Friday, December 28, 2007

Brrrraving the Cold

The alarm clock goes off. It’s six o’clock. Mark and I are still holding each other. It doesn’t really help. Our body heat seems to have evaporated. We are two ice cubes, attached, holding our position in the warmest spot of the bed. My winter hat kept my ears comfy during the night. My nose peeks out from under the covers and immediately freezes. At least, that’s how it feels. Our breath creates white puffs of clouds. We don’t feel like getting up and emerge in the cold air. Another day on the waterway awaits us, so we have to get moving in order to leave at first daylight.

Then, it all comes down to speed. As quickly as we can, we jump out of bed and grab all our layers. I kept a few clothes under the sheets, so they would cause less of a shock when I put them on… Undies, tight shirt, long sleeved shirt, T-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece, pyjama pants, socks to tuck ‘m into, jeans, another pair of socks, rain pants, shoes, Mark’s ski jacket, and the hat stays on. The sailing gloves come on after breakfast. That’s a little tough, because my fingers feel numb. Better than nothing, though, since we don’t have winter gloves.

Our first steps on deck are precarious. We both slipped before on the icy surface. After taking the dogs to shore (Mark’s the one getting out of the dinghy and into the water to pull it on shore, because he has rubber boots) and finagling with the lines to get the thing attached to the boat, we are ready to leave. Hours on end, we suck it up in the ice cold cockpit. The north wind doesn’t have mercy. One hand steers, while the other is tucked away between our legs. Even a pocket is too cold. Mark and I take turns steering and navigating. Neither one of us is motivated or able to do anything else. We quietly wished we had dodgers, but knowing the expense, we quickly get rid of that thought. Other sailboats pass us. They have full enclosures. Their owners waive, with a frown on their face and pity in their eyes. They’re not even wearing foul weather gear! We take pride in roughing it and feeling one with the elements. We are pure sailors/motorists! They are wimps and they can barely see what they are doing! Anyway, that’s why we’re going south. Then, what will they do with their full enclosure? All that extra plastic and canvas will just be a hassle and we will be hassle-free! Kali and Darwin are curled up in a ball. They appreciate the thick blankets we put out for them

After anchoring, we rig up some kind of heating system with our camping stove and a cookie sheet. We plot our course for the next day, with all our clothes on. For dinner, we decide to make something in the oven. For once we don’t mind it takes hours to prepare something in there. I enjoy the heat against my back, when I sit down next to the oven door. Of course I’m blocking the warmth for everybody else…

And then it’s eight o’clock: bed time. We get rid of our outer layers, but keep socks, pants, a couple of shirts, and hat on. A few clothes will come off later, when the bed slowly warms up. My hands make one last movement in the cold air to set the alarm clock. The dogs are huddled on their blanket next to the bed. We close the bedroom door to keep all generated heat inside. It makes a big difference. Our conclusion of the day is the same as the previous days: It sucks to sail in cold weather. We gotta go south! Not that we aren’t trying, we’re just barely making progress.

About a week later, a friendly man lends us his car, and Walmart provides us with a small propane heater. That takes the chill out of the air. It sure helps to get our day started less painfully.

About two months later, we are in Central Florida and hope these experiences are well past. It sure makes it easier to write about it, wearing shorts and T-shirt, with fingers staying stiff-less…

Brrrraving the Cold (pics)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Day on the Waterway: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This morning, Mark, the dogs, and I finally left Thunderbolt Marine. I can’t believe we stayed here for 9 days. That sure caused a big delay for getting south. Especially if you add the two days it took to get there and back on track. The sail drives are fixed and we managed to do a few other projects. We took the emergency exits out and reinstalled them properly. Hopefully that solves the mystery leak in the starboard bilge. We were very happy with the service provided by our project manager Kevin, and everybody was friendly and accommodating, even though we were the “low profile customers”. The bill did turn out to be more expensive than anticipated, but that wasn’t a boat yard issue. Our time spent in Thunderbolt was pretty uncomfortable and filthy (especially for the dogs), but all in all, we feel it was successful and productive.

