Monday, December 21, 2009

Beaufort, South Carolina to Brunswick, Georgia

As I write this I am comfortably ensconced in Brunswick Landing Marina, Brunswick Georgia. It's a beautiful, well run marina and my new 424 buddy, Lee Yonkers is berthed just across the finger from me! But getting here was not so easy, my friends.

It's a tale of heavy winds, driving rain, freezing temperatures and long, lonely watches.

When I left Beaufort, SC it was drizzling, overcast and generally depressing weather. But I had the current with me! The day had been forecast to have heavy rain, gale or near gale force winds and to continue for two days with awful weather to be outside in. You lot in the mid-Atlantic states and New England have some idea. It was the day Washington, DC got two feet of snow. Incidentally, I would have paid to see that. But I digress.

Anyway, it was just wet for most of the trip until I crossed the Savannah River. Then all hell broke loose! The wind was steady 28-30 knots with gusts to 35 or so. Of course, right on the nose... As I passed Thunderbolt the seas (and given this is a narrow stream) were three feet with the tops of the waves being blown off. The only good thing was that for some reason the wind was 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the day! Man, I forgot what 30 mile per hour rain feels like - it hurts!

A half hour after it started it was over and I pulled into the Isle of Hope marina for the night. Naturally, as I tied up to the dock, the wind died, the sun came out, and the temperature remained fairly warm. That night it was cold. I'm glad I had a heater aboard! The marina is very nice - new concrete floating docks and all.

The next day dawned cold (ice on the docks) but clear and I was off at 0710. I was pushing to get to Brunswick GA so I wanted as much daylight as possible. So after a day of mostly going into the wind against the current I arrived at the Darien River where there's a small but fairly well protected anchorage.

There was another boat already anchored when I arrived. There was also a fairly strong current. I managed to alternately amuse and worry him as he watched me drop the anchor, drift too close, pull the anchor up, move a little farther away and try again. This happened twice before I finally figured out how to manage the current and wind to drop the anchor just where I wanted it.

Sunset was spectacular! The night was cold but bearable and like being on land it was so calm. I was only about 20 miles from Brunswick so I lounged about until 0800 and puttered on off to Brunswick Landing Marina. The wind was much lighter than the day before but it wasn't until noon or so when I got to the marina when it started to warm up.

With much help I tied up across the finger from a 424 organization member, Lee.

So here I am at Brunswick Landing Marina in Georgia. I'll be here for a couple of weeks during Christmas week and New Years week before I travel on.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

See you on the water!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mosquito Creek, A Rescue, and Beaufort, SC

Last night was cold. I mean, really cold. Or I'm getting old. But I think I'll stick with cold. I left Charleston around 0815 near slack high tide so I could get through the 0900 opening at the Wahpoo Creek Bridge. Needless to say, I just made it running full bore! But after that, it was all good. Motorsailing down the ICW can be relaxing and fun. It saves fuel and you can convince yourself that if it weren't for the narrowness you could sail the whole thing top to bottom. (Hint: you can't.)

Pelican on B&B Seafood Dock, Mosquito Creek, SCSo as it was approaching 1500 (3:00pm) and the sun sets here at like 4:30, I was looking for a place to stop. It turns out that just near a crucial turn in the ICW is a place called Mosquito Creek. I am glad for the cold - I'd hate to be there in the summer since I'm pretty sure the name is very descriptive of the wild life. Anyway, at a shrimper's dock, B & B Seafood, I tied up for the evening for a whopping $25. True, there's nothing there except a seafood market. No electricity, only fuel. But compared to Charleston Maritime Center, it was quiet with no wakes to heave you out of your bunk at 0h-dark-thirty.
Pelicans with Pelican at Mosquito Creek, SC
Don't get me wrong, I loved the Charleston Maritime Center except for that. If I were prone to seasickness, I'd've been.

Anyway, it was a lovely quiet creek and I slept extraordinarily well, given I was in my fleece pants, vest, t-shirt and BVDs and socks. After a dinner of carne asada and broccoli, I read for a couple of hours and was fast asleep under the covers.

This morning I was up and underway at 0715 headed, I thought, for Bull Creek SC for a night at anchor. As the morning wore on, I found that I'd be in Beaufort (pronounced 'bee-yew-frt', as opposed to North Carolina's 'bo-frt') waiting for the Ladies Island Bridge for the 10:30 opening. I had hoped to make it at 0900, but hey, sometimes plans just go awry.

As I was spinning Pelican to bear away from the bridge I saw a lump in the water - then the lump started waiving. Then the lump started shouting, "Help! Help!" This was at 1025, so I resigned myself to missing the 1030 opening and headed over to get the poor bastard out of the water. I threw my emergency ladder overboard, stopped Pelican about three feet from him and asked him to bring the painter with him onboard - he handed me the painter and climbed up the ladder soaked to the skin.

I put his capsized boat under tow, called the bridge to say I'd be traversing slowly because of the capsized boat under tow and the bridge operator was very understanding. Anyway, I made the opening and brought the poor blighter to the dock at Beaufort Downtown Marina.

Well, he'd been nicked by the prop in the capsize, but I saw he wasn't bleeding and that he'd make a medical center once he called his brother and got a ride. I pulled his boat out of the water onto the dock and let it drain. His brother showed up, took the motor and the soaked guy, and with hearty handshakes all around, was off.

Since I'd already tied up to the dock and all, and since it was going to be cold that night, and because I saved a man's life, I decided to stay as a reward. So here I am at Beaufort, SC where but for fate I would have blown by at a blistering speed of seven knots.

My friend, Cory, reminded me that I'd been there before on their boat delivering it north from Ft. Lauderdale a year ago or so. Anyway, I thought I'd have a bit of a look around and took a walk - also, the marina provided a coupon in their little package for a free chocolate sand dollar at the local confectionery so that was something of an encouragement to leave the boat.

