Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pop Quiz

April 24, 2014.

Is this a sailboat or Powerboat?

During a search of a customers boat I opened a drawer that I thought might be the Nav station.  I'm not sure what the drawer was designed for but this guys got NINE remotes in it.  Nine remote controls, seriously?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The numbers are in....

April 18, 2014.

Since we're back in Annapolis and once again working for a living, what better time than now to write the cruising hunting/ gathering wrap up. For the past several years we've been pretty pleased with our performance. Every year we've been able to beat the previous year's haul so its always somewhat of a personal challenge to top last year.

This year we had an advantage that we've never had before. In years past we've been a solo act. Christy and I have almost always gone out hunting alone. In the past 7 years we've rarely ever had anybody ask us to go fishing. Christy says its because my hunting prowess emasculates other guys. I feel terrible that my “killing a lot of shit” made other guys penises small. My bad.

I've had guys that were having limited success ask for some help and I LOVE helping them. It's not rocket science and after a trip or two together they're self sufficient and go off on their own. It makes me feel great that they're more successful, I know they appreciate the pointers and it really is fun to see them succeed.

For the first time ever we had dive buddies. Steve & Kim on Fine Lion were as eager as we were to get in the water. Often departures and arrival times at different cays depended on whether or not we were getting into the water to hunt. For the first time ever we had outboard issues while hunting miles from the big boat. We made it home on our own, but having them there was very comforting in case a tow was necessary.

I was able to kill fish in full view of a shark because Steve was there to keep “the guy in the gray suit” at bay with his spear, while I got my catch into the dink. I found that I genuinely enjoy watching other people kill stuff. After an afternoon in the water it's fun to see what the other guys got in his bucket, I might have a mondo lobster and he'll yank a 6 pound Hogfish out of their bucket. It's fun to sit in the dinks, side by side and recount the hits and near misses while they're so fresh in your mind before speeding back to the big boats to clean your catch.

As for the catch, here are the numbers....

Lobster 195. Last year it was 181, so there was improvement. Since we had the new underwater camera this year I saw several dozen lobster that we only photographed. On several occasions we left them biting so to speak and I could have taken 300 this year if we wanted to. It's good to see that the lobster are still so plentiful.
195 isn't really that many when they come in bunches

Hogfish 34. Steve laughed at me because I swam past so many Hogfish this season. The truth is, cleaning lobster is easier and I'm lazy so I let a good number of them swim by. Still, I only took 14 last year so 34's a pretty big step up. I'm blaming a lot of these on the peer pressure from Steve mocking me. Thank you Steve.
Big dead guy

Nassau Grouper 5. We're just about ready to head north when Nassau Grouper season opens and 5 is an average number for us.

Tiger Grouper 2. And they were both spectacular....

Ocean Trigger 4. Ocean Triggers are no joke when it comes to spear fishing. This is the first year we've ever taken any at all, so I’m pretty pleased with 4, and they are fabulous eating. 

Lion Fish 30. I was trying to kill a Lion Fish for every lobster we took and you can see I fell well short of the mark. Last year I took 57 Lion Fish and this year I killed almost all that I saw so that might mean that this invasive species is on the decline.

Margate 1. He was a biggie. Fishing was slow that day and you don't spend the better part of the day in the water to go home and have peanut butter and jelly for lunch. So Margate it was...

Strawberry Grouper 1. Usually I don't see them big enough to kill. I was lucky to find him, he was unlucky I did.

Slipper Lobster 1. They're creepy, prehistoric looking things but taste oh so good. They just blend in pretty well, seem fairly rare and I was lucky to spot him.

Almaco Jack 1. He was big, I caught him unaware, it was an irresistible combination.

Success didn't stop at the surfline. With Christy having Kim as a beach combing buddy it took a lot of pressure off me. I still went beach combing a lot but Christy went twice as much as she might have since Kim was so willing.

Hamburger Beans 742. I don't know what we'll do with them but when I do figure it out we'll be able to do it a lot.  Christy and Kim had a single day where they both scored over 120 beans from a single seldom scoured beach.

Purse Beans 31. Not a Gucci among them.

Mary's Bean 16.

Monkey Face 54.

and to wrap it all up was 35 honking POUNDS of SEAGLASS....

Friday, April 18, 2014

April 15, 2014.

Well, its happened. We're back in Annapolis. At the free dock in Great Bridge we were about 150 miles from Naptown. On Saturday morning we passed through the 0700 lock and motored towards Norfolk.
The Lightship of Portsmouth
We rode the ebbing tide out into the Chesapeake Bay at over 8 knots and turned north.

