Saturday, May 10th
Well, here we are in Charleston just three and a half days after leaving Highborne Cay in the Exumas. I realize that people make that trip by airplane in just a few hours but in a sailboat it is somewhat more involved. Ok, so it's not like crossing the Pacific but there are certain navigational challenges involved in a trip up the East Coast.
We left from Highborne Cay Wednesday morning the 7th and headed north through the Douglas Channel east of Nassau and then past the east side of the Berry Islands. Our friends on Eleanor M. swear by this route and we thought we'd give it a try. It keeps you in deep water all the way out of the Bahamas, and has you exiting the Bahamas further north than other routes. The drawback is that ships like this route too. Wednesday night rounding the corner of Great Stirrup, heading west towards the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream the duty helmsman (Roger) was dodging ships as if he was playing a video game. By the time it was my watch the flurry of activity had waned considerably.
Thursday found us heading north up the Straits of Florida with a following wind of about 18 knots. We had entered the Gulf Stream at mid-day and were making about 10 knots towards home. At one point we thought we'd deploy the whisker pole and put out some jib. As is sometimes the case there was a scuffle involved and the whisker pole won. It was returned to its place of slumber and we continued on under main alone. At sunset Thursday we were treated to a spectacular sunset which involved some clouds which made us somewhat uneasy. Despite a reasonable forecast we were treated, throughout the night, to a smattering of small squalls (accompanied by about 30 knots of wind), rain and a pretty spectacular lightening show which went on for several hours. It was the kind of lightening which seems to just bounce around the heavens without actually descending. Thankfully we had put the main away early in the evening so we didn't have that thrashing around.
Friday morning we still had a 20 knot breeze on our stern. The seas were a bit more confused than is ideal, but livable and we continued our fast forward march north. . We had decided to bear off towards Charleston, forsaking Beaufort as a destination. A cold front was predicted to arrive in the area and we didn't want to be racing it around Frying Pan Shoals. Charleston was an easy destination to make in the time we had left before the front. On our new course we slowly ran out of Gulf Stream current and cruised towards our new destination at about 7 knots with the wind still on our stern. Friday night was a great change of pace. No ships, no squalls just easy, quiet sailing.
Saturday morning we were greeted off of Charleston by a welcoming committee of about ten porpoises. They hung around our bow for about a half an hour. We must have been going just the speed they like. By 1:00 we were at our slip at the Charleston Maritime Center. Tired, but happy to have had a successful trip. Our decision to head into Charleston turned out to be a very good one. Later in the day we were seeing 40 knots at the slip. We can only shudder to think what Frying pan shoals would have been like. Once again we thank our weather guru Chris Parker.
Sunday, May 11th (Mother's Day and Brother Jim's Birthday)
Arriving in the States after six months in the Bahamas is sort of like going through a time warp. Suddenly there were modern amenities like floating docks, cell phones, and a Harris Teeter supermarket where small tubes gently misted the lettuce. Mind you, I'm not complaining but it does give one pause. Our check-in with the U.S. Customs upon arrival went very smoothly. They came to us in our slip at the Maritime Center and the questions were minimal. They left happy, taking with them our "foreign" lasagna and apples, both of which had been exported from the U.S. to the Bahamas Whatever makes them happy I say. Much to our surprise we spied Orion docked opposite us. We had not seen David & Cathy since Annapolis last fall. It was fun to catch up. Together we began plotting our next jump which would be an overnight to Beaufort, N.C.
Friday, May 16th
Cedar Creek, N.C. (Mile 187.5 of the Intracoastal Waterway)
We left Charleston, S.C. bright and early Wednesday the 14th, with Orion an hour ahead of us. The forecast was good through Thursday evening which should easily have been enough time to get into Beaufort, NC. The wind was negligible so it was unfortunately looking like a motoring trip. We were not alone in our plans, as seven other sailboats all exited Charleston like a line of ducks, getting out while the getting was good. Through the day we lost track of all seven. One headed further out to sea and the rest headed further in, probably to Winyah Bay. By evening the breeze had picked up a bit but it was from dead astern. It was the "Night of the Flogging Sail", but otherwise uneventful. We were within a mile of Orion all night long. Early in the morning with 30 miles to go to Beaufort the Navy started making broadcasts on the VHF about live firing exercises. Were we within their coordinates? It would seem so. Unfortunately there isn't a great deal you can do about it when you move at between 6-7 knots. With various helicopters flying overhead and hails to a variety of other pleasure and commercial craft they obviously knew there were plenty of folks in their firing neighborhood. Happily we came away unscathed but it sure kept us awake for our last few offshore miles.
