The Cruising Life?

drinks  Ok, ok already.  When we were posting blogs describing our movements up and down the east coast showing mundane pictures of Charleston, SC, Vero Beach, FL,  Oriental, NC, no one gave it much thought.  But now that we are posting blogs from the Bahamas, with beautiful blue water scenes of sugar-like sandy beaches, snorkeling, catching monster lobsters, enjoying yummy rum drinks…now the questions begin:  “How can I get me some of that?”    Well you can’t; or at least probably not this year anyway.  It is too late to join us in the Bahamas; we plan to return to the states in the next weather window.   And anyway, we are just getting through our “rookie” season, trying to learn some places, times, things to do, sailing routes….so next season will be way better to fly in and meet us sometime/somewhere (like to return for the snorkeling Easter egg hunt at Nipper’s, below, it was a hoot!).

easter egg nippers

Some of the more curious want to know what it is “really like” and/or what it costs, what a “normal” day is like.   First, there are no “normal” days.  Each day is different, some full of surprises, many with more surprises than you want,  some you want to forget, some frustrating,  others totally relaxing, blissful even!   If you are sitting at anchor in a place with “all-around protection”, swimming in the blue water on a deserted beach or at a marina dock in paradise with Jimmy Buffet on the stereo and a margarita in your hand…  blissful!  If you are pounding into 5ft seas, or dragging anchor in some exposed anchorage, or down in the bilge covered with grease trying to get something critical to work, or winding your way thru water too shallow for your boat…well, not so much fun.  But each day is different, and for the most part, you can control your exposure to each experience.  If you are hell bent to get someplace, moving all the time, the weather is not your friend; and this can be frustrating, tough on you and the boat.  But if you have no schedule, planned well ahead enough to get out of the way of bad weather, ask lots of questions, and put plenty of chips, ahead of time, into your seamanship chest, well then your exposure to “bad” days can be minimized.   I like that, it goes well with my life-long mantra:  “You can control time, or will be controlled by it; there is no middle ground!”  Yea, caca still happens…that brand new engine oil cooler can spring a leak, no one predicted this crummy western swell…but you just learn to roll with the punches, and the great days far out-number the bad.

The even more curious seem to want to “get some of that” for themselves.   So how do you do it?  What does it cost?  FIRST:  DO IT NOW, STOP ALL THE TALK, AND DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!  As a wise person once said: you rarely/never regret what you do, only what you do not do.  Sell all your “things”; that is all they are, just things.   Buy a boat that will take you where you want to go; you don’t need a “brick shithouse” if all you want to do is cruise up and down the coast and in the Bahamas.  We have seen many 30ft 40-year-old boats out cruising that, I’ll bet, cost less than your last car.   It can be rather Spartan, but it need not be “camping out”.  Most small cruisers have hot and cold running water, showers, refrigeration…but you don’t need AC, a big screen TV or that surround-sound stereo.  Aspire to live a simple life, and you can do it!  Yes it was scary at first, but the longer we do it, the more comfortable it gets, the less we miss the land-life.  The picture below is of a humble Catalina 25 in New Plymouth Harbor, Green Turtle Cay…proving that Matt M., Jim C., and Richard E. can all do this with their current boats.    cat25

We have an enormous budget, by comparison to many.  Except for the initial costs of getting the boat set up with the proper/up-to-date equipment, we planned for $100 per day every day the boat was “in service”.  This includes fuel, dockage, annual maintenance, repairs, food, you name it.  So far, that has not been too far off.  It is much less per day ($25) when we are at our house in Venice and the boat is just “stored” somewhere.  Obviously, we don’t spend too much time at $100 per night marinas (we would have to go to bed hungry), but $50 per night, yes, some.  But we like to anchor out majority of time; it is free!   Walks on the beach replace a night at the movies (as if Shep went to movies).  Hosting a “dinghy drift” has replaced Superbowl parties… Anyway, come do it!  Even though we are making new boat friends, we miss our old, land-based peeps.  new plymouth

Strike Three!

