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

The Sailing Blog of At Ease


I feel quite decadent. Anticipating a lengthy hang on the mooring here in Key West, and recalling that there is no broadcast TV south of Miami, I bought a Dish TV system and mounted it on a Follow Me TV mast. Bingo! Satellite, digital TV… and all it cost was money… and energy… that surplus energy we had acquired from the new solar panels is apparently now committed to HBO, Headline News and such.

My justifications are weak, even to me. But with a straight face I can tell others that "Of course the improved weather information drove the decision", and "I only watch the political discussion shows on Sundays… just to keep informed". What I find myself doing, much as I did with our satellite receiver when living on land, is to scan the program guide, over and over, with the frequently flawed anticipation that among all these channels there must be something worth watching.

I haven't been ashore since Friday morning. I have caught up on the History channel, seen a variety of movies, the better ones dating from the 40s-50s, perhaps the 60s, and have successfully put off any number of little maintenance chores that always accumulate on a boat.

By the way, the Follow Me TV seems to work as advertised; reliably and relatively unobtrusively. It has an electronic compass and electric motor within the 32" mast (about 5" diameter) that locks on an azimuth and, therefore, holds the satellite signal once acquired. One has to manually do the skew and elevation adjustments but, in any given location, that is a one time only adjustment and will hold accurate for 60 NM north to south, 100 NM east to west travel. All this for about .5 amps (DC) for the tracker and probably 2-3 amps (AC) for the satellite receiver (not sure about that yet).

We try to manage a news list, the Lord Nelson List, even while underway. I was asked to remove a person from the list. His Lord Nelson 35, s/v GITANA, only two hull numbers from AT EASE, was lost in Hurricane Francis, in Lake Worth, FL. The story is instructive. He had anchored/moored GITANA with three helix posts screwed into the bottom and two anchors, one all chain. This was in and among 60 other boats. Only two of the 60 survived the 24 hours of hurricane winds and surge. Both of these had owners on board, powering into the wind and fending off drifting boats throughout the 24 hours. My hunch is that the fending was more instrumental than the powering.

GITANA washed ashore on Palm Beach rocks. Her starboard side is holed badly. Two remaining lines are broken, one 15' outboard, the other 3' outboard of the hawse holes. The chain rode ran out, damaging the hull in the process. I'm not sure how this was secured. All this sounds to me like she was hit by one or more drifting boats that loaded her tackle beyond endurance. At least one strike must have been violent. The main panel (starboard side) was torn from the bulkhead, all wiring torn loose, and thrown clear across the cabin.

This tends to confirm my prejudices. It seems to be other boats, inadequately secured, that become loose in the storm, that then batter, overload or hole and sink many a well managed boat. I've heard this sad tale over and over. Staying aboard allows one to fend many/most of these off… but at the risk of life. Such decisions are tough and can not be changed once the storm has struck. I'm just not sure what I would do. GITANA's owner said the forecast for 140-150 kts of wind made the decision for him. He stayed ashore.


How does one describe Key West, yet again, when so many words have been used before? Key West seems to exist in so many dimensions simultaneously. There is the physical beauty of sun, sand, palm and sea. There is the panorama of village and resort and congestion with cars and vans and campers and scooters and bikes and walkers of all descriptions. There is the cacophony of sound; the clang of wind in one's ears with the rumble of traffic and the noisy complaint of aircraft in final descent, and jet skis abrading the senses.

And there are the people, the mix of obvious tourists, vastly exposed and colored pale to bright, burning red, on the streets, missing nothing and entertained by all. And there are the vagrant nomadics of exquisite weirdness, hirsute and haggard, here and there, clutching packs and packets of possessions as they move from here to just beyond here. And there are the locals, so casual, some pale, those nocturnal workers who turn on all the neon and music at dusk. And the other locals, so busy with this, hustling that, finding a way to stay here in this place, this island of its own kind.

Microscopically, there is the clutter of marginal this and marginal that and not really anywhere else. From the dinghy dock, with its mix of the forlorn, the neglected, with barnacle encrusted engines and weedy bottoms, with green slime standing water within, to the pristine, the newly arrived, the proud and preened. There, just off the ramp, the racks of bikes, rusted and ruined but still ridden, sagging and tattered perhaps much like their owners. Even here, a few new, proud bikes announce that generations renew and sailors come as well as stay.

The streets are sun baked, more airless away from the sea, and always full of vehicles, hulking SUV's and vans among the bikes and scooters and aging cars, some going, some coming but many just looking for somewhere to park. Wisps of grass grow in the cracks and crevices in concrete, neglected in the rush. Walkers abound, some strolling, others busily going, and many with the backpacks of boaters afoot. Lurking alongside, behind lush, green foliage, small to larger wooden homes, old, many worn beyond age, leak color and character onto the otherwise barren streets; warming the cold concrete with tales of life lived and living.

There is color; bright pastels of yellow and pink and blinding blues, brilliant against the drab of old and worn and left behind, the fading hopes of yesterday. And the smells, of food arriving, and food too long awaiting, and laundry water now moldy, and people of different cultures, and of the land where salt water meets mangrove.

And there are the boats of Key West; beautiful dancing boats, rocking in the usually gentle arms of Mother Ocean, with their bright colors sharp against the blue-green waters, nested in the blinding glitter of sun on waves, pleasing in their lines at rest, and gracefully prancing betwixt sail and sea when underway, alive and strutting joyfully in their play.

How does one describe Key West, yet again?


AT EASE lies moored just west of Trumbo Point and Garrison Bight, just south of Sigsbee Point and just north of Fleming Key, essentially surrounded by the smallish military enclaves remaining in Key West. We're not protected from the weather, essentially nothing in Key West is, but I suppose from the perspective of security, we are indeed held tight to the bosom of a warlike people.

We rock comfortably in the 15-20 kts of north wind as a cold front moves through today. Below, everything is tight and secure. Mechanically, AT EASE is in wonderful condition. Hull, running and standing rigging are in good condition. We are blessed with plenty of energy from sun and wind and have not run the engine at all for charging since our arrival.

Sigsbee Point, and its commissary and exchange, are just a dinghy ride away. We have provisions aplenty. Trumbo Bachelor Officers Quarters and its spacious dinning room are just a short dinghy ride away. Awaiting us there, later in the day, is one of those traditional feast displays of abundance, the turkey, trimmings and such that Americans hold so dear.

We have freedom of schedule, mostly, to do or not do as we are inspired, and to go hither or yon, exploring old and new, near and far, as the whim may strike us and where water will carry us.

We have the joy of finding that our wants do not exceed our means and that our "things" while more numerous than we might wish in the confines of our boat, are managed by us rather than we being owned by them.

We're comfortably warm, dry and freshly showered. We're healthy as could be, all things considered. We have a gallant companion dog who snuggles and rubs and dutifully acts loving even when we're not. We have friends, absent now, but near and dear and in our hearts nevertheless.

We are indeed thankful this day… and only wish such is true for each and every one of you.


AT EASE continued her blissful sail, making up for all the tumult earlier, moving downwind like a true lady, under a moonlit sea that, inside Hawk Channel, was very manageable. The air was just cool enough to make us comfortable inside the cockpit and the wind held at 8-14 kts, moving us along nicely between 4-5 kts until about 0300 when it became unstable. Changes in tack and sail plan just didn't suffice. By 0340 we dumped the sails and motored, slowly, past Boca Chita and into Key West.

We timed our arrival for dawn and just after daylight we turned into the entrance. We moved past the empty cruise ship docks, past the old Navy area, past Mallory Square and on to Key West Bight where we ducked in to fuel. We had heard radio calls with questions about the schedule for closure of the harbor. Apparently this is day two of a three day series of power boat races and the harbor seems to be part of the course. I noticed the anchorage along the end of Fleming Key, just across from the Coast Guard Station, was empty. Everyone had been moved further north. There were numerous boats anchored well outside of Christmas and Wisteria Islands as well.

Yesterday, as we sailed down Hawk Channel, I had seen several cigarette boats screaming past and at least three boats I thought were unlimited hydroplanes. I wondered then about a possible race. Given the absence of notice to mariners on the radio, had we not planned on a dawn arrival, had we planned instead on a mid morning arrival, we could have turned into a quite different harbor scene. It would have been exciting. To see all those high speed plumes of white water flying into the air, and all those boats turning and burning, all coming at me… well, what are the rules of the road in such a situation. The only one that comes to mind would be to "run and hide".

But we were early enough to motor on through the harbor and through the wide and deep (Florida "deep" seems to equal controlling depth of 9') channel and into Garrison Bight's mooring field. We located and captured a mooring, Shirley leaned well over the side to rig a line to the mooring, and we were captured. After a wonderful breakfast, we began the process of returning AT EASE from her offshore stowed mode to a harbor friendly mode. In the 8 days of travel (total of 781 NM), 6.5 of which were offshore (729 NM), things had been stuffed and stowed hither and yon, just to secure them. People room had shrunk. It will take days, maybe weeks to find everything and get it returned to its intended place. Maybe first on the priority list is to find where we put that coffee pot when last used.


We were up, slow and late, the morning after our arrival in Ft Pierce, on the radio, then the phone, trying to get water depth info from the local marinas with diesel. While waiting for information, I changed the fuel filter, always a dirty job, given that we were down to about 15 gals remaining and had heard some RPM surging at higher speeds as we entered against the current.

Ft Pierce was ground zero for two of the season's hurricanes and the damage is still quite evident. Even the channels into marinas were clogged with sand… the municipal marina only restarted selling fuel last week. By 1030 we had found a source and motored into the marina, pasted the "graveyard", a pile of shattered and recovered sail and powerboats heaped on shore, and alongside a pier. As we took on fuel, we could see crumpled wooden docks, partial roofs, a shattered satellite dish, and a sundry other damage yet to be repaired. At least the channels are not clogged with wreckage.

By 1100 we were moving offshore, to motor yet again. From here south to Key West one hugs the coast. The Gulf Stream comes inshore with a vengeance, into within less than one mile off Lauderdale and Miami. Trying to buck that 3 kt or so current is just too demanding. It's easier to contend with all the fishing boats and inshore traffic. It does mean that one has to keep a much more careful watch, radar and visual, to avoid all the traffic.

By mid afternoon, the wind had clocked a bit to the east and we put out the headsail to stabilize the boat in the calmer but still rocky conditions. As night fell, we still had wind, perhaps enough to move at marginal speed over ground, but not enough for me to be willing to work sails all night, especially through the heavy ship traffic of Lauderdale (and Port Everglades) and Miami. We motorsailed… passing Lauderdale about 0200… dodging freighters and excursion vessels… and pass Miami about 0400, patiently waiting for a cruise ship to enter before crossing the main shipping channel, somewhat less patiently waiting for a sport fisherman to pass across our bow rather impudently. As usual, the anchored ships which always seem to be just off the channel, were lit up with a vast array of lights, intimidating from a distance but relatively easy to avoid once closer.

A more significant issues lies just south of the main shipping channel. There are a couple of spidery steel towers, range markers for the channel I assume, that are poorly lighted but that give a good radar return. It seems I usually pass here in the dark… and almost always end up to close to those towers, watching them go by against the loom of Miami, scary boat-eating monsters if I ever saw one.

Once away from the shore lights and offshore obstacles of Miami, skirting down just outside of Biscayne Bay, the way becomes less demanding. Some careful piloting is necessary because of the reefs of the national park, miles of reefs actually, but these are relatively well marked. Boat traffic is reduced and no major shipping routes are in this area, so one can relax a bit.

We waited a while before moving in through the reefs and into Hawk Channel for the run into Florida's Keys. Once inside, the only traffic seems to be recreational boats, sail and power, moving both up and down the Keys, all the way to Key West.

By morning, the wind had steadied and freshened to 10-12 kts sustained from the ESE. We put up the main, killed the engine, and felt AT EASE settle into a more natural rhythm, one with the sea, a bit slower (4-5 kts), but more than enough to move us ever more southwesterly. I have the watch, really more reading than watching now, while Shirley is below baking a delicious smelling carrot cake for my birthday. Can life get better.

It's now 1630 and we're just south of Islamorada. The wind, a bit reduced, still holds. We anticipate arriving at Key West just about dawn tomorrow, after sailing through the night. There we will move through the main harbor, up and around Fleming Key and into Garrison Bight Channel where the City maintains a field of mooring balls, first come-first served. We'll take one, if available, or anchor back on the southern side of Fleming if not, and settle in for a port stay likely to last through Christmas.


More of the same today… motoring and wallowing in the same conditions. One would think that 10-15 kts of wind, even from dead astern, would be enough to power the boat by sail. Not so! Not without high shock loads as the sails fill and collapse. As the swells roar up from astern and sweep under the boat, the boat slews, swinging through 20-30 degrees of heading, so radically altering the course over ground that the sail collapses, filling again as the autopilot brings us back to course. The renewed filling creates the shock load on the standing rigging… the bang and crash of a sail filling after collapsing. That simply wears out a boat… and quickly wears out my patience.

Saylor has had more of a burden than Shirley or myself. Even after several days, her sea legs are shaky, tentative and apparently painful. In any given five minute interval, we will have an interval of 2-3 swells that are larger. With each of these more extreme rolls, she will rise, stand with shaky legs, try to reposition herself, and just look miserably uncomfortable. We put her on a padded bedding, reassure her with a touch, a pressure from hand or foot, but the bottom line is that she just doesn't like the noise or lost equilibrium of a heavy roll and feels she must do something to protect herself. She is exhausted.

This morning, I added the 10 gals of diesel we carry on deck to the tanks. We're down under 50%; a level where sludge and crud from the tank more aggressively attacks the filters. We chose to go into Fort Pierce's inlet to find a marina providing diesel. Our arrival was just before dark so we decided to take the night off, to anchor tonight and refuel tomorrow before departing offshore once again for the rest of the trip to Key West.

About 1630 we approached the sea buoy at Fort Pierce and entered the channel. It is ebb tide, a current of 3.5 kts, against a NE swell flowing inbound. The waves in the channel are energetic and confused. A large Hatteras, a motor yacht, powered in beside us at relatively high speed. The wake threw us hard to port, actually sent a crock pot sliding that turned off the autopilot, and we came close to ramming a buoy, but we recovered smartly and proceeded in to a known anchorage, past evident damage (a grounded sailboat and various crumpled piers) from the last hurricane season. With the anchor down, Saylor immediately celebrated; drank, ate and voided in mere minutes, and retired below to sleep a well deserved sleep. The rest of the crew took advantage of shore based amenities. We made wireless phone calls, connected on the internet and watched broadcast TV from local stations. An evening off, it seems.


At 2100 we are located some 47 NM SE of St Augustine, some 40 NM NE of Daytona Beach, heading south. AT EASE is motoring, still in heavy swells from the NE. We have some 10-12 kts of true following wind but in these conditions we simply roll the air out of the sails every few minutes or so and that leads to too much backing and crashing as the sails fill again. We've tried several times, on several different tacks, with several sail plans, midst banging and crashing in the rigging, with no success. Motoring gives us enough power to minimize the rolling and still take advantage of surfing the swells to make even better time.

When sailing in these rolling conditions, the wear on the rigging is significant. Last night, the topping lift came crashing to the deck. The stainless steel shackle at the masthead had worn through. No real problem as the boom gallows supports our boom when down, and the mainsail itself holds it up when hoisted. That will get repaired somewhere down the line. For now, I just ran the spinnaker halyard back and rigged it as a temporary replacement.

Today, we found the western wall of the Gulf Stream and turned back inland from about 71 NM out. The Stream is unmistakable. Not only does the sea get warmer (several degrees), and the water inky blue (beautiful with the white foam from breaking waves), but the adverse current quickly robs us of speed over ground. We did enjoy seeing the long Atlantic swells again, good 6-8 footers, but even there the confused seas and the NE swells kept the ride very active. After rounding Canaveral, we expect the Stream to be closer inshore. Near Miami, we have seen the Stream within one mile of the beach.

The weather is significantly warmer. In bright sun it is even hot. Even the water has warmed up from 63 to 79 degrees. We've had fans running in the boat and had panels out of our cockpit enclosure to increase airflow all day. It's still almost uncomfortably warm this late in the evening. What a change in just a couple of days. Motoring down the ICW south of Wrightsville Beach, just two days ago, it was cold enough inside to wear wool sweaters. During that leg of the trip I looked out at what I thought were snags just off the channel and found instead some reckless soul swimming, accompanied by his five Golden Retrievers, swimming directly across the ICW, I suppose assuming that all the fast movers could see him (wrong) and that they would turn out of the channel to avoid him (probably wrong as well). Why he was swimming in the cold, and why across the ICW, I can't imagine. I didn't stop to ask.

Watch standing has been more of a problem on this trip. I suspect that is secondary to low quality sleep… too much tossing about in the wallowing motion. Both Shirley and I have stood more irregular watches, calling the other when tired as opposed to watching the clock. We enjoyed the speedy transit, the miles covered, but this hasn't been a very comfortable passage. More work than joy, it seems, enough to make us appreciate those more delightful sails enjoyed in the past and anticipated in the future.


On Saturday morning, we departed Mile Hammock Bay and moved south down the ICW, generally shooting for Wrightsville Beach. Three bridges, two that only open on the hour, are the major obstacles. Of course, ICW being ICW, shoaling is always an issue and the prudent mariner always keeps one eye on the depth gauge. Being in the center of the marked channel is no safeguard.

Heavy overcasts and threatening skies marked the morning, and blustery winds, heavier offshore, moved across the ICW at up to 25 kts but folks, sail and motor, were still moving, hurrying toward that warmer weather. While we were snug inside our cockpit, it was certainly cold, especially in the wind.

The adventure for the day came at Wrightsville Beach bridge, a draw bridge where we had to wait briefly for an opening. Parked immediately alongside the bridge (our side), an outboard fishing boat with one man aboard seemed parked. As the bridge opened, we happened to be positioned to be the first boat through. I approached slowly, watching the trawler coming north and the fisherman. He seemed to have his eyes on me, his boat pointing at AT EASE and was slowly motoring directly into the channel in front of the bridge opening. The distance closed… 50'…30'… Shirley, on the foredeck, called to tell him to clear the channel… that we couldn't just stop. I backed down to at least delay the apparent inevitability. Still he idled directly toward our bow. While I braced for the sound of his boat crunching under AT EASE's bow, and he disappeared from my view below the bowsprit, he finally gunned the engine and shot across the bow, clearing by certainly less than 3', to move smartly upstream, oblivious to my parting call questioning his sanity. The captain of the trawler coming through the bridge from the downstream side was obviously laughing, arms raised in supplication and simultaneously shrugging his shoulders. I could only return the judgment.

With a bump of the bottom in the shoaling inner channel, we managed to get into the anchorage area and dropped a hook. Of course we picked the Teflon side of the anchorage for the first two tries but the third try grabbed and we settled in for the night.

With dawn, another bluebird day but still very windy, we delayed, neither really eager to move on. We enjoyed a mid-morning, leisurely breakfast, then napped and read until early afternoon. With a final look at the weather faxes… a final listen to the weather reports on the VHF… we made the commitment. Up came the anchor and we motored the last 20 NM past Carolina Beach and into the Cape Fear River for the run down channel to Southport and our exit offshore. Just before dark we met and passed a large tanker enroute upriver to Wilmington, dodged Southport's ferry, and headed toward Bald Head Island and the main ship channel. A brilliant display of multicolored lights seemed to gradually break from the shore background and finally, rather closely, it emerged as an anchored dredge working on a new sea channel. The marked channel on our chart is no more. Lighted markers stretched off in the distance in a quite different direction. We sorted all this out, it was a black night, and made our offing into the Atlantic.

As advertised, winds were in the 15-25 kt range from the NW. Our initial SW course made for a broad beam sail. I popped out the yankee headsail and we moved through the water at some 5-6 kts, surfing a good bit in the northeasterly swells. However, we were rolling quite heavily, wallowing actually, gunnel to gunnel some time and… well… just about gunnel to gunnel the rest of the time. It made for a long and tiring night for the watchstander as well as the off duty crew. With dawn, the problem became obvious. The seas were just confused with NE swells from a not so distant gale predominating but with a churning and choppy sea with no discernable pattern everywhere. Conditioned didn't change all day. By noon we had largely furled the headsail and pulled it tight for balance, then put out the mainsail (reefed) with a preventer in the now downwind sailing conditions. This muted the rolling some, but with the periodic, large swells banging into our quarter, roll we did.

We're not the only ones tired. A small land bird came aboard, apparently to rest. He hopped or flew around the boat several times over an hour, coming right up to our clear vinyl curtains, apparently trying to come in. We didn't cooperate… images of trying to get him out seemed to haunt us. He finally departed, perhaps to seek a berth elsewhere as he didn't head toward land.

These less than comfortable conditions are mitigated by the distance traveled. With the following winds still in the 15-20 kt range (true) and the NE swells, we are surfing and sailing in the 5-6 kt range just about all the time, really eating up those miles. It is now 1600 on Monday (the 15th) and we are already abeam Charleston; now some 20 NM off our starboard. A non-stop trip to Key West is not out of the question.


AT EASE took in lines and departed Gottschalk Marina, Camp Lejeune, NC about 1130 today, leaving after a two week stay that was intense. We had spent the first week on chores, adding the two new solar panels to our bimini top and redoing our cockpit enclosure with better vinyl and fasteners. The second week was spent in celebration. Both weeks were exhausting.

This year, for the 229th birthday of the Marine Corps on November 10th, Shirley and I were joined by an old comrade in arms, Bob Orendorf, with whom I had served both in the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines and in 2nd Recon. We had met for a reunion earlier this year, the first since 1965, and had then discussed meeting for our own Birthday Ball at Camp Lejeune where we were stationed. The timing worked out. Bob and his wife, Carole, were able to fly in on the 9th for a whirlwind tour of the base and our old haunts.

For the 10th itself, we were the guest of honor of 2nd Recon, at least those remaining at Camp Lejeune, most being heavily involved in the assault on Fallujah, Iraq. Those remaining couldn't have been nicer. We were given a tour of their brand new physical facilities, briefed on new weapons and equipment, saw their boat house, dive shop, parachute loft, and then participated in the formal cake cutting ceremony celebrating the Corps' Birthday. What a treat for two aging gray beards, to be made to feel so welcome by such a sharp, impressive group of superbly conditioned, superbly trained Marines.

Such encounters are bitter sweet, of course, with memories both good and bad of a time when life was so very intense and we were so very young. I think Bob and I were both more than a bit emotionally drained when we parted but we parted with a clear understanding that we will meet again, somewhere, perhaps to share a sail with AT EASE among some islands in the sun.

Leaving Camp Lejeune again was a bit sad. We had renewed our friendships with the Marina's crew and it's residents who have taken us in at each visit. Their warmth and generosity is unmatched. Ron and Vaughn made room for us in the Marina. Jim and Tonda again gave us use of their truck during our stay. Tom and Rosie greeted us each day with a smile. John, Kelly and Kevin all made us feel so welcome. There's never enough time… but we're ever so grateful for the time each made available to us.

We waited to move back down the bay on a rising tide. Motoring away from the dock and into Morgan Bay, it began raining. Tucked inside our now enclosed cockpit, warm and dry, we moved down the Bay meeting only a few determined fishermen and a few Coast Guard RIBs, blue lights flashing, madly chasing one another in some exercise, one assumes. We turned north and into Mile Hammock Bay to anchor for the night, still unsure whether we will move offshore tomorrow or continue south along the ICW.

Weather is in a state of flux. Over the next three days, a major front will be moving through, with higher winds moving into the north and running 20-30 kts consistently well into next week. Further offshore, especially in the Gulf Stream, the waves are impressively high and likely to get much higher. Nearer shore, 5'-6' waves are forecast. Tomorrow, when we approach Southport at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, we'll get a weather update and make our decision.


On Tuesday, the 26th, we motored down the ICW from Morehead City to Mile Hammock Bay, just at the entrance to New River and Morgan Bay, today and anchored. Tomorrow about 0800, at high tide, we will move into Morgan Bay and motor on to Gottschalk Marina at Camp Lejeune.

Motoring in the sun was pleasant and traffic was minimal. At a couple of the inlets, currents were swirling and there were clusters of small fishing boats that took some maneuvering but even that wasn't too demanding. Immediately north of Swansboro, just at the inlet, currents have dug some channels and shifted some sand so that the ICW turns very close inshore. The trawler just ahead of me ran aground and that gave me the heads up needed to move further inshore. Even there, water was pretty shallow but we managed to slide by.

There is a swing bridge across the ICW as it cuts through Camp Lejeune. It opens each 30 minutes. As I approached, just at sundown, I knew I was cutting it close… I arrived two minutes late. We turned circles and killed time. The bridge tender took pity on us and gave us an opening at 15 after the hour. Gratefully, we ran south the last several miles and arrived at our anchorage in fading nocturnal twilight. Turning into the bay, among the various cruisers also at anchor, we motored past the anchored LCU (medium), a WWII medium landing craft which will become part of a museum in Jacksonville once its top hamper is removed so it can get under a low approach bridge. For now, she stands alone, looking abandoned, and somehow rather ghostly.

At 0800 this morning we got underway for the final run up to Camp Lejeune. Four Coast Guard RIBs, with weapons mounted on hard points, convoyed by, outbound as we turned inland. With our waypoints from our last visit, we now know how to maneuver through the shoals and there is much less fear of running aground. From our port side, midst the heavy forest, probably from ranges used by the School of Infantry, relatively heavy rifle and machine gun fire escorted us inland. Off to starboard, Courthouse Bay, French Creek, the old Headquarters building, then the old 6th Marines area of Hadnot Point. We rounded what used to be Hospital Point and turned into the final approaches.

In bright sunlight and dead calm conditions, we moved into the marina, eased past and then backed down on the first dock's T-Head to slide in astern of another sailboat. Our bowsprit hangs over, probably more than a bit, but we declared it a safe landing, tied her off and plugged in to that endless reservoir of electricity.

