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Whatever happens, it is all good in the end.
North Atlantic Sailing Tour - StartIt was a mid September morning at about 43 that I arrived at Yankee Point Sailboat Marina in eastern Virginia. This was after two solid days of driving from Colorado. This marked the beginning of my work on a 35 year old sailboat that had been sitting on the hard for five years. My job was to make her seaworthy. Adding to the challenge was the remote location. The closest grocery and hardware stores were a 35 minute drive away in the town of Kilmarnock. The closest marine store was over an hours drive away in Deltaville. Fortunately, all the people at Yankee Point Marina run by Ken Knull were super kind and helpful. During the first couple of weeks, I worked on the inside and painted the hull when the rains took a rest. This included things like pitching the old Dickinson diesel stove and replacing it with shelves made from the old hard swinging door to the head. I was really proud of the new Wallas diesel stove/heater. Ceramic cooktop was easy to keep clean. Exhaust went overboard so there was no odor. A single button press started it. Close the lid and it turned into a 6600 BTU heater. These were not attributes typically seen on a small boat and all was good. After moving on to replacing all of the standing and running rigging (wires from top of mast and rope lines to handle sails), the gang at Yankee Point Marina helped me put her back into the water. Of course, however, things are never so simple. An experiment to lower the main mast without a lift failed with crashing, bending and breaking. Also, an persistent leak had me manually pumping water out of the bilge for over an hour every day. After a few days searching for the source crawling around contorting myself in impossible positions, I gave up and had the boat hauled back out of the water again. A hole at the bottom of the keel was immediately apparent. Being out of the water also enabled a welder to more easily fix the mast and tabernacle I'd just bent. Finally, with solar panels and new battery banks, the Saugeen Witch was set to treat a crew comfortably for two days without sun or motor. The Saugeen Witch now had a new name: buenasea with a hailing of Alma, CO near my mountain home. Being impossible for her to sail there just makes it more fun to use as a hailing port. The Saugeen Witch is now ready to venture into the ocean. Working on boats on the hard in boatyards is fun mostly because of the interesting characters you meet around you. Spike Hampson, a geography professor from Utah, built his own riverboat. Over the course of a number of years, he navigated it from the Missouri River Headwaters to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in northern Canada and down to Yankee Point Marina. Spike finished his work and left shortly before me heading south towards the Caribbean and the Amazon to Buenos Aires. More about Spike and his journey. Warren Beasley had picked up a nice old wooden sailboat at an auction for a song and was steaming boards to re-plank the hull. Warren joined me on buenasea's maiden voyage into the Rappahannock River of the Chesapeake Bay. Shortly after leaving the marina the motor died. With the help of an extra sail, we drifted over a sandbar and tossed out the anchor. The throttle cable had come loose. After fixing it, we headed out again and all was good in 15-20 knot winds. Feeling good. At the beginning of November, I left the truck with my cousin Joe in Washington DC and got a lift back to the boat by my friend Kevin Fitzgerald. We went sailing, drank some beer, and when Kevin headed home, the Saugeen Witch and I sailed south. On November 5th, the weather turned out to be more wild than forecast with 60 mph wind gusts. It was a cold wind from the north and we wanted to go south. We flew south down the Chesapeake Bay and into the York River. I finally found shelter just after sunset and anchored off the north shore of the York River. The anchor went down in the nick of time as it soon got dark in the remote spot. When I turned on the radio, I heard the announcer giving wind warnings to high profile vehicles. I was happy to be able to comfortably cook up some hot chilli and call my Dad to wish him happy birthday after making such good progress without breaking anything. The Gulf Stream kisses land just off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This presents a solid 3 knot current to the north. So as not to get caught in the opposing current, we navigated the Inter Coastal Waterway south to Beaufort, NC. Here is one of the first bridges that raised for us to pass under and the first lock we passed through at the north end of the Dismal Swamp Canal. They fit about 6 boats in there and lifted us a few meters. After waiting a few days for a good weather window in Beaufort, NC, we headed out into the Atlantic and down to Charleston, SC. It was a wild ride of sailing single handed for four days but the experience gave me more confidence. We had everything from dead calm to 35 knot winds and 6 foot seas. At night I always set a 20 minute "deck check" alarm before closing my eyes just to systematically check the weather, heading, and other conditions. One time, about 40 miles off the coast of Cape Fear, the alarm went off and I saw a huge war ship a few hundred meters to starboard. It had no lights on but was well lit up by the moon. Through the binoculars, I could see it was all grey and 100-200 meters long. There was not a single person on deck. After staring it over for a while, I could see we were going the same speed and its course was parallel to ours. What was there to do? Since we were not on a collision course, why do anything? I never thought about calling it on the radio to ask. Instead, I went back to sleep. Deck check 20 minutes later was all clear. The war ship was nowhere to be seen. I have no idea why it was there and what it was doing or where it went. The Charleston Harbour Bridge is visible from 25 miles out. It's all lit up at night and is a spectacular sight. I was looking at it through binoculars for hours at night trying to figure out what in the heck it was. Once I was in the Charleston channel during daylight, it was obvious. Fortunately, I waited until the next day to enter Charleston channel. With favorable tide and fine conditions, the idea of sailing into Charleston at night was enticing. I was cold and tired. The lights of Charleston looked warm, calm, and inviting. Thoughts of a calm anchorage was captivating. According to chart, water depth of shipping channel indicated we could cut in at mid channel and relax as we got swept into a calm anchorage with the incoming tide. But instincts said don't do it. I'd never been to Charleston before and didn't think it safe to enter a new place in the dark of night. Heaving to didn't seam like good option because big container ships were anchored offshore and others were coming in and out of the channel. So we just sailed into Isle of Palms and dropped the anchor a few miles off the beach. We were at 10 meters depth over sand and we bobbed around like a cork in the exposed waters. I still slept like a baby until the sun was shining high and cooked up a nice hot breakfast. Feeling well rested and warm eating breakfast, I decided to double check the chart. This time I saw a thin black line across the channel marker where I was planning to enter. That thin black line was a rock jetty! If we had continued on the course I'd set last night, we would have slammed into that rock jetty and all would have been lost. Later I learned that boats and peoples lives have been lost on that jetty due to similar poor choices. A good excuse to enter an unknown port at night must be very very rare. Just don't do it!
