28 Nov 2015

28/11/2015 : Cumberland Island, GA

We're just back from our second day ashore this barrier island, a national seashore. It's a fascinating place comprised of salt marshes, maritime forests, a few buildings and one of the longest and emptiest beaches we have ever seen.  There are no cars, just hiking trails, and we've covered a fair few of them.

The Carnegie family very much commandeered the island in the late 1800s to mid-1900s when the younger brother and his wife raised their nine children here.  Every time one of them married, their parents built them a mansion here to keep them close by.  Sadly the parents' home burned down and only the ruins remain but it's obvious the sheer scale of the place.

This morning we went 6 miles north in the dinghy, a somewhat bumpy ride, to visit the house they built for their eldest son and his wife in 1898 for the sum of $10,000.  The property, Plum Orchard, was handed over to the national park in the 1970s and it was interesting to see.  With it's own diving pool, stables, squash court and tennis court, the sheer size of the place clearly demonstrates just how wealthy the Carnegies were.  Apparently they sold out their steel works to J P Morgan at the turn of the twentieth century for $300 million ... just imagine how much that would equate to today.

We're moving on tomorrow morning to Fernadina Beach all being well where Paul will take to the skies.

27 Nov 2015

26/11/15 : Thanksgiving in St Marys

With the drama of Tuesday night behind us we have enjoyed the charms of this small waterfront town.  The camaraderie amongst the cruisers and generosity of the locals have both been top notch, we rides to the store available and various social events.  Last night was an oyster roast (we were assured they were delicious but not something I like and Paul is allergic to them) but the company was fun.  And today the townspeople hosted a Thanksgiving lunch for us all.

There was more sailing drama in the anchorage, fortunately not involving Tumi.  Another boat, swinging around wildly managed to cut through his anchor rope with his own propellor and went drifting off downstream!  A "flotilla" of dinghies gave chase and rescued the yacht only for one of the dinghies to run out of fuel on the return and have to be rescued!  This anchorage seems to be jinxed!

We're heading across the sound tomorrow to Cumberland Island, a national park, and hope to do a bit of hiking in the next couple of days.

26 Nov 2015

24/11/15 : Nightmare night in St Marys, Georgia

We had one of our best sails of recent weeks in many ways moving from Brunswick to St Marys being all in the daylight and timed to enter/exit channels with the tide rather than against it, add in pleasant winds and seas that were more sensible than recently, all in all a good sail.  Until we were approaching St Marys that is.

The nautical charts stop half a mile before reaching the town anchorage but we knew that the channel had depths of 5 metres so it should have been no problem.  What we didn't know is that the charts for the half mile before they ended were wrong, showing deep water where in fact it was shallow and vice versa.  We ran aground as did the catamaran in front of us!  Fortunately we weren't going very fast and after several minutes of manoeuvring managed to break free and follow a ferry boat through the unmarked channel.  Phew.  We anchored in good depths and looked forward to a few days at anchor.

We know that the rivers around here have quite strong currents and so anchored well away from other boats.  Just before 1 1pm that night, we were woken by the sound of voices and air horns going off.  In high winds blowing counter the current it seemed like the whole anchorage was awake.  Our anchor held but we watched with a degree a horror as another boat dancing in the current headed our way and hit us full length.  Fortunately had been able to put fenders in place and so no damage was caused but despite hammering on his hull, no - one appeared and after a short while the boat drifted away.

We thought it was dragging it's anchor but it turns out it wasn't, just swinging wildly on its chain, and within five minutes it swung back and hit us again!  We realised we needed to move but being in uncharted waters it wasn't an easy proposition.   That said we inched our way to another area and set the anchor.  We seemed to be secure and after 30 mins or so went to bed, just gone midnight.

The winds continued to howl and less than two hours later we felt a gentle bump and shot out of bed.  To our horror we now were wrapped around the bridle of a catamaran.  We initially thought he had dragged in the current but it turned out we had slowly moved and caught him.  The bridle was wrapped around our rudder so we were well and truly tangled.

To cut a long story short we were able to get free and moved away to anchor somewhere else, only to run aground again.  Absolute nightmare!  Fortunately we were able to reverse off the shoal and at this point, with boats still swinging this way and that, decided to head for a marina dock ... Safe harbour .... and docked there at 3am.  What a night.

That morning two other boats joined us on the dock.  Of the boat that had hit us twice there was no sign.  We checked Tumi over and fortunately there is no damage.

Later in the afternoon another boat approaching St Marys ran aground and was left listing at about 10 degrees for a few hours until the tide rose and a local tow boat was able to free them.  They are now berthed behind us having heard in advance about the tricky anchorage.  All in all a memorable 24 hours!

22 Nov 2015

22/11/2015 : Brunswick, Georgia

Having visited Savannah by car from Hilton Head, we decided to bypass it on our journey south and instead headed for Brunswick in Georgia, about 100 miles south of Hilton Head.  As with our last four ports of call we arrived after dark and negotiated the long entrance channel, and we're talking up to 10 miles long, using the lit channel marker buoys.  Sometimes picking the one you need to follow out of all the others can be tricky, but we made it in with no problems and anchored at 10pm last night in the middle of nowhere.  We set the alarm to wake us early this morning to move up to a small marina, timing it to arrive before forecast winds picked up.  We needn't have bothered: Yet again the forecast was wrong and the winds actually have dropped as the day has progressed.

After a couple of hours relaxing we walked into downtown Brunswick.  Settled back in the late 1700s as are a lot of towns/cities in this part of America, Brunswick definitely has a feel of being down on its heels: Lots of vacant shops for lease, no-one around (although it is Sunday so everywhere is closed up) etc.  It's a shame for the place as it obviously was a thriving community in the late 19th / early 20th century but the damage from hurricanes, flooding and the economic crisis back in the 1920s have all taken their toll.  Whilst effort are being made to revitalise the town, it's not somewhere we want to spend much time so we plan on moving on tomorrow.

We're not far from the Florida border now and plan on visiting two more places in Georgia before we leave it: Cumberland Island, a natural coastal border island, and St Marys, another old town and somewhere a lot of cruising sailors congregate for Thanksgiving so we thought we'd join them!

20 Nov 2015

20/11/2015 : Hilton Head Island

We cycled around some of the island yesterday on the marina's bikes, heading off to Dolphin Point at the top of the island where we were told by a local that some fishermen caught and tagged a 12' Tiger Shark the other day. The Hilton Head Plantation where the marina is located is an exclusive gated community with myriad golf courses, expensive houses and loads of posh cars (right up Debra's street, you might say). The two of us trundling around on the bikes must amuse the locals who seem to drive literally everywhere - we have yet to see anyone carrying golf clubs or even towing a set, they all ride buggies which rather defeats the purpose of exercise!

Anyway, as we were wending our merry way back to the marina we passed a lake where there was a fisherman sitting by the bank. As we rode towards him I noticed a slight movement in the water. I called to Debra and asked her what she thought it was. We stopped and watched and sure enough it was our first alligator sighting.  We stayed chatting to the fisherman and discovered this 'gator, all 6 feet or so of him, is a regular and hangs around waiting to steal the fish off the line when they are being reeled in.

The weather for the week ahead is very windy and so we're having to pick our days for sailing carefully, but with only 250 miles to go before we reach Cape Canaveral, we've got plenty of time to make it in time for flying home.  We're heading 110 miles south tomorrow to Brunswick in Georgia in a 24-hour weather window before high winds return and have booked into a small marina there so we have easy access ashore.

19 Nov 2015

18/11/15 Savannah, Georgia

We have been looking forward to visiting Savannah as it has been recommended to us by a few people, so we hired a car and drove down from the marina at Hilton Head Island where we have tied up for a few days to let the bad weather pass us by. We took a trolley bus ride around the historic part of the city and oriented ourselves on the layout of the roads and the 22 parks that divide them.

We had booked lunch at the Old Pink House restaurant for 1pm and the trolley bus tour took us up to 12:30, just time to walk from the Market to the restaurant. On perusing the menu, we found fried green tomatoes were on offer, which made us think of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Never having tried them before, we both opted for crab cakes and FGT's with fries. Really good food, and the as the meal was presented, the FGT's sandwiched the crab cakes, so it was a healthy option too.

As it turned out, the meal was the highlight of the day.

All the trees in the parks were covered in Spanish Moss which looked pretty, but our expectation of seeing lots of very ornate wrought iron balconies was higher than reality. There were some that we noticed on our trolley tour, but we were unable to find many of them as we walked the streets.

We did pass the police station where they were displaying some old police cars that apparently you can take a ride in, especially if you commit a felony!

And as usual with state capital cities, the capital building is very ornate. This one has a 24 carat gold leaf dome.

We are glad we visited Savannah, but we won't hurry to go back there. As it was, we needed to collect a propane tank that we had ordered from Home Depot which was being delivered to store nearby so we drove out to the Thunderbolt retail park and collected it late afternoon. We had the tank filled at another store a few miles from Home Depot and now we can relax a bit with the knowledge that we are not likely to run out of gas for cooking for a good while. Who said that sailing is exciting?

16 Nov 2015

15/11/2015 : Historic downtown Charleston

We'd both been looking forward to seeing the old houses and tree-lined streets of the old part of the city and it didn't disappoint - tranquil, peaceful and the rest of the city seemed a million miles away, not just a few hundred yards,  Most of the houses are built end-on to the road, facing the ocean to make the most of the sea breezes, with property-length verrandahs on every floor to give  somewhere to go day and night to get some air especially in the summer months when the heat is apparently stifling.  The larger mansions are the exception to this orientation, being set back from and face onto the road, but still with balconies and verrandahs.  They were all built in the 18th century of wood, in the main, by successful merchants, plantation owners and the like.

