Waiting in Cape May (Again)

As of this morning, we have sailed 1103 miles since leaving Stuart, FL and Mavis and I have hit a major milestone. Together we have sailed 10,000 miles!
This boat has taken us on so many adventures near and far and after all of those incredibly memorable miles up and down the east coast to Florida three times and over to the Bahamas twice and there we were sitting in the C&D Canal waiting for weather to get to New Jersey of all places.
We fully expected to be stuck in Delaware for almost a week because the weather just wasn’t looking conducive for a run down Delaware Bay. Fortunately, a very brief weather window opened up and we decided to jump on it. I knew it wasn’t going to be an ideal passage, but the winds would be light enough and from a good direction long enough for us to make it the 55 miles to Cape May, NJ and finally leave the challenging Delaware Bay in our wake. This really helps set us up for the final offshore leg to the Great South Bay.
Unfortunately, there was a dense fog advisory for visibility of less than 1nm for the whole area for the entire time we would be underway. Also, if for any reason we were more than a few hours late we would be out there in some pretty gnarly conditions as this weather window was slamming shut a few hours after our scheduled arrival and strong, gusty winds and steep choppy waves were coming weather we were safely at the dock or not.
We left the Summit North Marina in Bear, Delaware at first light and made our way into the C&D Canal and out into the Delaware River. Visibility in the early morning was fine as we navigated along, easily spotting ships and tugs and barges miles away. But after a few hours, the fog settled in and visibility went down to a quarter mile or less for most of the day.
Speaking with the container ship Shanghai Dawn by radio we coordinated a pass. I would maintain my speed and course and stay just outside of the shipping channel. The Shanghai Dawn would alter course 10 degrees and we would miss each other by .25 miles. I could see the ship on my AIS display and he could see me — but looking out the windshield we could both see absolutely nothing. It’s very eerie knowing there’s an enormous container ship passing you a quarter of a mile away and never seeing it.
I had the autopilot set and our automatic fog horn was blasting away at a regular interval… My eyes were glued to the empty field in front of me. If anything was out there, I wouldn’t see it until we were right on top of it. This made it hard to do anything. Usually you can see traffic, obstructions, hazards, etc. from quite far away. I can set the autopilot and roam around the boat, read, cook, use the bathroom, watch videos, etc. as long as every minute or so I take good look around… Not so in the fog. As we passed the Ship John Lighthouse, I barely saw it. Clicking on it on my nav screen as we went by I realized we were only .2 miles away. Can you make it out in the photo?
I’ve often said I’ll take restricted visibility over heavy winds and seas any day and I stand by that statement but there’s a certain fatigue that sets in after a few hours out in the void that’s hard to explain. I trust my instruments and am not at all worried about getting lost. It’s the constant fear of something just popping out of the fog in front of me that keeps me on edge.
As we got closer to Cape May, visibility was getting even worse. I was beginning to get concerned about running the Cape May Canal Inlet in this dense fog. Would I even be able to see the sides of the canal? Would I be able to enter the inlet relying just on my GPS? I didn’t have the luxury of bobbing around outside and waiting for the fog to lift because in a few short hours the heavy winds and seas would be here. Thankfully, my worries went away as we got within 5 miles of Cape May and the fog began to rapidly lift. The gray skies turned blue, the sun felt amazing and I could see the beach and the jetties on either side of the inlet. We were escorted in by dolphin as we have been every other time we have visited Cape May.
We’re happy to be tied up here at Utsch’s Marina for a few days waiting for a good weather window to jump offshore just one more time to run the 125 nautical miles from Cape May to the Fire Island Inlet. As of now, a late Saturday morning departure arriving into the Great South Bay Sunday morning looks very good. In the meanwhile, Cape May is a tourist destination with excellent restaurants, shops, and things to do. We’ll stay busy while we’re here.

