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The Dither over the Dinghy May 5, 2014

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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dinghy

Dinghies are life’s blood to cruisers. The big boat takes us for big adventures at sea, but in the daily back and forth for groceries, laundry and church, the dinghy is the family car. Life on a mooring ball requires a dinghy because a step off the boat is a step into the water. We have had some weird experiences with dinghies. In 2011, we made a trip to visit family and left the dinghy tied up behind our boat. When we returned, the outboard had frozen. Not with ice. It was August for goodness sake. Nevertheless, any effort to turn the motor in order to steer the dinghy met with strong resistance. Larry pulled things apart, cleaned, greased, and issued harsh directives, but to little avail. He was able to free the action sufficiently that a strong arm can turn the motor to steer the dinghy. It resists noisily, but we do get where we are going. We have used it this way ever since. Shortly after the first day of spring in 2012, while moored at Marathon, a violent thunderstorm built up during the night and flipped the dinghy upside down with the motor attached. We were asleep when the storm struck, and even though the fury of its onset woke us, the storm was quite brief. When it subsided, we went back to sleep. Only the next morning did we discover the inverted dinghy. That accident required the motor to be thoroughly disassembled. Every tiny part had to be washed in fresh water in order to cleanse it of the salt water. Some of the parts had to be replaced. It was not fun. What with ordering mistakes, shipping delays and general frustration with all things mechanical, the accident delayed our departure from Marathon, planned for the first weather window on or after April 14. We finally departed on May 7. The dinghy has other problems, not related to the outboard. It is a soft-bottom dinghy, and it is designed to have an inner tube between the floor and the bottom of the dinghy that serves to give it a tiny keel. That piece sprang a leak that only grew larger every time Larry tried to fix it, so he finally took it out simply to avoid having to look at it. As a consequence, the bow has zero rise, and we are routinely drenched when motoring into winds from forward. A couple of weeks ago, the transmission on the diesel engine took leave and required major repairs. We discovered this problem in the course of attempting to leave our mooring for the purpose of refilling our water tanks. While the transmission was inoperable, our mooring neighbor lent us two 5-gallon water jugs. Larry made trip after trip to the water refill station at the marina office until he had filled one of our 60-gallon tanks and put another ten gallons in a second tank. That way, if it were pouring down rain when we emptied the full tank, we could wait another day or two to refill our water supply. In the course of making those runs for water, Larry at one point set both of the jugs on the seat of the dinghy. The piece on the end of the seat that fits under the slide that allows us to remove or replace the seat broke off, the jugs tumbled, and that was the end of the dinghy seat. It actually can be repaired, Larry says, but it requires screws he does not have. Until he is done with the transmission problem, it is unlikely the dinghy seat will be replaced. Until this morning, the missing seat was actually not a problem. We usually sit on the wall tubes anyway. With the seat out, we have more room for groceries or shower bags or whatever we are ferrying back and forth. We had not worried much about it. However, this morning, when we were in the dinghy, dressed for church, and right on time, Larry pulled the starter cord, and it simply broke off. He just sat there for a minute, looking bewildered. Then we sighed and put everything back on deck. We would not be going to church. Larry had another repair job. His first thought was that he would probably have some sort of cord aboard which he could use to get the outboard going, but no such luck. We had a strong piece of cord that was a fraction too large in circumference. Everything else we examined was too feeble for the task. Larry would need to go to West Marine for a new cord. Well, so be it, we thought. At least he could row. Then he got into the dinghy and realized that he had no place to sit while rowing, because he needs to go to West Marine for some screws to replace the piece that holds the seat on the dinghy. In the end, he left here, kneeling as he rowed. I just hope he does not have to figure out how to walk on water when he returns. The situation is starting to look dire, and after missing church this morning, we might not be at the top of the list for prayer fulfillment!

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Another Fun Thing February 15, 2014

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We are anchored once again in Lake Worth. You probably wonder how we came to be here, since the last you heard, we were still at Cumberland Island. I’m not sure what happened to my muse, but she certainly took an extended leave.

First, we did not “do the ditch.” We considered that option. We were tired of freezing and tired of waiting and tired of not being in Marathon yet. However, when we examined the charts and read the comments provided by cruisers who have done it, we paused. There are several places on the ICW that are historic for their propensity to ground the unwary, or even the wary who happen to be unlucky. All of them but two lie along the route from the Florida border to Cape Canaveral. The idea of living with the constant threat of grounding for that whole distance was unappealing to say the least. The more we thought about it, and we had plenty of time to think, the less we wanted any part of it. We have always enjoyed our adventures outside. Part of the joy of cruising outside is the sense of freedom. Tip-toeing southward in constant fear of hitting bottom did not even sound like fun. We decided to wait for our opportunity to cruise in the big water.

We waited and waited alongside Cumberland Island for a week. Fronts came and went in close formation. No window for a run to Canaveral. Then, with sub-freezing temperatures forecast behind the next front, we moved to a marina for a week. It was so beautiful the day we made the move that we ate lunch on the aft deck, barefoot and wearing shorts. By the next morning, it was twenty degrees Fahrenheit. We unpacked our space heater, bundled up in warm clothing again, and waited.

Finally, finally, there was a break in the parade of cold fronts—a break long enough for us to get all the way to Lake Worth. We cruised out St. Marys Inlet, turned south, and it was as if we had put on the brakes. Between currents and wind, it was hard to tell what the real problem was, but our speed was between 1 and 2 knots slower for the whole trip than it had been the last time we made this excursion. Instead of about 33-34 hours for this jaunt, it took us a full 48 hours to get there. We were frustrated and bumfuzzled by the whole process. We couldn’t decide if something were wrong with the boat or if the diver had not scraped the bottom very well before we left New Bern, but amazingly, as soon as we got into Lake Worth and headed north to the marina where we buy fuel, our speed picked up as if nothing had ever been wrong. Amazing!

Once again, we thought we would stop briefly and move on. Once again, it did not happen. First the weather forecast turned ugly. Then we discovered that the water pump on the diesel engine was not working. It is always one fun thing after another with us!

Larry thought he could make the water pump repair himself, but no such luck. Every time he tried to turn the nut that kept the pulley and the water pump attached to the engine block, all the parts turned together, like a will-trained marching band. From long experience with such things, Larry has developed a bag of tricks that should have eventually brought everything under control, but this time he had no success.

Frustration piled on frustration extended our stay day after day. When Larry finally gave up and called a repair service for help, he found that they were booked solid for another week, and at the end of the week, they still needed one more day. We could do nothing but wait, and when they finally gave us a firm date to do the work, we still had to call a towing service and move to a marina.

As it turned out, this was the best part. We moved to Lark Park Marina, a municipal marina just north of West Palm Beach. We were familiar with it, because this marina graciously allows cruisers to tie up their dinghies beside the launch ramp in order to shop for groceries at the nearby Winn-Dixie store. The people who run the marina were always friendly and pleasant when we went shopping or tied up there while we went to church nearby. As marina guests, we discovered they are equally pleasant to their marina customers. The showers are clean and spacious. The laundry facility is also spacious, with 2 washers and dryers and plenty of space for folding. Would that every marina would see the advantage of having at least 2 washers and dryers. It doesn’t take a great deal to make a cruiser swoon!

The diesel repair tech arrived right on time on Wednesday morning, and at first he, too, wrestled with that obstinate nut. However, he had some sort of magic pry bar, or maybe it is just a secret spell they teach in diesel mechanic school. Anyway, that nut came off and so did the broken water pump. After the mechanic determined that replacement was required, it took another day to get the part. Finally, on Friday, our Valentine surprise was that the part worked, the engine worked, and we could get on with our southbound cruise.  We enjoyed our Valentine feast of grilled steak, rice, steamed asparagus and salad a little bit more because we were finally free again. We topped off the celebration with strawberries and cream. Yum.

For Valentine Day, a lover's moon rose over Palm Beach.

For Valentine Day, a lover’s moon rose over Palm Beach.

Today we are back in our favorite spot in Lake Worth. The wind is roaring all around, but it is predicted to settle significantly by 7pm. No matter how much it roars here, we can be grateful not to be in Bangor, Maine, where the roaring wind is punctuated with thick snow, a real blizzard. As our weather calms down, theirs is predicted to ramp up, and they could have two feet of snow by this time tomorrow. We can, instead, start thinking about the right time to head for Miami, where we think we will pause at Fisher Island only overnight before we continue toward Marathon. We like leisurely travel, but we have had more leisure than we know what to do with this year. We just want some Conch Republic hospitality in a place where the wind may blow hard, but it always blows warm.

