10/16/2011, Charleston, SC
Eric arrived to meet us in Charleston yesterday - October 15th - on his 23rd birthday. We will officially change the guard tomorrow morning with him taking over as (a much more able) First Mate assisting The Captain in sailing Andiamo home, while I am flying back to Naples with some mixed feelings. I am sure to write about my "re-entry" in the coming days, but for now please enjoy our photos of our couple of days here in fabulous Charleston. The weather could not have been more glorious and it was so special to see Eric and enjoy our time here together.....more when I am home.....
With me heading home in 3 days, I am thinking a lot about my-last-this and my-last-that of this summer cruising stint. What is it about "lasts" that impart their poignancy? What is it that raises our expectations and gives them their added weight? I find it interesting that while typically a "last" is obvious, acknowledged and planned, it is sometimes only in hindsight that the finality of an experience is recognize. Such was the case with my "last" coastal sail of this long summer journey which, unbeknown to me at the time, already came and went over a week ago. But while this sail only gained "last" status in retrospect, at some mysterious level, we recognized its exceptionality at the time. You see, our sail from Cape Lookout some 70 miles to Wrightsville Beach, NC, on that brilliant sunny mild day, was quite spectacular - the kind of experience that makes one drop everything and take notice. There was a certain magnetic quality about that day - a rare alchemy of the seas, the wind, the air and our solitude. Eleven miles offshore, without land or another boat in sight, I could not help but be enthralled by the clear blue ocean waters as we closely grazed the gulf steam. The wind was pumping over 20 knots - but at our backs - creating large gently following seas, significant enough to warrant a certain level of alertness but manageable enough to lose oneself in the undulating rhythm. For hours upon hours, barely exchanging a word between us as if to not break the spell, we breathed in this captivating day seemingly designed solely for our unique pleasure. With elevated significance in the memory archives as a "last", I will long remember this exhilarating day.......especially in contrast to spending my "last" week in The Ditch.
There could be no more polar opposite to wide open, blue water "outside" sailing than the mark-to-mark motoring down the narrow, swampy mud-colored "inside" IntraCoastal Waterway - so straight, brown and deep here along NC and SC, that it has been given this moniker, "The Ditch". The Captain naturally much prefers the coastal route - where the views are better, the air fresher and the auto-piloting easier - but with no suitable inlets along this long stretch of the coast, overnight sailing (yikes!) would be necessary. With the weather unfavorable and the wife unwilling, The Good Captain, dutifully dumping his desires, deliberately decides on The Ditch. It is clearly the safer route and for that I am grateful, but to spend my "last" week in The Ditch seems so anti-climatic - so dull, so brown, so long.
Day after day, deep in The Ditch, for miles upon miles (I mean hundreds), with that trapped, "no exit" feeling, we alternately motor by densely clustered condos behind Myrtle Beach, quiet canal front homes with their astoundingly long piers extending over the marshes, a few random ramshackle fisheries, and then seemingly limitless stretches of desolate swamp thick with Spanish moss. We inch along negotiating currents, fixed and swing bridges and the occasional barge. In bleak weather befitting the scenery, I intermittently take over the hand-steering necessary in this narrow canal but it is David who does the bulk of the monotonous, tedious time at the helm. Each day, all week, we check the weather and consider going outside but it is never to be. Ultimately, we resign ourselves to marching down the ICW - first Southport, NC, then a couple nights literally anchored in the swamp and then finally two days in Georgetown, SC. I must admit, we found Southport and Georgetown, both heavily reliant on their ICW business, certainly welcoming if less than exciting. In the drizzle in Southport we were delighted to obtain a free city dock (complete with power) and the Harborside Boardwalk in Georgetown made for easy access to shops, restaurants and cycling. And even while anchoring alone in the swamp is not quite how I pictured spending my "last" week on board, being so absolutely submerged in nature is indeed an unmatched, surreal experience that I carry home with me.
