Friday, March 29, 2013

Attack of the forty foot…Paris Hilton?

Listening to "Silence Is Golden" by Forro In The Dark

I sit at the dinette table listening to music, lulled by the rocky motion of Paragon and the sounds of Drake making pasta with clam sauce.  It’s cold cold cold outside and, what with the steamy boiling water and the heat from the hydronic heater, the windows have a foggy condensation that obscures the outside.  I take my hand, wipe a swath clear, peak out and see...a forty foot Paris Hilton running her hands through her hair and staring back at me.  

Well kids, we’re not in Oriental anymore.  

The last month was absolute madness.  I felt as though Drake and I were in a little red wagon  careening down the side of a mountain, desperately holding on and unsure of whether we would land triumphantly or crash and burn in a mini fireball.  We had a firm date (heh!) set for departure, crew scheduled, and notice given at the marina all the while looking at a to do list that never seemed to end but, in fact, seemed to expand by the hour.  Systems that had previously worked meticulously (for years!) suddenly gave up the ghost when sensing our demanding schedule and left us scrambling to diagnose and fix eleventh hour problems. 

Finally we reached a point where the things left on the list no longer prevented us from leaving and...

We left.

We left Oriental, North Carolina after several long years of work, sweat, despair, tears, setbacks, breakthroughs, and finally triumph.  

Originally our plan was to leave on the 15th of March which fell on a Friday, but in keeping with superstition we delayed a day and decided instead to leave the next day.  We used that Friday evening to have a gathering to get a chance to say goodbye to some of the amazing people we had met during our stay in Oriental.  Some who came we had known for years - one couple we had met just days earlier - but all had affected our lives in some way.  They came bearing gifts of wine, knowledge, charts, boat cards, well wishes, and good conversation...I have to say that both Drake and I were touched and so pleased to have been a part of this wonderful community.  

Saturday morning dawned clear and chilly, and we pushed off of the dock at Sailcraft Marina for the last time with Adam, the first crew of the trip.  We had met Adam earlier in the year and had been exchanging emails, and the occasional chat over coffee, since our first meeting.  When Drake and I discussed wanting to have crew Adam was one of the first contenders.  With a background in both racing for fun and recreational sailing, he impressed us with his competence, confidence, and personality-wise he seemed as though he would be a good fit.  

A last sunrise over Whittaker Creek

Motoring out of Whittaker Creek we passed the sleepy marinas and began the three day journey up the Intracoastal Waterway to Norfolk, Virginia.  Our first big destination was New York City and the original plan was to head up to Ocracoke, wait for a weather window, jump out of Oregon Inlet, then head offshore straight to New York.  In a perfect world it would take us about three and a half days to get there, but in the event of inclement weather we had several places (Cape May or Atlantic City) where we could tuck in to wait out the storms.  Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy had created such shoaling in the inlet that it was now impassable with the Coast Guard reporting a depth of two feet or less.  

Another option was to motor to Beaufort, NC, await a weather window, and then go around Cape Hatteras before heading North.   Thankfully, due to some good advice and common sense on our part, we decided that route was just not worth the risk.  For those not familiar with this particular area, Cape Hatteras is known as the graveyard of the Atlantic and with good reason.  It is the meeting place for the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the South Atlantic Bight and also where the South flowing Labrador Current and North flowing Gulf Stream collide producing rough seas and dense fog.  Add in the Diamond Shoals, which extend for up 14 miles or more offshore, and the frequency of Nor’easters which scream down the coast with alarming frequency at this time of year and you have a recipe for disaster.  Combining the opposing currents, storms, and potential for rough seas seemed foolish when we still needed to complete shakedown sails on some of Paragon’s systems.  Finding out that a key element didn’t work while motoring/sailing along the ICW could be inconvenient...finding it out off of Cape Hatteras could be deadly.  

So Intracoastal Waterway it was. The first day was a bit of a push since we had to motor almost 65 miles to reach our first anchorage.  Several people had told us that we MUST stop at Coin Jock Marina, but in order to fit that into our time line we had to make some serious miles on the first day.  This was not such a difficult task with three people aboard.  Anyone who has traveled the ICW on their own knows that even simple things like grabbing lunch or going to the bathroom can be difficult...pulling over is not really an option, so things must be coordinated carefully.  Splitting time at the helm between Drake, Adam, and I meant that everyone had a chance to rest, eat, nap, and marvel at the root beer coloured water that was a result of tannins leaching from the surrounding trees.  Drake even had a chance to climb the mast to get a bird’s eye view of our journey.

Drake hanging out on the spreaders

As dusk neared we pulled into a lovely and deserted anchorage.  On the way in we passed two free standing trees on the edge of the little bay and I was delighted to discover that what I assumed were leaves actually turned out to be birds perched on every branch.  Combined with a spectacular sunset it made the first anchorage of our journey magical.

The next day was easier and we reached our desired destination in Coin Jock just as the Marina was closing its doors.  The man working that evening, JD, was even kind enough to wait an extra moment or two to catch our lines as we pulled up to the dock.  Many a cruiser had insisted that we must (MUST!) stop here because, despite its tiny size and remote location, the restaurant had wonderful prime rib.  I have to disagree with them.  It wasn’t was some of the best prime rib I have ever had.  Anywhere.  Should you happen to find yourself within a day or two of this little hamlet I strenuously recommend a detour to enjoy the hospitality and fabulous food.  (Did I mention the complimentary homemade chips they set on the table?  To. Die. For.)

The lovely Coin Jock Marina and Restaurant
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

Leaving early the next morning we headed on to Norfolk for what we thought would be an easy day.  It was misty and a bit colder with rain showers slowly soaking us, but our spirits were high and the heater down below did a wonderful job of defrosting our wind-chilled cheeks.

The last twenty miles of the ICW just south of Norfolk has quite a few bridges (and one lock) that have to be traversed, but our timing was almost perfect and we arrived at the N&S RR Bascule Bridge #7 (usually open) and the Gilmerton Lift Bridge before its rush hour restrictions.  Throughout the day the Gilmerton Highway Bascule Bridge opens at specific times, but for three hours both in the morning (6:30 - 9:30) and evening (3:30 - 6:30) they are closed for commuting traffic which means if you arrive at 3:45 PM you have an almost three hour wait.    

Pulling within sight of the bridges just past 3 PM, we had already mentally dropped the hook in the anchorage that lay a mere five miles beyond in Portsmouth just across from Norfolk.  Adam had told us about his many problems and delays while dealing with the Gilmerton Bridge, especially with all the recent construction, but that had ended and we felt confident.  

The lift bridge was not the problem this was the railroad bridge.  Noticing it was closed as we approached, we hoped that whatever train was about to cross would hurry up and pass so we could make it through the next bridge before the 3:30 deadline.  When no train approached, and with our window swiftly closing, we talked to the tender at the Gilmerton Bridge who told us the #7 was temporarily out of order but that they were doing all they could to find someone to fix it and he wasn’t really sure what was going on since it wasn’t really his bridge and he really did wish us the best and a very good day to you.  Or something like that.  It was all very nice while being completely noncommittal.  

Thus began our wait.  Three turned into four, then five...and as the six o’clock hour approached with no bridge opening in site we started to seriously look at anchorages in the area.  Sundown was just over an hour away and we didn’t want to be caught circling in the dark.  The one other boat that had been waiting, a giant tug, finally gave up and turned around and we finally conceded that we should do the same.  

Circling as we wait for repairs to be finished
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

As Drake turned Paragon around our VHF suddenly sprang to life.  

“#7 is opening, #7 is opening!”, the bridge tender shouted, and I am certain he could hear our whoops of excitement all the way from his control room.

Because of the long delays the Gilmerton Bridge tender opened his lift bridge, even though the rush hour restriction was not over, which allowed us to motor through and drop the hook in Portsmouth just as the sun was setting.  

The rosy glow of our first city anchorage

Drake, Adam, and I spent the next day wandering around Norfolk and picking up some extra provisions.  The whole area was remarkably easy to get around using a mixture of their light rail, water taxi, and cabs.  It also felt wonderful to get a chance to walk and explore a new area after being on the boat for several days.

Riding back on the water taxi

Rowing out to Paragon in the anchorage after a lovely day

The next morning, a Wednesday, dawned cool and breezy as we decided on the next move.  We had planned on leaving, but the weather looked a little unpredictable and we wavered; go today or possibly be delayed for almost a week.  

This is the point where we allowed something that should not have come into play affect our decision. 

 A schedule.  

Schedules have no business influencing voyage planning while sailing.  Sure, in the most abstract form they can be considered, but as a friend of mine said, “When I’m sailing you can choose the place or the time, but you can’t choose both.”

Adam had a plane out of JFK in New York on Sunday, so with that in mind we pushed off late Wednesday morning and headed out to sea.  Drake felt that we had a good chance of making some miles before tucking in to Cape May to await better conditions.  The rest of the afternoon went fine as we motored out of Norfolk and then, with sails up, we headed north into the night.  Things rather went downhill from there.

Motoring out of Norfolk
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

On Thursday winds clocked to the North and increased until they were sustained at 30 knots with gusts up to 38.  Thirty-five miles offshore and unable to make much progress, Drake realized we would never be able to reach Cape May before sundown and decided to hove to.  We remained hove to off and on for the next 36 hours...making progress when we could in the 10-12 foot seas.  

During this time Adam was amazing.  My old nemesis, seasickness, had returned with a vengeance and I was violently ill for several days and unable to do much except wish for a swift and painless death.  He stepped up and attacked every new challenge with a steadfast hand and quiet confidence that was impressive.  In the midst of our sea trial, and with several things not quite working as they should, he kept a sense of humor about things that were beyond our control.  

As winds subsided and, remarkably my seasickness began to dissipate, we realized that we would be able to sail into Atlantic City before sunset.  A new course was set and we motored into the channel with plenty of time to spare.

Anchored in Atlantic City, NJ

Now I sit here at the dinette and, as the boat turns at anchor, occasionally see a giant Paris Hilton splashed on the side of the illuminated high rise casino.  I look around, shake my head, and think, "We're not in Oriental anymore…"



  1. Sounds like quite a trip.

    All the pictures were great too.

    1. Thanks Dan, it was a wonderful beginning to the voyage. I was especially excited about having a bit of a breakthrough with my seasickness…on the fourth day I actually started to feel better! I'm hoping to trade these land legs in for some sea legs!

    2. With this trip you two are doing, You'll find your sea legs soon enough ;-)

      Good Luck!

  2. Monique
    Thank you so much for your blogs, I look forward to them so much.
    This is what life is all about and while I was living it, It was and still is the best years of my life. So enjoy each and every nuance of it.
    BTW My Husband had sea-sickness also. He would take bonine the day before departure and then 1/2 pill while enroute. Sometimes he'd forget which made me into the dreaded solo sailor. Not much sleep but I did it.


    1. Thank you Cecilia. Drake and Adam were wonderful while I was feeling ill, but I'm beginning to think I will get over this. At least *fingers crossed* I hope so. :)

  3. Wow... you guys know it's still March, right? Shouldn't you be headed south? :)

    BTW, I agree, the prime rib in Coin Jock is the best there is. And I'm not a big prime rib fan.

    Also, nice pics! Sorry about the rough trip, though.

    1. Heh, you don't know how many people have cried out "You're going the wrong way!". It totally reminds me of that movie 'Planes, trains, and automobiles'. *grin* It would be nice to wait for some warmer weather, but if we're going to make it to Greenland within our time line we absolutely have to be in Canada (and ready to hop over) by June.

      I'm not a huge prime rib person either, but it was to die for! I only wish that Drake and I had shared a plate since the portions were huge. Next time...

  4. Firstly, what's a Bight? Second, great blog :D

    1. Thanks so much! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. I'll try to update whenever I have internet. :)

      So a bight is a curve, or recess, in the coastline. If you look at a map of the United States you'll notice how there is an inward dip in the coast along the northern and southern edges that meets in a point at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. This curve tends to funnel current and weather into the Outer Banks, and Cape Hatteras in particular, where it collides and produces some serious weather and choppy seas. Add in the shoaling and you can see why it's caused over 1,000 ships to sink over the last several hundred years…most recently on March 6th, a mere ten days before we left, by two delivery captains.

