31 October, 2008

Happy Halloween

Location: Isle of Palms, SC
Position: N 32°48.251 W 079°45.407

We spent 2 days and 3 nights on the South River it was like going back in time – there are almost no houses, so you get a sense of what it must have been like hundreds of years ago. Quiet. No Internet. Barely a cell phone signal. And very few other boats. We had this magical place pretty much to ourselves, and we soaked it up. We stopped here to wait out some high winds, and even though it was windy and cold, we really enjoyed it.

The last week since then has been pretty much more of the same. Cold nights and mornings, then almost every day has been sunny. We’ve been bundled up but still enjoying the sun on our backs and faces. The night time temperatures have been too cold for us to even think about going out in the ocean and sailing overnight. Neither of us is thrilled with the thought of doing watches at the helm in almost freezing temperatures and 20 to 30 knot winds. Brrr! So here we are replaying last years southbound trip, long days on the ICW, lovely varied scenery, lots of wildlife to observe, and other southbound vessels to chat with on the VHF.

Dolphins are now an everyday sight along with geese, pelicans, and numerous wading birds. Today we spotted an alligator and a kingfisher. We usually keep our binoculars and bird book handy for quick identification of unknown birds. And today we also saw our first Spanish Moss this trip hanging from the trees. This, as well as the ubiquitous palm trees, will now also be a daily sight.

We did have a lovely respite. Just before Wrightsville Beach Mark’s son’s grandfather met us on the waterway in his skiff where we did a "drive-by" pick up of Jeseph, Tiger Lily (Mark’s son and granddaughter) and a friend. We lost almost no time and even made the next bridge opening as scheduled! They travelled with us for the rest of the day and spent a blustery night aboard. We had a great time and hopefully they will be able to join us again for a longer visit.

We’ve made great time with 5 hops from South River, NC – Mile Hammock Bay, NC (in the Camp LeJeune Marine Corp camp) – Carolina Beach, NC – Little River, SC ( where we spent a lovely evening with friends) – Georgetown, SC and today’s destination of Isle of Palms, SC just outside Charleston.
We have some friends here and they have fixed us up with a slip for a few days. We’ll get a few jobs done, visit, and hopefully get to explore Charleston a bit before heading further south. Charleston is one of our favorite spots.

Slowly getting warmer.

25 October, 2008

Going Dinghy

Location: South River, NC
Position: N 34°56.976 W 076°34.470

We’re pretty well protected from the southeast and the south, but when the wind begins to clock to the southwest we’ll know it’s time to move further down river for better protection. It’s still blowing 20-30 and we can see whitecaps about 200’ off to starboard where the wind is churning up the water.

We decide it’s time to go. We follow the usual drill – Julie on the bow operating the windlass and washing off the chain, and Mark at the helm. These roles are pretty much dictated by Mark’s color blindness and his inability to easily see the difference in color between chain and mud, and the fact that the chain locker drains under our V-berth into the bilge. Smelly mud is not welcome here!

As Julie begins hauling up the chain, Mark notices that the dinghy is still well astern. We always pull it in close to prevent the towing line from getting wrapped in Rachel’s propeller in case Mark needs to reverse for any reason – obviously we’ve forgotten to do this. We also have a security cable attached which we usually remove before hauling anchor. Since, in this case we’re just going a short distance, we decided to leave both in place but have forgotten to shorten them.

Mark drops into neutral and begins hauling in the line, figuring he has time to also take in the security cable before we need to get under way.

Suddenly we hear “WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK!!”

What the heck? This is a new noise.

Julie looks back, sees the stern of the dinghy sticking up in the air, bouncing up and down like a 4 year old who’s been Trick Or Treating all night, and screams “MARK!! THE DINGHY!!!”

Mark looks down. Uh oh. The transmission is in reverse. Not neutral. How could that be? He drops it into neutral and looks aft. Belatedly, he realizes that he must have been in neutral already before he shifted. DOH!! Talk about a “Homer” moment…..

