Summer 2002 Email 

Hi Friends,

It's time for another email to keep you up-to-date with my various wanderings.

If you recall, last fall, I decided to cruise south on my sailboat and spend the winter in Charleston, South Carolina. After earlier short visits, I had decided that Charleston would be a great place to spend some significant time. And indeed, it was!

Living in Charleston was certainly the high point of the trip. The city has a beautiful historic district filled with stately old mansions and charming gardens. There is also a vibrant commercial district with numerous shops occupying restored buildings. I stayed for three months at the Charleston Maritime Center, which is in the City of Charleston very close to both the historic and commercial districts. The marina is also close to the library, the post office, and a 24-hour grocery store, so everything is within easy bicycling distance. Even though I had my car with me, I enjoyed traveling in the local area by bicycle. It's very easy to stop and enjoy the scenery, and parking is never a problem. Parking your car is another story. The marina has a big parking lot, but elsewhere in the city, parking is notoriously difficult.

The marina is located on the Cooper River right in the middle of the big-ship port area. Huge ocean-going ships would frequently drift slowly by the marina as tugs nudged the ships into the port docks. Just south of the marina, there was a dock for "roll-on/roll-off" ships, known in shipping lingo as "ro-ro". These ships have big ramps that they lower to the ground so cars can be driven on or off the ship. They frequently shipped BMW cars and earthmoving equipment from the port, and frequently received busses, including once some purple busses. Just north of the marina, there was a dock with two big cranes for loading or unloading container ships. After the crane lifted a cargo container off the ship, it would lower it on to a waiting truck. Sometimes the truck would drive away from the port; other times it would just move the container to another area where the container was lifted on to a railroad flatcar. It was quite interesting watching all the port activity, especially when the huge ships passed directly in front of the marina as they arrived and departed.

Charleston Maritime Center is a small marina, with space for only 20 boats. It's also a transient-only marina, which means there are no permanent slipholders, only visiting boaters who stay for a while, then move on. The boaters were your typical collection of liveaboard cruisers, with interesting and varied backgrounds. Since it was a small marina, people got to know each other and frequently got together for special events.

On New Year's Eve, a bunch of cruisers got together on the boat Alamae (which had the most room inside), and we had a little New Year's Eve party. The boat was an old wooden fishing boat that the owners (Tom and Linda from Maine) converted into a trawler-style cruising boat. Tom's specialty is boat woodworking, and he did a beautiful job. The main cabin (including the galley) used to be the cargo hold for storing fish. Also at the party were Marcie and David from Colorado. They have a beautiful big sailboat and have cruised quite a bit already. David is an engineer and former "computer geek" like me, so we are on the same wavelength on many things. Marcie is a very vivacious former marketing manager and seems to be the "mover and shaker" for social activities around the marina (she organized the party). Also at the party were Lindsay and Marg, with their son Rennie (and their dog Basil). They are sailboat cruisers from South Africa who are spending time in the states to earn some money to replenish their cruising kitty. Lindsay and his business partner buy wrecked boats from insurance companies, then invest the minimum amount of time and materials to make them seaworthy, then sell them for a pretty good profit. Also at the party was Mark, a single-handing sailboat cruiser from Annapolis who also does computer work.

A few weeks later, a bunch of us met on Alamae again for an interesting event: a beard-cutting party! People had started calling Tom "Taliban Tom", since his beard was getting longer and longer. I guess Linda got fed up with it, and decided she was going to cut it off. They decided to make a big event out of it, and everybody was invited (any excuse to have a party). At the appointed hour, Tom sat in the wheelhouse chair and Linda procured a set of electric clippers (the clippers she uses to trim her horse's hair). Off came the beard! Tom instantly looked 10 years younger, and everybody marveled at his new appearance. I guess Tom does some work with Lindsay at the boat repair yard; a few other people at the party worked there, too. They made a joke that this different-looking Tom should apply for another job there, so he could collect two salaries until the boss caught on. Tom told his three favorite "Harold and Martha" jokes, which everybody enjoyed, even though they were the same three jokes he told on New Year's.

A few weeks after that event, Marg and Lindsay threw a big party for all the cruisers. It was in honor of the official renaming of their boat to "Wishbone"; the ceremony would take place the next day. We were able to hold the party in one of the big meeting rooms at the Maritime Center - not only at "no charge", but the rooms had heaters, which was nice. They rounded up the usual suspects, and about 20 to 25 people showed up, bringing lots of food and drink. Marg made two big tubs of chicken and brought all kinds of chips and dips. They also provided lots of beer and the usual white wine in the cardboard box. I brought a big bottle of red wine, plus big Chees-its and pepperoni slices. One person brought a veggie platter that included pickled okra, which was tasty and not at all slimy like cooked okra. Fred (from the boat next to Wishbone) introduced Jeanette, his lady-friend from the adjacent Dockside condos. Jeanette brought a huge jar of imported olives - probably a gallon jar.

We had two dogs at the party, too: rambunctious Basil (Marg and Lindsay's dog) and laid-back Zeb (Tom and Linda's dog). There were a few kids present, including one boy with a skateboard. He would step on his skateboard and hang onto Basil, while another youngster would run away and entice Basil to chase him. Basil would run after him and tow the kid on the skateboard. He had to duck at the right moment because the meeting room's garage door was half lowered to keep the chilly wind out. If he didn't duck, he would smack right into the door while Basil would scoot underneath.

The next morning, Linda and Lindsay used Alamae's dinghy to apply the name decal to Wishbone's transom. It now says "Wishbone, Temby, Wales" in a very handsome typeface and color. (Lindsay has dual citizenship: Wales and South Africa.)

Winter weather in Charleston wasn't too bad - it was certainly better than up north. Since Charleston is right on the ocean, this tends to keep the temperatures mild. Although coastal storms can occur, they usually intensify well north of Charleston. One day, it was very stormy and unusually cold for Charleston, with highs only in the upper 30's. On top of that, it was windy and rainy, and we had sleet in the morning. When it gets windy, all the boats in the marina start rocking and rolling, since the waves on the river can easily pass through the marina. They forecast some snow for the area just inland from the coast, including just northwest of Charleston. This was very unusual and occurs only a few times a decade. But I didn't mind occasional unsettled weather. The boat was well-secured in its slip, and I could just "hole up" inside the boat and work on the computer, or read a book, look at slides, etc.

