Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dragon Tails (Draggin' Tales)

The Anchor Dragon
Sailors always have sea stories, and every cruiser I know has at least one sea story in the category of "anchoring."  So here are two anchor-draggin' stories, and they both arise from hasty incorrect assumptions.  One case in which the guy assumed he was dragging, but wasn't; and one where he assumed he wasn't dragging, but was.

This story came via the crew of s/v Outrageous.  We met them underway south of Charleston, SC last spring while discussing overtaking, discovered we were both from Michigan, and shared wine and cheese in an anchorage that evening.  It seems they had a friend who was a bit of a blowhard, and proudly announced that he never, never, dragged anchor.  One day the two boats were traveling together and came to a medium-size anchorage surrounded by crab pots in the shoals, where they decided to spend the night. Outrageous anchored behind and to the side of Blowhard.  During the night the tide turned, Outrageous was now in front, but they decided they were too close to the crab pots that were now behind them.  So they moved to a new spot, and because of the way the current had reversed, this new spot was again behind Blowhard.  By morning, the tide had turned back again.  Outrageous was now in front, and in the morning light Blowhard saw how close he was to the crab pots that Outrageous had moved away from during the night.  But wait!  When Blowhard went to bed, Outrageous was behind him, yet now Outrageous was in front, and Blowhard was close to the crab pots.

"For the first time ever," Blowhard told Outrageous, "I have dragged anchor! I see where you are with respect to me, you were in back and now you're in front! I can't believe it, but it has happened!"

Outrageous quickly saw the error their friend had made and took the opportunity to have a little fun at his expense.  "No, no," Outrageous said, "it must just be a trick of the shifting currents, I think you're okay."

Blowhard shook his head in bewilderment.  "That's a gracious thing for you to say, Outrageous, but no.  I still can't believe it, conditions weren't bad last night, but I must've done something wrong, because I dragged anchor.  That's the only way you could be in front of me now, when you were behind me when we went to sleep last night."

Outrageous said he finally 'fessed up about 10 years later, and they are still friends, although Blowhard is a lot more humble these days.

= = = = =

This second one happened to us, this autumn in Wrightsville Beach, NC.  We'd been in the popular anchorage for several days when a pair of big trawlers, "Saltwater Cowboy" and "Scrimshaw" (not their real names) came in together late in the evening at low tide.  They set anchor rather quickly, but well away from us.  I noticed that the closer boat, Scrimshaw, had a gold Great Loop cruising burgee.  The gold color is a mark of accomplishment; it indicates that they have completed the roughly 3,000-mile Loop at least once.

During the night a small squall came through.  I dimly heard horns and commotion, but secure in our holding (after all, we'd been there for several days without moving and the anchor had had plenty of time to settle), I was unworried.  Then suddenly we heard a knock on our bow.  We scrambled topside in the wind and rain to find people with flashlights on the decks of the 4 or 5 boats closest to us.  Both trawlers had moved, and the stern of "Scrimshaw" was like a wall directly in front of our faces.  That knock we had heard, was the trawler hitting our second anchor still on the bow!

"You are dragging!" Scrimshaw accused us as he started his engine and motored away.  "My anchor alarm never went off, so I didn't move!  You must be dragging and you hit us!"

"I'm calling the Coast Guard!" someone else yelled.

"I've been here for three days," I replied, "and I'm still right where I was.  You are upwind and upcurrent from me, Scrimshaw, and your stern is hitting my bow. That makes it rather more likely that you are the boat that is dragging."  Dude, I'm thinking to myself, I don't care about your bleating about what your electronics are telling you, what do your eyes tell you? You dropped anchor across from the hotel, now you are near the bridge.  How do you think you got here?  And gravity?  It usually makes things fall down, not up.  Duh! So much for your vaunted experience in completing the Loop once already!

As Scrimshaw and Saltwater Cowboy moved away (far, far away) to re-anchor, I heard them talking to each other on the VHF, asking each other if they had had any damage.  "I have a bent stanchion," replied Scrimshaw.

Next morning the sky had returned to blue and calm.  I had been chatting on the VHF with one of the sailboats near us and the moment that conversation was concluded, Scrimshaw hailed us.  "Well?" he asked.  "Did you figure out if you dragged last night?"

"Unfortunately [for you!] Scrimshaw, I have confirmed that I did not.  I recorded in our ship's log the lat-long where we dropped anchor three days ago, and we are still well within that watch circle."  (And, I thought to myself, gravity still doesn't make things fall uphill!)

"My anchor alarm never sounded," Scrimshaw repeated.  "And the wind wasn't forecast."

Thank you U.S. Navy for excellent seamanship training we got back in Annapolis!  I know what really happened to you, Scrimshaw -- you hadn't been paying attention.  You put out enough anchor scope for the depth of water at low tide when you came here, but it was high tide when the squall hit, and you just flat-out got caught unprepared because you forgot to account for almost 5 feet of tide.  Simple, really.  But because your anchor alarm never went off, you "assume" it couldn't be your error?  Over-reliance on technology, anyone?

