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.
Picture taken sometime in the late 70s or early 80s.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Of course there were things to do while waiting for equipment and parts to arrive.
Some pics of the Ft. Pierce City Marina
We carry two folding bicycles on the boat. With saddle bags and bike racks there is a lot that we can carry, including cases of water.
Betsy went up the mast to make some minor repairs before we left.
In the past we usually head straight for Miami/Dinner Key from Ft. Pierce. When Don’s father died two years ago he requested that his ashes be scattered in the ocean off of West Palm beach. There was a little weather window so we jumped down to Wake Worth on the last day of January to wait for another weather window to head for Miami and meet dad’s wishes as we pass West Palm beach.
Lake Worth is one of our least favorite places to stop. There are no slips available, there is no place to dingy ashore, and the large power boats seem to be more clueless than most other inlets. There is a large anchorage, but most of the spaces are taken up by abandoned boats and liveaboards where you have to be worried about how well they are anchored. We did find a space to squeeze in near the main channel, but are pretty close to surrounding boats. Lake Worth’s greatest value is as a staging area for the Bahamas – lots of folks leave and return from this location. The weather looks like it turns sour for a while so we may be stuck here for a few days.
After sitting at anchor for nearly a week we saw a 10 hour weather window open on a Monday night at 11:00 PM and decided to take off. While in Lake Worth we had a weather system come in from the north with gusts over 30 knots and our anchor dragged us into a mooring ball which we got tangled up in. We were happy to get back out into the ocean. Given the weather we were unable to scatter my father’s ashes, we will pass West Palm Beach on the way home, and give it another shot.
Fort Lauderdale is one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the US and we had to negotiate with them as we passed a couple hours before daybreak. The Gulf Stream which flows south to north along the Florida coast runs extremely close to shore south of Lake Worth, this forced us to hug the shore on our way to Miami. We were close enough to see folks hanging out on the beach.
The Gulf Stream is a huge factor in crossing over to the Bahamas. It is almost impossible to sail to the Bahamas if the wind is blowing from the north, the wind against the current causes huge seas.
As we came into Miami and approached Dinner Key we began to experience a loud banging noise that seemed to be coming from the prop shaft or transmission. We idled into Dinner Key and took a slip at the marina. Possible causes for the vibrations and sounds included the cutlass bearing, and transmission, both of which would have required having the boat hauled to repair, and there are few options to haul out a boat in Miami. Our mentor Randy Neiman back in Rock Hall suggested that something might have got caught on the prop. We found a diver who confirmed that some discarded fishing gear had gotten tangled up in our prop. This was a bit of a surprise because we have a line cutter installed. After the fishing gear was removed, we started the engine and still had the same clanging sounds. This seemed to confirm that the problem was more serious. Randy recommended that before we did anything else we should try to completely remove the line cutter. After using three divers over a period of a month we finally got the line cutter off. With the cutter off we started the engine and put the transmission in gear and all appeared OK.
With the boat back in running condition we planned to head to Bimini in the Bahamas. Two days before Betsy got really sick so we decided to stay put. Five days later it was my turn. Given the breathing difficulties we were both having we suspect it was COVID, but did not get tested. Given how the weather changes in the Bahamas our judgment is that it is not too late in the year to leave the US. Betsy has medical appointments in the next month or two and we can’t take a chance on missing them. The plan is to now start heading north in the next two weeks.
The ships cat has his own ‘dog house’. When at anchor or in a slip he lives under the dingy. He pops out every so often to get some sun.
Lots of wildlife near the marina. There are numerous flocks of wild parrots around Miami. They are escaped/released pets that are able to thrive on the imported tropical plants around south Florida. Being somewhat of a bird fan (we have numerous bird houses that we maintain each spring) it was a pleasant surprise to se a flock of around a hundred land on some trees near the marina.
There are also crocodiles and manatees in and around the marina.
We have been using our time in Miami to work on a large number of boat projects, such as insulating the boat against hot and cold.
Of course it is well known that all work and no play can lead to bad things.
Lots of interesting things on the waterfront – you never know what you are going to stumble upon.
And what would south Florida be without key lime pie!
After waiting for weeks to head back north we finally decided that the weather would never be ideal. Rather than head back to Lake Worth the decision was made to aim for Ft. Pierce and an overnight passage. Here was the morning forecast for the day we left.
It is an 18 hour run from Miami to Ft. Pierce, to arrive at Ft. Pierce during daylight we needed to leave Miami late in the afternoon. We decided to leave Miami at 5 o’clock and hope that the thunderstorms would start to drop off at sunset. It was looking good as we left Miami and headed out into the ocean. As we approached Fort Lauderdale storms started to appear on the radar and marine warnings started going off on our phones. The warnings talked about 60 mile an hour winds and waterspouts. We saw an large storm in front of us around Palm Beach and decided to slow down, but that was not easy as we were in the Gulf Stream and were being pushed forward, if you do not go faster than the Gulf Stream you loose the ability to steer. As that storm started to move offshore another storm formed behind us around Fort Lauderdale and started to catch up to us from behind so we decided to speed up hoping that the storm in front of us would have moved further offshore before we got there. In the end, we caught just a little of the storm in front of us. The most difficult part of the trip was the wave pattern was coming from due east hitting us broadside and rolling us around nonstop. Betsy got a little seasick. We entered the Ft. Pierce Inlet around 11 AM and of course it was being dredged with a tugboat and barge at the entrance.