There are many tourist attractions in and around Charleston, and I used a "cheapie" tourist ticket to visit some. I bought the ticket for $15, and it got you into nearly two dozen attractions for no extra charge. You're supposed to be a local resident, but nobody ever asked for proof. I saw quite a few other people using them, so they seemed to be popular. The ticket expired after a month, so I spent a lot of time visiting places to see as much as I could.

One day I rode the tour boat from Liberty Square (just north of the Maritime Center) out to Fort Sumter, which is where the Civil War began. I was a little disappointed by Fort Sumter - there wasn't much to it. I guess so much of it got destroyed in the Civil War. It's hard to believe that a bunch of bricks and sand had such a huge impact on the history of our country. On the other hand, it probably was a beehive of activity back then, and it's not the bricks and sand that make the impact, it's the people inhabiting the bricks and sand. Nowadays, it's only displayed as an inert pile of bricks and sand, but the bricks and sand didn't do anything, even back then. What's missing are all the people and all the activity, although I hardly expect the National Park Service to stage reenactments of the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

I went on the last tour of the day, and when the tour boat goes back to Charleston, the NPS rangers lock up the fort and leave. The last thing they did was to have a flag-lowering ceremony. The fort has a big American flag surrounded by several other smaller flags that also flew over the fort at one time or another. The rangers invited all the tourists to take part in the flag-lowering ceremony. At least two tourists went to the base of each flagpole, and one tourist lowered the flag while the other tourist caught the flag as it reached the ground. The rangers repeatedly admonished the participants "don't let the flag touch the ground, don't let it touch the ground!". After a flag was lowered, the tourists got to fold it up formal-style. You fold it in half and in half again to make a long narrow strip, then you start folding it as a small triangle. You flop the triangle over this way and that way until the entire strip is folded into a triangle, then you tuck the tail end into an inner fold of the triangle to make a neat package. The whole flag-lowering ceremony was the high point of the visit, since everybody got into the spirit of things.

I used my tourist ticket to visit the naval museum at Patriots Point to look at the aircraft carrier Yorktown. I had been there before on one of my previous visits to Charleston, but this time, I brought some high-speed film and the flash attachment for my camera so I could take better interior pictures (picture-taking is one of my most enjoyable hobbies). I spent several hours there, since there's a huge amount of stuff to look at (an entire aircraft carrier!). By the end of the day, though, I was feeling depressed, which is the same feeling I had last time. You look at that huge ship, every portion of which is intricate and complicated, and you think about all the vast amounts of time, money, and human effort that went into designing, building, and operating it. And then you think that the whole purpose of the ship is to kill the other guy before he kills you! Can't we think of something better to do with our time, money, and human effort? I was secretly pleased to see that the ship was deteriorating, slowly but surely. Although it's meant as a memorial to those who served, the ship is also a very obvious expression of military might (as in, "might makes right"). It pleased me somewhat, in an offhand way, that someday this vastly sophisticated machine of military power would be reduced to a great big pile of rust!

On one weekend, the Charleston Aquarium (next-door to the Maritime Center) was letting people in for $1 each, which is a huge discount from the usual $14 admission. (I had visited the aquarium much earlier using my "cheapie" tourist ticket.) They called it "customer appreciation weekend", and the event was sponsored by Volkswagon, which paid the remainder of each admission price. The place was jammed! The parking garage filled up, and so did the big field across from the Maritime Center, causing traffic jams on the local streets. There was a huge line of people waiting to get in that wrapped all the way around the block and back to the aquarium building. And it wasn't a single-file line, either. I thought people had to be crazy to wait in such a huge line, only to be packed into the aquarium like sardines (very fitting, sardines, get it? fish? huh?)

In mid-February, they held the annual Southeast Wildlife Exposition in the field across from the Maritime Center (plus a few other locations in the city). It was mostly a "wildlife art" show, and I decided not to spend the $14 it cost to get into the exhibit tents. They had an outdoor wildlife show you could observe for free, so I went to that since the price was right. They first brought out two Siberian tigers and a lion, all fairly young and rambunctious. They walked them around on leads inside a fenced-off area, and fed them milk from baby bottles. Then they brought out two bears - a mature black bear and a young grizzly bear. (Imagine that: lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), just a stone's throw from Charleston Maritime Center!)

They did some falconry, too. For one demonstration, they released a hawk from the top of a nearby tall condo; the hawk then swooped down at a rapid speed to the handler on the ground and claimed its meal. Then they brought out a Peregrine falcon, indisputably the fastest animal on earth - clocked by radar at more than 200 mph in attack dives! The falcon flew a very wide circuit of the entire field, then came in fast and low to attack the target, which was a small leather bag that the handler swung around in a circle. The handler had to stand outside and well away from the fenced area, because the falcon swoops in so low it might have hit the fence. The falcon had to make several passes before it hit the target. Each time it would come in very low, literally right above our heads (they warned us not to move during the demonstration, so we wouldn't draw the falcon's attention). The bird traveled so fast that you couldn't turn your head fast enough to track it. It was an amazing demonstration, and the crowd was thrilled, and a little scared, to have such a fast and lethal predator so close to them.

One morning in February, there was a boat fire at the Patriots Point marina, across the river from Charleston Maritime Center. The boat became fully engulfed in raging orange flames, from bow to stern, and gave off clouds of black smoke. The fire department showed up on shore, and rescue boats came by water, but there was nothing they could do to save the boat. It burned for quite some time before they could get the fire out, with the flames slowly dying and the smoke changing from black to white. The next day, I read an article about it in the newspaper. The boat was a 52-foot sailboat named "Matisse", owned by a man from Houston who had come to Charleston the day before to visit his son. The man was on the boat when the fire started; he was killed. A day later, the newspaper said the fire was due to a space heater being placed too close to freshly-varnished teak, and the man died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

On a brighter note, my mother came to visit for several days, and I got to play "tour guide" and show off Charleston. By her choice, she stayed at a local motel, since she likes "creature comforts" and is not spry enough to comfortably stay on my boat. To take advantage of nice weather, the first day we drove out to Folly Beach and had a picnic at the county park right by the ocean. I always like to show off the ocean - it impresses people who hail from the mountains. Then we drove back to the marina and walked to Liberty Square, to catch the tour boat to Fort Sumter. I couldn't actually park by the marina, since there was a special event going on there. Senator Hollings (South Carolina's senator) and Admiral Loy (of the Coast Guard) were holding a public meeting about port security. (The marina is owned by the city and has public meeting rooms.) The place was crawling with police, including a police helicopter that circled overhead for hours. There were even TV crews from 60 Minutes and CNN, plus the local channels. We had an interesting tour of the fort, then had dinner out and retired for the evening.

