Ditchin’ the Ditch

In the past we have entered and exited the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) at Morehead City, NC, making the jump to Fernandina Beach, FL or vice-versa. The ICW from Norfolk to Morehead City is well traveled since it cuts off going around Cape Hatteras where the weather can change quickly. Normally it takes us about 3 days to cover this ICW distance across North Carolina and Virginia. But this spring, due to weather and U.S. Customs, we entered at Charleston, SC, adding 3 days of ICW transit to our trip – basically doubling our time in the ICW!

Heading north from Charleston we enjoyed the South Carolina low country but after we cleared Myrtle Beach the ICW became an intricate path of unmarked shoals and shifting sand bars. We ran aground 3 times in the channel but were able to free ourselves each time. The last time we ran aground I called Towboat US to ask where the channel was but they didn’t know. The Coast Guard called me and described where to find the channel, which was strange because I was aground in that exact spot…. After that point our trip became nerve-wracking, constantly watching the depth sounder to see if the channel was meandering, trying to visually reconcile how sand might have shifted during the winter storms. (It didn’t help that we were heading north so early that maintenance crews hadn’t had time to dredge the areas or shift channel markers to better indicate the shoaling.)

It’s well known that this stretch is a problem area. The numerous inlets and shallow bays lead to the shoaling, and that’s why we’ve always skipped it in the past. In fact, dating back to our first journey on JV, (just after we bought her in Wrightsville Beach, NC) we’ve always skipped this portion of the ICW. Counting a journey on a friend’s boat, that’s 5 times we’ve gone outside, versus this one time on the inside. In the future, I’ll continue to use the stretch from Norfolk to Morehead City, but I’d have to think long and hard about ever continuing south from Morehead City inside.

At long last we finally anchored in Norfolk on Easter evening. For Easter dinner Sabrina prepared ham, asparagus, potatoes, and had carrot cake ready for dessert. We fueled up the next morning and it felt great as we motored out into wide open expanse of Chesapeake Bay. Even dodging cargo carriers and tug boats on our way out of Norfolk was better than puzzling over un-known shoals.

I have come to the conclusion that ICW doesn’t stand for Intracoastal Waterway, but instead I Can’t Wait (to get out of here!)

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We left our anchorage outside of Royal Island Harbour on Friday, March 15th at 6:00 a.m. (Luckily, we had no need to “beware the ides of March.”) When we arrived in Charleston, SC to clear Customs it was 10:30 a.m. on March 18th. According to our Spot track we had logged 537 nautical miles in that 75.5 hours – an average of 7.1 knots! 

Now, I understand you might be confused about why we’re excited. We often talk about hitting speeds over 8 knots, or sailing along at 7+ for a few hours in good wind. But to maintain that speed for 3 days was unheard of for us! Most offshore monohull cruisers would say that when planning a passage they assume they’ll travel 150 nm every 24 hours. That 150 nm is an easy number to remember and comes out to an average of 6.25 knots. (And to be truthful, we rarely average that fast if we’re on a multi-day passage.) On the other hand, offshore monohull racers approach 600 nm in a day in the Volvo Ocean Race, so everything is relative.

It’s a give and take, we want calm weather, good winds, a comfortable sea state, and a stable boat. That typically means that we’ll sacrifice speed for boat stability while underway. In addition, our weather window is typically picked to provide a safe sail, not necessarily a fast one. But, Sunday morning on the 17th from midnight till 3:30 a.m. I was on watch and we were running in the Gulf Stream with 30 knots of wind singing through the rigging. The seas were calm, and I had a double reef in the poled out genoa as we regularly topped 11.5 knots! The Spot track states that we covered 31.3 nm in that 3.5 hours, an average of 8.94 knots!

When we tied up in Beaufort, NC on Friday afternoon after several days in the ICW, we realized we had left the Bahamas one week earlier. It was great to make that fast trip, but the temperature difference was a little shocking to our systems. Now that JV has had a week of rest here, we hope that it’s warmer as we head north again.

Our 537 nm path shown in green

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[I think I finally fixed that pesky link between the blog and my facebook account. I know some folks just follow the blog through facebook, so I wanted to post the missed blogs here just to keep things orderly. So, while I continue to work on the post that summarizes our trip north in the Gulf Stream, enjoy these recent blog posts.]

