Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One Marker at a Time

St. Augustine - Daytona Beach, FL
December 8

We noticed fog rolling in from the ocean as we cast off lines to leave St. Augustine. No problem, we thought. It should burn off in a half hour. Wrong! Saturated, soggy air condensed above the water into a thick pea soup that lasted for four hours. We strained to make out each marker, one by one, to avoid straying into shallow water.
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Compounding that, it was low tide. When we saw the first sailboat grounded outside the channel, we wished we could assist them without becoming stuck ourselves but had to continue on.

Then a tiny fishing boat emerged from the mist, loaded with camping gear, a cooler, and a man, woman, and little boy. The woman called out to us, asking for a tow. They’d camped on an island overnight and in the morning their engine refused to start. The boat landing was two miles away—a long way to row with two undersized paddles. The little boy said we looked like a pirate ship appearing out of the fog. When we dropped them off close to their destination, they were so grateful and we were just as thankful to be able to help.

 Clawing through near-zero visibility, we kept going when suddenly we pitched forward, aground. We’d heeded a guidebook recommendation to give the red marker wide berth and ran aground toward the green side. Keith rocked us free (whew!), and soon we got stuck again, pushed by the current (oops!). And again (yikes!). Persistence paid off; we found the deeper water and glided on.

Around the next bend, we came upon a motor yacht with a draft of three-and-a-half feet hard aground where the charts indicated ten feet of depth. The captain stood in waist-deep water coaxing his vessel back afloat.

In spite of our best efforts, we got into trouble in the fog. With our limited visibility, we had to depend more than ever on our GPS, chart plotter, and paper charts. It was an illustration of the times we find ourselves in a fog and can’t see beyond our limited understanding. That’s when we need to depend more than ever on the One who came at Christmas to be our Light and show us the way. One marker at a time.
 Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
 Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
Luke 1:78-79 msg

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Florida’s First Coast

Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine
December 4‒7

Sea buoy outside
Fernandina Beach
Land ho! At 8 a.m., we made landfall on Florida’s First Coast, tying up in Fernandina Beach minutes before fog settled in. Finally we had arrived in the southernmost state.

After a long morning nap, we woke to a sunny, warm day and called friends John and Sally Ginn, whom we’d met through our Sunday morning community back home at Christ Presbyterian Church. They recently moved to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, and we’d promised to connect when we got there. But there was a little complication: Sally’s appendix ruptured a week before Thanksgiving, and two days earlier she had been released after eleven days in the hospital. What a trooper! She and John came to meet us at the marina late that afternoon, and Sally looked great. They took us on a short driving tour of their new town and island before treating us to all-you-can-eat shrimp at one of their favorite restaurants. Wonderful conversation with friends from “back home” was good medicine for all of us.
With John and Sally Ginn

Fernandina Beach makes numerous claims to fame. It’s the northernmost city in Florida and the one with the first sunset (over the Amelia River). It’s the only American city that has had eight different flags flown over it since 1562 (but wasn’t continually settled since then so it can’t call itself the oldest city in the nation). It boasts the oldest continually operating bar in the country (during Prohibition it was converted to an ice-cream parlor). Mostly, Fernandina Beach is just downright charming. We look forward to our next stopover, even more so now that we have friends to visit there.

The next day, December 5, was Keith’s birthday. He chose our destination for the night: a roomy anchorage by Pine Island that we ended up sharing with eleven other boats. It was calm and perfect. Just like Keith.

Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine
Entrance to the Bridge of Lions
Then it was a quick hop to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, the next morning. As we approached by water, the most dominant feature of the cityscape, Castillo de San Marco, rose from the shoreline to stand guard over the inlet. Soon after Ponce de Leon’s arrival, in 1565 the imposing citadel was erected by the Spanish to protect military and missionary outposts on a new continent. Now it stands as an impressive monument to the town’s colonial roots. In the Old Town, narrow lanes and balconied homes more closely reflect Spanish colonial style than any other city in the United States.

The Bridge of Lions
Other distinctive landmarks, including the beautiful Bridge of Lions and the three ornate hotels built by Henry Flagler in the late 1800s to draw tourists to a new resort city, still draw tourists and impart an Old World flavor.

Originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now part of Flagler College
It so happened that the annual Christmas parade took place on Saturday morning during our visit.  Crowds lined the route to see police motorcycles, horse-drawn carriages, marching bands, young cadets in lockstep, twirling groups, church floats with carol singers, Scout troops, antique cars, bagpipe ensembles, a white Siberian tiger (caged), a large contingent of Newfoundland dogs, and much more. “Merry Christmases” were tossed out like candy.

