Category Archives: Journeys by Water

Old Friend Waterway

Nav aid in the Waccamah River

It is always delightful to get back together with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. This time, I didn’t realize quite how good a friend it was before I got back together.

We have traveled the ICW four times before on Flutterby, and once before on Cayenne. Each trip has been a different section or sections, and this time it is one we’ve traveled before. I first wrote this while traveling South this spring, and forgot about the draft until now while we’re heading back North again. The waterway is still the same old friend, and my stories and memories still apply, so as we’re crossing back into Georgia today, I’m finishing this story off.

An old friend is often just as you remember him–Every time we have been on the waterway we have seen dolphins surfacing and breathing. Sometimes we hear them before we see them. Sometimes they are just traveling through, perhaps in the same direction we are going, or perhaps in another direction. One time one followed us for over an hour, surfacing right next to the cockpit about every minute, on the port side for a while, then on the starboard side for a while.

Other times the dolphins are feeding, and they don’t move in a straight line, they are more vigorous and stay in the same area. Often pelicans are fishing in the same place as the dolphins. I love watching them dive. They will hang or circle for a bit around 20 feet up in the air, then dive straight down into the water with a huge splash. When I was anchored nearby, the splash was loud enough that I looked up to make sure nobody had just fallen off a boat. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when they dive in this way, their head goes under the water, but their body won’t go under, and they spin around 180 degrees by their neck, and come up facing the other direction. Where are the pelican chiropractors?

But sometimes you learn a little bit new about an old friend. I’ve watched pelicans doing their big dives many times, but recently I’ve seen them doing little dives where they fly near the water and land dipping their head in without the huge splash and 180 degree turn. However they dive in, they still spend quite a while with their beak in the water and their neck full of water and (hopefully) fish, and slowly filtering the water out so they can spin the fish around so the scales are in the direction that is easy to swallow.

My friend the waterway also goes through seasons. Twice we have been moving North during summer. Once we were moving North during winter. Once we were moving South in the winter. Going South this March it was still winter when we left North Carolina at the start of the trip. We went  South, and closer to the sun, and the sun was moving North and closer to us. I wrote to somebody that we crossed into spring somewhere in South Carolina. As we made the Gerogia/Florida border, we were getting into summer already. I think I managed to get through the tree pollen season in less than a week this year.

One seasonal thing about the waterway is the cruisers. Three times we were moving with the general marine snowbird migration, and got to interact with the rest of the flock. When we purchased Flutterby, we were going North and everybody else was going the other way, and often told us we were going the wrong way. This spring, the waterway was empty when we started. As we got into Georgia we started seeing more cruisers…and once again, they are mostly going the other direction.

Sometimes your friend will have a small subtle change…many people could miss it but perhaps you notice. The waterway wears thousands of aids to navigation. A few of them are buoys, but most of them are signs on pilings. They don’t change much. Perhaps a third of them are lighted and those are slowly shifting. They used to be a large red or green gumdrop with an incandescent light bulb inside. When the sun is low, if you caught them just right, they would glow as if they were turned on when the lens caught the sun. But to keep this lighted, there is also a medium solar panel mounted at a 45 degree angle facing South, and a battery about the size of a car battery. They keep the coast guard busy servicing them because the bulbs burn out eventually, and the batteries need to be replaced every few years. Lately I’ve seen something new. It is a little bigger than the gumdrop, but shaped like a square Japanese lantern. All four vertical sides have solar panels, and it might have a battery inside, or perhaps instead a big capacitor bank. At the top is a LED light. I’ve converted Flutterby’s navigation lights to LEDs, so I appreciate the same benefits, smaller, lower power usage, and reason to hope it will work for decades without maintenance.

One of the more embarrassing things about my old friend waterway is that I’m getting accustomed to its flaws and learning how to deal with them. In this case, it is all the shallow water. I have to admit that we managed to touch the bottom once each of the first few days this trip. I don’t want to go back through the days and try to count them all now. The first one was in a known shallow anchorage that we decided to go into at low tide anyway. A couple others were as we were getting into or out of anchorages. Some were when we drove out of the channel. I remember one that was in the channel too.

But something is new this year. Not one of them was difficult to get underway from again. My new (but embarrassing) technique is to motor with the centerboard all the way down, so we draw six feet. We’re generally going slowly when we run aground, and stop easily. At this point I make sure we know where we want to go, probing the bottom around the boat with a boat pole if needed. Then, knowing which direction to go, we throttle up and crank the centerboard up until we are free. Since we draw about four feet with the board up, this has worked each time. Then once we are moving well, I let the board back down, for next time. I still don’t know how we managed to go all the way from Vero Beach back to Beaufort, North Carolina in summer of 2011 without a single grounding.

The infamous pink house with the palm trees and lighthouse

And then there are the familiar waters and landmarks we pass by each time. For some reason, we always take a picture of that big pink house in North Carolina that’s on its own island with palm trees and tropical stuff painted on it. This time, I turned to Margaret and said, “I don’t know who lives there, but I wish I did.” We went by Hilton Head Island, where we purchased Flutterby, and Calabogue Sound, where we did our test sail. We even went back through the stretch of waterway where we actually sailed with the original rig, and the anchorage where we raised those sails for pictures.

I wonder what new things my old friend will show me as we go back North again?

Wedding guest

The first time they tried to get us to row ashore, it was too windy. Flutterby was humping and seeking in the howling winds leftover from a major storm system that had wrecked havoc and tornadoes across the south. Barry went up on deck to check on the situation, and to my surprise, I heard him talking to someone.

He came back down, shaking his head. “A nice lady on the dock invited us over for a glass of wine,” he said.

“Wow. It looks so close, but it’s a million miles away, isn’t it?” I replied.

We were barely 100 feet from a private dock in front of a condo building, but it would have been impossible to launch the dinghy in those winds without damaging it, Flutterby, or a member of the crew.

The next day, the winds calmed a little, and we were able to row ashore for a new GPS. We used the dinghy dock at the marina, further up the creek, which meant a more difficult row against a 2-knot current. It was a grumpy day, because we spent way too much money (for you landlubbers, a “boat buck”=$1K) at West Marine.

When we got back to Flutterby that evening, we wearily hauled the dinghy up on deck and tied it down. My mind was set on an early bedtime and a pre-dawn departure.

On the dock, a man called to get my attention. “Would you like to come over for a glass of wine?” he shouted.

If only he’d called out 10 minutes earlier, before we got the dinghy out of the water, I might have said yes. But I shook my head. “No thank you,” I answered.

He persisted, having noticed our home port. “Our daughter lives in Seattle.”
“On Capitol Hill.”
We conducted a surprising but difficult conversation over the wind. His daughter lives very close to the house we owned for 10 years.

“I’m not originally from Seattle!” I shouted. I told him that my parents had built a house on an island just up the road from here, Harbor Island.

“What’s your Dad’s name?” he asked.
He threw his head back, laughing. “I WAS AT YOUR WEDDING!”

I peered closely at the white-haired gentleman on the dock, who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Then I stuck my head down the companionway. “Barry! We have to launch the dinghy again! That’s Tom Mikell on the dock!”

We launched the dinghy and rowed the short distance. Tom was waiting for us with a glass of wine in a condo on the ground floor, Flutterby perfectly framed in the french doors of the living room.

The three of us sat down and started getting caught up. “Wait ’til my wife comes back from yoga. She’s going to be amazed. She was disappointed when you wouldn’t come over yesterday.”

Tom and Mary Ann
Old friend, new friend. Tom and Mary Ann.

Mary Ann came back a little while later, and Tom met her at the door. “We have guests, honey. Remember those folks on the sailboat?”

“Great! You got them to come over!” She greeted us with a big smile and a hug, and Tom teased her about his ability to lure us over when she could not. Then he burst out, “Guess who was at their wedding!” She shook her head, “Who?”

Tom pointed to himself.

All three of us grinned at her. She stared at us in disbelief, then checked the wine bottle. “What have you been drinking?”

“It was twenty years ago,” I chimed in.

With all three of us talking at once, we explained the strange coincidence, the fact that Tom had known my parents very well, that we had gotten married at my parents’ house in a memorable and unusual ceremony. “Do you remember that there was a sailboat on top of the cake?” I said to Tom. Back then, we owned a 14-foot daysailer and dreamed of someday cruising on a “big” boat.

Tom and Mary Ann have been married for just about a year, and they are a wonderfully-matched couple, excellent story-tellers who share a lively sense of humor.

“I met your Mom and Dad at a party on Harbor Island,” said Tom. He’s an attorney who represented the Harbor Island Owners’ Association, an organization my Dad practically ran for a while. “When I got there, everybody was drinking and carrying on, and your Mom had this party game, where she was studying peoples’ handwriting.”

I cracked up laughing. Mom’s ability and belief in handwriting analysis were legendary in my family. Any time my siblings or I brought home a new boy- or girlfriend, Mom demanded a sample of their handwriting to analyze and make sure they were a good person. Barry evaded her scrutiny only because handwriting analysis requires cursive writing, and he prints everything.

“So your Mom studies this sample of my handwriting,” continued Tom, “and with everybody at the party watching, she looks at me and says, ‘Hmm, dishonest…’ and everyone at the party starts laughing their heads off! ‘See these loops here, and the way the i’s are dotted…dishonest, very dishonest. Must be a lawyer.’ I must admit, I was not pleased,” said Tom. He scowled playfully.

Luckily, Tom laughs about it now. He forgave my mother and enjoyed many good times with both my parents. He described a time when Harbor Island was a tight-knit community of young, vibrant retirees who hung out together on the beach, went boating, and had a lot of parties.

“Remember the whale?” he said.

That’s another legendary story — in 1987, a 65-foot whale beached herself on Harbor Island, which folks in Beaufort call “an overgrown sandbar.” My family was walking on the beach that afternoon and was the first to come across the giant creature, who was euthanized after a couple of days. Then there was the problem of what to do with a rotting 65-foot whale — one of Tom’s more interesting legal cases.

A group of experts cut the whale up into pieces with chainsaws, and the island owners hired a man with a bulldozer to bury them. But Mother Nature had other ideas, and a couple of weeks later, the rotting pieces started popping up out of the sand.

“I guess they just buried it deeper,” said Tom. “No, I heard they put concrete on top,” I said. Neither of us had heard of rotting whale pieces on Harbor Island after that.

We spent the entire evening with Tom and Mary Ann, talking about everything under the sun. We even walked over the Upper Crust for some dinner — my Mom’s favorite pizza place when she was alive. Once in a while, one of the four of us would shake our heads and marvel at the coincidence and history that brought us together. “You look like your Dad,” said Tom, a very high compliment indeed.

One reason our wedding was memorable was because it was all about magic and sailing. It was magic and sailing that brought us together with Tom and Mary Ann for the evening — but I can’t believe it took 20 years. Now that we know where to find them, we’ll be back a lot sooner to anchor in Factory Creek and row ashore for a visit.


Lucky the Goat

Marina mascot

“Is there a place to do laundry here?” I asked, as Barry presented his credit card to pay for our night’s stay at Osprey Marina.

“Yes — there’s a laundry room, right over there,” said the woman behind the cash register, Lynn. She pointed out the door of a clean but nondescript room with a row of washers and dryers and a small table. At least, it was nondescript at the time. Later that night, you might say it was pretty “descript.”

We’d stopped at Osprey marina because after four days on the water, anchoring out, it was time for hot showers, diesel, and laundry. A couple of years earlier, in one of the email dispatches known as “Malla and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” our friend Ted had gone into uncharacteristic rapture over the place, once named the best marina in the country by Marina Dock Age Magazine.

As Ted led us to expect, the place was small, reasonably priced, and very friendly, with excellent facilities for doing a memorable load of laundry.

Lucky the Goat
4 days old and cute as a kitten

What made it memorable was that at 5 o’clock, when the office closed, Lynn moved a baby goat into the laundry room.

The morning we arrived, the goat was the only topic of conversation. There was a small herd of them on the 180-acre property, and this one had been born four days earlier, on February 23. At first, everything looked fine, but after three days, his mother died.

Just a few hours before Barry and I arrived, the little orphan was tucked among warm towels in a small cooler and moved into the marina office with the heat cranked up. Everyone who came into the store stopped into the office to coo over the tiny brown-and-white floppy-eared creature who spent his time sleeping, eating, and occasionally bleating in a way that sounded like a human baby.

At the end of the day, there were plenty of volunteers from the various boats to help care for him overnight, which is why he ended up in the laundry room with all his paraphernalia — milk, bottle, printouts from the internet on how to care for an orphaned goat, a feeding schedule, and notes about his care and condition. Plus a sign with his name: Lucky.

While I was cooking dinner, Barry offered to carry our load of laundry ashore and put it into the washer. He didn’t come back, and dinner and I were waiting for him when he finally returned. He admitted that he had gotten into a conversation in the laundry room with a boater named Sharon, who was goat-watching. I couldn’t blame him, because I was dying to go up and play with the goat myself.

Sharon and Barry in Lucky's nursery
Sharon and Barry in Lucky’s nursery

Later that evening, as Barry was getting ready for bed, I announced that I needed to use the shoreside facilities. It was a ruse — we have a perfectly good head. I went straight to the laundry room, where a couple was just leaving after feeding the goat. We had a nice chat about — what else? — boats and goats, and then they left me alone to enjoy Lucky’s company. I got him out of the cooler and set him on the floor, where he wobbled on his toothpick legs and promptly piddled on the floor. Lucky was innately “cooler-trained” and would not mess up his bed.

For a four-day old creature, he was very rambunctious and curious. He wanted to explore the laundry room and when I turned him away from hidey-holes where he might get into trouble, he complained. He was an adorable playmate, about the size of a small cat.

We were enjoying each other’s company when Sharon returned and caught me trying to capture the fast-moving little guy with my camera. “Oh, good! I was afraid he’d be alone,” she said. “Here, let me take a picture of both of you.”

I was supposed to be in bed a half hour earlier, but I couldn’t help hanging out and talking with Sharon. It had been over 20 years since I played with a baby goat, and who knew when I’d get my next chance? I happen to really like goats.

The next morning, our alarm went off at 5:20 in order to catch some early favorable current in the Waccamah River. I’d promised Sharon that I would check on Lucky, because that would be between his 3 am and 6 am feedings. But when I entered the laundry room, there was Sharon, sitting in a plastic chair.

Sharon snoozing with Lucky
Sharon snoozing with Lucky

“Don’t tell me you stayed here all night,” I said.

“OK, I won’t tell you,” she replied.

“But you did.”

“Yeah, I did. I got some sleep when other people came in to feed him. His bottle’s over there in the sink — go ahead.”

I picked up the bottle and crouched down to the cooler, where Lucky was nosing his head around the towels as if looking for something. I gave him what he was looking for, and he sucked contentedly for a while. I hadn’t fed a goat since we lived on Hill Farm in Portland, Oregon, and it brought back fond memories.

Eventually, Barry came looking for me, intent on getting Flutterby underway, but he, too was captivated by early morning goat-feeding. We finally said our goodbyes and slipped our lines at 7 o’clock, 45 minutes later than planned.

Lucky seems strong and healthy enough to survive, but his future is unknown. Will he be adopted out to a family or local farmer, or just nursed long enough to return to the Osprey herd? Is Lucky even a he, or a little she?

Meps holding the goat
Meps and Lucky the Goat

There are a lot of boaters with dogs and cats aboard, and even a few birds. One thing is certain, though, which is that none of the boaters so eager to take their turns with Lucky in the laundry room want to adopt him. He may look adorable and be fun to play with, but already the laundry room is taking on a certain “goaty” odor. He is not a close-quarters pet, and I doubt that Osprey Marina, with its reputation for being one of the top marinas in the USA, wants to jeopardize their highly-prized standings with such an odiferous, albeit adorable, mascot.

Our experience definitely confirms one thing about Osprey: Their reputation for being the friendliest marina around is well-earned. They’ll be good to you, providing excellent facilities and plenty of free snacks. Even if — especially if — you are an orphaned goat.

Directionally Challenged

In the last month I’ve gone from North Carolina to Florida to Brazil, back to Florida, and now I’m back in North Carolina. It is often near freezing at night here in North Carolina. February is often the coldest month out of the year, but today’s weather is almost warm enough to belong more in Florida than North Carolina–up in the ’60s, and the next two days should hit the ’70s.

So why again am I moving South for warmer weather? I suppose it could stay decently warm up here. But nope, I’m heading South now.

Err, well, not really. Going “South” on the ICW from Beaufort, I follow the coast and go due West. I am trying to head South, but the compass won’t be pointing that direction for another week or two, given the shape of the coastline.

Today I’m noticing how many smaller things in my life have shifted already. Before, Flutterby and I were in the boatyard, with projects and chaos sprawled out in too many directions. The feral cats we’ve been feeding seemed to be getting more attached to us, and even tame–Nancy has head-butted Meps’ hand, and Kenny rubbed against my legs a few times. He will eat cat treats from either of our hands, and they would both jump onto the deck of our boat to ask for their dinner. Or sometimes they just came over to say hello, even after they had eaten their fill.

Last night I said goodbye to them. I didn’t use words–I just fed them dinner and treats like I usually do, and talked to them. I can say the stupidest things to them, and all I think they notice is the tone of voice. Sometimes I just meow back at them. Either way, they don’t understand goodbyes, and I don’t like goodbyes much anyway, so I didn’t waste words on that.

Today, we saw dolphins in the water crossing our wake. I don’t know when I’ll see those cats again, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing more dolphins in the next few days.

We are unplugged from shore power again. So I took two electric space heaters that had been running every night at the dock, and wound up the cords and put them away. I got out a small propane powered space heater and tested it. It is now dark, and cooling off. I’ll probably be using this heater for real in another hour. I’ve put away the AC power supplies for the computers and the phone chargers, digging out the 12V versions. Most people wouldn’t even notice, but I feel better knowing that I can run on my own power.

More important is being at anchor, swinging in the wind again. And next time I leave the boat there will be a dingy or a kayak to launch instead of just pulling the dock line in a bit tighter and stepping ashore. This motion is what a boat is supposed to do, and feels much better.

Yesterday, I spent an hour shuffling stuff in and out of the space under the V-berth, the deepest, largest, and (nearly) hardest to access storage aboard Flutterby. There are still things to stow, but she looks more cleaned up than she has in months. We had a short day (not even 15 miles) and are having a lazy afternoon, but I already sewed some clasps onto the mast quilt our friend Karen gave us this summer.

I have trouble figuring out which direction I’m going these days, but it sure feels good to be in motion again.

Catching a wave

I learned the art of subtle wave when I lived in rural South Carolina, the summer of 1984. On my one day off a week, my boss at the Beach and Tennis Club would loan me her car so I could buy groceries. Since the closest store was 15 miles away, I’d negotiated the loan of the car in my employment terms.

At first, I couldn’t believe my city-bred eyes. Every time I passed a car or truck on the 2-lane road, the driver waved at me. “Is something wrong? Why are they waving at me?” I wondered. By then, it was too late to wave back. I felt guilty. I was sure I owed them a wave.

When I started to wave back, I was doing it wrong. I was too energetic, waving with my whole hand. Eventually, I learned the technique. You hold the steering wheel at the top, and you don’t actually take your hand off the wheel to perform the wave. You just casually lift your fingers, keeping your thumb around the wheel. A little nod completes the split-second greeting.

All this comes back to me as I travel the Intracoastal Waterway, because this is a waving trip. All day long, I wave at people on passing boats, folks on shore, bridge tenders. When the days are long and our speed is slow, waving is an interesting distraction, a complex and subtle way to communicate without words.

Back in Georgia, traveling on a weekday in May, we might see one or two other boats, no houses on shore, and no bridges. Here in North Carolina, on a weekend in June, we have hundreds of boats, three or four bridges, and countless houses with docks. My arm could get tired with all this waving.

A primer on where to wave, using the Ladies Island Bridge for an example

In each encounter, there’s the question of who waves first, and who waves back. When I am about to be rolled by a big powerboat’s wake, I ignore any friendly waves by the boat’s occupants. I have an excuse — both my hands are occupied trying to steer Flutterby into their wake. I admit, that’s no excuse for my scowl.

When we’re passing a boat full of people, it’s interesting to see how many of them wave. Sometimes, the passengers look at us suspiciously when we wave. Then they notice their own captain waving, and they think, “Oh, it’s OK to wave.” So they wave, too, belatedly. Other times, the kids wave, but not the grown-ups. Or the grown-ups wave, and the kids look away, embarrassed.

I hesitate to wave at people whose have both hands occupied. Kayakers and fishermen, for example. I don’t want them to feel guilty for not waving back. The more inexperienced kayakers miss a stroke just to wave back at me. The savvy ones wave their paddles, mid-stroke.

Bridge tenders are another difficult one. Where the heck are they? I peer up as we go through the bridge, trying to figure out which reflective window might have a person behind it. Then I wonder if both their hands are occupied with bridge controls. Still, I wave gratefully and enthusiastically.

Swing bridges open very slowly, pivoting in the middle. When they’re open,  the bridge tender is on a little island, isolated from either side of the road. Sometimes, they come out and watch us, waving or calling down a hello. They’re not in a hurry like the bascule bridge tenders, whose bridges open like big jaws trying to take a bite out of the sky. (And close like big jaws trying to take a bite out of my mast.)

I could write a whole book about waving technique. I love the super-enthusiastic waves that we get from tiny kids and pre-teen girls. Sometimes they even use both arms. One of them, today, shouted “You’re from Seattle? I LOOOOVE Seattle!”

When I see people on the dock looking particularly relaxed and sipping drinks with little umbrellas, I give them a wiggly-finger wave, as if we know each other. That leaves them puzzled. Sometimes I use my Princess Parade wave — elbow, wrist, hand, elbow, wrist, hand. That leaves ‘em laughing. But most waves are just a simple lift of the hand, palm facing out. It reminds me of kids playing Indians: “How!”

I’ve tried some other, non-verbal, non-waving communications with mixed results. My attempts to communicate “slow down” always fall on deaf eyes. But a few times, we’ve been treated exceptionally well by boats passing, and a bow of gratitude is universally understood. Thumbs-up is another universal gesture, meaning, “I like your boat!”

Sometimes, when Barry comes up to take his watch, I wave at him, too. It’s just because I’m waving at everyone else, why shouldn’t he get a friendly wave as well?

Today, I noticed a lot of two-finger waves. Is that a modified military salute, or a papal benediction? Luckily, I have never, ever on the water, seen the “one-finger” wave.

I hope that one is reserved for cars.

On a three-hour tour

The tourists in Southport today,
Signed up for a tour of the bay,
The first stop on their trip,
Was this Flutterby ship,
Which they circled, then puttered away.

Anchoring in the middle of Southport’s boat basin, home to fishing and charter boats, has made us a temporary tourist attraction. The skipper of the sunset cruise boat circled us, asking us questions and then explaining our answers to his landlubber tourists. Barry and I cracked up this morning, when one of the little charter boats slipped his lines and the voice of woman rang across the water, saying, “I hope this is not going to be like Gilligan’s…”

Wild life

Eighteen days so far, but it seems a lot longer. Traveling at the speed of snails, we try to make about 50 miles each day along the well-marked, well-traveled Intracoastal Waterway. Some of the route we’ve traveled twice, some three, and some four times. “I remember those houses with the little structures on top,” Barry said, in Myrtle Beach. “We anchored near that sunken boat in 2004,” I said, in the Waccamaw River.

It gets a little boring. But unlike the snowbirds driving up and down I-95, we have the wildlife to distract us.

“Look, dolphins!” we’ll say to each other, pointing. Of course, if you look directly at the place where they were just seen, you’ll miss them when they come up the next time. Because they always come up someplace else. You have to sort of unfocus your eyes and let your gaze rest somewhere near where they were. Then you can quickly refocus when they appear next, someplace else.

But one day, in Georgia, I came up from the head, and Barry said, “We have a companion.” As if on cue, a dolphin surfaced about five feet from the cockpit. “Wow!” I said, running over to see where it would come up next. To my surprise, in about a minute, it came up again, in exactly the same place. And a minute later, again.

Our marine mammal friend was so dependable, I began to talk to it. For no real reason, I decided it was a she-dolphin, and I called her “Flipper.” I’d wait for her to come up, anxiously calling “Here, Flippy, Flippy, Flippy!” She probably wondered what the stream of strange and excited noises were, each time she came to the surface.

At one point, I saw a commotion in the water a few hundred yards away. It was a group of dolphins, fishing. They were swimming and thrashing in circles, making turbulence to confuse their prey. We call it “bubble-fishing,” or “bubble-chasing.”

“You’re not going to abandon us for those other dolphins, are you, Flipper?” I asked our silvery friend. She didn’t respond, just surfaced and dove again. And again. No, she wasn’t going to abandon us.

At a bend in the river, I was so distracted by our companion that I nearly ran Flutterby aground. “Yikes! The depth is really dropping off here!” I said to Barry, concerned. “Well, aren’t you supposed to keep the green markers on your starboard side?” he replied. It was a very silly mistake, given that we had kept hundreds of green markers to starboard for days, and would continue to do so for the entire trip. For landlubbers, it’s like forgetting that you are supposed to drive on the right side of the road and wondering why the cars are suddenly coming at you.

Flipper stayed with us for almost an hour, about five miles. Finally, as we were approaching an opening bridge, Barry looked back and saw a fin, about a boatlength behind us, going away. “That looks familiar…isn’t that her?” he said. “Bye, Flipper!” I called. “Thanks for traveling with us!”

We were still marveling at our amazing dolphin experience when we saw something strange, about a boatlength away. “What kind of fish is that?” I asked. It was a very small fin, too small for a dolphin. Then there was a splash, and a larger fin appeared right beside it. “Oooooh! It’s a baby!” Just at the surface of the water, we could see two shadowy shapes — a mother dolphin and her baby. She was pushing him gently with her snout to the surface of the water, like a tugboat shepherding precious cargo.

In addition to the dolphins, we saw a sea turtle, his back covered in barnacles, swimming off the beach at Harbor Island. We’ve seen enormous rays, sometimes just at the surface of the water, and several times we saw them jump clear out of the water. We stopped the boat in Winyah Bay, outside Georgetown, to watch 3- and 4-foot tarpon leaping out of the water, too, straight up. The splashes were bigger than pelicans, which have been known to wake me up when they dive near to the boat. A local fellow explained that tarpon don’t eat when they are jumping, so it’s no good fishing for them. That explains why we had the tarpon show all to ourselves.

The past day or so, in South Carolina, have been “osprey alley.” Along the Waccamaw River, every navigational piling has an osprey nest on it, with a momma and her babies. At a thickly forested anchorage, Barry was puzzled, because one of the nests seemed to have a momma and babies, and two other osprey bringing fish to it. The little ones hollered for food all day long.

There’s a whole class of people out here who seem unaware of the wildlife. They zoom by on noisy, go-fast speedboats, cheerfully waving their beers at us. Some pass by over and over, their hateful wakes rolling and bouncing us as they tow children or waterskiiers. Without looking behind them, they don’t know the turbulence they create, and they are completely unaware of the course changes we make when they stop suddenly to pluck a crying child out of the water. At least the jetskis rarely leave a wake. But they, too, are unaware, not noticing that their spray is falling on me and my poor camera.

I call them the wild life. I have to work to remember that they are people, too, not just the obnoxious machines they drive. They are not tormenting me on purpose, they are just unaware.

Just as they are unaware of the dolphins, the osprey, the sea turtles, the dragonflies, the butterflies, the rays, the red-winged blackbirds. My wildlife. I’d share it with the wild life, if they’d just slow down.

Photographic memory

Paparazzi: It’s not something I ever expected to experience. I’m no celebrity, let alone a beautiful one.

Flutterby, though, is a beautiful lady. So on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 30th, when we finally launched her, there was a veritable army of friends and photographers on the dock.

We woke up before first light that morning, knowing it was going to be a Big Day. First, there was a lot of work to do, like sorting docklines and fenders (and dealing with the icky nest of giant cockroaches in the box with them), completing the steering installation, and emptying and cleaning the fuel tank (also icky, but the ick didn’t move as fast as the giant cockroaches).

Suddenly, it was time to launch — and to be celebrities. For from 2:04 pm, when the Travelift roared to life and headed in our direction, to 3:05 pm, Flutterby was the subject of more photos on more cameras than I’ve ever faced at once. There were over 100 photos taken of and by us in 61 minutes.

Unfortunately, I had not dressed for a Big Day. I was wearing my usual unflattering boatyard clothes, which I hated with a passion. I planned to throw them in the dumpster before leaving the boatyard. Now I wish I’d done so before launching, as they are immortalized in all the photos. (A few days later, I gleefully tossed the pants, shirt, and shoes into the dumpster, keeping only the socks and underwear. Kris’ pants were disposed of in a more interesting fashion. More on that later.)

The entire experience was a blur. Was it hot, cold, or windy? Did it rain? Dale and Richard are wearing foulies in the photos, but I don’t remember weather hampering our efforts. Who was behind all those cameras on the dock? Did I eat anything that day? From the photographic evidence, I suspect we ate tortillas, carrots, pork rinds, and chocolate. (Not at the same time — I’d remember THAT.) I do remember the champagne. It was definitely not consumed at the same time as the pork rinds.

When the excitement was over, we floated serenely in the ways, leaving an empty space where our boat — and our hearts — had been for years.

Photos are below (on the web)…but not all of them.

Thankfully, nobody but the crew could see inside the boat -- what a disaster!
In the morning, Kris polished steering hardware while I got fenders ready (the cockroaches moved too fast for pictures).
One last picture of our home on the hard. Alex Baker had put the Flutterby logo on in the dark the night before.
Eek! The Travelift is coming and we're not ready!
Dale maneuvers the Travelift into position. This is a man you can trust to be careful with any boat.
Kenny guides the Travelift into place between Bulldog and our Gulfstar neighbor. The whole time we were here, work on the Gulfstar had ceased because the owner is fighting cancer.
Kris, in the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt, stands ready with bottom paint, brush, and gloves to paint the last bits.
Kenny Bock and Rich crouch under Flutterby to put the straps on. I spent a lot of time crouching under the boat, so I know this area well.
Flutterby flies! She's lifted off the blocks for the first time in 2-1/2 years.
An army at work on last jobs -- Ted watches, Barry lowers the centerboard, and the other 4 fuss with our zinc.
'A bigger brush would have been nice,' said Kris, as he repainted the centerboard at the last minute. I thought he was just going to touch up the keel where the blocks were.
Dale said our zinc didn't have enough clearance, so he took it off and filed it down to fit. Next time, we'll use a donut zinc.
Where did Flutterby go?
A little 2-person parade, dancing along behind the Travelift. I wish we'd had music for this part!
An exuberant girl with her boat
Dale backs into the ways, the Flutterby logo behind him.
Lowering Flutterby down into the water.
Flutterby's centerboard touches the water. We literally had grown roots on the hard -- there were weeds growing in the centerboard trunk.
Flutterby, floating in her native element at last.
Meps celebrates with Randy, whose smiling face had greeted us in this same spot when we hauled out in 2007.
There were many photos of the christening. Ted's version, with captions, is the BEST. He printed this out and posted it in the lounge. (click to enlarge)

Welcome to Sunny Florida

Flutterby is still happily hurrying down South for the winter.  Today we made it out of Georgia, and I only touched bottom once.  I even managed to keep plowing the bottom until I was back on course, no damage done.

Now that the narrow twisting waters of the Georgia ICW are passed, we are ready to feel at home in warm sunny Florida.  But it took a hint from us wanting to feel at home.  Err.  Oops.  We ARE from the Pacific Northwest.  So this is how sunny Florida welcomed us!

What we saw when we got to Florida

The Big Chill

“I will not whistle on the boat.”
“I will not whistle on the boat.”
“I will not whistle on the boat.”
…to be written in the logbook 100 times.

We sailors are a superstitious lot. To appease Neptune, we pour perfectly good alcohol overboard each time we have a drink in the cockpit. We perform complicated de-naming ceremonies to make sure he isn’t confused when we rename a boat. We seek a virgin to pee in the bilge when it’s time to christen a boat, and hope that the child we select doesn’t get the wrong idea about peeing all over our boat the rest of the time. We fret about whether to break a bottle of champagne over our precious bows or just pour it instead. And whether the cheap stuff we drink is good enough for the sea gods, or if we should buy something nicer than usual.

So when Kris caught me whistling on board, he raised his eyebrows. I stopped. It’s called “whistling up the wind,” and it’s another one of those superstitions.

Evidently, I did not stop soon enough. In the Edisto River yesterday, between Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, I saw 33 knots of wind on the wind instrument. Today, the temperature has not been above 36 F. There’s icy slush on the deck.

I am sorry. I am very, very sorry. I promise I won’t whistle any more.

But that’s not my only bad habit. Our first day on the water was just as cold as today. While I was at the helm, I put Shakira on the stereo — hot salsa music. Standing in front of the new cockpit speakers, I was dancing back and forth behind the wheel, stamping my feet and doing belly dance shimmies to stay warm. Suddenly, there was a sharp “crack!” The teak grate beneath my feet, beautiful original equipment, had developed a severe crack.

The guys came out and looked at it, shaking their heads. They effected some temporary repairs, and Barry marked them with a Sharpie: “No Dancing Zone.”

“I will not dance on the boat.”
“I will not dance on the boat.”
“I will not dance on the boat.”
…to be written in the logbook 100 times.

I doubt my behavior has brought the wrath of Aeolus upon us, but I can’t be sure. I will try to behave with proper decorum here in Beaufort, South Carolina. I fear that if I don’t, my mother will turn over in her grave — yet another superstition! And since her final resting place is about a half mile from the marina, near the house where they filmed “The Big Chill,” I’m not going to take a chance.

Just to be on the safe side, I’ll ask for an official blessing from Saint Mom. She never got to see me at the helm of an ocean-going sailboat, but I know she’s watching out for me, somewhere. Along with Aeolus and Neptune and Yemenja, and the whole pantheon who take care of belly-dancing, accordion-playing whistlers on sailboats.