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.

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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.  

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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

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Perhaps The Worst Day, Part One

I know this is Part Two of A Tale of Two Scew Ups, but it's a good story and it's me, so it is long. I had to split it up so that you, dear reader, didn't have to cancel all your appointments in order to read it. Part Two of Part Two will come out tomorrow. 

Thursday was going to be a Red Letter Day. Literally, the culmination of fifteen years of striving. Not that I had put any pressure on myself, but I was so ready and had begun to think that I was due. And then it became one of the most humiliating, most depressing days of my life. 

There is a railroad bridge about a mile downstream from the boatyard. I was going to have to call them on the radio to get it opened for me. As it was my first trip on Ruth Ann for three years, I was cautious and, between the river and the tides, I was concerned about the currents. The plan was to leave as soon as the current had died down from the height of the mid-morning tide. On Tuesday, when I had to get Ruth Ann back into the slipway to be hauled again, I learned that the current is deceptively strong. There are also two or three trees (yes, trees) that have floated down the river and gotten caught on the upriver end of the boatyard’s dock. Tuesday morning, I had gotten pushed quite strongly into those trees. There were a couple clunks along the way that I believe may have been a small branch from one of those trees getting buzzed by my propeller. It was one of the first things that I checked when the boat was out of the water, but all was well.  

Back on Thursday morning, I had the luxury of my own time and I waited until it appeared that the current had waned. Ruth Ann was pointed upstream and, of course, we needed to go downstream. I set up a spring line on the outside aft cleat that ran to the dock and back to the cockpit. After untying the rest of the dock lines, I began to slowly move forward while holding the spring line. In theory, Ruth Ann would have strained against the line and while I kept her in forward at idle speed, the line would cause her to swing around and point her bow downstream. As the boat moved forward, the line would trail behind and I could pull it in at my leisure. It was going to be perfectly graceful.  

There was, of course, more current than I had hoped, and we started getting pushed toward the half submerged trees again. I started to panic! After more than three years out of the water, I was a nervous rookie all over again. I let go the line, revved the engine, and tried to steer us clear. We were not quite going to make it past the very outside trunk, so I threw her into reverse. That moment completely contradicted the rest of the plan. If it hadn’t been for that lapse of judgment (panic), I might have left that day and continued down the river. Nevertheless, in that moment, the line in the water wrapped around my propeller and stalled the engine. 

That was weird, I thought, but still in rookie mode, I tried to restart the engine but it immediately stalled when I put it in gear. That’s when I started to know the trouble I had just gotten into. Looking aft, I could see the springline yanked over the transom and pulled as taut as a guitar string. For a moment, all I knew was that sticky, acrid lump of shame in the back of my throat. But the current and the wind were pushing me upriver toward the I-140 Bypass Bridge. Time for action. 

I went to the bow and dropped the anchor, not really thinking about the pipeline that runs under the river there. If I had thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have thought that I had drifted that far. With the boat secure, I began to consider my options and had the bright idea to get in the water (Hey, I’m a cruiser now, we are self sufficient). I dug out my snorkel mask and stripped down to my underwear. I knew the water was going to be cold, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. 

I dropped the swim ladder and carefully crawled down to the water. It was a jolt when my feet were first submerged. I’m guessing that the water was in the 50s. It was damn cold. When I got down to my shoulders, my whole body in the chilly river, my breathing and my heart rate had accelerated dramatically. Even so, as I stood there on my ladder I felt that I could get used to it. I wasn’t shivering yet, but DAMN it was cold. And dark. The river is exactly what is meant by Carolina Black Water. You can’t see eight inches in front of your face. 

What I learned that day was that cold water is mostly mental. My body had gotten used to the cold water but when I tried to dunk my head and swim down to the prop, I felt the strongest notion that I didn’t have enough air! I tried a couple times, even hyperventilating a bit to jack up my oxygen, but the response was the same. Every time my head got under the water, every cell in my body was screaming: get out! Get Out! GET OUT!! So, I gave up, got out, and dried myself off. At least I had tried.  

I have two extra long lines on the boat; one an old anchor line and the other a spinnaker sheet. I unrolled my dinghy and pumped it partially full of air. After installing the thwarts (seats) and the oars, I flopped it into the water. With the foot pump in hand (I know, I know), I climbed down and finished filling the inflatable. Luckily, the tide had slackened and there was very little current by then. I rowed to the dock with a line tethered to a cleat at the stern, tied it to the dock, and rowed back. Then with the other line tied to a bow cleat, I repeated the trip. 

As I devised and revised my next plan, the boatyard launched an Army Corps of Engineers boat that had just been painted. I expected them to head down the river but they headed to the dock and tied up. Just beyond their transom was my aft tether. I whistled to them, pointed to the line at the dock, and held up the line in the boat, and pointed to my chest like “that is me.”  

