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)