The Nautical Adventures of Captain Kitty and Her Crew
. . . or what I did on my summer vacation


by Les Rothman, Autumn Saga, NT37-054

Part V


On Monday, October 3rd, Captain Kitty, Louise and I boarded Autumn Saga to prepare for a Wednesday departure. The five week hiatus was prompted by the hurricanes and tropical storms, of unprecedented frequency and intensity during the month of September, which we had decided to await at home rather than risk encountering while underway on land or sea. Fortunately for us, none came near either our home or vessel. Autumn Saga was splashed on Tuesday and secured at the transient bulkhead where we provisioned, watered, took on fuel, set up navigation gear and checked the engine room for tomorrow’s departure. I then returned the rental car. At 1730, our sister in law joined us for our last supper aboard together on this trip. Proximity had permitted more visiting time over these few months than we usually have in a year. With all now ship shape, we retired to sleep. Captain Kitty appeared obviously happy to be aboard once more.

Embarkation day saw me in the pilot house at 0630 and I did another cursory engine room check. Breakfast was rapidly disposed of and we said our goodbyes to the marina and yard crew who had treated us very well over this summer. My sister in law came down for one last “goodbye”. We cast off lines at 0928, headed out to the York River and turned down stream toward the Chesapeake Bay. Entering the Bay, seas increased to three to four feet on the port beam and the consequent roll was uncomfortable to rotten. This run from Yorktown was one of the worst I can recall; that includes the some 70 Nm crossing, in 2003, from West End, in the Abacos, to Fort Pearce, in our 32 Nordic Tug, with four to six foot seas on the port quarter accompanied by thunderstorms. We made Hampton Roads circa 1300 and the motion significantly subsided. At 1430 we were enjoying smooth inland cruising past Norfolk and Chesapeake. On this south bound run, we elected to go via the Virginia Cut. We made the 1600 opening of Steal Bridge and the 1620 Great Bridge lock opening. Before transiting the Great Bridge bascule bridge, we found a spot to tie up along the starboard side bank of the canal, between two of the many sail boats, to spend the night. This evening was beautiful and we had an excellent dinner aboard, visited with the crews of neighboring boats and then showered, watched TV and slept comfortably, for the first time in months, without air conditioning.

On Thursday morning, we were both up at 0605. NOAA weather radio indicated that conditions would be deteriorating along the coast over the next few days, due to the track of Tropical Storm Tammy. Many of the vessels laying both fore and aft of us decided to lie over and see what developed. Three of us, power boats, decided to go, with our destination Coinjock. We planned to make the 0900 bridge opening lying in front of us and called the Midway Marina to get a reservation, giving them an ETA of 1600. With breakfast completed and all ships systems checked, we were in channel and first through at 0900. Very soon, a Grand Banks called for permission to pass, explaining that he wanted to make the next bridge which also only opened on a schedule. He passed us very gently and then blasted off and we soon lost sight of him. I calculated the distance to the next bridge as well as the time and realized with a little kick in velocity, we, too, could make that bridge opening. Running at 14 knots, in flat water, in a deep channel surrounded by wilderness, we caught up to the Grand Banks at the bridge and together waited about 15 minutes for the opening. This routine, with this particular vessel, Florida bound, was repeated countless times until we reached Charleston, where we lost contact with him. Only one other time did we exceed our usual SOG of nine knots, while he continued his routine of hurry up and wait. We left the North Landing River and headed into Currituck Sound at 1108. A surface chop driven by gusty winds and a cloud cover kept the temperature around 70*F. We arrived at Midway Marina, Coinjock, N.C., at 1315 and were instructed to secure at a bulkhead, out of the main channel, behind a 31 Camano. Three hours ahead of my ETA, we signed in, went on the internet via free Wi-Fi, had some drinks and visited on the dock. Louise then went swimming, in the pool directly next to our boat. It was 1500 and although the wind had increased the weather was still reasonable and we were glad we had decided to go this morning.

Captain Kitty, who had been watching the land side activity through an open stateroom porthole, appeared to require some new entertainment. After I attached one of her toys to a flexible wand via a string, she was able to spring, attack and drag her “prey” away in her teeth, only to find that it sprung back to “escape” as soon as she loosened her grip. This amused her for many minutes and, in fact, was in play for the rest of the trip.

