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Which Way? Which Way? December 31, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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We aren’t lost, as the title might indicate. We are challenged. It is a weather challenge, not a sense of direction. We are committed to a path southward, but as in all things, there is more than one way to skin this cat, apologies to cat-lovers everywhere.

Our trip from Wrightsville Beach to our present anchorage beside Cumberland Island National Seashore was tumultuous, to put it mildly. We have experienced following seas before, and our experiences have led us to plead with well-meaning friends not to wish us following seas. Maybe in the old days of square-riggers, sailors loved following seas, but Larry and I do not. Wind may interact with a boat from any compass direction, all 360 degrees, but wind coming from any hindquarter is the least desirable. We had following seas during this entire passage, and we don’t want them again anytime soon.

The first problem is the movement of the boat. The boat sits in the surface of the sea, and every movement of either water or wind moves the boat. When seas come from the side or the front of the boat, the energy that moves the boat forward modifies outcome of interaction with wind and wave. When the seas come from behind, the forward energy only adds to the force generated in the boat. I’m not an engineer, and someone may argue with the way I describe what happens, but here is the bottom line: when the winds come from any direction but behind, I can fairly easily adapt my movement in the cabin below decks and move with confidence here and there by learning the patterns of the motion; when the winds come from behind, it is much harder to do that, because there is no pattern. When the movement of wind and wave from behind is constantly modified by the movement of large ocean swells from the side, the seas become even more confused, and it becomes impossible to identify patterns that allow safe, confident movement in the cabin.

The second problem is that our boat does not like following seas. Our rudder is constructed in such a way that, as the wind builds up from behind, the rudder becomes less and less nimble. Maybe nimble is not the best word to describe rudder performance, but it will do for now. It points to our problem – maintaining a course when running before the wind. It can be done, but it requires constant attention. In the time it takes to check the display for the ETA to the next waypoint, the boat can move thirty to sixty degrees off course. Sailors are taught to steer with gentle, tiny adjustments, but in the confused seas we traversed, a tiny adjustment was completely swallowed up by big realities.

We were not suffering with a storm, either. Well, not a local storm. There was a storm far out in the Atlantic that was the source of our wind. Our problem was simply the force of sustained winds in the northern quarter of the compass. During the course of our travel they came from NW, N, and NE, and then backed up to NW again. Seasoned weather watchers know that backing winds are a sign of an impending storm, something that was forecast before we left. Our plan was to arrive at St. Marys Inlet before that storm set in. We accomplished that mission, but it was a struggle. The winds varied from 6 knots to 26, even gusting up to 30 knots. It was actually hard to talk about them as “sustained,” because they never were. In any 10 minutes, they varied as much as 10 knots. It was maddening. Probably it would be best to say that they were very gusty, which only added to the confusion of the seas.

Food is a major challenge under such circumstances. We ate cold cereal for breakfast. For lunch, sandwiches did the trick. Still, people need at least one hot meal each day. A hot meal does more than provide nourishment. It simply feels like a better meal, and that bodily and emotional gratification is important. For hot food, I followed my storm rule: one pot to heat and one bowl to eat. It wasn’t the right time for gourmet dishes and elegant presentation.

Simply keeping one’s balance is a battle in such tumult. It was a struggle just to remain in one place. It was hard to sleep, too. Despite stuffing lockers full of towels and placemats to immobilize pots and pans, we were only able to suppress the movement, not stop it. Ceaseless turbulence moved objects a fraction of an inch at a time, and eventually things slid and banged again. Nothing was broken, thank goodness, but we had no peace.

We had some fun when Larry’s birthday arrived. I went up to the cockpit shortly after midnight for the watch change. It was 30 minutes into the 27th of December. I wished Larry a “Happy Birthday.” He responded “Fine. Can you just take the wheel? I need some sleep!” That was the celebration. At that point, the best gift was a three-hour nap.

We arrived at St. Marys Inlet almost simultaneously with the front that would become a storm offshore. When we finally moved inside the jetties that guard the inlet, we had our first peace since exiting Cape Fear two days before. Ahead of the oncoming front, a warm front colliding with cold air over the Atlantic, there was thick haze – or thin fog, if you wish. We could not really see much beyond the next marker, but that was enough. It felt wonderful not to be wallowing any more.

As we moved out of the river and into the waters behind Cumberland Island, it began to rain. It wasn’t ferocious, just an annoyance. We easily found our favorite spot and dropped the anchor. “Home” at last.

The remainder of Saturday and all of Sunday can best be described as total collapse. We were exhausted in body and mind. We did nothing that required prolonged mental effort. We read light fiction. We allowed ourselves to sleep any time we wanted to. Then it was time to get back on course.

As for our question – which way? – we are not in the same situation as Alice who got lost in Wonderland. When she asked the Cheshire Cat “Which way?” the answer was, “It all depends on where you want to get to.” We know where we want to go. The problem is not the destination but the journey. When we had internet, before we set out for St. Marys, we downloaded the weather forecasts out seven days. The storm that built up as we arrived on Saturday afternoon was expected to blow itself out on Sunday and leave quiet seas behind on Monday through Wednesday. We had expected to continue our trip south at least to Cape Canaveral starting Monday. That path is still available, but the experience along that path is not likely to be delightful in the near future.

Seven days is much too far out to be reliable for weather forecasting. When we rechecked the weather on Sunday morning at Cumberland Island, things had changed, not for the better. In fact, back to back cold fronts and other complicating factors led NOAA to issue a forecast that included the statement that boating conditions at Cape Canaveral and south would develop from hazardous to dangerous over the course of the week. Well. We weren’t going there.

Our other option is to “do the ditch,” which is to say that we could take the ICW. We have never followed the ICW along the path through north Florida, because it has the reputation of being very shallow. People report running aground when the depth is charted at 16 feet. Still, many, many boats traverse this route successfully every year. It is a safe path when the open sea doesn’t look welcoming. If we don’t move forward, another week will pass, and we will still be at Cumberland Island.

Which way? Which way? We have a choice. We haven’t made a choice. This is the news so far.

May 2014 be a blessed and happy year for you!

God bless the USA!

Where Are We Now? February 15, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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We arrived in Marathon Florida about three weeks ago, and we are still here! Just this morning we had the pleasure of welcoming friends from Baltimore to the neighborhood. It’s a busy neighborhood. There is always a waiting list for the moorings in the City Marina. We were fortunate to tie up to the next to the last ball available for deep-draft boats when we arrived on Sunday, January 27, 2013.

It was a grand arrival. As we made the turn out of Hawks Channel toward the Seven-Mile Bridge, there were dolphins playing ahead of us. We saw a lot of dolphins between Miami and Marathon. I was surprised, because when we made the trek last year, we did not see any.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, as we entered Boot Key Harbor, we were greeted by two manatees. They were playing in the water beside us, and it was the first time I have ever had a complete view of a living manatee. In their own way they are cute, the sort of cute a mother loves. We always love any contact with sea creatures and birds along our journey.

We were a bit ahead of schedule, if it can ever be said that we have one. We only stayed in Miami 8 days, and left almost by accident, just because it was such a great day. We had been driven out of the Fisher Island anchorage, our first stop in Miami, by a report of strong winds and big waves that would roll in from the east. We love this anchorage because it is open visually to the sea, although the bottom contour across that opening is a reef. However, reef or no reef, waves predicted at 9 feet didn’t sound like a sight we wanted to see from that vantage point. We moved over to the Venetian Islands and anchored between Monument Island and Star Island, very close to the location we enjoyed last year. On Friday morning, the 13th, (as I write, I realize I never gave that number a thought) we got up and about early in order to ride the high tide out past a low spot near the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. We intended to anchor at Fisher for at least one day, just for the joy of it, and leave on Saturday or Sunday, two days predicted to be quite favorable for the trip to Marathon. The Friday prediction indicated a little more turbulence on the segment from Miami to Cape Florida, where the course begins to turn westerly, so we had thought we would enjoy spending the day at Fisher. That was the plan.

It was a positively beautiful day. We passed under the bridge and turned toward Fisher Island. We looked over at the Fisher Island anchorage. It was quite appealing. We looked down the channel toward the inlet and out to sea. The sky was clear, the sun was brilliant, the water sparkled, and the breeze was gentle. I ran to get my Kindle. When I need weather in a hurry and I am near shore, Kindle is my solution. I read the forecasts for the course from Miami to Marathon. We talked a bit, and we both agreed that we could handle whatever turbulence we might encounter for three or four hours, and we set our course out to sea.

What a great day. After we made the first westerly adjustment just past Cape Florida the water began to calm a bit. By the time we reached Rodriquez Key, it was quite pleasant. We ate dinner on the aft deck and were rocked gently to sleep.

The next morning we had intended to be off early, but that plan changed. We had departed Miami quite unexpectedly, despite the fact that Larry knew a filter change was due soon. He had thought in the back of his mind that he could do it at Fisher Island, but we kept moving. When he looked things over Saturday morning, he concluded that the smart move was to change that filter. It isn’t a hard job, and it doesn’t take a long time. It is simply tedious and dirty. By noon we were on our way again, and we stopped at Long Key for the night.

We ate dinner on deck and sat there talking as the moon rose. It wasn’t quite full, but it was magnificent.

Moonrise at Long Key

Moonrise at Long Key

 

The next morning we cruised away and arrived at Marathon in time for lunch. 

One reason we wanted to be in Marathon at that time was Superbowl. In Miami, we were sure there would be plenty of places to view the game, but we knew of none in easy reach of our anchorage.  We hoped that in Marathon, where cruisers wait days for one of the 200 mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor, there would be a plan for the big game. There was. One of the marina employees and a couple of his friends hung a white tablecloth up and provided projection for the whole evening. Cruisers brought food, and the party was on. 

SuperTV for the Superbowl at Cruiser Heaven in Marathon, FL

SuperTV for the Superbowl at Cruiser Heaven in Marathon, FL

We had a wonderful time. Those present appeared to be pretty evenly divided between San Francisco and Baltimore, but there was only one tiny moment of booing. I still don’t know the reason for it. Otherwise, there was a great deal of whooping and hollering for whatever team was having fun, and at the end there was a wonderful roar. The images were fine, though the sound was muddy. That was, of course, a real advantage during the power outage. We all ignored the mindless gabble of those who were doomed to be required to talk when there was nothing to talk about. It was a great party.

The next week, we made a run for fuel and water to Burdines, a historic local establishment. As we waited for tanks to fill, we stared across the canal at the remains of Faro Blanco Oceanside, the site of some very special memories for us.

In 1996 we owned a sailboat, and we had spent one summer cruising around in manmade lakes in Iowa and South Dakota. We wanted to learn real sailing skills, and we wanted to cruise the high seas. We enrolled in the Annapolis Sailing School, and at that time, the school had a teaching site at Faro Blanco Oceanside in Marathon, Florida. We took 3 days of basic keelboat instruction in a 14-foot Rainbow, and then we took the 7-day Bareboat class which featured a trip to the Dry Tortugas. Our keelboat instructor was Barking Joe McKeag. Under his tutelage we docked under sail for the first and only time in our lives. When we cruised to the Dry Tortugas, we were regaled with tales, mostly tall ones, by Captain Mike, whose last name I don’t remember and whose signature I cannot read on my class certificate. We learned a great deal, because even though he explained things very skillfully, we did all the work. We learned by doing. The Faro Blanco marina at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor was a treasured memory for us, and it was painful to see it falling into decay. We learned later that the owners were shut down for safety reasons several seasons after we were there. At present, they make motions about doing repairs and bringing the place back to life, but things don’t look good. It makes us sad.

We returned to Burdines a few days later to collect our free basket of fries. Every customer at the City Marina gets a book filled with all sorts of ads and coupons at the time of check-in, and the ad for Burdine’s includes a coupon for a basket of fries. We discovered that this is a bountiful basket, typical of their servings for both food and drink. We ate on the tiki deck on a lovely afternoon with temperatures in the seventies. A new friend, Michele Oublay, sat down next to me, and after we got acquainted, she kindly consented to make a photo of Larry and me.

Larry and Katherine on Old People's Day Out at Burdines, Marathon, FL

Larry and Katherine on Old People’s Day Out at Burdines, Marathon, FL

 We had intended to leave Marathon sometime this week and make our way to Tampa Bay. However, while I was doing laundry I met another new friend who told me about red tide. She and her husband had intended to visit the Gulf Coast of Florida this year, but she discovered that the red tide is infesting the waters. She told me that several years ago she had been caught over there when a red tide developed. She doesn’t have asthma or any other breathing disorders, but while she was in that area, she had to use an inhaler. She told me about a site where we could get all the information we needed to make our own decision. After we looked it over, we decided we didn’t need to go there. We renewed our registration for a mooring and decided to stay a month. If things get better in the Gulf by then, we can make our planned trip. If things don’t improve, we will make some other trip.

That is our status at this point. We are enjoying the beautiful weather. We are endlessly entertained by pelicans and gulls, and we love dinner on deck at sunset. 

Sunset at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

Sunset at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

 

Tales and Travels January 26, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Tuesday evening as I was setting food on the cockpit table for dinner, Larry was on deck watching a police boat circling one of our boat neighbors to the north of us in the anchorage. We mused together about the reason for such a visit. Hoping it didn’t mean that all the boats would be visited by the police, we sat down to eat. The police boat went away. We enjoyed our food and conversation. It was sunset and became dark as we ate in the glow of our little cockpit light. It isn’t exactly candlelight, but it is quite pleasant.

Suddenly Larry looked forward and said, “Is that a new boat?” as he got up and went out to the deck. We were pretty much done with dinner, and I joined him on deck to look at the boat that had engaged his attention. I am not gifted with good spatial imaging, but Larry is. He watched that boat closely, and then he said, “He’s dragging. That boat is coming right for our bow. Help me get the dinghy down.”

We stow our dinghy on deck during passages, and that is where it stays until we decide to go ashore. We had not gone ashore since we anchored in Miami Beach, so the dinghy was still on the forward deck. Larry went forward and began to untie it while I went below to get the oars. We hustled. In the short time it took for me to pull out the oars and bring them up, the drifting boat had moved much closer. Even a spatially impaired person like me could see that it was closer. It was being moved by the very considerable tidal ebb on a path that would absolutely impact our bow unless something changed.

We dropped the dinghy over. I tried to get Larry to put on a sweatshirt, because the breeze is quite cool here after dark, but he waved it off. I did persuade him to put on a lifejacket. He had a flashlight in his pocket. He climbed into the dinghy and headed for the drifting boat, which was moving dangerously closer every minute.

When he arrived at the boat, he circled it. He went to the stern and banged on the hull, shouting and trying to get someone’s attention. There was nobody aboard. We learned later that there had not been anyone aboard this boat for a good two weeks. The boat was anchored and abandoned. When the anchor dragged, there was nobody to care.

