Monthly Archives: August 2016

Aug 14 – From Dragons to Pirates

We left Oriental in the early morning, before the winds picked up, and had an easy crossing of the Neuse River, and a smooth trip down to Beaufort. We were taking it easy on purpose, and arrived a little after noon. We had barely seen Beaufort on our trip north, having arrived in the later afternoon and leaving early the next morning — never setting foot ashore. We wanted to see it this time. We dropped the outboard onto the dinghy and headed into town. Because of the number of boats anchored in Taylor Creek, we had to anchor about a mile and a half from the dinghy dock. It took us about 15 minutes to get from the boat to the dinghy dock because the whole trip was in a No Wake zone. Temperatures were in the low 90s as we scoped out the town. We were looking for all the usual luxuries… groceries, laundries, trash dumpsters, and cheap cold beer. We found the grocery and the laundry, and by late afternoon had ducked into a likely place for a beer. It had all the requirements. Chairs and air conditioning. As for beer, Suzy tried a craft local, and I got a cheap domestic. Being fairly late in the day, and not wanting to heat up the boat by having to cook something later, we ordered an appetizer and called it dinner. We nursed that rest stop for about two hours before we returned to the boat.

Scraping DinkThe next morning was fairly cool, and not wanting to appear the sloth, I decided it was time to haul and scrape the dinghy. We unloaded all the gear, hoisted the outboard motor back up onto the stern rail, and hauled the dinghy up by the spinnaker halyard. I went after the bottom with my normal tool, a metal kitchen spatula. Four hours later, the dinghy was back in the water, fully loaded, and with a slick bottom. I could really tell the difference in performance when we headed back into town later that day. The outboard hardly had to work at all to push the boat through the water. We walked around town a bit in the late afternoon, then stopped a local and asked about a good place for a cold beer and a cheap burger. He recommended the Royal James Cafe. We strolled down to the cafe and were surprised to find that it was a full-fledged pool hall with a long bar and lunch counter down one side — kinda quaint and scruffy at the same time. But the beer was cold and inexpensive, and the burgers were cheap and good. The fries were excellent. We watched a little bit of the Rio Olympics TV coverage while we sat. First we’d seen of it.

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While walking around town, we noticed these flyers posted at various locations. Seems pirates invaded Beaufort in 1747, only to be driven off by the locals. Now, it’s a good excuse for a party, but with most of the locals seeming to want to identify with the pirates. The re-enactment of the invasion was going to be at the city dock, which includes the dinghy dock. Signs had been posted that the dinghy dock would be closed all day on Saturday. Since the only other place to land the dinghy is a long walk from town, we decided to just stay on the boat on Saturday. Nurse Suzy had already determined that I needed a day of rest, and had restricted me from any strenuous activity. So I spent Saturday catching up on blog posts and going over our bills and budget — and trying to stay cool. The weather service had resumed issuing heat advisories for the coast, and we were feeling the full effects.

Sunday was going to be our day for groceries and laundry, but we decided to put those chores off until our next stop. The tasks would’ve involved hauling our laundry to town in the dinghy, and hauling both the laundry and groceries back. We didn’t look forward to the long ride. We decided we would stay in a cheap marina at our next stop, but it was one with a courtesy car. Besides, the available grocery would be much larger than the waterfront shop in Beaufort. Instead of doing chores, we went to the Maritime Museum. There’s a great exhibit on the old coastal Life Saving service, which rescued people from the many ships that wrecked along North Carolina’s coast. There’s also a fascinating exhibit about the pirate Blackbeard. Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, had wrecked in the shoals surrounding the Beaufort Inlet in 1718, and in recent years it has been excavated. The museum has many of the artifacts recovered from the wreck. Surprisingly, even though Blackbeard is probably one of the most renowned pirates in our history, his career was short — less than two years. He captured the ship that he would rename Queen Anne’s Revenge in the Caribbean in 1717. He had some successful raids and blockaded Charleston, SC, before wrecking his ship. After Charleston, he was hunted down by the British Navy, captured and beheaded before the end of 1718. North Carolina was a hub of pirate activity during what is called the Golden Age of Piracy. It had shallow inlets that smaller pirate ships could enter, but big British Navy ships couldn’t. It was sparsely populated and weakly governed, which meant there were plenty of open areas where the pirates could operate or hide. And it had a poor economy, which meant there was a ready black market for the goods that pirates would sell. The pirates weren’t always looking for gold. They attacked merchant ships to steal anything of value that they could then resell. It is even thought that the colonial government of North Carolina condoned the pirate trade, since it was good for the local economy. Sounds like the places where pirates still operate today.