Marching in the Christmas Parade

The Christmas parade

Sloppy Merry Christmas wishes
Young Cadets in the Christmas parade
That same evening, another exciting event played out: the British Night Watch and Grand Illumination Parade, a reenactment of the short-lived British rule in St. Augustine from 1763‒1783.  Revolutionary War‒era reenactors came from far and wide to encamp near the fort over the weekend. A “volley of joy”—the firing of muskets—seemed fitting on that day. It was the one-year anniversary of our nephew Matthew Bailey’s death. Matt loved historical reenacting, encampments, and firing muskets with his dad. We could imagine him there. In a festive and heartwarming finish to the evening, the whole community sang Christmas carols in the plaza.

The British Night Watch

The "volley of joy" -- great timing, Keith!

Our nephew Matt with his dad -- both now in heaven

Florida’s First Coast: our first landing, a first in history, first on our list of great places to visit in Florida.

Navigating by Starlight

Port Royal Sound to Fernandina Beach, FL
December 2‒3

Our first trip offshore took us from Port Royal Sound, north of Hilton Head, to Fernandina Beach, Florida—an easy overnight run. For the previous couple weeks, chilly winds persistently blew from the northeast, which would have provided good sailing on this leg of the journey. By the time we were ready to leave, though, winds had switched to light and southerly. We weren’t able to sail but had a very comfortable ride. It was one of those trade-offs.

Well out to sea, the rose-gold disk of the sun painted the clouds periwinkle and slid out of sight, splashing farewell shimmers of purple and gold across the rippled water. Clouds closed in, the world turned indigo, and we were alone, not another boat in sight. Feeling so tiny in an immense world fostered a holy sense of awe, reminding us we were not alone at all.

Pelican sashayed across gently rolling swells, making steady progress in light headwinds. We bundled up and traded watches through the night. On one of my watches, I leaned out from the cockpit to see if there were any stars, and the dazzling display took my breath away. “Oh,” I gasped, “it’s beautiful, Lord! You’re amazing.” Fifteen miles from shore, with a new moon and no reflected light, an unimaginable number of stars filled the sky. They were brilliant! And behind the stars, held in reserve, was another field of distant stars—tiny pinpricks of light tossed into the universe in swirls. I was wonderstruck! I’d never seen anything like it. It made my soul soar, navigating by starlight.

In this season of Advent, I thought of another star, singularly brilliant, and of other travelers navigating by starlight—not knowing what they would find but convinced the journey was worth everything. I want to travel with them, to keep following the star’s light to God-with-us, the true Wonder of all.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship.
Day and night they keep on telling about God.
Without a sound or word, silent in the skies,
their message reaches out to all the world.
Psalm 19:1-3 tlb

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Home Away from Home

Bluffton, SC
November 19 – December 2

Since we began this cruise we’d been looking forward to reconnecting with Claus and Rachael at their new house in Bluffton, South Carolina. During the five months we cruised together in 2007-2008, we alternated dinners on one boat or the other every night with rare exceptions, and they quickly became cherished friends for life.

Originally we expected to spend a few days with them, but not long after they met us on the docks the plan changed to “through Thanksgiving.” We were delighted to be able to spend the holiday with people we love.
Thanksgiving. Let the feast begin.

We made a feast of it! Rachael and I both love to cook. When we’re in the kitchen together, we bounce creative culinary ideas back and forth. If I say so myself, we assembled a blue-ribbon spread. It included everyone’s favorites: two kinds of mashed potatoes, three kinds of stuffing, a deliciously rich pecan pie and creamy pumpkin pie made from a real pumpkin, not a can. Last but not least, a low-carb pecan pie for me that was almost as good as the real thing. When we counted our blessings around the table, high on the list the good gifts God has given this year was spending the day with friends who feel like family.
Here's to great friends!

Part of the reason for our longer layover was that Pelican needed to go to a boatyard (again!) for routine maintenance. She was vibrating while cruising under power (cutlass bearing replaced: check) and leaking water around the prop shaft (dripless shaft seal replaced: check). The day before Thanksgiving she dropped back in the water, and we discovered a small problem: “forward” and “reverse” were switched. Oops!

Four little elves and Bentley
That fix would have to wait until Monday after Thanksgiving. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. First, Claus and Rachael’s was a comfy infirmary for Keith and me to recover from nasty colds, with Rachael dispensing all kinds of natural remedies. It also gave us time to help decorate their Christmas tree, sing along with the first carols of the season, and surprise Keith with an early birthday celebration. When our visit inflated from a few days to two weeks, our incredible hosts-with-the-most could not possibly have made us feel more loved and welcome. Their home was truly our home away from home. 

Two Charming Southern Belles

Charleston to Beaufort, SC
November 16-18

On our itinerary through the South Carolina Low Country we visited two of the most beautiful cities on the ICW—Charleston and Beaufort. As it extends from Georgetown to Savannah, some of the Low Country’s prettiest features are centuries-old live oaks, gleaming sea-grass flats, serpentine waterways, historic plantations, and sixty low-lying barrier islands.

