Category Archives: Journeys by Water

Life in the cheap lane

I’m writing from the Knight’s Inn motel in Hardeeville, South Carolina. (No, we haven’t seen the boat yet.) Yesterday, we were traveling from 6:45 am, Seattle time, to 11 pm, Eastern time. We took scenic tours of airports in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Savannah, and in between, we hurtled through the skies in pressurized metal tubes with wings. It only cost $20, plus 50,000 miles of what Barry calls “monopoly money.”

It’s nice to be safely on the ground now, with all of our luggage intact.

Given the fact that it took three flights to cross the country, the latter is especially amazing. I had envisioned the TSA opening our big suitcase, the one I had to sit on to get it closed, and having the contents come flying out. It’s not a bomb, but the contents were under pressure. The sleeping bags, in particular, were likely to go SPROING!

Even with a couple of pieces checked, we still looked like bag ladies, shlepping our carry-ons through the airports. We’re too macho for wheeled bags, but at the end of the day, the backpack straps had left angry red marks on all four shoulders.

One reason the bags were so heavy was that we were carrying food for the entire day, including some tuna salad that made the TSA v-e-r-y suspicious. At the security checkpoint, three of them clustered around and studied the container carefully. Maybe it was the fact that, as a confirmed re-user, the pinkish tuna salad was in a container marked “salsa.” Maybe they didn’t believe it was tuna salad, because it didn’t have any celery in it. When I told them I had crackers to go with it, they looked relieved and let me through.

The reason for the tuna salad, and the rest of the food, was twofold: Cleaning out the fridge and trying to avoid buying overpriced junk food while flying. United doesn’t provide meals, but they offer $5 “snack boxes” on long flights. Out of curiosity, I looked at the snack box descriptions in the in-flight magazine — each one contained about a dozen items, and every single item was branded, from the processed cheese to the processed sausage to the processed applesauce. Not a single “apple” or “orange,” because a) those things don’t have a 3-year shelf life and b) nobody’s going to make a marketing deal with those un-branded things. Ugh.

Maybe if they provided something fresh, people would actually give them $5 for it, and it wouldn’t sit on the shelf for three years!

Since we didn’t actually eat of the the overpriced, over-processed food, my rant is philosophical.

And our trip was great. In O’Hare, we enjoyed the neon art installation between terminals C and B. I was tempted to go back through a couple times, as I used to do when I first discovered it 10 years ago. When we came out of the tunnel, we were delighted to find something new: A full-sized replica of a dinosaur, and dang, that thing was BIG. We got up close and stood under it, then tried to get far enough away in the crowded terminal to see the whole thing. When I listened carefully, I thought I heard him say, “Psssst! Peak oil is coming! Air travel is going to go the way of the dinosaur!”

We finally made it to Savannah around 10 pm last night, and dragged our baggage over to Alamo to pick up the car we’d reserved. Barry was disgusted at the thought of paying $10 a day, or $280 additional, just so we could both drive the rental car. Some rental car companies, such as Dollar, Thrifty, and Enterprise, allow spouses to both drive at no additional charge, so we popped over for another bid from Thrifty. But it was late, and all she could offer was an SUV or a luxury car for $499 a week, instead of $433 a month. We dragged our stuff back to Alamo, and I guess I’ll be driving this month. That’s life in the cheap lane.

Where we are now, in Hardeeville, is about as different from Hilton Head as pork jowls from filet mignon. This place is solid motels and gas stations, and at breakfast, we discovered why. It’s a stopping-off point on the snowbird highway. Elderly travelers who started in places like Michigan, Toronto, or upstate New York are stopping for the night before heading to their winter homes in Florida. They wearily tell us they’re headed for towns with picturesque names like Port Orange or Venice. It brings to mind our experience at South of the Border, that crazy but seedy compound on the North-South Carolina border that’s been catering to such travelers for about 50 years. (if you never read my description of South of the Border in 2004, it’s a hoot…check it out)

It’s time to leave the pork jowls and head for the filet. I’ll check back in again soon, with news of THE BOAT!

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

VERY IMPORTANT NEWS: We’re buying a boat!

I’ve heard of people who spend their entire lives in the place where they were born. I’m fascinated by such people. Do they stay because of inertia or complacency? Were they lucky enough to be born in a wonderful place? Or is the magnetic pull so strong, they can’t leave?

