Monday, November 17, 2014


Monday, November 17, 2014

As you know if you read our last blog entry, we were delighted to get back to the Chesapeake. We could finally do some sailing without worrying about going aground or clearing bridges. We looked forward to visiting the little Eastern Shore towns and anchorages where we had been before and exploring new ones. We stopped first at one our favorite anchorages, Mill Creek in the Wicomico River in Virginia, then crossed the river to visit Reedville, up Cockrell Creek. Reedville is a tiny village with not much to offer except a fish processing plant and a marine museum. But it is an attractive anchorage and we had some a great crabcake lunch at a little waterfront seafood shack. And fortunately for us, we were upwind of the fish processing plant. Our next stop, one of convenience more than anything else, was in Solomons Island, a favorite destination for Annapolis area sailors. We were not particularly enthralled with Solomons, but they do have a Tiki bar that serves some of the most powerful rum drinks you will find north of the islands.

From Solomons, it was an easy day's run up to La Trappe Creek on the Choptank River, where we enjoyed our first (and only) swim of the year, and from there to Oxford, one of our favorite Eastern Shore towns. In La Trappe creek we got our first sighting of stingrays swimming in formation. With their fin tips out of the water they looked like schools of miniature sharks. We decided to get some boat maintenance done in Oxford before heading across the Bay to Galesville, where we had reserved a mooring. That included getting our fuel “polished,” a process we felt was necessary because we had been going through fuel filters every fifty or sixty hours. To polish the fuel, they pumped it from our tanks into two fifty gallon drums, then ran it through filters back into our tanks. This supposedly removed any debris and water that had made it into the tanks. We also foolishly believed that they would clean the tanks while they were empty.

We arrived in Galesville toward the end of June. The renters who had occupied our house for the past year were moving out, and we wanted to go home and take care of some house updating. We had decided we would become part time boaters, and since we remembered how we had suffered from the heat the summer before while getting Bel Canto refitted, and that the Chesapeake is notorious for its lack of wind in August, we thought this would be a great time to enjoy Ann Arbor and do some painting and wood floor restoration on our house. (Of course, this summer was the exception and the weather in the Chesapeake was ideal.)

Reedville, Virginia

Back in Ann Arbor we relearned why we like the town so much. We heard lots of great music at the Kerrytown Concert House and the Zal Gaz Grotto, topped off with the Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend. Angie got to play Upwards with her friend Ruth, Jim got in some chess with his friend Dan and with the “old folks” at the Turner Senior Center, and we got to spend time with all of our Michigan friends and family. We also took advantage of having removed all of our personal stuff from the living area for our renters to get a start on having some of our wood floors refinished and interior walls and cupboards painted.

We returned to Bel Canto in September (on the hottest day of the year) for what we expected to be another two months of sailing before we put Bel Canto to bed for the winter. The boat was in good shape after being on the mooring for two months, except that the bottom had become pretty foul from the growth in the brackish water of the upper Chesapeake. We also discovered that some water had leaked in around the compression post—another problem that we would have to solve. We made an appointment to have the boat hauled for bottom cleaning, and in the meantime we began to think about what she needed and what we wanted from her. We knew that we didn't want to take her down the waterway again, and that short handed ocean sailing wasn't our cup of tea either. We loved the anchorages and the little seaside towns we had visited, and enjoyed the friends that we made along the way. But Bel Canto was made for ocean voyaging, and that wasn't for us. A smaller boat, with a shallower draft and a shorter mast would have been a better choice. Bel Canto needed a few more things if we were to sail her up to Maine—radar, a life raft, a new whisker/spinnaker pole, and perhaps a new main sail. These would cost a fraction of what we had put into her, but would still amount to quite a few boat units. Winter storage and maintenance could easily amount to four or five thousand dollars. We both came to the conclusion that it was time to sell Bel Canto. We contacted a broker in Annapolis who was delighted when he saw her. He thought that even though the average time a sailboat was on the market before selling was 304 days, we had a good chance of selling her during the October Annapolis boat show. We gave him a slide show that we had put together showing the boat and a list of its features, including all of the improvements we had made in her. 

