Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Here in the ICW ...

The Arthur Ravenel Bridge leaving the Charleston Harbor
Kintala and her crew have now logged two days of ICW travel. We were hoping to avoid “The Ditch” until ducking behind Cape Hatteras. Somehow though, sidetracked by the Islands, we are running out of days to get to our tropical baked selves to places north. Weather on the outside has winds from the exact wrong direction pushing uncomfortable waves directly across our path. If we didn't need to be where we need to be when we need to be there, we would be sitting out a wait in places warm and fun; Fernandina Beech, or Vero. Maybe Savannah. But press on we must, with The Ditch being the only workable alternative.

The first day, from Charleston to a place called Awendaw Creek, was a really good day. I know. A “really good day on the ICW” is an oxymoron, but it is true. Deb planned things perfectly. High tides provided deep water when and where we needed it, and a following current had us making tracks at better than six knots for most of the way. Good stuff indeed. What a difference 2000 miles and nearly two years of experience can make.

Getting a knot of help from the staysail while motoring.
The run today, this time to a place called Bull Creek, was a bit less good. Schedule and distance meant running some pretty skinny water at low tide. Skinny, as in “0.0” on the depth gauge skinny. I much prefer a readout that says “Last 990”.

Here's an idea, we should dredge the entire ICW to a depth of 1000 feet. Years of work for thousands of skilled operators of machines, engineers, managers, supply, accountants, and lawyers (lots and lots of lawyers). Not only would the ICW be so much easier to navigate and billions of dollars get pumped through family budgets and back into the economy, but all that extra depth wold help off-set some sea level rise. Maybe Florida would get a few more years before Miami is east of waterfront property? And all that excavated dirt could be put to lots of good uses, maybe build a break water around the Dinner Key Mooring Field, or buy Miami a few more years by building them a moat.

Not too many people headed north yet. We have only seen about 3 other boats.
I know, crazy idea. But well within the realm of crazy for some who are running for President of these United States. Some of those folks are Young Earth Creationists who ALSO think that climate change is a vast conspiracy concocted by scientists to keep oil companies from making a fair profit. They also claim that racism has been eradicated in this country and that women really do make the same amount of money as men for doing the same job. Dredging the ICW to 1000 feet? Small potatoes, light-weight, barely noticeable crazy in comparison. Someone should write a position paper, they can even keep the credit. (Can you tell we are back in the land of “news”?)

The anchorage at Awendaw Creek. Really like this place.

In addition to the thin water we experienced this morning, we also enjoyed the forgotten joys of a passing cold front. In the Islands “cold front” really means rain, wind, and a day slightly less warm than the day before. In the US, “cold front” means “&*)&^ its COLD! Layers, mittens, caps, and fowl weather gear were the uniform of the day for those in the ICW. Well, except for those in trawlers. They waved, shirt sleeved and cold drink in hand, from behind the closed doors of steering stations, wipers clearing the rain from their view. Wimps. (Or just smarter than me, not sure which at the moment.) After ten plus hours of mostly easy motoring, it was still a relief to drop the hook, come in out of the rain, and use a little extra water for a long, and very hot, shower. One must admit that the Beast does a really good job of heating up water, so even a day of motoring has an up side.

Sunrise in the haze at Awendaw Creek

We hope to press on in the morning but there is some concern about the weather. One forecast has winds gusting in the 30s. There is a swing bridge ahead that will not swing if the wind is over 25. So we may have to spend the day parked here, which is not a terrible idea. If we have to spend a day parked somewhere, I have seen a lot of places not nearly as pretty as this. At least, it was pretty when we came in. Now, well after sunset, with a low overcast dropping rain all around, mostly what it is is DARK, really quiet, and cold. All of which should make for a pretty good night of sleeping, here in the ICW.

