Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gone to Carolina...

As I start to type this we are under way in the North Atlantic, about 56 nautical miles S-SE of Cape Fear, North Carolina. It's about 3:30 Monday afternoon, on the third day of what will prove to be a passage of just a little more than three full days.

Sunday night's sunset. Saturday we had too many clouds to the west.

We weighed anchor in Palm Beach as planned at 05:00 Saturday morning. That had us navigating the inlet in the dark, and, this being the weekend, we had to dodge all manner of early fishermen, including the moron who anchored his center console nearly dead center in the ship channel. Still, with good breadcrumbs, nice navigational aids, and some familiarity with this inlet, we made it out without incident.

Before we even reached the jetties, though, we were being pounded by the swell. The forecast was for less than three foot seas, and these were at or just above the upper limit, but we had no period information. The period turned out to be short, perhaps four seconds, and the waves were steep and square. We very nearly turned around after clearing the jetties.

We decided to stick it out at least until we were in deeper water; swell gets pushed up by the shallows into steeper waves closer to shore. Between deeper water and having turned north, putting us broadside to the waves where the stabilizers could help the most, the ride became tolerable, but barely so. The cat made her displeasure known loudly, and even Louise was a bit green around the gills.

True to forecast, the ride got better throughout the day, and by dinner time it was almost placid. Our first night at sea was quite calm indeed. We also had a considerable push from the Gulf Stream for most of the day, at one point doing over nine knots. That tapered off toward evening, though, and by the 9pm watch, we had slowed to just 7.2 knots, a bit over our normal speed through the water.

The early push gave us a false sense of optimism, with the plotter showing an arrival sometime this morning, falling only to this evening by the watch change. But all that changed overnight, as we entered a lull and then a counter-current, with our speed over ground dropping as low as 5.1 knots at one point.

Things have not gotten better since, with speeds in the sixes predominant, occasionally climbing into the low sevens but also occasionally falling back into the fives. When I started typing we were doing 7, and as I glance at the dial now I see we are doing just 5.7 knots.

Checking our progress against the Gulf Stream forecasts. These proved useless.

Before we left we downloaded and printed the model forecasts for Gulf Stream velocities, a beautiful color-coded chart that was hopelessly stale and just plain wrong by the time we needed it. The Stream right now is going through a cycle of transforming from a graceful arc along the coast to a pair of swirls which meet about 300 nautical miles east of the Georgia/Florida border. Most of what's west of that meeting point is a confusing mess of eddies and counter-currents.

Without good, timely information about where the eddies start and end, it's nearly impossible to hunt around and find the sweet spot. Once you find yourself in an adverse current, you could easily be 20-30 nautical miles off the favorable flow in either direction. For perhaps a knot or so of delta, there's no percentage in driving that far off course, possibly two or three times, trying to find it.

Instead we maintained our heading, a direct line to Beaufort Inlet, which our model chart had showed would also be favorable almost the whole cruise. From our current position it is unlikely we will get any more push, and the best we can hope for is that this counter-current will let up. At this moment the plotter predicts we will arrive around 9:30am tomorrow morning.

At least it has been an almost entirely calm and mostly pleasant cruise so far. I've been on deck each evening marveling at the stars; the Milky Way is quite prominent, and with the binoculars I can see hundreds of Messier objects. Saturn is also prominent in the west for a few hours after sunset, and though I can not see any detail I can at least tell the rings are there with the glasses.

Sunday morning after the 3am change of watch, Louise called me back upstairs (before I turned in) to see bio-luminescence prominent in our bow wave. And shortly after I awoke in the morning she called me upstairs again to look at the group of seven dolphins that were playing in our bow wave. I missed them breaching, which she caught early on as they were swimming for the boat.

Most of Sunday, well offshore, we were apparently ideally positioned to hear both Coast Guard Sector Charleston and Coast Guard Sector Miami on the VHF. Both were working weekend mayday calls. Charleston was dealing with a 35' catamaran that capsized offshore with five souls aboard; the vessel later sank. All five were picked up by a fishing boat named "The Office." Miami was working a mayday call from a 25' Mako taking on water offshore; they were eventually assisted by a commercial towboat. Mostly what we heard was both sectors chastising boaters for inappropriate use of channel 16, one of the ways we full-timers know it's the weekend.

