Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Cost of Being A Boss

I have learned that it is important to listen carefully to the way I speak to myself. Whenever I “hear” myself start to say “I’ll just …” or “It’ll be alright …”, I try to stop whatever I’m doing or thinking, and take a closer look. “Just” is a sneaky word in that context; it is a warning that a corner is about to be cut. Whenever I recognize those phrases I know that I am about to do something that I don't think is exactly proper. 

I was chatting with one of my sailing pals about the fact that I don’t have a windlass on Ruth Ann. A windlass is a type of winch that will raise an anchor off the bottom; some are manual but most are electric. Ruth Ann doesn’t have room near her bow for a windlass. Right now I am enjoying the workout. Wade’s conjecture, however, was that without a windlass a sailor might be tempted to stay anchored in a less than perfect spot just to avoid hauling the anchor by hand. At the time we were speaking, I had actually just hauled my anchor to move to a better spot shortly after having dropped it. I made it my mission to act like I had a windlass and not ever be that sailor who lets it slide.  

However, both of these concepts are getting ahead of my story. Hang tight, last Friday was a day to remember. 

I had promised myself that I was going to sail on Friday. It is somewhat hilarious that after three years of work to get a sailboat in the water and finally launching her the first week of December, it was February and I hadn’t sailed her yet. It’s a complicated story, but doing all the work myself to replace Ruth Ann’s engine had taken a bit longer than I had planned. Once we were actually in the water, it was a race to get down the coast before Winter closed in. The mad rush south and some goofy weather had caused me to motor all the way from Navassa, outside Wilmington, NC down to Florida. 

True confession: it wasn’t just the weather; I was getting in my own way as well. 

I had a boat in the water and was headed toward warmer weather for the winter; the life that I had literally been working for fifteen years to accomplish. And yet I was wallowing in feelings of inadequacy. I was panicked. 

I had to show up; had to demonstrate that I was the guy that I had been trying to be all this time. Imposter syndrome was hitting me hard. Even with a lifetime of sailing experience because the last few years had been more about boatwork than sailing, I felt like a rookie again. The trouble I had had that first week on the water had increased my doubts. I am proud to be a thoughtful, conservative sailor and the weather had really been against me for weeks. Yet I still felt like I wasn’t living up to my sailor facade. There I was motoring down the coast on my own boat powered by a diesel engine that I had installed myself and yet my pea brain had invented a facade and was accusing me of hiding behind it. Objectively, I was a damn sailor but I could hardly convince myself to think so. Hence, my promise to go sailing.

I knew I just had to start moving and everything would fall into place. My preparations had begun on Thursday; checking the rigging and the sails. Friday morning, it seemed a little windier than I had expected, but I pulled the outboard up onto the stern pulpit, hanked on the yankee (my high cut jib), and uncovered the mainsail. I looked around the gusty anchorage and went below to procrastinate. I made some lunch and sat. Finally, after a good mental shake, I got to work again. I started the engine, hauled the anchor, and left the anchorage. I was moving. Finally.

Just north of where Ruth Ann and I had been anchored was the junction of the North and South Forks of the St. Lucie River. The anchorage was in the South Fork and we headed north to turn into … wait for it … the North Fork. I engaged the autopilot and wandered around the deck running my jib sheets and making my final preparations. Approaching the elbow where the river opens up into a long stretch wide enough for sailing, I raised the yankee and cut the engine. 

It was so good, just soul enriching to feel Ruth Ann surge through the water without hearing the engine. I started to feel like I was back. The real me had begun to peek from behind the crust I had been accumulating. The wind was indeed a little stronger than I had anticipated and we were already doing more than half her hull speed with just the yankee. I was feeling good and we were stepping out. I could have raised the main and really put us through our paces, but it was not necessary to test us on that first day back. 

I had a glorious afternoon tacking back and forth on the North Fork practicing the timing of my jib tack. Ruth Ann is a cutter, so she has two stays at the bow. My jib was going to have to squeeze between the forestay and the staysail stay each time I tacked. I have sailed a cutter before but practice is never a bad thing. I pretty much got the hang of it. By holding the active sheet on the winch until the jib started to bulge between the stays and then hauling hard on the lazy sheet, I could get a consistent tack. Late in the afternoon, the wind got a little fluky so I started the engine and pulled down the yankee (jib). Back through the junction, I was in the South Fork again approaching the anchorage. 

The spot where I had originally anchored was fairly close to the channel. I was keen to get deeper into the anchorage to be less affected by the wakes as large boats went by. After slowing the boat, we gurgled into the anchorage and I watched the depths as we passed around the other boats. There was a large powerboat that might have been sitting on the bottom and I didn’t want to anchor too close to it, but there was a nice spot nearby. I circled around and aimed for the spot. The wind had strengthened again and it was blowing me off my chosen spot as I walked forward to drop the anchor. After a couple tries, the anchor was finally down and Ruth Ann drifted backward as I gradually let out some chain.  Then when I walked back to the cockpit to set the anchor, I noticed that I was a little close to another boat. I wasn’t obnoxiously close but I felt a pinch about it. 

It’ll be alright, I thought. That guy will probably not know any better and I’m going to go out again on Monday. I’ll just fix it when I come back again. And I went below.  

Do you recognize those phrases? It took me a few minutes, but I had begun to feel my own discomfort. I knew that I should move, but moving meant hauling the anchor again – with the wind pushing against it. Recognize that? That’s exactly what I promised myself that I would take care of. Reluctantly, I pulled a shirt on and climbed back into the cockpit.

I started the engine again and hauled the anchor. The anchor line and the chain were covered in a slimy mud from the river bottom which splashed all over the deck and all over me. I pulled the anchor into the bow roller and headed back to the helm. After another couple circles, I dropped the anchor again, this time much closer to where I had originally intended. Ruth Ann fell back on the chain as the wind pushed her and I let out the anchor line. We were in a much better place.

Back at the helm, I glanced at the dinghy and dropped the engine into reverse to pull on the chain. I heard a whimper, then a squeak, and I knew exactly what I had just done. For two months, I had backed down on the chain with the dinghy floating behind Ruth Ann without incident. Regardless, the whimper was the line getting pulled taut by the propeller which yanked the dinghy against the hull where it squeaked on the fiberglass. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.  

[ insert your favorite string of appropriate pirate cuss words ]

I didn’t understand how it had happened. The line may have gotten saturated or weighted down by algae growing on it … or I might have let out a couple more feet than normal. I don’t know (it’s called confirmation bias, people). What felt like a rookie mistake was actually a mistake made by a sailor who was letting it slide. You can almost hear me say “It’ll be fine …”  or “I’ll just leave that back there like I usually do …”

Now, after a pretty full afternoon of sun and fresh air, right when I would have liked to have had a drink, made supper, and relaxed for the evening – I was going to have to get in the water. 

I dug out my mask and flippers, stripped down to my skivvies, and lowered the swim ladder. This was going to suck a lot less than when I climbed down into the Cape Fear River last December – but it was still going to suck. The bridle on the dinghy’s bow was too long. I had spliced that bridle before I had ever had the dinghy in the water. There was also a long painter, but when I got down under the water it had been the bridle that had caught the propeller. The bridle was nearly always in the water lately and the white three strand line had become a dirty greenish brown. I managed to untangle a good amount of it in three or four dives, but there was a stubborn bit that had been squeezed tightly against the prop shaft between the propeller and the cutlass bearing. Luckily, I had learned from the Cape Fear story that my old fashioned two blade prop was very stout. Further, I was barely out of idle speed when I had heard the sounds and popped the gear selector back into neutral. There wouldn’t be any damage, so I climbed out of the water. 

Aboard Ruth Ann, dripping wet, I dug out a serrated knife; not my good one, but one that I wouldn’t regret losing if I lost my grip. On the way back to the cockpit, I tried to find a scrap of line or twine in my ropework bucket for a lanyard, but wasn’t patient enough to spy anything that would work. 

