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.