Winter 2001 - 2002 Email
It's time for another email about my comings and goings, just to bring you up to date.
While I was in Florida on my boat during the winter of 1999 - 2000, I had picked out Solomons, Maryland, as a nice place to spend some time the next summer. After I came north from Florida in early summer 2000, I got a slip at Town Center Marina in Solomons. I have been living on my boat there for almost a year and a half.
Solomons is a nice little town. It's small enough that when you drive around town, chances are pretty good you'll see somebody you know. There's only one traffic light, and it's easy to avoid during most trips around town. There's a lot of water and a lot of boats, and a lot of people who like water and boats. It was easy to fit in.
There's a lot of open space in the region. There are numerous state, county, and even private parks that let you get close to nature. Here's a list of the main parks (there are even more if you count the little ones): Calvert Cliffs State Park, St. Mary's River State Park, Point Lookout State Park, Smallwood State Park, Flag Ponds Park, Kings Landing Park, Myrtle Beach Park, Battle Creek Park, Elms Beach Park, Double Oak Park, Parker's Creek Park. There are numerous trails for hiking, creeks and rivers for paddling, good places for birdwatching and beachcombing, and looking at wildflowers and trees. I spent many happy hours walking in the woods and paddling my kayak on the water, observing and photographing nature.
During the boating season, I worked a seasonal job at the marina. I worked on the fuel dock, waiting on customers and ringing up fuel purchases. I also helped visiting boaters tie up their boats, worked in the store, cleaned bathrooms and emptied trash, etc. After a previous career working with coldly logical, impersonal computers, I found that I actually liked working outdoors around boats and waiting on real, live customers. However, it's not the kind of job where I could put money in the bank - at best, I could just barely make ends meet and frequently wound up dipping into my savings.
During the off-season, I volunteered for a local land trust that managed some private parklands. I did trail maintenance, which consisted of walking a trail with a manual hedge clipper and a folding pocket saw. I would use the shears to cut back young shoots, honeysuckle, and greenbriar that were infringing on the trail. I would use the saw to cut fallen branches and prune new branches that projected into the trail. Then as I walked along, without pausing, I would kick out of the way the numerous sticks and small branches that had fallen onto the trail. I also worked on blazing and clearing a new trail, which let me play "Daniel Boone" for a while. It was fun!
Throughout the year, I did a lot of work on my boat. It's just something you have to keep doing, despite the fact that the boatwork places great demands on your time and money. If you don't keep after all the numerous maintenance items, pretty soon you'll be so far behind that it will be very difficult to catch up. Also, I like to keep making improvements. No boat is perfect, so there's always room for improvement. The boat is my house, so it's a good feeling to make things nicer - I get to benefit from the improvements every day.
In mid-March, I went on a road trip to South Carolina to go hiking and paddling. To enjoy the rural scenery, I took two days to drive down and avoided all the interstates and major highways. Traffic was very light and lots of times I didn't see another car for a few miles. Some of the backwoods sections of North Carolina were very poor areas, your basic hillbillies living in falling-down shacks. But most of the trip was through typical rural scenery. At the beginning of the trip, there were a lot of farms, but in North Carolina and South Carolina, there were many tree farms for lumber operations. I saw quite a few lumber mills and the most common type of big truck on the road was a log carrier. The trees were all tall, skinny pines, commercially grown.
I spent a few hours at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge on the way down, as planned. I went for a couple of short hikes and took lots of pictures. The terrain is rolling sandy hills covered with well-spaced longleaf pines, with various other plants occasionally present. They dammed several small streams to make lakes for the benefit of the wildlife. In one lake, I took a picture of a log with maybe a dozen turtles perched on it. As I approached, all the turtles jumped into the water. But if you stood still, after a few minutes, they all started climbing out of the water again. Much of the forest floor had black scorch marks and burned tree litter. They periodically burn the forest floor to simulate natural fires and to keep the forest from progressing past the pine stage.
The next day, I went hiking in Congaree Swamp National Monument. It had rained quite a bit overnight, but it stopped raining in the morning. The first hike was on an elevated boardwalk that transports you above a very soggy swamp. The boardwalk gives you a really nice view of the swamp, and I took lots of pictures. There was a lot of standing water on the ground due to the rain, but I'm sure it would be very damp even if it hadn't just rained. Since it would be almost impossible to hike on the ground, they have the boardwalk that is about eight feet above the ground. When they get a REALLY BIG rain, the boardwalk itself gets flooded.
