Fun in Georgetown

We’ve been here for almost a week. Yes, we still think this is heaven on earth!

Both our passage problems have been repaired. Tom put out a request on the morning harbor net for the size and type of bolt we needed to repair our helmsman chair. A nearby boat, Angela D, gave us the bolt that used to hold up their mast! They have converted their former motor-sailor to a power boat. Cruisers often help each other out like this. Harold would not take anything for it. Today we took a lot of stuff out of the aft cabin so Tom could work on re-centering and pinning the rudder. It seems to be working much better now!

We brought Lone Star over to Georgetown on Monday, December 10 to checkin with Customs and Immigration. The boat can stay for 12 months. We will need to renew our immigration visas after 90 days.

We also did a walk-through of the local Exuma Market. It is small, but packed with a lot of foods. Prices for staples like fresh vegetables, frozen meats or vegetables, and rice or flour seem to be comparable to the states. As expected, luxury items like Marie’s salad dressing, chips, cookies and chocolate bars are twice the price. Bananas at a roadside stand were $3 for about 14 six inch bananas. These are the sweetest bananas we’ve ever had! I’ll be making banana bread soon. We had one for the passage that was excellent.

Although there is a laundry mat in town, time to be a real cruiser and do it by hand! Ouch, I forgot how much it hurts the hands to wring out clothes. The Mr. Wringer didn’t do a very good job, still needed to squeeze more water out!

Line dried clothes are so crisp!

Another cruiser chore for us; self filling the tank by dinghy water barge. The Exuma Market recently added a Reverse Osmosis-RO water spigot to the cruisers dinghy dock behind their business. Tom threw the first set of jugs on board, then rigged a block and tackle to hoist them aboard. Much easier, although another cruiser said he uses a pump to offload the water right from the dinghy. We’ll have to look into that improvement!

Finally, we attended a musical jam session on shore yesterday. There are some very talented musicians here! Really fun to meet folks and sing along.

We plan to stay here through Christmas.

Passage to the Bahamas

We set out from Beaufort, NC at 6:30AM November 29th. Motoring out the inlet into the rising sun with many dolphin and sea birds playing along side us with clear skies and cold: air temperature – 31 degrees Fahrenheit, sea temperature – 61. Once clear of land, with sails and auto pilot set, we both took out our phones to text or call farewell to family members before we lost the signal. Thank you all for your positivity!! We know we scare you sometimes with our ocean adventure, but we are thankful for your support and understanding. We promise to keep in touch often.

Offshore we both wear an inflatable life vest and harness. We tether ourselves to a jack line that runs fore and aft on the boat whenever we leave the enclosed cockpit. That only happens for sail changes or deck checks. Not often! We alternate who is on watch every four hours and try to ensure the off-watch person does not contribute to meal making or cleanup as they should be resting. Our freezer and fridge were topped up and included some homemade meals that were easy to use.

By 2:00PM the same day we were in the Gulf Stream as evidenced by the change to sea and air temperature (on left in picture)

Our heading was not directly south (180) as it is best to cross the northeast flowing stream at a right angle to get to the other side as fast as possible. It was after dark, around 8:00 PM when we reached the far side and turned straight south.

By the end of the second day, the wind changed from light and behind us to moderate (10-15 knots) right in front of us. So rather than heading straight south we had to steer southeast further out into the Atlantic.

We timed our watches so that Tom would be on watch for the 7:30AM and 5:00PM SSB checkin with Chris Parker at Marine Weather Center. He would give the weather for our location and projected location 12 and 24 hours out.

There was one time we needed to go about 50 miles further south to avoid bad weather. We just didn’t make it in time. Just before sunset we elected to stop our forward progress into the ever building seas and attempted to heave-to (bows into the seas, slow drift backwards). We did not have the right sail combination so ended up dropping all sail and laying sideways to the seas. We are not sure how big the seas got as it was a very dark night. We estimate 12 foot seas. They would occasionally break over the deck and shove us side ways hard. It was an elevator ride! Winds were gusting around 30. By morning it had calmed down enough so we raised the jib and motor-sailed for the next 5 hours or so, until we could raise more sail and cut the engine. We were joined by a large school of playful dolphin at this time again very uplifting to have them play around Lone Star.

