Thursday, February 8, 2024

Stumbling Into An Odd Job

Squint Close for Egrets

It was going to be one of those wonderful Florida winter days; just barely overcast, but with enough sun to make you reconsider not using sunscreen on your face. I was well up the North Fork of the St Lucie River at a place called Kitching Cove. After a few days reuniting at anchor with some dear friends, I was going to make my way back to civilization. Groceries and laundry were looming chores.  Four or five other boats were in the cove but we were the only cruisers living aboard. The cove is separated from the St. Lucie River and the boat traffic by a long strip of mangroves with just enough solid ground to support several palm trees and the occasional oak. Along the opposite shore were some condos, a yacht club, and a resort, but it was a quiet, peaceful spot. The plaintive cry of an osprey regularly echoed across the flat water, and at evening, a flock of egrets would fly across the face of the mangroves, their bright white feathers a stark contrast as shades of black oozed across the green of the mangroves in the dissolving light of the day.

Kitching Cove Sunset

While I had looming chores to take care of, I had also picked that day because it appeared the wind was just right for sailing all the way back to the anchorage in town. Ruth Ann was upwind from Mollynogger, my friends’ boat, but there seemed to be plenty of room to drift back in the gentle wind once I had hauled the anchor. I prepped to first raise the main, then haul the anchor, and to be able to raise the jib after I had started. The last choice was whether to have the engine idling just in case I needed … or not.   

I left the engine off and went forward to raise the anchor as the main sail lolled from side to side in the breeze. Twice I paused to check my bearings on Mollynogger and another nearby boat. All was well, so I kept hauling. Once we were free, Ruth Ann fell away to the south as I walked back to the helm. It wasn’t that early, but I quietly whistled a bird call as goodbye to my friends as I ghosted by. 

I had my chartplotter on, but the charts were purportedly not accurate in that area. My inward track was only in my head but I attempted to follow it out. Ruth Ann crept along but I had all day and we were already doing two and a half knots in the enclosed area. We glided through the cove’s narrow entrance and passed a sailboat languishing nearby. After the cove, there is an open spot just upstream of the resort’s marina. A couple boats were anchored there, including the catamaran where a party was hosted the previous Friday night. I recalled that I was told to pass near the end of the marina docks, so I aimed Ruth Ann there. The river began to open up but was still shallow in spots. I watched the water and eyed my chartplotter. At one point, the depth sounder was showing that I had gotten into some skinny water, so I steered hard to starboard toward deeper water indicated by the potentially less-than-accurate chart. We passed near the Red 10 marker and the lower part of the North Fork opened up. We had lots of water before us and all the way down to Stuart. 

Sailboats don’t go in a straight line, so I had a basic plan to crisscross my way down the river. By the time we were approaching the western shore, we were regularly sailing along at three or three and a half knots. It was wonderfully pleasant sailing on a broad reach and Ruth Ann was as ecstatic as I was. We got close to some docks and tacked back out into the river. 


The longest leg was another nice broad reach the other direction as we made good progress down the length of the river. We were hitting four and a half knots and more. I don’t race and I’m not (knot?) really concerned with my speed, but it was satisfying anyway to know that we were going nearly as fast as we would have if we’d been motoring!

After a jaunt down past the Red 6A marker, we were pointed right at a small group of docks just past Britt Creek. There was lots of depth up to the shore, so I kept us speeding right at the docks for a good long time. Once we got within a couple feet of rubbing the keel across the bottom, I tacked us back to the south. I had been eyeing my windvane and expected to run downwind from there. The wind had been a little fluky all morning, but after we came around in a gybe and traveled several yards, we were still reaching. Ruth Ann just loves a good beam reach and she danced across the waves toward the neck where the river makes a bit of an ‘S’ curve just before the North and South branches join and go under the Old Roosevelt Bridge as one. 

Sketch of Ruth Ann's Track

The channel is marked for bigger, deeper boats than Ruth Ann and after taking a look at the chart for the waters ahead, we gybed again and cut both corners of the curve to head straight at the South Fork. At the confluence of the river’s forks, we sailed right at the boats tugging at their moorings at the Sunset Bay Marina. There is another curve to get into the South Fork where the Pendarvis Cove Anchorage is. I had to get Ruth Ann far enough south to make it inside a buoy marking a shallow area. We got as close to the moored boats as I could stand and tacked to the west. There was a little traffic around but it was a weekday, so no obnoxious weekend warriors with their wakes and their misappropriated glares. 

Just ahead of us was a large sailboat, they turned into the anchorage ahead of us and, of course, they turned toward the area I was aiming for. We sailed past the anchorage to let them decide what they were doing and I doused the jib, started the engine, and dropped the main. I set Ruth Ann to wallow in a slow circle as I went forward to tie up the sails and prepare for anchoring again. When we turned around, the bigger boat had picked a spot and they were already backing down on their anchor. I entered the anchorage and slid through the many boats and up near that bigger boat. Just past them was a Canadian boat that I suspected might be staging to cross to the Bahamas, so I anchored just past them. I row to shore, so I wanted to sneak into a spot as close to the dinghy dock at Shepard Park as possible. 

With that, I was in; I was back ‘home.’ Nevertheless, I prepared to go ashore. I had found a new upscale market, a good hike further than the nearby Publix. Publix is getting pretty pricey these days and I don’t like how their produce guy minds his department. Sprouts Farmers Market is another bougie grocery market, but it seemed less expensive and less cult-like than Trader Joes or Whole Foods. To their credit, and the reason I hiked a six mile round trip to get there, was that they have a great bulk foods section, including raw cashews and nutritional yeast (look who’s bougie now). I needed some freshies and some galley staples that are not available at the little downtown Publix. In addition to my bulk stuff, I found some tahini, a purple yam, some zucchini, onions, a head of cabbage, and some good raisins. 

Halfway back to the boat, I realized that all that fresh air I’d been consuming all day long was going to make me mighty sleepy. I had stopped at the liquor store to renew my tequila stock and ended up with a bag of Voodoo potato chips as well. I stumbled into the very Publix that I had meant to avoid and bought a Cuban Sandwich and some tabouleh for supper. Their tabouleh is actually quite good and I’ve had homemade Lebanese Grandma tabouleh in my life. The Cuban on the other hand, hit the spot but was only adequate. And I was just bragging online about being a Cubano connoisseur. The Publix Cuban is a decent attempt and they probably had the capacity to ‘hot press’ the sandwich for me, but I didn’t bother. Without being pressed the bread seems like too much. The cheese, pickle, and sauce are good; not great but good. Also, the pork is sliced deli meat. A proper Cuban has deli sliced ham, but small chunks of roast pork. By the time I had rowed back out to Ruth Ann, after sailing all morning, and hiking all afternoon, the Publix Cuban was just fine. I enjoyed it along with some Voodoo chips, but I saved the tabouleh for the next day.  

The following day, I could feel the big hike to the bougie market in my legs, but I mustered the gumption to go back into town to do laundry. While I was folding my clothes, I struck up a conversation with the guy who had introduced himself as the new owner and I ended up with a part time job. This is actually just what I needed. So far, I have really enjoyed his approach to people and business as I have witnessed it. I think he is going to be a great guy to work for and the job is pretty casual; some work but a lot of time. I’m sure I’ll have laundromat stories for you in the future. 