Some photos from our when our friends Sean and Shannon visited: Guest Shots

Time to leave Georgetown: Heading Home

An update from our trip north up the Exumas: Update from the Passage North

Photos from our time in Georgetown: Spring Training

Talking about getting ready for the trip to the USA: Staged and Ready

It was so calm in the Gulf Stream that I was able to post while underway: Steaming in the Stream

On St. Patrick’s Day I was lucky and landed a yellowfin tuna: My White Whale

Currently the boat is safe Beaufort, NC at a friend of a friend’s dock. Our new friend Julian had just pulled his boat to get ready for spring and our friend Glen from Havre de Grace put us in touch with him.  The cruising community is great, and I hope we can repay the favor to Julian sometime in the future when he sets out.

JV resting after a long trip from the Bahamas

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My White Whale

Sabrina and I have caught a lot of fish while we’ve been cruising, (some day I’ll have to put together a photo album of just that,) but there’s always been one fish that has eluded me…. No, not the dozen buffalo wings I wished for, but my favorite fish to eat – the yellowfin tuna.

On St. Patrick’s Day we had just had a spirited sail overnight in the Gulf Stream. As the sun came up the winds died and we began to motor. It was a lot calmer, so I decided it was time to fish, and I decided that the only lures worth running on St. Patrick’s Day would have to be green. I dropped four lines back and waited. About 5 hours later I was in the cabin getting lunch when Sabrina yelled that there was a fish on!

When I got on deck I noticed something was different. I didn’t want to jinx it, but normally a mahi would be jumping above the water. This fish dove deep and he was fighting hard. I stayed on the rod, fighting and keeping tension while Sabrina cleared lines and prepared for the fish to come aboard.

Minutes later my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the tuna materialize from the deep. There were a few suspenseful moments while we hoisted him aboard, but after that I could breathe again and we began to celebrate. Shortly thereafter I had him cleaned and chilling in the freezer. The wind picked up later that afternoon, so it wasn’t a good idea to start waving sharp knives to make sushi, but the next evening we had a magnificent spread.

That first night for dinner we had sushi, sashimi, and hand rolls. Then I made “Spicy Tuna Nachos” from some of the trimmings for lunch (thanks Myron and Dena for the idea.) For dinner the second night we had the largest loin seared and still cold in the middle. Even after all that there are still two loins remaining in the freezer for later (as it got cold in the ICW we switched to heartier, hot meals.)

The tuna was as great as I’ve ever dreamed. As I sliced sushi that first night I was eating it straight off the knife, and I don’t even like fish!  Finally landing a tuna was a great end to our fishing while cruising, I consider it the luck of the Irish!

[I’ll have more on the rest of the trip later, but I wanted to get these photos up while we had access to internet tonight.]


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Spring Training

Sabrina and I managed to stay VERY busy while we waited in Georgetown for a weather window. We said goodbye to our friends Sean and Shannon when they flew home on February 27th. After a day or two to rest, we realized that we were stuck in Georgetown waiting for weather during the 33rd year of the famous “George Town Cruising Regatta.” After a couple days of listening to the VHF announcements we decided to get in on the action. (No, not the Pet Parade, Nermal was very clear that he would not be participating in that.)

Our new friends Austin and Jeremy were racing their boat, Fernweh, in the “Around Stocking Island Race” on Saturday March 2nd and allowed me to crew for them. They were both experienced racers, so I jumped at the chance to pick up some pointers. Sabrina didn’t want to race, but agreed to be the photographer in the chase boat. The race was very close, and we narrowly lost to our friends on “Friends Z” by 11 seconds on corrected time after 18 miles of racing! Unfortunately the race course favored the larger boats that day, and the 11 second difference was to decide who took 4th place in our division….

During all this fun, our freezer decided to stop working. While lamenting this issue to our friends Myron and Dena on Hold Fast, Myron mentioned that he had gauges and refrigerant to get things running again. I jumped at his offer, and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon we worked to get the unit vacuumed and recharged. Myron definitely had the know-how and on Sunday the freezer was back to working great. It will probably need more work when we get home, but for now it’s freezing all the fresh fish we catch, and that’s a wonderful thing. (Thank you again Myron and Dena, can’t wait to see you when you come through the Chesapeake this summer!) 

On Sunday night the moment I had been waiting for had finally arrived, it was time for the annual softball game! I originally went to the first practice with Stretch weeks before, then Chris and I practiced while we waited for weather to leave the harbor. Now the practices were finally going to pay off and the “Cruisers” would take on the local Bahamian team. The event is played under the lights, and is more entertainment than a sporting event. (It’s like going to a Harlem Globetrotters game, but the Bahamians play the Globetrotters and the Cruisers are the Washington Generals, we get stomped year after year.)

I have to admit, playing softball under the lights was a rather surreal evening. The locals had striped the field and provided us with matching t-shirts. Walking into the outfield I thought of “Field of Dreams” but instead of a corn field, we were playing softball on sand and scrub brush. (We even had my new friend Wes playing barefoot, our very own “Shoeless Joe.”) There was a strong wind blowing out to left field, and at my second at-bat I hit a line drive that carried over the left field fence for a home run. It was the only cruiser homer that night and the place went wild. Most of our team rounded the bases with me before celebrating at home plate. The Bahamians didn’t celebrate as raucously when they hit home runs, I think it would have worn them out, they were consistently pounding it over the fence.

Unfortunately, the weather Sunday night for the game was cold and blustery. Strangely, it didn’t hurt the crowd much, I was amazed at the number of folks that came out. Sabrina couldn’t make it though, she was still cleaning up the freezer debacle and sorting through the food that had spoiled. (I also think she secretly didn’t want to sit in the stands in the cold while it threatened rain.)

Tuesday was the second race of the sailboat regatta, the “In-Harbor Race.” Fernweh was busy picking up a guest that morning, so I literally “jumped ship” and ended up racing with other friends, Logan and Caroline, on their boat “Gemini.” We had a blast racing in the light winds. Logan was an experienced racer and we worked Gemini hard to the finish line where we took 2nd. Fernweh ended up racing also, and even took 3rd place in their division in that race. (They joked that I was holding them back in the previous race.)

That night we all met up at the awards ceremony and celebrated the race. (We didn’t attend the previous awards ceremony, the winds that night were blowing too hard to make it an enjoyable dinghy ride to the party.)

During all of these activities we were still playing beach volleyball in the mornings with folks that we had met during our time in Georgetown. The culmination of all that practice was the 4-on-4 regulation volleyball tournament on Wednesday, March 6th. Unfortunately, we weren’t on teams (remember, we thought we’d be long gone before the tourney) but Sabrina got on a team due to dropout due to illness. She had supported my racing and softball, so I dutifully watched the games and cheered on her team while heckling our friends. Sabrina’s team finished with a “perfect” record, but didn’t place in the top three…. at least they had a good time on the courts in the beautiful weather that day.

Throughout the hectic schedule of the regatta events we still found time to go hear live music, attend bonfires, hang out at dinghy raft-ups, eat dinner with old friends, and hang out with new friends. Though as the days wore on the talks shifted from, “What’s going on tomorrow?” to “When do you think the weather is going to change?” Most everyone we were hanging out with was trying to head north, and all of us were stuck in Georgetown longer than we planned.

At least we can say we made the best of a bad situation, I can’t think of a better place to wait for weather than Georgetown during the Cruising Regatta.

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Heading Home

We’ve been working hard to get everything ready to leave for Maryland. We took on diesel, gas, and water, we picked up our fresh groceries, and stowed everything for passage. The weather has been against us for about the last week, (and today doesn’t look to great) but there’s a small window that we’re trying to catch to move north in the Bahamas. Hopefully better weather is coming and we’ll be able to make bigger jumps soon.

I haven’t had a chance yet to write about the fun of Cruiser’s Regatta – from a softball game under the lights, to the 4-on-4 volleyball tournament, to two separate sailboat races – but I’ll get the photos together and post them the next time we find good wifi. (And yes, we’ve been busy filling our time while we waited for weather.)

Last night we said our goodbyes to our friends, some we’ll see again soon as our paths cross on the way north and some we hope to see this summer when they pass through the Chesapeake. Others are heading south, and we wished them well on their journeys.

We’ve had a great time in Georgetown this winter, but now it’s time to head home. Follow along on the Spot!

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