Larry climbed aboard and went forward to figure out what could be done. I was still on our boat watching anxiously. I looked all around, hoping to see someone on a nearby boat who could go to help. I saw no one. I could hear the anchor chain rattling and I could see Larry heaving on it. What I didn’t know until much later was that he could not at first get the anchor up. It wasn’t dug in, because the boat was still drifting, but he could not lift it, and that was a mystery.

The boat continued to move nearer to our boat. Larry yelled at me to call the police and see if they would help, so I went below to get the phone. Our yelling must have attracted some attention, because after I went back up later, someone in a dinghy was just arriving to help Larry, and another person arrived shortly after that.

First I had to figure out how to call the police. I really did not think this situation merited a 911 call, but when I checked our cruising guides for Miami Beach, that was their advice. To reach the police call 911. So I did.

The 911 operator asked me why I was calling, and I explained the situation. He transferred me to a police operator. The police operator transferred me to someone who took my information. That person transferred me to the Coast Guard. Well, if I had thought the Coast Guard was the right place to get help with a boat adrift in a municipal anchorage, I would have started there. The fact that we had seen a policeman searching around in the anchorage made us think of the police first. In Lake Worth, we often see the local sheriff handing out warnings and tickets, so we would probably call him about a problem there. We would later learn things about the drifting boat in Miami Beach that would truly give us pause. However, at this point, we simply wanted that boat to stay away from our boat and stop drifting.

I told the Coast Guard my story, and I was glad I wasn’t on the radio. It was bad enough over the phone. I have listened in on numerous calls for help with the Coast Guard, and this time I was the one answering all the questions. Except I didn’t have any answers. It wasn’t my boat.

 

G What it the name of the boat that is drifting?

L I don’t know. I can’t see a name anywhere.

G What kind of boat is it?

K A sailboat. A cat.

G Do you mean catamaran?

K Yes, yes! And it is still moving.

G What color?

K Color? It’s dark. I think it is white or cream or something like that.

G Okay. How long is it?

K I don’t know.

G I need to know how big it is.

K I can’t tell. I don’t know how to guess. It is shorter than our boat, and it is getting really close. Can you send us some help?

G How large is your boat?

K 45 feet. The boat that is drifting is smaller than we are.

G Sure. Can you see a line on the front of the boat? Anchor rode.

K I told you. It dragged.

G Does it have a rope in front?

K I can’t see the front of the boat. It is drifting and the stern is toward me. I can hear the sound of a chain rattling as Larry is trying to haul it up. Is somebody going to come and help him?

 

Eventually the Coast Guard told me that a boat would be dispatched. I thanked him and ran up to shout to Larry with the news. By then, I didn’t have to shout very loudly. That boat was close! The two men who had joined Larry in trying to stop the dragging used their dinghies to push the boat. They were able to prevent it from hitting our boat, but nobody could stop it.

When it was all over, I learned why it was so hard to stop this boat. When Larry eventually did hoist the anchor, it turned out that there were two anchors. One anchor was attached to the other on the shaft, and he had to pull both of them up at once. Furthermore, one anchor had rope and the other had chain for rode, and the two rodes were knotted and snarled together. When Larry did haul up the anchors, he had a huge wad of chain and rode and anchors. The boat drifted past our boat with Larry aboard and his two helpers using their dinghies to push the boat in whatever direction would keep it from hitting other boats in the anchorage.

The Coast Guard’s last words to me were that help would be coming soon. He said that they were in the Miamarina, and I expected to see that boat coming our way very soon. I was encouraged in that expectation by receiving a call from someone who said he was the one who would come in a boat to help. Ten minutes went by. No boat appeared. I called back. The person who answered said that the team was getting ready to leave. He said something about 30 minutes, and I thanked him.

More time passed. Still no sign of a boat coming our way. By this time I had lost sight of the drifting boat. That was worrisome. The tidal currents are strong, and I couldn’t guess where the boat might wind up. I had to trust that the men in their dinghies could control its path enough for Larry to be safe, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I called again. This time the man who answered seemed a bit testy. Well, I felt testy, too.

 

G Did the drifting boat hit your boat?

K No. They used their dinghies to shove it away.

G Where is the boat now?

K I don’t know. The last time I saw it, it was passing Star Island. I thought your boat would be here by now.

G They have thirty minutes.

K Thirty minutes? I thought they were coming to help.

G Well, they have thirty minutes to launch, and there are still five minutes to go.

 

At this point I was upset.

 

K Are they required to use all thirty of those minutes?

G They are about to leave. They will be there soon.

 

It wasn’t more than ten minutes before I saw blue flashing lights in the distance coming toward me from the marina. They never got to me, but that was fine. I wanted them to get to that drifting boat and help Larry.

The blue flashing lights stopped moving, and after a bit I assumed that they must have connected with the drifting boat. I don’t remember how long it was before I saw the red and green bow lights of a dinghy coming my way. One of the men who had helped Larry came to tell me that the Coast Guard had taken the drifting boat off their hands and that Larry and the other man were not far behind him.

When Larry finally arrived at our boat, he told me all about the snarled rodes and the bizarre way the anchors were connected. He said that they finally unsnarled the rodes and separated the anchors. Using two dinghies they moved the boat out of the main traffic channel. Larry threw the anchor over and it appeared to be set. Unable to use the boat’s engine to back down on it, he could only hope the anchor was dug in sufficiently to hold the boat. It held until the time when they relinquished the responsibility to the Coast Guard, but it must have been a good set, because the next morning Larry could still see the boat where he left it.

One of the men who helped Larry that night had been in the anchorage when the drifting boat first arrived, about two weeks before. The day after the boat arrived, three men and a child got into its dinghy and went away. They hadn’t been seen since. They left the boat in the anchorage unattended all that time. The boat had a Florida registration number on it, and the Coast Guard indicated they would follow up with the owner of the boat. We were just glad our boat was safe.

The next day after this adventure, we started reviewing the weather with a view to making our way to Marathon. The weather looked good for the weekend. A high was building, and breezes would be mild into Monday. We planned to move back to Fisher Island and start our trip from there.

The move to Fisher required using high tide to pass a shallow area near the end of the Venetian Islands. We saw a good chance to make that move on Friday morning about first light.

It was a lovely dawn, but it was cool. We needed long sleeves and pants, even if we were in Miami Beach. Fortified with hot coffee, we brought the dinghy up on deck. While Larry tied it down, I went through the boat making sure ports and hatches were closed. Larry turned on the engine shortly before 7AM.

Raising the anchor was a unique experience this time. Ordinarily, when Larry begins to pull the chain in, the boat slowly moves forward. Ordinarily, the anchor is somewhere in front of the boat, and the boat pulls backward on the rode. On this occasion, however, the tidal current had pushed the boat forward over the anchor, and the anchor was behind the boat. As the chain came in, the boat backed up. It was a weird feeling. We have learned that the price of a full keel is some strange action when anchored or moored. Generally speaking, if there are significant currents, the boat is influenced by them more than by the wind.

We enjoyed some more coffee as we glided past the little artificial islands. They are all quite attractive. We passed over the shallow spot with 2 feet of water to spare, turned south and passed the MacArthur Causeway Bridge and the railroad bridge right behind it. Then we were into the channel south of Dodge Island on our way to Fisher.

It was a gorgeous morning. The wind was 15-18 knots out of the northeast, just as predicted. The sun was gloriously shining in a clear sky with a few puffy clouds. A thought occurred to me. It wasn’t even 8AM yet. If we just kept going, we could be at Rodriquez Key in midafternoon.

“You know, we could just keep going,” I said.

