Apologies to anyone who might have been wondering if we dropped off the planet in the last couple of months. Not quite. But since our departure from Saint Petersburg was, sadly, delayed a couple of weeks by Al's passing and our unplanned trip to California, we once again found ourselves under pressure to move on as quickly as possible. We had many hundreds of miles to retrace to travel back down the Gulf Coast of Florida, around the Keys, and all the way back up to the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina by June 1 for a planned haulout and repainting of Thalia's hull.
Nearly two months may sound like a long time to cover that much ground - er, water - but in fact, it was barely sufficient. Thalia normally travels about 50 miles a day, if we're not really pushing it and the weather is right. The good news was, days were already long and getting longer, so we could log more miles on most days and still be able to drop anchor before dark. The bad news was, our hull had gotten pretty seriously covered in barnacles after a winter in Florida waters. We kept meaning to dive in and scrape them off, but it's kind of an awful job and we knew we'd be hauling her out so soon... so we sort of blew it off.
Ugh... in just seven months' time, our hull was really crusty with barnacles.
Those barnacles slowed us down quite a bit. Where we might normally make 5+ knots at a leisurely pace, we were doing closer to 4. When we were able to motor along with one or two sails out as well, we did better, but that wasn't always an option. And any current against us slowed us down even more. So our progress was slower than normal.
Weather, however, was generally pretty favorable, and we managed to avoid any significant issues over most of our trek. Once we made it all the way back down the Gulf Coast, we spent several days in Marathon on a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor, provisioning and waiting in vain for the prevailing east wind to clock around to a better direction for heading out and up toward Key Largo. No such luck, but we finally made a dash for it on a day with enough south in the wind to be able to motor-sail with just our mainsail up and the wind about 40-50º off our nose. We did a short run (7 1/2 hours) up to Lower Matecumbe Key the first day, anchoring out on a Saturday night among a group of extremely noisy party boats, and then departed at first light on Sunday to make a very long run up to Biscayne Bay (74 miles in 14 1/2 hours). We arrived well after dark but, as we know the area and it's quite open, weren't concerned about anchoring there in the dark.
A local paddleboarder out to watch the airshow with his dogs in Middle River.
The Keys and Fort Lauderdale
After a couple of nights in Biscayne Bay, we hopped up to Fort Lauderdale, dropping anchor once again in Middle River (for the last time, as Florida is closing that and many other anchorages to recreational boats in a few weeks). We thought we'd only stay a few days, but ended up there nearly a week. One issue was that Murphy's Wind Law kicked in, and the wind blew steadily from the north that entire week. You do NOT want to head up the Gulf Stream, which flows very strongly north, when there's any northerly component in the wind. So we waited. Then we found out that the Air and Sea Show was going to be happening that weekend, and we had front row seats in our little anchorage in the middle of the city. We also heard there would be nearly a thousand boats anchored out or zooming around just off the beach for the show, and we figured that weekend would be a really terrible time to be navigating those waters.
While there, we were able to connect with our friend Lyza, spending a day shopping at local farmers markets and prepping for a dinner party we did at her house for a delightful group of her friends. On the menu was a chopped salad with local tomatoes, avocados, greens, and sweet corn; pan-seared halibut filets in spring roll wrappers with chimichurri
sauce, and roasted asparagus with a balsamic drizzle. Oh, and an awful lot of really good wine that our new friends contributed to the feast.
Recovering from that party Sunday, we spent a lazy day watching planes do aerobatics and truly impressive flight formations.
A few shots from the Air and Sea Show, as seen from Thalia's vantagepoint in the Middle River.
Heading North to South Carolina
Monday morning's departure from Fort Lauderdale was delayed by a temporary shutdown of the Port Everglades harbor to allow a Naval destroyer and then an aircraft carrier to exit the harbor (they'd been in town and on display for the Air and Sea Show).
We were at this point growing concerned about how little time we had left until our firm June 1 rendezvous. Although we still had several weeks, we had to assume there would be weather delays along the way. Also, our intention was to travel "outside" in the Atlantic as much as possible rather than slogging up the ICW. In the right weather, it's easier and less stressful than dealing with all those bridges, boat traffic, and frequent shoaling issues. But outside travel requires the right wind conditions, as well as safe harbors we could enter as needed so we could avoid doing any more all-night passages.
Each day on our way north, we arose by first light, made breakfast and coffee underway, and used whatever combination of sails and engine power we needed to make as much progress as we could during the daylight hours.
