Friday, November 28, 2008

Southbound to Florida – The Reality

We found a nice marina, Waterside Marina right in the heart of Norfolk, VA that had easy access to restaurants, laundry facilities, children’s museums, etc, and was a good jumping-off spot for the trip ‘round Hatteras. We stayed there for a week waiting for John and Larry to join us, and then for another week waiting for the right weather.

Once the weather looked right we finally left – the whole crew was really starting to get impatient on the wait, but it was worth it. We had a mostly uneventful rounding of the cape. We fired up the engine any time the boat speed dropped below 5 knots to make sure we stayed on schedule. This was important as the weather window was not a big one and we wanted to be in Charleston before the weather closed in. As it worked out, we motor-sailed about half the way.

The Gulf Stream did cause us a little trouble as it must have wandered in pretty close to Diamond Shoal Light. We passed the light close enough to touch up the paint and then turned south west. Even still, once past the light we did brush up against the current – we were fighting about a 1 knot current for about half a day. The winds were out of the Northwest and west, and made the sea state pretty lumpy and uncomfortable while we were near the stream. We were very happy once we worked our way closer to land and the seas flattened out some.

Once we made it to Charleston, we got off the boat and had a great dinner in the historic district of downtown Charleston. Great food and a beautiful town!We liked Charleston quite a lot so we decided to extend our stay and wait for a cold front to pass. We ended up staying about 6 days.

Many thanks to Larry and John. They were very fun to have aboard and made the trip both safer and more enjoyable!

Southbound to Florida – The New Plan

We had two options. Cut our mast down 2 or 3 feet or take the “outside” route - out on the Atlantic Ocean. We decided on the ocean route. The biggest hurdle in going outside down the coast was getting around Cape Hatteras. This bit of geography is a challenge for sailors for several reasons...

  • Diamond Shoals – the waters up to about 30 miles offshore are not safe due to shallow water and sand bars that shift about so frequently that the Coast Guard won’t bother to chart it. They mark the outer boundary with a light and recommend you keep out of the area.
  • Currents – The Gulf Stream passes just off of Diamond Shoals – anywhere from 2 to 12 miles. A vessel passing southward needs to squeeze in between the shoals and the Gulf Stream’s 3-5 knot northbound current. Aside from the problem of fighting a current that’s going a fair percentage of your boat’s max speed, the strong current will produce very, very steep and large waves if the wind is blowing from the north. In addition to the northbound Gulf Stream, there is another less powerful current heading south along the east coast, the Labrador Current. This current of cold water runs down the north east coast of the US until it reaches Cape Hatteras, where it ducks under the warm Gulf Stream. Because of this, care must be taken by a sailboat not to be pushed by the Labrador Current into the Gulf Stream.
  • Weather – Cape Hatteras seems to be a favorite place for strong weather systems to roll off of the US into the Atlantic.
  • Magnetic Variances – The charts report (and we experienced) variances in the magnetic field around Cape Hatteras of 6 to 8 degrees. While we use a GPS for navigating, we steer by a compass course, so we had to keep a close eye on the GPS to make sure we were pointing in the right direction. With only a few miles of sea room to work with between the Gulf Stream and Diamond Shoals, a few degrees can be a problem.
  • Distance – There is no place to pull in if the weather pipes up. The inlets along Cape Hatteras are about the last place you want to be in bad weather, so you’re committed to a minimum of a 250 mile sail to go from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC. Since a Beaufort landfall would take us about 40 miles out of our way (each way -both in and out of the harbor), a more appealing landfall to us is Charleston, SC, which is about 400 miles from Norfolk.

Southbound To Florida – The Plan

Mirasol is back in the Atlantic for the first time after her delivery passage from France. We had a fun summer in the Chesapeake Bay, but it was getting cold and it was time to start heading south in search of palm trees and warm beaches.

During the summer in the Chesapeake, our plan for heading down the coast took a radical turn.

Originally, The Plan was to take the Inter-Coastal Waterway from Norfolk, VA to some point south of Hatteras like Beaufort, NC or Moorhead City, NC, and then exit the ICW and shoot down the coast in short 1 or 2 day hops. The ICW, or “The Ditch” is a collection of rivers, lakes, bays and canals which allow transit up and down the entire East Coast of the US without the inconvenience of venturing out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ICW is best suited to power boats since sailing is not possible in the restricted waterways and the ICW is very shallow in many areas. However, in spite of these problems, 95% of sailboats heading up or down the coast use the ICW rather than head out into the Atlantic. This ratio is an estimate from my observations, but I think it’s pretty accurate.

