Monthly Archives: June 2012

The view from the porch

I guess Marce summed up my feelings about EV today. Right now the talley of expensive concerns are, the autopilot ram still leaks and is totally ineffective, the chart plotter is shot, the port sail drive puked most of its oil, and the port Volvo diesel is leaking oil.

But then somehow Marce finds this little jewel of an anchorage with the scariest entrance ever but very protected.

The party on the dock behind us just invited us to use their dock as a dingy dock.


Filed under Uncategorized

Sometimes it doesn’t

We started out for Southport in the morning and made it in record time. So early, in fact, that when we saw that there were no free docks available in the town cut we decided to press onward for a few hours. But as we entered the open Cape Fear River we were hit with high winds and contrary seas and as much bashing as we’d experienced leaving St. Simon’s Island. After about ten minutes, Jack said, “That’s it, we’re going back.” We took a berth at the Southport Marina, consoling ourselves with the fact that at least it’s a town and we can get some provisions. Wrong. It’s a charming town but all the shops are geared toward the tourist trade with prices to match. And no grocery store within walking distance. In retrospect we should have deployed the bikes but by the time we realized the distance to the supermarket it was near closing time.

The next morning we left the dock in conditions completely opposite the day before. Our run up the Cape Fear River was calm and beautiful and we chose a couple of optional anchorages for the night. And then we were thwarted time and again by bridges with limited openings where we’d miss the schedule by a minute or two and have to wait an hour for the next one, motoring up and down the channel getting waked by holiday boaters.

After we got through yet another bridge and we were making pretty good time I went below to do some logging and look for anchorages.

“Hey Marce!” Jack called from the helm. “Look, I lost the information on the chartplotter.”

Instead of a detailed navigational chart with the boat icon showing our position, there was a blocky rudimentary abstract of a map, with the boat icon plunked in the middle. It took us a minute to think it through, and we came to the conclusion that we’d run off the edge of that particular chart cartridge. No problem, we have charts for the whole world. I ran below and got the bag of Navionics chart cards and flipped through them trying to figure out which was the next one. The names are not particularly specific, and there’s no listing of what each one covers. Still, I picked the most likely contender and popped it in. Nope. Try another. No go. You’re kidding, right?

I rebooted, reseated and reset multiple times. The chartplotter still gets our position, and the other data from the instruments. It just can’t read the card. Great.

We navigated the rest of the day with the iPad and the paper charts we have, but after the convenience of the chart plotter at the helm it was quite an adjustment.

Meanwhile, we were playing tag all day with a ketch named Sarah, and exchanged words of frustration about the bridge schedules while circling and waiting for openings. After the last hour-long wait for a bridge we both decided to tie up to the fuel dock of a marina that was closed. We made it by 8pm in wind and current again, and with the help of some fishermen on the pier. We invited Sarah’s skipper for dinner and sat in the cockpit trying to unwind from a very tense day. As luck would have it, John has the same chartplotter we have. He brought over the latest firmware so we could update our unit, then we tried his chart card in our unit and our chart card in his unit. The card is fine. The unit is kaput. Or at least the part that reads the cards is broken.

This is a complicated and puzzling and expensive setback no matter what we do. On the one hand we have charts for the world, no small cost there. On the other hand we have a chartplotter that’s been discontinued and is no longer supported by the company. If we upgrade the hardware, we have to buy new charts. If we want to keep the charts we have to find a used or leftover plotter that will accept those charts, which, to give you an idea of how old the technology is, are on compact flash cards.

And meanwhile, of course, we need to bolster our meager collection of paper charts and that means getting to a place that has a decent chandlery.

Oh, and the autopilot doesn’t work. It’s not leaking as much but it won’t hold a course.

All in all, we’re having a bad couple of days, just in time to fight the massive number of boats out for the 4th of July holiday. Escape Velocity’s crew are not in a festive mood. But we’d still rather be here than anywhere else.


Filed under Uncategorized

Sometimes the magic works

We know that the deeper we get into the cruising life, and particularly the farther we get from North America, the harder it will be to fix what breaks, find what we need or get where we’re going. But we’re still in the land of big box stores, cheap shipping costs for mail order and tradesmen who speak English. So how hard can it be to get a hydraulic ram fixed?

We determined that the most likely cause of the autopilot failure is the leaking ram. Roger sent us detailed instructions for refilling it, but we decided to have someone who knows what he’s doing take a look and give it a good going over. There were a few hydraulic service places near Charleston, but nothing within easy access of the waterfront. Further afield there was Little River Welding and Hydraulics, 120 miles north, but located within 1/2 mile of the Intercoastal Waterway. We’re frustrated to be motoring so much in the ditch, but an autopilot is essential for any ocean passage so we decided to head for Little River.

