Friday, October 23, 2020

Arrived Norfolk

Intermezzo is tied up to the dock at Tidewater Yacht Marina in Portsmouth VA, just across the river from Norfolk. We arrived  at 17:25 this evening, 58 hours after weighing anchor in Lake Montauk on Wednesday morning. We sailed (motored) a distance of 353 nm for an average speed of just over 6 knots.

After our foggy night, the sun rose this morning blotted out by thick overcast skies with patches of fog lingering. By noon, the sun was peeking out as we approached the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, the sea an olive green, the swells tightening up and becoming choppy in the more shallow water. 

As we entered the bay, I heard one side of a radio transmission between a US Navy warship and a research vessel. Warship to research vessel: "We are going to begin gunnery exercises in 30 minutes and are interested in your navigation intentions." I couldn't here the research vessel's reply, but if I were it's captain I would answer, "What my previous intentions were are now irrelevant. My intentions now are to navigate away from where you will be shooting, if you would be so kind as to share that information."

As we proceeded towards Norfolk, the sky cleared, the sun shone and it became another lovely day for shorts and no shoes.

As we crossed over the tunnel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, I had my own encounter with a Navy warship. The USS Mitsher, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer was barreling towards us at 20 knots. It was quite a site to see as the ship passed just a 100 yards on our starboard. 

Of course, such a large vessel traveling at such a speed in a narrow channel throws quite a wake behind it. I slowed the boat down and turned into the four foot high waves and, to my horror, remembered that I had opened the hatches to air out the boat. Oh no! I steered very carefully and fortunately was able to ride over the wake without shipping any water over the deck and into the boat. A much better result than my recent mishap with open hatches.

The last miles of the trip were uneventful as we passed by half a dozen aircraft carriers and a variety of warships at the Norfolk navy base in the warm sun.

We're pretty tired from the passage. I'll post a few pictures from the trip tomorrow.

Approaching Norfolk, Foggy Night

08:00 October 23, 2020
40 nm NE of Norfolk VA


It was foggy last night. Hard to tell the visibility as the navigation lights were diffused by the mist so much that I couldn't see much past the bow of the boat from the helm station. From up on the bow, the forestay cast a shadow that told me visibility wasn't zero. When I turned off the nav lights and looked back at our luminous wake, I guess I could see about a quarter mile or so. I'd bet actual visibility was a mile or more. But what matters is how conditions appeared to us and to other vessels in the area.

So, we turned on the foghorn, set the radar to a short range and set the gain for maximum sensitivity, set an alarm to go off if AIS-equipped vessels got with a couple of miles. And we kept a very close watch, poking our heads out frequently into the gloom to listen for the sounds of other vessels. I donned foulies and gear for standing watches outside in the very moist, literally dripping, air. Lisa stood her watches inside, vigilantly staring at the radar display on the iPad for hours and waking me up if anything of concern appeared. We only had one non-AIS vessel to keep track of on the radar all night, so it was mostly staring at nothingness while I caught catnaps between going out to the helm station to maintain my "situational awareness" of not being able to see a thing and being covered by moisture from head to toe.

Thank goodness for modern navigation instruments. It would be very tricky to know our position without GPS and electronic charts, instead relying on dead reckoning and paper charts. It would take a lot of practice to get competent navigating that way, hats off to those who did so in the past and do so skillfully now. And without radar and AIS, nobody could "see" us, nor we them. Some may say it's become too easy, taken the challenge out of sailing, reduced sailors' skills. I appreciate the enhanced safety and relative simplicity of modern navigation, preferring to practice dead reckoning and celestial navigation as a hobby rather than a life-safety necessity.

The sun rose around 07:00, though we can't actually see the big star. It is overcast with patches of fog. The fog will go away as the air warms up. Not sure if the sun will shine, though. The swells from Hurricane Epsilon show up every so often in the form of 6 foot-plus long swells from the southeast. We passed a ship that had turned 180 degrees while we were watching it. I radioed them to find out why and the deck officer told me they were going back and forth, waiting for the hurricane to dissipate before heading out to sea towards Europe.

Not much further to go. Our current ETA to the Chesapeake Bay Entrance sea buoy is 13:08 this afternoon. It's about another hour or so to the Elizabeth River and our marina rest stop in Portsmouth VA for the next few days.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

En Route to Norfolk, Beautiful Day

18:30 October 22 2020
28 nm ENE of Ocean City, MD

What a beautiful day!

It was sunny, warm, light breeze and gentle long-period ocean swells. I wore shorts and was barefoot for most of the day! I took a shower outside off the stern. What a difference compared to the cold past few weeks.

My only complaint is not having enough wind to sail. The upside is we are turning 6 knots on one engine and will arrive in Norfolk tomorrow mid-afternoon, about eight hours ahead of my original estimate.

