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Damn you shoals. Damn you all to hell.

29 Nov

shoal /SHōl/ An area of shallow water, esp. as a navigational hazard.

As we make our way down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) a couple of things have become apparent.

When crossing a large body of water, such as our 90 mile trip down the Pamlico Sound, you can safely assume that when the weather forecast calls for 10-15 knot winds, what you will really run into is 25 to 35 knot winds. (As well as large choppy waves. Oh…and the wind will be blowing directly in your face the whole way down)

Another thing that one will realize as they trek down the waterway is that nautical charts are pretty meaningless when shoaling is involved. Our “exciting” discovery of this fact manifested itself big time when we made our way out of Hampstead, North Carolina.

I should mention that our boat’s draft (the lowest point below the waterline) is 3.5 feet. This is particularly nice because we can get into shallower spots than many other sailboats that have drafts of 5-8 feet. If you draft of 5 feet and try to get into a section of a river, bay, etc., that has only 4.9 feet of water in it, well, you will get stuck.

The Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for dredging the ICW so that there is a minimum depth that boats can count on. I think it’s somewhere around 12 feet deep, if I am not mistaken. Regardless, throw that factoid right out the window because when mother nature is involved, all bets are off.

Anyway, back to OUR trip. We motored out of the marina in Hampstead about 9 AM yesterday morning on our way to Southport, NC. The sun was finally shining and all was right with the world. We met a nice family on a trimaran who were traveling down to the Bahamas. They left about 30 minutes before we did so they could make an earlier bridge opening. I am so glad that they were nice because they called us and said to be very careful around buoy 99a because it got REAL shallow REAL quick. When I got this message on my phone I looked at the chart and realized that 99a was within a few minutes of our location. As we approached the green buoy I started to watch our depth sounder. Within about 500 feet of the buoy my depth was hovering between 15 and 16 feet. No problem! We have a draft of 3.5 feet so we have a good 11-12 feet of water between us an the bottom. 200 feet of the green buoy it dropped to 9 feet. No big deal. 100 feet out we were at 6 feet (sweat particles started to form on my forehead). I dropped the throttle down to idle so that, if we did run aground, I wouldn’t “auger in” and be required to call TowBoat US to haul us off. 40 feet away – 5 feet. 10 feet away – 4.8 feet. 5 feet away 3.9 feet (holy SH$%!). As we passed the buoy we were at 3.5 feet. We must have been scraping the bottom at this point. Robin was at the bow looking into the water and she could clearly see the sandy bottom. There was nothing to do but idle forward and hope that we would not come to a halt against our will. I had already run aground the day before (Read Robin’s article) and I did not want to repeat that process.

Beware of Buoy 99a!

Neptune must have been in a good mood because the sounder gave me a reading of 3.6, 4.0, 6.0, and back up to 9 feet. We made it. Barely. I learned some huge lessons that day. Always check the Army Corp of Engineers website for information regarding the nasty shoaling that is prevalent on the ICW and always try to time your trip through inlets (where shoaling is most likely to occur) at high tide if you can.

Now to plan tomorrows trip…through MORE shoals.

The Journey Thus Far

17 Nov

The Journey Thus Far

by Andy

It is amazing to me that it has been over two weeks since we left Herrington Harbor and our dock lives that we have enjoyed for the last year and a half. I must admit that I have been woefully bad at updating the blog but I promise to be a better blog steward. I have been a ball of stress for the last couple of weeks and I don’t operate well, prose wise, under stress. More about stressful situations later on in this article.

Our departure from Herring Bay was not stressful in the least. Our good friends and neighbors, the Robertsons, showed up bright and early to give us a warm sendoff. As Robin has written about earlier, the generosity of the people we have come across, both on land and sea, has taken several chinks out of my cynical armor.

Our first stop was Solomons Island, Maryland. A small tourist centered town at the confluence of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. We had visited Solomons late in the summer season so we knew what to expect. We enjoyed a couple of nights at dock to decompress from all of the planning and preparing we had been doing for the last year. Some yummy food at a local restaurant was a welcome treat. (The bottle of wine helped too!)

Our next leg of the journey brought upon the first stressful moments. I should back up and say that November in the Mid-Atlantic region is a tricky affair, weather wise that is. We would find, especially the girls, that cruising is not always a most pleasant experience when the winds whip up on a large body of water. We started today sailing due south out of Solomons. The winds were about 15-20 knots out of the NNE. It was chilly but sunny, and Tango was flying through the water, surfing on a following sea, between 6 and 8 knots. For a sailboat, this is really really fast. The problems started when we approached the mouth of the Potomac River. As my northwest friends know, the Columbia River bar is one of the most treacherous places to find yourself on any watercraft. I’m not comparing the mouth of the Potomac to the Columbia because the two are completely different with regards to size and scope. The science of two bodies of water meeting head on is the same however. We were tossed and turned in the mixing bowl of currents for about two hours. The girls were trying to do their schoolwork and both became somewhat seasick. Robin was feeling off as well. I was a little queasy but I think when you are at the helm it takes some of the edge off because you are constantly scanning the horizon and it is easier to anticipate the wave action. All was not lost however, because at the end of this leg of our journey was a most welcome destination.

