July 2011 ~ The Northeast
Day 290 ~ Fast-forward pleaseJuly 1st, 2011
Another nondescript work day. Get moving, grab a quick bite, lower the dinghy, putter to the dock, walk the tight rope to jump off at the just the right moment with the laptop backpack. It feels a special gravity towards the water, as men do to drink.
Unlock the bike, weave through the sleepy back streets of Oriental to Broad Street. Bike in the rising heat to the RV, unlock and get the A/C on and pumping. If it's later than 9am, the interior is like an oven. Open the laptop and get sucked in, just like a shrew in a shopvac.
Some new boat kids arrived and kept ours entertained through the afternoon and evening. We drove the RV over and off loaded yet another round of stuff. No comments: keep the peace.
Day 291 ~ CroakerfestJuly 2nd, 2011
Today is Croakerfest. What, you have never heard of a Croaker, much less Croakerfest? Where have you been hiding out?
A croaker is a fish that well, croaks, when they are caught and hauled in. Croakerfest is the local 4th of July parade, mini-fair and talent show. The parade started at 10, so we headed ashore a few minutes before and found a spot in the shade. Funny, in Alaska shade just doesn't matter much. Here, shade is the difference between survivability and suffering.
The parade was normal in some ways, and wacko weird in others. For starters, half the floats had a Christmas theme, complete with Santas and music. What do you say, are these people from Down Under and just have to see a sweating Santa to feel at home?
No, it turns out that the Christmas Parade (these people like their parades) was canceled due to rain. That's right, not snow, but rain. Darn. So, the Santas of Oriental just had to get out and strut their stuff at the next opportunity. Never mind that it's 93 in the shade.
We meandered over to the fair portion of the festivities, which takes over the water front street just a block away. Million dollar water front homes from another era yield their manicured lawns to the masses who put up features from lawn furniture displays to the Boy Scouts annual watermelon seed spitting contest. The judge had a huge PA system and kept the public up on the running action, "Billy Boy wow! What a great roll! That was a good 13, no 14 foot shot; Johnny will have a tough run ahead of him..."
The girls enjoyed the fossil hunt put on by the local Potash company whose motto is "Helping Nature Provide". They hauled in a trailer full of overburden and laced it with shark teeth, shells and other "cool" stuff they filter out of their product before barging it down the ICW to Beaufort.
My favorite entertainment, as always, was the food. It was over the top ghetto fare, with everything being double deep fried and loaded for coronary arrest. The highlight was the John Deere single cylinder fired homemade ice cream making contraption. In the interest of science I had to sample the Banana, and the Vanilla. To build up proper statistical analyses, multiple samples were tested. It really was homemade, and wow, when it's hot out, nothing quite hits the spot like the real deal vanilla.
The girls' friend Caroline was in an Optimist Sail Regatta (race) so we dinghied over and anchored just outside the course. Thanks to the umbrellas Supermom Lisa remembered, it was bearable, and fun watching the little sailors work the line before the start.
Courtney invited us over for BBQ and peach cobbler, a tough decision. We enjoyed some adult conversation and good fare while waiting for dark and the traditional fireworks display. We had a great view from the chalet's dock and, considering the size of town, it was a great show.
Day 292 ~ Bill the radio guyJuly 3rd, 2011
The wind brought in thick smoke in the morning. If you want to put a backup generation system for a business you'll spend thousands and untold headaches getting permits from the greenies, but Mother Nature spews thick choking smoke from moldy peat fires for weeks on end, blotting out the sun for miles, and what do you do? Nothing. That's because the issue isn't air quality, it's power.
We were just wrapping up our traditional Swedish pancake breakfast when a older gentleman and his grandson came kayaking by. We said hi and he paddled over. Turns out he's looking for some playmates for his grandkids who are spending 2 weeks with him nearby. We agreed to stop by a little later in the afternoon.
We had heard great things about the local sailing camp, which sponsored the sail races yesterday. We really should get moving north, but there is more computer work to do and Nina needs some opportunity to stretch her wings a little on her own. And she wants to learn to sail. Who am I to stand in the way?
I called the camp director and asked about a last minute sign up. No problem, there's room.
I gave Lisa a kid break and took ours over to meet Bill and the new kids. Bill, it turns out, is a very generous guy. He is also a HAM radio buff who is trying to broadcast from all 3,077 counties in the country. So far he has 652.
Before I knew it, we had the free use of his Tahoe anytime we needed. A minute later, we were headed over to the private swimming pool across the street. Being hot and sunny, again, the kids had a blast swimming and we even got real showers afterwards, the never-ending hot kind.
We agreed to use his car tomorrow and Bill left the keys in the bumper. I realize now, in hindsight, that offering cars, washing machines and showers to boat people is normal in Oriental. Not exactly the picture one has of the East Coast.
We hear it's worse in New Jersey.
Day 293 ~ New Friends, version 7.0July 4th, 2011
The wind shifted during the night bringing in smoke from the swamp fires to the west. Visibility was down to half a mile or less and every time we inhale there's a nice burning sensation at the back of our throats. Sailing camp calls at 8:30a to say we should keep kids at home until 10am hoping things blow off by then. Nina is convinced that fate is against her, "Why does it have to be smoky today!?"
Another lesson in life. Inconveniences like rain, smoke and colonoscopies are just part of life here on terra firma, although we did spare her the invasive procedure part of real life for the present. A few more years of ignorant bliss in the cancer department probably won't hurt.
Lisa dropped me off for work and zipped Nina over to camp. The wind did shift and it was clearing in to a nice day so things were looking up again. Funny thing though, the weather on the laptop is always the same. Flat conditions, moderate light and mind-numbing atmosphere.
A new boat arrived with a 10 year old girl named Nina, which our girls spotted pretty quickly. Lisa went over for introductions and ended up taking her to pick our Nina up from sailing camp at the end of the day. By the days' end, we ended up with a boat full of kids, burgers and fun with Emmie (8), Caroline (10), Nina 2 (10) visiting our three, not mention Barry from Sirocco.
Barry, who used to be anchored behind us and one of the guys we asked to watch our boat while we were in West Virginia, joined us for dinner. He regaled us with stories about his new boat purchase that had us rolling in the aisles.
Day 294 ~ July 5th, 2011
Peter went to "work", Nina to sailing camp and the leftovers went and hung out at the pool with Courtney and her girls.
Day 295 ~ RainmakerJuly 6th, 2011
We haven't hauled water now for a couple of weeks, so today was the day. Got up and going a little slow after last night's festivities, but the girls were under orders to return the post-friend boat to the pre-friend status. Surprisingly, all three tackled the job without complaining and without sitting around waiting for the others to do the work.
Nina was one whipped puppy last night after hours on the water, hours with a new friend and all her favorite delectables to boot (burgers on the grill, etc). She was dragging a little until we got some food in her. We knew better than to suggest she skip sailing camp today.
As it was she was pacing and moaning as Lisa wolfed down some eggs and 'taters. "Let's GO, Mom!" "Please, I don't want to be late" etc. Turns out this wing stretching opportunity, leaving the nest for a few hours and tackling challenges without mom or dad around, has been overdue now for a while and she's thriving on the freedom and the adventure of it all.
Nika and I work through her math lesson for the day while Lisa drops off laundry at Courtney's. When she returns, I head off and fill up our company of water vessels, about 60 gallons total, and return to the boat, just a short dinghy ride away, thankfully. The traditional bucket brigade is the fastest way to empty all 500lbs of water and we are just on the last jug when a burst of rain hits us. Thank you, very much.
It was time that I set off for the "office". Lisa prepared lunch for a picnic at Wiggins Point with Courtney's crew. High winds and chop, coupled with a brief rain shower along the way, made for a wet bouncy ride. Girls played in the sand, but were eventually neck-deep in the water having a great time jumping with the incoming waves. A couple of them got stung by jellyfish, but they were undaunted. Packed up after a couple of hours and returned to the chalet to drop off half the crew. The other half went back to the boat to switch out for some playtime with Justin and Nana so invited Nina from Indigo to go along. With only an hour to play, it was a quick trip before we were off again to get Nina from camp.
Once back on the boat, it was more drop and go. Indigo's son had arrived from college and they were all going out to dinner so invited our Nina along. Tired, but thrilled at the idea of eating at a restaurant without her sisters, she rallied in quick time. Peter was working late, so Nana and Nika finished their uneaten lunches as dinner before joining Courtney and the girls for ice cream at The Bean. While there, the Indigo crew came for dessert and the all the kids were again off and running to play.
