Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in Lake Worth, FL

Wednesday, December 15 - Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Do you ever have those days when you wonder where the time has gone? It's hitting us that we've been here in Lake Worth (Palm Beach, FL, for you landlubbers) for two weeks. We fully expected to be in the Bahamas by Christmas, but somehow we still find ourselves here. Not to worry, Lake Worth is a great place to be "stuck" while waiting on a weather window. There's a dinghy beach nearby, which is just a couple of blocks from grocery, drug, and liquor stores in Palm Beach Gardens. You can also catch a bus to the Gardens Mall nearby, or walk to our new favorite shop, Carmine's Gourmet Market.

We actually arrived at the Lake Worth anchorage on December 15th. We made fantastic time from Fort Pierce, and even managed to get through the four timed bridges without having to wait. If you haven't made the Fort Pierce-to-Lake Worth run, there are ten bridges along the 54nm route. The first six are high-rises or open-on-demand bascules, but the last four really test a sailor's patience. They open on a set schedule, and are spaced in such a way that most sailboats need to really gun the engine to make it through. If you aren't at the bridge at its scheduled opening time, you don't go through until the next opening (typically 30 minutes later). Don't even THINK about asking the bridge-tenders to hold the bridge for you! It can actually get kind of dangerous, given that boats are racing to get from one bridge to another, and sometimes get too close to their neighbors. There were a couple of instances where we had to put on the "brakes" (hard-reverse) because someone ahead of us had to slow down quickly for another passing boat. Fortunately we found ourselves at the end of a 10-boat caravan a few miles out of Lake Worth; as long as we kept up with the end of the pack, we could sneak through the bridges with everyone else.

The anchorage was fairly quiet when we arrived, thanks to a two-day weather window that had everyone running for an off-shore jump to the Abacos. As much as we wanted to be Bahamas-bound with them, we had a few things to do in Palm Beach before we could head out. Rene had a date with our water-maker guy for a warranty repair job, and we were anxiously awaiting Tux's authorization papers from the Bahamas. In the meantime, we bought even more provisions at the local Publix (still love those two-for-ones!) and walked to the ever-so-chic Gardens Mall. Our friends, LA and Susan, arrived a day after we did, so we knew we'd be in good company for however long we ended up being here.

As everyone probably knows, there's been some crazy weather around the country for the past couple of weeks. Even Florida had hard-freeze warnings, with temps in the low-to-mid 20s the first few days we were here. Strong northerly winds meant that no one in his right mind would be crossing the Gulf Stream, and our anchorage saw more and more boats pile in over the next few days. We headed down to Riviera Beach Marina on the 22nd, where we had the water maker serviced and were able to get Tux to a local vet (his papers finally arrived - he's legal for the Bahamas!). We were back in the anchorage Thursday afternoon, and made holiday plans with LA
& Susan for a Christmas Eve brunch aboard Genesis and Christmas dinner on Pipe Muh Bligh. We got a welcome surprise soon after we returned to the anchorage, as Jim and Laurie on Kismet arrived and dropped the hook next to us. We'd first met them on Sojourner in Annapolis over Labor Day, and saw them again in October at the Deltaville Boat Yard. We had no idea they'd be in Lake Worth, and were happy they could join us for the holidays. In the world of cruising, when we're far away from our families for the holidays, it's all about spending time with good friends. Thanks to Genesis and Kismet for sharing Christmas with us!

Remember that crazy weather we mentioned earlier? Well, a front blew through the area the day after Christmas that effectively made us prisoners on our boats for a day and a half. We had sustained winds of 25-30kts on Sunday, with gusts of 35-40kts. Luckily, only one boat had to re-anchor (granted, it took him three tries) and our own anchor held steady. Thanks to modern technology in the form of SSB calls with Sol Mate and Facebook updates from Sojourner, Civil Twilight, and Thate Wate, we also knew that our friends in the Bahamas were about to get hit by the same front. Fortunately everyone was able to find a hidey-hole, and they all made it through safely - albeit with a bit of rockin' and rollin', we're sure.

It looks like our days of waiting may finally be at an end. We've finally spotted a potential window for a Gulf Stream crossing, thanks to a block of days with south-easterly/southerly winds. We'll leave Wednesday evening for an overnight offshore run to Miami, and will sit it out in the Venetian Causeway until Sunday or Monday. We'll keep a close eye on the 5+ weather forecast sources we use, and hope that they'll come to an agreement in the next few days. Fingers crossed...we may actually be in the Bahamas by this time next week!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reaching Fort Pierce, FL: Days 4 & 5

Saturday, December 11 – Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome to Fort Pierce, FL! Fort Pierce is a great stop-over on the way to Lake Worth, particularly because our friends, LA and Susan from Genesis, are in a marina here getting some boat work done. We haven’t seen them since our stop in Fernandina Beach last fall, and are excited to spend some time with them. We arrived here Sunday morning after two more days in the ICW. We cruised through pea soup-like fog on Saturday morning and ended up in a pretty little anchorage behind a spoil island south of Melbourne. The cruising guide warned that the island could be busy with locals on weekends, but we figured no one would be crazy enough to brave the 25 degree overnight temps. Wrong! There were two tents on the island with a bunch of people in party mode. One boat left around sunset, but the group from the second boat stuck it out and spent the night on the island. Brrrr!

We left our little spoil island at sunrise Sunday morning. A cold front was expected to blow through, and the winds picked up to 25-30kts around 10am. Other than a few 35-knot gusts that pushed us over, we had an easy 40-mile run to Fort Pierce and dropped the hook off of Harbortown Marina around 2pm. We had a bit of excitement in the anchorage as we arrived, thanks to a local boat that had dragged into the channel. The local sheriff boat tried to reset the anchor, and finally short-scoped the line to keep it out of the ICW. Given the fact that this boat was about 100’ from us, we decided to keep a close eye on it! Tow Boat US soon came out to the boat with the owner on board, and the boat was re-anchored closer to the bridge. The sheriff’s department asked us to notify the coast guard (or call 911) if any boats started dragging into the channel again, and they were on their way. A couple of hours later, a strong gust sent another boat dragging, and soon two of our unmanned neighbor boats were tangled up bow to stern. We called the USCG as requested, but since the boats were out of the channel, no one came to do anything. We eventually felt comfortable that nothing else would start moving, and went ashore for a grocery run and a quick hello with friends LA and Susan.

The next morning, the tangled boats had freed themselves, and one of the two began heading for the channel. We called the coast guard again, and they apparently sent the local sheriff boat to the rescue. What did they do? They grounded the boat on a sandbar outside of the marina and on a rising tide, ahead of all the boats in the anchorage. Guess where the prevailing winds were coming from…yep, from that same direction. It took about 20 minutes (just long enough for the sheriff’s boat to disappear) before that boat began moving again. This time, it made its way through the anchorage and headed straight for us! Rene ran topside to grab a couple of fenders, knowing there was only so much we could do to avoid a collision. We lucked out at the last minute, when Pipe swung on her anchor and the boat passed by with about 30’ to spare. Rene was immediately on the horn with the sheriff’s office again, who assured him that they were working on it at that very minute. Uh huh, sure. Long story short: the boat eventually crossed the channel on its own and grounded on the other side of the ICW. No one ever came to deal with it again, but at least it could no longer endanger any boats in the anchorage.

That evening, Susan and LA invited us over for dinner aboard Genesis. We were about 50’ from their boat when our dinghy engine died. Oops! Apparently we had water in the carburetor again, and the engine died each time Rene put it in gear. He was finally able to jerry-rig the engine enough to get us to Genesis, and we managed to forget about it while we enjoyed Susan’s delicious veal scaloppini and caught up on the past year. Rene got the engine started again long enough to get us back to Pipe, and thankfully it didn’t die until we were within arm’s reach of the boat...literally. :-)

Tuesday morning was spent tearing apart the carburetor, and Rene had the outboard up and running again in time for lunch with LA & Susan (plus the local marina cats). An after-lunch grocery run ended with happy hour aboard Genesis, and it was nearly 8pm before we looked at our watches. We raced back to Pipe to make dinner and prep for our departure the next morning. Stacy started the generator and got dinner going while Rene raised the dinghy; suddenly, Rene was racing down the stairs to shut off the gen. Massive overheating! Thank goodness he’d heard something “funny” from outside and was able to shut down the gen before we killed another impeller. The culprit? A jellyfish in the strainer. Yuck! Rene decided to check the main engine strainer while he was in the bilge…and found a 3-inch (very dead) fish. Double yuck!

We’ll be leaving early Wednesday morning for the 50-mile trip down to Lake Worth (North Palm Beach). We have some minor boat work and provisioning to get done, plus a trip to the vet for Tux. We’ll likely be there through early next week, at which time we’ll run offshore to Miami to stage in Dinner Key. Bahamas, here we come!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Southbound in the ICW: Days 1, 2, & 3

Wednesday, December 8 - Friday, December 10, 2010

Do you remember how we said we wanted to do a 2-day offshore run from Fernandina to Lake Worth/Palm Beach? Well, Mother Nature apparently decided that we were being too aggressive. We planned to jump offshore Wednesday morning, but a last look at the weather forecast scared us off. 20-30kts of wind, 4-6' seas building to 6-8' plus a 2' northerly swell on top of that, with a 6-second period between the waves. Big waves are one thing; big, closely-spaced waves are a different animal altogether!

So, into "the ditch" we go. We aren't exactly thrilled that our 50-hour trip to Lake Worth has turned into a 6-day voyage, but there's something to be said for calm seas and not having to clean up after a seasick kitty! We've also had three days of low temps in the upper 20s, which would've made for a miserable couple of overnights. On the positive side, the tides have been with us so far, and we managed to travel 65 miles to an anchorage south of St. Augustine on Day 1. As Rene said, it was a good ICW day - we didn't ground and only scraped one bridge! (Fortunately, it was only the VHF antenna.)

Day 2 turned out to be just as uneventful. After being passed by three power boats early on, we had the waterway to ourselves. Our only real excitement came near Mantazas Inlet, where our cruising guide warned of shoals and plenty of groundings. Nothing like being told by the chart plotter that we’re traveling on land! Truth be told, we never saw less than 12’. Note to selves: Linkno matter what the chart says, always trust the markers. We’ve again been lucky with tides, and our 6.5+ knot boat speed has brought us to the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach much earlier than planned. It’s a good thing, too, since we’ve discovered a leak coming from…uhhh…”somewhere”. The bilge pump began coming on half-way into Day 1, and while we initially thought it was our water tank leak again, Rene has since determined that it’s salt water…as in “outside water is somehow coming into the boat”. Nooooo! After taking everything out of the lazarette, Rene found the source and was able to fix the problem. Disaster averted…other than having a heck of a clean-up job ahead of us. We spent the rest of the day checking out the city’s rejuvenation of Beach Street in downtown Daytona, followed by a stop at the local West Marine (as a marina neighbor said after seeing our WM bags, “you’ve been to church!”). We couldn’t find a grocery store nearby, but discovered – thanks to Trip Advisor and Google – a fantastic Italian restaurant less than a mile from the marina. If you’re ever in Daytona Beach, PLEASE go to Don Vito’s on Int’l Speedway Blvd. It’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor’s list of Daytona restaurants, and for good reason. The owners, Barbara and Jimmy, are incredibly warm, friendly hosts. How often do you go into a restaurant and get to have a real conversation with the folks running the place? It’s a true “family joint” in every sense of the word (their sons even do much of the cooking), and everything is home-made using fresh ingredients. The marinara recipe has been in Jimmy’s family for five generations, and there are so many mouth-watering dishes on the menu that you want to order a second meal to take home. We started with the garlic knots: think of golf ball-sized knots of dough, oven-baked and served with garlic-infused olive oil and marinara sauce. YUMMY! Our main dishes were lasagna made with tender, homemade pasta, and the owners’ favorite recipe, Boscaiola Alla Don Vito, with meat sauce, peas, and mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! The portions were huge and the prices were incredibly reasonable. Don Vito’s has only been open for four months, but they’ve already got a strong following thanks to local word of mouth and some great online reviews. While we were there, two young guys came in because they’d been told that Don Vito’s had “the best pizza in Daytona Beach”…very useful in a town with three colleges! We had such a fun evening talking to Jimmy and Barbara, and wish them continued success. They certainly deserve it!

Day 3 has begun with a bit of a surprise – RAIN. It poured overnight, and showers have continued to pass through the area. We got out of the marina and into the ICW by 7:30am, and were amazed to find ourselves passing three trawlers traveling together (it turns out one had a mechanical problem, so all were taking it slowly). The skies cleared by mid-morning, and we saw an incredible double rainbow behind us as we reached Ponce Inlet. The wildlife has been out in full force, with rare white pelicans in Mosquito Lagoon and random dolphin sightings throughout the day (I borrowed this pelican shot from Google). It’s apparently too late in the season for manatees in the Hanover Canal (we saw dozens of them last fall), but we may get to see them in Fort Pierce or Lake Worth. We’ve again made great time, and managed to get through the NASA Causeway Bridge before rush hour – very important since it shuts down for 90 minutes! We’re anchored on the south side of the bridge, and have 80 miles to go to reach Fort Pierce. It’s too much for a single day, so we’ll break it up over the weekend and should arrive by Sunday. We’re hoping to hook up with friends LA and Susan from Genesis in Fort Pierce, and will likely be more than ready for a “rest day” (read “non-travel day”) by then. That should put us in Lake Worth on Tuesday or Wednesday, where we’ll get some water-maker maintenance done and will continue on to Dinner Key, Miami.

We’ve learned that our friends Rick and Linda on Sojourner and Alan and Gerri on Civil Twilight have both made the jump from Lake Worth to the Abacos. We’re really sorry we didn’t get to see them before they left, but hope they had a safe voyage and that we’ll meet again somewhere surrounded by blue water. Carryn, Brandon, and Bella from Sol Mate are in Dinner Key now, and we may make it down there before they jump over to the Exumas. If not, we’ll just have to catch up with them further south. We’re also excited to see our old Kemah neighbors, Deana and Troy, who are starting their cruising adventure this month along with another Kemah friend, Steve. We’re meeting up with them in the Exumas as well, and plan to buddy boat through the Bahamas and Caribbean over the next few months. Can’t wait!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Back in Fernandina Beach, FL

Sunday, November 21 - Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Yep, we've finally made it to Fernandina, our top spot for leaving the boat whenever we have places to go and people to see. This time it's a "road trip" to Houston, TX, where we still have 25 boxes of wine sitting in a friend's closet. We're hoping to leave the boat on a mooring ball, get a rental car on Wednesday, attend the St. Mary's Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday, and drive to Houston on Friday. One possible catch...our friends from Civil Twilight arrived in St. Mary's a few days before us, and have heard that Fernandina's moorings have been full all week. We'll anchor out if we have to, but we'd feel a whole lot safer leaving Pipe secured to a mooring ball since we'll be gone for five days.

We left Beaufort Sunday morning for the 125nm trip to Fernandina Beach, FL. NOAA forecasted light winds and 2-3' seas, so imagine our surprise when we had 3-5' seas on the beam. At least NOAA got the "light winds" part right - they were too light to put a sail up, so we bounced left to right...left to right...all night. Good thing we aren't prone to sea-sickness! We arrived at the St. Mary's inlet in time to ride the current up the channel (8 knots, baby!); the gods must've been smiling on us after our rough overnight, because the marina had a single mooring ball available when we called at 7:15am. The trip was definitely starting out right!

We spent a couple of days working on boat projects, and picked up our minivan for the Houston trip on Wednesday afternoon. Talk about luxury! We'd rented the van hoping we'd have enough room to bring back the remaining 25 boxes of wine, but had no idea it would be so spacious. The second and third rows (seats) folded into the floor, leaving what amounted to an incredibly comfortable cargo van. Captain's chairs, satellite radio, cruise control...even his and hers temperature controls. Heaven! The only problem with our impromptu Houston trip was our food supply; we'd already begun freezing fresh meats for the Bahamas (including 4lbs of chicken breasts), and couldn't leave them on board for five days with no way to re-charge the batteries. Our refrigerator and freezer would have to be turned off while we were gone, meaning we'd have to get rid of as much food as we could. We vowed to eat every meal on board until we left, and the remaining items were used up thanks to some creative menu-ing. Stacy came up with a Moroccan couscous salad for the Thanksgiving potluck to use up some of our chicken, and Brandon and Carryn from Sol Mate joined us for a lemon chicken & asparagus dinner after arriving in Fernandina on Wednesday. The last of the freezer contents were used to make meals for the road, and we were finally able to shut down the freezer.

On Thursday morning, Brandon, Carryn, and Bella joined us in the minivan for the drive to St. Mary's. St. Mary's is famous in the boating world for hosting a Thanksgiving feast for cruisers, which has been held every year for the past ten years. Local volunteers make enough turkeys and hams to feed the 100 or so boats filling the harbor, and visiting cruisers bring all of the sides. A local waterfront hotel/restaurant provides the setting, and people can bring their own dishes, wine, and table decorations if they want to make it even more festive. Gerri and Alan invited us aboard Civil Twilight for a pre-dinner refreshment (fantastic bloody mary's, Gerri!), after which we joined the masses waiting in line for the 1pm dinner bell. We walked through the double doors to find two long tables lined with every dish you could imagine, plus rolls, sweet breads, and desserts spread out over the bar. After piling heaps of food onto our plates, we found our places at the table that Alan had reserved for us. The weather was gorgeous, and we sat outside in the sunshine with Brandon and Carryn, Alan and Gerri, and Ed and Sue from Angel Louise. The atmosphere was a lot like last year's Christmas celebration in the Jib Room in Marsh Harbor, magnified to about 300 people. The people of St. Mary's were incredible, and we can't thank them enough for sharing their hospitality with so many cruisers who often find themselves away from family and friends over the holidays.

We got an early start Friday morning, dropping Tux off at the kennel before continuing on towards Houston. We took turns driving every two hours, and got an extra hour of sunlight thanks to the change in time zones. By 3:30pm, we realized that we could make it to Houston in one day if we pushed it; we called friends Donna and Steve to see if they minded having house guests a day earlier than planned, and made it to their place by 9:00 that night. We were thoroughly exhausted, but happy to have made it to Houston. 900 miles in 14 hours...priceless!

The weekend was a whirlwind of errands and visits. We had tea with our "Houston parents", Dave and Sheila, made a run down the international food aisle at Fiesta (adobe peppers in chipotle sauce...you know that'll be good in something!), and had sushi with Donna and Steve, Jennifer, and Chris and Katya and their girls at Redfish Saturday night. Sunday we celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary over quiche and mimosas with Donna and Steve. Stacy got to see Bridget, her friend from Continental, over coffee at Starbucks, and we managed to get a few more hard-to-find provisions at the monster HEB near Donna and Steve's. (That's still got to be the best grocery store in the world!) We made it to John and Bonnie's that afternoon in time to watch John fill his newest toy - a blown-glass liqueur dispenser from Eastern Europe - and were thrilled that Gary, Deborah, Kraig, and Heidi could all stop by for a visit. We even cracked open a few good bottles of wine...hey, the more we had there, the less we'd have to fit on the boat!

Thanks to John and Bonnie's help, it only took us a half-hour to load the wine into the van Monday morning. We were on the road before 9am, and drove for 10.5 hours before stopping in Marianna, FL, for the night. We managed to arrive in Fernandina shortly after noon, and moved the boat to the fuel dock to load our wine and provisions aboard Pipe. The alternative would've meant a lot of trips back and forth in the dinghy - not an attractive proposition, especially with winds blowing 15-20kts that day! It's a good thing we loaded the wine when we did, because the winds increased to 30kts overnight. Rene was on the bow at 2am adding a second line to the mooring ball while Stacy gunned the engine against the waves. The winds continued to blow throughout the next day, and the 30 degree temps reminded us how much we wanted to get south. Unfortunately we now find ourselves in a waiting game; we still have a few packages that are being sent to the marina here, but they aren't supposed to arrive until Monday (12/6). We had hoped to be in Lake Worth by then, but the weather forecast looks awful for an offshore jump until the middle of next week. In the meantime, we'll enjoy a few of our hot spots in Fernandina: O'Kane's Irish Pub, Indigo Alley, and 29 South. Who knows - we may even run down to St. Augustine via the ICW if we get tired of staying here waiting on weather. We've learned that quite a few of our boating friends are in the Ft. Pierce/Lake Worth/Ft. Lauderdale area waiting for a weather window to cross over the the Bahamas. We're anxious to get down there to join them! Til next time...

Pictures with this Blog chapter:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tourist Time Again in Beaufort, SC

Tuesday, November 9 - Saturday, November 20, 2010
We've finally made it to warmer temperatures! We're back in our favorite southern town, Beaufort, South Carolina. In all, we spent nearly a month here last year and couldn't wait to stop in again.

We left the inlet of Southport, NC, at noon on Tuesday. Brandon on Sol Mate talked to another boat that had had done an outside run from Beaufort, NC ("Bo-fort", as opposed to our "Bew-fort"), the previous night; as predicted, seas were incredibly rough and the boat was beaten up pretty badly. We held our breath as we got into open waters, and were amazed by how calm it was. The winds weren't even strong enough (or in the right direction) to put the sails up, but we'd much rather have to motor than get pounded by 7' seas. We set a couple of waypoints, activated the auto-pilot track function, and curled up in the cockpit for the 40-hour trip down. Buddy-boating with Sol Mate made the trip go much faster, and we had an easy first night in the Atlantic.

The winds picked up early Wednesday morning, and we were able to raise the sails and shut down the engine. Only one problem - we had miscalculated the distance from Southport to Beaufort and were now scheduled to reach the inlet around midnight. Not wanting to maneuver a channel and the 20-mile trip upriver in the dark, we tried to slow Pipe down enough for a sunrise arrival. Easier said than done! We took down the main and still ran 4+ knots on the jib alone. We needed to go 3-3.5kts to get in at daybreak and just couldn't do it. The winds died that evening, and we tried to idle forward in confused seas. It made for a very uncomfortable ride, and we were still doing 3 knots! We finally put the boat in gear as slowly as she would go and arrived at the Port Royal inlet at 2:45am. Sol Mate continued on to the Savannah inlet while we did a 4-mile wide doughnut off the coast. We passed our first channel markers as the sky began to lighten at 6am and finally reached the Beaufort anchorage at 10am. A caravan of boats passed us as we came in, and we had our pick of the anchorage. Oh, and the temperature? Mid-70s!

If you happened to read our blog last year, you already know that Beaufort, SC, is a great place for cruisers. There's a huge anchorage just south of the downtown marina; you can leave your dinghy at a free dock off the marina parking lot, use the marina showers for $1, and use their laundry facilities. The marina is in the heart of downtown, so it's an easy walk to shops, restaurants, beautiful antebellum homes in the historic district, and of course, our favorite bar, Hemingway's. After a much-needed nap, some laundry, and an even more needed hot shower, we walked through town (donned in shorts and capris, no less) and stopped in at Hem's. Cherrie was still bartending (yay!) and warmly welcomed us back. We chatted with her and a few of the locals, and made plans with Brandon and Carryn to meet in Savannah over the weekend. Dinner was a take-out chicken-pesto-lemon pizza and Caesar salad from Panini's Cafe next door, and we were in bed by 8:30pm. Overnight passages take a lot out of us. :-)

Friday we were much more rested and were ready to take on the town. (Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but we certainly felt more lively after an 11-hour sleep!) We picked up our rental car - which ended up being an F-150 4X4 extended cab getting 16mpg...more on that later - and arranged for weekly parking in a lot two blocks from the marina. After a quick grocery run, we headed back to the boat and were stopped en route by our neighbors, Gerri and Alan, on Civil Twilight. We'd recognized their boat name and were trying to figure out where we'd heard of them. It turns out they're friends with both Rick and Linda on Sojourner AND Dave and Lisa on Hullaballoo. As a matter of fact, Gerri and Alan stopped in to see Hullaballoo not long after we'd been there, and Dave and Lisa told them to keep an eye out for us as they headed south. They invited us aboard Civil Twilight for an impromptu happy hour, and we really enjoyed getting to know them. (Author's note: Civil Twilight is an absolutely gorgeous boat, and you can even charter her for your own sailing adventure!) After making plans to meet up in St. Mary's, GA, for the big Thanksgiving shindig, we dinghied over to Hemingways's to watch Sparky Jones perform. Sparky is Cherrie's husband, and this was the first time we'd heard him play. Damn, he's good! Cherrie and Sparky have cruised through the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, and Sparky has played gigs all over the place. Rumor has it they may even head back to the Exumas this winter...fingers crossed for them!

We spent Saturday provisioning and were completely sick of looking at food by the end of the day. What a great excuse to go out for dinner at our favorite Beaufort spot, Emily's! We started off sharing a bowl of their she-crab soup, and dove into a mound of tappas...pancetta-wrapped shrimp with Peaches Foster, lobster ravioli, bacon-wrapped scallops, wild boar sausage, and garlic tenderloin tips. We got all of our old favorites and left absolutely stuffed. Our waiter told us that Emily's owner has recently bought another restaurant on Lady's Island (across the river from Beaufort), and we're sure it'll be as big of a hit as Emily's is.

Sunday we drove down to Savannah to meet up with Carryn and Brandon on Sol Mate. We wandered along the Savannah waterfront, made a provisioning run to Sam's Club, and spent the evening enjoying happy hour with their neighbors, Theresa and George, on Bejaysus. Carryn and Brandon made dinner for us on Sol Mate, and Rene managed to beat the crap out of all of us playing Yahtzee. No fair! We had a terrific weekend with them, and may get to buddy-boat with them again on the jump to Fernandina Beach. Our return trip on Monday included a stop at our local Enterprise office. We've used Enterprise exclusively since leaving TX anytime we needed to rent a car, and have always been pleased with their service. Beaufort was the exception... After waiting for nearly an hour for a pick-up, we were given a truck instead of our intermediate car - a monster pick-up that we absolutely did NOT want ("but it's an upgrade!"). The agent swore we were at the top of his "priority list" for a car, and told us to expect a call back from him Friday afternoon or Saturday morning at the latest. Our call to the agent on Saturday was not returned, nor were our two calls Monday morning. Heck with this - we finally showed up on his doorstep on our way back from Savannah. The agent did not look at all happy to see us, but we finally got a Toyota Corolla with decent gas mileage in time for our big road trip...

Tuesday we were on the road again (poor Tux!), this time to Greenville, SC, to Visit our friends, John & Ginger, from Be Leaving. We hadn't seen them since our Charleston stop on the way north in May, and were excited to catch up and see how life on the hard was treating them. Since we still had the rental car, we also decided to look for a few shops along the way for additional provisioning. Jackpot! We found a two-mile stretch of shops not far from John and Ginger, and managed to make 9 stops in 2 hours...as Rene calls it, "man-shopping". The trunk was full and the credit card was tired, but we felt incredibly productive by the time we reached John and Ginger's house. We spent the afternoon catching up with Ginger, and John joined us from work in time for happy hour. John made an incredible dinner that night, and we all crashed early to be up in time for our trip to Asheville, NC, the following morning.

So what's in Asheville, you might ask? Welcome to Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America. Biltmore was the dream child of George W. Vanderbilt, who built the house in 1895. Originally sitting on 125,000 acres, the house would contain 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. It remained a private home until 1930, when Biltmore was opened to the public to raise money for maintenance and to bring tourism to the area during the Great Depression. The tour now takes you through about 40 of the mansion's 225 rooms, including the banquet hall (complete with 40' Christmas tree), owners' bedrooms, guest quarters, a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool, a 10,000-volume library (containing one of Napoleon Bonaparte's own chess sets), and servants' quarters. We were in for a special treat this time of year, as Biltmore was dressed to the nines for the holidays. Colorful trees, candles, lights, wreaths, and fresh flowers decorated every room. If only we could've taken photos inside... :-) We followed up the house tour with a walk around Antler Hill Village, home of gift shops, restaurants, the Biltmore Legacy exhibit, a winery, and Cedric's Tavern. On the drive home, John and Ginger introduced us to Haus Heidelberg, a German restaurant serving up brats and schnitzels galore. What a fantastic day!

We said goodbye to John and Ginger (following another great breakfast thanks to Chef John) and made our way back to Beaufort on Thursday. After a final provisioning run and rental car return, we hoped to stop by Hemingway's Friday afternoon to say goodbye to Cherrie. The weather had other ideas as the winds piped up to 20+ knots opposite the currents and every boat in the anchorage started sailing on its anchor in different directions. We were within a boat length of our neighbor boat quite a few times, and didn't feel comfortable leaving the boat to go ashore. We finally gave up and settled in for the night (a good thing, since one of us had visions of boat provisions dancing in her head at 6am the next morning). We dug our heels in on Saturday and managed to put away 90% of our provisions. We have even more crap than last year, which makes finding places to put everything a bit of a challenge...and that's BEFORE the remaining 25 boxes of wine even get here!

We're off to Fernandina Beach, FL, in the morning. The weather looks good for an offshore run, so we should be in Fernandina early Monday morning and in plenty of time for Thanksgiving in St. Mary's, GA. Cheers!

Pictures with this Blog chapter:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Deltaville, VA to Southport, NC

Sunday, October 31 - Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Trick or treat? TREAT - we're finally heading south! We left Jackson Creek in Deltaville on Halloween morning to make our way to the Norfolk/Portsmouth area. We had anchored in the Hospital Point anchorage on our way north, but Brandon and Carryn from Sol Mate told us about a free city dock in Portsmouth about a mile further south. What a deal! We made phenomenal time motor-sailing at 7-8kts, managed to dodge a cruise ship in the Norfolk channel (those puppies are HUGE), and were in Portsmouth by 2pm. Not wanting to deal with the bridge opening schedule restrictions the following morning, we decided to push on to the locks at Great Bridge and their free docks. We arrived at the lock for the 4:30pm opening and...no!!! There was no room at the inn; every spot on the free docks were full, and the next anchorage was 45 miles away. Thank goodness for the Atlantic Yacht Basin marina. They certainly have a "captive audience" being located just south of the locks, but don't gouge you on the dockage fees. They were completely booked on the outer docks but found us a slip on the inner channel. Going the extra distance to Great Bridge ended up costing us more, but we were awfully happy to be past the five restricted bridges between Portsmouth and our marina.

The next few days involved 40-50 mile hops to secluded anchorages - Lutz Creek on Monday, Alligator River on Tuesday, and Belhaven, NC on Wednesday. We had to forgo a Kill Devil Hills visit with Dave and Camilla (Southern Heat) this time since the winds were pushing all of the water out of the canals. Did we mention that we're now 5'11"? We thought our draft was 5'3" (the CM440 specs say 4'11", and we have 4,000 extra pounds of goodies on board), but we re-measured in Deltaville and had a very rude awakening. Anyway, there was no way we could get into KDH with a 6' draft, so Dave drove to Belhaven to see us. He took us on a driving tour of Belhaven (all three blocks of it), found a new marina and pub (go see Randy at Pungo Creek Marina - he has the only fuel dock in Belhaven), and enjoyed a great dinner at Fish Hook's Cafe. We had a terrific time with Dave and only wished Camilla could've joined us. Hopefully they'll visit us in the islands next year.

After another day-trip and anchorage in Broad Creek off the Neuse River, we made it to Beaufort, NC, on Friday. The Town Creek anchorage was completely packed - there are a lot of boats going south! - but we managed to find a spot to drop the hook. Carryn, Brandon, and Bella on Sol Mate arrived an hour later and anchored in front of us. We all enjoyed a quiet evening and were looking forward to a rest day. Saturday we met up with Dennis and Suzi from Thate Wata, another cruising couple we met in the Abacos last winter. They were gracious enough to drive an hour from New Bern to Beaufort, and we enjoyed an afternoon of lunch and shopping with them. We hosted dinner on Pipe that night for Sol Mate and agreed to buddy-boat down the ditch to Wrightsville Beach. We had initially planned to do an offshore jump from Beaufort, but a Canadian cold front has brought 25-30kt winds and 5-7' seas for the next 3+ days. No thanks! Instead, we decided to get down to Southport inside; hopefully the weather would improve by mid-week for a jump offshore.

We left Beaufort Sunday morning for the 40 mile trip to our anchorage at Camp Lejeune. We came to an abrupt halt three miles later thanks to the 65' Atlantic Beach Bridge that showed only 62' of clearance on its tidal board. We waved good-bye to Sol Mate (damn their 58' mast!) and anchored to wait until the water levels came down. An hour later we edged our way through the bridge. The board showed just under 63', and we heard the dreaded "ting ting ting" of our VHF antenna as it hit the underside of the bridge. Note to self: do NOT go through a bridge unless we have at least 63' of clearance!

Sunday night was spent with 25+ other boats in the Camp Lejeune anchorage. Swing room was limited, and it was cozy to say the least. Brandon and Carryn invited us over for dinner (thanks, guys!), and we had a great evening hanging out together and playing Yahtzee. Monday we took advantage of the time change and were up at 6:30am. It was an easy run to Wrightsville Beach until...WHAM! We were leading a pack of six sailboats north of the Wrightsville Beach Bridge; about a half mile from the bridge, we met up with ten other boats that had been waiting for the 2pm opening (the bridge only opens on the hour, and boat traffic can get pretty busy in front of the bridge). Thanks to 2-3kt currents coursing in front of the bridge, we were all coasting all over the place trying to avoid the shoals and each other. We took an eye off the depth gauge long enough to watch another boat pass us, and suddenly came to an abrupt halt. Rene gunned the engine to no avail. We figured we were on a small ridge of some sort since our depth sounder read that we had a foot of water underneath us. After a couple more attempts to get off, we called for help. As we watched our friends motor through the now-open bascule bridge, we saw a red boat come zooming towards us. Tow Boat US to the rescue! We got a tow-line attached to a bow cleat, and 300HP later, we were loose. It turns out that there was a temporary marker in that exact spot until yesterday; a trawler got caught in the chain holding the marker in place and demolished it. So no more warning for us that the port side had shoaled well into the channel. Oops! Wrightsville Beach is just a bad karma spot for us. The two times we've been here have both resulted in Tow Boat US calls (the first being on our northbound trip when our anchor dragged and we ended up alongside another boat). Oh, well...at least we got free in time for the 3pm opening. There was still enough time to fuel up and get anchored before sunset. We're hoping for a quiet night tonight - we have a long couple of days ahead of us. The weather is finally cooperating enough for us to make an offshore run. We have a small window from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning where winds and waves remain moderate for a more comfortable crossing. We'll motor the 22 miles from Wrightsville to Southport through the ICW, and should be in the Cape Fear Inlet (south of Southport) by Tuesday afternoon. From there, it's about 200 miles to Port Royal Inlet, the nearest entrance to Beaufort, SC. We're looking forward to spending a week there playing tourist, visiting friends, and taking it easy before the run to St. Mary's, GA, for Thanksgiving. Hopefully our next blog will come to you from warmer temps. Cheers!

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Such a Pretty Boat!

Thursday, October 14 - Sunday, October 31, 2010
Hi, everyone! Once again, long time, no updates. This time, though, we have a great excuse: Pipe Muh Bligh has been "on the hard" (that's "sitting on jack stands in a boat yard" to you landlubbers) for the month of October. We finally got tired of seeing the ICW mustache on the bow, the barnacles on the waterline, the hazy hull, and the rust stains on the rails. We love our boat, but we don't always show our love with copious amounts of maintenance and TLC. Our baby has been soooo neglected!

We actually had the boat hauled out on Wednesday, September 29, at the Deltaville Boatyard (DBY) in Deltaville, VA. In preparation for the haul-out, we managed to get the dinghy engine mounted on the stern rail and took the dinghy out of the water at the dinghy dock for cleaning and painting. We'd also been warned by our friend, Art, that we wouldn't fit into the boat lift the "normal" way, stern-in, thanks to our dinghy arch and radar tower. Instead, we'd have to remove the forestay to get into the boat lift bow-first. (Art has our sister boat, Destiny, and was hauled out at DBY a couple of weeks before us.) Wrench and screwdriver in hand, Rene began rotating the turnbuckle to loosen the backstay. Sixty turns later, the pressure was finally off the mast enough to disconnect the forestay and put a temporary mast support system - in the form of the jib and spinnaker halyards - in place. Art then gave us a hand getting Pipe from the pump-out dock to the haul-out slip, and John (the lift operator) and Dan (the jack stand guru) from DBY got the lift slings under the hull. The next thing we knew, Pipe was being raised out of the water with nothing but a couple of slings keeping her from falling to the ground (or so it seemed). While we know that people do this all the time, there's just something unnatural about seeing your boat suspended in mid-air! John gave her a long power-wash that cleaned nearly two years of slime and crud off the hull, after which we followed the lift (with Pipe still hanging suspended from the slings) to our new home for the next month. Thanks to our positioning in the lift, Pipe had to go "ass-in" into her slot in the yard. The persistent rains had made the ground too soft for the lift plus our 30,000-pound boat to get as far back into the slot as John would have liked without sinking into the mud. Consequently, our bow stuck out well beyond the boats around us and our ladder on and off the boat was in soft sand instead of gravel. Still, it sure made finding our boat easier!

Knowing we had three days left before leaving for Seattle, we wanted to get a jump on a few things. We knew better than to start the long-term stuff such as painting or waxing, but we managed to cross quite a few items off the list. We cleaned the dinghy from top & bottom, cleaned and polished all stainless/rails on deck, used a toothbrush to get the rust stains off of the metal work and fiberglass, and took down the canvas cockpit enclosure for delivery to Wendy's Custom Canvas for re-stitching and repairs.

Once we got back from Seattle, the real work began. We had originally planned for Rene to do the sanding and painting below the waterline, and Stacy would do the hull cleaning, polishing, and waxing above the waterline. Thank god Art told us what a great job the yard had done sanding his hull - and at a very reasonable price, no less! Rene arranged for the DBY guys to sand the boat Monday morning, so we spent the weekend in prep mode - taping along the new (raised) waterline, washing the hull, scraping barnacles, etc. Once we were ready for sanding, we knocked a few more things off of the list; Rene cleaned and taped the dinghy bottom for its paint job while Stacy got the ICW mustache off the big boat with On-Off (that stuff's caustic, but it sure works great!). Then we traded places so that Stacy could paint the dinghy bottom while Rene sanded the main and side propellers. We also got our repaired canvas back from Wendy, which meant we could clean and waterproof the "roof" before putting the enclosure back together. Pipe was beginning to look like a boat again.

One great thing about staying in a boatyard is meeting your neighbors, all of whom are also busy fixing their boats and are great sources of information. Everyone tries to help each other, lending a hand, a tool, or advice whenever needed. We got to meet Alan and Doreen from across the gravel path - an English couple preparing their Island Packet for an Atlantic crossing back home; Brandon, Carryn, and their Portuguese water dog, Bella, who were busy giving their Catalina, Sol Mate, a fresh bottom job five boats down from us; and Doris and George from the catamaran, Grace, who were awaiting parts to put their mast back on the boat. We also saw Jim and Laurie from Kismet again, who we'd first met at a Sojourner happy hour in Annapolis. Not that it was all work and no play...once in awhile we'd declare "work over" and congregate behind someone's boat with a cold beer or arrange for a BBQ using the marina facilities.

Monday morning we tried to stay out of the way while the DBY techs sanded the boat. They managed to do in under five hours what would've taken Rene two-plus days (not to mention some very sore muscles) to accomplish. Talk about money well spent! That out of the way, it was time for barrier and bottom paint. Stacy hand-washed the hull to remove any trace blue dust from the sanding (imagine cold, blue-colored water running down your shirt) and taped the hull to create a template for a new layer of barrier paint at the raised waterline. Rene got a head start on the gel coat repair on the bow. Our anchor had chafed through the line affixing it to the pulpit during a crossing and had gone overboard, leaving gouges along the bow. Alan came by to compare notes about gel coat repair with Rene, and loaned us his Dremel to soften the worst of the gouges. It worked like magic! You guessed it...a new "toy" will soon be added to Rene's toolbox. The best part of the gel coat project, however, was the tape. Most of you have probably used or at least seen the blue masking tape labeled "painters tape". Well, the same tape works perfectly on fiberglass. Use it to outline whatever you need to paint/sand/fix, and pull it off when you're done. No muss, no fuss. In outlining the gouges that needed gel coat repairs, Rene created a work of art on our bow. As one neighbor said, "it looks like you have a shark face tattooed on the front of your boat."

So some of you may be thinking that painting a boat is no big deal. It's just like painting a house, right? Well let me tell you, dealing with barrier paint (think "primer") is like going back to Chemistry 101. Mix pot A into pot B at a 1:3 ratio; make sure you let paint dry for at least X hours but not more than Y hours before applying a second coat; if you let Z hours go by before applying the bottom paint, you're completely screwed and have to start over (or at least sand the last coat down to have any hope of the next layer bonding). And by the way, X, Y, and Z all change depending on temperature and humidity. No pressure, though! And what, exactly, is gel coat? If you want the gory details, there's probably plenty of info online. For the rest of us, it's basically the outer shell of the boat - as in the visible part that sticks out of the water. It's generally bright and shiny when the boat is new, but things sometimes happen (such as fuel or marina docks, runaway anchors, or naked people dragging into you) that damage the gel coat. Not to worry, a You Tube video showed how easy it was to make gel coat repairs. Woo hoo! We were off to a great start - we had a bucket of gel coat from Catalina. Score! Oops, we were told that we had to mix it with a hardening agent. Huh?? No problem, we found a little bottle of that in a gel coat repair kit from West Marine. Beautiful...but how much? Well, depending on which internet source you believe, somewhere between 4 and 20 drops of hardener per ounce of compound is required. Of course, adding too little or too much messes up the whole process and your gel coat repairs will be a bust. Aaaarrrrrgggghhhh! We finally settled on 10 drops (a little more than the Boat US guy said, a little less than Mr. You Tube), and Rene applied the first layer to the gouges on the bow. Success! Well, sort of... The repaired spots were still a little sticky after 24 hours of drying time, but Alan told us about the wonders of acetone. Brandon even had some handy, and Rene was back on track. After a second layer and more drying time, he sanded like crazy. 200 grit, 400 grit, 600 grit...all the way up to 800 or 1200 grit. Rene still wants to put another layer on a few of the deepest gouges, but our bow sure looks better than it used to.

Applying the bottom paint was a comedy of errors. We had purchased coveralls, shoe covers, and gloves for sanding, but never got them out for the paint job. Duh... Anyway, Rene painted from the waterline down to the underside with an extension roller, and Stacy worked on the tight angles, corners, and keel with the hand-held roller. (Speaking of working on the keel...there's something unnerving about working underneath 30,000 pounds of boat. Even though you know it's on stilts and won't come thundering down on your head, it's still a little creepy!) Rene didn't get too covered in paint while he was armed with the extension pole, but Stacy looked like a spotted smurf thanks to the back splatter from the roller. (Rene got his own coat of paint after the extension rod broke. What's that about payback??) And since we were using hard paint, it didn't wash off as easily as ablative paint. We both took showers with scrub brushes, and finally reverted to acetone baths. Ah, the glamorous life!

Once the paint job was done, it was time to make our girl bright and shiny. On-Off took away the brown stains from the ICW, and Collinite 925 got rid of most else. We had gathered info about polishes and waxes from friends and publications, and in typical cruiser fashion, everyone had a different opinion of what worked best. We finally went with Star Brite's Premium Marine Polish with PTEF for the first coat, and Meguiar's Flagship Premium Marine Paste Wax for the final two layers. Carl and Debi had loaned us their polisher/buffer, which cut the work in half. The polish got rid of a few remaining spots, and the wax shined her up like new. It was a lot of work but well worth it, and we felt like having a party when we finally got to take the tape off the hull. In the interest of "full disclosure", I have to disagree with the chat sites that said polishing without a follow-up wax coat would be enough to bring the shine back. Maybe our gel coat was just too far gone (i.e. oxidized), but the wax made a huge difference over the polish alone. If anything, we should've bought a polish that contained a cleaning agent for light oxidation to really make Pipe sparkle. Oh, well...she looks pretty good for our first DIY attempt!

With the second coat of wax complete, we arranged a date with Debi and Carl to have a dinner together and to return their buffer. We were excited to see them again one more time before we headed south, and headed back to the Galley restaurant to see if we'd have another great experience there like we'd had with Art. Dinner was fantastic again, but we had a little more excitement than expected; we'd been so busy working on the boat that we hadn't paid any attention to the weather. There were three separate thunderstorm systems passing through the VA area bringing tornado watches and warnings! We managed to stay dry until Debi and Carl brought us back to Pipe, at which time the heavens opened. We were lucky enough to avoid serious lightning strikes or tornadoes, but the wet ground proved to be a nightmare for Brandon and Carryn on Sol Mate. The block of wood under the keel sank into the sand, and the boat shifted on its blocks. The shift caused the jack stands to grate against the newly-painted hull all the way down to the barrier paint, and they had to re-paint the areas under the stands from scratch. Their week-long haul-out had become a two-week endeavor, and they were anxious to get back into the water and on their way south.

Besides all of our do-it-yourself work, we also took advantage of the experts in the boat yard. Rene had noticed some damage to a seal around the prop, and it turned out that we needed the cutlass bearing replaced. Now this is a huge chore in itself - not something we wanted to try ourselves. It took the DBY tech nine hours to get the job done, and she had the right tools for it. We're talking about removing the propeller with a hydraulic prop puller, banging on the shaft until it came loose, replacing the bearing, putting everything back together, and finally realigning the shaft to prevent vibration once we were back in the water. We also had a rigging inspection and tuning done by Southern Bay Rigging, who discovered a crack in the weld near the mast furler. They assured us we weren't in any imminent danger of losing the mast, but we had them fabricate a brace to prevent any widening of the crack in the future. The riggers also cleaned and checked our winches, and Rene was able to play student so he could handle the maintenance himself the next time around. All in all, we felt really good about the work that was done, and would certainly recommend DBY to anyone needing boat repairs.

After a month on the hard, we finally reached "splash day". We'd agreed to get the boat put back in the water on the last Thursday in October. That would give DBY another work-day to do the rigging tuning and align the shaft, and then we could head south over the weekend. John and Dan got Pipe back in the lift, and Rene touched up the paint under the blocks while the boat rested in the sling. It gave us goosebumps to follow Pipe in the lift and watch her slowly descend back into the water. Just one hitch - we couldn't engage our engine until after the realignment! Leave it to John; he and Dan got us back in the water, and they managed to spin us around and against a dock two slips over using lines alone. At one point the wind caught us and started pushing us away from the dock, but John never lost his cool. We came to a gentle stop against the dock behind a mega-yacht, and were able to stay at the dock until our departure on Sunday.

So why didn't we leave on Saturday? To have more fun in Deltaville, of course! Our new friends, Carryn and Brandon, told us about a Halloween festival being held at the Deltaville Maritime Museum on Saturday night. Sunday's weather looked great for the trip to Norfolk, so it didn't take much to twist our arms. Alan and Doreen joined us, and the six of us - plus Bella, all decked out as a beautiful princess - walked over to the museum. What a terrific display! All of the local businesses sponsored booths and set up a kid-friendly journey through the "haunted woods". The costumes were adorable, and the decorations were really well thought out. We couldn't convince the keepers of the candy to share with the grown-ups, but we enjoyed our own big-kid treats once we got back to the lounge.

All in all, we had a great experience at Deltaville Boatyard. We worked incredibly hard, and are thrilled with the results. There really is some extra satisfaction in knowing you did the work yourself, and we'll try to give Pipe a little TLC on a more regular basis. In the meantime, we're finally beginning our trek south to warmer climates. We've had gorgeous weather for boat work, but the nights have gotten colder. We're ready for shorts weather again!

Before we sign off, we have to send a "shout-out" and well wishes to our friend, Art. Art was supposed to be joining the Caribbean 1500 rally from Hampton, VA, to Tortola, British Virgin Islands, the first week in November. A few days before we returned from Seattle, Art had an accident in the boatyard and broke his heel bone. Sue is taking great care of him back home while he recovers, but we're so sorry he was hurt and had to delay his trip south. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him next year in the islands.

Pictures for this Blog chapter: