. Randy likes his creature comfort and Donna utters faint protest. Sometimes the protest is actually mute. Donna loves the boat and approves of its enhancement by Randy.

The Bertram is an offshore fishing boat fast and pretty stable. It's twin 370 hp Cummins diesels bring it to a comfortable cruise of 25 knots burning only 15 gallons an hour which is exceptional.
Randy likes to go fast as well.

The Bertram is not in its native form a comfortable living platform. It is a fishing shack that floats: one room with as much space devoted to freezers for fish as for living for humans.

Randy started with this and removed the offensive bits left by prior owners who were fishermen. The rusted fridge was turfed, the cushions sterilized the carpeting removed and replaced. New canvas, air conditioning, new LED lighting, new sound system (2 actually), high capacity inverter/charger, second battery bank, 25 inch flat screen tv, electric induction stovetop and a latte machine all followed.

This boat is a palace.

He kept the outriggers - those long pole things that fishermen use to keep their lines in place 10 or 15 meters from the side of the boat. Neither he nor Donna fish.

It is Randy's custom to hide the boat's true nature (and the nature of everything else he owns). To the casual observer Babykiller is an ok Bertram 30 fishing boat, certainly nothing special down here.

So: What's the Point

These 3 boats are all under 30 feet in length. Each boat is now in Florida and all headed for Cuba and/or the Bahamas.

Each boat is truly unique as are their owners and the three of them cover a broad spectrum of required investment.

The point I guess is that it does not take a big boat to do this stuff. It takes a sailor. If you really just don't want to do it you will never have a boat big enough or sufficiently well equipped. If you want to do it you just go. Recalling Serenity my advice to those who are not sure if they want to go cruising is not to.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Someone Stole our Dinghy and Outboard!!!!

St. Marys, GA (GA - FL border)
November 24, 2009

The St. Augustine sun peeked through through the companionway and introduced itself to the galley and salon. It being 6:45 a.m. my bleary eyes mistook this as more of a full bore home invasion.

Consciousness having thus been thrust upon us our day began. It was to be a busy one. The new genoa from Doyle had proved itself and we had two old foresails to dispose of. Final shopping needed doing before we left St. Augustine and showers were also on the agenda.

This all had to be done before noon as our dinghy landing permission and shower access privileges expired then. At $10 a day you do not want to incur additional landing fees. Doing so would be enough to make you spend another day in St. Augustine.

Completing our daily ablutions we selected and donned suitable garb from the extensive wardrobe in our walk in closet (also known as our VBerth). We then dug out the overstuffed sail bags containing our old sails and threw them out the companionway ahead of us. Preparations in hand we emerged to challenge the day.

Stepping to the starboard rail to dump the first sail overboard and into the dinghy it was impossible not to notice that there was no dinghy to do the receiving.

Nothing gets your blood pumping like finding ocean where your dinghy is supposed to be.

Naturally enough we were galvanized into action. (An odd use of the term galvanized when you consider the nautical environment shreds galvanizing like lettuce in a grater). We carefully looked for and aft along the entire starboard side. All that was left of our dinghy and its 50 foot painter was a 20 foot length trailing in the Atlantic off our starboard side in the very strong St. Augustine current.

First thought running was that the dinghy painter had separated and the dinghy carried away in the very strong current. This thought was formulated in aid of human kindness. It was also a natural extension of the operating principle on Meredith that when a system fails the first thing you check is the last thing you "fixed" on that system.

A few days earlier the Budget Committee had been bothered by the squeaking noise made when the dinghy rubbed against the topsides of Meredith in the strong St. Augustine current. Ever the helpful mate I tied a new loop to extend our dinghy painter. When I did so I noticed the old loop looked a bit worn around its strain points so I untied it and "freshened the nip".

Past experience indicated that incompetence was a likely player and that the painter was in worse condition than I had thought.

We scanned the horizon with the binoculars looking in the direction of the current to see if our dinghy could be spotted. A calmer mind would have realized that since we did not know when the dinghy escaped its tether we had no idea which way the tide was running at the time of escape. We did not have any idea where to look.

In fairness we were a bit stunned at finding our dinghy gone. It is a very odd emotion let me tell you.

Our kind view of human nature was dashed when we pulled in the 20 foot remainder of our dinghy painter and examined its end. It was clean cut. No frayed end or pulled fibers. This end had been cut clean.

Damn. Someone had come up in the night and taken our dinghy and its outboard away.

Disheartened now we called the marina in a "what the heck" gesture to see if anyone had spotted a loose dinghy and reported it. No such luck. The marina did give us the phone number for the St. Augustine police so we could report the theft. Now there is no useful purpose served by phone the police in a matter such as this because the police are too busy working on important matters to take an interest. When you think about it what can they do?

You need a police report number before you can file an insurance claim and so you must waste the police department's time to satisfy your insurer.

St. Augustine police dispatcher was sympathetic but explained we would have to pull into the municipal marina and call again before they would dispatch an officer. The police report was going to cost us money because St. Augustine marina charges $4 an hour for temporary dockage. Nothing we could do about that.

I started the diesel in preparation to weigh anchor and move from our nice anchorage to the marina to tend to unpleasant business. The Budget Committee and I were still a bit numb from the whole thing and we were working in a fog.

The Budget Committee worked her way forward on deck to the windlass switches and I put the diesel in slow forward to take the strain off the windlass caused by tidal current. Connie started to wave her arms and yell although I could not hear a thing she said. What calamity had befallen us now was the general thought in my head.

