18 November 2011

Hello, North Carolina!

We stayed in Mill Creek near Fort Monroe for three days until a mechanic could come out and look at our port engine.  By then the generator had konked out on us, too.  It turns our that they were related problems.  Without going into details, suffice it to say that low fuel plus churning waters equals crud in the fuel lines.  Crud in the fuel lines equals no go.  Good news, all in all. Our engine (and generator) are both fine and I got quite a lesson in fuel system diagnosis and repair.

Our backyard du nuit
Portsmouth, VA and mile marker "0" of the Intracoastal Waterway, finally, on Wednesday afternoon.  First stop: Tidewater Marina where we took on water and fuel and emptied our holding tank and garbage--all badly needed.  I remarked to Jane that the purpose of our boat is to convert fresh water and diesel into waste water.  "And miles," she added.  "Yes," I agreed, "waste water and miles."  The temperature reached 75 degrees and I got to wear a T-shirt and shorts for the first time since getting underway.  Got all our laundry done and had lunch at the marina's restaurant.  As the sun went down, with a beautiful view of the Norfolk skyline, we sat in the cockpit sipping champagne to celebrate having making it to the ICW.  It was one of those moments, still countable on the fingers of one hand so far, that reminded us of the point to all this madness.

Yesterday, not so much...

Great Bridge Lock
Fifty-one degrees and rain.  Felt much colder (and wetter) than that.  The first stretch of the ICW might best be described as a "hurry-up-and-wait" experience.  Four timed bridges and a lock; none of them coordinated with one another.  Sailors who travel up and down annually, probably have this timing thing down to a science, but for us and the 6 sailboats and one powerboat we'd been traveling with since the start of the day, it was an inelegant trek.  Timed bridges only stay open for a few minutes, some on the half-hour and hour, some only on the hour, because, of course, they are backing up motor traffic whenever they do.  So  not wanting to risk missing an opening, captains dash from one bridge to the next only to arrive far too early and have to stake out a patch of water in which to spin in slow circles until the bridge opens.  Rinse, repeat.  And then there are the fixed bridges.  We actually missed an opening of one of the timed bridges (fortunately one that opened every half-hour) because some dredging equipment was blocking the opening of a fixed bridge.  Passing through the fixed bridges is a harrowing experience in itself. At mean high tide they are 65 feet high.  Steve and Rene', Joy's previous owners, had the mast cut down to an ICW-friendly 64 feet.  Looking straight up, there's no way to see the foot of clearance; I'm convinced we're sure to be dismasted every time.  There are lights that distend from the center of the undersides of these bridges, presumably to make them visible at night.  But I wonder whether it's 65 feet to the underside of the bridge or the light that hangs from it.  We've managed to steer clear of them, just in case.

After the dredging equipment moved aside and we made it through the bridge--too late for the sailboats to make the next opening of the next bridge--I took over the helm so that Jane could warm up a bit.  A powerboat, approaching on our port quarter, requested permission to overtake us, which Jane quickly got on the VHF and granted. I inched over to starboard very carefully.  In 9.4 feet of water, I felt this enormous thud.  We'd run hard aground.  Jane sprung into action, throttled both engines in reverse, but it was no use.  We were stuck good.  She made a quick decision to try to kedge us out.  While setting up a kedging anchor and lowering the dinghy, one of the sailboats that'd been behind us and saw us run aground, came back to see if were were alright, another cat owner, as it happened, and the only non-American in our cadre. Our savior, hailing from Montreal, aboard "Catito" (whose name we later learned was Michele), patiently waited to see if Jane's plan would work.  We had a secondary scare when the current kept pushing the dinghy downstream toward the bow of the boat nearly wrapping the anchor rode around the port engine prop.  Michele must have looked on in astonishment at our lack of seamanship, but was far too genteel to comment on it when we met up with him later.  When kedging proved insufficient, he suggested tying a line to our starboard aft cleat and towing us out.  How embarassing!  Michele, singlehanding his 36 foot Mahe, towing out the two of us in our 42 foot catamaran.  But it worked--despite me.  I was so clueless as to how to make the situation better than I actually helped keep the boat aground by not pulling in the rode of the kedging anchor.  Jane might have, would have had every right to, bite my head off, but she didn't.  She yelled orders at me, but not in a mean way, only with an intensity appropriate to the situation.  Once we were free, Jane and Michele both realized it made more sense to release the towing line from our end and have Michele feed it onto his boat.  He joked that it would cost us to get it back and we could only think "not enough."

Although we were free, we still had the problem of getting the very stuck kedging anchor back onboard.  My instinct was just to pull.  Jane, however, remembered that winches, of which we have several on our boat, are good for pulling lines, since that is their purpose.  She told me to wrap the rode around the winch.  It  helped, but it was still grueling to grind it out of the water.  I did eventually get it back onto the boat without wrapping anything around anything.  I was pretty sure that heart failure was immanent, but at least between the adrenaline and the exertion, I wasn't cold, not even my hands.  Rope burnt, but not cold.  I quit while Jane simultaneously fired me from helming until further notice and she got us to our anchorage at mile 29 without further incident.  Our only turn of luck was that just as I ran us aground the rain let off so it was slightly less miserable work than it might have been.

There was Catito, already anchored, her owner as calm as could be, just poking around his boat in an orderly way.  Poor Jane, despite her very cold, very wet feet, she understood that it would have been the height of rudeness to not dinghy over to Catito and offer our appreciation.  Michele was the soul of graciousness.  He's traveled up and down the ICW several times and assured us that we'd just come through a horrible, and in fact the worst stretch of the whole thing.

Michele travels with his dog, Mona, a pit bull terrier who was not happy to see us on her boat.  Michele quickly realized that it was because of Jane's kitty and my sock monkey hats.  She still wasn't too sure about us even after we took them off, but before we left, Mona decided I was ok and became my new best friend.  We swapped some boat stories with Michele and I was sorry we couldn't stay longer but Jane's feet were paining her greatly and we needed to get back to Joy to get her warm.  We promised Michele some home baked chocolate chip cookies when we met up with him next and dighied home.
...or maybe daymark 65...?  Why no welcome sign?
ICW daymark 63 welcomes you to North Carolina...?

Boat slush
The overnight low last night was 29 degrees with a predicted high of today of 47.  We woke up to ice crystals on the boat and our GPS was MIA.  I tried, in despair, to giggle the wire leading to the unit.  Nothing.  Moments later, Jane giggled the same wire and got it to work.  I'm beginning to think this boat doesn't like me very much.  It seems no matter how hard we try to get "souther" the cold weather keeps catching up to us. This has been the coldest day so far.  That it was sunny was of only a little help with a 14 knot wind.  We are so tired of being cold all day and short days they are as we have also discovered that staying in the very narrow channel is immensely difficult to do.  We  nearly ran aground again today.  Our pace and the constant threat of going aground in freezing weather is exhausting and we only made about 26 miles after more than 4.5 hours.  Anchorages are spaced miles apart and if we hadn't stopped at the one we are at tonight, we would've had to go another 37 miles, picking our way at 4-5 knots.  That we will save for tomorrow.  On Sunday and Monday we'll try for 50 miles apiece.  That will get us into Beaufort, NC by Monday night.  We'll need fuel again by then and provisions.  The forecast for Beaufort for Monday is 71 degrees.  I'm too cold right now to imagine it.

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