Now I’ve got to go add ‘Laundry Clerk’ to my encyclopedic list of odd jobs, which is here.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

South To Stuart

Pendarvis Cove

I was bombing my way south to get out from under the cold weather that often reaches into North Florida in January. And I was watching my diesel consumption and wondering if I had enough to get far enough. Then a friend ‘sponsored’ a jerry jug of fuel and I had a few more options. As I sailed down toward Melbourne, I was also watching the weather. Stiff winds were in the forecast again, this time out of the northeast. Ruth Ann and I ended up going all the way down to the Melbourne Causeway, the southernmost bridge in town, because it offered the best protection from the wind. 

Melbourne Causeway

Passing through Melbourne, I determined that it was not a place to find work either. The Indian River is also fairly wide open through there and all the anchorages were similarly exposed to lots of fetch. Fetch being the distance that wind can travel unimpeded over the water. Lots of fetch means lots of choppy waves when the wind comes from that direction. I scratched Melbourne off my list. It was also easy just then, because I had realized that Stuart was now less than two days away. I spent a couple months in Stuart last winter and I knew that the access to shore was excellent; groceries, water, and trash all readily available. 

Shepard Park Dinghy Access, Stuart

Ruth Ann and I stayed where we had tucked in behind the causeway for the next day as well. The second day’s forecast was iffy, but I decided to make a run for it anyway. After we got down past Sebastion and under the Wabasso Bridge, the mainland and the beach islands drew together and the wind would not affect us so much. It was blustery, but not bad; not the worst we’ve seen by far. 

After Wabasso, was Vero Beach and then Fort Pierce. The tidal current is quite strong through Fort Pierce, so my next hurdle was to try and time the tide. Further, Vero Beach was as far as we could likely get that day, but it is also a popular spot with cruisers and I was concerned that the anchorage there might be crowded. I decided to stop a bit early at the Pine Island Anchorage; another of my favorite stops. 

Once again, I left a favorite spot with the first light. We had to get moving to be able to time the tide at Fort Pierce and get beyond there that day. Down past Vero Beach, the anchorage didn’t look too crowded but we had had a peaceful night where we’d been at Pine Island. Vero is nice, but I don’t understand why so many cruisers, especially those with sailboats, stay there. They even call it “Velcro Beach” because it is so hard to leave. But Vero is far away from waters that are open enough to sail in. Of course, that only highlights how few sailors are actually sailors, but whatever. 

Ruth Ann carried me down to the North Fort Pierce Bridge, where we had to wait a couple minutes for the top-of-the-hour opening. After getting under the south bridge, we entered the last “lagoon” of the Indian River on the way down toward Jensen Beach and Stuart. My next challenge was the weather again. The wind was on our nose and was going to be out of the southeast through the next day. It was forecast to stiffen overnight and I was concerned about the anchorage I was aiming for. Last year my friend Nancy and I had sailed all the way in off the ocean, around a corner to the ICW, and into the Marriott Resort Anchorage without using the engine!  However, the anchorage was wide open to the southeast and would likely be very rolly that night. 

I got to Jensen Beach and decided to take a look at the Marriott Anchorage anyway. Ruth Ann and I passed under the Jensen Beach Bridge as I watched the wind, the waves, and the boats bobbing in the municipal anchorage. The Marriott Resort is just under the next bridge and about halfway there I decided that I didn’t want to anchor there in that weather. The Jensen Beach mooring field is on the southside of the bridge’s causeway, as exposed as the Marriott anchorage, but on the northside of the causeway there is an anchorage with some protection from south and southeast winds. The boats anchored there looked more peaceful than the boats in the mooring field. So I turned around. 

After anchoring on the northside and having a comfortable night, I arose again and finished the trip up the St. Lucie River to the Pendarvis Cove Anchorage where I stayed last year. Earlier, my wonderful friend had actually given me a  bit more than I needed just to get five gallons of diesel; I could have bought fifteen or twenty gallons perhaps, but I had held out. The morning after arriving, I rowed to shore to get a few basic provisions to tide me over. I was very grateful. 

And then the most wonderful, funniest thing happened: my sister called. 

In order to tell this story, I need to start in about 1975. When our family moved into Charlotte, the woman who had been in the house before us, left us kids three stuffed characters on the mantle of the fireplace. They were more than dolls, literally two feet tall and almost like muppets. There was a hippie, an indian, and a witch. I got the hippie and it might have affected my whole life; at least my outlook. 

The Hippie Abides

Fast forward to 2019, I was still driving a truck for boat money when Trump sent out a last check for $400. I don’t even remember the rationale behind that odd amount. Regardless, my check went to my parent’s address where I had last filed my taxes. My sister had called to tell me that it had arrived and suggested that she cash it and save the money for some time in the future when I might really need it. I was making good money on the road and didn’t have any reason to argue. Sure, sounds good, do it, I had said. She cashed the check and stuck four one hundred dollar bills in the pocket of the tie-dyed shirt of my hippie which she is “keeping for me” in her basement guest room. A hippie has never had so good actually. 

In the meantime, we both completely forgot about the four bills.  

Hilariously, after I had gone to shore with the last money I had to my name, my sister called that evening to tell me the story of remembering the hippie’s money. She had told me that she had just deposited it for me. Now, I had been living on cabbage, onions, lentils, and rice for a couple weeks. About all I could afford when I went ashore was some more onions, some garlic, and a cabbage; along with some grapefruit and a couple zucchini that were very special treats. I was a bit overwhelmed and exceedingly grateful after the phone call. I could live for several weeks on $400 and just that had taken a lot of pressure off my situation. I no longer had to take any job right away. I had some time; the most precious commodity. 

Shortly after that call, some dear friends invited me to a party the next night, up the river. In the morning, I bought some more diesel and got some water at a nearby marina, but didn’t manage to get ashore again for any provisions. You can take the boy out of East Lansing, but you can’t get East Lansing out of the boy. There were friends to hang with and a party to be had. I went running. 

sv Mollynogger next door

I’ve been hanging out with my friends, the Sail Bums, aboard Mollynogger, ever since. They are great people, fantastic musicians, and good to me. (Thanks again!) 

The party was fun and the next night was hours of deep thoughts and deep tracks, crowned by Stan Rogers’ rousing “Barrett’s Privateers” about 03:00 am. Later that same morning, we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 10:30 for their regularly scheduled “Cockpit Coffee” live on Facebook.

Life is good. Good friends. Good old boats. Rum and conversation. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Another Little Squall

I had bugged out of Green Cove Springs when I realized that fully half of the 10 Day Forecast called for 30’s at night; mostly high 30s but a couple nights reaching down toward freezing. Ruth Ann is not a cold weather boat and she had become a “neglected terrarium simulator.” The cold weather caused tremendous condensation in the cabin. And without being able to open up the portlights or hatches, the dankness had taken over life aboard Ruth Ann. Water literally dripped from the ceiling and the walls. The edges of the cabinetry started to bloom with mold and mildew. Every day, I was wiping down as many surfaces as I could with a rag and a spray bottle of vinegar and eucalyptus oil. It was more depressing than disgusting and I had to make a change. 

I stopped at the City Pier to plug in and top up my battery bank before we ran down the St. Johns River, through downtown Jacksonville, and south on the ICW to anchor, still in Jacksonville, next to the Atlantic Boulevard Bridge. I had calculated that I had enough diesel aboard to make it down to at least New Smyrna Beach or even to Cocoa, but it might be close. Once I got into some open areas of the ICW, I was planning to sail some and save fuel. If I kept moving, I might only get hit with one night in the 30s on my way south.  

