It has been five years since we have last taken off and much has happened.  There are a number of old cliches in the sailing world, and there is some truth to most of them.  One runs along the lines of “go now, there is always something else that needs to be done first”.  Especially as age becomes a factor, this rings true.  In the last 4-5 years Betsy’s mother has passed, my father passed two years ago, and my mother died a few months ago.   In addition, Betsy was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2019 and underwent a grueling year plus of chemo, surgery, and radiation.  Betsy also had another cancer scare this fall.  Needless to say it has been a challenging few years.  During this time Nomad our Mason 44 was barley used, we did drop her in the water each year, but maybe did a total of four overnights in five years.

Betsy working through chemo/radiation and surgery.

Despite all the trauma of Betsy’s treatments we did manage to take Nomad out a few times
Betsy’s health and hair returning

Picture taken sometime in the late 70s or early 80s.

Don on the left, brother Jim, and our mother Nancy on the right

My mother had a severe case of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, it was painful to watch her lose the ability to walk, dress herself, and then to even feed herself. It was a five year decline and I managed her care on almost a daily basis.

With my mom’s passing and Betsy’s health improving we started to talk about heading out one more time.  Given that the boat had been so lightly used, much of the summer-fall was spent trying to get Nomad back into reliable offshore sailing condition. 

Some of the upgrades included new electronics and a new autopilot

We left Rock Hall MD on December 7 in what looked like light fog, but turned into zero visibility.  We ran the whole Chesapeake Bay in twenty-four hours with literally no visibility, passing 700-foot cargo ships at less than a half mile with no visual sighting.  Flying on instruments only.  One of the most important additions to any boat is AIS (Automatic Identification System).  All commercial boats are required to broadcast their positions using AIS, and smaller non-commercial boats can also add AIS so they can broadcast their positions to the larger commercial boats in the area.  We communicated with a number of commercial ships on our way to Norfolk, such as in the situation below.

We arrived at Hampton Roads Virginia two hours before daylight with still zero visibility, and decided to reverse course into 19knt headwinds for two hours to wait for the sun to rise and hopefully improve visibility.  Fortunately, around 8:00am visibility improved enough to enter the main channel into Norfolk.   It was the right decision as Norfolk is a major Navy base and the channel is always being dredged, with dredges and barges parked in the channel with no AIS.

Anyone who thinks the U.S. has lost it’s industrial might only needs to pass through Norfolk from the water and witness the incredible scale of the ships being built there.

Aircraft Carrier being built at Norfolk

The ICW (Intracostal Waterway) starts in Norfolk at Hospital Point which is also an anchorage.  We like to continue for another two hours until we reach Great Bridge which is in Chesapeake Virginia.

Great bridge has a free public dock that can hold five or six boats and is a ten-minute walk into town.  We stayed here for three days to catch up on sleep and enjoy the town.

Toby the feral cat that walked out of woods just before out first trip is with us on this trip. Since he grew up on the boat as a kitten he immediately makes himself at home when he gets back onboard.

Chesapeake to Norfolk run (some folks take weeks to make this trip – not an option when you leave in December).

We ran from Great Bridge to Oriental in four days anchoring in Lutz Creek, Deep Point, and Belhaven, before grabbing a slip in Oriental NC.

ICW before Pamlico River

Alligator Pungo River Canal

Oriental NC is also one of our favorite places. It seems everyone you meet has either cruised a boat, worked on a boat, or retired from living on a boat. One of the friendliest places we have encountered.

Working fleet – Oriental NC

After staying in Oriental for a few days we saw a possible weather window open for an offshore jump to Charleston SC. We decided to check out an anchorage someone told us about a few years ago. Barden Inlet sits a few miles outside the Beaufort Inlet and we thought it would allow for a quick takeoff for Charleston.

The Barden Inlet is probably one of the most beautiful anchorages we have ever stayed in. There are high cliffs which protect you from the wind and wild horses running on the shore. The wind blew 20kts all night but the water stayed mostly calm. However the tide rips through the anchorage, when we got ready to leave the boat was pointing into the tide and the wind was blowing 20 from the opposite direction with the anchor under the boat. We probably will not anchor here again, but it was beautiful. The 20knt wind all night should have been a sign, but we had a weather forecast that said the wind should stay below 15kts and dropout completely sometime the next day. We will spare the details but the wind never dropped below 20knts and gusted to over 25knts with continuous 7 foot waves. The longer the wind blows from any direction the higher the seas get. Direction also matters, is the wind coming from the land, or has it been blowing from across the Atlantic for days. Betsy and I may not be the best sailors, but Nomad is a fantastic offshore boat and took care of us. Needless to say, after a day and a half of rodeo riding we were happy to make our way to Charleston. There is only one way-point on the map below and that is Frying Pan Shoals (the graveyard of the Atlantic). These shoals force you offshore before turning turning towards Charleston, we rounded them sometime after midnight. The shoals also concentrate all the shipping traffic to locations within a few miles of the Frying Pan.

