Wednesday, June 29, 2016

friends, unintended

Above is a painting of friend Barry sailing one of his finely crafted Melonseed skiffs  done by friend Curt.  Very nice, don't you think?

On the other side of the world friend Webb will be raising anchor soon to sail from Darwin, Australia for South Africa.  Click here to see a brief story in Latitude 38.  And click here to see Webb's yellow brick track.

I built Spartina to get away from people and ended up making some very good friends.  How did that happen?

Monday, June 27, 2016

day eight - fog, sun, storms, rain

Fog.  Up before 6:00 and the trees on the shoreline are shrouded in fog.  Poking my head out of the boom tent I can see nothing else on Pantego Creek save for the fog.  There is a nice breeze.  

We sail off anchor at 6:45, navigating by following yesterday's track.  We make 2.8 mh down the creek past a couple of anchored boats, slip out through the breakwater and turn south making 4 mh.  By 9:00 the fog is gone.  Low grey clouds giving way to blue skies.  I spread out the foul weather gear to dry.  After yesterday's drizzle the warm sun feels good.

Off of Wright Creek a crabber is working his pots, a large black dog perched on the bow of his skiff.  The wind falls off approaching Wade Point, making barely 1 mh.  Then no wind at all and I scramble for my foul weather gear as a light rain falls, the sun shining all the while.  The rain stops and a north wind fills in, making 4 mh west on Pamlico River.  

Off of North Creek just after noon.  I had launched out of there a few years ago, a nice pretty creek that branched off in several different directions.  I wondered why I had not visited since.  Maybe later in the trip.  

There's a little blue sky, mostly white puffy clouds with flat grey bottoms.  Wind falls off and there is a light rain.  Off the ferry docks I look behind to see a storm building to the northeast.  It looks like it is tracking down the Pungo River, then builds over the shore to our north.  

Another arm of black clouds moves over the river ahead of us.  Strong wind out of the east.  The skies darken and this time I don't wait, I round up to bring down the main and mizzen.  

We turn downwind as the cool outflow rolls out from under the storm.  Making 5.3 mh under the jib alone.  The wind keeps building and I see we are sailing through a field of crab pots off of Gum Point.  I angle to the southwest to find deeper water.  The rain arrives but just as the storm seems to lose its energy.  Now just a heavy rain.  Making 4 mh under the jib we pass Marker "4" and head to Bath Creek.

Full sail up and wind drops.  Heavy rain.  Under power to the creek, tying up in an empty slip at Bath Marina about 4:00.  I knock on the office door wearing foul weather gear in a steady rain.  The owner opens the door, smiles, says "Out cruising today?"  He says I can leave Spartina in a slip while I get a sandwich at the sub shop across the street.   

We cast off in a light rain - it's been raining since we approached the creek - and motor to Plum Point to anchor for the night.  The rain stops and we get a little bit of evening sun, I can dry out Spartina before putting down the sleeping gear.  I check the weather radio:  Rain tomorrow morning, chance of thunderstorms, rain tomorrow afternoon, chance of thunderstorms.  And then the automated voice repeats the same for the next four days.  I think about visiting Bath and Belhaven in foul weather gear and rain, and I wonder about doing the same in Washington.  I decide to think about it over night.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

glad to be here, not there

Beautiful this afternoon, and tomorrow should be just as pretty when I go out for a sail on the Elizabeth.  Doing a quick edit for the day eight log and I came across this, which was an accidental photograph as I had the go pro on interval shooting and was getting ready to point it fore and aft to show the storms ahead of me and behind.  The trip was an adventure, particularly the last few days with all the moisture and squalls associated with Tropical Storm Bonnie.  The photo made me smile, being glad I was here with a nice forecast and not there with storms all around.

day seven - rain

Up at 6:00, I take my time packing the sleeping gear and cleaning up Spartina.  Grey morning with dark clouds and rain sweeping across Goose Creek Island to the west.  I choose to wait out the first little rainstorm of the morning and as it passes the wind swings from south to west.

