Monday, December 11, 2006

December 10. Another cold morning today at 30 degrees, but it did eventually get up to 60 here. When I went to take the dogs out for their morning walk we were confronted by a broken dockside pipe spraying an impressive torrent of water across the only dock between us and poopsville. I went back to the boat and put my foulies on to run through the water. It looked like one of those fire hydrants that the kids open up on those hot city nights.

When we get to the edge of the water I pick Molly up under one arm and when I bent down to grab Tucker under the other arm he just flattened out on his belly. He was like “I’m not sure what you’re gonna do with her but you’re not doing it with me”. Finally after I had a dog under each arm I started to bolt through the spray of water then I realized that the water on the dock had turned into a thin veneer of ice. It was about 200 tiny Japanese steps to cover the 15 feet of wet dock. I thought I was going to bust my ass with a Schnauzer under each arm, get frozen to the dock and then probably drown. Thankfully the dockmaster had the water off before we got back from our walk. I was wondering if the dogs would mind being bowled down the icy dock and through the spray. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind incase I need it in the morning.

We spent the better part of the day doing boat chores. Christy emptied every locker of its contents and reorganized the entire boat. I created a system for us to lock the boat from the inside while we’re asleep at night. Before the boat could only be locked from outside so now there’s no worry of a midnight sneak thief getting into the boat. A couple of other small projects killed the afternoon so we went up to the marinas lounge and watched a little football. Go blue.

On a side note, it’s been 4 days since Christy has talked to Charlie on the phone and she has remained uninjured, so we must be out of range. So Charlie, feel free to call anytime you want.

After dinner on the boat we plan to spend the evening reading and planning tomorrow’s projects. All in all a very pleasant day.
December 9. When we woke this morning we found that we were here for another record setting low temperature, 24 degrees. The boat was covered in frost. 

We got a ride to the West Marine here in town from the local dock master this morning. The pump we need is on its way but won’t be here until Tuesday afternoon. It will only take 20 minutes to install so we should be ready to leave on Wednesday morning. Oh well, things could be a lot worse. We’re in a safe well protected marina. Its clean, cheap, we have internet, cell coverage and its well run. The weather is also supposed to get a lot warmer starting tomorrow so things are good.

Christy and I walked to the local market to grab some eggs and diet coke. When we got back to the boat we took care of some internet business and then took the dogs for a walk around the marina. The sun was out and it was in the high forties but felt warmer. It was a nice day overall.

Tonight we went to dinner at the local pub, Diggers. There were 4 lanes of traffic between us and the promise of a good meal so we made like Frogger and ran for our lives. The food was good but the people watching was way better. We didn’t realize how spoiled we had become in Jersey with the smoke free bars and restaurants. We would have stayed longer to watch the goings on at the bar but the smoke finally got the better of us and drove us out.

Some new entries for your dictionaries:

Blowed – to have blown……….as in “It just blowed away”

Twernt- was not………… in “It twernt his fault”

Bill-About… It’s the act of Bill walking around with the intent to start cordial conversation with anyone he meets. It’s rare but there have been confirmed instances. Not to be confused with the even more rare Bill-Staggering-About which is similar but includes Bills excessive use of alcohol beforehand. Nor to be confused with the extremely rare Bill-Dancing-About which usually follows Bills use of Rum.
December 8. Well those predicted high winds showed up just after midnight last night. They were expecting gusts to 40 knots and it sure seemed as if we got them. The rigging was howling and the floating docks were groaning. Our dock lines were complaining quite a bit so it was out into the cold wind for me so I could double up our dock lines. We were really protected on our dock and it was still a horrible night to try and sleep.

Morning came and there were still gale warnings until 1000 hours. We left the dock at 0830 with about a 20 knot steady wind and a temperature of 28 degrees. We had to motor north and out of the marina and turn west into Snow’s Cut which is a short pass very similar to the Point Pleasant Canal. Upon exiting the Cut we turned south into the Cape Fear River, we had a steady 20 knots of wind straight over the stern and the tide coming straight up the river against us. It was like being in a washing machine for 10 miles. We couldn’t use either the main or genoa as the wind was over the port quarter then the starboard quarter and back again, it was a mess that we had to just grin and bear.

After our 10 miles in the Maytag we were able to roll out the genoa as we turned west to head into the James River. It smoothed out the ride and became a very nice sail. We were in a fairly narrow channel when a freighter came into view so Christy maneuvered us out of the channel to pass well clear of this monster and his wake. There were 2 coast guard boats escorting the freighter and one came out to challenge us and stayed between us and his charge. I guess they were afraid we might be out on our own personal jihad and were going to sail into the side of this behemoth and scratch his paint. He’s safe for now, another time perhaps.

We now enter a narrow part of the ICW for the next 30 miles or so. We are able to motor sail most of the way. The only bridge that we have to have opened for us is a pontoon bridge. The operator uses winches to actually pull the center floating section of the bridge aside allowing us to pass. We have to wait to be signaled through after he’s got the bridge aside and the cables sink to the bottom. After we pass he raises the cables and pulls the bridge back into place, its like Civil War technology. It’s crazy

The homes along the waterway here are absolutely beautiful. Nothing huge but nice large homes with beautiful yards and private docks, really nice. We’re following a 50 foot wooden ketch through this section. He’s got his masts down on deck and there appear to be 4 or 5 people aboard. We’re tooling along when Christy says “I think their aground!”. I’ve noticed that their helmsman has been a little lazy about staying in the marked channel. They’re at a place called the Crossroads by the locals. It’s a tight bend in the river where several channels come together and all the markers can be very confusing. We slow to a crawl and coast up along side and try to hail them on the VHF, they’ve attempted to back off and are unable to do so. We hail again, again with no response, I show one of their crewmen our mic in my hand and he doesn’t seemed interested in our help. They are deploying their dinghy to row out their kedge anchor so we leave them behind. I’m surprised that they didn’t want help, it’s a couple hours to dark with record lows predicted and the area is fairly desolate with no other boat traffic.
Christy heard them on the VHF calling Tow Boat US just about dusk, we were snug in our slip for the night.

We have developed a nasty drip out the front of our engine driven raw water pump. I take the pump apart and it’s going to have to be replaced as the bearing has failed and doomed the pump to the scrap pile. It’s off to West Marine in the morning.
December 7. Things went pretty good today, our repair really did well. The drive train had a lot less vibration that we used to have. The damper was probably in bad shape since we got the boat because vibrations we’ve always had are now gone, I just didn’t realize that they were out of the ordinary.

