Dealing with Groundings

Running aground is a major part of sailing. If you have a fin keel, this will usually be followed by a haul out to inspect for damages, but if you have a full keel, it will usually be followed by a nice meal.

Full keels are much stronger, so they can bear the force of the boat colliding with the bottom better and also the weight of the yacht resting on it as the tide goes out. This is due to the increased mating area of the keel to hull. A fin keel only meets for a small area while a full keel runs the length of the hull. 

The ICW is a narrow and shallow waterway, where venturing out of the channel is swiftly punished by a firm smack on the bottom (see what I did there?) .

You might think that now you need to call the tow boat to pull you off because you are stuck, but the truth is running aground can be much less inconvenient if you time it properly. 

The tides occur four times a day, controlled by the moon. The earth has two tidal bulges on opposite sides of the globe. One bulge occurs on the side of the Earth that faces the Moon, the other occurs on the side of the Earth away from the moon.  This is why they are called "Lunar Tides".

They occur for two reasons:  

1. The bulge facing the Moon is caused by the Moon's gravity pulling the water off the Earth.  

2.  The bulge on the side without the Moon is caused by the Moon's gravity pulling the Earth away from the water on the other side.

Remember that the mass of the Earth is being pulled in all directions, by the Sun, Moon, and every other celestial body. Water just flows around, but the forces pulling on the Earth's mass are all affected by this. Water just has the ability to flow and demonstrate where these forces occur. But enough about physics and our solar system, lets get back to navigating the ICW. 

If you run aground at low tide, all you need to do is wait for high tide. That doesn't take much thought. The tides run on a cyclic schedule, and if you navigate the waters on this schedule you will not have any problems! There are two high tides, the one facing the moon and the one not facing the moon; most importantly, they are not the same intensity.  

If you leave on the higher high tide and sail through the following low tide, you will probably be tired and ready to anchor by the following high tide (which is the less intense high tide). If you run aground as you leave the channel to anchor, it isn't that big of a deal as you weren't going to be moving for the rest of the night anyway. The tide will go out and you will be stuck on the bottom until the next high tide comes around that is more intense and will float you off. 

It is imperative that you leave with this tide, because if you don't, you will be stuck an entire day until the next "higher high tide" comes around. 


Following this schedule, running aground will be but a temporary thing for the night. By the next morning, you will be floating again and ready to continue on your cruise! 

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ICW vs. Offshore

When heading south on the East Coast of the United States, you are faced with two choices: ICW or going Offshore. 

You many be wondering why someone would chose one route over the other. The ICW offers many scenic views and towns to stop into along the way while the ocean offers none of this. 

Having done a little bit of both at this time, it seems that the biggest difference that could sway your decision on course is above all else: time. 

Storms, weather, and scenery are all secondary to time. If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, the straight line non-stop path is always going to be the quickest way to go. Sailing offshore grants you the ability to relax and enjoy the ocean as your yacht powers through the seas in steady and consistent wind around the clock, ticking off many miles a day towards your destination. There are no obstacles, no detours, and no traffic to worry about as you sail right along. 

When calculating your voyage duration, it is common practice to plan 100 miles per day. This means that Norfolk to Florida is about 7 days!  

The alternative to the offshore path is to go the ICW. This is the inland waterway that cuts down the east coast. Here, you can not sail around the clock, as there are many obstacles in your way. It is crowded, shallow, there are bridges, and strong currents to contend with. We have been sailing an average of 20 miles per day down the ICW, and only on days when conditions are good. The wonderful part about the ICW though, is when conditions are not good, you just stay anchored until they improve. 

The waterway is so small and narrow that waves can not form, meaning that the worst you will contend with are currents and wind. Both of these are easily overcome by a strong anchor and lots of chain! 

Having a 6.5 foot draft though has meant many a groundings. Our first day consisted of three groundings. Our second day consisted of one.  

The channels are well marked and if you stay in them, you will not run into trouble. The problem stems from when you venture off the dredged path in search of an anchorage. The water gets shallow very quickly, and letting out enough rode for the scope will usually result in the keel meeting the bottom. 

Having a full keel prevents any heartache, as we simply sit on the bottom for a while until we float off with the next tide. 

The ICW is very pretty, but it is slower than offshore. The advantage is you get to rest and relax as you make your way down.  If you were in a hurry, the ICW would be torture, so make sure you know what you really want before you choose your path. Making a choice for the right reasons will ensure that you enjoy your cruise to its utmost potential.

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Choosing a Route

We have been slowly moving along as we are cruising with no end date in mind. We set out with a nebulous route in mind, taking us to Bermuda, the Azores, the Mediterranean, and back down to the Caribbean.

We left in July of 2017 with plans to be in Bermuda as soon as possible and in the Azores by November. We ended up spending a bit more time in the Chesapeake Bay, exploring many unique and interesting places that we never knew existed. This ended up taking about 3 months and we didn't leave the bay until early October. At this point, it was a bit cold to go across the ocean, so we decided to set our sights south, and head to the Bahamas!  

We left the bay and promptly got a bit shaken up in a long lasting gale off Cape Hatteras. From there, we entered the ICW and have slowly been making our way along as we explore and enjoy every town we drop anchor in. 

Fast forward to the present, it is now December 2017, and we are as far away as North Carolina. 2 states away and 300 miles south from our home port of Baltimore, MD, 6 months later. 

Our progress has been remarkably slow, and we have enjoyed every moment of it. As we approached Beaufort, NC on our way to the Bahamas, we were faced with two options: 1. Go down the ICW or 2. Go outside. 

Being how weather has been unfavorable with all the winter storms rolling through, we felt that we might be waiting for a weather window for a very long time. Also, the outside run would mean I would have to solo sail through the night and arrive exhausted at our next inlet. We would anchor and I would need a few days to sleep and recover. 

The other option is to go down the ICW from here, and creep along a few miles a day as the currents and wind allow. This would be much slower as compared to sailing in the open ocean, but at the same time, I would get to sleep every night at anchor, we could cook meals every night in calm water, and we would not be so limited by weather. 

After facing three days of 40+ knot winds and 30 foot seas off Hatteras, the threat of a light chop and high wind on the ICW seems mundane to us now. If the wind is in the wrong direction, we stay anchored and wait for the winds to change. If the winds are in the right direction, we will make many miles that day! 

When we made the decision, we equated it to the old fable of the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise moves slow and steady (ICW) and the hare moves very fast and then needs to rest for a long time (ocean). Learning from these childhood stories, we chose to follow the motto of "slow and steady wins the race." 

This choice has led us down a path filled with wonderful sights and beautiful sceneries that we would have missed if we were sailing offshore, braving the seas as we try to clear 60 miles before the next storm strikes! 

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Running Aground

Today was quite the memorable day of sailing. We left Oriental, NC, and sailed all the way down to Moorhead City, NC. We saw dolphins, sailed by amazing houses, and ran aground three times! 

The day started out aground. We had been anchored in Oriental for about 3 weeks, and the bottom there consists of a very soft mud. The keel was close to the bottom in the harbor and then the wind pushed us onto a small shoal. It seems that the keel worked its way deep into the mud during those three weeks and didn't want to let go! 

We motored a bunch in forward and reverse, with the propeller acting more like a dredger than a propulsion method. The prop churned up the water and sent the silt flying away. Soon we had dug a hole that we could spin around in, and with a full power blast, made it out of our shallow prison and into the channel!  This method only worked without penalty because we have a full keel with attached rudder and an electric motor. If we had fin appendages, we would have to worry about structural damage to the hull. A diesel motor would become quickly clogged with all the silt and overheat in short order. The electric motor is air cooled and spins as long as there is power supplied to it.

That was grounding number one. 

Grounding number two occurred not in the narrow Adam's Creek, but in the wide open section of the Newport River. I deviated from the course a little bit and was quickly reprimanded with a sudden stop on the sandy bottom. While we were aground, a pod of bottlenose dolphins came by to see what was going on and then left to resume their fishing activities. We tried using the sails to heel us over and motoring forward and reverse, even turning hard to rock the keel off the bottom! Nothing worked so we called Boat US and had a tow boat come grab us.  

