Friday, October 31, 2008

5 days (so far) at sea

[Maryanne] For those of you in your office reading this, there is no need to wish you were here. Apart from the first half a day, the rest of these 5 days have so far been miserable. Very windy, very cold, rain, thunder, lightning, etc.

Our Jib sail while under double reef, mysteriously came unsnapped, and unfurled itself, managing to mangle itself around the screacher halyard - that took quite a battle for Kyle and I to recover. The jib sat on the foredeck for a few days until we could find a reasonable lull to re-hoist it. We made fine way with just a double reefed main anyway. (For those non sailors - just think misery, and cold fear).

We are deliberately heading East as far as we can get, before finally making the turn South. This is to make the most of the anticipated winds. In heading east we got an extra (unexpected) boost from the Gulf stream, which is (was?) behaving unusually and headed off shore in just the way we were going for a couple of days.

Kyle and I were both seasick for the first few days, but we have settled in now to our routine and our surroundings. I think I remember Kyle saying something about night watches in shorts and t-shirts? For now it is full foul weather gear, and still feeling the chill... Brrrr... can’t wait to turn south.

We lost 4 throwable cushions overboard to the wind (3 in one go, the 4th we should have learned our lesson by then, but clearly didn’t). Also our masthead light (lights that show we are a sail boat and what direction we are headed in) has stopped working so we are making use of the steaming lights (lights that show we are a motor boat, and what direction we are headed in) at night to ensure we can be seen - and keeping out of everyone else’s way.

We did get a good send off from a pod of dolphins, so can’t complain too much (but since when did that stop me).

P.S. Posting updates from sea requires all the stars to be aligned.. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from us until we next reach land.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Well, this is it!

[Kyle] At last the time has come for us to leave the U.S and head offshore to the tropics. A very nice man (Steve) from Customs and Border Patrol came by on his day off and cleared us out of the U.S. There aren't any more little or medium trips to do before heading off. All we have to do is head around the corner, pass under the US 70 bridge and a mile and a half later, we'll be at sea.

Over the last day or so it has been hard not to feel the immediacy of our departure. During the wind and rain of last night's storm it was difficult not to notice that the Atlantic was right there and feel that the conditions were way too sloppy and dreary to want to head into while knowing that the next thing of any consequence that we have to do with our lives is to go right into it. It's exciting and scary at the same time. I'm looking forward to warm trade winds, night watches in shorts and t-shirts, the routine of watches and the lovely solitude of being miles from anywhere, master of our little world. Of course, I can also drive myself crazy worrying about all of the things I didn't do and all of the things I haven't even thought of.

Overall, I feel pretty well prepared. Maryanne and I have done a lot of sailing, especially this year. We have even spent some time having our asses handed to us well offshore and for the most part, it's been no big deal. Things break and we fix them. The weather changes and we adapt. Our little boat has held up well and we've spent enough time fixing, maintaining and sailing her that we are comfortable with her. We can find our way around her inside and out in the dark, even when we're getting thrown around. We are comfortable with our procedures and our routines and I feel pretty good about all of our contingency planning. There's only one way to find out for sure, though. We've got to go.

Soo... There won't be much in the way of updates for a while. It's much too expensive to post updates with our Iridium satellite phone. We will update our position once a day with yotreps along with the brief postcard of how we're doing. I'll keep writing and upload it all shortly after we arrive. Keep in mind that if we don't post an update, it is far more likely that we are having technical problems with the electrical system/charging/computer/satellite phone/internet/website system than we have come to any grief so don't worry. If something happens to us, we have much more sophisticated ways of sounding a distress call than forgetting to upload a position.

Our passage should take about 15-20 days, maybe a little less, maybe a little more. Look for real posting to begin again near the end of November.

Last day to Morehead City

[Kyle] We left the anchorage second this time on a gray morning into increasing headwinds. The only other boat in sight was a larger Lagoon 38 catamaran that was chugging up from behind us (they have two engines). They passed us just as we were coming out of the canal connecting Goose Creek to the open water of the Bay River, then we put up the sails and passed them. Then they put their sails up and passed us again, this time for good.

As the Bay River widened into Palmlico Sound, The wind and waves increased and we found ourselves pounding into heavy chop formed over the long fetch of the sound (Fetch: the distance that wind has available from shore in which to build waves). The day was cold and dreary again and Maryanne was inside trying to do work on the computer, which she kept having to hold down. It never ceases to amaze me how much influence the sun has on a sail. On a sunny day, the sky is blue and the sea is blue and pounding into 25 knot winds seems like a brisk day on the water. Without the sun, the sky is gray and the water is gray and a little chop suddenly makes it seem like an ordeal of a storm. Sometimes I have to tell myself to look at the conditions objectively and then imagine that it's sunny. Then, suddenly, I'm glad to be out on the boat again and not just waiting for doom.

The other thing that makes things better happened just four miles later when we turned downwind into the Neuse River. The wind stopped howling, the boat stopped pounding and took to gently rolling over the waves and all at once things seemed easier and less stressful.

Pelican hangs out on navigation mark

Representative Fishing Boat of North Carolina

We sailed up the Neuse and into the very picturesque Adams Creek, Which reminded me a little of northern Chesapeake Bay. As the river narrowed, the wind gradually decreased until we were just ghosting along at a couple of knots at the entrance to the Adams Creek Canal. With the wind finally gone, we started the engine for the transit of the canal. Along the way, we started to see the first signs that we were nearing the coast. The canal banks switched from mud and trees to sand and grass. Just before exiting the canal, we saw a pod of about six dolphins going the other way. They paused and looked at us for a second but otherwise seemed uninterested and went on their way. As soon as they were done, another pod came through. We haven't seen them in a while and we missed our old friends. A little while later, when the weather started getting particularly bad, Maryanne looked at my long face and asked what was the matter. "I want to see more dolphins" I said. Just then, right on cue, a pod of ten came over. Dolphins are so cool.

The weather forecast for the next day was for a downpour with over thirty knots (34.5mph) of wind. Most of the anchorages in the Morehead City/Beaufort area are reported to have poor holding so I bit the bullet and decided to stay in a marina. Ordinarily, I'd rather just set a little pile of money on fire than fork out the money for a marina, particularly at transient rates, but it seemed like a lot less stressful way to spend the storm and we'd be able to top up on everything one last time before heading out to sea so, as they say in Jersey "What're ya gonna do?"

The marina we picked, Morehead City Yacht Basin, has very nice facilities (especially the showers) that they charge an arm and a leg for. It didn't take us long to realize that there was no way that was going to make up for it being in Morehead City. Our Rough guide to the USA calls it a rather unappealing industrial-commercial stretch of US 70. Yeah. The Marina lies in the shadow of some huge plant that has giant conveyor belts running every which way making mountains of something.
Our slip is two boat lengths from Hwy 70 and under power lines that hiss and crackle disconcertingly.

We did have a couple of lovely showers, though and the next day we went into town for a little explore. We had lunch at the type of sports bar that is ubiquitous in any town in the U.S. - it was trying for some reason to be a Chili's. We did, however, find this great hardware store. They sold lots of marine supplies in addition to the usual stuff and had the biggest assortment of giant outsized tools I have ever seen. Most hardware stores have the occasional giant pipe wrench but this place had gargantuan versions of nearly every tool made AND they had several of them, like they were selling two or three a week. It may not be my kind of place but Paul Bunyan would love it.
Sorry, no room on the boat for such tools!

[Maryanne]I'm still personally in shock that Kyle suggested a Marina, let alone that he seemed to pick the most expensive one in the area. For a while we were concerned we would have to consider a 3rd night here to accommodate for the opening hours of Customs and Border patrol, so we were very relieved when Steve came to the boat to help us out with our clearance papers. We asked Steve what in the area we should ensure we don't miss. He thought for a moment and said "nothing". Next time we are in the area we aim to hang out in Beaufort, much the prettier town, and with a free and acclaimed Maritime Museum.

So we can now look back on our first trip through the ICW (well, part of it at least). Uneventful for us, it seems we were lucky compared to our marina buddies on Cat's Cradle who had a swing bridge close on them and are now looking at several months worth of repairs - that is quite a dent in any cruising schedule; luckily nobody was physically hurt, but I guess they will all be a little shocked, we certainly were.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


[Kyle] We Started off this morning with everybody else (although they all seemed to get up later than we did) and headed through the Alligator/Pungo Canal. It is another canal like the Dismal Swamp that is 20 miles of perfectly straight lines with a nine degree bend in the middle just to keep us guessing. It is much wider than the Dismal Swamp Canal so it was possible for boats to be two or even three abreast without one of them worrying about knocking off tree branches. Whisper, the other Gemini, passed us when we were still warming up the engine. They got about 600 feet ahead and we spent the next three hours passing them at a rate of about 3 feet per minute. I honestly thought we'd be the slower boat being all loaded down for a month at sea and all. Such a small difference could have been caused by anything trivial like a dinged prop or slightly smoother bottom paint.

We made it to the other end at the Pungo river and once out of the protection of the trees lining the canal the wind came up and we were able to go sailing again. We had a marvelous downwind sail the whole way to our anchorage on Eastham Creek about 25 miles later. It was cold again but by midday it was nice with warm clothes on. I had a real crisis of conscience when I realized that I had nothing to complain about. The weather was beautiful, the wind was behaving, the boat was going really fast, I was well rested and well fed. It was horrible! What's a grumpy old man to do? Maryanne and I both searched in vain for something to be upset about but there was nothing. Finally, a huge motor yacht came by and threw us a huge wake just as we were trying to gybe (look it up!). I felt like my old self again to be shaking my fists and screaming obscenities at the bastard. Emergency no longer in progress.

Kyle "helps" repair the sail

Our anchorage is pretty, although very marshy (so far the whole state is marshy) Luckily it's windy and cold so no bugs to battle. We spent the afternoon putting a precautionary patch on our jib and changing the engine oil. Maryanne is making a really nice smelling dinner. Yet another Gemini is anchored next to us. We've waved at them, but so far no response. We'll see whose faster in tomorrow's canal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crossing Albemarle Sound

Sailing under main and Screacher

[Kyle]Our next day had us heading south from Elizabeth City to the mouth of the Pasquotank river into Albemarle Sound, the first large body of water south of Chesapeake Bay. From there, we joined the standard ICW route into the Alligator River, which, as far as I know, doesn't actually have alligators.

We left about a half hour after sunrise and seemed to be on the tail end of the migration, most af the boats had left right at first light as Maryanne and I were preparing Footprint for departure.

After Elizabeth City, the river becomes nice and wide and we were able to sail under main and screacher once the wind came up about an hour later. We were even faster than we were going under power. Just before I shut down the engine, we got a crab pot float line wrapped around our prop. We had the screacher up and it's kind of a pain to furl or heave to with, plus the river is very shallow with only a narrow channel so we just kept going. I managed with Maryanne's help and some tools to extricate the line while hanging way off the back with water whizzing by inches away.

With that drama over, we had a nice fast sail across the shallow sound and entered the Alligator River. The only real snag was the freakin' wind. I would get everything all set up and we'd be going nice and fast. Maryanne would bring out some nice, tasty, hot food (It was in the low 50s F). I would get the food 2 inches from my mouth and the wind would shift just enough that I would have to stop everything, put my food down and reset all of the sails. Then, satisfied, I'd go back to my lukewarm food and get it 2 inches from my mouth when the wind would shift back to where it was before, so I'd have to put everything back, and so on. It made me wish we were in the ocean with plenty of room to turn left or right fifteen degrees to keep everything set until it passed.

The second time that we used the engine was to go through the Alligator River bridge. We furled the screacher and went through on main and engine. A couple of days earlier, a couple of people we know from Ocean Marine (on the Island Packet Cat's Cradle, had the swing bridge close on them and turn their beautiful rig into a pile of twisted metal piled on their deck. We could see no evidence of the accident on the bridge and we were glad to get through without incident.

The Alligator River gradually narrowed over the next ten miles and we were able to anchor under sail in a nice protected (from waves) but windy spot (wind generated electricity!) around the first bend. We ended up right next to Whisper, the other Gemini we had seen in Elizabeth City the night before.
More cocoa please!

[Maryanne]The weather has certainly got colder. Kyle enjoys sailing, and I find reasons to work in the cabin! Every so often Kyle pokes his head in for a fresh host cup of cocoa. Jeez, he deserves it!

