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. day it will all be right.

Monday, August 3, 2020


The storm (at 11 am) is currently about 100 nautical miles to the southeast of us passing the Georgia-Florida border. It is moving to the north at about 11 knots (call it 13 mph). It is expected to pass due east of us this afternoon at least 75 nautical miles from our location. So far there has been cloudiness here and a few drops of rain. I expect we will get some showers and gusty wind in the next few hours.  We have just passed high tide here in the Ford Plantation marina. It was not above the normal high tide line but it will likely stay up and perhaps go slightly higher as winds push water up the river. We seem to have been very fortunate once again.

I did bring Division Belle back to Ford Saturday in preparation for the storm, but also because the boatyard is awaiting parts and not much was happening there with the boat. She still needs a thorough bath from her four-month quarantine in the Bahamas, and I have that scheduled for tomorrow. Single-handed, I had to await slack tide at about 1:30 pm to get away easily from the Hinckley Yard, and then idle all day to time my entrance into our marina close to high tide at about 8:30 in the evening. So I turned a four-hour trip into a seven-hour trip, but it was a beautiful day and an enjoyable ride.

I'm glad to get this storm past us. Here's hoping our good luck with the weather holds.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Last Year

Last year in September we were carefully watching slow-moving Hurricane Dorian. It was expected to come as far east as the 80-degree west longitude line, about 75 miles from our location, and then turn north. Thankfully it did exactly as projected. See my blog entry from that episode here.
This year

This year it's Hurricane Isaias. It is currently located just north of Dominican Republic and the forecast is very similar to Dorian's. Just as I said last year, "Throughout our long wait for Dorian, we have counted for several days on its forecast turn from northwest to north, keeping it at, or east of, the 80 degree west longitude line (and more than 75 miles east of us) as it passes. (We are located at 31.9N 81.3W)." It now appears we will be doing the same thing all over again. I'll post further as we get closer to Monday morning and we have more clarity on the track.

Meanwhile, Division Belle is located in Thunderbolt and I'll make a decision tomorrow if it seems prudent to move it more inland up the Ogeechee River to home.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Americans banned from entering Bahamas (with exceptions)

When we were allowed back into the Bahamas to pick up our boat, we went immediately to pick her up and get her home, because it was obvious that the borders could be closed again. In fact, getting our required Covid-19 test within 10 days of our Bahamas arrival was complicated by the fact that the surge in new Covid-19 cases here at home was causing a delay in getting test results.

We were very fortunate. We took the test nine days before our departure and got the results four days later, giving us enough time to complete the online process to be cleared into the Bahamas on July 1. On the morning of July 2 we departed Bimini and arrived in Palm Beach late that afternoon. 

Now, sure enough, the borders have been mostly closed again to Americans beginning this Wednesday, July 22. The story was reported today in the Washington Post here. We are very glad we acted when we could and got our ship home. The closure still allows private planes and boats to bring Americans into the Bahamas, but who knows how long that will last?

You can't blame the Bahamas. It is a small island nation that was reporting no new cases and tried to re-open its borders carefully, tests and all. But it has seen an immediate increase in Covid-19 cases since re-opening. 

As the Washington Post reported:
"The Bahamas has reported 49 new covid-19 cases since opening its borders to foreign travelers on July 1", [Prime Minister] Minnis said. That amounts to nearly a third of the total infections detected in the country since the pandemic began. Most of the new cases have been found on the island of Grand Bahama, a popular resort destination.
Warning that there was a risk of the Caribbean nation’s hospitals becoming “overrun,” Minnis said that it was time for “decisive action.” He announced a full shutdown of beaches, parks and indoor dining on Grand Bahama as well as beach closures on several other islands. A nighttime curfew will also go into effect for Grand Bahama on Monday night. 
We are deeply saddened by these developments. The Bahamas is a poor nation totally dependent on tourism...mostly from the U.S. Here's hoping this lovely country can work its way through this catastrophe. 

We hope to go back one day on our boat, but we are not at all certain when that can happen. Our hearts go out to the many Bahamians who have lost their jobs. We hope for a speedy recovery.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Safely Home

Fernandina Beach Sunset After a Storm
Division Belle and I are safely back after a long 10-hour run yesterday. In planning the day, I didn't really take time to figure the distance and time required to come in the Wassaw Sound and all the way in to the Hinckley yard in Thunderbolt. I arrived at the (missing) sea buoy at around 3:30 but did not dock until nearly 6 pm. The inlet has a tricky,  unmarked entrance that I picked my way through slowly and carefully, and then I was slowed by a two to three knot current against me all the way in.

The photo above explains part of the reason I love being on the water so much. We had a wicked late afternoon thunderstorm at the dock in Fernandina Thursday, followed by the clouds parting to provide a spectacular sunset. I'm glad to be home, but I love spending time on the water.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Shhh...Don't tell my wife

In my younger days I used to travel all over running my boat alone. I didn't think twice about crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas alone or doing my infamous 50-hour 500 nautical mile trip alone non-stop from Key West to Orange Beach, Alabama. Alas, I am older now, so when I purchased Division Belle the Lovely Laura Lee laid down the law that I could only travel alone in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). In other words, I was not to go to sea alone.

Well, this morning I found myself at sea heading from Fernandina Beach to Brunswick alone. To be honest, I have my wife's blessing. After traveling together in the ICW and at sea, she has come to realize that the ICW is exhausting and can risk damage to the boat from grounding in areas not well-maintained. It's also very tiring because one has to drive and pay strict attention all day. In the ocean, you set a course and turn on the autopilot, so it is only necessary to keep an eye out for traffic or obstacles. 

There is an argument to be made that the ICW is safer if, for example, the boat started sinking. Since the water is usually only about 10 feet deep, the boat couldn't sink too far. I would likely stay dry or at least be able to swim to shore. But on the other hand, the likelihood of running aground or hitting something is much greater in the ICW. Overall I feel more comfortable at sea on a nice day than struggling to avoid running aground in the ICW.

Coming into the inlet at St. Simons Sound, I once again passed by the infamous car carrier M/V Golden Ray, which rolled over and sank in the Sound in September of 2019. The ship had a capacity of 7,400 cars and was leaving Brunswick with 4,000 brand new cars headed for the middle east when it sank. Insurance losses were estimated to be $80 million for the ship and $80 million for the contents.
M/V Golden Ray

The cause of the accident has not been officially determined. Car carriers must be loaded properly and a water ballast system must be used properly to maintain stability, but there is no official word yet on what happened here. 

It is known that when the ship started listing dangerously, the pilot intentionally steered it into shallower water and grounded it, which likely saved lives and allowed the port to reopen within days of the incident. All of the crew survived, including four crew members who were rescued by cutting a hole in the side of the ship to get to the engine room.

The removal of the wreck is a massive undertaking. An explanation can be found here and a video on the technique is available on YouTube here. A concern of many is that a major hurricane in the area this year could be environmentally catastrophic.

I'm spending tonight at the Morningstar Marina located on the causeway between Brunswick and St. Simons. Today was a short five and a half hour trip but tomorrow will likely be double that to get all the way to the Hinckley boatyard in Thunderbolt.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Fernandina Harbor Marina

The Norwegian Gem off Jacksonville, Florida
Another idled and anchored cruise ship

We are tied up at Fernandina Harbor Marina on Amelia Island, right at the border of Florida and Georgia between here and Cumberland Island. We spent one night in St. Augustine and then headed back out into the calm ocean and came here today, bypassing Jacksonville altogether. 

This is one of the nicest stops along the waterway because of the quaint little town of Fernandina Beach, which was thriving prior to the Coronavirus and seems to be gradually re-opening now. The docks were pretty much destroyed here by Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016. With a change of ownership, insurance claims, and complications of a property lease from the city of Fernandina Beach, it took almost four years for the marina to rebuild and finally re-open. When we passed here heading south in January, it was still closed, so we are delighted it is available again. The docks are built to last and very impressive.

Our plans have changed somewhat because we were headed to Jacksonville to have some work done at Lamb's boatyard there, but a call to them this week revealed the they are slammed with work, and could not get to us for several weeks. The same seems to be true of all of the boat repair businesses along the way. So the Lovely Laura Lee, who has work to do back home, will head back home in a rental car tomorrow while I spend the next three days or so getting the boat back to the Savannah area.  We will likely get the work done partly at a yard in Savannah and partly at home at The Ford Plantation.

It has been a beautiful cruise, and I have rarely seen the ocean so calm for over a week. We again had afternoon thunderstorms today, but the worst of them passed south of us as we came in the inlet. The channel here is unusually large and deep because of the submarine base at St. Mary's.

We have now travelled nearly 1,000 nautical miles to get our boat to the Bahamas, have it quarantined there for four months, and then try to bring it home. While we are disappointed that the Bahamas cruise didn't work out, we are grateful that we have retained our health and that all of our family members have remained well during this horrible pandemic. And what's not to like about spending time cruising on the water, wherever we happen to be?