Of course now our friend “The Tide” was against us and we motored northward on a dead flat, completely windless day. For just about ever. It was a perfect, warmish day that any boater would love. Unless you were a sailboater, there was literally zero breeze....all day.
FAC seas

There was the promise of wind from a favorable direction due to arrive the next day so we chose an anchorage for the night. At just about the halfway point lies one of the many Mill Creeks that dot the Chesapeake. Our friends Pete and Lynn from First Edition have a house on the water there so we thought we'd pop in and surprise them.
Fish traps border the approach to Mill Creek

Surprise! They're not home. So we dropped the hook just after sunset right behind their house. We still had 78 miles to go so the next morning the hook was up by 0600 and we headed out onto the bay. We had 15 to 20 knots from directly behind the boat as we blasted north. The water was small rollers behind us and we hit the Potomac at slack tide so everything was going pretty well.

With such a long day ahead of us we listened to NOAA for a weather report. Our 15 to 20 was supposed to build to 25 to 30 by late afternoon. Crap. The next few days are supposed to be worse so we opted to keep moving. As we pulled into the harbor at Annapolis the wind cranked up like somebody flipped a switch. Of course there were dozens of boats sailing in every direction when the wind hit. A lot of them looked surprised by the newly honking breeze. And several of them gave us cause for concern as they barreled close by with sails flailing and sheets popping. It took some timing but we did find enough space to run downwind to roll up the genny before turning hard on the wind to drop the mainsail.

We motored into Back Creek and headed towards our slip. Our slip is very protected and I was shocked to find that we had 15 knots of breeze screwing with me as we tried to parallel park into our slip. The outside pilings on our slip are only 11 ½ feet apart and the Veranda is 13 ½ feet wide so we have to think outside the envelope to get into our slip.

Too much speed and the prop walk can be brutal, too slow and the wind was having its way with us. It took several tries before we were able to nail it. I had a legitimate shot on the second try but one of the neighbors had a moment of lucidity and decided now would be the time to chat us up. Our technique involves Christy standing on the bow and slipping a bowline over a piling so we can slowly warp our way into the slip.
Land immediately to port and 15 knots from the starboard side made docking into a challenge
Once we get a line on that piling off the port bow warping in is easy
Honey we're home!

I got the boat into position next to our slip, Christy is about to toss the line and a woman behind me starts screaming “You can't anchor there, we won't be able to get our boat out!” Christy, with the patience of a saint stops what shes doing and explains to the woman that we're just getting into our slip.

When we're in our slip her boat sits on a lift off our port quarter. In the 5 years that we've been here their boat has never ever been in the water. Its a lift queen, it just sits there.
The boat hasn't been wet since the Roosevelt administration
The wind caught us but we beat the rain
Hell, I doubt that the lift even works anymore but whatever. By the time this bullshit conversation was over the wind had me and it was time to pull out and try it again.

I think it was on the fifth attempt that everything lined up and we slipped comfortably into our home for the next few months.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 14, 2014.

The trip up the ICW can be boring at times but it is a good time to make observations, contemplate life, that sort of thing.

North Carolina gave us no depth issues and would have been quite relaxing if not for the flies. They're not nasty, biting flies....just annoying, land on you and walk around flies. They were slow enough that you could kill them with your bare hand but the fly swatter made it simpler. And when my wife wielded the fly swatter I noticed something new about her.

You see, when I swat a fly I make it a sporting event. I snap the fly swatter and the end of the stroke to just hit the fly hard enough to kill him while trying not to hit whatever surface he was sitting on. If hes on a chair I try to kill him without “smacking” the surface of the chair. He could be on a plant and I try to whack him without any damage to the plant. Its kinda fun and sometimes even I'm impressed with my ninja like swatting skills.

On the other hand Christy uses a more old school, full swing, complete rage swat. BAM!! Dead. So I sat quietly and observed the complete annihilation of several flies and came to a conclusion. The BAM sound isn't the sound of the swatter impacting the flies chosen landing zone. The fly swatters head is moving at the speed of sound as she swings for the kill. The noise is actually a sonic boom as the swatters head breaks the sound barrier.

Of course this led to the observation that the swatter wasn't actually killing the flies, its the shock wave that reaches the fly just before the contact of the swatter. The concussive force of the shock wave hit the flies with such force that their insides are turned to jelly, instantly killing them. The swatter then strikes the already dead fly exploding his body into a gooey pile of “used to be a fly”.