Seen parked along the ICW

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Playing the waiting game

The mud flats east of Charleston
One of the things they never tell you in Cruiser 101 is how much time you'll spend sitting around waiting. If you have a sailboat with a five foot or better draft like we do, especially one that doesn't maneuver in broadside winds or currents like Kintala you'll have to plan around those winds, tides, and currents to move pretty much anywhere. We're sitting in Cooper River Marina in Charleston and our next jump is going to be in the ICW due to approaching weather. The next portion of the ICW happens to be the Mud Flats, a notorious portion that lays 3 feet deep at low tide for several miles. This means that we have to be at the entrance to it at mid tide to high, when the depth is up 3 feet and will leave us with just one foot under the keel. By the time we finish the transit of it the tide will be mid tide to low, the same three feet up from low, and we hopefully will not go aground. In 2013 when we transited this portion we did the same thing and still managed to plow  rift in the mud for over a quarter mile. So we sit, catch up on blog posts, do weather planning, top off the water tanks, carry out the trash, and wait.

We had a good time here. The marina is way out in the middle of nowhere and would not be a very good place to provision if you didn't have a car, but the scenery is pretty and the on-off access to the transient docks is excellent. It's also a great place to exercise these boat-stagnant legs since there's an elevated walkway from the transient docks to the parking lot that spans nearly a half mile. Last night we walked out to meet a long time blog follower, Scott, who lives here in Charleston and whom we had missed in 2013 when we originally left due to scheduling conflicts. We shared an excellent meal at a local Mexican restaurant and got to know Scott and hear his plans to move his boat to New York to be closer to his sons. It's one of the weird things about this lifestyle documented by the blog. There are people who know so much about us of whom we know so little, but it presents such a tremendous opportunity to meet new friends. We look forward to hearing updates on Scott's voyage soon.

Our waiting is starting to bring on some pressure of a deadline, something that we hate and try to avoid at all costs. Deadlines are dangerous to boaters of all kinds and, while we thought we allowed sufficient time to get to Annapolis before our May 16th flight out, the weather may have some other ideas. It certainly seems it will drive us onto the ICW, something else we're not keen on. So for now, we sit and wait.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Old and comfy

I've often ribbed Tim about the male propensity for very old, ratty undergarments. He says they're not old and ratty,they're soft, comfortable, and they fit just right. I actually don't know any female who hasn't registered her objection to this habit. But maybe, just maybe, I'm admitting I understand the principle, if not the execution.

One of the things we like about cruising is that we get to meet so many new people. Each anchorage, mooring or dock brings the potential for new relationships and some of these have developed into lifelong friendships. But there are some times when nothing will suffice but a good, old, comfy friend. Friday morning saw the arrival of just such a one to the marina where we're staying, our good friend Kacey.

The thing about old, comfy friends is that, no matter how much time has elapsed since the last visit, you fall right into the comfy part: laughing, telling stories, shared food which you already know you both like. It's easy. It's right.
Chatting with Kacey while watching the big ships roll by.

Don't want to break down on the way to town...
We didn't do much over the weekend, just hanging out on the boat with one foray into the historical downtown area of Charleston on a walking tour in lieu of an expensive ferry tour to the fort on the opposite shore. We ambled along old residential streets reading signs about each of the residences. We had lunch in a restaurant converted from a historical warehouse. We strolled through a few cemeteries reading the oldest stones that could still be deciphered. The oldest date of death we found was 1760 something (the last number was chipped off), although there were many more that had faded beyond reading. There were countless stones from men who served in the revolutionary war and the civil war. One family had a small fenced-in area with the stone for each of the parents and one large stone engraved with the dates of their five children, all of whom had preceded them. The youngest died at 5 days and the oldest lived to be 17. It was humbling. We take so much of our lives in this free country for granted and complain about way too much.

The high winds and rainy weather kept us pinned to the dock for the rest of Kacey's visit, so sailing with us will have to wait for another time in the fall. Even so, it was hard to say goodbye and send him on his way back to the workaday world. Tomorrow we pick up the trek northward, and in spite of the fact that it will involve some time on the ICW and a hard push of days, there will be more old, comfy friends at the other end to look forward to.

Old churches and their cemeteries abound in historical Charleston

The office and dock of the pilot boats for the harbor

You can spend a whole day just looking at the entry ways

Believe it or not, this is a garage door.

My granddaughters would want this one.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cutting the grass

Fernandina Beach anchorage.
Kintala has found her way to Charleston, SC. In five days and three nights of sailing she has covered nearly 500 nm, lying now about 375 nm north of West End. Friend Kacey, who recently moved from IL to Savannah, arrived this morning for a visit. One of my brothers lives here as well and we hope to get together; something that doesn't happen near often enough. It will be a few days before we set out again.

