Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A lot of people consider fulfilling their gastronomic needs as a highlight of the cruise. For some reason, food just tastes better out on the water. It must be like camping. Food tastes good on a camp out too. Anyway, we put a lot of thought into what we were going to have to eat on our first voyage. I think in some regards you have to. You have to make sure that you have everything on board that you plan to eat as there aren't many places to stop along the way to run in and buy something you forgot.

So, we had each and every meal planned down to the last crouton. Each night had its own theme. First night was steaks and potatoes. Second night, Italian. Third night was hamburgers and the fourth was leftovers (how'd that get in there?) For the most part, we liked to use the groovy little gas grill that is stationed off the aft deck. It is the perfect size for two people and two steaks. We do a lot of grilling at home, so this worked out fine.

And, no cruise would be complete without a fully stocked bar. Ours isn't fully stocked just yet as we were sticking with wine and beer for this go round, however I am sure that if Captain Stubbing can spare him, "Issac" will be joining us next time.

We really liked this meal planning thing. It takes a lot of the stress of deciding what to cook out of the equation. You know a week ahead what you are having for dinner, so there is no discussion or flip flopping on what to prepare. You just get into the galley and make it happen.

The last night before we headed home, we snuck over to an Outback that was nearby the marina for a nice meal. Sitting in that booth, we both felt like we were still rocking back and forth as we did on the boat. When the bill came, we wished we were.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Boats like ours are very similar to a small city. We have all the necessary utilities and public services, albeit on a miniature scale.  There is the sanitation department (the heads or 'bathrooms' for you landlubbers), the water department (for drinking and bathing), power and energy (the engines and batteries for electricity) and the public works department whose job it is to maintain and fix all the other components that make the boat work.

Additionally, we have a city government that consists of the Mayor (Kim) and administration (me).  I like to think that our 'government' is a democracy where we each get one vote in all matters.... and we do.  It's just that in the event of a deadlocked vote, Kim has the authority to break all ties with her super-majority powers.  This arrangement has served us well so far.  The one thing we don't have onboard is a brig (prison).  I am not sure what the penalty is for insubordination (or dare I say, 'mutiny')  but I suspect that it is swift and severe.

On our first cruise, the public works department notified the Mayor of a potential problem that involved our electrical grid.  There were some questions about how long the batteries could support her use of a hair dryer, microwave oven and such.  Being new to the job, I wasn't sure how good our battery system was or how many amps these devices would use.  You see, when you are running the 'city' on battery power alone, you have to conserve amperage lest you run out.  Running out involves the loss of other essential services, notably the sanitation department and the ability to notify EMS via our radios.  Seeing how this fell under my jurisdiction, I felt obligated to manage this situation before it became a crisis.

The batteries we have onboard are pretty good.  They were designed to power the boat for several days while at anchor.  Every time you run the engines or genset (which wasn't working on this cruise) they are completely recharged.  However, we had been having issues with this system and I didn't want to go hog wild right off the bat.  I felt that monitoring the power usage each day and then adding components a little at a time was the best way to keep us from having a black out.  We have many other items that are good to have working as well.  There are lots of lights, which are nice.  We also have need for water and bilge pumps.  The refrigerator needs lots of power as does the starter motor that gets the main engines going.  In my mind, these are high priority items.

As it turned out, we were able to do fairly well by conserving power where we could and measuring our usage on a daily basis.  Since we ran the engines all day, by the time we stopped for the night, the batteries were fully charged.  We just had to make it through the night and following morning on our batteries until it was time to get underway again.  We have this very neat device which measures our electrical usage and gives us a reading of how much battery power we have remaining.  On behalf of the Mayor, I checked this device quite often and when necessary, provided 'recommendations' for her consideration.  Unlike Bush administration officials, I felt compelled to speak out on issues even though I knew my thoughts would not be received kindly.  But hey, that is my job and I take it seriously.

I am happy to report that the crisis that I was concerned about never did materialize and while some might call me a pollyanna, I don't think I overreacted.  Being conservative never hurt anyone, especially when you are new to something.  Perhaps a few protein follicles did not have the benefit of being dried in a controlled environment, however we were cruising essentially in the wilderness where the probability of running into any 'constituents' was nearly zero.  Its okay to let your hair down once in awhile, especially if no one is looking.

I have also been informed by the Mayor's office that I need to get the electrical grid under control before the next cruise.  This boat was purchased with the understanding that most of the creature comforts of home would be available onboard at all times and that it is my job to see that these things work.  Seeing that the next election isn't in the foreseeable future, I best snap to it.  I want to keep my job. 


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Day four.

Made it all the way to New Bern. What a fantastic trip it has been. The ICW is so beautiful and unspoiled. It is truly a treasure.

