Saturday, December 6, 2008

White Pepper Goes to Two Too Many Funerals

While in winter quarters at Philip's apartment on Coleman Ave. in Corpus Christi, Jan and I were shaken by deaths of two great sailors on Corpus Christi Bay--Doug Tinker and Barry Brown.

Doug was a very long time friend of ours for many years. Like so much of our past our friendship with Doug overlapped before we met. Jan crewed for Doug on "E'Spirit Libre" when I sailed against him on "Puff". Doug was preceded in death by his son Anderson who was a friend of both our daughters. Doug died a lingering death from brain cancer. His funeral was at the Galvan ballroom and was mobbed.
Doug packed more living into 74 years than anyone else I have ever met, so his death did not seem so tragic.

Barry, however, was only 67 and seemed so vigorous that his sudden death last Wed. was a shock. He was a fierce competitor on the race course and a very positive influence in Corpus Christi sailing. At the funeral at Seaside Barry's brother's account of how he won the Silver Star was amazing. His sudden death leaves a huge hole in his family life as well as his expansive community life.

The two deaths have left White Pepper thinking about mortality and funerals. I plan to organize my life's pictures into a format suitable for a memorial CD. The problem with today's funerals is that they feature baby pictures and then the last pics from Christmas. The real meat of life is in the middle. These pics are usually hard to find in the scramble of a last minute funeral arrangements, so I will have everything prearranged. Enjoy the show when the time comes!

Friday, October 31, 2008

White Pepper visits King Tut

Jan and I are in Dallas at a medical seminar where I hope to catch up on 11 months of medical progress in 4.5 days.

Thursday night we went to the King Tut exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. It was remarkable. For 2 hours we were transported back to a high civilization that lived 3500 years ago. The art work was so detailed and natural that "modern" Western art would not even match it until the 16th century. Already contemporary art has receded well below the standards demanded by the boy king.

King Tut died suddenly and maybe unexpectedly at age 19. He was hurriedly buried ina small tomb meant for someone else and maybe that is why his grave was not pillaged by robbers. His untimely death and unscrupulous burial assured him the immortality that he desired so much.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On the hard in Deltaville

White Pepper has been taken out of the water for the winter and placed on stands at the Deltaville Boatyard. For land lubbers this is called 'on the hard.' We have never winterized a boat before. It was a sad and laborious process. Jan and I took six days. We would work a bit and then be morose. The picture is of Jan repairing the mainsail. At least the weather has been glorious-crisp, dry, sunny, and mostly calm.

Daughter and son-in-law, Kristi and Pat Robinson came for the weekend of Columbus Day. We all went to the Deltaville Seafood and Art Festival. It was quite elaborate with numerous artists, vendors, and a tasty buffet lunch. In addition the Deltaville museum has a nice sculpture garden. It is a little unusual in that all of the sculptures are large waterfowl and all done by the same artist. There were also colonial period re-en-actors and two llamas for the kids. It was a good effort for such a small town.

The big day will be Thursday, 10-16-08, when we fly out of Norfolk for Texas. That will be the end of a wonderful voyage of 10 months. When one journey stops another begins. We will try to get jobs in the Coastal Bend area. If we can save up enough money to refit the boat, we will cruise again--maybe in May of '09.

I want to thank all of the faithful readers of this blog. The comments and positive feedback have been wonderful. It has been a joy to pass along our adventures. I do plan to post to the blog occasionally between now and May. I may want to reminisces or pass along some longer posts about the characters we met along the way. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Onancock, VA

Onancock is on the short list of "must sees" in the Chesapeake Bay and justifiably so. It is old having been chartered in 1680. However, the commerce, shipping, oystering, and fishing are long gone. Left is beautiful country side, a lovely creek, some truck farming, and lots of old mansions (most of which are for sale.) The October weather has been amazing--clear, crisp, and dry.

We anchored a short distance from the Onancock wharf. We walked and explored. There was little to buy since we did not need antiques, paintings, or nick-nacks. Onancock is home of the well known Willie Crockett who paints water colors of the Chesapeake wildlife. We went to Market St. Methodist Church and met many lovely locals. There are first class restaurants here and an excellent wine and gourmet shop. There is no grocery store or marine store. There is no fuel close by.

Despite its obvious charm Onancock did seem to show a bit of decay. There are numerous derelicts walking about. They are quite polite. About 1/3rd of the restaurants are closed and numerous store fronts are empty. I suppose that in a declining economy travel and tourism are a luxury that can be foregone. I hope that Onancock hangs on till better times.

Mill Creek, MD to Mill Creek, VA

White Pepper said good bye to Joe Frost Thursday 10-2-09 wishing him well on his single handing adventure this winter. We were also sorry to leave Woodburn's, the best gourmet grocery store I have ever visited. We lifted anchor from Mill Creek, the Solomons, MD and headed south.

We had a pleasant close reach down the VA shore and across the mouth of the Potomac river in a gentle SW breeze. Entering the Great Wicomico River once again White Pepper turned south into Mill Creek, VA. This is a beautiful, short winding creek with only a few houses along the shore. There are no boat services and no access, but the creek did provide great protection against a stiff northerly breeze that unexpectedly blew in after midnight.