Aug 13 – Oriental Expense

IMG_5988Oriental is a great place if you’re only going to spend a day or two. They have two city docks that allow you to tie up for free, which have between them space for about five or six boats. You can stay for 48 hours within any 30 day period. When we first arrived in Oriental on a Friday, we tied up at the free city dock. If you look hard, you can see the top of Madge’s mast behind the big white yacht at the left of the picture. We were between that and the red shrimp boats. But we didn’t get to stay our full 48 hours. There was a regatta coming into town the next day (Saturday), and the city docks were reserved for that. So we had to leave. But before leaving, we walked around the town center and saw the highlights. We also met Sabina and Gino from S/V Snickers, whom I mentioned in a previous post. I gave some consideration to anchoring out in the harbor, just around the bend from what you see in the picture, but the “anchorage” is basically in the channel and turning basin that the shrimp boats use, so it’s a very busy and crowded place.

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We moved up one creek from the Oriental harbor to Whittaker Creek on Saturday morning, where we took a transient slip at Whittaker Pointe Marina. We had pulled into Oriental for two reasons: 1) it’s a great sailing town with more boats than actual residents, and 2) we had a problem with our electronic charts, and needed to buy a new chip for our chartplotter. The local marine store had the chip we needed, so we borrowed the marina courtesy car and headed back to town, where we picked up our chip, had lunch, and hit the local grocery. The grocery had just opened that weekend. It replaced a store that had closed months ago, and the town was all abuzz about it. Being a scaled-down version of a Piggly Wiggly, but with some high end produce and other specialties the locals had suggested stocking, it was lovingly called “The Piglet.” The employees wore t-shirts for The Piglet of Oriental in North Carolina (OiNC). Ha! Piglet. Oinc. Love a town that has a sense of humor. Along those lines, back in the 80s, the village had adopted the Chinese dragon as the town symbol. There are dragons everywhere. Dragons on houses. Dragons on license plates. Dragon eggs (painted stones) in yards. They have a Dragon’s Breath Dinghy Race, and a Dragon Boat Festival. They have a big parade on New Years Eve with a real Chinese dragon that roars down the streets of town, with 30 or 40 people inside making the huge thing move. They also have the Neuse River and some horrible thunderstorms in the summer. We got stranded there for a couple of extra days waiting for a long enough weather window to get to our next stop. Fortunately, Whittaker Pointe Marina has some fine facilities, including a swimming pool, and we got to spend some quality time literally cooling our heels in the airconditioned lounge. The dockmaster was also very accommodating.

Unfortunately, though, the weather window we thought we had on Wednesday closed suddenly and unexpectedly, but only after we were several miles down the Neuse River on our way to Bear Creek. I’ve mentioned the Neuse River Bash in a previous post, so you already know that story, which is how we ended up limping back into Oriental and Whittaker Pointe Marina on Friday, exactly one week after we first arrived in town. At least we knew our way around by now, and we had free use of a car.

Since we had an appointment for the repair of our autopilot on Monday, and couldn’t go anywhere over the weekend, the weather, of course, was great — almost. There was a brief thunderstorm at noon on Saturday, which broke up the Dragon’s Breath Dinghy Race, but the race resumed after the rain and completed successfully. There was a brief shower on Sunday afternoon, but all it did was help keep the temperature down.

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Also on Saturday, we got some company at the transient dock. S/V All In pulled in with its crew of four. Bryan and Laura were former school teachers from Beaufort, SC, who quit their jobs and sold their house (just like us), and set sail with their two young daughters. The All Ins were having the same sort of first year challenges that we were having. Three weeks after setting sail, they ran aground in the ICW, and in the process of getting them loose, the tow boat managed to bend their rudder. That required three weeks on the hard while a new rudder was fabricated (!) and installed. Luckily, their boat insurance covered the cost. They had only been back on the boat for two or three weeks. We marveled at their ability to travel with two pre-schoolers, and told them how wise it was of them to sail at a much younger age than we had chosen. Laura is part of some Facebook groups for cruisers with children aboard, which is a support network I had not heard of (which isn’t surprising, since we don’t have children aboard). In conversation, we told them about our need to get back to St. Marys by the end of October, because of the cruisers’ Thanksgiving Week events. All In should be heading south by that time, and they promised they would try to attend… with some other of their cruising-with-kids friends. I should probably start planning on some kid-friendly activities for that week, in addition to our regular adult activities.

On Monday, Peter from Sea Coast Marine Electronics came and took a look at our autopilot. He confirmed my previous diagnosis of a worn out drive unit, then popped the wheel off the boat and took it into his shop to take a look at it. Worst case scenario, I was looking at having to buy a whole new drive unit. But Peter thought he might be able to replace a few parts and get the old unit working again.  FullSizeRender (003)

As it turns out, we only had a bad gear (shown at left, with vanilla wafer for size reference). The hole in the middle is supposed to be square. It had wallowed out while trying to turn the rudder in heavy seas. Peter replaced the part and put the drive unit back together. It worked just fine. Instead of having to buy a whole new drive unit, I only had to buy a plastic gear and pay for a couple hours of Peter’s time. I felt like we had dodged a major bullet… and we had our autopilot back again. I will be babying that thing for the rest of our trip. No more heavy weather use.