Arrival in Chesapeake City

Hello, friends. When I last wrote, we were motoring up the Chesapeake Bay as the sun set. I’m happy to report that the bay was as calm as I’ve ever seen it during the 16 hour overnight voyage from Solomon’s, MD to Chesapeake City, MD.
After a few hours of motoring into the darkness, a tugboat, the Island Trader began to gain on me. I reduced the throttle for about an hour and soon he was out ahead of me giving me something to look at instead of just the navigational screens. Even though he eventually got about 3 miles ahead of Mavis, his stern light was like a star to steer by.
Even with that very exciting light to stare at, after a few more hours I began to get pretty tired. There was a lot of ship traffic and a few ships required radio work to coordinate our passing so I wasn’t comfortable leaving Cindy at the helm. She offered, and she would have been fine but I knew that a few minutes after I got into bed a ship would be hailing us. Sure enough, soon a container ship hailed me. We worked out a “two whistle” pass meaning we would pass starboard to starboard at about .10 miles apart… Much closer than I prefer when dealing with these ships, especially at night.
A problem with the Chesapeake at night is that it seems anywhere the water isn’t very deep (and many places where it is), there are crab pots. Snagging one of those could easily be a major issue for us. Mavis’ drive leg is a rather finicky and dainty contraption. So, in the Chesapeake at night, I prefer to run in very deep water, just outside the shipping lanes. Unfortunately that means the ships get really close and you’ve got to keep an eye on the screen to get an idea of what’s coming while they’re still 10 miles away.
By the time we were up past Baltimore and out of the areas where the ships run, I was feeling very tired again and struggling to stay awake. I went to the head and washed my face, slapped myself a few times, made myself another pot of coffee and began doing air squats in the cockpit every few minutes. I popped in my airpods and put on some techno. I’d scan the horizon for traffic, check my navigation screen and engine instruments, then do 10 squats and sit down for a few minutes. Rinse and repeat this for about 4 hours…If anyone could have seen me… This kept me awake until the sun came up and by this time my glutes were on fire and we were on the Elk River fighting the current. As is usual for this stretch, there were numerous partially submerged logs floating here and there. As we passed the Turkey Point light, two logs hit us within seconds of each other. I didn’t see them until they were in our wake but they hit with enough force to do damage. Thankfully they just bounced off our thin hulls with a very loud thud.
Finally we made it to Chesapeake City, MD where I tied up the boat and immediately went to bed for a few hours. After my nap, we walked Willow around and enjoyed our time ashore. We had an excellent dinner at Prime 225, a great little steakhouse and turned in for the night. I slept incredibly soundly.
This morning we decided to move the boat about 5 miles down the C&D Canal to the Summit North Marina. I’ve stayed here before. It’s an enormous marina that’s fairly well protected from most winds. We will hang out here until Tuesday morning. As of now, it appears that if we leave here at sunrise Tuesday we will catch a favorable tide and gentle winds for most of the 50 nautical mile voyage down the bay. We may have an hour or two of 15 knot winds on the nose as we approach but I’m hoping to get in and be tied up before the winds pick up.
In Cape May we’ll wait for a good weather window for the final hop offshore to the Fire Island Inlet. The Coast Guard and Sea Tow have confirmed that enough buoys are back on station after the dredging this winter to make transiting the inlet safe. It’s 125 miles and as of now I plan to leave Cape May late morning next Saturday and arrive Sunday morning into the Great South Bay. We’ll obviously keep an eye on the weather and adjust our plans accordingly. Right now I’m just looking forward to getting the Delaware Bay behind me and staging in Cape May.
If you read this whole thing, thanks… More updates soon… I hope from Cape May.

Solomons to Chesapeake City

I’m settling in for a (hopefully) relaxing overnight voyage up the Chesapeake Bay from Solomon’s Island, MD to the C&D Canal. Unlike yesterday, the bay today is flat calm with light winds forecast into tomorrow morning. Things can change out here but for now, I’m happy as can be at the helm.
If things go according to the ever-evolving plan, we will arrive in time to catch a favorable tide through the canal. In a boat that motors at 7 knots, a 3 or 4 knot current on the bows can really be a problem. I haven’t decided if we will make it down the Delaware Bay to Cape May, NJ yet but as of now it looks doable on Sunday but I’m not seeing any good weather window for the offshore hop from Cape May to Fire Island Inlet anytime soon so we may have to wait it out there.
So close but still so far.

