“Dispirited” was far too mild a word to describe our state of mind as we tried to figure out what our next year was going to be like without tall ship sailing, living history, or any of our favourite boating-related social gatherings. Nor were we sure about boating itself, between the possibility of marinas/fuel services being closed or restricted due to virus, and the fact that we couldn't comfortably tour and visit cities and towns along the way, if we decided to take the ICW north. But there was an alternative way to get to the Chesapeake for the summer – a truck! (Two trucks, actually; more on that later.) And since the boat was already out of the water, with the mast removed and all the lockers empty due to the chain plates project, we realized a lot of the work and cost was already covered.
Those empty lockers were going to be an issue. Generally when trucking, the boat has to be empty, lockers, water tanks, fuel tanks, everything – both to keep overall weight down, and to prevent weird stresses during moving, on lockers and hull sections that are usually supported by water. So the things that normally lived in those lockers would be moved in our car, which (we checked!) could hold exactly 14 Home Depot “small” moving boxes 12x12x16. We own a lot more than 14 small moving boxes worth of stuff, so everything else would remain behind in the storage unit we already maintained in St Augustine until we could go back with a moving truck to retrieve it, probably in the spring. Our minimalist lifestyle was about to temporarily get even more minimal.
We found a fabulous trucking option in US Boat Haulers. Excellent communicator, on time (actually a bit early), and although not the cheapest option, we were more than willing to pay for peace of mind. And we had a nice little bonus. I asked Chris, the owner-operator what I needed to empty, and he chuckled. “Nothing! My truck could hold two Cinderellas,” he explained. “Fifty-five feet or 55,000 pounds. You can pack that boat completely full of anything you want and you still won't exceed my weight limit.”
|Why, hello there, Annapolis!|
|From the back, you can get a better view of just how oversize Chris' truck was for little Cinderella!|
Sails and sailcovers and shade awning and other boat canvas filled the v-berth; and boxes of books and clothing and kitchen utensils and tools were stacked two-deep across the main cabin floor. Our car held our electronics, valuables, papers, and clothing for about a week of varied weather. The marina picked up Cinderella and put it on Chris' trailer with the mast beside it, and off we all went.
We drove through northern Florida and Georgia and passed the exits for now-familiar cities, Jacksonville and Brunswick and Savannah. I said a mental goodbye to graceful Spanish moss on trees. South Carolina had billboards for fast food, personal-injury lawyers, and Jesus, and seemingly little else. Someone had gleefully spray-painted “LOST!!” on all the Trump posters.
|Spanish moss image from here|
|The view from our hotel room; Spanish moss gilded by the early morning sunlight|
We continued through North Carolina and into Virginia and passed the sign that said, “Entering Chesapeake Bay Watershed” and grinned at each other. We drove past an intricate-shaped tiled roof on a cool historical building and made a note of places to explore in Richmond. We were really looking forward to having four distinct seasons again, and delighted in the colors of the trees – bronze and gold and weathered bricky red and russet and deep green. The colors were soft and autumnal, fitting with the gently rolling hills. They weren't the brilliant yellow of the aspens against dark pines we remembered fondly from our time in Colorado; nor the blazing orange of the maples in Michigan. They were slow and subtle. And the light! Long and soft, but clear, like golden hour in the middle of the afternoon.
Chris texted us regular updates of his position and conditions. The most remarkable text was that he had arrived in Annapolis a full day early after a trip that had been completely without incident. A few hours later, Cinderella was back in the water, and we motored her to her new slip in the same marina we had left from, 11 years and over 25,000 sea miles ago.
We spent the next few weeks settling in, and revisiting once-familiar places. I was simultaneously amazed at how much things had changed, and how much they hadn't.
Rather suddenly, Dan had a really strong premonition that we needed to go back to Florida to bring our stuff from storage, sooner rather than later. We couldn't explain it, but agreed to respect it. A few hours of intensive logistics and scheduling work later, we had a plan, and I had pages of confirmation numbers, phone numbers, times and dates and addresses in a worn notebook I had been using to keep track of details since we first decided to move back in September, that I nicknamed my “external brain” and took everywhere with me. We'd be leaving Monday morning right after Thanksgiving. At this time of year, rental car companies are often looking to move cars one way from the Northeast to Florida; we've paid as little as $10/day in past years. Although we didn't do quite as well as that this time, we still caught a nice deal, and found a surprisingly good rate on a motel in St Augustine that had been newly renovated.
We rented a moving truck from Penske for the return trip. They were excellent about confirming (and re-confirming and re-re-confirming) that it would be ready on the agreed date. Then, the day before we were to pick it up, they called and said, “Hey, we'll have a truck for you at the promised time, but we don't have the agreed size. Are you okay with a bigger one at no extra charge?” My reply: “Ma'am, as long as it goes when I put my foot on the gas, I'm fine with whatever you've got.” And that's how we ended up with BYT (Big Yellow Truck).
I figured bigger would just mean easier to load, but BYT was huge! Per their website, it was sized to move a small house, 25,000 pounds and a 22-foot box, all for our little 10x10 storage unit. We could have saved money on hotels on the way back if we'd just unrolled our sleeping bags on a stack of unused furniture pads in the unneeded space at the back of the cargo bay. A nice extra was that BYT was brand new, a 2021 model. It had a wide range of safety features that were startling at first, but quickly became reassuring. It beeped when it sensed we were closing the distance to the vehicle in front of us, ponged when we strayed out of our lane without using the turn signal (I guess that's how it decided we were purposely changing lanes instead of drifting inattentively or accidentally), and chirped when it caught you speeding (presumably that meant it had GPS tracking somewhere to know where we were and what the speed limit was at that location?). BYT also had air brakes, so it made “big truck” noises. I once heard their hiss and looked around to see where was the 18 wheeler that was overtaking us. Like a character in a bad cartoon I looked in every direction, saw nothing, and then sheepishly realized that the sound was … coming from me. In fact, another trucker we met at a filling station was somewhat surprised that we were given a truck as large as BYT when neither of us had a CDL license. I later learned that we were a mere 1,000 lbs below the limit.
|Big Yellow Truck!|
The good ol' boys at the rental counter cautiously asked if we'd ever driven anything like this before, and visibly relaxed when Dan said he'd grown up on a farm, so yes he had. We had also driven a similar truck when we moved my kid brother's household goods from Arizona back to Colorado, and even towed a car behind said truck, and done it over mountain passes, but that had been almost 30 years ago.
We parked BYT at the storage facility and spent two days repacking our boxes of stored possessions. We have off-season cruising stuff, tools, and long-term items like family heirlooms, memorabilia from 4 summers on the tall ships, lots and lots of books, things we wanted to keep but didn't necessarily fit on a 33-foot boat. Packing for the jostling of moving is different than packing for stationary storage, and we wrapped breakables and bulked out boxes with crumpled paper so they wouldn't crush if we bounced if we hit a bump or pothole. I fondly remembered my BFF Karen's father's wise moving advice - “There should never be empty space in any box.” We loaded the finished boxes onto the big professional-grade moving dolly provided by the rental company and wheeled them up the sturdy loading ramp, carefully stowing the heaviest boxes on the bottom and lighter or more fragile ones above. We had literally two boxes left to load, on the last afternoon, when Dan reported a “situation” with the truck. Seems a guy had tried to drive behind the base of the ramp and pull into a parking spot on the far side of the truck, misjudged the turn and was now suspended sideways on the ramp! He couldn't go forward or back because his wheels weren't touching the ground; we couldn't lower the ramp because you had to raise it first to get the hooks out of the back bumper (which we of course couldn't do with a car resting on it); we couldn't drive forward because we were already nose-to the side of the building; and there wasn't room to hook up a tow truck. We were both very, very stuck.
|Kinda like those memes of a turtle on a fence post - you're left wondering how it got there|
Fortunately, the car was quite small. He called his wife and asked her to buy “the biggest jack they sell at Auto Zone” and bring it. With a little creativity, he was able to jack the car up just barely high enough to take the weight off the loading ramp, and we were able to partly lower the ramp so that after a few iterations of back-and-forth he could drive off. No damage at all to the ramp, and only minor damage to the car frame. We learned later that the car was brand new; he'd only had it for 3 days, which unfamiliarity no doubt contributed to the “situation.”
After that drama was sorted, we headed to our motel for our last night in St Augustine, prepared for an early start next morning after dropping off our rental car. Once we got into the rhythm of driving BYT it was kind of fun to be so big. Regular cars either went around us or stayed out of our way, and we were eye-to-eye with other truckers. We pulled up at the agricultural inspection station at the Florida-Georgia state line and the inspector just asked, “Whatcha haulin?” like we were any other regular transport professionals – I somehow thought that the bright yellow rental was the equivalent to having a giant sign that said “we're clueless amateurs!” but apparently not. “Household goods,” I replied, then, excitedly, “We're moving to Maryland!” He smiled, gave us a thumbs-up, and waved us forward on our way.
|Inside BYT -- all that extra space! We had more stuff than this, including our inflatable kayak, but never needed to stack the boxes more than 3 high, as shown.|
Driving something that big was unexpectedly tiring, though, in addition to the fact that we really only wanted to travel during daylight hours and good weather, so it took us three days to complete what was normally a 13-hour drive from St Aug to Annapolis. The first day, we only drove about 4 hours, and stopped short due to wind and rain further north. We were tired from all the boxes the previous day, so relaxing in a hotel was really appreciated. Weird during the Time of Covid, though. Normally we'd have been all over exploring a new restaurant; instead we had ramen noodles in the hotel room, using water heated up in our little electric teakettle. We called Penske in Annapolis to say we were delayed by weather and were going to need an extra day on the rental. It felt weird saying that, because it was mild and sunny where we were in South Carolina. It probably helped our credibility, though, that there was a nor'easter howling through Annapolis that day – the weather we were avoiding by stopping short. They were great about it, saying that they wanted people to respect the weather and not take risks, thanked us for our caution, and gave us the extra day for free. Nice; I hadn't had any reason to expect that.
The second driving day was a Saturday, and we stopped near the southern edge of the Washington DC metro area that evening, leaving about 90 minutes drive remaining on what we hoped would be light traffic on the normally busy beltway for early Sunday morning. I joked about being a blue haired lady from Florida with a death grip on the steering wheel, driving slowly in the big city traffic. Never mind that the "blue" was a streaky turquoise and navy mix on my bangs, or the "driving slowly" part was being what seemed to be the only vehicle on the Beltway that was sticking strictly to the speed limit because (a) BYT chirped at me otherwise, and (b) 13 tons of truck is rather intimidating to maneuver. The good news was that we had completely missed any bad weather, and instead we had a brisk, sunny day to unload. It was a ridiculous number of boxes all told, though – by the time the truck was empty my fitness app recorded that I had walked 5.5 km, just back and forth from the truck to the storage shed. (Actually, I walked even more than that, since I hadn't had my phone in my pocket the entire time.) Later, Dan pointed out that for the first time since we left Colorado in 1998, everything we owned – liveaboard boat, rental houses, and now, stored possessions – was within a 5-mile radius of each other. It might take a while to get used to.