Monday, November 10, 2008

Who Can Predict the Future?

November 10, Prior Lake, MN
The future can be a little tricky to predict. It must have happened to you, too. You make a definite plan. Four months from now, this is where you will be…for sure. No doubt. And then life gets in the way.

For those of you who checked this blog in October, I apologize for the delay in letting you know that we won’t be sailing again until October of 2009. We did have every intention of returning to the boat this October and casting off on another cruising adventure. But long before the economy took a precipitous vertical drop, certain things were pending, we had projects we couldn’t complete on time, and it seemed that we should take a year off. I'm so sorry we won’t be able to take you along on a voyage to far-flung islands this year.

We did take a trip out east to visit Pelican in August, and she was in great shape underneath a protective coat of shrink wrap. On the way we visited Claus and Rachael in Wrightsville Beach, NC, where Kyanna was recovering from a direct lightning strike.

Back here in Minnesota, we’ve already experienced our first snowfall of the season, slightly earlier than average. We’ll do our best to enjoy a wind-whipped, snow-swept winter. And we wish you a wonderful year wherever it takes you. See you in 2009!
“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14-15).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's Worth Repeating

May 10-23, Deltaville, VA
When we left on this voyage, our plan was to return to Lake Superior in June. But we did say, “Maybe…just maybe…we’ll leave the boat on the Chesapeake for the summer and return to The Bahamas in the fall.”

Let’s see…a brutal winter in Minnesota confined indoors or a balmy winter in the sun-kissed islands of The Bahamas. The decision was more complicated than that. With a house and friends and family back home, we did have to think about it. And as we tallied up the pros and cons, somehow the appeal of balmy won out over brutal.

There are so many reasons it’s a trip worth repeating. To say it was a fun, exciting adventure doesn’t say enough. We explored new islands and places seldom visited, anchored in deserted coves, and caught our own lobster for dinner. We learned new skills, dealt with unpredictable weather, and navigated through confusing waterways. (Kudos to Keith: although we’ve grazed the bottom a couple times in 15,000 miles, we’ve never been stuck or needed a tow. Not bad for three transits of the ICW and two of The Bahamas.)

To say we enjoyed picturesque scenery doesn’t begin to describe the flight of a heron, a pod of dancing dolphins, or a powdery crescent of white sand dividing a cloudless sky and crystalline waters. There was renewal in being surrounded by breathtaking echoes of God’s nature everywhere.

To say that this trip was a gift of God’s grace doesn’t begin to express our gratitude. We’re humbled by the undeserved opportunity. And to me, it’s no small miracle that after 43 years of diabetes, I’m extraordinarily healthy and can comfortably set sail to places far from medical care.

The journey would not have been nearly as memorable without the relationships that gave a warm glow to times spent together. Welcome visits from Sean, Loren and Clairice, and Marty and Barb brought us a touch of home. New friends we met along the way added color and interest to the itinerary. Traveling with Claus and Rachael, laughing and sharing our days, doubled the joy of discovering new shores, cooking gourmet meals, and talking about the meaning of life. As for Keith and me, being partners in such a venture and living in a small space for so long has made us, well…closer. We still love being together.

On Saturday Pelican will be hauled out of the water and stored on the hard in Deltaville, Virginia. While she’s here, the damage from April 15 will be repaired. (To read an excellent account of that night on Rachael's blog, click ; scroll down to the section titled “Pandemonium.”)
For now, this is goodbye. To all of our Minnesota friends and family, we’ll see you soon! And we invite you all to check this site in October and come along with us for the encore trip.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Route Less Traveled

May 6-9, The Great Dismal Swamp
The other destination we had missed on our way south is Elizabeth City and the Dismal Swamp Canal. The canal had been closed then due to low water, but a spring thaw raised the level, and we were not about to let the opportunity pass us by. The route through the Dismal Swamp is an alternate to the primary ICW route. It’s not as deep or as fast, but if you have the time to appreciate its history and haunting beauty, it’s much more fascinating.

The story goes that in 1728, in order to establish the disputed boundary between North Carolina and Virginia, Colonel Byrd and a band of surveyors set off into the swamp without the benefit of Deep Woods Off...and their description stuck. In 1763 none other than George Washington directed the surveying and digging of a portion of the canal, envisioning a commercial shipping lane. Finally completed in 1805, the canal’s shallow depth limited its intended use. Hard times overshadowed brief boom times throughout its history. Today it’s a national historic landmark used by recreational boaters as a thoroughfare between Albemarle Sound and the Chesapeake Bay.

Elizabeth City, on one of the many bends of the Pasquotank River just below the Dismal Swamp, has trademarked the name “Harbor of Hospitality” and lives up to it. They practically present cruisers with a key to the city. Over time, word-of-mouth recommendations have circulated far and wide along the waterway. Free dockage is provided for 48 hours at Mariners’ Wharf, the town docks. If more than five boats tie up in the harbor, volunteers throw a wine and cheese party for them. At first, we didn’t realize that the friendly low-key guy chatting with us at the party about his experiences sailing in the Abacos was the mayor, Steve Atkinson.

Then there are the famous Rose Buddies who present each lady on board with a fresh rose clipped from the nearby gardens (the mayor is doing the honors in the picture). Founded by Fred Fearing and Joe Kramer, the Rose Buddies will celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary this fall. As of last December, both founders have passed away, but the city and a group of volunteers are determined that the tradition will live on. After two days of “y’all come back now, hear?” hospitality, we headed into the swamp. The depth of the 22-mile-long canal is maintained by locks at the entrance and exit. Near the south end, a Visitor Center serves as a combination rest stop for highway travelers and for boaters, who raft up there overnight. It’s the only facility of its kind in the nation.

The Dismal Swamp has a wild, otherworldly splendor with an early morning mist floating over the canal and curling around low-hanging vines. Branches of cypress and gum trees reach out over the narrow channel. Breeze rustles through their leaves as amber-colored water swirls around their roots. Belying the color, the water is unusually pure; bacteria can’t grow in the infusion of tree bark tannins. Herons and geese startle and fly away when boats pass by. After the mist clears, turtles sun themselves on tangled logs. Songbirds flit from bough to bough, their delicate notes light on the air.

Most parts of the lovely Dismal Swamp are unchanged from the time of its beginning. We’ve succumbed to its many charms, and given the choice we’ll take the route less traveled.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Inner Banks

May 4-5, Oriental, NC
The days turn chillier and we reach for long sleeves. Meanwhile, local boaters motor by shirtless or in bathing suits as their season heats up. Could our blood have thinned so quickly? After all, we have covered 718 miles since we arrived at Port Canaveral, Florida. There are only 182 miles to go until we reach the Chesapeake.

It seems that Pelican knows she’s going home to roost and she wants to flap her wings faster and faster. We need to slow her down so we can stop at a couple places we missed on the journey south.

First of these is the quaint village of Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina. The waterfront community sits on a very wide section of the Neuse River, on the Inner Banks. It has a population of only 850 people—and 2700 boats. Its location provides a perfect jumping-off point for short or long cruises to the north or south. The town’s existence depends on boaters, and the residents are very welcoming and helpful.

Rainy weather forecasts give us a good excuse to spend an extra night. We explore every city block on foot and by bike, the turn-of-the-century homes, cute little shops, and good restaurants. Now on to the next one....

Summer into Spring

April 30-May 3, Charleston, SC to Swansboro, NC
Charleston, that lovely southern belle of a city, welcomed us with gracious hospitality. She was decked out in a fresh new wardrobe of spring finery. Gardens and window boxes accessorized her ante-bellum homes with lush blooms. Showy blossoms adorned magnolia trees. Yellow forsythias released a heavenly perfume that filled the avenues.