hopetown LH     hopetownhbr    No, not “and you are out” as in baseball, but better, like in bowling when you get three strikes in a row….as in: we have stuck land for the third time in the Bahamas.  First the Bimini Islands, then the Berrys, and now the Abacos!   Feeling more like novices, than rookies now.  Only 10, 12, 15…? More island groups to go (this could take a while).   Bimini – hustle and bustle, the ultra-rich and the very poor, contrasted; the Berrys – more remote and laid-back example of Caribbean culture with a smattering of US/Canadian vacation homes.  The Abacos?…well our much-traveled cruising mentors, Mark and Julie Kaynor described the Abacos as “Florida East”.   And they seem dead digs on beach

Like Florida, there are little quiet places in the Abacos, like our Venice by comparison to Sarasota; but there are also fast-paced, high-traffic places like Tampa/Miami…only in miniature.   Our first stopover in the Abacos was Little Harbour:  one bar, no churches, dirt roads, no marinas, disserted beach, and eclectic artists…nice!   We tried to get to Hope Town next, but were rejected…no room in the harbor (notice the spelling), no room at the marinas, and no room in the anchorage outside the harbor….no place to park, just like Miami.  So we sailed over to Marsh Harbour, the “big city” of the Abacos, where there is always room to anchor, but you would not want to swim in the water, much like, like, well Tampa; even during Buc’s games, there is always parking available.petes pub

And now, we have finally arrived in Hope Town, which reminds me more of Catalina Island, off of the coast of southern California.  In the 60’s and 70’s, you were hard pressed to find a mooring in Catalina (at least at Avalon) on a summer weekend.  We only got into the Hope Town harbour, because I sprang for a marina berth, in honor of the admiral’s 63rd birthday on April Fool’s Day (oh, I was not supposed to tell how old Miss Deb is).   Here in HT, boutique tourism has taken over the town.  Nearly all of the houses, in the main area of town, are rentals; brightly painted, but quaint old tiny places.  Everything neat and tidy…but you have got to love the beaches and reefs;  beautiful, clean, almost pink sand beaches with water so blue, so many colors of blue…well it hurts your eyes.  We might stay in Hope Town until the weekend…but then we are outta here (never liked Catalina on the WE either).waves

We are meandering our way north…closer to Great Sale Cay, the standard “jumping off” place for a trip back across the Gulf Stream and back to Florida.  Hurricane season is approaching.

From Toehold to Foothold

shep snorkles plane     High ZZ’s has reached another milestone…two different island chains in the Bahamas!  We have gone from establishing just a toehold, to establishing a foothold in another country.  A lesson, too often re-learned, was taught in the meantime.   I have never followed the “herd mentality”, most often choosing to go our own way….you know…making a hot tub out of an antique runabout, not just teaching wildland fire, but actually participating, retiring early to sail off into the sunset with no intention of cashing in on my “consulting” opportunities; the list is endless.   But this trip, we succumbed.   We had every intension of waiting in the secure and quite surrounds of our anchorage in north Bimini and departing for the Barry Islands at midnight Saturday, after the wind and eight day’s worth of wind-driven swells, had subsided, and mild motoring into 5-10kts of headwind, and only 2 ft seas, would make for a boring but easy passage due east.   But instead, we saw boat after boat with our friends leaving early Saturday afternoon, in the light conditions that were prevalent in the lee of North Bimini.

So we succumbed; headed out with them with the idea of anchoring outside in the lee of the whole island, and then leaving at midnight to cross the Great Bahama Bank.   But as soon as we got outside the harbor, we noticed a wicked westerly swell (coming out of nowhere, unpredicted) that would have made anchoring “outside” very uncomfortable.   So, as the rest of the herd was deciding to just press on, all but us going further south to Nassau, we also decided to press on.   After rounding North Rock, we found the same mild conditions that our friends were talking about on the radio that they encountered on the bank south of Cat Cay…but it did not last long.  At dinner time, we had to slow down to keep the plates on the table as the 2ft seas had become 3ft.  And then, about 2000, those 3 ft. seas became 4ft, and near midnight, they became 5ft out in the middle of the bank.  We had to slow to 3kts, just to avoid heaps of blue water sweeping the decks…and we lost another running lights bulb, as the bow would submarine, and the cool water shattered the hot bulb (another $10 down the drain).   A 16 hour trip became a 19 hour slog that we would like to be smart enough to avoid….lesson learned again.  Don’t follow the herd!plane wreck