The next day, there was a chance of rain, so we did indoor things. We drove downtown and took a tour of the Edmonston-Alston house, which is in the historic district on the waterfront. After driving a few blocks, we then toured the Nathaniel Russell house. Both houses were very nice, and the Russell house had a big garden. It was becoming sunny, so we decided to do an outdoor thing and drove over to Palmetto Islands County Park, across the Cooper River a few miles from Charleston. I wanted to show my mother what the marshes and palmetto/pine forests looked like, and this park has an easy and picturesque nature trail.

The next day we toured the Heyward-Washington house right in the middle of the historic district. This was the best house of the three, since it is owned and meticulously maintained by the Charleston Museum. They had some really spectacular period furnishings (literally "museum pieces"), and a very charming garden. After lunch, we paid the obligatory visit to the City Market (which is mostly a tourist trap), then went for a carriage ride around town. I hadn't realized it, but the carriage-tour operators can't just drive wherever they want. It's such a lucrative business, downtown would be choked with carriages. The city regulates and taxes the tour operators, and each tour has to check-in with a dispatcher who is a city employee. At that time, the dispatcher activates a lottery-style machine with ping-pong balls bouncing around, and randomly selects one ball that will determine this tour's route. Otherwise, all the tours would want to go to the same favorite places.

The next day, we drove out to Drayton Hall, a big old plantation mansion on the Ashley River west of Charleston. The mansion has never been modernized, and to this day has no indoor plumbing or electricity (or central heat or air conditioning). The tour guide said that the last owners used to consider a visit to Drayton Hall to be "camping out", due to the lack of amenities. The mansion has not been restored or furnished, merely stabilized and preserved (the same for the grounds). It's almost like you're visiting the weathered ghost of a time and life style long-passed. We drove over to Summerville for lunch, then drove down to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island and walked around the fort and visitor center.

The next day Mom went home. It was a very busy and tiring several days, but we both enjoyed it very much. And to top it off, although I did all the driving and tour planning, Mom treated me to all the admission fees and lunches/dinners, which was indeed a treat!

At the beginning of March, I moved my boat from Charleston Maritime Center over to Buzzard's Roost Marina, on the Stono River several miles west of town. It was a pleasant little trip of a whopping 7.0 nautical miles. I even got into the new slip without hitting anything, despite a flukey current. Linda (of Alamae) drove over to pick me up so I could retrieve my car from the Maritime Center. The Maritime Center is a transient-only marina, and you can stay a maximum of three months in the off season. I stayed the next three months at Buzzard's Roost Marina.

The day after I arrived, we had a big storm with heavy rain and high winds. It lasted several days as a big coastal storm lumbered up past Charleston. It was kind of amazing. Despite the high winds, it was more peaceful on the Stono River than a "calm" day at the Maritime Center. I'm sure the poor cruisers at the Maritime Center were really getting pounded, since strong winds can produce some big waves on the Cooper River. In fact, that was one of the first things I noticed after I arrived at Buzzard's Roost. If you live on a boat, you get used to all the sounds and sensations on your boat. Then when something new occurs, it first registers on your subconcious, then you realize something is different, and you have to figure out "what". I had this happen several times as I became adjusted to the lack of constant rocking and rolling. It was almost like the keel was embedded in cement.

Buzzard's Roost Marina is quite different from the Maritime Center - Buzzard's Roost is in the middle of a big marsh and is very isolated. It's on Johns Island, which is quite rural even though it's not that far from downtown. Although I liked being in a natural setting, I missed the conveniences of being in the city.

They had quite a few liveaboards at Buzzard's Roost, but most of them weren't out cruising - they just lived on their boats and worked in the area. Although the marina is fairly big, it's not a particularly lively marina. Most of the activity was on the weekends, when slipholders showed up to do some weekend boating. There's also a good restaurant on site (Cappy's), which added a little activity.

I met a few people around the marina, including the man on the boat next-door. His name is HB (he goes by his initials), and he has a 24-foot Pacific Seacraft Dana. He recently retired from the Air Force. Initially, he was an armorer who loaded fighters with bombs and ammunition, but he had some higher aspirations. After quite a bit of additional schooling and training, he was commissioned as a dental officer, and spent the rest of his military career taking care of people's teeth.

One bad thing about Buzzard's Roost is that the area isn't a very safe place for walking or bike riding. The roads don't have any shoulders and traffic is very heavy. One night while I was working on my computer, I heard a big crunch and walked closer to the road to take a look. A pickup truck had cracked up and rolled over on the Stono River bridge, ejecting the driver. Two police cars were already there, so they got to him within moments. Within a few more minutes, four fire engines, one ambulance, and two more police cars showed up. About a week before that, there was another accident on the bridge where several cars piled up when traffic was blocked by construction and the cars couldn't stop in time. I don't think anyone was injured, because it was at a relatively low speed, but it was messy and caused a huge traffic jam (which I got stuck in). People just drive too fast and follow too closely. I can see why people wind up driving so aggressively around here - there's just so much traffic, and the roads can't really handle it. They don't have enough really good roads, so people are always in a rush because it takes too long.

There's an interesting attraction fairly close to the marina on Johns Island, called "Angel Oak". It's a grand old live oak that they estimate is 1400 years old. It's not possible to date the tree exactly by taking a core sample, since live oaks frequently rot out from the inside and are hollow. It's a majestic tree, big and gnarled, like the great-great-great-great-grandfather of everybody and everything. They say it's the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi (there are older trees out west). There certainly are a lot of living things east of the Mississippi, when you think of all the millions and billions of people, animals, bugs, fish, trees, flowers, birds, bees, etc. And there on Johns Island, they have the oldest living thing of them all, and you can stand before it and admire its stately and serene presence. It would have been a big tree even before Europeans arrived on the continent, and I bet the native Americans considered it to be a sacred site. Today it's owned by the City of Charleston, and there's a picnic ground and gift shop - so much for the spiritual side.

