Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sorry to leave Ocracoke Island this morning, but must head South. Weather from the West today and tomorrow, but likely to get Thunderstorms on Wednesday so we headed out of Silver Lake about 8:00 a.m. Eased our way out Big Foot Slough Channel and back into Pamlico Sound.

As we were making our way toward the end of the Channel, it looked like we had to cross a brown median strip. What we saw was literally a mile long strip of birds; mostly Brown Pelicans and Cormorants, but with a smattering of larger American White Pelicans. Some sitting idly, but great flocks flying South just inches above the water. As we sailed past, I was almost certain that one would fly into the cockpit enclosure on the Starboard side and (hopefully) exit on the Port side.

With the wind on our nose all day, we trudged through the Sound toward Oriental, the Sailing Capital of North Carolina. As we approached marker “NR” for the Neuse River, we spotted a long line of boats heading South. We had intersected again with the great ICW migration. Surprising (and likely because it was still early afternoon), most seemed to bypass Oriental and head toward the Adams Creek anchorages or even as far as Beaufort. Since we are near to the end of this part of our trip (Uncle Ed won’t let us go much further before November 15), we chose to see Oriental. It’s our last stop before New Bern from whence we head home pending our release date.

I was certainly surprised that the anchorage in Oriental is not as large as I expected. Having heard so much about the town, I expected a huge mooring field or anchorage; like Camden or Rockland, Maine. The reality is a somewhat narrow fairway behind the breakwater with a line of boats anchored (pretty much cheek-by-jowl) in the center (about eight or ten in all) and not much room to swing or maneuver. We drove through the harbor, confirmed that the two Town Dock slips were taken (one by Whispurr from the NC Visitor Center and Elizabeth City), and then anchored out by the Robert Scott Bridge off the bulkhead of the Oriental Harbor Marina. For those of you have been here, we are just off the marker that says “Hazardous Area”. What could they mean by that? As we finally decided we were secure another three or four boats anchored in front of us, closer to the Bridge and the channel under it (it has 45 feet of fixed clearance).

After chores (me at my office and Tess applying a second coat of Cetol to the “eyebrow”), we dinghied into the Town Dock for a stroll. Quite a pretty little place, with well kept (and some enormous) homes and everyone seemingly selling the abutting lot. Tomorrow we check out the Marine Consignment Store. After that, …

we head South.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

We slept soundly in the Basin, and started the work week with Tony in the office and Tess back on deck doing some touch up sanding, and then proceeding on to the first coat of Cetol. Weather doesn’t look promising to get another coat on Tuesday, but well-begun is half done.

We put together a picnic lunch, stowed the bikes into the dinghy, and headed for shore. First stop, Ocracoke Lighthouse. We’ve listened to the constant call of the Cape Hatteras foghorn last night, and now see up close the Ocracoke Light – sadly no one is allowed up, so we jumped back on the bikes and headed to the Springer’s Point Preserve…a (mosquito-y) wooded pathway leading down to the shore where only pelicans and nesting birds are to be found. Scrub pine, live oak, black nettle, sea grass line the walkway. But for the Very Hungry Mosquitoes, a little bit of seaside paradise. Back on the bikes…

Past the Navy Beach Jumpers Memorial to the beach access road behind the airstrip. A short hop off the main drag, we ride up and over the dunes to see miles and miles of beautiful beach, and SUVs! Just outside the surf line…as if tailgating for a football game, beach chairs and umbrellas are set up beside the open hatchback of Ford Rangers and F150s with PVC rod holders dug into the sand beside them. The “guy in the green hat” brought in a 27-inch drum; others were catching blues, flounder, whitings and who knows what. Sand pipers and plovers ran along the beach, in and out of the surf and the tire tracks; cormorants rolled in the surf eating buckets to tiny bait fish swimming in the water ankle deep. The dunes ran for ever, with reddish shell-filled sand and beautiful white silica-singing sand in patchworks. We ate our picnic, walked a long while, then back to the bikes to try to find some cell coverage.

Nope. We did get Coffee House wi-fi and were able to Skype calls to Ali and Katie (voice mail only). Good to confirm that we have yet another way to connect if needed.

Back on bikes to the local museum, where we toured the ubiquitous local’s historical museum with old spice cans, some WWII uniforms, and some colorful local lore. The boy scouts here in Troop 290 all have their own pony, captured and broken from the wild ponies of the shipwreck from the 1600s….

We closed the bike trip with a short jaunt back to the dingy, stowed the bikes, and Tony went “back to the office”…. A great way to spend an October afternoon!

In short, a great day.

Tomorrow, we go South…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh what a glorious morning! The sun rose to gently re-toast the nippy air, the wind gusts of Saturday had blown away, the fish were jumping beside us and birds calling and diving all around. We had a quick breakfast and hauled anchor to start our way across to Pamlico Sound.