I am glad of that for, truth to tell, the press to get from West End to here was not as enjoyable as I had envisioned. We have managed some good sailing, made our longest passage so far, handled unexpected conditions with a certain amount of aplomb, and not broken anything. A lack of wind forced the Beast to be awake for much of the trip, which meant hand steering. It turns out hand steering for a short-handed crew gets more tiring on an exponential curve. Hours at the helm later in the trip become multiples more difficult than those at the start. It just flat wears a body out. A day, a night, and a day is about it without an auto-helm. After that heaving-too for a few hours would be about the only safe choice. And that does not include the energy burned if multiple sail changes are required say, in the middle of the night in a sudden 30 knot blow.

Fernandina Beach sunset.

No more turquoise water. Gunmetal gray and cold.
A few days of resting, visiting, and catching up on sleep, food, and quiet times is a gift very much appreciated. We are roughly 1/3 of the way to where we need to be. When it comes time to set out again it would be good to be looking forward to the traveling rather than dreading the miles. If we had to leave today I would be dreading the miles, and that is a bit discouraging. Until these last few days I have always really liked being “under way”. Moving along, nav systems humming, making adjustments for the weather, tweaking the course, making an ongoing series of decisions about the route; to be under way is to be in a unique place known mostly to pilots and sailors. It is a free-form, flowing, evolving bit of life imitating art; creativity for the technocrat. But somehow these last few legs have been more like grinding out a report for the boss rather than writing a short story for the fun of it.

The only other cruising boat we saw between Fernandina Beach and Charleston
I guess I have should have been expecting that to happen. This is, after all, the way we live; not something we do on the weekends. Sometimes you get to plant in the garden. Sometimes you have to cut the grass. And usually, after cutting the grass, it is time to take a break.

Another hitchhiker. They always seem to be warblers.

I want to go back to de islands mon, where the water and sky be blue and the sand be white.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Slick as a whistle

Before we first started out cruising, while we were still on Lake Carlyle in Illinois, we bought a set of headsets more commonly known as "marriage savers". We bought them because once we had the dodger installed we were having trouble either seeing or hearing each other and communication about docking and anchoring was becoming unmanageable. No one in an anchorage or on the dock wants to hear you shouting to each other. We bought the Simultalk 24g headsets because the radio pack was small and light, the clarity was purportedly excellent, they were full duplex so you didn't step on each other and the headsets were light and easy to wear. I can't tell you how helpful they were in learning how to anchor down the ICW, in working though foggy areas with one of us on the bow and the other on the helm, in docking in tricky wind and current situations and, surprisingly, while emptying the holding tank so we could know when to rinse, when to pump without screaming out the porthole.

Fast forward two years. We began having trouble with the headsets about six months ago. The wires from the headset unit to the radio unit are not very robust and we began having static when we moved around. This is a sailboat, remember, so we move around a lot. Also, the plug seemed not to seat well after awhile and so it wouldn't transmit at all or one could talk and the other could hear but not transmit. It became such a huge issue that we realized we had to do something about it, but we couldn't afford new ones at the moment. Hand signals, you say? Can't do it on Kintala because we have a manual windlass. When Tim is working the windlass he is kneeling down and is visually below the level of the dinghy on the deck. I can't see him at all from the helm. With the dodger and the 42 feet factor and the wind and the engine, I can't hear him at all either. We had an immediate need for a solution.

We decided to try something totally new, something we had never seen anyone else do. We have an assortment of safety whistles on board, two of which are the Storm safety whistles from a friend of ours' company that we keep in the ditch bag and at the helm. Two are USCG safety whistles that are tied onto our life jackets, and two are the USCG safety whistles that are the flat plastic type like these >>>>>>

They are easy to wear all day, tuck into our shirts, can be heard through the dodger, around the dinghy and over the wind and engine noise. After a few days of using them we've come up with a reliable signal system and, except for the rare time like the night before last when we had to up anchor and move in the middle of the night, they work really, really well as communicator devices. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the headsets in the first year of cruising because we simply didn't have the experience to gracefully carry out docking and anchoring maneuvers without talking extensively about them first. Now that we have almost two years of it under our belt, though, we mostly anticipate what the other person is requiring and it goes pretty smoothly. So if you happen to be anchored somewhere and we come in to join you, here's what our signals mean.

1 short blow: forward easy
2 short blows: neutral
3 short blows: reverse
4 short blows: anchor is on or off the bottom
1 long blow: forward and to port
2 long blows: forward and to starboard
and of course the universal 5 long blows for danger or stop

We've been using this system now for a couple months and it's working very well for us. In addition we find that having them on all the time is helpful. When you're below using the head on Kintala you can't hear someone in the cockpit even yelling, so if the person driving needs help we use the whistles. You can hear them fine even as far forward as the V-berth.

In defense of Simultalk, I haven't contacted them yet to report the problem and see if there's anything to do to fix them. My guess is that they are long out of warranty and we're just moving on, but I admit to being disappointed that they didn't last more than 18 months. If I'm able to contact them and they respond I'll be sure to post an update. In the meantime, anchoring and docking will be slick as a whistle.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A little bit the blue water sailor ...

Deb and I have long admitted that we are not blue water sailors. Yet Kintala is back in the States, anchored at Fernandina Beach to be exact, after a 300 nm, 3 day / two night mini-passage. Not really blue water sailing and certainly nothing to boast about in the cruising world. But it is our longest passage so far.

On the one hand such a trip seems an easy thing to do. Exit the West End channel, pick up a heading of 335 degrees true, stay on board for fifty hours or so. When land appears the trip is near over. We are often on board for days at a time, and we like sailing. We had already waited a day for the weather to settle down, and would have gladly waited more. (Is anyone ever in a hurry to leave the West End?) But the weather guessers agreed that the winds would be light though workable, the seas benign, and the window good for several days. Cruising means moving. It was time to move.

The main sail went up after we cleared West End but there was barely enough wind for it to hold a shape. That meant keeping the Beast in the traces. Unfortunate that, since Henry, our Cape Horn Wind Vane Steering System, only works when there is a true wind to work the vane. Wind provided by the Beast pushing the boat doesn't count so, when the Beast is at work, someone has to hand steer the boat.

Cruising boats absolutely need an auto-helm that works with both sails and the motor. It is a critical bit of missing equipment that we simply have to rectify during this summer's work. Don't even think of buying a cruising boat unless it has a fully capable auto-helm proven to work. That, or figure on digging up big bucks to add one.

We soldiered on through the day. Just before sunset we crossed paths with a small catamaran heading west. Her crew had changed their destination to Port Canaveral. They simply didn't carry enough fuel to get further north without wind. Kintala carries 80 gallons, which should be good for nearly 500 miles. We could, in theory, motor all the way to the St. Marys Entrance, though the crew would be toast long before then.

Normal precautions for night sailing on Kintala include the mandatory wearing of life vests and the use of tethers. No one goes out on deck unless the other person is up and at the helm, and we always put a reef in the mainsail if it is up at all. Should one reef already be in, we will put in the second. So we set the first reef and hoped for some wind. What we got instead was a large swell. Large, as in the tops were at eye level to the person sitting at the helm. A three foot swell in Forecast speak looks to be near eight feet in Kintala speak. It was enough to set up a throw-things-around-the-boat, gunwale to gunwale thrash that went on for hours. Shelves were emptied and I tried not to think about the load on the Beast, the drive train, and the rudder. This morning secured at anchor, we did a long, careful inspection of the machine spaces. The Beast needed a sip of oil, the steering cables needed a turn or two of tightening, and as a bonus we found the small water leak that has eluded capture for a couple of weeks. Other than that all appears to be ship-shape.

Come morning the seas had eased just a little. Deb worked the hardest through the night and was asleep on the cockpit floor. It is a secure place, like sleeping in a bath tub. Not the most comfortable but one can't fall out. (And you thought cruising was glamorous.) I wanted to let her rest some more, she had certainly earned it. But I was literally falling asleep STANDING at the helm, my toast completely burnt.