The next morning the weather service ALMOST apologized for surprise. We raised anchor early and headed east across the Chesapeake to Onancock, VA. An bumpy ride early yielded to a gently dying and clocking breeze. The afternoon was an exquisitely beautiful fall after noon. We sun bathed. Jan was very sad to see the Eastern shore of VA slowly come up on the bow.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Little Choptank River

I can't believe White Pepper spent 7 days in Annapolis. We spent 3 days at anchor in Back Creek and another 4 days back on a mooring ball in Spa Creek (in front of the Naval Academy). We made the move to wait out a slow moving extra tropical cyclone (low pressure area with lots of rain) moving up from the Carolinas. We explored Eastport and Annapolis. We visited the Naval Academy. The chapel and the crypt of John Paul Jones is quite impressive. We visited chanleries, bookshops, coffee shops and a few taverns. Eventually it was time to leave. We did leave Saturday 9-27-08 in rain squall. We would be just as miserable staying on the mooring ball as in the bay.

White Pepper motor sailed 32 n. miles south to the Little Choptank. This is a small less developed river on the Maryland eastern shore. In a gloomy dusk we slid into Hudson's Creek which is the most visited anchorage on the Choptank. We were alone in a lovely, protected cove. After our long day, Jan and I slept so late on Sunday that we stayed put listening to NFL football and doing some light chores. We could not go ashore. One of the aggravations of cruising the Chesapeake is that the shoreline is all privately owned. Cruisers and dingies are not welcome. Access to shore is almost always by way of marinas or restaurant docks. Sometimes we have to pay to tie up. It is quite a contrast to Florida, Texas or the Bahamas.

By Monday high pressure had filled in from the north. The weather is definitely getting colder. The sun is further south in the sky and the sunlight much weaker. Noon appears to be 9 am and 5 pm seems like twilight. Autumn is just around the corner. We had a spirited sail south to Solomons. There we plan to visit our new friend Joe Frost on Mill Creek.

I'll post pictures when I can get the lap top ashore somewhere.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Eastern Shore: St. Michael's and Oxford

To residents of the East Coast Maryland's Eastern Shore has an almost mystical quality--a Shangri-La. After visiting the two capitals of the eastern shore--Oxford and St. Michael's White Pepper can not understand what the buzz is about. Both are perfectly lovely--laid back and picturesque. Maybe that is the point! To the easterner perhaps a weekend in an old, sleepy town is just the answer for 60 hour work weeks including traffic. For those types I know hundreds of great old Texas villages that would work just fine.

On an historical note, these towns are ancient--among the oldest in American history. What is remarkable is that no one knows who started these towns. Apparently, living was so easy here that Europeans just showed up. The earliest written records are from functioning churches in the early 1600's. This is in contrast to the well known struggles of Jamestown, Charlestown, and the Puritans.

Oxford is on the Tred Avon River, a tributary of the Choptank River. It seems to have a bit more sailing because it has an active yacht club. There are fine boat yards there. Jan and I were amazed at the Cutts and Case yard. The most amazing restorations of old wooden yachts were ongoing. Much of the work was readily accessible to the public. Regrettably the camera was on the blink. Some of the old wood work was breathtaking. By coincidence the Annapolis to Oxford race was the weekend we were there. 150 large yachts showed up for what is apparently a very average race on Chesapeake Bay. We crashed the party on Saturday night. No one seemed to mind. The Naval Academy sailing club was there in force and it was wonderful to see so many young adults so excited about sailing. Sunday morning White Pepper pretended to take a start. Actually we powered away from the start just fine--5 knots straight upwind. After shadowing the fleet for 20 miles we tired of the slow running and ran into Annapolis harbor to pick up a mooring ball 50 yards in front of the Naval Academy.

A week later in the company of our daughter, Layla Rush, we set out for the crown jewel of the Eastern Shore--St. Michael's. This town is on the Miles River which is in turn a tributary of the Eastern Bay. We were off season and able to anchor inside the small harbor of St. Michael's. It is very picturesque and lovely. This town was the model for James's Michner's Potamuk in his novel Chesapeake. There is a marvelous maritime museum at St. Micheal's. Many say it is the best in the Chesapeake, but for my money the Solomons museum is an equal. One nice feature of our visit to the museum was an exhibit by the National Assoc. of Maritime Artists. I was not too impressed until I saw one of Kent Ulberg's statues on display. My impression of the rest of St. Michael's was downhill from the museum. The place is VERY expensive as befits the most exclusive of resorts. My most vivid recollection is of Foxy's. Foxy's is a mangy dockside marina bar that would not even attract notice in Port Aransas, Texas. But the premium Margarita's were $12. There was a featured drink called "cheap and dirty." It was "cheap vodka and olive juice" for $9 a glass! After one round and $35. (with tip) Jan, Layla, and I left hyperventilating.

The best part of the trip was a rousing, brisk sail back to Annapolis in cool ENE breeze and brilliant sunshine.

Navy 23, Rutgers 21

One of the highlights of our stay in Annapolis was watching the Navy Rutgers football game. Tickets were provided by co-padre Rick Rush. God provided an exquisite early fall afternoon. And the Navy football team provided an exciting last minute victory. Stadium parking was no problem. We just dingied across Annapolis Harbor and up the wonderfully named Ego Alley. At the head of Ego Alley is the dingy dock (free) in downtown Annapolis. From there it is a pleasant 1.5 statute mile walk to the stadium.