= = = = =

Ass.U.Me, my fourth-grade teacher the inimitable Mrs. Cohen quipped to us, as she taught us a cute mnemonic for spelling the word.  "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me."

Last spring we met our friend and fellow blogger Octopussy in Charleston, and she told us one of the best stories about "assume" that I've ever heard.  Seems that early in her Navy career she was on a warship that was on a nighttime training mission.  She had been told that as part of the exercise there would be flares fired off in the ocean and was instructed that when she saw the flares she was to turn the ship toward them.

Sure enough, after a few hours of gazing into the dark nothingness, she eventually saw some dim, ethereal white lights, shimmering on the horizon.  Hmm, she told us she thought to herself, that's really not what I expected those flares to look like, or quite where I expected to see them, but hey, there's nothing else out here, so I assume that must be the flares.  And she gave the order to steer the ship on the new heading, toward the wispy lights.

And the closer they got, the weirder the "flares" seemed ... until the real flares showed up unmistakably on the horizon, and she turned back toward them and finally understood that she'd been steering not toward an unusual style of wispy white flare, but toward a sailboat that had lost its navigation lights and so was shining their flashlight to illuminate the white sails in the dark night.  I can't imagine what it must have felt like being on that sailboat, unable to communicate, and with a huge warship making directly toward them.

In the debrief after the event she said she learned a principle which she never forgot -- and now, after her excellent illustrative leadership story, neither will I.  "Don't assume it away if the details don't quite match up," her mentor told her. "Make sure you get enough information to really know."

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Home Stretch

After the strong winds that ushered in November, came frosty cold nights.  Clear and beautiful for stargazing, but also a reminder that even South Carolina wasn't far south enough to be immune to what was forecast to be a harsh winter.  We began looking for a weather window to sail south through Georgia and into Florida.

Sunset at sea, about 15 miles off the coast of Georgia

We faced a decision.  If we stayed in the ICW, we would be winding through the marshes of Georgia.  Open and beautiful, we could anchor in the marsh grasses at night and sleep, and look at the stars.  The downside would be that we would have to time each day's travel to cross the numerous shoals at high tide, and deal with sometimes strong currents.  This route was 250 miles long; at our cruising speed of 5.5 - 6.0 knots would spread over about 40 hours, probably 6 travel days.  Our alternative was to sail overnight offshore, a straight line. about 200 miles nonstop, reenter the ICW at Fernandina Beach or Jacksonville, and arrive in St Augustine as soon as midday the following day.

The weather was excellent for a Tuesday pre-dawn departure, which also coincided with high slack tide -- very easy to depart the marina and granting us a fair-current boost for the first part of the trip whether we chose to go inside or outside.  There were also predicted mild winds and a near-full moon, near-perfect conditions for an outside overnight sail.  If the autopilot was fixed.  It was an intermittent problem, the hardest type to diagnose. It would be operating fine, then suddenly begin turning in aimless circles. not good.  Conversations with Raymarine tech support and investigation with our volt-ohm meter identified a broken compass.  The compass had been replaced, though it was not clear whether that would completely solve the problem.  If not, we had little choice but to stay in the ICW.  Hand-steering overnight for 30 hours straight would be absolutely exhausting even in the mildest weather.

The horse scents the barn, traditional knowledge states, and speeds up just to get home and be done with it.  And so too, it seemed, with us and our boat. We opted to try for the outside overnight route.  Both routes started with a run down Port Royal Sound before they diverged, so we had several hours before we reached the decision point.  We would test the repaired autopilot while we were still in the sound, before we committed to the outside ocean passage.  If it worked satisfactorily, we'd sail overnight, otherwise we'd turn off and take the slower inside route.

The compass worked fine in our tests, so we bypassed the turnoff to the ICW and headed out to sea.  We were alone, all the other boats stayed inside.  But not really alone, we were escorted by a couple of dolphins for a short stretch.  Then, nothing and no one.  We saw some bigger shipping off Tybee Roads (the entrance to Savannah), but they were easy to avoid.  Interestingly, this was the first time we'd ever crossed that area in daylight; all our other outside runs had us passing Savannah at 2 or 3 AM.  It was a lot less threatening to be able to actually see the other ships, instead of just a confusing collection of lights in the night. The seas were still 2-4 feet on our beam and quarter, leftovers from the previous weekend's gale, but the pressure of the wind in our sails kept the boat stable in a pleasant roll.  The fair current was phenomenal; we had, we suspected, caught a little spinoff eddy from the Gulf Stream and we were making far better time than expected.  We passed the time alternately in cheerful conversation or quiet introspection, enjoying the travel but at the same time anxious to settle down in one place for a while.

The afternoon wore on and the autopilot continued to work perfectly.  Unfortunately, the winds softened and were no longer sufficient to hold us against the seas.  Every wave rolled us first to the right, then to the left as it passed underneath us, hissing as it then continued on its way to the horizon. Although we had secured the cabin for sea, things below fell to the floor or slid around; things that were in lockers banged about inside against the doors.  We had a boatful of delicious food, but our meals were dreary -- lunch was a quick packet of ramen noodles in an oversize soup bowl to allow freeboard for sloshing, and our dinner was scheduled to be a dry cheese sandwich, that required no cooking and could be eaten with one hand while we held onto the railing with the other.   "This sucks!" I screamed to Dan.  "Let's never do this again!"  "Okay, I understand," he replied, looking wistfully at the horizon.

The sun slid down toward the west and the high light clouds turned cream-colored, then progressed through the spectrum to yellow, gold, and orange, the color reflected in the ocean not in shimmering rivers but in pieces tossed and broken in the waves. "Dolphin alert, starboard beam!" I called to Dan as one of the delightful mammals arced in the near distance.  Then another made its appearance, and another, and suddenly they were everywhere, maybe two dozen dolphins of various sizes, arcing and zigzagging all around a patch of ocean between us and the sunset.  One or two jumped completely out of the water, suspended against the glowing sky, a comma of inexpressible joy.  What brought them all together?  We had seen none all day since we left the sound, then this many all at once in the same place.  Maybe they were celebrating a dolphin birth or wedding, or the pretty sunset, or simply the conclusion of another day of freedom. The sun sank below the horizon, sparking a small but definite green flash.  A couple of dolphins swam alongside our boat for a minute, then left.  Maybe they wanted to race, but once they figured out that they could easily outrun us decided a race wouldn't be any fun, or maybe they were just politely acknowledging our existence ("Poor humans, they only get to visit the top skin of the ocean confined to that plastic shell of a boat, while we dolphins can glory in all of the depths.")   Then just as suddenly as they had appeared, the dolphins were gone, leaving us alone with the magenta afterglow of the sunset, and the full moon already risen on the opposite horizon.

The night continued, our progress continued, the rolling waves continued, certainly never life-threatening, but just as certainly, very uncomfortable.  Neither of us was able to sleep when not on watch.  The narrative of our trip became "this sucks this sucks I hate this this sucks wow what a sunset this sucks this sucks but wow wasn't that a wonderful sunset this sucks this sucks ..."

We reached the entry to Fernandina Beach about 2 AM.  We didn't like the idea of arriving in an unfamiliar harbor, even a well-lit one, in the dark, and there was no sense in just hanging out in the lumpy rolly ocean waiting for daylight,  If we were going to be uncomfortable anyway, we might just as well make further progress southward.  So we continued toward Jacksonville, slowing down our speed a bit so as to arrive near first light/  We had a bit of a balancing act: arrive too early, and we'd be waiting around to enter until it was no longer dark, but arrive too late and we'd miss the fair tidal current.  There were a few places along this stretch of the river where the current could be as much as 4 knots against us, and one bridge where the current was 6 knots.  Since we could only motor at 6 knots, if we missed the tide we would simply have to wait several hours for the next one.

Clouds over the Tolomato River, and the familiar vegetation of northeast Florida

Even the longest nights and roughest passages end eventually, and this one did just as we reached the sea buoy marking the entrance to the St John's River at Jacksonville.  The day dawned grey and gloomy, but the seas quickly calmed once we were inside the protective jetties.  It was tempting to just stop and anchor and sleep, but fair currents were giving us a 2-knot boost and whisking us forward. With only 30-odd miles to go, these currents would have us to St Augustine by lunchtime, so we decided to press on.  There was perhaps a bit of triumph in my voice as I hailed the Bridge of Lions and the municipal marina shortly after noon.  Home!

Bridge opening

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween Fun

We garbed up on Friday to visit Savannah again.  This would be our last chance to serve as interpretive guides aboard the El Galeon for a while, and chat with visitors to that historic ship.  But since it was also Halloween, we anticipated additional shenanigans.

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell came to the Galeon saying they were looking for Captain Hook...
but Dangerous Dan would do.  Classy and Southern to the core.

We had a couple of errands to run in Beaufort on our way to the ship. First we had to stop at West Marine to see if the replacement compass for our autopilot had arrived.  Reactions are always unpredictable when we wander about our 21st-century world dressed in our 17th-century clothing.  We walked in the door and Jody, one of the ever-friendly service guys we had worked with before, didn't miss a beat as he asked his colleague, "Hey, was the flux capacitor for the time machine in that last truck delivery?"  (It wasn't, but our compass was.)  The folks at the liquor store weren't quite sure what to make of us when we said we were buddies of Captain Morgan [the life-size statue in front of the store.]

All week in Savannah when we walked from the parking garage to the Galeon, folks we met on the street immediately assumed that we were working with the ship, and often came up to us to ask questions.  But on Friday, no one even blinked.  This time people merely assumed we were in somewhat elaborate Halloween costumes, like the Darth Vader guy we met walking along River Street or the witch waiting for the traffic light with us. We were told that Savannah goes all-out for Halloween. So after our work shift was done, we stopped into the bar across the plaza and ordered a couple of beers in plastic to-go cups from the bloody mummy behind the counter.  Savannah allows open containers and we were anxious to try walking around downtown with a beer "just because we could," and do some people-watching, certain the night would offer many possibilities ... and it did.

Me with my new buddy Captain Morgan ...
(or at least, the resin statue of him in front of Bill's Liquors.)

Historic characters like Dangerous Dan
have nothing to fear from historic steps, savvy?

Street crafter Chris makes these roses from palm fronds.

El Galeon lit up as the "Haunted Pirate Ship" for Halloween night,
complete with smoke machines and eerie noises, 

Slowing Down a Bit -- Or NOT -- in Beaufort, SC

Today is one of those days that remind me exactly why I love November.  The sky is gray and there are chilly winds to gale force.  We're snugly tied to the dock with our bow pointed into the wind, so we have no anchor-drag worries.  Every so often a really big gust will make the docklines vibrate with the tension of holding us in place.  Its the kind of day that totally justifies the existence of cups of tea, fuzzy slippers, long phone calls to distant friends.  It just begs you to take a break, snuggle down indoors, make a pot of soup and read a book ... or catch up on a blog.

We generally plan our seasonal commute in sections: 3-5 travel days, anchoring out at night, then a layover day at a marina or dock to stretch our legs and explore a town, get some fresh produce, whatever, then another 3-5 travel days, then a longer break.  We'll catch up on boat projects and rest a bit.  We'll usually rent a car and try to really get a little deeper understanding of not just the city we've stopped in, but the surrounding region as well -- something we can't do when confined to the square mile or two that we can explore around a marina on foot.

This year we targeted Savannah, Georgia for our long break.  We had spent just enough time there last spring on our northward run to want more.  And even better, the new dockmaster at Lady's Island marina where we stayed last spring and were planning on staying again, had lived in Savannah for several years and could tell us about some great spots to visit.  We had a couple of museums in mind, a few boat projects, revisiting a couple of favorite restaurants, and generally just chillin'.

Ha!  Our days went from full, to fuller as the rental car expanded our range of things to do and people we could connect with.  Most of the planned boat projects got rescheduled for "later."

We spent a lovely afternoon with longtime friend Dani, her husband J. and their two daughters. The girls were so curious about our odd life afloat that it took about 1/2 hour just to walk the boardwalk to our boat, because they kept stopping to look down at the fish and birds.  We couldn't have planned it of course, but were lucky enough to even catch a glimpse of dolphins cavorting in the creek.  After (attempting) to satisfy the girls' zillions of questions about how boats work, and tides, and marine life, we drove into town for dinner ... and found the main street blocked off because we had landed right in the middle of the pre-Halloween street festival!

We drove back to Charleston to share a long lunch and lots of stories with friends Melissa and Anne, experienced boaters but new cruisers on a new boat.  We stayed on for a lowcountry cooking class ... and then practiced our newly-acquired knife skills by making the pot of soup that today's blustery weather inspired (potato, in this case).  We shared beers and dinners when we crossed paths again with fellow southbound cruisers Paul and Deb (Lat43) and Bruce and Tammy (Things We Did Today).  And possibly most fun of all, our beloved El Galeon Andalucia was visiting Savannah and we were able to spend 3 afternoons aboard as interpretive guides (same job we did in St Augustine),  explaining the ship and shipboard life in the 17th century to visitors.  When the stream of visitors slowed down, we also had time to catch up with our friends in the Spanish crew.

The corner of the boardwalk at high tide ...

... and the same spot at low tide.  

An eight-foot tidal range makes a big difference!

El Galeon blue-lit for a special nighttime fundraising event.

Pirates galore that night!
I explain to visitors that the galleons were the cargo ships of the day.
So, here's a juxtapostion: 21st century cargo ship,
viewed from the deck of a 17th-century one!

Cooking class: Chef Victoria Frank checking if the apple cider glaze was reduced to the right consistency.

And don't be afraid to taste and add salt!

Plating up the finished foods.

My partner in "Team Pot Pie." I had never worked with puff pastry before.

Best part of the class -- eating our creations!  

With Chef Victoria and assistant Blair.