This part of the swamp has many very tall trees, since the area was never logged. Unfortunately, hurricane Hugo snapped the tops off some trees and blew down others. There are still many impressively large loblolly pines and baldcypress trees. Another thing I noticed was a huge number of birds. Unfortunately, you couldn't see very many of them due to the dense woods, but you could hear them. The effect was very dramatic, being surrounded by bird calls from every direction.
At the end of the 0.7 mile boardwalk, I walked along a trail on the ground for another mile. The ground along the trail was not too soggy but it was still just inches above the water table. There was a lot of standing water, and a creek with a cypress swamp was nearby for most of the trail. At one point, I spooked two deer that took off running.
I was hoping to complete a loop trail, but I spent so much time taking pictures that I wouldn't have had enough time to walk the whole loop. Instead, I went back the way I came, but it was nice all over again since the sun had come out (mostly). After walking outbound through overcast woods, I walked inbound through sunny woods. You have to leave the park by 5:00 PM, because they lock the gate at that time so you can't get your car out. I got out by about 4:55 PM, but I didn't have to rush.
I spent last winter on my boat in Solomons, and I have to say, it was pretty bleak. The town basically shuts down in winter - the boaters and tourists stay home. Also, it was cold and windy living right on the water. I wasn't looking forward to spending this winter in Solomons, too.
A big advantage of living on a boat is that you can easily move someplace else and take your "house" with you. I'm beginning to develop a philosophy of not spending too much time in one place. The sailboat cruising lifestyle is very mobile, and there are lots of interesting places to visit. So unless I find someplace truly spectacular, I probably won't stay more than one or two seasons in any one location.
Also, frankly, the marina was beginning to grate on me. Town Center Marina has a very nice community of liveaboards, has a great location in Solomons, and is a compact and convenient marina. However, the marina owner and manager do very little to foster customer loyalty. They just raised prices considerably, but at the same time, they ignore the fact that practically everything in the marina is in desperate need of maintenance (the docks and bulkheads are literally falling apart). It's not a business that has a lot of happy customers.
All these factors combined to make me think seriously about heading south on my boat this winter. On my previous boat trip to Florida, I had visited Charleston, South Carolina, twice - once on the way down and again on the way back. Both times I enjoyed the city very much, and I came away convinced that I could spend some serious time there without running out of things to do or getting bored.
Charleston is a wonderful city to visit. It's an elegant, old Southern city with a beautiful, historic downtown. Plus, it has all the conveniences of a good-sized city close at hand. The downtown area has never been subjected to the ravages of urban renewal, and by now, such a concept is outdated. Instead, the old homes and elegant mansions from the 1700's and 1800's have been lovingly (and no doubt expensively and tediously) restored to their former glory. Although there are quite a few small shops and businesses in the commercial district, much of the downtown area remains residential. It's great to experience a city the way they used to be: instead of acres of sterile office buildings, people actually LIVE there in individual homes!
Charleston also keeps things on a human scale. The population is only around 80,000, and the main part of the city is a compact two miles by two miles. So as far as cities go, it's easy to get up close and personal to Charleston. On top of that, it has a definite southern climate, due to its proximity to the ocean and the fact that it's about 500 miles further south than Maryland. It's not far enough south to avoid winter altogether. It still can get cold, but nasty winter weather is very rare. After all, the most popular trees are palm trees and live oaks, both of which stay green all year.
During the spring and summer, I kept thinking about going to Charleston for the winter, but I never could make up my mind. I didn't really know where I would keep the boat in Charleston, and it would always be easier to just stay put in Solomons. My friend Greta convinced me that a road trip to Charleston would be a good idea. We went down by car in September and checked out a number of marinas. There were a few marinas that looked promising, and when we got back to Solomons, I called up one and made a reservation for the winter.
The terrorist incidents made for some uncertainties, but I didn't let the incidents derail my plans. It was pretty easy to succumb to the excessively hyped news about terrorism and start to think that the world was coming to an end. But it's not. Life is going on nearly normally for the vast majority of people around the country. To avoid the "Chicken Little" syndrome, it helps not having a TV, because TV "journalism" seems to enjoy endlessly retelling "doom and gloom" stories. I even cut way back on reading newspapers, because even the newspapers are going a little overboard with hype.