I think that many of the crabs who live in the waterways have come to think that the areas immediately adjacent to and beneath the ICW are safe havens from fisherman. Why else would these same fisherman put so many of their crabtraps directly in the waterway?

We spent the better part of the last day and a half avoiding a lot of these traps. They were everywhere. The traps are identified with less than colorful buoys/markers that float on the surface of the water. They are connected to the traps, which lie on the bottom, by rope lines. If you run over one, you risk fouling your props. If that happens, you have to get down in the water (yes it is very cold) swim under the boat to the props and cut the line loose with a knife. I am just not sure that Kim would enjoy that.

Anyway, upon arrival at New Bern, an alert fellow boater pointed out to us that we had picked up a passenger along the way. Floating off the starboard side of the boat was part of buoy that belonged to someone's crab trap. It had gotten caught on one of the stabilizer fins that sticks out the side of the hull. Depending on the strength of the rope and the speed of your boat, catching one of these things can do a lot of damage.

My first thought was of course, 'boat units'. The damage to the boat could have been significant. The other issue was removing the stowaway. The water in a marina is pretty yucky. There is a certain amount of oil and fuel floating around and who knows what else other people are dumping off their boats overboard into the water. Getting down in the murk to free this thing wasn't going to be pretty. Besides, Kim had just blow dried her hair.

In typical boater fashion, the people beside us in the next slip had just come over to greet us when this discovery was made. They immediately offered their dingy for us to use so that we could paddle over to the side of MAYA to see if we could free the marker. As it turned out, I was able to pull right up to the stabilizer fin, reach down into the water and cut loose the offender with a sharp knife. There was also no damage done so those 'boat units' could be put back into escrow until next time.

It was sad putting MAYA to 'bed' so soon. Our first trip was too short but we had to get back to the grind. Counting the days until we can be full time mariners will occupy our thoughts for the time being. Even now, we are planning and dreaming of adventures yet to come.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day Three.

Every morning before we set out, I go down into the engine room and do a quick systems check.  I am looking for anything that seems out of the ordinary.  I check the oil levels in the engines and generators.  I inspect the transmission fluids and fuel levels and other things like that.  In reality, it is an excuse to putz around down there because I did the same exact check the night before, but I like to look busy around Kim.  

Today during the check, I discovered that we were getting low on water.  Our boat carries 450 gallons in two separate tanks and it is used to take showers, wash dishes and such... just like in a house. We still had some left in the tanks but I thought since we had several days left to go, it might be wise to stop at a marina and fill up.  When we started the journey back in Norfolk, the tanks were full.  One of the things we wanted to discover on this trip was to see how long these full tanks would last.  We weren't trying to conserve any water at this point.  I took my normal showers (heaven knows that it doesn't take me long to wash my hair anymore) and Kim did too.  We were busy cleaning a lot and we found that the toilets used a fair amount as well.  So it was no big deal to find out that after three days, we had used about 2/3's of what we carry.

We have these wonderful guide books that are similar to AAA travel logs.  They list every marina and boat supply stop along the ICW.  It was easy to just thumb through and find one that was along our route.  We were packed up and rarin' to go early.  The mission
today was to put another 60 miles behind us and
fill up with water.  The weather was perfect again.  Clear skies and calm winds.  Kim worked part of the morning trying to figure out how the oven worked.  She was going to make fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  I think that she had to use plan B as the big oven would light off. We have this backup toaster oven on board that in reality worked better.  All I knew was that after about an hour, the smell of freshly baked rolls began wafting up onto the flybridge.  It smelled grand!

The route today took us through another stretch of man made canals that connected a couple of rivers.  We wouldn't be at the marina we picked out until around noon so we had much of the morning to drone along at 8 mph.  One of the nice things about this marina was that it had free wifi available.  We had been out of contact for several days now and I was starting to get withdraw symptoms.  No internet?  No cell phones? How could one survive under such spartan conditions?!!  On top of that, it would be nice to just step on dry land again, if only for an hour or so.

We found the marina with no problems.  They were glad to see us as business had been slow the past several months.  We bought some fuel from them, even though we didn't need any.  They had a dog, which gave Kim lots to be happy about.  All in all, it was a nice pit stop.

About an hour after we left the marina, we were able to get a cell phone signal again.  I felt like Tom Hanks after his rescue in 'Castaway' when I saw those bars appear on my phone.  "We're back!" I called down to Kim.  Three days out of the loop seemed like a long time.  It was good to be connected again.  Unfortunately I only had one message and it was from AmVets.  They were going to be in the neighborhood and wanted to know if we had anything.  I guess there wasn't much going on in the 'loop' anyway......

Our final anchorage looked to be a delightful spot.  It was right off the ICW in an area surrounded by trees.  It was protected on all sides from the wind and the water was calm.  Unfortunately one of the reasons it was so calm was because it was so shallow.  As we approached the entrance to the cove, our trusty depth sounder let us know that we were getting into waters that MAYA wouldn't like.  We want to keep at a minimum, 4 feet of water under the hull.  We weren't even near the spot we wanted to drop anchor and we were all ready at the limit.  The chart said it was going to be tight anyway and upon further reflection, we decided to press on down the way to another spot.  It turned out to be for the best anyway as it was still early in the day and we wanted to keep going if we could.

Another perfect anchor drop for us.  We were now 2 for 3 and hoping for a continued winning streak moving forward.  Pasta was on the menu for the last night on the hook.  Another great sunset and it was time for lights out.   I was playing around with one of the TV's and was able to watch a little of Jeopardy!  Couldn't ask for more than that.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Day two.

Didn't get a lot of sleep on night one. Mostly I was concerned about the anchor. After the problems we had getting it set, I just wasn't 100% convinced that it was going to hold. The wind had really picked up after it got dark and we were blowing around every time it changed direction. I know I was up every hour checking on it. The other issue that I had was the noise. Man, that boat makes a lot of creaks and groans. I had no idea. I am a light sleeper by nature and I can tell when my neighbor down the street flushes his toilet at 3 am. Being surrounded by new and strange noises all night was going to take some getting used to. Kim of course was dead to the world. I wish I could sleep like she does.

But, as it says in Psalms, "Joy cometh in the morning." Sunrises on the water are spectacular. It is so quiet and peaceful. The only noises you could hear were a few birds looking for an early breakfast, a fish or two jumping out of the water and that guy parked next to us flushing his commode.

We wanted to get underway a little early that day as we were going to cross a big open body of water. The Ablemare Sound is notorious for rough water and high winds. It is a stretch of about 25 miles where you are at the mercy of mother nature. In our boat that equates to about 3 hours of travel. We wanted to get going before it got rough. Additionally, we wanted to get the anchor up before the current started moving again. I am sure the boaters parked next to us were eager for another performance, but it was not to be. We pulled the anchor right out of the mud and hauled it onto the deck. Even though we had a wash down hose that got most of the mud off the chain and anchor, recovery is a very dirty process. But hey, we were loose and underway like we were pros.

Once again the weather was cooperating. The skies were crystal clear and the winds were dead calm. Our trek across the Ablemare was like skating on glass. It was a little unnerving at first being completely out of sight of land however there were lots of other boats transversing the Sound and we felt more and more comfortable as we went along. Navigation is not a problem as there are many buoys and day markers along the route. I think you could get away with using only a good pair of binoculars and a chart if you had to. Our boat has two very sophisticated Garmin GPS systems tied into 27 satellites orbiting the planet. We knew where we were to within a foot +/-. It is that good. On top of that, we have three radios and two compasses. Getting lost would have been difficult.

But we made it across and once again were in sight of terra firma. This stretch of the ICW connects rivers and streams with larger bodies of water (like the Ablemare Sound) with occasional man made cuts and canals along the way. It winds its way through the wilderness of eastern North Carolina and is very scenic. We didn't pass any homes or marinas the entire day. On top of that, we were out of cell phone and Internet range as well. We didn't know it then, but we would be without our techno-cellular lifeline for three more days.

As we became more and more relaxed, our routine took on a more normal complexion. Kim and I took turns driving the boat. We made each other food to eat and listened to the radio that was piped into the flybridge. It was starting to be fun. What could be better than NPR and a cup of coffee while you are zipping down a small river in the middle of nowhere at 8 miles per hour?

Three o'clock came and went. We were very near to where we had planned to anchor for the night. As we pulled off the ICW and into the small bay where we would be laying up, we were relieved to find no one there yet. Determined to build on our experience from the previous attempts at dropping the hook the day before, we slowly and methodically positioned ourselves for the 'drop'. Kim got the boat into the wind and gave us just enough power on the engines to keep us from floating backwards. "Anchors' away" I exclaimed to no one in particular as the iron beast splashed gingerly into the deep.

I gave Kim the signal.....okay, we really didn't have a signal worked out yet, but I let her know it was time to slowly back up. I had plenty of rode out (extra chain) and the chain gradually got taught. I gave her the stop signal, and we waited. It held. Amazing. Really amazing.

That was easy.

Okay so we were set up for the night. We were going to be grilling out steaks off the back deck and boy were they going to be good. The view was breathtaking, just what you hoped for when you planned out the trip. We had planned to catch up on emails and phone calls that afternoon but were unable to pick up any signals. We were out in the middle of nowhere. Just us and our boat. It is what we signed up for.

Turns out we were the only ones anchored in that area for the night. What a deal.