After a whistle-stop tour of the UK - the weather sunny and warm, doing its
best to persuade me to stay, I returned to Melbourne to a 3 day exhibition
of dolphins, pelicans, cormorants and even a manatee all within 20 metres of
Intrepid as she lay in the Anchorage Yacht Haven. There is a commonality of
purpose (porpoise?) between dolphins and pelicans and it all revolves around
fish. There are about 5 resident dolphins in the marina - they slowly circle
the bay in in the ICW in which the Yacht Haven is, slowly herding the fish
until with a resounding surge the dolphins rush at the fish, creating a
large bow wave often a foot high, gobbling fish which scatter and those that
are not eaten by the dolphin, are in turn eaten by the watching pelicans.
The pelicans presumably know that a marauding dolphin forcing the fish to
the surface is more effective than the pelican divebombing them from a
height , so its not uncommon to see the
pelican muddled up with the dolphins - and even at times a seagull landing
on a pelicans head to themselves get a better chance at the fleeing fish.
This is all a great time waster but quite hypnotic especially when the sun
is slowly
setting behind the trees. At times the dolphins actually seem to throw the
fish up in the air and a great beaked grinning dolphin face appears a foot
or 2 above the surface and snatches the wriggling fish out of the air.

Nicky had done a great job varnishing anything that didnt move on Intrepid
as well as visiting Oregon to see her freind Elaine for a week, but we
waited a few days to absorb the sights,
try a few bars then moved north up the ICW to Cape Canaveral inlet (outlet I
suppose it should be since we were exiting) and sailed north west to St
Augustine, about 120 miles overnight, with a fullish moon, some lightening
flashes, and the gulf stream for company. The wind was forecast to be 15
knots but when Nicky handed over to me at 2am the wind was gusting 40
knots. We reduced sail, but by 3.30am the wind had died to such an extent
that I was motoring in 3 knots of wind from dead ahead. The moon set at
5.30am just as first light showed from the sun, and by 9am we were entering
St Augustine - the oldest settlement in the USA, dating back to 1565 when
Pedro Menendez de Aviles started to build on St Augustines day. We are
anchored just north of the bridge (itself the oldest on the ICW)
close to the centre of town.

There is a city marina just south of the bridge, but it was full, and our
anchorage only 50 metres from the dinghy dock just under the bridge is very
convenient, and in spite of a knot or so of tide, the anchorage seems very
secure. We have a CQR anchor which swivels around the blade and seems to
cope with changes of current and tide well. Many other boats seem to have 3
or 4 different anchors and try them in turn until they find which 1 or 2
work. The city marina provides the dinghy dock for $5/day, and throw in a
cheese and wine party onWednesdays, plus showers, washing machines etc. We
were partly in St Augustine to say good-bye to Jim and Ann Macdonald and
their girls Elizabeth and Ellie on Helice who are returning to England on
ARC Europe. This departs from Comanche Cove marina which is about 1.5 miles
north of St Augustine - large and pleasant marina with ia a lounge, and
courtesy car provided for the use of berthholders. A really sensible idea -
you book the car for 1-2 hours at a time. About 1 in 20 marinas here seem to
offer this.

Almost everything in St Augustine seems to be the oldest something - oldest
wooden schoolhouse, oldest store, oldest hospital, oldest stone
fort..........The town was burnt by Francis Drake (who seems to have burnt
most of the earlier settlements round here) and in response the Spaniards
built a low solid fort with diamonds shaped extensions on each corner that
surprisingly enough withstood all subsequent attacks to the present day. The
14 foot thick walls of nearby shellstone helped, but the design and siting -
at the head of the inlet to the ocean- was masterful. St Augustine was a
centre for British loyalists (and 3 signatories of the declaration of
independance were imprisoned here) but was then bounced between Spain,
Britain and US before joining the USA in 1845 as part of Florida -
surprisingly late - but then much of Florida was alligator infested swamp.

Flagler - the main developer of 'modern' Florida started his developments at
St Augustine, (as the most southerly 'main' town on the railroad), building
a large 'modern' hotel for wealthy New York socialites. The hotel is now a
college, but is maintained in comparable state to what it must have been
with interior design by Tiffany, and electric light by Edison (mostly bare
wires set under the floor boards). But 2 cold winters were too much, and as
any decent person would do, Flagler built a railroad to take his guests
further south to Palm Beach, Miami and keys south. St Augustine decayed, but
this proved a blessing in disguise as it prevented further demolition and
redevelopment and the oldest ......(well, almost everything)....... survived
and are now the town's major attractions.

