Snakes on the Brain

Signs: sometimes blatant and direct, sometimes subtle and vague.  Exploring the marina we found a couple of extreme examples.  The fuel docks signs are so overdone that I have the biggest urge to drive up and ask if they have any Grey Poupon.

Great Bridge (1 of 6)

The second sign, old and weathered, quietly identified an equally battered corrugated steel building.

Great Bridge (4 of 6)

Stepping through the door was like stepping into the Tardis; so much bigger on the inside!  To us midwesterners a “shed” is not something that houses a dozen large yachts.

Great Bridge (2 of 6)

This was just shed #2 out of four.  In a few, tall yachts were almost scraping the ceiling.

Great Bridge (3 of 6)

A sign in the shed told boaters not to start their engine inside the shed.  Does this mean they have to push the yacht out by hand?

Curiouser and curiouser.

The highlight of the day was meeting John and Heidi Ferrell.  These two lovely souls have been following our blog and invited us to meet them here in Great Bridge.  They are natives and fellow sailors, previously owning a Gemini and then upsizing to a Wildcat 35.  Their new boat is one foot longer than Endeavor, but 7.25 feet wider… 150% the width!

Great Bridge (6 of 6)

Heidi and John are moving quickly toward retirement, organizing their life to cruise.  They plan to sail the Caribbean and eventually the world.  I looking forward to reading their blog,

We met at the dock, toured Endeavor, had Mexican for lunch, took Peg for a thrift shop fix, and picked up some groceries. (Thanks, you two!)  The afternoon was spent swapping stories and tips with these new friends. I picked up some valuable local knowledge about the Chesapeake Bay for the coming week.

John informed me that water moccasin snakes are common in this area, so I feel justified in jumping just a bit when we rounded a corner in the boat shed and saw this:

Great Bridge (5 of 6)

Let’s see:  stealthy alligators, sneaky snakes, speedy sharks, snappy sows, ugly gator-gar, vampire no-see-ums, toothy barracudas, monster spiders, and pushy iguanas.  What other things could nibble on us this trip?

 

The Proper Lee-verage

Moving a heavy boat around safely in tight quarters requires the crew to use both common sense and mechanical principles.  Much easier to let lines, wind, current and a motor do the work.

The wind was a great help to us today, its force pushing us north rapidly.  We blew past our original stop again, this time landing in Great Bridge, Virginia.  Endeavor is 20 miles, as the snake swims, from Chesapeake Bay.

Yes, we did see another snake today… it swam across the canal in front of us.

The wind force that sped us North creates a headache for local homeowners.  The waters we are on are affected not by tides (planetary effect), but by the wind.  The strong southerly wind pushes water up the tributaries, causing water levels to rise.  Like a high tide, we are seeing plenty of water to sail through.  Homeowners in the lowlands are seeing their yards flood.

Great Bridge (3 of 8)

The route we are following, called Virginia Cut, is another funnel point for loopers: everyone comes through here.  Thus we are seeing many looping boats at marinas and as they pass us.  Mark and Becky, on Mara Beel passed us today.  They were the first official Loopers we met after leaving Bayport.  Their boat is sold and they are delivering it to new owners on Chesapeake Bay.  They will leverage the money to buy a smaller trailerable trawler to extend their cruising range.

Great Bridge (1 of 8)

This bascule railroad bridge near our destination clearly shows how a massive counterweight is used to help raise the bridge section.

Great Bridge (4 of 8)

I don’t think the graffiti is any help at all.

Great Bridge (5 of 8)

A common sight in boatyards; the physics of propping up a 20,000 lb. boat like this is still a little freaky.  I much prefer the stability of our catamaran sitting on four blocks.

Great Bridge (7 of 8)

I leveraged the adjustment brush tool in Lightroom to highlight the bascule bridge just past the marina.  That way lies the Chesapeake Bay,

Great Bridge (1 of 1).jpg

This topic of leverage is on my mind due to our docking experience this afternoon.  The marina was booked up but, because we had reservations, the dock master saved us a space… only a few short feet longer than Endeavor.

Great Bridge (8 of 8)

Endeavor does not slide sideways, at least not without a current, so another approach was needed.  With no wind or current, we come in slowly about 45 degrees to the dock.  When the port bow is close to the dock Peg steps off and wraps a bow line around a forward dock piling.  I then put Endeavor in reverse and point the rear of the outboard motor toward the dock.  The line tensions and Endeavor slowly slides sideways to the dock.  The dock master smiles and a gathering audience of boaters applauds.

Great Bridge (5 of 5)

If only reality were that easy.  Full disclosure: we took a couple of tries, but got her docked without any injuries or property damage.

And no applause.

