Oct 25 – Feeling a Little Dinghy

Before…

We’ve just completed a major upgrade of our ship-to-shore transportation component. For years, we’ve struggled with the problem of how to get back and forth to/from Madge while she’s on her mooring ball. If we kept our dinghy in the water, we had a problem with bottom growth, filling with rain water, security, etc. Taking the dink out of the water meant removing the outboard and other equipment, then taking the dink home. When we had a 2.5 hp two-stroke motor, removing it wasn’t a problem. We’d throw the motor on the back of the golf cart, attach some dolly wheels to the dink, and pull it home. The only problem we had with this arrangement was that sometimes the inflatable boat would sit too low on the dolly and the wheels would rub against the tubes. The friction caused a leak in our old dinghy, requiring repairs.

But when we upgraded to a new RIB (rigid bottom with inflatable tubes) dinghy with an 8 hp four-stroke that weighed 90 pounds, suddenly taking the motor off the dink became complicated. We needed a trailer.

…and After.

Now, we have one. We got this small-boat trailer kit a few days ago. It wasn’t too hard to put together, and it’s light enough that it can be moved around by hand, even with the dink on it. We can keep the motor on the dink, and also keep all of our typical dinghy equipment inside the boat. We used to have to remove the anchor, fuel tank, and other items in order to tow the dink behind the golf cart. The trailer is also small enough that it can fit in the garage on the same side as the golf cart, so there’s still room in the garage for a car. Visits to Madge out in the river are much easier now. Well, not as easy as having a dink in the water at the dock all the time, but there are a lot of advantages. The bottom stays clean. The dink stays in the garage when not in use. I can put the muffs on the motor and test it before going to the water. I can launch and recover the dink without getting wet. The trailer is street legal (after paying $12 for a tag), but it’s not rated for over 45 mph.

For our first test, we launched and went out to see how Madge was doing. It was our first onboard visit since the hurricane. Everything was fine, except she looks a little sad with all the canvas removed and no equipment or provisioning aboard. I wish we could go for a cruise, but we have commitments ashore. Sigh.

Since the dink won’t be sold with Madge, I needed some place to keep it. The trailer serves that function. It also means that I can use the dink for other things, like fishing in the marsh… once I learn how to fish. Ha!

Oct 12 – Another Hurricane

I’ve been enjoying the fact that, for the last couple of weeks, my life has not been dictated by the weather. It’s rained a couple of times, but I didn’t have to worry whether anything was leaking. I don’t care how much the wind is blowing, if I even realize that it’s blowing, because my house doesn’t rock in the wind. The daytime temperatures have been in the mid to upper eighties, but I have air conditioning now, so I don’t really care. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the yard, but there’s always a cold beverage in the refrigerator.

Tying down the genoa roller furler so it won’t unroll in a high wind.

So, I wasn’t real happy to see Tropical Storm, then Hurricane Matthew making its way through the Caribbean. I thought for sure it would turn east after hitting the Dominican Republic, but it kept moving northwest through the Bahamas. As it moved farther north, the models started showing a track much closer to Saint Marys than I liked. No hurricane has come ashore in Georgia since “the Georgia Hurricane of 1898,” back before hurricanes were named. The reason why is a simple fact of geography. The Georgia Bight, but Saint Marys in particular, is the westernmost point of the East Coast. Hurricanes either go to the Gulf of Mexico, land in Florida and lose power, or get pushed of the Georgia coast by larger weather systems moving from the west. But Matthew wasn’t following the pattern. Thus it was that we found ourselves heading out to Madge last Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for a hurricane. I was pretty confident that our mooring ball was well secured, but needed to lengthen and double up our mooring lines. On Monday, Matthew was predicted to pass about 250 miles off the coast as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, which would not be much of a problem. But by Tuesday, it was predicted to pass within 50 miles of the coast, possibly as a Cat 4 hurricane. At that distance, we might see winds in excess of 100 mph. The potential storm surge for a Cat 3 is in the range of 9 to 12 feet, but a Cat 4 has a potential surge of 13-18 feet. Our house is 13 feet above Mean Sea Level. We added an additional 50 feet to our mooring lines and doubled them up, adding chafe protection at every rub point. We lashed everything down as best we could, and took everything valuable that could be removed off the boat. Madge would have to ride the storm out alone.

Madge, stripped as bare as we could make her.

The coastal areas of Florida and South Carolina were being evacuated, but no such word came from the Georgia EMA. By Wednesday, we had filled some jerry cans with water and had them sitting in the bathtub. The Suburban was full of gas and I had a couple of jerry cans filled with extra gasoline. We brought our portable generator in off the boat. I checked the National Weather Service flood inundation maps for our area, and it looked like our house could be on an island when the surge rolled in. We might get stuck at home, but we would have food, water and power. I wasn’t worried about trees falling on the house, since we’d had everything trimmed back last fall, and a couple of trees removed. Wednesday evening, some friends who live in north Georgia us shelter. Since Matthew was still heading toward us, we decided to take them up on their offer. We secured the house, protected most breakable objects, and picked things up off the floor in case we got some water intrusion. On Thursday morning, as Georgia was suggesting a voluntary evacuation of the coast, we headed inland. Later that day, the voluntary evacuation became a mandatory one, even though a number of our friends decided to stay. We avoided the interstates because of all the traffic coming out of Florida. Even on the secondary roads, there was enough traffic that a normal six hour trip took us almost nine hours.

We were comfortably sheltered in the mountains while the coast flooded. We dodged a bullet.

