Friday, December 26, 2008

Vero Beach to Marathon - Could this be Margaritaville???

There were 4 guys standing at the bar who were well into a couple of jugs of draft beer. They were engaged in a very animated conversation about the day of fishing they had just returned from. There were loud descriptions about the number of tuna that had surrounded their boat out on the reef, but for some reason refused to take the live baits that were offered. They stopped their rising crescendo of colorful expletives just long enough to greet a large man, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and covered in tattoos, who had walked in carrying a small terrier like a baby in his arms. The terrier was appropriately dressed for the season in a Santa suit complete with fur trim and a tasseled hat. Accompanying Mr. Tattoo was his woman friend who was carrying a drink that she brought in with her from outside and smoking a cigarette.

On the stage a solo singer piano player with a pony tail was belting out a country rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a man in a full Jack Sparrow pirate outfit, complete with tri-cornered hat, 2 stepped with his Pirate Jenny girlfriend. I’m pretty sure he was also wearing eye liner, but maybe it was the lighting, or maybe he just had very striking features? A couple of clean cut prep school types wearing designer board shorts and flip flops and sporting Oakley sunglasses on top of their heads were huddled together completely oblivious to their surroundings.

Pat and I had just returned from a day trip by car to Miami to pick up some solar panels and we were sitting in the aptly named Dockside bar on Tuesday evening waiting for our food to arrive. Both of us were pretty tired because we had arrived in Marathon late on Sunday evening after a 5 day nearly non-stop journey from Melbourne and then almost immediately turned around and driven back to Miami. Perhaps it was fatigue, and perhaps it was the tortoise shell cat sitting on the bar but there was something decidedly surreal about our surroundings. Could this be the fabled Margaritaville?

As his friends fussed over the dog in the Santa suit, one of the fishermen made eye contact, and he walked/staggered over to introduce himself as Tony. He shook our hand warmly and welcomed us to Marathon. He was just passing through, but he had already been there for 6 months, and he had no specific plans for leaving. It seems that he had left behind a stressful life in Chicago and was on his way to Panama aboard his 50 foot catamaran. As he started to describe his journey, our server arrived with our meals, and he politely excused himself and invited us to visit him aboard his boat when we got settled. His beer hazed speech and the Ralph Lauren shirt stained with fish guts were a stark contrast to the elegant way in which he excused himself from disturbing our meal, leaving us wondering just what he did before he became a sailor on a 50 foot cat in the Keys.

Perhaps Tony’s story is an anomaly, but judging by the number of graying pony tails sported by both men and women who are as old or older than Pat and me, I have to believe that the Keys is one of those places that can draw you in and lull you into a satisfied stupor. Perhaps it is the retirement community for aging hippies or perhaps it is the true fountain of youth, but there is something about the air in these parts that just seems to re-adjust one’s notions about time.

The pace of Marathon is a welcome change and a relief from the pace of the past week. Last week, when Pat and I left the anchorage in Vero Beach we knew we were in for a week of dawn to dusk traveling if we were to make the Keys in time for Christmas. As we were caught up in the moment, once again I neglected my rule about being in a specific place on a specific date. Now when you are underway and operating under a self imposed deadline there are two things that a sailor does not want to hear. The first thing is a very loud bang coming from the engine and nether regions of the boat, and the second is the total silence that ensues.

We were approaching St. Lucie Inlet following a channel no more than 150 feet wide that was surrounded by very shallow water. According to the charts the area we were in was very prone to shoaling due to the currents from the inlet and the main channel depths were well below the ICW controlling depth of 12 feet. Furthermore the water outside of the dredged channel was left to go native and was reported to be less than 5 feet deep. Understanding that we were in precarious waters I paid extra close attention to the channel by carefully back sighting each mark to ensure that I was not drifting out of safe water. Suddenly there was a loud bang and a shudder from below and then total silence.

I was like a deer in the headlights because the information from my instruments could not explain what had just happened. The chart plotter showed we were in the middle of the channel, the depth sounder showed close to 10 feet of water, and the speed log showed we were still moving forward at a decent clip. Pat nailed the problem right away when she yelled over that we had hit something floating in the water and that our prop was fouled. As I cursed all crab fishermen, I managed to restart the engine, but as soon as I put it into gear, it would stall so I shifted the focus of my cursing to the company that manufactured my prop line cutters. I managed, after several attempts of putting the engine into forward and reverse, to create a substantial cloud of debris that looked like a mix of tree branches and bits of canvas. The engine would run while in gear, but the vibrations that ran through the hull felt as if the engine was going to come out of its mounts.

I had visions of bent prop shafts, fried engines and broken transmissions, so I shut everything down. There was not enough wind to sail and the engine was of no help, so we allowed the boat to drift and as we moved into the shallow water off the channel Pat went forward to set the anchor. A call to Tow Boat US on the VHF and help was on the way. Within 20 minutes we had a Towboat alongside and were on our way to the Marriot Resort at Hutchinson Island where a diver would meet us and check out our problem. It turned out that I had hit a submerged construction tarpaulin like the type that is used to cover the load in a dump truck. It seemed endlessly long as I took the edge from the diver and pulled it from the water.

In the end the engine was fine and we were none the worse for wear. It cost us about 2 hours out of our schedule and $50 to cover the cost of the diver. It could have been much worse, but in retrospect what was impressive to Pat and me was that the experience we had gained over the last few months came into play, and apart from my initial surprise, we handled everything calmly and correctly like we had been doing this all of our lives. Kudos to Tow Boat US for being so responsive and many thanks go out to the staff of the Marriott for providing safe haven for sailors in distress, but in the end it was Pat and me that kept a bad situation from getting much worse.

It was a shame that we had imposed a deadline on our traveling because the next 4 days took us from anchorages in Jupiter Inlet to Fort Lauderdale and to the strangely named but beautiful Long Aresenicker before arriving in Marathon. Each of the stops could have easily been expanded into much, longer stays, but there is always next time.

We have arrived in Marathon, where we were met by Bruce and Esther of Con el Viento fame who produced last years cruising blog. Bruce has appointed himself as the unofficial dockmaster for Canadian boats, and he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that Pat and I feel comfortable and welcomed. The holidays were welcome quiet time, but a little lonely because the usual hustle and bustle of family dinners were missing this year. Still Pat managed to put together a great Turkey dinner for the two of us

This week will be dedicated to scrubbing several months of grime off of Threepenny Opera and catching up on boat chores that have been neglected for awhile. One of the best chores will be to pack away all of the cold weather clothing that we had been living in up until about three weeks ago. These days dressing up means putting on a shirt with a collar and somewhat cleaner shorts.

Marathon is extremely cruiser friendly and both Pat and I are looking forward to integrating ourselves into the community. We are prepping for the next stage of our travels, but the current plans call for a stay in Marathon until the end of January…. Who knows, maybe we will be like Tony the fisherman and we’ll find ourselves propping up the bar and introducing ourselves to next seasons fresh faced arrivals.

Have a great week. I know we will here in Margaritaville!


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

St Augustine to Vero Beach via Montreal

I am warm again! After our overnight crossing from Beaufort SC, Pat and I were greeted by glorious sunshine and more importantly the real heat that comes with it. It was such a huge treat to be able to wander around the historic town of St. Augustine in shorts and a t-shirt. In fact it was the first time since we left Canada that Pat and I have been able to do so. I guess Florida is living up to its tag line of being the sunshine state. Many of the locals are still complaining about the cold, but for Pat and me anything above 55 degrees is warm and once we cross the line into the 60’s we are positively into tropical territory.

Maybe it was the heat and maybe it was because we have been town hopping on the boat but St. Augustine was one of those towns that we hated to leave. Our overnight stop turned into two, and then we added a third day just for good measure. The time that we gained by going offshore from Beaufort, was reinvested into a more quality experience in St. Augustine. It is very charming and obviously set up for a booming tourist trade, but unlike other communities that derive a good part of their livelihood from tourists, the town was not the least bit tacky. It may sound a little odd, but we were actually motivated to visit tourist attractions because they were not very touristy. And so it came to pass that we found ourselves in the Alligator Farm, the farmers market and the St. George Street pedestrian mall.

One of the other benefits of warmer weather is that we have been able to stay on the hook for several days at a time. In the real cold weather, the Espar heater draws down the batteries more than my little 80 amp alternator can replenish without running the engine an inordinately long time. When we were preparing Threepenny Opera for our cruise, I made the conscious decision to wait until we got to Florida to install solar panels but in hindsight I should have done it sooner. If I were preparing another boat for this voyage, I would definitely have my solar installed prior to departure because the lack of supplemental charging has forced us to spend more nights in marinas than I had originally planned. The savings that I would have gained by buying my solar in Florida has been more that used up on extra nights in marinas. Again hindsight is proved to be 20/20.

Threepenny Opera is actually a very good cruising boat and we proved it by leaving St. Augustine, and then staying off the grid until we reached Melbourne on our third day out. We had good anchorages in Daytona Beach and another great anchorage at my namesake Addison Point. The beauty of the last anchorage was that we were within 5 miles of the Vehicular Assembly Building, where the space shuttle is prepared for flight. It was also line of sight to the two gargantuan launch pads, so if we can figure out a way to do it, maybe we might come back up this way for the February shuttle launch. I can’t think of anything cooler than to sit on my own deck sipping on a good cabernet and watching history unfold.

It was somewhat ironic that once we reached Melbourne in, we left the boat to fly back to Canada for the annual cookie baking session with the family. While it might sound a little strange to fly several thousand miles to bake cookies nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the things that Pat and I have come to realize is that changing our lifestyle is not the same thing as changing our life. We are merely living it in a different venue and perhaps at a different pace. The importance of getting together and spending quality time together cannot be underestimated when we are out cruising and since we had not seen any family for several months, Pat and I approached the trip home with the same excitement as we did for the 4 day power weekend get aways that we used to take when we were both wage slaves. The good thing about flying home for a family get together while we are out cruising is that we did not have to fly back and go to the office on Monday morning!

As excited as we were about going home for a few days, it was still a huge shock to the system when we walked out of the airport terminal in Montreal into -13 degree temperatures. I was walking around in shorts and sandals only 5 hours earlier and now I found myself being congratulated by the local Hertz representative for being fortunate enough to get the last car that was not too frozen to rent. What the Hertz guy did not tell us was that the deadline for mandatory snow tire installation was the date I was returning the car, and since the car they had for me was to be retired from service on that date, snow tires were not installed. It did not take us long to discover that all season radials do not work very well after a week of snow, freezing rain and more snow. For once I was thankful for heavy Montreal traffic because at least I wasn’t going very fast.

Originally the ginger snap cookies and Swedish Spritz Shortbread were baked by Pat’s mom. She had passed the recipe on to Pat’s sister Ann but during the transition the hand written recipe that Pat’s mom used was torn and a couple of key ingredients were missing. It has taken us several years of reverse engineering and experimentation, plus dozens of bottles of wine and other spirits to try and discover both the missing ingredients and their correct proportions. Over the years we have produced concoctions that could rival titanium for hardness and concrete for density, but this year we finally got it right. If it weren’t for the persistence of Ann and nieces Stephanie and Karine to figure out the right formula, Pat and I would stll be buying our Swedish cookies at Ikea. Maybe it was part of Nanna Oscarson’s master plan to tear the recipe and force us to get together to figure out the mystery. In the end the cold and slippery roads only seemed to make the weekend that much better.

Pat and I are back in Florida, and it feels great. I actually put on a bathing suit for the first time and got down to the business of washing off 5 months of cruising grime from the deck of Threepenny Opera. It was not a pretty sight, and no I am not referring to me in the bathing suit. She has had a first washing to remove the big stuff, so when we get to Marathon, we will be able to get down to the business of making her shine again. Today we are rafted three abreast on a mooring ball in Vero Beach. As luck would have it our ball mates are Ken and Heidi from Rising Tide and Ron and Dawn from Dawn Treader. By this time next week we should be approaching our first stage destination of Marathon Florida. I can hear the Jimmy Buffet tunes already!!

Have a great week, I know we will.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Charleston SC to St-Augustine FL. – Overnights…Second Time is the charm!

Traveling the ICW for Pat and me has been a front row seat to help us understand the values that makes the United States what it is today. From the secessionist manifesto of the Rhett family in the late 19th century to the ever present reminder of America’s military might (not a day goes by without seeing the Navy, Air Force, Army or Marine Corp in action); from the tacky kitsch of Myrtle Beach to the refined modern chic of Charleston; and from the crews of the multi-million dollar mega yachts to the humblest of floating homes, we have had the privilege experiencing first hand modern American history by passing up close and personal most of the original colonies.

The ICW is an amazing piece of engineering and a testament to the notion that a good idea will rise above all. To even exist, it has over the years surmounted and continues to surmount the challenges of economics, politics, geography and weather. It is the Highway 66 of the cruising community and the slice of American Civilization that is served up as one travels the system of natural rivers and man made canals, cannot be rivaled. Perhaps preserving it as a national heritage site would be a way to obtain the funding needed to adequately maintain the system?

As an added bonus, Pat and I were invited to join several other crews from the cruising community to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday. While we all agreed that going out for dinner was not exactly the same, the logistics of large crowds on small boats dictated that some concessions needed to be made. We are truly thankful that we have made the acquaintance of Chris and Divya from s/v Maggie M, Ron and Dawn from s/v Dawn Treader, Jim and Ann from s/v Ubiquitous, and especially to Mike and Georgie from s/v Alcyone, who made the effort to seek us out to extend the invitation.

Pat and I enjoyed the experience so much that we had an impromptu repeat of the experience aboard Threepenny Opera the following night with Bob and Debbie from the s/v Valissa with whom we had crossed the Gulf of Maine over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. If it were not for the confidence we gained from following their lead, Pat and I may not have ventured out onto the Bay of Fundy alone, and we would still be much further to the North and much colder as a result.

We had not seen Bob and Debbie since the crossing but we have often wondered where they were; so it was through pure serendipity that Debbie heard me speaking to another boat and realized we were nearby. I was equally surprised and delighted to be hailed by the long lost Valissa, but that is the way things work on the ICW. It took a stretch run in approaching darkness and rain to make the anchorage, but Pat managed to get the hook down at dusk, and cook a turkey with the trimmings by 6:30. She is a miracle worker on a boat.

Despite the richness of the cultural experience however, the ICW has a tedious side that is found in the numerous uncharted shoals, the bridges that force one to adapt to their rhythm and the tidal currents and flows that can make planning a relatively simple trip into a complex stochastic modeling exercise. Pat and I entered the ICW early in November and after almost 4 weeks of relatively short day hops we were ready to get on with the business of going south. Perhaps we were motivated by the uncharacteristically cold temperatures, or perhaps it was due to the confidence that one builds from spending the last 4 months on our boat, Pat and I decided to leave the ICW in Beaufort SC and head out into the open Atlantic for an overnight passage to Jacksonville FL.

The decision to go “offshore” was accompanied by some trepidation of course, but in discussions with other more experienced sailors the feelings are normal and very common. While only a fool will do anything unsafe, anybody, no matter how experienced who voyages away from the protection of safe harbours, can only do so with the permission of Mother Nature. We have been sent to the principal’s office more than once for not heeding her lessons, so naturally we were a little apprehensive that this time we had learned our lessons well.

No doubt there will be more advanced lessons, but for newbie cruisers like Pat and me the 135nm mile passage from Beaufort SC to the mouth of the St. Johns River, which leads to Jacksonville FL, is a great mid-term test of skills. If one passes, then longer and more complex passages are within reach, but if one needs remedial tutoring, there are many less challenging day sails on the open Atlantic that one can make to gain additional experience. Unlike our first blue water night passage, this time Pat and I were traveling solo. We were in communication while enroute with other boats via VHF and SSB but the trip planning and execution were based solely on our efforts so it was comforting to know that others were also out there with us, even though they were unseen.

In the end we went to the Palm Cove Marina in Jacksonville Beach FL because the Jacksonville Marina was under repairs. The total distance was ~140 Nm and we covered the distance in just under 23 hours. For the first 15 hours of the voyage we enjoyed perfect beam reach sailing on relatively flat seas. Our biggest challenge was to slow Threepenny Opera down so that we would not arrive before sunrise. For the last 8 hours of the trip the wind died so our challenge was to try and speed Threeepenny Opera up so that we would arrive before sunset. We finally gave up at 4:30AM and fired up the iron sails to motor the last 30 odd miles. Most importantly I managed to keep my dinner down, so I am hoping that I have started a trend for future night passages….mommy I’m a big boy now!

Today we are in St. Augustine after a very short 28 SM hop from our marina last night. We are looking forward to visiting the city, but even more importantly we are looking forward to going to Montreal in a week’s time for the annual cooking baking party that Pat’s family puts on. In the meantime we will enjoy a little more of the Florida ICW which looks a little different than the parts of the ICW further north. I think we have earned our intermediate cruising badges because Pat is busy with the charts and guides planning an overnight passage so we can get as far south as possible before we take our break.

Have a great week. I know we will!


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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Morehead City to Charleston SC – The scenery is the same but we are changing!

When we prepared to go cruising the whole concept of basic necessities was very different than the concept of basic necessities now that we are underway. For Pat and me, we have been talking about our cruise for several years and interestingly most of the planning surrounded preparing the boat for the cruise. We have added all sorts of systems ranging from diesel furnaces to water makers and of course the obligatory suite of marine electronics that will allow us to send telegrams to Mars. What we have discovered however is that having a well prepared boat, is not the same thing as being prepared to go cruising.

There are things that I do today without thinking, that I would not have even dreamed about doing when I was a land dweller. A case in point, we will go very long distances for something as simple as a loaf of bread. Indeed the actual act of grocery shopping becomes an integral part of our impression of a community. For example, I would have to check my own blog to remember details about some of the earlier ports of call in our voyage, but I can recall in pretty fine detail where we bought food and the quality of the experience. For example Tadoussac is the town where we bought frozen ground veal and home made maple fudge in a little 2 cash register village supermarket, and Baltimore, despite the world class aquariums and museums is best remembered as the docks that were within walking distance of the Whole Foods Supermarket.

Although the willingness to walk great distances is a change, perhaps the biggest change for me is my desire to meet new people. Pat and I lived in the same community in Mississauga for 17 years. During that period of time, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I actually entered one of my neighbours homes, yet out here on our cruise visiting other floating homes and having others come to ours has been some of the highlights of the trip.

Personally I have always characterized myself as a hardcore introvert, so my idea of a good time, is a quiet evening with a good book, or an afternoon of crawling around in the bilge installing or fixing a boat bit. While I always had the ability to “work a room” as part of my career requirements, it was always just work, something you did because you had to. It has come as a complete surprise to me how quickly friendships develop and how important these new friends are to the quality of our cruising experience.

Pat and I are natural optimists so perhaps we are just seeking out more of our kind, but we both agree that however spectacular the sights we have seen, the people are what we appreciate most. It is interesting that we can maintain a cheery outlook when you consider that we tend to be surrounded by a lot of bad news these days. One would think that with negative headlines combined with lousy weather, narrow channels filled with sand bars, and the US Marines closing the ICW for maneuvers, that any sane person would be looking for a plane ticket out at the next opportunity. Of course while none of us are immune to the events of the world, there is a “je ne sais quoi” about the attitude of cruisers that seems to find the silver lining behind even the darkest cloud. The analytical side of me is trying to understand why this is happening, but the emotional side of me doesn’t really care. I’m just happy that it is happening.

We are safe and sound in Charleston SC. I have only gone aground twice this week, and in doing so I did the cruising community a service by showing other boats where not to go…note to self, fancy electronics will not replace a good set of eyes and a little common sense. Other note to self, sailing straight and moving in a straight line are not the same thing; current can cause you to drift sideways even though your heading never changes…I’m learning!

Even though we have been making steady progress towards warmer climes, the goal of sitting in a bathing suit and having a beer is still very elusive. While “chilly” is a relative term, the majority of people we have encountered this week will agree that temperatures low enough to freeze water will almost certainly qualify. There have been a few evenings when the temperatures dipped into the 20s as well as a couple of days when there were headline making snow flurries. Oh well at least there will be another generation of Carolineans that can say they have seen snow, and an older generation that can say they have seen snow before Thanksgiving….maybe that’s not exactly a silver lining, but its gotta be close!

Pat and I are debating our next move. We can either head offshore from Charleston and be in Florida by the weekend, or we can continue into the hinterlands of South Carolina and Georgia. Since Beaufort and Savannah are both cruising highlights we are in a no lose situation. Anyway you will find out our decision next week. In the meantime, we are going to stay warm, and go looking for a turkey that will fit in our oven.

So to Sylvie, Denis, Heidi, Ken, Gerie, Bill, Georgie & Mike and to all the others we spoke to on VHF and have yet to meet, thanks for making our cruise special this week. Everybody have a Happy Thanksgiving and a great week I know I will. Please keep the comments and suggestions coming!


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elizabeth City NC to Morehead City NC – The Epiphany of quality time!

A seemingly common character- istic of the migrant sailors we have met along the way is that everybody is striving to get somewhere. The normal conversation starters when encountering a new person, is where are you from and where are you going. Names and boats enter in the conversation at some point, but usually only after the first two points have been sufficiently clarified.

While Pat and I also have specific destinations in mind, I realized this week that we are truly blessed because we don’t have to worry too much about timing. Many of our fellow travelers have a finite amount of time to cruise before they have to return to other obligations, of family or work or both. Understandably they need to “get there” so that they can enjoy their destination for as long as possible, before they revert back to being land people. Pat and I on the other hand can take as long as we like because we are already home!

On Thursday last week we were entering the upper reaches of the Pungo River from the Alligator to Pungo Rivers Canal. The canal is a narrow 20 mile long aquatic bowling alley of a waterway where a gutter ball could mean a call to the tow boat. Straight down the middle is the only marginally safe water for its entire length as even 20 feet from the centerline there are many places with only a covering of water. Even in the middle there are numerous sunken tree stumps so you often feel ghostly tendrils of something touching the bottom of the boat as you pass over. For those of us used to deeper water it is a very eerie sensation!

The forecast was for 10-15 knot SW winds with gusts to 20 and a few showers. Wave heights were forecast to be 1-2 increasing to 2-3 later in the day; all in all it seemed pretty benign. What we came to appreciate however was that in the very shallow waters of the ICW, a 15 knot wind from an unfavorable direction can have a very significant effect on water levels and wave heights. In a matter of 15 minutes the water went from relatively flat to short period teeth rattling 2 footers. Of course as we struggled with the wheel to keep the bow within 30 degrees of our heading the rain started and the buoys disappeared into the murk. Thank goodness for GPS and radar because we were able to feel our way towards the marks and stay in deep enough water to keep our keel off the bottom.

When we arrived at the River Forest Marina in Belhaven about 90 minutes later, we were met by a coterie of wet and shaking sailors who had exited the same canal earlier in the day and had experienced even worse conditions. Since the conditions were forecast to deteriorate further over the next 24 hours, we resigned ourselves to sitting tight for at least one day. The one day ended up being 3 days of fog, high winds, severe thunderstorms and tornados before we felt there was a good enough weather window to make the hops across Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River. At the end of the third day, the cabin fever amongst the migrant community was pretty evident, so by the following morning the exodus from the docks began at first light, and we were told later that by 8:00 AM the marina was deserted.

Progress and movement are synonymous, so when I sat down to write this week’s installment, I was somewhat at a loss as to what to talk about. Since the beginning of the week we had only moved from mile 51 of the ICW at Elizabeth City to mile 205 at Morehead City, which means that we have only traveled a grand total of 154 statute miles this week (~130nm). With the exception of the week we took off in Halifax earlier this autumn, the past week established a new low on the progress meter…. Or so I it seemed at first blush.

As I stewed on how to describe a scant 154 miles of waterway, Pat in her usual calm manner, started to remind me of the people we had met and the adventures that we had experienced over the past 7 days. We have been aground, caught in a blinding squall, saved a guy from drowning and shared a drink or two with new like minded friends as we baby stepped deeper into the south. Pat’s words triggered one of those flashes of the obvious where I realized that we were actually accomplishing in spades what we had set out to do when we embarked on this voyage.

For a large part of my life, my work instilled a discipline to always set and strive towards an objective. Success was defined not only by hitting the mark but also by the degree of ambition or chutzpah that was used to set the objectives in the first place. Personally I could accept that coming close, but failing to achieve an outrageously ambitious objective was better than overachieving on something I felt was ordinary. While the rewards of being “successful” are pretty obvious, there are costs that may not be as easily identified. For me one of the hidden costs has been the subconscious reflex to always set targets, and then obsessing on them, even when setting a target is not really necessary….like how many miles we are covering next week!

I’m discovering that it takes an enormous amount of discipline to focus on the now. Not to be confused with alertness and awareness of our surroundings, which is of paramount importance for safety, focusing on the now is about making the most of the present. Years ago when I was an instructor for the Dale Carnegie courses, I used to coach people on the value of making lemonade out of lemons, and yet somehow I seem to have missed my own lesson. For now I’ll concentrate less on how far we are going, and spend a little more time on reflecting about where we have come from. I’m told by more experienced cruisers that eventually I will pass a threshold of consciousness where time will be measured on a scale of weeks and months rather than days, hours and minutes….maybe that will be my next objective……..

Today we are sitting in Morehead City. The forecast is for something the locals call a Canadian Clipper to blow through here in the next 24 to 36 hours. Apparently it is a nasty dry cold front that originates in Canada and brings high winds and very low temperatures. The forecast low night is for 29 Fahrenheit which coupled with 30 knot winds should produce some interesting conditions. Pat and I are warm, dry and we have all the comforts of home including Oprah at 4:00PMso why should we be in a hurry. We’ll let you know where we end up next week, next week!

Have a great week, I know I will, even if I have to repair the head!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baltimore to Elizabeth City NC – In Dixieland we’ll make our stand!

The world looks different from the waters edge. Local differences seem to be more acutely punctuated when traveling by water than if the same distances were covered by land. Pat and I only covered a linear distance of ~230 miles this week, but in the 4 days that we actually traveled out of the last 9 days, we passed through very different areas. Geographically the Chesapeake appears to be fairly similar from one end to the other, but culturally there are worlds apart from the northern to the southern end.

We had just left Annapolis about 2 hours earlier on our way to Solomons Island when the VHF channel 16 crackled to life with an exchange that began with “thanks for giving me so much room A**hole” The response was only partly intelligible and even less intelligent, but Pat and I could not believe what we had heard. Initially we dismissed it as mindless ramblings from two people who had spent too many hours dragging bait around in the water. Less than an hour later another similar exchange from a different pair of bait draggers was over heard. Clearly we had stepped into the twilight zone of boating, where the common courtesies seemed to be considerably less common, and Coast Guard and FCC prescribed radio protocols were out the window.

The exchanges on the radio were an unfortunate epilogue for our stay in Annapolis. While it is terribly unfair to paint the entire community with the experiences from only 3 days first impressions, however unfortunate, are lasting. So much so that it will likely be a long time before I feel the desire to visit again. Firstly the area is a little pricey, which in itself is not a reason to avoid the area. Other areas like New York City and Baltimore were equally expensive, and we are looking forward to our next visit in both places. In Annapolis however we genuinely felt like we were sources of revenue that they would never see again, so it was time too exploit whatever they could.

At the Annapolis Yacht Basin for example, the dockmaster asked us how long our boat was and then charged us an additional 2 feet because our dinghy was hanging from the stern on davits. When I noticed what he had done, he steadfastly refused to adjust his calculation, offering instead to get out a tape measure for a more precise measurement. My argument that his dock did not get any longer to accommodate the extra length did not seem to hold any sway. It was only when we extended our stay due to weather by an additional 2 days did he relent and charge us for the actual 42 feet of our boat. I could go on about other examples, but as I said earlier 3 days is not a trend, it is only a first impression. In the end however the $6.00 will not make either of us rich or poor but it will be a very cold day before he sees Threepenny Opera back in his slips.

Fortunately we met up with John M and wife Alex for dinner in Solomons Island which changed our mood considerably. We had a great evening out, and with a little local knowledge from John, we saw a very different perspective of Maryland. So now our position has changed from we will never be back, to we will never be back in Annapolis!. Thanks John, it was great to see you guys!!

The universe has a way of evening things out. As we moved further south and into the Intra Coastal Waterway there was a dramatic change in the attitudes of the people we met. From the lockmaster at Deep Creek who provided a history lesson as the locks filled, to the volunteers at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center, everybody was genuinely interested in making us feel welcomed. Since we have entered the famous “ditch” we have encountered nothing but the famous southern hospitality.

The highlight of this hospitality is in Elizabeth City NC. It is the only major town on the Dismal Swamp Canal route through Virginia to the Abermarle Sound area of NC, so geographically it is a logical place to stop. In other words we were a captive audience, but despite the natural advantage given by location, we were welcomed by town volunteers who waved us in and helped us tie up to free docks in the middle of town. Each slip had been donated by local businesses for the purpose of attracting boaters to stop, re-supply and to visit.

One of the greeters was a well groomed gentleman whom I saw several times during the day. At about 4:30 he stopped by Threepenny Opera to ask if we had everything we needed and if there was anything he could do to make our visit more comfortable. We chatted for a while and during the conversation it turned out that our greeter was none other than the Mayor! To apply proper perspective the town has a population of nearly 20,000 residents and is home to the largest US Coast Guard training base in the country. Without a doubt we will be back if only to experience the welcome.

The pace of travel will change now that we are in the ICW. We are no longer going point to point, but rather we can adjust our daily travel to suit our mood. Since the waterway is largely protected for the next several hundred miles, we can stop almost at will and drop the anchor to spend the night. Our initial goal of the Florida Keys is tantalizingly close, a mere 1200 miles from where we are today. Hopefully we will find more gems like Elizabeth City along the way!

Have a great week. I know I will


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Monday, November 03, 2008

New York City to Baltimore - Doth spoke the raven...

Years ago when Pat and I moved to Toronto we were appalled and intimidated by the price of local real-estate. Fixer uppers were selling for staggering amounts and anything “nice” was in the stratosphere. Shock, however severe, never lasts very long and we knew we were getting acclimated to the “big city” when we started using the terms “only” and “$300K” in the same sentence. On our current adventure we have had a déjà vu experience when it comes to marina space.

Sure I know that true cruisers are more likely to spend their time on the hook and eschew the requirements to hook up to shore power and water, but Pat and I did not set out on this trip to go camping on the water. The real cruisers can call us wimpy, but as November unfolds, we like to have hot water, central heat and wifi. While we are all about independence, neither of us have any real desire to be the poster child for self sufficiency, while scraping the icicles off of our noses. So the sign that we are overcoming sticker shock at the marinas is when we can say “its ONLY $3 per foot”.

And the $3.00 per foot seemed like a real bargain as we huddled in the salon of Threepenny Opera on Tuesday morning. Yet another cold front was coming through the New York area and this time, the forecasters were taking no chances. The gale warnings were upgraded to storm warnings and the wind gusts were predicted to exceed 40 knots. Portions of the city were without heat and light due to wind damage, and a mere 75 miles north, there was 20 inches of fresh snow on the ground. For Pat and me the predictions of dire gloom meant that we were making contingency plans to stay put for an entire week in New York.

By Wednesday however the worst of the weather had passed by, and while some residents of Queens were still without power, the weather forecasts had improved significantly. After the drubbing of the previous weekend we were understandably more than a little bit skeptical that we would actually get decent traveling conditions. The alternative to leaving however was even less desirable as staying put would mean increasing the odds that the next snowfall would not be 75 miles north. So with more than a little bit of fear and trepidation we made plans to leave our cozy, but expensive, berth in New York for the exposed weather beaten shores of New Jersey.

The coast of New Jersey from Sandy Hook, just outside of New York Harbor and as far as Cape May at the entrance to Delaware Bay, is essentially a 155 mile long sandbar. In the summer time, one can tell, from the numerous beach houses and amusement parks along the coast, that it is an extremely popular place to spend a few days roasting on the beach. In November however the roller coasters and ferris wheels are still, and the beaches are deserted. The only real signs of life, apart from the casinos of Atlantic City, are from the fishing boats that live here, and from the steady procession of pleasure boats heading south.

For a sailor this 155 mile sand bar, represents a gigantic lee shore, and it is very easy to imagine your own boat adding to the numerous wreck symbols that seem to dot the entrances to every inlet. Since the sand shifts with every Atlantic storm, the charts do not illustrate precise locations for the channel buoys. Instead of precise depths, there are notations that were likely written by lawyers, warning mariners of variable depths and channels that are constantly being redefined. In so many words the advice is go see for your self or ask somebody else who really cares. In uncertain environments like this, one discovers that sailing is like raising children. There is a ton of advice around on how to do it correctly, all of it conflicting, and potentially dire consequences if you get it wrong.

Pat and I agonized over the charts to try and solve the problem of sailing down 155 miles of coastline with limited and possibly unusable shelter due to lack of water. It appeared that we had two choices. We could bite the bullet and gird ourselves for an overnight sail, provided the weather held, or we could duck into spots like Manasquan Inlet or Barnegat Bay. If it weren’t so personal, the indecision and debate would have been comical, but since the dilemma concerned issues very close to home, the humour was lost. In the end the prospect of a freezing cold overnight passage in temperatures in the low 30’s seemed more onerous than becoming a table ornament on a sand bar, so we elected to tackle a stop at Barnegat Bay as way of breaking the trip into two daylight segments. If we did not have the unlimited towing option from Boat US, our decision might have been different.

The trip down the NJ shore and then back up Delaware Bay into the Chesapeake was marked by some of the nicest and calmest weather we have had in weeks. All of the angst was for not. Despite a few white knuckle moments when channel markers disappeared into the glare of the setting sun, and when the boat seemed to develop a mind of its own during docking in a tidal flow, the trip was pretty boring!! The highlight of the week was spending Halloween night with our friends Connie and Richard from the trawler Active Assets in a Cape May, NJ Karaoke Bar. By the fourth beer, the talent, many of them rough and gruff local fishermen, were starting to sound pretty good. It wasn’t fantasy week in Key West, but it must be experienced to be appreciated!

We are now in Baltimore, the home of Edgar Alan Poe. Our intent is to visit with friends in the area as we meander down the Chesapeake towards Norfolk VA. The temperatures are forecast to be fairly forgiving, even though the next few days will be overcast and potentially wet. By the weekend however we will be below the Mason Dixon line and officially in the South! For the now we will play tourist in Baltimore where the docks are only $2.00 a foot!

There are 3 major airports in the area so if the mood strikes to go sailing, we are only 90 minutes away. Have a great week, I know we will!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Plymouth MA to New York City - The Big Apple - or how we avoided becoming Apple Sauce

I have been accused of not knowing what I was doing once or twice in my life. I have been accused of not knowing where I was going a few times and I have even been accused of not knowing what was going on around me. At various times the accusations may have had a smidgen of verity, but for the most part I have managed to shrug everything off as the ramblings of lesser mortals. This past weekend however I had to openly admit that I had no idea where I was, That I had only a slight notion of what I was doing, and I could only pray that I was going to be forgiven my trespasses during the latest installment of the Mother Nature’s lessons on life. Indeed this week has been a week of contrasts. Just when there was enough bad stuff happening to encourage a prolonged session of thumb sucking curled up in a fetal position, great things would happen that would cause us to stand tall and go just a little further.

At the beginning of this week we were pinned in Plymouth MA waiting for a Nor’easter to blow itself out. The weather was as cold and as miserable as we have seen to date, and Pat and I were not motivated to leave the boat, except for a quick dash out to see the fabled rock. In fact even leaving the boat was somewhat hazardous as we were out at the end of the dock system and the wind driven waves were washing over. Threepenny Opera was caked in salt spray from the 30 knot winds that blew whitecaps through the very shallow Plymouth Harbor. It wasn’t a huge hardship, but our Espar heater ran nearly full time. We were warm and snug but frustrated that we were stuck.

While the old wives tales promised good weather immediately after a Nor’easter, there was no stipulation as to how long the period of good weather would last. Mother Nature must have been a lawyer! As we were preparing to leave Plymouth on Tueday AM, the revised forecast was for another cold front to sweep through, bringing heavy rain and high winds. Since we had already experienced a little taste of down east weather, we revised our plans to clear the canal and hang an immediate right into a place called Onset Bay. It is hard to imagine a town that closes at the end of the season, but Onset Bay made Summerside PEI seem positively effervescent by comparison.

It occurred to me the other day that Pat and I have been playing a game of cosmic Frogger. Like the little animated amphibian of video game fame, we have been metaphorically negotiating a watery highway that is fraught with hazards, while similarly packed with hidden prizes. In the game of Frogger, timing is everything. There is a rhythm to the game that once mastered will advance a player by several levels. A mistake however will leave a little stain on the road and the life count goes down by one. Since we had become pretty good at timing the cold fronts, Pat and I were waiting for the appropriate gap in traffic to make a run down the length of Long Island Sound for the prize of The Big Apple. It was a shame that we ended up bypassing great sailing destinations like Newport and Mystic Seaport. Actually we stopped in Mystic for the night, but since mother nature had given us a 2 day pass, we did not want to insult her kindness by dallying and playing tourist.

By Friday night we were in Norwalk CT and well within striking distance of NYC. Perhaps it was due to the tantalizing closeness of it all, perhaps it was the frost on the boat or maybe we were just fixated on a single point oblivious of the hazards around it? Like an ill timed frogger jump across the highway, Pat and I dismissed the Gale Warnings that were effective on Saturday PM for the New York and Western Long Island Sound forecast area. I can rationalize our actions by observing that up until now the forecasts had been very precise and that the forecast conditions of 15-20 knots with gusts to 25 after 12:00 noon were becoming fairly routine conditions for “experienced” cruisers like Pat and me! But rationalization is the lament of fools.

Since the forecast was for the weather to worsen in the afternoon, we cast off from Norwalk shortly after sunrise, expecting that a 3 hour trip to City Island in the Bronx would be fairly uneventful. And uneventful it was for the first 2.5 hours of our 3 hour tour! In fact I would go so far as to say that for 2.5 hours it was totally blissful! The seas were flat, the winds were as forecast in the mid teens and coming from our port quarter. We were slicing through the water at nearly 9 knots, absolutely convinced that we were both Master and Commander!

Little did we know that the first 2.5 hours were the climb up to the apex of the roller coaster. When things started to go down hill, they went down hill very quickly! First the wind increased to 20-25 with gusts to 30. Secondly it started to rain, virtually obliterating any forward vision. Then I discovered that despite the latest in electronics I found myself on the wrong side of a mark and of course the furler would pick this exact moment to get sticky and require a winch to bring in the head sail. At times like this you really want to press the reset button and start over, but unfortunately real life ain’t like that. In the end we did not go aground, we did get the sail put away and somehow I managed to put the boat into a slip despite a +20 knot cross wind and driving rain.

When the boat was secured into the slip, Pat and I thought we had been through the worst of it. Little did we know that when Mother Nature teaches a lesson in humility, she wants to make sure her points get across. As the day wore on, the local weather channels started to hint that the convergence of cold fronts in the NYC area was going to create an intense weather phenomenon. Translated it meant that the winds were going to exceed 40 knots, the local airports were going to suspend flight operations for a time, and that thunderstorms would bring flooding and power outages. For Pat and me it meant being banged around at the dock in a way that was positively scary. At the peak of the storm the wind was 47 knots, which was 7 knots more than we saw during Hurricane Kyle.

The boat was leaping and surging in the wind driven tide to the point that we needed to wedge ourselves against the table to remain sitting in an upright position. When I looked outside I could see the rudder of the neighboring boat as it surged out of the water. At about 7:10 in the evening, after we had been hanging on for dear life for the past couple hours, a blinding flash of light followed by what I thought was a carbon arc spotlight illuminated our boat. The source of the light it turned out was a 60Kva transformer melting before our eyes, and about 10 feet from our boat.

Suffice it to say that we are now duly humbled and will repeat 100 times that we will be more conservative in our weather decisions in future. Mother Nature you got your point across!!

The trip through Hell Gate and the East River on Sunday was almost anti-climatic, although it was hard to be nonchalant about sailing past Manhattan under gloriously clear skies and relatively calm waters. We are now in Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club, which is in Weehawken NJ, directly across from the Empire State Building. It is only a 15 minute ferry ride from Manhattan, and we can catch it from the pier just at the end of the Yacht Club. Today we were wandering outside in our shirt sleeves for the first time in weeks. We are in a world class city, and we have a world class view. It doesn’t get much better than this. Our plans are to hole up here for a few days, and let our mail catch up with us. Towards the end of the week we will be off towards the New Jersey Shore …. If Mother Nature thinks it is a good idea.

Have a great week. I will think of you when I chomp down on a Carnegie Deli Super Corned Beef Sandwich!!


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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rockland ME to Plymouth MA – We are heading due South…finally!

I am a creature of habit. Since we have started cruising full time, it is a little weird to change gears and to develop a new set of habits that work with the current circumstances. I no longer check my Aeroplan statement daily, and the compulsion to pull my Blackberry out of its holster and spin the magic thumbwheel has finally subsided. In the past my morning would revolve rigidly around a cup of coffee and a few minutes of peace and quiet with my newspaper. I have to confess that in the past month, I do not recall actually reading a newspaper, at least not on the day it was published. While the coffee ritual remains sacrosanct, I have substituted the Business section of the Toronto Star with a daily pre-departure perusal of the weather pages.

Pat and I have become aficionados of weather sources. Instead of putting our ear to the VHF and listening to the drone in both official languages of the forecasts and current conditions from what feels like half the planet, we log on to a few choice web sites and make our “where do we go today decision. Some of our favorites sources are the US Navy Forecast center and of course the pages of NOAA. They both have an experimental marine weather section that provides graphical representations of wind strength and wave heights. We have come to appreciate that for the US Navy, dark blue or black represents the “good stuff, whereas lighter shades of blue and other warmer colours meant varying degrees of the “go back to bed” On the NOAA site the opposite is true so its really important not to mix the two up.