Just after 7:00 we drift off anchor, no wind.  With sails up I start the outboard and we motor across Mouse Harbor. 

 Mid-morning we are motoring across the Pamlico River, no wind and light clouds with a hint of blue to the west, dark clouds to the east.

A SE wind comes as we pass Currituck Point and enter the Pungo River.  All sails up and making 3.8 mh to Belhaven.  Just after 11:00 the sun breaks through.  Hot.  Wind drops but still making 2.5 and I'm content with steady easy sailing without rain.  Wind comes and goes and we slide through the Belhaven breakwater under sail a little after noon.  I tie up at Wynne's Gut town dock.  

It's a holiday weekend and the town is dressed for it, but the rain has chased everyone away.  I take care of chores, buy some bottled tea, empty out the portable head, clean up Spartina.  The afternoon is grey and a light rain falls.  In foul weather gear I sit on the porch of a gift shop with a plastic bouquet of flowers to my right and the top of a bushel basket painted with a crab to my left.  I send a few emails on my phone and read the news.  I think of taking a nap there but decide it is not a good idea.  Fish Hooks, my favorite restaurant is closed.  I picked up a burger, fries and iced tea at Farm Boys and sit across the street on the covered porch of the old hardware store to eat.  

We cast off from the dock and motor across Pantego Creek in a light rain.  I set up the boom tent but leave it hanging from the boom as the rain stops and the sun comes out just in time to dry out Spartina before I get out the sleeping gear.  I read, listen to the radio, check the weather.  Forecast for tomorrow:  rain in the morning, chance of thunderstorms, rain in the afternoon, chance of thunderstorms.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

day six - storms

I wake in the middle of the night.  Rain, sometimes heavy rain.  I reach outside the bivy and touch the corner of the bunk flat where water collect.  It is dry.  The tent works.

Awake at 6:00.  Dark clouds to the south and some patches of blue to the north.  I tuck away the sleeping gear but the tent is still in place as a rainstorm moves in.  I lean back in the cockpit and nap, waiting for the rain to move on.

We sail off anchor just after 8:00, making just over 2 mh down Merkle Bay as low grey clouds slide overhead.  The clouds to the south break and I see a towering thunderstorm though I can't tell which way it is moving.  Typically our storms move west to east, but with a Tropical storm in the area all bests are off.  The clouds move in again.  The sun breaks through at 9:00, making 5 mh NNW on West Bay.  

Dark clouds slide up from the south and suddenly there is the cold outflow of air from a coming storm.  Glancing at the gps I see there is no protection nearby.  The bay is calm so I keep sailing as the rain begins to fall and the winds pick up.  All sails up, there isn't time to reef, and the gps shows 8.9 mh, a record I think, as the squall pushes from the stern.  The chart shows the nearest protection a couple of miles away at Henry Hills Harbor.  I decide to round up once I get there, but after 20 minutes of rain and wind the storm passes me by.  In the calm I bail out Spartina.

Steady wind and calm sailing out of the bay and into the narrows behind Racoon Island.  Looking southwest I see another storm coming so round up to tuck in a reef.   Preoccupied with watching the storms I forget about the shoals at Point of Marsh until I feel the center board bounce across the first shoal and then the second, plenty of wind on the beam to push us across the sand and mud shallows.  I tie in a second reef to cross the Neuse River toward Bay Point just below Jones Bay.  The wind comes and then goes, I shake out the second reef.  Spartina rolls and heels in the rough water of the Neuse River.  I watch a storm on the far side of the river slide from south the north and it misses us as we approach Bay Point.  

I sail too far into the shallows off Bay Point and the waves build as does the wind.  I go forward to tuck in a reef.  Spartina rounds up and wallows as a wave comes and from the starboard side I see I am looking straight down over the port side into the water.  I decide quickly I don't need the main at all, drop the gaff and wrap the main tightly around the boom. We turn north under mizzen and jib and 5.5 mh.