With all this motoring we’re still coming to grips with the fuel capacity and burn rate. The first time we bought fuel the gauge read half but it only took 25 gallons. This is supposed to be a 100-gallon tank. We’re keeping careful records but we’re not too excited about the prospect of running out of fuel, no matter where we are.

Six hours north of Charlotte and facing a long stretch with no services, we stopped at Leland Oil Company in McClellanville, SC, to top up the tank. It was a tricky entrance, with wind and current pushing us all over the place, but Jack managed to get us gently docked for fuel and water. As we were leaving the proprietor helped us get away safely and as soon as we were free from the dock he hollered, “Get those fenders in! You look like McHale’s Navy!”

These are the longest days of the year. We can run much longer in a day than usual and we wanted to try to get to the hydraulic repair shop in two days. We kept at it ’til we reached Minam Creek, as quiet and desolate a place as we’ve been. We anchored safely about 7 pm just in time to batten the hatches as rain and wind blew through. Looking around after the storm we saw no lights, no houses or other structures, no cell service, nothing. In my mind I could hear the opening bars of Deliverance.

Later, we noticed the top of a sailboat mast in the creek west of the ICW, about a quarter mile from us. Jack got excited and wanted to call them on the VHF but I talked him out of it. I figure anyone who purposely anchors in such an out-of-the-way place probably wants to be alone. We made quesadillas and salsa and read and listened to music. Sometimes it’s nice to be unplugged.
Morning brought the worst windlass trauma yet. The chain jammed so hard that Jack had to completely disassemble the gypsy to get it out, and when he finally got all the chain aboard he was as angry as I’ve ever seen him. The bolts, which we had already replaced once, were bent again. We vowed to spend time on the phone with the windlass manufacturer and get to the bottom of this problem.

The rest of the day was better. We had a fair current and made great time toward our goal. I spent the day evaluating the various marina options in the vicinity of the repair shop. I also called the shop and let them know we were coming. They promised to take care of us as soon as they could as long as they had the parts available.

All day long we monitored the weather and watched as dark clouds chased us and threatened to force us to seek shelter before we reached Little River. I kept a running tab on where we could drop the hook or tie up if we needed to.


We arrived at Coquina Yacht Club and got EV tied to the dock about 5:30 just as the wind kicked up again. We showered and walked to a waterfront eatery and had the first unhealthy fried foods we’d had in a long time. It sure looked good at first, but we both felt a little sick later. Boat food is better.

When we got back to the boat we discovered that the outlets on the starboard side of the boat aren’t working. The last time we were plugged in to shore power they worked fine. Now ten days later no power on the right. It’s a good thing that our cabin and the galley are on the working side, but we need to figure this out. We also think there ought to be a GFCI on each of these circuits.

Tuesday morning Jack pulled the ram and we walked it across the street to Little River Welding and Hydraulics. Bill said he’d do it right away, we petted New Guy the cat and went next door to Sunny Side Up for breakfast. Back at the boat we tried to puzzle out when and why the starboard outlets ceased to function. No luck. Electricity is beyond us.

Jack also called Maxwell, the windlass company and went through the possible scenarios. At first the agent suspected a mismatch between the chain and gypsy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Still, it’s not working the way it should and we need to get that fixed or Jack’s going to spontaneously combust one of these days.

Bill called after lunch and told us the ram was ready. He said the seal where the cylinder was leaking was cracked and crumbling, so no wonder. He charged us a fair price for the work, gave us part numbers for reference and sent us on our way with a cheerful “safe travels!” We took the ram home and Jack had it hooked up and tested it no time. No leaks, or at least no leaks at the dock where there are no forces on it. We hope this keeps us piloted for a while.

What looked like it might be an annoying ordeal ended up as easy as pie. Sometimes the magic works.


Filed under Uncategorized

The beast beneath the berth

I freely admit it, I enjoyed our Wappoo Creek anchorage. A lot. It’s true that the direction of the strong current seemed to change every couple of hours and we were tucked behind a small semi colon of an island that turned out to be a bed of reeds, allowing the ICW traffic to wake us without mercy. It was as if EV slowly spun around her anchor, in a circle with the tide, threatening to drag but seemingly always to return to her original position.

The estates gathered around the island were strictly old money and absolutely beautiful. They knew what they had.

We arrived mid afternoon with no one else here and my first thought was that they are going to kick us out of here, in spite of being marked as an official anchorage in the charts.

The following day the parade of party boats started to raft up and everyone was having fun on the water, over the weekend. The boat closest to us looked like a bridesmaid party was going on. It drew a lot of attention.

