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28 November 2008

Home Port, and a slide show link

I've put together some of the photos (probably still too many!) into a slide show that you can view at

We took over 600 pictures over the 25 day trip; the slide show has about 250 of them, mostly captioned, and mostly in chronological order.

We made the 1230 bridge opening at the 17th Street Causeway on Wednesday. It took four attempts to get into the slip here at 777 Bayshore. The current is just wicked. I tried twice, then JP tried, and then I tried once more, this time convincing myself to aim for the slip two slips to the left of ours, and with help from our neighbor in 904, we got in.

It's strange to be back on land; I was quite disoriented for some hours, and then did not sleep especially soundly (I woke up about 2 a.m., just in time for the END of my passage watch). It's better now.

Next up: the Bahamas in early/mid March.

Here's Raconteur, back home.

25 November 2008

Fernandina/Amelia and Port Canaveral

Susan has STILL not posted about their wild night from Charleston to Fernandina, but here's the photo that says it all. That flag has survived at least three Chesapeake summers, including a dunking and recovery at Zahnisers, over 400 ICW miles, and the 150+ mile passage from Wrightsville to Charleston. This is what it looked like after the trip to Fernandina.

Susan here. That flag was absolutely rigid and vibrating with a sound like a helicopter approaching. I’m finally posting about the Charleston-to-Fernandina/St. Mary’s passage because I came across a picture of what it felt like, thanks to Japanese artist Hokusai. See that tiny little boat behind the first wave and under the second?

The Hokusai Wave

At about 3 am on the 21st, JP was standing watch and I was the ‘watch below’. I woke up and things seemed pretty active so I went up to see if JP needed help or maybe just company. Above, things had that static yet completely in motion quality of a long reach. We were on a beam reach with a following sea that we occasionally outstripped, resulting in “banging” as we came down off a crest. JP was intentionally spilling wind a bit to minimize that – no problem, as we were still going more than 6 knots. I sat for a while, then went below for a last nap before my 6-12 am watch.

When I came on deck, things had changed. Still a beam reach, still a following sea, but winds were gusting in the high 30’s and the waves were 6-7 feet. The combined effect of a gust and a wave, when they happened together, was some fairly exciting pitching and rolling. JP had furled the jib (even so, we were going over 7 knots) and was waiting for me to arrive to take a reef in the main. I started the engine (bless you, Mr. Engine, Sir!), took her off autopilot and steered her about 110 degrees to starboard to head into the wind. This also headed us directly into the waves. Images of the Gloucester fisherman statue came to mind as I wrestled with the wheel and peered through the spray and darkness at the waves sweeping toward us. JP took the reef, which involves lowering the main by about ¼, then retensioning the sail by winching down on the reef line and up on the main halyard, complicated by the wild flapping of anything the wind can get hold of, and the pitching of the boat through 80-90 degrees with every wave. Next, I steered back to the original course (waves and wind on the starboard stern quarter) and reset the autopilot. It was getting lighter at this point and the gusts seemed to be lessening a bit, so JP headed below, leaving me on watch.

As the day dawned, conditions at first seemed to be getting better, then not. Gusts gradually increased to 50+ knots, and the waves were running 7-9 feet. All around were huge green waves with white crests. On the wave slopes, the wind created a network of foam “veins” across the entire surface. Beyond the waves, there was just grayness. One rogue wave somehow penetrated the companionway and sent a few gallons of water into the cabin. Several drenched the cockpit (and me). I hung on and focused on depowering the main slightly with the traveler when gusts hit. JP to the rescue! After less than an hour off, he returned, we repeated the reefing drill, reducing the sail area by another 1/3 or so, and ran that way for another 3 hours at 8+ knots. Our course was determined by the wind/wave direction – luckily it did not send us toward Africa. At about 10 am, I said to JP, “Well, I WAS complaining about not getting a shower before we left.” Within about 45 seconds, another rogue wave flooded the cockpit and, just for fun, somehow went directly down inside the collars of both of our jackets (and continued downward….). This completely new trick was Father Neptune’s last punch, though. About 15 minutes later, JP said hesitantly, “Do you think it’s a little better?”. I nodded silently with fingers crossed. We now understand why sailors are superstitious. Around 11 am, JP finally went below again and I finished out my watch. Looking at the chart, I realized we were only a couple of hours out from St. Mary’s Entrance. That’s one way to make a swift passage. [Susan out.]

