POSITIVITY SUCKS: Mostly Motoring on the Covid Delivery Cruise

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Nov. 25/2021:  I had planned to sail Lunacy south to the W’Indies this fall and base her down there for the winter. Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking like this. It seems the pent-up demand from last winter, when people, like myself, took their boats nowhere due to the pandemic, would be pent up no longer. I was surprised, for example, when I learned the Salty Dawg Rally fleet, sailing down to Antigua and other points, had ballooned to a record 80 boats. Then I was disappointed when I could find nowhere on the east coast of Puerto Rico, my preferred venue, to leave the boat. Puerto del Rey in Fajardo, the largest marina in all the Caribbean, which has served me well on short notice in the past, reported they had a waiting list of over 60 boats for long-term slip rentals.

It was unclear of course how the Covid restrictions on different islands would evolve through the winter. I nervously settled on St. Maarten as a likely base, mostly because I found a slip there, and told Hank Schmitt I’d join his NARC Rally, scheduled to depart out of Newport on October 30, bound for St. Maarten via Bermuda.

Then I made the mistake of going to the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis middle of last month. First time I’d mingled with large groups of people at close quarters in over a year and a half. Flew in and caught the last day of the show, which was quite busy, test-sailed boats for two days afterward, then came home after four days away with a slight sore throat. Other cold-like symptoms soon emerged, and a cautionary Covid test, taken just three days before my planned departure for Newport, came back positive.

This in spite of being double-vaccinated.

Between losing some crew, being uncertain as to when exactly I could go anywhere, and worrying over how my infection would be received in different jurisdictions, I decided just to punt and go to Florida instead. Fortunately Nat Smith, who cruised with me this summer and originally signed on for the whole run to St. Maarten, readily agreed to stick with me regardless… provided I tested negative again prior to his arrival.

On October 30 then, after the required 10 days isolating, I took an at-home antigen test and was relieved to see…

The desired result. These rapid antigen tests are less reliable, but unfortunately the generally more accurate PCR tests may show positive results for infected persons up to 90 days after an infection has passed

 

Nat appeared the following day and early the next morning, on November 1, we set out from the Wentworth Marina near my home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Passing under the railroad bridge on the Cape Cod Canal. Nat’s first transit! We made it here after a full day’s sailing from Portsmouth to Provincetown, then motored across Cape Cod Bay in a light headwind the following day. On exiting the canal we stopped briefly at Monument Beach to visit with an old friend of Nat’s, then continued puttering down Buzzard’s Bay to Cuttyhunk, where we spent the night inside the (very deserted) pond there

 

From Cuttyhunk the next day we set out under sail in a firm northwesterly direct for Cape May, NJ, some 240 miles distant. Once past Block Island the wind piped up quite a bit, into the high 20s, so we dogged it for a while under the single-reefed main and the staysail. Still making 4-5 knots in the right direction, but comfortably. I call it “heaving to on steroids”

 

One nice thing about the Boréal is that it has huge drains in the cockpit footwell. I’ve got a big manual piston pump that fits down them nicely, which allows you to easily fill a bucket with seawater right in the cockpit without dangling anything overboard. Good for rinsing off crockery and dishes after a meal (which saves flushing large amounts of food waste into the grey water tank). Also, because Lunacy has only one toilet with an outboard intake on the starboard side, it comes in handy when sailing hard on starboard tack. When the boat heels enough that the toilet intake is out of the water, we can flush with a bucket from the cockpit instead

 

Our New Jersey sunset landfall, the Atlantic City skyline some 34 hours after leaving Cuttyhunk. We didn’t make it into Cape May until just before midnight

 

On Nat’s fourth day aboard the boat, en route to Cape May, he developed cold symptoms… and my spider sense started tingling. Although he’d been triple-vaccinated, with a recent booster, I urged he get tested the morning after we arrived. In addition to waiting for the test results (PCR, not rapid antigen), we also had to wait for a large winter storm to move off the coast south of us. Thus we spent three days hanging at the South Jersey Marina

Which gave me plenty of time to visit with one of my favorite people on the planet, my old law-school roommate, John Christmas, who recently bought a house near the beach here

 

It also gave Nat and I time to make up some plexiglass panels to fit in below the deck hatches. These greatly reduce the amount of condensation that gathers on the hatch frames when it’s cold outside and warmer inside. (They also keep what condensation that does form from falling down on top of you.) We got the materials needed for this job from Swain’s Hardware, close to downtown. A fantastic store run by fantastic people! The panels, of course, are easily removed and put away when you want to actually open hatches

 

Nat’s test fortunately came back negative on Sunday, November 7. Proof positive that it is still possible to get just a plain-old cold in the age of Covid. I was greatly relieved to learn I had not somehow infected him.

