Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dockside again, at last

The silt on the bottom of Shallowbag Bay is some tenacious stuff, I have spent a good part of the last 3 days cleaning it off of my anchor chains, the deck, and every where it got tracked as I did day to day boat stuff. It is amazing how that stuff seemed to get everywhere, but I think most of it is gone now, or at least it is not nearly as evident and prevalent as it was.

In addition to sailing and cleaning, I have been out of contact for the past 3 days, the phone was working until I lost signal Thursday around 3pm, since then the phone has died, well the keypad has, but from what I can tell, I have had no signal so it was kind of a moot point. I am now in Oriental, NC, still have no phone signal, but I do have great internet courtesy of the coffee house directly across from the public dock. So, here is a recap of the past few days. I wrote some of this at anchor last night, so it should be pretty much up to date, even if it is a bit lengthy.

Visiting is over, and I am underway, really headed south now and truly sailing. I suppose some might say I have spent way too much time dawdling about in Carolina, but there were things to do (making arrangements for my storage unit, doing a bit of resupply) and people to see - Beth, the folks at the Pelican, Ali and her little people, Gary and Alice, Ali and company again - but now I have really begun this voyage of mine, and I am truly on a southerly course.

The morning of Christmas Eve I took my time getting underway, I went in to walk Spook and then grabbed a cup of coffee at the "Coffee House on Roanoke Island" (thats the name of the place, I swear) with Spook in tow. Yes, like alot of places in Manteo, our four legged friends are welcome at the coffee house. I weighed anchor around 945 and by 1000 I was headed out down the channel. After barely avoiding disaster on the way in last Friday in the storm, I marked all possible obstructions on the GPS on my way out. I also made sure to save the track I took, so that returning up that narrow channel will be easier in the future. I cleared the channel through Shallow Bag Bay around 1030, and raised sail. It took a bit to round the island, but by 1145 I was passing under the Manns Harbor bridge. (Rt 64/164 bridge, the locals call it the old bridge) and boy did it look close to the tip of my mast. I checked and rechecked the clearance on the map, the bridge has a vertical clearance of 45 feet at high tide, but my 34 foot mast seemed awfully close from my vantage point.

Almost all of my sail on Thursday was under wind power alone, I have burned up alot of diesel motorsailing so far, so now it is time to let the wind move me for free - no matter how fast or how slow that may be. Under certain conditions and points of sail Arden is a good bit faster under sail power alone, although there are times when that "iron wind" sure does help out. You would think that when the wind is directly behind Arden that would be when she is sailing the fastest, but unfortunately that is not the case. For once the weather forecast was right (actually the NOAA marine forecasts are usually pretty spot on) and the wind was out of the north - directly astern - and blowing pretty good at 10-15. Sailing before the wind, or running, may not be the fastest point of sail, but it does have a few advantages, most noteworthy of those being that you do not feel the wind since you are moving with it. I don't think the temps out on the water reached the forecast high, but at least it was not freezing. All day I ran downwind, only averaging 4.5 knots for most of the day, but then when I started for the place I had picked to anchor I made a 90 degree turn to starboard (right turn Clyde) and that put me on a beam reach, and we really really took off. Arden will do about 7.5 knots under the right conditions, and a beam reach in 15 kt winds is just about "the right conditions".

I picked a small bay on the western shore of the Pamlico Sound for my first anchorage, and it was a really good choice - nice and protected, moderately "deep" water (in the sounds 10 feet can be deep water) and tucked in away from any possible traffic. I got to the marker just at sundown, the timing could not have been better, and motored in to anchor. I may have mentioned this before, but I really dislike day markers. I know that lighting every marker would be costly, but in the dark (it was pitch black Thursday night) it is damn hard to see those things. I had to totally rely on my charts, my depth finder and my GPS, and even then I did not see the day markers until morning. One of my biggest fears is running in to a day marker in the dark, and it almost always seems like I reach anchorage right after sundown. Thursday was a short day, almost 8 hrs sailing, and 43.8 miles, of course not all of it in the desired direction, such is sailing.

