Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Oriental to Charleston, Part II

Aletheia in her glory
This is Part Two of the Carolina Trip. Part One is here.

When we last left our heroes, they were having an epic dinner aboard Aletheia lying at anchor at Wrightsville Beach.

Both the captain and I really wanted to do some offshore sailing and yet among our many compatible aspects -- we are both fairly conservative sailors. Neither of us would make the jump offshore in adverse conditions just to say we had done it. In addition, though we spent the night right at the Masonboro Inlet, the Frying Pan Shoals extended well out into the Atlantic between us and Charleston. We would have had to sail fairly far offshore before we could turn to the southwest and make for our destination. In fact, many sailors traversing the East Coast will come inside between Masonboro and Cape Fear just to avoid having to go out and around those shoals.

As keen as we both were, it didn’t make a lot of sense for us to go offshore from Wrightsville. We
Wrightsville Beach Anchorage
hatched a plan to run inside down to the Cape Fear River in the morning, and if the weather and the tides were on our side by then, we’d jump offshore from there to Charleston. We had to have the outgoing to tide with us at Cape Fear River and then the in-going tide at Charleston. Otherwise, it would be dangerous to creep along against the flow with the potential for traffic; especially ship traffic.

We left Wrightsville Beach early on Sunday morning and ran down to Snows Cut. The Cut crosses over to the Cape Fear River and is often a difficult stretch. At one narrow point, again against the tide flow, we were maxed out and creeping along barely more than a knot over the ground. We had a little help from the sails and got through it - ever so slowly. After the cut, the ICW angles across some shallows to join the Cape Fear River. On the river, midday Sunday, there were no ships in sight, but we finally sailed through ship infrastructure; range marks, bigger bouys, and a large natural gas terminal.

One of the last bouys outbound
At Cape Fear, the ICW goes most of the way out toward the ocean before it turns to starboard at Southport. Approaching that intersection, we already knew the tide with us and we were going offshore! My vagabond heart soared and called from the clouds like the many osprey we had seen along the way. I was … we were …  going to get some sea time!!

It would be twenty five hours or so across to Charleston, we set the auto pilot and decided to take three hour watches once it got dark. Often an auto pilot won’t steer a sailing course because it can’t read or react to the wind. Our wind held steady though, and the autopilot steered all night. Our timing was tight and the Captain wanted us to stay within a half mile of the rhumb line to avoid a bunch of extra sea miles. Holding close to the rhumb line though precluded sailing for comfort and my watch at dusk was really rolly. For three hours the boat never stopped moving for a second. We were rolling heavily from side to side plus the normal forward and back motion. I began to feel a little green around the gills. When Wade relieved me, I went below to nap and was down there about 15 seconds when I climbed right back up and leaned over the rail. I don’t remember ever being sick on a boat before. Any way, bless the fish, here’s my supper. I posted 4 mini videos on YouTube of our time at sea here.

The sea moderated and it was a beautiful sail overnight to Charleston. Somehow all along the entire trip, our timing had always been good; just when we needed it most. We hit Charleston Harbor just as the tide turned in our favor. We sailed dead downwind up the channel as the Monrovia-flagged Primavera container ship passed us. We had talked with someone on the ship’s bridge, and promised to stay well to starboard as she past.

All along our trip we were often stared at and photographed. Aletheia is a distinctive beauty. Her junk
The Primavera
rig is curious with it’s batwing sails and two unstayed masts; one of which is nearly in the bow. People in passing boats waved, called to us, and took pictures. It was amazing and hilarious to be a part of such a spectacle. Even the crew of the Primavera must have been watching for someone stepped out on the small deck adjacent the huge ship’s bridge and snapped some pictures. Later, @zhirov_sergey ‘liked’ my picture of the ship on Instagram. I like to imagine he was the guy on the deck that day.

Once in the harbor, we had to make for Elliot Cut to get over to the Stono River and the St. Johns Yacht Harbor, Aletheia’s new home. One bridge on Elliot Cut doesn’t open for boats during rush hour for commuters. To wait it out, we anchored across from the City Marina, the very marina where Wade and I had met three years ago on another boat. After waiting, we hauled anchor and slogged our way through another channel with a squeeze point and a current against us. The marina had closed before we could get there, so we anchored just down river from them, under another bridge. The sun was just going down Monday evening as we made supper and anticipated our formal arrival the next day.