We Accept Everyone, Not Everything

We try to be welcoming on Endeavor.  We accept family, friends, Catamaran-Curious bystanders and well-behaved pets.  If pushed, we’d even accept a… never mind, I swore I’d leave politics out of this forum.

We draw the line at snakes, political or otherwise.

A particular water snake here at Broad Creek, measuring 4.4 feet, did not get the memo.

The gap under our Honda generator made a nice little hiding spot for our guest.

Little Alligator River (2 of 7)

It would not come out, even when baited with Salami or prodded with a stick.  Once we lifted the generator the size of our little friend became clear.

Little Alligator River (3 of 7)

Its hiding spot gone, it slithered along the stern…

Little Alligator River (4 of 7)

… and down the rear steps.

Little Alligator River (5 of 7)

When last seen, our new friend was swimming quickly back to the marsh.

Little Alligator River (6 of 7)

Little Alligator River (7 of 7)

Prior ro discovering our invader, we were anchored close to a marshy area at Broad Creek, on the North River.  We’ve moved a few hundred feet farther off the marsh to discourage more visits…

But…

If you hear someone screaming like a little girl tonight, that’ll be, uh, Peg!

Broad Creek (11 of 11)

The Long, Non-Winding Road

A line may be the shortest distance between two points, but not always the most interesting. A good example is the 22 mile canal between the Pungo and Alligator rivers.  Our 53 mile trek today from Belhaven included the canal and the Alligator River.

Little Alligator River (6 of 6)

The canal is split in two sections, with a shallow bend in the middle.  Each section was so straight I used the “Goto Waypoint” feature of our navigation system.  With the boat centered in the canal, I clicked on the center of the canal at the other end, then selected “Goto Waypoint”.  The Chartplotter and Autopilot worked together to guide Endeavor straight down the canal.

That is, until we ran into a traffic jam.  It made no difference to the two sailboats we were following if we drove down the center of the road.  The appearance of an inland cruise ship changed the dynamic.  Time to switch off the electronics and hand-steer.

Little Alligator River (2 of 6)

Once the Grand Mariner passed, we were free to go back hogging the road, as it were.

Little Alligator River (3 of 6)

Keeping the sails trimmed to boost our speed was a challenge.  Occasional wind shadows from trees caused the sails to luff (flap and lose power).  On the Alligator River the south wind kicked up.  Our original plan was to anchor at the south end of the river, but instead had a delightful sail up to our backup anchorage.

Sinbad, a red-hulled sailboat crewed by a French couple, entered the river 1/2 mile before us.  Their speed was .2 mph slower than ours.  We gained oh so slowly on them during the next 15 miles, passing just before we reached the Alligator River Swing Bridge.

Silly protocol question:  When is the opportune moment to wave when passing another boat at .2 mph?  Is it okay to wave more than once in that situation, or is that just dorky?  Maybe wave once and feign sudden busy-ness with some task in the cockpit?  These are serious questions; US-French relations are at stake.

The 3 mile bridge is low to the water, with a swinging span in the middle for boat passage.

Little Alligator River (4 of 6)

Little Alligator River (5 of 6)

We are now 82 miles from Norfolk, Virginia.  Going the extra 18 miles today set us up to go 16 miles across Albemarle Sound in the lighter winds of morning tomorrow.

You Know

It creeps up on you slowly.  Stealthily.  Little things start to be second nature.  Old habits, ingrained for years, slowly morph to fit your new reality.

But, one day you know: You are a cruiser.

You know you’re a cruiser when…

…stores are judged by quality of their grocery bags, later to become your trash bags.

…buying decisions hinge on the effort to carry that silly thing miles back to the boat, and the space needed to store it.

…9:00 pm becomes your new midnight.

…a 2 gallon shower only takes 1.5 gallons.

…a long hot shower at a marina is almost as pleasing as… well, you know.  Almost.

…a sniff test decides whether a shower is needed.  Or a grimace from your spouse.

…weather, tides and current are more important than current events.

…onboard meal choices are made depending on the number of dirty dishes generated.

…little bits of local humor and flavor begin to catch your eye, instead of being missed among the noise of life.

Belhaven (2 of 5)

…you begin favoring local eateries over corporate franchises.

Belhaven (3 of 5)

…watching TV becomes 10th on a list of 10 priorities.

…reading becomes preferred entertainment.

…catching lines and helping another boat dock in bad conditions automatically creates a new friendship.

…chance meetings, like today, of old friends on the loop (Mikey & Joell, Myron &Linda), and new friends we just met today (Rich & Lynn, Albert &Jenny, Robert) are a reason for docktails and story swapping.

…20 minutes of docktails is spent discussing the merits of composting toilets on boats,   in graphic detail.

