|Exploring the USA|
|5th June 2008|
This log had been completed and ready for emailing yesterday when I learned of the sudden and unexpected death of my brother, Pat in Ireland. Pat had been booked to come out to New York on June 15th to join with his twin brother, Nicholas, in welcoming Safari into New York.
Sadly, instead of preparing to leave Norfolk for New York this weekend, we are flying home to Ireland tomorrow for his funeral.
Charleston, South Carolina
On Thursday May 1st, we set out from Port Canaveral bound for Charleston - a 48 hour sail away. We had a swift but choppy sail up the coast. Once we hit the Gulf Stream, our average speed increased to 8 knots (top speed was 9.7 knots) with the help also of 17-20 knots of wind from the south east. The first night was cold and the fleeces and long pants had to be taken out of mothballs for the first time since the Atlantic Crossing!
During the 2nd day, the wind died off and we had to turn on the engine to steady the boat - even with no wind we were doing 6 knots in the Gulf Stream - magic!
We had hoped to arrive in Charleston at 8 am slack water. There is a fierce tide running in the inlet. As things worked out, it took 6 hours to battle our way up the channel on an ebb tide against a very strong current. We didnít berth until after 12 noon!
This did not prevent us from savouring the thrill of passing very close to Fort Sumter on our approach. As every schoolboy knows, the first shot of the American Civil War was fired from here in April 1861 by the Confederates.
After docking in Charleston City Marina ($84 per night - anchoring in the fast-flowing river was out of the question), we proceeded to spend a delightful 3 days immersed in the beauty and history of this magnificent city. We went on a horse drawn carriage tour, we visited the Calhoun Mansion - a superb example of the elegant houses in historic Charleston - all of them preserved down to the smallest detail. I could have sworn that I was an extra in a sequel to 'Gone with the Wind' what with the splendid period houses and the southern drawl all around us!
Beaufort, North Carolina
All too soon, it was time to depart for Beaufort, North Carolina - another 48 hour trip further north. This time we timed our departure to leave with the flow of the tide and within 2 hours had covered the same distance it had taken 6 hours to cover on our arrival!
We made slow enough progress for the first few hours because the wind was on the nose instead of from behind - someone got the forecast wrong ... again! We threaded our way carefully through 'The Frying Pan Shoal' 15 miles off 'Cape Fear'. The names alone commanded our full attention and respect!
The wind picked up and we began to make alarmingly speedy progress towards our destination. We werenít in the Gulf Stream because at this point it is about 50 miles off-shore.
However, our new problem was that we would arrive at the Beaufort Inlet in the middle of the night - certainly not the place to be in the dark. The area between Cape Lookout at Beaufort and the very infamous Cape Hattaras to the north is known as 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic'! The water gets really shallow - ergo lots of opportunities for running aground and being ship-wrecked. We didnít want to join Blackbeardís ship 'Queen Anneís Revenge' which foundered at the entry to Beaufort.
So we slowed right down and literally drifted along at a top speed of 3 knots until daybreak. Upon entering the inlet we made straight for Taylorís Creek where we picked up a mooring ball with the help of a local live-aboard. The current here is as strong as down in Charleston and therefore not great for anchoring. We also had to stay well within the buoyed channel or else run aground in very shallow water.
Beaufort is a small but very pleasant and friendly town. It takes it's association with some of the world's most notorious pirates very seriously! 'Where are yíall from?' was the most frequently asked question. There is a very active Historical Society in the town and we supported it by visiting the excellent museum and went on a little bus tour with volunteers giving the commentary.
It was here that we experienced our most frightening weather to date - while swinging on a mooring ball! For 36 hours, gale force winds of up to 50 knots raged, accompanied by frequent and violent thunderstorms with truly torrential rain. We had never before seen such lightening - it was really scary. We had to remain on watch, dressed in full off-shore gear, wearing life-jackets for the entire 36 hours. There was no question of leaving the mooring ball to go ashore. There wasnít enough water for Safari in the nearby marina (we draw 7.5 ft) and anchoring was out of the question. We just prayed that the line on the mooring ball would hold - which it thankfully did.
As there was more bad weather forecast for later in the week, we booked ourselves into a marina for a week in Morehead City about 10 miles away. We quite frankly didnít care how much it cost but in the process, discovered that although the single night dockage fees in American marinas is high for transients (visiting yotties in America!), the weekly and monthly rates are excellent and within the Kavanagh budget.
Morehead City, North Carolina
This city is not a city at all but rather a long, straggly Main Street with some other streets running parallel to it and yet others crossing it to create 'blocks'. The intersecting streets are unimaginatively name 1st,2nd, 3rd Street right up to 33rd Street. The main street goes on for at least 10 miles with stores, fast-food joints and all types of companies stretched out along both sides, including many, many churches - there is no town centre.
As with Port Canaveral and Charleston there is no public transport system. This took us really by surprise in America. I expected a sophisticated railroad system and lots of buses but no - rural Americans have to depend on their own cars. So we invested in two new folding bicycles in West Marine. They are bigger than the ones at home in the attic in Sutton (a great lot of use to us!!) and have opened up a whole new life for us here in the United States.
The people in the Morehead City Yacht Basin were most helpful, professional and friendly. I even befriended the dockhand who proudly announced that he had met another Irishman who had visited his church in the 80ís - the Rev Ian Paisley! I attempted to explain that the Kavanaghs would not exactly feature on the good Reverendís 'A' list of invitees!! In the end I agreed that he was an inspiring orator and left it at that!