We sustained steering system damage during this blow. The boat is more difficult to steer. Thankfully, the auto pilot can still handle the boat. Tom checked the internal steering system under the aft bunk and all appears normal. Best guess is that the steering quadrant slipped on the ruddernn shaft. We have approximately 300 miles to go to our preferred destination of Georgetown on Great Exuma.

The seas steadily diminished and we were making progress southeasterly once again. At this point we were heading for the Dominican Republic and wondering if we’d ever get to lay our course southwest to the Bahamas? We made short tacks to the west on three occasions to avoid going too far to the east.

Yes, we have made it to southern waters! Here’s proof: flying fish that land on deck at night.

A large cold front covering the entire east coast of the US finally gave us the winds we needed. Well the right direction anyway, of course a bit strong (25-30 knots). We reduced sail to just the jib and sailed the last two days nearly dead down wind in 8-10 foot following seas. Well not quite following: as we were at the bottom end of the front the winds were clocking around from NW-N-NE. So of course the seas were coming from multiple directions as well. Another elevator ride!

The last night at sea:

The helmsman seat is on an arm and held in place by a stainless-steel pin. Unfortunately, the pin sheared in these big seas. Tom was able to make a temporary repair, but this will require some metal work to fix it properly. It’s a boat, maintenance is expected.

The downwind sleigh ride continued right into Conch Cay Cut where we needed to make a sharp left turn. So relieved to get past the first few islands and behind the bigger ones to get away from the rollers.

We anchored across from Georgetown off of Stocking Island at 9:30AM Friday, December 7. Amazingly three dolphin jumped over our anchor line as Tom was paying out the line!

We made it to the Bahamas after nine nights at sea. We think we sailed almost a thousand miles, 300 more than if we’d been able to sail straight south. We arrived exhausted, but oh so happy to have escaped winter and made it to these beautiful islands.

The day flew by as we covered the sails and stowed some gear. It took a while to get our phones connected. Then we informed family we arrived safely. After grabbing a bite to eat, Anita collapsed for a nap. Tom researched how to check in to Customs and Immigration. However, it was too late in the day to go once he finished with his nap. We will stay aboard until Monday when the offices open again.

Our cruising neighbors have stopped by in their dinghies to welcome us and we were welcomed on the morning VHF net so have learned a lot about the great cruising community here. We look forward to checking in tomorrow and joining in the fun soon!

Beaufort, NC and Provisioning for the Bahamas

Footnote to add to my last blog: We really enjoyed our three day stay in Oriental, NC. The Inland Waterway Provision Company was a favorite stop of ours every time we went ashore. They have an awesome selection of healthy provisions; I could and probably should have spent a small fortune there. They also have a section dedicated to consignment sales of nautical equipment. We were so happy when they offered to sell our 12’ Porta-Bote for us!

Picture: Bringing the old dinghy ashore for consignment sale. Picture courtesy of Kimberly on Pegu Club.

On Tuesday, November 20th we motor-sailed down the ICW to our next destination. We anchored off Moorehead City hoping for one more night of visiting with Pegu Club, but they ended up exiting the waterway onto a shallow bank and were too far away for a dinghy ride. We look forward to catching up with them again in the Bahamas. The next morning, we left at the same time they did, crossing each other as they kept going south and we motored 5 miles east to Beaufort, NC. As tears formed due to this farewell, blurring my vision, dolphins jumped out of the water ahead of us. That brought an instant smile and a soothing feeling that we will cross paths again!

We stayed at Beaufort Docks Marina for 4 days to provision the boat for the next six months. Thank you to cruising friend Marcia on Cutting Class for tips on what to stock up on before heading to the Bahamas! The Marina offers loaner cars for their guests which makes it much easier to shop around town. Their cars are old, but they run. We went to a super Walmart, a hardware store, Piggly Wiggly, and Food Lion, and we had a spare propane tank filled. We spent nearly $1,000 on provisions and filled a lot of nooks and crannies on the boat. Just before leaving the dock we also filled up the diesel and water tanks. Tom had one last task to prepare the boat: change the oil in the engine. He discovered we should buy more engine oil. On Monday, we set out walking together. Anita stopped at a salon to get her hair cut and Tom continued on to the Auto Parts store for 2 gallons of oil. We met up again for the remainder of the walk back to the boat.