So after 10 weeks on board and countless thrilling adventures, I am ending this week here in The Ditch - with more of a whimper than a bang. Not quite how I thought it would wrap. Yet, harnessing the added potency of "lasts", I do find myself indeed relishing each fleeting ray of sun, counting each stroke of my peddling bike and savoring each stroll through these simple, ordinary towns. Somehow, I am even able to take the intermittent periods of rain in stride - a breakthrough from earlier this summer - I just will not let it spoil my swan song. My "last" week? No, not what you would call exciting - no exhilarating sails, no banging in the surf, no world-class yachting capitals, no meticulously preserved, pristine beaches. But ultimately, the slow, relatively lackluster ICW route, by granting a calm, peaceful, leisure final week, was not so dull after all. Uninspiring as it may appear, The Ditch has served as my personal halfway house, a kind of step-down unit, providing a relaxed venue and a valuable respite in which to reflect and regroup as I transition to my life on land, as I re-enter my life back home. As I turn that key in my front door, I am curious to see - fresh from my time in The Ditch - whether life in Naples will seem more like getting back into the Groove or returning to a Rut.
Sailors like to have choices and North Carolina's waterways provide many. The protected arms of the ICW and AIWW on the mainland ("The Inner Banks") afford an array of sleepy country towns with a throwback feel while the exposed Outer Banks offer a series of legendary villages known for their rugged, wind-blown survival. What's a sailing couple to do? Do we choose the slow, narrow, safe but often dull meandering path along the ICW or do we cross the shallow Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, both notorious for their short chop, to venture out to the wild Outer Banks? Long ago piqued by my younger brother's tales of teenage surfing expeditions to these famed shores, I vote for the OBX. Naturally, the Captain, always primed for an adventure, is happy to oblige.
As we leave the peaceful beauty of The Great Dismal Swamp, we plan to regroup on the ICW taking advantage of The Harbor of Hospitality - Elizabeth City - before heading out to the OBX. So named for the FREE city docks, we are salivating as we enter the port only to realize that with the widest slip offering at 18', our beam is two feet too wide to benefit (look at all the 2's in that sentence!). Bummer. For Cats, apparently, there is no such thing as a free
lunch slip. Fortunately the weather is favorable and Albemarle Sound is only moderately choppy so we push on through. Eschewing the more built-up destinations of Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, we put in a long day and choose Manteo for the night's rest, excited about tomorrow's sail to "the REAL Outer Banks"- Hatteras and Ocracoke.
HATTERAS: We eagerly shove off at dawn in order to reach Hatteras by mid-day allowing time for bike exploration. Again, we are layered to the hilt (it is 45 degrees!), bracing ourselves against the strong cold winds that are persisting from last weekend's front. And then we hit Pamlico Sound - or should I say, then she hit us. She hit us with some of the worst short uncomfortable chop I have ever experienced. While we were probably never in any real danger per se, nonetheless, with each crest followed almost instantaneously by each subsequent slamming, pounding smash, my heart jumps, my stomach knots, my hands grip, and my whole body seizes. The motion is so severe screws begin to loosen from the helm station panels, the floor boards lift from the floor, EVERYTHING that has any degree of freedom bangs, clangs, rattles and rolls. I know reaching the OBX on the Atlantic side is even more treacherous, but let me tell you, this is certainly no joy ride.
I'd like to say it was worth it, but we found Hatteras disappointing. It had promise, what with the splurge of being dockside rather than anchoring and with the friendliness of the guys at Oden's Marina. And Hatteras Village was more or less as I expected: multi-tiered stilt-homes - popular family reunion rental properties - clustered together on the dune beaches of The Cape Hatteras National Seashore. But much as I was anticipating it, weathered and worn as we already were from our stressful sail, our 24 mile round trip bike ride - out and back to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest in the nation) - did us in. Maybe the grueling, relentlessly-windy ride skewed my perception, but the crappy, gravelly, no-shoulder single main road dominated by the endless stream of super loud intimidating pick-up trucks aggressively roaring by us inches from our limbs with no margin for error, well that didn't help. Nor did it help to see random piles of roadside debris discarded from derelict houses or strewn from abandoned trailers. And it definitely did not help that once we reached the fabled, distinctive black and white lighthouse, we were forced to quickly snap some hurried, obligatory photos by the full-on swarming mosquitoes. The final insult: positioned as we were in the marina, the fetching waves had us banging into the dock all night long. Maybe we just didn't hit it right getting here on a blow-up, gnarly day...but then that's what Hatteras is known for. Surfers pleasure, sailors pain?