We follow the shore up Pamlico Sound.  Sow Island Point, Middle Bay Point, and before Big Porpoise Point the clouds part and we have blue skies.  The afternoon wind is getting stronger and I drop the mizzen, 5 mh under jib alone as we round Little Porpoise Pount and Sound Point, then cut across Mouse Harbor to Soundward Bay.

More squalls passing by so I set up the boom tent before cooking dinner - Chili-mac with beef, excellent.  A light rainfall, then clearing, and I peek out of the tent to see a rainbow.  Forecast for tomorrow:  morning rain and possible thunderstorm, afternoon rain and possible thunderstorms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

day five - the riddle of the sands

Awake at 5:30 after a clear calm night.  Steady ENE wind.  Sleeping gear stowed and sails raised just after 6:00 as two black skimmers glide across the water off the box.  Low tide approaching and the water is less than two feet deep.  I wait for the wind to push us back into the channel where I drop the rudder and center board.  A pretty morning.  We reach Barden Inlet at 6:30, the forecast time for low tide but I find we are working against a strong outgoing current.

In Barden's Inlet we bump into a shoal as the channel curves NE.  We try to reach the next channel marker but against the current and sailing close to the wind we slide off to the side.  Two more tacks and I think I'm getting closer until I look down at the gps and see we end up at the same spot each time.  With the running tide we weren't going to make the channel.  I look to the west and see deeper water.  Maybe I can sail up that way and find an opening back into the channel.  We sail comfortably a couple of hundred yards to where I think we can fall off and back into the channel.  It looks good until we come to a shoal.  Board and rudder up we slide up on the soft sand.  I hop out, grab the bob stay and walk along the shoal looking just a little bit of deeper water.  I don't find it.  I walk Spartina back west and set the anchor in two feet and consider my options.

Standing on the deck I look west to see another shoal but beyond that there is the blue green of deeper water.  As I watch a local boat heading south leaves the channel and runs rights through the water.  Anchor up we sail NW past one shoal and up to another, then begin a series of tacks back east.  We start to slide up on to the shallows so I hop out again and walk us clear.  Back in Spartina we pick up some wind and with two more tacks we are back in the channel.  

At 8:35 we pass Morgan Island with black skimmers lining the shore.  Light cloud cover, five days into the trip and these are the first clouds I've seen.  Marker 30 shows the tide running out two hours after the forecast low tide, the ENE wind is pushing the waters of Core Sound down through the inlet.   At Marker 31 we bump into a shoal that is, according to both gps and the markers, in the middle of the channel.  Green Marker 35 just after 9:00 and we head to Core Sound at 4.6 mh.

At 9:20 we bump into another shoal, this one in the channel too.  Skies clearing and we follow the winding path up Core Sound.  It's fun, easy sailing.  The channel up the sound zigs and zags, opens up then narrows again.  Late morning off the village of Davis I see a yellow object on the surface of the water.  Up closer I see it is a sea turtle.  Turning to grab my camera I look back to see the turtle is gone.  Further up the sound I see a gill netter setting his nets and I wonder how the sea turtles do with the nets.  


The wind is building in the early afternoon hours and we are sailing into a steep chop.  It's a holiday weekend and looking across the sound I can see a row of bright umbrellas on the sand spit at Drum Inlet.  I've given up on channel markers and the gps, the water is a light blue green and I can make out the shoals, plus local boats are running back and forth to Drum Inlet showing me the way.

We're off Atlantic at 2:30, 4.6 mh and choppy but for the first time all day we've got a wide channel and don't have to worry about shoals.  At 3:30 we turn NW towards Thorofare Bay.  There's a series of fish traps at Hall Point but I'm tired and decide to try a shortcut behind the poles and nets of the traps.  I get closer and closer and think I see and opening, but about 20 years aways I see a line with small floats connecting all three traps.  We quickly jibe and sail out around the traps.  My time-saver cost me some time.

