'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' - Mark Twain
Logbook: Southeast U.S. - April to July 2008
We planned our return to Florida from the Caribbean in late April anticipating a couple of upcoming events. In mid-May, our friends Janet & Chris were getting married in the Florida Keys, and in early June Rich's family was gathering in North Carolina for a reunion and celebration of Rich's 60th birthday. After the family reunion, we wanted to cruise and sightsee along the East Coast of the U.S., heading up to New England and Maine during the warmest months.
Dry Tortugas National Park (April 28 - May 3). The timing of our landfall in Florida worked well for us to stop at the Dry Tortugas, a group of islands about 70 miles west of Key West, which can only be reached by boat or sea plane. Ponce de Leon first named this area Las Tortugas (Spanish for "the turtles") for the sea turtles (green, loggerhead and hawksbill), which nest there. The islands are called the "Dry" Tortugas because they offer no fresh water.
Fort Jefferson sits on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. The U.S. started construction on this fort in 1846 to protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade. Construction went on for 30 years but was never finished. During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison for Union deserters. Its most famous prisoner was Samuel Mudd, the doctor who was charged with complicity in President Abraham Lincoln's assassination because he treated John Wilkes Booth (the assassin) for a broken leg. President Andrew Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd in 1869, in part because he worked tirelessly treating soldiers during a yellow fever epidemic at Fort Jefferson. The Army abandoned the fort in 1874, and in 1908, the area became a wildlife refuge to protect the sooty tern. It became Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935 and was redesignated in 1992 as Dry Tortugas National Park.
We toured the fort, watched birds and did some snorkeling here. Strong easterly winds were blowing during most of our stay, which stirred up the sea, so visibility wasn't great for snorkeling, but we saw some big fish and the water here was a beautiful color of blue.
Our planned stay of a couple of days stretched into five while we waited for the winds to calm down, but this wasn't a bad place to hang out. We were among friends as Tom & Barb on Reverie and Jan & Dorsey on Sun Dazzler were also here with us, and our crew person, Russ was still aboard. The only hitch was that we were running low on food. Our freezer was empty, and we didn't catch any fish on our passage from Isla Mujeres, so we were limited to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (but we were almost out of bread), bean soup and other meals that Jan put together from the few canned goods we had left on the boat. The bigger crisis was that we were out of beer, but we still had some rum on board. We were excited one evening when Tom on Reverie, who was also running low on food, called to let us know that a local fisherman gave him some fish, which he shared with us. There were some areas in the park where fishing was legal, but we didn't have a Florida fishing license, so we were not able to try to catch dinner for ourselves.
Dry Tortugas to Key West (May 3-4). The east winds finally veered a bit to the southeast and abated enough that we were able to motor-sail toward Key West. Our first day, we traveled 53 nautical miles (10 hours), and stopped to anchor for the night at Boca Grande. The next day, we had only 14 more miles to Key West, which took us another three hours.
Key West (May 4-5). We arrived in Key West late Sunday morning and made the required telephone call to Homeland Security to let them know we arrived. Since it was a Sunday, the Customs and Immigration offices were closed, so we could wait till Monday morning to take care of that paperwork. The first place we went when we got off the boat was Pepes, our favorite restaurant in Key West with great food and a welcome change from PB&J and bean soup! After Pepes, we did some sightseeing with Russ, bought some new dive fins for Rich (the first of many birthday presents) and then picked up a few groceries and beer. We took in the requisite sunset at Mallory Square that evening, and the next morning, we finished our paperwork with Customs and Immigration and continued on our way.
Big Pine Key (May 5-7). With little wind, we motored along the Hawk Channel from Key West to Big Pine Key (27½ nm, 4½ hours) and arrived at low tide - slowly finding our way into the anchorage with only a foot of water beneath our keel. Yikes! We arrived late in the afternoon, called our friends Alice & Nelson who live on Big Pine Key, and the next day, they came out to Slip Away for lunch. It was really nice to see them again.