We made the Beaufort Inlet by 12:30 and, skipping Beaufort proper, continued north on the ICW. We wanted a quiet backwater anchorage to weather the front that was headed through. We were quickly reminded of the amount of work involved in navigating on the ICW. Roger was manning the chart and I was following directions at the helm. It was like trying to make your way through Boston by car, navigating by map. I'm not sure how people go all the way from Norfolk to Florida this way. It's exhausting. By 4:00 p.m., 36 hours after leaving Charleston, we were securely anchored in Cedar Creek fifteen miles north of Beaufort, with Orion about ten miles away in their favorite local anchorage, the South River. All hands went swiftly and peacefully to sleep.
Saturday, May 17th
Pungo River, N.C. (Mile 127)
Today ends our first full day back on the Intracoastal Waterway. After almost six months with no navigational markers we are now rife with them. Our heads are spinning from trying to keep track of the "magenta line" which leads you safely on your way. Don't drive outside the lines or you may find yourself aground. It's not really that bad in this stretch from Beaufort to Norfolk. Several days of the four day trip have you crossing broad expanses of open water. It's not as if you can travel at will in all of these areas but the illusion is nice. Today we conquered the Neuse River, crossed the Pamlico and headed up the Pungo to where it meets the Alligator-Pungo Canal. We were able to sail part of the day which is always an unexpected thrill on the ICW. The only iffy moment of the day was when the engine suddenly stopped working. We had completely filled (we thought) the tanks in Charleston so we ruled out "empty tank." Now we'll spend the next several days having to diagnose the problem with our usually faultless "iron genny."
Sunday, May 18th
Buck Island, N.C. (Mile 56.5)
It was a day with lots of wind on the port quarter. Once we exited the Alligator-Pungo Canal we careened our way north toward the Alligator River Bridge. This bridge is an "on demand" sort of bridge which we like. You arrive, they open. The only drawback with this particular bridge is that, probably due to its exposed nature, it won't open for love or money in over 35 knots. We also found a second source which said perhaps the target number was thirty knots. Today we were very concerned with this apparent discrepancy. The winds had been gusting in the high twenties all morning and we were hoping things wouldn't take a turn for the worse before we got to the bridge. All the way up the broad Alligator River we monitored VHF channel 13, assigned to handle bridge traffic. All morning a very friendly tender kept opening the bridge. We scurried through the bridge by one o'clock, offering a very heartfelt thank you to the tender and no backward glances. Now all we had to do was cross the Albemarle Sound and we could call it a day. The Sound can be a rather formidable place when the wind kicks up so you have to hope that it kicks up from behind you. Which, happily it was doing. All the trawlers which had been traveling the route up the Alligator River called it a day after passing under the bridge. Only northbound sailboats kept on going. It was a rollicking passage with Shango just going with the flow. After our long day we dropped the hook behind Buck Island at the south end of the Virginia Cut. No sooner had we secured the day's debris and checked in on the Celtics with our sports consultant (Dad) than a humongous squall hit. Thunder, lightening, 41 knots of wind. All's well that ends well but still, it was a very long day.