It is, indeed, just one fun thing after another. To quote Joe Bastardi, the Weatherbell man, “Enjoy your weather. It’s the only weather you’ve got.”

Almost Christmas December 24, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We departed New Bern on Thursday, December 19. The weather forecasts made us believe that it might be very uncomfortable to try to make it to Charleston before Christmas. 10-15 knots on the nose is like riding a galloping horse. Add another 10 knots and it just isn’t fun anymore. Our planned destination was Wrightsville Beach, where we would check the weather and make a go/nogo decision.

It was a lovely day for it. Cold, but sunny. We made good speed over ground until we entered Adams Creek. There we encountered an opposing current that slowed our speed by a knot, even more at times. At the same time, the wind, predicted to be 5-10 from the southwest, picked up speed and changed direction. It averaged 20 knots directly on the nose. In the channel of the ICW it didn’t make big waves, but it did impact our progress.

We were slowed enough that, by the time we reached Morehead City, we had decided not to make our planned fuel stop. We wanted to get out of the Beaufort Inlet before dark. We had previously called the fuel dock at the Morehead City Yacht Basin to find out how late they were open. As we approached Morehead City, we called them again to let them know we had decided against this stop. We had a couple of other concerns that they cleared up for us. In the past, the railroad bridge that crosses the channel to the inlet had normally been open, but when we passed through last summer, it was on a different schedule due to repairs; we learned that the repairs were all complete and it was open again. We also remembered that last summer the inlet was being dredged due to aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy. We didn’t want to traverse the narrow path left around that ugly dredge. We were happy to learn that the dredging was complete and the dredge was gone.

We traversed the inlet as the sun was setting. We turned south, bound for Masonboro Inlet.

At this time of year, daylight hours end shortly after 5PM. As we left the inlet, dusk had fallen, and soon it was truly dark. I heated some leftover roast beef and made hot sandwiches which we ate as the evening chill set it. Then we sipped soup from our huge meal-size soup cups and observed happily that the wind had fallen under 15 knots. Dead on the nose, but well under the 20 knots we had feared when we were still in the ICW. I cleared up from supper, made sure Larry had his lifejacket on and his tether handy, and then I left him on the first watch.

When I got up at 10PM, the moon had risen. It was almost full. Night watches seem long and dreary when there is no moon, but if the moon is shining, they aren’t bad at all. Larry took his nap, I took the second watch, and before I knew it, he was back in the cockpit. When I came up around 4AM to take the fourth watch, fog had developed.

Because the moon was so bright, and the fog was not very thick, the glow of moonlight was evident even through the fog. I listened for securite’ calls, but there were none. The first time I heard anyone on the radio was a 5AM conversation between an incoming freighter and the Cape Fear pilots. They were on the other side of Cape Fear, no threat to me. I kept a sharp lookout for lights, too. As I said, the fog was patchy, and cleared occasionally to allow a good view of surroundings. Most of the time I could see lights on shore. I made my securite’ calls, but nobody answered. That was good.

We arrived at the Masonboro Inlet after sunrise. It is well-lit, and I had seen the lights in the dark when we were still more than ten miles away. Everything is better in daylight, however, and we easily made our way in. We dropped the hook south of Mott’s channel.

After we established internet connectivity, I checked the weather. The forecast predicted rising winds Saturday afternoon through Sunday and Monday. All from southwest. Right in our path. And things would get worse come Christmas Eve. We decided to stay put till after Christmas. As things have turned out, it looks as if we planned well. It is now Christmas Eve and the wind has been roaring already for 24 hours. However, it appears that things will calm down Christmas afternoon and give us a nice window for our southbound journey starting Thursday. That is the plan.

Saturday morning was foggy, and the photo below was made shortly after sunrise that morning. On the seaward side of the channel, the sun’s side, the fog was clearing, but on the other side, it was quite foggy. I tried to get photos of the beautiful misty marsh, but I’m not skilled enough to capture it the way I wanted to.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

During the day on Monday, we saw an extremely odd cloud. I’m sure real meteorologists would understand it. We knew a front would pass on that day, but we have experienced many frontal passages, none of which was marked by a cloud like this one. I guess I need to try to find out its name. For now I’ll just share the magnificent sight.

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Sunday evening the sunset was glorious. Here it is for your enjoyment.

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More news later when there is news to share.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

Do Wishes Come True? December 16, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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You can study the weather and analyze the weather and memorize the weather forecasts all you want. You get what you get.

After we assured ourselves that our steering was good to go, we began studying weather in earnest. It was Monday. Things looked promising for a departure on Tuesday, but we would arrive on Wednesday in St. Augustine during a driving rain. That would not be good. Those little red markers would be hard to see in those conditions, and it would not be fun to stand on deck peering through the raindrops. Later, we would have reason to ponder this prognostication.

A front would pass through Charleston on Wednesday bringing strong winds and big waves at sea Wednesday night and Thursday. Still not good.

On Friday a high pressure system would begin settling things down along the Atlantic coast, and on Saturday at St. Augustine, winds from the east at 5-10 with clear skies and 10-mile visibility were predicted. We made a baseline calculation of an arrival in early afternoon, unfortunately ebb tide. The contours of the St. Augustine inlet don’t bottle up the current the way we see it in many places in the Bahamas, so we felt we could navigate safely despite the ebb. Normally, we would not want to go in with wind against the tidal current, but such a light wind is really not a problem. We knew that we would contend with a northeast swell most of the way along the coast, too, but we chose to hope that it wouldn’t be too miserable. We were tired of waiting.

We departed Charleston around 9AM on Friday morning. The early morning fog was thinning. Although we could see the wall of cloud out to sea ahead of us, it was actually a quite beautiful morning. When we turned south, we began to wallow as expected in the combination of northeast swell and waves shaped by light breezes that varied from northwest to northeast. At first it was reasonably comfortable, but over the course of the day and through the night, the wallowing intensified.

This sort of ride is not something to write home about. It is exhausting. The long-period swells merged with shorter-period waves to create movement that could never be predicted. We have ridden big, slow swells in the past that were quite magical. We have ridden following seas that had a rhythm we could almost predict. This time, there was no predictability and certainly no magic. The motion was almost syrupy. It was easy to be fooled by a short interval of smooth riding. More than once I thought I could step forward safely only to find that as I stepped down, the floor moved away from my foot and I nearly lost my balance. Or vice versa. We seldom feel queasy on the water, but we had a few episodes this time. We happily ate chicken soup for supper, because it was soothing for our tummies.

This time of year, night is twelve hours of real darkness. This time of the month, the tiny crescent moon sets a couple of hours after the sun. With some clouds developing, it can be very dark. Fortunately, it is also pretty lonely, with few other boats around. A seaway that is crowded and also dark is extremely uncomfortable. We had the company of another sailboat behind us for a while, but he either made a course change or slowed down and even that fellow-traveler was gone.

When the sun rose, we observed another big wall of fog far out to sea. Through the morning hours as we approached St. Augustine, the cloud drew near, and by the time we were six miles out from the St. Augustine sea buoy, we were engulfed in thick fog. Fog! None of the weather predictions had mentioned fog. The Passage Weather graphics showed visibility at 10 miles all day along the northern coast of Florida. We were in a pickle. We needed good visibility to find our way into St. Augustine. That narrow channel is bounded on both sides by serious breakers that could pound a boat to bits. We had last year’s track for a guide, but we didn’t know if shoaling might have changed the path. The markers might not even be in the same place as last year.

What to do? If we could not go to St. Augustine should we turn back to Jacksonville or proceed around Cape Canaveral? Neither option sounded desirable.

We first called TowBoat US to ask about the channel. The Jacksonville Towboat site answered, but as soon as we asked if the channel to St. Augustine had changed since last year, the Sea Tow captain in St. Augustine interrupted. (TowBoatUS and Sea Tow are competing towboat companies. However, in this situation, they chose not to try to compete.) That’s how it is on VHF. You never know who is listening. In this case it was all to the good. The Sea Tow captain in St. Augustine told us that the channel had not changed since last year. The markers were all in the same place, but there was one new marker. This meant that our track from last year should be the right path to enter this year. He also shared his local knowledge of the behavior of the tidal current, telling us that by 3PM it should begin to slow down. When we asked him if the fog extended all the way into St. Augustine, he said it had been patchy all day.

