Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The First Big Trip

November 25th 2011

Position N 27° 22.225’,
               W 82° 37.075’.

Longboat Key Club Moorings, FL   

The time has arrived for the ‘big’ trip…it is Nov. 3rd 2011 and Admiral Lavinia and I are about to receive FOJ John and his wife Carol at our rented villa to pick up the items we are taking to Oriental, NC for our adventure. I call it an adventure as in spite of the experience that both FOJ and I have had this will be the longest non-stop trip that either one of us have made in the smallest boat that we have cruised on. ‘Partners’ is capable but she is a new boat to me and we don’t ‘know’ her yet so we want to be prepared. Our inventory includes tools, lots of them, the boat, fortunately, has a fairly good inventory of spares already on board and I have had Sailcraft Service check the systems for the trip.
FOJ and Carol picked up all our stuff and will again arrive at 05:15 tomorrow, the 4th, to get us aboard for the trek to Oriental, NC. A quick plug for the Honda Ridgeline that FOJ has and will be carting us and the ‘stuff’ to NC, it is cavernous. It took all the luggage and supplies without encroaching into the passenger accommodation; it is very comfortable and was a pleasure to drive. John and I shared the driving and the journey seemed to fly by, what with the constant boat/trip related conversation interrupted only by meal and fuel stops, the 12½ hour journey was over. We found ‘Partners’ afloat alongside at the dock, heater on, it was cold around 50°F, lights on and very welcoming. The yard staff had cleaned the whole boat which was such a welcoming treat. We were able to unload in short order and head into the small town of Oriental for a well deserved dinner. We decided to go to the Broad Street Grill where we had a great meal and even met some of the ‘local’ and other out-of-town visitors, what a friendly place, we all loved it. For any beer lover that may pass through Oriental, boater or traveler, sample the local brews they are definitely worth a try! A long day but fun, time to go back to the boat for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday was a provisioning day with the Admiral and Purser Carol taking a trip to the grocery store and ensuring us men were supplied for what could be three weeks. John and I busied ourselves with boat chores, lashing this and that down and doing the best to stow all ‘movable’ items in preparation for the trip. The boat deck also needed attention as some items including the bimini top sticks, which were loose, needed lashing down too. We re-attached the boom to the mast with all its rigging as Chet and Dixie, the previous owners, had travelled much with the mast down to avoid bridge openings on the ICW. ‘Partners’ is 34’ 6’’ tall mast and antenna's up reduced to about 14' 6" with the mast down. My idea of fun is to travel in the open ocean 24/7 doing approximately 144 NM per day as opposed to the 60 NM that are possible in daylight hours using the ICW. I won’t travel at night in the ICW, too many hazards and changing ones at that. Having said that, if our progress, due to bad weather, is to be prohibited in the Atlantic Ocean, then, of course, I would make way during daylight hours using the ICW. Saturday afternoon FOJ and I used our time to familiarize ourselves with ‘Partners’ checking all systems. I also set up my laptop in the wheelhouse with the installed Nobeltec Admiral software and the necessary C-Map Megawide charts to get us home to Sarasota. The girls would be leaving us in the morning to drive back to Sarasota leaving FOJ and me to make ready the boat and get all the last details together before setting off south on the 10th. The weather was not looking good for going out into the ocean from Beaufort, NC so we have made a decision to leave earlier than planned and do two days in the ICW as far as Cape Fear which would put us in a position to take advantage of a good weather window due on the 12th.
We enjoyed two more of the local restaurants; on Saturday night the four of us visited M
& M’s for a farewell dinner, it was great. A great breakfast on Sunday was had, before the girls set off, at Brantley’s Village restaurant. In fact Lavinia commented that including our previous trip to Oriental as well as this one how good all the food had been and how reasonable the prices where too. Sarasota really has nothing to compare and all this from a village of around 875 people!
Monday arrived quickly and mild weather returned which was lucky for these two southern boys who had come from 60°/80° temps in Florida to the weekend weather of 40°/60° so Monday brought temps back into the 70’s. A few jobs remained so we entertained the electronics guy and watermaker technician on board. FOJ is the self elected cook for the trip and thank goodness because to rely on me for our grub would provide all the material an author would need to write a bad diet book!
11/10/11 ‘Partners’ left the dock at 06:30 having said good bye and thank you to the wonderful crew at Sailcraft Service. Our first stop at 09:30 was Jarret Bay along Adams Creek on the ICW from Pamlico Sound for a fuel stop. By the way, we used Active Captain to determine this stop, the information that other cruisers supply including fuel prices, we found invaluable. Jarret’s was easy in and easy out. I say easy out, it should have been! When we went to leave the engine wouldn’t turn over. After the required complaining (#$%^@^) diagnosis took place and revealed, or so we thought at the time, a faulty starter solenoid. We ‘jumped’ the starter and we were on our way. Our first night was not good and was definitely not peaceful, we stopped at Hammock Bay near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the wind was blowing 25 knots our anchor would not set and during the night we dragged ending up aground albeit not badly. Fortunately in the morning the tide was incoming and we were afloat! At 06:30 we were under way again on our way to Wilmington and Cape Fear. Along the ICW there are some sights! The picture you see caused both of us to do a double take, was it real or not? It was in fact a full size statue of a giraffe. After seeing this we would not be surprised about other sights yet to be seen, you will be aware of this reference when we get to the Ft. Lauderdale – Miami section!
We anchored our second night in an estuary leading south to the township of Carolina Beach just south of Snows Cut which, in the morning, would take us through to the Cape Fear River and the Ocean. Our choice of anchorage turned out to be great, the wind had finally dropped, the holding was good and finally we had a peaceful night.  

Saturday November 12th fog! Proceeding through Snows Cut on radar was a focusing start to the day. The weather was good and we knew that the fog would burn off and we would be in for a beautiful day. After two days of travel FOJ and I were learning more about each other! I realized John is a very good cook; he had taken ownership of the galley and was producing ‘look forward to’ meals on a three square meal a day schedule…great! I adopted the roll of running the boat and ‘washing up’. The arrangement seemed to work well all trip. 

Before we knew it we were free of the ICW restrictions and cruising south in the Atlantic Ocean. Our next waypoint would be approximately 54 NM due east of Sapleo Sound, Georgia. Our idea was to cut as much of the ‘corner’ as we could without battling the northerly flow of the Gulf Stream. I think we did partially manage to achieve this goal although next time I would take a course slightly closer to shore.
The weather was perfect, seas smooth and the sun was beginning to gain some warmth. The long pants and sweaters were discarded in favour of shorts and t-shirts. Pantaenius, our insurance carrier, would allow us passage south of 30.5° N on November 15th with our normal deductible or earlier with an increased deductible. I had made a decision to cross the ‘line’ a day early due to the excellent weather window which prevailed and deteriorating forecast for later in the week. We enjoyed being on autopilot and having the luxury of a relaxed cruising day. Dolphins came to our bow and it was the first time since 2003, when we sold our last boat, I had experienced this… always fun. FOJ had been trolling a line and yes, it went ‘off’. After a short fight a good size Bonita was boarded.  On the 14th we were off Jacksonville and, oh boy, the weather was now rough. We learnt very quickly about the things that we had not stowed properly and also, on the plus side, how well ‘Partners’ could cope with a seaway. We tried to make some water with the watermaker but alas something wasn’t right with the plumbing and the attempt failed. We also discovered a leak! The transmission cooler had a pinhole leak in the water jacket and would need replacing. A plan was made to head for Lake Worth (Palm Beach) Inlet so repairs could be done and also for FOJ and I to recuperate a little after what would be two rough, tough, sleepless days at sea. 