I still had a lot of boat work to do before I could leave. During the summer, there was a big thunderstorm in Solomons and my boat was hit by lightning. The lightning hit the marine VHF radio antenna on top of the mast, then traveled through the boat's electrical system and did considerable damage to electronic equipment. Luckily, I wasn't on the boat when it happened, or I probably would have been scared out of my wits. Insurance covered some of the repair costs, but there was a big deductible. I did all the repair work myself, since I like to make sure it's done right. I also had the boat hauled out and blocked up in the boatyard so I could sand and paint the bottom, and do the numerous other maintenance chores that are best done with the boat out of the water.
I had to stay at Town Center Marina at least through the end of October, which is when my seasonal marina job ended. Once the job was over, I was able to spend full time on trip preparations, and was able to rapidly complete many items on my to-do list. Based on the number of items left to do, and guessing at the upcoming weather, I picked a departure day of Wednesday, November 7. And what do you know? All the loose ends actually came together, the weather cooperated, and I was able to leave on schedule.
The first part of the trip consisted of traveling down Chesapeake Bay to the bottom of the bay, where the Intracoastal Waterway begins. Chesapeake Bay is such a great cruising area, because there are so many nice places to visit and the navigation and boat handling are usually fairly easy. The first day, I said my goodbyes and headed south to an anchorage on Smith Creek, which is on the north shore of the Potomac River, just upriver from Point Lookout. The trip down was quite nice, and I was able to sail for a while. I had to motor the rest of the way due to light winds or winds from an unfavorable direction. (Even though a sailboat can sail into the wind by tacking back and forth, when I'm on a big trip and need to keep making good progress, I almost always motor into the wind rather than sail because it's faster.) As usual, the mouth of the Potomac was a little rough, with choppy 2' to 4' waves. I anchored in a peaceful little cove that I had all to myself. I noticed lots of birds in the area: loons, geese, an eagle, bluejays, crows, a kingfisher. At dusk, multiple skeins of honking geese flew overhead, descending towards their feeding and resting areas.
The next day, I motored all day into a headwind and stopped at Deltaville Marina, in Deltaville, VA. The trip was mostly uneventful, except I got a little confused again approaching Deltaville. The same thing happened the last time I visited, because my charts are out of date and they didn't agree with the buoyage that was actually present. When you notice discrepancies in your navigation, you shouldn't immediately conclude that the charts are wrong. It's much more likely that you're lost, or at least off-course. But as it turned out, I was in the right place and the charts were wrong.
I really like Deltaville Marina. They have a full list of facilities, and everything is well-maintained. The "acid test" I apply to any marina is to see if the bathrooms are clean and comfortable, and in Deltaville, they are. They also have a spacious and comfortable boater's lounge, with tables and chairs, a sofa with nearby cable TV, a large book swapping library, and a desk with a courtesy phone and data jack. I stayed an extra day at Deltaville to catch up on trip planning. My mother drove out for a visit over lunch.
I am getting used to cruising again, and it takes a little effort. Every morning, you have to get up before dawn and get ready to leave once it's light. This is because a sailboat travels slowly and the days are short, so you need to use all the available daylight hours. I'm not a "morning" person, so it feels very unnatural to get up when it's dark. Every day that you travel, you encounter unfamiliar surroundings and people. Every day that you travel, you have to take care of numerous details. You can't put them off until tomorrow since tomorrow will be "all used up" by its own traveling, producing its own list of details needing attention. You also need to pay close attention to the weather, which isn't always predictable. Then there are the hours spent standing at the helm, closely watching the depthsounder and carefully steering in the center of the channel, scanning ahead for buoys and daymarks (not to mention crabpots, floating logs, and oncoming tugs and barges!). I have to say, I find it a little stressful. For me, the real joy is when I arrive at my final destination for the winter, and can relax and fall into easy, familiar habits (like putting things off until tomorrow and sleeping late).
