Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dolphin Marathon



We arrived in Marathon, Florida early Monday afternoon, where we dropped the hook just west of Boot Key (map), which offered some protection from the easterly winds and swell.  Martin and Steph dropped their tender in the water and picked us up for dinner.  We briefly cruised the Boot Key Harbor just to get a look at what 230 boats on closely spaced moorings looks like (not our style) before heading to the Sunset Grille, just a half mile from our boats, for quite literal sunset cocktails and a nice dinner.



Not long after my last post here Monday morning, we were joined by two different pods of dolphins, who swam with us, frolicking in our bow wave, for quite a long time.  Dolphins often come over to check out our bow wave, but Vector is not quite fast enough to keep them interested for long, and our experience is that they will typically stay with us for less than a minute, hardly enough time to snap a good photo.



Not so with either of these groups, who each swam with us for several minutes, enough for me to get a handful of photos and even a short video.  We speculated that these must be Keys dolphins and thus more laid-back and chill than their northern cousins.  The water here is so clear that we could see them swimming well below the surface. The second pod, which numbered perhaps a dozen individuals, included a juvenile swimming with its mother, but those two swam away before I could get the camera out.




We enjoyed our brief stay near Marathon and could easily have spent a day or two, with at least another couple of restaurants with dinghy docks and even a way to get ashore for groceries and other supplies.  But we were concerned that the sea conditions would deteriorate and decided to press on while the weather was nearly perfect, weighing anchor yesterday morning.

That meant arriving in Key West three full days before our scheduled arrival and thus our marina reservations.  Blossom's slip turned out to be open and available, and they headed in to their marina yesterday afternoon when we arrived here in Key West.  Our slip, however, is not available until after 11am this morning, which left us having to anchor yesterday afternoon.

Usually that's not a problem for us, but Key West is a notoriously difficult place to anchor.  The best spots are off-limits inside a security zone around the Navy base, and what's left is chock-a-block with derelict boats, sunken wrecks, boats half aground, marginal liveaboards in ratty (sometimes dismasted) sailboats, and a handful of actual cruisers desperately looking for a safe spot to anchor.

On top of that, some enterprising outfits have discovered they can run watersports playgrounds out here in the anchorage, complete with bouncy pads and PWC rentals, without having to pay tax to the city, and two such outfits are taking up valuable real estate that could accommodate quite a few boats.
 We drove around the anchorage for a full hour before finally finding a usable spot (map), ironically just a stone's throw from our marina -- we could see Blossom snug in her berth across the water.

Once we had the hook down we had a pleasant evening.  We watched the enormous Carnival Dream depart her berth (we previously had to dodge out of the way for the smaller Carnival Ecstasy, which departed as we were coming up the ship channel), enjoyed the sunset over "Sunset Key" (really, Tank Island), and watched the city light up for the evening.

All is quiet this morning -- Key West is a late-night town.  We'll weigh anchor mid-day and head over to our slip at Key West Bight, where we will settle in for the remainder of the year.  It will take some patience and a lot of jiggling to get the boat stern-in to the dock, so we can unload the scooters.  We definitely don't want to be here for a full two weeks without wheels.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Key Largo

We are, finally, in the Florida Keys.  As I type we are under way, headed southwest toward Tavernier Key; this morning found us anchored off Key Largo, near an uninhabited island known as Rodriguez Key (map).  We are cruising the Hawk Channel, a somewhat protected waterway between the Keys, to our north and west, and the Florida Reef which protects them, to our south and east.


This morning's anchorage, with Blossom silhouetted against the pre-dawn light.

We left our cozy anchorage in Hollywood's South Lake Saturday morning for the short cruise to Miami, with Blossom following right behind us.  As the shorter, and thus slower, boat, we are the limiting factor on bridge timing and arrival times in general, so it's easier for us to just be in front. We also have the shallower draft (Blossom draws a full eight inches more) and can report back if there is anything skinny enough to warrant a change in their course.

We dislike traveling popular waterways on the weekends -- it's amateur hour, with plenty of skippers who don't know how to drive, and yahoos who just don't care.  Towboats do a booming business, and law enforcement has a field day.  So cruising the very popular waters from Hollywood to Miami on a Saturday would not have been our first choice, but we really needed to be positioned for the outside run by Saturday night, in case the weather window slid up to Sunday.

We managed to time the bridge openings perfectly, with a minimum of station-keeping involved, and we both made it through the single operable span of the Broad Causeway bridge with great anxiety but no incidents.  (The inoperable span is that way because it fell on top of a $20M megayacht last week, doing considerable damage but causing no injuries.)  A good bit of the traffic we encountered was northbound, likely heading to Fort Lauderdale for the holiday boat parade.

We found no fewer than four giant cruise ships when we arrived at Port Miami, which meant the ship channel through the harbor was closed to us.  We had to go around the south of Dodge Island via what is popularly known as "Fishermans Channel" which is, nevertheless, a busy deepwater channel sporting a cruise ship of its own, along with three freighters.  We turned right at Fisher Island into a system of unmarked channels and dropped our hooks in Norris Cut, between Virgina Key and Fisher Island (map).


Saturday's anchorage.  The superyacht Petrus II anchored uncomfortably close to Blossom, but they stayed only a few hours before returning to their marina on Fisher Island.

Other than the usual noises of a busy port, that's a beautiful spot, with a view of the Atlantic to one side and the glimmering lights of downtown Miami to the other, framed by tony and exclusive Fisher Island and verdant Virginia Key.  Even though it appears open to the Atlantic, it is actually protected by a very shallow bank, and we had a calm and lovely night.


Our view of the Miami skyline at night.

Acceptable weather for a Sunday passage held, and it looked like the other end of the window might be closing in, so we weighed anchor in the pre-dawn hours and headed back around the west end of Fisher Island to the ship channel. Ironically, on the way out the channel we passed the AIDAvita on its way in to port, the very same ship we passed (also on its way in) when we left Port Canaveral a week ago.


I loved the way the undersides of these clouds were lit in the moments before sunrise.

We were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we exited the inlet.  We had a bit of a bumpy ride for a couple of miles, until we made the hard right turn to head southwest toward the keys.  It took a full hour just to come all the way around Fisher Island and see our anchorage again from the other side.  South of Key Biscayne the barrier reef begins to rise toward the surface, and the ride improved steadily throughout the day.  About mid-morning we passed Elliot Key, which is as far south as we made it last year (though we were on the other side, in Biscayne Bay).


Stephanie snapped this photo of us heading out the channel into the dawn.

We had a fair tide out the inlet, and a fair current heading south, so we made excellent time.  We reached Rodriguez Key shortly after 2pm, well ahead of my 3:30 projection.  While we could have pressed on another dozen miles, protected anchorages are few and far between on this side of the Keys, so we just made it an early day.  Martin and Steph tendered over for cocktails and dinner aboard Vector.


Steph sent this to us, saying we looked like we were cruising on a sea of diamonds.

