Saturday, January 2, 2010

Extreme Cold and Slow Progress

Its now 2010, and I am as far south as I have ever been, and getting further south by the day, but we just can't seem to outrun the cold weather. This morning finds us in Myrtle Beach, SC and in a few hours Gemini and Arden will move a bit more down the ICW, hopefully down to mile marker 384 and the Wacca Wache marina. It is bitterly cold out, at least to my cold natured body - we had a low of 24 last night - but luckily we were tied to a dock here at the Barefoot Landing Resort and I had electricity and electric heat, so it wasn't so bad on board.

New Years Eve was spent on the hook just off the Little River Inlet, which is just inside the SC line. We anchored in Calabash Creek, which is really out in the middle of nowhere, and rafted the 2 boats together. Mary made a great dinner, and we spent the evening telling stories and looking at charts and maps and the chart plotter. Clay and I looked at the charts and planned for the next day, and then around 8 I turned in to read for a bit and get to bed a bit early. Not too long after going below, I heard these loud pops and explosions, and went topside to check things out. There was a huge fireworks display going off just to our north. It may have been the town of Calabash, or possibly a private thing, but regardless it was quite impressive, and definitely signalled that it was New Years Eve.

On New Years Day we weighed anchor right around 830, and that was kind of tricky as we were rafted up and both of us had anchors out. In the night we knew we had swung once and the lines fouled, but when we checked again in the morning we must have swung around again and unfouled. Apparently Clay had been thinking on how to unfoul the lines, just as I had, but thankfully it was unnecessary courtesy of a thoughtful current. Unrafting went well even in a pretty strong current - stern lines first, then the spring line, and finally the bow line, and the 2 boats drifted apart, just like we knew what we were doing. All of this rafting up and setting the anchors had been based on good ideas and no prior experience in this type of situation with the current and the tides, but it all went according to plan, and to any observer on shore it would have looked like we knew what we were doing.

As we were setting out another boat caught up with our little flotilla, and as they passed me I hailed them, and they were the Firewater, out of Annapolis, another set of snowbirds making a late start, better late than never I suppose, just like me. We only made 10.7 nautical miles on New Years, Mary and Clay wanted to tie up at Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach, but they were full, and even when a space did open up, it was reserved. I was tied up to a dock across the ICW at Barefoot Resort, which was closed for the day, and apparently in a bankrupt status. The marina is not so big, average size I would guess, but the resort is huge. How a place like this can go bankrupt is beyond me, but I suppose it is a matter of building at the wrong time, in the wrong economy. Clay brought Gemini back over to the dock I was at, and we spent the day here. I got a bit of time to clean up Arden and do some of the repairs to the windvane, and I napped and read and tried to stay out of the cold. Clay and Mary caught a cab over to Walmart, and when they got back I went up and unlocked the electronic gate to let them back in and go out and walk Spook. Not too long after I got back down to the boats Clay called me over, they had gotten an extra ceramic heater for me to use for the night while we were tied up and on shore power. I was kind of speechless, as they have done so much for me, and this was totally unexpected.

So now I am up just after 5am, getting ready to start a new day. We plan to try for 30 miles in the cold and against the current, and hopefully by 2 or 3 we will be down to Wacca Wache marina at Murrel's Inlet and done for another day, a little bit further south, not much warmer, but still making progress.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The ICW just goes on and on

Well I am wondering where I left off. I think the last post had us tied up at the dock in Surf City, NC two days past. So here we go again, I could very well sum up this posting with 3 short words - The ICW Again. But, that would not do the past few days justice, so I will elaborate just a bit.

Wednesday morning was frigid, I think it was the first time the cabin temp was below 40 when I got up. I went in and got another hot shower, then took advantage of a special the Hardee's was having - steak biscuits for 99 cents. Scraped through my change, and got 2 biscuits and coffee. Figured I'd have one for breakfast and one for lunch, since it is kind of difficult to make lunch while trying to make time down the ditch. I left the harbor ahead of Clay and Mary - we are still sailing together right now - and went out to the ICW to wait on an 8am bridge opening.

Bridges have been the trademark of the trip down the ICW so far. I can't even count how many bridges we have been under or draw bridges we have been through, the draw bridges can be especially aggravating, such as the Surf City Bridge that only opens on the hour. At the stroke of the hour the bridge opened, I had been idling in the current of the waterway for 30 minutes waiting, and we were off for the day. Pretty soon Clay outpaced me and I could see them pull away in the distance. It was good that we could keep in radio contact, and had the phone, because every so often Mary would call and let me know what things were coming up that I needed to know about, especially navigational hazards. There were a few sections, mainly around inlets where the ICW met the sound or the ocean, were shoals had built up near the inlet and the channel was not where it should be, or was much shallower than it was supposed to be. At one point, near day marker #150, I bumped over 3 shoals, really convinced I was going to run aground, but I did not. However, the bumping and heaving this caused really scared the heck out of Spook, and she went down below and stayed for the rest of the day.

