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…