Cockrell Creek Crab Shack, Reedville

In the meantime, we decided to sail back down to Virginia to avoid overstaying our welcome (that is, the three month limit Maryland places on non-resident boaters) in Maryland. We had a great sail, one of the best of the year, sailing from Oxford down to Solomons Island. Bel Canto loves a beam reach, and at times we were hitting over eight knots (with a little help from the current). From there it was a couple of short hops down to Fishing Bay and Deltaville, Virginia.

Coming into Fishing Bay the engine started to flag and surge and we knew we were in trouble. After only thirty hours our fuel filters were clogging up. Since we were so close to port, Jim decided to put in a call to TowBoat US rather than try to change the filters and bleed the air out of the fuel lines at sea. TowBoat US didn't answer our call, but a good Samaritan on a nearby sailboat did. Skip Wylie, out for a sail with his family, came up alongside and said “I'm a mechanic. Can I help? Skip tied up alongside and together we changed the primary fuel filter and bled the fuel lines.

We made it into the harbor without incident, the engine running smoothly once again. The next morning turned out to be a beautiful sailing day. The wind was steady out of the east, which meant that we would have a beam reach all the way up to Solomons. Bel Canto would be in her glory! But we were barely a half hour out of the harbor when the engine began to flag again. We made it back into the harbor and put in a call to Skip. Once again we changed filters and bled the injectors, all four of which were full of air. Since the filters were obviously clean, we decided that the culprit was an air leak caused by a piece of grit on the filter gasket that Jim had missed when cleaning the filter cup. 

While testing the engine, Jim discovered something sparking in the engine compartment. He found that a wire pinned against the engine block by a hose had worn through and was creating a fire hazard. We didn't have the equipment (spare wire, connectors—we should have had them) to make the repair, so Skip came to the rescue again. In the process we discovered that even with all of the battery switches off the wires were “hot.” Skip thought that the problem might be a fault in the new inverter we had had installed in Southport. Since Zimmerman's Marine, the outfit that had installed the inverter, has an office in Deltaville, we thought we would get it checked out. To do so, we had to take the boat around Stingray Point into Broad Creek in the mouth of the Potomac River.

The weather turned against us. We sat at the dock in Broad Creek for two days, pounded by the North wind that barreled right into the harbor. It was the most uncomfortable two days that we had experienced as the waves continually pounded Bel Canto against the dock. Finally the winds moderated enough, though still out of the north, that we thought we could make it up to Reedville, which would put us within striking distance of Solomons Island. Jim had used our last fuel filters in our battle with apparently contaminated fuel. None had been available in Deltaville, and we would have had to wait two more days for a special order to arrive, so instead we called ahead to West Marine in Solomons and bought all they had on hand on the spot, to be picked up when we arrived. We hated to travel without spare filters, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. It was an uncomfortable motor boat ride to Reedville, bashing into two and three foot waves for four hours, but we finally made it into the very quiet and protected anchorage. 

Our plan had been to make it up to the Seven Seas Cruising Club Gam being held in the Rhode River, just south of Annapolis, at the end of September. The gam is an annual event where cruisers from all over the world meet up to attend seminars, share experiences and eat, drink and be merry together. But the wind stayed strong out of the north, with constant small craft and gale warnings, and we gave up all hope of making it in time. After four days, the winds calmed, but were still out of the north. We decided to make the best of it and motor up to Solomons. By late afternoon on a Sunday afternoon we were anchored in Back Creek. We raced to get the boat anchored and the dinghy launched, trying to make it to the West Marine store before it closed. When we arrived, somewhat breathlessly, Angie opened the bag that the clerk had handed to Jim—and discovered that they had given us the wrong filters!

The next day was calm and we headed north again under power. Now we just wanted to make it back to Galesville in time to make a quick trip to Ann Arbor to help celebrate our friend Lou's 100th birthday. What's more our broker called tell us he already had a an offer on the boat, and we had to get her back for a sea trial and survey. Incredibly, a couple that had already sold their home and were living out of their car while they looked for a boat had made an offer, sight unseen, based just on our slide show and description of the boat.

Angie: I was nervous about making the trip without spare fuel filters. Fortunately we have TowBoat US insurance. They will tow you to a harbor if you have problems. We had never had to use that service, although they did help us get off a sand bar in the intracoastal. It was 42 nautical miles from Solomons to Galesville, about a seven or eight hour trip for us under power. We were moving merrily along, about half way there when Jim went below, leaving me at the wheel. As he came back up into the cockpit, I heard a change in the engine rpm's. The engine slowed without me doing anything—not a good sign! We still had over 20 miles to go. I mentioned what I had heard to Jim, and he began listening too. The engine seemed to be running OK, then it began to slow again, and Jim shut the engine off. We were now adrift out in the middle of the Chesapeake, watching the big ships come by and hoping that they would see that we couldn't move out of their way.

