Thursday, April 28, 2011

Long Days, Lots of Wind

We reached Cedar Creek after leaving Beaufort, and at about 5:50 in the afternoon gave up looking for suitable water to anchor in. We were here last year, but this time, nothing to cover our draft. So we decided to head, instead, to the South River where we have been numerous times. You can't get close to the shore here but there's loads of room to anchor. It could have blown 50 knots and I would not have noticed. I just wanted to sleep. Or rather, have that Manhattan, then get to sleep.

The next day was a puky, almost about to rain kinda day with winds from the south and right on our tail. We sailed most of the way, and kept dodging squalls (luck here, no skill) and were in contact with our friends on Veranda, who ran out of their luck and ripped a sail. We reached the G23 anchorage at the end of the Pungo River around 1:30, and after deciding we were going to go ahead to the Deep Creek anchorage by G43, about 2+ hours ahead, a lighting streak convinced us we would be better off taking a "short" day. No sooner had we set the anchor than the rain started. Many hours later Veranda pulled in, being one of the few friends we have with a sail boat that actually sail, and we exchanged greetings, and agreed to meet the next day at Broad Creek.

Both Captains were at the bow by 7 am as planned, with the radar showing the rain would limp off our course shortly. Our anchor windlass, the mechanism we use to put muscle behind weighing anchor, decided to not work, so Peter had to haul up 66 pounds of anchor plus 100 feet of chain. About 40 minutes later we broke ground and got on our way. We had some nice sailing in the protected waters of the Alligator Pungo Canal, and then got a call from Veranda to let us know that it was really honking once we reached the wide open Alligator River. Holy Toledo! They weren't kidding.
We worked hard at it until we finally decided we needed to reef the main as the wind had piped up to the upper 20's gusting into the 30's. Once we dropped the sail to pass through the Alligator Swing Bridge, we opted for the jib only, and while easier, the seas were picking up in the Albemarle and it too was work. As much as we wanted to head for comfort at Broad Creek with Veranda, we opted to continue on to Coinjock Marina so that Peter would not be forced once again to haul up Buster by hand. I especially was worried about hand hauling should we get caught dragging in monster winds and waves, as were being experienced and expected.

I have one thing to ask: how many times can the Coast Guard repeat a message about a log in the water? Do they actually think it stays where it is? Have they not heard about current? Three days now and the same damned log is being reported. Puh-leeeze.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vero to Beaufort

Day One: We leave the Vero Beach mooring field, but pull alongside Solitaire which returned from the Bahamas yesterday, and say a quick hello to Nancy and Jim. It’s 11 am, and of course, we manage to time our exit to put us directly in the teeth of the current. While transiting the inlet, a Coast Guard vessel barrels down on us and we suspect we are in for another boarding. Our Tax Dollars at Work slows down, looks us over, then hard throttles past us, waking us like no power boat has ever done. Hopefully a trainee is at the helm. Three hours later we are out of the Ft. Pierce inlet, and we raise sail, bound for Beaufort, North Carolina, about 500 miles away. A US Customs fast-boat does a 360 around us, and must conclude we don’t look like drug runners, and takes off at about 200 MPH.

It’s 2020, or twenty minutes after eight at night, I am on watch, and there’s not a damned thing wrong with the world right now. There’s 9 knots of wind, and we are sailing along in 2-3 foot seas at 5-6 knots, which I will call an average of 5.5, but that might be a generous estimation. The Captain is sleeping, thankfully, as he would probably be making noises about putting the engine on, while I intend to eke out as many of these good kharma moments as possible. The final minutes of civil twilight have passed and the stars are beginning to come out.

There is something so special about night sailing, and while there are times that I work myself into a dither about overnight cruising, I seem, as of late, to have lost my long standing trepidation, and actually look forward to my first watch. Peter is able to sleep through anything, so is not troubled by the remaining sunlight, and I am hoping that the noise of the engine when I turned it off did not break into his REM. There seems to be no one out here but us chickens. I like it like that.

I finished reading Japanland, A Year in Search of Wa. It only took me half a day to find my harmony.

Day Two: We sail until 10 am when the wind mysteriously goes northeast, and turn on the engine mostly to top off the batteries and finish making water. 337 miles to Beaufort. At 1530 Mooch goes to rest again, and we enjoy a beam reach for 15 hours, making in excess of 8 knots while riding the gulf stream. This evening’s excitement is once again due to Our Tax Dollars at Work. At around 2 in the morning I come across a vessel not showing up on AIS, so I presume it is a shrimper. As I get closer, I can see only a red light and a large mass, so it appears the boat is headed west in front of me, while I am heading north.

