sunrise    It has been some time since we posted anything to the blog….Shep’s fault for being lazy.  But also a genuine concern that he has been “barking up the wrong tree” with regard to informing friends and family of our travels/trials/tribulations.  With Admiral Deb’s, almost daily, posts on Facebook, tweeting, texting… and a lack of comments about the blog from others, Shep kind of figured it was unnecessary/superfluous.  But, since we are, once again, waiting out some weather, and we have a great internet connection, I thought I would try once or twice again.

Our 2016 Trip South:

Exciting, worrisome, testy…all good adjectives to describe our venture south from Virginia in the fall.   After sitting out Hurricane Matthew in Deltaville, we scrambled to make up time lost.   Shep had to sail the first leg solo, as Deb was bringing our car down to Portsmouth for son Alan to pick up and store at his apartment. This leg, Deltaville to the Hampton Rhoads area, or the reverse direction, has been Shep’s only solo sails on High ZZ’s.  Can’t say I enjoy it much.  Although it is now as comfortable as my solos with ZZzz’s, which were almost a weekly occurrence.  After Alan left home, I stopped playing golf and instead had weekday afternoon/evening solo sails on ZZzz’s.  Deb’s job, being less flexible, kept her nose to the grind-stone…I guess I never felt too guilty about these weekday R&R sessions whenever ZZzz’s was in the water; for 32 years I arrived daily at work 0600-0700, and many evenings did not arrive home from work until after 2100.

boats-virginia-cut   Our hearts were broken on the next leg.  Matthew had wrecked the Dismal Swamp Canal, our normal route south.   Several boats, including some we know, were trapped at the Visitors Center ( ~½ way to Elizabeth City), which is a great place to hide out from a hurricane.  Instead, we had to retrace our northbound route, through Great Bridge and the Virginia Cut.  As you can see from the accompanying photo, there was a slew of boats, forced onto the same route.  The Albemarle Sound was docile, great timing, as it can be much rougher than the Pamlico because the wind funnels east or west though the Sound. The Alligator River Swing Bridge opened for us (closed in high winds), so southward we continued.

alligator-river-bridge  tiki-bar   We were hammer down until Oriental, NC.  Just had to stop for a day or two… to enjoy one of our favorite Tiki Bars at the Oriental Marina and Inn.   Where else do they have such nice murals of mermaids?   But more important, it was time to change oil, fill water, and replace (for the second time) a balky thermostat on our brand new refrigeration system.  Seems, according to the technicians at Dolometic, we are the only boat they ever heard of getting two bad thermostats with a brand new compressor and evaporator.   Boat repairs; aren’t they grand?  Err… I mean $1,000!!!  But, our luck was about to change.  At Southport, NC, our usual jumping off point for offshore passages, we got a great break and had no weather layover.  Straight to Southport and straight offshore to Charleston, SC.

dolphin   The offshore leg was easy, just one night, but it meant coming into Charleston Harbor at 0200.  Intense!  First big test.  So many red lights flashing.  Which are marks, which are towers on land?   Oops, wow!  What is that huge dark shape coming at us?  Holy Sh_!  A monster tanker coming out at us.  Thank goodness for AIS and chart plotters!  AIS allowed us to identify and call big boat traffic, and decide on a course of action to avoid collisions.  The chart plotters sorted out all of the red flashing lights for us.  A couple of days to tour Charleston’s scenery (bird statue, Ft. Sumpter) and then off back offshore for another night to the St. Johns River in Florida.  Left Virginia 10/14, arrive Florida, 10/24.  Now that is getting somewhere!  Oddly enough, it is exactly 24-times longer, 10 days vs. 10 hours, than it used to take us to drive from VA to FL in our car.

sumpter   img_3077  img_3091   Then,  after a stop in St. Augustine to visit my favorite distillery, it was a quick four day trip to Velcro, I mean Vero Beach (named because it is a common “last stop” for so many snowbirds).  Finally, time for some fuel.  Let’s see, 125 gallons of diesel divided by 137 engine hours = 0.91 gallons of fuel per hour…and that divided into an average of 6.1 nm/hr = 6.7 nautical miles per gallon…not bad for a fully loaded, 26,000 lb, cruising boat under motor (about ½ of the time we are moving).  Three days R&R and then it is off again.  Time to get around the “horn” of Florida to assure Admiral Deb is home for Thanksgiving.   We have to go around the horn of FL because our mast is too tall for the Lake Okeechobee Waterway.  It would save us maybe 200 miles, but the controlling air draft (bridge height above the water) is 51 feet…our mast is 60ft tall.  But on the way to the Keys, we have our greatest trial!   At 2100, anchored in the peaceful and quiet Middle River near Ft. Lauderdale, we are assaulted…I mean verbally, flashing lights, people with guns…rapping on our hull…the Florida “Trout Troopers” are forcing us to leave!  Turns out Florida outlawed overnight anchoring in Middle River and two other spots, just that July.   The troopers were annoyed that we had not read the FL legislative transcripts before anchoring for the night.   We were equally annoyed, I even called the US Coast Guard (my old friends) to get confirmation of the FL legal authority.  But why, you say, did the trout troopers not come to tell us in the daylight…they said they did not know we were staying?   Some local wealthy landowner must have called!