With that information, we decided to verify first if we could find the sea buoy. Larry turned toward the buoy and I went out on deck. The fog seemed to be getting thicker and thicker, and we were almost upon the buoy before we could see it. This did not seem very promising. That buoy is huge. The channel markers are little red nuns and little green cans. Very small by comparison to that buoy. We headed back out to sea and discussed our options.

Then we decided to test the concept of navigating by steering on the track. We turned around and while Larry steered on the track we had made to the sea buoy, I stood on deck and watched for the buoy to appear. The sun seemed brighter in the sky as we made this run, and the buoy appeared in the mist sooner than I expected. That was encouraging. We followed the track and saw the buoy. That worked. However, at this point the fog began to thicken and close in around us. I was reminded of being in Maine. It really didn’t feel like the Sunshine State at all.

We turned out to sea again. We talked about Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral again. We even talked about trying to go all the way to Lake Worth, another 50 hours away. But we wanted to go to St. Augustine! About that time, I realized that the sun was glaring in my eyes. I looked up and saw a sun streak on the water. Above, there was a tiny hole in the fog and the sun was in the midst of a tiny patch of blue. The fog was thinning around us, and we probably had a quarter of a mile of visibility. I said to Larry, “If it could be like this the whole way, I think I could be okay.” That was all he needed.

We turned around and followed our track to the sea buoy. This time we had a good sighting in plenty of time to feel comfortable about things. We rounded the buoy, and Larry steered to the track. I stood on deck watching. Suddenly I saw the first red marker. I screamed out, “Marker! Marker!” We both got very excited. If we could find this one, then surely we could find the rest.

At this point, the track turned west toward St. Augustine, and we began to get a good view of the breakers to the north. The wind picked up, too, from the west, of all things! This wasn’t the prediction, either. A west wind on the ebb tide was the best thing we could hope for, of course, because the water would be smoother. A west wind against the breakers roaring in on the northeast swell, however, was ferocious. The breakers roiled up and broke at the cap of each wave, and the west wind caught the spray. The view was terrifying and entrancing at the same time. The sound was like the roar of Niagara Falls.

I turned forward again to look for my marker, but out of the corner of my eye, something moved. I turned back toward the breakers and there was another sailboat. He was only a short distance behind and northeast of us, and he was headed right for the breakers! Larry got on the radio and called to him to come over behind us. It was a terrible fight for that boat to cross the very spot where waves were beginning to shape up as the water shallowed, but he made it. Whew! Later in the day we would hear a boat call TowBoatUS from a similar location, because they had grounded. We weren’t able to hear how they got free, but any boat caught in that melee for long would be toothpicks.

Now it’s time to tell you. The entrance to St. Augustine is not charted on NOAA charts. NOAA takes no responsibility for telling anyone that it is easy to get into St. Augustine. The inlet is drawn on those charts, but no depths are recorded and no markers are shown. They say they can’t chart it because of frequent shoaling.

The boat behind us almost certainly was trying to use what little information the NOAA chart has, and it isn’t enough. When we first looked at the NOAA chart and saw how inadequate it was, we despaired of visiting St. Augustine. When we came last year, we used a privately annotated chart and notes from a captain who had transited this entrance many times. We entered on an optimal day – clear sky, bright overhead sun, and flat water. Local knowledge is essential. In our saved track, we had it. Apparently the boat following us did not. Nor was he very interested in learning. Larry called out to him when he was in danger, and he did make the move, but he only briefly acknowledged the call. He never spoke again to say anything or ask any questions. At one point he actually turned around and went back toward the sea, but soon he changed his mind again and turned back toward St. Augustine. I looked back from time to time, but we simply could not take responsibility for him.

Our next marker appeared right on time. Shortly after that, I asked Larry if he were having problems with the current, because it appeared we were moving southward. Indeed, the current was making it difficult to hold our course. Then to my amazement, I saw a sailboat coming toward us, north of us. His course seemed to me to be perilously close to the breakers, but he called out to us and told us we were drifting too far south. He said we needed to move north in order to pass between the next red and green. Larry increased power and forced our way northward. To make things more interesting, the fog thickened again at this point. Due to the reduced visibility, it was hard to make out the next marker, but as soon as I saw it, I saw that we appeared to be perfectly on track, which Larry confirmed.

This marker put us near the jetty at the inlet. That could have meant a serious increase in the current, but we arrived there after the strongest part of the ebb. The wind, the current and the waves all simmered down at this point, and with thankful hearts, we watched the fog thin out enough that we could see land and distant boats. We were safely inside.

We made a call to the marina and soon were moored south of the Bridge of Lions. We were glad to turn off the engine and look around at calm water. We hadn’t been there a half hour when we noticed the fog thickening again. It grew so thick that we could only see the boats immediately adjacent to us. We could not see the bridge or the land in any direction, even though it couldn’t be more than a hundred yards, and there are lights everywhere! We were well and truly socked in. If we had not grabbed our one moment to come in, we would never have had another.

The way things have gone, we might stay here right through Christmas. When we left Baltimore on November 4, we had our hearts set on being in Lake Worth at Christmas, but one thing simply has not led to another as we hoped. It is starting to look as if St. Augustine at Christmas might be exactly what we always wanted.

 

What Works? What Doesn’t? November 27, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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Many of our adventures are all about the weather. This one has nothing to do with weather, but I need to tell you a bit about weather anyway.

On Saturday, November 24, we departed the Beaufort Inlet at mid-morning bound for Cape Fear, where we planned to turn on a course that would take us in a couple of days to St. Marys, Georgia. As you already know, it was a long wait for the right day, but the day finally came. The prediction for NW winds 15-20 knots sounded good, even though we knew there would be a swell from the northeast. We were not familiar with that condition, and we were not sure exactly how it would work for us.

It turned out that our planned course was not a good choice. It put us too broadside to waves generated by the northwesterly wind. In the confused seas resulting from the intersection of those winds with the northeasterly swell, the boat wallowed severely. We turned away from the wind and found that a course almost due south helped a great deal. There was no escaping the wallowing, but the intensity was reduced.

The winds through the night were erratic. We recorded 31.4 knots at some point, but on one log entry I wrote “winds NW 9-25.” They were that fitful. Fortunately, the moon was high and in the second quarter. Everything seems less dire at night when there is moonlight. We were under a high pressure system with clear skies, meaning that we had no threat of thunder or lightning. It was a rough ride, but we made it through without incident.

Next morning, as Larry was taking his nap, I watched the sun rise. It was marvelous. There were a few clouds at the eastern horizon that glowed golden as the sun came up, and above the horizon in every direction, the sky glowed pink to mauve to purple to blue. The wind had subsided and the waves were beginning to lie down. It felt quite magical. I was caught up in the moment.

Which meant that when I heard a quiet tone in the background, it didn’t even register at first. The high-pitched hum finally penetrated my consciousness. I thought somebody was doing something weird on the radio, or had a finger on the transmit key. I leaned closer to the speaker, but nothing. The sound wasn’t coming from the radio.

Then I saw the boat begin a slow turn to port. It turned, and it kept turning. Needless to say, as it came broadside to the waves that were subsiding but far from gone, we were wallowed mightily. I looked at the autopilot, and saw only garbage on the screen. I looked at the echart, and while the boat still displayed on the screen, no track was showing. I looked back at the autopilot, saw the muddled display again, and finally realized that the persistent high-pitched tone was coming from the autopilot.

This was not good. Something wasn’t working. Something important.

I put the autopilot on standby so I could steer. I used the pedestal compass to get back on course. Then I looked back at the echart, and amazingly, the course was back. Did I only imagine that it had disappeared? There was no time to worry about it.

There had been a great commotion of things moving in the boat when the boat tried to roll during its unscripted circle, and Larry soon showed up in the companionway asking, “What’s going on?” I was still flummoxed by all the things that had happened, and I said, “The steering. The power steering.” I think I said this, because I had just tried to turn the auto steering back on, but again it displayed garbage and tried to go in a circle. Larry thought I meant that we didn’t have power steering. He went away and came back with power steering fluid, thinking we had lost enough to affect the steering.