As we turned toward our first mark, there was a virtual conga-line of boats leaving Belhaven Marina and running like ducks in a row toward Pungo River. My captain promised me a “surprise” Saturday evening, and that was a charted course not to follow the ICW but to ‘bear eastward’ toward the Outer Banks and Ocracoke Inlet, specifically to Silver Lake Basin. We came to the mouth of the Pungo, and one boat turned left (that would be us), every other boat followed the line to continue on toward Oriental through another very protected passage.

We were in heaven for solitude and radio silence. The seas were flat (an easy motor, no sails); the air was perfect. We had an easy 7 hours ahead, and a few chores to do. After Capt repaired the companionway slide and the shower sump, First mate taped and sanded the ‘eyebrow’ to complete the outer woodwork spiff-up. After a quick lunch of steak fajitas, we were approaching Ocracoke and the traffic of Sunday afternoon. Fishing boats of all sizes, ferries (maybe 4?) and a few transiting sailboats moving in and out along the ‘skinny water’ channel. This was a GREAT thing to do on a perfectly clear, calm day. I would not want our first time here to be under duress of weather or urgency.

We entered the bulkheaded opening to Silver Lake Basin to find a large, welcoming protected anchorage waiting us. We dropped the dinghy and strolled along the main drag to our first visit to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. Too cool for school!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Left Alligator River Marina by 8:30 after running engine for 20 minutes to be sure we were running as we needed to be.  Windy and choppy on the Alligator River with winds from the west at 20 plus and gusting to 39.  It was supposed to be a calm day.  The wind direction was fairly constant on our aft quarter to starboard beam, and for the first time in history, First Mate pleaded for sails, but last evening's fuel gunk forced engine running throughout today for safety's sake later...I'm just saying, it would have been some AWESOME sailing...............

Reached the flatness of the Pungo Canal and throttled back from 2700 to 2200 RPMs, but still making 6.5 to 7.0 knots.  While the Canal was broad and flat (galley wench made some delicious chicken quesedillas), the winds kept coming.  This is supposed to be a treacherous place with plenty of debris, but even with recent rains it looked benign. (That is, if you stay in the middle of the channel, and don't hit any of the MANY stumps, snags trunk-size branches, and as long as no active barge traffic is coming, which today it was not)   Reached the end of the Canal and the anchorage at the top of the Pungo River by 2:00, but the West wind and tree-less terrain, made spending a night there look like a bad idea. (First mate used stronger language) As a result, we continued another 9 miles down the Pungo to  Bellhaven (apparently an ICW Cruiser hot spot).  We skipped the town and marina facilities, and elected to anchor in Pungo Creek just in front of Vale Creek.  Looks like a great spot.  Wind stopped as soon as the anchor was down and its now bright and sunny. (And readable, as in, "it's so pleasant here I believe I can read without getting seasick"; which was, indeed, wonderful)

Charted a course "off the beaten path" of the ICW for tomorrow.  Hope to head to Ocracoke Island which is part of the Outer Banks.  There appears to be a great anchorage and a bit of Nantucket there.  It's where Blackbeard was finally captured and hanged.  Or shot.  We'll find out and let you know.

Tomorrow, we head South....  

...and Three Little Kittens.

Dead Mouse ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010.

Great start to the day. When we poked our heads out of Endurance at 0730, the entire fleet in Elizabeth City had departed, except for Whispurr, Dave and the Boys from Epsom. Had a leisurely breakfast at The Colonial where the booths seem to be reserved for an ever changing mix of locals whose conversation never skips a beat as one person leaves and another arrives. A lot of “stay out of trouble” and “be good today” departures among this set. Had our first Southern grits (is there any other kind) and had a chance to catch up with Dave and Linda.

Pushed back from Mariner’s Wharf at 1000 and headed down the Pasquotank River toward Albemarle Sound. A nice ride with a light following wind, we motored in order to charge batteries after two days without power. Hit the Albemarle and it lived up to its reputation for treachery! West wind of 20 to 26 kicked up 3 plus foot swells in the 12 feet of water they call the Sound. We soldiered on, delaying lunch until we made it through the Alligator River Bridge and the calmer waters of the Alligator.

Thought we hit a crab pot before the Bridge as we lost RPMs for a second. Captain’s response: Stop. Back up. Forward. Back to normal so we motored through the Swing Bridge without incident. Two hundred yards later, engine stops. Yikes! Went below and quickly determined through the Capitol Island – installed vacuum gauge on the fuel line that no fuel was getting to the engine. Within two minutes I plopped in a clean filter, trying to ignore the strands of goo inside the glass bowl of the Racor. Engine started and we are on are way again. For two more minutes. Yikes, again!. Dropped the bottom of the Racor (and its two cups of fuel) into a bucket to clean the bowl, but then couldn’t get the bowl to re-fill with fuel. Triple Yikes!!. Called Alligator River Marina (on the other side of the Bridge), but no tows or mechanics available. Called Sea Tow and given a 2+ hours ETA; but also given the phone number of a mechanic at Twin River Marine.