I was born in a wonderful place, Savannah, Georgia. A very strong magnetic pull, called a boat, is taking me back.

After almost two years of searching the world (including a wonderful trip to Portugal), we found the boat we want, on Hilton Head, South Carolina, just a few miles south of Savannah by water.

Readers who have known me my whole life will nod and understand the importance of that.

Just a few miles north of Hilton Head by water is Harbor Island, where Barry and I had our wedding celebration in 1991.

Readers who have known us since we got married will nod and understand the importance of that.

The boat is a red Freedom 33 cat ketch. The F33 is like a baby version of Cayenne, the Freedom 44 we cruised from New Orleans for Baltimore with our friend Brian.

Readers who have known us since we retired will nod and understand the importance of that.

The man who is selling this boat has replaced a lot of very important things, such as the engine, hatches, portlights, thru-hulls, and head. He has not done much cosmetic work, so the boat isn’t terribly pretty.

Readers who have known us since we owned our last boat, the Northern Crow, will nod and understand the importance of that.

We value seaworthiness above beauty. We use the term “furniture boat” for one that has lots of nice furnishings but doesn’t go anywhere. This is not a furniture boat, and I like the idea of making the interior look the way I want it to.

We’re currently in contract, so stay tuned for more information as we go through the survey and sea trial. If all goes well, we’ll be sending out some combination of birth – adoption – christening – bon voyage announcement. And while we’re on the east coast, we’ll get to visit with Margaret’s Dad and our friends in Florida and attend the annual meeting of the Seven Seas Cruising Association.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Here I go again, piling adventures on top of adventures. We’ve just returned from a train adventure to sunny Southern California. Those tales will come soon — but in the meantime, I left my readers hanging about the trip from Florida to the Bahamas.

There’s an album of photos from this trip at
April Fools’ departure — three years after Cayenne

We left for the Bahamas aboard Vger on April Fools’ Day. We’d planned to catch a favorable tide and leave on Saturday evening, but just off the fuel dock, we went aground. Luckily, it was a “soft” grounding, meaning we were mired in sand, and TowBoat US was able to free us from our predicament. In the meantime, we provided entertainment to all the folks in the marina and at the shoreside restaurant. They gawked and pointed, and we felt foolish.

Once freed, we slunk back towards West Palm Beach with our tail between our legs and looked for a place to anchor and regroup. As the only able-bodied crew member (Barry having a broken arm and Kris having thrown his back out), I had to drop the anchor, then pull it back up and drop it again when it wouldn’t set.

Barry and I retired to our bunk, but Kris had a sleepless night, afraid our anchor would drag. It did. At 2 o’clock AM, he woke me to pull it up and put it back down again. Some nightgowns are better for that than the one I had on. Sorry, there are no photos of that.

At dawn, we headed back to the fuel dock, hoping for better luck the second time. Instead, we had two more mishaps.


Kris was at the helm as we motored along a narrow waterway almost under an enormous high bridge. The sound of gospel music and clapping caught my attention on shore — there was a sunrise Easter baptism under the bridge. I caught a glimpse of white-robed people being led into the water, and I ran below to grab the camera.

Suddenly, there was a horrible sound of stressed metal and splintering fiberglass. Had we been hit by another boat? Was the mast collapsing? Were we sinking? Was I being punished for blasphemy?

I dashed back up again, camera and baptism forgotten. The name of the Lord was definitely being taken in vain up there! We had somehow struck an aid to navigation, a steel I-beam marking the edge of the channel. Sinking was not imminent, but our skipper’s confidence was badly shaken — glare from the sun had rendered the steel piling invisible, and he’d run the port side right into it.

We continued on to the fuel dock, where we bounced off some dock pilings and added more damage to the port side of the boat. An attendant came out, filled our diesel tank, then returned to his shoreside office.

We took advantage of his absence. Kris quickly plugged in an angle grinder and removed three feet of twisted, mangled stainless steel trim. I unloaded a mountain of full garbage bags, probably not what the attendant expected when I’d asked if I could leave “a little trash” there on the dock.

And then we motored to the inlet at West Palm Beach and pointed our bow towards the Bahamas.

It was still not to be. Someone “up there” was playing an April Fools’ Day joke on us.

The waves that met us on the Atlantic that morning were big, ugly, and chaotic. A north wind had been blowing for days, in opposition to the southerly Gulfstream. Evidently, Mother Nature hadn’t been paying attention to weather predictions, for our southerly wind hadn’t materialized. It was blowing right on the nose, out of the east.