Elizabeth City

[Maryanne]Elizabeth City is well known on the ICW for its great welcome for boaters. The ladies generally receive a rose, and there are always local volunteers at the docks to help with ANYTHING the boaters may need. The volunteers are known as the Rose Buddies, they are a welcome sight. For us, Elizabeth City was a sensible stop on-route to spend the night, and also to meet up with our Marina Buddy Ron.

Just like the folks from Elizabeth City, Ron also spoiled us, he treated us to dinner, gave us a fond farewell, AND a bottle of N.Carolina wine to enjoy once we reach further south.

Imagine my surprise when we approached the Elizabeth City docks, expecting Ron to be around, and possibly waiting on us, to hear someone else shout out "Maryanne". It was a fellow Gemini - Ray on Whisper (Hull #697). He spotted Footprint coming in and called out. Obviously we swung by and said hi to Ray, and his fellow crew, also Ray. But it was a short visit on our way to dinner.

There was a third Gemini at Elizabeth city town docks, but when we passed by we were not able to see anyone aboard.

Elizabeth City Sunrise

Early Morning at Elizabeth City Waterfront

We left early the next morning (but were certainly NOT the first to leave).

Great Dismal Swamp Canal

[Maryanne]The ICW from Norfolk, South, has two routes. We chose the less direct route through the Dismal Swamp Canal.... Now I know that doesn't sound attractive, but it really is on several fronts. The Swamp is pretty (remember also we just passed through industrial river frontage - to travel through dense woodland is a huge lift to the senses (for the positive)). Also, because of wake restrictions and limited lock opening times, the large power boaters don't go this way - so the whole experience is much more civil than the alternative. This was our first time here on the boat, but we had been here a couple of times before (by car) to explore the trails (Kyle even saw a black bear here once so we kept our eyes open on this trip!).

Deep Creek Lock Tender plays the Conch Shell

We were at the first lock (Deep Creek lock) ready for the morning opening along with 7 or 8 other boats. The lock raises 8-12", and the lock keeper (Robert) was really helpful and friendly - complete with a Conch trumpet farewell as we left the lock and entered the canal (Robert collects Conch shells, if you are passing through he'll be pleased to accept them). The locks have been on restricted opening times due to a large (over 2400 acre) underground fire that raged for months, and subsequent low water levels due to firefighting efforts. As of tomorrow (22nd October) they are back to normal, 4 times a day.

One very straight Canal

To look at the canal on a map, you would be struck by the VERY STRAIGHT lines of it. 32 miles long, with just one slight bend around mile 23; at least it is hard to get lost! On route there is a visitor/welcome center with all the history of the canal (surveyed and supervised by Washington - 25 miles. Initially we had planned to stop there for half and hour or so, but the morning locking was delayed, and then took a lot longer than we had anticipated (over an hour) - so we skipped the welcome center and forged ahead. We were one of only two boats to make the 1:30 opening at the next lock.

On exiting the 2nd lock, we entered Pasquotank River. Here, the width of the channel opened up and the channel begins to bend and wind with the river. We enjoyed stunning scenery, bright sunshine and the place to ourselves. This stretch was our favorite of the day. We made Elizabeth City for the 5:30 bridge opening, and were tied up at the Town docks in time to meet up with our good friend Ron, who we met at Ocean Marine, and who now lives in this area.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finally Heading South

Finally heading South from Portsmouth

[Kyle]Due to the combination of the complexities of bridge opening times and the paucity of places to stop en-route, our first day from Portsmouth was a short one; we left at 5pm to catch the first bridge openings after rush hour, and then proceeded down a part of the Elizabeth River that we had never manged to see before. I must say, it was probably the ugliest stretch of river I'd ever seen; derelict factories and rusted hulks lining both sides, spindly trees straining to grow through the muck.

The View was not exactly inspiring, but it was nice to be finally headed South on our way to a warmer climate. About 5 miles South of Portsmouth we made the turn into the alternative ICW route, into the Dismal Swamp Canal; immediately things became much more tranquil and prettier. We arrived at the first locks at Deep Creek, just as the last light of day was fading. We passed several boats anchored outside the lock, and we tied to an empty dolphin at the entrance (don't be worried, this dolphin is not the marine mammal, but a mass of wooden post strapped together in a cone shaped bundle). For some reason we were the only boat to do this, it may be that the other 5 or 6 in the anchorage either didn't know that the dolphins were here for that purpose, or they may have been concerned about draft (not a concern for us). I sure hope they don't know something we don't! So we are closest to the lock to traverse in the morning and shall have an easy start as all we have to do is untie ourselves from the dolphin - not have to haul up a muddy anchor.

Sunset arrives on Deep Creek

The anchorage is very peaceful, quiet and protected; glassy water. It already seems that we are a million miles from the endless industrial noise of the Portsmouth waterfront; a fitting start to our journey south.

Saying Farewell To Friends

[Maryanne]WOW! What a last week or so in Norfolk. Our friend Peter Y helped complete the fiberglass work for the emergency steering, before he himself had to rush off to take part in the 2008 Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (From Baltimore to Portsmouth) - we were very grateful for his time, and that of his wife Sara for opening the workshop to allow us to pick up and finish off the dried project..

JD and Kyle at the Helm of Rimfaxe

We then took a 4 day trip to Richmond to visit with JD and family - and we set aside two days while there to sail with JD on his beautiful Morris 40 on the Rappahannock River. The weather did not cooperate for our original plan to sail the light-weight spinnaker (or even the heavier one) but we still had one day of great sailing, laughed plenty, and met new friends on the water. Rob (a South African) handled the BBQ (or Braai as the South Africans call it) Great memories!

Finally we managed to swing by and visit with Kate and Mark for our last Evening in the area. Kate cooked us a wonderful dinner, and we enjoyed hearing about their recent trip to Martha's Vineyard, and simply hanging out with good friends.

We ATE really well all weekend, each day we felt fuller than we ever had before. I'm kind of glad that we are going to be stuck on a boat for a few weeks, so I can attempt to cut down on the food intake (no complaints to the cooks though - it was GREAT food).

It's been strange saying goodbye to everyone (again) but this time not knowing when we may see everyone. We are determined to make sure we do return, and spend time with our friends here, but for now at least, we can't put a date or timeline to anything. Still, plenty of time to diet!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Work and Play continue.

[Maryanne]OK, so I took the weekend off! Kyle came home, and we put on our sails (back from the sail maker with a clean bill of health) and went sailing - well, Kyle deserved some time off too. We went to a place called Deep Creek, off the James River. It is a fun place for us to take Footprint, as we could never get there (too shallow) in our previous boat. It's home port to a host of local watermen. The work boats are typical of the area, and are known as the Deadrise; they ensured we got up and off on the morning tide!

Now I'm making up for too much time off to play. I have a bunch of boat jobs and very few days left to complete everything, and a calendar that has hardly any gaps now. Today I met up with Peter Y., a friend of ours that we met through sailing, and while we have been away he has finished building his own mini tug boat! He offered the use of his amazing workshop. Now that is the kind of offer this lady can't resist: Every power tool imaginable, all setup and ready to go; a luxury we'll never have on our boat. He helped make a few jobs that I was overwhelmed with into a pleasant couple of hours. Thanks Peter!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Plans going well...

[Maryanne]Yay! We are back in the water; our courtesy flags have arrived; guidebooks are aboard. Things are moving well towards to our leaving for the Caribbean. We still have other things to do (recover the sails from the local sail maker who is giving them a final check over, passport for Kyle, etc). My list as always seems to grow faster than I can cross things off, but for the most part they are trivial things easily solved, or not essential. We are feeling comfortable that we will be ready to go.

Of course, being back "home" we have been catching up with old friends at every opportunity. While Kyle was at work this weekend, I went up to Richmond to hang out with JD, Dale and their adorable daughter Lilly, we went to the local child friendly farm to pick out a pumpkin to decorate for Halloween. It was a fun setup: a corn maze (why don't they call it a maize maze, or even an a-Maize-ing Maze?); pig races; and among many other things cute bunnies to feed. Oh and the goats you can see in the background of the pumpkin field in the picture (very aloof).

So after a glorious weekend of down time and great company - I'm back to the lists.. Doh!