The captain shouted back, “Do you want me to let you go?”  

“No!” I shouted back while gesticulating wildly in every negative body language I could muster.  

I had called the boatyard office, but even though I was only 50 yards from them physically, the connection from one end or the other was so bad that the receptionist could not hear me. The anchor was down, and I really needed to get back to the dock but I had no motive power. Thankfully still securely tethered to the dock, I started the next phase of my plan. By letting out some anchor line, and then pulling in each tether, one at a time, I could crab walk my way back to the dock. The other captain inquired and I told him I had wrapped a line on my prop. I was getting used to the shame of it. It was already late afternoon, when I walked up to the office, hat in hand, and explained my trouble. Amy, the office manager, was confounded. “Only you, Todd,” she said, smiling and shaking her head. 

Sam, the boatyard owner, is a sweetheart. A bit later I was back in the office discussing the schedule for the next morning. “Sit over here,” he said and started telling me a bunch of stories of when he had screwed up, just to make me feel better. Also, nearly every other skipper I told my story to said “Oh, yeah, I did that once … “ and proceeded to tell me a story about wrapping their prop. It was still pretty embarrassing to wrap my own line on my own prop, and many of the other stories were about crab traps or someone else’s line. 

The boatyard schedule for Friday was going to be complicated. There was a huge luxury yacht in the yard, owned by some bitchy rich people, that had received a large amount of complicated mechanical work. The owners wanted to arrive, get in their boat, and leave, so the mechanics were going to set the boat in the slipway and test all the systems to make sure all was well before the arrival of the cranky owners. Also, another boat was coming up the river to get hauled out. The huge yacht was going to go in the slipway first and Sam told me that either in between  or just after the second boat was hauled, they would pull Ruth Ann out of the water to unwrap the line. We would check the propeller, shaft, and other equipment for damage and if all was well, Ruth Ann would go right back in the water. All I had to do was wait my turn.  

Friday morning while the yacht was being tested, I re-tethered Ruth Ann and pulled my way back out into the river using the anchor line. I was going to try and retrieve the anchor. At the dock I had more than 120 feet of chain and line out to the anchor. I could haul in to the 90 foot tag, but straining with all my might (I don’t have a windlass at this time), I could not get the line to move beyond the 90 foot tag. It was absolutely caught on something more just than the anchor. I’m sure those trees on the surface were not alone in that section of river. So I pulled Ruth Ann back to the dock and tied her up. 

Sam was keen to try pulling the anchor with his truck. I was skeptical. My anchor is designed to roll over and reset itself. It needed to be pulled up rather than over in my opinion, but what did I have to lose? Sam drove his pickup truck right down onto the dock and we tied my anchor line to his trailer hitch. He had the truck in four wheel drive and was smoking the tires on the boards of the dock – the anchor would not move. We were very close to causing an environmental incident but hadn’t realized it. Sam was impressed that my line hadn’t parted. I was impressed that the rope-to-chain splice, which I had spiced, held under the strain. Imagine if that line had parted as his tires were smoking. There was only so much dock and I wonder if he could have stopped before flying straight into the river - truck and all. 

I asked Sam, “So, is there anywhere in town I can buy an anchor and some line besides Worst Marine (my pet name for West Marine)?

“Get in,” he said. And he drove me out to the back corner of the boatyard. “How about that one? Or that one?”  

Even though I was with the owner of the place, it seemed bizarre to be shopping for an anchor among the abandoned and derelict boats out by the fence. I told him I would get a ladder and check a couple of them out. One was an old hinged plow anchor, which I think was an original CQR from England, but it was a couple sizes too large for Ruth Ann. The other was a real Bruce Anchor, just a bit oversized. The anchor I had lost was a bit oversized for my boat, so I chose the latter anchor. After unscrewing the shackle, I threw the anchor over my shoulder and walked it back to the dock. Along the way, I told Sam which one I had grabbed and that I would be back later to make a deal on it.  

A bit later, Samantha, the receptionist (also a sweetheart), came down to ask me to move my boat to the downriver end of the dock. She had just told the boat headed upriver that they wouldn’t be hauled until Monday, but could tie up at the dock. I’m sure Sam was behind the plan. All the folks at Cape Fear Boat Works have been so good to me in the three and a half years that Ruth Ann has been there. I moved Ruth Ann down the dock and looked skeptically at the yacht in the slipway. Joe, the head mechanic, is a thorough guy and I knew that the yacht might be there a good while yet. All I could do was wait.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Trying To Sleep On A Sinking Boat

Part One of A Tale of Two Screw Ups

Ruth Ann was finally ready. 

