October 27, 2010 – 9:00 PM
Wow, I forgot how much I hate writing by hand. It took me three false starts just to get going. I tried the left-hand pages, I tried starting at the back of the book, nothing was comfortable.
You see, being left-handed, the whole ‘writing by hand’ thing was always a bit of a chore. Quite honestly, my handwriting looks like a friggin’ Kindergartner wrote it. This was actually one of the first things I noticed when going from hand-written to typed papers in school, my grades immediately went up. It turns out I was a better writer than I realized, it was just that nobody could read it before.
So, anyway, my hand is already sore, that’s nice. But you’re not here to listen to my handwriting woes, you want to hear a sailing story, right? Let’s get on with it, shall we?
It’s the day before our departure on the Betty Ann. I tried a quick count in my head, and I think this is my sixth leg that I’ve sailed. Dad and I are getting ready, doing final packing and such, an already the same old jokes are coming out:
“Hey, is that buoy blinking every 2 seconds or 2.5 seconds?”
“You know what, I ‘ll bring my stopwatch!”
“Hey, aren’t these your flip-flops?”
“Wooo, yeah. I always forget to pack those.”
I guess saying those same jokes over and over every trip helps us ease ourselves into the trip. So it’s goodbye crappy job, goodbye filthy city, goodbye cruel world (for a week). We’re bound for yet another adventure, and who knows what we’ll find over the next six to seven days? That’s the best part about trips like this, you never know exactly what’s going to happen. You may have a vague idea of what you’d like to happen, but the forces of nature very often have something else in mind.
Speaking of nature, one very good thing is that the weather forecast for tomorrow has changed from cold, rainy and windy, to warmer, sunny and less windy. I’ll take it!
The real question on everybody’s minds though (surely it’s on mine) is what will the weather do when we get to the Norfolk decision point. This is where we must decide if we want to stay out in the Atlantic, and go ’round Cape Hatteras, or move inside and take the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
Cape Hatteras beat us back last time, and I would really like to be able to go back and conquer it, but I think the crew has already made up its mind that if there’s even a whisper of foul weather afoot it’ll be the ICW for us.
October 28, 2010 : 10:00 AM
We arrive to a marina shrouded in fog. Walking down the gangway towards the Betty Ann, I peer into the grey wall at the end of the dock. Upon nearing the end of the pier, where the Betty Ann sits happily in her slip, I can just make out something on the other side of the fog wall. I’m not sure what it is, only two small incandescent bulbs betray its existence, without those I probably would have missed it all together. A second later and it’s gone, absorbed back into the gray nothingness.
Rounding the corner I see Pete up on the bow doing something near the anchor locker, and Archie on the port-side rail, apparently just finishing topping off the water tanks. Larry has not arrived yet, so dad and I stow our bags down below, then join Pete on the bow. Pete had been using Play-Dough to pack into the the small spaces between the anchor chain and deck plate where the chain runs down into the storage locker below. If I remember correctly there’s roughly 200 feet of chain on the primary anchor. When you’re anchored out it’s nice to know that not only is there a very heavy steel anchor grabbing at the ground below you, but that there’s also pure chain between you and it. It’s an additional layer of security, but can also be a disadvantage if something were to happen to the mechanical windlass that normally reels that chain back in for you.
There is another job that needs to be complete before we can depart. The bow lights are non-functional again, this seems to be a recurring problem on this boat. Most likely it’s due to the light housing’s location at the very tip of the bow pulpit. During heavy seas the pulpit is routinely awash with corrosive salt water, and the navigation light housing is right there at the foremost point to take a beating. After a new bulb, some WD-40, and some scratching with a wire brush the lights come back to life. This time we also wrap the underneath of the housing where the wire comes up from below with electrical tape. Hopefully this will help to keep out some of the evil salt water and make this particular repair last a little longer.
After Larry arrives a few minutes later, the fog has lifted a touch and we can now see the green buoy that marks the first of a multitude of points we will search for on our journey south. The forecast was for the fog to dissipate by afternoon, so we take this to be a sign of clearing and start preparing for departure. Steps come in, along with the shore power cable and spring lines that are slack. Archie fires up the engine, all hands are on deck and ready. We slip off the last of the lines from the Betty Ann’s bow and stern and officially begin our passage. Woo hoo!
It didn’t take long for the departure to get a little iffy. I think the fog hadn’t really retreated too far, because after the initial green buoy there was nothing to see. Really, nothing. The only texture to the grey mass in front of us was provided by the floaters in my eyes. Suddenly I noticed all sorts of little circles and lines dancing in front of me, which was distracting because I was trying to spot the next marker.
I stationed myself up on the bow as a lookout, and immediately little droplets of fog began collecting on my eyebrows, eyelashes, and my general person.
“I should have worn my coat I suppose.” I thought to myself.
The moisture steadily collected as purposefully as we guided our boat past the greens out into the harbor of refuge, somewhere up ahead.
Suddenly, and invisibly, the deep guttural fog horn of something large boomed into my ears from somewhere up ahead. I turned around to look at Pete behind me, who was standing outside the canopy giving Archie verbal descriptions of what he was seeing and asked, “Did you hear that?”
“Yep.” and a nod came the reply.
I don’t suppose the question really needed to be asked. In a land of grey, when a large vessel sounds its horn in front of you, you take notice.
Point Judith channel is shared by a large fishing fleet on the east side. A large set of commercial docks dominates the waterfront but is shared by ferries to Block Island, restaurants, stacks of lobster traps and just as many tourist traps.
It was the ferries and commercial traffic that were at the forefront of my mind now. That horn belonged to one of those, an I wasn’t sure where they were. I’d much rather not have to witness a giant steel bow come out of the fog directly in front of us. If one did we might not have time to avoid it, and that would not make a very pleasant first day.
Pete was using a gas air horn to sound our own location in the grey soup every 2 minutes. I was hoping that the other ships heard our horn as well as we heard theirs.
We finally picked our way out into the Harbor of Refuge, which is a good-sized harbor built outside of Galilee. We followed the man-made rock wall on the western side out to the appropriately named west gap.
