Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sandwiched Between Two Squalls

"All the little boats are going in. Should we take the hint and follow them?" Lance was standing amidship, the mainsheet in his hand, squinting at the stream of little sailboats high-tailing it for the safety of their slips in the Oriental Harbor Village Marina.

The line of demarcation between squalls

We were on a downwind run with all three sails out. For the first time, I was sailing wing on wing on wing; something I'd been wanting to try since I first saw this boat in the yard.

Sailing wing on wing on wing

We had been watching the storm raging over the town of Oriental for some time. The wall of black sky which had approached from the West was still hugging the shoreline. The town was getting battered. It wasn't bothering us at all out on the river. In fact we were quite enjoying the lightning show. Over there.

"Nah" I said dismissively. "We don't want to try to dock in that, besides if we hang out here long enough it should blow away on its own. Then we'll go in when it's calm." I surreptitiously adjusted the wheel just a scooch to keep the boom on the downwind side, once again it was trying to jibe in the gusty blasts and I was enjoying the cat-and-mouse game of keeping the sails on their proper side.

Less than 20 minutes later the alarm on the VHF radio went off. When Lance pressed the stop alarm button we were directed to the weather channel.

Sustained winds of 45 expected, gusts to 65. Quick-moving weather front crossing Emerald Isle and heading North. Steady lightning and thunder, golf ball-sized hail expected. All boats should seek immediate shelter.

"Where is Emerald Isle?" Lance asked. I shrugged. I assumed it had something to do with the storm we were watching - that squall was still raging over Oriental and now we were all alone on the Neuse River except for the shrimp boats which had suddenly appeared from thin air and were screaming towards us from every direction.

I wonder where they're going I thought to myself, and turned Minerva to fall in with them. It was then that I saw another black wall coming towards us from the other side of the river, and they were heading directly into its outside edge posthaste. This second squall had sneaked in behind us and was closing on us quickly. We got the sails down and secured just in time for the first blast of wind and whipped up water.

Minerva rocked sideways like she'd been slapped in the face, then popped right in to the boiling waves that followed behind the wind surge and stubbornly held her course. Lance and I exchanged wide-eyed glances. That blast would have pinned us down for a while in any of our previous sailboats and we definitely would have been wrestling for control with the subsequent whirlpool wave action. But Minerva took it like a professional boxer with a "that all you got kid?" smirk. My soul filled with pride and relief. We had chosen well. This boat can handle herself in a blow.

We quickly decided the best course of action was to follow the shrimp boats into the narrow and protected channel of Adams Creek on the South side of the Neuse River. Once we got past the tree line the wind and waves settled right down. We found a shallow spot out of the channel and settled the anchor. Lance started dinner while I pulled out the map and found Emerald Isle. Yep, it was just South of us. The strongest wind we clocked on our short journey in was 35 knots so it had lost some steam on its short ride from the Outer Banks to us on the Inner Banks.

Sailing into our sunset slip

The squalls here are fierce but generally short-lived. By the time I'd cleaned up the dinner dishes we were treated to a peaceful ride home under a spectacular pink sunset.

Note to self: when studying the charts and planning the daily sail, also take a moment to look over Google Maps and become aware of the nearby towns and their relationship to the day's planned sail. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Becoming Liveaboards, motoring along the ICW

Motoring down the ICW on the 4th of July

The hot and wet weather continues. We attack the projects and escape the dock with Minerva when weather permits.

True to our RV lifestyle, flexibility is king, and having two piles of things to do: a rainy day pile and a pile for stolen sunny moments is the way to continue making forward progress.

Loretta in RV jail, waiting patiently for November

We finished scrubbing down Loretta and parked her in the covered parking facility. She'll be safe there for the time being. The plan is to do a shake-down cruise up the NorthEast coast and return to this area in November, swap out boat life for RV life for the month of December in the Keys with our RV friends. We've decided to park Mr. Toad with Loretta until we come to some long-term decisions. By November we'll know how we feel about the boat. One of several things will happen in January depending on how the summer/fall shakedown cruise goes:
  • The RV might get sold, which would be better for her than waiting and aging if we decide to do a long extended cruise around the Caribbean and beyond.
  • The boat might want significant upgrades which would be easier accomplished while we keep the RV as a home base nearby.
  • We might store the RV after our December outing and split our cruising lives in half, with some land-based and some boat-based travel each year.

