Friday, December 4, 2009

Time and distance

One thing I have forgotten to add to the posts are the times and distances I have travelled. I will try to incorporate them in each post as I go, but here are the legs I have made so far:

Sunday, 29 Nov 2009 - 45.6 miles, 13.45 hrs, avg speed 3.39 kts
Monday, 30 Nov 2009 - 89.9 miles, 19.56 hrs, avg speed 4.59 kts
Tuesday, 1 Dec 2009 - 15.8 miles, 3.2 hrs, avg speed 4.9 kts (motoring only)
Wednesday, 2 Dec 2009 - 14.2 miles, 3 hrs, avg speed 4.73 kts (motoring only)
Thursday, 3 Dec 2009 - 44 miles, 8.5 hrs, avg speed 5.17 kts (motoring only)

So, all told I have sailed for 209.5 miles, in about 48 hours time. Not too bad, just about the 100 miles per 24 hour average I'd like to see underway.

In the Swamp

Its early Friday morning, and I have just a bit of catching up to do. I am now back in Elizabeth City NC, where I was moored 8 months ago at the Pelican Marina, prior to heading up to Maryland. I lived aboard at the Pelican for about 5 months, it is a great little marina, in a pretty nice southern town, that is hailed as "The Harbor of Hospitality." I will spend a few days here with friends, and then head on further south. Just a note: the colored text highlighting some of the words are links to sites about that particular business or place. Some of the links are extremely interesting, giving insight on the history or purpose of places, such as the Dismal Swamp Canal.

So to catch up on the past few days:
Tuesday morning came much too early. After getting into Ft Monroe at 3am, I woke around 730 or so. Breakfast was hot tea and peanut butter sandwiches, and it looked like it was going to be a really nice day when I peeked out of the hatch. I made a ton of phone calls, letting everyone know I was ok, and then I weighed anchor around 9, and began to motor over to Portsmouth, where I would anchor in the little cove off of Hospital Point.

I made the anchorage around noon, and then bailed out the dinghy. It must have had 30 gallons of water in it, it seemed like it took forever to bail out. Once that was done, the first item on the agenda was to get Spook to land, where she could do her business, having gone about 48 hrs or so without making a mess, and the next thing was to get some fuel and some items I had forgotten to get before setting out.

Beth came and picked me up at the Tidewater Yacthing Center dock, and ran me around on errands. We went out to the farm to feed her horses, and then it was out again on Wednesday, I got an eye exam, some new contacts, new gloves (which I found out later were only water resistant, not water proof) and a trip to Jeannie's Used Books. I got some training pads, a new brush and an extra bag of food for Spook at Petsmart. Hopefully I can train Spook to do her thing out on the foredeck, so far she has yet to do so on the boat. The idea is to have a piece of indoor/outdoor carpet up there that has a line attached to it, once she uses it, I can heave it all overboard, and drag it for a mile or so and let the ocean do the clean up for me.

I motored up the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River on Wednesday around noon, past all the shipyards, the old neighborhood, and what is left of the Jordan Bridge. The Jordan Bridge was a lift type drawbridge linking Portsmouth and South Norfolk, which is actually in the city of Chesapeake. It was the oldest drawbridge in Virginia, having been commissioned in 1928. Now its lift span is gone, and it does make the trip up river a bit different.

I made it through the scheduled lift of the Gilmerton Bridge not long after, and then it was up a small leg of the Elizabeth River to the Deep Creek Locks, the start of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

I was passed by a Mainship Trawler on my way down the Elizabeth River, and I radioed him to see if he was going south via the Dismal Swamp Canal. If your destination is Elizabeth city, it is by far the shorter of two routes, but many sailors are fearful of transiting this really nice scenic passage. He had heard there were snags and blow downs in the canal, and was going via the Albemarle and Chesapeake canal.
When I got to the Deep Creek Locks, I was let in almost immediately, and as I tied up, the lock master recognized me from my trip north a few months ago. Robert, the lockmaster, and I talked for a good bit while the lock filled, I learned that it is the lockmasters duty to not only operate the lock, and the bridge at Deep Creek, but also to maintain the proper water level in the canal as well. He explained that the water level varied by only about 6 inches throughout the year, and this was controlled by a spillway at either end of the canal. I motored out of the lock, and then through the Deep Creek bridge, where I turned Arden around and tied up at La Familia restaurant. I had tied up here before on the way north, but for years I had passed this spot, thinking to myself "one day I will be on a boat tied up there, heading south to warmer waters", and lo and behold, here I am, tied up, on my trip south. I had dinner there with Beth, Steve and Scotty Ray, and then it was time to unload all the stuff I had gotten while in town, and time for bed. Yes, more stuff to be stored on board the boat, where in the world am I going to put it all?

Thursday morning came early, a nice warm day, not nearly as windy as forecast, maybe it was but down in the canal it was not bad at all. I started out at around 0645, destination Elizabeth City via South Mills.

