It’s the New Year, and my oh my, what a send-off 2016 gave us all!
For us and since the last update of this blog, 2016 was a boiling hot summer which brought record high temperatures, leaving us and JO BETH afloat in water which resembled spoiled chocolate milk and smelled worse. Hurricane Hermine passed over us on September 2, as a strong tropical storm, bringing 60+mph winds and drenching rains which helped to clear out the nasty marina basin water. While a benign storm for us, Hermine caused catastrophic damage at one St. Simons Island marina, sinking four yachts there. One of those sunk was the MASTER FOX, belonging to friends Kevin and Jane. At Brunswick Landing Marina, Docks One & Two were damaged, and one navigational aid was destroyed. Other than that, Hermine wasn’t as bad as she could have been.
Less than 10 days later, Tropical Storm Julia passed east of Brunswick, staying offshore. However, she was close enough to bring blustery winds and rain by the bucketful.
Then, there was Hurricane Matthew.
On Sunday September 19, Lisa and I left Brunswick Landing Marina for the Hinckley Yacht Services yard in Savannah. We were accompanied by friends Jim and Maryann aboard SHAMBALA, their 49’ steel hulled ketch rigged sailboat, which was going to the Thunderbolt Marine yard in Savannah for routine work and maintenance. We decided to sail together overnight and offshore as the trip is short, just under 80 miles. ‘Sailing together’ is a bit of an inaccuracy; we actually spent most of the night ten or so miles apart. We left at 3:30 in the afternoon and chatted with one another throughout the night via VHF radio. Since there was no wind to speak of, we were under motor power the entire way. It was still quite warm and Lisa and I took our off-watch time in the cockpit as the engine had warmed the cabin significantly.
Sunrise Over the Atlantic
We arrived at the entrance to Wassaw Sound and the Wilmington River at approximately 4am, and did a series of long and wide figure-eight courses as we waited for sunrise and daylight to head in. We were also waiting to follow SHAMBALA in through the shifting, dog-leg channel as she had updated charts of the Wassaw Sound channel and we did not.
Our trip to Hinckley was to finish up the next-to-last of the ‘big’, i.e. ‘expensive’ tasks on our refit list. Most of you will recall that Lisa and I had based ourselves in Brunswick to be close to her mom who was suffering from a rare neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away during the summer, early on the morning of July 2. Some weeks after the funeral, when Lisa and I had returned to Brunswick from Atlanta and having finalized her mom’s affairs, we were having dinner in JO BETH’s saloon. Lisa looked at me from across the table and simply said, “we can go now. We don’t have to stay.” We decided that night to head south and spend the upcoming winter in the Florida Keys, specifically in Marathon. So, we began our plans to finalize the remaining work to JO BETH.
SHAMBALA, in the Wilmington River
After powering through the Wilmington River for a couple of hours during that sunny September morning, JO BETH was snuggly secured at Hinckley’s north service dock. Overnight trips are tough; neither of us slept well as there’s not enough time to fall into the ‘on-watch, off-watch’ routine of offshore sailing. Plus, as we were only about 10 miles off the beach, we had to be watchful for local fishing and shrimping boats. We were tired and had to drive back to Brunswick that same day to retrieve our car. After a good night’s rest dockside, the real work began; budgetary meetings were had, estimates were presented, reviewed, and revised. Within the week, work to remove the old and defunct navigational electronics was going strong.
A big part of the sailing life is awareness; staying aware of what your boat is doing, staying aware of what your mate is doing, and staying aware of what the weather is doing. Even when we’re marina bound, getting the weather forecast is my very first task of the day. It’s all very Zen like. It came as no surprise then, that the weather predictions began to worry us.
We watched as newly formed and rapidly intensifying Hurricane Matthew made the forecast turn to the north after tracking steadfastly east across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean, passing near Jamaica; we watched as it battered Haiti, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas; and we watched as it began its knife-edge scrape along Florida’s east coast. JO BETH and scores of other vessels had been hauled and blocked ashore at the Hinckley boatyard in preparation for the possibility Matthew might come too close for comfort. All the boats which were at Hinckley for work and could be hauled were hauled, and more arrived from the surrounding areas. Soon there was barely enough room to drive a car through the yard. The yard was cleared of any debris that could float, drift, or be tossed around in the wind. I also went to Isle of Hope Marina where our friend Kirby keeps his boat, RAVEN, a 1987 Pearson 31 sloop, (Kirby lives in Atlanta), and helped him secure her for the coming blow.
We can’t stay aboard JO BETH under these circumstances, and so we began to look for other accommodations until Matthew passed over. Our friend Shannon had decided to evacuate Savannah and shelter with her family in Atlanta. Shannon and her two cats live in a lovely, old restored house near Savannah’s Victorian district, just south of downtown. We eagerly accepted her offer to stay in her home and take care of kitties Max and Brie while watching the house during the storm.