My buddy, Paul, used to work with me at the World’s Busiest Airport. Several years ago, he left to work on the new Abu Dhabi airport, but now he’s in Salt Lake City. Not too long ago, he and his wife, Jennifer, bought some land in Washington, GA, near her mom. Paul is always gone (in SLC), and Jennifer’s mom now lives with her. With their kids grown, they had plenty of room for us. We had dumped the entire contents of our refrigerator into coolers when we evacuated, so we had enough to feed all of us for the entire weekend. We had a great visit, ate a lot, drank a bit, and tried to keep track of what was going on at home. We were fortunate that Matthew took a slight turn to the east on Friday, just as it reached Jacksonville, about 80 miles south of Saint Marys. By the time the worst part passed our town, Matthew was about 100 miles offshore. The winds in Saint Marys never got above 60 mph around Saint Marys. We couldn’t find any news about the town, though. The TV was no help. Neither were our city, county or state government websites. Finally, I stumbled across the Facebook page of the Saint Marys Police Department. What a find! Our Men in Blue took videos as they made their rounds and posted them to their FB page. We saw video of some street flooding along the waterfront, but it was minor — only about a foot or so. Some businesses got flooded, but there was no major damage. The marinas survived in good shape. There were no reports of damaged boats in the river. SMPD had some video close to our neighborhood, and there was no flooding there. Power went out for awhile, and that was about it. The hurricane did not pass at high tide. We got a little over three inches of rain. The wind reached about 45 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. We knew Madge would be okay.

Next, we had to worry about getting back home. We kept waiting all day Saturday for the okay to return, but it never came. We thought about going home on Sunday, but heard the roads were still closed. We decided we would go home on Monday, regardless of the conditions, but before we could get on the road that morning, the quarantine was lifted. When we got to the interstate, it was a parking lot — so we stayed on the secondary roads and made good time.

We found a lot of tree debris — limbs, tips of branches and leaf litter — in our yard, but that was it. No fallen trees. No broken windows. No water damage. The power hadn’t even been out long enough to run down the battery for our alarm system. Everything was in good shape and working. Even so, it’s taken us two full days to pick up all the tree debris, and we have four large piles (about two cubic yards each) waiting at the curb for the city to haul away.

Madge is the boat in the middle.

Madge did fine, too. We gave her as close an inspection as we could from the shore with our binoculars. In a couple of days, we’ll put the dinghy back in the water and go give her a more thorough check-up. In the meantime, we’ll count our blessings that we’ve survived another hurricane — that’s two in six weeks.

 

 

Sept 25 – What About Madge?

In my last post, I mentioned that we were cutting our cruising sabbatical short by four months, because unexpected expenses ate through our funds quicker than anticipated. So, the question is, what are we going to do about Madge?

Here’s the situation:  Madge is an active cruising boat. She’s just completed over 2,500 miles of coastal and ICW cruising. There are a couple of minor things that need to be fixed — there are always things on a boat that need to be fixed — but we’ve been living on her reasonably comfortably and traveling on her all year. She has a lot of new equipment that we put in to go cruising with, and we’ve spent this year checking it all out, breaking it all in, and tweaking it to make sure it all works. I, on the other hand, have to go back to work. I figure I’m going to be working for seven years before I finally stop for good. If Madge sits on her mooring ball in the river — or even if she’s on jacks in the boat yard, covered up and mothballed — for seven years, all that stuff that’s working fine now will have to be replaced or refurbished to make her a good cruiser again. Also, in seven years I’ll be seventy years old. If we go cruising again at that time, it’s going to on a trawler. I don’t want to be going up the mast at that age. And, most likely, we’ll just putt-putt up and down the ICW anyway. Madge is a cruising boat, and she needs to go cruising — now — while she’s in her best shape. Anything less would be a waste.

That means Madge is for sale.

If you want to see what she looks like, in detail, click on the page titles “Pictures of Madge.”

Sept 22 – Taking Stock

There are two days of each year — the autumnal and vernal (spring) equinoxes — when you can balance an egg on end and have it stand up. No tricks are required. You just need a smooth level surface. This is something I do most equinoxes, except I’ve missed the last couple of them. We had some smooth surfaces on Madge, but they were hardly level. Try this yourself next spring. The vernal equinox will be the morning of March 20, 2017.

Speaking of being on a smooth level surface, now that we’re back on terra firma, Suzy and I are going over what we’ve learned this year of cruising, and trying to figure out what our future will be.

The big question is: do we have enough time and money to continue cruising? For now, and through the end-of-year holidays, we’re stuck on the land. I’m helping coordinate the annual Saint Marys Cruisers Thanksgiving event (also known as “The Port of Thanksgiving”), which draws transient cruisers from all along the east coast. It’s a week-long event wrapped around a giant potluck covered-dish Thanksgiving meal, where local townspeople provide the turkeys and hams, and cruisers provide salads, side dishes and desserts. This year will mark the sixteenth anniversary of the event. I’m diving in pretty heavily this year, because I’ve been asked to take over as Event Coordinator starting with next year’s event. Given this responsibility, we won’t be going anywhere between now and Thanksgiving. In addition to this, we need to visit family during the Christmas season. It’s been several years since I’ve seen some of them, and we have a new granddaughter who was only a few months old when we took off, and who probably doesn’t even know who we are. We need to go bond with her. So, time-wise, we won’t be going anywhere before January next year. This year, we had a miserable time in January and February. We don’t want to repeat that error. This means we will probably stay ashore until around the first of March. That leaves us with a possible cruising season of March through June, if the finances work out. The cruising budget we established when we started out was designed to cover cruising until around the end of June next year, then leave us a cushion to cover our living expenses for the rest of the year — if it took that long to find a place to go back to work — or to set us up if I ended up going back to work in July as planned. Unfortunately, going back over the finances for the period from when I left work until now, I see some big-ticket items that definitely were not expected. First and foremost, right before we set sail, a rigging inspection revealed that Madge needed to have all the standing rigging and the chainplates replaced. Suddenly, we were way above budget for the pre-cruise boat updates. Then, I got a kidney stone, ending up spending a day in the ER, and later discovered I needed two crowns (no dental insurance). And while cruising, I developed a hernia that required surgery. In addition, we had a couple of non-boat-related trips we were obliged to take, with associated expenses. My laptop had to be replaced. And, to top it all off, I discovered that I had seriously underestimated the maintenance, repair and marina costs for each month of cruising. Looking over it all, as we stand now, the added expenses have burned up funds that would otherwise have paid for four months of our budget. If we keep our cushion for post-cruising living expenses, those four months that we lose are March through June.

