Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Just a Few Random Photos and Thoughts From the Second Half of Our Trip

We're in the land of real tidal extremes in southern South Carolina and Georgia.  Here, a daymark sticking waaay up, easy to see at low tide.
And 6 hours and 30 miles later, if the tide was much higher this daymark would be submerged!

Not one but two bald eagles sharing this tree.  (sorry for the pixelation, this is an extreme blowup on my iPhone) 

I absolutely love the beach in winter -- at Isle of Palms, just a little north of Charleston, SC.

Looking forward to a beautiful night at anchor in the marshes.

Big tidal range means strong current.  You can see it at the base of this daymark.  The current is flowing left-to-right.  You see the water piling up on the left (upcurrent) side of the pole, and swirling on the right (downcurrent) side of the pole.  Unfortunately for us, we were traveling against the current this day.

The sign on the shack with the dock says "Fresh Shrimp." And considering that the boats tied up to either side of it are local shrimpers who tie up there to sell their wares, I'd say there's a good chance that this place is an example of truth in advertising. 

The Georgia marshes are so beautiful and unspoiled.  Here's s/v Seneca motoring along at high tide.  Georgia has no sand beaches on the mainland, just on the barrier islands.  Here on the mainland, just marshy ICW frontage.

And glorious sunsets!

The lighthouse at St Simon's Island.  Last time we saw this was in the summer during our delivery up from Miami, as we were coming in from the sea.  This is the view from the ICW out toward the Atlantic.

We visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Rescue on Jekyll Island.  Amazing place.  These two little guys are recovering from too-close encounters with automobiles.

This marina had a cool liveaboard community.  They'd get together every evening on the dock to play music and watch the sunset ... and their prime place was directly outside our cockpit!  Fantastic!  Here, the gentleman known to the others as "Doc" for his biology degree shows me the workings of his reproduction antique French "button box." (Really, though I understand music theory and used to play guitar, since an accident damaged the nerves in my left pinky and ring finger, the only musical instrument I play is the iPod.)

My SIL adores Myrtle Beach so we planned a stop to see what appealed to her so much.  We went for a walk on the boardwalk on a November day, trying to imagine this place packed with summer tourists.

View from the boardwalk out to sea.

We spent a few hours walking around Brookline Gardens.  I'm fascinated by the texture of the trees and the Spanish Moss that drapes them.  The walk is decorated with strands of holiday lights.  Echoing the drape of the moss, the lights are hung in strands that sway in the breeze.  I still can't wrap my mind around Xmas decorations with sand and palm trees instead of snow and pines, but the effect of the hanging lights was beautiful, sensitive, and artistic.

This channel marker is seriously off station!  (Cuz really, you don't need the marker to tell you not to bring your boat too close here or you'll run aground.) 

Sea turtle surgery.  A (boat propeller?) took a big hunk of shell off this guy's back, the turtle rescue center put it back with special glue and something that looked a lot like radiator clamps and zip ties.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Friendliness and Friendship

Nostalgia for a small-town, front-porch kind of community -- in Oriental, NC
"Have you folks come from a boat?"  the elderly woman in the supermarket asked.  Odd question to be greeted with, though her tone was kind.

"Uh-oh, are we that obvious? What gave us away?" I chuckled my reply, while frantically wondering if our clothes smelled of diesel, or which of my friend Tammy's nine wardrobe rules for not looking like a cruiser we had violated, or if, like some of our friends' kids, we had grown so comfortable wearing our life jackets that we had forgotten to take them off now that we were safely ashore.

"Well," she said, "mostly the way you work together.  You are in tune with each other."

I thanked her for the implied compliment, and realized she had picked up on something I had noticed before and loved about our life afloat.  Living in such a small space has definitely made our marriage better.  It has made us super sensitive to each other's moods.  We talk more, and coordinate priorities better, than when we lived in a big house on land.  I hadn’t realized that it showed in even something so mundane as how we moved around each other loading items in a grocery cart, though.

"We love our boaters in this town," she continued.  "Do you need a ride back from the supermarket to your boat with all your groceries?"

Thank you, but, no, we didn't, since the boatyard had loaned us a car to do our errands with.  But that friendly kindness and openness is so typical of what we have found in this part of North Carolina, and in most of our travels in general.  That old small-town warmth, the generosity of strangers, isn't available just in nostalgic sentiment.  We've seen it since we've been traveling by boat to some of the smaller and more out-of-the-way places here in the southeast, never expected or taken for granted, but always welcome, but never more than here in Oriental, sailing capital of North Carolina.  We think of it as a “front porch” kind of town, where people actually sit on their front porches and chat, and know their neighbors.

My wise older cousin Lydia once told me, when we were both living in Colorado, that she found it easy to find friendliness in the western towns, but it was much harder to find [deep, soul-sharing] friendship.  I never forgot that distinction.  

Many cruisers, ourselves included, describe cruising friendships that become very close, very quickly.  I think there are two aspects to this.  First, friendship grows with unusual intensity because you just don't have very much time -- you are in a port together with someone for a while, then you'll go on your separate ways and may not see each other again soon.  Second and perhaps more important, there's a bit of self-selection going on -- other cruisers are necessarily going to share some of the same values you do, those values are what attracts us all to this life in the first place, and so you have a statistically better chance of finding friendship with other cruisers you meet than with random people met in other circumstances.

And in Oriental, we magically found both friendliness and a real friendship, during the 10 short days we were at the boatyard.  I think it started with our chainplates.  (For the non-boaters, these are the things that hold the cables that keep the mast up.  If they break, the mast falls.  Not a pretty picture.)  The chainplates are susceptible to rust and corrosion on our boat’s design so they have to be inspected regularly.  But they are not easy to get to, requiring emptying lockers to see them from below, and disconnecting turnbuckles and digging out sealant from above.   Nor can we disconnect them all at once, because, you know, as I mentioned, they are the things that hold the mast up.

So one or two at a time, Dan exposed the chainplates, and had the yard’s rigger come by to check their condition.  Then Dan would reseal the inspected plates back up and go on to prepare the next ones.  And during the process, we chatted with the rigger – about chainplates, and then about boats, sailing, priorities, life in general.  And then, because there’s only so much chatting you can do while on the boatyard’s clock, invited him over for a beer after work.

And here’s where the friendliness became friendship, in typical cruiser fashion, zero to sixty in a record short time, because we met his girlfriend Cathy as well, and the two couples just “clicked.” We talked for hours, about so many things, and as each evening ended we urgently made plans for the next one, to get in as much time together as we possibly could before we had to be gone to continue our southward voyage.  At one point we talked about how awkward it feels to have met someone on line, then arrange an “IRL” (In Real Life) meeting, because you sort of know each other already, and there’s the tension of figuring out if the real-life person matches up with the person you have come to like online.  The whole situation is especially daunting for baby boomers like me, who did not grow up with the internet.  But with Cathy, for the first time ever in my life, it went the other way … We had first met and become friends the old-fashioned way, in “real life,” and then during conversation, she mentioned that she was a member of an online women sailing group, and I told her I was a member of the same group.  “What’s your screen name?” she asked, and I told her, and we realized we already “knew” each other online.

I love this life for its simplicity, for being able to be in touch with nature in a way I never could when living in a house on land, for being able to be self-reliant and to take our home with us when we travel to interesting places, but most of all for the community we have become a part of.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The First Half of Our ICW Trip, in Photos

Although every time we travel the ICW is a different experience, and we learn something new on every trip, I'm not blogging a travelogue this time.  The mile-by-mile writeup of our first trip begins here, and then just keep clicking "newer post" if you want to see how we viewed it all through new eyes.  This time, I'm really interested more in the vignettes and the unusual experiences in port and at anchor and underway.  But it wouldn't be a travel/sailing blog without pix, right?  So here we go.

Check out the compass heading -- due south!

We're leading two other boats, both first-timers to the ICW. This is Seneca, a brand-new 37-foot Beneteau.

And at the opposite end of the spectrum, sturdy old 27-foot Catalina Catmandu. They are also writing a blog about their trip.

All the way down the Chesapeake, 3-1/2 days, the weather was warm, calm, and sunny.  Look at this glassy water near Wolf Trap light, we only unfurled the sails for a few hours one afternoon.  (BTW, I'm happy to report that the "Wolf" that was trapped here was a British ship by that name that ran aground on these shoals during the colonial era, and not a wild canine.)

At Norfolk, one of my favorite stretches because there's so much to see.  This Coast Guard cutter, much bigger than it appears in this photo, first appeared as a silhouette in the mist as we were crossing the Elizabeth River.  Silhouette of a warship on my stern?  A true Captain Ron moment!  It was fun to hail them and make arrangements to cross paths without colliding (partly as a teaching tool to show the boats following us how this is done on VHF, but mostly because I just like talking to professionals on the VHF).  And speaking of talking, as we were traveling we were hailed by another sailboat, Samara, saying hi.  We met these folks online several years ago and they recognized our name.  Phil and Kay on Catmandu said traveling with us was like traveling with a rock star, we're pretty well known on the ICW because of our online presence.  We plan our voyage and port stops around where we have friends (more on that later, and all part of the fun.)

Big as the Coast Guard cutter was, it was dwarfed by this container ship.

The famous (infamous) red daymark that marks the official start of the ICW, Mile 0.

Jean-Luc on Seneca following us through the bridge. 

Catmandu tied up to go through the lock at Great Bridge.

I always like stopping at Great Bridge, we stay at Atlantic Yacht Basin where the people are so helpful, and its a great yard for boat work if you need it.  There are also those things that cruisers look for - a good grocery store, clean laundromat, (liquor store).  And restaurants.  In this case a personal favorite of ours, Mexican food and big margaritas.  But, this was too much of a good thing.  We were trapped waiting out the high winds and rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Karen.  I kept thinking I had over-reacted in suggesting we wait it out, the winds weren't that bad ... until I stepped out from the shelter of the slip they had us in and went for a walk.  Yes, the winds were that bad; glad we stayed.  Making the most of our time, here's Dan giving rope-splicing lessons.

Finally underway again.  Love this picture of gray-hulled Seneca in the mist.  Catmandu had only 5 weeks to get to Florida so they went on ahead, while we stayed an extra day to let the winds abate further.  We caught up to them next night at Coinjock and they said that crossing Currituck was horrible, winds 25 gusting 30.  It was still 20 when we crossed.  But then again, I've never had a calm crossing of Currituck!  We ate at the well-known restaurant at Coinjock, then planned to leave the marina early next morning and anchor at the head of the Alligator River the next night.

Catmandu underway under gray skies.

Seneca, anchored at the head of the Alligator River.  This proved an eventful stop.  After a calm night, we planned a half-day travel then a marina break at Dowry Creek, an easy half-day away.  But Catmandu's engine wouldn't start.  They encouraged us and Seneca to go on ahead to the marina, while they called TowBoat U.S.  That was where we discovered that our VHF wasn't working properly, we were in a cellphone hole so our phone didn't work either, so we pretty much were out of communication.  After a cascade of errors, they finally showed up at about 10:30 PM, tired but safe.  They and Seneca stayed at Dowry for several days, Catmandu to effect repairs, and Seneca due to insurance restrictions (his coverage wouldn't let him go south of Cape Hatteras until after hurricane season.)  Meanwhile, we had to hurry ahead to Oriental, where we had appointments to keep.    

Shrimpers at the dock. 

And at work.  There's apparently some kind of rule, or convention, that they don't leave port before noon on Sunday.  By 1 PM it was like shrimper rush hour on the Neuse River.  But the weather was perfect, and we tied up safely at Deaton's Yacht Service in Oriental in time for our appointments.  

First order of business at Deaton's -- figure out why our VHF wasn't working!  This is a much more comfortable way to get up there to work on it than climbing the mast.  And that meant that the guy doing the work could focus on the job, not hanging onto the swaying mast.

Houses along the ICW.  Each comes with a pretty view, and its own boat dock.

Some of them are really boldly colored.

Port stop in Morehead City, NC.  Delightful opportunity to connect up IRL ("in real life") with fellow bloggers  and fellow Kansas sailors Tom and Sabrina (on left), and fellow maritime-history reenactor Robbie.  We joked that although we had never seen them before we recognized Tom and Sabrina from pix on their blog.  On the other hand, although we had met Robbie at numerous events, we were always dressed as pirates or sailors; we might have trouble recognizing him in plain old t-shirt and blue jeans!

Drinking local beer at the Ruddy Duck Tavern in Morehead City.  Tom and Sabrina made plans to connect up with Jean-Luc when they both reach the Caribbean.

Another colorful house.

My friend Dave is developing a webinar on the ICW and one aspect of it is VHF communications.  My contribution is to record conversations with bridges and barges we pass.  It took a while to figure out the logistics of having the cellphone in one hand and the VHF mic in the other.  We met this tug coming up the Cape Fear River as we were getting a fast ride downstream on its 2-knot current, and recorded our conversation.  I'll provide a link to Dave's course when it goes live.

Waterfront property is priced by the frontage foot, so houses tend to be rather like townhouses, tall and narrow.

Calabash Creek, our first anchorage in South Carolina.  This boat was anchored behind us.  In the morning, look who had decided his masthead would make a lovely fishing perch!  Back when we lived at Port Annapolis, we disliked it when birds as small as crows would sit on our windex.  But a pelican?? I can only imagine.

This was our view astern most days, leading several boats south.