We were underway a little before 0700. It was a balmy 55 degrees and overcast. The forecast was for 10 to 15 knots of wind from the north, it turned out to be 5 knots from the southwest, dead on the nose. So it was a long slow motor all day. There are small inlets all along the ICW here, a lot off them are too shallow to be used but they let the ocean influence the ICW just the same.

As we were approaching an inlet as the tide was falling we were getting sucked along at close to 8 knots. Then as soon as you passed the inlet it started to work against you and we were slowed to only 4 and a half knots for a few miles until the next inlet started to suck you forward again. It was great, it sucked, it was great, it sucked. On the plus side though, we did see more dolphins.

The bridges today were kind of a chore. One of the bridges opened on the half hour and on the hour but the next bridge only opened on the hour. They were only 5 miles apart and when we missed the half hour opening of the first bridge it compounded our delay because now we had an hour to cover only those five miles when we were getting sucked along at better than 8 knots. So we ended up waiting for 15 minutes at the first bridge and then for 30 minutes at the second bridge. It’s really only a slight inconvenience but in the bigger scheme of things it did cost us an hour of travel time.

So now we ended up stopping a little short of our destination as it would have meant an after dark arrival. On the plus side though, the marina we stopped at does not appear in any of the guides as it is brand new. The floating docks are well protected and brand spankin new. The houses here in town are all pastel colors, kind of like a North Carolina Miami Beach. We’re off shortly to go on Bill-About (see the dictionary) and explore our new surroundings and find some place to eat as we’ve been isolated in Sneads Ferry just a little too long.

This is a photo of an absolutely ghastly metallic mermaid some guy had in his yard. The picture doesn’t do it justice; it looks as if it’s made of aluminum and probably 7 feet tall. Hideous, really.

We went to Old Salty’s for dinner tonight. It was kind of a dive bar that the harbor master recommended on the “boardwalk” here. Dinner was actually really good and afterward we walked home, eventually. Magellan, er, I mean Christy insisted that we could walk directly back to the boat rather than take circuitous route we had taken to get there. Incredibly we ended up on the wrong side of the lagoon that our marina is on. If I had my Jesus shoes we could have walked there but alas we had to retrace our steps and walk around the lagoon.

They are calling for record low temperatures tonight and ridiculous winds overnight. It is getting cold but we’re warm in the boat and the high winds have yet to show themselves. Tomorrow’s an 0730 start so it’s off to bed.
December 4, 5 and 6. Holy crap, time flies when you’re trapped in North Carolina.

To recap, our part was supposed to arrive via UPS on Monday night right at the marinas closing time. I was working on the boat and assumed Christy was up at the marina office awaiting our new damper. She talked to the woman at the counter and told her that she was going food shopping and that I was at the boat so please let me know when the part arrives. Okay, no problem.

I realize that its 4:30 so I go to check on the situation just as Christy comes around the corner with bags of groceries. She asks if I got the part, I say “I thought you were getting it”. Oh no! Sure enough the office is closed and there’s our part sitting in plain view on the parts counter. I thought about calling the fire department.

So on December fifth I go up to the marina office and retrieve our new part. The part is held in place by 5 bolts. One bolt in the bolt pattern is not evenly spaced by 5 degrees. It’s by design so that the plate can only be put in one way. I can’t see the difference by eye so when I measure it I find that the one bolt hole is only out by a little less than a eighth of an inch. Cool, except I can’t even see 3 of the bolt holes in the flywheel that I have to bolt this thing too. Crap. So I’m going to put in 2 of the bolts and check if the other 3 line up to see if I have it right. I figure at worst I’ll only have to do this 5 times. Crap. I put it in the first time and holy shit, its right. Cool.

After the plates tightly bolted into place the monster part of the job is going to be pushing the engine back into place. I get Christy to watch the transmission end of the engine to let me know if the spline is engaging in the plate or if it is stopping the engine from moving into place. The engine probably weighs 700 pounds and it was a chore for me to pull it out so I was worried about sliding it back into place with enough control to get it to slip onto the spline. I’ve pulled the engine so far forward that I can’t get my lever in to start to pry it back into place so I put my shoulder to it and the damn thing slides straight back away from me and perfectly into place. It’s a miracle, I mean holy crap, it slid perfectly into place, quick honey, go play the lottery. Of course they probably pay off in livestock but damn it just slid into place. 

I spent the rest of the day bolting everything together and reinstalling all of the parts that I had to remove to get to the transmission. We had been invited to Pat and Eddie’s boat for dinner that evening and we wanted to leave the next morning so I needed to get everything done before dinner. At 5 minutes to 6 I refill the water and start to change the oil when I hear a drip. Crap. A hose on the heat exchanger is leaking and I can’t stop it so I pull a large rusty knife and commit Hari-Kari, well okay, no I didn’t but it did cross my mind.

I run to the shower and off we go to dinner. We had an excellent time and played some dominoes after dinner. See, there are good times as well. Thank god for this evening because today’s ending was really rough on me. Drip drip.

December sixth starts with me removing that damn starter yet again so I can change the hose that’s leaking. I change it and refill the system and there’s no difference, drip drip. Crap. I screwed with that thing for quite a while before I was able to fix the leak. I can’t believe with everything else I’ve done this week it was a damn drip of water that almost killed me.

I put the starter back in and the engine fired right up and all seems to be well. We’ll be off tomorrow. As long as we’re still here now I can use this opportunity to install the new circuit board for the generator that arrived yesterday. Now with the generator working again we aren’t so dependant on dock power to keep the dogs warm at night. We also got a new Wifi antenna that should increase the reliability of our internet connection. Things are falling into place, a little navigating tonight and we’ll be all set.

We’ll be underway by 0700; I hope it’s a good day. Please. I have to say, this marina is not much to look at but the people rock and their all so damn friendly. We’re supposed to have decent wind so there may even be some sailing involved. 

One more thing while I have your attention. I want you all to get out your dictionaries and add the words:

Knowd- meaning I know, I knew. As in………I knowd he’d get it done.
Thems – meaning They are. As in………Thems good folk.
December third was another day of leisure. We slept in until 0900 and when we went topside it was gray and dreary out. We took a little walking tour of the marina looking at this and that. Its Sunday so the marina was closed and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We were on our way back to the boat when we ran into Eddie and he invited us to ride to Jacksonville, NC with them.

