Monday November 5, 2012
When we left Elizabeth City yesterday morning we only knew that we wanted to make it to Oriental as soon as possible and would try to make fifty mile days, leaving just after the sun rose and dropping anchor just as it was about to set. A lot of the other boats must have had the same idea as us and when Serendipity and Rode Trip pushed off the docks at six-thirty a.m. and made our way to the Ablemarle Sound there were already ten masts on the horizon. Once in the sound we were able to raise both sails and cut our engine with the constant twenty to twenty five knot winds blowing over us. While I was dressed in as many layers as I could find and still shivering in the cockpit (outside temperatures were in the low 50’s), Matt went to work with more boat projects sanding down the teak toe rails up by the bow so he’d be able to run some brightner over them and cover them in varnish. We didn’t even have to take buckets of water to wash them off as a downpour started over us and took care of it. Not letting the opportunity of fresh un-salted water go to waste, Matt grabbed a rag and a scrub brush and started cleaning down the deck and poles. The rain continued on and off all afternoon and stopped just as we were entering the Alligator River. There’s a swing bridge to pass through to get from the sound to the river and taking down our sails we slowed to a stop with one other boat while the bridge tender waited for the line of boats behind us to catch up before opening so he could get everyone through at once and not have to do multiple closings of traffic. Rode Trip was bringing up the rear of the pack and passed through under sail power alone, something we thought wasn’t allowed and were sure they’d get yelled at for although the bridge tender never said anything.. We’re still having a discussion on the subject as we can’t find anything in our books to support it but knew that we saw it somewhere. The great debate continues.
With so many other boats in such close proximity there has been so much chatter on Channel 16. Just after we left in the morning both us and Rode Trip were hailed by a power boat, Tug-a-long, who must have known we were newbies to transiting the ICW and gave us some rules of the road. He mentioned that if a boat wants to pass you they’ll hail on the VHF, get your permission (does anyone ever say no?) and you slow down when they come up on you and just as they get in front you punch your engine and aim for their stern to avoid getting waked. After awhile I just stopped listening to the chatter since that’s all it was. “Boat A, I’m coming up on your stern, may I make a starboard pass?” “Roger Boat X, you can pass on our starboard. Have a spectacular day”. Very easy to drown out and there’s a chance I may have even missed a call or two to ourselves. You know what though? If you’re coming up on me and you see an opening, just take it, you don’t need my permission. And I’d like to think that I’m observant enough that I would realize when someone is coming up on me and avoid their wake. We’ve been doing it for 2000 miles now. Amidst the chatter I was trying to ignore there was information about logs in the water in Alligator River near certain markers and I completely forgot about it until chatting on 71 with Rode Trip on possible spots to anchor that night when I got a response of “Hold on just minute, I need to dodge this log in the river”. Looking around myself I started to see large pieces of wood not just floating in but jutting out of the water as if they were stationary and could do some serious damage if run in to. After that eyes were constantly peeled but we only had a few miles to go before our anchorage. Continuing our tradition we raided Road Trip after dinner and did some quick planning for the next day although I had already scouted out a spot early in the morning so that our whole evening could be spent playing games and having a few cold ones.
Getting up this morning the sun was shinning as we entered the Pungo River Canal. I had a Bigby Pumpkin Pie Coffee in my hand and the shelter of the canal brought winds down to seven knots as a current carried us along at six knots. It was looking to be a fantastic day and Stephanie and I were having fun on 71, joking that we needed our invisibility cloaks on so we could pass other boats unnoticed without asking their permission. We were moving along well and had passed a few boats (no we didn’t hail them, we weren’t even throwing up any kind of wake) and as I let Rode Trip lead the way I looked back to see a large line of boats quickly coming up on us. Radioing Stephanie once more I asked if she wanted to kick it up so we could stay at the front of the pack or maintain our speed and keep to the right to allow them all to pass. We agreed our speed was fine and if anyone wanted to get around us we’d just keep an eye out and stay to the side. This was working well as the long line of yachts began coming up on our port side and they’d wave as they passed us by. Intermittently I’d look back to see who was still coming and could see a catamaran weaving from one side of the canal to the other. First he looked like he was going to try and come up on my starboard side while I was already being passed on port and because so was already hugging the edge. Some docks protruding from shore forced him in line behind me and as soon as the boat on port passed he started making a beeline around me on that side as well. Feeling he was still a little too close for comfort I hugged the right a little more while still keeping my distance from shore.
As he came up on my side I felt a sudden deceleration of our speed and jumped up to throw the autopilot on standby while I grabbed the wheel. Seeing that we were still a good distance from shore I thought we were getting caught on some roots or branches sticking up from the bottom of the canal and throttled it harder trying to get ourselves off and back into the middle of the canal. As I throttled harder and harder we inched forward just a little bit and came to a complete stop. I don’t know how this happened since we have a draft of five feet and the depth sounder was reading six and a half, but we had just run aground. As soon as he had felt us slowing to a stop, Matt ran back to the cockpit took over, now throwing us hard into reverse to try and back us off. It was not doing anything, we were good and stuck. All I can say is that if it had to happen somewhere it couldn’t have happened in a better place. Not only did we have a buddy boat with us but there was a boat passing by every thirty seconds and no call to Tow Boat US and a $800 bill were necessary. Jumping onto 16 I hailed Rode Trip and Stephanie must have realized something was going on because she responded with “Serendipity, what’s going on back there?” “We’re aground, let’s go to 71”, I replied with and we switched over channels where she said they’d turn around and come back to yank us out. While waiting for a line of boats to pass so they could cut across the canal and come back the catamaran that had basically run us off stopped Rode Trip to see if we were ok. She replied that we weren’t and they were turning around to come back for us. Trying to make up for his mistake he also turned around since he had a much shallower draft and wouldn’t get stuck himself while trying to pull us off.
In the middle of being scolded back on Serendipity for throttling forward when it should have been reverse I tried to relay what Stephanie was telling me on the VHF. I was pretty upset and frustrated so I didn’t make out all of what she was saying, but it sounded like they had also become stuck but the catamaran was on it’s way back to get us out. “Roger that, catamaran’s coming” I acknowledged without really taking any of the conversation in. Did she say they were around as well? All I knew was that the cat was almost to us and we needed dock lines to throw him so he could tie us off and pull us out. I was instructed to go behind the wheel and ‘give it all she’s got’ once he started going forward as well. We came out surprisingly easily and I had to throw us into reverse to avoid hitting him once we were out. Taking back our dock lines we thanked him and waited for him to pass us once more although he hung back as we began to move again. Even though I was glad he came back to help us that almost frustrated me more. If you know you’re going to pass us again, just do it now. I don’t want to have to constantly look over my shoulder to see when you’re coming up and move over for you again. Forcing him to get past us by keeping it in idle we rode side by side with Rode Trip for a bit, talking about the experience. Somehow they had gotten themselves stuck in the middle of the canal but were able to rock themselves off with their tiller although a ton of mud had packed itself on to the bottom of their boat. I felt bad that I caused them to run aground trying to come back and save us but we all had a good laugh about the whole situation and I was able to lift my spirits again.
Things were looking up and I went below to warm up for awhile and got a little writing done while cheering myself up with Skittles. I could tell we had come out of the canal and into the Pungo River because Matt unfurled the headsail while I was below and we started heeling to the side. Figuring I should go back on deck in case he needed me I saw that the without the protection of land the wind was gusting up to twenty-five knots again and made it bone chilling cold outside. For as much as sailors are supposed to love their wind it has been driving me crazy for the past week because it makes the days unbearably cold. Taking shelter behind the dodger I sat on the lee side where the sheet for the headsail was wrapped around the winch. Giving me a lesson in tell-tales since I can never remember what they’re trying to tell you, Matt instructed me to look at the inside and outside tail and how to ease or trim the sheet based on how they’re sitting. Getting the sail perfectly trimmed I watched our speed grow higher and higher until we were at 7.2 under headsail alone. Proud of Serendipity I wanted to continue on but we noticed the marina that both of our boats needed to stop off at to fuel up was just ahead of us and we’d need to turn in. Since cutting across the river to the marina meant heading right into the wind we needed to turn on the engine and furl in the headsail.
While Matt grabbed the furling line I was instructed to slowly release tension on the sheet while he brought it in. I don’t know why my mind wasn’t working, but with my right hand clutching the line and ready to release it I had my left hand grabbing the sheet between the winch and the block it passed through probably assuming I could hold it in place if it released too quickly. Well with thirty knots of wind and I don’t know how many hundreds of pounds of pressure on the line, as soon as I began to release it the line shot backward to the block with an enormous force and took my hand with it. Rule number one of why you’re not supposed to grab lines between blocks and winches. My knuckle and pinkie finger became wedged in the block and the heavy winds creating a strong force on the line which was more than my right had could pull back on to release my left. People have actually lost fingers this way and all I could think to myself is, ‘We don’t have health insurance‘. Realizing I was in trouble Matt asked if my hand was stuck and as I nodded my head that it was he grabbed a winch handle and forced the line out of the block, freeing my hand. Even though it was still attached and there were no serious cuts it definitely looked like it had been chewed up and spit out with dog bite looking marks quickly disappearing after it started to swell up. Our big concern was that it may be broken although I was able to still fully bend it so I didn’t think that was the case. After docking at the marina and having Rode Trip pull in on the other side I sought medical advise as they had taken a course just before leaving and they agreed with me that if I was able to bend all parts it most likely wasn’t broken. Getting a bag of ice from them I kept it on my hand although the cold temperatures had made my hand so numb already I barely noticed a difference.
Back on the river we let out the headsail once more and left it just a little more lose to slow ourselves down and not worry about the thirty degree heels we had been starting to pull with the thirty knot winds just before. Taking a sharp bend in the river just past Bellhaven we were now on a strictly downwind course and lost a lot of our speed. Not in much of a rush as we knew we’d still make our anchorage at least an hour before the sun went down even at our new slower speed, one hates to take such a drastic deceleration and accept it so we rigged up the spinnaker pole to force the headsail to stay fully extended so any wind that hit it would come across an open sail and be able to push us forward. Right away we gained another knot and it looks like it will be well worth the purchase.
A few hours after our downwind sailing we entered another canal on the ICW and tucked into a completely secluded creek for the night. Brian being absolutely crazy took a dip in the fifty-seven degree water after he got a haircut and after dinner both him and Stephanie joined us for movie night on our boat where I tried to pop popcorn in our 700 watt microwave which usually only pops half the bag before burning it, and we took a request from Rode Trip to watch the movie Wind. It’s a little lame and a little slow moving but it is all about sailing and gave us a good reason to start sporadically saying “Whomp!!” to each other, based on a phrase from Jennifer Green in the movie. The day ended a lot better than it started and it’s always nice to have good friends around when something goes wrong. I think the Garfield ‘I Hate Mondays’ poster can safely be put away now and hopefully won’t make it’s way back out for a long time.
Setting off into the Albemarle Sound with lots of masts on the horizon.
Beautiful morning on the Pungo River Canal!
The herds are catching up.
I should have taken a photo later at night, my knuckle was purple!
But good friends and breathtaking sunsets make all things better.