Larry thought for a minute. “Is that what you want to do?”

I ran below and got my Kindle. I can get the NOAA text forecasts on it when we are under way. I had the Hawk Channel forecast URL bookmarked, so it was easy to verify that the forecast was good. Winds northeast to east 15-20 during the morning and decreasing throughout the day and into the weekend. We could expect a turbulent ride till we passed Cape Florida and started turning more to the west, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

“Let’s go,” I said. Larry nodded.

We don’t often make decisions about starting a passage this way. Our plan, however, had been to anchor at Fisher and then leave on Saturday. We already had a good feel for the weather. This last-minute change in plans simply took advantage of preparations already made.

It was a magnificent day. We had about three hours of turbulence after we left Miami. The wind was pushing waves mostly 2-4 feet but sometimes up to five feet directly on our beam as we headed south. We were rocked thoroughly. Because we hadn’t planned to go outside when we pulled the anchor, I had to do some putaway and other straightening after we were already out there. Some books fell in the floor. The cockpit doors banged a few times before I got them put away. But all in all, it was a wonderful run.

When we began to turn west, the seas began to simmer down. By noon, the winds were consistently under 15 knots. Our course put the winds behind us, but as we entered Hawk Channel, the protection of the reefs began to soften the wave action. We found a friendly spot and dropped anchor. A beautiful day turned into a beautiful evening. The sun went down. The moon came up. This is what we came for.

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Time for a Fresh Start January 2, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Christmas in St. Augustine was lovely. What a pretty town. All through the week we enjoyed the lights and the view of horse-drawn carriages decorated for the season. We visited the Memorial Lutheran Church of the Martyrs the Sunday before Christmas and enjoyed seasonal music and worship. That name is quite a mouthful, but the history of Huguenot Protestants who tried to colonize the area before the Spanish came is colorfully depicted in a panorama painted by a member of the church and displayed prominently in the sanctuary.

We would have loved to attend Christmas Eve services, but the logistics of dinghy after dark coupled with a rather long cab ride in both directions led us to decide to stay in and listen to Christmas music aboard. On Christmas Day we enjoyed phone conversations with family. After that, it was time to start watching weather seriously.

Our original intention was to leave St. Augustine the day after Christmas. A cold front that blew in Christmas night delayed us for a day, but by Thursday morning, it looked quite promising to depart with plenty of time to arrive in Lake Worth before the next front. Knowing that we had no hope of arriving in daylight, no matter what we did, we took our time that morning with assorted tasks. By the time we had refueled, taken on water, dumped off trash and had a pumpout, it was 11:42. The fuel attendant handed us our lines as we pulled away, and turned around to position ourselves to make the next opening of the Bridge of Lions.

That is when we heard someone shouting. “Hey, want to come back to the dock? The bridge won’t open again till 12:30!” We considered it, but decided against it. It was a lovely day, and we used the time to tidy up all the dock lines and fenders. We ate lunch. Finally the bridge opened and we were on our way.

It could not have been a more perfect day. Bright sunlight on aquamarine water. Gentle southerly breezes. Not a cloud in the sky. Unlike the day of our arrival when seeing even one marker required a close approach, we could see almost out to the sea buoy from the harbor. As we headed out to sea, the only disturbance in the water was our own wake and the northeast swells which surged slowly in our path. We turned on the autopilot and relaxed.

Until we drew near to Daytona.

The winds had clocked throughout the day, and by sunset they were mostly northwest. This change in direction put them astern of us. Near Daytona, we made our first course adjustment for rounding Cape Canaveral, and that is when the autopilot went on strike again. It had worked fine all day, and just about sunset, it breathed its last. Well, for a while anyway.

Throughout the night, Larry tried the autopilot intermittently, but it never worked longer than a few minutes, so we steered manually all the way around that cape. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it definitely is more work than simply watching what happens.

Manual steering is not too hard when you are steering toward land and there is some immobile landmark toward which you can steer. It is much harder when you must use the pedestal compass and the echart to be sure you don’t wander off track. During my first watch, I was able to use a giant flashing light at the end of the cape as a steering assist. Because it was in a location I wanted to avoid, I determined the magnetic course I needed to steer in order to avoid it and stay on track to round the cape. Then I figured out where it appeared relative to the ship’s rigging. I could use such an arrangement for thirty minutes or so before I needed to readjust the relative location. It sounds hokey, but it was much better than trying to peer at the pedestal and then glance at the echart to see if I were still on course. Using that landmark very much reduced the strain on my neck and shoulders. When I took my second watch, it was only an hour before sunrise, and even though I was steering to the compass at that time, it still seemed a lot easier after sunrise than it seemed in the dark.

When we reached our waypoint just southeast of Canaveral, we checked the echart’s calculated arrival time at Lake Worth Inlet. At that time, it appeared we would arrive before 8PM. However, as we continued southward, we began to lose speed over ground. We were only in the outer edges of the Gulf Stream current, but it was already noticeable. Until that point, we had hovered around 7 knots, but slowly over the afternoon and evening we lost speed until, approaching the marker for the Lake Worth Inlet, we were lucky to make 4 knots.

It was a perfectly gorgeous day, so Larry brought out his fishing line. We always enjoy fresh fish when we can get it, and we were hoping for something delightful for dinner. As Larry tossed his lure into the water, a passing tern took a great interest in it. To Larry’s amazement, the bird began to dive on it as if it might try to make a lunch out of that lure! The poor bird had no luck at all, but he did succeed in attracting several others, all of whom dived and splashed mightily, attempting to catch the lure. Finally one of them succeeded. least tern

He grabbed the lure in his beak, and flapping his wings for all he was worth, he began to rise. Imagine his surprise, however, when he discovered that he was not in control of the direction of travel. He was soon flying high, all right, in a path directly behind the boat, just like a parasail rider off Daytona Beach. The bird tried very hard to take charge of things, but eventually he gave up and let go. He is probably still wondering what sort of flying fish he almost caught!

Sadly, the fishing lure attracted more birds than fish. We had to eat leftover turkey for dinner.

Shortly after this little comic opera, Larry tried the autopilot again. It started working, and although we were pretty gun-shy at this point, it continued to work faithfully till we turned it off at Lake Worth. More analysis needed on this subject, but not for this forum. We were just glad it worked.

We were approaching Jupiter Inlet around sunset. We could hardly notice that event, however, because huge black clouds had formed all around us. Ahead, we could see rain falling. We thankfully observed no lightning, but it was discouraging. All the forecasts had predicted clear skies till Saturday. I went below to get our foul weather gear so it would be handy when we anchored.

Somebody at Jupiter Inlet was celebrating something that Friday evening. We saw a pretty good fireworks show as we passed.

The wind picked up about then, also. The wind predictions were for light and variable, all under 10 knots. Ha! We had 20 knots sustained, right on the nose, and we had lots of gusts up to 27 knots. It was a real gallop with 4-foot waves and spray everywhere. It was quite beautiful, but not too comfortable.

The arrival time at the inlet continued to be pushed back as our speed over ground decreased, but we continued to make progress toward our goal. About 10PM we approached the outermost red marker for the Lake Worth Inlet. By this time, all the rain appeared to be over and clouds were beginning to break up. We would not need our rain gear after all.

There was a price to pay for all the slowing down. It wasn’t just dark. It wasn’t just that the wind was howling. It wasn’t just that we were tired. It was almost max ebb current. Ebb tide is the outbound tide, the tide that is going out to sea. Because we arrived when we did, we were set to go into the harbor as the tide was rushing out of the harbor, and our timing coincided with its highest speeds.

