Thursday, June 28, 2012

 Bridges 3, Moonshadow 2

Relieved at having just ducked under two more fixed bridges on our ICW path north from Beaufort ("BOfurt"), North Carolina, we enjoyed a beautiful ("BOtiful") cruise up Core Creek to Adam's Creek where we anchored to enjoyed a stunning sunset and a quiet evening.

The next day was another shortish cruise to Jupiter Bay where we anchored behind marshland that provided protection from chop but not the wind that was building on the 20 mile wide Pamlico Sound to our south.

As we tidied up after the anchoring, we surveyed the sky and could see we were in for some excitement.  The VHF radio weather report sounded a bit ominous too, calling for 34 knots, gusts to 58, frequent and numerous lightning strikes and possible tornados.

The southerly wind built to 25 knots, which we're getting pretty used to even at anchor, and held for several hours as we watched the storm approach from the north.  The wind was not so much a concern as the threat of lightning.  A boating organization we belong to publishes statistics from insurance companies about lightning strikes on yachts which reveals the odds of being struck on a yacht are low, around one in a thousand.  Would you fly on an airline with those odds?  I wonder how many of those other 999 boats typically anchor where the highest thing for ten miles in any direction was their own 66 foot high mast.

Just as the rain drops began to fall, the wind jumped to 30 then 35 knots.  We had anchored in about 7 1/2 feet of water, and put out 100 feet of 3/8' chain.  That's about 170 pounds of steel chain with a 120 pound anchor at the end.  In the gusts the chain stretched straight out, entering the water 30 feet out in front of the stem fitting.  Moonshadow didn't seem to mind as she slowly pranced back and forth behind the anchor.

With the words "gusts to 58 knots" echoing in our ears from the weather report and not wanting to rig a second anchor in the dark with lightening all about, we prepared a second anchor for use if needed. This was a good exercise for us because we had only seen the gear once before. Liberating a big anchor, chain and 300 feet of line from deep within three different lockers; arranging all on deck; shackling them together; and flaking out the rope so all we had to do was lower it over the side took nearly an hour but it was a great confidence builder, and excellent insurance (we never needed it). By the time the storm reached Moonshadow at about 2130 hrs the fury had dissipated, so we could relax and go to bed with the sound of thunder receding off to the south.

The next morning was time to plan our next leg to the north, which included another fixed bridge. With an undefeated record we confidently looked up the tide data in that area to plan our arrival at the bridge to coincide with low tide where we would have the maximum clearance.  Reading the tide chart, we discovered the tidal range was six inches. SIX INCHES!!?? Bridge clearances are stated from "mean high water" which is basically the average of the high tides over a long period of time. In our dozens of previous victorious bridge duckings, we saw tidal ranges of three feet and more so we could arrive an hour before or after the lowest level of the tide and still have a couple of feet more clearance than the published 65 feet -- enough to sneak our 66 foot height under with just a little (okay a lot) of praying. SIX INCHES?!! Evidently the water in this huge sound has too few direct escape routes to the Atlantic so there is little or no tidal range.

The only other inland route north is along a channel (part of the ICW) that has a bridge with just 64 feet clearance (the only non 65' fixed bridge in the whole ICW system). Exits from the Pamlico sound to the Atlantic exist but have very shallow and shifting sand bars that make them impossible for Moonshadow. We were surrounded, and the only option was to retreat, south, back to Beaufort. Score two for the bridges, zero for Moonshadow.

Moonshadow and the Med Herd
OK, no big deal, we set Moonshadow's course south to the South River where the "Med Herd" were anchored. The Med Herd are a group of cruising yachts that, without a grand scheme to do so, seem to find each other in various ports and anchorages all over the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and now the East Coast of the US. We met them all in Charleston, and again in Beaufort, where we shared an evening listening to a rocking "new school bluegrass" band at the Backstreet pub until closing.  So we were pleased to have the opportunity to anchor again across a quite cove in North Carolina.

We found the Herd in a gorgeous tree lined cove with water as still as a mirror.  We enjoyed drinks and good conversation aboard Eye Candy with Andrew and Clare Payne from Australia.  Steve and Carol Kerswill (from the ketch  Innamorata II) were visiting Brits Chris and Sue Bright who are cruising aboard their boat ,Yindee Plus, with their twin boys Wilf and Sid.  We eventually invited ourselves to join in the fun over on Yindee Plus, where home-schooled 9 year old twins Wilf and Sid played the role of valet parking attendants, taking and securing dinghy painters for all.  These boys were quite charming with their polite manners, engaging conversation and delightful accents.  With another stunning sunset brewing, we finally bid farewell to all, for now, and returned to Moonshadow and a peaceful still nights sleep.

