Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Beaufort SC

Today I sit here in Gini and David's house (Lynn's brother and wife) in Beaufort SC feeling great (and full) after an incredible Thanksgiving feast held yesterday at their friends the Wojciks. I may not have to eat again for about three weeks. This is most definitely my favorite holiday. You get all the pleasure of being with friends and family, plus turkey dinner, without the commercial trappings of Christmas. Sue and Greg were brave enough to provide a sit down dinner to a group of around 30 people that included their close friends and many of their children and grandchildren. As I looked around the gathering I thought this was exactly what the day was about and Lynn and I were indeed so grateful to be included in this wonderful group of extended families.

When we left Baltimore we thought we may not hang around in Beaufort long enough for Thanksgiving, but after waiting out the 4 days in Norfolk we began to wonder if we would actually make it to Beaufort in time! As it finally turned out, we had 10 days of great traveling weather and arrived on Tuesday. Along the way we had some very pleasant stops and discovered a few new places. Swansboro NC was an unexpected highlight. We anchored there overnight and had time to explore the little town. It has a kind of western town feeling with clapboard storefronts like you see in the movies. We stopped into a great Irish pub where KC bought us a beer. Lynn may have actually set a record as the easiest drunk when he declared feeling lightheaded after consuming a Mich Ultra! I knew he was a lightweight, but that takes the cake! We also enjoyed an outstanding spaghetti dinner at La Trattoria (yes friends, some things never change).

The next stop was Wrightsville Beach where we met up with Lynn's grandson Ryan, who is attending college at the University of North Carolina at Wrightsville. It was so cool that we literally pulled over to the side of the ICW at Dockside Bar to dock overnight about 5 minutes away from Ryan's residence! He came over for dinner and a visit, which was enjoyed by all. It was so great to see Ryan and I think both grandfather and grandson were very happy to be together even if it was just for a short time.

The next night we arrived at Myrtle Beach and again stopped in a Marina overnight. There we met Angie, KC's wife, who drove down from Virginia to pick him up. So, in about six hours Angie travelled the same distance we had for the past 7 days! That evening we had the luxury of a car and opted to go out for dinner at Fibber's on the ICW, moving faster than I had in several weeks, a strange feeling. It was a fun night and a lovely treat from KC and Angie. Sadly though, this was where KC left us and we were again on our own when we left the next day. We really miss having KC on board. He was a very pleasant companion and a huge help with so many things. Plus I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and ongoing commentaries about the people and sights we passed. Things we learned from KC: how to make peanut butter candy; how to use the trip odometer on the GPS; they are called fenders, not bumpers; how to hang the lines out to dry; how to eject a stubborn DVD from the computer (I swear it wasn't blocked KC); stuff about water pumps and engines (OK, Lynn learned that, I didn't pay much attention); and most importantly, how to relax and enjoy the moment...he definitely has his priorities in order.

After leaving Myrtle Beach we had four more successful travel days without incident, anchoring out most nights. We encountered numerous boats and traveled alongside with a few for a time. It's funny when that happens; I actually feel a bit like I have been dumped by a boyfriend when they decide to head off on their own way. On Wednesday we were joined on board by Gini and David and we departed the ICW to venture up the Chechessee River and then into the Collaton River, where we have docked our boat at the Callawassie Island community pier. It felt adventurous since the rivers are not marked and we were a little uncertain of the depths at the dock...but, we managed well and the boat is floating, but probably sitting on bottom at mean low tide. We will stay here until we have a good weather window to travel in the ocean to Florida, or they kick us out, whichever happens first. It feels very nice to relax in their beautiful home after 10 days of travel. It is surprisingly exhausting to travel in the ICW with very early mornings and long days in the fresh air watching for the turns and being on the alert for shoals. We have been pleasantly surprised that the ICW depths have been good, even in areas notorious for bad shoaling. We never touched bottom...which is a first.