November 16th. We sailed through Lake Worth Inlet at 06:30 and into calm waters, which brought a smile to our faces. We sailed North around Peanut Island to New Port Cove Marina Center. I had ordered our part, the transmission oil cooler, from American Diesel and they would have it to the marina the next day. Two very helpful line handlers had us docked, safe and sound, which was not easy in the 20 knot wind that was blowing, by 08:30. Our day was filed with a walk to the grocery store, working on the watermaker and taking a well deserved sleep after the previous sleepless nights.

November 17th. Our part arrived right on schedule and by 12:00 it was installed and we were ready to depart south again. With the wind still blowing hard we decided to make way south via the ICW, so off we went. It would take us two days to reach Miami. That evening we anchored in the shadow of Trump Tower in West Palm Beach. A great anchorage with good holding that afforded us a good night’s sleep.
November 18th. Under way again at 06:30 for the last ICW transit to Miami. Today was a Friday and fortunately this normally busy stretch of ICW was quiet and easy to navigate, one exception however, as we approached the 17th Street Bridge in Ft. Lauderdale I followed what I thought was the ICW only to hear the very helpful bridge tender calling me on the VHF advising me that I had taken a wrong turn! He could obviously see us from his high up vantage point and even held the bridge an extra few minute to allow us to pass through. Soon the highlight and entertainment of the day was to appear. This picture tells the story. As soon as the ‘jet man’ saw us at the pilot house door cameras in hand the performance began. He cruised over to our port side and ‘flew’ 20’+ in the air and waved. A pod which obviously containes a prepulsion system and a very high pressure water pump is all controlled from the hand grips the operator holds onto. The black hose carries the water to the jets. The amount of control seemed amaizing as ‘jet guy’ showed off the device. Fun! On we continued towards Miami, only one more hold up while we had to wait for a ship to dock in Port Everglades. We arrived at our anchorage just north of Belle Isle, in the designated ‘activecaptain’ marked anchorage. After difficulty in getting the anchor set we had a night of anchor alarms going off and not the greatest night’s sleep. My youngest daughter Georgina lives in Miami and although we didn’t have a visit we did talk on the phone. By 06:30 we were off again…the plan was to continue south in Biscayne Bay and then cut through to Hawk Channel. We were not sure which channel to use however. Ever since 2004 and the NAR( Nordhavn North Atlantic Rally) I have been an avid reader of ‘Voyage of Egret’ the blog of Scott and Mary Flanders on board ‘Egret’ their Nordhavn 46’. I had just written to Scott telling him that the inspiration and prodding he had been delivering over the years advocating the cruising lifestyle had finally helped us take the plunge. As I have previously written we are now ‘dirt less’ and are full time live aboard cruisers. Scott published part of my email in his November 14th blog. This is the part of my e-mail he published:-

 "You and Mary have both been a great inspiration to Lavinia and I and I would like to thank you for all the writings, information and `prodding' that you have delivered over the years. The strange thing is that now we have completed the selling of our large family home and all the furniture etc. we feel refreshed and `free'. The trepidation, especially from Lavinia, that we experienced preceding the disposal exercise we now realize was unnecessary. Now, being free of the dirt dwelling life style, we have grown and take deep breaths not because of any anxiety or stress but because we are out of breath from some fun activity, isn't life great. It is our time…

We will be cruising in 2012 and who knows, it is a small world, and I hope that our paths do cross."
The purpose I reiterate is that soon after we passed under the Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge, guess who was on the opposing course, yes, it was ‘Egret’. Indeed our paths were crossing. I hailed on the VHF and Scott and I conversed for a few minutes. Scott comes from Ft. Lauderdale and I leant on his local knowledge to ask his suggestion of which inlet to traverse into Hawk Channel. Scott’s suggestion was Biscayne Channel so that was it we made an immediate course change and headed towards the inlet. As quickly as ‘Egret’ had appeared she disappeared, she quickly became a dot on the horizon on our port side as we entered Biscayne Channel. The channel is well marked although in the big waves the bar presents a challenge. Short steep waves battered us as we cleared. In Hawk Channel the seas were not too bad although without our stabilizers which had failed just before we arrived in Palm Beach we did rock and roll for the first part of the trip to Key West. The Channel is very clearly marked and an easy 24/7 transit. One thing, however, lobster pots! Yes, we hooked one on our starboard stabilizer fin which I discovered on my 01:00 – 04:00 watch. I cut the trap loose leaving the buoy and line jammed in the fin. I tied off the line to our rail with the intension of freeing it once we were anchored in Key West.

