Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tales from the refugee road…

Life would be a whole lot easier if hurricanes would make up their minds earlier, then let all the social media outlets know what’s going on. Our little family caravan has been in three different hotels the last three nights, scooting along hither and yon based on where the latest guess of where Florence will dump the huge load of water she has dragged across the Atlantic these last couple of weeks. We didn’t have a reservation at the first hotel we stopped at in Augusta, GA; having left a half day early to be on the leading edge of the refugee wave. We know what it's like to worry about the gas gauge nudging empty, crawling along with thousands of others on bumper to bumper four-lane highways, short tempers and crazy people in the driver’s seats. Once in a lifetime was enough.

The decision to leave early was a good call, and we landed in a nice hotel after an easy drive. But it cost well over $100 / night. The next night we moved to the hotel where we had reservations for a week, one where the cost was modest. Unfortunately, the accommodations were far more modest than the price suggested, and when the forecast put Augusta well within the flooding and tropical force winds it didn’t seem a good place to stay. There was no inside hallway so the door faced the outdoors. Even closed air, sunlight, and insects had easy access around the edges. Rain would surely just pour into the room when the weather folded, and the families would either be jammed into one small area for the duration or isolated from each other with no inside access. The windows were paper thin and not well mounted. It wasn’t hard to imagine a wind gust driving them right across the room. We decided to bail and head further inland.

The new destination was Chattanooga, about a 4 hour drive away. But the youngest member of the crew, the 8-month-old, went into full volume protest the minute we left the parking lot. She has no clue what is going on; all she knows is that her routine is upset so, so is she. She didn’t settle down even after nearly two hours on the road, Mom and baby both needed to stop. The next exit was Madison, and that’s where we landed.

This hotel has inside access, it also has a toilet that runs continuously, the phone is broken, there is no elevator to our second floor, the ice machines don’t work, there was no toilet paper on the roll or in the room, and the advertised internet connection isn’t. All ours for just shy of $100 / night after taxes and fees. Normally I would bail on such a place, but the little ones don’t really care about any of those things and they are just not up to making four moves in four days. So we will ride out the storm here.

How long that will be is still an open question. It looks like the brunt of the impact will be north and west of Beaufort, SC. There seems a pretty good chance that the boats will come through, so we will have homes when we return. Power, flooding, and road access will determine when we head back. Until then we will settle in here and make the best of it.

I was an airplane driver for decades, and put about a quarter of a million miles on motorcycles while wondering around the country. I have spent more than my share of time in hotels. There have been good ones, bad ones, and average ones uncounted. But it seems to me that, on the whole, “average” has dropped several notches in the hotel industry, while the price of “average” has gone way, way up. I would love to list names and addresses' of the hotels in question with the idea that if no one complains nothing gets fixed. But I don't have that much faith in the "customer service" side of America's economic system any more. I would love to believe that companies have some commitment to providing the best service they can at a fair price. But what I know is that their main, perhaps only, concern is how much profit they can make. I fear the cost of fixing things, if they were fixed at all, would fall on the people who work here instead. Costs to fix the facility would be found by reducing the workforce, cutting pay, cutting benefits (assuming there are any), while increasing the work load. That was my experience even in the high end world of aviation operations. I can't imagine hotel workers are fairing any better.

All and all I would much rather be on the boat. I just wish the hurricanes would cooperate a little more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

C Sharp, not B Flat

Almost all of the forecasts suggest that the Beaufort Area is going to be in the preferred southeast quadrant of Florence, with the eye of the hurricane far enough north that tropical storm force winds will be about the worst we can expect. We were about all set to go, with the plan to pick up the cars Monday and get them mostly packed, finish up the prep work Tuesday morning, and head off. We picked up the cars and were gliding along getting things done, me in the cockpit thinking about just when I should start pulling the solar panels. It was around 3 PM, with good amps still flowing into the batteries. I wanted them stuffed full before we closed up Kintala and left her to her own devices. Deb came up from below,

“The Governor of SC just issued a mandatory evacuation order, and we are in it.”

We looked at each other for about 10 seconds, thoughts dancing back and forth between us as often happens with people who have been together for a long time. Then we shifted into full tilt boogie mode. Having shuffled out of FL a year ago, one among millions with a killer storm closing in on our heels, getting out of dodge ASAP was the new plan.

It took about 7 hours of relentless effort. At 10:30 PM the kids were buckled in and we pulled out of the parking lot, the rest of the crew of Blowin' In The Wind following in their own car.  Getting away from Beaufort by auto is mostly done on 2 lane roads, roads that were still mostly empty. It isn’t hard to imagine what they will look like over then next 48 hours, but it will be two cars less thanks to the Governor's declaration.

Hotel mirrors are infinitely fascinating.
So we sit this morning in a hotel room, watching Mother Nature do her thing out in the Atlantic, and wondering what it will mean to us. We know a lot of people are going to get hurt, a lot of others will mark Florence as a, perhaps the, major event of their lives. And the amount of physical damage is almost sure to be astonishing. When we sat through this with Irma, just a year ago, the thought was we were likely to lose everything. At the last moment the storm turned away. This time around it appears Florence will land just far enough to the north that Beaufort will seen nothing but a small storm surge and 30 knot winds.

On the one hand, I have little confidence that it will work out that way. This is a big storm and (in my humble opinion) there is way too much confidence being put into one set of models, with only passing mention being made of those models that show the eye of Florence landing further to the South. On the other hand, we had the resources necessary to move out of harm’s way, and now sit in an air conditioned hotel room, dry, comfortable, food and shelter assured for some of those we love most in the world.

There is a homeless man who lives in the waterfront park in Beaufort. We often see his bed made up on one of the swings when taking an evening stroll before heading back to Kintala for the night. I’ve talked with him a few times. His name, he told me, is “C Sharp” not “B Flat.” I didn’t get the story behind the name but, having recently taken up learning music, I had to smile. (I suspect "C-sharp not D-flat was what he meant but, he made up the name, not me.) Like most of the homeless people I have met, he clings to a fierce independence as one of the tools he needs to survive.

We didn’t see him during our hurried prep to get going. I have no idea how he will fare if Florence moves his way, but I know there are thousands of people who can’t make the choice that we did. That is enough to know that we can count ourselves as among some of the most fortunate people the world has ever known. Sure, we have made some good choices. But they were also choices that were within our reach, but were not within the reach of others.  Something Florence, and Irma before her, has taught me to never, ever, forget.

Friday, September 7, 2018

On the Run, again

It was exactly one year ago to the day that hurricane Irma turned us into weather refugees. We weren't sure when we made the run to Atlanta that there would be anything left of our cruising life when Irma was done. At the last moment she wiggled just a bit to the east and we came through unscathed. Tomorrow we will start stripping Kintala and Blowin' In the Wind, prepping for the arrival of hurricane Florence.

Florence isn't near the monster that Irma was, but all indications are she will be making landfall near here. Like Irma, a track difference of just a few tens of miles will likely tell the tale. Unlike Irma, the boats will be riding out the storms on the water. There is simply no where to run, no boat yard close enough that has room to get them hauled. We are pretty far up the Beaufort River, 10 miles in from the coast line, with trees, low hills, and marsh lands all around. It could be worse.

