NORTHBOUND LUNACY 2020: East Coast Pandemic Delivery, Phase 1


May 19/2020: How to extract my boat from its winter quarters in Georgia without getting infected or quarantined somewhere? This is one question that was percolating through my mind as I monitored the unfolding of the global Covid-19 pandemic while sheltering at home this spring. Problem one, it seemed, was simply getting to the boat in these days of sorely suppressed public transportation. Problem two was finding crew.

To solve the first problem I thought a one-way car rental might be a good solution… and I was right. My local Enterprise outlet hooked me up with a minivan that cost all up, no drop fees or anything, just $160 for the two-day run from Portsmouth, NH, to Brunswick, GA. As for problem two, I commandeered my brother Peter (see photo up top), who lives in southern New Jersey and agreed to join me from Brunswick as far as Cape May.

We drove into Brunswick on Friday, May 8, just one day after a large public demonstration protesting the now notorious shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, who was slain by vigilantes in February while jogging through Satilla Shores, a local suburb. We saw no evidence of unrest however.

What we would have seen had we showed up one day earlier

Editorial digression: This NY Times video is the best reconstruction I’ve seen so far of what happened to Arbery on Febraury 23:

The following day, Saturday, with plague masks in place, we made a provisioning run to the local Winn Dixie. I then returned the minivan (I threw one of the Brunswick Landing Marina courtesy bicycles in the back and used it to cycle back from the rental agency), and we spent the rest of our socially isolated day preparing Lunacy to sail.

We dropped lines and took off at 1014 hours the next morning. There was a strong onshore breeze blowing, which was reported to have raised some steep seas on the coast, so we spent our first day motoring north inside on the ICW. I was happy enough to be puttering through the Georgia marshes again, but we suffered an awful onslaught of large nasty biting flies that most definitely degraded the experience.

Cruising past the wreck of M/V Golden Ray, that car carrier that capsized in St. Simons Sound while departing Brunswick last year. (Between Golden Ray and the Ahmaud shooting, the sleepy town of Brunswick has certainly been in the news a lot lately!) The wreck has now been fenced off so as to contain contaminants and debris, and the salvage crew, when we passed by, was awaiting the arrival of a very enormous crane that will be used to cut the hull into pieces

Approaching the Lanier Island Bridge on the McKay River just north of St. Simon’s Sound. The vertical clearance is the standard 65 feet, and Lunacy’s air draft is 64ft 11in, and it was high tide, so I was a little worried. The lack of height boards on this particular bridge did not help. We just made it through (very slowly, of course) and heard our VHF antennae tick-ticking the last girder

Anchored for the night in the North Newport River just south of St. Catherine’s Sound

A technical problem! We discovered the galley sink was leaking. Somehow the bottom of the sink suffered a tiny puncture wound, presumably when a knife got dropped into it point down. I was disappointed to learn the sink was so fragile! We patched the hole with some JB Weld, that grey splodge you see on the upper right sink bottom here

One thing I noticed as we transited the ICW between St. Simon’s and St. Catherine’s Sounds, and as we exited St. Catherine’s the next morning, is that there were several nav aids missing. It is a sorry state of affairs, I submit, when a country as large and as wealthy as ours cannot properly maintain its coastal buoy system. Once we were outside in open water, I noticed too there was very little traffic on the coast, save for one cloud of shrimp boats we found just outside St. Catherine’s Sound.

By now there was a nice moderate northwest wind blowing, so we enjoyed a fine close reach sailing up the coast through all of Monday.

Approaching the Savannah River, at the north end of the Georgia coast, we did find some container ship traffic, but not as much as one would normally expect

During the night the wind started veering northerly and we ended up sailing closehauled in a slowly building breeze as our course steadily twisted off to the east. By  0325 hours early Tuesday morning the wind was fully in the northeast, exactly the direction we wanted to go, and had built up to 25-27 knots. By now we were just past Charleston, South Carolina. We spent the rest of the dark part of the morning hove to on starboard tack, drifting slowly back toward shore, then resumed sailing, beating to windward under reduced sail, about two hours after sunrise. By that afternoon the wind had gone south and died away, so we resumed motoring. We kept this up through all Tuesday night and all day Wednesday and arrived at Beaufort, North Carolina, that afternoon at 1600 hours.

Fiddling with the mainsail slides while motoring toward Beaufort. This was the second time I’ve remade all the connections between the sail and slides in a bid to make the mainsail easier to hoist and douse

We found our old friend, the famous Marco Polo schooner Star (which is still for sale, by the by), anchored out at Beaufort. We enjoyed a fine dinner aboard her with Steve and Irene Macek. The last time I visited Beaufort, two years ago, I found the harbor was full of poorly maintained moorings and there was zero room to anchor. Now the moorings are all gone, and anchoring is no problem. Score one for the good guys!

A grazing wild horse, known locally as a marsh tacky, as observed from Lunacy’s cockpit

We took off out of Beaufort at 0745 hours the next morning, looking forward ultimately to a fast downwind ride in front of a strong southerly forecast to appear the following day. We were not disappointed. We cleared Diamond Shoal, off Cape Hatteras, in a mild southeasterly breeze at 2127 hours that night. By early afternoon on Friday were sailing wind-and-wing dead downwind in a building southwest breeze. By that evening it was blowing a steady 32 knots true and we were down to just a lonely double-reefed mainsail.

The wind blew hard all through that night, with a steep sea building, and I started fretting about getting into the inlet at Cape May, New Jersey, which faces south. I was committed to stopping here, so as to drop off my brother, but didn’t want to run the inlet in a huge following sea.

Fortunately the wind tamped down quite a bit and shifted to the west in the early morning on Saturday. It continued to veer, and we kept sailing as long as it made sense. We finally pulled into Cape May and tied up at the South Jersey Marina at 1238 hours, 6 days after leaving Brunswick.

Sailing DDW late Friday afternoon

Masked dock guys at the South Jersey Marina

Trump flags flying from some local skiffs

Lunacy was the only transient boat at the marina when we pulled in. We got a choice berth, with our own fuel pump!

Checking the weather as we arrived, I saw it wouldn’t be possible to continue on from Cape May for at least week, thanks to this nasty storm Arthur that will funnel strong northeasterlies into the waters twixt NJ and Cape Cod for several days. To be followed soon thereafter by more northeasterlies.

Arthur, coincidentally, passed very close to Beaufort before angling out to sea

I borrowed a car from my brother (he has far too many of them) and on Sunday drove home to New Hampshire. Now I’m studying the weather forecasts intently, looking for my chance to launch Phase 2 of this tale.

All in all, I’ve been lucky, and the pandemic has had no serious effect on this delivery (so far). Indeed, I’ve enjoyed seeing reduced traffic on the coast. Cruising sailors in other parts of the world haven’t been nearly as fortunate. See, e.g., this article that ran on CNN’s home page yesterday.

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