The next passage was heading down the bay from Deltaville to a marina in Hampton, VA, which is at the bottom of the bay. This turned out to be a slow, bumpy trip. The wind was right on the nose, and stronger than forecast. This built up a 3' to 5' chop, and the boat was pitching and plunging as it plowed into the headseas. Needless to say, I motored the whole day. About half-way, I was beginning to get worried that I wouldn't get there before dark, since the big waves hitting the bow slowed the boat considerably. But as I got closer to the bottom of the bay, the waves got smaller and the boat speed picked up. There's a big Navy base at the bottom of the bay, too, and as I neared Hampton, I saw a submarine heading down the Elizabeth River, probably heading for the ocean. I got a big surprise entering the Hampton River (where the marina is located): there was a shoal across the mouth of the river, right across the channel. The depth sounder alarm started beeping and indicated 4.5' (I need 5.5'). The boat slowed slightly, but I revved up the engine and kept plowing ahead (literally). The depth rapidly increased, and I didn't get stuck. This was at high tide, and the tide is about three feet. So that means I won't be able to get out of the river at low tide, which is one more thing to worry about.
I stayed at Hampton an extra day, because the marina is right in the tourist area of town and there are interesting things to do. I walked around and took pictures of the old houses and buildings, until I strayed too close to the poor area and got solicited by a panhandler. In the afternoon, I went to their big Air & Space Museum and took in an IMAX movie. The museum had a really good photo exhibit called "Women In Aviation" that had terrific pictures - like they say, each picture was worth a thousand words.
The next day marked the end of Chesapeake Bay cruising and the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway portion of the trip. I remembered to leave at high tide, and on the way out of the Hampton River, I stayed on the other side of the channel. But I still hit the shoal and had to brute-force my way through and hope I wouldn't get stuck (I didn't). This was a short day mileage-wise, but a busy day nevertheless. First you have to pass through the busy port area, with numerous docked Navy ships (including aircraft carriers and submarines) plus commercial ships. On the way, you need to frequently look ahead and behind, and maneuver to stay out of the way of any big-ship traffic (there were several tugs and a big tanker). Then you get to pass under eight bridges, four of which had to be opened so my tall mast could fit through. (You call them on the marine VHF radio and request an opening.) Today happened to be Veteran's Day, which is a federal holiday. This meant the bridges that normally opened only on a restricted schedule would open "on demand", whenever you called them. By doing this stretch on a holiday, you could save considerable time by not waiting for bridges.
The first part of the waterway went up the Elizabeth River through a grimy, industrial area of Norfolk, which was as ugly as sin. Later on, it got to be a nice twisty-turny river with easy navigation. The day ended up at Great Bridge, VA, after I passed through the lock operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lock changes the water level by only a couple of feet, and is mostly a barrier to prevent strong currents in the canal. I spent the night tied up alongside a rickety free dock. Great Bridge has two free docks, to encourage boaters to stop and spend the night (and to spend money in the nearby shopping area). The nice free dock usually fills up first, so I wound up using the rickety one. But at least the price was right.
The next passage was a very typical day of waterway cruising. The day started out foggy and cool, with some frost on the dinghy. The first part of the trip was down a long, narrow canal where the scenery was very woodsy and rural, if a little repetitious. This man-made canal went ruler-straight right through the middle of what used to be a forest, so although the scenery was woodsy, it's not the kind of scenery you'd expect in a river ecosystem. The canal connects two natural rivers, and deposits you in the headwaters of the North Landing River. This natural river looked much nicer than the man-made canal, because with the river you had a genuine, all-natural river ecosystem, with twists and turns, and with the proper vegetation (including big marshes).
The North Landing River feeds into Currituck Sound, where the water gets wide but shallow. The cruising guides mention numerous shoals where the waterway passes through Currituck Sound, so this part of the trip was a little tricky. First of all, I paid very close attention to my navigation, to stay in the deepest part of the dredged channel. I kept watching the depth sounder, waiting for an indication of a shoal. Once the depth started decreasing, I paid real close attention and prepared to slow down. If the depth continued to decrease to less than 10', I started to slow down and dodged the boat from side to side in the channel, seeking the deepest water. This all resulted in some anxiety, because you don't know in advance whether the depth will stay at 9' all the way through, or whether it will suddenly go to 4' causing the boat to come to a shuddering stop, hard aground. As it turned out, the shoals were not bad at all and I made it through without any problems.
After Currituck Sound, I went through a short man-made canal and stopped at Coinjock, NC, to get some fuel. Coinjock is just like a highway rest area, but for boats. There's a strip of gas stations and motels, and that's it. The Coinjock canal connected the waterway to the headwaters of the North River. This river had a few more potential shoals, but was otherwise quite nice. I anchored for the night in the wide area of the North River well above Albemarle Sound. This anchorage is in the middle of nowhere, and there is little sign of civilization. However, I could see the flashing light on top of a cell-phone tower. Nowadays, I guess you can never really get away from telephones and telemarketers.