We had gone to the game for the event and the pageantry which was supplied in full. We did not expect a good game as Navy has a new coach and was only 1-2 against weak opponents. Rutgers has a nationally recognized program. Both teams ran very well, but Navy had few more passes and got some breaks. It was a very thrilling fourth quarter.

Jan and I were so happy to have Layla with us for the past week. Above is a picture of Richard and Layla Rush.

The Annapolis harbor was so full that we could not pick up a mooring ball when we arrived on Friday afternoon. White Pepper had to anchor in Back Creek which was an event in itself. Back Creek is about one nautical mile from Annapolis. It is lined with probably 2000 docks each filled with large and expensive yachts. The whole scene is an impressive display of fiberglass. I know that Kehma, Texas claims for have the most yachts in one spot. However, I have seen them and most are old weather beaten small boats, like the Catalina 27's etc. These are all gleaming and very sleek.

Monday, September 15, 2008

St. Mary's

Just off the beaten track of cruising up the Western Shore of the Chesapeake is the St. Mary's River. It is the first tributary past the northern part of the Potomac River. By the way, the mouth of the Potomac is so wide (10 n. mi.) that you can not see across it. After another 10 n. miles the St. Mary's opens up to the north. It is a gentle, deep and wide river. After another 10 n. miles in the middle of pastoral splendor and around Church Point (see picture of cross above) is St Mary's College and old St. Mary's historical district.

I was interested in St. Mary's College because it is routinely ranked #1 in college sailing. Old St. Mary's was the first capital of Maryland and was a ghost town by 1750. In fact it was completely obliterated by time and only archaeological records remain. It was founded on the principal of religious freedom. This was taken away when the capital of Maryland was moved to Annapolis. Only the first amendment returned that freedom to the people of Maryland.

Jan and I anchored off the college and watched the kids practice sailing. It was so energizing to see and feel those kids returning to school (This was the first week in September.)

We toured the country side of rural Maryland, toured the campus, and toured old historic St. Mary's. We were sad to be chased away by the imminent arrival of tropical storm Hanna.

Tropical Storm Hanna

Hanna was a non-event for the crew of White Pepper.

We did move from a wonderful anchorage in St. Mary's Creek to another wonderful anchorage well up in Mill Creek in Solomons. There we anchored in 9 feet of water, but the attraction was 100 foot cliffs on either side--a virtual hurricane hole.

I set two anchors on 100 feet of chain and 100 feet of rope rode each. They were hardly needed. When the tropical storm came through, the tree tops on the cliffs were swaying in 45 knot breezes, but we hardly got 10 knots at the water level. There were not even ripples to disturb us.

At the height of the storm we dingied ashore to met our new friend Joe Frost for lunch. Joe had so graciously offered the hospitality of his house and dock when we were at Mill Creek. We all went out to lunch and then a book signing by Joe's friend, Connie L. Reeves. As the eye of the storm passed overhead Jan and I went for a walk in AnneMarie Gardens. AnneMarie Gardens could be interpreted as an out post of the Hershorn Museum of Sculpture, one of the Smithsonian institutions. Mrs. Anne Marie Hershorn dedicated most of the pieces and it is a treasure. The people of Maryland have so much culture they do not appreciate it, but then they also do not appreciate a really good hurricane.

By the time Jan and I got back to the boat the southern part of the eye wall had come through and it must have been blowing all of 15 knots across the bow of White Pepper. The sky was calm and clear by sunset. Little did we know that a week later we would be watching in horror as a real cyclone, Ike, roared across familiar waters in Texas.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Still in Deltaville

We are still in Deltaville, VA. As nice as this place is we are ready to leave: however, things just keep breaking and needing repair. After the bottom job and the new sea cocks were done, the fresh water pump broke down and I managed to finish off the shifter which has been a problem for years. Hopefully both of those will be fixed by tomorrow. Then we plan to push on with exploring the Chesapeake.

Deltaville is very rural and to make my point I am adding a picture of a family of wild turkeys that Jan and I saw only a quarter of a mile from the boatyard. The weather has been fantastic--clear and mild.

On a note of 'blast from the past' we met an old acquaintance from Corpus Christi in the boater's lounge at the Deltaville Marina--Molly Childs. Old timers will remember her as racing hard with Nick Welch on his Ranger 20 years ago. They were arch rivals when I was racing the "Puff", my Ranger 28. She is cruising with her new husband Jim.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Deltaville, VA--at last

"Life is a journey, not a destination," says the sage. Well, the sage had not spent the last 10 weeks traveling 1000+ miles at walking speed in a leaky boat with a foul bottom and a balky transmission. We needed to get to Deltaville.

Friday morning dawned beautiful in Sarah Creek. I was determined to catch the ebb at 8 am. We whisked down the York and out in the Chesapeake. The wind had clocked to the SE so White Pepper could sail to the Piankatank River 20 n. mi. to the north. The Piankatank is a small river south of the Rappahannock River. Deltaville is on the small peninsula between the two rivers.