Motoring along the trip was beautiful. I only passed one other boat, and that was a work boat from the Army Corps of Engineers, which operate the canal. He was out checking for logs and downed trees, and I let him know I had passed a few floating logs a mile or so back. As long as you are fairly alert and stay pretty centered in the canal, there aren't many dangers to worry about in the canal.

I passed by the visitors center at the NC rest area, and motored on in to the South Mills area. The bridge lifted not long after I got there, and then it was into the South Mills Lock which lowers you into the Pasquotank River. The normal operating time for the lock is 1130, but as I was the only boat there, north or south bound, the lockmaster let me into the lock and began to lower me right around 11. He said they normally get about 30 boats through a month, The day prior there were 4 boats south bound, but today I was the only one.

I continued to motor south, through the meandering Pasquotank River, this section of the river curves back and forth and around, it is just over 9 miles to Elizabeth City as the crow flies, but just about 17 miles on the water. Quite a relaxing trip, the river is extremely peaceful, and I was just kind of laying back, making great time heading in to town.

Just about 1430 I had the Camden Causeway bridge in sight, and the bridgemaster opened the span as I came through - I didn't even have to slow down. I called the Pelican, and anchored off the marina just about 1500. A quick motor over to the dinghy dock, and I was back among friends, the crowd in the marina office had changed little in the months I was gone, and I was greeted by "look whos back" and "where did you get off to". I wasn't fast enough on getting Spook outside for her walk, and I was totally embarrassed when Mike Taylor, A live aboard and one of the guys that works at the Pelican said "hey, I think your dog is doing her thing on the floor" as Spook christened the floor of the store shortly after we got in.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Casting off...I am south bound....

I am south bound at last!

This post is probably going to bounce around a little bit, I have had a very full past few days...typical sailing...85% relaxation and boredom (good for book reading), 10% absolutely perfect conditions to sail how and where you want, and 5% absolute terror.
As Liz posted for me, I cast off Sunday 29 November. For starters let me say, what a beautiful day to sail. Late November and it was sunny, clear skies and temps in the upper 50's and low 60's. I spent the first part of the morning launching the dinghy, removing the gangplank, and getting the boat ready to sail. Unplugging the shore power, topping off the water tank, pulling off sail covers...etc. Around 9 John came over and he helped me retrieve the last dock lines and cast off, I was finally underway and sailing south. I left the Solomons harbor area just at about 0900, and by 0930 I had sails up and I was underway. I think I had cleared Cedar Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River by 1030, and it was then that I realized the weather guys had the forecast totally screwed up as far as wind was concerned, not 6-10 out of the west northwest, try 5-8 out of the south, south west. The westerly wind would have been great for a straight shot down the Bay, but the southerly wind was coming from the direction I wanted to go in. Not all that good. I knew I was in for a long day, probably a good day, but a long one as I was going to have to do quite a bit of tacking to get south.

I sailed and I sailed, I tacked and I tacked some more, for every 5 miles I had actually covered I had only made about 1 mile or so in a southerly direction. I passed the Pax River Naval Air Station Targets around 1400, they are roughly 8 miles or so below the Pax River, I don't think I lost sight of the Calvert Cliffs until 3 or 4 pm. The boat was sailing great, under a full main and Genoa I was making 4-5 knots and she was balanced enough that I was able to use the tiller lock as an auto helm, the windvane was not needed to hold course. I put on the Kokatat suit Mike gave me sometime around 5, and I was amazed at how warm it was. The temp had dropped off a bit, but the suit kept me warm and dry from the spray. I really had hoped to make better time and at least make Gwynn's Island by late evening this first day- that is about the halfway point down the Bay - but that obviously was not going happen. I made up my mind that no matter what, I was gonna make the Virginia border, and anchor in the lee of the southern shore of the Potomac River. I finally got into the Potomac River about 10pm, and anchored off of Ophelia around 11pm. Nice calm night, lots of stars, full moon, and a nice light breeze. It wasn't too cold on board, and I finished off the night with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Spook and I racked out for the night, and I really didn't use any heat on the boat other than the stove for cooking, and the sleeping bag proved to be easily warm enough for the conditions. I had sailed a total of 48 miles in 13 hrs and 56 min, and had gotten about 25 miles south.