Vger crept up the back of each confused wave and then slammed down with a shudder. Kris struggled with the helm, keeping us pointed into the waves, but unable to make any speed. Finally, we gave up and turned back to Lake Worth. At Kris’ direction, I dropped the anchor once, pulled it up, then dropped it again in a new spot. Then pulled it up and dropped it again. I was getting plenty of exercise.

We spent the whole day anchored in idyllic Lake Worth under blue skies, with fleets of nimble sailing dinghies frolicking around us.

Second time’s the charm

The weather settled slightly, so we left the inlet again as darkness fell. Behind us were the bright lights of Palm Beach. Ahead was only blackness.

The seas were still rough, and the bulkheads and rigging creaked and groaned alarmingly. Motorsailing, it was hard to keep the boat on course The autopilot did the best job, until it stopped working. Then Barry had to give up and wedge himself into the v-berth forward and let Kris and me hand-steer.

There we no lee cloths to keep us in the bunks when the boat was heeled. I tried sleeping on the port side, but the cushions were soaked with salt water. I moved to the starboard settee. When we tacked, I fell on the floor, whacking my head so hard that saw stars. I was terrified of the creaking bulkheads, afraid that the mast would fail and Barry would be trapped in the v-berth and I would be trapped in the head.

Dawn was a welcome relief, a chance to see the foe, those waves that kept slamming into the boat. It was not long after that the depth of the water dropped from unfathomable to about 15 feet. The color of the water was magical, like jewels — aquamarine, sapphire, emerald. We were in the Bahamas.

We still had hours to go to reach a proper anchorage, but the bashing and crashing of the Gulf Stream were done. We stopped the boat and let it drift. Kris and I leaped off the deck for our reward, a swim in the crystal-clear water.

When night fell, we still had a few hours to go to reach our destination, Great Sale Cay. Barry returned to his nest in the v-berth, and Kris was yawning. “Get some sleep,” I urged, “I’ll wake you when we get close to our anchorage.” Alone on deck for a couple of hours, I kept our course with a light hand on the wheel.

Finally, when we were about a half hour away from our destination, I went below to wake Kris.

An ominous noise in the middle of the night

He sprang up instantly. “How long has it been making that noise?” he asked. I cocked my head and heard it, too. It was a new sound, a rattle I could just make out over the loud roar. He started poking around the hot, smelly engine, which had been running non-stop for almost 28 hours. I returned to the helm.

When he joined me, he was worried. Peering ahead, where a few scattered anchor lights marked our anchorage, he said, “I think it’s going to die when we throttle back.” That meant we had to anchor perfectly the first time, with no chance of re-anchoring. It also meant we were about to be stranded in the middle of nowhere without an engine.

Kris took over the helm and I moved to the bow and readied the anchor. As he’d said, the engine died with a “klunk” when he throttled back. Even up on the bow, the silence seemed loud.

I waited patiently by the anchor. By starlight, I could just make out the ripples of water gliding past our bow. The boat moved more and more slowly, until finally, the ripples were still. Then I eased the anchor over the roller and let out the rode.

In just over 48 hours, we’d had a grounding, an anchor dragging, a collision, a docking incident, bad weather, a dead autopilot, and a rough crossing. Now we were anchored off an uninhabited island with a dead engine. But we were secure and protected, and we were in the Bahamas.

I climbed into the v-berth with Barry and curled against him. “Mmmmm…everything OK?” he murmured in his sleep. “The engine’s dead, and we’re safely anchored in the middle of nowhere. Good night.” And we went to sleep.

Challenges on the Challenger

As I write this, I am in the lap of luxury at my Dad’s house. We have not just refrigeration, but a double-door refrigerator that dispenses crushed ice, cubed ice, and chilled water at the touch of a button. We have a microwave, a 4-burner stove and a self-cleaning oven. Cold? Take a hot shower. Hot? Turn on the air conditioning. Dark? Flip a light switch.

Best of all, we have not one, but two toilets that flush.

I find all this stuff amazing, because we were content on Vger without any of it.

We arrived in Stuart, Florida in the middle of March and moved aboard Vger, the 1974 35-foot Challenger that our good friend Kris had found on EBay. Kris was in Capetown, South Africa at the time, and he managed the purchase with the indispensable help of his Miami friend, Donnie.

When we arrived, the boat showed promise. Kris had already spent several months in the boatyard at Indiantown, but the to-do list was still lengthy. We disregarded the peeling and faded paint and jumped onto more important projects. Kris had a couple of pieces of stainless steel to make new aft chainplates, but they needed to be bent, drilled, and installed. We needed to hook up the stove and oven, install batteries, and clean and sterilize the icebox. The diesel in the tanks dated back to a 2001 trip to Guatemala, so we could only imagine the sludge in the bottom. The bimini zippers had died, so the bimini was pressed into service as a tarp over the leaky companionway. Kris needed me to haul him up the main mast to investigate the rigging and navigation lights.

Barry and I joined in the work, but Kris encouraged us to keep a fairly relaxed vacation pace. We hung around the marina while he rode an ill-fitting bicycle to a far-flung welding shop that fashioned the chainplates. The bike ride left him so sore that I took the bike the next day and went just as far looking for adhesives and stainless hardware. The bike didn’t fit me much better.

Meanwhile, we were making the boat into more of a home, finding places to stow things and cooking amazing meals on a one-burner camp stove in the galley sink. By the time my Dad, who lives about an hour north of Stuart, and my sister Daisy, who was visiting from Oregon, arrived for a visit, we had room for them to sit below. But the pervasive smell of diesel and the over-ripe head were not very welcoming. Daisy fled to the cockpit after just a minute or two down below.

A few days later, our sailing friend Brett came to visit. He was enjoying a two-week vacation from Seattle, visiting relatives and watching baseball games. As with Dad and Daisy, we took him out to the boat in the inflatable dinghy. He stayed a lot longer, swapping sea stories and enjoying a barbecue with us.

A big part of the to-do list was simply shopping, something I remembered well from our days on Cayenne. We used Dad’s car for one round of errands, and Brett took us to the grocery store. He seemed both surprised and amused when Barry and I broke into two-part harmony at one point, singing our favorite Uncle Bonsai song in the Velveeta aisle.

Kris and I hitched rides with other cruisers, too. One fellow, a gentle Canadian, had run into some conflicts with the family members who shared a sailboat with him. He and one of the two loves of his life, his oversized-puppy Portuguese water dog, had left the boat and moved into a rental van. The two of them were sailors without a boat, hanging around the marina at loose ends and glad to run errands around town with us.

We completed another set of errands with a mild-mannered fellow with a battered truck and an independent income from the tattoo parlor he owned. He was nervous about being away from the marina too long, because he had a lady friend visiting, and she was known for her temper. Our errands took longer than anticipated, and he started to fret. “She’s going to be angry,” he worried out loud. When we returned, he tracked her down by cell phone at a local bar. “She’ll be OK,” he told me, “after she’s had a case or two of beer.”

After a week, we decided the list was short enough to start heading south. It was time to say farewell to Buzz and the great folks at the Stuart South Point Anchorage. We would miss them, miss the camaraderie, coffee, and wi-fi. We’d miss the clean restrooms, where Barry’s broken arm meant I had to assist him with his showers. In the men’s room, I thought my scarlet-painted toenails would give me away under the stall door. A couple of guys assured me this wasn’t so, that the appearance of two pairs of feet, painted or not, in one shower stall meant there was a woman in the men’s room.

We’d planned to put the dinghy on deck and mount the motor on the stern, but then crisis struck. Kris was lifting the dinghy motor, and suddenly he started swearing, the kind of thing that’s written as #!@@$%!! in the comics. He’d thrown out his back.

For about four days, I had not one, but two gimpy guys on board. I had to haul up the anchor, launch the dinghy, and put the motor on. I was the only one on board who could crawl around on the floor and clean out the lower fuel tank. I especially hated opening the floor boards to pump the bucket under the prop shaft. (I could just envision my unruly braid getting sucked into the shaft at a dizzying 2000 rpm.) There were even a couple of days where I seemed to be the only one capable of cooking or doing dishes.

One of the easiest things for disabled boaters to do is steer, so we took turns at the helm as we motored south along the Intracoastal Waterway. There were long narrow canals lined with expensive houses, idiots in powerboats making huge wakes, and the ever-present bridges. Woe to the boater just passing through — if the bridge tender deigns to recognize you, he’ll still make you feel like an uneducated dolt if you don’t pronounce his bridge’s name perfectly.