The next morning we got a very early start because we still had to duck under two bridges to make it back to Beaufort.  These are the same two bridges we had triumphantly conquered a couple of days before, on the afternoon low tide. This time we needed to arrive at the bridges two hours away with the 0800 morning low tide.

The trip south on Adam Creek and Core Creek was every bit as beautiful as the trip north...

The first bridge was routine, (score another win for Moonshadow!) but when we arrived at the 65 foot fixed bridge in Beaufort even at low tide, we could not clear!  We waited a half hour and the water was clearly rising.  It turns out that the wind on the Pamlico sound miles north of the creek we'd just navigated through was pushing water to the south, filling Beaufort Sound, diminishing the effect of the ebbing tide. The result was water levels about a foot higher than our last excursion under this bridge when the scum covered tide board showed a tad less than 66 feet.

Fortunately there is another route to Beaufort with a draw bridge, but there's also a catch with this route.  The chart shows the channel to get there is only five feet deep.  FIVE FEET!!??  We were beginning to think we would have to chop Moonshadow into little pieces and ship them on a UPS truck to the Chesapeake when John called Tow Boat US, a comercial towing company, for their local knowledge on the question: can Moonshadow, which draws six feet, navigate this five foot deep channel at high tide?   They said yes and even came alongside to escort us around shoals. We then hailed the drawbridge for an opening and Moonshadow regained her freedom back in Beaufort where wild horses roam on the barrier islands.

While in Beaufort, we refueled and filled the water tanks.  The very helpful crew at Beaufort Docks let us borrow a car for a trip to the grocery store where our purchases filled two pushcarts.  We returned to Moonshadow, still tied to the fuel dock (for free), put the food away, ate lunch at the dockside restaurant and bought ice cream cones across the street at the General Store.  Despite the bridge blockade and the backtracking we feel the experience was great.  We got to see some fantastic part of North Carolina's inland sounds and rivers, visit with our new cruising friends and restock Moonshadow for the voyage ahead.

We'll now spend a day at a place called Cape Lookout, which is south of Cape Hatteras, while we wait a day for forecast Southwest winds to fill in.  Then Moonshadow will put her bow out into the Atlantic and hopefully sail (rather than motor) blissfully north to the Chesapeake!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Bridge Battles

Since our last post from Beaufort, Moonshadow has left Beaufort and arrived at Beaufort, with stops in Charleston and Georgetown. A little geography: Beaufort (BEWfert) is in South Carolina and the Beaufort (BOfurt) is in North Carolina. Anyway, all of this involved bridges, including our first swing bridge, whose operator was startled into action when we radioed for an opening at 0530.

We had to start very early so we could arrive at the second bridge  (this was a fixed bridge) very near the low tide hour to give us enough clearance for our stubby mast.

We need 66 feet of vertical clearance and most of the fixed bridges have just 65 feet of vertical clearance at something those in the tide world call mean high water.  The Moonshadow crew would really prefer nice low water when passing beneath fixed bridges!

We enjoyed a beautiful cloudless day and the natural beauty of the Carolina waterways as we raced to the next fixed bridge.

As we approach a fixed bridge Deb gets on forward deck with the binoculars and tries to read the tide boards to see if we have low enough water to clear our mast. Then she watches the top of the mast as we go under the bridge. John steers and listens for sounds of disaster.

The hardest part of all is reading the tide boards through all the scum... Can you read this one? (click photo to enlarge)

We guessed it read something over 63 feet. Maybe just enough to clear. We knew our guess was right when we heard no sounds of disaster.

Just before arriving at Charleston we had another fixed bridge but it's tide boards were much easier to read.

Anytime we can actually read numbers like 67, the Moonshadow crew are happy campers!

Our travels after leaving Beaufort took us to Charleston, South Carolina. As we approached the City Marina there, a striking looking boat with a stubby mast (like ours) caught our eye. As it turns out, this is Interlude, a sister-ship to Moonshadow. Interlude is more like a big-sister-sistership.  She's created by the same visionary, Steve Dashew, but bigger (74 feet vs. Moonshadow's 62 feet).  Interlude is aluminum and just out from months in the boatyard getting everything redone.  Very shiny and sparkly.