I had to explain then that it was actually the auto pilot that was the problem. We went through a diagnostic drill with it. Larry looked at the power steering fluid, but none was needed. Finally, he made a last try to turn on the autopilot, and lo, it worked. Neither of us felt good about it, but it was working. We sat there in the cockpit for a bit. It continued to work. The poor thing had had a tough night, and we thought maybe it just needed to vent. Everything looked fine.

I made breakfast, and we ate a leisurely meal. I cleared up the dishes and went back to the cockpit. We felt uneasy, but we could see no evidence of any ongoing problems, so we relaxed. I went below for a short nap. On passages, we usually try for each of us to get an extra nap of an hour or so during the day. I had barely got comfortable when Larry called my name. I went back to the cockpit. No autopilot — again.

I took the helm while Larry dug out the manual. He went through all the hoops, and I tried to keep us on course manually.

Manual steering is an art. Everyone who learns to sail learns early that steering a sailboat is touchy. Tiny adjustments are the way to work, no matter how big the adjustment ultimately needs to be. When we sailed the boat from the Exumas to Lake Worth in 2010, we had no engine and no generator, so we steered manually for six days. I thought back to that trip as I tried to revive my sensitivities.

Miles from shore there are no landmarks to steer by. Sailing instructors always emphasize that steering to a compass course is much harder than steering to a landmark. Without landmarks, however, I had no choice but to steer to the compass. We did it in 2010, and I knew I would eventually train my touch again, but there for a while, we were drawing a wobbly line on the echart. It was good to be able to have that chart to reassure me that, wobbly or not, I was heading where I was supposed to go. In 2010, we used a handheld GPS and paper charts. We arrived where we planned to go in 2010, but we did it without the comfort of the echart for reference while we were under way. With the echart, I felt quite sure we would do the same this time.

As I steered, Larry studied the manual for the auto-pilot. He also dug under our bed in the aft cabin, where the mechanisms for operating the rudder are located. Eventually he came back to the cockpit. Everything pointed to a sensor in the autopilot setup – the rudder follower. This item tells the “brains” of the autopilot where the rudder is at all times. The “brain” uses that information to decide what signal to send to the element that moves the rudder to port or starboard. The signal from the rudder follower was not usable by the autopilot. It didn’t know what to do next in order to keep us on course. It shut down and cried.

This item is not one of the spares we carry. We have a plethora of spare parts on board. Our main salon would look more like a Marina Life photo if we were not so well stocked with parts. We also have an abundance of tools. When we are 50 miles from shore, we cannot run to West Marine or Lowes to pick up something we need. But we cannot carry spares for everything, and a spare rudder follower for the autopilot was not in our stock. What to do?

The first order of business was to give thanks to God that this discouraging development did not happen at midnight as we rounded Cape Fear. People can hand steer in any conditions, and certainly the early explorers hand steered wherever they took their boats, but in the confused seas and winds around that Cape, manual steering would have been exhausting. It would have taken more than one nap to recover from that experience. We were truly grateful for God’s steadfast love and protection that went with us through the night around the fearsome cape.

Next, a look at the chart showed that we could go due west for 50 miles and arrive in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston’s entrance channel is well-marked and well-lit. This fact, too, is cause for thanksgiving. Unlike most ports in the Bahamas and many little inlets used by fishermen, the Port of Charleston is safe to enter in the dark, and dark it would be by the time we could get there at 6 knots or so. As luck would have it, we were destined to arrive during ebb tide, but the prospect of fighting that current was put in its proper perspective by our absolute need to find a safe harbor where we could deal with the repair of the autopilot.

Finally, we made our plans and began to work shifts to get the job done.

We arrived at our waypoint for the harbor entrance channel about 8PM.

We don’t like night entrances in harbors. Harbors are like Christmas trees. There are lights everywhere, and most of them are unhelpful. Our most recent harbor tour at night was at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. The channel from the entrance to the Bay Bridge and then north is extremely well-lit, but it is a very busy channel with Navy ships, Army ships, and commercial vessels transiting at all hours of the day and night. There are lights in every direction, and to add to the confusion, there is a row of lights along the Bay Bridge that engulfs all the lights that mark the channel. They are very hard to pick out in the midst of all those other lights.

The entrance to Charleston was peaceful by comparison with Norfolk. Still, there were lots of lights on shore, and there are bright range lights that flash at most inopportune times. At great distances, all the lights seem to be in a single line, even though some are near and some are far. Miles away, they all look alike. The secret to sorting them out is the flash timing. Each red/green pair in the channel has the same flash cycle. We inserted at the point where our first pair was green 7 and red 8. They were flashing every 4 seconds. When I found a green light, I counted to 8 and if the light flashed every time I reached 8, it was my light. Then I found a red one that matched that timing. Watching a few cycles set their locations firmly in mind. I could then help Larry as he tried to steer while monitoring the echart. Both of us kept our eyes peeled for other ships that might be approaching in front or behind.

You are probably remembering how we all learned to count “one thousand one, one thousand two,” and so forth to time things. This method is good for CPR. However, it is hard to use this method for lights that may flash on the half second. I count “one, two” in a rhythm that matches “one thousand one” and that means a count of 5 is 2.5 seconds. It’s a hillbilly solution for a naval problem but it works for me.

I do a lot of my search for markers on deck. Larry is in the cockpit at the helm, and I go out on deck where I can move about as necessary in order to find my markers. This is true whether daylight or dark. I find that I am much more in touch with the surroundings out there. I will find my markers much faster there than in the cockpit. For readers who worry about safety on deck in the dark, I will report that our ship’s rule is lifejackets after dark. In the cockpit or on deck, lifejackets after dark. I had on my lifejacket as I moved from one side of the boat to the other or roamed forward if need be for a better view. Also, the design of our boat has a broad, open aft deck and wide, unimpeded side decks with high lifelines. It is a wonderfully safe design. We feel confident in moving around on deck when we need to. We have tethers that we use when the weather is rough, but by the time we reached Charleston, the winds were 5 knots or less and the seas were less than 1 foot. In the channel, approaching the city, the waters were pretty calm. I was safe on our big open deck to move about as needful while wearing my lifejacket.

Charleston has some serious issues with currents along the shore close to the city. I’m not sure how they all work, but in defense against them, Charleston has built submerged jetties that extend far out into the sea. As we neared the jetties, the tidal current became much more noticeable. Larry had a challenge keeping the boat where he wanted it. He had to increase engine power a bit as we maneuvered between the jetties and into the harbor. Inside, the surface was almost glassy and the current was diluted by the broad expanse of the water. We could relax a bit.

But only a bit, we had already been on the route to the anchorage in Charleston for three hours by the time we finally arrived inside the jetties, and it took another hour to get up inside the Ashley River and find a spot among the half dozen or so boats already anchored there. There was so much moisture in the air inside the harbor that I had to wipe the cockpit panes continually in order for Larry to be able to see. It was with great relief that just about midnight, we set the anchor, recorded our final position, and turned off the engine.

So, we are safe. The auto-pilot is a problem, but not a disaster – unless we discover we can’t get the part we need, or unless we discover that the part we think we need leads down a path of repairs that never ends. Or ??? In other words, life happens. We will figure it out. By God’s grace, the steering did not fail in the middle of the night. By God’s grace, we safely made our way to a quiet peaceful harbor where we can sort out the rest of the issues. By God’s grace, we can safely share our problems with friends and go on enjoying life anyway.

We will let you know what happens next. We hope all is well with you.

Local Knowledge November 23, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We arrived at Morehead City last Thursday shortly ahead of big winds. The forecast on the Atlantic was not good. We speculated that we might need to continue along the ICW at least as far as Cape Fear before jumping outside. We don’t like the “ditch” and we always feel elated when we get to Beaufort/Morehead City, because we can see the far horizons in our minds. The idea of continuing in the ICW was not appealing, but we had to consider if that would be better than waiting for a chance to go out to sea from Beaufort.

The weather off Cape Hatteras is legendary. We can’t say the name of that cape without remembering its other name – The Graveyard of the Atantic. The weather out there is often so phenomenal that it reaches all the way to Georgia, and that was the case as we searched forward through the forecasts looking for a day to move on.

On Sunday, November 18, driving over the ICW on a bridge to one of the barrier islands, we shuddered right along with the winds and rain. Even the ICW looked too unpleasant for anything but a search and rescue operation for someone who mistakenly headed out into it. For the next three days we carefully monitored the forecasts. We decided that about noon on Thursday would be a good time to depart.