Its amazing what you notice when you have the time to sit back and watch.
April 12, 2014.

A trend became apparent to me today. Now that I think back I've come to the conclusion that I've never dealt with a single lock keeper that was an asshole. As best I can remember I don't recall a single lock keeper ever being short, rude, abrupt or less than helpful. They're always chipper, quick to answer, intelligible on the radio and even engaging. Its almost like they enjoy their job.

In general, my experience with bridge keepers is different. Don't get me wrong, we've crossed paths with dozens of bridge keepers that do their job in a professional yet friendly fashion. But there have been that half dozen or so bridge keepers that it wouldn't bother me if they got their head stuck in the closing bridge.

Some of them speak in an unintelligible series of grunts and monosyllabic tics that might pass for English in their inbred part of the world. I can't recount how many times Christy & I have looked at each other with raised eyebrows after listening to our “instructions” as passed down from the bridge tenders blockhouse. He wants us to what? “Bring a shopping cart to the deaf mans house?” I mean, when you call the bridge you already pretty much know what hes going to say but sometimes you get the feeling that you might have just received a radio skip from Saigon. WTH did he just say?

The weather kept us on the ICW from Charleston to Norfolk and we had a couple of these bullshit encounters. We arrived at one bridge early for its scheduled opening and called to tell him that we were standing by for his 0800 lift. Nothing. Okay. Christy tried again 10 minutes later but still received no response. Finally after we got close enough to the bridge to see the guys, face he called us and asked if we wanted an opening. Is he kidding? No, we're here for the culture. Christy told him we'd called him a few times and he told her that the guy he relieved had turned the volume on the VHF all the way down and he hadn't noticed so he didn't hear us. I guess all those pesky boaters interrupt his REM sleep so he's got to turn the radio down. Listening to the radio is like a cornerstone for that job. Surfing internet porn, playing online poker and watching television are just the perks. Christ.

And I don't think its a Southern vs. Yankee thing or a Locals vs. The World issue either. Yesterday we had 2 bridges 4 miles apart that both opened 30 minutes apart. If I could get through the first bridge in a timely fashion and firewall it we could get to the second bridge in 32 minutes. Or we could crawl the 30 miles and easily get there in an hour.

I explained to the tug and light (empty) barge that we were traveling with what I'd like to do and he gave us room to pass him just before the first bridge. We timed the opening perfectly and hit the gap at over 7 knots. After 20 minutes Christy called the next bridge and told him we'd be there at 1832. He expressed doubt that we'd be able to get through but we kept on. There was already a boat sitting there waiting for the lift so he's got to open anyway. First he's got to stop traffic, then lower the gates, then open the bridge and once the guy sitting there thinks hes got the room he'll pass through. If he thinks all thats gonna happen in less than 2 minutes then hes obviously never waited in a boat for a damn bridge to open.

Once the barge had eased through the bridge behind us he also got on the throttle. After we talked to the bridge tender the barge captain also got on the radio and told the tender that he would be there 2 minutes behind us. The bridge tender told him not to bother, that the bridge couldn't stay open for that much time and to just back it down. The captain came back with “we're through here twice a week and you're gonna close on us?”. The bridge tender said “You're not a red flag barge (carrying something explosive like jet fuel) and I don't have a reservation for you either”. (With a reservation barges can get an opening whenever the reservation is for) I'm thinking whats another minute for Christs sake. This is some dipshit back roads bridge with very little traffic. He did finally relent and just opened the bridge 2 minutes late so the barge could get through with the rest of us. It just rubbed me the wrong way how he made the barge captain ask for the favor. Like its going to be the crime of the century if Junior is 2 minutes late getting across the bridge to his moonshine still.

So I was thinking what makes these 2 groups of people with such similar jobs so different. Then it dawned on me. Its got to be the face to face contact aspect. The lock keeper is out next to your boat or barge and handles lines that you toss him. He's right there and meets the people that he's dealing with, they exchange pleasantries, they share the weather, they might even chat a bit. There’s also the possibility that if the lock keeper treated someone too poorly that person might just hop up off the boat and physically express their displeasure at the way they were spoken to. The bridge keepers don't have that concern. They just sit up in their tiny, grimy windowed blockhouse like some lunatic recluse in Idaho grumbling about all those damn boaters.

Sunset over the lock at Great Bridge

Friday, April 11, 2014

April 10, 2014.