This is when the first of the swells began to hit us. I retreated to the safety of the isenglass (clear plastic) windows inside the cockpit just as the first of the waves sprayed onto the front deck. For the next forty of so hours this would be the norm as a cold front passed over the eastern seaboard bringing with it twenty knot winds with gusts to 30.
October 28th, 2010 – Night
I don’t remember too much of the next forty hours. It’s really just a blur of constant boat motion, up, down, roll left, roll right, repeat. Sleep was very difficult and came in ten to fifteen minute intervals when you would wake to either the sensation of yourself being thrown out of your bunk or something being thrown out of the galley.
Watches were the standard for five men on the boat. Come up and stand at the helm for two hours, then go on standby/lookout for two hours when someone else comes up for the wheel watch. Then you go down inside for six hours of “sleep”.
As the waves built around us and tossed the Betty Ann back and forth, we all fell into at least a little bit of “sea-sickness”. Some more than others. Even for those of us who weren’t full-blown seasick (i.e. vomiting), I think we were all probably “sick-of-the-sea” by the second night. Sick of rolling, sick of pitching, sick of not sleeping, sick of getting tossed out of the starboard bunk.
Personally, I came very close to “falling into the pit.” I remember visualizing myself standing at the edge of a dark pit swallowing large gulps of saliva (I didn’t have to visualize that part), the final toll keeper of the land of sea-sickness.
The toll keeper leans out of his booth, flashes an evil-green smile and spits, “Go ahead boy, pull the trigger.”
Three more gulps of saliva and I’m starting to believe him, or is it hypnosis?
“You’ll feel better if you do, I promise.” He eyes me over. I know that he’s played this hand a thousand times over. What he neglects to mention however is that once you pass through the tollgates into seasick land, you are thrown headfirst into its roiling belly. Very often you find that you don’t have the change to get back to the other side, just like the proverbial bum who needs change for the bus. You’re stuck in this town now.
“No thanks, ” I say, “I’ll stay on this side a little longer.”
The toll keeper retreats into his run-down booth, perhaps with a look of surprise on his pockmarked face.
“You’ll be back my son. Oh yes, you’ll be back.”
Deep inside my heart I fear he might be right. Everyone has made, or is capable of making that trip. But for tonight at least I have chosen to stay on the uphill side for as long as I can. Another large wave knocks us over and I dig myself into my bunk a little deeper in a futile attempt to find purchase.
October 29th, 2010 – Afternoon
The sea has not let up, but at least we can see them coming now. We’ve fallen into a routine, with everybody just looking ahead in our minds to the time that we know will arrive…the time when the sea will calm down again. There’s nothing you can do about it, so there’s no use complaining about it, just suck it up and wait.
Sometime in the afternoon we heard two loud explosions. Everyone who was on deck at the time clamored to the isinglass to look and see who had just fired on us (it was the only reasonable explanation). Upon finding no ships of the line firing broadsides at us, sonic booms from a fighter was the consensus we arrived at.
We were soon proved right as a few minutes later the jet flew high overhead back to (we presumed) Andrew’s Air Force base.
I am prone to day dreaming when given the chance, and there are plenty of chances on a sailboat seventy miles offshore, I began a new one in my head:
The pilot of the jet, an F-15, gazed down upon the water 3,000 feet below. Jack Sturbridge had finished his maneuvers over the Atlantic, but he still had plenty of fuel left and didn’t feel like heading back to Andrew’s just yet.
At the end of his gaze, down in the blue ocean below, he spotted a tiny white dot. There were whitecaps everywhere today making this ocean look like a white-frosted cake, but this dot was a boat. A sailboat!
Jack and his father, who was now Secretary of the Navy, used to spend as many weekends as they could out on the waters around Annapolis. Sometimes they would hear a jet fighter pass overhead and remark how amazing it would be if the pilot decided to hit the deck and give them their own private air show. It never happened of course, but wouldn’t it be great?
Well, Jack though to himself, I think it’s time to make that happen.
Leaning left and forward on the stick, and advancing the throttle to full afterburner, Jack turned the plane in a downward left-hand spiral towards the ocean-top. The plane responded by accelerating to over 1,000 knots, well above the sound barrier at sea-level.
Jacked finished his turn just as he lined up with the boat and leveled off at 100 feet. The plane, still in full afterburner was still accelerating and a quick glance at the airspeed indictor showed the plane now at 1,200 knots. Jack couldn’t see it, but the plane’s pressure wave was kicking up a gigantic rooster tail behind him.
As he closed to within a half a mile, Jack noticed that the crew of the sailboat had appeared on deck, and were pointing at him and jumping up and down excitedly.
Traveling this fast, Jack closed the remaining distance in under half a second and the boat flashed underneath him. After letting some distance get behind him, Jack pulled back gently on the stick and brought his plane up into vertical, and then further until he was inverted. A quick flick of his wrist was all that was required to flip the plane right-side-up and Jack’s immelman turn was complete. Just as he was about to drop the nose back towards the ocean for another pass, the cockpit became illuminated with warning lights and sirens.
Double engine failure? This is impossible! However impossible there was no time to ponder it. Jack’s training immediately kicks in. His first task was to adjust the plane’s trim for the best glide ratio. After completing that task Jack then began the engine restart procedures. Simultaneously he radioed his predicament back to the tower at Andrew’s Air Force Base.
After two complete restart attempts on both engines, it was clear that Jack was going to have to access another part of his training – ditching and ejecting. A quick scan of the immediate area indicated the obvious, it was all water and there was no “good” place for an emergency landing .
“Holy shit.” Jack though, “I’m going to have to eject into the friggin’ ocean.”
Jack glanced at his altimeter and saw he was now passing below 200 feet. He had no time. As he reached for the ejection handles, he saw up ahead and just to his left, the same sailboat he had buzzed before. This was the last thing he saw before he pulled on the ejection handle and was thrown, still travelling 200 kots, into the air outside the plane.
Jack feels a tug and then a lift. He opens his eyes to see a winch in front of him. For a second he thinks he is on his dad’s old boat, but them remembers how that boat had been sold many years ago. The last moments of his memory now come flooding back – the sailboat that reminded him of his youth, his little private air show, engine failure and then…ejection?”
“What happened?” Jack asked to the five men around him.
