From Here to There and Back

I innocently asked Joe how many miles he thought we had traveled. He provided a spreadsheet (see below). In a nutshell, we traveled 1,815.89 miles with an average speed of 8.68 knots. DSC_0526

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Fishing Bay (Deltaville), VA to Annapolis, MD (actually Eastport) via Reedsville, VA and Annapolis Harbor, MD

Well, April Fools Day was interesting for us. In the last posting we were in Fishing Bay pondering the weather and believing that Wednesday (1 April) would give us a good run north if we departed between 0930 and 1000. The weather forecast predicted that the winds north of us would settle down by mid-morning and, more important, the seas would decrease.

The white caps were gone from Fishing Bay; and, although the wind was still up it wasn’t shredding the flags more than they already were. We exited Fishing Bay with the belief that there “Be No Dragons” out there. But, there were dragon’s teeth (white caps) as we approached and crossed the Rappahannock River. It was not pleasant but we reminded ourselves that the weather report predicted diminishing winds and seas. If the Potomac River was no worse than the Rappahannock we could tolerate it. We never made it to the Potomac River. As we moved north towards the Potomac the seas and winds continued to increase. The scary ride became downright frightening. Joe suggested that we tuck into Reedville for a few hours to re-look at the weather and lick our “wounds”. I asked if he would duck in if I wasn’t on-board. He said that both of us were taking a beating along with the boat; it was time to get out of it. Relative to the bay, Reedville was calm so we pulled into Reedville Marina and asked if we could hang out for a couple of hours. A lunch and walk around town calmed us down. A re-look at the weather confirmed that things were settling down north of us, but it was taking longer than initially predicted. It was so frustrating to read about the calm seas and moderate winds just north of Solomons while we were being tossed about without mercy. Joe said it felt like a series of mini hard landings as we came off the waves. We were making 13 knots of speed into a 20+ knot headwind with 4 foot seas. We were thankful for our Stidd helm and navigation seats which held us firmly in place; although, I thought a three-point harness would have helped.

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DSC_0523We departed Reedville at 1430 knowing three things: we wanted to go home, the winds & seas were down, and we would have to complete the day in the dark by going to either Galesville or Annapolis. We have traveled the bay at night so if the weather stayed good we would be fine. Besides, we hadn’t run Otter at night and wanted to see how she would do. What a difference a couple of hours made. The winds and seas were down, the sun was shining, other boat traffic was out, and Otter was moving gracefully through clear water. We moved to the western shore after the Cove Point facility to ensure we were out of the shipping lanes (it was busy yesterday afternoon) and on the Annapolis side of the bay once the sun went down. The sun set as we were passing Herring Bay and all the commercial traffic had passed us going south. Should we have waited longer in Fishing Bay? Probably, but by making the run from Fishing Bay to Reedville, we gained 24 miles even though we were getting our butts kicked. Could we have stopped in Solomons and then continued this morning to avoid a night run? Yes, but the weather report for today was for strong winds in Annapolis. It’s not any better for Friday because rain is coming and I think Saturday isn’t good either. The time to go was yesterday.

We pulled into Annapolis harbor and picked up a mooring ball at 2100 last night. A cold night, but we were home. We departed at 0645 this morning and were in our slip on Back Creek before 0730. By the way, the winds came so the Annapolis decision was the right one.

Although Otter’s ICW adventure has ended, there are some summary blogs coming: restaurants, marinas, perspectives……..

Hampton, VA to Fishing Bay (Deltaville), VA

We thought we would have both Tuesday and Wednesday to make our run to Annapolis; however, our review of the weather last night and this morning showed a very strong front coming in today which also raised doubt about Wednesday. Waiting until Thursday would not provide a better day and the next “good” time for the whole trip wouldn’t be until Sunday or Monday. We wanted to leave so decided to start out and stop when we felt the weather was changing.