As evening approached, we had dinner aboard and enjoyed our cable TV. It began to rain about 1900 and the weather report promised much more of the same tomorrow. With extra mooring lines and fenders in place, we went to bed to read and sleep at 2215. Most unusual for me, I was up a number of times during the night and enjoyed the sound of heavy rain on the overhead along with the intermittent light wind that blew the bow pennant affixed over our berth. At 0500, I discovered, via foot feel, that Captain Kitty had brought her toys to the floor of the state room. I arose once more at 0630 and moved these objects to the helm where Kitty reclined. Both Louise and I finally arose at 0743. The wind was calm, the barometer still falling and the temperature was 75*F. After we cleaned up from breakfast, I continued gathering weather information. Louise spoke with the marina office who told her that had we departed earlier, we would have been banged around on the Albermarle Sound, but passed across o.k. I spoke with a sailing catamaran, Florida bound, who had gone ten miles south, looked at the sound, and returned. Across the waterway, four crewed large yachts, estimated LOA 80 to 200 feet, were not going anywhere. Desire said “go”, prudence said “layover.” We chose the latter. Around noon, a steady light rain, with intermittent stronger gusts in this well shielded marina, accompanied our lunch aboard. Around 1430, a twenty foot cruiser, northbound came in for fuel. Speaking with them I learned that their crossing of the Sound took about two hours with mainly swells on the beam and was found to be no problem. I guess we could have gone in the morning after all. Tomorrow’s weather is predicted to be much worse. We read, had a glass of wine and at 1730 made our way to Crabby’s Restaurant, above the marina store. We had a terrific meal. The food and service was excellent. I was wearing a Nordic Tug shirt. Two men and a woman, at another table, called to me. They owned a 32 N.T. and wanted to visit. We spent over an hour enjoying talking at their table. When we finally left for out boat, the rain was pouring down. We ended the night with some TV and to bed at 2230. It’s now Saturday morning at 0656 and I’m in the pilot house. Rain still pours down and now the wind is blowing very hard. The barometer continues its descent and the temperature has held at 74*F. Without question, this will be another lay day. I cleared Kitty’s toys from the stateroom and went back to bed. Lou and I arose together at 0818 and had breakfast while listening to NOAA weather radio. We finished a leisurely breakfast, house keeping and personal hygiene circa 1030. Dressed in foul weather gear, we went our separate ways around the docks. Talk confirmed my conservative decision. By noon, the wind and rain had grown in intensity beyond my expectation. While watching a UF-MSU football game and eating lunch, I went out to check the lines. The full force of the S wind was on our starboard pushing us off the dock. I doubled the aft lines. During one gust, I saw two trees fall in the woods just beyond the limits of the marina property. Captain Kitty, of course, took advantage of my extended sedentary state by presenting herself for a lengthy petting session. At 1605, the severity of the weather diminished, permitting some dock walking and visiting. By the time dinner aboard was served at 1830, the rain had ceased. Reading and TV led to bed at 2135.

On Sunday Morning, October 9th, the weather report was o.k. for cruising, the first without marine advisories for our area in three days. The temperature was 68* F and the barometer rising. The winds were calm and the sky overcast. Visibility was less than one half mile. With the vessel ready to go, we rapidly concluded our morning routine and left Midway Marina at 0800. There were few boats on the water and of those almost all were south bound. Whether over taking or being over taken, all vessels complied with the rules of the road and courtesy in passing. We had noted, throughout this trip, that everywhere north of Florida the captains, with rare exception, exhibited courtesy and good seamanship, while overtaking, I rarely experience in Florida waters. At 1000, we are crossing Albermarle Sound. We saw one of the above mentioned large yachts ahead. As we approached the Alligator River Bridge, we heard him call for an opening. I spooled up the turbo and went from 8.5 to 14 knots and passed through said open span, in the yacht’s wake, at 1125. I then slowed down and he disappeared into the mist. I heard a security call reporting a nearly destroyed channel marker at the entrance to the Alligator-Pungo River Canal, for which we were heading. This was fortunate for, especially in the limited visibility; we might have made a serious navigation error, as the piling and marker were lying flat on the water’s surface. Now we were cruising on a straight, flat waterway, with storm damaged trees on both banks. Not pretty but allowed expeditious passage right down the middle. I rarely had to adjust the autopilot as we encountered only one vessel, a commercial tow north bound. As we neared Belhaven, N.C., it began to rain. We made for Downy Creek Marina where we tied up in a down pour. The marked channel was somewhat confusing. When we went to sign in, we were told that a sailboat, leaving that morning, had crashed into the piling, knocked it over and had continued on its way. We were just lucky to have passed without grounding. When the rain stopped, we took advantage of the fine facilities to shower and then had dinner aboard accompanied by our Sunday night TV. We then went to bed at 2120, to read and sleep, with the hope of getting another early start in the morning.