We waited until the tide turned in our favor to head up Adams Creek towards Oriental. We arrived just after noon and made our way into Whittaker Creek with as little as 3 inches showing on the depth sounder.

It was good to see Ken & Carol once again we all went and met the Sapphires for dinner at Silos. It was our first meal off the boat since we got back to the states and it was BOGO pizza night so that was pretty special.

Ken & Carol left early the next morning to head to Charleston where they work as race committee for Charleston Race Week. So that evening Mike & Kathy picked us up and we had a few adult beverages at the Tiki Hut down at the waterfront before heading back with them to see their new home. Like so many cruisers they've decided that a land base would be a good thing for them and after several years of looking around they decided on Oriental, NC.

Oriental is a great town and the house they chose is absolutely perfect. I can admit that I'm a little bit jealous as I love their new home and Oriental.

After spending 2 nights sitting still it was time to get going so on Thursday we motored out onto a dead calm Neuse River and headed north. In the afternoon we had some breeze so we got some sailing in and with a favorable current for the entire day we were able to knock out an 80 mile day.

The plan for tomorrow is for another 80 miles which would land us in Great Bridge and only a stones throw from the Chesapeake. We have to negotiate 4 lift bridges and make a fuel stop along the way. We'll have to see how it goes.....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April 7, 2014.

We wanted to make a longs days run to put us as close to Oriental, NC as we could. The Wrightsville Beach Bridge only opens on the hour so if we wanted to make the 0700 bridge we had to pull the hook around 0630.

A boat had slipped in to anchor behind us during the night and it turned out to be the catamaran from the day before whose davits had failed while out in rough seas. It was too dark for a picture but his starboard davit was broken and his solar panels were hanging down to the waters surface. We learned later on the VHF that TowBoat US had gone out and towed the guys dink in for him and he was able to get the big boat in by himself. The towboat guy was on the radio later that morning telling him where he might get his davits repaired locally. If it were me he'd have to tell me where to go to get my wifes foot surgically removed from my ass after having her out there in conditions such as they were.

There was a ridiculous ground fog as we made our way northward. It was so thick we had to use the radar to keep from running into the channel markers. The four bridges that we encountered all had an opening schedule and we spent close to 2 hours waiting for bridges to open. Waiting for bridges was really screwing with my schedule as envisioned.

About 20 minutes before reaching Bogue Sound, NOAA started broadcasting a weather bulletin about a vicious line of thunderstorms racing up behind us. Christy had already seen them on her I-phone and had estimated that they would overtake us in about 3 hours. NOAA was assuring us that we'd be seeing 30 to 40 knots winds along with severe thunderstorms. They also said that winds up to 58 knots had been recorded as the storm moved towards us. Crap.

I wasn't going to risk be overtaken by the storm with sail up so we continued on under motor alone. Bogue Sound is a 20 mile long channel cut through the middle of a VERY shallow body of water. We had gray skies all day and things started to look worse as we looked over our shoulder. The wind was blowing 25 and the Veranda was actually healing as we motored along with no sail up.

Christy prepared dinner while we were underway and had it coordinated to be ready right as we were due to drop the hook.
We slipped into our tiny chosen anchorage, dropped the hook, ate dinner, secured everything on deck just as the front reached us. The wind howled a bit but nothing too severe, it rained like a bitch but all in all it wasn't too bad. The temps rose to the high sixties and we even got the Cape Fear salt and the pollen off the boat. Not too shabby.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 6, 2014.

We were up and out of the anchorage at 0630 because low tide was at 0800 and we needed a little extra water to get out and over the bar. The day was gray and dreary and not to mention cold as hell.

We had 25 knots out of the north with gusts to 30 which wouldn't be a big deal in the ICW except we had the Cape Fear River to deal with. Of course we had timed the tide to get the push up the river so we had a mondo tide against wind thing goin' on.

We had this happen a few years ago while traveling with Makeitso. It sucked back then but I think we managed to outdo that performance with wall after wall of water slamming headlong into our bow. The spume was so thick and far flung that the drain in the dinghy hanging in the davits was a solid stream of water as it drained back into the river after blowing over the top of the boat and into the dink.

We encountered only one other boat underway on the river and that was a car carrying ferryboat. The people riding in the comfort of the ferries salon actually came out on deck to take clearer pictures of the spectacle that was us. Yes, I waved. Yes, all five fingers.