Ed had to hit the Lowes there for a few things so we went for the ride. We did a little walking in a few stores and if anyone even thought that they were in your way they’d practically jump aside excusing themselves for being in your way. Its truly amazing how polite these people are.

After the stores, we decided to stop for some Thai food while we were in the big city. I’ve never eaten Thai food before and amazed at the size of the portions and how good everything was. I made quite the pig of myself ate everything I could reach. First Shrimp & Grits and now Thai, who knows whats next.

Our part is supposed to arrive around 1630 hours tomorrow so I’ll do the other small chores that I have to do beforehand so I only make a mess once.
December 2nd finds us still at the Swan Point Marina. The hoe down last night was supposed to have live music but the band canceled because of the predicted high winds. It was an indoor show so I guess the band was to have arrived by hot air balloon. I dunno.

We ended up with our new friends, Eddie and Pat, sitting in this little honky tonk with a few locals. It was kind of a dive but it was pleasant enough and we had a real good time.

I declared today a day of leisure. I’ve been working hard to get the boat apart and remove the old piece from the drive train. Now all there really is to sit and wait for our new damper plate. We can see the intercoastal waterway from our floating dock and it’s tough as hell to watch all the boats sliding past on their way south. I find myself hoping this one or that one breaks down so they’ll have to pull in and we can talk to somebody new.

We were sitting on a picnic bench up near the marina store and this guy walks out onto the docks and just stands there looking off into the distance. So now I’m watching him and he’s moving here and there till he finds a spot he likes. He leaves and comes back in his pick up truck from which he produces an easel and starts to paint a watercolor about thirty yards from us. We’re watching him for 40 minutes or so and Christy is sure he’s a local artist and that we should go check his work out. So finally I give in and we walk over and take a peek. I think I vomited a little. I mean holy mackerel; this must have been this guys first time holding a brush. It was bizarre; if I hadn’t seen him do it I would have sworn it had been hanging on the fridge in a house with a 6 year old artist. I’ve seen better finger painting. Now we’re trapped so I blurt “Wow…that’s great” and Christy is just as tongue tied so I point out a sailboat to her that we’ve both seen 40 times since we’ve been here and we wander away for a closer look.

I have to say that the people here are the most pleasant people that we have met on the trip. Its a little unsettling to have people just drum up conversation everywhere all the time. We took the marinas courtesy car and stopped at the hardware store on our way to dinner. I bought some screws I needed and just wanted to walk up and down the isles and look at everything and the manager wouldn’t leave us alone. It was like having an attention starved puppy following your every move. We had to separate just to get a moment of peace and you know he just had to follow me. After the about the fourth time of hearing can I help you, do you need, are you looking for, I finally told him that Christy was looking for citronella candles. He went off to help her. That’s it, good boy get the stick, get the stick. 
December first finds us at the Swan Point Marina. It was a crappy, rainy morning so we pretty much just hung around the boat. I was able to get the rest of the broken damper plate removed and ordered a new one. The new one should be here about 4:30 on Monday. I should be able to install it Monday night. Depending on whether or not I can push the engine back into place by myself, I may get most of it done that night. Between the use of levers, inclined planes and WD-40 I would have made quite the Egyptian. When its time to have a tomb built call me. It will still be Wednesday morning before we can be ready to leave.

Last night we were up on the marina deck accessing the marina Wifi with the dogs. A toy poodle comes walking up completely unattended, Tucker being the alpha male goes nuts. Christy is holding Tucker back while she’s petting the poodle as Molly and this new dog make friends. After a minute or so Tucker is calm enough to interact with this new strange dog. Shortly thereafter a new dog walks into our group and again Tucker is mondo aggressive for a minute or so until the 4 dogs start to interact. Now we have Molly and Tucker tied together via a 10 foot tether but their running semi free playing with their new friends. Then I hear Tucker start to growl and take off running at a new interloper into this new little group, a full blown, 100 pound Rotweiller. Tucker charges this dog while snarling and barking. I think to myself “poor Tucker, he’s gonna die” and the other dog backs down and all is well in dogland. All 5 dogs wander around and get along famously.

We spent a lot of time listening to the VHF today as it was a crappy day with a lot of stranded boaters, including one guy who was towed off then 2 hours later caught fire and grounded again. Cousin Tim was busy as hell and nobody got hurt.

We’re going out to the hoe down here in town tonight (I swear) with the couple that Christy befriended yesterday. Its bizarre how out in the sticks we are, it should be very interesting. They’ve been here since Monday but they can’t remember if it was this week or last. I could see this place doing that to you. We spent time at the marina lounge today with some of the people awaiting parts and a few of the local liveaboards, sometimes its hard to remember that we’re still in the states.
Day 19, November 30, we’re up and on our way by 0700. According to both mechanics the “repair” I made should last until we get to the next full service marina which is 17 miles away. We’re going to have to take it easy so we don’t press our luck. We’re moving along nicely at 5 knots when the engine becomes disengaged from the transmission. Crap. We almost made a mile. Crap. We’re dead in the water, the engine runs fine and there’s nothing wrong with the transmission its just that the plate which connects them together has completely failed. Crap.

We again throw up some sail and are ghosting along at about 1.2 knots. The problem is that 1 knot of that is the tide pushing us along so we have very little steerage. When the wind stops we’re just being sweep along and are having trouble staying in the narrow channel. A little puff of wind here and there and all is well. Christy calls Tow Boat US again and they patch her through to the tow boat operator who will come and get us. I hear Christy say “Tim, this is Christy” he replies “on Veranda?”. Yep, we got the same tow boat guy that we had 2 days ago, we’re practically kin now.

We keep sailing until the wind completely dies then we have to drop the anchor with us as close to the edge of the channel as we dare. Tim was helping someone else so it took him an hour to get to us so we sat and enjoyed the beautiful morning. Okay, okay, I stewed while Christy remained upbeat. When Tim got to us he said “where to?”, when Christy said Swan Point Marina he replied “ Oh good, thems good folk”.