We planned for an early start, but when we got up, everything was white. The fog was just unbelievably thick and we couldn’t even see across the river. Everything was soaking wet. The huge sailboat Perseus decided to go for it around 8 am. The crew said goodbye to their friends and there they went, using the bow thrusters to take the sharp turn into the ICW. Within seconds the fog had swallowed the massive ship and all we could hear was the loud fog horn at short intervals.

Irie was itching to go and around 10 am, the sky was clear enough. We felt very happy to be on the water again, and moving… in the right direction! For the first time it was even warm enough to drive the boat in shorts and T-shirts! The temperature rose to the upper seventies (upper twenties Celsius). That’s our reward for having to deal with all this fog, I guess.

The trip went smooth and we used our “expertise” from the other two times we passed through this part of the ICW. Because of the late start we wouldn’t get very far. About an hour from our destination for the night, we had to cross St. Catherine’s Sound. The sound was nowhere to be seen, though. All that was ahead of us was a very thick bank of fog. Mark and I looked at each other, Irie slowed down, and the fog horn found its first use. During a nerve wrecking half hour, Mark carefully steered the boat, while I stood up front, scanned the area and blew the horn. We couldn’t see anything and had no sense of direction. The electronic chart and radar were our only help, until the shore line showed up again. What an interesting experience!

I pushed things again, wanting lower water to anchor, which lead to us running aground. Mark had a good reason to be mad at me, this time! He managed to get us off the shoal and a few minutes later we were settled in peaceful Walburg Creek. We had read about and seen a nice beach entering the Creek and hoped to take the dogs there for a little while. First, Mark had to fix the windlass which was acting up again. Luckily “handy man” knew exactly what to do and with the help of his assistant it only took about half an hour. That gave us about an hour to get the dinghy ready, drive the dogs a mile up the river (and back) and take a walk on the foggy beach. Kali and Darwin had a great time. We enjoyed watching them, the funky, dead trees on the sand and the playful dolphins right off the shore. Around 6 pm, we retreated to our cosy, little home, warmed by a small propane heater, escaping the cold, wet night and the millions of biting no-see-ums.

A Day on the Waterway (pics)

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Little Hick-up

“I don’t want to ruin your day, but… we have a problem.”

“What do you mean?”

It is December 1st, a Saturday, and we are anchored in Kilkenny Creek. The “town” Kilkenny is nothing more than a marina, a seafood restaurant, a few houses and lots of trees. Those nice big ones, life oaks, with Spanish moss draped over the branches. We are in the middle of rural Georgia. Mark just checked the port engine.

“It looks like we have water in the gear oil. That means there is a leak in the sail drive. Let me check the other one…”


“Yep, this is not good. The same problem here. The oil is cloudy, almost milky looking.”

“Shit!” I know what that means: we have to get hauled again, and, we are not supposed to use the engines anymore.

Mark researches some information online (luckily we picked up a wireless signal), to make sure the problem is indeed a problem. Then, he calls a few marinas and boat yards. Unsuccessfully: the marinas can’t haul a boat as wide as ours, the boat yards are closed in the weekend.

When we entered Georgia and came down on the ICW, we passed a place called Thunderbolt Marine. An enormous warehouse carried that name and a few big boats. Massive motor yachts were docked alongside. The biggest sail boat we have ever seen was getting work done on the dry, together with a small cruise ship and a handful of other biggies. “I wonder how much it costs to get hauled here”, we said with our eyebrows raised. “Nothing we can afford, probably…” “But I bet ya, they have a big enough lift!” We smiled, gave the yard a big berth, and continued south.

Well, that yard seemed to be our only option at the moment. Their website doesn’t mention prices. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it… But, what could we do? No options were available, and neither was useful information. So, we left Kilkenny and turned back north for six long and slow hours. We only used one engine at a time and waived disheartened to all the other cruisers going south.

Mark and I docked our cat in the yard, being the smallest boat around. After patiently waiting for two days, we got hauled on Wednesday. And here we are, on the dry again. The sail drives are getting repaired and in the meantime we work on some other projects that needed to be done. The people from Thunderbolt Marine have been very helpful and accommodating so far. Let’s hope we get everything done in a few days, and we don’t get a heart attack when looking over the bill.

A Little Hick-up (pictures)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bridges of the ICW

For some people they are a nightmare, because you have to estimate your time of arrival constantly and they slow you down. You could plan to get there in time thanks to all your electronics, and drive the boat accordingly. Or, you just get there whenever, burning the fuel necessary, and then wait there “in limbo”, and burn more fuel. Others don’t seem to care much about these obstacles. Maybe because they get lucky each time they have to deal with one. Maybe because they are never in a rush and obtained the right cruising mentality from the start. Mark, Darwin, Kali, and I are indifferent to them. Most of the time anyway, especially when they open on the half hour or on demand. When they only open on the hour, and we are running late, or darkness is hanging over our heads, or the current has already slowed us down so much, this becomes a little bit of an annoyance. Or, when there is a malfunction and you have to fight the strong current to stay put for an indefinite time, and try to not smack into the thing…

Each time we approach a bridge, we call the bridge tender with a request for an opening. Most of the time, we get what we want within five minutes. Sometimes, they want to wait until another boat (not too far away; they have good binoculars) shows up to make the stopping of traffic worthwhile. We always wave to each other and after we pass, we thank the person via VHF. We also noticed (sometimes they even ask over the radio) that they write down the name of the boat and the hauling port every time. Homeland Security is keeping track of every boat!

All kinds of bridges exist. From fixed concrete highway bridges (these are always high enough), to old railroad bridges (almost always open, because of the lack of trains), to swing bridges (they turn on a pivot), bascule bridges (they just open vertically), lift bridges (the whole bridge slides up) or pontoon bridges (a floating bridge moved with cables). Some of these look very interesting. Whether they are speed killers, picturesque or a pain, we still appreciate the fact that they all open at one time or another, stopping “the kings of the road” to let us through on our way south!

Bridges of the ICW (photos)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Motor Vessel Irie

For over two weeks now, we’ve been tugging along at a cruising speed of about 6.5 knots. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on wind and current. The distance we cover can be anything from 10 nautical miles per day (because we didn’t make our destination the previous day, or we have to sit out a storm in a more protected anchorage) to 60 (!) nautical miles (accomplishments we love). There’s not much room or opportunity to hoist the sails. Once in a while, we pull out the jib to push ourselves a tiny bit harder, to try to make a bridge opening for example. Not too many of these are on demand anymore and we really have to pace ourselves to get through at the right time. If a bridge opens on the half hour, it’s not too big of a deal. It’s when the opening happens hourly that we get in a bind. The dogs love this kind of traveling… The engine noise is monotonous and the boat stays steady. Ideal situations for plenty of naps. Except when a “real” powerboat passes us and its wake disturbs the peace. It gets all bumpy for a bit, before we get back to monotony. Kali doesn’t like that so much.

All this excitement is happening on the highway for boats, a waterway on the East Coast, also called Intracoastal Waterway (the ICW). This is a protected network of rivers and canals (shortcuts from river to river) all the way to Miami. There is an option to go south in the ocean, but the jaunts are pretty long (not recommended with the dogs and our lack of experience), and the conditions are less favorable. Now, we barely have to listen to the weather, plot our course, or deal with waves and wind. Boring? Not too much. We follow day marks and buoys, look at charts, check our depth, and observe the chart plotter. We pay attention to the route, take a few pictures, stare at the immense mansions and pieces of property, laugh at funny appearances (a fake giraffe in a yard, camouflaged hunters and boats, a “ski lift” with golfers crossing the ICW, silly boat names, inappropriate conversations on the VHF, …), enjoy the scenery, and be cold. That is still our one and only objective: get the hell south.

Along the way, we met some nice cruising people, and we ran into Josh and Matt (from Pier 7 marina in Edgewater). We also came across Mike and Patti (our friends with the same cat) and celebrated Thanksgiving on their boat. We still feel stuffed. What a great meal and afternoon!