While we were underway we listened as a sailboat had a little offshore drama. They called the Coast Guard for a little help because their “dinghy davits gave way and they were dragging the whole shebang behind the boat in 10 foot seas”. The Coast Guard sent TowBoat US out to see what assistance they could render. It had to be a miserable day for everyone involved. I woulda cut the whole thing away and called my insurance agent.

We're sitting in Wrightsville Beach. The anchorage is calm, the wind is howling, the internet is sketchy, I'm wearing frigging socks and tomorrows another day.
We came across this steel schooner anchored in the Waccamaw River.  "Steel Away"  Good Name.  Anybody going to the end of that bowsprit better pack a lunch

April 4, 2014.

It was nice to wake up in Charleston after 7 uninterrupted hours of sleep. We have to get moving north but the engine was due for an oil change. The oil change pump had an issue and I was able to fix it but my “quick” pre-departure oil change turned into a three hour job.

At first glance I figured this issue had surfaced because the universe hates me and enjoys seeing me have to dick around with something that should be so simple. But once underway I looked at the tide charts for the day and realized that the universe LOVES me and wanted us to hit the scary stretch just north of the Ben Sawyer Bridge 2 hours before high tide.

Everything went perfectly today and places that we've bumped the bottom in years previous, we transited with a few feet of water to spare. Cool. The ICW is practically empty. We weren't overtaken by a single powerboat and only saw 2 other sailboats on the move all day.

Today was the day we didn't want to be on the ocean because of the wind and waves forecast. We had the breeze over our starboard quarter for the bulk of the day and with the genoa up we spent a lot of the day flirting with 8 knots. Several times the true wind speed topped 30 knots. I'm so glad we decided to move on the inside.

We dropped the hook just off the ICW in Winyah Bay after a 60 mile day. The anchorage was dead calm in spite of the wind and we once again we slept like babies.
April 3, 2014.

On Monday we spent the day hanging around practicing our Australian with our friends MV & Shane of s/v Gem. Learning a new language is always fun. They left our boat for another commitment at 1900 so we decided “What the hell, lets get going”.

We had been planning on leaving Tuesday morning and the breeze had already become favorable so why go to bed with conditions in our favor. We pulled the hook and had all sail set by 2000 hours. The first 2 hours we were close hauled on starboard tack and blasting along at 8 knots. Then we got to turn off to port about 25 degrees. The boat stood up a little and things just got better as we made small course changes more to port through out the evening.

We ended up broad reaching in 12 knots of breeze across dead flat seas for the bulk of the night. Morning found us with the breeze fading as we went wing and wing at 4 knots towards Mantanilla Shoal.
The wind finally died away and we had to motor for 3 hours to get out to the Gulfstream. Once into the stream we were broad reaching northward at 3 knots. The stream gave us a boost that kept us above 5 knots for another 8 hours.

We ran straight into a huge high pressure system that straddled the Gulfstream and ran from mid Florida up into Georgia. Crap. Often there’s too much wind, now we had none. We cranked up the engine and motored dead northward with the streams advantage at 9 knots.....for 24 hours.
The Dolphins were having trouble keeping up

As we debated where to make landfall the weather decided to do it for us. Off South Carolina we were supposed to have 10 to 15 from the south southwest. We had the remnants of a northeast swell running into a six foot wind chop from the southwest. We had about 15 hours of semi misery as the seas rolled under us from the side. We wanted to get further but when I listened to Chris Parker on Thursday morning he promised us that Friday would have 20 to 25 from the southwest and the seas would build to 11 feet. We were supposed to have 15 and we were already seeing 20 so it was an easy decision. We skipped Port Royal Sound as the entrance channel is about 14 miles long and can be lumpy even on a pleasant day. No thanks. Charleston was only another 22 miles so we opted to head there.

We dropped the hook in the Ashley River just before dinner after covering 468 nautical miles in 68 hours for a 6.88 knot average. We've had better crossings but we've also had our asses kicked so we'll take it. We missed seeing our people in Florida but we did get to skip Georgia. We missed our people in Beaufort, SC but they're sailors and could appreciate why we skipped Port Royal Sound in those conditions. They know I'm a wimp.
These little hydrofoils look like loads of fun....for somebody younger

The Cliff Notes version. The first day was what sailing dreams are made of. An ultra black night sky with stars so brilliant that you could read by them. Broad reaching at 5 knots on crystal clear, flat water. The second day was mostly a Gulfstream motor but it was kinda cool to watch the miles tick away on a dead flat ocean. The third days best described by the word “uncomfortable” and I'll leave it at that.