Today's cruise has been lovely, albeit a bit of a slalom among the numerous crab and lobster traps that dot Hawk Channel along most of its length.  With fewer miles to go, we started a little later, after sunrise.  This evening we should be anchored west of Boot Key and the city of Marathon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fueled and ready

We are anchored in a familiar spot, South Lake, in Hollywood, Florida (map).  I described this spot the last time we stayed here, wherein we took the tender to two of the several restaurants lining the ICW for dinner.  Today I spotted a place where I think we can get away with tying the tender up for a stroll along the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk with Martin and Steph for dinner.


Blossom anchored just east of us in South Lake.  They arrived this afternoon, a few hours behind us.

I noticed that spot while we were tied up last night at the dock of Billy's Stone Crab restaurant (map), just a stone's throw from here.  Our visit there was occasioned by a fuel stop -- the Anchor Petroleum truck met us there this morning and we took on 460 gallons, giving us what we consider a full load of fuel, which will take us to Key West and a long way beyond.

We've used Anchor's fueling service before.  They deliver by truck, but the boat needs to be at a dock which allows that.  Most docks have a charge for the privilege; the last time we did this we used the Fort Lauderdale city docks on the New River, which allows it if you are staying there, or charges a one-night stay if not.  We enjoyed our night there, but this time around it would have been a challenge, due to tomorrow's holiday boat parade staging at their docks.  Plus, a one-night stay there runs about $80 for Vector, on top of an extra five mile back-and-forth run from the ICW.

When I asked Anchor what options they had closer to the ICW, they mentioned they could fuel us at Billy's Stone Crab, which allows them to fuel there before noon, when the restaurant opens.  They charge a $0.10 per gallon surcharge to use this dock, with a $50 minimum.  That still made it the best price in south Florida, so we scheduled the delivery for 10am this morning.

On our way south down the ICW yesterday, I called the restaurant after they opened and asked them if we could just spend the night on their dock if we also had dinner there, and they agreed.  We tied up a little before 5, and went in for dinner around 6:30.  I had the stone crab claws, which were delicious if a bit of work, and Louise had ceviche and crab salad.  Dinner was nice, if a bit pricey for what it was, although the place is definitely white-tablecloth, with tuxedoed waiters.


Soon to dominate the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk: the Margaritaville Beach Resort.

That gave us all morning until the truck came to get some things done;  Louise took one of the bicycles downtown to mail off some holiday gifts, and I walked over to the Broadwalk to get rid of a month's worth of recycling at the closest bin I could find.  It was a great stop, and at 460 gallons probably the cheapest way to get fueled.  If we needed over 800 gallons, we'd be better off at the city dock.  We ended up paying less than $2.91 per gallon inclusive of tax and surcharge, whereas we could see the sign right across the ICW at the city marina advertising diesel for $4.41 a gallon.


I'm guessing they don't sell much diesel at $4.41 -- the going rate here is more like $3.50-$3.60 right now.

Yesterday's cruise down the ICW from Delray was a bit of a chore.  The weather was pleasant enough, and the spectacular homes along the waterfront make for quite the backdrop, but there are a dozen or so bridge openings, scheduled in such a way that one inevitably has to either race along at a high cruise rpm, risking violating numerous no-wake zones along the way, or putt along at idle speed and still end up station-keeping for several minutes at each bridge.  I'm glad this bridge-intensive section is now behind us.

Tomorrow we have a short 18-mile day to Miami and an anchorage not far from the ship channel, where we will be poised for the outside run to Key Largo.  We're hoping for a three-day stretch of good weather to make the full run to Key West with a minimum of drama.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Federal escort

We are anchored in "Tropic Isle Harbor," a small basin off the ICW surrounded by houses and condos, just south of Delray Beach, Florida (map).  I would guess that the development surrounding us is "Tropic Isle."  Neither an island, nor in the tropics.

We were so busy in North Palm Beach that I did not get a chance to blog.  We had a very nice but short cruise Monday from our anchorage in Hobe Sound to the north part of Lake Worth (map), in a familiar spot tucked between two marinas.  One of those marinas is Old Port Cove, known by many as "Nordhavn Central" because, at any given time, there are a dozen or so boats of that marque in port.  On this occasion, one of those boats was Blossom, with our friends Steph and Martin.

We dropped the tender as soon as we anchored, and I spent a bit of time getting it running and freeing up the wonky steering enough to use it, at least at low speeds.  We tendered over to Blossom in the afternoon and had a great time reconnecting with Martin and Steph, and also synching up our plans for getting to Key West next week.  We walked over to La Fontana for dinner, which was quite tasty.

Yesterday morning I returned to Old Port Cove in the tender in the very early morning hours and spent the whole morning tending to an eye doctor appointment -- the six-month follow-up on my laser surgery.  The doctors' office is right on the ICW, and my original plan had been to anchor across the channel and dinghy over to a nearby park for a short walk to the office.

Since we ended up anchoring a good seven miles or so away, to be with friends, I had to instead take the county bus.  It takes two buses each way and a bit of waiting in between, so I arrived at Blossom and tied up around 7:50 for a 10am appointment.  I was a bit early, but they got me in and out quickly (my eyes are fine and my vision is 20/20) and I was on my way back north well before noon.

I did stop at Publix on the way home for a couple of provisions (eggs, cheese, and some dry goods) and did not get home until well past noon, for a late lunch. However, I'm done with the eye doctor now for another six months, until my one-year follow-up.

That left a little time to catch up on a few things before heading back to Blossom for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres with Martin, Steph, and the crews of two other Nordys at the docks.  We enjoyed meeting everyone, and the substantial spread that Steph had set out was plenty for dinner.

One of the things I did between lunch and cocktails yesterday was spend an hour on the horn trying to line up diesel fuel  We now have an appointment Friday morning for a truck to meet us at a dock in Hollywood to supply us with 400 gallons at $2.95/gallon, the best price in the state.  We already had enough to get to Key West, but this will give us a buffer to continue on from there without having to fuel at a more expensive location.

The truck will meet us at Billy's Stone Crab in Hollywood, which has a dock for dining patrons that the fuel company can use in the mornings, before noon.  We will pay a $0.10 per gallon surcharge to the restaurant for this privilege, collected by the truck (and included in the number I quoted above).  I'm hoping the restaurant will just let us stay at the dock overnight if we also come in for dinner tomorrow; otherwise we will anchor in South Lake tomorrow night.

Hollywood is a long trip from where we were this morning, so we opted to get under way first thing and break it into two days.  Martin and Steph left not long after us, stopping just a mile north of here to visit friends in Delray Beach. They'll spend tomorrow night here as well, and catch up with us in Hollywood.

This is a great anchorage, protected all around, and we found free WiFi as well. But it has a shallow entrance -- we saw 8.9' of water at a +2.5' tide.  When we passed by here on our way north last season, we hit at dead low tide and did not want to risk trying to get in, which made for a very long day to Lake Worth. Since we hit at high tide today, it was a great opportunity to check it out and have our own track and soundings coming in. The early start was to give us enough daylight to continue all the way to Fort Lauderdale if we could not get in here comfortably.