DSC_0477We left with bright sun, a moderate southerly wind, and mild ripples on the water. We held out some hope that we might be able to make it to Solomons Island, MD. The morning report was not optimistic; predicting steady winds in the upper 20’s with gusts in the 30’s. But, we thought the strong winds would not come in until late afternoon which would give us time to get to Solomons. While underway we checked the weather and found that the gale-force winds were predicted to come in by late morning, not late afternoon. We started feeling an increase in the waves and knew that we didn’t want to push our luck and try to get across the Potomac River at about the same time the prediction said the weather would become nasty. The Potomac can be nasty in nice weather. Plus, I didn’t want to be docking in Solomons in significant winds, which were now predicted to have gust of 40 kts. We decided to go to Fishing Bay and are glad we did.

DSC_0497DSC_0495About an hour after we docked we began to feel the increase in wind and the anchoring area of Fishing Bay filled with roiling white caps. The weather report now warned that a cold front was coming through and that the wind would shift to the north during the night bringing rain and the potential for gusts up to 50 kts. The rains have come and we have had a couple of strong gusts but probably not 50 kts although they did startle both Joe and myself. Several hours ago a Coast Guard boat came to the fuel dock to pick up fuel to take to a sailboat caught out on the bay and out of fuel. They believe the boat is going to come into the marina and we said that we would watch for them to help with their lines. We have not seen them yet and hope all is well.

Will we leave tomorrow? I hope so. Weather reports say that the wind will die down to 15-20 kts in the morning and reduce to 5-10 kts by early afternoon. However, it will be from the north which will make for lumpy (at best) seas in the morning as we head north. If we go tomorrow we plan to hug the western shore to stay out of the worse of the lumps and hope to make good time to reach Annapolis before dark. If we can’t make it before dark, we can head to the club in Galesville, MD because we’ve come into the West River in the dark several times. If it’s truly awful, we could go into Solomons and then decide when we can make the next jump. If we wait until the afternoon for calm weather (assuming it comes), we will not make Annapolis before dark. Who knows; maybe the calmer weather will arrive earlier and we’ll have a pleasant run home.

In the meantime, we have enjoyed the marina and can recommend it to anyone wanting a place to stay on the lower bay.

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Interlude: Hampton, VA

We really didn’t plan to stay so long in Hampton (3/24 to 3/31), but we couldn’t get two good weather days in a row. Initially it was a cold issue, but it turned into a wind issue with the Solomons Island, MD area forming a wall of annoying weather blocking any chance of a reasonably pleasant transit to Annapolis. But, that’s another story.

Once we decided that we would need to stay awhile and we realized that it would be rainy for several days, we rented a car to visit two museums: The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News and the Nauticus/Naval Museum in Norfolk. I had been to the Mariners’ Museum many, many years ago and was looking forward to seeing the changes. It has grown so we focused on four areas. The USS Monitor Center is a conservation complex where artifacts, original documents, and paintings associated with the Monitor are displayed. Most interesting was the glass wall that allowed a look into the lab where they are conserving the Monitor’s engine, turret and guns in fluid. The International Small Craft hall houses boats from around the world representing both pleasure craft and working boats. The Miniature Ships of August F. Crabtree are beautiful and their display is unique: a darken hall with each ship surrounded by glass and spot lights which gives the whole presentation a golden glow. Wandering through the Age of Exploration section, I came across interesting figureheads. I hope the following photos capture the diversity of what the museum has to offer.

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Along the Norfolk waterfront is the Nauticus Museum which also houses the Naval Museum. Nauticus seems to focus on the history of the maritime environment in this area and has a lot of interactive displays for kids of all ages. Even I played with the legos and mazes. The reason we went to this museum was to visit the battleship Wisconsin. It was a very rainy day but we explored outside and inside and thoroughly enjoyed the docent commentary. In fact, we were the only two people on the extended tour so we had three docents making sure we experienced everything.

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DSC_0440DSC_0436DSC_0444It seems that mermaids are an icon in the Norfolk area and I couldn’t resist the typical mermaid I’ve seen around town (right). However, I particularly liked how the museum incorporated the form outside their building. It’s very colorful from using it to leave your admission sticker before leaving the grounds (left). I’m not sure about that mermaid in the middle.

By now you probably know that I love photographing “industrial” features whether buildings, machinery, working boat yards, etc. On the visit to the battleship Wisconsin, the anchor chain caught my eye.