And now poor Belle is tight up against Rachel’s stern, her bow nearly under water, and her stern raised high in the air. The tow lines are free – that’s not the problem. Sheesh. It’s the blankety-blank stainless steel security cable. It’s all twisted. It must be caught in the prop and wrapped around the shaft. We ain’t a-goin’ nowhere like this! So we drop the anchor, let out the chain, and Rachel settles herself to the anchor again.

Mark gets into the dinghy and is able to untwist the cable enough to lower Belle’s stern to a more normal position and allow us to tie her tight against Rachel’s side, but he’s unable to completely free the cable. Looks like it’s time for a swim.

The wind is still clocking, the whitecaps are now about 150 ft off to starboard – we figure we have about an hour before we have to haul the anchor in the teeth of the wind – not a very pleasant thought.

Mark starts down the ladder into the water. Brr he’s back up in a jiffy, “Where’s my wetsuit? It’s freezing in there!” He dons his wetsuit, mask, and fins, and goes over the side. There are about 7 wraps of cable around the propeller shaft. Luckily, it only takes him about 20 minutes to free the prop and clear the cable.

Thank goodness we bought this bulletproof Trinka dinghy, our old one, we suspect, would not have held up to such abuse.

He gets back in Rachel, strips off, takes a quick shower, and we manage to raise anchor before the wind clears our protection. We move down river and re-anchor as planned. The wind backs a bit, making our new anchorage a bit bumpier than we’d hoped, but a few hours later it’s back where we expected it to be and things smooth out. After a comfortable night we proceed on our way toward Beaufort, NC (remember – in NC it’s “bow-furt”).

Needless to say, we’ve added “Secure dinghy” to our leaving anchor checklist.

Slowly going dinghy,

24 October, 2008


Location: South River, NC
Position: N 34°56.259 W 076°32.864

We have a lot of news for such a short time so we’ll try to compress it and hope it makes some sort of sense when we’re done. It’s been a real downhill run – long days, short nights, and lots of wind at our backs getting here. No pictures, even on the blog, we’ve been so busy.

We sold the dinghy we made in our basement and bought a 10’ fiberglass Trinka. We’ve been towing it since we left Deltaville and it hasn’t broken once. Not even crossing the Albemarle in 15-20 knots or yesterday on the Neuse at 20-25. We love it. It’s an excellent sail and row, and motors fine. It’s not quite as roomy or stable as the Passagemaker, but it’s really, really tough, and being 1’ 7” shorter, fits better on our davits and on the bow. She’s a sprightly sail, rather like a pixie. So we named her Belle. We should probably be ashamed. Trinka Belle. Sorry.

What follows is a brief rendition of the previous four days. Four days of cold mornings, sometimes beautiful days, and usually chilly evenings. Four days of glorious downwind sailing and high mosquito counts. Let us preface this by saying that the nights/mornings have been cold this week. Hauling the anchor and washing off the chain in 40 degrees F is COLD. We know you feel sorry for us!!! We can feel you empathize. Yes.

Monday 10/20 – we haul anchor at 4:45 am, then feel our way out the channel from Jackson Creek. The channel markers are unlit so Julie goes up onto the bow with a flashlight and illuminates each mark as it comes into range. At the helm, Mark uses these ‘lit’ marks, the chartplotter, and our familiarity with the channel to inch our way out. We ride the tide down the Chesapeake making 7 knots with the wind aft of beam (meaning “behind us but not dead behind”, a.k.a. “on the quarter” – a really fast point of sail for Rachel, for you non-sailors). We enter the Intracoastal Waterway at around lunchtime and finally stop at Great Bridge, VA. It’s been a long day, but we’ve managed to cover quite a lot of distance for us – 60.6 nautical miles!

Tuesday 10/ 21 – we get up at 6:00 am, make coffee, and are ready for the 7:00 am bridge opening. We pass through and head for the next bridge planning to make their 7:30 opening. We get there 5 minutes ahead of time and … DOH! It would seem that we misread the cruising guide!! This bridge is “on restriction” from 6:30 am until 8:30 am. It won’t open until 8:30 am!! This is usually because of morning rush hour traffic and is not uncommon through the length of the ICW.