After tying up at the marina and bidding a tearful good bye to Tim we went up to see about repairs. I explain the problem to the woman at the counter and she motions over my shoulder and says “that’s our mechanic”. I turn around and am met with the sight of a giant of a man, I mean truly a huge guy, not a fat guy, just an enormous man. I look at him and the first thing out of my mouth is how the hell do you even fit in a sailboat let alone work on one. He could have crushed me but he just bust out laughing and introduces himself as Bubba. I swear to god.

He listens to my problem and says let me take a look. He gets on the boat and discusses options and we decide that the easiest way is to remove everything I can, even that damn starter, so the transmission can be unbolted from the engine. Then I have to unbolt the engine from the boat so it can be slid away from the transmission creating enough room to replace the broken plate. I remove the enclosure around the transmission, the starter, the muffler, the transmission cooler, the heat exchanger, the water pump and various hoses. Mike and Lou would be proud.

I have everything undone and have moved the engine away just a bit. When Bubba, no kidding, gets here in the morning I’ll get him to check on the way I’ve supported the transmission. If all looks well I’ll have the broken piece out early and get the new one in. I figured that this would be a day or two of labor for a mechanic and it turns out that it looks as if with Bubba’s (I kid you not) guidance I’m going to be able to do this alone with the tools we have on board. Remember, I’m trying to stay positive.

Christy spent the day chatting it up with a pair of cruisers on a schooner rigged sailboat that needs a new engine. They are here waiting for the new engine to arrive and be installed. They were towed twice by cousin Tim as well. Dinner was great, Christy made a stir fry, we’re supposed to get a pretty good blow tonight so we’re safe in the protected marina. Its warm enough that we will sleep with the ports open tonight. Things are actually pretty good.
Day 17, November 28 was a tale of 2 days. We left Oriental at 0700 and headed out bound for Adams Creek. There was not a hint of wind as we crossed the Neuse River.

We were making excellent time until we got near Beaufort then the tide started to come in as we were approaching. At the town of Beaufort we turned into Bogue Sound and now the incoming tide was pushing us along. We were able to raise the main and motor sail along quite nicely. The Bogue Sound is very deceiving as its very wide but only a foot deep with a narrow navigable channel running down its length. Those fan boats that you see in the Florida Everglades are everywhere here as their only thing that can blast around with so little water.

Then it happened, Dolphins! We ran into a pod of dolphins. There were probably 30 or 40, but they came by 2 or 4 at a time and played in our bow wake or raced along side next to the cockpit as if they were looking at us. Christy was out of her mind running around the boat, hanging from the bow trying to get pictures in every direction all at once. I may have to get her counseling.

Then it happened, no not dolphins, hideous noises from the engine compartment. We quickly kill the engine and intentionally ground ourselves perpendicular to the channel so we can back out of the mud when we fix whatever’s wrong. The noise was horrible but I can’t find anything wrong. Sitting here is not going to help so we fire up the engine, noise and all, back out into the channel, kill the engine and throw up some sail. There’s less than 3 knots of wind so we’re ghosting along with only most of the genoa up as there’s not enough wind to fill the entire sail. We’re moving along at 1.3 knots only 5 miles from our destination.

We have to call Tow Boat US to come and tow us to port. The tow boat takes 35 minutes to arrive so we just plod along until he arrives. We’re towed to Casper’s Marina. The 2 marinas here don’t employ full time mechanics. It’s up to the boat owner to find and hire their own mechanics. The tow boat guy suggests one man and the marina suggests another. We call them both, one says he’ll show but doesn’t for 2 days and the other diagnoses the problem on the phone (probably because of my uncanny ability to recreate the squealing coming from the engine). It turns out the plate between the engine and the transmission has fractured flinging metal and a spring or two around inside the bell housing.

He says to remove the starter (the one I just installed the other day) and to fish a magnet or wire down into the bell housing and fish out all the pieces I can. If I can clean it out pretty well he says it will be safe to run until we get to full service marina and have this plate replaced. When I pull out the starter one of the springs comes out with it, cool, but after about an hour of fishing I still hadn’t caught anything else so I put the starter back in. I restarted the engine and could hear pieces being flung up and around the flywheel so after 1 minute I kill the engine and again I remove the starter and viola more chunks of metal were sitting in the starters cup, awesome. I end up removing and reinstalling the starter 5 times total, finally coming up with no pieces. Thank you Jesus. I may need counseling after this ..

Well that was actually both days here in Swansboro N.C. They kind of blended into one long day for me and now for you as well. The people were nice, the weather was great and we saw dolphins. On our way again tomorrow at 0700
Day 16 was Monday November 27, Ken came down to the dock around 0700 and we took Veranda down to one of his favorite marinas for a short haul. The trip down Whitaker Creek was just another opportunity for me to ooh and ahh at the plethora of awesome sailboats lining both banks.

We backed Veranda into the lifting well and in a couple of minutes she was up in the air. The bottom looked as if we put it in yesterday with no growth on the bottom or propeller. That was the good news. At the widest part of the boat on the Port side 3 inches below the water line there’s a scratch about 2 feet long. Its not as bad as I imagined that it would look but it will need to be addressed. The problem is that the yard doesn’t have any room to put us down to do the repair until Thursday of this week. We decide to keep moving south for another week and then put into a yard to have the repair done, no use just sitting here in the water waiting for half a week.
So its back to Ken and Carol’s dock for the day. We spend the day on a bicycle tour of Oriental with our hosts. We stop at all the local stores and shops in town even the West Marine. Carol seems to know everyone in town and we meet a lot of very friendly people. Its amazing how many people are a block or 2 away that the Small’s knew from 20 years ago here and there. Now sailing is the common thread that has brought them all back together again and to this area. The town really has a very cool feel to it, I think Ken & Carol found their nirvana.

Carol made dinner for us, a new favorite of hers, Shrimp & Grits. Carol says whenever they try a new restaurant she orders the shrimp & grits and its always different. Sometimes its in a red sauce, sometimes there vegetables mixed in, anything goes. Her version was really good with the shrimp having been sautéed in a very good homemade sauce. It was definitely a big hit. The evening was really good and we went to bed fat and happy.
Day 15, I was up just before 0600 and had the dogs taken care of and was ready to leave by 0630. We’re ready to go and I turn the key and….nothing. The loose wiring that I fixed the other day had been slowly overheating the starter and now she was dead. There would have been a moment of silence for our dear dead starter but I was too busy cursing.

