“Knotical” Weather

fishy f cafe in fog

A foggy view of Fishy Fishy Cafe

A simple way to determine weather conditions using our special knotted Rope goes like this:
ROPE GONE = HURRICANE! (or tornado!)
Monday we had high hopes for a relatively short (45 mile) day of sailing from Southport, NC to Wrightsville Beach, jumping outside in moderate wind. The Rope was still at 7am and as we weighed anchor (ours weighs 88 lbs) that darn Rope became nearly invisible. Well, that was not in the forecast. Our personal anchorage just off the ICW was very close to another tiny basin about a half mile further up.  Just past that was the turn off to the channel that would take us out the inlet.  Didn’t like not being able to see that Rope; made a quick turn and ducked into that small basin to wait it out. Ate breakfast and watched the fog roll in. We’d seen the basin last fall when we’d spent the night at Southport Marina and walked to Fishy Fishy Café for dinner.
By 9am with better visibility oozing slowly, we headed out again. The fog still lingered, which meant using the fog horn, running lights and radar. On the good side, no other boats were zooming about, the buoys were the large ones and the channel was wide. By 10:15 we could see over one mile and had turned north up the coast. Main raised first, followed by the screecher and we crossed our fingers for wind. But darn it, that Rope barely swayed. Waters had a little chop to them and after a couple hours of feeling yucky, I rested at the dinette. Next thing I know, the fog has returned and that Rope, if we COULD see it, isn’t moving one bit. Sails down, both engines on. We could see 100 yds ahead at best, which out on the water away from obstacles isn’t so bad.
Roughly 3 miles south of the entrance to the Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach, we heard another boat call the Coasties for conditions at the inlet. Seas were reported as 1-3 ft- OK no problem- and unbelievably, the fog was non-existent once you got up to the beach! The inlet channel is short, but marked with what I’d describe as medium sized buoys. Using the chartplotter and radar, we knew where to look for the buoys and as we got close they appeared out of the fog. And by golly when we reached the last buoy the fog was gone and there was the beach bathed in sunshine.
The anchor was down by 3:45 and we wondered how long it would take our friends on Sanuk to notice we’d arrived. The forecast called for that Rope to move like crazy Monday night and Tuesday. The anchor grabbed right off giving us reasonable assurance of a drag-free stay. Sanuk suggested why not try to sail again; head out the same inlet and go in at the Beaufort inlet. Umm, only 65 miles; we could do that in 10 hours, but would Wednesday’s conditions allow it?  We’ll see. It would be our last chance for a day sail along the coast.  Key word “day”.  Still had an overnight to look forward to.
Tuesday night- cruiser’s night at King Neptune’s! We made it that way. s/v Chance Encounter, who Sanuk had met along the way a few months ago and s/v Lady Pauline, a more recent meeting, were at the anchorage too so we dinghied in to the beach town. The dinghy dock, actually 3 of them, was great and close to the beach and about a block away from shops, bars and restaurants. We talked boat talk for hours and had the entire bar area to ourselves much of the time. Have I mentioned that drink prices south of New Jersey are more cruiser friendly than up North?  We shared good-bye hugs with Sanuk as we did not expect to see them again this trip. Headed back before the others, needing a decent night’s sleep before airing out the sails on Wednesday.