I had arranged with the boatyard to launch on Monday, December 5, and spent the weekend finishing the final details and packing up. Also, Sam, the boatyard owner, is going to let me leave my little trailer here until May. I had listed a few things for sale and figured out that all my stuff wasn’t going to fit aboard. After getting not one nibble on any of the things I had listed and after running out of room on Ruth Ann, I had to do something. Sam is an old soft at heart and directed me to put my trailer in a corner where he couldn’t store a boat anyway. 

Come Monday morning, I was ready. Sam was offsite for most of the day and tricked me into breaking one of my rules because it was a Monday, not a Friday. I had always said that I wouldn’t launch on a Friday, especially late in the day. If I had started down the river and figured out I had a problem, it would be a much bigger problem if everyone at the boatyard had already gone home for the weekend. I wasn’t thinking of this on Monday and anyway I was enthused to finally launch Ruth Ann. She has been in this boatyard since July 2019.  

Sam came crashing back into the boatyard about 3:30 pm and said “Let’s get you in the water.”  

There was a boat in front of Ruth Ann that had to be moved. Sam grabbed it with the big forklift and we dragged the blocks and jackstands over so he could set it back down in a new spot. Then he got the travelift, a U-shaped crane for lifting large boats, and came for Ruth Ann.  She was strapped and lifted off her jackstands, then the crane gamboled across the yard with Ruth Ann swinging gently under her. 

At the slipway, Sam lowered Ruth Ann toward the water, pausing so that I could climb aboard the bowsprit. After she was all the way in, with the straps loose but not removed, I went about checking for leaks. Ruth Ann has six thruhulls for various inlets and drains; plus a brand new packing gland that I installed where the propeller shaft leaves the boat. With a flashlight in hand, I checked all the those spots and all was well. I kind of glanced in the bilges but I wasn’t worried so much about that space. There are no thruhulls or other connections in the bilge and earlier I was letting a portable air conditioner drain into the bilge and it had been holding water. I just had to pump it out every few days. 

I started the motor and checked it over. I goosed Ruth Ann in forward and then reverse. Satisfied, I signaled Sam and he lowered the straps the rest of the way, so I could back out. Sailboats don’t go backward very well in normal conditions and I hadn’t been at the wheel in over three years. It was not graceful, but I made it out into the river and parked at the dock. My former boatyard neighbors and a couple other people grabbed my lines, I wandered back up and put away my ladder and threw away a paint tray and a used roller. On the way back to the dock, I had a nice chat with Sam and presented him with an Army P-38 can opener that I had found (an inside joke). 

Everyone went home and back at the boat I started thinking about supper. When I casally checked under the engine hatch, I was surprised by the amount of water under the prop shaft. I looked under my galley floorboards and was shocked by a huge amount of water in the bilge. After rechecking in the engine compartment, I realized that I had finger-tightened the packing gland in the morning, but hadn’t gone back to tighten it up. While running the engine, I spun the nut right off and water was coming in around the prop shaft with no seal! 

I fixed the leak, turned on my electric bilge pump, and started pumping with the manual pump as well. Soon the water level had gone down significantly and I let the electric pump finish the job. As I watched, there was a strange little gush of water near the bilge pump. I thought that it was leaking air; that didn’t seem right. Something was amiss, so I watched it as the last of the water started to drain. But when I turned the pump off, the water started to rise again. Looking more closely, I realized that the little gurgle of water was a leak. Water was coming in! I was sinking!!  

I texted my boatyard pal, Mike, who works for Sam and asked if he had some emergency epoxy or an extra pump. And I called the former neighbors, Grace and Jeff. No one had epoxy. I’m ashamed that I didn’t have any, but I don’t know that it would have worked under pressure. Mike scrounged up a large bilge pump and crimped some alligator clips on it for me. I had portable manual pump that I dug out as well.  

In the end, once I got the situation under control, my bilge pump could keep up. The good news was that I wasn’t going to sink; the bad news was that the bilge pump was going to kick on every twelve or fifteen minutes, whine for five as it pumped, and then go through a dramatic Shakespearean death each time it ran out of water and the sensors gradually decided to turn the pump off. 

I had worked pretty hard all weekend prepping, spent a day on edge waiting to launch, and then spent the night trying to sleep on a sinking boat to the coughs, sputters, and whining of the bilge pump.  

In the morning, I talked to the office and one of Sam’s guys hauled Ruth Ann back out of

the water by 9:30 or 10:00 Tuesday. When I left the dock to go back to the slipway and the travelift, there was a lot more curent that it appeared and Ruth Ann got pushed into some trees that had floated down the river and caught on the upriver end of the dock.  For a moment the current was pressing us into the tree and I wasn’t sure that I could get free (This foreshadows Part Two of The Tale of Two Screw Ups). Eventually I got her moving and I was kind of proud of how I entered the slipway; well centered and drifting to a stop right in place. No rest for the weary - now I had to find the leak and repair it.  