At any point, now armed with a new cause (stop wealthy FL waterfront owners from owning the “view” also) we were hell bent to get to Key Biscayne, where a crew change was in store.  At No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne, Admiral Deb was replaced by good sailing buddy Matt…finally, someone who might take orders!  Matt and Shep cleared the horn at 0800 October 9 and at 1030 on the 10th, High ZZ’s was settled into her holiday resting place…a slip at Palm Island Marina in Cape Haze, 20 min. south of our house in Venice.  As trips “around the Horn” go….easy-peasy!  matt-on-arrival

And Off We Go…No Wait

img_2926Propeller shaft seal rebuilt, Check.  Engine raw water impeller changed, Check.  Bottom sanded and painted, Check.  Trailer-cruised Maine with son Alan’s trailer, Check.  Attended Hokies Football games in September, Check.  Ready to go off for our fourth year of cruising….No Wait!   Hurricane Matthew has other plans.

Nothing strikes more fear into the cruising sailor’s heart than a tropical Hurricane barreling down (or in this case, up the coast) on you.   The real trouble with Matthew is, it refused to barrel.  It “lollygagged” about the southern Caribbean for a week, strolled leisurely through the Bahamas for three days and then performed a lazy jog north up the southeastern coast…before deciding it would head out into the Atlantic just before battering the North Carolina outer banks.  IT WAS EXCRUCIATING!   Having just returned High ZZ’s to water from her annual haul-out, we were paralyzed for two weeks.  Two weeks is enough time for us to get from Deltaville, VA (our current location) which is now quite cold (by our tropical attuned body standards), to Saint Augustine, FL, where it is warm and sunny.  And more importantly….can we get anywhere at all, given the chaos that Matthew caused on the FL, GA, SC, NC coasts?

img_2978Pictures streaming in from the news media, and reports on cruisers nets/listservs indicate that there will be a huge back-up and delays of boats moving south on this annual migration.  Both boat-highways from Virginia to North Carolina, the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Virginia Cut, are/were closed because of high water and lock/bridge malfunctions; curtesy of Matthew.  Many marinas have been destroyed/disabled, the ICW is blocked by debris coming from the overflowing rivers and the destroyed docks.  And as yet undisclosed, many inlets may have shallowed enough to be impassible as the storm surge moved sand around.

hurricane-matthew-boats-hiltonhead-davidgoldman-apIn the Chesapeake Bay, we were battered by 35 kts, gusting 40+ kts, of wind Saturday and Sunday at the Deltaville Marina.  Out on the bay, there were 7+ft waves….a “no-go” for Admiral Deb.  Three to four foot waves = fun; 3+4=7 ft waves = not really that fun.   The wind and waves are slowly subsiding so that by Wednesday, Oct. 12, we may finally get moving south; a full two weeks behind schedule (as if we really have a “schedule”).

161007132832-16-hurricane-matthew-florida-1007-super-169This year’s transit south is likely to be as new and exciting as was our first year….albeit the weather should be a bit better in October and November this year than it was in February and March in 2014.   We don’t know quite what to expect; there will be trials and tribulations with navigation; there will be crowded anchorages and marinas, there will be fun and frolicking with fellow cruisers facing a unique set of challenges… Can’t Wait!


New Day

New Day

It has been too long since our last post and this has provided plenty of time to reflect on our third winter (well really only 2.5) on High ZZ’s.   This past season was the best, and we hope to keep on improving.  What were the highlights?  For starters, we notched three more island groups into our Bahamas cruising gun stock: Eleuthera, New Providence, and Exumas.   In doubling our cruising ground experience, we found something closer to what we imagined cruising in the Caribbean would be like.   Eleuthera, especially, seemed like a true gem.  Yes it had a “city” (Spanish Wells, in our eyes), but it was colorful, tidy, and clearly more dependent on the sea that surrounds it, rather than a burgeoning tourist industry buoyed up by US and Canadian dollars.  Its residents a wonderful mix of colonials and African descendants.   Other Eleutheran towns we visited (Hatchet Bay, Governor’s Harbor, Rock Sound) were cozy little hamlets that served as centers of commerce.  Sure, cottage/house vacation rentals were everywhere, but these places did not really have the boating services that make them more cruising tourist stops, as we would define them.   If you want boat fuel, you have to haul it from a service station on land in Jerry cans, schlep it into the dinghy, and then try not to spill it on the deck as you pour it in.  There are no marinas or fuel docks in such places.  There may, or may not be, a water tap near the shore somewhere to fill your cans/tanks.  We were actually quite pleasantly surprised at the lack of services in places like Governor’s Harbor, the center of the Eleutherian government and the past capitol of the Bahamas.    This lack of services keeps the “Ugly Rich Boater” quotient low, and the “friendly poor cruiser” numbers high.  To call them “poor” is really not correct, but by contrast, they would not pay $2-$4/night/foot of boat length to stay at a marina.  They will be anchoring out, most every place that they can.IMG_2295