I also visited Old Santee Canal Park several times, which is up in Monck's Corner, well north of Charleston. The park has a lot of beautiful natural scenery, and they have a nice set of boardwalks across a cypress swamp, plus some trails winding through the woods. The park is owned by Santee-Cooper, which is the big electric company that runs the dams and hydroelectric plants on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. When they built the dams decades ago, they flooded a historic old canal, so I guess Santee-Cooper built the park to remind us of what used to be there.

I really enjoyed moseying around in the park, looking at trees and flowers and taking pictures of the scenery. The park had lots of birds - everytime I went there I heard numerous birds calling in the woods. There was at least one pair of osprey actively nesting in the park. The most visible nest was at the top of an old bald cypress tree, very close to the nature trail. They had other wildlife, too. On two different visits, I saw an alligator basking in the sun (they have signs posted saying "Do Not Feed The Alligators").

The site is somewhat unusual for the low country in that it has an exposed limestone bluff running the length of the park. This gave the early settlers a ready source of limestone to process into cement (the ruins of a limestone kiln are visible). The limestone has fossils embedded in it - mostly shells. Along one of the trails, they have spread some gravel made from the crushed limestone, and I picked out a few pieces with interesting shell fossils to keep as curios.

They have an interesting museum on the site that covers the history of Berkeley County, South Carolina, from prehistory up to the recent past. One of the displays is about Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox", who was a Revolutionary War hero. He and his men were intimately familiar with the swamps of the low country, and after raiding the British forces, would melt away into the swamps. The museum had a vest that supposedly belonged to Marion. I always imagine war heroes to be big and burly, but from the size of the vest, he must have been a small man. I remember when I was little, I got a book as a present that was about Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. I don't remember any of the details, but it must have made an impression on me to remember it so many years later.

Charleston also has several nearby beaches, since Charleston harbor opens directly on to the ocean. One of my favorite beach areas to visit is Folly Beach, on an island south of the harbor. The adjacent town is very laid-back, and welcomes all visitors, including ordinary folks. Other beachfront towns could be a bit snobbish, and some communities have gates to exclude all outsiders. Folly Beach has miles of sandy beaches, with two good parks for public access. North of Charleston harbor is Sullivan's Island, which has another big public beach.

We had a rather nice springtime down south. The weather was quite pleasant, although we had a few really warm days that reminded me that summer in the low country might not be very enjoyable. Millions of flowers bloomed, both wildflowers and gardens. There was a lot of wisteria draped over many trees in sunny areas, the light violet flowers hanging down in bunches. Certain areas of town were a riot of azaleas. There was one stretch of suburban road on James Island (across the river from the marina) that was posted as a "scenic route". It had many grand live oaks that made a canopy over the road, and all the houses had azalea gardens in full bloom - masses of red, pink, violet, and white flowers.

I visited Charles Towne Landing State Park, which is on the west bank of the Ashley River where the settlers first arrived and formed Charles Towne (before the city was moved to the peninsula). They had a large area of azalea gardens that were quite beautiful. The garden also had an arched bridge over a pond that would have been quite photogenic, except the pond was scummy green. While I was wandering around the pond taking pictures of flowers, I almost stumbled onto a big alligator (more than eight feet long). He was in the water, right up against the shore, and I didn't notice him right away. When I suddenly realized it was an alligator, I was quite startled and backed away immediately. Lucky for me, he apparently wasn't hungry, but he did turn his head to look at me.

I spent a lot of time in the spring working on my friend Greta's boat up in Solomons, MD. The first time, I spent seven days there, plus two more travel days to drive up and back. The second time, I spent six days, plus two travel days. While I was up there, I lived on her boat, which was fairly comfortable. Plus, it's at the marina where I used to live, so I know everybody there and I fit right in like I never left.

On my first drive up, it was wildflower season, and there were lots of flowers along I-26 out of Charleston. I really like wildflowers, and highway medians have a surprisingly good selection (at least until they do the first mowing!). I was so preoccupied watching the wildflowers along the roadside, that I completely missed the exit for I-95. By the time I realized something was amiss, it was actually shorter to keep driving to Columbia (the state capitol) and take I-20 back to I-95. It was kind of embarrassing and it cost me an extra hour, but at least I saw some nice flowers!

I spent most of the time in Solomons rebuilding the electrical system on Greta's boat. As usual, it took me longer than I expected. I put in a new electrical panel, battery switch, battery wiring, battery tiedowns, system fuse, fuse blocks, ground bus, ammeter, bilge pump control, starting battery charger, and all new associated wiring. I built a shelf for her portable shore charger and wired it up to the house batteries permanently, installing switches to control the AC and DC. I ripped out all the engine wiring and the wiring in the steering pedestal, which has the engine gauges and switches. I installed all new gauges and switches, and new wiring to the engine. For this wiring I installed a conduit in the pedestal to keep the wiring from chafing on the steering chain/cable, which is what happened with the old installation (it had caused a massive short). I had the alternator rebuilt (it was broken), installed new belts, installed new 12V outlets topsides and below, wired up a new depth sounder, rewired the VHF, and repaired and rewired some cabin lights and fans. Almost all the wires now have labels on them, using little wire ties that have a square tab to write on. I also removed a couple of gallons of oily water from the bilge (which I put into jugs that were discarded), flushed the fresh water tank several times and refilled it, washed the topsides to get rid of tons of green tree pollen, and vacuumed and wiped down the interior. I helped Greta repair a cockpit drain, and helped her move the boat to a new slip (we maneuvered by hand using ropes, since the engine wasn't running yet). As I sit here writing out the list of all the work, it's no wonder it took me so long - it was a lot of work!