Off I went, having a look about - taking a few pictures, and of course getting my free chocolate (which cost $10.00 because I had to purchase some dark chocolate cashew bark, don't you know).

As I was walking back, I thought I'd go to the top of the bridge and get a picture of the whole town of Beaufort when I espied another Pearson 424 waiting for the opening - the boat's name is Sea Zen and the only person I met was Beth, although I asked them all over for wine and cheese if they could make it. Unfortunately, they were pressed for time and weren't able to come, but Dave and Nancy from Liberty, a Morgan 40 something, did and we had a great evening! Also, I learned a lot from them about the Dry Tortugas. That may come in handy later.

When the evening was done, I toodled off to bed with heaters blazing and slept amazingly well.

Tomorrow, I have to make 50 miles (a little less in nautical miles). So maybe I'll see you on the water!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Navigation Software

I've been in Charleston long enough. After you soak up so much history, eat so many shrimp and grits meals, walk so many miles looking at truly magnificent homes, you're bound to take a day or three to explore some software. Ok, maybe not all of you.

So here's the thing: free navigation software. Now, NOAA has been supplying charts in digital formats for a few years now. Like books, there's nothing like a paper chart to keep track of where you are in the world (I can't translate lat and long numbers to a physical position in my head without a chart. I suspect most people can't).

Of course, chartplotters exist on many boats. I have two - a Raymarine C80 and a Raytheon Pathfinder as a backup. I'm very happy with both systems, but what about someone who doesn't have unlimited funds to acquire this stuff? What do they do? Well, here's the answer and it's way less expensive than you can imagine.

Maptech supplies charting software with its chart kits. It's copy protected, difficult to use, and requires, at this time, finding and installing an update to use Garmin hand-held GPSs. Because it's a 'lite' version of their charting software, there's a bunch it doesn't do. Moreover, it can only be used on one computer - if you need to move it to a different one, you have to convince Maptech that it's a legal move. Those 'features' are the kind that killed Lotus 123 and dBase as premier software packages in the '80s. Apparently big companies don't learn all that well.

That said, there are two programs that I know of that are free and use the free downloadable charts from NOAA.

Before I go there, though, there are two types of charts NOAA supplies called Raster Navigational Charts (RNC) and Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC). RNCs are a digital picture of the real paper charts. If you could print them out on a large size printer you would have essentially what you purchase in a store as paper charts - in fact, a company (Bellingham Chart Printers) exists that prints these files in grey scale for a fraction of the price of new colored charts. I know of world cruisers that have used them quite happily.

ENCs are data rich vector charts - they contain, essentially, a database of objects with attributes. If you query a mark, you'll receive the information about it such as name, color, purpose, height and other things. The charts themselves are visualized somewhat strangely to people used to using paper charts because they're line drawn. There's no shading. It's like looking at an architectural drawing, except with buoys.

Most chart plotters actually use both chart sets - the visualization is with the raster chart so it looks familiar, but when you click on something for information, it querys the underlying vector chart based on your cursor position and you get the presentation of the information.

Don't worry if this is getting too technical - if you're familiar with the transparencies of the human body in an encyclopedia (most have them) then you can picture how this works. If not, just take my word for it.

Now for the programs. The two I'll discuss are SeaClear II and OpenCPN. Although both are capable chart plotters and navigation aids, OpenCPN offers the ability to control the autopilot and set and save routes to follow. Both integrate easily with GPS units, with SeaClear II able to connect to Garmin units using the USB without modification. The OpenCPN uses NMEA 0183 exclusively.

Sea Clear II uses the RNCs and is very easy to use - it is not designed to be a full fledged navigation system, in my opinion. But it is very easy to use and very useful as a chart plotter. It allows you to make routes and save waypoints. I've used it for couple of years and it's great for deciding overall trip strategy. I like it alot.

I've recently been turned on to OpenCPN. I'm a big fan of open source software and I use Open Office instead of paying Microsoft huge sums of cash for a questionably useful product. But I digress. OpenCPN was written specifically to do all the things a chart plotter does - run autopilots, set and follow routes, provide information about navigational items and much more. As you move from place to place the program automatically loads the chart for that area at the closest scale it can find for where you currently on. Sometimes, that takes a few seconds, but I suspect that has more to do with my computer than anything else.

OpenCPN uses both RNCs and ENCs as I've explained above. There's a huge implication to this fact - first, all the charts that NOAA provides are free to download, and second, if you have a PC with a decent monitor and three USB or serial ports and a GPS unit you can have a full fledged navigation system/chart plotter. It will run any NMEA 0183 autopilot (like, for instance, Raymarine). It will use any NMEA GPS antenna (like, for instance Raymarine or Garmin). And it will run on Windows and Linux (and maybe Mac but I won't vouch for that). It accepts AIS input and displays it. It is very powerful.

So, if you wanted a system you could purchase a decent laptop for $500 or so, load it with Ubuntu (free linux), install the OpenCPN, connect your autopilot, your GPS antenna ($250), your AIS receiver (optional, but fun $500) and you'd have the equivalent of a $3000-$6000 system. Moreover, with a little ingenuity, you could add a display at your helm with a touch screen. To be perfectly honest, I'm tempted to try this myself...

Anyway, there you have it - free navigation software. If you've got the time and a PC, I'd sure enough have a look at both. The charts are free from NOAA - RNCs and ENCs. I find downloading them by Coast Guard Zone the easiest. Unzip to a directory you'll remember and point the program at it - then go to town (sea)!

That's it for now. I'm leaving Charleston to spend Christmas with friends in Brunswick GA.

See you on the water!