We made Jackson's Creek off the Piankatank about 3 pm. It was not long before White Pepper was tied up at the Deltaville Marina.

The first thing to understand about Deltaville is that it is very rural. The permanent population is about 800. There is no downtown. There is one motel, one restaurant, and no grocery store. The second thing is that Deltaville is all about boats. Many years ago Deltaville was an important boat building center. That industry is long gone, but the town has somehow retained its skills in the marine trades. There are 29 marinas and 6 full service yards. There are hundreds of yachts --most are in storage. There are TWO West Marine Stores. The manager of one, Sam, told me that the two stores were number one and two in production for the East Coast and he was planning to expand.

We met with the service writer at the Deltaville Boat Yard--India. After making some arrangements for the bottom job and the seacocks, we packed up and drove to Manassas, VA for a visit with the kids.

Sarah's Creek on the York River

White Pepper left Portsmith with her intrepid crew of Jan, Karl, and Cindy Elliot on Thursday. We left late and struggled against a flood tide. Hours passed as we crawled past miles of warships lined up along the Elizabeth River. Finally, at the mouth of the river we passed two magnificent Forrestal class air craft carriers. We did not take pictures as I did not want a Coast Guard boarding.

Eventually, we entered Hampton Roads. For being so famous Hampton Roads is small--maybe 3 mi. by 5 miles. I once lived on the banks of Hampton Roads as a sixth grader. It looked so enormous then. Once past Fort Monroe, where my father was once stationed, we were out in the Chesapeake Bay at last.

Even in the wide open Chesapeake we were confined to fairways. Wide swatches of the bay are assigned to fishermen who can leave nets in the water. We did not see any impediments but stayed in our lane regardless. The wind stayed light from the NE and on the nose. So we had to motor all day. To compound the delay the current changed and now we were fighting an ebb tide.

A change of plans was required. White Pepper turned up into the York River. Five miles upstream and across the river from York Town (Cornwallis, Washington, etc.) we turned into Sarah's Creek. It was the perfect Bay anchorage--tranquil, placid, and picturesque--just as the sun set. We barbecued chicken and spent a peaceful evening.

Norfolk, VA

The Elizabeth River is a short but heavily industrialized and militarized corridor with a long and eventful history. Portsmith is the older city on the eastern bank. Norfolk is the younger but more successful city on the western bank. This Sunday afternoon was White Pepper's first encounter with large opening bridges. With Jan following "Cruiser Bob's" succinct guide and myself on VHF channel 13 we managed fine. Later that afternoon we docked at Tidewater Marine in the shadow of the famous Portsmith Naval Hospital.

New crew member, Cindy Elliott, Jan's sister, was due to join us Wednesday. On Monday we took the ferry ($1 exact change) to Norfolk and spent time exploring Granby Street, the Naval museum (Nauticus) and the US Wisconsin. The Wisconsin is one of the 4 Iowa class battleships. It is long, low and lean. It is the final expression of battleship architecture--much like Chartes is the ultimate expression of the cathedral.It is docked permanently in Norfolk and serves the community much as the US Lexington does Corpus Christi.

Tuesday we checked out historical Portsmith and it's revitalized shopping district.

On Wednesday Cindy flew in early. We had enough time to go over to Norfolk and visit the Chrysler Art Museum. The Chrysler is a jewel. It is rated as one of the top 20 art museums in the country, but it is still a shock to find such an amazing institution in residential Norfolk. To get there we took the city bus which is free. Mr. Chrysler spent seven decades and a good chunk of his family fortune collecting art. He endowed it all to his museum. I have no idea why he choose Norfolk. Wednesday afternoon was free admission. After three hours seeing one amazing display after another the three of us relaxed with a glass of wine and jazz combo in the lobby of the museum. It was quite an afternoon.

The Dismal Swamp

First about the name--dismal. We found two explanations. All of 15th century colonist called any swamp dismal. The great expanse of wooded wetlands on the Virgina/North Carolina border was just the most dismal of all. That bit of information was courtesy of a pamphlet distributed by the NC Dept. of Highways. At the park headquarters we learned that William Byrd II, who surveyed the Virginia/NC border in 1728, called the area 'most dismal' and the name stuck. The swamp was the home of many run away slaves. Many of these came up the Pasquotank from Elizabeth City which held more abolitionists views than the typical Southern city.

The area has changed much since then. Every single tree has been logged or burned. Roads and canals have changed the water flow. The area is making a slow recovery under the care of the National Park Service. The Corp of Engineers administers the set of two locks.

White Pepper's trip through the canal was uneventful. We did not see much wildlife. The greenery was quite thick and right down to the waterline. It was much like driving through a long, straight and green corridor. The canal is too long to traverse in one day considering the locks only open four times per day and the last opening is at 3:30 pm. We stayed over night at the park head quarters with new friends and fellow Texans Bobbie and Jennie from Wandering Star.

The locks were fascinating. They raised and then lowered White Pepper eight feet. We were the only boat each time in the lock. After the northern lock we were in the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. Eventually, I do not see how the Dismal Swamp Canal can stay open. Few cruisers use the canal except during the great migration in October. Power boater avoid it because of floating logs. Bigger yachts can not use it because of depth concerns. White Pepper and Wandering Star were the only two yachts in the canal for the two days we were there. It's hard to see how the Corp of Engineers can justify the expense of the locks and dredging for so little traffic.

Elizabeth City, NC

At the mouth of the Alligator River lies Albemarle Sound. From this spot the northern bound cruiser has a choice. To the NE there is the Chuittuck Sound and the Chesapeake-Albemarle canal. This is the Virginia Cut route. It is shorter, quicker, deeper than the alternative--the Dismal Swamp route. To the N of Alligator River 20 ni. mi. across Albemarle Sound is the mouth of the Pasquotank River and the way to the Dismal Swamp.

The wind had freed enough that White Pepper was able to raise her main. This was the first time the main sail had been up in weeks. It helped calm the boat as she handled the chop. The day was beautiful with a pleasant dying clocking breeze. No day sail on Corpus Christi bay was ever nicer.

Upon entering the Pasquotank White Pepper encountered hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps strung out in lines of 6 to 12. Several hours of gingerly picking our way through this maze used up much of the afternoon. Along the Pasquotank is a gargantuan dirigible facility and the largest Coast Guard air station. Finally, Elizabeth City came into view about 12 miles up the river.

Elizabeth City offers 48 hours of free dockage at the city park. This is quite generous but requires interacting with all of the many (friendly) passersby. Elizabeth City is a great place to visit. At 17,000 population it is the largest city in NE North Carolina. The city has done a great deal of work on the waterfront and city infrastructure. They have just opened a marvelous new museum. Something seems to go on every weekend at the park.

Jan and I walked through the historical district. We were intrigued enough to do it again in a guided tour with Bonnie. Bonnie recently moved from Portsmith, VA and has restarted her business of historical guiding. We finished up with high tea at her home which is the oldest brick home in Elizabeth City. She is restoring it to its prior beauty. Later we stopped at local seafood restaurant and market. We took revenge on some of the local crabs for making our trip up the river so tedious. The food was great and cheap.

Saturday when our free 48 hours were up White Pepper headed up the now narrow and winding Pasquotank for the Dismal Swamp Canal. Jan and I believe that visiting Elizabeth City is the best reason to use the Dismal Swamp route.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Up the Pungo (and down the Alligator)

From Oriental, NC. White Pepper set off just after the morning fog burned off at 9 am. A long winding journey was in store for the day. First we sailed down the Neuse river to the Pimlico Sound, then along the edge of the sound to turn up the short stretch of the Bay River. After that there was a 5 n. mile trip thru a canal and past Holbucken. There is a Coast Guard Station at Holbucken. It might be the only Coast Guard station set in a pasture. Finally we entered Goose Creek and then turned into the Pimlico River. It was about 4 n. mi. across the Pimlico River into a short choppy sea. It was late afternoon and the sea breeze had firmly set in. Bath, NC was 30 miles up the river--well out of our way.

The next leg was the most interesting as White Pepper turned into the Pungo River. The Pungo is wide, deep and short. Ten miles up the river is Belhaven NC--a small, sleepy, post commercial village. We could have easily anchored in the river itself, but decided to stay at the Dowry Creek Marina. Dowry Creek Marina is a sleepy but well run operation that caters to the transient trade. Mary, the owner, will quickly tell you that she is living her late husband's dream and would not have it any other way. Mary let us and new friends, Richard and Kathy, take the marina's truck into Belhaven. We checked out the library downtown. Nothing else was open so we drove out to the highway for groceries and fast food Chinese.

After two days at Dowry Creek and after one last long shower, Jan and I shoved off for the Alligator River. First we had to go under Albert B. Jones bridge. All bridges on the ICW are supposed to have 65 feet of clearance. This bridge has only 64 feet of clearance on good days. The chart and cruising guides warn of as much as two feet less clearance "sometimes." There is no celestial tide here so this mysterious missing two feet is probably due to wind driven tides. Sixty two feet is just about where White Pepper's masthead is. We passed under bridge very slowly and breathed a hugh sigh of relief as we entered the 25 n. mile long Pungo-Alligator canal. The wind was right on the nose all day slowing us down to 4 knots. By the time White Pepper finally got to the Alligator River is was late and we anchored at the first possible spot.

The Alligator River is one of the most remote and desolate spots that I have ever been. It is in the middle of absolutely nowhere surrounded by second and third growth scrub and swamp. There are not even any alligators there. The only sign of civilization were two F14 fighter jets that kept circling overhead. Later we learned that the Navy maintains a bombing run nearby.

The next day despite an early start the wind stayed right on the nose funneling down the river. With a steep chop added to the 15 knot head wind progress was very slow. Finally at 2 pm we ducked into the Alligator River Marina to wait for a change in the weather and wind.

Oriental, NC

Oriental, NC is well known is the sailing world. Imagine my surprise when I learned that only 875 people live in Oriental. The nearest large town is New Bern 35 miles further up the Neuse River. Oriental is small and can walked in an hour. Many old cruisers who have "swallowed the hook" and settled down live here. The setting for sailing is idyllic. The Nuese river is deep and wide. The seas are protected and the wind gentle. It seems the ideal location to learn to sail. Indeed several well known summer camps operate nearby and teach sailing to youth. Eventually, I believe that Jan and I would tire of such bland sailing.