So, unless we decide to do some short-range cruising in January and February, it looks like we’re done.

Was it worth it?

Here are the Cons:  It looks like we picked the worst year ever to try to go cruising. Seems everywhere we went during the winter we set records for cold, wind and rain. There were very few windows for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, and by the time we finished with our commitment to go to Key West, we’d heard how bad the weather was over there that we gave up — so we never made it to the Bahamas. Then, medical issues stalled us for two months back in Saint Marys, so we were late heading north, and then we ran into the hottest summer on record, with some really unusual and fierce storms. By the time we got almost to the Chesapeake Bay, we’d had enough, and decided to turn around. Then, we rode out a hurricane. So many things on the boat broke over the year. Everything costs more than you think. And I wasn’t there when my mother died.

Here are the Pros:  By far, the greatest thing about cruising is the community you belong to — the people you meet. At the top of our list are Perry and Nancy of M/V Dubhe. I’m sure they will be friends for life. We just clicked. Add Jerry and Marggie of S/V Wind Song II, our new Canadian friends. Bill and Laura of M/V Kindred Spirit III. Bryan and Laura, and their girls Avery and Leslie, of S/V All In. Barbara Ann and Harry of S/V Our Dream. Lynn and Ann of S/V Sea Tramp. And our hometown cruising friends Christian and Mary of S/V I Wanda. There are countless others whose names I may not recall, but who’ve offered us kindness, generosity and good will — like the numerous “buddy boats” that we’ve latched onto for a day or two, like Duane and Hope, and their daughters Maddie and Sammie, on S/V Madsam. We hope they finally got to the Bahamas this year. Aside from the people, we saw a lot of places up close and personal, from a perspective that most people don’t see — because we were looking at towns from the water, then touring them on foot. We saw many places that most people on land will never see. And we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned that we can live on a 36-ft boat, just the two of us, for an extended period of time, without setting foot on land or seeing anybody else, and still find a way to have our personal time and space, and get along. We took a big risk, followed a crazy dream, and survived — though our future on land (think “job”) remains unclear — and we love and respect each other more now than when we started out. We learned that we can do more than we think we can, because in some cases, we were forced to. We learned that we’re tougher than we thought we were, and we surprised ourselves. We learned how to be calm in a crisis — and I mean a real crisis. We learned that there’s no such thing as a “life of leisure” when you live on a boat. There is always work that needs to be done. It’s a full-time job. Safety is always in the front of your mind. Your life is dictated by the tides and the weather. When it’s hot, you’re hot. When it’s cold, you’re cold. When it rains, you’re wet. We learned that if something breaks, nine times out of ten, you’re the one that’s going to have to fix it — and you learn how. You may have to fix something a couple of times before you figure it out, but you do finally figure it out. And you become better. And more confident. We learned all the things you can do without. We learned to appreciate simple pleasures and special moments. We learned that every day, there’s an opportunity to relax, kick back, and have some fun. It may not be a big opportunity, or last very long, but if you look for it, you can find it. But above all, we learned how much we still do not know.

So, was it worth it? You bet your sweet ass it was.

Sept 18 – Family and Friends

With Mom a few years ago on Madge. She was 89, and still able to climb aboard from the dock.

We were only in Saint Marys for a couple of days before we had to load into the car and drive to Birmingham for Mom’s funeral. When we tried to leave on Tuesday morning, the battery in the Suburban was dead. I’d kept a maintenance charger on the battery while we were cruising, but it was a fairly old battery. I quickly grabbed my high capacity charger and jumped it off, and then we drove straight to the auto parts store to replace the battery. We were only about 45 minutes late getting away. We decided to stop in Newnan to break up the long trip, and spent the night with friends. The next morning, before continuing to Birmingham, Suzy had arranged to see her old hair stylist for a trim. When we arrived at our hotel later that afternoon, I discovered that the battery for my iPhone was dead. It had swollen so much that I couldn’t fully close my LifeProof cover. Turned out to be a bad day for batteries, I guess. My iPad was still working, at least, and I found a battery replacement place a few blocks from the hotel, where I could get a replacement the next morning. That evening, my brothers and I, along with our wives, had dinner at the upscale Highlands Bar & Grill. I can’t remember the last time we all got together. We had a great time. Funny how such a sad event can lead to some really happy visits.

Mom and Dad on their 25th Anniversary in 1971, wearing their original wedding clothes. Dad passed in 2004.