Tuesday was not a good day for traveling, so we stayed put. But Wednesday broke clear and calm in the morning. We cast off and headed back out onto the Neuse River, but this time, instead of going north, we were going south. We were on our way back to Beaufort, where we would spend a few days at anchor, touring the town and taking it easy.

All In cast off not long after us. They were continuing their trip north. Sadly, though, I got a call from Bryan a couple hours later. The depth sounder on All In had failed, and they were putting back in to Oriental. It was a Raymarine unit that failed. He needed Peter’s number. Later, Bryan notified me that the depth unit could not be repaired. It was well past its useful lifespan, and the transponder would have to be replaced. That would require hauling the boat out — again. He sounded pretty dejected. I don’t blame him. They had been on the water for just over two months, and this was the second time the boat was being hauled.

As I’ve said before, cruising is hard.

Aug 13 – Of Straws and Camels’ Backs (Part 2)

We had spent five nights in Oriental our first time around, so we felt like we knew the place pretty well. We arrived this time on a Friday, and wouldn’t have the autopilot looked at until Monday. Other than the autopilot, Madge was in good shape, so there wasn’t really anything we had to do over the weekend. Still, I cleaned out the bilge and changed the oil absorbent pads under the engine; then, I cleaned the carburetor on the outboard motor again and finally fixed the idling problem it has had ever since Brunswick. Since we would be in town on Sunday morning, and had the use of a car, we wanted to find a worship service, and picked the local Methodist church. It was a quaint little country church, much like the one Suzy grew up in, and we felt welcomed and at ease there. As usual, there were some words in the sermon that I felt were just for me. The preacher spoke about “intention;” about acting in a way that was focused and direct, instead of just going through the motions. The words resonated with me as I considered the current status of our cruise, and how we would proceed from this point. What was my intent? What did I want out of it? What were my goals?

I had dreamed of sailing for I don’t know how many years before I ever learned to sail, and then dreamed of cruising thereafter. I’ve been preparing for cruising for over 15 years — picking a boat, fitting out the boat, upgrading the boat, preparing and provisioning the boat, learning some mechanics and electonics, navigation and (to a small degree) weather. But I don’t remember how much time I actually spent considering the basic philosophical pros and cons of cruising. When the preacher spoke of intention, that hit a nerve with me. At first, I decided that I needed to attack cruising with more focus and detemination, to overcome the challenges and obstacles that we’ve faced this first year, and to control my (for lack of a better word) fear of the wind and sea. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that doubling down on my cruising commitment was not what I needed to do. I realized — maybe not for the first time, but for the first time that I actually acknowledged to myself — that I was cruising for cruising’s sake, not because I had a goal or an expectation of results, or for a particular sense of adventure or a special place I’ve always wanted to go or to see. I had decided at some point in time that cruising was what I wanted to do, and so, by God, I was going to do it. But cruising is hard work, and as captain there’s a lot of pressure and responsibility for the safety and maintenance of the boat, and the safety and wellbeing of the crew, especially when the crew is comprised of the people you love the most in this world. Cruising requires a lot of sacrifice. On an unheated, unairconditioned boat, you are basically living outdoors. You get very hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. You get wet when it rains. You can’t go around the corner to the grocery or pharmacy. You don’t always get to eat the foods you like most. You don’t see your children or grandchildren, except maybe on Skype, which is not an acceptable substitute for being there in person. And it’s expensive to maintain a boat that lives in a harsh, salt-filled environment. But there are also rewards. You see places other people don’t see from the windows of their cars on the freeway, or from airplanes. You meet people with whom you have a commonality and an instant bond, and who become good friends for life. Just by surviving the cruising life, even if not necessarily thriving as some do, you accomplish something that most people never will. You learn that sometimes you only have yourself to rely on, and if you don’t fix something, or find a way to get something done, or persevere through a hardship, you could lose at best a lot of money, or at worst your boat, or your life.

So we’ve done some re-evaluating. Why are we cruising?

Is it to sail? If we just wanted to go out on the water and pull up the canvas and sail, we could do that at home. We don’t need to cruise. In fact, we’ve done less “sailing” since we started cruising.

Is it to go new places and see new things? If so, we’ve done that. And how far do you need to go to see new things? Not very far, it turns out. There’s new stuff everywhere, if you just open your eyes to it.

