Tuesday, 31 Oct 2017
After a month out of the water in Deltaville Marina, Jackson Creek for maintenance and a nice long visit back to the UK, we are on the move once again. Our final destination is Antigua but there will be a number of stops before we get there. Today we are heading down the Chesapeake to Hampton, or if we make good speed Norfolk where SVs Aura and Tourterelle are expecting us.
It’s a very fine sailing day, and after a very windy and wet weekend, everyone seems to be on the move. We can see nineteen yachts sailing down The Chesapeake including ourselves.
With the wind on our starboard side from the WNW, we are on my favourite tack – the starboard tack. Firstly, we have right of way over other boats on a port tack, and secondly, on a starboard tack, the galley is on the low side of the boat. This keeps the stove low and stuff (me included) is more likely to fall into the galley rather than out of it. Just in case you noticed a potential problem with that, we have a crash bar in front of the stove to stop one from falling onto it.
As conditions are so good, and my stock of pecans is replenished - with much thanks to Southern Cross (for the pecans) and Plover (for use of their dock in the windy weekend weather and transportation) and to both for their warm hospitality – I will spend the passage making Holiday Fruit Drop Cookies using the recipe from my Mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. They are one of my favourites and we have them every Christmas at home in Ontario.
It’s also an especially good day for baking as our diesel heater is refusing to work and a hot oven followed by warm cookies will be most welcome. When we crawled out of bed this morning, the interior temperature was 14C/56F and its only up to 15C/60F now at 1000.
I know that in our last blog we had just left Maine, and I am sorry about that. Much has happened between then and now and I do intend to catch-up, but I’m intending to make NOW the priority so as not to have all inspiration crushed by the backlog of photos awaiting attention. When we have time and good wifi, I will deal with posting photos past and present, but until that time I will just be telling it as it is.
Friday, 03 Dec 2017
We did end up in Norfolk as did quite a few OOC boats. Simon, on Aura, celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday and Kim, with the help of Ann from Tourterelle, laid on a lavish afternoon spread of very substantial nibbles, followed by artisan pizza and a magnificent cake from a local specialty bakery. An early start meant an early finish, which worked very well for us as we cast off at 0730 this morning to catch the 0830 bridge opening south further into the ICW.
Norfolk itself rests on the banks at the very start the Intracoastal Waterway, the ICW. We didn’t have do much sightseeing at all, but were impressed by the grand houses and cobble stone streets. The cobble stones were brought from Liverpool as ballast in the 1700’s. Once the ship had unloaded the cobble stones it was loaded up with American produce and products being sent back to the UK. They really were beautiful, but made for a suddenly very rough ride in our Uber taxi on the way back from the shop.
Most of our short time in Norfolk was starting the preparation for our journey from Beaufort, NC to Antigua. It will take approximately 10 days to get there, sailing due East at first until south of Bermuda until the easterly Tradewinds arrive. At that point we hang a right and head south to Antigua. So, the freezer is full to bursting with made up meals and ingredients that will become even more meals as freezer space allows. I soaked and cooked black beans, chick peas and red kidney beans, which as well as making up the bulk of the chilli, are frozen in packets for future use. I love cooking my own beans. I think they are much tastier.
As we’re talking food, I have to say that the Fruit Drop Cookies I made on the way to Norfolk, are really good. The recipe makes a satisfying mound of cookies and I was initially quite generous with them, giving a packet here and a packet there to friends and neighbours. These cookies are very like fruitcake in that they get even better with age - the flavours of the fruit and nuts mingle with the caramelly buttery biscuit. I’m now looking at our dwindling pile and am a little more considering of who and what warrants a gift of cookies.
Without photos to make it easy, I’m going to have a bash at describing our trip down the Intracoastal Waterway.
Around Norfolk the ICW buzzes with military ships: aircraft carriers, destroyers, hovercrafts and even a submarine went by us and all the while black helicopters buzzed past. The area has huge naval dry docks and cranes with ships being maintained and possibly built. We’ve assumed all this because, even if we’d asked, I don’t think anyone would actually tell us all the things going on here.
We often heard warning messages from various ships and I found the wording a little odd. The radio operators would always say, ‘and keep 500 yards distance from my ship.’ I could visualise them peering through their net curtains, ready to holler at anymore who crept within 499 yards of ‘their ship’.
As we left the open water and approached the first lifting bridge of the ICW, the area became more industrial. We amused ourselves, while waiting for the bridge to open almost an hour later than scheduled, by watching a huge crane with big pincers unload big rocks. It was exactly like the penny games on piers in England where you use a little grapple to pick up a toy.