The Exumas, because of their beauty, history, and remoteness, seemingly attract the biggest crowd of cruisers.  And, it was in the Exumas that we encountered the largest concentration of mega-yachts (with 4-story high water slides, back deck “garages” full of jet-skis and speed boats as long as High ZZ’s, helicopter pads on the upper decks….).   Special places like the Land and Sea Park in Warderick Wells, Thunderball Grotto in Staniel Cay, and Allen’s Cay (Iguanas) always attract a crowd.  And, as you heard in an earlier post, Georgetown shenanigans are legendary!  There are so, so many beautiful anchorages in the Exumas, it will take another year or three of cruising to get anywhere close to seeing just half of them.  But we will probably always stop in Black Point.  With laundries, grocery stores, Wi-Fi hotspots, and…get this….FREE RO Water! IMG_2257

New Providence (Nassau) we could give a miss.  As the Bahamas most populated island (read: worst crime rate, largest cruise ship terminal, Atlantis Tourist Resort, polluted water, necessity to call Nassau Harbor Control before entry…) it is not my cup of tea.  The saving grace was Palm Cay Marina on the south side of the island, with reasonable rates and very nice facilities (pool, beach, and restaurant, bar, free courtesy car.IMG_2225

Real Highlight:  Sharing our cruising with friends!   Visits from Rob and Sandra (Georgetown) and Martin and Patsy (Abacos) gave us great joy.   Some compromises and a little stress was involved in meeting non-cruising friends while away from the US.  The biggest concern is trying to connect the where with the when.  The weather does not always cooperate (pinning us in Georgetown more than desired), the ferry schedule may not be ideal (needing to retrace our steps), but the benefits (fun/good times) far out-weigh the costs.IMG_2281

New twists in old places:  the great conch fritter challenge.  With friends visiting, it is easy to discover new fun in familiar surrounds.  As you may know, Bahamian restaurants/bars pride themselves on their conch fritters.  With globe-trotting connoisseurs of fine cuisine, Martin and Patsy, we sampled many of the best fritters that the Abaco Islands had to offer.  Snappers (Marsh Harbor) took the best CF award this year!IMG_2340


This past season we faced new adversities (busted autopilot) and worse weather, but again, the rewards were far, far greater…can’t wait for next season!

Fun and Games: Georgetown Cruiser’s Regatta

210  Every once in a while, it is fun to take time out from cruising around and just enjoy where you are, at that moment.   The Cruiser’s Regatta in Georgetown, Exumas, is just the time and place to do it.  The Cruiser’s Regatta has been described as “Adult Day Care/Fun Camp”.  There actually is a Regatta/Race, actually two of them: one in Elizabeth Harbour and one around Stocking Island.  But the real focus is on fun events for young and old alike!   From a “talent show”, to coconut collecting contests via dingy, to volleyball tournaments, to “Poker Run” bar hopping, paddle board races and scavenger hunts, and even a few events for real kids,  the CR is a week-long celebration in just “letting your hair down” (of course, this only applies to Admiral Deb, as Shep has no hair to let down).  We were blessed to be able to enjoy this week of frolicking with friends Rob and Sandra from VT/Blacksburg.  And, as a bonus, they brought us a rebuilt autopilot ram to fix “Otto” (can’t buy such a thing in the Bahamas).  Rob masterfully passed the ram though Homeland Security and Bahamian Customs without a hint of suspicion that it might be a rocket launcher (what it looks like) or a very expensive (and therefore subject to 45% import taxes) potato gun for the Regatta events.

Rob and Sandra were indispensable to our coconut collecting efforts…once, that is, we 194     198   got Rob back in the dingy from an impromptu swim!  And the Deb and Sandra seemed to enjoy throwing coconuts (not looking facing backward) as Rob and Shep tried to catch them in a trash bag…good thing we had crash helmets on!

