Category Archives: Journeys by Water


What’s that infernal beeping? It’s the alarm going off. Looking up at the hatch overhead, I see nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s pitch-black.

Where am I?

Barry is nestled beside me, but I can barely make him out. His head and face are hidden inside a fleece hood, and only the top of it peeks out of the sleeping bag.

I struggle out of the heap of bedclothes, remembering that the reason the hatch is black is because the dinghy is upside-down on top of it. Sitting up, I peer out the porlight.

After two and a half years in one place, this simple act of looking out the window is exciting.

I am on Flutterby. That’s a good thing. Flutterby is on the water. That’s a good thing. But where am I?

A few minutes later, after I’ve added more layers of clothing, I slide back the companionway hatch and do a 360-degree scan of the horizon.

The first thing I see is my own breath. It’s a frigid, 25-degree morning. Before me, I see a large, protected anchorage with a half dozen boats, their anchor lights glowing in the pre-dawn. On shore, there are many lights and illuminated signs, and a huge hotel. There’s a low fixed bridge, with taillights and headlights zooming across on the way to work. It’s six AM.

I know this place. This is Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

The first time we anchored here, it was aboard Cayenne. That was the first time we ever got a wi-fi signal on an anchored boat — in 2004. I remember Barry huddling in the forward part of the v-berth with the laptop, because that was the only place where the signal came in.

A few years later, we passed through on Flutterby. That was three years ago — literally, to the day. It was just as cold, maybe colder. We took the cover off the engine and huddled over it for warmth. On another occasion, we stopped here in the van, in the summer, to see a friend. We ended up dinghying out to Katja for dinner.

As I reminisce, the horizon beyond the hotels is turning orange against the indigo sky. It’s time for hot coffee and yet more layers of clothing.

Barry pulls up the anchor, and motoring slowly, I take us out of the anchorage. I cast a last glance over my shoulder at the sun, which is just peeping over the horizon. The windows on the sides of the hotel have turned to molten gold.

Channel markers point the way to another day’s adventures. I have no idea where I will awaken tomorrow.

Crossing our track

When people sail around the world, one of the biggest milestones is when the path they trace leaving their home port is crossed again on the way back. I don’t know if we are going to sail all the way around the world or not, but we are ready to be sailing on now. I’ve know people to circumnavigate in anywhere from three years to seventeen years.

Tonight we just crossed the track of our three-year boatyard circumnavigation.

Here are some entries in Flutterby’s log:

Dec 6, 2007 1220 Anchored at Wrightsville Beach, NC
Dec 7, 2007 0630 Departed anchorage at Wrightsville Beach, NC
Dec 7, 2010 1630 Anchored at Wrightsville Beach, NC

So exactly three years ago we were heading North from here only two days away from Beaufort and an approaching haulout. Today we were coming back this direction after departing two days ago. Sometime today we were exactly to the minute in the same part of the ICW we had been three years ago.

I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas

It’s been raining since we got home to Seattle. The trees in our backyard are bare, and the world is solid gray, with a hint of evergreen. It’s a little gloomy, but it makes me think happily of Christmas.

What a change from the Carolinas, where we left behind a landscape of bright blue water and sky, accented with green and warm tan.

At Bock Marine, we left a bright spot of Christmas red on the landscape, in the form of Flutterby, on the hard for the winter. She’s right off the waterway, so there’s a fabulous view from the deck, 10 feet up. I had to stop and watch every time a giant phosphate barge went by, which was several times a day — they’re so wide, they seem to stretch from one bank to the other.

The boatyard is fascinating, full of boats and equipment to be curious about. Kenny Bock owns the yard; his father owned it before him and built workboats there. Kenny’s soft-spoken, but he knows boats, and everyone listens when he talks. There are probably a hundred boats in the yard, some for sale, some in storage for the winter, and some just out for a quick bottom-paint job.

The most interesting boats are the projects, some of them active, others abandoned.

Near the entrance, where visitors arrive by car, there’s a field full of these abandoned sentinels, silent boats marching across the landscape. Folks in the yard call it the “field of broken dreams.”

Closer to Flutterby, there are many active projects, and we were lucky to meet one of the owners right after our haulout.

Dan is working on a steel Roberts Offshore 44 that he’s been building for 11 years. Funny Farm is rigged and about ready to go in the water. From the outside, she looks complete, with a charming lamp shining in the pilothouse. But the interior is barely begun, just a single berth and a counter with a hotplate and lots of open space.

Dan welcomed us to the yard and gave us a ride to the nearby convenience store and restaurant in his big red tool truck. We sat in the yard lounge eating steak and cheese sandwiches and sharing stories. I found myself selfishly hoping that he wouldn’t be launching his boat too soon — he’s a great neighbor.

On Saturday, we finished most of our layup chores, and I began doing my prairie dog imitation, popping my head out the hatch every five minutes. I was eagerly waiting for my brother, who was driving down from Raleigh to spend the day with us and take us back to the Raleigh airport.

When he was an hour late, I rolled my eyes and assumed he was lost. But after two hours, I started to get worried. I called his home, but there was no answer. Had he had an accident or a breakdown? Our cell phone seemed to be working, but he didn’t call.

Finally, three hours after he was to arrive, he called to say he hadn’t left. He didn’t sound like he would be able to come.

What to do? We were in the middle of nowhere in a boatyard with no car, spotty phone service, and no internet. And two tickets from Raleigh to Seattle.

Luck was with us, in the form of Dan, who just happened to be driving back to Raleigh that evening in his big red truck. It was a miserable rainy night, but the three of us had lots more stories to share. The four-hour drive went quickly, including a stop for dinner in Goldsboro at a well-known barbecue joint called Wilber’s. I indulged my craving for pork barbecue, turnip greens, and that uniquely Southern delicacy, sweet tea (pronounced swate-tay).

When we reached Raleigh, I was befuddled by the fact that my brother was still out of pocket. Without looking at the time (it was past 9 pm), I called an old friend, Pat. He left his warm, cozy home and drove across town to rescue us from a MacDonald’s, where Dan had been keeping us company and swapping more stories.

This is not the most memorable ride we’ve gotten from Pat — many years ago, when we returned from our wedding, Pat met us at the gate, apologizing and saying that he’d had to bring our car instead of his own. When we reached the parking garage, we discovered why — he’d decorated it with streamers and balloons and crepe paper! Luckily, he didn’t tie any tin cans to the bumper.

With the help of Pat and his wife, Belinda, Barry and I were soon settled in a room at the Day’s Inn with eight pillows, enough for a great pillow fight. We had a lot of catching up to do with Pat, and when we finally crashed, we were almost on Pacific time.

I never did catch up with my missing brother, but we did make it to the plane on time.

And now, we’re home! Just in time for Christmas! I can hardly believe it — last year this time, we were heading off to Portugal. Who knows what next year will bring?

Beaufort and boatyards

After the night of big guns, our trip into Beaufort was uneventful. The most exciting thing that happened was Margaret’s discovery that the holding tank vents into the cockpit, of all places. She was cruising along, enjoying the warm sunshine at the helm, when Barry went below to use the head. He was merrily flushing away when she started screaming, “Stop! Stop!” at the top of her lungs. ‘Nuff said.

We anchored in the creek off Beaufort, unintentionally placing ourselves as close to the public dinghy dock as possible. Initially, we stayed on the boat through a the first current change, to make sure we’d be in the correct position when every boat in the crowded anchorage did a 180-degree pirouette.

In the morning, we added air to our inflatable kayaks and paddled the short distance to the dock, where we had to jockey for space with a half-dozen rowing dinghies, inflatables, and hard kayaks. It’s frustrating to find that everyone else has used a short 1-foot line to tie up, crowding around the dock like a bunch of greedy piggies at the trough — makes it especially hard to pull a kayak alongside and get out! If you are a boater, and you are reading this, remember to be a good citizen and put a nice long painter on your dinghy.

Other than a crowded dinghy dock, Beaufort was fabulous. We walked the streets, with houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, hung out at the library and the coffee shop, and browsed a few little gift shops. We also visited the Old Burying Grounds at dusk, where tombstones reflect the town’s history, and one sad grave is marked “Little Girl Buried in a Rum Cask.”

We rented a car for a day and checked out the three boatyards we were considering: Bock Marine, Core Creek Marine, and Russell’s. All three have pluses and minuses. Russell’s is tiny, but located within walking distance of many stores and restaurants in Morehead City. They lost points for their lack of liveaboard amenities, having only a dingy bathroom with shower and no lounge, and the fact that they are very expensive. Core Creek has great bathrooms, but the atmosphere is industrial, like living in a gravel lot. Their fee structure is complex, but reasonable.

Bock Marine is our choice for the refit, a pretty but hard-working place surrounded by woods. There may be mosquitoes, but we’re willing to chance it. There are lots of interesting boats in storage, for sale, and being worked on, some of them by liveaboards like us. We enjoyed walking around, looking at boats, and chatting with a couple working on a large sloop. Val and Gigi are French-Canadians who cruised the South Pacific for 18 years and are now getting their next boat ready.

There’s a courtesy car, a lounge area, and a couple of bathrooms with showers. What a dream, after our time in Seabrook boatyard in New Orleans, where the only “amenity” was a single ripe port-a-potty, known as the Pot o’ Gold.

Sometimes, I think this blog has too much about bathrooms and holding tanks and not enough about other cruising.

We’re pulling up the anchor and going up to our haulout today. Then it’s back to Seattle for the holidays, after a much-anticipated visit with Margaret’s big brother, Stevie. I’ll write more then and do my best to keep the bathroom humor to a minimum!

War and peace in the ICW

Before going to bed, I clambered over the hatch boards and stood in the dark cockpit, my elegant red velvet and bunny-fur slippers protecting my feet from the cold. At first, only the quiet exhales of nearby dolphins broke the silence — chuff! chuff!

On the horizon, four bright white flares filled the sky and dimmed the stars. Then an explosion split the air, a sound so loud I wished I’d had my fingers in my ears. We’d recently met a man who bought a used Catalina with an unbelievably loud generator, and he’d discovered handfuls of used earplugs under the mattresses in both staterooms. I was wishing I had a few earplugs right now, used or unused.

I fled down the companionway to the cabin, where the sound was at least muffled.

Earlier that day, we had puttered through the Onslow Beach bridge, owned and operated by the U.S. Marine Corps, at 1 pm. We were looking forward to stopping in mid-afternoon at Swansboro, an old-fashioned North Carolina waterfront town.

Just north of the bridge, we passed the large sign warning of the Camp Lejeune firing zone, but the lights weren’t flashing, so we continued on. I went below to make some lunch, putting cheese and salami and crackers into a bowl for Barry. Just as I reached for a can of sardines for myself, he suddenly throttled back to idle speed and began a swift U-turn.

Anchored in the channel was a small gray military boat with a soldier on the bow. It was a stake boat, anchored there to stop us from proceeding into a live firing zone. The ICW was closed, probably until 4 pm. We suddenly realized that we’d shifted our radio to Channel 13 to talk with the bridge tender, and we hadn’t shifted back to 16. Since they’d been unable to hail us on the radio, they resorted to a megaphone and a blue flashing light. They were very polite.

We dropped our anchor in the middle of the channel and settled down for our lunch. A second, smaller military boat came and rafted with the first one, and two men wearing camouflage fatigues climbed into the larger boat’s pilothouse.

Earlier, we’d heard a warship on the radio, warning boats offshore of a firing exercise, and we’d heard sounds of distant shelling. But for now, there were no signs of the firing that was closing down the waterway.

Around us, the water was calm, surrounded by lovely marshland. A pod of dolphins came by and fished a short distance away. Then a handful of pelicans found the fish as well. They dove at tops speeds, hitting the water beak first with a giant splash, then placidly bobbing up, their heads aimed 180 degrees from the direction they landed.

Terns grabbed some of the fish, too, quick hitters and acrobatic fliers. One little tern got chased across the blue sky by a couple of large gulls, and he evaded them and entertained us with his maneuvers.

Distant firing began to the northwest, and the sky was tinged with plumes of gray-brown smoke. Then more firing to the southwest, and then, so loud it frightened me, giant explosions offshore. It seemed like they were firing all around us, but the fellows on the boats anchored nearby were unperturbed. I progressed from jumpy to annoyed with the loud noises, which sounded like fireworks, but didn’t provoke any oohs or aahs.

If the waterway had opened at 4 pm, as expected, we’d have made it to our snug anchorage at Swansboro. But 5 pm came, and the sun began to set, filling the sky with pinks and blues that brought to mind the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The gray boats anchored off our bow were nothing Michelangelo ever painted.

The sky was almost indigo when a terse radio message finally announced that the waterway was opening. It was too dark for us to move safely; we were near a spot that we’d heard had less than 4 feet at low tide.

Our neighbors on the patrol boats came by to say farewell; they’d stopped by to chat earlier in the afternoon, wanting to know about our boat. “I’ve never seen one with two masts like that,” said one of the fellows. The other one was more sailboat-savvy, and actually owned a little sailboat.

We radioed the two boats who’d been stuck at the other end of the closed zone. We warned them of our plans to stay anchored in the channel all night, and one of them agreed that he was doing the same.

Although the waterway was officially open, the offshore firing continued into the night. The following morning, it was finally quiet, and only the dolphins and birds greeted us as we pulled up our anchor and motored north. A few miles later, we passed the other vessel who’d spent the night anchored in the waterway.

By some strange coincidence, the name of his boat was Peacekeeper.

Flutterby cruises the Ditch

We left on Saturday, December 1st, and we’ve now done 4 whole days of cruising. Every day is different, so here’s a little trip report on the different days.

Day 0: We decided to drop off the rental car in an unorthodox manner. We should have taken Billy and Lizzie up on their offer of a ride.

But no, I dropped Barry and two untested inflatable kayaks at a boat ramp on Broad Creek, then drove the car to the airport to return it. I hurried over to the cab stand, making a cab driver very, very unhappy. She and her fellow luckless cab-drivers had been sitting there for 5 hours, waiting. Now she was the first cab in line, watching the one evening flight land and hoping to score one big fare, maybe a bunch of wealthy golfers. Instead, she had to take me three miles to a gravel boat ramp, and the second cab in line scored the wealthy golfers.

Because of a UPS snafu (paddles came a day late), we launched the kayaks at sunset, and poor Barry had underinflated his. While I paddled along like a happy duck, he struggled valiantly, unable to keep up. Darkness fell, and we were out without a light. Luckily, we only saw one other boat in the entire 3-mile route, and they, at least, had a spotlight.

Day 1: We cast off our lines with trepidation and excitement and headed down Broad Creek into Calibogue Sound. After the previous night’s excitement, I was hoping for something a little less nerve-wracking.

And it was an excellent day, cruising behind Hilton Head to Port Royal Sound, then behind St. Helena and Lady’s Island past my beloved Beaufort, S.C. We got used to the noisy, vibrating engine and took turns at the helm, navigating with a chartbook and GPS.

This was familiar territory, since we’d done the same route, beginning at Port Royal, aboard Cayenne in 2004.

At the end of the day, we anchored in the South Edisto River, completely alone, with a glorious sunset. I heard the sound of wild pigs on shore, and once, I saw a dark shape moving around, but there were no lights or signs of humans anywhere.

Day 2: A curious dolphin cruised up to our stern this morning. He’d probably never seen anyone eating Killer Oatmeal before.

After the antibellum houses of Beaufort, there were few houses for many miles, then the Charleston suburbs began. We went through narrow cuts and waterways with melodious names, like the Ashepoo river and Toogoodoo Creek. At the Wappoo Creek Bridge, we had a slight problem — on the radio, the bridge tender said she didn’t see us, so she was going to open the bridge for another boat, and we’d have to wait when we arrived. We were frustrated, because we were within sight of the bridge! Finally, the bridge tender saw us and held the bridge open for us for a long, long time. We figured she was embarrassed — 99% of the boats are traveling southbound, so she wasn’t looking on the south side of the bridge, where we were clearly visible.

In Charleston Harbor, we passed within hailing distance of a sailboat, and the skipper called out, “I’ve seen you here before! I know that red hull!” I don’t think this boat has been up to Charleston, though…maybe he remembers Cayenne? We do look like her little sister!

Speaking of other Freedoms, our Charleston destination was Cooper River Marina, where we rendezvoused with Doug and Donna of Phoenix, another Freedom 33. She’s actually their second F33; when the first one was lost in a fire, Donna found this one for sale. She’s in beautiful condition, much better than ours, and we enjoyed looking at all the nice touches. It’s fun to see the differences and the similarities in the two boats. We especially enjoyed sharing sea stories and fairy tales with Doug and Donna, who took us to a wonderful Irish pub in North Charleston for dinner. I can’t wait to come back to Charleston after our refit and do some buddy-boating with them — we could have a two-boat race!

Day 3: Today was my first grounding, when I went too far out of the way of a huge motor yacht and got stuck in the muck. Luckily, the tide helped me off, and we were only held up for about 5 minutes.

All morning, Barry had been futzing with the sails and rigging, begging me oh-please-oh-please could we raise the sails today? I was hesitant, because despite the fact that the wind was perfect for sailing, we were traveling in a ditch with no room to maneuver (as evidenced by my grounding).

But he was so persistent, we raised the main, and then we just flew like an arrow down the waterway at speeds up to 7 knots. It was two hours of delightful sailing, and it reminded me of an article I read about the famous Joshua Slocum, who came through this area in 1888 aboard the Liberdade. He’d gotten into one of the harbors, but the weather turned and he couldn’t get back out. So he started sailing through the marshes, and he got lost. He hailed a local hunter to ask him where this particular “ditch” went, and the hunter said, “Why, stranger, my gran’ther digged that ditch.”

So this local pilot, who had never heard of a vessel sailing from Brazil through his backyard, came aboard and led him practically to Beaufort, N.C.

If Slocum could sail in a ditch, so could we!

However, we lost valuable time sailing, and when we reached the anchorage we’d chosen, it was too exposed. I throttled up and headed for Georgetown, but the sun was setting as I did so. Unlike our kayak adventure on Day 0, we did have lights, and the computer was a great help for navigating (Slocum didn’t have either of those).

Navigating in the dark, in a place marked with something they call day markers, is not a good idea. We were lucky that this one spot happens to be suitable for nighttime navigation, with lit markers and ranges for big boats coming in from the Atlantic.

After we dropped the anchor, I told Barry, “You couldn’t pay me to do that again!”

Day 4: Ah, a short day. We cruised up the Waccamaw river, lined with trees dripping with Spanish moss. We saw a deer swimming across the channel, dolphins, and hawks. No bald eagles, but we’d seen one yesterday.

A yacht that looked like a converted fishing boat passed by, with the name Frog Kiss on the stern. We were commenting on the boat when they hailed us on the radio, saying, “Red Freedom 33, this is Frog Kiss.” We had a nice little chat with them — former owners of a Freedom 44 who have gotten too old for sailing, but who miss their Freedom. We are realizing that we are now part of the Freedom Fraternity!

We dropped the hook early today, in the exact same place we anchored in 2004. It’s an oxbow off the main channel with an old wrecked boat on shore. Then it was time for a nap (for me), and some futzing (for Barry). Later in the afternoon, we hoisted the sails and I took one of the kayaks out for some photos. We took some photos of ourselves inside the sails — one of those weird things you can only do with wraparound sails!

Our resident gecko came out this evening, and we took some photos of him, too. He lives in the mizzen sail somewhere.

Tomorrow, we’ll pass through the long narrow canal behind Myrtle Beach, and we hope to find some wi-fi signal there to post this and some photos. We’ve been getting lots of requests — actually, demands — for photos of the boat.

The brighter side of Hilton Head

After a few days here, I’ve discovered that there are actually two Hilton Head Islands. There’s the one that the tourists experience, a place with beautiful beaches, where everyone rents a bike and pedals, smiling, along the miles of bike paths. There are gourmet restaurants and gourmet grocery stores and many liquor stores. There are rambling little shopping malls full of clever little boutiques selling clothing and jewelry and souvenirs.

The zoning in this Hilton Head is so tightly scripted that Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s and Wendy’s have tasteful little wooden signs, and their parking lots are full of trees and bushes that hide the storefronts. Yesterday, I turned off the highway into a parking lot with a Staples sign, but then got lost in the landscaping and took 10 minutes to find the store!

What’s been fun, over the past few days, is finding the other Hilton Head, the one with all the local color. This is the local color you find when you run around solving engine problems, plumbing problems, electrical problems, and mechanical problems.

Of course, while solving such problems, you need an appropriate lunch stop. For me, that means either Mexican food or diner food. On Saturday, when Barry lamented that he was hungry, I quickly turned into a gas station where I’d seen a taqueria bus, and we ordered beef and chorizo tacos in lousy Spanish. Yesterday, we ended up at Harold’s Diner, a no-nonsense lunch counter with vinyl-covered stools, chrome trim, and paper towels for napkins. The male to female ratio was 5 to 1, just the thing to put me in the mood to deal with plumbing fittings.

Today’s choice was a hybrid — a Mexican diner full of construction workers slurping tacos while watching a dramatic soap opera on the TV. At least, I think it was dramatic, since it was in Spanish, and all the construction workers were riveted to it.

One thing I’m realizing is that Hilton Head is actually a pretty small town, with a permanent population of 40,000. That figure includes a lot of people who retired here from somewhere else in order to shop in the clever little boutiques — if you subtract them out, the number of colorful local people is much smaller. And every time I meet one of them, they know all the others.

At the auto parts store, I met Tommy, the fastest-talking southerner I’ve ever heard. He has an extremely sarcastic sense of humor, so you can’t tell if he’s being nice or mean. Tommy told me to talk with a fellow named Buddy about the exhaust insulation I needed. He then reeled Buddy’s phone number right off the top of his head — which surprised me, until I found out they’re brothers.

Later, I stopped to chat with Billy, on the shrimp boat. Billy, who calls me Miss Margaret, knows both Tommy and Buddy — he grew up with them. He told me to go see Buddy right away, saying “He’s got a spool of that insulation right on his work bench for ya’.”

I hesitated a little, because we had already hired a mechanic named Kevin, and I didn’t want to waste Buddy’s time.

Billy reassured me, saying that I didn’t have to hire Buddy, just talk to him. “You know the difference between being committed and being involved?” he asked me. “When you sit down to a plate of bacon and eggs, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed!” We laughed and laughed.

Buddy works in a giant boat shed, about 100 feet from where I’ve been parking our car. I had no idea he was so close.

When Barry and I walked up to the boatyard, Buddy turned out to look just like Tommy. I made the mistake of commenting on the resemblance, though, and he threatened to kick me out of the shop!

Buddy is just as sarcastic as his brother, so I don’t know if he was serious. At least he talks more slowly, so I can understand him about 90 percent of the time (as opposed to 50 percent with Tommy!). He gave us a really good deal on the insulation, while making fun of us the entire time for only using 10 feet of the giant roll.

In three days’ time, we’ll be casting off our lines and heading north to Beaufort, NC, the place my Dad deliberately misspells “Bow-furt.” But in this week aboard s/v Flutterby, I’ve grown attached, and now I’m really going to miss this island.

If history had played out a little differently, my family could be just as entrenched on Hilton Head as Tommy and Buddy’s. Instead, my parents left the area in 1965. The property they owned here would be worth millions now, but shopping in expensive little boutiques is not our style. We’re more likely to hang around shrimp boats and auto parts stores.

And if I hang around Hilton Head Island much longer, I’ll become local color myself — and then you can all call me Miss Margaret.

Welcome aboard Flutterby

The first thing I did when I got on our new boat was take a nap. For years, I’ve dreamed of taking a nap on my very own boat. So I crawled into the v-berth with my brand-new pillow and closed my eyes for a well-deserved snooze.

The first thing Barry did when he got on our new boat was unpack the car (thump, bump, thud). Then he stomped around on the deck for a while. He opened a squeaky cockpit locker. He dug around until he found a scrub brush and a hose, and started cleaning. Then he sprayed water on the forward hatch, and it dripped down onto the v-berth.

Thus ended my first attempt to nap. And thus began our adventures with the new boat.

I’ve been calling the boat “it,” because I don’t particularly like the name (Falcon Rougue), and also because the boat didn’t seem to have a personality. But the lack of personality was due to neglect. Like a Sleeping Beauty, she was snoozing at the dock. Once we’d spent a few days poking her in the bilges and tickling her engine, she finally started to wake up. And I started calling her “she.”

Her name will be Flutterby, home port of Seattle, WA.

(If you missed all the fun and funny names suggested by friends, check them out — they’re in the comments on my last post)

Meanwhile, we’re learning about the acronym B.O.A.T.: Bring on another thousand. They call them “boat bucks,” those thousand-dollar increments. We prefer to spend “boat nickels” and “boat dimes,” but they’re still adding up fast.

Every time I pull out my poor, worn-out Visa card, I expect to get a phone call from the bank. “Excuse me, Ms. Schulte,” they’ll ask, politely, “There’s been some suspicious activity with your card lately. Have you been buying auto parts and an inflatable kayak on Hilton Head Island? Vessel towing insurance in Fort Pierce, Florida? What about these charges from the Vero Beach Goodwill store? And — gasp — household items from three different Wal-Marts on the Atlantic seaboard?”

Yep, that’s all me. Every receipt goes into my wallet, which goes in my back pocket. There’s no cash in there, but the wallet is so fat, it makes my butt look big.

On top of that, my card is beginning to wear out, along with the hand I use to sign the receipts. Lately, when it’s time to pay, I stall and look at Barry, hoping he’ll do it this time. He stalls and pretends not to notice. He doesn’t want his butt to look big.

Luckily, we’re eating cheap and gourmet. Just up the dock is a shrimp boat captain named Billy, a sunburnt, blue-eyed southern gentleman. There’s always a lot of activity around his boat, folks buying fresh-off-the-boat shrimp and or just stopping by to shoot the breeze with Billy and his crew. Yesterday, he sold me a pound and half of shrimp for $5. “Be sure and boil ‘em with the heads on,” he told me.

Some of those giant bug-eyed shrimp had antennae a mile long! I had a hard time getting the antennae to fit in the saucepan, but it was worth the effort for perfect shrimp, with a little bit of cocktail sauce on the side. We took pictures of ourselves playing with our food.

Right now, we’re cozy in our floating nest, with Jimmy Buffett on the iPod and the thrift-store space heater keeping us toasty. The weather has been unbelievably variable, bringing bright squinty sunshine, rain sprinkles, distant thunderstorms, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. A little breeze keeps the skeeters at bay. And best of all, the diesel mechanic is scheduled to come tomorrow!

A rose by any other name

Buying a boat is not an easy thing. For the past week, we’ve been struggling with disheartening survey findings, lengthy project lists, and painful price negotiations. It’s not a tale that lends itself to lighthearted storytelling. Maybe we’ll tell the story later, when it’s not so raw.

Now, the deal is done. Next week, the boat will be ours. That brings me to our dilemma — we need your help!

Years ago, when we named our first tiny sailboat, it was easy. We met at the boat every weekend, driving 150 miles each from Ohio and Virginia to Deep Creek, Maryland, so we named it the Rendezvous.

No such luck with the next boat. It, unfortunately, has a name, and that’s a problem. I don’t mind the first half of the name — I know what a Falcon is. But Rougue is not a word! So, instead of Falcon Rougue, we’ve taken to calling it Falcon Ragu, which led one friend to recommend that we should call it Pigeon Stew.

There’s a well-known ceremony, documented by sailing author John Vigor, that says how to de-name a boat and then re-name it without offending the sea gods. No human sacrifices are required, and you don’t even have to find a virgin to pee in the bilge (most virgins are small children, and if they pee in the bilge, it’s usually by accident, anyway). You do, however, have to donate some pretty expensive liquor to the sea gods, and you have to carefully remove every trace of the old name. I can’t wait to remove “Rougue” from our transom.

We began leisurely brainstorming on a name weeks ago, when we first bid on the boat. But now, our brainstorming has become frantic, since we have to document the boat next week. If we don’t figure out a name in time, we’ll either have to live with a strange name we can’t pronounce, or we’ll have to change it later at a cost of several hundred dollars.

We’ve always subscribed to our friend Bill Brown’s theory of boat names, which is that it has to be clearly understandable when you are on fire and sinking and hollering “Mayday” on the radio. To test a name, Bill recommends borrowing the cheapest pair of walkie-talkies you can find, preferably some kids’ models that have chewing-gum in the switches and sticky soda-pop in the speakers. Walk out to the edge of the walkie-talkies’ range and scream the name of the boat three times fast with complete panic in your voice. If the other person can make out the name, it’s a good one. If they go, “Huh, what?” then try another name.

The above test explains why Bill named his boat Freebooter instead of Border Ruffian.

Some names pass the radio test with ease, but fail to meet other requirements. We want a name that’s pleasant and positive, something that makes people smile. Melanoma is easy to understand on the radio, but fails the smile test horribly. Merriment passes the smile test but fails the radio test. (I didn’t conduct Bill’s test on Merriment per se, but a bad cell phone connection with my sister made for a good simulation.)

Some names are just too common. Independence, for example — there are over 100 boats with that name in the U.S. I thought Figment might be unusual, but 13 other people chose that one. In the Northwest, Buckeye might be an uncommon name, but 30 people, probably all Ohio natives, have used it already. I’ve run dozens of searches on the Coast Guard documentation database to see what names are documented, so I know.

I also know that there are 262 boats named Andiamo. I’ve always wondered what an andiamo is, so I looked it up on the internet. It has something to do with Italian food, luggage, and hurrying up, which might explain why it’s usually found on the transom of powerboats. Also, the Danish translation is “fart på!” Personally, I think Fart På would make a better name for a stinkpot than Andiamo.

Whoops, I digress.

Another issue to consider is that when you hang out with other cruisers, they often use your boat name instead of your last name to identify you. So if we were to name the boat Peep, there would be folks standing around at a potluck on the beach, saying, “Oh, here come the Peeps!” That’s one reason that Tourist and Participant and Guilty Pleasure got crossed off the list.

You also don’t want to give the Coast Guard the wrong idea about what you’re doing on the boat. So we crossed out Snort. We also decided that saying we’re on Drugs is a bad idea. Although Barry liked the idea of showing up somewhere and saying we came in Peace.

Our short list has expanded and contracted several times, but we’d love to hear what you think. We’ll even make it a contest: If you send us the winning name for the boat, you’ll win a free trip to a boatyard on the east coast, complete with a free package of sandpaper and a Tyvek suit to wear while you use it!

Here are some of the names we considered and rejected:

Slug Race
Southern Crow

Here are some of the remaining contenders:

Happy Thought

Joy to the World

We headed out after I last wrote, looking for a lunch place in Hardeeville with “local flavor.” We landed at some sort of crabby place — the Crafty Crab? the Cozy Crab? the Crazy Crab? It was the kind of place where the waitresses call you “sweetie” and bring your beverages in 24-ounce cups, so huge you have to use two hands to lift them. And they consider macaroni and cheese a vegetable.

In the afternoon, we drove to Hilton Head to see the boat. I have a soft spot for the Carolina lowcountry, and I tend to get emotional when I start smelling salt marsh and seeing sawgrass and live oaks draped in Spanish Moss. In my old Honda Civic, I used to pop my tape of the Big Chill in when we reached the bridge, just to enhance the experience. (the Big Chill was filmed in nearby Beaufort)

On this trip, we didn’t have any CDs, so we’d been driving without music. Just as we headed over the high bridge to Hilton Head, Barry started fiddling with the radio. And then it came in, loud and clear:

JEREMIAH WAS A BULLFROG! (dunh – dunh – dunh!)
WAS A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE! (dunh – dunh – dunh!)
Never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine!
And he always had some mighty fine wine!

It was the same Three Dog Night song, Joy to the World, that’s on the Big Chill album. By the time we turned in at the marina, a few minutes later, I was super-pumped up.

Of course, that made it hard to get calm, cool, and collected before meeting the broker. It was important to be objective while looking at the boat. We spent all afternoon looking it over and making notes of our findings. More on that later…we’re still processing.

When it got dark, we left Hilton Head’s rarified atmosphere and drove back to our motel to relax. But I became decidedly un-relaxed when a cockroach meandered across the king-sized headboard. That’s when I decided: No more Knight’s Inn. Despite the fact that bugs are commonplace around here, I wanted to stay in a hotel where multi-legged critters know their place in life and do not get up on the beds.

Besides, the shower at the Knight’s Inn was a cross between torture and aversion therapy. I do not like being attacked with a pressure washer while standing in skanky water up to my shins, thank you very much. And then having to dry off with a sandpaper towel the size of a handkerchief.

So we left Hardeeville and headed south, to the Seven Seas Cruising Association annual meeting, which is sort of a sailboat cruisers’ convention. Any time two boaters get together, we talk about boats and equipment, but this event is serious — they actually have a schedule, and speakers, and a tiny exhibition hall.

While there, we stayed at my Dad’s house, which is a little paradise in Vero Beach. Lots of interesting books to read, pleasant music on the stereo, and homemade sangria in the fridge…plus a shower that makes up for the Knight’s Inn. The only problem was, Dad wasn’t home, he was in Tennessee.

In a few days, we’ll get back together with Dad, and I can’t wait to see him. Actually, I did see him today! But he was about 50 feet away…and that’s another story, part of the one that goes with the boat. Which we’ll get to eventually. We promise. We’re still processing.

We did come back to Hilton Head last night, and we’re staying at a place with a nice shower and no roaches (so far). We spent all of today on the boat with the surveyor. And we’ll tell you about that eventually. We promise. We’re still processing.