This is a fairly perilous situation. Fortunately, we have a big heavy boat with a powerful engine. The inlet is very well marked and lighted. There are big green lights which line up vertically when the boat is in the center of the channel, so we were able to navigate in safely. Not without considerable wallowing, rail to rail, as we made our way toward the lake. If there had been a strong east wind against that current, we probably could not have done it at all, but the southerly wind had much less effect on the turbulence of the tidal current, and we were fine.

As we approached Green 11, the marker where we turn south to the anchorage, we had to dodge a runabout with no lights, right in the middle of the channel. One wonders what they were thinking. If I had not been on deck at that point with my flashlight, ready to illuminate the day markers that lead to the anchorage, I don’t think we would have seen them at all. Scary.

On reaching the anchorage, we cruised west toward the spot where we anchored last year. It is really hard to see the boats in the anchorage against the lights on the western shore. We could see them when we got close, but we could not see them very clearly until we turned around facing east. We circled around to get a good feel for the available space and picked our spot. In the protection of the anchorage, the 20-knot breeze seemed quite benign, and the anchor was set easily. We were home.

On New Year’s Eve we enjoyed a good steak and watched an old TV show on DVD. We have seen enough ball drops and midnight hurrahs to do us, so we slept through whatever went on in Palm Beach at midnight. Yesterday, we endured the political drama that was enough to drain the good cheer of a dozen holiday seasons if you let it. Today we are charging forward with a determination to make the most of 2013.

I know intellectually that one day is no different from another, but I do love the image of a slate wiped clean and an opportunity to start over and do better. I pray for myself to avoid some past mistakes and to have more wisdom when I make choices in the future. I pray for all of you that God will bless you with his presence and power, and that you, too, will enjoy the clean slate of the New Year 2013.

 Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas! December 24, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Image courtesy of Dan at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Dan at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

For all the boots of the tramping warrior and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.   Isaiah 9:5

 

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, where the garments rolled in blood were mostly size 6, it is comforting to read that at the coming of the Prince of Peace, those bloody garments will become fuel for God’s fire, right along with the bloody boots of the shooter.

All because of the birth of a child.

Those who mourn the deaths of children
            Will be comforted


Because of the birth of a child.

 

For a child has been born for us,
      A son given to us;
Authority rests upon his shoulders;
      And he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6 

Those who mourn the deaths of children
      Will be comforted.

Because of the birth of a child. 

The child is born for us, and we cry out to him.
“Come, Wonderful Counselor. Listen as we scream and wail and cry out, ‘Why?’”
“Come, Mighty God. Gather and restore the shreds of our broken hearts.”
“Come, Everlasting Father. Wrap us up in your everlasting arms.”
“Come, Prince of Peace. Fill our hearts with your peace that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our willing it to happen. Bless us with the healing that calms the chaos and soothes the anguish and quiets the screaming when nothing makes sense.” 

Because of the birth of a child there is hope.

Not wishful thinking – the wish that things could be different. And better. Real hope is not wishing but rather it is the willful choice to anchor our past, our present and our future in God. We put all our hope in God, because God keeps his promises. The birth of the child Jesus is the greatest evidence that we can trust God now and forever. 

A nation grieves for fallen children, and tonight we are reminded by the birth of our Eternal Savior that God knows and loves each child. Every child. Every schoolchild. Every newborn baby. Every baby waiting to be born. Every baby that is barely a cell and a dream in his mother’s womb. God knows each one and calls each one by name, just has he called to John the Baptist in the womb and called to Jesus in the womb when their mothers met. We can safely hope in the One who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to death and then raised him to life that we might have eternal hope. 

All because of the birth of a child.

The latest from the captain January 19, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/9024768/Costa-Concordia-investigators-probe-role-of-young-Moldovan-woman-on-cruise-ship.html to read the captain’s own words:

Mr Schettino told investigators he took the cruise liner to within 0.28 nautical miles of Giglio to perform a “salute” to a former Costa Cruises captain named Mario Palombo.

“… I made a mistake on the approach. I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this manoeuvre three or four times. But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was too shallow. I don’t know why it happened, I was a victim of my instincts.”

Update on the Shipwreck January 18, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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I just read a news report which said that the Costa Concordia followed an almost identical route near Giglio Island in August. Adam Smallman, editor of shipping magazine Lloyd’s List, reported that the route in August was approved by Costa and the coast guard, and that the ship’s route was recorded by satellite tracking. On that occasion, the ship was so close to the route that wrecked the ship last week that the author believed they could have been very close to the rock that put a huge gash in the ship. If that is the case, we might need to dig deep to see whether this route was, indeed, unauthorized.

Local Knowledge January 8, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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In nauticalspeak, local knowledge is the kind of knowledge watermen have about the places where they set crab pots and harvest oysters, and so forth. They don’t just know where these places are. They know what happens in an east wind, or when there is a summer thunderstorm. They know how the currents behave during the full moon. They know where uncharted rocks and wrecks and fish traps lie. They have experience that creates an image of the waters where they earn their living that makes a 2-dimensional NOAA chart look like a first-grader’s drawing of a house. Local knowledge can be the difference between life and death in some situations.

When we traveled in Maine in 2009, we ran across a place where we really needed local knowledge. In fact, the guidebook told us we needed local knowledge. We, however, needed to hide from Tropical Storm Danny, and we didn’t know any way to get local knowledge, so we rushed in where we should have feared to tread. We grounded on a rock that we would have known about if we had local knowledge instead of our e-chart. According to our e-chart, we were in 9 feet of water, but according to reality, we were aground on a big rock, in the last hour of flood tide. Fortunately, someone with local knowledge observed our plight, rescued us, and led us safely to the hideout we were seeking. We weathered the storm in safety and lived to tell the story.

On Saturday we traversed an inlet for which the NOAA charts do not even attempt to provide real information. The NOAA chart for the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean to St. Augustine has an irregular shape colored in a blue that indicates shallow water covering the location of this inlet, and the space inside that figure has no depth data and no symbols for channel markers. The guidebooks cryptically recommend that you not traverse this inlet without local knowledge. We know what it means to need local knowledge and not have it.

We did our research on the web. There are numerous sites where cruisers share their experiences, and on these sites, we found the guidance we thought would help us. We found diagrams that indicated where the channel markers were at a time when someone successfully used this inlet. The attached comments informed us that the markers were small, and that they were frequently moved. One person listed two missing markers. Another pointed out that every time a hurricane crosses this inlet, the whole configuration changes. We studied the diagrams and the comments. We took it to heart that one mariner said that he regularly goes in and out this inlet in a sailboat and never sees less than 14 feet of water if he follows the path he recommends in his notes. We decided that if other cruisers could do it, we could do it, too.

Our alarm went off at 3AM . Larry had calculated the distance from our Cumberland Island anchorage to the St. Augustine entrance, 57 nautical miles, and we wanted to complete that distance early enough in the day to have good light for the passage. At 5 knots, something possible if we had adverse currents, it would take over 11 hours. At 6 knots, it would take more than 9 hours. We wanted to arrive early in the afternoon, so we got up at 3AM. It seemed dreadfully early.

It was gorgeous outside when we first looked out. The moon was nearly full and shone brightly in the western sky. We expected an easy run out St. Marys inlet, which is well marked and lighted. We made some coffee and did our final putaway for travel. By the time we were ready to begin raising the anchor, we noticed there seemed to be a mist on the water. In just minutes, we realized that fog was developing. The anchor was up and we were starting to move toward the channel. The fog was thickening. The moon which had been so bright when we first got up, began to fade as we moved toward the first marker, an unlighted pole that marked the edge of a shoal.

