Archive for November 2010
I realized the other day that the boat has become my home. That may sound silly – of course it’s my home…or of course a boat could never really be a home – but the feeling snuck up on me. When I’m away from Pirat I find myself missing the bunk Lee and I share, the jam-packed but cozy space we inhabit, and the small pleasures of a relatively simple life.
We spent the weekend with our friends Sarah and Derek and Derek’s dad, who was visiting for Thanksgiving. The trio ventured across half (maybe more) of North Carolina to meet us for a sail on Saturday. It was a beautiful, sunny, but cold day and we all really enjoyed the sail. After a tasty lunch provided by our visitors, Pirat took us downwind out of Elizabeth City. Eventually we had to turn around, since it would take much longer to sail back upwind. The crew hiked out on the windward rail and Captain Sarah tried her hand at the helm. She did an awesome job and wasn’t at all phased by gusty, shifty breeze.
Pulling back into the slip wasn’t as easy as Lee and I thought it would be with extra hands. For no particular reason it seemed harder to get all the lines in place on the pilings. When Pirat was safely docked, it was cleanup and move time! The crew from Carrboro got a head start so they could work on dinner when they got home. Lee and I tidied up, picked up some more ice, and hopped in our suburban to drive inland! Oh, did I forget to mention that we rented a suburban? It turned out that renting a car for two days was cheaper than taking the bus one-way back to the boat. When Sarah and I showed up at Enterprise on Saturday morning they didn’t have the compact car I’d reserved. All they had was a suburban (identical to Sarah’s rental suburban she’s taking to Virginia for work). I took the ginormo car for the price of the mini-car. Oh well. I felt like a soccer mom with 12 invisible children in the back!
In Carrboro, our hosts fed us delicious food, provided comfy couch sleeping arrangements, entertained us with their cat, and gave us a little taste of the neighborhood. We went for a little “aerobic nature walk”, as Sarah likes to call it, then hit up the local bike store, co-op, and delicious Mediterranean restaurant. Sarah and Derek are adventuresome cooks and enjoy the bounty of locally grown food in their area. They prepared flounder from the NC coast for dinner. For breakfast, they dished out homemade bacon and home baked bread. Yum!
It was so wonderful to spend time with friends. Lee and I don’t have much of a social life on the boat and there are moments when I really, really miss my Denver Anthro crowd.
Lee and I headed back to the coast on Sunday afternoon. We stopped at Trader Joe’s (yay!), Lowes, and Best Buy on the way. I guess the big car came in handy. At Best Buy, we picked up a replacement camera, since mine has officially drowned. Our new little waterproof digital camcorder is so cute and takes such awesome videos (coming soon)! It’s the most cost-effective option for what we wanted but it doesn’t take particularly good pictures. I guess that’s where the DSLR on my Christmas list comes in…too bad we didn’t have a camera while we were in Carrboro.
What’s the latest disaster to befall Pirat and her crew? Another alternator meltdown. This time the regulator that tells it how fast to charge the batteries failed. Lee happened to check the voltage while we were motoring this morning and saw that it was way, way too high. He had to disconnect the alternator so it would not fry our batteries. That means we can’t charge things up with the engine, don’t have a wind generator, and can’t expect the solar panel to cover all our energy needs. Fortunately, the company we got the alternator from agreed to send a new one asap. We’re picking it up in Beaufort, NC, which is a couple days away.
Tonight we’re anchored near Belhaven, NC. We’re keeping energy use to an absolute minimum and are pretty confident we’ll make it to Beaufort to get our alternator. What luck we have.
Check out our updated map!
I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful Thanksgiving. It was a cool day with some sun and just enough wind. Lee and I left Coinjock, NC around 8:30 in the morning and continued down the Virginia Cut portion of the ICW. My camera could not be resuscitated so it was frustrating to watch all the beautiful scenery going by without being able to take pictures. I tried to pay more attention to the sights, appreciating them in the moment rather than saving them for later.
When we got out into Albemarle Sound, Lee proposed that we set the spinnaker. This has been an obsession of his ever since we got the boat. When are we going to fly the spinnaker? How exactly would be rig it? What kind of conditions would be good? Do we need more people? How fast would we go? There have been lots of spinnaker discussions. Yesterday was the day to give it a go. The sound was flat. There were no other boats around. The wind was coming over our stern quarter at 8-10 knots. We raised the main and shut off the engine. I rigged the sheets, squeezed the bulky spinnaker out of the aft cabin and up on deck. We set up the pole, something we’ve practiced a lot with poling out the jib, attached the halyard, and double checked everything. I reviewed the procedure for setting the chute with Lee, who has only used one once (with his dad and me on the Sylph). It was very intimidating to be the one who supposedly knew what I was doing, even though I’m used to being part of a full racing crew when doing this kind of activity.
I pre-fed the guy. Lee jumped the halyard while I tailed and then jumped to the cockpit to trim the sheet and guy. It was up! Pirat instantly picked up speed with the billowy, rainbow-colored kite pulling her downwind. We adjusted the pole height, and I instantly fell into the rhythm of trimming, something I’ve always enjoyed. It was a beautiful, triumphant moment! Lee snapped a few pictures with his phone to document our accomplishment. We cruised downwind for an hour or so, reaching around 5.5 knots in 7-8 knots of wind. Not bad for a couple people on a loaded down old racing boat.
Lee is such a ham, taking picture of himself with the sail!
Eventually the time came to drop the chute, something I’d been dreading. I pictured it wrapping around the forestay or going in the water because I couldn’t gather it up fast enough. It did neither. We were sailing a little by-the-lee (past dead down wind in the wrong direction) so instead of just being blanketed by the main, the spinnaker kind of backwinded into the pole. Lee manned the halyard and I managed to get the on deck without any trouble. It was the kind of thing that would not have worked with more wind.
We finished the day with a little wing n’wing sailing while I started working on Thanksgiving dinner. We motored into Elizabeth City around 3:30. The free slips were a bit sketchy but Lee did a masterful job docking. I went into high-gear on dinner and Lee busted out the barbecue for his turkey breast. People kept stopping by to talk to us – random locals as well as a guy from a trimaran around the corner. He and his wife are inexperienced sailors heading South too! Hopefully we get to talk to them again today.
The turkey breast-roast (that’s what Butterball calls it) took a while on the barbecue but Lee did an awesome job with it. It smelled and looked sooooo good…I almost wanted to try some. We sat down for our first Thanksgiving dinner on our own, away from family, and carried on the Magnusson tradition of saying what we’re thankful for. The list is long and somewhat corny. I won’t bore you. Our feast included delicatta squash stuffed with my own invented bulgar stuffing, roasted green beans and potatoes, rutabegga that accidentally ended up really, really tasty (I followed to recipe and just cooked it off and on till the turkey was done), homemade cranberry conserve, and of course BBQ’d turkey and gravy. Not bad for Thanksgiving on a boat, huh?
We fell into deep food comas afterwards but I was awake enough to make rendezvous plans with Sarah! She and Derek and Derek’s dad are coming on Saturday morning so we’re in for a fun weekend with friends!
The inevitable tragedy finally happened. I dropped my camera in the water. I stumbled on my way to take the helm from Lee and flung my camera case off my hand, where the strap was looped. At least we found out the case floats! Lee managed to turn the boat around in the narrow ICW channel and retrieved the soggy camera. It’s been sitting on the chart table, battery and card removed, to dry all day. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.
So here we are, 50 miles or so down the Intracoastal Waterway. Norfolk was nice but very industrial. There was a lot to look at in our brief trip yesterday. We passed under or through a lot of bridges and even transited a lock (the things that bring vessels from one water level to another through a gated equalizing thingy). There were very few other boats but we had to hand steer and keep to the channel diligently.
After the lock, the Great Bridge Bridge opened for the group of boats we’d come through with. I guess the place where the bridge is located is called Great Bridge so they named the bridge after it: the Great Bridge Bridge. Very silly. Anyway, we tied up to a free dock on the far side of the bridge. Surprisingly, the free docks on both sides were empty. I guess people pass them by because they’re only about 10 miles down the ICW. We figured it was wise to keep our first day on such a different body of water short.
The dock was close to a grocery store so I did my Thanksgiving dinner shopping. Meanwhile, Lee sneaked behind the store and found a milk crate for my bike! Sine my saddlebags proved more dangerous than useful back in Newport, we’ve been on the hunt for a milk crate to put on my bike rack. Now I can go to the store alone and buy more than my backpack will hold! Yay!
We left Great Bridge in time to make it through two more bridges this morning. Somewhere between the first and second bridge my camera went for a swim. Therefore I only have pictures of today’s first few miles. It’s too bad cause the scenery was gorgeous today! Tall trees lined the canal and everything was a crisp, clear…except the water, which was the color of butterscotch pudding.
Tonight, we’re on a dock in Coinjock, NC. This is a totally new state! I’ve never been here before and Lee and I didn’t reach NC on our summer trip. It’s a beautiful state so far and I’m looking forward to seeing more! Tomorrow we’re off to Elizabeth City, where we’ll probably anchor just this side of a bridge that won’t be opening on the holiday. I wish I could take pictures of our fabulous Thanksgiving dinner (including a turkey breast on the BBQ) but words will have to do.
Thanks to a little blogger to blogger encouragement, I have a more philosophical post brewing. Thanksgiving may be just the time to share. We shall see.
Oh yeah, we’re in Norfolk, VA! We are farther south than we’ve ever sailed and this is starting to feel like a one-way trip through territory we’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. There is no turning back. Lee and I are thoroughly converted to cruising life and our hunger for exotic shores increases every day.
The long stay in Ocean City was a bit frustrating. It really wasn’t a bad place to get stuck but it got old fast. The shiny sport fishing boats, denuded landscape of waterside McMansions, and runs down busy, sidewalk-challenged roads didn’t really make us feel at home. We had to deal with our mechanical problems before we could get on with things but that, as usual, was a frustrating process. The alternator Lee ordered eventually arrived but it needed some adjustments before it would fit on the engine.
We were not quite ready to go by 3pm on Friday. There was still a lot of cleaning up to do and Lee hadn’t had a chance to change the oil in the engine, which was long overdue. We postponed departure on more day and were glad we did. Most of Saturday was spent stowing things on the boat, changing the oil, getting diesel, and chatting with our dock neighbor. Ben came in on a steel ketch which he sails alone. His boat looks like it’s been through a lot and the stories we heard from the owner more than confirmed that.
Ben has been sailing around for 20 years. He’s weathered hurricanes and had close-calls of every kind imaginable for a sailor. He told us a smattering of stories about life in the Caribbean, the people he’s met, and how he lives aboard. I asked what his favorite place is in the Caribbean and when he came back with the Dominican Republic Lee and I were not surprised. We’ve read rave reviews of the D.R. from Bruce Van Sant in his Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South. Apparently our seasoned dock neighbor knows Van Sant and shares his love for the D.R.’s relaxed atmosphere and friendliness to foreigners. It’s high on our list of places to visit.
A milk crate on the beach!? I’m looking for one to put on my bike rack but this one was missing one side.
When we finally left on Saturday afternoon Lee and I were ready to say goodbye to Ocean City and Assateague island. I had seen my ponies on the island during a morning run on friday. Four of five of them watched us suspiciously from the dunes as we ran down the beach. I felt like a giddy little girl again when I saw those ponies. Who can resist wild ponies that live on an island? I thought of them galloping through the sand as we made our way through the inlet and turned South.
Within a few miles, we encountered a boat that had pulled in to the marina the day before. It had left earlier on Saturday and appeared to be heading back to Ocean City. We thought that seemed a bit strange but were even more perplexed when they reversed course after we passed them. Why were they following us? Did they leave to sail South, turn back for some reason, and then change their minds when they saw us going South? It was very mysterious. Yesterday they pulled in to the Norfolk anchorage where we had settled. Weird.
The passage was easy. It was a calm night and we had to motor most of the way. Lee plotted our course well around potentially dangerous shoals and we each kept one eye on the depth gauge and the other scanning the darkness for breaking waves. I say darkness but it was anything but dark. The moon was so bright I could have read my book on deck without additional light. Unfortunately I was too cold and restless to read during my shifts. I listened to my ipod and looked around at the moonlit ocean instead.
Lee stood the 8-11pm watch while I slept down below. Then I was up from 11pm-2am before Lee was on again from 2-5am. I stood the sunrise shift, watching the orange ball melt out of the horizon while Lee caught a bit more sleep from 5-7am. It was a long night but there were no crises! We turned the corner into the mouth of the Chesapeake shortly after sunrise and spent the morning avoiding shipping traffic. Some traffic controller even hailed us from land to warn us about two container ships whose courses we’d be crossing. Lee had already seen the ships on AIS and he ended up ducking behind one.
Big ships like this were everywhere.
It took a while to find a place to settle for the night. We investigated an anchorage and Hampton that Ben had recommended but it was way too shallow. Going straight to Norfolk made the most sense. That’s where the Intracoastal Waterway starts and our guide to ICW anchorages described a decent spot along the Elizabeth river. After passing countless Navy ships and commercial monstrosities, we joined a handful of other boats in an anchorage surrounded by city. More boats came in after us, including the one that followed us out of Ocean City and a couple of others we’d seen traveling together on our way to O.C.
Norfolk across the river.
A full night of sleep restored us and we spent the afternoon exploring Norfolk a bit. The plan is to leave tomorrow but I’m nut sure where we’ll end up. I’m really excited to see Sarah and Derek in North Carolina so she and I are coordinating that plan.
It finally feels like we’re getting somewhere…and going somewhere. We are in a new and interesting place and have many new and interesting places ahead!
Why do I always leave everything till the last minute when it’s time to leave? Ocean City has been nice. It’s kept Lee and I entertained for the past few days while we wait for our new alternator. Now we’re all spread out, settled in, and spoiled by things like internet and nice showers. Tomorrow we have to install the new alternator, do tons of laundry, put away the dinghy + engine, bike to get groceries and then put away the bikes, make Pirat seaworthy again, get diesel, and take naps in preparation for an all-nighter.
The plan is to leave here around 4 or 4:30pm, sail through the night and arrive in Norfolk, VA by noon on Saturday. That way we do the trickiest parts of the passage (leaving here and arriving in an unfamiliar spot) during daylight. This is a technique that will undoubtedly come in handy in the Caribbean, where we’ll be sailing similar distances and arriving in new places all the time.
Alternator wise, we should be set. The place we took our old one declared it unfixable and offered to sell us a new one for more than 3 times the cost it should have been. Lee decided to order a new alternator online and have it 2-day shipped (still 1/3 the cost from the local shop). We managed to get the old alternator back but were very unhappy with Edward’s Marine in West Ocean City. What ever happened to customer service?
During our stay here we explored via a few good runs and biked around. The rest of the time we pretty much sat around and stared at computer screens. I did some baking. On the one night it rained, we chose to walk to a local crab house for dinner. Their Maryland style crab chowder was delicious – very spicy!
Today we took the dinghy over to Assateague Island, which is right across the harbor. We didn’t see any ponies but we were the only people on the huge beach. There weren’t even any footprints in the sand. Two black lumps on the beach turned out to be bald eagles. They flew off over the ocean as we approached.
Now it’s time to watch a movie. We’re plugged in to shore power so we don’t have to worry about the energy the TV uses. I’ll sign off with a few of our own movies. I finally got around to uploading these snippets from our past few passages.
The first is from NYC, where the 79th St. Boat Basin docks were particularly entertaining. The second video shows a few of the smaller waves we encountered between New York and Atlantic City. Lee took the last video of me reading my kindle and enjoying my tea on the morning of our sail to Cape May. I’m talking but you can’t hear me. I have no idea what I’m saying.
This is getting ridiculous. You’ll see what I mean.
Enjoying tea and reading my kindle on a nice sail to Cape May.
On Saturday we dragged ourselves out of Atlantic City. It was somewhat hard to get moving again after what happened on our way there. Plus, the waves were still HUGE (they actually got bigger) and life tied to a dock is so cushy! Saturday ended up being the perfect day to leave. It was sunny. The waves weren’t bad at all once we got away form the inlet. There was wind but not too much. We even sailed wing -n-wing for a while.
By mid-afternoon we were snuggly anchored in our favorite spot next to the Coast Guard station in Cape May, NJ. There were a couple other cruising boats there and more arrived later that night. It felt good to finally get to the place we set out for exactly 2 weeks prior. Too bad we didn’t make it there in the 2 days we’d planned to take.
As nice as Cape May is, Lee and I decided to keep the momentum going. We were heading into a few days of very calm winds so we knew we could make progress down the coast by motoring. After a morning run, we took stealthy showers at the marina where we stayed briefly last time we were here. Then we pulled up the anchor and joined the throngs of weekend fisherman heading out to sea.
The day of motoring was uneventful. It was sunny and actually almost warm! I only wore one or two long sleeve shirts and fleece pants all day! The waves, however, were painfully annoying. They were huge, rolling swells coming from just aft of abeam (a little towards the back of the boat from being parallel to our path). They rolled Pirat like she was a bath toy and there was nothing we could do about it. Raising the main as a stabilizer would just flog the sail back and forth all day, adding a really annoying sound to the already annoying motion we were experiencing. I have bruises all over the place from our past couple passages. I bang my sides, shins, and knees into all kinds of things when the boat is rolling all over the place. Cooking is a riot. Anything I put on the counter slides back and forth with every roll and I can’t put any liquid-containing container without a lid on any surface but the stove, which moves with the rolls. Fortunately I tolerate the motion reasonably well seasickness wise and Lee has never been seasick in his life.
Ferris wheel! There wasn’t much to take pictures of till we got to Ocean City.
So ends another successful day, bringing us 40-some miles closer to the Caribbean? Oh no, we didn’t get off that easy.
Waves crashing on the breakwater at the Ocean City inlet.
We pulled in to the Ocean City inlet which was swarming with mini fishing boats (Does everyone in New Jersey and Maryland fish on chilly fall weekends?). Lee drove Pirat towards the purported anchorage area down a channel on our left. We knew the depth would be limited but we figured we’d be OK if we stuck to the channel. It wasn’t low tide. Barely two minutes after we turned the corner the depth dropped from 10 feet to 7 feet, then 6.5…and we were aground. It wasn’t very dramatic. We’ve run aground in Chesapeake bay but never had a problem simply backing out of the soft mud. This time we hit sand. Pirat slowed rapidly like someone had put on the breaks. Lee reversed the engine quickly but our keel was solidly aground. Sigh
At that point a couple in a small fishing boat came by to tell us about the rocks out beyond our bow. I thanked them, but said we were aground so we weren’t going anywhere near the rocks. They offered to help and were getting ready to give us a tow when we finally got unstuck under our own power. The man in the fishing boat said he’d show us the anchoring spot a ways down the channel where we were heading so we followed him warily. Lee could see that we were heading for an area that was way too shallow, according to the chart plotter, so he veered to starboard to avoid it. Suddenly we were aground again.
The couple in the boat turned back and, oblivious to our lack of movement, slight list to one side, and downtrodden expressions, directed us to continue our path towards the anchorage. “We’re aground again.” I told him. “And I don’t think we’re going to be anchoring here after all.”
Lee brought the heavy stern anchor line from down below and we managed to pass one end to the other boat so they could pull us off the sand. They were driving kinda crazy and nearly sideswiped Pirat a few times in their maneuvers. While the woman (I assume the wife) tried to tie off the line, her husband managed to circle the boat around in such a way that the line went under our stern and hooked in front of the rudder. Excellent
After making sure our rescuers weren’t going to drive off while our rudder was hooked, I reached into the water with the boat hook and miraculously hooked the line on the other side of the rudder. Lee came over to assist but suddenly the line was being pulled out of my hand and rapidly twisted around. It only took me a few seconds to realize it was wrapped around the prop. Lee had bumped the throttle on his way over and the engine was now in gear rather than idling in neutral. Lee immediately took it out of gear and shut it down. Then we spent the next 20 minutes untangling the line from our prop. Fortunately, Lee was able to get at it from the dinghy. The process mostly involved untwisting an impossible curlicue of rope.
Our rescuers waited patiently at anchor while we freed the prop. Then Lee brought them one end of the line with the dinghy and we set things up for a tow. They managed to pull us off after a little engine revving and we shot backwards into deeper water. They untied our line and we thanked them profusely for their help as Lee got Pirat moving forward again. I had called up a nearby marina that said they could accommodate our draft. Lee and I were done playing Russian roulette with the bottom and ready to pull into a slip. Lee followed the power boater’s instructions to get to the marina, sticking very, very close to all the buoys.
Finally, we tied up in a slip at Sunset Marina. Oh but our afternoon trial wasn’t over yet! Lee noticed that the engine was vibrating more than usual and the cabin smelled very smokey when we went down below to investigate. Upon opening the engine compartment, Lee identified the alternator as the source of the smoke. The alternator uses the engine to charge the boat’s batteries (used for all our power). A bolt that secures one of the engine mounts was also loose, causing the vibrations we’d felt. Great. In one day we grounded Pirat twice, wrapped a line around the prop and damaged our engine! Why oh why?!
It turns out the alternator problem was probably totally unrelated to our grounding. I worried that we’d strained the engine and blown out the alternator by trying to power off the bottom. Lee pondered this, did some research, and concluded that our actions would not have harmed the alternator. He eventually pulled it out to inspect it and immediately discovered the problem. The part of the alternator that is supposed to spin was totally frozen, stuck, jammed. Lee explained more about it but I’ll leave the technical stuff to him and his future post on the subject (at repairpirat).
The implications of yesterday’s fiasco aren’t too horrible. Lee took the alternator to a nearby diesel shop where they said they could send it out for repairs and have it back in “a couple of days”. It can probably just be rebuilt, which saves us from having to buy a new one. Meanwhile we’re stuck in this very nice and not overly expensive marina (as marina’s go, it’s at least cheaper than Atlantic City). We have to decide what our next step is when can finally leave here. Stopping at the two “sketchy inlets” where we’d planned to break up the distance to Norfolk, is not very appealing now. Negotiating channels with breaking waves on either side and never knowing whether the water is deep enough isn’t much fun. Without those stops, though, we’ll have to sail over night to get to Norfolk, something we swore off of for the time being after our experience off Long Island.
At least that decision can wait a few days. In the meantime, there’s groceries to resupply, laundry to wash, and a boat to take care of.
One of two things is going to happen: either Lee and I are going to get used to crazy, horrifying disasters or we’re going to perish in the ocean. That’s what I’ve decided the fates have in store for us after our latest and greatest adventure.
Let me set the scene.
We’re motoring South along the Jersey coast, almost to our destination of Atlantic City. We spent the day jibing back and forth in 15-20 knots of northerly wind and large waves. Pirat reached her top speed since we’ve owned her (12.2 knots baby!) surfing down one of these waves. It was a long day. We left the 79th st. Boat Basin at 4:30am and successfully navigated New York harbor in the dark without getting run over by a freighter, tug boat, barge, or ferry. The city lights were beautiful but they made spotting boat lights difficult. Once again, we were glad we had our AIS and RADAR (not to mention my sharp eyes).
Oh boy, sunset. That means dark!
By 6pm the wind had died and Lee and I had taken down the sails for the last 10-15 miles to Atlantic City. Thanks to the recent time change, it was dark. The moon hadn’t even risen yet. Lee and I were sitting across from each other in the cockpit, finishing our sweet potatoes from dinner, when I looked over my shoulder and saw a wall of whitewater approaching the boat. It was a breaking wave. It was seconds from hitting us. I yelled something like “Oh my god, Lee!” and we both sprang into action.
Lee got behind the wheel and looked at the chart plotter to see if we were drastically off course for some reason. My first thought was It’s a rogue wave! Must close the hatch so the boat doesn’t fill up with water! I dove for the hatch and somehow got down the companionway. This is where things get fuzzy. I don’t know if I got the hatch closed before the wave hit us. The boat rolled violently to starboard and I flew backwards onto the nav table seat. I heard and felt all kinds of stuff go flying from the high side of the boat. I also felt a violent jolt as the keel hit bottom. We were running aground. The waves would smash us and we’d sink. As Pirat righted I stood up, grabbed the ladder, and looked out the hatch. Lee was at the helm, looking appropriately freaked out. There were more waves on the way. The water all around us was white like in the surf zone at a beach.
I remember screaming “What is this?! What is this?! What are we gonna do?!”
“It’s an uncharted shoal.” Lee answered.
There were more frantic exchanges. It’s not on the map? How do we get off? Hold on!! Hold on!!
Apparently a couple more waves hit us. We probably hit bottom a second time. Everything is a blur now. I know I clung to the edge of the hatch, swinging as the boat heeled way over again. There was a lot of crashing – of water and debris down below. I think it was when I looked up through the hatch the second time, exclaiming “What do we do?!” that Lee said “I don’t know. I can’t steer!”. That was not good. Our rudder is smashed. We’re crippled and stuck on this shoal in these waves. I’m going to have to call the coast guard. Do I set off the EPIRB?
I hung from the companionway as Pirat went down again. This time I screamed – all-out screamed in sincere terror. I’ve never been so scared in my entire life.
My next mission was to get our life vest/harnesses. I pulled them from the starboard pipe bunk and crashed back up the ladder to give Lee his. We were so stupid to not have them on, so stupid. As we frantically buckled the harnesses, the waves seemed to give us a break and Pirat forged ahead, the engine still running. We weren’t aground but we were clearly in very shallow water.
Lee went back to the helm to try the steering. “Oh! I know why I can’t steer!” he said. “The auto pilot is still on!”
What a relief! He turned the auto pilot, off and asked for the big flashlight. I brought it from down below, stepping in something slippery on the way. The flashlight didn’t help but I could see more breaking waves ahead to port. Lee managed to avoid those breakers and drove us safely off the shoal.
It took a while for our heart rates to return to normal. We looked at the boat, at each other, and at the malicious ocean around us. Everything seemed to be intact. How could we have hit an uncharted shoal less than 2 miles off the coast of New Jersey? Lee double checked the chart plotter. It was supposed to be at least 20 feet deep where we we’d hit bottom. A shallower sand bar must have developed recently and the ginormous waves exaggerated the shallowness by sucking up water, leaving their troughs barely above the bottom.
Eventually I went below to check for damage. I was afraid to turn on the light but when I did there wasn’t anything too horrible to see. The floor was strewn with fruit, gloves, pots, dishes, the smashed rest of my sweet potato, and a few items from the galley cupboards. Our extreme leans to port dislodged things that had always been secure before. My recipe box, for instance, sits on a shelf with a substantial rail on it next to the galley. It had flown off and spewed it’s contents on the galley floor. I lifted up the floor boards but found no more than the usual water. The keel bolts looked fine.
Lee and I weren’t out of the woods yet. We had to get to Atlantic City without passing over any more 20 foot depths, which we now considered potentially dangerous. Lee took Pirat way out beyond any potential shallow areas but the long channel into the harbor passed over the shoals and had a few single digit depths. I suggested we call up the Coast Guard station in Atlantic City to make sure the inlet was safe in the current conditions. Lee got a hold of them on the VHF and they said we should be fine as long as we go all the way out and straight in through the channel.
The last hour of our trip was a white knuckle ride spent glaring at the depth gauge and scanning the dark water for breaking waves. We made it to the channel, then down it to where the breakwaters stopped the swells. We’d given up our plan to anchor in a spot we’d never tried. It was too dark, too cold, and we were too shaken. We helped ourselves to one of the many vacant slips in the Trump Marina, where we stayed on our previous Atlantic City stops. Docking took two attempts. Our brains and bodies were shutting down.
So unsuspecting…this is shortly after sunrise outside New York. That hat was the only thing lost overboard last night
A good night’s sleep and more thorough inspection of the boat has us on the mend. We laid low today, cleaning up the carnage and enjoying unlimited power after plugging in at the dock. It’s hard to face another day in that ocean but we need to keep moving. We’re not going out in dangerous conditions or anything but we’re going to leave tomorrow even though the waves will still be big. The run to Cape May isn’t nearly as long as yesterday’s passage (over 100 miles with all our jibes). We have to get back on the horse, again. I’m just a little paranoid about waves now. I can’t get the image of that breaking wave out of my head. I know it was really the shoal that was the problem and we’re definitely going to play things on the safer than safe side where those are concerned from now on.
New York city was really fun, by the way. It was cold and stormy but we enjoyed a couple long runs in Riverside Park and roamed around the city. We spent some time in internet cafes, visited the enormous and beautiful Natural History Museum, and had a nice dinner at a Greek restaurant. Most importantly, I got some new warm socks to replace the pairs I left behind. I’m gonna need those socks until we get to the Caribbean!
We’re so close, how can we not stop in New York city? After spending a few fun-filled days on a mooring at the 79th street boat basin during the summer we know it’s an opportunity not to me missed.
This was actually a much more difficult decision than I make it out to be. Pirat is currently moored in Manhasset bay, adjacent to Port Washington, NY on the south end of Long Island. We got here yesterday afternoon after a fabulous sail from Stratford (15-20 knots on a beam reach, Pirat screaming along at almost 9 knots with the current). We stopped here last time we went down the sound too, so we knew right where to look for the FREE town moorings. The next step in the plan was to head through Hell’s Gate, cross NY harbor, and anchor in Sandy Hook, NJ. Looking at the weather, conditions won’t be good for a jump down the Jersey coast until the middle of the week at least. That means we’d be sitting in Sandy Hook with a strong North wind howling into an anchorage that’s totally unprotected from that direction – not a very appealing scenario.
Our options? Stay in Manhasset bay – the mooring is free, we know where to finangle showers, and there’s a cool little Greek cafe/market with wifi. The problem with this plan is it puts us on the wrong side of Hells Gate should the conditions change and we want to head south sooner. We’d also have to go through the city during the winter norther that arrives tomorrow.
Just going to Sandy Hook and dealing with the wind is another option. Our third option is to turn right up the Hudson after riding the current through Hells Gate and pick up a mooring at the boat basin. That would put us in a secure, sheltered location next to Riverside park, a subway station, several cool NY markets, and the incredibly disgusting shower in the little marina. After lots of back and forth we opted for option three this morning. An increase in the forecast wind at Sandy Hook put us over the edge.
Lee and I are having a relaxing morning, enjoying the time change, and catching up on down time. Lee is messing with the wind generator, which seems to be permanently burned out. He was going to give it another chance but it’s not producing any voltage so we just took it down. Frankly, we need power. Since the fuse blew during our Death Sail last week, we haven’t had solar or wind power. We’ve had to run the engine instead. Just the solar panel, which is reconnected now, makes quite a difference but we could still use more.
Lee’s parents drove down to visit Lee’s grandmother this weekend and met up with us on Friday night. They brought Lee rubber boots like mine and some extra pairs of yellow gloves for both of us from Hamilton Marine. They also brought our mail and my bag of winter clothes so I could pull out a few supplementary items – fleece tights, long underwear bottoms, and another fleece top. We all went out for a tasty but late dinner and then made a grocery run. We can’t have Lee’s parents follow us all the way down the coast so this was our last rendezvous. What would we do without all their help?! The same goes for Conor and Kristen. It was great to see them again and sooooo nice to have a warm, dry place to hang out while it rained. Showers, laundry, and powerful internet are luxury items that we really, really appreciate when we can get them.
The only unfortunate result of visiting our Stratford friends is that I left both my pairs of Smartwool socks on the drying rack in their basement. They just weren’t quite dry and I knew I’d forget them but I hung them up anyway. Oh well. I bet I can get some warm socks in New York.
The timing couldn’t be better. We pulled into the Housatonic River and picked up a (free!) Housatonic Boat Club mooring yesterday afternoon. This morning, the rain began. We’re in for a couple days of solid rain.
The past two jumps down the sound have been uneventful. We left Mystic expecting 15-20 knots and were prepared with our solent. Of course the wind hovered around a gusty, shifty 10 knots or less. We sailed with our full main (gasp! so long since we’ve hoisted it all the way!) and full working jib. It was actually very pleasant sailing but we kept getting headed and eventually the wind pretty much quit completely. We motor sailed with the main up the rest of the way to Duck Island Roads. I actually selected Duck Island Roads as a potential stopping place when we last transited Long Island Sound. I found it in the pilot guide but it kind of sketched us out and we weren’t nearly as confident in our anchoring as we are now. Lee really wanted to give it a try this time and it split the distance between Mystic and Stratford perfectly.
We pulled in around 3pm, anchored in 10 ft. of water just off a waveless beach lined with houses and next to a marina entrance. Shortly after arrived, we set off in search of showers and ice. We hadn’t showered since Montauk and our ice was getting low. The channel entrance actually led to quite a few marinas as well as a yacht club, town dock, and eventually a restaurant dock back past a road bridge. We toured the entire harbor in the dinghy before settling on fancy marina near the entrance. We couldn’t find the town dock so we just tied our dinghy in a discreet location and explored the boat yard. The marina offices were closed, so no one could sell us ice, but we were excited to find the really nice bathrooms open. I got all ready to get in the shower, turned on the water, and waited for it to heat up. It never did. They had turned off the hot water for the winter : ( Lee came to the same realization and we met outside, determined to satisfy at least one of our needs. We gave up on showers but set off in search of ice again.
After docking by the launch ramp and asking in an ice cream parlor (I would have had ice cream but it was like 40 degrees outside) we ended up at a seafood restaurant. The bar tended proceeded to make fun of my pajama pants but offered us a pint-sized bag of ice. We graciously accepted it even though it wasn’t nearly enough and finally headed back to the boat. So ended another transient sailor adventure.
We explored Westbrook, the town on shore from our anchorage, in a chilly run the next morning. Then we continued down the sound to Stratford, CT. We stopped in Stratford in the spring and visited Lee’s friend Conor and his wife Kristen. They hooked us up with the Housatonic Boat Club, a club with quite a bit of character that rented us a mooring at very little cost. This time Conor got a hold of someone at the club who said they were closed down for the season but we could pick up any mooring we wanted. Yay for free moorage! There aren’t any facilities but it’s sure a convenient location.
Conor picked us up from shore last night and we all went out for Thai food (after Lee and I finally got our much needed showers). Not only did Conor and Kristen drive us to Stop and Shop to get ice, they also generously gave us access to their house as a refuge from the rain today. We’re getting things done online and doing a little laundry while our hosts are at work. Thanks so much you two! You have no idea how much a few hours in a house is appreciated by us grungy sailors.
Manhasset bay on the south end of Long Island, just this side of NY city, is our next stop. Right now it looks like we’re not sure whether to leave tomorrow or Saturday.
Since I have nothing particularly dramatic to report, I thought I’d throw in another video! This one is from the Maine-Newport sail.
Quoting myself, very late on Friday night.
One of the handful of pictures I took before things got crazy on Friday.
Where do I even begin the account of our sail on Friday? We left Newport at 5 am. It was cold and dark. It got windy as the sun came up. Then it got windier, and windier.
By the mid-afternoon we were cruising along at 7.5 knots or so with a triple reefed main and our solent. The wind was still increasing and the waves were sizable. Pirat was cascading down one and into the next with water crashing over the boat and our anchor thrashing in the bow roller. The wind continued increasing so we decided to reef the solent. I kind of lost it at this point and Lee took control, making the decision to heave-to, collect ourselves, and then tie in the reef. We accomplished that, then hove-to again so Lee could get the reef ties in the rest of the solent, securing the baggy foot of the reefed sail.
We got Pirat back on course but it wasn’t long before even the triple reefed main and reefed solent seemed like too much. The wind was gusting above 30 knots and the waves were getting HUGE! I didn’t know what to do, which freaked me out. Lee was equally befuddled. Should we take down the main or the solent? Should we put up the storm jib? We were about to take down the solent when I decided the main should be the one to go. That was east to take down, since most of it was reefed away already.
As the sun began to set, I cowered on the floor of the cockpit and Lee stood at the helm with a worried expression on his face. Every other gargantuan wave seemed to thrown Pirat up, down, and sideways. Gust-wave combinations conspired to bring the boat farther over on her side as the rigging howled and the rudder squeaked (yes, the rudder squeaks). We were heading into the farthest offshore part of our passage, the part where the coast makes kind of an elbow at NY city. It seemed like the waves and wind were only going to get more extreme as we got farther from land and a night of fear and uncertainty lay ahead. Pirat still felt overpowered with the reefed solent. We didn’t know what sail combination would be right and we were feeling timid about making a headsail change to the storm jib in the dark with the vicious waves.
It was time to make a decision. Lee figured our options were to keep going or tack and head for the coast of Long Island, about 20 miles away. We’d be sailing all night and most of the next day if we kept heading for Cape May. Most of that night would be spent 30 miles or so off shore. With the wind and waves building beyond what was forecast, we were overwhelmed. Or, as Lee said at one point, “over-our-headed”. We tacked.
Tacking did not improve the conditions at all but at least we were heading towards relief. I opted to cower down below for a while and Lee joined me eventually, seeking relief from the relentless cascades of water. Luckily, we can use the AIS on our new VHF radio to keep an eye on any approaching boats down below. the AIS had already helped us avoid some big ships earlier in the day and it made staying below decks possible in the rough weather. Lee popped his head up once in a while to see if there was anything to see.
It wasn’t long before something else happened. All of a sudden, I heard a loud whirring sound prevail over the howling wind, slapping rigging, and creaking boat. “What’s that sound? Is that the wind generator?” I said. Lee opened the hatch, now completely sealed to guard against waves finding their way down below. The sound instantly got 10 times louder. It was the wind generator. It had gone into Spinning Wheel of Death mode because of too much wind. The motor that provides resistance, generating energy and keeping the generator spinning at a reasonable speed, had shut off. Lee tried to brake the Death Spin with the wiring down below but that didn’t work. He thought maybe the connection on deck had just come loose so he donned his bike helmet and went up to check. Why the bike helmet? When the generator enters Spinning Wheel of Death mode it reaches speeds high enough to put a dangerous amount of force on the blades, potentially causing them to shoot off at whatever is in their path, be that boat or human.
As funny as Lee looked in his red foul weather gear suit and bike helmet, I couldn’t laugh. I was scared to death that he’d be injured on deck. He made it back and the connection was fine. He wanted to go grab the generator’s tail with the boat hook and lasso the thing but I wouldn’t let him. That seemed like a good way to get decapitated. We both resigned ourselves to spending the next few hours down below, hiding from the wind generator. We were afraid to go on deck to do anything with the sails, even though the wind was increasing rather than decreasing.
We ate some trail mix and pita bread. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Maybe it was the exhausting day thursday (more on that at some point) and the 4am morning and maybe it was the hours of shear terror taking their toll. I laid down on the lee bunk and fell asleep instantly. Lee monitored things for the next hour and a half as Pirat careened towards Long Island. I awoke when we were a few miles off and reluctantly got ready to go back on deck.
We formulated a plan: 2 miles out, start the engine, take down the solent, motor into a gap between two fish trap areas shown on the chart. Anchor in about 25 feet of water, just off the beach. We had also been considering an inlet nearby but it looked sketchy and we weren’t able to point to it sailing upwind towards the shore so that option was out. Heaving-to just offshore was also an option, but anchoring seemed like a better choice. Anchoring is something we can do well.
Lee and I executed the plan. The wind had decreased to 20-25 knots and the waves were insignificant compared to their offshore brethren. Still, anchoring was quite a challenge and Lee pulled it off masterfully. All we could see onshore were lights, from houses we assumed. Lee went after the wind generator with his helmet on again. He hooked it, turned it around to stop the spin, and tied it up with w sail tie. We monitored our anchoring job to make sure the boat was holding but were in our bunks at midnight.
Lee and his nemesis the day after their battle.
I slept. I don’t think Lee did much. In any case, things much better in the morning, although we felt rather stunned and defeated. We sat around talking about what we should have done and what we would do now. After getting a taste of real, serious sailing we were having second thoughts about our plan. At the hight of the chaos the night before we’d vowed we’d give it all up if we could instantly end what was going on then. The “get me out of here now!” feeling took over. In the morning, we were out of the scariness but felt like we’d had a close call and barely made it out.
We motored up the coast of Long Island, since were were closer to the North end, and docked in Montauk for the night. The harbor was depressing but we got Pirat washed off and all evidence of the previous night’s wreckage erased.
Yesterday we left Montauk for Stonington, CT back on the mainland. We almost couldn’t get off the dock, actually. The wind was holding us onto it from directly abeam and no amount of reverse or forward, even against a dock line, would get us off. Lee pulled out the throwing anchor, heaved it off the bow, and it held after a few tries. He managed to pull the bow far enough away from the dock (while I moved fenders around on the stern) that I could drive off in forward. Yay throwing anchor!
Pirat, all clean but pinned to the dock in Montauk.
The sail was a short 16 miles but the wind cranked from around 20-30 knots. We did a little experiment: starting with the storm jib, finding out we couldn’t point (duh), adding the double reefed main, and then eventually going down to 3 reefs. The storm jib rocked! It was so tiny but we moved along at 6-7 knots close hauled.
We pulled into Stonington and anchored at sunset. This morning we motored down the Connecticut coast a few miles to Mystic, where we weaseled up the river, through a couple bridges that had to open for us, and past the Mystic Seaport historical village. We anchored in the designated spot after a bit of maneuvering in the tight, shallow quarters. It was ridiculously cold the whole time – below freezing with the wind chill, I’d guess.
Here it is, our first video! I took this yesterday as we beat over to Stonington.
Now we’re cozied up in a cafe in Mystic, guzzling the internet. After reflecting on Friday night for a couple days we’ve come up with a new philosophy, revised approach to the sail south, and some rules to follow.
- Don’t get cocky – stay cautious for a reason – take it slow.
- No more over-nights for a while – we’re going down Long Island sound, offshore around NJ cause we have to and outside the Chesapeake cause it’s not that far and inside would take way too long. Then we’re probably taking the ICW inside Hatteras (no desire to conquer the cape right now). We’re probably hit up the ICW as much as we can going south and just take things one day at a time when we need to. At least once we get down there it will be warm.
- Lee is also working on getting a drogue, which would act as an emergency brake at sea in drastic situations.
- When we’re thinking of reefing the solent, just go to the storm jib. The solent is still a big sail and Pirat is sensitive to headsail size.
- Remove all bedding and mattresses form forward bunk when sailing in serious stuff so we can shove a headsail down there if we need to change.
Tomorrow we’re heading south again, maybe to Stratford or somewhere between here and there. This feels somewhat like our trip down the sound last spring only we’re much, much more seasoned than we were then.
Here’s some pictures from the past few days.