As an example of the usual difficulties you have, when I went to reinstall the alternator, they didn't include a lockwasher on the main output stud. I have a big toolbox filled with stainless-steel hardware, but - I couldn't believe it - I didn't have a lockwasher that would fit! I then scrounged through my hardware looking for a second nut to use as a lock-nut. Strike two, no nut! So I drove over to the hardware store and spent maybe a half hour going through all the little bins of nuts and bolts, trying to find something that would fit. At first I thought it was metric, but they didn't fit. I finally found an obscure bin that, voila!, had a nut that fit. It was a #12 nut, which is a very obscure size. Machine screws usually step through the sizes #6, #8, #10, then go to 1/4", 5/16", etc. Nobody uses #12 machine screws, nobody except this alternator manufacturer. I had a similar adventure trying to find a belt that would fit the Isuzu raw water pump pulley - it was a very obscure size.

While I was up in Solomons the second time, there was a tornado watch as a warm front was closely followed by a cold front. I went out in the evening for Chinese take-out, and looked up to see a huge storm passing just north of us. Normally, you can see thunderstorm clouds slowly expanding, but in this storm, the clouds were boiling upwards and outwards explosively. It turns out this was a supercell thunderstorm that contained an F5 tornado, which is the top of the destructive scale with winds up to 260 mph. The next couple of days, the newspapers were full of details - it was the second most destructive tornado to hit the east coast (not including Florida). The tornado went right through downtown La Plata, MD, the county seat of Charles County, where it destroyed or damaged much of downtown. It then crossed the Patuxent River into Calvert County north of Solomons, went out over Chesapeake Bay as a big waterspout (there was a picture of the waterspout in the paper), and finally moved over the Eastern Shore. The tornado killed three people, including an old lady in Calvert County whose house was picked up off its foundation and dropped into a ravine. The tornado destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, snapped off telephone poles and trees (even blowing the bark off of some trees), and blew over the 125-foot water tower in La Plata. The whole region was shocked at the devastation, and the Governor came down to promise that the town would be rebuilt.

During May, I did my trip planning for Sunspot's northbound trip. I had decided to take the boat to Baltimore, MD, so I could live in a big city, and also to find a job to replenish my cruising funds. I planned to head out Charleston harbor to the ocean, then sail up the coast nonstop to Chesapeake Bay, then continue up the bay nonstop to Solomons. I would complete the remainder of the trip by daysailing up to Baltimore. I estimated that the trip would require just over four days of nonstop sailing from Charleston to Solomons. To do this, I obviously would need crew, and my friend Greta volunteered to make the trip with me.

I wanted to try a multi-day nonstop sailing trip for a few reasons. The main reason was that I had never made a multi-day nonstop voyage before, and I wanted to see what it would be like. I consider this to be a pre-requisite for other possible big voyages in the future. Also, it would be a fast and inexpensive way to bring the boat north, compared to daysailing up the waterway which would have taken about three weeks, including many stops in marinas.

Our northbound trip worked out very well, despite the usual uncertainties and minor problems. Before the boat trip could happen, I had to make a car trip of twice the distance to pick up Greta in Solomons, MD and drive us down to Charleston. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for Greta, because she is normally very busy and I wanted to eliminate as many obstacles as possible.

I drove up to Solomons on Tuesday, May 21, did some work on Greta's boat, and stayed overnight. Greta came down the next day, and we drove down to Buzzard's Roost Marina on Johns Island. I drove for a while, then I let Greta drive - I know from experience that we'll get where we're going a lot faster if Greta drives.

When we got to Charleston, the first stop was at the main library to check the latest weather on the internet. The computer lab was closed so I had to use an old computer. The computer I was using was so slow that even after 15 minutes, I still couldn't get some sites to load - plus it had to be reset twice. I finally gave up, and decided to listen to the weather radio on the boat instead. The forecast wasn't so hot (strong NE winds and swell), but we decided to give it a try anyway.

We left Thursday morning, not too early, since we couldn't get through the Wappoo Creek bridge until 9:00 AM. I had a little trouble getting out of the slip despite a favorable current, since the boat got cocked the wrong way in the current. I let Greta do all the other work: steering, navigating, using the radio and GPS, etc. She has a lot of experience sailing little Hobie catamarans but not much experience on a big boat.

Once we got into the wide open spaces in Charleston harbor, we saw the wind was about 15 to 20 knots from the northeast, which is not a great direction for our trip. The closer we got to the ocean, the more swell we picked up. Once we got past the end of the jetty and out on the ocean, we were really rocking and rolling on the ebbing current and heavy east swell and northeast wind waves. It was so uncomfortable, and the prospects of doing this for hours were so bleak, that we both decided to turn around and wait another day. We motored back to Charleston Maritime Center and stayed the night.

It was a really nice bonus spending a day in Charleston with Greta. We walked around the city a little and took in the Ansel Adams exhibition at the Gibbes Museum. I took Greta to a couple of shops that I knew she would like. One shop near the city market had lots of glass objects; another shop had polished stones and natural crystals.

We left for the second time on Friday morning - what a difference a day makes! The wind was nearly calm (we had to motor) and although there was significant swell, it wasn't a problem at all. Soon after, the wind picked up and we were able to sail the rest of the day and night. With her experience on Hobies, Greta did a great job with sail trimming, which is something that I'm not very good at. The first day was really great - we were off on a big adventure, the boat was sailing well, the company and conversation were great. Plus, Greta's a good cook and she made an exotic and tasty dinner.

Saturday morning was very nice. Dawn was pretty but not too exhuberant, with the deep red sun rising quickly up out of the sea and becoming rapidly brighter. Four dolphins paid us an extended visit, and we went to the bow to greet them and observe their antics. This day we also saw numerous flying fish skittering across the waves. I also scooped up some sargassum seaweed so Greta could look at its curious and intricate structure. The sea is as vast and complex an ecosystem as the land, except most of it is invisible beneath the waves. We only get to see those creatures that can breach the boundary between water and sky.

During the day, the weather radio started talking about an early-season tropical low that was supposed to form near Florida and travel up the coast. To make a long story short, this forecast followed us up the coast all the way to Solomons. The storm took longer to form and traveled slower than expected, so we were able to make the entire trip without any inclement weather. By the time we got to Chesapeake Bay, the storm wasn't expected to have much effect. Of course, this is all hindsight; at the time, we had some genuine concerns and planned a couple of bailout points in case we had to wait out bad weather (Bald Head Island Marina near Cape Fear, and Morehead City Yacht Basin near Beaufort, NC). It's a big plus and a major lucky break when the weather doesn't screw up your plans. There's something to be said for traveling up the coast like we did, sailing around the clock. You can do a major trip in a short enough time period that you can do the whole thing in one good weather window. If I had gone up the waterway day-sailing, the trip would have taken about three weeks. During this much longer time period, I certainly would have had a few episodes of inclement weather that would have impacted my plans.

By early Saturday afternoon, the wind was so light that we started motoring. We motored on and off for the whole trip, since I like to keep making progress. If I could choose, I would have asked for a little more wind, but on a trip like this, I'd rather have too little wind (like we had) than too much wind. The boat doesn't have a huge motoring range (about 300 miles, including fuel from two jugs and running the tank dry, which of course you don't want to do). I had some concerns about fuel and made a contingency plan to stop at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. But we were able to sail enough that we didn't have to make a fuel stop.

I actually liked that things weren't certain, that there was some risk and uncertainty in the whole undertaking. We didn't know when to leave, and wound up leaving twice. We didn't know if the storm would catch up with us, so I planned bail-out points. We didn't know if we should stop and wait or keep going. We didn't know if we would have enough fuel to do all the motoring required, or if we should stop and get fuel. Despite all the uncertainties, we made the right decisions in each case and everything worked out fine. It's actually pretty rare that you experience uncertainties. It's so easy to over-plan shoreside life so everything is figured out down to the smallest detail. But in sailing up the coast, you must deal with the vagaries of the weather, which is the major source of unpredictability. On shore, you can pretty much ignore the weather, unless a tornado is about to suck you up to Oz. But at sea, you must learn to study and respect the weather, and you just have to cope with its basic unpredictability.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, with a mix of sailing and motoring. That night, I saw shooting stars. I remember one special moment, as we were motoring through the wee hours of Sunday morning across the ocean, approching Diamond Shoals at Cape Hatteras. Greta was below, sleeping, and I was standing an extra-long watch, feeling more and more tired. The moon had been up most of the night, and was slowly sinking towards the western horizon. There was a big band of dark clouds that the moon passed behind, and it made the scene look quite mysterious. Dawn was brightening the eastern horizon, proceeding through all the pale pastel colors that only dawn can fabricate so effortlessly out of nothing but thin air. And then the sun started to come up, first peeking above the waves, then rising up relentlessly. There was a band of dark clouds above the sun, too, making the sun look mysterious, too. For a while, both the sun and the moon were up, glaring at each other, each looking a little resentful that the other was intruding into their hemisphere. Finally the sun rose up higher and the day blossomed, and the moon sank, beaten, into the sea. The scene was very magical and mysterious, a primeval scene of sun, moon, sea, and sky that has changed little over the course of billions of years. At that moment, I felt very connected to the universe as a whole, and I felt the timelessness of eternity. It was a very peaceful and serene moment.

I liked watching the subtle changes in the color of the water. It changed from green to blue/green, to lurid blue, to coastal green, then to Chesapeake green, then to the inscrutable green murk at Solomons. This is like watching highway scenery change from farmland to mountains, then arid plains, then suburban woodlands. The color changes in the water are much more subtle, but they denote major changes in the aquatic ecosystems. Since these ecosystems are mostly hidden, we only see small hints of the changes going on below.

We motored past the Diamond Shoals Light Station during the day Sunday. It's funny that the place that I though would be rough (Diamond Shoals, well-known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic") was in fact wimpy and weak. There wasn't even enough wind to sail, never mind washing people overboard and sinking the boat. We cruised up the coast of North Carolina and Virginia, getting closer to the shore all the time (oh boy, cell phones are working again!). As we rounded Cape Henry and entered Chesapeake Bay on Monday, there was a lot of big-ship traffic which we managed to avoid. Coming past the tunnel portion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge - Tunnel there was a tide rip with rough water where the outgoing tide passed over the submerged tunnel. Upstream the water was nearly smooth.

The best sailing we had was a wonderful romp at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. The wind was strong, but not too strong, and from a perfect direction. With all sails drawing well (as attended to by the sailing master, Greta), we were creaming along on a boisterous sail. When the wind gusted higher, the boat was at the point of being overpowered and needing a reef. The helm was difficult to hold, and the boat would start to round up into the wind. But the gusts were never long enough to cause a real problem. The boat really felt like it was enjoying itself, and I was enjoying myself, too. It was fun to hand-steer and feel the boat respond. To tell the truth, this was the nicest bit of sailing that I have done on Sunspot. I usually travel by myself, and it would be difficult to do that kind of sailing by myself. Under those conditions, the boat develops a lot of "weather helm", and the autopilot does a poor job holding a course. So to have a really fine sail under breezy conditions, it is very, very helpful to have crew, so one person can hand-steer and respond to the gusts.

I'll say one good thing about my boat's gear - God bless my autopilot. It's twenty years old and still works great. When you read about other people's voyages, they are always complaining about autopilot failures and the difficulty of hand-steering for the remainder of the voyage. It's a blessing to have a reliable autopilot, where you almost forget it's there because it works so unobtrusively. I also like my GPS, although it's not quite as reliable as the autopilot (that's why I carry three GPS units on the boat!). I find it very comforting to know the little black box always knows exactly where we are, and where we are coming from and going to.

We traveled up the bay all through the night on Monday, coming into familiar territory in the early morning. We arrived at Town Center Marina in Solomons just around lunch time on Tuesday, tired and feeling a combination of excitement at having completed a voyage and sorrow that the trip was over. Greta drove back to D.C. (where she lives) and I stayed overnight at the marina. Since this is the marina where I used to live and work, they let me stay overnight for free. The voyage took four days and a few hours and was a little over 500 nautical miles (about 575 statute, or "land", miles). I normally like to get an accurate mileage reading from the GPS odometer, but the GPS reset unexpectedly and cleared out the odometer readings (I wonder if the GPS uses Microsoft Windows?).