Local papers are reporting the Iraq war in 'close to home' terms - 8
engineers from Jacksonville 30 miles north of here were killed in Iraq this
week, and photos are starting to appear.

We frequented a micro brewery (A1A) - almost all American bars or
restaurants seem to want to reproduce, and become chains - learnt the
economics (healthy) - and touristed. We decided to let the Gulf Stream give
us a lift north so after waving goodbye to the 5 boats on ARC Europe, we
departed ourselves on the 350 mile north east bound voyage across the bay to
Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, leaving Charleston, Savanah etc to explore on
the way down south in the fall. We needed to avoid any northerly winds
(which would whip up large waves in the gulf stream) and after a slight
misunderstanding in place names (Georges Bank is not offshore Georgia) we
had 3 days of calm forecast. In fact, we discovered 2 things: 1. The gulf
stream at its supposed inshore side in 90 metres of water often does not
flow or even flows counter current; but inshore from this it does flow north
east at 1-1.5 knots at about the 30 metre contour; 2. The wind 3 nights in a
row increased from 7 knots up to 20 knots, making for lovely night sails
under a full moon, dying away to 7 knots by 10am each day. 360 miles for
Intrepid is really 3 days and nights - Nicky does the 9-2am watch, I do
2-7am then sleep 'till 9.30 when Nicky goes off to sleep again. Seems to
work well, and we are kept amused by dolphins and reading. I never thought I
would say it, but I am slightly disappointed to have caught a beautiful
Spanish Mackerel (cousin to a tuna and excellent eating) on the first day.
Even 2/3 of it provides meals for 2 of us for 4 days, (Nicky's limit for
fish)so I have to stop fishing (since tag and release isn't practical or
fair from a yacht). Interestingly, I caught the fish just a few minutes
after lengthening the fishing line so that it trolled about 90 metres behind
Intrepid instead of my usual 50 metres. Maybe I have discovered the secret!
(Or maybe not). I will have to wait to test it further.

As I write we are about to traverse the sly sand banks which extend out from
Cape Fear for some 30 miles and which are dotted with wrecks. They are also
home (we hear) to great white sharks - a friend described seeing a monster
20 foot long gliding round about 5 metres away which quite (but reasonably)
upset
him. Jaws was set and filmed near here. I offered Nicky a swim, but she
declined, and shark fishing I will leave to the pros. About here we acquired
a waif or stray - a small warbler with a yellow breast which was so
exhausted that (s)he just flew into the cockpit and stayed, too far gone to
do anything else. Her feet were shaped to fit around branches and she could
not cope with flat teak, so I found a piece of dowelling, and she kept us
company all through the 3rd night, head buried in her feathers. We offered
water and bread, and next morning she hopped round the boat - we named her
Beaufort.

Early on our 3rd morning (about 7am) Intrepid entered the 5 mile long
dredged channel leading to Beaufort North Carolina. Its very well buoyed (a
pleasant change from the Bahamas and so on) and we gently curved round the
outer barrier islands (on which wild horses breed) and found Beaufort Marina
on the main water front and boardwalk. $1.65/foot ($68 or 40 for us) -
includes a free courtesy car provided by the maritime museum. Beaufort used
to be a whaling and fishing station and Confederate camp, but now its
becoming genteel - gift shops with memorabilia and 26 restaurants. But after
3 nights we weren't objecting, and had our best lunch of 2004 so far - soft
shell crabs in a pita bread wrap ($9) with real ginger beer from the balcony
of the club house. It was a Sunday and families were wandering, the sun was
out .....The skipper of a British Army yacht nearby with 14 crew came to
chat - beats Iraq I guess. Beaufort marina only does 'transients' (lovely
word - ie boats staying for a day or 2 only - everything from 20 foot
liveaboards to $million sports boats) the marina fills up at 4pm and empties
at 9am. The dockmaster explained that the charges are suffiently high that
most boats only stay for a day. We broke the pattern as I had to change the
engine oil and buy network cards etc, so on Monday we gave ourselves a tour
of the locale including the less 'classy' Moorhead City (more basic fishing
and miles long sprawl with diners and billboards and plazas - interesting -
we took 20 minutes to find any fresh fruit and veg, but in this time must
have passed 50 fast food outlets of the burger fries and icecream variety -
unsurprisingly the average waistline here tends to be ample (not that I can
talk!) Even the supermarket veg and fruit area when we found it was small,
the produce either highly polished tasteless or frumpy dull, and the Bakers
Inn Harvest Loaf (neighbourhood bakery goodness is now inside your grocery
store) had a sell-by date of 26th May (we bought it on 8th May). It seems
that
US stores make most money from manufactured items usually from China that do
not perish and will eventually sell at a high margin given the low cost
price (probably acquired on credit anyway). This seems to be the Walmart
approach and they are most profitable firm. Gasoline (petrol) is almost
$2/US gallon - about 35p/litre - a source of real concern here.

However 2 glorious examples of US community life: the local library
providing free internet in lovely surroundings, and the maritime museum
staffed by over 100 volunteers with really well designed and displayed
accounts of everything from commercial fishing to shells, wrecks, and
parent/child build youself a boat in a day. US kids would find it hard not
be well educated with facilities like this provided. However apparently
there is already a movement to stop boats mooring and anchoring here because
it 'lowers the tone'. Already the fishing boats have been moved. Strange
since it is exactly the 'tone' that old Beaufort must have had.

Tom and Pat, Americans from New Orleans and Houston oil industry, now
touring the ICW in a Westerly shared wine and information in the evening,
and and next day over a real American breakfast at the Soda Fountain, then
more talks with a British couple who advised us about CoastGuard
inspections - they have been touring the Bahamas and ICW for 5 months/year
for the last 10 years on their catamaran. The CG regularly board vessels for
checks, (although in their case they said they had inadvertently knocked
over an ICW marker - hence their latest inspection!). We find it hard to
find American sail-boaters who like George W Bush - in fact most are
virulently against him. Perhaps he fares better amongst power
boaters.......? (Apparently Kerry owns a yacht - but is that just a rich
man's toy?)

We are now heading up north through the ICW avoiding Cape Hatteras. This is
the first time we have been in North Carolina, and the country is truly
beautiful - vast forests of pine trees interspersed with river creeks and
estuaries, a few houses, some modern and large, some looking like original
wooden cabins, and its quiet and at night, dark - little light pollution.
The ICW is typically 70 metres wide here, rushes on either side - the
straight cut canals linking estuaries date back to the mid 1930's when the
Army Corps of Engineers was used on public service projects to jump start
the economy before WW2 did it on a bigger scale. We sailed down the Neuse
Estuary in 20 knots of wind and anchored nestled amidst crab pots in Bonner
Bay and barbecued steak with good red wine amidst the silence as the wind
died down, the stars came out and the intense smell of pine wood and
honeysuckle came out to
us.

Thursday we continued up the Alligator River Canal - now 150 feet wide -
originally 90 feet wide when it was dug in 1930's. The difference is due to
erosion from power boats - we only saw 1 idiot who overtook us at 15 knots
when 2 other boats were coming from the opposite direction, but the evidence
is there. Apparently the Iraq War is siphoning money from the Army Corps of
Engineers maintenance. We passed the Coast Guard station with some
trepidation (we didn't have 2 stickers that US boats have to affix
concerning oily waste and garbage, nor an orange distress flag) but no boat
accosted us. We are in fact OK as we are UK flagged and only have to abide
by UK regulations but did not want to be taken for a flag of convenience.

The canal is eerily devoid of wildlife - our UK bird book is starting to
demonstrate its Eastern bias and we bought a magnificent Sibley/Audobon book
of American birds which proved its worth within 2 days as we identified a
turkey vulture and mate (red turkey head on top of a buzzard-like body) -
but
apart from these there is little else. Later, even the trees were dead
around the waters edge, the whitened tree trunks stark against the green
rushes and the peat brown water. Perhaps they should make malt whiskey in
Carolina? Maybe they already do...(some of it I understand is legal).

We anchored at mile 102 in 20 knots of wind and next morning explored the
waters edge, then through the swing bridge following a tug with a lady
skipper and over 20 miles of Albermarle Sound - wide shallow water
criss-crossed with lines of crab pots which we try to avoid. We went too
close to one and it grabbed my fishing lure - we turned back to try to
retrieve it (unsuccessfully) - but it did at least give us the excuse to
raise 2 crab pots to check and observe about 10 small blue streaked crabs
inside each, perhaps 5 inches across. They are checked daily apparently, and
if one is caught taking crabs from a pot one is liable to be shot hereabouts
and questions asked later; our motives were innocent, but even so so we
hurried on to Elizabeth City, which prides itself on being the most
welcoming city in the ICW.

