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Christmas Reflections

Dear Friends & Family ~

Jane and I enjoyed lunch at a Chinese buffet today, pausing in the middle of taking down Voyageur's Christmas decorations. Our marina friends who traveled home for the holidays are starting to re-appear and the Korean, Japanese and Chinese students who stayed with us and other Memorial Presbyterian Church host families have returned to their respective campuses across the country to begin a new semester.

When we opened the fortune cookies that arrived with our bill, they read as follows:

(Jane) A mile walked with a friend contains only one hundred steps.

(Bob) 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

We both thought the simultaneous arrival of these two cellophane and cookie wrapped assertions an interesting coincidence and agreed that when considered together they suggested, with subtle cynicism, that neither statistics nor friendships are quite what they're cracked up to be. In other words, to quote Charles Dickens, "Bah Humbug".

Living on a boat as we do and moving from place to place, harmonizing with or perhaps escaping from the changing seasons, we sometimes find ourselves feeling a bit "apart and away from home". This is ironic in view of the fact that our travels continuously bring us into relationship with wonderful new friends that we would have otherwise not had the opportunity to meet and enjoy. Still, the feeling arises from time to time, especially over the holidays.

Because of this and perhaps because we could identify with their situation over the holidays (dorms and dining halls closed and thousands of miles away from their homes and families) we responded positively and enthusiastically to the opportunity to welcome foreign students aboard with us for Christmas and New Year last year and this. They came to us through Christmas International House, a peacemaking program built on the premise that there is and will continue to be room at the inn. Since 1965, thirty thousand international students have been hosted by CIH families in fifty communities throughout the United States. The hospitality of these families offered through their various churches and civic groups reinforces the notion that, behind our diverse manners of dress, religious affiliations and political ideologies, we all share the same round blue home as members of one human family. Jane and I have been blessed to host a student from China each of the past two years.

Over the coming weeks and months the mystery of memory will sift through our images of Christmas in St. Augustine and will store away moments to recall for the rest of our lives. . . . memories, though both causal and comforting, that will be sustaining in the times when we feel a bit "apart and away from home".

As we take down our bow wreath, clove and ribbon covered oranges and our tiny Christmas tree, Jane and I are once again looking forward wistfully to next summer's visits with family and friends to the north. But we are also warmed, in the moment, by thoughts of our new CIH friends. It is true that we were in relationship with them long before they visited St. Augustine. After all, we have shared the planet with them for some time. But when they chose to come to St. Augustine, our friends Jing and Yizhou changed the world in ways the coming years will tell and, in the process, changed Jane and me.

Blessings friends, one and all. Happy New Year !

Bob & Jane Fulton
Jan 2011

Corner of Scott and Bay

Dear Friends & Family ~

Two years ago in a restaurant called Blackstone's Cafe, not far from the intersection of Scott and Bay streets in Beaufort, SC, I had my first bowl of Shrimp 'n Grits. It smelled real good and tasted even better. Three days ago, back in Beaufort (pronounced "BEW-fert"), we visited Blackstone's for another Shrimp 'n Grits lunch. The next morning we set off from the town's Downtown Marina on an ebbing tide for Port Royal Sound Inlet where we would begin a twenty-four hour off-shore run to St. Augustine, FL, sharing a three on / three off watch schedule through the day and night.

A gentleman, first name of Roger, welcomes luncheon guests and tends Blackstone's cash register over the noon hours. Roger attended and was graduated from Hotchkiss, a prep school located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. He happened to be a member of the class of '60 and, like many of us who chose to attend prep school prior to our respective colleges or universities, Roger looks back upon those years with much fondness.

It is said that our memories emanate from smells more readily than from any other sense. And in this regard the cheesy smell of Blackstone's Shrimp 'n Grits evokes many memories . . . of the Beaufort waterfront, beautifully restored to a people-friendly waterside promenade . . . of the friends and acquaintances we've discovered there . . . and of the many prep school banners, including that of Blair Academy where I studied for three years, that proudly hang above the diners enjoying Blackstone's unforgettable low country fare.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Nov 2010

In The Beginning

Dear Friends and Family ~

Jane and I began sailing together aboard our first s/v Voyageur back in 1994. We sailed her on Lake Texoma, about 75 miles north of Dallas, for five years, missing very few weekends regardless of temperature or precipitation.

