2008 – Florida Keys to Nova Scotia

***** STILL NEED TO FORMAT AND ADD PHOTOS *****

 

Kayaking

Feb 12, 2008

I’ve been taking the kayak out into the shallows almost every day to see the wildlife – birds and underwater critters.  I’ve seen a lot of small bonnet head sharks, nurse sharks, and small rays including baby eagle rays like this one…  

 

The bird watching has also been great – lots of Little Blue Herons, Pelicans, Egrets, Tri-color Herons, and small shore birds like Plovers.  The herons are pretty shy, and the Little Blues make the most horrible screaming sound when they decide you’re too close (which isn’t close at all!).  This one is a tri-color heron…

 

I’ve noticed that winds from the south or southwest tend to carry Portuguese Man-o-War jellyfish into the reefs – they are quite poisonous, but they’re also very beautiful with the cobalt blue and a faint pink tinge on their “sail”.

 

 

Watercolors and the Miami Boat Show

Feb 18, 2008

We never get tired of seeing the beautiful colors in the water around the Keys…

 

When running a boat in these Keys it’s important to understand what some of the different colors mean, since running aground on coral is NOT a good thing!  There’s a little poem I found to help sort things out:

“Brown brown – run aground; white white – careful you might; green green – nice and clean; blue blue – good for you!”

It’s hard to leave the Keys, but we decided to check out the famous Miami Boat Show to talk to a few of the vendors.  We were warned that it’s a HUGE show, but that’s an understatement.  This photo shows just a small part of the Convention Center floor, and we had to maintain a brisk pace to cover the entire Convention Center in just one day – that was just vendors… not the boats!

 

Our adventure up to Miami reminded us how “different” the Keys are.  We felt like we crossed some invisible border between two worlds when we left the Keys… and we couldn’t wait to get back!

 

Birthday Week and a Sailboat Trip!

February 28, 2008

It has been a very busy week so we’re just getting a chance to update the Blog!  Jim celebrated his birthday last week, and friends threw him a nice party aboard their boat at the other end of the harbor.  He was really tickled to get this tacky 2′ lighted palm tree – it’s about the only thing he wanted!  The patch he’s wearing has the number of days he’s been on this earth, and he was smiling because he also received some yummy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a gift.

 

Two days after the big birthday party, we headed up to the Sarasota area to meet our friend Wayne (who was flying down from the Great White North) and to help him deliver his new-to-him Island Packet 35 sailboat down to Marathon.  Wayne has an incredible amount of boating experience and knowledge, but mostly with great big gray boats owned by Uncle Sam.  As we checked over all the various systems and provisioned the boat for the trip south, we discovered that the head (toilet) badly needed some new seals.  It’s something that should be replaced now and then… so Wayne-the-new-boat-owner had to face the music.  Fortunately the local West Marine had the parts kit, and Wayne had rubber gloves.  He was a really good sport about it.

It didn’t take long to get things straightened out and we got underway, running in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) along the west coast of FL for the first part of the trip, often with company…

We had great weather and calm conditions – not the greatest for sailing, but we were focused on getting the boat down to Marathon and we knew that bad weather would be moving in on Tuesday night.  We motored or motor-sailed, and made a nice overnight passage in the Gulf from Fort Myers down to the Keys, with the sails giving the engine a little boost.  It was a clear night with a perfect dome of stars from horizon to horizon – just magical!

We slowed down a little around 5am to insure that we would make our approach to the Keys in daylight – the crab pots can be unbelievably thick and it’s much easier to avoid them if you can see them!

It was a perfect trip with great weather and excellent company – Wayne always had a few good sea stories to help pass the time on watch.  Jim and I miss sailing, so we were happy to get a chance to sail a little, and also to see some of the FL west coast by water.

We arrived in Marathon on Tuesday around mid-day, and the bad weather (squalls and strong winds) arrived right on schedule Tuesday evening.  The winds haven’t let up, and are expected to remain heavy into the weekend.  Good thing we left when we did, or we’d be hanging on for dear life in an anchorage somewhere and Wayne would miss his flight back to the Great White North!

 

Mangroves

March 7, 2008

If you look at a map of the Florida Keys, you’ll see that the eastern two-thirds are horizontal – the islands are long and skinny in an east-west orientation.  There’s a large gap just past the islands that make up the town of Marathon, and the famous Seven Mile Bridge connects to the islands of the lower Keys.  The lower Keys are typically oriented more north-south.

The upper and middle Keys were created primarily from coral uplift (fossilized patch reef), but the lower Keys are a combination of coral and mangroves.  According to our good friend Dave (PhD oceanographer who has been studying the lower Keys for many years), “these islands are comprised of oolitic limestone which precipitated out of super-saturated water moving from Florida Bay out to the open ocean.  The orientation of these Keys reflects an alignment with the direction of water flow.  One of the many unique features of Big Pine Key is that it represents the transition from Key Largo Limestone (fossilized patch reef forming the upper Keys) to oolitic limestone (aka Miami Limestone).  If you look carefully, you can deduce which type of limestone is present by the type of trees you see.  Pine trees are only found where there is oolitic limestone, because it is denser and allows the formation of freshwater lenses.”

Mangroves are also a major part of the landscape here – they’re amazing plants since  they grow and thrive in salt water by getting rid of excess salt through their leaves or blocking the salt in their roots.  They are sometimes known by their nickname “walking trees”… you can see why.

 

The little shoots in the foreground are actually baby mangroves – seeds that drifted around and finally grew long enough to take root.  Mangroves make up a large amount of the shoreline here in the Keys, and the best part is that they provide a perfect haven for fish and birds – the roots provide a perfect “nursery” for baby fish, and the trees are home to many birds such as this egret.

 

Lots of people confuse egrets and white herons – to tell them apart just look at their legs: herons have yellow legs, and egrets have black/gray legs.  The confusing bird is the snowy egret – he has black/gray legs but yellow feet!

I appreciate the mangroves since that’s where I kayak every day (or almost every day) and that’s where I find all the beautiful birds and small sea critters.  The other day I saw six baby spotted eagle rays in one afternoon, along with two small nurse sharks, a bonnet head shark, and lots of baby barracuda.

Every day has to end, but with the day’s end comes one last treat…  this is the view right from the cockpit of our boat, with part of the Seven Mile Bridge.

What Do You Do All Day?

March 16, 2008

We get that question a lot since we started cruising.  The truthful answer is that we fix the boat in beautiful places!  Most days we vow to cross at least a few things off the endless to-do list before we even consider taking some time to “play”.  Some of what we do are projects – installing a new cellular amplifier, or a new level indicator for the holding tank; some of what we do falls under “maintenance” – adding some coats of varnish to the swim ladder (ignore it and it becomes a huge job), cleaning sea strainers, replacing a joker valve in the head – real “glamorous” things.  There are also the inevitable repairs – a boat is subjected to heavy doses of salt water and vibration – which are hard on the boat’s various systems.  It’s work, but we enjoy doing boat stuff!

When we’re not working we take the time to enjoy the surroundings.  Jim is always “puttering” – he likes to design things and make things; I get out in the kayak, often with the camera, or I knit or make beaded jewelry.  We both like to look at other boats going by – we’re at the head of the harbor so we get to see all kinds of stuff!

The other day I was out paddling when we had a very low tide, which brings out more birds than usual.  This is a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron – I haven’t seen too many of these!

The water was so clear that it looks like my kayak is sitting on the grass, but I’m floating about 6″ above the grass in this photo.  These shallows are where I see all the interesting sea critters that I love to write about.

 

Our time in the Keys is drawing to an end – we’ll start cruising north around March 31, so we’re starting to prioritize the projects and think about provisioning for the trip.  We’ll anchor out most of the time, and of course we won’t have a car so we have to think about stocking up on things that aren’t always convenient to buy (Costco and Radio Shack aren’t usually located near a dock) or to haul from the store to a dock, into the dinghy, and out to the boat.  It’s just another part of “cruising” that’s different from daily life-in-the-Big-City.

I just started a small “cruiser’s herb garden” – a plastic bin with three small pots: basil, cilantro, and parsley.  The basil is sprouting nicely, and I finally saw the first cilantro shoot this morning.  Parsley is slower to germinate, but I’m hoping to have some fresh herbs by the time we’re north of the Keys.

The other part of “what do we do all day” is getting together with other cruisers.  We’ve been lucky to have a number of cruiser friends wintering in the Keys or passing through, and we get together for sunsets, pot-luck dinners, and Mexican Train (dominoes).  Some people have more time on their hands, and they dress up their pet pink flamingos in various outfits like this: (we do NOT have a flamingo – this belongs to a friend)

Getting Ready to Move On

March 21, 2008

We’ve started to get ready to leave the Keys in a little over a week, loading up on lots of basic supplies at Costco and WallyWorld (Wal-Mart).  We won’t have a car or convenient access to grocery stores for the next few months, so it’s nice to get a lot of the bulky and heavy things aboard now.  As we travel we’ll find some marinas with a courtesy car that we can use for “big shopping”, but we never really know where we’ll be when we might need something.