When I bought the boat I found a box on board with a spare starter in it. The box was labeled “used but good” so I got it out, cleaned it up and with Christy’s help got the old one out and the new one in. I went up to the marina head to wash up while Christy put the boat back in order. When I was originally ready to leave everyone else in the marina was still asleep and in the hour and a half it took to change starters everyone in the marina had gotten up and out.

The sail to Ken and Carol’s in Oriental was uneventful with several changes from motoring, to sailing, to motor sailing. We’re starting to see more cruisers headed south now so we’re not quite so alone on the water. When we got to the creek that runs behind the Small’s home it was like being in a sailors candy store. Christy looking one way and me another calling each other to look at this or look at that. The collection of awesome sailing vessels all in one place was pretty impressive. Ken was waiting for us at his dock, what a setup, beautiful dock with room for 2 large sailboats and a home right out a nautical home and gardens magazine and at 3 dollars a night with free WiFi I highly recommend it to all..

We spent the late afternoon catching up with Ken until Carol came home from errand running then we all went to dinner at a local eatery. .
Veranda resting at the Small’s dock. Life is good and yes I am full.
Day 14 starts with us on the go at 0650. There’s no wind at all so we motor south along the Alligator River on our way to the Pungo Canal. It’s flat as a pancake but we are getting about three quarters of a knot push as the tide is coming in.

At the south end of the river it becomes a very winding stream through a swamp, it’s hard to imagine that there’s this much nothing anywhere today. When the winding stream ends it becomes the Pungo Canal, pronounced “holy crap this place is deserted Canal”. The canal is a lot like the Dismal Swamp Canal except there’s no locks and is probably 100 yards wide at some points. The downside is that of these 100 yards that it’s a false sense of security as there’s tree stumps and fallen trees in the water everywhere along both banks. It’s not nearly as well maintained as the Dismal, some of the stumps are alone, just at the surface and thirty yards from shore. It makes what could be a very relaxing trip very tense.

The Pungo (from the Arapahoe word meaning Godforsaken) Canal, unlike the Dismal is not a “no wake zone” so you’re forced to share this limited space with mega yachts barreling through as fast as they dare. The place is so remote though that we only get passed three times in 20 miles and all 3 captains were cooperative in slowing to a no wake speed while we slowed and hugged the edge and let them past before we both resumed our previous speeds.

We stop for the night at the Dowery Creek Marina about 4 miles or so from Belhaven, N.C. The place was recommended in Ken & Carol Small’s account of their trip last fall to deliver their boat to their new home in Oriental, N.C. We arrive around 1430 hours and do laundry and take showers as soon as we’re tied up. I tackle a couple of small boat chores while Christy starts diner. There’s no internet but there is cell service unlike last night.

Just for the record Christy’s ankle is much better but I am screening her calls in case Charlie tries to call again. That’s about it for today, we should make it to the Small’s home by tomorrow evening, and I hope they realize how hungry I am.

On a side note tonight while listening to the VHF during the evening we heard a Notice to Mariners broadcast by the Coast Guard concerning a report of an I-beam awash at the mouth of Alligator River, looks like someone else found it as well.
Ahhh…Day 13 starts off with a thud, Christy slightly sprained her ankle yesterday and today it’s pretty sore. It was right after she talked to Charlie on the phone so I’m pretty sure he had something to do with it. So there was to be no wandering of the town. I did patch the dinghy though but it won’t be for another 24 hours till we see if it works. The older couple I saw at the gas dock a couple of days ago in that terrible storm are a couple of slips away, so it’s nice to know that they survived.

When the other boat starts up and leaves we decide that we may as well head out too. We secure all our gear and get ready to go, turn the key and ……..nothing. Crap. Now I get out all my tools, take apart the engine enclosure and start to diagnose the problem. It turns out to be some bullshit wiring job by the previous owner and were underway by 1110. The wind is blowing between 10 and 15 knots off the starboard beam, we have both sails fully up and we’re running along at better than 7 and half knots. It’s an absolutely perfect sail for better than 20 miles on the same tack. The sun is out and its tee shirt weather even with the sides of the enclosure open.

About 5 miles before we reach our destination we have to drop the sails because the wind is straight behind us and the entrance to the Alligator River is somewhat sketchy. We motor into the channel and it’s not well marked and seems to be rather confusing. We’re headed straight into the setting sun making seeing the surface of the water extremely difficult. We can’t seem to get the marks straight when we realize why. Ones missing, then bang!, scrape!, we look behind to see an 8 inch piece of I-beam just under the surface of the water protruding up from the bottom. Even without the sun, I don’t think either one of us would have seen it. I take the helm while Christy goes below to see if we’re taking on water. Everything seems to be okay, it was only a glancing blow but we’ll have to be short hauled in Oriental, N.C. to see what repairs if any we might need.

The marina we’re staying in for the night is the only one for 30 miles in one direction and 50 miles to the south. The fuel dock and slips all look brand new, it’s very nice. Its way out in the sticks, the restaurant on the premises is not open due to lack of help so Christy and I along with 2 other couples on huge powerboats eat dinner at the local gas station which is part of the same establishment. It was bizarre, picture a 7-11 with 6 tables along one wall. The woman who sold us diesel cooked us dinner. No, I’m not kidding. You had to place your order at the counter, swing by the cooler and take a beer out of a six pack and grab a table. Christy even went for the crab cakes and everything was really very good.

Tomorrow we should be underway by 0700 or so for the 50 mile trip to Belhaven N.C. We should be able to sail for the first 16 miles or so and then it’s into the Pungo River Canal where we will be forced to motor again.
Day 12 starts with the traditional “walking of the dogs”. We leave the dock in Portsmouth, Va. at 0700 and turn south towards the first of 5 bridges before the entrance to the Dismal Swamp Canal. The bridges all go well with only a slight wait for a railway bridge.

When we arrive at the first lock on the Dismal Swamp we meet a boat christened “Bucket”. They’ve been anchored here waiting for the storm of the last few days to pass. The locks only open a few times a day at a regular schedule so we wait for 10 minutes or so before the lock operator, Robert opens up to let us in. Once inside the lock we tie up on our starboard side with bucket behind us. The whole locking operation takes approximately 30 minutes to raise us up about 6 feet or more.

