Carrot Island

Saturday November 10, 2012

Not that we had chosen this anchorage for a reason, but we happened to be anchored next to Carrot Island which is rumored to have wild ponies roaming it. At first I was a little skeptical, but after checking my good friend Google it showed lots of images of the island and it seemed to be overrun with them. After finishing some projects in the early afternoon (Matt was glassing in a bulkhead to the anchor locker and I was roaming around town trying to find an internet signal) we jumped in the dinghy at low tide and beached ourselves on the sand. Throwing down the dinghy anchor since tides change so much in the area and we didn’t want to come back to no ride home, we started to make our way forward to the hills and trees of the island. Standing in our way though was lots of marshy grass and ankle deep water. This wasn’t a problem for me as I had borrowed Stephanie’s rain boots but Matt was walking around in his Merrell water shoes taking the full brunt of the nastiness. Getting to dry land we had to make our way through thick brush and branches but after a little bushwacking we were in the clear.

 Walking up the sandy grass we got to a high point on the island where we could see the Atlantic on the other side but could not see any ponies roaming. Treating me as if I had a sixth sense Matt asked me what direction we’d find them and I pointed to the left (only because that side had more land to cover) and we began making our way over. Although we weren’t seeing any wild animals at the moment it didn’t take long to discover that they were actually there by the gargantuan amounts of horse poo all over the island. It was all over and most of the time you had to be careful where you stepped as not to walk into a big pile of it. It was starting to feel like we were back on Mackinac Island again. Getting scientific we started searching out fresh piles thinking it may lead us to the ponies. Walking up and down the dunes and through the trees we did not see anything moving except a few birds. So far this search was looking fruitless. Marking our way from the solid ground towards more marshy land in the center I pulled out my binoculars to scan the area. Looking all the way across the island as far as I could scan I stopped as I saw a dark figure in the distance. Going back and focusing in a little clearer I saw two ponies grazing. Pulling the binocs down I looked in the same spot to just be able to make out two dark specs. Getting excited I handed the binoculars to Matt so he could see and started formulating a plan to get ourselves over there.

There looked to be a miniature lake separating a straight path to them so we hugged the sometimes solid and sometimes soft ground that lined the water. Every few minutes the ponies in the distance would become a little clearer and my excitement grew. We walked for close to a mile and just as I could start to fully make them out with my own eyes our path was halted. Not only was there a lake between us and the horses on one side, but now there was a channel blocking our other way around. We weren’t sure how deep it was or if it was crossable, but a fishing boat sitting off to the side verified that it was nothing we could make our way through. The journey ended here. Standing there with disappointment I thought I’d never get to see my wild ponies when we noticed the fishing vessel disappear. The channel must lead out to Taylor Creek which means we could get in to it with our dinghy and practically land ourselves right next to the ponies. Hope was growing high again but unfortunately the sun was not. By the time it would take us to go back to the dink and ride it all the way out here again it would be close to twilight. The hunt would have to wait. We made our way back through the marshes and high ground and back through the branches to where the dink was still sitting waiting for us. Getting back to the boat we consoled ourselves a little by making up some big juicy hamburgers to throw on the grill. Being treated to another beautiful sunset and a quick dolphin sighting I watched the sky slowly turn black and the smoke from our grill send clouds across the anchorage.

So close yet so far away.

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Things That Go Bump In The Night

Thursday November 8, 2012

Our destination today wasn’t a very long one, only about twenty miles, going down from Oriental to Beaufort. This was originally where we were going to sever ties with Rode Trip as they headed into the Atlantic and make a six or seven day trip to the Bahamas while Serendipity continued down the ICW. Not ready to get rid of each other just yet we both changed our plans that we’ll still go to Beaufort together and then make the jump out in the Atlantic and come back in at Charleston, about 200 miles down the coast. Originally thinking they’d be leaving from Beaufort though, they had their last immunizations scheduled at the Health Department here and needed to be to Moorehead City right next door this evening. Letting ourselves sleep in just a little bit because of the short ride we upped anchor at eight-thirty and pointed our bows directly across Neuse River to Adams Creek which would take us directly into Beaufort. The sun was semi-visible but it was better than clouds and rain. Since we on Serendipity had no idea where we’d be anchoring that night we let Rode Trip lead into the channel and followed not to far behind. Behind the wheel as usual (Matt came too close to hitting a few markers in the water, no attention span I tell you) I was called up by Brian on the VHF. Switching to 71 as we usually do I was expecting to hear a course update or some kind of detour when Brian exclaimed “Dolphin sighting off our port bow, keep your eyes open”. Almost dropping the handheld I put on the autopilot and started scanning the waters ahead of us. We had not seen dolphins yet on this trip and I was determined to do it before we reached South Carolina. It seems like everyone besides us has seen them so far on their trip and are always surprised when we mention we haven’t come across any yet. Just like the bald eagles that seemed to be everywhere except where we were, the dolphins that had been eluding us were a daily occurrence for most people. I was not going to let this day finish without seeing one now.

 Excited himself but knowing how bad I wanted to see one, Matt took control of the wheel while I ran up on the bow with camera on hand. It felt like I was waiting forever and thought I had missed my chance once again when I saw the water begin to form ripples in front of me. This was it, I was about to have our first dolphin sighting. Two fins sliced through the water a few hundred feet ahead of us and then went back under. Waiting for them to come back up I kept my eyes peeled, not sure where they would move on to next. While looking far ahead one of them momentarily surfaced just off our starboard bow and went under our keel. It was very quick and if I had looked away for a moment I would have missed it. Having our two boats almost slowed to a stop while a few others behind us were quickly catching up we kept waiting for the fins to surface again. Now we could tell there were two pairs although they would just come up for a brief second and then go back below leaving us guessing to where they’d come up next. They must have been feeding because it looked as if they were on a mission and not interested in us or our boats at all. I really can’t wait for when we’re traveling on the ocean and a playful group follows us and jumps off our bow, but these four dolphins were enough to satisfy me for now and finally make us part of the club.

Getting out to Beaufort I still had no idea where we were anchoring and kept blindly following behind Rode Trip. After passing under one large bridge I could tell the ICW cut to the right while going toward Moorehead City, but we kept on going straight, closer and closer to The Beaufort Inlet which led right out into the Atlantic. Thinking maybe we were taking a trip out for another dolphin sighting I kept following behind until they made a sharp cut to the left, getting into a nasty current that was almost shoving their boat through sideways. Serendipity made it through without much problem at all and within a few minutes we made our way into Taylor creek where hundreds of boats were anchored or moored. Some of them looked like they had been abandoned or at least sitting there unattended for a very long time. When I saw that Rode Trip was swinging around in a semi-clear spot to drop anchor I followed suit in the next open spot behind them. The current in this area was also very strong, probably going against us at close to two knots, and we were barely making headway. When it looked like Matt was ready to drop our anchor I put it in neutral and waited for the signal to back down. Standing behind the wheel I noticed us moving backward and getting closer to the boats behind us. Having this be a normal thing while we let out however much chain we need I didn’t give it much thought until they started getting nervously close and then I looked up at the bow to see the anchor still sitting on deck.

Apparently Matt had been chatting with Rode Trip on if this was a good spot but never actually put the anchor down. Now we were floating backward at two knots in a field of hundreds of boats. The currents were starting to push the boat sideways and I was waiting for our bow to turn more before putting it in gear and moving us out of there. This process of turning was taking way too long and by the time the bow would have made it’s full turn we would have already crashed into the boat behind us, or a large channel marker that was also coming up. Getting into a full panic now I forced Matt to take over the wheel and stood by nervously watching as we came within just a foot or two of one of the boats before he punched the engine and we shot in front of the next one, narrowly missing it as well. Too scared to take the wheel back we followed Rode Trip further back into the creek where it cleared out and while they anchored we rafted up to them to discuss where we wanted to go. The big problem to the situation was they were going to Richmond for the weekend and we were going to keep an eye on their boat. With the strong currents and sardine-like anchorage they didn’t feel it was fair to us to have to watch our boat and theirs and they decided to move on to a marina. Thinking our original spot was just fine we went back to it although I made Matt promise to drop the anchor as soon as we were out of gear this time.

Later in the night a thirty-five foot catamaran dropped next to us and we weren’t sure if they would be too close but made sure to keep an eye on them. After it got dark and we were fixing dinner Matt went above deck to check on us and found the catamaran basically on top of us. This was not going to work as it looked imminent we would hit during the night. Getting a little too worked up over the situation he grabbed a flashlight and started shining it in the window of the cat until the owner came out and which point he started arguing that they were too close and needed to move….now. They guy came back that they had been there for hours and if we had an issue with them we should have said something earlier. That part I do agree with, although I told Matt from the beginning that since I have to do all the talking on the VHF (I do mean all, he’ll call me up if I’m below deck just so I can answer it while he’s steering) that he would handle all anchor disputes and I would have nothing to do with them. So it was still in his hands and he was not going to give up the fact that we were here first and we’d be staying put. The owner of the cat felt that if we were uncomfortable we should be the ones to move, and both men went back in their boats with no resolution to the problem.

An hour later I went on deck to make a call out to my parents and keep an eye on both boats. The cockpit of the cat was completely black and it looked as if they had made the decision to stay exactly where they were for the night. While most of the boats in the anchorage were all pointing the same direction, Serendipity likes to swing all over the place and I watched in horror as there were multiple times we came within a foot or two of the cat just to be pulled away at the last second. Continually going up to check we seemed to be settling into a spot that kept us far enough away from each other that there may not be a midnight collision.  After awhile I got tired of looking and put Matt on watch although I think he went the ignorance is bliss route because he never got up once to look.  First thing in the morning we looked outside to see the cat was gone and our boat was still intact with no new scratches we could see.  Now we just have to survive three more nights here.

(Above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

This wasn’t even nearly as close as we were at one point.

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Oriental

Wednesday November 7, 2012

The next stop along the way for us is Oriental, North Carolina which is supposed to be a sailor’s haven. I’ve read in a few other blogs that this is some people’s favorite stop along the way and it’s hard to pull themselves away to keep moving a week or two after they arrived. We were blessed with another overcast day with strong winds once again and I could feel myself just overheating in temperatures of low 50′s that I was treated to. This is the kind of weather that every sailor dreams of where you spend all day lounging in the cockpit and don’t want to go inside for fear of missing out on your fingers going numb or making sure you’re wearing every layer of clothing you own. That’s sarcasm if you haven’t guessed. This cold weather is really getting to me and if we don’t have a warm day coming up soon I think I may lose it. I’ve been living in the long underwear my mom sent to me in Elizabeth City, I only take it off to bathe and then it’s right back on. We’ve still been forced out of the v-berth from the condensation that forms in there and have been sleeping on the settee since Hurricane Sandy. The cushions that have to come off to make it large enough for us to both fit on are constantly kept on the other settee and while airing all our belongings out everyday in the v-berth our living space has now been cut down more than half. On a thirty-four foot boat. I’m slowly going insane.

 The good news about our stop in Oriental is that our friend Yvonne from Old Glory is there. We met her and her husband Ed back at the beginning of the Erie Canal and have been keeping in touch ever since. Ed had unfortunately just left town for a few days but we were excited at the chance to see Yvonne and her dog Titus again. Having emailed her when we left Elizabeth City I told her we’d be there in a day or two. Then just after we got out of town we lost all cell phone and internet service and have not been able to pick any back up again. Even when we dropped anchor just outside the yacht club in Oriental where I could see Old Glory facing us we had no coverage and I thought I might have to surprise Yvonne by just walking up to the boat and knocking on it.

 Right after we did drop anchor the rain we could see coming over the horizon started a downpour on us and you’d think that we’d want to hole up in the boat where it’s dry and somewhat warm, but after throwing back a quick lunch we put on all of our rain gear and went to pick up Brian and Stephanie in our dinghy.  Tying off to the dock we set about on the main street to make our way to the Post Office once again.  This time to send items out instead of pick them up which is a shame because even though I was just showered with gifts a few days ago this is another day I could use some more.  Walking down the street while the rain thundered down on us I was looking for any excuse to get somewhere dry so when the guys spotted a boat consignment shop I didn’t put up any kind of hassle when they wanted to go inside and look through thousands of pieces of boat parts.  Stephanie and I engrossed ourselves in all the books on the shelves while the guys looked at blocks and shackles and other things that hold no interest to me.  As I was trying to find a new version of Jimmy Cornell’s ‘World Cruising Routes’ (I believe ours is a first edition from the 70′s), Matt threw a five pound shackle in my hand that will serve for connecting our sea drougue to should we ever need it which hopefully we will not.

Soon the concrete walls and floors started to bring a chill over me and I knew that the guys would have to let us girls get some work done on our computers in a restaurant or coffee shop after the trip to the Post Office so I tried to hurry them out the door.  Along with the giant shackle we purchased an anchor sail which we can put up at anchor and hopefully keep us pointed in one direction instead of swinging all around like we normally tend to do.  Before leaving though the store owner (?) gave us the low-down on the town and told us just past the Post Office is a little restaurant called The Silos and they had a buy one get one pizza special going on that day.

Rushing through the Post Office, Stephanie and I were excited to get to a warm place with hot food and spirits were lifted as we walked up the street and saw the restaurant, shaped in two silos and surely giving it it’s name.  Walking up the stairs of the silo to where the restaurant was we ordered up cheaply priced beers and began chatting with a couple at the bar dressed in foulies, obviously cruisers as well.  When the pizzas came we were back at our table and life was good except the fact we could still not get internet signal.  When we finished eating we made our way out as the afternoon crowds made their way in and went in search of the local coffee shop that was said to have internet as well.  Walking in the door at half past five it was almost empty and we asked the girl behind the counter how late they were open.  She replied that it was usually sometime between six and seven, I guess they go by how busy the place is.  Ordering some hot drinks we sat down to get some work done and stayed until the mop bucket came out at seven, although the girl was very nice about us keeping here there until the latest they were able to stay open.  One thing we’re finding out is everything in this town closes very very early.

Walking through the streets the next morning back on our way to The Bean we ran into Yvonne and Titus on the street.  Although I had tried sending an email the night before to let her know we were in town I had no way of checking her response until we got to the coffee shop once more for internet access.  It turns out she had received my message just after we left the coffee shop but had seen our boat anchored out in front of her.  Wanting to get our attention to invite us over for a glass of wine she had slipped out the door and was thinking of sounding her fog horn to get our attention but after deciding it would probably just scare everyone in the marina and the anchorage she made her way back in to Old Glory only to find she had locked herself out.  I can’t remember the story of how she got herself back in, but it sounds like Titus may be a super-dog that can open doors.  : )   After doing a little chatting and catching up we made plans for the five of us to make our way back to The Silos that night where it was open mic night.

After spending hours and hours at the coffee shop to get minimal work done (I don’t think this town has a strong wifi signal anywhere) we quickly made dinner back at the boat before leaving again.  Pulling the dink up behind Old Glory we were invited on board for a quick glass of wine before walking the mile through town to The Silos.  Titus was in cuddly mode and as soon as we were invited on he was walking from lap to lap trying to find a warm body to rest on and get some scratches behind the ear.  When we got to the restaurant once again it was packed full and we managed to find a lone table near the back where we couldn’t see the stage very well but could still hear the music floating through.  It wasn’t karaoke style but rather groups or soloist playing guitars and bongo drums.  While the five of us sat in the back we caught up on travels and unfortunately got into a lengthy politics discussion since the election results had just come in that day.

Closing the bar down (at 9:00 pm, I told you everything here closes early) we made our way back to Old Glory for a nightcap that somehow lasted until after midnight.  It was really nice having kept in touch with Yvonne and being able to meet up with her again along the way as her and Ed were the first cruisers we met along the way.  We must know how to pick them because as we were leaving Stephanie turned to me and said, “You guys have the coolest friends”.  ”Yeah”, I replied, “Except those people on Rode Trip.  We just can’t seem to shake them”.

Brian and Stephanie doing their Geronimo dance from Wind.  Can’t take these two anywhere.

Another beautiful day on Serendipity.

Blocks and shackles.  Matt was in heaven.

Cheap beer and good pizza at The Silos!

All the attention finally wore Titus out.

 

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I Hate Mondays

Monday November 5, 2012

When we left Elizabeth City yesterday morning we only knew that we wanted to make it to Oriental as soon as possible and would try to make fifty mile days, leaving just after the sun rose and dropping anchor just as it was about to set. A lot of the other boats must have had the same idea as us and when Serendipity and Rode Trip pushed off the docks at six-thirty a.m. and made our way to the Ablemarle Sound there were already ten masts on the horizon. Once in the sound we were able to raise both sails and cut our engine with the constant twenty to twenty five knot winds blowing over us. While I was dressed in as many layers as I could find and still shivering in the cockpit (outside temperatures were in the low 50′s), Matt went to work with more boat projects sanding down the teak toe rails up by the bow so he’d be able to run some brightner over them and cover them in varnish. We didn’t even have to take buckets of water to wash them off as a downpour started over us and took care of it. Not letting the opportunity of fresh un-salted water go to waste, Matt grabbed a rag and a scrub brush and started cleaning down the deck and poles. The rain continued on and off all afternoon and stopped just as we were entering the Alligator River. There’s a swing bridge to pass through to get from the sound to the river and taking down our sails we slowed to a stop with one other boat while the bridge tender waited for the line of boats behind us to catch up before opening so he could get everyone through at once and not have to do multiple closings of traffic. Rode Trip was bringing up the rear of the pack and passed through under sail power alone, something we thought wasn’t allowed and were sure they’d get yelled at for although the bridge tender never said anything.. We’re still having a discussion on the subject as we can’t find anything in our books to support it but knew that we saw it somewhere. The great debate continues.

 With so many other boats in such close proximity there has been so much chatter on Channel 16. Just after we left in the morning both us and Rode Trip were hailed by a power boat, Tug-a-long, who must have known we were newbies to transiting the ICW and gave us some rules of the road. He mentioned that if a boat wants to pass you they’ll hail on the VHF, get your permission (does anyone ever say no?) and you slow down when they come up on you and just as they get in front you punch your engine and aim for their stern to avoid getting waked. After awhile I just stopped listening to the chatter since that’s all it was. “Boat A, I’m coming up on your stern, may I make a starboard pass?” “Roger Boat X, you can pass on our starboard. Have a spectacular day”. Very easy to drown out and there’s a chance I may have even missed a call or two to ourselves. You know what though? If you’re coming up on me and you see an opening, just take it, you don’t need my permission. And I’d like to think that I’m observant enough that I would realize when someone is coming up on me and avoid their wake. We’ve been doing it for 2000 miles now. Amidst the chatter I was trying to ignore there was information about logs in the water in Alligator River near certain markers and I completely forgot about it until chatting on 71 with Rode Trip on possible spots to anchor that night when I got a response of “Hold on just minute, I need to dodge this log in the river”. Looking around myself I started to see large pieces of wood not just floating in but jutting out of the water as if they were stationary and could do some serious damage if run in to. After that eyes were constantly peeled but we only had a few miles to go before our anchorage. Continuing our tradition we raided Road Trip after dinner and did some quick planning for the next day although I had already scouted out a spot early in the morning so that our whole evening could be spent playing games and having a few cold ones.

Getting up this morning the sun was shinning as we entered the Pungo River Canal. I had a Bigby Pumpkin Pie Coffee in my hand and the shelter of the canal brought winds down to seven knots as a current carried us along at six knots. It was looking to be a fantastic day and Stephanie and I were having fun on 71, joking that we needed our invisibility cloaks on so we could pass other boats unnoticed without asking their permission. We were moving along well and had passed a few boats (no we didn’t hail them, we weren’t even throwing up any kind of wake) and as I let Rode Trip lead the way I looked back to see a large line of boats quickly coming up on us. Radioing Stephanie once more I asked if she wanted to kick it up so we could stay at the front of the pack or maintain our speed and keep to the right to allow them all to pass. We agreed our speed was fine and if anyone wanted to get around us we’d just keep an eye out and stay to the side. This was working well as the long line of yachts began coming up on our port side and they’d wave as they passed us by. Intermittently I’d look back to see who was still coming and could see a catamaran weaving from one side of the canal to the other. First he looked like he was going to try and come up on my starboard side while I was already being passed on port and because so was already hugging the edge. Some docks protruding from shore forced him in line behind me and as soon as the boat on port passed he started making a beeline around me on that side as well. Feeling he was still a little too close for comfort I hugged the right a little more while still keeping my distance from shore.

As he came up on my side I felt a sudden deceleration of our speed and jumped up to throw the autopilot on standby while I grabbed the wheel. Seeing that we were still a good distance from shore I thought we were getting caught on some roots or branches sticking up from the bottom of the canal and throttled it harder trying to get ourselves off and back into the middle of the canal. As I throttled harder and harder we inched forward just a little bit and came to a complete stop. I don’t know how this happened since we have a draft of five feet and the depth sounder was reading six and a half, but we had just run aground. As soon as he had felt us slowing to a stop, Matt ran back to the cockpit took over, now throwing us hard into reverse to try and back us off. It was not doing anything, we were good and stuck. All I can say is that if it had to happen somewhere it couldn’t have happened in a better place. Not only did we have a buddy boat with us but there was a boat passing by every thirty seconds and no call to Tow Boat US and a $800 bill were necessary. Jumping onto 16 I hailed Rode Trip and Stephanie must have realized something was going on because she responded with “Serendipity, what’s going on back there?” “We’re aground, let’s go to 71”, I replied with and we switched over channels where she said they’d turn around and come back to yank us out. While waiting for a line of boats to pass so they could cut across the canal and come back the catamaran that had basically run us off stopped Rode Trip to see if we were ok. She replied that we weren’t and they were turning around to come back for us. Trying to make up for his mistake he also turned around since he had a much shallower draft and wouldn’t get stuck himself while trying to pull us off.

In the middle of being scolded back on Serendipity for throttling forward when it should have been reverse I tried to relay what Stephanie was telling me on the VHF. I was pretty upset and frustrated so I didn’t make out all of what she was saying, but it sounded like they had also become stuck but the catamaran was on it’s way back to get us out. “Roger that, catamaran’s coming” I acknowledged without really taking any of the conversation in. Did she say they were around as well? All I knew was that the cat was almost to us and we needed dock lines to throw him so he could tie us off and pull us out. I was instructed to go behind the wheel and ‘give it all she’s got’ once he started going forward as well. We came out surprisingly easily and I had to throw us into reverse to avoid hitting him once we were out. Taking back our dock lines we thanked him and waited for him to pass us once more although he hung back as we began to move again. Even though I was glad he came back to help us that almost frustrated me more. If you know you’re going to pass us again, just do it now. I don’t want to have to constantly look over my shoulder to see when you’re coming up and move over for you again. Forcing him to get past us by keeping it in idle we rode side by side with Rode Trip for a bit, talking about the experience. Somehow they had gotten themselves stuck in the middle of the canal but were able to rock themselves off with their tiller although a ton of mud had packed itself on to the bottom of their boat. I felt bad that I caused them to run aground trying to come back and save us but we all had a good laugh about the whole situation and I was able to lift my spirits again.

Things were looking up and I went below to warm up for awhile and got a little writing done while cheering myself up with Skittles. I could tell we had come out of the canal and into the Pungo River because Matt unfurled the headsail while I was below and we started heeling to the side. Figuring I should go back on deck in case he needed me I saw that the without the protection of land the wind was gusting up to twenty-five knots again and made it bone chilling cold outside. For as much as sailors are supposed to love their wind it has been driving me crazy for the past week because it makes the days unbearably cold. Taking shelter behind the dodger I sat on the lee side where the sheet for the headsail was wrapped around the winch. Giving me a lesson in tell-tales since I can never remember what they’re trying to tell you, Matt instructed me to look at the inside and outside tail and how to ease or trim the sheet based on how they’re sitting. Getting the sail perfectly trimmed I watched our speed grow higher and higher until we were at 7.2 under headsail alone. Proud of Serendipity I wanted to continue on but we noticed the marina that both of our boats needed to stop off at to fuel up was just ahead of us and we’d need to turn in. Since cutting across the river to the marina meant heading right into the wind we needed to turn on the engine and furl in the headsail.

While Matt grabbed the furling line I was instructed to slowly release tension on the sheet while he brought it in. I don’t know why my mind wasn’t working, but with my right hand clutching the line and ready to release it I had my left hand grabbing the sheet between the winch and the block it passed through probably assuming I could hold it in place if it released too quickly. Well with thirty knots of wind and I don’t know how many hundreds of pounds of pressure on the line, as soon as I began to release it the line shot backward to the block with an enormous force and took my hand with it. Rule number one of why you’re not supposed to grab lines between blocks and winches. My knuckle and pinkie finger became wedged in the block and the heavy winds creating a strong force on the line which was more than my right had could pull back on to release my left. People have actually lost fingers this way and all I could think to myself is, ‘We don’t have health insurance‘. Realizing I was in trouble Matt asked if my hand was stuck and as I nodded my head that it was he grabbed a winch handle and forced the line out of the block, freeing my hand. Even though it was still attached and there were no serious cuts it definitely looked like it had been chewed up and spit out with dog bite looking marks quickly disappearing after it started to swell up. Our big concern was that it may be broken although I was able to still fully bend it so I didn’t think that was the case. After docking at the marina and having Rode Trip pull in on the other side I sought medical advise as they had taken a course just before leaving and they agreed with me that if I was able to bend all parts it most likely wasn’t broken. Getting a bag of ice from them I kept it on my hand although the cold temperatures had made my hand so numb already I barely noticed a difference.

Back on the river we let out the headsail once more and left it just a little more lose to slow ourselves down and not worry about the thirty degree heels we had been starting to pull with the thirty knot winds just before. Taking a sharp bend in the river just past Bellhaven we were now on a strictly downwind course and lost a lot of our speed. Not in much of a rush as we knew we’d still make our anchorage at least an hour before the sun went down even at our new slower speed, one hates to take such a drastic deceleration and accept it so we rigged up the spinnaker pole to force the headsail to stay fully extended so any wind that hit it would come across an open sail and be able to push us forward. Right away we gained another knot and it looks like it will be well worth the purchase.

A few hours after our downwind sailing we entered another canal on the ICW and tucked into a completely secluded creek for the night. Brian being absolutely crazy took a dip in the fifty-seven degree water after he got a haircut and after dinner both him and Stephanie joined us for movie night on our boat where I tried to pop popcorn in our 700 watt microwave which usually only pops half the bag before burning it, and we took a request from Rode Trip to watch the movie Wind. It’s a little lame and a little slow moving but it is all about sailing and gave us a good reason to start sporadically saying “Whomp!!” to each other, based on a phrase from Jennifer Green in the movie. The day ended a lot better than it started and it’s always nice to have good friends around when something goes wrong. I think the Garfield ‘I Hate Mondays’ poster can safely be put away now and hopefully won’t make it’s way back out for a long time.

Setting off into the Albemarle Sound with lots of masts on the horizon.

Beautiful morning on the Pungo River Canal!

The herds are catching up.

I should have taken a photo later at night, my knuckle was purple!

But good friends and breathtaking sunsets make all things better.

 

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Harbor Of Hospitality

Saturday November 3, 2012

Trying to beat all of the other boats out of the swamp this morning we planned for anchors up at seven-thirty once more.Looking back to see three of the other boats still there with no one in the cockpit I was pleased with our early wake-up call and that we should beat all of them to Elizabeth City and hopefully snag any remaining spots at the free docks.. As we were turning on our engine to warm it up I saw the boat that had followed us in last night make a break for it on the other side of Goat Island where we all sat. At first I was a little upset that someone was beating us but then I felt bad they had run into a tree and figured if anyone deserved a spot at the docks it was them. While hauling the anchor up we were treated to a beautiful sunrise in the swamp. There may not be much to look at while motoring through all day but it has provided us with some of the best sunsets and sunrises we’ve seen in awhile. Before the sun could even break through the trees the sky was a soft pink with fog rising off the water with the backlit trees looking like cut-outs.

 There was only seven miles left until town and along the way I kept an eye on the boat ahead of us through the AIS signal they were putting off to see what marina they ended up at. Once they got to town I watched as they passed each marina by and kept moving toward the Albemarle Sound. I wasn’t sure if this meant they had plans to pass through Elizabeth City altogether or if all the slips at the marinas were full and they were now in search of an anchorage. Coming in only fifteen minutes behind them we kept our eyes peel for the wharf offering the free slips for forty-eight hours and out of the corner of my eye I saw the large ‘Harbor of Hospitality’ welcome sign that I recognized from our friends Water Music’s blog and saw there were still plenty of open slips. Even though they appeared to be stern-to slips there was no way we were going to try backing in and it looked as if no one else had either. Fighting a bit of a current we had to make a few attempts but there was a local standing at the docks as well as another boater that were able to grab our lines and help us tie off. Once we were secured we helped Rode Trip into the spot next to us just as we saw the line of boats anchored with us at Goat Island come under the lift bridge and start looking for spots as well and there were enough for everyone to fit.

Getting out of our uniform of pajamas that we had been wearing all day and night while traveling we changed into real clothes and the four of us tried to find the best way off our boats and on to the dock. Doing some fancy jumps and manuvers we all made it to shore with no one falling in the water. Right in front of us a farmers marker was spread out on the lawn with booths full of fresh fruits, veggies and jams. Doing some quick browsing we promised the sellers we’d probably be back later to make some purchases, but at the moment we needed to get to the post office before it closed. Finding the main road it was located on the first thing that popped out to me was a sign for Taco Bell. Something we can never seems to find in any of the cities we visit and told ourselves we’d come back to it later for lunch or dinner. Then following the street down a little further we saw a sign for Hardees. Not only had we been drawn to there for dinner in Hampton Roads because of the commercials broadcast while making our way down the Chesapeake, but they had some breakfast meals that were calling out to us and we pulled in for a quick side trip. Grabbing the food to go and getting back on track we found the post office just up the road and Matt and Brian went in to grab all the packages while I sat outside stuffing my face with my hot greasy breakfast.

Walking out with four large boxes we tore into them like it was Christmas, and it’s almost like it was since two of them were care packages sent from each of our families. While Matt excitedly pulled out new lines and autopilot parts I opened the packages from family. In addition to sending the placemats and pie tin we asked for, Matt’s mom had added three bags of seasonal coffee grounds, plus Skittles and Snickers. Those are our favorite candies and if you ever want to suck up to us, that’s all it would take. Moving on to the package from my mom we received new mixing bowls and food storage containers plus long underwear for me (could not have come at a better time), games and gadgets. Christmas for Serendipity indeed. Trying to take everything out of the boxes and fit them into our backpacks we went back to the boats with another side trip to a used goods store where the guys purchased a tackle box full of lures to split up. Dropping our loot back off at the boats we walked up the street to the Museum of the Albemarle. Free of charge, this museum has a full history of the area going back from the indigenous people of the area, to the first settlers to current times. Having nothing else taking up our day we spent a few hours there reading all the signs and plaques. When we finished there was a room that was most likely meant for children to play dress up in costumes from the Civil War era, but it didn’t take us long to start throwing on outfits and posing in front of a mural on the wall. Sometimes grown-ups need play time too.

Just as we were getting ready to leave the museum a large group of senior citizens came in and we thought it might have been a field trip from a nearby community. Walking out the door though the parking lot was lined up with old Fords. Spending a few minutes walking down the line of cars and admiring the details we started wandering the blocks around town to see what else there was to do. It turns out there wasn’t a whole lot and it seems like a lot of the shops close up early, or at least on Saturdays. We did find a few bars that looked interesting and one even had a sign out front for karaoke. This is something Stephanie and I having been wanting to do for a long time so we made plans to come back after dinner with some pre-singing cocktails on Rode Trip. Having spent some time on our own boats getting chores done and fixing dinner we went over there to do a little planning for the next few days of travel. Walking down the companionway we saw that Stephanie had laid out a spread of cheeses had had out wine. A little backstory is that Elizabeth City has what’s called the Rose Buddies. Started by two friends back in the 80′s the city will try and host a wine and cheese party whenever five or more boats are docked along the waterfront. Not only were there more than five boats there at the time, but at least five had just come in that morning. Waiting all morning and afternoon for someone to come tell us when it was (I think it’s held right at the docks), the party was never hosted and I was left a little disappointed. Stephanie, being as sweet as she is, decided to host her own little wine and cheese party for us when we came over.

Filling up on wine and cheese and planning out the next few days we completely lost track of time and when we looked at the clock it was too late to go to the bar with the early departure time we were going to have the next day. It may be daylight savings and we may be gaining an hour tonight, but all that means for us is that we get up an hour earlier to still rise with the sun.

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Tugs And Swamps And Trees, Oh My!

Friday November 2, 2012

When the harps went off at seven o’clock this morning I knew it had to be very cold in the cabin. Even though we were snuggled together in settee with a down comforter and a sleeping bag over us it was not enough to keep the chill off of me. Checking the temperature in the cabin it was 46 degrees. That’s ridiculous. We need to get south and we need to get there now. The good news is we should be putting on some miles in that direction today. We’ll be going into the IntraCostal Waterway which starts in Norfolk Virginia and goes all the way down to Miami Florida. It’s a way to get down the coast inside protected waterways without doing any ocean sailing. We’ll be jumping out a few times to skip some places and cut down on time, but for the most part we’ll be following it almost all of the way down. When you first start at Norfolk there are two separate routes which eventually meet up again, and we’ll be takin the Dismal Swamp which ends in Elizabeth City, NC and staying there for a few days. It’s known as the Harbor of Hospitality and we also have a few packages coming to us at the Post Office there. Plus they have free docks for 48 hours and that doesn’t hurt either.

 After another synchronized bringing up of the anchors we were on our way with Rode Trip leading the way out into Hampton Roads Harbor where the winds kicked up from five knots to twenty five. Standing behind the wheel in full foulies I did some math in my head. If the outside temperature was currently forty-five and winds were blowing at twenty-five, that gives a wind chill of about twelve degrees making it feel to me like thirty-three degrees. After figuring this out I quickly threw the autopilot on and went below to make coffee or anything hot to hold in my hands. The winds were throwing a large swell through the harbor and we rocked back and forth with all our belongings being thrown around in the cabin. Thankfully that stopped once we got across and entered Elizabeth River but the winds were still strong and chilly. As we entered the river we could see all kinds of Naval vessels lined up on shore. There were aircraft carriers and even the new stealth Navy ship. Just past them were large tankers getting all the shipping containers unloaded onto stacks on land. Soon we were in the harbor inside the heart of Norfolk on our way to the Dismal Swamp. Coming up on us was a large fixed bridge to go under with construction being done on both sides and only an opening to get through in the very center. Because of all the salt water that had been spraying on our dodger coming down from Deltaville it made things a little blurry and hard to see in front of us sometimes so I asked Matt to make sure I would not run in to anything. He told me to keep going straight for the center which I still couldn’t fully make out but was pretty sure I was on course for and all of a sudden this motorboat that had passed us on our port side cut sharply across our bow and over to starboard. Before I could fully calculate what was going on Matt grabbed the wheel and threw us hard in reverse. It turns out there was a tug with large barges on each side coming under the bridge and allowing room for only it to pass through. We had a line of four boats getting ready to pass on the other side and we all had to stop ourselves in just a moments notice almost causing a few collisions. Even though there had been talk on the radio of one passing through there had been another one just moments before and we thought we were all in the clear.

After we all got moving and things were running smoothly again I took the wheel back and kicked up the power on the engine. There are two locks in the Dismal Swamp to go through and the last entry time for the first lock was 11:30 am, giving us just an hour to get there at this point. More obstacles stood in our way though because a mile after we passed under the fixed bridge there was a lift bridge we needed to get under and openings were only on the half hour. We had less than five minutes to get ourselves that mile and were sure we’d miss it, becoming stuck there for twenty five minutes and most likely missing the 11:30 locking. Glancing ahead on the chartplotter our AIS showed four or five boats stationary on our side of the bridge. Really throttling forward now we raced around corners trying to make the bridge by the time it opened. As we rounded the last corner we saw seven or eight boats just sitting there and no indication the bridge was opening. Slowing down to a standstill ourselves we caught up with the group and another Sabre waiting to go through. Waving and smiling at the owners we tried to tell them “Nice boat!” but they looked at us like we were crazy and threw themselves into hard reverse without looking behind, almost ramming into Rode Trip. Then as soon as the bridge opened they zoomed through cutting off multiple boats that had formed in a line behind the opening.

With the clock ticking down we went under one more fixed bridge before making the sharp turn into the entrance of the Dismal Swamp. Most of the boats waiting to get through the lift bridge made the turn as well and we all lined up in the narrow and shallow canal. We had fifteen minutes left to make the canal and luckily all the boats ahead of us were also booking it, trying to make it in time as well. Then Matt brought up a good point. Knowing how many boats were ahead of us, what if there wasn’t room for all of us to go through? Did they do two rounds or would we be told to come back the next day? As we rounded the last bend we had the lock in sight and saw it was already becoming full. There was one boat ahead of us that had stopped before the entrance and we assumed the lockmaster was about to close up and there would be two groups. Having our radio tuned to the lockmasters channel we heard chatter and it sounded like he was moving entranced boats further in to get one or two more in back and then the remaining boats would raft up to those against the wall. Serendipity was the lucky last boat to have a spot on the wall and then Rode trip and one other small boat were to be rafted up to others. As we squeezed in our ass was so tight to the back that I didn’t think they’d be able to close the doors. These guys knew what they were doing though and soon we had eleven boats in the lock and the doors were shut, our stern clear of any scrapes or dents. Blowing out a tune on a conch shell the boats applauded as we were then raised up eight feet. The doors opened on the other side and one by one all the boats ahead of us were let out with us straggling behind in last. We caught up a little bit at the next lift bridge and after going through we were all lined up in single file order going down the canal of the swamp. Our goal now was to make the next lock which was eighteen miles past the first but had a last locking of three-thirty. Because of the time needed to fit eleven boats in the first lock and then get them out we were only left with three hours to get there instead of the four we had originally assumed. We hoped all the boats ahead of us were also trying to make that lock since it’s hard to pass anyone in the canal and still being almost last (we did pass one boat) did not give us much of an advantage.

Our backup plan was to stay the night at the Visitors Center five miles before the lock if we were running too far behind schedule. None of us wanted to have to drop out so early though since in Elizabeth City the free docks are on a first come first serve basis. We had a feeling that each boat ahead of us was also trying to get a slip there and we wanted to put ourselves in a good position to pounce in the morning. Coming up on the Visitor’s Center there was thirty minutes left before the locking and we thought that we might make it if the same number of boats were going through and they needed time to space them, allowing us to sneak in the twenty minutes late we were timing ourselves to be. The other Sabre was now directly in front of us and slowing down so I went to pass it on the right. They were throwing fenders down and preparing to dock at the center on our port side and noticed it was full so they all of a sudden came to a dead stop in the absolute middle of the canal. Throwing hard into reverse for the second time that day we tried to stop in an instant, almost crashing into them and having Rode Trip who was now behind us almost crash into us as well. So while all three boats are now at a standstill in the canal this first boat is just chatting away to people on shore and oblivious to the fact that they had stopped all traffic. With some sideways head nods and gestures from shore they finally caught on and began moving forward, still in the middle of the canal where we could not pass. It looked like our chances of making the second lock were growing smaller and smaller.

Receiving a call from Rode Trip on the VHF they mentioned they just heard talk between boats and the lockmaster but could not make out what was being said although implied that someone not too far ahead of us probably asked them to wait for the long line of boats trying to get through. Calling him up myslelf he said he would wait until everyone wanting to go through could get there. Not wanting to hold up everyone too much we still tried to kee up the best speed we could. Just as we were getting to the lock the Sabre, still right in front of us, pulled one more mid canal halt on us as they were now trying to tie off to stay the night on the north side of the lock.. As soon as they were far enough to the side that we knew we wouldn’t harm our boat we whizzed by them, cursing the bad name they were giving Sabre owners, and brought ourselves into the lock which now was only going to house six boats with no one rafted up. Talking to other boats while in being lowered back down it sounded like we were all trying to make Elizabeth City first thing in the morning and still wanted to make more distance that night. All we knew on Serendipity is that the anchorage we were aiming for was eleven miles away and it sounded like that’s where everyone else still moving forward was planning to drop anchor as well.

Once more us and Rode Trip were in the back of the pack leaving the lock. Most of the boats that exited first sped out of there like someone was chasing them, but the boat that had been just ahead of us in both locks and the one that Rode Trip rafted up to was right in front of us holding a steady speed. I was behind the wheel while Matt was below trying to air out the last of our wet belongings from Hurricane Sandy. As I was staring ahead into the uneventful channel I saw the boat ahead of us turn to the right like it was going to anchor. I know Matt had said there was an anchorage just passed the lock and didn’t think much of it. Then as I started to realized there was no place off to the side for this boat to go they tried to straighten themselves out but it was too late. Still charging ahead at six knots the boat collided into a tree. It looked like they missed the trunk luckily, but their mast and canvas was twisted and tangled into multiple branches with leaves showering onto their deck. Not sure what caused it or what to do we slowed down to a crawl wanting to see if they were ok and also wanting to make sure there was nothing sitting in the middle of the creek that made them suddenly veer off course. We determined that both the path and the boat were in good condition (they quickly pushed themselves off) and continued on our way.

Once again we were left with the fear that the sun would go down before we could make our final destination. With the mile markers in the channel now gone I was trying to count down the miles based on our latitude through the GPS. The sun which had been hiding behind clouds for most of the day had now set itself free and was giving a beautiful sunset. As we cruised along it threw bright orange and yellow colors onto the trees surrounding us. For a few minutes it let me forget about how cold out it was and imagine that we were passing through on a hot sticky summer afternoon. As soon as the sun sunk behind the trees that daydream ended and the cold really began to set in. When we got to the anchorage there were three boats already there and we passed them as they sat in their cockpits and waved to us, welcoming us home to the group of ICW boaters we’ll probably be following the whole way down.

Stealthy Naval ship.

Rode Trip rafted up inside the lock.

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

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Frankenstorm

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Since Matt had stayed up late last night keeping an eye on the anchor and making sure we didn’t swing into anything we shouldn’t he slept in until late afternoon. That left me to do a tradition I used to have back at home on Saturday mornings and that’s catch up on The Amazing Race online. I used to spend every Saturday morning in bed with a cup of coffee watching all they places they traveled to and get myself excited to start a journey of my own to some of those places. Although I didn’t get my coffee because I was afraid all the banging of pots and pans would wake him I was able to catch a few episodes and it was nice to have a little tradition back in my life. Once he got up it was straight to business and we went about removing the dodger and bimini and stowing them in our garage (aft cabin) which is now actually overflowing. While he finished up other last minute things I excused myself below to start a few loaves of bread since we invited Brian and Stephanie over for dinner and I wanted to make garlic bread to go with the spaghetti. I remember when I used to think that making it from scratch meant buying a loaf of french bread from the store and slathering it with butter and garlic, but making the bread from scratch as well gives it a whole new meaning. As I was in the middle of kneading out my dough Brian and Stephanie showed up to get use of internet again and update us on information passed on by two other boaters in the creek now and one more homeowner that came out for a visit. Apparently if you sleep in too late and aren’t out on deck before noon you miss these kinds of visits. They told us what I had been hearing on the radio all morning and that was the storm was looking worse and worse. Winds were expected to rise even more and now it was predicted to collide with a winter storm moving south and a cold front moving west. Everyone has begun calling it Frankenstorm and telling horror stories about how bad it’s supposed to be. Now instead of looking at getting high winds and heavy rain on Monday we could possibly get snow and have the storm last until Thursday.

 All four of us have been spending the past twenty-four hours trying to calm down family members who are hearing the same reports on TV and radio and are sure that we’re all going to die in our boats. We just have to keep assuring them that we’re in a very protected spot (which we are) and we’re not going to see the bad parts which will all be closer to shore. And this is made even more fun for Matt and I since our phone doesn’t get service in the area and everyone is probably wondering why we’re not answering or returning their calls. We were able to make an outbound call on Stephanie’s phone though and got in contact with Matt’s mom who will then notify my parents (out of the country and on a completely different time schedule) that we’re all ok and there’s no need to worry. With all of that taken care of, for today at least because I’m sure it will have to be done daily, we piled into Rode Trip’s dinghy for one last chance off the boats before we’d be trapped on them for days. Using the dock of the guy who stopped by yesterday we walked through the development to stretch our legs and then got back in the dinghy to follow it all the way up the creek and see how far it actually went. Turns out it was pretty far but would have been way to narrow to try and anchor in. Oh, and we did move the anchor once more this morning, hopefully for the last time. When we were getting back to the boats the winds had started gusting up to fifteen or twenty and making it very chilly outside. I raced below to get my bread in the oven while the other three worked to get a second anchor off our bow.

An hour later after we were able to clean up the mess we had made during our preparations of the hurricane and dinner Brian and Stephanie came back over for Hurricane Party 2012. It may be two days before the storm itself but unlike landlubbers we don’t have the luxury to do it the day of the storm. As dinner was cooking I unloaded all the alcohol and mixers Stephanie brought over and went about making a Frankenstorm. While walking around that day we decided this storm needed it’s own drink and we were going to make one for it. A ‘Sandy’ sounded too dainty and that’s not what was being called for. When we realized it would have to be a Frankenstorm we thought about any liquors and mixers we had between us but everything always came up as fruity and that didn’t seem fitting either. Telling her that our Kraken, a dark rum, kind of reminded me of Kaluah we thought we’d try mixing it with milk to see if it came out to be anything like a White Russian. Out came the stemmed glasses and in went the Kraken and milk. After stirring it up I handed and glass to everyone except Matt who was not intrigued by the combination and we had a toast. Taking a sip of our new concoction I think it perfectly embodied the Frankenstorm. An unusual combination that could have been a little better but wasn’t as bad as you were expecting it to be. If that’s how actual Frankenstorm turns out for us I will be perfectly happy.

After that trial we quickly moved onto Hurricanes which were much sweeter and easier to go down. The spaghetti and garlic bread turned out great and got lots of compliments from the foodies who seem to be able to cook everything and anything. When the plates were cleared we pulled out Settlers of Catan and even though I was doing much better this time and thought I might actually have a strategy we ended up having too many Hurricanes and became too distracted to finish. Somehow we managed to stay up until close to four in the morning just enjoying ourselves and getting in all the fun we could before hunkering down for Frankenstorm.

(photos to come)

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