"Arctracer" Letters

New Hampshire to North Carolina Nov 1997

It looks as though we'll be in Beaufort a couple more days, so I can get this in the mail. We still haven't figured out how to get weather faxes, so we haven't gotten email yet. One of these days we'll have time to play with it. Our list of "things to do" seems to keep getting larger instead of smaller. That seems to be the way with our boat.

On Jennifer's birthday, October 22nd we left Great Bay Marina in Portsmouth, NH with the help of the Marina's little tugboat. The strong current in the river, the strong wind, and our small engine necessitated the tug. We felt much safer with its help. Without it we felt we could have gone aground or have been swept into the first bridge. After spending the night on a mooring down the river a little ways, we left at 7:30 am and headed for the two lift bridges further down river. Since the current was almost slack we went through them with no problems.

We had our sails up at 10 am and had a cool, brisk sail to the Cape Cod Canal entrance - arriving at 3:30 am. After sleeping for 4 hours we headed through the Canal to New Bedford, MA. We went to the dock and were able to get nice hot showers. For the next 3 days we ate lots of hot soup and hot applesauce and drank lots of hot drinks attempting to keep warm while playing bridge. Luckily we have 2 nice warm quilts and a wool blanket for cold nights in New England. Our long underwear and winter coat have come in very handy too. Having Mom and Dad aboard for 5 days was a real treat!

On Monday, October 27th we started preparing to go to Bermuda. We had ripped our jib and took it to a sail loft to be repaired. They had it repaired in 24 hours. We had our engine checked out by a reputable dealer in New Bedford. We found that our alternator was not charging our batteries and had to solve that problem and buy two new batteries. Jerry replaced the 2 halyards for our mainsail and one halyard to the foresail. One of those had already been replaced in the Turks and Caicos last year when it chafed through after a vigorous sail from the Dominican Republic. We made sure all of our floorboards could be locked down in case we got into some bad weather. We put on our new splash cloths to try to keep some of the cold Atlantic water out of the cockpit while sailing, changed the engine oil, and ordered a new 3-and-a-half-inch disk drive as ours didn't seem to be working. We really wanted a working one to be able to view the pictures taken with our new digital camera. Later it started working again, but IBM had sent a new one within 24 hours - now we have a backup.

On October 30th we left the dock and took a mooring which was free at this time of year. We toured New Bedford, saw the Seaman's Bethel Church which is described in a scene in Melville's "Moby Dick" and spent a few hours in the Whaling Museum. We had a large, cheap lunch of baked scrod and scallops at a diner frequented by the locals. Then we walked by a used bookstore and spent a couple of hours there. After finding 9 books that we couldn't leave in the store, we decided we'd better leave, as we don't have room for many more on "Arctracer." However, yesterday Jerry bought 2 more books at West Marine while getting a repair kit for our bathroom pump and a new bilge pump to have for a spare. (Gotta keep that water out of the bilge!!) We have to admit that books really intrigue us, especially those of tales of other sailors who have experienced the places we intend to see some day.

When we returned from our tour of New Bedford, we listened to the marine weather forecast and discovered that we had a gale approaching the area. Since we didn't know how secure the mooring was we decided to go back to the dock at the marina before the winds got too strong and our engine would be essentially of no use. Saturday, the 1st of November we were really glad we were at the dock. One gust of wind in the area was recorded as being 79 mph, which is of hurricane force. During the driving wind and rain we ran out of propane in our first of four new tanks. Jerry had to put on full foul weather gear to go change the fuel lines to the next tank so that we could have hot things to eat and drink. By Sunday, the 2nd of November, the gale had passed, the sun was out, and I wasn't even wearing my wool legging "things" over my long underwear and sweatpants. Jerry had a chance to install our new VHF radio and GPS. The installed GPS has been wonderful. Previously we used handheld ones that worked on batteries and we couldn't get their antennas to find satellites very quickly. The one installed inside the cabin gives us our latitude and longitude quickly with its antenna mounted on the outside and with us not having to worry about a wave coming aboard, getting it wet, and ruining it. Waves have ruined two previous handheld ones.