Monday, October 27, 2014


I'm reading blogs and Facebook posts from people who are making their way south and dealing with chilly strong winds in the Chesapeake and the northern parts of North Carolina.  I'm feeling smug, sitting here in a thin t-shirt and sunglasses, just a short day's sail north of Georgia.  As we settle into this cruising life, every time we make the trip, we seem to go slower than the previous year, make more stops in different places, and the bar for weather we deem suitable for traveling slowly rises from good-enough to good to better to darn-near-perfect.  And every year,  I find myself enjoying the trip more and more, as it becomes less of a slog southward to a destination and more of an exploration.  We stay in some places longer, and get to know them a little deeper, than we did early in our travels.  My memories are less about the process of sailing this time, and more about the people whose paths crossed ours, and the wonder of the slowly-unreeling film of lowcountry life, passing at average boat speed of 5 knots (not quite 6 mph, or about the pace of a moderate run).

A collage of places that stuck in my memory along this portion of the ICW:

Waiting for the fog to lift coincided perfectly
 with my desire for a second pot of coffee
and a lazy start to the morning, at Camp Lejeune

We'd look at the hodgepodge of houses along the shore
and try to imagine what it would be like to live in one of them.
 "That one?" "Nah, too big." "How 'bout that other one?"
 "Only if we could repaint it."
"This one's gigantic but their guest cabin looks about right for us" 

And sometimes all the houses along the water are HUGE, or
downright pretentious (Wrightsville Beach)

The Cape Fear River can be, well, fearsome, if strong winds
oppose its current of up to six knots.  Today, though, was sunny and calm.
We timed our run to get just a gentle push from the last of the ebbing tide,
and there was no fear.  Don't the loading cranes on the shore look like goofy erector-set giraffes?  

They're even the right color for giraffes!

It's always scary to cross paths with big, fast-moving commercial traffic,
but we were the attraction for this ferry-load of passengers crossing the river.

Motoring along tree-lined canal and
Waccamaw River reaches,
some days are hazy...

...and some are sparkling

Intricate side-channels in the cypress swamps.
I think it would be wonderful to explore these with a kayak or dinghy.

Generally, the ICW is a motor trip for most of its length.
Too many twists and turns, narrow cuts, bridges and shoals.
but sometimes, the forces align and we prove
sailing is sometimes possible on the ICW!

We are, as I mentioned, rather ahead of the "pack" of migrating snowbirds, so several times we had normally popular anchorages to ourselves.  Well, alone except for the duck perched on this dilapidated dock.  And silent, except for the occasional bark of a small dog.  I kept looking around for the dog until I figured it out.  Every time the "dog" barked, the duck shook his head.  He had something caught in his throat, I'm guessing, and every few minutes he'd shake his head and cough.  But his cough sounded exactly like the bark of a small dog.  I can see the writeup in the guidebooks now:  Minim Creek -- so quiet, you can hear a duck bark.

This life takes us to lovely places.  Anchorage sunrise ...

... and sunset. 

People in my collage:
We spent an evening laughing with new cruisers who are rapidly gaining experience, fellow blogger Tammy (Things We Did Today) and her husband Bruce.  We'd followed each others blogs for years, but this was the first time we'd met IRL.  And because we'd been reading each other's work for so long, when we met the conversation didn't start at the beginning, we'd covered all that ground online before. Online friendships are fun that way, though somewhat confusing for the spouses, no doubt.  And Bruce rolled with it, politely reminding us of the imbalance by starting a conversation offering an introduction and capsule history of his sailing and how he came to be here, and invited us to do the same, so we were all at least somewhat "on the same page" conversationally.  Shared stories, and giggles, never slowed down from that point until it was time to go home.

We decided to wait an extra day or two, and not coincidentally wait out a predicted storm, in the anchorage in Wrightsville Beach so we could connect with Paul and Deb (Lat43).  We had first met them in St Augustine where they had a car and were gracious enough to offer us a ride for some errands (a standard, but never to be underestimated, cruiser courtesy).   And then to our surprised delight, when we docked in Beaufort, SC several weeks later, we saw the bow of their boat just across the fairway from where we tied up.  This time we were the ones with the car, and we were able to return their favor from 6 months and 250 miles ago.
It's five o'clock somewhere!
Love this set of wall clocks we found in a bar we visited with Paul and Deb.
We also took the opportunity in Wrightsville to go out to dinner with friends Tom and Debbie, who had their boat docked near ours back in Annapolis, but had a house, and careers, in North Carolina.

Meeting up with former Annapolis dock neighbors
Tom and Debbie at a restaurant they recommended.
Extra points for ambiance, and the portions were HUGE!

Columbus Day weekend is the fall sailboat show, and pretty much end of sailing season in Annapolis, but it found us warm and secure at Isle of Palms (just north of Charleston, SC).  Boating season here was still in full swing and there was a non-stop parade of watercraft off the stern of our boat, everything from stand-up paddleboards and jetskis, sailboats and powerboats in a range of sizes.  We were docked next to the eco-tours charter boat, and had lots of interesting conversations with the captain and crew.  And when they came back from trips with more leftover food and wine than they could use and offered it to us, who were we to refuse?

My wonderful sister-in-law Karen and her husband James just love the Myrtle Beach area, and have been visiting for many years.  It always baffled me because they seem to love nature and quiet, but the one time we visited the town we saw a bustling boardwalk with a big ferris wheel and lots of tacky tourist shops; didn't seem like them at all.
Myrtle Beach boardwalk and Ferris wheel, photo from here
So this trip, we arranged to dock at a marina not too far from where they were camped in their travel trailer, and asked them to show us what was special to them about the town.  And she really took the task to heart!  They spent the day driving us here and there, their favorite fishing pier, the hotel they stayed at 20 years ago when it had another owner, the Walmart that was built where a popular miniature golf course used to be, memories of the changes the town has gone through.  They commented on the run-down areas and the glitzy new built-up ones, and took us to check out a marina in the heart of the action as an alternative to the quiet, wooded one we were staying at, since without a car the entertainment options are limited.  We also spent some time exploring their camper, and chatting about the similarities and differences between it and our boat.  Our spaces share the same extreme efficiency of space where all the furniture is either built in or folds down (or folds up), and storage is in whatever odd corner or nook or cranny that isn't otherwise occupied.  Unlike our boat, though, her camper stays FLAT -- all the time!  And even if you mess up, it can't sink!  On the other hand, we can jump off the back of ours to go for a swim.  We don't have to be quite as careful about the added weight of our possessions, since we have a whole hull to hold ours up instead of 4 tires.  And we have unlimited salt water available to flush with.  The funniest coincidence of all though, is that the place they are camped is an RV resort called Pirateland. She insisted they chose the place for its amenities rather than because its piratey theme, which was carried out throughout the park, made her think of us.

In the registration office of PirateLand.
Who would've thought a brother and sister from landlocked Kansas
would both be drawn to the ocean as adults?

They even had this life-size guy swinging from the ceiling

There are some places that we seem to miss every time we come through, or that other people rave about that we just can't understand the attraction.  We made a point of trying to spend time in some of these bypassed places this trip.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fast Update

Our internet is limited, but our adventures haven't been!  Here's a quick update till we get into a place we can provide a longer one.  With the work list finally finished, we left Oriental on Sept 28, resolved that we were going to make our way south very leisurely.  And we did - a half-day motoring took us to Morehead City, where we traded sea stories with friend Rob and tried a new brewpub for dinner. Then it was one night anchored out at a favorite anchorage in the middle of Camp Lejeune, a long travel day then anchored a few nights in Wrightsville Beach, connecting up with blogging friends Paul and Deb of Latitude 43, some anchor drag drama that I'll write about when we're in port for a while, and an evening with old Annapolis dock neighbors Tom and Debbie.  We had hoped for a marina here because of predicted bad weather but they were full; luckily next day when even worse weather was predicted they had a cancellation and we grabbed it.  Nice to sleep soundly when the wind is blowing 30 knots and the rain is dumping!  Three easy short days took us to our next stop at the south end of Myrtle Beach, one of my favorite reaches on the trip.  And fun for other reasons -- we promised ourselves that we would make sure this trip wasn't "work," an ordeal slogging our way south.  With short (6-hour) days of travel, we still had plenty of time after the anchor was set in the afternoon to read books, cook a fun dinner, talk, (and of course, have a glass of rum -- you wouldn't know it was us otherwise right?).  And we planned only 2-3 days each stretch before a layover day to explore, rest, or meet friends.  The pace was lovely!  And at Myrtle we had a treat planned, a visit with Dan's sister and her husband, who have been vacationing here for decades, a great chance for us to get a true insiders view -- and we did!  On tomorrow (weather permitting) to Charleston and then Beaufort.  When we get to Beaufort we'll linger a while, and I'll update with more details, some sea stories, and some pictures.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


So here's what it is about:  bloggers recognizing other bloggers.  The Liebster Award is a project that promotes the discovery of new blogs.  If you're selected for the "award", you must answer some questions given to you by the blog that selected you, and then also choose other blogs for the award and give them some questions to answer.  Thanx to Paul and Debra (Latitude 43) for awarding me.  Here are my answers to the questions they asked:

When did you first catch the sailing/cruising bug?
Back when we lived in Colorado, we had a kitchen design/remodel business, and our watersports consisted of canoe camping on lakes and rivers.  One of Jaye's colleagues asked if we could redo the laminate in the galley of his 24-foot Catalina sailboat.  Small project, he said.  We didn't even need to come to the boat, he said, he could deliver the piece to us, it fit in his car trunk.  When it came time to return the finished piece and he asked how much he owed, Dan said it was such a small job, it's almost embarrassing to charge you.  "Tell you what, I spent about 3 hours total on this, why don't you give us 3 hours of time understanding your fascination with this boat thing?"  His boat was in Lake Granby in the Rockies.  One summer Saturday we drove up to where he was, sailed around for a bit, dropped the anchor and had some snacks, then motored back to his mooring.  This small project is now remembered as the most expensive kitchen job we ever did.  Dan was utterly hooked from that moment.  A few months later, at a candle party, we met the best friend of Jaye's office mate, who was a charter yacht trip broker.  She said she thought we'd hit it off really well with one of her charter yacht captains (she was right, we still count David as one of our A-list friends).  A short time later we were on a 1-week liveaboard/learn to sail cruise in the Virgin Islands.  We were boat owners within a year.  Not a bad trajectory for a Kansas farmboy!

Water life pre-sailboat: canoeing with friends at Ruby Canyon on the Colorado River, sometime in the early 1990s.
Bassackwardz, our first boat, 1975 Erickson 27, Northport, Michigan

Describe your worst repair or maintenance job on the boat besides the head. Everyone already knows that’s a shitty job.
Um, writing the check to the boatyard?  Certainly that's the most painful.  The weirdest job had to be getting rid of wasps that had built a nest at the top of the mast.  Think about this -- you normally get 10-20 feet away and spray.  But when you're climbing the mast, if you annoy the wasps before they are all dead,  you can't get away!
Up to the top of the mast with a can of wasp spray!

Improvised safety gear: foulies so the spray wouldn't contaminate skin, and mosquito netting that normally keeps critters from coming down our hatches draped over a wide-brimmed hat to prevent stings.

If you could turn back time just 3 years what would your cruising life be like today? If I could turn back time just 5 minutes I would have asked a different question because now I have that stupid Cher song in my head.
Delighted to say, I would do it over again the same way.  According to our ship's log, three years ago today, Sept 26, our marina in Annapolis completed engine service and alignment, and we left for an ICW trip to Florida on Sept 29, 2011.

Music soothes the soul. Do you listen to music onboard? What type of music and on what media? If it’s 70’s disco please decline the award and I’ll remove you from my feed. Just kidding. Feel free to add a mirror ball to the salon and dance all night long. I don’t judge. Much.
We've got a crazy-eclectic collection on our iPod: lots of jazz, steel pan and soca from the islands, reggae, Broadway show tunes, rock, big band swing, old sea chanteys.  And, courtesy of my last boss, a collection of the Billboard Top 100 from every year from the 1940s to the 2000s, so that includes 1970s disco.  (**blush**)
We have at least a little bit of every kind of music imaginable on our 160 GB ipod, from "Zulu Men's Singing Competition" to Baroque recorder, jazz, rock, reggae ... and some disco.  (Image, and a link to purchase your very own disco ball, here)

Was there ever a time on the water when you thought "Oh shit!" and all the fun was over for that day?
Well, there was one trip when I went below while we were underway and noticed the floorboards were floating in ankle-deep water.  It was right after Hurricane Irene in the Chesapeake Bay, and I blogged about the adventure in a post called May You Live In Interesting Times.

Wine, beer, booze or tea?
Rum is our preferred; packs the most buzz per ounce, and efficiency of space is prized around here!  And wine with dinner.  But it's all too easy to overdo.  We know too many boozy cruisers and are scared of that particular slippery slope, so we try to restrain ourselves to no more than one or two per day.  The rest of the time we use a SodaStream and just fizz our cold water.

Has there ever been a destination you couldn't wait to arrive at only to be disappointed when you got there? 
Parts of the Bahamas on our first cruise in 2009-2010.  The water was crystal clear and gorgeous ... and too darn cold to snorkel for more than a short time! We'd been thinking we'd be jumping off the stern and swimming every day, instead, even in our wetsuits it just wasn't warm enough.

What part of cruising do you dislike the most besides no flushing toilets or bloggers asking stupid questions?
I miss the freedom and independence of a car, at the same time that I love the way walking instead of driving lets me see our cities and towns from a totally different perspective.  And I miss having lots of tools and a woodshop. I miss having an ongoing relationship with a trusted hairstylist and my awesome physical therapist Jen, and yet, if we weren't cruising, I'd miss the mobility and the opportunity to experience new places more than I miss the things I just mentioned!

Describe the best time you ever had on a boat unless it was illegal, then just email me.
Neither illegal nor immoral, but all I will say about that particular week of sailing is that when we came home, neither of us had any tan lines. Anywhere.

