Underway Again!

Finally.

The 3-4 weeks of actual work on Andante stretched over two full months to accommodate the holidays. It was great to be home and see everyone and eat way too much. But now its January, its cold, and we need to get south. As fast as this moderately slow boat can go.

We left Bock Marine on January 4 for a short trip to Beaufort. It was good to get underway again and test out the new steering and engine controls for the first time. Everything worked smoothly and we anchored for the night in Taylor Creek on the Beaufort downtown waterfront. I assembled dinghy and motored the 100 yards to shore for a nice dinner with Bill and Anne. From the anchorage I could see some of the wild horses on Carrot Island frolicking on the beach. Never mind that all I have to share are still pictures of seemingly relaxed horses. There was indeed frolicking.

Bock Marine in the rear-view mirror. I had a good experience here and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a DIY yard.
Andante anchored in Taylor Creek in Beaufort, NC. Sitting close to her lines with half fuel and almost no water — but lots of food. Will be interesting to see how much this changes when I fill the water tanks.
Evening in Beaufort.
Wild horse on Carrot Island, Beaufort, NC.

The next day we stuck our head out into the Atlantic and sailed south for an hour before deciding the conditions were not at all what was forecast. It was very windy and rough with frequent heavy rain squalls. Not fun, so we turned around and headed back in the inlet.

Its easy to second-guess a decision like that. But after deciding to return to port not only was I immediately more comfortable, I was reassured by two significant good omens: A big pod of dolphins began following the boat and leaping alongside as soon as I turned around. And upon entering the inlet we were greeted with a full rainbow.

Full rainbow over Beaufort Inlet.

We anchored for the night near the Coast Guard base in Morehead City. It wasn’t a particularly quiet anchorage but was convenient to the ICW and allowed us to get an early start the next morning. With the very short periods of fair weather between frontal systems its looking like we’ll continue south along the ICW rather than offshore – at least for now.

Rolly anchorage inside Beaufort Inlet just off of the Coast Guard base at Fort Macon.

One More Gale and 25 Miles to Go

The end is near. At least for now.

Yesterday we completed a relatively short hop from Belhaven to Broad Creek on the Neuse River. Along the way we passed the first (but certainly not the last) shrimp boat of the trip and a small Coast Guard station near the Hobucken Bridge.

Shrimp boat at R.E. Mayo Seafood
USCG Station Hobucken

After getting tossed around a bit in Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River we pushed as far up Broad Creek as our draft would allow and found a snug spot close to shore to wait out another gale.

Anchored close to shore. Decks cleared and everything tied down. Wood smoke and owls.
Better in here than out there.

The winds and rain should start any time now and persist through tomorrow. Hopefully by Monday morning nice weather will return and we’ll set off towards Beaufort, NC and the final destination of this leg of our trip: Bock Marine. With 25 nm to go we should arrive at the yard shortly after lunch.

While waiting for the storm I’ve made some changes to the other pages on this site. Comments and suggestions for further improvement are welcome.

Three days on the ICW

Miles 0 to 136: Norfolk, VA to Belhaven, NC

The origin of the ICW in Norfolk is about as urban and industrial as a place can be. Tall buildings, commercial activities of all sorts, trains, planes, heavy industry and shipbuilding. By the afternoon on the first day we left all of that behind.

I couldn’t tell what they were working on. But clearly it required cranes.

That is a really big crane. With a little crane on top.
There were several patrol boats around this guy so I was hesitant to take a photo. Probably shouldn’t have worried — the former USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635) was retired from service in 1989. She was used for many years as a training ship for nuclear engineers in South Carolina and was recently towed back to Norfolk.

On the first day we passed through 13 bridges (auto and rail) and one lock. The bridges were all different. About half of the bridges required some sort of movement (lifting or swinging) to allow a tall sailboat to pass through. Some bridges operate on a fixed schedule, others open on request. Railroad bridges generally remain open and passable until a train approaches.

Odd as it may seem, I don’t actually know the height of Andante’s mast. I’ve measured and figured in several different ways but am only really confident to +/- 1 foot. My best guess is that the tip of the VHF antenna that sticks up above the masthead is 61 feet above the waterline. Most fixed-height ICW bridges have 65′ clearance above mean high water so we should be fine — but this can vary a bit with wind and extreme tides. Bridge pilings generally have markers that show the current air draft and based on these I know we’ve successfully passed through bridges as low as 63.5′ on this trip. That’s low enough for me.

Lift bridge for cars, bascule bridge for trains.

Shortly after leaving the Norfolk area boats have to choose whether to follow the (straighter, deeper) Virginia Cut or detour into the winding, shallow, more wild Dismal Swamp Canal. I’d like to seem them both at some point — but Andante’s draft is not a good match for the Swamp route.

The turn to the Dismal Swamp Canal

Just a little further along the route the Great Bridge Lock was an interesting experience. Once an hour about 10 boats are loaded into the lock chamber and secured to the walls. Then the gates are closed and the water level allowed to rise — on this day the change was only about a foot. Then everyone filters out and loiters while waiting for the adjacent bridge to open.

Entering the Great Bridge lock
Secured to the wall and ready to go.
Loitering while waiting for the bridge to open. Most (but not all) of the helmspeople were skilled at controlling their vessels in tight quarters with wind and current. By the end of the day everyone had accumulated several hours of experience.
Out of the lock and through the Great Bridge bridge.
Clearly we need a boat sticker

Soon after leaving the tidy little town of Great Bridge we settled into a landscape that was far less manicured and far more monotonous. Swampy land, scraggly trees, and ever-present stumps and submerged logs along the banks. We tried to stay in the center of the channel all the time to avoid bumping anything. Even with GPS I would not want to transit these narrow channels at night — too many barely-visible obstacles to be avoided.

Partially-submerged stumps and logs along the banks of the canal

The first night we found a spot to anchor just outside the channel in a bend south of the Pungo Ferry Bridge about two miles north of the NC border. Later that evening I checked Maps to see what was nearby: Lots of nature, not many people.

The second day out we pressed on through northern North Carolina crossing Albemarle Sound (under sail) and the Alligator River. We spent the night in a small cove just north of the Alligator River – Pungo River canal, near the 100 (statute) mile mark on the ICW.

Mile marker 100 near the southern extent of the Alligator River

The Alligator River – Pungo River canal was apparently the final piece of dredging required to complete the 1090 mile Atlantic ICW. While it may be a feat of civil engineering, it is not a particularly exciting or photogenic passage. It is long, straight, and mostly featureless for 20+ miles until reaching the Pungo River.

The AR-PR Canal. Reminded me of those never-ending long hallways in bad dreams.

Tonight we are anchored in Belhaven, NC near ICW mile marker 136. Its been a cold and wet and windy day and more stormy weather is anticipated. As always, tomorrow’s movement will depend on tomorrow’s weather. If it looks messy (and cold rain is forecast) we may just stay here for a while.

A faithful reader of this blog asked about how I stay warm. Andante does not have a heater. Perhaps a diesel heater will be a project for next year. For now I have warm clothes, a sleeping bag, and a limited supply of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough and cinnamon rolls. The oven is a pretty effective cabin heater so I’ve taken to baking in the evenings to make the cabin more comfortable. The engine’s residual heat also helps. I don’t yet have a solution to cold mornings other than coffee and getting active as quickly as possible.

My solution to heating the cabin. Smells good too

Long sail to Mile Zero

It would be a shame to waste good wind. –Paula

I’ve never made hay, even on a sunny day. But I get it — when the conditions are just right you shouldn’t waste the opportunity to make meaningful progress.

On Sunday morning we set out from Galesville with a plan to sail from the West River to Solomons Island at the mouth of the Patuxent River. But once we reached the open Chesapeake the conditions were simply too perfect: A steady 15 kts from the NW, 1-2 ft seas, sunshine and temperature in the 60’s. We screamed along at better than 7 kts for several hours on a 3-sail broad reach arriving at the turn to Solomons just after lunchtime.

Andante was in great shape having had three days of maintenance. I was well-rested and well-fed. The weather forecast looked solid. So we decided to keep going. And going. All day long. All night long. All the way to Norfolk.

It was glorious.

Screaming 3-sail reach down the Chesapeake Bay

From start to finish we covered 136 nm over about 28 hours. The night sailing was invigorating with clear skies and lots of stars. The wind slackened in late evening and our speed dropped below 5 kts. But that was ok: There was no point getting there in the middle of the night as I did not want to navigate the busy shipping channels of Hampton Roads in the dark. We still arrived too early and drifted for a while in the anchorage just inside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel waiting for sunrise.

Sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from just east of the Thimble Shoals Light. After drifting for a couple of hours we started moving towards our final destination at first light.

The Norfolk/Hampton/Newport News area is a busy place with loads of commercial and military traffic. Some of it very large.

At 853 ft this was the largest tanker we’ve encountered so far. We passed by each other directly above the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64). Neither of us needed to worry about our draft — the roadway is apparently 108 ft below sea level.
Not the best image quality but I believe the number on the tower is 75 — which the Google says is the Nimitz-class Harry S Truman.
In my Navy I wouldn’t keep the helpy ships right next to the hurty ships. But I guess we need both. That’s the Comfort, one of the hospital ships mobilized early in the pandemic.
Maersk!
And of course, coal. As long as people keep buying it by the shipload we’ll have to deal with the consequences to both the climate system and the Senate.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) officially begins at red buoy 36 on the Elizabeth River in downtown Norfolk. For whatever reason the Army Corps of Engineers designated that particular spot as Mile Zero on the 1000+ mile ICW. That was our general destination — but we actually ended up anchored right next to it.

We dropped the hook in Hospital Cove, adjacent to a gigantic Naval hospital and right across the river from the NOAA lab, the maritime museum and the waterfront hotels of downtown Norfolk. And off in the distance we got the first glimpse of the busy shipbuilding industry that we will sail through tomorrow.

Mile Zero on the Atlantic ICW: Red 36 on the Elizabeth River, Norfolk.
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, formerly Norfolk Naval Hospital, is the Navy’s oldest. This is just one corner of the giant campus.
NOAA lab directly across the river from our anchorage
Tomorrow we head further up the river right through the heart of the naval shipbuilding industry. I’m not sure why these ships are wrapped in plastic. Perhaps they are brand new and still in their bubble wrap. Or maybe they are a Christmas gift.

I spent the rest of Monday reviewing navigation tips for the ICW and researching potential overnight stops. And then I got some sleep.

Time out

Enough with weather days. Time for a family day.

Andante rode out yet another gale, this time in Galesville on the West River. Lots of rain and wind didn’t bother her a bit. And the down day gave me time to change the oil and filter and transmission fluid. And do some laundry. Good times.

The following day was extra nice. Not only was it sunny and a bit warmer but my mom and sister and niece all visited Andante for the first time. I reconstituted Dinghy for the day to ferry people and the groceries that my sister brought (yay!). It was definitely a physical challenge for my mom but she did great. And it was actually a good thing we were on a mooring as the docks at the marina were underwater.

Mom found some creative and athletic new ways to get in and out of Dinghy. And she completely rocked the steep ladders f0r getting aboard and below on Andante. Good job mom!

After spending some time together aboard we all went out to lunch and ate oysters and mussels and rockfish and squid and a giant soft pretzel covered with crab dip. Not a bad day at all.

We enjoyed both the view and the food at Stan & Joes Riverside in Galesville.
Glassy calm after the storm. I took advantage of the conditions to wash Andante’s topsides and remove all the nasty brown scum that has been accumulating.
That’s a little better. Mom did great climbing up the little fender-ladder that we use for transferring people from Dinghy to Andante.