The banks in New Bedford ask if you want to converse with their ATM machines in English or in Portuguese. This was one of our first alerts to the huge Portuguese population in the area. We heard about a wonderful Portuguese restaurant and spent over 2 hours looking for it. We went to 3 towns in the area before finding it, but we sure were hungry when we finally found it. They serve more food than one can eat (even Jerry) so we had leftovers for lunch the next day before heading to Bermuda. One of the waitresses at Antonio's Restaurant gave us a ride back to the marina as she felt it wasn't safe to walk through some of the areas we had to go through at night. This was done after we asked for the shortest way to walk back.

At 12:30 PM on Monday, November 3rd we had our anchor stowed on deck and went inside to start the engine. It wouldn't start until Jerry had done 1 and 1/2 hours worth of problem solving. We've had quite a bit of trouble with it since then, and hope it is related to the oil and the cold weather. As we get further south we hope the problem is alleviated. During this period of time we were back at the West Marine store to purchase some new starter switches for spares. At 1:45 we finally left the dock and headed through the hurricane barrier at the entrance to the harbor of New Bedford. At 2:30 we were outside the barrier and had our sails up ready to sail to Bermuda. About 25 boats had just left Newport, RI that morning in what is called the Caribbean 1500. Lots of boats get together and their skippers and crews attend lots of safety seminars then travel together to Bermuda and then to the U.S. Virgin Islands. They had Herb, a route planner in Ontario, talking with them every day at 3 PM on the single-side band radio. We listened each day to their conversations and also listened to the NOAA broadcasts each day. The first day was lovely, but cold. We saw tuna jumping out of the water and had large schools of porpoises playing in our bow wake. That evening, while listening to Herb in Ontario we discovered that he was advising all boats to get to 33deg N latitude by Thursday to avoid a gale (winds 34 - 40 knots) and/or storm (48 - 55 knots) near Bermuda on Saturday. We don't mind 30 knots of wind, which builds up quite large seas, but we don't like the idea of being in stronger winds if we can help it.

On November 5th we found ourselves in warm water. We still aren't sure if we were in the Gulf Stream or in a Warm Eddy that has Gulf Stream water in it, but we were in rough seas and one of our steel stanchions REALLY bent because of the force of the water on our splash cloths. At this point the stronger winds were arriving faster than anticipated, we realized we couldn't get to 33deg N before the storm, so we decided to "bail out" of going to Bermuda and to head to Cape May, NJ at 38deg 56' N latitude. I saw 3 falling stars that night between 1 am and 5 am. It was good to be at sea and experience seeing them again. I always see them while I'm on night watch.

On Thursday, November 6th we were anchored in Cape May near the Coast Guard station. The anchorage was really experiencing a lot of wind and the waves were huge, plus it was cold. We decided it was too cold and miserable out to make a phone call to someone so Jerry used our VHF radio to contact a marine operator (Pete and Ann use this system off the coast of Maine when they are on their boat). We made a collect call to Norwich and we know it was phenomenally expensive!! Please take money out of the "forwarding mail fund" to pay for it.

The day after we made the phone call to Norwich we again had very strong winds, but we don't know how strong since we don't have an anemometer. "Arctracer" dragged anchor about 5 PM and the Coast Guard sent out one of their boats to see if we needed any help. The water level was about 2 to 3 ft. higher than normal, and the dragging was really a good thing since we had anchored in too shallow water to begin with and could have gotten stuck. The first night we hit bottom and bounced a little during the night. Anyway, we put out a second anchor and it held us very well in what would be sufficient water once the level subsided. During that night two sailboats broke away from the moorings they were on and went ashore. One was bouncing on the rocks and the other was on soft ground. Once the wind and seas died down the local owners of those boats got cranes to lift their boats out of the water to safety. Jerry was up until 4:30 AM on the 8th waiting for the wind to abate and to be sure we wouldn't drag again. Seeing 2 sailboats ashore caused us to want to keep watch until the winds abated.

While anchored in Cape May Jerry spent hours writing in his logbook, trying to get caught up with it while I created a food database so that I would know what food I have aboard and where it is. I must tell Dorothy that the SmartSuite '97 book that I bought in DC came in very handy.

