Sunday, October 4, 2020

On Division Belle with Belle

 Just checking in. I drove back up to North Carolina today to spend some time on the boat with our younger dog Belle Watling. Since our other dog is Rhett Butler, Belle is named for the Madame in Gone With the Wind who was Rhett's "friend". It is about a 6 1/2 hour drive to Oriental, NC from home, but with four stops to let Belle cavort it took nearly eight hours. I'm sharing a filet with Belle and will turn in early after the long drive.

I have a few projects to accomplish, but they are mostly an excuse to spend time on the boat. I brought Belle along to avoid leaving the Lovely Laura Lee with two dogs to care for. But also Belle appears to be the most adaptable to life on the boat, perhaps because she is younger. I just want to see how she will do. Tonight she is happily running in and out and around the decks checking things out. Her astroturf is out on the bow when business needs to be done, and she took to it right away on a previous trip.

I'll put some pictures of this lovely place in the "Photos" section of the blog over the next few days.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

River Dunes

Log 21,858

Oriental, NC

We had just a hint of a cool morning yesterday after months of heat and humidity at home in Georgia. It was 67° degrees when I arose to prepare to get underway. In the coming week we are expecting even more of a drop in temperatures, which will be welcome.

We have arrived at our destination. It is a development centered around boating and sailing called River Dunes, close to Oriental, NC. It is a lovely spot with hundreds of boats tied up in a very protected harbor, but so far we have seen few people here. We had dinner in the clubhouse last night and only one other couple was there. It is very quiet.

Sunday, we ran up the Intracoastal Waterway from Myrtle Beach to Southport, NC. and then followed the Cape Fear River for several miles before leading through a land cut to Carolina Beach, where we spent Sunday night.  In Southport we passed the badly damaged Southport Marina. Hurricane Isaias hit the area August 4 and the Category One hurricane simply ripped all of the docks apart and piled up the boats on top of each other in the marina. The word in the area is that a dredging operation in the marina had sucked out too much mud around the pilings leaving them unable to support the docks in the wind. Now the damaged docks and boats have been cleared and it is simply an empty harbor.

Southport Marina after Hurricane Isaias

Southport Marina basin today with all of the damaged docks removed

Carolina Beach was a quick overnight Sunday night for us. The Lovely Laura Lee had purchased fresh crabmeat for us in Georgetown so we dined on crabcakes and salad.

We spent Monday night in Swansboro, NC, a quaint historic small town just south of Beaufort/Morehead City. We didn't get to see much of the town as we arrived late and left early, but we'll be back at some point. Yesterday we cruised mostly east crossing Bogue Sound, and then turned north at Morehead City to head up Adams Creek to the Neuse River. We arrived at our destination right at 4 pm.

We have had a great trip, but we are glad to now have a break from being on the go every day. We'll be here until next week, drive home for a couple of weeks, and head back up for more time in the area. I'll try to post a few pictures of this beautiful area.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

My Ancestral Home

 Log 21695

Myrtle Beach, SC

We spent last night in historic Georgetown, the third oldest city in South Carolina, located in Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Black, Great Pee Dee, Waccamaw, and Sampit rivers. My great x 5 grandfather Thomas Jasper Samford was born in Virginia in 1758 and migrated to South Carolina, spending part of his life along the Great Pee Dee River (which doesn't sound appealing as a place to swim). He was the fourth generation of Samford's born in America dating back to James Thomas Samford who was born in England in 1624, but was married and died in Virginia. 

Born just 12 years after the American colonies declared independence, Thomas Jasper's son was named Thomas Jefferson Samford. He was born in what is described as "Marion District on Big Pee Dee". He migrated to Wilkinson County, Georgia where his son, my great x 3 grandfather William Flewellyn Samford, was born in 1817. William Flewellyn ultimately moved to Auburn, Alabama where he died in 1894. This series of migrations from England to Virginia, to South Carolina, to Georgia and ultimately to Auburn, Alabama explains how I became a member of the fifth generation in a row in my family to attend Auburn University, and is an example of what I would call evolutionary improvement.