Every Thanksgiving evening the Backstreet Pub hosts a gathering and feast for cruisers and locals. They provided two turkeys: one smoked, one baked, a baked ham, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Locals and cruisers provide the rest. I brought a cabbage salad and some chocolate fudge.

It was a very yummy and abundant feast and fun to meet both locals and cruisers.

The weather has been a real challenge during this part of our cruise. When we arrived here my first task was doing laundry at the local laundry mat as my winter wear was dirty. I brought about a weeks’ worth of winter clothes and had already stretched that a bit. I did laundry again just before we left as the same occurred. We’ve experienced lows in the 30’s and highs in the 50’s with lower wind chills. We had two gales while in Beaufort; one at the dock and one at anchor. Luckily, we have a good diesel heater to keep the cabin warm. It’s been used so much we actually needed to clean it again. We have been listening to Chris Parker from Marine Weather Center on SSB and subscribed to his weather routing service for our upcoming passage to the Bahamas. This will allow us to speak directly with Chris and his team twice a day to update our location and get advice on course corrections.

One detail we were not able to complete before leaving CT was to sell my 2015 VW Passat. We had advertised twice on EBay Motors with no interest. We called the dealer we bought the car from and they were interested in seeing it. A big thank you to our son, Alex for bringing it to them and finalizing the sale! That’s a big relief to not have it sitting around in a cold New England winter unused. We’ll rent a vehicle when we fly or sail home for visits.

The last bit of preparation before leaving the country was to secure international medical coverage and medical evacuation insurance. Better to be safe than sorry. We are both healthy and do what we can to stay that way.

Our departure was delayed a few days due to Tom getting sick. He had head cold symptoms, but the illness only lasted 3-4 days. It was probably a mild flu as energy loss was also a symptom. The night before we left Anita started showing the same symptoms. The weather window we had included a downwind stretch for the first day or two followed by southerly (SE-S-SW) winds for the next few days. We elected to go when the winds were favorable to cross the gulf stream and leave on November 29th. We informed family of our plans and provided links to the Ham Radio Waterway Net that posts our reported position each day and a link to Chris Parker who also records our position twice a day. We are ready to head south by the faster route, out into the Atlantic, and south to the Bahamas. We really want to escape winter!!

Ocracoke and Oriental, NC

Picture:  Fishing vessels in Oriental, where stories of Blackbeard abound

Disclaimer for our non-sailing readers: sorry for the technical jargon in this one. Some of our sailing friends will appreciate the details of the challenges we’ve experienced and how we overcome them.

The fifty-mile excursion from Wanchese, NC (on Roanoke Island) to Ocracoke, NC was uncomfortable yet necessary.   The latter because there are few choices of protected anchorages in the broad and shallow Pamlico Sound. We left at first light with a little help from the dock master. The west wind had us pinned to the dock.  Our normal backing down with an aft tie spring wasn’t working. Tom asked the dock master to move our one remaining dock line on the starboard stern cleat to the last cleat on the dock and we were able to back into the open space beside the dock and finally head out on our own.

After motoring about 10 miles down the eastern channel of Roanoke, we were able to set full sail and head southwest.  We have a small camber spar jib that is self-tacking; so, there is little need for us to be out in the weather tending it. We chose to leave with a windy forecast (West 15-20MPH diminishing to 10MPH as the day progresses) as we didn’t think we could make the 50-mile passage under motor alone in daylight hours.  Well, forecasts are not always right, it stayed windy!  Furthermore, as it had been windy for some time the waves although not big (1-3 feet) were confused.  This made for a very bouncy, corkscrew kind of ride.  Like riding a bronco, I imagine.  Picture things falling in the cabin and a lot of rocking and rolling in all directions.  The windshield was soon covered in salt and difficult to see through.  Solution: steer by instruments: chart plotter, compass, speed and depth readings.  The sea finally calmed for the last hour as we meandered through the approach channels to Ocracoke.  The trip took nine hours and we certainly didn’t eat very well: gingerbread muffins, peanut butter bread and snacks.  Too rough to make a sandwich or heat soup!