The next day, I had made it down past St. Augustine to the Fort Matanzas anchorage. It’s one of my favorite spots, but I was up and moving with the first light and made it down to Halifax Lake, north of Daytona. One more day and I had made it all the way down to New Smyrna Beach. 

New Smyrna was one of the spots I was considering to stay for a while. I likely needed to find some work to keep feeding myself. Unfortunately, Smyrna is so close to the Ponce Inlet that the tidal current buzzes through town; peaking at about 2 knots in one direction or the other every six hours or so. This was not conducive to rowing ashore in all weather for a job, so I had to move on. A friend had offered to get me a slip in a marina to hide from the cold, and I bargained for them to sponsor a jerry jug of diesel instead. It was a truly sweet offer and well timed boost; a buffer against my dwindling diesel supply.  

I rested in New Smyrna where the weather wasn’t too cold. It was good to have a day off after crashing my way south all day for four days. On my ‘rest day,’ I motored over to the New Smyrna Marina to get that jerry jug of diesel. The next morning, I left early and got back on my way.  

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution kind of person actually, but I had pledged to myself that I was going to sail as much as possible. However, south of New Smyrna, the ICW goes through a narrow patch down past Edgewater, Bethune Beach and Oak Hill. After the usual vacation homes along each shore just south of Smyrna, there are some real Old Florida places along this stretch; some mobile homes and some old-school fish camps populated by RVs and fishing skiffs. Finally, the waters opened into the Mosquito Lagoon, just north of Cape Canaveral. It is deceptive, because the wide water to the east is very shallow. The ICW channel hugs the mainland to the west all the way down to the Haulover Canal. At Haulover, the ICW cuts across an isthmus to enter the Indian River; a huge lagoon of brackish water that stretches 121 miles down Florida’s coast, from Haulover to the St. Lucie River at Stuart. 

I turned into the canal and called the drawbridge that blocks the way in the middle of the canal’s length. The tender opened the bridge perfectly and I passed through without even slowing Ruth Ann. East of the canal is another large open stretch of shallow water. We motored across the expanse and aimed at the NASA Railway Bridge. 

I had seen some vagabonds sailing down the ICW. It is tough work but they appeared to rely solely on their sails. One boat had their dinghy ‘hip-tied’ and ready to use, but must have been rationing their gasoline supply. They were young sailors out here doing the life and I respected their mettle. They also inspired me. I had pledged to sail and even though I could have just continued motoring along after it was no longer necessary, I developed a plan.

South of the NASA Railway Bridge the Indian River remains a large expanse of water but the shallows recede toward the shore and there is a lot of room in deep-enough water. I slowed Ruth Ann as we approached the bridge and then ducked in behind it after we’d passed. I dropped the anchor, killed the engine, and prepared to sail. TO SAIL!  

There was a nice fresh breeze as we lolled at anchor in the protection of the bridge’s causeway. Just to make it interesting, I decided that I might as well sail off the anchor again. With a jib hanked on and ready, I uncovered the mainsail and raised it. The anchor came up as the main rattled around in anticipation. Once we were free, Ruth Ann started to fade away from the bridge and slowly turned her bow to the south. The jib was still tucked in a sail bag to keep it out of the wind until I had secured the anchor chain. Once we were drifting south, I grabbed the sail bag and yanked it off the sail before I walked back to the cockpit. Back at the helm, I steered us onto a broad reach across the westerly wind, sheeted the main, and then raised the jib.  

Glory. Glory.  

We had begun to sail and it was just fantastic; as usual. This is literally what I have lived for most of my life. 

South of the NASA Railway Bridge is the town of Titusville. There were houses scattered along the shore as we approached and we passed a large marina just before another bridge. A fishing boat zoomed by as a handful of sailboats bobbed in the marina’s mooring field. Under the bridge there were a dozen anchored sailboats on each side of the canal. Titusville offers a dinghy dock at a park on the west end of the causeway. The town was also on my list of possible stops but the available anchorages were all wide open to winds with either a southerly or northerly component. Not conducive to rowing a daily commute.

[ Note: if you squint, you might be able to see the 
ghost of a dolphin under the surface as she played
in our wake. The dolphins were very camera shy. ] 

We sailed along on a glorious day, continuing south from Titusville. Camera shy dolphins were swimming all around Ruth Ann. Without the engine on, as Ruth Ann’s belly cut through the water, I think the dolphins considered us some kind of distant cousin and several came by to check us out and say hello.  We passed under the Addison Point Bridge and I was watching two things. There were some dark clouds over my shoulder to the northwest and the wind from that direction was having me reconsider the anchorage I had been aiming for.  

I checked the weather on my phone and even though it belied what I was seeing with my own eyes, I couldn’t leave the frolicking dolphins and the sailing was so good. I kept watching the clouds and hoped that they would stay north of us. We now headed to a closer anchorage; one that had protection from the northwest wind. Another forty five minutes or so of sailing and we could pull into the Power Plant Anchorage, just north of Delespine. 

And then I looked over my shoulder at the clouds again.  

The storm clouds that had been hovering off to the northwest had expanded and were suddenly looming over us. Just as I had started to think of dropping sails and turning on the engine, the first gusts from the advancing squall hit us. The wind shifted toward the north and Ruth Ann leaned heavily to port letting the cleated mainsail shove us around to the west. We were out in the middle of the wide channel but now we were pointing toward the western shore rather than the waters to the south. I struggled to steer but the mainsail was in charge. After I was finally able to let the sail out and regained some control, I pointed us into the wind to depower the situation. 

I always rig a downhaul on my foresails for times just like this. In the chaotic wind and waves, I simply loosened the jib halyard and hauled in on the downhaul to douse the sail. The jib rattled in the strong winds as it collapsed onto the bowsprit. I leaned down and started the engine, then let the main halyard go and went forward with a couple sail ties to secure it. As I gathered the main sail, I was standing atop the cabin, hugging the boom as Ruth Ann rocked side to side. After tying up the main, I paused to look around from my high vantage point. There had been a channel marker nearby and I had to make sure the wind wasn’t pushing us toward it. 

I stepped back to the cockpit, checked the depth gauge, and grabbed a couple more sail ties. All the way forward at the bowsprit, I bunched the jib and tied it to the bow pulpit rail. The sails no longer rattled free in the wind, but the wind was already starting to abate. Back at the helm, I steered us into the channel and toward our anchorage. Soon the squall had passed and I kind of kicked myself for not holding on. After the short chaos of the squall, we could have sailed some more. 

I was good and exhausted by the time I dropped the anchor just behind the jetties of the power plant. It was a little rollier than I might have liked but it was going to do that night. Back in the warmth of the cabin, I made some supper and quickly fell into bed. The rolling continued and It was not a real peaceful night. Nevertheless, the next anchorage south, where I had planned to spend the night, was completely open to the winds out of the north. In the morning, I passed a boat in that very anchorage and I knew that I had had a more peaceful night then they had.  