And now, I'd like to nominate:
Little Cunning Plan
Out Chasing Stars
Dock Six Chronicles
s/v Octopussy
Cat Tales

Some questions for those bloggers:

  • What got you started on boats/sailing/cruising?
  • What was your life like, pre-boat?  What did you do for recreation?
  • What's the most unlikely thing you currently have aboard?
  • Tell us about your first night at anchor.
  • If money were no object, what addition/change would you make to your present boat?
  • Aside from finances (we all have that issue), how has boat life changed you?
  • Most bloggers have a story about someone they met through their blog, or an amusing connection or opportunity that happened because of their blogging ... what's yours?
  • Give us a link to your most popular blog post.
  • And to one that you think deserves a wider audience.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Project Progress Week 5: And the Boom Times Continue

We were so demoralized by the rain that stopped our progress, and looking forward to a weekend of gazing wistfully at the settee that should have been finished, that we asked the carpenter Ken if he'd give us the pieces of wood so that we could dry-fit them, see how the rebuilt settee was going to look, and cut and pin the upholstery cushions in their new size.  So just at 5 PM as the rain was letting up a little bit, he handed us a bundle of beautiful teak pieces.  If we'd had a tablesaw, and if we'd had a supply of good wood, and most of all if Dan's hand wasn't still healing from the surgery, this would be the kind of project we could do ourselves over the weekend, relying on old expertise from our kitchen design/remodel business.  But we didn't, and we hadn't, and it was, so we were reliant on others.  Turned out just as well; Ken's work was exacting and the wood he supplied was gorgeous.

Before we got to that, though, there was some playing to do.  Remember I described this place as a "front-porch kind of town?" Well, it seems the town event planners think so too. They called it an "Ol' Front Porch Music Festival" -- local musicians of all genres set up on the front porches of the historic houses in town and gave free concerts.  Historic homes walking tour with a soundtrack, and there was no way we were going to miss this novel concept.

Country music on the porch of one local shop.

There's a group in town who get together to play the ukulele, purely for fun. 

Bluegrass at the old hotel.  The guy in the black shirt (2nd from left) is our carpenter Ken. Man of many talents -- and as I commented before, half the fun is seeing people in their alternate context.

Small-town America, children and puppies -- just as wholesome as it gets. And I don't mean that in a snarky way; this town really is just that sweet.
Sunday we did dry-fit the pieces into the modified settee and were glad to have the extra time to fidget with the fit.  Between the time we had given them our measurements to cut the wood, and the time we received the pieces, we had misplaced our copy of the pattern in all the construction chaos, and couldn't remember the details of how we'd envisioned them going together!  We figured them out fairly quickly, though, which was fortunate, since we never did find our notes that weekend.

The "Boom Times" in this post describe not thunderstorms, but the intense pace of work this week.  Starting Monday morning, we had someone working on the boat 8-5.  Ken final-fit, nailed, screwed and bunged the settee, and while he was at it, attached and bunged the fiddles on the table.  We had taken them off to refinish them just before Dan got sick and higher priorities prevailed, then more-or-less forgot about them.  Once we left Annapolis we no longer had the tools to reinstall them even if we had remembered.  But fiddles are handy for keeping dishes from sliding off flat surfaces while in rough conditions, so we were glad to have them back.  Then the relocated diesel heater was re-plumbed and after a few tense moments with Eric, Dan, and me all poring over the error codes listed in the user guide, primed and running.  Finally, now that we had good engine access, we were ready to tackle the guts of the job, the thing that had brought us here in the first place, changing the engine mounts to reduce vibration.  That job is being done by Tim, Ken's brother.  Yeah, small town and all that, I find it cool.  I think almost everyone who works in this yard has done at least something on our boat.
Ken again, showing the insulated ducting he's using to route the cold air from our relocated a/c. There are other improvements too -- instead of gravity-draining the water that has condensed onto the coils into the bilge, there is now a clever device that uses the Venturi effect to suck the condensation water out of the pan and discharge it overboard.  

The engine hoisted up a bit, suspended while the old mounts are replaced with new vibration-dampening ones.  Why do we need to do this?  Long ugly story, the short version is that when we replaced the old Westerbeke engine that was original to our boat with the present Yanmar about 10 years ago, the installer asked Dan to cut down the stringers so there would be enough height for the mounts.  Dan did so, laboriously, in the unheated engine room, in January, with hammer and chisel.  But when they then went to install the engine, the installer said, "Oops, never mind, I measured wrong, it won't fit after all, fill it back in and we'll just use regular mounts.  It'll just be a little more vibration, that's all." Well, of course it was more than a little vibration, and all that vibration equals more wear and tear on everything.  The change-out was going to be expensive, and in the meantime the boat was running okay, so we delayed.  Until now, when we had both money and time to do the job.  Plus, we would get to redesign the stairs to a more ergonomic style as a side benefit.  This year I had a decade birthday (the big 6-0) and we're both thinking ahead to be able to continue to live on the boat for many more years.

We think (hope?) next week the project will be finalized and we'll begin our trip south.  The engine mounts were half-finished by Friday afternoon, they should be complete Monday.  Then it's alignment, a regular engine service, some tweaks to the rudder, a few more details, a sea trial (or river trial, in this case) and we head south.  Just in time, too -- the sticky steamy still air that has been sitting over the town is gone, replaced this week with perfect temps and lively winds from the north.  Beautiful, but also reminders that in a month, those winds will feel chill and blustery instead of warm and lively.