Saturday, November 28, 2015

Minim creek to Whiteside Creek

Just some pictures today. No grand philosophical observations or practical guidelines. Enjoy!

You see this exact scene for hours on end in this part of the ICW

Cormorants are everywhere

A great blue heron looking for breakfast

We've been playing hopscotch with this boat the last two days'
It was really good to see this dredger in place. This is one of the most difficult stretches of the ICW

Whiteside Creek anchorage. A first time for us here and it's lovely.

Do you ever tire of sunsets?

A couple groups of dolphins came in the anchorage this evening. These two were going nuts over a school of fish.

Friday, November 27, 2015

In the middle of the tribe

Sometimes one just has to face the music, throw in the towel, belly up to the bar...and go back on the ICW. We had every intention of jumping down the coast to Charleston, then northern Fl, then southern Fl. Three, maybe four hops and we would celebrate being back where the air is warm and the water clear. (Well, clearer anyway.) Each day, several times a day, we would debate the weather. Each time, it seemed, the forecasts were just a little less encouraging. Mostly they foretold of big rolling seas and sailing for hour upon hour in the ditch. We have done that in Kintala on several occasions. It can take all the fun out of a day. And doing it at night? (At this time of the year most of the jumps down the east coast involve overnight sailing.) We have done that as well and it makes for a very, very long night.

Leaving Bucksport this morning with the full moon still hanging around in the brightening sky

So, instead of overnight runs through clear ocean water it has been day runs through the brown; Wrightsville Beach – Southport – N. Myrtle Beach – Bucksport – Minim Creek. We passed through Lockwoods Folly and the Rock Pile with nary a drama, and have a good plan for slipping over the Mud Flats instead of plowing our way through them. I don't think one can get enough practice at this sailing thing to be perfect at it, but a couple of years of practice sure seems to make it easier.

The moon and the endless trees along the Waccamaw River

Minim Creek is out near the edge of the grid, though there has been a lot of little boat traffic today. Camo colored boats filled with camo dressed people. Given that we heard pretty loud gunfire several times this morning my guess is some kind of hunting season opened around here today. (That, or there was a Wal-Mart somewhere near and the Black Friday crowds are getting serious about their Christmas shopping.)

I have no idea what kind of hunting is done from little boats. In any case I was glad my jacket is bright yellow. Then again, maybe they hunt something big and yellow from little boats? Oh well, we are here safe and sound, and hope to be in Charleston before the weekend is out.

Even though we left Oak Harbor months ago and have traveled nearly 800 nm, it feels like we are - just now - getting back to our tribe of sailboat gypsies. With friends close behind and other friends ahead, it seems like nearly everyone is on the move. The chatter is of where we might meet and places we might go instead of the list of summer boat projects that lay ahead. Some are still working on projects. There are bimini tops and enclosures, mast work and rigging, bits of this and pieces of that still being finished by impatient crews. On Kintala the first thoughts of things that will need addressed next “work season” are already flirting around in the gray. (The Beast has taken to oozing more oil than normal, the list of teak bits that need attention is starting to grow, and the non-skid remains unpainted in spite of the best intentions of last summer.)

But, for now, most thoughts are about where to go, when and how to get there, and the friends that will be met along the way.

It is good to be back with the tribe.

A boat school bus? Maybe it needs a coat of yellow paint.

You see all kinds of boats on the ICW

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Six degrees..., not the thermometer reading (although it felt like it yesterday morning), but Karinthy's theory - six degrees of separation. Karinthy proposed that any two people could be connected in the world by just six acquaintences and the more we cruise, the more I believe it.

Northern Star and their 63-1/2 foot mast. Yikes!
This morning we got up early and, after a brief hug and goodbye with friends David and Nancy at Barefoot Marina, we were off down the ICW by 7:00am. We needed to clear the infamous Lockwoods Folly Inlet when the tide was still at least at mid level. Our preparation paid off and we transited the problem spot with 8 feet depth being the least we saw anywhere. We enjoyed a crisp but warming morning with cups of coffee and then hot chocolate, and I switched out my wool hat for my baseball cap for the first time in days. We watched as the shadow of our mast slid over the remnants of colorful fall leaves along the shore, and tracked the bridge clearances for our friends on Northern Star who would be following shortly with a 63-1/2 foot mast.

