Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Morehead City Maintenance, week 2

  Luckily Hurricane Sandy is passing well to our east today and tonight, so we are only subject to the outer bands of precipitation and wind, allowing us to take a break from working on the boat and instead enjoy some Red-Box "triple features" while we hunker down in the cabin waiting for the storm to pass.
  We are seeing about 30 knots of wind today and expect to see gusts to 50, but that should be no problem where we are at...tied to a dock with doubled lines and plenty of fenders (and a Red-Box across the street).  So far the only casualty is a stray flip-flop which blew off the dock in the wind and is now missing in action. We will endure.
   Earlier this week we finished up our varnishing projects and the boat looks great. We also did one of our two big provisioning runs, getting some food staples and things that we may not have access to for the next month or so.
  Our friend Heather is going to grad school in Virginia, so she came down this weekend and we took a trip to the local barrier island (Shackelford Banks). There are no bridges, so we took a ride over from the local ferry (a 25 foot open boat) which was loaded with surfers hoping to catch the "epic curls" from the offshore cyclone.  We were able to take a long walk on the deserted beach with tons of shells, see some wild horses, and watch the crazy surfers doing their thing in the swells.  In fact, the humans were not the only ones surfing - we saw some dolphins riding the waves as well as some Pelicans riding the clean air just in front of the wave....pretty cool.

   After Sandy passes, the wind field looks pretty strong for a couple days, so we are looking at a departure closer to Thursday or Friday of the coming week.  In the mean time, back to our movie!

Waiting for the rain to pass.                                       Storm lines set.

Shackleford Banks, NC.                         Loading some provisions for the big trip.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Morehead City, NC maintenance week

   We've spent the last week in Morehead City working on the boat and watching the weather. We still anticipate a departure around the end of the month, so we are using the intervening time to make a few improvements to Navigator. The boat is a huge mess of tools and sanding residue (NMCM for our coastie friends), but here are some of the highlights:
   1. Fixing the companionway hatch - the main hatch leading down to the cabin had received some water damage over the 25 year life of the boat, so it was time to disassemble it and make a few repairs. This involved removing old hardware and wood framing to pull the hatch onto the pier.  After that, some plywood, epoxy, and acetone did the trick. The only bummer is that it was 6 miles to the hardware store by bike to get the plywood, and it was windy!
   2. Varnishing the woodwork - there is lots of teak on Navigator, which requires semi-annual maintenance. We use a Sikken's Cetol product that looks a lot like varnish, but has better ultraviolet protection (to avoid breakdown).  The basic process is to remove the old coating with either a heat gun or sander, clean the wood with an alcohol based solvent, coat it with 3-4 coats of Sikken's Natural Teak, followed by 2-3 coats of a glossy, translucent Sikken's product to protect the wood.  That should last about a year, at which time we just need to scuff the wood and put one more topcoat on it.  However, the wood is in such variable condition that we are "taking it all to parade rest" now, while we have the time.  This week we finished about 1/2 of the wood, working full days, so you can see there is still some work to do. However it is enjoyable work so it's all good.
   3. New canvas - our sewing machine arrived, which is a compact model made by Sailrite.  This enables us to make sail repairs or create canvas products as we need them.  This week, we made hatch covers for the two forward hatches.  Next week is a new sail cover and some deck bags.  The machine is amazing and can punch through 8-10 layers of canvas, and by making 3 or 4 products ourselves will pay for the cost of the machine (canvas companies charge ridiculous prices!).
   4. HAM radio operator license - Kellee took and passed her two HAM radio operator courses which enable us to legally talk on certain frequencies on our high-frequency radio.  The many formulas and definitions are currently be purged from Kellee's brain (via a nap) as I write this.
   5. Navigation light upgrade - we installed new red/green sidelights with LED (light emitting diodes) to cut down on power consumption.
    Aside from those main projects, there are the usual things to do around the boat, but the weather has been fantastic and the marina we are sitting in is so deserted that it is a veritable wildlife sanctuary, with Great Blue Herons and egrets slaying the little fish that hide in the shadows of the pier.  We saw one egret nearly choke to death on a wriggling fish stuck in it's throat the other day.
   Morehead City is pretty decent place to be - it has all the conveniences nearby (including a Red-Box for a nightly movie) and is great for working on the boat. All the same, we are still checking the weather 2-3 times a day to watch patterns and get in the groove for our upcoming departure.

                   6 miles to the hardware store by bike...          Sewing machine in action

                             Varnishing the wood.                      Replacing the sidelights.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ocracoke, NC to Morehead City, NC

   We departed Ocracoke, on the outer banks of North Carolina, with a stiff northeasterly breeze and made excellent time under a double-reefed sail towards the west, enabling us to enter the Neuse River and moor in Oriental, NC at a free town dock, right behind TOMKAT for a couple days. It was nice to run in to a familiar face again on the trek southwards!
   After checking out Oriental (the sailing capital of North Carolina), we sailed in company towards Morehead City, which is our last stop in the continental US.  TOMKAT continued on to the south, towards Myrtle Beach, where they will spend a month, and then eventually on to Florida and the Bahamas.  NAVIGATOR will spend about 3 weeks here in Morehead City (just across a bridge from Beaufort, NC) while we do some maintenance and watch the weather for our imminent departure to the islands.
   Hurricane season officially ends 30 November, but after 1 November, storms are so rare that most boats heading to the Caribbean use the latter as the departure date.  We intend to depart right around the first, weather permitting. So in the mean time, we check the weather three times per day to get an idea of the trends in the offshore forecast.
   Some of the weather information we check is the surface analysis charts, which indicate areas of high and low pressure, and accompanying winds and seas.  We also use the 500 millibar chart, which is basically a chart indicating the location of the jet stream - the jet stream is the "highway in the sky" which mid-latitude cyclones tend to follow.  For our friends in New England, this is why you tend to have nor'easters making their way up from the Carolinas every week or so.  Finally, we keep a close eye on the National Hurricane Center website for tropical forecasts and analysis.
   Once we leave the coast, we won't have access to the internet, so we have also been practicing with our single-side-band radio, which is a high-frequency radio capable of transmitting and receiving data from thousands of miles away.  This enables us to receive voice forecasts for the tropics and the mid-latitudes at any time during our voyage.  Additionally, when used in combination with a computer with appropriate software, the SSB radio enables us to receive weather charts via fax, over the air-waves.  So all the charts we look at on the internet are available for fax "download" over the air, it just takes a lot longer than clicking on a "favorite" website.  But it helps keep us informed at sea.
   Aside from tracking the weather, we have plenty of maintenance to do to keep the boat happy and looking good.  Today we rode our folding bikes about 12 miles to get some supplies from the local "shopping mecca," including boat parts, toiletries, notebooks (I'm very particular about my notebooks), and some tools which we have misplaced or dropped into the sea over the past couple months.
   Some may ask: "Why Morehead City/Beaufort?" We chose this location as our "jumping off point" for a couple key reasons.  Given a 1 November departure (for the reasons stated above) from the Continent, the usual spots to depart from are Newport, RI, Norfolk, VA, Beaufort, NC, and Florida.  We ruled out Newport because the distance from port to the Gulf Stream is about 350 miles, or 3 days sailing for us.  This is too far to enable an accurate weather forecast, and the absolute worst thing we could do is find ourselves in the northerly setting Gulf Stream when hit by a Nor'easterly blowing wind - bad news! Plus it's too cold for our liking this time of year. Norfolk is a decent departure spot, but it is north of Cape Hatteras, the graveyard of the Atlantic, and about 200 miles from the Gulf Stream, so a bit more challenging at this time of year.  Florida is too far south, and would require us to beat into 1200 miles of easterly trade winds to make our destination - that is not happening in a 34 foot sailboat.
   So that leaves Beaufort, which is ideal for us because it is only about 100 miles from the Gulf Stream, enabling us to get safely across that "river in the ocean" with a good northwesterly forecast.  Additionally, it is south of Cape Hatteras, which is the breeding ground for all the nor'easterly gales that make their way up the east coast.  So we will wait for a good forecast around the 1st of November, boogie across the Gulf Stream under full sail, and then work our way south of Latitude 30N, which is the southern limit for November gales.  After that, we'll make as much ground to the east in the zone of variable winds, before heading south to pick up the trade winds at about latitude 24N for the final leg.
   We anticipate it will take about 14 days to get to the islands, but we have a few contingency plans in place (as I'm sure anyone who knows us would guess).  These include stopping in Bermuda, which is right along our track line, to wait for good weather, or bailing out to the Bahamas if the weather gets too bad.  Our goal is to anchor at the island of Culebra, just east of Puerto Rico, but weather will dictate our ultimate landfall, which could be anywhere from Puerto Rico to St. John, to Tortola and the British Virgin Islands.  Any of which sound just fine to us.