Is it to meet new people who share the same dreams? Of course, but how far do you have to go to meet those people? We started meeting them the day we cast off.

Is it for adventure? Maybe, but what is adventure? Is it scaring yourself half to death in a thunderstorm? Is it the adrenaline rush you get from putting your life at risk? If so, I’m getting too old for adventure. I get a rush from watching a good sunset, or feeling a cool breeze at the end of a hot day. I get a rush from watching dolphins jump in the bow wave, or watching wild horses graze on an uninhabited island.

Is it to escape the nine-to-five rat-race of the modern world? For some, yes, but I’ve realized that I got a great sense of accomplishment from doing a good job at something that made a difference. I often miss working, and the friends I had in the office, and the work I did. And I surely miss the regular paycheck. I guess I’m just one of the rats.

Is it for the spartan lifestyle of living in a small space exposed to the most extreme elements? Only for those like us, who can’t afford a more spacious or luxurious boat. No, if I could afford it, we’d have an airconditioned trawler and still travel to all the places we’ve been and meet the people we’ve met. Lacking that, I’ll take my home on land that is comfortable and dry, secure in a storm, with a real bed, refrigerator/freezer and full pantry, and a reliable car that will take me anywhere I need to go at high speed, with almost no concern that it will leave me stranded for hours (or days) in the middle of nowhere.

Now the question is, what more do we want to do? How long do we keep doing this?

I only had two years set aside for my sabbatical, and that was with fairly conservative, but still pretty optimistic, budgeting. We spent the first six months preparing ourselves and the boat for the cruise. We spent the next eight months getting to where we are now. A lot of things on the boat have broken, and we’ve spent a lot of money to fix them. We’ve had some unexpected medical and dental expenses. We’ve spent more nights in marinas than we expected, when acceptable anchorages weren’t available. But we’ve spent less than expected on food and fuel. Bottom line, we won’t be able to go for the entire two years. Near term, we have some limits to how long we can go this season. I’m committed to helping stage the large cruisers’ Thanksgiving Week event in St. Marys this fall, so we have to be home by the end of October. Figuring a conservative amount of time to get home from the Chesapeake via the ICW, we’d have to be homeward bound by mid to late September. From Oriental, we are five days from Norfolk, under ideal conditions. Make that ten days, given the weather conditions we’ve come to expect from the Inner Banks. We can expect to be at the bottom of the Chesapeake at the end of August — if nothing else breaks — leaving two, maybe three, weeks on the Bay. To even see one or two of the places we want to visit, we would have to rush. We don’t want to rush.

By now, you’ve probably figured it out. We are giving up on the Chesapeake. We are turning for home. We are going to take our time doing so. We are going to stop and visit places we rushed by on our journey north. We are going to relax. We have two months to go 500 miles. Plenty of time (knock on wood).

We’ll figure out what we’ll do in 2017 after we get home.

Aug 13 – Of Straws and Camels’ Backs (Part 1)

When last I posted our whereabouts, we were anchored in Bear Creek, just off the Bay River. After the bashing we’d taken slogging down the Neuse River, it was a peaceful place to be. But the impact of the Neuse River Bash had yet to be fully felt. Our trip down the Neuse had been in a northeasterly direction, and the wind was out of the northeast, so we were heading directly into the wind. For most of that part of the trip, we were in a heavy rainstorm, with 15-20 kt winds. The wind-driven waves were about four to five feet high, and were coming at us every three or four seconds. Madge was burying her bow into every other wave, it seemed, and we were slowed to under three knots of speed — sometimes two knots. But the action on the boat was mostly fore and aft, like a see-saw. The rain had stopped by the time we got to the Bay River, and I expected the wind to die down, but it did not. The forecast had been for 5-10 kt winds, except in thunderstorms, and since the storm had passed, I figured the wind would’ve settled. No such luck. At the Bay River, we had to turn northwest, which meant that the waves — still 4-5 ft — were hitting the boat squarely on the starboard beam. We began rolling violently. It would’ve been nice to pull out the jib to help stabilize the boat, but we were too busy hanging on to manage the sail handling — and we only had a couple of miles to go before we would be behind some land, which would help block the wind and waves. We had picked up speed when we turned the corner, so we only had to endure about 30-45 minutes of the rolly stuff. Amidst all the turmoil, I had neglected to disengage our autopilot. It is not sized to handle heavy weather abeam, and it didn’t take long for it to wear itself out trying to fight the force of the water on the rudder. By the time we dropped the anchor in Bear Creek, I knew we had a problem. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

The next morning, we continued on to Belhaven. For about half the trip, we were in a canal, so there was very little pressue on the autopilot. It only had to adjust one or two degrees at a time to keep us in a straight line. However, between Bear Creek and Belhaven, we would have to cross the Pamlico River and travel about six miles up the Pungo River. These were large bodies of water, and had the potential to get rough. Crossing the Pamlico, we confirmed that the autopilot was shot. It could make turns to port, but not to starboard — the side that had taken the beating in the Bay River.