Normally I make the coffee in the morning, but this past Saturday I was feeling lazy so Pat, was up first. Her exclamation of “ohmygod its only 6 degrees” shook me wide awake. In the time that it took for me to get from our cabin to the salon, the temperature actually dipped to 5.9 degrees. Naturally I headed for my computer to check the forecasts and sure enough we were in the grips of a pretty solid cold front. In addition to the cold front, the US Navy site was getting decidedly lighter and NOAA was getting much darker. The long and the short of it was that Pat and I did not have to make a “where do you want to go today” decision, but rather a “where do you want to get stuck for a couple of days decision.”

Originally we had planned to stay in Salem for a couple of days expecting the town to live up to its guide book descriptions and provide us with some interesting excursions. While the town itself is quite charming, it has, like many tourist destinations over done its franchise to the point of tackiness. Without a doubt there are more fetish shops, disguised as occult stores, per square meter in Salem, than there are anywhere else in the world. For a kinky weekend of velvet pointy hats, fishnet stockings and dungeons, Salem is just what the doctor ordered.If however your expectation is more in line with the true history of the Scarlett Letter, a weekend in the equally tasteful Niagara Falls, ON should provide an equivalent level of disappointment.

To put matters into perspective, we felt that 2-4 foot seas building to 3-6 and higher were a preferable alternative to another night in Salem. The barometer was dropping and we have had to face the cruel irony that despite the onset of a genuine Nor’easter in October, Pat and I have slowed our pace from 50-60 mile days down to 35-40 mile days. Perhaps the change in pace was due to the adrenalin of saying awake for 40 hours wearing off, or perhaps it was due to the terminal hangover from the mixing of post crossing celebratory champagne, with several red wines and several types of local beers. Or more plausibly it was because the geography and tidal ranges of the Atlantic coast require navigators to enter or leave most ports at high tide, or at slack tide. Places like Newburyport on the Merrimack River for example have a 4-5 knot tidal flow that makes Dalhousie with the sluice gates open seem like child’s play. Whatever the reason however, the fact is we have slowed down this week.

Today we are in Plymouth MA, where we will stay until Tuesday. Since arriving here from Salem yesterday afternoon, after rolling through several hours of 3-6 footers, we have not left the boat. At least most of the trip was on a heading of 180, a due south course finally. The weather is miserably cold, and the NE wind is howling. During the night my instruments recorded a peak of 31 knots and the average wind is still in the mid 20’s. Hopefully we will get a chance to visit the famed “Rock” but a part of me is dreading the onslaught of Pilgrim t-shirts, Puritan hats and fake blunderbuss rifles. Perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised and the spirit of Miles Standish will in fact be preserved with some dignity, but I am not holding my breath. By next weekend, weather permitting, we will be in New York, so our goal of making the ICW by early November is still very much within reach.

Stay warm, and have a great week. I know I will….no matter what Mother Nature serves up.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Halifax to Rockland Maine - Blue Water, Black Night

It was about 6:30 on Saturday evening of the Thanksgiving weekend and I was lost in thought as I wedged myself against the dodger frame of Threepenny Opera. We had been underway since 7:05 that morning so it had already been a very long day and despite the serenity of the golden glow of the setting sun, which illuminated Seal Island, I was more than a little bit apprehensive about the night to come.

Seal Island Nova Scotia is a little bit of rock that is approximately 15 miles WNW of Cape Sable which is the southern extremity of Nova Scotia. It has very little to offer, other than to serve as a pedestal for the light house that serves as a warning beacon for the super tankers and other commercial shipping traffic that plies the Bay of Fundy. For Pat and me, the added significance of Seal Island was that it was the last bit of land we would see until about 9:00AM the next day.

We have both made significant advances as sailors, but the coming night was to be our first blue water over night passage. It was not just any overnight passage, it was an October crossing of the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine during the time of the highest tides. No matter what the weather forecast, there would be a couple of periods of significant wind against 20 foot tides that we would have to deal with. Seal Island represented the last opportunity to save ourselves and change course for Yarmouth or even to return to Shelburne, which we had left earlier in the day.

When we arrived in Shelburne from Liverpool on Wednesday afternoon, we met up with several other cruising boats that were also headed in the same direction as Pat and me. We had met the crew of Active Assets (Richard and Connie), a beautiful DeFever 49 Trawler in Taddoussac more than a month earlier. There was also the crew of Valissa (Bob and Debbie -friends of Dave F) and a single hander on Adena ( the City) Since we all had a common objective of getting away from winter, we immediately bonded into a tight cohort. Like the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Cantebury tales, we were each unique in our own way, with our own stories to tell and reasons for doing it, but in the end, we found comfort in just having kindred spirits nearby.

The original plan was to leave on Friday AM, so Thursday gave us a whole day to re-provision and to finish a couple of small boat projects that I started during our week off in Halifax. Plan “A” was to leave very early on Friday AM to catch the tide for Yarmouth, and then to continue on to Grand Manan Island New Brunswick on Saturday AM and finally to Bar Harbor Maine on Sunday. Each leg would have been ~65 miles so taking the timing of the tides into consideration no more than 2-3 hours of any portion would be traveled in darkness.

By late Thursday afternoon, it was becoming obvious that the weather was not materializing as forecast. Well perhaps for a land lubber it would have been pretty close, but we sailors watch for winds and waves more than temperature and UV index. Give me an overcast day with a flat sea and a steady wind any day over the brilliant clear blue skies and gale force winds, accompanied by the confused 1-2 meter waves that are so common in South Western Nova Scotia this time of year! Debbie from Valissa was one of the most experienced sailors in our group and she kindly offered to re-check the forecasts when Environment Canada and NOAA reissued them at 3:30AM to confirm our weather window. If the weather was good enough to go, she would be the “she rooster” and wake us all up with rapping on the hulls. When I awoke at my usual 6:30AM the next day, all of the boats were still on their finger docks, and “Camp Shelburne” would not be struck for at least another 24 hours.

Friday turned out to be a beautiful sunny day but with winds that were gusting up to the mid 20’s within the well protected confines of Shelburne Harbour. There was a certain smugness amongst our little group that our finely honed “sailor instincts” had made the correct call. That same “sailor instinct” however was looking at Saturday as an “even better” weather window that should not be squandered on a mere coastal hop to Yarmouth. With 2 days of good weather in the forecast, winds NW 15-20, diminishing to NW-N 10-15 and seas in the 1 meter diminishing to 1 meter or less by Sunday, we were convinced that a Fundy/Gulf of Maine passage was a very real possibility.

It was a very interesting linear programming problem. We had the constraints of weather window, viable ports and distance, balanced against the resources of vessels, crews, winds, tides and fuel. In the end, through science, instinct and prayer we all reached the conclusion that Rockland Me, a town on the Maine Coast ~ 185 miles from our current docks, was the perfect next stopping point for the wannabe-soon sun worshippers of Camp Shelburne. The route was to leave Shelburne before high tide at 7:00AM on Saturday -Cape Sable-Seal Island NS-Seal Island ME-Rockland ME by mid-Sunday afternoon with the most challenging leg to be the crossing of the Gulf of Maine between the two Seal Islands during the night of Saturday to Sunday morning. The total travel time was estimated to be in the order of 30 hours at 6.5 knots.

The Sirens were singing the next AM as the brightening pre-dawn sky revealed flat water with just the slightest ripple of a breeze from a favourable direction. Their songs rose to a crescendo as we sailed out of the harbour beam reaching at 7 knots under full sail in brilliant sunshine and calm seas. When we turned the corner at Cape Sable however, the Sirens stopped singing and began giggling and pointing Gotcha! The winds did not clock to the NW direction and stayed more westerly, so the motor came on and we created our own NW apparent wind! – please see my definition for apparent wind in the Bienvenue a L’Acadie post. Adena decided wisely that as a single hander, 30 hours of open water would be a bit much and left our group to follow the original plan A towards Yarmouth.

As the day progressed the wind stubbornly refused to clock as forecast, but all of the other variables remained constant so we pressed on by motor sailing, and tacking back and forth across the rhumb line. Since route planning was done collectively and sailing was done individually, it was a relief and confidence booster to see that everybody else was also adopting a similar technique….but then misery loves company. So by 6:30 PM after a full day of close hauled motor sailing, my thoughts revolved around what I would do if something on boat broke in the dark, that the forecast would fall apart completely and that I would be sea sick!!