209   But all good things must come to an end (and this is usually followed by the “bad” and then the “ugly”!); so before the volleyball tournament, Rob and Sandra had to return to the states (and we really could have used Rob as we went 1-5 and tied for last place).  And after all that good, Shep had to perform the “Bad”, no really bad, and climb down into the bilge to replace the autopilot ram.  Spending 2 hours, squeezed into a space meant for midget contortionists, just to have the ugly appear, begs the question: “Are we having fun, now?”   The ugly, discovered upon re-commissioning the new ram, was that the real culprit in Otto spitting up his hydraulic fluid was actually the rudder position indicator unit.   The RPIU tells the autopilot brain where the rudder is so as not to overextend the ram…which it probably did and caused the ram failure to begin with.  So with no friends flying in for a month, no RPIUs to be found in the Bahamas…we paid Watermakers Air $150 in freight and customs charges to fly in a $400 part!  Ouch, real ugly!                                             FullSizeRender

IMG_0390  But, the silver lining is that Otto is now working fine, we are headed back north, and had some great snorkeling around sunken/wrecked drug airplanes and great little reefs at Normans Cay and Tea Table Cay.  Shep even snorkeled Thunderball Grotto, of James Bond movie fame, at Staniel Cay.   Deb got to feed pigs and iguanas.  IMG_2170IMG_2219


And we are currently waiting at Palm Cay Marina, in Nassau, for a weather window to move to the Abacos.   And the real “silver lining’?   As bad as you might think you have “it” sometimes…there is always someone else who had it way, way worse…like the unlucky owners of North Wind….IMG_0406



Exumas sunset

Exumas sunset

One significant fear I had upon retirement is that both my body, and my mind, would turn to “mush” for lack of exercise.  While working for VT and pretending to be young enough to hang with the wildland firefighting crew, my mind and body were presented numerous “learning opportunities”…you know, exercise that kept the physical and mental systems in operating order (or at least functioning well enough to fool most people).  I would not have dreamed of continuing into my 60’s as a wildland firefighter without a vigorous exercise routine, or learning opportunities for my aging muscles, to insure that, yes, I could still carry 40lbs of water in a bladder bag, up-hill, for 3 miles, and not drop dead when I reached the fire line.   By the same token, my students and colleagues challenged me, on a daily basis, with learning opportunities in forestry that kept my mind well exercised.   But retiring to cruising on a sailboat…all the rum drinks, lollygagging on the beach for days on end….well it just seemed like a good recipe for a mind and body made of mush.



“Not so fast, kemosabe!”  Said the good ship, High ZZ’s.   “I will present you with numerous “learning opportunities”; and I will torcher you, if you fail to learn.”   And High ZZ’s has been true to her word with shining examples in the last few weeks.

Just living on a boat presents endless learning opportunities for your muscles….you see, boats in the water are in constant motion.   This is a huge juxtaposition for land-evolved Homosapieans.  Land, usually, does not move, and we are adapted to a muscle memory system that responds to a relatively stable platform: solid ground.   Have that platform pitch, roll and yaw several degrees, constantly, and your muscles work hard, just to maintain equilibrium.  Have that platform pitch, roll and yaw 4-6 feet at 3-5 second intervals…well your muscles get lots of learning opportunities on how to prevent bashing your head into the bulkhead.   You learn, or should learn, very quickly, that bashing into 4-6 foot seas, right on the bow, is not that much fun; especially not that fun for 10 or 11 hours a day!  Your mind also adapts to all of this motion, as it is common to experience “land sickness” upon returning to terra firma.  Your first shower on land, after a few days at sea, in a small shower stall, can turn you green.

Shep in bilge

Shep in bilge

You learn lots of other things, while bashing into these waves and wind (which I forgot my lesson: gentlemen are not supposed to sail “to windward”).   While bashing to windward from Highbourne Cay to Black Point, in the Exumas, I/we learned what the error code: “RUDR DRV “ means when it appears on your autopilot screen.   It means that no amount of resetting of the breaker switches for “Otto” is going to resurrect him, and you must resolve yourself to having to hand steer into that mess of wind and waves, for those many hours, providing a great learning opportunity for your arm muscles.  Even more fun is learning, upon squeezing/contorting yourself into the bilge, behind the rudder dam,  the reason you got that RUDR DRV error code is that Otto’s ram drive has deposited its hydraulic fluid into the rudder dam.  And, upon more investigation, you learn that your 17-year-old ram (that you had told Admiral Deb, that we should carry a spare, but failed to buy one before leaving the States), cannot be rebuilt “in the field”.

Missing Nav Light lens

Missing Nav Light lens

And the very next day, during more bashing bashing to windward from Black Point to Georgetown, we learned than you can only bury your bow pulpit in to those big seas, but so many times, before one of them carries away your bow/navigation lights!  Who would have thunk it?   And more so, those cute little solar air vents that you put into deck plates to constantly vent stinky/humid air out of your shower/head (instead of allowing it to blow into the rest of the boat) are not sealed well enough to keep flowing water over the deck from entering your head!  Go figure?

Anchored with Big Boys

Anchored with Big Boys

Tired, beat up, wet….all things that Admiral Deb loathes, we finally made it to Georgetown for Regatta Week!  We hope some of the other 300 boat crews here had as many learning opportunities as we did getting to this Mecca of Bahama’s cruising.   Let the fun begin!

Hurry Up and Wait…Boating Weather

IMG_0032   A well/over used adage…hurry up and wait.  In the military, in the wildland fire services, anything having to do with the governments…same thing, we seem to hurry up often, and then we wait, and wait, and wait some more, and then hurry up again; and then we repeat the process!  Going anywhere by cruising boat is no different; no time more evident to us than our jumps to our Gulf Stream crossing staging area, to the Bimini’s, Berry Islands and now our new landfall, the Eleuthera Islands…and hopefully beyond.

After waiting for four days in Palm Beach Gardens (you see, a weather event called “tornado warnings” and sailboats do not go well together) we made a quick dash 80 miles south to Key Biscayne’s No Name Harbor.   This well protected harbor (a “key-hole basin” as they are called) south of Miami is a popular jumping-off place for the Bahamas; and more specifically it is only 42nm to the closest island group in the Bahamas: Bimini.  In No Name, you can wait out more tornado warnings for south Florida, as we did for nine days, and the right weather and sea conditions to cross the Gulf Stream.   Tornados in January?   Must be something about the El Nino year.  Well, what weather you want in a slow cruising boat like High ZZ’s is wind directions with lots of Ss and W’s in the forecast (recall that wind directions are where the wind is coming from not where it is going to).  You see, East is where you are going to, and North is where the Gulf Stream is going to.  So, as sailing/motoring “to windward” makes Admiral Deb cranky, and Shep less of a gentleman, we look for West wind.   Also, if you have ever tried to paddle your canoe up river, and the Gulf Stream is a very big and very powerful river (2-7 kts), in a wind coming from downstream, well, lets’ just say you are going to get real wet!   How bad can it get? Six to 10ft waves in the North flowing Gulf Stream are a regular occurrence with any North wind.  Hence the desire for SW wind to cross the Gulf Stream; and something less than 15kts of wind and less than 4’ waves (the height of High ZZ’s bow).  It is a waiting game…and then it comes, a “weather window”!!!

One trouble with many weather windows is that most are far too short!  By too short, I mean that the travel time between where you are, and where you want to get to, far exceeds, or is just barely equal to, the “window” of time that the weather and waves will be “good”.  Unless, of course, you have a powerboat with, one or preferably two, massive engines, any one of which could propel the boat a plaining speeds and get you across the Stream in an hour or three….not the 8 or 9 hours that it takes a sailboat like High ZZ’s to cross to Bimini.  There is one sailboat exception to this go-fast rule I know of… the McGregor 26’ hybrid, you know, like Marshal Spoon’s boat on Claytor Lake.    With 50 or 60hp, that boat can do 25kts in a pinch.  And we found one at the Bimini Blue Water Marina where we tied up to check in with the Bahamian authorities when we crossed January 30th.

Foresters/ex-foresters, and most old sailors, are a conservative bunch…they like weather windows with at least 6 hours of slop in them.  By that, I mean that any “bad” stuff is not predicted until 6 or more hours after you have or planned to arrive safely.  Or perhaps sailors just don’t trust weather persons…How was all that snow in Blacksburg?  Now, we know that all weatherpersons lie…they tell you what you want to hear, not what really is going to happen.  But our weather Guru, Chris Parker of Caribbean Weather Services, has been pretty close this season.  Chris predicted we would have 10-12ks of SSE wind and 2-3’ seas until noon on crossing day.  Yes, against my better judgement, there was an “E” in the forecast, but we were getting antsy after 9 days!  We left No Name at midnight, arrived at North Bimini at 0730…and the E wind cranked up at noon when we were already sipping congratulatory rum drinks and smoking a stogie.  Six+ knot average coming across…look out McGregors!  So far so good.

IMG_1856    Then more waiting…it took until Feb 4. to get a weather window to the Berrys.  It is 75+nm from Bimini to anywhere in the Berrys (what you get in a short GS crossing you must “pay back” in a longer next leg)…so some night-time work is also required for slow sailboats.   But to get to the Berrys, you cross the generally more benign Great Bahamas Bank.  We chose to leave Bimini on a rising tide at noon, trying to make the early morning slack tide at NW Providence Channel.  This is a significant “cut” where the deep water meets the shallow bank and very steep waves occur if the wind opposes the current (just like the Gulf Stream).    But, way too fast, our trusty steed was.  Unlike our first crossing of the Great Bahamas Bank, we made such good time that we “had to” stop for a rest at NW Shoal for four hours (midnight to 0400) to wait for the tide.  Our first experience anchoring in the middle of a Bahamas shallow bank…no land in sight…eerie!  Good thing we caught up with four “buddy boats”, who had left Bimini at 0630, who were already anchored there.