We put in a call to TowBoat US, and in about an hour Captain Rob came to our rescue with the towboat Reliance. He towed us right up to the dock at Bert Jabin's, with me at the wheel and Jim handling the lines, ready to jump onto the dock and brake the boat with a spring line. We didn't have to worry, it was a soft landing and soon we were secured to the dock at Jabin's Yacht Yard. We had picked Jabin's because we knew Ted could help solve our problems. We had come full circle. A year earlier Ted had worked on Bel Canto for four months getting ready to sail, and now he would be helping us get her ready for her new owners. 

 Ted checked out the fuel tanks and we discovered that they had never been cleaned. He cleaned them and polished the fuel again. He also repacked the stuffing box, where the prop shaft goes through the hull. We had had that job done by the same people that supposedly cleaned our fuel, and that job hadn't been done properly either. With the help of Dave, our rigger, we learned about the drain hole at the base of the mast. With every heavy rain, water had been running down the compression post that supports the mast into the cabin. I cleaned the drain hole and water poured out of the mast, solving that problem. When we left for Ann Arbor, the boat was ready for inspection.

Back in Ann Arbor, we waited nervously for the results of the survey and sea trial. We had to wait for the banks to reopen after Columbus day for the closing, and we were on pins and needles, but all went well, and Bel Canto went to her new owners.

Do I feel bad? Yes and no. It wasn't the adventure I had expected, nothing like our year aboard Escapade 29 years ago. Jim and I both got tired of the maintenance and expense of repairs. Bel Canto is a great boat, but she is thirty years old, and that means she will always need something. And the stress of going up and down the waterway had taken its toll. We might have been happier with a different boat, one more fitted to what we were actually doing rather than what we thought we would be doing (that is poking around on the coast and hanging out in harbor towns, rather than ocean sailing). But on the other hand, we learned a lot, had some great times and made some great friends along the way. I will miss the boating life and when we visit harbors I will think about going to sea again. Then I will do a reality check and be happy with where I am. Now, if I want to, I can go to New Orleans and buy a custom made hat at Fleur de Paris rather than radar or a new anchor for Bel Canto

Liquid Energy #3

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hurrah for the Chesapeake!

Deltaville, Virginia, The Wicomico River, Mill Creek at Solomons, Maryland. All quiet, scenic anchorages, and the best part about it is that they are all in Chesapeake Bay. Trying to do as much sailing as we can, but the wind doesn’t always cooperate. We chose to motor into a stiff north wind and choppy seas yesterday in order to spend a day in La Trappe Creek, one of the prettiest spots we have seen.  We’re getting a lot of practice in putting up the sails and taking them down. We don’t mind. We’re just happy that we’re in deep water a lot of the time and we don’t have to duck under bridges

We always laugh when we see a bridge. Wonder how much clearance there is on that bridge. Do you think we can make it? Get the binocs and read the gauge. There isn’t any gauge. Look at the nav markers. Where is the water level on them? Are we on a rising tide or a falling tide? What’s the current doing? Is it flood tide or an ebb tide? Was there a full moon? Hug the red marker in this spot. Don’t hug the green marker. Take the outside of the curve.  Yikes! This was our normal conversation on the waterway everyday for several months. This doesn’t include all the studying we had to do before we even started navigating each day. Then we would see dolphins and we knew everything was going to be ok.
Farm on La Trappe Creek

So here we are in the paradise we imagined we would find in the Bahamas or the Caribbean. It is 80 degrees and the water is warm, so when we are done with the blog we will probably go for a swim. That will be a first. Last evening we were the only boat here, though a couple of boats joined us later, so quietly that we didn’t know they were there, and two families in runabouts came in today to enjoy the little beach. But what did we expect? It is a weekend, after all.

We plan to spend two or three more weeks hanging out on the Eastern Shore and touching base in Annapolis. Then we will put Bel Canto on a mooring and come to Ann Arbor to spend the hot months (in the Chesapeake) catching up with friends and family and reacquainting ourselves with our house. And then back to the Chesapeake and Bel Canto in the fall.