The Budget Committee was not moving to weigh anchor so whatever the problem was it was big. I moved forward to help. My wife was not making sense but whether this was her impaired delivery of language or my impaired receipt of same was not apparent.

Arriving at the bow I shared her breakdown.

Wrapped around the anchor rode was our dinghy.

When I had tied the new loop I ensured the painter would be long enough to float the dinghy well astern of Meredith to avoid the squeaking. Seemingly I had also ensured the painter would be long enough to float the dinghy well forward of the bow. During the night an odd confluence of wind and current found Meredith pointing one way the dinghy being pushed the other. The dinghy was floating forward of Meredith.

When the tide and wind rationalized the dinghy came along side the port side of our boat and got its painter tangled in the anchor rode. The dinghy was pinned at the front end of the boat on the wrong side. It had been pulled very hard in the current and its painter was taut and hidden under the toerail of Meredith with extends a lip over the side. The20 feet of line which had been "cut" was the other end of the original painter and it had indeed been cut - by me when I bought the line at West Marine.

Reflecting we were happy that our first reaction was to suspect our own incompetence and not the failure of human nature. It was good to have given our species the initial benefit of the doubt and to have had that inclination be proved correct.

How depressing is it for the future of our race that our initial suspicion - human incompetence was not only correct but compounded so thoroughly in the process.

Just another day in paradise.

The end was not frayed. The painter had not parted under strain or stress.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

St. Augustine? Why the Devil Did We Come Here?

St. Augustine, FL
November 15, 2009

Sitting out five days of rain in Beaufort left us a bit eager to put in some distance. When the remnants of Ida finally departed taking with them the cold and the rain it was time for Meredith to Head 'Em Up and Move 'Em Out.

This was too bad as we had anticipated enjoying Beaufort, always a favoured stop, for a few days and even getting some labour intensive work done.

Lady's Island Bridge which separates Factory Creek from downtown Beaufort opens at 7 a.m. and not again until 9 a.m. Eager travellers were up and off by 7, not so Meredith. Our intention was to slip out of the waterway at Royal Island Sound and run outside to St. Simon Sound where we would reconnect with the ICW and anchor in the Fredericka River. We look forward to a day or two in the Fredericka River, just North of Brunswick GA.

Winds were forecast light - 15 knots out of the North West declining to 10 knots over the afternoon. Waves were to be 2 - 4 feet. It is a short trip Beaufort to Brunswick, not more than 24 hours and you have to keep your speed down to stretch it to this. The reason you want to keep your speed down is so you do not arrive at St. Simon Sound in the dark - never a good time to try to enter an unknown inlet from the ocean. Arriving in the dark meant we would have to waste turning circles in the black water from our time of arrival until daylight.

A light wind gave us a slow speed and with a late departure we calculated we were in good order to make Brunswick GA in daylight.

Tide was with us as we ran the section of the Beaufort River from Beaufort to the Sound at 8 to 10 knots. You begin to get an idea of the effect of tides - we set the throttle to an engine speed that should have delivered 6 knots and we sat back and enjoyed 8 to 10.

Getting into the Atlantic we started with a nice 13 knot breeze from the starboard quarter driving us along at an acceptable 4.2 knots. The waves were magnificent - 6 feet not four but travelling on a six second period - nice long slow waves pushing us along. Sadly the waves were off the port quarter, nearly the port beam.

Still all was looking great for an afternoon of comfortable sailing, just what we wanted to check out our new headsail.

As the day wore on the wind did not fall so much as collapse. When the actual wind hit 7 knots we hauled in the headsail and I set up the gennaker. Gennakers are special very large very lightweight sails designed for light wind. Slightly easier to sail than a spinnaker the gennaker is still a pain to set up. So what else do you have to do when you are 1/4 of the way done a 24 hour sail? Quit your bitching.

Just as I finished tying the after guy on the whisker pole (used to hold the sail out as far as possible to catch wind) the wind finished its decline. It had to. It had hit zero.

Boat speed was .5 knots, all of it attributable to the steady southbound near shore current which affects much of southern North America.

Patiently we bobbed in the ocean enjoying the tremendous view - nothing in sight in any direction. How else do you wait when there is nothing you can do. Bobbing is much more pleasant without a six foot wave pounding your boat every six seconds. Or we presume it would be.

Thirty minutes and we realized we would have to use the other sail we keep in reserve: our trusty diesel.

We reversed our work on the gennaker, stowed all the loose gear and cranked up the Beta.

Now we were going too fast to make Brunswick after dark (it is not healthy for a diesel to be run at low speed or under light load for very long) so we looked at the charts, closed our eyes and pointed.

St. Augustine it was. Just far enough. We arrived for the 9 a.m. opening of the Bridge of Lions.

Our dilemma now is what to do next. We are leaving Meredith at Green Cove Springs which is North of St. Augustine so we will backtrack to Jacksonville and up the St. Johns River. Enroute we will likely extend our Northerly venture to include a day at Fernandina Beach and a d
lengthy lavover at St. Marys, Ga over the Thanksgiving break.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

Beaufort, SC
November 12, 2009

On a coastal cruise the nice thing about rain is that it is not often accompanied by strong wind. I am talking about rain here not spittle blown at gale force off the top of waves whether fore or aft.

Anchored in Factory Creek just outside of downtown Beaufort we have been pinned aboard Meredith by unrelenting precipitation, fallout from former weather threat Ida. No safety issues here just a desire to remain dry. We were however thankful that we were not traveling the waterway in the constant and fairly cool gravity driven H2O.