The marina staff were extremely supportive at the height of our very first Tornado Watch - another pretty scary night in my life! We were moored to the berth with 9 mooring lines tying us to the pontoons but sat out the 'severe storm' in a nearby restaurant as we were strongly advised not to stay on board the boat. As it happened the tornado didnít develop but the constant announcements on TV on the progress of the storm and tornado watch added greatly to the sense of panic!
The plan was to spend a week here sitting out the weather front and then go off-shore outside Cape Hattaras up to Norfolk, Virginia - another 48 hour sail away. At the end of our stay in the marina, the forecast was all wrong for Cape Hattaras - either very strong winds or northerlies - dangerous for anyone attempting to go north.
So we phoned up Towboat US - the organization that rescues boats in difficulty in the shallow waters that abound here. We checked if a boat with a 7.5 ft draught could make it through the Intracoastal Waterway from Morehead City to Norfolk, Virginia. They advised us we could get through by exercising great care and staying in the middle of the buoyed channel and as extra insurance to join Towboat US which we promptly did for $135 for the year!
Intracoastal Waterway- Morehead City - Norfolk (Statute Mile 204.5)
Average Depths: 8-11 ft
Duration of trip: Thursday May 22nd 10.15 a.m - Sunday May 25th 7.00 p.m
On Thursday May 22nd, we departed Morehead City and headed out into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) towards Oriental about 25 miles up channel.
Two other yachts left at the same time and we opted to follow in their wake for a while.
We got through the first section but one of the other two boats ran aground when it wandered off-channel during a minor lapse in concentration- a timely lesson for Safari.
We had to anchor off-channel as the approach to Oriental was too risky.
This was the case each evening - we couldnít go into the recognised stopping-off spots but rather find a spot just off-channel where we could anchor.
The flies in theses anchorages were an absolute curse - we literally had to close ourselves into the boat and cover the hatches with mosquito nets - not very pleasant in the heat and humidity.
The trip was tense to put it very mildly! After the first 'easy' day, we put in 3 twelve hour days. We had to hand-steer the boat nearly all the time. While one of us steered, the other stood by the chart-plotter and gave directions - a degree to port - a degree to starboard - etc. We saw too many boats aground to take the depths lightly. We passed huge barges with only inches to spare on either side. We always alerted passing traffic to the limitations of our draught.
We passed through exotic sounding places like Pamlico Sound, the Alligator River, Pungo River, Abermarle Sound and finally into the North Landing River at Norfolk. We decided to skip 'The Great Dismal Swamp' route. It sounded far too depressing!
Yes, the scenery was magnificent, the sun was shining, the sky was azure blue but who could enjoy it staring at a dot on the chart-plotter for hours at a time?
If you want to explore and enjoy the Bahamas and the East Coast of America, get a boat with a maximum draught of 5 ft!
During the final day of the trip, we had to negotiate our way through 15 bridges and one lock. The bridges mostly opened on demand but there were some which opened on the hour or half-hour which made timing oneís arrival crucial as there was little room to manoeuvre in the river while waiting - more nail-biting tension!
Anyway, we eventually arrived in Norfolk/ Portsmouth all in one piece not having run aground once! I think we both deserve a round of applause for that!
We are now into our 2nd week in a wonderful anchorage on the Portsmouth side of the Elizabeth River. Ken is in 7th heaven what with all the US naval activity and hardware in the area! As I share his interest in history, I, too, am very happy in this neck of the woods. We have already visited the Battleship 'Wisconsin', the superb Naval Museum, 'Nauticus' in Norfolk and a wonderful Military History Museum in Portsmouth.
We have spent 2 days exploring the Historic Triangle in nearby Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown by car, visiting the towns, museums and battlefields. We have even gone as far as Richmond , the capital of Virginia. We have become immersed in colonial America and the Revolutionary War of 1775-1781. It was marvellous to visit the scene of the final siege in that war in Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis of Great Britain finally surrendered to George Washington and the French. This momentous event marked the beginning of the America we know today.
Virginia is a truly wonderful place to be. The lush green countryside is a joy to drive through, the people are as friendly and helpful as is humanely possible. We really like rural America with itís wooden-frame houses and picture-postcard landscapes. And the great sense of history which lurks around every corner.
As I have mentioned before, it is like being on the set of a movie at times. When I pass the fancy articulated lorries on the Highway, I think of a great scene in 'Thelma and Louise' when the driver made vulgar faces at the girls! When I see the huge Sports-fishing boats in the marinas and at sea, I think of the hunt for 'Jaws'. It is really all very exciting but we are also not too naÔve! We are aware that both Norfolk and Portsmouth have bad reputations for crime and that we should not be fooled by the open spaces, wide, tree-lined Boulevards and colonial style houses! So we take care and tend not to go out after dark.
We have decided to remain here at anchor until our departure for New York at the end of this week. We are just outside the Tidewater Marina and can use all their facilities for a mere $12 per day and if the weather turns nasty we can seek a berth inside.
While we had the rented car, we went up to Deltaville in the Chesapeake and found a good Marina/Boatyard where we can take Safari out of the water and leave her while we spend the winter in Ireland. This area has come highly recommended as a yachting centre by many Americans we met on our travels. We have booked Safari in for mid-October.
Our arrival in New York will mark the end of this phase of our trip and also the realisation of one of my personal dreams - to sail past the Statue of Liberty in my own boat.