Looking for a Rising Tide

Mosey On and crew have begun our 2016 northbound cruise, leaving our home port at River Dunes, NC on June 1st  in tandem with good friends aboard their trawler, the Mari Me.  We would ‘buddy-boat’ the well-traveled route up the Neuse River to Pamlico Sound, the Pamlico River to the Pungo River, to join with the Alligator River north to Albemarle Sound.  We crossed just ahead of the weather system offshore named Tropical Storm Bonnie.  The shallow waters and stiff, wind-blown chop of the Sound littered with crab pots (traps) in our path all lived up to their reputation for a challenging crossing.  Once across, we were back within the protected waters of the North River, Coinjock Bay, Currituck Sound, the North Landing River, and finally the man-made Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal into Norfolk.  For those who have not seen the American Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW), aka “The Ditch”, our four day passage from near Oriental, NC to Norfolk (approx. 175 statute miles) was typical of the waterway all the way down to its southern end in Biscayne Bay, FL.  Always shallow, sometimes a ditch, more often a river or a series of markers to follow across tidal flats and marshes, navigating the ICW is a fact of life for cruisers along the mid-Atlantic coast.  From our home port, we would otherwise have had to travel a day south to Beaufort, NC (toward the northbound Tropical Storm Bonnie) to reach a passage to the ocean.  Only then could we have turned the boats northward and around Cape Hatteras to safe harbor in Norfolk.

Crossing the Albemarle

Glamour Shot

Aboard Mosey On this summer, “The Plan” [very broadly constructed] is to cruise Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and backwaters with an emphasis on the Bay’s Eastern Shore.  We want to check out the old waterman towns like Cape Charles, Onancock, Crisfield, Oxford, Cambridge, and St. Michaels.  We’ll explore the Choptank River (site of Michener’s book “Chesapeake”), the Wye River (a favorite of ours), and the Chester River, meandering up (not surprisingly) to Chestertown, MD.  To do all this, Mosey On and crew will be dealing with lots of shallow water.  Last summer’s cruise to Maine was almost entirely in deep waters with wide tidal swings. In the rock strewn harbors and passages there, we were extra cautious to keep sufficient water beneath Mosey’s keel to avoid any granite surprises.  But to explore the Chesapeake, we will have to use the high tides to get over the shallow spots en route to a deeper anchorage or marina.  Once there, we may find Mosey On comfortably planted in the soft mud on the bottom.  To leave, we will just have to await the next high.  It’s a mental adjustment for me, but that’s how it’s been done for hundreds of years!  Mosey On is tied-up in just such a shallow cove up the North River off Mobjack Bay.  It’s a very hot weekend and we’re in no rush.  A blue heron is stalking the shore for lunch and we’ve seen crabs swimming past the stern.  In a few days we’ll slip over the shallows on a high tide and head north to Solomons Island and a visit with family.   I think it’s a GOOD PLAN so far….

Too Hot to Mosey On….

Fitz

Sometimes you need a helping hand….

The Admiral (Colleen) is back on-board, which means (among a host of things) that Moseyin’ can confidently resume. While she was on shore-leave for almost two weeks to welcome our new baby granddaughter, I made two short hops from Belfast to Castine and back. I waited for benign winds and seas, sunny skies, and favorable tidal currents. Wind and current are the main concerns when maneuvering Mosey On in close quarters. Normally, we have ample power and directional control to keep her in hand at all times. We can also use our dock lines to counteract an adverse current as we may need to move the bow or stern away from the dock without threatening boats tied-up in front or behind us. You can read all about it, understand the techniques, but experience and coordination between captain and crew keep the blood pressure within limits! Getting away from the dock in Belfast was really just a problem of preparing Mosey On to be able to go clear ahead as the last line was let go.  It was ultimately the stern line holding Mosey in her spot alongside the dock against the current which prevented her from being pushed into the yacht tied-up ahead. Mosey On has an auxiliary throttle and rudder control in the starboard stern.  This is also where the stern dock line was tied. So the plan was: 1) Check that there was no traffic approaching from ahead or astern 2) from the pilothouse, swing the bow to port (away from the dock) about 45 degrees using the side thruster 3) step quickly aft to untie the stern and using the auxiliary throttle, power forward on the main engine 4) return as quickly to the pilothouse and helm Mosey On out of the harbor. The plan went smoothly enough, but if it sounds a bit like a fire-drill….