After a long day, I dropped our anchor amidst dozens of other cruisers in Lake Worth. The high-rises of West Palm Beach dotted the horizon. We spent a few days there, running errands and installing final systems.

Finally, we pulled it all together and headed to the ocean. After two weeks aboard Vger, she seemed like a sturdy boat, old but reliable. The engine had run fine from Stuart, and I’d personally seen how clean the fuel tanks were, so I trusted our auxiliary. We were pretty well rested, and I had confidence that all would be well for our crossing to the Bahamas.

Superstitious sailors never leave port on a Friday. Luckily, it was Saturday, March 31.

But I have my own personal superstitions. One of those is based on our trip aboard Cayenne, where we left on April Fool’s Day and things never went right.

You can guess what happened: We missed our departure date and left on April Fool’s Day, three years to the day after our Cayenne departure.

I wouldn’t be writing this if we hadn’t survived. There were some problems, but nothing we couldn’t fix.

Except the head. You know that comment about toilets that flush? I won’t ever take that for granted again.

How did you meet?

One of my favorite things is when I introduce someone to a third party, and that person asks, “How did you two meet?” Very occasionally, it was something mundane, such as working together. But more often, we meet fascinating people — kindred spirits — through almost-freak circumstances.

We’re in Florida now, having just completed a grand adventure aboard our friend Kris’ sailboat. The voyage wouldn’t have happened, if we hadn’t been in a laundromat in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, at the same time.

We were putting our clothes in the washer when the ubiquitous spiral notebook Barry and I carry caught Kris’ eye. He identified us as sailboat cruisers, and the three of us were immediately on common ground. We then had some crazy adventures that involved sea stories, bluegrass music, and a rotgut rum from Newfoundland called “Screech.”

A while later, we headed west to Seattle, and Kris made his way home to Capetown, South Africa. Shortly afterwards, he was knocked off his feet by the woman of his dreams. We’ve stayed in touch by e-mail and Skype. I love talking with someone on the other side of the world for free.

When Kris called to tell us he’d bought a boat in Florida, I was excited to hear that it was just down the road from my Dad’s house. So we hatched a plan to sail with Kris to the Bahamas to meet Lorraine, his fiance, and her 4-year-old son, Aidan.

Pretty cool, given that the three of us met in a laundromat because of a scribble on my notebook.

Taking this chance meeting theme a step further, we met another kindred spirit, Brett, at a party in Seattle. Brett has a beautiful 26-foot Thunderbird sailboat on Lake Washington. One beautiful afternoon last fall, I got a text message from him. “Wanna go sailing?”

That afternoon, I was playing hostess to my Dad, who’d flown out from Florida. Brett was happy to take Dad out for an evening on the lake.

The weather was perfect, and we drifted by Bill Gates’ house and watched the sunset and moonrise. Sometime along the way, Brett said to my Dad, “I have a cousin in Florida who you’d really like. Her name’s Mitzi.”

Dad was curious. He wanted to know about Mitzi, where she lived, what she did. So Brett did the logical thing. In the middle of Lake Washington, he whipped out his cell phone, called Mitzi in Florida, and introduced them.

The result is, when we arrived in Florida, Dad immediately introduced us to Mitzi, a lively traveler with friends all over the world. Mitzi admitted that she had traveled around the world for many years, until one of her children was so embarrassed by his homeless mother that he insisted she buy a house.

Dad also introduced us to his friend Julie, another world-traveler, who was visiting him from Asheville, North Carolina. Not only did we hit it off with Julie and Mitzi, but the two of them found lots to talk about.

To make matters more interesting, Brett was coming to Florida during our stay, as well as my sister Daisy from Oregon. Kris also introduced us to his Miami friend Donnie, who made the boat purchase possible, and who he had met while running a bar in St. Martin. When we arrived in the Bahamas, the introductions were not over — we had a lovely visit with Bob, who lives on his sailboat, Pellucid, in the Bahamas, and takes groups of Boy Scouts on sailing trips. We met Bob because of our Seattle party friends, the same folks through whom we met Brett.

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I’m aware that there might be a new friend nearby. Life-changing friendships can be found at ice-skating rinks (you know who you are!) or laundromats or parties. There are convergences of sea rescues, parties, and cell phone conversations in the middle of lakes that lead to dozens of new friends. Keep your eyes open, and keep on smiling. There are amazing people out there, kindred spirits, just waiting to be discovered.