We followed the Intracoastal Waterway past the mouth of the Great Pee Dee and through the Waccamaw River all day today from Georgetown to Myrtle Beach. We had an easy day cruising through beautiful remote territory. We have continued to look for opportunities to get back out into the ocean, but the weather has not cooperated whenever we had the chance. 

When last I wrote, we had anchored Wednesday night in Mosquito Creek. Thursday we made it to Isle of Palms outside Charleston where we had a great dinner outdoors on the deck at Coda del Pesce with our friend Dakota Willimon. Then Friday it was on to Georgetown and tonight here we are, planning a dinner of fresh shrimp from Georgetown on the aft deck. We have had light rain off and on for two days but it has been easy cruising. Tomorrow we should make it into North Carolina where we fully expect a dramatic change to cooler weather. We will keep you posted.


The Lovely Laura Lee and The Devine Dakota Willimon


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Heading to North Carolina

 Log 21552

Mosquito Creek off the Ashepoo River

It was raining hard when I awoke at 6:30 yesterday morning at Skull Creek Marina on Hilton Head. The coastal forecast for the area had deteriorated badly overnight, and there were marine warnings posted for severe thunderstorms and possible waterspouts. We had to abandon our plan to run outside to Charleston and instead head up the Intracoastal Waterway. Given that, we didn't leave until around 10 am, planning to arrive at a few shallow spots at high tide.

Help getting through the shallow spots from our new forward-looking Sonar

We passed through Beaufort, SC at noon, survived one shallow area, and arrived at the Ashepoo River at around 3 pm. Rather than turning right to follow the ICW, we turned left up the Ashepoo to Mosquito Creek. We were hoping for dock space at B&B Seafood where they charge a flat $25 a night to dock and where fresh shrimp is available inside. Alas they had no space, and when we anchored nearby our dinghy wouldn't start. So no fresh shrimp for us last night. Our anchorage though was quite nice. There are a few houses nearby, but we were in a very peaceful spot for the night. The Lovely Laura Lee prepared lamb chops and we dined on the back deck overlooking the beautiful marsh at sunset.

Sunset view at dinner on the aft deck

We had departed Thunderbolt in Savannah Tuesday at noon, and the trip to Hilton Head was uneventful except for a wild ride when we went out the Tybee Roads ship channel with a strong thunderstorm ahead, and wind blowing into an outgoing tide. It was pretty rough for about an hour until we turned back in behind Hilton Head. 

Tuesday night we walked from our marina about 3/10's of a mile to the Old Fort Pub Restaurant. It was surprisingly good food served to us outdoors on a deck overlooking the water. A very nice night until around 8:30 when the mosquitoes came out in full force. 

We should be able to easily make it to Charleston today. It is a little foggy this morning with low clouds. It should become partly cloudy by mid-morning. We are bound for Oriental, NC on the Neuse River in what I call the "Inner Banks" area. We have reserved a slip there for a month at River Dunes, which looks like a good place to hang out for a while. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Steering by Stars and Satellites


My first boat was a 38-foot Californian that had nothing more than a magnetic compass for navigation. If I wanted to go offshore, particularly out of sight of land, navigation was by dead reckoning (deduced reckoning). This kind of navigation uses your speed, course and time from a known beginning point to figure out where you are. There are all kinds of adjustments needed for magnetic variation, your own compass's deviation, currents moving you one way or another, etc. Dead reckoning can be very precise, but was usually not so in my case. My navigation then involved cruising along the coast until I could see the inlet I was heading for. I would, for example, leave the pass in Orange Beach, Alabama and turn to a compass heading from the chart designed to lead me to the entrance to Pensacola Bay. Knowing my speed and holding a course manually, I knew when to begin looking around for the sea buoy to guide me into Pensacola. People sailed all over the world with this system, often carrying a sextant to determine their position from the stars or the sun, and sometimes calling passing ships to ask for a position report.