The next day, I got to cross Albemarle Sound. This is a wide and long body of water, and the cruising guides warn that strong winds can produce very nasty waves. There was very little wind for me, though. In fact, I started out trying to motorsail across the sound, but gave up and furled the sails because the wind was too light. There were a few crab pots in the sound, which was kind of annoying. After spending days hand-steering down twisty-turny rivers and narrow canals, it would be nice to just sit back and relax and let the autopilot steer a straight course across the sound. But instead, you have to pay close attention all the time, looking for the small floats that mark the location of a crab pot (which is a submerged trap for catching crabs). If you were to run over a float, the line attached to the float could get wrapped around your propeller, causing all kinds of problems. As it was, I had to dodge around crab pot floats a couple of times.
On the other side of the sound, there was a potentially tricky shoal, but this time I didn't have any problem. Now the waterway headed up the Alligator River, into extremely rural North Carolina (the surrounding area is a cypress swamp and wildlife refuge). I anchored for the night in my usual spot off Tuckahoe Point on the Alligator River. This anchorage is a little tricky, since most of the river outside of the channel is too shallow for my boat. However, the chart indicates some water about 9' deep in a particular area, but there are no buoys to mark the area. Instead, I precomputed the lattitude and longitude from the chart and entered it into the GPS (a navigation device that shows your position). When the GPS said I was at the spot with deeper water, I just took it on faith that the GPS was correct and turned out of the channel. I was a little off but didn't run aground, and I found some 8.5' water to anchor in, surrounded by a field of pesky crab pots. I was a little tired and depressed at the end of the day. I had gone two days without taking a shower, and I was feeling very dirty and uncomfortable. Plus, I was getting tired of having to do EVERYTHING by myself. Although I value my privacy, I also like being around people from time to time. Since I was anchoring out two days in a row, that meant I had been completely by myself for two days. It would be nice to have a crewperson, at this point just as much for companionship as well as to help run the boat.
The next day, I headed down a man-made canal that connected the waterway to the Pungo River. The canal used to have a bridge that had to open for me, but the last time I passed this way, there was a lot of construction to build a new, high-rise bridge that I could fit under. Once I got there, not only was the high-rise bridge completed, but the old bridge had been completely removed. The high-rise bridge was an interesting piece of engineering. At first, it looked like there was an impossibly long center span, using beams that looked too small. But as I studied it, I figured out that it was actually a clever but simple cantilever design that allowed for a very long center span. Once I reached the Pungo River, the wind started to pick up, and by the time I reached Dowry Creek Marina, in Belhaven, NC, it was blowing at 20+ knots. As might be expected, I had some trouble getting into the slip, since the wind was blowing crosswise. I managed to get in the slip, and the boat rested against the leeward pilings. But the slip was 15' wide, and I couldn't get a mooring line on the stern piling to windward. Eventually, the boat slipped past the leeward pilings and blew into the adjacent slip, which luckily was unoccupied. I was able to tie up there successfully, although I had a lot of help from bystanders.
I hadn't been to Dowry Creek Marina before, and I was very impressed by what I saw. My "acid test" was to check out the bathrooms. Not only were they spotlessly clean, but they were individual private restrooms so you could have complete privacy. (In fact, they were very much like hotel bathrooms.) The docks were in good shape, and the rest of the marina was very well maintained. They had a pool, tennis courts, courtesy car, email hookup, store, laundry room, and even a nature walk, but the nicest feature was their boater's lounge. It was like a spacious and comfortable living room, and was very tastefully decorated. It had a satellite TV, a wet bar with refrigerator and microwave, and even a gas-log fireplace. In fact, I liked the marina so much I wound up staying four nights. And to top it off, if you pay for three nights (at $1/foot), the fourth night is free, so the price effectively became 75 cents/foot (which is a bargain, for such a nice marina). The comparison with Town Center Marina in Solomons was like night and day.