Here's what the trek from Fort Lauderdale up to Charleston looked like:
Fort Lauderdale to Lake Worth, 10 1/2 hours outside
Lake Worth to Fort Pierce, 9 1/2 hours outside
Fort Pierce to Georgianna Beach, 10 1/2 hours outside
Decorative mosaic bridge pilings in the ICW near Titusville.
Georgianna Beach to Daytona Beach, 12 hours inside due to winds clocking to the north. No time to stop in Titusville to see our friends Perry and Irene, or Bob and Connie, as we had hoped. At this point, we were stuck inside on the ICW until St. Augustine, as we had no inlets deep enough for us to exit into the ocean.
Daytona Beach to St. Augustine, 9 1/2 hours inside, arriving at 4:25 pm just as the mother of all thunderstorms hit. The Bridge of Lions did its 4:30 opening for us under emergency power (a lightning strike had taken out a transformer), which meant it could only lift one span at a time. We had a very strong current pushing us toward the bridge, the winds were in the 30s, we were nearly blinded by the rain, and the thunder was deafeningly loud. Once we'd groped our way through the bridge, we had to circle around another 15 minutes in the blinding rain, as we couldn't even see our ball in the mooring field. Then, just as suddenly, the heavens cleared, and there was our mooring ball, not more than 100 yards in front of us.
We stayed two nights in St. Augustine, dividing and conquering on Sunday: Larry took me and my bike ashore in the dinghy and I rode across the bridge and up the road to replenish our desperately low food supplies, riding back with about 60 pounds of provisions on my back and hanging off my handlebars. Meanwhile, Larry changed the oil in our diesel engine, and did other needed engine maintenance tasks.
St. Augustine to Fernandina Beach at the northern border of Florida, 12 hours inside. Still no luck on the wind, so we stuck to the ICW. Our autopilot was by now starting to act up, just quitting at random times throughout the day. We'd restart it and it would run fine for a few minutes or sometimes a few hours, then crap out again. Hand steering a boat is, of course, considerably more tiring than letting Otto take the helm. This was a problem that slowly worsened the entire trip up to North Carolina.
A brown pelican using one of the ICW markers as a vantage point for his fishing forays.
Fernandina Beach to Sappelo Sound, GA, 13 hours outside. Finally we exited Florida! This was starting to feel like real progress. Slow, but real.
Sappelo Sound to Bluffton, SC, 10 1/2 hours outside. The perfect morning weather slowly deteriorated throughout the day, culminating in another huge soaking rainstorm that hit as we made our way into Calibogue Sound, passing Hilton Head Island on our way up to the May River and Bluffton. Although the lightning action was minimal this time, the rain was so intense that we couldn't see at all. While Larry steered and kept an eye on the radar, I sat on the starboard side of the boat, out in the rain, peering ahead to try to see any other traffic in the channel. Everyone other than a few crazy outbound shrimpers and ourselves, however, had the good sense to stay home.
We stayed in Bluffton two nights, as this was one of the towns on our short list, and we wanted to check it out. The weather cleared Wednesday night, and we took our bikes ashore Thursday morning to spend the day exploring the area.
Bluffton is a charming town, growing painfully fast but still holding onto its small-town charm and hospitality. We experienced this first-hand when, on our way to the local butcher shop, one of my bike tires went flat. We walked the rest of the way and, when paying for our purchases, I asked Adam, the third-generation owner of the shop, if there's a bike shop in town. He told us it's less than two miles up the road and gave us directions. OK, we said to each other, we'll just have a bit of a hike, at least in one direction. When he overheard that, Adam said, "Wait, you're not walking there, are you? It's hot out! I didn't know you had a flat tire. Hang on a minute." And he left the shop in an employee's hands, loaded our bikes in the back of his truck, and drove us up there, regaling us the entire way with stories of growing up in the town.
That, my friends, is not something you see very often in today's world. Score one for the small Southern town.
A shrimp boat returning with his haul in the North Edisto River attracted quite a bit of attention from local seabirds.
From Bluffton, we headed back outside one more time for 13 1/2 hours to reach Bohicket Creek, off the North Edisto River. This anchorage is just south of Charleston, and is located right near the Lotus Wellness Center on Seabrook Island, where I had an eagerly awaited appointment with my chiropractor and massage therapist to try to help me with some shoulder pain I've been having.
At some point on our way up there, it occurred to us we could just stay in Bohicket Creek, a serene and lovely anchorage, rather than in Charleston at one of the expensive marinas. We called the Bohicket Marina and asked if we could pay them a daily fee to use their dock for shore access for our dinghy. Answer: no charge at all, as long as you don't leave it there overnight. Nice! Then we contacted Enterprise to arrange a rental car for our visit. They charged us a whopping $9.95 a day and drove 45 minutes down to pick us up and take us back to their office.
We spent five restorative nights there, exploring nearby Johns Island, running errands, attending the Saturday farmers market in downtown Charleston, driving around various neighborhoods in the area to get a feel for the housing market, and of course, eating like kings.
One of our favorite treats in Charleston is the shrimp po' boy at The Glass Onion.
The Last Leg
When we finally left the Bohicket anchorage, we stopped at the marina to purchase fuel, pump out our holding tank, and refill our water tanks. Then, feeling somewhat restored after our very long two-month journey, we headed north once again. It took us six more long days to get to Morehead City, within half a day of our boatyard at Wayfarer's Cove. All of that time was spent traveling up the ICW through some really gorgeous territory, including the serene Cypress Swamp.
Some images from the Cypress Swamp: a huge alligator, a pair of local fishermen enjoying a peaceful early morning, and a row of turtles soaking up the sun.
Somehow in all that time in Charleston we didn't manage to provision well, so by the time we got to Morehead City seven days later, we were out of milk, eggs, coffee, bread, meat, and vegetables. Our last meal before docking in Morehead City was corn tortillas I made and filled with a mixture of canned black beans, canned chicken, and grated cheese. (The tortillas were good, at least, but not my proudest culinary moment.) We did an exhausting post-sail bike ride to re-provision that evening, stowed the groceries, and took ourselves out for a waterfront seafood dinner. And the next morning, we were off again, but it was only a half day of travel.
Morning and evening at Awendaw Creek north of Charleston, one of our all-time favorite anchorages on the ICW.
We actually ended up arriving on May 30, a few days ahead of schedule, and docked poor, crusty Thalia in the travel lift at Wayfarer's Cove.
They hauled us out the next morning, at which point I headed to New Bern to pick up a rental car while Larry removed our autopilot and coordinated with the various folks scheduled to repaint Thalia's hull, and clean up the boat's prop and shaft. And the very next day, after a few hours scraping barnacles, we were on the road again, on our way to Baltimore for a two-week break from the boat.
Truthfully, the most important reason we were in such a hurry to get to Baltimore wasn't so much our appointment for the hull painting. It was to see our brand new grandson Max, born May 3. He was exactly five weeks old when we arrived in early June. Our timing was pretty good, too, as my son Mike had just returned to work to teach his last couple of weeks of the school year.
Little Max and his adoring grandmother enjoyed a solid week of bonding, and are looking forward to more time together.
We were able to help Meghan out by holding Max so she could get a few things done and get some rest (no problem for me! I loved every minute of it). While there, we also cooked meals, walked the dog, and did some home repair projects. During the week we visited, Max grew visibly (he was 8 pounds at birth and now weighs in at 11 1/2 pounds), and started smiling and noticeably interacting with us. He's slowly moving toward a more humane nighttime schedule, a huge relief for his parents. As for me, I am smitten, and cannot wait to see him again in a few weeks when we drop anchor in Annapolis.
Once we left Baltimore, we visited daughters Kristen and Kelli briefly, spending this past weekend with them before hitting the road again back to North Carolina. We stopped in lovely Charlottesville, VA for a day and night on our way down, which is where we are now. Charlottesville is also one of the cities we're considering moving to when we wrap up this adventure. It's within two hours of our kids' homes, and is our kind of place.
Swallowing the Anchor
And speaking of that, we have finally gotten to the point where we're ready to wrap up our liveaboard sailing adventure. Part of the reason is certainly the appeal of being a part of young Max's life. Having three of our five grown kids - plus two spouses - around is certainly a draw as well.
But really, the most important realization was one that dawned on us slowly: after more than 10,000 miles and nearly three years of nonstop travel, we're tired of moving so much, and ready to put down some roots. Much as we love our beautiful Thalia and the freedom of our life aboard, we miss some of the continuity of life on land, including having a garden and a dog. Hence our interest in all these wonderful cities and towns we've visited, from St. Petersburg to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake.
We haven't yet decided where we'll land, but we're enjoying exploring that and will continue to do so this summer. Our next steps are to move Thalia from Wayfarer's Cove up to Annapolis, where we'll list her for sale with our friends and yacht brokers Stephen and Estelle. We'll put her on the market shortly, and will stay onboard as long as we need to - all summer and into the fall - in Annapolis, until we sell her to the next lucky blue water adventurers.