Charleston, South CarolinaBy early afternoon we were anchored in the Ashley River with a tall round building on one side of the river and downtown Charleston on the other. I pumped up the inflatable dinghy and rowed to town with dirty clothes. After a nice shower, laundry, and a great burger, I went back to the dinghy to find it half deflated. Actually, of the two air bladders, one had air and the other did not so it was like half a dinghy. The air pump was on the Saugeen Witch and none of the other inflatables at the dock had pumps in them either. So, I put the bag of clean clothes on my back, straddled the half dinghy that had air, and started paddling. The tidal currents rip through the Ashley and Cooper Rivers flowing around Charleston. Sometimes at greater than 3 knots. To handle this, I paddled over to the outermost dock at that marina and walked downstream (because the tide was coming in) along the dock as far as possible before resuming my paddle out to the boat. Fortunately, shortly after heading out into the river, another couple returning to their anchored boat, noticed me struggling and gave us a tow. This is when I decided that a better dinghy solution must be crafted. We stayed at the same Ashley River anchorage for the first week or so while I explored the area on bike and visited a few marinas. This picture was taken at the Charleston Harbour Marina where I decided to stay during my duration in Charleston, SC. Charleston, South Carolina is the most beautiful city on USA's east coast. It is spectacular in its natural surroundings and in the super people that live there. I was lucky to have been able to spend many days sailing in Charleston Bay. The Charleston Harbour Marina has the best Atlantic ocean access for sail boats. Here I embarked on various sewing projects for sun protection, sail covers, and such. I also rebuilt the diesel motor, built a hard dinghy, and installed the monitor self steering windvane. I also met many super people. John and Nancy Bell went sailing on the Saugeen Witch on the Fourth of July. This happen to be John's birthday too. Before becoming an art professor in North Carolina, John sailed on a US Warship in the Pacific Ocean through the end of World War II. Ryan and Megan Dell and I visited Fort Sumter National Monument. You can see the Saugeen Witch anchored in the background. Columbia springtime is enjoyed with the most incredible variety of colorful flowers. Mt Pleasant beach is most peaceful but Folly has the more vibrant people. One day Matthew and Cesar came out to sail on the Saugeen Witch with their children.
2010 - Jacksonville, FloridaAs autumn 2010 approached, memories of last winter in Charleston got me to thinking that heading further south might be a good idea. During the previous winter, I had noticed temperatures in Jacksonville, Florida to average about 5 C warmer. So, in October we started sailing south again. The new monitor windvane made sailing much simpler and more relaxing. Beyond dodging shrimpers, the sail down the South Carolina and Georgia coasts was easy. I did have one interesting experience in the middle of the night around the Florida/Georgia border. At one night's deck check I noticed the lights of Jacksonville and there were storm clouds in the distance. Lightning was visible in these clouds but they looked far further than 20 minutes away so I went back to sleep. God woke me up before the next 20 minute alarm went off. Instead of ignoring it, I did deck check. We were still in relatively calm conditions and stars were visible directly overhead but nowhere else. Those storm clouds that were far away only a few minutes ago were now all around us and we were surrounded by lightning. It was like we were in the middle of the calm eye of a bad storm. Within moments of reducing sail, it hit us fast and it hit us hard. It was as though God waited to give me as much sleep as possible before safely waking me up. The Saugeen Witch was perfectly balanced and we flew down to Jacksonville's St Johns River with the sunrise like a dream. Jacksonville is a cool spread out city about 30 miles up the Saint Johns River. Our initial welcoming was from the police. Shortly after entering the river a loaded police boat rafted up and told me to turn off the motor. Two police boarded the Saugeen Witch as we floated upstream with the tide. After handing over passport and ship documentation, one of the officers took me back on deck and continued to interrogated me while the other stayed below in the cabin digging through every compartment. Beyond looking for drugs these guys were mostly blowing time searching for trouble. First the officer asked for guns then he asked for weapons. I kept saying no. Eventually, while looking at a knife stored by the hatch, he said "what about knives?" obviously implying that knives were a weapon. I said "how can we clean fish?" and then he backed off. Another ship towing a barge came upon us as the guy below was searching through things. Other officers on the police boat voiced a warning so my two interrogators handed me back my paperwork, hopped back on their boat, untied and motored away. I jumped below to restart the little motor and fought unsuccessfully to get out of the barges way given so little time. Seeing me struggle, the police came back and pushed us out of the way. There is a big blue bridge straddling the river at downtown. We were flying up the river with the incoming tide when I finally saw what was expected. The chart indicated a vertical-lift bridge around the downtown area. It must open for us to pass. This big blue thing I was looking at must be that bridge. At a few hundred meters away I called on vhf channel 13 to see if the tender would raise it. "Calling the blue bridge, this is green sailboat coming in from the east. You available to open soon?" No answer. With the incoming current quickly pushing us closer, my anxiety increased. After a few repeats I was about to switch to channel 16 when some kind listening stranger responded with something like. "Bridges in Florida listen to channel 9." Finally I was able to communicate with the bridge tender only to hear they do not open during rush hour traffic. We have to wait 30 minutes. Well, in a minute that current was about to slam us into that bridge; open or not. I spun the Saugeen Witch around 180 degrees and cranked her little motor up as high as she could go. This slowed our decent into the bridge but did not stop it. Fortunately, we were saved by moving over to the inside of the river's bend where the current is always calmest. Positioned this way we slowly gained distance from the bridge and found a relaxing balance until rush hour traffic ended and the bridge opened for us. Claud hailed me over as I rowed ashore from our Ortega Bay anchorage. Although it was starting to get dark, I wanted to walk around on land for the first time in many days and scope out the area. Claud was enjoying a drink on the docks with his friends at the Sadler Point Marina. He lived on a sailboat there and tended the bascule bridge at the mouth of the bay. Claud wanted to show me around so we hopped in his car and he drove all over the place for a while. He pointed out this and that and told me many stories but by this time it was dark and I never remembered any of it. Next day I looked at the few marina options and decided to live and work out of the Ortega Yacht Club Marina. Ortega is a tributary that flows into a section of the Saint Johns River after it widens out into what is almost like a big long lake; perfect for inland calm water day sailing. Eventually I figured out that a lot of shrimp pass through there too. Sometimes I'd put a pot of water on to boil, hop on the dinghy, and row out to the center of the channel. If you were a meter off to either side of center you'd get nothing, but in the center, each toss of the cast net would yield about a dozen shrimp. All but a few of the largest would get tossed back. After a few casts, a nice meal of fresh shrimp would be ready to cook. Allen bought his first sailboat shortly after I arrived in Jacksonville. The first time he got the sails up, we took her out into the Atlantic near Mayport. I met my Barbie in Jacksonville and we enjoyed sailing in the river many times. We did some sewing projects together like the making of the Saugeen Witch's Series Drogue. Many of the rivers in north and central Florida include cool clear fresh water springs. People scuba dive down some of these clear fresh water springs. They'll dive into one underwater spring hole and swim out the other end like a cave. In the winter, manatees graze around some of these springs for the warm fresh drinking water. Other rivers have wild monkeys left over from old movie sets like Tarzan. It is fun to watch them running around playing and swinging from the trees. Birds, turtles and alligators seem to be abundant everywhere. Sometimes one log on the river will have half a dozen or more turtles lined up on it soaking up the sun. Barbie purchased a canoe and we had fun exploring many of these places. We were sailing back from a long weekend at Georgia's Cumberland Island when I asked Barbie if she would leave with me when it was time to sail away from Jacksonville. She thought about it for less than I would have imagined and said yes. Between work and fun, however, was more work.
- Finished my amateur radio licensing exams; call sign AJ4UZ.
- Installed a nice radio transceiver and antenna tuner that worked at high and low frequencies on both the amateur and marine bands.
- Made an energy efficient computer to run direct off the ships batteries and hooked it up to the radio. First I tried Donner's Digital Interface but had trouble so went with SignaLink. SignaLink is a little box with a couple wires to radio and a usb port to computer.
- Installed SeaTTY to get weatherfax transmissions.
- Installed WINMOR, which works with WinLink, for email.
- Installed OpenCPN with CMAP charts for navigation.
- Installed Encyclopedia Britannica and Stellarium for fun and education.
- Picked up a pilot charts and rolls of other various paper charts.
- Rebuilt the hatch covers with thick transparent acrylic to bring more light into the cabin instead of dripping water.
- Stripped and re-painted the decks with kiwi grip.
- All the teak on deck got stripped clean of old varnish and oiled.
- Designed and built watermaker (video).
- The teak below deck got sanded, cleaned, and re-varnished.
- New military grade flexible solar panels and batteries.
- New high latitude foul weather clothes.
- Various fishing gear.
- Made body harnesses with climbing webbing.
- Jacklines were made with low stretch spectra/dyneema line inside climbing webbing.