Katie and Kurt Braun have sailed Interlude around the world and are still going. From Charleston, they'll sail to Maine, then return south and proceed to the South Pacific. We took Moonshadow to the fuel dock just down the dock from Interlude and were met by Katie who took our lines. We have been anxious to meet other cruisers on our way but till now haven't met many.  Quite unexpectedly, we found ourselves having dinner with the crews of three world cruising sailboats:

In addition to the Brauns, we met Andrew and Clare Payne who are sailing "Eye Candy"...

... and Stuart and Stephanie Morton who are sailing "Matador".

 The Mortons, Paynes and Brauns all originally met in the Mediterranean, so it was fun for all to be anchored together in Charleston harbor, along with Moonshadow.  Quite a few cruisers were hanging out in Charleston while several days of strong Northeast winds made sailing north a bit less appealing. Everyone had so much fun, Katie and Kurt hosted a pot luck barbecue the following day on the dock next to Interlude. The fact that it was a fuel dock didn't seem to get in the way!

The next day, we had to press on to Georgetown, South Carolina as we needed to make the deadline imposed by our insurance company to be "not south of Morehead City, North Carolina by June 22nd".  This is intended to keep us away from Hurricanes.

We had more bridges to conquer so we elected to employ our Moonshadow Battle Flag given to us by our dear sons Ryan and Scott, whom we miss so much while we're out exploring the world.

The first bridge saw our Moonshadow battle flag and surrendered immediately! But it was a just a silly swing bridge. The next bridge was a fixed bridge and this one put up a fight.

Actually, the truth is we arrived too early so the tide had not yet receded enough. No problem, we said, we'll just anchor, wait and go through when the tide was down a bit more. When the time came and it appeared we could clear the bridge, we found we could not clear the spot we'd anchored in because Moonshadow was aground! We should have been flying the Farmer Flag!

Fortunately, we did have our Battle Flag flying so the mud surrendered without a fight and soon we were on our way through some more spectacular scenery on our way to Georgetown.

Georgetown was once the largest rice exporter in the world, but the abolition of slavery ended that. Then Georgetown exported lumber to New England on huge four and five masted schooners, some of which found the rocks along the inlet to Georgetown and were lost. Throughout time, I'm guessing Georgetownians have fished and harvested shrimp, because they sure do now!

While in Georgetown, we had a quiet two night stay, did some receiving and shipping of boat parts and a little exploring. We also watched one of the white egrets that had been vying with others for prime perching territory. This guy was staring at Moonshadow, probably wondering if she would make a good perch.

With just two days left to make our insurance deadline and a sudden end to the Northeast winds, we decided to leave very early the next morning and sail directly to Beaufort North Carolina.

The winds were southerly but now too light to sail so (again) we motorsailed the whole way in conditions that looked like so many of our trips home from Catalina: flat seas and beautiful!

What better time than this calm and peaceful day while Deb was reading a book to conduct another Man Overboard Drill.  John tossed the cushion overboard as before, but this time Deb had it back aboard in 7 minutes!  Way to go Deb!!

The leg was 173 nautical miles and we covered it in 21 hours. So now, we're here in Beaufort North Carolina and ready for a little rest. Maybe we can learn why so many homes in this part of the world have the front door on the second story!

After Beaufort, we're heading to Beaufort (just kidding -- Norfolk, Virginia) which is still close to 200 miles and who knows how many fixed bridges away.  This could take us a week or 10 days because there's lots of beautiful country to see along the way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We've Moved

Nine miles, but hey those are nautical miles!

When we arrived yesterday in Port Royal Sound bound for the city of Beaufort South Carolina, we had to anchor in Cowen Creek  (red box in photo above) because the tide was so high that the vertical clearance at the fixed bridge standing between us and Beaufort was not enough for Moonshadow's 66 foot mast.  

We had a quiet night at Cowen Creek, then motored up the river past all the Marines at Parris Island, while Deb enjoyed her morning chai-green tea and used nature's hair dryer.  Eat your heart out leathernecks!  

We passed under the bridge, anchored just out from the City Marina (at the blue mark in the map above) where we tied the dinghy to the public dock and explored the beautiful town of Beaufort, SC.  That's BEW-furd.  North Carolina has a city named Beaufort, but they pronounce it BO-furt. 

This town is one of the few that was not destroyed during the Civil War.  That's because Beaufort was one for first to fall to Union hands.  The result is a beautifully intact town with very old homes.  There is an Historical Landmark District with 90 homes that are designated historical sites. 