After enjoying a relaxing visit to Dowry Creek Marina, I followed the waterway through a combination of rivers, creeks, and a canal to the Neuse River, near Oriental, NC. I anchored for the night on the South River, a very peaceful and rural anchorage off the Neuse River across from Oriental. At dusk, there was a very nice sunset. I saw six or eight dolphins working mostly in pairs, feeding cooperatively near where my boat was anchored. If it's quiet and you're below decks, you can tell that dolphins are around when you hear the splash and "phhht!" sound that dolphins make when they surface and exhale. The wind was supposed to come up during the night, and it was supposed to be windy tomorrow as a strong cold front pushed through. This always causes me a little anxiety, worrying about the anchor dragging during the night and having difficulty getting into the marina tomorrow - despite the fact that it was nearly calm at the moment.
I left the next morning before dawn, although it was light enough to see. I wanted to get to Town Creek Marina in Beaufort, NC before the cold front pushed through. Again, I followed the waterway through a combination of rivers, creeks, and a canal to get to Core Creek, which comes into Beaufort from the north. As I got closer, the wind picked up and I also experienced a foul current from the tide coming in. I used the Russell Slough approach to downtown Beaufort, as recommended by the Waterway Guide. The other times I passed through Beaufort, I thought the navigation was a little tricky. There are a number of channels that go this way and that way, and at high tide, the channels are not particularly obvious. From the helm, you look out across a wide expanse of water and see daymarks and range markers scattered all over the place. This time, I had scrutinized the chart and entered several useful waypoints into the GPS. To transit the area, I navigated to GPS waypoints, letting the GPS tell me when I should go "this way" and when I should go "that way". Later, I decided it wasn't that difficult after all, but that's because I was well prepared.
As I entered Town Creek and approached the marina, I saw the fuel dock was busy, so I drove around in circles for a while to wait for boats to leave. There's only a narrow channel of deep water next to the fuel dock, and when I turned around the first time, I ran out of room and strayed into shallow water. As usual, when I felt the boat bump the bottom, I just "floored it" and plowed my way through. I almost got stuck this time, though, and I was very lucky it was high tide. I got fuel and moved over to my slip without too much trouble, although I had some help from bystanders. The basic problem is that at slow speed, the boat maneuvers poorly. It's especially troublesome if it's breezy and you have to turn through the wind. At slow speed, the bow turns through the wind only with difficulty. This can drastically increase the radius of your turning circle, sometimes to more space than you actually have! A few hours after I was tied up in the slip, the cold front finally blew through, accompanied by a squall with rain and vigorous gusts, followed by sharply colder temperatures.
Beaufort, NC is a very nice town to visit, but I only spent one layover day which was consumed mostly by chores. I left the next day for Bald Head Island Marina, on Bald Head Island, NC. Instead of following the waterway, I went out to the ocean and went down the coast. I did this on the last trip to Florida, mostly to speed things up and bypass a lot of twisy-turny rivers and other waterway problems. The Florida trip required four outside hops down the coast, each one an overnight passage. Since I was going to Charleston, SC, this time, it would only require two outside hops. Based on the Florida experience, I knew that I could stay awake all night, as long as the next stop was at a marina where I could tie up without worries and rest for an extra day.
It's nice to get a taste of ocean cruising, too, since it's a completely different experience than waterway cruising. On the waterway, I steer mostly by hand, and pay very close attention to the depth sounder, the charts, the visible navigational aids, and to other boat traffic coming and going. There's not much time for sight-seeing or picture-taking, since you need to pay close attention and watch where you're going. Out on the ocean, there's rarely any concern about the depth sounder, charts, navigational aids, or boat traffic. That doesn't mean you can ignore them, but they occupy so much less of your time. Plus, the autopilot steers all the time, so you can get up and walk around and enjoy the surroundings.
Although it's mostly just water and sky, traveling on the ocean is a beautiful experience (maybe because it IS just water and sky!) On every passage, you usually encounter dolphins - sometimes many dolphins, and sometimes several times during the passage. Dolphins are joyful creatures superbly adapted to their environment. They slice through the water seemingly without effort, and obviously enjoy playing with the boat and each other. And every now and then when they slip out of the water to take a breath, you get to make actual eye contact with a fellow intelligent mammal. And it's not like you're making eye contact with a dog or a cat - it's like you're making eye contact with another human - you can sense their intelligence.
