Friday, May 22, 2020

Out of the box

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, just passing the St. Catherine's Sound, Georgia sea buoy as I begin typing. We left Internet coverage a short while ago and I am typing into a text file, but I am sure we will be back in coverage before I even finish typing.

Post-prandial sunset from our anchorage in the Amelia River.

We had a lovely dinner and a very pleasant evening aboard on our last night in Florida, other than the ever-present smell of the nearby pulp plant. At some point in the evening I noticed a phalanx of flashing blue lights over by the main ship channel; comings and goings of nuclear submarines are a regular occurrence here. I could not quite make out the sub, but at some point the blue lights started convoying over to the Kings Island sub base.

Yesterday morning we left the inlet on the ebb, zipping back out into the Atlantic, where we had mostly calm seas for the entire trip. We had good Internet coverage the whole day, too, but posting every day here seems overkill. Instead I caught up on a backlog of email and news articles, and then I spent an hour on my "day job."

Regent Seven Seas Explorer, docked at the pulp mill, as we made our way out.

That job, of course, is Chief Engineer. The little store at the merchant mariner school where I did my license will sell me some four-stripe shoulder boards if I want them, and I am entitled to wear the ones with an anchor on top -- deck officer. But the ones I really need have a little propeller on top instead -- engineering department.

Yesterday's project was to repair the day-of-the-week clock. This is one of those cheap battery-operated wall clocks that happens to have an extra hand for the day of the week. It stopped working a couple of weeks ago and I could only get it going for a few days at a stretch by fiddling with the battery. With time on my hands but unable to leave the helm, it was a perfect project.

Cheesy day-of-week clock, post-repair. I would say it's a boat-life thing, but apparently it's also a pandemic thing. I'm sorry I did not get a pic of all the little gears everywhere.

Fresh from my victory over the expensive bells-of-the-watch clock in the pilothouse, which has a similar cheesy battery movement, and with nothing to lose, I completely disassembled the movement, which is a bunch of cheap plastic gears and a minuscule circuit board driving a tiny magnetic oscillator. What I found was alkaline corrosion on the pressure-fit contacts between the circuit board and the battery holder.

Some scrubbing and a touch of vinegar cleaned it up. The hardest part was getting all the fiddly gears back into place before closing up the snap-fit case -- they won't even waste a nickle on fasteners on these things. It seems to be working fine now, and we can infer my worth as an engineer from a full hour spent fixing a ten-dollar clock.

I could not get a pic of Golden Ray. But on our AIS we could see USCG target marks for her bow and stern, as well as the phalanx of work boats around her.

When we left St.Marys inlet, our destination was an anchorage in Doboy Sound, with a fall-back of St. Simons Sound. We were making good time, though, between a good push out the St. Marys and favorable current and conditions in the ocean, and so we opted instead to make it a long day and head all the way to Sapelo Sound. It's a much easier and shorter entrance than Doboy, with a deeper bar and closer anchorages.

The route to Sapelo had us over seven nautical miles offshore as we passed St. Simons entrance, which is where the capsized hulk of the RoRo car carrier Golden Ray rests.  We could see it clearly, along with the flurry of activity around it, through our binoculars, but it was too far to get a photo. The ship appears to be still mostly intact.

Radar image of a thunderstorm catching us, just astern.

Our first glimpse of Golden Ray, while we were just off the coast of Jekyll Island, came as we crossed the magic line of 31° north latitude, which is the northern edge of our "hurricane box" and thus the southern limit of navigation on our insurance policy, starting in just a few days. We made it out with over a week to spare.

Throughout the afternoon, weather alerts kept sounding on our radio. A line of thunderstorms was rapidly moving east, and we were right in their path. Squalls are a fact of life on the ocean, and in a 6.5-knot boat, there's not a lot you can do to avoid them. The best you can do is batten everything down and be ready. As the afternoon progressed, however, I grew concerned that they would be hitting just as we were trying to navigate the inlet.

View of that same storm astern of us.

As it turned out, they caught up to us while we were still at sea, but closer to the inlet than I would have liked. Another few minutes and we would have had to pass it up and circle back after they passed. As it was, winds on the port beam increased to 40 knots, with seas choppy and confused, and we were leaning so far to starboard, even with the stabilizers, that I made a 90° right turn, putting the wind and seas directly behind us, until the worst had passed.

We broke out into sunlight just as we approached the tricky unmarked southeast entrance to Sapelo Sound, glad to have the storm behind us. We were rewarded with a lovely double rainbow as we made our way into the sound, through a squeaky channel that proved shallower than charted. Once in the deep water of the throat, seas calmed to near flat, and we made our way to a familiar spot off High Point, where we dropped the hook (map). I was careful to maintain 1,000' of separation from the nearby fish haven, marked with pilings, as per the new onerous Georgia anchoring law.

Leftmost red line is yesterday's track. Hard turn to starboard, followed by slowly turning back to our original planned turn, made an outline of my nose.

The anchorage was flat calm, and we had the entirety of Sapelo Sound to ourselves all night. It is remote: peaceful, dark, and quiet. We could hear the dolphins surfacing for air all around the boat.  The current rips through here, making the boat sound as if it is under way. We had another spectacular sunset. The storm had also cooled things off nicely, making for a comfortable night; we'd been running the AC in the pilothouse all day.

This morning we left on the ebb, and I had over a knot behind me as we raced out to sea. That was great right up until the depth sounder started screaming; I was following one of our previous tracks in charted 20'+ of water, and suddenly found myself with just a foot under the keel. The channel has moved in the five years since our last track, and NOAA has not kept up. Fortunately, user-sourced soundings on our tablet showed the clear path, and after backtracking briefly we found our way out in plenty of water.

Coming from the left in charted 20', following the sailing line (gray) and not far from a previous track (thinner red line) when we nearly ran aground. Deeper water was further south.

Today's cruise so far has been even calmer than yesterday's. So far, no storm warnings. The plotter is projecting a 5:30 arrival at a familiar anchorage in Calibogue (rhymes with bogey) Sound, off Hilton Head, South Carolina. This is where it really all started for us back when we bought the boat, so they are familiar waters.

Post-storm sunset, over a very calm and beautiful anchorage. Bugs trapped us inside, though.

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