Boot Key Harbor / Marathon (May 7-13). When we arrived in Marathon, it was time to say good-bye to our crew member, Russ, who joined us in Isla Mujeres. He had been on board for about two weeks, and we really enjoyed having him. He was easy going and always willing to offer a helping hand. He had also done a good bit of traveling in Central and South America, so we always had lots to talk about. We were going to miss having him around, but on the other hand, we were happy to have Slip Away back to ourselves.
Marathon is a good place to catch up on a few things, with a West Marine, Home Depot, Publix grocery store and other services all within walking and/or dinghy distance. Our week in Marathon flew by - we worked on a few boat chores, bought more groceries and beer, visited with cruising friends (Sun Dazzler and Reverie also both stopped here), met some new friends (Art & Renie on Jewel) and before we knew it, it was time to get on our way to Islamorada for the wedding.
While in Marathon, Rich was looking forward to a cheeseburger from the Overseas Restaurant, which was a popular cruiser hangout just across the street from the Boot Key Harbor dinghy dock. Rich had sampled their cheeseburgers when we visited Marathon last December and wanted to go back for more. He was very disappointed to find the Overseas closed. We later read in the local newspaper that the owners had to close due to legal complications in dealing with the estate of the property owner. What a shame!
Passage from Marathon to Islamorada (May 13-14). The trip to Islamorada was 39 miles, which was do-able in a day, but we split it up to make some distance prior to the arrival of some forecasted northeast winds ("noserlies") and catch a favorable tide for traveling on the bay side, where the waters are very shallow. The tides are not big in the Florida Keys, but when traveling in six to eight feet of water with a boat that draws five feet, we want to take advantage of every possible inch of water! We left Marathon in the afternoon, and winds were light, so we motored up the Hawk Channel, passed under the bridge at the Channel 5 crossover to the bay side, and shortly thereafter, dropped our anchor for the night at Matcumbe Bight (30 nm, 5 hours). The next morning, on a rising tide, we motored the last 9 miles (2 hours) to the anchorage at Islamorada.
Friends and family gathered on the beach in front of Pierre's Restaurant on Sunday afternoon for the wedding ceremony, which was a beautiful event. Following the ceremony, dinner was outstanding, and we danced to live music from the Landsharks until almost midnight.
While the wedding events were taking place, we were also keeping an eye on the weather for our next passage north. The Crowell Clan reunion in early June was taking place in Kure Beach, North Carolina (just south of Wilmington). Although we had three weeks to get there, we had almost 700 miles to travel, and we wanted to be sure we weren't held up by weather. We had the option of motoring north along the Intracoastal Waterway, but we preferred to go offshore where we could ride the Gulf Stream and sail if the winds were favorable.
There looked to be a good forecast starting the day after the wedding, so we decided to leave that afternoon. On the morning of our departure, Jan was busy preparing food for the passage, and Rich jumped in the water to clean the boat bottom. Rich was about ¾ of the way finished when he noticed a nurse shark swimming close by. The nurse shark was very curious and swam towards Rich, and Rich kicked at it with his fins to try and shoo it away. Nurse sharks aren't normally aggressive, but Rich wasn't feeling good about this guy, so he quickly swam to the boat ladder and scrambled out of the water without even taking off his fins. Jan was down below, heard a commotion, peered out to see what was going on and found Rich a little shaken and greatly relieved to be out of the water. The rest of the cleaning job could wait.
Passage from Islamorada, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina (May 19-22, 526 nm, 57½ hours). This was not one of our better passages - a boat gremlin and Mother Nature were not kind to us.
We weighed anchor at Islamorada early Monday afternoon and headed offshore. Once we got far enough from the coast, we turned on the macerator to empty our holding tank. A fitting broke, and the contents of our holding tank started emptying into our engine room. Yuck!!! Fortunately, Rich was paying attention and quickly shut off the pump, so it could have been much worse, but it was still a nasty mess to clean up. This also meant that we would not be able to empty our holding tank until we got a new fitting. The fitting that broke was less than a year old because Rich had replaced the plumbing last year when we replaced our engine. Very frustrating!
For the first 24 hours of this passage, winds were light and seas were calm, so we motored. We quickly got into the Gulf Stream, were enjoying a 3-3½ knot push north from it and had a beautiful full moon on the first night out. As we passed by the Lake Worth Inlet early the next morning, we heard our friends Jan & Dorsey on Sun Dazzler on the radio. They had just exited the inlet and were on their way to Beaufort, South Carolina, just south of Charleston. How nice to have a buddy boat along with us! Later in the morning, we caught a dorado, but it was a small female, so we threw her back. Early that afternoon, a squall hit us with rain and 25 knot winds, but it passed quickly, and after that we had good sailing winds. We were heading north toward Cape Canaveral, and our weatherman was forecasting 20-25 knots of wind from the southwest after we rounded that Cape. We would prefer a little less wind, but 20-25 is definitely manageable, and the southwest direction would put it off our port quarter. The forecast wasn't quite right. Shortly after midnight the winds picked up to 25-30 knots from the west - right on our beam. Seas were big - maybe 8-12 feet - and waves were smashing into the side of Slip Away and sending salt water spray everywhere. Our dodger and bimini provide a full enclosure for our cockpit, but we still got soaked. This was the wettest we've ever gotten on a passage, and the seas were really uncomfortable. On top of it all, the rough seas were stirring up the holding tank, and every once in a while a very unpleasant odor would emit from the vent. We were not happy campers! The rough weather lasted about 12 hours, and then things quieted down, and the last day of our passage was a mix of perfect sailing conditions and motoring through calms. We got to Charleston the following morning, and happily entered this safe harbor.
Charleston, South Carolina (May 22-30). Charleston was our favorite stop as we headed south along the East Coast last year, so we decided to visit it again as we headed toward the family get-together. From Charleston, we had less than 150 miles to the family reunion in North Carolina, and two weeks to get there, so we had less worries about the weather.
Our first order of business upon arrival in Charleston was to find a laundromat to wash all of our salt-soaked gear - cockpit cushion covers and clothing - from our rough passage. One of our favorite places for breakfast is the Variety Store Restaurant, which is adjacent to the dinghy dock, and they have a laundromat attached to the restaurant. How convenient! Our friends Buddy & Annie who live here in Charleston introduced us to the Variety Store, and they again met us here for breakfast. Charles from Blue Moon also came into Charleston while we were here. His wife Maria was with him, having joined him in Florida, and we enjoyed meeting her and spending time with the two of them.
We did more sightseeing here, and took one of the popular "Charleston Strolls" walking tours, which was informative and very enjoyable. We also visited the Drayton Hall, a plantation that is being "preserved" rather than restored. As part of the Drayton Hall tour, there were a Marsh Walk and a River Walk - both self-guided. The bugs were so bad, though, we had to run through them!
The locals in Charleston are very friendly, and we had a couple of really good experiences here. Shortly after our arrival, we walked to the West Marine store (about 2 miles) to get the fittings to repair the macerator pump. We planned to take the bus back to the anchorage, but then we spent quite a bit of time talking with one of their employees, and he ended up giving us a ride back to Slip Away. Another day, we were grocery shopping in the Harris Teeter Grocery store in downtown Charleston (which, by the way, is a very nice grocery store!). We intended to pick up only a few items, but they had buy-one-get-one-free promotions on lots of good stuff, and we checked out with an overloaded grocery cart. Since we had too much to carry, we decided we would take a taxi back to the boat, but as Jan was walking to the service desk to ask them to call one for us, an older woman stopped her and asked "Are you here on a boat? Do you need a ride to the marina?" She and her husband used to cruise on a boat but had retired to land cruising, and they dropped us and our load of groceries right at the dinghy dock.
Passage from Charleston to Carolina Beach, North Carolina (May 30-31, 146 nm, 30½ hours). After a week in Charleston, we decided to continue north, but we needed to fuel up before we continued on our way. The last time we purchased diesel was in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where it was $2.15/gallon. In Charleston, the price was $4.79/gallon. In the week we spent in Charleston, diesel prices rose by about 25¢/gallon. Ouch! We also had another ouch - a couple more dings in the caprail - when Jan tried to parallel park Slip Away on the fuel dock with a three-knot current pushing us around. Our experience handling Slip Away in tight quarters with a strong current is limited, and we normally try to avoid those situations. But we gained some experience from this, and hopefully we can do better the next time.
As we headed out of the harbor, we noticed our speed was slower than normal, likely due to growth on the boat bottom. The currents were too swift in the harbor to get in the water and clean the bottom, and besides that the water was brown and mucky. Once we were outside the harbor, the water was clearer, the current weaker, seas were fairly calm, and it was shallow enough to drop our anchor. So, we did, and Rich jumped in the water to give it a quick cleaning. An hour later, we were on our way again and moving faster. After getting a bit further offshore, with the new fittings installed on the macerator, we were finally able to empty our holding tank.
We had very little wind for the first 24 hours of this passage, but a couple hours outside of the Cape Fear Inlet, the wind came up, and we had a pleasant sail into the inlet and up the Cape Fear River before turning off at Snow's Cut to go into Carolina Beach.
Kure Beach, NC (June 8-15). The Crowell Clan started arriving on Sunday, June 8. Rich's sons, siblings and their families were all coming to Kure Beach for the reunion and birthday party. The last time we were all together was five years ago to celebrate Rich's mom's 80th birthday, so everyone was looking forward to this. Rich's sons flew in from Kansas City (Andrew) and San Francisco (Erik), and we somehow chose a location that was equidistant (a 7 hour drive) from Rich's brother Bob's family in Fayetteville, Georgia; sister Kathleen's family in Bowie, Maryland; and brother Ron's family in Jacksonville, Florida.
We rented a beautiful six-bedroom house a couple blocks off Kure Beach, and it accommodated all 16 of us pretty comfortably. We even managed to find room for some special guests who arrived mid-week - Mike & Linda Lundequam. Mike and Rich were in the Navy together in the late 1960's and have remained close friends for forty years. Since Rich was the guest of honor and we hosted the party, we slept in one of the large master suites, which was larger than our whole boat. Even the closet was bigger than our stateroom!
We spent the week playing on the beach, taking long walks, lounging on the large covered decks of the house, sharing the cooking duties for this large clan, and just catching up with one another. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm - all week long. The cousins especially seemed to enjoy spending time with one another. They are a smart bunch of kids - Rich's son Erik is an Architectural/Electrical Engineer working with a prominent design firm in San Francisco, niece Melissa is going into her second year at MIT, niece Brittany will be a freshman at NYU this fall, and the others show lots of promise too. On Friday night, we celebrated Rich's birthday with party favors and a Texas Sheet Cake, his favorite.
When the week ended, we left the house with thoughts about when we might be able to do this again. After a week of sunny and beautiful weather, strong thunderstorms rolled through on the day we said good-bye and added to our feeling of melancholy.
Cincinnati, Ohio (June 19-July 2). While Rich was working on Slip Away in Oriental, Jan was keeping a busy social calendar in Cincinnati. She spent her time visiting with family and friends and enjoyed lots of "girlfriend" time. One of the girlfriend gatherings was a birthday party - her friend Chris invited the girls over for lunch (these are friends Jan has known since grade school), and since they all turned 50 in the past year, it was a birthday celebration for all of them - lots of fun! Jan's mom likes to play cards, and the two of them played several games of Canasta, a game they hadn't played in years. Thank goodness they could find the rules of the game on the internet because neither could remember them.
Jan returned to Oriental on July 2, and on July 3, we celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary. About the time Jan got back to Slip Away, our friends Nate & Ana on Altair sailed into Oriental, and they too celebrated a wedding anniversary (their first) over the 4th of July weekend. We decided to stay put in Oriental for the holiday weekend - preferring to stay off the waterways when everyone else was on them. Oriental had a celebration called "Croakerfest" with food booths, music, a parade and fireworks. We also worked on a few boat projects so that we could get on our way early the next week. Rich finished up some items on his "to-do" list, and Jan did some varnishing, which ended up being a challenge with the thunderstorms that came through that weekend.
We finished up our business with the boat yard on Monday after the holiday weekend, and we were watching the weather, eager to find a window to head offshore and go north toward New England, where we wanted to cruise this summer. We talked with Alan, the owner of Sailcraft, who recommended a stop in Ocracoke, NC. Ocracoke has a good anchorage, is a nice place to visit, and with a good weather window, we could go out the Ocracoke Inlet and sail north from there. We liked his suggestion and headed for Ocracoke the next day.
After waiting here for a couple of days, the weather window for an offshore passage still did not look favorable. We could continue to wait here or motor north via the ICW to Norfolk, which would take three days but would get us north of Cape Hatteras, which can be a difficult cape to round. We chose to head up the ICW.
Ocracoke, NC to Norfolk, VA via the ICW (July 11-13). We left Ocracoke early the next morning, and motored across Pamlico Sound to the Pamlico River, arriving at the river entrance in the rain, and then followed the ICW to an anchorage just before the Alligator-Pungo River Canal (50 nm, 8½ hours). We had a very peaceful night and saw a beautiful sunrise with smoke on the water in this anchorage the next morning.
Our Bear Story. The next day we got started early and had a bit of excitement as we transited the Alligator-Pungo River Canal. A black bear swam into the side of our boat!! When this occurred, Jan was on watch, and Rich was down below working on the laptop. The canal is very narrow - maybe 100 feet across, with lots of stumps sticking out of the water along the edges of the canal, so one needs to pay close attention and drive down the middle. Jan suddenly noticed a very large animal starting to swim across the canal, and his timing was bad - we were going to hit him! At this point, she didn't know what it was, but she pulled the throttle back to idle and put the boat in neutral. Rich heard the engine slow, thought something was terribly wrong, and flew up in to the cockpit thinking we needed to get our anchor down. Jan kept saying "There's something big in the water - look on the starboard side" and as we looked over the side, we saw the head of the bear. He was trying to swim across the canal, but he ran into Slip Away, so he turned around and swam back to the shore he started out from. We weren't fast enough to get our camera, so we missed getting a picture, but we were both pretty excited. After the bear incident, we continued on (traveling a total of 60 nm in 10 hours) before stopping to anchor that night near Buck Island, just north of Albemarle Sound.
Our final day along the ICW was uneventful except for finding a shallow spot and touching bottom in some mud, but fortunately not getting stuck. We transited the Great Bridge Lock, waited for a couple of other bridge openings and pulled into the Hospital Point anchorage along the shore of Portsmouth, Virginia (across from downtown Norfolk) late in the afternoon (52 nm, 10 hours).
Norfolk, Virginia (July 13-15). Although we stayed in this anchorage last fall as we headed south, we only spent the night and didn't visit either Norfolk or Portsmouth. This time, we decided to spend a day sightseeing in Norfolk. We landed our dinghy on the Portsmouth side, took the ferry over to Norfolk (only $1), and visited the USS Wisconsin (the largest U.S. battleship ever constructed) and the MacArthur Memorial (a museum dedicated to General Douglas MacArthur). Both were very interesting (and free!).
Normally at this time of year, the prevailing winds along this coast are from the south, but the winds had been blowing from the north for the several days, and it was forecast to continue for a few more - not good for us who wanted to head north! We were beginning to wonder if we would ever get to New England! But, rather than fret about this situation, we decided to go visit friends.
Gloucester Point, Virginia (July 15-17, 36 miles, 6 hours). Our friends Jay & Danica were close by at the York River Yacht Haven in Gloucester Point, where we spent several months last summer. There's a nice anchorage just off their docks, so this was a good opportunity for us to stop by for a couple of days. Jay and Danica were working during the day, and we needed to do some grocery shopping, so they loaned us their truck (fondly nicknamed the "Ford Royce"), and we did some major provisioning runs to Costco, Trader Joes and Walmart. Slip Away was now well stocked for the summer. We spent a couple of fun evenings with Jay & Danica - they're two of our favorite people to spend time with.
Southwest winds were finally in the forecast, and we were eager to get on our way. On Thursday afternoon (July 17), we took off from Gloucester Point, motored down the York River, exited the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay and turned north toward Mystic, Connecticut.