Before we bought Tango back in the Summer of 2011 we searched and searched for a boat that had what we needed to be safe and comfortable but was not half a million dollars. Enter Sailaway Catamarans in Edgewater, Maryland and especially Bill Hagy. Bill worked exhaustively to help get Becks and boats together. He is one hell of a nice guy too. I say all of this because we ran into Bill at the Annapolis Boat Show back in October. He was excited to hear about our journey and graciously invited us to stop by his house on the Little Wicomico river. He has a catamaran of his own that he is restoring after a fire gutted it. He got a great deal on it but it is going to take a lot of work. Bill is the guy to do it though. Very talented to be sure. Anyway, after our “mixing bowl” experience his dock was about the prettiest sight we’ve ever seen. The weather was going to be snotty for the next couple of days and Bill told us that we could stay and wait  out the weather with his family. We had a wonderful time getting to know the Hagys. His wife, Pam, is a most talented writer and it was fun listening to her tell us stories about the Chesapeake Bay and the environmental issues that are so very real and affect us all. The girls also made a friend in their son, Isaak. They would spend evenings laughing and playing “Minecraft” in front of the fireplace. (I miss fireplaces)

Our gracious hosts.

After a couple of days we decided that we needed to press on. It was sad to leave newfound friends but we had miles to check off between Virginia and Florida. We took off the morning after election day, which I was still giddy about. Out of the Wicomico we took a right turn at the Chesapeake and pointed Tango’s bow to the South. Next top on our sojourn, Deltaville, Virginia.

Deltaville, Virginia sits at the confluence of the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay. I say this to save some words and just convey to you that we basically repeated our Potomac River crossing. (Except with stronger winds this time…ugh) After bashing into four foot waves for the better part of two hours we called on the radio to Dozier’s marina and chugged our way up the narrow channel to the safety of their floating docks. I had a puff of pridefulness as the dockhand said that I brought Tango in like a pro. If only he knew where all of the scrapes on the side of the boat came from.

While in port, our favorite Herrington Harbor neighbors pulled in to Dozier’s a few slips away from us. Hank, Lisa, their friend Kim, and their awesome dog Sydney, are heading back to their hometown of Southport, North Carolina. We all had a wonderful dinner aboard their beautiful sailboat “Haanli”. Southport is right on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) so I think we shall see them again soon. I hope so anyway.

The trip from Deltaville to Norfolk, Virginia was a welcome change from the previous week. Light winds, calm seas, and temperatures in the low 70s helped to cheer up our spirits. We motored the whole way, which to a sailing family is kind of a drag. However, it was nice to have a day to veg out in the cockpit even if the smell of diesel exhaust permeated the air.

We pulled into Norfolk around 4PM and everything I have read about this gigantic port came to life right before my eyes. Massive tankers, freighters, and naval vessels made our little Tango look like a tiny piece of flotsam. The nautical charts in this area are cluttered with danger zones, restricted areas, and shipping channels. After a few minutes I gave up on the charts and just followed the other sailboats. Surely they know where we are going right? As luck would have it, this time they did. We made the turn into the Elizabeth River and past the long line of aircraft carriers to our next stop, Waterside Marina in downtown Norfolk.

We are city slickers now.

Norfolk is a beautiful city. Treelined streets and lots of cute little shops and restaurants dot the downtown area. Our marina was literally in the heart of downtown. It was strange to look out of our windows and see big buildings and lots of lights. Our friends on Haanli arrived the day prior and were preparing to depart the next morning. It was neat to get to see them enjoying time with some family that they have in the area.

We put on our tourist hats and visited “Nauticus”, a very cool nautical museum. We got to tour the battleship Wisconsin. Amazing feat of engineering and a testament to our resolve during WWII. Visiting the ship on Veteran’s Day made it extra special as well.

Touring the USS Wisconsin

When we arrived back at Tango I decided that I would keep up on the maintenance and perform an oil change on both of our diesel engines. It’s an easy but dirty job. I lifted the hatch to the starboard engine compartment and was shocked to see about six inches of water on the floor of the compartment. Did we have a hole in the hull? Was there a hose that was leaking? If I hadn’t decided to check the oil we could have been in some real trouble as we, at this point, were essentially sinking.