Ode to Dad…In honor of “Fodder’s” Day:

April is ended, May is half gone
Time for the crew of Cayenne to move on
We have been overwhelmed by your hospitality
Because being with Dad is the best place to be
You have driven us places we wanted to go
Celebrated (and treated!) at Cinco de Mayo
Fixed a nice comfy bed with a big fluffy pillow
And a view of your “neighbors,” the ducks, through the window
When our boat had a boo-boo, you gave us the keys
And we drove up to Charleston with AC and ease
We ate special Dad dishes, like pasta with pesto
We wolfed down shrimp salad and crab with great gusto
There was homemade sangria with sweet Triple Sec
Which we sipped with contentment on Janet’s front deck
Turning forty was easy, with Dad standing by
Armed with mountains of presents and coconut pie
In addition to all of the fabulous grub
There were nice long hot showers and a soak in the tub!
Then you packed up your seabag and jumped on the boat
For two sun-filled days of adventure, afloat
And we talked and we chatted and looked at the scenery
Took pix of each other and wildlife and greenery
Yes, being with Dad is the best place to be
Whether I am with him, or he is with me
And I’m not sure which role is the one I love best:
Being his host, or being his guest!

Ships Passing in the Day

After I wrote about buddy boating, one reader said that she was disappointed not to have heard about other neat boating folks we had met. Not to worry, she still liked the story, so I’ll keep writing for the website! After that I did start thinking about our contacts with other boaters. The great majority of them have been distant or fleeting. I am guessing that this has something to do with where we are and how we have been traveling.

Every place Cayenne has stopped so far has been close to the ICW. In other words, we haven’t gone very far from the freeway, sometimes just off on the shoulder where we still get wakes from boats going through. Sure, we were a day or two out at the Dry Tortugas and Key West, but after that we headed back inward. Whenever it was reasonable, we went out offshore for our passages, but once we came in to an anchorage or a dock, it was back by the ditch.

This is like an all-day interstate drive, done in slow motion: The oncoming traffic rushes by, and some boats zoom past you, while you slowly pass a few others, but you may stay with a boat all day, perhaps pulling a little bit ahead for a while, then waiting for the same bridge opening with them, but staying within sight all day. Perhaps you hear them on the radio all day, opening bridges or talking to their next marina, even though you can’t see them. Also like a freeway, sometimes you play “leapfrog” where you pass the same boat multiple times, perhaps over a few days.

Sometimes you spend a lot of time with a boat without really making contact. Persistence is a sloop with a light blue hull. One day, we motored in sight of them for about six hours, waiting for bridges, then getting ahead, and repeating the process. Another day they were one of the boats in an anchorage with us. We haven’t even talked to them over the radio, but if we do meet them in the next few weeks, we’ll remember those days.

We spoke briefly with the crew of a big 55 foot ketch, a father and son pair. They had been up and down this coast many times, and had some useful tips about places we were planning to go. (I hope we remember some of them…) The ICW makes cruising linear, in that everybody is going either up or down, so usually everybody has just been in the same places and is going to soon be at the same places. The seasons being what they are, we are almost all going the same direction too–another kind of snowbirds all migrating North for the summer.

Since we are in a pack of sorts, you might first notice a boat when somebody else asks about it. When we pulled into Southport, another boater asked, “Have you seen Pilgrim today?” Pilgrim is a smaller classic looking ketch owned by William and Nancy. They are a younger couple (i.e., not yet retired, unlike many if not most cruisers going up the ICW). When we passed them, we noticed that the boat hailed from Lady’s Island South Carolina, right around where Meps’ parents had had vacation property and then retired to. Nancy told us that her father had also been a professor and that he had moved the boat down from Urbanna to Lady’s Island when he retired.

William and Nancy bought the boat and spent the winter driving down and fixing up Pilgrim for the voyage back up to Urbanna on the Rappahannock river in Virginia. We are pretty new to full-time cruising ourselves, so I felt some connection to these nice folks who were just starting out with their first boat. I know it isn’t true, but it sometimes felt like everybody else already knew each other and had been up and down the ditch a dozen times, so meeting somebody who clearly wasn’t in that category was a memorable change.