I learned something interesting about my boat that day. The hole was a perfectly round drilled hole, probably drilled by me, but I don’t really know how it occured. The hole itself had been right on top of one of the wood blocks that Ruth Ann sat on. That block prevented any daylight from shining through to catch my attention and it was tight enough to hold water in the bilge; faking me out from another perspective. 

I got some tools, my epoxy, and some glass cloth out of my recently moved tool trailer. After grinding around the hole and beveling it slightly, I applied four layers of glass cloth to the botton of the keel with the epoxy. Then I made some putty by mixing cabosil (chopped glass fiber) into some epoxy. After the first patch had cured, I pressed the putty into the hole from inside the bilge. Ruth Ann was already scheduled to go back in the water the next morning. I let the epoxy cure all night, then I scrounged up a quarter cup of bottom paint, sanded the patch, and painted it. 

The next morning (Wednesday), I was back in the water and back at the dock. My friend, Anthony, ran me into town to get some final provisions and took me to lunch - my last meal on land for a while. Back at the boatyard, I put away my groceries and decided that I would leave with the falling tide in the morning. 

Au Contraire, mon ami. 

Stay tuned for Part Two, perhaps the most embarassing and depressing day of my sailing life. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Running Up to Beaufort; the conclusion

Wild Ponies near Beaufort

Here is the conclusion of Running Up To Beaufort where we get Victor and his boat (and his dog) to Beaufort and I go crashing back to Florida on a Greyhound Bus. 

I was born in the backseat of a 

Greyhound bus,

Rolling Down Highway 41! 

The Allman Brothers Band

(actually, it was mostly I-95)

During the day on Sunday, Cheryl and I traveled back down to the boatyard and picked up her car and Victor’s truck. Victor had some things to do on the boat and arranged for another night at the dock. Back at the marina where the boat was, the three of us ran up to Beaufort, our destination, to drop a vehicle there. The plan was to get the boat to Beaufort, then backtrack to collect the other vehicle. Victor had to be to work Tuesday and Cheryl would drop me off at the Greyhound station in Fayetteville; a fair bit out of her way but sort of on her way home. 

The marina where we holed up for the weather was a little rustic but serviceable. There was work being done to recover from some recent hurricane damage. Several boats languished in the yard. As usual in a boatyard like that one, more than a few of those boats will not likely ever get back in the water. The travelift crane was parked over a shrimp boat and I wasn’t sure either of them were operational. Regardless, we had a pleasant stay hanging out at Swan’s Point Marina; Victor, Cheryl, Link the dog, and me. 

During the day Sunday, a powerboat came into the marina and got stuck on a shoal right at the entrance that we had somehow missed the night before in the dark. Actually, the dockmaster was shouting at them as much as he had at us. “STAY TO THE RIGHT AT THE ENTRANCE.” They were simply not as good at listening as Victor was. Then along came a catamaran who might have had a reservation. They tried to sneak in the entrance thinking they could squeeze past the stuck boat. The dockmaster told them in no uncertain terms to stay out until the first boat was free. They got frustrated and left to find another dock – during a small craft advisory. 

We had a wonderful dinner aboard as the weather trailed off. Cheryl’s big cooler was magic for the copious amount and variety of food she offered us. It might have been possible to make some miles toward Beaufort Sunday evening, but we opted to stay; a wise decision I think.  

Monday morning we were raring to go. After another big breakfast, Victor cautiously turned the boat around and headed back out into the ICW. The first obstacle was crossing the New River. There are many rivers that cross the ICW along the Southeast U.S. coast. Their currents interact with the tides and the result is ever shifting sandbars and shoals. The Coast Guard doesn’t use permanent channel markers, they deploy buoys and move them regularly as the sandbars shift. A few years ago, on another boat going the opposite direction, we went hard aground at the New River. But we did fine that day. The channel was clear and the buoys were well laid out.

We cruised toward Beaufort with lots of wilderness; more salt marshes to port and low islands to starboard. At Swansboro, we ran into civilization again. Most of the way into Morehead City there were houses along the shore. Some of the houses were palatial, but others obviously housed working watermen and their families. Morehead City is just west of Beaufort and we were in the home stretch by then. Bogue Sound is wide and open along here. Lots of deep water and lots more houses along the way. We passed some industry as we approached the city. The Morehead/Beaufort area is home to a port and lots of marinas and marine industry infrastructure. 

Approaching Beaufort, the ICW goes to the left of Radio Island and then north up Adams Creek to the Neuse River and on toward Norfolk, VA. We went to the right of Radio Island, curved up and around Horse Island which contains the Rachel Carson Reserve and some wild horses. We spotted a few ponies on the way right into downtown Beaufort. Victor had a slip at the Beaufort Town Docks while he waited for his permanent slip to open up at the marina where he was headed.

