32:55N 70:49W Charleston
1st October. Time to change the boat’s name? No. Time to leave New York! Perhaps changing the boat’s name would have been easier but it was time to move on. Out of New York harbour, under the Verrazano Bridge, under 10 tenths cloud, and off to the famous Sandy Hook anchorage where great fleets of the past have waited for fair weather.
Well we didn’t bother. 0700 anchor up and away – “towards Norfolk, Virginia”. Under sail, rolling down wind, grey and cold – come to think of it that was exactly what “the great fleets of the past” were waiting for! Rolling almost dead down wind most of the day on one tack or the other and the VHF radio has been silent for hours, quite unusual.
I have commented before on the unexpected entertainment to be found on the VHF radio. Amateur sailors, and not a few fishermen, seem to forget that the world is listening. So great conversations start, and are sometimes interrupted, viz, “ So how did it go last night- over” “ You’ll never guess what she did! – Over”. Bored voice –“Take it to a working channel, boys”. Of course by the time I have found the relevant channel I’ve missed the punchline! Also, just like the Solent there are the ubiquitous calls, “Radio Check Please” followed by “Loud and Clear” from whoever happens to be listening. Although often you can only hear one side of the call, VHF radio being dependent on line of sight.
Anyway, as I was saying, the radio has been unusually silent for some hours. I do a sudden, mighty sneeze – and instantly a deep American voice on VHF says, “Loud and Clear, 11 miles off Atlantic City”. Have I stumbled on a new form of navigation? Is GPS a thing of the past? I sneeze again; nothing heard. Oh well, perhaps not!
A night passage to Norfolk passes and the log entries tick by into the next day. “ Gybed to 245 degrees; easier motion but not the making tack”; Gybed again, breeze dropping?”; “Soon entering northern TSZ for Delaware – no traffic yet.”; “ Closing the shore – on track” ; “Sun’s out but behind the sail , of course!”; “Just about to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/ Tunnel” ; At anchor Old Point Comfort, Hampton”.
In the nature of things, public diaries, blogs etc. tend to the positive, if not a very positive, record of events but, dear reader, it is not always so. 0230 (when was the last time you got UP at 0230?) Madeleine feels September’s soft jerk; we are aground; all hands on deck ( four hands but only two people – one of whom is definitely still asleep); yes, the anchor has dragged; yes September has touched bottom just before the wall; Madeleine, in the pitch dark, forgets that the lock is on the anchor and with the power of the windlass bends the lock severely out of shape; major jam of the system; the other crew member is now beginning to wake up; we manage to free the jamb; now both on the foredeck in the pitch dark; September drifts back onto the putty; chain is coming up but has snagged a lobster pot buoy, its line and of course the pot; free the whole lot; anchor finally up; back off the putty and into the safe anchorage area; drop anchor with double the amount of chain; wind is dropping to a 5, having had its fun for the night! 0345 go back to bed.
Hampton may be described as a least favourite but very convenient anchorage. Next day waiting for a weather window to head on south we sail into Norfolk harbour proper to pick up fuel etc. Glorious and high speed sailing in the Elizabeth River past the might of the American Navy – or so it should have been ( see blog on previous visit to Norfolk) but they have all gone (slight exaggeration) or at least only the halt and the lame are left. Weather window is opening for next two or three days; back to Hampton to anchor for the night; anchor feels very secure. Up at 0400 for early start; pitch black; anchor is not rising easily; full deck lights and torch reveal – (oh must tell you about another of those language things. Madeleine went into the boat store and asked for a torch so the very helpful assistant took her to the section that offered quite a number of different blow lamps; much waving of arms, hand gestures and the finally the critical phrase, “ beam of light”. “Oh” says the assistant, “you mean a flashlight”!)- where was I? Oh yes, well you’ve guessed it, we have snagged an underground cable which comes up with a death like grip on the anchor. Not another electricity bill! It takes twenty minutes but somehow we get ourselves free and off we go straight into the main shipping channel to be greeted by, “ This is the UBC “Much Much Bigger” ( presumably than we are) Outbound; Gathering speed; WE will keep to the green side; what are YOUR intentions”? It is tempting to reply, ”to get the **** out of Hampton” but as I have observed before , you never know who will be listening….
Going South from Norfolk means one thing: Cape Hatteras! It’s the bit that sticks out the most. The Gulf Stream heads north; the counter currents, if you’re lucky, head south; the weather often does the opposite and the sand bars run out 15 miles off shore. Not unreasonably, under “hobbies” Cape Hatteras lists “sinking ships”! So, weather window or no, careful tide calculations or no, one still has a sense of foreboding as one heads towards the Headmasters Study. Well in the event we passed the Great Cape in the middle of the night without incident. Madeleine’s journal says “it was a pussy cat!”. Well, all I can say is if “September” has to go back that way, she’s on her own – he might have overheard.
Later that day, 7th October, feeling a bit chipper, we anchor behind Cape Lookout, the next one down. Wall to wall sunshine, dolphins, pelicans flying close formation exercises, and a 360 degree sand bar, beach and dunes all around – ok 340 degrees – there is a way in. Stunning. Three days R and R while we wait for another weather window and then off to Charleston on the final overnight passage of this cruise.
So what happened to the American Navy? Well, they’re all down here on exercise; destroyers and peculiar looking stealth ships running around the mother hen (aircraft carrier) and we guess a sub or two. They’re on exercise doing box screens, warning off passing traffic and firing things that go bang in the night. Unlike every other sizeable ship they do not show up on AIS presumably because they feel that we shouldn’t know that they are there. As we, along with every other bit of flotsam, have Radar and can track them as multiple targets using MARPA this all seems a bit silly. Still it is good that they are out there on exercise - isn’t it?
Now, here we are 12 miles up the Wando River, above Charleston, South Carolina waiting to be hauled out in the morning. A near three month cruise of New England and a dash to the South for the winter. Cheerio America; see you “Towards” 9th December!
P.S. You know what an “anglophile” is – a person who loves England or the English or both. Here we go with another English language problem. An “Americophile, a Yankeephile, a …………..” There doesn’t seem to be a word. Doesn’t any foreigner (cousin or no) love America? Surely they must. We certainly do.