The Sentinel

Water Music

Angie at La Trappe Creek
La Trappe Creek

Just another Bel Canto sunset

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Sigh of Relief

Beaufort, NC
May 24, 2014

The Waterfront at Swansboro
We have reached Beaufort, NC, (bow-fort, as opposed to bew-fert where we spent so much time this winter), and I say this with a bit of trepidation because you never know what the gods have in store for you, but we feel like we are done with the worst part of the ICW. We spent the last two nights in the village of Swansboro, gathering our courage for the transit through Bogue Sound. Many "thin spots" in the water and one serious grounding just before reaching Mile Hammock Bay on the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, our intermediate stop between Southport and Swansboro, had rattled the skipper's nerves, so we took a day off to do some boat maintenance and explore the village.

Bogue  sound is a wide body of very shallow water with a very narrow channel through it and a couple of shoaling areas. A cross wind had the skipper a little nervous about the 20 mile transit, but we made it through without incident, with Captain Braveheart doing much of the steering. So now we are anchored in Town Creek Marina, looking forward to a good dinner at the Aqua restaurant and a quiet night on the hook.

                                    These guys have saved our behinds a couple of times.

Swansboro offers quite a few opportunities for "quaint" photos.


Muscovy Ducks are the town mascots. They wander the streets freely.

Yana's is a popular breakfast and lunch spot.
Fresh, locally caught grouper for dinner!

This is NOT us!

Discarded Crab Pots

Monday, May 19, 2014

More Drama on the Waterway

Angie's Journal  
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina Monday, May 19, 2014

Crabber, Wynyah Bay

There’s never a shortage of drama. The day before yesterday we came into this spacious anchorage in Wrightsville Beach, NC, only a few boats, settled weather. So we get up the next morning and there is a little blue boat, no name or registration number, anchored kind of close to us, but Jim thinks it is going going to be all right. Well we get up this morning, and when we look out he is uncomfortably close. The wind is opposing the current, and when that happens, Bel Canto has the habit of riding up on her anchor chain. It is not all right—Bel Canto is about twenty feet from the blue boat. Jim starts the engine to avoid a collision, and the captain of the other boat comes up to see what is going on. Jim says, “We are too close. One of us has to move.” Well, the law, or at least the custom, is that the first boat to anchor has the right of way, but this guy tells Jim that he is having a problem with his transmission. So we pull up the anchor and find a new spot. Anchoring in a crowded anchorage is not my favorite maneuver, but about an hour later we are set again in a spot far enough from all of the other boats. Then this afternoon, Sea Tow brings in a disabled boat and they anchor about a hundred feet from us. Jim radios the captain of the Sea Tow boat and tells him that he thinks they are too close. Sea Tow says that as long as we all swing the same way we’ll be fine, but Jim tells him that that isn’t what happens. Sea Tow knows the rules, and reluctantly moves the disabled boat away from us.
We Share the Cape Fear River
After the excitement at McCellanville, we made it up to Georgetown without any problems. There’s no good place to anchor there, and we had reserved a space at Hazzard Marine. Hazzard Marine has a face dock, a long pier parallel to the water, which I like because it makes it easy to dock the boat, and Susan, the dockmaster did a great job of helping us with the lines. Across the dock from us was the boat Salt Shaker, that had been on a mooring near us in Beaufort, SC. Walter and Gwen, the crew on Salt Shaker, told us about the mooring field in Beaufort drama that we had missed. The winds were blowing about 25 knots, and a boat anchored just outside the mooring field began to drag into the mooring field. It just missed Salt Shaker but dragged into a boat near them and did about two thousand dollars worth of damage. This boat also had a faulty transmission. TowBoatUS towed them to to the town dock, which made the rest of the boats in the mooring field happy.

From Georgetown we went up the waterway and anchored in Bull Creek, one of our favorite anchorages on the Wacamaw River. It is a fairly deep creek, fourteen to eighteen feet all over, and surrounded by trees, so a lot more protected than the marsh grass anchorages farther south in South Carolina. We were all alone, but the next morning as we were pulling up anchor, another blue hulled double ender, Grace,  passed us. They had come in when we were below and anchored farther up the creek. We met them later in Southport and they told us that when they came into the creek and saw us they said, “Look, we are already here.”