With that night behind us, we decided to stay several miles north of the Fernandina inlet, at Amelia Island Yacht Basin. It's located behind one very scary looking tiny channel off the ICW but we found enough water to get in and made sure we went out on a slightly higher than mid tide to be safe. Nice quiet place; it's a little far from the downtown so the first night we walked (crossing A1A - almost as dangerous as sailing outside in 40-50 knot winds) to a nearby restaurant, but on day 2 we took a very friendly cab ride to downtown, window shopped, found another great wine bar / wine store, as we had in Beaufort NC, and then had dinner at a place called 29 South which was excellent - and quite full. We went early, without a reservation, because we were leaving in the morning for the passage to Port Canaveral, the longest of the four passages at 169 nauticals.

The exit from Fernandina was a nasty one - tide and wind in opposition to one another, trying very hard to slam Raconteur into every wave - but once outside, we had a great run. We didn't turn the motor on until after 4 a.m. on Monday morning, when the wind had dropped below 10 kts (no, she does not like light airs). We were at Cape Marina in Port Canaveral before noon, our earliest arrival. We took on fuel and then docked at a lovely T dock, and spent a lazy afternoon exploring the "back alleys" of the port, but finding a brand new restaurant, Milligan's Reef, where I took this picture of a relaxed Captain JP.

We're now en route to home port. We left Canaveral around 830 this morning, so expect to be {yes, I'm knocking on all the teak in sight} in Lauderdale before nightfall tomorrow, the day before Thanksgiving. I'll post when we arrive, and I'm working on a slide show of the trip.

21 November 2008

Charleston with Friends, and on south

We arrived in Charleston after a full 30+ hours outside from Wrightsville Beach. We just made it into the slip during the last light after sundown. We pretty much crashed that night, but the next morning we called our friend Steve (he was my boss, and later JP's) and his wife Barbara, who now live in Mt Pleasant just on the other side of the gorgeous new bridge (photos to come). As it happens, we could not get a slip at the Charleston City Marina, but Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina (on the Mt Pleasant side) had room for us. Steve and Barbara have a group of regulars from their neighborhood who get together at a delightful 'dive' called Dunleavy's on Sullivan's Island, and they invited us to join. Sage - the sign above was over the door there, and we took the picture just for you. We had a great time, listening to bluegrass/country music, eating pub food, and getting caught up with Steve and Barbara. The next day, Steve came out and took JP for a haircut (no, the beard is still there) and Susan to the Whole Foods - a luxury service for scruffy sailors. We had dinner at their place (thank you , Barbara - and another piece of that fabulous cake gave me courage to go out for my 10pm to 2am watch.
We set off from Charleston yesterday (Thursday) morning, with the hope that we could reach the St Mary's/Fernandina Beach inlet, and thanks to a wild blow as a front moved through last night (after my watch - JP and then Susan had to contend with steady 40 knot winds, with gusts over 50, and seas that caused everyone and everything to be drenched), we did indeed pull into a slip at Amelia Island Yacht Basin at 3 this afternoon. Florida at last!

18 November 2008

Random photos, 1

LEFT: Raconteur at Sea Path Marina, Wrightsville Beach.

BELOW: the things you see in the ICW: a fake palm tree, while awaiting one of the bridge openings in high winds with many other ships lurking.

ABOVE, Left: Yes, this is a life-size giraffe on the lawn of a gorgeous ICW house.
ABOVE, Right: Sunset on passage

LEFT: Pooh and Susan setting off from Wrightsville.

and jumping back in

The two best moments on a passage? Setting off (see Wrightsville inlet sea buoy, on the right) and arriving in the next port (see Charleston inlet buoy, on the left). The forecast said NORTH west winds...more like WEST Northwest, at best. The forecast said seas 2-3 feet...more like 4-6! Nevertheless, we did pretty well, Raconteur was a champ, and we arrived in Charleston after about 30 hours.
We'll do the same again starting tomorrow morning, aiming for Fernandina (again, this time perhaps with a more realistic timetable given the amount of WEST in the NW!). The ICW from here has some pretty significant shoaling in a number of spots, and the captain says we've had our share of groundings already (I win with two; JP one, Susan one, both on softer ground). We'll finish the trip with a series of passages, if the weather cooperates. I'm not making any more timing predictions, however, and since we still think Raconteur is a PLEASURE craft (or so says JP, anyway) we'll be trying to limit the passage length to around 30 or so hours.
I'll post some more pictures in a separate post.

15 November 2008

Jumping-off place!

Susan here. JP and I took a few of these bird-and-sunrise photos this morning while we were readying the lines for departure - JP actually took this one - so Leigh decided it was time for my first blog posting.

We don't have a photo, so you will have to picture the next scene for yourselves: Raconteur tied up port side to a dock, 25-30 kts of wind blowing directly from the port side, rain beginning, various valuable boats lined up about a boat length away to starboard, the entrance of the marina directly to stern with 2 large 'shrimpers' protruding from one side and shoals from the other, Stooges standing around in 'foulies' (rainpants and jackets, JP bright red, Leigh bright yellow, Susan blue and gray). After a debate about ALL the possible alternatives (including waiting until tomorrow), we decided to go for it. Susan and JP walked the boat from cleat to cleat (between gusts) backwards down the dock, around the end and got the bow pointed in the general direction of the exit, jumped on, released the lines, and Leigh blasted out, expertly threading between the shrimpers and the shoals. Just another boring old start to a day on the ICW.

No fog today, just high winds on the nose, and the same elusive ICW channel. JP and Susan both recorded groundings today, luckily just 'touches' in soft bottom. We also got some practice in 'creative waiting' at 2 of 3 drawbridges: the first one we just made (the bridge tender waited for us), the second one could not open for an hour because of the high winds, and we arrived either 10 minutes late or 50 minutes early for the third one (depending on your point of view). On the bright side, it was warm (about 70 F), the grasses along the ICW were beautiful (we are now shoreline connoisseurs), and dolphins visited us. We tied up at Seapath Yacht Club in Wrightsville Beach at about 3:15. The wind, still with us, added a big push to the docking process (I think we bounced at least once - on fenders, of course) and is STILL pressing us against the dock 6 hours later.

The forecast still looks good for a weather window after midnight, so we plan to exit the Masonboro inlet tomorrow morning. It's just under 300 nauticals to the sea buoy at Fernandina Beach (our tentative destination), around 60 hours at 5 kts avg, so we'd be looking to arrive in port early Wednesday morning. Of course, there are lots of variables... We're excited about the offshore experience. Especially Leigh and I are wondering how well we will deal with the 24 hour watch-on-watch situation out of sight of land and the extreme conditions of wind and wave out there. Keep thoughts about fair northerly winds and low wave heights coming our way!

As a sign-off, here's a photo of the Surf City Swing Bridge (almost as cool as its name...) closing behind us today.

14 November 2008

A LONG day on the ICW

We left Beaufort pre-breakfast, and made it back to MM215 by perhaps 0715. It started raining, pretty hard. Then, the rain slowed - and the fog built. Pictures mostly look like a snowperson sitting on a cloud eating vanilla ice cream with a white plastic spoon. At the G7 of the infamous Bogue Sound, we ran aground despite honoring both the markers and the GPS rendition of the channel. This time, it took nearly 45 minutes to recover, by which time, we had called Tow Boat US. Still, we were off before they got there. And yes, Leigh was at the helm AGAIN.
Then the real fun began - "visibility O" as Peggy and I used to say - very, very difficult to navigate Bogue Sound on a good day, and being unable to see the markers until we were nearly upon them made for some very adventuresome moments. We were relieved to find that the Marines at Camp LeJeune, through which the ICW passes on this leg of the trip, were NOT doing their firing exercises, AND we made the bridge opening at Onslow Beach Bridge at 1400, thanks to a kind and patient bridgetender. So, we made it to MM247 a little after 1500 and tied up alongside a dock at Swan Point Marina.
We have consulted our various weather sources, and talked with our Gulfstream analysts (Dane and Jenifer, who provide great consultation for offshore passages) and it looks like we can make a great run from Wrightsville Beach or Southport starting Sunday morning. We'll have reasonable winds from the NW, and the waves will be kept down near shore by the westing. Perfect. We'll probably head for Fernandina Beach/St Mary's in northern Florida.
Tomorrow's run to Wrightsville or Southport is likely to be a bit wet, but we are hoping to avoid a fog repeat. Stay tuned...

13 November 2008

Dolphin Video, Maybe

The rock music was coming from a (not so nearby) large boat on a mooring...their immediate neighbors must have loved the concert. The dolphins didn't seem to mind.
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Beaufort, continued

It was raining cats and dogs and gusting to 35kts this morning, so we stayed put, after much discussion and hand-wringing. We will, assuming no similar conditions in the morning, head south on the ICW tomorrow and Saturday, hoping to take advantage of some northing in the wind forecast for Sunday. We want to go out for a few days, to make our way to Charleston/Savannah or to Fernandina Beach/St Mary's.
As a reward for our extended stay, we got some clearing this afternoon - and dolphins (note to Cal: the kind that swim) just off the docks. I made a couple of ineffective videos, and I'll try to post one.
The boat above is one of several neighbors we've had here at Beaufort Docks...I think the staircase is bigger than any I've had in a two story house! Yesterday it was the smaller sister of this one...JP and Susan ran into them in town, and they commented that they have a bike like ours. JP said - it's great, and it only took me 5 minutes to get it out and another 5 to assemble that. They sort of coughed and said "well.....the Captain did that for us".
Steve - we are eating pretty well, in the ICW, at anchor and in the marina. Wait until we are sailing watch on watch - I'll let you know if anyone CAN eat while we're doing that. I'm trying to think of things people can 'grab and go'.
Kay - wish you were here too. We are having much too good a time. Kent, if you are reading - we'll be back, I promise!
Joni - could you read the flag??
Kaye and DJ: I'm with David, but for some reason, Susan has Lauderdale on the brain. Glad you like the photos - I'm not in your league (nor is my camera) but I'm having fun with it.

12 November 2008

Attending to business in Beaufort

JP testing out our port bike - having a great time, wouldn't you say?

Can you guess what the flags spell? (Oh, SailorGirl...)

Susan did laundry in THE best laundry on the Eastern Seabord. TEN washers, TEN dryers, quarters and supplies available from the General Store out front, FIVE loads simultaneously -heaven on earth!, while JP and Leigh borrowed the Beaufort Docks car to do a little reprovisioning.

11 November 2008

200 Mile Marker, ICW (aka Beaufort, NC)

Mile Marker 200, ICW, 11 November 2008

After locking through Great Mills on Saturday morning, we motored to Elizabeth City, at about Mile 50 on the ICW, and found one of the remaining 6 slips (of 14, all free). JP and Susan walked into town while Leigh cooked from various of our stores (shrimp cocktail, ratatouille, and a Smithfield Ham and Scallion Fritatta). The organic grocery that is reported in the guides is gone; the market that is in town is only half provisioned (many empty shelves) and is for sale. The downturn has hit, I would say. We would guess there are grocery stores outside of the downtown, since there are some very fancy houses around. Still, a nice stopover, very friendly fellow sailors, and perfect location.
From Elizabeth City, we motored to the Alligator River, and overnighted in a gorgeous anchorage there (pork cutlets, apple slaw and ratatouille, with banana pudding for dessert), then on to Campbell Creek, off Goose Creek, for another incredibly peaceful night at anchor (Susan and JP's Hatch Chili Stew, made in DC, courtesy of Dawnna's New Mexico chilis, with leftover banana pudding).
Today we finally got to sail again, across the Neuse River, before returning to the creek/canal system and into Beaufort Docks Marina.
We'll stay here tonight and tomorrow night, and decide whether to 1)continue down the ICW to Southport/Bald Head Island 2) go out and sail to Southport or Charleston or 3)chuck it all and sail to the Bahamas (four days from here)...the last is unlikely, but a girl can dream.
Marisa - we had a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noir, set aside especially to celebrate 4 November. Peggy - it was SO cold this morning I expected to find ice on deck [but no one had been in a crew shell at 0600 either...]. Dawnna - of course she forgave me, and they know she is my own sweet baby, especially after my docking work today. Judy and Tom - Glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks again for the sendoff. We've seen several Chesapeake and Annapolis boats so far.

Photos, Alligator River to Beaufort, NC

Elizabeth City Docks - The colorful boats next to us. Friendly bridge tender (see bridge in the background) and about 6 of the slips free after we came through - Leigh grabbed one and her faithful line handlers managed to secure.
Pooh, keeping warm in Leigh's scarf.
Moonrise, Alligator River November 9th.
Sunset, Alligator River, November 10
Funky house, Adams Creek Cut Canal, a few miles north of Beaufort, NC November 11.

Our Stopover before the Great Mills Lock

This is oThis is our stopover for the night on Friday, awaiting the second locking. We JUST made it through a small bridge, and got to stop in (just as it appears) a small neighborhood with 'dolphins' for overnighters. It was charming, actually. We ate the local pizza, too.
The view back to the bridge we just made...aren't the colors great?

Photos, Norfolk to Deep Creek Lock

One of the sites in Norfolk Harbor; luckily, no one was on maneuvers that morning.

The RR bridge that is "almost never" down...oops. It's down.
The RR bridge, up (after two railcars passed from west to east!)

Susan expertly locking through on her first try!

Finally, something pretty to look at...making our way from Deep Creek Lock and Great Mills Lock.

08 November 2008

Grounding, Locking, and North Carolina

We had read all kinds of warnings about ICW groundings, particularly in the Great Dismal Swamp, which only carries 6' of water in places. So what did I do? I grounded her as we were leaving Willoughby Bay yesterday morning. Since she is my own sweet baby, I was able to exercise my boat whispering skills and got us off (good thing since we were still TWO hours from low tide). We made our way to the 1130 locking at Deep Creek, on the Great Dismal route, and though we bumped something once or twice, the water stayed at no less than 7' and we were able to get all the way through the last opening of the bridge at Great Mills. The town there has put in these 'dolphins' all along the west wall just between the bridge and the lock and it was a delightful, calm and welcoming place to spend the night. We even grabbed a couple of pizzas at the local Citgo-cum-convenience store, and made an early night of it.
The colors in the swamp are really lovely, and the Pasquotank opens out about 6 miles or so past the second lock on its way to Elizabeth City. We will stop there, as it would be another 30+ to go and cross Albemarle Sound. We should be there in the next half hour.
I'm going to try to post some pictures while we have the inverter running and I'm on power. There is no power, no water and no facilities at the EC docks - they are free to transients, and the town is famous for its "Rose Buddies" who set up a little welcome wine and cheese party many evenings when there are a number of us tied up.
Hello to Peggy, Joanne, Dawnna and any others I'm forgetting who have checked in with us. Nice to have followers.

06 November 2008

Last Day at Willoughby Harbor

The cold front is finally moving north and east, so we will set off early tomorrow to make at least the first lock on the Great Dismal Swamp. We spent today re-prepping the boat, which had slightly reverted to "cottage" status during our stay here, dropped some of the extra lines, and made an excursion to the Norfolk West Marine (very helpful folks, thanks Mike for finding and holding our new Fortress anchor). Our neighboring J will be doing a three hop outside run, probably starting Saturday, but we will stick with the inside plan at least until Beaufort NC.
Here's a picture taken from the Sunset Grill at Willoughby Harbor - gives a little bit of the gray-on-gray that we've seen since early Tuesday.
Next news from the Swamp, or beyond - not counting on a connection until maybe Elizabeth City - Saturday night?
PS to Aude: I was up until after 1 a.m. on Tuesday/Wednesday, celebrating by texting with Alex, my mom, my sister and Dawnna. Hope you are well and not working too hard (but of course I know better. Best to Rus.)

05 November 2008

Willoughby Bay, Part Deux

We are still here. We looked at the forecast last night and it was pretty clearly going to be a challenge just to get out of the slip, never mind to make our way down the Elizabeth River to Mile 0 on the ICW. In fact, we have seen sustained winds of 30+, and gusts up to 50+. Susan and JP (with the help of our marina neighbors, who are planning to sail their J outside to the upper Keys and then cross in January to the Bahamas) doubled our lines. We even stayed on board for dinner. It's been fun, actually - just being here together, doing some planning, having lunch at the Sunset Grill at the marina (really nice local place, home-cooked food, friendly staff - we had dinner there last night also) - though getting a sense of how long this trip is actually likely to take is a bit daunting for me. My so-called "plan" seems to involve trading Raconteur for a trawler...oops.
In any event, we will try to start toward the Elizabeth tomorrow late morning, if the forecast holds and the winds drop to a more manageable 20-25. We'll probably make the lock opening for the Great Dismal Swamp on Friday...marine spirits allowing.
Here's a photo of Raconteur tied up at Willoughby Harbor: BEFORE the big blow got going.

04 November 2008

A few photos

Judy and Tom See Us Off

Pooh at the Helm

Pirates of the Chesapeake?

It WAS a bit chilly (er Great Wicomico-Bennett Creek)
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Willoughby Bay: Last Stop in the Bay

We're making great time. It took a while to extract from Bennett Creek this morning, but we can proudly say we did NOT run aground going in or out. Not for the faint of heart. We left there on the late side, around 9, and made it to Willoughby Harbor Marina before 3. We are tentatively planning to try to start the ICW tomorrow, which seems to involve one lock and an overnight at another marina before we make the rather long 40 mile run to Coinjock, NC.
Here are a few more photos...perhaps marginally less boring than my blow-by-blow?
Hello Dawnna, thanks for the update: I'm betting 350+, 6.1%.

03 November 2008

75 Miles in 2 Days

We left Solomons at 0900 Sunday morning, had a lovely if chilly sail, and dropped the hook as planned in Mill Creek off the Great Wicomico, at 1600. After a celebratory pre-prandial, dinner, and post-prandial chocolate, we were all in bed before eight! Raconteur was a total champ - what a great first day.
Today we were up and off by 0830, and with continued ENE winds at 15+, sailed until early afternoon, then motorsailed for an hour or so when the wind dropped and the current picked up, then sailed again. Got a bit farther south than originally planned, though the chosen anchorage is one of those that makes the Chesapeake....well, the Chesapeake. We are in Bennett Creek, off the Poquoson (a Native word for meaning "Great Marsh", and yes, there were STILL mosquitos around!)...not really enough room to swing if there are any wind shifts, but Captain JP, ever cautious, dropped a second anchor so we are here to stay the night, I'm guessing.
One note for our Rosslyn colleagues: just as we dropped anchor here, we could hear, clear as if we were on base, the National Anthem being played at Langley, at 1700, of course. We thought of you all. The base is perhaps no more than a mile or so away, but we have about 30 sailing miles to get into the Norfolk area tomorrow
Happy birthday to Gladys and Cass today, and welcome to our Lauderdale digs Jack and Fred!

02 November 2008

Last Night on Shore

The waiter at the CD Cafe in Solomons took this - I'm posting it this morning to say hello to Cal and Lois, parents of Susan (seated, in black) and Judy (seated, in white).
Also, I told Cal that I would post our DRAFT sail plan...just so everyone can have a good chuckle while they track what we really do. (JP just shut down the power, so I'll be quick)

Sunday 2 November through Wednesday 5 November: Down the Chesapeake to Norfolk

Thursday 6 November: Hang out

Friday 7 November through Monday 10 November: Down the Elizabeth River and the ICW from Norfolk to Beaufort, NC (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM on the 9th!)

Tuesday 11 November: Hang out

Wednesday 12 November: Sail outside from Beaufort, NC to Southport (near Bald Head Island)

Tuesday 13 November: Hang out

Friday 14 November-Saturday 15 November: Sail outside from Southport to Charleston, SC

Saturday 15th-Monday 17th: Hang out in Charleston

Tuesday 18th-Wednesday 19th: Sail outside from Charleston to St Mary's River

Wednesday-Friday 21st: Hang out

Saturday 22nd-Monday 24th: Back inside, to Fort Pierce

Tuesday 25th-Wednesday 26th or Thursday 27th: Sail outside, Fort Pierce to Fort Lauderdale (home port!)

Now you can start chuckling...we're off in the next half hour. Winds 15-20 from ENE, en route to Mill Creek on the Great Wicomico.