Now that mechanic was sainted. Started with “Oh, yeah. That’s what happens.” Then walked me through the procedure to disassemble the Racor to clean “the silver ball”, but warned, if that gasket comes out when you take off the bowl, it might not go back in today. The gasket stayed. Pulled what looked like a dead mouse and three little kittens from the hole the fuel was supposed to go in (pictures will be posted once we get a better cell signal – yuck!). Finally got the electric pump to re-prime the Racor and the Primary filter and we started up again.

Back North through the Alligator River Bridge and tied up at the Alligator River Marina (really just a back water behind the Shell station). But we were a good hour plus delayed and would have had to scramble to get to an anchorage otherwise. Called Sea Tow to cancel them only when I knew I would make the Marina. Called the mechanic to cancel his Saturday visit only when Will from Antares came over with his tool kit, looked things over and gave me an “atta boy”. We likely knocked all the algae in the fuel tank off the walls in the steeps of Albemarle. We’ll try to get the tank thoroughly cleaned while in New Bern (already have a mechanic’s name from Antares), but for now can just watch that fuel pressure (and know how to clean the Racor).

As for the intrepid First Mate, let it be said I didn’t complain, I didn’t puke, I didn’t panic. I hereby admit my Captain has done great work today, including the decision to call Sea Tow FIRST, and then, even when we were solidly operational again, deciding we would return to the nearest safe harbor…I’m willing to trust my life in his hands again, still, as ever…….

Tomorrow, we go South ….

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 – North Carolina Visitor Center to Elizabeth City, North Carolina

The eager power boat guys rafted to us were up and ready to cast off at 7:00 am….we expected it, but I never welcome that time of day. We of course met them two hours later waiting for the bridge and lock to open to let us all on our way. We were now a group of three sailboats from the Visitor Center to the lock: Endurance; Whispurr V from Canada, and Dave, single-handing a small boat from Gloucester, Virginia. Not only did we meet Peachy-Keen, our rafting companions, but the rest of yesterday’s flotilla less Two for the Road, who made it through the lock the previous day. The others ended up missing the lock yesterday and tied up along the wall to await the morning opening.

Dropping down 8 feet in the lock was a lovely, easy ride (we went up the same 8 feet with Robert in the first lock) and we were out of the gates, in single-file, moving at a slow, gentle pace. A few boats moved to the head of the pack in anticipation of getting to Elizabeth City and getting settled in on the free town docks. Peachy-Keen stole ahead, and was hoping to make it to Oriental tonight. We were greeted by gentlemen on the docks grabbing lines and tucking us in, and told “the cocktail party in our honor would be “starting at 4 or 4:30, not sure yet, but under the tent right over there”.

Captain Tony headed back below to tend to the business of business; First Mate and Galley Wench headed out to see Elizabeth City. We plan to hunker in here until the expected front passes through, then out into Albemarle Sound to perhaps finally put up some sails and hear the rush of wind and wave without a motor.

Boxed wine and Bud Light was served at our welcome party. Free, though. And that’s what we learned about Elizabeth City from Admiral Dave and ex-Mayor Steve. The history of Elizabeth City is only surpassed by its hospitality and the free things they have to offer. Free docking. Water. Museum. Internet. Library. Shuttles. Let everyone know that they need to stop in Elizabeth City. And we will.

Dinner with travel mates at Thumpers Bar & Grill. They have just been too nice to us in this town, to not go out to dinner.

Tomorrow, we go South ….

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 Portsmouth, VA to North Carolina aka Starting the ICW [a/k/a The Real Columbus Day; remember October 12, 1492]

The ICW technically runs from Miami to Boston, but is conventionally thought of as Miami to Norfolk, VA. As we left our slip (with an all female shove off from Judy of P. in P. above, and Pat from Two for the Road) we were hailed almost immediately by a sailboat ahead of us asking our destination and course. Roger from “ReBoot” confirmed he was leading the way to THE DISMAL SWAMP and he’d be happy to have us just tuck in line behind the boat H2OBO in between us. And so, our easy-peasy adventure began like little ducks in a row. We made the Gilmerton Bridge in easy time, and slowed our pace once through to delay our arrival at the first of the two locks. At Gilmerton Bridge we met up with Two for the Road travelling with Antares, and by the time we made it to the lock we had another IP, Freedom from New Orleans [who we actually met at the Jackson Creek anchorage in Deltaville] in the lineup. Quite a fleet we were.