The next day another 60 mile and hour thunderstorm came through Ft. Pierce and took the mast down on a boat at the marina.
For the last year or so we have been tripping the dock circuit breakers when we plug in to shore power. In Ft. Pierce we found an electrician who was able to identify the problem. The solution was creating a separate bus for all the neutral wires being powered from the inverter.
After waiting for weather and performing some maintenance we left Ft. Pierce for Fernandina on May 14th for an overnight-er arriving late in the afternoon on the 15th.
Changed oil and filters in Ft. Pierce
Public art in Ft. Pierce
Cat loves being on the boat
We were requested to alter course by a US warship
In the past we have always anchored out at Fernandina, but after sitting at anchor for 4 days we were hit by some strong thunderstorms and decided to tie up at the Fernandina City dock. Turns out we were missing a great town. The weather heading home is some of the worst we can remember. We sat in Fernandina for almost two weeks waiting for an opening to head to Charleston SC.
Some interesting boats came in while we were at the dock, this is a 120 foot sailboat.
There are still reminders of hurricanes past around the area.
Fernandina was populated by Native Americans going back to 1000 CE, during the early 1800s the Spanish and Americans fought over the area. Civil war battles also took place here – a lot of history.
We spent some time walking around the historical section of town.
After a few days we expanded our walks outside the historical district into surrounding neighborhoods. One day we saw a BBQ food truck with smoke coming out of a slow cooker and stopped for lunch. After chatting about music, the owner invited us into their small store front while we ate, picked up a guitar and started playing the blues!
One Saturday the Coast Guard held a special event where they allowed visitors to tour all their boats and gave some rescue demonstrations.
The wind blew so hard from the side that the boat in front of us was unable to leave the dock.
Eventually a small weather window opened and we were able to make a 26 hour run to Charleston SC. As always there was a lot of commercial traffic around Savannah.
The inlet at Charleston always has a high volume of commercial traffic, and no matter how you try to time it, you are most likely to encounter large cargo ships.
Nomad safely tied up at the MEGADOCK in Charleston.
A few things have changed since we were in Charleston five years ago. Walking around town there still is little or no acknowledgement of the role of slavery in building the city, and there are still a lot of streets named for Confederate military figures and pro-slavery politicians. It is my sense that the city is still highly segregated. However there are two big changes, the first is that the largest green space in the city Marion Square has had the giant stature of one the strongest defenders of slavery John C. Calhoun removed. Marion Square was the parade ground for the original location of The Citadel, originally formed in response to a perceived slave revolt with many Confederate officers having attended the school. There is very little in Marion Square acknowledging it’s role in the City’s history. Having walked a lot of the City one of the few things I have found discussing anything regarding the City’s history is the following plaque.
The Mother Emanuel AME Church next to Marion Square is where Dylann Roof; a 21-year-old white supremacist committed a mass shooting, in which nine African Americans were killed and one other was injured during a Bible study class.
The IAAM chronicles the history of Africans’ earliest enslavement, starting in 300 BCE, and is built at Gadsden’s Wharf, which was once one of the most prolific slave-trading ports in the US. The $100m building rests atop a series of 18 stilts and is designed to not touch the ground in a sign of respect for the enslaved people who once walked the land below. Inside, a permanent collection of 300 artworks and historical artifacts tells the story of the Middle Passage, in which millions of Africans were captured and forcibly brought across the Atlantic.
After waiting for the weather for a week and a half we got our chance, and ran straight from Charleston to Oriental NC.
There was a lot of traffic, it appears that lots of boats were waiting for the weather to break.
As we approached Beaufort the US Navy decided to conduct military exercises – 3 warships came within 500 yards of our bow.
Sunset on the North Atlantic between Charleston and Beaufort
We spent three days in Oriental and headed north
We left Oriental and anchored at Deep Point just below the Alligator River. The next day we planned on anchoring as soon as we crossed the Ablemarie Sound but the wind kicked up to over 30 knots and the anchorage was too rough so we continued on to Chesapeake Virginia. There was a small craft advisory in place and a Coast Guard actually flew over us a few times. We arrived just before dark, 12 hours later. After calling on the radio we were able to tie up next to the Great Bridge Lock.
Lots of tug traffic in the ICW – they run 24 hours a day – we usually find them on curves!
We saw lots of great old wooden boats on the way north.
Boats lining up to go through lock at Great Bridge.
We left Great Bridge Chesapeake VA and ran all the way up the Chesapeake to Rock Hall in 24 hours.
On our way up the Bay we passed Delaware’s Kalmar Nyckel. Seemed like a great way to be welcomed home.
We arrived back in our permanent slip at Swan Creek in Rock Hall around 8:00AM almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Great Bridge VA.
We did not see a lot of pollution out in the ocean. When we did it was usually a mylar balloon like the ones you see in dollar stores (happy – fill in the blank, etc.)