I hurriedly pulled out our artificial chamois with which we wipe our cockpit curtains when they mist over. As Larry steered, I stood on deck to spot and to wipe.  Unimpeded by the formation of mist on the cockpit windows, I could see things before Larry could see them. I let him know when we passed the unlighted marker, an accomplishment that allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief, but the fog was thickening, and even lighted markers would be hard to see.

It felt good when I saw the first red, but it was a warning, too. We were less than a quarter of a mile from that marker before I could see it. Happily for us, Larry was soon able to see, it, too. He noted its location relative to the boat, and checked the e-chart before adjusting our course to enter the channel. For the next hour, I stood on deck to watch for markers. The fog was quite dense. Visibility of a quarter mile or less is challenging. Larry made radio calls to let any other mariners know our location and course. You might think there would not be anyone else dumb enough to be out and about at 4AM, but a fisherman passed us in the dark, barely visible as he approached from behind, soon disappearing to port as mysteriously as he had appeared.

By 5AM, it began to appear that the fog might be lifting. We could see some shore lights. I could see three pairs of channel markers in the distance instead of barely distinguishing one. We could even see light in the east and a couple of stars beside the top of the mast. As we left the channel and turned south, we thought we would soon be done with fog. I went below to make some breakfast.

However, by the time I brought the food up, we were socked in again. Well, maybe that is too strong. We had probably a half mile visibility, and the fog was more patchy. Holes appeared in the cloud now and then. Still, it was after 10AM before the sky was anything like clear.

We had expected completely clear, sunny skies. The weather forecast said that the high pressure that had made Friday such a glorious day would continue in place Saturday, while a high pressure ridge was forming to the south of us. It would dominate weather for a few more days. We were not surprised by some early morning fog, even though we would have preferred to be spared, but we certainly didn’t expect fog till mid-morning and cloudiness the rest of the day. Well, that is cruising life. You gather all the information and predictions you can find, but in the end, you get what you get, and you deal with it.

We can’t seem to cruise without some issue or other, and this day was no exception. It wasn’t enough to have fog for hours. While I was making breakfast, I noticed a peculiar change in the sound of the diesel engine. It ran like normal most of the time, but every so often it seemed to slow down, then it would speed up, all with no perceptible reason to be changing. Larry went below and poked around in the engine compartment. Around noon, we stopped the engine altogether so he could do some diagnostics. He could find no explanation, and he found no solution, either. Still, the engine ran, more or less, and we made progress. He decided that we would proceed and plan to do whatever work was required after we got to St. Augustine.

We arrived at the sea buoy that marks the entrance about 3PM. By that time, even the cloudiness that followed the fog had dispersed. The sun shone brightly on the sparkling water. We had unlimited visibility. It was a good thing, because the markers at St. Augustine are nothing like the markers at St. Marys. At St Augustine, the markers are little red nuns and little green cans. Really little. Maybe it is the fact that they are out there in the big ocean and they only look smaller than all other nuns and cans, but they almost looked like toys. We are accustomed to big markers that stand ten feet or so above the water. These little markers were maybe 18 inches tall – tiny little things in the big water.

The hazard at St. Augustine is the hazard that threatens every inlet along the Florida coast – shifting sand and silt. It is also wide open to wind from north, east, or south. Wind from any of those directions has a long fetch over which to build big waves. Big waves move the sand and silt. Big winds move boats chaotically and make it difficult to see markers. Some inlets have rockpile jetties to protect from the waves and assist in reducing the movement of the sand and silt, but St. Augustine is not among those lucky locations. Some inlets have dredged channels and big lighted markers to aid mariners day and night. St. Augustine has none of that. Instead, St. Augustine has a few tiny red and green markers to hint at the right path between shoals over which there are breaking waves in light 5-knot winds from the west. I shudder to think what those breakers look like in 20-knot winds from the northeast. The history of this inlet is that some of the markers go missing in big storms from time to time, and the bottom moves with enough frequency that it is not uncommon for boats to ground in what would normally be reported to be the channel. Our research told us two important things:

  • ·         There are some missing green markers as of late 2011
  • ·         People who stay close to the red markers report never seeing less than 14 feet of water.

We arrived at the sea buoy that sits at the Atlantic end of the inlet channel as a sailboat about our size was coming out to sea. That was encouraging. However, we did not know its complete path. We saw where it passed our nearest red marker and headed for that location. I stood on deck with the binoculars to help Larry find the other markers. As we approached the first red marker we scanned ahead for the next one. We finally saw it when another boat coming toward us passed it. Up to that moment, I thought the little shadow that turned out to be a marker was a distant boat. I finally could see it with the binoculars, and Larry adjusted course to run near it. Every time we saw a boat coming our way, we watched closely, and that is how we were able to find the rest of the markers. They were so small, that without some hint where to look for them we simply could not see them.

We breathed a great sigh of relief when we re-entered the e-chart area with depth notations. At that point, the depth was 30 feet, and we had plenty of depth for the remainder of our course to the mooring field that used to be an anchorage north of the Bridge of Lions. This is a real problem in Florida now. More and more anchorages are being replaced with mooring fields. You can read about it if you like. I simply report our experience. We took a mooring and checked in with the Municipal Marina. The people are quite nice. The services they provide are first-rate. We have no complaint.

When we were in the Bahamas cruising along the western side of Long Island where the charts were skimpy to say the least, I stood on the bow spotting for hazards as we explored uncharted territory with no markers at all. On Saturday we simply took on a challenge that requires a different kind of research and a lot of attention to detail by the pilot during the passage. We can’t claim to be as intrepid as Ponce de Leon who supposedly was the first European to traverse this inlet and discover this location. We only claim to seek and enjoy a few adventures of our own. We may not be the first people ever to do what we do, but we do get to add to our own list of firsts now and then. It’s like a little rosemary in the soup; it makes life a lot more flavorful. Besides that, we obtain a little local knowledge. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The More We Learn December 8, 2011

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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As we are now well into our third year of cruising, it may be time to ask if we have learned anything. There are times when I am certain that we grow more ignorant, not more learned, but as we were entering the channel to Saint Marys, GA, this week, a few accomplishments came to mind.

When we set out to cruise to Maine in the summer of 2009, we felt pretty confident that we would be successful and enjoy ourselves. We were, and we did, but we had a few experiences that reminded us that nobody knows it all, especially not beginners. One of the decisions we had to make that year concerned the way we would handle watches for round the clock cruising. We had read and heard of numerous options, and every cruiser is a strong advocate for whatever plan works for him/her, but it was time for us to decide for ourselves. Somehow, we had to make our way from Baltimore harbor to Penobscot Bay, and hopping from marina to anchorage to marina would be a long slow trip. After much discussion, we settled on two-hour watches.

This decision was based as much on uncertainty as anything else. We had made one previous overnight passage together, when the sea was as placid as a duck pond and no ships came near us in the night. We could not assume that every overnight would be that quiet. Boy howdy is that the truth! Our first overnight on our 2009 cruise started with a gust at 35 knots and quickly showed us how much we had to learn. We were very glad that each of us spent only two hours at a time in the cockpit all alone, because the Atlantic Ocean was fully engaged in showing us a few new tricks.

On the other hand, while the ocean was assaulting us, we learned that our boat was up to the drill. By morning, I was actually enjoying the experience of rising up to the top of big waves and sliding down the other side, happy to see that No Boundaries was strong and agile and eager to meet the challenge. The high freeboard that had been a concern in the back of my mind for years proved to be just the bolster my confidence needed. In the center cockpit, high above the surface of the water, I could see what was happening and observe how the boat responded to the wave action. We felt completely validated in our desire for a center cockpit and a full keel.