No rest for the weary.
Parting the now fast-friends proved a slow process, but we eventually were able to get the exhausted trio back on board, showered and in bed. They were fast asleep before their little heads hit the pillows.
Day 296 ~ Gone to the DogsJuly 7th, 2011
We got Nina off to sail camp in good time and the commute to work was a breeze. There's a new boat anchored behind us named Indigo. That was our favorite boat name for a couple of years but, in the end, it gave way to the more descriptive mode in which I have found myself many a time during the last decade.
Lisa tackled a load of laundry and, in the process, stopped by The Bean, where she, Nika and Nana had gone to get out of heat and say hi to the Nina from Indigo before they move out later. After a quick trip to the park with the kids and some goodbyes, they got back to the boat just in time to grab a bite before heading over to Bill's house for some water sports. Bill has a Boston Whaler and an innertube on which he pulled the kids around the creek. Fun all around.
The night of the long-awaited sleepover at the Inn has finally arrived. Lisa and Courtney stayed up talking later than the girls. But the big attraction to the Inn is Fergie, the dog, who received tons of loving attention from all the mothers-to-be.
Day 297 ~ Another Boat LessonJuly 8th, 2011
Nina and I had a peaceful night aboard, or at least a normal night. It's been windy lately and, although the occasional howling gust through the rigging is now part of the normal sound of life, it can add a mournful presence to a boat that feels deserted with only one soul per hull side.
I hadn't borrowed any of Nina's clothes, so the two of us got up and moving without the usual fanfare of "she stole my brush!", "no you gave it to me first!", "where's my skirt you borrowed?" I dropped her off at camp then headed to work. Might be a normal school work day in a thousand neighborhoods across the country, except the car floats and sports a nice new purple cover.
Life at the Inn was bustling. The girls woke each other up early and the drama didn't follow far behind. The "fashion show" turned nasty when one judge accused another of being less than objective.
After a late breakfast they headed over the swimming pool at Sailcraft. They were just getting wet when a nice thunder cell rolled over and drenched everything. We had inadvertently left one of the water tanks on the boat open, so Lisa rode and dinghied back in the maelstrom to close things off. As she neared the boat, the clouds let loose. Another boat lesson learned, don't leave anything open.
Lisa described the rain as hitting so hard it stung. She managed to catch some water to mostly fill the starboard tank. The cell soon blew past, leaving a wet bed behind where a hatch hadn't been fully secured and one wet Mama with sore skin.
There is a really cool mini-folding bike in Nika's favorite green for sale at the marine consignment place. They were asking $300, which was crazy since a new one is $199. I offered $140 and we agreed on $165. While the girls were at the pool, I rode it over and left it at the Inn for Nika to find later. She was a happy camper when she realized it was for her.
Lisa rested for an hour while girls listened to stories, then went to pick up Nina. Stopped to get the towels at Courtney's, who generously washed them and is now thinking she should start a Fluff n Fold. Due to all the busyness of the day, we opted to dine separately and join up after a good night of sleep.
After a quick dinner, Nika and I went for a long bike ride to test out her new wheels. Free from the oppression of older sisters, and with a shiny new bike to ride, she was bubbly in her own special way. Talked pretty much the entire ride.
There was something magical. The air had that freshness that only a good hard thunderstorm can leave behind. The crickets were chirping among the oak lined streets as the glow of the sunset backlit the narrow corridors. We ghosted through sleepy paved passages with our head lamps pricking the night between the pools of occasional street lamps.
After exploring for a while we a "accidently" (ahem) wound up at the local 7-11; the one still featuring Happy New Year decorations in the window. They also happen to have ice cream bars in stock.
It took a few moments to realize that we had stepped back into St. Lucia. Since Oriental is a retirement community, and overwhelmingly white, this is the hot spot for the local flavor to congregate after the gray hairs have retired. It had a completely Caribbean vibe, complete with sultry humid air and hoots of "yo brothah!" hollering at every turn. We shared a treat and then peddled back to the dinghy, enjoying the peace and tranquility that being off the beat track provides. America has its advantages.
Day 298 ~ Itchy FeetJuly 9th, 2011
The girls were in true form after a busy week with activity and friends and woke up snipping at each other. The "togetherness" period is waning and we can see it's time to re-assign quarters, each to their own. Six months of sharing tight spaces may be coming to an end.
After a pancake breakfast, I headed off to the "office" while the girls tackled their lessons. Lisa did more cleaning and organizing -- does it never stop!? The wind shifted throughout the day bringing some cooler temperatures and clearer skies.
Courtney invited the girls to dinner at Silo's, the local restaurant of choice. After getting the girls together, Lisa joined me in the RV for some decompression time. I didn't understand why she was so beat until I got back aboard an hour later. The place was spotless and gleaming, including the outside waterline, and wonderfully free of the usual clutter. It looks great, and gives me the itch to move. Oriental is a great little town, but distant horizons are beckoning.
Day 299 ~ Chilling for the DayJuly 10th, 2011
It's Sunday and, of course, we started the day with Swedish pancakes. The hard-core would have worked another day, but that's just counterproductive in the long run. Instead, we sent Nina to the first spreader to fix the fallen courtesy flag runner. We always get some funny looks when we send our kids up the mast. Can't figure out why.
After some blog updating, we marshalled the troops and went for a bike ride. We just happened to end up at the Sailcraft boat yard where Barry was working on Sirocco. We had a nice chat then peddled back to the dock.
Courtney and company had invited us over for some grilling, so we zipped over in the dink and enjoyed a relaxing evening on the patio while the girls did what girls do. Feel bad for Nika; when there are two kids to play with she often comes up short. No one wants to do what she wants to do. Being the youngest is tough.
Day 300 ~ Bad DadJuly 11th, 2011
Another work day. Lisa tackled lessons with the girls but it was all uphill. Nina, who has been reducing some pretty wicked fractions for 50 pages now claimed that 4/6 reduced to 1/3rd, including some other variations, and just couldn't see the error. The others weren't much better. Even Nika, the math whiz, was off her stride. These are parent clues. Something tells us there's a little too much play and not enough sleep going on.
Bill came by after lunch and took everyone swimming at Pecan Grove, a welcome exercise in the heat with brain freeze. I ground on, and on, until well after 7pm. Slapped some spaghetti together and crashed. Time for the girls to sleep in their own rooms again, it's been months. We think a little less talking and a little more slumber at night may help even things out.
I still haven't gone fishing with Nika, and she asks nearly every day. It stinks being a clod.
Day 301 ~ Mad ScrambleJuly 12th, 2011
Up and going early. Got duplicate keys for the RV on the way to "the office" (aka the Minnie Winnie) and went to work, work and more work. Making good progress with a rather large project so my time is not wasted. Nana was invited to join Courtney, Marie (Courtney's Mom), and Emmie for a car trip to Beaufort. She got to ride a ferry for first time, shopped with the girls and did lunch.
Nika, Nina and Lisa went on a bike ride to do errands around town, then came visit at the RV about 2:30p. I was at a good stopping point so dashed over with the girls to Town and Country for some light provisioning while Lisa put the final cleaning touches on the RV before storage. Being in an air-conditioned RV makes the outside even hotter than it was, and humid. Time to move north, and soon.
Lisa had to return the borrowed bike to the boat supply store so left with the girls while I finalized the project. I then did my manly 'doody' of dumping all liquids out of the RV, winterizing the plumbing, adding antifreeze to the drains and getting it ready for any kind of weather. We have no idea how long it will stay in Oriental.
Drove to the dinghy dock, transferred the final load from/to the RV. By then, the shoppers had returned and dropped off Nana. She came bearing a gift for each of us with the $20 Lisa gave her for the day. Not only were they thoughtful and personalized, but she managed to come in under budget. This girl has a gift for gifts, as it were. She was very proud, but not as much as we were of her.
The marathon was almost over. The last act was to park the RV at Courtney's, fix the external water connection, which I found partially ripped out of the exterior wall leaving a nice gap for rain and bugs, then bike home in the dark using the flicking glow of a headlamp with failing batteries. Tomorrow, we'll get keys to the key people and then finally be on our way.