IMG_1853    And then, three more days/nights of waiting at Frazer’s Hog Cay before crossing the NE Providence Channel to the Eleutheras.  In FHG we stayed at the mostly deserted Bimini Islands Club on a mooring ball waiting out NW winds 25kts gusting to 35kts to cross the NEPC.  And now we wait some more in Spanish Wells.  Luckily, there is a good/cheap marina in this lovely, very well kept, Bahamian village.  Even the commercial fishing boats are beautifully painted…unlike any we have seen in the US.  But now we wait out more 25+kt winds on our way to Hatchet Bay (said to be the best hurricane hole in the Eleutheras)…before waiting and then being off and hurrying to our next Excellent Adventure!

Patience and Worry

IMG_1539    Now that the holidays are over and we are back on High ZZ’s, I am re-learning how much patience and how little worry it takes to cruise on a sailboat.   You see during our working/land-based life, I had so little patience and so much worry…just the opposite of cruising on High ZZ’s.   Much of our land-based life, we needed (well, according to Deb I thought) everything could, and so should, happen NOW!  You know, life in the fast lane, fast food, fast driving, instant texting, email…every time we were confronted with something that seemed to take too long, we simply tried another tactic, or tack…to coin a sailing term.  If one plumper could not do the work until next week, we would call someone else who could fix it sooner.  We always sought out the shortest line at the supermarket.  We wondered, 15 minutes after texting/emailing someone, why they had not responded?  We worried about our kids, we worried about our jobs, we worried about the economy, we worried (well perhaps just I, according to Ms. Deb) about nearly every facet of life; even the things that we could not control.

Life on a cruising sailboat is just the opposite!  I mean really, sailors by nature are so, so patient.   Think of it:  why would they spend so much time, going so slow (relative to our motor-boating friends), often to nowhere in particular; just tacking back and forth for the fun of it?   There are so many other means of conveyance, why choose the slowest method, if you really want to get there?  Just the past nine days, in traveling south from Ft. Pierce (where we kept the boat this break) to Key Biscayne, required an extreme amount of patience.   Nine days you say?  But it is just 130 miles, as the crow flies.  How could that possibly take nine days?  Did we row the boat?

IMG_0348    Well so many things that you cannot control, conspire to necessitate patience.   On a cruising sailboat, weather is number one among the things you cannot control (even though this is the 21st century), and so must plan for, rather than worry about.   Failure to plan for the weather you might encounter could be very uncomfortable/costly in boat damage/or even lethal!   This is the reason we spent four days at an expensive marina in a “key-hole” basin in Palm Beach Gardens during the trip.  April/May like Florida weather (read frequent tornado warnings) in January made it necessary to hide for the duration (something about an El Nino).  And then, there are all the DAMN (sorry) the bridges connecting the main land to the barrio island across the ICW.   I mean the beautiful bridges that require patience.  There are 28 bridges between Ft. Pierce and Port Everglades that must open for all but the smallest of boats…and I mean all types of boats (some poetic justice from our fast powerboat friends).  And the patience part about that is that 22 of them only open once or twice per hour.  Which would be fine, if they were all 3 or 6 nautical miles apart (remember our rule of 12’s and 6kt speed?)…but sadly, they are lots of different distances between them, and some open on the hour and half hour, some on the quarter and ¾ hour…you get my drift…and drift is what you must learn to do, with patience.  That is because, invariably, the time you need to get from one to the next often exceeds the time it will take you at any reasonable speed, and there is nothing but worries to be had by anyone who tries to speed up to make the next opening.  Either worrying about the speed against the current you can make, or worry that your little engine will overheat or blowup because it is being over-taxed!   And so you drift, at 2-3 kts between many bridges gaining patience and eliminating worries.


I think there is a word for it…having more patience and less worry…yea, just chillin in No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne… High ZZ’s ;<})

Rule of Twelfths (1/12’s)

Deltaville flood  Heading back south down the ICW (Inter-Coastal Waterway) through southeastern VA and NC, the shallow water in “the ditch” (the affectionate name for the ICW) becomes a problem.  Nothing like the condition in Deltaville shown above with the recent Noreaster.   In the ditch you must pay particular attention to the mariner’s Rule of Twelfths.  Although this rule has its primary application in estimating the depth of water at certain times during the day, there are many lesser known applications….which we are happy to explain.

The Rule of Twelfths is based on the common tidal occurrence of two high tides and two low tides per 24 hour daily cycle and the generally sinusoidal pattern of tidal change.   That being assumed, in the six hours between low and high water, the hourly depth changes are related to the tidal range or the difference in the tidal height and are: 1st hour is equal to 1/12 of the tidal range. 2nd hour is equal to 2/12 of the tidal range. 3rd hour is equal to 3/12 of the tidal range. 4th hour is equal to 3/12 of the tidal range. 5th hour is equal to 2/12 of the tidal range. 6th hour is equal to 1/12 of the tidal range.

palm tree  So, an example of common tides, and problems encountered along the ICW in NC:  if the tidal range is 3 feet, and we leave Swansboro NC at 0600 (that’s 6 AM for non-boaters), will High ZZ’s be able to make it thru the notorious trouble spot at the New River Inlet, approximately 12nm southwest of Swansboro, assuming High ZZ’s normal cruising speed of 6kts?   Given that the water depths at low tide at the New River inlet are reported to be <6ft, and High ZZ’s draws at least 5ft 6in, this is a very common problem for High ZZ’s…given also that water <6ft deep is an all too frequent phenomenon along the ICW, which is supposed to be maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers at, you guessed it, 12ft MLLW.  So, continuing on…the high tide at the inlet occurs at 0300 and @ 6nmph, High ZZ’s will reach the New River inlet ~ 0800, 5 hours after high tide.   So 1/12 of a 3ft tide is 3 inches.  So @0800, after 5 hours, the tide will have dropped 3+6+9+9+6= 33 INCHES!!!  Holly crap!  We will have water something <6ft +3 inches….

We did make it past the inlet, but only just.   And that was only the beginning of, yes, you guessed it, 12 ICW trouble spots in our 60nm (5*12) trip from Swansboro to Carolina Beach that day, and 12 separate calculations (well some were no brainers) in our nearly 12 hour trip.  Twelve hour trip you say?  But the 6nmph speed of High ZZ’s should have been only a 10 hour trip to go 60nm?   Ah, but there are other “rule of 12’s” that extend travel times.  You see there are 12/3, or 4 restricted height bridges that must lift or swing open along this section of the ICW to allow sailboats to pass through.  And, one might think, for ease of movement, that there would be 12 opportunities to open these bridges (every 5 minutes or so like stoplights).  But sadly, no; some only open once on-the-hour, some on the hour and half-hour.  And wouldn’t you know it, for some, it takes exactly 12 minutes longer than an hour or a half hour for High ZZ’s to travel between them at her 12/2, or 6nmph speed.   So big deal you say!  Just goose it a bit, hammer down, petal-to-the-metal… between bridges.   Well 12 minutes in hour is 20% faster… or equal to our 7.2kt hull speed.  Too fast to maintain for hour without risking an overheated engine.  Twelve minutes in a half hour…impossible!  And so to make the next hour or half-hour opening we just slow way down; so that makes the trip 12 hours long.IMG_1539    Two weeks and 700+ miles down the coast we are at Cumberland Island GA enjoying the warmth of the deep south.  A rough ride overnight from Southport NC to Savannah GA and a long day in 4-6ft swells from Wassaw Sound to Saint Simons GA and we are 2/3 of the way to Vero Beach FL.   We will hang in FL for Thanksgiving, make a quick trip to San Diego for Xmas, and then High ZZ’s will head to the Bahamas early in January…for more warmth (and rum)!

Hokie, Hokie, Hokie High!

Well, no chance to “beat the boys from VMI” this year (not on the schedule) but we did get to see a good test of the football team at Shep’s alma mater.  And boy, someone had to get way high, up on High ZZ’s mast (thankfully not Shep) for some much delayed rig work.        lift

After arriving in Norfolk in mid-June, we sweated out, both figuratively, and literally (Florida summer weather in Virginia in July), a standing rig replacement on High ZZ’s.   The experts tell us we should be refurbishing the standing rigging (stainless wire and fittings that hold up the mast) every 10 years…well the previous owner never did this, so after 18 years, it was time.   As Shep did not have a bucket lift, and the replacement is very complex (we found out our mast system was only made for two years, after getting the wrong parts), we enlisted the help of Mack Sails and Rigging in Portsmouth to do the work.  From Portsmouth, Shep made his first solo transit in High ZZ’s to Deltaville (Deb drove our Rav4 up), so that we could leave the boat for a quick visit to our house in FL.  Our usual pit stop, Deltaville Marina and Boatyard, will pull the boat out of the water in case a hurricane threatens, even if we are not there; thankfully, not necessary this time. 3

