John and Joan offered us amazing hospitality over the last week and we have really enjoyed spending the week in Rowayton. We borrowed Joan’s car to do a couple of provisioning runs including topping off our propane tanks for the stove and BBQ. Driving a car after 3 months was weird! Since we were moored on the bow and stern buoys, we had a short dingy ride every day to get into town up the Five Mile River past quintessential east coast architecture houses. The weather this week was fabulous (finally!!) and I even spent the better part of Friday afternoon working from the back deck and waving at the boaters passing by.
Open-air outdoor dining had just been allowed in Connecticut, so we took the opportunity to eat at a restaurant just down the street from John and Joan – our first dining out experience in several months! This restaurant had a cute patio where half the tables had been roped off to account for social distancing, and we wore masks whenever the servers came to our table and removed them only for eating.
Since some packages that we were expecting were delayed and we knew we would be extending our stay into the following week, we decided to go for a weekend overnight to Oyster Bay, just across the Long Island Sound and invited John aboard to see if we could convince him to come to the dark side (power boating) :). We had a fantastic short trip and the weather continued to hold, so David even brought out the inflatable toys and drank a margarita off the back of the boat.
Our final package arrived and we determined that Monday would be our last night in Rowayton. We have spent the last two nights with David’s family watching the developing news of the protests sweeping across the country. David and I are very aware of the privileges of our lives, and not just that we are in a position to be on this adventure this year (regardless of how it has been affected by the global pandemic). We are horrified by what has happened and is happening in our country and we stand in solidarity with those who believe in equal rights and justice for all.
Our 5 day stay in Delaware City waiting out tropical storm Arthur was uneventful, which is all one can hope of a week with a predicted storm. We pulled out Gloomhaven (board game) again, and otherwise spent the time working, relaxing and doing laundry. David also decided to install the fixed monitor stand on the desk so that in rough water we would not need to stow his monitor as we had been doing. This was the longest time we had stayed in one place since arriving on the boat back in February.
We also needed to do a lot of planning as our next legs of the trip would take us into our first open water on the east coast, and our first passage on the ocean in Highwind. The ideal plan for us would be to head from Delaware City down the Delaware River and around to Cape May for the night. This trip needed to be timed with the tides to ride favorable currents. Ideally the next leg of the trip would be 120 nautical miles from Cape May all the way up to Sandy Hook. This would have us ‘skip’ the entire New Jersey shore and avoid any passage up the New Jersey Intercoastal Waterway, which is controlled only to 4ft from Cape May to Atlantic City and then only 6ft to Sandy Hook. Even though this is protected water, we draw 4ft, so that first stint is a non-starter for us, and after our trip up the Dismal Swamp, we aren’t eager to spend much time in 6ft either. Since both of these legs were going to be over 4 hour cruises we knew that we needed to wait for a weekend. Since they are both in open water, we knew we did not want to be doing them in any kind of appreciable wind.
While Arthur was drawing to a close, we were keeping a close eye on the weather reports from Delaware City, looking for our chance. We started noticing a bit of a gap in the weather up the southern NJ coast centered around early Saturday, but then increasing winds for the rest of the 10 day forecast making the coast trip a nonstarter. As it got closer, the weather forecast firmed up with Saturday morning having nearly zero wind, not awful ocean swells from the SE, and Friday was at least passable to get down to Cape May. David had Friday off work, which helped, so we locked in the tentative plan, with lots of escape hatches if we ran into surprising conditions. Whatever ended up happening, if we didn’t make it all the way to Sandy Hook by Saturday afternoon, we’d be stuck in place for another 7+ days.
Friday morning, we cast off from Delaware City near the middle of the day (timed according to the tides) and began the journey to Cape May. The weather wasn’t great (with some intermittent rain), but the good news was that the wind was minimal. However, we spent pretty much the entire trip (5ish hours) going into head-on rapid chop, some of the worst waters we’ve been on to-date, the waves regularly splashing all the way up to our flybridge windows. At one point the nose dipped so violently that our anchor chain break popped free, so I had to don a lifejacket and head out onto the bow to fix it, while being sprayed in the face with salt water repeatedly. Once we got into the Cape May canal, the water was calm and we pulled in to our marina with no problems.
That evening we checked the weather reports again, and everything was still pointing to the next day being our only viable option for the journey north, with winds predicted 0-5kts and predicted 1-1.3m waves from the SE for most of the day. We planned to wake up at dawn, 5:30 in the morning (oh-dark-thirty, as my parents say), and immediately head out into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since we started on this trip.
At 5:30, it was pouring with rain, but there was little wind, so we cast off and headed out of Cape May. The water was as predicted – large rollers evenly spaced coming at us from the beam. So while the day before had been a lot of up and down from the head-on waves, this trip was a lot of side-to-side rolling. For the first couple of hours of the day, it absolutely poured with rain and there was thunder and lightening in the distance. We were nervous enough about things that we grabbed the dingy key, portable radio, and the flares to keep nearby in case we got rolled over and somehow got the dinghy loose!