A very attractive neighbourhood with obviously affluent residents, then and now.  We stopped by one end-on house that was for sale for renovation and chatted to a family who were viewing, interested to know the approximate value of it - $1.8 million before the full refurbishment needed.  We thought the prices were about on a par with places such as Bath.

The same people were telling us about the flooding the city experienced several weeks ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin.  Whilst it didn't hit the coast, Charleston did have exceptionally high tides and some of the streets were under 5 feet of water.  People resorted to kayaking along the streets to get around.  Whilst there was no real evidence of the flooding, a number of houses were for sale and we did wonder if this was a direct consequence.

On our travels we walked past the fire station and couldn't resist taking a photo of the gleaming engine.

We're heading south to Beaufort next, still in South Carolina about 60 miles south .... hope we get a good sail down.

14/11/2015 In trouble with the authorities

We went shopping early morning on the trolley bus to re-provision, and on our return found two officers from the Customs and Border Protection waiting by the boat.
"Is this your boat sir?"
"Have you reported your arrival here in Charleston?"
"No, I didn't know I had to. I have a cruising permit."
"You need to check in to every port you arrive at, why haven't you done that?"
"Sorry, I didn't know I had to."
That was the start of a lengthy dialogue. Apparently we should report our arrival at every port and anchorage we arrive at, and the penalty for not doing so is $5,000 for the first offence and $10,000 for the second, coupled with confiscation of the boat. Welcome to the US.

When we cleared into the US and obtained our cruising permit, there was no mention of regular reporting and we were not given any phone numbers to call. Therefore we couldn't know that it was a legal requirement.

It was a bit tense while our papers were checked and passport details taken. However, after a while we think that they decided we weren't trying to buck the system and that there had been a genuine breakdown in communication somewhere along the way and we were let off with an official caution, which means that if we transgress again, we will be fined.

Needless to say, armed with the list of contact numbers, we will be reporting in ad nauseum from now on. Phew! A lucky escape, not to be repeated.

13 Nov 2015

13/11/2015 Charleston

We listened to the daily weather forecasts on the SSB radio given by a weather guru before we left Beaufort NC. The indications were that as soon as the winds shifted to the west, we should leave and head south in 15 knots of wind, so we got ourselves ready and departed as advised. How to these weather forecasters get it so wrong? We rounded Cape Fear in 40 knots of wind and very short pounding seas on the nose (which didn't make for restful off-watch sleeping) and once around the cape the winds dropped altogether and we had to motor in the last 100 miles or so. We arrived into Charleston at 2:30 yesterday morning and dropped anchor for the remainder of the night.

At 10 am we radioed through to the marina to let us in to our berth and crossed the fast flowing river to hover outside waiting for the dockmaster to let us in. Finally we got our slot and in we went with the river flowing at 2.3 knots through the marina, a bit tricky but a smart ferry glide in between D and E docks and a hard left turn into the flow nestled us nicely in our berth. Want to see how we did it?

We spent the afternoon looking around 3 US navy vessels that are moored right next to the marina, The USS Yorktown (aircraft carrier) USS Laffey (destroyer) and USS Clamagore (submarine). Very informative, very claustrophobic in the case of the submarine, and very humbling in the case of the destroyer which was attacked by a squadron of kamikaze pilots in the second world war and still survived.

There is a fine collection of aircraft to look around and even sit in to see how it all works.

And we could even sit in the captain's seat to control the carrier

8 Nov 2015

8/11/2015 : Beaufort, North Carolina

We're loving it here: The weather has been in the low eighties; the people are friendly and welcoming and Beaufort itself is great.  It was voted the coolest small town in America some time ago and we can see why.

We've hired a car for a long weekend (Enterprise do an amazing weekend deal at $9.99 per day, and they collect and drop you off too  ... amazing) and are getting the chance to explore this part of North Carolina.  Crazy as it seems, this one state is almost as big as England, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Appalachian Mountains in the west where it borders Tennessee.  Our geography of the States has never been as good!

We drove down to Wilmington a couple of days ago, one of the historic sea ports of North Carolina on the Cape Fear river, a great name to inspire confidence in safe passage if ever there was one!  It was settled in 1739 by European Americans and has an attractive riverfront, being named the best one in the USA by USA Today in 2014.  Through in a historic downtown with many heritage buildings, a good lunch in the sunshine overlooking the river then it made for a nice day out.

We visited Fort Macon yesterday afternoon (after an exciting morning of laundry and hair cuts!) and found it really interesting.  It was constructed in the early 1800s by Unionists (the navy blue hat I'm wearing) but in 1812 was commandeered by the Confederates (the grey hat Paul's got on) in the US Civil War,  Eventually the Union Army claimed it back after a long battle.  It's been a state park since the early 1930s (give or take a short period in WWII when it was put back into service) and has been restored really well and shows what life would have been like for soldiers back in Civil War times.

A cold front came through last night with high winds and lots of rain, plus a twenty degree drop in temperature!  This morning has dawned grey and cloudy but dry so after a brunch of bacon sarnies we're off to New Bern, another old European settlement (this time from 1710) which is also where Pepsi Cola was invented and is the site of a civil war battlefield. 

We'll be heading south to Charleston, South Carolina in the middle of the week .... assuming the weather plays ball!

5 Nov 2015

5/11/2015 Beaufort. North Carolina

On a scale from one to twelve (a sailor's joke) Beaufort is pretty nice. We came in last night having rounded the dreaded Cape Hatteras in 40 knot winds (Beaufort Force 8/9 Gale/Severe Gale) with several reefs in the sails and still bowling along at just under 9 knots, and then having to run the engine because the wind died altogether. Who said sailing was easy? Actually, it was much easier than we expected rounding the Cape.

Once around the Cape, we were just on the edge of the Gulf stream and what a difference in the temperature! The warm body of water raised the air temperature by a good 10 degrees and we were able to (needed to) shed layers of clothing because we were too hot. I can see why the UK is so temperate with the Gulf Stream running by our shores. Anyway, I decided to try my hand at fishing using my new rod and reel, and guess what?

Not bad for a beginner? It was a Bonito, sadly not very good eating, so I put it back. Next one will be a Yellowfin Tuna and then it will be Tuna steaks and Sashimi!

We piloted our way through the navigation lights that Beaufort has to offer (quite confusing at night with so much light clutter all around) and dropped anchor in 5 metres of water close to the Coastguard station where it was really sheltered. I was in the shower and looked outside to see a coastguard launch coming towards us with its lights flashing. They clearly weren't happy with where we had stopped and a party of 3 coastguards came alongside. We were within their exclusion zone and they wanted us to move. We feigned ignorance but they were very polite in insisting that we moved further upriver, which we duly did. This morning we moved around in the daylight to our present anchorage, right next to Downtown Beaufort and less than 50 metres from the dinghy dock. Very nice too!

There are some islands on the seaward side of our anchorage that are inhabited by wild horses. Apparently they originate from the Spanish ships that foundered on the coast in the 1600's and have adapted to living in marshy grounds and eating salt oats.

We are hiring a car tomorrow to explore inland, taking advantage of the Enterprise $9.99/day weekend rental offer so we can go shopping and sightseeing. The weather is due to deteriorate next week so we will probably head out from here on Monday or Tuesday. We will see. The weather forecasts change so quickly it isn't worth worrying about it until nearer the time.

1 Nov 2015

1/11/2015 : Life's a Gas! and Getting ready for off.

We've been in Norfolk for a week now awaiting the date we're insured to head south .... today!  Now we've just got to choose a safe weather window to round Cape Hatteras and it's looking like Wednesday / Thursday this week will be it all being well so we're starting our preparations for heading south including cleaning and polishing Tumi ... it is Sunday after all, and everyone washes their cars on Sundays.  It'll be an all day job by the time we've finished with the stainless steel and GRP.

We've had a good week in Norfolk.  The OCC port officer and his wife have invited us and the other OCC sailors docked here to dinner and lunch this week and we've dined twice as a group too, so very social.  We've also had two trips to the movies and used the local bus service to visit Virginia Beach (not to be recommended, an out of season Blackpool-type experience) and Hampton (a pleasant enough place but nothing much there).  So we're ready to see somewhere new now and looking forward to arriving in Beaufort, North Carolina by the end of the week.

Now to the Gas. We finally managed to get our gas system sorted out so that we can use the US gas bottle safely. I connected the US regulator to the gas bottle last week when our European one finally exhausted itself and spliced two gas pipes together to make the connection to our European gas system. So far so good, we thought, we can cook again. The problem was, that we could operate the oven as a flamethrower, flaring gas everywhere on one ring, or a trickle if we wanted to sue more than one to cook potatoes AND vegetables at the same time. The regulator that we had just wasn't regulating so we turned off the gas and went back to the drawing board. We had a look at what the other boats were doing, and found out that there is an adaptor to convert US to European gas systems and so we ordered on online to be express delivered to us here in Norfolk. As we couldn't cook, it was a good excuse to go out as mentioned above but even not being able to boil a kettle for a hot drink was something of a pain. We realised that we need to have an electric kettle on board for such eventualities. We didn't want to buy a US one as they only work on 110v and we run on 230v, but as things turned out, the couple on the boat next to us happened to have a kettle they didn't want any more, and suddenly we are the proud owners of another means to boil water. Strange how these things just seem to work out isn't it?