When I got to Castine, a friend had graciously offered me the use of his mooring (a buoy about 3′ in diameter, supporting a length of chain secured to a large granite block on the harbor bottom. A heavy mooring rope is usually attached to a ring on the ball.) This mooring was most welcome, as it put off the issue of docking single-handed. All I had to do was approach the mooring ball from down-wind or down-current (whichever was stronger), bring her to a dead stop, then leave the helm and run forward to the bow. There, reach down with the boat hook to grab the attached line to bring it aboard and cleat it down.  After a brief tussle securing the heavy line (as Mosey On was ever-ready to drift away) I declared victory and resolved to stay put until I had a good reason to move Mosey again!

That good reason came when I heard from Colleen that she’d be returning to Belfast on Friday. I started thinking again about how I might bring Mosey On back to the dock… I’ve seen many skippers of small powerboats pull up to a dock, step off the boat with a line in hand, and make fast. If the boat is still moving (slowly) they are strong enough to hold her by hand or with a line on a cleat. To leave, that same skipper can usually just untie, push off the dock as he steps aboard and be on his way. You can’t step off Mosey On (jump… and hope to land on the dock uninjured perhaps…)! And I’m too old to even think of trying to stop a moving Mosey On by myself with one dock line! (That’s where that big John Deere diesel is applied in reverse.)  So if I’m to control her with power and thrust as we approach a dock, who’s got the dock lines to tie her up? We aspire to the cruisers creed of self-reliance. But single-handed on Mosey On…I discovered that sometimes you must depend on the aid of others. Boaters know this, and will almost always lend that hand.

Grizzled Single-Hander

Grizzled Single-Hander

I also learned that while single-handing Mosey On is doable, I’d really rather not…

Moseyin’ On…..together again.

In the Foggy Dew

Mosey On has made it to Maine!  The Maine of rocky shorelines, tall green pine, lobster pots beyond number and, of course, fog.  We left Portsmouth, NH toward the end of an ebb tide bound for Portland, ME (a passage planned for about 7 hours at Moseyin’ speed).  The day was fair, the seas small and we looked to be comfortably anchored in an island cove in Casco Bay with a view of Portland by late afternoon.  But as often happens in Maine this time of year, the air temperature was fast approaching the dew point along the coast.  About halfway to Portland, abeam Biddeford Pool, the visibility dropped from several miles to perhaps 1/8th of a mile in the span of a few minutes.  We lit up both of our radars, activated our fog horn, slowed down (a relative term), and the crew went on high alert to avoid entanglement with the ever-present lobster pots and any sign of other marine traffic.  We knew where we were by means of our electronics.  We had to focus on our radar to give us some warning of other boats.  But small vessels and/or those made of wood are more difficult to discern on our radar.  So we stared into the enveloping gloom for a shadow or hint of movement in our path.  We had to trust that other mariners were doing likewise.

Not Much To See

Not Much To See

As the fog showed no signs of abating, and at our slowed speed, we realized that we would be arriving in the islands off Portland after dark.  Finding a safe anchorage in a little cove in the dark would be tough.  With the fog, we thought it foolhardy and so plotted a course for Portland’s inner harbor where we might find a safe mooring in a marina.  The challenge would be to navigate safely among the considerable commercial traffic working this busy port.  Like all ports, the safest approaches are well marked with buoys port and starboard to funnel the traffic in or out.  We picked out the pair of entrance buoys on the radar and aligned our approach up the channel towards Portland. A tall red sea buoy ghosted past our starboard side. We never saw its paired buoy to port. Within a few minutes, radar indicated a substantial vessel fast approaching from the stern.  Shortly thereafter, a 60’ whale watch tourist boat roared past to port…..more evident by the sound of its engines than its ghostly profile 150’ away.   Mosey continued on as the evening grew darker with no sign of the lights of Portland.  Darkness would compound our difficulties avoiding a collision.