The four of us spent some time exploring a few places as well. Some of them very friendly (Deltaville, Norfolk), some smelly (Reedville, Georgetown), others dead (Belhaven) or charming and colonial (St. Michaels, Beaufort, Georgetown), some quite OK (Oriental, Southport), but most of them are small, cruiser friendly and with some conveniences. Our favorite places to spend the night are the tucked away anchorages, though. To be surrounded by nothing but cypress trees and peacefulness (so quiet that you hear the leaves fall) is great! Our only requirement, other than enough protection, is the availability of a spot to take the dogs ashore. And so far, we’ve always been able to figure something out. Sometimes it’s a nice little beach or a wide open field, sometimes just a tree root or some mud, but it all beats having to go on a piece of fake grass.

Along the ICW

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pleasant Encounters

It was a rainy day in Deltaville. Mark and I had just arrived after an all day battle with the weather elements. We took the dinghy to shore and prepared ourselves for a long walk to the boat store and the supermarket. Soon it was going to be dark, so we felt rushed. Once we reached the main road, we decided to hitch. The first car stopped and in no time, we found what we needed. In the grocery store, a friendly man passed me some milk out of the fridge. When Mark and I tried to hitch a ride back to the dinghy dock, a fancy car stopped. The driver happened to be Paul, the “milk man”. He turned out to be a very nice and helpful man. Not only did he bring us all the way back to the marina, he also provided us with useful information about Norfolk.

On the way to Norfolk, we stopped in a creek called Horn Harbor. When Mark and I explored the area in the dinghy, a woman called us from shore. “Do you need a place to take the dogs out? You can use my grass!” Well, we can’t let an opportunity like that pass. Kali and Darwin hopped in and our little group met Janice and her neighbor Jerry on their waterfront properties. The dogs ran around the big yard and played, happy to stretch their legs. The humans got asked inside to have a glass of wine and a good conversation. Janice even invited us to take a shower. We declined. There was heated water on the boat, and it was getting cold and dark. With a bag of fresh Virginia peanuts (so tasty!) and a good feeling, we returned home.

We planned to arrive in Norfolk a week before our trip to Florida. The weather had something else in mind. By the time we finally got to our city of departure, we had one full day to make preparations. We lucked out with our marina of choice. Owner David and the other people from Rebel Marina are extremely helpful and friendly. From the moment we arrived, they helped us tie up, and to run errands, we could use David’s car. This way we loaded up with groceries and got our sail fixed. Robbie invited us to his birthday party the evening we arrived and his wife Jamie took good care of the dogs while Mark and I went to the wedding. So much goodness, you almost forget it exists!

And then, yesterday… We were anchored in Town Creek, Beaufort, NC. We just found out the supermarket was three miles away, along a very busy highway. And, we’d given up the plan to go after discussing some alternatives further down the “road”. Out of the blue, a total stranger offered us his car to go shopping! Yep, the people in the South are still extremely friendly and that is very much appreciated!!

Jamie, Darwin, and Robbie at Rebel Marina, Norfolk

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Nature Rules

A lot of people depend on something, whether it be coffee, chocolate, cigarettes, alcohol, or their job, parents, friends or spouse. And that’s all right. We, on the other hand, don’t like to be dependent. It’s one of the reasons we live on a boat, left the “normal” world behind and do what we do. Of course it doesn’t work that way and we discovered that we are actually very dependent right now. Sure, it’s only on one thing, but we are totally at its mercy. Yes, I’m talking about the weather.

After bashing into the waves, that one day, we decided not to go south in south winds anymore. So, we decided to stay nearby Reedville until the weather improved, which it didn’t. We hung tight in rain and wind for a couple of days. Our water and fresh food supplies ran low. Norfolk was calling; we had less than a week left to get there and find a solution for boat and dogs, while we would fly to a wedding in Florida. The weather predictions only seemed to get worse.

On October 25, we got up at 6 am, just like the previous days. We listened to the radio, and got back to bed, again. Too rough out there… A few hours later, we saw other boats leave the anchorage and figured that we were probably too careful and being big babies. We left Reedville under a gray sky. Once we left the channel, the fun started. The wind was howling and the waves looked huge. The rain poured down and we tried to sail the whole stretch. I got seasick and my lips became blue from the cold. Changing direction was a fiasco. We tried to turn the safe way, but the waves were so high, that we couldn’t get enough speed to turn over them. We needed the engine to do the job. The jib got caught at our new (pointy) radar mount and ripped. Mark and I tried to comfort the dogs and avoid the crab pots. It was all one big mess and we regretted leaving. But, when we arrived in Deltaville, totally soaked, very tired and defeated, we were yet another step closer to our destination.

One more haul and we would reach Norfolk. The weather was still awful. It kept raining for days and we got stuck in yet another anchorage, together with 20+ sailboats. The pile of wet clothes grew and taking the dogs to shore was no fun. As for the weather predictions, they barely improved. When the rain finally stopped, we ignored the “small craft advisory” and left Deltaville late morning. The wind proved to have slowed down a lot and all of a sudden we found ourselves barely moving over the water. The temperature had dropped immensely. With our late start, we would never make it to Norfolk, so we spent the night somewhere half way. The next day, when the sun lit up the frosty world, we motored all the way not to lose any more time. Approaching the big city, we saw a few dolphins and lots of pelicans in the bay. Our moods improved and early afternoon of October 30, we finally reached the marina in Norfolk. We had a total of one full day to prepare our trip to Florida and fix some boat problems…

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Southern Bash

Monday, October 22, 2007: Solomon’s Island to Reedville

Today was a beautiful day: blue skies, temperatures in the upper 70’s (upper 20’s in Celsius), and a nice breeze. A perfect day to be on the water, except when you wanted to go south! Then, you got a whole different experience…

The four of us got up at 5:30 am. We had an 8 hour day ahead of us and the later it would get, the harder the wind would blow and the higher the waves would be. After going back and forward for hours, yesterday, about leaving Solomon’s today or not, we made the decision to go for it and beat into the wind. This wind had been blowing from the south for days. Maybe the weathermen were off again and the wind would shift a bit to the east or west, so we could sail. Mmmmmmm. Not so much.

We left our anchorage before seven, and half an hour later, a red sun rose from the water, turning the sky into a painter’s palette of all kinds of bright colors. Once back in the bay, the wind came due from the direction we needed to go. This wasn’t good. We bashed into the waves for an hour. Very uncomfortable, but we didn’t want to turn back at this point. Mark and I decided to get off course, raise the sails, and tack south. The movement of the boat was a bit smoother that way, but… from the moment we left the main channel, we had to deal with tons of crab pots, and after five hours we did find ourselves back on track, but only a third of the way! Time for plan B: motor sailing. We furled the jib in and left the main sail out, while the engines ran full speed. The sail helped us maintain a pretty good speed, even though we had a lot of obstruction from wind and waves. Our foul weather gear kept us warm.

The seas were building in the afternoon. The wind reached speeds of 25 knots. We reefed the main, twice. And, for the next five hours we pounded into the 2-3 foot waves, going up and down. One second I saw the horizon, the next it was gone. This was a good day for motion sickness pills, and Mark was happy that I had thought about that before we left. Kali was feeling stressed and miserable, because the boat kept jerking up and down in these conditions. Still way better than a monohull, though, since we were not heeling at all. Darwin was hanging out in the cockpit, trying to sleep. He’s such a good, mellow boy (at times)! The only moments he got annoyed, was when Kali stepped and sat on him.

Irie took a beating. Constantly, we heard waves banging underneath the salon floor. The emergency exit windows are leaking again, with the new gaskets. Water spouts shot up through the drain holes in the cockpit. We had our own little fountains! The two hulls dipped under the water quite a few times, leaving the whole boat drenched in salt water. We hope it rains soon. The cat dodged more crab pots (what a pain these are), and on the way to our anchorage, we got company from four other sailboats, undergoing the same fate. Around 5pm, the chaos stopped. We found ourselves in a nice, quite, and calm anchorage up Mill Creek, near the smelly town of Reedville. No wind, no waves, no sound, no movement, no warm clothes, close to land, happy crew. We will stay here until the next cold front and storm have passed, before continuing towards Norfolk.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Adventure Has Begun