In Thorofare Bay with the wind and tide behind us we make 6.2 mh and sail to the bridge and the winding channel that carries us to the Thorofare.  Rich green cord grass lines the narrow channel as we sail wing and wing.  We turn NW heading to West Thorofare Bay, a pair of glossy ibis flying alongside the marsh.  

Rounding Merkle Bay Point we sail NE to the far shore and find a small protected cove.  Anchor down 5:30.  Biscuit crumbles with sausage for dinner, excellent when dressed with a little olive oil and a dash of cajun sunshine.  Listening to weather radio I hear that the edges of Tropical Storm Bonnie are approaching.  I set up the boom tent for the night.

Monday, June 20, 2016

oh, and don't forget to check the cruise ship schedule

A couple of days of perfect weather and I got some sailing in both yesterday and today.  With the Pilgrim in Spain and one daughter in L.A. and the other in Maryland I am flying solo these days.

Sailing yesterday with a great forecast for today I began thinking about leaving Spartina in the basin at the cruise ship terminal.  It occurred to me to check the cruise ship schedule, an excellent idea that apparently was carried away by the fine breezes.  I forgot to check.  And coming over the bridge today I saw the cruise ship the size of a large building tied up on the waterfront.  Passengers were disembarking.  Do you know how long it takes a few thousand passengers to disembark from a ship?  I do.  Too long.  But I did get to enjoy, once the ship was gone, a nice afternoon on the river.

I am starting to think everyone else is right and I am the only one who is wrong (the Pilgrim has suggested this more than a few times).  Yesterday morning I was hailed by someone at the Waterside marina.  They called out with the boat's name, Spartina, pronouncing it SPAR-teen-a.  Virtually everyone pronounces it this way except for me.  I say SPAR-tine-a (rhymes with Carolina).  I'm going to stick with my pronunciation a while longer, but I'm starting to feel uncertain about it.  Since I can't pronounce the name of my own boat correctly I am also starting to wonder about the design of the boat.  Maybe it really is a Drascombe.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

day four - warm water, white sandy beaches

Up at 6:30, still feeling tired after being wakened late in the night by the mega-yacht crew.  I take down the boom tent and arrange Spartina for sailing.  An easy sail planned to Cape Lookout Bight, no reason to rush so I head down to the coffee shop at the Dock House restaurant for a danish and a nice glass of iced tea.

Away from the dock just after 8:00 with a balky outboard.  I get it running and we motor west and then south past Bird Shoal.  Both the tide and wind, what little there is, will be against us so instead of going outside on Onslow Bay we turn east inside of Shackleford Banks.  Just inside the barrier island a nice little east breeze springs up an we are under full sail.

It is steady and relaxed tacking on a beautiful cloudless day between the sandy shores of Shackleford Banks to the south and shoal to the north.  Wild horses relax on the beach and a few boat campers are spaced out along the shore for the holiday weekend.  Blue green water and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.  

Just before 10:00 the wind picks up and we make a long tack north-northeast in the narrow channel that runs alongside the Middle Marshes.  Soon we are just off Harkers Island and resume the steady series of tacks making our way east.  

Late morning finds us in a light wind at the spoil island just off the east end of Harkers Island.  Just before noon we turn south towards Bardens Inlet and Cape Lookout.  Easy sailing through the shoals with wind on the port beam.  There's a steady stream of power boats headed both north and south on the channel and I cling to the west side - on the ICW boats tend to slow down for a passing sailboat, on the channel to Cape Lookout they do not.

Just north of Morgan Island the channel jogs to the east and I need to tack to make it around the curve.  Not easy to do with the powerboats racing by.  In light wind I make two tacks with the tide working against us then hold off to starboard and wait for a break in traffic before making the final tack.

Wonderful sailing now.  Clear water with shoals and channels easily seen, small islets with white sandy beaches, ibises, terns and pelicans.  I watch the local boat traffic for shortcuts between the markers.  Just after 1:30 we sail in a channel that runs right along the marsh then slip out into Cape Lookout Bight.  Anchor down on the east side of the bight at 2:00.  

