Monday, May 7, 2018


February 2018

Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, March 1, 2018
Really, we must be crazy.  Who in their right minds leaves Norfolk, Virginia, in the winter time to transit south on the east coast of the United States?  Well, you know…we had wanted to be home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Years, Birthdays and then still have time to cruise the Caribbean before hurricane season.  Who says we can’t have it all?

After arriving back to Rutea’s holiday home in Cobb’s Marina next to Little Creek Navy Sub Base in early February, the first thing we needed to make sure was working was the heater!  Icy winds blew in off of the Chesapeake as we readied Rutea to launch back into the water.  Living on the hard is hard, but living on the hard in the winter time is even harder!  Remember, you can’t use the head on the hard and in freezing temps the climb down the 14 foot ladder and trek across the boat yard in the middle of the night is a long and arduous journey!

Of course we were watching the weather the entire launch process and knowing that March comes in like a lion we were prepared to watch some heavy weather pass by.  What we didn’t know is that this year March not only came in like a lion, it would go out like a lion as well.  We were ready to go, tired of being in a marina, tired of provisioning, tired of the ‘to do’ list, even more tired of the ‘to buy’ list so we had the bright idea of departing even in not-so-perfect weather, avoid Cape Hatteras and the Atlantic and head south down the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW).

As we were anchoring in the Lafayette River outside of the Norfolk Yacht Club our first night out, we heard the Coast Guard calling freighters one by one, name by name.  We thought that very unusual as we had never heard the likes of that before so we decided to ‘lurk’ or follow one of the conversations on the VHF radio.  We were shocked to hear the Coast Guard telling each freighter one by one, that they were ORDERED by the Commandant of the Coast Guard to deploy storm-rated anchoring tackle as there was a major storm system approaching.  Now we knew that there was heavy weather approaching and we were in a well protected anchorage but we looked at each other and asked, ‘do we have storm-rated anchoring equipment’?  Neal decided to call the Dock Master at the Yacht Club and render his opinion about the holding in the anchorage and after talking with him, he told us he would prefer it if we came into the yacht club until the storm passed and he would offer us a port of refuge for hazardous conditions.  Bless his heart!  It turned out to be a near perfect storm, a real nor’easter which turned into a weather bomb for D.C., New York, Boston and the New England coast.  Rutea took waves over the bow at the dock and after two days of winds up to 40 knots was completely encrusted in salt.
Great Lock on the Virginia Cut
Leaving a day or two after the blow and heading out past mile marker 1 on the ICW what we realized after reading about it in the guide, is what ‘wind-driven tides, depths and currents’ means.  The ICW is notoriously shallow.  It is perfect for power boats, shallow draft sail boats and kayaks!  The center of the waterway is supposed to be dredged to ten feet but there is constant silting and the Army Core of Engineers has run out of money to continue to dredge every shoaling spot.  On top of this, that infamous nor’easter blew, literally blew water OUT of some places in the water way and INTO other places.  For example, the locks on the Dismal Swamp route (inviting, eh?) were closed because of water levels too high.  On our Virginia Cut route the lock was only operating at low tide or until enough water ebbed out and when we arrived and called to the Locktender, he told us to just anchor somewhere because he didn’t know how long it would be (Hours? Days?) until the lock would reopen. Upon transiting the Great Lock, the Locktender told us that the drop was five feet higher than usual and he didn’t know how long it would take to get back to normal. 

Surprise, surprise!  On the south side of the lock wind had blown water further south and all depths were more shallow than charted.  That meant hand steering and watching every ripple in the water, wondering if it was a shoal, a stump, or a rock. It also meant it was super challenging to find a place to anchor our 6.5 ft. draft boat that was not in the center of the waterway which you cannot anchor in even at night because there is tug boat traffic.  Next challenge- Currituck Sound.  Sounds are wide open, shallow, swampy areas.  Beautiful, remote and wild even in the best of conditions a boater does not want to wander outside of the water way or even pass another large vessel going the opposite direction for fear of running aground in very soft, sticky mud.  But who knew that a nor’easter could literally blow water out of the Sound and make it even more shallow and that the water could take months to return or at least not return before a southerly wind would push it back in!