Traveling down the coast that afternoon was a delight - the weather was perfect, the workload was low, and I really enjoyed communing with nature. As the sun went down, though, it dropped down behind some distant dark clouds coming up from the south. The weather steadily deteriorated that evening, turning into the proverbial "dark and stormy night". The forecast called for a chance of showers, but it seemed the low-pressure trough intensified more than expected and produced strong winds and frequent rain showers. The ocean became incredibly lumpy, with 3' to 4' swells from one direction, 2' to 3' swells from another direction, and 1' to 2' wind waves from a third direction. Of course I could only see this happening the next morning - at night, all I could tell was that the boat was pitching and rolling every which way. Dawn came only very slowly, as the sun was masked by heavy clouds. But it finally became light as I was coming up the south side of Frying Pan Shoals. Although the seas weren't as rough, they were still very confused, and I frequently saw little triangular wavelets, looking like shark fins, suddenly jump up on the surface and toss maybe a bucketful of water upwards. I motored up the Cape Fear River and turned into Bald Head Island Marina, arriving several hours later than expected. After getting fuel and tying up in my slip, I took a LONG nap!
I had stayed at Bald Head Island on the Florida trip, and I really liked it. It's a resort island with the usual golf courses and tennis courts, condos and vacation homes. But it also has large areas of undeveloped saltwater marshland, and miles of sandy beaches. There are hardly any stores, with just a few small gift shops and one modest grocery store. There is no bridge to the mainland, and visitors (and residents) come and go via ferry boat. No cars are allowed on the island, and people move around using electric golf carts, bicycles, or (gasp!) on foot. Because there are no cars, the roads are much smaller - not much more than paths. The golf carts are very quiet, too. One day, I rented a golf cart for a few hours and drove out to the beach at Cape Fear. It was a drizzly day so I didn't do much walking, but I did beachcomb for a while and collected some shells. I also climbed to the top of "Old Baldy" lighthouse, which provided spectacular views in every direction.
After spending three nights at Bald Head Island, I headed out to the ocean again for the final passage: Charleston, SC, next stop! The trip down the coast was uneventful. The forecast called for substantial long-period ocean swells from Hurricane Olga east of Bermuda. However they were not as big as forecast, and since the local weather was nearly calm, the swells were just slow undulations that passed harmlessly under the boat. I was making better progress than I expected, so I had to slow down so I wouldn't arrive at the Charleston sea buoy in the dark (for ease of navigation, it's best to arrive in daylight). When I arrived, it was quite foggy, especially towards shore, and I couldn't see the buoys marking the channel into the harbor. I motored out of the channel and temporarily anchored in the ocean to wait for the fog to dissipate. When I could see well enough, I started motoring into the harbor, following the marked channel that's also used by big ships (in fact, I could see two big ships entering the channel from seaward, behind me).
That's when the problem happened. The engine quit! I tried repeatedly to get it started, but it absolutely refused to start. The situation was rapidly becoming critical: I was adrift in the main shipping channel, there were two big ships coming in behind me, and the wind was too light to sail out of the way. What to do, what to do? Well, first, I called Towboat U.S. on the radio and had them dispatch a towboat to tow me into the harbor. Then I unfurled the sails to try to sail out of the channel. The sails just flapped uselessly, so I got a dinghy oar from the cockpit locker and tried to paddle my sailboat - a sailboat that weighs more than 10 tons! This worked surprisingly well, and although I was only able to move very slowly, I steadily moved out of the channel. Once well out of the channel, I dropped the anchor and awaited the towboat.The towboat arrived just before 11:00 AM and towed me without incident to the marina at Charleston Maritime Center. I later discovered that both fuel filters were clogged from bad fuel. The engine wasn't able to suck fuel throught the clogged filters, so without any fuel, it just quit!
I have been at the marina in Charleston now for about two and a half weeks. (I expect to stay here for three months, then move to another marina for an additional three months.) After the first week, I took the Greyhound bus back north to Virginia to visit my mother. She then drove me over to Solomons, MD, to pick up my car, and I drove back down to Charleston with my own set of wheels. As usual, I have a big to-do list of boat work and other chores, and time is flying. But I'm enjoying my stay in Charleston very much, especially since the weather has been delightful - it's hard to believe it's the middle of December.
I hope things are going well for you and hope to hear from you soon. Happy Holidays, and Best Wishes For The New Year!
aboard "Sunspot", a Fast Passage 39 cutter
Charleston Maritime Center
Charleston, South Carolina
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