All that changed last night when the rain stopped.

The wind picked up. Strong wind running 20 knots before dark. The velocity only increased with the deepening evening gloom. Ever notice how deepening gloom intensifies the sensation of imminent doom.

It was a long night for the Budget Committee. All night she sat anchor watch in the cold blowing dark. She remembers the 1 night in 5 years of cruising that we dragged. This singular occasion cemented in her mind our frailty and our exposure to disaster in the face of wind while at anchor. My woman does not sleep if the wind is up.

Last night she sat alone.

I remember the 1 night in 5 years of cruising that we dragged. I figure if we did it right 1500 times and only missed one night then the odds are with me. My sleep is rarely impaired by application of wind. Add a quirky anchor set before the wind or a little wave action and you have my attention.

If you do not perceive a threat to be real you are poorly armed to do battle.

Last night I found myself a pacifist.

Not being totally without feeling I would periodically rise from my slumber and offer to "take a watch". This would allow my beloved to catch an hour or two of much needed rest. The Budget Committee refused throughout the night, suspicious that the instant she found sleep in the nice warm berth I would fall asleep on the settee.

The Budget Committee knows me too well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Beaufort SC
November 11, 2009

THE RAIN BANGED reveille on the forward hatch above Meredith at five o'clock as always...

The low pressure area formerly known as Tropical Depression Ida did not leave cleanly. In its wake has been 2 1/2 days of solid overcast skies with "90% POP". Naturally this is the forecast that NOAA gets right.

Rain continued in hard patches through our first night, through much of yesterday afternoon and all of last night. We had a nice break during the early day yesterday.

A nice day meant boat work. Laundry was taken ashore and tended to while we enjoyed breakfast at the Huddle House restaurant and then shopping at the Grayco Hardware.

Back at the boat the Budget Committee tore apart the forward berth and went to work eliminating 100 days of accumulated dust from cushions and duvet. Meanwhile I tore down the windlass, gave its myriad parts a good fresh water bath, cleaned about 5 lbs of accumulated grease and dirt from the creases and crevasses, regreased and reassembled everything.

Only the renewed rainfall saved me from tackling the main halyard winch and the cockpit winches which are due for the same maintenance teardown. Connie looks forward to polishing the stainless and removing the brown spots which just refuse to stop growing on our pulpit and pushpit.

On our first night at anchor in Factory Creek we watched in a downpour as the rain overwhelmed the battery driven bilge pump on the derelict hull moored behind Meredith. Maybe the battery just died. Anyway night before last the derelict sunk to the gunwales.

As I finished rebuilding the windlass the owner of this newest member of the submarine fleet arrived. He was dressed for work wearing white shrimp boots, a torn old lumberjack shirt, a pony tail and a beard that reached halfway down his chest.

He went to work in his aluminum boat trying to push his sunken vessel out of the channel and into a neighbouring slough. Here it would be supported during the next low tide (tides here are 8 feet +/-). In this way he explained, the hull would beach and drain on the falling tide and he could plug the leaks. Forward progress of the hulk was slow, almost nonexistent. This seemed consistent with the prior history of this hull.

When I finished with the windlass I offered my 10hp dinghy to supplement the 15 attached to his aluminum skiff. The poor man was having a great deal of difficulty getting his hull to move. I assumed this was because it was resting on the bottom but, no, in fact the man had anchored his boat at the bow and had not loosened the rode before attempting to motor ahead. His anchor held. The boat went nowhere.

Once the rode was loosened the two of us deftly tugged the flotsom into the empty slough. As we worked the man talked.

"There is no loss here" he explained. "I was given this boat and it was sunk then. I know boats and this boat will be a fine vessel again one day". He then launched into a lengthy lecture on his family history.

Between bursts of power to respective outboards as we worked the errant hull into its mud drydock I was treated to a full history of the south bank of Factory Creek. This land had, in more prosperous times, been owned by the family of the man I was working with. His grandfather owned the land that now housed the marina and his father ran a fish processing plant and railway on the land beside that.

Finally the boat was satisfactorily positioned. The rain started up again in earnest and I made my apologies and headed home.

When I left the owner, a witty ponytailed long bearded fellow of 60 years or so, was sitting in the pilot house of his vessel in the pouring rain waiting for lower tide so he could "plug the sink." He explained: "It's under water right now and I can't get the water to stop coming in".

Arriving back at Meredith Connie and I went below to wait out the rain. My new acquaintance, a witty ponytailed long bearded fellow of 60 years or so, was sitting alone in the pilot house of his vessel in the pouring rain waiting for lower tide. He had to "plug the sink." he explained. "It's under water right now and I can't get the water to stop coming in".

We did not re emerge until this morning. This is what we saw:


Bobbing spiffily in the water behind us, back on its mooring ball, was the hulk. None the worse for its experience. I am going to suggest its owner name it "Destry".

This guy's family fortune had suffered but not its spirit. If rugged individualism and sheer stick to itiveness means anything in this world that old guy will recover the hull and restore it and his family honour to full lustre.

If only there were enough years left for me to see the day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Water for Elephants

Beaufort SC November 10, 2009

Anchoring in Wapoos Creek, just south of Charleston SC, was deliberate for more than just the protected solitude and proximity to Piggly Wiggly. The anchorage is also below the Wapoos bridge which separates Charleston from the ICW south. Wapoos bridge is closed from 6:30 a.m to 9:00 a.m. daily. Traffic is closed for any vessel more than a few meters tall.

Beaufort is a one day 75 statute mile run from Charleston - but only if you can start at daylight. All conditions being in our favour yesterday this is exactly what we did. If you are interested in what the right conditions are I have some commentary at the end.

We were away at 6:30 a.m. and our departure was clean. Meredith owned the water - we were alone to commune with nature and the occasional crab fisher. Soon enough the first traffic from the 9 a.m. opening of the Wapoos bridge was on our tail. Only the powerboats of course.

The first boat to pass us was a monstrous 40 + Nordic Tug. Normally a compact little trawler type boat this vessel had been transformed into a monster. Its portholes had dainty little window coverings, two adirondack chairs were situate on the aft deck. Bicycles, generator, canvas coverings on everything. This boat had everything except a little patch of turf on the upper deck with lawnmower standing by so the captain could participate in the Suburban Saturday morning ritual.

And what did the owners of this ponderously overstuffed plastic pachyderm name their tub? Why the name was "Footloose". "Footloose". From what had these people cut themselves loose? We were surprised they were not dragging a 4 wheel drive jeep behind them in a little barge.

The name was somewhat aristocratic if you catch my drift - almost debonaire.

Footloose merely led the circus parade of plastic pachyderms. Over the course of six hours we must have been passed by fifty trawlers, sportfishers and picnic boats. All boats that could and should have been on open water but who, like Meredith, found good reason not to.

About 4:30 p.m. as we approached Beaufort rain started. We anchored in Factory Creek in a torrential downpour, stripped off our wet clothes and sat and watched while the derelict boat behind us sank slowly into the mud.

It seemed entertaining to us.

Tomorrow we get long hot showers.

What were the Right Conditions?

When I say all conditions were in our favour I meant this:

1. We had a fair tide to pass through the Elliot's Cut. This cut joins two rivers and if the tide is ebbing the current in the cut is ferocious. As it was we transited the cut 1/2 hour before ebb tide was done and the current was still 2.5 knots against us.

Here's the Bird's Eye View:

2. We would be travelling on the top half of the tide through all the potential low water spots on the ICW.

Much concern is expressed by sailors new to the ICW about depth of water. In Georgia and South Carolina most of the tidal swing is 7 to 8 feet. Even a boat with 7 foot draft can find water to travel the ICW so long as it limits itself to the top half of the tide. At half tide there is the charted depth plus 4 feet of tide under your keel. At full flood tide there is charted depth plus 8 feet of tidal water under the keel. How much water do you need?

If you make sure you travel on half tide rising you will find on the ICW in any North American production boat.

Why Take the ICW Instead of Going Outside?

It is far faster to take the ICW from Charleston to Beaufort. The trip is 75 miles via ICW and probably 125 if you go outside. This is true of almost every one day trip on the ICW - the coastal route is longer. The reason is the distance you must travel out the inlet (I am aware of the juxtaposition of terms but this is how we talk down here). It is two hours to get out Charleston Harbour and the same at Beaufort. But the inlet at Beaufort is several miles south of town so after completing the entry you must backtrack along the ICW. So for short trips the ICW is the way to go.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Byline, Schmyline

I am not going to say where I am for fear I get it wrong again
November 8, 2009

So yesterday I bragged about knowing what day it was. Seemed like a triumph to me.

Sadly my confidence got the better of me and I did not verify my location. In fact I believe I am in South Carolina, not in Virginia. There is a Charleston just about everywhere, including Maryland as we found out this evening. The Charleston near to which we are located is in South Carolina.

Tomorrow we leave for Beaufort. I know this because the Budget Committee told me. She did not say and I did not ask what state we would end up in.

You will have to figure it out for yourself because I am apparently incapable. Maybe the chartplotter knows where I am?

Liberte, Fraternite & Etouffe - It is All in the Attitude

Charleston, VA
November 8, 2009

At the request of a friend I have started typing in a byline on the posts. Surprisingly it helps me keep track of what day it is - Today is November the 8th. It is a Sunday. I know this because I pulled up the calendar on my computer. It is a good thing to keep current.

We are anchored outside of Charleston, VA in a very tiny waterway called Wapoos Creek. We prefer it to the choppy windblown open anchorage selected by most cruisers which is located just outside the Charleston City Marina

City Fathers, or maybe just the bureaucrats who run things marine in the City of Charleston, have decided to discourage cruisers from visiting or staying in their city. A field of low cost mooring balls was cleverly eliminated a few years ago after a storm required all the moorings be removed and "tested" for integrity. It turned out integrity was indeed at issue and the moorings have never reappeared. This was followed by the City removing the bus stop which was located right outside the marina office. It is only two blocks away now but try to get someone at the marina to tell you where it is. Finally we called yesterday to see if we could buy a shower - pay $5 to use the washrooms. The girl on the phone, who had the usual put upon voice of any entrenched government worker, explained that they used to do that but the sailors abused it so they stopped. Having spent my life working with the ever extending tentacles of government I did not pursue the matter. As if she gave a damn if she even made sense.

The advantages of our anchorage is that it is protected and usually deserted. It is also only a 1/2 mile walk to the local Piggly Wiggly staffed with the friendliest people in the world. This is not a one off experience as we have enjoyed shopping there for 5 years now.