Then, across the radio, came a call with which I was totally familiar, but had never heard before on the water.  “Security Call.  This is Odyssey.  We are at the Jordan Reef buoy, proceeding to the Delta (D) buoy, inbound to Portland.  We are monitoring (channel) 16 and 13 for any concerned traffic. Odyssey standing-by.”  This was the form of an aviation positon report used by pilots where radar coverage to provide aircraft separation by a controlling agency is not available.  It was broadcast on the frequency we boaters are required to monitor at all times.  There was no agency managing marine traffic entering Portland harbor and now we all knew where Odyssey was, her course up the channel, and her ultimate destination.  It was clear, simple, useful…..in my eyes, a terrific call by Odyssey’s captain.  I immediately understood that Mosey On was approximately ¼ mile astern and on the same course.  As we proceeded up the channel passing “Jordan Reef”, “Delta”, and subsequent buoys we echoed Odyssey and gave our own updated position reports.   Other vessels then chimed-in giving notice of their identifiable positions and intentions.  Those mariners who may have chosen to remain silent in the fog at least knew where we were!  The electronic aids are marvelous for those who have and know how to use them.  But the verbal positon report was a positive confirmation of a boat’s position and direction for anyone with a chart or familiarity with the buoy system.

Mosey On made it safely to her mooring due, in part, to the good seamanship of Odyssey and the many other unseen boats and crews that spooky night.

Moseyin’ (Carefully) Along

Destination …….Missing

Last evening, in beautiful weather, Mosey On & Crew completed our longest passage ever – Cape May, NJ to The Great Salt Pond on Block Island, RI.  It took us 34 hours, 60 gallons of Diesel, several pots of coffee, and at least 12 hours of lost sleep.  We had planned to leave Cape May on Sunday, but the weather window opened early on Saturday with beautifully benign (read somewhat calm) seas and promised to close again on Monday.  As we sit here snug on our anchor with gusty wind and rain squalls sweeping the anchorage, I can attest to the timeliness and accuracy of that forecast.

Sunset Off New York

Sunset Off New York

We learned several things from this passage.  It’s truly important to maintain a disciplined routine while on watch and make those regular log entries.  The chores keep the mind focused when the body would rather be asleep.  And a focused mind is critical to safely navigate around other vessels in the dark of night or fog.  As our route took us perpendicular to the main shipping lanes into and out of New York harbor, we also logged some practical experience with our two radars and an electronic collision avoidance system called AIS.  Commercial vessels are required to transmit their GPS position, speed, course and other data via a transponder just as commercial aircraft do.  A receiver on Mosey On can read this data and display it on our navigation computer screens.  Incentivized to avoid any close encounter, we spent hours exploring the features that clever software can provide from such data.  Not to get too arcane, but my personal favorite is the dynamic solution of “Closest Point of Approach”….or by how much will we miss each other?  (The hairy computations can be found at http://geomalgorithms.com/a07-_distance.html .)   On Mosey On, we just select a data display.  Do we hold our course, or turn to pass behind them?  At our stately 6 knots, scurrying across in front of large ships is not a sound choice.  Before we travel much further, we will be adding the AIS transmit feature to Mosey On.  It just might help some bleary-eyed sailor avoid running into us!

Sunrise Off Long Island

Sunrise Off Long Island

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Colleen and I have long used ‘paper charts’ wherever we’ve gone. (We still carry AAA maps in the car.)   Their electronic derivatives are marvelous:  easy to use, easily updated, packed with useful information.  They are as accurate as the paper charts from which their graphical data is loaded.  Soooo….as part of our navigation planning for this passage, Colleen and I chose an ocean buoy that essentially marked an entrance off Montauk Point, Long Island to Block Island from the Atlantic.  Technically, it was a  ”Safe Water” buoy: red & white with a whistle…..no danger, just a “you are here” sort of reference.   And that’s what we were looking for to plot our course and measure against our progress (distance to go) on this passage.  We could measure that progress with the traditional navigator tools of parallel rules and dividers, etc.  Or…we could select it by touching its graphical representation on our electronic charts.  In this way we could see both our position and desired course and distance to this buoy off Block Island.  And so we set off.  For the next 33 hours, everything coincided: paper charts, derived positions, radar plots, and electronic charts.  But in that final hour, something was amiss.  For all our diligence, we could not see the buoy.  It was not where it was supposed to be.  It was…missing.    We had wanted to photograph it as a memento of this, our longest ocean passage. A let-down, not a disaster.  Like a base runner, we touched on the spot (Lat. /Long) where it should have been, then turned for the entrance to The Great Salt Pond.

Knowing where you are and where you are going is more valuable than the signposts along the way.

Moseyin’ On

Train Day in Norfolk

Remember a summer vacation when the car was all loaded, highway maps properly folded and scattered about the car, the eager anticipation to hit the open road and a new adventure?  But first, you had to get out of town:  the traffic congestion, missed traffic lights, and a slow moving freight train blocking a crossing.  Well, yesterday was Train Day in the Port of Norfolk.  Think how often you’ve seen a real train on a railroad bridge.  Though such bridges dot the landscape in older industrial cities, they’re often perpetually lifted open and/or seldom ever used.  Imagine our surprise then to encounter not one, but three railroad bridges across the Elizabeth River not only down, but with those slow freights doing their normal roll a few feet, stop, roll a few more.  No Hi-Balling here.  I am reminded by someone that this is a port after all…

View From Our Bridge

Mosey On had set off Wednesday AM from her overnight berth up the river that has carried the Port traffic through the heart of Norfolk, and we anticipated the broad reaches of the lower Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic beyond.  We had ‘miles to go before we sleep’…141 nautical miles to be exact.   But we were side-tracked by not one, but three railroad trains blocking Mosey On’s path to the sea.  It almost seems symbolic – this ‘waiting on bridges’.  Our efforts depend upon these obstacles to be removed from our path, and we are often powerless to do it ourselves or circumvent them in any reasonable way.  We rail at the inconvenience, the delay….but they serve a very real purpose, albeit for someone else.

In due time, both the trains and Mosey On rolled on.  We dropped anchor in Cape May, NJ 24 hours later and secured for some serious napping.

Moseyin’ On to Block Island on Sunday.

“On The Road Again”

With all due credit and our apologies to Willie Nelson, that’s the tune we’re humming aboard the good ship “Mosey On”!  On Tuesday, the 2nd, we finally slipped our lines and left our home port in River Dunes, North Carolina for our 2015 Summer Cruise.  If all goes well, we don’t expect to be back in North Carolina until late September.  Our plans have us proceeding up the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) to Norfolk, then out the mouth of the Chesapeake and north along the “Delmarva” (Delaware, Maryland, & Virginia) Atlantic shore to Cape May, NJ.  We’ll take a couple of days to rest and explore this town we enjoyed so much on a previous visit while we look for a “weather window” for our big offshore leap to Block Island (off the northern end of Long Island).  That will be the single longest offshore leg that Mosey’s crew has planned to date.  We will need some nice weather!  Once we reach the Salt Pond on Block I., we’ll be in New England and setting about visiting with family and friends there.  Then in late July, we’ll point the bow towards Nova Scotia and a long-anticipated exploration of her southern coast.