While operating the lock, Robert who is semi famous on the ICW, gives a history lesson, plays a conch shell, and informs us that the swamp route had a few large trees fall during the storm. He says the Army Corp of Engineers has a crew that started at 0530 in there clearing whatever they find but we’re going to have to be the guinea pigs as the first to transit the swamp route. The canal is about 22 miles long and we soon we leave Bucket far behind. The canal can best be described as a tunnel through a thick forest, most of the time its not 75 feet wide and the reason it’s called the Dismal Swamp is that “it is”. I never knew gray came in so many shades, though to be fair it is an overcast, cold, drizzly day. Just past the Virginia / North Carolina border there’s the only welcome center in the country that can be reached by boat or interstate. We stop to get a freebie map they hand out to boaters but they were closed. So Christy uses the opportunity to take the dogs for a quick walk while I clean the engine raw water strainer of the microscopic plant life that is so plentiful in the swamp.

After we leave the welcome center come to the spot where the trees fell and find the work barge but no workers. The canal is half cleared and we’re able to squeeze through, we find a couple of more tree tops down but have no real trouble sneaking through. After we lock-out of the canal we are 8 feet lower and at the head waters of a winding river that will wander through 18 miles of nothing before we get to Elizabeth City. Enroute I did run us out of fuel in our port tank, I checked it before we left and I’d hoped it would be enough for the trip. The engine died, Christy took over at the helm as I went below, switched to the other tank and had us running before we had even coasted to a stop. Lesson learned.

When we got to Elizabeth City we hail the bridge keeper at the city limits and get no response. ?. We try again, nothing, now were 100 feet from the bridge keeper’s house and circling. We try the VHF down below, nothing, Christy gets both the handheld VHF’s, still nothing. Finally we pull up close to the bridge and Christy lets go with the air horn. The bridge keeper jumps up from his probable triptaphane induced coma, looks out his window, comes to the door and says “Do you want to go through?”. Christy is now out on the side deck and yells back to him “No, we’re just here to wish you a merry F’ing Thanksgiving”. Okay maybe that wasn’t exactly how it went but it did in my mind.

So now we’re through the bridge and tied up at the free slips the city maintains for transient boaters. Christy has just made the best turkey dinner with all the trimmings I think I’ve ever eaten. The boats warm and toasty, smells of turkey and I’m thinking its nap time. Tomorrow is only going to be a 26 mile day so we’re going to leave around 1100. The sun is supposed to be out so we’ll fix the dinghy, walk the town a bit, run the dogs and take our time departing.
Day 10 found us weathered in at the Ocean Marine Yacht Center. The winds were cranking by 0100 and by 0500 we probably would not have been able to get out of the slip let alone manouver as we waited for bridges to open and the wait an hour and a half for the first lock opening at the Dismal Swamp.

At about 0830 I’m out walking the dogs along the river when this small sail boat comes motoring past. As I’m bringing the dogs back to the boat I see the boat is turning into the marina so I drop the dogs off at the boat and watch to see where he’s going so I can lend a hand with lines. He’s at the far end of our row but all I can see is his mast and its going back and forth, left and right so I’m not sure which way to head to assist. The dock boy comes running by so I go after him to lend a hand because conditions are so nasty. It turns out the guy was making passes at the fuel dock with his 50 something year old wife on the bow trying to get the boat close enough for her to jump off with a dock line in hand. Holy crap (I’m sure it wasn’t her plan). The wind is coming straight from the dock and keeps blowing him off as soon as he slows at all. He comes close enough for her to throw the bow line to the kid and has to walk the stern line forward to me so we can pull him alongside and tie him up. He was just there for diesel, he was going to keep going, he had stripped all his sails off because of the wind and had even removed the dodger! He and his wife were both soaked and I can’t believe he expected her to jump off that boat in those conditions.

So we sat here and did some maintenance chores, tidied up the boat and did some laundry. I’ve been fist fighting with the generator and with the help of on phone guidance from the Fischer Panda service staff I’ve exhausted all possible choices but to send the control panel in for service. So we borrowed the marina’s courtesy car and hit the grocery store and then the Post Office to mail the control panel back to the manufacturer.

Our boat is only 6 slips away from the marinas 2 story office and next door to that is a 6 or 7 story building. Both buildings are between us and the wind but we’re still seeing gusts up over 45 knots and steady winds of 35 knots. Conditions are absolutely ferocious, I’m so glad we stayed put. I’m genuinely worried about that older couple and where they ended up today.

Day 11 finds us still stuck here with torrential downpours and steady 30 knot winds. Its so bad that I don’t even take the dogs out until noon. They didn’t complain because they don’t want to be out there any more than I did. We watched Captain Ron on the laptop during the afternoon. As evening arrives the wind is letting up, its below 20 knots and starting to shift direction. Its looking good for us to be on our way in the morning. I’m not sure if watching Captain Ron had anything to do with it but I’m breaking out our copy as soon as the weather starts to fade again.
Day 9 is starting pretty early; I’m wide awake at 0430. We went to bed at 2100 hours the night before so I’m guessing 7 and a half hours of sleep is enough but I don’t want to die, so I lie in bed quietly till 0500 then get up, get dressed, walk the dogs and get underway by 0530. I backed us out of the marina and into the early morning darkness before Christy was even topside. We had planned a 0630 departure so 0530 assures us of a daylight arrival.

The sail down to Norfolk was just 2 long runs. We sailed all the way to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, gibed and sailed straight into the approach to Norfolk. Everyone always worries about sailing in New York Harbor but Norfolk was way more intense. There’s freighters, tugs with barges and naval warships all moving everywhere all at once. During our entire approach we were listening to a naval warship that was escorting a submarine threatening to fold, spindle and mutilate anyone who came within 500 feet of her charge. We never did see the sub and I was anxious to see if it would show up on radar. We had an aircraft carrier overtake us and as we watched 4 tugboats came alongside her and move her into her berth. We even got buzzed by a couple of military helicopters and then a Coast Guard chopper as well.

Our arrival at the Ocean Yacht Center Marina is at 1530 hours. We turn down dead-end fairway as directed on the VHF and are looking for our assigned slip which doesn’t appear obvious to us. The marina is full of big powerboats and every slip appears occupied, so I slow us in the center of the narrow fairway and prepare to back out when a dock boy shows himself from behind the bow of a big cabin cruiser on our portside only a slip or 2 away. I should have backed up and moved to the far side of the fairway to reapproach the slip. Instead, I used reverse and a little breeze to walk the bow into the slip, there was potential for disaster but I got away with it. No blood, no foul, next time I’ll let the kid wait while I make a more patient approach. Don’t want to use up all the luck this early in the trip.