Ocracoke has a small secure harbor with an active ferry at the curvy entrance. Yes, we met the ferry right at the entrance and waited outside the channel in 5 feet of water for them to pass. Then we motored to the far end of the harbor and anchored near a couple other sail boats.  It took a few hours for our brains to realize the boat was no longer rocking.  Is that muscle memory?  It is a strange and somewhat unsettling sensation.

We checked the distance (36 miles) and forecast (favorable winds and sunny) to our next destination: Oriental, NC; and decided to forego exploring the local wild horses and vicinity in favor of returning to the ICW and our trek south.  Temperatures have moderated recently and we are seeing highs in the mid 60’s and lows in the low 50’s. Yet, New England is experiencing snow and freezing temperatures already.

Saturday, November 17th we motor sailed in light winds across the remainder of Pamlico Sound and into the Neuse River.  Meal preparation and cleanup not a problem. Much better day!

Oriental is a very small harbor with limited anchoring.  So glad we found a spot to anchor inside the breakwater!  The two free slips at the public dock were occupied.  The marina docks are mostly empty at this time of year, but we had just spent four days at a dock in Wanchese.

The next morning Pegu Club motored into the harbor and began setting their anchor right next to us when I noticed a spot had opened on the public dock.  They quickly hoisted the anchor and moved to the free dock.  We always enjoy spending time with Jeff and Kimberly on Pegu Club.  They also started their cruise from Shennecossett Yacht Club. We chatted animatedly as we walked together to the local Marine consignment and Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Later they came over for dinner, games and popcorn. This is the cruising lifestyle we truly enjoy! The below picture was taken by us as we returned to Lone Star at sunset.

Return to Roanoke Island, NC

Picture:  Arrival at OBX Marina in Wanchese on Roanoke Island, N.C.  The travel lift on the right is where we hauled the boat.

We finally grabbed a two-day weather window to sail south from Elizabeth City, NC!  We enjoyed some fine sailing across Albemarle Sound for most of the day.

In 1989, when sailing Sundsvalla north from the Caribbean, we anchored in a popular harbor near Manteo on Roanoke Island in mid-summer.  We thoroughly enjoyed the long-running outdoor theater featuring, “The Lost Colony”.  This is the story of British colonists that arrived on Roanoke in July 1585 and no trace of them was found in 1590.  Read more here.

What a difference Manteo is today!  The channel to the eastern side of the island is extremely shallow and narrow.  The only other boats we saw were small power boats. Manteo bay is filled in by storm tossed sands and dredge spoils.  The locals say that they have a lot of horizontal water but not a lot of vertical water. We were lucky to find a deep enough spot (5 feet) to anchor for one night.  It was so far from land we did not try to take the dinghy to shore.  The western channel has a long low bridge that we cannot get under with our 55′ mast.

On Monday, November 11th we motored to Wanchese at the south end of the island by meandering down a slightly deeper channel. We decided to pay for a side tie at a dock at OBX (Outer Banks) Marina as nasty weather was predicted.  Good choice!  This small bay is used by many commercial fisherman.  No one anchors here as they would block the docks. Although this marina does not offer WiFi, our cell phones have good service and work as a personal hotspot.  We are grateful for unlimited data!  We’ve actually only found WiFi on a few occasions on our travels so far.  In Wanchese, we’ve enjoyed some walks to nowhere and warm showers.  Thankfully, we have plenty of provisions for now so, no need to venture out in the cold, sometimes rainy and often windy weather.

On Wednesday, we woke to a 6:00 AM alarm to get a quick hot oatmeal breakfast and leave the dock to head for the lift well at nearby Bayliss Boatyard.  Our short haul revealed only propeller damage and the new prop was ready to install.  Phew that’s a relief!

The motor back to OBX was not long enough to test the new propeller in any meaningful way.  That will have to wait for out next outing. We paid the Marina to stay here for two more days due to strong winds and heavy rain.  We’ll keep working on projects and perhaps I’ll do a bit of baking to stock the freezer and warm our bellies and the cabin.  Should I bake brownies or gingerbread with raisins?

Entering the ICW

We left Hampton, VA on November 4th in very light winds. Motoring across Hampton Roads on a Sunday was incredibly quiet. Just a few other pleasure boats about, one large container ship, and a couple small tug & barge combinations.

