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"Gone Cruising" with Bill & Shirley Martin, and their dog Saylor

The Sailing Blog of At Ease

11/30/03

AT EASE sits in her slip, mostly in the mud, in Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor, within a five minute walk of a beautiful white sand beach looking out over Mississippi Sound to the South.  There apparently has never been much water in this harbor and it has silted sadly.  Dredging is planned, within the next week actually, and is needed to free the deeper draft, boat hostages held in place while tides fall and where escape is possible only on the higher tides.  Weather conspires as well.  Winter fronts bring northern winds that drive what water there is out of the harbor, capturing in the mud even the moderate and shoal draft vessels for another day.  

Life has been busy. We eagerly grab every opportunity to be with our friends… friends who seem to turn each evening, each meal into an exciting adventure and impromptu party. Our days have been busy as well. Shirley and I have dedicated time and energy into getting my military retirement sorted out and medical benefits started.  The hassles of arranging appointments here and there for medical examinations, with flu season and imminent holidays obstructing, have been demanding… eating up those never enough minutes on our cell phone and adding to our sense of frustration with things ashore. But we are making progress, a bit at a time, so feel what we are doing is worthwhile.

Saylor has enjoyed her proximity to shore.  She spends her days lounging on the foredeck or in the cockpit, watching the world go by.  Periodically she lets us know she wants a turn ashore, so walks, some short, some extended along the beach, are enjoyed by all. She seems to enjoy both the intervals of colder weather and the warmth of the sun which still shines often enough to help us all avoid the glooms of pending winter.

This shore side routine is seductive.  Those lines from shore, bringing unending power and unlimited water, snake out to ensnare the sailor and bind them to land. With a car, generously loaned during our stay here, the luxuries of America, Walmarts and video stores, are but minutes away.  Restaurants tempt us with flavors remembered and anticipated.  There is a business, a bustle about one's day.  And we are inundated with the offers of, the abundance of, the mass pursuit of… things. The holidays loom, with their intensity and gaiety offering so much more than reality can sustain.

Yet we are excited… eager to seek out friends and family… eager to miss nothing, not one opportunity, during our stay here on the coast.  We already anticipate our next travels, a passage across the Gulf to the Florida Keys and to points beyond. But we also hope for another trip inland to see family and hope that family won't be too caught up in their own lives to see us as well.


11/12/2003 

Dawn on the 10th was colder, really uncomfortable in the perhaps 8-10 kts of wind.  Under a low cloud cover we motored on, into the industrial heart of Mobile's busy port, past container ships, tankers, shipyards, busy commercial piers and towering cranes, past yard boats and tugs, past a cargo ship being towed and pushed into its slip. 

The 10th is the Marine Corps Birthday, certainly an important date for all active and former, some might say recovering, Marines. Along side the quay at the small city park, a white hulled motor vessel had United States Marines emblazoned on its side. Two uniformed Marine crewmen were making her fast.  I swung alongside to yell my Happy Birthday greetings and they smiled and returned the salute. Near the mouth of the harbor, as we moved out into the bay and into the main ship channel, the seas became more active.  A confused chop had AT EASE rolling and pitching.  Saylor rose from her perch on the stern, looked about in disgust and climbed down into the well beneath the wheel… her secure berth in troubled seas.  A Navy LSD passed, inbound to harbor, a gathering crowd of sailors in dress blues assembling on her after deck, waving as we motored by.

Nearing Dauphin Island Bridge, the clouds thinned and a brilliant sun quickly warmed the day.  Foul weather gear came off and was stowed below. Back to shorts and tee shirts, we were.  We followed the Intercoastal Waterway west, falling back into a routine of coastal navigation where the autopilot could manage for longer intervals and the crew could relax from the constant monitoring and maneuvering required on the rivers.  Even the electronic charting-GPS-autopilot interface started to work again as if glad to be back in salt water.

Well, sort of worked.  I knew the electronic compass was bad and needed replacing.  I had just not gotten around to it and, while inland, it really wasn't much of a problem.  But out here, where compass bearings and course directions were so much more important, the different numbers coming from the GPS (which plots course over ground) and electronic compass (which plots track) led the computer to throw up its hands and claim confusion. 

We decided on an early evening and anchored just north of Petit Bois Island for the night.  Wind and swell from the southeast rocked us to sleep.  At dawn, I replaced the flawed compass with a new spare and we got underway to calibrate the autopilot, a process involving slow turns until the autopilot's computer decided it could now tell directions reliably.  Immediately, data began to flow and the system's components all seemed content.  Once again, AT EASE could follow a route entered via the electronic charting system on the computer down below.  More than a convenience, this simply makes it much easier and, I think, safer, to manage the narrow channels and long runs between navigational marks so typical of coastal piloting.

By noon on the 11th we were in the Biloxi Harbor Channel, inbound to take on fuel.  Tide is only about a two foot range here but we were at low tide and the entrance into Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor is shallow, as is the harbor itself.  We anchored off Biloxi to wait for more water, then moved over to Ocean Springs by 1600.  Positioning to enter the slip was complicated by the shoal water and mud of the harbor.  The full keel, clearly in the soupy mud of the bottom, inhibited efforts to turn the boat. By alternating forward and backward, turning and twisting, I was finally able to get the boat lined up with the slip and pushed in through the mud. Out came the shore power cable.  AT EASE is home for awhile.


10/25/2003

AT EASE is underway again, heading south in search of warmer weather, friendly seas and old/new friends.  However, her crew has undergone at least some temporary changes.  Shirley flew home for a visit and both cantankerous airlines and family issues have led to that visit being extended past our planned departure.  This all turned into an opportunity for my brother, Bruce, to sign on as crew for at least two weeks of the trip back down the Ohio and Tenn-Tom river systems.  Even more serendipity… my cousin, Paul, who originally had wanted to ride for a couple of hours at the start of our trip, changed his mind and signed on for four days down the Ohio River to Lake Barkley on the Cumberland.  My younger brother, Wayne, stuck with an unyielding work schedule, was already musing at the potential calamity of three Martins, each with genetically induced, terminal stubbornness, all confined within a not too large boat

On the 22nd we got underway bright and early and topped off with fuel at Rocky Point Marina on the Indiana side just above our first lock and dam (Cannelton).  It took at least an hour what with the attendant having to telephone her mother for help ("Well I don't know how to turn on the diesel pump!"), the mother having to drive in from home,  to then find the key, to then turning the pump on.  Not much transient traffic with diesel burners, one supposes. 

From there we moved rapidly through the lock and motored down past the next Kentucky town to discover my father, and Paul's wife Betty, had driven down to stand on the old ferry landing and wave us by.  Both had seen us off on our early morning departure from Cloverport.  AT EASE's crew, who had managed now their first up anchor exercise, their first approach and landing at a pier, and their first locking through experience, took a bow and waved back. 

The trip was exciting for all and the conversation non-stop.  It was late in the afternoon, after passing through Newburgh Lock, when we realized the day had passed with no food.  Just at sundown, just above Evansville, we anchored for the night along the river and watched the Mississippi Queen, a traditional stern wheeler river boat pass by with her just under 400 passengers. We were soon thereafter at the chili which had been bubbling away in the crock pot for some time.

After a sound night's sleep, with chorusing snores throughout, we popped up with the dawn and were underway through the clutter of Evansville's commercial area and Henderson's more traditional waterfront where the Mississippi Queen was tied up.  Just south of Henderson, immediately above Henderson Island, we stopped at a bar… but unfortunately not for a beer. 

AT EASE slip up a steep, underwater slope and sat immobile.  No joy backing off.  Out went the kedge anchor… no joy.  Even with mighty cranking by all hands and fragile backs… no joy. We were at the point of asking a passing tow with barges to throw us a wake but they were all slowing down to make the narrow passage between the bank and island (and bar) so for once they went by with nary a swirl.  Now what?

I was at the point of trying to pull the mast over, of levering the keel off the bottom, with the smallish but game 15 HP engine on the dingy when I decided to give our towing insurance company a try.  They have an 800 dispatching service.  They claim to have a network of towers everywhere.  Let's just see.

By golly they had me in touch with a Towboat US franchise in minutes, a franchise located only about 10 miles away, and the boat was on the scene within 45 minutes.  We hurriedly buoyed and slipped the kedge anchor, rigged a stern bridle, bent on the towing line and were off within another 10 minutes.  They even motored in and retrieved our buoyed anchor from the shoals. It was incredible.  I'm pretty sure there was not another such franchise within 200 miles.  For us to run aground was a bummer… but to run aground there was indeed fortunate.  We were underway again.  I told the crew that had we not run aground we would, of course, have had to stage a drill just so they would have the experience of it all.

On the 24th we anchored off Shawneetown just at dark and feasted on grilled Polish sausages, departing early the next morning hopefully for the run into Lake Barkley.  We locked through John T Myer Lock and pressed on. Time, which ticked on, and Ohio current, which became less, worked against us.  No way to beat the 30 miles up the Cumberland River's current and get into Lake Barkley before dark.  We passed through the last lock, Smithland, and moved to anchor just south of Cumberland Island at the mouth of the Cumberland River.  Once again we waved, old friends that we were, as the Mississippi Queen, now heading up the Cumberland River, passed by.  It was an early stop and allowed leisure time lounging in the cockpit while the red beans and rice brewed down below and New Orleans Cajun music pounded from the stereo. 

On the 25th, we entered the Cumberland River and moved south against current, arriving at and locking through Barkley Dam about 1230.  Paul's wife and son, parked on the hill above the dam, watched our progress through, then met us at Green Turtle Bay Marina, our destination for the day.  Timing couldn't have been much better.  Heavy rain began within minutes of our arrival and continued intermittently all night.  Bruce and I shared a final meal then said our goodbyes to Paul and family, then turned in planning an early start on Sunday.  Bruce and Paul had spent time together over the years, I think.  But for me, it had been a rare and precious opportunity for Paul and I to get to know each other as individuals, as adults, rather than just as kinfolk who had shared some family experiences growing up.

Paul ended the journey pretty well qualified for watch standing. He conned the boat motoring in marked river channels, experienced a grounding and recovery operation, did an after dark approach and anchoring exercise, and locked up and down through four locks on two rivers and one lake.  Not bad for three days.


10/26/03

We forgot the "leap back" time change, of course, and awoke at zero dark hundred wondering why nothing was open.  About the only thing happening were the various boat crews, ours included, out on the dock looking for the obviously significant diesel leak that had put a layer of fuel on the water.  It was a leak at the fueling dock.  Bruce and I had killed the extra time secondary to our early rising by eating breakfast at a local diner, then we hustled to get undocked and around to take on fuel before they shut the system down for repairs.  Once fueled we got underway, through the connecting canal and into Kentucky Lake, and then on up the Tennessee River.  By night,  we had anchored at mile 78 on the Tennessee, sheltered behind an old railroad bridge, and anchorage shared with a fish hawk that circled, screaming its outrage over the obviously bad changes in the neighborhood. 

Morning of the 26th began cold, with misty fog tendrils hanging here and there and fish hawks still circling overhead screaming at these new intruders.  The sky was clearing; a welcome change from the gloomy, threatening clouds of yesterday, but that change faded as the day progressed.  We motored all day in the gradually narrowing lake-river until just before dark when we slipped in behind Double Islands (mile 148) to anchor.  Another pleasant evening of Victory at Sea video tapes enjoyed in a warm and comfortable boat. 

Daybreak on the 27th revealed a heavy fog .  We sat waiting for the sun to burn through and, by 0700, had what appeared to be a clearing.  Up came the anchor and we motored into the river channel.  Almost immediately I heard a call from a down bound tow announcing his location as Double Island.  Almost at the same time we entered heavy for… thick enough to obscure even the riverbanks.  I grabbed the radio to announce our location.  The tow responded … we knew to look for one another.  With radar and electronic chart guiding, we slowed and crept forward, sounding a fog horn each minute on the off chance someone might hear.  It was only about 20 minutes before we broke into open sunlight but it seemed like hours, peering into that mist, searching for the loom of that approaching tow.  It never appeared… must have been below us when we talked.  I wonder if he was looking for me as intently.

A front moved in very quickly during the day and we had another cold run up the now narrow river, past Savannah and on to Pickwick, arriving at about 1600.  The lockmaster informed us that traffic had piled up, that both locks were occupied, and that "…everyone just took off and left me own my own", and that we should expect to damn well wait.  Wait we did.  Ultimately we piled up two tows and three pleasure craft on the up bound side… waiting.  Finally, at dark, she told all pleasure boats to move to the long wall to hang waiting until she could bring the lock down.  She threatened all to quickly move into the lock and secure… this would be a one time deal.  Any boat failing to ride this lift would wait for hours.  Secured to the long wall, we rode out the considerable turbulence associated with dumping water from the lock… turbulence that caused more conflict between my dinghy towing astern and the aft-mounted self steering vane.  In something akin to sibling rivalry, those two have just never gotten along together.  As the gates swung open, even before fully open, she was rushing all within.  Even as we secured to a bollard, she was pumping in water, a rapid fill that was turbulent itself (so much for the soft lift she had promised).  At the top, as the gates opened, she warned all to move out the left side as a "sailboat" was tied to the wall on top. 

The "sailboat" was a tow, with two spotlights shinning down the length of his barges, directly into our eyes.  We moved left, crept forward to check the clearance of low overhead steel.  Bruce stood looking up.  I stood in the cockpit yelling "Are we clear?"  He wasn't sure… but a crew member from the barge, with better perspective from his position, was.  He yelled back "Clear dammit!". We took the hint and motored blindly out into the very dark lake.  With radar and electronics we moved around the lake to Yellow Creek, turned up that narrow channel, and then moved into a deep bay for a sheltered anchorage.  We had opted to not enter the darkened marina that night.

By morning, after waiting two hours for the fog to dissipate, we motored into the marina, took on fuel and moved into a slip.  I had made arrangements for a refrigeration tech to look at our failing refrigerator.  I may even try to do something, although I don't have a clue what, about the diesel which continues to smoke more than I like.


11/05/03

On the 5th, we borrowed the marina's propane powered pickup for a run into the area airport and saw Bruce through the always officious and usually smugly secure airport Gestapo ("What… you have nail clippers!"), then hugged our farewells.  Shirley and I hurried back to get AT EASE back on the water.

In a day characterized by intermittent showers and patchy fog, we motored on down the river, through Columbus' Lock and on through Bevill Lock before we anchored about mile 287 just off the Tombigbee.  In only 7' of water the anchoring was a piece of cake. Apart from a trawler that entered later, we had the anchorage to ourselves. It was so warm we left the boat open and had to use mosquito nets. 

At dawn on the 6th, with patchy but manageable fog still present, we motored south through a gradually clearing day that became hot and humid by evening.  Through the afternoon we were troubled by intermittent loss of our GPS signal. The radar, especially, was cycling through loss and regaining GPS, but the PC's and even the GPS sent some faults.  I worried that this might be some equipment failure pending but also am suspicious of atmospherics, secondary to the recent solar flares, disrupting reception. Tomorrow will tell.

We opted to enter Rattlesnake Bend, an oxbow of the original river now used by tows to both park and make up their barge loads, just above Demopolis, to anchor for the night.  We had anchored here on our trip up river as well and knew it to be quiet and peaceful when the tows weren't busy and roomy enough for all even if they were.

Underway early, we stopped at Demopolis Yacht Basin to take on fuel, arriving just before they opened, and tied up as close as we could to the fuel dock.  The boat was aground about two feet out… close enough.  We tied her off, topped off with fuel and water, and got underway by 0830 to lock through Demopolis.  Now, only 34' above sea level, versus the 448' at Pickwick, we are starting to feel the call of the sea.  The terrain is still a bit rolly, too bumpy to truly be the coastal flats.  That we won't see until after Coffeeville Lock when we will be only four feet above sea level.

The issue here has to do with anchorages as traveling at night is dangerous even with electronics.  There are so few anchorages that are really sheltered, protected from the channel and from tow traffic and the water is thin outside the channel.  Coming up, we had opted to ease outside the channel where we found clear buoy lines, there to anchor alongside the riverbanks knowing the tows would honor the buoys.  Now, we search to find the best mix of miles traveled in daylight and identifiable anchorages we can both live with for the evenings.  That will be the challenge for the rest of the trip to the coast… a trip becoming miles and miles of miles and miles of riverbanks. Even now that we have entered the more natural lower reaches, where eroded banks and jumbled tree trunks mark the shore rather than Corps of Engineers  rip rap, the trip is becoming tedious.

But tedium changes quickly.  At 1400, we approached the Meridian-Bigsbee RR Bridge, a vertical lift bridge which charts show as 12' closed and  open, there was no operator on duty.  The bridge was obviously closed, but is really about 50' in that position.  I know.  I tried to sneak the mast under at close to zero relative speed and we bumped.

We tried calling on all radio channels typically used but received no answer. There was no one in the control room.  Shirley managed to call the last lockmaster who gave us a couple of phone numbers but neither worked.  Shirley called 411 and actually got a listing for the Meridian-Bigsbee RR Bridge Co.  "You mean there's no one there?", they said.  They arrived about 15 minutes later and apologized.  Apparently it was the operator's day off.  The bridge had been closed for a train and no one bothered to open it again. The operator did check my mast as we transited… no visible damage.  Everything seems to work.  Just another opportunity to use up some excess heartbeats per minute.

It was nice to note our GPS signal had stabilized.  All the "lost fixes" of yesterday had disappeared and the instruments performed all day with their typical deluge of numbers all giving me a reassuring delusion of control.  That was just as well.


11/08/03

We got an early start this morning.  About 0430 a northbound tow motored past our anchored boat, followed at 0515 by a second.  One hears the throbbing of big diesels through the water, through the hull.  It starts as a whisper and very gradually grows until the sound of the approaching tow is unmistakable.  On each occasion, I rose from bed, turned on our spreader lights and stood by to watch the show.  Those huge blunt bows approach, preceded by the stabbing strobes of spotlights swinging from side to side, running lights forward then a darker shadow without lights as the front passes, then the glaring lights alongside the tow itself. 

We had good separation.  AT EASE sat within 40 of shore. The tows passed at least another 50 feet out, probably more like 75'. At night, it all seems much closer. Two inviolate rules emerge from this river excursion.  Bridges always look lower than they are and tows always look closer. It does make one cautious.  I just knew my being awake and watching from the cockpit made us all much safer.  I think it impressed Shirley too.  Saylor, so very wise, wasn't fooled at all and rolled her eyes at my posturing.

With daylight we got underway, moving alone down the narrowing river, past Bobby's Fish Camp (last chance for fuel before Mobile) and up to Coffeeville's Lock and Dam.  I could hear pleasure boats in the lock tying up.  I could hear the lockmaster talking to them.  He wouldn't answer my call… calls actually.  I talked to a northbound tow.  No problems with my radio.  I tried again.  No response.  Finally, as I rounded the last bend, he answered. 

"Well", he said, "You'll just have to wait… bout an hour give or take… I got a couple boats going down now and when I get back I'll get back."

"Yes sir", says I.  One does not argue with lockmasters without paying the price of longer waits. I may have already irritated him with my repeated calls. 