Christy and I walked about 2 blocks and are in the middle of downtown Portsmouth, Va. Dinner was at Roger Browns and was fantastic. Across the river is the city of Norfolk and it’s a sight to behold, every building is trimmed in white lights so the city skyline is in stark contrast against the night sky. Its awesome.

Another early morning tomorrow, the bridges between us and the Dismal Swamp are all “open on demand” until 0630 then they don’t open again until 0830 because of rush hour. So if we are up and out by 0530 we can get through all 4 bridges without having to wait for the extra 2 hours. Tomorrows weather is calling for ridiculous winds of between 25 and 35 knots out of the North. The Dismal Swamp Canal will be a good place to hide from these excessive winds and still be able to keep moving. We’ll make the decision in the morning if we venture out at all.

Once we get to Elizabeth City at the other end of the canal we’ll probably be weathered in for a couple of days. It’s good though as I have a couple of projects to tackle. At the other end of the Dismal Swamp internet connectivity may be sketchy at best. So it may not be until Friday that you hear from us again.
Day 8, departure time was supposed to be 0800 but we were actually underway 5 minutes early. ( I knew setting all the clocks an hour ahead would help) The 10 knot breeze is from the North and were motoring East out of the Potomac River. This gets us a fairly good sideways rolling motion, its uncomfortable at best, all the local fishermen are complaining about it on the VHF. Of course the first thing I did this morning was sit on my only pair of sunglasses and break one of the arms off so heading East into the rising sun was a pain. As we round the point of the end of the river and turn South the bay turns ugly as the tide is coming in and the wind is blowing out. We motorsailed along quite comfortably and were able to average over 7 knots.

We picked the Fishing Bay Harbor Marina as our destination for the evening because of the promise of an internet connection and a ships store being on the premises. We have developed a pretty good leak in the dinghy so we need the ships store to buy an inflatable repair kit. We get here and it’s a pretty nice place, with internet as promised. However the ships store only seems to sell tee shirts and …..YES…...sunglasses. Okay could be worse but they do have courtesy bicycles that we take advantage of and ride a mile and a half to West Marine to buy our patch kit. All I can say is that I’m really glad Christy and I decided to see the world by boat and not by bike.

Tonight was Mexican Night on the Veranda complete with cervesas and vino rojo. Dinner was great as always. Pink Floyd plays for us as we chart tomorrows day and take care of some internet business. Hasta Manana.
Day 7 has us up and on the water by 0600, okay it was 0620 but we’re getting better. Christy backed us out of the slip and had us underway while I handled and stowed lines. As soon as we hit open water we unrolled the genoa and were ghosting along at about 5 knots with the wind coming straight over the stern rail. As the morning went along the wind built enough to get us moving at a little better than 6 knots. It held that way until after lunch when we were forced to drop sail and motor for the last 3 hours of the day. Rover steered all day and was voted crewman of the day. All in all it wasn’t too bad a day.

We turned west into the Potomac River and ventured up Smith’s Creek to take a slip at the Lookout Point Marina. They advertised as having internet connection available……..but they don’t…….bastards. But they did have diesel, so we filled our tanks and took a slip. Once in the slip Christy walked the dogs while I washed down the boat and refilled the water tank. Our tank is about 40 inches deep and we were only down about 8 inches so we hadn’t even used a quarter of a tank in about a week. That’s awesome but it also means we probably don’t bathe as much as we should .

Tomorrow should be about an 8 hour day so we don’t have to hit the road until 0800. We’ll still be in bed before 2130 tonight though.
Day 5 doesn’t really start until 3 PM when we pull onto the highway and begin the trip back to the boat. The deluge starts shortly thereafter, we’re talking complete downpour with 30 to 40 knot wind gusts. The Delaware Memorial Bridge was actually frightening and the trip was long and completely exhausting. When we get to the marina we take 2 cart fulls of stuff down to the boat, feed and walk the dogs and meet Phil for dinner at Calypso Bay.

Day 6 starts with us bringing the rest of the things down to the boat from the rental car. While Christy stows all the stuff we brought with us I busy myself with boat projects that need doing. The generator has not been running so todays the day to remedy that. Okay, maybe not. I found a fuse blown in the remote panel that controls the unit. I replaced the fuse but it blows instantly, a call to the service tech support line finds that no one is there but they’ll call me back as soon as they get in. Which they do, while were in the middle of returning the rental car. So I explain the problem to the guy and he gives me a couple of good leads to follow up on when we get back to the boat. Other stuff is more pressing so we will have to wait a couple of more days before I can get to it. We hit the super market and stop in to say good bye to Phil then head back to the boat to retire as we have an early start planned.
Day four starts with us at the Yacht Basin Company. It was supposed to be overcast but the morning was glorious and at 52 degrees felt practically balmy. Christy and I walked up to Fawcetts Marine Supply to see if they carried the Bushnell line of binoculars. Then we spent a little bit of time walking around town before departing the dock at 1100.

Its only a 20 mile or so sail to our next stop which is Herring Bay. The plan was to take the boat to Herrington Harbor North Marina and leave it for 2 weeks so we could attend to the final details of the sale of the house. Our friend Phil is a liveaboard at Herrington and it would be ideal for us as Phil could keep an eye on Veranda for us while were away. As we got near the bay Christy contacted the marina and we were told that there was no room at the inn. Bummer. We went to plan B and contacted the Shipwright Harbor Marina which was close by.

As we were approaching the bay it started to rain pretty good so our visual navigation needed to be supplemented with the help of our electronics. This trip has given me the time to really spend time learning the ins and outs of our new Garmin GPS and it really made a big difference in this situation of deteriorating conditions. The Furuno radar is a stud, it see’s everything and was picking Nuns and Cans out of the grayness long before we could see them. So between Christy with her binoculars and paper charts and me with the electronics it all went really well. The people here were very pleasant and they’re hauling boats as I write this. Hmmm hauling boats in the rain, memories I’ll always cherish.