We will take all the precautions available to us over the next two days, pick up the cars Monday afternoon, and beat feet inland first thing Tuesday morning; with Wednesday / Thursday being the estimated time of impact. I would have liked to put another 24 hours of buffer in there given the mad rush we experienced of millions of people trying to get out of the way of Irma. But this time we are running straight inland rather than trying to get off a peninsula, and likely 50 miles would be enough to be safe. The hotel is 120 miles away.

There is, as usual, some chance that someone else will bear the brunt of the hit and we are going to a lot of effort for no real reason. The problem is that we can't know that until it is too late. So we will prep, get to safety, and see what happens.

I don't know if this is the "new normal". If it is, it needs to be part of the calculations for those thinking of living this way. Five years we have been out, and this is the third serious threat we have faced from hurricanes on the east coast. One has to wonder if sooner or later the odds just have to catch up. But I'm not sure there are any options better. Gordon basically bashed its way up the Mississippi River, surely a rough ride for at least a few "Loopers." Land dwellers have fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, mudslides, and a daily exposure to driving cars, to reach out and rattle their world. We have hurricanes.

So this weekend we will prepare. Then we will be on the run once again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Internal Calendar

One of the things I stumble over when sitting for a long time is forgetting just how special it is to live on the water like we do. When moving, my internal calendar logs days of resting at anchor after a day’s travel, watching the sun set over a new horizon. There are days of exploring new places and other days of visiting favorite places not seen for a while. We will have flown sails, gotten on and off of docks never seen, worked navigation details, fussed over the weather, and been enchanted by the antics of wildlife. All things that are special to this life.

It is different when sitting. The internal calendar logs days we ran out of water, that we needed to provision, that the Ding needed its bottom scrubbed, and that diver came to clean the bottom of Kintala. We do all these things while underway of course, but they pass mostly noticed, just part of the traveling. When sitting they become the major event of the day.

Days sitting also amplify the feeling being vulnerable. I doubt that we are any less vulnerable sitting secure on a mooring ball than when out wandering. When out wandering it feels like we are, at least, a moving target rather than sitting ducks. It is hard to cling to the illusion that one is the “Captain of one’s fate” when one’s boat is collecting barnacles on the bottom far faster than miles in the log.

It doesn’t help that the hurricane train in the Atlantic is starting to crank up. Nothing kicks up that vulnerable feeling like having an ocean full of storms.  Hurricane Florence which, until this morning, was expected to struggle to just make hurricane status, is now a major hurricane. Even more fun? The National Hurricane Center has all but admitted they have no clue what this storm is going to do next. I extrapolated a course based on its actual (rather than forecast ) course from the last few days. Should it decide to just keep going the way it is going, which is supposedly highly unlikely, it will show up on our door step in about 10 days. There is at least one spaghetti track floating around that shows it doing exactly that. By the end of next week there looks to be a good chance there will be three named storms out there dancing around. The end of hurricane season suddenly seems like a long, long way off.

For all of that, come every evening after the sun goes down the cockpit calls. The air is warm bordering on comfortable, insect assaults are infrequent and easily ignored, dolphins often puff and snort, cavorting around the mooring field, and all is well in our watery world. That makes for a pretty good day to log on that internal calendar.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Motionless blues

It seems likely Kintala will ride out the rest of the hurricane season in Beaufort, SC. It isn’t really a plan, just the way life seems to be unfolding at the moment. There are days when I get restless to the point of distraction, but there is much to be said for being here. Blowin' In The Wind remains on the next ball over. Good friends Paul and Deb stopped by for a visit on the way to time with their own grandkids. Having just of few of the people you love most in the world nearby is far better than having none, though you are constantly reminded of those still far away. We are slowly getting around to boat projects that really need done, and there are writing projects in the works. Writing, for Deb and I, is a craft; something we do for the shear joy of word-smithing. Occasionally, we manage a project that other people appreciate, which still amazes me. On the rare occasion where the appreciation is expressed with a few shekels coming our way, well, that's okay too. Sitting leaves some time for writing.

When one is motionless like this, there is much good to be said about being tied to a dock. For the most part, the boat is as safe as it can be while still sitting in the water. Shore power is available so air conditioning is an option. Not only does it make for better sleeping at night, dry air in the boat helps in keeping an upper hand on the war of the mold. Keeping the water tanks full is easy and quick. There is often a long, hot shower just steps away, greatly easing the burden on the water tanks. And, most convenient, getting on and off the boat is almost as easy as walking through the front door of a dirt dwelling. But docks are expensive. Unlike our stays in the Tampa area, the money flow here is all one direction, out.

So we are in the mooring field. It is often just on the far side of being comfortable with the sun, heat, and humidity. Battle with the mold is, at best, a stalemate. Filling the water tanks will consume much of a day’s effort. And getting on and off the boat requires the Ding.

I don’t know much about horses and have certainly never relied on one as the primary mode of transportation. But it seems the Ding and a horse have a lot in common. The Ding needs constant care. To get going in the morning the fuel needs checked, the night’s rainfall needs pumped out, and some air will likely need pumped in. It has to be tied up whenever left to its own devices, otherwise it will wander off. Sadly, unlike a horse, it will never find its way back to the barn all by itself.

The Ding’s little motor is, at best, temperamental. I swear the thing has the equivalent of moods; best described as manic / depressive. Sometimes it starts on the first or second pull. Sometimes it doesn’t start until the last pull before you give up and start taking it apart. Sometimes it idles too fast to shift, requiring momentary use of the cut-off / safety switch to get into gear without a damage inducing “thud”. (Some really old airplanes used ignition interruption instead of a throttle, which is where the idea came from.) Sometimes it will not idle at all. And sometimes it will putter away as if it was the most well behaved engine human kind ever invented. (Okay, that doesn’t happen very often.) And when the Ding and motor need cleaned it is a smelly, dirty job.

The worst it's ever been - Stuart, FL  in 2015

In barely a month, the menagerie of critters, creatures, and botany that lurks in these waters will accumulate to where the little motor struggles, the Ding wallowing through the water like a small horse carrying a Sumo wrestler up a steep  hill. Worse, the critters are literally disassembling the Ding from below. They worm their way past the cement seams of repair and reinforcement patches, peeling them back so water leaks in and air leaks out.

I have serious concerns about the dingy davits on a lot of boats. But having them just to keep the little boat out of the water when one is on an extended stay is now on my list of “good things to have.” Kintala’s stern is far to narrow and crowded for such things. Once upon a time we tried to come up with a way to lift the Ding on a halyard every night, more out of deference to thieves than to critters. But we couldn’t come up with a system that worked very well, relying on a stout cable and hefty lock instead. We are going to give it another try lest the Ding be utterly destroyed before it is time to leave this place.

That doesn’t happen when one is on the move. The Ding stays in the water for a week or less at a time. Each time it comes up on deck in preparation for the next departure, what few critters and little slime has accumulated get wiped away, often in less than an hour. There is no damage done and we are on our way. Sometimes when we stop for a day or three, anchored in some remote place or waiting out some weather, the Ding never gets wet. Instead it is hoisted up like a breeze catcher, high enough to open the v-berth hatch while keeping the foredeck in the shade.

The Ding on its better days

Occasionally, when on the move, stops coincide with docks. For a night or two the boat will be plugged in. The water tanks will get filled regardless, the holding tank usually emptied as well. Getting off the boat is an easy step. A long, hot shower may be just steps away.

And the Ding stays safe on the deck.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Plans, and the lack thereof...

Kintala is well into her second month of riding to the same mooring ball in Beaufort, SC. This wasn’t really part of the plan when we left Tampa Bay. Then again, the only real plan we had when we left Tampa Bay was to rendezvous with Blowin’ In The Wind and keep going north. It took longer than anticipated to meet up and we didn’t really manage that until we got here, already a good bit north of where we started. And, from here, we had a plan to visit St. Louis for a couple of weeks. It was a great trip full of fun and laughter, including a day spent in a climbing gym belaying grand kids up and down a 50 foot climbing wall. How cool is that? Deb and I even made a couple of our own climbs, belaying each other. The people who run the gym went out of their way to make it a good day.

When we left Tampa Bay I had thoughts of aiming for the Chesapeake Bay.  It has been a while since we cruised those waters and I like the place. And though not perfectly safe from hurricanes, it is still far less likely to get blasted than places further south. I used to think, compared to places south, that it was cooler up there as well, And it is, for part of the year anyway. Right now spot checks of the weather suggest this summer in Baltimore has not been appreciably more bearable in the heat department than Beaufort. In fact the rumors are that the Chesapeake is a bit of a rough go at the moment. Constant rainfall, a flood of debris, and a bumper crop of biting insects have taken some of the fun out of living on the water there.

It is impossible to say what the hurricane season will turn out to be like. So far the Atlantic has been quiet. The Pacific, on the other hand, appears to running a hurricane production line at full speed. I can’t decide if that is a good omen for this coast, or a bad one. But Beaufort, SC might not be a bad place to be either way. We are miles up the river from the sound and more than 10 miles inland from the coast. We asked the people at the marina where the locals take their boats when a hurricane comes. We were told they bring them here, to this marina. Apparently they have never lost a boat off of one of the mooring balls or at the dock. Our hurricane plan might consist of nothing more than stripping the boats, adding multiple lines to secure them to the balls come what may, and getting inland another 50 miles or so. Better, perhaps, than we could do if caught flat-footed at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

Blowin' in the Wind on the ball to our stern

So maybe this is a far north as we are going to get this year. The weather is bearable and, on some days, down right pleasant. The thunderstorms have been far less threatening than those in Biscayne Bay and often come late in the afternoon. Giant air conditioning systems that cool the boats and the air, hide the sun for the worst part of the afternoon, and offer up a good night’s sleep. Surprisingly, though there are marshes all around, insects have been a non issue on the boat. Expect to get nibbled on a bit if in the park as the sun goes down, but that is about it.

One downside to this place is just how fast stuff grows on anything that sits in the water. The Ding really needs cleaned about every two weeks. I cringe at the thought of laying to an anchor and 100 feet of chain. What a mess that would be to get on board when it comes time to move on. The cost of the mooring ball is (almost) worth not having to deal with that. The good news is that the dive service that works the marina and mooring field is a first rate operation. They charge by the hour which sounds a bit scary at first. But they are honest about the time it takes to do the job right. The charge is less for those on the dock. (There is a long waiting list for a full time dock.)

Another downside is the current that flows though here, first one way, then the other, for most of the day. New and Full moon tidal ranges are impressive. If yours is a rowing dink, expect a good workout. Blowin’ In The Wind has a sailing dink. The other day Grandson Eldest and I took it out in light winds and full current. At first we made couple of hundred feet of headway against the flow. The winds eased just a bit and the best we could do was hold station. The winds eased a bit more and we needed to call the Mother Ship to tow us away from the marina docks. The Merc had its little, 3.5 horsepower hands full, pulling both boats home.\

For now we are less cruisers and more live-a-boards…again. That will likely change…again. We just don’t have a plan for when.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Does size matter - take two (Five-year Review Post #2)

Ed Note: As we complete our fifth year of full-time cruising/living aboard, we've been taking stock of a lot of things and evaluating the life. We will be doing a series of posts about it called The Five Year Review. They will be tagged as such and can be found in a sidebar list on the right.

“Go small, go simple, go now,” always seemed a pleasant little bit of mythology to me. It conveyed an idea, a sentiment, suggesting a bit of wisdom wrapped in a nice little phrase that called to the inner wanderer in all of us. Then we bought Kintala. She was the biggest boat that we thought the two of us could handle and cost as much money we could find. She is small when compared to the houses most people live in, but at the large end of the average cruising boat. There is nothing "simple" about her.

Cutter rigged, with a narrow stern, small cockpit, and companionway immune to down flooding, she was well equipped for the blue water cruising that we thought we would be doing. Unfortunately, she was not the boat she was advertised to be and we spent a lot of effort and money in the two years we had her on the lake to overcome those issues. We got her (mostly) squared away before our jobs disappeared. With few options on the table for paying the mortgage and a boat we could live on sitting at the lake, our "go" decision was a bit forced but inevitable.

Once on our way, we discovered we were not the blue water wanderers that we thought we would be, making Kintala a bit of a mismatch for our lifestyle. She is more of a sailing boat than we need, her sailing prowess compromising her liveaboard comfort.  But then there was the storm on the Albermarle sound, the storms while sitting in Oriental, Charleston, and Foxtown, the night passage from the Abaco Islands south, then a couple of years later from the Abaco Islands west, two of our trips across the Gulf Stream, and hammering our way into Tampa Bay the last time around. In each and every case I would have given my eye teeth for a boat longer, heavier, with a more capable auto-pilot, an easier-to-handle sail plan, a helm better protected from the elements, and 100 more hp. Had Kintala been an any less capable boat, there is a fair chance we would not be out here still, writing a five year review.

We have watched many “go small, go simple, go now” boats depart. They often throw off dock lines that should have been thrown away. The hulls sometimes boast body putty repairs where there should be fiberglass. Bagged out and badly repaired sails get hoisted aloft on frayed running rigging while the standing rigging is spotted with rust and hasn’t been tuned since the day it went up. Once “out here” they swing to undersized anchors on questionable rode. The outcome of such cruising attempts is nearly inevitable. The boats end up clogging any anchorage that has adequate shore access, not having moved in months or years.

Sometimes the crew remains on board because there is no other way to keep any kind of a roof over their heads. They really are nearly homeless, often living in conditions that would not pass even a cursory review by any health official on the planet. It is easy to end up struggling to get by like this. An unexpected health issue can bankrupt nearly anyone in our society. (And, really, aren’t they all unexpected?) Companies fold and expected retirement funds disappear, even those that were supposed to be “safely invested”. Sometimes those funds are hijacked by judges to pay off investors. Sometimes they are invested in the same market as 401 plans, and subject to the same economic dramas. So far as I can tell no one has a clue what is going to happen to the Social Security income my generation was promised in return for the lifetime of taxes paid. In any case, it is very easy for a fixed income to become an inadequate or nonexistent income, and to do so with very little warning. If "going now" means "going with minimum resources" it can easily lead to "going broke".

Often the “small, simply, now” boats end up abandoned. Come a good blow they are the ones that drag, rampaging through the anchorage putting everyone at risk. Some end up as piles of wreckage on an expensive bit of waterfront property, the owners of which then (quite understandably) howl in protest to any politician willing to listen. For those looking from the outside in, the “cruising community” isn’t really a group of people living an alternate lifestyle and spending a lot of time “in the Islands.” We are drifters one step away from living under a bridge.

“Go small, go simple, go now” suggests that living on a boat and exploring the world’s oceans (or even just the ICW and Islands) is something easy and safe to do. It can be (relatively) easy and mostly safe, but it doesn’t come that way naturally. Even a small cruising boat is a big piece of intricate machinery working in a hostile environment. It will take a continuous infusion of pumps and parts, knowledge and effort, to keep things ship shape and in working order. There is a ton of stuff to learn about navigation and weather, planning and provisioning. "Small" and "simple" are simply not part of the equation. All of which means that, “going now” is a really horrible idea unless “now” comes at the end of a long session of preparation, thought, hard choices, and careful preparation. Too often, “Go simple, go small, go now” turns into going under equipped, under prepared, and careless. Those who are not part of our community notice, and they are not impressed. Truth to tell, we shouldn't be either.

Of course, a large part of cruiser DNA is to not care much about what other people think. Cruising is an individual thing and the cruising community an extremely small demographic. For whatever reason, we have deliberately chosen a life that flies in the face of convention; eschewing the “cookie cutter" one size WILL fit all authoritarian dictates that we must buy a house and stuff it with consumer goods in order to be happy and productive. We live close to nature, letting the ocean and the sky set the rules we need to live by to be happy and productive. We tend to look out for each other because we know the ocean and the sky will not bother. 

But we would not be doing ourselves any harm if we presented the aura of thoughtful people deliberately choosing a challenging lifestyle that requires preparation and care. One that is focused on individual responsibility, sustainability, and living lightly but well on a planet that is covered mostly by water and is the only home the human family has ever known.

No one would ever say, “Go small, go simple, go now” to someone planning to climb a mountain. No one would give such advice to anyone planning a flight around the world, or intending to take on any major life change that entails definable and unavoidable risks. Why do we offer it as a bit of wisdom for those planning to take themselves and people that they love out to live on and explore the ocean?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Does Size Matter? (Five Year Review Post #1)

Ed Note: As we complete our fifth year of full-time cruising/living aboard, we've been taking stock of a lot of things and evaluating the life. We will be doing a series of posts about it called The Five Year Review. They will be tagged as such and can be found in a sidebar list on the right.

When you first begin to consider the life of full-time cruising, the first thing you're likely to hear espoused is, "Go small, go now!" It has its merits, as many a dreamer has waited to go cruising in a bigger boat only to discover that either they or their traveling companion have developed health issues and they can't go at all. There's also the younger couple wishing to travel on a year sabbatical before kids, or the solo sailor taking a gap year before college who would benefit going small, cheap, and soon. Its success, in my opinion, depends largely on having a short-term designated cruising period in the plan. You can endure many less levels of comfort if you know that you're going to return to your landed, comfortable life in a year or two. When we decided to go cruising, we went all in. We sold everything and moved onto the boat with an indefinite and unspecified cruising plan. We don't fit into any of the short-term categories and, after five years of cruising and after a good cruising friend began struggling with the topic, I wanted to address this issue of "Go small, go now" for any of you who might be thinking of taking the plunge.

First of all, I realize that the phrase has become the Holy Grail of cruising circles. Its authors are well-respected in the cruising community and we benefited from their knowledge as we prepared to leave. I'm grateful for their contribution to the knowledge base but, as with any generalization, this one falls short of applying to all who desire to live on the water and ply its depths. Their mantra does apply to a very large percentage of those wanna-be cruisers, but the retiring couple who wants to coastal cruise is probably not one of them.

First, let's take a look at the typical coastal-cruising retired couple. Usually (again there are exceptions) the East Coast coastal-cruising couple travels north along the coast during the warm summer months to avoid the heat and hurricanes. The trip south is made in the fall and may involve a long stay somewhere in Florida or a trip to the Bahamas over the winter, ergo the moniker "Snow Birds." Again, there are many who do not fit any mold, but the vast majority of the retired coastal cruising couples we run into fall into three categories:

  1. Those that have a home paid for that they keep as a destination for when they quit cruising. The home is rented or is lived in by family members who care for it until the couple quits cruising and returns to the home. Large amounts of possessions are either stored in the home or in a rented storage facility.
  2. Those that are "commuter cruisers" like our friends Dave and Jan Irons on  Winterlude. They live on the boat for 6 or 7 months out of the year and live in their home the rest of the year. This group also includes folks like our friends Paul and Deb on Kelly Nichole who cruise eight or nine months of the year and spend the other months in rented apartments near their girls and grandkids. Some others like our friends Bonnie and Craig on Odin the Wanderer cruise six or seven months a year and tour the country in their RV the rest. A variation of this are our friends Robert and Rhonda of Life on the Hook who cruise during the fall/winter/spring and then take their boat back to Pensacola to a marina for the hurricane season. 
  3. Those that sell everything and move permanently onto the boat, traveling to different lattitudes throughout the year in order to dodge hurricanes and to find a comfortable temperature in which to live. That would be us.
So here's the kicker: the determining factor as to which group you may fall into is almost always decided by one thing: money.

It's an ugly fact of life (one we like to ignore) that money does in fact buy happiness to some extent, at least when it comes to full time cruising on a sailboat. Living on a severely restricted budget adds a level of stress to what can already be a stressful lifestyle change. There are many out there who say they can live comfortably on less than  $1,000 per month while cruising on a sailboat, but we are just not them. We have a very modest boat, we rarely eat out, and we rarely visit tourist attractions that cost money. We're not independently wealthy, having been forced out of our jobs in the aviation industry about two years before we had adequate funds to sustain our cruising indefinitely. As a result, we've had to stop to work along the way to replenish the cruising kitty.

Before we left in 2013 we knew that we would have to stop to work, but hoped that it would be short stints at something we really enjoyed. We had a goal to make it through to Social Security age, at which point those benefits would fund the majority of our budget and our investments would fund the balance. After a few years of cruising along with a couple unexpected medical bills and boat maintenance issues, it became painfully clear that our budget was much higher than we had estimated and that the benefits we would receive through Social Security at age 62 would not fund our life aboard. We were, in fact, going to have to wait until nearing 67 before claiming benefits. As a result, seventeen months of the five years have been spent on the dock working full time in a boat yard in Florida in the summer heat. Not exactly what we envisioned when thinking about Living the Dream.

In order to try to curb the work time, we began to look at trying to curb expenses to fit the available funds. Spending is a very personal matter, and only you can determine what you are able and willing to live with. In a sidebar of the blog we have listed links to a group of cruisers who are willing to share their cruising expenses (including ours although I'm behind on updating them) but they are merely guidelines to help you plan.

Behind our budget is the base issue that we have lived in poverty and have absolutely no desire to do so again willingly. When we first got married we were living on $1.74 an hour that I made working at a mall pet store. Our early years of marriage were a string of shared housing with friends (because none of us had enough money to afford rent by ourselves,) shared vehicles (because none of us had enough money to keep more than one of them running at any time,) and our entertainment was sitting around the one floor heater drinking hot chocolate and telling stories. Sound romantic to you? Not so much. Laying on frozen ground under a VW bus trying to get it running for work the next morning, all the while peeling tools from your frozen fingers is not something any soul on earth would volunteer for willingly. We have had an intimate relationship with poverty and simply do not wish to spend our remaining years reliving that experience. Trying to cruise on $1,000 per month feels way too close to that life.

So how does one define their personal level of comfort when preparing a budget for full-time cruising? While everyone's comfort level is different, at some point comfort greatly effects the fun to suck ratio. Too little comfort and the ratio tilts heavily to the suck side. Here are some things to think about in trying to define your comfort level. The list is in no order and is not inclusive.
  1. Food: Do you cook? Are you willing to prepare most meals onboard? Do the areas you want to cruise in  have inexpensive food that you like? If you eat out a lot, how much do you typically spend? Do the areas you want to cruise in have restaurant prices that will fit your budget?
  2. Alcohol: Do you like to drink socially? If so, you can expect your alcohol bill to increase exponentially. Cruisers are known for drinking socially and unless you either plan to curb your intake or budget for it, this area can sink you (pun intended.) Drinks in bars in a lot of cruising destinations are much more expensive than those in the US and definitely more than buying ingredients in a store and preparing them yourself. I once read a budget post on a blog where they stated that certain things weren't included in the list. Alcohol was one of them and I immediately disregarded their budget because alcohol can easily become a significant part of your budget if you drink even moderately.
  3. Communications: Phones, internet, satellite communicators...Can you do with one phone between you or do you plan on having two so you can communicate when one person goes ashore and the other remains on the boat? How much access to internet to you want? Access to free wifi, even with a booster, is a myth in many cruising locations. Passwords are often changed daily in restaurants and bars, requiring you to purchase something to get a new password (see #2.) Do you want a DeLorme InReach satellite communicator or even a sat phone so you can reach help when offshore? Do you want to be able to Skype with your grandkids on a weekly basis?
  4. Health Insurance: Ours has almost tripled since we left and has less coverage and a bigger deductible. Can you afford out-of-network medical costs? Will you want an emergency evacuation insurance policy like DAN?
  5. Boat Maintenance: Do you do all of your own work or do you hire it done? Will parts be easily available where you intend to cruise? An aside here - we do all of our own maintenance and I used to be an aviation parts manager so I know how to source parts at the best price. Still, the boat maintenance bill has been much higher than we expected. As an example, one thing we neglected to include in our estimate were bottom cleaning by a diver when we're in places that we can't do it ourselves, an average bill of $87 per month.
  6. Dockage: If you choose to spend time on the dock, plan on it being more than 50% of your monthly budget. The average along the East Coast is $2.00 per foot per night but dockage can be found in the Bahamas for $.75 per foot per night and in Miami for $4.75 per foot per night so it varies wildly. Mooring balls are anywhere between $18 a night and $250 per month on the low end, to $45 per night and $600 per month on the high side. Agreed, this is one place where going small is an advantage.
  7. Ice: If you're going to cruise in warmer climes, and you're not going to run your air conditioner on a dock, and you don't have an ice maker on board, you can either drink warm beverages or you buy ice. A lot of people don't need ice, but ice is one of the comfort items I choose not to live without. While living on a mooring ball this summer in Beaufort, SC, our ice bill is averaging $60 per month. Cold drinks are the only thing that are making it possible to endure the 105° temps.
  8. Laundry: When we're in the Bahamas I have the luxury of time to do laundry by hand. I have a really wonderful hand-crank wringer and the sun and wind dry the clothes for free. In the States, I'm going to a laundromat for the most part, and even in the Bahamas I don't do sheets by hand so I'm using a laundromat there. On the low end it's $1.75 per wash and $1.75 per dry. On the high end, it's $5.00 each in the Bahamas.
  9. Water: In the US it's usually free everywhere except for the Keys where it averages $.20 per gallon. In the Bahamas we have paid as much as a dollar a gallon. You can have a water maker for anywhere between $1500 and $5000 but fuel and maintenance (filters, pickling when not using, etc.) are not inexpensive.
  10. Fuel: How much do you want to travel? Right now the fuel is still reasonable at an average of $3.25 a gallon for diesel but we've paid almost $5.00 per gallon in the five years we've traveled. Are you comfortable rowing a dinghy to and from an anchored boat or do you plan on having an outboard that requires gasoline?
  11. Miscellaneous Supplies: One of our biggest categories. It includes the myriad of things that don't really fall into any other category: postage, shipping, printing, paper products, ziplocs, cleaners, toiletries, odd boat bits like tie wraps, tape, glues, flashlights and batteries, phone chargers, bungees, and on and on. It adds up incredibly fast. How much of it are you willing to do without?
  12. Clothes/shoes: Can you live in the same shirt and shorts for five days or do you plan on changing every day? Can you make a pair of Keens last for a year (with multiple repairs) or do you need five pairs of shoes? Do you have good foul weather gear?
  13. Safety: Will you have an EPIRB, PLB, a satellite communicator, an SSB radio, will you keep a liferaft and have it serviced every two years at $1,000-2000? Will you replace your lifejackets and activators as recommended? Will you be able to replace your flares and fire extinguishers as needed?
  14. Power: Will you need to add solar or a portable generator? How much power will you need for refrigeration and charging on your chosen comfort level?
  15. Sea sickness: Can you tolerate the additional motion of a smaller boat? Can you tolerate the slower cruising speed?
  16. And lastly, Space: Are you willing and able to live 24/7 with your cruising partner in 250 sq ft? Will you need a place to go to be by yourself?
Determining your comfort level and trying to get the best estimate of its cost is the single most important thing you will do to determine the viability of your cruising plans. While some are content to row a mile each way to shore to buy groceries or walk their dog, it's not for me. The exercise would be great, but there would be many days that a trip to shore would be prohibited by the current or waves and my ability to counter them. And reliable internet access? It's the only means I have of maintaining communications with my grandkids. Without that access, our cruising lifestyle would be very short-lived.

Does size matter? We made the decision to look at boats in the 40-44 foot range because we wanted the stability and sea-kindly ride that a boat that size offers, but we see cruisers out there in 28 foot boats that are perfectly happy. Each end of the spectrum has its advantages, but whether you're on a 42 foot or a 28 foot, where size matters is very definitely in the savings account. While successful cruising is not guaranteed by a hefty savings account, it's our experience that it eases the way. "Go small, go now" might work for some, but if we had heeded that advice, we wouldn't still be cruising today.

Monday, July 9, 2018

small "g" gypsies

Blowin’ In The Wind settled onto the mooring ball next over from Kintala. Depending on which way the current is running we can sit in our cockpit and call over to Grand Kids sitting on her bow. There is pretty constant Ding traffic back and forth, and we usually end up spending a large part of each day on shore playing in the park with the kids, exploring the Library, and enjoying Beaufort. Sooner or later we will have to get back to concentrating on boat projects. Blowin’ In The Wind sat for a long time before being pressed into full time cruiser status, hiccups were to be expected. Kintala has a short list of things that broke as we came around the Keys, also to be expected.

The new city day dock, the Downtown Marina, and the mooring field in the background

Two family boats traveling together, one filled with kids, tend to draw some attention. To the curious, I have taken to describing our little band as a modern day gypsy family. We wander along with our overall plan (if you can call it that) driven by weather and the ease, or lack thereof, of living in the places we stop. We take odd jobs here and there, live off savings, generate a bit of coin from “internet income." Not a life of luxury, but one that suits us.

The Ladies Island Swing Bridge framing a full moon rise

(Should solar power and batteries ever improve to the point of carrying air conditioning suitable for a small boat, the “luxury” part will see a huge improvement!)

The label “gypsy” (small “g”) is often associated with “wanderer,” is mostly inoffensive and, in our case anyway, utterly appropriate.

For the most part people, as individuals, are curious and friendly. There is a bit of wistfulness attached to the idea of gypsies, a romanticism of being unencumbered. People like the idea of living that way in our increasingly frantic society. So, particularly with brief encounters, they tend to like people who have deliberately chosen a different path. That we are usually accompanied by three or four of the cutest grand kids on the planet (okay, just my opinion) likely doesn’t hurt.

Historically Gypsy (capital “G”) is a label not so well regarded nor inoffensive. The term is actually associated with the descendants of a single group of people who migrated from northwestern India about 1,500 years ago. Once they started to wander they never stopped. They called themselves, their culture, and their language “Romani”. To this day they are a persecuted minority in most nations, the ultimate “other” in a world where borders are the most important determiner of “who” and (sadly) “what” a person is. For some reason Italy has started an anti-Romani campaign, to the point where the government is breaking up families and taking children away from their parents.

Once in a while we bump into a little of the capital “G” attitude. Though we have heard of other cruisers getting harassed on a personal basis by an individual land dweller, our bumps come in the more impersonal form of official dictates about anchoring or shore access. (Think Miami and much of the central east coast of Florida.) At the moment about 3000 of us who use St. Brendan's Isle as our domicile, are facing a bump by the name of Chris Chambless. Mr. Chambless is a Florida Election official who is aiming to remove our voting rights because he does not approve of our lifestyle. It is possible he will succeed while being heralded by some as "protecting democracy." That this argument could eventually be expanded to deny millions of Americans currently not living inside US borders the right to vote is likely part of the plan. Will the courts, particularly this Supreme Court, go along with such a plan? If it ever gets that far I suspect they will.

Fortunately, there are so many other places like Beaufort, Oriental, Annapolis, or Fishing Bay that we can brush off the Miamis of the world with little ado. I also suspect a lot of us will figure out a way to vote in spite of Mr. Chambless and those like him. For myself, I will look for a way to continue to vote as a Floridian. I spend the better part of every year in that state, enough time that Florida law requires that both Kintala and the Ding be registered there. Because of the Electoral College votes count more in Florida than they do in some other states; at least when it comes to Presidential elections. In addition Florida politicians are often proponents of an agenda I enjoy voting against. Add those two things together and I love exercising my right to vote by voting in Florida.

All while I go about my small “g” gypsy way.

Note: here is a link to one of many articles about the Romani;

Here are two links to the articles about the St. Brendan's Isle issue:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dare not forget

Just when I got used to being on the move, Kintala landed on a mooring ball in Beaufort S.C. with the intent to be here for a month or more. Next week Blowin’ In The Wind, currently docked a few hours south of here for a family vacation, is due to join us. There will be a week or so of doing boat projects and catching up on adventures. Then Deb and I will head to St. Louis for a couple of weeks. It has been far too long since we have seen Daughter’s Middle and Youngest, and their collective six, soon to be seven, of our grand kids. Kintala will be safe on a mooring ball with Blowin’ In The Wind for company.

Kintala in the center of the photo in the mooring field at Beaufort Downtown Marina

We have been here a couple of days already, found a good ice cream place and an outdoor fresh market, borrowed the loaner car to get to some provisions, explored a little. There is a National Cemetery a nice walking distance from here. I find such places both compelling and sad, particularly ones with a lot of Civil War background. It is not nearly as hard as it used to be to imagine Americans killing Americans on a massive scale, which is not at all encouraging. Many of the grave markers here sport only a number. The “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in DC is treated with the honor and respect it deserves, but it is sobering to remember that there are thousands like it all over the country.

We dare not forget them even if we don’t know their names.

A thing I found particularly encouraging is that African American Union soldiers were reinterred at the Cemetery, soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. The soldiers were originally buried on Folly Island, South Carolina, the site of an 1863 Union winter camp. Their remains were transferred here in 1987, and they were buried with full military honors. Here. In South Carolina. And it is my thought that most South Carolinians would take pride in that fact.

Their names are also unknown.

All veterans are eligible to be buried here, and many of the graves were marked WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf. Even better, the dates on many of the stones spanned 60+ years, men and women who survived their war to live a life full of families and friends.

This is a military town. Parris Island, the spiritual home of the Marines, is just down the river. Close enough that we have woken to the rumble of live fire exercises the last two mornings. Marines practice shooting, really practice shooting. There is also a Marine Corps Air Base that is home to six F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack squadrons. They practice a lot as well. The thunder of the jets reminded me that I once flew one of the Navy’s F/A-18 flight training simulators. I have to admit that doing Mach 1.3, inverted, less than 50 feet off the ground, with the voice of “Bitchin’ Betty” repeatedly reminding me “Altitude - Altitude” was a memorable experience; even if it was a sim.

Getting good in that thing would take a lot of practice.

In any case I am looking forward to the next few weeks. This is an interesting and enjoyable town, with things to see and learn. Blowin’n In The Wind will be here soon. St. Louis beckons. And, after that, we will start figuring out this “two-family-boats-cruising” thing.

But the rows of tomb stones in Beaufort will join the ones in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, with Gettysburg, and the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, taking up residence somewhere in a quiet place in my mind.

We dare not forget.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Trying a New Genre

Reading is a huge part of the cruising life, at least for most cruisers I know. Tim and I each have hundreds of books in our Kindle Readers, many of which we read more than once. We're voracious readers, bad enough that my Amazon storage is nearing full. I don't often leave book reviews here, but when my friend Ellen Jacobson (of The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick blog) approached me to see if I might be interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her first novel, Murder at the Marina, I was happy to agree to help. I had the time, as we were just departing the boat yard where we'd been stationary for too many months to count. The next few weeks would have evenings in anchorages with a drink in the cockpit. A good book would be a bonus.

I have to admit that this is the very first “Cozy Mystery” I've ever read. I'm a pretty diehard sci-fi, techno-thriller, and spy, political, legal thriller reader. The more intense, complicated, and fast-paced, the more I enjoy it. But, like with food, I'm pretty much always willing to try something new. Having a long history with murder mysteries and zero history with cozy mysteries, I was first caught off guard by the light-hearted tone of the book. I was having trouble lining up murder with light-hearted. I stopped, went out on the internet and researched the cozy mystery genre, and began to understand the background for the story. For those of you with the same problem, here's a short excerpt from Wikepedia:

“Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community...the detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs, and are frequently women...dismissed by the authorities in general as nosy busybodies...the detectives in cozy mysteries are thus left free to eavesdrop, gather clues and use their native intelligence and intuitive “feel” for the social dynamics of the community to solve the crime.”

Ahhhh. Now I got it. Back to the book.

The intimate community in question is a marina. If you've never lived in a marina, you may not get this, but there is no more intimate community than a marina. When you're living in a 16-foot-wide slip and you can hear everything on the boat next to you, (not to mention seeing in the portholes that are right outside your portholes,) everyone knows everyone else's business. News travels faster than the speed of light, and rumors abound. Everyone  has an opionion about simply everything. The perfect background for a cozy mystery.

The protagonist, Mollie McGhie, has never been around boats or owned one, but her husband, dreaming of the two of them sailing away to paradise, buys her a sailboat for their anniversary. All she wanted was diamonds. All she got was a dead body on her new-to-her boat. Sensing the authorities are not as invested in resolving the murder as much as she is, she dives right in to solving the crime herself.

A parade of eccentric characters follows, from the owners of the marina who define the “opposites attract” expression, to pink-obsessed Penny Chadwick, to Ben, the pirate wanabe with the dream to sail around the world, (an example of whom can be found in every single marina,) to Mrs. Moto, the cat with much more going on behind the fur than is suspected. Mollie's inquisitiveness and persistance are a magnet for trouble, though, and soon she finds herself more invested than she wants to be.

As the story progresses, Ellen develops the characters well, combining them into a believable marina community. Mollie is intelligent, determined, not shy in the least, and more than a little quirky in her choice of professions. And did I say she loves chocolate? A lot? Her predilection for treating emergencies with healthy doses of chocolate immediately endeared her to me. Mollie's husband, Scooter, who at first glance seems kind of self-absorbed, becomes to the reader a loving husband with a dream to share something special with his “best girl.” Ben, dismissed by everyone around as a nobody, shows integrity and caring. Penny, who at first glance seems shallowly absorbed with girly pink, shows a remarkable devotion to her students. All through the book, the reader is led from false first impressions to a deeper knowing of some interesting characters. I look forward to seeing how Ellen continues to develop the characters in the next book of the series.

While the book is the first of a series featuring Mollie McGhie, the book is a complete, stand-alone story. It does not suffer from one of my pet peeves of self-published books, where each book is in reality just a chapter of a longer story forcing you to purchase many volumes to complete the read. I have also frequently put a self-published book down in the first chapter just because of the volume of typos, but Murder at the Marina had first-rate editing with flawless type setting and grammar.

Murder at the Marina is a fun read, a light-hearted look at the goings on of the typical, small marina, with characters that are fun to know. The story is full of surprises, and leaves you with a good sense of the kind of characters who choose this crazy way of life.

To buy or for more information:

Murder at the Marina on Amazon
Copyright© 2018 by Ellen Jacobson
Print ISBN 978-1-7321602-1-7
Digital ISBN 978-1-7321602-0-0

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Better than they deserve

Those who know me, or have followed this blog for a while, know I am not shy of  poking the hornet’s nest of politics on occasion. Of late though, I have gone about my business without paying much attention to political antics. For months, going about my own business has included helping Daughter Eldest and Family on their cruising way, getting Kintala back to cruising after a year on the dock, and working out a way to visit Daughters Middle and Youngest and their families sooner rather than later. Add pushing the weather as hard as one dares, getting needed repairs done, and just the daily effort required to keep a small sailboat moving across the miles, and one comes up with plenty of business to mind.

Of course there are other reasons to pay less attention to "the news".

Two of the walkways on the Buddhist's 8 fold path are "Right mindfulness" and "Right Concentration."

Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV) says, (Yes, I am quoting the Bible. No, the world isn’t about to end.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The Stoics taught that one needed to understand the difference between those things that are under one's control, and those things that are not.

In my opinion Donald Trump simply doesn't qualify as anything worth wasting much thought on, so I simply refuse to (as I heard it put once upon a time) give him rent free living space in my head. And he is most certainly outside of my control.

As a result, most of news I hear is that shared by the very few people with Facebook accounts that I follow, a large percentage of that group being friends who live on boats outside of the country. I suspect they are not paying much attention to what goes on inside the borders of the US, so if something is happening here that does get their attention, it is likely something to note. From one of them I heard that it is now Official US Policy to break up families and put the kids in detention centers. That seemed extreme even for Trump and the Republicans. Surely even He/They couldn’t possibly believe such a visual would play well on the public stage. I do understand that Trumpism is a cult, that he could very well,  “…stand in the middle of 5th Avenue, shoot somebody, and (not) lose voters.” But shooting someone is one thing, manhandling crying and terrified toddlers out of the arms of parents who are of no threat to anyone, is another thing entirely. Surely a thing beyond the pale even in Trump’s America. I doubted that any Border Official would do such a thing, even if so commanded.

Clearly I badly underestimated Trump's depravity, and just as badly overestimated the quality of America’s Border Officials. That I underestimated Trump’s willingness to embrace evil was kind of silly. This is the President who made room for Nazis at the table of public opinion, a man apparently devoid of any kind of introspective voice, any hint of conscience, or the smallest bit of care for anyone but himself or anything other than his own grasp of power.

That I just as badly overestimated America’s Border Officials' courage and their willingness to refuse to participate is disturbing. They are, perhaps, even more reprehensible than the current POTUS and his entourage. It is at times like these that I sometimes wish there really was a god about, one who insures that those who pull crying children away from their parents will, eventually, understand the depth of evil into which they have fallen. For I am of the opinion that claiming to be “following orders” or “enforcing the law” is no excuse for cruelty.

And though there is virtually nothing I can do to stay the evil that now prowls our land, on my own little blog and in my own tiny voice, I want to make it clear that these are not my values, this is not my choice, and these are not leaders that I, in any way, shape, or form; follow, endorse, or support. It is my hope that their downfall is imminent, that when it comes it will be totally devastating for them, their political ideology, and their supporters. I hope that they will counted among the despised in human history, that their sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for many generations to come, will be ashamed to carry their name.

 And that will still be better than they deserve.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Georgia on my mind...

This evening Kintala is anchored just off the ICW, north of a place called Isle of Hope Marina. We are a day from finishing our first transit of Georgia, and it was a good idea to come this way. There are many cruiser / ICW tales of woe - stories about how hard it can be to navigate these waters. The trick, or so it seems to me after this one try, is to remember that Georgia has plenty of water that is deep enough to get through, it just isn’t available all day every day in every place. Jekyll Creek and Hell Gate are two places famous for being thin, with a few others where shoaling seems to come and go, sometimes ruining someone’s day. By pure happenstance, the days we came through were ones with the tides working completely in our favor. Low tides were in the morning hours, high in the early afternoons. Excellent planning, all Deb’s doing, had us hitting the skinniest spots at or near maximum water, and we spent most of each day riding a rising tide. With a tidal range up to three feet higher than Kintala’s keel is deep, only once did we see less than 3 feet under said keel; that being the first couple of hundred feet after entering Hell Gate northbound.

A good bit of time in Georgia is spent looking at the shallow mud along the channel

This is also a pretty part of the ICW, particularly the part north of Hell Gate. The southern part of the Georgia ICW is salt marsh, pretty in its own way but with a certain aroma, particularly at low tide, that is - how shall I say - “unique”? North of Hell Gate, where we are now, is pine forest. The water is less brown, more green, and there are plenty of dolphins for company.  An altogether pleasant place to pass through.

Large barges pass this way too. This one had a draft of only 2 feet when we checked its side with binoculars

Another interesting part of the Georgia ICW are the inlets. St. Mary’s, St. Andrews, St. Simons, Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, St. Catherine's, and Ossabaw are all pretty big bits of water and open to the Atlantic, each capable of administering a serious thrashing to the unwary. Their particular forte is stacking swift tidal flows against the winds, making for steep, often confused seas. Toss in a passing thunderstorm or two and things can get downright exciting. Crossing a couple of them has the wayfaring boat just a few hundred yards inside the sound, sometimes with the bow pointed off shore. Keep going and make landfall in North Africa somewhere.

These two photos are almost the same, but I liked them both so here they are

These are not protected, thin little channels snaking their way though a swamp. Again, we caught a good ride, though the southern branch of the Ossabaw Sound gave us a hint of what it could do during our approach to Hell Gate. A nearby baby rain shower accelerated the onshore breeze into the low 20s. Flying the jib close hauled on that wind gave us a good push onward, making it possible to pass through Hell Gate today instead of anchoring up and waiting for high tide tomorrow. (Seven knots as opposed to four will do that for you.) But that same wind put a sharp edge on waves being stacked close together. They were way too small to be much of an issue for 25,000 pounds worth of sailboat on a full honk, but were just enough to let one know that things could get much, much more interesting in a very short amount of time.

Muted light at the end of the day in Crescent River, GA

One can hardly talk about passing through these parts without mentioning the abundance of deer flies. They can bite right through a light shirt, not surprising since they bite through deer hide. But they do offer a time-filling distraction to the person not standing at the helm. After a couple of hours' practice one will start scoring a kill on 8 out of ten swatter attacks. A perfect hit leaves the corpse on the swatter, making for an easy toss to feed the fish. They are tough little buggers though, sometimes taking a serious smack and still flying away.

Moving south through these waters in the fall might be a touch easier without the regular assault of convective weather. Then again, the days are shorter making the tide v miles v daylight computations a bit trickier. We might give it a go. Though the outside passage around Georgia can be painless and save time, these are waters too pretty to miss. Cooler weather would make passing this way about perfect, and maybe the deer flies will be out of season as well.

"There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon." 
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 15, 2018

New Water

It was with a bit of reluctance that we dropped the mooring ball in St. Augustine and headed north. One of the best stops on that first trip South was spending Christmas at St. Augustine, so we like hanging around the place. But hurricane season is already here and Blowin’ In The Wind is still far ahead.

A couple of days later Sister’s Creek also managed to capture us for a few days. When we arrived a swift current was flowing upriver, carrying us past the dock in the narrow channel. The plan was to turn the boat around in a wide spot we knew about from being there before, then approach the dock into the current. The wide spot was completely potted over, tossing that plan into the dust bin. As the dock swept past, Deb asked what I was going to do. I didn’t have a clue. With no other option I started goosing the Beast without mercy while holding the helm hard over, trying to get the bow to swing up into the current without smashing it into the dock. Maybe Deb would be able to lasso a cleat or a piling from the bow, snub us up, and let the current swing the stern to the dock.

But she didn’t need to. The bow kept coming around without the boat going forward much. The angle of approach got better and better. The hull came to rest parallel to, and about six inches from the dock, bow into the current, the now-just-off-idle Beast holding us stationary against the flowing water. Deb took the small step to the pier, cleated lines fore and aft, and there we were. It was a perfect landing the would look good on my new Captain’s license.

It was also pure luck.

The first night we shared the dock with a really nice looking trawler, but we never saw any hint of the crew. Night two had us sharing space with three other boats, and then sharing drinks, stories, and jokes. It was a good time. Two boats left the next morning, the third the morning after with new friends Kelly and Melissa. But later that afternoon we were joined by another nice looking trawler. This one had a friendly crew and some good stories of their own.

Another reason for our stay was less obvious: we simply couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do next. The debate was to go outside, catching up to Blowin’ In The Wind in one big jump. That would also allow us to bypass the shallow bits on this part of the ICW. Shallow bits that are not my favorite part of taking the inside path. But we have never been through Georgia before and it has been two years since Kintala put new water under her keel. A schedule change for Blown’ In The Wind means we have an extra week to catch up. Should we make the outside jump, we would have to find a place to just hang on the hook for more than a week. Why not see some new places? A last consideration was the unrelenting thunderstorms that have flowered every afternoon for weeks. It is comforting to be sitting secure when the winds blow, the lightning flashes, and the rains fall.

That was on our mind because, just two miles short of settling onto the dock at Sister’s Creek we had, for the first time in five years, made a quick stop in the face of an oncoming storm. As the lightning fell and the rain shield slashed its way toward us, Deb pulled the boat a few feet off the channel while I moved to the foredeck to toss the hook. It hit the water just as the rain found us, setting hard as the wind gusts pushed us backward. The snubber went on and stretched out without any help from the Beast. About a quarter mile away a Coast Guard Cutter went to station keeping, stopping dead on their approach to the channel and then using their massive engines and bow thrusters to hold position as the storm crashed over us.

A storm too big for a Coast Guard Cutter to dance with is way too much for Kintala. Every afternoon has been the same, the storms then rampaging offshore every night. We are not huge fans of night passages anyway, though we do them when we need to. But night passages and the kinds of storms we have been seeing these last few weeks? No thanks. After a lifetime making a living in the sky I try to avoiding having that kind of excitement in my life.

So we are in new water tonight, anchored between islands just north of the St. Mary’s inlet. The worst of the storms appear to be past. Tomorrow we will start to pick our way through Georgia, figuring it will take five or six days as we balance the tides against the miles and the shallow spots, aiming to be at anchor before the evening light show starts. Sometimes a not-favorite-thing-to-do can still be something worth doing.