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Our dock was directly across from the Hampton University sail boats with the Hampton Yacht Club just west of us. This gave us a great opportunity to watch both go out each day for practice. Because the HYC was on the same side of the river as us, their angle of tack was directly by our boat and at times it looked like they would clip the bow. Never happened. And, just to remind us that Hampton is a working harbor, the large fishing boats along with tugs and barges would leave early in the morning and return as darkness set in.

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During a walk around downtown Hampton, I fell in love with murals painted on many of the blank brick walls. Joe noticed the first one and then we saw several others. A gentle graffiti.

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Goodbye Hampton. We enjoyed our stay and will return.DSC_0243

Coinjock, NC to Hampton, VA

We did not plan to leave Coinjock today, but the wind of yesterday seemed to accelerate a weather change and gave us a calmer Tuesday than predicted plus partial sun. The forecast was not changing for Wednesday or Thursday so we either leave on Tuesday or stay in Coinjock until Friday. I was snug in bed and Joe had done the analysis. Pat, the Grumpy Cat, rolled out of bed, showered, ate breakfast, put the charts in place, turned the electronics on while Joe was getting Otter fueled; we left the dock at 0930.

Although the distance was not great (60’ish miles), it included three bridges which needed to open and one lock. None of the bridges were “open-on-demand” so timing was important because the first two opened on the hour and half hour and the third opened only on the hour. The goal was to hit the first bridge at the hour, the second at the half hour, and then the third at the next hour. Fortunately, they were close enough to make this possible without the throttle wide open. We were traveling with another boat who was in front of us at the first bridge so we let him set the pace for the next two bridges and the lock. To make it even easier, the lock is in sync with the third bridge so if you get through the third bridge you will automatically be on time for the lock. The surprise problem area was Currituck Sound between G115 and G113. We had no problems when we went south, but today we went very shallow and Joe was driving through 2-3′ of water over soft sand. It lasted for about 50 feet, but we never came to a complete stop. Our guess is that the previous 24 hours of strong north wind (a steady 20-25 kts) blew the water out. Bay sailors know that this does happen. Looks like we’ll be cleaning that strainer again.

We opted for a marina in Hampton rather than Norfolk because it would put us closer to the bay and past the congestion of Norfolk (barges, tugs, container ships, military vessels). Besides, the marinas in Norfolk are so-so and we have been to Hampton a couple of times. Instead of the town dock, we opted for Blue Water Yachting Center because we’ve used it before for fuel and it’s closest to the Hampton entrance (easy in/easy out). We docked at 1545 directly across from the bell tower of Hampton University.

As long as we need to wait a few days for more comfortable weather, it’s better to wait in Hampton than Coinjock.

Oriental, NC to Coinjock, NC

We didn’t plan to go so far today (115.8 miles) but we left early (0710) so we could get out before the wind kicked in, there was plenty of water, no real slow-down areas, and a good 2-3 knot push by the current. Our initial plan was to leave today and anchor in Pungo Creek and move to Coinjock on Sunday. When we reached Pungo it was only noon and the weather report for Sunday was changing; specifically, the wind was going to be stronger than predicted which could create a challenge crossing the Albemarle Sound. Our Plan B was to anchor in the Alligator River with an early start to cross the Albemarle Sound during the quieter morning hours. We kept making good time and the weather for Sunday wasn’t improving. When we reached the Alligator River we realized that at our pace we could reach Coinjock by 1700. So, we pressed on with Plan C and docked in Coinjock at 1630 after a long day at a consistent 13-14 knots. We are glad we crossed the Albemarle Sound when we did because even though today was relatively calm, we had 1-2 foot waves on our quarter making for a squirelly and tiring ride. If the weather changes, the crossing will be pounding and very uncomfortable, so deciding to, and being able to, go all the way to Coinjock today was the best option.

DSC_0237DSC_0224The longest segment for this trip was the 20 mile Alligator-Pungo Canal. This canal is long, straight and beautiful in a desolate way. When we went through it in December, I took a photo of the vanishing point perspective of the canal. I re-post it here with a photo of the canal as seen by the radar. A very well defined part of the waterway.

Our next move will be to Norfolk, but I don’t know when we will begin that leg. We’re now watching weather here, in Norfolk, and in Annapolis. Doesn’t seem to make sense to head further North until it is a little warmer and that doesn’t appear to happen until Wednesday (at least for Coinjock and Norfolk).