After we anchored in Belhaven, I called my friend, Steve. He’s become a friend, even though our first relationship was business. I bought my first boat in 2003 from his dealership, and he’s been my go-to guy for all things concerning navigation and communications since then. His advice has always been sound. [Aside: the first thing Steve taught me when we were commissioning my boat, Skitso, was, “Never make your mistakes at full speed.” Sage wisdom. When in doubt, I always throttle back.] Steve and I discussed the problem, and he talked me through some diagnostic tests. It appeared that I had stripped the gears in the drive unit of the autopilot — that’s the part that actually turns the wheel when the control unit says to. Steve then tried to locate a Raymarine technician that was close to me, who would be able to fix my problem. There were two — one in Oriental and one in Virginia Beach. Oriental was 50 miles behind us. Virginia Beach was about 150 miles ahead of us. Behind us were the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers. Ahead of us were the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound.

As we’ve moved north and talked to folks along the way, I’ve expressed my desire to visit the towns along the banks of the Albemarle Sound, and those folks have told me of how bad the conditions can get on the Sound. The water is uniformly less than 20 ft deep, and the wind can whip up waves that are large and fierce. We had already experienced that on the Neuse. But I’m fairly convinced that my family landed in America in Chowan County, NC, which is on the Chowan River, which is the main body of water from which the Albemarle Sound is formed. The town of Edenton, on the west end of the Sound, has been the seat of Chowan County since before the Revolutionary War, and there may be records there that provide the missing link between the Bakers of Georgia in 1800 and the Bakers who settled in Chowan County in the mid 1600s. So, I had motive to continue — but I also had big concerns.

Suzy and I deliberated long and hard on what we should do. The first thing we decided was that we couldn’t risk the Albemarle Sound any more than absolutely necessary. We ditched our plans to make the Albemarle Loop. Any visit to Edenton would have to be later, by car. But we wanted to continue north, because we have friends in Virginia whom we haven’t seen in about ten years, and we wanted to get to the Chesapeake Bay. If we kept to the ICW, we would have two risky and not-insignificant bodies of water to cross. The first was the Alligator River, which runs north-south, is three miles wide, twenty miles long, but only ten feet deep. Any wind blowing along a north-south axis could whip it up in a hurry. The second was the Albemarle Sound itself. We’d have to cross about fifteen miles of open water to get across the Sound. I had planned short hops to make the trip from Belhaven to Norfolk, VA. From Belhaven, we would anchor at the south end of the Alligator River and wait for a good weather window to go up to the mouth of the river, where we’d anchor. Then, we’d wait for another good weather window to cross the Albemarle Sound and make our way up to Elizabeth City, from which point we’d take the Dismal Swamp route to Norfolk in two hops. We could have the autopilot repaired in Norfolk. That’s five days of travel, if we had favorable weather each day. But from what we had already experienced of the North Carolina Inner Banks, we could not count on favorable weather. We are used to the normal summer afternoon thunderstorms, where you can travel in the morning and drop anchor before the storms hit. But the storms we’d seen so far could not be counted on to confine themselves to the afternoon, and we’d seen them pop up in as little as ten minutes in the morning and get fierce fast. My confidence in having a three or four hour window to cross the Alligator or Albemarle was fairly low. And I would be hand steering all the way to Norfolk. It would be difficult and tiring, but we decided we would give it a try.

The next morning, a Friday, was a clear, calm day, which looked great for easy travel. We pulled up the anchor intending to go to the south end of the Alligator River. The channel from the Belhaven anchorage back out to the ICW is less than two miles long, but by the time we got to the ICW, I had already made up my mind to go back to Oriental. There was no way I was going to hand steer the next 150 miles of this trip. I called the Raymarine technician in Oriental and set up an appointment for Monday morning, then called the marina we had left two days earlier and reserved our former spot. I would’ve preferred to anchor in Oriental, but didn’t like the options available to me. Plus, the marina had a courtesy car at our unlimited disposal. The winds were faily light and behind us all day long as we traveled first down the Pungo River, then crossed the Pamlico River. By the end of the day, as we ran down the Bay River and up the Neuse to Oriental, storms had popped up around us, but we were lucky enough that they stayed far enough away not to hinder us. We tied up Madge after nine hours on the water, back where we’d begun seven days before. We would lose a week of time, and heaven knows how much money, but we’d have a fully-functioning boat again.

August 4 – The People You Meet

Okay, so yesterday I mentioned that we’ve met some really neat people over the past two weeks — Phil and Nancy in Charleston, Rick and Susan on S/V Sea Fever, Matt and Jan on S/V Checked Out, and Sabina and Gino on S/V Snickers. I forgot to mention Lisa in Oriental. I’m cheating a bit mentioning Phil, since I knew him in high school and we were roommates for a couple of years in college, but we’ve only seen him once in the past 35 years, and we had never met his wife, Nancy. He’s still basically the same old guy, but Nancy is a real delight. They are both cyclists, hikers and connoisseurs of fine and exotic beer. We made a special stop in Charleston and met them for dinner. We had a great time. It would not have happened if not for the fact that we somehow connected on Facebook. Phil saw that we were cruising in South Carolina, and we set up the visit in Charleston. Hopefully, it won’t take another 35 years before we meet again.

We left Charleston, heading for Georgetown, SC. On the way, we ended up behind a boat named Sea Fever, which we recognized as having been in the same marina we stopped at in Charleston. We radioed Sea Fever, and learned that they were heading for the same spot in Georgetown that we were. Since we’d been to Georgetown before, they asked us to take the lead, and we guided them into the tiny marina. We were put on the same dock, so we got to meet Rick and Susan. They had just bought the boat in Punta Gorda, FL, and were transporting it back to their home in North Carolina. Since one of the favorite spots of our winter cruise had been Pine Island Sound, near Punta Gorda, we just had to mention how much we liked the place. Seems Susan grew up on Pine Island Sound, so we had a great time talking about all the places we had seen and liked. The next day, we both headed for North Myrtle Beach. Madge was a little faster than Sea Fever, but we kept getting stopped by bridges and they would catch up, so we eventually backed off a few rpm and just stuck together. That made the bridge openings much easier on both of us. We were traveling on a Saturday, and it was absolutely insane on the water, so much so that we decided to stay put on Sunday, while Sea Fever continued north. If we make it to the Outer Banks, we will definitely look them up.

Here’s an example of how crazy it was on Saturday. North of the Waccamaw River, the ICW runs through a narrow canal behind several beach communities, including Myrtly Beach. The narrow channel was jammed with fishing boats, power boats and jet skis. At one point, Sea Fever was out in front of Madge, with a shrimp boat between us. Coming in the other direction was a ski boat pulling a skier. The skier, initially on the outside of the channel, crossed his boat’s wake and swerved in front of Sea Fever, then cut back to the opposite side before reaching Sea Fever. He then swerved in front of the shrimp boat, once again cutting back to the opposite side just in time. He must’ve mistimed the crossing in front of Madge, because as he jumped the wake and flew high in the air in front of us, he let go his tow rope and dropped into the channel just off our line of travel. The ski boat immediately stopped, so we were rapidly approaching a person in the water just off our starboard bow, and a stopped boat just off our port bow, and a rope crossing our path somewhere between the two of them. There are no brakes on a boat, but we dropped the throttle to idle and took her out of gear. As we drifted closer to the pair, we kept an eye on the man in the water, and yelled to the boat to pull in the tow rope. They looked at us like we were from Mars. Fortunately, it was a floating type ski rope, and we were able to spot the end of it drifting just off our course. Had we crossed it, we surely would’ve gotten it wrapped around our prop shaft, which can cause serious damage to a boat. We slowly inched our way between the clueless idiots (which is the kindest thing I can call them) and resumed our journey without injury. The old school teacher in Suzy came bubbling out, and she was poised on the rail to heap instruction, scorn and abuse on the offending fools, but I asked her to not bother. It’s hard to understand shouts over the water, and they wouldn’t have understood her words — only her outrage. It wasn’t worth the breath. I should’ve let her scream at them, though, because by not letting the pressure out, she was on a low boil for the rest of the day. Later, a group of jet skis (one of many that day) buzzed us. We refer to the pests as “sea gnats,” and their groupings as a “swarm.” Though they are small, they throw a not-insignificant wake. Anyway, in this swarm on one sea gnat was what appeared to be a couple and their pre-teen daughter. The daughter was learning to drive the gnat, with her parents seated behind her. She attempted to pass between us and a dock that was poking out into the channel, then when she hit our bow wave and started bouncing, she panicked and turned too sharply, causing the gnat to overturn just off our bow, throwing the whole family into the water. The riderless gnat barely missed the dock and beached itself. Once again, we were forced to shut down to avoid people in the water. They appeared shaken but not injured. A similar spill happend later in the day, but not quite as close to us. I likened the incidents to attempting to teach your child how to ride a bicycle in the middle of a busy highway. So, to avoid more of the same on Sunday, we stayed in North Myrtle Beach an extra night and had a relaxing day cleaning the boat.