Monday, May 19th
Great Bridge, VA. (mile 12.1)
Day three of our ICW jaunt. This was a shorter day happily, with only one wide open stretch to tangle with in the continued strong winds. To start the day our head (toilet) decided to pack it in. This is the repair job that the Captain most dreads for obvious reasons. We decided to postpone this task for later and instead venture out into the raging Currituck Sound which was a much more appetizing prospect. It turns out that despite 30 knots of wind there was very little sea running. Lots of spray, no crashing. We're ok with that. The very kind Currituck Ferry let us continue our speed and course, passing behind us. It was a relatively civilized crossing. Between the Sound and our free dock at Great Bridge we had to negotiate two restricted bridges. Not difficult, but time consuming. It allows you to work on your boat dawdling skills. That taken care off we tied up and Roger launched into the head project. A longer day for him than for me. After diagnosing the problem and making a list of parts that would make it work again, neither of us could face dinner aboard. We fled ashore for hot wings, barbeque and beer.
Tuesday, May 20th
Ft. Monroe, VA.
The last twelve miles of our ICW trip involved one lock,
four restricted bridges and three "usually open" train bridges...thunder,
lightening and pelting rain. Just like last fall. This is my least
favorite day on the ICW. There were nine powerboats and two sailboats in
the lock, second obstacle of the day. Happily we made it out just before
the weather caused the closing of the lock. From there it was a parade of
boats through every bridge to Norfolk. The powerboats would drive in
circles while the sailboats raced to catch up, only to cool our heels while some
unforeseen difficulty was dealt with on whichever bridge we were confronted
with. I was SOOOO happy to go under the Jordan Lift Bridge and Belt Line
Railroad Bridge, ending our ICW trip I could have danced a jig. Instead I
thanked the bridge tender profusely for holding the bridge open for us and
headed triumphantly into Norfolk Harbor.
Our intention was to meet my cousin Jill at Fort Monroe, twelve miles north of Norfolk, where she was working on a friend's boat. We had been hoping to visit for a day or two but the weather forecast suggested that we continue up the Bay the following day. We would have to be content with an afternoon visit. No sooner did we drop the anchor than, once again, we were battening down the hatches for another blow. This one wasn't quite as spectacular as our Buck Island fireworks but it was nothing to sneeze at. The length of our visit with Jill was shrinking with each roll of thunder. Happily she's a patient person and waited while we finally got the dinghy off the foredeck (first time since Great Exuma) and headed in to shore. We had all of 30 minutes to chat before Jill had to head back to Norfolk but we covered a lot of territory. All the best in Ottawa, Jill & Dyl!
Wednesday, May 21st
The day started with absolutely no wind. We were trying to get as far north as we could and the wind situation was not helping. At least it wasn't blowing in our face as it was predicted to do later in the week. We decided that the Great Wicomico was the best we could do. We wanted to get some fuel into our main tank to see if it would remedy our fuel glitch. That suggested that Reedville would be our destination because it had a variety of fuel docks. By mid-day the wind had picked up out of the west and we were able to get a bit of sailing in. By three we wound our way into Reedville and tied up at a fuel dock. The fellow we had talked to said they'd be open till 4:30 but there was no sign of anyone. Roger made his way to the restaurant nearby and one of the wait staff said that she could turn on the pumps for us. Fine with us. After selectively filling the fuel tanks and taking on water we made our way to a nice quiet anchorage nearby. Once a menhaden fishing and processing area, Reedville seems to have left much of that in the past. There was none of the reputed odor that the place was once known for. We thoroughly enjoyed our night in this quiet spot.
Thursday, May 22nd
Today our target was the Rhode River just south of Annapolis. It was going to be a long day but do-able. It wasn't in the cards however. The wind was now on our nose and getting stronger with every hour. We managed to cross the mouth of the Potomac before things got rather unpleasant. That was the best thing you could say about the day. We took a gander at the chart and decided that Solomons would be our fallback destination. Between Solomons and the Rhode River there was a very long expanse of nowhere reasonable to put in. After a few hours of bashing north with the engine and the staysail we took a left into Solomons and pecked around for a place to anchor. Our first two tries were unsuccessful. It was the first time in a very long time that we had trouble setting our anchor. We finally found a spot in the Mill Creek area of Solomons where we were comfortable with the holding and called it a day.