I tried fishing. The fish here must have sharp teeth. One lure lost its hook, tho other lure (expensive one) gone completely. Fish won today. They deserve it.

Feeling grateful for today.
A beautiful sunrise with pinks and purples in the sky and reflected on the thick oil-like surface of the water.
Sun and warm weather.
Good sleep.
Tea and cookies at 16:30, an emerging Intermezzo tradition.
Delicious fresh haddock dinner.

Looks like we'll miss the Hurricane Epsilon swells; the storm generating 42 ft waves as it passes Bermuda!

One more night and then we're on the home stretch.

En Route to Norfolk, Passing Atlantic City

Intermezzo is about 35 nm off the coast of New Jersey, passing by Atlantic City. It was a beautiful dawn and sunrise, pinks and purples reflecting on the thick oil-like water, a few wispy pink clouds up in the sky. Conditions are very calm, the wind is clocking northwards, as forecasted, but is very light. The boat is covered in dew and it's damp in the cabin. Hopefully, the sun stays out for a while and dries things out a bit.

Last night was calm and peaceful, cool but not cold. The night sky was clear, lots of stars, a few planets and the Milky Way visible, despite the glow from New York City on the western horizon. Hard to imagine, when you are alone on the ocean, just a few dozen miles away there are many millions of people living close together. The light, noise, bustle on land so different than the peaceful, quiet darkness on the water.

We set up an inside navigation station using the iPad to display the chart plotter and radar in the salon. It worked great. We had to dodge a couple of sport fishing boats heading out from New Jersey at high speed early this morning.

Crew and captain getting decent sleep, despite being short-handed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

En Route to Norfolk

21:30 October 21 2020
75nm SSW of Montauk Pt

Motoring steadily under clear starry skies towards a crescent moon. The moon lights a sparkling path on the undulating water surface ahead. Cool, almost chilly air with a 10 knot headwind that feels gentle, refreshing.

We're making good time, almost 6 knots on one engine.

En Route to Norfolk, Passing Amagansett, Long Island NY

12:30 21 October 2020

We weighed anchor early this  morning in Lake Montauk and motored slowly in very foggy conditions into Long Island Sound. Visibility in the lake was so poor that I had to follow our GPS track to find my way out.

We rounded Montauk Point around 09:30 and got on our rhumbline for Norfolk. The sky is white-grey overcast with fog limiting visibility to less than two miles. The sea is calm with gentle swells from the east, glossy grey fading to white in the distance. Virtually no wind blowing, what there is is coming from the north. It's cool, not cold, a bit damp.

We have the fog horn blowing its long blast automatically every two minutes and we're watching the AIS and radar carefully.

Lisa just came on watch. We're doing six hour watches during the day, three hours at night. I get to rest/sleep until 18:00.

Just downloaded the wind/wave models and our weather routing. Looks like it will be a calm passage, motoring the whole way, perhaps a bit of sailing tomorrow afternoon and some bigger long-period swells.

Satellite tracking is active; you can follow our progress online at:

Don't let big red swirling Hurricane Epsilon get you worried. It's many many miles away and heading away from us, towards Bermuda. We will see the swells from this storm though.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

One Cruise Ends, Another Begins

Yesterday around 11 am, we passed through Plumb Gut and by Orient Point Light, crossing our wake from the start of our cruise on July 14. We crossed from the end of the north fork to the end of the south fork of Long Island to anchor in Lake Montauk after topping up the tanks and filling jugs with diesel.

Yesterday marked the end of Intermezzo's Maine Cruise. We sailed almost a thousand miles there and back. It was a most enjoyable and memorable cruise with lovely anchorages, small towns to explore, foraging for shellfish and buying many cheap delicious lobsters. Nothing major broke, nobody got hurt, we had no major mishaps and we got some major repair work completed. COVID required us to take precautions, limited dining and access to museums and other indoor attractions, but didn't have a major impact on our trip. In fact, I found being on a sailboat and visiting mostly small towns and remote anchorages is a good way to spend a pandemic.

Tomorrow we start a new cruise to Hilton Head, South Carolina. We leave tomorrow on our only "outside" ocean passage to Norfolk, Virginia. After Norfolk, we will be traveling on the "inside", following the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Along the way, we will stop at some of our favorite places we visited on the trip north last summer- Manteo, Ocracoke, Oriental, New Bern, Cape Beaufort NC and Charleston. Between Beaufort and Charleston and from there to Hilton Head will be new territory for us, as we sailed on the outside last time.

On the eve ending one journey and beginning a new one, I'm reflecting on the five years of sailing that got me and Intermezzo here.  Here's a recap of the major legs of the voyage so far:

Voyage, Interrupted

The voyage began on October 5, 2015 when Intermezzo departed from the turning basin in Petaluma, CA. Renee and I sailed down the coast of California, learning quickly how to sail Intermezzo on the ocean and getting initiated into life on the sea.  We enjoyed being part of the 2015 Baja Ha-Ha fleet and the company of a third crew member, Jeanne and yumming up her delicious chicken and rice.

