July 13th: We weighed anchor at 9:45 to head just over an hour away to Allans-Pensacola Cay. The crossing was rather “bouncy” with 15-17 knot winds over rather shallow waters, but it was a pretty straight shot, so we arrived no worse for wear. There were already two boats in the anchorage when we arrived, but there was plenty of room and the anchor set well. We again had fun snorkeling after we got the boat secured, seeing another barracuda. Apparently these fish look fierce, but if you leave them alone, they are rather relaxed. We lowered the dinghy in anticipation of exploring the area, but the weather was again uncooperative with windy conditions and storms that threatened, but just skirted where we were. The lightning storms that we have seen on several nights, including the night we crossed over from Florida, have been impressive, and luckily, not directly over us or delivering bad weather. We’re hoping that this “good” weather holds and no tropical storms or hurricanes decide to form or head this way.
We got up early on the 14th, enjoying iced coffee/tea on the deck watching the morning unfold. While Kathleen got breakfast ready, Neil practiced with the drone, taking some fun video and picture of our girl and the surrounding area. After a hearty veggie omelet breakfast, we packed up our dry bags, backpack and snorkeling bag into the dinghy for a fun adventure. We took the dinghy to a beach that was decorated with all kinds of items from past visitors, and a fairly well marked trail to the ocean side a short walk away. It was fun to see flipflops, hats, floats, and even plastic bins marking the trail, which we would never have been able to follow without these helpers. On the ocean side was the “signing” tree – where many people have left signs with their boat names and their names attached to the tree. There was also a giant hammock that Neil bravely tried out, and Kathleen executed a side plank that Neil memorialized with a picture to show that her shoulder and she are really doing great.
Back on the cay side, we saw a sea turtle and a young nurse shark as we were wading in the shallow waters of the beach. We snorkeled around the area for a awhile, not seeing a lot of life (except for a blue tang, which was unexpected and fun), but a good swim. We got back in the dinghy and cruised the area, crossing an inlet from the ocean, and stopped at Umbrella Cay for another swim. We unintentionally disturbed about 20 cormorants that were upset at us for busting in on their tree time – but they eventually came back. We encountered another barracuda, this one seeming a bit more curious about us, swimming parallel to us and basically checking us out. Neil got some great video and pictures with the GoPro, and we enjoyed just relaxing in the calm water, they only humans on the beach. We got back to Granuaile about 12:30, which was 3.5 hours of sun for these Irish-heritage folks, so we decided to have a break from our endeavours, lunching, napping, reading, and more relaxing, until we decided the day was too nice not to swim again. No barracuda this time, but lots of sand dollars, corral, small fish, one clam that was just on the ocean floor, but very much alive, and Kathleen is pretty sure she saw a starfish. All in all, a most excellent day. After rinsing off, we looked at the day’s films and enjoyed some leftovers. Given the sun and swimming, it’s a safe bet that tonight may be an early one, although we’d like to check out the stars again.
We left Allans-Pensacola Cay on the morning of the 15th at 10:00 am to cruise to Manjack Cay, arriving at 1:15. This beautiful gem of a cay is breathtaking. Our friends, Christine and Joe Cook had met a couple that have lived on the Nunjack Bluff overlooking the Cay for the past 30 years, and recommended that we reach out to them. Bill and Leslie are wonderful people who have created a paradise that they willingly and lovingly share with all cruising visitors who drop anchor there. After speaking with them upon arrival and making plans for cocktails later in the evening, Bill recommended that we take a path from their beach across the island to the ocean side. The water is crystal clear and so inviting. After Kathleen volunteered to swim out to check that the anchor was well buried, we got the boat settled in, dropped the dinghy and headed to the beach. We made some rookie mistakes, namely anchoring bow-in, not setting a stern anchor, and not accounting for longer than anticipated time away from the dinghy on an ebbing tide. We headed out on a trail to the Atlantic side, which was about a 20 minute walk. Coming over the final rise, hearing the ocean before seeing it, was amazing. We quickly got down to our swimsuits and put on our snorkeling gear and kicked out to a small reef about 20 yards or so from the beach. It was a beautiful, underwater garden, with fans and ferns, all kinds of coral, and lots of tropical fish. Neil was in charge of the GoPro and got some great video. We ended up staying in the water for about an hour, only coming in when we both realized we were getting more tired than we should.
After toweling off and re-gearing for the hike back, we took what we thought was a different trail back that Bill had recommended. Our multiple backtrackings and ending up where we didn’t mean to be made for a much longer trek back. We did spy lots of hermit crabs on the inland area, as well as seeing some disconcerting large holes dug by something. Neil finally spied that something – a gray, nearly-two foot wide by 8-9” tall something – either a spider from Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest (who know they might be real?) or a gray mutant crab the likes of which we had never seen before. When we came upon another one, we were (somewhat) relieved to see that it was some large land crab and not a spider. Either way, we gave him all the room he wanted.
We finally made it back to our original beach (we ended up going back to the ocean beach and just taking the same trail back), only to find our 1000 lb dinghy firmly beached as the tide had gone out. We were both really drained. Neil tried contacting Bill, but he wasn’t near his phone. The next high tide was six hours away, at midnight. We knew we could probably bum a ride out to our boat from Bill and Leslie, and just hung out on this island-perfect beach waiting for their return. In no time, Bill appeared on his ATV to introduce himself. When he saw the pickle we were in, he chuckled, and said, “No problem, I have a tool for that” and reminded us of the Bahamian way – “when the back starts to hurt, use the brain”. He went back to his compound, returning with with a 6 foot long piece of 6” dia PVC pipe, and his wife Leslie. After introductions were made, we successfully got the dinghy turned bow into the water, placed the PVC pipe under the hull, and were able to push/pull the dinghy into the water. Lesson learned, and we hopefully will not do that again. We scooted back to our boat, took our first real shower in many days, then went back to Bill and Leslie’s for some evening relaxation.
To say their home is remarkable is an understatement. Over the past 30 years, they have built a main house, which is fit for any paradise movie theme, with a guest home and a large gardening area. They are very self-sufficient, with solar power, tank for collecting rainwater, growing their own food, having had goats and chickens over the years. It is a thoroughly modern home, with wifi, state of the art kitchen, and amazing bathroom and bedroom suite with walls open to the outside. Sitting outside on the veranda, wild birds coming in to eat seeds Leslie has placed in bowls near us, we could see why they had chosen to build here. They are in the process of completing a second home that they hope to move into, further up the bluff, and plan to sell their current home once the new home is finished. They have endured several category five hurricanes, and numerous tropical storms – and have been perfectly safe and secure. Leslie gave us several cuttings from her vast garden, so our fresh herb supply was not only replenished but improved upon. Bill introduced us to a rum (Bahamian “Fire In De Hole”) , tonic and lime cocktail, which is probably our new favorite beverage. We somewhat reluctantly wandered back to the path to their dock to take our dinghy back to our boat, lead by moonlight (and Neil’s cell phone spotlight).
On the 16th, we explored with the dinghy, snorkeling at a cay that was known for rays and nurse sharks – of which we did not see any. We did see a really cool spiny lobster and a lot of tropical fish, as well as an (empty) conch shell that had the most beautiful pink-purple inner shell. We left it on the seabed for others to enjoy and fish to inhabit. From there, we dinghied out to the Atlantic, with Kathleen snorkeling among some rock/coral formations. Neil stayed with the dinghy, both out of abundance of caution and wanting to take a break. After exploring the reef, we cruised back through the inlet, and spotted a sea turtle and an nurse shark in the shallows. We turned off into a mangrove creek area that wound around behind the island. We saw at least thirty sea turtles – they were EVERYWHERE and so very cute. We decided to come back the next day on the kayak. Back on the boat, we relaxed, enjoyed another spectacular sunset, chatted with Bill as he passed by to check on his two sailboats in the waters near us. Venus has been flashing her very brilliant light every evening in the western sky, seeming to appear even before the sun has completely set. The moon is waxing and incredibly bright, which makes for fun shadows, but not as many stars to see. Oh well…
On the morning of the 17th, we got up a bit early, and after breakfast, deposited the kayak from the boat deck into the water, which was another learning experience. Once we got it into the water, we rafted it up to the dinghy and loaded ourselves in – our first attempt at doing this delicate maneuver – we’ll take the win that neither of us yelled or swore directly at the other one. Once we were settled in, we paddled off, to go see the turtles again. This was the first time Kathleen had been kayaking since January, and she may have over-estimated her shoulder strength and endurance by just a tad. Luckily, Neil was very understanding and encouraging. We did get to see dozens of turtles, who were quite curious about our kayak and came very close before flying away under the water when we would so much as look at them. We also saw two more nurse sharks, which was interesting as the water at times was less than a foot deep. They were way more frightened of us, and we just felt lucky to get to see them. About an hour and a half later we were back at the boat, and Kathleen was completely done in. We got the boat secured on the upper deck, and with Neil’s encouragement, Kath laid down and stayed that way until about four o’clock that evening. She’s beginning to think this excursion could turn into a really strength training mission.
After waiting out Tropical Storm Elsa (which passed to the west of us, luckily), we departed our dock at 2:00 pm on Friday, July 9th. We cruised down the ICW to the Ft. Pierce inlet, and traveled south on the Atlantic to about Palm Beach. Neil tried his hand at offshore fishing, snagging a large harvest of sea grass, and one beautiful blackfin tuna! We hung a left at Palm Beach and proceeded to cross the Gulf Stream, which was unfortunately rather close to Florida (like 11 miles off shore…), causing our speed to slow. Overall, however, it was a pleasant trip across, with less traffic than anticipated, except when Neil had to hail a Chinese fishing vessel to determine how to cross paths, with a freighter traveling in the opposite direction a mile or so beyond the fishing boat – good times.
The ocean got rolly about two hours from West End, but it settled down for the last few miles as we came into Old Bahamas Bay Marina the next morning around 9:30 am. It was a lovely day, the dock hands very helpful, and Kathleen was able to get us checked in with Immigration and Customs with no hassle (Click2Clear and Covid vaccines have made this a much simpler process). The only glitch we had encountered was in running the watermaker – we were getting a high salinity error, which is not good. We were able to top off our water tanks at the marina, and after checking possible problem points with no obvious resolution, Neil reached out to the technician we had contacted before, anticipating that we need a new membrane. We are hopeful that we can get a new one soon, but if not, we are luckily on the most beautiful water ever and living in bathing suits – so water needs are not as great, and can refill the tanks at marinas along the way.