In Bull Creek we studied the waterway on up to Southport, NC, and decided we’d rather avoid all of the shallow spots and problem bridges, so we back tracked to Georgetown and anchored in Wynyah Bay, near the ocean, waiting for the right time to make another ocean passage so that we would arrive in Southport after daylight. At five thirty we pulled up the anchor. It took us two and a half hours to make it out into the ocean clear of all of the shoals against a two to three knot current, but we made it before dark. We had a southwest wind of about 10 knots and were able to sail for about four hours and motorsail the rest of the way. It was a pleasant sail under a full moon, and we got into the channel of the Cape Fear River around seven a.m.

The man made harbor at Southport is tight with fairly shallow water. We had hoped to dock at the face dock, but the harbor master told us they were saving that for “bigger boats,” and directed us to a T-dock behind a big catamaran. It was a tight turn, and Jim was going as slowly as possible, as he always does. The wind caught the bow and we could see we weren’t going to make it. Jim threw the boat into reverse. Bel Canto has a mind of her own in reverse, and as we neared the bank behind us we hoped that there was enough water that we wouldn’t go aground. Jim got the boat turning the right way, I threw the dock hand a spring line, and we eased in behind the catamaran.
Shipboard entertainment, Beaufort
Southport turned out to be a timely stop. When we plugged into shore power, we discovered that our inverter/battery charger had crapped out. We already knew that the pump to the hose that we use to clean the mud off the anchor chain had failed, so we got them both replaced. Steve, the service manager, and Jeff, the electrician, knocked themselves out and we were soon ready to go again. Jim thought he had died and gone to heaven because he no longer had to dip a bucket to wash down the anchor chain.

At first I didn’t care much for Southport. After we arrived we set out looking for a breakfast/lunch place. We walked about a mile before we found a place called “Locals,” the only place that serves a full breakfast in Southport. By the time we got there we decided that lunch was more appropriate and ordered fish and chips. Most of the food on the menu was deep fried, not our usual fare, but hungry and dead tired after a night on the water, we just needed food. So my first impressions of the town weren’t very good.

Attentive Audience
But on the way back to the boat we passed a place called the Wine Rack. We stopped in and the owner told us about the Friday night wine tasting. He showed me the list of featured wines, a pinot noir, pinot grigio, chardonnay, Barbera, and a Tempranillo, all my favorite wines. I told him we would be back. He also sold premium coffee, and we bought a pound of Guatemalan. Then we kept walking and discovered the really cool section of Southport, down by the river. After we rested up this was where we hung out. We had some great sword fish, salmon, and grouper dinners at the Fishy Fishy and at Provision Seafood. They are both funky little places that reminded me of Key West in the Seventies. We listened to some great music at Fishy Fishy by two guitarists, one of whom had been on the road with Tina Turner among others.

The Friday night wine tasting was another hit. It cost five dollars a person, but if you bought a bottle of wine you got the five dollars back. They had great snacking food, crackers and cheese, salami, chips, spinach dip, and salsa. A glass of wine was five dollars for a generous serving. We ended up getting a bottle of the Barbera. So after further exploration of the town, I changed my opinion. Good food, good wine, good music and kind people will do it every time.

Just another sunset on the ocean

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"For All In Tents and Porpoises. . ." a poem

If you have been following our blog, you know what a thrill we get from the dolphins that we see almost every day and that sometimes come to play around our boat. After our first sea adventure 28 years ago, as we were passing by Marine World, we saw two dolphins coming from that direction, and we fantasized that they were escapees. The first line and a half of this poem started circulating in my head (at that time I mistakenly thought we were seeing porpoises). Many years later the line materialized into a poem. With apologies to those who may have seen it in our 2010 blog, I am repeating it here.

For all in tents
and porpoises and whales
kept captive for our delight
I apologize.
Nor do I think it right
to discriminate
against beasts of the field,
although there may be some debate
about the food we eat--
I love my meat.
But it makes me sad
to see hogs and cattle
stuffed into pens like sausages.
I would rather we take
just what we need
from all the gods have given--
that would be heaven!
We have grown too many,
but at the least
I will take my pleasure
from seeing the beasts
where they freely roam
in their native home--
or not at all.