Then there were more bridges. I just about caught up to Clay and Mary around noon, but I missed a bridge lift and lost a half an hour. Then it happened again about another 10 miles farther on. So here I am, trailing them, and thinking just how much farther do I have to go? Around 2pm I got a call from them, they were entering the Cape Fear River, just south of Wilmington, and had decided to call it a day in a little town ahead called Southport. I was about 10 miles behind them by that point, so I told them I'd be there when I got there, and I'd call when I did.

We had a really good night in Southport, and what a great little town. It is right at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and there is a ton of history here. This is where all the river pilots lived and would row or sail out to incoming ships, to guide them up the river and into Wilmington. It was also a very important spot during the Civil War, as the pilots would get the blockade runners through the shoals and into port with supplies the Confederacy desperately needed. We had an excellent dinner in a local restaurant just up from the boats, and watched the Weather Channel to see how we were going to be with the storm that was coming our way. According to the weather, we were supposed to get drenched Wednesday night, which we did, and have a good bit of rain today, which we didn't. But, we did wake up to extremely thick fog. We put off launching until 930, but then we were underway, our goal was Myrtle Beach for New Years Eve.

All day long we ran through the fog. It wasn't bad at first, and Clay got a good bit ahead of me, but then it got thicker and thicker, and he had to back off. I was fighting the current and only able to average 5 knots, so I did not back off, just kept a very good eye on what was coming ahead. There was a new bridge under construction about 10 miles into the trip, and when Mary called and said they were passing through that area, I knew I was not too far behind. I caught up to them in the fog not long after, and trailed Clay as we wound on down towards South Carolina. Just after noon Clay ran aground on a sand bar at mid channel, and I backed off to see if he was going to be able to get off on his own. He did, and we moved on, and then Clay called and said he was coming along side, Mary was fixing me a sandwich, and we were going to do an underway replenishment. So cruising down the ICW, at just about 4 kts, Clay comes alongside and Mary hands me a hot cheese and bacon sandwich, talk about service.

We had lost some time due to fog and currents, and then we came to the Sunset Beach Swing bridge around 2pm. This was a bridge like no other I have ever seen - it is a pontoon bridge that is motorized, and it starts up and opens every hour on the hour - with the exception of times of extreme low tide, where it opens when the bridge master thinks there is enough water in the channel for boats to clear a cable that spans the bottom of the cut. Guess what? It was just after dead low tide when we arrived at 2, on a day of a full moon, and the low tide for today was forecast to be .7 feet BELOW mean low tide. So what did that mean? We had to wait. And wait we did. I dropped anchor and we rafted up and waited for just over an hour for the water to rise enough for us to get through. One interesting thing we did see though was some poor guy that misjudged the channel at high tide in the fog, ran aground, and the tide left him totally stranded and out of the water for most of the day.

Once this really odd bridge finally opened we knew we were too far behind schedule, so we went to our fall back plan, anchoring out in Calabash Creek, which was not too far away, and just inside the SC line. So here we are, rafted up, the boats tied together,and our anchors out in a type of Bermuda rig - my anchor is at 6 oclock and Clay has his anchor at 12 oclock - so we should stay put in just about the same spot all night. Mary fixed a great dinner, and we had a small celebration early New Years Eve. Tomorrow is a new year, and we are sailing through a new state, and hopefully, if all goes well, we just might make it to Georgetown by tomorrow night. Happy New Years to everyone, and hope all are safe and well, as I am.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the ICW

While I was tied up in Oriental Sunday, I met a whole ton of really nice folks, but most notable were Clay and Mary. They are aboard a Morgan 36 Out Island named Gemini, home port Woodbridge,VA. I met them on the town dock in Oriental, and we chatted for a while, and that was when I found out they are also fellow Virginians. They had been in Oriental over Christmas, and were planning to leave Monday as well. What was really fortunate for me was the fact that they had a rental car to return in New Bern, and were more than willing to let me tag along and take me by Walmart to see if I could get a new phone. The 3 of us talked over a tentative game plan of doing the rental and phone, then leaving Oriental around noon - destination Morehead City.

The rental car and phone mission went off without a hitch, and when Mary and I returned from New Bern Clay had just finished doing an oil change on their generator. We had a quick huddle, and then made for our boats and got ready to cast off. In no time flat the engines were warming up, and we were getting underway - and ahead of the noon goal at that. We motored out of Oriental, across the Neuse river, and then into Adams creek. It was really windy out on the river, but, being as we were so close to the top of the river, the waves were not that bad, but the wind was blowing. Entering the creek gave us both a break from the wind, and after that it was really calm and fast motoring. We passed a bunch of really expensive homes, and chatted over the radio about how ridiculously large they were, and then about 100 yards further on, we were passing a trailer park. That's North Carolina for you I suppose. However, it was probably the first time I have ever seen a trailer on stilts, like a beach home. The trip down the canal was fairly short and pretty quick, 28.6 miles in just over 4 hours. All of it except the last 8 miles was under engine alone, once we broke out into the Newport River I was able to raise the jib and give a bit of an assist to the engine. In this stretch I saw dolphins again, the second pod I have seen since I have started, and I would not have thought they would have been up this far north this late in the year. On into Morehead City, where it seemed the whole town was shut down, save one antique shop and the Chamber of Commerce.