Day 302 ~ Rotisserie SailorJuly 13th, 2011
Have you ever been to Costco and seen those huge ovens with dozens of skewered chickens roasting, dripping and sizzling while being twisted slowly under intense radiation? Those are the lucky ones. The rest are in North Carolina.
The day finally came for us to leave Oriental. We've made a lot of friends and have had good times, but it's time to pull up stakes and explore a little more. I had grand plans to up anchor at 8am but, of course, those were pure fantasy. This is a family affair. As we were raising the dinghy last night I realized that we would need another water run. No matter how you slice it, moving 1,000lbs of water by hand takes some time.
We got a good start and was at the fuel dock at 7:50am. But it was nigh unto 9 by the time it was all done. The highlight was when Lisa and I, both sweating prodigiously as we bucket brigaded the 60 gallon bladder into the Port tank, called for help with keeping the dinghy from floating around. We hollered and hollered only to have Nina yell back, "I can't come, I am getting ready to go to Blackwell Point (friend's house to say goodbye)." In reality, she was fixing her hair. I didn't come unglued, it was too ironically funny in a sick way, but she did catch an ear full.
Then we had to say our goodbyes and leave RV keys and notes with the right people. All that took more time, and it was 10:45 before we were working on getting Mr. Bruce back in the family. He'd been on the bottom, sinking into the Carolina tar-heel muck for so long he got kind of used to it. And the chain, it was so barnacle-encrusted in places that we had to hammer on it to get it to flake properly into the locker. We got right over him and pulled and pulled. Finally we motored forward and that persuaded him to join us again. Another set well done, and many a peaceful night's sleep amid the singing gusts, knowing that he was on duty.
We had just cleared the channel and were making northern headway when Courtney called. We had left our checkbook at her house. Too late now; we'll figure out somewhere it can be mailed.
The wind shifted throughout the day, eventually dwindling to nothing. The sun rose higher, and higher. We were motoring at 7.4knots and all too often 0.0 knots of apparent wind showed on the wind meter. Sweat was, literally, running down in streams. We resorted to dousing ourselves with water but we would just stay wet, and hot. Since it was 101F in the shade, with high humidity and no wind, our bodies were actually cooler than the air and the water just sat there, getting slimy. It was an interesting feeling, scientifically speaking, disgusting in real life.
The peak hours dragged by. The engines droned rhythmically. Channel markers crept past. Oily pelicans stood on old pilings with their wings dangling away from their sides.
At one point we passed under a fixed bridge, slowly. Our VHF antenna, which extends above the mast about a foot and a half, missed the bridge by six inches, max. In addition, the rudders felt very stiff, which can't be good. Boats, like daughters, don't appreciate being left alone.
Eventually a breeze sprang up. We set the mainsail only to have the wind die moments later. We decided to leave it up for the shade value alone. Another hour. And another. The shadows grew longer, but the heat persisted. As we turned East from the small town of Belhaven, a northerly wind kicked up and we were able to finally, mercifully sail the 8 miles to the East end of the Pungo River, just before it becomes the Alligator River canal. We dropped Bruce in 3 meters of water well outside the ICW channel.
Now, to tackle the steering issue. The only check not performed was the one in which I have to enter the water. Dark, coffee-colored water. Granted, cleaner than Oriental water, but so dark that nothing can be seen below one foot under. The guide book also states, "as recently as the 1930s, 15-foot alligators inhabited the river". Well, that they know of. Donning mask, fins, snorkel and flashlight (and a good dose of willpower), I went in. The flashlight was useless and my mask may as well have been painted black; I could see nothing. Feeling my way, I discovered that Oriental barnacles had taken over and were the culprits living in between the rudder and boat. I was able to scrape away several, including my knuckles in the process, and exit as quickly as possible. It needs much more scrubbing, but that will have to come with a stiffer tool and clearer water.
Clouds moved and the temperature mercifully dropped to the low 90s, making cooking dinner and hanging out on the tramp possible. A quick beef stew and salad were unanimously welcomed. The fridge is so packed that cold water is off the table for another day or two. That's not a way to win popularity contests.
Day 303 ~ Bridge to NowhereJuly 14th, 2011
A tough night. The temperature slowly dropped from 101 to about 90 by 10pm. The humidity was through the roof. Lisa's mosquito netting at least allowed us to have hatches open, but with flat calm conditions there was little respite. All our fans were cranking.
Eventually drifted off about midnight, but was yanked back an hour later when we were slammed by a wall of wind. Zero to 25 knots in no time. It came so fast that the wind hit us sideways, not even enough time to turn the boat into it first. Plants (ahem), and gear in the cockpit went sliding and rolling across the deck, most getting caught in lifelines and such. Nothing pulls an anchored sailor out of bed like a sudden wind shift.
I came flying upstairs to quite a site. Lightning all around and the nearly full moon backlighting a distinct line of wickedly dark clouds. The air movement felt great, but entered with a sultry and unstable air. Rain was coming.
It was nice to have some warning. Got most of the hatches locked down, turning the steamer into a sauna, but there was little choice. Ten minutes later, the deluge hit with 30+ knots gusts of wind. Even in the cockpit, which is well protected, entered continuous barrage of tiny wind-blown droplets driven through the half inch gaps here and there between the bimini and spray dodger. It eventually passed, as these things do, and settled down to a long sprinkle. This is even worse because you can't open up hatches until it's really over. Finally rigged a spray dodger for two of our hatches using a bumper and some bottles and shoes.
Morning broke with a light northerly breeze and cooler temperatures. A welcome relief. We got up and going in decent time while all a little hazy from the long night. We upped anchor about 8:30am and motored to the Alligator River canal. A bridge was in sight immediately, but I didn't give it a second thought since we had cleared all the others with ease.
However, as we drew near, something didn't look right. There were trucks parked on the bridge. Odd. Then as we got closer, the nightmare scenario, unbelievable at first, began to gel. There was something attached to the bottom of the bridge. The full chimera soon became crystal clear. If only I could wake up. The bridge was under repair, and metal fence-like material was fastened along the entire bottom of the bridge. Men were in there, working on the underside. As we approached, as can be imagined, they got really interested in our intentions.
A hollering exchange ensued: "are we going to make it?" "SLOW DOWN, I'll come and see." They scramble over, like spiders on a web, to the potential contact point. "NO WAY buddy, you're not going to make it!" "You are kidding me, this is INSANE!"
We took two passes with workers watching from different vantage points but the net result was the same. No dice. We were 18" too high. I had read of such things, but when it happens to you, the effect on morale is pretty severe. In effect, we spent two days motoring up a canal from which we were prohibited from entering; trapped, like a crab that crawls into the pot.
Did they really have to net the whole bridge at once? Do one half then the other? Bureaucrats miles away had made decisions years ago that were totally screwing our plans. I was starting to hate canals.
There was a billboard along the waterway, about to fall over, that advertised a local marina. Lisa suggested we call to find out if we were in a tidal zone or confirm the alternative route has a tall enough bridge. Just like a woman, "let's ask for help". They ain't going to jack the bridge up for us honey.
It was a reasonable approach, however, as the charts show two potential ways around this portion of the canal. They would each required 1-2 days of additional sailing, many miles out of the way, but better than going all the way back to Beaufort and then out and around Cape Hatteras in the open.
The Riverside Marina was very helpful. They first suggested they could help us under by heeling us over "on our hip" to tip the mast sideways and reduce our height. That was all it took to break the dark mood, thinking of the weight it would require to lower on of our hulls enough to get us under the bridge was a comical sight indeed. Hmmm, parking concrete truck on one hull would probably do the trick.
Once I suggested that out 25' beam wouldn't be amiable to that approach, she put a local Captain on and he had the details we needed. There was another way around, and big boats often used it. He gave us another number number to call, and that guy was even more willing to share all the details.
On the chart it looks like a 60-mile detour, maybe more, but the wind now was from the north and so out came the sails and off went the engines. A tremendous peace settled over our little universe. The winds piped up, and we began to fly in a rush of wind and water. The first couple of hours we were funning back down the Pungo River into the Pamlico River and then we turned out into Pamlico Sound. The wind built some more, hitting 19, 20, 21 knots. Even though we were only a couple miles off shore, the swell was enough to throw spray everywhere. I went forward to be sure our bumpers were secured and came back a minute later, soaked.