Back in the water, I reached over Ruth Ann’s transom to retrieve the knife and plunged back toward the propeller. Under the surface, I was weightless, of course, which meant that pushing against the knife sent me backward as much as it applied any force to cutting the rope. It took a couple tries to figure out how to get some leverage. I ended up in a funny chair-less seated position so that my thighs were under the rudder and my head and shoulders were level with the propeller. With my left hand around the other side of the propeller and holding onto a loose end, I cut through the line with the knife in my right. I could feel it coming loose and kept cutting. Bubbles rushed above me as I began to exhale. Just … one … more … slice … and the line popped loose. I had learned to surface while aiming behind the boat at an exaggerated angle. The swim ladder and the windvane were more than happy to tap me on top my head if I came up for air too close to Ruth Ann. 

One more dive to check that I had gotten all the line and I finally climbed out of the water. Earlier in the day, I had banged my head hard enough to draw some blood. On top of that, I only wear shoes in town and the day before I had cut one of my toes climbing around the boat. The river water was dark and I had to wonder what I had been swimming around in. Landlubbers and politicians cling to conspiracies about vagabond sailors polluting the water, but municipal run-off is a huge, mostly ignored problem. Five or six years ago, this very area was engulfed in a nasty algae bloom because of the fertilizer polluted water that had been released from Lake Okeechobee. It’s not us vagabonds. I won’t bore you with a rant about sailors and clean water, but the people blaming boaters never seem to consider that we live in this water. Even a dog won’t shit where it sleeps.

I took a shower … and I cleaned my toe with some peroxide. Whether it’s run-off, big agriculture, or even my neighbors, it felt good to rinse off anyway.  

I was finally able to make that supper and later I slept like a baby. It might have felt like a rookie mistake in the moment, but it's just life on the water. I can make that life a little easier by paying attention to my seamanship, but stuff happens. Further, I fixed my own problem in less than an hour while getting some exercise and having a nice swim. I can deal with that.

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the 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: sunrise/set 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. 


I tried to grab the sunrise this morning and ended up with this blurry but cool, moody image.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Living the Life

This is the Final Post of a four part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter.

Editor's Note: When we last left our hero, he was anchored above the Atlantic Blvd Bridge inside the city limits of Jacksonville.

I had been trying to get down to New Smyrna Beach to meet up with my sailing friend Wade, but ever since Fernandina I had been fogbound each morning. The night before, Wade and I had determined that I wasn’t going to make it to his dock before he had to leave to catch a flight back to work. I awoke to thick fog again.

The pressure was off my schedule but I was still frustrated having to wait for the fog to lift each morning. The Atlantic Blvd Bridge was less than fifty yards away but I could not see it that morning. I decided that when at least half of the bridge was visible, I would start moving. Earlier, I had seen a parade of three construction barges ghost by in the fog. I did not want to be out there with them in the limited visibility. It was almost noon before I could see the eastern half of the bridge, hauled the anchor, and got moving again. As disappointing as it was to miss meeting a friend on the water, my schedule had loosened and I began to look at interesting anchorages rather than the farthest one. I had my eye on a couple anchorages near Pine Island, north of St. Augustine. Passing through more salt marshes, scrub pine, and now also palm trees with much more sand along the shore, I glided through the Florida wilderness. Gulls floated on the water and osprey soared in the sky. I had always planned a backup anchorage or two in case the first was full of boats and I passed one possible anchorage on the approach to Pine Island. 

Pine Island was a heavily forested, medium-sized island, which had been formed when the ICW was cut straight through where the river had made a large bend. I turned into what had once been the Tolomato River and cut my speed to gently pass a fishing boat. The description of the anchorage that I had read said that it was a bit shallow on the way in, but had plenty of depth inside. I gurgled past the fisherman and part way around the first bend but kept seeing slightly less depth under Ruth Ann rather than more. It was a beautiful spot and very peaceful I am sure, but I wasn’t comfortable. After hanging on just a little longer and finding no deeper water, I decided to abandon the anchorage and try the next one. I didn’t really like the looks of the next anchorage on the chart as it was just a wide spot next to the ICW. I wouldn’t be turning off the waterway so much as just nudging my way out of the channel.  

Curiously, at the moment I was exiting the anchorage, my VHF radio crackled to life with a weather warning from the Coast Guard. I couldn’t really understand much of the fuzzy voice but I thought that I had heard the phrase “dense fog.” Just then, I looked to my south and was astounded by the bank of fog enveloping the trees along the eastern shore beyond the anchorage where I was headed. Now it was a race to see if I could get the anchor down while I could still see the water around me. I pushed Ruth Ann a bit harder and concentrated on the next channel marker to keep my bearings in case the fog beat me there. 

When I arrived at the Red 30 marker, the fog was closing in on the opposite edge of the channel. There was, of course, a maze of crab trap buoys, so I circled slowly, watching my depth, and chose a spot where I might not interfere with the buoys.  The crabbers weren’t going to be coming out this evening in this fog anyway. After dropping the anchor and backing down on the chain, the fog almost obscured the marker that I had just passed on the way into the anchorage. 

And then the big trawler came by.  

A large trawler paused in the channel, just visible in the fog. When they started moving again, I was a little relieved as the anchorage seemed tight and shallow, especially closer to the western shore. I was inside a curve where the straight channel cut across in front of me. There were lots of crab trap buoys and enough room for a couple more boats; a couple more boats about the size of Ruth Ann, not that behemoth.  

Then the trawler started circling around in the channel. They came into the anchorage between me and the near invisible R30 marker. As they circled around behind me, I waited to hear the sound of their shouts and the revving of their engine as they got stuck on the bottom. I wondered how deep the keel was on such a large boat. I hadn’t gone anywhere near as close to shore as they did. Nevertheless, their anchor chain rattled as it dropped and they settled into a spot plenty far from me. I suppose they didn’t have a choice as the fog had already rolled in. There was lots of chatter on the radio as other boaters panicked realizing they suddenly needed a place to stop.  

I was only a couple hours north of St. Augustine where I planned to stop for laundry and some fresh provisions. There was also a great marine consignment shop there and I had a mind to sell a couple winches that I had pulled off the boat that Ruth Ann’s engine had come from. The winches were just a bit too big for my boat once I had them aboard. Nevertheless, after the novelty of evening fog the day before, we were back to morning fog again. It was after 11:00 before I could see well enough to haul the anchor and get back on the move. While I was waiting, however, I had reserved a mooring ball at the Municipal Marina. 

I’ve always liked St. Augustine and I was keen to experience it from the water. I made my way into town and under the Bridge of Lions where I picked up a mooring. I went ashore to register with the marina and had a late lunch across the street at the A1A Ale House. There I had a Midnight Oil, an excellent oatmeal coffee stout from the Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, and the Fisherman’s Platter, which was a little too much fried food all at once, but it was so good. I definitely recommend the A1A Ale House which is immediately southwest of the bridge and right across the street from the municipal marina. 

The next day was busy; full of chores. I took my laundry into the marina. Again while my clothes were in the dryer, I took a shower. After taking the clothes back out to the boat, I loaded up my bike, some boat parts, and headed back to shore. At the Sailors Exchange, the marine consignment shop, I offered the winches and a nice brass clock and barometer set. Amusingly, they were more excited about the clock than the winches but bought them all. I left with a couple parts that I needed and a couple hundred bucks. After the Exchange, I biked to an Asian market in a fruitless search for dried soy sticks (kind of like tofu) and then hit a Winn Dixie on the way back to the marina.  

In the morning, I got rid of some trash, acquired some diesel and water, and untied from the mooring before noon. I wasn’t going to go far that day as anchorages between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach were few and far between. I stopped a little after 3:00 pm at the Matanzas River Inlet. There is an Eighteenth Century Spanish Fort, more an outpost really, and a peaceful little anchorage. Peaceful, that was, until another boat anchored right on top of me. He was so close, that I didn’t even have to raise my voice when I poked my head out of the companionway and asked “Are you serious?”  

He made some noises about having not seen me right there and oh, I’m sorry and blah blah blah. With a dismissive wave, I went below to finish my supper. It hadn’t sounded like he had done much or moved at all to fix the situation. However, in the morning I was up fairly early and he was already gone. We never bumped into each other in the dark, so he must have done something. 

The next day I was on the move with the first light and made it to Daytona Beach. It was sad how many wrecked boats I had already come across on my way through northern Florida. Daytona is only about a quarter of the way down the Atlantic Coast and I had spotted a dozen or more boats up in the marshes or on the rocks; even a surprising number of powerboats. I anchored south of downtown Daytona after circling below the Red 44 Marker. I could see four wrecks nearby from where I sat at anchor. 