The disadvantage is that it is about a 2 mile dinghy ride to the closest landing point allowing us to see the city of Charleston. Even this is not a drawback however and forms the basis for today's blog:

On the longish ride to the City marina we musta pass through the anchorage. No cruiser can dinghy through an anchorage without checking out all the boats looking for old friends and likely boats to approach in the search for new contacts.

Luck rode the dinghy with us yesterday and we came up on Attitude, out of Montreal known to us from a couple of good days spent together in the Dismal. Attitude is crewed by Allen, Natalie and Allen's ten something son from his first marriage, Felix. Felix is trying very hard to learn English although his English is better than my French.

Allen used to operate the largest Petro Pass in Quebec, 5th largest in Canada. He sold out when he realized the stress was killing him faster than he wanted to die. With the proceeds of sale he bought a house in the south of France and a nice place just north of Montreal. Then he was looking to buy a spot in the Islands. A nice little triangle anchored by real estate at all three vertices.

But he saw a show on the television about a guy who sold it all, bought a sailboat and took off. Allen was intrigued. He taped and watched the show several times and finally asked Natalie to watch it with him. Natalie is a live wire. Before the show was over she was making plans for the trip.

Allen bought his sailboat and the two of them started taking sailing lessons. Neither of them had ever been on a sailboat before. Did I mention Natalie is a live wire?

Five weeks later the boat was provisioned and the three intrepid adventurers set off.

Allen had a quotation inscribed on the Companionway of Attitude: "Freedom (the Liberte part) is the ability to make hard choices".

During our afternoon together Natalie described their night before which they spent with a group of shrimpers. The fishers had taught them how to cast for shrimp and then, totally captivated by their new friends, provided 10 gallons of fresh, just caught shrimp. They made a gift to Felix of a casting net.

As we left Attitude to tend to business ashore Allen presented us with a huge ziploc bag full of shrimp. "Caught this matin" he explained. "The freezer it is too much".

On the half hour return to Meredith we observed that most of our friends on the water were French Canadian. Reflection on that day's afternoon left no doubt as to why. These people are alive.

By the time we were back aboard Meredith the sun was low in the sky. Sundowners were poured and while we had a leisurely sit in the cockpit Connie and I cleaned and peeled the shrimp.

Suitably relaxed Connie went to work in the galley making her signature Etouffe. Etouffe is an interesting dish best described as Shrimp in Butter gravy. Connie starts with 1/4 lb. of butter and works her way up.

Forty five minutes later we found ourselves in the cockpit once again only this time we were enjoying food that rivaled anything Paul Prudhomme has ever conjured up. And the shrimp were not 12 hours old.

A great quote on my favourite subject, an afternoon with friends and the best dinner we have shared in several weeks.

Once again we went to bed sated. The secret is in the Attitude.

Merci Attitude, Mes Amis.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NIght Falls on the Atlantic

As night falls on an oceanic passage, even a coastal one, there are certain preparations that every cautious crew must undertake. The Budget Committee demonstrates:

First you must send all excess avoirdupois to the bow. You do this not to improve the weight and balance of the boat but rather this way if something needs to be done up there in the pitching freezing darkness all you need do is yell and the avoirdupois humps itself around until the order is filled. So much easier than having to go forward and do it yourself.

Once this is accomplished you must attend to your dress. When the temperatures are forecast to be in the mid 40s on land you know you are in for a cold one.

You start with a nice wool sweater and immediately cover it with your new Helly Hansen Fleece:

This is followed by your wind and waterproof breathable jacket. Sometimes these jackets can be tricky to climb into and must be remonstrated with, rather like an unruly avoirdupois:

The jacket is followed by the inflatable life vest:

and the tether:

and finally the hat:

But in the end all that work and preparation is well worth it:

Lacks a Certain Something

So, if I understand things back in the old homeland:

Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, the entire Abbotsford BC Minor Hockey League, the Board of Mount Sinai Hospital and Goldman Sachs and all of their families go to the head of the vaccination line leaving pregnant women and children to fend for themselves.

In Nova Scotia doctors are told that they can have the vaccinations but their office staff and families may not.

The medical ethicists, no doubt having been paid by Goldman Sachs, justify this explaining that hockey players are important to the fabric of Canadian society and are entitled to queue jump whenever they want.

Investment Bankers make a lot of money and so are more important than people who earn less. Certainly high earners are more important than medical staff, pregnant women and children none of whom have any economic value whatsoever.

Rudyard Kipling glorified the "women and children first" ethic from the actions of the men onboard the Birkenhead. It was a touching poem.

In the UK the ethic is "Women and Children First".

In Canada it is "Out of my way, bitch".

Friday, November 6, 2009

Canada Geese

Charleston VA
November 6, 2009

"Charleston City Marina this is the 48 foot sailing vessel "Happy Valley". We have a reservation for today. We are a little early. We just sailed down from Cape Fear. It was Really Honking Out There."

This was the first radio call we had overheard since leaving the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

Our intention in Beaufort had been to take our boat, Meredith, "outside" the ICW and sail nonstop to Charleston, SC. Weather had interfered with our plans and finally we took the slow boring route "inside" from Beaufort to Mile Hammock Bay and then on to the Cape Fear River at Wilmington NC.

Forecasts for the coastal waters from Cape Fear to Charleston improved steadily over the two days of our sojourn down the ICW and by the time we made Carolina Beach, a nondescript little diversion from the ICW just above the Cape Fear River, our decision was firm to proceed outside and run to Charleston by the direct rout.