So, I will sign off now. I must get ready for a soiree we are hosting on the boat for Gini and David's Callawassie friends. I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend...we miss you all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Underway Again...Finally!

After being stalled in Norfolk for four (long) days, we finally left again on our southern journey on Sunday morning. We spent our days in Norfolk exploring the city…didn’t take long…going to the grocery store, the movies and the mall. We saw Amelia (the story of Amelia Ehrhart) while there, which was very inspirational. But, I would have been fine if they had decided to change the ending…who cares about historical accuracy. We definitely ate well as there was plenty of time to cook. I have been trying to perfect peanut butter candy and we have been overdosing on sugar while taste testing. But, I think I finally have it down. We toured the USS Wisconsin, which was very cool. The evenings were occupied with a dominoes tournament with numerous made-up rules. So far KC is in the lead, but we are planning the grudge match tonight. I may just have to change the rules again.

There are two possible ICW routes out of Norfolk…the Virginia Cut and the Dismal Swamp cut (much prettier than the name would indicate). The former is more traveled and the latter is less so because it is shallow with a controlling depth of only 6 feet. Both were closed after the storm because of malfunctioning locks and fallen trees. The Dismal Swamp was the first to reopen, so we took it! We moved slowly through the shallow waters and bumped underwater logs at least 20 times. It felt a lot like African Queen, especially when the logs we hit sounded like torpedoes. I thought Lynn might have to pull a Humphrey Bogart and start dragging us through the water. We did hit an overhead low hanging tree with our mast and were showered with small limbs and leaves. We faired much better than one of the boats we saw on the way who were caught in the current while waiting for the lock bridge to open. They were swept into the trees which tore the mizzen mast right off. Our timing was perfect though and we made both locks just in time for their scheduled openings. After leaving the second lock we decided to anchor overnight in an unused barge channel tied up to the old, overgrown bulkhead. It turned out to be a perfectly peaceful setting. Along the way we joined up with another sailboat called Plan B and have been traveling with them ever since.

The next morning we left for Elizabeth City, which was only about 20 miles further south but we had heard so much about their hospitality to mariners that we wanted to see it for ourselves. Besides, they offer free dockage for 48 hours, hard to pass up. Before arriving we spotted a metal silhouette of a man across the canal from a few houses. It was riddled with bullets apparently from their target practice…a little disconcerting. KC figured it was much more effective than a plain old No Wake sign. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”

We were not disappointed when we reached our destination where we were greeted by Sam, who is in his eighties and has been the local dockhand for the last 7 years. He expertly helped us tie up and then told us about all that Elizabeth City has to offer…he even told me I had a beautiful name! That evening they had a party for all the boaters with wine and cheese and roses for the women. The greeters are called Rose Buddies and are carrying on the tradition of a local resident (think his name was Fred??) who for many years greeted the incoming boaters in this way and gave the ladies a rose from his garden. He died in 2007 in his nineties…I wish I could have met him. We have already met lots of other cruisers, including a group from Montreal with whom I was able to practice my French. I am definitely rusty, but managed to make them all laugh so I guess I wasn’t doing too badly. All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.

We were back underway this morning at 6:30 AM and have crossed the Albemarle sound without incident, albeit a little rocky and rolly, and are now traversing the Alligator canal, a 20-mile long, straight and narrow passage. At the end we will anchor in the Pungo River. It is a beautiful day. We are all smiling and feeling good. Right now Lynn is at the helm while I write this and KC is doing some exercises on the foredeck…I may have to get him to swab them next! That’s all for now, I think it may be nap time.

