Sunday, November 25, 2012

Home at last

After a wonderful Thanksgiving we packed up and spent "Black Friday" driving up to Beaufort, NC to complete the last leg of our trip home to Charleston. We picked up Jim Wilson, one of the other Sea Scout ship 510 mates in Mount Pleasant. The drive up was uneventful but the driving team of Elizabeth and Alexis put in a long day on the road, about 6 hours each way to drop us off.

We arrived just in time to grab a bite to eat, link up with Zach Nelson, load up the boat, top off the fuel and get underway - all before sunset.

We made it out of the harbor and into the channel just as the sun was setting and settled into our watch routine immediately. I use a Swedish watch which started with Zach and I taking the 7 pm to midnight watch, followed by Jim and David on the midnight to 4 am watch. The weather was not quite as expected, the forecasts I'd been seeing called for light winds and relatively calm seas. Instead we were fighting 15-20 knots of wind on the nose with seas of 8-10 feet. By midnight both Zach and Jim were seasick, David was not to escape unscathed and also had a short-lived bout of seasickness during the voyage. We slowed the boat from our planned 7 knots to about 5-1/2 knots to reduce the pounding and keep the boat a little dryer.  We were taking considerable spray in the cockpit, soaking everything and even getting some green water on the bow deck. The pounding continued as we passed frying pan shoals.

The pounding continued until Saturday mid-day when the wind eased to 10 knots shifted to our aft quarter, the seas calmed a little and with that our speed picked up about a knot and we were able to speed back up to about 7 1/2 knots. We took this opportunity to transfer 10 gallons of fuel from our cans to the main tank - the drip proof nozzle made it easy to get all the fuel in the tank and David at the helm was able to keep the deck dry for the whole fueling process.

The dunkings from the previous night had done in our bow navigation lights so we proceeded with only our white steaming light and stern lights. Fortunately we saw very little traffic throughout the evening.

The sunset was nearly exactly on our heading towards Charleston and left a beautiful red sky. A little later we were joined by a pod of dolphins which spent about 10 minutes playing alongside the boat. This was one of the high points of the trip, they were so much fun to watch that I found myself off course several times before they left us.

As the evening wore on the waves increased and we were rolling again, the approach from up the coast is deceptive, the first lights you see as you approach Charleston are the radio and television towers on the Isle of Palms. At about 2 am we sighted the channel markers and began our entrance. As we passed buoy 13 we were contacted by vessel traffic control and informed that a container ship would be entering in about 30 minutes - just when we were expecting to be in the narrowest part of the channel and passing the now submerged jettys at the harbor entrance. I had Zach keep an eye astern as I picked our way through the channel. Once inside the harbor we called the marina and they were waiting to help us dock just before 5 am.

After we were securely tied to the dock, the inbound container ship passed the marina, another prayer answered. As sea sickness subsided, hunger arrived and we all had some soup and hot chocolate to warm up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Around Cape Hatteras

This past weekend we made our first coastal passage; traveling from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC. This was a big step and the first time any of the other crew had been on the open ocean.

Elizabeth and  David along with Kim and Caleb Yecke met up with me in Norfolk Friday night after spending a few days visiting historic Jamestown and Yorktown. Elizabeth had already shopped for the trip and had settled up with the Marina so we were ready to go! Little Creek Marina was a great place to stop and particularly sit out Sandy.

Unfortunately Zach Nelson, who had accompanied us on the previous leg was ill and unable to join us for this leg of the trip. He and his mother Susan did come by to see us off and present us with a beautifully engraved helmsman's knife which straps on nicely next to the wheel.

We cast off at 0805 on Saturday morning, only 5 minutes later than planned, leaving the Chesapeake Bay with an ebbing current. As we moved offshore we made several radio checks with the Sea Tow service at Little Creek Marina reaching them easily at over 20 nm. Cell service was also available from time to time as we moved down the coast, averaging 6-7 miles offshore throughout the day Saturday and into the evening.

As we passed Virginia Beach and picked up a 3 foot swell, Kim fell victim to Mal de Mare (sea sickness), and spent the first half of the voyage in misery. She was a trooper and rallied for her midnight to 0400 watch with David for the rounding of Cape Hatteras. By the morning she was feeling much better and was actually able to enjoy the rest of the trip.
The weather was cool and the wind about 10 kts on our nose most of the day Saturday, by about 10 pm the wind had dropped off but the cool temperatures remained. It wasn't until Elizabeth and Caleb took the 0400 watch that the temperature improved. The sky was clear and moonless (until just before morning) so the stars were incredible all night.

After rounding Cape Hatteras we took a relatively straight course from Diamond shoals to Cape Lookout Shoals which put us about about 14 miles out and beyond cell phone range of shore. This vexed the shore crew, Thomas and Alexis who were in the process of bringing the van back from Norfolk to Beaufort.

Sunday morning brought a beautiful sunrise and short sleeve weather, along with a wind shift that allowed us to run or broad reach most of the way to Beaufort. Along with the improved weather came an increase in sea life. During the last several hours of the trip we saw several pods of 10+ dolphin, a shark finishing off a meal of some sort and a leaping marlin. We also spent some time being shadowed by the Privateer Lynx which was enroute to Georgetown before heading on to Charleston next weekend.

During the trip, the ship's systems didn't miss a beat and we were able to average 7.1 knots during the 223 nautical miles trip over the course of about 32 hours. Before the trip we'd taken on 4 - 5 gallon cans of fuel, we added 10 gallons Sunday morning as the fuel gauge approached 1/4 full which saw us comfortably into Beaufort.

Everyone took a turn at the helm and did a great job keeping us on course. Alexis and Thomas pulled off a marathon road trip from Charleston to Norfolk to bring the van down to Beaufort and stage it for our return trip home, Thank you!