On this stop, we visited the South Carolina Aquarium for the first time and loved it. Some exhibits are designed to appeal to younger audiences, but the well-done displays have something for everyone.

The seasons rotate backward as we move north, summer into spring. In our very favorite part of the ICW, the exquisitely gorgeous cypress swamps of the Waccamaw River blend bright chartreuse into a palette of greens. Salt marshes are textured with new growth and warm colors. We see families of dolphins, mama ospreys protecting their babies in nests atop navigational markers, pairs of Canadian geese leading new hatchlings across the waterway. Symbols of resurrection surround us, and we are buoyed by the promise of new life.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Homeland Security, Then and Now

April 26-29, Fernandina Beach, FL to Charleston, SC
A perfect weather window opened, and we decided to go offshore from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina
on an overnight passage.

The beginning and the end of our voyage were both anchored by Civil War–era forts. As we exited St. Marys River on the border of Florida and Georgia, we passed Fort Clinch, its cannons aimed outward to prevent invasion by sea. And historic Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the “War of Northern Aggression” were fired on April 12, 1861, welcomed
us to Charleston harbor with its flags flying.

In between, just past Fort Clinch, we looked back and saw that we were being pursued by a far more technologically advanced weapons system. A colossal Trident nuclear submarine from Kings Bay Naval Base was gaining on us rapidly.
A Coast Guard inflatable zoomed up behind us to warn us to stay to the side of the channel. Two “coasties” manned machine guns on the bow and stern of the inflatable, never taking their hands off the triggers or their eyes off us. Their inflatable came within a few feet of us, the submarine within a few boat-lengths.
What an impressive sight! And just a bit of a change in the past 150 years in how our borders are secured.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Open-Air Amphitheater

April 22-25, Titusville-Fernandina Beach, FL
Some cruisers speak in disparaging tones referring to the Intra-Coastal Waterway as “the ditch.” Waiting for bridge openings and watching channel markers is definitely a different style of cruising than island hopping in The Bahamas, but we enjoy this part of the trip, too.

A fair amount of real estate along the winding rivers, lagoons, and land cuts is developed, but there are also beautiful wide-open spaces. Between hammocks of graceful palms and sturdy pines, marsh grasses sway. Rose-gold and spring-green savannas contrast with stands of dense and lush green jungle growth. As we travel northward, moss-laden live oaks here and there indicate progress.

We’re in an open-air amphitheater and the wildlife puts on a delightful performance for us. Aquatic birds and other wildlife abound. Pelicans glide in a ballet on the breeze, then, spotting fish, descend into the water in hilarious nosedives that are anything but graceful. Egrets stalk the shoreline in lurching staccato steps, looking for little minnows. Dolphins surface in undulating waves, displaying tail flukes and arching high above the water, then with uncanny timing they disappear at precisely the moment the camera is ready or the shutter is snapped. The manatees in Titusville Marina are less camera-shy, but may be less photogenic.
Our last stop in Florida, Fernandina Beach, has a colorful history that goes way back to 1562. In its earlier years, pirates and other rogues used it as a hideout. In more “modern” times, Victorian stores and homes were built (and have been restored) in the historic district. The flags of eight different countries have flown over the town, making it the most highly prized area in our nation. We’ll miss the big show in town—the shrimp festival is next week—but didn’t miss out on fresh-caught jumbo shrimp for dinner.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Back on Home Soil

April 18-21, Great Sale Cay to Port Canaveral, FL
I love the word “uneventful.” An occasional shot of adrenaline may have some value, but I’ll pick a smooth passage over stormy seas any day.

We enjoyed a smooth voyage from Green Turtle Cay to Great Sale Cay out on the middle of the Little Bahama Bank on April 18. That night we anchored with 25 boats. In pairs and small groups, they began to depart at 11 p.m. and continued throughout the night. We left in the morning and anchored that night on the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, out of sight of land, with four other boats.