Hmmm…nap never happened as we anchored soon after in a lovely cove off the Pungo River. We then discovered our water pump was not working…so no hot shower either. But, Lynn and KC have managed to fix it just now so we can finally relax and enjoy the evening. It’s great having someone else to help out around here!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Soggy Start

Off we go again…well, sort of. As our friends and family know, Lynn and I have been preparing for this second journey for the last few months…with the more intense provisioning and last minute work happening these past few weeks. We finally set off at 12:30 PM on Monday, November 9th. Unlike the last time when we left in the middle of a snow storm, the conditions in the Chesapeake Bay were ideal with flat calm water and relatively warm temperature. Although we could not sail (wind was too low and on the nose), motoring was very comfortable. We decided to continue overnight and get to Norfolk, which seemed prudent as there was a predicted Nor’easter for Tuesday night so we wanted to get safely tucked in before it arrived. More on that later…

Back to getting ready. Lynn spent last winter installing a new ceiling in the salon and galley. In his words…he outdid himself! It is absolutely beautiful with gleaming white panels and custom teak trim. We installed solar panels and a new autopilot, which operated perfectly throughout the first leg down the Bay. But most importantly, Lynn has a brand new ice maker that makes perfect little cubes to keep him in ice heaven. So, we are finally getting close to having the boat fully outfitted, at which point we will have to start replacing some of the things we started with…it really is never ending. But, we are definitely very happy with the condition of our vessel for this cruise.

The last month or so has also been filled with send offs by our friends and family. I was starting to worry that people were getting tired of saying goodbye! My work girlfriends treated me to a lovely dinner and some of my workmates took me out for lunch. We had dinner with several of our friends, including Joe, Carol, Chris and Lu from Havre de Grace, Butch and Rosemary, Peg and John and George and Delores from the dock. Lynn’s kids and grandkids came out for a brunch again and we had a great time eating and hanging out on the boat. I love to see Lynn with his family, it makes him so happy. Thank you to everyone for such nice farewells…

Now for the soggy part. While we knew that we would be affected by the remnants of hurricane Ida, the weather forecasts were predicting up to 30 knot winds and about one day of rain. Based on that information (or misinformation as it turns out), we decided to head down the bay and wait it out in Norfolk. Lynn’s nephew KC met us here (in Norfolk) on Tuesday night and will be traveling with us until he has to go back to work or gets tired of us, whichever happens first. It may be the latter since we have now been stuck on the boat for three days waiting out Ida. Had the weather predictions been more accurate, we would have definitely made different plans.

OK, the previous paragraph was written yesterday. At that point we decided to go for a walk in the rain to get some air and “blow the stink off” as Lynn would say. When we ventured out from the boat we discovered that the Norfolk flood gates were closed and the headlines read “Nor’easter Packs a Punch”. Yes, we are in fact in the middle of an historic storm that is wreaking havoc along the south east coast, causing record tidal flooding and beach erosion. We spent the afternoon on a blustery walk and roaming the mall. Later I did a little sewing project to make a seat for my tush at the helm and the boys did something else while giving me helpful hints.

Around 5 PM, KC took a peak outside and discovered that the floating docks were actually about to float right off the pilings! By about 6:30 PM they did…which needless to say caused us some stress. The storm was at its worst with heavy rain and winds gusting over 50 knots. Apparently the resultant tidal surge is equal to that of hurricane Isabel. After much consternation and discussion between Lynn and the dock hands (one of whom broke two fingers in the process), they tied the dock to some pilings and we made it through the night. As an aside, the people on the boats on either side of us poked their heads out of their cabins a few times but didn’t seem the least bit concerned that we all were about to float away en masse! Today we woke to more of the same, although the wind and rain has died down somewhat and we seem to be holding on to the dock. KC says we have been having a three day slumber party! We plan to make some peanut butter candy (a Hershfeld family tradition I just recently discovered) and maybe play some games. We are hoping that we will be able to recommence our travels by tomorrow.
I had wondered what I would have to write about this time around but it turns out that we started our trip in the middle of the storm of the decade! Definitely good fodder for story telling. But, all is well now and other than dealing with an annoying leak in the master cabin and feeling soggy and a little frustrated, we are doing just fine. I don’t think I would have said so last night, but I still love cruising…you never know what it will bring. Stay tuned for the next blog when I will hopefully have more to tell you about than being stuck in Norfolk!