Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bridge and glass smooth water above Georgetown SC
One of the few remaining pontoon bridges in the US - this one held everyone up for two hours on Friday!
Eagle in the nest
If there's a Golden in the area, I'll find him.

Today Saturday, rest day. Yesterday traveled 130 miles from Isle of Palms, SC outside Charleston to Southport, NC at the Cape Fear River Inlet. Left at 6:30 AM so should have been in Southport by early afternoon but not to be. One of the few pontoon bridges left on any major waterway could not open for another two-and-a-half hours due to unusually low tide. The heat index was about 98. An assortment of mostly recreational boats, cruisers and sailboats were waiting on both sides. Meanwhile I watched a thunderstorm build in my path. After the bridge opened, and about 10 miles from my destination, I waited for the storm to pass in front of me and finally made Southport by 4:00 - 10 hrs on the water. Taxied to Hampton Inn and ate at a nice Italian restaurant next door.

Tomorrow I'll depart across the Cape Fear River for Oriental, NC on the Neuse River 20 miles north of Beaufort, NC. Hope there are few delays as the heat index will be up again tomorrow - it is 98 here this afternoon. Beaufort is the place on the coastline of the U.S. where you stop going northeast and turn more to the north towards Norfolk, VA and the Chesapeake. At Oriental I will have a room near the marina so no taxi necessary - small pleasures on a trip like this.

Sure is a tragedy in Langely, Arkansas concerning the canyon that flooded overnight killing 18 and many still missing. Reminds me of the Big Thompson flood west of Boulder in 75 or 76 due to a thunderstorm that stayed in place for hours upstream. Mother nature never exactly repeats herself but we should be able to learn some things for future reference. Glad to hear that Abby Sunderland was found safe after her sailboat was found without its mast - hard to imagine 20-40 ft seas.

Speaking of waves, I will cross some pretty big water in the next week or two where the intercoastal links with larger rivers/lakes such as Pamlico Sound, Albermarle Sound, Neuse River, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and outside the New Jersey coast for a short distance to New York Harbor. Another reason to start early - wind forecasts for next few days remain light - dog days of summer I hope. An advantage of my boat in these cases is that when conditions are good I can take advantage of its 30-35 mph cruising speed. The big boats are exposed for much longer, often cruising at top speeds of 10 to 20. Not to worry - I have banked a lot of weather days due to good weather up to now so can sit out any unfavorable conditions. My phone is loaded with each day’s route weather and the Weather Channel is my nighttime favorite. So long for now - alarm at 4:30 and taxi to marina at 5:30.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The drinking will stop when the economy improves.” The words on a t-shirt worn by a customer at the Isle of Hope Marina south of Savannah. Today traveled from Beaufort, SC to Isle of Palms near Charleston - hard to keep track of all these "Isles.” Rivers, inlets and canals make the way with marshes, many birds and occasional dolphin. Very peaceful country and somewhat remote in places.

After leaving Beaufort this morning got to see Navy/Marine Corps jets from the nearby air stations making approaches - very low and loud and I had a ring-side seat. Yesterday passed by Hilton Head Island - would like to fly over some of the country I'm traveling through as the nautical charts don't show a lot of the inland areas. But a road trip will suffice. Many of the bays, sounds and rivers, when you come upon them from a narrow channel through the marshes, are very big water with at least one of the horizons only the sky. Winds have been low to moderate so waves are not too big - one to two feet as a rule I estimate. This afternoon spent an hour on the Atlantic beach here by the motel. First chance I've had since the intercoastal parallels the ocean sometime only by one barrier island and other times several miles away.

Tomorrow I have a 150-mile day ahead of me to Southport, NC and the cab will pick me up at 0600. As we head into summer, more and more of the hotels are booked for the weekend. I often spend several hours each afternoon/evening calling marinas and motels close by the marinas so that I can be assured of lodging at the end of the next day. This is peace of mind necessary to enjoy that day's trip.

The cabbies often are a great source of local history so I make use of it when going between marinas and hotels. Interesting how one marina, hotel or any business can have the concept of customer service figured out and the next one does not. Can't blame the employees but sure can blame the manager. A subject for another time but I see on a daily basis the businesses that will thrive and those that will not. The chain hotels have the best and most consistent training of staff. Too bad some of the other managers can't attend those training sessions as they don't really know what team leadership requires of them. Enough of that soapbox but it will return.

So long and Happy Father's Day - Ranch House will honor both my parents.
Photos: Top - Isle of Hope Marina; Paris Island Marine Recruit Depot; smaller Hilton Head dock; Charleston Harbor.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ah yes, another test day. Stayed in Fernandina, FL yesterday to dry out gear from the storm; the location was perfect with a fine marina having floating docks and a hotel across the street. So, I planned an early start by 6:30 this morning to do a leisurely trip to near Savannah, GA, about 130 miles.
I take the Lowrance GPS off the boat each night so it will not become the victim of a midnight acquisition. In the morning I plug it in and go. Today, it didn't work. The “black screen of death” - power, but no screen. After half-an-hour of troubleshooting I dug out the hand-held Garmin I had purchased for a back-up, thinking it was probably a waste of money. I inserted the chip for U.S. coastal waterways and got underway. The small screen is no comparison to the Lowrance 7" GPS screen.
I called Lowrance support later in the morning from somewhere on the intercoastal, and after 20 minutes of “hold,” spoke to a tech support person who was not supportive - told me to “mail in the unit and it will take 2-3 weeks.” But, you don't understand . . . . . . . Anyway, I will not purchase Lowrance again.
My boat and Lowrance dealer, Hallberg Marine north of Minneapolis, came through on short notice and arranged the overnight shipping of a new unit which should allow me to get underway from the Isle of Hope Marina here in Savannah, Ga. by 10:00 AM Wednesday. Even Dana from Hallberg Marine hung up after 15 minutes of being on "hold" with Lowrance support. It is such a pleasure to deal with someone who doesn't take no for an answer and finds solutions. Dana got a replacement from his distributor. Thank you Dana from Hallberg Marine.
Some of the Hallberg (dealer) and Premier (manufacturer) folks have been following my trip. This trip should be an engineer’s dream - put the boat to more use in 3 months than anyone would normally do in 10 years and then look for any weaknesses in the product. I continue to get positive comments about the boat.
Clear weather today and I cruised among the waterways that make up the intercoastal going north. Many of these waterways connect to the nearby Atlantic and large shrimper and shipping boats can be encountered. The tidal flow now increases to near 8 feet daily until I get north of South Carolina. This causes significant currents in all the waterways and can expose shoaling areas affecting any boat but mainly the cruiser types that draft 3-5 feet. I draft 2 feet but still can go aground if not careful.
Today I crossed or traveled the Cumberland Sound, Cumberland River, Jekyll Sound, St. Simons Sound, Frederic River, Buttermilk Sound, Sapelo Sound, St. Catherine River/Sound and others. Towns are few, the riverbanks through GA began to show their white sands. If the weather holds tomorrow I may get close to Charleston, SC by afternoon despite a late start.
Saw a little of Savannah this afternoon and will definitely file this historical city for a road trip with Joanne, my wonderful wife! Olive Garden and two margaritas ended the day - not the same without Joanne but nonetheless enjoying seeing this great country from its waterways.
Tomorrow is particularly special as I will pass by Paris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot near Beaufort, S.C. The intracoastal actually passes through part of the training terrain and boats have been delayed due to U.S.M.C. training maneuvers. Heat, bugs, and mud - and then add a little adversity, could be the motto there. Many of the fine Marines I had the honor to lead as a platoon commander in Viet Nam were trained at Paris Island. Thank you drill instructors of Paris Island for setting the uncompromising standards that allowed many Marines to survive Southeast Asia while serving their country... many continue to serve today. Semper Fi.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Storm story. I left the Night Swan B & B in Smyrna for Fernandina at 8:00 AM Sunday. Immediately I ran into what seemed like endless miles of "no wake" zones. By 9:30 I had only covered 8 miles or so and was getting uneasy. The weather was a when I awoke to see a layer of clouds which sometimes is an indicator of early-day thunderstorms especially when there was a 60% chance forecasted.

It cleared somewhat as I reached St. Augustine but I could see some early buildups. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn near Jacksonville for several miles and passed a container ship that was about 5 stories high. A mile later I realized my mistake and turned back - this is big water and I had become overly dependent on the GPS without keeping track of my position on the chart. Meanwhile, I was watching the sky get darker and my cell phone radar showed some big echoes.

I turned onto the correct waterway as the storm became imminent. I tied off to a public boat ramp dock, thank God it was there, facing towards the tide going out and the storm coming in. Then it hit with ferocity, at first with wind and horizontal rain. Even at the back of the boat under the bimini there was no protection. The wind increased some more as I watched panicked boaters try to line up for the ramp and their trailers. In hindsight, that part was a little comical and I was thankful I was tied off.

The wind was roaring and I hung off the front of the bimini, leaning back into wind, as I thought the entire structure could get blown off. This lasted for almost half-an-hour as rain pelted the back of my rain coat - it felt like hail. Meanwhile I listened to my marine radio as the Coast Guard was trying to maintain contact with a boat taking on water - he may have been a few miles off the coast near Nassau Sound - should you really be boating if you can't tell the rescuers your location by some means? Hope that turned out okay.

The storm finally subsided and I made the last 20 miles to Fernandina much later in the afternoon. I spent an extra day here in Fernandina to dry things out and acquire several more "dry bags" at Wall Mart. Horizontal rain left very little dry so spent the evening, and today, washing and drying gear. Another testing and educational day! Will they ever end?

Tuesday I will leave very early to get to Savannah, GA. There is much less chance of storms now for awhile. Will have to take a taxi there as motels are 4 miles from the Isle of Hope Marina just off the Intercoastal Waterway. Here in Fernandina there’s a municipal marina with a hotel across the street - love these arrangements but strangely fairly rare. People in the big boats just stay aboard at the marina. Met a couple today who had done the loop several years ago in a 35 foot cruiser - loved the trip and have visited some places by car since.

Notes: St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S. and is home to the second Mayo Clinic established in the states. Fernandina was a thriving port in the early 1800s. I love floating dock... for the next 300 miles, the tides will rise and drop almost 6 ft. And finally, the southerners sure love their air conditioners - have to carry a long-sleeve shirt when I go eat.
Photos: Top - St. Augustine; Fort St. Mancos in St. Augustine; goldfish in pond on Amelia Island; manatee in the marina today - the noise of the water from the hose attracts them.