The current was favorable, allowing us a 6-1/2 knot forward speed toward our day's destination of Butler Island. About 20 miles out I realized that we were going to arrive at our destination by 1:40 and started to take a look on the charts to see if we might be able to go a little farther to another anchorage. Just as I began to look, we hear a call on the radio, "Sailboat in the ICW passing Bucksport Marina, we're having a $.75 per foot dock special to Boat US members and that includes a free Thanksgiving meal at 2:00. Why don't y'all come on in and join us?" We looked at each other and, after a very brief discussion, decide to take them up on their offer, in spite of the early time. We had passed this place multiple times and always said, "Some day we should stop there. It looks like a neat place." It was the day.

We were greeted by the owner Jeff and his son, Jeffrey who caught our lines and got us secured. The place is a scenic stop on a side creek off the Waccamaw River in the middle of absolute nowhere. The docks are well-maintained and easy to get to, the facilities clean, the people friendly, and you just can't beat their prices. I spent the few hours until the 2:00pm dinner relaxing on the wide deck in the sunshine enjoying the panoramic view of the Waccamaw and planning some new routes to accommodate the change in plans.

The dinner guests for the free Thanksgiving feast included some other cruisers, some folks from the full-time liveaboard dock, some full-time residents of the RV park that Jeff also owns and manages, and some town folks from nearby Bucksport. After filling our plates from the large spread, we sat at a table and began to introduce ourselves to the others seated there. Within minutes we discovered that the folks across the table from us were from Tim's home town, went to his high school, had family who lived on his parents' street and knew some of his siblings. In the middle of nowhere. In South Carolina. On a dock that we almost passed by. On Thanksgiving. At a dinner that a marina manager provided free to friends and passers by.
Life is just too weird, and I guess that's one of the best things about cruising, that chance to snag some unexpected opportunity that we might have missed otherwise. So we leave tomorrow morning to continue our trek down the ICW toward Charleston, thankful for this life. Our tummies full we have smiles on our faces and, oh, it's finally a whole lot warmer than 6 degrees.

The dock at Bucksport Marina

The Captain's Lounge across from the docks where the dinner was served

The on-site restaurant and more docks
The Waccamaw River

Northern Star going through The Rock Pile stretch of the ICW

Kintala's mast shadow sliding over the trees

I'll take one!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Anchor Management

(Ed note: This is a long post and may bore those of you who are accomplished, experienced cruisers.)

I've avoided posts on anchoring because, let's face it, there is an over-abundance of information on it out there as well as an abundance of MIS-information. In addition, we've only been cruising for a little over two years and it seemed there were many more experienced people out there to offer advice. Then there's the fact that NO topic yields more ridiculous hot-headed argument in sailing and cruising forums than anchoring. But, after having shared with a good friend our method of anchoring, I was asked to do a post to share it with others, so share it I will. Use it or discard it as you see fit.

When getting ready to leave for full-time cruising, we did due diligence on the whole anchoring issue. We read all the chapters in the most well-known cruising how-to books, we read the advertising promo on all of the anchor manufacturer websites, we scoured the vendor aisles of boat shows and we talked to tons of people. We had an oversized CQR (39# on a 27' boat) on our first boat, Nomad, which seemed to do well on the lake in the muddy bottom. Kintala came with a not-oversized CQR, which also seemed to do OK on the lake, although we did drag once while we had a half dozen boats rafted up to us. Knowing we were going to be in much rougher waters and many different bottom types, we began the search for a good cruising anchor to replace it.

I'm not exactly sure how we found out about the Mantus anchor initially, but after researching the details, it seemed like a good choice. It was robust, it had great reviews and, most importantly, it was affordable which allowed us to purchase a size larger than the recommended size.

The Mantus after installation with Kintala still on the hard.
I remember the day the Mantus 65 was delivered to Tradewinds Marina where we had the boat on the hard getting her ready for the truck voyage to Oak Harbor. I believe the words out of Tim's mouth when he saw the box were, "Are you kidding me?" He grumbled through the whole assembly. He grumbled through the mounting. He still grumbles through every morning of pulling it up, but not because it's a bad anchor or because he doesn't want it, only because he doesn't have a shiny electric windlass to pull it up with. The Mantus anchor was one of the few major purchasing decisions that I got right. And so very right it is.

One of the things that few people realize about anchoring is the fact that only half of it is technique. The other half is the anchor itself. While I firmly believe that every single boat out there should have a new generation anchor of some sort (Mantus, Rocna, or similar), many of the other anchors will do just fine if they are sufficiently oversized. And this we found out our first trip over to the Bahamas. So point one:  

Buy the absolute biggest anchor that your bow roller / windlass / back / biceps / budget can handle.