The challenge is to find a place to put it all away, and to be able to find it later on!  There’s a lot of storage on this boat but not all of it is readily accessible, so the idea is to put a few items in convenient storage and the rest of the supply in not-so-convenient storage.  Even for convenient storage, living on a boat means that you often have to move three things out of the way to get to the thing you really want.

I filled the galley counter several times over with things to be put away – this is one of the piles.

We also need to change the oil in the engines before we leave – 3.5 gallons per engine.  The cockpit was full of grocery bags when we first returned from the stores… this is all that’s left.

The trick with provisioning is to write down what you have and where you put it.  We have a four page spreadsheet with the current inventory, and we haven’t gotten to the perishable food and freezer stuff yet!

 

Big Pine Key Locals and House Walls

April 2, 2008

The neat part about Big Pine Key is that the island is a National Wildlife Sanctuary for the Key Deer – relatives of the white tailed deer, but much smaller – about the size of a medium sized dog.

 

The deer seem pretty comfortable bedding down for the evening right in the neighborhoods.

 

The house construction continues to progress nicely, and now most of the exterior walls and window openings have been built on the upper deck.

 

It is fun to envision the rooms as well as the screen porch.  This is the view of the house from the canal side (the side we really care about!).  The master bedroom is on the left and it opens out to the porch, which runs along the rest of the canal side of the house.

 

The kitchen and dining room also looks out on the canal.  The ceiling will be vaulted – about 12 feet tall, which should give the house a nice airy feel.  We’ll have french doors that open from the dining room to the porch, and another set off the master bedroom.  The street side living room will also have a large block of awning windows.  The builder’s mother lives in the same neighborhood, and she has the same layout and the same north-south orientation that we do – so Ryan Construction has been very helpful with ideas and suggestions since they know what works.

Now we’re trying to choose floor tile for the house – something neutral and light that will complement different decorating styles.

Cruising!

April 2, 2008

Sorry for the long delay updating the Blog, but we’ve been busy getting ready to start cruising again and we had the Easter holiday and our good friend Dr. Dave (Oceanographer and all around interesting guy) in town.  I went diving with Dave out on Looe Key reef off Big Pine Key, just like old times, though Jim had to skip the dives due to a pulled back muscle (he’s much better now).  For Easter, a big group of cruisers got together for a pot-luck dinner – 34 people.  We got to use the party room down at Sombrero Marina, with a great view of the huge mooring field that the City of Marathon runs.  The upper part of the photo shows about two-thirds of the mooring field – there are more boats out of view!

We enjoyed our time in the Keys this winter, but now it’s time to cruise.  The sunset views from our slip in the marina were terrific, setting behind the famous Seven Mile Bridge.

A few of our DeFever friends came into the harbor and we all met for lunch.  The discussion eventually got around to the topic of Key Lime Pie recipes, and challenges were issued – resulting in the “East of Key West, Best of the Best, Throwdown Showdown Key Lime Pie Contest”.  The “judges” were blindfolded for the tasting, but we had to show them our pretty pies first!

We left Marathon with the two other DeFevers (AURORA and BLESSINGS) early this morning – the pre-dawn light can be very beautiful.

After a long day’s run of about 85 nautical miles, we arrived in Biscayne Bay to the state park at Boca Chita, about 20 miles south of Miami.

We’ll relax and stay here tomorrow, then maybe head over to No Name Harbor (Bill Baggs State Park) at the south end of Key Biscayne, until the winds settle down for a nice run in the ocean up the coast of south Florida.

 

 

Adventures on the Move

April 16, 2008

We ended up staying in Boca Chita (an island in the Biscayne Bay National Park) for a few days with friends, waiting for good weather.  We waded in the gin-clear water, worked on chores, toured the lighthouse, bird-watched, and partied nightly with our friends aboard AURORA (another DeFever 49), BLESSINGS (DeFever 44), and @HOME (Tradewinds 43).

No pets are allowed on Boca Chita, so we had to hide Miss Weber (@HOME’s boat kitty) and Miss Godiva (BLESSINGS’ Chocolate Lab) whenever a ranger boat came into the harbor.  I love animals, and really enjoy having some furry friends to hang out with!

 

While in Boca Chita, we got to watch a local Kiteboarding team practice around the island.  These folks scream along at incredible speed with a small “surfboard” strapped to their feet, and a huge kite sail on a harness.  They can leap 20+ feet in the air, and they’re just incredible to watch.  I was out kayaking with a friend and one of the kiteboarders headed right for us – then leaped over the two of us with plenty of room to spare – wow!!

 

The winds finally settled down but not enough for us to run offshore, so we had to brave the large number of bridges and the heavy local boat traffic to run north through Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  BLESSINGS (and Miss Godiva) will travel with us all the way to Jacksonville; @HOME runs faster so they will stop in different places, and AURORA is heading for some bottom paint repairs in a Lauderdale boat yard.  It’s hard to imagine that a little paradise like Boca Chita is so close to the Big City (Miami), and civilization loomed on the horizon – no more “island life” that we got used to in the Keys.  This is AURORA approaching the Miami skyline.

 

Normally we try to avoid traveling in congested areas on a weekend, but we had to get moving north and so we faced the music.  Miami and Fort Lauderdale are full of cruise ships, mega-yachts, and a gazillion little local boats – it’s just chaos among the incredibly fancy homes along the waterway.  Our friends on AURORA took this photo of us coming through Port Everglades.

 

Running on the waterway keeps us very busy all day, and there hasn’t been much time to relax or to Blog!

 

MTOA Rendezvous

April 16, 2008

We’ve logged a lot of miles since the last Blog entry, traveling from the very bottom of Florida to the very top – Jacksonville.  We’re finally sitting still for a few days to attend the big MTOA Southern Rendezvous – there will be about 70 boats as well as people traveling by car and plane.  MTOA (a huge trawler club – www.mtoa.net) is just a fabulous group, and we’ve encountered many members as we’ve been traveling north.  In fact, a day hasn’t gone by when we haven’t heard friends on the radio or seen them in anchorages or in marinas.  We stopped in Cocoa Village at a marina for a little rest, but ended up meeting new and old friends.  All this social stuff is going to kill us!  It’s great to tour each other’s boats and to share ideas and tips though – very helpful.

A number of the boats heading for the Rendezvous converged on Palm Coast (between St. Augustine and Daytona) where a lot of MTOA members and friends live.  We had about a dozen boats docked at various people’s home docks in this waterway community.  The area has a real rabbit’s warren of canals, and is very pretty and quiet.  We visited with our friends the Fulfords, who are getting into their new “land yacht” (5th wheel motor home), cruising very much like we do with the boat.  Wonderful!

Most of the MTOA “herd” left on Monday morning, but with winds predicted to be 25+ knots on Tuesday, we decided to run all the way to Jacksonville.  The timing worked out for us to run up the St. Johns River – if you catch it when the tide is going out you can have a very strong current to buck!

The city of Jacksonville has a nice waterfront, and they let boats tie up for free to the seawall.

We chose to go all the way into the rendezvous marina, and were very happy to see old friends we didn’t expect!  Both couples – DeFever folks and friends we met in Morehead City, stopped here for a week and ended up staying for the winter season.  As with us, most people’s plans are cast firmly in Jell-O.

I have a number of chores to finish before the Rendezvous goes into full swing later today.  We’ll Blog again once we’re moving.  Next stop after the Rendezvous is Charleston, and we plan to stop for a few days so we can play tourist there.

 

Leaving JAX, Offshore to Charleston

April 25, 2008

We had a great time at the MTOA Southern Rendezvous in Jacksonville, with the bonus of a visit from Jim’s brother Russell and his gal Suzy.  It was great to catch up with them and we had a lot of laughs!

We headed out the St. Johns River, preparing to turn up into the ICW – we were going to get some fuel in Fernandina Beach before we headed offshore.  We were driving from the pilothouse, and we happened to look out the boat deck door – there was an egret standing on our dink!  He didn’t seem to mind being photographed, and Jim got about 3′ away from him before he flew away.  Hitchiker!

We stopped for fuel at the cheapest place we could find in the area – diesel was $4.13/gallon – OUCH!  We’re slowing our cruising speed to improve fuel economy – we’re not in a hurry.

We decided to avoid the shoals and big tides in Georgia and southern SC, so we headed into the ocean at the top of Florida – the St. Mary’s River.  It’s a nice overnight passage to Charleston, and we trade three hour watches so we each get some rest.  Jim recently got a new “toy” – an AIS receiver – which we got to try out.  The Automated Information System (AIS) is an international requirement for ships over a certain size, and each ship’s AIS unit broadcasts the ship’s name, type, speed, heading, and next destination port.  Our new toy receives this information, and presents the data on our electronic chart plotter so we can see the ship icons, their direction of travel, and speed.  The rest of the ship’s information is just an additional mouse click.  Why is this useful?  The trip up the coast intersects a number of approaches to major harbors and inlets where large ship traffic can be quite busy.  We would normally see these ships on our radar, but if we are concerned about our course intersecting a ship’s course it can be difficult to hail the correct ship on the radio to discuss mutual intentions.  With the AIS, Jim was able to contact a ship, by name,  that was over six miles away to make sure our course would not interfere with him.  Looking at the destination port of ships coming out of Savannah, for example, we knew if they would be turning north or south once they passed the sea bouy, and make our own adjustments accordingly.  Savannah was particularly busy overnight, and we had a considerable amount of traffic coming into and out of that port.

