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Sunday, November 16, 2008

On our way

21:30 UTC 15/11/08 36'28N 75'40W Wind W4/5

We're on our way south at last, and have had a very busy and interesting morning! Rising at 5am, we left the dock in the dark, with dawn a few minutes ahead of us. As we packed away the lines and motored down the river, we bade goodbye to Norfolk and, hopefully, the USofA for a while.

An hour down river, we are faced with a big cargo ship and a barge with two tugs, both coming towards us and occupying most of the channel. There's also a tug coming up behind us. I rapidly decide to take us out of their equations and, after a quick radio chat with the tug skippers, we go hover in a shallow spot out of the channel until everyone has passed us.

After that we hoist sail and head out into a cold, crisp and windy day. A hot cup of coffee is very welcome as the sun comes over the horizon, and as we are warming our hands the radio starts up again. The US Coastguard is escorting a submarine into harbour, they have a 500 yard exclusion zone and promise to police it with force or deadly force. We call them up and let them know where we are going, they are happy for us to pass them on the other side of the river. It's an impressive sight, a pretty big (but not nuclear size) submarine with a coastguard ship and three or four little coastguard boats patrolling around.

We go on our way, setting our course to stay out of the way of the big container ships chugging in and out of Norfolk. About an hour later, I look behind to see the same coastguard ship and escorts coming back out again, complete with same submarine. They are almost on top of us but they pass by just to one side and, again, confirm they are happy with us where we are. On the way out we also saw, docked at the navel base, one of the huge Nimitz class aircraft carriers. I took a picture for Max, who likes the idea of a floating airport.

Various container and cargo ships pass us by, and we chat to another British yacht also bound for the Virgin Islands. But they are bigger and faster than us so the next time we see them will be when we all get there. The container ships keep coming, we can now watch them on our new 'AIS' or Automatic Identification System which decodes signals sent by anything over 300 tonnes and shows us their positions, speed, heading, name, size and so on. We are passed by one 950ft long ship and just ahead of us the pilot launch speeds alongside. A pilot is a local expert who is taken on each ship as they arrive or leave to guide them through the harbour. In this case, the pilot had finished his work and was being collected to go home before the ship headed out across the ocean. We watch as a tiny figure climbs down a rope ladder on the massive steel wall of the ship, and the little launch powers in beside, eventually he steps from the ladder to the boat and it speeds off to Norfolk. That's a bit of the job I wouldn't enjoy too much, especially in rough weather.

The sailing is suberb, we are speeding along in near perfect conditions, the wind is off the land and just the right strength to keep us moving fast without being uncomfortable. We should make very good progress today. Tomorrow is supposed to be a little less windy and then there is the uncertainty about the cold front moving through on Tuesday. I am waiting to talk to Herb on the radio so we can make a decision about whether to keep going or head towards Beaufort, North Carolina. I'll come back to this entry when I know more.

And the answer is. We're heading in. If we carry on we could see winds of 35-50 knots on the other side of the gulf stream. By waiting a day we can set off again with a more settled forecast and then be far enough south not to be affected by the next front that will come over at the weekend. Sigh, it's a shame to be stopping part way but better than getting hammered out at sea. So right now we'll enjoy the sailing and probably be in port in a little over 24 hours.

All's well....N.

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