Jim George

Friday, May 9, 2014

Back up the Ditch

Sunrise, Minim Creek Anchorage

We had our plans all worked out for the next leg of our journey, from Beaufort, SC, up to Georgetown. This is a problematic stretch of the waterway, with several patches of low water and a couple of bridges we had to be careful going under. This meant getting just the right timing of high and low tides to have clearance on both ends. So we delayed our  departure from Beaufort for a week to get it just right. (No problem—we love Beaufort!) Well, you know what Robert Burns said about the best laid plans of mice and men.
Roof Party

Monday, the Cinco de Mayo, was a beautiful day to set out. We slipped our mooring just in time to make the nine o’clock opening of the Lady’s Island bridge and passed under our first bridge with a good foot and half to spare over the tip of our mast. As usual, a few dolphins showed themselves as we were setting out, and in spite of a fair amount of traffic ranging from paddle boarders to jet skiers, we looked for a pleasant day on the water. The goal was to reach the notorious Ashepoo-Coosaw cut, a five mile stretch where we had calculated 3 feet of water at low tide, on a rising tide, then anchor for the night on the other side.

All went well until we reached the Marine Air Force refueling station about an hour out of Beaufort. We were passing the Marine base dock when Angie noticed this guy in a life jacket frantically waving and yelling at us. We wheeled around to see what the nutcase wanted and were informed that we couldn’t go through because the marines were conducting firing practice up ahead. No guard boat, no sign, just a guy on the dock waving his arms. He told us the firing would go on until noon, and that we would have to anchor some place and wait to go through. While we were doing that, several more boats came along and would have passed on through if we hadn’t radioed them to tell them what was going on. One power boater was very skeptical of our “rumors” and kept spouting off on the radio about how this didn’t make sense. Well, just before noon a marine launch did show up from the firing area and tell us that the firing would be over at one thirty. A little after one a power boat came through from the other direction, evidently missing whatever warnings the marines had placed on that end, and that ended their playing war. This put us three and a half hours behind schedule and would get us to the Ashepoo-Coosaw cut on a falling tide.
The Marine who was supposed to stop traffic
We started thinking of alternatives and decided that we could go down the Coosaw River and toward the ocean on St. Helena Sound, and then up the Ashepoo River. That would take us about an hour and a half more, but it was deep water all the way. We were a little nervous about it, since it was off the waterway and an unfamiliar route to us. As we passed the cut and headed down the sound, we radioed the crew on Night Watch, a smaller (and shallower draft) boat than Bel Canto, and asked then to tell us the depth of the bar when they entered the cut.

Night Watch reported nothing less than seven feet, so we turned back toward the cut. I must have misjudged the entry, because as we went between the entrance marks, our depth gauge went to five feet and and Bel Canto started slowing down. We must have plowed a furrow through the silt, because she kept going and soon we were back in 7 to 10 feet of water. The next day was a “normal” day on the waterway, and we set anchor in the Stono River, just South of Charleston, in order to take Elliott’s Cut at slack tide in the morning. You might remember us writing about going through Elliott’s cut on the way South. The current was four or five knots against us, and it took us 40 minutes to go a half mile. This time we breezed through on the end of the ebb tide, crossed Charleston Harbor, and in an hour or so we were back on the waterway.  Our timing was perfect, rising tide for the problem areas, but not so high that we couldn’t make it under the troublesome Isle of Palms bridge.

The day was hot, but it would have been a pleasant day, with dolphins surfacing next to the boat a couple of times. Would have been except for the plague of small black beetles that descended on us. Fortunately they didn’t bite, but they did drive us crazy landing on us and on everything around us. They usually died when we brushed them away, leaving an ugly yellow stain where they had been. At the end of the day, Angie must have cleaned up a thousand corpses. Fortunately a breeze came up and blew most of the beetles away. With a straight stretch of the waterway ahead, we were even able to sail for our usual 20 minutes. A little after three thirty, we decided to pull into the Awendow Creek anchorage where we are now, about half way between Charleston and our destination of Georgetown.

That probably wasn’t the best decision we could have made. (I should say that I made.) Angie suggested that we could go on to the next anchorage, about fifteen miles up the ditch. It was high tide and there was a problematic stretch of water ahead of us. But that would have meant another two and a half hours on the waterway. I declined, thinking that the low tide the next day (today) was at nine-thirty and that if we left by eleven we could still make Georgetown before the marina where we had a reservation closed. Miscalculation.  Low tide was at eleven. We checked our log and found that on the way down we recorded six feet in this stretch at just past half tide (on a falling tide). So today we should be able to make it through a little after one. That means we won’t make it to Georgetown today, but what the hey. Georgetown will still be there tomorrow. That’s what it’s like, the good and the bad, on the waterway.

