Tuesday, January 30, 2007

St. Augustine, FL

"The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." --Job

A disaster has fallen on our cruise, which is the reason for my disappearance from the website. Karl insists on calling it a blessing, and I would, too, if I could, but it's hard to be so circumspect about it. Entirely due to our own fooliness, our computer, containing all our electronic charts and navigation software, has gone missing. So has $900 worth of blocks and slides for the boat, without which we cannot sail, three guidebooks, one newly purchased, and my purse, containing wallet.

It happened when, in attempting to row against four knots of current at night back to our anchorage in St. Augustine, the oarlock on our dinghy broke. It was starting to rain, it was thirty degrees outside, and I was near-hypothermic and crying. Karl dragged the already-leaking dinghy across the pavement to the seawall across from where Secret was anchored and threw it in the water. I jumped in to find myself kneedeep in water and unable to clamber back up ove rthe sea wall. Karl jumped in to rescue me only to discover that our dinghy was already on its way to sinking. We put the bag containing the computer and everything else back up on the seawall to rescue it.

Our only choice, or the only choice that seemed obvious at the time, was to swim back to the boat. We threw off our shoes as the nose of the dinghy dipped underwater and the oars drifted away. The boat was so close, but swimming fully clothed in ice-cold rain against an insatiably strong current was more than we bargained for. I'm a stronger swimmer than Karl is, and by the time I got to the boat and clambered up the swim ladder, he was gasping for air and I was desperately afraid. He finally made it back to the boat, his baggy clothes water-logged, shivering violently. Thank goodness for our twenty-degree trail sleeping bags. We huddled inside them, shivering, for what felt like hours. Any plan we had to immediately retrieve the bag was abandoned, despite it having nearly everything that our journey depends on.

The first sympton of hypothermia is foolish decision-making. I look back now, days later, still grieving was feels like an unbearable loss, and I think about everything we could have done differently. So many things, so many stupid decision. I guess I should be happy we have our lives. People have drowned for far less.

In the early hours, when we woke up, exhausted, the bag was still there, barely a hundred yards away. It might have been a hundred miles for all the difference it made. By the time we hauled our anchor up and raced through the lift bridge, it was gone. We spent $70 to dock and chased through the streets of St. Augustine, looking for anyone who had seen our bag, but it was lost.

I keep praying that the goodness o fhumna nature will be proved to me, that some kind soul will return to us what means so much to me but so little to anyone else. The computer was six years old and we had broken off the corner of the case and soldered the power supply directly to it--it was next-to-worthless. But St. Augustine's fairly crime-ridden and everyone we've talked to has told us to give up. I haven't yet, but this was a week ago tomorrow and every morning my dull, hopeless feeling increases.

All of my recent blog entries were on that computer, as was a ton of music, many pictures, our budget--things that can't be replaced. Of course, we can solve the problem with vast quantities of money--money we barely had to begin with.

I feel like it's all my fault. I was too proud of that Apple--my one nice thing--too attached to it. I loved that computer. And now it's gone.

We did manage to salvage the dinghy, thanks to the generosity of some amazingly kind liveaboards, and someone else, completely unknown to us, gave us a pair of oars and oarlocks yesterday morning. Karl, in his enlightened way, is looking on this as a gift, a way for us to remove our dependence on earthly things. I try. I pray daily, hourly, for God to help me accept the loss as part of some larger plan, but it's so hard. I can't see it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fernandina Beach, FL

0 nm
Wind: N 10-15 knots

Still in Fernandina. We’ve been waylaid by professional football. The New England Patriots, Karl’s team, are in the running for the Super Bowl, and it seems as good of an excuse as any for sticking around today, getting showers, doing laundry, all that jazz. Even though St. Augustine’s just around the corner.

There’s also a little dollar store a couple of blocks away with very cheap canned goods.
We’re talking seriously about restocking the boat with a lot of the cans we might not be able to get until the Dominican Republic. If we really want the Bahamas to be cheap, we need to be able to live off fish, staples, and whatever we have on the boat.

It’s not really that hard. Our array of exotic can-based cuisine has been expanding vastly. For instance, sardines make a delicious substitute for tuna in a tuna-noodle casserole. Chili from a can with an extra can each of corn, tomatoes, and black beans rivals cook-off variety. Canned chicken makes delectable burritos. I was excited to find canned beef and gravy at the dollar store!

The hardest thing is the fresh vegetables. Canned vegetables are not sufficient. I fell myself pining for anything fresh occasionally. We’re doing basically without even ice these days, living as if out in the middle of the ocean this close to land. I’m not sure why we do it when having a little ice makes our lives so much more enjoyable. The budget I suppose. And practice.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cumberland Island, GA, to Fernandina Beach, FL

6.5 nm
Wind: NW 15-20 knots
Maximum speed: 5.8 knots
Average speed: 4.6 knots
Latitude: 30°40.38’N
Longitude: 081°28.13’W

Yesterday, we wondered how anyone could be so lucky to get paid to live on Cumberland Island--today we met them. We went ashore for some civilization today at Fernandina Beach, a quaint little town at the Georgia-Floriday border, and happened to run into the gang that works on Cumberland Island, on some R&R themselves.

They work for a place called Grayfield Inn, one of the remaining privately-owned places on the island, still owned by Carnegie scions. Some are caretakers, others inn staff, and it’s as abandoned and solitary of a life as we had imagined. I’ve never met a group of people who loved their jobs so much.