We don’t have to have lots of “toys” to run the boat, but we’ve come to appreciate the additional safety and reduced stress that comes with more information about forces larger than we are.

The trip was somewhat lumpy, with winds a little stronger than predicted, but we didn’t have any problems and we arrived safely in Charleston on Tuesday, cruising past historic Fort Sumter at the mouth of the harbor.

 

Playing tourist in Charleston, SC

April 25, 2008

After our overnight passage, it was great to stop for a few days and just play tourist.  We’ve stopped in Charleston briefly before, but this is our first time to really appreciate this gorgeous city.  We docked at the Charleston City Marina – a really well-run facility with the famous MegaDock – a 1500′ long floating dock.  In many places that we stop, we’re one of the bigger boats.  On the MegaDock, the Megayachts and huge sportfish make us look pretty dinky!  Here’s a photo of the MegaDock – the red arrow points to ADVENTURES (you can just barely see the black hull), and note that we’re at the half-way point along the dock.

Charleston is one of the prettiest cities – very historical with lots of southern charm and beautiful gardens.  It sits on a peninsula between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers.

 

There is a LOT of money in Charleston, though my friend who grew up here says that it’s mostly northern money these days.  The homes are gorgeous, with some cobblestone streets made from the ballast stones from ships.  We took a really nice historical tour by horse drawn carriage – $20/person for an hour on a carriage that held about 10-12 people, drawn by either a Belgian or Percheron, or a team of mules.

 

South Carolina’s secession from the Union in 1860 kicked off the Civil War, and the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie at the mouth of the harbor.  We took a National Park Service tour boat out to Fort Sumter and got to see just a shade of what it once was.  The walls have been reconstructed to at most half of their original 50′ height.

This is a view across the Fort, looking back to the Charleston peninsula.

We really enjoyed walking all around the town.  Most of the main streets had either very high-end art galleries, high-end attorney offices, or interesting cafes and restaurants.  Another treat was St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – a major historical landmark.  Our friend Ted McCarley (DeFever 44 – ALOHA FRIDAY) told us that his Great-Grandfather was the Rector there, and we stopped in to see the memorial plaque with his name on it.  Very cool!  We got one last treat when we stopped in to a shop that sold antique maps and natural history prints.  The gal there pointed out a pair of nesting Yellow-Crowned Night Herons up in an old tree outside her shop.  We came back the next day with the telephoto lens, and spotted a second pair in the next tree.  Wonderful!

There’s just too much history and interesting things to cover in a Blog… come and visit!

 

It’s a Small (But Long and Narrow) World…

May 4, 2008PM

Days on the water just seem to zoom by – we’re busy running the boat all day long, and we’re usually pretty tired once we get the anchor set and we fix supper.  Fresh air and sunshine, lots of concentration on some parts of the waterway – all combine to make it easy to fall asleep (early) at night!  Running the boat is not quite as relaxing as you might think!

We had a few nice quiet evenings at anchor as we made our way north on the waterway, with good weather and light winds.  We had a short day in the Waccamaw River in South Carolina – a favorite place for its nature and beauty.  A lot of the river is flooded cypress swamp, with huge old trees draped in spanish moss.  We decided to anchor up Bull Creek off the Waccamaw, and really enjoyed the sound of the birds.  I launched a kayak and paddled way up some little creeks until they were just tunnels under the tree branches, hearing the birds more than seeing them, and seeing an alligator.  Here we are, tucked into this little wooded paradise.

The next day we anchored right at the South Carolina / North Carolina border, and were joined by another boat we know through our trawler club (MTOA).  The folks came over in their dinghy and invited us for ice cream sundaes after dinner, and they even picked us up so we didn’t have to launch our dinghy!  The title of this post refers to the fact that it’s a very small world – we keep running into people and boats that we know – and the fact that we’re on the waterway – a long, narrow “world” from Florida through the Chesapeake.  It certainly is its own little universe – hearing friends over the radio and bumping into people at almost every turn.

We spent an extra day at Wrightsville Beach, NC so we could explore and to wait for the winds to settle.  Even this early in the season, there were lots of surfers out in the water!  We ran in the ocean from Wrightsville up to Morehead City – a nice 8-9 hour run.  We had a real treat – a visit from a small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin!  It’s common to see Bottlenose Dolphin in the ocean and in the waterway, but the Spotted variety tend to stay farther offshore.  They played in our bow wake for about 15 minutes – sometimes rolling on their side to see if we were watching.  They seem to like the attention!

Now we’re in Morehead City (where we spent so many months getting the boat painted last summer/fall) and we’ve decided to stay for a week or two and get some work done.  We’re replacing two of our 20-year-old air conditioner compressors as well as a few other things.  Now that we’re nomads, we need to take time to stop and fix little things that break, and to work on projects that can’t be done in an evening at anchor.

We have a number of friends here, and cruiser friends always seem to be passing through so we’re not bored or at a loss for company.  One couple from MTOA who live locally took us to their lovely home, fed us a gourmet dinner, and gave us the use of one of their cars for the weekend so we could run errands.  Boaters are so incredibly kind… it can be very overwhelming!

 

Coyotes and Big Ships

May 16, 2008     All kinds of interesting things happen out on the water.  Yesterday we were passing through the marshes and woods of North Carolina, and we saw a coyote swimming across the river in front of us and climb out on the opposite shore.  We tried to take a photo, but it was early morning and too dark.  We also saw bald eagles and some hawks – it pays to keep the binoculars handy.

Today we headed into Virginia and the Norfolk/Portsmouth area – full of heavy commercial shipping traffic, tugs and barges, Navy ships, Coast Guard ships, ferries, patrol boats, and plenty of recreational traffic.  We had to deal with opening five bridges and one lock – along with a big clot of other boats – big, small, fast, and slow.  Most of the bridges were on a very inconvenient schedule, so we had to putt very slowly in some sections to avoid long waits in traffic.  My Croc shoes were full of little puddles of sweat from the stress!

Check out the size of the propellers on this Navy ship in a dry dock… to get an idea of the size, take note of the three blue porta-potties in the lower left corner of the photo.

 

We stopped for fuel since we often find somewhat cheaper fuel in the Portsmouth area – we ended up paying $4.09 and that was with all the discounts we could get.  Fortunately our decision to run at a slightly slower speed has improved our fuel economy.  We took on 389 gallons to fill the boat, which was last filled at the north end of Florida.

Tonight we’re anchored in the Hampton River, and we’re nervously watching a weather front that has the boat swinging around like crazy with wind gusts.  Cruising is often more stressful and challenging than you might think.

Tomorrow we’ll leave here very early to make a long run (about 12 hours) up the Chesapeake, planning to stop for the night in Solomons, then on to Annapolis on Sunday.  Let’s hope the weather continues to be manageable!

 

Blue Angels

May 22, 2008     We made it up to Annapolis just before the weather turned ugly on Sunday afternoon.  We made a 13.5 hour run from Hampton up to Solomons on Saturday, so Sunday’s run wasn’t too bad – but we were very tired.  We ran errands on Monday and spent Tuesday doing all our annual physicals and routine medical tests.  Wednesday we anchored out in the Severn River to watch the Blue Angels – what a show!  It wasn’t a pretty day – we had a few sprinkles of rain before the show, the sky was pretty gray and it was cool and windy.  The air show more than made up for the weather!

This is “Fat Albert” – the C-130 that carries the crew and spare parts…

Boats were anchored all over the river, except for a large area in the middle of the Severn that was closed off by patrol boats.  It was chaos with all the crowds – so many boats anchored so close to each other, it’s a wonder nothing bad happened.

We really enjoyed the air show, but didn’t like the rocking and rolling from all the boat wakes!  Once most of the “herd” went back to their home docks, we re-anchored the boat over by the Naval Academy seawall, where we would get some shelter from the wind for the night.  We woke up this morning and it was 52 degrees – the coldest we’ve been on the boat since we left Morehead back in December.  Is this really the end of May???

Today was another overcast windy day, though the winds are down overnight – we’re anchored in the Sassafras River and will travel to an MTOA rendezvous in Havre de Grace at the top of the Chesapeake tomorrow morning.

This is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge early this morning.  The only consolation for getting up very early is that we often get a really pretty view of things in the dawn light.

 

 

Havre de Grace, MD

May 29, 2008     We arrived in Havre de Grace at the top of the Chesapeake Bay for the MTOA (trawler club) weekend rendezvous – 15 boats and about 34 people.  Havre de Grace is near the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, which has a neat museum with all kinds of tanks and guns on display from WWI through the present day.  The most impressive was a German rail gun that could shoot a 550 lb. projectile about 30 miles – wow!  Jim and our friend Hans posed with the big bomb in front of the museum… Hans is such a kid!

The town has a lot of beautiful historical homes like this Victorian.  The details on many of the houses were works of art themselves…

A group of us toured the town on foot with back-stories and local scuttlebutt provided by one of our group who used to live in town.  Lots of juicy stories!

There’s a small lighthouse on the point where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake, and though it’s not an active navigational aid any longer, it’s interesting to climb.  This is the view from the top of the lighthouse looking down at some of the MTOA gang!

We’re leaving the boat in Havre de Grace for a week while we fly down to the Keys to check on the house.  That will be the next Blog entry!

 

If You Knew Jersey…

June 7, 2008     We returned from our short Florida trip to check on the house construction and to visit Jim’s Dad and his wife Kitty on Monday.  We had to wait a day for weather, then left Havre de Grace and cruised into the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal where we stopped for a night.  It takes a day to cruise from the C&D Canal at the top of the Chesapeake down the Delaware River into Cape May, NJ.  We ran just outside of the channel since some of the commercial ships can be quite large – one had a beam (width) of 160′.  There is a canal that cuts across the very southern tip of NJ into Cape May, so we took that short-cut.  The big white smokestacks on the left are some of the large, fast Cape May – Lewes, DE ferries, and the red barge-like vessel on the right is a dredge.

 

Cape May turned out to be less hospitable than we hoped – it was late in the day and there was a lot of chaos between the large commercial fishing boats going in and out, some nutty CG Auxillary boats practicing right in the middle of the channel, boats anchoring in the channel, and a commercial whale watching boat that expressed his displeasure with the anchored boats by running right through the anchorage making a big wake.  There just wasn’t room to anchor so we punted and both boats headed to a marina for the short overnight stop.  TIDE HIKER hosted us for dinner and champagne to celebrate their first day of retirement cruising.  Yum!

Yesterday we headed up to Atlantic City, which is the next logical stopping point on our way up to NYC.  Here’s the Trump Taj Mahal and the Showboat…

 

Atlantic City has a good inlet, with a lot of large commercial fishing boats.  This one passed us coming in off the ocean and paused to raise their paravane stabilizers.  The Borgata and Water Club casinos are in the background, as well as the very traditional looking Coast Guard station – the white building with the red roof.

 

The anchorage is across the Absecon Inlet from Atlantic City proper, and it was very pretty – a marsh area with a lot of bird life and a little beach.  We had a nice quiet night and we enjoyed the beautiful lights of Atlantic City and fireworks around 10pm.

 

Today we have a nice easy ride up the coast to Atlantic Highlands inside Sandy Hook – about 83 nautical miles, and tomorrow we’ll go up into NY harbor and run to the Harlem Yacht Club on City Island so we can visit my parents for a week.

 

The Big Apple!

June 10, 2008

We made the run up into New York harbor on Sunday, with all the weekend recreational boat traffic, commercial ships, tugs and barges, and high-speed ferries.  We’re now on a mooring at the Harlem Yacht Club on City Island , and are getting a chance to rest for a week.

This is a significant home-coming for me since I grew up in NJ right near the George Washington Bridge, and I was a Sea Scout on the Hudson River – my first introduction to salt-water boating.  To come back into this harbor on my own boat 30 years later – the stuff of my wild dreams – well, to say it was special is an understatement.  Oh, and I had the satellite radio tuned to the Sinatra channel… of course.

This photo shows the southern tip of Manhattan on the right, and we’re the small black boat that’s keeping a close eye on the big Staten Island Ferry!

We were timing our arrival into the harbor since we had to transit the cantankerous Hell Gate where the East River meets the Harlem River and it makes a few sharp turns that really amplify and swirl the strong tidal currents.  Hell Gate can get a bit more complex when you add the potential for tugs and barges coming through constricted areas.  Fortunately I married Jim the Data Man, who carefully planned our transit of Hell Gate for the short period of slack current, and was constantly feeding me pacing information as we headed up the East River to insure that we would arrive on time in the ever-changing currents.  We also used our AIS (ship identification system) to look ahead for commercial traffic so we would have no suprises in constricted areas.  As our friends Norm and Vicki said afterwards – “Thanks to Jim, Hell Gate was a big non-event!”.  We like it like that!

The East River has some beautiful bridges – each one unique. The Chrysler Building…

To cap off our arrival in NY, our good friends the Boscherts and Jimmy Loosse came out to the Club to see us, braving the insane traffic on a Sunday afternoon.  We had a grand dinner and a good catch-up, though always too short!

The final note about this homecoming for me is to explain my connection to the Harlem Yacht Club.  My Great-Grandfather, Grandfather, and Great-Uncle all belonged to the Club -it’s one of the oldest in the US, founded in 1856.  I have a trophy of Great-Granddad’s from the Club from 1906, and several medals from my Grandfather from 1913, 1917.  My Great-Grandfather is identifiable in a photo from the 1908 Club Dinner which hangs on the wall in the Clubhouse here.  It’s interesting to note that my relatives were really good sailors, and regularly sailed (with no engine) through Hell Gate, prior to 1920 when the Navy removed a lot of the underwater hazards and some of the large rocks that made it even more treacherous!

 

City Island, NY – A Place in a Different Time

June 17, 2008

We’re leaving City Island and the Harlem Yacht Club tomorrow morning.  We were delayed a bit by a leaking water pump on the generator, which needed replacement and a few other small parts.  What would we do without FedEx!!  🙂

City Island is worth its own Blog entry – it’s truly an oasis from another time, right in the middle of the Bronx.  As soon as you cross the bridge onto the island you pass through a time warp.  The whole feel of the place is wonderfully warm and old-fashioned, with older homes and tended gardens,  people who stop and say “hello” on the street, and local grocery stores and delis on every block.  The entire island is only 1.5 miles long and 6 blocks wide (at its widest), but it’s a fabulous little haven with a rich boating history.

The Harlem Yacht Club has also been a fun place to stay – the people are friendly and kind, and we’ve felt very welcome here.  All the Club’s boats are kept on moorings, so they run a launch service (8am-midnight Sun-Thurs, 24 hours Friday-Saturday) with wonderful classic Crosby launches.

The Club also has great traditions, and observes sunset with a proper lowering of the American flag; on weekends and special occasions, they also fire a signal cannon.

We’ve had a bit of interesting weather here – a severe storm blew through here last Monday.  We were ready for it, and we had a lot of our electronics fired up to make sure we didn’t drag the mooring.  We saw peak winds of 61 knots and 3′ breaking waves in the mooring field.  We stretched out the mooring chain, and we might have moved the 1000 lb. mushroom anchor a little bit, but we were just fine and we still have plenty of clearance around the nearby boats.  We were ready to fire the engines to take the strain off the mooring, but the winds settled down pretty quickly.  Last night we had another frisky storm, but the peak winds only hit 43 knots and it was very short-lived.  Thankfully the lightning passed north of us.

We’ve enjoyed the great views of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges and the Empire State Building at night.  The landscape is very un-city-like, with forested rolling hills, endless boats, and interesting homes tucked in the trees.

 

Heading North – Newport and Beyond

June 22, 2008

We missed so many beautiful places along Long Island Sound as we zoomed eastward, but we have a goal to get to Nova Scotia.  Two days after leaving City Island we arrived in Newport, RI just in time for the start of the Newport to Bermuda race.  The harbor was packed with huge yachts (sail and power) jammed in everywhere – very exciting.  Newport is very pretty – the entrance to Narragansett Bay is very deep with rocky bluffs and large old homes.  It’s very expensive, but well worth a short stop.  The reason the locals give for the ridiculous marina prices is that their season is so short they don’t have much time to get as many tourist dollars as they can.  We ended up taking a mooring ball in the harbor, but were put off by the cranky launch operators – they were not helpful or friendly, and they tried to charge us more than they quoted for the mooring.  Still, it’s Newport, and worth seeing for a day or two.

The sailboat race was an unexpected highlight.  We took a cab up to Castle Hill – an old elegant hotel on the bluff overlooking the entrance to the Bay – and we sat on their sweeping lawn to watch the organized chaos at the race start.

The water was a form of organized chaos, with a large Coast Guard seagoing buoy tender serving as one end of the starting line, and various race committee and Coast Guard boats trying to keep the spectator boats out of the way.  There were several classes of boats in the race and each class had a separate start.  The biggest and fastest boats started last, and they were the most dramatic to watch.

After all the racing excitement, we walked the town and had a good dinner aboard TIDE HIKER to plan the next few days of our journey north.  Yesterday we headed up to the top of Buzzard’s Bay and we took moorings in little Onset, MA harbor.  The locals were very friendly, the mooring was $20/night, and we were surprised to see lots of people on the beach and some even swimming – it’s still pretty chilly by our standards!

The locals here seem to have the right idea…  🙂

Today we’ll cruise through the Cape Cod Canal and we’ll wave to Marathon boating friends who happen to be staying in the area – they’re going to bike down to the canal when we will be coming through.  How cool is that?

Tonight we plan to stop in Plymouth, MA, then we might make landfall in Maine by Tuesday if all goes well.