We were “lucky” enough to be in Charleston during a record breaking cold spell. While we were there the temperature hit 17 degrees, locals told us that the temperature never drops below freezing there. There is reason to believe them, all the pipes burst at the marina, and as we walked around town, water was running down the streets from all directions. Speaking from living in a college town, having a large student population always makes life more interesting. Charleston not only has a large student population with the College of Charleston, but there is also a huge presence from the health care industry. Hospitals, medical schools, disease specific specialty services, between health care and education, the city is almost recession proof. The city is large enough that the student population does not dominate the city as it does in Newark Delaware.

Charleston is a beautiful city with architecture that you will find nowhere else. We spent hours just walking around the city taking in the sites.

Although looking at Zillow the cheapest you will find a house in the area we were, would be at-least a million and a half dollars for a hundred year old house made mostly of wood.

The Mega dock at Charleston.

Boat cat chilling out

You can tell when a cat has been raised from a kitten on a boat.

The day after Christmas a weather window opened for a run from Charleston to Fernandina FL. The sailing was great with calm seas, but the temperature was 36 degrees, Betsy and I were wearing as many layers of clothes and socks as would allow us to still move around.

It was a 26 hour run. Savannah is one of the busiest ports in the United States and crossing it is always a little stressful.

We anchored in Fernandina for four days until an offshore weather window opened up for Sunday. We moved to the Fernandina face dock on New Year’s Eve to fuel up and spend the night. The marina and fuel dock have been completely rebuilt from past years hurricane damage. The marina and fuel dock are exceptionally well run, Dalton and Joseph helped move Nomad so we could get 50 amp service and solved an electrical problem.

If you see there two guys at the dock you are in good hands!

Waiting for the New Year’s Shrimp Drop

We have been through Fernandina numerous times but always stayed on anchor. Since we were at the dock for the first time we went into town. Fernandina has a lot to offer and we will most likely stay at the marina again.

Fernandina lit up for the hollidays
Nomad at Fernandina face dock

Fernandina to Ft. Pierce is one of the longest offshore jumps that we make. It is critical to come in the Ft. Pierce Inlet during daylight. To insure this happens you need to leave Fernandina at day break. Of course when we woke up to prepare to leave there was dense fog.

Close to zero visibility

The forecast said the fog would lift at 8:00 – it did not – then 9:00 it did not – then 10:00. We realized that if we left at 10:00 the sun would be setting at Ft. Pierce when we arrived the next day, so we took the Weather Service’s word and decided to leave in the fog at 9:30. We headed for the Inlet counting on the fog lifting as we got there. We entered the Inlet with zero visibility at 10:00. On the radio tugs were announcing that they were approaching the inlet. As my cell signal began to fade I checked the weather one last time, and saw that the Weather Service was now calling for the fog to stay until 4:00, basically dark. As soon as we got past the jetty we pointed straight out to sea with still no visibility. If you ever sail offshore one cannot emphasize the importance of having radar and AIS. We would never suggest getting underway in heavy fog, but with good electronics it is doable.

Betsy looking for markers in the Inlet

The next day the sun came out and the wind dropped. We could hear on the radio that there was still fog on shore, but we were 20 miles out.

Betsy happy to be standing watch with no fog.

Dolphins seem to be attracted to full keel boats like Nomad, they like to surf the bow wave. We have lost track of the number of times a pod of dolphins will spot Nomad and follow us – sometimes for hours!

The Fernandina run also forces us offshore to get around Cape Canaveral. Cape Canaveral is a port used by numerous cruise ships, we had to have a conversation with the Enchantment of the Seas as our courses crossed near the entrance to the port. The Cape also extends out into the ocean creating shallow water where you might not expect it.

Despite our late start we entered the Ft. Pierce Inlet just as the sun was setting.

The temperature was in the 80s the week we arrived . . . . good bye long underwear and sweaters!

Betsy happy to see warm weather and docked at Ft. Pierce City Marina

Cat Pics

We replaced the chart plotter below before we left. On our last two offshore passages the chart plotter above, at the helm, where we run the boat underway kept rebooting. This caused us to to lose our course, radar and AIS targets. We decided to spend some time in Ft. Pierce to replace the chartplotter at the helm and one of our I70s which reports things like depth, speed, and wind direction.

New chartplotter on the left, old chartplotter on the right
Some of the wiring for the new chartplotter
Failed I70 was the third from the top
Everything installed and working!

Of course there were things to do while waiting for equipment and parts to arrive.

We found a venue for a weekly jazz jam

Some pics of the Ft. Pierce City Marina

Nomad is in this picture – but hard to see, The inlet to the ocean is just past the bridge in the background.

Next week we plan to head to Lake Worth and then Miami

Mason 44 – Don & Betsy