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.