 

Massachusetts

June 29, 2008

We transited the Cape Cod Canal last Saturday, “escorted” by our friends Heidi and Peter on their bikes – very cool!  We cruised up to Plymouth and took a mooring for two nights.  The wind picked up as we were approaching Plymouth and we had a bit of excitement trying out two different moorings that the Plymouth YC offered to us.  The first one looked way too short (not enough room for us to swing), and it was buried in the middle of a packed mooring field.  The launch guy repeatedly assured us that it had room for up to a 55′ boat, so we got tied up to it in the brisk winds.  As soon as we started to swing a little, I realized that we’d collide with the boat “behind” us – about half-way up our boat!  Note to self: not all launch guys are good at estimating distance.  We bailed off that mooring quickly enough that nothing bad happened.  Launch guy showed us another mooring, but that one didn’t look much better so we punted and took one of the town’s new moorings waaaaaay out in the harbor.  These are very large and heavy – just the way we like them!  The catch is that the cost was $1/foot per night – for a mooring – and there’s no launch service but the nice harbor guys said that we could call a water taxi for $25 per trip.  No thanks – we’ll launch a dinghy.  We had a ball touring the town and soaking up lots of the history – much more interesting that what I remember from 4th grade!

We left Plymouth in fog – which came and went for much of the day but fortunately it lifted about two hours before we arrived in Gloucester harbor.  Things look very interesting and spooky in the fog…  this is Duxbury Pier light, half-hidden.

We were only staying overnight in Gloucester and the weather was a little cold and rainy after a long underway day so we decided to just relax aboard.  Once again, we’ve found that the Massachusetts harbormasters are very helpful and friendly.  We intended to anchor, but the anchorage was FULL of lobster pots.  We contacted the harbormaster for some advice and he offered us a mooring ball in the inner harbor for $25 – perfect!  He came by with some local information and he was fun to talk with.  This is a serious working harbor for fishing.  This boat is transporting fish boxes from one end of the harbor to another, hence the number of “friends” he seems to have.

Every place we go is so pretty and interesting.  It’s easy to see that you could spend a lifetime and never hit all the good spots!

 

Maine!

June 29, 2008     We finally made landfall in Maine on Wednesday, stopping a little north of the NH/Maine border in tiny York Harbor.  It had been a long time since any of us stopped at a marina, and we really needed to catch up on some boat chores and deal with the mountains of laundry.  We arranged to tie up at Donnell’s Marina for $1.75/foot, though we later learned that the “marina” is really a single 60′ floating dock in front of Mr. Donnell’s home.  We had to raft the two boats (one boat tied to the dock and the other boat tied to the first one), but there was plenty of power for us both to plug in our big 50 amp cords, so it was just fine.  Even though we had to raft the boats, we each had to pay the normal docking rate.  Mr. Donnell may be a capitalist, but he was a lovely older gentleman who offered to take us to the local grocery store and he waited patiently while we shopped.  York Harbor is a beautiful beach town (and yes, people were swimming in the 60ish degree water) with pretty homes and gardens.  The harbor entrance is a series of hairpin turns and it’s best to wait for slack tide to negotiate the narrow rocky channel.  The turns would be impossible if the considerable current is running – in slow heavy boats like ours, at least.

We had an unexpected treat when we arrived.  Our buddy boat TIDE HIKER made friends with another DeFever a few months ago, and it turns out that they live up in Kennebunkport (which is about 20 miles from York Harbor, but insanely expensive).  These kind folks invited us to their home for dinner, and came all the way down to pick us up!  They live in a wooded neighborhood adjacent to Walker Point – home of former President Bush and Barbara.  We got a great view of their gorgeous home and the town – full of interesting shops and galleries.  Doug & Tammy Johnson own GYPSIES IN THE PALACE – a DeFever 49, and they and another couple (Colleen & John) are retiring early to cruise the Caribbean.  We had a fabulous evening with these folks, and a killer gourmet dinner.

Back in York Harbor, we finished our chores and had just a little time to walk along the harbor and explore the famous Wiggly Bridge that goes out to a wooded nature preserve.

It really is VERY wiggly, but fun.

Once again we’re heading north and east, passing the famous “Nubble” lighthouse at York Beach.  Lighthouse buffs would lose their minds up here – there are so many and each is a work of art.

We entered Casco Bay – a series of glacial “fingers” with many rocky islands and pockets.  We anchored in Potts Cove and actually found a space with few pots and water that wasn’t too deep so we could safely anchor.  We only spent one night since we are still pressing north (and east) towards Nova Scotia – we’ll explore more of Maine on the southbound leg of the trip.

After several days of glassy seas, the weather turned ugly and we had 4′ seas – so we turned up the New Meadows River and tucked into “the Basin”.  We’re surrounded by tall pines and rocky shores, mussels and shrimp and hermit crabs at the tide line, and ducks and cormorants.  We’ll wait here until the weather improves.

 

The Nature of Maine

June 30, 2008 11:43 AM

Since we are still waiting for weather in this beautiful wooded cove, I thought I would write about some of the sights.  I finally got a chance to do some kayaking and exploring – seeing the big black-backed gulls and the common eider ducks.

The eiders tend to congregate in large flocks on the water, and they sound like a group of deep-voiced men mumbling to one another.  We’ve also seen harbor seals in this area – occasionally out in the ocean, and several times in the cove here.  They are pretty shy so we haven’t gotten a photograph of one.  Yet.

When we think of Maine we think of lobster, and we’ve certainly seen ample evidence.  Lobster pots litter the water with little apparent rhyme or reason, in depths from 25′ to 200′.  Many anchorages are rendered unusable by masses of pots, but we need to remember that many people’s livelihoods depend on these pots.

We respect the watermen and the difficult conditions they work in – pea-soup fog, cold, and the big ocean.  We visited two fishing villages nearby and saw this reminder…

We took “BEASTIE” (our big dinghy) down the river a few miles to explore.  The tide range in this area is about 9-10′, so things look a lot different at low tide!

We went ashore in two places, and we walked around the little towns of Sebasco and Cundy’s Harbor .  Sebasco had a little restaurant but not much else (it was very rural, focused on fishing).  There’s a very upscale family-style resort a few miles up the road in Sebasco Estates that felt a lot like the old Catskills resorts (think of the setting from the movie “Dirty Dancing”).  Cundy’s Harbor is also strictly a fishing village, warm and friendly.  We asked for a restaurant recommendation and we ended up at the “Block and Tackle” about 1/2 mile up the road – owned by the mother of a lobsterman we spoke to on the dock.  His daughter also worked there as a waitress – nice gal.  The walls were particle board, but it had a big menu and everything was home-made.  The food was wonderful, inexpensive, and served with a smile – perfect!

We headed back down the hill to the harbor, and saw that it was starting to get foggy – time to get aboard BEASTIE and get back to our boats!  This is a view of some of the lobster boats in Cundy’s Harbor.  There is something about these boats – they have the most *perfect* proportions.

 

Castine, Maine

July 10, 2008

We arrived in Castine around the 2nd of July to visit friends and to spend a little time exploring a beautiful Maine town.  Our good friends Dick & Jean Durgin from the N. Va. Sail & Power Squadron spend their summers up in Maine not far from Castine, and it just so happened that our other friends Bill & Bonnie Fulford were in the area, cruising in their “land yacht” visiting the Durgins.  We all got together for lunch – a great treat!

We also got to visit our DeFever friends Jeff & Karen Siegel and their wonderful yellow labs.  They moved to Castine about 15 years ago, deciding to escape the rat race in DC.  Jeff & Karen played uber-hosts, lending us their storm mooring nearby and baby-sitting our liquor supply since we’re headed to Canada and the rules say that you really can’t “take it all with you”.  Jeff & Karen are the authors of ActiveCaptain – a wonderful free tool for finding information about anchorages, marinas, etc. – we’ve been using it heavily as we travel.

Castine is also home to the Maine Maritime Academy – and we have two friends who are graduates (Ken Boschert and Tom Holland), so we had to tour their training ship “State of Maine” and see the campus.

Of course, the morning we were to meet Jeff & Karen ashore the harbor was socked in with thick fog.  We were to meet at Bah’s Bakehouse – famous for fabulous pastries.  When I looked outside and saw the fog I asked Jim if he still wanted to get in the dinghy and venture over to town.  “OF COURSE!”, he said.  Jim is never one to miss out on a great pastry.  We used a little hand-held GPS to help guide us past the rocks at the mouth of the cove, and we went slowly – listening for sounds of other boats in the harbor.  It’s much easier in the big boat with the radar!  Needless to say, the pastries at Bah’s were even better than promised, and we continue to get better at managing in the fog.

The cove where we’re moored is a very protected area surrounded by tall pines and the rocky shoreline.  Harbor seals occasionally peek at us, and Jeff told us that there’s a nesting pair of bald eagles nearby, though we didn’t get to see them.  I spent some time kayaking around and found this loon.

 

Quintessential Small-town Fourth of July

July 10, 2008     We’re still in Castine for the 4th of July, and the Siegels told us that we would be treated to a real old-fashioned town-wide celebration.  We were not disappointed!

Houses in town were decorated with bunting, and the parade twirled around the town common.  Kids of all ages participated, some in costumes, and some with some interesting “floats”.  The whole town turned out for the parade, with the fire department selling t-shirts and showing off their shiny trucks.  The evening was capped off by fireworks in the harbor, which we enjoyed, shivering – the coldest 4th of July I’ve ever experienced!  The whole thing was just wonderful – and it brought back memories of my own childhood when we put streamers on our bikes and clipped playing cards to the spokes of the wheels, and when Mom would make a flag cake with blueberries and strawberries.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

Pea Soup

July 11, 2008

     The weather is looking good for a few days, so we have the opportunity to make the crossing to Nova Scotia.  Saturday we left Castine and headed over to Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island (where Acadia National Park is located) to get fuel and water and to position ourselves for the passage.  We were able to find diesel at Dysart’s for $4.50/gallon plus tax – a horrid price, but very good compared to what a lot of people are paying these days.

We continue to be impressed by the number of classic, gorgeous sailboats in Maine – I want them all!

 

The crossing to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is about 100 nautical miles so we need to leave very early in order to make port while there’s still some light.   At 0500 on Sunday morning, the fog was pea-soup thick, but we’re learning that fog is a fact of life in this area and we need to keep on keepin’ on.  I drove outside for a while, to better hear other boats moving around and to see the masses of lobster pots that clog Maine waters.  There are two kinds of lobster pot arrangements – some have a single float, and some have two floats – one on the vertical line (a toggle), and a second float a short distance away – to make the pot easier for the lobsterman to snag.  Dodging pots in thick fog can be a little challenging, but dodging the toggle style can be a real adventure!

Unfortunately, our buddy boat TIDE HIKER reported that one of their engines was overheating about a half-hour after we left Southwest Harbor, so they had to turn back for repairs.  They will catch up with us in a week or so, but we needed to press on.

The good thing is that we didn’t see any more lobster pots once we left Maine waters.  The bad thing is that we didn’t see much of anything since the fog never lifted, and visibility was never more than 1/4 mile.  Fourteen and a half hours later we arrived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, after sunset (but still somewhat light), in thick fog.  Notice the tide line on the wharf here – about 12′.

 

Because fog is such a large part of boating in Nova Scotia, there are a few areas that have a vessel traffic management system, where you report in by radio at various checkpoints (marked on the charts).  This is very helpful so they know who and what you are, and they can advise you about any other traffic in your area.  This augments radar and the AIS (for commercial traffic), though we learned that not all of the fishing boats report in.  Nothing is more exciting than a radar target that passes close by in a narrow harbor entrance!  (Don’t ask me how I know that…)

We tied up to the only dock that was big enough for us (and not already full of large fishing boats) and called Canadian Customs.  We cleared easily and they were very friendly and helpful.  We hoisted our Canadian courtesy flag and went ashore to the little restaurant that owns the dock (pay the bartender).  Luckily it was open until 10pm on a Sunday night, since we finished the Customs formalities just after 9pm and we were tired and hungry!  The place was warm, friendly, and pretty inexpensive, and we enjoyed a good dinner.

 

Lunenburg and Halifax

July 13, 2008

We’ve been zooming up the southeast coast of Nova Scotia, heading for Halifax.  We ran 83 nm on Monday, all but the last hour in thick fog, and then 81 nm to Lunenburg with only about half the day in thick fog.  We were gratified to finally *see* some of Nova Scotia after working so hard to get here!

 

 

We arrived in Lunenburg early enough to go ashore and walk around the town a little bit.  It’s a small fishing town with very brightly colored buildings, lots of art galleries, little shops, and the Atlantic Fishing Museum.  We are saving the museum tour for our more leisurely southbound leg of the trip, but we enjoyed walking around the harbor and seeing the serious business of fishing.

 

We also saw the very moving Fishermen’s Memorial, with the names of people and boats that have been lost over the years.  Some years there were several members of the same family lost, and one part of the memorial listed boats that went down with all hands lost.  It is an extremely hard way to make a living, and I still can’t imagine how these fishermen found their way safely home in the fog years ago without all the modern safety and navigation tools that we have now.

With our fast pace we’re just able to sample little bits of Nova Scotia, but we’re getting a better feel for what we want to see when we shift to a slower touring pace once we get up to the top and start heading southwards.

I’ve been treated to more new bird sightings out on the ocean – black guillemots and several kinds of shearwaters – Greater, Manx, and Sooty.  The ultimate treat was getting to see a puffin fly right in front of the boat!  He looped around and was quite distinctive – a stocky black bird with bright orange legs and that distinctive beak!  It was in the fog, out on the ocean, and it was very very exciting!

We finally arrived in Halifax and we arranged to dock at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron for a week to rest and catch up a bit.

 

Halifax and the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron

July 22, 2008

We stayed in Halifax from 9 July – 17 July at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron in the Northwest Arm (a small waterway off Halifax harbor).  Some of the time was spent catching up on the mundane stuff of everyday life – laundry and chores and a project or two that we never get time for on underway days.  The Northwest Arm is heavily wooded and smells so pine-y and nice.  (If you look in the distance to the mouth of the Arm, you can see the usual fog bank.)

 

People are extremely friendly – club members often offer a ride downtown or to the store if they see you waiting for the bus.  It’s very close to downtown, but it feels like a world away.  The club has a lot of racing sailors and they sponsor some major ocean races.

 

They also have a wonderful youth sailing program, and it’s been fun to watch the little kids out in their Optimist Prams every day – rain or shine or fog.  They have to wade in the 58 degree water to launch and retrieve their boats every day, and they just love it!

 

We did a little touring around the Halifax waterfront (boats – what else?), and saw the famous Theodore Tugboat (from a children’s TV show – Halifax is his home port), the historical Acadia – a survey ship, harbor pilots and tugs, and we toured the Atlantic Maritime Museum.  The Titanic rescue was based in Halifax and they have a lot of the artifacts here.  Many of the dead are also buried in local cemeteries.

 

 

We looked through the DeFever Cruisers directory and found a couple that lives in Halifax.  It turns out that they are members of the RNSYS, and they live right on the NW Arm (where we are) with their DeFever 40 docked out front.  We made contact and we kayaked down to their lovely home.  We had a grand visit and really enjoyed meeting these folks, who have taken their 1974 DeFever all the way to the Florida Keys (several times) with their children.  Everywhere we go, we find that people are so warm and friendly – it’s been wonderful!

 

North to Cape Breton

July 22, 2008

It’s a three day cruise up to St. Peter on the south end of Cape Breton Island – the entrance to the Bras d’Or Lake.  Once again we’re in the usual fog as we travel, though the fog usually lifts just as we’re anchoring.  We anchored between two rocky islands in Necum Teuch and had to thread our way through some large rocks (tiny islands) to get in there.  The reward was gorgeous scenery – birds, rocky shoreline, deep green trees, etc.

I really love the wild nature kinds of places – I could spend days just exploring in the kayak.

The next day we anchored in Tor Bay – another pretty place with some small villages in the surrounding hills.  The afternoon was clear for a change, though we had a little fog in the early morning that hid most of the nearest village, except for the church spire.  Every village has at least one church.

7/20 – Finally we have an entire day of traveling without fog!  It’s amazing what we can see when we have more than 1/4 mile visibility.  The harbor seals are everywhere, peeking up out of the water at us, but keeping their distance.

We saw two whales (Fin or Bryde) today, about a mile offshore, and a large Basking shark right next to the boat as we passed by the Canso Ledges.  He was so close that we actually put the transmissions into neutral.  Seeing that much in one day makes us suspect that we’ve passed by a lot more whales but never were close enough to actually see them!

We arrived in the south end of the Bras D’or Lake up in Cape Breton Island.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful up here – everything is rocky and hilly and covered in tall evergreens with houses and tiny villages tucked in here and there.  We came through the St. Peter Lock at the bottom of the lake and were greeted by two bald eagles that flew right in front of the boat.

We’ll be up here in the Lake for about 2 weeks (it’s huge), and then we’ll start meandering back southwards and doing more touring.  Even though it’s called a “lake”, it’s really a complex inlet to the ocean.  The water is gin-clear and we see Lion’s Mane jellyfish and other ocean critters.

Since we’re pretty remote, we rarely get any signal for internet, though we have some cell (voice) service more often than not.  We took the dink into the little town of St. Peter today (in the rain) to explore and to catch up on email at one of the Canada government-sponsored internet access points – this one happens to be in the local school.

 

Beautiful Bras d’Or Lake

July 29, 2008

We have had very little internet connectivity, so it’s been hard to keep up the Blog.  For those who have not dragged out their atlases or looked at an online map, here’s a rough idea of where we are – Cape Breton Island, on the very north end of Nova Scotia.  The yellow push-pin shows the town of Baddeck, where we headed after noodling around the lower part of the lake for a few days after coming through the tidal lock at the very bottom center of the map..

We haven’t had the greatest weather since we’ve been up here – it’s been overcast or rainy or foggy.  “Fog” has become the “F-word” since we came here to see things and it tends to get in the way of that!

We anchored near a First Nation gathering place called Chapel Island.  The Mi’kmaq (pronounced “mig-maw”) get together here every July from all over Nova Scotia to promote the language and culture and to keep in touch with other members of the tribe.  Some of them came out by boat to see us, and they were very welcoming.  Since it’s just a short summer gathering, they have some little shacks on the island, and an RV campground on the mainland a very short distance away.

I keep paddling the kayak and looking at the birds – I’m a hopeless case!  There were a lot of terns nesting nearby, and they’re fun to watch since they fish by crashing into the water.

The next day we moved up to a very pretty protected anchorage called Little Harbor.  It’s completely surrounded by mountains and trees, and it only has two houses on it.  One is a private residence and the other is a timberframe restaurant run by some Germans who winter in the Caribbean on their sailboat.  They have a very rickety dinghy dock, but the food was good.  We were one of two couples in the place – I guess it’s quiet during the week.

The entrance to Little Harbor is about 75′ wide, but 35′ deep – so it feels tight getting in there but it’s no big deal.  I got the kayak out and paddled the 4-5 miles around the circumference of the harbor looking at birds, crabs, starfish, moon snails, tiny sand shrimp, and the lion’s mane jellyfish that hang out at the entrance.  The water is so crystal clear that I could easily see down 15-20′.  This isn’t a lake per se – it’s really a very complex ocean inlet with openings at the north and south ends, but diluted somewhat by springs and fresh creeks from the mountains.

The birding was great – this little Plover had two chicks nearby (too shy to be photographed).

And this Yellowlegs was too busy fishing to pay attention to me.

Baddeck and the Cabot Trail

July 29, 2008

We’ve arrived in Baddeck to do some touring.  Alexander Graham Bell established his family’s home here and Parks Canada has a fantastic museum dedicated to his incredible accomplishments – much more than just the telephone!  There just isn’t enough room in a Blog to go into detail, but he was Helen Keller’s teacher and devoted to helping the deaf, he experimented with flight and high-speed boats, and invented the iron lung just to name a few things.

Cape Breton Island was colonized by Scots – in fact, Nova Scotia means “New Scotland”.  Gaelic language and Celtic influences are evident everywhere, and one of the nicest things is the Ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”) – an informal concert of music and dancing.  The fiddle is the primary instrument, playing tunes that are often taught from parent to child.  Piano and drums are sometimes used for accompaniment.  Many towns hold Ceilidhs weekly, and in Baddeck there’s one every night.  If we had more time, we would attend more of them!

We rented a car and headed up to the famous Cabot Trail around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park that loops around most of the north end of Cape Breton Island.  We took a boat ride out to Bird Islands in the Atlantic to see the puffins, guillemots, and razorbills – sea birds that come ashore just for the summer to raise their young before heading out to sea for the rest of the year.

 

We also saw lots of bald eagles – we tend to see them almost every day up here in the Lake.

We started driving around the Atlantic side of the Cabot Trail, and stopped to do a hike through the woods out to a rocky promontory.  The views are stunning!  It’s very easy to run out of superlatives for this place!

All along the rocky coast we see little fishing villages tucked here and there, and where there’s a lighthouse it’s usually crisp white with a red roof.

Tomorrow we’ll drive and hike on the west side of the Cabot Trail.

 

Cabot Trail and Louisbourg

July 29, 2008

Yesterday we explored the Atlantic side of the Cabot Trail and today we’ll drive around and see the western side that faces the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The west side of the island has more gently sloping farmland between the mountains and the Gulf, and there are a lot of French Acadians here – many of the towns and family names are French.  We did another hike through woods and highland meadow out to a wind-swept rocky promontory and we could see up and down the coastline.  Some people were perched on the rocks looking for whales, which are very common around both sides of the island in the summer.  Words can’t do justice to the scenery!

We were very lucky to see two bull moose along the wood-meadows part of the trail.  They are huge animals, but very quiet and hard to spot.  They looked at us when we first stopped, but tended to ignore us after that and they kept munching on the small trees and shrubs.

After seeing the two moose on the trail, Jim became very good at spotting more…

Yesterday (Monday) we headed over to the coast to see the reconstructed Fort at Louisbourg.  This was a huge French fortress from the mid-1700s that was lost to the British and New Englanders twice.  Parks Canada has reconstructed 1/4 of the fortress and its buildings – an enormous effort that took over 20 years to create historically and architecturally accurate buildings from scant ruins.  The fortress is staffed with actors and the entire experience is quite moving!

There are fabulous displays and educational exhibits tucked into various buildings for the visitor to discover – it’s just an amazing creation – the best we’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, the “f-word” arrived – fog and some rain, but we “soldiered” (pun intended) on.

Across the harbor is a lighthouse, which we saw briefly from the fortress before the fog rolled in.  We ventured out to see it, and were glad we did!

(This image was taken standing several hundred feet from the lighthouse.)

They say that there will be less fog as we get into August.  We certainly hope so since it’s made it hard to actually SEE as much of Nova Scotia as we want to!

Today we’ll leave Baddeck and start making our way slowly back toward the south, playing tourist along the way.

 

Bras d’Or Lake Continued

August 2, 2008

Every day we see beautiful places and wonderful nature.  We’ve been seeing lots of bald eagles and have been able to get reasonably close to them from time to time.

     We spent two nights anchored in Denys Basin, a long wiggling trip among wooded islands and narrow passages that opened up into a big area with fresh water creeks and a river diluting the salt water.  Because the water is more brackish there are more rainbow trout which attract the eagles.  We watched two spend most of the day hunting between two islands right near the boat, and our evening jaunt in the dink was a great way to see them up close.

In addition to the eagles, we’ve seen lots of  yellowlegs, kingfishers, cormorants, terns, kittiwakes, and a pretty yellow warbler.

We also took the dink to the tiny village of Orangedale with a small store that sells everything (furniture, major appliances, liquor, meat, and groceries).  The town’s real claim to fame is a neat little railroad museum.  One of their train cars is a HUGE track snow plow with enormous wings that can swing out.  Very cool.
I’ve started collecting some small rocks since any given one foot square area has so much variety – speckled granite in so many different colors.  I collect them in the shallow water where they’ve been smoothed by the wave action.

To add to the new rock collection, we spent a night anchored near Marble Mountain – the site of an old marble quarry in the mountain’s side which was used from the 1860s until 1920.  We had a ball tromping around at the water’s edge looking for interesting rocks – we felt like little kids, and we got a lot of interesting treasures.

Today we’re back in the St. Peters Inlet at the south end of the Bras d’Or Lake, waiting for good weather to transit the lock and start heading south.  It’s a lovely place to be “stuck” – we anchored behind a small island and saw another bald eagle at the water’s edge.  He waded into the water to wash off the fish he held in his talons, then flew off to a nearby tree to eat.  We never get tired of seeing all this!

 

Crummy Weather!

August 7, 2008

Cruising isn’t always glamorous but it’s important to have a good attitude and to be adaptable – otherwise, it wouldn’t be fun!

We’ve been pounded with miserable weather the past few days, and we headed towards the south end of the Bras d’Or Lake to get ready to transit the lock and cruise south.  We anchored near the town of St. Peters so we could dink into the little marina there, go into town, and to get some internet connectivity… in the pouring rain or driving sheets of “mist”, both days.  The only consolation was getting into town just as the annual “Coming Home” parade was about to start.  The main street was packed with cars parked facing the street (since it was raining), and we watched a short but very cute parade in the rain!

We arranged to take the big boat into the marina on Tuesday to get some fuel, but ended up coming in on Monday because the holding tank was full – evidently we didn’t get a good pump-out in Baddeck.  It was gusting and raining and cold, and it was a bit of a job to shoe-horn the boat onto the little piece of the dock they had available for us.  Once tied up (finally!) we plugged in the 50 amp power so we could fire up the heat to dry things out a bit and to catch up on some laundry.  We got pumped out and we took on about 265 gallons of fuel so we’d have a good safety margin aboard – fuel is expensive in Canada ($5.75/gallon – yowza!), but we didn’t want to be short since we won’t cross back to the US until the end of August.  It was a good thing we came in on Monday since the winds were much higher on Tuesday.

We ran into a few other trawlers that we know – LIONHEART from the DeFever club, BAY PELICAN from TrawlerFest many years ago, and our new friends aboard AWEIGH that we met near Marble Mountain last week.  It’s a small, small waterway.

The weather was predicted to ease on Wednesday (yesterday).  A lot of other boats in the marina and around the area were waiting for the weather to break, so we had a big crowd waiting for the bridge and lock.  As luck would have it, the tenders locked a northbound boat through first (they didn’t realize how big the southbound crowd was) so we waited about 30 minutes, trying not to drift into the shallows or run into one another.  Fortunately the wind was reasonable and we all locked through without any excitement.  We’re sad to leave the Lake, but it’s time to start making our way south for more exploring and to get to Halifax by Saturday to meet our good friends Clara & Bill who will cruise with us for a week.

Yesterday’s weather was better than expected.  Crossing the Canso Straight, we took an 8-mile inside passage recommended by locals which was well-marked but very twisty – 100′ deep in the narrow channel with breaking waves over rocks very close by.  Not relaxing, but very beautiful.  We made 80 miles yesterday – anchoring near the town of Liscomb.

We have to travel 83 miles to get to Halifax today.  The reward for getting up early to get underway for a long day is the sunrise, and we were not disappointed this morning!  No fog, either!  (It’s not as foggy in August so we should be able to see more things.)