My second boat had a LORAN receiver to determine my latitude and longitude, a technology introduced during World War II that had been vastly improved with solid-state electronics. LORAN is short for Long Range Navigation and uses powerful low frequency ground transmitters to show your current position based on the time delay between LORAN signals from different locations. The system has been mostly decommissioned, but there are efforts to keep or revive it in some locations. With the LORAN, I could type in the latitude and longitude of where I was headed. Once I entered the waypoint, I would get a digital display showing the heading to follow, whether I was on the centerline of the course or not, when I would arrive, etc. My wife once said she should be jealous of my affair with "Loran Waypoint", the imagined mistress that I spent hours working with on the bridge of our boat. Cruising mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, I gradually programmed in a large number of saved waypoints. So if I was going from Appalachicola to Clearwater, Florida, it was simply a matter of calling up a saved waypoint or route. Checking today, I find that I still have in my Dropbox a spreadsheet of these waypoints, last modified in 1993, and called loran.xls.

Now, with sophisticated GPS chart plotters, everything has become ridiculously simple using a cursor or touch screen to enter a route and telling the autopilot to follow it. In fact, it can all be done using an app on an iPad, although my iPad is not connected to my autopilot. Whatever the technology improvements though, every system still uses latitude and longitude to pinpoint any position on the earth. The first such "geographic coordinate system" was developed in the third century B.C. and our navigation today is the result of improvements made over more than 2,000 years, including the discovery that the earth is not flat.


The first breakthroughs in ocean navigation came with the concept of latitude. Once it was realized that the earth is basically round, one could imagine being inside the center of the earth, where horizontally in every direction was the equator, which is zero degrees latitude. Using the angles from the equator up or down, every position on the planet has a latitude expressed as degrees, minutes, and seconds north or south from the equator. The north pole is 90 degrees north while the south pole is 90 degrees south. Distances were defined using each minute of latitude as one nautical mile. Traveling due north or south for 60 nautical miles you would move one degree of latitude north or south. Traveling at 10 knots means you are moving at 10 nautical miles per hour.

The easiest way to determine your latitude, in the northern hemisphere, is by measuring the angle of Polaris, the North Star, above the horizon. Since the North Star is always directly above the north pole, the angle of the star above the horizon measured with a sextant is always your latitude. Latitudes in the southern hemisphere can be determined using the "Southern Cross" constellation, and angles of the sun and other stars can also be used in either hemisphere. Instruments designed to measure such angles date back to the Roman Empire. Christopher Columbus primarily relied on dead reckoning to determine how far he had traveled, and he basically just went west. But he carried with him an "astrolabe" which he tried to use to figure his latitude. Measuring was difficult on a rolling ship, and he was not skilled, but when Columbus first spotted land in the Bahamas he was actually only 90 nautical miles south of the estimated position shown in his log, an error of 1.5 degrees of latitude. Because nautical distances are defined by latitude, it is easy to see that the distance from the equator to the North Pole is 5,400 nautical miles, or 60 nautical miles per degree times 90 degrees. I live around the 32 degree latitude, just over a third of the way from the equator to the north pole.

Determining longitude took far longer for man to successfully implement, because it required better clocks (marine chronometers) that were not developed until the 18th century. To make exact Greenwich Mean Time (now called Coordinated Universal Time) available for ships, the National Bureau of Standards in the U.S. established powerful short-wave radio transmitters in 1919 that can be heard around the world broadcasting the time. Station WWV (now in Fort Collins, Colorado) is the oldest continuously-operating radio station in the U.S. and perhaps the world. You can hear what it is transmitting and its announcements of each minute at any time on your nearest short-wave radio or by calling (303) 499-7111 where you can listen for about 2 1/2 minutes before it hangs up on you. As it sounds the tone for each minute, your mobile phone clock will magically roll over to the next minute as well.