In order to make it all the way in one trip, we knew that we would need to plane for some of the trip, but for the morning, we needed to stay at displacement speeds, as planing with the beam waves was dangerously rocky. Our bug-out plan in case we did not feel we should go further was to duck in at Atlantic City. We could then take the rest of the trip up the NJICW (going on a rising tide for the deepest possible water) up to Manasquan, and then figure out a time to do the last 25 miles in open water later in the week (hopefully). However, eventually the rain stopped, and the conditions, while real crappy, were not dangerously bad. After 5 hours of that, we passed by Atlantic City and turned to port by about 10 degrees, so the seas were not straight on the beam, and the conditions greatly improved. We shortly thereafter were able to keep the boat safely up on plane without having to manually steer, and our ETA dramatically dropped.
After a couple hours of planing, we knew that, even if the waves turned worse and we had to stop planing, we would be able to make it to Sandy Hook with an hour or two of sunlight to spare. We actually ended up managed to stay planing all the way up. As we got further north and slowly turned further and further to port, the waves kept going more and more aft, making it safer and comfier as the day went on. We ended up getting into Sandy Hook early enough in the evening to fill up on diesel before settling in for the night on anchor.
The next morning, we would be heading north from Sandy Hook, up the East River past Manhatten and into the Long Island Sound where we would tie up in Rowayton, Connecticut to spend some time with David’s aunt and uncle. Our original Loop plan had us spending several days in New York City, but obviously now is not the time to be a tourist in NYC, so we are cruising on by and hoping that on the way south things might be open enough that it makes sense to stop.
It was a surreal and amazing experience to be driving our boat past such a recognizable skyline. We had no trouble navigating the New York City harbour, which in more normal times must have 5x the number of boats that we saw. We pulled in close to the Statue of Liberty and took a couple of selfies from the bow. Since the skies were pretty grey and it was quite windy, we decided not to drop the dingy to get the “money shot” of Highwind with the Statue in the background (we’ll give it another shot on the way south). We then headed under the Brooklyn Bridge and through Hell’s Gate (a section of water near the entrance to Long Island Sound that is best navigated at slack tide).
About half way up our passage on the Long Island Sound, the clouds finally burned off and we were greeted in Connecticut by amazing blue skies and a warm welcome from John, Joan and Brian (David’s cousin). John had secured a mooring spot for us at the mouth of the river where they live and luckily John and Brian had come out in their dingy to help us get moored since this was a “bow and stern buoy” type mooring. This is where you have to hook up both your bow and stern to two mooring buoys that are connected by a line. What I didn’t realize is that you do not use your own lines (like we do for traditional mooring buoys), but instead there is a “pennant” line that is already connected to the buoy that you are supposed to pick up and tie to your boat; all while making sure that you do not drive over the line connecting the buoys, so that it doesn’t get caught in your propellers. Unfortunately, there was a decently strong current pushing us right into/over the line! After a bit of a struggle, we finally got tied up and were able to drop the dingy and head further up the river where John had secured us a spot to tie our dingy for the night, just across the street from their house.
We had socially distant “streettails” with some of their neighbors and a delicious home cooked (that I didn’t have to cook!!) meal. Also, I didn’t have to do the dishes!! For Memorial Day, we had streettails again, this time with David’s other uncle and aunt and cousin – Paul, Nancy and Mike, plus a phone cameo with David’s cousin Jen.
We are planning to stay here probably for the next week and properly re-provision the boat for heading north up to Maine. Also to come up with a plan, since John and Joan are coastal experts up here, and we know essentially nothing about these waters, since they’re not part of the Great Loop.
We had planned an itinerary of a couple of places up the Patuxent (“Pax”) River for the next few days, so after a night at the mouth, we pulled anchor and headed north towards Battle Creek, a spot recommended to us by David’s uncle John and aunt Joan, who have done extensive boating on the east coast. This was a lovely spot and felt actually a bit like we had set up anchor in Meydenbauer Bay, where we used to live in Bellevue, since we were surrounded by houses and people’s back yards. We were wondering what people thought of us basically dropping anchor in their back yard.
We had only planned to stay there one night, and to move a little south the next night to St Leonard’s Creek, but we drove by the spot on our way to Battle Creek, and it seemed pretty similar to this one, so we were skeptical it was worth the hassle of moving. After working from Battle Creek, we put the dinghy down to head over to go scope out St Leonard’s creek, a ~20 minute dinghy ride down the Pax, and see if it was worth going after all (and to put some time on the dinghy, since the battery had been getting low and I’d done an oil change recently).