A younger man in a John Prine tee-shirt replies, “Dude man, you ejected right in front of us! We saw your chute open and you came down right in front of us. Your plane lande…er….crashed over there.” The young man pointed over to his left where black smoke was billowing out of the sea. “It’s a good thing we got to you so quick, you were unconscious.”
“I was?” This was the only thing Jack could think to say.
“Yeah. Out! Like lights-out all the way. It looks like your safety raft or whatever was only half-inflated too.”
As the young man finished saying this, a distinct thumping began coming through the air. A Coast Guard HH-60 helicopter was approaching. It was probably a good thing too, Jack thought, the way this guy is so excited he’ll probably start throwing out Top Gun quotes.
“Ha! Mav’s in a flat spin and he’s headed out to sea!”
Too late. Might as well chime in, it is a really good movie after all.
Jack responded, “Yeah, I guess that flyby wasn’t such a great idea, huh?”
The chopper finally appeared and cut their movie lines short. In a well-trained maneuver the Coast Guard swimmer has Jack into the rescue basket in no time.
Over the roar of the chopper above, Jack yelled “Thanks guys, you really saved me back there.”
“Nah. It was nothing compared to the show you gave us.” came the reply in unison.
Roughly three hours later, the crew of the Betty Ann pulled into harbor and secured their lines for the night. After tying the last knot, and just before they started tying one on, a stocky man with a small entourage appeared.
“Permission to come abord?” the man asked after his arrival.
“Sure, why not, we were just about to have dinner. Hungry?” The crew wasn’t sure who this man was, but something about his presence told them that refusing his invitation would be bad.
Sitting down in the now-crowded cabin, the man accepted his plate. “Damn good-looking grub” the stocky man thought.
With plates served and Yuenglings given to all, the crew sat looking expectantly at their guest.
“Gentleman, my name is Bruce Sturbridge. As you may know, I am the Secretary of the Navy, and today you plucked my son Jack out of the ocean, most certainly saving his life. I am in your debt. How can I repay you?
This was news to the crew. Jack hadn’t mentioned that his father was Secretary of the Navy, SecNav for short. They were thusly stunned and a silence came over the boat. Finally a young man in a John Prine tee-shirt responded.
“Well. How about jet rides? Two each for myself and six of my friends.”
“Well, um, there would have to be background checks and such. But yeah, I can make that happen.” the SecNav replied.
“Sweet! Also, how about lifetime access to the newest flight simulators the Navy has?” the John Prine fan asked.
“Well, actually, that’s easier than your first request.” the SecNav replied.
“And I can bring friends too, right?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
The John Prine fan had another question poised but judging from the faint grimace on the SecNav’s face, he decided not to push his luck.
The other crew members made requests too, but none were as cool as the John Prine fan’s requests, so we won’t be covering those here.
The crew was beaming, all of their SecNav-grantable wishes granted, when the SecNav spoke again.
“Now boys, I can make all these things happen, but I need one thing from you. I must ask each of you to sign the disclosure agreement my aide is passing out now. Basically, in short terms, it says that what happened this afternoon, it didn’t happen. None of it. You sailed here without incident, with absolutely nothing remarkable happening. We need to be absolutely clear on this. Are we?”
The crew all nodded their heads in agreement.
So, I can’t really tell you if this was a daydream, or if it’s a real memory. Sometimes when you’re sleep-deprived at 2AM, fantasy becomes reality, and day dreams become memories. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is real.
October 29th, 2010 – Night
The wind and waves have still not let up, and as we watched the sun go down I was again reminded of how much more “attached” to the sun you get while sailing, especially when the weather is a little off. It’s almost like the sun is your friend, a protector, and you’re sad to see it go. As soon as it’s dark, I end up thinking about the sun, somewhere on the other side of the planet, on its way to some see me again.
A memory I have from the second night is the odd feeling that I’m observing life through the lens of a camera, taking still shots of my own life. This was somewhere in the early morning, perhaps around 2AM. I was sleep-deprived, and was doing everything in my power to stay observant. I remembered how pilots are trained to scan the “big six” instruments in an airplane’s cockpit. I decided to take that same approach in this boat’s cockpit. Standing in front of the wheel, I would focus on the chart plotter to scan for anything interesting ahead. From there I woud move down to the radar display and look for any contacts. Next I would look to my left at the engine gauges and make sure that they were all at their expected indications. Finally, I would do a 360-degree visual scan outside the boat looking for lights of other boats. I found that this helped to keep me alert, and to keep the three sailors sleeping below safe while I was on watch.
The tough part about this night was that apart from the endless white crests of waves throwing our Betty ann over to 50 degrees, not much interesting was happening. It sounds odd, reading back what I just wrote, but it’s true. The Betty Ann is such a strong well-built boat that even getting tossed around like this you never feel in danger, it’s just uncomfortable.
However, just because you don’t feel danger doesn’t mean that you don’t get tired of it. At a certain point I started to get frustrated with the sea. Usually, there are occasional waves that are larger than the others. These come in what are called sets, and they come in threes. A particularly brutal set was passing underneath and I counted the third go by. As we were coming back to level again a fourth wave hit us and again rolled us over bringing the prop out of the water.
“Enough!” I yelled. Yes Ocean, we get the point, you can toss us ’round and ’round and there’s nothing we can do about it. We get it. Now can you please stop sending those breaking waves and rollers our way? And while you’re at it, can you get the wind on the phone and tell her to give it a rest too? Maybe somewhere below twenty knots? M’kay? Thanks.
Somewhere in the above internal rant going on in my head, Pete asked me if I wanted a Ritz cracker. I pondered the question for too long. “Do you want a Ritz” is a yes or no question that should take approximately one-tenth of a second to answer, and the answer is always yes. Unfortunately my stomach had posted the “Sorry, closed for an indeterminate amount of time due to the weather, please try again later” sign quite some time ago. However, my brain was saying, “The last thing we ate was a handful of stale Doritoes last night, I order you to open the gate and let the Ritz through!” The stomach, being the lower-ranked of the two had no choice but to comply.
“Sure, a Ritz sounds good.” I replied to Pete. I tried to sound as chipper as I could. I don’t think I succeeded very well.
Pete handed me the Ritz and I pondered my best plan of attack. I decided a test bite from the periphery was my best bet. I raised the cracker to my mouth and took the smallest bite I could.