At sunset older couples would get in small runabouts from the boat houses that surrounded us, and wave or ask us if we’d like a glass of wine as they putted by.

With the weather settling down we set about finding a way to fix the autopilot ram. After researching the autopilot problem, including generous detailed help from the previous owners, Marce, head of research, found a hydraulic repair shop across the street from a marina 100 miles North in Little River, South Carolina! Nice band too.

We really had some distance to cover. It didn’t look like much on the charts but the remoteness was quite beautiful and almost spooky. We rarely had cellphone coverage and our anchorage was tucked behind a copse of trees, just off the ICW, buggy and not a place to research our plan to repair the autopilot.

After a hard run through creeks rain, and cypress swamps civilization started to intrude in the form of several swing bridges about which the guide books only said “slow to respond” and McMansion developments.

Finally we tied up at Coquina Yacht Club, I pulled the lump out from under our berth, it was rebuilt and I installed it in one day, amazing.

Next stop is Southport, North Carolina, where Marce says there are shops that we need and it’s close to Masonboro Inlet, where we will await our next adventure into the bounding Main.

Wappoo Creek, Charleston S. Carolina


The view from the back porch, Little River, South Carolina.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lawyers, guns and money, part two

It’s been a long time since we went on a passage at sea. There was a period when we did a few offshore crossings and we learned so much from them. Things we forgot, apparently.

My first mistake was not taking seasickness medication well before we left. I thought of it just as we headed out past St. Simon’s Island and ran downstairs to take half a Dramamine which used to work for me before. And then we hit the chop in the inlet. Not since a memorable vomit-inducing passage from Bermuda to Annapolis have I experienced such violent pounding of a boat through the water. We knew it would be rough at first because the winds were on the nose but they were predicted to clock around to a fair sailing breeze so we figured the initial pounding would be worth it.

Our second mistake was not to rig the main and jib halyards while we were still in the protected waters of the ICW. By the time we were ready to raise the sails we were faced with an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous trip out on deck. I went out first and uncovered the mainsail but by the time I finished that I climbed back into the safety of the cockpit exhausted and queasy. Then I took over the helm while Jack went out on deck and rigged the halyard.

When he got back I said, “I need some air,” and climbed up on the stadium seat in the back of the cockpit. Bad move. Because it’s higher, the motion is exaggerated. I immediately felt sick and just about made it to the port rail where I knelt and fed the fishes for about five minutes. I’m not entirely sure Jack noticed even though I was about four feet from him. He was too busy concentrating on keeping EV steady in the waves.

We managed to raise the mainsail without further incident, and what a marvel that was! Escape Velocity’s mainsail is like a big window shade, with a roller in the boom and the sail gets pull up by an electric winch. When it’s time to drop the sail, it rolls back up into the boom. Easy peazy, and good for us old folks.

The jib involved another trip out on deck to remove the sail cover and rig the halyard. Shoulda done it before, at least the halyard part. We’ll know next time we go out in these conditions. Finally, after two months of owning Escape Velocity, we had two sails up but we weren’t actually sailing. The wind never clocked around and stayed on the nose for the duration.

Should we turn back? Heck no, it took too long to get out here. We’ll soldier on and motorsail through the night. Watch on, watch off.

And then, as Jack said, our autopilot failed to take over. And our backup autopilot went to lunch too. But still, we decided to keep going. Instead of pleasant three-hour night watches scanning the horizon for boats every 15 minutes, we took one-hour turns hand-steering on a nearly moonless night.

Steering a compass course is difficult, but we realized early on that none of the compasses in our cockpit agree. There’s a regular magnetic compass; each autopilot has its own; and the chartplotter gives us course over ground, which is actually the most valuable and accurate reading but difficult to see in the dark. We found the iPad to be the biggest help to navigation. I would choose the course we needed to sail on the iPad, talk Jack into it by saying “a little left, a little right” and when he was right on target I’d say, “That’s our course; what’s the compass read?” and so we’d steer to the easy-to-see magnetic compass. Every hour or so we’d check that we were still on course.

After midnight we realized that an hour’s rest wasn’t helping, so we tried an hour and a half on the wheel at a time and did that until first light. Meanwhile, we were coming to grips with the radar. We never had it before, and spent our previous passages peering into the darkness to scan the horizon for lights. If we saw something we then moved on to step two, which is figuring out what it is, which way it’s going and how fast, and most importantly, is it going to hit us? The radar nearly takes that fear away. We can see on the screen any ship in the area, and usually see within minutes if it’s of any concern to us. Twice during the night we could see that a ship was going to cross our path. The first time we slowed down a little to let it pass well ahead of us, and the second time we changed course slightly until it went by. Both times we attempted radio contact but got no answer. Still, no harm, no foul.

By dawn I realized my biggest mistake. No food. That’s not exactly true. We have a boatload of ingredients but with our watch schedule and still getting our sea legs there’s no way either of us could have cooked or even made a sandwich. We were starving and I didn’t have anything prepared ahead of time.

Most of our previous passages were on a small sailboat with two sea berths and four crew. That meant we stood two-man watches and “hot-bunked.” That means two people are out in the cockpit standing watch while two people are sleeping down below on the sea berths in the main cabin. At change of watch the off-watch now take over the two sea berths, still warm from the previous occupants, hence the term “hot-bunking.”

Because there are two people down below who need their sleep, we came up with the patented “snack bucket” which lived in the cockpit and got replenished every day. We filled it with energy bars, nuts, raisins, gum, and whatever the individual crew members requested. That kept the on-watch from going below to root around for snacks and potentially waking the off-watch. It didn’t replace real meals, which were prepared ahead of time and frozen in boil-in bags but it kept us nourished in between.

If we’d had a snack bucket filled with trail mix or granola bars we’d’ve been a lot better off, even without an actual meal. Another lesson (re)learned.

About 10:30 am we started the long approach into Charleston Harbor. Three hours later we dropped the hook behind a marsh island about 2 miles south of the city, near delirious from hunger and exhaustion. We both showered and napped on and off the rest of the day.

We went 179 miles in 29 hours. We made a lot of mistakes, but once again, we didn’t hit anything, nothing hit us, there were no lawyers called in, and no blood. I’d say that’s not a bad day.


Filed under Uncategorized

Going it alone

I don’t think a decision was ever really made but we found ourselves slamming into the wind and current flooding into St. Simons Inlet, pretty much like all the inlets we’ve seen. Rough going with that North east wind that just won’t give up. NOAA grib files said otherwise so we pressed on. We were determined to get the sails up and see what this baby would do, just not while bashing into the teeth of this wind.

We hung a left at the 20 mile marker and paused to raise sail which in Escape Velocity is, to us, a technical wonder. As we tried to recall what Roger and Danielle told us to absolutely do and never do, we managed to tension the proper lines and push the up button on the electric winch and with lines going this way and that and no small amount of spaghetti in the cockpit, we were sailing. It seemed so easy for Danielle.


The wind did not clock around so we motor-sailed pinching and getting any easting we could. Contrary winds notwithstanding it was a beautiful day.

Where were we headed? We knew our friends had to divert to Charelston because of their autopilot packing in but we fancied further horizons. It was about at this time that I thought that I’ve barely checked out EV’s autopilot. The screen read-out blinked “Trip”. I thought why yes I’ll have one of those. I finished programming and pushed the Make It So button and up pops the cryptic message Rud Drv. Not today my friend! No worries, we have an emergency wheel autopilot. No messages this time, just a crisp Yes Sir. That’s what I like. A minute later I pushed in a course correction and got another message, Drive Stop. No Autopilot! This means that every second we’re out here, one of us will be glued to the wheel. This will be tough.

It was a chilly, incredibly dark night, with just a sliver of a new moon poking its crescent barely above the horizon. We steered by the soft glow of the compass binnacle light and tried to decipher the little squiggles on the radar screen. It’s awfully disorienting at sea on a night as dark as this.

Our watches lasted about one and a half hours. That’s all we could take. I think Marce stood more than me.

About 8:am I took over and we dropped the sails, and brought her in through historic Charleston Harbour past Fort Sumter, all the way up Wappoo Creek to a beautiful anchorage.



Filed under Uncategorized

Fifth time is the charm

We thought we had the situation sussed out. We knew St. Marys was in for it the following day. Our friends in their Manta had already left St. Augustine and were somewhere out riding in the Gulfstream, heading north to Newport.

So the obvious thing to do is get up at the crack of dawn, get diesel and water, pop out the St. Marys inlet and join them. Of course there’s a small matter of a tropical something or other and 20 plus knots of wind on the nose until we turn north on the western edge of the stream. Not a pleasant prospect.

No fuel until 8:15 the very old voice said on the VHF. Ok, the first part of the plan had gone awry but we’ll persevere like we always do.

Nat turns out to be the very old voice and was not especially helpful with the dock lines in the trickiest docking maneuvers yet. We’ll call it a soft crash.
As I was leaving his office I turned and said what do you think of the weather? He’s the kind of guy you just know he knows what is coming. He said in a very slow drawl, “Don’t look so good.” That’s all it took. We’re heading up the ditch a little further until this weather settles down.

