Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Close Call and a New Addition to Pearl

A few days ago we experienced the worst thunderstorm we have been in since we moved onto Pearl. We watched as it come across the bay towards us feeling glad that we were securely tied to a dock and not one of the several sailboats out there getting swallowed up by the dark clouds and sheets of rain.

When it arrived over us it was amazing. Thunder and lightening was crashing all around us. The wind picked up rocking Pearl and for what felt like an eternity there were hailstones up to the size of golf balls pounding on our deck.

The next day we learned how close the lightning really was. About 300 yards from us there was a channel marker that took a direct hit. It originally looked something like this.

Now it looks like this.

That was too close! Why it would hit a wooden pole standing about 10 feet out of the water and not one of the hundred 60 foot tall metal masts that surrounded it is anyone's guess.

The interesting thing is that as we meet other cruisers, there are more than we ever expected that have taken a lightening hit and lost all their electronics as well as sustained hull damage. We hope our time doesn't come.

Now for the new addition to Pearl. Pearl came with a very good dinghy. However, we have had a love/hate relationship with it from the beginning. It is one of the strongest, sturdiest and most stable dinghys you can imagine but all those positives came with one big negative. Without the motor on it, our dinghy weighed over 300 pounds. When we are at anchor it is by far the dinghy to have. All the other cruisers wish they had one like it. When we are sailing, its a different story. When the conditions get rough that is just too much weight to have hanging off the stern of our boat. The davits that hold the dinghy are very robust but we feel they aren't robust enough to handle some of the rougher conditions we want to sail in. This has limited the type of conditions we are willing to go out in and thus limited our range.

We are replacing it with an aluminum bottom AB AL 10 that is about 140 pounds without the motor. It will travel on our stern a lot better and can still accommodate up to a 20 hp motor. It is lighter than the fiberglass / plastic bottom inflatable dinghies and doesnt mind being pulled up onto a beach that isn't all very smooth sand. There is no doubt we will miss our current dinghy every time we are at anchor but now we will be able to go offshore more often.

It was a fun day today unwrapping and setting up our new toy. Of course, Gayleen did all the work.

If you are ever in the market for a new dinghy, or life raft the folks at Lifeline Marine Safety in Cape Canaveral, Florida are amazing. We purchased the dinghy that had to be reserved on the next container from the manufacturer and had it shipped to us in Virginia without ever visiting their location. We hope to get to meet them the next time we head south.

Tomorrow they start fitting our new Bimini and enclosure. The addition of all around screens will make Gayleen very happy and extend our time outdoors into the evening when the mosquitos get frisky.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We Are Finally Legal!

I use the term "legal" loosely but as far as the terms of our insurance policy we are now where we should be. To maintain the lower premium we pay, we are supposed to be north of Norfolk, VA by June 1 to supposedly be out of the hurricane zone for the summer. We all know how that worked out a few years ago with that storm Sandy. Knowing we weren't going to make it by then I had a short conversation with the insurance underwriter who agreed to give us an extension until the end of June and I am happy to say Pearl is now tucked in nicely in Deltaville, VA about 50 miles north of Norfolk as of 3 days ago. We will stay here for a couple of weeks as we have some work done on Pearl.

Why Deltaville? Deltaville is the current home of our friends on s/v Dream Catcher that was one of our buddy boats on our first trip across the Gulf Stream to Bimini last year. In addition, our friends on s/v Sea Salt that we have been traveling north with also met Dream Catcher and Pearl in Bimini so this was a nice reunion of good cruising friends.

Where have we been the last 2 1/2 weeks?...Travelling north going about 60 miles a day. Since the Intracoastal Waterway does not travel in a straight line, those distances are spend meandering our way back and forth northward. After leaving Port Royal, S.C. we stopped at:

St. Johns, S.C.
Santee River, S.C.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
Moorehead City, N.C.
Belhaven, N.C.
Alligator River, N.C.
Dismal Swamp, N.C.
Portsmouth, VA.
Deltaville, VA.

Whoa ... I'm exhausted just typing all that!

The most memorable stop along the way was Myrtle Beach, S.C. because we had the chance to be reunited with my mother's sister, Aunt Gloria at my cousin's restaurant. We won't admit how many decades it has been since our families had gotten together because we would really feel old but ignoring that it was so nice to reunite and catch up on what everyone has been doing with their lives. If you ever get to Myrtle Beach be sure to visit my cousin's restaurant, Castano's Italian Steakhouse. The food and atmosphere is amazing. You won't regret it!

We were very happy to see Aunt Gloria

One evening in Myrtle Beach we were at the restaurant adjoining the marina and a terrible thunder storm came through. We felt bad for this poor dog that was tied to a boat on the dock because he was left in the rain and lightning the whole time by his owners. However, after the storm passed he got on his boat and curled up with his blanket and bottle of Smirnoff to take the chill off.

Sometimes it can look pretty nasty as we travel along. On this day we were lucky to be able to weave in and out of 3 different thunderstorms without a direct hit.

We never know what is to come around the next bend that we have to watch out for

Some bridges swing sideways to let us pass through

 Some bridges just go up horizontally

Birds love to nest on the channel markers

This big boy needed lots of room to pass

Another of the most memorable parts of the trip was the stretch through the Great Dismal Swamp. About a day before you reach Virginia, the Intracoastal Waterway forks into two separate routes that meet later just south of Norfolk, VA. The route to the east is wide and deep and closer to the coast. The route to the west leads you into the Great Dismal Swamp. 

The Dismal Swamp Canal was authorized by Virginia in 1787 and by North Carolina in 1790, with construction beginning in 1793 and completing in 1805. The canal, as well as a railroad constructed through part of the swamp in 1830, enabled the harvest of timber. The canal deteriorated after the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was completed in 1858; however, in 1929, the U. S. Government bought the Dismal Swamp Canal and began to improve it. The canal is now the oldest operating artificial waterway in the country. Like the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canals, it is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

If you have an interest I suggest you look it up to learn it's history including how slaves were used to build the canal and how the area around it was once owned by George Washington who tried to commercialze it.

From our perspective it was an adventure. First there is a lock we needed to go through on each end. Next, the canal is very narrow surrounded by overhanging trees. It is also shallow with a controlling depth of 7 feet, but there are many sunken logs that you have a good chance of bumping into as you travel through it. Many sailboats have lost the wind instruments at the top of their masts as they veered off the centerline of the canal to avoid floating debris and not noticing the low branches their mast was about to hit. Our friends we were traveling with decided to take the safe route and did not travel with us on this interesting segment of the trip.

At the south end of the canal we got to experience going through our first lock. We got there too late to make the last opening so we tied up to some pilings for the night to await the first lock transit at 8:30 the next morning.

With the lack of wind and excess of bugs the morning could not have come soon enough

At 8:30 the doors started opening and in we went to have them close behind us

Pearl was now sitting about 8 feet below the water level of the Dismal Swamp Canal

Once Pear was tied safely to the wall of the lock the lock operator started filling it up as Pearl slowly rose 8 feet and was ready to enter the canal

The doors on the other end of the lock opened and we were on our way

We had a short trip that day and only went about 1/3 of the way through the canal and tied up at the free docks at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center

The dock is long enough for 3 boats but most nights there are more than that so it is customary to allow other boats to "raft up" by tying to your side. At times they can be 4 or 5 boats wide. We had 2 other boats raft up to us which not only gave us very close neighbors, they also had to walk across our boat to get on the dock. 

This is part of the fun as you never know who you are going to meet. The couple in the boat directly next to us were from Italy! The husband sailed the boat across the Atlantic from Greece where his wife met him in the Caribbean and they are on their way up to New York. We travelled with them the next day and they send these pictures of Pearl following them through the Dismal Swamp Canal. The rain that day made it feel even more dismal

Along the way we had a few obstacles we needed to avoid

It's always a welcome sight to see a new state

Shortly after going through the north lock it was culture shock. Most of our trip was rural with the occasional town but entering the Portsmouth and Norfolk, VA area brough many barges, naval vessels, fuel depots, bridges..you name it. We were now in the big city

Our next stop was a big win for us. The FREE docks at Portsmouth, VA. Free is always good and these docks were also in a sheltered quadrant right in the downtown tourist area. We stayed there for 3 nights having fun in Portsmouth, taking the ferry to Norfolk and seeing a sailboat race in the waterway.

Global warming or just another failed government project? The dock right next to the boat was covered by about 6 inches of water at high tide. I will avoid the political discussion and just say the locals told us the docks were built that way by accident.

This was a first for us... a handicapped marked dock with a boat that had a handicapped plate. Everyone cruises!

Some of the sights also included a visit to the Nauticus Maritime Museum which just happened to be free for it's 20th anniversary.

As we left Portsmouth on our way to Deltaville we had a close encounter with one of the monsters that go in and out of Norfolk which is the deepest navigation port on the east coast.

He went slow and we stayed out of the way and we safely made it to Dozier's Regatta Point Yachting Center which will be our home for a couple of weeks. Then we resume our trek north.

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