I clean up Spartina, get the batteries to charging with the solar panel, then slip over the side for a swim in the clear, warm water.  Back on the boat I lay back in the shade of the aft cockpit, tilt the straw hat over my eyes and fall into a deep sleep.

Dinner is spaghetti in marina sauce and it is barely edible.  If it was my brand of freeze dried meal I would have called it "spaghetti in really bad tomato soup."  I eat some, then have some fruit and crackers.  A bad meal is not going to ruin my stay in the bight.  

Late in the evening with the sun just down below the horizon I see a small fin cut the water behind Spartina's stern.  A small shark maybe, or possibly a large drum "tailing."  I don't know which but it is beautiful.  The fin describes a gentle curve a few feet off the transom then slips back down into the water.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

day three - batteries and Beaufort

Awake before first light, the symphony of the marsh has slipped away during the night.  Calm with broken clouds.  Dew covered decks and a few mosquitoes which disappear quickly.  Under power by 6:00, and looking down the creek to the ICW I see several power boats heading south.

Down Adams Creek and then the canal under power at 6.6 mh with a helping tide.  Just after 7:00 we slide below the high-rise bridge, the water swirling with eddies port and starboard and I began to feel the heat of the morning sun as it reaches over the trees.  To the south a flag flutters at a marina and reveals a light but steady west wind.

We round up and set full sail at 7:40, 5.2 mh as we slip out onto the Newport River, red markers to the right showing the path through the shoals.

A fine breeze carries us down behind the Newport Marshes, the approaching low tide revealing mud flats to the west.  One of the most pleasant of sails, Spartina heels slightly and makes steady progress towards Beaufort.  Larger boats take a deep channel to the west and I am happy to be sailing alone on the narrower channel.  

Tacking to the west to reach Gallant Channel the gps beeps and the batteries die.  Not wanting to lose track of the shoals or my waypoints I make a few wasted tacks back and forth across the skinny water as I replace the two lithium batteries.  With the gps up and running again we round the point and make our way beneath the construction of a new high-rise bridge into Beaufort.  

Try as I might I cannot recall a fuel station on the Beaufort waterfront.  I would like to top off the gas can and a marina on the backside of Beaufort shows fuel prices.  I dock and top off the can, less than a half gallon, then motor toward the draw bridge which I see is opening to let a shrimp boat come through.  I make three calls on the vhf radio to the bridge tender to see if I can make the lift but get no response.  I look at the radio and see the batteries are down to zero, enough power that I can hear the bridge tender and shrimper, not enough power to transmit.  I change out the batteries and make contact with the tender just as the bridge begins to close.  "Sorry, Hon, you'll have to wait until the 10:00 lift."  Less than 30 minutes to wait, I motor over behind a marker and drop the anchor.  At 10:00, and not a minute sooner, we pass through the lift bridge, and looking back at the new high rise I suspect it will be the last time I talk to that bridge tender.

At tie up at the usual spot in Beaufort, the west floating dock where they like to keep the smaller transients.  At the end of the dock in a megayacht with a very loud, bored crew that apparently likes to hear themselves talk.  No matter, I think.  It's a nice day on the waterfront, a run to the general store for supplies, lunch at the Dockhouse Restaurant overlooking Taylor Creek, then an afternoon walk through town and sitting at a waterfront table at the Finz Grill to write in my journal and send emails home.  Dinner at the Dockhouse Restaurant, using my two wooden nickels for draft beers, and and another walk.  I come back to Spartina to see the beautiful schooner "When and If," built for General George Patton and perfectly maintained, arrive at a neighboring dock for the night.

Boom tent up for privacy I slip into the bivy.  The loud crew from the megayacht comes back to the dock after dinner and a few (maybe too many) drinks and the loud conversation wakes me.  Some of it was about me, "Can you see him in there?" a young lady asks.  The conversation continues and I drift off to sleep while the crew drifts off to another bar.  Later I wake again as the crew returns talking loudly, much too loudly, about nothing.  I drift off to sleep again.