Swansboro to Oriental, NC

A short day with only tall bridges; however, we did have to circle and wait at the bridge north of Beaufort, NC for a tug to come through. The bridge was just around a slight curve so we were fortunate that the tug captain put out a call that he was near the bridge and coming through. We responded that we would stay south of the bridge until he passed which was a good choice because just north of the bridge there was an anchored barge. Somehow a tug pushing a barge and passing an anchored barge would not have left much room for us in the canal.

The wind was slightly more than predicted which made the waters around Morehead City and Beaufort churn, but there was no shipping traffic to add to the confusion of the area. Although the weather report said that the wind would die down by 1000, the Neuse River was frisky when we crossed it to enter Oriental around noon. Oriental is a new stop for us. When we went through the area last Fall, we continued up the Neuse for about 20 miles to New Bern. We decided on Oriental this time because a) it’s a shorter distance and b) the couple we rent our slip from in Annapolis also own a slip in Oriental and said we could use it (small charge). Oriental is a favorite stop on the Neuse for people cruising the ICW. The wind didn’t die down as we approached but because of its direction the Oriental harbor was somewhat in the lee of the wind so we had no problems getting into the slip although Joe had to push pretty hard to keep the boat off the line holder on the outer post (a metal U-hook).

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Oriental is small with about 1.5 square miles and 900 people. The area was the haunt of pirates during the European time period and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) made his home in Bath just north of Oriental. The initial farming, lumbering, and fishing industries have evolved to fishing, marine businesses, and tourism. The town was named after the sailing steamer Oriental which was built in Philadelphia in 1861 and run aground in May 1862 when she was wrecked off Bodie Island, 33 miles north of Cape Hatteras. A Post Office was established in 1886 in what was called Smith’s Creek; however, the postmaster’s wife thought the community needed a better name. Depending on which story you believe, the postmaster’s wife either found the nameplate of the wrecked sailing steamer Oriental on the beaches of the Outer Banks or saw the nameplate in a Manteo home and decided that “Oriental” was the better name. Either way the community became known as Oriental a few years after the post office was established and was incorporated in 1899.

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We are at the Oriental Harbor Marina which is nice but is more rolly than I expected given a breakwater and much less tidal influence than we have experienced. I think the wind wraps around and stirs up the water/boats. It’s not bad, just unexpected. However, anyone with motion sickness issues would not be happy. So far we have had lunches in the Water Street Grill and M&M’s Cafe.  From our perspective, M&M’s Cafe is the better of the two. The Water Street Grill has the waterfront location and is very nice, but the food is only ok. M&M’s Cafe is on a side street in an old house, the food is very good, and it’s less expensive than Water Street Grill. There are other restaurants which we may or may not visit as we hang out waiting for the rainstorm predicted for tomorrow to pass. We’re looking for a weather window that will give us two good days for a decent night on Pungo Creek (anchoring = temperatures above freezing and not a lot of wind) followed by a smooth transit to Coinjock (as little wind as possible to keep from pounding through the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound). Also, it doesn’t do any good to go rushing to Coinjock if the cold keeps us tied to the dock. There’s actually more in Oriental than Coinjock.

Every now and then magical things happen. On the way back from the showers this morning, I heard noises in the water along our dock. When I got to the boat Joe asked if I had seen something in the water. I said that I heard noises and saw something small and dark colored but didn’t think it was a baby dolphin. He told me that it was an otter and was making it’s way to our boat. With a little patience, we were able to capture several pictures of two otters. One of them slid onto the swim platform. We had an otter on Otter.

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Southport to Swansboro, NC

A very long day (9 hours) to cover 71 miles with a lot of challenges.

The “BAD”

Went aground at Mason Inlet; hit at speed. Joe was on the track, but it was near low tide and the inlets in North Carolina shoal often. It took about 5 minutes to get off the shoal and the only deep water was almost on top of the docks. Definitely had to clean the strainer when we reached Swansboro.

