Friday, 15 August 2008

Updates! We need updates…………!!

OK this may be a difficult one to write ‘cos, as several people have written to say, it’s been a long time since the last update. Much has happened and we’ll try to remember the bits that are interesting.
Most of the journey up to Belfast, Maine was stop-start as the promised wind either failed to arrive or blew far harder than was forecast. However we left you in Georgetown, S. Carolina where we stayed for a few days. The town is, I think, where the American Civil War started so Confederate monuments abound and the main street leading from the harbour has some lovely old houses.
Listening to the tour boats go by as we lay at anchor it seems obvious that many residents still think the war is being fought as references were regularly made about “….them damn Yankees…” but otherwise it was almost like being on a film set as mom and pop would drive up to the baseball pitch and unload junior who would saunter into the field and play some junior league game. We also met a couple who had been building a two masted, steel schooner for the last 20 years and it was still unfinished. At 67 he realised it was now too big for him to handle and he was getting to old and frail to handle her anyway. Each of the four boats he had built had been designed by an architect and none of them looked like the drawings provided. The schooner was no exception as it now had 3 masts, needed an additional 6,000lbs of ballast and he had raised the booms to ensure that any passengers would have clear headroom below them. Unfortunately the booms were now some 9’ (almost 3m) above the deck and there was no way to reach them to reef. Wandering the boat with him was quite sad really as it became obvious that many of the ideas hadn’t been thought out and the boat wasn’t very seaworthy. Make a nice floating home though……..
We left Georgetown and anchored outside before heading out to sea to clear Frying Pan Shoals. We’d met up with an American boat heading our way who thought the forecast we’d heard was for 20 miles offshore rather than inshore so the forecasted 35 knots of wind was not something to concern our selves with……………..
Nevertheless we decided that rather than head onto Cape May, several hundred miles north, we’d turn for Wrightsville and then a few hours later changed our minds again and headed for Beaufort. The reasons are varied but the former is surrounded by shallows and probably not an entrance to approach in a blow whilst the latter promised an “all weather entrance” We carried on. The wind and waves increased and about 20 miles from Beaufort we raced through a US Navy flotilla, apparently sitting at station but going no where. The radio crackled. A USN ship was calling us as, deeply reefed, we were thundering through the seas. “Were we ok as we appeared to be disappearing beneath the waves”? We assured them we were fine and everything was normal but thanked them for their concern. “Was there anything they could for us…….” Well, if they weren’t doing anything it would be nice if they could shadow us to ease the seas……………” We missed the first part of the reply as the loudspeaker erupted in laughter before, eventually; a voice said that unfortunately they couldn’t do that. Ah well.
We headed on for Beaufort, working out that we would get there with a few minutes of favourable tide to help us through the entrance. By now it is dark and the winds and seas are building from the beam. The entrance, narrower and longer than we realise is difficult to spot in the breaking seas. We pick up a pair of channel buoys and drop the jib leaving Hannah to roar on under double-reefed main and stays’l. We start the engine in case we need it and approach the channel. Through the first set of buoys but struggle to see the next mark. “Got it” as Bee sees the all important port marker. We crash on. And then glancing over my shoulder, Bee sees the black cloud to end all black clouds - from sea level to who knows how many hundred feet high- approaching very quickly and with enormous power. The squall hits us, lays us over and we lose the precious windward ground we had struggled to gain. Luckily the engine is running as its power allows us to keep in the channel or close to it as shallows lay either side. At one point it seemed touch and go and I asked Bee to contact the Coast Guard and let them know where we were. A pointless exercise as they assumed we were through the channel or… well who knows what. As we approached the actual entrance the tide had turned against us and we struggled to get through the narrows with the tide running at 3+knots. Anchored off the coastguard station where we stayed for several days, including one where we had a huge thunderstorm and the CG spoke of “nickel sized” hailstones followed by a tornado…… It was an interesting few days as we watched this parade of boats heading in or out but always en route to a marina rather than an anchorage.
Wed 21 May. Time to move on and with a bit of a decent breeze as we needed to head south to clear a headland before turning north. We motored south, watching a helicopter guide a stranded, but now re-floated tourist boat, back into deep water before rounding Cape Lookout and heading onwards. The forecast came in on Navtex indicating that the wind was going to increase and slightly head us. The usual debate followed as we tried to decide what might be the best option. We decided to carry on but spent several days drifting as winds failed or headed us.
Portsmouth Olde Towne
 The weather turned cooler, our average speed began to fall and we conceded that we were not to make Maine in one hit after all. The Chesapeake Bay called and we headed toward it as the forecast started muttering about strong northerly winds. We reached the entrance to see a parade of ships in a line leaving the bay. Now we knew this was a busy area but eight leaving at once was more than we needed and the thought came to us of how busy was New York going to be… Half an hour later as no bearings had altered between us and the ships we realised that we were looking at an anchorage and we relaxed. It’s a long way from the entrance to Norfolk and we finally got to an anchorage about 8pm on Sat 24 May, 249 miles from our last anchorage. Reminded us of anchoring off the container docks in Southampton. The following day we motored a little way down river to anchor between the towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth and discovered a small community of, mainly, ICW transitees. But amongst them lay the 114’ Baltic Trader “The Ring Anderson”.
Baltic Trader "Ring Anderson"
Baltic Traders have long been my favourite small ship and to see one so close and far from home spurred me to exchange greetings as we motored past on our way to the fuel dock. We fuelled up, filled our water tanks and bought ice. As we squeezed the last few litres into our water cans we were approached by a smartly dressed couple and the guy began quizzing us on our rigging. Who had served it, when was it last tarred, was it done with the mast up or down? We should have realised that the questions were not idle interest  but that he was sizing us up for the job of doing the same on his boat. He had a few slips around the corner, could arrange a shower and were we interested in doing when we had time. So we said we’d look at it in a few days, got the directions and headed back out to the anchorage where I wasted no time in rowing across to “the Ring” and blagging my way aboard. The boat had been bought by an American/Thai couple with 3 kids who hoped to sail her to Thailand. With little experience they were struggling to make sense of all the lines and tentatively asked whether I could help. Is the Pope a catholic……………? and so began a very satisfying, tiring and at times frustrating period as we gave them help, sorting out lines, dragging out sails and setting them. It would have been easier on a gaff rigged boat but the boat had been converted to a Bermudian rig in the eighties and had all the attendant gear of a flash charter boat. Much of it was no longer working or even completely there but we found boxes of blocks, ropes and wire and with little to go on except out of date drawings and very small photos we got most of the stuff done. The boat attracted a lot of attention and we tried to recruit other sailors into giving us a hand, mostly failing until we had got to a point where we could possibly take her out sailing and then suddenly we had a full crew and away we went! All in all it took a couple of weeks of hard work to get the boat to the sailing point and it was a great feeling as we headed up river and slowly got some of the sails up. As if this hadn’t been enough we’d also been round the corner doing the rigging on a small square-rigger at a great little yard.
Initially we’d been asked to tar the rigging (teak decks!! Lordy lord) but it obviously needed serving before we got to that state so that’s where we began. The following day it rained and I lay in bed thankful that the rain meant I didn’t have to work as 1 day every so often is better than 2 days on the trot. A bang on the hull followed by a cheerful shout indicated that Cary, our temporary employer, thought otherwise and away we went to try and get the job done.