As we passed Rybovich Marine, the megayacht yard in West Palm Beach, I spotted the Army Corps of Engineers survey vessel Florida II at the docks.  As we were waiting for the hourly opening of the Flagler Bridge, currently under repair, at 9:15, Florida II came up behind us and requested an opening.



Bridges like Flagler, which are busy with auto traffic, open for most vessels only on a schedule during most hours of the day.  But, even with schedules, all bridges must open on demand for tugs with tows (which I mentioned here) and "public vessels of the United States," which means any US government vessel including the Army CoE.  We went through Flagler ten minutes early, and Florida II invited us to ride his coat tails so long as we could keep up at 7 knots. We went through two more bridges ahead of schedule behind Florida II and then dropped back to our normal cruise speed when the following bridge was nearly an hour away.  It was great having our very own federal escort vessel.

With the weird bridge schedules through this section of the ICW, in part due to multiple bridges under repair, this put us nearly an hour ahead of the normal schedule.  We ended up dropping the hook here just after lunch, around 12:30. We had plenty of daylight to go all the way to Fort Lauderdale, or maybe even Hollywood, but I really wanted to check out this anchorage, and we could both use a half day off.

I say "off" but, of course, I mean "working on the boat."  In this case, it was dealing with the dinghy steering, which is enough of a critical system that it was making me very nervous.  I spent a good two or three hours on the boat deck, pounding the steering rod out of the tube and then running a make-shift sanding drum back and forth through the tube to clean out the copious amounts of corrosion.

Between the inside of the tube and the outside of the rod, a bit chewed up from my Vice-Grip-and-hammer technique to un-jam it, I used up a whole sheet of 150-grit emery cloth.  That after first getting all the rough stuff out with a set of steel files.  A few bits of cloth on a coat hanger, saturated with WD-40 and run through like a gun-barrel cleaner, finished the job.  With a liberal dose of lithium grease it all went back together, and the dinghy steering now works better than it ever has since we first got it.

We briefly contemplated splashing the tender and running the mile and a half or so back up the ICW to try to connect with Martin, Steph, and mutual friends CJ and Margie in Delray Beach. But it was after 5pm by the time I finished and got cleaned up, and we were beat, so we had a beer on the aft deck and a nice dinner at home instead.

We'll be here for a little while in the morning, too.  Daybreak happens at low tide, and with barely four inches under our keel, based on today's soundings, we'd just as soon wait for a higher tide.  We only have four hours or so to Hollywood anyway, so we'll have a nice morning in and get under way a little before lunch time.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two heads are better than four

We are anchored in Hobe Sound (map), near the community of that name in Florida, north of Jupiter Inlet.  We had a nice cruise here today from our last stop, anchored off the Coast Guard station on South Causeway Island, Fort Pierce (map), near Fort Pierce Inlet.


Locking through at dawn.  You can see the water rushing in through the opening lock gate.

We weighed anchor yesterday morning in the pre-dawn hours, and locked through Canaveral Lock before 7am.  I was hoping to hit a bit of outgoing tide but we were just a tad early.  At least it was fairly slack and we did not push against any incoming tide.  When we awoke there were already three cruise ships in port, and we passed the inbound AIDAvita in the channel on our way out.


Carnival (left), RCI, and Disney (behind RCI) in port as we leave them astern.


AIDAvita passing us in the Canaveral harbor channel.

Shortly after clearing the jetties we questioned our judgment.  Seas were five feet on the beam with a nine second period, which made for something of a roller coaster ride.  Things got only a little better as we got closer to Fort Pierce.  Still, it was only a little uncomfortable, and I could not knock out a few projects that I had hoped to while on passage.  Louise was moving slowly, since she had anticipated rough seas and took an anticipatory dose of seasickness meds. She now thinks that Bonine makes her too dopey and is going to try something else.


Conditions in the channel, and the name of this RoRo, both belie what lies ahead.

We arrived at the inlet without incident, and things were actually quite calm by the time we were as far inside as the Coast Guard station.  We dropped the hook around 4:30 and splashed the tender.  I still need to disassemble and rebuild the steering, so every dinghy launch now starts with some WD-40 and massaging the helm to get the motor moving, and even then, the steering is very stiff.

Back when we were still in Deltaville I had posted a "free to good home" listing for the two marine heads that we removed when we installed the new Tecmas.  I got three takers, one of whom was in Pennsylvania with a Grand Banks 42 that was being refurbished here in Port St. Lucie.  We went back and forth several times with him trying to find a way to get them picked up while we were still in Deltaville, but he could not make it happen and I ended up loading the second removed head into the lazarette on top of the first one, which has been down there since we replaced the first head in July.

I knew that, not only was this guy's boat on our route, but also one of the other takers was in Fort Lauderdale, so one way or another I'd get these heads off the boat here in Florida.  As it turns out, the Grand Banks guy was able to persuade one of the craftsmen working on the boat to meet us in Ft. Pierce to pick them up. So after splashing the tender, we loaded both heads in the front and tied them down, and I motored over to the dock at South Causeway Island Park to meet him.

He's probably the guy who will install them, and I spent fifteen minutes giving him the rundown on how they worked, and what parts were needed to complete the install.  He seems to be a jack-of-all-trades and I have every confidence the heads will get installed and put to good use, but not any time soon.  It's an older, wooden Grand Banks, and they appear to be just starting on the interior after already having to replace some planking.  It puts our "this old boat" issues in perspective.


Returning from the dock, thankfully empty-handed.

I'm really glad to have the extra two heads off the boat.  The dock where I dropped them off is actually large and beefy enough, and in enough water, to land Vector there, and that would have been an easier option just to drop off the heads.  But after a long, rough ocean passage, we also wanted to go out for dinner, and we knew we'd need to drop the dinghy anyway -- no overnight docking allowed at the park.  We ran the tender over to On The Edge, a tiki-bar restaurant with a convenient free dock for patrons.  Decent but pricey, which could describe much of this part of Florida.


Moonrise over South Causeway and the inlet (left), as best my phone could capture.  The tiki bar where we ate is in there somewhere.

This morning we again took the tender back to the park to meet up with our good friend, Alyse, from Captain Chris Yacht Services.  Her other half, Chris, was off on a delivery run, but the three of us had a nice brunch at a nearby restaurant. She was also kind enough to run us over to Home Depot for some parts for the never-ending parade of boat projects.

We arrived back at the boat just as the tide was turning, and we quickly weighed anchor and got under way so that we would not be pushing against a very strong ebb there in the inlet channel.  I had figured only to get as far as Jensen Beach today, but we were under way early enough to come all the way here, with mostly fair tide the whole way.

Tomorrow we will be in Lake Worth (the lake, not the town), and we will reconnect with Martin and Stephanie aboard Blossom.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Downhill, both ways

We are anchored in the Banana River, just outside the entrance to the Canaveral Lock, near Port Canaveral, Florida (map).  We are staged here for a possible outside run tomorrow to Fort Pierce Inlet.  Sadly, we were not here this morning for the rocket launch -- the view would have been spectacular.  As I type, the Enchantment of the Seas is getting underway, and I assume Disney Dream will do so shortly as well.


Approaching Port Canaveral across the Banana River.  Our anchorage is to the right, near the bridge.

We had a great run yesterday, with a fair tide nearly the whole day.  Not only did we make our full allotment of miles for the day (I had scoped out three early stopping points, just in case), but we also got fantastic fuel mileage while doing so.  We left Matanzas Inlet just before 8am, on the end of a rising tide, which pushed us all the way to the "hump" where the tidal current changes direction, between Matanzas and Ponce de Leon inlets.  We then rode the falling tide all the way through Daytona and just past Ponce Inlet.

We ended up pushing against the last of the outgoing tide from Ponce to New Smyrna Beach, which aced us out of trying to go beyond plan another 14 miles to the Mosquito Lagoon, as it would then be past sunset.  Still, that was just the last few miles, more than making up for Tuesday's run from the St. Johns to Vilano Beach, where, just like that old joke about walking to school, it was uphill both ways.


One of the more colorful characters along this stretch of the ICW.

The last time we hit New Smyrna Beach, the town's free docks were so busy with people fishing (even though there is also a nearby fishing pier) or other boats already tied up, that we had to pass them by and anchor instead just south of the bridge.  This time, we were so early (before 3pm) on a weekday that there was only a single other boat (there is room for perhaps three) and no one fishing from the boat docks, so we decided to grab a spot (map).

The docks are tricky here, because they are curved.  Since both the dock and the side of the boat are convex, we had to tie up with just two fenders up against two pilings, with both the bow and stern between six and ten feet from the dock.  It looked a bit strange, but worked fine, and it was an easy step to the dock from our aft boarding door.  Of course, we had an audience, comprising a half dozen of New Smyrna's senior community.  Once docked they were very helpful in directing us to the restaurant and shopping district.

We took the dock opportunity to offload the trash, and then walked through the very touristy Canal Street downtown district.  We were both in the mood for pub food, and we ended up eating at a brand new joint in town, the Half Wall Beer Company.  Service was attentive, the food was quite good, and they have a huge selection of draft beers.  We arrived at happy hour, so these latter items were a buck off.

Yesterday's rocket launch was scrubbed, after several delays including an errant boat entering the security zone.  It was rescheduled for 7:05 this morning, and we went up to the flybridge to see if we had a view.  There were perhaps a dozen locals standing on the high-rise auto bridge just south of us for the same reason.  I was not hopeful, as there was heavy cloud cover to the south/southeast. The launch happened right on schedule, and while we missed the more spectacular part, within a minute or so the Delta-IV Heavy rocket was high enough to clearly see the primary ascent motors burning bright.  We watched until the glow disappeared into more clouds in the distance, then we got underway.

Getting an early start today again gave us a fair tide out of New Smyrna and well into the Mosquito Lagoon, which becomes non-tidal just a few miles south. Ironically, today's cruise took us past two sides of the enormous NASA complex as we crossed through the Haulover Canal and around past Titusville.  We passed dozens of anchorages that would have made great viewing; we were just five hours too late.  Still, I'm glad it went today rather than yesterday, when we would not have seen it at all.

Yesterday evening before we turned in, the ocean forecasts for this part of the Florida coast were improving, with decent period information (often the wave period does not show up on the forecast until one or two days out).  Louise checked again en route today, and we determined that it was looking favorable for an outside run tomorrow from Port Canaveral to Fort Pierce.  Thus we turned off the ICW a good ten miles before our planned stop, and headed east on the Canaveral Barge Canal.

We ended up at the Christa McAuliffe bascule bridge right in between two scheduled openings.  Not relishing station-keeping in the narrow canal for a good 15 minutes, I went up to the flybridge and played jungle-gym on the soft top supports to lower the four antennas that protrude above the top of the mast. We had previously lowered the two, taller, SSB antennas for an earlier bridge, but they are easily lowered from the flybridge deck level.  We cleared the bridge with perhaps a foot to spare.

From here it is still a good three miles to the inlet, a transit of a half hour by itself, but we must also first transit the Canaveral Lock and then pass through another bascule bridge.  The lock begins its day at 0600, but there is no way to know whether east or west bound traffic will lock through first.  The lock, incidentally, is what keeps the tide out of the Banana and Indian rivers and the Mosquito Lagoon.

Fortunately, we will be lifted up to a high tide in the morning and should have some help out the inlet.  It's a nine or ten hour run to Fort Pierce, so we should arrive with just enough daylight to get anchored.  That said, if the forecast deteriorates overnight, we will instead go back through the barge canal and continue down the ICW, albeit three hours behind tomorrow's intended start.

We have some business to transact in Fort Pierce, so I'm guessing we will not be leaving until sometime Sunday afternoon.  However, the run from there to Palm Beach is possible in a single day, and is easy in a bit more than that, so I have optimistically moved my eye appointment up to Tuesday morning, from the same time a week hence.  We'll be anchoring a stone's throw from the clinic.

If that all works out, then we should be able to reconnect with our friends Martin and Steph aboard Blossom early in the week.  They've been anchored for a week or so but will be at a marina north of there on Tuesday, and I'm told the marina will shuttle them to West Palm Beach, where we can meet them for dinner.  Then they'll be heading to Del Ray Beach for a couple of days, while we will likely leapfrog them to Fort Lauderdale.

It's been a whirlwind trip, but we are very happy to be back in Florida and warmer climes.  The weather's been so nice the last couple of days that we've traveled with the windows open, and we had our first beer on the aft deck in many months last night.  I'm looking forward to a pleasant ocean cruise tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Familiar territory

We are anchored off Fort Matanzas, near the mouth of the Matanzas River south of St. Augustine, Florida (map). This is a familiar stop, as we also stayed here on our last pass through this part of the ICW. We had hoped to get a bit further, but we got a late start this morning, making the 11:30 opening at the Bridge of Lions.

We had a very nice cruise yesterday from the St. Johns River down to St. Augustine. We had arranged to meet our friend Mark, who just happened to be driving past this part of Florida on his way home from Miami, there in the afternoon.  It is often said that the worst thing you can have on a boat is a schedule; meeting Mark in St. Augustine meant weighing anchor in the morning and pushing against the outgoing current on the ICW.  The current in that first stretch is wicked fast -- under one bridge it gets up to nearly six knots between the fenders, and it was running five when we came through, so we crawled past at barely three knots.

The current progressively weakened and we crossed the hump when we entered the Tolomato River, where we were now riding the outgoing tide downstream for a while.  That did not last long; the tide changed and we were then fighting the incoming current the rest of the way.  Still, we made better time than I had figured, and we dropped the hook before 3pm, well ahead of our 4:30 meetup.

That turned out to be quite fortuitous.  We anchored not far from the free dock at Vilano Beach (map), another familiar stop from our last pass through, figuring to use that for picking Mark up, and also to tie up the dinghy while we all went to dinner.  After we got the hook set, we dropped the tender to get it ready; I knew it would take some fiddling to get the motor started after sitting up on the deck, unused, since we put it back up there in Yorktown at the beginning of October.

In the process we got to use our new non-metallic winch cable for the second time, and also the crane scale I bought to weigh the dinghy, scooters, and anything else we lift.  The dinghy, by the way, weighs just under 600 pounds as it sits in the chocks, with half a tank (~4 gallons) of fuel.  The davit is rated for 800, so we are only at 75% of capacity.  The fancy AmSteel Blue winch cable is rated for over 4,000, but it still makes me nervous to see 600 pounds hanging from what looks like string.

After getting the tender splashed and squared away it only took a few minutes to get the two-stroke to light off, in its usual cloud of greasy blue smoke.  So far, so good, but before casting off for an engine run-up to clear all the gunk out of it, I went to check the steering and found it frozen solid.  I spent the next hour or so on my knees in the back of the tender, hands covered in a concoction of marine grease and PB Blaster, trying to free the corroded steering mechanism.  Between copious amounts of PB Blaster and whacking the end of the control rod with a four-pound engineer hammer, I eventually managed to free it up, while Mark waved at us from the dock a quarter mile away.

I was able to get the steering system back together and working just in time to pick him up at the appointed 4:30.  The backup option was to weigh the anchor and drive Vector over to that same dock.  It's plenty big and beefy enough for us, with ample water depth, but there is a four-hour time limit, so we'd be looking at having to re-anchor in the dark, after dinner and maybe a glass of wine.

Mark treated us to a lovely dinner at Raintree in St. Augustine, and we enjoyed an after-dinner cocktail at "Beaches" right at the Vilano pier on our way back to the boat. This morning after picking up bagels for breakfast, Mark took us to the Publix to reprovision before continuing on his way.  The day started in heavy fog, and it still had not lifted by the time we were heading back to the boat in the dinghy at 10:30.

Notwithstanding the fog, we wanted to have the current against us when we arrived at the Bridge of Lions -- its a tricky bridge with the current behind you. Noon would be ideal, close to slack, but the bridge does not have a noon opening, and so we weighed anchor to make the 11:30.  That meant we were pushing against current all day again.

We had originally figured to be in Vilano Beach two nights, so we could also catch up with friends in Jacksonville.  They had a schedule conflict, though, and so we opted to move along.  With a relatively early start today, we realized it would be possible to make it to Palm Beach in time to move my eye doctor appointment up by a week (the doctor is only there on Tuesdays) and catch Blossom there before they continued south, but only if we keep moving aggressively every day.

This stop made for a short day today.  We could easily have gone another twenty miles, all the way to sundown, unfortunately, there are simply no stopping options in that stretch of the ICW.  We'd have to go another dozen miles further, which would mean anchoring well after dark.  There's a marina nine miles from here, but we did not think shaving an hour and a half from the next three days was worth dropping eighty bucks.

And so it is that we will get under way first thing tomorrow morning, with the goal of putting 50 miles under our keel each day for the next four days.  If we can manage it, that would put us in New Smyrna Beach tomorrow night.  We still have most of a day's buffer, in case we encounter weather, bridge delays, or other unforeseen circumstances.

Tomorrow morning there is a launch scheduled from the cape.  The Coast Guard has been announcing the closure of the hazard zone all day.  If it goes tomorrow, we may catch just the upper part of the track, depending on what obstructions lie east of us on the ICW.  Personally, I'm hoping for a scrub, because we'll be on the Mosquito Lagoon Friday morning, where we'll get a better view.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Eight bells and all's well

It is shortly after midnight as I begin typing this, Sunday night (early Monday morning).  We are somewhere off the coast of Georgia, some 40 nautical miles out in the North Atlantic.  I came on watch a little after 11pm after a four hour snooze, the longest I've managed since leaving Morehead City yesterday morning.  I'm saving this in a text file -- we've been off-line since an hour outside Beaufort and I don't expect to be back on-line until we approach the coast mid-day tomorrow.


Departing Beaufort Inlet just before sunrise.

Seas are calm, with a one to two foot swell and no chop, in light wind. Absolutely perfect conditions for an ocean passage.  When we had dinner six hours ago, it was even glassy.  Conditions yesterday were much the same, with just a bit more swell and chop.


Our post-sunset view before dinner tonight.

The same can not be said for last night.  We had an early dinner, and Louise stayed up with me until we negotiated the Frying Pan Shoals Slue Channel.  As luck would have it, we hit it at dead low tide, but it was no problem, with the least depth we saw being 24.5', as we crossed through the south side of the slue. The channel was well marked, although the center markers (one of which is missing at the moment) are unlit and we had to "see" them on radar.  We crossed the shoal in calm conditions, with wind five knots or so and perhaps two foot seas with a nine second period.

Louise turned in shortly afterwards, perhaps 8:30 pm, and I settled in for what I thought would be a boring six-hour watch.  I set my laptop on the chart table (as it is now, where I am typing) and set a rolling 15-minute timer for my horizon checks and to make sure I did not drift off to sleep.


Yesterday's sunset view.  A bit rougher, but not much.

It turned out there was no chance of that, and neither was Louise going to get much on her off-watch.  By 11pm, the wind, which had been behind us during the day, clocked around to the south and picked up to 20 knots, and we found ourselves driving hard into four footers with a four-second period.  The boat itself just laughs off this kind of thing, merrily driving itself along.  I, on the other hand, spent my watch scrambling around the boat chasing after loose items and dogging things down.

The cat, who has more or less gotten over her motion sickness and settled in to a nice sleepy rhythm when on passage, wandered around the boat looking for safety, yowling, and then tossing her cookies.  I tried to wedge myself into the helm chair as much as possible, but every four or five minutes a loud crash would alert me to another item that had worked loose someplace and I would have to chase it down.  At some point, while I was chasing after something else, my computer came crashing down from the chart table, along with the charts.  At least it did not fall down the stairwell.

The loudest crashes were from items landing on the galley floor, which is right above the master berth.  Our master berth is in the best possible spot when the boat is moving wildly -- amidships fore and aft as well as left to right, and the lowest thing in the boat.  So Louise might have slept a bit longer if not for all the crashing right above her head.  Nothing broke -- we learned our lesson in the Chesapeake last year, crashing over square short-period waves until glassware started leaping to its death.

Our headway, which had been close to seven knots most of the day, plummeted to under five knots, changing our ETA to St. Marys from late afternoon to somewhere in the middle of the night.  I futilely adjusted the throttle in both directions trying to find a speed that would settle the ride down, but that setting did not exist.

On top of all the loud noises from above, Louise called up to tell me one of our bilge water alarms was going off.  We have alarms here on the bridge for that, too, but the hard-mounted sensors are high enough that we can get quite a bit of water before they go off.  Since we like to have a "dusty bilge," we also put some little battery-operated ones in the very lowest spots, to alert us to any moisture at all.

All the porpoising was burying the nose into the sea pretty hard.  Not enough to be taking green water over the deck (that's coming some day, and the boat is built for it), but the foredeck and the windscreens were under a constant barrage of spray.  So I knew immediately that we were dunking the bilge discharge for the forward bilge with every big bounce.

We learned in that same episode on the Chesapeake that if you get the discharge far enough below water for more than an instant, seawater will back up through the pump and into the bilge.  We mostly fixed this by putting 12"-18" tall loops on the discharges inside the boat, and that's kept the bilges bone dry in everything we've encountered over the last year.  Apparently it's not sufficient in the forward compartment, so it looks like I will have to also add a check valve there.

The inflow rate was barely a trickle -- only a handful of bounces were sending the bow far enough under for water to get over that loop.  With just a few ounces in the bilge, and room for maybe ten gallons before it even reached the level of the pump, all I could do was pull the little alarm out (it was on a long string -- that bilge is deep and hard to access).  We'll have to get the water out with the shop vac at some point and rinse the salt out.

Louise had to scramble to move quilting supplies and equipment so I could get to the bilge, and she also came upstairs several times to deal with some of the loose items.  Somewhere in all of this I realized one of the scooters was moving around -- I could hear the wheels or suspension creaking with each bounce, and she had to mind the helm while I donned a life jacket and went on deck to secure it.  I ended up running a heavy line across the deck to secure the rear wheels, something which we would normally do for a long crossing or heavy weather anyway, but was not warranted on departure by the forecast.

The chaos peaked some time after 1am, but we were still pitching pretty hard when my watch ended at 3am.  Louise dutifully took the conn, but, having only slept briefly in fits and starts, she had to rouse me again at 5am.  What was intended to be a pair of long watches to split the night ended up being a two-hour watch schedule in the morning, and we were both dragging until past lunch time.


A bit calmer at sunrise, obscured by a distant cloud bank.

Such is the nature of double-handing on shorter passages.  If we kept this up for another couple of days, our circadian rhythms would adapt and each of us would fall into a pattern that works.  I'm a night person and Louise is a morning person, so what's natural for us is to have an early dinner together and then for me to take the early watch until the wee hours, with Louise taking over until mid-morning, and both of us supplementing a short sleep schedule with naps during the day.

It really takes three people to have a more sane watch schedule.  At that point you can move to the schedule that's been the seafaring standard for centuries, with the day divided into six four-hour watches.  Each crew member thus does four on, eight off and your watch always starts and ends at the same time on a 12-hour clock.  Traditionally, watches start at 12, 4, and 8.

In days gone by, a bell was rung one time for each half hour of the watch that passed, and when eight bells were rung your watch was over and you passed along your orders and any conditions noted to your relief, whence cometh the age-old expression that is today's post title.  We have a clock aboard that chimes the bells of the watch, but the little chime in it quit working reliably sometime before we even got the boat and we turned it off.

Aside from all the chaos last night, we've had lots of time on board with not a lot to do.  During the daylight hours I've been reading, and I've now knocked out the backlog of magazines that have piled up while I've been busy.  I can type on the computer for the first half of the night, while the moon is still up and I can see the horizon out the pilothouse windows.

This afternoon it was so calm that Louise decided to rinse the boat -- every square inch was encrusted with salt from last night's spray fest.  One of the projects I knocked out while we were in Deltaville was to install a fresh water hose spigot on the aft deck, just below the deck shower, and this was our first time using it for an actual hose.



Sometime this morning, after the worst of the sea conditions had passed, I increased speed to 1600 rpm, to make up for losing so much headway overnight. By late afternoon our ETA had improved to noonish tomorrow.  We briefly caucused, then made the decision to change course to Jacksonville Inlet.  While still some 130 nautical miles out, we had to come left just seven degrees to the new course, adding only 14 nautical miles to our total distance, and giving us a new arrival time before 3pm, with plenty of daylight left.

That cuts another whole day off the inside route Tuesday, making this outside run that much more of a savings.  We'll have traversed some 365 nautical miles in three days.  By contrast, we left the ICW at statute mile 205 and will come back at mile 740, so we bypassed 535 statute or 465 nautical miles. Not only did we save 100 nautical miles, but what took us three days on the outside would have taken at least ten on the inside route.

Weather beginning Tuesday is unfavorable in the ocean, and so we will continue down the inside route to at least St. Augustine and maybe as far as Cape Canaveral.  We have some friends with whom we are trying to connect in the Jacksonville area first, so we'll start out a bit slowly, which will be good for recovering our sleep cycles as well.

Update:  It is now Monday afternoon and we are anchored in the St. Johns River, near its intersection with the ICW (map).  This is a familiar stop for us, which is always good when coming in from a long run outside. We finally have connectivity and I can upload this post.  We had one rough night and are a little sleep deprived but otherwise no worse for wear.


Tonight's somewhat different sunset view, anchored near the ship channel.

We had a much better run than the Nordhavn 50 Grey Goose, which departed Beaufort a couple of hours ahead of us.  They hit one of the channel buoys in the Beaufort inlet channel and disabled their rudder, needing a tow back to Beaufort. I don't know where they were headed, but last year at this time we saw them anchored in Wrightsville Beach before the boat parade.  We left on an outgoing tide in calm conditions, so I can only guess their autopilot drove them right into it.  The towboat that came for them left from the same place we did, just two slips from us, and passed us on our way out of the harbor.


Grey Goose under tow.  Damage was hard to see, but they apparently lost rudder control.

We plan to have an early dinner here and catch up on our sleep tonight. Tomorrow we will continue south on the ICW to St. Augustine, where we have plans to catch up with dear friends.  It's only a five hour trip, so we can still sleep in a little if we need to.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful

A belated happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  We had a nice holiday yesterday, and I decided even to take the day off from the blog.  I knew, one way or another, that I would have plenty of time to do so today.

We are still in Morehead City, at the Portside Marina (map).  The ocean forecast for today continued to deteriorate, and we decided to postpone our departure until dawn tomorrow, when conditions are forecast to be much better.  So I am taking the day to catch up on a few things.

We had a most excellent meal yesterday at Floyd's 1921 Restaurant, just a couple of blocks from here, which is one of the most popular and highly rated restaurants in town.  The meal was served buffet style, and included all the traditional flavors, and then some.  We each had a heaping plate of turkey with all the trimmings, and I also had some roast beef while Louise tried the ham.  A shrimp and crab casserole was to die for, and absolutely everything on the spread was delicious.  If anything, there were too many choices and we simply could not sample it all.  I can see why their annual Thanksgiving meal sells out two months in advance.

Every evening at dinner (unless we are dining with others), we like to count our blessings, with each of us listing a few things for which we are thankful.  Often those things relate to the day's events, but sometimes we count more substantial things like health, family, or distant friends.  The thanksgiving meal is no exception, but the nature of the holiday causes us to reflect more deeply on the important things in life.

And so it is that we are thankful that (above and beyond health, love, and friendship) all of our worldly problems are what we are fond of calling "first world problems."  I know I write a lot here about what broke, what went wrong, how much time, money, or effort we spend fixing things, and the like, and perhaps it may seem at times that I am whining about life.  Today is a good day to say that nothing is further from the truth.  Not only are all our problems of the first-world variety, many are of the "poor me, my yacht is broken" variety -- the sorts of problems that 99.99% of the world's population will never have, but would love to.

If you are reading this page, then you too are among the most well-off in the world; you can read (one in three can not), you have access to the Internet, and, if you have any money at all to your name you are one in twelve people on Earth.

I do not want to disappoint that portion of our readers who come here for the schadenfreude, though, and, of course, we've updated our travel plans, so read on.

Yesterday we "slept in," which these days means we got up after 7am.  We knew we had only a couple of hours to travel, and it started out as a beautiful day.  We did enjoy our coffee over our usual morning reading in a very leisurely way, with good Internet access and no pressure to move along.  We did want to be docked and in quarters well before our 3:30 reservations, though, so we weighed anchor around 8:15 for an arrival here before noon.

Conditions on the ICW were so calm that more than once we remarked it was almost glassy.  A handful of die-hards were out in their small fishing boats, but there were no cruising boats in sight of us the whole trip.  We were pleased to pass the Statute Mile 200 marker, a fifth of the way to our interim destination on the Florida coast.



The calm persisted right up until we crossed the railroad bascule bridge coming into the port.  Then we were hit in the face with 20 knots of wind out of the south -- Louise could barely stand on deck to prepare lines and fenders, and had to wait until I could get her a partial lee to finish the job.

The docks here run east-west, and we were assigned to a spot on the north side of a pier, nose-to-nose with another boat.  We knew the spot, as it is exactly where we were tied up on our last visit.  The marina was closed with no staff on hand, so we knew we were on our own for docking, which is usually our preference anyway.

Try as I might, I just could not get the boat next to that dock.  With winds steady at 20 and gusting to 25 pushing us away from the dock, no sooner could I get the bow near the pier than we'd be pushed so quickly away that Louise could not possibly lasso a cleat.  This is exactly the kind of docking where, if we have to do it, we'll ask for help from a dockhand.  Not an option this time.

After three unsuccessful passes, we gave up and had to regroup.  They had told us the fuel dock was an option if winds were high, but they were thinking about the forecast northerlies.  With the south wind, it was perilously close to a concrete quay -- one slip with the throttle and we could be in serious trouble.  We went back into deep water and I reluctantly called the dockmaster on his cell phone on his holiday to ask if we could dock instead on the channel-side face dock, across from our assigned spot.   On our last visit, there was a superyacht tied up here for repairs; we did not know if it was now reserved for someone else.

He told us to take whatever we could find, and we re-rigged the fenders for a starboard side tie.  I eased the boat up next to the dock, and the wind brought us alongside, a bit more forcefully than we normally like, even though I was using every ounce of thruster and propulsion to slow down the approach.

Neither one of us thought there would be any issue with this, even in this wind -- we've come into many docks like this before.  But this floating dock is extremely low to the water.  As soon as we touched, every single fender popped out and onto the dock.  The side of the boat then came up against the dock's rub strip, which offered some protection.  However, we have a steel half-round that protrudes an inch or so from the side of the boat starting about midships and extending all the way to the stern.

Ironically, this is a protective part of the boat, there to deflect logs, icebergs, shipping containers, and anything else that might pose a hazard under way. However, it's painted to a yacht finish, something you will be glad to part with when deflecting a shipping container on a dark night in the North Atlantic.  As luck would have it, this deflector was just below the dock's vinyl rub strip, and, in fact, it was at exactly the height of all the rusty bolt heads just beneath that rub strip that hold the dock together.

With 20 knots of wind pinning us to the dock, and wind-driven waves bouncing us up and down, we worked feverishly to try to cram the fenders back into place. In the perhaps three minutes it took us to get some fenders in there, those bolts managed to rip huge gouges into the deflector, some all the way through the paint, the barrier coat, and the fairing compound and down to bare steel.  It was particularly disheartening to see the damage, because we literally just had this re-painted at the yard a few weeks ago, repairing damage from other minor dings along the way, including a couple from an errant tender that ran into the boat.



We ended up having to lay our barrel fenders on their sides, floating on the water, to keep the boat off the dock.  Lesson learned -- if we come into a dock this low to the water again, you can bet we'll already have the fenders floating horizontally in the water on approach.  It took every fender we had, including the four big round buoy-style ones, to keep us off the dock for the next few hours. By dinner time, the wind had clocked around to the other direction, now blowing us completely off the dock, and our battery of fenders just made us look paranoid.

First. World. Yacht. Problems.

I had ended up calling the dockmaster again, to get the WiFi password, and told him about our minor mishap when he asked how it went.  First thing this morning they came down the dock, took one look at the boat, and told us our dockage would be on the house for our whole stay.  I went to the office mid-day to see if I could at least give them something for the power we were using, but they would not take a penny.

We had already decided to postpone our departure by the time we turned in last night, so I had today to see what I could do about the damage.  While it looks awful, the real issue is that the parts where the bare metal is exposed will start rusting almost immediately, and that rust will then work under the adjacent, undamaged coatings, causing a real mess.

It was not really warm enough today to do it (the directions say apply only above 50 degrees, and today's high was 44), but with few other options I scuffed up and cleaned the damaged areas and put some Gloss Black Rustoleum on them.  That will keep the rust at bay, at least for a while, and it makes the damage all but disappear.  If you look closely you can tell it's different paint and an amateur touch-up job, but at a distance it is hardly noticeable.  Best it not be too invisible, as the Rustoleum will have to be sanded off to do a proper repair with Awlgrip.

As long as we are in town another night, with convenient dockage, we walked down the block to another of the half dozen or so restaurants nearby for a final restaurant meal before heading offshore.  We ended up at the new brew-pub in town, Tight Lines, which was excellent.

Notwithstanding my contention in the last post that our next stop would be Wrightsville Beach, one day's run outside from here, we've decided to change plans.  That means we'll miss the boat parade tomorrow night, which we enjoyed very much last year.  However, our weather window is good for the next three days, and then slams shut abruptly on Tuesday, and we want to get while the getting is good.

Unless the weather deteriorates, our current plan is to cast off in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow, ride the ebb out the inlet before sunrise, and  aim directly for Florida, specifically St. Marys Inlet, which leads to Fernandina Beach.  That's a voyage of some 55 hours give or take, three full days including two overnights, our first two-night trip.

In between here and there on the straight-line course are the infamous Frying Pan Shoals, which we will cross via a natural channel known as the Frying Pan Shoals Slue.  The channel is marked at both ends and in the middle by buoys, and is said to carry at least 20' of water the whole way, but traversing at night I admit to some slight apprehension.

We do have several bail-out options along the way, should weather, mechanical difficulties, or just plain crew fatigue cause us to change plans mid-cruise.  Those include Masonboro Inlet tomorrow night (just in time for the boat parade),  Cape Fear Sunday morning (which would involve backtracking), Winyah Bay or Charleston by Sunday evening, or St. Simons inlet (Jekyll Island) Monday morning.  On the other had, if we have a really great run and make more speed than we are counting on, we might pass St. Marys and go all the way to Jacksonville inlet.

We'll be out of Internet access about an hour out of the inlet tomorrow, and I don't expect to be back in range until Monday afternoon as we approach Florida. We have filed a float plan and our emergency contacts know how to track us, and we'll be in VHF range of the USCG the whole way.

We're looking forward to being in Florida in just a few days.  While it does mean we will miss seeing friends in Georgia, honestly we are happy to be skipping South Carolina and Georgia on this pass, as those two states have always been difficult to negotiate in Vector.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yacht delivery

We are anchored in an old standby, a wide spot off Adams Creek near Beaufort, North Carolina (map).  We remembered from our last visit that we found some WiFi here, welcome after a full day spent off-line.  We stopped early today, with the hook set before 2:30 or so, just two and a half hours short of our next stop in Morehead City.

We got under way from our anchorage in the North River yesterday by 7am, having started preparations at first light.  As expected, conditions were very calm, and we had a lovely crossing of the Albermarle Sound.  Before we even made the Sound, Louise did her first engine room check, and came back to the bridge with a look of absolute defeat, reporting that the stuffing box had already climbed past 90 degrees.

I, too, felt a bit defeated at this report, but I suggested we give it a short while for the packing to "seat in" after my adjustments.  After her next check 20 minutes later she reported it was down into the 80s, and the check after that it was back into the 70s, and right at the delta-T we expected and had seen prior to all the yard work.  What a relief.

It took many more checks throughout the day before we were comfortable enough to declare victory, but it would appear at this point that the crux of the problem was the obstructed hose.  Once it was properly repacked after clearing the obstruction, things worked as they should.  There was a brief remission today, when the temperature started climbing again; I actually needed to tighten the now-seated packing just a bit to again force the water to where it should be.  We seem to be running at the proper temperature again.

As long as the packing was working right, I was comfortable adding more RPMs to get a bit more speed while we had good weather.  We ended up cruising at seven knots most of the day, in part due to the slickness of our brand new bottom job and clean propeller.  We had such as good run that we were at the anticipated end-of-day stop before 1pm.

That stop was the last possible anchorage before a marathon three-hour transit of the Alligator-Pungo Canal, a monotonous man-made cut  nearly ruler-straight and lined with stabilizer-killing submerged tree stumps.  If we had arrived at the entrance to the canal any later than 1pm, we could not have entered without risking arriving at the next possible anchorage in the dark.  As it was, though, we felt we had plenty of daylight to make the transit.

Our good run of speed held, and we exited the canal into the Pungo River well before dusk.  We ended up pushing all the way to Belhaven, where we anchored in the harbor just behind the breakwater (map) just after sunset.  We were hoping to find some WiFi there, or even a usable cellular Internet signal, but it was not to be, and we did the best we could with low-speed email on our phones.  Our last visit to Belhaven, as well as the stop at the aforementioned anchorage north of the canal, were both chronicled in the same blog post.

Another reason we pushed to Belhaven was that we wanted the protection of the breakwater for the forecast heavy winds overnight and rough seas today.  We even supposed we might be pinned there for another day.  But things were calm enough this morning that we got back under way shortly after 7am.  With sunset before 5 each evening, an early start is essential to make any progress.

The weather did deteriorate, and we pressed on through some chop and heavy fog crossing the Pamlico River.  We also had heavy fog on the Alligator yesterday, in the same spot that prompted our first use of our fog signal over a year ago.  Angel tolerates the fog signal after the first couple of blasts, but George never got used to it, and having to sound it yesterday and today made both of us think of her.

Exiting the Hobucken Cut into the Bay River we started to find some really rough stuff, but with winds astern it was not at all bad.  The already high winds were being exacerbated by a line of thunderstorms as we approached the turn into the Neuse, and when we made the acute turn to starboard, the now 40-50kt winds were on the beam.  The best the stabilizers could do was to get us within 5-10 degrees of level, and we pressed on for the next hour listing to port and slamming through three foot waves.

Rather than cut across to Adams Creek via the most direct heading, I steered as close as possible to the peninsula to our north, to cut the fetch, and by the time we were approaching Oriental the combination of naturally subsiding winds, land to windward, and a narrower section of river had the sea state back to something easily manageable.  We looked in astonishment at the plotter that said we could be in Beaufort at sunset.

Now I have a sense for what a yacht delivery skipper goes through.  On our last pass through this area we were in no rush, and we were in the mode of stopping frequently to see the sights.  Also, we had very little experience, and a 20-30 nautical mile day seemed arduous.  Now we are focused on making mileage -- start at sunrise, go to sunset, and make every bit of headway possible in between. Yesterday we did 67 nautical miles, probably a record for us for an inshore, one-day run.

Somewhere in all of this we had to think about Thanksgiving plans.  On the schedule I had set before yesterday's departure, we thought we might be in Oriental, or even Belhaven, now both behind us.  In Belhaven we realized we could easily make Beaufort, but with no Internet it was hard to make plans.  We ended up doing it all today while we were under way, catching whatever cell signal we could along the way.

While I had hoped to stop in Beaufort proper, having only ever anchored, or stopped in Morehead City, on previous passes, we could not find a venue for the holiday meal.  There were some cruiser pot-luck options, but that's not what we were seeking.  Instead we found that Floyd's 1921 Restaurant in Morehead City was doing the traditional meal.  When I called, I found out that they had been sold out for nearly two months, but they were taking pre-orders for holiday meals "to go," with all the trimmings.

By the time I lined up dockage, at Portside Marina (where we've stayed before), and called back to pre-order two meals, a fortuitous cancellation had happened. The woman who first took my call held it for us and when I called back she booked us a table for two at 3:30.  I'd rather be lucky than good.



We did not feel the need to buy two nights' dockage just for Thanksgiving dinner, so we stopped here instead, with a short run tomorrow morning.  We ought to be tied up by noonish, and have a nice half day to relax before our next leg and get in some holiday calls to family.  As luck would have it, when I went to close out the day's log entry after dropping the hook here, calling up the mileage on the plotter revealed we had just completed 5,000 nautical miles.  Our friends with Nordhavns get a pennant for this milestone; we'll have to settle for an extra glass of wine with dinner.

Right now the weather forecast for the Atlantic Ocean on Friday is marginal, having deteriorated a bit since yesterday's forecast.  Tomorrow we'll know whether it will be acceptable or if we will have to wait until Saturday for the outside run to Wrightsville Beach via Masonboro Inlet.  Either way, that will be our next stop after Thanskgiving in Morehead City.  At this rate, we will be in Florida in another week or two.