Christmas day came early, up at 5am, washed up, made tea, and actually toasted some english muffins for breakfast. Felt a bit lonely as I hauled up the anchor, but the adventure beckons, so off I go. The majority of the day passed uneventfully - moderate breeze, average wind about 8 kts, speed just about 4 kts, most of it in a southerly direction, and a good bit of sunshine. Sometime around 2pm I took a good hard look at the GPS and the chart, I needed to decide where to head for the night. Swan Quarter was the original goal, and it was 14 miles away, well more like 17 with the course I was on. Ocracoke was 12.5 miles away, probably more like 15 counting on channels and cutbacks I would have to make to get there, but the wind was really pushing me in that direction. Oriental was 32 miles away, or about 8 hrs, so I pretty much eliminated that as an attainable goal. So, Swan Quarter or Ocracoke? In the end I chose Swan Quarter, the channel was easier to navigate, and it looked like the anchorage would be reasonably protected. I ended up batting .500, it turned out to be an easy sail in, but protected it was not.

As I neared the marker for the Swan Quarter channel I heard a very loud "whoosh" next to the boat. It completely took me by surprise - I was occupied reading - and I jerked around to see what had made the noise. I saw nothing, save a very distinct swirl in the water alongside the boat. Seconds later there was another "whoosh" on the other side, and as I turned, I caught a glimpse of a fin disappearing beneath the waves. Then there were more fins, all around the boat. A large pod of dolphin had decided to pay me a visit and play, there must have been 12 or 15 of them, and they swam alongside, and under, and in front for about 20 minutes. They must have circled around, or there were more than I thought, but I would hear them breach behind the boat, and then they would appear alongside, some would swim under and pop up on the side opposite the one they drove from. Quite a distraction, and very entertaining.

As I turned up the channel to head to Swan Quarter, my friends must have had enough, as I did not see them again once I made my course change. Right about then the rain started to come down, slow at first, then really coming down hard, and it continued that way until I quit for the night. The channel in was fairly wide, it is a main hub for the Ocracoke ferry, and the sail in was pretty easy. However, the anchorage was not nearly as protected as the chart showed, but it was a place to drop the hook, so I did and got the boat secured for the night. I made 42.4 miles in about 10 hours. Not too bad for a days sail, but I was ready to relax a bit and bed down. As I threw together dinner, canned ham and rice for Christmas dinner, the wind began to pick up, and the rain came, it rained buckets full, and I think at one point I heard thunder. Needless to say, I spent a very rough night on the anchor, with the wind howling straight up the channel. Bet it was alot calmer over in Silver Lake, the Ocracoke harbor. I set the anchor alarm on the GPS, that way I'd be alerted if I drifted to far from the set point, but I did not realize that the alarm was set from the point I engaged it, not the point I was anchored at. Duh. So, sometime in the night, well 0330 in the morning actually, I was jolted out of a deep sleep, and a good dream, by a shrieking alarm. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag to check the GPS, only to see that I had swung on an arc around the anchor, and I was now 180 degrees from where I had been, and, over 100 feet from where I had engaged the alarm. The good thing was, the alarm worked, and it got me up, but I could clearly see by the GPS track that I had swung a perfect arc around the anchor. It took a bit, but I finally got back to sleep, and my butt stayed in the sleeping bag until almost 7am.

This morning it was very warm, and after all that rain that brought on a very heavy fog. I fixed tea and another english muffin, and cleaned up the boat some more as I waited for the fog to burn off. I wasn't about to get the dinghy inflated, so I got out the puppy training pads and had a go at trying to get Spook to do her thing on the boat. I'm not sure if it was the puppy pad, or the fact that she had not gone in 48 hrs, but after I went back down below to square things away, she christened the foredeck. I came out and she was looking really guilty, and kept looking towards the bow of the boat. I went up and looked, and sure enough, she finally caught on to doing what I needed her to do, and where it needed to be done. I had to really reassure her that it was ok, and finally after alot of "good dog...good girl" and a bunch of scratching, I think she got the message that all was ok and she wasnt in trouble.

Just about 9 the fog lifted, and off I went again. Destination: Oriental. The western part of the Pamlico Sound has quite a few shoals, I dodged the Middle Ground shoals leaving the Swan Quarter channel, and I took a heading for the Neuse River. Just north of the mouth of the Neuse there is a very long shoal, that reaches way down and blocks the river entrance from the west and north. This is Brant Island Shoal, and it is about 8 miles long. However, in the center it is a bit broken up, and there is a mile or so stretch that has a depth of 7 or 8 feet. If I could make this gap it would save me about 12 miles of sailing down and around. So taking really careful bearings, and watching my latitude and longitude really closely, I made for the gap. As I approached I must have second guessed myself a dozen times, but, there are a ton of places I have sailed in the past b2 weeks that are less than 8 feet all the time. So saying a quick prayer, and holding my breath as I crossed, I made my way over the bar. I watched the depth gauge like a hawk, ready to wheel her over and head out if it got too shallow, but I went from 15, to12, 10, to 8, to 9, 10...and I was across! I had made a huge gamble based on the charts, and it paid off. After making the gap I sailed on about another mile or so before changing course and heading for the river. I crossed paths with another sailboat at this point, and raised them on the radio. It was the Eastern Pearl out of Newport, NC, and we chatted for sometime, and they commented on the fact that I was under sail. I bit my tongue, as I have done my share of motorsailing, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have purely motored and not augmented wind power. They had gone over to Ocracoke for the holiday, to see how the islanders did Christmas, and confirmed that Silver Lake was a great anchorage through the storm. Maybe next time I won't second guess my sentimental nature and will go for an anchorage that has personal appeal as well as being practical.

The rest of the sail was uneventful, just sailing up the Neuse, until I got to Oriental. The channel there is very narrow, but also well marked (it is the sailing capital of NC, as all the street signs proclaim) and I made my way into the harbor- in the dark, again - and tied up at a very accessible dock. As soon as I tied up I was greeted by a liveaboard, and after a bit of conversation, she pointed out where the public dock was, and suggested I walk up there to scope it out. I took Spook, and we walked a few blocks and around the corner, and there was the public dock, nestled right in among the local shrimping fleet. Spook did her thing, and back we went to the boat. It was alot closer via water than by land (that has to be a first) and we were tied up to the dock in no time. Out for another walk, and the nearest pay phone, where I called Mom and had her relay to all. 48.4 miles for the day, in just over 10 hours. I think that puts the three day total at roughly 135 miles, not to bad for going from sun up to just after sundown.

I am going to spend a day here in Oriental, and then head for Beaufort/Morehead City, where I hope to be able to get a new phone. That puts me leaving Oriental Monday morning, and hopefully Beaufort that evening, or Tuesday on the outside.

On land for now

John is in Oriental NC.  Mom says he will stay there tomorrow and sail theMonday for Morehead City ETA 2 days?

long time no hear

its hard to go this long hearing nothing, so I decided to take the advice of Dad and look at the map just to see how many miles this stretch from Manteo NC to Beaufort SC is. Turns out if we were driving this distance Google Earth says it would take over 8 hours, so imagine the sail time. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

South Bound Again

Tomorrow morning I set out from Manteo and turn south heading down the Pamlico Sound. My next official stop will be Beaufort, where I intend to head out into the open ocean and make the sail for Florida. It will probably take me 2 or 3 days to transit the sound, and then another day to get to Beaufort. So it is going to be Christmas on the water. Depending on the weather, I may lay over there for a day or so, but if the weather window is good, I am going to head out immediately. I am not sure if my phone will work, or if it does if I will have reception. So far the phone has been kind of hit and miss.