I woke on Monday around 0600, and by 0630 I had made hot tea, some oatmeal, and sailed off the anchor. I was heading down the Potomac as the day broke with a beautiful sunrise. I had sailed up the river slightly the night before, and as the Virginia shore juts out into the bay farther than the southern tip of Maryland does, I had about a 7 mile sail just to get into the bay and around Smith Point. I got past the Smith Point Light around 0900, and it looked like I was still going to have the same wind as Sunday. Back and forth across the bay I went, for a little while I had the company of a Cape Dory 36, I was under a full main and working jib, and he was under a main alone, but he was still a little bit faster than I, and in 3 or 4 hours he and I parted ways when he tacked and I continued on my course. I made PB&J for lunch and had hot tea in the thermos from breakfast. I was way out near Tangier Island around 1200, when I was buzzed by 2 of the US Airforce's finest-2 F16's loaded for bear and bombing the target ship just north of where I was. Quite a cool sight, and I was ticked because I could not get the camera out fast enough. Around 1230 or so the wind began to shift, and I started to be able to sail in a more southerly direction, by 1400 I was sailing a bit southwest and making great time, around 4.5 to 5 knots. It started to sprinkle on and off around around 3, but the wind was holding and it wasn't too bad in the Kokatat suit. I began to think about the feasibility of making Hampton that night, if the wind held speed and direction, I would be there around 11 or so, and would be in a really nice anchorage at Ft. Monroe.

Around 1700 (5 pm) the wind began to pick up and I clipped in to the jacklines and went forward to put a reef in the main, and by 1730 the rain had started to come down pretty heavily. I put Spook down below and closed up the cabin, and that is when the wind really picked up. I went forward again and dropped the jib, and minutes later we were hit hard. Driving rain, really high wind and it was blowing to beat the band. I ended up pulling down the main and lashing it down, and then the full force of the gale hit. I had estimated that the wind was around 50 knots, and later Liz looked it up and told me 50 Kts with gusts of 70. All I know was I couldn't bring Arden into the wind, as hard as the wind was blowing it was all the boat could do to round up within 20 degrees of the wind. So I had to come up with a new plan. With all the rocking and rolling I looked at the GPS and the chart, I had plenty of room ahead south of me, about 30 miles until the Norfolk coast, and the Bay Bridge Tunnel just past that. If I could hold a course of 210 degrees I'd end up roughly in the Hampton Roads area, and I might just be able to turn up into the James River, where I wanted to be anyway. It blew and blew. The seas grew and ended up stacking to about 5 feet, I had 2 or 3 waves break over the stern and flood the cockpit, and one of them broke the windvane. Here I am fighting the tiller, doing all I can to keep her steady, and the next thing I know, the windvane rudder is in the cockpit with me! I was making 4.5 knots under bare poles (no sails) and was surfing the oncoming waves. That is quite an odd feeling - first you get lifted and pushed, like a big hand is under you. Then you drop off the back of the wave, and the boat wallows around in the trough a bit, only to be picked up again and have it start all over. With Arden's transom hung rudder this really has a tendency to give the helmsman a good working over, you end up working the tiller alot, and then the tiller ends up working you even more.

I fought my way across the bay in this storm for about 5 hours, we were rocking and rolling a great deal, and I had to remind myself a few times just how sturdy Arden is, and that we could take this, and probably much more. We ended up getting hit broadside by a few waves that were out of sequence with the others, and we rolled hard, about 45 degrees I would guess, and I have to guess at it because the inclinometer stops at 40 degrees. All I know is the leeward rail was well buried and the decks got washed pretty good. Finally the rain let off around 9, and then the wind abated a bit and I was under partly cloudy skies, and it was pretty damn cold. I was glad to have the Kokatat on, I was dry, and therefore I was reasonably warm. My hands were cold because the gloves I had were not waterproof, something I need to take care of when I get to Chesapeake. I made the western shore (mainland) side of the bay just at the mouth of Mobjack Bay right at about 2300 (11pm), but the waves were driving too hard for me to make a hard turn to the west and get in. So back we are again to plan "A", Hampton Roads, in specific, Ft. Monroe.

With the wind and waves still hard at it, I followed the Poquoson coastline down until I reached the Hampton Roads channel, complete with 3 freighters, some in bound and some out bound, and 2 fishing trawlers headed out as well. I did the best I could to fight the current coming out of the James River, but I was only making about 2 knots. I was not out of the wind yet completely, and I was taking the waves broadside trying to get into Hampton. Not a fun ride at all. Finally, around 2am I was completely in the lee of Ft Monroe, and I was in calm waters at last...quite a relief that was. I managed to find the channel into Ft Monroe despite my fatigue, and I dropped anchor just at 3am. I did the best I could to tidy up the decks and rigging, and then went below to straighten u down there.

No matter how well you think you have everything secured and put away, it seems that in a good blow everything that is not nailed down manages to find its way to the cabin floor. What a mess I had down there. I put most of it away, made the calls I had to make to let folks know I was safe, and I packed it in for the night. I slept for a few short hours, and I was up to take off again and head for Portsmouth.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Arden is underway

John called at around 8:45 am ish to let us know that he is underway.  His marina buddy John saw him off with the rope casting.  He leaves behind one of the first frosty mornings (not the first, but a more serious looking one) so the timing is about right.  Spook did not give any report.  Bon voyage!