The situation was a little like choreography. The system north of Hatteras was beginning to die down, but a low approaching from the southeast was moving westerly toward the coast and would keep the winds elevated along the coast from Hatteras to locations far to our south. However, sometime Wednesday evening it was predicted to turn northeast and then pull away from the coast. The forecast charts suggested that if we left about noon on Thursday the winds would have moved far enough out to sea for us to slip past Cape Fear and get far south on Friday. It was a gallop to miss the worst of a cold front approaching from the west. It meant putting our faith in charts and numbers and the best judgment of people who would not be there to rescue us if their forecasts were wrong.

On Tuesday Larry went to talk with the marina operator. We needed fuel and we needed to figure out how settle up for our electricity since nobody would be in the office on Thursday when we planned to leave. The marina operator worked for the Coast Guard for thirty years, and he has vast local knowledge. As they worked through the billing arrangements, he said to Larry, “I think you will still be here Friday. I wouldn’t go out there on Thursday.” Larry told me about his comment when he came back to the boat. We talked about his advice, we re-examined the charts, and but the charts still looked good. On Wednesday, as Larry finished re-fueling, he handed the pump to the marina operator, and the man said again, “I wouldn’t go out there tomorrow.”

When Larry came back to the boat with this comment, I took another look at the charts. Then I thought about the fact that this man had many years of experience in these waters. It is one thing to look at the predictions and try to imagine what they will mean in a specific location at a specific time. It is another thing to have heard the predictions and cruised those waters for thirty years. In that amount of time, anyone who pays attention will have learned a great deal about what a prediction for a place like Cape Fear actually means. After all, there is a reason they call it “Cape Fear.” It is a place to be respected.

I have learned a lot about weather in the years we have been sailing, and I have a certain level of pride in the fact that we have picked our way through challenging forecasts safely in the past. But my pride is tempered by my respect for local knowledge. In the Chesapeake, I have pretty good knowledge of the places we frequented, but beyond that, all my experience is quite limited. I have been a lot of places, but I have only been to most of those places one time, maybe two. I don’t have thirty years of water and weather knowledge anywhere.

Further, it is important to remember that the man who is speaking is not someone who claims to know everything. In fact, he hardly speaks at all. He is a man who does not waste two words if one word will do. If he considered it necessary to repeat his admonition about our plans, then I was not so proud of my knowledge that I could ignore him. We talked about his statements. We looked at the charts and the numbers. We had to confess that it was going to be a tight squeak to make this plan work, and we agreed that we needed to respect this man’s local knowledge of what the forecasts meant for Cape Fear.

Instead of heading out in to the Atlantic on Thursday, we settled down along with people across the country to eat turkey and give thanks. Among other things we felt thankful that we had such a good place to stay put out of the weather. We could, in fact, hear the wind whistling, a sound that lets us know the speed is in the twenties. We didn’t even check the wind gauge, however, because we were busy roasting our little turkey breast, dragged up from the bottom of the freezer, and making cranberry salad, olive salad, dressing with rosemary gravy, steamed broccoli and skillet sweet potatoes. For dessert, we had pumpkin pie. We were very thankful, and all those leftovers will make quick, tasty meals as we cruise southward later.

Sometime in the evening I checked the buoy at Cape Fear. The winds were ranging through the twenties and into the thirties. A northeast swell was intersecting with waves driven from the southeast creating very steep 8-10 foot waves. When I checked this morning, the record showed that the big action died down during the night, but there had been a goodly amount of excitement right around the hours we would have been passing Cape Fear according to our original plan. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the right information, but we didn’t interpret it to produce those steep waves as our local friend did. It was a wise decision to be humble instead of proud.

If we had had some pressing emergency that put us in that location at that time with those waves, that situation would not have foundered our boat. It is the sort of situation you can live through, but you would surely wish you didn’t need to. It is the kind of thing smart people avoid when they have the choice, even though they can grit their teeth and do it if they must. We had no appointments. Nobody was waiting for us to get to Florida. We could afford to wait another day.

It has actually turned into two more days. The cold front we thought we could finesse if we left on Thursday is due to arrive this evening about midnight. To leave today would put us at the Cape about time the cold front arrived. It is another case of a misery you could live through, but only a silly person would do it unnecessarily. We will leave tomorrow morning and have clear skies for three days. No choreography. No steep seas. We’re not proud. We’re happy.

A Refreshing Pause November 18, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We left Baltimore on Sunday, November 4, but we had only traveled two days before we had to stop. We could have continued one more day before bad weather hit, but we preferred to wait it out in a marina rather than at anchor. We spent four nights in Spring Cove Marina on the Patuxent River, waiting out the first nor’easter we ever knew to have a name – Athena. 

 From there we hurried southward toward Morehead City, North Carolina. In the past, our stops along the way dragged us down, but this trip seemed to move along very smoothly. When we left the Patuxent, we thought we might anchor at the Great Wicomico River, but arriving there in mid-day, it seemed silly to stop, so we continued to the Piankatank. The next day we traveled to the Back River, only a short distance from New Point Comfort, our exit from the Chesapeake. Maybe it is the unusual fact that we were traveling under a high pressure system with clear, sunny skies. Smooth water. Gentle breezes. No tumult. It seemed too easy.

After a quiet night at the Back River we meandered through the great naval harbor at Norfolk. We passed Hospital Point and in another novel move, we did not stop at the Tidewater Marina. We simply continued southward.

The first challenge along that route comes early, at the Gilmerton Bridge. For reasons known only to government hiring officers, the operator of the Gilmerton Bridge is required to have an excellent grasp of a skill for avoiding customer service. The operator of the railroad bridge that parallels the Gilmerton is held to an equally high standard. They don’t collaborate, and they don’t say anything if they can avoid it. Eight boats bunched up there waiting for a train to pass. Neither operator was willing to hint whether we could expect to wait for a day or ten minutes. It turned out to be about a half hour, by which time two more boats had joined the club.

Having transited the Gilmerton, we all bunched up again at the North Landing Bridge, and then there was a quiet passage to the Great Bridge Lock. Some boats continued southward from there, but we stopped for the night, due to the very long run to Coinjock with very minimal anchorages along the way. Ordinarily, when we stop there, we have little company. That night, boats tied up nose to tail the full length of that wall.

The next morning, we departed in a fog that would have been beautiful except we needed to pay very close attention to everything. Huge barges with tugs traverse that canal day and night. We have met a big barge in the fog before, a prospect not for the faint of heart.

After the fog cleared, the sky was lovely. An approaching cold front sent out cloud scouts in advance, but they didn’t use half of the sky. We anchored near the mouth of the North Landing River as it flows into the Albemarle Sound. A passing barge captain talked with us briefly, commenting that we appeared to have a very peaceful spot for the night. We replied that we planned to leave early the next morning due to the forecast for winds 20-25 the next day about noon. The captain responded that he would be entering Chesapeake Bay before then. Later I recalled what he had said.

The wind was supposed to rise to about 15 knots overnight, and we did experience a brief period of higher wind that woke us, but when morning came, it was quite calm. As we raised anchor another sailboat passed us in the channel. We fell in behind the S/V Betty Jane until we were fully into the sound. Other boats began to materialize behind us in the haze. Two appeared to be on a course from the Dismal Swamp route. One was far behind us. As we passed the Betty Jane, the radio began to beep insistently. The National Weather Service overrides everything on VHF Channel 16 with a loud alarm when there is dangerous weather coming, and we thought it quite disturbing that they were announcing such a thing two hours before the predicted arrival of the cold front over the Albemarle. We switched over to the weather channel and listened intently. The alarm was for the Norfolk area and the southern Chesapeake Bay. Those locations were probably 50 miles north and somewhat west of our location. The cold front was predicted to pass over Norfolk with dangerous gusty winds, possibly up to 50 knots. Immediately after the passage of the front, the wind would back around to the north at 40 knots. Even though the prediction covered an area well to the north of us, we could see big dark clouds. No matter whether the prediction for Norfolk did or didn’t portend a revised forecast for the Albemarle, we were already in the middle of the Albemarle. It was no farther to the Alligator River ahead than back to the North Landing River behind. Heading for the Alligator would take us away from the predicted trouble while heading for the North Landing River would take us toward it. We kept going. I thought about the tug captain who had expected to be in the lower Chesapeake about this time, and I prayed he was safe.

