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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vero Beach, FL to Bellhaven, NC

We had as many projects done as necessary when we realized we had a pretty good window opportunity to make some miles north. I turned in the rental car on Friday, ignoring all the road block signs and driving like I was someone important. I made it to the Hertz return in much better time than I expected. I was back with plenty of time to get a couple loads of laundry done, negotiate a credit for the two nights we did not stay on the mooring, and stow all the provisions we had accumulated in two short days. It was thumbs up for departure Saturday morning.

We left Fort Pierce inlet in about the second hour of an ebb flow. That flow was against a Southeast wind and swell. I do not have such kind words to speak about the inlet after that experience. Our first experience, in the dark, was at slack current. I vote for slack every time. We buried the bow on Hold Fast six times in less than ½ a mile. We were one of four sailboats going out at that time, and we all had a tough time of it. As soon as it was safe, Myron turned north out of the ebb flow and got us on our heading. We had 4 to 5 foot seas in maybe 5 second intervals. Thankfully we were riding them at an angle and the wind was sufficient to keep us from tossing too much. It kept getting better from there. We were able to sail all through our first night. After that, the winds reduced and the motor had to assist the push of the Gulf Stream and the wind.

What a difference the AIS (automatic identification system) transponder made. We have always had the receiver to see other AIS, but now we could be seen. I am so glad Myron installed it. It really takes a lot of stress out of the ocean passages. I could observe the cargo ships and tankers change course to keep at least a mile CPA (closest point of approach). On only one occasion did I need to call a cargo ship named 'Captain Stewart.' I remember the name because I had to discipline myself not to call it Captain Stubbing. When Captain Stewart was only five miles away and our CPA was less than a thousand feet, I called to make sure they saw me. I think I woke him up. He adjusted course and we passed with a .5 mile CPA. Trust me, with a huge cargo ship at night - that looks really close. After he modified course he called me back and asked if it was OK with me. I said it was a half mile and that was better. He asked me again, was I OK with our separation. Once I said yes, he said "Goodnight" and signed off. I found it so odd!

I think Myron mentioned one of our surreal events this trip. We often have some sort of exchange with the wild creatures while on the ocean. This one was personally precious. I was just about to finish my 3 to 6 pm watch when we had a tiny bird (I thought it was a finch, but the beak was much too narrow - like a warbler's beak but warblers are too big). I only have a field guide for western birds and am stumped. When we get decent internet, I will post a picture and you guys can help us figure out what it was. But get this, it was as if it knew it had to befriend us to survive. He (I think) landed on Myron's head, mine too, our shoulders, walked on our hands and across our legs. He looked all over the boat for something. Bugs we guessed. Unfortunately, I had just cleaned my bug collection off the hard top ceiling. I had cleaned the boat too and could not find anything for him. He finally found a dead winged termite and ate it heartily, wings and all. (One night in Hatchet Bay we were covered with these flying insects. Luckily, I missed one!) He was so thirsty too. He would not drink from the bowl I brought. Hold Fast was rocking and rolling on the seas and tipped the water out of the bowl, which he drank off the teak cockpit seats. He drank quite a bit. I gave up looking for more bugs and got a snack of red grapes out for Myron and me. As soon as I set the bowl down, he was in it, drinking the water off the grapes and trying to eat the grapes. Myron opened a grape and was hand feeding it to this precious little bird. After our grape snack, I got an apple out for me and a banana for Myron. After I took my first bite, the little bird flew right over to my hand and picked at the apple as I was putting it to my mouth a second time! He would sit at the helm and Myron could pet him. Too soon it was time for my off-watch and I needed to get some rest. But I did not want to stop interaction with this bird. It was so rare! Sleep is critical though, so I was off to the pilot berth. I popped my head out in the cockpit about 8 pm to check on him. Myron said he would come back to the food, fly around the boat a bit, and come back to the food. He also finally chirped like he was calling a bird or heard another bird. Shortly after that, he went to the back of the boat, looked at Myron and took off for good. He needed to finish his migration. I was happy to have helped him, but sad that he left. I turned to my right and saw a swallow sitting by the galley hatch.

The swallow (barn swallow according to my western field guide) was not nearly as aggressive and did not look for food or water. He was shaking and, clearly, he was tired. It was getting dark and he seemed to want to roost for the night. I went back to bed. The swallow followed Myron into the cabin, landed on his hand and then perched on the TV, watching Myron. He stayed there until a change in watch, then perched on the wood behind the on-demand water heater. It was a much better perch for him as we rocked and rolled through the seas, and he stayed there for the remainder of the night. At the 6 am change of watch, I was making coffee and Myron went out to the cockpit. The swallow made several shifts between the TV to the water heater, then to my head. He gave a chirp and then flew out of the cabin. I ran up to watch if he would come back. He took a couple of turns, then straightened out and was off. All our visitors were gone. It made me sad. A couple of watches later, another little bird, much like the first, landed on Hold Fast. It was the most skiddish of all. I think it was a female. She was around for only a few hours and then left. We were all alone again and never received additional visits. I knew our third day out we would be too close to land and the birds would fly right by us on their migration. We were no longer needed.

As we approached Beaufort inlet, I could see a dredger's AIS signal on the inlet approach. We would have done the approach in the dark, except for the dredger. We slowed down Hold Fast and went in at first light. Unfortunately, 30 fishing boats and sport fishers had just been released on a fishing tournament and we encountered most of them right at the dredger. The current had us and it was all we could do to keep Hold Fast between the dredger and its markers, much less with on-coming traffic. Obviously we survived it and wrote it off to just being Beaufort inlet.

We pressed on and stayed for the first time in Bellhaven at the free dock. With dinner in our bellies, we are ready for bed. I am tired and I hope this reads decently!

Love to all,

Posted via Ham Radio.

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