It would seem that four to five days of being on the ocean might pass slowly, since the surroundings don't change that much and there's nothing terribly exciting going on. However, I continue to be amazed at how quickly time passes - it just flies by, almost effortlessly. I count this as a "plus", since on a long trip, it makes watchstanding easier and seems to make the miles roll by more quickly (even though we were only going three to six knots, not much faster than walking). This also bodes well for taking a long trip on the ocean, like someday going to the Caribbean. It makes me a little apprehensive thinking about being so far from land for many days, and beyond the reach of any shoreside assistance. If voyaging time seemed to pass very slowly, this would make long trips a little more worrysome. But, since time seems to pass very quickly, this makes the isolation easier to manage. Of course, time passes at the exact same rate no matter what you're doing. That it seems faster or slower is all an illusion. Then again, our perception of time is pretty much an illusion anyway, since it's not a tangible substance like rocks or trees.

I liked being cut off from the rest of the world for the duration of the trip. After we became detached from the crazy world around us, we could mentally wind down and enjoy the peace and serenity. If there were any problems, they weren't about nuclear war or terrorists but just the ordinary problems of two little people traveling on a little boat, surrounded by ocean and sky. The ocean and sky never have any problems. They are always completely true to the essence of their being.

I also like the way traveling on the ocean is so fulfilling to the senses, despite the very spare environment consisting of just water and sky. I have marveled at this before, after my overnight trips along the coast on previous voyages. I never felt a need for more sensory stimulation, and never got bored with the environment, despite its simplicity. I think there are two factors involved. First, we were in a completely all-natural environment, with no evidence of human manipulation. Humans evolved while immersed in nature, and our natural environment is to be completely immersed in nature. This is a very rare environment these days, since the shoreside environment is so much altered by the works of man (cities, highways, radio/TV, streetlights, billboards, etc.). Only out on the ocean can we be totally immersed in an all-natural environment. And it really feels good being there, leaving behind all the excess baggage of civilization and just communing with the basic elements of nature (sea and sky, wind and waves, sun and moon, day and night). I think another factor is that reduced sensory input doesn't necessarily mean reduced sensation or enjoyment. Just like blind people experience a heightening of their remaining senses, if we enter a simpler environment, our senses can be heightened and we enjoy it all the more.

I like that I now have a genuine, multi-day, ocean passage under my belt, and that I know I can do it. That was one of the main reasons for making the trip up the coast - to try something I hadn't done before and to find out what it would be like. My involvement with boats has been a gradual progression of getting more and more experience and building my knowledge and confidence. I started out as rookie crew on my friend John's centerboard daysailer, sailing on the Potomac River out of Northern Virginia. Then I crewed for him when he was cruising in Mexico on his bigger keelboat. Then I took sailing lessons and read lots of books and magazines, then I took a really great liveaboard cruising course in the Caribbean. At this point I knew I wanted to go cruising, so I bought my own boat. Then I went on a short shakedown cruise by myself on Chesapeake Bay. The next step was cruising down the waterway with crew (Brent, pick-up crew from Annapolis). We both wanted ocean experience so we made a series of one-night hops down the coast. For the next step, I brought the boat north by myself, including doing the overnight offshore hops. This was a major confidence-building step, to handle the boat by myself. The next step was the trip Greta and I just completed: a multi-day offshore trip with crew. Although I am now taking a break to earn some money, I have in mind some future trips that continue the progression. At some point, I might make a trip to the Caribbean, via Bermuda, then back to the southeastern U.S. Another trip might be to cross the Atlantic to Europe, then return to the U.S. via the Caribbean.

We also get a certain amount of bragging rights, having cruised nonstop up the coast, rounding Cape Hatteras and passing its fearsome Diamond Shoals (known worldwide as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"). We don't have to tell people that it was so calm that we had to motor, right? Actually, I have told a number of people about the trip, and of course, I have to mention the calmness of the weather, since that was a major aspect of the trip. You get the bragging rights from having attempted the trip. If it turned out the weather was mild, it doesn't detract from the amount of nerve it took to cast off the docklines and head out to the ocean for a rounding of one of the world's most fearsome capes.

Another thing I liked was that the trip was a very frugal way to get from point A to point B. Since it only lasted a few days, the only costs were for a few days of provisions and about 45 gallons of fuel. I estimate the cost to be about $100. Making the same trip via the waterway would take about three weeks, and would use a lot more provisions and fuel. There would no doubt be numerous nights spent at marinas, costing $40 to $50 a night. Then there would be eating out in restaurants, souvenirs, buying parts for the boat, etc. On my previous waterway trips, it cost from $1500 to $2000 to make the trip.

Things I DIDN'T LIKE about our sailing trip up the coast:

My number one problem was not getting enough good sleep, so after a while I was constantly tired. I don't like that feeling of tiredness, because it dulls my experiences and slows me down. I usually have trouble falling asleep, and I seemed to have extra trouble falling asleep while underway. I had the same problem the last time I had crew, but we only traveled overnight on those passages. Since our recent trip would be several days, I wanted to find out what would happen in that situation. This would be an important test, because in the future, I might want to travel with crew for many days, nonstop (like to go to the Caribbean). The present test was partially successful - I think I reached a plateau of tiredness where it didn't get any worse and I could still function. But it's still an unpleasant situation, because it negatively affects everything else I do or experience. Once we reached Solomons, I felt like a zombie for a couple of days while I caught up with my sleep.