Our first ever raft-up. From here we had the best view of dueling 4th of July fireworks shows.

With Loretta secured and us finally moved fully aboard the boat, we officially exchanged our nomad titles of full-timers for a new title of liveaboards.

Our planned harbor-hopping route North has been complicated by COVID-19. As of this morning, many of the harbors we were planning to explore are not accepting transient boaters from states that have out-of-control new Corona Virus case numbers, and NC is one of those at the moment. Nova Scotia is definitely off the table since Canada is completely closed to Americans, some states including Maine and New York insist on a two-week quarantine upon arrival. Our harbor-hopping summer plans have therefore become a bit trickier to work out.

One thought is to just kick out into the open ocean, hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream and sail directly to Maine. We could provision for the open ocean trip and the two weeks of quarantine upon arrival, but this is rather varsity-level considering that we haven't had a chance to really get to know Minerva yet. With all this uncertainty we reluctantly agreed to extend another month's rent in Oriental, into the official hurricane season of July, hoping the state restrictions will lift and that we will be welcomed in the NorthEast states for harbor-hopping as originally planned. We'll get out for more local sailing outings and continue getting to know Minerva, by early August we'll be leaving one way or the other. We finished our Tier 1 To Do List and pulled a few items forward from Tier 2. The completion of the Tier 1 list means Minerva is ready to flee the moment a named storm threatens. I start each day checking several weather sources, probably my daily routine for the foreseeable future.

Tug on the ICW sharing a very narrow channel. This one was heading to rescue a barge that was stuck in the shallows.

From the Tier 2 list: get comfortable with GPS routing. That's proving to be a bit more difficult than I expected, the new chartplotter is a lot different from the simple ones we had on previous boats. We followed a friend on his boat South on the ICW for 17 miles to watch a fireworks show, and there really isn't a better way of being forced into learning the GPS than in the narrow channels of the ICW. Here's an example of what we've experienced:

Phoenix picking her way along the ICW on the 4th of July

This is the sailboat Phoenix belonging to our friend Scott, she is a 44' Kelly Petersen. She draws about as much water as we do (depth needed below the waterline not to scuff the seafloor), and Scott knows these waters well, so we followed him down the ICW for the fireworks show. In this picture he's about 200 yards ahead of us. The channel he is in is about 10' wide and about 15' deep and he's currently heading perpendicular to the natural path of the river - in other words he's headed sideways towards the West shore. To his left (port) side the water is about 2' deep. To his right (starboard) side the water is 3' deep. The waters are strong-tea brown from tree tannins, so it's impossible to see through them to get a real understanding of the bottom contours. Can you see the difference between the 15' deep water, the 2' water, or the 3' water? Neither can we. And to us it was unnatural that he was going sideways to our intended direction of travel.

So there we were, happily following along behind him and mostly following along as he jogged here and there for seemingly no reason, we were sort of rounding off the corners of his jogs while chatting with our friends who hitched a ride with us for the outing, when Scott came over the radio and strongly suggested we come back to starboard soon because we'd drifted off course. A quick look at the GPS - yikes - we were heading into 2' water.

From then on we were glued to the GPS. There were no groundings that day, but I see how there could easily become some in the future. Boaters say "there are two types of boaters, those who have run aground and those who will". Yep, our day is coming. We will pay better attention in the future to avoid becoming "those who have" but freely admit it's probably just a matter of time until we scuff our share of soft ICW mud.

Typical waterfront homes in the area known as Sea Gate along the ICW on the way to Morehead City

After the fireworks show it was quite late; Scott and his family chose to sleep on the hook (at anchor) in Beaufort. We decided to motor back up the ICW to return our guests home with just the stars and occasional marker or house lights to keep us company as we motored quietly by. I do love night sailing, and it was easy enough to follow our GPS bread crumbs back home.

Chloe enjoying the breeze

We're hoping for lots more outings like this in July.