Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What's In A Name

Hopefully the last weather-related post for a while.  Tomorrow is the start of the dreaded "H" season (as superstitious sailors, I guess we don't actually utter the "H" word). It is the when and why I needed to be north of Cape Hatteras.

The reason we left Southport rather quickly was a tropical low that was threatening to become a "named storm" for which I would not be covered if I sustained damage while there after June 1. Of course after we left, the storm rose to the level deserving the name"Bonnie," then pretty much fizzled out after it made landfall and caused a little havoc in South Carolina. This wasn't exactly a surprise.

Latest track of "Post Tropical Depression" Bonnie.
While we wanted to play it safe and abide by our insurance, most indications were that the storm wasn't expected to develop into anything too serious where we were in North Carolina.  The weather guessers on the local news generally just regurgitate what the National Weather Service says and their information is only half the picture at best.  To get a better idea, I look at several sources of weather data.

One that I've started using more is the service Windity (https://www.windyty.com/). When this site was first brought to my attention a while ago, I thought it was kind of cute, but didn't really see how useful it could be.  Since that time I've slowly determined that I can get a much better idea of the overall weather picture. Look at the winds, the waves, and weather. With data from their two different models you can get an idea of how things might play out over a several day period.  Naturally, these are models and reality doesn't always follow the script, but I've found that this site can be quite a helpful tool. Recently I downloaded their Android phone application and found it to be equally useful and well set up for mobile use.

The Windity model when the above forecast claims "Bonnie"
will be here. You can see the low (even without a giant L)
and the wind estimate for my current location.
Clicking on the eye-catching graphic shows you the wind, wave, or weather data and an option to bring up a detailed forecast for that point. Running the slider at the bottom moves you around in time (the Android application controls are slightly different, but all the same data is there). For pilots there are even icons for airports that bring up the latest weather data there (regardless of where the time slider appears to be, the airport data seems to be current) I still have no idea how to pronounce the name of the site...but it is helpful.  If you don't use it, you might want to check it out sometime.

So, as a name, Bonnie looks to be a non-event for us.  Windyty, however you pronounce it, is a weather tool worth keeping in your weather prediction arsenal.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Crossing The Goal Line

If you have been following along on our little journey, you know that we are moving north. You know the reason we are moving north now is due to an imaginary line drawn in the sand by our insurance company that says the boat won't be covered for damage by named storms unless we are north of Cape Hatteras.

While our insurance policy is significantly cheaper by having this restriction, it isn't the only reason we went with this policy.  Our original intention was to spend some time in the Chesapeake and further north anyway, so it did, and still does, align with our goals. While we do appreciate all the concern and suggestions regarding insurance, don't fret, the insurance restriction does align with our overall goals.

When we last left you, we had arrived in Southport, NC. We decided to stay at the one other marina in town that we had yet to visit.  South Harbor Village Marina sits along the Intracoastal Waterway just south of the town of Southport and I believe is actually part of the town of Oak Island. Overall the people and the facility was nice.  They have two restaurants on-site and that is convenient but my wife and I are not fans of the Dead End Saloon when we visited on a couple of prior occasions.  We didn't get a chance to try the Italian restaurant but it is reported to be good.  Given the marina isn't all that convenient to Southport, I think we still prefer the free laundry, pool, and slightly cheaper rates at Deep Point Marina.

Shortly after arriving in Southport, we met up with some new friends we had made back in Isle Of Palms marina. They were staying at the Southport marina near downtown.  We had a nice dinner at Provisions (a must stop in Southport) and then went with them to the weather briefing that is put on by Hank at Carolina Yacht Care (CYC - the same gentleman that runs the boaters shuttle service). If you are ever in the area, it is worthwhile to sit in on one of Hank's briefings. It was there we found out that a low pressure system in the Bahamas might become the first tropical storm of the season and was likely to bring about some lingering bad weather in a few days.  This accelerated our schedule to move north and we quickly made plans to get us north of the insurance goal line before the storms arrived and pinned us in place past our deadline.

Tropical Depression 2 - National Weather Service prediction,

Until the predicted storms arrival the weather was expected to be nice for an outside run up the coast. This could put us north of Cape Hatteras (35° 13' North latitude) in about a day and a half of travel. We found one of the marinas we have stayed at, Dowry Creek (35° 32'), is about 20 miles north of the line (no matter how the insurance company may try to draw it) and within the two day and one night travel window.

We departed the marina and made our way up the Cape Fear river.  With the incoming tide, we were going up river at over 8 knots.  High tide was right when we were making our way through Snow's cut and we again had favorable current for the trip to the Masonboro inlet.  From there, we jumped out, set sails, shut down motors, and had a nice overnight sail across Onslow Bay. Before we left cell phone range, I called the range master at Camp Lejeune and confirmed that their offshore firing range danger area was not active and we could cut through it without becoming a target of unwanted attention...or unwanted ammunition.

Camp Lejeune Firing Range area.
The seas were just as predicted at 1 to 2 feet on a relatively long 6 to 8 second period. The predicted 10 to 15 knots of wind were actually closer to 25 and this combination made for a nice brisk sail.  In fact, at one point it looked like we were going to arrive at the Beaufort inlet around 1 AM.  While I wanted to arrive at first light, this was a bit too early. I resisted the urge to slow the boat down for a while but I really didn't feel like heaving-to and waiting for first light just outside the inlet.

I finally gave in and further reduced our speed.  That, of course, was a mistake. Not too much later the winds started to die down and by first light we were about 4 nautical miles from the inlet going about 1.5 knots. Someday I'll learn you have to take what you can get when you get it.  We fired up the engines as the wind completely died and made our way in.

Going in the inlet was crazy.  No big cargo or cruise ships to contend with, but the onslaught of fishing boats headed out for the morning was incredible.  If I didn't know better I would have thought that someone was giving away free kegs of beer to the first 1000 boats to arrive at the fishing grounds. Fishing boats of all sizes were pouring out of he inlet as we were fighting our way in.  Unfortunately this isn't a no-wake zone and every one of them was going full throttle to be the first one out.  It was the roughest seas we have faced on the entire trip north, and it was all caused by the wakes of the high powered boats zipping around us on all sides.

A few stragglers after the onslaught.
Once we escaped the barrage of high powered boats at the inlet and turned north out of Morehead City, things calmed back down. We motored or motor-sailed the remainder of the trip. Other than a minor hiccup with an engine that had me down in the engine room with a wrench for an hour (note to self: never let that hungover marine mechanic in Palm Coast get near the engines again), the trip was uneventful.

We arrived at Dowry Creek (near Belhaven NC) about 5:30 in the evening. We are now officially across the goal line as far as insurance is concerned. Looks like we will be here for a week or so as we do a little maintenance and figure out what is next.

View off of our "porch" this morning.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

South Carolina Whack-A-Mole

Remember that old arcade/carnival game called Whack-A-Mole?  Well, we found an equivalent to play while motoring up the marshy Intracoastal Waterway in South Carolina. I'm not entirely sure what variant of annoying, biting, fly-like creature they are (deer fly we think), but the wet weather and low winds left us swarmed by them as we motored north from McClellanville SC.

McClellanville is definitely not a resort marina.
Oh, I guess I should mention we are making progress on the trip.  After making it to a marina just past Charleston on day two, day three had us sitting until noon, waiting on winds to die down so we could get the boat off the dock.  That day we made a short hop from Charleston to McClellanville.  Day four was the Whack-A-Mole adventure and finally a chance to make a run on the outside...all the way to Southport.

Anyway, after having enough of being harassed by the flies we went on the offensive. Out came a couple of cheap dollar store fly swatters and the battle began. By the time we were at Winyah bay the enemy had amassed a sizable casualty count and we had almost destroyed one fly swatter and started wearing down a second one.

Some of the enemy casualties and our well used weapon.
Despite the casualties lying all about the cockpit, the enemy didn't quit until we were making our retreat out into the Atlantic.

Spinnaker sailing in the evening.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful.  The seas were relatively calm and the winds were fickle.  At times we had 15 knots or more to sail with, other times found us using our spinnaker to aqueeze a little speed out of 5 knots, and there were times the wind died and left us motoring along on a single engine to make headway.

The sun setting somewhere near Myrtle Beach
And the full moon rising a few minutes later.
(More impressive in person...but low light photography
from a moving platform is difficult)
We arrived in Southport early this morning, tied up the boat, went out for breakfast, and then the entire crew crashed on the settee for a few hours.  We will be here for a few days as we deal with the logistics of the next leg of the trip. Time is running low, but we are almost out of our insurance-mandated hurricane exclusion zone.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Playing Motorboat Again

Well, our need to make tracks north and Mother Nature's need for unsettled weather along the southeast coast seem to be in conflict.  The trip would have been a few straight-forward hops on the outside, but for the high winds, unsettled seas, and threats of thunderstorms.  Since some progress is better than none, we opted to take the more protected route up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

With the weather forecast to be OK (except for the seas in the Atlantic), we departed Hilton Head on Wednesday morning.  We wound our way through the countryside and anchored in North Edisto river.  This morning we awoke to grey skies but nothing threatening and continued winding our way toward Charleston.

A part of our ICW path north of Hilton Head.

The twists, turns, bridges, and my unwillingness to travel it at night make travel on the ICW very slow.  In just over two days we could have made it from Hilton Head to Southport on the outside.  Instead, we made it just past Charleston.  As I sit here and write this the news is playing in the background and the local weather guesser is calling for more unsettled weather for the next couple days.  Guess our trek up the ditch will likely continue.

It isn't all bad though.  At least there is some different scenery to see.

Ladys Island Swing Bridge near Beaufort, SC.

Along the ICW.

Hard to believe the weather isn't going to be nice for a while.
I'd prefer to be using less fuel and making a bit better time, but I guess I'll just have to be happy playing motorboat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not Going Anywhere

I have to admit, we haven't been all that impressed with Hilton Head.  The goal when we stopped here was that it was easier access to the ocean for our trip north.  Well, apparently Mother Nature has decided that we need to spend a little more time here.

US Evening Surface Map
The Weather Channel's forecast map

We tried making our escape yesterday afternoon in what was forecast to be a small weather window opening.  Unfortunately, the 10 to 15 knot winds were actually 25 to 30.  The seas were rough and we hadn't even made it past the Port Royal Sound.  We quickly decided that it wasn't worth getting beat up and made our way back to the marina.

12 hour forecast
The National Weather Service forecast map.
36 hour forecast
Not much different a couple days later.

Today the wind has died down, but thunderstorms and rough seas are  forecast for the next few days. So, maybe we will spend a little more time here and see if we can find the appeal of this area. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Few Hours in Savannah

As you know, we moved up to Hilton Head SC on our trip north.  We ended up choosing the marina we are at based on access to an inlet so we can easily get in and out on our trip and, of course, the price.  We needed a marina so we could shuffle cars up the coast once again (in addition to the usual costs of a car, when you are more transient, having a place to park a car or two while in transit can be a challenge).

As long as we have the cars available, we wanted do a little exploring. Honestly, we didn't know what to expect of Hilton Head, but what we found was very much a tourist vacation spot with lots of gated communities and resorts (I think more than a third of the island is locked behind a gate of some sort). And, honestly, this is not what we are looking for. We needed to get away and decided to spend a few hours exploring Savannah, GA.

We decided to take one of those city trolley tours since we only had a few hours and figured that was the best way to get our bearings and at least touch on a few highlights of the historic district.  Being able to hop on and off and check things out made sense.

Savannah is a charming city with an interesting layout. The city was laid out around squares, small park areas that make for a very charming city landscape.  I guess in the past the squares were places where the locals could congregate and even defend the city.  One square supposedly had a community oven that could be used so you didn't heat up your own home in the warm Georgia months (a concept most cruisers can appreciate).  We ended up walking part of the bus route and, although I was an idiot and forgot my better camera, did manage to get a few pictures with my phone.

Chippewa Square in Savannah
A picture with General Oglethorpe, a founder of Savannah.
One of the many Oak shaded streets in the historic district.
Not every day you see a Gothic style synagogue.
More typical historic Savannah.
Catholic church...more typical of Gothic style.
The Savannah River waterfront with the Westin hotel
in the background.
Unlike Hilton Head itself, I think this will be a place we will have to come back to and spend a bit more time exploring when we get the chance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nature's Visitors

We are continuing our way up the coast. This leg of the trip took us from Hammock Beach, Florida to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  We left Hammock on Sunday morning and motored up the ICW to St. Augustine. There we motored out the inlet and made a beeline for Port Royal Sound. A day and a half later, we arrived at Skull Creek Marina along the northern side of Hilton Head Island.

The trip was mostly uneventful other than the usual inaccuracies of the weather forecasts. The one thing of note was the varied wildlife that came to visit us along the way. Pulling up the fenders in Hammock we found a couple small crabs hanging onto a string that was accidentally left dangling in the water. These were the first of several visitors for the trip.

After making our way out of St. Augustine, we were met by a couple of dolphins that came to play at the front of the boat. This is actually a fairly common occurrence, but this time the water was calm and they hung around long enough I could grab my phone and take some video.

Once the winds picked up and we were making good time under sail, a much larger pod of dolphins came and played in front of our boat for a while. We tried counting, and there must have bee at least a dozen swirling around and jumping in front of the hulls. I can't imagine how they can manage not to crash into each other as they go blazing by the front of the hulls. While dolphin visits aren't all that uncommon, it never seems to get old.

Early the next morning I found a small hitchhiker hanging on to one of the lifelines. Later he found a perch on the genoa sheet. I'm not sure that was the best seat given how the wind-filled sail would bounce the line around, but he hung on there for a while.

Later in the morning we spotted a turtle as we approached the sound. Of course, as is usually the case, he spotted us and dove before we could get a camera.

The last few thousand visitors came as we approached the Port Royal Sound.  The wind had died, and every manner of flying bug seemed to descend upon us.  Moths, flies, no-see-ums, and others that I couldn't identify. My homemade bug spray got a workout and I think it helped with the no-see-ums, but it wasn't perfect.  My wife got out a fly swatter and was playing "Whack-A-Mole" with them until bug carcasses littered the cockpit.  Fortunately the winds did pick back up, and they eventually scattered.

Lots of wildlife encounters, some good and some less so.  All part of the sailing adventure I guess.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Trying to Keep the Boat Happy

We are getting ready to make our trek back north of Cape Hattaras for hurricane season. The plan is to start the trek this weekend.  Our first stop will be Hilton Head, SC. where we will spend a few days playing tourist.  From there we haven't decided where to go (if you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment, I figure we need a couple more stops).

As we prepare to go, I've been doing some work on the boat in hopes that it will make the boat happy and keep the gods of the seas, electricity, and diesel engines at bay.  These are finally items that aren't high priority, but nice to tick off of the list.

The first was re-rigging the davit system.  When I met another Leopard owner a while back he noted that the davit system on my boat wasn't rigged properly.  The result of this rigging problem was that loads weren't distributed evenly and the davit bar bent a bit when the previous owner used to store the dinghy with the motor attached on the davit. To re-rig it, I needed a new block with a becket and a longer line (the new rigging scheme requires the lines to criss-cross between the mount points on the arch and the davit bar.

A stop at Sailors Exchange and I was able to find 70 foot of the 1/2 inch line for $40.  I also picked up brand new line to replace the main halyard since their price is about half of West Marine's price for the same line and a bit cheaper than I have found elsewhere for New England Ropes stuff. I also found they had the really comfortable bosun's chair like the one I borrowed from a friend back in Brunswick and I couldn't pass it up.  Guess you can't take me into a sailing thrift shop.  Unfortunately they didn't have the block with becket or a stainless U bolt I was looking for, so we picked them up at Marine Supply & Oil Company.

New block and line and the davit is re-rigged.
The actual re-rigging of the davit was pretty easy.  I lowered the davit and removed the line.  I then moved the existing block at the arch to the position opposite of where it was.  The new block with the becket was added where the old block was removed. The new line was then tied around the becket, led down to the davit block, diagonally across to the other arch block, back down to the other davit block, diagonally across to the new block and through the remaining blocks to the winch.  This configuration does seem to allow the bar to self-level better and I believe it also gives me almost double the purchase...and that makes the dinghy easier to crank up on the davit.

The U bolt I mentioned was for a minor repair.  In the rudder system there is a line that acts as the steering stop.  On one side, the U bolt had rusted through and the line was no longer attached.  I've replaced the U bolt and reattached the line so the steering stop is once again working as designed.

I have been trying to figure out a good means of mounting the LED light strips I bought for the hardtop for a while now.  Not coming up with any really good ideas, I finally gave up and decided to see what would happen if I just stuck them up with the supplied adhesive.  The strip is supposed to be weatherproof and the controller is hidden in the wiring chase that is built into the hardtop, so hopefully it will be OK.  I guess only time will tell, but so far I like it and think it looks good enough.  And for under $30, if it doesn't work out, I guess I won't be out much.

That is a lot of light,
Remember this strip changes colors.  Here is red...
...and blue.
So, various systems on the boat got some attention.  Hopefully this will build up some good karma points for me with the boat.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cheap Marker Lights

I've often wondered how effective the anchor light on a sailboat actually is.  A white light that can be seen for miles sounds like a good idea, but having that light 60 feet up in the air seems problematic to me.  From a distance you can look out across an anchorage and see the anchored boats.  But what about when you are in the anchorage trying to maneuver between boats on a dark night?  Or when someone in a dinghy is trying to make their way back to their boat after the bars have closed?  Do the lights sitting up 60 feet just blend into the stars or a nearby city skyline?

I decided a while back that it would be a good idea to add the equivalent of marker lights to our boat. Having not spent a lot of time at anchor, it was not a high priority (until recently). When at a BJ's Wholesale club back in Virginia last summer, I found and purchased a 4-pack of solar powered deck walkway lights. I figured if I could devise a way to mount these, they would work well.

Naturally, while sitting at anchor out at Elliott Key, a long way from a hardware store, I remembered my purchase and decided to see if I had any way to temporarily mount them and see how well they would work. After a little pondering, I remembered that one of the things the prior owner had left on the boat were these clips designed to make it easier to attach and adjust fenders.  I never found them particularly handy so they have been sitting in a settee locker since I discovered them.  I decided that I could use zip ties to attach the lights to the clips and see how well they would work.

It only took a few minutes to assemble.  I clipped them onto the pulpit and pushpit rails at the four corners of the boat.  We used them during most of our trip to Key Largo and so far I am pleased with how they work.  They are relatively low profile so they don't get in the way.  They cast light outward and a little downward to light up the hull. And since they are solar, they require no wiring and turn on and off automatically, so even if we forget to turn on the anchor light, we have lights warning others that we are there.

So far I am pleased with the result.  The units seem at least somewhat sealed from the elements so I hope they will last at least a while in the marine environment.  Looks like I will need to find a better way to mount them when I get a chance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Not So Common

We left the marina in North Palm beach on Saturday morning. A short backtrack to the Lake Worth inlet and we were again out on the ocean. Sails up and engines off we sailed north all day and rounded Cape Canaveral early (like 4 AM early) on Sunday morning. The forecast winds of 10 to 15 knots were about 25 knots, and the 2 foot seas were more 3 to 4 with an occasional 5 thrown in as we rounded the cape.  The NOAA weather radio channel reported winds at the Kennedy space center at 8 knots.  Guess they need a buoy out near where we were.  We arrived in Daytona and dropped the hook just off the ICW near downtown Daytona Beach. The next morning we made our way up the ICW and are back in Hammock Beach Marina to pick up our cars and plan our next leg of this northbound trek.

But that is not really the point of this post. The point is more observations I've made about this trip. First, I don't think I like traveling, at least on the ICW, on weekends. It seems that there are a lot of weekend warriors who come out to play.  These folks are typically in smaller boats with much larger engines and even larger stereos. Best I can tell, a good number of them have no idea of the right-of-way rules nor do they seem to possess basic self preservation instincts. It starts to feel like weekend sailing on the reservoirs back home, except here there are fewer people out checking on boater sobriety. Even if one didn't take boater education classes, one might think that a large boat with a tall stick is limited in its ability to maneuver when passing under a bridge or through a drawbridge. Or self preservation might kick in before zipping a wave runner just feet across our bow.  But I guess common sense and common courtesy just aren't that common.

We encountered a lot of these people out on the water in what could only be described as a makeshift demolition derby when we departed Palm Beach. Once on the outside, we fortunately only had to dodge all the fishing boats that seemed to be as thick as the mosquitoes on Elliott Key at dusk. I think there may have been some sort of fishing derby going on for we had never seen so many out at one time.  Fortunately they were far easier to avoid than the little power boats scurrying around in the channel.

Hours before passing by Cape Canaveral, the USCG came on the radio and warned of an 18 to 25 foot boat with outboard that was overturned and floating somewhere in the area.  Since we would be passing within a mile or so of the coordinates given, I ended up calling the Coast Guard to verify that I copied the coordinates correctly and asked if they had any updated information.  They did not.  We both kept an eye out for this mysterious overturned yet floating boat in the moonlight.  We also used our radar in hopes that enough of it might be sticking up to give us a ping if we got close.  Fortunately we never saw (or ran into) the boat.  I still wonder if it could have been a lost partier from one of those boats back in Lake Worth. Somehow a less-than-sober boater getting lost out on the cape or even just failing to properly tie up his boat at the end of the day didn't seem very far fetched. It is nice to know that the Coast Guard is doing its best to help keep us safe out on the water.

Coming into Daytona on Sunday was similar to the scene we left in Lake Worth.  I started to wonder if this is why there is so much contention between sail and power boaters.  To sailboats, power boats are like flies buzzing around your head, creating wakes that jostle the boat and seem to have no regard for anyone else.  Power boats probably see sailboats as nothing more than slow moving obstacles in their way. The power boats that I've found to be annoying are always the ones that have very big engines relative to their size and weight.  Trawlers and tugs generally seem to be more courteous and respectful.

Our last bad power boat encounter occurred just after we passed through Flagler Beach.  We looked back to see a power boat heading our way.  Actually, what we see is the bow of a boat and a large wave emanating from either side of the bow. Having just passed through the area, we know it was a no-wake zone to protect the manatee this time of year.  From a mile away we could clearly see the wake he was producing and knew he wasn't obeying the restriction.  As he got close, we slowed down and moved to the side in hopes he would slow down when passing us.  He did slow down a bit, but still sent our boat rocking as he passed.  And as soon as he was around us, he was back at full throttle, throwing waves of water over the shoreline and into people's yards.

When we arrived at the marina, we tried calling the staff on the radio but got no response.  Since we were familiar with the marina, we easily made our way to the pump out station.  As we were tying up, the assistant harbormaster stopped by and asked if we got the name of a boat that sped by a short time ago and sent a large wake through the marina damaging a couple boats (this was why she didn't answer...she was busy dealing with that mess).  Having recently left an impression on us, we knew the name of the boat she was looking for, the Scotsman.  They called the authorities, and last I know, they were trying to intercept this boat as it headed north. I hope they catch him.

I know this post has been a bit negative,but the trip in general has been far from it.  So, I'll leave you with some more images from the trip.

Tarpon Basin Anchorage

Cape Florida Lighthouse

The  southern Florida coastline

The space coast and VAB in the distance