Crunch. Chew. Swallow. Wait.
“No complaints from Mr. Stomach in the engine room. Continue consumption Mr. Mouth.”
I nibbled my way through the rest of the cracker, still not very enthused about the whole thing. But I got it down and felt an odd feeling of accomplishment. Laughing to myself I thought, “Am I really excited that I was able to finish an entire Ritz cracker?”
October 30th, 2010 – 06:00 AM
Somewhere between the end of my last watch, and the beginning of my 6AM watch this morning, the seas finally calmed. Hallelujah! Pete roused me from my bunk, and I crawled out into the still-dark cabin of the Betty Ann.
Pete, who sometime the previous day had made his way out of sea-sickness purgatory was happily munching on some Fig Neutons.
“Fig Neuton?” Pete asked, holding out the rectangular container.
“No thanks.” I replied. Even at 100% I’m not a big fan if “The Neuton”. I don’t really understand why anybody even buys them. It’s kind of like Strawberry Quick, Tequiza, and Clamato, just not that good.
“Are there any more sleeves of Ritz though?” I asked.
“Yeah, just a second.” came Pete’s reply. Pete bounded down the companionway like Tigger into the galley and returned with a fresh sleeve of Ritz, yeah he’s feeling better. He handed me the package which I cautiously opened. The waves had settled it seemed, but Mr. Stomach was still a little reserved. I took out a cracker and went straight for a “full-fledged” half-bite. Then I waited.
Mr. Stomach replied, “All clear! Send down the second half!” I was on the road to full recovery as well! I took out four or five more and began eating them at faster and faster rates.
It was here that I decided that building your appetire back to full-strength after looking over seasick hill was a lot like building a fire, you have to start small and slow before you can get up to full strength. So with ever more confidence I fed Mr. Stomach more Ritz, or as what I was now calling them, “Appetite Kindling”.
In no short time I had finished one-half of a sleeve. I could have gone all the way but decided to leave some for my dad since he was to arrive on deck soon and I wasn’t sure what his “stomach situation” was. I instead opted to slug the rest of my water and watch the sun rise on what was turning out to be a banner day.
October 30th, 2010 – 11:00 AM
Larry is back! With a crew’s appetites restored Larry is back in his element and asks if coffee, pancakes and bacon is in order. Is it ever! Pete had gone to bed, but was quickly roused by the aromas of cooking bacon and popped up on deck with a big smile. Piping-hot cups of coffee arrived and the smiles grew all around.
Archie arrived from down below and not seconds later did the food begin to come on deck. Fresh-made blueberry pancakes with butter and syrup. Crispy hot bacon. More coffee. Orange juice all around. None of us had eaten anything substantial in a while and this was a spectacular late-morning breakfast.
“Your mother must have loved cooking for you.” Archie says.
“Sorry?” I reply.
“You’re picking the fat off your bacon,” Archie says, “…don’t worry, it’s a good thing. You’ll live longer.”
A couple more pancakes were delivered up from below, and thusly consumed. We all sat back in the warm sun, relishing it’s positive effect on our soul as much as the food energizing our bodies.
Disclaimer: The following wasn’t in my actual journal so the time might be off, but I’m pretty sure that this is correct.
We came around the corner and crossed over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to see the first of many aircraft carriers moored at the Naval base. There were (five?) carriers, a few cruisers (not sure what kind), and one of the new stealth-looking ships. There was als a pair of helicopters doing some sort of maneuvers, and a fighter jet flying CAP.
Everyone kept ribbing me as I was taking pictures with my big 200mm zoom lens that someone from the base would come out to get me thinking I was a spy. Nope. No spy, just someone who loves military technology.
We made our way up the river passing more military ships, including one that was in dry dock. It’s always cool to see large ships completely out of the water, I’m usually more amazed at how little is really below water than anything else. I always picture these huge cavernous hulls extending down into the water.
This ship was getting some sort of work done on it as well, the upper towers were all wrapped with what looked like Tyvek house wrapping. Apparently they didn’t want us to see whatever it was they were building inside there.
We slipped past the drydock and made our way further up the river, passing derelict bridges and train trestles along the way. There are also various factories and a concrete plant.
October 30th, 2010 – 01:30 PM
In what has become a day of food, our ravenous bodies were not disappointed at lunch time either, For lunch Larry served us up:
- Beef and bean chili,
- Beef Barley Soup
- Bread and Butter
- Sliced Oranges
- Giant Grapes
We all devour our plates, our bodies craving nutrition, and again fall back against the cockpit seats with satisfaction, this maneuver quickly became the signal that “I am done eating, I am full, and I am happy”.
Afterwards we all retreat to various corners. Some make phone calls to home, relating our last two days in the Atlantic washing machine, others open sailing magazines something that twenty-four hours ago would have been pretty low on the “I want to do that” list.
I retreat to this journal, something I’ve been neglecting for a while and spend the next couple hours writing down everything I can remember from the last couple days. Including this line right here. Apart from the “I want to do that” list, there’s also the “Needs to do” list, and journal writing gets crossed off pretty quick during bad weather, it’s right next to “brush teeth” for me.
October 30th, 2010 – 6:00 PM
Not quite sure when we made it to the lock that, for me at least, marks the true beginning of the ICW. It’s always a pretty cool thing, especially when you think about the mechanics and hydraulics involved.
Whenever I picture a lock, for some reason I picture this violent boiling water as millions of gallons of water are added or removed from the enclosed space. I guess this isn’t really the case because as fas as locks go, this one’s not super exciting. We all remarked that we didn’t really move that much, maybe a foot to a foot and a half. The evidence of this, as Pete pointed out, was on the pilings, a swath of wet piling indicated where the water had been just a few short minutes ago.
October 30th, 2010 – 06:30 PM
After making it through the lock we were forced to wait for a swing bridge to open on the other side. The night was super still so we hovered effortlessly in the water. To out left was a restaurant that appeared to be quite popular. Pete and I joked together that maybe someone should hop off the boat real quick and go grab a couple beers.
While waiting for the bridge to open a tug and barge appeared at the lock behind us. We couldn’t see too much as it was quite dark by this point, but we could see a giant mast with his lights on top. How big could this thing be? We started to worry that the swing bridge operator was going to wait for the tug to arrive, and that we would have considerably more “boat” to deal with around us. Our fears were quickly alleviated though as the bridge bells sounded and it began to swing open. On the way through the smells of a KFC came wafting down off the bridge from up the street. After the mandatory South Park Cartman joke, our thoughts began to drift down into the Galley where Larry was slinging pans.
October 30th, 2010 – 06:45 PM
Just on the other side of the bridge is the Atlantic Boat Basin, where we would be spending the night. Although Archie had called ahead, they seemed to have forgotten about us. Apparently the front side of the piers were all full, but the man on the radio informed us that there were more slips “around back”. We motored past all the other boats, most of them large motor yachts and into darker and darker territory.
The man on the radio said he would ride down to the other end and tell us where to go. We reached the end of the marina docks and a large patch of water opened up to our right, apparently this was where we were supposed to turn. Tensions were elevated because this was possibly the worst marked entrance in navigational history. There was a broken piling out in the middle of this water that was supposed to mark the entrance to their “channel”. The guy on the bike never showed up, although we did see a light bouncing around in the woods, we started to call him “the E.T. guy”. After a while it became a little more apparent where we were supposed to go, although the tension only abated somewhat. After two ninety degree turns we were headed opposite our original course from the ICW, but up into the belly of this odd marina backwater. As usual in times like this, many eyes were on the depth gauge which was hovering somewhere around 7.
Finally te “E.T. guy” appeared at the end of a narrow slip and guided us in. Finally! Lines secured and engine off, the crew stood on solid ground for the first time in a couple days.
October 30th, 2010 – 07:00 PM
The food continues! This is odd for me to be so entranced by food, normally it’s just something that gets in the way of other things I’d rather do, but today it’s all I seem to want to document. Dinner tonight was Italian Country Chicken. This dish has become a Beardsley sailing staple ever since we had it on the Maina Brittany cruise in France. It’s basically Chicken, onions, artichoke hearts, black olives, and roasted peppers served over pasta. Dad had made a batch of this beforehand along with a loaf of fresh sourdough bread. In addition there was salad and brocoli with cheese sauce (which I skipped). The beverage choices were Yuengling and/or Rum without ice (there was no ice on board). I had seconds and thirds of the Chicken with pasta, then finished it off with more bread, more beer, and rum. Nice.
After dinner it was already quite dark, and with a full belly and a couple drinks in me my desire for a shower had waned a bit, even though I hadn’t had one since the morning we left (roughly two and a half days). I asked myself, “Is it really possible that I’m considering skipping the shower?” It’s hard to believe, but after that big meal and a few drinks my fatigue is getting the upper hand and telling me just to go to bed.
However, common sense prevailed and I grabbed my towel, soaps, and flip flops, and popped out into the low fifty-degree air (it felt even cooler that this). If I didn’t shower here it would be an unknown amount of time until my next one.
After some preliminary intelligence from Pete and Archie, dad and I were informed that there were three showers, one single and one double. Archie headed off towards the single shower which was in the main office building, while dad and I trudged off to find the double. I hadn’t taken two steps before I was reminded of my own words, “Oh flip-flops, how much I loathe you.”
Dad and I managed to pick our way along the uneven, too-thin, slightly dilapidated dockside. The narrow walkways routinely pitched up and down causing more than one stumble on my part. At the end near the Tron Haul-Out Machine (that’s what I call a travel lift), there was a small puddle of diesel fuel. Apparently dad made a mental note of this because he would later remind me not to step in it.
We turned left onto the gravel main thoroughfare of Atlantic Yacht Basin. Archie peeled off to the right, towards the main office building, and dad and I continued on looking for the dual showers. After one wrong turn into the laundromat (maybe that would be a better way to clean a sailor), we found our way into the showers.
Upon first look, the showers actually look like a bathroom door (which it also is). You walk through a small office-like lounge which contains, among other things, a TV with VCR/DVD, candy and soda machines, a take-one-leave-one library and a small table suitable for playing cards, or drinking beer while watching the game. I wouldn’t describe it as clean, and certainly not modern. It had more of an auto garage office kind of feel.
Through the door marked “men” in one of those black-plastic-with-white-lettering signs are the showers. The stall appeared to have been built in the late-eighties, and it hadn’t been updated since. On the right was a urinal, sink and toilet, in that order. On the left are the two showers, hidden behind soap-stained opaque glass. A quick glance inside the shower revealed missing patches of tile where some fixture used to be, and a water faucet that was slightly corroded.
However, what became more apparent was the lack of any real place to change or hang clothes. Ater testing the water to make sure it was hot (really the most important thing), we proceded to both strip down in the bathroom area and attempt to strategically hang our clothes (dirty and clean) and towels in safe locations. There’s nothing quite like getting bare-ass naked with your father in a cramped bathroom.
An additional piece of logistics that we had to overcome was the fact that there was only one set of soaps. One of us always forgets to bring shampoo and soap, usually it’s me but this time it was my dad. Before leaving I had apportioned my soaps into two two-ounce bottles. We decided that we would each take one into the shower and then pass them between the two showers when we were done. It was a little awkward, and we had to pass the bottles back and forth twice. No mater though, the hot water felt great, and my head no longer felt like it had picked up all the grease from an auto-shop floor.
Dressing prove more difficult than undressing. Standing on top of my wet flip-flops, trying to get into a pair of sweat pants while not letting them touch anything is really difficult. It would be a shame to get all nice and clean only to get your sleeping clothes filthy and wet from the public shower floor.
We made it back to the boat (remembering to step around the diesel puddle) without incident. Larry who had left before us to shower was not back yet – more than a little odd. Nobody knew where he’d run off to. Our concerns were quickly alleviated however. Archie returned to tell us a tale that sounded a lot like Gerry, a previous shipmate that some readers might remember from another sailing log.
Apparently Larry had initially intended on showering, but upon arriving at the main office building saw the beaconing glow of a mexican restaurant in the distance. Earlier, he had mentioned that he had quite a headache ever since his ride in the V-berth “anto-gravity chamber” the other rough weather night. He seemed to think, quite rightly so, that a good alcohol soaking would fix the problem.
He ventured into the restaurant and found that they had Yuengling on tap, the World Series on one TV, and soccer on another. He stayed for a couple of tall boys and then left to go back to the shower.
When Larry returned to the boat a short time later he popped open another Yuengling from the ship fridge. We were all ready for bed, certainly myself as I was deep into my sleeping bag. This was an odd time where someone was ready to party is seemed and I wasn’t. It was too late for me, fatigue had claimed me again and the combination of sweatpants, and a fleece sleeping bag proved too appetizing to deny. I was asleep minutes after the lights went out. I slept straight through to 5:45 the next morning.
October 31, 2010 – 5:45 AM
I awake and I’m back at the base of Mount Washington. I’m cold and this little fleece blanket isn’t nearly enough to keep me warm. How could I be so foolish? My head clears a bit and I realize that I’m not back on the mountain, but in a boat. What I didn’t realize was that the window hatch above my bunk was open all night, letting the warm air of the inner cabin out into the night, and letting the cold air replacing it fall directly down onto me.
It’s 5:45 AM, but I don’t know that because it’s pitch black, I’ll find that out later when the 0600 alarms start going off. For now I’m cold and need to figure out a solution. I finally came up with something. If I curl up into as tight a fetal position as I can I find that I only use half the fleece sleeping bag, now I can take the bottom half and wrap it up over myself. I must look like an idiot, but I immediately feel warmth building in my body. Ahhhh, heat restored. I drift off for another fifteen minutes of sleep.
At 06:00 the alarms go off and we all start to gather. Larry makes coffee and begins breakfast while Archie, Pete, Dad and myself go topside to get the Betty Ann out of her overnight berth. After we slip the lines we pass out through Atlantic Yacht Basin’s back entrance, and take a right back onto the ICW.
In a few short minutes we find ourselves at the first of many 65 foot bridges. That’s pretty tall, but so is Archie’s mast which sits at 63 feet, plus has a 3 foot antenna at the top. As we pass under this bridge, all eyes skyward and as slow as possible, the antenna hits every girder as we pass. The slight springy sound of the antenna slapping into steel girders would become a common sound as we pass through other bridges on the ICW, most of which are marked as 65 footers.
Another point of interest was when we were coming up to on of the moving bridges of the waterway. We heard a boat behind us radio the bridge (there was no one in front of us, so the boat had to be behind us). They said that they were a sailboat, looking to make the next opening, and that they were behind “another small sailboat in front of them.”
We couldn’t believe our ears! What? Small! Did you see our mast nearly strike the bridge behind us? If we were any larger we wouldn’t be able to make it down the ICW. Ha. Must be an amateur, or some other self-absorbed type. Clearly his eyes need an adjustment. This same boat, after passing through the bridge requested to pass us because “their cruising speed is seven-point-five knots, while our own was only seven.” Fair enough, go on by. Ahhh though, why then, after an hour are you only ten boat lengths in front of us? Not quite seven-five eh?
Later on the ICW opens up a little bit and we were able to set sail. Now, I say it opens up, but this is just the scenery. There appears to be more water, but in reality there is just a lot of water on either side of you begging to get you stuck. I was at the helm for this piece and we were able to set a sail as the next few miles all has the wind either off our starboard bow, or abeam to starboard after a turn. We began to catch the “big boat” as we now joking called it until they too set a sail and we again evened out. I timed our distance apart by counting how long it took us to get to a mark they had passed, and to me we still seemed very even.
After another turn to the right the wind was back to just off our starboard bow, and the channel takes you through a piece of marsh and an island. It gets really tight and uncomfortable, but I saw something up ahead that was going to make it a lot more interesting, a tug pushing a rather large barge. You could tell by the closure rate that we were going to pass right at the narrowest spot by the island.
Pete began a conversation on the radio with the tug. After a couple false starts, which I think was caused by the faulty microphone in our cockpit (something we would diagnose later), the tug informed us that the water on the green side of the channel was really shallow, and that we would do well to stay clear to the right (island side of the channel) over by the red buoy. We radioed that we understood, and that we would stay near the red, and pass port to port. I edged the Betty Ann over to the right as far as I dared, the water depth now read six feet. The transducer is mounted on the hull somewhere, so we really had around eight or nine feet of water, but there was also the keel to keep in mind which projects anther three feet or so past the transducer. This means that the “magic number” is somewhere around 3. If you see that number on the depth gauge prepare to come to a rather sudden stop.
As we closed on the red marker the depth steadily decreased a tenth at a time, and the tug and barge relentlessly marched toward us, growing larger with every second. Glancing up, I could now clearly see the various scrapes running along the barge’s length…were these war wounds from other boat victims?
“You’re in 5 now.” Archie says.
I glance back over to the depth gauge and see the depth has indeed decreased to under six, somewhere around five and a half. Well, the bottom is pretty soft here, I say to myself, I guess that’s something. I’m driving straight at the island and the red pole-mounted marker, there’s not a whole lot more I can do. To my left there is only barge, I cannot even see open water ahead of me. We are completely committed now.
The barge passed to our left. As I looked out the port-side isinglass all I could see was a vertical rust wall moving past. If I wasn’t at the helm I could have reached out and touched it. In a few seconds the barge passed and then it was the tug out the left-hand side. A few more seconds and it’s past as well. I turn the wheel left and scoot back behind the tug to get back into the middle of the channel.
“That’ll get your pulse up a bit.” I say to Pete.
It’s now getting a little later, and our stomachs are beginning to pine for some food. Both Pete and I had been thinking about wings at Coinjock since we were offshore. We’d had them before on a previous trip, and we were both looking forward to them again. Pete called the restaurant on his cell phone and put in a to-go order for three one-dozen orders of wings.
“She never asked you what flavor?” I ask.
Pete looks at me, then back at his phone. He dialed the number again and amended the order to two dozen wings, one hot, one mild.
A few minutes later we landed at Coinjock and after tying up Betty Ann the crew rushed onto land for our mini shore leave. Wallets came out and we traded some cash for t-shirts, hats and more beer as our shipboard supply of beer was running dangerously low. We filled up on fuel, grabbed our wings from the restaurant and were back on the ICW in about twenty minutes. We ate our wings and lapped up potato soup that Larry had made. It was actually a really good combo.
A little later dad was at the helm and we were reminded of how narrow the ICW can get, even if there are hundreds of feet of water on either side of you. We were motoring along at our usual 7 knots when the depth gauge suddenly started dropping fast. This wasn’t too alarming as very often the depth with go from 12 feet, down to 7, then back to 9. This was different though, it became truly alarming when it dropped past 5 feet and continued. We all looked around and right next to us was the red marker, about five feet off our starboard side, exactly where it should be. What was going on? Are we really going to run aground in the middle of the channel? No way! That’s not fair!
The depth continued to drop until it read 2.8. This is bad. I’m not sure if we were sticking in the mud, but we must have been because my dad added more throttle and waited. We all breathed a sigh of relief as the boat accelerated and the depth started to rise again. Apparently the mud had shifted and now in what was supposed to be the channel there was a large mound of mud. We thanked the water/ocean Gods for letting us through and continued our journey south.
Later in the day we were treated to one of the greater sunsets that I’ve ever seen. The sky went from a deep blue above us to a brilliant orange that faded to red, and I think it wrapped around about 180 degrees from our bow to our stern. Just gigantic.
I took a bunch of pictures, and I think I captured the moment, which is one of the main goals of the photographer. After looking at the pictures I think I found one of the reasons why sunsets at sea are so much better. The reflections! In the picture at left you can see how the sunset appears so much larger because it reflects off the water and doubles its size.
A short while later we were anchored up just outside “the cut” with the aromas of Larry’s dinner wafting up from the galley. And what a dinner it was! Laid out for our dining pleasure was:
- Fillet Mignon (for me)
- Swordfish with lemon butter (for everyone else)
There was another treat we had in store for us. One other purchase that had been made back in Coinjock was ice which we now added to our glasses of rum with much pleasure. Ahh the luxury!
After we had consumed a couple glasses of of The Captain my dad brought out three wigs that he had brought with him and kept smuggled in his bag. Time for a Halloween party boys! My dad, Pete and I put on the wigs and became “Caribbean Guy”, “Sammy Hagar”, and “Ethnically Confused Guy”
The original plan was to go out on the town with our costumes, but since we were anchored out in what was essentially a swamp, we had our own party with more of the rum and a few Yuenglings each. Only the frogs and birds were entertained by our antics as we partied into the wee hours of the night, which for us I think meant somewhere around 9:00 PM.
November 1, 6:00 AM
I woke up again before the sun, that’s 3 in a row! I spent a few minutes on deck with Pete and Archie discussing the possible location of a lighthouse light that we were seeing off our starboard quarter. Once the dawn had lightened enough for Archie to be able to see, we hauled anchor and began motoring out of our anchorage. We were the last ones in the previous night, and by all accounts we were the first ones out this morning. We’re hardcore!
A few short minutes later we were making our turn into “the ditch” which is a series of long straight cuts through the jungle-cypress-swamp on either side. We were on alert for cows, which someone had read were to be seen pasturing on either sode. We never saw a single one.
There was plenty of nature to be seen though, including a bald eagle! Unfortunately not only did I not have my camera on deck, but it had the wrong lens on (not the zoom). I ran to get it anyway and ended up with a picture of a lot of trees with what you can almost tell is a bald eagle. Oh well…
Another theme of the day were all these boats behind us that were worried about their masts hitting the bridges. We went under one and had “full tickle” (where the antenna on the top of our mast hits every girder on the bridge) so we radioed out this fact, and that the bridge was reading 64.5 to 65 feet of clearance. We never got a reply so we were starting to believe (as opposed to suspect) that there was something wrong with our radio (perhaps from too many full tickles). The radio continued to chatter all day with these boats talking back and forth about bridge heights. Along with the constant radio traffic of power boats asking to pass sailboats, it get’s a little tiring.
I spent a lot of time on deck basking in the sun, taking nature shots and basking in the sun some more. There were a lof of logs and stumps lining the river whose reflections made for some interesting pictures.
Later on we found ourselves in a larger opening of water just before Belhaven and there were tons of birds flying around. I was in full photographer mode and spent another half-hour or so trying to get a full-frame shot of one of them. I never got the exact picture I wanted, but I got a couple that I was satisfied with.
A little later we arrived outside of Belhaven with the wind off our starboard side. We needed to make a left-hand turn to Goose Creek, but doing so would force us to jibe, and we were all feeling lazy. Dad, who was at the helm, instead decided on a 270 degree tack, the lazy jibe. The maneuver worked out fine though and we were soon sailing our way through the Bay River passing through Kenyon Bay, Sparrows Gut, and Great Gut Bay.
There was an additional moment of excitement when a power boat raced past us on our right. I was at the helm at the time and looked on my chart to see where the boat was going. I realized that he was headed straight for a very shallow part that was clearly marked with a buoy. He was well inside of where he should have been, and he should have been well aware of it as well. I pointed out the impending tragedy that was about to happen to my crew mates and we watched as he blindly drove right over the shallows. We completely expected his engines to come ripping off his stern, but they did not. He got very lucky and his boat was spared from complete destruction.
Later we were passed by a much saner and respectable boat called the Viking Fjord. We had been listening to the captain on the radio as he passed other sailboats behind us and decided that he would be a good candidate to use as a test for our radio. Earlier we had noticed that the wires going to the handset on the cockpit were frayed, and that this was very likely the reason many of our transmissions were going unheard. It turned out that this was the case because he could hear us much better when we used the handset in the navigation station down below.
We crossed the Neusse River in a quick two miles, and had lunch on the way. Burgers! These things were great, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup (just a touch) and relish (and mushrooms for everyone else). Something about the simple ingredient list made these some really great burgers. Plus, I mean common, it’s a burger.
We followed another sailboat into the Goose River (I think that’s what it was called) which was narrow at first, but proved easy. We passed a Coast Guard inflatable with two Coasties that looked like they were having too much fun bombing around in their boat. Later on the channel closed up again and the chart showed zeros on either side of us…not comfortable. I was still at the helm nervously poking my way forward. The unease was magnified when we came around a corner to see a sailboat aground. The captain was prepared though, he used his inflatable dinghy as a sort of tug and pushed his boat’s bow back over into the channel while his wife advanced the throttle to get back into deeper water. For a while it looked like she was going to drive right over to the shore on the opposite side and jump ship. We figured maybe she had finally had enough of this sailing adventure and wanted off. She didn’t though, and the man in the dinghy was finally able to catch up and re-board his ship.