We had dinner at the marina restaurant, which was lovely, and left early the next morning for Great Sale Cay, a 63 mile cruise. It was a pretty day on the water, with little traffic, and we arrived at the anchorage before 5pm, topping off the trip with our first jump in to the water here in the Bahamas. The water was soooo beautiful, teal blue and jump-in ready, providing our first sealife encounters – a very relaxed barracuda and our new favorite – stinger-less jellyfish! These pretty little creatures are gentle and as they don’t sting, really fun to swim with – quite the opposite of their cousins in the Chesapeake – it took Kathleen a minute to not scramble away when she first saw them. We can now enjoy their beauty and other-worldliness WITHOUT having a panic attack. The water is crystal clear and every shade of blue depending on depth and the bottom. We will definitely be spoiled for swimming in murky water in the future. The clouds rolled in and gave us an impressive display, with the worst of the storm just skirting by us. We enjoyed Jamaican blackened blackfin tuna for dinner, compliments of Neil’s fishing prowess on the way over from Florida! The night stars put on another spectacular show for free, and we had fun slapping the water to energize the biophosphorous life in the water. Their turquoise fluorescence is magical and so pretty.
We left the anchorage on the morning of July 12th at 7:30 to cruise to Fox Town anchorage, arriving just after noon. After some fun snorkeling, we had thought we’d go into town for dinner, as the restaurant is known for it’s amazing cracked conch. However, the weather had other plans, so we had cocktails on the “Lido Deck”, and a gourmet dinner of grilled canned-tuna and cheese sandwiches. We had a bit of a hiccup when the generator suddenly shut off, and Neil had some sweaty work diagnosing and fixing the problem – turned out to be a loose connection in the control circuit, took a while to find, in a very hot and sweaty engine room. The fun of boatlife never ceases… We had a stormy night with some high winds, but our anchor held.
Tomorrow the 13th we continue our Bahamas adventure and head to Allans-Pensacola Cay …
OK, maybe not entirely, but it is a good thing to remember – plans need to be fungible, because things like weather, boat systems and pandemics can disrupt the best laid schedule. So can getting injured. Although not completely unpredictable (Kathleen did find out that our friends in CO had bets going on when and what her first injury would be – sprained ankle/broken toe for the win!), we’ve definitely hit a larger snag. In January, while washing the boat, Kathleen slipped on the side deck stairs, grabbed the rail and dislocated her left shoulder (again – this is actually the fourth time it’s been dislocated in less than 15 years…). Just like all previous times, the shoulder went back into place on its own. After a visit to a doctor who said all that was needed was some rest and PT (yeah!), we were excited to only have to delay our departure to the Bahamas… until Saturday morning when Kathleen dislocated it again, this time requiring a visit to the ER. After finding an orthopedic surgeon, scheduling (and having to re-schedule) MRI’s and appointments, we finally found out that it’s kind of a bigger deal and Kathleen needs Remplissage surgery for a Hill-Sachs depression (just google it). We’re hoping surgery can happen in early April. If so, it’s three months of recovery and three months of rehab… so… no Bahamas, no New England…(heavy sigh).
We plan to stay here at Loggerhead Marina in Vero Beach until after the New Year 2022 but if weather cooperates in Sept – Nov we will cruise south to the Keys for a few weeks. Over Christmas/New Year we also hope to be able to get back to Colorado and (if the border opens) visit family in Vancouver.
It has not all been grim here however! Christmas on the boat for the first time was different, but nice. Kathleen decorated a small tree and hung lights on our windows, while playing Christmas carols on the guitar and on the radio. Kathleen was able to sneak a cross stitch of a phrase that we had seen earlier in the summer, and frame it as a gift for the boat. She also had a friend back in Colorado make a beautiful framed line drawing of our Granuaile that we really enjoy. Tracy is very talented, and if any of you would like something done like this (she does houses, cabins, etc), just let us know and we’ll get you connected.
Christmas was hard as it was the first time we had not been with any of our kids, but it was fun in that we zoom-called several times over Christmas Eve – Christmas Day, visiting with our kids and with Neil’s family. Katie, Mike and Meghan were all together in Vancouver, which was excellent, and Sean was safe in Denver with his puppies and best friend, Aren. It’s also been a very long time since Kathleen has had a warm Christmas, and the first one for Neil. We both prefer colder weather for the holidays, but we agreed it was unique to be wearing shorts on Christmas day!
New Year’s Eve was also rather subdued, but we had a nice dinner with our dockmates, Christine and Joe. Kathleen went Mexican with the cooking, and we capped off the evening with sparklers, courtesy of dockmates Doug and Suzanne. OK, so it might have been 10:00 pm, but it was New Year’s somewhere…
Before the shoulder incident, we bought a two person kayak. It is a lot of fun to use, and slips through the water so easily. Neil has had more practice with it than Kathleen, but we should be able to get another ride in before too long. Our friends, Paul and Shannon, fellow Canadians who were with us here in Vero until a few weeks ago to head to the Bahamas, gave us lots of tips, pointers, and places to go once we finally do get to cross over. One of the simplest, yet coolest contraptions that they recommended is a breeze booster, which attaches to your port hole or hatch to direct cooling breezes into the boat – absolutely essential in the warm Carribean (but not as useful here in Vero where we are constantly bombarded by no-see-ums, tiny biting evil minions that seem to come out just as the wind dies down…). We once again realized how unique and lovely the boating community is, with everyone so willing to help out – whether it’s with handling dock lines, friendly chats, information and hints for travel, or just a friendly wave. This transient life can be tough when being far from family, and this community is an amazing group.
We’ve been keeping busy with trips to the beach and pool (ok, not busy, but fun), Kathleen doing what she can to stay fit (doctor approved), knitting, writing, playing guitar, and binge watching various series (currently watching Homeland!), and Neil working on the “boat to-do list” of things to look at, fix, adjust, replace. So far have replaced the exhaust mixing elbow and impeller on the wing engine, repaired the pilothouse aircon compressor (blown capacitors), re-caulked a number of items on the boat deck and pilothouse roof (need a good rain storm or two to confirm fix for a water leak into the engine room!), main engine and transmission oil and filters change, dinghy motor annual maintenance, repaired a seized spotlight, and staying on top of the myriad of preventive maintenance tasks tracked with our Wheelhouse maintenance management app … And Neil took a diesel engine/generator maintenance course offered via Zoom by manufacturer Northern Lights. The learning never stops.
We have been exploring beaches in the area, enjoying the nice milder weather while we have it, and mostly watching the Atlantic rather than swimming in it (every day so far has been a “red flag” day, which is a no swimming day especially if you have an injured limb). We have seen the return of Portuguese Man O’War jellyfish on the beaches – very pretty, but very painful – we give them wide berth when we see them on the beach, as even dead ones can still sting.
We have taken the boat out twice, once with Christine and Joe along when we went into the ocean from Ft. Pierce to test various systems, and once just the two of us for a four hour jaunt on the ICW to exercise the engines and just have a fun day. We have also been on a few dinghy rides (including a breakfast picnic to celebrate our anniversary on March 6th!). There are a lot of really pretty areas to explore here on the Indian River, as long as you have a shallow draft (like the dinghy!). We’ve seen our share of manatees, dolphins (including mamas teaching their babies to fish), pink flamingos, turtles, rays, juvenile sharks, pelicans and so many nesting ospreys. The wildlife here is amazing and abundant (although we do not go exploring loud splashes near the mangrove lines on wild islands – we still have a healthy respect/fear of bothering alligators).
After figuring out that our cruising season was not going as planned this year, we decided to buy a car, as we need one for necessary shopping runs and also to be able to explore more of Florida. We are now once again proud (?) owners of a car – a Mini Cooper, which is a lot of fun to use to run around the area. Most recently, we drove over to the Gulf side of Florida, visiting Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Although the traffic on the islands can be insane (we quickly learned the value of getting to the beach no later than 9:00 if we wanted a parking space), the beaches are beautiful, the water refreshing and gentle, and the sun toasty warm. We had hours on the beach, swimming in the water, and just relaxing. We had a couple of wonderful evenings enjoying local seafood and beverages. It was great to be able to sit by the water and watch the sunset, with local flavor around us (OK, the Karaoke bar was a bit much, but still…). Best of all, we definitely used sunscreen judiciously, and no one ended up sunburned.
The days are already starting to turn very warm and the humidity is rapidly rising. It’s funny that Spring hasn’t even started yet, but February and March are definitely two of the most beautiful months in Florida. Staying here through the summer will be a new “experience”, and we are very thankful for aircon on the boat. Still, living on our wonderful floating home, in a very secure “hurricane hole” marina is not a bad way to spend our time. As our cross stitched frame hanging in the galley reminds us, Home is Where the Anchor Drops. Or in our case for now, where our lines are tied. The adventure continues.
We left the Albemarle Plantation marina on November 3rd, Election Day. We were a couple of the very few who were so lucky to be out of touch of the media frenzy of the day, having neither reliable cell coverage nor internet access. It was hard at first for Kathleen to adjust, but it was such a blessing.
We cruised out the narrow channel from the Albemarle Plantation, navigating some stiff winds getting out of the slip, and then enjoying our cruise across the Sound and returning to the Alligator River and through its swing bridge to anchor for the night. The anchorage at the south end of the Alligator River was so blissfully quiet and after an easy dinner, and breath-taking sunset, we went to the upper deck to marvel at the night sky, uninhibited by ambient light, EXCEPT for the blazing (nearly) full moon. Sitting there in awe of the vastness above us, we tried to take it all in.
Wednesday dawned with clear skies and calm waters – perfect, in our minds! It was also our daughter Katie’s birthday, so we were hoping to reclaim a couple of bars for cell coverage during the day so we could talk with her. The Alligator-Pungo Canal is lush with flora and fauna, and is also NARROW. There was light traffic (thankfully) and we saw several deer gamboling along the shore as we passed by – we even saw two swim across the canal in front of us! Kathleen originally thought they were just some floating wood, as only their heads and small antlers were visible – but Neil caught their movement and we both got a wonderful surprise watching them cross. The other deer on the banks seemed to be playing tag with each other, seemingly oblivious that we were slowly cruising by.
We anchored on the Pungo River near the same place we had dropped anchor during our journey north, just off of the ICW. It was another calm, peaceful evening, and we did get cell service, so we were able to talk with family and sing Happy Birthday to our newly-minted 24 year old.
Thursday morning we departed just before 8am under brisk, partly cloudy skies (which provided a unique and powerful sunrise). As we continued down the ICW, we passed iconic places (like the dock where professional fishing trawlers dock, with a structure advertising “Fuel and Seafood”) It looked like a fun place to explore, but we had a long way to go that day, so we decided not to stop.
Anchoring again in Broad Creek, NC was like coming home. It is still one of our favorite places to anchor, and this time it was even quieter. We nestled in just off the main channel and tucked in for the evening, nicely protected from the worst effects of winds blowing that evening.
We were up and going early on the 6th, wanting to travel our 30 miles with a higher tide. Kathleen was VERY excited to see dolphins again surfing our bow wave! We were even hailed by other boats that saw them swimming – they seemed to lift everyone’s spirits.
Navigating the waterway to the Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort was tricky, including negotiating a passing barge and tug through the narrow waterway approaching the bridge before the entry to the marina, confusing directional buoys that required careful review and observation to be sure we stayed on the right path and in deep enough water. Finally, actually turning into the marina entrance was befuddling, as none of our maps nor our marina directions completely matched what we were supposed to be doing. We avoided grounding, and carefully wound our way in, having to blow our horn twice at two men in peddle kayaks blissfully ignoring our 50 ft trawler approaching them with no room for us to move. They did finally get the hint and scooched out of the way enough, but it did make us both wonder about their thoughts as we approached.
We went directly to the fuel dock to pump out our holding tank, and while there were given three different slip assignments (not at the same time, just the dock master and crew trying to figure out where to put us – and yes, we had a reservation with info about our boat etc) – with so many people journeying down the ICW, planning for incoming reservations and helping departing boats would be a master’s class in Jenga/Tetris. We did finally get secured at a great slip, with winds blowing and no bumping on our way in. It was nice to be back at this marina again, and we took advantage of a marina loaner car to make a grocery run to stock up on supplies. We were beginning to feel that having a car for grocery shopping was a luxury – something we had never considered when we lived on land and had 3 cars.
Before we cast off the next morning, we encountered a beautiful white egret (or possibly crane – we’re not really sure) picking her way among the mud flats at low tide. These birds are graceful and delicate, despite their height. It is always soothing to just watch them as they make there way through muddy shores with quiet confidence and silent moves.
The weather was not cooperating for an offshore run down to Southport, NC where we had scheduled a visit to the Zimmerman Yard at Holden Beach to address a few issues on our fix-it list. Plus Neil was concerned about a seawater leak in the wing engine’s packing gland that developed during yesterday’s cruise. His efforts to stem the flow of water had failed so we cruised south on the ICW, on routes that we had not experienced on the way north in June. It was a glorious sunny day, and we enjoyed the views, if not the continued challenges of navigating shoaling and boats at various speeds and sizes. We also saw evidence of the hurricane from this past summer, with partially submerged craft and damaged docks regularly interspersed along our journey. The scenery continued to take our breath away, with miles of wilderness occasionally broken up by homes or small marinas.
We turned off the ICW to anchor at Mile Hammock Bay anchorage near Camp LeJeune, NC. There were already several boats anchored in the bay, but our information indicated that it could hold a lot of boats. We spent the next 1.5 hours trying to anchor in a good holding while maintaining safe swing distance from other boats. EIGHT attempts. Good times. On our eighth drop, we did finally hold, and just hoped that the weather predictions for wind strength and direction were correct. It’s not the most peaceful or confident way to anchor, but we were out of sunlight and places to go. We sat out in the cockpit to enjoy the sunset. A couple came by in their dinghy to offer some leftover Halloween candy – and although a lovely gesture, we declined. We guessed they didn’t get many trick-or-treaters…
Our departure the next morning, Nov 8th, was timed for high tide so we had lots of water under the keel when negotiating the many shoal areas on the ICW. We knew it wasn’t advisable to travel on the ICW on weekends, but we really had no choice, so once more into the void on this Sunday morning. We were cruising to Wrightsville Beach, NC.
We anchored at Wrightsville Beach this time in a quieter area, with much less traffic. Wrightsville is a busy, fun place and we enjoyed another relaxing time in the cockpit, watching the sunset and various sailors learning to maneuver around a crowded anchorage.
We raised anchor on the 9th and began cruising just before 9am, again heading out onto the ICW, to journey to Zimmerman Marine at Holden Beach. We had traveled these waters when we came up in June, and this time they seemed less treacherous – amazing what five months of active cruising can do for one’s self-confidence. We saw our dolphins again, and kept watch for shoaling until we reached the Cape Fear River and its deep channel.
As we turned off of the Cape Fear River and back onto the ICW at Southport, NC, the sun broke through. It was great to be back here again, but it was sad to see the destruction from when Isaias had come ashore here in August. It was a full hurricane at the time, and unleashed its fury on exposed marinas, boats and docks.
At Zimmerman Marine in Holden Beach, the winds and the current were very stiff, pushing us off the dock as we came in for a stern tie. We had help with the lines and got secured quickly. This marina is a working yard, and as we quickly surmised, not really near any town – which in these days of Covid is actually a really good thing.
Over the next couple days, we had work done on the boat:
Rebed a boat deck railing’s stanchions
Fixed the wing engine stuffing box seawater leak,
Adjusted the wing engine throttle control and cable to eliminate a sticking throttle issue
Serviced the 12V alternator on the main engine to address the intermittent operation issue, we hope
And scoped the work required to install a Siren Marine boat monitoring system. Will allow us to monitor key systems via cellphone when we are away from the boat: boat location, shore power status, battery banks, bilge high water alarm, bilge pump operation, lazarette hatch door. The plan was to cruise down to Zimmerman’s Charleston yard for the installation. A visit to Charleston was on our wish list anyway.
We did attempt a haul out which would have allowed us to inspect/replace hull zincs that the previous diver was unable to replace and fully service the wing engine stuffing box, but once we had maneuvered into the slings, we determined that the marina’s lift straps were too short for our boat – so we got even more experience navigating out of, into, and out of slips again in high current and wind. We tested our thrusters to their limits with these moves, and were very grateful that we have them. We were happy to find two fish markets on the docks a short walk away. We indulged in sea scallops, clams, and hogfish snapper (which is neither a hog nor a snapper, but is amazingly great tasting fish).
With only a slight delay due to rain (left over from hurricane Eta hitting the gulf), we were able to leave on the 15th, again unable to go “on the outside” (aka on the ocean) due to uncertain weather, high winds, and waves due to that latest hurricane. So we once again sallied forth into the ICW, charting a three-day voyage to Charleston, SC, after an inspiring sunrise. The cruise was more of the same – beautiful wilderness, lots of shoaling, interesting and pretty homes along the way. We did see something for the first time – apparently land based casinos are not legal in South Carolina but are allowed on ships – we cruised past the only two ship casinos in SC.
We anchored in Bull Creek anchorage, where Kathleen “learned” how to try to anchor in a fast current and narrow channel. It took a few times, but anchor was set, and we relaxed to take in the incredible beauty of the South Carolina countryside. This was a peaceful little creek, another rare gem. The trees grew right down to the water, and so dense that you can’t see anything through them. We again sat outside after sunset to appreciate our private concert of evening stars. We could see the Milky Way, and really had a hard time picking out constellations because of the myriad of twinkling lights. We wish there was some way to capture these moments, but they do take our breaths away.
We were up before sunrise the next morning, and while enjoying tea and coffee, we heard so many animal cries and sounds – when we thought we had heard an infant crying, Kathleen remembered hearing a similar sound in our backyard in Colorado and that it was most likely a fox, not an abandoned child.
Another peaceful, calm and beautiful morning for our continued journey let our Monday departure begin on an upbeat! It was a sunny, cool day, with again, lots of shoaling and obscure tracks to avoid grounding – with swirls and crosscurrents from inlets and side rivers adding to the fun. We have learned a lot about successfully steering this big girl through the ICW. Around noon, Neil surmised that we should anchor sooner than planned, as the tide was approaching a low point and we had some shallower waters to navigate. We pulled off the ICW onto a creek that led to the ocean, Five Fathom Creek (which was nowhere near five fathoms, but was deep enough for us). Kathleen again worked to get the boat oriented properly for an anchor drop in swift-ish current and a narrow creek – with much better success this time (she did cheat using the thrusters, with absolutely no apologies).
This was the first time we had anchored in this type of environ – salt marshes, close to the ocean, with not much traffic other than watching larger fishing boats coming home at sunset and setting out before sunrise the next morning. Anchoring here would allow us to leave the following morning during high tide.
We left Five Fathom around 9:00 in the morning on the 17th. This turned out to be an EXCELLENT idea, as between high tide and rain runoff from recent storms gave us a lot of water under our keel. There were still several areas requiring very close attention (due to shoaling – never-ending around here apparently). We had the current behind us, so we were making good time – this was a plus and minus. Plus in that we had lots of water over charted shallow areas, which made navigation much easier. Minus because we needed to arrive at Charleston Harbor Marina at slack tide, which was not until late afternoon.
We turned off the ICW onto Charleston Harbor, and we were back in a very busy international harbor with dredgers, freighters, tugs and barges, large and small boats, motor and sail. The entrance is stunning, with a beautiful bridge spanning the water. We had time to kill (like 2.5 hours), so we slowed even further down and just cruised around the area, went under the bridge, and got very close to a couple freighters loading containers. They are even more impressive up close, and we are left wondering exactly how they do move through the water – looking at the same time like lumbering buildings and fragile boats laden with stacked piles of cargo containers on the deck (with the hold completely filled down below).
After cruising around the bay and confirming with the marina that we were indeed at slack tide, Neil skillfully steered our girl through a few tricky turns and then into our slip. Kathleen called out directional instructions and handed lines to dock help, and we were secured with no mishaps.
This marina was beautiful, and the help was wonderful. There were many egrets, cranes, and kingfishers here. It is also a resort, so there are amenities that we can use if we choose. On our first night here, we went to the Bridge Bar – an outdoor bar with a stunning sunset view, where we toasted our arrival at a safe distance from others with a bartender mixing excellent beverages. It was a very nice first night.
On Tuesday, the 18th, Neil met with the Zimmerman Marine team to start installation of the Siren Marine monitoring system. This system will allow us to monitor several of the boat systems remotely (if we ever get to travel away from the boat again, that is.) We also planned to have the boat hauled to have the wing engine stuffing box re-packed, hull zincs replaced and to have some work done on a seacock located in the lazarette.
Granuaile needed a serious bath – desperately – however it was a bit chilly as yet with wind, so we kept putting it off. In the meantime, Kathleen got caught up with blog drafts, and Neil worked on one of our spotlights mounted on the stack. There were worse ways to pass the time in a lovely place. The next day we got Granuaile scrubbed and polished, and waxed the superstructure (not a favorite job, but she looked very pretty when done). We took a few walks to the grocery store that wasn’t very far away, enjoying the sites around the marina, including a memorial park, the Cold War Submarine Memorial.
One of our dear friends lives in Charleston, and works for the historical society. Unfortunately, with Covid we all decided it was a better idea to miss seeing each other (and having an amazing tour guide) this trip just to keep everyone safe. Hopefully, we will be back again next year and we will be able to get together.
We did take an Uber to Charleston from the marina and spent a great day walking around the old city, marvelling at the homes south of Broad St (true mansions with impeccably sculptured yards), the historical buildings (including old churches from the 1600’s with cemeteries to explore) and an original Slave Market that has been turned into a museum honoring the African Americans that were brought here in bondage and the history of their lives here.
After walking up King Street with its high end shops (rather like a Rodeo Drive of the South), we had a nice dinner and headed back to our boat.
The boatyard was not able to haul Granuaile for the needed work as Zimmerman Marine announced at the last minute that they had to isolate their crews due to possible contact with someone with Covid. As none of the work was really in need of immediate attention, we checked the weather and saw that we’d have a good window for going out on the Atlantic, leaving Thanksgiving day with arrival in Ft. Pierce FL on Saturday afternoon. We spent our remaining time securing the boat and making sure we were prepared for a run on the “outside”. We celebrated Thanksgiving a day early, complete with turkey (breast), sweet potato souffle, asparagus, cranberries, gravy, stuffing, and key lime pie. Who says you have to scrimp while living on a boat?
We departed the marina around noon, knowing that the first part of our journey might be a bit rough. The weather was sunny and warm with light winds. Once we got out of the harbor and into the ocean, we had 3-4 foot seas with about a six second period – this means it was a bit rocky, but nowhere near as bad as our cruise north in June. With Scopolamine patches secured to our necks behind our ears, we were set to brave the seas.
The sun set rather early, but was spectacular with light clouds giving a dramatic effect. Kathleen got some pictures of the sun appearing to set into the sea. The first night was uneventful (which was great) and the seas calmed down to gentle rolls as opposed to stiffer waves. We had a full moon which lit up the sky and the ocean beautifully (and Kathleen got a picture of that too). The sunrise was breathtaking – watching the sky slowly lighten, almost imperceptibly, until the dramatic colorful staining of the eastern sky – it’s hard to find the words to describe this event.
Friday was a gorgeous day, again with little happening – occasionally ships would appear on radar, but we rarely saw any other boats. It was peaceful and serene and lovely. And the water was nearly calm. The night shift brought us down past St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral. Kathleen was a little spooked by the 10+ freighters at anchor waiting to enter the shipping lane and port as we had to cruise between the ships and the port – Kathleen said a few prayers that none of the ships decided to start moving. Only one ship was actually moving, and we were never near each other.
Neil had a fun experience during his shift – he was hailed by another sailboat at ~1am asking if we were turning into the Canaveral channel, as he was going there. Neil told him we were headed further down the coast. The sailboat captain then pointed out a tug and barge that was brightly lit – and carrying the SpaceX booster that was returning after a recent launch. Kathleen was deeply asleep at this time, but she believes Neil’s recounting…
We had favorable currents cruising down the Florida coast, and arrived at Ft. Pierce with time to kill as we wanted to enter the inlet at slack tide (or as near to that as possible). We have learned (the hard way) that waiting for slack tide is very preferable to just running an inlet when there is a strong ebb current – ocean and river water colliding in a narrow inlet with rock breakwater walls on either side makes for an “exciting” transit. After making a very lazy figure eight – and dodging various boats also trying to enter at slack tide – we followed a parade of boats (including one sailboat being towed) into the Ft. Pierce inlet. We had already decided to anchor at the Harbor Isle anchorage for two nights to relax (and we were not expected by our Vero Beach marina until the 30th!). As we were turning into the anchorage, we were hailed on the VHF by our friends Clark and Michelle on the Nordhavn 55 Roam. We had last seen them in Annapolis earlier in the summer, and they were docked at the Ft. Pierce City Marina near us. They invited us to swing by in the dinghy once we had rested up.
Kathleen was very excited to see dolphins around us again, fishing and playing where we were anchored. After securing the boat for the anchorage, we ate and pretty much collapsed early!
The next day we lowered the dinghy and went exploring, ending up over by Clark and Michelle, and spent an hour or so catching up with them. As Clark was laboring washing the boat, he didn’t seem to mind the interruption. We also saw Gale from Nordhavn 57 WorkKnot, whom we had last seen when we were traveling north, passing him at the Atlantic Yacht Basin marina on our way to Norfolk. We joked with him that we had just missed him several times on our journey north and south, and it was good to catch up.
Back on our boat, we rested up, had dinner, and planned to leave the next morning for the last leg of our nearly six month journey.
Monday Nov 30th dawned sunny, but we knew the weather was forecasted to change, so we wanted to get on our way. Departure was a lot faster than we had anticipated (the anchor was not caked with gunky mud…) and so the extra time we had built in to get to the Ft. Pierce North Bridge was a bit too much time. Neil spent nearly 30 minutes circling in a turning basin in increasingly windy conditions, with the tide swirling the waters where we were. We did receive a hail while we were waiting – our friends Mark and Susan from Tropic Jones who had been docked next to us in Vero Beach when we had left in June were headed south and to the gulf shore. We were sad that we would miss them, but it was great to hear from them.
After clearing the bridge, the trip north was relatively uneventful (except for the refresher course on how narrow the ICW is in this part of Florida and that there are incredibly rude boaters everywhere). The rains started about 30 minutes before we turned into our marina. Kathleen got the lines and fenders secured, and as we turned home, a dolphin swam up to our bow and guided us back to our slip. (OK, maybe he didn’t know which slip was ours, but he did swim with us the whole way to our dock). Friends waited for us on the dock to help us tie up, and although we hadn’t been here long before we started our summer journey, it felt like we were being welcomed home.
The weather was unusually cold for the next few days, which made scrubbing the boat a “challenge”, but we got her all cleaned up and de-salted. We also got to see our local dolphins playing, as well as a rare appearance from a manatee who popped up to say hello and let us take some pictures and video before quietly slipping away.
We will spend the next few months preparing for our next adventure, which we hope will be a journey to the Bahamas at the end of February for two to three months. We have no plans to travel for the holidays, so Christmas will be a new experience here on the boat. Hopefully by this time next year, 2020 and its pandemic and politics will be a distant memory, and we can be planning to see family and friends. For now, we are grateful for the friends we have here, who share this cruising lifestyle with us and make us all feel that we are part of a big family. We have no plans to go anywhere, but plan to learn how to use our drone/camera that we decided would be a great Christmas gift to ourselves this year. Bikes are in our future, and hopefully some visits to the beach. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.
We left Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD on October 13th around 8:30 am. The weather looked gloomy with very low hanging clouds. After we got further underway, we realized we were heading into fog, which is something we had not tried our hand at just yet. Another learning experience! We had pretty good visibility, and with our running lights on and all of our navigational electronics working, we proceeded cautiously.
The fog lifted after a couple of hours, and we actually had a nice cruise down to our next anchorage. We went south on the Bay, then hung a right on the Potomac. Very quickly we made another right onto St. Mary’s river, and cruised up to the Horseshoe anchorage, winding our way for a few miles before dropping anchor in a lovely, protected and deep cove. After getting the anchor set, we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and another spectacular sunset. The water was calm, and this area, although having homes along the shore, seemed remote and quiet.
The next morning we launched the dinghy and took a water tour of the environs before heading over to St. Mary’s College and Historic St. Marys City. St. Mary’s College has a great history in its own right, and they have a world-class collegiate sailing team. It is a public, liberal arts honor college established in 1840, originally known as St. Mary’s Female Seminar. The campus was quiet (Covid), but so very pretty to walk through. We then toured the remains of St. Mary’s City – the first colony and the first capital of Maryland. Originally established by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore of England, it was an experiment in religious tolerance (A Protestant King allowed Calvert to have a colony that would not persecute followers of other religions than the Church of England, most notably Catholics). This mandate was unprecedented at the time, as England had been wracked by religious conflict for centuries.
The town was thriving but small in the 1600’s to early 1700’s, but when the capital was moved to Annapolis, there was no more need for the town – it wasn’t a big agricultural spot and it basically existed to conduct state business. Several years ago, a restoration/archeological dig began and it is now an 800 acre living history museum – kinda like Williamsburg, but less commercial and quieter. There is a replica of the ship that brought the original settlers to the area in the harbor. As there were not many people here, we had the pleasure of having basically private tours around the area and the Dove, the ship replica. We discovered during our tour that the boat we had seen being built at the Marine Museum in St. Michaels is being constructed to replace the current Dove that we were standing on! The new replica will more closely follow the original Dove designs and will have modern updates to protect from worm rot and other problems. The original Dove was lost at sea during its return to England, so assumptions are being made on the actual structure, helped by archeological studies that have uncovered drawings and plans of similar boats of the time. We were both in awe of the intrepid nature of the colonists – these ships are not large and they would journey for several months, without really knowing how their journey would end, or how they might survive. These colonists had great leaders, with contacts with the local native tribes. So instead of making huge blunders and getting slaughtered, they did live peacefully with each other for many years. Of course, eventually, that ended, but at least they started well.
Other than Neil’s back still nagging him, it was a perfect day – beautiful, fun and full of history – something we both love. After observing an oyster nursery in the college’s marina, we returned to our boat, securing the dinghy and preparing to depart early the next morning.
Oct 15th: Our next leg signaled our return to Virginia. After leaving the Potomac and cruising south, we turned into the Piankatank River, navigating a bridge and a winding waterway to anchor at Berkley Island, a shallow but protected spot. The winds were coming up and we were expecting a storm, so we were happy to have a well protected anchorage.
Berkley Island is a natural spot, hosting a church summer camp, but quiet now. We saw a lot of fishermen, and quickly realized that Saturday, October 17th was the opening day of hunting season – that or there were gun crazed folks shooting off rifles in the early morning… Although the water was too cool now to swim in, we did enjoy milder days as we moved south. We took a couple of days here to rest and relax and just enjoy the wilderness around us as Fall brought crisper mornings and changing leaves.
As we got ready to raise anchor on the morning of October 18th, we were treated to the magical appearance of morning mists on the water. That coupled with literally no wind created a quiet smooth exit for us as we began our cruise down the Chesapeake Bay to Bluewater Yachting Center Marina in Hampton, VA.
Although we felt a bit like we were returning to an area we “knew”, we had actually only seen Hampton, VA from land (when we toured around in July while staying at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth). It was much different coming in from the Bay. The winds were 10-15 knots but with lots of cross currents. By the time we were rounding Old Point Comfort, the wind was very “brisk” with a lot of smaller sailboats criss-crossing in front of us. We approached the Hampton River entrance to the marina and could not reach the harbormaster with our VHF radio. Kathleen called on her cellphone to get our slip assignment and directions to pump out.
We overshot the pump out station, and Neil pulled a u-turn in the middle of busy Sunset Creek in front of the marina. Once we got turned around and to the pump out dock, we got permission to dock at a slip close to where we were at that time, which was really great. We did need to tie up stern in, and with the breeze proved challenging, but we did it. Kathleen even secured a bow line onto a piling with no mishaps and no boat scrapes, so success all around.
While getting settled in – hooking up power, adjusting lines, etc, we caught up with another couple that we had known briefly back at Grand Harbor Marina in Vero, Travis and Kathy. It was great to see familiar faces and to hear about their summer. Neil got us secured with the harbor master and we relaxed for the evening.
We ventured forth the next day to replenish our groceries, rolling tote in hand. On the walk back, we gratefully accepted a ride from Travis who was passing by. Boat people are the best.
We left two days later (Oct 20) around 9:00. Once we exited the Hampton River and started south into the Elizabeth River, we were quickly shrouded by HEAVY fog – less than .25 miles visibility. Adding to the excitement, we were going to be crossing a major shipping channel. We relied on AIS, radar and VHF to help us across, along with running lights, and a couple of trips to the Portuguese bridge by Kathleen to scan the water with binoculars and listen while Neil steered us across.
As we were almost across, Kathleen heard either a helicopter or a freighter – thankfully, it was a helicopter and we were nearing the huge Naval Station Norfolk shipyard. Just as we approached, the fog started lifting, so we were treated to cruising by FIVE aircraft carriers and many other Navy ships. A tug/barge had slipped in behind us, so we were observant of where that captain was going. To add to the “fun”, a freighter was coming towards us. Thankfully, the waterway there is necessarily deep and wide. The freighter seemed close to us, but he probably hardly noticed us as he confidently piloted his vessel to a pier for lading. Once past this area, we cruised by Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, where we had spent July. Moving beyond it, we turned onto the Elizabeth River, and the myriad of bridges that we needed to pass through. There were MANY more cruisers and sailors on the ICW this time than when we had come up in June. It was odd to be part of this annual migration to warmer climes, but mostly we spent our time adjusting to the various speeds and sizes of vessels on the water, while navigating the narrow and curvy waterway.
As we neared the Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina, we once again traveled through a lock, the Great Bridge Lock. We were stopped and waiting for the on-coming traffic to exit the lock first – that on-coming traffic was another tug and barge, with the captain very skillfully steering both through a narrow passage as boaters did their best to pull as far off to the banks as possible without grounding their vessels. To give some perspective, imagine a tractor trailer driving down the center of a two lane rural road with various size vehicles on either side.
Once through the lock, we needed to pass under a bascule (draw) bridge. Suddenly the boats in front of us slowed way down, leaving us in the precarious position of directly under the (open) bridge – which needed to close. Neil carefully edged to the left of the traffic jam, about 8 boats long. Unfortunately, coming the other way was ANOTHER tug and barge. Luckily there was enough room for the barge to pass us without any problems.
AYB marina is right on the ICW, with facing docks for transients like us. Kathleen was again having problems hailing the marina on our VHF radios, so we once again used the cell phone. We were given a facing dock slip assignment, but there were no dock hands available. So teamwork again prevailed as Neil edged the boat into our spot and Kathleen got on the dock and secured lines. About 10 minutes after we were docked, and feeling pretty good for having done it “solo”, the dock hands arrived and moved us closer to the boat in front of us, they really pack boats in on this dock especially at this time of year as so many people are moving south.
Kathleen was bummed that we were back in hot and humid weather – she had really been enjoying those cooler days and not sweating.
The next morning (Oct 21) we cast off from the dock at 9:00, trying to get ahead of the masses coming down the ICW behind us. Our next destination was the Coinjock Marina where we had docked on our journey north five months ago. There was traffic, bridges and barges, as well as winding waterways and still problems with our VHF radios. Kathleen added to the “fun” when she had a complete brain-fart and lapsed into thinking a day marker that was supposed to be on port should actually be on our starboard. Luckily Neil (and Kathleen) noticed this lapse before grounding our girl, and we were able to rapidly stop and go into reverse while getting back INTO the ICW. Did we mention that this happened as a larger cruiser was asking to pass us? Good times. Count on Kathleen to add excitement to a day’s cruising…. Neil had “fun” trying to navigate ANOTHER tug/barge coming towards us in Coinjock Bay. We had ONE FOOT of water under our keel while passing – the tug captain relayed he had the same. We kinda think it might be time to dredge this section of the ICW…
We noticed that the 12V alternator on the main engine was not charging our house battery bank. This meant the battery bank state of charge was dropping as the hours passed by during our cruise. When we got to Coinjock, our VHF radios again were on the fritz, so we used our handheld radios to communicate with the marina. Again, Neil had to pull a u-turn to get on the facing dock, and we had several professional hands helping us get tied up. Once secured, Kathleen did some research on the VHF radio problem, and learned that being able to hear others (which we were) but unable to send clear messages (which was also us) was usually caused by power problems – like a DC voltage drop due to an alternator not charging our house batteries while we were underway. We confirmed this by checking the radio with a neighbor once we had shore power on – and the radio worked fine.
The next morning (Oct 22) we cast off again, knowing that in the worst case scenario, we could run our generator to power the electronics and charge the batteries – and we had cell phones and handheld radios as back ups. The alternator was again functioning correctly and the VHF radios were working like a charm. Should be fun troubleshooting this intermittent alternator issue! There was fog when we first departed, but it lifted very quickly. Kathleen marveled at the beauty of the spiderwebs built overnight on the dock, heavy with dew and glistening in the morning light. Luckily, she did not spy any spiders….
We followed south many of the same boats we had been with for the last two days, both sailboats and powerboats. Neil drove us down the ICW, dealing with hairpin turns with local fishermen in dinghies close to day markers and again, boats of various speeds and abilities on very narrow water. Once we got onto the Albemarle Sound, we turned to the west, leaving the migration hoards to continue their journey south.
The sound is beautiful – very large and shallow. We had gorgeous weather, with no wind and cool temperatures. Our only hassle was a lot of crab pot buoys, but even these were relatively easy to negotiate, as they were strung with a lot of room in between them and in the calm water were easy-ish to see. We both also felt that we were feeling a little more comfortable due to our cruising experience over the past year. Neil negotiated us into the Yeopim River, a VERY shallow waterway that has a VERY narrow channel leading to the marina. Neil had called ahead to the dockmaster to confirm channel depth and was comforted by the fact another Nordhavn, a 62 with deeper draft than ours, had made it through. Adding to the fun were several crab pot buoys lining (and some actually in) the channel. Neil steered us through and we had our slip assignment, so we proceeded carefully.
Our slip does fit our boat, with about one foot on either side. We docked with help from J.E. the harbor master and really great guy, plus another helper from a nearby boat. Once we got secured, including a stern line tied to a piling behind us, we went exploring the Albermarle Plantation development where we were staying. Interestingly, there is not now, nor was there ever a plantation here; the developer just liked the images of a large agricultural area that the word plantation evoked for him. There’s no agriculture here, but it is very pretty, with lots of trees draped with Spanish moss. We took our rented golf cart for a spin, and were amazed at the friendliness of the residents and the beautiful grounds. We stopped at the Clubhouse and had a cocktail on the back patio, looking out over the Sound and a perfect setting sun.
We were going to sit in the cockpit that evening to watch the stars. Kathleen was seated and all set to find Polaris, when Neil came out and asked if she knew what the buzzing sound was. Kathleen had assumed it was a nearby boat’s outdoor lanterns. Neil looked around the corner back up to the dock and said, “Get inside – quickly!” It was hoards of flying bugs. We had heard about the bug swarms in South Carolina and were vigilant on our journey north earlier this summer, but we had not encountered anything like this. We hunkered down inside, lights out, realizing that maybe this place wasn’t as perfect as we had first thought. As Fall had not really arrived here yet, the bugs were still around, and sticking to our boat.
The next morning dawned with heavy fog, that lifted in a short while. It turned out that the next several mornings would be socked in, but it was really cozy to experience. Even going for a walk was an adventure, with oaks and Spanish moss gradually appearing through the mist. Once the sun was out, we spent the morning and early afternoon busily scrubbing our Granuaile inside and out (the bugs washed off pretty easily, and we learned that we would probably have to wash the boat off every day when it was warm), doing laundry and cleaning up the guest room as two of our favorite people were coming to visit – Kevin and Peggy Maher! This couple is amazing fun that we have known for years from our Colorado days. We also noted that the last time we had been with them was exactly one year ago when they hosted us at the LSU – Auburn game in Baton Rouge. That weekend was the kickoff of our retirement, and we had a fantastic time both with Kevin and Peggy as well on our own down in New Orleans. They were also the first “non-family” visitors to our boat, and we were so excited to see them and to have them experience a bit of this life.
The first evening we had cocktails on the dock at a very pretty picnic table. The gods had dialed in picture-perfect weather – gently breeze, warm sun, calm waters – it was like being in a commercial advertising this place. We were going to have dinner up at the Clubhouse, but belatedly found out that it had closed at 2:00, and the marina grill was also closed. Kathleen whipped up some shrimp scampi with linguine, and as Kevin and Peggy are about the easiest guests imaginable, they were good with it!
Much conversation (and wine consumption) occurred that evening. The next day we got up, had omelets for everyone, and then ventured out to the town of Edenton in Kevin and Peggy’s rental car. Edenton is another historical colonial town, largely unscathed through the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. There are many historic colonial buildings, along with a rather busy small town (Kathleen was FINALLY able to get new sneakers – her old pair had almost worn through…) The four of us had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking around the town and reading about the various homes and sites (Kathleen and Peggy also discovered a pecan tree that was handily dropping nuts as they walked by – score!).
After a couple of hours, we stopped at 309 Bistro and Spirits for a hearty lunch. Again, incredibly welcoming people and great lunch! We capped off the day with (another) grocery shopping trip (whenever there is a car available, we gladly make use of it!). Once home and unpacked, we relaxed on the boat deck in the late afternoon light. Once the sun went down, we went back inside (avoiding the bugs again) and just had a great evening talking about, well, everything. Friends like these are treasures, and we are so grateful that they made the journey to see us.
Sadly Sunday morning they headed back to Norfolk to catch their plane home. Peggy did share that this was her first time ever sleeping on a boat (Kathleen was amazed at this as both she and Kevin are global travelers), and that she really enjoyed it! We think we may have gotten them a step closer to realizing their retirement dreams – not living on a boat, but great adventures.
We had originally planned to leave this marina on Sunday. However, a hurricane was building in the Gulf, planning to slam New Orleans, which meant rougher weather here later in the week. Additionally, before that happened, we had really rough weather predictions for Thursday and Friday. We had plans to cruise east in the Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks and stay at a marina in Manteo, NC and check out a couple anchorages but with the risk of really bad weather on the Sound we decided to stay here. Sunday was Neil’s birthday, so we celebrated by dining at the Dockside Cafe, the restaurant at the marina. We had a nice dinner and evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent going for walks and enjoying the nice calm before the storm.
The storm came crashing in around 11:00 am and was very rough, we positioned fenders to protect the port side from a piling, and had help from other samaritans (J.E. leading the way) to tie the boat up closer to the starboard dock (no small feat with 35-40 tons of boat being blown the opposite direction). Boat people are the best – always willing to help others out, and it was also a bonus that it was not cold or raining – just super high winds (35-40 knots at one point).
After the storm blew through, we were talking with another Nordhavn owner docked here (Mark and Christine, owners of Gray Matter), who were actually directly behind us in the marina. Mark and Kathleen had the same thought – it was time for some wine, even if it wasn’t yet 5:00. They invited us over to their boat (62 foot Nordhavn, a true world cruiser) for a tour and a visit. We really love meeting new people, especially Nordhavn owners, as it is fun to learn people’s back stories and lives that lead them to this lifestyle. And we always seem to make really good friends.
Friday was an easier day. As Mark had graciously taken us to the grocery store on Wednesday, we were set provision-wise. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup and guacamole, while Neil updated Wheelhouse maintenance checklist items. The marina has an annual tradition of lighting boats on the evening of October 30th, and people walk around visiting. The winds had been blowing on Friday, but by 4:00 it was fine and we used our Christmas lights to festively decorate our stern and saloon windows. Once dark, we walked over to a neighboring dock and visited with other boaters. Apparently the event had actually been called off due to winds (something we didn’t know) but was ok as at least ten other boats had also decorated their boats. We didn’t stay out long, but it was fun to get a bit into the Halloween spirit.
Halloween day was beautiful. We went for a long walk around the development and then Kathleen got to work out while Neil mapped out our next course. Mark and Christine came by for a glass of wine and some good conversation, then we settled in for our Halloween tradition of watching the classic movie, Young Frankenstein. Neil may have been a tad less enthusiastic than Kathleen (really, when you can pretty much recite the lines from the ENTIRE movie, it does take away from the tradition aspect). But it was fun, and connected us to our previous life, that had involved children, costumes, carved pumpkins, roasted seeds, candy, doorbells, decorations and this movie.
Sunday (Nov 1st) dawned deceptively nice, with just the beginnings of wind. We took advantage of the relatively calm weather to move the boat over to the fuel dock for a holding tank pump out. It was also good practice for everything from getting out of a tight slip (Kathleen using an extension pole to get the starboard stern line off the piling), to tying up to a facing dock in wind for the pump out, to finally getting back into the dock, this time with both port and starboard stern lines affixed to pilings, and using the time to really secure the boat for another anticipated blow, this time from the north.
After taking showers, the wind picked up, with the rain shortly following. Although rocky, our plans for securing the boat did their job. Kathleen worked on this blog and sewing our rather tattered US flag. Neil worked on mail and other more-mundane boat life items as we kept a sharp eye (and ear) out for any wind related mishaps.
We left the Tred Avon on Sept 28th, cruising 17 miles to San Domingo Creek, on the back side of St. Michaels. Getting here was a little tricky. We had heard about this “must see” anchorage from the same friend who recommended reading “Chesapeake”, so we really wanted to check it out. We were not disappointed. We anchored in one of the fingers off of the creek, with beautiful homes scattered around the shores.
We lowered the dinghy and cruised up to the public dinghy dock, and walked the quarter mile back into St. Michaels. As it was later in the day, we just strolled around, stopping in the small local market for important items like chips and beer. We went back to the dinghy, noticing the beautiful colonial homes lining the areas away from the main street. People take great pride in their homes and yards, and the neighborhoods are welcoming. One home had an out-of-this-world garden, where strangers were encouraged to visit. It was funky and fun and beautiful, and Kathleen could not imagine how much time and effort went into creating and keeping up this treasure. We got back to the boat with time to spare to enjoy a cocktail on the rear deck enjoying the view. Oh, and there were eagles again!
The next day we came back, armed with bags and cart to go grocery shopping. We had another lovely trail to walk along for most of the way, but had to be careful while walking on a busy road for a bit – however, we needed to get food and some other items for the boat, so needs will out, as they say.
After putting the groceries away, we decided to try our hand at crabbing again, still with our original net. This time, we did have some luck in netting quite a few crabs, but they were all too small to keep. No matter though, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and we now had groceries, so no fear of running out of sustenance… The sunset that night was spectacular – more so than usual – so, of course, we have pictures…
On our last day here, we went to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Intending to spend at most 90 minutes visiting, it was 3.5 hours later that we finally decided we had to stop – and there was still more to see. It is an amazing place with so much information and artifacts to see. It was definitely a highlight of our visit to St. Michaels.
After grabbing some lunch, we returned to the dinghy and headed back to the boat. Neil decided to try the hookah (no, not that kind, a dive system that uses an electric air pump, 50’ of hose, and a regulator to allow one to dive without tanks). He geared up in a snazzy wetsuit (initially bought to avoid jellyfish, but never used for such as the water had been too warm to wear), swim mask, fins and flashlight, and jumped in to check out our zincs on the hull. (Zincs are sacrificial anodes affixed to the hull, shafts, thrusters, etc to reduce corrosion, and have to be replaced from time to time). Although the hookah worked as planned, Neil couldn’t see six inches in front of his face as the brackish water was too murky. So, after a short test/play in the water, we called it quits on this venture, and decided to hire a diver to check out the zincs and clean the hull in Solomon’s Island, a later intended stop.
Oct 2nd: When Neil told Kathleen that the next port was Cambridge, she seriously wondered if the colonists had no imagination whatsoever or were just extremely homesick for England. Either way, we cruised four hours from San Domingo to Cambridge on a day that started out cold and rainy and ended up beautiful and sunny. The watermen were out in full force as it was the second day of Oyster season. It was amazing to watch them work. All were standing on the edge of their boats and were using very long “tongs”, 10-15 foot long scissor arms that open and close a rake-like device to scoop up oysters from the bottom of the river. The muck and oysters were hauled into the boat where both muck and too-small oysters were manually sorted out and thrown back in.
At one time, oysters were so prevalent here in the bay that they created oyster reefs that reached high off the bottom and close to the surface, dangerous to unwitting boats plying the waters. Once harvesting began as demand for the delicacy rose, “keeper” oysters were greater than SIX INCHES or more across, anything smaller was thrown back in to grow some more. “Tonging” was the traditional way of harvesting oysters, and there was a ban on motorized boats initially. However, industry and demand ran roughshod and in a very short span the once dangerous oyster reefs were decimated. Along with a huge increase in pollution from upstream runoff and from the air, the oyster population was nearly wiped out.
Conservation efforts to Save the Bay have been on-going for decades, and make modest headway. Oystering, crabbing, fishing and eeling are still major industries here; hopefully ecologists and marine biologists can continue to work on ways to heal the bay and recover its health.
Back to our journey… once we arrived at the marina in Cambridge, we initially tied up to the fuel dock to pump out the holding tank. While undertaking this job, we were hailed by some familiar voices on the dock and saw Frank and Beeb, boating friends we had met in Vero Beach! It was a terrific surprise to be at the same marina, and spent the afternoon with them catching up. After leaving them, we went for a relaxed dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Following what was now becoming a familiar pattern, we downloaded a walking tour of Cambridge and indulged in that for the morning. Cambridge’s most famous resident was Harriet Tubman. There are many buildings that are tangential to her and her work, both positive and negative. It was disturbing to walk across the area where humans were once sold as chattel, today just a quiet space in front of the court house. Amazingly, the building served the same purpose then as it does today, a courthouse. It was also incredible to see places where the underground railroad operated – often very near institutions that upheld slavery. The courage and grit of these past warriors was humbling, as well as intriguing.
The town has a lot of interesting history from every decade, much like the other towns we visited, but each distinct in their own ways. Cambridge is a bit quieter, not quite as touristy as Oxford and St. Michaels.
The rest of the day we spent on Granuaile – Kathleen doing yoga, Neil figuring out our next cruise route and catching up on some reading. There are worse ways to spend one’s time.
Oct 4th: Sunday we were underway by 8:00 am. As we move closer to winter, sunrises are noticeably later, and sunsets frustratingly earlier. Our plan was to travel back to the west coast of the Bay, docking at Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD. The last time we had been here was 30 years ago, visiting a friend stationed at Naval Air Station Pax River. We were looking forward to returning.
About an hour into a mostly uneventful cruise, the navigation electronics, autopilot, chartplotters and displays, started posting error messages and/or went offline. After three attempts at rebooting the entire system, we determined that the problem was not going to be resolved with a simple hard reboot. We continued the cruise to Solomons with autopilot inactivated, manually steering via the helm wheel and wind speed/direction instrument inoperative.
We entered the harbor to Solomons with Neil at the helm. It was a bit tricky as there are several marinas here and a confusing array of navigational buoys/day markers (i.e. when Kathleen contacted the Calvert Marina harbormaster to request directions to our slip, he asked where we were. She responded, “we just passed marker Red 4.” His response was, “Well there are a couple of Red 4’s, but ok). We got to where we needed to be, and were once more on a facing dock, this time between two other boats. Neil turned the boat 90 degrees, and moving astern basically parallel parked our 50 foot boat while Kathleen called out directions, closing distances and speed for him. Teamwork!
This visit was meant to be a work on the boat stay. Neil had ordered a new fuel injection pump for the generator to be delivered to a yard nearby and picked it up the next morning. This was to address a fuel leak issue discussed in an earlier blog post. While Neil worked on installing the pump (no small task for a rookie so took most of the day), Kathleen washed and scrubbed the dinghy top and bottom, and washed the boat decks and starboard hull. We were both pretty sore after that day.
The next morning, we spent several hours waxing and polishing the transom and starboard hull. It is hard, straining work. After we were done, we arranged a car ride with a local resident at the marina to a nearby Giant grocery store and SERIOUSLY restocked. We are not often near a large grocery store AND have transportation, so we take advantage of it when we can.
Once all of our groceries were stowed, Kathleen tried her hand at rockfish (which is delicious!) while Neil worked on diagnosing our electronics problems. Suffice it to say that Kathleen had more success.
Wednesday was intended to be a rest day, meaning a break from physical labor. Neil spent the entire day working on the electronics issue, with the help of our electronics expert on call in Florida who guided Neil through troubleshooting steps. It was very frustrating and he didn’t make any breakthroughs. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup, and then got knocked low by a wicked headache, so she was out for the day. Definitely not one of our finer days on the boat.
Thursday was much, much better. It started with more frustrations for Neil, as no yards in the area had any time or technicians available to help us diagnose the electronics problem. So we had no choice but to continue working it on our own. After a morning of checking each device one by one, Neil confirmed that the dome radar was causing communication errors on our boat’s electronics system bus leading to other devices such as the autopilot computer and the wind instrument to fail. The root cause appeared to be a slightly unseated cable connector from the dome radar to the system bus. A couple days of testing at the dock was successful but we needed a few days of cruising to know for certain. (As of 10/22, all is good!!)
In the middle of this, the previous evening we had difficulty starting the generator (the one Neil had just installed a new fuel pump on). Neil had been starting the generator twice a day even though we were at the dock with shore power, to confirm no further problems before we continued our cruise south. Hoping it was just air in the line, he bled the fuel system again and the generator started fine. Problem seemed to be fixed. Unfortunately in the light of morning, the problem was still lingering, so he had this issue to diagnose and fix also. Turned out that during the fuel injection pump install, Neil had dislodged a connector to the preheat glow plug relay. Quick fix and success, generator now reliably starts.
Kathleen spent the time getting caught up on trip log entries and writing this blog. Around 1:00pm, she went up to the marina office to see if our mail had arrived (we had it forwarded here from our postal service in Florida) and was so excited to find her absentee ballot in the mix. After carefully completing it, we walked into town to the post office, about 3 miles away. Kathleen felt unusually proud and excited for being able to vote, and was silently praying that 3.5 weeks would be enough time for it to be delivered. Fingers crossed. Life on a boat, huh?
We had a nice snack at a local restaurant on the water directly across the creek from our boat, and then Uber’d back – we were both too tired to contemplate another 3+ miles back, and we would have probably run out of daylight anyhow!
Sept 21: From St. Michael’s, we headed to the Wye River, about two hours away. It LOOKED a lot closer than that, but the route was very winding and called for slower speeds and at least two pairs of eyes – but it was well worth it. The Wye is what we had envisioned the wilder side of the Chesapeake to be. Quiet, beautiful, unspoiled. We dropped anchor in the Wye East River in a pretty cove called Wye Heights.
Anxious to try out our crabbing skills, we “MacGyver’d” a net from leftover bug screen material and an unbent (extra) fly swatter. Between Kathleen’s “crack” sewing skills (yeah, right) and Neil’s judicious use of hose clamps, we thought we were all set, and dropped baited lines off the stern. We got a few nibbles and slowly reeled them in, but were unable to seal the deal – just kept missing with the net as the crabs scurried away.
The next morning dawned calm and cool, with a misting of fog – perfect for the first official day of Fall. After that burned off, we had a bluebird sky day with calm water – perfect for another shot at crabbing. We launched the dinghy, intent on having steamed crab for dinner. Although we exerted tremendous effort (see pictures), we once again could not net the crabs. After several hours of “diligent work”, we went back to the boat and settled for a chicken dinner (Kathleen had wisely taken it out of the freezer on the “off chance” that we were less than successful in our endeavours…).
Bright and early the following morning, Neil discovered that only crab lining was allowed on Wednesdays, no professional boatmen – and this was a Wednesday! We ventured up to the local marina (and this is very local…). Neil bought some more chicken necks and we rented one of their crab nets, larger and sturdier than our homebuilt one. We were assured that there had been tons of crabs “just a couple of weeks ago” in shallow waters, and with our luck in at least catching the crabs eating off of our lines, we went out with renewed spirits.
At our second spot we had our first luck. Kathleen caught a beautiful big Maryland blue crab. “Do you want to hold it up for a picture?” Neil asked. Kathleen privately thought him crazy, and declined. He then bravely picked it up from behind while Kathleen snapped pictures – apparently one too many as the crab was able to bend his claw around to Neil’s thumb and draw blood. We went back to the boat to bandage the wound, one crab in the bucket.
Over the course of the day, we succeeded in catching four more crabs. Kathleen has a difficult time not anthropomorphizing almost any animal, and was beginning to feel sorry for them, even the one that had clipped Neil. However, when the last caught crab was dumped into the bucket with one other crab, they started fighting – ending rather abruptly when the first crab ripped off the claw and arm of the second. It didn’t phase either crustacean. They went back to being dinner for Kathleen after that.
After a google search for steamed Maryland blue crab recipes, Kathleen got a boil going on the stove and the instant pot while Neil humanely dispatched the crabs (again, thank you google). We had a true feast that evening, up on the boat deck, a nice bottle of wine and a million dollar view. Absolutely perfect end to a fantastic day. And now, we knew we wouldn’t starve – once we buy a good net, that is.
Sept 24: We left the anchorage to one closer to the entrance to the Wye for the night. It was cloudy, cool and rainy, so not much to do, but did have a crab salad from the last two crabs for a snack.
We left the Wye on the 25th and headed to the Tred Avon River. The six hour run was again very calm, with our greatest challenge being “let’s play dodging the crab pots”.
The Tred has a long history – apparently the original name of the river was (possibly) Thread Haven, as all types of threads and lines were made and sold here. It hosts Oxford, a wonderful colonial town that was once a trading hub for the Chesapeake. We anchored in the Trippe Creek off of the Tred Avon.
After lowering the dinghy the next day (we’re getting rather proficient at this), we cruised up to Easton, about five miles away. Along the ride, we saw the house we had visited with Kerry when we were in St. Michael’s – different view from the water, but just as beautiful. There were many professional waterman out crabbing, and we once again admired the hard work they do. We had intended to dock our dinghy at Easton and walk into town to a grocery store, but there was not a dinghy dock in sight. While we were buy some gas for the dinghy, we asked if there was any area where we could tie up for a few hours and got no help whatsoever. This was definitely a waterman’s dock, not meant for tourists like us. So we ventured back out and went to Oxford, where there was a free dinghy dock at the end of Market Street.
We had a fun time walking around, shopping at a very small market in the town, and discovering the Scottish Highland Creamery where Neil indulged in the first ice cream since God knows when. We walked passed the Hinckley Yacht Yard where several of their magnificent yachts were on display and the Cutts and Case Shipyard, a historical yard that still repairs and builds wooden yachts. Both showed beautiful craftsmanship and it was so much fun to wander around.
We came back the next day to do a walking tour. Every town we hit, it seems, is a part of our fascinating American history. We’ve come to the conclusion that Michener truly did take bits and pieces of stories from these towns to create his fictional place in Chesapeake. We love history and being here brings it to life, making the struggles and the mistakes, as well as successes and unlikely wins all the more relevant in today’s world.
We could definitely tell that the weather was changing, as we no longer used air conditioning at all and have added an extra blanket to the bed at night. Maryland was made for Autumn. The crisp smell of sharp skies, the sun still warming during the day, leaves seemingly bursting overnight into arrays of fall colors. It’s quieter now too as there are fewer boaters on the water. We wear socks nearly every day, and Neil has even been spotted a time or two wearing jeans (something he has steadfastly not done since January). Enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea in the brisk morning and while watching spectacular sunsets remind us once again why we decided to make this move to this life. And we still have no regrets, whatsoever.
Sept 18th: We raised anchor from the Comegy’s Bight anchorage on the Chester River at 7:00 am and made our way south to the town of St. Michaels. Crossing under the Bay Bridge one more time, we passed navy training boats from Annapolis. It was a cloudy, choppy sea kind of day on the Bay, which made the steel gray of the boats blend in with the surroundings.
The wind and current ran with us and against us on this trip as we wove our way into the Higgin’s Yacht Yard marina at St. Michaels. This is a fun, beautiful touristy town, with a lot of history. We docked stern in, with a stiff wind blowing, which is always a little “unplanned aerobic exercise” for both of us, but the dock hand was wonderful, and to our very happy surprise, we were in a slip next to some folks we had known back in Vero Beach at our marina. Dale and Karen have a lovely boat (Karen Marie, a Viking Sportfisher), as Dale is big into sport fishing. After catching up with them, we quickly cleaned up and got ready for Kerry, who was coming to visit again!
We had a lovely time here. Lots of shops and restaurants and friendly people. Kerry drove us around to see different spots, and we walked to a local farmer’s market where we got some great veggies, jam and kombucha. Kerry took us to the penultimate breakfast spot, Carpenter Street Saloon, which was conveniently located at the end of the street from our marina – best corned beef hash EVER. He even drove us out to Lowes Wharf to “meet” his true love…
We got to see a home of one of his friends (Tristan and Melanie) who have a vacation place on the beautiful Tred Avon river. We noted on our charts where their house is located as we planned to anchor on the Tred Avon in a couple weeks. We toured around, stopping for a wonderful lunch along the way (on reading this back, it seems that all we do is eat, tour, and eat – not entirely true, but close…). Kerry left us Sunday morning after breakfast, and we puttered around until the afternoon, when we took a walk around the town, picking up a pamphlet for a walking tour towards the end of our stroll. We both like (well, probably Kathleen a bit more than Neil) to go through old cemeteries. It is fascinating to read the headstones from so long ago, how old people were when they died (amazing life span for some folks into their 90’s and some only months back in the 1700’s-1800’s), and any information on them (there is often an information pamphlet available with historical references to some of the grounds inhabitants). On St. Michaels as in many of the smaller towns we have visited, the cemeteries are right on the church grounds.
After walking a few miles to just explore the town, we headed back to our boat, intermittently reading about a historical structure or home here and there. Walking back to our slip, we stopped suddenly when we noticed a great heron standing directly in front of us on the dock. These birds stand AT LEAST three feet tall, and although they have the most raspy honk of any bird, they are beautiful and majestic. We waited for him (her?) to finish wandering the dock, watching her slow, low flight away.
After we had settled in for the evening, and the sun had set, we heard a large splash and a woman call for help. Neil ran out to help – one of our dock neighbors had misjudged the distance from his boat to the dock and had fallen into the water. Normally this is not a big thing, but it was dark and the boats were moving with the waves. Fortunately, he had extricated himself from the drink no worse for wear, except maybe for his pride.
As we were getting ready to leave the next day, Dale came by with a gift – crab line gear, complete with chicken necks for bait and seasoning for our (hopeful) soon-to-be bounty. It was really nice of him, but he waved off our thanks, saying he couldn’t believe we hadn’t been crabbing yet and he felt called to remedy that. They left before we did, so we saw them off, looking forward to seeing them again in Vero in December.
Neil worked on another boat repair “opportunity” as he discovered a minor fuel leak at the generator’s fuel injection pump. His technical guru contact at Northern Lights advised that the gaskets were failing and the pump should be replaced but not urgent. Added to the top of the list of items to address when we visit marina in Solomons, MD in early Oct.
We timed our departure for about noon based on weather and tides. There was more to be seen at St. Michaels – but we knew we had plans to be back in a week or so, anchoring on the back side of the town on the San Domingo Creek. So, once ready, we cast off and worked our way out of the harbor for a short trip across to an anchorage on the Wye East River.
Before we had left Vero Beach, a friend had recommended reading James Michener’s Chesapeake while we cruised the area this summer. It was a wonderful suggestion, and we have both read the saga. As Michener is an amazing writer, capable of bringing to life areas in all of his stories, we were excited to see firsthand the landscape and areas from his book. As most of it takes place on a fictional island on the Chesapeake Bay eastern shore, we couldn’t help but look for comparisons between reality and storytelling. We agree with Michener’s recounting – the wilderness of the eastern shore inspires musings of what it must have been like 100, 200, 400 years ago and more.
Sept 14: We left the Worton Creek anchorage and cruised down the Chesapeake to the Chester River. The estates along this river (and most of the rivers along the Chesapeake) are breathtaking. We had an additional trivia moment when we anchored in the Corsica River in a small bay in front of an old Russian government vacation dacha located on 45 acres – one of the compounds that was “reclaimed” by the US as part of the 2016 dispute over Russian interference in the US election, and we were told that, sadly, it sits empty gathering dust. There obviously is a lot of history – both centuries old and more recent – in this area.
The cruise was surprisingly comfortable as there was a small craft advisory for the Bay, with 15-20 knot winds. Kathleen noticed that it makes a HUGE difference in comfort if you are cruising WITH the wind as opposed to INTO the wind (as well as giving us a bit of a speed boost). As we rode with both current and wind, with only 1-2 foot swells, the ride was smooth, and we even saw a whopping 10 knots at times!
Unfortunately, along with a return to brackish water, we were back into jellyfish territory, so no swimming at the Corsica River anchorage. Weighing anchor the next morning, we used the wing engine. It is an auxiliary engine (27HP, 3 cylinder Yanmar diesel) coupled to its own shaft with a folding prop, and is used in case there is a main engine and/or drivetrain failure. It is mounted off the centerline, port side, and can propel the boat 3-4 knots. However there is a persistent starboard steer. It’s really important to run the Yanmar to to keep it in good operating condition. We have heard too many stories where the wing engine will not run when really needed (during an emergency or a boat purchase survey) due to lack of use. This is what Neil has told Kathleen many times, and she keeps repeating to herself under her breath while being frustrated trying to drive our girl at such a low speed and challenging steerage…
We anchored 11 miles further up the river, just outside of Chestertown, a wonderful colonial town on the Chester River (maybe not the most creative town name, but it works). After anchoring, we lowered the dinghy, and drove up to the harbor. We docked, intending to get some gas for the dinghy, but as seemed to happen often for us, that particular day the marina and fuel dock were closed. Not to be deterred, we explored the area, enjoying the historical architecture and using an app for a self-guided walking tour for a bit of the neighborhood. We capped the afternoon off with a light meal at the marina grille before heading back to our anchorage and our home. All day, the sun was hazed over, but we couldn’t see clouds. It was the smoke from the west coast fires, up in the atmosphere. It didn’t affect us at all that we could tell, but it was eerie and incredibly sad that so much had burned that it had covered our skies so far away.
One of the more mundane tasks that we easily do and for the most part, without a lot of forethought while on land, is grocery shopping. We no longer have a car, and in these pandemic days, it makes the logistics a bit more tricky, as Uber and Lyft are few and far between in marina areas. We set out with totes and a rolling cart (always a good look) and had a pretty walk to a grocer, through historic Chestertown, a large portion through a tree lined, shady walk, with leaves just beginning to flutter down around us, another reminder of the changing seasons. Once we loaded up as much as we could – backpacks, totes, rolling cart – we headed over to the nearby CVS pharmacy for a flu shot and then headed back to the marina to load up our dinghy, realizing how glad we were that it was as big as it is. Oh, and Neil filled up the dinghy gas container at the marina.
After a great dinner, we partook of one of our favorite activities – stargazing. We watched the stars in the evenings here – less light pollution – and were greatly rewarded with Jupiter, Saturn, gorgeous moon, Mars, Big and Little Dippers, Polaris, and our new favorite, Cygnus (cuz it’s easy to find). We wouldn’t feel comfortable tossing the radar and navigating by the stars (props to those who do), but it beats Netflix every time.
The next day, September 17th, we cruised back out to the entrance to the river, across from our original anchorage so we could have an early start the next morning, with fewer miles to travel. It was a bit of a rest day, as we caught up on boat chores and chatting with family.
Aug 30th: Our time in Annapolis continued to be amazing. Kathleen’s friend and roommate, who we hadn’t seen for 27 years, drove down from her home in Arlington to meet us for a visit and catch up time. It was so fantastic to see her and it felt like it had been days, not decades, since we had talked and laughed together. This boating life has afforded us the opportunity to see friends that we haven’t been able to visit for a long time, as well as the fun of making new friends everywhere.
We cruised around Spa Creek, admiring the houses, and even took a walk through a local neighborhood (there are dinghy docks at the end of every street). We stopped to visit with Clark and Michelle Haley, owners of Roam a Nordhavn 55 that was on a mooring ball in Spa Creek. It’s amazing how friendly boating people are, especially fellow Nordhavn owners.
On September 2nd, we untied from the mooring ball, sad to leave this beautiful town, but excited to continue our adventures. We left about 10:15 in the morning (kind of a late start, but we didn’t have far to go), and headed north. One of the major highlights of this cruise was going under the Bay Bridge, a huge structure, that is actually two bridges. As Neil carefully navigated our girl under the girders, Kathleen went a little crazy taking pictures.
We actually arrived at the entrance to the Magothy River early. We wanted to run the watermaker a little longer to refill the tanks so we circled around just outside the entrance, admiring the Baltimore lighthouse and environs. We then cruised into the Magothy River, passing by Gibson Island to anchor just off of Dobbins Island.
Gibson Island is a jaw-droppingly beautiful place – entirely private, as in no one can go on the island unless you are a resident or an invited guest. As we were neither, we contented ourselves with touring around in the dinghy. We anchored here until the morning of September 8. There were a few (very few) jellyfish sightings, but the water was wonderful, and we had a lot of fun diving/jumping off the swim platform, paddleboarding, scrubbing the waterline clean, and taking several dinghy excursions to explore the area.
The area’s beauty and nearby beach, are also its drawback – it is very popular, especially for the last official weekend of Summer. When we initially arrived, we were the only boat anchored in this sheltered spot. Throughout the next several days, however, the party crowds came in to enjoy the sun, water and just celebrate. It was fun to watch families, college kids, people of all ages playing with abandon and frivolity. However, by Monday afternoon, we were both ready for some quieter environs. Which was perfect, as we had planned to leave the next day all along.
Tuesday morning we raised anchor and cruised further up the Magothy to a marina to take on fresh water and pump out the holding tank. Due to a pump-out equipment snafu, this took a bit longer than expected, but before too long, we were headed back out onto the Chesapeake on a beautiful calm early September morning with very little traffic.
As we traveled north, homes became more spread out and the beauty of the northern Chesapeake unveiled itself. The myriad of trees jostling for position along both banks along with an array of birds was incredible. After about 40 nautical miles, we turned into an anchorage, Turner Creek Bend, on the Sassafras River, hitting fresh water for the first time since we moved onto our boat. It was sunny, calm and 80 degrees, with the water invitingly just less than that temperature, so of course we went for a swim. In case anyone wonders, humans definitely float easier in salt water than in fresh… but we had fun swimming around the boat with not a jellyfish in sight…
The next morning we awoke to cloudy skies and cooler temperatures, but we lowered the dinghy and cruised around, visiting the Fredericktown/Georgetown area about five miles north. Our biggest surprise was the bald eagles – it was fantastic to see so many of them – calling out from the trees as well as when they were crisscrossing the skies together. We think we may have been lucky enough to have been in their migration flyway, which just made this experience even better.
While taking the dinghy around the various marinas, we noticed MUCH less human activity than we had seen just a few days ago on the Magothy. It seems that Labor Day TRULY is the end of Summer here. It started raining, so we headed back to our boat for a quiet evening after we dried off.
Thursday was another day of exploring. We came across the Mt. Harmon plantation/museum which is a sprawling estate that has been rejuvenated and turned into a living museum. Unfortunately, with Covid restrictions, it was closed, but it was fun to cruise around its property from the water.
There were a lot of watermen working the river, both with hanging net fishing as well as crab pots. As annoying as crab pots are to us, we can’t help but admire the dedication and incredible hard work that goes into this life. Professional crabbing involves extreme temperature tolerance, ability to work in any seas, and apparently a back and shoulders of steel. They definitely earn their money.
On Friday Sept 12th, we moved up to Skipjack Marina. After navigating a tetris-like entrance to our assigned slip and attempting a stern-in docking, we very quickly determined that the space was too narrow for our boat. (Guess how we figured THAT out…). No damage done to boat, pylons or dock, but suffice it to say we got another assignment on the marina’s outside facing dock. Neil maneuvered back out of the maze and we tied up ten minutes later in the only rain of the day – good times.
Once the rain stopped, it was lovely weather, and we made dinner reservations at Kitty Knight House. This house has an interesting history tied to the war of 1812 and British arson-happy invaders. After hailing a water taxi via vhf radio to ferry us across the harbor to Georgetown, we relaxed outside, social distancing, watching the sun set while we enjoyed excellent seafood. After a short walk, and again, getting hit with unexpected rain, we took the water taxi back to our dock.
Sept 13th: The next morning we motored over to a nearby marina’s fuel dock and took on 950+ gallons of diesel. At $1.89/gallon, it was a relative bargain compared to our previous fuel purchases in Florida earlier this year. Thank you Clark (N55 Roam) for alerting us to the favorable fuel pricing on the Sassafras River. We had last filled the tanks in late January. Granuaile holds 1320 gallons, so we weren’t in danger of running out, but we definitely noticed a change in how we sat in the water after adding almost 3.5 tons of fuel. The stern thruster was well submerged! Neil’s hands got a serious workout, as it took nearly two hours to load that much into all four tanks while standing on the swim platform. Not the most convenient placement of the fuel fills! We also pumped out the holding tank and added water, so once we completed our tasks, we were set to hit the river once again.
We cruised out of the Sassafras River into the Chesapeake Bay and south to an anchorage at Worton Creek just a couple of hours away. The plan was to stay here just for a night then next morning head onwards to the Chester River.