As we approached downtown, Victor hailed the marina on the radio. They directed us to a spot on the seawall at the end of a fairway full of high dollar fishing boats. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to even attempt it, but Victor had no choice. There was a current moving perpendicular to the entrance. Victor went on by and turned around to make the approach heading into the current. He gurgled the boat slowly past millions of dollars of fiberglass and stainless steel and planted us right in our spot. 

Cheryl and I tended the dock lines and tidied up the boat as Victor went and checked in with the marina. Beaufort is a great spot, though it sounds like the slip he got to is even better. I might soon visit on Ruth Ann while I’m waiting to gauge whether hurricane season is done this year. 

The three of us, and Link the dog, piled into Cheryl’s Tesla and we headed back to Swans Point; grabbing a bite along the way. We dropped Victor at his truck and carried on. I got to drive a Tesla for a couple hours. 

With some trepidation, I approached Fayetteville. I was getting on a Greyhound bus to get to a trucking job in Florida. Years ago, I had been stuck at the Fayetteville station for eight or nine hours. We either lost a driver or a replacement driver never showed up, but fifty or sixty people were stuck in an old cinder block building with two vending machines and a couple small restrooms. The station was a relic of the past that could have been a sheriff’s office or a prison at one time. Nothing but cinder block and terrazzo with institutional colors and hard benches. Looking down the street in both directions, there were no lights nearby; not a sign of life. I spent half the night against a wall, on the floor, leaning against my duffle bag. I was not looking forward to my return to that station. 

I didn’t remember where the bus station had been, of course, but we followed Google Maps into town. It was almost midnight but I could tell I was in a new spot. Under the streetlights, there was green space, sidewalks, office towers, a hospital, and a new transportation center. Many municipalities have built nice central bus stations for their local buses and made room for Greyhound. Gone are the days of a stand alone bus station; many that had restaurants and even barbers. Fayetteville had done it up nicely, though there weren’t many lights on.

Cheryl dropped me at the curb. After a hug goodbye, I assured her I was all set and grabbed my bags after waving again. With two large duffels, a bookbag, and a ukulele, I lurched and stumbled toward the dimly lit entrance set in a rampart of glass and aluminum. I dropped a bag and grabbed the door handle – locked. I picked my bag back up and wandered around the corner. It was quarter to midnight and my bus was scheduled to leave at 1:00 AM.

Luckily, on the other side of the building, I saw the old grey dog on a sign over another door. With some relief, I trudged to my salvation and tugged on the door …  but it was locked too. Now, I became a little concerned. Was I even in the right place? Then I noticed the sign on the door “Back at 12:30.”  I wasn’t really dressed for Fayetteville at Midnight in December so I leaned into the alcove of the entry to stay out of the wind. This might be a long night. 

At 12:20 or so, a couple employees (or people who appeared to be employees) showed up. None of them had a key apparently and they all stayed in their cars. A bit later, another rider showed up with a couple bags. Finally, someone approached, walking with purpose and authority – and no baggage – and proceeded straight to the door; unlocking it for us all. 

Inside, the ticket counter was a tiny room with a single door that went into what looked like the municipal side of the station. There were no signs about lining up or where the busses might arrive. So I sat down with my heavy payload. The one passenger I had seen sounded like they were headed some other direction than I. There were more employees than passengers milling around. Soon the little room was empty and I waited for an announcement of some kind. Employees wandered in and out of a back office; appearing behind the counter, fiddled around, and disappeared again.  

It was getting really close to 1:00 AM and I wondered about my bus. Just then, one of the Greyhound people walked in and caught me with a startled look from behind the counter.

“Aren’t you here for the bus to Orlando?” 


“They are loading up out back right now. You’d better get over there.”  

What!?! There’d been no announcement, no instructions of any kind. The man disappeared into the back office without further comment. I didn’t actually know where the bus was. After loading up with my bags again, I stepped through the door toward the rest of the station. It was a big lobby with lots of open space, lots of glass and benches, and no signs. Around to the right there seemed to be more space, so I walked that way. Trudging through the empty building I could now see the stands out back where various city buses would arrive and depart – and a single Greyhound bus idling at the curb with 8 or 10 people milling around. Where did all those passengers come from?! Likely at least a few of them were on the bus when it arrived but I had been insulated from all their activity. The bus driver looked up from beside the luggage compartment of the bus and frowned. He asked for my ticket which was on my phone and shrugged toward the bus as if to say “there you go, load your own damn bags.”  So I did, and I boarded the bus with my book bag and my uke. 

I really don’t remember but looking at Greyhound’s schedule today, I think that I rode down to Orlando, got an Uber to Groveland, and stepped into orientation for the driving job by 7:00 or 8:00 that morning. I was going back to drive for a company that I had driven for before. It’s a good little company, they are good to us drivers, and the schedule is fairly slack. After eight months, I returned to Ruth Ann. During those eight months, I had two regular weekends. The rest of the time, I was driving 6 days a week, averaging more than 500 miles per day. Most every week, I took a 34 hour break, which reset my DOT clocks and then went right back out on the road. My time driving was lucrative and I came back raring to go. In the last eight weeks, I’ve worked my ass off, lost about twelve pounds, and I’ve got Ruth Ann almost ready to launch.  

Stay tuned. I hope to give my patrons some kind of live access to my first few miles down the river and perhaps a Q&A at my first anchorage. Become a patron at the link near the top of this page. Thanks for your support.  

Friday, October 28, 2022

Escaping Death, Not Once, but Thrice

This is a fresh tale to interupt the "Running Up to Beaufort" saga and it is pretty long -- I’m sorry -- but I’m still buzzing a bit from all that just happened. I wanted to write it down while it was fresh. It’s a good story nonetheless. 

Last Friday, I faced death and destruction no less than three times. I’m a sailor, so what follows might be a slight exaggeration, but it felt pretty real to me. It just happened in the last twenty four hours.  

The day had arrived. After a restless night (more on that later), I had made breakfast and started working on my Task List. Earlier I had wandered up toward the office, but no one was in yet. A typical lazy-ish Friday around the yard. The guys were working in the various buildings on various boats, but the office was not yet occupied. I had started pulling tools together to go back over to Anago, the boat from which I was taking the engine. 

Just then I heard the mahogany baritone of Sam, the boatyard owner. I peaked out my companionway and could see his truck, so I dropped my tools and went after him. I had been chasing  him a few days to get the mast down and pull the engine from Anago. It was going to be the day before, but Sam had to make an appearance at the funeral of an old friend’s sister. I was determined to coax him into doing it that day. 

“You want to do something today, don’t you,” Sam said when he saw me coming after him.  

He was stringing an extension cord to a fishing boat that had been sitting here a while. He plugged the cord into another and craned his neck to look up at the fishing boat’s wheelhouse. He cussed and started walking back toward the pylon where the power was. 

“See if that light comes on.” 

Um, which light exactly. Oh, nevermind.

We worked at the lights for a time. Presumably, Sam was switching outlets on the pylon and I was watching the dome light in the boat. It’s tough to keep power working all around the yard. Each pedestal has 30 amp and 50 amp connections like most marina docks and also standard 110 volt outlets. 

“Well, I’ll call him and tell him we tried,” Sam said in his sing-songy Carolina accent. “I’ll go up to the office and tell them what I’m working on, then I’ll meet you at Anago with the forklift.”  

That was music to my ears.  

I hustled to get my extension cords, my angle grinder, and my ladder then trudged over to Anago which was 30 yards or so from Ruth Ann and my “camp.”  Once I got there, I strung the extension cords from a pylon that I knew worked and leaned my ladder against the boat. 

Right behind Anago, literally only four feet or so, was the good ship Rare Breed. Rare Breed is a fishing boat, about 40 feet in length. She was built by her captain, Brent, about 25 years ago and he is working on her now. Rare Breed is a beauty; purpose built with the loving hand and attention to detail of the man who knew he was going to captain her. Brent had spent the last several years as the captain of a large luxury yacht. It had been an excellent gig but he had been kept away from Rare Breed. Then the couple he had been working for were getting old enough that they decided to sell the big yacht and he was out of a job. This was really a stroke of luck as Rare Breed had been just sitting on the hard. An ignored boat starts to succumb to nature and little things start to become bigger problems.  

Brent was working on some small areas of rot in the floor timbers of Rare Breed; getting her ready to do fishing charters again. Anago got placed right on his bow in the rush of pulling boats ahead of a storm a few years ago. Brent has never liked how close the boat was to his. His worry was only amplified as the boat just sat there and no work got done on her. He was glad when I showed up with a plan to extract the engine and get Anago to the landfill. However, he wasn’t so sure of my plan to drop the mast. 

I explained how we were going to take the mast down. I should have consulted with Brent anyway as Rare Breed is literally a million dollar boat. I know from our conversations that his deductible is $10,000. Anago was set with her bow higher than her stern. This meant that the mast was leaning back; toward Rare Breed. If anything let go, the mast would fall on Brent’s boat and likely cause significant damage. The first two times I explained my plan, he just said “I don’t know. I need to talk to Sam.”   

Then the third time through, Brent seemed to understand that I had some experience rigging heavy stuff and that my plan was solid. With all that in mind, on the day it was actually going to happen, I had to bang on his hull and shout for him to hear me over his grinder. I told him that we were about to drop the mast and pull the engine, but that his truck probably ought to move. He finished what he was working on, crawled out of Rare Breed’s bilges to move his truck, and stuck around to supervise.  

Sam came around with the big forklift and we briefly talked about the plan again. I climbed up on to Anago with my grinder and a nylon strap from the forklift. Standing next to the mast, I was ten or twelve feet off the ground. Sam pulled forward putting a fork on each side of the forestay. I waved and he stopped. I wrapped the strap around the mast twice and then over the fork and attached it to itself with the shackle. As the strap lifted slowly, I made sure that it didn’t get caught on the winches or anything else. The strap gradually tightened up as it went higher toward the spreaders. When it stopped, both Sam and Brent shouted “OK.”  

A couple things that landlubbers need to know to understand the next couple paragraphs: a mast is held up in all four directions, usually by stainless steel cable. The forestay holds it from the bow; shrouds hold it from the sides; and the backstay holds it from the back.  Also, when a boat is out of the water it is “on the hard.” A sailboat on the hard rests with all its weight on its keel. Jackstands are placed around the sides to balance the boat. Jackstands are not designed to hold weight. In fact, trouble begins when the jackstands start to take too much weight.   

I stepped back to the cockpit and grabbed the grinder. The important part of my plan was that Sam was pulling the mast forward as I cut the backstay. The mast was on a tabernacle (a hinge), so that as Sam pulled the mast, it was still attached to the boat at the base. Also, the shrouds along the sides and the forestay at the bow were still attached and would prevent the mast from going backward (toward Rare Breed).  

When  I cut the backstay, the boat jerked as the mast jumped forward, pulled by the forklift. Little did I know, but Brent had told Sam that if things started to go bad – just floor it in reverse. I think Sam thought that the tabernacle was loose enough that he might be able to yank it off. Either way, while I was still about ten feet in the air, Sam gave the mast a good yank with the forklift. The boat and I jerked back and forth a couple times as the jackstands were deciding whether to fold underneath me or not. I held up a hand like “OK, fella, settle down” and I jumped to the ladder and climbed down. 

Later I noticed that the wood block under Anago’s keel had moved almost two inches when the mast was yanked. A couple more inches and the metal tubing of the jackstands would have likely buckled and Anago and I would have tumbled to the ground. That would have been exciting, but it wasn’t the most exciting thing that day.  

On the ground again, I untied the strap from the forklift and from the mast. Brent picked it up and put it on the back of the forklift. Sam wiggled the big machine around and lined up to lift the engine out of the cockpit. I grabbed the straps and shackle and climbed the ladder again. 

“Oh, sorry,” Brent said, “I just put those up.” 

“No worries,” I said, “If you put it away, you can find it when you need it.” 

“That’s how I was taught,” Brent drawled with a slight hint of appreciation.  

Next Sam and I pulled the engine up out of the hole I had cut in the cockpit floor. It was fairly anti-climactic, but the engine was what all this work had been about. As Sam left with my engine, wiggling between a couple boats, Brent approached and thanked me. 

“That was a well planned and executed safe method. I appreciate you,” he said.  I took that as high praise from a salty old fishing captain.  

“Thank you, sir.”  And I ran after Sam who was delivering the engine to Ruth Ann. We set the engine down on a couple of large wood blocks. I removed the straps from my chains, folded them, and placed them on the back of the big forklift. 

“Thank you, sir,” I said with a slight bow of my head. 

Sam winked and drove off.  

My next job was to get the mast the rest of the way to the ground. The tabernacle had been twisted in the lowering process, so I was going to need to cut the mast. More than three quarters of the mast was hanging off the bow, so I needed to be careful. Most sailboats have a row of teak grabrails on top of the cabin; Anago was no different. I carefully laced a line back and forth across the mast and under the rails. I figured with three points on each side holding the mast down it would be secure until I slowly lowered it. I cut through the mast about a foot from the hinge, but when the mast let go, so did everything else. I had purposely positioned myself on the high side of the prone mast, but when it jumped up all hell broke loose. The mast lurched, which made the boat lurch again and the grabrails gave way immediately. When the tip of the mast hit the ground, it stopped going that direction but then lurched the other way as it slid down the starboard side of the boat, stopped only by the wires that were strung through the inside. All the while I was showered by teak debris from the exploding rails. But just as soon as it had started, it stopped. The mast was still askew, but everything had settled. That was pretty exciting too, but it was not actually the closest I came to death and destruction last Friday.  

Sam, the boatyard owner, is a charmer. I like him a lot and I know he has a lot on his plate as the yard is not his only business. Further, nearly everyone else active at the boatyard is worth more monetarily to Sam than I am. He has a way, though, of making you feel like you are next and his highest priority at the moment. Sam had to leave during the afternoon on Thursday to go to a funeral, but he had kind of made it sound like he would be back late and we would do the mast then. Now there is Eastern Standard Time, Island Time, and there’s Sam Time. He did come back. In fact, I saw him, still in a suit, behind a boat instructing his guys on what to do with that boat’s outdrive. But soon it was after five o’clock and everyone was gone. I knew then we weren’t going to do the mast that day and I began to putz around and do some other little jobs around Anago. I got wild, grabbed my grinder, and decided to take out the compression post which was stainless steel. I am scrapping a bunch of stainless, aluminum, and the lead keel taken off of Anago. Another few pounds of stainless was money for the good. With that done, I was tired and packed up.  

Now, for you landlubbers again: a compression post is a post inside the cabin of a boat that supports the mast. My boat has what is called a keel-stepped mast; the mast goes through the cabin roof and is seated right on the keel in the bottom of the boat. Many modern production boats, however, have a deck-stepped mast; which is a bit of a misnomer because the mast is usually stepped on the cabin roof, not what I call the deck. 

I made supper, diddled around, and went to bed. It was just after midnight, when I awoke in a cold sweat. My heart was literally beating like it was going to ram its way out of my chest. I had a single thought; a thought so powerful it had woken me. In a B movie, the camera would have cut to the whole solar system, pause for effect with all the planets and the stars behind them, then zoom past Pluto (yes, I know), Uranus, Neptune, Saturn, buzz Jupiter and Mars, focus on the Earth, then oceans and clouds, continents and countries, fields and cities, to a house in a neighborhood, right through the roof, to the guy on the couch, through his forehead, the brain, the synapses, a couple spasmodic cells and then a gigantic explosion. I was wide awake! 

I had taken the compression post out from under the mast on a boat that had been sitting in the yard rotting for four or five years. The post that was meant to support the mast was gone. Now, the mast was supported only by the fiberglass shell of the cabin. If the roof failed, the mast would begin to fall down which would slacken all of the stays holding it vertical. It would inevitably fall – onto Rare Breed. Or if the Universe was in a particularly finicky mood, it could hit that boat and the boat next to it which was worth nearly as much. If such a calamity occurred, those two skippers would roam the earth to find me and shred me into pieces small enough to burn and stomp on the ashes. They would kill me. And worse yet it was something that I had decided to do for no good reason other than I was near the boat with a bunch of tools. There would be nothing I could say or do to compensate for the losses – financial and emotional – that I would have caused.  

I lay there trying to decide what I could do. There was no one in the yard but my pal Mike asleep on his boat and me totally not asleep on mine. I couldn’t see the boat in the dark, but if something was going wrong the only choice would be to try and wake Sam up at home and get him to the yard. Mike might be able to drive the forklift but neither he nor I would be willing to weave our way through a bunch of other expensive boats with a hulking machine to try and save another. If something was going wrong, there was nearly nothing I could do about it that night.  

And what if it had already fallen, but I hadn’t heard it. 

If I go look, will it be worse or better for my sweaty brain. 

I wasn’t about to get any more sleep that night. 

Finally, I decided to get dressed and go look; figuring that if it wasn’t bad I might actually sleep. I climbed down out of Ruth Ann with a flashlight and made my way over to Rare Breed and Anago in the dark. Brent has scaffolding on three sides of his boat with ladders in each corner. I climbed one of his ladders and poked my flashlight at Anago’s mast step. It was hard to see. I couldn’t really tell without climbing up into Anago anyway, but the curve of her roof looked like a continuous arc. I thought I could see the very bottom of the tabernacle. I decided that the worst wasn’t happening yet. So, I went back to Ruth Ann and back to bed. I actually slept some after that. 

First thing in the morning, I looked out the port in my galley. I could see the hulk of Rare Breed in the emerging dawn – and I could just make out the thin line of the mast beyond her, still standing. All was well in the universe. [do I have to say again: I’d rather be lucky than good.] I was determined to tell Sam my mistake if I had to, just to get him to take the mast down that day. 

And that was as close to death and destruction as I got last Friday. It wasn’t the exploding teak or the dancing boat, it was doing something stupid that could have affected two boat captains that I know and respect. If it’s all the same to Davy Jones, I’d like to never get that close again.  

Chronologically, this last bit happened before everything else, of course. After I made some coffee, I went looking for Sam. When I first didn’t find him, I set an alarm for one hour to look for him again. Before that timer went off, I heard Sam talking to someone nearby and that is where this post started. I dropped my tools and chased Sam down. 

A bit more than a day later and the mast is stripped of anything other than aluminum and is chopped up into manageable chunks. My pal, Anthony, chopped up a boat last year and got it to the landfill on a flatbed wrecker, so I enlisted him for my project. We have only to call for the wrecker and haul the metal to the recycler. We're splitting the scrap money after the cost of the wrecker and the landfill. 

I’d rather be lucky than good. 

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 sto...