From North Myrtle Beach we journeyed on to Southport, NC. There we met Matt and Jan of S/V Checked Out. They were relocating from Oriental, NC, to Palm Beach Garden, FL, to be near Matt’s aging father. They had not traveled that way before (by water), but we had been there recently, so we shared information about the route. Turns out, we had stopped in the marina that they were ultimately heading for, and had met the dockmaster. It’s a great place and we know they’ll enjoy it there. Since we were heading north, Matt and Jan told us about Oriental, where they had been liveaboards, and that we must stop there. We assured them it was on our itenerary. We traded contact information, and have swapped a few emails since parting ways.

From Southport, we made our way north with stops at Middle Sound (Wrightsville Beach), Mile Hammock Bay, and Beaufort, before stopping in Oriental. The first person we met as we pulled up at the free city dock was Lisa, who is manager and dockmaster for a local yacht club and marina. During our conversation, I mentioned we had just met a couple from Oriental named Matt and Jan. Turns out Lisa is one of their best friends. So we hit it off famously. Lisa helped us tremendously during our five days in Oriental as we waited out some stormy weather. We didn’t stay at Lisa’s marina, though. And I need to mention the dockmaster at the marina where we did spend four nights. His name was Robert, and he couldn’t have been more accommodating. We were the only transients in the marina, so we had full access to the top-notch facilities, and almost unlimited access to the courtesy car.

Also, in Oriental, the day we tied up to the free city dock, another boat tied up alongside us. The boat’s name was S/V Snickers. The crew were Sabina and Gino, a couple from Switzerland. We chatted for a while in the afternoon, and then in the evening when the temperatures dropped, we asked them over to our boat for a glass of wine. We ended up talking until midnight. Did you know Switzerland isn’t really Switzerland? I had recently seen a map where the small country wedged in between Italy, France, Germany and Austria was abbreviated as “CHe.” I asked Gino why this was. He informed me that the official name of the country is “Confederation Helveticum.” If fact, Schweitze (sp?) is the name in German of only one of a couple dozen semi-autonomous regions in the confederation. It is the region that supplies the famous Swiss Guards for the Vatican, and the whole country got its nickname from that region. Of course, this led to a whole line of discussion about history and geography, and we had a grand old time. Gino and Sabina didn’t sail across the Atlantic in Snickers. They had her shipped to St. Thomas. They’ve been sailing up through the Caribbean and along the coast with an ultimate destination of New York City, where they’ll have Snickers packed up and shipped back to their home on a lake in Switze… the Confederation Helveticum. What an amazing adventure they’ve had.

Even though we’ve had hot weather, and stormy weather, we’ve had some great times with the friendly and interesting people we’ve met along the way. We know there will be more ahead of us.

One thing I need to add about our overnight stop at Mile Hammock Bay. The bay is on the Camp Lejune Marine Corps base. The ICW runs through the base along the coast. Late at night, I heard loud propeller noises over the boat — too loud to be a helicopter. As it turns out, the Marines were practicing nighttime vertical takeoffs and landings of their special transport plane, the V-22 Osprey. The short landing strip was right next to the bay. Even in the dark, I could see the outline of the plane dimly lit by its navigation lights. It would fly in, stop and hover in the air, then drop to the ground. After a few minutes, it would lift up, hover, then slowly rotate its propellers and start flying horizontally. It was followed by a helicopter, which must have carried an instructor watching the training exercise. The whole thing was fascinating to watch.

August 3 – Been A While

I’m sorry that it’s been over two weeks since I posted. We’ve been pretty busy and we’ve done a lot of traveling. This blog isn’t really meant to be a travelogue, but I want to give you a rundown of where we’ve been since we left Beaufort, SC, on the morning of July 19. We went from Beaufort to Laurel Hill, where we anchored out; from Laurel Hill to Charleston, where we stayed in a marina for a night; from Charleston to Whiteside Creek, anchoring out; Whiteside Creek to Georgetown, SC, where we stayed a night in a marina; Georgetown to North Myrtle Beach, SC, where we stayed in a marina for two nights (more on that later); North Myrtle Beach to Southport, NC, one night in a marina; Southport to Middle Sound, anchoring out; Middle Sound to Mile Hammock Bay, anchoring out; Mile Hammock Bay to Beaufort, NC, anchoring out; Beaufort to Oriental, NC, one night at the free city dock, then four nights in a marina; and finally, Oriental to Bear Creek, where we are currently anchored out for the night. We’ve traveled 397 miles since Beaufort, SC. We have covered 590 miles since leaving St. Marys.