We pulled out of Battle Creek into the main Pax, but the weather switched quickly from overcast-but-fine to windy-and-fairly-heavy-rain over the course of a few minutes, so we aborted the run, turned around, and headed back to the boat. When we got back, we changed clothes and settled in for the night. With the weather being not-great both nights, we ended up not actually taking any pictures while here. Oops.
Our plan after this was to head back to the head of the Pax to a marina on Solomon’s Island to spend the night. David’s aunt Jan and uncle Jim live not too far away, so we planned to meet them at the marina for lunch. Unfortunately, I had a string of back to back meetings that afternoon and was not able to join them…and David didn’t take any photos!! I did a late load of laundry since it would be our last shot for a while, but we also neglected to take any pictures here, with the sub-mediocre weather. We’re terrible bloggers.
The next day, there were pretty heavy winds forecast for the evening/overnight, so we headed north to Herrington Harbour South Marina, where we’d planned to hide out from the wind storm. We filled up on diesel, pumped out, and set up on an awkward side dock for the night.
The next morning, about 30 mins after I woke up, I heard a horn outside of the boat and went out to investigate. A Norfolk Fire Department boat was coming over to see if everything was alright. Perhaps not too many people anchor in that spot? It was also pretty windy – so maybe they thought we were in trouble? Despite the wind, we seemed to have a good hold and our new batteries were not expected at our next marina for another day, so we decided to hang out for an extra day in this spot.
Next up, we cruised to Yorktown and tied up at Dare Marina. This was the only marina that was open to transients in Yorktown, and was more of a boating service marina than a standard marina (i.e. no laundry facilities!). We received the shipment of our 8 new batteries, and David spent the next two days installing them.
We knew there was an incoming wind storm on Thursday, but it was supposed to die down by the afternoon, so our plan was to head out to our next destination (a marina with laundry!) after work. The afternoon was so windy and it was still raining around 3pm, so we decided to extend our stay for one more night. As it turns out, everything did die down, and by about 4:30 it was extremely calm!
The next morning, we headed up to Deltaville, a stop that we basically made for the sole purpose of doing laundry, which we hadn’t had access to in several weeks at this point. We had an uneventful stay in the marina — so uneventful we apparently took no pictures of anything. Freshly laundered, we headed out again the next morning.
Next up, we decided to head to the east side of the Chesapeake for the weekend. Our crossing was a little choppy and required dodging literally thousands of crab pots. We knew that more wind was coming over night, so we chose a spot just south of Tangier Island, which we hoped would afford some protection. As it turns out, there are not that many anchorage spots around this cluster of islands, without going several miles up side rivers (which delays our ultimate progress north), so we picked the theoretical best of the available options. After much hemming and hawing about the situation, we decided to call it good here for the night and investigated our activity options.
Tangier Island is a bit of a sad story. In the 1770s it started as a farming community, and later shifted to oyster/crab fishing as the primary resource. It started out not much above sea level, and global warming has already reduced the available land mass by 67%. In another 50 years, it will essentially be entirely under water and will need to be abandoned. Ironically, the isolated community is heavily bible-thumping and climate-denying, but still laden with interesting history.
The island’s facebook page has asked visitors to stay away from the town due to lack of medical care available for Coronavirus, so we decided to not even pick up takeout from one of the local restaurants. Instead, we just put the dingy down to head over to the isolated white sandy beach south of town – our first real beach of the trip!!
When taking the dingy to land, we use a bungee anchor system, where you boat close to shore, and toss an anchor off the back of the boat. This anchor is on a stretchy cord, so it allows you to continue to motor your way all the way into shore to hop off the bow of the boat (or at lease use inertia). We then have another long line tied to the bow. Once off the boat, you let the bungee cord retract so that the dingy is afloat (saves the bottom of the boat because you are not constantly beaching it in the waves for hours) and tie the bow line to something on shore so you can retrieve it. When you want to return to the dingy, you pull in on the bow line, stretching the bungee chain, hop on the boat, let the bungee retract again, pull anchor and you are off.
Now, I am explaining this because we knew we wouldn’t be on the beach for too long (Tangier Island was discouraging visitors to the town, though nothing was officially closed), the beach wasn’t huge, and the tide range is small, so rather than tying off the bow line to something solid, we dug an oar into the sand and wrapped the bow line around it a couple of times. We then went for a walk along the beach.
It was a nice day, so we decided to walk the entire beach, which took a while longer than anticipated. On the far south end of the beach, we looked back up and noticed a small white dinghy no longer on the beach, so we started working our way back. As the tide continued to rise, the dinghy had un-beached itself, and the oar had come free and taken the bowline with it, so now our dingy was happily anchored 50 feet off the shore in 3 feet of water. I had to swim out to the dingy to grab the line and bring the boat back to shore! Ooops. I guess we won’t be so lazy next time!
We returned to the boat and hunkered down for the evening, prepping for the overnight wind storm. It turned out to be a doozy – 25kt winds and constant rocking all night. It was probably the worst night of waves we’ve had on the boat before. Neither of us slept well in the irregular and heavy rocking, though the anchor held strong.
Our plan the next day was to head a ways north to the Honga River, and anchor in one more spot on the east side of the Chesapeake before heading back to the west side. As we approached the new anchorage, I did a quick check for the winds overnight and the following morning for the crossing. PredictWind (a wind app we use) was predicting headwinds up to 10mph in the morning, which is likely to add up to a bunch of chop crossing a body of water as wide as the Chesapeake. Right then, there was zero wind and we still had a few more hours of daylight, so we made a game-time decision to turn around and head across the Chesapeake. The crossing was glassy and the setting sun through the clouds made the best of a 1.5hr extension of what had already been a decent length cruise that day.
We are now safely anchored near the mouth of the Patuxent River sitting in about 10mph winds that picked up after nightfall, so I guess we made the right decision! We are pretty well protected, so we are not being tossed around too much.
We departed Belhaven with a plan to spend the next few nights on anchor. With my new job, we knew we wanted to do only short hops and our only schedule constraint was to arrive in Norfolk on Sunday to receive a shipment of new house batteries for installation. The route would take us up the Alligator River to Elizabeth City and then through the Great Dismal Swamp. After the windy night talked about in the last post calmed down, the rest of the evening was uneventful. We knew that we were in for a couple of days of sporadic high winds, so we decided to head north after one night to the northern part of the river and found a moderately sheltered anchorage near the mouth of the Little Alligator River.
With being in no rush to get to Elizabeth City, and not many options for further shelter from the wind, we decided to stay for several nights in this spot. Since at both anchorages we were the only boat in sight, we run the generator periodically throughout the day to top off the batteries (most of the power draw going to David’s laptops/desktop and enormous monitor :)). On Friday night, the generator suddenly cut out after being on for only 15 minutes. An attempt to re-start indicated a low water flow error. David started his investigation with the sea-strainers, which filter out weeds and other detritus from the seawater pulled in to cool the system. This is something we should probably check regularly, but actually hadn’t. After cleaning out the muck and trying to start it again, but with no luck, David pulled open the generator and discovered the impeller (a regular wear item) was completely worn down. You can see in the pics below, it’s a round “cog” that is supposed to have lots of arms – ours had only 1.5! We got that replaced with the spare and everything worked again!
Our travails that night were still not over! Later that evening, while sitting around the salon, suddenly both anchor alarms went off at the same time. After holding fast in one point for the previous 2 days, an hour prior to this, the wind had picked up and pushed us 180 degrees around our anchor (pretty standard), and we’d stopped moving for an hour or so. That was fine, but then all of a sudden the anchor must have gotten pulled up and we rapidly moved another 120 feet or so toward the shallows (we only started in 7 ft of water, so …) We only had another 200 ft or so to go before we were in bad shape, so we were just about to turn the boat back on to take manual control of our direction when we stopped in place again — the anchor found a new hold. We decided that we’d rather have more room for error through another night of heavy wind and decided we needed to pull up and re-set.
Armed with microphone and headlamp, I went out the the front of the boat and started pulling up the anchor. We were being tossed about from side to side, so it took quite a while to keep re-adjusting the boat’s nose so that the anchor pulled from straight ahead instead of raking out to the side of the bow sprit. Once we finally lifted the anchor, the boat promptly shot off towards the shallows. With some strong revving of the engines and some excellent boat maneuvering, we repositioned and dropped the anchor again close to our original spot. We reset the bridle and hunkered down for another rolling night – at this point our 3rd in a row, and stayed fast in that spot for the rest of the night.
For the next leg of the Great Loop, there are two options – an inland waterway through the Great Dismal Swamp, or around the outside through Coinjock and then the Chesapeake Canal. Both routes join together on the south end of Norfolk, VA. The swamp canal is maintained to 6 ft depth by the Army Corps of Engineers and according to our pre-reading was a very pretty route. After calling to confirm it was open and being told that it was sitting just above 6ft for depths at the moment, we decided on taking this route.
On Saturday we pulled up anchor again and headed to a spot north of Elizabeth City, basically as close to the entrance to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal as we could get. The locks at each end only open at 8:30AM, 11AM, 1:30PM, and 3:30PM, so you have to time how you wanna do things. It’s 19nm from lock to lock, with a speed limit of 6kts, so your best case scenario is a hair over 3 hours. With the whole thing being 6ft-ish deep, there was a pretty significant risk of at least minor propeller damage, so we decided to give ourselves lots of room for possible disaster and just make the 8:30AM south opening. That plan gives us plenty of buffer to get to the 1:30PM exit and make our way out through Norfolk.
We woke up early (6:30) the next day as we had to pull anchor and move the 10 miles to the entrance lock. We made it with plenty of time to spare, and found a fishing trawler had anchored the night there, with his anchor limply hanging from the front near the middle of the channel, and his butt firmly resting in the weeds to port. As we arrived, they figured it was time to wake up and started pulling anchor. For 30 minutes or so, we sat in was what was fortunately completely still and wind-less 6ft deep water waiting for the lock to open, with paint-mixing sticks poking out of the water not very many feet to the left and right of us, spray painted faded green and red, letting us know the extent of the “channel”. At the appointed hour, the lock opened and we entered the canal without incident.
As we were in the lock, the operator told us that they had been getting reports of boats hitting submerged obstacles along the first few miles of the canal. Great…but we’re committed now! The route was speed controlled, straight, pretty but boring, and hovered around 6.2 ft deep the entire way. We lightly touched something on the bottom about every mile or so (*thunk*), immediately threw the shifters into neutral to make the props stop spinning before the solid object made it to the back of the boat, waited several seconds for inertia to take us past whatever it was we hit, and then put things back in forward and continued. Despite all the clunks, we somehow managed to not pick up any vibration indicating propeller damage.
The north lock waiting wall happened to be right next to a decent shopping center, so we made tied up and ran off for a big grocery run while we waited for the 1:30PM opening, restocking the pantry for more time on anchor. The highlight of the day was the north lock operator, who shared historical details about the canal, and treated us with a conch-shell concert while the water level slowly dropped.
We finally exited the swamp and proceeded through Norfolk, which was a surprisingly endless collection of enormous dockyards and drydocks working on building/refurbishing gigantic ships, container ships being loaded and unloaded, and endless navy ships, for miles and miles. After 11 hours of cruising, we finally exited the Norfolk channel, popped across the bay, and put down our anchor on a huge area of 10ft deep flats just outside of Hampton. We opened some drinks and vegged out, pretty exhausted. We were super excited about starting a week of work after this weekend.
Ultimately, we decided that we’d do the outside route, if we were going to do this again. The Dismal Swamp was pretty, and neat, and locks are fun, but spending 3 hours with no music playing so you can listen for thunks, and endlessly worrying if you’re about to destroy your running gear, isn’t quite worth it. If they’d put another foot or two of water in there, it’d be a lot more exciting of a proposition to redo.
We left Tina’s pocket and continued northward towards Wrightsville, which was to be our last anchorage before heading to Topsail Island, Surf City for re-provisioning. This turned out to be a pretty busy anchorage. We were warned by ActiveCaptain that “the locals don’t understand “no wake” zones”, which turned out to be true, so in addition to a pretty windy night, we had a relatively tippy evening until sunset.
Possibly due to a combination of both, our anchor bridle snapped after the sun had gone down before we were heading to bed. This is a device/rig that clips onto the anchor chain and has two lines that we tie to the two front cleats on the boat. This takes the burden of the load on the anchor and spreads it to the cleats, rather than the chain pulling directly on our anchor winch. When the rope snapped, the device sank to the bottom of the bay. With no other backup device, we ended up threading the remaining section of the line through a link in the chain and calling it good for the night. The next day, I called ahead to our next couple planned marina stops and found one where with a marine store that is actually open and will deliver a shiny new bridle system right to the marina for us. Unfortunately, we won’t be getting there until Friday (4/17), so we’ll have to make do until then.
Our next planned stop was Topsail Island Marina in Surf City. We had planned this in advance for a couple weeks and had several packages sent there for various boat projects. You know, just a few packages…
Since we knew that a windstorm was coming, we decided to lengthen our stay so that we’d be tied up in a marina when it hit. Surf City was actually a pretty cool town, which would have been fun to visit had anything been open. We did manage to get some awesome tacos, just before even that closed due to it being Easter weekend also.
We spent the weekend working on various projects, including fixing a coolant leak on the Port engine, changing the oil (4 gallons per engine!) and both oil and fuel filters for both engines (an all-day activity), and updating some of the relays for connecting our various battery banks to 21st-century technology.
The storm hit on Sunday and it was crazy. A couple of hours of heavy rain in the morning and high winds throughout the rest of the day. With the winds that high combined with that much water, our complex-shaped bimini canvas has a large number of leak points, so we had a full contingent of buckets, pots and pans to catch the drips, but still ended up with a very wet carpet.
We didn’t really do much exploring in town. The beaches were completely closed to the public (even the carparks, so you couldn’t even walk up to the edge). In fact, our first and only view of the beach was actually by drone at Sunset on Monday night :).
With the weather looking like it was getting better, we set sail on Monday, planning for another couple of days on the hook before our next spot. The next anchorage, Mile Hammock Bay, was described as a favorite spot for Loopers, so we were eager to check it out. When we arrived, we were the only boat there, but it turned out to be neither pretty nor remarkable in any way. It was next to an army base and we did see some folks doing donuts in the parking lot/pier on shore… Also, when we read the Navionics entry about it, it mentioned, “4 stars: don’t be surprised if you drag anchor in here.”
As the afternoon wore on, a bunch more boats arrived — there were 8 of us by the evening! The wind also picked up and we were being jerked from side to side. This proved too much for our temporary rope-through-the-chain bridle solution, which snapped a couple of hours after we’d set the anchor. David managed to use his climbing rope skills to create an equalized across 4 chain links bridle through which we threaded our dock lines to the cleats. The side to side from the inconsistent wind had also been making us slowly drag across the bay, but everyone else seemed to be dragging at about the same rate, so it all evened out, and no one hit each other, despite several anchor alarms going off throughout the night making us get up and check where everyone was.
When we woke up in the morning, the bridle was still holding. We had originally planned several anchor spots this week on the way to Oriental, hoping that the temporary bridle solution would hold up for a couple of days. Alas! We decided we would change plans, skip an interim anchoring stop, and head straight to Morehead City the next day, where there was an open marine store with some spare parts we could buy.
As we left the bay, our plan was to anchor outside of Morehead City, re-rig the temporary rope and line bridle and hop in the dingy to the marine store. However, about 10 mins into the morning cruise, the wind picked up to well beyond what the original forecast had been for the day and the sky opened up and rained like crazy again, so we decided to call a marina.
We had a pretty nerve racking journey, which included a failed attempt to rescue a large fishing vessel whose engines had cut out and was drifting into the shallows. In the course of this, our bow also ran softly aground, and the wind was pushing us both quickly into a shoaling area. The depth meter was reading 4 ft or less during most of this attempted rescue. Due to the wind and the fact that their boat was much larger and heavier than ours, we weren’t really able to budge it in the wind at the awkward angle we had to be at to not run hard aground, and we unfortunately determined that we would be unable to help them. We were about to cause significant damage to our own boat in the process of the rescue, so we wished them good luck, quickly loosed the lines and cast off, frantically reversing our way back to the channel, a mere 50 feet away.
When we arrived at Morehead City, just as we were making the 180 to dock in our spot, a huge gust of wind threw us right alongside their gas dock. This was conveniently located directly behind our intended mooring spot, so we were able to walk the boat into the right place and tie off. But the wind that then picked up had us firmly on the dock, unable to make any maneuver to leave without rigging up some awkward lines. Yikes! All’s well that ends well.
We stopped by the marine shop, picked up a few makeshift anchor bridle parts for emergencies, fired up the heater (it was down to 45 degrees today), and worked the rest of our day from our warm boat cabin. So, we’re safely tied up here, and keeping an eye on the weather to continue northwards to our next planned stop, where the new anchor bridle awaits!
We’ve been working our way up South Carolina and are now in North Carolina, so that is state number 4 of the trip! Since we left Charleston, we decided to primarily anchor out, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last few days.
After leaving Charleston, we spent a couple of days cruising up the Waccamaw River – a beautiful river where we cruised through endless trees and didn’t see much in the way of civilization outside of a couple of marinas. We stayed in two different anchorages on the river – Awendaw Creek and Butler Island. Both of these anchorages we were completely alone. Sadly on our last night on the Waccamaw, we spoke with David’s aunt and uncle who have spent many years cruising the ICW and recommended a couple of side-creeks to visit that we had already passed! Ah well – we can always loop again 🙂
The next section of the ICW was a very narrow channel with almost no anchorages for about 60 miles. We ended up doing this in one day, which was a long and very nerve racking day. Turns out that we were cruising primarily at a -2 low tide, where the water is dredged in most places only to 10ft. This means that we spent the day in about 8ft of depth in a channel wide enough basically for 2 boats. There was one particularly scary section that I had to navigate where we were literally 10ft away from a 40ft long sandbar off the starboard side, with the channel marker about 10ft off the port side, and the depth alarm sounding at 4 ft depth. Oh my the adrenaline!!! I was too stressed out, and driving alone while David was downstairs conducting an interview, to take any pictures. Later on, we passed one of the channel markers literally sitting dried up on the sand, with the other marker barely two boat-lengths away from it! I did get a snap of that below, but you might need to zoom in to see the red marker on the sand and the green marker not that far away from it! We passed by plenty of houses in this stretch, many of which had loooooong piers down to the water with small floating docks – most of which were not even floating, just lying on the sand!! I tried to get a shot of these, but we were in 8ft of water at the time, so I was mostly focused on not running aground. It’s going to take me a while to recover from that day.
We arrived safely to our destination, which was an anchorage called Tina’s Pocket. This was described as a good protected anchorage – HA. It ended up being an extremely open area (with no other boats, so that’s good) and we had to drop the hook in a 3kt current. Thank goodness for our Rocna, which has not failed yet to get a good hold. We had a pretty late arrival and therefore a rather unceremonious entrance into North Carolina.
Alternate titles for this post could have included: “the week of mediocre sunset pictures” or “now we really don’t do much in towns”.
Savannah marked our last stop in Georgia and next week we will be cruising into North Carolina. After leaving Savannah, we spent a night on the anchor at Last End Point. This was a great wide open spot that we shared with only one sail boat. We missed the sunset via drone, but I snapped this while cooking our dinner on the BBQ.
It was a pretty uneventful night, but would be our last night on the hook with this particular anchor, which has served us well for 3 years primarily in the Pac NW, but as I mentioned in an earlier post had been giving us some trouble in the sandy ground in Florida and Georgia. After doing some research and chatting with my Dad, we decided to upgrade to a Rocna anchor, which has a big roll hoop that helps it to remain the correct way up when it moves around on the sea floor, and we also got a heavier one since our original anchor turned out to be generally below the recommended size for our boat.
We had the anchor delivered to Beaufort, SC. As we were pulling in to the marina, I found a bakery just down the street and decided to order some curbside pickup for lunch, planning to grab some pastries and other goodies when I arrived. After we tied up and I put on a load of laundry, I headed through the deserted downtown street towards the bakery…only to discover that apparently it had recently moved locations!! After placing a call to the bakery to say that I was standing outside their old and empty location, I would not be able to pick up our order due to being on foot! The person on the phone said that they did delivery (yay!) and offered to drive our order to the marina. I added some cookies, pastries and a loaf of bread to the order and headed back to the boat. As it turns out, the guy who had picked up the phone was the owner of the bakery and he personally delivered our order and refused to accept a delivery fee or a tip. Loving the Southern hospitality! If you ever happen to be in Beaufort, SC, I highly recommend the Beaufort Bakery! The food was yummy, but I don’t have any pictures of that, but I did bake a carrot cake that afternoon :).
The new anchor had arrived safely to Beaufort, so we got that swapped out.
After leaving Beaufort, we immidiately tested out the new anchor at a spot called White Point Landing, which was basically a nice deep area right off the ICW, a half-way point between Beaufort and Charleston. We spent the day working on the boat, and I did some reading in the evening. Once again we missed the sunset by drone, but I took a quick snap with my phone.
Our next stop was Charleston, a town I had really been looking forward to pre-coronavirus. As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, and we are more nervous about getting off the boat when in towns, we are finding that it is really not worth it to us to be paying for marina stays when we do not do a whole lot. Therefore, we have now decided to spend as much time as possible on anchor for the next couple of weeks, stopping at a marina every now and then to top up with water and pick up supplies etc. So as I plan our weeks now, I am looking for interesting and highly rated anchorages over towns to visit. We mostly only have close personal contact with the dozens of gulls that constantly follow in our air wake everywhere we go.
In Charleston, we only got off the boat for a quick trip to Publix (Instacart failed us here by continuing to push out our order by a day for the whole weekend). Since I knew we will likely not be at a marina for a week, I decided to get a bit of pole practice in, building the pole on the dock right behind Highwind! We also forgot to drone video the sunset again!!! (Never fear, I have now set an alarm on my phone for sunset time!!!). We did have two great delivery meals, including another amazing Seafood feast with the best crab we’ve had on the trip so far! Thank goodness I didn’t throw away the crab crackers and crab-forky-things that came with the boat, thinking ‘we don’t fish/crab/shrimp, so we’ll never need those on the boat – any crab we eat will be at a restaurant’!
While doing engine checks in Charleston, David first noticed some dripping coolant on the white absorbent rags we keep under the motors. Some more investigation revealed the beginning of a leak from the water pump (coolant pump, not raw water pump.) This somewhat forced our hand on making sure to have a marina to get to, so we planned out the next week to get to a marina next Friday, and started ordering things. Hopefully the marina will still be open when we arrive… While ordering parts, David decided that it’s also time to change out some ancient relays in the cupboard-of-Meridian-factory-shame, so we have some projects for next weekend, it appears.
After fueling up at Brunswick (we are basically taking every opportunity, when the price is right, to fill up), we headed out towards Teakettle Creek to anchor for the night. Another Looper boat pulled in after us and anchored a little further down the creek. Around happy hour time, we loaded up into the dingy with some wine in sippy cups and the drone and headed over to meet them. We had a lovely chat while yelling from our dingy as they stood on their back deck – respectably more than 6 ft apart :). They were a very nice couple from Finland who had shipped their boat to Jacksonville and headed south for a couple of months and were now heading northwards hoping to complete the rest of the loop. After saying goodbye we drove a little further up the creek and David launched the drone. It turned out to be windier than expected up above sea level and we had a very exciting and extremely well executed grab-from-the-air landing before heading back to Highwind for the night.
The next morning, we pulled anchor and headed to Sunbury Seafood Co., a small restaurant that had its own marina. This was 8nm off the ICW, but was a recommended spot in our guide book, and they had assured us they were now offering take out, so we decided to give it a go. It turned out to be a great plan as we had an amazing feast of grilled fish, fresh crab, and a load of Southern sides. Southern hospitality is definitely a thing, since we’ve met nothing but lovely folks in our limited interactions thus far in Georgia (mostly marina and restaurant staff).
After Sunbury we headed toward Savannah. I had decided to make reservations at the Isle of Hope marina, which is about 8 miles south of downtown Savannah, since we knew that we wouldn’t really be able to do much in the town anyway, and the guidebook recommended the marina. As David described on Facebook, this was our first experience of a no-touch marina landing. Essentially, they caught our lines, then placed a welcome packet and sterilized key card on our boat, then instructed us to call the marina office where we could pay by card over the phone. I wonder how many more marinas will start implementing this, and/or keep this practice once things start to return to normal…
We stayed mostly to ourselves again that night; I’ve even stopped looking for other Great Loop flags on boats in marinas where we stay as we can’t really do that much socializing safely these days. We’d had some packages shipped to ourselves, which included a new water pump and new cell extender paddles for our cell antenna.
The water pump that David had previously installed unfortunately never worked correctly, and when on anchor we needed to turn off the pump every time we finished running the water since it wouldn’t stop on its own. It turns out that Jabsco revised the design a few years ago and it’s a known problem that they’re working on redoing. Luckily, despite it being a spare that we’d had sitting in our storage for a couple years, it was still within warranty and Jabsco provided some excellent customer service to help get us a new fixed-pressure pump and accumulator solution that works for our boat/situation.
David has been looking at upgrading our cell antenna paddles for a couple of months, and after continued connection issues, decided to go ahead and order. The folks at WireEng allowed us just to pay the difference for these paddles over our existing setup, so it was a pretty good deal.
The next day we pulled the bikes off the boat and went for a bike ride to Savannah. It was a lovely ride, though extremely hot, but when we reached the central park in the city, it was full of people, which made us a little nervous, so we headed back to the boat, via a liquor store to top up on some essentials. There were lots of cute places that we passed along the way, so someday we’ll have to come back to Savannah and visit for real! It is interesting how quickly the present situation has made us leery of being anywhere in proximity to people.
Savannah will be our last stop in Georgia as tomorrow we cross the border into South Carolina. I’ll sign off this post with a *wave* from afar to Atlanta where some of my former colleagues live since we decided to cancel our plans to meet up while we were passing through.
Our Great Loop guidebook gave us three options for our first stop in Georgia, all pretty close to one another – 2 summer-beach-resort islands and an inland town. After getting some advice from a former colleague of mine who hails from Georgia and currently lives in Atlanta, we decided to spend one night on Jekyll Island and possibly have the opportunity to visit the beach and the next night in Brunswick, the inland town, where we’d be able to do another round of provisioning.
Unfortunately, the day before we arrived on Jekyll Island, the county governor had mandated that all the beaches be closed – so we decided to do a bike ride up the island along the coast, but we were not actually able to set foot on the beach. So sad!
One of the island restaurants had converted their menu to 100% take-out so we stopped there to pick up some food on the way home. The empty box on the back of David’s bike in the photo above was for carrying our takeout! Despite still being very warm out, the skies darkened and we even worried about being rained on as we returned to the boat, which we were completely unprepared for. However, we were lucky and it remained dry.
The next day, we headed out toward Brunswick. This was a pretty short ride. At the north tip of Jekyll Island, we had been prepared for an unusual sight…a container ship wreck. It has apparently been there for several months while they try to figure out how to remove it. They are working on building a containment net to then cut it into pieces and cart it out, bit by bit.
The Brunswick marina was really nice (free unlimited laundry and PBR on tab in a clubhouse, of which we did not partake) and the town seemed really cute. Unfortunately, basically everything other than the grocery and liquor stores are closed, and we are pretty much trying to stay to ourselves at this point, so we contented ourselves with evening strolls, some pole practice in the afternoon, I enjoyed a very bug-filled freestyle dance at sunset, and a couple of quiet evenings to ourselves on the boat with video games, guitar, Netflix, and wine.
The lovely weather and complete lack of anything of any altitude keeps giving us great opportunities for lovely sunsets, though.
People keep asking us if we should abandon the trip in the wake of the pandemic. While it’s disappointing that we can only walk around most of the spots we’re seeing instead of partaking in any of the culture, we still feel that it’s better than the alternative of staying cooped up in our condo in Kirkland. So, until we start getting locked out of places to stay, we’ll keep progressing north and hope that, someday, things are safe to open again.