Redbird and Hannah
 It took 3 or 4 days and then we were offered more jobs and it looked like things could be getting out of hand so we made our excuses and left for the anchorage and the Ring. But having got all that sorted, rescued a boat that had dragged through the anchorage and stopped a few feet from us, watched a parade of sail and chatted with various passing boats we bade our farewells to Richard and Pin off the Ring and headed out. I forgot to mention that they were very keen on us taking the boat to Thailand with them as we had been the only sailors who had offered any support. Well support is one thing but, even though we had looked at the raised main and mizzen and thought “They’re not so big…” we’re not exactly over-qualified when it comes to running a small ship so my reply had always been an emphatic “NO” Finally on Sunday June 8th we headed out of the Chesapeake and began the journey north. We’d decided months previously that my 60th birthday would be spent amongst the folks of Belfast but even with superb winds there was now no chance of that happening. It was spent dodging fishing boats, drifting or motoring our way out of trouble. Daily mileages dropped to 48 and our average continued to drift downwards as winds failed to arrive. But in the midst of all this we experienced something that will remain one of the high spots of this cruising life. We’re way off shore, perhaps 100 miles or so off the coast and it’s a flat calm. Not a ripple, no swell or movement and we’re sat in Hannah looking with amazement at the stars clearly reflected in the sea. The sky itself was stunning but to see the Milky Way duplicated in this way was just magic and took our minds off the slow drift north. By the 15th our patience was wearing a little but at least we were closing on the Cape Cod Canal and rather than plug on against the ebbing current we turned and headed across it to what they call a Harbour of Refuge. In this case it was Port Judith and it’s nothing more than a semi-circular breakwater giving protection to a river entrance but it suited us down to the ground, allowing us to anchor in safety off the towns of Jerusalem and Galilee! This is the area of Rhode Island and as we set off the following morning many more boats were to be seen. We’d met Dennis in Grenada and he’d invited us to drop in and see him at his home in Martha’s Vineyard and though tempted we thought we’d do the visiting on the way back. Onwards we plugged into the canal and watched our speed pick up to 8 knots as the current took control and powered us northwards. It reminded us of an earlier time when we were heading up the coast. Our speed was a moderate 4 knots but noticing a group of sports fishing boats congregating some 400 metres to the sea-ward side of us we headed toward them. The reason being that the Gulf Stream, being warmer than the waters either side causes a massive up-swelling and fish gather to feed. On the surface long brown streams of weed can be seen marking the demarcation between Gulf and non Gulf. From our viewpoint it meant a sudden increase of speed to 7 knots as the all powerful stream took control. It is an amazingly powerful force but meanders about so unless you have access to the website and the knowledge of where it is on any given time it can sometimes be yards or hundreds of yards from where you last crossed it. Of course when the wind shifts to the north it is a place to avoid as huge seas are thrown up very rapidly. So into the canal and we emerge the other end to a darkening sky and a huge electrical storm and no wind. We drift around, get wet and then the worst of all conditions as a swell comes in from the SE and with no wind to steady us we roll around, gear chafing and legs going everyway as we stagger around. Finally my patience goes and we motor. And motor. And…well then we did get some wind – more than we needed and rushed around getting the genny and tops’l down before it hit us. But we’d misread the sky and it didn’t arrive so we sailed slowly on. Sometime in the night we switched back to motor and then out of the fog that had arrived we spotted a single white light! Something at anchor in 600’ of water? It wasn’t very probable but we slowed and moved closer. The fishing boat was still, silent, drifting and we assumed asleep but left a single light on to warn other vessels. We mused on this as we motored slowly through the night before following suit. Motoring, for us, is a chore as it requires one of us to be at the helm the whole time. In the early days we had a tiller pilot – an electronic bit of kit that steered the boat to a given course – but we were never very successful at getting it to work properly and sold it. So motoring means we go onto a 30 minutes on/30 minute off shift which sounds more desperate than it actually is. We don’t go particularly fast, about 3 knots but at least we’re moving. Once we get any touch of wind we shut down and let the sails take over and before long we’re in sight of Monhegan, Matinic and Matinicus Islands – the start of Maine as far as we’re concerned. We slid between Monhegan and Matinic, skirting the shallows and the lobster buoys,