Believe it or not, but Mark, the dogs, and I did leave Edgewater last Wednesday. Our first destination would be St. Michaels. Not exactly on our way south, more like a huge detour, but we had heard nice things about the place. We motored out of the South River and tried to get to the other side of the Chesapeake Bay under sail. That only lasted one hour because of lack of wind. This bay is nothing like San Francisco Bay, where the wind is a steady 10-15 knots (in the afternoon). We started the engines again, and reached our first anchorage around 3pm. St. Michaels is a quaint little town with friendly people, historic buildings, a European style church bell that plays a little melody every 15 minutes, and the most expensive fuel prices along the Maryland coast. While we were on the boat, we got startled by four helicopters. Being in the Washington DC area, that could only mean one thing… A huge army chopper landed on the grounds behind a building nearby, followed by two identical white helicopters. The fourth one stayed in the air and circled around until the other ones left again. It was a pretty exciting event. We never found out whether it was Number 1 or Number 2 who paid the town a visit.

Friday morning, we left at dawn. A big storm was coming our way, and we wanted to beat it by getting to the next anchorage by early afternoon. We got about two hours of sailing in, before we needed to head straight into the wind to reach Knapps Narrows with its narrow channel and little draw bridge. To get there, we had to dodge hundreds of crab pots, a very challenging and tiring activity, especially under sail. Around noon, we arrived at our secluded anchorage in Dun Cove, to ride out the bad weather. The anchor dug deep into the thick mud, and we made sure we had enough anchor rode out. The “terrible” storm didn’t hit until 10:30 at night. For about an hour, the wind gusted to 20 knots and it rained for less than ten minutes. I’m glad we were well prepared… :-)

The next day, a computer voice on the VHF weather channel told us it would be very windy on the bay. A small craft advisory was in effect. Mark and I decided to risk it. Not every day you get a strong west wind and we felt silly not to take advantage of this favorable wind for our trip south. When we reached the bay, it was dead calm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We tried to sail and reached a pumping speed of 1.5 knots. Aaaaah, weather men! It was a relaxing two hours, though, and Mark had the bright idea to throw a fishing line out. Totally unprepared and unskilled, he caught a fish… Everybody got excited there for a second, until the fish chose to get back in the water. Ooooops. I’m glad Mark has a new hobby, though. Maybe one of these days, we get a good meal out of it!

A little later, the wind picked up and the trip became a blast. With all the sails out, we reached speeds over 7 knots. It was a gorgeous day on the water, and we found a nice place to anchor near busy Solomon’s Island. Today, we will replace the gaskets of our emergency exits (they leak) and explore the area. It’s another sunny day in Chesapeake Bay.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Time to Go

“A boat is big hole in the water, where you put money in.” Every boater is familiar with this saying, and… will fully agree with it. B.O.A.T. = Break Out Another Thousand. True as well. I can go on about this topic and come up with a few truths and statements as well, especially if it has to do with all the work and all the stuff that can go wrong, when you obtain a boat. I wont, though, since this is supposed to be a happy blog.

After living and working on the boat for a good three and a half months, we think we are finally ready to leave. We fixed all the problems, installed new electronics and gear, and made Irie a happy and clean girl. I think she forgave Mark for hitting her. He learned his lesson and suffered through wearing a cast for five weeks.

Tomorrow we will leave the marina in Edgewater, which was our home for over two months. The dogs loved it here, because of all the grass and beaches. It was a great place for them to cool off during those stifling humid summer months. Next time we spend a summer in Annapolis, we’ll get an air conditioner, though! We also met a lot of interesting people, and fit right into the soap opera life taking place every day. Maybe I’ll write a book or a story about it, one day.

The car is sold, the boat is equipped and provisioned, the dogs are washed and brushed, and we are mentally prepared to leave land, with the necessary spare parts. And just like that, a new adventure begins. The leaves are changing color, and we had to exchange our shorts and T-shirts for longer equivalents. It’s time to leave. We only have one mission: going south. That can’t be too hard…

For more stories about these last three months, check out

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Soon to come

This website/blog is in its start-up phase. Check back soon, and you will see why it will become your favorite site. Or at least one of them. I promise... :-)