Friday, May 23rd
With greatly improved weather we set our sights on Annapolis. Our friends who keep a PS 40 there were, unfortunately, away at a wedding for the weekend so we planned to spend only one night, continuing on to Baltimore tomorrow to meet other friends there for Memorial Day weekend. We would head back to Annapolis for the following weekend. The conditions were perfect...for motoring. Not a breath of air was upon the Bay. We arrived by early afternoon and sat down to celebratory cocktails of rum and coconut water. What were we celebrating you ask? The fact that we somehow screwed up our fueling in Charleston and had not actually filled the main tank. Hence our recent difficulties had been caused by NO FUEL! We love the easy answer.
Saturday, May 24th - Monday, May 26th
After a quick four hour dash through the gauntlet of Memorial Day weekend fishermen we arrived in Baltimore. We will not bother to detail the weekend's antics. High spots included brunch at Mama's on the Half Shell, a harbor tour by "Captain Rod's Harbor Tours" and some much needed idle time upon the Whale Tale. Thank you Barbara & Rod for a lovely time as always.
Friday, May 30th
After our weekend of frivolity we had to buckle down and attack some boat maintenance issues before moving on. Roger faced a terrible task in the head (don't ask) while I did laundry and went grocery shopping. This would be our last big shopping before getting home. We were still in pretty good shape from our Charleston provisioning so it wasn't a back breaking event. Any task was better than Roger's. After two days of work we were ready to get under way. Strange as it may sound we were heading back south. On Saturday we planned to connect with our friend Chace for a sail on his PS 40, Windaway. Windaway had received new sails and new instruments over the Winter and we wanted to give them a spin.
Thursday we sailed as far as Cacaway Island in Langford Creek off of the Chester River. We thought we'd spend a night in the country between our city stops. Our anchorage was almost perfect. With our binoculars we were able to watch a family of gray foxes who lived under a fallen tree by the shore. There was a mom and three youngsters. In the evening and again in the morning we were treated to the antics of the three kids and the no nonsense discipline of their mother. The only intrusion into our quiet night was a second sailboat at anchor not too far away. This isn't necessarily a problem but one of the two crew spent two hours on the bow cackling into a cell phone, completely oblivious to the happenings on shore and the beauty (and silence) around her..
This morning we had a terrific sail down the Bay, under the Bay bridges into Annapolis. We took a quick spin through Back Creek looking for a place to anchor near Windaway's dock. It was not to be. Back Creek is just too crowded for us to be comfortable at anchor there. It was off to Spa Creek and, as a luxury, a City mooring for the weekend.
Saturday, May 31st
After coffee and a bagel at a local bookstore (another luxury) we loaded ourselves into the dinghy and headed for Back Creek and our day of sailing on an OPB (Other Person's Boat, according to Chace). The forecast was a bit iffy with thunderstorms predicted, but we weren't planning anything big so off we went. It's so strange to sail on a boat that is so similar to your own but yet so different. It's great to see how other owners have chosen to outfit. We've had this opportunity several times this year. I was at the helm while the guys discussed the finer points of the new set of sails. The sailing was great. We tacked out across the Bay with many other sailors who were bound to sail despite the forecast. After a breezy morning we put into the Rhode River to eat lunch. Timing is everything. Shortly after dropping the hook the sky opened up and there was a very respectable light show. After lunch (thanks Chace!) and with the wet weather taking a temporary break we headed back out. The afternoon would prove to be more of a demonstration of the new electronics instead of the new sails. There was absolutely no wind and the rain returned with renewed vigor. I was able to check out the benefits of the chart plotter which helped me find buoys in the very limited visibility. As we approached Annapolis the rain ceased and we were able to take a scenic detour by the Thomas Point Light. One of the few remaining "spider" type lighthouses in the Bay, the Thomas Point Light is now privately owned and maintained. It was great to see.
Our day of sailing was followed by an evening out in Eastport with Chace, his Daughter Eleanor and a friend from Chace's marina. Eastport, across the bridge from Annapolis, is the newly adopted part-time home of the Anderson clan. We had a great dinner and were glad to be able to catch up with Chace.