So we end up having a nice hour long wait, cooling our heels, watching traffic cross the bridge, circling in front of the bridge and relaxing when what we really want is to be hurrying south to warmer climes. After a hot bowl of porridge and a second cup of coffee we finally get through at 8:30. Following a long day of motoring and motor-sailing we drop the hook at Broad Creek, just north of the Albemarle Bay after a more normal daily distance of 43.4 nautical miles.

At dusk, Julie is nearly carried off by mosquitoes. They are large and monstrous and nearly break through the companionway screen. After a long struggle, Mark manages to fight them off, possessively dragging Julie below (“You’ll not have her!”), and seals up the boat for the night. This is followed by several minutes of “Whack!” “Got him!” “NeeEEEeee” “You bastards!” “Whack whack whack” “Take that!” as night falls.

Wednesday, 10/22 – we get up again at 6:00 am and head out before dawn. We get to the Albemarle Sound just as it’s getting light, unfurl the big headsail, and proceed to bounce our way across in 15-20 knot winds and relatively square waves. With the wind still in our favor, we continue our headlong southerly run down the Alligator River.

Question: If you are heading south but upstream, are you heading up or down the river? This, and other equally deep thoughts, are the kind of things we ponder as we pass through these beautiful eastern Carolina waterways.

Following 20 (beautiful, but predictable) miles of motoring on the Alligator - Pungo Canal, we once again have a lovely late afternoon downwind sail on the Pungo River to Belhaven. We make a quick stop at a marina for fuel and water, and drop the anchor at 6:30 pm, a little bit before sunset. A lot of distance travelled, mostly due to the following winds allowing us to make 7 knots or better for much of the day. If memory serves, this is the longest distance we’ve yet travelled on the waterway in a day, a whopping 68.1 nautical miles.

Thursday, 10/23 – After yesterday’s big day, we allow ourselves to sleep in until 6:30 am – what luxury! We haul anchor (brrr!) and head out shortly after 7:00 am, today’s destination the South River to wait out some predicted nasty weather. We have yet another beautiful sail, this time down the Pungo River to the Pamlico River. A short motor down another canal past Hobucken is followed by a truly glorious sail in 20-25 knot following winds out to the Neuse River where we jibe westerly toward Oriental, NC.

On the downside, our headsail furling line gets hung with the sail out and Mark has to go spend some “quality time” way out front out on the bow sprit to free it. Needless to say, taking care of that little issue bubbles up to the top of the short list for the next stop.
The beautiful South River
The South River is on the southern shore of the Neuse River, a bit east of Oriental. We stopped here on our way back from the Bahamas to wait out a southwest blow, and figure we’ll find protection here from the southeast too.

So here we are, sitting and waiting for the winds to change. It’s supposed to blow a gale on Friday night and Saturday, so we’ll take this time to hide out, recuperate from our long days and short nights, and appreciate our surroundings. It’s supposed to get cold again on Tuesday, so we’re still motivated to make tracks southward.

Slowly getting warmer,

18 October, 2008


Location: Deltaville, VA
Position: N 37 32.868 W 076 19.796

Rachel is finally back in the water! We launched her last Friday the 10th. She’s been outfitted with
new bottom paint, Julie’s made a new bimini (the canvas cover over the steering station), her cabin sole (floor) has been refinished, she has a new chart plotter (GPS mapping), and she and her crew are ready to get going ASAP. We just need to finish up a few more things and we’ll be all set to head to warmer climes.

Unfortunately the weather has just got cold, rainy and windy. We’re hoping to leave on Monday, but who knows? Sheesh, we even had to get out our slippers!

We’ve finally made a decision about where we’ll be doing our winter cruising this year. It will be the Bahamas again (we still have lots of places to visit we didn’t see last year). Mark’s family is having a memorial service for his Dad at Ken’s favorite island on the Maine coast next summer and we really want to take Rachel up there for it. We know, we know – every time we say "we’re going to Maine" something really expensive breaks and we end up not going. Nevertheless, we’re going to try again. Then, if all goes well (and we still have any money left) we’re hoping to head down to Panama and the Western Caribbean next fall. More on all that later.