Learning to sail on a rural lake in Illinois never afforded us the opportunity to actually see our anchor on the bottom, in spite of the fact that the water in Carlyle Lake was rarely more than 8' deep. The lake was a runoff of local farm land and, as a result, was filled with sediment and the byproduct of our modern chemical fertilization methods, not to mention the somewhat less offensive byproduct of the cattle. It wasn't until we reached Elliott Key in Biscayne Bay that we even saw the anchor at all, and that was just barely. When we crossed to the Bahamas early in 2014 and began our trek across the Abacos, it was an epiphany. We had an anchor! We could actually see it on the bottom through clear water!

A well set anchor in sandy bottom

After traveling across the northern Abacos and anchoring in the anchorage just outside Green Turtle Cay, my curiosity got the best of me. I had been listening to anchoring gurus tell me that I needed to back down on the anchor to set it, and I began to wonder how many RPMs it really takes to stretch 75 or 80 feet of chain out fully extended. I wanted to be sure that I had been applying sufficient power. In this anchorage we had laid out 75 feet of chain, backing slowly as we released it so we didn't pile up the chain, then backing on it to set it. After completing this, our standard procedure, I talked Tim into donning his snorkle equipment and swimming out to a position directly over the anchor to do a small test.

We had agreed on some hand signals, him telling me to back down until he could see that the chain was fully extended, and then I would apply power to set it. He motioned me to back and I did. After a few moments his hand signal to back became more vigorous. I backed harder. Another moment and his head popped up out of the water and he shouted, "Are you backing?? Because nothing is happening. The chain is not moving." I had been using nearly 2000 RPM and was unable to even move the accumulate length of chain from its position in the sand where we had dropped it. I revved the Westerbeast to 2500 RPM. Still no movement in the chain by the anchor.  We were quite surprised, to say the least. It led us to the conclusion that a 50hp motor and a typical bow roller setup are not strong enough to drag 75 feet of chain taut, let alone pull on it hard enough to set a 65-pound anchor.

Over the next few weeks, we traveled around the Bahamas and began to take notice of our chain more closely. When we anchored off Rose Island northeast of Nassau, we saw our chain form a perfectly round spiral as the wild current there continued to swing us 180° every 12 hours. The winds were sometimes 18-25 knots and Kintala would travel back and forth as the current changed, the chain continuing to add to the spiral, but never straightening out. We began to rethink our anchoring strategy.


A video of our anchor in the anchorage south of Bimini

Over the next few months we gradually began to refine a new technique for us. A side note - over this time, as well, we have moved from having headsets to not having headsets (they succumbed to the harsh marine environment), to using whistles. And this brings me to point two:

When anchoring, be sure that whatever communication you choose is easy and of limited stress. Spend whatever money you have to in order to assure this. It will be the best money you spend. If you choose to use hand or whistle signals, be sure they are clearly defined beforehand.

After quite a few months, we've settle on the following technique and it's working well. So well, in fact, that when we withstood a 56 knot gust and subsequent high-40s for 5 hours at Foxtown, the anchor held well enough that the bow chock broke in spite of using a doubled snubber. Boats around us dragged, but Kintala stood her ground in the face of 5 foot waves and green water over the bow. Here is the procedure, and I'm going to use a depth of 8 feet as an example because it's the most common depth we anchor in while in the Bahamas.

First, we talk. Tim gets the anchor ready to deploy then comes back to the cockpit (since we have no more headsets) and we talk about where we might want to anchor. We drive around and look at possible spaces. We make a decision, figure the scope we need and how much rode we'll end up with, and he goes forward. From this point on we use the whistle signals we've devised. In our example, we have the 8-foot depth plus 4 feet to the bow plus 2 feet of tide = 14 feet, so our 5:1 scope (no storms predicted otherwise it would be 7:1) will be 70 feet minimum.

Next, Tim signals me that we are at the desired location. If I've done my job at the helm well, I will have coasted there and won't have to reverse much to stop the boat. He starts by laying out 25 feet of chain as I leave the boat in reverse with no power.  If there's any wind at all, the bow will swing out to one side as he lets the chain out slowly. When we're in the islands I'm usually in my bare feet and, as we back slowly, I can feel the instant the Mantus point digs in. There is a subtle change in my balance and the bow swings. We allow the idle speed to stretch the chain a bit, but not so much as to dislodge the tip. As soon as the point digs in, Tim lets out the next 25 feet, again with me slowly backing. The bow again swings out to one side, and then swings back as the chain is stretched out. At this point we do a hard set. I slowly bring the engine up to at least 2200 RPM. The bow dips slightly, the chain stretches fully, and the anchor is set.