Sunset, Awendaw Creek Anchorage

The Next Day

That was supposed to be the end of this blog entry. But I lost the layout and didn't have time to do it over before it was time to take off on the rising tide. As I said, we had a five mile problem stretch of water ahead of us, sometimes called the McClellanville stretch. From our anchorage in Awendaw Creek I could see a couple of trawlers heading up the waterway, so I radioed them to get a report on the water levels. The report was positive, and at a little after one, we hauled anchor and started up the waterway again. We tiptoed our way along for most of the five miles. I was steering and trying to judge from the inlets where the shoaling would be. Well I misjudged (I should have followed the advice of my co-captain and just aimed for the next green marker). Suddenly the boat stopped, and the depth sounder showed three and a half feet of water under us. We were stuck. We were still on a rising tide,  but a fairly stiff wind was blowing us toward shore, so I doubted if we would float off this time as we had before. We asked the crew of a passing power boat to go by us at full speed, hoping their wake would bounce us off, but they demurred, saying it wasn't their boat. After a few attempts to motor us off, I reluctantly called TowBoatUS in Georgetown for assistance. (We have insurance that covers this). We were told that their estimated arrival time was in 50 minutes, so in the meantime we set to work to do what we could to get ourselves off.

The procedure for getting yourself out of a situation like this is called kedging. You load an anchor into your dinghy and drop it as far out from your boat toward deeper water as you can. Then you haul on the anchor and try to pull your bow around and work yourself off the bottom. This doesn't sound too difficult, but we had a stiff wind and a strong current to contend with. And first we had to get the motor on the dinghy using the hoist on the stern of the boat. And remember, Bel Canto weighs sixteen tons! We were winching on the anchor rode with little success when another power boater came along and offered to create a wake for us. He did a great job spinning his boat on our shore side and creating about a two foot wake. After two passes we were able to pull ourselves off, just as TowBoatUS showed up. They helped us retrieve our anchor, which was stuck firmly in the hard mud of the bottom, and we were on our way again.
Dolphin Playing

I was totally exhausted after that ordeal, and captain Angie took us to our next anchorage, where we are now. On the way the dolphins rejoined us and seemed to be having great fun playing in our wake. Just before we reached the anchorage, Angie asked me to take the wheel. "Do you trust me?" I asked.
"No," she replied, "but I have to go pee."

Sunset, Minim Creek

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Leaving St. Augustine

El Galeon San Pelayo  (photo: St. Augustine tourist bureau)

We had mixed feelings saying good by to St Augustine. Right on the intracoastal waterway, St. Augustine has become a magnet for cruisers and has an active community of sailors, some who come and stay for a few days a year, some for months, and some for years. One of our cruising friends said you can leave but it’s like a bungee cord, pulling you back to it. It is home port to every kind of boat imaginable, including the Spanish galleon San Pelayo, replica of the ship sailed by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine’s founder. The beautiful square rigger, which sailed here from Spain and is spending years cruising the East Coast before returning to its homeland, calls St. Augustine its home port in the Americas.
The Schooner "Freedom"

What makes St. Augustine so attractive? The oldest continuously occupied city in the United States (since 1565), under the flags of four nations (Spain, France, England, and the United States (and one wannabe, the Confederate States of America), it has to rank with New Orleans, San Francisco, Charleston, Savannah and Boston as one of the most interesting cities in the country. Truly impressive buildings, some authentically ancient (by American standards) like the Castillo de San Marcos, the fortress guarding the inlet from the sea. Some in the Spanish Renaissance style built as hotels by Henry Flagler, cofounder with Rockefeller of Standard Oil . And, as we said, a friendly community of sailors ready to meet for happy hour. For us, a month passed in St. Augustine before we knew it. We decided that this is as far south as we needed to go for this year, and planned to head back to the Chesapeake, and possibly on to Maine, for the summer.