Many advantages attached to not traveling the Intracoastal Waterway through North and South Carolina. Relief of boredom figures prominently among them. The length of coast from Beaufort to Charleston is uniformly unexciting and unworthy: a wasteland of sand, tall grass and scrub. The water, although expansive averages 1 foot in depth.

Bogue Sound and the coastal mid Carolinas are a Samuel Coleridge wonderland: "Water Water Everywhere and N'ere a drop to", well in our case, sail. A helmsman faces a vista of open water through which he or she must navigate a ditch only meters wide with twists, turns and secret little shoals moving around without notice.

The terrain offers few good anchorages (Waccamaw being an outstanding exception) and several challenges. The "Rock Pile", a 15 mile stretch of waterway north of Barefoot Landing is one such: very narrow and strewn with, no surprise here, rocks. Big ugly pointy rocks. And usually a stiff current.

Mainly the problem is boredom. Not interested in looking at improbably priced houses built in improbable places we would find little here to merit more than a quick glance. We have already glanced.

Meredith overnighted on Nov 5 in Carolina Beach located about 5 miles North the Cape Fear River.

Tidal currents dictated a late start from Carolina Beach, always welcome by the crew and we did not leave Carolina Beach until 9:30 a.m.

A flood tide was running on the Cape Fear River until 10 a.m. As a general rule you do not enter rivers when the tide is running contrary to either wind or river current. It is one of those "first rules of sailing". A flood tide on the Cape Fear River was contrary to both.

Having braved the Cape Fear River before we chose the valorous route and exercised discretion. We left Carolina Beach at 9 a.m. and entered the Cape Fear River about 9:30. My reasoning is that they do not call it the Cape "Fear" River because it is a favourite playground for little children and cute little bunnies.

A good handle of the tide tables is a handy thing to have at this point in the journey. Whether you are travelling the ICW or choosing to go "outside" you must travel about 12 miles on the Cape Fear River. The ICW leaves the river at Southport, a dreary little Erieau clone, located about 3 miles from the point where the river enters the Atlantic.

We entered the Atlantic a bit after noon.

Forecasts were for wind out of the North at 15 to 20 knots gusting to 25. Waves were 2 to 4 feet. Conditions matched the forecast precisely as we turned out of the channel to the Cape Fear River and set a direct course to Charleston. The extended forecast predicted winds to die down as we travelled south.

There are 3 coastal weather regions between Cape Fear and Charleston: Cape Fear to Little River Inlet, Little River to Murrell Inlet and Murrell Inlet to the Big C. Each region in turn had reducing winds after midnight although the waves were thought to build. As both wind and waves would be from our stern we were comfortable with our decision to make the long run.

Besides, Meredith had a new genoa which we had not yet tested.

Starting at Cape Fear we would travel 120 nm on the ocean to Charleston. Much of the trip we would be out of sight of land.

Good winds on departure saw Meredith attain a decent 6.5 knots almost immediately.

At 8:30 a.m. the next day we entered Charleston Harbour still travelling 6.5 knots.

The difference was in our sails. We started the trip under full sail - genny and main all at full extension. We ended the trip with 3 reefs in a depowered main and only the staysail on the foredeck. The staysail had a jury rigged reef in it.

6.5 knots with a postage stamp of a main and a handkerchief of a foresail. Even with this by 5 a.m. the waves off our stern quarter were overpowering the autopilot and I was handsteering. We were discussing whether to set up the windvane which is pretty good at helming in strong wind and waves off the stern.

It was exhilarating. Conditions were brisker than forecast and the 10 - 15 knot winds we thought would greet us at Charleston had grown overnight to steady 25 with gusts upward. At these velocities you do not bother metering the wind - you spend your time trying manage it and keep your boat under control.

Shortly after leaving Cape Fear we noticed a sailboat coming up on our stern, a mile or two further offshore than Meredith. All day we watched as this boat steadily and inexorably closed the gap between itself and Meredith. The seamanship of the crew of this boat impressed us even more than its speed. It moved through the water almost upright - no heel.

Meredith had heel limited to 15 degrees as always but the occasional errant wave got the best of us and we hit 20 degrees and sometimes 25. Connie is adamant that the little ball in the inclinometer found itself just below the 30 on more than one occasion. We adhere to the 15 degree rule out of a desire to appear like good sailors. Connie was not nervous about the trip but worried about what such excessive heel meant about our ability to control our boat.

We spent the whole day taking in sail trying to match sail to wind. The wind stayed ahead of us even when we "took two instead of one" in an attempt to anticipate conditions.

How, I wondered, was the other boat doing it? I wanted to track the boat and find the skipper. There were things to learn from this guy. His heavy weather sailing was exemplary.

Just before dark, about 6 p.m., the other boat was in decent binocular range. The magical skipper's secret was out: He was motoring! The boat had hauled in all of its sail. This guy was in 20 knots of wind and he was motoring. Good way to keep the boat more or less vertical. My desire to meet the guy went down with the sun.

Charleston Harbour found us worn out, sleep deprived, wind burned and still moving like a bat out of hell. What a grand night on the water.

Our poor Meredith however was a different story. It's genoa had been badly (but anxiously) furled in 30 knots of wind in the pitch black, it's main was cocked at a bit of an angle intended to depower its triple reef even further and the staysail had a somewhat untidy jury rig of a reef hand tied in the middle of the blackest part of the morning to try to keep the boat speed under control.

Entering Charleston we heard the captain of the other boat calling his marina.