There were lots of other boats waiting with us as the conditions are finally good for heading south. Many were sailboats but there were also power boats, working boats, fishing boats, tugs and barges. Meeting a barge being pushed from behind by a tugboat on a narrow waterway was a little exciting at first time. We even saw one tug pushing two barges attached at their bows. The square stern of the lead barge pushed up a substantial bow wave and couldn’t have done much for the tug’s MPG.
We passed by forested areas which gradually opened up into grassy wetlands or savannahs. There was a lock that lowered us, and probably twenty other boats, a few feet down to continue on our way.
Considering it being just after Hallowe’en here in North America, it was quite amusing to see sunlight glinting off long find threads streaming from every bit of rigging, furled sail, stanchions and anything else remotely vertical on the boat. We have often seen tiny spiders on the boat, but we had no idea how industrious they were. Hopefully the photos I took will show how spectacular it looked, but I’m doubtful.
It was a long day and we just got to our anchorage of choice about a half hour before dusk. The sunset was marvellous. The winding river had opened up, and we picked our way through crab pot floats to a deeper part that would have been the one of the outer bends of the original river before they dredged a path right through it. Well out of the main channel, we anchored up and moments after the sun truly set, opposite it, a full moon rose over the nearby grasslands. It was absolutely calm, and we had an early dinner and went happily to bed in anticipation of our six o’clock alarm.
Saturday, 04 Dec 2017
At about 0420 in the morning, I woke to the sound of the wind blowing or possibly because the rope snubber, which takes the weight of the chain so that the movement of the boat doesn’t snatch the chain, had fallen off the chain, which needed Tim to go out and put it back on. I went into the cockpit to check that all was well and our beautiful clear sky was replaced by heavy clouds. As expected, all was well, and we were still nicely anchored in the sticky black mud. I was just going below again when I noticed a very odd vessel moving slowly down the main waterway. It was a large boat or tug with lots of blue lights around the stern, the usual navigation lights and one huge spotlight that was lighting its path down the channel. It didn’t occur to me that there would be any traffic at night, so I watched it out of sight and went back to bed.
In the morning, we found that all the cobwebs had been blown away.
Most of the ICW is made up of natural waterways connected by man-made canals and locks. Its spanned every so often by bridges. There are vertical lifting bridges, which are often railway bridges as well at the usual one end lifting. Today we passed through the Alligator River Swing Bridge, which was operated by the surliest North Carolinian accented man of few, but specific, words. The opening bridges are all operated a little differently – some open at a specific time, some on request, some when they see you coming in the less trafficked areas. The Alligator River Bridge seemed to have only one lane across the bridge, possibly due to construction, and so needed to be shared three ways. We listened to the power boats ahead of us asking about the bridge opening. They were asked their name, then how to spell it, then how to spell it again, then they were finally told to ‘Standby’.
We were too far behind two power boats and missed the first opening, so half a mile out from the closed bridge, Tim radioed to say, ‘This is southbound sailing vessel Larus waiting for the next opening. Larus is spelled L A R U S.’ After a short pause, where I picture the bridge operator thinking really hard to come up with a question that Tim hadn’t already answered, we were advised to ‘Standby.’
While we circled around in front of the bridge waiting, we watched one side of the bridge open to road traffic. When everyone that side was on the bridge, some radioed the other side with the make and colour of the last vehicle. When they were clear of the bridge, they did the same thing in the other direction. Once the last vehicle was clear, the bridge slowly rotated on its axis and we headed through the starboard-side opening without a word being said by the operator.
There is a lot of radio chatter on the ICW. Faster boats telling slower boats that they intend to pass on their port side and negotiate a ‘no wake’ passing. Boats tied along inhabited stretches of the ICW will broadcast, ‘Slow down! No wake!’ Sometimes naming and shaming the culprit. And everyone thanks to high heaven the bridge keeper who has let them through. The British aren’t so chatting on the radio, so that sort thing doesn’t come easily, and the Alligator River Operator who never responded to their thanks, didn’t seem to appreciate it either.
It’s now 1700, and now we have traversed the long straight Alligator River – Pungo River Canal and are anchored in a wide bend in the river for the night. Hopefully we will be in Beaufort by tomorrow evening, but it’s the longest day motoring and we shall have to see.
Sunday, 05 November 2017
We had an unexpected early start when we thought we were getting up just before 7, only to discover the clocks had gone back an hour and it was just before 6. This gave us a brief feeling of having more time to get to Beaufort until we remembered that not only did it get light sooner in the morning, it got dark sooner as well.
Another day of motoring, and one more night at anchor in the ICW. Tim had planned to refuel during that last stretch to Beaufort but as that would have given us only a half hour of daylight to find a good place to anchor in a very busy area, we decided to have an early stop.