The Plan relied on Mirasol being able to get under the fixed bridges crossing the ICW. According to the manual, Mirasol’s mast is 64’ 9” tall. The published minimum clearance for fixed bridges along the ICW is 65’ at high tide. The Plan was to transit these fixed bridges during low tide. Over the summer, we found there were several flaws in The Plan. One was that our mast height is really 66’ 2” to the top of our instrumentation on the mast, and about 69’ to the top of our VHF antenna. (I climbed to the top to find out). The second big problem is that the tides we had counted on to squeeze under the fixed bridges were only a foot or less at the bridges from Norfolk to Beaufort. So much for The Plan. As the summer turned to fall, the New Plan came together, and caused more than a few raised eyebrows from our new friends in Rock Hall, MD.

Friday, November 7, 2008


While they have not yet actually sailed on a catamaran, John & Larry seem to be enjoying themselves aboard Mirasol...
Barring any unforeseen problems, we expect to FINALY depart Norfolk tomorrow around noon. At the moment, conditions look favorable to head all the way to Charleston, SC.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Harbor Rot

Sigh, we're still in Norfolk. It's blowing 20-30's in the marina and 50's out in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. That's not too much for Mirasol, but it's more than Jen and I are interested in dealing with if we can avoid it.

We almost decided to leave this afternoon since it's forecasted to ease up later today, but after some consideration it still looks too bumpy at the mouth of the Chesapeake, so we're going to wait. 30 knot winds and 10' waves. By waiting, we miss a window before a cold front comes through on Saturday, so we'll have to wait until Saturday afternoon or probably Sunday AM.

We're making use of the time to get more chores on the boat completed and doing some fun stuff in Norfolk with Quinn. I finished the upgrade to the autopilot yesterday and will probably do more work on the water maker installation over the next couple of days.

We'll probably go back to both the Children's and the Maritime Museums as Quinn really enjoyed those, and the Maritime Museum is very cool for me too, if a little mind numbing for Jen. The USS Cheesehead, er I mean USS Wisconsin, is parked next to the museum and they let you get on board and wander around. That is one HUGE battleship. Very impressive!

The marina is PACKED with sailboats that are either too tall or too deep to use the ICW, all stacked up waiting for the window we are. The fact that none of them seemed inclined to leave today helped us make the decision to stay another few days.

John Gaich and Larry Mitchell both hanging with us, and are as anxious as we are to get moving. It's been fun having guests on board and I think Larry may already be a multihull convert. He already has 5 boats, so why not add one more to Commodore Larry's fleet?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Watiting for the Weather Window

We were planning on leaving on our jump around Cape Hatteras, NC to Charleston, SC tomorrow or Monday. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has decided we need to hang in Norfolk a little longer. As they say, a picture says a thousand words. This is the prediction for the weather for the next several days off Cape Hatteras. Each feather on the barb means 10 knots of wind.
So, we've decided to wait it out and leave later in the week.

John Gaich and Larry Mitchell have flown in to join us for the trip and are currently in Savanna Georgia visiting with Iowa National Guard folks and waiting for the word that we're going. They'll likely drive up on Monday. We're happy to have them on board for our first coastal passage. Quinn's also looking forward to some company on board.

It's been fun hanging out in this marina, which is frequented by sail and power boaters who are heading down the Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW, or "the ditch") for the winter. Every day it fills up and then empties by noon as everyone leaves to head on south. We don't have the option of using the ICW as our mast is too tall. Fine with me, it would just be a lot of motoring, and this is a sailboat after all.

Quinn had fun Trick-Or-Treating yesterday. He scored lots of good stuff and had a lot of fun. We were hoping there would be some action in the marina, but there wasn't much. So Jen found out that there was some Trick or Treating in the local mall and we headed there for some loot. I wish there was this type of thing when I was a kid. Quinn scored big time, especially at the Godiva and Lindt stores (Jen and I may appropriate the treats from these stores).

We'll update everyone when the weather gives us a good window.