But I wasn't the only one.  Calls from below the lock… a northbound tow who he didn't answer either.  The calls, answered or not, told the story.  A longer wait while the upbound tow locked through. We finally departed the lock, now only 4' (or so) above sea level, after a two hour wait. Sometime early starts are not the best idea.

I said 4' above sea level but am not really sure.  I inquired, of course, as to the pool level below the lock.  "About normal", he said.  "Just up 3-4 feet".  I mentioned my concerns about my mast.  "No problems… water is far below normal high water."  I'm sure he isn't worried, and that's comforting in a philosophic sense, but leaves me still anxious as hell.

The first bridge encountered is listed as a 52' clearance.  No way!  There must have been 10' or more between my mast and the bridge… and remember I said they always look closer than they are.  Bad data?  Who knows?  The next bridge was a railroad lift bridge listed as 52'.  As we approached, I asked if it was open, mentioning the height of my mast.  The tender replied that there was 40' of concrete and he had lifted the bridge another 30'… suggesting I could climb the mast and wave my arms should I choose to do so.  I liked that attitude. The last fixed bridge was the interstate above Mobile, the Dolly Parton Bridge, listed as 125'.  Finally, the 14 mile railroad swing bridge.  The 35 minute wait was almost unbearable but then we were through.  No more obstructions between AT EASE and open water. 

In the last 30 or so miles the river changed character one more time.  Still twisting and turning it was, but now wider with borders of Cyprus trees and salt marsh grass. We could almost smell the Gulf. With pleasure we turned into Big Canot Bayou, just 10 miles above Mobile, to anchor for the night.


10/14/03

Well today was quite exciting.  About 0800 it began to rain… pretty simple straight down rain and relatively heavy.  That had been forecast.  Additionally, some winds of 15-20 MPH had been forecast but they arrived later, beginning about 0900.  By about 0930 we were being hit by gusts in the 40's… I measured a high of 50 kts (about 60 MPH I'm guessing) from the NE.  That gave it a long fetch up the river and allowed chop to build quickly to the 2' range at it's worse. That was sufficient to tear loose my small stern anchor and send me twisting upstream.  The angle and speed also twisted  loose my main anchor, the plow-like CQR with its 100' of heavy chain. 

Saylor, AT EASE and I (note Shirley is visiting in Arkansas) continued upstream mostly but with the wind angle we were being pushed against the southern (Kentucky) shore at about a 45 degree angle. I was busy getting in the stern anchor to get all that anchor line (rode) out of the way, periodically backing the boat out into the river, working to get clear whenever I felt the line was clear of the prop.  One can't readily maneuver moving forward with all that anchor and chain weight hanging off the bow and I was so close in I didn't have room to turn that heavy bow against the wind sharply enough to clear the bank.  

Now to get in the bow anchor, a critical step in order to be able to maneuver or reset the anchor, I had to be forward, working the windlass and clearing jams in the chain, always worse under tension, as it fed in and down the hawse pipe to the chain locker. I couldn't go forward because I needed to be in the cockpit keeping the boat off the rocky shore.  Saylor was right there with me but for her own reasons, I'm sure, she just wouldn't take over either the foredeck or the cockpit. 

Up the river we went, actually pretty fast the 30-45 kt wind being so much stronger than the current at this point, dragging CQR and chain across the bottom.  I suppose there is always a chance it will reset or snag something solid but as close to the bank as I was, with the wind's angle, that really would not have helped.  I needed to get that thing in.  Dashes forward trying to work the windlass against heavy resistance brought a bit of chain in… until the windlass overloaded and shut itself down.  It takes some minutes for it to reset and work again.

Snags along the bank here and there, and breaking wave action suggesting some shallow areas just offshore, kept me backing intermittently.  No way to swing that bow downwind because of the chain and anchor, and no way upwind (same problem with added wind resistance) in the space I had available. Not many choices left… I let go the second anchor forward, a Fortress with mixed chain and nylon rode, hoping I was far enough off the bank to give me some room to swing.  No joy!  It joined the CQR merrily bouncing along the bottom, producing drag but not digging in. 

Crossing the mouth of Clover Creek I came up on an obvious bar, apparently a bank of mud covered by a foot or so of water, and was caught.  The was just enough drag on the forward anchors to keep the wind and waves from shoving my bow up on the bank but not enough to hold me off without bouncing on the bottom.  Trying to back up, I bumped into another bank, obviously steeper, which went out further into the river.  I seemed to be trapped in this somewhat deeper crescent, with mud fore and aft, and was unable to turn the boat to point the stern enough into the river to back out.  Waves coming into this shallow area were building to 3' and bouncing the boat actively. Things on the boat were moving around… including the anchor rode from the stern anchor I had brought in earlier. Trying to back and then surge forward in the small space, using pretty high RPM's to control the boat, succeeded in sucking in this dangling rode onto the prop.  Engine stops.  Options getting pretty limited now.

Okay, first things first.  I needed an anchor out to starboard to keep the boat from being driven further ashore by the wind and waves.  I jumped in the dingy, remember I said it had rained heavily earlier, and pumped it out while it was doing a roller coaster action in the waves, jerking powerfully against its tether.  I dug in a locker and found a spare halyard to use for a new rode, bent it on and motored out at a sharp angle to drop the anchor, a smaller Fortress. Back to AT EASE where I put the rode on a primary winch and began cranking madly.  The anchor slid back in, refusing to set.  In the dingy and out again to drop the anchor… no joy.  Once more, this time a different angle, I dinghied out to drop the anchor.  Returning to AT EASE, no attached rode.  I had simply failed to secure it good enough and it had pulled free… probably because the damn thing set finally.

Options getting limited… wind not abating.  I went forward and brought in the Fortress anchor which had never set.  I ran the rode back along the starboard side and fed it through a hawsehole onto the primary winch and then hauled this larger anchor, with 35' of chain, out into the river with the dinghy.  Back to AT EASE to winch it all the way home.  It had failed to set.  No choice, back out in the dinghy to try again.  Success!  It finally set and I could winch it against the wind and waves enough to hold AT EASE from going further aground.  I could not, however, kedge (pull) AT EASE off the bank against the force of the weather. For now, I decided to settle for what I had. 

Back down below to dig out diving gear.  That fouled prop had to be cleared. I found my regulator and mask, and the long air hose, called a hookah, to attach to my SCUBA tank, but couldn't find my wet suit… hadn't needed it in quite a while.  Oh well… strapped on my diving knife, rigged a ladder and over the side I went.  In mid October, the Ohio is rather chilly… certainly very muddy.  There weren't many other divers about.

Underwater, I crawled over the mud bank and felt my way to the rudder, then down to the prop.  The engine was in neutral but the prop wouldn't turn… locked by the twisted nylon rode wrapped tightly around the shaft and cutlass bearing. Again, by feel, I unwrapped as much as possible and rather quickly got down to the several wraps compressed, evenly partially melted, into the slot between the prop and bearing.  I used the serrated edge of my knife to saw.  Feel for an angle, saw a bit, stop and feel to see what I was doing, then saw some more.  It something broke free, I tried to remove it or unwrap some more, then back to sawing. Oh yes… I was very low on air, close to the yellow on the gauge… hadn't filled the tank in some time.  I kept concentrating on breathing slowly but somehow was rather excited and breathing slowly just didn't seem to go well with the cold and with the sawing and tugging.

The air, and my stamina, outlasted the nylon rode.  I was able to free the prop. Eureka!  I was on a roll.  Climbing out of the water I noticed blood on my wrist.  I had obviously scrapped it against the sharp prop blades while tugging or sawing.  Didn't feel a thing… still didn't.  Must not be a problem that has to be dealt with now.  I did try to dry off and get some warm clothes on before heading back up into the cockpit. 

For the first time, I had time to look around.  A few cars had driven down to the river's bank to watch the antics of the sailboat.  One walker glanced over, did a double take, and moved down to the river's edge to see better.  One fellow even commented "A bit rough, isn't it?" 

"Some", I said.

Okay… time to think.  I needed to get that bow anchor in or to slip it with a buoy, just let it go for now, to be able to maneuver.  I couldn't get it in, even with the now reset electric windlass.  The resistance was just too great.  Darn thing seems to have set now when it did little good, but I suppose it did hold the bow off some.  The waves were tossing AT EASE up and down.  On the up ride the chain angrily jerked at the bowsprit, threatening to tear something loose.  On the down ride, AT EASE's keel bounced on the bottom.  I led a ½" piece of nylon line, with a stainless steel pelican hook, on a angle off the side of the bowsprit and secured it to the anchor chain and let off some chain so the "snubber" line would take the stress when the boat rose.  That seemed to ease the up ride but we were still banging on the bottom. 

Back aft, I began to watch for lulls in the 20-30 kt winds.  With each lull, I tried to wench in on the kedge anchor to pull AT EASE's  stern out, off the bank, and to put the boat at a sharper angle to the shore for an eventual effort at backing her off. The going was slow with the combined resistance of the wind and waves, and the weight of the boat itself. Maybe the arm power of the wench manager was a limiting factor as well.

It was now after noon.  We had been struggling since about 0900 or so. I took a few breaks, making some log entries, taking down the numerous flags we had decorated AT EASE with, now just added windage, and securing things which had tumbled about deck in all our activity.  After each break, I renewed the attack on the kedge anchor rode, wenching away. I was making progress.  The angle improved, meaning as the stern came out the bow pointed more directly at the bank.  This put the bow anchor chain at a more acute angle to the boat.  The snubber chafed through with a crash, away went the stainless steel pelican hook, and again the chain began to punish the bowsprit. 

At some point, I decided this was good enough.  I started the engine and went into reverse.  Between my kedging and the prop thrusts, AT EASE moved back out into the river… some… still tethered by the drag of the bow anchor. I couldn't get the damn thing in… it had to go.

I dashed below, detached the chain from its hard point in the chain locker, then out to the foredeck to tie a buoy on the chain.  With misgivings, I watched the last of the chain rumble out and into the river as AT EASE struggled backwards. 

Now held only by the kedge anchor, she wanted to swing stern to the wind and waves.  I had to deal with nylon line in the water, the anchor rode, back there at the stern of the boat and just too close to the prop for it to be safe.  I kept tension on and, at the same time, wrestled to pull in the line, bit by bit until only the last 35' of chain was out. I left the wheel, leaving the engine in reverse, went to the side and grabbed the chain by hand, hauling against the thrust of AT EASE, still in gear to hold us off shore, until the monster broke free and came aboard, accompanied by enough mud and clay to do an eight piece place setting in any pottery workshop and enough left over for a new wing on the house.

By 1600, we were free, able to maneuver again, and headed back up river to reset the anchor, this time oriented against the wind rather than the current.  The clouds broke… the sun came out… what a nice day.  But we still had wind,15-20 kts of wind, and that was predicted to last until midnight. 

Anchoring was still a problem.  I had one anchor.  Orienting to the wind was fine until the wind settled.  Then the current would obviously move me in the opposite direction.  I had to find enough room to swing yet still stay off the bank and not too much into the river so that I would not become a target for the tow boat traffic which never stops.  Two tries it took… but finally we were securely anchored again. 

Saylor, who had been on watch the entire time, and I stopped to eat breakfast… and to prepare for a night of anchor watch as the weather conditions changed and AT EASE swung to find her rest.


09/25/03

Our sailing vessel, AT EASE, sits at anchor in the Ohio River, tucked under a high, two-stage bank on our starboard side. Along this bank, Cloverport, Kentucky is visible, perched high with a million dollar view of the Ohio as it makes its way to the sea. Immediately on our beam is a small park, on both the upper and lower levels of the bank. Our boat, the only boat, lying so visible here at anchor, has drawn some local interest. With so few marine facilities and with accessibility so difficult across the rip rap and clutter along the shore, I think visiting boats are relatively rare. I think visiting sailboats must be even more a novelty. Cars stop along the upper roadside, some driving down the boat ramp to move closer to AT EASE. Some people walk out to the observation deck, others stroll along the riverfront walk. A small boy, riding a bike, chased by his black puppy, stops to ask where we have come from, then, puzzlement evident, he asks, "Why did you come here?". A few folks say hello… we look forward to more.

Here, on the site once occupied by my grandfather's blacksmith shop, the town has emplaced a memorial to those killed in the four wars of the last century, and has also developed the park as the central location of their annual Sacagawea Festival, I assume commemorating the passing of Lewis and Clark by this site, but this surely would have been well before the fabled maid joined their gallant band.

Cloverport is an old community, dating to the 1700's, and has had its moments of fame. It was a major port, shipping high quality "Coal Oil" down the river and for export well before the petroleum industry evolved. It was once the site of a major railroad repair facility and turntable, a relatively large complex of rails and workshops located in numerous buildings.

Cloverport also has some fame in that the Lincoln family, while moving from their Kentucky home to Illinois, passed through here; actually the old toll road passed over what is now my father's farm and traces, and an old bridge site, are still evident. Local oral history has it that the family paused in Hardinsburg, just east of here, while the father recovered from illness or fatigue or both. The destitute family was allowed to stay in an empty cabin there, and a beef was donated to feed the hungry family. When recovered, they traveled on down the toll road to Cloverport. Here they boarded a raft ferry and were poled and drifted across to Indiana.

Later, after the railroad abandoned their cluster of buildings, a local industry making buttons from river mussels had its moment of success before mother of pearl buttons lost their commercial luster. A canning enterprise occupied the site, perhaps contemporaneous with the button industry, but it ended in abandonment as well. The abandoned buildings were a playground for the city's children when I was growing up. Piles of perforated mussel shells and heaps of rusted can tops of various sizes littered the complex. The razor sharp can tops, if handled gingerly, could be skimmed, sailed, for incredible distances. When thrown, they would curve gracefully, climbing and swooping as the air struck from different angles and on different surfaces, a primitive Frisbee with the added feature of being weapon-like with its sharp leading edge. Children also had the delightful opportunity to throw rocks at the relatively few remaining windows in the abandoned complex. How delicious to do something so clearly forbidden in any other setting.

In the heat of summer, walking back from the complex/playground, we passed the community's ice house with an unfailing, exhilarating blast of cold air coming from its open loading ramp. By hanging around, we could rescue shards of ice broken from the large blocks as workers loaded the blocks with their great, scissoring tongs. Trucks then departed for local, daily deliveries to the remaining homes with ice boxes that had not yet been replaced with refrigerators. Children lingered or left, but always with dirty hands holding slivers of crystal clear ice to be sucked and savored, a treat all the more appreciated for being free to the taker.

Now, Cloverport has faded as a commercial enterprise, in spite of having had such a firm grasp on two of the three major transportation modalities as the country grew. A new highway, bypassing the city's downtown, has further isolated the community from enterprise. Instead, the city has continued as a bedroom community with many multigenerational families in evidence, all with a fierce loyalty to the city. A newly constructed walking trail wends its way along the river, below the historic district, with its older brick commercial buildings, some having been restored with the assistance of grants. A line of stately homes, certainly dating to the early 1900's or earlier, perhaps survivors of the massive 1902 fire that destroyed the city, looks down on the river from a commanding height. Working residents travel up and down the industrialized river basin to find employment in an aluminum plant, paper mills and power plants. Retired families abound… and the young look to leave, some to return but many to seek fortune elsewhere. It is the fate of so many small southern towns.

At night, downtown, few lights announce open businesses. Groups of adolescents "hang out" along the main street, desperate to be entertained and determined to avoid going home while the possibility of something happening still exists in the waning evening. Left on their own, boys and girls turn to each other to seek something… excitement… from what must seem empty now.

I remember that feeling, but we had a movie and we had Tom's (Tom Carter's), an absolutely classic 1930's or earlier soda fountain with marble counters and tables and twisted wire chairs and real soda drinks. Cokes, a nickel each, were still made from syrup and carbonated water. There, surprisingly well behaved adolescents could meet and linger, and push our collectively few nickels into the garish juke box and hear the very beginnings of rock and roll. We weren't driven into the streets, and into desperate fear that nothing exciting was going to happen, until Tom's finally closed each evening. Finally, fatigue and failure drove us home to look forward to the next time, the next evening, when adventure may very well strike.

I wonder now, how these children, these adolescents, see their future? There was a clear sense of one's future in my childhood. One could look forward to graduating and going to work at Murray Tile, the only real employer of note in the community, maybe the area, or, in this Cold War era, going into the service. Some kids went to college, but they were few and they seemed so different. We debated which of the services was best, listened eagerly as our elders, those kids just years older, returned from one service or another to spin yarns of difficult times or wondrous adventures. I knew that's how I would leave Cloverport… I was to be a Marine.

And leave I did. It's now been 42 years since I left. In those 42 years of experiences, I've traveled far and changed many times, and in many ways. Yet, here I am in Cloverport, trying to answer a small boy's question. "Why did you come here?" I think I know why.

I look at the town and, in my mind's eye, I see that Cloverport of the 1950's, and the very early 1960's. I see that youth that gradually became me, and I see the town that is now, and we both have aged, neither terribly nor gracefully, just aged. Yet, there is a sense here of history, including my personal history, and continuity. Coming here, a visit home, produces a feeling not of closure, not an ending, but a perspective on the intervening years that somehow satisfies and, in its own way, renews.

I tell the boy, "This is where I grew up… some."


09/21/03

Off again, before 0700, on to a river with less fog but still with a chill in the air. We had a call from shore, one of the riverside homes, from a former sailor who just wanted to tell us how good we looked moving up the river. Rounding yet another bend, we moved past an early Sunday morning Owensboro, past its numerous barge facilities and its several riverside parks and boat ramps, even past one marina where we visually searched in vain for diesel pumps, and on upstream toward Hawesville, KY. I had arranged to pick up my father and brother Wayne there, at an old ferry ramp, so they could accompany us through the last lock and on the last 14 miles to our destination, Cloverport, the home town of childhood.

We passed Rockport, IN with its new, futuristic suspension bridge, passed the several power plants pumping smoke into the sky. The sunny, hazy morning deteriorated by noon into an overcast but not threatening sky. The river was broad, sweeping past small riverfront communities left and right, and past tow traffic with comfortably wide margins. The current, typically about 1.5 kts, increased through the morning until we were seeing up to 3 kts. Obviously the dam above was dumping water. We understand in anticipation of the surge moving down from the east, from hurricane Isabel.

At Hawesville, I could see my brother, then my father moving down to the water's edge. We anchored and I rowed the dinghy the short distance ashore to pick them up and we moved off to lock through Cannelton Lock and Dam. In the lock, a small runabout had several couples aboard. He motored up to chat with us, making no effort to secure his boat. I asked "Are you going to lock through without tying up?" He answered, "I work here." There are rules… and there are rules.

By 1600 we had arrived off of Cloverport, surveyed the available options, and anchored alongside the riverfront, just upstream from the city's boat ramp, in about 25' of water and about 30' offshore. With the current, we are held firmly in position. There are reports of an 11 ft rise in the next week, all secondary to Isabel. I let out plenty of scope.

The anchor will hold. I've seen it perform too well in stormy conditions with worse holding ground. There is the additional worry over debris, big stuff, trees and such, that might come downstream with higher water. Just one more thing to make life exciting.


09/20/03

On the way by 0630 and another chilly morning with surface fog up to something like 10-12'. I had the radar going, the better to see them, and had all running lights on, including the tricolor light at my masthead, the better for them to see me, and began moving north into the approaches to Mount Vernon, IN. This may be a nice city but from our view it is a very busy commercial port with barge loading facilities, small yard tugs moving barges about, and rafts of barges parked here and there. All this provides lots of metal for the radar to bounce off of, and bounce it did, creating "ghost" or false echoes at short ranges. I had blotches of black, indicating contacts, all over the screen, filling the channel dead ahead and within a quarter mile. I stopped the boat and, in the absence of a better idea, began moving laterally to the extreme starboard side of the marked channel. Then, some 100 yards away, I could see the white superstructure, the 20' high bridge, of a yard tug moving without a barge down the channel on some unknown mission. The hull emerged… on he went… and so did I, but a bit slower and more cautiously if that were possible. Within the hour, the fog had lifted and we were past Mt Vernon's busy waters and back on the largely empty and brown Ohio.

By mid day, making excellent time, we had passed Henderson, KY and Evansville, IN, more industrial waterfront with one barge facility after another, past the brief glimpse of downtown Evansville with its pretend riverboat casino and its very prominent, multi-storied "Fifth Third Bank" building. Now there must be a story behind that.

Then we arrived at Newburgh Lock and Dam and progress halted. Told initially we would have a two hour wait, we moved out of the channel and anchored. Three tows with large barge rafts were "parked" against the bank with engines running. More were above the dam waiting and more coming. Only one of the two locks was operating and they were having trouble with the main (longest) lock in the one that was functional. We waited. By 1900, with the sun gone, we had eaten dinner and were trying to decide whether we would run at night to make up for the lost time. By 2000, just as the remaining tow on our side was locking through, the radio announced two more tows moving north and approaching our location. I called the lockmaster to tell them we would remain overnight and pass in the morning.

"Your decision", he said, "but I intended to put you through the next cycle and have the tows wait." How nice… what an opportunity… we'll take it. We got the anchor up, turned on all our running and steaming lights, lit off all our electronics and moved out into the river. One tow was coming upstream. One was ahead of us slowly closing on the lock. Just beyond the dam, a large power plant pumped smoke into the air and lit up the world with a vast array of lights. Along the shore near the lock, houses had on the typical lights of evening, along with riverfront patio lights, multi-hued and competing with the more mundane. In all, it was a confusing mass of lights, bright and dim, some moving and sounding warnings, some fixed, but all demanding attention.

The radio was busy, short announcements from tows, front the lockmaster, as everyone maneuvered below the dam. At the lockmasters instructions, I moved up to overtake the leading tow, telling him on the radio I was overtaking "on the two whistle", meaning from his port (my starboard) side. He acknowledged tersely and on I went. I was 15' off the bank to my right, 20' from the tow and approaching that mass of concrete whose gates were just opening. The tow to my right stopped and I moved down the long holding wall and into the lock, the doors moving shut immediately after I passed. The chamber was dimly but adequately lighted and we hurriedly secured AT EASE. As the lock was filling, workmen were welding on one of the upstream gates. The lockmaster instructed "As soon as we hit the top I'll open only one gate… when you think you have enough room to exit, just go ahead… don't wait for my horn. Just leave when you think you can." He was in a hurry. At 2100, I blasted out the one gate, breathed a deep sigh of relief, and we moved out into the upper impoundment, empty of other boat traffic but still a very cluttered picture because of all the waterside structure and the innumerable lights of the power plant. It seemed like miles before we had the dark night to ourselves and could settle down.

We were heading for Hurricane Island at mile 762, just short of Owensboro, KY. To get there we had to round the two French Islands, big and small, then Ellis Island which pushed well into the channel and created among the narrowest chokes of the river. Of course there, in the midst of that choke, even before we could make out the dark shape, we saw the red-blinking orange-green and white light pattern of an approaching tow with barges. We quickly exchanged radio calls announcing intentions and I passed down his port side (a "one whistle" meeting). Nothing to it… apart from the thumping heart and feeling of relief.

Winston Churchill once said something like "There is nothing quite so exhilarating as to be shot at and missed." He may have been wrong. There may be something quite like it, indeed.

Anchoring that night under Hurricane Island, just at 2300, was just routine.


09/19/03

Brrrr! The outside temp this morning was in the 50's. A cold front was forecast and the leading edge had certainly arrived leaving a low, gray and threatening sky and uncomfortably chilly air.

We hoisted anchor and got underway by 0700, motoring upstream in a flow of traffic made up largely of bass boats with a tow here and there and apparently a local ferry running passengers only up and down the river to several small communities. I started out wearing my foul weather coat, quickly added my foul weather pants and sea boots, and considered gloves. By midmorning, I was wearing a wool sweater under the jacket. The lower temperatures and the additional chill of 15-20 kts of wind was really unpleasant. The wind stirred up the river into a confused chop. As AT EASE motored ahead she created some spray that added to the chill. The season is clearly changing.

By noon, the front was past, the skies cleared and the sun lit up the surrounding bluffs and hills and forest to reveal the subtle first changes in the leaves of fall. Russets and reds, yellowing greens and some purplish clusters are already suggested if not clearly visible. Still chilly however. Still nice sweater weather until later in the afternoon when the days accumulated sunlight finally warms to the point those sweaters come off.

The Ohio is formidable. When the high bluffs close in and the river narrows the current increases markedly. I watch our boat's speed over ground go from 6 kts to less than 5. The swirl around the daymarks and buoys gives evidence to the strength of the current. Then, as the river widens or makes those big sweeping turns, the current lessens and one can almost feel AT EASE leaping ahead. High water has been characteristic of the Ohio through the late summer. Debris litters the available banks and hunks of saturated wood, some tree trunk size, are scattered like mine fields across its face. One needs to attended to the water ahead relatively closely to see those dark shapes lurking just beneath the surface. Occasional "bumps" announce when one's vigilance has wandered.

We had to wait a short while at the John T Meyers Lock and Dam, commercial traffic having priority, then were moved through their auxiliary lock with alacrity. The auxillary is only hundreds of feet long. The main lock is over a thousand to accommodate the huge barge loads these tows manage.

By sunset, we had closed Slim Island at mile 836 on the Ohio. Again, we eased up to its downstream point and dropped anchor in relatively calm waters to share the evening with a few bass fishermen and more than a few insects. The latter scurried about trying to find entrance through our screens. The former buzzed about in burst of outboard energy, seemingly frantic in their search for the sudden strike and flurry.


09/18/03

This morning, we moved into the headwaters of Kentucky Lake, through the Barkley Canal and stopped at Green Turtle bay Marina, just below Barkley Dam, to top off with fuel and water. In the ship's store there I inquired about the 30 mile stretch below the dam and on into the Ohio. The young girl running the store looked as if I had asked her about the moon. "I don't know", she said, and then began to tell me about moving upstream. Anything I said didn't even slow her down. She even went to ask a local authority and came back with a book of maps (the same I have) to show me the way upstream. I pointed out that the maps ended just north of her location and it was what was beyond that I had asked about. Indignantly, she said "Well… hello… you'll just have to buy another book of maps for that area… I don't even know who to call." While a plethora of "Blonde" jokes ran through my head, I agreed. We left.

A few minutes later, the lock master, over the radio, gave us all the information we needed. We locked through and into the lower reaches of the Cumberland. It is a narrow, twisting river, with over two knots of current over a shallow bed typically 12-14'deep. Upbound trawlers create huge wakes that send roller coaster waves crashing to shore and back into the stream for up to half a mile. It's like riding a rocking horse. The land flattens out as we enter the Ohio. Turning upstream now has us battling that 2 kt current and AT EASE squirms, with boat speed over ground now down into the mid 4 kt range. As we round the last bend before the Smithland Lock and Dam, we meet a tow with 15 barges, immediately followed by another slightly smaller tow just exiting a lock. We maneuvered to avoid the tows, and the numerous pieces of floating debris, some quite large tree trunks, and managed to enter the lock. The lift wasn't especially large, something like 25', but that lock was monstrous… hundreds of feet long to accommodate these large tow/barge rigs. AT EASE looked pretty lonely inside this vast tub as it filled slowly with water.

Exiting the lock was like entering a large lake. The impoundment was easily over a mile across and all deep and calm. The current above the lock was less than a knot and we motored rapidly north to our intended anchorage.

Moving north, we passed one of the still existing landmarks of the early pioneer and flatboat days. At a bend in the river near Pudacah, KY but on the Illinois side, a bluff with a rock face stands some 100' into the air. A cave, a large gaping mouth above a gentle river bank, still draws the eye. Legend has it that here, in "Cave in the Rock", a band of brigands, some dressed as women, would lure flatboats with cargo or pioneer families ashore with shouted invitations to drink and dine, then knock them in the head and steal their cargoes. No sirens enticed… we moved on… but I suspect some exploration within might have been fun.

Now there aren't really anchorages on the Ohio, and apparently few if any marinas accessible to a boat our size. Shirley and I decided the safest approach would be to find an island and approach the invariable point on the downstream side, creeping forward to anchor just before it shoaled too much for safety. It seems to us that any boats bound up or down will make an effort to avoid running into an island and our anchor light, tucked in there close to the downstream side, must look much like a navigational light even if they didn't recognize it as an anchor light. Boats try not to run into navigational lights, as a rule.

We anchored at Ohio River mile 902, just south of Rondeau Island, got the screens up in time to foil the swarm of pesky bugs, and settled in for an evening of local broadcast TV like all true Americans (who are cable deprived).


09/16/03

AT EASE and crew took a week long break to enjoy Pickwick Lake and wonderful friends who arranged for transportation to and from, and non-stop parties through the game weekend at Ole Miss. It was close to perfect. Great friends surrounding, enmeshed in the community of Ole Miss alumni and students, among all those party tents in The Grove during the pre and post game intervals; food, drink and sparkling conversation. What a wonderful community Oxford and Ole Miss have achieved. The genteel , very Southern ambiance of Oxford is seductive. The friendliness and open acceptance by all was a delight. We're already looking forward to the trip back.

While in Pickwick, we had the folks at Aqua Yacht Harbor look at that smoking diesel. We could find nothing wrong. The engine does not over heat, uses no oil, the prop and bottom are clean thus no extra drag, the compression is right on and the injectors are perfect. Oh well… reassuring to know that the engine is in good shape. Maybe the smoking is fuel related and as we burn possibly "bad" fuel the problem will go away.

Pickwick is an impressive lake. The water is relatively clear. The surrounding hills are forested in both evergreens and hardwoods, some of whose leaves are beginning to turn. Much of the lake shore is developed with rather large, ostentatious homes, most complete with floating boathouses. The access to rivers heading north and south, the availability of marine services and the access to communities for shopping makes this a very desirable location, I suspect, for transient boaters as well as the locals. Motor vessels predominate. I wonder if it is like our old home, Lake Degray, where the sailboats own the lake after Labor Day?

This morning, we locked through Pickwick Dam (mile 207) and entered the Tennessee River for sure. For the first time on this trip, we have the current pushing us. With a three knot flow, we're doing 8.9 kts over ground, something like 10.3 MPH. That's pretty heady stuff for sailboaters. The dam is hydroelectric so they are pushing water through to make electricity. It was also significant in that we locked "down" for the first time, actually about 50'. We won't see another lock until we reach Kentucky Lake where we will have to decide whether to exit to the Ohio via the Tennessee (Kentucky Dam) or the Cumberland (Barkley Dam). We would prefer Barkley Dam but there is a 30 mile stretch below the dam leading to the Ohio for which we have little information. We do know there are three bridges but have no idea of the clearances. We'll glean some local knowledge as we close those obstacles. For now, it's wide open and fast down the Tennessee's heavily improved channel, perhaps as far as Cuba Landing (mile 115) if we can keep up this pace.


09/08/2003

A challenging day. We made a leisurely departure about 0800 and motored north again, planning to transit at least four locks, perhaps all eight leading into the approaches to Pickwick Lake. I knew we had several low bridges, the minimum 52' at normal pool, and asked each lockmaster as we passed if the pool of water was normal. I have learned that is the wrong question.

How did I discover the right question to ask? I went under a 52' railroad bridge, just before the Amory lock, dragging my VHF antenna across the bottom. Scared me, it did. The sight of that antenna, bent back under the bridge, knowing that my tricolor light and wind sensor, for that matter the actual masthead, were but inches away, was just frightening. I could feel the adrenalin an hour after the event.

Instead of using words like "normal", I have learned to ask for the exact pool levels above each lock and dam. With that information, I can precisely calculate clearances. Each of these typical locks moves me up about another 30'. For example, normal upper pool at Fulton lock and dam is 270' (above sea level) but the actual water level was 270.47'. That meant I had only 51.53' of clearance under a 52' bridge. That extra six inches can make all the difference.

In these upper reaches of the Tombigbee River, the locks and dams come fast and furious, separated by relatively few miles (7-14). One starts to treat these as routine… about 30 minutes, perhaps less, from approach to departure. But when there's traffic the process slows down greatly. We ended up behind a northbound tow that simply took forever to get positioned and secure in the lock and, as we waited we heard a southbound tow on the other side, waiting as well. Of course he had priority. It took at least 90 minutes for the two to cycle through and there went our chances to finish the last of the Tombigbee locks today.

Instead, we looked for an anchorage. We passed through the Rankin lock (mile 398), our sixth for the day, just at sunset and motored a half mile north into the embayment to drop out of the channel and anchor behind some small islands. Just us and the bass fishermen… and another cool night for sleeping.


09/07/2003

Underway by about 0700 on Sunday, we planned to cover close to 60 miles, ending at an anchorage in the old Tombigbee River bed. We experimented with different engine speeds today to further diagnose that smoking diesel. No apparent smoke at 2000 or 2200 RPM but when we moved back up to 2500 RPM, our typical cruising speed, we noticed some smoke buildup on the boat's stern. Actually, the buildup was less than 20% of what we had before so cleaning the air filter clearly had benefit, but it is still smoking more than it has in the past. We're not sure what that is about.

We moved back into Mississippi today and apparently into an area much more affluent judging by the homes and development along the river. As seems typical for weekends, there were many more pleasure boats on the river, both fishermen and go fast boats pulling a variety of water toys usually crowded by multiple children hanging on and screaming. I suppose parents can decipher the good screams from the bad screams so I startled less frequently as time went by. Jet skies… ugh. They've suddenly become numerous, darting here and there, crossing our bow, rounding our stern, turning and twisting aimlessly yet always requiring attention.

Two more locks behind us, Bevill and Columbus, both couldn't have been more accommodating, got us in without a wait and gave us smooth lifts with relatively little turbulence in the lock. That part is starting to feel pretty routine.

We called it a day about 1700. Our anchorage, mile 347, was beautiful… the best yet on the river. This was in an oxbow off the main river. We entered tentatively and motored very slowly up a narrowing, twisting stream with heavy forest on both sides and high ground on our left. To the right, small creeks ran through marsh grasses and tangled palmetto and ferns. We anchored fore and aft to keep AT EASE from swinging to block the channel, then visited with local fishermen and boaters as they meandered by. Before dark we had dug out some groceries, cooked some meat on the grill and settled in for another comfortable, cool night.

We must be closer to something. For the first time since leaving Mobile we had service on our cell phone.


09/06/2003

We got an early start this morning, awakening to a cool, almost cold morning with drab and overcast skies the product of a passing cold front. The river is still with more wispy tendrils of fog here and there, and high banks of that gray-green clay that seems to resist erosion so much better than the red dirt that may have been added by man in the way of levees.

We arrived at the Heflin Lock and Dam by around 1400 and had to wait for a southbound tow and barge to lock through. Hanging there, just below an active dredge, we listened to another tow moving north. He chose to hang a few miles south waiting for the southbound to pass before moving into the more congested waters just south of the dam. The lockmaster initially wanted to put the northbound tow and barges into the lock then have me enter and tie up behind. I expressed some reservations about the turbulence when the tow fired up to exit the lock and suggested I might wait for the next cycle. The lockmaster did a neat job of clarifying responsibilities. "Roger Captain… there's room but what ever you think is safe."

Commercial traffic does have priority when it comes to either navigation or locking through. I know that, and confirmed I knew that to the lockmaster. As it happened, because the northbound had waited three miles south, and because he indicated he was in no hurry, the lockmaster decided to move me through first and then cycle the tow. How courteous of both.

The lock through was uneventful apart from the typical squirming of the boat as the water pumps in and the floating bollard rises. We secure with only a single line from our midship cleat to the floating bollard in the lock, using fenders fore and aft to hold the boat parallel to the lock wall. Our low freeboard creates some play from our mid cleat to the somewhat higher bollard. As it rises, somewhat unevenly, more slack gets in the line and AT EASE swings her bow and/or stern into the side of the lock. We have six fenders, four medium and two large, to protect the boat but it takes only a little slack in the single line midship for the boat to want to pivot. I think the fix is to be ready to take in any slack that forms as the bollard rises but that can take a good deal of muscle power when the inflow turbulence is great.

Immediately after leaving the dock, within a quarter of a mile, we had to negotiate a fixed bridge with only 52' clearance. As it was above the dam, we checked with the lockmaster, advising him of our 52' mast height, and asking if the water was at normal pool. His reply… "It's going to be close".

We sneaked up on the bridge with Shirley all the way forward and with me conning the boat. I was creeping using the transmission and dead idle. Even 10' of clearance looks to damn close when the mast goes by. It's very difficult to judge until right up on the obstacle whether the boat will clear or not. Shirley finally called "I think we've got it". A bass fisherman figured out what we were doing and came along side some 50' away. He signaled clear by about a foot. Under we went. More of our ration of lifetime heartbeats passed into history. Ain't we having fun?

Onward we motored, in somewhat cleaner water. Now there are pools, lakes, of shallow and marshy water on either side with fewer of the higher banks and bluffs so characteristic further south. Clumps of floating vegetation are in the river channel. Egrets and Great Blue Herons abound, and here and there are geese, big Canadians that may have spent the summer in the south. There are more recreational areas and boats, more cabins and houses along the banks, and a generally more prosperous visage is presented.

The sky darkened from the southeast, some rumbles of thunder grew more ominous, and it became a race to see if we would reach our anchorage before the rain hit. We lost. Another anchorage in heavy rain. But a nice anchorage in a creek mouth with good depth and enough width to allow us to swing freely while staying safely out of the river channel.

Obviously our last day has been trouble free so we decided to worry about the increasing smoke we note on the boat's stern… smoke from our diesel. Shirley had cleaned the boat's stern back in Dermopolis but now it is blackened again. Into our diesel troubleshooting mode; is it something simple like fouled prop or dirty air filter or do we have problems with jets or rings? Oil pressure and engine temperature are fine. We're not using any oil. I pulled the air filter for cleaning, it had some oil inside, but it didn't seem that dirty to me. I dove on the prop, checking it by feel as I couldn't see anything in the cleaner but still muddy water. No problems there. Tomorrow, we'll do some experimenting, running at various RPM settings to see if that helps clarify the problem.

But tonight we'll enjoy the cool air and the abundant energy in our batteries and will watch a movie. It will be a great sleeping night.


09/05/2003

We had a three night stay at Dermopolis Yacht Basin, a stay extended by our problems with our charging system. Both the manufacturer's technical folks and West Marine concluded I had two bad regulators, as unlikely as that sounds. I had arranged for overnight delivery of replacement voltage regulators from West Marine. On Thursday, I hung around the Marina office waiting for my delivery. No joy! On Ftiday, I called West Marine to inquire about the delivery status and was told it had been shipped only that day, and wouldn't be received until the following Monday. To heck with that. I asked the marina to just refuse the package and have it returned to West Marine.

I never thought it likely that I had two bad regulators anyway. Back to the drawing board. I studied the schematics some more and then started simplifying my wiring, bypassing everything possible to rule out possible problems, and found the apparent fault. It was a ground. Of course it was a ground. In a 12 volt system, it always seems to be a ground. I found loose wire at a terminal that joined the regulator harness ground to the alternator's engine block ground. As soon as I reattached the terminal and wire, everything started working normally.

Now I don't know how I could measure voltage through the harness with the ground being bad… and don't know how it could have been a sometime okay and sometime not okay ground… but for whatever reason, the damn thing works now. What a relief!

It certainly wasn't a bad stay. We had the advantage of a courtesy car to use for runs to Walmart, to grocery stores, and to go out to eat. The latter was a disappointment. The best restaurant in town was at the marina… and yes, we did get our catfish. We also stocked up with some more perishables, picked up some used books to read from the Dermopolis library, and chatted with folks who know the river well.

In the early afternoon of Friday, we motored out of the Yacht Basin and turned north. Within five miles a loop of the Tombigbee, called Rattlesnake Bend, has been removed from commercial traffic by way of a cut, a canal, across its base. In the old river itself, tow boats have created something of a harbor; a place to park barges, both empty and full, until tows stop to pick them up. We motored past the numerous barges tied up to the heavy forest on either side and dropped our anchor. It was a beautiful anchorage but a busy evening and night. An Alabama Marine Police officer stopped by to chat and a tow went by to pick up a couple of barges. That night two separate tows came into the area to make up their raft of barges, one waiting until daylight to move south and lock through at Dermopolis. We left the radio on in case anyone needed to contact us. None did. But the noisy rumbling of large diesels, the repeated flashes of spotlights across our boat, and the routine radio chatter of working crews did make it difficult for Shirley to sleep.


09/01/03

Early morning travel on the river is an unexpected delight. In the cool of the morning, one just feels invigorated, excited to be on the move… on the water. In the stillness of the morning, there is a broken layer of mist, uneven in its surface, moving in wisps and whorls. The boat seems to hang suspended and, as she moves, to gently push aside the water and mist, creating a giant arrow with us as its point, and with endless echelons of feathery waves pointing to where we have gone.

We had one of those special mornings today. We left Bobby's Fish Camp about 0630 and motored out into a river more restrained. Above the dam the current is now down to less than a knot. We still twist and turn, heading all points of the compass at one time or another, sweeping around both sharp and gentle bends, with heavy forest left and right. In these turns, one side, the outside of the curve of the river will be a bluff, frequently a levee, heavily eroded on the face and reaching upward some 30-40 feet. The striations are revealing… telling stories through the layers of sedimentation, the different kinds of soils deposited, telling a history of floods and droughts, of fierce flow and gentle pools, of an endless cycle.

It is there against those higher bluffs, the outside of the bends, that the current is stronger, the river deeper. On the inside of the curve, the banks will slope to the water, revealing a sandy beach or bar reaching out into the stream. Here the current is slower, the water much shallower. The pattern of erosion and deposition is endless… eating away at the outside and filling in the inside of the bends as the river snakes its way across the bottoms, finding its way to the ocean.

There are few signs of human occupation apart from the occasional buoy, day marks or ramshackle camp houses, mostly in ruins. As the day progresses, we see more fishermen, more recreational boats, but never more than a few and mostly we have the river to ourselves. We've seen only 4-5 tows a day so even commercial traffic is muted. The radio, always clamorous on the coast, is quiet. Even scanning multiple channels rarely finds activity and then it may be two tow boat captains chatting… making small talk as they thread their winding way along the river they know so well.

We made it through our second lock, Dermopolis, AL, where we planed to spend the night and take on fuel… maybe enjoy the air conditioner… and were tied up and plugged in by 1700. Tonight I bet we'll find that catfish dinner.


08/31/03

AT EASE slipped those surly bonds and headed out from Dog River and up through the rest of Mobile Bay, into the main commercial harbor and through to the Mobile River and the lower Black Warrior. That long trek up Mobile Bay seems to go on and on, those hazy, then distant, then ever closer derricks and cranes and cargo handling superstructures along the commercial port growing ever larger until little AT EASE is dwarfed among the tankers and container ships, and barges and tows. Lots of BIG traffic moving hither and yon, and AT EASE, her captain acting a bit like a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers, claiming her place in the flow.

In the northern fringes of the commercial port, I went from autopilot steering to manual to move away from some large lumber floating in the harbor and immediately lost all steering. The boat yawed dramatically and started heading for some berthed barges alongside the river. I powered down, assured myself that the wheel was absolutely disengaged from the steering quadrant and rudder, then shifted back to autopilot which did steer well. We broke out the emergency steering tiller, piece of stainless steel which will directly drive the steering quadrant from a tiller arm in the cockpit, and proceeded upriver a few miles to the first safe anchorage.

Here comes the exciting part. After safely anchoring, Shirley and I cleaned out compartments to gain access to the steering machinery and began taking things apart to diagnose the problem. AT EASE is steered with a wheel. The wheel turns a shaft which has a sprocket with a heavy "bicycle" chain that connects on either end directly to a stainless steel cable. The cable goes across turning blocks (pulleys), then feeds to groves on the outside of a large, horizontally mounted wheel called a quadrant. The quadrant is connected to a central shaft that goes down and is part of the rudder. This arrangement allows the rudder to be turned by turning the wheel at the steering station. The connection of steel cable to chain had parted. No spares on board for fixing that… and a messy, nasty and contorted job it would be. The autopilot would continue to work, and the emergency tiller worked, since the drive motor and tiller were connected directly to the quadrant.

Options we had. We could proceed north, up the rivers, and traverse about 200 miles of river and locks and obstacles before we would be close to any kind of marine services, that would mean steering with the emergency system or our autopilot alone, or we could run screaming and whining to the nearest boatyard. We chose the easier course. We headed for the nearest boatyard.

Bright and early this morning we pulled anchor and headed downstream, back through Mobile's busy commercial harbor, out into that huge Bay crowded with barges, ships and shrimpers, to make a sharp turn west and motor into Dog River once again. With our cell phone, we called and arranged for a slip at Turner's Marine Services. They knew I would be steering with emergency tiller. They gave me about a paragraph of instructions for finding my way around once inside their marina and directed me to a particular area of pier near a 65' MacGregor and a 42' Catalina… included were instructions about steering between the café and sign, then point to a two-storied gray building, etc, etc, etc… They would gladly be available to help once we arrived. The last line of instruction was "Be careful now."

As we approached, we called on the VHF. No answer. I slowed AT EASE to a creep and turned into the marina, picked the most promising of the various lanes , all narrow, and motored deeper into the maze of piers and slips becoming more sure I would have to stop and turn around at some point. Then, deep within the maze, I saw the 65'MacGregor, a particularly unattractive boat, but the space they had directed me to was taken. Quick decision… we saw an empty slip, perhaps a long term resident gone temporarily, and decided that would do, thank you very much. We eased in rather nicely, Shirley captured a piling with a spring line and by golly we were secure. A salesman came out promptly to make sure we hadn't damaged a 45', or so, Island Packet in the next slip. I noticed he didn't come out until we were secured… but he was complimentary once he saw we had managed maneuvers with only our emergency tiller. We, of course, glowed in his praise.

One more day/night before we head north. One more set of repairs. Out came the power line and we had the air conditioning going in minutes. We're spoiled. The night before, in our anchorage, we had to contend with that peculiar, very Southern phenomena of late summer heat… a moistened blanket of glutinous air, moving only when stirred by our fans, refusing to cool our fevered, glistening bodies… and bugs, lots of bugs, and mosquitoes, lots of mosquitoes. Lordy how we miss the lovely islands and refreshing air of the Caribbean.


08/31/03

AT EASE is underway, up the muddy rivers, that reliable chocolate water of the south, and already deep into the backwoods if one is to judge from such factors as cell phone coverage, broadcast TV or houses and roads. We do see cabins, maybe even houses every few miles, most dilapidated, some collapsed, very few apparently occupied even on this holiday weekend.

Our journey Friday, back through the upper reaches of Mobile Bay and Mobile's commercial harbor, was exciting. We watched one of the numerous local thunderstorms build to the southeast, booming and crashes with lightening and thunder, move out over the water and track northwest across our northerly heading. Once again, we were treated to a waterspout along the leading edge, probably about a mile away, churning and thrashing and throwing up a froth of water probably 50'-80' high. The several boats moving, a shrimper, a small Coast Guard tug, a barge and us, all maintained course and speed but I'm sure we were all watching closely. It finally dissipated as it moved ashore, doing little damage apart from causing us to expend a few more of our lifetime limit of heartbeats.

Once inland, we moved to an anchorage and settled in for the evening and again addressed maintenance issues. We are still working out all the kinks and glitches secondary to installing so many new gadgets all at once, getting everything to work smoothly and together.

Here's some more of that boring technical stuff. I have finally gotten the AC inverter/charger working efficiently, reading the battery temperature probes and sending the right amount of energy into the cells without over heating and boiling. However, the DC system, Balmar alternator and Balmar 3-stage voltage regular, has decided to quit working. Every test I run suggests it is the regulator. I get voltage on all leads except the field. When I short across a 12 volt source to the harness and to the field wire, also in the harness, the alternator produces normal output. However, I happen to have another, new voltage regulator, one of the extensive sets of spares carried by AT EASE. It's a simple matter to plug the new regulator into the existing harness, the one I know works. The "new" regulator acts the same as the old. Now it is possible that both regulators, both new regulators, are flawed. But that isn't likely. I'm stymied.

This "short" or jumping is called a "full field test" and causes the alternator to go to full output. Now there are cautions galore not to continue this beyond the minimum time necessary to verify the alternator is charging… but I don't see why.

The first stage in charging, even through the "smart" voltage regulator which is a small computer, is "bulk charge" which is pretty well full out… about 80-90 amps. That continues until the voltage in the battery increases to some computer determined point, somewhere around 13.6 to 14.2 volts, then the regulator reduces energy to the alternator's field which causes the alternator to go into its second stage which is "acceptance charge", a stage that produces less output. If all went normally, it would eventually reach "float charge" where very little energy would be sent from the alternator to the batteries.

When I jump across the 12 volt source to the field wire in the harness, I am essentially telling the alternator to go into "bulk charge" mode. The amps out and the voltage of the batteries all seem well within normal charging parameters for that stage of charge. As long as I monitor and either control output by reducing engine rpm's or by shutting the charge down (pull the jumper), I can't see that I am doing anything damaging.

This accommodation allows me to continue upriver until I can find someone who knows more about the system than me. It is an expedient repair that keeps AT EASE functional. Do any of you engineers or sailors out there see something I am missing?

Oh yes, our new autopilot decided to quit working… it started sending a series of error messages basically telling me the drive motor was malfunctioning. We drove manually through the afternoon.

Last night we eased out of the main channel, marked here and there by floating buoys, snuggled in close to a mud bank and dropped the hook. The current, consistently about one knot, kept our boat aligned well so we felt safe although within probably 12'-15' of shore. With the anchor light on, with thoughts of the morrows repairs, we went to sleep.

About midnight, a tow pushing about six barges came through, chugging along upriver within about 50' of our anchored boat. It all seems a bit tense but passing speeds are low and those barges are so well under control that it is only when meeting in sharp bends, where the tows really swing those barges, that one has higher probability of getting in trouble. With the radio, we call ahead to ask the tow boat captains where they want us and how they want us to pass. Our experience is that the tow boat captains are very professional, courteous and eager to respond, unlike many of the salt water merchant seamen we encounter. How nice it is to be thanked for being cautious and careful.

With daylight we were refreshed. We had both been very hot all the previous day. Our awning over the cockpit is designed for ocean cruising… it is low, an extension of the dodger. It works well but obstructs the all around, standing vision we need on the river. But standing in the full sun is no treat. Shirley quickly designed a higher cover, anchored to our after solar panel arch and going forward to our topping lift. A few nips and tucks, a bit of "small stuff" (string) to secure it all, slide in an expanding pole to support and behold… we are shaded again.

And I climbed yet again into that lazarrette locker, yet again stuck my head into the engineering spaces aft, tugged and checked fittings, followed wire, forward to the autopilot computer mounted to a forward bulkhead in the locker… and I found the wire loosened by vibration. Behold! A functioning autopilot again.

By noon we were past three of the first barriers… low overhead clearances. They would be dangerously low if the water was high. We hoped for and found low pools and passed beneath the two bridges and one power line with feet to spare. I've been worrying about those clearances for months. What a relief!

The river is down enough for there to be extensive sandy river banks exposed which have always been the rural Southern beach. On this holiday weekend, Southerners abound on most. There is the American clutter of lawn chairs, ice chests and folding tables. There are the predictable clusters of tents and awnings. And there are a host of 4-wheelers, here there and everywhere. It's a mystery… there are more 4-wheelers than people.

Coffeeville Dam is our first lock. We were a bout 3 miles south when we called but the lockmaster decided to await our arrival. We motored into the lock, tied midship to a floating bollard, put fenders out fore and aft and rode the actually mild turbulence up about 20' or so. Just as we entered the lock a local thunderstorm came booming in with lightening and thunder and rain. That persisted until we motored the few miles north of the dam to tie up overnight at Bobby 's Fish Camp. The camp is noted for a pier for transients, fuel (which is remarkably scarce along this river) and catfish at the camp restaurant. Unfortunately, the same storm which hit us blew out the local electricity so no catfish. That's about the only thing traditionally Southern that's missing. We have Confederate flags, trailers and campers, a horde of kids, and enough pickups to convoy the Lawerence Welk Show.


08/23/2003

After two more sea trials to get all the electronics fully calibrated and interacting, AT EASE finally was ready to get underway. We had a final dockside party with our wonderful friends at Ocean Springs, feasted on shrimp and beans and rice, made our last runs to Walmart and West Marine, and on Saturday morning we motored out into Mississippi Sound for the run east.

Our initial plans were to run out to Petit Bois Island, a short jaunt really, but the day was beautiful and AT EASE was moving well so we changed our destination and went to the extreme eastern end of Dauphin Island, right to the mouth of Mobile Bay itself. Arriving just at dark, we motored in to Pelican Point and anchored just under the Civil War guns of Fort Gaines. It was here, against Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, just across the Bay's entrance, that Admiral Farragut brought the fleet in and fought the ("Damn the torpedoes… full speed ahead") Battle of Mobile Bay. In keeping with the spirit, we ignored the torpedo danger too.

This was a rolly, exposed anchorage that introduced us again to the joys of ocean swells. Trying to sleep with all that rolling action requires one to spread out and keep low… but it is possible. However, we weren't sorry to pull the anchor Sunday and motor into Mobile Bay itself. This is a huge bay with numerous oil platforms, tugs everywhere pushing and pulling large barge rigs, and a huge number of pelicans and gulls swarming around and in the wake of the multitude of shrimpers working just out of the channel. The long entrance channel is deep (49') to accommodate the ocean going traffic moving in and out of this very busy harbor. Between tugs and tankers and container ships we were moving back and forth in the channel giving them all the room they wanted.

We turned into Dog River and tied up at the Dog River Marina to top off fuel tanks and change the oil. This seems to be a boater friendly area. There are at least four, probably more marinas on both sides of Dog River immediately before it empties into Mobile Bay. There are sail and power boats both on the hard and tied up along piers lining the banks. Moving upstream, against the considerable tidal current, made it relatively easy to control AT EASE. The dock master is a real pro… knew exactly what to do with our spring line… and we gently eased alongside to rig our fender boards and get that power line over the side to fire up the air conditioner.

We decided to stay over Monday and get some faxing and copying done… wrapping up our lightening strike insurance claim before we get too far from the surveyor who is working with our insurance company. The folks here couldn't be nicer. There seems to be a good bit of local knowledge among the boaters about the Black Warrior-Tombigbee system and that's always a good supplement to what the books say. I'm still anxious about overhead clearance at the several bridges that are only 52' at normal high pool. The folks at the marina even have a relatively new courtesy car that they graciously make available to transient boaters.


08/25/2003

After two more sea trials to get all the electronics fully calibrated and interacting, AT EASE finally was ready to get underway. We had a final dockside party with our wonderful friends at Ocean Springs, feasted on shrimp and beans and rice, made our last runs to Walmart and West Marine, and on Saturday morning we motored out into Mississippi Sound for the run east.

Our initial plans were to run out to Petit Bois Island, a short jaunt really, but the day was beautiful and AT EASE was moving well so we changed our destination and went to the extreme eastern end of Dauphin Island, right to the mouth of Mobile Bay itself. Arriving just at dark, we motored in to Pelican Point and anchored just under the Civil War guns of Fort Gaines. It was here, against Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, just across the Bay's entrance, that Admiral Farragut brought the fleet in and fought the ("Damn the torpedoes. full speed ahead") Battle of Mobile Bay. In keeping with the spirit, we ignored the torpedo danger too.

This was a rolly, exposed anchorage that introduced us again to the joys of ocean swells. Trying to sleep with all that rolling action requires one to spread out and keep low. but it is possible. However, we weren't sorry to pull the anchor Sunday and motor into Mobile Bay itself. This is a huge bay with numerous oil platforms, tugs everywhere pushing and pulling large barge rigs, and a huge number of pelicans and gulls swarming around and in the wake of the multitude of shrimpers working just out of the channel. The long entrance channel is deep (49') to accommodate the ocean going traffic moving in and out of this very busy harbor. Between tugs and tankers and container ships we were moving back and forth in the channel giving them all the room they wanted.

We turned into Dog River and tied up at the Dog River Marina to top off fuel tanks and change the oil. This seems to be a boater friendly area. There are at least four, probably more marinas on both sides of Dog River immediately before it empties into Mobile Bay. There are sail and power boats both on the hard and tied up along piers lining the banks. Moving upstream, against the considerable tidal current, made it relatively easy to control AT EASE. The dock master is a real pro. knew exactly what to do with our spring line. and we gently eased alongside to rig our fender boards and get that power line over the side to fire up the air conditioner.

We decided to stay over Monday and get some faxing and copying done. wrapping up our lightening strike insurance claim before we get too far from the surveyor who is working with our insurance company. The folks here couldn't be nicer. There seems to be a good bit of local knowledge among the boaters about the Black Warrior-Tombigbee system and that's always a good supplement to what the books say. I'm still anxious about overhead clearance at the several bridges that are only 52' at normal high pool. The folks at the marina even have a relatively new courtesy car that they graciously make available to transient boaters.


08/11/2003

AT EASE has been to sea… or at least to the Mississippi Sound… for sea trials. We broke her free of the mud, waiting for high tide of course, then motored out the Ocean Springs channel and into the Biloxi East Channel to head out to Horn Island, off Dog Key Pass, where we finally found deep enough water to allow some free maneuvering. This was a day for motoring rather than sailing. While we have some curiosity about the running rigging and furling sails (after all the mast has been off the boat), we will wait for another day to deal with those issues. This trip was devoted to setting up and calibrating all the new electronics.

If details bore, scan quickly down to the part where Shirley frolics on the beach with friends while Bill and Saylor labor away on the boat. Oops! Guess I've just covered that. Here come the boring details.

First problems first. The steering is very tight and makes it difficult not to over correct while motoring in the relatively narrow channels. Further, the wheel centering mark, a rather intricate knot on the wheel, is exactly 180 degrees off, down instead of up, when the rudder is dead centered. Puzzling, it was. The only thing done recently to the steering was to repack the rudder stock stuffing box. The mystery of the inverted wheel is still unsolved. The steering problem persisted, and complicated further efforts throughout. When trying to get the autopilot calibrated there were additional creaks, bangs and cracks from the below decks steering that were confusing. We finally got below, tightened the loose and noisy brace holding the shaft of the steering quadrant, the rudder stock itself, to the after bulkhead. Why was it loose? Some questions just don't have answers. In the philosophic sense, I suppose that's fair given that some answers don't have questions either.

Not exercising one's boat routinely seems to have a price. Simple disuse likely produced some of our steering problems... corrosion. Opening the steering pedestal and cleaning everything in reach, and drenching everything else with penetrating lubricants, seemed to loosen the steering quite a bit. The steering, if not cured, seems manageable.

We began attacking the new equipment. I had done a rough calibration on the wind speed and direction instrument at the dock. That seemed pretty well right on. Boat speed was not registering at all… just big zeros. I was suspicious of mud clogging the transducer. I went below and pulled the transducer; it has a paddle wheel on a shaft that penetrates the hull to the outside. As the boat moves in the water, the paddle wheel turns and this gives boat speed through the water. Pulling this transducer, of course, left a large hole through which copious amounts of water rapidly entered the boat. Bill's pulse rate went up sharply. The water, along with the pounding heart, makes it difficult to concentrate… but I managed to clean the unit and get it back into its mount, stopping the inflow of water, and got it turned so the outside flow spun the paddle wheel and produced numbers on the instrument topside. I calibrated the instrument to the speed over ground reading from the GPS.

With manual in had, I did an initial setup with the autopilot. This involves going through page after page of questions and answers which tell the autopilots computer what type of boat one has and how one wants the autopilot to manage the boat. I started to punch some buttons telling the autopilot to perform some simple maneuvers. Oops… quickly turned it off again. The rudder indicator was backwards and the drive motor "ran away" trying to turn the boat through some pretzel like convulsion. Okay, into the lazarette locker, after first piling SCUBA gear, electrical wiring spares, power cords, extra oil jugs, dock cart, spare line, etc… here and there around the cockpit. The autopilot's computer lies buried here. Following instructions from the manual, I reversed wiring for the rudder indicator and the drive motor. Only then could I calibrate the rudder indicator and steering response levels.

Now, to allow the autopilot's computer to locate itself and calibrate its electronic compass, we had to turn in large circles very slowly. After some three or four circles the computer told us it had found itself, knew up from down and east from west so to speak, and could be directed to take us somewhere. I instructed it to follow a particular track. Nope… wandered off on its own, it did. I tried again. No joy! Now it decides to tell me that while it listens to its own computer, it was tired of talking to my laptop computer which contained my navigational software, electronic charts and such. Discord and labor problems among the electronic crew!

Tired of being a manager, I went below to once again become a technician. I lifted two deck hatches, exposing the mass of unattached wiring running down from my recently resurrected mast, and began to sort out the masthead tricolor light, the anchor and steaming lights, the emergency strobe light and the spreader spotlights. With some new terminals, terminal boards and crimping I had lights aloft once again. Enough… call it a day.

Not quite. We had been surrounded by boats, all out to Horn Island for the day. They began pulling up anchor and heading inland as the afternoon passed. Now only two, sport fisherman both, remained. One, with husband and wife, were obviously having trouble getting their engine started. Shirley asked if we could be of assistance. They thought we might break out one of our batteries and pass it over so they could start their engine. Out of the question. Our batteries are buried, close to inaccessible, and I was much too tired to even consider that major an operation. I did enquire, but of course they didn't have jumper cables. Neither did the other sport fisherman. I had mounted the outboard and dinghied over to ask. Okay, Plan B. I used the dinghy to tow them over along side AT EASE, then fabricated jumper cables from some heavy wiring I had on board in our spares. This finally worked and they got their engine started and, I suppose, made it home.

The story is not quite over. While I sat in the cockpit, fabricating the jumpers, the other boat pulled over and actually volunteered to help with a tow. However, the captain did caution he wasn't interested in spending the night slowly towing the other boat. He thought he could tow them at about 30 MPH. The potential towee did not seem excited by this prospect but I was. I even offered to pay to see that… a 30 MPH open ocean tow. I could picture boats coming apart, wave to wave. I'm sure it would have been spectacular, but reason prevailed so we did it the more mundane way, with the jumper cables.

It was a pleasant evening to replay us for the hassles of the day. To once again sit in the cockpit, at anchor, as darkness came, was delightful. The sunset was colorful, the full moon rising spectacular, and the now deserted anchorage serenely peaceful. We even had a view of the 10 NM distant fireworks show from Biloxi, the casinos' once a week show that vividly proclaims gambling is a profitable enterprise for the casinos.

This morning, up just after dawn, we pulled anchor and headed in to top off fuel and get back in our slip at Ocean Springs on a high tide. A final effort to calibrate the depth finder is still suspect. The bottom is a very soft mud, must be like a slurry, and just gives a lousy return for the electronics. It's even so soft that a sounding line, the old fashion way, is not reliable. One simply can't "feel" the bottom through that thickening mush. I think we are still guessing with the depth instrument. That's not a warm, comforting thought in this thin, coastal water.


08/01/2003

Times have been trying since our return to the US. We've had serious illnesses within our family, have lost some family members to illness, and have added a family member through the marriage of my son, Josh.  AT EASE has had a tough time as well.

On June 27th, AT EASE took a direct lightening strike.  We were tied up at a slip in Ocean Springs (MS) Small Craft Harbor and Shirley and I were off the boat shopping with friends. When we returned, we found fragments of our masthead light and wind indicator lying on deck.  Down below, in addition to a hyperventilating dog, there was the unmistakable smell of burned wiring.  A quick inventory revealed the damage.

Pretty well all the electronics were fried.  That included the SSB radio, the automatic antenna tuner and the HF modem, our Dell laptop computer and some computer accessories, our autopilot, wind direction and speed, and boat speed instruments, depth finder, radar scanner, voltage regulator, alternator, inverter and energy monitoring electronics. All three VHF radios on the boat, two were hand helds, were fried. Several pumps were damaged and need replacing. One light fixture and the electronic igniters on the galley stove were also destroyed.

We pulled the boat on July 7 and have been in the boatyard where we had the mast taken down and all internal wiring replaced. While there we did a careful inspection of the hull for any lightening damage.  None was found.  While the rigging seemed okay, we will replace the backstay antenna just as a safety precaution since this is where the lightening entered the boat. 

I finally got AT EASE back in the water, and back in a slip at Ocean Springs on July 24th.  Since then, we have been continuing repairs and replacement of equipment. It's always frustrating when so many different people are involved in the process, vendors, technicians, surveyors, insurance folks, etc… and each is working their own agenda and timetable. 

We'll manage however.  In fact, our life tied to shore has been made immeasurably simpler by friends who have generously made a car available to us. The Ocean Springs area continues to be exciting and entertaining with great friends and wonderful food… and we've decided to view all this as an excellent opportunity to upgrade our electronics.

We chose to replace quite a bit of suspect wiring, especially instrument and communications related wiring, and that has been time consuming and tedious, but worth the effort.  Shirley and I are both absolutely tired of the interior of the boat being in utter disarray.  To gain access to all that wiring one really has to empty most of the lockers and all that now unstored material has to go somewhere. That has been difficult to contend with but we have managed thus far.

At this point, we hope to have AT EASE seaworthy again by the end of the week or by early next week at the latest.  The nature of lightening is such that I'm sure we have hidden damage that will only be evident as we use the boat and its systems.  It will take some time, and some sea trials before we are again fully confident that all systems are ready to go.  But we're ready to go.  Both of us feel the itch… we've been setting still too long. 

Even when ready to go, there remains the question of where to go. The weather has continued to be terrible.  Not only have two tropical storms touched the area, but there are absolutely routine afternoon thunderstorms and continuing lightening to contend with.  This pattern of unusually heavy rainfall apparently covers much of the southeast US, the area where we had hoped to move into inland rivers for the rest of hurricane season.  Relatively low bridges on the Black Warrior and lower Tombigbee force us to wait for normal pool levels in the rivers and those rivers are far from normal right now.  I suspect we will have to sail some in the Mississippi Sound and Florida Panhandle waters until normal conditions return.  We will just hope no hurricanes come wandering in this direction until we have the opportunity to sneak up river.


05/21/03

The Gulf of Mexico is known, and known to us, as a volatile body of water; unpredictable and where wave action can become challenging without being huge. It hasn't changed.

We crossed from St Pete to Ocean Springs, a trip of 400 NM, with extended forecasts of light winds (10 kts or less) from the south and 1-2 foot seas, likely to last for the trip's 3-4 day duration. It looked like an 80 hour diesel run so we took on fuel at St Pete's municipal marina and departed Saturday morning about 0830. As we motored under the huge Skyway Bridge in lower Tampa Bay, and passed by Egemont Key at the entrance, the open waters of the Gulf were as predicted. Flat… greasy flat with nary a breeze nor cat's paw of air to be seen. There were numerous fishing boats clustered about the channel and stretching out offshore for miles and miles. Those guys drive a long way to sit in the sun and drink beer.

We had the main up, mostly to stabilize the boat, but were clearly using the "iron genny", and actually making pretty good time, around 7 kts, in the flat seas. Tampa Bay's main shipping channel stretches miles off shore. The sea entrance, marked by a prominent Racon, a transmitter putting a large radar signature out much like a lighthouse's visual beacon, is 20 miles out, and traffic is heavy with large tankers and container ships, as well as the numerous fishing boats. But with such good visibility maneuvering was not difficult. By noon there was a ghost of a breeze from the south so we put up the drifter but continued to motorsail along our base course of 301 degrees magnetic. Sunset was striking with the typical red-orange-pink sky but with a rich purple reflecting on the gently rippling but otherwise flat sea. The moon, largely full, lit up the night, and the clear sky left a huge ceiling of stars under which to enjoy the solitude of being alone on the sea.

By 0930 on Sunday we had the engine off and were sailing on a broad reach in increasing winds up to 8-12 kts from the south. During the day, we tried various sail combinations and course alterations to get the most from the marginal air which hovered near 15 kts at its best and below 10 at its worse. Lots of clouds on the western horizon gave another colorful, if somewhat ominous portend of weather a coming. After dark we could see lightening flashes in the north and a wall of building cumulonimbus clouds were prominent. We furled the drifter and continue sailing with main only at reduced speed while securing the boat for coming weather. The rest of the night was spent watching the high frequency lightening show off our starboard bow but it was so far out the radar gave no returns. We could hear the Coast Guard on the VHF giving warnings of severe thunderstorm activity on the coast, a system moving northeast and from the Gulf, so we knew our time was coming.

In the hours before dawn, we watched a line of intense storm activity, with almost continuous lightening, gradually close from ahead. Radar counted down the miles from 24, our maximum range, and gave us indications of where the stronger cells lay, and where we might slip between the worse areas, but it could not be avoided. In that period of first light, before the sun came up, when the sea and clouds were shades of grey with black looming overhead, a flash of white drew my attention. Off our starboard bow a tornado had touched down creating a waterspout. The long, twisting funnel cloud arched out of a thunderhead and where it touched, created an explosion of white water thrown hundreds of feet in the air. Knowing roughly where to look, I could find the characteristic "pointing finger" of the funnel on radar and could fix its position (about 2 miles) and movement so avoiding it wasn't difficult. Shirley got some great pictures as it moved off.

By noon on Monday we were through the worst of storm and lightening and were dealing with the highly confused wind and sea conditions characteristic after a frontal passage. Sudden wind shifts produced violent filling and backing of the sails and actually broke a slide on the mainsail. The boat was bouncing about quite a bit but I managed to get the main down and replaced the slide but when hoisted again both my replacement and another slide broke and pulled free. Again, while Shirley conned the boat, and I was hanging on at the mast pulpit as we banged and rolled, we managed to replace both slides and get the sail up again… this time intact and in its track. We motored with main and staysail to stabilize the boat as much as possible while conditions settled. By evening the wind had backed to the southeast and we were downwind sailing in failing breeze.

With 10 or less knots directly behind, and with heavy rolling from the post-storm swells, the sails would fill, then dump air as we rolled, then violently fill again, all creating a banging and crashing that does as much damage to nerves as it does to rigging… wearing and tiring both ship and crew. I furled the drifter early, altered course to get a better angle on the wind, and laid the main well out on the shrouds knowing full well it would increase chafing but at least the world got quieter. This course change put us into the cluster of major shipping channels lying off Mobile Bay, Pascagoula and Gulfport and we spent the rest of the night worrying about traffic from commercial vessels while we motorsailed.

The radar was absolutely cluttered. This area is packed with old wellheads, capped and abandoned and unlighted but visible on radar. Mix in a swarm of large shrimpers who fish at night, transient seagoing barges and ships moving in and out, and the result is a confused and anxious crew struggling to develop a picture of what was happening, what was moving around us in the night. When the moon came up, quite late actually, it became somewhat better, but even with our new binoculars, which do a good job enhancing night vision, one seagoing barge and tug had to get within a quarter mile before I could identify what was below those confusing lights.

From midnight, just off Petit Bois Island, now in the east-west offshore channel, we turned west and went in among the numerous shrimpers working in and around the channel. These shrimp boats are striking at night. They have large booms on either side supporting large nets, partially visible above the water, which they drag to collect shrimp from the bottom. The after half of the ship, where the fishermen are working the rig, is brightly lit, illuminating the ship and surrounding sea. When they have their nets up, hanging from the booms, they seem to have huge, gossamer wings greenish and glowing in the night. Shirley describes them as "grasshoppers and lotus" with their "legs" or "wings" depending on the status of their nets. The effect is beautiful visually, but nerve-wracking with respect to maneuvering among the erratically moving vessels.

As planned, we arrived at Dog Key Pass just as the pre-dawn sky lightened. With radar and our electronic navigation system we probably could have made the transit through the pass even in the dark, but we hadn't been here in almost three years, and didn't know how conditions had changed. That sand does move around on the bottom, tides and currents and weather being active, and new shoals and moved navigation aids are not uncommon. However, we had enough light to see the marks, get through the pass and its surrounding shoals, and find the channels in toward Biloxi.

Our wonderful friends at Ocean Springs had arranged a transient slip for AT EASE. An early morning cell phone call alerted friends and the harbormaster to our arrival. A welcoming committee awaited. At marker #26 we turned to follow the very shallow channel into Ocean Springs, then pushed our way through the mud into a slip at the small craft harbor. Another 400 NM were behind us… now almost 10,000 total miles traveled.

It seemed like a homecoming! Almost three years ago we had left Ocean Springs to wander the Bahamas, the US East Coast, then down into the Caribbean basin. During that time, both Shirley and I talked repeatedly about those marvelous folks in Ocean Springs that had made us feel so welcome, so included, so a part of that community. We were back… and back, embraced, within the network of their lives. What special folks they are!


05/16/2003

St Pete is a pleasant city, rich in extensive waterfronts and beautiful parks, with neighborhoods as well enjoying waterfront vistas and personal docking. The municipal marina is located in the midst of downtown, only a couple of blocks from a mall and theaters, but miles and miles from such necessities as grocery and marine stores. While the parks make walking a pleasure, and Saylor has gloried in shore leave with grass, pretty well everything else requires transportation.

My brother, Bruce, lives with his family in St Pete and has graciously provided transportation during his time off. We also met another cruiser, a fellow SSCA Commodore, who offered his car if needed. With these assets, we have been able to shop and I could pick up the heavy duty solenoid and a circuit breaker needed to make my windlass more reliable. Now that is a load (pun intended) off my mind!

Through Bruce, we met another sailor, Charley Hirt, who has recently moved up to a 38' Catalina and is contemplating longer distance cruising. He graciously drove us about town, showing us the neighborhoods and acting as our hoist at the St Pete Yacht Club. The club is truly a class operation and, while so obviously social, it also invests heavily in youth sailing instruction as well as more traditional sailing and racing. How nice of him to provide us with a club burgee for our collection.

We've arranged for mail, and Shirley has gotten the laundry done and has given the boat a freshwater bath, while I have played catch up on the several naps missed somewhere in our travels. We've even gotten our phone services a bit better sorted out and purchased our freedom from some AT&T servitude which seemed largely characterized by their telling us what we couldn't do, and have enjoyed touching bases with friends and family. Now we're restless again. It must be about time to leave.

Today (Friday), we collect our mail, get the dinghy up on the foredeck, and check systems, making any small repairs needed. Tomorrow, we move over to the fuel dock, top off with diesel, and head offshore.

The weather reports look pretty bad. No foul weather to speak of… just light air. Without more air to move the boat we'll be faced with a three-day diesel run when we cross the Gulf to Ocean Springs, MS. That will be better than our last crossing of the Gulf which was about 30 hours of 20-25 kt wind on the nose with waves (square… really!) of 6' or more. But we would much prefer wind to move us along. The squeaks and creaks of rigging, the gurgle of water alongside the hull, the sighing of waves as they pass below and gently rock, the creamy wave tops as they paint the ocean, and the caressing breeze cooling sun-warmed bodies, or the vast open skies and countless stars over a moon-brillant sea… that's what makes a sailing passage great.


05/13/2003

Our stay at Boca Chica was productive. John Hixson, our very good and old friend, made one of his vehicles available to us, which gave us access to marine stores and to the base's commissary and Navy Exchange. In short order, we had the engine oil and filter changed, the fuel filter changed, the Monitor tweaked and ready to steer again, and a new double sheave to replace the teak block with cheek broken during some of the banging and crashing of sails during our trip. The main halyard was worn where it had chafed during our downwind sailing so that had to be trimmed and resecured. I also bought another 120' of 7/16 yacht braid as a spare main halyard in case the chafing continues to be a problem. There's only so much one can trim before it becomes too short to do all we want. Not only do we use the main halyard to haul up the sail, we also use it to lift the dinghy at night, to hold it out of the water and alongside AT EASE's deck. This is a security arrangement (makes it harder to steal) and also cuts down on marine growth on the dinghy and motor. The windlass seemed to be working again, although it had not been tested under a load. We seemed ready to go.

On Friday afternoon (May 9), we unmoored and motored over to Oceanside Marina, just a mile or so, to take on fuel. In the marina area, while turning in to the fuel dock, we ran aground. Now we feel officially welcomed back to Florida and its notoriously shallow water. My usual tricks didn't help. I tried to squirm the boat from side to side, to back up (obviously), and even tried a kedge with my stern anchor, but nothing worked. Not to worry. In anticipation of our return to Florida waters, I had renewed my membership with Boat/US and bought their unlimited towing package. I called for help and they arrived in about 10 minutes. I think the rising tide was floating us anyway but he had us off in minutes and I moved on to the fuel dock. We took aboard 63 gals of diesel and then headed out to Key West where we would anchor briefly, dinghy in for dinner and pick up John Hixson who would accompany us north to Naples. After dinner, really about 2300, we started raising the anchor. The windlass worked, then didn't, then sort of did. Between the windlass and the winded Bill, the anchor was secured and we motored out of the harbor and headed north toward Naples.

With wind initially from the south, we rigged for a port tack and made good time under sail. However, within a couple of hours the wind laid and backed to the SE so down came the main and we let the big drifter, back out on a pole, pull us along. That held until mid-afternoon when the failing wind pushed us to motorsail to Naples' entrance channel. We've been there before and know the channel meanders for several miles and has very shallow water surrounding. It takes some careful navigating to stay out of the mud… an issue made more challenging by the heavy recreational boat traffic in this narrow channel. With Shirley monitoring the charts, John to watch boat traffic, and Bill to worry, we managed to get in and find a mooring ball for the night. We headed ashore.

Shirley had done her homework. She knew the place to be was on 3rd Avenue, about a half mile from the City Marina. Just a nice walk… and a chance to show off Shirley in her new, slinky black dress. Naples is a very attractive city, clearly upscale and full of folks obviously out to have a good time. There is a small town atmosphere about the place, but it is still clearly urban and sophisticated. The restaurant she had chosen was excellent, both the food and the live entertainment, and the walk back comfortable in the cool night air.

Sunday morning got off to a slow start with a late breakfast, then playing with John's new video camera and recording Shirley singing a couple of her original songs. I took advantage of John and had him winch me up the mast in a bosun's chair so I could change the bulb in our masthead tricolor light. We said our goodbyes, until next time, to John, who headed on back to Key West, and we got underway for the last 130 (or so) NM trip to Tampa Bay and the St Pete Municipal Marina.

It looked to be a great sail. The forecast predicted 10-15 kts from the southwest which would have been ideal. It even started that way, but within two hours the wind had clocked to the west, just too close to our rhumb line. Worse, it started to fail. Back to motorsailing, we were, with only the main. After daylight, we turned into Tampa Bay's Southwest Channel, moved up to join traffic in the main shipping channel and then moved over to St Petersburg Municipal Marina to take up a transient slip for a few days while waiting for mail, then a weather window for crossing the Gulf to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.


05/03/2003

Day 5 found us approaching the northern coast of Cuba. South of us, the Dominican Republic had disappeared, then the north coast of Haiti and the Isle of Torture (hurried past that puppy, we did), then across the Windward Passage, the last of the large Caribbean passes into the SW North Atlantic.

As evening approached we were sailing, still very slowly, and negotiating the first of the three Inshore Traffic Zones that take commercial shipping close in to the Cuba coast. We were with 12 NM at one point. On the horizon, we were treated to a spectacular lightening display inside a towering wall of thunderstorms which themselves were shades of gray to slate to black. The lightening bursts were frequent and intense, streaking from cloud to cloud, from cloud to sea and within clouds. This was so visible, visually and with radar, that way had plenty of time to get prepared. We shortened sail, got the pole down and the drifter furled, secured the boat and even put on rain gear and safety harnesses. The leading squall line hit with the rain and major wind some 5 miles away. Winds quickly moved into the 20 kt range and moved into the 30's as the drenching rain struck. With the radar, I was able to maneuver toward a weaker section of the wall and avoided the more intense cells but it was still an active ride for some 45 minutes until we penetrated. With another two hours of turbulent seas and changing winds we finally got through the frontal zone and were able to spend the evening sailing… slowly… up the busy shipping channel, with courteous tankers and container ships graciously maneuvering to overtake and pass at distances usually over a mile. We appreciated their sensitivity to our limited ability to maneuver ourselves.

Day 6, May 2, with some 500 or so miles behind us, dawn broke as a gray, hazy morning with flattened seas and again very little air. With daylight, we got the drifter fully deployed again with pole, the worked the main onto the other side to sail wing-on-wing, an attractive, even impressive sail combination but one difficult to control in variable wind conditions. We had a nice, traditional breakfast of sausage, toast and eggs, managed the several rigging repairs (broken cheek on sheave, clevis pin fell out of mainsail clew, broken slide on main batcar, etc…) from another night of banging and crashing sails, backing and filling, and settled into our routine of one on and one off watch.

We spoke to s/v DOMINIQUE, a South African flagged yacht with a Belgium couple (Gary and Karen) aboard, also making their way up the Channel. We exchanged weather information and commiserated one with the other about the light air conditions. Winds started to build by 1500, during Shirley's watch, and she got up all three sails and trimmed them to the beam conditions, about 15 kts of wind, to produce boat speeds consistently above 5 kts. We soon pulled ahead of DOMINIQUE, much to Shirley's glee. With some lapse of sportsmanship, she couldn't resist calling DOMINIQUE to make sure they had noticed her leaving them behind.

Throughout the evening and early morning hours we had a glorious sail with boat speeds consistently above 4 kts, sometimes 5 kts. Sail trimming and changes were pretty active, however. Between taking sails in and putting them out there was little time through the night for reading but it did make the watches go faster.

Day 7, Saturday, May 3, and pre-dawn greeted us with another spectacular light show and some accompanying winds in the high 20'-low 30's. With the help of radar, and some luck, we slipped through a hole in the wall of thunderstorms and escaped the worst of it. For about 30-40 minutes we had quite a ride but, even with higher winds, the aftermath of such thunderstorms is a confused sea that pitches and rolls and yaws and makes it very difficult to keep air in the sails or to keep up good boat speeds. We went through numerous sail changes and trim changes until 1000 when we reached a waypoint, changed course, and got the wind directly on our stern, yet again. Wing on wing, we settled in for a 163 NM run along Cuba's north coast, through Nicholas Channel and south of Cay Sal Banks, our next waypoint where we will finally change course directly for Key West. At midnight, s/v DOMINIQUE said their adieus and changed course north to close Ft Lauderdale. We've enjoyed chatting with them from time to time and comparing our slow progress in these windless conditions with other sailors as frustrated as ourselves trying to wrest more performance from sails already doing their best in poor circumstances.

Now 770 miles of a 1000 NM journey behind us. We're starting to hear radio traffic from the more powerful VHF radios of southern Florida and can now get weather information from the VHF weather channels maintained by the National Weather Service.


04/30/2003

AT EASE finally acquired a legal crew again… Bill's passport renewal, which had been hanging in bureaucracy, finally arrived in San Juan about 1500 on Saturday, the 26th. It had been very frustrating, watching days of wind blow by with now only light air forecast for the old Bahamas Channel area. But today, we had wind, and now we had our mail as well. Within minutes we had the boat top stripped of canvas awnings, the dinghy hoisted aboard, and the engine running. Up anchor and out the channel… right? Some things are never really all that simple. The windlass decided to get temperamental. I stepped on the button, heard it start and immediately stop. Next try I got only clicks from the solenoid. I had a quick check of wiring looking for my old friend corrosion. Found some, of course, but that wasn't the problem. Finally gave up and just heaved in the roughly 150' of chain, off a 40' bottom, by hand. I'm no longer a young man… but we did get underway by about 1700. Out the channel and on to our NW rhumb line for the non-stop 1000 NM, to Key West up the north coasts of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti, then along Cuba and the finally Keys.

We are determined to sail as much as possible, needing to conserve our onboard fuel for when we really need it. The distant forecasts for only light and variable air are intimidating. We carry 80 gals of diesel, and have 10 gals on deck, so we have about 500 NM range by engine, but the trip planned is twice that. We simply will have to make the best out of whatever air we can find.

Our first night out was rolly with NE swells and 8-12 kt winds from the SE, essentially putting us into a downwind run. AT EASE doesn't like directly downwind runs. The Spirit of Lord Nelsons, has come to me during late night watches, quite an attractive lady as an aside, and patiently explained to me that "If I wanted to sail downwind, I would have been a square rigger." What could I say but "Yes Maam, I understand… and, by the way, nice boobs". Late night watches do get lonely.

In downwind sailing, it's hard to use all our sails as the main tends to obstruct the headsails, and the main, when put hard out, rides on the mast stays which affects shape and creates chafe. Yet, beggars can't be choosers, and we already know we will have poor conditions for sail down the road, so we let little air get by without at least a try.

By dawn, we were at the western end of Puerto Rico and entering the northern reaches of the Mona Passage crossing toward the Dominican Republic. The winds failed and we were forced to motor. Old friends, Dave and Sandy on s/v ALEXUS, hailed us on the VHF. They were about 15 NM NW of us, moving parallel for a couple of days until they veer north toward Turks and Caicos. What a pleasant surprise to have friends to chat with during long day and night watches.

Around 1600 of Day 1, we were able to shut down and take advantage of a breeze from the SW that built to about 10-12 kts and drove us at speeds in the 6 kt range during the night and what a marvelous, magical night it was. It was a sky full of stars and a sea ablaze with bioluminescence from our wake and from the broken, foaming tops off the 5-7' waves. This lasted until about 0900 the following morning when it began to lay. By 1100, it was gone and we motored again until about 1500 when a building wind from the SE, up to 10 kts, again led us to set up for downwind sailing at 4-5 kts.

The wind wasn't all that disturbed our morning on Day 2. At 1000, a Royal Navy vessel met us and turned to circle us while an obviously American voice, surely a US Coast Guardsman, went through the standard "Stop and Check" interview (where from, where going, what's aboard, who are you, etc…) and then continued to circle while they checked up on vessel documentation and such. They took so long, a full hour, I fully expected to be boarded, Shirley even cleaned up in preparation for boarding, but with a pleasant "Have a nice day" they departed SE to pounce on the next obviously suspicious looking vessel transiting these waters.

We motored until 1350 when the wind built from the SE and made sailing possible again. Desperate to get whatever the wind offered, we poled out the main and tried wing-on-wing but the boat was too unstable in the rolly conditions so we left the whisker pole in place but went back to a starboard tack. Shirley hooked a BIG fish. We know because the beast broke off one of the rather large stainless steel hooks. Not content, it then visibly trailed the bait for minutes trying to decide whether to strike again. Reason prevailed on both our parts. The fish was too wary, maybe too sore, to strike again… and we didn't want a monster that big on deck anyway. Within an hour, Shirley had landed a 10 lb Mahi Mahi, probably our favorite fish. But not tonight! Roast pork was on the menu. With autopilot, radar, and more stable wind, we were both able to go below and enjoy.

To maximize weather, we moved a bit further north, closer to the Turks and Caicos banks, as the night progressed but could not get the wind off the nose so it was a night of motorsailing until about 0915 of Day 3 when we got enough air to move (barely) under sail alone. Clocking winds gave us better angles but very low velocity led us back to motoring by 1500 and that continued until 2240 when we got enough wind to drive us until midnight. From then, until dawn, we trimmed sails and changed combinations trying to get the best of very light airs, and did manage to keep the boat moving with some help from about .5 kt of favorable current. With such light air, and in any kind of sea state, even the very mild 3-4', sometime 2-3', seas will roll the air out of the sails leaving them to back, then fill as the boat rolls again, always causing a loud bang and potentially damaging one's rig. Overnight, we did manage to break a slide on a batten car from this backing and filling but have spares aboard for this sort of repair.

By Day 4 we were more than a little disappointed at the lack of sailing. Sounding our fuel tank confirmed about ¾ full. We decided to continue past Great Inagua, about the last possible refueling point, and make the run on into Key West with what we had aboard, but conservation of fuel was still the name of the game. We would have to continue the labor intensive, light air sailing at very low boat speeds that would lengthen our trip by days and expose us to more possible developing weather as it came off Florida.

By 0730 I had used the whisker pole to hold out the yankee to catch as much air as possible… this allowed us to move, albeit very slowly but use of the pole makes sail handling more complicated. At 0950 we were overflown by a US Coast Guard Gulf Stream, down to about 500', which made two passes to identify us and probably to snap a few pictures. I called "Good Morning Coast Guard" on the VHF but got no response. I assume this increased scrutiny has to do with our location off Haiti and the periodic refugee problem, as well as the drug running problem which is longstanding.

It was another day of sail trimming, seemingly every hour, pole out then pole in, port tack then downwind then starboard tack then downwind again to wring the most out of the maddeningly light air. We finally gave up and took down our heavy duty but smaller yankee, the most forward of our two headsails, and replaced it with a lighter but much larger genoa, our cruising "drifter", to get the most from the available air. The drifter is a bear to manage in any kind of moderate to heavy weather and we usually avoid the drudge of digging it out of a buried locker, managing the sail change on a tossing foredeck, then running the risk of getting caught with the awkward sail in heavy weather. Our reward… two more 10 lb Mahi Mahi, one of which flopped off the hook just at the boat, but the other went into the menu plan just fine.

By night, the winds built slightly, shifted to the beam, and set up another wonderful night of sailing at speeds in the 5 kt range. While boat speed dropped on Day 5, we were able to sail most of the day and night with continuing sail trimming, and increasingly poor toleration of the intermittent banging and crashing as the sails backed and filled in the rolly conditions. Commercial boat traffic was definitely increasing as we moved into the throat of the Old Bahamas Channel.


04/25/2003

On the 23rd we got tired of waiting for wind and headed out for San Juan. We motor sailed the entire route, watching squalls move around us and once over us. We had topped off with fuel at Rosie Roads and will top off again at San Juan before heading out. The weather looks more and more like we will need it. Even longer range forecasts are predicting light winds, 6-14 kts depending on the day, and we like 15-20 kts for passage making. The latter is the more normal trade wind pattern.

San Juan harbor is a busy, large basin with a shoot of about ¾ mile running east that is a bit narrow for the cruise ships and seagoing barges that use its seawall and terminals. It is down this shoot that cruisers find an anchorage just off two marinas. We are just across the line from the Old San Juan district and into the newer Santurce district of the city. San Juan is a large metropolitan area, with a sprawl of multistory buildings that produces an impressive skyline. Closer inspection does suggestion that more than a few of these buildings are empty, apparently deserted and in poor repair. However, the city appears busy and prosperous overall with heavy traffic and signs of construction all about. We are just down from the Coast Guard station and across from the general aviation airport which has traffic in and out pretty well 24 hours.

While waiting for weather, we went ashore and walked down to Old San Juan, the city originating in the early 1500's and growing until it occupied the entire peninsula guarded by Morro fortress to the west and Cristobal fortress to the east. Much of the old city is walled with walls reaching heights of 20 or more feet and some as thick as 18 feet. The major fortress, Morro, is terraced and could deliver fire from six different levels across the harbor mouth. Pretty impressive hunk of masonry and in remarkable repair considering the age.

The old city is in very good condition, much better than years ago in my memory. It has become truly a Yuppie haven with banks and well dressed professionals, each with their cell phone to ear, milling about among the cruise ship tourists. The area is replete with narrow, cobblestone streets, and multistory homes or apartment houses, many with hidden central courtyards and gardens, competing with the businesses for space. There are vehicles in the old area but they are not overwhelming and much of the area is walking only. The bright pastel colors, large potted plants here and there, and wrought iron facings and balconies give the place a pleasant atmosphere, welcoming and warm.

Did I say warm… well it was HOT! Down among the higher buildings, each adjoining its neighbor or separated only by a narrow entrance into another courtyard, with the sun heating all that stonework hot enough to bake bread, we simply cooked. Frequent stops in small shops for bottles of water helped some but what really helped was to get out of the warren of streets and back onto the coastal heights where we could get some wind.

We found a bus, luckily one heading in our direction, and gratefully rode back to the marina where we had left our dinghy. That isn't as simple as it may sound. It seems relatively few locals in San Juan speak English and our Spanish is… well, it was a struggle. We did finally get back, dodged across several lanes of fast moving traffic, and retrieved our dinghy and returned to AT EASE. One more adventure… and how nice to get home.


04/19/2003

We grew tired of the rolly anchorage in Charlotte Amalie, especially after the rain set in. We know this is the rainy season. We know the islands need what moisture they can capture. We still prefer the sun.

This has been classic US cold front rain. Heavy patches within but mostly just hour after hour of rain under a gray, oppressive sky that masks paradise in drab colors and anonymous mien. Imagine… a front actually reached us down here and has persisted now for some days. First the front, yesterday, passed in St Thomas, and today the trailing trough bangs us with the same boring costume in Puerto Rico.

Yes, we came back to Puerto Rico. This morning, after another night of rolling, midst windless rain and bobbling boats each encroaching on the other's water rights, we had a close encounter with another Arkansas boat (LUNA C), we said adieu and headed for Roosevelt Roads, the Naval Station on Puerto Rico's SE coast. The forecast said conditions would deteriorate all day long… they did. We started in relatively clear skies with a brisk 15-20 kt wind and 4-6' seas from the SE, and had a boisterous sail across to Vieques Sound. The sky grew grayer, the wind failed and, by the time we negotiated permission to enter the base, more heavy, windless rain threatened.

Negotiating is an accurate concept. I had to call on a cell phone to produce a "float plan" which Navy Harbor Control would accept. I discovered that somewhere in the last few blows, my VHF antenna, the whip wire at the masthead, had disappeared. I finally fell back on using my handheld radio to get permission to enter. We turned in at the sea buoy and progressed down the harbor entrance channel to explore a couple of mud banks guarding the mooring field off the marina. They were still there… just like the chart said.

Now we're hanging out, waiting for the weather to return to paradisio quality. We'll give it a couple of days, then off to Old San Juan, to tour the now yuppie, upscale streets that in my youth housed the sin city of the Antilles… it's better now, of course. From San Juan, topped off with fuel and food from Rosie Roads, we make the big jump up the Old Bahamas Channel, 7-8 days, to Key West and the Great Shopping Mall (America).


4/04/2003

AT EASE has been in tourist mode. We lay at anchor in Charlotte Amalie for two days, while crew and guests wandered the duty-free shops in competition with veritable hordes of cruise ship revelers, and took care of such irritants as applying for passport renewal and getting tax information off to the accountant.

There were five cruise ships in the harbor, each disgorging a couple of thousand pale passengers on the community, triggering a feeding frenzy among the locals to make hay while the sun shines. Five is overload. The pier can accommodate only three. One ship anchored outside the harbor and one anchored in the middle of the harbor. Each anchored ship ferried its passengers ashore in a continuing series of tenders, these competing with the heavy harbor traffic of dinghies, harbor cruise boats and numerous inter-island ferries. Add in landing and departing seaplanes and the picture does seem truly busy.

We yachties, or cruisers, tend to hold ourselves above the run of the mill cruise ship tourists, yet the distinction is lost among the locals. As we wander about ashore, they try to exploit us in the same ways. For example, in spite of the fact that we know that local bus fares are $1.00, they persist in trying to charge us the $3.00 fee levied on the ship passengers. We refuse… we walk. There are some good buys in the duty-free shops; cameras, watches, jewelry and such but one has to be alert and know relative values in order to bargain shop.

Everything is so clustered that the entire US and British Virgins occupies an area of about 40 linear miles. Therefore, moving from one anchorage to another, one beach to another, and from one dive site or snorkeling location to another, requires little time or effort. In fact, the real dilemma is to decide from among the competing options.

On Wednesday, we motored across Charlotte Amalie's harbor to anchor in Honeymoon Bay on the western side of Water Island. This is near the old submarine base, now a commercial hub with marina and cargo handling facilities. Leaving there Wednesday afternoon, we moved offshore and around the island to the east to anchored in the western lee of St James in a location known as Christmas Cove, a popular cruisers' anchorage. After overnighting there, we sailed on to Hawksnest Bay on the north coast of St John where we took a mooring to send the crew ashore for beach play. Thursday afternoon, we slipped our mooring and crossed to Red Hook harbor on St Thomas' eastern coast. In this busy anchorage, with waters roiled by high frequency ferries, we hung on our anchor a few days and sent the crew ashore to ride a ferry across to Cruz Bay, St John for more shopping (Mongoose Junction), and then by cab to Coral World Marine Park, a unique underwater observatory.

Friday night, we were invited aboard s/v FIFTH SEASON, friends from Trinidad, for drinks and entertainment. Gail, a wonderfully talented lady who plays the harp and sings at local bistros, graciously entertained us with a mix of English, Scottish and French folk songs. How nice to spend time with them again.

AT EASE's shore party reported back from the Coral World excursion with tales of wonder and awe. There, they wandered 30' down amidst brightly colored coral and tropical fish, all viewed through glass and well lighted. So much neater than dealing with wet swimsuits, sand and salt encrustation.

With the crew's return, we raised the anchor and motored back around the eastern tip of St Thomas and back into Charlotte Amalie to settle in for the final burst of shopping and the struggle to pack clothes and presents back into a finite amount of baggage for the flight home. We hope Paula and Amecia had a good time visiting the boat and the islands. I know that Shirley had a wonderful time visiting with them.

(Editor's Note:  Below are some thoughts regarding the conflict in Iraq by Bill)

Today, while waiting to get online at a local Internet Café, I had opportunity to watch CNN coverage of the war. What an eerie feeling… for such momentous happenings to have such little impact on my life. After 30 years of association first with the Marine Corps and then the Navy Reserve, to now see so clearly that time has passed me by. I've heard the catchy phrase that "this isn't your father's Army". It almost doesn't feel like my war either, or at least I don't personally feel I am at war.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that Saddam Hussein is a villain and that he should be removed from power and that opposing power is the only way to make that happen. I believe that European powers are unwilling to counter Saddam for their own selfish economic interest. That leaves the US and Britain, and the wonderful Aussies who may have made the most purely moral commitment of us all. I mean, what vested interest do they have apart from an effort to just do the right thing.

I didn't mention the UN. What a wonderful deliberative body, perhaps the world's best. Like the US Congress, learned men get to make speeches and spin events and try to spend someone else's money, and they get to go on and on with little apparent accountability and with continuingly less credibility. I remember attending university faculty meetings where intellectual discourse would occupy us all for hours and we all left feeling so self important and satisfied. We, like the bodies noted above, were able to have our self-congratulatory gatherings quite detached from any surrounding realities and our deliberations certainly had little notable impact on the surrounding world.

The war has so little impact out here. Today, five cruise ships moved into Charlotte Amalie, more than pier space could accommodate. Two had to anchor and ferry their cargoes of pale to sunburned revelers ashore. But ashore they came, to shop and whoop and revel and crowd the streets in their vacation finery. It was a feeding frenzy of taxi's and vans and buses hauling passengers to strips of duty free shops where jewelry, liquor, perfume, cameras and watches were the focus of life. The crews flocked ashore as well to send money orders home and to crowd the phone centers with calls to family back in Norway, Indonesia, Holland, the Phillipines and Florida… In one of these phone centers, I happened upon a TV to watch CNN coverage of the war, two of the three TV's in action were showing soccer matches. CNN's coverage was muted.

I remember Harry Summer's brilliant analysis of our defeat in Vietnam, perhaps called "On Strategy" but I am vague about the title. His conclusion was that we won all the battles but lost the war because the US never declared war. He referred, of course, to the intentional effort of the Johnson Administration to have life go on as usual at home while the war was fought overseas. He meant that average citizens were involved in that war mostly by watching the body counts on the evening news, not involved in any sense of a commitment to a goal, a national objective.

I have been spared the 24/7 continuing bombardment of media coverage, much of it bad media coverage by young reporters with no knowledge of what they are covering. I catch some Fox narrative, the voice part of their TV broadcasts, and I get NPR, both from the Armed Forces Network on the high frequency radio. But I really don't get the on and on deluge of rumor and counter-rumor, fact and fancy, opinion and challenge, that I understand is more the norm. I do get Jim Lehrer on PBS in the evenings, a local broadcast in the US Virgins, but he's had all day to sort through the litter and extract some reason. That's nice.

I have to wonder though, even with all the coverage, if life in the US isn't going on pretty much as before... before the war and even 9/11. I have to wonder, despite the reports of some protesters here and protesters there, if the American people have declared war. I would expand this… have they declared war on either the ubiquitous "Terrorists", or Saddam and his henchmen (certainly not the Iraqi people, of course), or both. Or is this just another season of reality TV… the newest version of Survivors with the losers interviewed more than the winners.

RE: Saylor aboard At Ease

Saylor is doing well. She has gone for as much as three months without being off the boat. We are concerned she doesn't get enough exercise but her weight has stayed the same and she sleeps 18 hours a day anyway. Now that we are back in US waters we can take her ashore and a good romp on the beach sure gets her excited.

We do fish when we are moving... troll lines off the stern. Shirley has caught quite a few including one Dorado that weighted about 40 lbs. Others fish also and when we land the big ones lots of fish gets spread around among other boats. However, your guess is probably right. We eat more fish ashore than on the boat. What we really have craved is red meat... not much of that in the islands and what there is tends to be poor quality.

Bill


4/02/2003 (Cruising Expenses Redux)

We made the decision that money spent on the boat was always a good investment as we would be doing this for years and years. I think that was a good decision, so our upgrades, while not all "needed", were desired to make the boat more comfortable, safer and a better vehicle. Many of those expenses will not be repeated for years, we hope. Equipment costs were $23000.

Fuel, both dinghy gas and diesel, and replacement oil and batteries, new running rigging and bits and pieces of stainless steel, new wire and switches and odds and ends of maintenance add up probably to $13000 a year, and about the same amount on food and entertainment a year... eating out, partying, tours, etc... Trips home are obviously expensive. Everyone has to decide how many such trips are critical to cruising enjoyment.

More mundane, but important recurring expenses take their toll. Laundry is generally tough to manage. When we find services ashore, we pay anywhere from $10-$15 a load and usually have four loads to do... sometimes twice a month. Mail is expensive. One really has to use FedEx as USPS is much too slow. We spend $!00-$150 most months. We also have to pay the cost of shipping, sometimes duty fees too, for marine parts that we have to order from stateside or Europe. Phone calls home are expensive but somewhat controllable. Apart from family, most folks don't want to talk to us anyway... and family have to at least pretend they're interested in what we're doing. Harbor fees and customs/immigration fees and cruising permits range from nothing (French Islands) to about $100 (Ex-British Islands).

But as I suggested, the biggest bites have to do with personal insurance ($5000), boat insurance ($3000), medical insurance and expenses ($7000), and taxes. There are still some lingering professional expenses (license and continuing ed costs) of about $1000 a year.

We own the boat. Many cruisers are still paying for their boats. That's a serious expense itself.

Hope this gives a clearer picture. Numbers can be so confusing and, as I said, some spend more, many less. Mostly, folks spend what they have. That's sort of like what it costs to live ashore, now that I think of it.

Bill


03/27/03

It had been a wonderful stay in Sint Maarten… made even more pleasant by the presence of fellow cruisers we had shared anchorages with up and down the islands. While there we had feasted at the wonderful restaurants, both on the French and Dutch sides, feasted again in the wonderfully stocked marine stores, and took advantage of the easy shopping for both groceries and for duty-free items in the shops of Phillipsburg. We were treated to a wonderful party, organized by Don and Marsha on s/v PASSION, to celebrate Shirley's birthday, and Shirley later had the opportunity to play and sing with a gathering of impressive musicians hosted by John and Jo on s/v SILKIE, an almost completed, circumnavigating Hans Christian 38'.

We obviously stayed too long. My inverter, the gadget that converts 12 volt power to 110 volt alternating current, thereby running or charging various other gadgets, simply quit working. A local shop specializing in things electrical and electronic claimed to have all boards needed. Not so! An order went in to Seattle and the overnight delivery was completed only a week later. Time was getting short. We needed to be in the US Virgin Islands in time to pick up Shirley's daughter and granddaughter, guests for a week, and missed a marvelous weather window waiting for parts. Rather than a spirited sail across a boisterous body of water, we earned an opportunity to burn diesel.

We made our last purchases, including a couple of cases of excellent, and cheap, French wine, then slipped out of the inner lagoon, through the drawbridge, and re-anchored just outside in Simpson Bay. Just getting out is an adventure. The bridge's schedule is somewhat subject to speculation so boats haul anchors or slip out of marinas early and then mill about in the somewhat narrow channels awaiting the bridge opening. This is a mixture of sail and motor vessels, small and large… and MEGAYACHTS. Some circle one way, others another, and the monsters just set there with thrusters blasting every now and then to hold them in place. Finally, the bridge opens and everyone jockeys about to get in line, signaling with hand motions, hoping for good will, and anxious about collisions if we are too impatient. Somehow, it all works.

Our hope was a Thursday departure but we didn't get our inverter reinstalled until Friday morning. AT EASE finally departed Sint Maarten on the 21st, about noon, for the 20 hour trip across the Anegada Passage to St John in the US Virgin Islands. The trade winds, that marvelous machine that energizes boats and cools fevered crews simply had failed… and no return of wind was expected for days. We raised the mainsail, mostly in supplication, but knew we would be running the engine for the entire 103 NM passage… the only consolation was the opportunity to fully replenish fresh water by running our water maker much of the way. I don't know that I have ever seen a flatter, greasier, glaring body of water than on that crossing. There was a brilliant and full moon, and a cloudless sky, and it was cool enough overnight to make watch standing comfortable. Actually, with plenty of electricity from the engine, we ran all the gadgets we wanted, from fans to reading lights, to radar and computers. We played music, listened to audio books and read novels, pausing every now and then to maneuver around the high volume cruise ship and commercial ship traffic. These are very busy waters.

Morning found us threading our way amidst rain squalls off the British Virgins, the weather clearing as we approached the western tip of St John where Cruz Bay is a popular clearing in port. This is a crowed anchorage. I tried to motor in and tie up at the US Customs dock but there was a nasty shoal in the approaches so I went around the corner to Caneel Bay to anchor in 50' of water, literally all my anchor chain was out, while we dinghied into Cruz Bay to clear in through Customs and Immigration. It was surprisingly easy in spite of the onset of active war in Iraq just a day or so earlier.

We eagerly left Caneel Bay, unbelievably rough and rolly from both a northerly swell and huge wakes from the numerous ferries, and motored across the channel between St John and Red Hook, St Thomas. There, we anchored again near another old friend, s/v FIFTH SEASON, our friends from Trinidad who had come north via the western Caribbean. They had been in the VI for weeks and were a fount of wisdom and advice about where to go for various activities.

After an overnight to catch up on some missed sleep, we hauled the anchor again to move around to Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas where we had arranged to pick up our guests. We had time for a bit of Americana, a trip to Kmart and a supermarket to stock up on US products only rarely available on many of the islands, and then Shirley headed to the airport to collect Paula and her daughter Amecia. I'm pretty sure Shirley was more excited than our guests who seemed to manage, with remarkable aplomb, the travel, culture shock, rickety dinghy dock and trip out to the somewhat active anchorage where AT EASE lay waiting.


02/27/2003

Yesterday, the 26th, we just got tired of waiting. We had been in Antigua for three weeks, into our fourth, waiting for mail. Our mail forwarding service, confusing some instructions, had sent our belated Christmas presents via snail mail. The package was lost somewhere, within the Customs and General Post Office bureaucracies of Antigua, and was untraceable. We knew at least generally the contents… movies on CD or DVD.

Movies are a special treat. We watch favorites over and over. No longer do we ask if we have seen the movie. Usually it suffices to determine how recently the subject film was viewed. Even that discriminator is arbitrary and can be meaningless if a certain state of filmed deprived extremis is present. I'm reminded of Navy ships that might meet in transit. From the opposite horizons, hopeful signals would flash. "Any movies to trade?" The nightly movie in the wardroom did not have to be recent, nor did it have to be good… but it did have to be! We wanted our movies, even waited all those weeks, but eventually had to give up.

We made hopelessly optimistic arrangements for the package to be forwarded, but suspected we were abandoning our precious gifts, and pulled the anchor to move on up the islands. Tonight… Sint Maarten/St Martin… that delightful island of half French and half Dutch cultures, all accessible by short dinghy rides to welcoming docks.

We topped off fuel and motored out of English Harbor at 1500, anticipating an overnight run to Sint Maarten where we would clear in through the Dutch side into Simpson Bay Lagoon. The weather was moderate, a bit too much so for our taste. Winds from the ESE at 10-12 kts were just enough to move us but were from behind on our NW course. Seas ran about 5' with some 8' occasionally, from the SE and E leading to very active rolling. When a sailboat rolls it tends to dump the air from the sails which, in downwind conditions, have the sails extended out. This gives every opportunity for the suddenly sagging sails to bang and back, fill and bang with every roll. We made good time and sailed most of the way averaging 5 kts or better over the 106 NM run, but the banging of the sails and the wallowing rolls are not conducive to comfort, or sound sleep, for either the watchstander or for the off-watch crew. Drats! Equipment is at risk as well. With dawn's early light it became obvious we had broken all but one of the six slides that hold the bottom of the mainsail onto the boom. One more thing to repair.

However, it was a beautiful night of sailing. We traveled in company with s/v HONEY, a 45' steel sloop, and had the ocean to ourselves except for one hour or so interval when four south bound boats came right down our rhumb line and caused some active maneuvering and radio exchanges. One puzzler, a commercial motor vessel of some sort, had red running lights on both starboard and port sides… pretty confusing at night but the radar, and a radical turn or two, helped sort it all out. We arrived just in time for the first morning opening of the drawbridge allowing access into the lagoon. While circling, waiting our turn to get into the parade, we saw a 200' foot sailboat, apparently brand new, that had only a stub of 20' or so of mast remaining, and a gaping hole in their port side hull-deck bond. The story is, he was told his rig was unsafe but went offshore anyway. Within 6 NM he had been dismasted and had to call for assistance. Big, doesn't mean better, now does it?

We were here last year… what a change! They have expanded the size of the drawbridge to accommodate MEGAYACHTS… the huge motor vessels and sailboats, some over 200', that now dominate the Lagoon. Last year, an island of dredge waste dominated the center of the Lagoon. Now it is a marina catering to these behemoths. They are everywhere, lining even the med-moor quays of the more humble areas. This is the greatest concentration of such vessels we have seen… more even than Miami or West Palm. Their uniformed crews, most of whom are young, crowd the piers and bistros even more than was true in Antigua which also prides itself on its upscale image. Yet, also compared to Antigua, prices are remarkably reasonable, maybe moderate even by US coastal standards.

We're looking forward to a fun time here, even without new movies, and are leaving now for dinner on s/v HONEY with at least one other cruising couple, to share their treasure. They caught a 4' Wahoo while underway last night. They had to clean it on deck, in the dark. We just get to feast. Tough life, this cruising.


02/08/03

English Harbor is crowded… many cruising yachts, mostly English but many Americans, are anchored in the inner and outer bays and the marinas are rather full with large yachts in the 100' range. Holding is pretty good, with some patches of rocks among the sand, but the wind swirls down off of the very high terrain surrounding the harbor and boats swing wildly, in divergent directions depending on which particular vortex has them in its temporary grip. We've moved three times and actually anchored about five times trying to manage the proximity to other boats and the wild swings. I finally gave up and deployed a stern anchor to reduce the boat's dance to something more sedate and in keeping with the crew's advancing age.

Across a narrow isthmus, Falmouth Harbor holds even larger yachts, megayachts, both motor and sail. These are absolutely breathtaking yachts with gleaming brightwork and freshly scrubbed crews, freshly scrubbing away, seemingly at all hours until dark when they populate the waterfront bistros to party into the night. All this is well before the world famous Antigua Race Week, scheduled for April, but apparently it is well to arrive early and claim one's space.

In English Harbor, Nelson's Dockyard is still magical with the old buildings and relics of the 1700-1800 era when this was among the major British bases in the islands. Much like our visit of a year ago, we are shocked by the high prices charged for just about everything, but we have somehow found the people to be friendlier. Maybe we have changed?

I've spent a week here now, waiting for parts, which were promised in two days. It's just as well… I'm also waiting for mail that should have been here already. Last night, three boats gathered on a sandy beach, built a bonfire with driftwood, and steamed red snapper on the coals. While waiting, sipping a bit of the inexpensive wines we all acquired in the French islands down south, we enjoyed another riotous sunset. With clouds, the colors are breathtaking. Without clouds there is more a chance of a Green Flash, but color is limited to the purple-blue of the ocean, sprinkled with whitecaps, the softer blue of the sky and the golden, sinking sun. We've actually seen the Green Flash several times in the last month.

Discussion of the Green Flash led us to talk about a Canadian couple, fresh into the islands and headed for Trinidad, with whom we had shared a meal at the Purple Turtle in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, some two weeks ago. They were interested in whether we had seen the Green Flash often in the last year and of course we had. They had moved on south several islands, and were anchored in Rodney Bay, St Lucia where they were boarded by two men armed with knives. They were bound with duct tape, robbed of cash, and apparently had some superficial injuries. We hope their adventure has not been too tarnished but we all recognize that security risks are something to be dealt with every day. Paradise does so lull one into diminished vigilance.


02/01/03

On the 31st, we departed The Saintes and moved up the western shore of Guadalupe enroute to Deshaies, the cruisers' typical landfall when coming from the north. This is another large bay, protected from the east and north but exposed to the west and southwest, with its small village and prominent church located immediately on the beach. As has been true in every French town, there is a large, concrete pier which serves the community and which allows dinghy access. The main street of the village is commercial with shops and restaurants, bakeries and such, and the streets beyond are residential with small, brightly colored homes largely open to the breezes.

Customs is located about a half mile from the pier, up a small hill, and is unpredictably manned by French agents. The cruising guide suggests trying early, immediately before lunch and after the typically two hour lunch. None of these was successful. The trail of multinational cruisers, walking up and down the hill goes on all day and the next as well. Finally, a sign taped to the door… open from 1100-1200 tomorrow. A host of dinghies closed the dock and the parade began. I was actually there early and was the first of the group to complete the papers. The agent examined the form, examined my passport and boat documentation, them made the official notation clearing me in and out. My friend, with an expired documentation, fiddled and fumbled until the pile of paperwork before the agent began to appear more than he could process before his obviously important lunch. From that point, examination was perfunctory and we all left with our clearances.

Time for one more night ashore. On the south shore of the bay, nestled on a steep sloop with multiple wooden terraces, at the location of an old gun battery, a brightly lit restaurant beckoned. The night before we had heard live jazz. Alas… no music. Instead we had the restaurant to ourselves. The full staff, pooling their fund of English, managed to read our mixed sign language and horribly accented French, and produced a splendid meal. A successful evening.

The next morning, February 4th, we hoisted dinghies and anchors and got underway for the 41 NM run into English Harbor, Antigua. It was another glorious beam sail with winds around 18-22 from the east and seas about 4-6 until we closed on Antigua when they always build in the shallower (200'-300') waters. We had main, staysail and yankee flying with speeds averaging around 7 kts and even over 8 kts sometimes. Scattered showers walked in from the east but carried little additional wind so they really did little but force us to turn on the radar. There are always a number of sailboats moving north and south between these islands.

Off the port side, Monserratt loomed. The active volcano on the southern end has forced evacuation but many stubborn souls still cling to the northern end in spite of the increased activity recently. We hear that lava and flames can be seen at night. During the day a huge plume of steam and smoke and ash billows and bends to the trades as it moves off to the west. One side of the cone is marred by a relatively recent mud/lava flow but there is a surprising amount of greenery present.

We made it into English Harbor safely and got ashore in time for the even more bureaucratic and hassle-rich "clearance in" through Antigua's Customs and Immigration. They seem to find more to charge for all the time, and there is a special charge for anchoring so near to the historic Nelson's Dockyard restoration. Actually, I'm willing to pay for that privilege… it is a beautiful setting which evokes musings of sailing through history.


01/28/03

We moved north again on the 28th, about 20 NM to The Saintes, a cluster of small islands off the southern coast of Guadalupe. The trip was actually quite nice. Departing, there was no wind and really calm seas under bright blue skies and brilliant sunlight. That was motoring. However, north of Dominica's lee, the wind picked up to 10-15 kts on the beam and made for a wonderful sail across the channel. The swells were up to 8' but were the longer, slow rollers coming in from the Atlantic (NE) and were actually very comfortable to ride.

The Saintes are quite lovely. More steeply rising and mountainous terrain but smaller, several are only islets, all brightly green and beautiful against the dark blue of the deep waters surrounding, with pastel buildings and red roofs, and all under the brilliant sun and blue sky... colors so bright they are just absorbed. Lying here at anchor, far enough off the town to lose the noise of scooters and music, but still close enough to hear the hours announced by the village church bells, we are surrounded by a couple of dozen boats, many charter boats but a few cruisers, each displaying various approaches to anchoring. The prevalent style seems to assume that boats already anchored have the best spots, so new boats arriving snug up as close to the already anchored boats as they can, stopping only when elaborate Gallic shrugs and shouted threats suggest that a boundary has been violated.

This was the scene of the decisive naval battle in the Caribbean. A French fleet, just down from it's successful blockade of Cornwallis at Yorktown leading to his surrender and the US's subsequent independence, was met by a British fleet it had earlier beaten in the Chesapeake. This time, the British were successful in badly damaging the French fleet and in capturing the French admiral. To bad it's so deep where the battle was fought. I would love to dive the area and see if the bottom is as littered with cannon balls as I would imagine.

We are anchored off of Bourg de Saintes, the principle town, under the guns of old Fort Napoleon which has been beautifully restored. The town itself is so picturesque, so clean and neat and colorful, one would tend to think it "too Hollywood", too perfect if seen in a movie. There aren't that many cruisers here but there are many tourists, apparently mostly French, hauled in daily by multiple ferries operating from Guadalupe and most going back to hotels there each evening on the same ferries. Many restaurants, of course lots of shops selling souvenirs and clothing, and a few very French grocery stores. Everything is quite expensive… for example, a glass of grapefruit juice was $4.00. Here, obviously, both the juice and the customer were freshly squeezed.

It's still hard to get a meal except on their (French) terms. They don't even open for dinner until seven o'clock or so and that's getting too close to our bed time. We compromised by buying all the fixins, fresh baguette and wine, and then going home to prepare our elegant omelet dinner, with fresh Italian sausages and various cheeses, on the boat.


01/27/03

A tour of Dominica… a walk through the rain forest, in rain of course, at about 4000', highest elevation on the island 4700', and a walk in to a waterfall that was absolutely breathtaking. The water poured from a tunnel like opening to fall probably 100-150' into a pool and then to drain downhill through a rocky bed and gorge with jungle thick almost to the water's edge. The rock bed of the stream was coated in yellow sulfur, I assume leached, or is that dissolved, from the volcanic soil above.

The area we toured has patches of plantation (farms) carved out of the rain forest and growing bananas, plantains, pineapples, coffee, oranges, tangerines and grapefruit. Mangos grow wild and are cultivated. There are patches of callaloo (a spinach substitute) and pumpkin, breadfruit and cassava. These are small patches, maybe only an acre, maybe 10 acres, each tended by their owner/families who live in the lowlands and ride bus/vans up to tend their crops. The dark topsoil is thin with more visible rocks than an East Kentucky hillside but is obviously outrageously fertile. We returned to the boat loaded down with enough fruit to stave off scurvy for another few weeks, all picked, perhaps plundered, during our tour.

It was another rain forest with beautiful, verdant growth of exotic trees, including nutmeg and cinnamon, and plants, ferns and vines, all suffused with a pale yellowish-green light which penetrated the canopy. There were but few birds or insects and only a few very elusive parrots flitting in and out in the lush treetops.

Back to the boats where we sat over sundowners to watch for the Green Flash as the sun sank on the horizon, seen now three times in the last week, and to listen as Don on PASSION, a former Lawrence Welk trombonist, sounds his conch shell horn to announce evening, and then to hear him play Sentimental Journey on the same conch.

Weather has been an issue. There are several sources of weather via the SSB radio. One of these has been quite histrionic in warning of some huge swells driven out of the Atlantic by an intense high pressure system, which he believed would produce 12-15' breaking waves in the major passes and serious swells in all anchorages not well protected from the north. The discussion among the various cruisers for the last several days has centered on this approaching event. Lots of "Will it or won't it" kinds of speculation and analysis. More questions of where to duck in to safe anchorage and whether to travel or not. The consensus… we decided to stay over the weekend in Prince Rupert Bay, reasonably well protected from the north and not a bad place to hang out. From weather fax sources and boaters reports, we suspected the size of the swells was being exaggerated, but we still agreed to watch it go by from a secure anchorage.

This gave Don and I an opportunity to visit yet another British fort dating to the 1700's, this one much better restored or preserved with the assistance of UN and USAID grants. From one of the batteries high on a north-facing hill one can see The Saintes, several smallish islands off the southern coast of Guadalupe and some 18 miles away, where the decisive naval battle of the Caribbean was fought between the British and the French.

Monday arrives… and instead of high swells we had unpredicted high winds blowing like stink through the anchorage. Overnight we had 15-20 kts and with dawn that intensified until we had sustained winds over 20 with gust to the high 20's through much of the day. A quick conference among the three boats reached consensus… we weren't in that much of a hurry. Another day to contemplate the sundown ceremony, and to celebrate a birthday of a fellow cruiser. I think I can see that Green Flash coming.

 


01/23/03

We moved up to St Pierre on Monday, the 20th, a pleasant but short motor sail in progressively weakening and confused winds and a surprising but small swell from the southwest. The shoreline is striking; quite rugged with sharp ridges rising to impressive heights, typically heavily vegetated but there is a clear upwind path of apparent pollution, brown and sparse vegetation, a product of a coal-fired power plant just outside of Fort de France.

The northern part of Martinique is dominated by Mount Pelee, a now inactive volcano which soars up into clouds of its own making. Below, around a crescent bay, lies the city of Ste Pierre. In 1902, when Ste Pierre was the financial and economic locus in Martinique, then called the Paris of the Caribbean, the volcano erupted, producing a huge fireball that swept the city killing about 30,000 instantly. Only two survived… one man down in his cellar and another locked up in the local jail. There were numerous ships anchored in the harbor and five were sunk and now make interesting diving sites in 30-50' of water.

The city has been rebuilt on its ruins, utilizing much of the original material and many of the houses and even commercial buildings are characterized by partial but original, blackened stone walls with new construction superimposed. Now, with the continuing French ambiance, and with its striking mix of architecture, it is a delightful community and a pleasure to wander on foot. Plenty of shops to attract some of the crew and plenty of ruins, even an old fort, to attract the rest of the crew.

We have been joined here not only by our traveling companions on s/v PASSION, but by new old friends on s/v HONEY and s/v OBLIEX and have shared interesting meals ashore as well as wonderful conversations.

Enough of the Leeward islands. On Thursday, we departed Ste Pierre and moved on to Dominica, the next island up and the first of the Windward islands. A remarkable island, Dominica is more primitive, more jungled, certainly more mountainous. It is the home of the last of the Caribs; a smallish group still lives here. It is also the home of six volcanoes, hence the very rugged and elevated terrain.

It was a day characterized by fluky winds while in the lee of Martinique, and by better winds but confused seas once in the channel between the islands. We had a couple of hours of delightful sailing in the 30 NM trip, but had to use the engine, that reliable old iron genny, during much of the rest of the trip given the on and off winds. We entered Roseau harbor in mid afternoon and struggled to find an anchorage. This is the most mountainous of the Caribbean islands and the terrain falls sharply to the sea and quickly becomes very deep. Within 100' of shore the depths were well over 100', much too deep for anchoring. The few shelves nearer shore were occupied by either moorings or by very possessive local fishermen deploying their nets. We finally conceded anchoring defeat and settled for a $10 per night mooring.

The harbor is a shallow bay, exposed to the west, and the southwesterly swell coming up against that rapidly shoaling shore was pretty active. We rolled back and forth, probably through 40-60 degrees all night. By morning our friends on s/v PASSION were calling for relief. By consensus, we agreed to skip checking in to customs and immigration and just leave, moving on to Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay in the NW corner of the island. Again, in the lee of such a striking range of rugged terrain, the winds were fluky and variable with a mix of great sailing in 20 kt winds and motoring with no wind at all. Coming in to Prince Rupert Bay, Shirley's trolling line went "bang" and we struggled with something about 4' long and heavy… right up to the boat. It dove under the boat and broke the 3' of steel leader on our 100 pound line to make good its escape. Shirley was disappointed… she had the cheap rum ready to pour into its gills and the gaff ready for boarding. I was secretly pleased. The thought of that 4' of active fish, I think it was a shark, on our deck seemed more than I was ready to confront.

Boat boys are very active here. These are locals, some youngish but many mature men, who bring their small fishing boats out to the newly arrived cruisers, offering fruit, fish and tour guide services. They also provide some local information with respect to anchoring, location of customs, etc… The more aggressive, with the bigger outboards, meet incoming boats well offshore, sometimes several miles, and run along side making their sales pitch. They are a mixed blessing… sometimes helpful but always swarming about when one is busiest conning one's own boat into choked or crowded areas trying to get the anchor down.

S/v HONEY anchored late today and Cindy is already organizing a tour of the island with one of the boat boys. Off we will go tomorrow… somewhere… with someone… to see what there is to see.


01/17/03

We departed Petite Anse D'Arlet on the 15th for the short hop on around into the magnificent harbor of Fort de France, a huge bay with many little bays within, each with its own village and usually with its own ferry dock. The result is an urban sprawl on the north and northeastern edge, Fort de France itself, and a maze of ferries running back and forth all day from the city to the villages. Anse Mitan, across from the city to the south, is a very modern, upscale marina with many adjacent hotels and condos, all very colorful and "cute" with pastels and wooden shudders and the feel of a theme park. The area is packed with bistros, shops, restaurants, all vying for the attention of the large crowds of tourists from France. The harbor throughout is known among cruisers as very rolly because of all the ferry traffic, thus relatively few cruisers come here. We came looking for parts (as usual), but also just because we could. It's nice cruising without a schedule to drive us.

The anchorage is a bit rolly but far from the worse we have been in. The area is beautiful, the water surprisingly clear given the heavy commercial nature of Fort de France. I decided to have some repair work done on the headsails, more sewing than we wanted to do on the boat, so off we went, by ferry, across to Fort de France seeking boat parts and a sail loft. I visited here 40 years ago on a Navy ship and my memory was of a rather dirty, pretty primitive community that was definitely third world. Much has changed. It is a thriving city, still with many old buildings and narrow streets, but much more European, definitely French, and quite clean. We wondered the shops until we found the large marine store and, across the street, the highly recommended Mexican restaurant. Neither was all that good. We even went inland a bit searching out a marine store with used parts. With some trial and error, we found the store but found little within we couldn't live without. Back to the ferry with our groceries, and the ubiquitous loaf of French bread, to return to AT EASE anchored off Mitan. I did finally find a sail loft in Mitan itself and arranged for the sail repairs.

Thursday was spent wandering the tourist shops of Mitan, along with friends from s/v Passion, in and out of restaurants trying to get someone to wait on us. We had it all wrong… we were obviously supposed to wait on them. We finally despaired of getting an omelet, then gave up on the pizza, finally had to settle for a steak. It was a monster, huge, even well cooked. There is so little opportunity to eat beef in the islands. It is a rare commodity even in the better supermarkets. So to get a well cooked piece of beef in a French restaurant was indeed a surprising treat.

This went so well we decided to head back in the next morning, again along with our friends from s/v PASSION, to pick up some laundry and have a leisurely breakfast. We charged ashore with visions of omelets and crepes uppermost, but found neither of these commodities would be available, in any of the numerous restaurants, until after noon. A "proper" French breakfast is either bread, with a hint of chocolate, or a croissant, accompanied by one variety or another of coffee. Imagine… barbarian Americans wanting to eat omelets and crepes before noon! Shamed, we were.

I'm now back on the boat, about to curl up with a book, having left Shirley and friend ashore to prowl the shops in search of one more piece of brightly colored material, one more hand carved trinket, one more T-shirt… and perhaps a nice lunch at a sidewalk café while they watch the world go by.


01/13/03

The anchor came up again today for a run into Morin's inner harbor to take on fuel, and then off for a gunkholing run up Martinique's west coast in company with s/v PASSION (Don and Marsha). Motoring into the harbor was exciting given all the traffic from boats, dinghies and fishermen. There are marinas with some 600 slips distributed around the bay, many filled by charter boats from a half dozen different companies, and probably a hundred or so other boats anchored within the cul-de-sac. The French do a pretty good job of buoyage and have the channel well marked with a reasonably sized turning basin, but the congestion is intimidating. The fuel dock could accommodate two boats at a time. There were five or more boats milling about, jockeying for position to be next in line, all just off the fuel dock. There was at least one rude Frenchman in a large catamaran that had to crowd his way in front. We did top off fuel, even took on some water, and got underway without any collisions but with some chafing of nerves.

We departed Ste Anne's for a short run to anchor overnight at Petite Anse. The trip up was another opportunity to sail, downwind this time, in light SE winds. I even shook the reef out of the main for the first time since we left Trinidad. The wind was directly behind and, without poling out the headsail it crashed and filled, even when doing wing-on-wing, until both Shirley and I lost patience and furled it, relying on the main (and engine) for power. I think our limited patience was also influenced by the southerly swells, rolling us badly until we turned for the run into Petite Anse.

We did sail by Diamond Rock, a very rugged islet, maybe as much as 100' high with rocky, cliff-like sides and a domed top covered with some scrub brush. This islet, not more than a quarter mile off Martinique has an interesting history. During the early 1800's, during one of the innumerable periods of French and English warfare in the islands, the British from St Lucia slipped across to Martinique and managed to haul a battery of canon, associated ammunition, food and water and such, to the top. From there, they were able to harass French maritime traffic around southern Martinique and were a visible irritant to the French for some time. During the 18 months of occupation, I understand the position was commissioned HMS DIAMOND ROCK. Actually viewing the structure really does lead to an appreciation of how very difficult the actual task of hoisting that sort of weight must have been.

Petite Anse D'Arlet is a very picturesque fishing village, dominated by a large church whose bells mark the day's passage from about 0600 through the evening. The bay is a bit exposed to the southern swells that have developed in the last day or so. We anchored well in to the southeastern side of the bay but still rolled the night away. It makes for a long night. The movement, side to side, results in one's body bracing, pretty unconsciously, with each roll. We slept, but probably not well and both of us were tired by morning. I listened through the night to a French rooster, probably drunk, that crowed every 15 minutes, and to a French dog, probably barking at the rooster, who seemed to be having trouble sleeping as well.


01/01/03

We departed Rodney Bay on New Years Day, about 1000, enroute to Ste Anne, Martinique. This 20 NM run can get exciting. The passage between St Lucia and Martinique is one of those channels with strong currents and confused seas, only made worse by swells from distant storms and the local trade winds. We anticipated seas of 10' and winds of 20-25 kts… we weren't disappointed. It was a wonderful sail, beating hard on the wind, with one reef in the main and both the yankee and staysail flying up front. Saylor snuggled down on the low settee and seemed comfortable as we rode our rocking horse northeast, one rail in the water about as much as out.

Ste Anne is located in the outer portion of a deep bay on Martinique's SW coast. Inside, through a twisting channel bordered by well marked shoals, lies Morin, a major locus of charter boats in this area. There are 600 slips reportedly available in the various marinas within the inner bay, and numerous moorings along with anchored boats, yet there seems to be plenty of room available. Outside, at Ste Anne, a smaller village than Morin, the anchorage is off a beautiful, crescent beach largely occupied by a Club Med, and is relatively sheltered. We anchored far enough off to get plenty of wind, to the mid 20's, across the boat. This not only makes the boat so much more comfortable, it adds greatly to our energy. Wind and solar energy are now meeting all our daily needs with plenty of spare energy to drive the daily movie in AT EASE's wardroom.

The dinghy run into the inner bay is about 2-3 NM, into the wind so the ride can be rough and wet in these conditions. Our "buddy boat" had an equipment failure, burned out clutch in their outboard, so we became the water taxi until they got it repaired. With four in our dinghy, she rides very wet into the wind. After a salty soaking, we went ashore to clear in through French customs. For US citizens, this is absolutely trouble free. One fills out a form asking for basic identifying information on boat and crew and then they are through. I stood puzzled… surely I had to show boat documentation and passports, had to negotiate what to do with my shotgun? Nope… "fini". No fee, no hassle, and six months to hang around.

The waterfront area of Morin is upscale, dominated by Moorings charter offices and relatively well equipped marine chandleries. This is a long-standing province of France so there are outdoor bistros and pastry shops, wonderful fresh breads and coffee, and of course a bit of cheese and wine for sustenance. However, this is a province of France and the language issues are a significant factor. Some businesses are bilingual; some have enough broken English to allow communication with us mono-language cripples, but others are typically French and look with scorn on us ignorant transients. Between pointing, gesturing, talking louder, and using the few single words of language we share, we usually manage to communicate something. However, menus remain a challenge with waiters who have only limited tolerance. At lunch, I opted for lasagna, easily recognizable even in French, while a friend ended up with what she described as "cold fish meatloaf"… tasted as good as it sounds, apparently, but she did eat it all.

We have an equipment failure of our own. The pump housing on our marine toilet has cracked and is leaking salt water. This is the fourth failure of our marine toilet. Two bases and now two pump housing breaks in our Raritan head over the last 18 months. Blistering email out to Raritan but I'm still stuck with finding a replacement. I may have to go into Fort de France, the major city, to find parts. Navigation through a bus ride, then within the city, all in French, is pretty intimidating ,but we have been pretty lucky depending on the kindness of strangers thus far so perhaps the adventure will be worthwhile.

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