November 20th arrived in Key West accompanied up the main channel by the pictured cruise ship. We anchored just north of Sunset Pier in the protection of Fleming Key. We did not go ashore although lowered the dinghy so we could free the lobster pot line and buoy from the stabilizer, not as easy as we thought, the clearance between the fin and the hull is minimal and the line was hard jammed. With me hanging from the side of the dinghy, giving myself profane encouragement, I finally cut the line free. As the dinghy and I drifted back to the stern I noticed another object streaming in the tide flow. It was a black plastic garbage bag stuck on the rudder. FOJ, from the swim platform, was able to reach the offender and that was the extent of our ‘fishing’. We spent two days in Key West enjoying the 80° weather and a water temperature which was still 79°.
Our final leg to Sarasota would take 30 hours of non-stop cruising and the wind abated enough on the 22nd for us to set sail. The beginning was still pretty rough with 30° rolls frequent but soon the sea calmed to an acceptable motion and the trip was uneventful. I had originally intended using Longboat Key as the inlet to access Sarasota Bay but a front was fast approaching from the north so we decided to use Venice Inlet which would put us in protected water and not loose us any time. After a little altercation caused by lack of attention to the chart and transiting a green marker on the wrong side we ran aground. Fortunately we were able to back off and had no more excitement for the rest of the journey.

We arrived at the fuel dock in Longboat Key Club Moorings at 13:00 right on schedule. I wanted to get an accurate measure of our fuel consumption for the trip before transiting to our mooring. We made it back for Thanksgiving which was a goal, subject to remaining safe, that we both had. This picture is taken by Admiral Lavinia as she stood on Siesta Key Bridge watching as we came home…

The figures could have been a little better if the Gulf Stream had not affected us for so much of the trip, the seas had been a little calmer and the speeding up to make as much distance as possible in the ICW was eliminated. On a longer open water voyage I expect the figures to improve. Having said this I am still pleased with the numbers. Even at this consumption under these conditions on our 600 gal of fuel, at 6 knots, we would have a range of 2,300 NM with a 10% reserve.  (During 2010 the previous owners had replaced the old black iron tanks with new stainless steel ones and the original capacity of 700 gals had to be reduced to 600 in order to be able to get the tanks back in place).
Here are the statistics for the trip:-

Hours run – 185.7
Total Distance travelled – 955.2 NM
Average speed for trip – 5.14 knots
US gals consumed – 262.154
NM per gallon – 3.6436598
Gals per hr – 1.411707

TofP moves to a different phase now, we are aboard living our dream and we will continue to report about interesting places and things that we encounter. In the inimitable words of Scott Flanders upon his return to Ft. Lauderdale November 25th2011 after a circumnavigation and voyage of discovery – “Two thousand, six hundred eighty eight days ago ‘Egret’ passed under this bridge (17th St.) in Ft Lauderdale on her way across the Atlantic as a participant in the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally. Let's make this easy on your conscience shipwrecked by VofE. We'll just say places our little white fiberglass ship has taken us, the sights we have seen and the people we met are beyond anyone's comprehension unless they have done it themselves. Mary and I have done a few out of the ordinary things in our past lives and these days were certainly the best of the best. And the best part? We can do anything we want because we are free. What will the next 2,688 days bring? We don't have a clue except we will make it as interesting and adventurous as we wish. Isn't that great? And you know the best part? You can as well...”