We first met Southern Cross in Venice, Florida; we were in the middle of a bad evening and night that involved not having room to anchor, re-anchoring at every wind shift, then noticing Southern Cross anchored, and going by to ask them if they knew whether if there was any deep water nearby, perhaps better than our charts showed. As we went by, they cheerfully admitted they didn’t know, but would watch and learn from our mistakes…We next noticed them at the Dry Tortugas (They are the ketch with green sailcovers to the right of us in the photo currently on our homepage). Weeks later, we heard Southern Cross on the VHF, but figured that they were just another boat with that name. A week ago, we realized that they were the same boat, and had a long three-way conversation over VHF with them and Daisy Dee about where to anchor around the Alligator River. They both decided to anchor in Alligator Creek, while we went off in search of Lassie. Three days later, we were at a dock in Hampton, and Southern Cross came in a little later. This time we had a leisurely conversation at the dock, and (among other things) found out that they too keep a website going:

Sometimes you meet really wonderful people. I don’t expect we will be meeting better folks, I only hope we have more time to get to know them now that we are in the Chesapeake and “off the freeway” for a while.

Lassie (and Eunice) Save the Day

The day after Barry’s birthday found us anchored in an tenuous place. Unprotected, exposed to thunderstorms and winds, we were near the eastern shore of the miles-wide Alligator River. Ashore, we could see an old abandoned ferry landing, a beach, and a few houses, one of them in ruins.

We’d chosen this spot out of desperation, looking for a way to rendezvous with old friends. This was plan C.

Plan A seemed simple: Eschew the Intracoastal Waterway and enjoy some sailing inside the Outer Banks, stopping to see Gretchen and Bill at Manteo on Roanoke Island. We hadn’t spoken in about ten years, but Gretchen was surprised and delighted when I called her on the phone. Roanoke Island was the location of the 16th century “Lost Colony,” which still doesn’t explain how such good friends ended up in the “lost” category in our address book.

But we’d overlooked the fact that the channel past Roanoke Island was a mere five feet deep, despite assurances from our cruising guide (“do not use for navigation”) that it was seven feet. Sigh. Back to the ICW “ditch.”

Plan B was a nice marina on the ICW, where we could tie up and invite our friends for breakfast on Cayenne. According to the cruising guide (“do not use for navigation!”), it had eight feet. But on the way there, we overheard a dismaying radio transmission.

“This is Daisy Dee, calling the Alligator River Marina. How deep is the water there?”

“Five and a half feet,” came the cool reply from the marina.

“Oh! That won’t do!” cried the perky voice of Daisy Dee. Unheard on the radio, there was an expletive on Cayenne.

And so on to Plan C, where we hoped to simply find someplace, anyplace where we could dinghy ashore and have Gretchen and Bill pick us up with their car. Hence our open roadstead in the Alligator River.

I got into the dinghy with trepidation as Barry and I set out to reconnoiter. Surely the ferry landing was too high, too rotten. Surely the marsh surrounding it was impenetrable, full of snakes and bugs. Surely the beach was private and guarded by ferocious dogs. We’d had a bad experience five years ago with something like that, and had been particularly cautious about dinghying ashore ever since.

But unlike our previous experience, this one was a snap! Just out of sight from Cayenne was the perfect public boat launch ramp where we could land without trespassing, or, more importantly, getting our feet muddy. We secured the dinghy and went looking for a pay phone to alert our friends of the change in plans, but we were miles from nowhere. How could we possibly let our friends know where to meet us?

Along came Lassie, literally, to save the day. A large collie started barking from the house next to the boat landing. “Lassie! It’s all right,” called her owner. “She’s never bitten anyone.” Instead of grabbing Barry’s hand and trying to flee, as I usually do with strange dogs, we moved closer and started chatting. The next thing I knew, Eunice was inviting us into her home to use her telephone.

Her family had lived there for over fifty years. Her parents still lived next door, and she even explained the derelict house, saying, “That’s Paw-Paw’s old place. We have to get the fire department over here one of these days, get that old thing burned down.” Living next to the boat ramp didn’t bring much traffic, since she explained, “Nobody ever uses it.” Little wonder, since six inches of water is only enough for kayaks and (every fifty years or so) a couple of crazy sailors trying to get ashore.

The following morning, when we came ashore to meet Gretchen and Bill, our plans went off without a hitch. We exchanged hugs and greetings, then got into the car for a visit to Manteo and Nags Head. And as we drove away from the launch ramp on Old Ferry Landing Road, there was Eunice, waving from her house, and Lassie, who barked a friendly hello as we passed. Thanks, Lassie.