Around 1600, back at the helm and a little less burnt, I noticed the true wind had filled in to a constant ten knots on a workable point of sail. I woke Deb. We added the jib to the still reefed main and the sails finally found some purchase. The Beast went to sleep with a sigh. Even better than the silence was Henry taking over the steering duties. Thirty-two hours in and we were finally free to move about the cabin. Having pushed through a bad night it was time to enjoy the magic of passage making. We were feeling pretty good about things, but it was too good to last.

A reefed main and jib are a modest sail combo for less than 20 knots worth of wind, but the swells returned, setting the jib to flogging its little fabric heart to death with each passing trough. We (I) tried to set the pole, but a badly sleep deprived deck monkey and a wildly gyrating deck are a poor match. Abandoning the attempt before anything, or anyone, got broken, we ended up rolling in the jib and setting the main far out to starboard riding a preventer. That is an unusual sail set for Kintala. With the wind well aft of the beam we almost always fly the jib alone. The boat likes it. Henry likes it. And, truth to tell, I like it. All work on the mainsail is done forward standing on the cabin top or hanging onto the boom. It is a big sail, deeply roached and fully battened. Just the thought of it getting out of control is enough to make the skin crawl. But with a gentle breeze filling just part of the sail, a breeze forecast to fade by morning, there should have been nothing exciting creeping up on us.

Remember what I said about putting in a second reef at night if one was already in? Yeah, well, I should have remembered it myself. It was after midnight. Deb was at the helm once again and I was asleep on the cockpit floor. I think Deb and the motion of the boat both woke me up at the same time. The 7 to 11 knots of wind had turned into more than 30 in the space of just a few seconds, clocking to provoke a crash jibe, preventer or no. What happened next was every adventure story teller's dream come true, and every middle aged coastal cruiser's nightmare. Even though I was there, I can't really describe what happened. Included in the melee was a back winded stay sail with a sheet jammed in a block, tangled with a wayward reefing line. In there somewhere the starboard rail was deep under water, Kintala dangerously over powered, with me hanging head down across the cabin top tangled in heap of life vest, tether, and flogging sheets. I was out there trying to free the preventer that was tangled in a rat's nest of its own. Then there is this hazy bit of standing on the dink pulling down a thundering main sail one armful at a time.

Eventually, like coming out of a bad dream, I realized the stay sail was set and pulling, the main was tied in a heap on top of the boom, and the baby stay was secured. Somehow we got it done without broaching, ripping a sail to bits, tossing the deck monkey (that would be me) over board, or breaking any bones. Adrenaline-charged and spray soaked, I crawled back into the cockpit not entirely sure what had just happened. But we were safe and sailing, making a steady five knots toward the St. Marys channel entrance, with an estimated time of arrival some nine hours in the future.

Those nine hours were the only enjoyable part of the 50+ hour sail. I was just too exhausted and beat up to fully appreciate them. Still, even in that fragile state of mind that often comes with a serious thrashing, I was content with the decisions we had made and our ability to deal with the conditions. Every single weather guesser had missed the swell of the first night and the wind gusts of the second night. I was out there and those 30 knot winds blew in from a perfectly clear, moonlit sky. There were no clouds, frontal boundaries, dry lines, or developing lows to portend the burst of energy that washed over the bit of ocean we were in. The barometer was up and stayed up. The air was cool and dry and stayed cool and dry. But something tickled the sky and set it to thrashing. Kintala was just in a bad place when it happened, with the wrong sail set and a very tired crew. (Never again will I fly the main sail, particularly at night, when one of the head sails will get the job done.)

We had hoped that Fernandina would be a nice place to regroup, gather some provisions, get fuel and a pump-out, find time for some sleep, and get back our definition of normal. But it hasn't worked out that way. In the middle of last night we had to up and move the boat. Somehow we were too close to another anchored boat, the competing winds and currents had us stretched out on our rode in one direction, the other boat facing its anchor from a different direction. The cold front forecast to mostly wash out and amount to little has brought with it 30 knot winds and painted the anchorage with white caps. Compared to the Islands this place is dingy, the water murky, and the air smelly and cold. As soon as we get the chance, Kintala will be heading back outside and on the move once again.

So there may be a bit of blue water sailor in us after all.