Exploring the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake

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.

Entering the Chester River, MD
Choppy seas

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…

Circled in above photo – The auxiliary engine shaft and folding propeller located on port side of hull
Close up view of auxiliary propeller in folded position
Auxiliary engine throttle cable sticks and won’t hold the full throttle position. Clipboard acts as low tech cruise control until we fix the issue, most likely replace the throttle cable that snakes all the way from pilothouse down to the engine room. On the fix list when we visit Zimmerman Marine in North Carolina early in November.

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.

At anchorage near Chestertown
Hazy due to smoke from west coast wildfires
Schooner SULTANA at dock in Chestertown harbor. It is a replica of a 1768 British revenue cutter and used as a schoolship for educating students on the Chesapeake Bay
Seeing the historic sites of Chestertown
Chestertown’s historic downtown
A well deserved break for a refreshment
River Packet cruise ship passing us at our Chester River anchorage

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.

Hiking a couple miles to the nearest grocery store

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.

Leisurely cruise back down the Chester River

Chesapeake Cruising Continues as Summer Melts into Autumn

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.

Kathleen and Victoria enjoying catching up after too many years

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.

Relaxing in garden behind the Brown Mustache Coffee shop in Annapolis
On a grocery store run, crossing College Creek, Annapolis
Spa Creek, Annapolis
Visiting Clark and Michelle on Nordhavn 55 Roam
Granuaile on mooring ball in Spa Creek, Annapolis
Lifting the dinghy onto the boat deck. Getting ready to leave Annapolis

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.

Heading north up the Chesapeake, Bay Bridge ahead
Cruising under the Bay Bridge

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.

Baltimore Harbor Light near the entrance to the Magothy River. For nearly 100 yrs it has guided northbound vessels to the Port of Baltimore.
Gibsons Island at the entrance to the Magothy River

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.

Touring Magothy River near Dobbins Island
Kathleen out for a morning paddleboard cruise around Dobbins Island in the Magothy River
Neil scrubbing the waterline
Sunrise while anchored at Dobbins Island on Magothy River. Geese on their daily morning swim across the river.
Sunset at Dobbins Island

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.

Labor Day weekend hangout at Dobbins Island. Counted over 40 boats during the day, only a handful of us stayed overnight
A refreshing swim in the Magothy

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.

Pit stop at Magothy Marina for a holding tank pump out

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…

Anchored in Turner Creek on the Sassafras River
Stunning sunset on the Sassafras River

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.

Heron walking the docks at marina on the Sassafras River

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.

Mt. Harmon plantation/museum on Back Creek, off the Sassafras River

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.

Granuaile at Skipjack Marina on the Sassafras River, Fredericktown MD

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.

Water Taxi ride over to Georgetown for dinner
Enjoying dinner at Kitty Knight with a beautiful view of Sassafras River
Georgetown harbor. Waiting for water taxi to return to Granuaile.

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.

Ready to depart Skipjack Marina. Beautiful weather for cruising

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.

Sunset while at anchor in Worton Creek

Old Friends and New – the Perks of Cruising

We FINALLY left Zimmerman Marine on August 13th, for a short ride to New Point Comfort, at the entrance to Mobjack Bay from the Chesapeake. It was only a few miles, but we turned it into a longer cruise, as a weather front was passing and would go over exactly where we wanted to anchor. So we wandered around the river for about an hour watching nature play across the skies and waters to our east.

Staying clear of an afternoon thunderstorm on Mobjack Bay

After the storm had passed, we anchored for the evening at New Point Comfort, Mobjack Bay. There was a picturesque abandoned lighthouse, a natural beach, and a semi-protected cove that we anchored in. And there were dolphins. A whole pod of dolphins – like twelve – adults and babies – all swimming around our boat, fishing and playing. They were mesmerizing.

Dolphins hanging out with us while at anchor in Mobjack Bay

The stars were out in the evening putting on their usual show for free. It was wonderful to have an easy cruise and anchorage to continue our voyage north.

The next morning, we raised anchor to cruise north up the Chesapeake. Although the morning started calmly, the weather on the Bay caused much rougher seas to develop, with 3-4 ft waves with very short periods. Kathleen drove for the first two hours, and immediately upon leaving the captain’s chair started feeling sick. It did not go well. Neil had to drive for the next four hours, as Kathleen tried to get on top of the upheavals going on inside her. Luckily, with some meds and some rest, she was ok when we reached the anchorage in Corrotoman River, and was an able hand for anchoring.

Granuaile in rough seas on the Chesapeake. Photo taken by Steve Zimmerman as he cruised past us at the mouth to the Rappahannock River
Cruising under the Robert Dixon Bridge on the Rappahannock River

Corrotoman is beautiful, a lot like the East River. It also has TONS of jellyfish, so absolutely no swimming. We stayed at two anchorages on the bay (with a pump out in between 😉 ). We launched the dinghy and explored the area, marvelling, again, at the beauty of this part of the country. We saw bald eagles, ospreys, herons, terns, ducks – you name it. Lots of well-needed peace and beauty.
Funny story: At one of the anchorages we were a couple hundred yards off a mansion that had a for sale sign on the dock. Shortly after we dropped anchor a man came walking out on the dock and yelled at us, initially we ignored him thinking that he probably was unhappy we were squatting on his riverfront. He was rather persistent, twice coming down to the dock to yell in our direction. So Neil responded and took down his phone number so we could stop yelling at each other. He was a very pleasant fellow who liked that our boat’s home port was Lafayette, CO as one of his sons lives next door in the town of Louisville. We had a pleasant conversation about Colorado, family and the East River; he asked that we call him if we needed anything during our stay.

Anchored on the Corrotoman River
The morning coffee ritual
Heading to Yankee Point Marina on the Corrotoman River to pump out our holding tank
Kathleen whipping up a shrimp dinner
Out for a cruise on the Corrotoman River
Returning to Granuaile after a morning cruise. The “For sale” mansion in the background.
Sunset on the Corrotoman River
A swarm of jellyfish!!!

We left Corrotoman early on the 19th to cruise north to the Patuxent River.

Neil starting up electronics so we are ready to pull up anchor at sunrise
Departing anchorage to a beautiful sunrise
Kathleen taking us out of the Corrotoman River
Entering the Rappahannock River, Robert Norris Bridge in the distance
The Chesapeake was much calmer during our cruise north from the Rappahannock River to the Patuxent River

We anchored off of the Naval Air Station there. It has been over 30 years since we’ve been there (lots of fun memories with our friend Dan who lived there!), and it’s more beautiful than we remembered. Kathleen did MUCH better on the Bay this time (and also remembered to apply her patch the night before leaving to ensure a calm passage!). We watched sailboats chase each other around in the late evening.

The next morning, we weighed anchor to cruise up to Shady Side, MD. It was a relatively short run, but there was a lot more traffic, so the trip kept us on our toes.

Staying clear of the main channel busy with freighter traffic heading to Baltimore

Coming in to the Chesapeake Yacht Club was tricky, as the West River channel leading in was very windy, with lots of crab pots to dodge. Apparently the watermen here do not abide by the rule requiring crab traps to be placed outside the marked channel. The slip was a bit narrow, but we tied up successfully and set to work cleaning our boat – she was very salty and dirty from her travels!

Granuaile docked a the Chesapeake Yacht Club, Shady Side MD

On Friday (the next day) Aug 21st, we got to welcome Kerry Blockley, Neil’s cousin, and the person who introduced us to each other over 30 years ago in DC. It is always wonderful to have people visit, but family is special. Kerry is an amazing person that we feel grateful to have shared time with. His friends, Al and Lisa Feldt live in Shady Side, and came by to visit. Al and Lisa very kindly offered us the use of one of their cars while we were here, which was amazing.

With Kerry as our tour guide, we explored the area, stopping for food and beverages and purchasing some fresh seafood.

Neil and Kerry enjoying a beverage and oysters at Dockside Restaurant in Deale MD

We got to visit Al and Lisa at their beautiful home that backs up to the West River, just a mile paddle from our slip at the Chesapeake Yacht Club. On Sunday we took a long kayak ride around the river environs, experiencing the sites from the water. We stopped for brunch at a dockside restaurant and then paddled back to their place. All too soon, we bid Kerry farewell, with promises to see each other again in a few weeks when we visit St. Michael’s on the east side of the Bay.

Brunch break during our kayak paddle around the West River. In background (red arrow) Granuaile at slip

We did have some repair work done while at this marina; a charger for the main engine/bow thruster battery bank needed to be replaced and the work was completed ably by a local service yard on Tuesday morning. We did a serious re-provisioning for food, replenished water, returned Al and Lisa’s car, got pumped out Wednesday morning, and then departed for a short run up to Annapolis.

Although it was less than two hours to cruise to Annapolis, it was a little tricky both getting out of Shady Side (crab pots and boats) and entering Annapolis (same reasons!). We had never picked up a mooring ball before, but after reviewing a Youtube video or two and talking it through, we were willing to give it a try.

The Annapolis Spa Creek mooring field is large and was mostly empty when we arrived in the early afternoon, which gave us plenty of mooring balls to choose from. We found it was fairly easy to pick up the mooring ball pennant as we went in slowly and had good communication. The location is perfect – just off of the main street area, and directly across from the Naval Academy.

Granuaile’s first mooring ball stay. Naval Academy in the background.
Sunrise at mooring in Spa Creek Annapolis.

We both love the colonial towns for their history and wonderful architecture, and Annapolis did not disappoint. First things first, however – we launched the dinghy and went to Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, which is a waterfront eatery and bar famous for its drink, the “painkiller”. Luckily Kathleen only had one and we had lots of areas to explore to walk it off!

First stop in Annapolis was Pusser’s Caribbean Grille

The last bastions of summer heat coincided with this trip, which made walking around the area with masks on very tiring – 90-100 degree heat, 80% humidity – UGH. After one walking tour and lunch at an amazing diner, we cruised around in the dinghy, checking out Spa Creek, with more mooring fields and anchorages, as well as beautiful homes with docks all along the waterfront. Annapolis has a great amenity – any street that ends at the water has a dinghy dock – which is wonderful for boaters, but made us wonder what happens to a car driver who might not be aware that the road ends in the water!

Maryland State House
Looking down from the top of Main St, Annapolis. Can see Granuaile in mooring field (red arrow)

Evenings are spent being entertained on the deck by passing boats. Sailboaters seem to thrill in weaving between the mooring lanes VERY close to tied boats. It is interesting how very closely people cruise to each other here – something we are not used to, but seems to be the norm. No collisions witnessed – yet! This is the most touristy area we have yet stayed, and it is a lot of fun.

Sailboats speeding and weaving through the mooring field
Up on the boat deck taking in the evening boating activities on Spa Creek
Annapolis harbor front at sunset

Portsmouth VA to East River, Mobjack Bay VA

We left Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth on July 27th around 8:30, and headed up past the Norfolk Navy Yard. It was amazing to see all the ships and submarines that are docked and/or being working on as we cruised past. We passed a Destroyer coming home with flag flying and sailors on the deck. We saw three aircraft carriers, including the USS Gerald Ford, which has not been deployed yet. It was dramatic and humbling to cruise by these giants.

Granuaile at slip in Tidewater Marina, Portsmouth VA
Heading north up the Elizabeth River. Idle cruise ships docked on left, Norfolk Naval Base on the right
We passed USS Paul Ignatius (DDG-117) on the Elizabeth River
Cruising past the aircraft carrier base

The rest of the trip to Mobjack Bay, which is on the west side of the Chesapeake was smooth and uneventful. The Chesapeake is HUGE – we could not see across it. The day was beautiful; humid and hot as we were still in the midst of a “heat dome” covering the country, but it was wonderful to be out on the water again. And we saw dolphins!

We turned off the Chesapeake into Mobjack Bay, on the western shore. From there, we entered the East River, which is a BEAUTIFUL quiet off-shoot of Mobjack, with picturesque homes, private docks, winding “fingers” ripe for exploring on the paddle boards and even a (now-defunct) tidal mill. The biggest noise makers were the great blue herons, with the ospreys running a close second. We explored an anchorage at “Put In Creek”, but we decided to keep looking as the crab pots were too close and the water depth uncertain.

Consulting our chart, we went to the next suggested anchorage and declared it good. Turning the boat into the wind, we dropped anchor and secured ourselves.

Anchorage on the East River off Mobjack Bay

A few things made this day less than perfect. Neil had injured his back (not exactly sure how), which left him tired and hurting. The river water temperature was hovering around 90 degrees, not exactly refreshing. And jellyfish – everywhere. We did manage to jump in and out a few times (OK, maybe Neil didn’t jump, but he did get in and out as quickly as he could) and we avoided being stung. We stayed at this anchorage for a few days, during which Kathleen was able to inflate the paddleboard and go exploring a bit. The peaceful scenery harkened back to another time and another era. Kathleen was reading Michener’s “Chesapeake” and may have been “slightly” influenced by his beautiful prose and artful storytelling. Still, it’s a rare gem to visit, with egrets, herons, bald eagles, ospreys, ducks on the land, in the trees and the sky, and fish of every ilk bubbling around the board, occasionally leaping out of the water. And yes, the jellyfish pulsing by, hauntingly pretty, but scary.

Kath returning from a morning paddle around our new neighborhood
Morning coffee on the foredeck. Looks like Neil needs a second cup
Threatening clouds while at anchorage on the East River

Our air conditioning unit for the saloon started displaying a high pressure warning, and tripping off.  The most often cause for this failure is a sea water line restriction in the ac compressor, or as Kathleen likes to call it, “gunk in the line”.  We tried flushing it out with our on-board fresh water hose, but didn’t have any success.  So, on Friday the 31st, Neil contacted Zimmerman Marine, which was less than a mile away.  Zimmerman is a service yard with some dockage, not meant to host transient boaters.  We were told to come on in, soon if we could as the water depth is too shallow for our 5ft 8in draft except around high tide.  We hauled anchor in record time (seriously, the fastest EVER for us) and cruised down to the buoy to turn into the channel to the marina.

Although it was a little nerve-wracking with so little clearance, we made it to the dock with no mishaps, and tied up, unfortunately on our port side, the side WITHOUT a full passageway or an exit door.  We met Max who is the manager here, and the epitome of a gentleman with charm and hospitality.  He offered any help that he or his crew could give, and told us we could stay as long as we needed, no charge. We connected to their water but unfortunately were still unable to remove the blockage. Neil broke out the Barnacle Buster to flush out the sea water line, worked in no time flat.  The plan was to flush all four of the compressors to ensure all was working well (this should be done at least annually to remove marine growth).  As it was in the 90’s with 60-85% humidity, aircon was crucial.

When Neil started to walk up the dock to go purchase additional Barnacle Buster, he very quickly returned to a confused Kathleen.  He enlightened her by pointing out the very long snake that was currently sunning itself on the dock.  After quick research and comparison of pictures to the snake (using binoculars), it was with relief that we realized the offending reptile was a non-venomous water snake – it could bite if provoked, but it’s worst attribute apparently was that it could emit a foul odor from its mouth as a defense.  Not to be bested by a snake, Neil put on his thick rain boots and grabbed the hose.  As he approached the snake, he encouraged it off the dock with some water spray.  No harm, no foul, Neil 1, snake 0.

Neil going to battle a snake blocking the dock at Zimmerman Marine yard

Once he returned to the boat with his bounty, he asked Kathleen to help remove the boots as his back was still very painful. As Kathleen tried to leverage the boot off without hurting herself, she realized that Neil did not have any socks on. 90 degrees. 80% humidity. Bare feet in nearly-knee high rubber boots. Good times. Another lesson learned.

Max advised that we were welcome to stay the weekend at the dock so Neil could complete the ac compressor flushing work. We’d all been watching a slowly approaching hurricane/tropical storm (Isaias) working its way up the eastern seaboard. Max also told us we were welcome to stay to ride out the storm if it looked like it was going to hit.

Center of Isaias’ forecast track cone was right over us (blue dot in above pic is us!!)

We spent the weekend calmly, for the most part. Neil supervised and taught Kathleen how to change the oil, oil filter and fuel filter on the generator. We went for a short walk, and mostly we tried to get Neil’s back to calm down. We met some really nice folks, Deb and Louie, who have their catamaran, 360°, hauled out for some repairs, maintenance and bottom painting. Louie loaned Neil his inversion boots, and offered to go to the grocery store for us. We have a lot of paying it forward to do after our stay here.

Kathleen strung Neil up from the dinghy davit to relieve his nagging back pain. Or so she said …

As Monday arrived, it appeared that Isaias was going to be more than just a dust up and was heading right for us. Max confirmed that we were welcome to stay. We spent Monday preparing the boat for the storm, bringing in anything that might blow off, securing our lines, putting out fender boards with the fenders. About 4:30, Steve Zimmerman founder of the yard, dropped by to say hello. Neil had previously met Steve at the 2019 Stuart FL Trawlerfest show. He had taught a diesel engine course. Steve gently suggested that we move our boat over to the slip next to ours so that we would be pushed off the dock, not onto it by the storm. This advice was gratefully heeded, as in addition to protecting our girl, we now would be tied up with our starboard side access door to the dock – MUCH easier to get on and off the boat. We walked through our plans to move the boat, having to wait until the tide came in as at low tide we sat on the bottom. There was a heavy thunderstorm at 6:30 that seemed too early for Isaias’ arrival, and was probably just the outer bands of the storm, but the intensity was ominous.

We got Granuaile moved and secured, and we waited. Going to bed was easy; sleep proved elusive. Both of us got up throughout the night to check on things. At about 5:30 in the morning, the winds were picking up and the water started rising. By 8:00 the winds were around 40-45 kts and the tide was still rising. We had a brief discussion about leaving the boat and seeking shelter in the marina bathroom until the storm blew over, but decided to stay on board. High tide was not for another two hours or more and was to rise by another 1.5-2 feet. The water was inches from the top of the dock.

Winds from the SE pushing water into the small bay where we are docked
Onboard camera monitoring dock as it is nearly submerged by the storm surge

Then the wind began to shift from southeast to northwest as the storm passed to the west of us. This did two things – decreased the wind, and the wind began pushing the water out. By 10:30, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking through. Our first Tropical Storm was in the books and we did great.

Tropical storm passed and water levels dropped quickly
Skies all clear

After the rain stopped, we inspected the boat – all was well, just some minor debris to clear. We had lost shore power, as had everyone else in our vicinity, but our generator was working, so we were fine. Then power was restored, we shut off the generator and hooked up shore power – only to have our breaker trip. Even with no loads it would trip as soon as shore power was applied. Neil determined that the relatively new ELCI breaker that had been installed during our stay in Vero Beach had failed. He contacted Max to request some help from one of the electricians.

In the afternoon, Neil went to start the generator. It would not start. Feeling like we were under a cloud of failure, Neil reached out to Clayton, the previous owner of Granuaile, asking for his input. Clayton immediately got back to us, with a suggestion to check the connections to the breaker and fuse in the generator controller enclosure. And sure enough, two spade connectors to the resettable fuse had worked loose. A quick fix – and the generator started like a charm – one disaster averted.

Bob the electrician confirmed what Neil suspected, the ELCI breaker was defective. A replacement was ordered, but it needed to be shipped from the West Coast, and it was Friday – so more days here at the marina. We cleaned, walked, and rested; Neil’s back slowly recovered. We pulled the boat away from the dock (with Kathleen paddle boarding across the slip to the other dock with a line, and Neil pushing the boat off the dock) so we could launch the dinghy and see more of the environs.

We had two beautiful outings, so peaceful and picturesque – it was hard to believe that a storm had just come through a few days before.

Tide mill at Poplar Grove on the East River. John and Yoko had once owned the property

On Sunday evening, in anticipation of leaving on Monday afternoon if the ELCI breaker replacement went to plan, we loaded the dinghy back onto the boat. As Neil was putting the davit away (the crane that is used to raise and lower the dinghy to and from the boat deck), he stopped suddenly, noticing that a part inside the davit’s extension arm had come loose, interfered with a hydraulic line causing it to be pinched between the davit covers. We were beginning to feel like we were cursed. Neil went to work reaching out to the manufacturer and someone who had serviced the davit for us when we were in Florida.

Monday we awaited the arrival of the UPS truck. After sitting around for a few hours, we decided to hit the grocery store to replenish some food as well as some other errands. We ran into Max on the way out, and requested more help for the davit issue. We also had an unexpectedly amazing lunch at a restaurant called Olivia’s in Gloucester – highly recommended for food, service and price. Returning to the marina, we passed the UPS truck just leaving. Unfortunately, the part was miss-shipped to a retailer’s store in Annapolis – and wouldn’t be delivered until Tuesday.

We did have some good news. Neil spoke with the technician who had serviced the davit in Vero Beach and was told that the part that had slipped loose was not necessary, was apparently a fairly common failure point in this Steelhead davit model, and could just be removed, which we did.

34″ Rub strip removed from davit

Bob came over Tuesday morning to remove the damaged hydraulic line, and ordered a replacement to be delivered the next day.

In the meantime, lots of amazing wildlife continued to astound us. We saw so many great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, cardinals, and myriad other unnamed birds. Beautiful luna moths that look like large leaves are around us when we stop to notice.

Luna moth, has a 3-4 inch wingspan

A young box turtle was swimming near the boat and then pulled himself on the muddy bank for some sunning. The stars at night in all their grandeur took our breath away. And we had beautiful quiet paths to walk to stretch ourselves anytime we wanted. There are definitely worse places to be “stuck”.

Further Meandering and Musings…


The next cruise route brought us further up the Pungo River, through the 20 mile Alligator – Pungo Canal, into the Alligator River to anchor for the evening.  We were deep in North Carolina country, with lush greenery all around us, and miles of undeveloped land on either side of the rivers and canal.  At least this time the Alligator River did not produce any dinosaurs for us, at least that we could see.

Alligator River – Pungo River Canal
Cruising north on the Alligator River

After navigating a swing bridge (which was actually pretty cool), we anchored off of the main channel, again limited by encroaching crab pots.  The water was a bit rougher, so it was a quick dip into the river off the stern, holding onto the swim ladder, but we did it.  We are nearing the end of our journey up to Virginia, and we are beginning to feel the tiredness from these past two weeks.  It is a wonderful way to travel, but it will be nice to be in a marina, tied up to a dock, for a while, and to walk on solid ground. Just a few more days.

The anchorage was a bit rolly that evening, but we still slept pretty well.  We got up in the morning to fog, which burned off before we weighed anchor.  Kathleen had to circle the anchorage four times to help Neil clean the mud/clay gunk off the anchor, but before long we were on our way…. Only to see a tug pushing a large barge through the S curves of the channel ahead of us.  After determining that it would not be smart to try to navigate these curves at the same time as this tug/barge, we turned around and slowly cruised back to our anchorage area, giving the tug/barge time to complete the curves and head into a straight away, where we were able to turn around again and head back up on our original track, passing them with greetings and plenty of room.

Tug and barge pass by on the Alligator River

It was another day of slow travel, punctuated with anxious moments of crab pots, tight turns, and a very large bay (Albemarle Sound) to cross. The bay is very wide, ~12nm and the fetch (distance the wind can blow across, unimpeded) is HUGE, so waves build and push.  We crossed the bay with no mishaps, and drove into the “backroads” of the river off of the bay to our final stop before reaching Virginia – Coinjock Marina, in Coinjock, NC

Coinjock Marina only has alongside dockage, a few hundred feet in length, beside the ICW. They do not waste an inch of space at this marina, with our anchor over the swim platform of the boat in front of us, and the anchor of the boat that came in behind us almost hanging over our transom.  

Tied up at Coinjock Marina, NC
No dockage wasted, boats lined up with no space between

We went to the marina bar/restaurant, and refreshed ourselves with beverages and sustenance (OK, slushie, beer, buffalo wings and calamari).  After we wandered to the marina store, picking up the requisite tee shirts and locally made marmalade (we are both proudly addicted to orange marmalade – no judgement please.)

We dropped off our purchases and went for a walk to a “park just up the road.”  It wasn’t far, but with no path off the road with a 55 mph speed limit, it was not quite a leisurely stroll.  We did notice that northern NC has the most AMAZING dragonflies everywhere – they are huge, and beautiful.  The “park” was actually a large boat ramp, so after walking along the water for a bit, we headed back to our boat to relax.

The marina restaurant had two amazing features:  wonderful reviews with outdoor dining, and a five minute walk from our boat.  We decided to treat ourselves and were not disappointed.  It is definitely a local spot (as Coinjock is not a booming metropolis for people to explore), the food was great and the evening very temperate.  Social distancing and facemasks were in force, and it was lovely to spend quiet time together enjoying someone else doing the cooking.

Coinjock Marina restaurant a short stumble to our boat

Our dockmates were a lively bunch, with good humor, lighted plastic palm trees and beach music.  It’s hard not to be in a great mood with such an environment.

We slept well, using the air conditioning at night for the first time in a while.

Monday June 29th dawned clear and quiet.  We aimed to push off the dock at 8:00 for our final day of cruising to our next destination, Portsmouth, VA.  After coffee and catching up on the news of the day, we started getting the boat ready for departure.  Kathleen made a quick trip to the marina bath house (and was disappointed by no TP), and hurried back to the boat to use our own facilities before we cast off.  Somehow between hurrying and not paying attention, Kath slipped getting onto the boat, one foot/leg falling between the dock and boat into the water, and the other foot crumpling into a sprained mess on the boat.  End result was a sprained ankle and fractured fourth toe (lots of purple, there).  She made it 8 months on the boat without any injury mishap, which, knowing Kathleen, is actually kind of remarkable.  The upside to being so “balanced challenged” is that we have a lot of orthopedic supplies on board, including ace bandages and an air cast.  It was, however, a less than auspicious beginning to this final leg of our journey.


We cast off from the dock (Kathleen was able to get the lines off and back on the boat, even with a significant hobble), with some dockmates ensuring that neither our bow or stern took any additional boating materials with us from the vessels in front and behind us.

The journey up was stressful, as there was a lot of shoaling most of the way, with cross winds and crab pots.  Neil drove 7 of the 8 hours, with Kathleen doing her best to keep an eye out (either with binoculars or just naked eye) for hazards, other boats, and directional day markers.

This cruise took us through very beautiful countryside, with a lot of undeveloped wilderness  The canal is narrow, and there were many boats of various speeds on the water this day.  We had a good time communicating with folks from all over (New Hampshire, Oregon, and Florida, to name just a few).  As we journeyed north, we couldn’t help but notice a prolific amount of bridges as we got closer to more populated areas.  

Line of boats timing the bridge openings on the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal

At one point, we were slowed by bridge opening timing, which should not have been a big deal.  However, the next bridge opened only on the hour (many open on the hour and half hour), and we would have really liked to have made that opening.  Unfortunately, a sailboat in front of us was traveling slower than necessary, and we miscalculated speed needed to make the opening.  We got to the bridge moments too late and had to hang out for an hour.  The upside was we got to see Work Knot again – a Nordhavn 57 whose owners we had met in Vero Beach earlier this year.  Neil briefly chatted with them as they were docked at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, just south of the bridge.  Once through, we were excited to experience our first lock experience.  After communicating with the lock operator (and “quickly” moving fenders from starboard to port – “quickly” as this was Kathleen’s task), we tied bow and stern to the cleats and waited for the experience.  It was less than we had built it up to be – Kathleen didn’t even notice the boat rising (the water level only changes about a foot).  So much for early lessons for the Panama Canal some day…

Tied up in Great Bridge Lock

Once through, we were able to maintain our normal cruising speed of ~7-8kts (having passed the sailboat and waved to him on our way) and proceeded north on the Elizabeth River to Tidewater Yacht Marina.  It quickly became obvious that we were back in “civilization” with much commerce and marine business appearing on both shores.  

Heading north on the Elizabeth River

There were many bridges to pass under while cruising up the Elizabeth River. The railroad bridges close intermittently for passing trains, so cannot time them.

We barely passed through two of the three normally open railroad bridges, they closed as soon as we were through. (Truthfully, the second one, without warning, was a lift bridge that started coming down AS we were passing under it.  Luckily, we were faster cruising than it was descending). 

Railway bridge descending as we passed underneath!!

We are now in Navy land.  It’s easy to forget how huge naval vessels are – until you are cruising by them.  The shipyards are immense.  

Destroyer USS Jason Dunham at General Dynamics’ Norfolk shipyard on Elizabeth River

With Norfolk off to our starboard and Portsmouth on our port, we contacted the marina for gave directions to our slip.

Tidewater Marina is an easy-going, relaxed marina.  Our slip is MUCH narrower than the one we had in Vero, but we were able to get tied up without mishap.  It was definitely good to be back at a marina. Neil got us squared away with the marina office, and Kathleen filled some ice bags and went to our bed.  We have arrived.

Tied up at floating dock, city of Norfolk in background across the Elizabeth River
Historic district of Portsmouth behind us
Tidewater Yacht Marina, Portsmouth VA

It’s not ALWAYS sunny…

June 25th dawned partly sunny, and after some coffee, we got the boat ready to continue our journey north.  

Sunrise on Broad Creek, NC

Today’s plan was to cruise up the Neuse River, cross the Pamlico River and anchor on the Pungo River at Deep Point Anchorage.  The day rapidly became overcast, but that’s ok – it was also cooler.  

Pamlico River, NC
Pungo River, NC

The trip up was uneventful (which is also not a bad thing).  The landscape is much more remote, with groves of pine trees and large swatches of grasslands being much more common than signs of human habitation.  

RE Mayo is located on the ICW at Hobucken, NC. Sells fresh local caught seafood to cruisers

When we reached our intended destination to turn off of the ICW into our anchorage, we were foiled from traveling too far into the cove by hordes of crab pots.  These are the bane of most cruisers’ existence.  Crab pots are placed by local watermen, each marked by a color coded buoy floating on the surface.  They are not to be taken lightly, as the lines can foul a prop or get caught on a stabilizer fin necessitating a dive under the hull to free.

We ended up anchoring just off the main channel, again in deep silence.  Once the anchor was set and the engine stilled, we noticed that fog had settled around us, and a soft drizzle of rain was falling.  Not to be deterred, we still swam in the water (no jellies here!) and noticed how much less salt was in the water.  This makes sense, as we are now quite a distance from the ocean, but it’s been a long while since we’ve been in relatively fresh water, and it’s the first time since we’ve been on the boat.  The fog lifted, the rain stopped, and now we hear the terns and gulls calling to each other as the sun sets.  Being here calls to mind what it must have been like for the Native Americans and first European explorers. The vast stillness and beauty of this area can transport you to another time.  We never knew North Carolina had all this to offer.

Blogger at work
Chilling in the pilothouse while at anchor
Never tire of the beautiful sunsets
Deep Point Anchorage on the Pungo River, NC

Never forget to….


We got up and going not too early, looking to cast off the dock at Homer Smith’s Marina in Beaufort NC by 9:30ish.  Our plan was a relatively short cruising day to a quiet anchorage in Broad Creek.  With the wind trying to blow our stern onto the dock, we needed to cast off quickly.  In her haste to accomplish this, Kathleen went a little too quickly, the center stern line was still tied to the dock – that makes it difficult to depart. Neil confirmed this …

Luckily, the mistake was caught before any damage was done (Kathleen has noticed that she seems to be responsible for an inordinate amount of such errors… learning curve is still steep for this one).  

Once out in the waterway, we worked together to navigate our way 30 miles up the ICW, using charts, radar and the blessedly wonderful Bob423 track data.  North Carolina is so beautiful – so many waterways with pretty homes, as well as unspoiled areas of wilderness.  

Adams Creek Canal north of Beaufort NC
Adams Creek just south of the Neuse River

We entered the Neuse River which is VERY large, at times could not see both shores, and seemed to run forever.  

Neuse River
Dolphins joined us on the Neuse River

Turning off the river to get into Broad Creek was tricky, as the entry seemed to zigzag for a while – we were wondering if maybe to deter folks from venturing a visit.

Once in, we anchored off the main channel in paradise.  It’s been a while since we’ve experienced such silence.  Very rarely, a boat would go by, but most of the sounds were contributed by the music of so many beautiful birds.  We watched terns diving, Pelicans bombing, Ospreys hunting – and so many just singing.  We saw either skates or rays (we couldn’t tell which) feeding at the surface, their wings gently flapping as they floated through the water.  Even though we did see some small jellyfish, we couldn’t resist swimming.  The water is rust/brown colored, from the tannins (from organic material dissolving in the water), and though we thought it might give our Irish skin a nice suntan tint, no such luck.  It was lovely, though, and just cool enough to be refreshing.

Kathleen cooked up the calamari that we had bought in Beaufort in a wonderful garlic-wine-lime sauce, and we ate dinner “al fresco” on the upper deck, marveling at the setting sun.

After dinner, we went back up top to watch the stars come out.  Sitting there, watching them unfold, it was easy to think it was a show put on just for us. The night sky was a panoply of star extravaganzas, interspersed with satellites zooming across the sky. After a while, we meandered back to our cabin for that wonderful “vacation” kind of sleep – physically tired and so happy to collapse into bed. It was lovely to be back in an area that cools off from the day’s sweaty heat when the sun sets – we didn’t even need air conditioning.

Night falling on Broad Creek anchorage

The next day, we launched the dinghy and took a two hour excursion around the area.  There are many “fingers” off of the main creek (which is a misnomer – creeks bring to mind small waterways that you can basically wade across – however, this area is smaller than the Neuse River, thus the “creek” moniker). There are a lot of homes (most raised, not sure if this creek floods), all with docks, most with boats.  We even saw a small church.  

The sun was hot, and it was fun to switch between scooting along fast in the dinghy and puttering through slow areas checking out the residences.  We explored a marina in the area, then, realizing that our skin was reaching its sun-allotment limit, we returned to our boat. After lunch, we both lolled around reading and relaxing, punctuated by jumping in the water to cool off, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for those nasty little jellyfish critters.

Dinner was fried clam strips with cocktail sauce (the last of the fresh seafood from Beaufort…sigh….) and then a sunset cruise around in the dinghy. Returning as the sun was setting, we hoisted the dinghy back up to upper deck and relaxed on the forward deck, contemplating the silence.  This type of quiet stills the soul, and we didn’t realize how wonderful it was, how much it had been missed, until we experienced it.  We highly recommend it for decompression (especially in the middle of a pandemic and a presidential election year) – this site also had very spotty wifi – which made it all the more special. We definitely hope to return to this little slice of heaven.  Did we mention there were no bugs?

So, lessons learned:  never forget to make sure all lines are untied from the dock before trying to leave, never forget to find silence in all the noise, never forget to let yourself feel small in the grandeur of the universe, and never forget to feel grateful, even for jellyfish, for such details mark the beauty of being alive.


After a month in Palm Beach Gardens, we were at last ready to begin our travels north for the next several months.  Excited to be on the open ocean (and have good ocean breezes to blow away the oppressive humidity and heat of Florida in June), we left Old Port Cove marina at 1:30pm onContinue reading ““NORTH! WE ARE HEADING NORTH, AND FAR IN THE DUSK I SEE A WARM LIGHT, LOW ON THE COAST OF DREAM, MARKING THE COURSE FOR ME.” – Theodore Goodridge Roberts”

Yes, Virginia, there ARE two southern towns named Beaufort


We got up and moving early from Wrightsville Beach to catch near slack tide conditions heading out the Masonboro Inlet.  Interesting fun fact:  Beaufort, SC is pronounced “Bewferd” and Beaufort, NC is pronounced “Bohfort”.  Googling was done to figure this out, as was figuring out why North and South Carolina are separate states, and not just “Carolina” – we won’t spoil the surprise – look it up.

The ocean was amazingly calm and gentle for the 60nm cruise up to the Beaufort Inlet.  Partly sunny skies, low, slow rollers, and barely registering wind.  Absolutely perfect, and reminding us again of the temperamental unpredictability of Mother Nature.  Lots of fishermen out on this beautiful Father’s Day – seems like a great way to spend it!

Leaving Wrightsville Beach behind
Calm ocean conditions ahead
Kathleen conducting an engine room check while underway

The only rough part of the day was coming into Beaufort Inlet.  There was a bit of an ebb tide (current out the inlet into the ocean, causing choppy, rocking waves) and a big dredging ship in part of the channel.  We were torn between being happy that they were dredging the channel which apparently has had problems with shoaling, and being nervous having to pass this behemoth in turbulent water.  Inside the Beaufort Inlet is a very busy place, with commercial ships, pleasure craft, people on beaches, jet skis – you name it.  It’s also very confusing as there are several channels off the main one, with seemingly overlapping day markers.  

Passing a dredger outside the Beaufort Inlet

With the help of our chart plotter, binoculars and Bob423, we carefully made our way through this maze to Homer Smith’s Marina.  The winds had picked up, presenting a challenge for docking as we backed in (stern in for the boaters out there), but we made it with Neil at the helm, Kath calling out directions, and Clark, the marina attendant, ready, standing by to help secure lines.  After lines were secure, engine turned off, and connected to electric, we breathed a bit and realized how tired we were.  It was a long day – 9.5 hours – but well worth it.  Father’s Day dinner was relaxed, and we ended the evening with a Zoom call with the kids – which was fantastic.  

Granuaile docked at Homer Smith’s Marina, Beaufort NC

We’ve met several boaters here at this marina, and we are always so amazed at how helpful and friendly everyone is.  But come to think of it, living this life is kind of an ongoing bucket list, so it makes sense.


Today we ran some errands (there is a loaner car available at the marina that was great to have), hitting a grocery store and a seafood market.  Florida is crazy expensive compared to here.  After we got back to the marina, we did some boat cleaning (getting all the salt off and polishing some spots that were slyly trying to get rusty), then headed out to explore historical Beaufort.  We wandered by the water for a while, stopping for some munchies and beverages, then took a walking tour of the area.  

We spent a lot of time in a really old (pre-Revolutionary War) “burying ground” (aka cemetery).  It was fun to be able to wander through with a guide pamphlet detailing stories of important local figures including Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers.  Yellow fever wiped out an awful lot of people, especially babies and young women.  

There was an area with no headstones that a few years ago was discovered to hold the remains of people who died during wars with Native Americans.  The overarching conclusion is that this area was a hard place to live.  Roanoke is not far from here.  And for a long time it appears that people came to escape persecution, only to find themselves scraping out a living in an inhospitable land.

On an upnote, we did go see the oldest house in Beaufort, where Blackbeard had stayed (among others).  Neil had recently read a book about this famous pirate, so it was fun to see this area.  Kathleen has it on her list of books to consume.  A lot of the homes are historical buildings, with placards next to the front door indicating the original owner and the year the home was built.  The style and ease of this area belies the reality of living just off the Atlantic, but they must be doing something right as these homes have withstood whatever has been thrown at them for nearly 300 years.  

Collection of historical residences at the Beaufort Historic Site

Back onboard after several hours touring the town, we had coconut shrimp bought this morning, watching another amazing sunset.  Tomorrow, we continue our journey north.

In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina


This morning started early (5:00 am) as we wanted to get an early start.  Jeff bid us farewell from the dock at 7:45, as he was traveling back home to California.  It was such a wonderful time with him, and we cannot wait to share new exploits.  The day dawned partly cloudy, light breeze and 66 degrees – perfect for just about anything, especially cruising.

Departing South Harbour Village Marina

The trip today was a short one – 25 NM (nautical miles) up the Cape Fear River and on the ICW to a Wrightsville Beach anchorage.  We somehow forgot that today is Saturday, and were abruptly reminded of how much North Carolinians love to boat.  Lots of traffic, along with a dredging barge in the middle of the channel, tug boats and every type of watercraft imaginable.

Tug towing barge on Cape Fear River
Dredging on the Cape Fear River
Homes along the ICW

Adding to this mix is a river system that curves and bends often, with areas of shoaling (where sand and dirt encroach back into the channel) just for good measure.  Kathleen did a lot of the driving today, and though proudly did not run aground, was tense and tired by the time we anchored.

A shout-out to Bob423, a blogger who cruises the ICW from Virginia to Florida each year, he provides his boat track data for upload into your navigation application to aid in finding deep water around the many shoals and obstructions in the ICW.

Primarily using Ipad navigation app and Bob423 tracks to navigate the ICW

Neil had to perform some boating maneuvers when two tug boats, with a few hundred yards of piping between them appeared to be blocking the exit from Shinn Creek at the Masonboro Inlet.  He was able to back up, swing around the convoy, holding the boat in a very small area of “deep-enough” water.  Kathleen in the cockpit was watching kids playing in the water seemingly very close by.  We both breathed a sigh of relief when we were able to maneuver around and make way up to the anchorage.  

Wrightsville Beach is very pretty, and obviously a place to play.  The anchorage is big and relatively protected; we settled in to enjoy the rest of the day.  

It was only noon, so that was fantastic.  After securing the boat and shutting down the engine and electronics, we sunbathed on the upper deck (top of the pilothouse) for a bit, and then went swimming off the swim platform at the back of the boat.  

Beautiful day at Wrightsville Beach

We even tried out our new swim ladder, confirming that it can be deployed from the water and does not result in a concussion.  As an added bonus, it is even easier to use than the original ladder on the opposite side of the swim platform.

Testing the new swim ladder

Sitting here now, writing this blog, watching the late afternoon sun dapple the water like immeasurable diamonds, with billowing clouds rolling in which just might portend an evening thunderstorm.  Tomorrow we continue our journey north; for now, we’re enjoying this Salt Life.  And we completely understand why JT wrote a song about coming here in his mind.  

New Adventures Begin!

After a couple of weeks of provisioning, repairing, double checking and even hand waxing the topsides (who needs a gym!), we drove to Orlando Airport to pick up our broker-turned-good friend, Jeff Merrill, to travel with us on the first leg of our journey. We ventured out to meet some friends for a last evening at the “Chill and Grill” which was a great way to salute the first seven months of our boat life.

We waved off our new friends, Joe and Christine, in their Nordhavn 46 Legacy on Sunday.  The people we have met have been wonderful, and we always are so grateful for the generosity and friendliness of boat folks.  Jeff is a case in point.  We met him about 4 years ago when we first began to seriously explore finding a boat.  He has navigated us through this new world, including helping us purchase Granuaile.  Somewhere along the way we went from clients and broker to friends.  Part of his buyer-broker program is an offer to provide onboard training post-purchase, and we jumped at the chance.  We definitely felt much more comfortable having Jeff, with his lifetime of boating experience, with us for our first overnight offshore cruise.

Marina mates Joe, Christine and Avery Cook on Nordhavn 46 Legacy

After researching multiple weather forecasting sources, we felt relatively confident that we had picked a good window for running north on the open ocean, for a grand total of 442 NM over the course of 2 days and 2 nights, Leaving around 10:00 am on June 15, and arriving in the afternoon on June 17.  Neil set up our Garmin InReach satellite device for communicating with the kids and Neil’s brother Dave so our “land contacts” would be able to monitor our progress real time on a map and be able to contact via messaging. Here is a link to map displaying our cruising tracks: https://share.garmin.com/mvgranuaile. It is updated as we continue our travels. Select the “View Recent Tracks” button to see all of our cruising tracks to date. We also added a new section to the blog, “Location Map”, where you can find the above link.

Departure was easy, with our dockmate, Susan, helping with the lines and all systems working.  We cruised down to Ft. Pierce and out into the ocean around 12:30.  

Heading down the ICW to Ft Pierce Inlet

We got out into the ocean, set our course, and began heading north, with John Denver’s Song, “Calypso” playing as an earworm in Kathleen’s brain.

Good-bye Florida! Back In December
Jeff and Kathleen reviewing watch and engine room data log-sheets
Crossing paths with two Norwegian Cruise Line ships
Tracking cruise ships via AIS

Shortly into our cruise, it became apparent the sea conditions were rougher than forecasted.  Waves were bigger with shorter periods, creating a ride similar to an amusement park roller coaster.  Kathleen did ominously note that we did not see any dolphins on our way out yet.

Wave crashing over the bow
Nothing but sea out the saloon rear window as Granuaile pitches up

Jeff has extensive offshore cruising experience and knowledge that he willingly shared with us which made us much more comfortable with undertaking an overnight passage.  We worked together to set a watch schedule while getting our “sea legs” in rolling, often crashing, seas.  There were many flying fish sightings throughout the day, which really seemed to be impossible – the fish literally flap their fins above the water and fly over the top of it for many yards at a time.  They looked like something right out of Harry Potter.

Being out of sight of land again was less intimidating than the first time.  However, we have renewed respect for those intrepid early explorers who left their homes and shores with no idea what they were sailing into, with only a compass for their guide.  Polynesians didn’t even have that and they successfully navigated the South Pacific waters using the night sky as their map and an intuitive sense of the movement and streams of the oceans to move between islands. We’re really glad that we have redundant electronics (along with traditional compass and charts) to venture out into the ocean, over 100 miles from land.

The rolling, crashing seas were definitely “exciting” and we are very thankful for the person who invented scopolamine patches (frankly, he or she should be canonized…) as this miracle little patch allowed us to function during unsettling water without tossing our cookies, which goes a long way in creating a successful voyage.  Neil was the hero for the day, as he was able to crawl into the lazarette and purge air from a raw water pump that caused the AC to stop working – not good in rolling seas where you cannot open doors and hatches to let cross breezes in.  Then Neil and Jeff noticed that the tie down for the davit (the crane that lifts the dinghy on and off the boat) had loosened and the arm was not secure.  Jeff turned the boat around so that the ride would be smoother while Neil donned his life jacket and ventured out to the upper deck to secure the arm to a railing, with a towel for a buffer.  Jeff called out instructions on how to tie a trucker’s knot.  In no time (that may have felt a little longer to Neil), the davit was made fast and we turned back onto our course.

Watching the ocean move around, under, and at times, over our boat creates such wonder.  The ocean is indeed a living entity, not just for the denizens who live in its vast depths.  There is a power, movement, force that is daunting in its strength.  So many poets, songwriters and singers have tried to capture this essence.  This cruise was an amazing chance to experience this mystery.

As the sun started to set on the first evening, nervous energy was palpable for both of us.  Kathleen had the 9-midnight watch.  It was surprising how subtly darkness falls on the water.  The horizon is unbroken as the sun sinks in the west, but it is amazing how long light lingers – it didn’t get truly dark until about 10:00, and by that time, Kath was comfortable with steering by radar and autopilot.

Sun setting
Last bit of light

 It is quiet and calm during the night, punctuated by moments of extreme alertness when the radar picks up another ship moving towards your general direction.  You strain to catch a glimpse of the white steaming light which is usually the first sighting of a distant vessel, and then tracking its course in conjunction with your own, calculating your course (with the help of AIS, GPS and radar) to avoid coming near each other.  It’s funny that while we’re cruising on this huge expanse of water two boats can even inadvertently come close to each other is a thing – and it happens a lot.  Much music was listened to, and kindle books read while on night watch.  

With the wind and waves on our bow either directly or near so, causing the rough seas and very slow forward progress, we determined that our original plan to arrive at Cape Fear between noon and 3:00 on Wednesday was not going to happen.  We slowed further and committed to another night on the ocean, with plans to enter the inlet at (or near) slack tide, 6:00ish am on Thursday morning.  

Approaching Cape Fear Inlet, NC early in the morning

We had to do a bit of creative navigating to draw out our trip as we arrived a bit sooner than we thought we would, but we entered the Cape Fear inlet in less rough waters, and docked at our new marina, South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC at 8:00 am.  We were on a facing dock between two boats.  

On the ICW heading to South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC
South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC

Once secured, Jeff volunteered to wash off the accumulated pounds of salt from the boat, Neil went up to sign in at the marina, and Kathleen made veggie cheese omelets for the weary crew.  While washing the boat, Jeff discovered that we had “landed” our first fish – one of the flying fish didn’t make it over our upper deck and unfortunately expired sometime during our journey.  And no, we did not cook it up – it was returned to the sea with a ceremonious fling.  Fair winds and following seas, Mr. Fish.

After well-deserved (and needed) showers, Kathleen and Neil ventured into Southport to explore, while Jeff tried to nab some sleep and catch up on work, emails and phone calls.  Neil and Kathleen had more fun.  Southport is a beautiful colonial town, picturesque and the site of many movies.  We enjoyed some shellfish and sunshine, exploring the town for a few hours.

Enjoying Southport NC sights
… and seafood!!

Dinner that evening was chicken enchiladas on board, rounds of Mind Blocks (a game Jeff invented) and early end to waxing philosophical, as we all needed a good night’s sleep. Oh, and Jeff pointed out a family of dolphins that were casually fishing in the river near us.  NOW Kathleen knew all would be well.

Friday dawned beautiful and calm.  

On the way up to the marina office, Neil encountered some of the local wildlife, calling Kathleen to come check it out.  Yup, that is a six foot alligator swimming around in the marina.  Apparently, dinosaurs are found all over the South. This “little guy” hung out for a bit, but got irritated with a golden retriever who disrupted the early morning quiet with excited barking, and with a few powerful swishes of his tail, slipped under the water and disappeared.  Needless to say, we did not swim or paddle board here.  

Alligator checking out the marina

The rest of the day passed quietly and seamlessly.  We debriefed with Jeff on his observations and suggestions for making cruising easier, whether it be added amenities to the pilothouse (i.e. – drink holders) to improvements on engine room check logging forms.  We are sooo grateful for his easy manner with good ideas.  His calm demeanor and ability to turn any situation into a fun adventure made this cruise for us.  We cannot wait for another trip with him, and hopefully, his wife, Pam.  Oh, and he introduced us to the music group, The Cordovas, which is awesome.

Thank you Jeff!!

Update 9/29/2020: Jeff Merrill (JMYS – Trawler Specialists) produced a video of our offshore adventure/training. Please view at the following YouTube link: