The opposite of living on the water
16 October 2020
We’re still in Virginia, waiting for a boat part and enjoying the lower Chesapeake. But, we took a week out to travel to Utah, do some hiking and see our son. We rented an RV and visited some of the national parks. There is so much to see and do in Utah. One thing that I am sure of is that visiting Utah this way is definitely the opposite of living on a boat.
Of course, the most obvious difference is that the southern part of Utah is a high dessert. For example, Cannyonlands national park receives 9.2 inches of precipitation each year, almost all of that being in the form of snow melt. Just like any dessert, the temperature varies widely. One day during our visit, the temperature varied from nearly 90 degrees at 2 PM down to nearly 50 degrees at 2 AM! If you travel from the canyon floor to the surrounding peaks, you can experience even larger variations. For example, Salt Lake City is at about 4,000 feet above sea level but Kings Peak, just a bit to the east, is over 13,000 feet high.
In fact, these huge mountains are quite a change for a boater. Nearly everything is flat in our world. When you are standing on our deck, you can see to the horizon in every direction, seven nautical miles away. When we arrived in Salt Lake City, we could see 100 miles away down the valley towards the Great Salt Lake! When we took a hike down into Bryce Canyon National Park one day, we started at the rim (8000 feet above sea level), where we could see mountain ranges far into the distance. Then we descended over 200 feet down a switchback trail to the floor of the sand-colored hoodoos where the trail can be just a few feet wide! (Hoodoos are made of soft rock, laid down over 50 million years ago, topped with a more recent piece of harder rock that protects the material below. Bryce Canyon has one of the highest concentrations of hoodoos on Earth.)
Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is that it is incredibly dry (duh! It is a dessert). We are used to living on a boat with 80-90% humidity every day. Our clothes dry very slowly if there is no sun. But, in Utah, everything dries nearly immediately. What a strange feeling it was to reach for a towel and find it dry! Even paper napkins feel different when they are not saturated with humidity. On the other hand, our bodies were not used to such dry air. Both Alexi and I suffered nose bleeds.
One thing that was not particularly different from living on a boat was living on an RV. We had a small fridge and kitchen and a small “head” just like on PRELUDE. Showers were quick -- just like the boat -- because we stayed at some spots that didn’t have fresh water (again- it is a dessert). We boondocked a couple of nights to experience the quiet and beauty of a remote mesa in Capital Reef. That reminded me of anchoring out in a remote cove. And, most importantly, we laughed, played games, and talked. Just like I fondly remember many nights at anchor with our kids.
Sunset in the Yard
31 August 2020 | Deltaville
I like walking through the boat yard at sunset. There are hundreds of boats. To me, they are like a field of dreams. Their masts sprout from the decks like silver telephone poles awkwardly planted in boat-shaped flowerpots. The boats are propped upright in jack stands, waiting patiently for their future. For many of the boats —sometimes I think for most—- it’s a future that will never come.
Each boat represents someone’s dream. Sometimes the names read like chapters in the owner’s dream. Boats like “Something Else” or “Plan B” or “Retirement” seem to invoke scenes of an argument with the boss, a financial crash montage, or a zoom-out of a person stamping papers and passing them to the next desk for another stamp. Some of the jack stands are covered in a layer of dirt and clover. I fear that these owners’ lives are stuck on scene-repeat.
Some of the boats are covered in tarps. With long-empty paint cans and broken stepladders, the owners seem to be struggling to make the future a reality. They care. They have not abandoned their dreams. They want their dreams to become a reality. But wanting it isn’t enough. The dark cloud of the inevitable, slow decay of the boat and its systems–ever present, even in the yard—fogs their dreams bit by bit --- the fog obscures faster than their will, or perhaps their means, clarifies. Each visit they make to their boats results in a few repairs or upgrades, but more problems are discovered than resolved. And, their dreams fade.
I imagine a bright and colorful dream when boats first arrive in the yard. In most cases, it is easy to imagine that dream. There are boats with sleek, long hulls and slender, finned keels poking out between others. They seem to be poking their heads out as though they want to race into the water on their own, white gurgling water sprinting past their polished blue bows and golden trim. Other boats are wide-bodied and full-keeled with enormous barn doors hanging off their sterns (or missing from their sterns). These boats, or owners, dream of long, slow passages in deep blue water with a huge spread of tan canvas under puffy white clouds.
There are always a few cars in the yard. Very few. Some of them drive into the yard and park quickly, positioning their wheels precisely in ruts left from their previous visit. Their owners empty their trunks and climb the ladder. It is clearly a ritual. They have parked, emptied and climbed hundreds of times before. Their smiles seem to grow with each rung of ascension. I like to think that these owners don’t dream of racing or cruising. They dream of working. Working on their boat is their dream. When they reach the top of the ladder, they cross the transom of bliss.
For me, the happiest moments in the yard are the often the strangest. Yesterday, at sunset, I looked up when I heard four people high in the air speaking and laughing loudly in a language I didn’t understand. They were all seated in the cockpit of a deep-draft, fiberglass cruising boat. They spoke with the ease and pleasure of old friends enjoying a light breeze and a full spinnaker on calm waters. But actually the boat was suspended in the travel lift, hovering with the keel just a few inches off the ground and a fresh coat of black bottom paint mellowing by the late evening’s orange and red hues. I don’t know what the couples were saying but their boat was screaming: “The future is now. The dream begins tomorrow.”
PRELUDE haul out
13 July 2020
We planned a haul out for some repairs. Watch the video of the haul out, a pretty cool process.
We made it to nothing!
20 June 2020 | Portsmouth, VA
We made it!
Our sailing catamaran PRELUDE, entered the US most recently at mile marker 1019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Now about eight weeks later, we are at mile marker 0 in Portsmouth, Virginia. We made it to nothing!
The mile markers refer to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW). This canal system was first proposed in 1802. The project ran a bit behind schedule and was still underway over 100 years later when the German U-boats of World War II caused renewed interest in completing an inland waterway to ship goods around the US. In a sense the project is still being completed as a modern fuel tax funds the Inland Waterway Trust to do things like replace bridges and dredge trouble spots (there are plenty, we went aground at least twice!)
It is probably best to understand a trip up the AIWW in videos.
First, every day is a potential travel day and that means planning. Planning a trip in a boat is more complicated than scheduling a car trip. Some bridges only open a few times a day and some don't open for half of the daylight hours. Sometimes the weather is only good in the evening and sometimes, like this day, only in the morning. (https://youtu.be/9-auMYOHLR8)
Once you are underway, you can experience “The Ditch.” The AIWW has lots of great small towns and interesting locks and bridges. But, mostly, it has long stretches of nothing. Mile after mile of the ICW looks like a thin river lined with trees or sand. (https://youtu.be/3JbVjVEJym4)
Even though the AIWW can be “A Ditch” sometimes, there are big advantages to that. You are very well sheltered from the wind and the waves. But, in parts of North Carolina, this is not the case. Here the AIWW passes through huge bodies of open water, the NC Sounds. (https://youtu.be/HdTo7nAGnuE)
Even after making many ocean passages, the weather was too rough for us one day on the NC Sounds and we had to abort a passage and pull into a marina.
There is a lot of traffic on the AIWW. Most of the ICW traffic is pleasure boaters in sailboat, motorboats, kayaks and canoes. But, you also get to see some of the world’s largest boats. Actually, that can be a bit scary. (https://youtu.be/1jgvcdgV76w)
At the end of most days on the AIWW we are in a marina. We can also anchor out but with a dog and hot weather, this is more challenging. You might think that this means we are stable and flat, and many times we are. However, most docks are not an extension of the land. They are not stationary. In reality, most of the docks we stayed at are floating. They move quite a bit and all the time (https://youtu.be/BOuY8tqadwk). You get used to it.
You can see lots more videos at our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnXcZc8kHiX7UKCcsyvij4g)
And, you can follow us moment-to-moment using our satellite tracker or see more photos by clicking on “View Tracker” or “Gallery” at our blog site
Now that we are here, we plan on spending the next three months cruising around the lower Chesapeake. There are tons of beautiful anchorages for gunkholing and towns for restaurant sampling. After a few months in the Chesapeake, we’ll turn around and head south for nothing again. This time, mile marker zero on US1 in Key West, Florida.
Friends in Wilmington
15 June 2020 | Wilmington, NC
We spent several weeks in one my favorite North Carolina cities, Wilmington. Situated on the Cape Fear River, not far from the Atlantic Ocean, it's a young (and old) and vibrant small city with tons of great restaurants, funky stores, and amazing old homes.
Wilmington is a medium-sized city that feels like a small town, and it's also the setting of Alexi's new Coastal Carolina series of books about the men who live and work in the area.
The first thing you notice when you sail into Wilmington on the Cape Fear River is the Port of Wilmington, located just south of the city. Nearly every day, huge container ships make their way up the river and are unloaded and reloaded using giant cranes at the docks there. Those enormous boats aren't sailed in by their captains (called "masters" in the shipping business) they are guided in by river pilots who meet them out in the ocean a few miles offshore.
Some years back, Wilmington was hit pretty badly in Hurricane Florence. In fact, our sailboat sustained minor water damage while slipped at a Wilmington marina. At one point following the hurricane, the entire city was cut off by water, making it an island. In the weeks following the storm, debris piled up outside homes as residents cleaned up. Weeks after the storm passed through, there were still huge trees and other detritus floating in the Cape Fear River, making navigation hazardous. The river smelled like wet cardboard for nearly a month afterward.
On this trip, we visited with friends while we were in town, taking some day sails to visit the nearby rivers and small islands. On our way, we saw shrimpers and container ships, along with small sport-fishing boats. The river seemed quieter than before the pandemic, but there were still families out enjoying the sunshine and the water. Restaurants in town were serving outdoors, and the first inside dining began a few days before we left for Virginia. We even stopped in a few stores and bought a few items, including cool face masks made in Tanzania, which look a lot better than the surgical masks we'd been wearing.
Perhaps someday we will settle in Wilmington, once we are done exploring on our boat. I look forward to going back to North Carolina soon and enjoying one of the most beautiful coastal regions of the eastern United States.
Until then, Alexi will be writing more stories set in the Wilmington area. If you're interested in checking those stories out, you can find them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any other ebook outlets.
Catching Sharks and Other Lockdown Hobbies
08 May 2020
It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, and just about everywhere else in the world. Alexi and I are more-or-less confined to the boat. We can go out for a walk, run or bike. And there are a few restaurants that have take-out - that we can eat out of Styrofoam containers on park benches. But overall, it is pretty boring these days.
To mix things up a bit, we took our new dinghy out fishing near Amelia Island this week. We were hoping to catch some Red Drum (ciaenops ocellatus), the official state salt water fish of Georgia. This fish is also called redfish, channel bass, spot tail, and puppy drum. I've tried puppy drum once in North Carolina and it was very tasty.
So, we took our new dinghy out past the multi-million dollar charter yacht (idled due to coronavirus lockdowns http://www.bigeagleyacht.com/ - $150,000 per week) and past the massive cardboard manufacturing plant (https://www.westrock.com/) to an anchorage with a large oyster bed and some abandoned wrecked boats. Alexi had a $20 WalMart fishing rod and reel and I was fishing with a $5 hand reel. With our shrimp as bait we were set for some fun. In total, we fished two days for probably five or six hours.
As always, fishing is a quiet activity. You drop the anchor, shut off the engine, throw in your line and wait. Since both days were sunny and warm, it was super relaxing to just watch the clouds go by and enjoy the fresh air.
Given all the quiet, it was a pretty big shock when Alexi screamed "I've got something and its big." Her rod bent so far I thought it might break. Just as the fish came close to the surface, it shot down and rolled of dozens of feet of line with the reel making a whirring sound that seemed to threaten total mechanical meltdown. After fighting the fish for 10 minutes, she finally got it close enough to the boat to see what it was. Then, we both screamed, "It's a shark!!!!" It was a juvenile hammerhead shark about three feet long and perhaps 30 pounds. And it was not happy.
As if that was not strange enough, I caught a small hammerhead shark the next day.
This is not quite as strange as it sounds. Adult hammerhead sharks will eat their young, so the juveniles must find shallow feeding grounds near the ocean for four or five years until they mature (up to 15 years for females). We were just a mile or two from the ocean and in a calm creek filled with crabs and (we were told) red drum. So it was a logical place for them to avoid predation.
Of course, we let the two sharks and dozens of small crabs we caught go. I did catch a small drum fish but it was not large enough for eating so we let it go as well.
It was a lot of fun getting out on the water in the dinghy, exploring the small creeks around Amelia Island.
And...I am really glad we do not depend on fishing to eat!