We both now feel “in the grove” for covering distance and getting home. Ever alert to the weather ahead, we take advantage of all positive forecasts and plan 60 Nm days more or less, which is eight to ten hours under way depending on favorable currents. While sight seeing is now a low priority in comparison to our northerly cruise, we know that things appear differently as they are approached from different directions. We also decided that as best as was convenient, we would stop for the nights at different places than we had done when outward bound.

I awaken at 0610 to the alarm clock this Monday morning and immediately start preparing, breakfast. It is still dark with a light rain falling. The temperature is 68* F and the barometer steady. We complete breakfast at 0705 and get underway at 0807 in light rain, fog and wind. We made the Pamlico–Pungo River junction at 0940 and entered the Neuse River from the ICW, S bound at 1145. At 1330, we exit the Neuse River for the ICW, once again. Within shouting distance of Beaufort, we pass a classic twin mast woody, designed to look like a galleon, who, after hearing me call the Town Creek Marina for a slip, hails me to advise that he is going there too, it’s his home port, and if I follow him in, it will make my life easier. What could be better than local knowledge, especially when his draft must be greater than mine? We thank him, for the assistance, as we turn into the marina and tie up at 1600. While we had wind, rain and fog most of the way, overall, it was a good run and for the first time in many days, the sky shows signs of clearing. We check in, clean up and decide to go to the Sandbar restaurant right here at the marina. We enjoy excellent food and good service. A winner! Showers and preparation for the evening culminated in sleep.

Another day to push south. We both arise at 0610. Sunrise is about an hour away. The wind is calm, the barometer steady and the temperature 72*. Breakfast, accompanied by Morning Edition on NPR, is completed by 0700. With ourselves and the boat made ready, we leave our slip at 0817, head around downtown Beaufort and then turn S past Moorehead City. The weather has turned beautiful and, although we did not know it at the time, will remain so for the rest of the voyage. Poor planning and miss calculation wastes an hour for a bridge opening. We finally clear Surf City Bridge at 1600, and have to deal with a huge tow heading our way. We pass safely but much closer than I like. With our planned anchorage at Wrightsville Beach estimated to be at least two hours ahead, I decide to stop for the night at Harbor Village Marina, at ICW marker R94. We first get the holding tank pumped and then take on fuel before securing in our assigned slip at 1745. This is a large, new, mostly private marina surrounded by residences. The facilities are first class but far away. They supply golf carts one can use to get around and I took a quick tour of the place followed by a shower. Back at Saga, it was dinner aboard and the TV news. Lou quit early. I went to bed at 2300 after awakening from falling asleep in the salon.

Captain Kitty has become the perfect boat cat. Fully acclimated to the routine, she is never under foot, always finds her litter, eats neatly and seems to tell by the sound of the engine when she is to go below and when she may emerge.

The now perfect weather, with uncrowded waterways, daily routine and a clear final destination beckoning, masked the fatigue generated by the endeavor. It is October 12th, Columbus Day. If I recall correctly, at least one of his three ships was no larger than our yacht. And he crossed an ocean. Wow! We both arose at 0610 to eat, dress and, with ships systems checked, departed Harbor Village Marina at 0804. We cleared the Wrightsville Beach Bridge at 0935. At 1035, the barometer was rising, the temperature 70* and the wind calm. It was truly great to have these temperatures after living with plus 100 degree days for most of August on the Chesapeake. Heavy, dark clouds appeared, but did not precipitate. The Cape Fear River was a “sleigh ride,” as we benefited from 1.2 to 1.9 knot favorable ebb until we turned S once more into the ICW at Southport, N.C. around noon. It was cool enough to enjoy a hot cup of soup with crackers for lunch. We made Lockwood’s Folly at 1333 where I calculated that if we picked up speed we could make the Sunset Highway Bridge hourly opening. When conditions permitted, I increased our SOG to 15–16.5 knots for a full hour, arriving 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled opening. As so often happens on land and sea, not to mention in the air around airports, we discovered, upon arrival, that the ten boats that had passed us were backed up by a dredge blocking the entire waterway. The dredge would not respond to calls from the cruisers or from the bridge tender. The USCG answered us but could not raise the dredge either. Finally, at 1510, the dredge cleared the waterway and we all passed through. We now cruised south with four of these boats who eventually left the waterway for marinas. Alone, with failing light, we passed through the “rock pile” and found a place at the Barefoot Landing at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Many hands helped us tie up and we all visited for about two hours and invited some of the extra curious to come aboard and look around. This is a common experience for us cruising aboard our Nordic Tug. At 1820, we all went to our own vessels and Lou prepared dinner. It did feel cool as the temperature was now 70*. By 1930, dinner had been consumed and the dishes cleaned. We took a walk, bought some ice cream and fudge and returned to Autumn Saga to read and go to sleep at 2200.