We made it through the scary-shallows, followed a Canadian boat out into Pamlico sound, and watched with pleasure as the depths increased to very comfortable numbers. Since we had a good wind going we set our sails and shut down the engine for a fuel filter change. Even with just our sails up the strong breeze was pushing us along at 6 or so knots. We looked over our shoulders and noticed with pleasure that the sailboat behind us who was still motoring was not making ground on us.
After changing the filter we fired up the diesel again and motor-sailed. After a while we came to a right-hand turn that put the wind right on our stern. I did all right for a while trying to keep the wind from getting behind the sail and jibing us. It didn’t last long though, a few minutes later an especially large roller got under our stern and I didn’t keep up with it fast enough. Frantically turning the wheel to right was not enough the prevent the wind from getting under the port side of our main sail. There’s not many things on a sailboat that sound worse than an accidental jibe. When fifteen knots of wind gets behind three-hundred square feet of sail, it creates a lot of force, and a lot of noise when it comes to rest on the other side.
We decided against further attempts to motor sail downwind. I turned into the wind and we brought the sails back into their furlers.
November 1, 2010 – 3:45 PM
Pete takes over for me at the helm – I had been there since 11:30 so I was definitely ready for a break. I went down below to attempt a nap but had no success, so I went back up on deck to join the conversation which was currently deciding whether or not to sail through the night. We listened to the weather radio which was reporting winds 15 to 20 out of the North East and waves at 7 and building. I know we were all thinking the same thing, a night at anchor is starting to sound pretty good.
Around 6PM at the entrance to Adam’s Creek we made the decision to anchor there and continue on in the morning. The weather should be better tomorrow, there are still a lot of miles to go before we hit open water, and none of us really wanted to do those at night.
After anchoring we sat down to another slammin’ dinner of salad, pork chops, dirty rice with beans, baked beans, bread and Yuengling (of course). That’s a lot of beans. After finishing up dinner we headed up on deck to watch the sunset (how do I not have a picture!) and enjoy more beer.
As the sun settled and the night arrived, we watched as a couple tugs passed behind us, always marveling at the sheer skill it takes to bring a 300 foot barge through the same places that we were so carefully navigating our boat. And this was at night no less! In addition, you can feel the power from the “however many horsepower” engines chugging away inside the rounded hulls.
Later, when the full darkness of night had settled upon the quiet anchorage, my dad and I were still on deck when two speedboats zipped by, wide open, with no lights on.
“Those guys are crazy.” we both said.
Later on we noticed a boat come out of a nearby harbor with a search light scanning the shoreline, and we heard a helicopter in the distance. There were only 2 possible options we could think of, either the boats were part of a drug run, or they had crashed and there was now an active search going on. We checked the radio, but there was no Coast Guard announcement of “missing boats” or anything, so we were convinced that however unlikely it was, maybe it really was a drug run.
Pete and Larry shower, so we run the engine to heat up the water, and then we’re all in bed by about 9:30.
November 2, 6:15 AM
Wow, 6:15? We slept in today! After seeing 4 sunrises in a row my body is in tune with the solar rhythm now. Kind of like hiking I’ve become synchronized to the sun.
As we were readying to pull anchor I saw two boats come around the corner from the south. Finally the mystery from last night is revealed. It was neither of our guesses and was actually a Naval exercise. As the boats got closer we could see that this was some sort of elite squad – seals? They were all blacked out, and there was some sort of machine gun on each boat’s bow.
I happened to have my camera on deck and took a couple shots as they raced by. In one of the pictures you can clearly see the driver of the lead boat looking right at me. He almost seems to be thinking, “Hmmmm…should I take him out? Nah…I’ll let him live.”
With all our questions from last night answered, we pulled anchor and headed towards Beaufort North Carolina which was the terminating point of last year’s trip (not by design). We won’t be stopping this year, and after Beaufort I will be in waters that I have never sailed before. Ahead of me lies the last piece of water that I need to have sailed all the waters between Point Judith, Rhode Island and Tampa, Florida.
There’s a sense of trepidation on the boat as we all start to consider what could be a very nasty Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night, Wednesday, and Wednesday night. There’s going to be big following seas the whole way, and the wind hasn’t let up at all. It’s pretty much going to be going back into the same water-based rock tumbler that we were in before.
Larry cooks us up a nice breakfast of oatmeal with rasins, pancakes, ham, coffee and orange wedges. After breakfast I go down to write in my journal for a while. At this point I’ve stopped writing prose and am just writing down bullet points of things I want to talk about.
The Rest of The Journey
I never entered anything for the next two days in my journal, so I don’t have specifics. It did suck for a while, but not nearly as much as the northern section, and I still took a bunch of pictures.
The predicted high seas did not disappoint and we spent two days rolling around in them. It’s very difficult to get a picture of waves that really describes their true size, and how they make you feel. I did get a couple though that come close.
I also got my best dolphin picture yet. In the past when dolphin have been around I’ve tried to get the “dolphin all the way out of the water” shot and never ever came close. You always get te nose, or the tail, but never all of it. I’ve taken 60 or 70 shots before and never gotten anything.
This time I wasn’t really into it so I was just holding my camera outside the canopy above my head, sort of nonchalantly waiting for a dolphin to appear off our bow. I saw one jump out of the corner of my eye and depressed the shutter release button. When I looked at the preview I could not believe my eyes. There was the beast in full profile, and the composition of the photo wasn’t bad either. Ok, sweet! I guess I can cross that one off the list and start working on the “dolphin that takes up an entire frame” shot. Maybe before I die might actually get that one!
I don’t remember too many other specifics of the final leg to Charlestown except that we made exceptional time due to the generous tailwind we were enjoying. By virtue of this we made it to Charlestown on Wednesday morning and were able to have a night of crew leave. We ended up at the same rib place that we had been to before but by accident, then on the way back we stopped by the bar at the marina. In true sailor fashion I stayed there a little too long, bought my brother a shirt (but didn’t remember I had the next morning) and stumbled back to my bunk.