My next complaint is about the number of problems that we had with the boat: (1) Engine exhaust developed a hole allowing cooling water and exhaust into the aft cabin. This also created lots of messy salt deposits and rust on the engine. This happened on Thursday, and I patched it that night when we stayed overnight at the Charleston Maritime Center. It needs a permanent repair, which is long overdue, since this same problem happened before. (2) Engine raw water pump leaking. There was one broken screw on the cover, which I replaced, but this wasn't the cause of the problem. The shaft seal was leaking, which was causing seawater to sling all over the front of the engine, creating messy salt deposits and rust. I put a "band-aid" on the problem by tying a rope around the pump body, to wick the water away so it wouldn't sling all over the engine. (3) The stitching for the dodger started to rip out when I was installing the center window panel. This happens when the thread deteriorates from exposure to UV in sunlight. (4) Bad electrical connections for the cockpit stereo speakers, causing interruptions in the music. (5) Regulator for alternator beeping a warning, also not charging the batteries fully. The workaround was to turn the ignition off, then on, to reset the regulator and make it go through another charge cycle. To fix this, the regulator needs to be adjusted again, but I have adjusted it several times already. This really is an indication of a design problem in the regulator - there's no reason it should be so finicky as to require multiple adjustments. (6) The binnacle compass was unreliable and would frequently stick in one position. This would make it difficult to hold a course when hand steering. This was mostly a problem when conditions were calm. When it was bouncy, the compass could "unstick" itself easily enough. (7) The mainsail ripped a seam from slatting so much, but Greta used her sewing skills to fix this problem right away. I will not have to revisit this one. (8) The vented loop for the engine raw water cooling system developed a pinhole leak, which sprayed and dripped saltwater into the locker under the sink. I temporarily patched this with radiator hose repair tape. (9) Later while I was daysailing to Baltimore, the engine wouldn't start due to clogged fuel filters. This shouldn't be happening so often, so I probably have contaminated fuel (again).

I also didn't like being dirty and hot, although this is partly my fault. I have a working shower, but it's a bit of a nuisance to use, so I just stayed dirty. Normally, when I live on the boat, I don't want it to be like camping out. In my opinion, camping out entails a little too much inconvenience to be sustainable for the long term. However, for short trips, camping out is much more tolerable, so I put up with the inconveniences since I know it's only temporary. For this trip, I seem to have switched into "camping out" mode. Traveling on the waterway, I stay at marinas often enough so it doesn't really get to be "camping out".

I felt that I didn't have enough fun things to do on the boat to entertain or amuse ourselves. All my other boat traveling had overnight stops, usually at a marina, where you could get off the boat and explore the shoreside area. In certain areas, there was enough to do on shore that I would stay over for more than one night. I really enjoyed going off on my bicycle to explore and take pictures. It's a whole different story when you're sailing around the clock without stopping. I have to think of some things to bring along to provide diversions from the 24/7 sailing.

After staying overnight in Solomons, the next day I traveled up the bay to a very nice anchorage on the Rhode River, below Annapolis. The weather forecast was starting to talk about a vigorous cold front coming through, so I wanted to get to Baltimore before that happened. The last day was mostly motoring up the bay, under the twin spans of the Bay Bridge, then up the Patapsco River to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. To tell the truth, that day was pretty boring - absolutely nothing going on, hot and humid, no more pleasant company, and some ugly shoreside scenery. The route up the Patapsco shows off the best and worst of the area. Much of it is a grimy ramshackled industrial waterfront, although some areas were newer and better-looking than others. The Key Bridge south of the Inner Harbor was very impressive - a graceful and even artistic arch bridge.

But once I entered the Inner Harbor area, it was like I was entering Oz. The skyscrapers of Baltimore shimmered in the distance like the Emerald City, and all around me there was a beehive of activity. There were all kinds of recreational boats, water taxis scuttled about like big waterbugs, a big topmast schooner went sailing by, there were marinas left and right, helicopters buzzed overhead, a big helium passenger balloon floated over the city, and the whole area was surrounded by numerous interesting and distinctive buildings - it was clear that I had arrived someplace truly exciting.

A few days after I arrived, I took the Greyhound bus back to Charleston to pick up my car. By now, I've been here at Harborview more than a month, although I've spent more than a week of that time here and there visiting my mother in Virginia and working on Greta's boat in Solomons. This area of Baltimore is a really interesting place to explore by bicycle, and I have done quite a bit of riding around. Harborplace, the main tourist attraction in Baltimore, is just a few minutes away by bicycle. This is where they have the Aquarium, the USS Constellation, a submarine, Coast Guard cutter, and other ships to visit, plus numerous shops, restaurants, and other tourist attractions (like an itinerant street juggler juggling an apple, a machete, and a roaring chain saw all at once). It's a great place just to hang out and people-watch. Also a few minutes away is the lovely park atop Federal Hill, which overlooks the Inner Harbor and provides spectacular views of the harbor and skyline.

Unfortunately, Baltimore does not have a very good reputation crime-wise, so I am careful where and when I travel, especially if via bicycle or on foot. Baltimore has the highest violent crime rate of any place in America - if you want to be murdered, this is the place to come! Most of the violent crime is related to drug trafficking, and they're having a hard time getting a handle on it. The area around the marina is a gentrified middle-class neighborhood and is relatively safe, plus the marina has security cameras and 24-hour security.

Anyway, I'm glad that I'm here, and I'm looking forward to living here for a while and getting to know the area.

That's (more than) enough for now. As always, best wishes.

Your friend,
on board "Sunspot", a Fast Passage 39 cutter
Harborview Marina
Baltimore, Maryland

P.S. Here are some internet links for you to browse:

South Carolina tourism -
City of Charleston -
Charleston Convention and Visitor's Bureau -
Insider's Guide to Greater Charleston -
Charleston Maritime Center -
Charleston Post and Courier (the local newspaper) -
Port of Charleston (for big ships) -
Wallenius-Wilhelmsen Lines (roll-on/roll-off ships) -
Fort Sumter National Monument -
Patriots Point Naval Museum (Yorktown) -
South Carolina Aquarium -
Southeast Wildlife Exposition -
City of Folly Beach -
Folly Beach County Park -
Palmetto Islands County Park -
Morris Island Lighthouse -
Edmonston-Alston House -
Nathaniel Russell House -
Heyward-Washington House -
Charleston Museum -
Charleston City Market -
Palmetto Carriage Tours -
Drayton Hall -
Fort Moultrie -
Sullivan's Island -
Angel Oak -
Old Santee Canal Park -
Berkeley County Museum -
Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox -
Charles Towne Landing State Park -
Charles County / La Plata Tornado -
"The Graveyard of the Atlantic" -
Diamond Shoals Light Station -$station=dsln7
Data Buoy Reports -
NOAA Weather, etc. -
Town Center Marina, Solomons (now called Solomons Yachting Center) -
Solomons, MD -
Another Solomons site -
City of Baltimore -
Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Assoc. -
Another Baltimore site -
Key Bridge (Baltimore) -
Federal Hill Park -
Harborplace -
Harborview Marina -

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