But then it stops. Now at this point I am pretty damned close to this thing and all I know is that it is big, and I sure wished I knew for sure where it was headed, then I see red and green. Crap. It’s headed directly as me. So I hail “vessel in approximate position of” and get a comeback that “Warship will head 30 degrees to starboard to avoid sailing vessel”. I wait. This mother just gets bigger. I take the bull by the horns and do a hard starboard turn off the wind. We miss each other while each probably thinking the Captain on the other boat is an idiot. I leave the warship in the dust while hoping that the helmsman is getting her ass chewed out.

During the night I finish reading The Gate Crasher, written by the babe who wrote the Shopaholic Series, perfect overnight watch reading.

Day Three: At 0630 the rollers become larger than the wind speed, never ever a good thing, so on goes the motor with the hopes of stopping the slatting sail and the rolling stomachs…180 miles to go to Beaufort. For the last two days we have been thinking that we need to slow down to make the inlet during day light. What were we thinking? The wind goes light and variable, we lose the stream, and our speed drops to low fives. The flying fish are making better time than we are.
A lonely exhausted bird freeloads on First Edition, and stays aboard for two hours.

What wind there is goes south, and is directly behind us and insufficient to fill the sails. So we motor along all day and night, making between 5 and 6 knots. Around nine at night a parade of big cargo ships comes cruising by, most leaving sufficient room between us to avoid hyperventilation. Except for Northern Jasper. When I contact the vessel the second effort results in a comeback, I inform the Captain that we look kinda close with a CPA (closest point of approach) less than a mile, and I inquire if he sees me. After a hesitation that is long enough to let me know the answer, he acknowledges me and says we look OK. He then proceeds to change course, to go right in front of me. I would have thought this trained expert would have chosen to pass my stern. What an idiot. At least he livened up my watch. I have begun to read The Lion by DeMille, another wonderful author for midnight watches.

Day Four: At 0615 I turn the watch over to Peter with 39 miles to make Beaufort. It is sunny, warm, with no change in wind, so we continue to motor along. At about 20 miles out, we discover we can steer First Edition with Peter’s smartphone, provided all we want to do is go in circles. So all that nonsense about electronic devices on airplanes is not poppycock after all.

At 10 miles out while I sit composing this entry I hear Mooch coughing and run to the cockpit, where the Captain sits, smiles charmingly at me, and continues reading McMurtry’s Comanche Moon. I feel compelled to tell him we are running out of fuel. Honest to God, I really need to get fuel gauges for this man. And a hearing aide.

At around 1300 we hit the inlet (with the current!) and head to Beaufort Docks for fuel. From here we will head off to Cedar Creek for a perfect CC Manhattan and steaks on the grill. A great trip. Happy to have had it, and happy it is over.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Back to and Leaving Vero

After a week with Aunt Dar, we returned to Vero to a cantankerous outboard engine, a set of shells soaking overboard now covered with barnacles, shells soaking in bleach water now mostly clean, and shells covered with sesame seeds that turned out to be, uh, maggots. So I guess these were not unoccupied after all. Needless to say, most of these situations resulted in a rather foul smelling First Edition, so we opened all the hatches before taking off for dinner with Blue Bay. Dick and Nancy stayed close to airports this year to be nearby to ailing Mom, and instead of cruising, chose to spend the winter working on the boat while on the hard at Riverside Marina. This is the close equivalent to having a tooth pulled. Without novacaine. It was great recalling memories and sharing new stories, and we look forward to cruising with them again.

The next day we ran around town and topped our evening off with Jay and Di and sushi, which the Captain ate with enthusiasm. This is a new Peter Forgosh, finally catching up with his son in trying the formerly unmentionables as possible food sources. He even ate the smoked eel (but before he knew what it was). Apologies to comrade friend John, but after four years Peter has become adventurous and after all, you did get on an airplane this year.

It is now Friday the 22nd. We will spend Easter looking for eggs on the high seas, and in five minutes will head for the Fort Pierce inlet bound for Beaufort, North Carolina, a 90 hour trip. See ya on the other side.


After a few days of reacquainting ourselves with the United States of America, including dinner with the Howells and the Temples, we continued our support for Enterprise Car Rental and took off for parts unknown to most, Ocklawaha, for a visit with family. Here, you can buy a pig or a Whoopie Pie, which we still have not tried, insuring our return.

We were extremely pleased to find my Aunt in good spirits and in as good a shape as we have found her since we have been cruising, thanks to the care provided by my Aunt Beverly, occasionally assisted by neighbor Debbie, and frequently fed by dear friend Nancy, a Canadian snowbird. While there we visited numerous retail stores, and even took Aunt Dar shopping, totally impossible during our last visit, cooked numerous meals for the freezer, and enjoyed the Yankee games with Dar and Uncle Bob. We also gave ourselves a tour of the local cemetary, looking unsuccessfully for Ma Barker's grave, since the infamous shootout occurred here. We stopped by and saw Aunt Anita and Uncle Bill, both looking ageless and chipper. We are thinking Ocklawaha should be renamed The Robbins Nest with so many relatives so named being residents.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Back to the US

We hosted Celebrian for a farewell dinner at Manjack and sprung the Breyers out of the freezer for homemade apple pie. In exchange for a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, Rob and Christine agreed to give up the location of the super secret milk conch beach, no longer a secret: located directly across from Manjack on the western shore. The following morning we headed there, and sure enough, loads of pretty little conch partially sanded over, with enough empty so as to not be tempted to haul out the spaghetti pot for a shell boil. We had intended the secret beach to be but the first destination on our lazy cruise of the Northern Abacos. With winds predicted to be mostly easterly less than 10 for the next five days, we hoped to take advantage of this benign weather to explore parts unknown, at least to us.

Our private cruise continued with an evening anchorage at Powell Cay, which we found to yield another endless supply of lightly tinted purple milk conch. Also available during our hunt were mucho West Indian Chanks and a gorgeous candidate for a new conch horn. After a night of a good soak in a bleach mixture, we were rewarded with totally excellent treasures to add to our collection.

Further hopes of shell shopping were dashed the next morning when Parker predicted nothing but north east winds following the harmless cold front on the way. So, we did what we always knew we would do but swore we wouldn’t: cut our tour short and decided to head directly to Vero Beach once we hauled anchor.

And here we are.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Green Turtle Club

Mr. Parker continued to insist that squalls with wind to 70 knots and west winds would ruin our day, so we took to a marina, only the second time in four years here in the Bahamas. We got our reservation in early so that we could play around before heading into White Sound at Green Turtle, which we prefer to do on a rising tide one hour before high. Despite our call made well in advance to the Green Turtle Club, we got stuck in a slip without a finger pier or enough water for First Edition around low tide. So, if you come here, specify exactly what you want---I don’t know if that will help, but it won’t hurt.

For the month of April both the Green Turtle Club and the Bluff House offer “dining for dockage”. At the GTC, this means any money you spend on food or booze will be applied to your dockage bill. It’s a good deal, as the food here is quite decent, and the dockage is $1.95/foot.

We splashed Free Bird and had a paddle around White Sound. We continue to be impressed with our inflatable kayak, and the quality of the West Marine product seems good.

We dropped $30 for 3 drinks at happy hour so the offset dollars go pretty quickly. We had a great dinner, I had mahi and Peter had filet mignon and at the end of the night we had wiped out our dockage bill for one day.

There’s a great little gift shop here and I managed to walk away with a glass fishing float and a treasure for Willow’s Christmas stocking. If I were cruising next year I would have been able to add some fashion to my wardrobe as well.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Around the Whale to Manjack

Conditions at Marsh Harbor took a turn for the worse when forest fires ran rampant from whatever direction the wind was coming from. Several mornings we awoke to dense fog, but worse than Maine fog or Block Island fog, this fog was smoke fog, choking, eye-tearing, soot depositing all over the boats kinda fog. The day after we took a good soaking from rain showers it got even worse, it was a damp smoke fog. That’s when we decided the Whale must be passable. The Parker predicted swells amounted to nothing more than very slight rollers, and with a calm wind, there were many boats going both directions. The Baker’s Bay golf course is now lining the Bay, with verdant manicured greens and sparkling sand traps. The old cruise ship buoys continue to provide confusing navigational aids, many now rusted off down to the waterline.
We found Rob and Christine loaded down with every imaginable shell collected from the unfrequented western shores across from Green Turtle and Manjack, where they rode out the strong westerlies with great comfort, despite the absence of any anchor signs on the Explorer Charts. Imagine that. We hooked up (sic) at the northern tip of Manjack and quickly took off for the ocean reefs which we were able to snorkel with no difficulty in the calm winds. We searched unsuccessfully for shells (of course, Celebrian had been here for a week) but I added handsomely to my sea urchin collection. Yes, I collect them too.
The next day we headed to Crab Cay, where we unpackaged our inflatable two person kayak, purchased for the bargain basement price of $189 from West Marine thanks to our affiliation with The Wise One. Of course, it needed to be named, first Yellow Bird, quickly changed to Free Bird---although not original, it captures the essence of her purpose: hopefully we will never again be stranded without the ability to get to shore should the outboard give up the ghost.