Last winter in the Bahamas we met a family on a boat named "Pickles". It seems Guy and Joanie, the parents, allowed the kids (ages 3, 4, 6, and 8) to pick the name. Their first choice "Hot Dog" was rejected out of hand, but after stubbornly continuing to work with the food theme, everyone managed to agree on "Pickles". True to cruiser tradition, they’re collectively known as "The Pickles".

The four children are aptly named the "Picklitos".
We’ve run into The Pickles several times since we left the Bahamas, most recently here in Deltaville where they’ve been anchored out for the last week. We’ve been having great fun together. The Picklitos, like all kids apparently, see Mark as a big toy. Mark, in response, acts like one. The culmination of the week was a trip to the local maritime museum last weekend for the "Holly Point Arts & Seafood Festival".

When we first arrived at the festival we were greeted by two fellows in 18th century militia garb, armed with flintlock rifles. They told the kids they were searching for pirates and needed some recruits to help them. They and the Picklitos, wearing their trademark floppy hats and sunglasses, marched around the entire festival signing up more recruits until there were about 20 or so.
About that time, the pirates arrived in their launch, canon blasting. Kaboom!! The militia fired back with their flintlocks but were unable to prevent the pirates from landing. The buccaneers fought their way ashore then treated all the kids, uh, recruits to Mardi Gras jewelry, pieces of eight, and other assorted pirate booty from their treasure chest.

Pirates, militia, and recruits then all retired to Blackbeard’s Camp where the recruits viewed a leg amputation (due to an injury suffered in the earlier battle), a wench fight, and were given lessons on how to be a pirate at "Scallywag School".

The sword fighting class was taught by one of the protagonists in the wench fight, Mistress Grace. She had several other pirates assisting her.

Mistress Grace: "Alright! We will now prepare to attack. Is everyone ready?"

Scallywags: "Aye, Mistress Grace!!"

William, the youngest Picklito, 2 seconds late: "Aye, Mistwess Gwace!!"

Mistress Grace, visibly forcing herself not to laugh: "All right, then. Scalliwags, attack!"

Scallywags: "Aye, Mistress Grace!"

William, 2 seconds late: "Aye, Mistwess Gwace!"

Mistress Grace, to the parents ‘sotto voce’: "All right! Which of you are responsible for the cute ones?"

This continued, throughout the rest of the Scallywag School lessons. After class, Mistress Grace was overheard talking to another pirate "That has got to be the cutest bunch of scallywags I’ve ever taught. Where did they come from? What fun!"

We wished we could have had our three grandkids with us, they would have made really cute piwates too.

And, finally, one for Mark’s dad:

You all know what a pirate’s favorite letter is, don’t you?


"R", of course!

04 October, 2008

Still On the Hard

Location: Deltaville, VA
Position: N37 32.902 W076 19.823

We’re still up on stands at Deltaville Boatyard. As many of you know, Mark’s dad has been ill for the past few years. He was placed in hospice shortly after we hauled in early September, followed by a peaceful death on September 16th. He was generous, kind, good-natured, and a true gentleman and will be sorely missed by those lucky enough to have known him.

We spent the last couple of weeks helping Mark’s mom and keeping her company through the memorial services, then left her with his older brother and wife while we made our way down to the Virginia mountains to visit our daughter and her family. A few days with the grandchildren helped put everything back in perspective, and we finally got back to Rachel yesterday afternoon.

What a mess. The boat was full of all the stuff we had hurriedly “stowed” (e.g. “tossed in all catty-wumpus”) before we left. Most of the mess is all the stuff we have had to drag out of lockers to do the many jobs we had scheduled while we are out of the water. We can’t put it all away until the jobs are complete, hence our great incentive to move quickly. We’re over two weeks behind schedule with at least another week’s worth of stuff to do, and it’s starting to get chilly. On top of that we also have stuff to sort through, stuff to stow, stuff to sell and stuff to give away.

We swore we’d leave earlier this year than we did last year – we may yet make good on that but only by a week or maybe two if we’re lucky and get to work. Enough lolly-gagging! The coffee’s ready, it’s getting light outside, and we’ve got a whole day ahead of us to make a dent in our work. Time to take off the slippers, get dressed and get to it!

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel