Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ever play "Chicken" with a gun boat?

Or a submarine? well we did!
So we slipped lines in Portsmouth at 0700 and began the 10 miles trip through the worlds deepest natural harbor. With a title like that is must be full of boats...BIG BIG GREY BOATS...with guns, and airplanes, and lots of scary looking guys guarding them. The radio was alive with calls like this "security security...warship 531 incoming from Cape Henry to Newport News...all vessels within 500 yards shall maintain minimum steerage not approach within 100 yards or deadly force will be used...warship 531 out!
So there we were at the mouth of the harbor entering the Chesapeake Bay, sails up, cup of coffee in hand, and smooth seas. The radio keeps barking this warship business so we both scan the horizon with binoculars and there are lots of ships all right but none with grey paint and guns. With the "coast clear" so to speak, we take a turn to port and begin crossing the ship channel and out to sea. about mid channel a fast moving power boat start heading right at us, "Is this dummy going to pass to port or starboard? he is going fast...why is the guy on the bow dressed up like GI Joe pointing the big machine gun at us?"

Now these guys were not at all friendly like most boaters! They had a way of making us feel like it was time to leave, so with their direction we did just that. Now we were still a bit confused as to the location of warship 531 when about 100 yards behind us this periscope thingy began rising up and a submarine appeared. Several "Deadly force boats" surrounding it. i guess that we were about 101 yards away because they did not shoot. So to sum it all up, we took a left turn in front of a nuclear submarine in rush hour traffic and didn't get a ticket...or even shot at!

Introducing warship 531

Unfreindly boaters!

The Great Dismal Swamp!
Elizabeth City North Carolina to Portsmouth Virginia is the last leg of the Intracoastal Waterway and the entrance to the Dismal Swamp. Where the heck do you get a name like that! Lots and Lots of history here. The 40 or so mile long canal was dug by slaves and shovels in 1805. Many died from snakes bites and such. It is a crazy place for an ocean going sailboat that drafts 5.5 feet of water when it is 7 only or feet deep...or less in spots as we bumped a few times. It is like a trip up the Amazon River...I Think!

Lorrie got the whole rose bush for mother's day in Elizabeth City

Great place with a free dock, oh and a pretty girl!

Into the Amazon!!!!

Lilliy pads galore!

I double dawg dare you to get off the boat!

A crappy picture for sure but check out the turtles sunning themselves

Superintendents house...maybe he should cut the grass and trim the lilly pads a bit!

At times there was only a "slot" in the overhanging tree canopy to fit Godspeeds mast through!

Friday, May 3, 2013

An Ocean Passage

A Passing Container ship under the sail

I wrote this for our hometown newspaper:

I started my day as usual, going through a large stack of fan mail, actually I have never gotten any fan mail. In reality however, the question keeps coming up “how can you spend all that time just floating in a boat and what do you do”. So maybe this will give you some insight into an ocean passage.
Fernandina Beach Florida is the northern most point of Florida’s east coast. Our plan is to “bypass” Georgia and make landfall in Beaufort South Carolina, or if things went really well, continue on to Charleston. The reason to “bypass” Georgia is not that we don’t like it, but it is a pain in the butt to navigate due to its nine foot tides, heavy currents, and winding and shallow waters. For us, we prefer to do this one outside …in the Atlantic Ocean.
After picking a good “weather window” , a period of good weather with the winds blowing the way we want them, we weigh anchor, leave the Intracoastal Waterway and turn to starboard into the Fernandina Inlet at 1300 hours. Inlets can be the most exciting part of any passage, if not downright horrifying, and the timing of current , wind, and incoming ocean swells are good so it is a “sweet” run through the inlet, out the long rock jetties, and into the Atlantic.
The forecast is for east wind moving to the south overnight which is perfect for this trip. After entering the ocean, reality is a bit different. The wind is out of the north, dead on the nose. Well Godspeed can sail against the wind at a 45 degree angle, but not directly into it, we have a limited time (36 hours) to get Godspeed back to safe protected waters before the next heavy weather bears down on us so we opt to deploy the “iron genny” (start the diesel engine) and make some wakes in the right direction until the wind shifts easterly and we can sail.
Now we are at sea, the depth is dropping off, the seas are a gentle one to three feet, “Otto” the autopilot is driving perfectly, and here come the dolphins! They are a never ending source of entertainment, sometimes they are busy group fishing and sometimes they like to come over as our escort and play in the bow or stern wakes, jumping, diving, flipping, blowing…you know, important dolphin stuff! Next business is to get the fishing lines in. Several times we saw the water boiling with baitfish so we circled the area hoping the sea monsters below them would take our lures but no fish.
Believe it or not, there are roads all over the ocean called shipping lanes and we will cross two on this passage, the first one is Brunswick Georgia. This port supplies southern Georgia including Atlanta and there is one massive ship leaving but it is several miles away. Lorrie always has the binoculars and a book bird close by, educating me on the never ending supply of seabirds. Afternoon turns to evening as we sit in the cockpit and have conversation, snacks, compute navigation, and enjoy the wilderness with no land in sight.
At 1950 hours, the sun is setting and we need to prepare for night operations. Navigation lights… on, red cabin lights…on, Dinty Moore beef stew…on. The wind is still on the nose so we motor on! We always slow the boat at night so if we hit something undetected by our radar it will at least be gentle, so the throttle is pulled back and after stew, Lorrie goes below and curls up for a nap. At 2250 hours, I have had enough and “heave to” the boat and crank out a few Z’s. “Heaving To” is where you can position the two sails and rudder to cancel out each other and very effectively “park” in a steady, comfortable angle to the wind and waves, as opposed to just being adrift- tossed like a rag doll. At about midnight I awake to find Lorrie checking our position. We curl up in a blanket are in awe of the moon, stars, and finally a wind change, so we set sails, for the first time on this passage. Sailing at night is very serene and peaceful. Only the gurgle and quiet whoosh as you slip through the water. “Slap…slap…blow…splash” the friendly dolphins appear. By using only red lights tonight, we have good night vision and can see them quite clearly as the moon reflects off their fins and backs, they escort Godspeed along with their silly antics. We laugh and talk to them which seem to egg them on and make them even sillier. Godspeed is in now in a groove and in harmony with the sea, sailing and steering herself on a perfect course, doing what this battle tested sea warrior was made to do! Now all that has to be done is watch the radar and the horizon for other traffic. At night, the seabirds get very curious, brave, and vocal. Some sing a sweet lullaby while others seem to be angry and squawk at our intrusion. Tonight they are very active and welcome visitors indeed. We take turns on watch or below napping until dawn.
At 0630, there is no stunning sunrise this morning due to the light overcast sky, but the sun does find its way through and burns off the morning dew from the deck. At 0800, I am below in the galley making breakfast and coffee, “Big ship to port” Lorrie the admiral says with concern. Sure enough, our second and final sea lane is the port of Savannah, and a supersize containership is headed out on a direct collision course with Godspeed. After a few quick calculations, it appears when we cross, he will be out of the channel and at sea, this gives Godspeed the right of way as we are under full sail power. It is our responsibility to stand on our course and his to change...It’s kind of like a game of chicken. We are just about to declare “chicken” when he does adjust his speed and passes a quarter mile in front of us giving us a sense of awe at the massive vessels and how tiny we are on a big ocean!
The morning was calm, sunny, and warm. Land begins to appear on the port side as we approach the outer buoy to the Beaufort Channel. We line up between the buoys marking the channel, red on the right-green on the left; we make a turn to port, and point Godspeed straight into the seven mile long entrance to the inlet. All is going well until I notice we are quickly being swept out of the channel into dangerous shallow water by a strong side sweeping current. After making corrections to track Godspeed straight through the channel, her bow is now pointed at a thirty degree angle to the channel. For the next seven miles we crab her at this angle to counter the side sweeping current. About half way in a big beautiful shrimp trawler passes as he headed to sea giving us a chance to gawk at him up close and underway.
We enter the inlet under full sail and into Port Royal sound. You may think it’s time to take a deep breath and sigh of relief being inland…not! It gets very busy as a large barge and tugboat pin us to one side of the channel as he takes his half straight down the center. Now we are in inland travel mode, bridges, traffic, and shallow water keep us busy and on our game, far from a relaxing ocean passage. At 1500 hours, we set the hook (anchor Godspeed) in historic Beaufort. Now we plan to enjoy this place for a few days, ride our bikes, explore, maybe meet some of the locals and and enjoy the local color. This is by far what we spend most of our cruising time doing, not aimlessly floating the oceans. At anchor, Godspeed is a comfortable little floating house and our ticket to enjoy many places with no check out time or flight to catch…well at least until the money runs out…which it always seems to!
Our last ocean passage was a bit different than this one. We caught four tunas, had a beautiful sunset over the Kennedy Space Center, a stunning sunrise, caught two more tunas after breakfast and without any shipping traffic. The next passage is to Charleston. This will not be an ocean passage but a sixty mile run up the Intracoastal waterway, through constricted waters, draw bridges, heavy current, six foot tides, tugboats with barges, and vessels of every size and shape…all in close quarters…a completely different kind of passage-but well worth doing!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

So you got a plan do you...

Lorries Fabulous Coconuts!

Happy Birthday to me!

Lorrie "Satting the Anchor"

Sitting on a "coral reef crankin out some tasty licks"


Tropical Airplant!

Godspeed caught the only fish that day (flying fish, see the wings)

Racing sailboats in the Coconut Grove mooring field

So there we were victims of the weather, trapped in Marathon Florida. For the better part of a month we were tied to a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor and a fellow Wyoming cruiser on the vessel Footloose was there. We were having sundowners with him and I was crying the blues about our time to get to the Bahamas was slipping away and how terrible that was. Then the unexpected happened, he looked me square in the eye with that Wyoming “matter a fact” look I know so well and said with measured sarcasm “you poor poor people, stuck on your sailing yacht in the Florida Keys in your shorts, watching the sunset, and after your winter cruise is over you have to go back to a place like Star Valley Wyoming and spend the summer, yea it’s just terrible you can’t make it to the Bahamas the year and my heart goes out to you! Ok Ok Glen, I get the point you are right, this is still fantastic and I will shut up now!
Our good friend Jim Matthews from Northern Florida had driven down and was staying onboard. He planned to cross to the Bahamas with us, and then fly back to his car. He had left his car in Miami, so we sailed out of Boot Key harbor and headed for Miami. The first day was a blustery sail as we were sailing close hauled against the wind and on a beat into the waves. Godspeed was heeled over 15 to 20 degrees and sailed nicely, but you had to move around the boat with care. Of course I had to get a line out and was rewarded with a Spanish mackerel and a nice grouper. We broiled two nice grouper filets that night and had a peaceful night swinging on the hook behind Rodriguez Key and a great sail into Coconut Grove (South of Miami) the next day. Jim waved goodbye and we headed into the ocean, turned north on a fast 90 mile sail to Lake Worth. We had not been a few minutes out when we heard our friends on the vessel Our Freedom on the radio. They were about five miles ahead and were headed to Lake Worth as well so we had a buddy boat. After negotiating the inlet, we approached the cruise ship Bahamas Celebration and she was hard aground blocking the channel with tug boats and lines pulling like mad. We kind of stopped and pondered our next move when a Coast Guard boat with his” flashing blues” just a blazing away rapidly began approaching. “About face” was our next move and he then left us alone. A while later Captain Bud, the tugboat driver, had freed her from her grounding and out to sea she went. The Coast Guard made a security call on the radio telling “all mariners in the vicinity of the Bahamas Celebration be advised to give her a wide berth and pass with extreme caution”…so we did just that! An hour later we set the hook in Lake Worth beside Our Freedom in the dark.
When other cruisers ask us what our plan is, I usually tell them the honest truth “we have no plan”. This cruise we had a plan to go to the Bahamas and our answer was: “we are going to the Bahamas,” however Mother Nature had different plans for us. It is not wise to have a strict plan when living in the great outdoors, so Instead of being disappointed we will slowly head up the coast of Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolinas, cross the Virginia state line and into the Chesapeake Bay. We plan to follow spring up the coast and “take time to smell the roses.”
Hey wait a second, did I just say “PLAN”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Gulf Sream

After giving a rather large amount of blood to the mosquitoes in the Everglades, we weighed anchor before sunrise and had a wonderful sail across the gulf to the Keys. There is one big obstacle to pass through before getting to Boot key harbor in Marathon and many little ones called crab pots. The big obstacle is a seven mile bridge with a small opening in the high rise section and the wind was blowing straight through it so sailing through was not an option. The "iron genny" (diesel engine) was deployed and all was good, for a few minutes anyway. The crab pots were thick and the sun angle on the choppy water made them very hard to see. The danger is if you hit one it will wrap around your prop and stop the iron genny and we had only a foot of water under the keel with reefs all around us, so what do master mariners like us do you ask? HIT A CRABPOT, Yep, that's what we do in a situation like this and it worked just as advertised. The iron genny did not shut off but slowed to a crawl. We were making headway but slowly. Our options were as follows: drop anchor and whimper for help, turn with the wind and run back across the gulf, abandon ship, or limp on through the bridge with very little power. We limped on! After we cleared the bridge we were able to furl out the head sail and whoosh we were off for a safe arrival in Boot Key Harbor. Sails are a good thing.

One of two dinghy docks in Boot Key

Boot Key harbor as viewed from the stearn!

Clearing the prop

The Gulf Stream is a river in the ocean that pulls warm water along the Keys and then turns north. It runs about four to five knots and can be one of the most dangerous bodies of water on the planet or like a lake depending on the wind. South wind= good! North wind= bad...more north wind= more bad. Here we sit in Boot Key harbor with "more bad" waiting for the good wind. So, the moral is: when playing a game of "Gulf" stack the odds in your favor!

No better way to enjoy the great weather than a little sewing!

Final product!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Too much pretty?

I listen to many types of music. Rock and roll has the beat, pop is well just pop but catchy, inspirational is inspiring, but country music is about living life and tells a story. "I ain't ever had too much fun" pops into my head when I think about the last month and a half. Not because I had "too much fun" but what about "too much pretty". We spent five weeks in the shipyard making Godspeed pretty and I wonder if it was the right thing to do. She was a "Man's vessel" where you could do battle with a sea monster, gaff it at the stern, wrestle it into the cockpit, tackle, and whack it with Billy (my fish killing Billy club). When the rush was over, there were scales, fish blood, Pat blood, and you could beat your chest and say RRR-AAAAAAA like a gladiator. real tough guys like Roy Rogers and Mr. Rogers would say "yep, Godspeed is a man's vessel all right!" Well, things have changed aboard the good she is pretty. The cockpit, my previous battle ground, is shinny and new. The settee cushions have little fishes and underwater flowers everywhere. Lorrie makes me wipe my feet, take off my shoes, and follows me around with a bucket of water to cleanse the deck I tread upon. Don, a Canadian boat owner we got to know, said Pat, a pirate has stolen your vessel and has taken command; you are now just her driver. Now that may be just a "little too much pretty". We did escape the grasp of the shipyard and made a huge amount of improvements to Godspeed. Too many to bore you with but she is not the "dock queen" we started with. She is a comfortable cruising contender and a serious traveling gal. Today we had a fantastic sail from Fort Myers Florida to Marco Island in strong gusty winds, and she behaved like the battle tested warrior she is...GOOD GIRL. We will provision here for the Bahamas tomorrow and plan to arrive in the Florida Keys on Thursday if the good wind blows. Next week we plan to pick up our good friend and expert sailor Jim Matthews (not my cousin but another) and cross the Gulf Stream and into Bohemian waters if the weather be continued!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

There's nothing better than...

One of my favorite movie lines that I can certainly identify with is "there is nothing better than riding a fine animal into new country". Movie line or not, I have been blessed to experience this for real many times. I'll tell you something else "there's nothing better than sailing a fine vessel into new waters". Godspeed slipped under the "Seven Mile Bridge" At Marathon Florida and into new waters. Yet Again! The Gulf of Mexico. Many times as we slice through the sea, I tell Lorrie "What an amazing little machine she is". Her legs are unlimited, she makes all of her own electrical power, only complains if I push her too hard (which I have learned not to do now), and will self steer herself seemingly forever...flawlessly. I could go on and on but you get the picture. Simplicity is divine! What a gal! Within a mile of the bridge we anchored and I had to jump in. Snorkeled around looking for lobsters but none were to be seen. It didn't matter much... we had Mahi Mahi in the freezer and new water ahead. Miles and miles of white sandy beaches where to starboard as we caught site of land that afternoon, not a soul in site because there is no way to get there unless you travel by boat. Yes, we were in Everglades national Park. No Cell phone signal, no lights, very few boats, and only nature. We really did not realize it was so big but reality set in and Godspeed was many miles from mankind in a wilderness of mangroves, alligators, and old time Florida. I love it! Well provisioned we might as well enjoy it and that we did. long dinghy expeditions, great fishing, and solitude were an the daily menu and we ordered them all! The end is near! Well, we had a couple of weeks to burn so we sailed into Fort Myers beach. On way, I caught a nice King mackerel and when we entered, Our Freedom and Non-Linear were there. Fish fry the next evening, and you guessed it, a fine King Mackerel fed us all with much left to split up and enjoy later. Knot Tide Down, Hocus Pocus, Our freedom, Non-Linear, were all boats we have swung on the hook with before...some hundreds and some more than a thousand miles from here, is that cool or what! You never know who or what is ahead of her bow. After removing the mast, building sun covers, and feeding an alligator Ritz crackers, we said a temporary good by to our trusty little ship. She will spend hurricane season in Port Charlotte Florida and be in prime position to explore the Gulf, or the Bahamas, or both...I don't what's next, But more than likely we'll be sailing a fine vessel into new waters!