This is the part of the trip that causes me just a bit of anxiety, going out into the open water alone. In reality, the ocean should be much smoother than the sounds, the waves out there have more distance between them, and, a 5 foot wave on the ocean is a smooth rolling wave, whereas in the Bay or any of the sounds, where it is much shallower, they are steep and sometimes breaking waves. The Wikipedia definition of a sound is: "In geography a sound or seaway is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, wider than a fjord, or it may identify a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land (see also strait).
There is little consistency in the use of 'sound' in English-language ."

All I know from my experience that here in NC they are relatively large, shallow bodies of water, most are not deeper than 25 feet, and many parts of all of them are much shallower, and not navigable by my boat. I am all topped off with water and fuel again, the pantry is full, and my clothes are all washed and clean. Gary and Alice had ordered me a pair of waterproof sailing gloves from Defender Marine, so between those and the gloves Beth gave me I should be able to stay much warmer than I have been so far.

Last night was frigid, when I got on board it was 38 in the cabin, and the temp was falling. When I woke this morning, the cabin temp was around 36, outside temp was much lower, there was a very thick frost - and - there was ice on the water here in Manteo Harbor. I took Spook in for a walk and to get more kerosene for the stove and heater, and I noticed as I dinghied in that there was a nice thin film of ice from about 50 yards out on into the dock, and it got thicker the closer I got to the pier. I walked about 6 miles today going out to see if I could find a burner for the stove, as before, no luck, perhaps I can find one in Florida.

Right now I am in the Coffeehouse On Roanoke Island, using their net, enjoying a cup of really good coffee, and getting a bit warmed up. My friend Ali and I have been here a few times, and in addition to good coffee they have just incredible hot chocolate. I've had just a few cups of that since I have been here, does wonders on cold days. The clerk here has been extremely helpful, after hearing of my tale of walking all the way to the other end of the island, she started to call around trying to help me find the stove burner, again, with no luck. The thrift store here had a stove, but no burners, so close, but.....

Today I made a few repairs to the stove and heater, and cleaned out all the burners. God knows I am going to need them working well tonight, but I think this is the last bit of really cold weather for a few days. But, in a week or so cold weather will be mostly a memory, and I will be in a much warmer place.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

High tech...Low tech...No tech...

I made it through the big winter storm of '09 fairly well, but it has been slightly costly - my cell phone and the remote internet antenna were victims of water damage, and not even damage of direct rain or spray. So I apologize to all that have not heard from me, I try to do the best I can with what comm systems I have that work at the time. I tapped into the internet right now, and I suppose I am going to have to try and get a new phone, since after 3 or 4 days of drying out my phone is still not working right.

I left Edenton on Friday, Dec 18th, knowing there was a developing low and cold weather on the way. After watching the weather channel at Gary and Alice's, I decided that as bad as it was going to be, it was not going to be as rough, or probably as cold as that storm I rode out in the bay on the way down, so I set out fairly early, after Gary and Alice brought me coffee and biscuits for breakfast. The option was to set through some extremely cold weather at the dock in Edenton, probably having to pay for the next few nights being tied up, or head towards the Outer Banks and hopefully a bit warmer conditions. (the public docks at Edenton are good for 2 nights tied up for free, after that there is a charge) It had been cold that night previous, around 32 in Edenton, but the morning was warming quickly as I cast off docklines around 0730 and motored away from the dock.

Gary and Alice saw me off as I raised sail and headed down the channel. The wind was coming out of the Northeast, and I suppose it was right around 10 kts. I was making good time out of Edenton Bay and out into the Albemarle sound, about 5.5 kts, 6 kts at times, and I cleared the Sound Bridge right at about 0930 or so. Gary and Alice were on shore at the base of the bridge as I got ready to slide through, and as I came out of the bridge abutments, I heard a horn blow and assumed it was them. A call interrupted by bad cell reception confirmed this, and I set a course as tight to the wind as I could manage, trying to make the best time I could down the sound. Knowing bad weather was coming, I took a gamble, and tried to make my tacks as long as I could at the best speed I could muster, my logic was that a moderate speed in the right direction was better than blazing speed tacking back and forth. I am not a sailing tactician, so I don't know what course of action is more productive, but I feel I made a pretty good choice, as I made just over 60 miles in just over 12 hours.

As the day wore on the wind changed direction and gained velocity. At times when that happens the wind velocity can offset a slight change of wind direction, giving the boat what is called "a lift". For me it worked out, and I was able to just about hold my original course, and was still making good time. The wind was pretty much coming out the East now, and as such the waves were beginning to build, having 40 or 50 miles of open water to gather height and strength. By noon I was beating to the windward pretty well, and plowing into some pretty good size waves. The wind was continuing to increase, and I put a reef into the main, leaving the working jib up. I started to pound pretty well into the waves, some burying the bow and completely washing the deck. It was at about this point that I decided that the conditions were bad enough to warrant putting my phone below and out of the weather. What I didn't count on was the slight leak that I have sometimes around the companionway soaking my phone.
I made 4 tacks total during my trip down the sound, and by 1530 I was on a lay line (direct course) for the Roanoke sound. I had about 16 miles to go, and was making between 4.5 and 6 knots, so I figured I'd get into protected water just about 1800 or shortly there after. The rain began right after that, and I sailed on in the spray and rain, which had started pretty lightly, and then began to come down. Funny enough, it was still fairly warm, and with the Kokatat suit on I wasn't too uncomfortable. I was just about on my marks, and I got into good water, with fewer and smaller waves just after dark, at about 1745. The rain cleared off right about that time, and I began to pick my way into the channel after dousing the sails. It was then that I went for the phone to notify everyone I was ok, and I realized that the phone, although inside, had still gotten soaked. I got out one call, which was interrupted, and then it died completely.

The trip through the channel was pretty daunting, I knew it was a tight channel, and was marked fairly well, but, a lot of the marks were day markers (not lighted), and there was a fish trap extending into the channel at one point, that I did not see in time and plowed right through. Fish traps are a series of posts driven into the bottom, that suspend a net, which leads to a "corral" formed out of net and many posts. Luckily for me I was just below the corral when I saw the posts appear out of the darkness, but by that point I was unable to avoid running through the line of posts and the net I knew was strung between them. A few tense moments passed, and then I was through, fortunately the shape of the keel prevented the prop and the rudder from getting fouled, which would have been disastrous. After I safely cleared this hazard, I checked my position, and my charts, and the trap definitely did extend into the channel.

I made anchorage around 2030 or so after making a slow journey down the channel, from marker to marker, and set out a Bahama Rig with my anchors, knowing that the weather was supposed to deteriorate and get worse, and that the bottom of the sound was silty and had not provided good holding previously. A Bahama Rig is when you set out one anchor, and then move the boat, or dinghy out a second anchor at about 180 degrees in relation to the first anchor. I wasn't comfortable motoring the boat with an anchor and anchor rode in the water, (a fouled propeller is no fun to clear, and I didn't want to chew up my anchor line) so I got out the dinghy and inflated it. The wind was up to about 25 or 30 kts by now, and the dinghy was bucking around like a kite as I pumped it up. I got out the second anchor and got it set, and found that this rig worked quite well, as the boat held position and did not drift about at all, despite gusts that topped about 50 mph. After anchoring and securing the boat and gear on deck, I checked the barometer, which was down around 29.25 inches, I think the lowest I have seen it go while I have been actively observing it. The storm passed straight over Roanoke Island, and it dumped a ton of rain, filling the dinghy easily with 3 inches of water. I am glad I was no further north than I was, or up in Solomons, as it seems everyone back home and up in MD got pounded with snow. (see Liz' post with the snow pics) I am waiting for some gloves Gary and Alice ordered to arrive, and then I head south again - Thursday the temps are supposed to rise, and the nights will not be below freezing as they have been, and the day time temps will be in the upper 40's and low 50's.