But the bashing was worth it in  the end!  Bullocks Harbor/Great Harbor Cay is beautiful.  It is everything Bimini was not.  No stinky litter on the streets, no mega-yacht harbor, no casino, no super-rich playground contrasting with broken down poor local housing.  Just simple cruising folk, a smattering of US invested vacation housing, and most refreshing, a Bahamian population that takes pride in their surrounds, maintains their properties, doesn’t just toss empty beer bottles in the street (or at least picks them up on a regular basis)…we could stay here a month, if we had the time.baskets

lobsters  Bullocks Harbor dinghy-drift  And there is lots to stay for, Sugar Beach, great snorkeling in neat places like the pictured, drug smuggling, plane wreck, the biggest lobsters I have seen,  friendly people, an organized cruising community with lots of activities (like the green flash dingy-drift).  Deb even learned how to make baskets (guess which one was her second).    But Shush!   Cruisers say that the Berrys are too far off the beaten path, nothing to see/do…don’t tell anyone!  The Harbor entrance cut is a bit intimidating!     Great Harbor Cay Cut

Crossing the Gulf Stream…Piece of Cake!

DSCN0278We have gained a toe-hold on the Caribbean!  And, well we were very, very lucky with our first Gulf Stream crossing.  We left No Name Harbor at midnight, encountered nothing more than 5-10 kts of wind (but mostly on the nose) with 2-3 ft seas in the middle of the notorious stream, and arrived at North Bimini at 0900 to make the morning high tide.   As we had heard that the entrance channel had shoaled to 5ft, and we draw 5.5ft, we thought it was prudent.   And sure enough, in the middle of the well-marked channel, we found 7.5ft (our 5.5 + the 2ft tide).   We might have made it if we had waited until a more civilized time to leave Key Biscayne, and stuck to the red side as some had advised, but just by the skin of teeth, or rather the layer of bottom paint on the keel.   And so the Bahamas adventure begins.

DSCN0275It is true, the water is beautiful….also a bit scary.   When you can see 20-30 feet to the bottom, it looks like you are about to run aground at all times; it is hard to believe your depth sounder.  Another thing to believe is how laid-back the Bimini Customs and Immigration officers are (apparently unlike other ports –of-call in the Bahamas, we are told).   No extra fees for our bicycles, no mention of how much booze we might be importing, just a curious inquiry about wanting to have a fishing permit, but we only have one fishing pole?  “Sure you don’t have any spare poles?”  “Now how many poles was that?”  I guess most folks are much more serious about fishing here than we are.

DSCN0285Bimini Harbor is the antithesis of No Name Harbor.  No Name was full of “weekend-warriors” from Miami; as likely to park right on top of you and your anchor as to drag across into the mangroves, having set out 20ft of anchor rode to hold their 65ft motor yacht in 10ft of water in a 20 kt wind (don’t laugh, one of these nuts dragged right by us at midnight one night).  The 20-50ft long x 50 ft wide “raft-ups” of three or more boats will even move about the harbor tied together in search of good holding.  The “Cuban Navy” as one cruiser called it, shows up Friday night and blasts loud salsa music from speakers twice the size of their boat well into the wee hours and well past the 2200 curfew set up by the Florida Park Service (I guess all the FPS folks go home by then).  A week at No Name and we were ready to get out.  At Bimini, it is the shore-side bars, and impromptu liquor stands that blast the music all night long.   Bimini Harbor is fill of working boats, and cruisers who know how to anchor, or at least most all but one charter we had to help off of a sand bar.  But North Bimini is also an island of complete opposites.  At the south end, Alice Town, is dirty, litter is everywhere, the buildings are poorly maintained, smells of garbage…a typical 3rd world country (or at least similar to Mexico and many other central/south American countries I have visited).  But at the north end, there is Resorts World Bimini Mega-yacht Marina and Casino.  Picture Disney Land for the superrich and, unfortunately this week, superrich college students on spring break.   Disco music at the poolside bar until 2 am, 165ft yachts from middle-eastern countries, meticulously maintained grounds/buildings with not one beer bottle to be found on the sidewalk (the second a student tosses one, it is picked up by the staff)…quite a contrast to Alice Town.mega

We could afford several days in a marina in Alice Town ($1/ft/night), but not at Resorts World!   But the big saving grace of the north end of north Bimini is that the resort has dredged out a deep (12-15ft) very protected anchorage…just small/unknown enough to allow 4-6 of us poor cruisers to anchor here for free!   And the icing on that piece of cake?  A modest tip to the dock master has allowed us access to all of the pools, bars (as if we could afford a $9 beer), picture perfect beaches, casinos (Deb has already lost ½ of her $20 gambling allowance)…and we are anchored for free!   Our fellow cruisers warned us about being “stuck” in Bimini because of weather….well we could “stick” here for a month, and still want more!

Eastward Ho!

portugese MOW

Just like this Portuguese  Man-Of-War, High ZZ’s sails on, preferably downwind.   Another 200 or so nm have passed under High ZZ’s keel since our last post….not very impressive, but we did visit special places in the Keys that other cruisers said were “must make” ports.  We had a roly-poly motor sail (4-5 ft. following seas) south from Ft. Myers Beach to Key West; but with an important twist.  Deb was replaced with Jim Tannahill, as crew for the 110nm trip.    Deb and Lori drove and Shep and Jim sailed.  It was rough enough to make Jim seasick, and Shep was even close for an hour or two just after the most exciting event.   Just as the sun was setting and we were chasing our dinner plates across the cockpit table, we had a big hookup.  Now Jim is the fisherman, not Shep, but he was forced to attempt the landing on my 1970’s vintage Penn rod and reel.  The sort version is that after about 20 min. the old Penn Senator just blew up!  As Shep then attempted to hand-line the fish in, about 20 yds. away from the boat, it took a dive and busted the 30lb test.  Yes, yes, I know, another fish story, but really, it must have been a whopper!ft myers crew

Key West is still the party/tourist town we remember…only now, with 3,000 or more people disgorged at a time from visiting cruise ships, Duval Street is more crowded than ever this time of the year.  We learned that there are really no good anchorages in Key West.  Most all are exposed to north winds… the most common direction in winter.  Even the city mooring field in Garrison Bite is exposed to the north.   SO, even if you are confident you will not move during a blustery night, it is still uncomfortable, and some days impossible even to dingy into town.  We got out as soon as the wind direction allowed.key west cruisships

Next stop, Marathon/Boot Key…but there was no room in the inn!   Marathon has 226 mooring balls, all occupied, 30 boats on the waiting list….  Seems many boats are “backed up” waiting for a weather window to move on.  I know, I know, those of you up north have been suffering with record low temperatures and snow, but the cruisers in the Keys have been suffering also….Temps. in the 60’s, 25-35 kt winds…miserable!   We were forced to anchor in Sister Creek.  Normally this well protected anchorage would be judged “excellent” by Bill and Ted, but with “Radio Marti” it is “bogus!”  The 100W, 1,000W, maybe 1,000,000W Radio Free America transmissions to Cuba send out so much electromagnetic energy that our instruments (depth sounder, wind indicator, autopilot) have gone nuts!   Our mast has become a big battery, sending bogus electricity through our instrument communication cables, making our DC breaker panel light up as if every light on the mast (tricolor, deck light, steaming light) was on (they are not, just the LED indicators).   When we left Sister Creek to have an electrician check it out, everything went back to normal….upon re-entering Sister Creek, same problem again, at exactly the same place in the creek!   BOGUS!   Hopefully, there will be no permanent damage to delay our Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas.

radio marti

We will move on up the Keys to Key Largo, and perhaps even back to Biscayne to stage for our crossing…wish us good luck!

Phase III

Phase III 3Things are different this time on High ZZ’s.  As we moved back to the boat on Tuesday, January 27, a whole new feeling emerged.   It wasn’t just the lack of familiarity with boat that two months, almost to the day, living at our Venice house might bring.  It wasn’t the mountains of provisions that took four trips with our little Geo Tracker (about as large as the old VW Beatle) to bring to the boat.  It wasn’t the fact that, with all those provisions, the new two inch higher waterline we had painted on four months earlier in the Deltaville Boatyard was being severely tested…no, it was something else.  Embarking on a totally new adventure, untested waters, the much feared Gulf Stream crossing and on to the Bahamas?  (Like being chased by pirates, Above)

One might think that, after cruising down, then up, then down the east coast between the Chesapeake Bay and south Florida, traveling over 3,000 miles, after “rounding the horn” of Florida and cruising on the Gulf Coast (Passing mile post 0 of the Gulf Coast Inter-coastal Waterway below), after a year of figuring out the systems on High ZZ’s and the ways of sailing cruisers for a year, we would feel like “old salts”.   But it just did not happen that way.   Coastal cruising and cruising to islands in “offshore waters” is just not the same thing.   Sure, some 40+ years ago, I did this for the first time, cruising with friends from San Diego to Catalina Island on their 40 ft. motor yacht (and , because of my offshore fishing and marine diesel expertise, I was the first mate/most experience/better/real skipper).  And then 25 years ago, I did the same trip to Catalina on our own little 23 ft. Hunter as the Captain, if one can use the word “Captain” on a 23 ft. trailer-sailor.  Sure, in my early life, I fished 100+ miles of the coast of California and Baha, too many times to count, passing the near-shore Coronado Islands off Baha California in the pitch black most nights….but none of that counts now.  Now this is real!  Not the young, fearless, 20/30 something Shep at the peak of physical and mental health, not the Shep that aced advanced calculus and could do set and drift calculations in his sleep, after a heavy night of drinking…no this is now the 60+ Shep who forgets where he set down his keys/sunglasses/pocket knife…this is the Shep who, after two shoulder surgeries, a broken neck, knee surgery… has a hard time cranking in the big genoa in any kind of a breeze, this is the Shep that gets “stuck” trying to wiggle into places in the engine room/bilge that he has to access to work on essential bits…  No, this is different, somehow so much more daunting; and yet, it should not be so!

phase III 2

In the past year, we have met cruisers in their 70’s and 80’s who never took advanced calculus; we have met cruisers who, without their chart-plotter telling them where they are, would never know what “set and drift” were; we have met cruisers in 25 ft boats, we have met cruisers in wheelchairs, we have met single mom cruiser with 12-year-old daughter…all coming and going to the Bahamas with, seemingly, relative ease.

As we sit out a cold front in Ft. Myers Beach, waiting for a good weather window to jump to Key West (and enjoying the view of all types of funny watercraft, See below) the tension mounts; yet it shouldn’t.   Not tension, not apprehension; maybe excitement and a little bit of well reasoned concern, but if single mom with daughter on a 34 ft, 35-year old boat, can do it…well then so can we!

Phase III 1

Lost Virginity III. So little time; too many stories

sunrise boca grande  Morning After Sunrise, Approaching Sanibel Island

Well, it is possible!  High ZZ’s lost her virginity for the third time.  Yes we know, we already claimed two.  But this is “real deal” cruising; our leg from Key Largo to Charlotte Harbor FL takes the cake.   What was anticipated to be an easy 175nm overnight passage in benign weather turned out to be everything a cruiser fears/dreads/tries their best to avoid.  We knew we were in for a bit of a challenge, crossing through Channel Five from the Hawk Channel, on the ocean side of the Keys, to the “backside” (read very shallow, too shalllow ICW side) for a shortcut north (saving a day or two by not going all the way west to Key West before turning north).   What we got was so much more.

Seems as though the Hawk Channel is known for a preponderance of crab pots; a cruisers nightmare to keep from getting their float lines wrapped around your prop.  But the part of Hawk channel we experienced, from Angelfish Creek to Channel Five was not covered in crab pots at all…we thought: haven’t the people who write these cruising guides ever been to the Chesapeake Bay (where crab pots dot every harbor entrance)?  But then, we entered crab pot hell!   To the north of Channel Five, behind Long Key and Marathon, and then continuing on for 120-130 miles, we encountered an endless sea of crab posts.  Hour after hour, dodging pots until sunset; not just along single or double lines of pots, but often multiple strings running every direction with pots only 20 feet apart in a continuous maze.  We tried deeper and deeper water, much further west than we needed/wanted to go…but to no avail.  We could not escape crab pot hell!  People also complain about all the lobster pots to dodge in Maine.  Well bring it on, we are ready!   We motored west into deeper water until it got too dark to see and avoid the pots…and then we just turned north and resorted to a common cruisers mantra: “all crab pots disappear at night”.   SO, so, glad our big keel deflected all of the lines!

And, for the third lost virginity passage, we had yet another hitch-hiking bird that night. But this one was big enough for Thanksgiving dinner; if we could catch him.  You have to look close at the picture; he is above the cabin top hatch.   It was dark and he would fly off the boat for a minute if we got closer for the flash to work better.


When we began our offshore leg, we had a great weather  forecast:  following light (5-15kt) winds, small (1-3 ft) seas, all predicted to last until at least 12 hours after our planned ETA.  But just four hours before making landfall, and 16 hours ahead of time, all hell broke loose.   Dense fog, 20+ knot winds, 4-6 foot seas…and still the damn CRAB POTS! I don’t remember ever experiencing fog, with such big wind.  Isn’t fog indicative of a stable (read calm) air mass?  Had we been teleported overnight, somehow mysteriously to the state of Maine?

To top it all off, the boat began making a weird rumble/vibration/sound.  It would go away if I slowed the engine or took it out of gear completely… I thought we had finally caught a crab pot line and I would have to dive in this mess to cut off the line.  But, I finally figured out it must just be/had to be the folding prop, partially folding in the surging swells, when it is supposed to stay extended.  And then, just as the outer marker appeared out of the mist, we thought we would be in easy street once we made the turn into Boca Grande Channel (supposedly a deep, big boat entrance).   But I was so, so wrong.   It seems that in spots, the channel has shoaled to 12-16 feet deep.   Combine that with gusts to 26kts and the same 6 ft seas, but now on the beam…well I needed clean underwear after entering Gasparilla Sound.

As a storm with gale force wind was now predicted in the evening, we sought the shelter of a marina (Active Captain warned about relatively poor anchorages in the area).  And luckily, we found a neat little hidy-hole place:  Uncle Henry’s Marina.  The dockmaster assured us that the 6 ft controlling depth of the entrance channel would be fine at ½ tide for our 5.5 ft draft.  And sure enough, we saw 6.5-7.5 ft of water all the way in.  But then the final installment in our cruiser’s lost virginity nightmare passage…in the morning when we wanted to get to Venice for Thanksgiving with the kids, the big north wind had blown much of the water out of the harbor, and three attempts to find a way out of the marina at the same ½ tide we came in on resulted in three groundings.  High ZZ’s is stuck at Uncle Henry’s until the north wind stops…but we can still move the last 25 mi north to Venice the old fashion way….Rowing to Venice

Shep rows to Venice in “Following ZZ’s”

Now This Is Warm; or Lost Virginity, Take 2

nightsky    Yes, it can!

Virginity can be lost twice…at least on a sailboat (or what we wish would be a sailboat more often).  High ZZ’s has just completed its second lost virginity transit.  The one where Shep and Deb, with no other crew, and no companion boat, transit overnight, offshore.   A slow, routine, some would say almost boring, trip down the ICW was transformed over two nights into a great leap forward in competence and beautiful weather.   High ZZ’s left Southport NC at 0900 Friday, sailed (well motor-sailed) out the Cape Fear River and arrived at 1000, Sunday in Saint Simons GA.   On a sailboat you say?  Well, do we wish more of one, but we have to continue to sing praises to YP, our trusty Yanmar Powerplant.   It took 49 total hours: 3 hr actually sailing in quiet bliss, 26 hr motor-sailing (not to bad, since engine RPM’s are way down), and 20 hr motoring.  And this seems to be the pattern developing for most transits.   Gone are the days of going down to the boat on Claytor Lake only when the winds are good enough to sail.   When you are trying to get someplace, in a certain amount of time (the vast majority of coastal cruising), well, you have to keep going and get there!  The winds varied from 15-0 kts, most of the time, and when there was enough of the predicted northwest wind, this allowed a broad reach with 1-3 ft following swells.    But too often the wind dropped below 10kts, slowing us way down (High ZZ’s can only sail at ~1/2 of the wind speed), and we wanted to get to Saint Simons while the weather was still fine; so out comes the trusty YP iron wind generator!   Most of the nights were calm motors in <2 ft, swells, but, apparently, King Neptune has not been entirely happy with us, having changed the name of our sailboat.  So we got 14-16 kts on the nose, and 2-4 ft seas to jump into the last 6 hrs of the trip until turning into Saint Simons Sound.    We had to slow way down to keep from slamming into the head-seas, and once, it made Deb bounce so high, she had to change beds to the settee.     But, we are finally in a warm place with 80F days and nights in the 60’s!

And yes, Marshall, we did miss the third crew, making the night watches less burdensome.  But, it was time for us to “grow up” to real couples cruising and do it on our own…but we were not really alone.  Just like our last offshore transit, we had a stowaway.    This little bird made itself at home, probably very tired since it arrived when we were 20+ miles offshore.  But, unlike last time, this one was insectivorous, making itself useful by consuming numerous biting flies and pesky moths.   It stayed with us overnight, sleeping, as you can see, snugly in the cabin…but the little bastard would not get up for its night watches!   As soon as we entered the Saint Simons Channel, it abandoned us and headed for the shore.  Can someone identify our friend (species)?birdnewbirdsleep  Anyway, we are off to Jekyll Island tomorrow.  Neat place, nice beach…we will have a swim in the 76F water.   We must wait until Nov. 1 to cross south of N 31 degrees, and Jekyll is N 31 04 min….have a nice winter!


Sunrise Hospital Point Portsmouth

Sunrise Hospital Point Portsmouth

We are off, again; leaving Deltaville after two and one-half months (only 2 weeks behind schedule, good for the “Shep Factor”) spent on boat repairs/maintenance/upgrades.   The first evening, High ZZ’s was lying peacefully at anchor (on the rode) at Red “36”, the official start of the ICW, at Hospital Point, Portsmouth, VA.    Wow, did we learn a lot about boat maintenance, life “on the hard” and the cruising community.   Our newest upgrade, 300 watts of solar panels, silently charged the batteries as we sailed the 50 nm from Deltaville to Portsmouth.   Got to love modern technology!  I learned all about wire sizing for <3% drop in current, what a “shunt” does, how to attach solar panels to a bimini arch….who said that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks?   Many thanks to Craig, Bill, Steve, Mark… did we mention how friendly and helpful fellow cruisers are?   Our new friends on Tilt, Casa Blanca, Motu, and old friends on Rachel can be counted on to loan you tools, offer expert advice, a consoling ear when things go wrong….  Many think that when they start cruising, they will be out there, alone, left to their own devices; but nothing could be further than the truth.   Fellow cruisers are quick to lend a hand and offer assistance, and this makes the loss of contact with “land friends” much easier to take.  Not a day goes by when you don’t get some useful tidbit from fellow cruisers.

High ZZ's at the DIsmal Swamp Visitor's Center

High ZZ’s at the DIsmal Swamp Visitor’s Center

A useful tidbit we received:  “try the Dismal Swamp Canal, if only just once, you will love it.”  Well we would have to say that the third time in the Dismal Swamp, we finally did enjoy.  DS trip one, early February, not a good time: too cold, too many snags overhead and in the water.  DS trip two, mid-June: hot and buggy, no breeze, crowded visitor center docks.  DS trip three, mid-October, very nice!  No bugs, high 70’s, nice breeze, only one other boat at the free dock, Canadians Richard and Heather on Salvation, very friendly.  We can finally recommend it to others.  Another good recommendation was to stop in Elizabeth City.   Very friendly town with free docks, a “Rose Buddies” hosted wine and cheese reception (if five or more new boats show on the same day), and lots of neat little shops to visit in the rainy weather we had.  One strong word of caution, the free docks at Mariner’s Warf are very exposed and have very rough water in all but the most settled weather.  After taking a beating all night, we shifted back north, above the drawbridge, to Jennette Brothers docks (also a free place run by a local food distributor)…see how friendly EC is!

We hope to be moving again Thursday, after this big front passes.  We will try to get to the FL/GA line as early in November as possible (cannot cross the 31st parallel until the hurricane season is officially over Nov. 1, unless we want to risk being uninsured).  Our goal is Venice FL, sometime in early December…but we know the rule:  you can say when, or you can say where, but when cruising on a sailboat, you just cannot say

Deep Creek Lock

Deep Creek Lock

when and where at the same time.


boat on hardIt has been so long, you probably thought we gave up the boating life and moved ashore….not so fast Kemosabe!    We were ashore for the month of August at our house in Venice; and we have been “On the Hard” as it is known by cruisers, living ashore on High ZZ’s in the boat yard at Deltaville, all of September.    Most every year, cruisers stop for a few weeks to do annual maintenance on their boats; for some, this stretches into months while major work/repair is done.  For us, nothing unusual/unexpected has happened (knock on fiberglass, as we are not yet in the water), it just took two months for all the tasks.  Task #1 was our rudder; we knew it needed repair when we bought the boat, but that meant lifting the boat, unbolting the rudder, and transporting it to Foss Foam in Williston FL, where it was originally built and where it could be repaired.    As we wanted to spend some time at the house this summer, the trip worked out fine because Williston is on the way to Venice.   It was quite a scene though, with the big rudder perched on top of our Rav4 for the trip.   The rudder was finished at the end of August (neat family business with three generations of workers, in the middle of nowhere they build rudders for dozens of boat manufacturers), so back to VA we went. rudder offon to car

Bottom prep and painting (real fun…NOT!), replacement cutlass bearing, replacement motor mounts, dinghy patching, cleaning and waxing the topsides….Oh, not all work as we got in a couple of Hokie football games on the weekends (unfortunately loosing efforts, so our tailgate friends asked us to stay away from Blacksburg for the rest of the football season)…and now we just have to mount the solar panels and align the motor to the prop shaft.   We are hoping to be back in the water, and on our way south, October 1.

Living “On the Hard” in the boatyard is, unfortunately, nothing like living on land at our house in Venice.  Not that there was a lack of work in Venice and it was just sitting on the beach with cool drinks (we built a 35’x9’ concrete pad for a carport, installed a back fence, trimmed trees, repaired our Tracker…) but life ashore on a boat is really on the hard.    The hard part starts with just getting up and down an 8 ft. ladder, 10-20 times a day, every time you want to use the head, get parts/tools, go to the store… really do anything off of the boat.  On the plus side, our calves and thighs are now hard like 20-year-olds!    The dust, the mud (it is raining cats and dogs today), the noise (many boatyard workers start sanding/grinding/pounding at 0600).  It was 90F with no breeze for the first week or two, only the odor of the trash bin in the yard.    Can’t run many fans, certainly no AC, not the water heater, not even the microwave on the boat because the available power is only designed to run a few sanders, a drill or saw.   Did I mention having to go up and down the ladder just to go to the head?  No way to dump your holding tank!   Miss Deb would have left for sure, had the power been insufficient to run the TV at night.  But another definite positive is the comradery of cruisers on the hard.  At any one time, there are 6 or 8 couples doing the very same things on their boats in the yard; we gather in the evenings to cook dinners (too hot to cook on the boat) in the screen porch at the marina, swap stories, drink wine….  And no matter how hard you have it, there is always someone else with a worse story or present condition to make you feel lucky.  Adversity breeds fast and lasting friends; nowhere is this more evident as when living life on the hard in a boatyard.