opted not to head into and through Muscle Ridge, a narrow, rock and lobster pot strewn channel but plodded slowly on up Penobscot Bay. Bit of a domestic as we passed Rockland as I was all for stopping whilst Bee felt we should carry on. We carried on and eventually crept into Belfast Harbour at 4am in the fog. Managed to find an empty mooring buoy and tied up next to John and Mary’s boat, close friends from our last visit. We slept but were up early to make our way ashore and meet dozens of friends – most of whom looked younger but all pleased to see us as we were them. Alex T was in good form and assured us we could haul out next week. Just two weeks this time we told him. He looked but said nothing. The two weeks last time turned into 7 as we did more and more but this time we were only painting the bottom and the deck so two was more than enough……….. Onto the library, same old faces at the terminals and us still with an in-date library card. Met up with Kathy the Harbourmaster and gratefully accepted the offer of a mooring closer to the harbour. Back to the boat and moved in, then back ashore to find that Phil, another friend, was hauling his boat for a few days so we could use his pontoon berth until we too hauled!! From the farthest reaches of the harbour to alongside in 2 moves and 10 hours was just wonderful.
Well it’s now 4 weeks to the day since we hauled and we’re still on the hard. The weather has been brilliant if a little humid and we’d found an importer of the Jotun paint we used who could ship on the 7th July. In the meantime we scraped and sanded the bottom, ditto the deck and repainted the deck with a 2 pack primer, ready for the final coat and awaited the arrival of the paint. The date came and went and we eventually called to be told the shipping date was now, possibly the 18th……we cancelled and decided to use locally available paints. Bottom coating proved no problem but we hummed and ha’hed about the deck before opting for a Monourathane from Epifanes. I won’t bore you with technical details other than to say single pack onto two pack is ok but two onto single doesn’t work as the solvents in the two pack dissolve the “weaker” paints. So opting for a single pack meant we needed either to continue the trend or spend a long term removing all the single coat paint. Despite keying and preparing the surface well the new paint refused to cure and phone calls to Epifanes Technical people produced bored responses. 48 hours after we applied the paint the technical reason was “…it takes about 5 days….” When it still hadn’t cured after 8 days their response was the curing time needed 28 days and we gave up. A request for a small replacement tin was met with a blank refusal which was subsequently amended to a tin at ½ price. By the time it arrived we had had enough and spent two days scraping as much off as possible. A job that on one afternoon saw 9 people on the deck armed with scrapers and sanders, followed by a further day of orbital sanding to ensure we’d be able to get two pack to stick. A phone call to Jotun USA established that the paint we required was available from a plant in Texas for US$200….shipping would cost a further $150-200 and would arrive “sometime next week…” To over-night the product would be around $800 but we’d to organise that ourselves! We gave up, bought Pettit paint (a single pack) and got it on. Now all we need to do is sand back the anti-foul we applied -it’s time sensitive and we needed to splash within 7 days of applying – and get back in the water.
Pete and Lucia are still missing, idling about in the Chesapeake but claim they’ll be up here sometime soon whilst another English couple – Robin and Jackie are happily keeping us company as they labour on their Wylo on the other side of the local theatre and with luck we’ll all be heading for Nova Scotia after a wander around the delights of Maine.
Despite my determination not to do the Thai trip we left Norfolk with one topic of conversation. By the time we got to Maine I’d heard every facet of Bee’s argument for going and had almost accepted we’d be doing it. Needless to say many of the Mainers reacted with enthusiasm to the trip and we soon had more than enough to crew the boat. Things took a bit of a bizarre turning when we subsequently found out the boat was up for auction on eBay and the owners weren’t responding to emails. We eventually found out that they’d returned to Iowa to earn more money and had felt themselves trapped by the enormity of the task. Things have gone further down hill as the Ring is alongside but taking on water. Whatever; they were a family who were prepared to have a go and may even yet pull it off but it all looks uphill at the moment.
It’s interesting listening to the responses of the people who pass by. Aside from the many “…Beautiful boat…” we get a lot of “…but such hard work maintaining her…” Well I can understand that seeing us putting in long hours on a daily basis it appears that way but as it’s only once every two years it doesn’t seem that big a deal to us. But one of the jobs we knew we needed to do was create some sort of launch/recovery system for the anchor. We had, since we left Southampton, had to haul all 33kg of steel up onto deck using the jib haly’d. OK when the sea was flat but once we began moving about it was a case of holding everything at arms length in a desperate attempt at stopping the flukes carve chunks out of legs.

Well finally we have sorted something and Greg welded the whole thing up yesterday and we should find it all a lot easier. The only area of concern will be the momentum the anchor creates as it launches itself from the roller – whether it’ll swing back and carve chunks out of the bow rather than falling vertically into the water. We’ll let you know
Once of the earliest topics of conversation on our arrival in Maine was the forthcoming election. Everyone we have spoken to expresses the hope that the Democrat Obama will win. No surprises there but what staggered us was the number of people who mentioned, in an almost casual way, “….provided he doesn’t get shot of course….”
We’ve heard from Pete and Lucia who are happily moored somewhere in New York and loving every minute of it. They even think that city-haters like us would enjoy ourselves so, having promised ourselves we would visit sometime, we’ll probably call in on the way back south.
We were chatting to some friends and the topic got around to waste; how much is generated, how much food is thrown away. Two of the friends told us the story of how they’d been driving south and made a short detour to check out the skip that was used by a well known chocolate manufacturer. The factory and skip are opposite the local police station and “dumpster diving” as its known here is illegal. A quick look in the skip revealed boxes of chocolate thrown away; the sell-by-date had expired about 9 months previously. They very hastily began hurling as many as possible into their 4x4 before speeding away. These bars of chocolate retail for $4 each and they had just reclaimed……………………… 1100 bars! The majority of which have now been recycled to many friends around the state; none of whom have succumbed to food poisoning – more likely suffering from eating too much too soon (if our experience is anything to go by..)

Lastly, we spent a great evening with Jonathan and Chris who fed us and let us wander the land they garden. The house has long been Bee’s all time favourite so here’s a collection of dreams – hers not mine as gardening looks very much like hard work to me…but we did see the perfect “shack” for us…12’ x 16’ and essentially a room to eat, read and relax in with a simple sleeping floor in the eaves it exuded peace and quiet. Wonderful

And this from more friends- a room “knocked up” in a few weeks or so by David. It overlooks a small lake on the farm…… For those with long memories it’s where we went snow-shoeing on our last visit

On the way out to see Jean and David we pass this small waterfall. It never fails to delight and the light and water can be stunning.

Lastly. We went out to see John and Mary’s new place yesterday. They’d sold the farm and bought an RV to escape the Maine winters. John being John had a bunch of wood-working machinery he couldn’t bear to part with so decided to build a barn to keep it in….. Back home it would be seen as an extremely desirable detached property but, whilst they’re both very pleased with the result it’s seen as no big deal. Constructed over 3 floors with the basement for vehicles, the ground floor functions as a massive workshop and the addition of an attic and dormers has given them a perfect living space once it’s all insulated.

And finally. I write these last few lines on the eve of our re-launch (Friday 15 Aug). The anchor launcher has been completed and once we’re back in the water we’ll see what happens when we release the windless and the Rocna plunges free of its mount. It is offset enough to ensure the roll-bar doesn't foul the bowsprit and hopefully it’ll plummet into the sea when released rather than catch the bobstay or its momentum cause it to swing back into the hull…….-we’ll let you know, but this is what it looks like.

But whilst we were waiting for this to happen we had a conversation with a local guy, Jim Hammond who runs a diving company. Querying the length of time we were taking he looked askance when we said we’d applied for residency but seemed happy enough to have us as neighbours.

The following day we got up and the first visitor asked whether we got much mail?..............!! Peering over the edge of the boat we found Jim had expanded on our “threat” of residency and installed our very own USA Postmaster approved Mailbox (complete with red flag)….
We’ll try to keep more up to date