Overnight up the Chesapeake Bay

Good morning from the Chesapeake Bay. We’ve run nonstop for the last 24 hours and are arriving in Solomon’s Maryland.
Since leaving Stuart, FL we have traveled 940 nautical miles. About another 300 to go.
The original plan for this leg was to travel nonstop from where we anchored just north of the Albermarle Sound all the way up the bay to the C&D Canal but unfortunately the south winds we have been enjoying will go north today until late tonight as a weak cold front moves through.
Even though the winds are expected to be light, Mavis slams horribly into winds and seas on her nose so I’ve elected to tie her up for the day and get some rest before resuming the voyage tomorrow.
The overnight was uneventful and the seas were calm. I spoke with several container ships to coordinate passing but otherwise just sat there on watch watching the miles click up while the autopilot did it’s thing.

Anchored on the North River

I’m happy to have the girls back on board. We left Bellhaven, NC this morning before sunrise and travelled about 70 miles through the Alligator River-Pungo Canal, up the Alligator River and across the notorious Albermarle Sound.
Currently we are enjoying dinner on board at anchor on the North River just south of Coinjock, NC.
Tomorrow we will sail up to Norfolk where we hope to arrive around 8pm and continue overnight up the Chesapeake Bay. If all goes well we should be in the C&D Canal and possibly Cape May, NJ by Sunday.
Not sure if the weather will hold for us to make the offshore jump to the Fire Island inlet. Looks like some fronts are due to arrive early next week.
This Captain is tired. We weigh anchor before sunrise tomorrow so it’s time to turn in.

Back in Belhaven, NC

We’ve travelled 727 Nautical Miles since leaving Stuart, FL and although I would like to be further along on this journey than we are, maintenance issues and few good offshore sailing windows made this trip more tedious than I would have hoped.
Yesterday we arrived at the Dowry Creek Marina, one of my favorite stops along the coast, and a good place to leave Mavis for a week or so. It’s time for a crew swap. Rob’s been very generous with his time and I promised I’d have him back by Easter so tomorrow we will leave Mavis and head back to Long Island. It will be nice to be off the boat for a few days before I return, this time with Cindy, to finish sailing her home to her slip in West Sayville.
The voyage ahead will be between 400 and 500 nautical miles depending on which way we go. We’ll need to sail up the Pungo River to the Alligator River-Pungo Canal and then out into the Alligator River and across the Albermarle Sound. Then we’ll take the North River up to the Virginia Cut into the Elizabeth River and Norfolk, VA.
At Norfolk we will decide based on the weather if we will jump offshore and sail the last 250 nautical miles offshore to Fire Island Inlet or if we will travel up the Chesapeake Bay, through the C&D Canal and down the Delaware River to Cape May where we will wait for a weather window to sail the 135 miles home.
Either way, I’m hoping for an enjoyable, boring, and uneventful voyage.

Hilton Head to Southport Offshore

We left Hilton Head, SC yesterday morning at dawn and have travelled about 170 nautical miles overnight to Southport, NC where we will enter the Cape Fear River inlet in a few hours and continue onward on the inside until we run out of light. We have been about 20 miles offshore most of this hop and are just now getting our mobile data back. It’s amazing how reliant we have become on the internet. It feels weird out here when it’s gone.
With hopefully all of our mechanical challenges behind us, we are making steady progress now but looking at the charts it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer size of this continent.
We are eating the elephant… Slowly.
Although I’m ready to be home and tied up in the Great South Bay, I remind myself of how fortunate I am to be able to have these experiences aboard Mavis. So I’m kind of trying to suck it all in while simultaneously trying to get this trip done… Hard to explain.
Rob is a first class crew member and I’m very lucky to have him on board. He’s learned the ropes and has the sea time…. Maybe it’s time for him to get his captain’s license. In addition to handling his watches, the guy has been upside down in the bilges quite a bit on this trip. His mechanical abilities are much appreciated.
That’s all for now.

Unscheduled Maintenance in Daytona

After traveling about 150 miles we developed an engine oil leak and had to stop here in Daytona Beach Shores for a few days to get things sorted out. Hoping to be back on the road Tuesday… This is why we stay inshore and shake things out for a few days before venturing out to sea. There are worse places to be hung up.

