Friday, April 18, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

aground explained

Sometimes things, particularly large things, can be visually stunning when seen where you don't expect them to be seen.  Like, for example, a 751 foot long ship.

The bulk carrier Ornak, which was empty at the time, was anchored out in the Lynnhaven Anchorage yesterday.  The anchorage is just inside Chesapeake Bay, just around the corner from Cape Henry which marks the southern entrance to the bay.  At any give time there can be 20 or more ships - freighters, container ships, colliers - anchored there, waiting for the tide or maybe a spot at the port.

About 8:30 last night a cold front rolled in with ragged, blustery gusts measured at up to 70 miles-an-hour.  Several ships in the anchorage dragged anchor.  Two collided.  One, the Ornak, continued dragging anchor.  The cranked up her engines but could not turn her north into the wind and away from the beach.  They dropped a second anchor.  She kept moving.  The ship came to a stop only when she ran up onto bottom in 15 feet of water.

There were no reported injuries.  Pilots from the Maryland and Virginia Pilot Associations boarded all the other ships and stayed on them throughout the night to prevent any more problems.

The Coast Guard hopes to use tugs to pull the Ornak out of the shallow water.  But they will have to wait until the north wind dies down.  It could be a couple of days.  Until then, sightseers will come to see a very large object where it usually isn't seen.


Monday, April 14, 2014

a lap around the lighthouse

It was a rare wind yesterday coming directly out of the south, bringing with it warm air and pushing Spartina downriver with the running tide.  In the wind shadow downtown I raised full sail, soon to tuck in a reef out on the open river.  Six knots and blue skies.

A freighter passed us to port, then we crossed the channel before passing a larger container ship on our starboard.  Ospreys circled above and cormorants poked their heads up out of the water.

Rounding the northeast corner of Craney Island where the Elizabeth River meets the James the gusts  picked up and Spartina heeled, making almost seven knots at times.  There was a chill in the air from the still cold water of the James.  

A radio brought along to listen to baseball stayed in the duffle bag, the wind was all I needed to hear.  A cellophane-wrapped sandwich from a grocery store, better than expected, made for a nice lunch.  Two tacks up the river and we  circled around Middle Ground Light, built in 1890 and now privately owned as a weekend home.  Wouldn't I love to spend a weekend there.

Back to the gusty corner of Craney Island, back into the Elizabeth to find, for a short while, lighter winds and a return to full sail.  A last tack to get around the coal yards at Lamberts Bend and the afternoon gusts appeared as the first batch of snowbirds passed by on their way north.  Spartina is reefed once again, sailing into the wind and tide up Town Point Reach and back to the ramp.

Sun, wind, 80 degrees and a running tide - can't ask for much more than that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

the outfall canal, call of the wild

I got another view of the outfall canal from Lake Mattamuskeet yesterday as I headed down into mainland North Carolina with one of my science-type friends yesterday.  I've seen, and used as a navigation mark, the outfall canal over the years sailing on Pamlico Sound.  Heading south from Engelhard the marshy shore leads to Wyscoking Bay and Hog Island, then begins a westward curve where the 15 foot tall canal entrance marker stands near North Bluff Point. 

Yesterday my view of the canal was from a rickety bridge across the canal on a seemingly endless expanse of farmland.  Just looking down the canal brought back memories of sailing by the rugged, remote shoreline over the years.

My friend, a biologist, was in search of a red wolf.  Once an important member of the ecosystem, the red wolf is now an endangered species due to loss of habitat and misguided predator control programs.  Only about 100 now live in the wild.  We were in search of just one, a wolf that my friend had caught sight of a few days earlier.  Even before we crossed the canal bridge he had picked up a signal from the wolf's tracking collar.

Over the bridge and in the fields we found nothing but empty traps, humane traps buried in the ground.  Some had been tripped, most likely by deer, most were untouched.  

It was at the last trap that we found the wolf, a large male that had run into some nearby trees.  The wolf's leg was in the trap and it had dragged the chain and an anchor-like device that got caught up in the undergrowth.  Tucked into a kennel, it was back to the rehab center for this lone wolf.

As with all things environmental, there are some controversies with the wolf program.  Bringing back a predator??  Was it a wolf that got my cat/dog/cow?  Are they running off all the deer and turkeys (even though though the deer and turkey population is at an all-time high)??

All that is beyond me.  I was just glad to get a different look at nature, and a different look at the outfall canal.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

the eastern branch

It was up the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River today, a place I seldom visit, for a trip with some science-type friends from NOAA.  It was a crew out of Annapolis that was in search of potential sites for oyster reef restoration or building.

So why find a fished out oyster reef and restore it?  Or why haul in a pile of old oyster shells and build a new reef from scratch?  Lots of reasons.  Oysters filter water, removing contaminants, which allows for sub-aquatic vegetation to grow, which reduces the chance for erosion and provides a habitat for juvenile forms of fish, shrimp and crabs.  Oysters are food (but I wouldn't eat these - we'll get to that later), and provide an ecosystem for all those fish, shrimp, crabs that are food for bigger marine animals, which themselves become food for even larger forms of marine life.  Follow that food chain a few links and you will find people like me who love to eat seafood.  Clean the water, prevent erosion, create nurseries for seafood - seems worthwhile to me. 

The boat had four types of sonar on board including single beam, multi beam, side scan and sub-bottom profiler.  It was the side scan sonar that produced the image below showing both a sunken ship (pretty cool don't you think) and the dark area, particularly the place marked with a tiny red dot, that might be the perfect area for an oyster reef.

Beyond the sonar scans, they were also doing "ground truthing" by dropping a ponar (nobody could explain the source of the word) over the side and bringing up bottom samples.  Sometimes it was mud or silt - not good for oysters - sand, old oyster shells - great for oysters - and, as you can see below, some live oysters.  They brought in several live oysters today, indicating that the river was a healthy place for the shellfish.  But just because it is a good place for oysters to grow, it doesn't mean that these oysters are good for us to eat.  As filter feeders living in one of the oldest industrial rivers in the country, they are full of toxins.  It will be years of work, maybe decades, before any edible oysters come out of this river.  But healthy oyster reefs are at least a start.

It was a great day on the water, a learning experience and a lot of fun.  Thanks, guys, for having me along.

Monday, April 7, 2014

double reefed

In the forties with a stiff NE wind, yesterday was perfect for jib, mizzen and double reefed main.  The surprise was the clear blue skies.  Clouds had been forecast, but fortunately they failed to show.

I did, because of the temperature I suspect, have the parking lot, the ramp and the river to myself.  I did see a couple of power boats coming out of the western branch of the Elizabeth and there were a couple of waves from tug boat captains, but mostly it was just Spartina and I enjoying the wind and water.

While checking over gear the night before I found that the battery charger for the Fuji X-20 was not working.  I am glad that I found that problem now, and not just before leaving on a cruise.  I did buy a three year warranty on the camera and made a call this afternoon to hopefully get a new charger shipped to me.

The cranes working on Craford Bay were idle and anchored on the outer edge of the bay.  My impression was that their work - dredging up some old tar-like substances and replacing it with clean sand - is done.

If you look to the left of the photo above you will see the new downhaul for the main.   The line is too long and I will shorten it later this week, but the important thing is that it did work well.  Thanks for the tip, Stuart.

Sunny and cool yesterday, cold and rainy this morning, overcast and muggy this afternoon - Spring is fighting its way north.