Some of the live Oak trees in Beaumont predate the city's 300 year old charter.  Boy if these old trees could talk they'd have some stories to tell!  The branches stretch out horizontally forever, and cry out for swings and treehouses, but we only found one tree with a swing.

After a few hours strolling around Beaufort, shopping and lunch, we thought it was time for a swim in the river's 80 degree water.  With a bit of current running, it was like we had one of those small lap pools as we swam and swam just to stay even with Moonshadow.  

John has always wanted to stay at a hotel with a swim up bar, and now we own one!

We've blogged a lot about the weather so here's some evidence of what happens in this part of the world.  These next three pictures cover a span of about 40 minutes; from a dead flat calm with a few threatening clouds; to a 180 degree windshift with gusts to 30 knots and rain; and then back to a peacefully calm beautiful afternoon.

Next up, we plan to proceed to Charleston, South Carolina.  We had planned to sail there in the Atlantic, but wouldn't you know it, the forecast is for 15 to 20 right on the nose.  Since we'll be burning diesel either way, we started looking at the inland route and found it is about 15 miles shorter!  We will have to battle a "swing bridge", two fixed bridges, and a "bascule bridge" (drawbridge) to get there.  The timing of our arrival at low tide at each of the two 65' fixed bridges 20 miles apart may prove to be more that we can do.  If so, we'll anchor for the night and continue  the next day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

South Carolina!
Now there's progress, another state.  But before saying too much about South Carolina, we should say we just got here and still don't know the first thing about South Carolina.  So really, it's fitting to reflect on Georgia, the state we just left.   And what a gorgeous place it is... just feast your eyes on the view from the water:

(click on photos to enlarge)

We really enjoyed a couple of places we stayed in Georgia.  First was Jekyll Island discussed in our last post.  The other was a marina called Isle of Hope Marina, near Savannah Georgia, which is very near the boarder with South Carolina.  

The people at Isle of Hope Marina were just the nicest people, proving you can run a business, provide a service and be genuinely, sincerely nice to your customers.  Who knew?  

Oh, by the way, here is our neighbor's driveway...

Besides being just damn friendly people, the Isle of Hope Marina provides loaner cars to the transients (that's us, we're transients).  That's right LOANER cars, as in FREE.  Boy did we take advantage of that!  We ran errands, did some shopping and sightseeing over the span of three days.  

Errands...  Let us explain what kind of errands you have to run when you're a transient.  Here's one: You go to Advance Auto to get four gallons of transmission fluid to flush the gearbox.  

Transients do this after their boat's transmission fails about 500 feet in front of the draw bridge that hasn't opened yet, and the river's tidal current is sweeping your home directly at the unopened bridge.  Before running this errand however, you must ANCHOR QUICKLY; radio the bridge tender to cancel your bridge opening request; cool down the gear box; add fluid; radio the bridge tender and request an opening; proceed to the marina with the nicest people on earth; remove the old gear cooler and replace it with the spare which you discover the old owner left aboard for just such an occasion (God bless you George!).  Then you run your errand for transmission fluid.  Twice though.  Because we transients don't buy the right kind on the first trip.

What else do transients do on errand day?  They go to Walmart just to find a bathroom scale and see if being a transient is a good thing or a bad thing.  They then take turns emptying pockets and removing shoes and sunglasses before weighing in, because hell! a half pound is a half pound!

Another errand would be to Best Buy where transients buy replacement Microwave Ovens when the 28 year old version just quits without even so much as a how-do-you-do...28 years? Are you kidding me?  That's all you got?  Geez!

We also used the free transportation to see Savannah's River Street and the old town, eat some really good seafood, and just be tourists.

But if there is one thing we transients do, it's transit.   We finally got a day with wind aft and strong enough to turn off the engine and just transit north.  At 9-10 knots!  Ahhh!  We could really get used to this.  

Today's sailing was rather brief though.  After 3 hours of motoring north along the ICW and out a really, really long inlet where the Savannah River dumps into the Atlantic, we sailed north for about 75 minutes, then motored 2 more hours into the inlet that leads to Beaufort (pronounced BEWFORT) South Carolina.  This route got us where we wanted to be without having to attempt a 65' bridge at high tide.  Moonshadow needs 66' which you can get when the tide is lower than "mean high water", which wasn't to be today at the bridge in question.  

See, sailing is really just a game of inches.