I headed south toward Melbourne to check on another possible stop. Each time I moved on, I started looking at jobs online in the next area. I had already mostly escaped the cold weather, so now the quest was to find a good spot, with decent access for a guy rowing a small dinghy. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

New Year's Revolution

I am a conservative sailor. I like it that way, but I have been leaning into that to rationalize chickening out. My New Year’s Revolution is to correct that. I’ll not be abandoning my cautious seamanship but I will be pushing myself. I am a sailor. I sail. I am so tired of burning diesel and will do my best to default to sailing. I could use the joy in my life. Twice in the last five days, for the challenge of it, I have sailed off the anchor without using the engine and had great days of sailing. I pledge to continue. 

As reported in the last post, I battled my way south through a bunch of fickle weather and three major storm systems. Now I have finally made it into Florida to Green Cove Springs, up the river from Jacksonville. I got here a few days before Christmas to take a break from the windy weather I’d been in but it has been cold! 

The boat has been shut up for over a month between the rain and the cold and condensation has been a huge problem. When the weather gets below 45 degrees, water starts dripping from the portlights, the walls, and the ceiling. When it’s cold enough to light my little propane heater, it just gets worse as burning propane kicks off a lot of water vapor too.

My stowed clothes got damp and moisture was everywhere down below. Mold and mildew started appearing on the edges of the cupboards. My surfer straw hat may never recover from the vegetation in the weave. 

And then it warmed up the week between the holidays and I could open some hatches. Usually by midafternoon the temperature was just high enough that I could stand opening up for a couple hours. What a difference! Just trading the stale moist air for fresh started drying the boat out and making it livable again. 

I set about to clean all of the dank surfaces with a spray bottle of white vinegar, water, and eucalyptus oil. I was also cleaning up because my friend, Nancy, was coming for a visit. Nothing like company to cause a bachelor sailor to clean up.  

Nancy and I have known each other since we were about nine years old. She’s one of my oldest friends and it was great fun to hang out. I cooked up a bunch of dinners and breakfasts that will soon show up on a cooking channel I'm developing. Watch for Two Burner Life on the social platforms.

The first couple days after she arrived were going to have wind out of the east and make the anchorage uncomfortable, so we motored across the river to Hallowes Cove. It is a beautiful little spot with just trees and wildlife; and protection from the coming wind. Nancy had just bought a kayak and tried it out from Ruth Ann.  

Nancy is also a sailor, so it was inevitable that we would watch the weather for a good day to sail. That day came on Friday. It had been a terribly long time since I had actually sailed, so I set about to get Ruth Ann ready. Whenever Nancy is around, I am inspired to challenge myself, the boat, and my crew. After the fore sails were bent on, I told her my plan - we were going to sail off the anchor without using the engine. 

We hoisted the mainsail and I hauled the anchor while Nancy steered us to starboard. If we leaned that way as the anchor came aboard, we would slip easily into the wind once we were free. When the anchor clanged into the bow roller, we were off without a hitch. Ruth Ann trembled with anticipation as we started sailing again. Finally, she sighed. 

We sailed out of the little cove and Nancy steered us south and then west across the shoal to get out into the St. Johns River. On the way, I raised the staysail and Ruth Ann romped toward deeper water. Out in the river, I raised the yankee and we headed north down the river. With a little help from the current, Ruth Ann was galloping along. She seemed as happy as we were. 

It was a glorious broad reach in the wide waters of the St. Johns. After a couple hours of great sailing, I relieved Nancy at the helm; boat and skipper were reunited! My skipper mojo was coming back and it was simply soul-enriching to be sailing again. Ruth Ann danced across the waves as if to thank Nancy for getting me to sail her again. 

After a time, we chicken-gybed all the way around and headed back toward Green Cove Springs. We didn’t even lose much speed now heading upstream. At one point, Ruth Ann was so excited she let a gust of wind put her rail right down in the water. It was raucous sailing joy!  

We made it most of the way back on a strong close reach. After tacking back toward the east, we tacked again and headed straight down toward the City Pier and the anchorage. Just before arriving, I started the engine and had Nancy steer while I dropped the sails and tied them up. The next day was forecast to be gusty again, so we found a good spot to ride out the squall and dropped the anchor. After a nice pasta dinner, all that fresh air and excitement caught up with us. It was a great day followed by a quiet sleepy evening.        

The day that Nancy left, I motored over to a little cove I had spotted to ride out a storm front that was supposed to pass. It was a bumpy afternoon yesterday, but could have been worse. Ruth Ann and I were well protected from the worst of the wind and I have a lot of faith in my oversized anchor. We didn’t even budge.  

This morning I decided to keep the momentum going and set up to sail after breakfast. I was going to sail off the anchor again too, but this time solo! As I was getting the sails ready the wind gusted strongly a couple times, so I decided to idle the engine just in case things got sideways. There was shallow water and land downwind of me. After waiting for a pause in the wind gusts, I hoisted the mainsail, started the engine, and then raised the anchor. Ruth Ann drifted back and gradually pointed her bow toward the river. I got back to the helm, steered her away from a couple nearby anchored boats, and never put the engine in gear. I raised a jib and we were on our way. With our destination off to the northwest and the apparent wind was just west of north, it was hard work to get there, tacking five times, but it was wonderful!

I was flying a jib I hadn't used before. About 15 months ago, I traded some soft shackles that I had made and some boatwork advice for a sail that I had offered to buy from my boatyard neighbors. It is larger than my yankee jib and seemed to balance the boat quite well. The shifty wind was blowing about Force 4 and we were flying much of the time. I often have Ruth Ann on a broad reach where we both like it but today we were primarily close hauled. She points so well it is easy to start pinching the wind. I had to remind myself to fall off a bit and get our speed up. We sailed pretty hard today; harder than I have previously. I am so happy. What a way to start the New Year. It’s not a resolution, it’s a New Year’s Revolution: sail, don’t motor; in fact, sail your ass off.
Image of Ruth Ann and I by my friend Kurt.
Image of me at the helm by Nancy. 
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Saturday, December 23, 2023

I Have Failed To Sail

[ Note: It has been an embarassingly long time since I posted to the blog. This post may explain some of why I've been distracted. ]

Well, I have failed to sail. My passage south for the winter has been almost exclusively motoring … again. In my last post, back in October, I proclaimed that I was going to sail as much as possible on the way south. Turns out that has not been possible. Mostly, it’s because the weather this time of year is fickle and stormy. I knew that. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to hang out with my friend, Vic, in Beaufort, NC and make a little money. Besides doing a bunch of boat work, I did bonfires, beach volleyball, and pub crawling with a bunch of new friends, most half my age. It was a blast. I have no regrets. 

I left Beaufort in mid November and made it down to Mile Hammock Bay, a semi-protected cove adjacent to Camp Lejeune. On the way there, a gale warning was posted for the waters just offshore of my position. I dropped the anchor and hunkered down for what ended up being three stormy days. When the storm was over, my house bank batteries were very low. I ended up getting a slip for the next night at Swan Point Marina in Sneads Ferry to plug in. 

Charged up and itching to get back on my way south, I left Swan Point at first light and made good progress on my way south. I was gunning to jump offshore, but every time I was near an inlet to go out, the weather was not cooperating. Most tempting then was the jump from the Cape Fear River to Charleston, but that stretch only has a couple inlets safe to enter if I had to escape from the weather. We managed to make the short jump from the Cape Fear over to the Little River in South Carolina on a windless day, but a change in the weather was looming. 