It was such an easy passage that we decided to carry on past Hospital Point; the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway, referred to as ICW.  We were surprised we made such good time and were soon directed into the Dismal Swamp Deep Creek lock just before 2:30.

There were 4 other boats in the lock with us.  The lock master was real nice and provided lots of information about the canal and options of places to stay.

We stopped for the night directly after the Deep Creek bridge around 4PM.  It now gets dark around 5PM, since the time change today!

This bulkhead tie-up was our first non-anchoring or sailing night since leaving home.  We do not often dock as our vessel is a trimaran and too wide (22′ 6″) for most slips.  We vastly prefer the freedom and peace of mind of being at anchor versus tied to a dock.  However, the canal was quite still and narrow.  There is certainly no room to swing at anchor.  Street noise was loud, but not bothersome and subsided before bedtime.  Tom made a quick run to a local Food Lion for fresh food as this was a very good supply stop and a short walk away.

The next morning, we started at 7:00AM to continue motoring through the Dismal Swamp.  We wanted to catch the Mill Creek Lock for the 11:00 AM opening.  This part of the man-made canal is straight and often runs right beside a highway.  When the road curves away it is so quiet and the only sound is nature.  The overhanging trees although contributing to this beauty are also a hazard to navigation when they fall in the canal or when a mast rubs against a low hanging branch and it rains pinecones, leaves and nuts all over the deck.  We heard a few bumps from sunken debris as well, truly not a good feeling.  The weather was warm and overcast with occasional drizzle or a brief downpour.  We were very thankful for our enclosed cockpit.  We caught up with two other sail boats around 10:30AM; it was perplexing as they often slowed or stopped.  Finally discovered via VHF that they were not sure of the height of the fixed bridge ahead.  Six boats arrived at the lock almost a half-hour late.  Luckily, the lock master still let us through the lock and the bridge.  The lead boat was a catamaran, they were directly ahead of us in the lock when eight feet of water was rushing out of the lock.  They managed to get a mooring line jammed under a cleat and had to cut it.  Scary to see the boat scrape along the lock wall and suddenly drop three feet.  Lessons learned: handle your lines continuously and have a knife handy.

Very shortly after the lock, we heard another thunk under the boat.  Anita quickly put the engine in neutral and saw a large submerged log under and moving with Lone Star.  We hooked it.  After a half minute of drifting Tom suggested trying the engine. It made a loud noise and stalled.  We then drifted to the side of the canal and the trees rained down on us.  We shouted to the boats following us to pass us as we were disabled.  The last boat, Jade East was very kind and threw us a floating line to tow our bow to the center of the canal while we dealt with the 30′ tree.  Tom managed to tow it to the side of the canal with our dinghy once it was free. Thankfully the engine did start after that and we were able to get on our way once again.  We noted that our speed was slower at the same RPM and the steering was off center, but still responsive.  There were no leaks inside the boat and no vibration of the propeller so we continued on with Jade East following.  We decided to anchor before the Elizabeth City opening bridge due to the South winds predicted; more protected on the North side of the peninsula.  Glad those two motoring days of hand steering in close quarters are over!

A look in the water with the GoPro the next morning revealed blackness; the fresh river water is the color of iced tea due to the tannin from the trees and roots.  Tom would need to dive over the side to check if we have any damage from the submerged log.  He used his wetsuit and dive tank so it took a while to setup.  In the meantime, Anita continued to sweep the debris off the deck.  You guessed it!  Tom couldn’t see under the brown water either.  He felt around and removed small twigs and debris from the rudder and discovered the tips of all three propeller blades were missing.  Tom did not feel any dings or dents in the hull or rudder and we are not taking on water anywhere, yeah!  The rudder is now back to normal.

We moved through the Elizabeth City opening bridge and anchored off Pelican Marina. We looked at the sea walls that offer free dockage and didn’t like the current wind conditions that would push the boat against the dock.

Pelican has a dinghy dock and let us do laundry and take showers. We also walked to town and had a very delicious lunch at Hoppin’ Johnz; smoked meats with southern barbecue flavors.

We have ordered a new propeller and some spare parts and they will be delivered to a Marina on Roanoke Island about 50 miles south of here.  We are scheduled for a short haul next Wednesday morning.  We continue to work on our project list.  Tom finished the installation of the ham radio and has listened to the waterway and weather nets, but has not transmitted yet. He also installed the EPIRB bracket, the radar reflector, and tidied up some loose wires.