 Motoring out of Oriental along the ICW (Courtesy of Tomkat).
 Getting ready to dive on the hull to check the sacrificial zinc anodes.
Moored to a pier in Morehead City, NC, our home for the next 3ish weeks.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chesapeake, VA to Ocracoke, NC

We knocked another state off the list and have arrived in the final stages of our U.S. part of the trip! Leaving Chesapeake was bittersweet, we are glad to be on the move again and heading south, but we had such a great time visiting with our friends the Coles and the Rumseys that it was hard to say goodbye.  We acquired a few 8 legged friends while at the pier so Chris sprayed a couple times as we prepped for departure and after a couple of days, we were thankfully spider free.  Our first day out from Chesapeake brought us to Great Bridge Lock, the only lock that we will see on this trip.  The drop was only about a foot, but it was a neat experience, and the line handler was giving out early Halloween candy, bonus chocolate is never turned away!

That night was a gunkhole anchorage amidst reeds in a backwater creek in a remote stretch of the VA ICW, neat to listen to sounds of nature as we ate dinner, then scrambled below to avoid the mosquitos.  A full day of motoring next brought us to an anchorage within view of the Wright Brothers monument at Kitty Hawk.  It was appropriate that we would see a Coast Guard cargo plane (C-130) fly overhead as we headed into the anchorage.

The next day was another long planned transit, each day we were covering about 40-50 miles, this time we motored past Roanoke Island, site of the lost European settlement of the "new world", now full of summer homes that were about half boarded up for the winter already.  The channel was challenging, very narrow, with only 2 feet of water if you stopped paying close attention and veered off.  We reached the end and sailed until sunset and found a handy anchorage for the night.

Yesterday we had a great day of sailing, 12kts of breeze and calm seas had us cruising along at almost 5 knots for the bulk of the day and we reached our ultimate destination of Ocracoke just as the sun was setting.  We expected some holiday weekend harbor crowd, but we did not expect to find a giant dredge straddling half the harbor!  This made for a tight anchorage and with a wind shift expected overnight, we did not sleep very well, getting up every couple of hours to check our lay.  We were fine, but with increasing winds and a frontal passage expected for the next couple of days, we opted for a pier for the next two nights.

We first availed ourselves of the showers and took a bike ride through the small village and spent a couple of hours at the beach, it felt so nice to get back in the Atlantic Ocean, still 78 degrees warm! The sand was like sugar and there were maybe 12 people on the beach.  Chris made use of the pool at the marina this afternoon and with a marina internet connection, we're getting caught up on the outside world.  We plan to leave here Tuesday and head for Oriental, back on the ICW and our last stop before Beaufort/Morehead City, our stepping off point for our big trip to the Caribbean.  It's crazy to think that 3 months ago we were finishing up work, two months ago we were in Block Island and in two months from now we'll be in the Virgin Islands! Time is flying by, but we are having a GREAT time!  We're getting better at cooking, taking pictures and of course sailing.
 A taste of life on the ICW.
Ocracoke Island, NC.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chesapeake, Virginia

    We depart Chesapeake this morning after a great 10 days with our friends Leah and Rob Cole, who graciously took us in and provided food, entertainment and air conditioning during our stay.  We were able to get some much needed parts for boat maintenance and then provision the boat for the next month at the local grocer.  As seen in a below post, we also took a road trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a very cool spot.  Chris also provided celestial navigation training to a local CG Cutter in preparation for their next patrol.  It was awesome to relax for the week and take care of some admin and repairs that have been piling up, with the bonus of hanging out with some old friends in the local tidewater area.
   We also tried out our pressure cooker for the first time with success, and got an awesome care package from Westport, complete with Halloween candy and our mail.  Chris attempted to grow a beard for the first time in his life, and made it 20 days before it drove him so crazy that it was shaved off (but not before being documented on film - see below).
   We depart today for North Carolina: we'll transit the inter-coastal waterway for two days before arriving in Albemarle Sound, where we will visit the outer banks of NC, before transiting another 3 days to Beaufort, NC, which is our final destination in the continental US.  There, we will re-provision and get ready for our 14ish day passage to the Virgin Islands, beginning in early November (after hurricane season).

 Chris attempts the beard which proved to be too irritating.

Rob and Leah at Assateague Seashore, in MD.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eastern Shore of Maryland Road Trip

    While staying with our friends, Leah and Rob Cole, we took a road trip to Assateague and Chincoteague Islands on the Eastern Short of the Delmarva peninsula.  It was great to sea the open ocean again after so long in the Bay!  On Chincoteague, we saw the famous wild ponies as well as some deer and lots of birdlife.  It was a great trip; here are a couple photos (web sized) from the excursion.