The “COULD HAVE BEEN BAD”

  1. Heading up the Cape Fear River after departing Southport and we suddenly showed 4′ of water which is illogical when you’re on the edge of the shipping channel. The depths kept showing 3′ to 6′. We turned the depth sensor off then on; we put the boat in neutral; we deliberately bounced over the wakes of passing boats…nothing reset the senor. We continued because we have the electronic track. And then, we turned to go into Snow’s Cut and the sensor started working. This was critical all day even with the electronic track; although it didn’t save us at Mason’s Inlet.
  2. The chart shows 20′ clearance at the Wrightsville Beach Bridge. The bridge tender didn’t respond to our hail to confirm clearance and the height boards were difficult to see even with binoculars. We approached slowly and finally saw 18.5′ clearance; we need 18′. We decided to go for it and made it through without a bang or even a ping of the antenna.

The “ANNOYING”

  1.  A lot of thin water and after the hit we were hyper diligent about slowing down for anything that looked even marginally thin. I was just hyper.
  2. Today was bridge day. Two lowish bridges we could go through without an opening and two that required an opening:  one opened on the hour, the other on the hour and the half hour. The timing didn’t work in our favor and we had to slow waaaay down to make the times.

The “GOOD”

  1. Beautiful sunrise
  2. Warm temperatures and sunshine
  3. Enough favorable tide to allow us to make up time lost to going aground, wonky inlets, and bridge openings
  4. Camp Lejeune was open and the live fire exercises were more in the distance than the first time we went through.
  5. Even though the wind picked up and the tide was running when we docked they were moving from the same direction so I was able to smoothly dock with Joe and two dock guys working the lines.

We are at Casper’s Marina and had a calming dinner at the Trattoria Gourmet Pizza & Breads Restaurant.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

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Georgetown, SC to Southport, NC

A long passage (~98 miles), but we made it faster than we expected because we had the tide pushing us for more than half the trip and we had no problems going through the 20 miles of “The Rock Pile” at low tide. The sun was shining, the temperatures warm (upper 70’s), and the wind not a factor until it came time to dock (as usual).

DSC_0136DSC_0137Spring is clearly in the air. The idyllic thought of having Spring for many months as we head north is dampened by the realization that it means having pollen for more months than usual. But it was nice to see snowdrops, daffodils, and pansies in Georgetown and budding trees along the waterway. The vegetation north of Georgetown is very different from the Charleston/Beaufort area; an almost swamp-like feel. Joe captured a couple of the trees, including one with a fading advertisement for boating services.  Although the Charleston area was about mid-point in terms of mileage for us, it was not until we were north of Georgetown that I sensed an environment that is familiar to me and felt that I was heading back to the Chesapeake.

I believe I mentioned the cable cars crossing the waterway in a post on our way south, but was not able to get a photo because I didn’t know it was there and we passed it before the cars crossed over. This time we knew it was coming and Joe took some photos of the cars passing each other. The appendages hanging off the sides are golf bags. It appears that the waterway bisects a golf course and you play some holes on one side and then play the other side. I’m not a golfer, but it sounds like fun.

So, was this a perfect day on the water? Of course not. First, when departing Georgetown – at 0730, which is not my best time – I managed to clip the starboard edge of the stern taking a very small chip out of the area. Joe has applied some silicone to make sure water doesn’t seep into the fiberglass. There will be a little glass work and paint in Otter’s future. Second, a very large (50′) recreational ocean fishing boat passed us very fast and had a deep wake. Joe thought that he had turned into the wake enough, but that wasn’t true and both computers (one at the nav station and one at the helm) went flying. I managed to catch the one on the nav station, but the computer in the helm area bounced down at least one and probably two steps onto the sole (wood floor) of the lower area. It was Joe’s very old Think Pad that took the flying leap. Amazingly, it came back on at our exact location and was in full tracking mode. Joe has rigged a tie-down for the helm computer. Third, as I approached the dock in Southport, I misjudged (many things) and managed to scrape the port side on top of the scrape that I did when I docked her in Daytona. These are white rubber scrapes which should buff out. Have I mentioned that we’ve started a list of improvements and repairs that Otter will need when we get back? As Joe said today…”She sat for years never being used; she’s now being used the way she should be used and stuff will happen.”

We had a good dinner at the Dead End Saloon and Fish Factory Grille and hope to sleep soundly tonight and not move tomorrow.