We'll be here until we get our list of projects completed… a better full enclosure, heavier glass vinyl and with more "finish" now that we have the patterns worked out with our very cheap vinyl, and I still want to get two more solar panels installed. The enclosure we made, essentially while underway, works well but the cheaper vinyl is stretching some already and that would likely just get worse. Having gone through the learning curve, new and heavier duty curtains should go up pretty fast. The solar panels will take a bit of wiring, actually very little of it new, and will only require some drilling through the bimini frame for mounts.

Both Shirley and I are excited… we expect AT EASE will become even more comfortable.


In the false dawn immediately before sunrise, we pulled the anchor, turned on radar, running lights and such, and moved back out into the relatively broad Pungo River to continue our run south. The route today varies in crossing bigger water, the Pungo and Neuse Rivers, especially the Neuse, and smaller creeks. There were a few canals dug to tie it all together but the real meandering part of the trip, up to and then after the Neuse River and Oriental, was spent in the various creeks, some relatively broad and some, of course, quite narrow. All water has the characteristic brown tint, not good southern mud brown but tea brown, tannic acid brown, that stains our white hulled boats with a characteristic brownish mustache until heavy chemicals are applied to bleach the stain.

Traffic seems less heavy today but there are still sailboats, trawlers, and a few fast movers; the latter can create havoc with their wakes but almost invariably slow and creep around other vessels. To facilitate that, we slow movers, also slow to idle so they can get around quicker and with less throttle.

It was another cool, winter-like day with temps probably in the mid to upper 50's, perhaps highs in the low 60's. Again, the enclosed cockpit was snug and comfortable. I haven't been forced from shorts to long pants quite yet.

By mid afternoon, as we neared Morehead and Beaufort, we left the creeks behind and began moving through larger bodies of water. Larger marinas appeared alongside, and offshore, commercial fishing vessels, and two pods of dolphins were seen at play in the 20, or so, foot water. Movement was still very channelized however, one moves from one red or green marker to the next, as shoals are numerous and shifting in these tidal waters.

Off in the still gray distance, the industrial port of Morehead City emerged. The typical skyline clutter of large cranes and other high elevation cargo handling equipment. Tidal currents had been pulling us back to the sea at well over 8 kts over ground. The currents shifted as we approached the final barrier, a 65' bridge opening into the Morehead City's harbor turning basin. Currents are always stronger under bridges, the water being constricted, and something like 2 kts of current on the nose had AT EASE squirming a bit but we motored out into the basin, dodged the numerous small fishing boats, and rounded the quay to turn into a channel behind Sugar Loaf Island.

We were hoping for a tie up at a local restaurant, encouragingly named the Sanitary Restaurant, that provides their waterfront deck on a first come-first served basis, for a smallish ($10) overnight fee. No services (restrooms, electricity, water, etc…) are provided and it is assumed that you will eat at the restaurant. I've had the thought that if one does eat at the restaurant, there should be some discounting of the fee. No room at the inn, however. We meandered down the channel, still behind the island, to a wee basin where anchoring is customary, and there dropped our hook in 10' of honest water with 55' of chain and our 45 lb CQR. Against the 1.5 kts of current and 1500 RPM in reverse, the anchor quickly set. Home for the night… back in salt water… back to the sea.


AT EASE left the Portsmouth Hospital Point anchorage and moved down the Elizabeth River, past the Navy's shipyard, past the large Navy radio site, acres of antennas, and into the ICW proper, pausing at the several lift and draw bridges, and finally getting south of the Dismal Swamp alternate route and into the ICW's Virginia Cut. Even with the several stops because of bridge schedules, and one delay because of mechanical problems with a bridge, we made good time down to Great Bridge, the one lock on the entire route. There, a mixture of maintenance issues, heavy debris in the water, and commercial barge traffic brought everything to a halt. We joined the 15 or so boats "parked" in the canal waiting to lock through. I dropped an anchor and we practiced our patience.

Finally, after some 1.5 hour for us, longer for others, the canal opened. There was some crowding to get in for this lock through. The bridge immediately south of the lock is coordinated with the lock and if a cycle is missed, another hour's wait results. We were hanging in the locks opening. The last of the wall space on either side had been claimed. The tenders waved us in. The last sailboat in, immediately ahead of us, the one who got the last of the wall space, had invited us to raft alongside for the lock cycle. We met the generous and thoughtful English couple on s/v ANJOU, Phil and Christine, who have been touring the US and are now headed for the Bahamas.

We knew the delay would slow everyone down. Every boat travels at its own speed, some obviously much faster and others, like us, quite slow. Even given this diversity, delays like this tends to bunch up the boats, and this is most noticeable just before dark when everyone is trying to manage overnight accommodations whether that be anchoring or finding space in a marina. This particular part of the ICW makes that more difficult as the channel is narrow and very few opportunities for anchoring are offered.

As expected, just before dark, a large number of boats, power and sail, were struggling to find space at Coinjock, just across the North Carolina border. Coinjock offers very limited space, mostly pier side tie ups directly along the ICW. Both marinas were madhouses with boats vying for space both on the radio and alongside the piers. We claimed the last space available at Midway Marina; their fuel dock. It was a space requiring parallel parking, between two large motor yachts, with 1.5 kts of current running. I declined… just couldn't see how AT EASE (ostensibly 35' but really 42' with our self-steering hardware on the stern and bowsprit) could fit in the confined space. A switch was quickly arranged. Another sailboat, tied in an alcove off the channel, drew too much water and was bouncing on the bottom. He claimed the fuel dock and I slipped into his vacated space. Everyone was happy… at least happier.

With cable TV, a real luxury, and a secure berth, we settled in for the evening. Given the morrow's weather, 20-25 kts from the north, and the unsettled nature of Albemarle Sound, our next broad but shallow crossing, we even settled in for the next day as well. We weren't alone. A couple of trawlers decided to wait awhile. We exchanged sea stories and such over drinks, then all retired to listen to weather.

AT 0700, just at dawn, we backed out into the channel and turned south along with the hosts of other boats. As the day progressed, the crowd thinned out. Faster boats moved away and slower boats spread out. Albemarle Sound and the Alligator River were behaved and we made good time. We even passed some slower sailboats. One boat's crew, huddled in the exposed cockpit in foulies, hoods and gloves, gesticulated and shouted as we passed. I could hear then but gestured to my mike for them to get on the radio.

"Are you really wearing shorts", they shouted. "Well… yes", I said. I didn't want to tell them that I was actually a bit warm and was about to unzip my vest. The enclosed cockpit really is comfortable.

Toward evening we were nearing the end of the Alligator River-Pungo River canal, a particularly narrow run. Here we had our one bump on the bottom, so far, but kept the power up and moved across what felt like mud. We were already looking out at the Pungo's broad expanse into a drizzling mist or heavy fog, not sure which, and selecting an anchorage. Running aground would really have made the day.

Having dodged that bullet, we eased out into open water, then moved well out of the channel and anchored for the night. It was a 70 NM day… about as far as we can go in any give day in daylight.


Banker's Hours, that's what we're keeping these days. I crawled out of bed about 0915 (Shirley had been up for hours, reading), listened to the weather and downloaded weather faxes from the Ham network, then made the firm decision to head for Norfolk and the ICW. Forecasts suggested dew point and temp in Norfolk were the same… fog in other words. In Hampton Roads, a couple of degrees separated the two. In any event, it was a definitely gray and dismal day with drizzling rain and coldish temps in the very lower 60's. Winds of 10-15 kts should blow the fog away, one would think, so off we went.

We motored slowly, carefully out of Sarah Creek and back into the York River before turning SE and into Chesapeake Bay. Fog was evident but visibility was a mile or better and we had the radar tracking away so had no problems with piloting. The only other boats out were crabbers working their pots and Coast Guard boats, either actively patrolling or training. Yorktown is where many, maybe all, Coasties get their small boat (calm water) training. Small craft advisories were out but conditions were actually relatively benign, however, winds do get the seas up in a hurry in the Bay and even 2-3 footers with the typically short wave interval can create a bumpy ride. We popped out our staysail to give better balance to the boat in the rolly conditions.

We made the 25 NM or so into the Hampton Roads approaches and then turned in past Point Comfort along side a Navy frigate returning to the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, after some excursion into the Chesapeake. We maintained their announced 500 yd exclusion zone using our radar on very short range setting. Two tugs joined the frigate as she prepared to turn into one of the Navy piers. The frigate's own security boat was launched and, along with the various patrol boats around the Navy Base, made sure we didn't encroach… but we noticed a civilian excursion boat, one selling tickets to tour the Navy Base, was able to move in much closer than 500 yds, even inside the turning frigate, and a tow passed by with overloaded barge within the channel with the frigate, both with no challenge whatsoever. More "pretend" security, we thought. Or maybe we just look more menacing. I kind of like that thought… The Fighting AT EASE and her ferocious crew of cutthroats.

In continuing rain (the fog had lifted), we motored past the base, past the international piers, and into the Elizabeth River, to drop anchor again off Hospital Point (the Naval Hospital) at Portsmouth. In 23' of water, with 100' of chain out along with the 45 lb CQR, we felt we could ride whatever the weather might offer overnight. As we backed down on the anchor, two patrolling Navy RIB's (Rigid Inflatable Boats) idled by on their way into a marina to refuel. The sailors aboard wore battle dress, helmets with intercoms attached, and either body armor or thin, black life jackets, and were huddled in the smallish cabins trying to stay warm. In the short trip down the Elizabeth River, we had noted prowling patrol boats with blue lights flashing, one off a Navy frigate being repaired in a civilian yard and one off several USNS ships tied to a pier. Security does seem heavier than when we were last here.

It's worth noting that our new enclosed cockpit performed flawlessly. I was even able to stay in shorts, although I wore a sweatshirt, and was comfortable in the cockpit. The visibility was excellent, even through the water droplets adhering to the vinyl.

Once, in the Bay, in a heavy roll, a wave smacked over the low port gunnel and washed copious water down alongside the cabin to the port primary wench. There, boiling up, most of the water lay against the side curtain until draining back overboard through the scupper. Some, enough, a couple of gallons, pushed in under the curtain and washed into the well beneath the pedestal. This is the heavy weather duty station for Saylor, our Salty Dog crewmate who took umbrage at the cold water insult. She stood, looked at me with brows eschew, clearly asking "What the hell was that all about?" I shrugged… she huffed… and settled back down on her now somewhat damp bedding, silently suffering with a rancorous disdain.


One of our goals from the last boatyard stay was to put an enclosed cockpit on AT EASE. Full enclosures are more weather proof, certainly warmer and dryer, and just more comfortable in adverse weather. For us, this would entail a higher bimini with a clear vinyl windshield, both high enough to allow us to stand in the cockpit yet see out forward. The bimini, with clear vinyl side curtains added, would allow good visibility all about in any weather, plus would give us another "room" and certainly make watch standing easier. The canvas pro we used simply did not have time to do more than a new bimini with windshield. The rest was left to us.

Shirley and I made a pilgrimage to Walmart where we bought clear vinyl material… not as good as the optically correct material available through marine stores, but good enough to get us through the next couple of months of weather. We did some hasty fitting and design, did some snips and trim, got out our sail making sewing machine, invested two days of fitting and sewing, and put together side panels back to the stern pulpit. With the sunshade hanging off the back of the bimini, and the weather cloth lashed to the stern pulpit, we have a 95% enclosure. We dug out our goody bag of sunbrella, zippers and such, our collection of snaps and twist fasteners and hardware, and hung the curtains, put in a zipper door for rapid egress/access, and finished it all just before the rain fell in earnest. Not as polished or "finished" a product as we might have gotten from the canvas folks, but for about $100 we put together a package which works to about 95% and which costs considerably less than the $2000-$3000 which a more complete package might have costs. Good enough for now... and just in time.

Over the last two days, we've had consistent rain, blustery cold, and lousy visibility. Rather than move further south, we've held at anchor and been content to be comfortable. Forecasts are confusing and offshore conditions seem very unsettled. Two gales in the last five days and another building off shore today. To move out and around Hatteras means we would have to wait at least through this week and into the next. Not acceptable. We've been looking at a run through Norfolk and into the Virginia Cut ICW to North Carolina; about five days from here to New River and Camp Lejeune, our next destination. We could do the same run in two days offshore but weather is a significant barrier.

Tomorrow, conditions are still forecasts to be misty, maybe foggy, with drizzling rain. In spite of that, we intend to get underway and motor south. This is the time of year when weather systems just hang around. We're not willing to do the same.


About 0900 this morning, AT EASE was hoisted on slings and carried by the travel lift back to the water. Her new bimini, with clear windshield across the front and sunshade hanging down from behind, performs well in the gently falling rain. Her bright blue underbody seems too clean to lower into the dirty water, but lower they do. Her newly polished cabin top glistens wetly. Her crew climbs back aboard, cranks the engine, and she slowly motors from the haul out slip and back into the bay. A brief stop to take on diesel and top off the outboard's gas cans, then back to our previous anchorage just off the marina.

Standing at the helm, I'm content. The numerous little chores, repairs and upgrades has been completed. Things work. We had not been able to get the cockpit fully enclosed, but what we have certainly will make her cockpit more weather resistant. AT EASE is better than ever; more comfortable and more functional. We are all ready to head south, to chase the sun once again.

We've even had time and opportunity for a little practical research. I've coated the paddle wheel log, and the propeller, with zinc oxide cream to see how long they might protect from barnacle growth. I've heard mixed reports from others. I also had a couple of abrasions on the inflation tubes of the dink… the dink and the Monitor windvane steering hardware on the back constantly tease each other, just can't seem to get along… so I used some hyphalon patching material and West System epoxy as an adhesive, and covered the abrasions. Apparent patches surely will make the dinghy seem less desirable to a potential thieve (the outboard motor is deliberately scuffed up as well), but the real research is to see how the West epoxy holds up on the inflatable's tube.

This afternoon, TV weather warns of a fast moving storm front, thunderstorms and heavy rain, moving up from the south. Dramatic warnings caution all to take shelter. By three, the light rain has passed, winds were never more than 10 kts or so, and the sun is breaking through the low clouds. It is colder (a cold front from the south, imagine that), and damp, but hardly horrific. We turned on the propane heater briefly and soon are snugly warmed. Saylor and I stretch out on a settee to nap while Shirley finishes a book. AT EASE gently rocks.

Tomorrow there will be decisions to make. We will have to move on to Norfolk to position ourselves for a run offshore and around Hatteras, into the teeth of the Gulf Stream's formidable currents, and then on to places south. We seem to have decided to stop by Camp Lejeune to see our old and new friends again. Apart from those plans, Florida beckons. Beyond that… we just don't know.


Day 10 and still on the hard. With ¾ of the second coat of bottom paint on, the rain started and looks to continue through today and maybe tomorrow until noon or so. The rain also stops some of the canvas work with the new bimini somewhat up and patterns made for the remainder. At least sewing can continue indoors but fitting will have to wait for dryer times. So close, but still in the yard. It looks now like a Friday launch will be the soonest possible.

We've really completed so many tasks, maintenance and upgrades, many relatively small chores but all time consuming. Shirley has been working on interior woodwork, sanding and varnishing and such. She's also washed, polished and buffed the cabin top. We haven't done the hull yet but will probably do so at some point when back in the water where it will be reachable. To do the hull in the yard would require scaffolding and that's just more than we want to deal with.

I've been doing electrical stuff, cleaning up wiring and putting in hour meters and indicator lights. I discovered our bilge high water alarm wasn't working. Rather than spend the exorbitant fee to put in another unit from West Marine, I went to Radio Shack and bought a buzzer and LED light and installed them along side a switch panel in the galley… works fine.

At this point, we're looking for things to keep us occupied. Every day or so we borrow the marina's "courtesy car", as usual a junker but still appreciated, to drive to Walmart and other but probably less essential stores in the area. We've become shoppers again and, of course, are accumulating stuff. There's some irony in how we clean out the boat, giving away or throwing away the junk we've accumulated since our last haul out, and then rush about madly buying more junk to occupy the space made available.

As always, we meet others either confined to the yard or grabbing opportunities to drive from home to work on their boats. Those living aboard in a yard always seek each other out, to commiserate, to share frustrations and talk about projects, and always to compare likely "splash dates", the day we hope to launch. Those with earlier dates always smile. Those with later dates, especially the "Who knows?" dates, then become the victims of rather shallow empathy… that sugary variety of "I feel your pain" more typical among seasonal politicians.

We all seem to enjoy the luxury of essentially unlimited electrical power. We leave lights on… even in the day time. We turn on TV and use it as a background noise… all day. We can leave our computers on, use power tools, we can even turn on the electric hot water heater. It's nice, but it's not enough to compensate for the downsides of living on the ground.

We must be a pitiful sight to the local weekenders enjoying their boat chores. Climbing shaky ladders to board our homes, balancing bundles and bags and boxes of stuff, both going and coming stuff, while about us the clamor of tools, growling diesels and all the other industrial noises of busy boatyards, makes it inescapable… this is not paradise. Paradise does not have an outhouse. The fact is that our boats, our homes, on the hard, are largely disabled, and we have to trek, morning and night, from the boat to the outhouse. Now we are fortunate the yard's toilet and shower is nearby, but that doesn't alter the fact that it is, indeed, an outhouse.

We crave a return to living on the water, to the discipline the lifestyle imposes. Ashore, there are just too many options; to many opportunities for consumer impulses to be rewarded. Afloat, supplies on board become a commodity to be horded as resupply can be so very difficult. We are conscious of what we use… food, water and power. We are judicious in how we spend these commodities yet are appreciative of all when spend we do. We are deliberate about our days, the routine of life aboard, how we spend our time. We are more conscious of the weather, today's, tomorrow's and the days thereafter. And we seem more at peace, more accepting of how our lives are restricted living aboard, and more appreciative of what all we gain from this cruising lifestyle.


This will be one of those maintenance reports so caveat emptor.


As planned, we hauled AT EASE into the York River Yacht Haven yard on 10/04/04 for yearly hull maintenance.  While in the yard, we will pressure wash the bottom and scrape off the barnacles, sand much of the remaining Micron 44 bottom paint off, put on a primer coat to seal the rest in place, and then over paint two coats of Interlux Ultra, an ablative paint with very high numbers for copper and biologic inhibitors, especially formulated for warmer, tropical waters.  I'm sure it won't perform as well as the Micron 44 (with TBT) but it's about as good as I can buy in the US.


I looked the hull over and chose to grind out a few blisters that were now minor but would grow over time.  I have the "fixins" for the West System on board and that is a wonderful set of products for all sorts of boat projects.  I got carried away and soon had the hull looking like purple measles; the garish color of the fairing compound.  Few were blisters.  Most were chips into the gel coat that just seemed to me to need a dab or two of filler. I sanded them down the next day with an electric sander… kept at it until bored and actually got some of the fairing to fair before I quit.  I've already told the surveyor, "the sloppy work is mine." 


Above the water line, I ground out a few stress cracks, spotted a few gouges from too close approaches or some such flaw, and filled them with Marine Tex, another wonderful two part product that hardens like metal and can be used on just about any surface… but rarely can it be used without making a mess. I'll let Shirley sand down and clean up the mess. 


We had already developed a list of projects to complete while on the hard and were determined to resist the phenomenon of "boat yard creep"; that insidious process whereby one adds more and more to the work order for rationalized fantasies such as "It's so convenient here" or "Wouldn't it be nice to…".  We do have to get a current out of water survey to satisfy insurance carriers for next year. They're usually good for three years.  Then we had arranged for a canvas shop to bid on an aft cockpit enclosure (bimini and vinyl windshield and side curtains and such). Those are the big jobs.


I also wanted to finally get our windlass remote functional.  Despite its proclamation of weatherproof, I have found the plugs on the remote and the through deck connector to be fragile and very vulnerable to corrosion.  I'm switching the mounting to below to the bulkhead separating the head from the chain locker where I can simply pass the remote up through the forward hatch, use it, and then return it to a warm and dry environment when finished. I suppose I could also sit on the head and drive the anchor up and down blindly but will probably save that exercise until really slow days when boredom dominates.


Of course there are numerous, little, ankle-biting irritants to be addressed.  I need to re-epoxy (there's that West System again) the batting on some of our mosquito nets.  They take a beating in storage and we really don't use them all that much. I had to seal the through-deck hole forward where the windlass remote used to live… more epoxy.  I'm installing an hour counter and LED indicator on the refrigerator so I will know exactly when and how long the beast is running.  I may also put a counter on the watermaker as several maintenance cycles there are running time related.


I guess I'm really excited about that epoxy.  My green running light had quit working during our bash and crash period coming south in heavy waves.  Underway, I just shifted to the tricolors atop the mast, knowing I could do little on the forepeak when I would be moving up and down some 8' and where I would be knee deep in water at least part of the time. Once on the hard, I went forward and, as I suspected, I had a mixture of corrosion on the electrical contacts and a light fixture essentially beaten apart.  Where it had  been sealed with silicone and fastened with screws into the plastic, it had come apart. The screws had broken out of the plastic. The epoxy pulled it all together again. I cleaned and used dielectric grease on the contacts and reassembled… damn thing works again.  Son of a gun!


We had a few corroded reading lamps in the interior cabin… they too had taken a beating over the years and bits and pieces allowing them to rotate and elevate had become among the missing.  New, bright and shinny brass light fixtures had been purchased for mounting.  Another job done. 


I cycled the two-way valve for the head, waste tank or overboard discharge; those valves freeze up from scaling seemingly within a month if not turned a few times.  Once frozen, they have to be replaced… a job I tend to put off for extended periods.  Shirley climbed down into the lazarette and demonstrated her lithe figure and postural flexibility while checking and filling the batteries with distilled water.  I removed three broken sheaves from the back of the boom, the reefing lines run to the cockpit.  Broken as they were, the reefing lines tended to jam… a nasty experience when hurrying to reduce the mainsail. With the partial remains, I tried to order replacements.  No joy with the catalogues on hand.  Okay… we'll just deal with functionality.  I left the stainless steel shafts for the sheaves in place and will turn lines across these shafts.  Not as good as sheaves, certainly, but I think a not inelegant solution to the problem. The lines may pull harder but certainly will not jam. I replaced the aft shaft zinc.  I'm sure the size isn't quite right but given that it's purpose is to quickly rot away, I think I'll accept that it might create a silly millimeter more of drag or cavitation around the screw.


Both Shirley and I are alert… boatyard creep has begun.  The "week" on the hard has now become the "ten days"… ran out of primer paint they did and had to reorder another quart. There will be more creep… it's inevitable.


On Friday evening, we dropped off the mooring in Annapolis and headed out for an overnight run down the Chesapeake to York River Yacht Haven at Sarah Creek, VA. The week had been eventful. 


Shirley and her son Greg had continued their non-stop tourist gig up to Wednesday while I had spent the days on chores and shopping trips around Annapolis… collecting propane, mail, all the things to prepare for departure.  That evening, we had arranged to eat dinner with old friends, James and Ellen from MOONSHADOW, cruisers we had met some three years ago in Key West, who were leaving the next day. 


By mid afternoon it began raining.  The remnants of Hurricane Jeannie had arrived.  In foul weather gear, we dinghied in for a evening spent talking about voyages past and future plans, commiserating about boat maintenance problems, and just catching up on the accumulated sea stories.  By the time we returned, 30+ kts of wind and continuing heavy rain had Weems Creek in an uproar.  We pumped out a brimming dingy, full of rain and wave, and launched for the return, against the wind, motoring back out to AT EASE, weaving through all the other closed boats where faces peered out at the sodden fools about on such a night. AT EASE swung fitfully against her mooring tether, squirming in the gusts as we maneuvered alongside.  Wet foulies were left to drip in the cockpit while the wet crew went below into the warm and cozy cabin.


The next day, in conversations with other cruisers at the dinghy landing, we revealed we were indeed the sodden fools of last evening, motoring about in the midst of wind and rain.  "Did you know it blew up to 51 kts last night", they asked? Of course had I know what was coming we wouldn't have left the boat.  But, given that nothing terrible happened, I suspect we faired better in the restaurant, yarning with fellow sailors, than did they, huddled and worried below while Jeannie blustered in her final scene ashore. 


With Greg safely delivered to the airport, we accepted a challenge from a local restaurant to eat all the ribs we wanted, then returned home to sit in stuffed content.  The crew from GRAND EAGLE, Warren and Bobbi, hailed.  We had hoped for a last drink together before we both left the next day.  Late though it was, they had found the time to stop by and we were delighted.  There plans were different from ours, planning cruising more restricted to the East Coast, and they were not planning on heading south this year. There were more stories, more talk about years to come, and more promises to again share an anchorage somewhere down the line.


As we've said before, the people one meets while cruising are among the very best things about the lifestyle.  There is a sadness in leaving folks with whom we have shared so many good times.  But there is an expectation also that we will meet again.  Last year, the wonderful folks of Ocean Springs, MS, took us in yet again. This summer, we have certainly experienced wonderful renewals, some all the more wonderful because of the unexpectedness.  From that great group at Camp Lejeune, Jim and Tonda in particular, to Sandy and Dave in Norfolk, John and Jo in Havre de Grace, Dic and Betty in Baltimore, Warren and Bobbi, and James and Ellen in Annapolis, we have been blessed with opportunities to again share in one another's experiences. With the expectation that we will all meet again, the crew of AT EASE was ready to depart.


There was the final run to the commissary for provisions, the last of the mail was picked up at the dock master’s office, and then the rental car was dropped off. We were ready to go. 


AT 1700, under a blue sky and with light wind from the south, we motored out of Annapolis and settled in for the run down the Bay. Forecasts had called for light winds from the east, but the wind from the south began to build in the early evening and through the night, holding in the high teens and low twenties until noon the following day.  The Chesapeake, like the Gulf, gets stirred up pretty quickly in any sustained wind.  Steep and short interval, 2'-4' waves, with about 15% 6' waves, built barriers for AT EASE to punch through, and punch we did.  The wave interval was frequently shorter than our hull length. We would climb one wave in a fury of spray, sometimes leaping over the crest so quickly the bow would fall into the trough with a crash.  More frequently, the bow would fall into the next wave already building, burying the bowsprit and foredeck in foam.  As we climbed the next wave, water would surge aft down the gunnels, banging into the primary winches, sometimes surging back and forth as we plunged up and down, not fully draining before the next water came aboard. 