Interesting things that happened today were - in order of excitement generated - 1) We ran aground briefly while moving out of the channel to let a faster boat pass. It was a very soft landing in all that lovely mud that we keep having to wash off the chain and anchor, and we reversed off easily, but it does wake you up. 2) I made Tim a very nice sandwich for lunch. It was a faux Ruben with shaved turkey, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and some mild yellow mustard on toasted brown bread. 3) We anchored early just outside the entrance to the canal we will take tomorrow. It is has turned into a beautiful sunny day and we have a great view of all the big houses with great long docks with their power boats raised up out of the water on hydraulic lifts. 4) For dinner we’ll have souvlaki wraps with perfectly ripe Virginia tomatoes (Virginia is famous for its tomatoes) slivers of onion and a dollop of tzatziki.
I’ve been doing a lot of cooking as we go. We eat half and freeze the rest for an easy meal on passage to possibly Bermuda but definitely Antigua. It will be nice to have something not ‘stew’ based. I wouldn’t want us to be tired of chilli, curry or spaghetti Bolognese before we leave.
What has surprised us along the reasonably well populated waterways we’ve travelled, there hasn’t been the tiniest hint of wifi anywhere. I really thought we’d be posting daily using our phone data, but even a mere 20 miles short of Beaufort, not a peep.
Mon, 06 November 2017
Hurrah for daylight saving time which means I’m now wide awake at 5 in the morning rather than 6.
It’s been a very foggy passage, but we are now anchorage off Town Creek Marina, Beaufort. We had hardly got tea in our cups before the sun had cleared the fog completely at 1030.
It was a quiet trip and we stopped for fuel along the way. As our tanks were full when we left Norfolk, we only topped up with 24 gallons. They have distance markers along the ICW and with Norfolk at the start and Beaufort just at the 200 mile mark, we don’t think we did too badly to cover that distance with only 24 gallons. US gallons of course. 1 US Gallon = everywhere else gallons = litres. There are lost of motor boats travelling the same route and I expect they used quite a lot more.
At last check, we appear to have a good weather window for starting out toward Bermuda/Antigua tomorrow evening. It would probably mean three days of motor sailing in light winds, but getting across the Gulf Stream in the right conditions is our priority. The Gulf Stream is very close to the coast here so we can leave with the most current weather report. As the Gulf Stream heads north at up to 5 knots you don’t want to cross in a northerly wind as that is blowing against the current and can make a very uncomfortable sea state. A southerly wind would be great but if that’s not in the offing, no wind at all will do fine.
I spent the quite a lot of time underway doing all things cooking and provisioning.
There is a big pot of spaghetti sauce in the fridge waiting for when we can go ashore for the tomato puree I thought I had but obviously didn’t. It reminded me very much of a lovely pasta dinner we had with Tim’s Mum. The same thing happened there and the wait for the puree did not harm the sauce in anyway. It was delicious and I'm hoping for the same result.
I made more of the Holiday Fruit Drop Cookies this morning so that we will have something nice when I don’t feel like doing anything more challenging that reaching into a bag for a treat.
I’ve also started to get properly into provisioning mode. I have four frozen chicken breasts I intend to poach today, freeze and then defrosted and used whenever a bit of chicken is needed. This means I don’t have to deal with raw chicken underway, it just reduces the already slim chance of giving ourselves food poisoning.
To go with the chicken and use up the aubergine/egg plant and ½ a butternut squash left over from the chilli I cooked two days ago, I’ve sautéed onions till golden and added the diced aubergine and 2 large tins of chopped tomatoes and continued cooking until it reduced down.
I’ve set aside half to freeze and have with some Puerto Rican chorizo, which is frozen uncooked ground pork with spices and lots of chilli. I’ll fry some of that up, not too much as it really is spicy hot, and add the aubergine mixture to put on pasta, or add some of my cooked beans and maybe some chicken for fajitas, or use it to poach eggs in and serve with a soft tortilla or toast.
The other half stayed in the pan – and this is a stainless-steel skillet that I bought on a day out in July with my parents in Maine from a second hand shop. It’s been a really useful addition to my galley and I like remembering when I got it. I added grated ginger and curry powder and fried it a little oil in a bare patch in the pan. Then I added the diced butternut squash, half a cup of green lentils and am leaving it to simmer. We’ll probably have some for dinner tomorrow night (tonight we’ll have spaghetti once we get the puree) and then freeze the rest to have with some of the chicken or chickpeas from the freezer.
While I’ve been writing this, Tim has pumped up the dinghy and visited the marina and got us a berth for the night. And it has free laundry facilities, so I know what I’ll be doing this afternoon.