And rightly so - Sam an octogenerian waved us in, and took our ropes at the
free city dockage, and apologised that the normal cheese and wine party had
not happened because there were fewer than 4 boats in at 5pm. Nicky said she
wanted to eat crabs after our near encounters with their pots and without us
realising it Bob and Rusty on the neighbouring boat bought 2 dozen hard
shell crabs and invited us across. Its quite a feast! But messy...very
messy. Start by spreading newspaper over eveything, then steam the crabs for
20 minutes, tip them out on the table, and everyone (under instruction)
removes the claws, opens the shell, discards the deadmans fingers and other
stuff, cuts the shell in 4 ways and extracts the deliciously sweet white
meat however you can. Bob and Rusty were originally from DC but now live in
N Carolina and are selling their home and going sailing. They know about
crabs - Rusty's Grandma taught her aged 2 apparently.

Next day, after a meal that we decided must date back to the earliest hunter
gatherers here, we moved on. Elizabeth City is trying desperately hard to
keep the Dismal Swamp Canal open - there are 2 ICW routes north from
Albermarle Sound to Chesapeake Bay and Norfolk Virginia - the other one is
deeper and wider, but the Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest continuously
operated canal in the Americas, and was part surveyed by George Washington,
who had a 1/12 share in logging there and dug an initial ditch to extract
the wood. It was called Dismal by William Byrd who was surveying the
Virginia/Carolina border, and having struggled through 'repulsive dense
undergrowth' named it dismal. The canal was dug in 1770-1800 using slave
labour from nearby plantations, (probably including Washington's) and the
swamp became a haven for runaway slaves who got to know it so well they
could evade capture. Civil War battles were fought to gain control of it,
but the lack of maintenance told and eventually it was sold to the Federal
Government in 1929 and the Army Corps of Engineers set to maintain it. Today
it is threatened by .........the Iraq War which is siphoning away the budget
the Army use for this to spend in Iraq instead. And Hurricane Isabel
battered it in 2002, leaving trees across it.

If ever you get the chance to go along the Dismal Swamp Canal - grab it. It
is glorious!!!! I added the Great to the title) Brits used to cruising the
Thames should flock here in great numbers. Trees line the banks on both
sides of the winding Pasquotank River
leading north from Elizabeth City, then the dug canal heads straight
with just 1 bend all the way to the east of the dismal swamp. Honeysuckle
showers in profusion
from both banks, in the light breeze the scent is wafted around, there are
very few houses, mostly trees on either side so close that we were warned to
be just as careful of our mast on the near overhanging branches as on our
depth - Intrepid's keel is 6 feet below waterline and the canal is dug to
......6 feet. Actually they promised us 6 foot 6 inches and that was about
what we had - apart from 2 taps on the hull from submerged branches we
only touched once and for half the time had 1 foot or more below the keel.
The water is so peaty acid that little grows here - sailors used to take
dismal swamp water on long voyages as it didn't go mouldy like 'pure' water.
We saw 4 boats all day.

The 2 locks only open 3 times/day to preserve water and we moored next to a
Canadian boat at Deep Creek (named it is said by Geo Washington who fell in
and is said to have remarked 'What a .......deep creek')
Then on to the rusty industrial zones of Norfolk Virginia with decrepit
ships and wharfs, raised railroad bridges, and suddenly what must be the
main US reserve fleet - not 1 but 7 large aircraft carriers (Britain has 2 I
believe) plus the Ronald
Reagan in what looked like active service with crew - quite massive, almost
as broad as she is long. We logged the outgoing tide at 3 knots (more than
the tide table says) and headed north up Chesapeake Bay (which is almost 200
miles long and 30 or so wide) and the James, York, Stuart, Rappahannock
Rivers on
the west side before we turn west into the Potomac River for Washington DC
about 90 miles further on. Its as well we headed north when we did, its
getting hot (30-35C in the shade) and feels humid although it only measures
50%.

We wish you all well, its probably taken 10 days to write this email with
all the activities en route, (and it took that long to read, I hear you
say), if you do get the chance
come to North Carolina - its a beautiful, natural, largely undiscovered (by
Brits anyway) part of the US.

Andy and Nicky Gibb.

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