Our family were founding members of our church back in 1970, though for the past 35 years Mom and Dad were the only ones still in town. Because of Mom’s status as one of the Founders, her funeral was a big deal for the church. After a private graveside service in the morning, there was an open memorial service in the afternoon. The old church always had great music, and though the service was held in the middle of the afternoon, the full choir showed up for Mom. The music was excellent. The pastor did a wonderful job with the eulogy. After the service, we received condolences from many old friends whom we’d only seen sparingly since moving away so many years ago. My parents generation is slowly dying out, and there are few of my generation that are still in town and at the old church. Most of the current church membership knew my parents but did not know me or my brothers. Mom was a bit of a character, unafraid to speak her mind and strong-willed. From those members we did not know, we heard enough stories to convince us that these people knew Mom well, and loved her.

Mom with her first great-grandchild in 2011.

Our family took over half of Birmingham’s Bottega Cafe that evening. My bothers and all the nephews and nieces, their spouses and children, were there. Our two daughters, though, could not be there, having had to drive home after the memorial service to return to jobs and children. After the sadness and stress of the day, it was great for us all to get together for some fellowship and great Italian food. The next day (Friday), my brothers and I (and wives) headed over to Mom’s house to resume the cleaning out that had been going on sporadically ever since we had moved Mom into an independent living apartment in 2014. The house is a late-1950s three-bedroom ranch with a full basement, and my brothers had done a pretty good job of clearing out the kitchen and much of the furniture, but the nightmare was going to be in the basement. My father had finished out the basement, adding a family room, bedroom, bathroom and second kitchen, in addition to the garage. After all the kids were gone, my mother had turned this area into her “office” and a storage facility for everything that my parents — and grandparents — had collected since the early 1900s. I wouldn’t technically classify it as hoarding, but apparently Mom never threw anything away that might be considered an official “record” or correspondence. There were filing cabinets filled with bank statements, some for accounts which had been closed decades ago; copies of old minutes from church conferences from when Mom was the church clerk; and company memos from when she was an HR executive assistant before she retired over 30 years ago. There was furniture from my grandparents’ house. There were four PCs, because Mom thought she might have forgotten to move something from an old PC to a new one. There were storage boxes full of old newspapers and photos of people that nobody still living knew the names of. There were mounds of “stuff.” And since there might be some personal financial account information or ID numbers hidden in all the stuff, we had to go through it. We ended up with several storage bins of papers that I took to be shredded. I emptied two full 4-drawer commercial filing cabinets, examining every sheet of paper. I brought home four boxes of genealogical records, hoping some day to sort through them and distill them into our family tree. We slept on air mattresses Friday night, and resumed our task on Saturday. By lunchtime, we were exhausted, and we’d barely made a dent in the stuff. There were still dozens of boxes stacked on shelves in the garage. We were tempted to just throw them away unopened, but who knew what might be in them? With the way our parents (and grandparents) stored things, they could contain anything — though we did rule out finding Jimmy Hoffa. We would have to come back later, probably many more times, to completely empty the house.

Suzy and Mom

We left Birmingham Saturday afternoon and returned to Newnan, to stay with other friends on our way back to Saint Marys. On Sunday morning, we strolled into our old Sunday School class at church and seated ourselves quietly. It took several minutes before our classmates realized that they hadn’t seen us in 16 months. We gave a brief recap of our time on the water, and expressed our hope that we’d be returning in the future. After Sunday School, still following our former routine, we went to the choir room to robe up and take our old seats. We got a great reception from our Music Minister when we walked in. She was wonderfully surprised. Seems the choir was short a soprano and a bass that morning, and we filled the gaps. The anthem was one we had sung several years ago, so it only took a minute to get up to speed. Our presence in the choir loft was noticed, so after the service we got to chat with many good friends who stayed to speak with us.

We love Saint Marys. It is our cruising home base and we have good friends there. But Newnan and Central Baptist Church will always be home, whether we ever get back there or not.

Sept 10 – Checking Out Fernandina

Many dinghy trips to unload the boat.

The next day after arriving back home, we returned to Madge to unload all the items we would need during our extended stay ashore, or which we didn’t want to leave on the boat. We knew we would not be cruising again until at least the end of February. In the meantime, our schedule included Mom’s funeral, a trip to visit family in Arizona, the Saint Marys Cruisers Thanksgiving event, and a number of family visits around Christmas. After our experiences earlier this year, we knew we didn’t want to spend January and February trying to cruise — the weather was too uncomfortable. So, if we were going out again in the spring, it would be around the first of March. It took half a dozen trips from the boat to the dock to unload our clothes, linens, and food items, which while not technically “perishable,” would go stale in the interim. By the time we were finished, we had a nice pile of stuff in the guest room of our house. We won’t be hosting any overnight visitors for a while.



We had arranged with Matt and Jan of Checked Out to meet them for lunch on Saturday in Fernandina Beach. We took them to the Salty Pelican, just across the street from the Fernandina Harbor Marina, and one of our favorite places to eat in Fernandina. We had a leisurely lunch, then walked several blocks down Centre Street, checking out the shops and galleries along the way. As we walked, we talked, and shared each other’s histories, getting to know each other better. We talked about the places they would pass on their way south to Palm Beach, and gave them our impressions of the route from our passage earlier this year. By the time the sun started to approach the horizon, we were about talked out. It was time for Suzy and me to head back to Saint Marys. We traded blog addresses and contact info. Matt and Jan are the last of the cruisers we’ve met on the water during our first year. We’ve been told by other cruisers that your first year friends will always be special. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to see each other again, sometime, somewhere.

 

Sept 8 – Home Again

Madge, home again, unloading at the public dock in Saint Marys.

Our plan for leaving on Thursday morning depended on the turning of the tide around eight o’clock in the morning, which was the low tide. Since we would be transiting the notoriously shallow Jekyll Creek early in the day, we at least wanted to wait for rising water levels. And since I knew the route between Brunswick Sound and Cumberland Sound fairly well, and Matt not at all, Madge would take the lead with Checked Out following. I needed to fuel up and pump out Madge before leaving, and we would have to re-position the boat to do so. Since the outgoing current was behind Madge, we needed to wait for the current to turn so we could safely walk her back along the dock about 100 ft to the fuel and pump-out station. By eight o’clock, however, the current had not shifted, and Matt got anxious to get going on the 50-mile trek, so Checked Out cast off. We would follow as soon as we completed our fueling and pumping, and would “lead” from the rear. Madge eventually pulled away from the dock about 45 minutes behind Checked Out, which put them about 3 miles ahead of us. With good radio contact, and using my binoculars, we were able to chart their location ahead of us, and provide local knowledge about any situation Checked Out might be approaching. We maintained our separation throughout the day, both boats traveling at about the same speed, but we only lost sight of their mast a couple of times. That’s an advantage of traveling through the marshes. A sailboat’s mast can be seen above the grass for many miles. There were only two spots that offered any sort of challenge to an easy transit — Jekyll Creek, and the mouth of the Brickhill River at Cumberland Dividings. The channel in Jekyll Creek is sometimes hard to find, in spite of the regular daymarks. There used to be “ranges” (markers set up like gun sights on the banks) to keep boats in line with the channel, but they don’t exist any more. Near the mouth of the Brickhill River, the charted depths, channel markers and “magenta line” don’t agree, so it’s always been a crap shoot depending on the tide. The magenta line runs on the wrong side of the daymarks, and the daymarks would have the channel running over what the charts show as an island. It has been posted recently that the Coast Guard has corrected the marker locations in this area, and that the “island” doesn’t exist (even at low tide). Even at low tide, it should be safe to transit this area by following the daymarks.

We entered Jekyll Creek about an hour after low tide, but once again our new SonarCharts helped us get through without incident — though I did have one scare where my depth sounder showed us in about four feet of water (Madge draws four and a half). But we never slowed down, so either the bottom was very soft and we plowed right through it, or we passed over some grass that gave us a false reading. Saint Andrews Sound south of Jekyll Island was relatively calm, but it took us a long time to get across it. We made good time in the Cumberland River behind Cumberland Island. The Brickhill River turned out to be no problem. We passed it on a rising tide, a little before high tide — but we saw very deep water as we followed the daymarks, so it appears that the issues with that part of the ICW have been resolved. A few miles south of the Brickhill River we entered the environs of the Kings Bay submarine base. Fortunately, there were no warships moving through the area. The waterway is effectively shut down when a sub enters or leaves, which can really ruin your day when you have to sit and wait for it — and those 18-yr old kids on those fast Navy patrol boats with big machine guns don’t have any sense of humor. We always stay well clear of them. As we passed the main docks, we saw a submarine tied up alongside — on the surface in full view. I had never seen a sub docked like that there. Usually, they are kept under cover in giant warehouse-like buildings. I would’ve tried to take a picture of it, but as we passed, a Navy patrol boat escorted us, staying about 100 yards off our starboard beam, and keeping a position directly between us and the sub. I sure didn’t want them to think I was being too nosy. It’s their job, I know, but it always strikes me as funny. At top speed, it would take Madge about 10 minutes to get from the ICW to the boundary of the security zone — plenty of time for even the worst gunner in the Navy to spot us and blow us out of the water. Yet, I know they have to treat all boats the same, as a potential threat, so we waved politely to our escort when they turned aside and kept our bow turned resolutely south, away from the base. I’m sure Matt and Jan got an eyeful. I don’t think they’d ever seen a sub at that close a distance.

We parted company with Checked Out at the mouth of the Saint Marys River. They continued down the waterway to Fernandina, while we turned west toward home. I called our friend, Bob, from S/V Knot in a Hurry, and he agreed to meet us at the city dock to help us tie up. As we rounded the last bend in the river approaching town, we noticed that there was already a boat tied up at the small dock. There is a time limit for tying up there, and we wanted to unload a lot of our stuff where we could easily throw it into our Suburban and take it home, without having to shuttle it ashore in the dinghy. Then, we would move Madge out to her mooring ball in the river. Fortunately, the other boat cast off in plenty of time for us to take their place at the dock, and Bob caught our lines. He informed us that he had checked our mooring ball earlier in the day, and that the pennant was fouled again. While he took Suzy home to get our truck, I put the motor on the dinghy and got ready to go out and take a look at our ball. When Suzy returned, and while she was unloading the freezer and refrigerator, Bob and I went out to the ball and developed a plan. We would run a long line through a shackle on the top of the ball — ignoring the pennant — and tie off each end of the line on Madge’s bow cleats. After we unloaded the boat of what needed to be removed immediately, Suzy and I took Madge out into the river, while Bob took our dinghy and the temporary mooring line to the ball. The water was a little choppy as the afternoon winds picked up, but Bob got the line to Suzy on the bow, and Madge was quickly secured to the mooring ball. We closed up the boat, hopped in the dinghy with Bob and headed for shore. Suzy and I will return to the boat tomorrow to switch over to our permanent mooring lines, and to remove everything else that needs to be taken off the boat.

It was good to be home, to get really clean and put on fresh clothes. There was nothing in the house to eat, except for what we’d just taken off the boat. We decided we wanted something else. As a reward for Bob, we called him up and invited him out to dinner. Of course, he accepted.

 

Sept 7 – Checked Out Checks In

Southward, through the marshes.

Wednesday morning dawned calm with practically no wind. We left the Duplin River before the first ferry to Sapelo Island arrived and continued our journey south. Tomorrow, we will be back in Saint Marys. In one sense, I was looking forward to being home. I know I will appreciate the large bed (that doesn’t move), the air conditioning, and the fact that we can get to a grocery store in just a few minutes from home. I definitely will not miss the bugs, the constant clamminess of clothes and linens, and trying to fall asleep at night when the temperature is 90 degrees in the salon at eleven o’clock at night. Nor will I miss the ever-present fear of sudden storms or shallow water. But I will miss the scenery, and the serenity of being alone in the middle of Nature. The names of the places we traveled through were familiar to me now. Doboy Sound. Rockdedundy Creek. Little Mud River. Altamaha River. Buttermilk Sound. I called Morningstar Marina in Brunswick to check on a slip. The dockmaster confirmed there was space available, so we would tie up there tonight instead of anchoring.

Checked Out, tied up behind Madge at Morningstar-Golden Isles.

We were just a bit south of the Little Mud River — which is home to a fleet of shrimp boats — when I heard a hail on the VHF radio. A sailboat in the Little Mud River was trying to hail a shrimp boat. Obviously, the two boats were in a passing or overtaking situation, and the sailboat captain wanted to communicate with the shrimp boat captain. He hailed several times, but got no response. As protocol requires, the sailboat gave its name each time it hailed the shrimp boat. The name I heard was “Checked Out.” Suzy and I had met the crew of a sailboat of that name in Southport, NC, back in July. We were northbound and they were southbound. We both left Southport on the same day, heading in different directions. They were on their way from Oriental, NC, to Palm Beach, FL. Unless they had been detained somewhere for a long time, there was no way we could be ahead of them. Nevertheless, I got on the radio and hailed Checked Out. They replied immediately, and I asked if they were the same Checked Out that was traveling from Oriental to Palm Beach. They were! I reminded them of who we were, and they remembered us. I asked if they were stopping at Brunswick. Yes. I asked if they were anchoring out or tying up at the marina. The marina. If the marina put Madge on the face dock for the night, as was likely, we would probably be tied up right next to Checked Out. We arranged to get together as soon as both boats were secured. We pulled into Morningstar Marina at Golden Isles at about one-thirty in the afternoon. Checked Out arrived about an hour later, and was tied up right behind us on the face dock.

The crews of Imajine (left) and Checked Out (right), aboard Checked Out.

We reintroduced ourselves to Matt and Jan, and headed to the restaurant by the marina for a late — and large — lunch. We found out that not long after we had parted company back in July, Checked Out had developed a leak in its fuel tank. The tank had to be removed and replaced, and it turned out to be a long and difficult task. The work was done at the boatyard in Thunderbolt, just south of Savannah. The tank work was completed about the time Tropical Depression #9 was developing, so they waited out what would become Hurricane Hermine in Thunderbolt. That’s how we ended up being ahead of them on the waterway. We got caught up on what had been happening over the last couple of months, and we told them about meeting some of their friends while we were in Oriental. After lunch, we decided we’d get back together again for Happy Hour on Checked Out, since it had air conditioning. Then, we all headed off to do chores, but more importantly, to take long hot showers. Having had a late and big lunch, and the usual potluck apps and snacks for Happy Hour, we didn’t need dinner. We stayed aboard Checked Out and talked until after ten o’clock. We decided to travel together the next day. Matt and Jan were heading for Fernandina Harbor Marina, just across the river from Saint Marys. We invited them to Saint Marys, instead, but they planned to tie up in Fernandina for a couple of days to rest. We did agree that after they’d had an opportunity to rest up, and we’d unloaded Madge at home, we’d get together in Fernandina on Saturday.

While we were aboard Checked Out, I had missed a call from my brother. I called him back, and we discussed Mom’s funeral, which would be September 15.

 

Sept 6 – Labor Day Weekend

I really don’t like to travel on weekends now, especially holiday weekends, but I figured the memory of Hermine might keep some people off the water, and besides, we needed to get home. Early Sunday morning, we left Lady Island Marina, Factory Creek and the Lady Island Bridge behind us as we slowly chugged down the Beaufort River past Parris Island. Once again, the current was against us. We crossed Port Royal Sound below Parris Island to Skull Creek behind the north end of Hilton Head Island, then down the creek to Calibogue Sound, where we picked up a little bit of current. Now out in some big water alongside Hilton Head Island, we encountered our first concentration of holiday boaters. The traffic remained heavy as we entered the Cooper River and passed the ferry landing on Daufuskie Island, but dissipated quickly once past the landing. We did not turn down Ramshorn Creek to follow the ICW south, but instead stayed in the Cooper River for another mile to an anchorage we had used several times before. Now comfortably on the hook, I had to spend a good bit of time tending to my wounds. The abrasions were still oozing under the bandages, and I needed to air them out so they would scab over. It was sunny and warm, and as the sun dropped lower it became very hot in the cockpit. I put up the Breeze Booster over the v-berth hatch, and that improved airflow through the boat. But when the tide turned, we swung away from the wind and the chute would no longer work. I put up a tarp on the bows for the bimini and got a little bit of shade in the cockpit, but it was still uncomfortable until the sun finally went down.