Pamlico Sound is really big, actually. It soon became clear we weren't going to make as far I hoped, so we bailed out about 4:30pm and headed into West Bluff Bay, which offers protection from the North and West where the wind was predicted to shift to during the night. What transpired was a magical evening. It was a joy to cook in a cool kitchen and Nana's longing for homemade chicken soup was finally satiated. The wonderful silken air, was breathable now and cooling fast. Clear blue skies, free of the persistent southern haze where studded with powder puff trade winds clouds ghosting south. A full moon rose, peaking its shimmering face from behind the passing train.
Nika and I fished and talked and fixed the CQR windlass which, I discovered, just had bad wiring connections. Nika then volunteered to reorganize my electrical connections. What a girl.
Day 304 ~ Bumper Overboard!July 15th, 2011
We awoke to a peaceful, cool morning over a tranquil anchorage with not a soul in sight on any quarter. Where is everyone?
We should have cranked up at first light. We should have had the cockpit swept bare and ready for action before turning in. But alas, we are a kid boat. A floating condo. A nursery now with potted plants on every step, and drying underwear in every line of sight. There's nothing to do but smile and relax, the alternatives are so much worse. I could be commuting to a cubicle job.
We upped anchor about 9am and tacked our way out of the anchorage. It was a bit choppy out, sloppy choppy, not real swell, but short boxy waves of 3-4 feet that, when timed right, sent the bow flying and crashing in the face of the next one. The wind was shifty as well, and gusty, from 9 to 21 in a few minutes. After one particularly noble blast and, launch and crash, I just happen to see a bumper go floating past. Hey, a bumper. Then, hey that's our bumper!
What a good time to practice man overboard! There was a little confusion at first, and the darn thing floated so high it was moving at a good clip downwind. After a tack and two jibes I managed to get right up to it, but it was just out of arms reach. If it was a person capable of reaching a hand out we would have had him easily, but this one is inert, round and slippery.
We took a couple more passes, once a wave slapped us, then reflected back and pushed it right out of Lisa's grasp. We finally cheated and dropped the sails. Even then it took some fancy engine work to get right up to it. Slippery devil.
The wind evened out and the seas eased a little by afternoon and we made one long tack north up Pamlico Sound breezing into Long Shoal River about 4:30 in the afternoon. There was a touch of cross swell, but the zephyrs wafting in through the hatches are mercifully cool and refreshing. Something tells me it won't last, we're just a little too far South still. Another few hundred miles and we should find livable temperatures again.
Day 305 ~ Weaving our WayJuly 16th, 2011
We had a peaceful night alone in an anchorage large enough for 500 boats. We were up and going in good time, motoring out of the bay and raised sail. It was a gorgeous day, cool and clear with high wispy clouds feathered across the sun. The winds were ideal, but the angle required tacking a few times to make Old House Channel. Once we turned into Oregon Inlet Channel, we raised sails again and scooted along between small sandy islets, passing several ideal anchorages sized for one. If the next heat wave wasn't just around the corner, we'd have stopped to explore.
As we approached Washington Baum bridge it was tempting to pass her under sail, but the channel was narrow and wind under bridges can be fluky. The wind driven tide was high as well. So, prudence proved the better part of valor.
As we turned to drop the main, Lisa hollered "shallow!" She saw 1.6 meters on the depth gauge, we would touch at 1.9, but the transponder is in the bow. We were hanging over a mud ledge. She went in reverse, churning up a muddy cloud of water. I had promised that, if we did the ICW, we would run aground at least once, but so far that's as close as we've come. We inched up to the bridge and gingerly poked our mast under. Our VHF antenna bent steeply and twanged off the bottom of each bridge beam. Whew. We then motored another half hour out into Roanoke Sound through a narrow dredged channel, then raised sail again for the third time.
The girls are helping me raise the main now. Their extra "pancake power" makes a real difference, but by the third go-round the team wasn't quite as snappy as the first. The wind was lighter now, and lessening, but the Albemarle Sound was so peaceful, the sails pulling so well (6.2 knots in 8 knots of wind, with a reef in) that we let the kids watch a movie while Lisa and I enjoyed the womb-like sensation of ghosting along with barely a sound but the whir of a gentle breeze through the rigging and a soft purr of water rushing under our bows.
We anchored at the entrance to North River with good separation from adjacent land, almost a 1/2 mile on all sides. As we sat down to dinner, we saw another sailboat anchored up right next to the swampy marsh. "Rookies" I exclaimed with a chuckle. They are going to get eaten alive tonight.
I read somewhere that pride goes before the fall. Well, it's true.
Day 306 ~ Bug War IIJuly 17th, 2011
After such a serene day sailing we slept like babies. The sun cutting a sharp angle through my hatch awoke me earlier than usual, about 6am. I lay there for awhile, enjoying the sensation of being on the water in a peaceful anchorage. Sort of like that feeling I used to get on a Saturday morning of a three day weekend. I moseyed upstairs blinking the cobwebs from my eyes. There was a funny granular look everywhere I turned. Man, maybe I should start drinking coffee in the mornings to clear these things out.
As my eyes focused a little better, I realized that every window, every hatch cover, and the entire cockpit, every surface was complete carpeted with insects. I remember one of those Waldo like books that actually showed one million Waldos (or whatever). I think there were more Waldos in that book than bugs on our boat, but not many more. This was not going to be pretty.
Of course, some people start their day with exercise, some with the newspaper, some with a cup of Joe and a donut. Everyone should try, at least once, starting their day trying to herd tens of thousands of bugs back to the great outdoors, where they came from. And with no wind to whisk them away.
Since the sliding doors were leg to leg bugs, a dozen per square inch, I suited up and slipped out of our top hatch to do battle. I had no idea what these things were, or if they like the taste of man, but they had to go. My first impression on walking it to the cockpit was the noise. The crunch of doomed DNA under every footstep, the din of a thousands of silvery wings taking flight as I passed. It was roughly the sound, and volume, of someone blow drying their hair in the next room with the door ajar, with a touch more buzz. The second impression, only a moment later was the smell. It was acrid, a combination of the scent of burning hair, intermingled with highlights of smoldering dust, like you get off an old tube radio set that hasn't been fired up in decades.
I have seen the unbridled power of the masses, and anything is possible ~ Mao Tse-tung
I now understood. They are about twice the size of a mosquito, and twice as slow, easily killed with a casual slap. Any one, or dozen, or hundred of these things wouldn't be worth a mention. Two hundred thousand of these suckers, and you have a real mess on your hands. There were pounds of them.
We soon learned two key things about the encamped army. They didn't bite, and they are really slow and persistently dumb. They have their spot and they like it. They were heavy too, you could hear them land with a muted click, and when they ran into you it felt like getting hit with a launched pea from the kid end of the Thanksgiving table. You would smash a dozen, and all those that flew away land right back again. They didn't want to leave.
Sometimes, it's true, there is too much wind at sea, or in an anchorage. The boat bucks at her bridal, the wind howls through the rigging, you wake up a couple of times during the night to check on things, a slight nervous edge to your sleep keeps your subconscious awake in the background, listening. But today, of course, there wasn't a breath of wind and those myriad of mornings, like a stained glass window in my mind remind me that no, this is not normal.
Even a common breeze would have done just fine. These little rascals weren't strong fliers, and the combination of the wind, and a whacking towel would have sent them streaming off in droves. But no, not today.
I tried to be circumspect, to consider the wider picture, to see things from their point of view. This wasn't personal, it was just a fluke of timing, a prodigious hatch and the larger weather pattern. But as I started my scientific approach to beating them airborne, all objectivity broke down. Pure human revulsion at the sheer mass of creepy crawling legs, quivering antennae, clicking wafer wings, crispy exoskeletons and bulbous pairs of black eyes got the best of me.
"Ahhhhh!" I groaned, as my towel, now hitting the same place for the 14th time left behind a bright green mass of goo. Yes, not only they are leaving behind constellations of gummy turds, when I smash them they pop and smear leaving a bright verdant green trail. The Phoenicians could have made a mint using it as a dye for the clothing of royalty. Just imagine.
After 20 minutes of largely fruitless tramping and swinging, it was time to take concrete action. Surprisingly, none of the girls wanted to join me on deck to help raise the anchor. So, I got everything up and going single-handed, turned into the the light breeze that had sprung up and went full throttle to try and make our own wind. Of course, I had to go the wrong direction, burning up fossil fuel to back over the area we had sailed so gracefully through just the night before. With Nina steering from inside, I whacked and wallowed among the buzzing cloud, with some success. Looking back, we were leaving a trail of swirling vermin in our wake, but more just kept coming, from under every cushion, every towel, every carelessly discard sun lotion bottle.
Finally, we broke out the hose and this is when we finally began to gain the upper hand. The darn things were so dumb and slow you could spray them right out of the air. They preferred grouping in corners, and this also lead to their doom. A well sprayed cone of water would mass them in to a wet ball of squirming bodies, drowning them en masse despite their clutching and writhing against the blast of water. I started washing them down in waves across the deck and in the cockpit, whose drains were soon jammed with the carcasses.
Eventually, Lisa and the Lisa-ettes emerged. Our preciously conserved fresh water went trailing behind us gallon after gallon carrying away enough bugs per quart to colonize Mars.
At last I felt we had achieved the upper hand, we turned and drove back down wind, probably re-attracting a few strays and entered the North River. We soon came to the small settlement of Coinjock, which features a small marina with side tie up right at the edge of the canal. It was hard to pass up the water hose we saw, so we wheeled around and came along side.
The water was free, and boy did we use it. Probably 400 gallons or more. It was really high pressure and they had a fireman's quality nozzle. Letting Lisa loose with it was akin to give Genghis Khan a machine gun, or a pallet full of them.
While we were at it, we cleaned water tanks and refilled everything. Hours passed. At last we had the feeling it was time move on. The deck looked like a rugby field. It turns out that every bug squished left a nice brown and green smudge which no casual of chemical or elbow grease will remove. There's nothing to do but let go of it until we have the time and water to do a proper scrub job with the industrial grade variety.
We motored on then, mile after mile as the temperature went up and up. Having had ice cream sandwiches for breakfast, lunch wasn't much better. The girls suffered through it like troopers as the vacuum ran and ran, sucking up the remaining offenders that had made it indoors. Eventually it was giving off a distinct smell of burnt bugs.
We made it through several timed lift bridges, anchoring time and again to wait for openings. At last we reached a free dock in Chesapeake, Virginia, and gratefully tied up for the night. We met some nice folks ashore and the girls had fun running around on the grass, fishing for crabs and just being free of the entire Chironomidae nightmare.
For myself, it was a tattooed guy on a bike that brought the really good news. There's a DQ just up the street. An Oreo blizzard was just the ticket to wash away the bug war blues.
- ICW, Coinjock Marina, Coinjock, North Carolina, USA
- ICW, Great Bridge Lock, Chesapeake, Virginia, USA
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Day 307 ~ Bridge TherapyJuly 18th, 2011
We must be back in "civilization", as it's commonly defined. We heard sirens last night, and garbage trucks. Far less "civilized" then a few of the anchorages we have seen, but therein lies the crux I guess. One man's civilization is another's savagery.
We had heard there was a grocery nearby, and a laundromat, so we decided to get a few life-support chores done. The folks we met ashore the night before had offered us a ride so while Nina, Nana and I hoofed it to Farm Fresh, Lisa called and arranged a ride to the local Coin Op. She took the girls and I dealt with the the fallout; 87 emails had piled up just since Wednesday.
Lisa was back with clean laundry and smiles about noon. It's amazing how her outlook brightens with clean laundry and a (mostly) bug-free boat. We piddled around a bit and I checked out the nearby Atlantic Yacht Basin as a potential place to have some work done in the fall on our way south. They have a rail system for hauling larger boats, but we'd have to sit there the entire time. Not sure how that would play out.
When we missed the 2pm lock opening by about 5 minutes, we opted to sit tight and have a nice leisurely no-bounce lunch, a first since we left Oriental some time last week. It's all blur now, and already seems so far away. We have made some progress northward, but the temperatures went high again today, 97 inside. Not a way to keep Alaska Papa's happy.
We worked our way through the lock that separates the tidal Chesapeake waters with the non-tidal Sound waters of Roanoke, Pamilco and Albemarle. Now we have a gauntlet of numerous bridges to run. The first is called "Steel" bridge. We motored up, called the bridge master at 3:40p and were told to be ready at 4pm for the opening. At 3:59 we approached the bridge cautiously under power. We got as close as we felt comfortable and then held station with reverse. 4:10 came and went. Eventually we called.
You guessed it. A new master was on shift and the last one hadn't bothered to tell her we were there. "I punched in at 4pm and you were not here ready to go, my next opening is at 6pm." We were incredulous. In case you haven't noticed, bureaucrats, particularly those with a lever in their hand, are completely impervious to reason or facts. Of course, we explained the last operator confirmed our presence at 4pm. Of course, we mentioned we were approaching the bridge under power at 1 minute to 4.
The only repeated response received began with, "Coast Guard regulations specify that..." Reasonability wasn't part of this equation. Wisely, Lisa took the radio. Patience with officialdom is not my strong suit; perhaps forbearance with pinheads is a practiced skill because I was about to burn a bridge.
The fact is, this lady had us completely in her power and was having fun playing God, getting more affirmation in her personhood than hours of expensive therapy. Obviously this was more important than doing her job.
In any case, we went back and anchored again. When the drama queen daughter saw us back-tracking she burst into weeping sobs. "First the construction netting, and now this! We are never going to make Norfolk! We are never going to see Remi De again!" Shakespeare would have been duly impressed.
There was nothing to do but make lemonade out of lemons. Lisa read to the girls, I caught up on the blog and did some dinner prep. There was a nice breeze, and the temperature was starting to fall again, mercifully.
At 5:45, a tug pushing a barge, the Captain Ed, the steady non-creative sort apparently, called in for an opening. Evidently the operator had had some time to replay her behavior on her internal Oprah sitcom because she called us and suggested we get underway and she would open in time for us to get in front of Captain Ed. She even apologized for the mix-up.
Well then, burning a bridge, steel or otherwise, wouldn't have done any good after all. Imagine.
Fortunately, the hour and a half wait gave me time to overhear radio traffic with bridges down the line so now we were a little better prepared. We realized that commercial traffic has the right-of-way and they open on request for Captain Ed and his ilk. Hey, if we just trail him around, it will be like having a 'get out of jail free' card. And it worked. One after another opened, or already were open, by the time we got there.
Swampy marsh gave way to derelict industrial sprawl. It was like moving forward years per mile as the old industrial complexes, with rusting warehouses gave way the the nicer, newer stuff the closer we got to Norfolk. The size grew immensely, from large to larger to structures that could enclose multiple football fields.
Now, clearly, we were done with bridges. We passed huge ships, granaries, aluminum ingot operations and finally came the Navy yards. Battleships and cruisers in dry dock or tied up. They even had guys with guns watching us with binoculars as we slid past gawking. I don't think having a little blond girl swinging from the halyards fits any known terrorist profile.
We anchored up at the Hospital Point anchorage and enjoyed a peaceful, rapidly cooling night surrounded by a sweeping view of the Norfolk cityscape glistening over the water. It's amazing the difference a few miles makes. Two nights ago there wasn't a soul in sight.
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Day 308 ~ Old NavyJuly 19th, 2011
We are anchored in the virtual shadow of half a dozen Navy hulks, heavy cruisers, a nice little frigate with more fire power than the entire Royal Navy of 200 years ago, the one explained in concrete terms why Bonaparte wasn't part of the future Europe.
One of the hulks, the USS Wisconsin, is Philadelphia Boat Yard's answer to the Bismarck of Nazi vintage. She was designed to go one-on-one with Bismarck if needed. Well, the Royal Navy did that dirty work, so she shelled Iwo Jima and fought of Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific Theater.
However, now she's part of the Nauticus Naval History Museum. We puttered over in the dink about 11am and spent the day exploring her decks, armaments and spartan interior. I didn't think the girls would be that interested, but they kind of liked it, especially when they saw parts that we have on our boat, like anchor chain, windlasses and snubbers.
As the sun climbed, we headed inside for the museum's air conditioned spaces. Having just read about the duel between the Chesapeake and the Shannon in the War of 1812, it was enlightening to see replicas of the ships on display. I bored the girls with some details of the Merrimac and the Monitor battles. Nana kept wanting to find the button marked "FIRE" among the displays of gun parts on the top floor. The "fire control computer", circa 1941, was an impressive hunk of metal and wiring the size of a commercial washing machine only with dozens of manual dials to compensate for numerous variables, like the ship's speed, windage, etc. All these computations could be done now by the average cell phone with a USB cable interface. Times change, I guess.
The hands-on displays were more engaging, the ones with water and ropes. The day flew by. We closed them down at 5pm and moseyed along the waterfront park area before heading home for some burgers on the grill.
Day 309 ~ The Return of RemiJuly 20th, 2011
Norfolk's anchorage is peaceful, surprisingly. We decided to do Swedish pancakes, just for fun. By the time all the customary traditions were fulfilled, it was nigh onto 10am. Knowing that out dear friends on Remi De were headed our way, we jumped on some lesson work and were just finishing up when we heard a small voice call out "Day Dreamer!" There was a 6 year old Remi, virtually clothes-free in the heat, yelling and waving at us. Nika heard it first and went dashing out screaming.
Fun times. We had parted in the Bahamas after what seems like an eternity of 2 months ago with the promise to find each other later in the summer. They had done Florida, Disney World ("we won't get caught in that trap again") and had visited Bruce's folks overseas whose idea of "fun" was to schedule tours 9am - 6pm every day apparently oblivious to the idea that kids actually don't like to ride around in busses for hours on end looking at old stuff.
A nasty little thunder cell developed just south of us but moved off after a few impressive lightning bolts and rumbles to harass those to the south. We then all decided some A/C was called for in the 98 degree heat and dinghied over to town. I found a wonderfully quiet wi-fi spot at Prince's Books, and enjoyed feeling my shirt dry out by degrees. Managed to get a few things done before they closed at 6, theoretically. The whole crew came over and were soon caught up in the kids' book section while the clock wound away.
In search of some milk and eggs, we dinghied around a point via iPhone directions where Nina and I eventually scaled an archaic hand-cut stone wall to gain the street. We ended up on the "Free Mason" district, an area of Norfolk with cobblestone streets and classic brick homes. Nina, always a sucker for old stuff, was duly impressed and kept a running commentary on each successive structure.
Day 310 ~ To Sea at LastJuly 21st, 2011
Bruce of Remi De is a morning person, or at least a get up and go person. When I poked my head out just after 7am, they were already gone. The weather GRIB files I had studied didn't show much advantage to going early, so we had decided to not push too hard in the morning. Plus, we needed water. Forgot about that.
We contemplated heading out with our 3-day supply, but that didn't seem like such a good idea. I dropped the dink and motored over to the nearby marina's fuel dock, unsure of the reception we'd receive. No problem, they took our garbage and filled our bladder, no charge. Unheard of where we come from. So, I shopped at their little 7-Eleven style store and found a few items as a way of showing appreciation.
It took 20 minutes to get the water aboard, another 10 to get the dinghy up and final items stowed, then we were off by 9am. It was going to be a long motor out of the Norfolk's vast network of docks and channels, in which we were still firmly embedded. The temperature was climbing fast with a "real feel" of 110F predicted.
Shirtless and dripping, we wound or way past towering warships and massive container ships, offset by desolate, derelict docks from a bygone era. At last, the chocolate canal water we were almost used to began to turn lighter and then green. Soon our wake was wonderously clear, dare we say, sparkling. We motored out of mouth of the Cheapeake, leaving an astonshing array of stones unturned for the present, and pursued the only thing that seem to matter. Cooler air.
The temperature dropped with each mile to seaward. By the time we slipped over the undersea freeway that tunnels beneath the shipping lane, it was nigh unto a bearable 86F. A convection breeze filled in and we sailed nicely all throughout the day, making 5-6 knots in 6-7 knots of apparent westerly wind. The sea was mellow and even. Time accelerated expotentially; the cooler clean air, the blue water, the gentle rocking slowly swept the troubles of land away. Bugs gone. Internet, what? Cell coverage, who cares?
An hour flew by in the span of time required for a commercial break during a football game. The girls, now back in the lesson routine did well on their work, and we were soon on to more interesting topics, such as block cities. We found shade in the head sail and enjoyed the plesant coolness on the tramp, talking of all the girls' favorite subjects: dogs, friends of home, funny things Remi said.
By the time we had thought of lunch it was 4pm, so we decided to just do an early dinner, Béchemel sauce and pasta, a perennial favorite. We hung out on the tramp some more as the sun worked its way to an 8pm sunset, a ball of fire into a liquid horizon.
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Day 311 ~ Shifting EastJuly 22nd, 2011
Breaking a passage into daily entries is illusory; there are no days. There are dark times and light times. There is wind, more wind and less wind. The sun and moon come and go in endless exchange swivels without a hinge on reality.
Adequate breeze dies away by about 10am. So much for the convection theory. We finally motor for a couple of hours using the starboard engine. We seem to punch through the atmospheric uncertainty when we see a darker patch of water ahead and upon crossing it, are back in the money. Wind is money.
We are close enough to shore to get a text from Remi De. They have motored for 36 hours and have finally arrived at Sandy Hook. They are miserable, in part for motoring all that time, but mostly because of the heat. Oh, and the flies.
Turns out the local word is that a sewage treatment plant burned down so now they are just dumping right into the bay. The fly population has exploded, mysteriously. So much for taking a swim. Remi De is so grossed out they are headed through New York City first thing tomorrow.
I run some calcs on the map and, if we motored both engines flat out, we would just get there when they were getting underway at 8am. Not worth it. Lisa and I talk it over and decide to divert to Block Island. It's an additional 150 miles, a solid day if the winds are good, a day and a half at their present strength. This skips New York and Long Island entirely, taking us straight to Rhode Island, but should get us to cooler temperatures and in contact with our friends again. When you are doing a family cruise, that's pretty much all that matters.
The wind tapers off some after the sun sets, but I leave Lisa on the first watch with double head sails flying wing and wing. Our speed varies from 3-5 knots with little puffs and large ground swell that is rolling through from wind energy far, far away. Say the Azores. I am concerned that a shift or, worse, a local thunder cell will surprise us and rip the genny to shreds, not that there's much to lose.
But no, the winds are consistently light all night, and not a flicker of lightning is seen.
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Day 312 ~ Kingdom of the Flies, Bug War IIIJuly 23rd, 2011
As before, it's on the third day of a passage that things begin to feel right, if living on 4 hours of sleep for every 24 past is ever right. Perhaps, "normal" is the correct word. The girls are in the groove now and the morning goes smoothly. Last night I noticed condensation on the escape hatch windows. The water is so cool that it's chilling the hulls; since the humidity is through the roof, the lower walls of the showers are dripping.
After lessons we do some story time, and a late breakfast. Hours meld into a beautiful blur of tranquil waters and a nice working breeze. We have had the genny (big head sail) up now for a couple of days with great results. She scoops huge fistfuls of light air and we have many hours of 6+ knots of ground speed in very little wind.
Sometime in the morning the flies appear. We are 30 miles from the nearest land and this completely confounds us. Where are these things coming from? The water surface is really the only explanation, but it makes no sense. Swimming flies?
The fact is one of the plagues of Egypt is upon us, and these little suckers bite, favoring that tender, tight skin around our ankles. It's as if each carries a leatherman, lands, takes a nice little pinch of flesh and flies off cackling with laughter. Die suckers, die!
We quickly seal all open hatches with Lisa's homemade screens. The indoor battle ensues. One hour of whacking later and the interior is mercifully fly free, or nearly so. Lisa, ever a bugs best friend, heads out to the cockpit to do battle Average whack per minute rate is 10-12. Gear starts to fail. After an hour of continuous thumping, her fly swatter breaks clean off at the handle. You get what you pay for, but they have been working since Grenada. We have three more, but at this rate we'll be plumb out of artillery by dusk.
I naively put bug dope on my legs, then watch as a particularly large specimen lands right next to a swirl of DEET and chomps down. Guess that's not going to work.
The girls hunker down inside. As the hours pass Lisa and I become deft at swatting on the the move, perfecting the backhand sliding twist whack, and honing our follow through, gaining some control of where the carcasses land based on slide, attack angle and being swat selective – intentional on which region of the swatter you center on the target. There's the central power zone, if a smash is desired, and then the outer finesse areas that allow you to direct the victim towards the cockpit drains, for example, on the bounce-back.
We even get good and doing blind kills. I knock two dead on one ankle without even looking. I feel their landing gear and strike, then look down and see two twirling around on the floor in their death throes. I let them suffer a bit, just for revenge, then polish them off with an angle measured to land them both in the drain. A swirl of breeze catches one, so I have to follow up with a scoop. Valuable hunting time lost.
With the wind situation stable, I finally give up and head inside; Lisa charges on. I can't say that girl lacks tenacity when it comes to vermin. Her unverified record rose to 4 kills with a single swat. She reported that the wind protecting the underside of the dinghy held a thick carpet of flies. I didn't even want to look.
Despite hours of battle the tide of flies doesn't turn until evening, when cooler temperatures seems to do them in. One minute, it's as bad as ever and the next I go out to tweak some mainsail trim and realize that I haven't felt any ankle pinching. What a pleasant surprise.
One of the liabilities of passages is that the younger kidlets begin to suffer from EED. Excessive Energy Disorder. Relief for parents and kids alike, we have found through trial and error, is some planned rough-housing time. The girls life jacket up and meet me on the tramp for some Bears v. Salmon time. The life jackets add a nice padding to the experience and give the bear (guess who?) convenient handles for seizing otherwise slippery salmon and pinning them the tramp. Nika and Nana quickly go spastic, leaping on my back with, say, both knees and throttling me by the Adam's apple. Not sure that I have many more years of this kind of thing in me.
We settle them down with some Hans Christian Andersen. Turns out the guy wasn't a universal genius, as the first two stories we attempt turn dark, twisted and confused, not exactly kid literature by today's standards. I glean that violence, death, duty and punishment for sin were popular kid book topics in the day. But we find a few gems eventually. I guess you only have to get a few hits to make a name for yourself.
As the sun sets, the wind begins to taper off; by 11pm we are making 1.5 knots. At this rate it will take 3 more days to make Block Island. The GRIB files show about 24 hours of no real wind, so we finally fire up the starboard engine and motor into the moonrise.
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Day 313 ~ A fish at lastJuly 24th, 2011
It's difficult to say when night became a new day. The wind completely evaporated about 10pm. We had seen it coming on the GRIB files, but when it happens to you it's personal. We are about 80 miles out of Block Island and if we want to, we can sit here and bob around for a day, waiting for wind, or we can motor the last 12 hours. It helped to have been expecting it at least, like any bad news, surprise only makes it worse. So I fired up the starboard engine. This will keep our bedroom cooler and quieter and since the girls are sleeping on the salon floor, it won't keep them awake. We grind away for a bit and I hit the sack, falling immediately into a dreamless sleep.
It seems like I barely closed my eyes when Lisa is saying, "I am really sorry to wake you, but the engine just quit" The clock read 3:27am. I knew we were low on fuel, what with all the intracoastal motoring, but I wasn't sure how low. Our gauges were deep-sixed sometime in the 90s. Oh well, fire up engine number two. By the time that was going I was feeling pretty awake so Lisa crashed, sleeping right through the hum and vibrations of three Yanmar cylinders pumping out horses not 5 feet from her toes.
I had one of those wonderful mornings at sea that must be experienced to be understood. With no wind, the water was languid and silky, distant groundswell gave the satin surface a slow and silent pulse. As the light became better I set up the fishing line with little hope. We have been trolling 12 hours+ a day every day with not a single strike. But today I had this feeling...
Anyway, light meant that I should confirm fuel starvation to be the port side problem and break out the jerries of diesel we stashed away while in Grenada, buried under all the things boat lockers accumulate. I opened the fuel filter and, sure enough, it was sucked dry. Well, at least we have a known problem. May as well change the filter while we're there. As I was just getting my body in the proper contortions for a clean filter change, the fishing line started singing off the reel. Great timing.
In the time it took to extricate myself from the engine "room" (nook, really) and get the throttle knocked down, a considerable amount of line was off. When I first gave a pull and pump attempting to reel in some line, I thought, "this is going to be a close run thing." The fish felt huge, but then I remembered the boat was still slowing down. In another 20 seconds, our speed was down to 1.5 knots and the fight was going my way.
He put up a good battle, but since none of the gear failed this time, his fate was sealed. The girls, asleep on the salon floor, heard the commotion and were up in moments peppering the air with questions. What is it? How big is he? Have you seen him yet?
A few minutes later and I had a Bluefish landed on our back step. Seeing that he was well hooked, I went forward and dug out one of our Rubbermaid tubs leaving Nana in charge of the pole. We learned the blood bath lesson the hard way, now we just drop the fish in a tote, slit his gills, flop the lid on and wait for time to take its toll. I posted Nana on the lid. She got a thrill out of every flop and bang under her while I got the pole re-rigged and the engine back up to speed.
There's no reason to wait, so once he had gone to that big pond in the sky, we filleted him up and pan fried a sampling. Yum. Nothing like fresh caught.
Soon after, we approached Block Island and turned into the cut. Wow, culture shock. After 3 days at sea rarely seeing another boat, we were now motoring up a channel that looked like a traffic jammed interstate. Six boats where oncoming, with a steady stream following, and the channel isn't exactly wide. We wound our way and puttered around the anchorage looking for a spot, finally settling on one that was just big enough. It was 73 hours since we pulled the hook from Norfolk. A comfortable passage, but always nice to anticipate a full night of sleep that comes at the end.
Remi De appeared later in the evening and we enjoyed a very tasty fish and rice dinner and topped it off with some homemade oatmeal cookies. There weren't many leftovers.
07/24/2011 05:12:11 AKDT
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Day 314 ~ First, do no harmJuly 25th, 2011
Some days you win and some you lose. With cooler temperatures, say 67, the first thing I thought about was boat projects, the numero uno being to get the oven working properly. It never really has come up to temperature as it should. Up to this point, the idea of baking has been so repulsive -- what, like we want to make it 110 in the boat, instead of only 100 -- that it just hasn't gotten any attention. Better dive right in.
Well, after tweaking this, and wrenching that off and a little twist for better visibility, I felt a sickening sensation of metal breaking. The thermocouple was now kinked and clearly breaking away. I call the manufacturer. As soon as I described the problem, the Canadian on the other end of the line said, "oh, that was a bad idea".
Got that. Turns out the part I broke has been out of production since 2005 and our stove has been superceded by two newer models over the last 14 years. Ouch. The only option is a retrofit kit which involves disassembling the unit and drilling holes in new places. Hmmm.
I had considered replacing it anyway, but knowing that my own stupidity wrecked a stove that, other than general deterioration, was working okay, makes it a bitter pill to swallow. I decide to go for the cheap fix anyway and call back to order the retro kit only to find that, since they are in Canada, they don't ship general delivery to the post office, but instead must have a valid physical delivery address. Strike out.
It took a couple of hours to get over that general "I am so stupid" feeling, and move on with the day. To top it off, it started raining, that nice kind of Alaska drizzle that hangs on, falling from a opaquely uniform sky.
After it cleared off, the crew went biking with Remi De while I puttered and muttered about the boat with Nina. One thing lead to another, and Nina, Lisa and I wound up doing our mandatory basic shopping run after 8pm, pedalling back in the dark.
There's always tomorrow.
Day 315 ~ Exploring Block IslandJuly 26th, 2011
The day broke Alaska cool and overcast. It felt just like home. Remi De joined us for Swedish pancakes and piles of them disappeared without a trace. Nika took advantage of our distraction and exceeded her traditional 5 pancake limit, by a considerable amount.
By the time the conversation was winding up, it was nearly noon and the sun had broken through turning the day brilliant and clear. It's so nice to be out of the heat haze and see a bluebird sky. Nina and I headed ashore to take in a load of garbage and refill our diesel fuel jerries that saved the day, or night as it were, just last week. I emptied the one remaining, splitting it between each tank. Eight months is long enough for any fuel to sit around.
We went exploring on bikes along windy, narrow New England style roads, weaving our way among folded fields bordered with stone walls of a bygone time. The homes are small, mostly, and cedar shaked in the quaint coastal style; a refreshing change. The town, if you can call it that, is really just a cruise ship style shopping strip, which could be transplanted from or to any destination. It bears the usual overpriced t-shirt shops and restaurants, souvenir stands and handcraft galleries. A single scoop of ice cream is $3.79, a sharp contrast from Oriental's $1.86.
Oh well, we can fight it or just relax and have fun. We did, and enjoyed one of the best vanilla ice creams I've had in a long time, not to mention a killer fresh-squeezed lemon ice that had Nina clutching at the straw.
We meandered back, and filled our diesel jerries. $4.78 a gallon. Nice. I think we'll try and stretch the fuel we have to make it someplace a less touristy and a little more down to earth. Back at the boat I followed Bruce's lead and spent the afternoon scraping barnacles off the bottom and prop. How a barnacle can hang onto a prop exceeds my powers of imagination, but there they were, fat and happy, despite whipping through the water at a thousand RPMs.
Lisa headed out to the post office, while the girls and I went beach exploring. It's been a while. The sand colored sand (creative!) was cluttered with a whole new array of shells and stones which the girls took to smashing and collecting with earnest.
After playing with Remi all day the girls were pretty whipped. We did a quick fish taco dinner, briefly interrupted by the most dramatic squall line I have ever seen. It proved to pack more bark then bite, with winds that never topped 20 knots and a short-lived rain burst. I should have been out there scrubbing the deck, taking advantage of the fresh water deluge. But no, instead I played chicken in the cockpit and watched it all run overboard.
Day 316 ~ A Race to NewportJuly 27th, 2011
The morning broke crisp and clear, with high feathery clouds and sunshine. Our decks are still bearing the grime of 5 weeks of camping in Oriental so with the temperatures down, boat cleaning motivation is up. The girls hauled water while I scrubbed and soaped. We don't realize how much fiberglass there is around here until every square inch requires attention. The girls did good sticking it out until we had bright clean decks. A refreshing change.
We were just wrapping up when Remi De upped anchor and motored over and was gracious enough to hold position while we scrambled to get our anchor up, cushions stowed and all the rest. They were going to race Gone With the Wind to Newport today, about 22 miles. We really don't have a chance against these two, but they let us go out ahead of them to get sails up and engines off. Then they both rolled out their screechers and blew by. Gone With the Wind is faster, but Bruce out maneuvered Liam and ended up coming in first by a hundred yards or more. We were only about 30 minutes behind, not a bad performance for a four hour sail in light air.
Newport is a quaint whaling town with a tourist problem. I guess they probably don't talk much about whaling these days, what with the touchy feely espresso sipping Prius thing going on around here. Many old homes going back to the 1750s have been converted to cozy cafes, cookie shops and coffee houses. The streets are narrow, winding and some still have the brick or stone covering their topsides.
It's a great little town with impressive stone churches, the Anglicans and Catholics going stone for stone trying to out-do the other guys. Makes me wonder if anyone uses them as churches anymore. Perhaps faith, like whaling, is out of fashion.
We did some burgers on the grill and then mosied into town, enjoying the long evenings. We ambled along the streets, window shopped and sampled the offerings of The Cookie Jar. Their coconut macaroons are world class.
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Day 317 ~ Shore ExplorationJuly 28th, 2011
We tackled some lessons first thing and then Nina and I headed to town with the bikes. West Marine is 3.7 miles inland, so we decided to make a bike tour out of it. The water pump we bought new and installed in Oriental is on the fritz already. We have two water pumps, one is easy to access, and one is hard.
Guess which one went on the blink?
Once it was out and in the bag we motored over to a nearby marina to get the bikes set up and going. We asked the first guy we saw if we could leave out dinghy there, and he said, "I am just a member here, you'd have to asked the manager." He paused for a minute, then continued, "Just tell him you are guests of Mr. Broadski". It worked like a charm. So far the Rhode Islander's are disappointing our stereotype of cold and unfriendly East Coasters.
It was a long, uphill ride but, with cool patches of shade, it was fun winding through the narrow back streets, some cobblestone and all curbed with granite. That's right, the curbs are chiseled from solid granite, like you would use for a countertop now. Whaling had its advantages.
The boat shopping was typically long and drawn out, and the usual things were forgotten, again. But we managed to order a new stove at a tax-free price and return and replace the water pump. By then it was nigh onto 3pm and we were famished, so took refuge in a local burrito haunt.
Next, we had heard of a place called Newport Nautical that might have some used sails. It had them, and more. Much more. It is a labyrinth of old, used and mostly worthless boat parts, with occasional gems. We asked about sails and were ushered to a low ceilinged basement dimly lit with wall-mounted flickering florescent lights. The smell was a cocktail of dust, boat mold and canvas. Nina wrinkled her nose. We dug around for awhile, finding some potential Gennies and Spinnies. We'll have to get some additional measurements to see what might fit.
We pedaled back to the dinghy dock, stopping here and there to check out old buildings and ice cream shops. A waffle cone was $5.95. Only cruise ship towns can support such nonsense.
Lisa, Nana, Nika and Remi De meandered their way around town most of the day and were back at the boat in time to buzz over and pick us up. The evening got whirled away in boat projects. Replacing the water pump should have been a 10 minute affair, but involved replacing other fittings which, of course, were nearly impossible to reach.
We ate a late pasta dinner in the kitchen happy to have a working water pump at last.
Day 318 ~ Catching upJuly 29th, 2011
The day broke cool with a high overcast that threatening sprinkles. After a couple weeks of freedom, clients where calling so the Remi and the fam headed in for a hike amongst the mansions of Newport's ridgeline. Lisa described it as being in a Jane Austen novel, expecting characters to come walking out of a door at any moment, so crunching by in a coach.
I stared at the same flat screen that haunted the last decade and caught up on necessary things. We did a quick dinner and considered a bike ride, but about that time the drizzle finally arrived, not enough to clean anything, or collect water, but enough to get everything wet and keep us indoors.
Day 319 ~ What a difference a day makesJuly 30th, 2011
This morning broke sunny and bluebird clear with a cool breeze and the promise of a warm afternoon. The real excitement though was focused in an entirely different direction. After many weeks of searching craigslist, we finally found a sailing dinghy that we think is the right compromise between kid hauling capacity and storability aboard.
After a long text exchange with the owner, we agreed to meet at the public boat ramp just behind us at 10am. Going to get and test sail the dinghy was a pretty shiny carrot so math lessons, morning chores and breakfast went along at a nice clip. We were in the dinghy and putting over to the jetty at 9:50 on the dot.
However, there was no boat. Not at 10:30, or 11. Finally at 12:30p he texted to say that he was stuck in traffic and would touch base when they were close. The hours crawled by, as time does in a dentist's chair. Finally, at 2:30pm he texted that he had finally arrived. We zipped over and there it was. The owner had never even used it, so it took a while to assemble all the parts and pieces to be sure they were all there. Everything was included, except the seat. "Ah, man", the owner moaned, "I had that feeling I was forgetting something". He had been in the car 3 hours to drive 30 miles and had forgotten the part you sit on.
"I'll bring it tomorrow, I promise!"
Well, I decided not to bank on it, but everything else was is good shape and, at the price we had negotiated, including delivery, it was a good deal. So, we settled up and I launched Nina off on her own. Sailing camp had pushed her confidence way up and she took off like a pro, tacking away from the jetty and feathering nicely into the dinghy dock a few minutes later, all smiles. It was one of those Nina-as-an-adult moments that are happening with increasing frequency. Scary, but very cool all at the same time.
Then everyone wanted a turn. While Lisa did some birthday shopping in town and the odd girls out bounced around at Remi De's, I took each girl on a nice long sailing tour of the harbor. Nana, whose confidence far exceeded her skills, just about dumped us a couple of times, but after 30 minutes at the helm she was doing pretty good. Nika, the rascal took the helm from the get-go and never missed a beat, weaving her way through anchored boats, mooring balls and powerboat traffic. She even tacked with aplomb. I had no idea she had gleaned so much about sailing just by being around it.
We finally put the dinghy to bed on the trampoline as the sun was waning in the west. Part of the deal was that the girls had to clean it and help load and launch it. It was time to call in some chips and the girls scrubbed until the fiberglass was sparkling, "See Papa!" they trumpeted, "we told you we would take care of a sailing dingy if you bought us one." Time will tell, I guess, but day 1 went pretty well.
Day 320 ~ Dirty LaundryJuly 31st, 2011
Some things just have to be done. I know that the impression people have of sailing in paradise doesn't include doing laundry and grocery shopping, carless, but that's part of the mix.
Thankfully, we have a few bikes to add to the mix but it's still an all day affair to get a week or two's worth of laundry and provisioning for five. We ended up making two round-trip bike runs to haul it all, complete with stuffed backpacks and bungeed laundry bags swaying back and forth on the bike rack.
We added a little shine to the evening by exercising our sailing dinghy again. The girls are really taking to it, and I am doing my best to make sure it's always their idea.