Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bridge Weenie

I confess. I've been a full time cruiser for nearly two years now and I still hate bridges. Taking a boat on which is everything you own, with a large pointy stick on it, under a fixed barricade which may or may be accurately measured, which may or may not be marked at all or, even better, which may be openable and manned by someone who may or may not feel up to par that day? Sheer madness. There. I said it. But apart from the admittedly rare accidents involving bridges, I do have justifiable reasons to feel that way, even though Tim thinks I'm overly dramatic on the subject.

On our way down the ICW in 2013 we drew near a bascule bridge and made the requisite call to the operator who assured us she would open the span when we were a little closer. We had both wind and a 2 knot current behind us, neither of which impressed her. "Keep coming Captain and I'll open it when you get here". We kept creeping up. We were nearly to the bumpers and still the bridge was not opened. Full power reverse and some sweaty palms later and the bridge finally opened, accompanied by the expletives of The Captain. Most bridge tenders are efficient, polite, and easy to deal with. But the few who are not are the ones you remember.

Fast forward year and we were sitting in a restaurant on the New River in Ft. Lauderdale happily munching on a cheeseburger on their outside deck. Our table had a premeir view of one of the many railroad bridges that line that waterway, in front of which perched a large LED digital sign. The sign began a readout about an approaching train in 15 minutes. The warning repeated itself in bright red letters accompanied by an audible alarm as the countdown began. It reassured me some.

Fast forward again to Tuesday as we worked our way up the last several miles of the ICW. The last three bridges are two railroad bridges with a fixed highway bridge in between, all in the space of less than a mile. The railroad bridges are normally open, and only close when a train needs to cross. They are manned remotely from someone's desk in an office miles away. They have no sign, no lights, no bells, whistles, or other alarms. The only warning is an announcement on VHF channel 13. We had heard an announcement that the second railroad bridge was going to close in ten minutes so our plan was to go through the first railroad bridge and hold in the larger space before the highway fixed bridge rather than the smaller space before the closed railroad bridge. We crept under the first one and drew the Westerbeast down to idle as we coasted along. There was very little current and even less wind so we just drifted along waiting for the span to reopen. At some point Tim turned around and looked behind him to see the railroad bridge we had just come under lowering to closed position...absolutely silently. No bells, no sirens, no lights, no screeching metal, nothing. We somehow missed the announcement for that bridge closure in the clutter of transmissions for all of the bridges on the river. We missed the closing by mere minutes. It was enough to give me a shudder down my spine.

And if you think I'm being overly dramatic, I present this picture of one of the bridges we passed under. It had two temporary metal supports holding it up. Yeah. Doesn't that fill you with confidence?

Yes, I'm a bridge weenie. Bridges are an integral part of cruising, but I, for one, am completely happy to be done with them for at least the next several months.

Possibilities ...

Odin the Wanderer. Photo property of Bonnie Cunningham
Fifteen days after departing the Cooper River, Kintala cleared the ICW, motored past the billions of dollars of Navy floating among a myriad of docks, and found her way to the anchorage off of Fort Monroe. It was a bit exposed but not bad, and there we met up with a newly departed cruising couple from our distant past. Bonnie and Craig were acquaintances from the St. Louis professional aviation scene, experienced pilots, Craig a mechanic. We had crossed paths now and again but none of us knew of the others intent to go cruising. Yet there we were, Kintala anchored just boat lengths away while we shared stories and sun-downers on their PDQ Cat, Odin the Wanderer. It was as unexpected and delightful a meet-up as I have ever had, one I would have never guessed would happen. The next morning they continued south for their first brush with the ICW. Kintala's bow pointed the other way. Once acquaintances but now good friends, I'm pretty sure we will catch up to them somewhere in some place that has clear water and warm, sunny skies.

The Marina and boatyard at Fishing Bay. (Sorry for the blur)

Since this is where we started our adventure, one might think that the Chesapeake would feel a bit like home. But the fact is we have sailed into Treasure Cay in the Abaco Islands many more times than we have into Fishing Bay, which is where we sit at the moment. We did visit here on our first trip south, but the place didn't look at all familiar as we motored in yesterday afternoon. I don't know why it didn't make more of impression since it is a very nice place. There is a boat yard that allows live-a-boards who are working on their boat, a nice marina that offers a loaner car to the little town nearby, and that little town has all the necessities of life; including jelly beans and rum. Kintala had run out of both.

Red sky in the morning...

There is some weather around so we are planning to spend a couple of days. Two days ago “the weather” was a massive low pressure area that was due to spin up and lash the Bay with 40 knot winds, heavy rain and thunderstorms. The fun was due to start tonight and last into tomorrow. We made our way here to sit it out. Now the weather is a band of rain and 20 knot winds, stuff we would easily sail in if there was need. But we have some room in the schedule, I am still far from operable, the boat needed provisions (Jelly Beans and Rum!), a pump-out would be a good idea before we go much further, and there is no need. Besides, if the weather changes its mind again, it would be much better to be solidly anchored here in NE winds of 40 knots, rather than having my busted-up self out wrestling with sails in the middle of the Chesapeake.

The last time the Dink was in the water was back in Fox Town. That was, of course, the last time the Merc did any work as well. Since then it has been perched on the stern pulpit, so I had my doubts about it waking up this morning. Such doubts were completely out of place. Second pull. That little motor is officially on my “glad I have this thing on board” list. Though the WesterBeast and I have settled into an uneasy relationship, and it has performed flawlessly since leaving the Bahamas, the chances of The Beast making that list are still in doubt. Still, it just clicked over 3100 hours of operation (though there is no real reason to believe the hour meter – it could be far more) and has been laboring without complaint. So, who knows? If bare acquaintances from long ago can turn up as good friends just starting out, met years and thousands of miles later at an anchorage at the base of the Chesapeake, I guess just about anything is possible.

All of my grandsons would love this stretch of the ICW. So many huge machines and cranes and ships.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Not as bad as it sounds ...

As Deb has mentioned, Kintala's Deck Monkey is operating at far less than 100%. A full day's rest in Styron Creek helped, but impending weather made getting a move-on imperative. A second day's rest was not to be. The anchor was weighed and Kintala set forth, but the weight of said weighing did me in. For the rest of the day just moving brought a gasp and a wince, though by day's end I could stand at the helm to help un-weigh the anchor just north of the Alligator River Swing Bridge, at a place called "Sandy Point".

The holding at Sandy Point is pretty good, the only good thing about the place. It is completely exposed in every direction, a deficiency exacerbated by it being nearly completely choked off with crab pots. We had followed a power cruiser in. Both boats spent much time sniffing around for a spot free enough to swing. We each found one, which pretty much used up all the space left by the crabbers. (We also found pots strewn haphazardly across the ICW in the Albermarle, black ones nearly impossible to see – I would like to meet the idiot who thinks that is a good idea. Indeed, crabbers are falling way down my list of watermen to be respected. I'm not asking that the whole ocean be a crab-pot free zone, just enough of it so the rest of us can still find it useful, and find a place to stop for the night.)

Come this morning we really needed to make our escape. Forecasts had the impending weather really, well, impending. The choice was to go back to a marina several miles in the wrong direction, or on to Coinjock, thirty miles in the direction we needed to go. Our take on the weather had going to Coinjock as the better option.

Coinjock lay on the other side of the Albermarle Sound from Sandy Point. The Albermarle has a bit of a reputation among those who sail the ICW. Compared to places like The Dismal Swamp, the Albermarle is a big body of water nearly open to the Atlantic, shallow, and prone to throwing steep and closely-spaced pounding waves at the incautious or unlucky. It was pond quiet and sunny when we motored across it back in 2013, with several people telling us how lucky we had been. There was little hope that it would be the same today.

The first task to going was that whole “weighing the anchor” thing, something well beyond my poorly functioning self. The best I could do was stand at the helm and hope Deb wouldn't get hurt trying to get the Mantus on board. Silly me. First the chain came aboard an easy armful at a time as she had me move the boat this way and that to stay over the rode. She got the anchor off the bottom and to the surface, but couldn't get it lifted onto the roller. I feared that would be the case. It is often all I can do to get it there myself. I was sure we would have to drift among the crab pots so I could go forward and add my manly efforts to help the Lady make the lift.

Silly me.

Deb shushed me back behind the helm where I could actually be of some use. Going to the mast she freed the spinnaker halyard, moved forward, clipped it to the anchor chain. Back at the mast a wrap or two went around the winch and, with the aid of the small winch handle, she cranked the anchor up onto the roller without a strain. Anchor secure, deck cleared, everything stowed, we went about crossing the Albermarle.

Somewhat chagrined at my obvious status of being redundant equipment, I insisted on staying at the wheel. Actually, the nature of my hurt is such that standing slightly hunched over, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, is one of the more comfortable positions I can find. If one is familiar with Kintala's cockpit layout, one knows that it is also the exact position someone who stands about six feet tall must assume when standing behind the helm.

Winds in the Albermarle, forecast to be five knots or less out of the west, were 15 to 18 due out of the east. The waves were lumped up and close together, the Beast laboring to keep five knots of SOG. Kintala shook a bit, giving me a look that said, “Well, could we get ON with it please?”

We spun out the little head sail, pushing the speed closer to six knots and giving the boat the muscle needed to ignore the waves. I got another look of, “PLEASE would you GET WITH IT?” We added the big jib, cranked both sails in tight. Kintala leaned over, SOG went to 7+ in the higher gusts, spray flew and children all over the world smiled. (Okay, I made that last bit up.)

Flying both head sails without the main is a strange combination. It only works when the Beast is in the mix with the apparent wind well forward of the beam. But when it works, it works really, really well. (For those who might wonder we set both the running back stays when we load the rig this way.) A cold, wet, gray, lumpy Albermarle was just a dance floor for a salt stained Kintala. Hours ahead of plan we were tied up to the dock in Coinjock, taking on fuel, making use of the pump-out, and topping off the water. Later I stood in the very nice, very hot shower long after the motion activated, timed lights went out. I'm still far short of 100%, but we are within a day's reach of mile Zero of the ICW, living on our boat, doing what we need to do when we need to do it to get to the things we need to get to.

It isn't always comfortable, but it isn't a bad way to live either.

(Ed note: sorry no pictures. When it wasn't raining I was too busy to take them and then it rained.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Did you hear the screeching halt?

The Princes Mia, our friend Martijn's boat at the Town Dock in Oriental.

The sliver of moon over Kintala at the Town Dock
We left the free town dock in Oriental yesterday because we had already exceeded the stay limit and our good friend Martijn needed the space. We probably should have stayed. A few days ago Tim started showing signs of some illness - allergies, cold, flu? No clue, but he was definitely exploring the bounds of misery. One of his big allergies is to pine pollen and we were spending inordinate amounts of time meandering with the river through pine forests full of it. And the wind was blowing it his way. Sneezing, watery eyes and a resumption of his December cough ensued.We dropped the hook at the beautiful Styron Creek anchorage early due to some nice wind filling the genoa, and he almost immediately dropped to the settee where he has been residing ever since, with the exception of a short foray to the V-berth last night. Tea hasn't helped much and we're exhausting all options in the medicine cabinet to no avail. Hopefully after another night he'll be able to resume the trip. This is one instance where the lack of an electric windlass has actually become a safety issue. I can't raise the 65# Mantus by myself and if we had to get to medical assistance we would simply have to attach a buoy and leave it there. The medical assistance issue reared its ugly head last night as his asthma was kicking in and he was having some difficulty getting his breath. We opted to stay here another day because medical assistance is eight miles away. If we had gone on to the next stop, the same assistance would have been nearly 45 miles. It's one of the things we accepted when we began this venture, that of being isolated from help in an emergency and while cruising is generally a very safe way to live (way safer than going anywhere in a car), there does exist some level of risk. He seems to be doing a bit better this evening, though, so with a bit of good rest tonight we can hopefully resume our trek northward. The geese are passing us by.

The parade out of Oriental in the morning.
Fortunately everything below was stowed. For the next half hour we heard a steady stream of complaints on the radio.
Apt name for the boat...I can think of another one but it's not very lady-like.
There are dozens of these fishing boats up and down the river.
And some very unique ones as well.
For an hour or so the boys were out playing touch-and-goes from the runway near by.
This is a beautiful anchorage with many faces.

First Love

Your first boat will always hold a special place in your heart. When we found Nomad, we really couldn't afford to buy her but we risked it and reaped the rewards. She was sturdy, stout, and oh so forgiving of our stupid newbie tricks. She patiently taught, we slowly learned.

When the time came for new dreams, Nomad moved on. She stretched her wings to a huge lake in Idaho, plenty of room to romp the way she loved, flouncing her drifter skirts with no shallows to worry her keel the way Carlyle Lake did. Her new owner was happy, and we were happy she had a good home.

That owner recently fell on hard financial times, and once again Nomad was looking for a new home. I received an email this week from her newest owner and it seems that Nomad's string of good fortune is unbroken. She has found a devoted, skilled, caring owner with plenty of time on his hands to care for her. She sports a new roller furler, a beautiful new cabinet in the galley, and some loving small improvements throughout. 

The time to send her on her way was definitely at hand in 2011, but we will always remember her with fondness, and we're so happy her trail of Good Kharma seems to be unbroken.

Fair Winds Nomad, and treat your new sailing partner well.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Okay then …

(Ed note: Sorry for the lack of interesting pictures but it's been raining too hard to get the camera out. I guess I need a waterproof camera if we're going to do the ICW...)
This is the ICW we know and remember. Rain, chilly, (hate to say “cold” after the winter the Midwest endured) with the weekend power boater antics just a joy to behold. Though, to be honest, the worst offender was a power cruiser who waked Kintala hard enough to put her aft cleat underwater, the wave breaking just short of being in the cockpit. It was a very hard hit that we could do nothing to avoid. He came up from behind and passed close by the starboard side, though we were in a bay at the time with miles of open water to work with.