St. Johns Yacht Harbor under the bridge
In the morning we contacted the marina, casually motored back under the bridge and tossed our docklines to the helpful staff. Wade checked in and we straightened up the boat. The Captain is a bit like me -- once we’re moving we’d rather just keep going to get things done. We had had a good night’s sleep the night before at anchor. Wade’s truck was up in Oriental, where we had started. I had made a lunch date with a former suite-mate from Michigan State for Wednesday, the next day, but had also offered to help Wade retrieve his truck. We decided to rent a car right then, Tuesday afternoon, and go get it. Road Trip! Five hours up and a few more than that back.

We had made an epic run from early Sunday morning to sundown Monday: left Wrightsville Beach; down to Cape Fear; out into the ocean; sailed all night; arrived at Charleston Monday afternoon; waited for a bridge; and finally anchored right near the marina. Then Tuesday settled in at the marina before an eleven or twelve hour road trip into the wee hours Wednesday morning. After a nap, we took the rental car back and had returned to Aletheia about an hour before my buddy, Brian, called to say he had arrived for lunch.     Badass.

Wednesday evening I had a pleasant dinner with Wade and his Charleston friend, Nat, whom I had first met with Wade when they stopped by s/v Eleanor three years before. Thursday, we ran some errands around town and Wade dropped me off at the Greyhound station for my trip back to Florida and my boat, s/v Emma. The trip was just what I needed to recharge my vagabond soul. I am working my to-do list with increased vigor. My new trucking gig is seven days on, seven days off; good for getting on with the boatwork. In addition, while I was away, the marina’s mechanic was aligning and installing my engine! My boat project is way ahead of where it was when I left! What a time! Good sailing with a good friend on the good ship, Aletheia. Life is good; so good. How many good’s can fit into one paragraph?

That good. Thanks, Wade.
Aboard Emma with my Aletheia Hat! 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Oriental to Charleston, Part I

The creek at Sea Harbour Yacht Club
Note: This is Part One of Two Parts. Part Two is here.

I was crewing on a delivery of a Westsail 42 down the East Coast when I met Wade. He had crewed on the famous W42, Fiona, and was keen to join us for a time. The boat wasn’t departing for a couple days and he was spending some time in the city, but he stopped by with a Charleston friend at the City Marina to introduce himself. Wade is a very interesting guy. We became fast friends between Charleston and Melbourne, FL, where the trip ended prematurely.

sv Aletheia
In the time since that voyage, Wade had purchased Aletheia, a 36 foot Allied Princess that was converted to a junk rig and repowered with an electric drive. He had found her in St. Petersburg, FL and subsequently moved her to Oriental, NC. I was busy on the road saving money for my own boat project and could not help during that move. However, as Wade prepared to move Aletheia from Oriental down to Charleston, he asked if I could help. I happened to be changing jobs and it worked out that I could sneak two weeks off between them to join him.  Basically the fourth time I quit a job for a sailboat. Two days after leaving the first job, I was on a Greyhound bus excited to be headed North Carolina to go sailing!

After a day and a half of minor boat projects, prepping and provisioning, all was well, hale and hearty. We departed early on a Wednesday morning, silently pushed by the electric motor out of the marina creek and into the Neuse River. Gosh, it was such a pleasure to be back on the water. My boat and I are stranded on the gravel of a Florida boatyard for several more months. The Neuese is a wide enough river I could get used to the versatile junk rig sails and learn the details of the electric motor, the battery bank and power generation. I had seriously considered an electric motor for my Emma, but had found a great deal on an impressively rebuilt Perkins diesel.

It was a pleasant leg up and across the Neuse to Adams Creek. At the creek, we were greeted by stronger than expected wind and current. The inlets and outlets between the sea, the rivers and the ICW prevented me from ever being able to predict the direction or strength of the tide flow. Suddenly, Aletheia was having trouble holding her own. We were making very little way and I was having trouble tacking her; really feeling out of control. I can’t remember why I was steering just then, but poor Aletheia was going back and forth across the channel in the midst of some powerboat traffic. As I tried to tack I only got blown over the other way. I called from help from Wade! The captain may have noted in the logbook that his crew was having a pucker at the lower end of his alimentary canal.

The junk rig is elegantly simple but just different enough from the fore and aft rigs that I have sailed that it took some time to get used to working those beautiful batwing sails. Aletheia has two masts each with a similarly shaped sail. As different as the sailing was, when trying to tack -- turning into the wind for you land lubbers -- I needed to think of the forward sail like a jib on a sloop anyway. Once Wade had me releasing the sheet of the forward sail as I came about, I could manage a proper tack.