While in Cape May we didn't know if we would head for Bermuda from there or go to Norfolk, VA or go to Beaufort, NC. After listening to the weather forecast we decided to go via the Atlantic Ocean to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel on Sunday, November 9th. As we had about 20 to 25 knots of wind we put a reef in our mainsail and had a nice, speedy sail to the latitude of the Bridge. We went about 132 miles in 24 hours, which is terrific for "Arctracer." When we got to this point we decided to head for Bermuda, then an hour later changed our minds after listening to the most recent NOAA weather forecast. A low was forming again off Cape Hatteras so we decided to go down the Intracoastal Waterway to Beaufort and get south of the infamous Cape Hatteras. We saw lots of gannets out in the ocean. We hadn't seen any since biking in Newfoundland. We hadn't realized that they came as far south as the Chesapeake. On the 10th we took lots of pictures of birds landing on the boat. A common flicker landed, a golden-crowned kinglet, an eastern meadowlark with a black V on its throat, and lots of slate-colored juncos. We've had birds land on "Arctracer" before, but never so many in such a short period of time. They kept us entertained for quite a while.

On November 11th we got fuel at a marina in Portsmouth, VA. Jerry maneuvered the boat very well in tight quarters while getting to the dock and away from the dock there. Then we headed down the Waterway to Beaufort. The first night we tied up to a dock in Great Bridge, VA. We went to get fresh fruits and vegetables and when we returned there was a boat there from Burlington, Vermont - another schooner- "Northern Spy."

The menus on "Arctracer" have changed now that we have an oven. We've enjoyed pizza and brownies so far. We're waiting to get to warmer climates so I can get some sourdough started to make our own bread. The package of starter I have says it should be 85deg to work successfully. There has been a cold front passing by here the past couple of days and we had frost on our cushions. Presently I have a wool blanket over my lap as I type. If I could type with mittens on I might wear those too!?

On November 13th, after being in a nice secluded anchorage, we headed for Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Everything seemed to be going quite well until a tug and barge approached us from the south. I was at the helm and Jerry was working on his log inside. As the tug approached us the wind blew it out of the channel and forced me to steer out of the channel too. We were hard aground as our sails pushed us out of the channel farther and farther until we could get them down. It was quite windy then too. The tug unhitched itself from its barge and pulled the loaded barge back into the channel within an hour and was on its way. Our situation was quite different. We (especially Jerry) worked harder than usual that day. We took the dinghy off the top of the boat and took an anchor out towards the channel. We kedged and kedged and kedged, but seemed to get nowhere. We went aground about 10:15 and took a break at 2 for lunch. Then we got back to work. We seemed to be getting into shallower water. At about 4 PM a Coast Guard boat came by and said another sailboat and a tug had called them to alert them to our situation. They thought perhaps we had a wooden or a fiberglass boat and were taking on water. Having a steel boat has its advantages! Anyway, the Coast Guard volunteered to tow us back into the channel. They were 3 very nice young men who were sympathetic to our concerns. For instance, they decided to tow us with both of our anchors out since we could not get them in (they were in water too shallow for "Arctracer" to go. When they pulled us our anchor chain was under so much stress that the bow roller on the bowsprit bent and started to come off. The Coast Guard immediately stopped pulling when we alerted them to the situation. At this point we were able to get a little more chain in and to disconnect the chain from the bowsprit roller. Finally, at 5:30 we were back in the channel. One of the Coast Guard men came aboard to help us get the anchors in and to have us fill out their necessary paperwork. While he and Jerry were filling out this paperwork I steered the boat behind the Coast Guard boat to a safe deep anchorage, outside the channel of the Intracoastal Waterway. We were EXHAUSTED and thought we would rest the next day, but as it turned out we recuperated and were on our way again by 10:30 on the 14th. This time I refused to try to get through the channel where we spent the previous day. Jerry did all the steering for several hours - he's terrific!

We've seen many sailboats heading south. A few days ago we saw several flocks of geese heading south, but we haven't seen any for a few days now. I guess that means we're behind schedule - according to geese standards anyway. We met a couple from Denmark, Maine and anchored in the same places they did for several nights. They, along with all the other sailboats headed south, got way ahead of us in the canals and small rivers where we had to motor, but when we had wind and open areas to sail we were able to pass some of them. We must have the smallest engine going, but it's in good condition, so why fix it?

On November 16th we arrived in Beaufort and are now getting ready to head out to sea again. We still don't know what our next destination is, but at least we have no schedule so we can take each day as it comes. We've started listening to weather forecasts again and hope to head for St. Thomas or Bermuda from here, but who knows what will happen. We still have the option of getting closer to Florida, going to the Bahamas, and down through the islands again. We'll keep you informed as we make decisions.