We slept as well as one can sleep in a washing machine, then pulled anchor, as planned, at 2 a.m. It was a bumpy beginning that calmed down as the day went on. Our destination was Port Canaveral, and we arrived at 5 p.m. on April 20.

The passage was uneventful—if that word can accurately describe a voyage in which Keith caught a mahi-mahi and a pod of six dolphins jumped all around our bow for ten minutes in a spirited dance of joy. What beautiful gifts from the Creator of all life!

Port Canaveral is a base for cruise ships. It’s also home to scores of sport-fishing boats. When they come back to port, scores of pelicans congregate, waiting for just a tiny scrap of the catch.

It’s good to be back on home soil. From here on, Keith’s placemarks on the Google map link to the right will be yellow to distinguish them from the blue balloons we have used up to this point. Thanks again for joining us on our journey. As always, we appreciate your love and support!

A Big Birthday Send-Off

April 17, Green Turtle Cay
The last night we spent with Claus and Rachael, we made it a happy celebration with an early birthday party for moi (we’ve been around a lot of French Canadian boats). Rachael pulled out all the stops and put on a full dress affair. I was given suggestions about accepted attire, and Keith was given his own instructions. That afternoon, Rachael had woven attractive rattan ties for the guys, shirt and jacket not required.

She had a very busy afternoon! Not only did she stitch up some torn seams in our bimini canvas and make two ties, but she also made me three coconut bowls (from coconuts we had found together) and a conch horn. In The Bahamas it’s traditional for cruisers to celebrate every sunset by blowing horns made from conch shells. There’s a trick to it, and I’m getting the hang of it.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, Rachael made a scrumptious dinner including pork medallions with a sour cream-cognac sauce and a low-carb flourless chocolate cake. Mmm mmm, I don’t get chocolate very often, so it was a huge treat. I’ll sure miss Rachael’s cooking!

We had such a fun evening reminiscing about the quality of the time we've spent together. When we calculated the quantity, we were amazed to realize that we've been together most evenings for the last five months, except for a couple weeks here and there when our schedules took us in different directions.

We didn't want to talk about sailing away without them the next day. What we’ll really miss on the rest of the trip is the love and camaraderie between all of us. It enriched the meals and conversations we shared on each other’s boats, added fun to everything we did together, and enhanced the places we explored. Until next time, Claus and Rachael!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

April 13-16, White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
Yes, there can be trouble in paradise. We’ve often mentioned the need to seek a sheltered harbor when storms are forecast. High winds produce uncomfortable conditions on unprotected seas, so every boat is looking for safe haven. Unfortunately, the “safe” anchorages become crowded. And even there, anchors can break loose. Sometimes those captains maneuver and reset their anchors without significant problems. Other times, they do everything wrong, to the peril of the other boats in the anchorage.

At 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, that’s what happened. A storm hit our anchorage with winds of 40 miles per hour. Boats started dragging and moving, including a Moorings charter catamaran next to us. They pulled up their anchor and, instead of motoring forward or to their starboard, they drifted back onto us, fouling their rudder in our anchor chain and pulling our anchor out. Entangled, the only thing we could do was fend off and try to separate the two boats. We told them to put out an anchor—now!—but they didn’t.

The events unfolded so quickly, yet they played out like a slow-motion horror movie, scary and surreal. The catamaran was attached to us, and we were both hurtling between boats in the crowded anchorage, very narrowly missing one. Keith released all of our anchor chain, but still entangled, the catamaran rammed us, T-bone style, onto the bowsprit of another sailboat, Samaria II. At this point, Keith cut the anchor completely loose and the catamaran was able to break free. Concerned that we might tangle the anchor chain of Samaria II, which we were now blown hard against stern-to-bow, we put out fenders and rafted together until daylight.

The rest of the story is good news. Andrew and Denise on Samaria II are the nicest people you could ever wish to raft up with, involuntarily or not. They made a harrowing night much more bearable by their kindness and positive attitudes. Andrew’s father invented the CQR anchor, and he enjoyed putting it to the test with two boats hanging on the one anchor in gale-force winds. Denise even thought it was an exciting adventure. (We can’t go quite that far—yet!)

In the morning Claus and Barry Hammerberg spent a long time helping us separate Pelican and Samaria II without any further damage. They set a kedge anchor off the stern to hold the two boats apart. Then Keith dove down to the bottom of the harbor and tied lines to our primary anchor and chain, which they helped us recover before we motored away and re-anchored. We’re so grateful for their time, expertise, and muscle!

And the whole cruising community pulled together around us, surrounding us with concern and support. We feel as though we’ve gained a bunch of new friends.

Pelican did sustain damage which needs to be repaired, but it is mostly cosmetic. She will still be able to soar in a fine breeze. We thank God for being good to us and protecting us in a situation that could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Perfect Corner of Creation

April 11-12, Manjack Cay
If there is a perfect place in The Bahamas, for us it’s the northernmost bay on Manjack Cay (pronounced mun´-jack). God must have said, “I’m going to do something extra-special with this little corner of My world.”

And so He designed curving sand beaches that shimmer in the golden rays of the sun and small rocky coves that explode with spectacular surf spray. He tinted the waters in jewel-tones of emerald, aquamarine, and sapphire. He fashioned an expansive variety of seashells to wash up on the beach, little gifts from the sea. And He created both laughing gulls that squawk in hope of a handout and stingrays with velvety soft undersides that caress your hand as they nuzzle it looking for treats.

At night, He studded the jet-black canopy overhead with a glorious array of stars. And down in the water, a brilliant touch: phosphorescence that glitters with any movement—swishing an oar through the water creates swirls of twinkling flashes, as if the fish are playing with sparklers.

Awesome displays that each reflect a tiny facet of the beauty of our awesome Creator.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Favorite Island

April 8-10, Green Turtle Cay
Just north of the Whale Cay passage lies Keith’s favorite island, Green Turtle Cay. Beautiful live barrier reefs sit to the east, and two harbors offer shelter. White Sound, on the north end of the island, is home to two marina resorts. Black Sound is near the town on the southern end. The thriving town is called New Plymouth—do you think it might have been settled by British loyalists? It’s not too tourist-y and feels truly Bahamian. Miss Doreen’s house, pictured here with green and white shutters, is the oldest wooden building in town dating back to 1800. Several others have stood since 1840. They’ve seen a lot of hurricanes come and go. Maybe part of the appeal is a feeling of permanence.

The “most unusual building” award has to go to the old jail or “Ye Olde Gaol,” as the sign says. Notice the stairway to nowhere. We think it may have led somewhere indeed—to the gallows. There’s no perfect place anywhere, but this one is “Claus enough” as our dear friend has been heard to say.

Look Homeward

April 11, 2008, Green Turtle Cay
It’s not that we’re ready to trade balmy 85-degree days for blustery 10-inch spring snowstorms in Minnesota. It’s been a good winter to be somewhere else! But in order to get home in early June for the best weather the northland has to offer, we need to begin our slow journey now.

We completed a series of “lasts”: the last propane and water tank refills, the last major grocery provisioning, the last trip to the Laundromat. We extended our immigration status, which was set to expire before our exit.

And…sigh of relief…we got around Whale Cay. This passage (out one cut and back through another where the deep Atlantic funnels into the shallow Sea of Abaco) is notorious for wreaking havoc, even sinking big ships, when “rage” conditions (huge, breaking waves) are present. This time the roaring lion purred like a pussycat. Now it’s all downhill from here.

Oh, except for another notorious passage called the Gulf Stream. We’d like to cross sometime around April 20. Of course, every plan we make has a weather contingency clause.

We’re so happy that Claus and Rachael are still buddy-boating with us. They don’t plan to leave The Bahamas until mid-May, but we’ve all become such good friends that they’ll stay with us as long as possible and then back-track a little. It’s better in The Bahamas, and it’s fabulous with friends!