Sunday, May 26, 2013

Long days Offshore and on the Intracoastal Waterway

Anchorage in Oxbow in the Waccamaw River
     When we looked back at our calendar this morning we were somewhat astounded that we'd traveled only twenty days since departing Boot Key Harbor in late April. For some reason it felt like many more days. We were initially delayed due to thunderstorms and squalls in Fort Lauderdale. But, since then the weather has improved by becoming more seasonable and we have been able to travel most days.

      After deciding to make it a short day yesterday, we motored only a few hours from Moorhead City, near Beaufort, NC to Cedar Creek at the mouth of the Neuse River near Oriental, NC. The winds were up at 20-25 knots with small craft warnings in Pamlico Sound. Rather than fight the sea conditions by crossing the river we decided to anchor in the creek until winds and seas settled down overnight.
     At times when we're in travel mode, as we are now it's difficult to recall where we've been and on occasion I have awakened not knowing exactly where I am. Ports of call seem to blend into each other only after a few weeks. This northern journey feels much different than the journey south. There is less excitement. The feeling is similar to returning home after a two week whirlwind vacation. Perhaps it has something to do with my reluctance to head back to a chillier climate. At any rate we have made good progress. Hopefully, my attitude will adjust as temperatures climb along the way.

Wild boars on the shoreline in northern Florida
     The scenery along the most stretches of the ICW in the south has been spectacular. Surprisingly, we've spotted an array of wild life from the usual deer, eagles, dolphins and exotic birdlife to unusual wild boars scavenging along the shoreline in northern Florida.

My GV Rubio Solista classical guitar

      We've anchored in isolated wooded creeks, pristine rivers and bays where I've serenaded the wild life with my guitar skills. Often in many of our anchorages Simple Life has been the sole vessel. At this time of year most cruisers making this northern migration are farther north braving unstable weather and cooler temperatures that accompany the seasonal change.


Sunrise on Cedar Creek, NC
by Joe Boulay
     This afternoon we're in for a treat as we have reservations at a marina in Oriental, NC. The River Dunes Marina comes highly recommended by fellow cruisers this season although the rates have been increased from $1.00 per foot to $1.50. One cruiser recommended the stop just for the spectacular showers! Apparently, they have numerous jets...we cruisers do crave a good shower. I'm also looking forward to washing the boat and taking advantage of the courtesy car for provisioning. If the weather cooperates we may take a side trip to across Pamlico Sound to Okracoke Island on the Outer Banks for a couple of days before continuing on to Chesapeake Bay. It seems new harbors beckon even while traveling north.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, May 20, 2013

Short time in Charleston

Center St. , Fernandina Beach, Florida
     When making the passage offshore from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina the excitement of arrival at the inlet was tempered by its length. The entrance even short of the sea buoy can take a sailing vessel more than a couple of hours to reach the heart of Charleston Harbor depending on tides and currents.

     Our overnight passage was as good as could be expected. We sailed for awhile, motor sailed for awhile and decided to lower sails before nightfall rather than listen to a slamming boom and flapping sails. It would have been too dangerous to venture on deck to secure the main with the rolling sea state as the wind died down after dark. During a previous overnight passage one of our battens had poked through the sail and crashed onto the deck with a thunderous crack and we didn't want a repeat performance. The wayward batten was discovered on deck the following morning as we completed our passage through the St. Mary's inlet in Georgia..."Oh, that must have been that loud crash we heard during the night!"

     Overnight passages are exhausting when there are only two people on board. I find it difficult to get any quality rest when Joe is on watch and vise versa. For some reason after nightfall, creaks and groans in the boat are magnified. Imaginations are dilated as well! It becomes easier to understand the origin of the belief in creatures from the deep. Even though Joe is harnessed in the cockpit, I have imagined him falling over the side and being dragged to his death by the boat on autopilot until he's drowned. I'm afraid I won't hear his call for help. Therefore, I don't sleep or at best I sleep with one eye opened. When I'm on watch he at least tries to rest, but also checks my status every half hour or so. So much for trust. It was a long arduous night.

     Upon arrival in the harbor, the Charleston Harbor Marina assigned us to "The Megadock," we were the undersized boat among megayachts. One nice feature of this assignment was the convenience of fueling. There were several fueling stations along the dock making it easy to tie up for the night and refuel in one easy step. The City Marina also provided a shuttle to town and to the heart of the historic district every hour. Of course there also happened to be a daily run to West Marine at 11:00 AM. I always take advantage of opportunities for provisioning. After a nap we took the shuttle to Harris Teeter for groceries. This grocery store has an excellent meat selection. I had over an hour to shop before the shuttle picked us up. Upon arrival back at the marina, the staff actually delivered us and our groceries to Simple Life on a golf cart. Knowing this in advance was helpful. I stocked up on bulk items such as a case of water, beer and of course "Chateau Carton"
(a couple of boxes of wine) that would otherwise be too heavy to carry on foot.

     After all of the groceries were stored I marveled at my sense of peace and contentment. We're in Charleston, it's springtime! We should be checking out the sights, but I think our natural instincts kick in when living aboard. I always feel content when I have a full refrigerator, pantry and clean laundry. It makes me feel safe. Perhaps living aboard brings us closer to the understanding of exactly what our true human needs are. Food, shelter and of course clean sheets!

     Later that afternoon Joe and I took advantage of the shuttle to dine at Blossom's courtyard one of Charleston's premier nuveau cuisine restaurants. This was our reward for enduring the overnight passage. While in the low country I've been experimenting with recipes for shrimp and grits and I wanted to sample Blossom's specialty, creek shrimp with tasso over grits. It was delightful and the service was top notch.

     The following day with freshening breezes we momentarily considered heading offshore once again north to the Cape Fear inlet. Hmm...I wonder where the origin of the name Cape Fear came from? That would require a 20 hour offshore trip. After discussing it we made the decision to travel more leisurely up the ICW route to Winyah Bay and enjoy the sights along the Waccamaw River in springtime.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 17, 2013

Offshore from Florida to Charleston, South Carolina

     This morning at 6:30 AM we had a positive forecast from our weather router, Chris Parker. His forecast called for winds from the southwest in the 12-15 knot range with 2-4 foot seas offshore. Finally, all systems were "go." Sounds a bit like a space shuttle launch doesn't it? We've been waiting for weather and until today conditions have been unfavorable with high winds and seas. But, this morning Simple Life set sail out of the St. Mary's inlet on the Georgia-Florida border for Charleston, South Carolina. If conditions remain as expected the trip should be a treat! No shallows to concern us along the ICW in Georgia and the opportunity to make considerable distance north along the eastern seaboard. We'd hoped to track up to Beaufort, NC, but there is a potential for squalls with winds up to 40 knots on Friday morning due to near gale force winds off Cape Hatteras. We decided to play it safe and check into the Charleston inlet sometime after noon on Friday. This requires one overnight passage. Simple Life is making good speed as she's sailing from St. Mary's inlet to points north at 6.3 knots. The wind is up, seas are down and we're hoping conditions remain throughout the day and night.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Traveling North

     A week ago at 6:30 AM Joe tuned the SSB radio to 4045 to listen to another Chris Parker weather broadcast. The forecast for the entire Atlantic seaboard was still grim. Gale force winds off Cape Hatteras, huge waves in the Gulf Stream, drenching thunderstorms throughout the entire state of Florida, with high winds in the Bahamas sprinkled with squalls and thunderstorms. Cruising boats were holed up in safe harbors and few were moving north or south. Cruisers staging along the east coast had been waiting for favorable weather windows for a couple of weeks and those who had chosen to head north of northern Florida were facing squalls, headwinds and unseasonable chilly temperatures.

     Even after processing Chris' forecast Joe and I decided to poke our nose out of the Port Everglades inlet just to satisfy our own curiosity. We raised the mainsail in the turning basin and began motoring out of the inlet. The wind was a steady 18 knots from the east southeast. Cresting waves in the inlet we're four to five feet with a short four second interval. In other words it was rough and the waves would have been cresting on Simple Life's starboard side. It would have been an arduous overnight up the coast to Fort Pierce. After slogging around off the coast of Fort Lauderdale for a short period of time a unanimous decision was made to turn around, head back into the inlet, take the sail down and return to the anchorage in Lake Sylvia.

     So now what? Joe processed additional forecasts from several internet sources as well as Chris Parker' broadcast the following day. It appeared that things were going downhill even further. A stationary low over the Carolina's was keeping normal trade wind activity away from South Florida and was ushering in northerly winds and severe thunderstorm warnings with winds in excess of 40 to 50 knots! That information was enough to chase us the short distance up the ICW to Las Olas Municipal Marina where we could procure a mooring for the duration of the impending bad weather cycle. The moorings were a pricey $37.00 per night, but Joe considered it a means of insuring the boat in the event of squally thunderstorms with the potential of dragging boats in a tight anchorage.

     Neither of us cared much for Fort Lauderdale with its high rise hotels, megayachts, luxury condos and overpriced restaurants. I missed Marathon along with the calm, down to basics environment it offered. Though, apparently Fort Lauderdale appeals to the masses.Traffic was gnarled, restaurants were hopping, foreign languages filtered out of bars and sidewalk cafes and we felt out of place. With the $17,000,000.00 homes surrounding the area we felt like "gypsies in the palace," as Jimmy Buffett would say. It was time to move on.

     When the thunderstorms subsided and weather turned more favorable northerly winds and seas were still high. It was evident that if we were to make any progress north it would require us to travel within the boundaries of the ICW. With days of potential travel lost Simple Life finally slipped her mooring lines and began the arduous journey north in what is known as "the Canyon." One of the main reasons we hoped to travel offshore was to avoid the fifteen restricted bridge openings in one day. Bridges open on schedule on the hour or half hour. It's easy to get out of sinc with the timing between bridges.
 If one bridge tender was only a few minutes late with an opening that had the potential of setting a vessel back and having to wait a half hour for the next scheduled opening at the next bridge. Another problem was that local power boats ruled this area with little regard for the lowly traveling sailing vessel with limited maneuverability or power. Travel in this area is not advised on weekends for a good's nuts! We departed on Saturday and made considerable progress until calling it a day in Lantana when we just couldn't stand another minute of relentless motor boat wakes. Simple Life was anchored for the night off the ICW. On Sunday conditions were even worse with unskilled large and small power boaters who aimed their boats at us in tight conditions while naively waving and throwing wakes in our direction without regard. We called it a day at 1:30 PM by turning into a peaceful anchorage in North Palm Beach.

Sabastian Inlet Lighthouse
     Monday offered hopes of less boat traffic and making considerable progress north. Mild weather throughout the area promised progress. We hoped to make Fort Pierce, but actually made it to Vero Beach! We'd traveled 62.5 miles in one day! That is a good day in sailing miles. Vero Beach is a cruiser friendly town that offers convenient shuttle buses to grocery shopping and the beach. We'd stopped in Vero on our trip south and looked forward to our return trip north.

     Grocery shopping always seems to be high on the list so we hopped an early bus to Publix and West Marine and were back aboard by noon. The afternoon was reserved for a trip to the beach for a fitness walk and lunch at a restaurant on the beach.

     Calm winds are ideal for traveling in the ICW and we were up early to take advantage of the conditions. First we needed to refuel, top off the water tank and get a pump out. All were available at the Vero Beach City Marina before departure. With Simple Life fueled and ready for sea, we await fair weather for passages offshore.

Fueling up at Vero Beach

Simple Life is now ready for sea...if only we can get to the St. Augustine inlet before the weather turns once again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad