Monday, October 31, 2011

South Carolina & The ICW

Thunderbolt, GA

For a few years now Larry & Bev on Chandelle have been telling us that even with our deep keel (7’ 6”) and high mast (65’) we could run the tides and do the Intra Coastal Waterway through the swamps and marshes of South Carolina and Georgia.   So when Chandelle joined us in Charleston and said they were happy to act as tour guides we decided to be brave and give it a go.

The first leg was back on the outside though as we motored in a flat calm from Charleston to Port Royal at the north end of Hilton Head Island.  It should have been stress free, but for the second year in a row the day started with a snagged anchor in Charleston, although we managed to free it without scuba gear this time much to my relief.

The motor was easy and then just before the shoals at Port Royal the engine slowly died.  It was obvious straight away that it was fuel rather than mechanical with the new baby installed but I could see no reason how we would have a fuel problem either.  It turned out that for some reason the new engine was pulling fuel from only the port tank, despite both being turned on so we had sucked the tank dry, a quick change of the manifold, 4 pumps of the fuel primer and we were back on our way. 

We were lucky to get this important lesson in the middle of the sea rather than in a tight cut on the ICW, as while it was a quick fix it wasn’t quick enough to avoid running aground in a tighter space, so in a funny way we were grateful for the interruption.

ICW Trip_002
Up The Mast Removing Lights etc For ICW Bridges

The trip down the ICW so far has been great, we are basically following a combination of rivers, sounds and man made canals joining them travelling 5-10 miles in from the coast past a series of barrier islands.

The travel is slow as we have to have high tide for the shallow sections and low tide for the two fixed bridges we have negotiate.  So far no groundings and we haven’t touched either bridge even with our VHF antenna.

ICW Trip_018
Too Close For Comfort?

The highlight without doubt though has been seeing the amazing spectacle of the local  dolphins “strand feeding”.  They work in a team and herd the fish into the beach where they can’t escape and then all four dolphins surge out of the water onto the beach, grabbing a few fish to fee on and then wriggling their way back into the water to do it again.  Sadly we didn’t have the camera the first day, but the second time we did and while they were more keen on mating and playing we still got some amazing shots!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Round Hatteras & On To Charleston

Charleston, SC

We left Annapolis after the boat show on the 12th of October.  We had three day trips down the bay before staging for the trip round Cape Hatteras.  The trip was varied to say the least, we had one day of sailing, one day of gentle motoring and one day of bloody awful motoring into a shocking head sea taking waves over the bow despite being in Chesapeake Bay and generally hating every minute of it!  Charlie sulked all day in the back cabin, letting us know how bored he was every time we descended the companion way!

The trip round Hatteras was perhaps our best yet, we woke to sunny skies and a great 15-20 knot westerly wind, which we ran down the bay and the Virginia coast under full sail on a beam reach.  Cape Lookout_100

We sat for about 3 hours at between 8.5 and 9.3 knots so imagine our surprise when we turned round and saw a sail rapidly catching us up!  It turned out to be a 70’ custom carbon yacht called Route 66, so we felt less embarrassed by being passed by it when it finally caught up.

By the time we got to Hatteras the wind had backed off and gone North so we had gentle motor sail from just north of the cape, round it and down to Cape Lookout arriving just before sunset, the $50 of diesel being a small price to pay for the lack of 10’ seas and high winds we normally seem to get!

Cape Lookout_101

Our first day at Cape Lookout was stunning, the sun was out and temperatures in the high 20’s, just like summer, I even managed to get sunburned.  We walked for about 6 miles on the beach round the whole Cape and then back through the most insect infested interior track we have ever seen.  Little black flies that obviously haven’t seen human blood for a while and were ravenous for it.

Tuesday dawned clear and still but there was a battle between our two weather sources.  NOAA the official US weather service were saying 2 days of 20-25 knot SW winds so nothing much, BUT Chris Parker our custom weather guru was saying that 3 weather systems were going to collide and we should batten down for 40-50 knot winds, ie more than we had during the hurricane!

Sadly but predictably it was Chris who proved to be right and so after a lovely sunny calm day the wind filled in that night and howled non stop for 48 hours, it also lashed down with rain and was generally horrible. Cape Lookout_004

Lookout Bight was great place to be for it mind, we snugged up near the beach and let out 100 metres of anchor chain in the 6 metres of water we were in, so no danger of dragging (and even if we did it is 1.5 miles to the beach on the other side so we had plenty of time to sort it out!).

The second night was the worst when it blew at 40-50 knots all night with no let up, the only stress was the constant noise of the wind, the peace that reigned when it finally backed off on Friday morning was wonderful and meant we could finally sleep uninterrupted.

On checking the GPS I found the boat had sailed 5 miles while at anchor in the 48 hours!

Almost as soon as the wind backed off and went North, the seas died down and the conditions were great for moving on.  We motor sailed over to Wrightsville Beach and the had a fabulous sail on Sunday overnight to Monday down to Charleston, sailing the whole way to the entrance channel at Charleston.  We got our customary visit from a huge pod of dolphins once round Cape Fear, 20-30 dolphins swimming with the boat for around 20 minutes just at sunset – see last years post for the photos!

We timed our arrival into Charleston perfectly for the peak of the outgoing current, we were pushing 3.5 knots of current at one time, plus had to share the entrance channel with an enormous container ship.

We will have a few days in Charleston and then head for Florida.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Busy Summer Of Boat Work

Burley Creek, Annapolis, MD

Well it has certainly been a busy summer of improvements to Matsu, apart from the engine we have got through a huge list of upgrades either as part of the engine project or since returning from Canada.

We have replaced the old manual pump heads (toilets) with new electric flush ones, future visitors will no doubt appreciate this as much as the crew do, no more playing the  Las Vegas slots every time you want to flush, just push a button.  As they are still boat heads I am sure they will require regular unblocking and all the usual unpleasantness but at a  day to day level the improvement is huge.

The old 110v generator powered fridge system has been replaced.  This was a bit like the engine in that we thought it would be nice to do before the old system died, and then during the removal of the old system it became clear that we were very lucky it still worked!  The old compressor turned out not to be attached to the boat in any way at all after several things have broken over the years, the only thing holding it down were the refrigerant lines and some good luck.  Similarly one of the holding plates ruptured when I lifted it out! 

The new Sea Frost system is superb, it runs on 12v so no need to run the generator twice a day and with digital temperature controllers we can keep ice cream frozen and other such luxuries.  The solar panels and wind generator should provide most of the power we need.  While doing this we have custom built interior shelving and boxes so that the fridge and freezer are more like a home set up than a very large cooler bin.

On top of these flag ship projects we have completely replaced the fresh water plumbing, plus we have new taps and shower heads. We have installed reversing up and down switches on the anchor windlass,  a fresh water wash down so we can clean the salt off the varnish and all the usual day to day maintenance required.  Linda has not exactly been idle either having done all the exterior varnishing and quite a bit of the interior, painted all the lockers and cupboard interiors, new cockpit cushions, clean and polish of the hull so she shines like new. 

So Matsu is now shinier and better equipped than ever, we are obviously a bit poorer but doing the work ourselves has saved us a lot.  The plan is to head south to the Caribbean for a few years, basing ourselves there so leaving with the boat in top shape is a huge bonus.

Hopefully this means we can enjoy the rum cocktail and sunbathing side of cruising a bit more with the marine engineering side covered off!  However, cleaning, polishing, varnishing, etc will always be on the list … at least we’ll be lucky enough to do this in tropical paradise…