Monday, April 21, 2014

Adjusting to home, Trip summary

We have been home for one week. We scooted into Colington Harbour just ahead of a nasty weather front on April 14th. On April 15, the wind switched from a strong southwest flow to a ridiculous north-northeast flow. The switch happened fast. It was so obvious that the weather models had it nailed down to the hour. Indeed, at about 9:30 pm, the southerly wind died for 20 minutes and at 9:51 pm, the nor'easter began.

And stayed. All the way through Easter. The north component winds blew all of the water out of Colington. This is the kind of low water usually reserved for passing hurricanes. SeaClearly is, remarkably, still floating though I suspect it is only because she has wallowed herself a ditch under the keel. Looks like we picked the right day to stretch for home. We have some fellow cruisers who are stuck 50 miles from home and haven't been able to move all week. How frustrating.

We are enjoying being home for a while. Living on a boat gives you some different perspectives. Our house is not all that big but it seems huge by comparison. We have all these cabinets. With stuff just sitting there on the shelves.With space in between the stuff. On SeaClearly, stuff is, literally, stuffed. You can't get to one thing without moving something else. Move all the containers of food from behind the settee to find the soup. Move the screens under the seat to get to the vacuum cleaner. Move the bed to get to the spare engine parts.

I have already had several episodes of waking up in the bed disoriented because my hand felt the edge of the bed. There is no 'edge of the bed' in our berth on SeaClearly. I also still roll over before sitting up to avoid hitting my head.

We have, all too quickly, gotten back into the habit of long, hot baths and showers. Laundry facilities at the end of the hall is sweet. For the last 6 months, laundry has involved, at the least, handcarts, quarters, tokens, dinghy rides, extended walks and hours sitting around. On the other hand, we met some very interesting people doing laundry.

We have, particularly, enjoyed our kitchen. We put a pretty nice kitchen in a small house so we have cool appliances. We don't even have a microwave on SeaClearly. We re-heated leftovers, when they survived, by the old fashioned methods of skillet, steam or not-at-all. Here, we have, among other things, a Trivection oven that has settings for 'Salmon fillets', 'Deli Pizza', and 'Taco Shells' which all pop out perfectly cooked in a few minutes. Wow.

While cruising around, we met new people everywhere we went. Some will be our friends. We will be happy to see any of them again. Some of them we may never see again. But, they are a wonderful, diverse group. Here in Colington, we have friends. They are more like family than friends that we have had over the years. We have had a couple of wonderful evenings and a grand Easter dinner with these friends, catching up on the seasons, families and events. They, too, are a wonderful, diverse group. And, they are stuck with us.

I have finally worked up some statistics from our trip. Of course, as Mark Twain said, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics", but these are the numbers.

  • SeaClearly left the slip in Colington on October 11, 2013, returned to the slip on April 14, 2014.
  • In total, we covered 2400 nautical miles (about 2760 statute miles). Of those miles, 1600 nm were offshore/coastal miles (down the coast in the ocean, crossing ocean stretches). Technically, we were never more than about 30 miles from land at any given point. I can tell you that 30 miles is a long way from land.
  • The 1600 miles were covered in 16 offshore trips. 8 were single overnight trips. 2 were double overnight trips. The remainder were usually leaving in the dark arriving in daylight hours. The longest trip was 280 nautical miles. Two Gulf Stream crossings.
  • About 475 miles were spent on the ICW.
  • 325 miles was clear-water, short distance cruising between the islands of the Bahamas
  • We had a couple of extended marina stays in Stuart, Florida in the midst of the trip while we took care of family events, surgery, recovery and  a wedding. 
  • While actively cruising, we spent 38 nights in marinas, 29 nights at anchor, 19 nights on mooring balls and, of course, the 12 nights at sea.
  • We spent $1900 on diesel fuel. We paid anywhere from $3.75 to $6.80 a gallon (Chubb Cay, Bahamas) with the average around $5.50 So, approximately, 350 gallons. 
  • Engine hours total 444. Meter read 2414 when we left, 2858 sitting back in the slip at home. We did two oil/filter  changes- one in Fernandina Harbor Marina on the way down, one in Loggerhead Stuart Marina on the way back. Due for another now. Two Racor fuel filter changes. One fuel polisher filter change. 
  • Generator hours total 83. One generator fuel filter change. One generator oil change. 
  • We usually assume something slightly less than 1 gallon per hour when running the engine and about 1 quart per hour running the generator. Looks like we did better than that. By about 25%.
  • Zero breakdowns.
  • We had the bottom cleaned by a diver in Stuart in March. The $84 bill included replacing a shaft zinc that had disappeared at some point.
  • We also had the staysail re-stitched in Stuart. $180
  • Along the way we picked up a new refrigerator circulating pump, a new bilge pump, a new galley foot pump, a new watermaker membrane, some misc filters. Of those, only the foot pump and some filters were used. The rest are spares or just not used yet.
  • Also along the way, we bought more water cans, diesel cans and a gas can. New out-board motor fuel line connectors, a water quality tester, another folding hand cart.
  • We filled the propane tanks twice.
  • We had to replace the bow running-light bulb.
  • We lost one irreplaceable crew member - Roux.
All in all, a wonderful trip, excellent boat, magnificent crew:) We are looking forward to the weather breaking so we can start, in earnest, on our maintenance list. We have already started thinking about the summer and fall and where we might go next. The Turks and Caicos seems nice...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Anniversary to us!

We are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary today. We got married on the beach, at sunset, in Negril, Jamaica. I thought, at the time and many times since, that I was a lucky guy and that Junie must be stupid to marry me. I hope she wasn't. I still feel lucky. Happy Anniversary, Junie!

Negril, 1995. Somewhat younger.
Interesting that there is a sailboat with a
dinghy behind it anchored in the background.
Now, we have a slightly different sunset view.
We are the people on the boat! OK, we aren't there
today and that isn't Jamaica. But you get the point.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I am sitting at our table, at home, with the wind blowing 25 knots from the north, SeaClearly bouncing around in her home slip, Junie sleeping in late on a sunny, windy April morning. We left from this slip in our backyard on October 11 of last year. We arrived home on Monday, April 14. There was a time when I had a tremendous fear that we would never leave. I just knew that something would go wrong. Something would happen. Life would twist our plans and trash our dream. I was afraid the 'dream-stealers' would be right and we would never get this big, beautiful blue water boat back to blue water.

But we did. Just the three of us - Junie, Duane and Roux. Now down to two. Although Roux was certainly with us in spirit after he could no longer be there in person.

I have not run down all of the specifics yet regarding the miles, days, gallons, ports and new friends. Suffice to say, a lot of each. While far from being experienced sailors, we have put our rookie year behind us. We are comfortable on SeaClearly - in the ocean, at anchor, moving, docking, bouncing, rolling, living. We had mixed feelings coming into the inlet at Beaufort knowing that it might be a while before we were back on the ocean again.

But it is good to be home. To have a home. We met a lot of people that sold everything, lived on their boats and their only residence is a P.O. Box in St. Brendan's Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Look that up sometime. We aren't ready for that. It is nice to get back, sit on the porch swing and watch Spring come.

Well, sort of. It was fairly warm when we got home but dived back to 43 degrees overnight with the arrival of a front from the north. We had been watching that front carefully and put on a hard push to get here before it did. We had reviewed all of our weather pages, GFS models, marine forecasts, etc and decided that we needed to be home no later than April 15 - the 14th would be better. In Southport, there is a former Navy meteorologist, Hank Pomeranz of Carolina Yacht Care, that gives a weather review session at the marina so we went to that as well and got confirmation. Yep, we needed to roll.

Waiting for one last load of laundry
at Southport Marina
So, on Saturday, April 12 at around 2:00 pm,with the help of some new friends on the dock (Geaux Tigers!) we made a graceful exit from Southport Marina and headed up the 20 mile section of the ICW to get back to an inlet and back to the ocean. We have developed a very definite preference for ocean rather than ICW. We once met a couple in Oriental that was leaving to cross the ocean for Portugal. "Aren't you afraid of the ocean?", we asked. Their response - "It's the people and the land you have to be afraid of." I am beginning to see that.

We turned right at Masonboro Inlet an into the ocean at 5:30 pm to start the overnight portion of our trip. The target was to arrive at Beaufort and get through the inlet as soon as it was light enough to see. For the first couple of hours, we sailed. Very light air, barely sailing but very necessary since it would be our last opportunity for ocean sailing on our trip home. As the sun went down, we rigged for the night run and settled in to motorsail the night away with our standard Staysail and double-reefed Mainsail configuration. It was a beautiful full moon night on the sea.

We did arrive at Beaufort just before sunrise -only to find a dredge sitting at the western edge of the channel. So, we drifted to a stop just south of the channel, made coffee, wrapped up the sails (since there was, now, no wind) and waited 30 minutes for twilight. As we were going in, the entire population of Morehead City and Beaufort got into their boats to go out the inlet to fish. And, who could blame them? It was the kind of calm ocean morning that we used to just love taking our Grady-White out onto the big water.

ICW Core Creek early morning

The former Core Creek Marina.
SeaClearly spent 2 years on the hard
here before we found her. She still shudders
every time we go by.

And, just like that, we were out of the ocean, under the bridge and on the ICW. You suddenly feel very overdressed in your foul-weather gear, PFDs, tethers, spare diesel and gas cans strapped on your deck, and a radar reflector swinging in the rigging.

We settled in to make it as far as we could that day in order to make it back to Colington as soon as possible. We made great time. We were at Belhaven by 3:00 pm so we kept going to an anchorage at the east end of the Alligator-Pungo River Canal. 'Active Captain' reviews were good for this Alligator River Cove spot. We pulled in there as the sun set and got an anchor down just before dark.

Man, we we tired. It had been over 30 hours since we left Southport. We had done some ICW, then an offshore/overnight run, then a day-long ICW run. The anchorage was ideal for the wind we had and we slept. At 5:30 in the morning, we were up and moving. Anchor up at 7:00 am for the final run home. Up the Alligator River, wait for a rude bridge-tender to give us an opening, and out into the Albemarle Sound. All along this trip, we have had people cringe when we mentioned the Albemarle Sound. We heard words like,"Rough", "Treacherous", "Nasty", "Ugly". Well, this is our home waters and where we learned to sail. We had, naively, attacked these steep, snotty waves in a 22 foot Catalina Capri named 'Lagniappe' when we were much dumber sailors. The experience and education has been helpful.

Once we make the turn east from the Alligator River, we can, pretty much, see home. It is a straight run into the markers at Colington. Of course, if you have read this blog, you know there is not much water for a big boat like SeaClearly in the last 500 yards getting home. We took off some keel paint getting to the inlet and, I believe, may have dredged a new path into the harbor. We took a hard shot on the mud mid-channel that pitched the boat forward. Only our following bow-wake lifted us enough to clear the hump and drift inside. A rather unceremonious arrival but we were in the Harbour, safe, floating and headed for our canal. A few minutes later we were docked. Which used to be a daunting venture but seems routine now.

What a tremendous feeling! This trip was a stretch for us. You can never be sure how an adventure like this will play out. The time, money and emotion that you invest is all at risk. What if you hate it? What if the two of us can't handle this big boat? What if you get out there and you are too scared to go on? What if? What if? What if? All those 'what ifs' are behind us now. We did it, we loved it, we will be back.

We have started unloading the boat, will start today making the maintenance task-list and, probably, start talking about the next adventure. In the mean time, we have friends and family to catch up with, the ease and comfort of house-living to look forward to, and Spring in the Outer Banks. We're home Roux!
We miss our baby. We know he would be glad to be home.

Friday, April 11, 2014

St Mary's to Southport

We left our Cumberland Island anchorage on Tuesday, April 8 at 9:45 am. We had been checking the weather for days and just sitting at anchor. It is a very pleasant spot - made for 'just sitting'. We read more books. I read 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens. Sadly, I had to admit that I had read it as an English Lit assignment over 40 years ago. How can that be true? Junie then started to read it but decided it would be easier if I just told her the story. So, in the dark, in the cockpit, at anchor, I recapped the entire book which probably took longer than reading it since there are so many characters and twisted turns. Turns out, you have a lot of free time at anchor for five days.

SeaClearly at Cumberland Island.
Before the rains came.
Since last week, we had expected a weather window Tuesday - Thursday sometime. After all the evaluation, we decided that early Tuesday was the target. Monday night it was raining, storming and blowing. A selection of electronics went into the oven for lightening protection. We twisted around on our anchor as the wind and current competed for position. The current in Cumberland Island is not insignificant as the 6 foot tide comes and goes. When the wind is opposite or crossways to the flow, you get all sorts of strange positions - anchor chain under the keel, boat sideways to the anchor, anchor snubber stretched taut (the snubber takes the load off of the windlass and distributes it to the bow cleats on the boat), anchor snubber slack and hanging.

We woke up Tuesday morning to pouring rain. Radar showed that it should be moving away in a few hours. We got onto Chris Parker's weather webcast and posed our question to him. "We are planning to leave shortly to sail north from St Mary's GA to Cape Fear. Good sailing? Advice?" After an hour of hearing advice to cruisers in Antigua, Barbados, DR, BVIs and the windward islands (Carib hour, I guess), Chris finally got to us. He looked over our path and came to the same conclusion we had - leave right after the rain clears, be ready for some wind halfway through the trip off the coast of South Carolina followed by settled weather into Cape Fear. Thumbs up! We wanted to ride the tide out of St Mary's inlet so, instead of waiting for the rain to stop, we picked up the anchor in the pouring rain. Our foul-weather gear got a chance to do its job and we stayed warm and dry. We slid out through the inlet on smooth seas, into the ocean and turned north for another two night offshore run. Cool stuff.

Once the rain stopped, the skies cleared nicely and soon we were motorsailing along - because, naturally, the wind died behind the passing storm. No worries, it would come back later. We took advantage of the day and had a peaceful lunch (pre-made chicken salad), a wonderful dinner (pre-made shrimp gumbo and sweet potatoes) and got set for the night run.

For us, that means reducing sail to our staysail and double-reefed main. We have ignored this protocol once previously and gotten caught by the wind in the middle of the night. Lesson learned. We rig the boat for running, inside and out - strapping everything down, stow it, put it away. We always, always, always wear our PFDs (lifejackets) and tethers. And, especially when out on watch alone, tether to 2 points. We can't afford to lose any crew members. We did all this, watched a beautiful sunset over mild seas at around 8:00 pm. Junie wanted the eight-to-midnight shift so I went into the cabin to sleep. Lulled by the sound of the motor, I was asleep in minutes (as usual). I didn't sleep long, though. The motor rpm dropping to idle woke me up. I went to see what was going on and came out of the hatch into a very different night.

Foul weather fashion show
Junie at the helm.
SeaCearly was heeled over to 15 - 20 degrees, wind blowing 20+ knots and a beam sea rolling us along. I guess it was good that we shortened sail earlier. Junie was under control so I just played with the sails a bit and went back to sleep - wedged in between pillows on the downhill side of the V-berth. We would end up staying at this angle for the next 15 hours. I came out at midnight (maybe a little after) and had my 4 hours of rolling, watching for ships and correcting course. Horatio (our autopilot) takes the brunt of the steering load - which is considerable when dealing with the rolling seas. So, in the dark, you check the charts, routinely scan the horizon for lights and check the AIS for targets (especially big targets that are going fast). We have gotten much more proficient with our radar, which was such a mystery to us in our early days with SeaClearly. We can confirm the big targets, locate markers in the dark and recognize little boats that you can't see at all. We can mark the radar blobs as targets and track their movement in reference to us. All of this is extremely comforting while rolling around in the dark.

Note the SOG of 9.0 KTS. Also note the vessel
SV Harvey Gamage. She is a 101 ft sailing
training ship out of Maine. We saw her back
in Fernandina Beach, Florida with a crew
of about 25 kids just returning from a trip
to the Caribbean. She entered Charleston
in the morning.
Junie came back out at 4:00 am and it was still pretty active. I stayed out in the cockpit and slept huddled up in the corner in my weather gear, gloves and boots. The wind howled at 25 knots and gusting higher. SeaClearly, as always, just handled it. She just said, "I got this y'all. Just sit tight". And we did. As the wind increased, SeaClearly would heel over hard - but only to a point. Then she would just hold that angle and pick up speed. It is a beautiful thing to see. At one point, we were making 9 knots speed-over-ground. The water rushing by, the waves slapping the sides and the occasional incoming spray made for an interesting night. Just for the record, we were off the coast of north Georgia and South Carolina. Pretty much as expected, weather-wise.

The sun rose in pinks and reds (not a bad omen in this case) and we sailed almost the entire day with a much-settled ocean and 10 - 18 knots of wind - actually from a direction we could use. Just a wonderful day. We sailed past Charleston, roughly halfway through this trip, without stopping. No shrimp and grits this time. On to Cape Fear.

Night Two. Exact opposite. The wind died. I mean died. Sometime after dark, the ocean went glassy and stayed that way all nightlong. Sunrise was incredible. The reflection of Venus was dancing on a smooth, red-orange sea as the sun came up. Out on the ocean, on a day like this, you get to see that 'nautical twilight' really is about an hour before sunrise. You can see everything and it is amazing.

We, of course, had to go back to motoring and kept making good time toward the Cape Fear inlet. We adjusted our speed to get us there at slack-before-flood tide at 1:14 pm. It was easy to keep the schedule and, I swear, we passed the markers exactly on time.

Southport Marina from SeaClearly
We pulled into Southport Marina for two nights. Back in North Carolina. We were at anchor in Cumberland Island for 4 nights and then offshore for 2 nights so we are due for a stop. Southport is a nice town with that seaport, fishing village attraction. We met another Chocolate Lab named Roux - the only other one we have ever seen - on the next dock. That prompted another round of tears. We will do more exploring of Southport today. From here, we will start counting down the miles to make it home.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two nights offshore, no incoming fire

Sitting at anchor. Cumberland Island, Georgia. We followed our plan for leaving Stuart and starting north. We left the marina there on March 31 and moved up the ICW about 26 miles to Fort Pierce. It was an easy trip but we had not moved the boat in a while so it was a good re-initiation cruise. Especially given the more ambitious nature of our next planned leg of the journey. Best to make sure everything, including us, still works.

There is an easy anchorage in Fort Pierce just to the south and east of the bridge that would allow us an easy escape for the next day at noon - slack tide before ebb. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, very little traffic and a great view of the condos. Actually, the condos were pretty nice. It was a very quiet evening.

We have been accustomed to immediately splashing the dinghy to get Roux ashore when we reach an anchorage. We miss him a lot and would gladly have done that again. We are thinking about naming the dinghy Roux so we can keep saying "Come on, let's get Roux to shore!'

At 11:00 am on Sunday we couldn't sit anymore so we started weighing the anchor. We motored under the bridge and out into an ocean that was as calm as a lake. Our plan was to spend the next 48 hours sailing north to the top of Florida. This is two overnights and the longest trip we have done. The weather window was stable, mild and, at least, three days long so we couldn't pass it up. We, once again, did a good bit of motorsailing. The wind was light and variable from behind us so we weren't getting much push. It did allow the engine to just idle along and keep us moving at just over 5 knots - which was the speed we needed to hit our destination at St Mary's Inlet at sunrise on Thursday.

The ocean was beautiful. We saw a sea turtle, dolphins, a school of rampaging tuna, a tarpon leaping out of the water and US Coast Guard gunnery exercises with live fire. Yeah, that last one was interesting. Junie had spotted some tracers on Tuesday night during her night shift. On Wednesday evening, the Coast Guard actually issued a statement on the radio regarding the gunnery exercises and cautioned all vessels to remain 12 nautical miles away from the location. As I listened, I compared the given latitude and longitude to our position. Hold on, that is our position! We hailed the Coast Guard and said, 'Hey look, we are sitting right where you said you will being shooting starting in 5 minutes. We are in a sailboat and won't be 12 miles away any time soon. Please advise?". The female USCG voice didn't seem too concerned and told us they would see us and tell us if we needed to move. Thanks.

Oh, we saw them and they saw us. One of the helicopters did a high-speed, low pass right over us in the growing dark with that downward facing spotlight right on us. I am sure that would be a welcome sight under some other circumstances. They stayed several mile east of us in the ocean but we could see them out there in the dark.

Our other Coast Guard interaction involved a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that wouldn't talk to us. Once again while Junie was on night watch, our AIS indicated a potentially dangerous situation (like, us crushed in the dark ocean) with this vessel. After repeatedly hailing them and being ignored, Junie took matters into her own hands and called the Coast Guard to report the situation. The Coast Guard called the ship and, surprisingly, they answered immediately. Courses were adjusted and disaster avoided. Later that night, when I was on watch, I had to call a cargo ship to confirm our passing arrangement and they answered immediately and were very polite. I wondered if they had overheard the earlier conversations and wanted to avoid a USCG handslapping.

Other than those events, it was a very mild trip. We reached St. Mary's Inlet, exactly when we planned, as the sun was rising. As we started through the approach, I heard the engine rpm waver just a little. It never does that. This engine has been solid as a rock since day one. So, I heeded the inner voice, pulled over in the calm water just north of the markers and switched our Racor fuel filters to the known-good stand-by. Started back up, waver gone. Hmm. Looks like I have a new maintenance task when we land.

We went directly into Fernandina Harbor Marina, fueled up and then moved to a spot inside the face dock for a one night stay. All of the usual cruiser stuff - water, laundry, showers, internet. We met several folks arriving who had also just completed 2 day offshore runs from various places. Crazy. Vic and Kathy on Chantebrise II are thinking of heading north along the same route we are looking at so we will stay in touch with them.

We spent our one night of marina dollars and then moved here to Cumberland Island. We stayed here last year on the way down. Then, there were 25 boats in the anchorage. This time, there are 5. One of which is another Cabo Rico - a 38 out of Beaufort, NC.

Sorry for the lack of pictures but we are burning Verizon hotspot data so just try to picture us lounging on deck, polishing stainless steel boat parts, walking through the maritime forest to the beach and missing our dog. Good boy, Roux!