Pat is a miracle worker on the boat. In the fading light of day and bouncing around in 3-4 foot waves, she prepared a hot meal of beef and broccoli accompanied by steamed jasmine rice. The rest of the convoy were discussing various ways to do ship to ship transfers via VHF when Bob on Valissa suggested we just throw some over the side so dinner would drift back to them. Poor Valissa was having some engine overheating problems and the crew was nursing her along at 4.5 knots instead of our 6-7.

With the contented feeling that comes from a full belly and a nearly full moon, night fall seemed to be palatable even though I was fighting the incipient nausea that comes with a less than distinct horizon. The seas, although a little rougher than forecast were bearable and as long as I stayed at the helm I was fine, but in the back of my mind I was having the no win pee or puke debate.

The details of the next 12 hours could fill volumes, so rather than bore all with a wave by retching wave description; suffice it to say that the wind was higher than forecast, and from the wrong direction, the waves were higher than forecast, from all directions and that incipient sea sickness became a full blown (bad pun) case of heaves. What was good however is that we survived the night, snug in our heated enclosure, comforted by the steaming lights of our companions and the knowledge of that which does not actually kill us makes us stronger… so the theory goes.

In the end we took 33 hours to cover the distance from Shelburne to Rockland ME. We buried the bow into 6 foot waves in pitch darkness, ran a gauntlet of lobster traps and discovered that regurgitated beef and broccoli is not runny in the palm of your hand. We are now in a foreign country and have an official cruising license in hand, delivered to the boat personally through the courtesy of USCBP officer Stan S.

Today is Thanksgiving and Pat and I are doing just that as we have a lot to be thankful for. Tomorrow is another day, and our destination is not particularly clear. All we know is that we are proceeding in a southerly direction and that we will end up somewhere interesting.... after all we are now Blue water cruisers!

Have a great week

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Halifax - From Hurricane Hole to Shore Leave!!!

The big weather event of the week was the passing of hurricane Kyle. At first it seemed that Nova Scotia might get a miss, but as hurricanes are totally unpredictable, Kyle took a last minute turn and slammed into Shelburne. We are told that the docks at the Shelburne Yacht Club sustained serious damage, but remain serviceable. Hopefully they will still be available to us when we pass through next week. In Halifax, at RNSYS, the event was reminiscent of riding out Hurricane Ernesto which passed over PCYC on the Labour Day weekend in 2006. Even though we were securely tied to a dock, Pat had to free the gimbal on the stove to cook dinner because during the height of the storm we were heeled about 15 degrees? In the end most boats were unscathed, although our boarding steps are now at the bottom of the bay, a victim of the wind.

We broke our rule about meeting people at a specific place on a specific date this week. I had promised my mom that we would meet in Saint John, NB on our way south, and since I left the planning up to her, she suggested the weekend of October 4/5 as the ideal time to meet. I had used the visit back to our old haunts as a carrot to ease her fears about us sailing off over the horizon, so I could hardly back out of the bargain now. Since taking Threepenny Opera to Saint John in time was not possible and also because the ports further along our route were not conducive to leaving a boat unattended for several days, we decided to bite the bullet and stay put in the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. By staying put, and flying back to Saint John instead of sailing, we knew the first rate dock staff would look after the boat in our absence. In the end everything will work out, but when I get my Visa bill, the additional costs incurred will be a good reminder of why I had the rule in the first place.

So instead of Halifax being only a hurricane hole, it became a shore leave of 9 days. And yes as Gene J and probably Rhonda would attest to, sailors who have been at sea for several weeks can find themselves in all kinds of interesting predicaments, when they finally get a few days off duty! Since children might read these words, I cannot even begin to reveal the details, but if you ask Gene or Rhonda, I’m sure they could help you speculate! What I can tell you is that I rented a car and we were able to explore. Our conclusion is that Halifax and its environs are a great place to visit and we could easily have spent another week if the opportunity presented itself. All you have to do is look at the pictures of Peggy’s Cove and you will appreciate why we feel that we have only scratched the surface.

One of the highlights of our week was meeting Win H. in person, a man who has been very much a part of our cruising experience from the outset. One of the constants on our trip thus far is the group of volunteer ham radio operators that make up the Mississauga Maritime Net. Every morning between 8:30 and 9 AM EDT, the net of amateur radio operators from Lake Ontario to Jamaica, call for and record the position of any vessel that cares to check in. They also provide message relaying if needed, as well as providing any other type of information that might be required. When Win heard we would be in Halifax for a few days, he made a point of coming down to make sure we had everything we needed.

It is not uncommon on the route that Pat and I have followed to date, to be in places were there is no cell coverage, so the call to Win (VE1WIN) and gang was the only contact we had with other people. It’s a great and valuable service and we are grateful for their dedication. For anybody contemplating more remote cruising, I would highly recommend the effort to obtain an amateur radio license and to install an HF radio on their boat.

As luck would have it, our alternator started making very funny rattling noises on our last leg into Halifax. Since stopping short of Halifax was not really an option, we pressed forward, weird rattling noises and all. The culprit was the nut that held the alternator to the engine block had vibrated loose, so the alternator began to vibrate. The vibration had elongated the mounting holes in the foot of the alternator, making them oval instead of round. As the vibration continued the size of the holes grew, the more play there was, and the louder the rattling became. It was a vicious cycle. Lady luck was with us once again, because if one is to break a major part like an alternator, (even though I had a spare)it is better to do it in a civilized place like Halifax, than in some fishing out port in the middle of nowhere. The fine folks at Rob’s machine shop in Dartmouth fixed things up exactly to spec, so now the mounting foot on the alternator is as good as new. Trust me, checking the tightness of the alternator will be added to my morning pre-start checklist.

Next week we are off to Lunenberg and Shelburne and points South. With fair winds we should be in the US by the time we post our next update. The weather windows are getting shorter but the urgency to get away from the cold is increasing, so it will be a tight rope walk between expediency and comfort.

Have a great week, and for those who are going on the PCYC Thanksgiving weekend cruise, have a piece of turkey for us.


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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shediac to Halifax - The Ocean at Last!!!

We had just finished reefing the headsail in a 26 knot wind the other day, when Pat turned to me and said “we’re getting pretty good at this”. That simple statement from a lady whom you all know as being gentle and modest, really encapsulated our personal growth thus far. The cruising books, seminars, and magazines provide knowledge, but in the end the only thing that really counts is getting started and doing something…. anything! The confidence comes from the figuring out process, not just from the end result.

We were crossing the Northumberland Strait from Charlottetown to Ballantynes Cove N.S., not a particularly interesting trip because it was a 65 mile run which was too far offshore to really see anything, but far enough offshore to get the winds and waves of the southern reaches of the Gulf Magdalene. In the past, a trip of 65 miles would have been a major endeavour requiring days, if not weeks of preparations. Moreover the strong winds advisory which forecast winds of 20-25 knots with gusts to 30 would certainly have kept us tied to the dock. Yet here we were, surrounded by water, motor sailing on a run with a full 155 headsail. The furling of the head sail down to a more manageable size was a non-event. The true accomplishment was getting to the point where it was a non-event.

When we turned the corner into the ocean at Canso NS we went from reaching and running to hard core beating. To make matters a little worse, there are not very many viable ports on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, so we had to stretch our legs somewhat and make longer trips than we would normally have chosen to take. The water is a different colour here, and most interestingly it sounds different. In Lake Ontario, you can judge your boat speed, by the gurgling of the water against the hull. In the ocean, the water does not gurgle, it hisses and foams. Previously sea foam green was the colour of a paint chip, but this week, I know that it is actually the colour of the wake of a sailboat in the ocean. The paint designers must be sailors!

We had left Canso early to make the hop to Liscombe about 70 miles away. Since this was our third day out from the relatively civilized confines of Charlottetown, I was in desperate need of a shower. The fishing ports we had been using were not exactly marina grade and so it came to pass that I got up the nerve to take my first shower at sea.

The sails were set for a close haul in about 15 knots and the motor was also running in order to make decent speed over the bottom. With all sources of power, we were only making about 6.5 knots against the current. Everything seemed stable, so the itchiness of my scalp, urged me to take the plunge so to speak and head for the shower. As you may recall, Threepenny Opera had a very nice shower compartment in the very bow of the boat. You may also recall that I am blind as a bat without my glasses on, so once I got into the shower, I was pretty much doing everything by touch….to bad I was alone.

When wet gel coat, is covered with shampoo, it produces a totally frictionless surface, so I suddenly found myself bouncing around in the forepeak, stark naked, soaking wet and desperately trying to find some position stable enough to both enjoy the relief from the stinging hot water and to scrape off 3 days worth of sea grime from my person. It seemed pretty easy when I got in, but once my glasses came off and the water went on, I became an oyster sloshing around in the shell.