Trying to rest below between watches was an exercise in bracing for the next bang.  Sleep was fitful at best.  With the boat pitching so violently, the further astern one is in the boat, the more comfortable.  We may have gotten more rest while standing watch in the cockpit, which stayed pretty dry considering.  We did have to put up the cockpit awning to keep off the spray flying over the top of the boat.


The overnight hours were made even more exciting by the heavy commercial traffic, from barges, both towed and pushed, to large ships, the radar stayed cluttered and it seemed we were maneuvering to avoid traffic much of the night. Those monsters coming up behind us are always exciting.  We don't seem as vigilant to the rear and they can be an unpleasant surprise, already close before really noticed. But only one of those "meeting" events through the night really stood out.


What I think was an unencumbered tug boat, approached from a tangent.  I turned left to get a clearer picture of his lights, hence his course.  From the different perspective, I could see both red and green, meaning he was heading toward me.  I then turned hard right to pass astern.  A minute later, he turned hard right to again head directly toward me.  Again, I turned hard left to move away. He had already painted me with his searchlight, a passing glance.  Now he turned the light on me and left it there.  We were getting closer.  I grabbed the microphone and without preamble said "Captain, with the spot light on me I am blinded and can't see to maneuver."  Instantly he came back, "First I see green, then red, then green… make up your mind."  Some arguments can't be won… I just verified that he felt we were clear.  I was satisfied to have him behind me and I suspect he felt the same about me. 


We brought this beating by the sea on ourselves, of course.  Even given that the forecast was wrong, yet again, we could simply have backed off the speed, slowed the boat, so that we rode the waves rather than forced our way through them.  But we were thinking of the next day and wanted to arrive in the York River during daylight hours so we kept the speed up, ploughed ahead and took our beating. 


Forecasters updated their predictions on Saturday morning, calling for winds less than 10 kts by early afternoon, but also predicting thunderstorms by evening. By noon on Saturday, much to our surprise, the wind laid and the seas rather quickly settled.  Our boat speed picked up and the ride became pleasant once again. Even the threatening skies, darkening during the afternoon, didn't dampen our improved spirits.  I anticipated the anchor down by 1900.  At 1830, just as we saw the first lightening, we slowed and turned into the twisting and shoal channel leading into River Yacht Basin where we would anchor. At 1950, some 27 hours after leaving Annapolis, we declared the hook down.  Immediately after I rigged the anchor light, even before I had gotten below again, the rain started.  Sometime things just work out about right.


Our time in Annapolis is now ending, for this year at least.  Tomorrow, Shirley's son Greg, who has been visiting for a week, will fly home.  On Friday, we'll drop off the mooring and do an overnight down to the York River, to Sarah Creek and York River Yacht Haven, where we'll haul out for a bottom job. Both Shirley and Greg have been absolutely committed to making every daylight hour available for exploring Washington and their schedule has been frenetic. I've been hanging out on the boat, doing some chores and staying available to ferry the erstwhile adventurers back and forth in the dinghy.


We made a decision about venting the lazarette, which doubles as our battery compartment and where corrosive gases have been impacting our inverter and potentially other electronics equally expensive. After discussing the issue with other Lord Nelson owners via our email net, we found there was absolutely no consensus.  The decision was ours.  I did get an idea, however.  It seems it is perfectly acceptable to vent the battery gases, perhaps even some heat off the engine, into the main ship's cabin.  The concentration of corrosive gases then is low and essentially unnoticeable. This averts the dreaded "opening to the sea" that any hole in the exterior creates.  Consider it done.  I now have an inline blower that I can engage when running the engine and/or charging the batteries. A bit more noise, certainly, but not really all that different from the engine's noise.


The voltage regulator replaced last August, decided to quit working.  With all my hands on experience with the electrical system,  I was able to diagnose the problem and replace the regulator in scant minutes with an onboard spare. Of course the 13 month old regulator is warranted for 12 months.


The inverter, damaged by the corrosive gases, still has some brain damage in spite of the new control card.  Apparently the other two printed circuits need replacing as well.  One of these is on backorder and simply unavailable.  The other could be replaced but the unit, while not cured, will produce electricity if manually plugged in so we'll just have to wait to get the inverter completely rebuilt.


We had some soft wood around our shower area. This is certainly related to a bit of a list, a few degrees only, to the port side, which has developed as we have lived aboard and added or stowed various things on AT EASE.  The water from showering just has not drained completely and, over time, even teak complains; grows molds that make the wood spongy soft.  I've injected epoxy into the wood via numerous small drill holes, filled and sanded where necessary, and am now ready to refinish this restored area.  I've even done a bit of backyard engineering to eliminate the residual water. 


Our bottom paint is well past its functional life and both barnacle growth and various decorative vegetations and slimes have found a home.  All that slows the boat and just gets worse if not controlled.  The ugly slime and growth around the waterline has been a problem.  I always assumed it was access to sunlight that made this area more prone to growth.  At a recent meeting of cruisers, a marine paint distributor gave a presentation and probably put his finger on this areas' vulnerability.  Petroleum products kill the paints ability to fend off growth.  Anyone who has been around any harbor, any fuel dock, or any marina knows just how often there is a sheen on the water from someone's spill or leak.


It seems we have wrapped up medical issues for now.  Treatments have been completed, prescriptions for the coming year are filed with our mail-order pharmacy, and all examinations have been completed. Results are back from various tests and seem benign enough so there's no real reason not to get underway.


The remnants of Hurricane Jeanne passed through last evening and overnight with heavy rain and gusty winds, some up to 30 kts, but no real problems apart from some area flooding which obviously bothers us very little. What a year this has been for storms!  Our favorite cruising areas have been battered; Florida, of course, the Bahamas and the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. I'm sure much of that damage will still be evident as we head south again.


Annapolis has been charming and comfortable as usual.  Perhaps even more so as we have had the luxury of a rental car.  More distant places are suddenly accessible.  Replenishing propane, getting parts or materials, running errands or simply exploring… it's all been made so much easier. As always, there are cruisers in the area, some new friends and some old, and we have enjoyed visiting and swapping tales, talking of places far and near as we all try to make plans for the coming year's destinations. I'm feeling that restlessness, that almost subliminal hunger again, that need to get underway for somewhere.


AT EASE still rides a mooring in Weems Creek, Annapolis, were we anticipated entertaining dear friends and family who had planned visits.  Best laid plans, and such, a hurricane in particular, got in the way of one of those visits (Drats!), but others are in the offing.


While we wait, we're taking care of various and lingering maintenance issues, both mechanical and medical. Our inverter/charger and Link 1000 energy monitor both burped one night, the inverter to recover with serious brain damage.  The Link monitor did not survive.  However, being the long-range cruiser that I am, I had a spare Link on board.  Out came the old and in went the new… lights and numbers again.  However, the inverter's brain damage would not permit the two units to communicate.  I pulled that hefty monster out of the lazarette, bending and twisting in the nearly impossibly small space, and got it off to a service facility.  Back came the message… corrosion, thus no warranty… new control card needed.  The repairmen suspected water but I know the more likely culprit. The unit sets in the same compartment housing the batteries.  Battery gases are absolutely corrosive but, like everything else on a boat, there has to be a compromise. An ideal location for the inverter is just not available short of intruding on living spaces below and that is not an option.  Some corrosion has been accepted, but now perhaps there is too much for the more electronically sensitive model we currently use.   The compartment can't be vented without some risk of salt-water intrusion in heavy weather which is even worse than the gases.  However, to protect the inverter, an expensive and desirable piece of equipment creating more life comfort, I may have to accept some risk from a ventilating hole in the cockpit.  My plan now is to install a fixture typically used for access to fuel and water tanks from the deck.  I could leave this open when I want ventilation but could screw in a cap that would make it watertight during intervals of heavy weather.  All it would take is a hole, in my boat, through teak, a permanent disfiguration of the boat, forever after visible in the cockpit. Sigh…


It's time to change the oil and filters again.  Even with the small electric pump I picked up in San Juan, PR, changing the oil is still a filthy exercise; one I rarely complete without expletives and oil polluting our home. I'm installing a permanently mounted pump that will give me the option of pumping from the engine's oil drain plug or via a smaller diameter hose inserted down the dipstick's housing.


I've scheduled a haul out for AT EASE on Oct 4; that will be At Sarah Creek on the York River.  We obviously need a new bottom job; to sand and chip off the barnacles and old paint and paint anew. My insurance will require a new out-of-water survey next year so this will be a good opportunity to get that done. We'll take advantage of the time to look into building an enclosed cockpit (bimini and side curtains/screens) for AT EASE's cockpit.  That's another schedule hassle… we'll have to hang around while all that is built and that involves a couple of weeks minimum.


Medical issues continue to cause scheduling chaos.  These are the primary reasons we are still in Annapolis, even why we came back to Annapolis.  I was able to schedule a root canal at the dental school at Bethesda, the National Naval Medical Center.  The drilling and such was done yesterday and may or may not have been successful.  I may still be firmly tethered to the dentist's schedule for more work. A return appointment on the morrow will answer that question.


I did finally get in to see a dermatologist, more accurately in to have her see me. I explained that I used to look better.  She seemed less than impressed.  Two biopsies were scooped away… results to follow in a week or so but nothing particularly frightening hangs in the balance.  We are working now to get our various prescriptions renewed so our mail pharmacy can continue to deliver medications periodically over the next year.


Fall threatens from the north, leaves changing color and swirling about, and more hurricanes, a seemingly endless series of hurricanes, threaten to the south.


The morning of the 10th dawned bright and sunny, a blue bird day and the first for some time. All the weather seems to have passed by and a gentle high has moved in to dominate.  Forecast for winds from the NW at 10-15 kts, with wind diminishing for the rest of the week, enticed us out of Baltimore and on to Annapolis. 


The anchor came up, bringing with it large quantities of black, odiferous mud and muck. While I plied the deck wash hose to chain and anchor, Shirley moved us out into the channel.  A nagging horn from afar sounded, to distant to really register.  Then another, and another, growing louder, more insistent.  I finally looked up.  Approaching diagonally, moving backwards, perhaps in time, a WW II-era Liberty ship, the USS JOHN BROWN, complete with gray paint and gun tubs, was being moved across the harbor by two tugs, both on the opposite side from us and both apparently anxious that we were converging and they would quickly lose sight of us. I got a bit anxious too.  Folks around us could probably tell as I went charging back to the cockpit yelling "Hard left… hard left."  Shirley calmly brought us around.  She wasn't as impressed as I… but I had never been threatened by collision with WW II before.


We motorsailed past Ft McHenry about the same time they were raising the huge, I mean really huge flag, the one I had not seen on our entry when they flew the much smaller storm flag. Old Francis could certainly have seen this monster from his vantage point down the river. 


We weren't alone.  Boats of all sizes and types were underway, taking advantage of the break in weather.  Back down the Patapsco River we all flowed, eager for the more open waters of the Chesapeake.  A Coast Guard buoy tender passed moving into the harbor and, before we had fully exited, it came back out, moving at a pretty good clip.  We eased off to the side of the identified commercial channel and joined the flow.  Outside the entrance, there were more sailboats than power in sight.  All had sails in the air, some very optimistic with everything out and some more guarded, like myself, with only a headsail to collect the very light air (3-5 kts).  The motor stayed on. 


The day stayed beautiful and the air stayed light. We took advantage of the power to get the watermaker on and in this largely fresh water were producing about 10 gals per hour, topping off our tanks. Saylor climbed up to lay on the captain's seat, right behind the wheel, to better watch the world go by and to position herself so she could nudge my hand from time to time, reminding me to keep rubbing. Even she seemed to enjoy the sun.


The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, visible even as we left Baltimore and marking Annapolis' entrance, gradually grew closer. Large bulk carriers pushed their wall of water ahead, moving 15-20 kts as they negotiated the shipping channel heading north. That bow wave, the green water not the white, must be 4-5' tall. The usual host of day sailing boats cluttered the approaches to Annapolis, making the dodge and weave through the crab pots all the more interesting.  I furled the headsail.  It was just past noon and, as seems the case in the Chesapeake, the wind was building to the advertised 10-15 kts… and the approach to Annapolis is, of course, directly NW, into the wind.


We went inside, through the City's mooring field, circling back toward Back Creek, looking for an unoccupied fuel dock.  We've discovered that marinas, when offered the choice of selling 50 gals of diesel to a sailboat or dockage to a megayacht, seem to prefer the megayachts.  Fuel pumps just disappear behind their multistoried splendor.


Annapolis City Marina's dock was open. We made our turn and eased in alongside the pilings, making a nice soft landing, and took on fuel. I gloat a bit about that landing.  The fuel dock there is the base of a curve with boats in slips on both sides reaching out into harbor. Getting in was tight.  Now came the challenge.  The wind pushed us against the dock.


"What direction does your boat back", the attendant asked.  I smiled… "It's full keel, kind sir, I never really know until I start."  He didn't seem amused, looking as I was at the boats in slips on both sides.  Backing with the wind pushing me down on those slips, with the 6' bowsprit swinging into the dock's pilings, was out of the question.


"Perhaps", I offered, "you could push off the bow as I go forward." At that he really smiled, and his shrug conveyed clearly, "That ain't my job." 


Shirley took the con and I positioned midships.  We took off bow and stern lines and I gave a mighty heave, series of them actually, to push the boat clear, bow slightly more than stern.  Shirley got underway, with just the hint of port helm to keep the stern from swinging and striking.  Another shove at the pilings as they moved past and we had some wiggle room.  Shirley added helm, careful to keep the wind vane steering apparatus sticking off the stern clear, and AT EASE moved back out into more open water.


All that is relative as the "open water" was Annapolis harbor, congested as always with local and visiting boats, kayaking, motoring and sailing, some huge and some small, all intently eyeballing the marvelous panorama, only secondarily managing their vessels. Us too.  It's hard not to be impressed with this so very attractive setting.


We moved back out to the Naval Academy and turned the corner into the Severn River, up past the Campus, to finally turn into Weems Creek and take a mooring, probably the same one we had left some weeks ago.


The anchorage here in Baltimore's Inner Harbor has been great.  On Tuesday, the PRIDE OF BALTIMORE, a Chesapeake Schooner modern but built in the historical fashion and so rigged, returned from one promotional trip or another and took her berth across the pier from the USS CONNSTELLATION; both some 100 yds away.  What a beautiful ship, with her graceful lines, well tended with gleaming bright work and with those impossibly raked masts, at least 15 degrees to my eye, and her heavy top hamper of yards and square sails on the foremast. 


We are surrounded by trendy restaurants and swarms of visitors, water taxis, paddle boats and simply interesting sights.  Dinghy access to the city is excellent.  Our circumnavigating friends John and Jo (s/v SILKIE) spent the day with us again, making the drive down from Havre de Grace to meet us at Borders Bookstore where we fueled with Starbucks and caught up sharing stories.  With them, we spent the day looking about Fells Point and Little Italy before we retired to AT EASE for sundowners and more sea stories. We ended the evening eating the happy hour (read cheaper) specials at one of the numerous restaurants along the waterfront.


A fortuitous coincidence… the Annual Southbound Cruisers Reunion is being held now at Anchorage Marina here in Baltimore.  We had planned to move to this anchorage anyway to gain closer access to groceries and the local West Marine store.  Now we get to congregate with other cruisers, veteran and newly embarked, trawlers and sailors, to listen to some seminars and just talk cruising.


The weather is catching up with us.  Francis has come roaring up from the south with widespread and heavy rain and wind.  There are tornado watches for much of the surrounding area, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and numerous cells with more intense wind.  From the southwest we have watched heavy and dark clouds build until the harbor has a pronounced wintery flavor. Last night we had high winds much of the night with 20-25 kts being typical.  Even with the wind and harbor chop, AT EASE hung comfortably on her anchor, not budging an inch as far as I could tell.  I should be able to tell.  I was up repeatedly during the night, with each heavier gusts, poking my head out the hatch, checking the dink, and generally worrying about the limited room available should we drag or, even worse, should someone drag down on us.


Today, we have the same heavy, dark clouds, more on the horizon, the same wet and oppressive feel to the air, and continuing winds that seem rather calm now, just 12-15 kts. The Cruisers Reunion has lost some of its holiday atmosphere, the gaiety and sparkle may have dulled, and possibly some of the luster of a cruising lifestyle may have paled for some, as the reality of weather teaches its own seminar to all.   


But then the real weather story is Florida.  I called today to have our mail forwarded from Islamorada in the Keys, thinking this may be the time to get what is available before Ivan slams shut the window of opportunity for anything to get in or out of the state. The Keys have been largely spared thus far, one long and one short… but Ivan is threatening.  I'm reminded of a time honored technique of adjusting naval gunfire.  First round long… second round short… split the difference for the third and shoot for effect. Ivan is number three.


We anchored behind Reedy Island in upper Delaware Bay on Friday (3rd), a comfortable anchorage although one subject to the two knot plus currents, and just hung on the hook Saturday morning, reading and lounging, waiting for 1400 when the tidal currents through the C&D Canal changed to favor us.  At 1330, after the patchy fog had dissipated, we pulled the anchor and motored out into Delaware Bay for the two mile trip up to the Canal.  We waved at a cruise ship just exiting the Canal and motored into the stream of recreational boats making the run into the Chesapeake.  The transit was uneventful… like doing the Intracoastal Waterway… waving periodically at family parties fishing along the rip rap banks and rocking and rolling in the wake of fast moving sports fishermen and cigarette boats; the latter snarling and roaring as they strut by in a froth.


Even more recreational boats were operating in the upper Chesapeake, darting here and there, all in a hurry to do something.  There were sailboats, apparently traveling.  AT EASE motored into the mouth of the Sassafras River on the Eastern Shore, eased up to the high bluff bank on the southern side, out of the heavier traffic, and dropped the hook for the evening.  We celebrated our return to the Chesapeake with a steak on the grill and a glass or two of our favorite Australian wine, then settled in for the night.


By morning the wind had picked up.  As we moved back out into the Bay, the wind from the NE built from 10-15 kts up to 20 kts sustained and gusts up to 35 kts.  A nasty chop, about 2', through white caps as far as we could see and some trails of spindrift were evident as the day and wind blew on. Numerous sailboats were out, reflecting their captains' various approaches to sail plans.  We were on a broad beam run with main and yankee out, moving along from 6-8 kts over ground, with AT EASE shouldering aside the swell and the always evident wakes of the fast moving power boats.


There are numerous shoals in the upper Chesapeake Bay and traffic does tend to be channelized. The channel into Baltimore is long and traffic, mostly recreational today, is heavy. As we turned under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the horizon, gray with a heavy haze, the spider-like cranes and cargo handling booms typical of major commercial ports became clearer, and an emerging skyline of a major city was revealed.  Just inland from the bridge there is a red-white-blue buoy, a facsimile of a flag, undoubtedly marking the approximate location of Lawyer Key, where he was held prisoner on a ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry and where he was inspired to write the now National Anthem.  The fort, a popular tourist destination, typically flies a huge flag, supposedly the size of the flag hoisted "by dawn's early light", the morning after the bombardment. I could pick out the fort from the industrial and urban sprawl, but could not see the flag. With binoculars, I could just see the flag pole and a splash of color atop.  It wasn't until we had closed considerably that I could see the flag, a traditionally sized flag, standing tall. From the gun line, where the British ships anchored just out of range of the Fort's batteries, McHenry does not appear too imposing.  Yet, its commanding position does… well… command.  As AT EASE sailed by, just a long biscuit throw away from the lower batteries, the history seemed more alive.


Sailing slowly up the Patapsco River, we could imagine the British ships, all hands at quarters, guns run out, hands in the chains with sounding lines, feeling their way up through the shoals.  How incredibly difficult it must have been to maneuver, to tack back and forth, to hoist, reef or furl those square sails and draw from them enough power to steer through those shoals.   Yet sail they did, warships and merchant ships, day in and day out.  Baltimore has been a major commercial port for a very long time.


Soon after McHenry, we dumped the sails.  High rise structures lined the shore, creating swirling wind conditions.  With the heavy boat traffic, it just didn't seem safe to sail.  We motored slowly in to the Inner Harbor where, to our surprise, there seemed to be room to anchor just off the USS CONSTELLATION, the CHESAPEAKE lightship and the USS TORSK, a WWII era submarine. From the cockpit, we could watch the swarming host of rental paddleboats just off the seawall, and the endless stream of water taxis and harbor cruise boats, all drawn to this focal point. 


I hoisted and launched the dinghy from the foredeck and prepared to lower the outboard motor.  While digging into a cockpit basket looking for a wrench, a snake crawled across my hand and wrist, then climbed onto the tubing supporting our dodger. A SNAKE!


Yep!  That's what it was.  Little rascal about as thick as a finger and about 2' long, clearly not a viper but still a snake. 


Now we have spent the last several months anchoring well off from shore.  Even on this trip north of the Chesapeake, we have spent only one night in a marina… at Mystic Seaport some 11 days ago. That must have been when it came aboard. Where it has spent the last 11 days, I have no idea.  What it has been eating is a mystery as well. What it must have thought, spending the last 5 days underway at sea, rocking and rolling, day and night, will likewise remain a mystery.


Forecasts are so iffy.  For this trip down to Sandy Hook, NJ, the forecast called for winds from the N to NE of 5-10 kts.  Actually, it was from the SW at about 10-15 kts… pretty well on our nose for the bulk of the trip unless it backs pretty quickly as the cold front passes through.  We managed to sail for several hours before rounding Long Island and turning southwesterly. We settled in for a long night motoring with the mainsail, bucking along against 2-3' waves.  The day was bright with sun and blue skies but off to the west the line of clouds associated with the approaching cold front produced a beautiful sunset; a rich, orange-golden glow, diffuse yet intense as the shoreline turned black.


This close in, about 4-5 NM offshore, there are always fishing boats. In US waters, they usually have lights on and are more typically the multi-leveled sport fisherman that are easier to see. But they can be small and these smaller ones are largely hidden in the troughs if any waves are running at all. We depend greatly on radar in conditions like this, even if radar may not paint these smaller targets until we are pretty close, within 1-2 miles.


A related story, as we sailed from Mystic, CT to Sag Harbor, we saw two US submarines; one inbound to New London and one outbound from New London.  They passed a mile or two away.  The one heading out later announced they would be conducting navigation exercised in Block Island Sound for some time.  They were on the surface.  Just out of curiosity, I turned on the radar to see what sort of return these large, obviously steel ships produced. They are coated with a material that does not echo sound very well, a defensive measure against sound ranging.  This seems pretty effective with radar also.  At 5 NM, I got only an intermittent return which rapidly faded… less return actually than the typical sport fisherman boats.


After dark, and under an almost full moon, orange now and low to the horizon, the sea looks empty.  A couple of miles further out in the commercial lanes, a tow pulling a scow, a sea-going barge, is heading NE parallel to our course.  His lights are definitive.  The radar even shows the two returns, tucked in close together, the tow and then the barge. 


By 0200 the moon is high in the sky.  The wind has backed to the NW as predicted and we are now sailing with main and yankee broad on the beam in 12 kts.  Seas are still about 2'… just enough to break the surface and create a myriad of facets to reflect the moonlight. Fire Island has fallen away to our starboard and Jones Beach lies ahead. What a pleasant sail.  We're making some five kts or so over ground and about four or so through the water so we have a bit of current favoring us now.  


With the dawn, we are off Coney Island with Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook visible off the bow.  The wind has held all night and into the morning.  Both Shirley and I feel it has been such a pleasant sail, we will just continue down the coast, probably to Cape May and Delaware Bay.  We altered course, ducking quickly across Ambrose Channel, the major entrance into New York harbor, then across the Sandy Hook Channel, the other major shipping channel, to move back offshore a bit.  Container ship traffic and seagoing tows are more numerous here but they do tend to be very predictable, thus are easy to avoid.  Easy, that is, until Shirley catches two fish at once. Everything got very busy. We hove to, just out of the traffic lanes, until we could land the 6-8 lb tuna and sea bass, then dropped off to get underway again.


Our intention was to follow the coast staying about 5 NM or so offshore and out of the designated commercial traffic lanes.  That sets up a generally SSW route and, with winds from the NE, a starboard tack, broad on the beam.  Winds held at 10-15 kts all day but the wind gradually clocked to the E as we moved further to the SW, moving us to a port tack.  With the main well out and prevented, and the yankee clear and drawing, we were able to maintain 4-5 kts over ground through most of the day and night.  Large swells from the NE persisted by changed from the steep, definitely bumpy 3-5' rollers inshore nearer Sandy Hook, to the long and more comfortable even if somewhat bigger swells of the Atlantic.  The shorter interval waves, especially from astern, are just tiring.  One is constantly adjusting, bracing against the corkscrewing action as the waves overtake and sweep under our quarter.  The longer wave interval allows Shirley and I more opportunity to find a comfortable position and relax.  Saylor, who would generally have her sealegs after the first day, continued to have trouble with the pitching, rolling combination and spent her time hunkered down in the smallest hole she could fine.  We helped by packing her in with boat cushions.


By dawn's early light, Friday morning, we lay off Cape May where we dropped the main and furled the yankee, finally stopping a delightful, wonderful, distance eating sail that stretched out some 52 hours, some 250 NM, before the diesel again sounded its faithful call.  We motored into Cape May's broad inlet, flanked by prominent stone breakwaters, and turned into the inner harbor to anchor again just off the Coast Guard's base.  After a hot shower and welcome breakfast, we napped, expecting to spend the morning in one state of rest or another, and the weekend hanging on the hook.


I don't know if it was the numerous wakes from passing pleasure craft or just more wanderlust, but we both awoke from our naps by 1030 feeling restless. We quickly determined we really didn't want to spend the weekend just setting in Cape May and that AT EASE still had adequate reserves of fuel.  We checked the weather forecasts… failing winds but still from the east and no squally weather until Monday night.  What the heck… we popped up the anchor and departed from our four hours of anchored indolence, weaving through the numerous small fishing boats anchored in the harbor's busy channel and pushing out against the roller coaster waves of opposing wind and tidal current in the inlet, to move on toward the C&D Canal near the head of Delaware Bay.


I called the Coast Guard on the VHF radio, whining about all the fishing boats anchored in the channel, I felt it was a hazard to navigation, and asking for clarification on rules of the road regarding this practice.  I was told to "Stand By" while someone was queried.  "Negative captain… no violation", they said, "but we'll send a boat out to move them".  "Roger… understand", said I, not understanding at all the two incompatible responses.  "Nice to know", I thought, "that I can avoid those crowded anchorages and just anchor in the channel from now on when visiting Cape May".  I didn't say it but wish I had.  Rules of the road can be tricky but their approval of the practice, a practice that must have affected their boats each time they departed or returned, just had to be wrong.


Once in Delaware Bay we rode the current essentially north, motoring with all working sails up to make the best possible time for the long run. The daylight wasted napping would surely push us to reach an anchorage before dark.  A 10 kt wind, again beam to broad beam, helped.  We settled into watch keeping, lounging in the cockpit in the very bright sun and enjoying the beautiful day.


About 1400, I heard a boat calling TowBoatUS on the VHF radio.  After several calls had not been answered, I reminded the caller that a cell phone call to their national dispatcher may be a quicker way to get a response.  That began a very confusing exchange.  "I'm not calling for myself… it's this older guy and a young kid… their boat motor won't start and the battery is dead so they have no radio… don't know if they have a cell phone… they're 200 yds away." 


"Could you find out?", I asked. "Well", he said, "I'm fishing."  'Okay, I can make a call for him… is he a member and what's his name and location?"  "He's 200 yds away and I'm fishing.. I'm here south of EP Point", as if I had a clue where that was.  "Okay, what's your boat name?"  "Why do you want to know that?"  I wasn't getting anywhere.  I offered to just turn it all over to the Coast Guard.  His response was "I'm not just going to leave him."  I complimented him on this courtesy. 


The Coast Guard had apparently followed us to a working frequency and stepped in at this point, asked many of the same questions and a few more but got a bit more cooperation, if begrudgingly.  In exasperation, the caller finally blurted out "Okay… I'll just quit fishing and tow him in… he's in the same marina as me." 


Sometime life just seems a lot more complicated than it has to be.


A final observation about Sag Harbor and The Hamptons.  Saylor requested and was granted brief shore leave.  We took a walk together down Main Street, a deceptive title as within just a few blocks the street becomes residential with old homes, many quite modest in size, dating to the 1800's, perhaps some to the 1700's.  All are hideously expensive now, of course.  Parked beside one home, outdoors on the adjacent driveway since there was no room for a garage, was a Rolls Royce.  The front half of this Rolls was protected from the weather by one of those garish blue plastic tarps… the kind that Walmart sells. It wasn't big enough to cover the whole car.  Seemed pretty incongruous to this naïve observer.  Even Saylor looked twice.


Independent of whether the car needed protection from the elements, another question arises. If s/he could afford a home in Sag Harbor and a Rolls, why couldn't s/he at least splurge for a plastric tarp large enough to cover the car? 


Last night at dinner, the table to our left was occupied by two young ladies obviously from New York.  They ordered Cosmopolitans, a drink popularized by the HBO show, Sex in the City.  Apparently independently, the table to our other side was talking about a Sex in the City episode.  Across the restaurant, having dinner, was one of the semi-regulars from the show.


Having eaten our fill and having fully absorbed all this local color, we departed Sag Harbor about noon on the 1st and motorsailed out into Block Island sound, around Montauk Point and into the Atlantic, traveling southwest offshore Long Island and heading back toward Sandy Hook. Off on the northeastern horizon, distant but visible, lies Cape Cod with Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket visible just beyond. We understand John Kerry is vacationing there now.  It was tempting… but we turned south instead. It's that time of year… time to start heading south yet again.


Sag Harbor lives up to most of its promise.  The village area, the part of the town dating to whaling days when this was the major port on Long Island, is nestled in immediately around the harbor.  Once, this was the official port of entry for New York and they boast of the first US Customs House, now a museum and next door to their whaling museum. Old homes, some very modest and some obviously always grand, occupy the tree-shaded lanes along with old churches and even older cemeteries.


It really does feel like a small town, even with its glamour and its numerous visitors during the summer.  A hardware store and grocery store are right on Main Street, still occupying their original buildings… even a barber shop adds to the Main Street ambience. People are out, many with dogs, going here and there, some strolling and some shopping, most apparently just enjoying this wonderful, late summer weather. The end of the season looms… this may be the last weekend for many.  The Hamptons Jitney, a full-sized bus, offers frequent service to and from New York City, so folks afoot are numerous.  Car traffic is fairly heavy as well but not oppressive.


We know people come here to gawk at celebrities. We know from the local newspaper that celebrities are on "the Island".  Spielberg, Bill Bradley, even Jimmy Buffett, various movie stars, all have been here recently.  Jerry Seinfeld, in a powder blue Porsche, has been seen.  We saw them all… really… even saw Elvis from a distance.  Some tried to mask their appearance with sparse makeup, sunglasses, scarves, other mufti, but we saw through their efforts readily enough.  Of course, being the sophisticates we are, we pretended not to recognize them, pretended to go along with their anonymity.  Well, actually, some even tried to deny their identify even after we confronted them, but we knew.  


 More tropical depressions/storms, even one hurricane, those nasty ones that form right on the coast and don't give much time to run for cover, are threatening.  Here there will be little more than rain but that's enough to give us an excuse to stay put a few more days. We both truly love Sag Harbor, its wonderful anchorage and all the conveniences ashore, and we may just stay here until time to move back offshore and down to the Chesapeake.


On the 26th, another bright, cool and beautiful morning, we finished our visit to Mystic Seaport and Museum, wandered around Mystic proper for a bit, then got underway back down the river and out into Long Island Sound.  


Near the eastern end of Long Island, there are a series of bays and islands, sheltered relatively well and offering deep water although the latter is mixed in with some nasty shoals and rocks.  We motored through The Race, an area with three strong and opposing tidal currents colliding, rounded Point Orient and entered Gardiner's Bay.  Ahead lay Greenport, an old whaling village, described as a quaint and smallish town retaining some of its old nautical charm, and having convenient cruiser services readily accessible (i.e. chandleries, groceries, etc…)..  No anchorages looked encouraging so we moved into the inner harbor to take a mooring.  After dark, probably pushing 2100, the harbormaster, who we had not been able to contact earlier, arrived and knocked on the boat seeking their pound of flesh.  "We get $25 a night for these moorings, captain."  And so they did. 


With morning, we went ashore to soak up some of this quaintness and pick up some of the bits and pieces of hardware we needed for the boat.  By mid-day the town's waterfront area was crowded with visitors, all enjoying the late summer splendor of Long Island.  We ate an expensive and very mundane lunch, picked up some fruit and veggies, and explored a chandlery which, on its own, made the visit worthwhile. The owner was as much a collector as a retailer.  He had some new, modern equipment, but what he really offered was a fantastic assortment of salvaged marine gear and equipment, ranging from hemp and manila line, old wooden blocks, antique navigation instruments, really old issues of Naval Institute Proceedings and other, equally old and interesting periodicals and books, and marine fittings, piles of marine fittings, bronze, galvanized and stainless.  The stacks and piles went on and on, through a maze of smallish rooms in the old house, now business, even spilling out into the back yard where another maze of isles and shacks housed even more nautical paraphernalia.


We had walked, and explored enough by mid afternoon.  We dropped off the mooring and motored out, headed for Sag Harbor and The Hamptons, the posh of posh, the celebrity-rich heartland of Long Island, just around Shelter Island and a short jaunt in the still beautiful weather.  We even had a brisk wind, 15 kts or so, which would have made for a wonderful sail had we not been meandering, turning hither and yon, as we negotiated the numerous shoals.  We motored.  Recreational sailors go where the wind and water take them.  Cruisers are usually going somewhere… and trying to get there before dark.  Recreational sailors day-sail.  Cruisers travel.


Through Southold Bay and Shelter Island Sound, pass Little Peconic Bay and Noyack Bay, we turned south and moved to Sag Harbor.  Here a very protected inner harbor lies inaccessible to sailboats behind a bridge with only 20' clearance.  The outer harbor is formed by two large, stone breakwaters.  Within the harbors, marinas line the shore and moorings occupy the water.  Tied up to these piers, probably 50 megayachts, some well over 100', maybe even 200'. All moorings are occupied… everything long since rented to long term folks.  But outside the breakwaters, in water sheltered from all but the north, 10-15' depths and good holding ground make anchoring very attractive. Even here some moorings are appearing. 


Numerous boats were already anchored; variously sized sail and even some megayachts.  There was room for AT EASE, actually plenty of room. With another beautiful sunset, and with the promise of Sag Harbor tomorrow, we settled in for an evening of Olympics.


It was a beautiful day… cool bordering on cold in the morning with a bright, blue sky and calm seas, marred only by the very light wind.  We motor sailed down and out of Narragansett Bay and back into Long Island Sound for the day's trip down to Mystic.  From about two miles out, Road Island's beaches are attractive and surprisingly undeveloped.  That must be intentional.  There were clusters of shore side homes, some rustic but most very expensive, but also expanses of open beach backed by vegetation.  Boat traffic is active but not especially heavy; fishing boats mostly but also cruisers, both sail and motor, moving east and west, up and down the Sound. 


As we got closer to Mystic River, the traffic increased markedly.  Around the mouth of the river there are a number of bays, each packed with veritable forests of sail boat masts, all apparently riding fixed moorings.  Noank, the community right at the river's entrance, an old fishing village we understand, has been transformed into another tourist destination.  We dropped the sails before entering the river proper. To the left and right of the very narrow, twisting channel leading up river, vast mooring fields, with their tethered boats of all descriptions, reach out into the distance, taking up any and all water with enough depth for boats.  Ashore, it seems to be one marina after another. 


The channel meanders upriver, past more marinas, more moored boats, with power boats more common the farther we went.  At some point, some demarcation not readily identifiable from the boat, the urban development along the river's edge became Mystic.  Neat and trim houses, many with their own docks and piers, mixed in among small to moderately large condos, also attractive, also with their own docks and piers.  Here and there a small park or river walk broke the stream of marinas and boat yards and housing.  On such a beautiful day folks were out walking, many with children, many with dogs, all enjoying the now more obviously seasonal change in weather. 


We motored through a railroad swing bridge, typically open, and on to a bascule bridge which was clearly closed.  Car and foot traffic poured across in both directions.  The guide book declares the bridge opens at 15 minutes past the hour.  I called to confirm.  The next opening was mysteriously scheduled for 70 minutes away, 1440 he said.  I have learned not to argue with bridge operators.  "Thank you sir", I said, as we started a very slow circuit up to the bridge with the tidal current (a knot or so) behind us, then turn back downstream, backing and turning to get around in the narrow pool below the bridge, carefully avoiding all the "parked" vessels along the river's edge, and the increasing clusters of up bound boats waiting for the bridge.  I noticed one marina, immediately below the bridge, advertised daily, weekly and even hourly rates.  This congestion, waiting for the bridge, had obviously happened before. 


But we did get through.  Immediately above the bridge, with a quarter mile, the "village" of Mystic Seaport and Museum begins.  Here something like a 50-75 buildings are clustered, and some 10-15 vessels are tied up, all part of the museum and all striving for some authentic representation of life on and beside the sea in the 1800's.  There is the community itself with reproduced tavern, drug store, bank, grocery, print shop, millinery shop, etc… There is an active boatyard, with stocks of well aged timbers, where craftsmen painstakingly restore the numerous wooden vessels, small and large.  There are support buildings, a cooperage, blacksmith, rope walk, sail and rigging loft, and specialized shacks for lobster fishing equipment, oyster fishing, and nets.  And there are museums specializing in everything from small boats, to commercial vessels, even to dogs at sea. A little something for everyone.


There are wooden oyster boats and fishing boats of various sizes, all sail driven.  There are dinghies and dorys, small boats of every description, and towering over all, two three-masted sailing vessels, one an actual whaler from the 1800's beautifully restored and in the water, the other an iron hulled vessel now used as a dormitory for live in students who study there.  Aboard these vessels, around the docks, and in the shops and buildings, are museum staff in period costume, all eager to describe answer questions or show off their knowledge of the era. 


Visitors roam freely, sometimes stopping to watch the scheduled demonstrations and presentations of staff, more often just exploring on their own.  The vessels are largely open, allowing all to go below and peer into accommodations, staterooms, holds and such, to touch and trace the intricate standing and running rigging, and to sense something of the life of sailors and fishermen at sea and at work in the 1800's. 


We had a wonderful time!


Saturday, the 21st, was our day to do Newport.  In about 20 kts of wind, we dinghied across the half mile or so of white capped water, through the mooring fields that make up the harbor between Goat Island and Center Harbor, and found the city's St Anne street dinghy dock.  From there, seemingly everything within the old city is within a relatively easy walk. The streets are crowded, apparently with visitors much like ourselves, just strolling, window-shopping and taking in the really delightful ambience of the old city.


A short walk inland takes one back in time.  Streets are relatively narrow and buildings are built immediately adjacent to the sidewalks with little space between.  These are apparently original colonial and early American homes, simply but attractively restored to authentic appearance.  Rather than the grand houses we have seen in other restored colonial cities, these seem to be more of a modest, less elegant but also more functional style. There certainly is a feel of a simple sea side village, carefully preserved, now surrounded by, consumed by, the ostentatious wealth that Newport so proudly displays and successfully markets. 


The waterfront was once dominated by the Navy facilities that serviced early destroyers, developed and manufactured torpedoes, and housed various training commands, and is still home to the Navy's War College, a beautiful setting overlooking Narragansett Bay just north of the city.  But Goat Island, the old torpedo factory, has been taken over by the developers and marinas.  Although mega power yachts line the piers, Newport's sailing history, her historical prominence as the center for sailboat racing in America, is certainly evident.  Graceful "go fast" sailboats, those sleek, low and classic wooden-hulled sloops and schooners of yesteryear, are beautifully restored and displayed, probably even sailed some.  Modern, high tech race boats, from the smallest to those open ocean extremes, are also evident.


On the waterfront, restaurants and bars abound… offering a full range of gustatory experiences from finger foods to elegant dining.  Seafood is the central theme, with promises of lobster "at market prices" prominent.  There are numerous museums, some downtown but others outside of our walking range.  The latter includes the outrageously ostentatious, decadently opulent, mansions of the turn-of-the-century super rich who turned Newport into a playground for the wealthy and perhaps the yachting capitol of America. 


By Sunday, we had seen enough, had our elegant meal ashore (Christy's), and were ready to move around Goat Island and under the bridge, into Coaster's Harbor, the Navy's Marina, overlooked by the site of the original War College.  A museum, highly recommended by friends, and a meal at the large Officer's Club, awaited us ashore. We took another mooring as anchoring is not permitted, and settled in to visit, and also to complete some boat chores that had accumulated.


I knew our sacrificial zinc on the prop shaft needed replacing.  I had also not cleaned the bottom of the boat since Florida, some five months back. While our old Trinidad bottom paint had stood up well, along the waterline and on the bottom of the keel it had thinned or worn. We had acquired a host of barnacles, all merrily multiplying and growing. We rigged the "hooka" to the air tank and I dove into the chilly water, wet suit encased, to do the deeds. The zinc was relatively simple, but some thirty minutes of hard work with scraper was not quite enough to get all the barnacles off the keel. It was enough to use all the air, however.  That was my excuse to stop. We took the rest of the day off to watch Olympics on television and to visit ashore. 


On the morrow, we're off again, into Long Island Sound for the 40 NM trip to Mystic River where we will splurge and stay a couple of nights at Mystic Seaport's Museum and Docks, the better to enjoy the numerous exhibits. Weather promises to be superb with bright sunlight, cool air and enough wind to move AT EASE under sail. "We'll see", they said skeptically.


Over coffee, we decided today was good for crossing to Newport.  Weather drives that decision.  Tomorrow, Saturday, a cold front passes through and brings with it showers and thunderstorms as well as high winds. Stormy conditions linger until Sunday and then weather clears.  Neither of us wanted to ride out such conditions while at anchor at Block Island.  There are just too many boats here, and too many different approaches to anchoring evident.  Last evening, one boat slipped its anchor while the crew were ashore and I took the dinghy to help other boats fend off until the crew could be recalled. No sooner was that adventure over then a late arrival, hurrying to beat onrushing darkness and rapidly thickening fog, moved among us to anchor.  Three times he tried to set and each time slipped back amongst anchored boats; apparently alone he was rushing from the cockpit to the foredeck and back trying to manage it all.  He finally moved outside the bulk of boats and, I assume, finally got an anchor down.


With dawn, a lingering fog still hung over the island but by about 0900, when our decision was made, the fog was largely gone.  We pulled anchor and joined the numerous other vessels, motor and sail, headed out.  This would be a 20 NM trip. Within a mile offshore, the fog began thickening again.  We went from about 2 Nm visibility to only one, then ¼ NM and then 1/8 NM. With radar on only 1.5 NM range, I still had 9 contacts, some power and some sail, maneuvering.  That density of traffic continued as we moved across Block Island Sound to Point Judith and the mouth of Narragansett Bay.  We milled about, intentionally sailing or motoring very slowly downwind with marginal air driving us through growing swells, also from astern, being in no hurry as numerous calls on the radio assured us fog was dense in the harbor as well. 


At first, everyone seemingly relied on radar to avoid one another.  Just about every vessel is so equipped. But as conditions deteriorated, as boats moved closer together, and as radar returns got lost in the ground clutter of very close range, folks fell back on more ancient tactics.  Horns, of various pitch and tone, began sounding.  One could almost imagine the size of the vessels by the tone and volume of the horn.  There were the squeaks and tenors of the smaller boys, then the more ominous, clarion calls of the bigger.  That was certainly true of the fast moving ferries, with their more base than baritone, intimidating thunder of a horn, bringing stark terror to the fore as they drew closer and closer and one just couldn't be sure how close.  What were the chances of that monster hearing our rather anemic bleats?  Even watching the approach on radar, with that ominous sound growing not just louder but larger, it was still a struggle knowing which way to turn.


 After about four hours, the fog began to dissipate with visibility rapidly growing to about 3 NM.  With that, we turned into Narragansett Bay and dumped the sails to motor into Newport harbor. 


Boat traffic, largely sail, was heavy in the bay, growing heavier as we neared Newport. We've been in some pretty large ports and have been in many of the world's most popular sailboat locales, but I've never seen anything like Newport. As we turned in toward Center Harbor, the panorama, seemingly thousands of boats, was simply overwhelming.  Mega yachts abound.  Sailboats are most common but many of these sailboats are mega yachts themselves. Boat after boat, many over 50' and some over 75' in length, a few probably over 100'. The percentage of cruisers is small.  Most sailboats seem specialized for racing with streamlined hulls, minimal deck fixtures, and high tech fabric sails.   


Within the harbor, a couple of areas are still available for anchoring but mooring balls of different sizes, with different color schemes and numbering systems, all tightly bunched with a minimum of maneuver room betwixt, predominate.  Seemingly all were occupied.   We called on the radio, seeking a mooring.  None left here… none left there.  Finally, the Newport Dockmaster responded and led us in his patrol boat to a mooring just off Goat Island.  These moorings are so closely placed, the interval between boats is absolutely minimal.  We could almost pass drinks from boat to boat.  Boats maneuvering through the mooring fields must weave through this mess while searching out their own mooring.  The margin for error is slim indeed.


Yet we chose to take a mooring simply because of the numbers of boats in and moving though the harbor.  An anchor just seemed too chancy, especially with weather coming in.  We gulped, paid the fees, and are enjoying the somewhat enhanced sense of security.


The cold front is obviously moving faster than forecast.  The air is chilly.  Moreover, the fog has returned with a vengeance.  Even now, we can barely see the half mile across the harbor from Goat Island to the mainland.   It looks like dinner onboard tonight. We have a sense how exciting it would be to try and return to our boat after dinner ashore, after dark, in a heavy fog, wandering among the mass of moored and anchored vessels, dodging moving traffic, calling out softly "AT EASE… Saylor… where are you?"


Block Island seems quite comfortable.  We stayed on the boat all day and night to make sure the anchor would hold in the 15 kts of SE wind which seems to have set in.  Skies are overcast but little rain thus far.  Boats are moving in and out all the time, some anchoring close and some anchoring too close but everyone seems to sort it all relatively well.  The anchorage seems relatively well protected and is obviously popular with boaters from the several neighboring states. 


All is not wonderful, however.   Television is quite limited.  Normally, not being able to get sitcoms and reality TV would have little impact, but we do miss the Olympics.  Bottom line, we have no NBC signal here over broadcast TV.  Bummer!


Sleeping last night was great.  The 15 kt wind blew all night long, creating a gentle movement of the boat that was quite comfortable.  We were again being rocked in the arms of Mother Ocean.  Dawn brought a squall with gusts over 20 kts and that had me out of bed and watching our boat's swing in relation to other nearby boats. No problems.


Still gray and dreary.  We spent the morning with chores (some contact glue and Velcro on the dink's oar retainers, some epoxy on the windlass counter's magnet, recrimping some loose connections in refrigeration, etc…) and then we dropped the dink and motored to explore ashore.  Dinghy access is excellent… and free. We motored in, dumped some of that never ending garbage, then walked the 15 minutes or so into town.  That is somewhat of a misnomer.  The commercial buildings, even the well stocked grocery store, are in the same gray, shake-sided structures as the residences.  Only subdued signs announce their business focus.  There are cars, probably too many, but also numerous bikes and mopeds moving about among the rather gentle, rolling hills of this smallish island (7X3 miles, sort of a pork chop with Salt Pond in the upper, shank portion). Lots of private residences, some apartments and quaint inns, maybe some condos, and some marinas with most marine services. Overall, the island has a good feel to it.


We have been told there are restaurants about.  We found instead a grocery (always need fresh veggies and fruit), a bar (cocktails and cable Olympic coverage), a hardware store (always need something), and then walked back to the dink to motor the half mile or so back to the boat. 


It seems we always get in the mood for a steak when the wind blows over 10 kts.  The fantail-mounted grill can't handle that volume of wind.  We've devised a way to mount an umbrella (lost at least one) to shield the grill enough to burn the steaks.  It requires one (me) to stand guard, relighting the grill as needed, holding the umbrella when possible, and still managing to keep the sundowner cocktail refreshed and convenient.  Somehow, the steak usually gets done, the sautéed Vidalia onions are perfect, and some of those fresh veggies get sacrificed as well.  It's a tough life, this cruising.


What a wonderful trip!  Truly among the top ten sails we have enjoyed. We left Sandy Hook on Tuesday morning, expecting to motor overnight most, if not all, of the way to Block Island (130 NM).  Forecasts, those claims of scientific certainty we all so faithfully seek, offered seas of 2-4 with winds of <10 kts from the SW.  And so it was in the early morning hours as we motored by Coney Island and Rockaway, about 5 NM offshore.  But even before noon, the skies overhead cleared, sun beamed down, and miracle of miracles, the wind began to fill in.  With 8-10 kts from the S- SSE we set all sails, shut down the engine, and spent 18 hours blissfully sailing broad on the beam, essentially E and ENE.  Speeds over ground, boosted by the current, ran in the 4 kt range.  Slow, but certainly acceptable to us. Speeds through the water were certainly lower, actually 00 some of the time when the east-setting ebb was at it's worse, but okay… we were moving.


It wasn't until near midnight that Shirley, with the mid watch, had to crank the engine to maintain steerage.  That seems to be the pattern now.  Low winds from midnight to late morning, then building winds the rest of the day and night. We sailed past the Rockaways, past the Hamptons, and on to Montauk Point on eastern Long Island before moving more NE to Block Island, just south of Cape Cod.  Predawn, it was not just cool but cold.  The moon was gone by 2200. Warm water and cold air seemed like a pretty good invitation to fog.  The predawn hours seemed wet enough and with false dawn the light was diffuse enough to make the horizon invisible.  Radar kept reporting an intermittent contact off our starboard stern, about 1.5 NM out, consistently blinking in and then disappearing.  I looked over and over for some sign of running lights.  No joy.  Even after dawn, with Shirley on watch, the intermittent radar contact returned.  We don't have a clue.


These waters are just off of New London, a major submarine base, and even the guidebooks talk about fast moving submarines suddenly appearing.  But why no lights?  Co-opting my favorite line from Shakespeare in Love, "It's just a mystery."


By midmorning we were still motoring but the wind was building.  We shut down the engine and let the beamish wind drive AT EASE along at a breathtaking 1.2 kts through the water.  We had another ebbing tide so over ground we were making about 4 kts.  AT EASE has trouble maintaining steerage with less than 2 kts running by the rudder but with a snaking track she certainly tried.  We slowly closed the island, watching the offshore fisherman, both pros and amateurs, do their thing, and watching the stream of boats, power and sail, exiting from the well protected anchorage of Salt Pond within the island, heading for Long Island Sound.


We dumped the sails, all the better to manage the narrow channel in, and bucked the stream to motor into Salt Pond.  Much of Salt Pond is dominated by mooring fields, both private and municipal.  The NW is closed to boats… a sanctuary for shell fish.  The northern side is the anchorage but here depths are a bit much for the numbers of boats anchoring.  We found a hole… 30' deep where we could get out 115' of chain and our CQR anchor.  There are hundreds of boats here… more moorings than anchored.  This is Wednesday.  We understand on weekends it gets crowded.


Apparently one day to see New York is just about enough.  We went ashore, leaving the dink at 79th St Yacht Basin, and walked a couple of blocks in to Broadway.  From there, it was 37 blocks, they're short blocks, east to walk by Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle and Central Park, then into Times Square and finally on to 42nd Street where we decided "Enough".  T'was a Sunday, a gray, drab and drizzling Sunday, but the streets where jammed with walkers and vehicle traffic, each groups serenely ignoring the other.  There was some reason to believe that many of the pedestrians were tourists… much like us they gazed about, open mouthed, but unlike us they carried shopping bags with T-shirts and caps and banners and stuff.  The actual New Yorkers, obviously hurrying somewhere, bumped and pushed their way, indifferent to the multitudes.  I'm sure we blended in.  After all, Shirley wore black and I looked shabby.


The last time I was in New York, years ago, was for a Psychology convention.  At lunch or something I was out exploring and in a shop.  A New Yorker lady tapped me on the shoulder to ask directions to somewhere.  She saw my convention badge, immediately dismissed me and turned to her friends to exclaim, "My God, he's from Arkansas!"  As she walked away, I asked "Does this mean I don't get to tell you where to go?"


We thought our one walk, those 37 blocks there and 37 back, pretty well gave us the sense of New York life.  The array of shops, large and small, chic and mom-and-pop, is amazing.  The ethnic and cultural mix is truly international and eclectic.  From the Trump Tower excesses to the subdued sophistication of Lincoln Center is just a mere step or two from the man in the middle of the street in jockey shorts (with I Love NY written by Magic Marker), cowboy boots and hat, and guitar, who seems to stay in the middle of the street much of the time. Street people with shopping carts and bundles are certainly present and may be benched-parked immediately beside the black limos whose drivers stand alert but bored waiting for their occupants to return. Marvelous food stores have fruit and flower stands across their front, and from within a treasure of non-air conditioned aromas flood the senses with promises of adventure.  The range of selections within shamed antiseptic Walmart Super Centers.  The encounters within were a veritable United Nations of butt to butt, shoulder to shoulder shopping experiences, searching down narrow isles and into maze-like cubby holes to see where they might have hidden those pistachios and… We actually loved it… even the drizzle and ominously dark and low clouds couldn't dampen our adventure.  But we were ready to get back to the boat. 


There we discussed options.  We could go ashore the following day (Monday) to eat a New York breakfast, then do a bit of provisioning and shopping along Broadway, then return to the boat to cast off.  Slipping the mooring in the early afternoon allowed us to ride the tidal ebb downstream, back through New York Harbor, and through The Narrows.  From there, we would return to Sandy Hook overnight, then depart offshore, east along Long Island for about 130 NM to Block Island, RI. Over the next 10-12 days, we would wander into and back down Long Island Sound, visiting here and there, then move back through New York via the East River and Hell Gate, to return to Sandy Hook.  That would be our jumping off place for moving offshore back to Delaware Bay and thence into the Chesapeake for our return to Annapolis. 


Ashore, still gray and drab with spitting rain and those ever present low, dark clouds, we wander Upper West Side's Broadway until we found a diner that looked ethnic enough.  Every one of the staff had an accent, some may have even been the same. I opted for an adventure breakfast with eggs, Italian sausages and "home fried" potatoes ("darn things didn't even have onions in them… that ain't my home!").   Shirley went for the bagel, toasted of course, with sour cream (bunches!), of course.  Regulars came in while we ate, and were greeted with exuberant cries of "Ola", or "Guten Morgen", and such, from the staff.  It felt pretty comfortable… a neighborhood even in such a city. 


With shopping bags in hand, we walked back to the marina, paid the ransom fees, and dinghied home.  We hoisted the outboard and settled down to await the change of tide.  While waiting, we visited the DVD player and ran a couple of segments of "Sex in the City" to see if we could recognize any background.  Now, in retrospect, that seems more than a little jaded, if not downright aged.  We watched "Sex in the City" to see the backgrounds? 


The run back to Sandy Hook was more of the same.  More sensory overload just looking at Manhattan streaming by, at that amazing New York Harbor traffic.  Through The Narrows yet again, and across Raritan Bay dodging the fishing boats and ferries, and back to Sandy Hook.  At anchor, we even opted to skip the trip ashore for pizza and eat on the boat… get to bed early for an early start the morrow.  Tuesday was described as the only "good" day, meaning sunny with blue skies, for the next week. After that, more rain.  We're getting moldy.


On Saturday, the 14th, in anticipation of Hurricane Charley's arrival in one form or another, we moved on to New York Harbor.  Forecasts then called for Charley to hold form as it moved up the east coast and to still have at least tropical storm strength when it hit New York.  As late as Friday night, Sandy Hook was in the Tropical Storm Warning area.  While it seemed unlikely to me that the storm could continue across land without tearing itself apart, we opted for prudence and hoisted anchor, planning to arrive at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge just as tide changed to flood, then to ride the flood up the Hudson to a mooring alongside Manhattan.


The trip across Raritan Bay and to The Narrows involved maneuvering in and among the heavy weekend traffic.  A host of smaller sailboats were out preparing for a race and fishing boats were thick, both the smaller private boats and the larger charter boats.  We managed to weave here and there, and to avoid the security zone around a cluster of docked USNS ships.  With Coney Island to our starboard, we crossed under the bridge just at slack tide.  Ahead, the already impressive skyline of Manhattan.  To our starboard side, Brooklyn stretched interminably.  To our port side, the heavy commercial port area of Newark.  As we progressed, carefully staying outside the main channel as large ships and towed barges plowed by in a rush, bending right and left to avoid anchored ships waiting their turn, dodging the harbor and yard tugs moving back and forth, and watching the proliferation of group tour and excursion boats increase as we neared the more famous landmarks, it became obvious.  New York is a busy harbor. Not only the large Staten Island Ferries, but innumerable other, smaller, but also fast ferries moved in and among all the other traffic.  And security… NYPD boats, State Police Boats, two 80' Coast Guard Cutters, and one Coast Guard Buoy Tender. 


It's a confusing skyline with Staten Island to the left, Governors Island to the right, the East River and the Hudson. Nearing southern Manhattan, we could pick out the Battery and the old fire boat station just at the foot of the World Trade Center site. To our left, majestic in her green copper with her golden torch shinning even in the gray light of this heavily overcast day, the Statue of Liberty stood on her own small island. Beyond her, the castle-like building and towers of Ellis Island. Nearing them, avoiding the security zones around them, we had to maneuver over and over again to avoid the numerous tour boats hauling a never-ending stream of visitors to and from these landmarks. We turned up the Hudson, moving past the downtown financial district, past the older commercial and cruise ship piers and terminals, over the Holland Tunnel and up to the newer cruise ship piers, another security zone, and past the several helicopter terminals along the river. Finally, we saw the 79th Street Yacht Basin, a marina operated by NY's parks department, and took one of the numerous moorings. We had moved on up… to the upper west side.


We elected to stay on the boat.  Charley was still forecast to arrive in the evening with worse conditions forecast for 0400-0600 the following morning. We tied down loose gear on the deck, secured our furled sails for heavy winds, and settled in to watch overly dramatic television warning of what's to come.  Even the Coast Guard intoned solemnly that all commercial activity in the port had to secure during these dangerous storm conditions and the port captain had to approve of any departing ships.  Apparently that approval was not impossible.  The tour boats, ferries, water taxis and ship traffic never stopped.  At dusk, we watched a cruise ship back out into the river and, with tug assistance, head outbound into the track of the storm.  That seemed pretty revealing.  Maybe this thing was a bit overrated… not in Florida certainly, but perhaps when it reached here there would be more whimper than WHANG!


We went to bed, trusting the elements to awaken us if some action was needed.  At dawn we awoke… a drizzling and darkly gray morning, misty here and there among the skyscrapers, along the bluffs above the Jersey shore, but no tempest. No torrential downpour.  No flooding. There was the fierce current of a ebbing tide down the Hudson, some three knots fast, leaving a wake behind our moored boat, but no Charley to be seen. Instead of the dire warnings of yesterday, television now scanned gleeful surfers on Long Island beaches. But… they warned… so seriously…there are more hurricanes forming… and THEY will be terrible.


Today, umbrella in hand, we will go ashore to tour the Big Apple on our own.


We're waiting for Charlie, this Sunday morning, hanging on a mooring off Manhattan.  We know he's coming... all the weather folks on TV were very excited. "Saturday night", they said.  "Doomsday", they said, "looming over our heads!"  "Floods", they said, "for goodness sake, head for high ground!"  Even the automated voice of NOAA, speaking of Manhattan in particular, warned "This is a dangerous storm."


Rain, torrential rain, after midnight and high winds from 0400-0600 Sunday morning.  We set our alarms.  Wouldn't want to sleep through such a historic event, after all.


During Saturday night, I would intermittently stick my head topside.  The lights of Manhattan, and across the river in New Jersey, never dimmed.  The traffic along the riverside expressway never faltered.  It was misting, even sprinkling. It was certainly heavily overcast with low, dark and ominous clouds moving slowly NE. Back to bed... still waiting.


At dawn the boat began rocking, almost violently.  Leaping from bed, I rushed to look outside.  Saylor, stretched out in the cockpit, raised her head to reveal an abused, pained expression... woebegone, she seemed. But no tempest... no havoc... no hurricano and no tropical storm.  Just the patroling Coast Guarded cutter who seems to produce the most prodigious wake each and ever time she makes her appointed rounds.


Charlie is a no show in Manhattan.  I'm not disappointed;glad AT EASE was not hanging around Florida. We haven't heard from our friends in North Carolina or Norfolk, and are worried about them, but our bud in Key West, John, checked in reporting only a painful back from all the preparations he made getting his boat ready.


Not a historic event... here in New York... but certainly histrionic.


Bill and Shirley


Monday, the 9th, we moved offshore from Cape May.  Forecasts, those wonderfully flawed but eagerly sought aides to mariners, had proclaimed winds from the west of 10 kts, building to 10-15 from the W-NW on Tuesday when we should make landfall at Sandy Hook.  The wind was from the south… 10 kts building to 15-20 kts by dark.  Seas, with that unlimited fetch, built as well until by dark we were in 4'-5' waves from astern and rolling heavily. 


That being said, it was still a wonderful day at sea.  The main was our powerhouse.  We tried repeatedly to get a headsail to draw, for balance if nothing else, but even a poled out sail rattled and banged as it filled and luffed.  We put a preventer on the main, to guard against an uncontrolled gybe, and let the boat run downwind, rolling in the following seas. Just after dark, about 5 Nm off Atlantic City, NJ, Shirley noticed the dinghy was missing. 


Well of course I know that towing a dinghy at sea is not good practice.  Of course it would have been better to stow it on the foredeck as we have done so many times.  Of course I should have had a second line on the beast.  But those benign conditions forecast had lulled me into bad decisions… and now the dinghy was loose and in the dark, alone, surely frightened. What a mess!


We reversed course, moving back along our route hoping to see the dinghy against the loom, the brightly lit skyline of Atlantic City and its casinos.  No joy.  I finally made the call to the Coast Guard announcing the loss and we decided to lay off Atlantic City all night.  With the morning, we could see and, moreover, so could the hosts of fishing vessels that would run offshore with the dawn. Maybe there would be a report… maybe the dinghy would just be salvaged and not appropriated.  It was worth the time.


I moved back to our rhumb line and hove to, a tactic best done on AT EASE by sheeting the main out and turning the helm to wind as if tacking.  The boat essentially stops, not getting enough power from the one sail, and swings back and forth through about 60 degrees, drifting with the current.  We moved at about .25-.50 kts over ground through the night, riding comfortably in the now quartering seas.


With morning, I had data on the drift from how AT EASE had moved.  We moved inshore, intentionally further in than the dinghy might have drifted, then turned offshore about 45 degrees and moved NE.  We could scan something like 2-3 NM all around from deck level with a good chance of seeing our errant charge.  Anything further out would be lost in wave action. About 0730 I heard a radio call from a fisherman to another Coast Guard station reporting a "life raft" they had recovered.  A series of garbled radio exchanges and cell phone calls finally confirmed our dinghy's recovery.  With the lat/long given, they were about 6 NM off in the direction I was searching, we moved out to rendezvous. Three good Samaritans, fishing on a reef some 8 NM offshore, met us in relatively calm conditions and we took the dinghy undertow once again.  The fishermen left with our thanks, and the wherewithal for a pretty good meal once back ashore.


Notice the above reference to calm conditions.  Rather than take the dinghy aboard, I opted to tow yet again.  Some lessons are difficult to learn.  Those calm conditions deteriorated, of course.  By noon we were in 15-20 kts of wind, still from the south, and building seas.  The dinghy was being jerked about on its tether as it surfed down steepening seas. I used some bungy cord to absorb some of the shock load, and put on a second line, but we worried about that boat all day and into the night. 


By mid afternoon we were seeing gusts up to 35 kts and seas of 6', some of 8', all on the stern.  I reefed the main, still our power sail, and reefed all but 1/3 of the headsail, using it more for balance and to minimize the heavy rolls as we surfed and slid off the waves.  Approaching dark, we made out the hazy shore of New Jersey and moved into the heavy commercial ship traffic in New York's approaches. 


Sandy Hook, an anchorage since the first Europeans sailed here, is well protected from the east, and protected but less so from the west.  I think the Royal Navy used this as a major fleet anchorage before and during the Revolutionary War. For protection from the south, one must move around and then back down Sandy Hook to its base, where the peninsula abuts the mainland.  There a sleeper community for New York has a long breakwater and safe anchorage. 


Under a clear sky, cluttered by the unending air traffic going into New York, with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge illuminated in green, we moved into the shipping channels. Fortune favored us yet again… no ship traffic.  We motorsailed around Sandy Hook, then back down past the Coast Guard station where we dumped sails, then into a snug and sheltered, but incredibly dark, anchorage.  A large ferry, moving into that same harbor, urged us to move faster with his bulk and numerous lights.  By 0030 on the 11th we had the anchor down. 


Our overnight trip from Cape May took a bit longer, one more night, but that just makes the sleeping better after arrival.  More lessons learned, perhaps relearned, and all that will certainly have a lasting impact… until next time.



On Saturday, the 7th, we motored sailed down Delaware Bay, maneuvering through the shoals at the mouth of the Bay, and entering Cape May's broad and deep entrance from the Atlantic, bordered on each side by large rip-rap breakwaters. It was the weekend, when the people and boat population swells, and boat traffic from fast movers was indeed heavy. Inside, a dredging operation dominated the middle of the harbor.  Water is pretty skinny everywhere inside but we had been tipped off about an anchorage just off the large Coast Guard Training (and operations) Center.  Easing in, we found 11', dropping to 7' in low tide, and securely anchored.


I had heard from another retired Navy cruiser that the Coast Guard would give permission to land our dinghy and cross their base to reach the community.  To my surprise, the weekend watch standers at the communication center readily agreed, even told me to land at their finger piers, in and amongst their cutters and small craft, but did want me to log in and out of their visitor's log as we came and went. No problem!  How convenient.  We even had access to a small commissary and exchange. Holding that retiree ID card helps… probably didn't hurt that it said Captain, too.


I had come here primarily to meet an old friend from the Marine Corps days.  We had talked on the phone over the years but had not seen each other since 1965.  By noon, Bob Orendorf had called. It was a great reunion!  We were treated to a tour of the area, had a delightful lunch, returned to AT EASE for drinks, and shared a great dinner.  Oh yes… we talked a bit, too.  Shirley had the opportunity to hear many of the same sea stories from another reporter.  What surprised me was the relatively close similarity.  One would think 40 (+) years of selective memory would have distorted events more.


On Sunday, we broke tradition.  Conventional wisdom says "Cruisers don't day sail",  but today we did. Bob came aboard for a picture perfect sail, out into the Atlantic, with blue sky and popcorn clouds, with 15 kts of breeze and only a 1-2' chop.  It was the kind of day that, we say, sells sailboats. We found more time to tell sea stories, but really spent time catching up on what our lives had been like in the intervening years.  Both of us have indeed been fortunate, pretty lucky overall.  One more marvelous dinner ashore, and then we parted…  this time surely not for 40 years. 


Everything had been going too smoothly.  On Monday, we went ashore one last time to go by the commissary.  The weekend watch standers had not passed the word.  We pulled up to the finger piers to tie the dinghy and even junior Coasties knew that looked strange.  One asked for an ID but then wasn't sure what to do.  I went to the Comm Center to check in, yet again, and they were confused… "You don't need to check in here."  I reminded them we had been checking in throughout the weekend, and that my dinghy was on their finger piers.  No being sure what to do, they did nothing.  Later, leaving the commissary, the base's security chief stopped us, checked our ID and inquired if we were the ones with the dinghy.  Okay… "have a nice day, captain" and off we went.  A first class petty officer stopped us, acknowledged security had cleared us, but wanted the history just to understand what had happened that permitted a civilian dinghy to tie up on his pier.  He couldn't have been nicer… just wanted to know who failed to pass the word. 


On to the pier, and a final encounter with a 3rd class petty officer, who rather officiously challenged us.  "This is a military installation", he said, "and you can't just come here… you have to check in." 


Of course we don't blame them at all and actually thanked everyone who checked us for being vigilant. They really went out of their way to be accommodating… and they certainly didn't have to budge at all for a wandering Navy retiree. Well done, Coast Guard. 


Up came the anchor and out we went, into the Atlantic, offshore and north bound for a 100 NM, overnight sail to Sandy Hook, NJ, and the approaches to New York City.



On Friday the 7th, and another gray day, under skies harboring threatening dark cells, with 15-20 kts of wind from the north, we dropped off the mooring and motored out along the twisting channel and across the Bay.  Whitecaps marched south building a 1-2' chop that threw spray over AT EASE as she shouldered her way through. We moved into the approaches of the Chesapeake & Delaware (C&D) Canal.  Sailing is not permitted through the canal, a 16 NM (give or take), broad and deep avenue frequented by large commercial vessels and tows. Currents can be brutal here… up to 4 kts.  We planned our transit to ride the tide, and ride we did at speeds up to 9 kts over ground. The numerous bridges all offered plenty of clearance so no obstacles slowed our transit.  We popped out into the Delaware River about 1400, a river where the flooding tide and opposing current, plus the north wind, created a confused mess with 2-3' waves.  AT EASE bucked, rolled and yawed as she motorsailed down the bay.  We only put out the headsail, more to stabilize the boat than for power, and still only made about 4 kts against the tidal current. All afternoon, and a gray day it stayed, we motored by the low country of New Jersey (to port) and Delaware (to starboard)… watching the heavy air traffic associated with Dover Air Force Base wander about overhead.


Cape May, a summer, resort community at the extreme SE tip of New Jersey, is 44 NM from the C&D Canal… too much for the remaining afternoon.  We looked at charts and poured over various cruising guides, valuable reference books detailing area information, and found an anchorage just up the Cohansey River.  This is one of those meandering streams moving through tidal wetlands, here deep and here shallow, with surprising currents largely associated with the tide. There is always a bar across the mouth of streams and rivers, where currents conflict, water slows down, and silt and such carried by fast moving water just falls to the bottom. Our guide suggested holding tight to the "green" (port side entering) side for deepest water and we sneaked in over 8-9', into a deeper anchorage of about 25'.  It was an early stop. After a wonderful Mexican meal, we settled down to watch the wardroom movie for the night and to enjoy the much cooler air since the passage of a rambunctious cold front.


During the early morning hours, after tide reversal, I had checked the anchor; we were swinging well.  There were no other boats to worry about… it was a good night's sleep. About 0630 I got up, stuck my sleepy head out of the hatch and promptly got confused.  We were laying all wrong.  Still safe, well anchored, now more in the middle of the stream. I looked at the track of the boat, shown on our GPS.  Right around dawn we had apparently slipped, moved about 50', then the anchor reset. No problem, this time, but another reminder to always leave on an anchor alarm, even when conditions seemed pacific.


Our adventures with the Cohansey were not over.  As we very slowly motored out, over the bar (it was low tide), we bumped bottom.  There was enough wind-driven wave action coming over the bar from Delaware Bay to bounce AT EASE.  I just kept reverse power on and let her bounce off.  We circled behind the bar a couple of times, trying to read the water, and finally moved out again, even closer to the "green" (now starboard) side.  No problems!  "Onward", we said, "to Cape May".



On Monday, Aug 2, we departed Annapolis and headed north through Chesapeake Bay.  We had dallied, one more visit here or there, one more packet of mail or one more part delivery, or one more meal ashore, and then it was time to leave.  Weather had not cooperated.  It had stayed hot and muggy with almost daily thunderstorms dumping heavy rain all over the area.  Flooding problems existed ashore both north and south of us. Weather window or not, off we went. 


As we motored past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just north of Annapolis a dark and threatening cloud, with obviously heavy rain, slowly wandered in from the east.  On radar, we could tell it would pass astern so we were mere spectators. As it closed on the bridge, almost masking the bridge, some couple of miles behind, we heard a shaky voice on the radio reporting to the Coast Guard he could see two funnel clouds on the water at the bridge.  We doubted it… wondered what he was really seeing… we had a pretty good view of it all.  The Coast Guard dutifully made the security announcement, funnel clouds at the bridge, over and over, for the next thirty minutes.  If they were ever there, we doubted they hung around quite that long.


Winds were fluky but we made a valiant effort to sail under the gray, threatening clouds and the scattered thunderstorms.  Lots of rain coming and going around us and some lightening, but little wind even in the squalls. We stayed dry.  To our left, the busy entrance to Baltimore passed.  Heavy ship and barge traffic converges here but there was plenty of room and water for us to maneuver safely. Baltimore was a tempting target for an extended visit but that will have to wait for or trip back.  The calendar is starting to work against us. 


Creeping along under sail ate up the hours and it became obvious we would not reach Havre de Grace before dark. There entrance there is along a winding channel through very shoal waters.  We opted to anchor overnight in the mouth of the Sassafras River on the eastern shore.  The heavy rains over the last few weeks have increased the runoff of all rivers but the broad mouth of the Sassafras had surprisingly little current and we had a good hook on the bottom.  We stayed safe and snug through the night in spite of the turbulent weather conditions. 


Early the next morning (Tuesday, August 3rd), we motored northeast across the Bay, through numerous clusters of floating debris, some quite large and dangerous, all products of flooding ashore and runoff from the rivers, and into the narrow channel into Havre de Grace. The muddy water announces we are approaching the head of the Bay and the mouth of the Susquehanna River.  On the south bank, this old community, burned by the British in 1813, lies tucked in under the rising bluffs and hills just inland. A newly constructed boardwalk curves along the shore attracting numerous strollers.  Swarms of ducks occupy the area, reminding all that waterfowl hunting was once the major draw to the area.  It is still the home of a museum devoted to carved duck decoys.


Rail and road bridges just past the community are passable but the Susquehanna is not really navigable for any distance for vessels with our draft and a hydroelectric dam just upstream makes that decision final. We anchored off Tidewater Marina, just short of their mooring field, and arranged to dinghy in to see our cruising friends, John and Jo of s/v SILKIE.  They are living ashore now with family obligations, but after living aboard 18 years and circumnavigating for 12 years, a spell on land seems attractive to both. SILKIE, a Hans Christian 38', is an excellent blue water boat and will soon be on the market.


John and Jo treated us like royalty.  John is a superb chef and we again were treated to his artistry.  They gave us a guided tour of the area, the numerous colonial era structures and the remains of the Susquehanna canal, and we made plans for an all day outing into Baltimore's inner harbor area.  We would be gone all day. Weather, still threatening with numerous storm cells, drove me to hoist the anchor and move onto a mooring ball. For the first time, I was charged by the foot for a mooring; it came to about $27 for one night. Cheap for peace of mind, I suppose, but just outrageous.  What possible difference could it make on a mooring whether I was 10' or 35' or 50'. All the moorings were the same so it couldn't have anything to do with weight.  It was blatant charging based on perceived depth of the pocket… and they didn't even kiss me.


Putting that irritation behind, we departed for Baltimore.  Over recent years the city has made a superb effort to revitalize the crumbling but historic inner harbor area.  They have been dramatically successful.  There are signs of building and rebuilding everywhere but there seems to be a committed effort to retain the ambiance of older Baltimore, remodeling the plentiful brick warehouses and older brick municipal buildings, converting them into offices, condos of course, and museums.  There are museums for everything (apparently), ranging from the Civil War to Industry, even a museum for Utilities, and of course the inspirational Fort McHenry monument and park. 


We delighted in doing the tourist things.  A ranger gave a really excellent tour of Ft McHenry, really making an effort to bring the 1814 battle that inspired our National Anthem alive. Setting on the grassy bank overlooking entry into the inner harbor, we shared a picnic lunch while a three-masted, square-rigged schooner and a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack moved out bound. Later, we toured the Constellation, a sloop of war, the last all sail vessel built for the Navy (1858 or so).  This may have been the highlight of the trip for me.  We had excellent access to the ship, to see and touch fixtures and rigging that I knew by reading but had never really been able to see.


Back to Havre de Grace, in a deluge, a blinding, light-robbing flood of water from on high, back to the marina to bail out the dinghy, to say goodbye to John and Jo, and to return to AT EASE.  Tomorrow, Thursday the 5th, we depart to transit the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, then turn down the Delaware Rive and into Delaware Bay, to Cape May, a historic city on the Atlantic. We're heading back into salt water.

While coming up the coast, offshore, during that marvelous, bounding sail, we had a visitor come aboard. We must have looked terribly inviting, especially to a tired fellow traveler. A small bird, maybe a warbler, with bright yellow breast and greenish back, came aboard. It landed on the lifeline, hopped over to my knee for a minute or two, then moved to the cabin top under the dodger. It looked here, there, anxiously trying to make sense of all the apparatus. Still not satisfied, it hopped onto the wheel and tried to sit on the stainless spokes. Not only were they too slick to perch but, as the autopilot turned the wheel, the bird kept falling off. Back it went to the cabin top where things were more confusing but more restful. Later, it went below to entertain Shirley with its antics. At some point, maybe an hour or so later, perhaps when it realized we weren't offering any beer or attractive provisions, it left.

Yesterday, we motored north along the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) and into Indian River. It's not really a river at all... more like a very large lagoon; very shoal with the narrow ICW channel very busy with traffic transiting both north and south. It was another beautiful day with bright sun and cool wind, and with a celebratory air shared by all. With few exceptions, each passing boat was full of smiling, waving folks, courteous with their wakes and careful in their piloting. All day, slower vessels would slow even more to allow slightly faster vessels to pass with less turbulence, less wake. Meeting vessels would slow to reduce disruptions from their wakes. It was the ICW at its best.

The exception... a large Carver motor yacht that overtook me, eased its monstrous bow up alongside and closed to within 10' while maintaining his speed. A huge bow wave pushed me toward the edge of the channel. I spun the wheel to get control of the boat and looked up to the fly bridge of the other vessel. The captain, looking sternly straight ahead, clearly avoiding eye contact, was steering with his left hand. With his right, he was "pushing" me aside, over and over, palm out. I slowed and he pulled ahead, leaving me rolling and yawing in his turbulent wake.

He had chosen this rather aggressive and dangerous means of overtaking, specifically failing to either call on the radio or give a horn signal of his intention, the more seaman-like options. We both had radios, of course. I reached for mine to give him an angry call. But he must have had many angry calls in his travels, and these had not altered his seamanship. He may even have liked having angry captains calling.

About a mile or so ahead, a large trawler, even larger than his vessel, was overtaken. He courteously called on the radio, asking the other captain how he should overtake. He obviously knew better... now why would he act so aggressively, so dangerously, with smaller vessels?

A final irony... his vessel was named IVANHOE... a chivalrous knight by legend.


We stayed on the boat Sunday, just taking the day off, laying about and reading, then on Monday we put the motor on the dinghy and headed ashore for a walk and a bit of exploring.  Barely ashore, still securing the dinghy with lock and safety cable, another cruising couple who had just landed in their dinghy approached, calling "Hello AT EASE, nice to see you again".


We had barely met some three years ago, in the anchorage off Ft Monroe, VA.  Both GRAND EAGLE, a Hardin 45', and AT EASE had been reprovisioning at the then so very convenient commissary.  Across the water, we called out an invitation to sundowners in our cockpit, then began stowing provisions below.  A call on the radio from N'JOY, another cruiser, invited us off shore to round Hatteras to the south; a good weather window had presented. Plans changed… we pulled the anchor and, as we motored away from Ft Monroe into Hampton Roads, we went by GRAND EAGLE to offer a rain check on that drink.  Some three years late, we were able to meet that obligation.  What a delight to meet and swap sea stories with both Warren and Bobbi, both retired Navy officers as well as fellow cruisers.


Better yet, they have a car that they keep at Annapolis. With their generosity, we have visited the Navy commissary here and have been driven about town to the local cruiser happenings; boat stores, a nautical consignment shop, and to Chick and Ruth's, an Annapolis tradition where cruisers congregate and all customers stand at 0900 to Pledge Allegiance to the Flag.


Annapolis is its usual charming self with its creeks and bays full of resident and transient sailors and its boat friendly attitude toward live aboards. In spite of functioning as Maryland's capitol, it retains that village charm apparently left over from colonial times. Cruisers make it a favorite stop moving north or south, especially around boat show time in October. 


I stopped by the Naval Academy to check on a few things.  The plebes, the brand new freshmen, have arrived.  They are now in snowy white uniforms but still so clumsy in basic military skills, they are led from place to place, a line of following plebes behind a khaki-clad upperclassmen, straggling along and, I'm sure, pretty overwhelmed with it all.


Both the Harbormaster and the waterfront boat store (Fawcetts) have been willing to act as mail drops for transients, so we caught up with correspondence and such, had some equipment sent to us and are starting to track down equipment we have sent back for service.  That sort of chore never seems finished.


Standing in the nautical consignment shop, just browsing the stainless steel, a nautical yard sale daily, I looked up to see a familiar couple, John and Jo off SILKIE, a Hans Christian 38'.  We had first met in Martinique where they were on the downhill leg of a 12 year circumnavigation. We met again, here and there, moving north through Dominica, Guadalupe, Sint Maarten and last in Puerto Rico where we diverged.  They came back through the Bahamas while we headed up the Old Bahamas Channel to Key West. How great to see them again.  They are now living ashore, taking care of some family obligations, but we are planning some time together while in the same part of the world.  I'm sure we have sea stories as yet untold.


That sinus condition that has been bugging me for now two months has just hung on.  I spent a couple of days just walking around, in and out of physician's offices, trying to get seen quickly, and have been relatively successful getting a new round of treatment started.  But it all takes time. Now it's the end of the week… a new weekend threatens… and we haven't given much thought to moving.  It's so easy to get distracted.



By 0630 on Friday morning we were up, had the coffee going, and were sorting things our to get underway.  Barely past 0700, a somewhat gray and hazy morning, we motored back into the Patuxent River, and into a swarm, probably over a hundred sailboats, all finishing their first race. This is apparently a big race weekend here, with many boats from around the Bay eager to take home someone else's trophy.  Mixed in among all the ghosting sailboats (the breeze was about 5 kts), small fishing vessels, crab boats, trawlers and a couple of nomadic sailboats motored outbound. It was one of those photo opportunities.


Forecast called for southerly wind at 10-15 kts.  Not so!  We had winds less than 10 kts throughout the morning and slightly more, maybe 10-12 kts into the afternoon.  We motored.  I had the main up, even tried the headsails several times, but there simply wasn't enough wind to do any good until about 1500.  Then, with Annapolis in sight on the hazy horizon, the wind picked up to about 15-18 kts, directly from the northwest… our heading, of course. We motored… surrounded by hundreds of sailboats, going wherever the wind took them, all enjoying a brisk sail in the late afternoon. It's not for nothing that Annapolis calls itself "the sailing capitol of America." Power boats, some ego boats, some sport fishermen, some runabouts, ran here and there, wakes cascading, crashing together producing a churning, choppy confusion.  AT EASE rolled and pitched and yawed, maneuvering among the crab pots planted so deliberately right in the approaches to Annapolis, until we reached the Naval Academy.  There we turned north, up the Severn River, past the Academy's expansive grounds and imposing buildings, to Weems Creek, an anchorage we had used some three years ago.


Weems Creek is still beautiful with its high bluff banks and stately homes all on wooded lots.  There are a few private piers protruding into the water, but most vessels here are moored or anchored. The Academy has moorings here, used by their sailboats when large storms threaten.  Until then, they are available to the taker.  We took. 


Securely moored, safe from the next several days of stormy, rainy weather, we tossed steaks on the grill and enjoyed the cool afternoon air.  Ahead, on the next mooring, a 50', wooden, Norwegian motorsailer with its stubby ketch rig, its wooden masts and maze of old fashioned rigging and ratlines, its aft pilothouse, all looking very salty, added much to the ambience.



Forecasted weather was actually pretty accurate.  The afternoon thunderstorms, a fixture for the last couple of weeks, seem to have taken a break.  On the 15th, we motorsailed down the York River and into Chesapeake Bay, giving our new batteries a full charge and topping off our water tanks with the watermaker, then turned northerly. It was another hot, sunny day and the glare off the water was blinding. The westerly to WNW wind, a bit light at 8-10 kts but from the beam, was enough to move us along at 3-4 kts over ground. We set the autopilot to maintain that apparent wind angle and, as the breeze clocked and backed 20-30 degrees through the day, we meandered along very comfortably.  Shirley even got out the heavy duty sewing machine and we dropped the torn staysail, taking it below for repairs. About 1830 Thursday evening, we entered Ingram Bay, the mouth of the Great Wicomico River, eased behind Sandy Point, a beautiful, well protected anchorage, and settled in for the night.


Up at dawn, a briskly cool, even a bit cold dawn, we got underway immediately. Back down the river channel, past a few more obviously expensive Bay-side homes and the now strongly odiferous seafood processing plant (makes paper mills pale in comparison), we moved back offshore. Once in the Bay, we set main, staysail and yankee for a great nine hour sail. It was another brilliantly blue sky, the glare somewhat reduced in the now choppy Bay waters.  We again set the sail trim and autopilot to follow the wind angle, then just wandered, generally northerly, taking advantage of the SW breeze. Mid afternoon, I was lounging below while Shirley stood watch.  BOOM!  Window-shaking! Teeth-rattling!  Now both in the cockpit, we looked around the horizon for the ship that had blown up. We looked to the sky for pillars of smoke from the explosion. But not a thing was amiss.  Well, there was that rapidly fading, already distant sound of a jet departing the area.  That's the first sonic boom we've heard in years and years.  Just to make sure the experience was memorable, we got another BOOM, this one a double, about 30 minutes later.  We were obviously getting close to Pax River Navy Air Station, the Navy's flight test facility. In fact, just across the Patuxent River's mouth from the air station, The Solomon's invited our anchorage tonight. 


We slowly motored into the main harbor area, turned north into Mill Creek and followed the channel to an identified anchorage. Another boat, obviously a cruiser, was already there.  From the cockpit, a woman called out "Good holding here" as we dropped our own anchor.  Even before I had the TV antenna hoisted to the mast, I saw our neighbor hop in his dinghy and row our way, bringing his canvas bag full of well worn books, eager to trade.  It felt wonderful.


We've really missed the cruising community during this trip north.  We've missed seeing the other cruisers as we move into anchorages, missed the typical initial exchanges advising about dinghy docks and holding, missed the "where from" and "where bound" questions, and missed discovering common friends.  We've especially missed the availability of book exchanges, sort of like free libraries, very common in the islands.  It seems cruisers as a group are all voracious readers, and typically book exchanges abound wherever cruisers congregate.  But along this coast, we've seen few book exchanges in the marinas where we've stopped, and have run into relatively few other cruisers with whom we might trade.  As a result, books, most of which have been read, are stuffed and stored here and there, pushed into our own canvas bags, all food for exchanges when they do present. 


Our neighbor is a science fiction fan… his companion seems to like mysteries. Neither are our forte.  But he found four books he thought he would read, and we found four to take in trade, so in a healthy way reading becomes more eclectic for all over time.



With some regret, we departed  (07/11/04) all the comfortable amenities of the Hospital Point anchorage in Norfolk.  We've eaten out, toured a museum, we've seen a movie, we've done the grocery thing, and we've visited with old and new friends. 


We've even had a dollop of adrenaline secondary to a 55-60 kt blow that came through the Tidewater area, and through our anchorage, wreaking havoc ashore and causing some distress among boaters.  Thunderstorms build every afternoon and this line of severe storms was tracked by the local TV stations all afternoon.  It seemed it would pass north of us but, really in the last 30 minutes of its approach, it changed course and charged directly our way. All anchors held, a testament to the fine holding here, but our staysail was not furled tightly and blew loose enough to tear along a seam. That will be easy fixins with our sewing machine.


The grocery trip warrants more discussion.  There are no downtown grocery stores, however, one can call the Marketplace supermarket, an excellent store with a good wine selection, and they will then send a van to the marina, pick up shoppers and return them after they have made their purchases.  What a service for cruisers! 


We motored back along our route, up the Elizabeth River and out into Hampton Roads, then turned north to enter the Chesapeake for our one day trip. With light air, we motorsailed past Jamestown then turned west into the York River. Just east of Yorktown and its eroding bluffs, on the north shore at Gloucester Point, Sarah Creek meanders inland.  Along the creek's channel, York River Yacht Haven, a boatyard and marina, with it's ever so friendly and accommodating staff, dominates the terrain.  With its expanding piers intruding ever further into the limited deep water, the anchorage we remember from three years ago is clearly smaller, but possible.  With both bow and stern anchor to minimize swing in the wind and tidal currents, we settled in.


Shirley had arranged a rendezvous with her cousin and his family who are vacationing in the Williamsburg, VA area.  J.N., Peggy and Mandy met us at the marina's fuel dock and we spent Tuesday sailing, in very light air, in the York River, even out into the Chesapeake. It certainly wasn't exciting sailing, lazing along with minimum steerage, but sail tending wasn't demanding either so there were few interruptions to the non-stop visiting.  It's always great when Shirley and I are able to share our cruising lifestyle with others… especially nice when wind and wave cooperate.  As we approached the anchorage on our return, the boom of thunder announced the afternoon's squall.  We watched its approach on radar and it looked very much like our arrivals at Sarah Creek would be simultaneous.  It was a squeaker but we got the anchors down and all hands below decks just before the rain, and were all able to dinghy in later for a surprisingly fine seafood dinner at the local restaurant. 


I had called ahead and asked the marina to order new batteries for AT EASE.  Our three year old batteries, cycled every day, had just reached the point they retained little charge. The new 6 volt batteries, Trojan 105's, each have 225 Amp Hours, more robust than my old 210 AH batteries.  We certainly will use the extra capacity… much like houses ashore, our boat and lifestyle demands more electricity all the time. I dreaded all the lifting and twisting, tugging and pushing, all the tedious electrical disconnects and  connections, all while hunkered down in the lazarette locker.  I put it off. I grumbled and complained.  Once I really got started, the removal and reinstallation went pretty smoothly and I was through in half a day.


The marina graciously allows cruisers to pick up mail and will ship boxes out via commercial carriers.  I sent a faulty remote control for our windlass in for repairs and sent our amplified TV antenna back to the factory; that prompted a trip or two up the mast to diagnosed the problem and then remove the antenna.  A crisis loomed… but our old non-amplified, "hoop of aluminum" TV antenna saved the day, and reruns of Friends were not lost to the crew of AT EASE. We had arranged for several bits of mail to be delivered.  Our repaired wind instrument came back from Raymarine.  I was running low on books so had a delivery from Amazon dropped off. Then our regular mail caught up with us, the usual mix of worthless junk and a few receipts and bills.


Our project list is nearly done… for the moment.  We've taken on both gas for the outboard and diesel for AT EASE.  The weather promises light but accommodating winds for the morrow (07/14/04).  It's time to get on the road.



AT EASE sits at anchor off Hospital Point in the Elizabeth River, twixt old Portsmouth and Norfolk, across from the Naval Museum and the semi permanently berthed (mothballed) USS WISCONSIN.  We motored down from Fort Monroe, mostly in heavy rain, past Sewell's Point and the Naval Operating Base where empty berths abound, to watch Norfolk's fireworks display and attend a party aboard our friend's brand new 42' catamaran. 


For the Navy fans, the bulk of ships in port are amphibious warfare vessels.  Given that the Marine Corps is pretty well fully committed ashore in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, I guess the ships are able to stand down.  There are a few Aegis cruisers, a few destroyers and frigates, and a few service ships, but the number of empty berths is telling.


To celebrate the 4th, we dressed ship. We broke out all the courtesy flags of countries we have visited (21), hoisted our various yacht club flags (4), and hauled them up the signal halyards.  I also hoisted both a Marine Corps and a Navy flag on the signal halyard.  Then we strung a full set (40) of nautical signal flags up both the fore and backstay to the top of the mast.  Finally, I climbed atop the dodger and hoisted a large US Flag from the topping lift.  AT EASE was dressed for the holiday.  Immediately alongside, another anchored boat hoisted a Marine Corps flag.  We saluted.


The party was a success… full of sea stories and talk of boats and adventures past and a renewal of a friendship missed since last we saw Sandy and Dave in Sint Maarten/St. Martin over a year ago. The intermittent rain dampened little and the fireworks were dazzling, among the best we've seen.


Yesterday, while checking my eyes for light leaks, lounging on the settee, I heard the dreaded five blasts (Danger near!) of a ships horn.  Rushing topside I saw a large Russian freighter, some 800' long, moving down the river at something like 5 kts.  On their bow, maybe a quarter mile, a small 27' sailboat, without auxiliary engine, had left a marina and entered the channel.  There she stalled with both sails flapping.  The sailor left the cockpit and went forward where he half furled his headsail… can't imagine what good he thought that might do.  Still the boat turned here and there, stalled, while the ship bore down.  Nothing the ship could do.  Even if he could have stopped, that monster would then have swung out of control, colliding with all the riverside quays, piers, boats and such… he had to keep underway to have any steerage. The tug escorting the ship didn't have enough time to do anything except continue underway. And the fool in the sailboat couldn't seem to get the sails full, to get the boat under way.


The ship's bow must have missed the boat by less than 10'.  As the boat, still out of control, wandered down the ship's side, they bounced at least once.  The man sent his woman forward to fend off the freighter by hand.  What optimism!  As they passed under the ship's wing bridge the pilot leaned out from his perch some 10 stories up and screamed down "Have you lost your mind?". The reply was lost to the ages.  The ship sailed on.  The sailboat, still staggering with poorly trimmed, luffing sails, wandered up the river.  I wish I could have heard the couple's conversation in the cockpit of that sailboat.


This is a good anchorage.  The enforced No Wake Zone reduces the rolling associated by the high volume of passing boat and ship traffic. The access via dinghy and foot  to both historic Norfolk and Portsmouth is excellent. The people are friendly, courteous, very Southern. Wandering the cobble stone streets, obviously old ship ballast stones, and looking at the equally old but beautifully restored buildings is reminiscent of Charleston or Savannah.  Old Granby Street, the street of sin when I was a young Marine here in the 60's, is now Yuppie, with Tapas Bars versus Topless Bars, and nary a tattoo parlor in sight.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't buy 3.2 beer even if I tried, and I certainly didn't recognize the street without garish neon, throngs of uniformed sailors and pairs of stern looking shore patrolmen, all on the prowl. There was an Irish Pub… playing country music… so there is still at least a hint of renegade quality to the setting.   


I'm afraid we've been distracted, yet again.  We're still heading for the Chesapeake, as planned, and points north eventually, but really, a few more days here, just to explore, perhaps sample a few restaurants, that seems reasonable, doesn't it?



AT EASE sets at anchor just off Fort Monroe, an Army base that has guarded Norfolk's entrance since before the War of Northern Aggression. The trip up from Beaufort will be remembered as one of our more pleasant, sometime even enchanting sails, even though it was around dreaded Cape Hatteras, the oft talked about Graveyard of the Atlantic.


On Wednesday, the 30th, we departed Beaufort's Taylor Creek anchorage and motored in dead calm conditions out to Lookout Bight to stage for our offshore trip. The Bight is a popular weekend destination some 14 NM from our anchorage.  There, a beautiful, lagoon-like bay, large enough to accommodate probably hundreds of vessels, is surrounded and protected by low lying sandy islets and pristine white sandy beaches, all part of the Outer Banks.  A functioning lighthouse and a few outbuildings are the only permanent structures. I suppose a few folks call this home, at least temporarily. Most folks visit via excursion boat or fast ferry from Beaufort but many make the trip and anchor for the weekend or more in personal boats. It has always been far from crowded in my experience. I don't know why it isn't more popular. The water is pretty, the holding good, the beaches are world class, the background of surf outside and sunny, blue skies overhead is world class. Anchored here, one can taste the island lifestyle without the long trip to the Bahamas and with the option of reprovisioning just a short trip away in Beaufort.


While nice, we were tired of waiting and wanted to spend the 4th where we could see some fireworks. The weather, while not great was at least acceptable. It has been very stable, hot and humid with scattered thunderstorms daily, for over a week and was not expected to change appreciably for at least another week.  Winds offshore were forecast in the 5-10 kt range with some possibility of building to 10-15 kts in the afternoons. Seas were calm in the 1'-2' range with a swell of 1'-3' from the East. We decided to go on the 1st… bypassing Ocracoke Island because of the dangerous shifting inlet (so locals said) from the sea and because we were unwilling to give it the extra two days necessary to visit it across Pamlico Sound.


We pulled anchor and departed for the 250 NM trip around Hatteras and into Norfolk. This trip drives one offshore, due east to miss the miles of shoals guarding Lookout Bight, then NE to skirt Portsmouth Island, then Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras itself and even further out to avoid treacherous Diamond Shoals.  By 1400 we had killed the engine and were sailing in relatively light air with main, yankee and staysails all deployed.


Around us the water warmed several degrees and turned to the deep, inky blue of the Gulf Stream, that massive river in the ocean that figures so prominently in any tales of travel off the East Coast and adds greatly to the potential hazards of Hatteras. It was a delight.  With only 2-3 kts of boat speed in the light air, we were making 5-6 kts of speed over ground, rolling slowly to the quartering swell, relaxed and rocked by Mother Ocean.  With a stable barometer and in these gentle conditions of southerly wind, we even enjoyed watching the scattered squalls marching by, few with any lightening or even significant wind energy.  We did reef once, mostly for practice, but had that shaken out of the main within 30 minutes or so. We moved into the night under a brilliant and full moon, still with squalls here and there passing by, enough to keep the radar watch interesting, and sailed along accompanied by pods of dolphin who approached, played awhile, then went on their way. During the night, we passed again over the final resting place of the Monitor, sunk as she was being towed south not long after her historic battle with Merrimack.


At 0315 on the 2nd, the wind finally failed. To maintain steerage we had to fire up the engine and motorsail. Even then, with the engine set at minimal RPM, our speed over ground approached 6-7 kts in the Stream's current. We used the opportunity to get a good battery charge (our 3 year old batteries are weakening and are about due for replacement) and to run the watermaker.


We motorsailed into a beautiful dawn and onward through a morning of greasy, flat seas but rolly conditions until 1130 when the wind from the South crept back up to about  5-8 kts; a bare minimum to maintain steerage.  In fact, to maintain steerage, I had to rig the sails wing-on-wing, with the main completely swung to one side and prevented, and the yankee held out by a spinnaker pole to the opposite side. Conditions were so stable, we were able to maintain this notoriously unstable point of sail all day and into the night, creeping along at 2 kts through the water but 4-5 kts over ground with the help of the current. By 2230, again under a full moon so bright one could read in the cockpit, we lost even that faint breeze.  We furled the yankee, brought the main back to midship and tightened her down.


It looked like an arrival in the approaches to Norfolk in the very early morning hours; about 0030 on the 3rd. This is arguably among the busiest shipping areas in the world with the Norfolk area harbors (Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth) and the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay all funneled together.  The moon was still full but a light fog covered the sea and made everything a bit ghostly. We milled about while waiting for some of the ship traffic and towed barges to move clear, dropped the main, and began motoring in through the sea channels leading to Norfolk.  By around 0430 I received a call from the Norfolk pilots who apparently maintain a close radar watch of the approaches.  They called for the ship at my latitude/longitude, making my speed and on my course.  I answered.  They asked my destination and draft, commented that I was in the inbound channel but could easily maneuver left or right to clear the channel, and warned that an overtaking ship was coming up on my stern. I thanked them, volunteered that I was maintaining a radar watch as well, and assured them I would move out of the channel to clear the inbound. 


That monster came up very fast, making something like 20 kts.  When he was within a mile, I turned 90 degrees and motored out of the channel to maintain a 0.5 NM clearance, then turned back sharply into the ship's wake to regain my base course.  By dawn we were approaching Thimble Shoals channel, moving through numerous anchored ships awaiting their turns to enter port, and dodging both inbound and outbound traffic.  Smaller fishing boats were departing for offshore, moving at high speeds, lights misty, all around area.


By 0700 we were moving through Hampton Roads, over the Monitor-Merrimack battleground, and past Fort Monroe where we turned into perhaps the most sheltered anchorage in the Norfolk area.  We fondly remembered this anchorage with its Army marina directly across the street from the most accessible commissary on the East Coast. But things change… the commissary is a memory, a gaping raw earth hole peopled now by yellow dozers and graters, parked for the holiday weekend, another sign of deterioration in the infrastructure of the military in America. "We even lost our base Post Office",  they tell us once ashore. 


We'll stay in the Norfolk area, moving down the Elizabeth River channel to Portsmouth's Hospital Point, to anchor and watch the fireworks with fellow Caribbean cruisers now in a marina taking care of warranty and service on their new catamaran.  Then… on to the Chesapeake and that marvelous tour of American history's footprints as one moves north.



Once again in Beaufort… the North Carolina one… and at anchor off the waterfront at Taylor Creek.  It's been three years since we were here and some things have changed while much remains the same.  Same waterfront of City owned dockage and same attractive, multi-story buildings in a "village" setting, with lower level businesses catering to tourist and upper levels likely high dollar condos. It is "tourista" oriented with shops selling nautical trivia, the ubiquitous T-shirt shops, antiques (mostly faux nautical) and, off course, restaurants.  It does have a first class, nautical theme bookstore, a pleasure to browse. The docks have been remodeled and show the new pressured treated wood.  They are well done, a bit roomier than before and well protected with rubber, but they are still difficult to approach and overwhelmingly occupied by largish power boats. 


This is still a very popular cruiser stopover… a large, natural, busy harbor shared with Moorehead City, the more commercial side of the bay. From the south, one crosses this harbor and heads out to sea in the broad, well marked channel past Fort Macon and the Coast Guard Station before turning back in, past Radio Island and the ocean research facility and then into sheltered creeks or bays.  Sailboats from the US, Canada and Europe occupy the anchorage just across the channel from Beaufort.  There is a dinghy dock in a city park but not much accessible shopping of the functional variety (i.e. groceries, marine supplies, etc…). Many boats are on moorings but, in spite of the strong tidal current, there is still room to anchor, albeit rather close.  We just do our twice daily dance as the currents reverse.  Today we have a beam wind across the anchorage, blocked just enough by the sheltering island behind us to provide a cooling blast without the boat being buffeted. The island, unnamed on the chart but called Carrot in some literature, is a horse sanctuary funded by some notable, and provides a landing for tenders, dinghies and kayaks, a place to walk crew and dogs when the tide is high enough to mask the mud flats leading to the beach.


Our trip north along the ICW was typical with shallow water and shoaling conditions, then the long run along a tight channel in the deceptively broad waters of Bogue Sound. We made it a two day trip with an overnight anchorage at Swansboro.  In my youth, this fishing village with its rough bars and simple waterfront, was adjacent to Camp Lejeune but was clearly the haunt of locals and Marines, uninvited, found locals standoffish if not downright hostile.  Now, Swansboro is a long expanse of expensive waterfront homes, a somewhat restored and protected historic district, and waterfront dockage ranging from mildly dilapidated to obviously modern and likely expensive.  We can attest to the high quality of at least one restaurant, the Gourmet Restaurant, suitably named and reasonable as well.  Ducks, privileged within Swansboro, freely wander the streets and yards, doing the things ducks do.


We're hanging here in Beaufort, waiting for a weather window to go out past Lookout Bight and Cape Lookout Shoals, then further out to clear Cape Hatteras and the notorious Diamond Shoals.  From there, around the Virginia Capes and into Norfolk, so conveniently placed at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. 


Along the way, we are tempted by Ocrakoke Island, one of the barrier islands on the way to Hatteras.  Ocracoke has the reputation of being quaint, attractive and visitor friendly, but many visit via the regular ferry service.  The approach from within on the Pamlico Sound, is dangerously shallow for AT EASE and the inlet from the sea is challenging given the strong currents and constantly changing sand bars.  Ocracoke was a favorite hangout of Capt Teach, Blackbeard the Pirate, and his flagship, was it the PRINCESS ANNE, was sunk very near this inlet in his last battle with the Royal Navy… lost his head, he did.  Perhaps we can get some local knowledge to help us decide how best to approach this very attractive diversion.



For just over a month we have been tied pier side at Gottschalk Marina, Camp Lejeune, NC.  Events conspired to lengthen the stay but, in truth, I'm not sure we were all that interested in moving along.  The folks here at the Marina have been warm and giving with some examples of generosity even well beyond what I would have expected from the fraternity of Marines… perhaps because these Marines are also boat people.


I needed some dental and medical attention.  I had broken another tooth so off to the dentist I went for a crown. There had been a nagging condition, chest and sinus congestion, for a couple of weeks before arriving here.  It drug on.  The first diagnosis was bronchitis… the second was pneumonia.  I went through a series of antibiotics for the pneumonia but that congestion continued.  There's no clear diagnosis now but an allergy is suspected by all concerned.  Medication for that is helping with some symptoms but I decided not to enter the Marine Corps Triathlon held here during our stay.


In the midst of this bout with pneumonia, Saylor came down with some acute episode of joint discomfort.  Poor dog couldn't really stand up by herself and certainly couldn't walk for a couple of days.  If she moved, it was from my carrying her, wheezing all the way.  She simply doesn't eat or drink when feeling  bad and I was concerned about dehydration.  A trip to a Vet ER resulted in a liter of fluid (subcutaneous) and a shot, I assume of steroids. With an oral medication, she was walking and even frolicking again in a few days. 


There was more going on than just medical care. A huge international exercise resulted in a veritable invasion of Royal Marines (Brits), Dutch Marines and, I'm told, even some French.  Helicopters flew, artillery fired, camouflaged troops and vehicles littered the base, and a good time was had by all.  For three weeks, the roads were filled with British and Dutch tactical vehicles, many of which seemed involved in regular runs to the Marine Corps Exchange where foreign Marines clamored to purchase evil looking fighting knives, utility tools and just about every GPS in stock. 


This exercise also provided some entertainment for Shirley's grandson, Jarrod, who visited with us for a couple of weeks.  He found excitement on the beach, searching out tanks here and there on the base, and in a single-minded campaign to harass and provoke the crab population around the Marina.


Boats don't like to just sit… don't like to simply serve as the waterfront house while adults entertain themselves.  They pout… they pine… and things go wrong. I've been able to find a few things to work on.  I found an engine temperature sensor that had been broken, probably by a heavy footed mechanic back in the boatyard. I discovered a running light assembly on the port bow had been damaged, who knows how, so replaced the unit.  And my wind direction and speed instrument decided to stop working.  I suspected the masthead sensor.  It had been brushed by a less than gentle bridge while up the rivers last year. After an exercise in how even simple things can go wrong, some new friends helped us find a new masthead sensor and another, light and agile, helped by going up the mast in a bosun's chair to install.  Alas… now it looks like the cockpit processor and display is at fault.  It's off to Raymarine now where magic will be done and it will be returned, refreshed, for more adventuring.


We've enjoyed access to the very modern and complete Marine Corps Exchange and Commissary here at Lejeune. The boat is stocked for distance cruising.  The crew are ready to again challenge the skinny water of New River Inlet and the ICW, and it's off to Beaufort, NC, probably Thursday.  There we will loiter at anchor, waiting for a weather window to move offshore and round Cape Hatteras from the south.  If the entrance to Ocracoke Island is passable, we'll do a bit of shore leave there before the rounding. 


We have mixed feelings, certainly, but getting underway again is exciting, I think for both Shirley and I, maybe even for Saylor (who has gotten pretty used to roaming with liberal shore leave).



We've covered some distance since our last entry.  On May 11, we moved up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington and docked alongside the historic district, immediately across from the USS North Carolina, a battleship museum/memorial permanently anchored. 


Wilmington, about 24 NM or so up the river, 13 NM further inland than the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), has done much to improve their waterfront, spent lots of money to attract cruising boaters, and the historic district does have its beauty. Within walking distance, there are numerous churches, a good city museum, and period buildings, the Cotton Exchange for one, which have been restored, typically with shops and restaurants.  The waterfront includes a boardwalk, floating quays or sea wall for mooring, and hefty new fees; a departure from the "Free 48 hour dockage" present and advertised just a couple of years ago.  The latter was an effort to attract boaters who can more easily bypass the city as they transit the north and south on the ICW. There are no safe anchorages in or around Wilmington. The city now charges $1.00 per foot per night with an additional 25 cents per foot for electricity which is available at only some of their sites. They seem to think this is a great deal.  I think it is $1020 a month, plus over $8 a day for electricity, and I have to bring my own hotel room.  These are fees more typical at better, full service marinas.  Wilmington offers no services apart from garbage… no water, no pump out, no rest rooms or showers.  I tried to point out to the dock master they may be shooting themselves in the foot.  He bragged about all the boats that now visited the city.  I pointed out that in the two days I had been there, I was the only cruising boat in the city; this during the season when cruisers were moving along the coast.  The point seemed too subtle for him, and for the city, to grasp.


We left on Thursday, the 13th, to motor back down the Cape Fear, past the numerous commercial facilities where ocean going vessels take on and disgorge their stores of oil and containers and bulk cargo, back to the ICW and thence up the coast on the inside.   Our destination is Camp Lejeune, up New River some 15 NM, and to reach this we had to forego an outside passage.  Inlets from the sea are here much like those in Florida… shoal and constantly changing.  We anchored overnight at Wrightsville Beach and planned our next day's run to put us at New River at 1630, just at high tide.  We knew the channel up New River was dangerously shoal, having been there bouncing across the bottom some three years ago.  By playing the tides, we hopped for a gentle passage. 


Our timing worked out well.  At 1630 on the 14th we turned into New River and motored up the channel past the new high bridge at Pollocks Point, riding the crest of the tide inland.  At marker 28A, where we had run aground three years earlier when departing, we ran aground again.  The chart, now getting pretty old, and the marks didn't agree.  Honoring the marks, and following what at least some of our old friends at Camp Lejeune claim to be accurate local knowledge, led us into water less than 5'.  My own attempts to shake free failed.  Even two kedge anchors failed.  I called our reliable friends at TowBoatUS.  Within 40 minutes they were on the scene, we had anchors retrieved, and were being pulled across the shallow bar to deeper (relatively) water.  The tow captain pointed out a tethered, floating soft drink bottle some distance from the mark.  He suggested this was some local fisherman's personal mark of safer water… but then I don't know their draft so am not sure how to use that information. 


In any event, somewhat chastened, stalwart mariners that we are, we hurried along up the river trying to make Gottschalk Marina at Camp Lejeune before dark and while we still had a flooding tide.  In fading light, we motored past the familiar landmarks of Camp Lejeune, past Hadnot Point and the impressive headquarters building there, past the old 6th Marines area and Hospital Point. The sun was down and running lights on when we turned into the last mile to move into the marina.  We were on the radio with folks on the dock waiting to welcome us back.  "Line up on the marks and put the middle of three radio towers right on the bow", we were told… and so we did.  Oops!  In the mud, yet again.  But this time, a local fisherman, with his outsized outboard, immediately came over to tie onto the bow and pull us back to starboard and into deeper water.  Creeping in now, my depth finder was showing 5'0"-5'1", well below my 5'6" draft.  I was obviously pushing in through soft mud.  Off the "T" dock, I tried to turn to moor to my port side.  AT EASE resisted turning.  Her keel in the soft mud offered too much resistance.  We got the bow pointed in, got a line to the dock, and to the very willing and helpful crew there to assist us, and then worked lines progressively to the stern as I winched AT EASE laterally to the dock.  By 2100 we had lines secure, were ashore, and enjoying the impromptu party and "Welcome Home" attitude of all. 


We have fond memories of our stay here three years ago.  That same warmth was immediately evident.  Our friends, Jim and Tonda, even made available one of their vehicles, making sure the key was there at the dock as we arrived.


Here we will tarry, while Shirley travels back to Arkansas to visit family, and Bill deals with memories of a young Marine who called this home some 40 years ago.


We hung on the anchor just off Cocoa Village, on the western shore of Indian River and to the west of Merritt Island, the home of the Kennedy Space Center and Patrick AFB. Ashore, a community restoration has created a park and a village-like atmosphere with small shops selling art, antiques and such, various restaurants and an English Pub.

There's been a spell of weather, blustery winds in the 15-25 kt range, mostly from the East so the fetch in the inland lagoon is considerable. Another system is coming in from the West with high winds and thunderstorm activity, gradually clocking. The forecasts project this weather through the week but there is some promise of very favorable offshore conditions on the weekend. Anything from the North (including NW to NE) is bad for heading offshore into the Gulf Stream. The long range forecast anticipates 15-20 kts from the SE on Friday or Saturday and that would be ideal for us to run the 200 miles or so offshore up to Port Royal Sound (Beaufort, SC). So… we're killing time until this latest weather system passes.

There's only so much to do ashore. We've sampled the best restaurant, tried the pizza and bakery, and how many objects of art or antiques can we put on the boat? There has been entertainment. A Canadian claimed he had a bomb strapped to his chest and that blocked traffic through the park and across the bridge for several hours. Shirley, in the cockpit, was entertained by the Bomb Squad, the Coast Guard, helicopters, and various other blue-light specials, and their antics.

We also watched a derelict boat break loose from its moorings and wash up on the shore-side rocks in the heavy wave action. This isn't the boa's first excursion on rocks… the patches on its hull are painfully obvious. What is also obvious is that no one seems to care. The police say "Oh yeah… the blue one." The Coast Guard says "Not our problem." We tried to donate the boat to the Boy Scouts… they didn't want it either.

By noon today this latest wave of weather was largely past. Overcast skies and some dark masses on the western horizon didn't seem all that intimidating so we pulled the anchor and decided to run up the ICW to Titusville, a mere 18 NM or so, where we might have an opportunity to do mundane things like laundry, some grocery shopping and… oh yeah… tour the Kennedy Space Center.

We're now anchored in 11' of water, with 60' of chain and a 45# CQR anchor, buried in the sand/shell/dead coral bottom. Winds of 10-20 kts continue, swirling some, probably shifting to the North tonight. We're just south of the Titusville Swing Bridge, in the lee of the causeway and bridge abutment, just west of the ICW, trying to decide what's for dinner.

The short trip was uneventful. We watched the Vehicle Assembly Building grow to majestic proportions on the Eastern horizon during the day. We could see two massive launch sites. We listened to radio chatter from Cape Canaveral Control (whoever they are). It's all getting a bit exciting. The mega event here, a shuttle launch, is not scheduled in the immediate future, but there is a launch of a relatively large communication satellite scheduled in the next couple of days. That may be worth pausing to see. We'll be looking in to your basic tourist tour event tomorrow.


While coming up the coast, offshore, during that marvelous, bounding sail, we had a visitor come aboard. We must have looked terribly inviting, especially to a tired fellow traveler. A small bird, maybe a warbler, with bright yellow breast and greenish back, came aboard. It landed on the lifeline, hopped over to my knee for a minute or two, then moved to the cabin top under the dodger. It looked here, there, anxiously trying to make sense of all the apparatus. Still not satisfied, it hopped onto the wheel and tried to sit on the stainless spokes. Not only were they too slick to perch but, as the autopilot turned the wheel, the bird kept falling off. Back it went to the cabin top where things were more confusing but more restful. Later, it went below to entertain Shirley with its antics. At some point, maybe an hour or so later, perhaps when it realized we weren't offering any beer or attractive provisions, it left.

Yesterday, we motored north along the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) and into Indian River. It's not really a river at all... more like a very large lagoon; very shoal with the narrow ICW channel very busy with traffic transiting both north and south. It was another beautiful day with bright sun and cool wind, and with a celebratory air shared by all. With few exceptions, each passing boat was full of smiling, waving folks, courteous with their wakes and careful in their piloting. All day, slower vessels would slow even more to allow slightly faster vessels to pass with less turbulence, less wake. Meeting vessels would slow to reduce disruptions from their wakes. It was the ICW at its best.

The exception... a large Carver motor yacht that overtook me, eased its monstrous bow up alongside and closed to within 10' while maintaining his speed. A huge bow wave pushed me toward the edge of the channel. I spun the wheel to get control of the boat and looked up to the fly bridge of the other vessel. The captain, looking sternly straight ahead, clearly avoiding eye contact, was steering with his left hand. With his right, he was "pushing" me aside, over and over, palm out. I slowed and he pulled ahead, leaving me rolling and yawing in his turbulent wake.

He had chosen this rather aggressive and dangerous means of overtaking, specifically failing to either call on the radio or give a horn signal of his intention, the more seaman-like options. We both had radios, of course. I reached for mine to give him an angry call. But he must have had many angry calls in his travels, and these had not altered his seamanship. He may even have liked having angry captains calling.

About a mile or so ahead, a large trawler, even larger than his vessel, was overtaken. He courteously called on the radio, asking the other captain how he should overtake. He obviously knew better... now why would he act so aggressively, so dangerously, with smaller vessels?

A final irony... his vessel was named IVANHOE... a chivalrous knight by legend.


We pulled the anchor and motored north on the ICW to Palm Beach Harbor, then right to Lake Worth Inlet where we pushed through the incoming tide and moved offshore some 3-4 NM. The forecast called for 15 kts from the south; good conditions for sailing in the Gulf Stream which runs in pretty close to shore along this part of Florida's east coast. In fact, it was even better. We had 15-20 kts of wind from the west all day long. With main, staysail and yankee out we surged along, rolling some, but not uncomfortably, in the swells coming up from our stern quarter.

During the morning, we got a boost from the Stream and were doing up to 9 kts over ground part of the time. Later in the afternoon we left the Stream but were still doing 6-7 kts over ground. It was just a glorious day of sailing with bright blue skies, dark blue sea, and enough sun to keep one comfortable even in the somewhat chilly breeze. AT EASE laid about 15 degrees over on the port tack and just boogied north. I think we adjusted sails once during the day. We finally pulled everything down and motored into Ft Pierce Inlet just after 1600, pushed our way in against the 4 kts of outgoing tidal current, and made our way to an anchorage just after 1700, ending the 54 NM day.

This was the way to end a boatyard stay… a day of perfect sailing and a chance to work the boat. All the upgrades and fixes stayed upgraded and fixed and every thing else worked normally. Even having to set the anchor three times to get a good hold couldn't mar the day. With the new windlass, that was painless, even easy.

It was time to celebrate with a special meal. The continuing 15-20 kt wind didn't stop us from grilling a steak. I rigged our custom umbrella shield for the grill, looks pretty silly but works well to block the wind, and Shirley sautéed the onions and mushrooms and steamed the broccoli down below. Out came the cork from a bottle of wine and the crew of AT EASE toasted the return to a cruising lifestyle.


We splashed yesterday, back into the water after three weeks on the hard at Rybovich Spencer in West Palm Beach. As usual, "Boat Yard Creep" had worked its way into our planned tasks. One is lured on by the apparent logic of it all… "While we are here, let's go ahead and get X taken care of also." It's just too seductive. The list gets longer and the bill larger. Service managers are so cooperative. They just keep adding jobs to the list and sending more folks around to the boat.

One also begins to realize some of these problems didn't exist when the boat entered the yard. "Fixing" X sometimes means Y quits working. Of course "they" didn't cause that. The list, and yard period, gets longer.

Here comes the laundry lists, those maintenance issues. Those bored by such details should skip forward.

We had a leak, a bad seal, around our transmission's aft coupling. I had a weeping thru hull. I needed new packing in my stuffing box. I wanted to fabricate a new base so I could install the new Lofrans windlass we had purchased earlier. Shirley wanted to install an amplified TV antenna on the mast. These were the primary reasons we came into the yard.

The transmission was leaking from the rear seal… the front seal was obviously old and needed replacing. That involved taking the transmission out. If one had gone to that expense, it was only reasonable to check the transmission for other maintenance needs. The rear bearing was worn… needed replacing. Then, of course, it had to be aligned. The parts list grew.

The rear coupler was rusted. That led to identification of a chronic leak around the hose-fiberglass joint from deterioration in the fiberglass in the exhaust system. With several options, we finally decided on a new muffler-hose assembly.

We had wanted to install a "dripless" packing gland on the engine shaft to replace the stuffing box. Some wear, scoring, on the shaft made it likely we would not be able to get a good seal so we installed a new, harder, stainless steel shaft. In the course of this, we found some electrolysis damage on the old cutlass bearing. We installed a new, nonmetallic cutlass bearing in its place. The dripless gland, a Strong system, requires water injection off of the engine water pump so some plumbing was done along with the mounting.

Shirley had been asking for an amplified TV antenna on the mast. I bought a Seawatch antenna and climbed the mast to install but simply couldn't force a wire, or a messenger, through the mast. Unwilling to drop the mast, I opted to temporarily wire tie the coax to a shroud to bring it to the deck and thence below. Not the neatest solution but serviceable until the next time the mast comes down. Then we will be able to install the cable within the mast. It took me awhile, stumbling and fumbling, to get all the wire pulled, and all the coax connectors clean, with minimal signal strength loss. Pulling wire means tearing the interior of the boat apart and then (shudder) drilling holes. The tension was palpable.

By now, the transmission was out of the boat, and electrical grounds were lying about here and there. I turned on the engine room (110 volt) light and had a spark and two breakers popped. That fried the TV turner box, a computer peripheral that turns our laptop into a television. Replacing that required some trial and error, more wire, more frustration, but finally led to success.

I had some computer problems with my Dell laptop; one of my USB ports. Working with Dell (I have a service contract) led to a decision to replace the motherboard. A technician arrived on the boat with the new board. After the fourth iteration of disassembly and assembly, he gave up. He concluded a bad motherboard had fried the processor. Three days later, he showed up with a new chassis, a new processor chip, and a new motherboard… the computer works again.

We had bought a new Lofrans Tigre (Italian… not French) windlass for the anchors and chain. The old windlass motor had just been too unreliable, even after rebuilding. To mount the new windlass, we had to do some fabrication. With consultation from carpenters and fabricators, we ended up with a half inch plate of stainless steel as a mount base. I wired the windlass and remote (with chain counter so I don't have to guess or use wire ties as markers anymore). What a pleasure it is now, to move chain without pain in the lower back.

Our KISS wind generator had failed during a 35 kt blow in Key West. The armature had tossed a magnet in the high wind, the magnet had jammed against the stator, the prop kept turning the aluminum prop hub on the stainless steel shaft until it drove itself onto the motor housing. Everything stopped abruptly. That same problem had occurred before. Doug Billings, the manufacturer of the KISS generator in Trinidad graciously agreed to replace the unit with a new, improved unit; the magnets are now held in place with a screw versus glue. It arrived in time to install while still in the yard. Now, as we set at anchor in Palm Beach lagoon, it is merrily creating something like 6-8 amps per hour in the 14 knot breeze.

In the course of wiring our new windlass, I noted a rusted fitting through the deck to our deck wash hose. My sharp eyes noted this when the hose and fitting fell on my head. I replaced that with an attractive piece of stainless steel and patched below to accommodate the different sized fittings on the old versus new plumbing.

Once out of the water, we discovered our bottom paint from Trinidad was still in fairly good condition and no significant growth had accumulated on the bottom. However, several of the smallish blisters, fluid under the gelcoat, had gotten large enough to get my attention. I popped them to dry out the underlying fiberglass, had the yard's staff grind them out and patch them with glass and epoxy, then fared and painted the patches. I did need new sacrificial zincs on the prop shaft but that was easy to accomplish.

Back in the water… the engine ran beautifully, but failed to turn off at the electric kill switch. A bad relay, mounted back where workmen had been toiling, had gone bad. A new relay solved that problem. Water stayed out where it should and stayed in where it should. Sea trials were a success. I did complain to the yard manager that the piano was now out of tune, but assured him we could live with that. Bill paid, we motored out to anchor.

AT EASE is in top notch condition with essentially new electronics and repairs and upgrades to her mechanical systems. Her crew is resting, after strenuous boatyard exertions. Tomorrow, with a southern wind, we will move back out offshore and head north to Fort Pierce, there to entered the ICW and slowly wander north to Melbourne, a cruising hangout we have never visited.

A final note. Our last evening, while in the water tied in a slip, Shirley was relaxing in the cockpit with a glass of wine. A female crew member from a nearby trawler, a Key West resident, she said, started a conversation. The central theme had to do with her experiences as crew during an excursion to the Bahamas… they had just returned. Primarily, she wanted a glass of wine… she offered to pay. Shirley demonstrated she had poured the last glass from her bottle. "That's okay", she said, "I'll buy that."

Shirley demurred, saying "This is my only glass."

"That's okay", she said, "I'll just drink it here." And she did.

Shirley, speechless, failed to collect any money before the now fortified lass left.


AT EASE sits on the hard, supported by stands, overlooking the haul out area and major work area for Rybovich Spencer. We've been here for two weeks now, patiently waiting while various shops work us into their obviously busy schedules. This has been a good time for us to be here but perhaps a bad time for the boatyard. They have been preparing for the annual Palm Beach Boat Show, a big event locally and for Rybovich, and the boats they build and broker, so we've had to wait for our turn.

There have been incentives to linger. We got complementary tickets to the boat show and invitations to attend Rybovich's annual blow out party held during the boat show. Some dear friends of ours, just back from the Bahamas, are in the process of purchasing a new catamaran here. I'm afraid their excitement has been infectious and Shirley has shown more than a little interest in looking at alternate boats… for the time when we won't want the work of sailing, she says. The show, a power boat extravaganza, featured a range of boats from runabouts (a few) to megayachts (quite a few). We traipsed about, looking at trawlers and even found a few we liked, some even less than a million. (it cost $2000 just to enter a boat in the show). Even the used boats were pricy but we found a few with beautiful features and apparently good sea keeping qualities.

Rybovich's party was a serious do. The boatyard was transformed overnight into a large (800 guests) party area with food, open bars, live bands and even a Ferris wheel; all just off our stern. Dress was "Yachting Casual" which for us meant shorts and a polo shirt. Being where we are, however, meant everything from natty yachting caps and blue blazers with club crests (slinky black dresses and pearls) to work shirts with your name on the pocket. A fine time was had by all.

With a rental car we have been able to enjoy the community... the shopping, movies, restaurants of course, and opportunities to just ogle the rich and famous. I think it's safe to call an area affluent if they offer valet parking at the mall.

Rivera Beach sponsored a Jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend and we headed out for an afternoon and evening with the likes of Blood, Sweat and Tears. That was a bust… they canceled, apparently, and the Festival failed to announce it. Our first warning, after setting through one good group and one terrible group, was when a hard rock band began playing in the slot scheduled for BS&T. We voted with our feet.

The weather has been cool here and down right cold up north so we are in no hurry to move too fast. The last two weeks have been characterized by high winds every day, 20-25 kts from the NE to E, and this continued through the weekend. Even on our stands, AT EASE shudders from time to time in the higher gusts. We know we're better off here than we would have been in the anchorage… two weeks of white caps would have been tiring.

This is the week we will try to bring it all together… to get AT EASE swimming again and all the pieces reassembled to an approximation of working condition. Hurrying boatyard crews us usually like herding cats, like pushing on ropes. There is a fine line beyond which all one produces is passive resistance if not passive aggression. Diplomacy has never been one of my skills.


On Wednesday, the 10th, we got underway from Boca Chica Marina and motored out into Hawk Channel where a 15-20 kt (25 apparent) wind blew from the NW, a perfect beam reach along the lower Keys, just a few miles offshore. The wind held throughout the day and it wasn't until we made the big turn to the NE past Islamorada that the slowly clocking wind went foul. We could still motor sail through the remainder of the night, alert to the increasing numbers of transiting recreational vessels using this popular route. About mid morning we turned into Biscayne Channel and dropped all sails to motor into the Bay and across to Dinner Key where we anchored.

The forecasts called for steady 15-20 kts from the NE for the next two days. Rather than fight that heading up the coast, we opted to hang out in Miami until the weekend when the wind was to clock further to the east. That would set us up for a fast run up the coast to West Palm Beach-Lake Worth where we will get some yard work done.

So what to do until then? Well, we did some caulking on the teak cabin tops, watched some television and, oh yes, went ashore to crawl the local mall just a short walk inland. Restaurants, movies, book stores… glitter and glitz. Then there was that manatee that rolled, broke the surface and looked us over as we lay at anchor.

By Saturday, the wind had clocked to the east and forecasts called for it to stay there, at 10-15 kts, for the next several days. Just before dark we pulled the anchor and motorsailed across the Bay to exit for the overnight run offshore up to West Palm Beach.

The wind was from the east and steady, but higher than forecast, at 15-20 with some gusts up to 25 kts. With the falling tide for competition, the waves at the shallow mouth of Biscayne Channel became awesome… very steep with very short intervals. AT EASE even took some green water over the bow as we pushed through the exit and turned north.

With short interval waves of 3-5 ft and the steady easterly winds, I had opted for a reefed main and the yankee for sailing power. We were close to being overpowered… it took repeated changes, especially to the main, hardening and letting it out, to compensate for the velocity changes, yet still maintain enough power to shoulder through the waves. We surged from boat speed highs approaching 8 kts to lows of 1-2 kts following some wave series. Of course sheets of spray were in the air after each wave-hull collision… and the water is not yet all that warm.

AT EASE would pitch and roll as each wave crested beneath her hull, then slide down the wave's face to bang into the next, send a sheet of spray into the wind, and begin her climb anew. Bigger series would roll her until she dipped her rail in the water, the green water then rushing back along the gunnels to crash into the primary winches and then break over the rail into the cockpit. Saylor, standing watch in her foul weather position, down in the well of the cockpit, would be soaked. She would raise her head enough to look accusingly at the captain, and then with a resigned sigh, would snuggle back down to soggy ease. She finally informed the crew she was going below where she took station on the low settee not to budge until the world got stable again.

I was wet, in spite of the foul weather gear. I was looking forward to being off watch, snuggled in the sea berth, that same valued settee on the low side of a sailboat healing about 35 degrees. But even being already wet did not make sharing the settee with a soggy and affectionate dog any less… well… damp.

On watch, conditions worsened. With the long and uninterrupted fetch of wind from the east, pushing up on a shoaling shore, the waves just had to build. By predawn, because of the higher than expected boat speeds, we had arrived at the West Palm Beach inlet, the end of this 80 some mile trek. The seas offshore had built to 4-6 ft with some 8 ft rollers occasionally. I hove too to await dawn. The boat settled down to a more gentle motion, as expected with this maneuver. This is one of the oldest of sailor tricks for managing weather. One intentionally backfills the headsail with wind, brings the main to midships, then turns the rudder trying to push the backfilled headsail back through the wind as if tacking. The boat can't get enough power to accomplish this turn through the wind with the sails so out of trim, so the boat just sort of stops.

AT EASE doesn't like to heave to. She gets more stable, quits her pitching and rolling to a large degree, but she still makes way through the water… about 1-2 kts. Hove to off a lee shore meant I was moving toward the beach, into shallower water, at the rate of 1-2 kts. I started off shore several miles in about 80 ft of water. An hour later, just barely dawn, we were in 40 ft of water and the waves, rolling up on that shallower shore, were off course bigger.

I woke Shirley. Between the two of use, Saylor refused to help, I think assuming we had brought this on ourselves, we managed to get the sails down, moved back offshore and then entered the sea channel leading to the pass. I could see breakers foaming up on the rock jetty to the south and the sea wall to the north. In between were five rolls of surf, pushed directly into the pass where it met the ebbing tide from the inland sound. Our timing was consistent… leave and arrive on the wrong tides.

AT EASE charged through the pass, climbing the impossibly steep waves, surfing down the back side, even sticking her bowsprit and bow into the green water yet again, while I held on and twisted the wheel side to side to keep her from broaching. It was an exhilarating ride.

A young couple stood bundled in coats on the sea wall, watching the scene. I waved and waved until they finally noticed and waved back. I hope I looked nonchalant but it's just hard to wave and hang on at the same time.

Inside the sound we moved through the commercial turning basin and entered a narrow channel, actually part of the Intercoastal Waterway, and motored south a mile or so to Rybovich-Spencer, a boatyard we had used before. I turned into their channel, that same wind on my back now pushing me, into a scene of megayachts (their specialty), mostly power but some sail, tied here and there, a small turning basin and a fuel dock already congested.

Only one possibility remained. On the very end of the dock, immediately in front of a 150' motor yacht, there was barely enough room for AT EASE. We were committed. We quickly rigged for a port side docking, Shirley, boat hook in hand, got on a spring line, and with brisk forward and reverse motor action I held the boat while she got forward and stern lines secure. We were stopped, a few feet from this towering white bow, on which a thoughtful owner had tapped a yellow banner demanding "Caution".

Being thoroughly intimidated by the monster anyway, I thought that was unnecessary.


On Tuesday, March 2nd, AT EASE moved around from Key West harbor to take a slip in the Navy Air Station marina at Boca Chica. The majority of boats in this marina are occupied by retirees from one service or another, some of whom have obviously made this their permanent home port. With a rental car, a necessity given that we are 12 miles north of Key West proper, we have the run of the area and the State.

The array of bars and restaurants servicing the historic district hasn't changed much. The same hordes of pale tourists still flock ashore from cruise ships or motor down that long and narrow highway, US #1, until it reaches mile 0, then struggle to find parking so they can join the parade up and down Duval St.

There are certainly no fewer of the colorful… the tattooed… the costumed… the street performers… those wanders who get this far and run out of land… those fringe folks who fit in nowhere else but somehow find a home down here in the Conch Republic. One performance was no more than mice crawling atop a cat, sleeping atop a sleeping German Shepard, while their assumed owner napped alongside with his largely empty bucket available for donations. A more energetic performer hung around outside of Margaritaville standing on an upturned milk carton, rhythmically bouncing a Slinky, somewhat like one might enthusiastically play a concertina, with his empty beer cup available for anyone wishing to contribute.

We've been trying to make a decision for about a year. Should we continue our residence in Arkansas or make the move to another state where taxes would be much less an issue. Some thousands of dollars in savings made the decision for us. We are now residents of Florida. There is, of course, the down side… we now are residents of Floriduh. I suppose we too have now become part of the local color and who knows… there may be opportunity to solicit some income if we can only put together our own street act.


We arrived in Key West on Tuesday, the 24th. It's a two or more hour run in from the Northwest Channel into the harbor proper, at least at our speed, in the dark, with the various navigational beacons competing with the array of shore side lights and the channel something less than obvious. Our electronics, and our radar, made the passage a pleasant ride, especially as we had been here often enough to have a feel for the harbor. We made our final turns around Wisteria Island, here known better as Christmas Island, and motored past Mallory Square and Key West Bight to move in and among the boats anchored off Flemming Key. We dumped the anchor, satisfied ourselves it was set, then tumbled into bed.

The currents, largely tidal, in Key West are legendary. Twice each day, a 1-2 knot current reverses. Two anchors are recommended in the books but few boats follow that advice. Most, like us, drop one and then swing the length of the rode, east to west, as the tide ebbs and floods. In the morning we still looked good in relation to boats anchored in our near vicinity. However, a dinghy approached, announced they were our neighbors, a vacationing group from St Pete, and allowed as to how we had swung too close to them in the tidal dance. "We're so sorry", we said, "and will move, of course." As we were going into Key West Bight for fuel, it was no sacrifice on our part. After fueling, we moved back off Flemming Key and anchored some distance away from our anxious neighbors.

We dropped the dinghy, mounted the outboard, and I ran to town to do some quick shopping in the local marine stores. I needed lights for the dinghy to run at night… the Florida marine police are as vicious as unfed Gestapo and ticket revenue from boaters seems to be the second largest income source for the State.

Back to the boat, we contacted our local friend, John Hixson and arranged to meet later for dinner ashore. The forecast had called for severe thunderstorms for the last week. We knew they were coming and that had driven us to get in and safely anchored as soon as possible.

The skies darkened and the wind began to build in this much less than sheltered anchorage. We did do a quick dinner ashore then hurried back to the boat to batten down. By 1830 the wind moved through 15 kts and a dense, tropical rain beat up the bay. We switched on radar and stood watch under the dodger in the cockpit. By 1930 the wind had risen to over 30 kts and the sheets of rain were blinding. The highest gusts reached 37 kts… and that's the one, with the 2-3' seas in the harbor, that broke our anchor free for a quick 200' of swing before it dug in and set again. As this was happening, our wind generator, busily sending buckets of electricity to our batteries, seized up in the +35 kt winds.

The four big schooners who call the harbor home, each with their load of evening excursion guests, were caught out in the harbor, each trying to get back in the dock from their sunset cruises. The high winds and seas made any landings risky. The last out get caught in the worst of it all and had to motor into the wind in the harbor's channel until several tugs were available to push her onto her very well fendered pier. That all made for some exciting radio traffic while we hung in the cockpit and watched.

After that, we watched through the night until about 2300 when the wind dropped down to about 20 kts and relative calm. We set various alarms in the boat to alert us if our anchor slipped again, then turned in for a surprisingly comfortable night rocking in the bosom of the sea.

By morning we could assess. AT EASE was fine and her dinghy in tow was fine, although filled with water from the rain. The wind generator was still seized. Likely a magnet had been tossed from the armature and jammed the shaft. The propellers had continued to turn in the high wind, jamming the propeller hub onto the steel shaft until the hub met the housing which stopped it all abruptly.

I called the area distributor for the wind generator and he agreed with me regarding the diagnostics… and promptly volunteered that we needed a new unit to replace our generator. He got right on it, calling the manufacturer in Trinidad, who we know from our time in Chagaramas, to replace the unit with a newly re-engineered model to correct the problem we had encountered. He did warn us, however, that Carnival was ongoing in Trinidad and there was little guarantee we would find anyone there sober enough to get a new unit in the mail in the immediate future. Well… of course.

The rest of the day has been spent in 15-25 kt winds and 2-3' white caps in the harbor. Even in the 80 degree weather, the wind is enough to make things chilly. This is a Key West we recognize. In spite of it all, Shirley and I have been comfortable on the boat, reading and taking care of various matters with our cell phones and email, even packing away winter clothing, as we rock and pitch and roll and bounce in the churned up bay. A large, probably 100', English ketch has anchored just in front of us and another, somewhat worn, English ketch of about our size has anchor to our stern. People come and go. This has always been a busy harbor.

As night fell, still in 20 kt winds and choppy seas, the schooners, those excursion boats that had taken such a beating the night before, moved majestically out of the Bight with sails aloft (and motoring I'm sure) with their new loads of excursion tourists for a sunset "sail" in the harbor.

This too shall pass.


 We entered Tarpon Springs on the 22nd, up a long sea channel then a dead slow motor (Manatee area) up the several miles of the Anoclote River until we reached the old historic Greek district and there tied up at the Pappas Restaurant courtesy dock for an over night stay. The trip in is breathtaking. The mangrove swamps gradually change to an attractive mix of high dollar Florida and residuals of a working fishing and sponge diving harbor. The farther one motors, the more the banks are lined with both large and small, old and new marinas and docks and wharves, sometimes with multiple boats rafted alongside. The Greek district is lively with loud Greek music, restaurant after restaurant with Greek heritage proclaimed, and interspersed with shops selling shells, the ubiquitous t-shirts and garments, Greek fishermen's hats (of course), and sponges of all descriptions. There is a festive air with the colorful boats, tourists and music… the warm sunshine doesn't detract from that a bit… and both Shirley and I felt growing anticipation. As we eased alongside the pier to tie up, Shirley spotted a familiar sight. Tied up just ahead was DREAM WEAVER, Tom and Pat Weaver, with Pat on the fantail waving a greeting. We had last seen them some week or more ago when they left Ocean Springs on their own migration south.

We arrived after 1730 on Saturday, the 21st, so, alas, no fuel available until Monday. We opted to stay overnight, have a good meal and a good rest, then spend the morning being tourists. After wandering the streets, buying our share of tourists stuff, including sponges of course, we were ready to cast off.

In warm sunshine, just before noon, we backed off the pier and slowly headed back down the river, threading through the colorful boats on either side. We even added to the color. It's always a bit surprising to see the tourists, just 10-20 yards away, turning to stare, to take pictures, to smile and wave, as we motored by. I had time to suck in my stomach and, I'm sure, stood a bit taller at the helm as I assumed what I'm sure was a nonchalant and salty air.

Offshore, the breeze was fickle and faint. Nevertheless, we determined to sail… even wing on wing with the pole out, twisting this way and that looking for usable air. Sail we did… about 1-2 kts in 5-6 kt breezes from the stern quarter. It was frustrating.

The interminable radio traffic just added to the frustration. That close inshore there are boats everywhere each with a plume of water rising from the stern and an active radio.. Between the quasi-ads by the towing companies ("This is Sea Tow on channel 16. For that radio check with Sea Tow Captain join Sea Tow on channel 11… Sea Tow clear.") and the chatter by others, with occasional curses and threats directed boater to boater, I believe boaters in Florida clearly spend the majority of their time either motoring very fast or playing with their radios asking for radio checks.

The afternoon trickled by but we stubbornly clung to those sails until after 1500 when we began to motorsail at low speed. We continued this until dark when I took the pole in just to simplify our rig, and until 1940 when enough breeze began to blow to move us, again at a creep.

After dark, a light fog moved in and the moon, the stars, even our masthead light took on a fuzzy glow. Around us, I could hear a pod of dolphins each time they broke the surface to breath. For an hour they came and went. It was too dark to see them but several times I stood at the rail, peering out. Then, suddenly, beautiful tracers of phosphorescence, 10-15 feet long, three or four at a time, as the dolphins dove under the boat and raced away to the stern, some turning sharply, some breaking the surface in a spray of light, others sounding. I called Shirley to the cockpit… in time to see yet another run. All too soon the show was over.

Just after midnight the wind failed and we motored again until 0445. Magically, the wind built, from the beam (east) and even reached the breakneck speed of 10 kts for awhile, so off went the engine. By dawn the wind was clocking to the east, forecasters said it would move to the south, and we were moving along at about 4 kts. A pod of dolphins tagged along for some time, perhaps the same pod back for another show. Miracle of miracles… the wind persisted into the morning and to the afternoon. How delightful. Sailing at modest speed through generally calm, deep blue seas, under a clear, blue sky and bright sun. It's rare… but sometimes it does come all together and make up for the bashing and trashing that can be so uncomfortable.

We had a marvelous sail throughout the day although the clocking wind kept moving us further west than we wanted. About dark, we tacked to move more to the east and position ourselves better for the run to the Keys. With a Shirley-meal of baked chicken and dressing, and a fresh salad, we settled in for our evening watches. By 2300 we tacked back to a southern heading but had to add some engine power to make that course into the increasing sea state. Midnight… another great day at sea. Looks like we will arrive in the Keys sometime tomorrow evening. It's clearly warmer. The sea is clearly a deeper blue. It all feels pleasantly familiar.


We got through the night without incident, were towed to a nearby marina the next morning, and had mechanics aboard before noon.  By mid afternoon, the transmission had been largely repaired and was functional.  The output shaft coupling had failed after securing bolts had loosened.  This allowed the fluid to drain. The oil seal had been abused enough that even after reassembly some seepage seemed to occur. With warnings to frequently monitor the fluid level, they declared the unit serviceable, collected their pounds of flesh and departed to tend to other troubled machinery.

We could be off!  Well, not really.  There was a marvelous 18 kt breeze, perfect for blowing us across the Gulf, but now penning us to the side of the pier.  There had been two marvelous days of blustery winds from the right directions, a perfect weather window, and we had lost both as a result of needed repairs. Drats!  We sat until dark when the wind abated then moved off to anchor anew, deciding that we would rather "test" the repaired transmission in the daylight rather than try to run the pass at night. One more day of decent weather was forecast before high pressure and calm winds set in.  Then it would be another two days before the next front passed providing energy for us to sail.

The morrow dawned and up we jumped to get underway.  Clear skies and dead calm air all about.  Hoping that the offshore forecast was more accurate than our jaded eyes, we motored off into a greasy flat Gulf, looking a bit silly with the hoisted main reefed down for the forecast 20 kt winds, flapping in the faint breeze we created driving through the still air.

By mid afternoon a breeze developed but from the southwest slipping more toward the south.  Through the rest of the afternoon the breeze built until by 1900 we were sailing on a beat into growing and confused waves.  The ride became progressively more active and the crews coping more athletic.  Saylor, adopting her usual rough seas stance, hunkered down on the low settee and claim the space as her own.  Heeled over sharply in the now 20+ kt winds, increasingly battering and bashing her way through the growing waves, AT EASE took care of her self.  The wind continued to push our course more to the east until rather than 150 we were heading 100 degrees or less.  I finally settled on a reefed main and yankee foresail to contend with the now 25 kt apparent wind and 3-4' and very short interval seas. Watching standing through the night exhausted us both.  We could put the boat on autopilot, even tell the autopilot to maintain course based on wind angle versus course to minimize sail trim, but the buffeting and battering and constant position adjustments was more like a marathon of isometric exercises than a ride.  

We had even more excitement overnight.  Sitting in the cockpit, I thought I saw a red flare high on the eastern horizon.   Watching this quarter, I saw another.  Then a third, bursting high with no trail going up and lasting something like 3-5 seconds before burning out.  The "flares", if indeed they were, were clearly a great distance away, and in the direction of Eglin Air Force Base where any number of exercises involved pyrotechnics.  I decided, nevertheless to contact the Coast Guard.  Calling on the VHF was, not surprisingly, unsuccessful.  We were just too far out.  I called each of the 8 Coast Guard frequencies known to me on the SSB, including the identified emergency frequency, with no response for some 15 minutes and then got a faint, broken response from Coast Guard Group Charleston (SC).  With much effort, I passed my information along and gave a position report.  They wanted more information but communications were too poor.  They told me to standby the emergency frequency.  I assumed they would have another Coast Guard facility, one nearer, contact me.  I never heard anything else.

By morning, the forecasts were obviously wrong.  Rather than a strong , dominating high, we had low and dark clouds from horizon to horizon with stable wind from the SSW and building seas with now 6' and some 8'' waves slowing our passage,  A twin engine plane approached, circled us, probably taking pictures, and then departed.  I suspect it was a patrol plane clearing the area for announced live fire exercises just north of us. AT EASE surged ahead, crashing from trough to crest and flinging sheets of spray to drench her length.  We could stand, even sit beneath her dodger with some comfort but the constant need to shift, to hang on, to brace against the action is telling.  

New forecasts called for a shift to a NW wind overnight as this rather rapidly moving front passed. With a NW wind the seas would settle and we would have a beam to broad reach sail south to Key West, still some 300 NM distant.  My confidence in the forecasters was somewhat shaken.  Sounded good, but…

In one of my sorties to check the engine room and transmission, I noticed some area of wetness and then some leaking water around the base of a thru hull that drains the cockpit. As the larger waves surged beneath AT EASE, the overpressure pushed a pulse of water into the hull. Certainly not alarming, our automatic bilge pumps could certainly cope, but a situation that warranted some watching and concern.  

Decision made.  We are diverting to Tarpon Springs, a harbor we have heard good things a bout but have never visited, to await more settle and stable weather for the run south and to evaluate this new leak in a safer setting than 150 NM offshore.   


AT EASE is underway again. We departed Ocean Springs harbor about 1100 and motored out through the channel, through Dog Key Pass just to the west of Horn Island, and followed the fairways east to stay out of the numerous well heads and oil rigs.  West of Pascagoula we overtook and passed a huge offshore oil platform, a spar, floating on its side and being towed by two ocean going tugs. By dark we were ready for our turn to the southeast, still in a fairway or sea lane.  It's continually surprising just how cluttered, how crowded it is out here with all the oil platforms alight and with ships here and there, some anchored, waiting their turn, and others moving about. There were lights and radar contacts all around us.

Around 2200 we had some building wind so hoisted the main to motorsail. With a loud pop, the main collapsed.  The shackle was still on the sail so either the halyard's knot had slipped or the halyard had broken. This is an internal halyard and surely the free end had fallen back down inside the mast. We had a conference… less than one day out on a five day voyage and no mainsail.  We decided to divert into Pensacola to find some quiet water before we went up the mast for repairs.

At dawn we were off the sea channel leading through Pensacola Pass and into Pensacola Bay.  The radio came alive with a call from a Navy warship to the vessel which just happened to be at precisely the same latitude and longitude as AT EASE.  I answered.  "Well", they said, "we just happen to be going there too… will enter the channel in the next 10 minutes… and we require a minimum 1.5 NM separation."  

"Let's see", said I.  "Big ship… big guns… he wins."  We vacated the channel, waited until he had passed and, just for good measure, also waited for the trailing Naval research vessel following to enter, then made our way into the Bay.  We motored into Palafox Pier for fuel and arranged to hang on the fuel dock in sheltered water long enough to repair the main halyard.  Shirley volunteered to ride the bosun's chair aloft while I cranked away on the winch.  Once there we got the obligatory pictures out of the way, then she reefed a messenger lined across the sheave and fed it down inside the mast where, with my ever useful hemostat, clamped on and fed it back out of the base of the mast.  I then attached the halyard and Shirley tugged it back up and out over the sheave to feed it down where I reattached the halyard to the main.  Job done.  Well, not quite.  We still had to get Shirley down from the top of the mast and she was beginning to report how uncomfortable the bosun's chair was becoming… actually reporting on this pretty regularly by now.  Down she came… just barely fast enough.  

"Our troubles were over", we said.  We cast off lines and motored out of the harbor planning to run the pass and head offshore once again.  I took advantage of the cell phone coverage to call our boat insurance company just to confirm that all the paperwork was completed.  Nope!  Getting this insurance active has taken over two months, form after form, but another form suddenly needed completion. AT EASE turned around inside the pass, motored through the ICW and moved off to anchor behind Perdido Key while we awaited the new form to arrive as an email attachment.  It actually did pretty quickly.  I completed the form and immediately emailed it back… but it was drawing nigh the end of the work day in southern Florida so nothing happened before dark.  We opted to stay.

But first, I decided to challenge the rather hastily dropped anchor.  Backing down, the anchor drug… and drug… and drug.  Multiple sets, multiple anchors and multiple drags later we moved to another bay, just a mile or so away, to try again.  I dropped the anchor and shifted to back down.  I called Shirley to the cockpit with the reassuring "You ain't gonna believe this!"

The transmission failed.  I knew immediately the prop was not turning.  Dashing below, I opened the engine compartment and confirmed my hunch.  Transmission fluid in the bilge but not in the transmission.  The shift lever worked, it was going in gear but not engaging. Something was amiss.

Disgusted, I called the company where we have towing insurance and got the name of a local provider.  I arranged with him to tow us to a marina the next day and asked him to arrange for a service call by mechanics.  I also set the stage for a possible emergency response later in the evening.  We were expecting winds upwards of 20 kts beginning after midnight.  On our untested anchor, I was less than confident we would stay put.  They agreed to stand by...  standing by in their beds I'm sure.


Departure looms!  AT EASE has been tied up at the pier since November, with the exception of one outing in late December.  She floats, even out of the mud when the tide is in, but hasn't had opportunity to swim.  This terribly shoal harbor is being dredged even as we speak.  A huge crane, mounted on a barge, is lifting buckets of muck to dump into another barge which then is tugged somewhere to deposit the smelly mess on some less than friendly shore. We will have to leave the slip in the next few days anyway,  the turbulence from the dredge is rocking us even now, to make room for the dredge to work, so the departure date works out about right.  

We're looking for a friendly front, one with winds in the 15-25 kt range and from just about anywhere but the southeast.  Fronts pass through every 3-5 days so it's something like waiting for the right bus.  With the right weather, we will depart for the 4-5 day (500 NM) run across the Gulf of Mexico to make landfall at Key West. AT EASE is in good shape.  The windlass electric motor decided to die and that was rebuilt after we (1) discovered the motor was English and (2) found a supplier with an appropriate armature in Canada.  While we were at it, we replaced the old control box with a new solenoid and circuit breaker and cleaned up corrosion in the deck foot switch that activates the beast and replaced wiring from the solenoid to the windlass motor.  We've obviously added significant power.  I wonder how long this rebuild will last.

We've had some refrigeration problems as well.  In the course of cleaning the refrigerator we broke a capillary line, the one with internal gas that senses temperature and turns on or off, hence the thermostat quit working.  We can still work the unit manually, jumping across the leads to the defunct thermostat. The first replacement  thermostat ran all the time… continuity checks confirmed the switch was frozen shut.  The second ran for part of a day, shut off and never came on again. Continuity checks confirmed it was an open switch. The third did the same.  Too many failures for coincidence.  I investigated further.  After the last switch was out of the refrigerator for some time, an hour or so, continuity checks indicated the thing was workable again but as soon as I replaced it in the unit, it cycled on then off and stayed off.  Phone calls to the manufacturers technical support people, and to the distribution company brought puzzled responses. "Aha", cried one.  "I wonder", he said, "if that unit had a freezer thermostat, versus a refrigerator thermostat, installed when new.  The new unit is awaiting pickup across town and that mystery will be solved today.

We've had wonderful times here over the holidays.  The impromptu parties along the waterfront, in one boat or another, have been delightful… and frequent.  Essentially each evening, five'ish or so, the faithful gather.  Not infrequently, these gatherings lead to a sortie to one or another of the excellent local restaurants for dinner.  Interspersed throughout are dinner parties, side trips to New Orleans, more formal gatherings, and, of course, shared projects working on one boat or another. Each Sunday, the crew of AT EASE is delivered to a local casino where the special Champaign brunch of all the Dungeness crab one can eat is attacked with gusto.  I've even had the wonderful luxury of seeing old and dear Navy friends and even participating in two great duck hunts (except for the few ducks) in the wilds of Mississippi.  I still don't understand how Greenwood, MS, a city of some 25,000, is able to support three absolutely superb restaurants, the equal of anything I've experienced even in New Orleans.

But now it's time to sort out the weather pictures, make some educated guesses about the weather flow, and pick the time to cast off those entangling shore lines, power, water and emotional, and return AT EASE to a semi-independent cruising status.  Slowly the interior of the boat, which had taken on features of a shore side condo, begins to look ocean capable again. Each morning I download the weather faxes and ponder symbols as if I knew what I was doing.  Each day we refine the list of exactly what we will take on board as we provision for departure.  Each day we come closer to another Bon Voyage Party after which we know they will really expect us to leave.  And each day we really are closer to being ready to leave.

Bill & Shirley Martin aboard At Ease

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