After cleaning up the water and performing some troubleshooting it was decided that the source of the leak was either a  bad seal on our sail drive (really bad news) or a bad gasket on our raw water pump (not really bad news but a potential annoying fix). We decided to press on because the weather window for the planned departure day was literally one day and we didn’t want to get stuck in Norfolk for potentially up to 7 days. We would be entering the Great Dismal Swamp canal and we didn’t want to do that in the 25 knot winds that were predicted later in the week. We would motor on and monitor the leak.

The next morning we departed Norfolk before dawn. It was creepy motoring in the dark past all of the massive dry docks. We passed a couple of barges making their way down the river. I finally realized why radar is so important as some of these massive ships are practically invisible in the foggy darkness. We arrived at the Deep Creek Lock about an hour before their first scheduled opening at 8:30 AM. I checked on the leak and was satisfied that it was slow enough to motor on. The lock master called us on the VHF and we motored into the lock where we would be lifted up the 8 feet to the level of the 22 mile long canal that we would be transiting.

The lock master was super friendly and, as the lock was filling he told us all a little bit about the canal and its history. The canal was the idea of none other than old George Washington. Construction was begun in 1793 and completed in 1805. We all found one of the most interesting things about the canal to be the water. It is the color of a really dark cup of coffee. We came to find out that this is because of the high level of tannins in the water which is the result of the 35 foot deep peat bed at the bottom. The water looks kind of gnarly but is actually some of the purest water in the world. The high acidity caused by the tannins won’t allow bacteria to grow in the water. As such, this water was prized by sailing ships of old because they could fill up their barrels with this water and store it for years and not have any issues with water quality.

After a lesson on how to play a conch shell, the lock master opened the gates and we throttled into the canal, along with five other boats. The canal is only about fifty feet wide so sailing is out of the question. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was glad that we made the decision to make this our canal day. The fall colors and the warm weather made this a day for the record books. We will all carry this memory as long as we have heartbeats I think.

Gorgeous day on The Great Dismal Swamp Canal


Locking in North Carolina

We locked out of the canal and continued into the Pasquotank River in North Carolina. The landscape is reminiscent of the bayous in Louisiana and Mississippi. Cypress trees and the first appearance of spanish moss made us feel like we were truly in the South now. Because of our engine issues I decided to slow it down a bit and kept the engines at about 2000 RPMs. This made for a bit slower journey and the caravan of boats that were cruising with us slowly left our view ahead of us. We were all alone now and it was just amazing to feel so free in such a beautiful place. Our next stop was Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Because of our slow speed we arrived in Elizabeth City right at rush hour. I was a little concerned that we would have to wait an hour until 6:30 PM to have the one bridge in town lift for us to get through but the bridge tender was kind enough to let us through. I’m sure that the commuters didn’t appreciate it…but we did!

We made reservations for four days at the Pelican Marina in Elizabeth City so that we could rest up, take care of the various meetings that our REAL jobs required of us, and so that I could fix whatever problems the starboard engine was giving us. I won’t bore you with all of the details but all of that water was the result of a broken seal on our raw water intake filter. It’s kind of a glass bowl with a filter inside of it that keeps bits and sea creatures out of our engines. I’m not kidding about the sea creatures…one time I found a shrimp swimming around in it. Regardless, I fashioned a gasket out of some rubber sheeting material that we had and, as of this writing, it is working well. No more leaks!

Dawn before our Albemarle Sound crossing

Yesterday we left Elizabeth City and sailed across Albemarle Sound to our current location of Manteo, North Carolina. We are staying at a condo for the week. We are big Thanksgiving people and, since we don’t have an oven on the boat, we like to celebrate this holiday in the luxury of an land bound dwelling. Robin wrote earlier about the kindness of the owner of this property and I can’t express how grateful we are for his generosity. When he found out that we were going to be arriving four days ahead of time and that the reason that we couldn’t rent his place for the full week because, quite frankly, we can’t afford it, he threw in these four days for free. Wow wow…a hundred times wow (more chinks in my cynical armor).

As of this writing I am freshly bathed (bathtubs are amazing) and I took extra time to savor a good shave. We ordered takeout chinese food last night and we will be doing some shopping for Thanksgiving goodies later today. Our friends, the Robertsons, are going to drive the five hours from Deale, Maryland to celebrate with us. It will be great to see them again. Even though we only left two weeks ago it seems like ages.

The Detoxification of Andy Beck

2 Nov

Some people have asked me if living in a space as small as a large walk-in closet ever drives me a little nuts. To be totally forthcoming, yes, sometimes, and herein lies the problem. I am a product of a world of excess, misguided priorities, reliance on things and not myself, selfishness as opposed to selflessness, ever increasing distractions that clog the mind and discourage the heart, and, perhaps most importantly, the concept that the more that you have the more value you have as a person. God did I screw this one up. Time to detoxify.

 Right now I am writing from a snug little berth in a tiny corner of a medium sized sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay. The dimensions my berth are approximately five feet wide by six feet long. I am 5 10” so I have about one inch of wiggle room past my head on one end and my feet at the other. After a year of living on Tango I can honestly say that this small space meets my needs completely. Part of my detoxification is to pair down my expectations about what I actually need as opposed to what I want, or more accurately, what I’ve been trained to believe that I want. I need to break this addiction to the ever increasing list of wants or I will be consumed by it.

 Don’t get me wrong, those of you who know me know that I love my gadgets. I have an entire basket of odd cameras, old electronics, wires, connectors, and other bits. I have a Macbook and an iPhone always at the ready. The thing is I want to put them in their respective place in the grand order (or disorder) of my life. Right now these things take up a large portion of the limited area on the plate that is my life and I don’t want that anymore. This purging will take time. Over the course of the next two years or so on this journey I hope to get back to the basics of what it means to be a world citizen and not just a consumer of things. Never was the need of purging more evident than when I read an online argument between someone who espoused the virtues of an Android phone and someone who felt that the i-Phone was the better choice and I seriously thought about getting in on this argument. Time to detoxify.

I am excited to get started on this journey. Robin and I have sold most of our possessions including beds, couches, computers, and, most recently, our cars. Part of the detox is to be ok with the parting of these things and remember that they are just that, things. I have to admit when the nice young lady who bought our car started driving away I started to get a little misty as that little car and I have been through a lot together. Again, herein lies the problem. It’s a car. It’s a tool to move long distances in a short amount of time. As Cameron Frye shouted in one of my favorite movies, “Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!”. I’ll get clean some day.

So, where does this leave me at 12:44 AM on Friday, November 2nd, 2012? I have a sense of optimism about this journey from Maryland to Washington State via the Panama Canal. I hope that experiencing life outside of my normal comfort zone, on an artificial island that lacks the physical space for all of the distractions will shock me into a state of “wantlessness”. I am done with the comfortable burdens that weigh me down. 

The first step is admitting that I have a problem. 


22 Aug

The past few weeks have seen the crew of Tango rushing to install upgrades to make her ready for the grand adventure that is fast approaching. Our bank account has been hemorrhaging as we have made some major purchases as of late. One will help us to generate our own electricity and the other will help us to “see” other vessels, objects, or land masses so that we don’t collide with any of them.

Solar Panels  –  We purchased two Kyocera 245 watt solar panels that we installed on our new stern arch. (Wait…that’s another major purchase…eghads!) Robin did a masterful job of designing an aluminum frame which holds the panels in place. They are sturdy and, as of this writing, still in place! The real test will come into play when we take Tango out in nasty weather, but I think the arch is sound and will perform well.

We spent the majority of last weekend putting the frame together and hoisting both the frame and the panels to the top of our arch and securing them in place. Thanks to Bob and “brother of Bob” aboard “Wake Me” who helped us with the stressful task of lifting a thousand dollars worth of glass and metal over the murky waters of the bay. It was quite a sight to be sure.

In a nutshell here is how the solar panels will work. On sunny days they will capture the solar energy and send 480 watts of electricity to a computerized controller that regulates the current into the appropriate voltage/amperage to charge our house batteries. What is a house battery you ask? A house battery (we have two) powers all of the things we need to live a somewhat normal life aboard Tango. Things like navigational instruments, radios, radar, and our refrigerator run off the 12 volt house batteries. Our TV, PS3, laptops, blenders, etc. run off of the house batteries as well but, because they use AC power, they must be run off of our inverter which turns the 12 volt into 110 volt AC. The pictures below will illustrate this process much better I think.

Radar – The Garmin GMR 18 was our choice for being our lookout when we can’t see through the rain, fog, night, or other hindrances to visibility. The first thing that attracted us to this radar solution was the price. We don’t believe in skimping on items that directly relate to our safety but we do have a budget to adhere to and spending $6000 dollars on radar just isn’t going to happen. The other attractive feature was that it hooks directly into our Garmin 740S chart plotter with ONE Ethernet cable. Routing cables through a boat is a pain in the butt to say the least so the concept of one cable sounded great! I should back up and mention what a chart plotter is. A chart plotter is the boater’s version of the turn by turn GPS devices that many of you have in your cars.

When we are out and about the GMR 18 will “look” around our vessel for any potential things to bump into up to  a range of 36 nautical miles. We can even set up a zone around our boat and the system will let us know if an object (boat) has entered this zone. Very handy when we are anchored in a sketchy location and we want to catch a few hours of sleep. This will give us some piece of mind that we won’t be run over by a Carnival Cruise Line on its way to Barbados. That would be bad. Very bad indeed.