After I finally dried off and got dressed. I went back into the cockpit and found Pat straddling the winch and grinding in a few last turns. The incline-o-meter showed we were at 25 degrees of heel, and in the few minutes that elapsed during my shower the wind had veered forward even more and increased to 20 knots. What a difference a little experience makes! In the past, the mainsheet would have been out of its clutch and the screams of reef, reef, reef would have been rising! Instead here was Pat trying to eke out the last possible bit of drive from the shifting winds so we could keep our plans intact.

My theory is that the 1500 miles we have covered thus far have been just the ticket to building our skills and confidence gradually. Many people were surprised to hear that we were planning to descend the St. Lawrence and go around the Atlantic Coast instead of the usual snowbird route of the Erie Canal to New York City. I could tell by some of the polite murmurs that many people thought we were either swashbucklers or crazy to follow such an ambitious route. I am almost certain that if we had used the canal route, our first ocean experiences would have been much ruder and certainly less comfortable

We are in Halifax this weekend after covering over 75 miles of windward beating yesterday. It is our intention to hide from Hurricane Kyle by taking the weekend off and maybe even seeing a movie! Hope you guys have a great week, I know we will.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Rivieres Madeline to Shediac - Bienvenue a L'Acadie

When we left Toronto we had visions of tropical beaches and palm trees in our heads. The visions are still there, but there are days when they seem more like the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then a realistic objective. I know the beaches are still there, and the palm trees are still swaying, but for now we have to contend with 30 knot winds and temperatures that are more conducive to thermal underwear than bathing suits. The simple fact is that cruising is hard work.

The theme for last week was into the wild. This week we went from wild to savage. The remoteness of the Lower St. Lawrence gave way to the undeveloped reaches of the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick. When we were in Quebec, we followed the “Corridor Bleu” which is a Quebec Tourism sponsored network of member marinas. Although the facilities are primitive at times, they still create a trail of safe harbours for the cruising community. A voyager could at least count on a reasonably secure dock, and some type of electrical connection…very important at night when temperatures drop into the single digits.

As Pat and I headed out from L’Anse a Beau Fils, our last port of call in Quebec into a building SW wind, I had the unsettling realization that we really had no idea what was on the other side. Sure we had the place names, and the charts, but there was very little information describing what was in store. The quality and depth of information contained in the Ports Guide in Ontario and the Guide Nautique in Quebec was replaced by a few photocopied pages from a fellow sailor’s notebook. Perhaps it was better than nothing, but incomplete information sometimes is more stressful to deal with than no information at all. At least when you have nothing, you either accept the void as a fact and move forward, or you stay home. When you have partial information, you start to fill in the gaps in the information with visions of sea monsters!

Certainly the quality of the ride on the voyage across the Bay of Chaleur, did nothing to dispel the uneasiness of heading off into the unknown. When you are standing at the helm for extended periods of time, you have lots of time to think. My ah ha of the week relates to the difference between true wind and apparent wind….please note that you will not find this in a textbook on sailing theory.

True wind, is the wind that God, or whatever supreme being you subscribe to, gave you for a smooth and comfortable voyage. Apparent wind, is what you get when you don’t listen to God, and end up with a crashing, banging, stomach churning roller coaster that lasts for 9 hours. The lesson is made even more poignant when we suddenly realize that for the first time since we left home on August 12 that we were finally heading in a southerly direction. Only 2500 more miles and we will be in Key West!!!! As the lurching belly slapping square waves, splashed over the dodger there are a few additional moments that revolved around the theme of “what the hell were we thinking???”

In New Brunswick the boating facilities are designed for shallow draft fishing vessels. In the harbours we visited, a low tide water level of 5 feet was considered to be pretty good. In Shippagan Gully for example, the fuel dock is only accessible at high tide. If one needs fuel you need to wait until the tide comes in, or you do without the fuel. After my experience at st-Anne-des-Monts, I waited. The good news is that when you finally get to the fuel dock, you are paying fisherman’s prices from the local Co-op, which means something around $1.00/L.

The lack of facilities however creates a closeness amongst the people that live here that is both astonishing and heartwarming to an outsider. There is a sense of community and looking out for one another that simply does not exist in larger more ”civilized” centers. We had total strangers drive us around like family, and in Shediac, we were brought into the local yachting community as if we were long lost relatives. In the space of 30 minutes while doing our laundry, Pat and I were welcomed into a circle of friends that turned a trip to the laundry room into a very late evening by the fire.

Thanks to Diane, Daniel, Richard, Marco, Sylvie, Odette, Alan, Elizabeth….. and the names that I can’t remember but who’s warmth I will never forget. The clams at Goulds were wonderful and yes we are looking forward to returning for an Acadian Poutine in the future. Next time we’ll call ahead! We are off to PEI and Nova Scotia, next week and hopefully we will be able to stay ahead of the frost. Have a great week.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cap a L'Aigle to Rivieres Madeleine - Into the Wild!

So today is the 12th of September which marks our first month away from home. Very gradually Pat and I are making the transition from recreational pleasure boaters to liveaboard cruisers. The transition in many respects has been subtle, but on other dimensions there is clearly a synergy that can only be attributed to new routines, somewhat harsher conditions and a lack of the resources that we tend to take for granted in the pleasure boating realm.

We have all seen the cartoons of the sign that says “last gas for 200 miles” with a pair of hungry vultures perched on top. This week, we figuratively passed such a sign, only to find that the last gas station was actually closed. The result was we squeaked into the tiny, but charming village of Ste-Anne-des-Monts, with only fumes remaining in the tank.

Since all is well that ends well, we fully expected to refuel and were frankly a little puzzled by the cryptic message from the harbour master that we were to enter the harbour and tie up to a quay that was not exactly a fuel dock, but we would know what he meant when we saw it?? What we saw was JP Letourneau, the assistant harbour master waving his arms from a long quay that was to port. We were to turn around and tie up on starboard. The not exactly a fuel dock part referred to the multiple trips up and down the quay to a 45 gallon drum of diesel, from which jerry jugs were filled and hauled back to the boat by hand.

The first trip was pretty easy, but by the 4th trip carrying a 20liter jug in each hand, I was not moving nearly as fast as the old man who was watching me work from the side of the main wharf. It is truly an acquired taste to fill a 42 foot boat with diesel, by carrying 20 liter jugs 2 at a time. Now that the boat is full, I have not missed an opportunity to keep the tank filled, even if it means hauling the dreaded 20 liter jugs, because 1 or 2 trips is much better than the experience of the other day. My back will never be the same, but then neither will be my perspective on what it means to be prepared.

We are getting a taste of the rougher conditions of the lower St. Lawrence and the Saguenay River fjord. The pictures will tell one story, but for the past week, the only English conversation I’ve had has been with Pat. Even with the linguistic challenges aside, it is pretty clear that we have stepped into another world. Fuel, going out to dinner, decent docks and power are pretty much hit and miss. The compensation however is the privilege of experiencing some of the most beautiful settings in this country, from a front row seat. A week ago we were wandering around Quebec City in shorts and t-shirts taking in the sights as tourist. This week, we are in multiple layers of technical underwear and polar fleece, tied to an anchor ball that is in front of a 1500 foot cliff and relying on Threepenny Opera as our personal biosphere.

Threepenny Opera has proven to be a truly cruise worthy vessel that is ready to accept all challenges she has met so far. The long hours invested by yours truly crawling through the bilges and getting fibre glass rash from reaching into tiny spaces along the hull to install heat, ventilation and electronics has paid its dividends. We are truly comfortable, even if we have to make a few compromises now and again.

Not all has been perfect however; as she has a few battle scars to show for her first week in the wild. In the end however there was nothing too serious, and nothing that will do anything more than to keep her crew a little sharper and a little more cautious before settling in for the night. Who knew that the wave action from tidal surges would work all of our fenders up and cause gel-coat to rub against a wooden wharf. Or that tying a dinghy up on davits requires horizontal as well as vertical support. And of course bits and pieces for the boat, like oil filters and even plain old motor oil are just not as readily available as they are when Mason’s and Bristol are just down the street.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence awaits as tomorrow we prepare to round the eastern extremity of the Gaspe Peninsula and head south towards the famous Perce rock. Yes Tom we will crack the champagne that you gave us as we round the fabled cape. This week it is Gaspe, tomorrow maybe the Horn??

Best to all. Please write and let us know what you want to know.

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