Thursday, August 22, 2019

Finally ...

I am at Lady's Island Marina, across the river from Beaufort SC. I am finally back on the boat, after it has been in a boatyard since the end of June. I arrived in Beaufort at about 6 pm today.

Today was the first time I have operated Division Belle totally alone. Although I miss my bride, my Bosun Paul Hamilton, and our chef (and valves and fittings guy) Jim Trolinger, I do really enjoy running a boat alone at times, in far more measured doses than when I was young and crazy.  

I once moved my 55-foot Fleming from Key West back to Orange Beach, Alabama totally alone. It was a 500 nautical mile trip due north across the Gulf of Mexico at 10 knots (to have enough fuel). So 50 hours alone at sea, non-stop. My navigation system at the time, a LORAN receiver, had something called a "watch alarm". I would set it to go off every 30 minutes so that I felt free to doze off if there was no traffic around. I am wiser now, or at least older, and I value my sleep much more. This trip is all in the Intracoastal Waterway and should be a day from John's Island near Charleston to Beaufort (completed today), a day to Thunderbolt (Savannah), and a day or two back up the Ogeechee River to The Ford Plantation, depending on the timing of the tides. 

I have made every effort here to avoid writing about maintenance and repairs. This has been a saga of dealing with two particular problems that I have now had fixed for the third time. If anyone really wants the gory details, drop me a note and I'll fill you in. I'm just hoping everything is finally right with my stabilizers and sanitation pump-out system. I have been very pleased with the good work at Ross Marine on John's Island. They seem to have a staff that is experienced and well-trained. It is a third-generation family-owned business, and good people to work with. I'll be back for any work that requires hauling the boat out of the water in the future.

Cruising alone is not at all frightening to me. Rather, it provides the kind of stimulation that keeps me on my toes. With one or two helpers on board, any issue is easier, but there is a challenge to going it alone. And besides, I can operate on any schedule I like and throw together any kind of meal I want at any time. It's not a bad way to spend a few days.

However, today reinforced my belief that it is generally best to have some helpers along. Late this afternoon, in St. Helena Sound, I was confronted with massive thunderstorms to my west, right in my path. There was a bunch of lightening ahead along with strong winds, and I could see on my own radar that my path was blocked for awhile.

As it turns out, I could have simply idled where I was for awhile. The storm passed without hitting me directly. However, being prudent, I thought it best to get near shore and drop the anchor until the storm passed. The problem came when I tried to retrieve the anchor with the windlass and it would come up to a certain point and stop. I thought the chain might be bunched up in the locker, but upon inspection that was not the issue. I also found that some previous owner had put various wire ties on the chain, I suppose marking lengths. I thought maybe these plastic wire ties were somehow jamming things up, so I got some cutters and removed them in the area where the chain was stopping. No luck.

I finally discovered that the anchor chain had come off one of its rollers, so it was jamming between the roller and the bow pulpit. This is not something easily dealt with. The anchor itself weighs nearly 200 pounds, and it was dug into the bottom and attached to the boat with very heavy chain. There is no way to simply lift it by hand. So the solution was to maneuver the boat to where there was some slack, allowing me to get the chain back onto its roller. At one point I put the boat in gear, ran out to the bow, and the boat moved too far forward, so the anchor chain pulled out maybe another 100 feet before I could get back to the pilothouse and put the boat in neutral. All in all, it would have been great to have the lovely Laura Lee, Bosun Paul, or JT to handle the boat or windlass while I did the other.

By the time this episode was over, I had lost more than an hour and the storm had moved on. I suppose it was better to go through this nonsense than to be struck by lightening. So here I am. I've had a shower and a good dinner at the restaurant here. I'm going to bed soon. I continue to think I like moving the boat alone, but truly, I need all the help I can get.

I'll try to get to Thunderbolt or Isle of Hope tomorrow and back to The Ford Plantation Saturday or Sunday depending on the tides. It's good to be using the boat again, and I'll soon get this nonsense of going it alone out of my system.

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