Sunset on Adams Creek
The sailing handling was straightened out but we still could not make any headway against the wind and current; something else was wrong. The Captain decided we should backtrack to an  anchorage he knew. Perhaps in an hour or two we could try again. Soon, however, we realized that we would miss time the tides at Beaufort. The original plan had been to go out into the Atlantic at the Beaufort Inlet and anchor at Cape Lookout, supposedly one of the most beautiful anchorages on the East Coast. From there we could decide to continue offshore or duck back into the ICW, the Intracoastal Waterway. We ended up staying the night at the anchorage at the north end of Adams Creek.

The next morning, we were up with the sun and started down the creek in the stillness of the morning. And … we still couldn’t make much way.  There was no wind and very little current, but we were struggling to creep along. After circling back the the anchorage, we decided the propellor must be fouled. Wade prepped to jump into Adams Creek … in April. I changed into my swim trunks as well, just in case. Luckily for me, after his initial shock, the Captain, a regular resident of Alaska, decided the water wasn’t so bad. He quickly found the prop was, in fact, fouled -- not fish line or rope on the shaft -- but barnacles on the blades. I dug out a putty knife and the Captain had our prop clean after several dives. We raised the anchor a second time and headed south. The clean prop made all the difference! We later learned that the marina we’d left had suffered a barnacle bloom.

That second day, even with a false start, was a good run. It was so easy to motorsail with the junk rig.
The full length battens and the unique parrell rigging kept the sails from flogging. When the sails weren’t much help we simply snugged up the sheets and ignored them. When they could help, the sails were already up and ready for adjustment. With a fore and aft rig like mine, the sails would have gone up, come down, gone up again, come down etc. Chances are, rather than fool with them, my sails would have stayed down and I’d have just motored the whole way without getting the occasional help from the sails.

We motorsailed down to Beaufort and then stayed on the ICW as the forecast and the tides precluded us from going offshore. We were near enough to civilization that we usually had cellular data and could check the marine forecasts and tide info, or download GRIB files. We anchored for the night off the ICW just above Swansboro.

The next morning we were off early and continued down the ICW. After some time, silently, electrically plying the ICW, the channel had turned and we decided to raise the sails to take advantage of our new angle on the wind. Unfortunately, we were approaching the New River Inlet, a confused delta below Camp Lejuene. The occasional roar of military jets added to the milieu as I worked to raise the sails. Just as we were moving into an area of bouys that are regularly moved to mark the shifting sands, Wade was steering as I was hauling lines and halyards. Every time he leaned one way to check the position of the channel, I would move to block his view; oblivious of the scattered bouys he was trying to decipher. Where the main part of the New River crosses the ICW, the channel had not simply shifted -- it had changed dramatically. Suddenly a bouy we needed to keep to our right was well to our left … and we ran aground.

If you go down the ICW without running aground once, you’re lying. We lost about an hour, calling Towboat/US and waiting on their arrival. They were super nice guys and had us off in no time. The tow captain said, “Yep, you’re right in the middle of where the channel used to be.” Even with the grounding, we made a good distance Friday. The last few miles, however, were a mighty slog into the wind and current. We were creepping along only a knot or two over the ground and fought our way into a ‘V’ between two channels to anchor for the night near Sloop Point.

I must say it was a luxury cruise for me. The last delivery I crewed on, I cooked about ⅔ the meals (I was happy to do so, cooking is one of my pleasures). This time, however, Wade cooked and fed me like a king. We had steaks for dinner and with our eggs a couple mornings. There were wonderful lunches - often cold cuts and cheese with whole grain bread. I cooked one meal the whole time -- mostly because I wanted to at least once.

In hindsight, trying to make time on a delivery run on the stretch of ICW between the Figure Eight Bridge and Wrightsville Beach -- on a weekend day -- was a strategic mistake. Not only were we fighting the wind and current, and the limited manueverability of a large sailboat, we also had the weekend crowd and their swarming powerboats. No one aboard those little buzzing boats seemed to know why we were making slow circles in front of a closed bridge. They wouldn’t have undertood that we were not only limited by our height but the channel for our four and half foot keel was a lot narrower than it appeared on the surface.

All the while we were calling Wrightsville marinas wanting to tie up for some fuel and a run to the grocery store. Nobody wanted to accomodate our provisioning on a weekend. And once we got under the Wrightsville Beach Bridge and near those marinas, we didn’t want to try and make our way through the maddening crowds just to get some fuel anyway. We decided to anchor at Wrightsville and go ashore in the dinghy.

Wade made contact with a resort hotel and gained permission to use their dock. For some reason, I was steering again, but I got us off the ICW, down toward the Masonboro Inlet and into the anchorage just fine. As we piled into the dinghy we joked about two big lunks, our trash, and four jerry jugs fitting aboard. Just then we realized that three years before, in an identical dinghy, he and I had rowed ashore at Melbourne, FL for fried chicken.

We made it across the choppy bay and pulled up to the dock at the Blockade Runner Resort. The guy
Sunset at Wrightsville Beach Anchorage
Wade had talked to was not around, but since we knew a name, everyone was very nice and accomodating. We tied up, grabbed our jugs and trash, and hailed an Uber ride. Jeanette was super nice and turned her Uber off to concentrate on escorting us to the Harris Teeter grocery and then a gas station. She was as patient as a saint as the ethanol-free gas just trickled out of the gas pump.

Once we got back to the resort, we had four full jerry jugs of gasoline and several bags of groceries to fit, with us, in the dinghy. Nevertheless, we made it back out to Aletheia. Even if we hadn’t been famished from all the day’s activities, dinner would have been epic; ribeyes on the grill, baked yams, and a huge salad from our leftover lettuce, fresh veggies and chopped fresh cabbage.

Stay tuned for Part Two. It will be available in a few days right here.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gratitude with the Stars and Moon

Note: Many of you know that I recently spent some time in the Carolinas helping a friend move his boat.  I am working on a full report of this epic trip. In the meantime, here is a reflection on life in the boatyard. 

Gratitude runs in surplus aboard sv Emma. Even as I lay a bit low this week, not wanting to spend much money for I have a bill of some unknown heft coming from the marina. Still, I sleep every night under Emma’s forward hatch. The stars peak from behind clouds in a nightly game of hide and seek with the moon. The summer heat and humidity have not yet come and each night a soft, cool seabreeze caresses my cheek. It is lovely. It is relaxing in a way that I cannot begin to describe. 

One of my favorite things is to leave the hatch open even as rain is due to approach overnight. I can’t
remember a single instance of an abrupt downpour soaking me. Little, shy drops of rain, who seem embarassed to have to wake me, will drop one by one ahead of the storm. It only takes a few and I awake to the coming rain. There seems to always be time enough to rise, close the hatch, check the rest of the portlights and the companionway. Crawling back into my still warm berth to resume my rest seems a decadence for which I couldn’t possibly qualify. 

Last night most all the above procedure went off without a hitch. A few discreet drops on my forehead and I arose. The forward hatch came down -- I set the little bracket that allows me to leave open just a crack. I walked aft to make sure that my portlights were closed and checked if the wind was pushing rain into the companionway. I don’t have dropboards yet, just a piece of plywood cut to fit. Many nights this board is not closed; just leaning against the opening to allow a bit of air to flow. 

A fan was running so I squinted to check the amps left in my battery bank. The amps are displayed on the charge controller which is mounted in a cabinet next to the companionway. As I leaned a bit over the counter to make out the unlit display, something wasn’t quite right about the board in the companionway. It was one of those all-too-human moments when you’ve seen something but it takes a bit longer than usual for the perception, or a clear enough perception of that thing to soak into your brain. Simultaneously, I realized both that something was sticking up on what should have been the flat top of the board AND that I was being watched!  

Florida has lizards. Even if you’ve only vacationed here once, you've probably seen our little lizards scurrying around. They seem to thrive at the edges of landscaping and in other shady spots. Here, they run around among the shadows of boats on the rocks and the cement of the boatyard. For some reason, one of these ubiquitous lizards was checking me out in the middle of the night. The lizards have a pulsing stance. I suspect it’s their breathing, but it might just be a tense awareness. I could just see the top of this lizard’s head, bobbing slightly. He seemed larger than his local brethen I’ve seen. We stared at each other a moment; his head bobbing slowly as the gears of my brain rattled and ground.  Then I gently bumped the board and he or she ran off. I’m not sure what their intentions are but I’m not really looking for a summer roommate. 

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...