The dingy motor died in Oriental and would not come back to life. It was the carburetor as usual and required professional service. As we were entering very rural North Carolina this would not be available for quite a while.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beaufort/Moorhead City, N.C.

White Pepper left Charleston on a beautiful Sunday morning of July 6, 2008. The weather was excellent so we headed offshore to the Moorhead City inlet 200 n. miles to the NE. Fair winds and a following sea pushed us right along. The only problem was a few thunder storms as we approached Cape Fear.

After that the weather was gorgeous. This was to be White Pepper's last day at sea for several years. The winds were 10-15 knots on the starboard quarter. The waves were gentle 2-3 foot smooth rollers. It was almost as if the ocean was try to seduce us back. "Have I been so bad? See how beautiful I can be? Those bays and rivers you are going to will never make you happy. I never meant to hurt you. Please don't leave me." As dawn broke on the 8th we entered the Moorhead City inlet with very mixed emotions.

We skipped Moorhead City which is actually quite industrial and immediately turned into Beafort just a mile to the north. Beafort is for sailors. There are mooring balls and anchorage in Taylor Creek. The town itself is quite historic. It is the third oldest town in NC. It also has a dynamite nautical museum that boasts of being the most visited museum in North Carolina. I can see why. There is a restoration shop that you can visit and an extensive nautical library. Entry is donations only.

The historic district is nice. Most of the old home are made of wood. With a fresh coat of white paint I can not tell the difference between a house built in 1750 and one built in 1840. By the way James Taylor owns one of the old homes and is said to actually live in Beaufort. We did not see him.

We met lots of characters on the water front. One fellow, Marty, drove us to the Piggly Wiggly and was quite gracious. Thanks. We hiked in the Rachael Carson nature preserve. Older reader will member Rachael Carson as THE founding member of the green movement from her book "The Silent Spring." She did some of her early work in the dunes here.

Finally, we pulled up anchor and turned into the ICW. I was determined not to let Cape Hatteras have a shot at us. Oriental, on the Neuse River, was next.

An apology

First an apology about the lag in posting. The Acer computer crashed after a Vista/Windows update in Beaufort, NC. The crash was so total that I had to send it back to the factory for service. Since then we have limped from public library to public library for internet access. Also the old Olympus camera quit. Actually the camera works fine, but the buttons are so salted up that we can't download and erase any of the pictures. I am going to send the camera back to the factory for cleaning. In the meantime, we have just bought a new 10 mega pixel fully waterproof and shock proof Olympus. Hopefully this new camera can stand the cruising life.

I am now able to use my daughter's computer while we live with the kids. The White Pepper is in Deltaville, VA undergoing repairs and a refit. Deltaville is in rural Virgina, and I mean far away. It has a great reputation for boat repairs. There are two West Marine stores, 29 marinas, and 6 full service yards in a town of 800 people. It's hot in the boatyard so we are living in Manassas, VA for the time being.

We have had an eventful trip from Charleston, SC to Deltaville. I will gradually try to catch up on the posts and add the pictures when they are available.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Charleston! Forget New Orleans

White Pepper arrived in Charleston Harbor Monday morning exhausted. We had picked Charleston as it was at the limit of our fuel consumption and weather window. Little did Jan or I realized what a jewel Charleston is. This is a wonderful town to visit and vacation.

The downtown is only a mile from the City Marina, but they provide a courtesy shuttle. All of Charleston is preserved and historical. Much of the history is pre-revolutionary as well as Civil War era. The town was once the 3rd largest city in America and the preeminent city of the South. Over the centuries it has reinvented itself as party central. There are museums, world class shopping on King Street, fabulous restaurants in the Low Country tradition, and extended happy hour on East Bay St. Charleston is often called the "Holy City" there are more churches per square mile than any other city in America and there are even more art galleries. Some of the churches are among the oldest in the country. There is one church were Geo. Washington attended services, and the Episcopal Church--St. John the Baptist--has the graves of three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

We threw ourselves wholeheartedly into the tourist thing. We took carriage rides, we took a culinary tour, and we visited Fort Sumter. Jan went to the farmer's market Saturday morning. We had some of the best dining I have ever had. On the night of the 4th of July we watched a spectacular fire works display from the water front park.

Another feature of the city is the remarkable number of young people about. There are 5 higher ed. centers closeby. The city seems overrun by kids working summer jobs or just out partying.

The comparison with New Orleans is inevitable. Charleston is so much cleaner, nicer, safer, and more interesting that I would never chose New Orleans over Charleston to visit. There is a French Quarter here, but it does not smell of urine and beer. We walked everywhere without a concern. In New Orleans I have called a cab to cross Canal Street.

The fellow with Jan in one of the pics is Eric Hyman, owner of Hyman's, the most popular restaurant in Charleston. I promised him a spot on the blog. He is the fourth generation Hyman to do business in Charleston and really nice guy.

We have stayed days longer than our plans called for. The weather remains unsettled, but we have to move on. Sunday morning we will start up the ICW for Morehead City, NC. We will both be very sorry to leave this surprising place.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ft. Pierce to Charleston, SC

The leisured pace of the Abacos and the delays in Fort Pierce had put far behind the weather curve. In order to leap frog some of the delay, Jan and I chose a long leg offshore from Fort Pierce, Fla. to Charleston, SC--a journey of 320 n. miles. I chose a course about 40 miles offshore and well inside the west wall of the Gulf Stream

The trip was a total success in that we made it in about 60 hours without any breakage or significant problems. Weather planning was excellent until the forecast fizzled out at the end of 3 days. The first day was light reaching and motor sailing in light southerly breezes. The thunderstorms stayed inland on this day as predicted.

The second day was had slightly more wind pressure as predicted, but the thunderstorms came off the beach as they often do in Florida in June. We caught the edge of one but handled it easily by taking off all sail and turning away from it.

The third day brought even more pressure than predicted but from the right direction. That direction was SW and we wanted to go NE. By late afternoon we were headed to South Carolina at 5 knots under bare poles only. But that day the thunderstorms were exploding off the beach. We were cuffed by one and missed the worst ones. More unsettling was to watch the "power of God" lightning displays out over the Gulf Stream. That night the wind was over 25 knots and the 6 to 8 foot waves were really pushing the boat around. The watches were difficult and off watch worse. As dawn broke the jetties of Charleston were a welcome sight. The SW wind built to over 30 as we were safely motoring into the harbor.

We are docked at Charleston City Marina which seems nice, but we are to exhausted to tell. Bedtime is projected for 7:30 pm.

Regrettably we do not have any good pictures. However, I do not believe that any camera I know of can really display the eerie colors of a building thunderstorm if the sun gets behind it. It is like a rainbow, but one from another world. There are metallic blue greens and odd yellows that do not other wise show up in everyday life. Plus the menace (which usually does not pan out) just adds to the weirdness.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

There's a Good Battery Store in Fort Pierce

"There is a good battery store in Fort Pierce," said a cruiser after beach church on Volley Ball Beach last April. On such small things, great plans are made. I had never heard of Fort Pierce, Fla. prior to that very brief exchange. I did learn that Fort Pierce has a first class very safe inlet and a reputation for marine services. Being well north of the Bahamas and not being Fort Lauderdale were added advantages. The name of the battery store is St. Lucie Tire and Battery.

After securing a slip at Harbortown Marina and clearing in, we retained the service of an excellent marine electrician--William Rhoads (772) 812-1722. He suggested more batteries in a house bank. Eventually, we settled on a single starting battery which was one of the Odyssey batteries and a house bank. The house bank is now a hodgepodge of batteries--one of the Odyssey's, the two group 27's that I bought in Georgetown, and a new group 4D from St. Lucie Tire and Battery. He replaced the long broken shore charger with a heavy duty unit from MasterVolt, and replaced the 30 amp Hitachi alternator with a 70 amp Balmar coupled to an AR-5 smart regulator. It took a while and cost plenty, but I am hopeful that this is a good start to solving White Pepper's power problems. Later we will add solar and wind power.

Other chores included replacing the leaking front hatch, fixing the propane bottles, and ordering or mailing off a half dozen broken parts. New charts and a Reed's Nautical almanac were purchased for the Atlantic portion of our trip.

Fort Pierce is industrial and agricultural. It seems oddly downtrodden, esp. considering the glitter of the South Florida coast. Jan and I rented a car for the weekend. After all the chores were done, we headed for West Palm Beach on Sunday. The opulence and wealth there is staggering. The Fort Pierce city father's have not given up however. They have redone the old city center quite well. The library is at least as nice as Corpus Christi. There is a nice farmer's market every Saturday morning. The restaurants are charming and refreshingly cheap.

The high light of our stay was Father's Day. Kristi and Pat flew to Florida for a visit to his relatives in Tampa and Miami. They were able to swing by on Saturday and Sunday. We all had a marvelous visit which included a dingy ride from Harbortown to the City Marina and downtown.

Now having spent all of our allowance, we are leaving Fort Pierce for Charleston, SC. on the outside. We will be glad to leave Fort Pierce but sorry to leave behind the many good people we met living aboard in the marina. Everyone was quiet friendly and some were invaluable in giving assistance. Thanks! The weather looks good except for usual afternoon thunderstorms which are typical of the June here. Our next post should be in 4 or 5 days.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Back in the USA

We wanted to stay in the Bahamas much longer, but electrical and battery problems were too pressing to ignore any longer. White Pepper slipped the mooring at Green Turtle Cay on Thursday 6-5-08 and headed NW. There was a brisk SE breeze that backed due E by afternoon. We were making such good time that we bypassed the planned anchorage of Hawksbille Cay and pressed on to Great Sale Cay in the very middle of the Little Bahama Bank. The Little Bank is slightly deeper than the Great Bahama Bank that we covered last December, but it does have shallow spots. We passed over a 7 feet depth about 3 miles offshore. Along the way we passed a rock with the wonderful name of Center of the World Rock. (see picture) I guess if you run into it while on autopilot the rock quickly becomes the center of your world.

Great Sale is well located and well protected from the easterly winds and seas. We got in just at sunset quite tired. We explored and rested all day Friday waiting for the winds to calm down and allow a better Gulf Stream crossing. There is not much there except a long strip of rock and scrub.

We socialized with our two neighbors--Alan on Artful Dodger and Jack and Lillie on Be Attitude. Lillie is the skipper and Jack competent crew. They had lost an anchor the night before and were light on ground tackle. I sold them my 20 kg Claw knowing I could easily replace it at West Marine. They would probably have to have had one shipped in on the mail boat.

Saturday dawned lovely and gentle. We raised the anchor by 6:30 am and sailed away at 280T at 6 knots. Fort Pierce was 115 n. mi. away. White Pepper crossed off the Little Bank using a wide deep cut at 27 degrees and 8 minutes north latitude at 4:45 pm. Soon we were in the Gulf Stream, but the wind and waves gradually subsided. By altering course to 270T we were making 6+ knots at 330M. I must have done the trigonometry correctly because we popped out of the west wall of the Gulf Stream due east of Fort Pierce 17 n. miles away. I was asleep when Jan raised the red flashers of the Fort Pierce inlet at 5 am. When the sun came up at 6:30 I lower the Bahamian courtesy flag and raised the quarantine flag (see pic). Thus ended White Pepper's 6 month voyage to the Bahamas.

Two hours later we were tied up at the Harbortown Marina and preparing to haggle with Homeland Security. By 3 pm we were certified as cleared. I had a 20 digit number to prove it. This number must be retained in the log book for at least one year. Back at the marina Jan and I had two beers each and slept till 7 pm.

Green Turtle Cay

After the Briscoe's left on Sunday 6-1-08 Jan and I did not feel like hanging around Marsh Harbor. We provisioned Monday morning and left for Baker's Bay in the late afternoon. Baker's Bay is the NW corner of Great Guana Cay. It is also the jumping off area for the notorious Whale Cay Passage. We arrived about 6pm. We were disconcerted by the contrast between such lovely clear water and the loud, illuminated construction ashore. Jan swam for about an hour in the cleanest water I have ever seen. But ashore a golf course is being built. The water and the reef will not do well once those tons of fertilizer start leeching into the sea. The locals have mounted an all out effort to get the golf course stopped, and case is currently being heard in the High Court in London.

The Whale Cay passage is 1.2 n. mi. route that takes you from the central Sea of Abaco, out into the N. Atlantic, and back into the northern portion of the Sea of Abaco. For our voyage it was a pussycat. Indeed we motored in flat seas. But often when there is any swell from the Atlantic the breaking seas form a dangerous state known as the 'Abaco Rage.' There is no other way around and traffic can stack up for weeks.

The principal reason to hazard the 'Whale' is to get to Green Turtle Cay. Settled by Loyalists in the 1780's and accessible only by boat GTC has done development the right way. It has many homes tucked into the natural surroundings and small tasteful marinas and clubs. We picked up a mooring in the White Sound. Black Sound is too shallow even for White Pepper. There was so much to do in White Sound that we did not even bother to go into the main settlement of New Plymouth. We hiked and dingied about. We had the run of the elegant Green Turtle Club. Jan made a picnic lunch for our outing on the Atlantic side beach. We snorkeled for at least an hour on the near by reef. On Wed. evening we treated ourselves to an excellent meal at the Green Turtle Club and danced the night away listening to the "Roosters." The Rooster are an excellent local band. They were pumped up because their latest song was #1 in Nassau. We partied hard because this was our going away celebration.

The weather picture had become quite settled for the first week in June and strong easterlies were predicted. They were to blow us all the back to the USA.

Note: the picture is of Jan dancing to "Shake, shake, shake," something that I can not do. The church is actually the Methodist Chuch on Elbow Cay. We learned at the museum that a freed slave arrived in the Abaco's in the 19th century and was responsible for spreading Methodism across the northern Bahamas. The southern Bahamas are mostly Anglican or Baptist. The beach picture shows Whale Cay in the distance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hope Town and the Elbow Cay Reef Lighthouse

The image of the light house at Hope Town has been reproduced so many times that it is very recognizable to millions who do not even know where the Bahamas, Abacos, Hope Town or Elbow Cay are. It was built in 1864 and is operated by hand every night. It uses Fresnel lens and a kerosene burner designed in London in the 1880's. We all felt quite a thrill as the White Pepper came close enough to Hope Town to make out it's famous red and white candy stripes.

The approach to Hope Town is limited to 5 foot draft at low tide so mega yachts need not attempt it. White Pepper got in 2 hours after low tide with 9 inches to spare. Once inside she could not have been in a more snug, secure or picturesque harbor. We picked up a mooring ball and headed for the light house. The sense of height was extreme on the narrow windy catwalk around the lens. On the way out we met a class on a school outing and asked to take their picture. At night the effect of the light sweeping overhead was romantic.

Also in Hope Town is a nice beach, very quaint and well maintained old houses. The streets are quite narrow, lanes really, and motor traffic is forbidden in the old town. There is shopping, dive shops, two beach bars and a fine dining restaurant. As in all Bahamian locals there are interesting old cemetaries. Provisions are plentiful. All in all, it is cruiser's paradise. We visited a very well done museum (air conditioned even). Sadly, we had to leave after 24 hours because of the Briscoe's travel plans. Several weeks would have been a more appropriate stay.