Heading out towards St. Marys inlet I knew we’d made the right decision. It was blowing like stink. When we crossed St. Andrews sound, and for at least forty five minutes we pounded into 25 knts of wind and the nastiest chop I’ve ever seen. I tried different speeds, different angles with very little effect. The violent movement scared Izzy shitless. Literally. Marce lurched below to clean it up.

Finally Marce found us a protected little anchorage on Jekyll Creek with the worst holding I’ve ever experienced. We had to re-anchor five times! Luckily the winds have moderated enough that we may stay put and get some sleep.



Filed under Uncategorized


What I like most about this life is that it changes all the time. We loved St. Augustine. It’s a beautiful little town, and we rode our bikes all around, got to know the people working in the boatyard and the other cruisers. Then it was time to move on, and with promises to meet up later, we left our new friends and headed out to experience a new place.
We were in no hurry yesterday. We knew we only had a few hours to go, so we weighed anchor mid-morning and motored north past Fernandina Beach and into the St. Mary’s River, where instead of staying on the Intercoastal Waterway we turned west and went upriver a couple of miles to the little town of St. Mary’s, Georgia.

We anchored across from the town park with a couple of other boats, collected our trash, unpacked our folding dock carts, made a grocery list and went ashore in the dinghy. Believe it or not, this is the first time we visited a town by dinghy since we moved aboard Escape Velocity, and with success comes reward. We found a corner store selling Haagen Dazs that fit the bill.
By all accounts the nearest supermarket was 2-1/2 miles away but after walking at least that long in the muggy heat we stopped at a convenience store for water and a rest. The proprietor was outside watering some plants and asked where we were headed.

“My son could do a pick up,” we think he said. “That’s a long way.”

He went inside and a moment later a middle-aged man came out and gestured toward a Jeep Cherokee. He opened the back for our dock carts and we climbed in the passenger seats grateful for the lift. Stanley wasn’t very talkative and when he did speak, usually in answer to something Jack asked him, neither of us had any idea what he said. He dropped us off at Harvey’s and mumbled something that sounded like “maybe catch you on the backside.”

Whenever I’m in the deep south I notice that even among natives of a place there’s a wide range of accents. I almost always ask where people are from, so I’m sure this isn’t a case of regional differences. In just our contacts of the day we heard the sugary Georgia peach of a drawl from the lady at the Welcome Center, barely a discernible accent from the two college age clerks who scooped our ice cream, a comprehensible father and his near-incomprehensible son, and a standard southern twang from the grocery store cashier. Do people choose the degree of southernocity they speak?

Harvey’s was another marginal supermarket with no fresh cheese and aisles and aisles of processed foods, soft drinks and salty snacks. We managed to get most of the items on our list and packed everything into our dock carts. As we were leaving the parking lot a taxi turned in and stopped in front of us.

“Did you call a cab?” the driver asked.

“No,” we said, “but how much to the waterfront?”

“Seven, but only if you called.”

Turns out the lady who’d called didn’t mind sharing and after we dropped her off the driver gave us the rundown on the cab business in St. Mary’s. They buy their Crown Vics at the police car auction “down south.”

“There’s nothing on this car that isn’t police car,” he told us. “All I’d have to do to turn it back into a police car is paint it black and white and put some stickers on it.” Good to know.

He took us back to the dinghy dock and made sure we understood that if we want to go to the mall or Walmart or anywhere, all we have to do is call Happy Cab and he’ll take us.
Getting all the groceries back to the boat in the dinghy was a little more challenging than coming ashore. I’d forgotten to bring plastic bags to keep things from getting wet, we couldn’t get the outboard started and when it did start the throttle wouldn’t work right. But we slogged back to Escape Velocity and unloaded and stowed the groceries, then stowed the dinghy again.

We’re in a lovely quiet anchorage, exactly the way I imagined it all these years.



Filed under Uncategorized

Georgia on my mind

The view from the back porch.
Marce, in her jams, watches while the sun sets over St Marys, Georgia. Yes escapees we did it, we’re out of Florida.


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sunday entertainment

How cool is this? After a couple of hours where Escape Velocity spun around her anchor, the tide turned and synced up with the wind and we finally settled into a peaceful quiet as the sun went down. Then we heard a tell-tale pop pop pop and raced up on deck to see a series of bottle rockets across the river. They barely rose above the treetops but they were bright and colorful and echoed across the water, as did the cheers of the partiers setting them off. A fun end to a lovely day.

Now we just hope the wind stays calm when the tide turns again. The skipper needs his beauty rest.


Filed under Uncategorized