Let me tell you pal. It honked a bit louder for some than others. Connie and I looked at each other and groaned.

We made the 9 a.m. Waupoos bridge opening and found our favourite anchorage a few hundred yards beyond. We got out the sail covers, and unfurled and refurled the genoa so it would no longer be embarrassed by its bedraggled appearance. A big breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, onions and cheese in nice warm tortillas filled our tummies and we found ourselves in bed, warm and comfy, our heads still ringing with the wind.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Off to Charleston

We have been incommunicado for a few days, victim of blighted software from Verizon. A removal and reload of the software has given us new wings.

Hearing from Brian DeBrincat at the Doyle Sail loft in Annapolis that our new genoa was ready we left Meredith at anchor in Spooner's Creek, rented a car from Avis and drove the 399 miles to Annapolis to pick it up.

We also picked up some new fine needles for our speedy stitcher awl and 20 litres of wine. Southport Liquor Store in Annapolis is that good.

Leaving Morehead City NC at 8 a.m. we returned at 9:30 p.m. dropped the sail off in the dinghy along with the wine and returned the car to Avis. It was a brisk but welcome 1.5 mile walk back to the dinghy from the Avis rental office. A quick dinghy ride to Meredith was followed fast on by heavy uninterrupted sleep until 7:00 a.m. next morning.

Anxious to be away we rose at 7, removed the old Yankee from the headstay and replaced it with our new 135 Genoa. Then it was into the dinghy to remove the outboard, retie everything and weigh anchor.

At 7:20 a.m. Meredith left Spooner's Creek. Not bad for a couple whose combined age is well over 100.

Our plan had been to jump outside the waterway at Beaufort/Morehead City but wind was running 20 to 25 G 30 and waves were 7 feet short frequency.

We had a new sail to test so naturally wind on the waterway was on the nose for the entire day.

By 12 noon were entering Mile Hammock Bay, a nice anchorage in the middle of a military base. Connie figures the only reason civilians are allowed to use it is because there are so few anchorages along this stretch of waterway. Mile Hammock is always entertaining. As new boats come in and the easy anchoring spots are taken up captains are inclined to edge closer and closer to the North and East end of the Bay where there is serious shoaling.

The inevitable was inevitable and some very confident newbies, eschewing the advice of the elderly and more knowledgeable, found themselves extricating themselves from the thick clay bottom of the bay.

Well rested we rose early the next day to endure a full 8 hours of North Carolina boredom. South of Elizabeth City there is nothing to see in North Carolina. North of Georgetown there is nothing to see in South Carolina. People who are unwilling to go coastal south of Beaufort are in for a quick course being an anaesthesiologist: hours of pure boredom interspersed with periods of absolute terror. No scenery but a treacherous bottom await those who wish to "sample" the ICW.

Waste of time.

Ton ight we are happily anchored in Carolina Beach, which we prefer over Wrightsville Beach. Our preference is based on a careful analysis of all available factors but is summed up by the conclusion that we have never run aground in Carolina Beach and we have never been to Wrightsville Beach without running aground.

Simple farm logic.

Unable to get on the ocean at Beaufort we will leave tomorrow via the Cape Fear River. We must wait until mid morning for the tidal current to ebb thereby reducing the seastate on the river to something allowing us to retain our morning muffins.

Then it is overnight to Charleston and a visit with friends Carole and Dominique from Hippo's Camp who are beginning their second circumnavigation.

Tonight Connie is having a drink "because I won't be drinking tomorrow".

Hope the new sail works.

The Column People Say They Want

Based on my recent email I will realign my thinking and write the blog that it appears the readers want:

Today was a wonderful day. We had so much fun.

A beautiful dawn presaged all the good things with which the table of life would be set for us to enjoy. Of course with the time change we got up extra early and had a chance to watch the sun come up.

Embracing the day with our usual 6 a.m. enthusiasm we sprang to our tasks, checked fluid levels, started water for tea, hauled up the anchor and set off on another wonderful day of adventure.

What we like most about the Waterway along the North Carolina coast is the lack of surprises. Nothing but water, deep and wide bracketed by long sand beaches and grass. No silly natural formations to draw our attention away from the serious task of moving our trusty sailboat along the waterway. Just like Holiday Inn. It might have been painted all in beige. So pretty.

A special treat today, we got to fly our new genoa for the very first time. This was exciting and fun and we had a good time. It was especially handy as we had to hurry along to reach the first of 3 scheduled bridge openings and the sail gave us an added 1/2 knot.

Getting to the bridge a bit late anyway gave us the opportunity to sit and chat with all the other happy boaters who were caught short when the playful bridgemaster opened the bridge 8 minutes early and none of us could go through. Such a pleasant chance to share conversation with our fellow boaters.

It was not boring at all. The 3 knot current at the bridge kept us plenty busy just trying to not run into each other or the bridge. As always we sailors kept well back from the more expensive and thus more important powerboaters who felt only reasonably that since they made more money that us they should go to the head of the line. No waiting in line for the rich or the deeply indebted.

Once the bridge opened the fun just continued. Whenever we got bored we would turn up the radio and listen to the chatter: An important powerboater trying to attain his rightful place in line calling the "White Sailboat going south on the ICW". Turned out he was calling us but you know with those hundreds of white sailboats on the waterway it could have been anybody.

What a great guessing game it was and what a time filler. We had thought we might offer teaching when we got to the poorer islands in the Caribbean but maybe we should just travel like Johnny Seaweed - going from marina to marina to teach those poor powerboaters how to read.

We made it to our anchorage at Carolina Beach in good time and couldn't be more eager to start all over again tomorrow.

Hope you had a nice day. We sure did.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Like a Dog with a Bone and Where we are Right Now (Nov 1, 2009)

Above: All Sails Flying Meredith Leaves Elizabeth City Headed for the Albemarle and the Alligator.

Below: Bob makes another sail change while Connie Woman's the Helm

Where We Are Right Now

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Too Many Miles to Mile Hammock Bay (sub nom Mosquitoes, Power Boats and Cockroaches)

Spooner's Creek, south of Beaufort NC
Saturday, Oct 31, 2009

We left the mosquito infested Broad Creek, just north of Oriental NC, at our usual 7:15 a.m headed for Mile Hammock Bay located in the midst of a US Military Base. If successful this would be our second 70 plus mile day.

Our plans to jump offshore at Beaufort and sail to Charleston were quashed by the South Winds and 7 foot waves we would meet along the entire route.

Arrival at Beaufort NC was anticipated just before noon. This was low tide and it was thought the incoming tide after noon would act to push us south along Bogue Sound enroute to Mile Hammock Bay. Our destiny did not support the particular destination.

As we travelled we were passed by several trawlers. These big tubs of nautical lard like to travel at 7 to 7.5 knots compared to Meredith's 6.5. This means they must speed up to pass us or risk being pushed to the side if Meredith diverts to avoid obstacles.

As each trawler approached a sailboat to pass it would radio the slower boat and offer "if you slow down we will give you an easy pass". The trawler would then continue without changing its speed leaving the sailboat to slow down and then burn fuel to return to normal cruise.

These egocentric little powerfreaks figured the sailors should bear the entire penalty of velocity and fuel consumption initiated by their desire to pass. God forbid these little pinheads have to alter their own course or speed.

Here is our approach: When a trawler comes up on our stern we tell it to keep its speed up and give us a close pass. If the Powerknobs would actually do this then we could draft in behind them and suffer no wake whatsoever. Piece of cake. Except that these simple instructions seem to exceed the ability of even the most seasoned trawler operator.

One guy rode our stern for half an hour calling us six times to ask us to slow down so he could give us a nice slow pass. We kept telling him to keep up his speed and give us a close pass.

Finally he realized he would have to increase his fuel burn to get by rather than foisting the cost on us. He wants to pass he can speed up. He passed.

His transom was 6 feet past Meredith's bowsprit and I turned sharply to draft in behind him. The stream of expletives from the radio was startling. His wife stood on her stern platform shaking her fist at us. What about "I will draft in behind you" is so difficult to understand?

Powerboaters. All that money and no pilot.

Approaching Beaufort southbound along Core Creek we passed Bock Marine, our favourite haulout yard and radioed ahead to the Jarrett Bay Facility to ensure staff were on duty for fuel. No response.

We had not thought about Jarrett Bay much until friends, Randy and Donna, aboard Babykiller B, raved about it. Although there was no reply to the radio call we decided to put in anyway. Usually on seeing a boat pulling up to the fuel dock motivates some activity by even the most recalcitrant dock staff.

Not so at Jarrett Bay. With strong south winds, running 15 knots, our entry was easy - we just pulled up beside the dock and held the boat steady while the wind pushed us in. No one was there to welcome us or unlock the fuel pumps. The place looked like a set out of The Terminator - you know the future view where everything is dark, smoky and destroyed. The night scene at the bridge from Apocalypse Now would be another approximation.

Leaving the fuel dock sans fuel was problematic. That south wind that so graciously assisted our entry now protested our early departure. We fought our way off the dock and into the current of Core Creek and continued on our way happy that we carried 15 gallons of fuel on deck and "who needs Jarrett Bay anyway".

A few hundred yards downstream we found "Trueworld Marine", the affiliate of Jarrett Bay where Randy and Donna had left Babykiller while they returned to Toronto. It was new and first rate. Part of Jarrett Bay seems well run.

Two miles further and we found ourselves once again in Beaufort. Not a big deal let me assure you.

You enter Beaufort alongside a large terminal used to offload ocean freighters. Once past the building you turn sharp right and continue staight for the entire length of Bogue Sound. Make that 30 miles or so.

Right at the sharp right hand turn live the only fish available in all of the waters of Beaufort.

Thirty or Forty fishertwits are always to be found drifting midchannel of course trying to catch whatever desperate lifeform might choose the industrial backwater of a forgotten little port as its home. They (people and fish) are everywhere and none of them look up. Until you pass a little closer than they think you should. Then they offer an opinion. Meredith returns a nonverbal response.

Today being Saturday the rest of the powerdorks were out in their fast fishing skiffs/boats/whatever buzzing the transients. There were thousands of them - highpowered cockroaches of the sea buzzing the passing sailboats and trawlers like a flight of Messerschmitt's attacking a squadron of B29 allied bombers.

We made Beaufort by noon which was low tide. My ability at predicting coastal tide effects is not what I had hoped. Our 6.5 knots on the water were magically transformed into 4.5 knots on land as the tidal inflow worked against us rather than for our boatspeed.

A bummer this as it meant we could not reach Mile Hammock during daylight.

Instead we put into Spooner Creek where I write this now. Then I must find a way to neutralize the newly filled propane tank that seems to be spewing gas out of its safety valve.

Until it stops hissing I am not going near the vented propane locker.