Deltaville is also a relatively short trip to Blacksburg, for our usual fall activity…watching the VT Hokies play football.    A loss to Ohio State (actually, I tell folks VT has won 1.5 games against the NCAA National Champions, OSU…only ½ of a game) was followed by two wins…the most fun, a return trip to Shep’s Alma Mater, Purdue University, in Indiana.   Deb had some reoccurring nightmares about the exceedingly cold winters, but it was fun to see that our apartment buildings, the forestry school, and Deb’s office, were all still intact, 40 years after we left West Lafayette!   And the 51 to 24 VT win…well that was nice too (forgive me, fellow Boilermakers, but I know who paid the bills for 32 years).  photo1backpack

Part of the fun this fall was a short backpack trip on the Appalachian Trail with Martin.   Shep’s first backtrack trip (other than in and out of remote wildland fires) in 38 years! But, since it is starting to get cold (defined now by any daytime highs less than 75F) here up north, we will be pointing High ZZ’s back south in the first week of October.   And then, sometime around November 1, when our boat insurance says the hurricane season is over, we hope to be crossing over the Florida State line, in our retirement enabled pursuit of an endless summer!


Back in the Saddle Again

offshore     Yes, we are back in the saddle again; back where the ocean’s our friend…ok, Gene Autry’s lyrics (or was it Aerosmith?) don’t quite go that way, but they are appropriate for us.  After two months in Venice, we returned to the boat and settled back in to that familiar saddle spot, where my butt feels most comfortable…at the wheel of High ZZ’s.  A few new surgical scars to add to Shep’s arsenal of old-age war wounds, another completed project on the FL house (a new storage shed in the carport), while High ZZ’s waited patiently for our return to Vero Beach.  She seemed eager for us to loosen her reins and free her to romp in the open ocean.   I think she was even overjoyed, or at least her American Pharaoh like performance seemed to reflect a sense of euphoria; but more on that later.bikesonbeach

bridge of lions  We shook off the dust and cobwebs from two months at the Vero Beach (FL) City Marina and arrived at Little Creek (Norfolk) just 12 days later (and that included a two-day stop-over in Cape Lookout). That is a record for High ZZ’s sprints between her southern (winter) and northern (summer) ranges.  We had busted our boat insurance June 1 deadline for exiting hurricane prone Florida, but were at no risk, as no named storms approached the US east coast.  On the way from Vero to St. Augustine, we were able to visit friends Martin and Patsy in New Smyrna Beach and as is usual when we get together (but always great fun) we had a difficult time getting going the next morning.   We delayed our offshore venture (and attempt at leaving a different harbor inlet) until we reached the familiar pastures of St Augustine.  Our timing was perfect, as we caught the out-going tide for a two knot boost out the St. Augustine inlet and pointed our trusty steed’s head northward.  Following seas, and a not-quite-enough 10-15kt wind made the trip offshore pleasant and fast.  Although we had to motor-sail quite a bit at 2/5 throttle to keep our speed up (we wanted to make an in-coming tide at the Cape Fear River) we recorded our first 160nm 24 hour day!  Miss Deb, now a grizzled veteran of offshore passages, took over the reins for her usual 0000-0300 watch during the two day passage, and was treated to the aerial acrobatics of flying fish jumping on and off of the boat as High ZZ’s sprinted northward.  At 0800, 48 hours after departing St. Augustine, we entered the Cape Fear River on an incoming tide.  Take that American Pharaoh!   Unfortunately, we were treated to Florida-like heat (heat index of 110F) in North Carolina and retreated to marinas each night (except at CLO) so we could plug in and run the AC.


In another bit of luck for good timing, we were treated to a visit from friend Barb (missed you Tim) in Swansboro, NC.   Wow, two sets of football friends in one trip….bodes well for the Hokies this fall!  Then it was off to Cape Lookout, NC, to meet up with four boats from our Claytor Lake Sailing Association on their annual summer cruise.  We caught up with the flotilla of four 19-22 ft trailer sailors about half-way between Beaufort inlet and the Cape, and had a great time “racing” to  the anchorage (just to even the match, we kept our mainsail in the mast).  Two days of reminiscing, happy-hours, beach combing….ensued, before it was time to let High ZZ’s point north again.   A quick jaunt to Oriental (love the Tiki bar), race to Belhaven to beat the severe thunderstorms lurking about, up the Alligator River (another “must have AC” evening at the AR Marina), and a third passage through the Great Bridge lock…we always go south through the Dismal Swamp canal and north through the Virginia Cut, and soon the hustle and bustle of the Elizabeth River/Hampton Roads appears on the bow.   Dodging a few tugs-with-tows, a few container ships, a few naval vessels, and it is out past the Bay Bridge/Tunnel and Willoughby Bank.  This was our only poor-timing transit as a two knot foul current slowed our approach to High ZZ’s northern corral.   But then, just a dozen suns and 600+nm in the making, our steed backed gracefully into slip B47 at Bay Point Marina, where she will spend a month or two cooling down, getting re-shoed, refurbishing her saddlebags…