Our peaceful anchorage in Big Tom Creek — our first night back home in Georgia.

Monday being Labor Day, we expected to run into some heavy traffic. In addition to that, we had some tricky spots to negotiate, as well as crossing the shipping channel in the Savannah River. We ticked off the challenges as we moved south, and didn’t have a problem with any of them. Watts Cut. Fields Cut. The Savannah River. Elba Cut. The Causton Bluff Bridge. It felt good to be back in Georgia, even if we were about a month earlier than we wanted it to be. Only four more travel days to reach home. The area around Thunderbolt was clogged with holiday traffic, but we kept a constant speed and managed to get through without a problem. We passed Isle of Hope and crossed under the new Skidaway Narrows Bridge. We picked up some more traffic on the Vernon River south of Skidaway Island, but it wasn’t too bad. Our new charts helped us get through Hells Gate without difficulty, and the Florida Passage was a piece of cake. We pulled into Big Tom Creek in the middle of the afternoon and worked our way upstream to the anchorage we had used on our way north. Of course, this time, there were crab pots in our charted spot, so we had to make some adjustments. I circled around to measure our distances, and found a spot where we had enough room, but the depth was a little more than I would have liked. Still, the weather was calm, meaning I didn’t need to put out a lot of rode, so I dropped the hook in 15 feet of water two hours before low tide, and let out 80 feet of chain. There was absolutely nothing around us except for the sunshine and the marsh grass. I put up a tarp to shade the cockpit from the low sun, pulled out my chartbook and completed my route planning for the rest of the trip home. South of Beaufort, all our stops were or will be in anchorages that are familiar. We move from here (Big Tom Creek) to the Duplin River behind Sapelo Island, then on to Brunswick and Saint Marys.

The soothing coastal marshes.

Not everything that lines the waterway is grass.

We got underway Tuesday after going through our morning checklist. There was a higher than normal water level in the bilge sump, and there was still some oil on top of it. It appeared that the first stage bilge pump — which I had replaced just two months ago — was not consistently working. I wasn’t too worried about it, though, because I knew the second stage pump was working fine. I was worried about where the extra water was coming from. I was confident that there were no hull leaks, so that left either the stuffing box or the hose connections for the fresh water system as the source. I checked the stuffing box. The bilge under it was wet, but it was not dripping. This was not a serious problem, but something we needed to keep an eye on. I tossed another oil absorbent pad into the sump and we prepared to leave. We hauled the anchor just after low tide and headed for the Duplin River, with only a few shallow spots along the way to worry about. Once again, our new SonarCharts helped tremendously. There was practically no traffic, so the trip was smooth and peaceful. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the coastal marshes. Some think they’re boring. I find them soothing, gently motoring though a sea of grass. I know they don’t offer much protection from bad weather, but on a warm sunny day where you can see for miles, with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away, it is a great place to be. Until a buzzer goes off. Suzy alerted me to the warning buzzer in the salon. It was the second stage bilge pump.  This wasn’t a problem. The buzzer just indicated that the pump had been activated. I checked the sump to make sure the pump was working — it was — then checked the stuffing box. The turning prop shaft was slinging water. The floorboard hatch was wet on the under side. This was obviously where the extra water was coming from. Due to the amount of water, I couldn’t be sure if the leak was with the stuffing box or the stern tube. I had repaired the stern tube a couple months ago, but it couldn’t really be fixed until we hauled the boat again. In any event, the bilge pumps could handle the trickle of water, and we could wait until we anchored this evening to work on it. The second stage pump quickly got the water level in the sump under control, and we were fine. We arrived at our Duplin River anchorage in the early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to investigate the bilge issue. There were three main concerns: 1) water was getting into the boat from the stuffing box area; which was 2) flushing oil from under the engine into the bilge sump; and 3) the first level bilge pump wasn’t working properly. The oil in the pan under the engine was leaking from old gaskets. The engine was probably due for some heavy maintenance. The water, it turned out, was coming from the repaired hose at the stern tube, though the stuffing box was likely due for repacking also. Both these things could be handled best at our next haul out, and we were only a few days from home. Nothing to do now but keep an eye on them. After a bit of rest, I stuck the fuel tank, and found the fuel level down by about twenty gallons. We’d run the engine for 21 hours since last filling the tank, so our fuel consumption was about normal at around a gallon per hour at 2000 rpm. I emptied our jerry cans into the fuel tank, bringing the fuel level to around 30 gallons, which would be plenty to get us to Saint Marys; however, I decided we should probably top off at the fuel dock in Brunswick, since that would be easier than waiting until we got home, especially since we also needed to pump out in Brunswick. I tried to take a nap, but was too restless. I turned on our hotspot to check weather, Facebook and email, but we had no service beyond basic cell phone coverage. So, I called Morningstar Marina at Golden Isles in Brunswick to ask about fuel and to confirm pump-out. While talking to the dockmaster, I asked about securing an overnight spot on the fuel dock, which would allow us to fuel up and pump out on Thursday morning instead of Wednesday afternoon. I wanted the boat to have as much fuel and as little waste aboard as possible when we got home. The dockmaster told me that he couldn’t guarantee a spot on the dock, because Hurricane Hermine had done considerable damage to the marina. I would have to check tomorrow. By this time, I was worn out. Didn’t want to do anything. Didn’t want to go anywhere. Didn’t want to take two more days to get back to Saint Marys. Didn’t want to have to drive to Birmingham for my mom’s funeral. Didn’t want to have to clean out her house. Finally, the bell rang at five o’clock. Time for wine.

Sept 3 – “Her Mean-ness”

Madge, with all the cockpit canvas removed, and double lines from every cleat on the boat to cleats on the dock. Every dock line on the boat was used.

The calm before the storm on Thursday evening.

To get from our spot in the river to the marina on Factory Creek, we had to go through the Lady Island Bridge again. The earliest practical bridge opening was nine o’clock, and high tide was just before ten o’clock, so it made sense to go through at the nine-thirty bridge opening. Not only did I want to have most of the day to prepare the boat, but I also wanted high tide for getting into Factory Creek. There’s a shoal at the entrance to the creek, and the channel is not well marked. In any event, we didn’t have any trouble getting to the marina and getting into our slip. The marina was a beehive of activity. If the people weren’t tying up their own boat, they were checking out other boats and helping tie them up. We met plenty of cruisers and live-aboards. The couple on the boat directly across the dock from us, Lisa and Trip, turned out to be good friends with our new friends from S/V All In, whom we got to know in Oriental. We traded news and stories and had a great time. When we weren’t tying up boats, we were checking the weather reports, trying to figure out what TS Hermine was going to do. The wind forecast increased to 55 mph sustained, with gusts to 65 mph. Suzy and I were very glad that we had found this marina, and that it had room for us. By the end of the day, we were quite hungry. Lisa told us about Mamma Lou’s Gullah Cafe, which was a short walk from the marina. It was real home cooking. Suzy got meatloaf. I got fried chicken. It had been a long time since we’d had good old Southern soul food. We enjoyed every bite.

For cruisers, any occasion is an excuse for a party.

By Friday morning, Hermine had been upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, and was predicted to make landfall just south of Tallahassee. We sent our best wishes to my brother and his wife, who live in Tallahassee, for good luck in riding out the storm. Perry and Nancy came by in the morning to make sure we had been able to move the boat and get her all tied up. They couldn’t stay long, because they had to get back home (out on St. Helena Island) to make sure they were prepared for the storm to hit. In the marina, there was a party atmosphere. All the preparations had been completed. The only thing left to do was wait. Well, no sense just sitting around. We’d have a Hurricane Party! Cruisers are masters at potluck gatherings. By the time the rain started around eleven o’clock, the lounge at the marina was starting to fill up with food. Suzy and I contributed several bottles of wine and some chips. By noon, the lounge was crowded with folks as the wind picked up outside and the rain began to fall harder. The storm was not quite as bad as we had feared — at least not in our protected location. We clocked the wind at about 40 mph maximum sustained strength, with gusts into the high 50s near 60 mph. Occasionally, one or two of us would slip out to check on the boats, but everything was fine. Around four o’clock, the rain slacked off. There was still wind, but it appeared that the bulk of the storm had passed through. Amazingly, there was absolutely no damage to the marina or any of the boats. We were in a perfect spot for riding out this particular storm. There was one injury during the storm, though — me. We left the party around six o’clock, which was right around low tide. The ramp from the fixed dock to the floating docks was very steep. I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, and had both hands full with stuff we were taking back to the boat from the party. I was being careful to make sure I had good footing on the ramp, but couldn’t hold onto the rail because my hands were full. Then, as I took my next step, my right foot slid forward and I went down hard, with my left leg bent at the knee under me. The abrasive non-skid surface of the ramp scoured off several square inches of skin just below my left knee and from the top of my left foot. The scrapes went deep into the paper-white connective tissue under my dark-tanned skin. There was very little blood, but the pain was intense — once I got over the shock. Suzy helped me back to the boat and we cleaned the wound. I had to use tweezers and scissors to remove the leg hair from around the wound. Even so, we had a hard time getting the bandage to stick to my skin. We ended up wrapping the gauze pads and tape with ACE bandages to keep them in place. Because we were still stuffed with food from the party, there was no need for us to make dinner — and I wasn’t particularly hungry, anyway. The boat was dry. The rain had pretty much stopped, but we had to keep the boat closed up anyway. The wind howled until well after midnight.

We had arranged to have breakfast Saturday morning with Perry and Nancy at the Beaufort Bread Company, just across the street from the marina. The Bread Company was packed, so we went to Breakstone’s Cafe downtown instead. We had a great breakfast, and got a report from Perry on how the town had survived the storm. We were particularly concerned about Dubhe, which was tied up at the Port Royal Marina on the Beaufort River. While Dubhe was undamaged, there was some dock damage at Port Royal, and two boats had sunk in their slips. In addition, there were at least three boats, either from the city marina or the mooring field, that had been pushed up into the marsh, near where Madge had originally been anchored. Had we not moved Madge, she might have been up in the marsh, too. Having been dropped off at the marina after breakfast, we said farewell to Nancy and Perry (again!), this time for good. We spent the rest of the day putting Madge back together. Tomorrow will be a traveling day. Time to make the last run home to Saint Marys. I was encumbered by the bandages on my left knee and foot, but we managed to get everything back where it needed to be. Later in the day, we walked back over the the Beaufort Bread Company and got one of their last baguettes to have for Happy Hour. While rearranging the crap piled in the aft cabin, we discovered some wetness under the starboard berth cushion. The water had probably been blown in around or between the main hatch boards during the storm. We got everything dried out, but took the opportunity to relocate some stuff to other parts of the boat, making the cabin much less of a mess. At Happy Hour, the baguette, with some olive oil, dipping spices and some sharp cheese, ended up being plenty for us, so we didn’t need any more dinner. Instead, we walked around the marina one last time, socializing with the other boaters one last time.