About 10:30, the radio beeped loudly again. Again we listened to the announcement. It was still focused on Norfolk, and the prediction as dire as before. At this point we were approaching the Alligator River markers. We could not yet see the bridge, but we worried. If the predicted winds reached as far south as we were, the bridge would close. That would force us into an ill-protected anchorage at the mouth of the sound, a refuge that was hardly a refuge.

By this time there was a long string of boats en route to the bridge. There was one power boat ahead of us. Behind us were at least ten boats we could see. Huge black clouds were boiling and roiling to the north. The wind was quite noticeably increasing and the wind gauge showed 20-25 knots. Gusts whipped the water, but we were out of the sound and past the shallow water at the river mouth. We just prayed that the wind would not exceed 35 knots and force the bridge to close. The power boat in front called to the bridge operator. Two power boats passed us. The bridge opened. The parade began.

We were close behind the power boats, and the other boats strung out into the distance behind us. The bridge operator exhorted every boat to transit the bridge as quickly as possible. To our great relief, the bridge remained open long enough for all but the most distant boats to get through, despite a pretty good buildup of waiting vehicular traffic on the bridge. The wind was clearly increasing. The black clouds behind us were monstrous. In the distance to the west were more big black clouds. Overhead were dark clouds, but nothing like the ominous thunderheads in the north. We worried about those boats still considerably north of the bridge.

We were surprised by the almost peaceful water behind the bridge. Of course, that water was so close to the sound that the wind had no fetch to build up real waves. The wind gauge showed that at least one gust had reached 40 knots, and the “sustained” winds were gusting between 20 and 30 knots. The wind came from the north. We were headed south. As the miles passed, the waves grew larger. By the time we had gone five or six miles, the wind had built up larger waves which chased us down, overtook us, and wallowed us very thoroughly.

Our destination was a well-protected anchorage shortly before the entrance to the Pungo-Alligator River Canal. The channel makes a gradual turn from south to west approaching that anchorage, and as we turned beam on to the waves we really did get wallowed. However, by this time, the wind had dropped to a steadier range between 20 and 25 knots with occasional fits of ferocious gusts.

We don’t like anchoring in big wind. When I can see the wind-blown foam in streaks along the water, I just know that anchoring will be a chore, and I am the one in the cockpit. Larry has to go out and do the work on the bow in that violent gale. The streaks, however, do make it very easy to know when the boat is headed directly into the wind. Getting that heading and holding the boat on that heading is the big challenge. Our high freeboard means that when we do wander, the wind pushes against the hull just like it pushes against the sail.

On our first attempt, no sooner had Larry left the helm to run up to the bow than the boat swung to starboard and began to move in a big circle. I tried increasing forward speed and turning toward the wind, but then I lost my bearings and thought we had moved too far west and too close to shallow water. The wind was so loud that I couldn’t hear what Larry was saying, and given that I was in the wrong place going in the wrong direction, that is probably just as well.

It took three tries. Is the third time charmed? I don’t know, but on the third try, I was able to keep the boat pointed into the wind. Larry dropped the anchor. It bit. We waited a few minutes to be sure, but it held. He let out more chain. Then we waited a few more minutes. It looked good when we backed down. It looked good on the chart. Nevertheless, we left the engine running while we ate lunch. We watched the GPS coordinates on the e-chart. The north coordinate wavered only .002 or .003 minutes. The west coordinate moved quite a bit more, but it simply moved back and forth over the same numbers. Everything pointed to a secure hold. We set the battery-powered anchor alarm, turned off everything else, including the engine, and waited some more.

That anchor stayed firm all night. When we got up the next morning and turned on the e-chart, the coordinates were only .002 minutes off the numbers at the time we set the anchor.

That day we really didn’t know what to expect. We couldn’t get either phone or internet service. Text forecasts are notoriously spare and conservative. We knew that in the long canal toward the Pungo River it should be quiet, and it was. We were surprised to discover how quiet it was in the Pungo River itself and subsequently the Pamlico River. We followed Goose Creek almost to Jones Bay and tied up at the R. E. Mayo Company guest dock.

At least, I think it is a guest dock. The guide book says that cruisers are welcome at this dock south of the ones used by working fishing boats. When we arrived, some local folks were fishing off the dock, and they kindly caught our lines. This is a bare bones no services dock, but it was a nice, quiet place for us to spend the night.

The next day we set our sights on Morehead City Yacht Basin, where we arrived about 1:30PM. We planned to stay a couple of days. We ordered our mail. We topped off groceries. We did laundry. We watched the weather.

Unfortunately, our mail did not arrive Saturday as expected. Fortunately, the predicted winds and waves made it a fine time to sit tight and wait for better forecasts. We were not alone. A couple of the boats that transited the Alligator River Bridge with us are tied up here as well.

Today we visited a lovely church nearby – the Shepherd of the Sea Lutheran Church in Atlantic Beach. It is always a warm experience to visit another Lutheran Church. It was a surprise to see that the pastor looks so much like Larry’s nephew Doug. This pastor is much younger than Doug, but like Doug he has found a second career in ministry. He is a Lutheran pastor, and Doug is a Catholic Deacon. All the people were very friendly, and we are already sad that we can’t be here for Advent and Christmas.

Pastor Scott Berry of Shepherd of the Sea Lutheran Church greets Larry after morning worship

The wind has been quite ferocious here today. We haven’t seen the ocean, but the inland waterway is very choppy. While we were at church, the wind speed gauge measured 44.3 knots from the north. The forecasts make it appear that the best plan is to leave Tuesday and travel a couple of days on the ICW to Cape Fear before jumping out to make our way to Florida offshore. About Thursday, or maybe Friday, things should be quite nice down that way for a straight run. It will mean that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving until later, after we anchor in Florida, but that will be fine. We will have a lot more to be thankful for by then!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

News and Updates November 4, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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More News and Updates

 

 

 

As we waited for Sandy’s arrival, we talked with fellow boaters. Those in the marina where we spent the summer all decided to cluster together and help each other. They all went to their winter slips and kept VHF channel 68 open. That way they could call on one another if needed. They put out extra lines and sat tight. It proved to be an excellent strategy.

 

The boatyard where we were staying is a very protected location. It is important to know that, although Baltimore is a very busy seaport, it is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a considerable stretch of land – the Delmarva Peninsula. A hurricane coming ashore due east of Baltimore would still traverse a lot of land before it reached Baltimore. It wouldn’t be pretty, but the eyewall would be broken up before it could reach the city. Sandy was predicted to make landfall northeast of Baltimore. We felt very safe in our expectations that we could remain in the area during the storm.

 

The boatyard where we stayed is reputed to be in the best hurricane hole in the harbor. Commercial boats and government boats routinely seek shelter there. We felt good about our location.

 

On Saturday morning, anticipating Sandy’s arrival sometime between Monday and Tuesday, I recycled the wind speed display. I wanted to track wind speeds and maximum gusts throughout the event. I began recording weather at 9:45 that morning and continued until noon of the day after the storm passed. It was quite interesting.

 

Saturday, October 27, at 9:46AM the barometric pressure was 1014 mb. We had cirrus and stratocumulus clouds over most of the sky. The barometer fell very slowly throughout the day to 1010 mb at 10:30PM.

 

Sunday at 5AM the barometer read 1008 MB, still falling. It was cold, not what one expects with a hurricane, but quite natural as a cold front from the west passed through on its way to merge with Sandy.

 

All day long the winds were quite erratic. The sustained winds, if they could be called that under these conditions, started at 5 knots and eventually reached 20 knots, but overall the wind was very gusty. It could be 10 knots one minute and 25 the next. The maximum speed recorded on Sunday was 27 knots from the north. There was intermittent rain, and the bands of clouds were obvious outliers of Sandy’s path far to our east. It was raining when we went to bed. By then the barometer had fallen to 1001 mb.

 

Monday was the big day. At 6AM the barometer was at 995.9 mb. Winds were north northwest at 10-12 knots. Overnight the highest gust had been 27.4 knots. It was raining, steady and gentle. If we hadn’t known what was coming, none of this information would have been disturbing. The trend on the barometer was the real indicator of the progress of the storm.