They talked about pulling in nets from the beach, full of crabs and fish, huge on-beach barbecues with fish that had been caught four hours before, surfing on the breaks off the island, drinking homemade wine from wild grapes, and catching oranges from the top of trees so sweet and full of juice that they’d burst if they hit the ground.

I’m a little bit worried about the extent of our social skills when people meet us and immediately discern that we’d be great at jobs that require large amounts of isolation from the civilized world. But they’re evidently looking for couples to combat the loneliness out there, specifically boat people who have their own housing and transportation.

I really don’t think we’re ready to end our cruise yet, but the idea of earning more cash in an idyllic island paradise is sorely tempting. Especially one where I could run on the beach... If it worked out, I could be convinced. I can only hope that as we go, we’ll continue to run into choices like this. If we keep our minds and options open, we’ll find some extraordinary place to be for a while. Someplace we’re meant to be.

Still, the Bahamas beckon. So close. We met three crew off a 42-foot Beneteau who are heading straight to Eleuthera from here, with a plan to be there in three days. We’re so close. But we end up dawdling in Florida for a month. The list of people we have to visit just keeps getting longer. Everyone has a cousin who’s moved to Florida. And we’ll be even slower if we keep meeting people as cool as the group we met tonight.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cumberland Island, GA

0 nm
Wind: N 15-20 knots, dying down to 10-15
Seas: A little chop

It was all worth it. I convinced Karl to go ashore this afternoon after the wind died down, saying we could make the six-mile run to Fernandina after four. The island is a completely different world, set apart in time and space. We saw wild horses grazing on the beach as we dinghied across against the current, and huge live oaks hung wiht Spanish moss.

We took one of the little meandering paths that led back to the ruined Carnegie estate at Dungeness. The maritime forest is as thick as a rainforest, bu with deciduosu oaks that are gnarled and twisted as defense from hurricanes. We saw an armadillo scurrying through the underbrush with a remarkably pink nose, more wild horses, and a herd of emu-sized wild turkeys.

We visited the museum that held the history of the island and artifacts from the Carnegie estate, which Karl was amused to learn was built later than his house in Massachusetts. But exploring the ruins was haunting, in the way that the deterioration of the work of our hands always is. We saw photographs from a hundred years ago, when visiting the estate was the height of society. The island required a completely self-sufficient staff of 300 servants, and the owners only lived there several months a year. The effort it must have taken to carve a slice of civilization out of hte wild and wind-whipped island must have been extraordinary. Now it’s all decaying, overrun by birds and horses and fire. It was beautiful and sad and made me think about time.

We wandered through the graveyard, too, where the tombstones, overhung with vines, were set aboveground to keep the bodies from washing away. The boardwalk over the salt marsh along hte beach was a beautiful walk, and then we meandered back along the nature trail that taught us all about various Indian medicinal herbs.

It may have been our best day on the boat so far, definitely our best day on land. It felt great to be exploring a beautiful, abandoned place by foot, to be visiting a place only our boat could take us. There’s a ferry that runs from land, but only for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

When we got back to the dinghy dock, our little cracked fiberglass dinghy was the only boat tied up, bashing a little from the wind. It was gray and overcast, but Secret was the only boat in the anchorage, and we had another night with paradise to ourselves. Sometimes life on a boat ain’t so bad.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cumberland Island, GA

0 nm
Wind: NE 25-30 knots, gusting to 35

Another day spent bashed by waves and wind. Today I feel like it’s all my fault. These decisions that we make together, as a couple, are so difficult. What happens if we just disagree completely? Who gets to decide?

But I wanted to come here and here we came, despite Skipper Bob’s wind-against-tidal-current warning, despite the “2” wind ranking, despite the gale forecast. Why didn’t I convince Karl to stay at Jekyll Island? Or voice my opinion more loudly that we stay at the last, more protected anchorage? Or let myself be talked into passing this place by?

It’s not that it’s really that bad. We’re bashed a little by current when the tide changes, and we’re completely open to northwest winds, but the wind’s out of the northeast mostly today. I just feel totally responsible.

We had a little bit of a scare this afternoon. Karl thought the anchor was dragging when the wind was pulling one direction and the tide another. We started the engine, jumped around on deck, and tried to pull up the chain only to realize the anchor wasn’t dragging after all. These crazy tidal currents really confuse you. I can tell I’m attuning to life on the boat when I wake up whenever the tide changes. I can actually feel it.

That’s one of those things everyone said would happen but I didn’t believe. My body, or my consciousness, is slower than most.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jekyll Island to Cumberland Island, GA

22.5 nm
Wind: SW 10-15 knots, building to 20
Seas: Building to one-foot chop
Maximum speed: 6.0 knots
Average speed: 5.1 knots
Latitude: 30°46.02’N
Longitude: 081°28.28’W

We’re at Cumberland Island in Georgia, a place I’ve wanted to visit my entire life. My mom’s always been infatuated with it, partly because JFK Jr. was married here, and this is where sehe was supposed to come meet us if our timing hadn’t been off. Any my college roommate, Sonia, had a family vacation cottage here that we were always supposed to visit together.

The island is beautiful. This morning, motoring by the white sand beaches of Little Cumberland Island, at the tip of the bigger island, we saw people walking on the beach, picking up shells, and little houses nestled among gnarled live oaks and huge sand dunes. Later we saw wild horses grazing at the edge of the water.

I wanted to anchor up near Little Cumberland and explore the island, but Karl and I subtly negotiated, in the way we do, and agreed to go farther. As it turns out, it was a bad decision. We had to go through a submarine naval base under heightened security, were almost boarded by the Coast Guard, and now, in the Big Cumberland Island anchorage, are completely exposed to the north wind blowing at gale force against the current.

We spent all morning at Jekyll Island, where the computer had internet access, catching up on my sister Erica’s blog. She idealizes what we’re doing, idealizes beaches and islands and sun, but today, as we passed by those perfect beaches, studded with cottages, I realized how far we still are from paradise. I want to be walking barefoot in the sand, the cool water brushing my ankles, I want to be able to go back to one of those cottages for a hot shower and then nestle back against a cozy old sofa with a cup of coffee and watch the surf. Instead, I spent all day motoring at full speed into the face of twenty knots of wind. So close to paradize and yet so far away.

Here we are, anchored not 200 yards from the southern end of the island, unable to go ashore because of the wind, the waves bashing the boat back and forth. I’m just as far from my sister’s ideal as she is. So what do I do? I enjoy where I am, or try to. I have to find heaven at home. I enjoy my dirty, stinky, head-smelling boat, the warmth in the air despite the wind, our closeness to Florida. The view of the island I may never get to visit.

Monday, January 15, 2007

South Edisto River, SC, to Jekyll Island, GA

128.6 nm
Wind: SE 5-10 knots
Seas: Three feet
Maximum speed: 6.1 knots
Maximum speed under sail: 5.7 knots
Average speed: 4.2 knots
Latitude: 31°02.51’N
Longitude: 081°25.55’W

We’ve made it to Georgia--another state down, and Florida beckons only thirty miles away. I’m sipping hot chocolate, savoring the hazy drone of a night lived mostly without sleep.

I had two five-hour off-watches yesterday, and I probably had four hours of sleep between the two of them, which stinks for Karl as well as for me. He sleeps better than I do at sea but he still shouldn’t have left me to sleep that long. I lie there, convinced I’m going to fall asleep in the next five minutes, but my mind is too busy with everything going on in the boat, the noise, the wind, the waves.

I’m convinced I’ll get the hang of it, though. One’s body gets used to anything, if one forces it too. I always sleep better in my second shift off from sheer exhaustion. But Karl’s a little worried that I’m not cut out for this kind of thing after listening to my stories of hearing voices over my shoulder at three in the morning.

It’s a great feeling, though, the day after. We got in today at around two and had four hours of balmy zoned-out sitting in the seventy-degree sun. The day after we sail overnight is the like the day after you pull an all-nighter for a college exam. The whole world’s colors seem brigher, the edges a little fuzzier, everything a lot dreamier. Sleep deprivation is fun.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

En route from South Edisto River, SC

Wind: SE 5-10 knots
Seas: Three feet

It’s one o’clock in the morning, Monday morning, actually, and I’m on watch at the helm with the Master steering. We’re offshore of Savannah, heading to St. Simons Sound. It was almost an impulse decision to go outside, but the weather held, and we realized we had a window, so after all day motoring on the ICW we came out of Port Royal Sound at dusk, and here we are, with 46 miles to go.

I’ve already seen falling stars and heard the chirping of a dolphin. The only thing marring the pleasantness of the passage is the dull throb of the diesel. This is our third offshore passage and my first watch where we haven’t actually been sailing, and that was the whole point of going offshore.

I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I’ve been reading this guidebook called The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South, a guidebook to passages in the Caribbean, and he keeps talking about when you need to use your auxiliary (engine, that is), how you need to time your passages to sail them, how motorsailing is often the best option.

Motorsailing is bogus. It’s motoring with a little piece of cloth up, not sailing at all. It’s what we’re doing right now. It’s just something to make sailors feel better about not buying a powerboat.

If we don’t sail, how are we ever going to learn to sail? The only reason we know anything about sailing is that we spnet all summer refusing to use our engine except to get in and out of harbors. I see little sailboats messing around harbors on the weekend, as we go chugging by, and I’m extremely jealous. At least they get to sail.

It’s as if someone gave me a little motorscooter when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail and I could just hop on it when things got tough. As if someone told me, “You can’t just walk. It’s not safe!” We have all sorts of excuses for motoring--our lack of a windvane, blah blah, but no good reason. We were going six knots under genoa and main, and now we’re going four, “motorsailing.” It’s just easier to pop on the auxiliary, is what it boils down to. It’s easier, and we’re lazy. But if we wanted it to be easy, then why didn’t we buy a powerboat? Why not an RV? Hell, why not just stay at home?

I want to sail. I really, really do. But I can’t do it alone, now, at one o’clock in the morning while Karl’s sleeping, and the wind’s just a little bit too strong. I’m not ready to do it by myself precisely because I haven’t been doing it. Our boat’s not prepared, we’re not prepared. There’s crap all over the boat that’ll fall all over the place when we heel. But if not now, when?

We’ll work it out, I know. This is just another one of the snakes in the garden. In the meantime, I’ll sit out and feel the wind, watch the stars, and try to ignore the noise.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Charleston to South Edisto River, SC

31.6 nm
Wind: SE 5-10 knots
Maximum speed: 6.8 knots (with current)
Average speed: 4.4 knots
Latitude: 32°33.39’N
Longitude: 080°25.05’W

We spent this evening planning our route to the Bahamas and beyond. I think we might be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, but it’s too tempting. We have brand spanking new guidebooks, and they just sit on the shelf until we peruse them and make plans for months from now, when we all know that the worst thing the two of us are good at is planning.

It is a little frustrating, though, because already I feel the time crunch of hurricane season. Hurricane season starts in June, and we’re supposed to be in Trinidad by then, right on the edge of Venezuela. The Bahamas alone are 700 miles long, and I have no idea how long the rest of the string of islands are. Long. We have to have money and weather to get all the way down there, and the whole way is to windward, directly in the face of the Caribbean trade winds.

And we have friends in Florida we have to visit, which will probably take us weeks. My parents are supposed to come for a visit at some point, and my brother and sister might fly to the Bahamas to visit. I feel like I’m on the trail again, with this October 15 deadline hanging over my head. I hate deadlines. I hate them. I want to explore every little last island that we’re within a hundred miles of. What happened to nothing in the world but love and time? Nothing in the world but love and time and hurricanes, I guess.

To make matters worse, we’ve been attacked by mosquitoes the last two nights. Mosquitoes? In January? It makes no sense. Still, last night, after watching the sunset, when we turned the lights on the ceiling of the boat looked like something from a horror movie, a mosquito breeding ground. The white was polka-dotted with mosquitoes. It was like that scene from Alien. Tonight, when we anchored, they started swarming again, and even though it’s a gorgeous night we’ve had the boat completely sealed up since about five.

I shouldn’t complain. I know. Everything’s beautiful. We’re at a gorgeous anchorage, with no civilization in sight, egrets and pelicans in the water, if only I could see any of it. I just have to keep reminding myself of our original goal—to get to Connecticut, and then we’d see from there. So now, our goal is—get to Georgia, and then we’ll see from there. If we have to haul the boat and get jobs somewhere during hurricane season, I guess we’ll just do what we have to.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Charleston, SC

0 nm
Wind: 15 knots

We took an old-fashioned trail zero day, today. Zero nautical miles. We didn’t even go to shore—we took a little row in the dinghy, Karl went for a swim, we did a bunch of work on the boat. I made jambalaya for dinner, or so I called it, because it had the remnants of sausage pasta sauce and crab bisque in it. Karl spent all day scrubbing our water line and beginning to clean our teak toe-rail, so he’s snoring over on the settee right now. I’m listening to my favorite Belle and Sebastian CD and hoping I can finish writing before the computer battery dies. I’ve already killed the inverter.

It’s nice to be able to take zero days because we want to and not because we have to huddle inside from the weather. It was a gorgeous day today, sunny, beautiful, probably seventy degrees. Too nice a day to sail. Not really, but a great day for enjoying the pleasures of the harbor. I couldn’t believe Karl actually went for a swim, swung out over the water on a halyard, no less. I wish I had got a picture.

We did get a picture of the egret that came to visit. I was working on our navigation system, when Karl whispered from the cockpit, “Look up now, but don’t say anything.” I peeked up slowly and quietly and see a skinny white head with a long orange beak peeking back at me. When it saw me it pulled its head back, shy, but then it got curious again and peeked back down. It stood there for about five minutes, investigating our hatch door and us. Karl would have fed it one of our 800 cans of sardines if it hadn’t left.

It would have been a perfect day except for our mosquito infestation. Right at dusk, when we were still watching the sunset and before we turned on the lights, I started to notice swarms of insects gathering in the boat. It wasn’t until I turned on the light that I saw the hundreds of mosquitoes collected on our ceiling. Why they were trying to suck the fiberglass boat and not us, I have no idea. I did get a few bites, but not nearly as many as I should have. They’re still swarming around the light from the computer. I have no idea either what mosquitoes are doing alive in January, but I suppose it’s only to be expected when there’s warm enough weather to go swimming.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Inlet Creek to Charleston, SC

13.3 nm
Wind: NE 15-20 knots
Seas: One-foot chop in harbor
Maximum speed: 6.2 knots
Average speed: 4.3 knots
Latitude: 32°45.50’N
Longitude: 080°00.57’W

It was a very disappointing day today. We didn’t go outside, even though the forecast was for no more than fifteen knots behind us the whole way. That’s been our rubric for weather, no more than fifteen knots, so when I checked the weather this morning I thought we were in the clear.

But when we got outside into the big-ship channel, leading out to the Atlantic, the wind seemed like it was blowing hard, harder than the twelve knots it was supposed to be blowing inside, and the ten it was supposed to be blowing offshore.

It’s at times like that that I really wish we had a wind-meter, so we’d actually know how fast the wind was blowing, rather than just how it feels. We were both nervous, and I don’t know if nervousness is anything to base a decision on. If we had a wind-meter, we’d be able to compare actual wind speeds rather than our perceptions of wind speed.

I know, though, that it’s important to learn to gauge the wind by how it feels, and I also know that we need to trust our instincts. We didn’t feel comfortable—it just didn’t feel right—so we turned around right in the channel and fought the fair tide that we had planned to ride out into the ocean. We’re anchored just past Charleston tonight, in a river that leads to the ocean through a non-Class A inlet, and Karl’s trying to convince me to give it another go tomorrow.

I just don’t know what would be different. How do we know the wind wouldn’t feel as strong? Fifteen knots is what we’re supposed to be comfortable in. I don’t even know how to listen for a weather window anymore. And the thought of running aground in shifting shoals, a hundred feet from breakers, is not a pleasant one. I’m sick of motoring again, as usual, though. I want to put our sails up, see some open water, and feel those miles click by. Florida’s so close.

Still. We’ll probably just motor to Beaufort, SC, and then maybe give it another try. It’s so frustrating and disappointing. We’re comforting ourselves as best we can tonight, with crab bisque made from our leftover crab, which only tastes a little bit like fish-head chowder, and music. There are dolphins frisking around in the harbor near us, and a gorgeous beat-up catamaran, aluminum maybe, that Karl wants to trade Secret in for. I’m not at all convinced, as usual, but it’s still fun looking around this anchorage or mooring field, whatever it is, where we are tonight, and talking boats and plans and schemes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Town Creek to Inlet Creek, SC

27.0 nm
Wind: N 10-15 knots
Maximum speed: 5.8 knots
Average speed: 4.8 knots
Latitude: 32°47.28’N
Longitude: 079°49.59’W

We’re eating seafood tonight, at long last. Karl got us some blue crabs, three of them, in a creek next to Charleston. I’m not sure if they’re all right to eat or not, and I don’t really care. They’re getting thrown on the barby. We got free last night, of course, and shifted anchoring position to one just off the channel. This morning at low tide we were at six feet, and we were just fine. All my agonizing, as usual, was for naught.

The crabs are making me a little sad, as delicious as I know they will be. Two of them are holding claws with each other, as if comforting each other in the face of their impending demise. It’s very cute, and I’m reminded of that Friends episode where Phoebe insists lobsters mate for life. I hope crabs don’t. At least they’ll go down in flames together.

Catching and killing your own food does bring with it a host of moral dilemmas. More people should do it. What if crabs have consciousness? Is it really kind to steam them alive? And what am I doing eating a giant sea cockroach anyway?

But we’re eating them, if only because first dinner was so unsuccessful. I made pasta, to rescue it from the weevils, and used all seawater to boil it. We’ve been in mainly fresh or brackish creeks lately, and I’ve been using almost all seawater for cooking. I always use seawater for dishes (I can’t praise Joy dish detergent enough), but I know I’m not supposed to use all saltwater for cooking. Anyway, the noodles were so salty as to be inedible. I may even throw them away, instead of trying to turn them into a soup or something else edible. Horrors. I guess it’s proof we’re close to the real ocean now.

We’re planning to go offshore tomorrow, if the weather holds. We’re right outside of Charleston, right on the other side of the huge channel leading outside. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll even get to Georgia.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Southport to Town Creek, SC

23.6 nm
Wind: NW 25-30 knots, gusting to 40
Maximum speed: 5.5 knots
Average speed: 3.1 knots
Latitude: 33°04.71’N
Longitude: 079°27.13’W

So we’ve run hard aground. You’d think we’d be used to it by now, but it’s been a while since we ran hard aground and were unable to get off, without the tide coming right back up. We motored all day down the ICW, as usual, the wind picking up in the afternoon, but in our faces the whole day.

It was supposed to blow thirty knots, so I wasn’t concerned about the wind, but Karl, who was actually outside, felt like it was really blowing hard. The ICW in this section of South Carolina runs through low-lying swampland that’s barely inland from the ocean. The wind sweeps across the swamp grass and there’s little protection.

The charted depth for the channel Skipper Bob recommended for anchoring was only two feet (another recommendation for powerboats, not sailboats), so we found an alternate creek with a six-foot controlling depth and headed towards that. We were motoring hard against the wind in our faces and when we turned we were still motoring hard. Generally, when we’re concerned about shoaling, Karl will put the diesel in neutral and we’ll just drift gently aground, which makes it very easy to come free. Today, we were going at least five knots, straight onto the shoal.

It’s a horrible feeling, hearing that “chunk” noise when the keel hits dirt, and the whole boat shudders back as if surprised. Karl revved the engine in reverse, gunning it until I could smell oil burning, but there was nothing we could do to get off.

It wasn’t until then that I checked the weather and discovered that the brisk breeze we had felt was actually gusting to gale force, above 45 knots, and was now blowing us hard right into the mud bank. It’s a bad feeling to be stuck in the mud and feel your boat heeling over into a sandbank, blown by gale-force winds.

Karl’s convinced we’ll float free, but I keep imagining the mud my boot was stuck in on my birthday, that horrible sucking sound when Karl wedged an oar under it. If our keel gets stuck in that, will even six feet of tide be able to float us up?

To make matters worse, I decided to make a nice stir-fry for dinner, only discovering at that point that all of our brown rice is infested with weevils. We spent hundreds of dollars before we left stocking the boat with cans and dry goods—we have at least twenty pounds of brown rice—and now it might all be a loss. We have to go through all our food lockers, bleach them, throw out anything that’s infected, and find some kind of weevil-proof storage system for the stuff that’s salvageable. I definitely don’t have enough energy to do that while we’re lying over on our side. I keep watching the angle of the water in my water bottle, convinced it’s steepening, but praying it’s flattening out.

I don’t even have enough enthusiasm to cook, especially not in a galley covered with weevil carcasses, weevil eggs, and rice granules, so Karl’s attempting to make the stir-fry instead, with noodles instead of rice. I hope the noodles won’t be too weevilly. We’re going to have to go on an anti-Atkins binge in order to eat all our pasta before the weevils do.

I’m huddling in the corner, as I usually do while things go awry, watching my water bottle, Karl’s cooking his fake Lo Mein, and we’re listening to music at full blast to keep from hearing the creaks in the mast step as the boat lies over more. I definitely feel like Nero, fiddling while Rome burnt.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Southport, SC

0 nm
Wind: SW 20 knots, gusting to 25, rain

The money plan is not going well. We’ve been sucked into another town, yet again, the one thing we resolved not to do, after looking at the atrocity that was December’s budget. But we had the excuse of rain this morning, and then were visited by a neighbor from a cruising boat, Immrama. Other cruising boats are dangerous, too. They want you to come over and hang out late until the night, which keeps you from waking up early the next morning, or they’re all going out to eat, so you want to too, or they tell you about some really great deal in town that you just have to stay an extra day for.

Not that we want to be antisocial. It’s great meeting other people, and you can learn a ton from them. And this boat, Immrama, was the one that helped Lise and Marcel out of a jam, when they’re engine broke down right in the middle of the Alligator River, so it was great to finally meet them. So we might go over and spend some time with them this evening.

But we’ve already been sucked into doing our laundry, buying ice, and going out to eat, when we spent way more than we had intended. We kept trying to talk ourselves out of it, and then I would think about how I hadn’t gotten to go out on my birthday, and there was a really cool little local place on the water, and we eventually just waited around long enough to let ourselves do it. Very frustrating. There’s nothing for it but to keep trying, I suppose.

The most fun part of the day was my walk to the Laundromat. I had my trail pack on, stuffed full of laundry, a Wheaton College sweatshirt on, my Vietnamese shoulder bag over one shoulder, and my laptop case in my hand. I was, of course, walking through the sketchier part of town, where Laundromats normally are found. People were absolutely bewildered to see me. They had no context in which to put a solitary girl walking, with a full hiking backpack and a computer. I made absolutely no sense to them. I had a couple of people ask me if I was going hiking, others ask me if I was traveling. People in their cars or on their porches practically did double takes. It’s just bizarre. When did it become weird for people to walk places in our society? Walking with our groceries, yesterday, people switched sides of the road rather than pass us. We’re like aliens from another planet. But that’s my favorite thing to do. Defy people’s expectations.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Waccamaw River to Georgetown, SC

26.5 nm
Wind: NE 10 knots
Maximum speed: 6.4 knots
Average speed: 4.9 knots
Latitude: 33°21.96’N
Longitude: 079°17.13’W

Today, the bad news was that I did the budget, something I’ve been putting off since early December. Throughout this trip, I’ve been trying to ignore the looming threat that is money. We do have a fair bit saved, and we had hoped to make it out of the US with most of it intact, but we’re spending far more than we bargained for.

We’ve tried to make a resolution that January will be “not-go-to-land” month, or “not-spend-money-on-anything-but-fuel” month, but we’ve already broken it, making a $60 trip to the grocery store this evening, after we ended up in a harbor with amenities, thanks to more rain.

That’s at least better than the $90 we usually spend, and we were tempted by very much, just fresh vegetables and fruit, bacon, and fresh bread. Our carriage is always filled with staples, but it’s still probably more than we need. We do have lockers full of canned goods, after all.

Everyone keeps scaring us with tales of how much things cost in the islands—we thought once we got out of the US, things would be cheaper. But there we have to worry about things like entrance fees and cruising permits, as well as paying 25 cents for a gallon of water. But we keep hearing conflicting things from everyone—one person will say that the Bahamas are more expensive than the States, and then someone else will say that the Bahamas are dirt cheap.

So who knows. I just can’t get too far ahead of myself, worrying about money. When we run out, we’ll just have to find jobs somehow. I continue to have the naïve belief that when the time is right, we’ll find a way to find the finances we need, or just learn to do with a lot less.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Little River to Waccamaw River, SC

29.1 nm
Wind: S 15-20 knots
Maximum speed: 5.2 knots
Average speed: 3.6 knots
Latitude: 33°40.40’N
Longitude: 079°03.91’W

We’ve just anchored at a lovely anchorage, another National Wildlife Refuge. All day today we came through Myrtle Beach, a horror of Spanish-style McMansions, waterfront condos, and golf-course retirement communities built right up to the edge of the ICW, piled up on top of what used to be wetlands. So it was a huge relief to come out of it, right at dusk, into some kind of mangrove grove covered in Spanish moss. We pulled into the anchorage recommended by Skipper Bob as the light was failing, and were a little surprised to find ourselves in a meandering river, with little rivulets running through the water-logged trees, trees and moss all gray in the dim light. We could be hundreds of miles from the nearest civilization if it wasn’t for the channel marker around the corner.

It’s a little bit spooky, actually, and I think much more promising for the gators. Although Karl may have worn out his fervor for the gator hunt.

There’s not much to say about the day. I cleaned the floor, again, which got dirty right away, we motored down the little canal and had bridges open for us and tried to avoid the shoaling. That’s basically what the ICW is.

It’s pretty cool, though, the contrasts in our life. Two days ago we were on the high seas, surrounded by dolphins (who didn’t make an appearance today, and no wonder—I’d stay as far from Myrtle Beach as I could, too, if I were them) and today we’re anchored in complete calm and silence in the middle of a Southern swamp. Karl’s making dinner from the ship’s stores, since our fresh food and ice is long gone. It’s a good little life we have.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cape Fear, NC, to Little River, SC

28.4 nm
Wind: S 10-15 knots
Maximum speed: 7.6 knots (with current)
Average speed: 4.4 knots
Latitude: 33°52.27’N
Longitude: 078°34.23’W

So it’s my birthday today, and as a present, God sent me more dolphins. Today they were just frolicking along as we motored down the ICW. We saw them at least three times. I don’t want to become jaded about them, because I know it’s a huge gift, the best one I could get for my birthday. I’m just in awe.

We even went for a walk today on the beach and saw them surfacing in the anchorage around Secret, as the sun set. They make this little muted “pboh” sound when they surface, and I’m beginning to recognize it enough that I can spot them right as they come up for air.

So my birthday was uneventful, like Thanksgiving and Christmas were before it, but I could still ask for little more. Dolphins and a walk on the beach are enough.

Though it’s not quite as romantic as it sounds. I spent an hour and a half doing all the dishes that had piled up since Oriental this morning, because Karl thought it was too dangerous to try to boil water in the swell we had offshore. Then it started pouring down rain, and although it was warm inside, Karl had his full raingear on outside, steering so I wouldn’t have to on my birthday. At least we got to South Carolina, a huge milestone, but we pulled in to the first anchorage we found, way earlier than we would have otherwise.

We ran aground again, this time on shoaling in the channel, and Karl powered us out of it, so that we could run aground again in the place where we were supposed to anchor. It was low tide again, so only to be expected. As long as you run aground at low tide, you’re all set.

Then, on our romantic beach walk, we pulled the dinghy up onto the tidal flats covered with generations of oysters and clam shells. Everything was picturesque and beautiful, until I tried to walk up the beach and ended up sinking into the thick, sulfurous, suppurating mud to my knees. I’ve never understood how quicksand works, but now I do. I’d try to pull one foot out and sink the other one in deeper, then try to lean over and pull myself out with my hands, only to begin to sink my hands in too.

It was the funniest thing that’s happened to me in a long time, and both Karl and I were laughing hysterically as I simultaneously tried to pull myself out and panicked. I was panicking and laughing and begging for help all at once. It was so ludicrous to not be able to pull myself out! But I couldn’t! So Karl finally yanked me out, absolutely covered in this fishy black mud. I left a West Marine boot behind, which Karl had to dig out with the dinghy oar while it made a desperate sucking sound.

Luckily, it was warm enough that we could rinse ourselves off in the water, and the walk on the beach still progressed as planned, and I’m only slightly damp and dirty now. If only we had had the camera. It would have been a picture for the ages.

But Karl made me a nice Polish dinner of kielbasa and cabbage, what we happen to have left, and we drank the bottle of wine we’ve been saving. I also tried to eat the pomegranate that I’ve been saving since Virginia, only to discover that the bottom half was rotted. Big surprise there. Luckily I was able to salvage a couple of berries, and they only made me slightly woozier than the wine.

So a good birthday. I was trying to explain to my mom and my sister on the phone why it had been such a good birthday, when nothing much had happened, but I couldn’t. It all felt very eventful at the time. And this is the third birthday I’ve spent with Karl, almost one-tenth of my life. I can imagine few greater gifts than that.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Beaufort to Cape Fear, NC

129.4 nm
Wind: S 10 knots, dying to calm
Seas: 3 feet with two-foot swell
Maximum speed: 6.9 knots (downwind, under sail)
Average speed: 3.9 knots
Latitude: 33°55.07’N
Longitude: 078°01.47’W

The third day in a row we’ve seen the dolphins. I’d swear they’re following us, but he ones we saw this morning were speckled and dark and smaller, not white-grey like the huge ones we saw out twenty miles offshore. This morning we saw them heading into Cape Fear River, and they raced and played with the boat again. The boat was completely surrounded. I don’t know what kind of crazy good luck this is, or if it’s normal, but it was completely unexpected. I thought we might see dolphins on our first ocean crossing or something—I didn’t know they routinely hung out with cruising boats.

So we finished our second overnight passage without event. We thought about heading further south than even Cape Fear, going down to the next inlet in South Carolina, but the swell overcame the Master on a beam reach, and we didn’t feel like hand-steering, exhausted, for sixty miles. So we just headed into Cape Fear. It’s a little bit frustrating to have come the twenty miles around the Frying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear for no reason, but we really did it to avoid coming into the inlet on the other side in the dark. And it’s a fun thing to be able to say we did.

It was an amazing passage, really. The Master steered the whole time, which meant I was able to go below and make hot chocolate, do yoga in the cockpit, generally mess around while the boat steered herself. I even got good sleep, at least on my second watch off. It was a full moon tonight, too, and little can explain how amazing it feels to be sailing in the dark, under a full moon, out of sight of land. It’s something everyone should do.

Tonight, we’re exhausted, of course. The worst part was coming into the inlet at what I thought was slack tide (I got the tides on the radio) and encountering at least a four-knot current against us. The wind had died and we had the diesel in full gear and we were going barely a knot, with commercial fishing and huge barges passing us. The last ten miles took us about four hours, and we came into the anchorage right before dark. We ran aground again, of course. This may become our new technique for anchoring in the ICW—drift gently aground at low tide, throw out the anchor, and hang out until the boat floats up enough to set it. It’s at least working well tonight.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

En route from Beaufort to Cape Fear, NC

Wind: NE 10 knots
Seas: 3-4 feet, with a four-foot swell

Two days before my birthday, and it’s another of those moments when my entire universe is perfectly aligned. I’m on the boat, Karl’s downstairs in the cabin sleeping, I’m writing in the cockpit. We’re under full sail, on a broad reach, the Master making a pleasant little whir as he steers.

And guess what? We saw more dolphins today. About an hour ago. Karl was sleeping, and I saw a flash off to starboard. I thought it was a fish jumping. Then, off to port, I saw a dolphin cutting smoothly through the water, maybe five feet from the boat. I made another of my gasps, loud enough to wake Karl up, and we both ran up and down the deck laughing and watching them play.

They were all around us, playing with the boat, I swear. One of them kept ducking down beneath the bow, then popping up on the other side. Two others started racing us, coming from behind, great gray shapes in the water. I was overwhelmed by how big they were, at least half the length of the boat. And how fast. The beat us, hands down.

They were so close that Karl laid down on the bowsprit and tried to touch them as they swam by. He saw one of their tails flick the hull.

We’re completely out of sight of land right now, only the second time, the first time since Delaware Bay. There are a number of things I’m worried about—how the four-foot swell keeps stealing the wind from the genoa, our inability to sail downwind, whether or not we can get around Cape Fear in the dark, coming into an unknown inlet with unknown tides at night (our tide tables expired with 2006), our second overnight passage, whether the weather will hold, and whether Karl’s unprotected solder of our computer cord will hold or whether the computer will die again, leaving us blind out here—but I know I’m doing something right. I live the kind of life where I sail with dolphins.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Oriental to Beaufort, NC

21.2 nm
Wind: N 20-25 knots, dropping to 15-20
Seas: One-foot chop in Pamlico River
Maximum speed: 6.8 knots
Maximum speed under sail: 5.4 knots
Average speed: 4.6 knots
Latitude: 34°43.61’N
Longitude: 076°40.04’W

We saw dolphins today. A lot else happened, most of it bad, but the main, and most important thing is: we saw dolphins.

The other thing that happened was: our computer died.

If you haven’t been following along, you won’t know that our computer is our GPS, our knot-meter, and our only source of charts, because we can’t afford paper ones. The computer is also the CD and DVD player, the only place of storage for the novel I wrote in the month of November, and the repository of all of our digital photos and hours of music.

The computer didn’t exactly die. Its power cord did, which is only logical, considering it’s been yanked across the boat when the computer was thrown across it by our heeling at least three times.

But without power we had no charts, no GPS, no navigation. Once again, I thank my lucky starts for blessing me with a genius among men, a paramour who can fix any engine, any electronic device, anything.

I steered gingerly for a while, staying between reds and greens, heading into the tricky and much-shoaled harbor of Beaufort, while Karl tore the power supply apart. Eventually we came to a fork in the channel where the greens and reds shifted, and we didn’t know which side to keep them on anymore. When the depth sounder hit 4.6 (our draft is five feet) we decided to turn around and anchor just off the channel.

I bit my fingernails in the corner while Karl performed surgery on the power cord, eventually breaking the corner of the computer’s case. I huddled in horror as if he were breaking the limbs of my only child. He pulled out the soldering iron and solder which we happen to have on board, yanked out wire, solder and hmphed and managed to fix it, believe it or not.

Right at the edge of sunset, right when we were on the verge of having navigation again, we saw the dolphins. I gave a gasping squeal which made Karl think I was dying and pointed. We both saw them surface at least five times, a pod of three, ten feet from a sandbar.

If that isn’t good luck, I don’t know what is. I don’t care of my iBook looks like Frankenstein.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Oriental, NC

0 nm
Wind: S 15-20 knots, building to 25-30, heavy rain

A new year. What a great place to celebrate. It’s rainy and dismal today, so we’re staying in the boat, but the “Better Than Football” race boats are all heading out of the harbor. If we were convinced to stay this long I really wanted to join them, even though we’ve never raced before, but the rain has convinced me otherwise.

Racing seems like such a yachtie thing—Ivy Leaguers in topsiders eating Chateaubriand (when they come into harbor, of course) and polishing their teak—or at least that’s how it seems. But here it’s just a bunch of people who love sailing, who go out with their buddies and see who can get around the buoys first. There isn’t even a winner—they pull the winner’s name out of a hat. That’s the handicap.

But even that couldn’t convince us to go. I was half afraid we’d end up hobbling into harbor last with broken spars and ripped sails, and everyone would say incredulously, “those guys are cruisers??” Because we really don’t know what we’re doing yet. But if it wasn’t for the rain, I think we would’ve gone anyway.

Then again, if it wasn’t for the rain, we’d be sailing today. I wish these people did enforce their 48-hour law. We’d probably be halfway to Florida by now.