At the Castillo de San Marcos

Our plan was to head north at a leisurely pace, taking time to explore and enjoy the anchorages that we had passed through or passed up on our way south. We aimed to follow the advice of our friends on the boat Cinderella: We don’t want to be any farther north than the azaleas are in bloom. What a luxury it is going to be to look forward to longer days and warmer nights as we travel after the bone chilling cold we experienced on our way south in the fall. Our first day was a short one, about twelve miles or two hours to Pine Island. No hurry, so Jim had time to change the two fuel filters before we left. Always exciting, as we’re never sure whether the engine will develop an air lock and refuse to run after we do this. But after a brief sputter the engine kicked in and ran smoothly, and by one o’clock we were heading through the Bridge of Lions.

It was a beautiful day, with dolphins swimming around our boat as we passed the St. Augustine inlet and headed up the waterway. By three o’clock we were anchored among the low lying islands and marsh grasses, sitting in the cockpit, sipping a beer, watching the herons and egrets and thinking what a great life this is.

The next day, Saturday, looked to be equally idyllic. The weather still beautiful, in the seventies, light breeze, sunny skies, a whole family of dolphins. The nearly full moon phase meant that low water came in the middle of the day, so none of the five bridges we had to pass under were going to be a problem. The only problem was that traveling on the waterway in Florida on a weekend is about like driving on I-75 or I-95. Sports fishermen and jet skiers buzzed passed us, often at close quarters, without regard to what their wake was doing to us, not to mention the water skier who kept falling right in our path . About three o’clock we reached our next anchorage, St. George Island, where we planned to spend a day exploring the plantation and poking around the marshes in our dinghy. What we didn’t remember was that we had entered and left this anchorage on the way down at half tide, and what we hadn’t counted on was the exceptionally low water caused by the nearly full moon. Angie has built in radar that tells her when to hand over the wheel to Jim,and this is what she did. As we headed into the harbor, Bel Canto came to a sudden stop. I can’t say we were hard aground, because, fortunately for us, the bottom was soft mud, but we definitely weren’t going any farther. We weren’t too worried, because we were on a rising tide, and the light wind was blowing in the right direction to help us off when the time came. We motioned to a passing powerboat that had politely slowed as it passed us  to come over, planning to ask them to speed by us creating a wake to help lift us off. But by the time they got near, the tide lifted us enough and the wind turned the boat enough that we were able to motor off. Co-captain Angie said there was no way that we were going to make it over the bar at the entrance to the harbor in the next couple of hours, and that we should move on.
The Anchorage at Pine Island
Throwing B-Day Roses to the Manatees
There is no good anchorage near this one, but Fernandina Beach was only three or four hours away, so we decided to motor on. The water was still low, but after only one more close encounter with the mud, we made it through the tough spots. By evening we were moored at Fernandina Beach.

Angie: After going aground twice on our way to Fernandina Beach, we decided to skip Georgia, which has even more “trouble spots,” and do another 24 hour passage from Fernandina Beach, FL, to Beaufort, SC. This one was quite a contrast to our earlier passage in the other direction. We were able to sail for several hours, breaking our previous record for time sailing. The winds were out of the East and sometimes on the nose, but the wave action was much better this time, and even when the wind was light, there was enough to fill our sails and help to steady the boat. I got two hours of sleep instead of a half hour and it wasn’t as cold.  At night we could see the full moon through the partly cloudy skies.
"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou . . ."

Coming out of the Fernandina Beach Harbor making our way to the ocean was quite a ride because of the opposing tide and wind. We were crashing into the waves for at least an hour. If I had been on shore looking out at these waters, I would have said, “I’m not going out there!” Well, I was out there. Bel Canto is really seaworthy, and she took the waves better than her crew. As we came out the long entrance channel, there was a clear line where the brackish river water met the ocean. As soon as we passed the line, the water smoothed out and we were able to sail comfortably. It was a great sail with a few lovely surprises, Like the school of rays swimming just under the surface of the water, resembling nothing more than a squadron of fighter planes. Then I saw this orangish/brown thing floating in the water. As we got closer, I saw that  it was a sea turtle. It dived and then I saw this little turtle swimming just behind it. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach and then desert the eggs, so I don’t think this was a mother and baby, but that’s what it looked like.  We saw another one swimming later on. And we had a whole pod of dolphins playing in the waves around our boat.  We were pretty excited about seeing all these sea creatures. All in all, it was a beautiful trip, the kind we live for.