Monday, June 30, 2014

Carolina goodbye

We are at a familiar stop, docked at the free park docks in Great Bridge, Chesapeake, Virginia (map).  Until this afternoon, we've had the dock mostly to ourselves since we arrived Saturday, so we have not been too worried about the nominal 24-hour mooring limit, which is seldom enforced.  Today there are a pair of sailboats with us, with room for one more boat.  The free wall on the other side of the bridge is empty and has been mostly so since we arrived.

Notwithstanding my prognostication in the last post that we would spend Friday night in Croatan Sound and then cross the Albemarle on Saturday, we actually pressed on all the way to just inside the entrance of the North River (map) on Friday evening, having dinner under way and dropping the hook just at sunset.

That's because we checked the updated forecast for Saturday, which had worsened to seas of more than two feet on the Albemarle with 15-20 knot winds out of the east, and we figured we'd get more beaten up crossing Saturday morning then we'd like, in contrast to the fairly calm conditions we had Friday evening.  With east winds we felt secure dropping the hook just inside the river, past the end of the first spoil pile -- a spot that would be awful with north or especially south winds.

We turned off the channel past the first green marker, but had to wend our way north a bit further to get to a lower density of crab pots.  We found a spot where we could be a couple hundred feet from any buoy and called it good, and we had our own defensive perimeter of crab traps for the night.  As a bonus, we had 3G cell coverage in that spot, unlike our previous two stays in that river, and a gorgeous view all around.

That put us far enough north that we could make it all the way here Saturday, with time to spare, whizzing right past the pricey Coinjock marinas.  After crossing a pretty frothy Currituck Sound, we meandered along the North Landing River for the first time in "high season."  We learned that the abandoned facilities at Pungo Ferry, desolate on our last two transits, are a magnet for summer weekend boaters, and we had to pick our way through center consoles and bow-riders adorned with swimsuit-clad revelers.  It looked to be a good time, actually, and the water here is now the warmest we've seen, at 85 degrees.

After we arrived here I reviewed my blog posts from our last visits (my dirty little secret -- all this rambling here is really more for my own memory than for anyone else, which is why it might seem, ah, a bit wordy), to refresh our memory on the area.  When I did, I was struck by how far we've come since then.  For example, we spent several days here last visit because we were overly cautious about the weather on the sounds, whereas now, with actual experience on those sounds, we are a bit more confident.

The first time we came through, we were doing perhaps 20 to at most 30 nautical miles (nm) per day, unless we had no other choice, and the last time we passed through, 40 nm was still a long day.  Now 40 seems easy to us, and with the longer days of summer, we'll go further than that if conditions are good.

We also have a lot more experiential data on performance now, and we've actually slowed down.  Back then I wrote that we typically traveled at seven knots, and now we more typically average six.  At that writing, we had also yet to have the boat out in the open ocean.  We now have over 3,300 nm under our keel, and over 600 hours of operating, more than many boaters rack up in several years (we looked at some ten-year-old boats with fewer hours than that on the ticker).  We are by no means experts, but it feels good to no longer be beginners, either.

This stop has turned out to be among our favorites on the ICW.  We actually prefer the free wall on the other side of the bridge, which is larger and has no time limit, but we wanted to run some errands on a scooter and we thought this dock might make it a bit easier to offload.  Several errands involved businesses not open on the weekends, so we did not lower the scooter until this morning; I took first shift, picking up several oil filters, four more gallons of oil, plumbing parts, sub-cutaneous fluids for George, and sundry other items, and as I am typing Louise is off on a provisioning run.

The cats, too, have clearly become much more comfortable on the boat, as this is the first place where we finally had a mutiny.  George jumped ship, so to speak, exploring the dock a bit before we noticed she was AWOL.  We'd been giving them the run of the outside decks, after initial paranoia that kept them inside followed by many months of supervised deck time.  It's a bit surprising that George was the first escapee, and a bit ironic that she chose this dock, which we first visited under exigent circumstances as we were rushing her to the vet.  Suffice it to say, she has lost her deck privileges, at least while docked.

Tomorrow we will shove off for Top Rack Marina, another familiar stop just ten nm from here.  They offer a free night of dockage if you eat in their restaurant, which is very good in its own right, and they have the cheapest fuel on the ICW from here to south Florida.  We'll dine, fuel up, and pump out before heading north to the Norfolk area for the holiday weekend.

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