Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Weather in North Carolina

This is Cruise to the Bahamas 2.0. White Pepper is determined to learn from past experience and correct the mistakes of the first voyage. One thing that bamboozled us on the first trip was the weather. It is hard to emphasize how important the weather is to the comfort and safety of the small cruiser, esp. one that makes as few concessions to comfort as a C&C 41. Lack of accurate weather information or fear of adverse weather kept us hunkered down for too many days in 2008.

What is little appreciated by the sailing community (and by me until recently) is that there has been a revolution in weather forecasting. It is called gridded binary data or GRIB. Four times a day super computers in the USA and Europe crank out modeled forecasts processed from mountains of data gathered from around the world. This world wide aspect eliminates any boundary value problems that so bother the differential equations of fluid dynamics. The forecast is remarkably accurate for 24 hours. Seventy two hours is good, but the 5 and 7 day forecast is as awful as it ever was. You can witness this modern miracle for yourself on Sailflow.com, and you can be blown away with the graphics on mySailflow all for free. NOAA is part of the game as well. Now NOAA.gov will tailor a micro forecast for an area smaller than a zip code. And it is remarkably accurate in the near term. Raw GRIB data is freely available in the public domain. A GRIB reader program is required to display the data on the computer screen.

I purchased Chris Parker's recent book about weather and the important part was how to use the GRIB data. He states that GRIB is as revolutionary to weather forecasting as GPS was navigation! If you are interested you can find Chris' new book at Landfall.com but not Amazon.com.

The great problem of the annual migration south to the Bahamas is the weather. Start too soon and you have to dodge hurricanes. Start too late and cold fronts become unbearable. The traditional start of the migration is after the Annapolis boat show which was our signal to take off.

On this trip we have regular access to the internet via a Verizon wireless "hot spot" and complete access to weather. We got nailed in the Dismal Swamp with torrential rains but knew that the wind would not be a problem until later. We tied up at Elizabeth City and watched for two days as the wind whistled over head. The two days were not wasted as I did chores on the boat. Jan attended the wonderful Sat am farmers market in Elizabeth City. The picture is a still life of fall colors from that market. Five miles down the Pasquatank River from Elizabeth City is Albemarle Sound. This is a shallow body of water about 10 n. miles wide, notorious for a wicked chop. It is not to crossed except in settled weather. This came on the 17th, my birthday. After the Albemarle comes the Alligator River, which is short but windy as it funnels wind north or south. The river must be viciously cold in norther. We just motored down it in gentle warm breezes. After a quiet night in Belhaven NC there was more of the same for the next day on the Pungo and Pamlico Rivers.

Currently there we are anchored just off Oriental, NC. The anchorage is marginal, but I am not worried as the forecast is for a quiet night. There is a weak front off to the north that will work through tomorrow. It should be quiet for the motor to Morehead City. Friday or Saturday will bring light northerly flow perfect for the trip offshore to Wrightsville Beach or points south. I could go on, but I hope the gentle reader gets the picture of using the internet and e-mail to sail in comfort and safety.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Good Beginning

Monday October 11, 2010 after the Annapolis Boat Show, we cast off to begin our second trip to the Bahamas. The feeling was not nearly the same as the that day in December 2007 when we cast off from the condo on Padre Island. This time it had more of the feel of a nice day sail. In fact it was hard to imagine that we could embark on a planned voyage of 10 months by just saying a few good byes and casting off the usual lines. The only thing different about the morning was a trip to the garage to drop off the car for winter storage. We walked back.

On the 2007 departure there was much unknown, and as it turned out, a bit of danger in the Gulf of Mexico. This time we will be travelling over known territory and trying to appreciate the finer points of cruising since, hopefully. most for the rough edges have been sanded down with experience.

Day one was a good example. We can usually make the York River in a day. Sarah's Creek on the York River is the preferred anchorage. But we had tried to sail too long in the light air rather than motor and were late. The day was magnificent, still part of the weather window that made the boat show so enjoyable. However, the sun was going down so we stopped at a lesser known spot--Perrin's Creek. It is only suitable in settled weather, but we had it in spades that night. The evening was clear and calm with a lovely new moon setting over the historic Yorktown battlefield. I roasted lamb on the grill, and Jan sauteed some vegetables with sun dried tomatoes. I doubt if there were anymore self satisfied cruisers on the Chesapeake than the crew of the White Pepper that night.

On Tuesday we made a long motor sail in light air to the famous 'hospital anchorage' in Portsmith VA. I always thrill to the trip down Norfolk Reach with the overwhelming display of naval might that goes on for miles. The anchorage faces the Portsmith Naval Hospital and is at mile marker 0 of the ICW. Key West is mile marker 1000. In 2008 we stayed at the Tidewater Marina which is about 100 yards further south. We had a wonderful stay in Norfolk in 2008, but this is a different trip. (See post of 8-9-08 for details of Norfolk). After some left over lamb it is off to bed early. The weather window is closing Thursday, and we want to be as far south as possible by then.

The pic is a cool pattern made by debris in the Dismal Swamp and reflections of boats rafted up at the Dismal Swamp visitors center

Annapolis Boat Show

White Pepper travelled by car to the famous US Sailboat Show at Annapolis MD on Sat Oct. 9, 2010. It was a picture perfect exquisite boat show experience. The weather was ideal--sunny, dry and cool in the am, warm in the afternoon. We parked at the Naval Academy stadium, took a shuttle bus to the dockside, and picked up will call tickets courtesty of Deltaville Boatyard (many thanks to Matt). We had a great breakfast at the Dockside Market and were some of the first patrons in the gates at 10 am.

For lunch we met old friends Joe and Jodie Frost of Solomons MD. on the upper deck of the Fleet Reserve Club. This was overlooking the show itself. As a fund raiser the club sells inch thick roast beef sandwiches and beer to the boat show crowd. We had a wonderful hour and half catching up on old times while basking in the cool noon day sun.

Jan and I were not interested in the boats on display. They were far too polished and overpriced. There was a Valiant 42 priced at $700,000. No matter how sleek it looked, on the water it could not do anything that White Pepper could not do just as well for 1/15th the price. I did allow myself to go on a C&C 115. It was nice enough, but I would not have one esp. for $225,000. However,I did lose my heart to a lean sleek day sailor--the e33. It just seemed to glide even while tied to the dock.

Jan and I were interested in the booths and displays. I stopped at the OCENS desk and purchased some weather software. We checked out hardware vendors--Edson, e-Marine, Navtec, and Wichard to name a few. Jan got a good tip from the Frigiboat vendor--use a thermometer. The Garmin people suggested some upgrades to the sounder system. I talked to the NOAA reps and got some good links to check--they have thousands. We skipped Boat US (too busy) but we stopped at the Attitudes and Latitudes booth. There was Bob Bitchin himself and Mrs. Bitchin, the publishers. He was quite gracious and Jan got a picture with him. Jan bought sun glasses and a Tilley hat. I got some nice sea boots. For more on the sea boots check my post of May 2010.

Outside of the show we bought some ultra pure lamp oil at our favorite Annapolis hardware store. Only ultra pure grade lamp oil is suitable for use inside the cabin, and it is hard to find. Then we had a couple of 'Dark and Stormies' for happy hour. The only issue was a dreadful drive back over the I-495. That is the section of road the locals call 'the bitch.'

All in all it was a near perfect day and well worth all of the planning and effort it took to get there.