Here is a description of our typical day. We get up about 0630 when the sky starts getting light. Suzy has her coffee. I stretch and gripe about having to get up so early. Suzy has a little bit for breakfast. I can’t eat because I’m always nervous about getting underway. You’d think after seven months that I’d relax a little bit, but I’m always anxious about each day’s journey. I begin going through the daily pre-departure checklist: check the weather and tides; review the sail plan for the day; review the plan for getting off the dock or retrieving the anchor; check the engine oil, radiator fluid, and fuel levels; check the charge on the batteries; check the stuffing box (where the prop shaft goes through the hull); check the water level in the bilge; check for water in the fuel-water separator; make sure all hatches are securely closed; make sure all items on deck are securely tied down; make sure all loose items below are securely tied down or stowed; make sure the engine raw water seacock is open; make sure all lockers are latched; remove the canvas covers from the binnacle (steering wheel and instrument column) and dodger (windshield); mount the US flag on the stern rail; put the day’s charts, binoculars, handheld VHF radio, cushions and throwable flotation in the cockpit; and put on our PFDs (personal flotation devices). Then we start the engine. While the engine is warming up, we check that the engine instruments are working, check the main VHF radio, the chartplotter and GPS systems, and the depth sounder. If we’re in a marina, we check the anchor windlass (which isn’t necessary if we’re at anchor — it’ll get tested when we try to weigh anchor). Then we activate our SPOT, which is a satellite locator/tracker that constantly updates our position and can send out an emergency distress call. Now it’s about 0800 and we’re ready to go. Usually around 0900 my stomach has settled down enough that I can have something to eat, which typically is a cup of dry granola trail mix. I stay behind the wheel. Suzy is the lookout and go-fer, but she will sometimes take the wheel if I need a break. We eat a light lunch, which Suzy prepares, while underway.

On an average day, we’ll travel for about six or seven hours. That will cover about 40-45 statute miles, depending on currents. I like to be at our destination by 1500, because I want us to be securely anchored or tied up in the event of afternoon thunderstorms — and also because I get tired after six or seven hours behind the wheel. Once we stop for the day, we open up the boat and try to cool it down, and do a scaled down reversal of our morning checklist. Until the last few days, it has been 95 degrees inside the boat in the afternoon. We have fans going all the time, but that’s barely enough to make it liveable down below. If there’s a breeze, and we can find some shade in the cockpit, we’ll sit outside; otherwise, the coolest place — believe it or not — is in the salon. We drink plenty of ice water. We keep water bottles in the freezer. They don’t stay in there long enough to freeze. We drink them too frequently for that. We’ll do boat chores, if needed, or we may read some. We both keep journals. We read our emails and check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I may start on my “homework,” which is the preparation of the next day’s sail plan. This may not seem like much, since we’re traveling on a well-known waterway, but I go over weather reports and tide schedules, trying to determine what the conditions will be and whether currents will be with us or against us, which then tells me how far we can go and where I need to find a place to stop for the night. I check for bridges and their opening schedules — which can cause serious delays if you at arrive at ten minutes after the hour for a bridge that only opens at the top of the hour. Timing bridges is tough, and I haven’t really mastered the art, yet. Once I find a place to anchor that is properly protected from the expected wind direction, or make a reservation at a marina where we might stay for the night, I begin checking reports of hazards along the route we will be taking. There are a couple of sources (Active Captain, Salty Southeast Cruisers Net, etc.) where cruisers post comments about situations they’ve encountered, including shoals, obstructions, missing or confusing daymarks (guideposts), or serious currents. You have to carefully evaluate these comments to determine if they are justified or not, and then figure out how you will mitigate the condition that is described. Then you work on contingency plans for unexpected delays or places to duck in and hide in case you encounter bad weather.

We try to stop and relax with a glass of wine and a snack for Happy Hour. We prefer doing this in the cockpit, but we have to wait until about 2000 when the sun is almost down, or it’s too hot to sit outside, unless there’s a good breeze. After that, Suzy will start on dinner. Sometimes, I’ll grill chicken or fish, which avoids lighting up the stove and heating up the boat. We eat a lot of cold salads. We’ll eat around 2030. Suzy cleans up while I resume my homework. By 2130, she’s in her bunk with a book — and out like a light by 2200. By that time, I might be finished with my homework, and may read for a couple of hours. I’m usually asleep by midnight.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. Tonight, I’m posting instead of doing my homework. I’ve been working on my extended sailing plans, and have gone over tomorrow’s segment, so hopefully there won’t be many surprises along the way.

Well, I’ve put a lot of words down, and I haven’t even gotten to what I really wanted to talk about, and that’s the interesting people we’ve met since leaving Beaufort (SC). They are Phil and Nancy in Charleston, Rick and Susan of S/V Sea Fever, Matt and Jan of S/V Checked Out, and Sabina and Gino of S/V Snickers.  On the other hand, we’ve also seen some really-stupid-to-downright-batsh*t-crazy things done by some people. I’ll tell you about them, too. Next post — maybe tomorrow.