Tomorrow we’ll pick up a rental car, say good bye to the boat and head back to Jersey for a short time before the saga resumes.

To be continued…….
Day three finds us anchored in Turner Creek, a tributary of the Sassafrass River. The anchorage was ours alone and was picture perfect. There’s a state park bordering one side so the dogs were thrilled and a few quaint homes on the other bank. There was no breeze at all and we really couldn’t tell that we were afloat as there was not a hint of movement.
It was really cold in the boat during the night so both dogs slept with us in the aft cabin. It wasn’t really bad for the 2 of us but the dogs were shivering quite a bit so we decided to take a slip in Annapolis the next night instead of a mooring ball as was our original thought.
I had promised Christy that after pushing hard for 2 days we would be able to sleep in on the morning of the third day, so we were up at 0800. Christy made a wonderful breakfast of pepper steak and eggs, good stuff. We took our time getting it together and weighed anchor at 0930. The sun came up and the cockpit enclosure was so warm we were soon in tee shirts. There was not a hint of wind so we were forced to motor the entire 35 miles to Annapolis. We did get a push of over a knot for most of the trip so it wasn’t so bad.
It was an uneventful trip with us in a slip at the Yacht Basin Company at 1530 hours. It’s a nice place in the center of town. A friend of ours, Phillip met us at the dock and after a couple of cocktails we went to dinner at Middletons together, dinner was good, dessert was better. Its always good to see Phil.
Day two begins at 0500 again, it was supposed to start at 0400 but the Admiral declined to give her permission. Nobodies happy if the Admirals not happy so 0500 it is. This morning it was 37 degrees so we decided to leave the doors to the enclosure open to let the temperatures equalize to avoid the windscreen fogging up. This technique worked like a charm and the morning darkness didn’t feel too bad. As so as you enter the Cape May canal theres a bridge that has a clearance of 55 feet above the water. We are 52 feet above the water but the 3 foot difference looked like about an inch.
The canal was dark as a witches heart but the trip was uneventful and over quickly. The reason for leaving so early was that we have a 75 mile day planned so we have to catch the flood tide piling into Delaware Bay. We ended up getting a full knot assist all the way through the canal and up the bay it was good for 2 knots. When we turned into the C&D canal the flood was still with us and we ran the entire length at over 10 knots while only turning 2000 RPM’s. Whoever planned this trip really had his shit together.
For the first 8 miles we didn’t see another boat so just as we were renaming it to the C&B (Christy & Bill) canal a car carrier the size of Montana showed up on our 6. It took him quite a while to overtake us and went a lot smoother than I imagined it would.
We turned into the Sassafrass River and tucked into the entrance of Turner Creek. We dropped anchor in 10 feet of water and went about the rituals of pooping the dogs, feeding ourselves and finally getting the chance to relax a bit.

Day 1

Day one begins very early with the traditional beginning of every successful sea voyage, the pooping of the dogs. Once this ritual has been completed we leave the dock at Silver Cloud behind at 0500. Its 30 degrees on this particular morning so our breaths are fogging up the inside of the enclosure making it impossible to see the bow of the boat. We have to remove the windscreen portion so we have a clear field of vision. Alright, now its really fricken freezing. We’re dressed like Eskimo’s in February.
We motor slowly out of the river and down the bay arriving at the BI buoy at the first hint of daylight. When we get to the beginning of the channel visual navigation is still spotty so we turn to a time tested maritime navigational tool, we followed the parade of fishermen blasting down the channel on their way to try their luck at stripper fishing.
We have no trouble with our trip through the channel and are out the inlet by 0700. The windscreen now goes back into place, life is good. The wind is from the NW at 10 to 15 knots and we’re headed south so we just unroll the genoa and are off and running. We’re comfortably running along at better than 7 knots with Rover the autopilot steering.
When I fired up the autopilot it was love at first use. So naming became an issue, I didn’t think a woman’s name would work because I didn’t want Christy to become jealous of my love for another woman on board. Men’s names were out as well because that would just be gay. Then I realized how much I enjoy having the dogs, Molly and Tucker on board. I figured one more dog couldn’t hurt and this one actually earns its keep not just feed me, poop me, watch me sleep. So Rover it is.
The plan was that if we made it to Atlantic City by noon we would just keep going. At a little past 1100 we were abeam of A.C. so we kept rolling along, for about 2 miles then the wind got flukey and I lived with it until we were down to 3.7 knots. At that rate we wouldn’t make Cape May until way past the fall of darkness so we started to motor sail. The wind, sensing my play challenged us by clocking around to SSW at 8 knots, not in the forecast at all. We countered by sheeting in tight and close reaching with the engine still running. The wind then played the trump card and came around to “dead on the nose”. Okay, this round to the wind, we drop sail and motor the last 25 miles to Cape May.
While we were motoring along with Rover at the wheel, Christy exclaims “Look, something big in the water”. Immediately I envision a Stingray sunning itself, then she says “ Really big!” now I’m getting to my feet to catch a glimpse of what I’m sure is going to be a whale breaching. Suddenly she disconnects Rover and throws the wheel hard to Starboard and “it” comes into view, a huge log or boom of some type. Its at least a hundred feet long and about 14 inches in diameter. We miss it with room to spare but not much room, that would have been one of those “Couple Sinks on First Day of Trip” headlines. Christy asks what would have happened if we had hit it, I tell her we’d have cut through it like butter. Ignorance is bliss, right?
The approach to Cape May canal was straight forward and we rode the flood tide in at better than 8 knots. We motored slowly through the harbor and took a slip Utsches Marina. After pooping the dogs we walked to The Lobster House, dinner rocked. We made our way home and were tucked in by 2200.
Its been a great day.


Its Friday evening and I’ve just finished my last day of work, or so I thought. Christy has spent the entire day closing up the house and loading the car with stuff for the trip. The funny part is that I thought we were already packed and ready to go.
It takes over an hour to empty her CRV. Honda should have filmed this packing job for a commercial. We now have more food on board than UNICEF delivers to starving children in Africa. We work at stowing food, clothing and gear until 2300 hours.
Christy is completely frazzled, its been an emotional day for her with family and friends calling, saying goodbye. She’s the most prepared person I’ve ever met and trying to be completely prepared for something like this is something that just can’t be done.
We’ve done our homework and we’re ready to go, she knows it, we need a great day tomorrow to get her settled.