It’s Thursday, October 13th and I’m awake at 0520 to investigate the hydraulic steering, which is spitting fluid out of the vent fill cap after we are underway for a few hours. I can find no evidence of leaks anywhere else in the system so I once more fill the fluid reservoir to what I believe is the appropriate level and move on. I did not bleed the system of air. The last thing I want is loss of steering while underway. [Note: After I return home, I find out that I had been over filling the fluid and could not tell this was so, due to the nature of the cosmetic installation]. Change is in the air. At 0700, the temperature is 64*F and the barometer steady. A NNE breeze under five knots just ripples the water surface and flags. We finish breakfast, do out routine preparations and depart Myrtle Beach at 0807, with a high solid gray cloud cover obscuring the sun. Even with the adverse current of more than a knot, which is impeding my desired 8 knot average SOG, we make the 1015 Socastee Bridge opening. However, I am now anticipating a longer cruising day than I had originally planned. Around 1040, I note that the sky is lightening, with a few patches of blue showing. At Bucksport, the adverse current stops. Now, I can make up some time. I telephone Leland Oil and Marine at McClellanville, for dockage that evening, reminding them we had been through a few months ago when north bound. We enter the Esterville-Minum Creek Canal at 1400 and arrive at our destination at 1600. While I fuel and take on potable water, Louise accepts an offer of a ride, from the manager, to do food shopping. I socialize with passersby and when Lou returns she offers a boat tour to the manager and his wife. Then, we have supper aboard and spend a few hours reading and watching TV. We go to sleep at 2200.

We both are vertical at 0600. Dressed, I start grits for breakfast. It’s a cool 60* this morning with a steady barometer. I finish eating, at 0655, just as the eastern horizon begins to show pink. With personal care, housekeeping and vessel checking complete, we clear the Leland Oil floating dock at 0825. Running south in perfect cruising weather, we pass the Isle of Palms Marina to port at 1020, and are cruising up the South Channel Range of Charlestown Harbor half past noon. Back into the ICW, we decide to anchor in Steamboat Creek, on the NE side of Edisto Island, having covered 61 Nm this day. After evaluating a number of options, I drop anchor, at 1615, in 33 feet at high water. NOAA weather predicts wind 10 knots N climbing to 10-15 after midnight. There is no protection from the wind in this anchorage, which we have experienced before, but right now it is very peaceful with no other vessels in sight, and it remained that way throughout the evening. I awoke at 0430, Lou at 0500. It was very cool and dry with a light breeze slapping water against the hull. At 0535, I checked the engine room and started the generator. Lou arose at 0600 and began breakfast preparation. At 0615, it was 64* and the barometer was falling. Still dark, dawn brightened considerably by 0730. We weighed anchor and were underway at 0800. With the sun now up about 10 degrees, a beautiful day for cruising is forecast by NOAA. We made Beaufort, S.C. at 1230 and are midway across Port Royal Sound at 1400. We decided to treat ourselves to a shortened day. We contacted Harbortown Marina at Hiltonhead Island and are tied up in a slip at 1545. With cable TV available, we turned on the UF-LSU football game and viewed that dismal Gator debacle. I washed the boat, we had dinner aboard and then we walked around this superior facility, before returning to Saga to sleep. Although we arose at our usual hour, over a leisurely breakfast with classical music, we decided to have another short cruising day. We, again, walked around in the morning light, I then e-mailed my home port, Cedar Point Marina, Ortega River, Jacksonville, Florida, to advise them of our ETA, significantly sooner than originally planned some months before when we began this odyssey. Leaving Harbortown, I was balked by a small, extremely slow moving vessel whose captain was seemingly unconcerned with us moving up behind. When we cleared the protective jetty, but still in channel, I took an opportunity to pass, but did not fully account for the strong current now on our starboard beam and we just touched the wooden channel marker with our stout port quarter rub rail. No damage was done. However, I did recall the statement, “sin in haste, repent in leisure.” We continued southbound at 1020 and crossed the Savannah River at 1150. The temperature now was 79*F under a cloudless blue sky. A cruising guide led us to call Kilkenny Creek Marina for a reservation, with an ETA of 1640. With no reply to our repeated VHF calls, we tied up at their floating facing dock at 1620. We signed in and were told that the restaurant, the major draw for us this day, was closed. Oh, well! The rural south, with which I fell in love so many years ago, still exists here. We started on a walk on rural roads shaded by huge oak trees but were very soon driven back to the boat by swarms of hungry mosquitoes. Spoke with a fellow local dock mate, about the area and his desire to do a cruise as we were doing, while I took on drinking water. Then dinner aboard, very good as usual, and the evening passed relaxing until bedtime at 2120.