Frost on the Cap Rail
Miles of meandering waterways took days and days to transit.  Of course having to time lift bridges, swing bridges, and bascule bridges made the going even slower and by the time we got to Georgetown, South Carolina, we had covered 410 miles and it had taken us eighteen days.  Okay, so that’s 410 miles, 3 lift bridges, 7 bascule bridges, 9 swing bridges, 1 lock, 1 hard grounding (we don’t want to talk about it) and 28 fixed bridges (many of which are only 65 feet tall and Rutea’s mast is 62 ft.).  All in all, it was a fantastic but intense experience.  An experience we are glad we had but probably would not want to repeat- at least in a deep draft boat.  The surprising part is that inland waterway traveling could be as challenging as any of the other sailing we have done!  The interesting part is that we still learn something new every day.  Fortunately, even after 18 days in the ICW, Rutea does not wear the brown beard on the bow and water line that stains most ICW boats due to the muddy water but she earned an even better stripe which was once again getting us safely to another port in another new (to us) part of the world, through unknown waters.
Georgetown, South Carolina

Sunday, May 6, 2018


We are slowly catching up with our blog posts.  We cruised Maine from July 27, 2017 to August 31, 2017.

We actually welcomed the bad weather that hit Gloucester as it forced us to take a respite from break-neck speed at which we’d been traveling, if there’s any way to construe five miles per hour as ‘break-neck’.  Our schedule had been rigorous (for us) with trying to press the most miles out of every day for what seemed like weeks on end.  As with many modern cruisers, we were looking for a ‘weather window’ with which to make our passage to Maine, even though it was only a short distance.  The winds were light but we were able to sail the entire way and made landfall at Rockland, Maine, after an easy overnight sail.

The Seven Seas Cruising Association was coincidentally holding one of their ‘gams’ in Rockland Bay that weekend and the bay was full of cruising sailboats.  I was answered almost immediately after I had released the key on the VHF’s mike, asking for a recommendation for anchoring.  Not only was the information helpful but the person who answered said they had been following our progress north and had been expecting us.  Were people talking about us?  Had we done something bad?  It wasn’t us!  It was a boat that looked like us!  Even though we weren’t members of the SSCA, they invited us to participate in their events, which we politely declined as we were eager to make it up to Castine.
Sailing north up Penobscot Bay was both uneventful and thrilling at the same time.  It seemed like years ago we promised Joe and Judith Sandven that we’d sail there.  Our guide book had cautioned that visiting yachts should pick up a mooring, which we did, but we later anchored out as there was nothing to be concerned about.  Our rendezvous with Joe and Judith was properly celebrated and Ruthie and I fell in love with the picture-perfect New England community immediately.  The farm just outside of town that Judith was raised on hasn’t been active agriculturally for many years and she allows the fields to be hayed at no charge and no shares.  The old barn remains mostly the same as it has been for almost 100 years but the house has been modernized and has all the creature comforts anyone could ask for, including a nearly idyllic setting and pastoral views.  Joe gave us the keys to his 2005 Ford Crown Victoria and I hadn’t driven a car that large in years but it was not just convenient but fun to be able to drive the back roads of Maine.

One of the errands we took in the Crown Vic was to find a very hard-to-find butcher shop as we were looking for something special to cook for Joe’s 88th birthday.  Google maps directed us to this obscure area that might have been at one time a commercial district but all we could find was an abandoned warehouse.  We called the number and complained to the person that answered the phone that we couldn’t find the place.  “All we can find is an abandoned warehouse,” I whined.  “Come on in,” the person answered.  Inside the ‘abandoned’ warehouse was a huge walk-in refrigerator, complete with display cases and a cashier.  We selected fabulous steaks, appropriate for an 88th birthday party.
  I nearly caused a wreck as I was trying to pull over to a roadside stand that had wild blueberries for sale.  Ruthie bought six quarts of berries, a case of Mason jars and canned 24 half-pints of blueberry jam on board.
Unbeknownst to us, Joe had contacted the Ellsworth American, the surprisingly-well written newspaper for the community of Ellsworth, Maine, telling them that his circumnavigating daughter and son-in-law were in Castine and it would make a worthwhile story.  Neither Ruthie nor I expected any follow up but we were delighted when Stephen Rappaport contacted us and asked if he could interview us.  After all, talking about us is our favorite thing to do!  Stephen, a recovering attorney, was taking a summer vacation from New York about 25 years ago in Ellsworth and never went back.  He spent almost two hours aboard, questioning us and listening intently, only giving information about himself after we prodded him.

If one was to merely give the navigational charts of Maine a cursory glance, it would be easy to deduce that sailing those waters could be complex and challenging.  There must be millions of rocks, ledges and other hazards that the wary sailor must be vigilant about.  However, the charted obstacles are only a small part of the difficulties one is faced with while sailing in Maine.  The first hazard one you won’t be able to spot from studying the charts happens to be the Maine Department of Marine Resources, which grants permits for lobster fishermen to place traps – and their associated floats – in the Maine waters.  Last year, the Department issued permits for over 2 million traps.  Granted, there are strict regulations regarding the size of lobster a fisherman can harvest and it has become a sustainable industry but trying to keep those 2 million traps from becoming fouled on your prop or keel takes constant attention.  It is unknown if we did foul our prop on one of the traps as Rutea’s prop shaft has a line-cutter attached but we zigged and zagged continuously in an effort to keep clear of them.

145' Rebecca Under Main and Mizzen
The other challenge we found sailing in Maine that we couldn’t have detected from the charts was the pea soup-thick fog that found us.  We could be sailing along on a bright, sunny day and it would seem like a wall of fog would suddenly descend and envelope us without warning.  Of course, we have radar that can pick up very small targets but maneuvering between the lobster floats, the lobster boats and the other hazards found in Maine waters was very intense at times.

As we made our way further ‘Down East’ – which describes the northeastern coast of Maine – another issue that we had to contend with was the increasing strength of the currents and the higher tidal ranges the further north we traveled.  Rutea draws almost 7 feet and, usually, if we find 15 feet of water, we think that it’s plenty deep to anchor but that isn’t so if you have a 9’ tidal range.  We would make every effort to time our passages through anywhere narrow to include a favorable current.

The furthest east we went was to Roque Island, a privately-owned island and one of the few in all of Maine to boast a sand beach.  The owners of the island allow cruisers to use the beach (but not venture inland).  It was delightfully remote and a few boats came and went while we were there but we loved the coniferous-covered land.
Ordering Lobster Rolls at a Lobster 'Pound' in Blue Hill
On our way back west, we anchored in the lovely Blue Hill Bay and took advantage of the dinghy dock at the Killegewidgwok Yacht Club as a place to leave the dink while we hiked up Blue Hill.  It was a pleasant climb and kind drivers would stop as we walked the sides of the road, offering us rides.  We also made a final rendezvous with Joe and Judith there but made promises to share Thanksgiving dinner together in San Diego.

Someone had told us of a special anchorage in between Harbor Island and Hall Island – they were absolutely right – unless the wind was out of the north and the wind was howling out of the north.  We dropped our anchor there anyway and stayed for about 10 minutes before we weighed anchored and bashed about 3 miles north to the lee of Friendship Long Island.  We had hoped to leave the following day but the wind hadn’t abated at all.  Small craft advisories had been posted by the Coast Guard for strong winds and rough conditions.  Ruthie and I ‘debated’ about what to do.  Throwing caution to the wind, we weighed anchor, tucked a double reef in the main and headed back to Gloucester.