OCRACOKE: Unfortunately, it is back into the staccato chop of Pamlico Sound to reach Ocracoke, the last link in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I hold on, grin (and clench) and bear it and after a thankfully short sail, I am relieved to anchor in the calm harbor. Accessible only by boat, this slither of an island, 15 miles long, remains much as it was generations ago. In sharp contrast to the throaty rumble of Hatteras, this tiny village, with as many walkers, cyclists and golf carts as cars, has a subdued, easy, low-keyed hum. There are a few two or three story waterfront homes and condos on Silver Lake, but most residences - and craft shops, ice cream shacks and other businesses - are small, worn cedar shake cottages. The town is not really quaint so much as natural, authentic, unspoiled.
The wind has subsided some, the weather is perfect, and we have earned a much-needed day to chill, so exercising the cruising option, we decide to spend two full days here in this delightful island. Day One we stroll on foot to get oriented, have lunch in the sun at a village bar, see the British Cemetery, and bring home some fresh local fish (red drum) to grill for dinner. Day Two is our Backroads Ocracoke day. Again, in sharp contrast to Hatteras (gratefully), this ride is an effortless 20 plus miles on the smoothly paved main road, complete with wide bike lanes and scant passing vehicles. We cycle through the marine pine forest and briefly peek in on the Pony Pasture (dedicated land for the island's originally wild ponies), before enjoying our picnic lunch on these breathtaking, almost-deserted beaches (recently voted number-one in America).
Back in town, we hit the hardware store, liquor store and grocery store - all under one roof - before our second trip to the fish store for more of that delicious red drum (this time to freeze) and some littlenecks for tonight's linguine and clams. The evening still cool but finally mild enough to eat in the cockpit, we set the table, pour the wine, light our flameless candles, toss the salad, drain the pasta and prepare our dishes. It is a stunning sunset, a perfect night.....But, regrettably - this time NOT in contrast to Hatteras - the one fly in the ointment at perfect Ocracoke, well it is not a fly at all. It is those darn persistent mosquitoes. Swatting, we scramble and scurry inside with our savory pasta, surprised that even in the swirl of this sustained breeze, 'skeeters are a very REAL part of the REAL Outer Banks. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
CAPE LOOKOUT: The southernmost tip of the Outer Banks is blustery Cape Lookout National Seashore...and as "one of the most beautiful anchorages in the Carolinas", David is clamoring to see it. The Captain is so bent on seeing this crescent beach, which creates the protective arm and elbow of Lookout Bight, that he even opts for the most un-guylike thing possible and succumbs to ASKING some local fisherman about getting to "The HOOK", as it is known in these parts. From our cozy anchorage at Silver Lake in Ocracoke, the shortest approach as the crow flies would be to travel through the Ocracoke Inlet. Always rift with shoals, but even more so since Hurricane Irene rearranged the furniture just 6 weeks ago, the locals still say it is doable and tell David how to navigate the markers - which ones to trust, which ones to not - and, heck we only draw 3 feet 10 inches, right?
We cautiously set out. I am inside blogging when I am jolted by the unmistakable thump of hitting bottom. The Captain swiftly makes an about face deciding to bail, but then reconsiders realizing his Garmin chart plotter is giving pretty accurate depth readings....so let's try again. (I told you he was clamoring to see - dare I say, "hooked" on seeing - The Hook). .....I am called to the helm to help spot the next red and green marks in the low sun, blinding at this early morning angle....Ouch, bump number two brings second thoughts. Okay, saved that one too. .....Round the next green....Ouch, bump number three! Three bumps you are out, right? - I hope. Yes, with this last one apparently bumping some sense into the Captain's head, we bail for good, retracing our exact, reliable course - thank you Garmin.
ORIENTAL: Thwarted, we settle instead for crossing Pamlico Sound yet again, but this time - finally, remarkably - on a comfortable reach that turns out to be a glorious sail over to Oriental on the ICW. Butch at Whittaker Pointe Marina is there to help us onto the dock, no small feat as the wind is severely pulling us off. And then, how cool is this, Butch gives us the keys to the complimentary car! Feeling like teenagers granted the family wheels on a Friday night, we drive the three miles from this new marina to downtown Oriental and sweep through the compact downtown in about 7 minutes. We stretch our legs enjoying the short walk along the recently updated quay and then use the car for its most vital purpose - more provisioning. A salvaged day, a free car, some fresh veggies! It must have been some astute sailor that said, "The key to life is Plan B."
CAPE LOOKOUT - TAKE 2: Did I mention that my husband was clamoring to reach The Hook? He is nothing if not persistent.This morning we left the dock at Oriental mindful of the tides and motor-sailed down this short segment of the ICW to once again set out for Cape Lookout, this time by the well marked inner channel. The winds are pumping over 20 knots, but with this approach and point-of- sail in our favor, we enjoy an easy morning crossing. This time, sans bumping, we successfully enter the bight and find ourselves one of a handful of local boats on this brilliant, glimmering afternoon. It is blowing like stink but with adequate protection from this low sand spit, we anchor, grab our books and deliciously idle away the afternoon in our sunny, wind-shielded cockpit enjoying the unsurpassed view. A bold, characteristic black and white diamond lighthouse, a remote, beautiful crescent beach, dunes, shoals, wildlife and ideal weather - wow! ....So, armed with our adages - "Plan B", "Three bumps you are out" and "If at first you do not succeed" - we are glad the persistent Captain, so hooked on The Hook, eventually found a route, albeit circuitous, for us to experience this most splendid shoreline. AIWW - ICW - Inner Banks - Outer Banks - nice to have so many wonderful sailing options ....even if it meant exercising all of them on our zigzag, ricocheting path, to ultimately HOOK us.
10/01/2011, Goat Island, NC
It is my 54th birthday and I am spending it in a swamp - The Great Dismal Swamp to be specific.
It will be a long day so we shoved off from the dock in Norfolk just before dawn. I always find leaving in the dark disorienting despite my Captain's encouragement to sleep-in. Yeah, right. Sleeping is elusive enough for me even when conditions are perfect with my surround of pillows, eye shades plus room darkening shades and "Sleep Pretty in Pink" earplugs. So, call me crazy, but I kind of notice when the starboard engine, inches from my head, roars. Anyway, this morning's disorientation was further compounded by the headache I was sporting from my pre-birthday dinner festivities last night. While a mid-50's birthday is pretty mundane we were happy nevertheless to have our sailing friend, Mike (who keeps his boat here in Norfolk) to help us celebrate. As a birthday bonus, my sailor-baker-woodworker-gardener...and vintner husband popped open a hidden, special bottle of his home-made Cabernet. This wine- David's Cellars "Primus" 2008 - crafted in our home guest shower from grapes flown in from California has been oaked, aged over three years and is ready for sampling. Upon this tasting we deem this the Captain/Vintners finest wine making attempt yet and a very worthy start to my birthday weekend. This morning however my aching head chides that we should have stopped with only the Primus.
As if the very early hour were not jolting enough it is also quite crisp, as a deep cold front has gone through. I am wearing thermals, wool socks, ear warmers, gloves and a fleece vest under my warm-up suit. We leave Norfolk and fight the cold choppy waters for the first hour, but as we approach the ICW life settles down, the air warms a bit and my head clears. I snuggle into a corner in the sun ready to read the last pages of my novel but David excitedly interrupts me to point out the school of dolphins off our bow. Familiar with dolphins from our many hours in warm waters, we are awed and silenced by the sheer size of this pod. As pair after pair playfully arches out of the waters, we estimate that there must be nearly one hundred of these graceful creatures ten feet away from us. Take it for what it is worth, but a psychic once told me that the dolphin is a special spiritual symbol for me. Today, on this my birthday, I feel blessed by this magical coincidental encounter.