Dead flying fish on deck. The brown stain behind him is one of our never-ending rust spots. This one turned out to be the first of over half a dozen.

Today Louise was on deck rinsing the salt off the boat when she found a flying fish that had gotten a bit overzealous, paying for his error with his life. We've seen hundreds of them on this passage. I am always amazed at just how far they can fly.

What we have not seen is any other traffic. The radar set has been empty and even the AIS display has been devoid of targets for most of the cruise since passing Canaveral. We saw a distant cruise ship Saturday night, and this morning a 130' yacht passed us. Now that we're again within a few dozen miles of some major ports, I've got 71 targets on the AIS. But the closest ship is still ten miles distant, and I see nothing on the horizon without glasses.

Built-in charging ports keep the "warts" out of the way and leave us with a free receptacle.

It's been calm enough for much of the trip to get some projects done. It was even calm enough for a while for Louise to do some sewing. With the goodies from Home Depot I installed a magnetic catch for our bathroom door -- the existing brass hook-and-eye, while very nautical, rattles when under way, and is fiddly to operate, especially with your hands full. I also replaced the helm outlet, which I installed a year ago, with one that has built-in USB charging ports, which is what we've mostly used that outlet for anyway. I renewed the finish on the flybridge cocktail table, which was getting weathered. And I fabricated a retainer for our galley drawers.

Fresh finish on the flybridge table.

These drawers have never come out under way, but neither have we been in any truly rough seas. Even pitching over six footers gave us concern though; the drawers are heavy. The top one is full of silverware and utensils, including kitchen knives that would become dangerous projectiles, and the middle one has the dishes, which are heavy and breakable. The existing latches seem ill-suited to the task.

Drawer retainer bar for heavy seas.

This setup involves two through-bolted rings that are sold as drawer pulls, and a heavy oak dowel. To fit the dowel in place the upper ring must flip down over the top after first inserting the base into the lower ring; the counter-top overhang precludes just sliding the whole dowel in from the top. It's pretty sturdy and should keep the drawers in place even in the worst seas; we'll only deploy it when needed. The upper ring flips up out of the way so the drawer can be used normally, and the dowel stows in a nearby locker.

Unobtrusive when not in use.

I've also caught up a bit on my reading backlog, pounded out an enormous diatribe about installing a Windows 8.1 machine for a chart plotter, and got most of this post written. I'll upload both posts when we are back in cell coverage just outside of Beaufort; the next time you hear from me will be after we've caught up on our sleep and gotten settled in someplace. I've also watched a bit of TV, thankful for our gyro-stabilized satellite dish.

With any luck we'll have another calm night, and we should be arriving at Beaufort Inlet tomorrow morning. We'll have a favorable tide until 10am, so I hope we can arrive before then. We'll most likely drop the hook in a familiar spot off the Coast Guard station there at Fort Macon, and move the boat no sooner than Wednesday, after we've had a good night's sleep.

Update: We are safely anchored near our familiar spot, just a bit closer to Fort Macon State Park (map). While I'm sure we had cell coverage for a good few miles offshore, I went off watch at 02:30 and we had to negotiate the inlet at 07:30 this morning, so I slept right up until we reached the sea buoy. No time then to get the posts uploaded.

Over the course of last night, another six or so flying fish also committed suicide by bashing into the boat, five of which ended up on deck. And just after the turn of the watch last night, I got very busy, dodging an enormous freighter and passing two tugs close aboard. Fortunately, the heavy traffic was all in one big cluster, and things were quiet the rest of the night.

Just after dinner we had a lovely sunset, followed by the arrival of a group of a half dozen or so adolescent dolphins, who stayed with us a good ten minutes or more, enjoying playing in our bow wave. We got to see breaching, and a tail-slapping behavior, and quite a number of underwater barrel rolls. I took some photos and a minute or so of video, which I will try to upload in a later post.

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