By 7am on Friday October 7, rain began to fall steadily and didn’t stop for 30 hours. By 5pm winds were gusting up into the 50mph range as Matthew pushed closer. Jim and Maryann, on SHAMBALA and afloat in a slip at Thunderbolt Marina called to inform us that the low tide had not happened. Marinas in this region consist of floating docks which can rise and fall with the tides. “There’s one and a half feet of the piling left above the dock,” Jim told us in a calm and collected voice. “The forecasts are now predicting a 12-foot storm surge, on top of the normal high tide and its low tide right now. If it happens, the entire marina will float free. I’m concerned we could lose SHAMBALA and find ourselves in serious trouble.” In a spur of the moment decision, we invited Jim and Maryann to come stay with us. (This was not something we anticipated or expected; again, we want to send our heartfelt thanks to Shannon for her hospitality and her generous and compassionate response to the situation. Thank you!)
Infrared Image of Hurricane Matthew, too close along the Georgia coast
By 2am, winds were exceeding 70mph and rain was flooding down from the skies. At 5am, the center of Matthew made its closest approach to Savannah and the winds spun up into the 95-100mph range. By 8am, things were calming down and the rain began slacking. By 2pm, the skies were clearing, but 20-30mph winds persisted. And as is typical after a hurricane has passed, the weather was beautiful. When all was said and done, Savannah had received rainfall totals estimated at 18”. The predicted 12’ storm surge fortunately never materialized, but came in at just under eight feet; however, because the storm passed Savannah just at the time of the high tide, the high tide level reached nearly 13’. That’s nearly four feet above a typical spring tide, which is already three feet above a normal tide!
In our temporary neighborhood, chainsaws soon became the dominating sound. Many of Savannah’s beautiful old oaks lay in ruin and the smell of fresh pine filled the air. Remarkably, in that beautiful old house of Shannon’s, we never lost power, never lost cable or Wi-Fi, and had not one drop of water come in from anywhere. We know that many others were not so fortunate. Matthew was my fifth hurricane, and I know from experience that as bad as it was for some, it could have been infinitely worse for all. We are grateful.
Thunderbolt Marina sustained some damages to its docks, but remained intact. Hinckley Yacht Services didn’t fare as well. All of the boats which were hauled were fine, though some sustained minor damages to canvas and sails. The Hinckley boatyard however, took a punishing blow. The north service dock vanished during the storm. The south service dock was broken up, but remained connected to shore by the plumbing lines and electrical cables. The office, bathrooms and showers, carpenter’s shop, stock room, and mechanical shop were washed through by the storm surge and coated with a layer of stinking mud and debris. The yard was without electrical service and water for several days.
JO BETH, secured shore at Hinckley Yacht Services the day before Matthew's approach; the storm surge level was almost high enough to float the ice machine over the railing
JO BETH and SHAMBALA seem to have shrugged Matthew off. We were delighted to find JO BETH to be bone dry inside. Outside, she was intact just as we had left her. SHAMBALA soon left Savannah and is now in Jacksonville, completing minor repairs to the engine fuel system and contemplating a trip to the Bahamas or other points south.
Our original plan was to be in Marathon by mid-December. With the Hinckley boatyard down, it was clear our timetable to finish the refit work and sail south to the Keys would be delayed. Additionally, we were now without a home, and would be for several weeks at least. Our friend Kirby offered RAVEN for our use and so Isle of Hope Marina became our home once again. (JO BETH was docked at Isle of Hope from 2004 through 2008.) By November, the Hinckley yard was operational and shortly before Thanksgiving, JO BETH was launched and secured afloat alongside the partially restored south service dock. The work was completed and sea trials were conducted in mid-December. The week between Christmas and New Year’s, we moved JO BETH to Isle of Hope Marina for a few days to complete our preparations to make the short run back to Brunswick.
Then I was struck with a case of the dreaded, debilitating, cold/crud/flu junk.
December fog at Isle of Hope Marina
It was early on a windless and frigid New Year’s Eve morning that Lisa and I set off from Isle of Hope Marina and traveled south in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to Brunswick Landing Marina. The day was absolutely freezing, but otherwise windless and calm. The surface of the rivers and sounds we crossed reflected the overcast skies so perfectly that where there were no islands or no shoreline, there was no horizon. Hot tea in insulated mugs kept us warmed. By 4:30 in the afternoon, under a weak and setting sun, our anchor was buried deep in the muddy bottom of the Duplin River, near Sapelo Island’s southern-most point. Lisa whipped up a steaming pot of bison chili. Neither of us stayed awake to usher in the New Year. JO BETH lay quietly through the night, swinging with the currents as the tide ebbed and flooded, and saw the New Year arrive on our behalf.
On New Year’s morning, I was awake at 6am and went on deck. It was misty and already warmer than it had been all day Saturday. In the still darkness, I could hear dolphins nearby, and marsh hens stirring on the shore. I stood at the bow and watched the soft luminesce glow of plankton and other micro-critters as the incoming tide swept them through and around our anchor chain. New Year’s Day was sunnier and warmer, and by 2pm we were in our assigned slip at Brunswick Landing Marina.
We had planned to stay in Brunswick for a week or so, to finish organizing the boat after leaving the orchestrated chaos of the boatyard, take care of banking and other personal business, etc. I also went to the doctor as my crud just wasn’t leaving. After 24 hours with antibiotics, I was feeling very much on the mend, and we began looking at departure days to move south. We had lovely forecasts and warm weather as a send-off.
Then Lisa was struck with a case of the dreaded, debilitating, cold/crud/flu junk.
I sent Lisa to the doc pronto, and she’s slowly getting through it. We’re hopeful for a departure middle of this week to continue our trip to Marathon. Unfortunately, southerly winds dominate the forecast for the next several days for an offshore (ocean run) south – that is to say, winds are forecast to be coming from the direction in which we want to go. Beating to windward, or sailing close to the direction from which the wind is blowing, is tough on the boat and the crew, and not something we want to do for prolonged periods of time if there are other options. This especially true as we’re both getting over being sick. For now, it seems as if the bulk of this leg towards the Keys will be made in the Intracoastal Waterway under motor power.
Lisa and I prefer the ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway. Having to power south in the waterway is not only a bummer for us, it’s slower. Offshore, we can sail for 24 hours at a time. In the waterway, we need to anchor or stop at a marina for the night due to the many navigational hazards the waterway presents; narrow channels and shoals, unlit and often dark colored crab trap markers, unlit and unmarked structures near the channels, etc. The other side of this is, that in bad weather, we can continue to move south in the waterway whereas in the ocean we’d be forced to sail a different course, possibly away from where we want to go, or otherwise seek some sort of shelter. It’s a trade off, and while it’s not our preferred option, the waterway is the best other option to keep moving south.
Hinckley Yacht Services rigger Greg Johnson finishing rigging work
The good news is, all of the major work we wanted to finish aboard JO BETH has been done. We now have functional navigational electronics, including a new GPS/Chartplotter, RADAR, AIS, wind, depth, and speed instruments, autopilot, as well as repeaters for all of the critical systems. AIS, which is ‘Automated Identification System’, allows JO BETH to be identifiable to other vessels with AIS receivers. All large commercial ships are required to carry AIS transponders and receivers.
AIS is the marine equivalent of a transponder in an airplane; at approximately one minute intervals, it broadcasts our position, our course, and our speed. It can even broadcast our starting point and destination, our ETA, and a host of other tidbits if we desire – and we receive the same information from other AIS equipped vessels many miles away. It is an excellent tool for collision avoidance.
JO BETH's new GPS/chartplotter, top picture, and multi-display readout, bottom pictire
AIS also allows us to be tracked by various websites and mobile apps. Marine Traffic - www.marinetraffic.com - is one of these; just put JO BETH in the search box. Another is www.vesselfinder.com
(It’s important to note, that many of these sites are updated via shore stations and occasionally, by a cooperating ship at sea. Our position may not be updated when we’re out of range of one of these stations, moving between stations, or if we’re not moving for a prolonged period of time, or if we have AIS shut off while we’re docked.)
During our stopover in Brunswick, we discovered a minor glitch in the new electronics. We use an iPad Pro to ‘repeat’ the GPS/Chartplotter information, which includes data such as JO BETH’s position, speed, and course. This allows us to see what’s going on from anywhere on the boat via the iPad, without having to be in the cockpit. However, for some reason the iPad and plotter aren’t fully ‘shaking hands and chatting.’ We can control the plotter from the iPad, but cannot see the plotter display mirrored on the iPad. Its one more reminder that boats are a continuing work in progress, and refits, projects, etc., are never really completed.
Other work we finished was to the sailing rig; we’re once again a cutter rig instead of a sloop rig, which essentially means we carry a second and smaller headsail forward of the mast and the mainsail. We also completed some tasks to the interior, deck, and sail control systems, such as installing new reading lights, fitting lashing boards on deck to secure extra water and fuel containers, adding rope clutches to make sail and line handling easier, etc. We also performed the required annual services on our safety equipment and had a full survey of the vessel done, out of the water and in, to keep our insurance coverage up to date.
More to follow as we’re back on track now and finally beginning our voyaging lives. Thanks for sticking with us!