I return to my reading but I am again drawn from my final chapters by the story unfolding around me. A mere seven miles after passing under the busy I-64 bridge, we take the Deep Creek cut into the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW) where we will enter the primeval forest of The Great Dismal Swamp. The canal between Virginia and North Carolina, fully dredged by 1805, is the nation's oldest operating artificial waterway and contains the only locks on the AIWW. Choosing this slow, surreal route we find ourselves the lone boat puttering along this narrow swath of coffee-colored water through a forest rich in cypress and cedar just hinting of their upcoming fall splendor. But for the low murmur of our engines at no wake speed, the stillness is palpable. On this crisp fall day, even the wildlife in this National Wildlife Refuge seems hidden and quiet in the dense undergrowth. Good thing because I am sure on a hot wet summer day this canal would live up to its "dismal" bug-infested name.
We soak in the warming sun, stripping off a few layers, as we inch our way up to our first lock just in time for one of its four daily openings. The elderly white-haired, suspendered lock operator steps from the tiny clapboard station to take our lines and helpfully provides instruction as I admit this is our first lock passage. With me on the bow line and David on the stern, the operator locks us in and beings the flood. We handily manage our slow 8' rise followed by our rapid push off and swiftly make our way to the minuscule draw-bridge up ahead. We chuckle as we see our suspendered lock operator hustle to his pick-up truck speeding off to the bridge to serve double-duty as the bridge tender. I guess these tough times call for multi-tasking job efficiencies.
With some time before our next lock, bundled up on the foredeck but warmed enough by the brilliant sun I finally savor each page as I finish my satisfying novel. Our timing a tad off, we arrive at our second lock 30 minutes prior to the next opening and will need to tie off short of the bridge to wait, but we see that the "easy" approach side is already taken by another boat. No problem. As my virtuoso Captain spins our 20' wide boat around in this very narrow canal, he earns actual outright applause from not only the other boat but also a pair of passing cyclists looking on from the trail along the embankment. Try rotating your living room! We handle our second lock like seasoned pros easily negotiating the 6' drop at this end.
After a leisurely but long day, now without ample daylight to reach Elizabeth City (The Harbor of Hospitality), we tuck instead behind Goat Island - a mere craggy hunk in the southernmost part of The Great Dismal Swamp -for the night. In this isolated sanctuary, my honey prepares me a candlelit birthday dinner and we mellow out to the Moody Blues "Nights in White Satin". The music selection undoubtedly reveals my mundane mid-fifties age, but there was nothing boring or mundane about today's unique birthday experience in The Swamp. No, there was nothing Dismal at all about spending my day engulfed in the calm peaceful soulful stillness of nature; rather it was quite Great.
"We are so unused to emotion that we mistake any depth of feeling for sadness, any sense of the unknown for fear, and any sense of peace for boredom." - Mark Nepo
09/30/2011, Reedville, VA
It is said that Eskimos have 28 distinctions for snow. After our last ten days of particularly dismal weather traveling south through the Mid-Atlantic States, we are approaching that number along the Near Rain-to-Rain continuum.
D1: The skies have been: cloudy, overcast, gray, dreary, gloomy, hazy, foggy.
D2: The air has varied as: close, moist, sticky, humid, dank, heavy.
D3: The precipitation forms have spanned: mist, spittle, drizzle, rain, downpour, deluge.
D4: And we have had the pleasure of experiencing: damp, moist, wet, soaked, drenched.
Let's just say there is no doubt that I suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder). This consecutive stretch of gray (D1,3) affirms why I left Philly and now choose to live in The Sunshine State. However, while cloud cover did not put this area in its best possible light - due to the lack thereof - there were indeed some highlights (WEEK 10 Photos). It beats working right?