For my grandsons - one of the many tugs and barges and work boats on the ICW. This one is the Army Corps of Engineers.

For the next hour or so the VHF shared a constant stream of bitter comments directed at this clown as he bullied his way northward through the parade of boats. I have no rationale for saying this, but I think he is the kind of person who was enjoying himself; getting a sort of twisted satisfaction offending people who could do nothing in response. Getting distance from such people is one of the joys of living on a boat, though clearly they can be found anywhere. At least we are not stuck living near such a wasted excuse for human DNA, or in his district or State. (Yes, I suspect this particular personality quirk is common among political, religious, and corporate leaders. At least here in the US.)

The staysail gives us at least 1/2 knot help
He was the worst offender, though later some little sport fisher apparently got a kick out of playing chicken. He slalomed around the boat ahead of us and pointed his bow directly at ours. Just as I was reaching for the horn he cut hard around our starboard side. We didn't wave at each other. The last was a bit laughable. A kid on a fishing skiff waited until we were next to him to firewall his engine and take off in a burst of boiling water, which was just enough to have the 23,000 pound Kintala barely nodding her head. He gave it a good try though and his intent was noted.

But hey, we are nearly two-thirds of the way to our destination. Had the ICW not been an option we would still be in Charleston waiting on a weather window. So in six days of motoring (and nursing what help we could out of the staysail – love having it on a furler) we touched down in Oriental. Here we will take a couple of days to do some needed projects and visit with friends. Getting in just before dark yesterday was a bit of a ride. As we passed the first marker for the channel a 30 knot gust front knocked us sideways, then dumped buckets of rain on our already soaking wet bodies. No chance of docking in that kind of weather. Pointing the bow back out into the Neuse and waiting for it to pass was the only safe option. An hour or so later we were approaching the pier. As the storm blew itself out the last of the winds ended up being directly on the bow as we entered the slip. That – for a change - made docking exceptionally easy. It was a nice parting gift since Deb was handling the lines alone while I drove the boat.

These folks going south on the ICW got a lot of help from their sail.

The free dock here is nice but has a pronounced lip, which had us concerned about catching the fenders on the rising tide. We tied off the best we could and I set the alarm for an 0130, check the mid-tide, wake up call. Stepping out into the rain I was completely confused to find that the boat had not moved at all and all lines and fenders were just fine. Being the intelligent person that I am, at 0500, at what I thought was going to be low tide based on the nearest Garmin reporting point, I went out in the rain to check again. Maybe the tide was running late or the moon was behind schedule? But the water level was the same. It turns out there is no tide here, something about it being a bay and a river or some such. It is a detail that I had completely forgotten in the time that has passed since we were here last. Time where tides and currents became an integral part of every day's living and decision making. So I plead being sleep deprived, wet, cold, and sore, for wondering what could possibly have happened in the cosmos to make the tides stop working at 0130 in the morning. It is a good thing that sailboats go slow since for clearly, some times, I have trouble keeping up.

One of the many boat yards and marinas that line the ICW.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A small ICW photo essay

I don't have very many pictures of the last few days because the weather has been so bad that I haven't wanted to risk my camera. These pictures are the few that I have been able to grab in between rain showers. Unfortunately, the light hasn't been very conducive to good photos but if you really want to see what the ICW is like, then I guess these are pretty accurate.

The anchorage at Bull Creek is a new favorite. We would like to see it in October when the leaves change colors.

I took this while cooking breakfast as we were underway. This is what you see out the galley port mile after mile.

One of the many swing and bascule bridges that we have to call to open.

You see all kinds of houses on the ICW from multiple million dollar ones to these middle range ones to, yes, trailer parks.

You can't trust the charts. Use your eyes. We were actually in the middle of the channel when I took this one
One of the few breaks we got from the rain today but the next storm was on the horizon already.

This mud was about a half of a boat length from our boat. The channel is very very narrow in some places.

We saw a lot of this view today.

One of the more interesting houses we saw today.

When we got to the Mile Hammock anchorage at Camp LeJuene, the wind totally died. it was stunning.

One of the 20 or so boats anchored with us at Mile Hammock

The reflections of the sunset on the water
A fish jumped and left ripples

It started to get fuzzy as son as the sun went behind the clouds. I expect there will be fog in the morning.

This panorama was so awesome that I put the full size up. Scroll to see the whole thing.