Mavis is Back in Stuart, FL

I’m very happy to announce that Mavis arrived safely in Stuart, FL a few days ago after a mostly offshore voyage of 1129 nautical miles from Long Island. We actually began this trip back in late September by sailing from West Sayville to Belhaven, NC where we left the boat for a few weeks at the excellent Dowry Creek Marina to let the Atlantic Hurricane season wind down. We returned to the boat about two weeks ago and continued down the coast hitting the following ports of call but not really staying anywhere very long. We did spend 3 nights in Brunswick, GA letting some weather move through but aside from that we stopped for one night only everywhere else:
West Sayville, NY – 9/24/21
Belhaven, NC – 9/27/21
Oriental, NC – 10/22/21
Charleston, SC – 10/25/21
Brunswick, GA – 10/28/21
Fernandina Beach, FL – 10/30/21
St. Augustine, FL – 10/31/21
Vero Beach, FL – 11/2/21
Stuart, FL – 11/3/21
We covered the remaining miles very quickly and with the exception of a rather sporty and exciting overnight passage from Charleston to Brunswick had smooth seas and great weather. That passage brought us right through the middle of a ridiculous 70 or so ships anchored off of Savannah waiting to be unloaded. It was pretty eerie to sail through them and even though they were spaced about 2 miles apart, we passed a few of them closer than I would have liked.
Even though this is now Mavis’ 3rd trip down the coast, and I’m getting pretty comfortable with the run, it certainly hasn’t become boring. In fact, I managed to unlock a few achievements on this run. First, we’ve been sailing much farther offshore and staying out there longer than before. This trip featured two offshore runs of over 250 nautical miles keeping us offshore for over two days each. We started out by sailing directly from the Fire Island Inlet to Cape Charles, VA where we entered the lower Chesapeake Bay and continued inside the ICW to Belhaven, NC.
The second long offshore run also featured a first for me… rounding Cape Fear and the notorious Frying Pan Shoals… The “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Sailing from the Beaufort Inlet in NC out and around the shoals to Charleston, SC required us to voyage about 35 miles off the coast. It was out there, in the clear waters off the shoals that another first happened. We brought our first Mahi Mahi on board! After trying for years to catch fish on the boat and dragging lures for literally hundreds of miles, it seems I have finally figured out the right combination of lures, trolling speed, location, etc. Or maybe I just got lucky. We actually hooked two nice “schoolies” but were only successful in landing one. We didn’t have a gaff on board but after losing the first one I remembered I had my pole spear on the boat. The second fish was not as lucky and made an excellent meal!
I need to take a moment to thank my great and salty friend Robert Sheldon for his service as crew and making this epic voyage possible. There aren’t many friends you can ask to drop everything to go on an insane adventure like this but Rob was (literally) on board when I first started putting the plan to go south again together over the summer.
Old Guys Sailing
I also need to thank my better half, Cynthia Fox for holding down the fort and keeping the wheels on the bus while I was out goofing around for weeks at a time moving the boat for the season. I’m looking forward to spending lots of quality time together this winter in Florida. Hopefully, we’ll also return to the Bahamas too!

Rough Ride to Norfolk

After 77 hours underway and an epic 411 nautical miles of sailing from Long Island we have arrived safely in Bellhaven, NC in the inner banks of North Carolina! Our route took us offshore and nonstop from Fire Island inlet to Cape Charles, VA where we entered the Chesapeake Bay and continued to Norfolk and entered the Intracoastal Waterway. We motored another 55 miles down past Coinjock, NC until we dropped the anchor for a few hours of much needed rest.
The next morning we were up and underway before dawn making our way across the Albermarle Sound and down the Alligator River and through the Alligator River / Pungo Canal.
Mavis is at the beautiful, family owned and operated Dowry Creek Marina where she will rest for a few weeks and wait for hurricane season to end before she can continue South.
It’s been another awesome sailing experience with the salty and capable Robert Sheldon. Sailing, they say is hours and days of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. This trip lived up to that reputation with gentle breezes and calm seas for all but a few hours. Those few challenging hours were coming around Cape Charles and entering the Chesapeake Bay from the ocean as we had to head directly into the wind and steep seas to enter the inlet against a strong ebb tide. See the video. 🙂  https://youtu.be/h90iNY0VGis
Good times as always!