Pushing Hard for Home

June 20, 2017 in North America, TearAway, Travelogue, United States


One of the difficult things for me with keeping a blog about what I’m doing is that, for me, I’m just doing the next thing. There’s nothing particularly special about doing the next thing. No one writes (or reads) blogs about their commute to work, the drudgery of the day, the commute home, and what they had for dinner. OK, maybe some do. I don’t. I’ll admit something else, I don’t read travel blogs either. When prepping for doing something, I’ll look for stuff to try to increase my knowledge, with the thought that perhaps sometime in my adventure someone else’s experience will help speed my decision making. So, I’m going to give a quick update on what’s been going on and tell a couple stories that might be helpful to others.

Tony’s Birthday

We arrived in from the Bahamas without incident. Someone else had an incident, though, and it added a little drama to the backdrop of our passage. It’s not uncommon to hear the Coast Guard on the VHF radio talking to a boat in distress. Almost always, due to their higher power transmitter, we’ll hear the Coast Guard side of the conversation, not the boat’s. More often than one would like to think is possible, it’s less of a conversation and more along the lines of the CG calling out to a boat that made a distress call, but hasn’t responded since, and then asking if any other boats heard the call and where they were at the time so they can try to get an approximation of the location. So it was on our return trip from the Bahamas. A vessel apparently called a distress that they’d overturned, then weren’t heard from again. They were on a route pretty much the reciprocal of ours. Note, filing a route plan with someone before going out is an important step… at least it was roughly known what line they were on. So, we kept our eyes peeled for anyone bobbing out in the clear blue.

In the middle of the night, we saw the running lights of a vessel and were hailed on the radio. It was a Coast Guard cutter investigating reports of flares and unusual activity in the area. They asked us to stop, and requested lots of information from me, presumably to identify that I was who I said I was in the boat I said I was in. Eventually, they let us carry on. We got in, anchored, did our check-in with the US Customs and Border Patrol, and carried on with our northward run. We learned a couple days later that a family friend was running back the same day as us and actually found the overturned vessel, with all occupants sitting on the hull, looking a bit embarrassed, but none the worse for wear. So, a few lessons learned in this. Don’t lose hope; even in the big blue sea, someone is bound to come along eventually, and your best bet is to stay with the biggest, most visible object. Have plenty of flares in a floating, waterproof container that’s quickly and easily accessible. You may not have time to pull it out of a deep locker. You may be able to make a swim for it if your boat is overturned on the surface if it’s easy to get. Have a handheld VHF in addition to the fixed one. It may not be as powerful, but the fixed radio will do you no good when it’s underwater. Have some sort of locator beacon, in our case a SPOT, that will work to provide your location to emergency authorities. It may save your life, or just make the wait less, but it also makes the people back home more comfortable to know where you are while you’re out of mobile range.

Reefed Genny

Since then, we’ve just been moving north along the ICW. Jenn has come to visit a couple times. When she came to St. Augustine, FL she left with Gabe as he has headed to Maine to work on the 1886 99’ schooner Isaac H. Evans (http://www.schoonerisaacevans.com/history.php). When she came to Norfolk, VA she left with Elisha as he headed home to Wolfe Island to work at the local pizza place. I can’t afford to have her visit again… I’m down to just one crew member! At home, she’s been working on painting and fixing up a new house for us to move into. We’ll miss the little cottage we’ve been at, but we’ll enjoy the slightly bigger house, the proximity to the village, and fact that this is being decorated and furnished by us… we’ll have a place that feels like it’s our own for the first time in a decade. As such, it’s been really good that Elisha has gone home with her because she’s needed all the help she can get.

Jenn visits in Norfolk – Location Independence

Yesterday’s news that Jenn’s grandma, our last, passed away. She was the sweetest woman I’ve known, always smiling and cheerful, and she’ll be missed dearly. In reality, I feel a bit trapped with the boat, at this point, because I cannot move fast enough to get home and be a help when it’s needed most. None of our other travels have had the weather-dependencies this trip has, and all of the others have had the potential rip-cord of buying a plane ticket and going back. Obviously, I could put the boat on land somewhere, go home, and come back for it at some point, but we want the boat at home for the summer, so there’s really no option other than to just get moving as fast as we can (which isn’t fast).

Another Storm Passed

After Norfolk, Ez and I tried to go out and around, but we found the water too rough for us. And, I was not totally comfortable with just the two of us running for 36 hours. So, we turned around and went up the Chesapeake and down the Delaware to get to Cape May, NJ. There were some crazy sailing days on that trip, but it had the benefit of us being “in” somewhere each night so we could sleep. From Cape May we tried to head out one morning, planning to go only 30 miles or so to Atlantic City, so we had a leisurely departure. We were followed out by 5 good sized motor yachts (who promptly passed us up on the way to the inlet). There was fog, but it wasn’t bad (in the bay) and the weather was otherwise calm. We got to the inlet and suddenly, out of the fog ahead of us, came the yachts that passed us. They each had turned around and were giving us hand signals to turn around and that there were big waves. Figuring I had no chance if they weren’t able, we turned around and headed back to the marina and waited it out. A little after noon, one of the guys got a call from someone else who was out, letting him know that if we get out to the 3 mile offshore line, the fog is lighter and would be good to carry on. So, we all fired up again and headed out. Some rollers to crash through in the inlet, and all was good. The water was calm, with gentle swell. The fog did, indeed, lessen further out, though it never went away. We used our AIS receiver to know if there were any large vessels out there and we both stayed on deck trying to pierce the fog as much as possible. There was almost nothing to see all day. The fog gave us about a half-mile visibility at best. When we finally approached Atlantic City it was sunset, though the only way we knew that was because of our watch and the dimming fog, and the fog settled in even thicker. We could see nothing, and ran entirely on instruments. There are a few inherent issues with this, of course. The obvious being that not every boat has an AIS transmitter, so we don’t know where everyone is, and we don’t have radar, so we have to rely on eyes and ears. The less obvious is that they often will change the location of the buoys at inlets due to shifting sand on the bottom, and the charts will not be accurate. Fortunately, the Navionics charts on my iPhone seem to be updated frequently and were, in this case, right on the dot. In fact, we steered toward a buoy on screen and found it exactly where it was supposed to be even though we were unable to see it physically until it was less than 100 feet away. We navigated in to the marina completely unable to see land on either side of us until we were well into the bay. So, get a charting software that has regular updates and be sure to get those updates any time you head out. You never know when they’ll be most required. Happy to be in, we tied up at the dock we’d reserved and then had to fight through casino staff, etc. to figure out how to get back to the boat after learning that the marina office had closed.

The fog inside at Atlantic City… outside wasn’t worth a photo

So, here we’ve been, at Atlantic City, NJ for 4 days as fog has laid in hard and then winds have blown at 25 knots and thunderstorms blew through last night. There’s still a small craft advisory out until tonight. The marina here is part of the Golden Nugget casino. I always thought that the casino thing would be cool, until I actually went to Vegas a few years ago. There’s such a media love affair with the glitz and glamour of the casino. But, what I saw in reality was so much the opposite. All old people, their faces creased and tanned from years of smoking, sitting in front of screens, spending their retirement on flashes and noises. I looked for something interesting and interactive, like a poker table. None of that existed. The closest thing was the equivalent of video poker with a real human dealer. Even the roulette wheel is automated. Mediocre food at a mediocre buffet. The marina is nothing special. The bathrooms were, I think, designed by the same people who design 1970’s high schools, or low security prisons. Yet, they charge double what a respectable marina just down the coast charges for a lovely place with fireplaces and spa-worthy showers. This place is depressing in every way. It’s the worst of Vegas, and New Jersey rolled into one. It reminds me of Donald Trump’s America (in fact it is, if you do some research on Trump and Atlantic City): trying to be great by attempting to not change from a past that we think is great because it’s been portrayed that way in movies, while it is extracting the dearest from the poorest who all seem to have some sort of mass delusion that this is good, and the house always wins.

It’s time we get out of here and get home!