Two things to report thus far.  During yesterday’s transit of the Alligator & Pungo River canal (a numbingly straight and long ditch built by the Army Corps of Engineers that forms a sector of the ICW), we noticed that said ditch accomplishes what we’ve seen nowhere else: while the trees and brushy growth on the western side were completely smothered in Kudzu, those on the eastern bank were totally unaffected.  An invasive species from China stopped in its destructive tracks by The Ditch…sounds kinda’ like a science fiction story…

And while I’m on the science fiction theme…we were anchored last night in a cove off Albemarle Sound known as Broad Creek.  Shortly after dark (and our boating bedtime), I heard a high pitch “thrumming”.  The sort of sound you might hear from one of those remotely-piloted small drones.  Looking out the ports and windows, I could discern no other boats nearby, but the sound was clearly close.  We had turned-off the cabin lights, so I went to the salon door to go outside for a look.  HUGE MISTAKE!  Mosey On was the apparent rendezvous spot for a gigantic swarm of horny mayflies  [see http://freshwaterblog.net/2011/05/16/the-mayflys-lifecycle-a-fascinating-fleeting-story/  ], as they apparently like a place to rest when they’re quite spent!  You’ve seen pictures of bees swarming over the surface of some object?  That was Mosey On covered in Mayflies.  Yes, some joined the crew inside when I opened the door to listen…. While we’ve encountered Mayflies (sometimes called “midges” in North Carolina) on many occasions, we’ve not had the pleasure of stumbling into a true ‘cloud’ of them engulfing the boat.  Ah nature up close!

A good chance of rain

A good chance of rain

 

Enjoying our own lifecycle…and Moseyin’ On

 

Moseyin’ Best Done Through a Good Weather Window

We’re a little behind in getting this post out, be we’ve had a busy week.  We got together with two other couples, old friends from New Hampshire, who had dodged this last New England winter by heading south as we had. One of the couples was watching the weather to resume their drive back home to New Hampshire. The following day we met an even older friend from my Air Force days who was in Beaufort to buy an airplane and fly it back to Michigan.  He had been delayed a day on his way down in another pilot’s plane while waiting for weather in the Midwest to clear.  Mosey On and crew were thoroughly enjoying the Spring weather in Beaufort, but at the same time eyeing the calendar and our commitments back in North Carolina.  We have learned that while our sturdy vessel is well-founded and up to most anything, her crew tries to avoid being thrown about and is decidedly cautious.  So…like our friend with the small plane, we were watching for our opportunity…a ‘window’ with enough hours of ‘benign’ seas offshore to get us from St. Helena Sound (SC) to the safe inlet at Morehead City, NC…..thirty-six hours of offshore cruising.  As it happened, just such a window was forecast beginning Tuesday the 7th and lasting through Thursday….but with the weather router’s firm admonition to be In Port by Friday….In the Spring, these ‘openings’ don’t last long as warm air attempts to push north, but winter is reluctant to give up its grip.  It’s a ‘tug-of-war’ with the mid-Atlantic coast as the playground.  Mosey On was repaired and ready and her crew was rested…so we went for it!   I should note that there was some trepidation over this trip owing to the simple fact that we had not attempted an overnight cruise of this length before….this was to be twice a far as our last summer’s cruise from Cape May, NJ up to New York.  And the odd thing is…I’m not accustomed to having an engine run so long…the big John Deere in Mosey’s belly ran beautifully, and we carried enough fuel….it’s just a little unsettling.

Dawn Off Cape Fear, NC

 

The trip was long…seemingly without end in the ‘wee dark hours’…and while the seas were certainly not calm, they were ‘benign’.  We split the watch into 3 hours on – 3 hours off for each of us…….We would love to have shared the duty with one or two more crew!  The view from the bridge (above) just before sunrise was from a perspective I’d never seen before (I don’t get up early to fish…).

We tied-up in  Morehead City near midnight.  Exhausted, but proud of our planning and new-found confidence in cruising on Mosey On.