Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Broad Creek NC, Here Comes Zeta

We left Blackwater Creek this morning around nine a.m., later than I wanted to but we had to wait for the tide to rise to give us enough depth to cross the shoal at the creek's entrance. We continued south along the North Landing River under mostly cloudy skies, the sun sometimes peeking out to shine sparkles on the water. The river widened to a become two miles wide of shallow water with a narrow channel dredged through it, our path along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

The river ended at the North Carolina Cut, a narrow manmade channel where we crossed the Virginia border. The cut led us into the North River which began as a sinuous channel about a half-mile wide and then became a wide expanse of water, like a sound. The day had turned sunny and warm, with a consistent 10 knot wind out of the southwest.

We diverted from the ICW channel to the west bank of the river, navigating through consistent nine foot depths to the mouth of Broad Creek. We ventured a short way up the creek to a wide spot with a nice pool of 10-foot deep water and dropped anchor for the night.  This spot is similar to last night's anchorage, though with a few more trees and greater variety of marsh grasses and plants. We enjoyed some downtime on the lanai until we were chased inside by hungry mosquitos which appeared just after sunset. I had hoped it was late enough in the season to be too cold for mosquitos, but was out of luck. I feel a bit like Goldilocks, too hot, too cold, seldom just right.

And now here comes Hurricane Zeta, which is forecast to bring us high winds with gusts up to 30 knots tomorrow afternoon. This changes our planned route. Instead of turning left and sailing down on the inside of the Outer Banks, we'll cross the Albemarle Sound tomorrow morning and find a secure berth in Colombia, NC on the Scuppernong River. The hurricane's winds will be with us for several days, as they clock around from the south to the north. It looks like we'll have to stay put Thursday afternoon and Friday, be able to travel on Saturday and Sunday and then have to hole up again for Monday.

We are at ICW Mile Marker (MM) 60 (statute miles). Hilton Head is at MM 560. We have a long way to go and about three weeks to get there. This weather delay doesn't help and means we'll likely miss visiting Ocracoke, one of my favorite stops on the way north.

Sunset at anchor in Broad Creek
Approaching the North Carolina Cut

House along the North Carolina Cut

Intermezzo's anchorage in Broad Creek

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Blackwater Creek, Along the Virginia Cut

We resumed our journey south this morning after a few days in Portsmouth VA during which I made a surprise birthday visit to my mom who lives in Loudon County, a three-and-a-half hour drive away. It was great to see her, my brother Phil, his wife Pam and their new dog Mia.

We left the marina just before eight a.m. in dense fog, barely able to see the opposite bank of the Elizabeth River a quarter-mile away. We took the southern branch of the Elizabeth to join the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal about 10 miles south, known as the Virginia Cut route. The fog cleared to a grey overcast sky that persisted all day. Along the way we passed under or through seven bridges and stopped to top off with diesel. The diesel was the cheapest I have ever purchased at $1.89 per gallon.

On the way north last year, we took the Dismal Swamp route along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). I decided to take the Virginia Cut this time to see what it is like and because it brings us closer to the route I want to sail on the inside of the outer banks of North Carolina.

We entered the Albermarle and Chesapeake canal through the Great Bridge Lock. The lock is very long and wide and can accommodate dozens of pleasure boats, raising or lowering them just a couple of feet. We shared the lock with only one other boat, tied along the south side of the lock against a really nice rubber rendering system. We barely noticed when the water rose in the lock and then the gates opened and we were on our way.

We continued along the canal, with wide expanses of scrubby woodlands and marsh to either side. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife or waterfowl, though we were treated to a close sighting of a bald eagle which flew over the boat to perch on a tree and preen itself.

We navigated through another five bridges. A couple of the bridges are fixed with the 65-foot minimum ICW vertical clearance, which is a tight fit for Intermezzo’s mast. The opening railroad bridges are normally left in the open position, but the highway bridges only open on the hour and half-hour, so we had to hover and wait 10-15 minutes a couple of times to get through. This will be what it will be like for us taking the “inside” route south for the next couple of weeks.

The south end of the canal joins the North Landing River which we continued along for about 9 miles to Pungo Ferry. Here we turned off the river into narrow, winding, shallow Blackwater Creek where we dropped anchor in a wide oxbow for the night. We could have continued further down the main river, but that would have required us to tie up (and pay) for the night in a marina.

We are nestled in a huge expanse of marsh grass, the air and water perfectly still. Fish sporadically pop above the surface with a small splash and occasionally a duck quacks. It’s very pretty and peaceful, though reminders of nearby civilization are ever-present, the dim sound of traffic, a dog barking, lights glowing off in the distance.  I’m glad to be here in the cooler weather as I can imagine the mosquitos and other insects could be fierce in the summertime. Funny how after complaining about cold weather I am now lauding it.

Fog lifting at the Glimerton Lift Bridge, with the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bascule Bridge beyond

The Great Bridge Lock

Photos, Passage to Norfolk VA

 Just posting a couple of photos from Intermezzo's passage from Montauk Point NY to Norfolk VA.


Sunrise in Intermezzo's wake on the Atlantic Ocean

The USS Mitsher barreling through the channel past Intermezzoat 20 knots

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.