 Longitude lines are not parallel like latitude lines. Instead, lines of longitude all meet at both the north and the south poles. These lines essentially just divide the earth into the 360-degree circle that it is. Determining longitude is an exercise in measuring time difference from a known reference point. In 1884, the International Meridian Conference was held with representatives from twenty-five nations. Most of them agreed to adopt the longitude of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England as the zero-reference line, and it gradually became the standard point of zero degrees longitude. The rotation of the earth causes the sun, from our vantage point, to march across our sky at a rate of 15 degrees of longitude per hour, crossing the entire 360 degrees of longitude every 24 hours.

So to determine longitude, if the sun is at its highest point of the day where I am located (noon my celestial time), and it is exactly 5 pm Greenwich Mean Time, I would know that I am at 75 degrees west longitude since noon where I am is five hours earlier than noon in Greenwich (five hours X 15 degrees = 75 degrees). Time zones, as we use them, cover large areas on either side of the real spot where the local time would be the same as the celestial time. Eastern Standard Time is centered on the 75 degree line that passes just outside of New York City. Where I am located in Georgia is part of the eastern time zone but our longitude is around 81 degrees west.

Given the technology of today, it is quite easy for a modern boater to have no idea what these numbers mean. A fisherman can simply look up or learn and save the location of reefs or sunken ships where fish can be found and "punch in the numbers" to take his boat out to the correct spot. The best local fishermen still closely guard their secret "numbers", but it is easy now for charter customers to simply pull out their phones to see where they are and save the location for future use. For boaters traveling from one place to another, as we do, the newest technologies allow you to simply touch in a single destination point and the entire route will be calculated and laid out in waypoints for you. It is similar to the turn-by-turn instructions that Google Maps or your car navigation system will give you.

So you would think the old-fashioned ways of navigating are no longer necessary, but last winter as I moved our boat through the Jacksonville, Florida area, there was a notice to mariners that military exercises might disrupt the GPS system for a period of several weeks. Sure enough, some boats reported that their position would suddenly jump to somewhere miles away, perhaps on land, and eventually go back to being correct. In fact, jamming or blocking GPS signals is widely used in certain parts of the world for security reasons. I spoke recently to one pilot for Gulfstream who delivered a jet to the middle east where he had to navigate in and out with GPS simply not working. His younger co-pilot had no idea how to do it. 

You would also think that sextants used for navigation would have gone by the wayside, but there are still sailors and other navigators who know and practice the art of celestial navigation, and modern sextants can easily be purchased online. I doubt it is a growing market. There is also a collector's market for some of the beautiful antique brass sextants. I have an older brass one that belonged to my dad. I carry it around on my boat just in case I ever get lost.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Improvements for Division Belle

I have tried to avoid discussing boat maintenance, as it is both endless and boring. I will mention a little of it at the end of this post. But improvements to the boat are exciting and fun, at least to me. So here is what has been going on over the last few weeks.

The electronics on this 14-year-old boat were dated when I bought her, but for budgetary reasons I decided to live with what I had for as long as possible. Much as I would love to take out most everything and put in two giant multi-function displays to give me a "glass cockpit", the old Raymarine radar works fine for my purposes. On the other hand, the two Furuno chart plotters (pilothouse and flying bridge) have given me trouble from the start. They often turn off for no reason and take several minutes to reboot. This has happened more than once while navigating a tricky passage. I have had backup apps on my iPad, but I'm now having both units replaced with Garmin plotters. While the new ones fit roughly into the same openings, the screens are much larger, mostly because they are touch screens and no room is taken up by buttons.


Electronics upgrade in progress
New plotter at right.


I realize it doesn't look like it from the photo above, but the work is almost done. The boat was hauled out of the water today to install the new depth transducer that should give me some pretty cool imagery of the ocean bottom beneath me and ahead. 

The new plotters involved installing a new network that allows all of the instruments to talk to one another, new depth and wind transducers, and various network translators that allow a few old instruments to talk to the new network. I'm also installing two new vhf radios that are an inexpensive but vital part of the electronics. Not only do I love gadgetry, but these additions will add both safety and convenience to routine travel.

I've also installed new LED light fixtures on the exterior decks. There are a total of 14 of these lights. I had been gradually replacing halogen bulbs with LED bulbs, but they didn't last as long as advertised, and many of the fixtures were corroded or broken from 14 years in the elements. The new lights are slightly brighter, but still a soft light, and not as bright as they look in this photo. We can now see to get around the decks at night, and I think our curb appeal has been enhanced.
New deck lights

Finally, and not at all thrilling, I've had a new bow roller system installed to handle our anchor and chain. When I first bought the boat, it was agreed that the broker would order and properly install a new 154 lb. Rocna anchor. These anchors are known for good holding power and are easy to set because a large round semi-circle on top causes the anchor to roll over if it lands upside down on the bottom. The anchor was ordered but installed on the old rigging and just didn't fit right on the boat. This is my second try at correcting the situation, and involved installing a large roller assembly that hangs the anchor out over the water rather than letting it drop through an opening in the bow pulpit. You can likely see from the photo below that this gets the gigantic anchor out of the way where it can be likely work well, not scrape up the fiberglass, and be out of the way of the other anchor. We'll see how it goes, but we have had trouble with anchoring and stowing the anchor for two years, so I hope we got it right this time.
New anchor roller

As far as maintenance, a number of items simply broke while the boat was stuck in Bimini for four months. The water maker was clogged and had an air lock in the input line, the master stateroom air conditioner didn't work at all, the pilothouse air handler sounded like a bearing was going (which has now happened), and the bottom of the boat grew layers of grass that was pretty shocking to see when hauled out today.
A dirty bottom and growing grass



The sealer around the new transducer tube will cure overnight, and we will have the remainder of the bottom cleaned and some new zincs added before putting her back in the water tomorrow. Most of the remaining work should be completed this week if the new air handler arrives. So we are near the end and getting ready to play again on the boat.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Bumpers and Ropes


About three boats ago my good friend James Abele, with the late Hamlin Beatty, agreed to crew on a trip from the Tides Inn on the Chesapeake Bay to somewhere back in the south. James and I had been childhood friends but had not spent much time together since. On that trip, he became known as the "Perfect Deckhand", and we have spent many a good time together ever since, on boats and elsewhere.

On the first day of the trip south, I was at the helm as we left the dock and James was helping with the lines. After we got away, he asked me "Where do you store your bumpers and ropes?" I told him where to put them and politely said that the the proper terminology was "fenders and lines". Since that moment, he has consistently referred to fenders and lines as "bumpers and ropes", but only when he is talking to me. I should have known better than to correct him. He only says this to annoy me, but it has become a standing joke and no longer works.

On the current boat Division Belle, there was an abundance of fenders and lines on board when I got the boat. I noticed that every storage area was packed, but until yesterday I never pulled everything out to see what I had. We typically use only two fenders in normal docking but it turns out we had 10 fenders on board. For lines, I haven't even counted. We have them in all shapes, colors and sizes, with few of them matching.

I have purchased six matching black 3/4-inch lines for everyday uses, and I will keep a good supply of the older spares on board. As for fenders, I'm using a set of four white ones that appeared to be almost new when I bought the boat. I have dark blue washable covers for them. Another set of four badly worn black fenders have been moved to storage, and the remaining two oversized fenders will be deflated and stored on board for locks or difficult cement dock situations. I now have much more storage space for my bumpers and ropes.

Most importantly, the black dock lines and the white fenders with navy blue covers all match up nicely. There are many boaters who couldn't care less, but for me it is like wearing socks that don't match. And I think even Perfect Deckhand would be pleased that the bumpers and ropes are in such good order now.

I'm getting the engine annual servicing done this weekend and replacing a faulty fuel cooler that is leaking fuel into the exhaust water. Then I will take the boat back to the Hinckley yard next week to get the air conditioner fixed and the new anchor roller installed. Next will come an electronics chart-plotter upgrade and then we will be finally ready to use the boat again. Sigh...one day it will all be right.