These types of tows make me think of beached whales. They come by to help and pull you into deeper water, then they set you free again! He made short work of the dilemma and pulled us off the bottom and out into the deeper channel in a heartbeat. 

We continued sailing along well as we rounded Moorhead City at the entrance to the Bogue Sound.  This sound is a long and narrow passage that you need to complete in a day or you will regret your life choices (or so I have been told). Since it was now 5pm, and the sun was rather low on the horizon, we chose to drop the hook for the night on a shoal.

The tide in this area is rather dramatic in my opinion, rising several feet each day and with a very strong current of water flowing past. We proceeded out of the channel and into what was supposed to be 8-9 feet of water and promptly ran aground again! This was grounding number three. 

Once again, we tried the motoring, and the sails, and then decided that this was fine, we were out of the channel and we would simply wait for high tide. It turns out the tide was not all the way out when we grounded, and as I type this, we are tipped bow down and slightly to port as the water rushes away from our hull and is leaving us high and dry. 

The tide tomorrow at 8am is supposed to be 2.5 feet higher than when we ran aground, so we will certainly float off at that time and will simply raise the anchor and proceed on our way down the Bogue Sound. 

Cruising always has its memorable moments. We had the day of perfect sailing, we have had days with dolphins, and we have had days when we sailed into places that sailboats are not meant to enter. Today will be remembered as the day we ran aground, three times. 

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Finding Shangrila

While cruising, you will encounter many wonderful and new places. Some places are gorgeous because they have a lot of natural beauty. Others are surrounded by nice people and pleasant towns. Everyone has their own picture of paradise, and that is what we all strive to find. 

Shangrila is a mythical city that travelers find after a weary passage. The towns people are welcoming and inviting and everything there is in perfect harmony. You are welcomed to stay as long as you like, but if you leave, you may never find it again!

I feel that Oriental, NC is our Shangrila. We arrived here after a gale off Hatteras and a long, blustery ride down the Pamlico Sound. We anchored in the harbor at 4am, and spend the first few days sleeping and recovering on the boat before we went to shore. 

When we made landfall at the free and well maintained dinghy dock, we were instantly greeted by many kind and caring people. The restaurants were inexpensive and delicious, and everyone seems to know everyone else. This makes it easy for them to spot the cruisers, as we are the "new faces" in town. 

Every morning, we would go ashore and get a giant serving of ice cream for $2.79!  

We would then strol around town and inevitably be invited to some event that was happening and this would consume our day. After dark, we would return to the boat and go to sleep, only to repeat the process tomorrow. Each day is filled with a magical unknown quality that we know will lead to a fun and interesting day surrounded by kind and caring people. 

To make it even more attractive, the harbor is filled with a very soft mud that the anchor sinks into with ease, and the entire harbor is completely protected from wind and waves! Even better, there is no lunar tide! I know that sounds odd, but there is actually no tidal change throughout the day. The tide here is controlled by the wind, if it blows from the North, the harbor fills a bit, if it blows from the South, the harbor drains a bit. The difference from full to drained is only about 1 foot, so you really don't need to worry about your boat shifting direction and dragging anchor while you are away. 

We have been in Oriental for 3 weeks now and the locals have been trying to set us up with work and a home. They have pointed us in the direction of a few nice homes that are for sale and told me that the local dentist might be looking to retire soon and sell her practice to me. All of these offers are very tempting as we could spend the rest of our lives here anchored in the harbor with a steady source of income and a town full of happy and caring people. 

But as the story goes, the traveler yearns for the unknown distant horizon and will set out to find someplace new! In the fable, the traveler then returns to where he thought Shangrila was located but can't find it, as it is lost to him forever. 

We, on the other hand have the coordinates to this place, and plan on returning to this wonderful place when we sail up the East Coast of the United States in the future. Until then, we will escape from this sanctuary and head off into the distance! 

Our next stop will not be anything like this place though, which will give us motivation to continue on towards warmer waters! When we leave here, we will travel 20 miles south towards Beaufort, NC, and then 65 miles down to Masonboro, where our anchorage will have a 7 foot tidal variance and a strong current to boot! Paradise will be a sweet memory as we wonder why we left and wander the globe by sail. 

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