We plan to sail about 40 miles south to Manteo on Roanoke Island tomorrow.  Yes, sail!  Across Albemarle Sound, a nice stretch of open water.

Hanging Out in Hampton, VA

We made an exception the morning we left Fishing Bay in Deltaville VA; we woke to an alarm clock at 6:00 AM.  Then readied ourselves with warm oatmeal, hot drinks and layers of warm clothes. Then Tom hauled the anchor just before sunrise.  We wanted to take advantage of the early morning winds for our last trip south in the Chesapeake.  As the day wore on the winds diminished.   We motor-sailed to maintain boat speed of over 5 knots.  The southern part of the bay narrows, there are strong currents, tugs and barges, BIG container ships, and many fishing vessels.  After alternating 2 hour watches all day, we were both on deck for the last two hours.   We motored all the way up the Hampton River and anchored across from Hampton Public Piers along with four other boats.

A side note here to explain the process of researching and choosing our next destination.  We are sailing to places we’ve never been before.  First, we check the weather using at least 4 different applications (Intellicast website, Predict Wind, Storm, and Windy) or the weather radio on the VHF when there is no cell service.  Knowing our weather window, we estimate how far south we can travel in the given daylight hours.  Next, we research locations within that distance using online and paper cruising guides.  Finally, Tom researches our likely destinations on Active Captain, a crowd sourcing app that cruisers use to rate and discuss harbors.  We have one other valuable source of information.  Fellow yacht club members and friends, Dan & MaryAnn Crouch have shared their logs of the past 7 years of sailing Cutting Class to FL and the Bahamas.  They are already in Florida this year!

Active Captain had told us there was room for 3-4 boats across from Hampton Public Piers.  Before heading up the river Tom called to verify there was room for us and there was.  The irony is a few storms have brought a lot of wind and this past weekend 11 boats were anchored here for the Nor’Easter.  The highest winds hit us between 10PM Saturday and 1AM Sunday.  We ended up staying up until 1AM as three boats were dragging their anchors and attempting to reset them in heavy winds, rain, and thunderstorms.  So glad our anchor held!  The small monohull on our port side that dragged had no engine so was getting a tow from another dinghy.  It took them two hours and at least six attempts at setting and hauling the anchor to get it to hold.  The much larger monohull on our starboard side gave up and moved way down river after 5 or more attempts.  The next morning, the 47′ catamaran that was now close in front of us dragged and reset his anchor.  This one made us the most nervous as he has a lot of exposed surface area (more windage) and if he dragged it would be into our three bows (we’re a trimaran).  Well we made it through that storm and another blow here, all is well.

We are very close to downtown Hampton and many conveniences are near.  We are taking this opportunity to receive mail and packages, do laundry, stock up on food, boat supplies, and prescriptions.  On Monday, we walked 2.7 miles to a super Walmart and used Uber to get back.  Today Tom borrowed a bike from the Marina as he had to go in multiple directions to pharmacies and a small hardware store.  We do carry a folding bike on board, but borrowing one saves time and energy.

Tom has started the next big project – installing the ham radio, tuner, and antenna.  All will be located in, or through, the aft cabin which we currently use as our storage area.  The first task was to empty out the cabin so he could install a ground system under the large bunk.  The ham radio also functions on the Single Side Band frequencies and will be a source for weather information as well as communicating with the cruising community and friends and family once we are outside the U.S.  Tom studied Morse code and radio intricacies, took the Ham test in St. Thomas in spring of 1988 and received his call sign; N1FUN, while we were on our first cruise onboard Sundsvalla.  He’s looking forward to being on air again soon.  Any other ham radio users out there?  What ‘nets’ do you listen to?

Installing the antenna by sliding it up the aft stay was very difficult. The casing had to be spread and much force applied. Tom first tried from a bosuns chair, then hip harness. What finally worked was removing the stay (after replacing it with a halyard) and tying it down next to the mast.

Saturday, we took a half day to visit the VA Air & Space Museum. It was educational and fun. Great displays and awesome volunteers; lunar module simulator engineer and a ham radio operator were memorable. The view of the harbor entrance from the rooftop was beautiful: