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.


  1. Just blow right on by us without even waving?

    1. I waved! Didn't you see me?

    2. Missing friends in Savannah was the one thing that gave us pause. But we got a very late start south, and the ocean run cut, by my estimate, a full week off our trip south. We'll be in Key West from the 19th to New Years -- I've heard they have an airfield :-)


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