 

Through the morning the wind continued to come out of the northwest. The speed increased gradually, reaching 20 knots by noon with gusts in the 30’s. Around noon the sustained winds held strong in the 30’s with gusts in the 40’s. At 12:16 the barometer read 985.8. At 1235 it was 984.6. At 12:57 it was 982.8. By 2:15PM the barometer had dropped to 979.1. By 4PM it was 973.9 with sustained winds at 25 knots, gusts to 44.6 knots and torrential rain.

 

At 5:16PM the barometer read 970.4 and continued to drop through the evening. Sandy made landfall in New Jersey at 6PM, but the barometer continued to drop at our location until it hit 963.0 at 8:40PM. The winds changed to the west around 4PM and continued in that direction overnight. Winds throughout the storm never exceeded 47.9 knots recorded at 6:52 PM. This is a strong wind, but we have experienced winds at higher speeds in other settings. For us, the winds during the passage of the hurricane did not seem ferocious.

 

We were south of the path of the storm’s center, but near enough to the eye to experience its passing as a noticeable event. We noticed the quiet at first, as the winds subsided and the boat stopped shuddering. It was as if the big show was over. Ha! Sandy still had one more act.

 

As the winds began to pick up behind the eye, we noticed that they were dramatically more gusty than ahead of the eye. At 9PM, standing in the cockpit, I thought 15 knots from the northwest felt nice, but suddenly we were slammed with a 40-knot gust. Wind changes like this continued overnight. The wind was accompanied by sounds I am glad I didn’t ever hear out at sea. I have heard winds whistle before. I had not heard moaning, even groaning. The sounds struck in tandem with severe shuddering throughout the boat. I really had to remind myself of the geometry of the jacks holding the boat up. They are designed to support ever more strongly as they are pressed, but with all that noise and shaking, I found it challenging to believe what I knew to be true. I was very glad I could look outside and see that we were still right where we had always been. We were not moving nor were any other boats moving. Those shrieks behind the eye are sounds I never want to hear again.

 

The next morning at 5:45AM the barometric pressure was up to 979.1. The highest overnight gust was 45.9 knots. By noon the barometer was just shy of 990 mb, we had light rain and light wind. For us, the storm was over, and we could get on with our lives. We gave thanks for our own safety and prayed for those who were in the path of Sandy’s fearful power.

 

A few rumor-mongers want to say that this storm is proof of global warming, evidence that SUV’s should be banned, justification for everybody going to windmill generators for power. The storm damage from Sandy is not the result of a hurricane powered by water overheated by atmospheric carbon. Sandy the hurricane collided with a cold front advancing from the west and an arctic low from the north. Even without Sandy, they would have created a big nor’easter in a region familiar with such storms. Sandy added energy and created a focal point at the landfall of the eye that is unique, but even without Sandy, this storm would have been large. The megastorm associated with Sandy, however, was not about global warming. This storm was about isobars. A little research on the web should set your mind at ease on this matter.

 

We are grateful to have passed through the storm safely. We departed southward today bound for Florida. Between here and Florida we will be on the move every day unless hindered by weather. We will send out updates when we have something interesting to say.

 

 

Where Did the Summer Go? October 26, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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Two weeks ago, the coots arrived at Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Fells Point. It was a sign we should have paid attention to. When the coots arrive, it isn’t summer any more. When the coots come into the marina, it is time for cruisers to depart. We dawdled.

We arrived here at Tidewater Boatyard this past Monday. The coots had been swimming around the marina for two weeks, and we ignored them. One thing seemed to lead to another, and we simply did not get over to the boatyard to clean and paint the bottom.

Did you wonder what happened to summer? It was a quiet summer, just like Lake Woebegone. We had wind on June 29 that threatened to lift us up and blow us off to kingdom come. Daughter Laura came to visit at the end of July, and what fun that was! It was hot and suffocating and we didn’t do any of the big projects we thought we would do this summer. When temperatures stay above 100 day after day, nobody wants to go outside and work, including us. The summer was an endurance test, and we survived. I learned that strategies that keep food safe and ready to eat for long periods when the temperature is in the 70’s and 80’s, do not work when the temperature climbs above 90, and even 100. When it is that hot, we just buy food when we need food, and eat it quickly before the heat simply destroys it.

So here it is autumn and we are in the boatyard. The boat is up on jacks. We have painted the bottom. It looks really good. When we pulled it out, it was easy to see exactly where we had grounded  in Florida on two occasions, because the barnacles were in residence in high numbers at those scrapes on the keel. Now all signs of those misadventures are painted over and invisible. Time to set out with a clean slate and a clear mind.

But alas, along comes Sandy. We have been watching the weather every day, twice a day actually. I love weather. I give thanks for the laws of nature that produce both hurricanes and cold fronts. God’s laws are magnificent. In a hurricane those laws produce a phenomenon that is visually thrilling, even though it is quite dangerous. I give thanks for the laws of nature on which we can rely, even when their natural function produces something scary.

Some people think events like this are signs. Ominous signs. Signs which we should interpret prophetically. I’m not so sure. I think God puts us where he puts us because he has a purpose for us in that time and space locus. We are where we are, and we are learning a few things. Maybe by Thursday we will know a few new things.

Anyway. We have made a decision. The statistical record for damage to boats during hurricanes teaches us that the safe choice is to pull the boat out of the water and put it up on jacks. We came to Tidewater on Monday, and they put us up on jacks so we could paint the bottom. Consequently, we are already on jacks, and we have decided to stay there until Sandy has gone wherever she needs to go.

I study several websites for weather. I go to the Ocean Prediction Center every day. During hurricane season, I regularly view the National Hurricane Center to determine if I need to worry. My all-time favorite site for passage planning is Passage Weather where I can study wind, wave, precipitation, visibility, and numerous other issues for cruisers in the weather. When we are planning a passage or if we are under way, I go at least twice daily to the NOAA Marine Text Forecasts, which break all that information down to some very specific small regions. When my internet access fails, as long as I am within five miles of the coast, I can get the marine forecasts on Kindle. Even all these options are not enough to satisfy my craving for good weather information. I listen to Chris Parker on SSB and I listen to NOAA’s darling little man on VHF. He is the guy who warned us in Maine that “foggett was reported.” We have many options for weather, and we try to use all of them.

I love to view and study the weather, but I have learned an important lesson: No matter what the forecast is, you get what you get. When I talk about weather, I say, “The prediction is ….” I may slip once in a while and say, “It will do this … tomorrow,” but that is rare. I have learned the difference between prediction and reality. There may be a prediction for winds 20-25 knots, but that does not prevent my experience from including 35-knot winds. There may be a prediction for a sunny day, but that does not mean I won’t be rained on.

We are studying weather. We are praying for wisdom and trying to get the right facts for a good decision. So far, it seems that we are in the right place for this storm.

Which reminds me: we pray for you to have wisdom, too. We pray that everyone who reads our blog, and every adult who claims citizenship in this country, will be registered and will vote on Tuesday, November 6. We might not agree with your vote, but we advocate that every eligible voter exercise that important right. After the election, you have no right to complain about what happens to the country if you failed to vote when you had the chance.

Here is our campaign. Vote your conscience, but vote! !!! Vote on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. If you ask us how to cast your vote, we recommend you vote for Mitt Romney. But if you don’t ask us, vote your conscience. Just vote!!!!!!!!

We love you, and we hope we will hear from all of you as we travel. More news as soon as Sandy moves out of the way so we can cruise and explore and discover new horizons. Thank you for joining us on our travels.

 

 

The Long Way Home June 23, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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Fort Jefferson is no longer in use and is curr...

Fort Jefferson is no longer in use and is currently part of the Dry Tortugas National Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On January 6, 2012, we moored our boat in St. Augustine, Florida, the beginning of our winter cruise. We went barefoot all day every day, except when we ventured ashore. From there we traveled south stopping at Lake Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, assorted locations in the Keys and finally at the Dry Tortugas. On April 27, we turned eastward, bound for Key West, and ultimately for Baltimore. On April 27, our desire to be in Baltimore by June 24 seemed like a very doable proposition. What could possibly prevent us from making that date even if we dawdled here and there?

What, indeed?

We felt that we had to leave the Tortugas for Key West, because east winds were predicted to build up over the next several days. Strong east winds would make it difficult, and even unadvisable, to trek eastward to Key West. We wanted another day or two in the park, but we had not planned on staying for a week. We hurried back to Key West and settled in to wait for better weather to proceed further.

Those east winds kept us hunkered down in Key West for a week. With easterly winds we had a choice. We could sail, which would mean constant tacking and a very long slog, or we could wait for lighter winds and motor. We were destined for a bashing if we rushed, so we waited. The passage to Lake Worth was worth the wait – quite pleasant. We had light breezes and a full moon to make the night watches memorable.

We arrived back in Lake Worth on the morning of May 6. We expected to pause there, refresh our groceries and fuel, and then head north. Big thunderstorms with winds in excess of 25 knots kept us hunkered down, but we had lots of time. We waited. We have never previously spent a spring in Florida, so maybe this is normal. We found it quite interesting.

On the 20th we thought we were beginning to see an opening to make our run to Chesapeake. I actually downloaded some weather forecasts for such a passage, but in the days that followed there were not one but two tropical storms along the coast of the Carolinas. Each day we looked at the weather along our projected route, and each day we were convinced we should continue to wait.

Finally, about the 29th, things began to look up. Ten-day forecasts indicated there might be a window to depart on May 31 or June 1 and sneak past Hatteras into the Chesapeake anything ugly at Hatteras ramped up. On the morning of June 1 we reviewed all the forecasts and made a decision to go. As readers of this blog know, we ran into a 45-knot thunderstorm as we were passing Cape Canaveral in the Gulf Stream and lost our boom and mainsail. We ran into Port Canaveral to pull ourselves back together and watch for a new weather window. If you missed that post, you can read it  here.

On the evening of June 7, the signs looked promising. A cold front that had piddle-poked its way through Georgia accompanied by thunderstorms with 50-60 knot winds was supposed to pass to the south of Canaveral by the 8th. We thought we could anchor near the Canaveral locks to give ourselves a head start the next morning, but we got caught in another thunderstorm that pushed us out of the canal channel and into shallow water. The next morning, we discovered that the front was still to the north of us. Would it never pass?  We had another little adventure before we could get out of there, and you can read about it here.

By the morning of June 9, the weather charts showed the front dissipating and already south of Canaveral. The winds along our route to the Chesapeake were predicted to come from the east and then clock around to the south. We were not too worried about them, because they were predicted to be light, 10-15 knots or even less. We topped off our fuel and headed out to sea.

We were aware that there was still a prediction of some storm activity that day, but it was supposed to drift off to the southeast. Unfortunately for us, the line of activity extended far enough out to sea to build up before our eyes in the late afternoon. We turned away to the west in an attempt to dodge, but the clouds continued to soar and darken. Then we turned around to look behind us toward Canaveral. It was deep dark black behind us. There was no turning back. We simply had to make the best of what was in our path.

As things turned out, the line of storm activity did continue to make its way to the southeast, and the apparent storms weakened and lost their terrible aspect before we reached them. By the time we crossed that line, there were only a few innocent-looking puffs still passing by.

The night was uneventful, except that it was very dark. We should have had a third-quarter moon for some light, and we did see it occasionally along the way, but we were dogged by thick clouds for the whole trip. I thought longingly back to our run from Key West to Lake Worth when the sky was clear and the moon was almost full.

The next morning I went on watch at 4AM, shortly before the eastern sky began to lighten. By 6AM I was growing nervous. Morning light made it painfully clear that we were on course to intersect yet another big storm cloud. I felt uncomfortable to make the dodge on my own judgment. Sometimes it really is a challenge to be sure which way clouds are moving. I didn’t want to do it, but I waked Larry. He came up to help me look and think. He decided to turn on the radar, and that enabled us to feel more confident about the path the cloud was taking. Again it seemed that a dodge to the west might help.

Unfortunately, it also seemed as if the clouds to the west were thickening and darkening as they moved east, becoming stormy ever farther to the west. We tried to turn to a path that would pass behind them, but they were building up on the tail of the system. No matter how far west we ventured, the clouds ahead of us grew dark and rainy. Yet there was no lightning. There was rain and some wind, but we were not too worried about that. Eventually, we bit our tongues and proceeded north again. We ran through a big rainstorm, but it was gentle and peaceful. Whew!

The remainder of the trip till we reached Hatteras was rocky but endurable. East winds predicted to be light were 20-25 knots. We know how to batten down fairly well by now, but things still tumbled now and then. As the winds clocked around to the south, the intensity fell a bit, mostly under 20 knots, but the waves wallowed us more. It is something we simply learn to live with. Remember that we were not able to sail, which makes a difference in the ride, because we had lost our mainsail and boom. We deployed our staysail which gave us some improvement in stability.

We were almost exactly opposite the easternmost point of Cape Hatteras on the morning of June 12 when the engine surged and wheezed and then stopped. We were nearly 75 miles offshore at that point. We had no mainsail. It was not something we wanted to hear. We have had that experience more often than we like, but this time it was not a crisis. The fuel tank was empty. Larry had planned to switch to the second tank about noon, but his calculations were apparently too optimistic. It was a bit disconcerting. It never feels good to hear the engine stop when you didn’t plan it. However, we had another full tank, Larry switched over, we bled the lines, and we were good to go again.

We started the engine, brought up the autopilot, and were almost back on course when the autopilot turned the boat to starboard unexpectedly. It turned, and turned and turned – in a big circle. Larry turned off the autopilot and went below to get power steering fluid. It is easy to forget about this item, and very fortunate that we had the problem in mild seas. He filled up the reservoir, and soon we were on our way again.

At that point, we heard a weather forecast that reminded us it was definitely time to move on. A big Hatteras blow was building up out at sea, and it was going to be no fun at all before the day was out. Our weather forecasts had told us all along that we needed to be inside the Bay ahead of this blow, and the forecast for the next day made it imperative. We hustled onward.

We made our way toward the Chesapeake. When we round Hatteras, I am emotionally ready to get into the Bay, but in reality, it takes a while. Gusty winds building up from the west added to our sense of urgency, although they died down in the middle of the afternoon. The night watches were gloomy until the moon finally peaked through some time after midnight. We finally approached the green marker for the turn into the Bay the next morning.

We had yet one more challenge to face. We arrived on an ebb tide. The tidal currents at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay are noteworthy. The chart warns that people have been thrown into the structures of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge by careless disregard for these currents. We had no problem like that, but we did have a real challenge to make any progress. We were barely able to make 4 knots when we turned that corner, and by the time we approached the tunnel notch that leads to the Thimble Shoal Channel we were only making 1.4.

We were reminded of our experience going to Tidewater at the end of summer in 2011. We had such a buildup of mussels on the bottom of the boat then that we could barely make 1 knot on our run over to Tidewater to get the bottom cleaned. As we tried to enter the Bay against the outgoing tide we had the same feeling. It was our third time coming into the Bay from sea, but it was the first time we faced the ebb at its max. It was a forceful reminder of the power of the tides. We could hardly make any forward progress. We got very excited when we saw that we were finally making 4 knots again, and it was almost dizzying to make 7 knots after the tide turned.

We tied up at Bluewater Yachting in Hampton, VA, to wait out the north winds predicted for the next day. North to northeast winds on the nose at 20-25 knots would make it a real battle to go up the Bay to the Piankatank River, our first planned stop. We arrived in Hampton on Wednesday, intending to depart on Friday. We actually departed on Saturday with winds predicted to be 10-15 knots from the northeast.

In the marina there was hardly any wind at all. We were lulled into the hope that we would have an easy day of it. No luck. By the time we re-entered the Bay, the winds were fully 25 knots from the northeast, and we were in for it. It was a battle all the way to the Piankatank River, but as always, once we entered the lee of Stingray Point, things calmed considerably.

We remained in the Piankatank one extra day, but then we had to move on. We needed to be in Baltimore before June 24. This date was important because our pastor since 2001 would be retiring on this date. He has been a great pastor and a warm personal friend. We will miss him terribly, and we really wanted to honor him on his special day. We rushed northward.

Ordinarily we love to dawdle in our favorite spots, but this time we hurried. The Patuxent River. Aberdeen Creek in the South River. Rock Creek. There was hardly time to notice how beautiful they are.

Thursday morning, June 21, we pulled in to Henderson’s Wharf at Fells Point in Baltimore. We will stay here for the summer. We have a long list of boat work ahead of us. So there won’t be any exciting adventures for you to read about. You probably don’t need a blow by blow account of hours spent haggling over parts and pieces or muttering because things don’t fit where they supposedly belong. This blog will be on hold till we set out again.

For now we are home. See you in the fall!