Now, almost three years later, we have revised our watch schedule to three hours. What a blessing. I may feel a bit more challenged by three hours in the cockpit on watch, but I certainly feel a lot more rested with three hours sleep. When we kept two hour watches, it always seemed as if I barely fell asleep and it was time to get up again. Now I actually rest. When morning comes, each of us had had six hours of real rest. It makes a big difference.

We have learned some other things, too.

When we first began cruising, we thought we understood life at anchor, because we have always liked anchoring out. Ha! A weekend on the hook is not a week or a month or longer on the hook. Last winter in the Bahamas we spent two nights in marinas. We learned a lot about managing life off the grid. At first that discipline seemed challenging. Anything we want to do uses up some resource. Sometimes there are reasonable tradeoffs, but ultimately, some supply is reduced. It was hard to remember that every drop of water is made by running the watermaker, which depletes the batteries, which must be charged with the diesel engine or a generator – using up some form of fuel.

When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a farm well beyond the reach of city water. All their water was delivered to a cistern by a big truck. I often think of her care with water, never wasting a drop, as we face a similar situation. It is the same thing with supplies. We can carry quite a lot of supplies and food, but everything we use must be replaced, and that means a trip to some store. If we are shopping for replacements, we are not exploring secret bays and beaches where the charts only barely show the way. To learn good stewardship of all resources is to turn the process from compliance with onerous rules into a happy way of life.

That is a great lesson for life, I think. There is no way of life without cost. One element of a happy life is to become comfortable and happy with my way of life without carping about its cost. Everything comes at some price or other. If you want long showers and a trash compactor, then you won’t live on a cruising sailboat and eat lunch on a beach for which the chart has no name. We all need to know what we really want, and after that we need to accept without complaint the inconvenience or discipline or challenge that goes with our dreams.

We are still learning. Last Sunday morning we at the 8:30AM worship service at a church in Charleston. Then we returned to the boat and prepared to depart. I write down the forecasts every morning and I had done it that morning, confident that we understood what they meant. We didn’t. We knew that easterly winds at 15 knots and waves 4-6 would be interesting on a course to the southwest. We did not know that the northeasterly swell and bigger winds than predicted would create such turbulence. Moving around in the boat was nearly impossible because the movement was so tempestuous. We concluded rapidly that it was not necessary to endure this beating. We turned back to Charleston and anchored for the night.

When we ventured out the next day, the winds were still higher than predicted, but the turbulence had subsided somewhat. It continued to subside over the next 36 hours, and by the time we reached Saint Marys inlet, things were reasonably peaceful. It was a good thing we took advantage of this opportunity. Had we waited one more day, we would have arrived in Saint Marys just about the same time a vicious cold front passed through with winds that topped out at 41 knots. There is still plenty for us to learn.

If anyone asked me how to be happy, I think this would be my advice: know what your dream is, and do what it takes to achieve it. Nobody can hand you a life that is satisfying. If we have too many things handed to us, then we become like Dennis the Menace on Christmas morning, asking, “Is that all there is?” We are happiest when we have accomplished something hard. No matter how old we are, inside we are all still children who love to say, “Look! I did it!”

 

 

 

Chesapeake Bay – Check! November 21, 2011

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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I love lists. When I need to accomplish anything, I make a list. I do not work well with the sort of bulleted, indented, linked list that is a staple of project management. For me, the messier the better. I scribble my lists on index cards and on random notebook pages. Sometimes I temporarily lose the cards or forget which notebook I was using. Nevertheless, when I have my list, I know what I am trying to do, and it includes all my ideas for accomplishment, written on various ink colors, written sideways, crossed out and restated. Everything is there, and I love the disorder that orders my plan.

As we set forth on our third winter of cruising, I made a list for the portion of our journey that gets us to Florida. It wasn’t too hard. There are a few obvious segments between Baltimore and the Florida/Georgia line, and there are a couple of decision points. No matter what we chose, however, the first segment was Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore to Cape Henry.

Yesterday, I checked off that segment. We arrived in Hampton Roads before mid-morning, and were tied up at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth before noon. Chesapeake Bay is done.

Leaving the Bay is good and bad. Chesapeake Bay is home. We know the Bay well, although to think that about any big body of water is an invitation to inappropriate carelessness, as you will soon discover. When we got back to the Bay last spring, we both sighed and relaxed a bit, even though Hampton, VA, is a long way from Baltimore, MD.

Our trip down was reasonably serene, except for one day. We watched the weather and planned pretty well. Nevertheless, as mariners discover almost daily, there is no such thing as actually predicting weather, and you had better not forget this truth: you get what you get.

We left Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Baltimore on November 3 to go to Tidewater Boatyard for haulout and bottom paint. It is a good thing that was our plan, because never in our boating history have we needed a haulout more. When we arrived at Henderson’s on June 1 last summer, the bottom of the boat was almost clean. We tied up in the marina, and the boat never moved again until November 3. When we lived in Harborview, it sometimes sat in the marina as long as two years without moving. But never in all our experience did we have such a thing as happened while we were at Henderson’s.

We noticed the boat was really resistant to moving as we made the turn into the marina fairway after our helpers handed us the last line. Instead of moving gently forward, we hardly moved at all. It took forever simply to get to the channel. It took forever to turn into the channel. Half an hour after we started, we were barely past the neighboring marina. In the past it has taken less than an hour to get from the marina to the boatyard, but that wasn’t happening on this day. Two hours and a half later, we were in the lift at Tidewater, and feeling darn lucky that we were not still on the way.

After the boat was pulled out, we got a good look at the bottom. It was covered with a blanket of mussels about two inches thick. It turned out that there were few barnacles, compared with the population of mussels. The propeller was so completely encrusted that it is a wonder we were able to move at all. We made about 1 knot at 1500 RPM, and that was probably lucky.

We remained at the boatyard until November 9. The boat splashed on the 7th, but we had some little tasks to do which kept us busy for a couple of days. Then we headed over to the Anchorage, which is near the Safeway store. Our intent was to top off our groceries with fresh vegetables and meat before heading south. Even though the weather was not really inclement while we were there, it was quite windy, and on Friday the 11th, Veterans Day, we left the Anchorage without having made the grocery run, because the wind was fierce enough that we worried about dragging. We had reset once the day before as the wind picked up, and it just continued to rise. It wasn’t good for dinghy riding, with or without groceries. We were not desperate for the groceries, so we departed and found a quiet, beautiful spot in Aberdeen Creek on the South River, just south, of course, of Annapolis.

Predictions of strong gusty winds directly on the nose, kept us waiting in Aberdeen Creek for three days. Then we took our opportunity to move southward again. We can handle winds 15-20 knots, even 25 knots with some comfort, but wind directly in our faces requires either long tacks or motoring at a real gallop. Traveling toward the Patuxent River, we expected some gusts up to 25 in the morning, with winds diminishing in the afternoon. In fact, as often happens, the winds were much milder than that. Weather forecasting is as much art and intuition as science, I think, and a forecast can be wrong in many more ways than it can be right. We read the forecasts, listen to forecasts, think about our options, and take our lumps. The ride to the Patuxent was quite comfortable.

We spend one night at Spring Cove Marina on the Patuxent River, and that gave us the opportunity to top off our perishables, to wash some laundry, and to take showers without measuring every drop of water.

The next day we headed for the Great Wicomico River. The forecast included 25-knot gusts, but that was doable. In fact, the actuality was much milder. The ride was lumpy when we crossed the mouth of the Potomac, but not bad, considering the possibilities. Arriving in the mouth of the Wicomico, we looked for the right spot for anchorage to handle predicted gusts in the 30’s. We had never been in Mill Creek before, but the contours suggested all-around protection, and the chart indicated a mud bottom. We decided to check it out, and what a find! How could we never have found this lovely place before! It was positively serene, a few mansions on shore, but few enough that the rural ambience was not disturbed. The anchor bit right away. When we later heard the roaring and knew that the wind had, indeed, picked up on the Bay, we continued in blissful peace in our little hideaway.

The next morning we had to make a challenging decision. What do we believe? The overnight winds had not gusted in the 30’s as predicted, and that was in keeping with our experience to date. Every day the forecast was much more dire than the reality. On this day, the forecast was north winds at 20-25 with gusts to 30. The thing we probably should have considered with more weight was the fact that it was north, not south. Up to that point, the forecasts that worked out so peacefully were for south winds. This was a north wind. We should have remembered that north components are usually more powerful than southerly ones, but we had been lulled into the notion that the forecasts were overdone. It was a wrong idea.

We headed out of Mill Creek with winds in the low teens. North, but gentle. We felt justified in our decision. After all, we had thought that if it looked too unpleasant when we poked our nose out, we could simply go back in. It was gray and gloomy, but not miserable, so we kept going.

We had almost reached the green marker where we could make our turn south again when disaster struck. The wind was beginning to pick up, but nothing frightful, as we approached that marker. However, the increasing winds were quite gusty, and when we watched later, we observed that they fluctuated wildly. There was no such thing as sustained wind. It was all gusts. As a consequence, the water was roiling tumultuously. That state of affairs was just beginning to develop as we approached the green marker. Larry noticed a red flag in the water that was a marker for something to do with fishing. We didn’t know if it were a net or a line or what, but he tried to avoid it. He didn’t succeed. Suddenly we were dragging what at first appeared to be a huge fishing net. This is not the best way to start a day.

At this point, we had no idea what the winds were about to do. Larry put the engine in neutral and both of us stood looking dispiritedly at the scene behind us. We were too focused on the problem to register how dramatically the boat was tossing. In retrospect, I remember dropping down so low that that the aft deck seemed very close to the water, then tossing wildly upward. This extreme motion very much complicated our work.

This is the place where the fact we had been lulled into a complacent attitude put us at severe risk. We have lifejackets which we wear without fail when there is danger. However, in the cockpit, with mild winds, we do not wear the lifejackets. In fact, as we headed out of Mill Creek, with breezes in the low teens, our lifejackets were carefully put away in the locker where they are stored when not needed. We had had such a peaceful trip to that point that our cruiser routines had not all kicked in yet. The cruiser routine is to have the lifejackets out where they can be quickly grabbed and donned in the safety of the cockpit before venturing out to do anything like the work we were faced with. Unfortunately for us, we were immersed in the situation and we were not wearing the lifejackets, and that was really stupid. That we are here to tell the story is just dumb luck, and this is a confession I really hate to make. However, if any reader of this blog is pricked in some way to be very sure to be safe and always don a lifejacket before it is needed, then I will feel comforted. As I belatedly pulled out the lifejackets after our “adventure” I felt quite ashamed of myself. We have always reassured friends and family that we practice safety, that they need not worry on that point. I know that those who read this confession will not be reassured by it. I’m very sorry, but it is the honest truth, and I just want to make my point. It is not safe to be numb to the possibilities. Always be prepared for the worst and thankful for the best.

On the aft deck, tossed wildly by strong gusty winds and chaotic waves, we worked together trying to free ourselves from whatever that beastly line caught in our rudder really was.

 We could see that that line has slipped into the little space between the rudder and the post. We hoped that if we could cut it anywhere near the boat, it would slip away and we would escape. We were fortunate to have a boathook that extends 14 feet, because without that length, we probably never could have picked up that line. It took several tries before Larry could pick it up and raise it high enough for me to reach it with the knife. My first swat didn’t do the job, so I sliced down at an angle and voila`! One side was free, but sadly for us, the line did not really slip away. The other side hung deeper in the water. And it was still attached.

Larry tried and tried to catch the second line. Several times he hooked it, but it was so much deeper that he could never pull it above the surface of the water, let alone high enough for me to reach it with the knife. Eventually, he gave up. I could see that there was no hope of cutting it free, and the only thing I could think of was whether we could limp back into Mill Creek. Larry had a different idea.

At very low rpm he put the engine in reverse. This move slackened the tension on the line. Then he revved up the rpms and lo and behold the prop cut the line. I saw it jerk loose and slip away behind us into oblivion. Whew!

We sat for a few minutes in the cockpit simply gathering our wits about us. It had been quite a shock and quite frightening. We were finally able to actually process the change in the wind since the problem began. I displayed the max wind – 37.6. We didn’t go back to Mill Creek. You might think that would have made sense, and in retrospect, it probably would have been smart, but we just kept going. It is hard to go backward.

It was quite a day. It blew. It rained. It stormed. It gusted. One minute the wind was 12 knots, the next it was 23. Then it was 40 for several minutes. The waves surged madly in all directions. We wallowed and galloped and froze. When we reached the entry channel for the Piankatank River, we turned across the general direction of the waves and wallowed even more. As we came to the marker to turn south in order to round Stove Point we were amazed to see another boat in the mist and rain ahead of us. We followed him into Fishing Bay and dropped anchor. We were shortly  joined by yet another sailboat that came in behind us. We were not the only folks who misjudged the forecasts. It seemed comforting somehow to know that others had also been tossed about in the maelstrom.

The next day we simply sat still. We just did not want to go out right then. I used the day for baking. I made cookies and bread for our daily needs, and I made our Christmas cake for the holidays. The past couple of years we never got it made, but I had made up my mind that we would have Christmas cake this year. The season just isn’t the same without that special treat we can take out and enjoy on special days or with guests. The cake, or actually 2 cakes, will soak in special syrup with Grand Marnier and bourbon for a month before we touch them again, and by that time they should be quite happy. We will be happy, too.

The remainder of our trip was quite uneventful. We went from Piankatank to the Back River, just north of Old Point Comfort, and yesterday, we traveled into Hampton Roads, where we tied up at the Tidewater Marina, right beside mile marker One for the ICW.

On my little list for the trip, I can check off, cross out, Chesapeake Bay. The first segment is done. It only takes a small thing to make me happy. I love being able to cross off a task as DONE. Chesapeake Bay – Check!

We chose the ICW rather than running outside to continue our journey, because we looked at the weather forecasts and chose to believe the worst. For starters, cold fronts every other day is no kind of condition for a rounding of Cape Hatteras. Beyond that, the first cold front is expected to be annoying, and the second one is expected to be dramatic, kicking up big waves even on the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. We will undoubtedly be paused on the ICW waiting for the second front to pass before we cross those big shallow sounds.

This means that we will celebrate Thanksgiving under way. It is a great way to celebrate that special day. There is little we are more thankful for than the opportunity to adventure and explore aboard No Boundaries, so when we celebrate this special feast, we give thanks with truly grateful hearts.

We are profoundly grateful for all of you, our family and our friends, who enrich our lives and keep us grounded. We are grateful for God’s gifts of good health and adequate means to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime. May everyone we love be blessed as we are with happiness that transcends the trivia that conspire to make us miserable.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to All!