Next, Tim lets out the remaining chain of our scope, at this point about 20 feet, and again as I slowly back. The boat goes into neutral and as it rebounds slightly on the chain Tim sets the snubber. (More on our snubber below.) Boat goes back into reverse but no power and I slowly back on the snubber. Once the snubber is fully extended, I set the anchor a final time, revving the engine slowly up to 2200 RPM until the bow swings back forward and dips slightly.

That's the basic technique that we developed, the main difference from everything else we have read and heard being the fact that we pause at 25 feet and set the anchor twice once at 50 feet and once at the full length. We set it once in the middle of the layout because it became evident that the motor had insufficient power to fully stretch out the weight of the chain and set the anchor, leaving the anchor un-set in most instances. There are several things worth noting, though, about other anchoring scenarios in less than perfect conditions.

One, is how the procedure changes in soft mud bottoms. We see countless people come into anchorages with soft mud bottoms, drop the anchor and immediately begin to back on them at something akin to 1800 RPM. The anchor skips across the bottom and after a half dozen tries they give up saying that the anchorage sucks. We've learned that when anchoring in soft mud bottoms, we set the anchor on the bottom with about 25 feet of chain (again 8 foot depth) and then I hold our position with the engine so that no pull is on the chain. Then we sit there and look at each other and the beautiful scenery for at least five minutes. We let the weight of the anchor settle slowly through the soft mud to the harder mud below it. Then we go ahead with the technique above.

Let the anchor settle through soft muddy or silted bottoms to the harder substrate below, then set it.

The other issue is when dealing with higher winds. The higher the wind, the longer the scope, so make sure there is adequate swing room for the longer scope. We usually try to pick a spot with enough room for 7:1, anchor with 5:1, and then have room to let out more rode if needed, should a storm pop up. During the storm at Foxtown, we had 110 feet of chain deployed which was 8:1. We now have a new length of chain that's 200 ft and we would have let even more out in that blow with this chain. In harder winds, also, the wind may back us too quickly so I sometimes have to use some forward power to slow us down. If I don't do this then the anchor can skip.

A word about the snubber. We constructed a custom snubber for our boat. We used 25 feet of three strand, stretchy nylon. Tim threaded the line through  a Mantus chain hook, folded the line in half, threaded the lines through a piece of fire hose chafe guard and spliced loops on each end sufficiently large to go over our bow cleat. This one doubled snubber goes through one bow chock and over one bow cleat. Some boats do better with each end of the snubber going to two different bow chocks and cleats, but we have found that Kintala rides at anchor better with a snubber arrangement going only through one chock and onto one cleat. Every boat is different, so what works on Kintala may not be the best arrangement for your boat. What arrangement you use is not as important as the fact that you use a snubber.

Use a snubber to take the load off of the bow roller and windlass. Make it from stretchy nylon.

The last point worth mentioning from our experience is that of making sure that you have the right chain. Our chain had been replaced at one point and the owner at that time, attempting to save money, bought proof coil chain. It is the only chain that does not work in our windlass, so every time Tim tried to use the gypsy to advance the chain, it would skip. Now that we have the correct chain on there it moves swiftly and quietly. So....last point -

Don't skimp on your ground tackle. It is the single most important thing on your boat.

See the Mantus?  No? That's the way it should be!

 As a final note, we are not paid by Mantus and receive no compensation for our positive reviews, other than many peaceful night's sleep and some of the best customer service in the marine industry.

Island time and temp

The Wrightsville Beach anchorage,Kintala in the second row
The crew of Kintala is struggling to get south, and it seems many of the cruising tribe are sharing our travails. Hurricane Kate and my Father's passing put us weeks behind where we had hoped to be. So we are, once again, caught in late Autumn's relentless series of low pressure areas spinning off the mainland, along with their associated cold fronts. We have been in Wrightsville Beach for nearly a week, and it is starting to feel a lot longer than that. The wind in the rigging sings a note of 20 knots worth of wind out there right now. Near gale force winds are forecast for the next 24 hours. Two potential weather windows have already collapsed, and it looks like two days is about all we are going to get on the back side of this current cold front.

The good news is there are a lot of worse places to get caught than Wrightsville. The bad news is there are a lot of better places as well, places we would much rather be. But, at the moment and living on a sailboat, we can't get to any of them from here.

Wrightsville Beach on a winter day.

We have heard rumors that some of the places we would like to be, parts of the Bahama Islands, are enduring a bit of a crime wave. It seems that fancy, and some not so fancy, fishing type boats (particularly those sporting outboard engines) have taken to disappearing from their docks. They turn up later sans engines and avionics gear. I suspect the rumors are a bit overblown, not that they matter much to us anyway. I can't imagine 30 year old sailboats are much of a temptation. And though Dink theft is a constant concern, a Merc 3.5 hp that can barely get out of its own way on good day, probably isn't much of a temptation either.

Fishermen bundled up

A gaff rigged smaller sailboat out for a rare November warm sail
I have to say though, if the rumors are not overblown, I hope a bunch of the fishing types here in Wrightsville are planning a trip to the Islands. Apparently the fish in these parts are very fast. Blasting through a bunch of anchored boats must be the only way the fishy types can hope to run them down to snag a share. Or maybe they are worried about getting a parking spot at the town dock. Either way, we are regularly rocked as these guys slalom around our hull. Which is weird because both the docks and the bridge that mark the fishing spot they all head for, are barely a few hundred feet away. Slowing down a bit as they go through the anchorage would add, maybe, two or three minutes to their trip. As usual, when it comes to people who live on land, I wonder, “Just what is the hurry?”

The Islanders, and their “Island time” would make much better use of the boats. So far as I am concerned, they are welcome to them.

One would think a nod to “Island time” would help shrug off a weather delays like the one we are enduring now. And I am trying. But there is a glitch. The Islands have their “time” but they also have their “temperature”. (I think the two are related.) Here the temperature will touch lows of the mid 30s in the next couple of days.

Time to get to the Islands mon.

Wrightsville Beach (Good)                                                             Treasure Cay Beach (Much better)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's the peeps

I've seen discussion on some of the Facebook cruising forums on what makes cruising special. On one occasion, two people got into a discussion where one said it was the people you meet that made it all worthwhile. The other disagreed hotly, saying it was the places they went, the beauty of nature, and the power of the sea.

While I do enjoy seeing new places and being humbled by Mother Nature and the sea, for me it's the "peeps" as my friend Sabrina says on her blog. We've met some pretty incredible ones, all of whom are noteworthy, but I wanted to tell you about one couple we recently met in particular.

Judy and David

Two years ago when we ended up stuck in Oriental for a month because the Westerbeast had blown the injector pump, we had the good fortune of meeting Ellen and Randy through the Inland Provision Company. Randy gave Tim another hand while he removed the pump, and Ellen graciously delivered the pump to the overhaul shop for us while she ran errands nearby, and loaned us her truck when it was time to pick it back up. When we were strolling down the street on this visit, Randy happened by, which led to some discussion about some friends of theirs that they were waiting for. Their friends, David and Judy, were arriving on an 80-year-old wooden fishing boat - a classic Eastern-rigged dragger. David is a fisherman by trade and fishes during the summer season in Cape Cod, but this year they decided to do some cruising on the Richard & Arnold during the off season. We happened to meet them during their stay in Oriental and had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time with them.

The Richard & Arnold

The first thing you notice when you meet David and Judy is their smiles. These are folks content with their lot in the world, and genuinely happy to meet you. They are settled inside, grounded, and exude a quiet confidence from every pore. Judy would disagree, I'm sure, since she is brand new to the cruising thing and a little unsure about the technicalities, but life as the wife of a New England fisherman has given her the strength and flexibility to go pretty much anywhere their travels take them. David has fished New England waters in the Richard & Arnold solo for so many years I don't think there is much that would phase him. His face is perpetually smiling, and there's a twinkle in his eye that suggests this friendship with the sea, while challenging at times, is a mystery he has untangled.

We spent an hour with them on their boat the other day, Tim with Dave in the pilot house engaging in a rowdy discussion from which copious amounts of laughter ensued, and Judy and I in the salon talking book writing. Judy has two published books, Nautical Twilight - the story of a Cape Cod fishing family (which I bought but have yet to read), and The Fisherman's Ball, her first novel. We exchanged stories of our respective publishing experiences, the advantages of self-publishing, of our upcoming projects, and of missing our grandchildren. We left with smiles on our faces, their contentment and sense of humor spilling over to envelop us, a common occurrence for anyone with the good fortune to meet these intriguing folks.

Of all of the many benefits this life has afforded, the richness that folks like David and Judy bring to our lives has been the greatest. It's cold and rainy outside, but my heart is warmed as images of the many people we've met come to mind. Each one has woven a new color thread into the tapestry that is our cruising experience, and for that we are extraordinarily grateful. On this rainy day I can think of nothing I wish for you all more than the blessing of good peeps like these in your lives.