Tale of Two Pirates

Fort MatanzasIt was the best of times, for truly the sea gods were gazing favorably upon Captain Rusty Nail and Missy as they made their stealthy approach to the poorly guarded Fort Matanzas. This small 50ft square fort built of coquina was located just north of the Matanzas inlet on the Matanzas River, a mere 16 miles south of St Augustine, the pirates’ ultimate destination.
In 1565 Spain’s opening move in establishing a colony in Florida was the massacre of French soldiers near the inlet; Matanzas is Spanish for slaughter/massacre. The fort’s construction in 1740 was Spain’s last effort to ward off the British. Pirates posed a constant threat and often used the intracoastal waterway behind the fort to make a careful approach to the River. With the construction of Fort Matanzas, St Augustine was now fully protected. After Francis Drake’s raid on St Augustine in 1586, England repeatedly harassed the Spanish colony. 1740 brought a 39-day siege of the town by James Oglethorpe who finally fled back to Georgia with onset of the hurricane season. Immediate work began on the fort with labor supplied by convicts, slaves and additional troops from Cuba. When Oglethorpe haughtily returned in 1742 with 12 ships, the nearly complete fort’s cannon drove off the scouting boats and the warships left. The fort had just paid for itself.
Ortolan found the fort bustling with activity as she entered the Matanzas River at high noon with the current running strong and the winds blowing at 18kts. Typically the fort housed 7 men: officer, 4 infantrymen and 2 gunners. During a crisis it could hold 50, but today was no crisis, yet 20-30 people could be seen on the fort’s main deck. In a brazen move the ship anchored near the fort. The fort’s lookout was easily spotted through Missy’s spyglass – but too busy primping to notice the new arrivals.  Captain Rusty Nail & Missy enjoyed a noon-time feast before making a nearly unobserved beach landing in their scouting dory.
Small boats and oddly dressed inhabitants (?), or visitors perhaps, were milling about as the two dragged the dory onto the small beach, ordering nearby old hags to watch the boat, or else.  The pirates’ clever disguise worked well as they blended in nicely with the crowd; a crowd eager to board the supply scow to the fort. Several observant gentlemen inquired about the strange ship nearby and no suspicions were raised when the pleasant couple offered answers to the various queries. Much knowledge was acquired as the boat’s Captain and the Sgt. at Arms shared facts and stories about the fort while a favorable tide made for a quick crossing to the fort. Loaded with five canons, even the four six-pounders could reach to the inlet, a mere half-mile away. Most well made cannons of the day, when capacity loaded with gunpowder could reach targets three miles out (but that was the limit), traveling at speeds well over 200 mph. The sentry box was well positioned and the observation deck allowed for a sweeping 360 degree view.
The two pirates abandoned their plan to take the fort, instead sailing north toward St Augustine, home of Castillo de San Marcos, a splendid fort far more worthy of pillaging.
The well guarded city was approached with care with plans to take it by storm the following day, allowing the cover of night to shield the ship and its occupants. Remaining unannounced until the morning would ensure the new arrivals would blend in well with the few other ships in the harbor. The pirate couple were eager to scout about, their visit of November past had provided them with an excellent layout of the town and they intended to see and do more this time, acting as would any visitor to this fine city of beautiful buildings, lions and horse-drawn carriages.

st augustine street

Touring the city

Captain Rusty Nail escorted Missy aboard the Red Train with the Fountain of Youth soon in their sights. Magnolia St proved to be as beautiful as promised, canopied with Oaks and Spanish Moss. A quick drink of the mineral laden water which bubbles up from a huge aquifer most surely guaranteed another 100 years of youthfulness. Gorgeous peacocks roamed freely and mister show-off white feathers was a sight of billowing loveliness.  Nearby cannon fire spooked the always on edge duo and they hurried away aboard the next train.
The train conductor provided excellent details and stories about the city’s history and stopped at all the most desirable places. Shops, eateries, wine cellars, churches, museums and a new place that produced an elixir of many forms called “chocolate”. Missy was quite taken with this delicious food and consumed vast amounts in the “gelato” form, surely designed to add some meat to her bones.  Behavior was exemplary this trip and the gallows as well as the city jail were avoided.
The chest of gold coins was dwindling with each passing day and the Captain, after graciously agreeing to dining out (the foods of this new city being far superior to the contents of Ortolan’s pantry) finally insisted that the plundering cease, although who was being plundered was difficult to say. The shops were enticing, each calling out with their special wares displayed. Missy felt renewed as she relieved more than one shopkeeper of his “local” garments and footwear.
The next morning, in a daring move, Ortolan re-positioned herself right in front of the fort, preparing for a quick getaway out the inlet as well as affording an excellent view of the Castillo. Nearby revelers and bridge traffic meant that the ship would hardly be noticed as she moved closer yet to the Castillo,the pride of St Augustine. Aye mateys, ’twas a move that the two might regret.
The Captain suggested his wench might do well to launder the dirty pile of garments on the rocks nearby. With an icy stare Missy reminded the Captain of the wonderful new devices now available and surely a few more coins could be spared? Pockets nearly empty, he acquiesced, yet imagined the price that would need to be paid.
As the sun rose, the city inhabitants still sleeping off the night’s revelry, Ortolan slipped the anchorage and escaped with the outgoing tide. Where will they turn up next?

Bow and Stern Anchoring 101

canal anchor spot

Canal looks wider than it was

The ICW has several stretches where one will not find any suitable place to anchor. I don’t include the possibility of marinas because for us, we don’t use them unless we need to or if they offer moorings. Even so, after we were north of Daytona Beach area, no marinas existed anyway. Our planned stop turned out to be way too shallow even for us and we nudged through sand at 2 ½ ft very quickly off the channel. Next option, about 5 miles north was an undeveloped canal right off the ICW that ActiveCaptain said was good to use. It would require bow and stern anchors as it was quite narrow (perhaps  60′) so not enough swing room (and I’m not talking dancing). It looked about ¼ mile long, situated east to west.

On the plus side, we were the only ones looking to anchor there. Guys fishing in small skiffs came around but otherwise we had the place to ourselves… along with the no-see-ums, myriad insects and plenty of small fish. With darkness (that’d be around 8pm) the fish began jumpin’ and we could hear their plopping sound which intensified when we shined the flashlight over the water.

This was our first time using a stern anchor; we’d used our spare as a second bow anchor in Boca Grande Bayou when we were stern-tied to the mangroves.  Setting it was much easier than retrieval and this once was good enough for me but Russ- hey this is the guy who thought the squall was “fun” -suggested it was good practice and he’d anchor there again. Geeze, not me.

Here’s how it played out: dropped main Rocna anchor (88lbs) fairly close to the south side and let out 75′ feet of chain. The wind was southwest and light and we swung close to the north side. Extracted the Fortress (21lbs, with 20’chain/200’line) from its place at the bow and Russ took it in the dinghy to about 40′ past our stern toward the south side, leaving it cleated near the bow. When it was set, we moved the line completely to the stern and tied it there.

russ pulls anchor

A two anchor workout

This brought us to the center of the canal with our bow facing the entrance. So far so good. The wind was keeping us in place but if it died down our stern would swing close to the north side- which is exactly what happened. Before I got up the next morning Russ re-tied the stern anchor to the other side of the stern and that moved us back to near center.

The morning retrieval process would be more fun as a video, albeit a long one at 30 mins. The key decision was which anchor to raise first. We decided that in order for me to pull up the Fortress (no laughing) it would need to move to the bow which meant the Rocna had to come up first. Russ let out some stern line then raised the Rocna (we have an electric winch for that as opposed to a wench). By this time the wind was out of the west and helping hold us in place.  Next he quickly pulled in half of the line and brought the line around to the bow and I took over pulling it in while Russ maneuvered the boat. We had to swing around the anchor because once it was at the bow we were inches away from the shore. Once we’d swung to have the bow facing out and the anchor in front of us, I was able (just barely) to pull up the remaining line and chain through the bow roller and get the anchor up enough so that Russ could finish the process. We quickly traded places and my job was to keep the boat in the middle of canal- luckily the wind was a huge help. Phew- now we just had to get over the low entrance bar and start on our way. The entrance was 3 ½’ deep (half way to low tide) and if the width was 5 feet more than our beam of 23′ I’d be very surprised. Did we do all perfectly? Was there a better way? Who knows, but it worked out and now we can add one more exercise to our list of things we’ve done.