…sunsets become a time to pause and reflect on the glorious day.

Belhaven (4 of 5)

Cheers from Belhaven, North Carolina.

 

 

Belhaven

Last night was moist*,
But today is dry,
So onward North,
We must now fly.

Fair winds at our back,
Many miles did we go,
52 by the sea,
42 by a crow.

Thru Pamlico, Pungo,
Neuse, Goose and Bay
We zig-zagged on rivers;
A most scenic way!

We got to Belhaven,
A quaint little port,
Tied up in “Wynn’s Gut”…
A dock of a sort.

Belhaven (3 of 5)

So narrow it was,
And wind not so tame,
Turning our boat around,
Took some bodacious game.

Belhaven (4 of 5)

We no sooner arrived,
But who should appear?
The Chamber of Commerce,
With Smiles and Good Cheer.

A gift bag they gave us,
and a welcome to town,
Among cruisers this place,
Has a friendly renown.

The Admiral had cravings.
For fair Chinese fare,
So to Panda we biked,
In the warm evening air.

Each person we’ve met,
Meets our eye and does smile,
“Feel at home, if you please,
and visit a while”.

Belhaven (5 of 5)

We’ll stay one more night,
Take a good look around,
And then once more,
To the North we are bound.

*Actually about 5 inches of rain, filling our water tanks and causing flash floods in the area.

 

That Rainy Day Feeling

Cedar Creek (1 of 1)

Second full day hiding from weather in Cedar Creek, just off the Neuse River.  After several hundred miles of marshland it is refreshing to see the shoreline changing to stands of tall pines.  Reminds us of the north shore of Lake Superior.

The downtime has been filled with games of Rummikub, reading, pelican and dolphin watching, and much rain.

Oh, and showers: crew and craft were getting a bit rank from lack of washing as we put in long days moving fast up the North Carolina coast.

Reminded me of this quote:

‘“At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much.”
– Robin Lee Graham

That goes for showers as well, but at some point the crew begins giving each other wide berth, so there are limits.

The pause has also allowed time for updating our rough plan for the rest of the trip:

Loop Plan.png

About 1,885 miles remain.  The waterways ahead vary widely, from wide Chesapeake Bay to skinny canals in New York and Ontario, from chaotic New York harbor to virtually empty Lake Superior.  The plan is just a guideline and we will speed up or slow down as fits the situation.

Obstacle Course

Goal:  Move Endeavor north to the Pamlico Sound area before a forecasted storm front arrives.

Obstacle #1: Cape Fear River

Going north from Southport on the inside means sailing up the Cape Fear River for 10 miles.  No big deal.  Unless you are in a sailboat and the tide is running out against you.  The river can flow out at almost 3 mph.  Subtract that from our usual cruising speed of 6.2 mph and the scenery drags by.

Most slow boats wait for the tide to change to get a boost up the river.  Sadly, the incoming tide currently hits about 11:45am.  Leaving that late in the morning means a short mile day.  So we, like others, compromise and start earlier, say 10:30am.  We have current against us for the first hour or so, but then it slows and switches direction.

Obstacle #2: Shoals

The Intracoastal Waterway was designed to allow commercial and pleasure boats to move along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico without need for ocean travel.  Due to the action of tidal currents, silting forms shallow spots that must be dredged to allow boats to pass safely.  ICW dredging is a favorite target of budget cutters in Washington, so boats must dodge these ever-changing sand bars .  Most of our buddy boats are about 5 feet draft, so when they see the depth go to six feet they reach for Rolaids.

Even though Endeavor runs shallow, opaque shallow water is unnerving.  I sure miss the clear Bahamian water.  So nice seeing what is below you.

 Obstacle #3:  Swing and Bascule Bridges

Most bridges we pass are 65 feet above the water and thus no obstacle.  The remainder are swing or bascule types.  Many open on a schedule and the rest open when called.  Schedules are either on the hour and half-hour, or just on the hour.  We must time our approach to arrive at the bridge close to the open time.  Get there too early and you have to fight current, wind and other boaters while waiting for the opening.  Get there one minute late and you may be delayed an hour until the next opening.

We’re becoming skilled at using our navigation programs to estimate time of arrival; usually arriving at the bridge within a minute or two of open.

Southport (9 of 10)

Obstacle #4: Heavy Weaponry

Camp LeJeune was along our path today.  The Marines practice firing live ammo over the ICW.  The Swiss cheese armored personnel carrier below has taken a few rounds.

If they shot over the ICW while we sailed by and watched… that would be COOL! But, no, they close the ICW for up to 4 hours to practice.  No practice scheduled today, but we could have lost 1/2 day of travel.

Southport (4 of 10)

 

Obstacle #5: The Non-Slow Pass

A slow pass goes like this:

Boat B wanting to overtake boat A calls boat A on the radio and asks permission to do a slow pass.  A agrees and reduces to no-wake speed.  Boat B slows to just faster and passes boat A with little wake. Once past, boat B goes back to full speed and boat A resumes cruising speed.

Most cruisers are kind enough to do this for others.

Others, not so much.  The biggest offenders, IMHO, are sport fishermen.  Apparently the fish cannot wait another 30 seconds, so these clowns race through no wake zones, make kayakers fearful, wake other fishermen and generally disregard all others.

Not that I have a strong opinion or anything.

Southport (3 of 10)

Obstacle #6:  Distractions

Real estate along the ICW is generally expensive looking, with flashy boats and water toys everywhere.  Some of these toys are scary-distracting, like the two Sea-Doos that passed us within 20 feet doing say, 65 mph.  Some are OMG-distracting, like the boat full of tanned supermodels in bikinis.

And some are I-want-that-distracting, like this personal helicopter.  Better than the Sea Doos or supermodels any day.

Southport (10 of 10)

Despite all these obstacles, we made a big dent in our Charleston to Norfolk leg.

Yesterday we started later to catch the Cape Fear River tide and took until almost sundown to reach our destination 45 miles away.  The day just seemed to drag.

Today it all came together.  I started sailing at 7 am.  We hit two scheduled bridges on time.  We had a 15-20 mph tailwind.  We had current going our way most of the trip, especially the last 18 miles racing up Adams Creek.  With all these advantages we made it 76 miles by 6:10pm.

We pushed the mileage to make sure we are in a protected anchorage. Heavy weather is expected to move in late tonight and last 3 days. The anchorage in Cedar Creek, just south of Oriental, North Carolina, is more secure than what was available along the ocean.

Cedar Creek

We’ve averaged 46 miles each day since leaving Charleston, so sitting out a couple days of weather will be restful.

Trip To Date

 

I wanted to go ashore at Camp LeJeune and scrounge some stuff for the 4th of July, but the Admiral nixed that idea.  What a party pooper.

Southport (5 of 10)

For Peat’s Sake

Our $99 Huffy mountain bikes are holding up better than their price would suggest.  The poor rear rack Peg’s made it back from Walmart today with a 33 pound bale of peat moss strapped above two heavily loaded saddlebags.

Southport (1 of 1)

The weight back there had the ass end of the bike wiggling like a happy puppy.

Why 33 pounds of peat moss?  For the composting head, and it was the smallest bale they sell.  We gave away half of the last bale down in the Bahamas and find ourselves likely to run short in the next month or two.

The day was spent doing boat chores, finding a library to print an amended tax return, finding the post office to mail the return, finding Peg a thrift shop to browse, stopping at Walmart for Sphagnum Flexuosum (peat), eating fajitas for two at a local Mexican joint, attending a free weather/routing briefing put on daily by a sailor/meteorologist, and reflecting on life accompanied by sunset.

Southport (1 of 1)-2

A typical day for a cruising boat.  Not much to talk about, really.

Blogging

 

 

No, but I’ve been on a real big boat

Now is the time to buy a shrimp boat and get into the shrimp’n business.  The North Carolina ICW is loaded with wrecked ones, so less competition.  It worked for Forrest and Lieutenant Dan, so why not you?

You’re welcome.

Southport (1 of 10)

Southport (2 of 10)

Southport (3 of 10)

Then again, there is a lot of wrecked stuff along the coast, so maybe not a million dollar idea after all.

Southport (5 of 10)

The wind and tides conspired to make today’s leg a long slog.  Funny how a boat can  twist and turn up a river and yet have the wind dead on her nose the whole time.  By the end of our day I was jealous of the Osprey pilots thumping upwind with ease.

Southport (4 of 10)

Our destination was Southport Marina, at the southern end of the Cape Fear River.  Southport highlights the history of its River Pilots, sailors with unique knowledge of local obstacles endangering ships.  During peace time pilots board incoming and outgoing freighters, helping them move safely.  During the civil war the pilots commanded huge fees for helping Confederate ships run the union blockades.

Southport (9 of 10)

Southport (8 of 10)

We had our own river pilot, Google Maps, to guide the crews of Endeavor, Bucket List and Blue Heaven as we trudged 1.2 miles to the Southport Smokehouse in search of BBQ for dinner.  We were not disappointed:  the meals were decently priced, filling and tasty.

Southport (7 of 10)

We waddled slowly and contentedly back to the boat, avoiding dangerous local obstacles.

Southport (6 of 10)