Halifax and Mahone Bay

August 20, 2008

Our good friends Clara & Bill flew into Halifax to cruise with us – it’s exciting to be able to share some of this with them.  We had been saving a lot of our touring for the southbound leg of the trip, so we headed to the famous Citadel in Halifax – a really interesting fort that was sunk into the top of a hill to provide a landward defense for the city.  It was staffed by a regiment of Scottish Highlanders in the mid-1800’s, and once again Parks Canada has pulled out all the stops with wonderful actors, costumes, displays, and ambiance!

After touring town we cruised down the south coast to a large area known as Mahone Bay.  It’s a large bay with many islands and nooks and crannies.  We visited each of the three towns in the Bay – Chester, Mahone Bay (the village), and Lunenburg.  Each is charming and relatively small, with art galleries and interesting shops.

Chester was in the midst of (sailing) Race Week, which was fun to see.  The village also has a small playhouse and a youth theatre program in the summer.  We lucked into the opening of “How to Eat Like a Child” done by a terrific group of children and directed by a very innovative group of adults.  I think the grown-ups laughed harder than the kids did – probably because we recognize too much of ourselves!

The next village we visited was Mahone Bay with it’s famous three churches along the harbor.  We picked up a mooring and dinked ashore to explore the shops (lots of innovative art, quilts, and pewter).  Weather is so changeable here that we didn’t worry when it started to rain, but it ended up raining all day until we got back to the boat!  We had a ball anyway, and we’ve learned that the warm engine room is a good place to hang soggy things.

We cruised to the third famous town in this area – Lunenburg, which has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.  We were here briefly on the trip north and we just loved it, so we were glad to be back for a few days to really explore.  The famous Bluenose II was in port, and we happened to be right behind her heading into the harbor.

We docked on the wharf at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic – a very tall wharf that required some climbing to get off the boat, but it’s a great location right next to Bluenose II.
We met friends of Heidi & Peter who summer here, as well as Ed & Barbara from PACIFIC PIXIE that we met in St. Peters.  Small world!

Rafting the Tidal Bore

August 20, 2008

We haven’t spent any time on the Fundy side of Nova Scotia, and we wanted to see a little of it before we head south, so we rented a car and arranged for a rafting trip on the tidal bore with Clara & Bill.  We drove to Truro at the end of the Minas Basin where the tide meets the Shubenacadie River.  The rafting trip takes you out in the mouth of the river and you get to repeatedly attack the white water waves created when the force of the huge incoming tide meets the outflowing river and actually turns it backwards.  This is the “before” photo – looking across the Basin.  Everything that’s green will be the edge of the shoreline once the tide comes in.  The little reddish specks in the center of the photo are some of the rafts gathering at the water’s edge at low tide.

This “after” shot was taken from the same spot, and the old shoreline is now under about 33′ of water.

What happens in between is the interesting bit.  There are a lot of bald eagles around since the river is a good food source for them.  They never cease to take my breath away!

As far as the rafting goes, the actual tidal bore isn’t as violent or wild as you might think, but it’s easy to see rough water meeting placid river water.  The initial meeting is rather tame, but as the ocean picks up velocity and volume, rapids build up shaped by the contours of the riverbed.  It’s very safe whitewater rafting since the water is deep and there aren’t any rocks.  The rafts have 60hp engines on them, and they crash through the white water, then zip back downriver and do it again.  The rapids continue to move upriver, so we chased them for about 2 hours.  Each raft driver would gauge the fear level of their group and find suitably sized waves.  We were crazies and ended up with big mouthfuls of water from laughing so hard when the waves would crash on us.  What fun!!  The river is very cloudy with a reddish brown silt, so the effect felt like having buckets of cold watery chocolate milk slammed into your face.  We were utterly soaked – Jim was washed out of the boat at one point when it swamped, and Bill & I were in the bow taking the brunt of the waves.  Clara was the only smart one!  We got one of those disposable waterproof cameras to snap some photos in the deluge, but we’ll have to wait to get them developed to relive the experience.  Here are Soggy Bill, Damp Clara, and Dripping Jim.

After a shower and a nice BBQ at the rafting company, we spent the night at a lovely B&B in Truro.  The town is interesting – they lost a lot of big elm trees to Dutch Elm Disease, so various artists carved the remaining tree trunks to honor various people.  Neat!

Peggy’s Cove

August 20, 2008

Sadly we had to take Clara & Bill to the airport in Halifax – we hated to see them leave.  As a consolation, we took the coastal meandering route back to Lunenburg and we made a brief stop to see the famous Peggy’s Cove.  The cove is a tiny fishing village with a classic Nova Scotia lighthouse, but it’s interesting since this particular area is very noticeably shaped by glaciers.

We’ll wait out some high winds in Lunenburg, and use the time to catch up on laundry and repairing two small things.  We’re not sure where our next stop will be, but we seem to be dragging our feet about leaving Nova Scotia, so we will take it slow and savor as much as we can.

Shelburne, Yarmouth, and the Fundy Coast

August 29, 2008

We continued our journey back down the coast of Nova Scotia with some delightful stops in pretty anchorages – among some islands in the LaHave River and just off the gorgeous sandy beach in Port Mouton.  We finally arrived in the town of Shelburne and took a mooring at the Shelburne Harbor YC.  Shelburne achieved some fame as the site of the Disney movie “The Scarlet Letter” shot in 1994.  The waterfront is historic and very pretty, and the folks at the YC were very friendly.

We also met a couple from the DeFever Cruisers club who are building a summer house nearby, right on the water.  They took us to two excellent local restaurants and showed us around the area.  We keep meeting people – friends old and new – which has made the trip really special.

After a few days in Shelburne, we headed down to Yarmouth to wait for good weather to cross back over to Maine.  We first arrived in Yarmouth to begin this part of our trip two months ago, in fog, and we arrived back here once again in the fog!  We tucked into the harbor just before the high-speed ferry was to depart for Bar Harbor, Maine.  “The Cat” is a 285′ catamaran ferry that travels around 50 mph and can carry up to 700 people and 200 cars and trucks.  The Cat makes the trip in three hours, and we do it in 14.5 hours.  Here she is, looming in the foggy late afternoon.

We’re at the edge of the Bay of Fundy, and the tides here in Yarmouth are about 15′.  Some fishermen take advantage of the tides to careen their boats for maintenance – this boat will be afloat at high tide.

We exhausted the sights of Yarmouth while waiting for a good weather window to cross back to Maine, so we rented a car for the day and explored farther into the Bay of Fundy on a peninsula and two small islands.  This area has a serious fishing industry – scallop draggers, offshore and inshore lobster boats, seiners, and long-liners.  Fish stocks are declining, and the sheer number of fishing boats and the volume of their catches explains why.

Contrast these modern boats with the traditional sailing vessels that were used for fishing these waters, year-round.  The large sailboats would launch 24′ dories (equipped like the one below) out in the ocean manned by one or two fishermen who hand-lined a load of fish weighing a ton before they could return to the mother ship.

 

We will leave for Maine tonight at 10pm, and should arrive late morning.

Back in the USA

August 31, 2008

We left Yarmouth, Nova Scotia last night around 9:30 pm and had a very nice crossing to Maine, arriving on time in Northeast Harbor (on Mount Desert Island) around 11:15 this morning.  The stars were incredible last night, and the seas were nearly glassy for most of the trip.  We had a little fog as we got to the Maine coast, but it cleared as we entered the harbor, and the weather today is prettier than predicted.

Customs formalities were quick and easy, and we know a few of the boats in the harbor.  Our friends aboard AWEIGH (we met up in the Bras d’Or Lake) came by in their dink and took us ashore for a nice lunch and to catch up.

We’re right in the heart of Acadia National Park, so we’ll stay here for up to a week to explore and hike.  The dink is already in the water, and the kayaks are soon to follow.  Tomorrow we’ll take the dink and cruise up Somes Sound – the only fjord on the US east coast.

 

Acadia National Park

September 5, 2008

We’re still in Northeast Harbor, Maine – right in the middle of Acadia National Park.  We’ve been trying to do and see as much as we can – but there’s enough here for a lifetime of exploration!  We hiked up to the top of Cadillac Mountain (Bar Harbor is on the right way down below)…

We hiked and biked around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and the Bubble Mountains – what’s most amazing is the gorgeous pink granite!

…and we enjoyed the famous popovers at Jordan Pond House.  Jim chose to have his stuffed with two scoops of ice cream (peach and blueberry)!

Yesterday we took the dink up Somes Sound (a fjord), and today we’ll be back on the bikes to explore more of the carriage roads that criss-cross the Park.

We had some big winds on Monday (Labor Day), so we stayed aboard to keep an eye on things, and it looks like the remnants of the hurricane will blow through here on Sunday – but it’s not expected to be much trouble when it gets here.  We’re in a very protected harbor anyway – so we’re not concerned.

It looks like we’ll leave here on Monday, probably heading for Castine.  We’ll keep an eye on some of these other storms and will make sure we keep close to protected places in case we need to duck in somewhere.

In the meantime, we’re still enjoying the beauty here – the mountains, the views, the aroma of balsam and pine, and the pink granite.

 

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