The public docks were nice and brand new, however, these are the first set of town docks that I have been to that charge per night, luckily for me there was no one at the office, and no one came down to the docks, so I was able to spend the night tied up - for free. Mary and Clay were tied up to the dock next to me, so after the boat was secure, and Spook got in a good walk, I joined them for dinner, as they had been kind enough to extend me the invitation. Dinner was great - roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans, all done well and it definitely was a nice change from the one course meals I usually cook.

Clay and I went over charts, ICW info books and the GPS for a good long while - he has a great chartplotter - and we came up with our game plan. It is 154 miles to Myrtle Beach, and he and Mary want to do New Years Eve there. So, we planned on 60 miles for Tuesday, 60 Miles on Wednesday, and finish up on Thursday with a short day. We found a cheap fuel stop in Sneads Ferry, so we planned on putting in for fuel there.

Tuesday morning was freezing. 35 degrees and very windy, we all hoped that once we got out of the Bogue Sound and into the more protected water of the ditch that we would have a reprieve from the wind. We left the dock at 8 after coffee and bisquits and started out for the day. The plan was for an average of 5 knots, and as we started I wondered if we were going to be able to make that - I was only doing 3.5 against the tide and wind, at 2100 rpms which I knew was burning fuel like crazy.

We finally made more protected waters around 1030, and as we thought, the wind was dampened by the shoreline, and we actually picked up a positive current. That held until we were at the 18 mile mark for the day, when we got to Cape Carteret, where there was an inlet with a swift current. That slowed us down some, and then it was on to Swansboro. This part of the trip was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, as I was stationed at Camp Lejeune 10 years earlier, and we used to love quite close to Swansboro. I was caught up in memories as I passed through many familiar waterways, the White Oak River, Freeman Creek and Queens Creek, which went right up behind my old house there. I got a call on the radio from Mary, they had dragged bottom right after Swansboro, at the 55 marker, and they adviced I hug the mark as I came through, which I did, to no avail. I draw a bit more than they do, and I not only dragged once, but 3 times on my way through. This scared poor Spook, who promptly went back down below and got in her bunk.
Down past Camp Lejuene, through the Onslow Beach draw bridge, and then I drew up alongside Clay and Mary, and she passed me a nice hot sandwich. Talk about service! Not long after this I saw the second pod of dolphins for the day, and once again I was amazed to seem them this far north this late in the season. I suppose they don't go south, but hang around, I might have to look that up, because for the longest time I just assumed they went south for the winter too.

We fueled up at the New River Marina, where diesel was $2.32 a gallon, the cheapest we could find on our route, and the cheapest I have seen so far. Arden took 28 gallons of diesel, and I got a gallon of gas for the outboard. On the way into the fuel dock there was an uncharted sand bar, and Clay ran aground hard. He did a great job of getting her free, using the Genoa to lift the bow and pivot his boat off the bar. I was impressed, as I thought I just might have to tow him off. We all kicked around the idea of anchoring there for the night, but we decided to push on a bit farther, as it was only 330pm and we were not as far along as we wanted to be.

We pressed on for another 2 hours, until right at sunset, and right about when I was ready to call Clay to see when they wanted to anchor, he called me and said they had found a marina just to the north of the Surf City bridge. Talk about the right place at the right time, extremely protected, nice docks - and a hot shower. We had made 49.3 nautical miles in just at 9 hours of cruising, not too bad for a day. Not the 60 we wanted, but very close. (the ICW mile markers are in statute miles, not nautical miles, so we were very close to the 60 statute miles we wanted to make) I had dinner with my new friends again tonight, and then took advantage of the shower, heck, I might just take another one early in the morning.

So tomorrow we try for another 50 or 60 miles, and hopefully we will be across the Cape Fear River, and just north of the South Carolina state line. I am harboring a hope that there will be a magical temperature change at the South Carolina line, because it has been so cold for so long.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Oriental Town Dock

Mom brought to my attention that Arden was on the Oriental Town Dock webcam. Here are a few pictures of her there. I have spent the day cleaning, organizing, and straightening up, and have had alot of folks come by looking at the boat and asking about her - what she is, where I am heading, where I came from, and on and on and on. Feeling just a bit lonely today, despite all the folks coming by, call it the winter blues, hopefully it goes away soon.

Found out from a guy over in Matthews, which is across the river, that the city marina in Morehead City has the cheapest fuel in the area, so I am going to put off getting fuel until I get there, as funds for the month of Dec are running pretty low, and having to buy a phone is not going to help that out at all. I am not sure what I am going to do about keeping the phone dry, but I sure can't afford to have another one get wet. I think this makes 3 dead phones for the year, all due to dunking, 2 went into the drink altogether and were lost, and now this one got wet. I suppose I need a waterproof phone that floats, and is made by Motorola, and is supported by the Boost network. Not too tall of an order, but I know if it exists, it would be damn expensive. But the good news is, once I get to Morehead City, the Boost network has pretty good coverage, all up and down the coast, including the entire state of Florida.