We cruised and fell in love with the Sea of Cortez until December, when we crossed over to mainland Mexico and headed south. Renee flew back to the US to welcome her granddaughter Maddie into the world while I spent Christmas on my own in Puerto Vallarta. I had company after the New Year when my ex-partner Carol, my daughter Hannah and her friends Maddie and Jaqueline came to visit and do some sailing.

Renee re-joined Intermezzo in mid-January and we continued our journey south, accompanied by friends Marc and Marci as far as Manzanillo. We enjoyed a couple road trips inland along the way.

We left Mexican waters on March 15, 2016 and headed to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. It was here that Renee learned that her mom had fallen and headed home to be with her. At the time, we didn't know how serious the situation was, but it turned out that she had suffered a stroke and Renee's support would be needed for quite a while. Our planned voyage to New York was interrupted.

I sailed the boat single-handing to Nicaragua and enjoyed an extended road trip around the country.  My daughter Hannah joined me for the sail to Costa Rica, where I left Intermezzo for the summer and returned to the US. I didn't know where I would be heading in the fall.

Panama, Then Back to Mexico

Renee was able to return to Intermezzo in September 2016 and we enjoyed sailing down to and exploring Panama, including navigating a jungle river to Pedregal and some lovely isolated offshore islands. Then we turned around and headed back to Mexico, stopping in Costa Rica for fuel and nearly not getting out. We arrived in Puerto Chiapas on November 19 2016, where we left Intermezzo on the hard for three months.

La Paz and the Sea of Cortez

Renee and I set sail from Puerto Chiapas on March 5 2017 north to the Sea of Cortez. We sailed the Sea or Cortez until May, roughly following the route of John Steinbeck's Western Flyer, chronicled in his book Log From the Sea of Cortez and getting as far north as Bahia Los Angeles ("L.A. Bay"). My son Luther joined us in Santa Rosalia towards the end of the cruise. I went from being in love with the Sea of Cortez to seeking a long term relationship. We hauled out Intermezzo in Puerto Escondido on May 17 2017 for the hurricane season.

Deciding to Resume The Voyage

I returned to Puerto Escondido and Renee and I launched Intermezzo on November 15 2017, getting there by sailing on Mystique in the 2017 Baja Ha-Ha rally from San Diego. We sailed together until December, flew home for the holidays and then again for part of January 2018. Then I was on my own, during which time I contemplated my future with Intermezzo. I considered keeping the boat in La Paz, sailing north and selling the boat in California or resuming The Voyage. After a few pleasant months of living on the boat in La Paz, I decided to resume The Voyage. I hauled out in June 2018 in La Paz for the hurricane season and launched again in November, joined by a new crew member, Roy, who would prove to be one of Intermezzo's finest.

The Voyage

Roy and I departed La Paz to begin The Voyage again with a third crew member, Pete, on January 8 2019. I planned on completing The Voyage in six legs with breaks to fly home and crew changes along the way.

Pete sailed with us on Leg 1 to Ixtapa, a pleasant trip with lots of sailing and not many stops.

Roy and I left Ixtapa on March 5 2019 and continued to Puerto Chiapas on Leg 2, with a long wait in Huatulco for a weather window to cross the Golfo de Tehuantepec.

John and Kim joined us in Puerto Chiapas on April 1 2019  to sail Leg 3, to and through the Panama Canal with only a couple short stops along the way. We battled some pretty ugly weather getting to the canal entrance, but the passage through the canal was pretty easy.

Josh joined Roy and I for Leg 4 to Isla Mujeres via Providencia and Grand Cayman, departing on May 10 2019. It was a sad day for me and Intermezzo when Roy announced that he had "a job offer so good, he couldn't refuse", and left the boat.

Christine from La Paz, her friend Lisa and a long-distance cyclist, Forrest, served as crew on Leg 5 to Florida. We were welcomed to the US in Dry Tortugas with a ticked from the National Park Service for not following the rules.

Lisa served as crew for Leg 6 as far as New Bern, joined by Katherine from Port Canaveral to Charleston and Amy from Charleston to Beaufort NC along the way. And then Renee was back on board to finish up The Voyage in Mattituck, Long Island NY on August 16 2019

And Now What?

I'll leave Intermezzo in Hilton Head for the holidays and Lisa will go back to her land life after spending four months on the water. When I return at the beginning of the New Year, I'll sail down to Florida and The Bahamas. Then, if the COVID situation is okay in Mexico, in March I'll load Intermezzo onto a ship to bring the boat back to La Paz, which will be our home port for some time. A long loop will have been closed. What an amazing trip it's been and there is still more to go.

Lake Montauk on a foggy evening


Montauk Lighthouse