We left the next morning and found the Cape May inlet breakwater was roiling with surf from the distant storm

 

On this next leg, from Cape May to some as yet undefined destination south of Cape Hatteras, I hoped to exercise the Windpilot windvane for a bit. I had not used it in a while, and Nat was curious to see it in action. I had recently serviced it, spritzing silicone spray in various junctions and replacing the control lines. It worked as well as it ever did, but unfortunately we only got to sail a few hours a couple of times. A light breeze and the big swell left over from the storm made it hard to keep the motor off

 

We were one of a fleet of sailing vessels approaching Hatteras from the north in the relatively calm conditions. The crew of the boat we came closest to, a cutter named Ujam’n, seemed to have odd ideas about motorsailing

 

Approaching Diamond Shoals off Hatteras around sunset on Tuesday, November 9

 

We ended up arriving at Georgetown, South Carolina, several miles up Wynyah Bay, not long before noon the following day. A lucky choice, as it turned out we had just about 13 gallons of fuel left when we pulled in here at Hazzard Marine

 

Nat checks out a badly neglected Tahiti ketch in the yard behind Hazzard’s

 

We arrived just in time for the Veteran’s Day Parade!

 

We stayed one night at Hazzard’s then motored down the bay the following afternoon and anchored near the entrance. Once settled in there I hauled Nat up the mast so he could flip our two VHF antennae (one for the radio, one for AIS) upside down. This to reduce air draft, as I expected we’d soon be transiting 65-foot bridges and I had noticed water levels everywhere were unusually high. (Lunacy needs 64ft 11in with her antennae pointing upward!) We also replaced the vane on the wind sensor, which some bird had broken by sitting on it

 

Absorbing moonlight during a quiet night on Wynyah Bay

 

On the next leg, from Wynyah Bay to St. Augustine, Florida, a distance of 225 miles, we thankfully did more sailing than on the previous leg

 

But still there was a good bit of motoring involved

 

A man and his dog in the sky overhead

 

We arrived at St. Augustine on November 14, well after dark. Running the inlet here at night is definitely hair-raising and is not recommended! None of the inlet buoys inside the sea buoy are charted, because they get moved around so much, and several are not lit. We did it anyway, of course. Being able to pull up the centerboard and reduce draft to three feet does inspire some confidence in such situations. Plus there was plenty of moonlight. Still we were biting our nails and cursing the whole way through. We anchored inside just north of Vilano Beach bridge just before midnight

 

Next morning we were lucky to grab a berth at the Camachee Cove Marina just one dock over from my old friend, fellow author, and erstwhile yacht broker Melanie Neale. This is her highly entertaining fiancé, Riley Wiklund, aboard their heavily canvassed Irwin ketch Maggie B

 

First thing that happened after we tied up and settled in was going to lunch with the whole crew. From right to left: yours truly, Melanie, Riley (holding Maggie the dog), Melanie’s friend Tina, and Nat

 

One last boat project. Before leaving Lunacy for a bit in the Florida sun I finally finished making up and installing these sunshield panels for the big doghouse windows. These are just automobile windshield panels cut down to size, with suction cups installed on one side to hold them in place. The dabs of tape you see on the inside are to help hold the little suction cups on the other side in place

 

Sunshield panel ready to be stowed

 

I’m pretty pleased with how these turned out, and it’s very nice to have some deep shade inside the doghouse for a change. I look forward to getting back next month to see how they’re doing.

Meanwhile… happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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5 Responses
  1. Happy Thanksgiving!

    We also ran the St. Augustine Inlet well after dark the end of October. We did go to the updated USCG light list before our departure to get position of each marker. Still a nail biter. A Beneteau ended up on the breakwater rocks and lost its rudder.

    1. Charles Doane

      Good on you! I was told after we arrived that the inlet buoys had been rearranged a bit by that storm that had just blown through! Not sure the USCG light list would have taken that into account. But you’re right, still a good resource!

  2. I can believe that the buoys got moved. I’ve seen them off more than once following storms. Last fall I arrived and found them all missing due to a dredging operation. Quite a surprise after circling a few hours outside the Mo(A) waiting for the sun to rise so we could see the buoys. Luckily, I had the “virtual buoys” I obtained from the light list on the chart plotter.

    The storm didn’t seem strong enough to significantly change the channel. We are leaving St. Augustine on Dec 1 and I guess I will find out.

    As you noted the updated light list and Local Notice to Mariners do not indicate any changes.

  3. sds

    Nice shots from the Aurora Charles! Numerous hair-raising transits through east coast inlets over the years where the inspiration for that thing. We’ve left Solstice in Gloucester this winter after our less than pleasant experience of sailing home in the early Spring of COVID lock-downs. Marco Island to Padanaram non-stop with 3 cold fronts to set us well over the stream. Only benefit was tail walking blue marlin off the back when they hit our mahi rigs.

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