The Deep Creek Lock is the first “lift” on the Dismal. Manned by “Robbie” who has twice been named “best lockmaster on the ICW” by Sail magazine. Robbie has a wonderful and friendly manner that assures everyone that we are in safe hands and are in for a good time. As we lifted, he played a couple of “tunes” on a Bahamian conch shell. One of many in his extensive collection, displayed under palm trees in front of the Lockmaster’s station. Robbie implored his Southbound charges to bring back a conch for his collection. In any event, he is likely to be one of this trip’s best remembered characters.

THE DISMAL SWAMP is anything but dismal. An economic boon project funded by George Washington, this 50 mile “ditch” (canal) was hand dug by slaves from neighboring plantations. The original intent was to drain it and use the acreage for agriculture, but as that proved unprofitable, the ditch was used as a transportation highway for lumbering operations and white cedar shingles to be shipped up to Norfolk and from thence, everywhere. Washington sounded a bit like Cheney in the first analysis, but the passage way is in fact, a beautiful, wooded wetland making the Cape Cod Canal seem banal in comparison. It is wide enough in concept for a barge to pass through; we were able to have northbound boats pass us with reasonable ease, but the canal is literally about as wide as Gorham Pond Road, and hence, we drive in the middle. We ran through a live oak overhanging branch only once, spraying the deck and cockpit with leaves and acorns, but we had a few “bumps in the bottom” from who-knows-what under the dark-tea colored water. We tied up for the night alongside the Visitors Station on Highway 7, saying adieu to our travelling team, and meeting new friends and travelling companions for the next day.

Tony went straight down to work in “the office”; I set off to explore the nature trail and information center explaining THE DISMAL SWAMP. We settled in later with cocktails and a delicious dinner, had one power boat rafted up beside us on a run from NYC to Miami (why they chose the inside path rather than the Virginia Canal we never asked, but I’m guessing that boat’s name – Peachy Keen - will be changed within a week!), and listened to the birds and the night animals, the passing cars on the highway, and the gentle trickle of the canal water as we drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow brings another tightly timed bridge and lock schedule (they only open 3-4 times a day and there’s no anchoring or “opting out” once in).

Tomorrow, we go South ….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010 - Deltaville to Portsmouth, VA

Happy Columbus Day! We showered and readied the boat for departure from Deltaville, VA. After a little hiccup with the raw water wash down forcing the Capt to “bucket-brigade” the rich delta mud from the chain and anchor, we set our noses southward and headed for the great drinkable waters of Norfolk and Portsmouth, VA. Our trip down was uneventful, motoring into the minimal wind alongside sandy shoals. We braced ourselves for the promised bustle and hubbub of Norfolk harbor, but found it fairly quiet but for a wonderfully welcoming pod of dolphins diving and circling for fish on the opposing tide. We’ve missed our water companions during our time in the Bay, so this felt especially auspicious.

With little fanfare, Capt put Endurance squarely into our slip at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth. We were greeted warmly before lines were tied by the captain/owner on the opposite dock, Harry from Two for the Roads, Smithfield VA. Another happy and proud IP owner. Beside us, was a boat we shared space with on C Dock in Baltimore….staples to the 4:00 cocktail gang of mid-dock, Partners in Paradise Judy and Richard. We shared a little B’more gossip and updates of our C Dock mates, and went our ways to priority #1: filling our water tanks.

Water tanks filled, we moved next to our bellies, and our berth aiming for a gentle but early start to THE DISMAL SWAMP!

Tomorrow, we go South….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, 10/10/10

An auspicious day (10-10-10) and off to a great start. Richard & Virginia Cross from s/v Mandy out of San Diego (but on the hard - for too long- in Deltaville) joined us for our shakedown cruise. Getting away from the dock at Norton's was an immediate joy. Seeing the Rappahonock River from the mouth of Broad Creek was amazing. And no words can describe how at it was to then be on the Chesapeake again!

We went "wet" again on Thursday morning. Friday and Saturday were a blur of things to get done. It always seems like the list is endless. We bent on sails on Friday, though, so that meant we were a sailboat again. We put the full cockpit enclosure up on Saturday, so that meant we were an Island Packet again!

All the tension and anxiety of putting a boat back in the water immediately faded away when we raised sails in the Rappahonock. Though we were only making 3 1/2 knots in 6 to 8 knots of wind (and bucking the in-coming tide), it felt like we were flying! The Bay was flat and the wind light, but we managed to sail South (!!) around Stingray Point to the Pianitank River. Since the wind then gave up we motorsailed up river to peek into Fishing Bay. Then back out to Jackson Creek, where we anchored off the pink chairs we last saw in June.

A 3 1/2 hour sail to travel a distance that is one mile by land (Jackson Creek and Broad Creek are on either side of the pennisula which is Deltaville). But its idyllic here. Almost pastoral compared to the dozen closely spaced marinas on Broad Creek. And to be floating at anchor. It's great to be back!

Tomorrow, we head South....