When I arose Monday morning, the temperature was 57* with a steady barometer. Now this is cold to me and I put on the heat. With the morning routine complete, we slipped lines and were underway at 0903. The wind was E at five knots and we looked forward to another beautiful dry sunny day on the water. We were cruising up St. Catherine’s Sound at 1004 and entered Sapelo Sound at 1107. We briefly considered leaving the ICW for the Frederica River and anchoring by the National Park, as we had done on the north bound leg, but saw that we could make more miles with plenty of daylight with the promise of a restaurant at the end, if we went to the Golden Isles Marina in Brunswick. After tying up at 1545, we were informed that the marina restaurant was closed. Echoes of yesterday, but this time we are in civilization. There is a marina car that will drive us to and from any of the many available restaurants in the area. We chose the Frederica House Restaurant on St. Simons Island and were picked up at 1800. The restaurant turned out to be a good enough roadhouse type, a level above fast food but not one to single out for a return visit. The marina car brought us back to Autumn Saga at 1930. I telephoned our Jacksonville marina to give them an ETA update of Wednesday. They confirmed that our slip, which had been rented out during the summer, was open and waiting for our return.

It was Tuesday, October 18th and when I awoke at 0503, I realize that an early start could get us home a day early. When Louise arose at 0646, she clearly was not enthused with my idea. We finally departed Brunswick at 0846 and if some chance favorable conditions would eventuate, I thought, we might make it anyway. With the temperature initially at 63*, a steady barometer and wind under five knots, we cruised on smooth seas across Jekyll Sound, St. Andrews Sound and had the northern end of Cumberland Island off the port beam at 1035. Home waters feel extra good on this beautiful day. We were passing Kings Bay Naval Base at noon and made what turned out to be a one hour stop for fuel and a holding tank pump out at Fernandina Harbor Marina. We pulled in behind S/V Bon Amie, and visited with the couple aboard, whom we had first met at Barefoot Landing. We got underway once more at 1400 and in spite of an adverse current made the St. Johns River at 1630. But, our luck was fast running out. Turning up stream into very choppy two knot ebb, with sunset in less than three hours, it is increasingly doubtful that we will make it home tonight. Additionally, I discovered that I had accidentally turned off the refrigerator when I had turned off the generator during refueling and had failed to restart it. Louise went into food salvage mode while I was trying to make the best way possible while dealing with large ships, wakes of the typical fast yacht traffic on this river and the adverse current, which in sections increased to nearly three knots. We passed under the Dames Point Bridge at 1717 with our goal now the free dockage afforded by the city marina near the Alltel Stadium. At 1945, as the sun set, we tied up there, the only vessel in residence. The lights of the city are beautiful on this beautiful Florida evening, where we once again enjoy an excellent on board dinner. We did 72.5 Nm this day, perhaps the longest daily run since this cruise began in May. We listened to music, read and went to sleep at 2215.

One might wonder why, as these were our own familiar cruising grounds, we did not continue the next approximately six miles to our home marina. A head of us we had six bridges, one requiring opening and two more that possibly would have required opening, depending on the RR traffic, at that hour. Each of these can require holding station up to 35 minutes, if you just miss clearing through before it closes for a train. Additionally, when we leave the St. Johns for the Ortega River, the water gets thinner and the navigable channel narrower and the markers less visible. At this time, discretion seemed the better part of valor.

Now it was Wednesday, October 19th and I arose at 0635 to find Louise reading in the salon. Rarely is she up ahead of me. Another poor sleep night explains this enigma. The city looks pretty, in the morning light, with the glow of sunrise yet to be, in the east. Rambunctious Captain Kitty jumps up on the dining table to enjoy the view when I open the back door. Our morning routine completed, we exit the city marina at 0908 and cruise through the remainder of downtown Jacksonville. A short distance south of the Fuller Warren Bridge, we turn to starboard, call to open the Ortega River Bridge, cruise under the SR 17 Bridge, are unimpeded by the FEC RR Bridge and secure in our home slip at the Cedar Point Marina at 1010, five months and three days since we departed. We pack up our gear. I secure a rental car and we drive home to Gainesville.


Copyright © 2008 SENTOA • Last Update October 2, 2008 • Questions? Contact the SENTOA Officers.