      It makes me even more comfortable with our decision to stay out of harm's way and take the ICW. It may have taken a bit longer, but we arrived safely AND had some faaaaabulous prime rib!

    2. This one?,0,3683620.story?page=1

    3. Yes, that is the one. There are some interesting discussions going on right now on some of the sailing forums. here's one:

      I can't help but wonder what was going through their minds when they chose that route. It's so easy to judge other people's actions with the benefit of hindsight, lord knows we've had quite a few question some of our decisions, but it seemed like such a foolish choice. I have so many questions that, I suppose, will never be answered. I guess I will just use this as another example of the great importance of doing your research and holding your safety above any deadline or schedule.

      The sea is a beautiful and tender companion, but her wrath is not to be taken lightly.

  5. As! You have such a gift for writing Mo! The pic of Douglass, Matt, you & fav! Joanne

    1. Thanks Joanne!

      If you find yourself meandering up the east coast this spring you should definitely pay us a visit…we'd love to see you!

  6. Marvelous! Sorry to hear about the seasickness - misery! Pictures are great and I enjoyed hearing your tales! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Beth!

      I'm hoping that the seasickness thing will slowly lessen…especially with all the time I'm spending on the boat in this rolly anchorage.

  7. Thanks for the update, been wondering where ya were. That damn bridge almost got us too a couple years ago. About the seasickness, some advise, stay at the helm as long as possible, keep your head up and eyes on the horizon, resist going below, if you do try to keep your eyes closed as much as possible, only peeking them open when needed. It is an inner ear and eye relationship. I suffer too, but have learned to control it pretty good, if I know it is gonna be rough, drammamine in advace helps me too.
    Waiting for the next post, good luck, Dean

    1. Heh, we thought that since the construction was finished that it would be trouble free. Ah well, it certainly makes for a good story...

  8. Hi,

    Curious as to where you hope to leave from for Greenland and where you plan on cruising when there? Are you going via the Belle Isle Strait?


    1. Hi Mick,

      Unfortunately we are not going to have much time to explore Newfoundland. Once we leave Boston we're on a pretty tight schedule. We'll be jumping off from Nova Scotia straight to St. John's, then wait until we have a good enough weather/ice window to go to Greenland.

      Perhaps next time we'll get a chance to check out that area. *sigh* There's just never enough time to do all the cool stuff, eh?

  9. Been checking out your blog for a little while now. Saw the link on Drake's Youtube page. Very well done and fun to read. Congratulations on pushing off on schedule! I know that is a monumental task.

    Also a big fan of Coinjock and that stretch of the ICW in general. Will have to try the prime rib next time (maybe in a month or so).

    You are right about the sea sickness. The fact that you started to feel better after a day or two is a very good sign.

    1. Thanks, it was such a release to finally push off of that dock for good. There were times, even days before, when it just didn't seem possible that we would leave. It's been wonderful!

      Definitely definitely try the prime rib. My only regret is that I didn't share because the portions were HUGE…and I got the smaller version. *grin* Enjoy!

  10. Hey, thanks for the vids guys, very entertaining.

    When are you folks going to be in NYC? We're hunting for a W42 ourselves and would love to trade you guys dinner for some of your hard-won wisdom about the model.


    1. Hi Stu,

      We should be in town for a bit longer. If you could send me an email at perhaps we could find a time to meet up. We can certainly try to answer some of your initial questions…there's even a chance that Drake has taken a look at some of the Westsail's on the market at the moment. He went out to see quite a few when he was looking for Paragon several years ago.

  11. Hi Monique,

    I'm late arriving here having been watching Drake's YT channel for well over a year now. I like how we now get two perspectives... not that there's much appearing from you guys on YT just now... maybe that's why I'm here, getting my sailing fix. Still, my boat was splashed back in on Saturday and it's warming up here. Yesterday I had my first sail since October... What was I saying, oh yes, good to have two perspectives. I really enjoy seeing what you guys get up to, and your posts are very nice to read.

    I hope the seasickness abates before the big crossing.