The next day was a pretty full day and as the sun set, I anchored just below the NASA Railway Bridge at the edge of the Kennedy Space Center.  I checked the launch schedule but it was going to be more than a week before another rocket lifted off. I was stopping at a friend’s dock in Melbourne anyway, so I hauled anchor in the morning and continued on. 

I spent a week at that friend’s dock in Melbourne. They were friends of friends actually, and also former cruisers, so they treated me quite well and it was a joy to get to know them a little better. I did some boat projects, scouted around for some web design business, and plugged Ruth Ann in at the dock to survive another cold front. During my stay, I had a couple suppers with them up at the house and on Thursday evening we went out to a local seafood joint for mussels and a jam session of local musicians. It was great fun. 

I had finally gotten far enough south that it was mostly warm with the occasional cold front. The next planned stop was Fort Pierce. I had spent three years on a boat project in a local boatyard there and had adopted the town as one of my ‘neighborhoods.’ I knew several people, and a few who were business owners, so I was hoping to drum up some business there as well. 

At this writing, I am still in Fort Pierce. It is different here on the water than it was by land, of course. There is a very strong tide where I am in the inlet; strong enough to be occasionally frustrating. I may be on the move again soon, but in the meantime, my outboard needed some attention and I am waiting on a part ordered through a local Yamaha outboard dealer. 

Nevertheless, it has been good to be back here as well. I hit the wonderful Farmers Market on Saturday and stocked up with freshies. 

This is the life that I have been striving at for fifteen years. It is just finally settlting in that I've done it; I have achieved what I've always wanted. I have had some distractions this week with the outboard, but also spent some time organizing Ruth Ann's cabin to be more livable, and finishied some outstanding projects. My main goal next week is to sail -- just sail. I can't wait to get more familiar with this beautiful, wonderful little boat. 

I might yet get down to the Keys for a little while or maybe even to the Bahamas. 

Thanks for your support. 

Stay tuned. 


If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider supporting my work. 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: sunrise/set 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. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Finally In Warmer Waters

This is Part 3 of a 4 part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter. 

Editor's Note: When we last left our hero, he was just leaving Savannah after having hunkered down for an icy cold Winter storm.  

Ironically, a couple hundred miles from where I had started near Wilmington, NC, I was now on the Wilmington River. The Wilmington empties into the Atlantic south of Savannah, but the path of the ICW turns up the Skidaway River. There were little patches of houses along the shore and more wilderness. Georgia wilderness is slightly different from the Carolinas. The same acres of salt marshes, but more hammocks of scrub pine and oak; perhaps more areas of "solid" land than wetlands between rivers. It was actually hard to tell passing by at sea level. 

I thought I had gotten to Hell Gate and watched a catamaran just ahead of me steam right through. In the channel, Ruth Ann was unperturbed. The water was quite low, but we only need four feet of water to pass comfortably. I had to check my chartplotter to be sure, but we had, in fact, just passed through the gate; quite anticlimactic actually. 

It’s hard to keep track of river names on the ICW. The Skidaway River had become the Moon River without any obvious geographical reason, then the Moon dumped into the Vernon, which emptied into the Little Ogeechee River. Hell Gate was actually a cut between the Little Ogeechee and the Ogeechee River. After crossing the wide expanse of the latter Ogeechee, I turned in behind Ossabaw Island onto what felt like another river, but it was simply called Florida Passage.  The Passage is a natural path of water, definitely not man-made, but somehow never earned the moniker “river.”  Just over the top of Ossabaw Island I found Redbird Creek and pulled in to anchor for the night. It was relatively warm, clear, and calm that evening so I took that opportunity to change the oil in my little Yanmar diesel. 

The next morning, after the temperature eventually climbed back up to 45 degrees, I hauled the anchor and continued south. If you look at a map of the Georgia Coast, huge swathes of it is green; signifying the land is a park or wildlife refuge. I made my way past Ossabaw Island, crossed St. Catherines Sound, past St. Catherines Island, across the Sapelo Sound, and halfway by Sapelo Island without seeing more than two or three other boats and nearly no houses or docks at all.  That evening, I passed a powerboat anchored in the mouth of the Crescent River and anchored Ruth Ann a comfortable distance beyond them. It was getting a little warmer each day, each mile I trekked further south, but after hours of standing outside in the cockpit steering the boat, it was still chilly by the end of the day. I always appreciated closing Ruth Ann’s companionway and warming myself and the cabin by making supper.

Beyond the Crescent River anchorage, I blasted out of the wilderness, and into civilization again. Brunswick, GA is a coastal boating community that also has a large port. Many import cars, both European and some Asian, come into the Eastern US through the Port of Brunswick. After crossing St. Simons Sound, I ducked behind Jekyll Island and found a spot to anchor just south of the island’s one bridge. It was a bit crowded but I found a spot about 20 yards off a gravel beach. Just over the berm behind the beach was a water treatment plant, but somehow there were several people and some kids walking along the shore. After so many nights in a lonely creek by myself, it was disconcerting that suddenly people were close enough that they sounded like they might have been talking to me. 

That night I was texting with a sailing friend of mine and he described a fogbound trip around the end of St Andrews Sound; part of my next day’s route. So, of course, you know what happened. The ICW route goes all the way out to the last inland buoy of the sound before turning back toward the East River and winding it’s way behind Cumberland Island. Wade, my sailing friend, had mentioned that he had always thought about jumping offshore from there, but never had. 

That next day, the closer I got to the last buoy and the turn on the ICW, the fog thickened right on time. I took a picture of some cormorants on a buoy, and five minutes later another picture in the same direction (both shown). That same buoy is almost invisible in the second picture. Besides the fog, my charts warned that there was shoaling all around the buoy that I was struggling to find. The fog was obviously the effect of the cool ocean air flowing over the warmer, shallow water of the sound. If Wade and I had both encountered fog there at different times of the year, it was likely a regular feature of this section of the ICW. It occurred to me that if I was going to motor all day anyway, I might as well motor offshore as the fog would probably clear faster over the waters of the Atlantic than along the shallow waters of the sound. When another buoy loomed out of the fog, I checked that it was the right one, and steered Ruth Ann to port to head out of the sound. 

It took a while to get out of the fog. Luckily, the depths of the sound turned south, exactly where I wanted to go. I couldn’t see much for while but I followed the depth contours and watched little sandbars go by. At the mouth of the inlet there were sandbars on each side with waves breaking less than 50 yards away both to port and starboard. After cleanly exiting the sound, the swell evened out and Ruth Ann savored being in the ocean again. It was like coming home for me. 

The offshore route was about half the miles compared to winding down the ICW. However, what I hadn’t planned on was the angle of the swell. I’ve crewed on boats where the captain was adamant about running the rhumb line (the planned route) without much regard for comfort. As skipper, I am a firm believer in angling into the swell, not only for comfort, but with less swinging and banging around it is also easier on the boat, the rig, and anything stowed below. Ruth Ann and I ran away from the shore for a few miles, then turned inward for a time, then outward again, etc. We were headed for the St. Marys Inlet where St. Marys, GA is up the river, but Fernandina Beach, FL is just inside to the south. A couple huge industrial towers loomed over Fernandina and made it easy for me to judge my southward progress and heading as we went along. 

My zigging and zagging got us down to the offshore buoys of the inlet and we turned in toward the mainland.  After such a peaceful jaunt across a little-used patch of the Atlantic, it was a shock to be back in traffic. There were fishing boats and pleasure boats buzzing around, there was a good size cargo ship, and I was just waiting to see the upside down wake of a submarine. The Navy's Kings Bay Submarine Base is north of the inlet and submarines regularly come and go. I had been warned about the power of the underwater wake of a sub. Luckily for me there were no submarines and once inside the inlet, the Amelia River was soon to our port. Up the river, just past an industrial complex and a small commercial port, was the Fernandina Anchorage, the day's destination. I was finally in Florida waters! Florida is not such a nice place anymore for vagabonds at anchor like Ruth Ann and me, but arriving in the state simply meant a warm winter to me. That was the goal. 

It was clear and calm when I anchored across the river from downtown Fernandina Beach. It was mid afternoon, it was warm, and I had survived the cold weather. Lots of fresh air and arriving at a milestone stop had made me feel tired, and after a quick supper, I went to bed pretty early. The next morning, I organized to go into town – twice actually. At first, I was just going to get some diesel and some water, but after returning to Ruth Ann with the lunchtime smells of local seafood still wafting in my nostrils, I gave in to temptation and headed back. The marina dockmaster had given me a recommendation but that place was packed. Around a corner, I found the Crab Trap and had a wonderful blackened Mahi sandwich and a beer. After lunch, I found the hardware store despite having no connection to cellular data – in town!  

It was New Year's Eve. I made a snacky supper after the late lunch and watched the Fernandina fireworks, which were pleasantly early. I did not stay up until midnight and there wasn’t even enough noise as the clock struck twelve to have woken me up. 

On New Year's Day, I got up reasonably early, hauled the anchor, and started moving again. Around the second curve of the Amelia River, I got hailed by a powerboat coming up behind me. He was so pleasant and considerate that I slowed for them to pass. Unfortunately, I was also giving them room by steering toward the starboard side of the river. Just as that powerboat, and another behind him, were passing me, I felt Ruth Ann bounce off the bottom. I quickly steered back toward the center, but soon we came to a slow stop; stuck in the mud. It was almost exactly the bottom of low tide, so there was no reason to call for a tow. If I was patient enough to wait, the tide would come back in and we’d be free.  

Another sailboat came around the bend and I hailed him on the radio. Even though it looked like I was in the center of the river, Ruth Ann was sitting on the bottom and I warned the other boat that the channel was in the narrow space between me and the eastern shore. He thanked me as his boat was bigger and deeper than Ruth Ann. We chatted on the radio as he approached and he told me what he was seeing on his chartplotter. I had been ‘lucky’ enough to have found a small island of shallow water right where I had tried to get back to the channel. Of course, just before he got by me, an obnoxious powerboat had to come flying down the river, snaked around the other sailboat, and buzzed by me without slowing; kicking up quite a wake. 

“That might bounce you out of trouble,” the other sailboat called on the radio.  

I scrambled to restart the engine and was already in forward gear when the powerboat’s wake hit us. The waves lifted Ruth Ann and set her down strongly a couple times ... and we started moving!  My theory was that each time we dropped back down, we made a slightly deeper groove in the mud helping to set us free. I hate to give the schmuck in the powerboat any credit but I got unstuck a lot sooner than I might have just waiting for the tide to rise. 

After getting free from the mud, we continued down past the end of Amelia Island, seeing the ocean again, but under a bridge that was too low for us. The ICW makes a sharp right turn to continue down Clapboard Creek. We passed through the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. The Timucua were an indigenous people of Northern Florida and Georgia. They numbered about 200,000 when the Europeans arrived in the 1500s, but by 1800 there were none left and not much is known about them or their culture. 

Pic by Two Down Crew

Clapboard Creek winds around the inland side of Fort George Island and empties into the St. Johns River. Just outside the creek is a boatyard working on a half-covered US Navy vessel. Another boater, a bit ahead of me, strayed too close and was being assailed on the radio by a security detachment patrolling the area in a RIB. I gave the boatyard a wide berth as I entered the river and watched for ship traffic. Jacksonville also has a big port; just up the river from where I crossed. The river is wider and I was slightly more familiar there than I was at the Savannah River, so I hadn’t checked for ships. It was New Year's Day and there was almost no traffic to speak of; except for me, that other boat, and the security guys.  

I had planned to stop early as there aren’t very many anchorages in the stretch of ICW after Jacksonville, but with the delay from running aground, I had arrived at a good spot just before sunset. I anchored behind a little island just north of the Atlantic Blvd Bridge. The noises of the city were less bothersome than I expected, but I was waked several times by local yahoos and their powerboats; including a couple boats who had purposely steered closer just to rock Ruth Ann and me. Nevertheless, after the locals went home, there was a lovely sunset as appetizer to my supper.  

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the 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 sunrise/set images, excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Down the Coast

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter. 

The day after the storm, other than a glimpse at McClellanville, we were still in the wilds of South Carolina. Osprey soared overhead and egrets stared intently in the shallows waiting for lunch to swim by. There were clumps of scrub pine, cedars, and oaks draped with Spanish moss among acres and acres of salt marsh. My little Yanmar hummed below my feet and the miles gurgled by. Then suddenly we were in Mt. Pleasant. I have been to Mt. Pleasant many times, but only sneaking across Charleston in a semi to get to the port across the river. I didn’t recognize this coastal side of town. Just before the ICW spills into Charleston Harbor, Inlet Creek meanders off to the north. Supposedly there is a wreck up the creek that can tangle an anchor, so I anchored just off the ICW in the creek’s mouth. A catamaran slowed as it went by, deciding something, but they continued on.

I was getting desperate for laundry and I was low on fresh veggies. My plan was to stop at St. John’s Yacht Harbor just past Charleston. The trip would involve getting through Wappoo Creek, yet another spot with notorious tidal currents. I checked the weather and the tide schedule, and decided I could sleep in the next morning. While cooking supper, I snapped a couple sunset pictures and suddenly realized a rocket launch was streaking across the sky. I checked the schedule at Kennedy Space Center and learned that it had been the latest SpaceX launch. The camera couldn't pick it up, but I could see one of the lower stages dropping away as it zoomed by.

After a leisurely morning with a heaping breakfast, I left Inlet Creek, motored under the Ben Sawyer Bridge after it opened, and entered Charleston Harbor. I’d been here a couple times by water. Charleston is another favorite of mine. As I made my way across the bay, despite my calculations, I was going to be early. Ruth Ann and I turned around and made a big oval in the harbor; backtracking and catching a better glimpse of Fort Sumpter. Our timing was better when we got back into the Ashley River on the west side of Charleston’s peninsula.

The Charleston City Marina was on the bank opposite the entrance to the creek. I had spent a couple days in the marina in 2015 when I crewed on a Westsail 42. On my own  boat, especially since I would be the one paying, we didn’t stop there. Along the creek was a bridge that needed to open. The creek, the bridge, and the current all went easy on us and in no time we were entering the Stono River on the other side. I had made a reservation at St. John’s Yacht Harbor where I had stayed while crewing on another boat. I knew they had nice facilities including laundry and showers. I had already located a grocery nearby, and the marina’s website said they even had a loaner car. 

Even after sleeping in a little, circling around Charleston Harbor to time the tides, and making it all the way to Johns Island, I had arrived fairly early to the marina. I hit the dock running and borrowed the loaner car. Food Lion did not have propane cans, so after grabbing some groceries I got some propane at an Ace Hardware just down road. Stocked up with food and gas, I dumped that payload and grabbed my laundry. While my clothes were drying, I took a shower. Then I splurged and ordered Chinese delivered. Back at Ruth Ann with my Veggie Lo Mein, I put away my clothes and my groceries. The marina had put me on the end of a T dock, not near any other boats, so I snuck and ran my little propane heater that night.

I still had a good amount of diesel, so the next morning I shoved off and continued on. I spent a night in the Raccoon Island Anchorage, north of Beaufort. I had recently noticed that way back during the anchor drama in Navassa, we had damaged the 3-strand rope part of my anchor rode. There was a long stretch of heavily abraded line just after the 120 foot tag and in one place one of strands was actually severed. Previously, I had been anchoring in such shallow water that I never had to rely on that section of line. However, I was sure to anchor in deeper water soon enough, so it needed to be fixed. I spent a good part of that peaceful evening by Racoon Island cutting and splicing the line.   

The next town of any size was Beaufort, SC, which is Byew-fert as opposed to Beaufort, NC which is Bow-fert. The straight line distance is not far, but the ICW winds around through several rivers to get there. It was almost frustrating, but the scenery continued to allure. On the curving route into Beaufort, the tide pushed against us. When I finally arrived, I needed to stop for fuel. There was a Safe Harbor Marina right downtown on the main river. When I pulled up to their fuel dock, the current was deceptive and I didn’t make it on the first try. The patient dockmaster let me know that I wasn’t the first to have had a little trouble. No harm, no foul.  I got some fuel and headed south out of town. With plenty daylight left, I picked a different anchorage, a little further south.  

When I pulled into Cowen Creek, it was idyllic. There were some fancy shoreside homes on the southern bank just at the entrance, but as I steamed up the river, the homes were more modest. The edge of the little anchorage was littered with crab trap buoys, but after weaving through, I carefully dropped the anchor behind them. I didn’t want to get tangled in the traps but also didn’t want to cause any trouble or damage for a waterman/woman.  I was in about 12 feet of water, the wind was steady but would slow overnight and I was already using the repaired section of anchor line. 

I had Ruth Ann moving again in the first light of the next morning. The weather I had been watching was getting ominous and the more I did the math, the more obvious it was that I was going to get caught. It was already cool and overcast. After a chilly ride across the windy Port Royal Sound, we ducked into the protection of Skull Creek, a deliciously piratical name. There was still plenty of wilderness as we neared Hilton Head Island. Rustic fish camp resorts gradually gave way to more touristy developments. And then it began to rain.  

Cold and gradually more damp, Ruth Ann and I crossed the Calibogue Sound and we  braced against the wind coming in right off the ocean. The resorts were slightly more rustic again as I passed Daufuskie Island, but it seemed only a facade. As I got closer to the Georgia border and the Savannah metro area, there were more and more palatial homesteads along the waterway. Let alone their fancy boats, most of their docks probably cost many times what I paid for Ruth Ann. 

As we came around a tight bend near Turtle Island, we were surrounded by patches of cloudy water; a sure sign that manatees were feeding nearby. I quickly dropped my speed and ghosted warily around the curve. Manatees feed on bottom grasses and as they munch and paddle to stay in place, they stir up the muddy bottom. 

Around a couple more bends was the Savannah River, the biggest obstacle of the day. Still connected to the interwebs, I checked the Marine Traffic website to see if the river was busy. Marine Traffic displays the AIS data from ships. All large commercial vessels are required to have AIS transponders which broadcast their vessel details, speed, and heading. Savannah has a busy port and lots of ship traffic. It was a Tuesday, but the Tuesday right before Christmas, so I didn’t know what to expect. A couple AIS signals would require my attention. The most confusing was a very large barge just upriver from where I would cross. Its AIS signal showed that it was not moving, but I wondered if that was accurate.

With more rain and a bit more wind, I slowed Ruth Ann as we approached the river. The air was cooling and as I got closer, a pall of fog diffused the horizon and the details of anything more than a quarter mile away. I checked the barge again but it appeared to be stationary. The ICW crosses the river near a bend, so Ruth Ann and I would have to go upriver a bit to find the other side. I checked the tides on my phone and they seemed to be with us, rather than against.  

As we crossed, the fog obscured the river in both directions. I sped up and kept looking each way, but didn’t see another soul. Then, just as quietly as it had started, we were across the Savannah River. I had made it to Georgia! I would have celebrated but I was cold, damp, and miserable. There was plenty of daylight left and the anchorages through coastal Savannah were scattered, each with their own peculiarities, so I hadn’t yet chosen a place to stop. I passed a group of marinas at Thunderbolt, GA, a mainland suburb to starboard, with White Marsh Island to port. Thunderbolt Marina is a large complex on the mainland as that stretch of marine facilities gives way to salt marsh again. 

The first anchorage I had determined as viable was just around the bend. I could have gone eight or ten more miles, but I was damp and cold, so I turned up the Herb River. We motored past a few houses, and dropped anchor just around a bend in an area without much development. On the way in, I had spotted a Heavenly Twins Catamaran careened on the edge of the marsh, right next to someone’s dock. The Heavenly Twins is a unique catamaran design that I’d been attracted to for sometime. There didn’t appear to be much damage, but it was going to take some work, and some heavy equipment, to pull her back into the water. It was sad to see her languishing there. This was the first of many boats that I would encounter that had been swept to their peril by the recent storms; Ian in late September probably did the most damage along my route.  

I had arrived on the Tuesday before Christmas and there had been a gale forecast to arrive that night. The winds were quite strong out of the Northwest into the following afternoon. Those winds preceded an exceptionally strong winter storm that was set to arrive toward end of the week. Most of the country was going to get hit by the gigantic storm. This is the weather that I had known for a couple days that I wasn’t going to be able to escape. I had hoped to push Ruth Ann and  myself to get close to Jacksonville, FL. Recent forecasts, however, were showing that it was going to be just as cold deep into Florida, farther than I could hope to get before the storm closed in on me. It was already getting cold in Savannah. 

I spent Thursday at anchor as it got colder and colder. People who had been following my voyage were checking in on me. I posted the story of my Christmas miracles here. Suffice it to say that my family and friends, and two important people who I had never met, helped me tremendously. The start of that help was to get me thinking about how dangerously cold it was actually going to get. And finally, to convince me to move to a marina so that I could get an electric heater to survive. Further, many of those beautiful people helped me to afford that option. I had steeled myself to try to survive at anchor and was being stubborn about it in my own head. The truth of that matter was that even with a stash of several propane cans, I would not have been able to get through the five day storm without rationing my fuel supply. It would have been uncomfortable for hours at a time, and potentially dangerous. Ruth Ann is a warm weather boat. She is comfortable and cozy much of the time, but the berths are right next to the fiberglass hull and the cold seeps through quite efficiently. I moved Ruth Ann to the Savannah Bend Marina back in Thunderbolt. The people there were very nice; even as they were all getting ready to have the holiday weekend off.  

I got yet another Uber ride into town to get a shore power cord and a little space heater. I stayed hunkered down in Ruth Ann for most of my time there. I did get some laundry done just before they shut off the water to protect the pipes from freezing. I also had two visits from a friend of a friend of a friend with care packages of fruit and food; including some excellent home-grilled barbecue!

When the weather had passed -- most importantly when the nights that dropped into the twenties were over -- I untied the dock lines and pushed off. Just twelve miles or so down the ICW was another obstacle called Hell Gate, a small pass between rivers with very strong currents. I couldn’t time the tide very well starting from Thunderbolt, so I decided to just head there and check it out. There were a couple anchorages nearby, so that if the current looked too hairy, I could turn around and wait for slack water. Between the tidal schedule and the hours of available daylight, if the current was too strong for Ruth Ann, we’d probably lose most of that first day waiting for the slack.

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the 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 sunrise/set images, excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Finally Getting South

To arrive at Saint Augustine and write my last post about living the life, I had to trek down the East Coast and make it from my dismally embarrassing first week aboard to the intrinsically satisfying stay in America’s so-called oldest city. It wasn’t easy, occasionally tough, but it was a soul satisfying trek through the Carolinas, Georgia, and into Florida. Here is the first part of that story:  

After nearly sinking on Monday, fixing a hole in my keel Tuesday, relaunching Wednesday, and wrapping a line on my prop Thursday, things began to look up on Friday; everything is up from the bottom. A professional diver just happened to show up at the dock Friday afternoon, saving Ruth Ann and I from having to wait our turn on the travelift. He untangled my propellor and retrieved my anchor that afternoon. It finally seemed like Ruth Ann and I might actually be able to leave the boatyard. Nevertheless, the tide was turning and the sun hung low in the sky, so it really didn’t make sense to leave until Saturday morning.  

Saturday was a big day with a certain amount of pressure because I hadn’t been able to leave yet. When the tidal current finally began to ebb, I prepared to leave. My boatyard neighbor, Grace, came down to see me off and take a couple pictures; including the main picture here. Everything went without a hitch and I was gurgling down the river preparing to call the CSX Navassa Railroad Bridge.  

The railroad bridge was about a mile downstream and needed to open for me to continue down the river. I had had some trouble contacting the bridge on my way upriver three years ago. The bridgetender had never actually answered my radio calls. I circled below the bridge, calling again, until, without a word, the bridge finally started to open. This time, however, I got an answer right away and as soon as he could see me, the tender began to open the bridge. 

Ruth Ann and I had started our journey in the slack water just prior to the mid morning high tide. That meant that we didn’t get started until almost 11:00 AM. However, that set us up to ride the ebbing tide all the way down the river. At times, Ruth Ann was gaining more than a knot and a half of speed over the ground as the current pushed us. In no time, we got to downtown Wilmington and turned south. Below the city is the Port of Wilmington which wasn’t so busy on a Saturday. Beyond the port was vast stretches of spoil islands and wilderness. At a certain point, the river is so wide that it was hard to even notice the few houses along the shore. The hours on the river were wild and wonderfully solitary. 

It’s about thirty five miles from the boatyard all the way down to Southport, NC where the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) turns in behind the islands of the coast. I had been debating whether I was going to jump offshore or not. I was itching to sail Ruth Ann, and itching to get offshore again, but I am a conservative sailor with a mind to the importance of seamanship and there were a few projects on the boat that were not yet finished. 

I had to get moving south as winter was closing in on North Carolina. That meant that Ruth Ann was mostly seaworthy and safe, but also lacking in a few areas. Her rig is Dyneema, a material that is affected by temperature in the opposite way of most other materials. It shrinks in warmer temperatures and sags in the cold.  The cooler weather had made my rig loose. It could be tightened, of course, but I would have had to loosen it again when I reached warmer weather. Further, I didn’t have my lifelines installed yet. There were (and still are at this writing) a couple of stanchion bases that need to be replaced before I restring the lines along the outside of Ruth Ann’s deck.  Not to mention that my engine installation was less than a month old. The engine, the stern gland, and all the components from the fuel tank to the propellor had not been running together for long. If I had gone offshore and had trouble with the rig or the sails, I would have had to rely on the untested propulsion system to get back to shore. So after my trip down the river, even though I could smell the ocean and longed to traverse her expanses, I turned down the ICW. 

Ruth Ann and I had made excellent time down the river, but it was getting near to sunset by the time I was passing the quaint little town of Southport. I like Southport a lot and I’ve been there a few times by land just to wander her streets. The old seaside houses and the small streets are a pleasure to enjoy by foot. The tide was also changing, but when we left the Cape Fear River we no longer had the current with us. The current that had been pushing us toward the ocean had diminished, but turning away from the ocean meant turning into the current. 

As I passed Southport, I peeked into the basin there and watched as I passed the marina where I had stopped on the way up to the boatyard. Just west of town was a creek with an anchorage that I had been aiming for. As the sun got low on the horizon, I hoped that I could make it before I lost the daylight. 

I turned up Dutchman’s Creek and made my way about a quarter mile to a small lagoon by a county park. I was following the navigation instructions from Active Captain online, but had not ever anchored Ruth Ann other than in a panic the week before. Approaching the anchorage, I saw that there was another boat in the deeper southern end. After making a circle to check the depth around me, I politely dropped my anchor a good distance from that other boat. It had been quite a day; finally some success. All the fresh air and concentration had made me quite tired. After a simple supper, I checked my anchor chain and went to bed. 

Several years ago, I had interviewed a salty Salem Massachusetts sea captain for a magazine article I was writing. One of the pearlescent gems of wisdom that he dropped on me that day was: “You’ll remember all your sins at sea.” By that he meant that all the compromises you’d made, and the corners you had cut would come back to haunt you once you left the dock. I had one already. I had not replaced my depth sounder though I knew that I should have. It was likely the original one installed in 1984 when the boat was built. The display was a little frosted from the sun, but I had told myself that once it was lit up and operating, I’d be able to see it just fine. Not only could I barely read the display, the numbers were jumping around. The depth would read several dozen feet, then it read hundreds of feet before settling on a reasonable number for a short time, and then jumped around again. I had decided that it usually paused on the correct number but I had no way to tell. It was a ridiculous idea to head down the ICW without a functioning depth sounder. All along the coast there were areas where sandbars shifted with the tidal currents or from recent storms. I had to figure something out. I wanted to figure something out that didn’t require me to haul Ruth Ann out of the water yet again.  

In the morning, the other boat was already gone when I hauled the anchor and made my way back to the ICW. This stretch was vaguely familiar, though three years before I had done a fair bit of it in the dark (almost as stupid as having a bad depth sounder). I made my way down to Calabash Creek, did some poking around, and anchored just upriver from the ICW. Once I was anchored and battened down for the evening, I made supper and started doing some research. The diver who had saved me and my anchor was nearby but I did not have his phone number. I was looking for some dock space to run to West Marine in Myrtle Beach, but I didn’t want to pay a marina. Finally, my googling led me to a day dock at Barefoot Landing, a large shopping and dining complex right  on the ICW in Myrtle Beach. Docking was only allowed during the day, but it would allow me to stop. 

The biggest challenge of that third day was the Rockpile; a long section of the ICW from Little River, SC down through Myrtle Beach where the channel had been blasted out of solid rock. Along that stretch, outside the channel is shallow and the bottom there is solid rock. If you happened to drift out of the channel, the ledge of rock could eat your boat.  … and I was headed through it without knowing how deep the water was under my keel. 

It went fine anyway and I made it down to Barefoot Landing without incident. The dock was on the left side of the channel, so I circled around, slowed the boat, and approached the dock. It was a beautifully executed, nearly effortless, perfect docking maneuver. I tied up right in front of the Greg Norman Australian Grille thinking that I had triumphed. As I tied up, I could hear the cacophony of the lunch crowd; people shouting over the din, people laughing at dumb office jokes, and generally enjoying their three-martini, end-of-the-week, Friday lunches. It seemed that not one of them could have cared to notice my pro level docking. Ah, well. I had a mission. I grabbed an Uber and headed to West Marine. 

I had done my research and, according to their website, the West Marine in Myrtle Beach had two HawkEye depth sounders that can read the depth through a fiberglass hull. It was critical that I found a depth sounder capable of exactly that so I could perform the ‘field repair’ that I was planning. The clerk made me a little nervous when we couldn’t find them at first, but they finally appeared. I bought the HawkEye, some emergency epoxy, and stepped outside. There was a Panera Bread across the parking lot where I got a sandwich and a drink, and then Ubered back to the dock. 

Where Ruth Ann and I sat, we had made it two thirds of the way through the Rockpile, that crunchy section of rock-lined channel. I didn’t have enough daylight left to make it to the next anchorage and barely enough to make it back to Calabash Creek, where I had spent the previous night. The last thing I really wanted to do was go back through the Rockpile, only to have to return the next day. I made some calls and found a marina a couple miles further south. I didn’t want to spend the money, but it was a strategic move out of necessity. 

Once I got to the marina, I was regretting that I left my little space heater in my trailer at the boatyard. I wasn’t going to use marinas very often, so I didn’t bother to bring it. Also, if I was cold at anchor, an electric heater wasn’t going to do me any good anyway. It was already colder than I had hoped with the forecast looking grim for the following week. I needed to keep moving but I needed to stay warm too.  I fired up the Uber app again.  

Another Uber came and took me to a nearby Lowes hardware. I bought a little Buddy propane heater, supposedly safe indoors, and several green cans of propane. After Ubering back to the marina, I set about to install the depth sounder I had bought earlier. 

I had some white plastic panels that I had purchased for covering access holes in Ruth Ann’s ceiling and interior liner. The original depth display was nearly 4 inches in diameter, the new one about two. I removed the old display, cut a square cover from the white plastic, cut a hole for the HawkEye, and installed it. To my dismay the instructions specifically stated that only a slow cure epoxy should be used to glue the transducer inside the hull; no 5 minute epoxy and no emergency epoxy. I had the wrong stuff. However, the transducer seemed to work fine just sitting on the bottom of my bilge. I dropped a weighted line between Ruth Ann and the dock to confirm the measurement on the new display and it was working perfectly. As I write this, three weeks later, the transducer is working fine and is still not glued down. 

The next morning, I was going to need to keep watch for somewhere to buy fuel. The swanky marina where I had spent the night had fuel but it was not handy to get to their fuel dock from where Ruth Ann was tied up. We had miles to make anyway. The weather was changing and we needed to get south! After motoring all morning, we were nearing Bucksport Marina out in the wilderness of South Carolina west of Myrtle Beach, at the edge of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. As I pulled up to the fuel dock, the old man asked if Ruth Ann was a Bayfield. 

“She sure is a Bayfield,” came a call from down the dock. A woman approached as I tied off near the diesel pump. She and her husband sail a Bayfield 36 and she asked if I had anchored in Dutchman’s Creek a couple nights before. It turns out that they were that other boat I had seen. She had recognized Ruth Ann as I pulled into the marina. So my very first night at anchor, after finally getting my Bayfield 29 into the water, we stopped right next to another Bayfield. That feels pretty auspicious to me.  

The Waccamaw River is a wild section of the ICW in South Carolina. Lots of wilderness, teeming with wildlife, and many little creeks to pull into. I made it down to Sandhole Creeek deep in the wildlife refuge. There was another boat a little further up the creek, but I found a spot just inside to drop anchor. 

The next day, all I could see was wilderness as I wound my way through more of the wildlife refuge, but I knew that I was passing Pawleys Island, an exclusive golf resort area. The riffraff and the tourists visit Myrtle Beach and think they are in golf country but the well-healed and the well-off know that the palatial golf resorts are south of Myrtle on Pawleys Island. Just beyond the island is Georgetown, SC, one of my favorite little coastal towns. Sadly, it was pretty early yet when I passed and I didn’t feel I should stop. There was also some weather coming and I didn’t want to stop early and then get stuck there.

I was trying to do about 40 miles a day. Georgetown was only twelve miles or so from where I had anchored in Sandhole Creek. South of that little stretch of civilization, I turned out of Winyah Bay and was back in the wilderness. This time the Yawkey-South Island Reserve. Just down the ICW from the bay is a barge fashioned into a ferry/bridge to get from the mainland to the reserve. I don’t know if the catch was crab or crayfish or what exactly, but there seemed to be a lot of independent watermen working the waterway through here.

I felt like I was in the wilderness, but I was never far enough “out there” to lose my connection to the cellular data network. While I checked the weather and the tides in various places, I was also looking for my next anchorage and the conditions near it. I found that I was approaching the North and South Branches of the Santee River and that the river was going to get above its flood stage as a coming storm went by. The town that the flood warnings mentioned was a fair distance upstream from where I was going to cross but downstream from flooding didn’t sound like a good thing. Even without nearing flood stage, the Santee River is known for having pretty strong currents where the ICW crosses each branch. I looked for an anchorage somewhere before the Santee.  

It was hard to distinguish Duck Creek from the North Santee River on the chart, but it had good reviews on Active Captain, an interactive map online with community input. I dropped my anchor just before sunset and settled in for some weather. The forecast was for winds gusting over 30 knots that night and through much of the next day. We were anchored south of an oddly triangular island in a stretch of creek tha arced lazily to the northeast. Ruth Ann was kind of protected from the wind out of the west but I was concerned that we might be exposed to some strong breezes sneaking along the creek from the southwest. I figuratively and literally battened down the hatches. After cooking supper and catching up on a good book I was reading, I went to bed as the winds began to muster with the coming storm. 

It was a good test for the anchor, the boat, and me. We had gusts that must have been approaching 35 knots (about 40 mph). I never felt like we were near any trouble. The anchor held, Ruth Ann pulled at it strongly but she didn’t buck around, and I slept through the night. The storm carried on into the next day. It was late afternoon when the weather finally settled, so it didn’t make sense to haul the anchor and try to get anywhere. The weather reports had simply stopped talking about the flood stage danger upstream. I presumed that it either hadn’t gotten as bad as they feared or that the danger had passed. The next morning, I hauled the anchor and we set off again. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Day Like a Day I've Dreamed Of

Today was a day like a day that I have dreamed about for many years. Just a mundane life on the water day. 

I’ve been on a mooring at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina since Tuesday afternoon. It was time again for laundry and a run for basic fresh provisions. I had done some research online and decided to opt for the mooring rather than anchor out. The City has taken over much of the good anchoring ground for their three mooring fields. I have learned on the St. Augustine Cruiser’s Net on Facebook that boats occasionally drag their anchors in the two anchorages north of the Bridge of Lions. Often some poor sailor’s boat drags across the anchorage, knocks into other boats, and sometimes even collides with the bridge. The first anchorage south of the bridge is a long dinghy ride from the downtown dinghy dock. Further, boats there are actually anchoring between two submerged cable areas. A post on Active Captain claims that ‘no boater has ever snagged a cable’ in the area, but it seemed sketchy to me. Then the furthest anchorage south of town has actually had some crime against boats while they were unoccupied. Also, it costs $12 a day to use the dinghy dock anyway. So for $28 a night, I have a mooring, in a more secure area, with no cables to worry about, and just a short trip by dinghy to the dock. 

I don’t have lights on my dinghy, so I don’t use it after dark. This morning, I got up before the sun, had my coffee and pancakes, and got ready for a day of errands. Nearly as soon as it was light, I packed my dinghy and headed to the dinghy dock. I had laundry, shower supplies, and the pee tank from my composting head. I got my clothes going in a washer and then went back to the dinghy for the tank which fits nicely into a reusable grocery bag so I can carry it discreetly. After emptying the tank, I returned it to the dinghy, and headed back to get the clothes into the dryer. While clothes were drying, I went across the hall to take a shower. The facilities are very nice at the Municipal Marina. 

After folding the clothes, I took them back out to Ruth Ann and grabbed some boat parts I meant to sell. When I bought the other boat in order to get the engine, I also scavenged some other parts before we chopped that boat up and sent it to the landfill. I had two nice self tailing winches that I decided were too big for my boat and a nice old fashioned brass clock and barometer set. Besides needing to do laundry and get some fresh veggies, one of the reasons I stopped in 

St. Augustine was the Sailor’s Exchange. Sailors all up and down the Southeast Coast know about the Sailor’s Exchange; it is a little marine consignment shop with a huge selection of used gear. I was hoping that they might be interested in my parts and I was looking for a couple things too.   

A further requirement for the day was my bike; my folding bike. It had been tied down in front of the mast since I left Wilmington. I lifted the boat parts and then the bike into the dinghy and headed back to the dinghy dock. It was a test for the bike. I’m already a little too heavy for the bike and today I added about seventy pounds of boat parts. Gingerly pedaling through the beautiful streets of St. Augustine, I listened for signs of strain but we did alright. It was about a mile to the Exchange where I traded for a couple parts I needed and a little cash. I had had them listed on Facebook marketplace, but got nothing more than a few tire kickers and one guy who wanted to know if I would find a way to ship sixty pounds of boat parts to Ireland. 

From the Exchange, it was another mile and a half or so to PJ’s Asia One Market. I was looking for dried soy skin (also called tofu skin) which is very useful for living with limited refrigeration. Alas, they didn’t have any but they had tetra packs of shelf stable tofu as well as dried mushrooms and some other Asian treats for my galley pantry. From there, I went to a Winn Dixie that was on my way back to the marina. Fresh veggies, some apples, and some extra hot sauce were the main things I needed. I didn’t have room for much else, but I was still much lighter on the bike than when I was hauling boat parts.  

It was 3/4 of a mile to the grocery and about another mile back to the marina for a four mile day, give or take, on my little Dahon/Ford Taurus folding bike. After another trip back to Ruth Ann, I offloaded my groceries and checked the status of my batteries. It was barely past noon.

In a rash move, I fired up my outboard and went back to the dinghy dock. I had left my bike locked to the marina bike rack anyway. My friend, Tiffany, had suggested that I visit the pirate museum. What the heck. After pedaling through downtown again and up past the fort, I had some pirate fun wandering through the St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum; even with a couple groups of wild children. I poked around and got to read some history, and see some cool artifacts; real silver, real gold, actual pirate era coinage, tools, weapons, and other interesting bits and bobs.

After all that, I’m back on aboard Ruth Ann tonight, with my bike stowed on deck again. Tomorrow, I’ll get some diesel and water, and then be on my way. The outboard is still on the dinghy and there’s a bit of other prep work to be done before I can shove off.  

The elephant in the room is that I am finally living the life I’ve been striving at for fifteen years. I can hardly express how I feel. It is momentous but I don’t yet have the words. The reticence is, in part, that it has been somewhat difficult to get this far. It was quite chilly for the first week and a half or so. Then I got clobbered by the icy weekend in Savannah. Today, I was in a t shirt and shorts the whole day. The sun has been down for almost two hours already tonight, but it is still 66 degrees. This is where I belong. 

I made a reel on Instagram where I said that it was “so good to be back home.” People might think that I meant Florida, but I actually recorded that in the ocean off the coast of Georgia. The ocean is the home I spoke of. I am not enamored with the State of Florida, I just want to be warm this winter. I was on the East Coast, and so ‘warm this winter’ meant Florida and maybe the Bahamas. St. Augustine is definitely Northern Florida and it’s going to get cool again around here by the weekend, so I am still headed south. I’ll explore some work options when I get to the Fort Pierce/Stuart area, but I may end up in the Keys for a couple months just to guarantee that I am as warm as I would like to be for January and February.  

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the 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. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Perhaps The Worst Day, Part Two

This is Part Two of Part Two of A Tale of Two Screw Ups. If you didn't read Part One of 'Perhaps the Worst Day,' go back one post to read it first. If you haven't read about Sleeping in a Sinking Boat, go back two posts, that is Part One of 'A Tale of Two Screw Ups.' Confused yet?  


When we last left our hero, he had wrapped a line on Ruth Ann's propeller and was waiting to get hauled out a second time in one week on an emergency basis. Standing in his way was a yacht that needed to be extensively tested in the water of the slipway and a second boat coming up the river to be hauleld out.  The story picks up again, Friday afternoon, patience wearing thin, shame still simmering over the boneheaded move that got him here in the first place.  


And then the other boat showed up. It was captained by Captain Jack who had actually helped Sam and I get a boat out of the way and get Ruth Ann into the slings of the travelift back on Monday. He had also been at the dock with my neighbors to catch my dock lines just before I had discovered the leak late Monday afternoon. He had brought a retired North Atlantic fishing captain as casual crew. Soon a workboat showed up behind them and rafted up at the dock. It seems that they had needed some extra fuel on the way up from Charleston. They had called Scott, another waterman, to meet them on the ICW with some fuel. He had decided to tag along just for fun, so they ordered takeout from a dockside seafood joint which Scott ran to get in his boat and then rejoined the caravan up the river. 

Captain Jack asked me why I was still there and I told him of my plight. Scott, the workboat captain exclaimed that he had his dive gear with him and could help out. Have I mentioned that I’d rather be lucky than good? There I was with an anchor 40 feet deep and halfway across the river delayed by some fancy yacht languishing in the slipway. There was no reason for a diver to show up. And there was no reason for this diver to have shown up; he had just followed his friends for kicks. I was basking in a broad smile from the universe.

I asked him how much and he deferred to checking first with the office. “That’s the proper way, of course” I said, “but I’m not letting you get in the water before you give me a number.” 

“Well, my kids are real hungry.” 

When he came back, Scott said, “they seem to like you in there.”  

“There are days, I’m not sure why,” was my rueful reply.

Amy, the office manager and another sweetheart (they are running a surplus at Cape Fear Boat Works), told Scott that he could do anything he needed to do ‘to help Todd out.’ So he started to get ready. For a couple hundred dollars, he was going to unwrap my prop, check it, and retrieve my anchor if that was possible. 

Captain Jack and the other waterman told me that I was lucky that Scott was there. “He’s just crazy enough to take care of your problem.” Scott struggled into his wetsuit, complaining all the while about how complicated it was to dive in the Winter. Turns out he didn’t have all his gear, he just had a hooka hose about 40 feet long and a full size dive tank to feed it. The hose was only about as long as the river was deep, so rather than moving his boat out over the anchor, he tied the tank to himself and once he was in the water it was dangling between his legs. Captain Jack, also experienced in salvage operations, tied a small bouy on a line which we deployed off the bow of the boat he had brought up. Eventually, Scott came around to the dock near the bow, grabbed my anchor line and pulled himself into the black water; waddle swimming with the tank between his legs. He must have been in the water for forty minutes. It was nerve-wracking just standing on the bow watching bubbles come to the surface and drift down the river. Every once in a while a great eruption of bubbles would come up. I had to wonder how we could tell if he was stuck or just working. He had not taken the line with the buoy down with him! 

After an excruciatingly long time, Scott surfaced!

“Who the hell has 60 feet of chain on a little sailboat like that!” he shouted in mock derision. “The chain was wrapped several times around a valve on that pipeline. It was tangled over and under itself, but I cleared it and then set the anchor in a spot of sand. I think we can haul it up. We might just get it back.”  

My heart became light again for the first time in over twenty four hours. To wrap my own line around my own prop was such a boneheaded rookie move, I had been stewing in my own private shame ever since it had happened. Even the night before that fateful morning, I had sat in my cockpit with a friend talking about all the work I had done and my plans to head south. After fifteen years of work, and four boats, I had thought that I was done – thought that I was leaving. And it had all come crashing down because I had panicked and taken my eyes off the prize. That couple seconds of inattention carried such a huge cost it was unimaginable and nearly unbearable. And then I had spent all morning just waiting for when Ruth Ann could get hauled out for a second time. I was questioning whether I was actually cut out for the life I had worked so long to manifest.

Then when Scott had said so matter-of-factly that we might be able to retrieve the anchor – I could barely stand on my feet as all the positivity I had lost the day before came flooding back into my life. 

Scott wrapped my anchor line on the delivered boat’s windlass and slowly pulled on the line. 

“I think it’s working. Here it comes. Oh, wait we’re hooked on something … no, there it goes.”   

The line came aboard slowly with Scott feeling the tension and signaling the other captain when to pause the windlass a second and when to start again. I watched as the 120 foot tag came aboard, then the 90 foot tag, then the 60 foot tag followed by the chain coming aboard. I couldn’t have wished that it were true. Then the chain went taught again. Scott waved for a pause, waited for the chain to settle, and then by some waterman instinct chose the exact moment to wave the windlass on again. There was a jerk and the then chain went loose. 

“There we are.” Scott said flatly, “The anchor is off the bottom!”

I saw the shackle, then the shank of the anchor, and then the whole blessed thing. It was back! I was dumbfounded. The effort that this waterman had made just to get some stranger’s anchor back was astounding. But that is really how boat people are. We look out for each other and sometimes go to the end of logic and practicality to get another skipper out of a jam. I look forward to the opportunity to pay forward for what Scott did for me that day.

“Oh, by the way, I already did the prop,” he said. “That sturdy old school, two-blade propeller was beefy enough to take it and there is so little prop shaft outside the cutless bearing, there was no leverage to do any damage.”  

Relief. Such sweet relief I have never known. Now I was back on. Now I could actually leave.  

During the afternoon, besides hearing that his kids were hungry, I had heard the guys talking about chicken wings. So, when I sat down with Scott to Venmo him the money, I gave him a 25% tip, and said ‘maybe you can buy the kids some chicken wings.’

Scott looked at his feet and said, “I gotta be honest with you. I don’t have any kids, that’s just  something I say.”   

What a guy. Hilarious. He is one of us. 

I hauled the anchor, line, and chain down the dock to Ruth Ann and threaded the line through the bow roller and down the hawse into the anchor locker. Down inside the cabin, I crawled to the bow, opened the storage cupboard and the hatch in the back to reach in and re-tie the bitter end of the anchor line to the boat. Then I hauled the line and chain aboard and carefully pulled the anchor into place. After that I walked the Bruce anchor I had absconded from one of Sam’s derelicts and put it back in place on its original bowsprit. 

After trudging back through the yard, I caught Sam, Amy, and Samantha in the office and told them the news. 

“Good lord,” Sam sighed with a twinkle in his eye, “Are you finally leaving? Am I finally rid of you?” 

I told him that since there was not much daylight left, if he would indulge me, I’d be leaving with the mid morning tide the next day. 

“That’s just fine,” he said, “this is not a good time to leave anyhow.” 

And so I spent one more night at the dock. Poor Ruth Ann had been at the Cape Fear Boat Works yard since July 2019. She was as anxious to leave as I was. I cleaned up the decks a little and went below to make supper and get some sleep. I slept like a stone. As long as I didn’t screw something else up, I was finally on my way. I was finally living the life that I had been striving for most of my life and actively pursuing for more than fifteen years.

“If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.” 

 – Captain Ron

“Incentives are important. I learned that in rehab.” 

 – also Captain Ron

The Cost of Being A Boss

I have learned that it is important to listen carefully to the way I speak to myself. Whenever I “hear” myself start to say “I’ll just …” or...