I had also been trying to meet up with Kurt, who runs the Sailfar forum. His post in 2019 about a boat for sale had led me to Ruth Ann. I have thanked him, of course, but I wanted to finally meet him and shake his hand. He is in Georgetown and if I had gone outside, the safest route there would have likely been to enter Charleston Harbor and backtrack to Georgetown. In the end, running down the inside put me right near his marina where he had arranged for Ruth Ann and I to stay. We enjoyed four nights plugged in and warm during a cold snap. I had a great time hanging out with Kurt and his watermen friends. 

From Georgetown, I aimed to get down to Beaufort, SC in order to watch the weather and plan a jump from there to Brunswick, GA or Jacksonville, FL. I was back in Factory Creek where I had stopped on my way north. There is a dinghy dock at a town boat ramp and good access to groceries, hardware, and some restaurants. Also on my mind, the consistently overcast weather had taxed my house bank again and I was keen to absorb some sun and bring them back.  

A tight weather window appeared in the forecast, but I didn’t feel I could risk going offshore with such low power in my batteries. I navigate with charts on a tablet and if I was out on the ocean and lost the ability to power or charge my devices, I would have been in trouble. I let the window pass. 

In Factory Creek, I chanced to meet a couple sailors: Gavin on Disconnect, who took the weather window and got to Brunswick with a little excitement near the end. And Doc on Aait Verdan, who I enjoyed hanging out with for a few days. We had dinner aboard his boat, later pizza in town, and several pleasant conversations. 

The next chance to consider sailing offshore was down near Savannah. With no favorable weather in the forecast, I left Factory Creek and headed south again. It took a day and a half to get down to Thunderbolt, outside Savannah, and by the time I had arrived a major storm was brewing and I needed to find a place to hide.  

My original destination was the Herb River, just past the marinas of Thunderbolt, where I had anchored before. However, the forecast called for the winds to swing around during the storm and the narrow river was too small for swinging on anchor. I ended up in a fairly open spot on the Skidaway River.  

The coming gale was going to start with winds out of the south and just before the peak, a shift into the northwest. My storm strategy had to also include that the tides in Georgia are more than 6 ft. Taking this extra depth into account, I ended up with 220 ft of line and chain out in a spot where I could swing all the way around the anchor if need be. 

As the storm approached, I could see lightning over the City of Savannah. Huh, I hadn't had to think about lightning in a while. I am not certain what would happen if Ruth Ann was struck by lightning. Her mast is a 40 ft tall aluminum spar that I re-rigged with Dyneema, a synthetic rope that does not conduct electricity. I started to imagine the possibility that a lightning strike would come straight down the mast and blow a hole in the boat. A sailor has to think a few moves ahead like a good chess player. I decided that if water started to rush into the boat after a lightning strike, I could fairly quickly cut the lines that held my dinghy down on deck and flip it into the water. Of course, I would have to grab the oars for that option to be effective. The oars were hanging from a couple lifeline stanchions on Ruth Ann's starboard rail. In order to keep them from banging around while underway, I had also tied them tightly to the stanchions. The ties would slow me down in an emergency, so I went forward just before the storm and untied them.

I also put my wallet and passport in a dry bag and placed it by the companionway. Just in case.

When the edge of the front rolled through about suppertime, we were slammed with very high winds and torrential rain for about 20 minutes and then it went quiet. Later the wind began to build again and by 10:00 pm we were getting regular gusts into the high 20s. By midnight the gusts were reaching 35 according to the weather app on my phone which was reporting from Savannah about 7 miles up the river. Chances are that I had more wind in my spot nearer to the ocean. At the height of the early storm, I heard one of the oars fall out of the loop that held it on the stanchion. I was afraid I might lose it during the storm, so I climbed out of the companionway and stumbled forward in the wind and rain to pull both the oars back into the cockpit and secure them. Losing even one oar would have been like losing the engine to a car. 

I had managed to sleep a little but by the time the storm reached its peak, I got up again, put on some wind pants and sea boots, and just sat reading and listening to the howling wind. I needed to be ready to go help Ruth Ann if she needed me. The gusts must have been approaching 40 by then. 

The difference between a Squall where the winds are steady but high, and this kind of a storm with massive but intermittent gusts, is that as the boat wallowed around at anchor, a blast of wind would often catch Ruth Ann from the side, beam on. She would lean over, healing as if we were sailing; a somewhat disconcerting feeling at anchor. Ruth Ann probably never got further than 10 degrees off of vertical but when you're sitting inside with all the hatches closed, in the howling wind and rain, any sudden lean feels quite large.

It's amazing what you can sleep through after 3 hours of gusts over 35. By 2:30 or so, the winds had dropped and the gusts were back into the mid 20s and I slept at least 4 hours. When I finally woke and got out of bed again, the gusts were still reaching the high teens, but I made breakfast and knew that we had, and would, survive. At 10:30, I dressed, went forward to haul enough anchor line to undo the bridle, and to collect the kellet that I had deployed. A kellet is a weight on the anchor line about halfway toward the anchor. It helps the anchor hold and dips the anchor line below the keel when the boat is swinging around. Once that was all aboard and the lines coiled, I started the engine, hauled the rest of the anchor line, and began my trip south again. After a rocky night at anchor, I knew the seas offshore were going to be rough for at least another day, so I continued down the ICW on the inside. 

Two days later, I had thought I was running from some more weather in Georgia. I dropped anchor behind Jekyll Island to stop for a couple hours to time the tide going across St. Andrews Sound. When I checked the weather, I suddenly discovered it was now going to be worse in Florida. I spent the night there in the precarious spot where I hadn’t planned to stay, but made a reservation at a nearby marina for Saturday and Sunday, the worst of the coming storm. Another storm system with another windshift, but I had anchored in a spot that wasn’t safe enough to be long term.  

The next day, I moved my arrival at the marina up to Friday.  As Thursday wore on, the weather continued to build, the forecast changed rapidly, and I realized I needed to move. I called the marina to see if they had a spot for me that afternoon. When they did, I set to work. 

With wind in the 20s and gusts pushing toward 30 knots, I went forward to haul the anchor by hand; I have no windlass. After dragging us a few yards, I went back to the helm and put some forward throttle on. With that help, I managed to wrangle the anchor back aboard and started moving toward the marina. The dock attendants were talking to me on the radio. We were headed to a slip on the inside of their facedock. I had hoped for some wind shadow from the trees and buildings around the marina, but I managed to swing Ruth Ann into the slip in the stiff breezes anyway. We bumped the finger pier lightly on the way in, but I wasn’t worried about grace or showing off. With that the marina guys helped tie us up and we were safe.

The next day, the marina requested I move over one slip to make room for a catamaran, also hiding from the storm. After the move, I disconnected my flexible solar panels, lowered the dodger, and tied everything down. The dinghy got an extra strap of line and I tied some extra dock lines. We were as prepared as we could be. 

At one point, the forecast had called for gusts toward 50 knots. In the end, we probably had no more than forty there. The biggest impact was the changing wind direction, again. The wind started out of the east and backed around to the northwest. If I had stayed in that first spot, we’d have surely been blown up onto the gravel beach there. I was stuck at the marina for five days. 

I am done. I have no more patience for this weather and I think January will be similar. My plan now is to run down to Green Cove Springs, upriver from Jacksonville. I’m going to stay a few weeks for the fickle weather of this transition season to pass. Once the weather settles, I’ll plan to get back out and head further south. Hopefully, I’ll finally be able to actually sail. 

Postscript: I am uploading this from the free dock at Sisters Creek, east of Jacksonville. I was going to sleep in this morning because it was going to be cold. It hovered around forty degrees all night. At 3:30 this morning the wind changed direction and we were getting rocked around. I ended up making breakfast before sun up and as soon as it was light, I started moving. It was too fitting not to include. 

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Sunday, October 15, 2023

I Pledge to Sail!

Sometimes it is hard to motivate myself. Wednesday morning was a case in point. I had been anchored in Greens Creek, near Oriental, NC for almost two weeks. I’ve mentioned before that I was there in order to volunteer at and enjoy the Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival. I had hung around the historic fishing village that is now a mecca for sailors of all types and especially vagabonds like me. I met some interesting people, did some writing in a coffee shop (one of my favorite things), and got some boat projects done. After the festival, I had planned to begin my wandering way south for the winter. 

I have pledged that I will sail most of the way south to make up for motoring all the way down last year as I ran from the cold weather. My next stop was Beaufort, NC. The way there from Oriental is across the expansive Neuse River and down Adams Creek which is the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW) route. The route cuts across the peninsula between the Neuse and the Atlantic coast at Cape Lookout. My destination lay just before the ICW meets the coast again in Town Creek on the backside of Beaufort. My thought was to do some sailing on the Neuse, but I wasn’t motivated. Probably, I’d gotten a little lazy hanging out in Oriental. 

The bridge at sunrise

As I prepared to leave Greens Creek, I was already concocting excuses. The trip down to Beaufort was going to take most of the day, but if I motored across the river to the creek I could probably save an hour. Plus, even though preparing to sail only takes a few minutes more than preparing to motor, that would be time saved, right? Did I feel like sailing? Was there enough wind? Too much? Should I wait until tomorrow? Etc. Etc. 

I’m really not such a slug. In fact, I spent 16 years of fairly hard work to get where I am. This is just an honest reflection of the thoughts that were brewing in my head. 

Also, killing the morning’s vibe, when I decided that I should first clear my sink by doing the dishes, I discovered that I had nearly run out of water. I didn’t have time to both get some water and get down to Beaufort in one day. I decided that there was enough water to slake my thirst along the way and I could fill up after arriving.

I got dressed and stepped into the cockpit to observe the actual conditions. 

Sometimes it just takes a challenge. Often, I end up supplying my own challenge. Whatever is holding you up, you too can supply your own challenge. 

As I looked around the anchorage, gauged the wind, assessed my boat and myself, it began to occur to me that the wind was blowing in just the right direction that I could probably sail out. What a fantastic challenge; haul the anchor under sail, sail down the creek, under the bridge, and out across the river to pick up the ICW. It was on! Now I had some motivation. 

I checked the fluids in my engine and my fuel level; my usual list. Then I went forward to unbag the jib and check that the halyard, the sheets, and the downhaul could all run freely. I then stepped to the mast and uncovered the main sail.

Just down the creek, west of the village of Oriental, Greens Creek joins Smith Creek to flow into the Neuse River. The bridge that crosses the creeks is 45 feet off of the water; fairly low by ICW adjacent standards. Ruth Ann was just able to sneak under the bridge and into the creek. However, the bridge is not perpendicular to either creek, so the way under is on a funny angle. For that reason, I decided that I would start the engine and leave it idling in neutral just in case I got into a jam as I approached or ducked under that bridge. 

The wind was steady but light as I raised the main and then headed forward to haul the anchor. I dipped the chain back in the water several times to agitate the mud to fall off. I was mostly successful but mud still managed to splatter the deck, my pants, and my bare feet. I always wear ‘work’ clothes to haul the anchor in the muddy rivers of the Carolinas.  

The anchor clanged into the bow roller and I knelt to hook the hawse cover on the chain and close it. Ruth Ann drifted backward and began a graceful spin as the wind pushed at her bow. I walked back to the helm and sheeted the main. The wind was blowing us toward the bridge and after Ruth Ann’s bow had swung downstream, I let out the sail to catch the wind. We weren’t moving fast, but we were sailing and it was glorious. 

The geography of the place was going to allow us to run before the wind down to the intersection of the creeks and then, turning toward the river, we would fall into a beam reach to head under the bridge. All I had to do was hold my course until we were on a good angle to head through the bridge. 

I had to grit my teeth and wait for the opportune moment to make that turn. Holding our course, I checked and rechecked our position against the wind vane at the masthead. Turning too soon, the wind angle might make it difficult to hit the bridge entrance. Too late, and our drift downwind could push us past the bridge. I finally chose the moment and swung the bow to the south. About 15 yards before the bridge, I was so confident that we were on the right heading that I went ahead and turned the engine off.

Silently and slowly, we ducked under the bridge and drifted as much as sailed into the river. The only sound was the rattle of the cars crossing over our heads.

As we passed the village and the entrance to Oriental Harbor, my next puzzle to solve was the dogleg in the channel to the Neuse. The wind was steady out of the west. The channel was going to take us across the wind, then into it, and finally on a run off the wind and out to the river. I checked the depths around me on the chartplotter. Luckily, because Oriental is still a working fishing harbor, the channel is marked for the bigger vessels that often pass. There was lots of water around the channel deep enough for Ruth Ann. 

As we left the village behind, I steered Ruth Ann a little closer into the wind to keep to the marked channeI. When the channel turned back to the east, I cut the corner to fall back on a beam reach. I thought that I might be able to sail just behind the last marker to get into the river, but the wind angle was going to take us into shallow waters. I didn’t want to get too far out of the channel nor into waters too shallow obviously. I have crewed a few times for a captain who likes to say “there are less surprises in the channel.” I fell off the wind and made a run for the ‘right’ side of the last marker. 

We were only making about a knot and a half through the water. Off to the west was Wiggins Point; a spit of land that was shadowing our wind. I decided that if we got past the line between that marker and the point without gaining any speed, then I would start the engine to motor across the river. Sailing is one thing, but making a two day trip out of a six hour run doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

Just before that imaginary line, I could feel Ruth Ann perk up. Suddenly, we were consistently making more than two knots. With the chartplotter zoomed out to see across the river, I turned us toward Adams Creek and we fell back into a beam reach; with the wind blowing straight across her beam. I had left a reef in the mainsail because I hadn’t completely shaken the laziness of the morning. Further, in wind as light as it was, I should have raised a larger jib, but we were well balanced and Ruth Ann could sail herself for several minutes while I attended to other things. 

Out in the Neuse River with the light wind holding, I decided to shake the reef out after all. The extra sail would gain us a bit more speed. After going forward to unhook the reef ring, I began to haul the main halyard to raise the sail, but the aft end of the boom was being lifted as well. I checked the reefing line and found that it had fallen off the sheave and gotten jammed. So, I let the halyard go, rehooked the reef at the ram’s horn, and settled back into our beam reach with mainsail reefed as it had been. 

Sailing along, back on course to Adams Creek, I pondered the jammed reefline and inspected the boom end above my head. There are two reefs in the main, each with a reefing line that runs through the boom, and exits on either side of the boom end fitting. When I had reefed the sail last month, coiling and tying the excess sail at the foot, I had let the coil fall to the port side of the boom. The jammed reef line exits the boom end on the starboard side. The weight of the coiled sail had apparently pulled the reef line off its sheave. Had I rolled the coil the other way, the line would likely not have jammed. I made a mental note and went back to enjoying the sail. 

Approaching the south shore of the Neuse River, Ruth Ann was pointed too far east to make the channel at Adams Creek. I tacked back the other way to gain some ground, thinking that I could tack again a little further upriver, and get a better heading on the channel’s marker. After we had tacked, however, we were nearly pointed straight back at Oriental. That just wouldn’t do. After sailing a while the wrong way, I tacked back for the channel. 

The wind direction was such that we would have had to tack back and forth for a couple hours to get high enough to sail into the channel. We were also limited by another shoal on that side of the river. I decided to sail up to the shoal and then just start the engine to motor across the edge of the shallows and down the creek. Again … sailing is one thing but practicality and seamanship demanded that I make better time toward our destination so that we could arrive before dark. 

As the river began to shallow and the wind softened, I turned the key to start the engine … and a friend called. I joked that she had saved me from ending my sail. For a few minutes, while we chatted, Ruth Ann took up the challenge and did her best to sail strongly in the falling breeze. Nevertheless, not long after I had hung up the phone, we were back to struggling along at about a knot, so I reached for the key. 

We motorsailed across the edge of the shoal and into the creek. The wind was much more fickle in the narrow geography. About half way down the creek to Beaufort, the jib had become more trouble than it was worth, so I doused it. Ruth Ann was holding her course fairly well, so I went forward with a sail bag and stowed the jib on the bowsprit as we headed south. After making it under the Core Creek Bridge, I also lowered the main and tied it up. A tug was pushing a large barge the other direction as Ruth Ann weaved around while I was distracted at the mast, but we straightened ourselves out long before we had to pass next to the barge. 

There are so many goofy tools that we can take advantage of in these digital times. Ruth Ann and I had made good time and as we approached Town Creek almost two hours of daylight remained. My one concern was whether there would be any room in the small anchorage. Most of the way down the creek, my phone had had no reception. But as we neared Beaufort, back in the “civilized” digital world, I Googled for “Town Creek Webcam” and found that the marina on the north shore had a camera pointed right at the spot where I had anchored last month; and it was clear. We were a half hour away and could head right in to drop the hook. 

from the marina webcam

As I write this, another boat has anchored near us. They chose a spot at a respectable distance, so we’ll be fine. There might be a little weather passing on Saturday, but my neighbors are likely just passing through on their way south and won’t stay long. Essentially, I am also passing through, but I’ll be here for several days or more. My friend, Victor, is in a marina here and besides offering me the use of their laundry and showers, Vic and I are going to work together on a couple projects on each of our boats. In addition, we may swap dinghies, but that’s a story for another day. 


If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting my project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below that is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunset images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support

Friday, October 13, 2023

Front Porch Music, Part Two

The Bean

When we last left our hero, OK just me, I had allowed myself to get talked into a meeting at nine o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. A meeting to discuss another writer and his writing, supposedly. If you haven't seen Part One, you should read it first. 

The Bean is an Oriental institution; a coffee shop right across the street from the Town Dock. They have all the ubiquitous espresso coffee options, plus brewed coffee, smoothies, iced tea, bagels, brownies, muffins, and other treats. During the weekend of the festival, I suspected they might be busy, but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived just before nine. I hadn’t eaten, so I got an Americano and a bagel. By the time my coffee was ready, a table had opened up.  

Being that I was slightly skeptical, and that I had planned to spend the whole day ashore at the music fest, I had come prepared. After eating my bagel, I got out a notebook (a writer always has a notebook) and started writing. I didn’t really have a plan, but one of the pieces of writing advice I had already given my curious friend – was to just start writing. Write about something, even if it is writing about the frustration of having nothing to write about.  

I’m a glutton for punishment and just to prove it -- I have three blogs. This blog about my sailing and misadventures around boats, a blog with my non-boat writing, and a blog about my journey into Buddhism. I wrote several pages for the oft-ignored Buddhist blog and then began writing this very piece. As a famous local institution, The Bean was busy on a Saturday morning; ever more so on the festival weekend. Most of the morning there were always a few customers in line. Luckily, nearly all of them were grabbing a coffee and heading out for their day. The tables were never all occupied, but there were a few of us there enjoying the space and working or conversing. 

My less than intrepid writer friend never showed. And the rest of my whole day in town, I never saw my ‘friend’ who was so desperate to get some writing advice; regardless whether I was actually an appropriate source for that.

After a couple hours of good writing, I was ready for a break. Inspired suddenly, I packed up and walked across the street to the Inland Waterway Provision Company; another local institution. The IWPC is a unique store that reminds me of some others that I have found in remote locales, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They have a wide variety of things because of their unique position far between bigger towns along the IntraCoastal Waterway. The store has souvenirs and knickknacks, t shirts and hats, sailing gear, books and charts, craft beer, gourmet snacks, as well as a good selection of boat parts, resin and paint, fishing gear, safety gear, and maintenance items like oil and fuel filters. I knew that I could find a couple Oriental, NC postcards there as well. 

"Downtown" Oriental

Postcards in hand and lots of time before the music started, I walked over to the Post Office. On their counter, I wrote a note on each card and then bought a couple stamps. I was starting to know my way around Oriental, so I was able to cross Broad Street, the main drag, and cut through the neighborhood over to the festival stage. I was still a little early and had worked up an appetite writing and walking around. One of the food vendors was offering Cuban Black Beans and Rice which sounded delicious. After securing a bowl, I sat at a picnic table by the river and dug in.  

The first music of the day was Christie Lenee, who I had seen talk the day before. She is an extraordinary finger-style guitar player and a beautiful singer. Her set was a mix of instrumentals, singer/songwriter craft, and perceptive stories. It was a great way to start the day.

The Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival is a unique music fest. First, Oriental is a very small town and to organize a two day festival with a half dozen venue locations – and keep it free – is incredible. Second, is the variety of venues. There is the main stage, called the Riverfront Stage, that is set up in a village park on the river. Every two hours, a one hour performance occurs there. On the odd hours between main stage performances, sets are performed in other locations around town; at the church I mentioned, at a brew pub, at a bed and breakfast, and at several private houses with front porches big enough to hold a small band and their equipment. The music ranged from bluegrass and traditional Appalachian, to gospel, folk rock, Americana, a local ensemble of ukuleles, and even some jazz. I couldn’t have been happier just wandering around and listening to music. Twice I happened to walk by someone telling the story of the incredible piano performance from the church the day before. 

At some point, I got an odd feeling that I should check on my dinghy. It had been tied up at a small boat dock at the state boat ramp for most of the day. I’ve developed an eerie sense for the welfare of each of my boats; Ruth Ann, the mothership, and my dinghy.  I walked back across town to the dock and, sure enough, the wind had picked up and changed direction. The dinghy was now getting bonked against the dock, nothing too serious but the wind had started blowing harder than was forecast. I decided to row out to check on Ruth Ann as well. There was one more act that I had wanted to see. Damn Tall Buildings, from Brooklyn, NY, was the Saturday headliner to close out the festival, but I needed to check on my girl. 

There was a North Carolina Marina Patrol boat getting pulled at the boat ramp. A teenager in a kayak near the ramp’s dock appeared to have been talking to the officer. I wondered if he had been towed back in or rescued somehow during the strengthening winds. It seems likely that that was true, because as I rowed away from the dock, the officer walked over to watch me from the high side of the parking lot. He didn’t gesture or seem to want to stop me, but his body language revealed that he had some concerns. Two creeks come together right near the ramp and it was hard rowing to get across the first creek as the wind blew straight down it, but once I got into Greens Creek, where Ruth Ann tugged at her anchor, the wind was mitigated by the trees and homes along the shore and I was fine.  

Once I was back onboard, I wasn’t sure that I would bother to get back to the festival. The safety of Ruth Ann and the dinghy is actually more important than music. Nevertheless, after an hour or so, the winds seemed to have fallen off. We were a half mile up the creek from the boat ramp and going back meant twenty minutes of rowing – each way. Yet the music tugged at my heart. 

I had been napping a bit, but with the wind softening I got up and stood in the cockpit to judge my situation. It wasn’t still but nearly so. Back down in the cabin, I called up Damn Tall Buildings on YouTube and twenty seconds into the first song, I was committed. I was going back into town. 

Damn Tall  Buildings

The Boston Globe described Damn Tall Buildings as "Old Crow Medicine Show meets Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros meets Flatt & Scruggs meets Nickel Creek, with a dash of Avett Brothers and a sprinkle of Johnny Cash. What they might have missed was the Patsy Cline and Janis Joplin erupting from their powerfully singing bass player. 

I changed my clothes into something slightly warmer and rowed back. It was exactly what I needed. Damn Tall Buildings are tremendous musicians and so much fun. They are a couple, Sasha and Max, plus Avery on the fiddle. Sasha plays the bass and has an incredibly powerful and versatile voice. Max is a bit of a kook, another great singer, and a really good guitar player; especially bluegrass and bluesy stylings. Avery is a helluva fiddle player and versatile harmony singer who has quite a shimmy under his fiddle and beard. They had driven all the from Sisters, Oregon, from a similar sounding festival, to close out their seven week tour at the fest in Oriental, NC. They were headed home to Brooklyn after their set and I was so glad that I had caught them.

Afterward, we all helped put away the folding chairs that the fest had rented for the main stage area. Then I walked back through town as it got darker and darker. When I got back to the dinghy dock, there was just a sliver of sunset in the clouds. Luckily, I had brought a lamp to be somewhat legal after dark. After taking the requisite sunset picture, I lit the lamp, put it in the bow, and rowed back out to Ruth Ann. 

What a weekend!


The dock after dark

All the images are mine except The Bean photo which I stole off of Flickr.


If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting my project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below that is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunset images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Front Porch Music, Part One

Riverfront Stage

My time in Oriental, NC has been much less dramatic than my voyage down here from Washington. I had come in order to volunteer at the Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival. A volunteer orientation meeting was on Saturday, the day after I had arrived. The rest of the week I worked on some computer stuff and did some boat chores. I had anchored Ruth Ann past the bridge and into Greens Creek, a peaceful spot near enough but also far enough away from the quiet bustle of the tiny town of Oriental; which is still a working fishing village. 

There is a public dock a half mile from Ruth Ann. After rowing over, it is just three or four blocks into “downtown” and just six blocks to the park where the main festival stage was set up. Friday afternoon I enjoyed some music and that evening did my shift as a golf cart shuttle driver.  

As a part of their festival appearance, some of the artists give small seminars. I was lucky enough to have caught one by Christie Lenee, Guitar World’s “2020 Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World Right Now.” She spoke about creativity in general and her approach to creating music. From her I learned about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book called Big Magic and of earlier times when creativity was considered a gem to be discovered inside someone rather than the modern idea that some people are talented while others are not. We all can be creative geniuses if we are open and receptive to that possibility. It was absolutely sublime to sit in a small church sanctuary with just thirty people and witness such an amazing musician and open-hearted human. 

Ms. Lenee had been stuck in traffic and arrived a little late to the church. While we waited, the Emcee had told us about the grand piano. The former organist at the church was the sister of the current mayor of Oriental. When the organist sister passed away, she had donated the piano to the church. It was a wonderful, small town story, but I could just see the top of the piano behind the front row of pews. I have no idea what kind of piano it was, but it must have been special for it had attracted the eye of our musician as soon as she arrived. After her talk and having played her guitar, as the Emcee called time and solicited one last question, Christie asked if she could play the piano. She gushed that she could not resist the beautiful instrument. The Emcee shrugged and casually deferred to someone in the audience who must have been connected with the church. No one said “no,” so Christie snuck over to sit at the piano, lifted the cover, and began tinkling at the keys. 

Just as when she had started a tune on her guitar, Ms. Lenee first seemed to just explore the keys, searching for what song might be hiding inside the instrument just then. Soon she seemed to catch the wisp of something and began an ethereal rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” I don’t think anyone in the sanctuary drew a breath until she had finished. It had been an amazing hour and my heart had swelled as I left the church. Auspiciously, right outside the front door was the festival’s transportation hub where my volunteer shift was about to start.

Sunset on the river behind the stage

During my afternoon at the festival, I had run also into a local guy. The Carolinas are full of military bases and therefore lots of retired military as well. I had been standing near the river and the main stage; passing time, listening to the music, and observing. My hands were behind my lower back and my feet comfortably below each shoulder. I often stand that way; basically standing at ease as we were taught in marching band. The local guy approached and, with a slight reverence, asked if I was ex-military. I answered that no, my father and brother had been, but that I had not.

He said that he had noticed the way I had been standing and thought that I was maintaining some kind of militaristic situational awareness. Besides dodging any further discussion of the military or my lack of it, I said that I was a writer and that people-watching was an occupational hazard.  

“A writer!,” he exclaimed, “so am I. I am working on a novel.”  

He proceeded to tell me that he had a project that had been approved by Random House and that it was going to be the best novel ever. His story was a love story that takes place in part along the IntraCoastal Waterway and in the various local cultures. The novel was apparently not getting onto the page easily. He asked me about my writing and expressed that he was kind of blocked. Perhaps I could talk to him about writing and about his novel. He wanted to know how good I thought it was or was going to be. Of course, he wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before discussing it in detail. I feel I can tell you all that because I did not sign, nor ever saw, any kind of agreement.

Another guy had been hanging nearby, a friend of the local guy apparently. I think this friend was mostly motivated by the twelve pack of cheap beer strapped to the rack on my new friend’s electric bike. “Stay right there,” the local guy told his friend. 

And then he proceeded to tell me all about the plot of the novel that I was going to have to sign an NDA to hear about. It sounded interesting; definitely fertile ground for a novel in the right hands. At one point, he even said that he wasn’t looking for a ghostwriter, but that he really needed some help. I told him that I was going to be around for a few more days, that I would be happy to talk to him about writing, and I gave him my card.  

“What are you doing tomorrow morning, nine o’clock at The Bean,” he said all in one breath. 

I consented to meeting at The Bean at nine. 

By this time, I had doubts. I couldn’t really discern if my ‘friend’ was actually a writer, a run-of-the-mill crazy person, or perhaps just the town drunk with a good story about a story. 

My plan all along had been to spend Saturday at the festival. The music didn’t start until noon, so I would have had lots time in the morning, but now I had agreed to be at a coffee shop by nine. 

To be continued ...


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