However, our first shared boating experience took place on a ferry ride from Swan Quarter, NC, to the outer banks island of Ocracoke some ten years earlier on a hot, windless September afternoon.

We stayed at the Ocracoke Inn, a two story wood frame motel with an attached restaurant . . . casual, almost diner like . . . with formica topped tables and paper place mats. Each white place mat was featureless save for lacey, embossed edges and a saying of one sort or another printed in the lower right hand corner. On mine was printed, "It doesn't matter if you're rich or broke, you're always welcome at Ocracoke."

When we offered a Master Charge card (remember those?) to the waitress to pay our lunch bill, she informed us that credit cards were not accepted in the restaurant. So I walked over to the cash register, place mat in hand, and asked if it was true that "it doesn't matter if you're rich or broke, you're always welcome in Ocracoke." The lady at the register said that "no, it wasn't literally true" and, since we had almost no cash between us at that point, Jane and I hopped on the bikes we had with us and peddled twelve miles up to the Hatteras Inlet, ferried across and rode to the only ATM in town at the time. When we got back to the Ocracoke Inn, flush with crisp $20 bills, it was supper time and the last ferry back had already departed. Realizing that our trip had thus been extended by a day, we booked our room for another night, payed for lunch, sipped a couple of beers and enjoyed a delicious, deep fried Fisherman's Sampler dinner as the sun set over Ocracoke harbor.

Tonight we'll be docked at River Dunes Marina near Oriental, NC, just a few miles from where we caught the Ocracoke ferry over twenty-six years ago. And to this day, the quiet little community of Swan Quarter remains an integral part of our first . . . and one of our fondest . . . shared boating memories.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Oct 2010

Netting Crabs & Catching Friends

Dear Friends and Family ~

Yellow and orange leaves floated down around us Monday afternoon as we anchored in Battle Creek, an inlet off the Patuxent River near Solomons, MD. Nearby a couple of open boats worked trot lines, netting a crab or two with each pass. I held up two bottles of Goose Island Pale Ale, gave a whistle and the watermen came alongside, each with two half-full bushel baskets, one containing male crabs and the other females. We got to know one another and exchanged contact information as they quaffed the cold beer.

Jane and I now have two new friends on the Bay . . . brothers Donald and Bubba . . . who, in spite of their day jobs, still harvest oysters and crabs like their fathers and grandfathers did before them. Later that afternoon Donald returned to Voyageur with a dozen fresh, savory steamed Chesapeake Blues and we picked 'em for supper.

The results of our feeding frenzy are pictured above.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Sep 2010

Lightning Strikes Twice

Dear Friends and Family ~

The Great Wicomico River is situated on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore, mid-way between Norfolk, VA, and Solomons, MD. The town of Reedville, on the river's northern bank, was once home to the Bay's large Menhaden fishing fleet and a number of large processing plants. Now the site of the very last Menhaden plant, a couple of marinas and the Tangier Island Ferry, Reedville has reverted back to being a peaceful, picturesque backwater village like so many of the Chesapeake's estuarial communities. And it was there on the night of June 14 at about 8:30 pm that were struck twice by lightning.

That evening Jane and I walked to a large picnic pavilion near the boat to attend to email and phone calls. As dusk began to give way to darkness a low squall line passed overhead and as the first drops of rain began to fall, Jane ran back to the boat to close hatches and ports. I remained under the pavilion's galvanized metal roof, sheltered from the weather, to finish up the evening's communications.

The first bolt struck the VHF antenna atop our mast with a tremendous bang. A jagged yellow-white streak, conducting millions of volts of electricity, lingered at the masthead for a fraction of a second and then disappeared as a ball of sparks floated down to the water's surface. A cloud of grey smoke floated over the scene. As it began to drift away, a second bolt struck.

By the time I reached the boat a minute or so later, my hands were shaking. When I dropped down the companionway I found Jane standing in the saloon, her hands on her hips, in a mood in which I had seen her only once before. Speaking in angry sentence fragments she complained bitterly that "we had just installed new radar and a new VHF radio and now they were fried by the damned lightning and all that money had been wasted" and on and on. When she exhausted that particular subject, she still needed to vent some additional frustration and since I was nearby . . . well, you get the picture. Fortunately, that tempest blew over as quickly as the lightning storm did.

After assuring one another that we were unhurt, we did a quick inventory and drew up a list of all damages we could see inside and outside the boat. Then we called our insurer, BoatUS, to report the situation. Exhausted but unable to sleep, we turned in and talked about what to do next. We decided that, if we could get under way the next morning, we would head for Bert Jabin's Yard in Annapolis, about 75 miles to the north, where we previously had work done. Along the way we would stay overnight in Solomons, MD.

So at 6:00 am we cast off and followed our friends aboard s/v Blackfoot out into the Bay. For the next eight hours we enjoyed a pleasant sail under full main, genoa and staysail . . . undistracted by chart plotter, instruments, radar or radios . . . and picked up a mooring in Solomons well before dark.

The next morning we rowed ashore and met Mike McCook, a yacht damage surveyor sent to us by BoatUS. Together, we arranged for Zahniser's Yachting Center to short-haul the boat so that we could look for hull damage. Other than a bit of fairing compound and bottom paint which had been peeled off a few thru-hull bolt heads, we could find no structural damage. Jane and I got to know the Zahniser's folks through this process and decided to have them do the damage inventory, repair proposal and all repairs. Two days later we stepped off the boat and since then have been visiting in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania and house / pet sitting in Lancaster and York, PA.

For much of this time Zahniser's has been been busy examining every inch of the boat's interior and rigging to determine what had been destroyed or rendered inoperable by the lightning. They then put together a damage inventory which was both exhaustive and inclusive. From this list they prepared a $40K+ proposal for repairs which we reviewed and edited. The third draft of the proposal was subsequently forwarded to BoatUS for their review and approval.

In summary, the lightning destroyed all of the following electronics and electrical gear . . . chart plotter, VHF, single side band and AM / FM radios, radar, anemometer, depth sounder, knot meter, wind direction and velocity meters, wind turbine generator, auto pilot, 12 volt breakers, navigation lights, deck lights, hailer and more. Additionally, the plug end of our Dell 12 volt battery charger was melted.

Repair and replacement efforts, which began three weeks ago, will be complete in another two or three months whereupon we'll move back aboard. At that point we'll cruise the upper Bay for a month or so, shaking down and learning to use the new gear. Then, by mid-October, we will be on our way south to Southport, NC, where we'll jump offshore for the two day passage back to St. Augustine and a berth at Camachee Cove. There we'll celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and spend the early winter. Given a milder and less blustery winter and spring than last year, we'll head back to the Bahamas where we'll stay and explore until June of 2011.

It's been an interesting start to the summer, to say the least, and certainly not the one we planned. But by now we have learned that planning and cruising are not always compatible.

Bob & Jane Fulton
Aug 2010

Jane's Fifty Hours Off Shore

Dear Friends and Family ~

After leaving the dock at Camachee Cove marina at 8:30 am Wednesday morning, we were headed out the St. Augustine inlet within 15 minutes. The sun in our eyes made it difficult to pick out red (keep on the left) and green (keep on the right) buoys marking the channel. This was our first transit of this inlet so I had a few butterflies. There were breaking waves on each side of the channel indicating low water and shoaling. This is one of the inlets on the NOAA charts not shown in detail because waves and shoaling constantly change the channel location. Rather, you must depend on the buoys that mark the channel at your time of passage.

We did thread the buoys and made it through fine, out to the whistle buoy, about a mile offshore, before turning northeast toward Cape Fear, North Carolina, a little over two days and nights away.

I experienced some seasickness just outside the inlet because I was below putting movable things away. We should have done that before departing. Candles, guitar, fruit baskets, knife holders, dishes and more . . . all had to be secured to berths or stowed in lockers (cabinets and closets). We were bouncing fore and aft and rolling side to side, so lots of things were falling and crashing. By the time I was done I was really queasy.

In October of '08 we bought some "snake oil" at the Annapolis Boat Show which was guaranteed to prevent sea sickness. I put a dab behind each ear lobe, then went back above. It's much better to be in the cockpit in the fresh air and with the horizon in view. The rocking and rolling quieted some once we put up the sails. Once all 3 sails were out and making 7+ knots with an east wind 7 to 12 knots, 2 to 4 foot chop and 6 to 8 foot rollers, we were finally sailing! It was about three hours before my stomach was fully settled by the snake oil, some ginger ale and a few ginger snap cookies (ginger helps seasickness). I had no problems after that.

Our friend Stu hailed us on the VHF as we were setting sail. He saw us leaving the inlet from his back deck in South Ponte Vedra and radioed to wish us safe voyage. We really appreciated his call.

We set the autopilot for a course of 35 degrees, the direct or rhumb line to the Cape Fear inlet, and followed that course for almost 300 nautical miles to the inlet's whistle buoy. We lost sight of land only three hours outside the St. Augustine inlet and didn't have it in sight again until we were about 10 miles off Bald Head Island Friday morning. Our farthest distance from land was about 60 miles off Savannah, GA.

So what was it like being aboard for the passage? First of all, we followed a three hour on / off watch schedule. When on watch I was in the cockpit scanning the horizon 360 degrees for other vessels and monitoring the VHF radio, checking the sail set and making (or calling for) adjustments as needed, watching the engine temp gauge to prevent overheating (when the engine was on), eating to keep up blood sugar, drinking to stay hydrated, monitoring and logging our progress and (rarely) adjusting the autopilot as needed to fine tune our course. Wind, waves and current occasionally combined to push us slightly above or below the rhumb line. When using our magnetic compass, we steered 40 degrees magnetic to make 35 degrees true. During daylight hours, I read and worked crossword puzzles between these tasks.

When off watch, I slept or tried to sleep, got food and drink for Bob and occasionally helped with sail changes. I was able to get at least one hour of sleep each off watch, sometimes almost three. Bob did not sleep until Thursday night, his last two off shifts. The motion kept him awake he says but I think he was unable to relax fully when I was on watch. Finally he got so weary that he had to sleep and so he did.

Sometimes we stretched out in the cockpit with the breeze blowing over us. Other times when it was particularly rolling, we slept on the salon settee. We used a lee cloth for the first time, a canvas cloth that affixes to the front of the settee and is tied vertically to the cabin ceiling. This creates a cloth "wall" that keeps you from rolling off the settee. When the wind became calmer and the bow was not rising and falling, we slept on our forward berth which was the most comfortable, soft and large enough to prevent rolling off.

From our experience crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas last year we learned that preparing a meal isn't as easy on a rolling sea as it is at the dock. For the 18 hour Bahamas passage, I had stocked our fridge with leftovers like stew, soup and casseroles and envisioned heating things on the stove top or the microwave, both of which were impractical for several reasons. The microwave doesn't work well when the boat is healed because the turntable doesn't turn, the dish inside ends up at the back wall or on the door and the food doesn't heat evenly. Using the gas stove isn't much better although the stove is gimbaled and swings freely to an (approximately) level position. But you still have to stay below in the galley to ensure that food doesn't spill as the stove swings to and fro and on a rolling boat you know what that can do to one's stomach. When in the cockpit it is difficult to eat with a plate in your lap. And putting a plate on a cockpit table while under way practically insures that food will spill all over. Then comes the washing up, again done below while rocking back and forth, staring at roiling dishwater. All of this discourages normal food preparation and consumption.

The solution for us turned out to be pre-preparation of finger foods and eating just a little bit every hour or so. For this passage I assembled carrots, radishes, beef jerky, cold chicken thighs, oranges, apples, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, granola bars, brownies and ginger snap cookies. Bob and I filled a small bowl with a few items and munched our watches away. We did make sandwiches, egg salad and chicken salad, when the seas calmed. Ice water, ginger ale and Crystal Lite rounded out the beverage list.

As the passage progressed, the wind veered from east to southeast and lessened to 4 to 6 kts and a four to six foot swell kept rolling in from the stern quarter all day Wednesday, rocking Voyageur, sometimes violently, fore and aft and side to side . . . at the same time. We raised the iron jib (turned the engine on) about 5:00PM Wednesday afternoon to help with speed and stability and we kept it up the rest of the way. By Early Thursday morning, all sails were furled as the wind continually lessened and its direction became unpredictable. At one point Thursday night, while motoring under bare poles, I put out our big Genoa (jib) for a couple of hours when the wind briefly picked up to 5-10 from the southeast. This steadied the boat and helped Bob got his first real sleep. In fact, he was still sound asleep at the appointed time for watch change so I let him sleep another hour as I was doing fine.

We saw few other vessels. Once in a while we saw a sail close to shore or on the horizon east of our course. Two freighters appeared from the north, miles away and two casino boats appeared the second night out off the South Carolina coast. During the day sport fishing boats appeared as the seas moderated under a beautiful cloudless sunny sky.

Thursday afternoon, 41 miles off Charleston, we passed NOAA buoy 41004. Such buoys collect and relay wind, wave, temperature and current data which is subsequently reported on a NOAA maritime website. Our GPS chart plotter showed us on a course that would take us directly over the buoy. So when we got close, we slowed and scanned all around us but couldn't spot the buoy. I envisioned us hitting it, putting it out of commission and the NOAA website saying "41004 not functioning, hit by Bob & Jane Fulton aboard s/v Voyageur". We didn't know what it looked like or how tall it was. I was wishing that it was night because the buoy's flashing light, if operating, would allow us to see it more easily. Finally, we spotted it about half a mile off our starboard bow. It looked to be a frame 5 feet high but not very substantial. Whew!

Several times, dolphins, individually or in groups, joined us, racing along side or plunging under Voyageur's bow, riding it's compression wave for a good distance. Thursday afternoon a pod stayed with us for quite a while, adults and several youngsters. The youngsters swam alongside us just underwater. The sea was so clear we could easily see their spotted backs and light grey bellies just under the surface. Occasionally an adult would calmly swim over to join the juveniles, perhaps to ensure that they were all right or to impart wisdom gained by experience regarding this particular kind of surfing. When on watch just before dawn Friday morning I sensed dolphins were on both sides of the boat. There was a lot of splashing going on close to me.

We did, from time to time, check our progress against our endurance. For example, Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm we considered an option to continuing on to Cape Fear, then 112.5 nautical miles away. There was a more southerly inlet available so we consulted the tables on our GPS chart plotter and compared tides, currents and other data for both destinations. Voyageur's GPS chart plotter is more than a navigational device displaying position and course. Its computer, processor and memory combine to provide helpful info such as tides, currents, speed, time and distance . . . both covered and remaining. Additionally, we listened to NOAA's weather forecast on our VHF radio which included predicted wind and sea states. All looked and sounded favorable for continuing on our original course. Assuming that we would lay the Cape Fear whistle buoy Friday morning at slack tide and current, we thought we would hold on for another 20 hours.

I had trepidations about the Cape Fear inlet which has currents of up to 4 knots on an ebbing tide and almost 3 knots on a flood tide. Voyageur does 7 knots under power. Additionally, Cape Fear is one of the few east coast inlets where harbor pilots are required to guide commercial ship traffic thru the inlet. Our sailing friend Linda cautioned us not to try the inlet when wind and tide are opposed. She says she "almost lost her life there" the one time she did it. The chart of the area is littered with ship wreck symbols and the name of the cape itself is scary!

So we checked and double-checked multiple data sources for times of tide and current change. If we could start in the inlet by 9:30AM, during slack current between ebb and flood, it would be safest. We constantly checked our progress Thursday night and early Friday morning to ensure that we would arrive at the whistle buoy on time. As it turned out, we arrived at precisely 9:30 with the wind at 5 knots or less and the seas calm . . . benign conditions.

A large freighter was coming out the ship channel just as we started in. His wake produced the largest waves we had seen for 36 hours. At just the right moment, Bob turned Voyageur perpendicular to the freighter's wake, we hobby-horsed a bit and the waves threw water over the bow. It was over in five seconds. From that moment, it took two hours to transit the ship channel and tie up at Southport Marina's gas dock. My legs were a bit wobbly when I stepped ashore after 50 hours at sea but we had made it! Having reached this milestone in our sailing experience, we now have a better idea how to handle a long passage.

Jane Fulton
May 2010

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