First we had to get to Charleston. The tidal range in this area is around six feet, meaning that at high tide the water is six feet deeper than at low tide. Depths listed on the nautical charts indicate Mean Low Water (MLW), the average low tide level. The controlling depth of the ICW is supposed to be twelve feet MLW. However, there are multiple trouble spots that are too shallow (or “skinny”) at low tide for a typical sailboat with a draft between five and six feet. We had researched these problem stretches. To death. But we forgot to review one tiny note we’d jotted down about a spot just north of Ben Sawyer Bridge, a half mile from Charleston harbor. While I called the bridge tender on the VHF radio to request an opening, suddenly Pelican lurched and slowed to almost zero. Mid-sentence, I blurted out, “Whoa! We just hit something. I’ll call back!” And then, “Oops, Honey, I’m sorry I announced that on the radio!” Usually we’d keep a minor mishap to ourselves. Happily, as soon as we hit that mid-channel bump we were free and clear of it. Whew! So we made the bridge opening, but better yet, we weren’t hard aground like a couple sailboats we heard on the radio an hour later.

Charleston's old Customs House
 We felt so fortunate that the one full day we could spend in Charleston, our favorite Low-Country city, was spectacular. She welcomed us with unseasonable warmth, her handsome antebellum homes and churches striking a picturesque pose. We did our own walking tour, strolling through the market, down to the Battery, and on back streets not written up in tourist guides. Sunlight spilled onto window boxes and gardens still bright with blooms.

The Dock Street Theater, Charlest
Keith will tell you that I rarely let an opportunity to take a picture of a beautiful old church pass me by. This time the ornamented pink Gothic style of the French Huguenot Church caught my eye. Between 1680 and 1700 more than four hundred and fifty French Protestants (Huguenots) arrived in Charleston as persecution in France pushed them to the New World. Many of them were middle-class merchants, and they helped form the backbone of Charleston society. Today the Huguenot church, the French Quarter, and the names of the most prominent families are lasting reminders of that French influence.
The French Huguenot Church, Charleston

We capped the day with dinner at our favorite Charleston restaurant, FIG. A perfect ending to a perfect day with the first southern belle.

Then on to pay a call to the next charming lady: Beaufort, South Carolina. 
With Claus, Rachael, and "Handsome" in Beaufort
The Anchorage, a tabby house, Beaufort
We caught up with Claus and Rachael Newman, our dear sailing buddies from our last cruise, and went on a horse-drawn carriage ride through Beaufort. It seemed appropriate to tour the old town in period transportation. Beaufort’s entire historic district has been declared a National Historic Landmark. We clip-clopped under canopies of moss-laden live oaks to see antebellum mansions, businesses, churches, and even graveyards. Some historians say that Beaufort may have been the wealthiest city in the United States before the Civil War, that it was considered the “Newport of the South.” Providentially the homes and landmarks of this southern city didn’t fall victim to burning and destruction during the Civil War because it fell to Union occupation in 1861.
Gracious Southern living, Beaufort

Being from a place whose American history began two centuries later than the historical cities in this area gives them a sense of nobility and timelessness. Part of the appeal of our journey is the great stopping places—exciting new “backyards” all along the way. Like these two gracious southern belles.

In the Palmetto State, Beaufort

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cold Front

November 12-14
Georgetown, SC to Whiteside Creek, SC

In spite of their best efforts, our friends and family up north may take just a little bit of pleasure in the fact that, in spite of our best efforts to get south, we recently shivered through South Carolina temperatures ten degrees colder than those in Minnesota. We really don't expect sympathy, though, from people who have already seen snow a few times this winter!

Gale-force winds and overnight temperatures of twenty-six degrees were predicted, and Georgetown, South Carolina, became our port in the storm. Of course there were silver linings to those clouds. For one thing, we happened upon an almost-six-hundred-year-old Champion Live Oak tree. (A champion tree is the largest of its species in South Carolina, as recognized by The American Forestry Associates and Clemson University.)
The Champion Live Oak Tree

Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church,
finished in 1757
Walking around town, we saw historic homes built while kings ruled the Carolinas, an Episcopal church whose bricks had been the ballast of British sailing ships, and the town's iconic clock tower. Unfortunately, we missed the row of seven historic downtown waterfront buildings that burned down on October 25.
Georgetown's Clock Tower

Once the cold front passed and laundry passed the daisy-fresh test, it was time to move on. As we left Georgetown, a gray-and-orange Coast Guard inflatable came alongside and asked to board Pelican. They primarily wanted to check that we have all the required safety equipment, like life preservers, fire extinguishers, a waste disposal plan, and more. We’d never been boarded before, and my first response was Oh no! What are they going to nail us for? But the two Coasties who stepped onto our boat were real gentlemen. We found common ground with both of them. One had grown up in the Bahamas, the son of medical missionaries (Keith spent five years in the Bahamas while his parents were missionaries there). The other had lived in Hudson, Wisconsin, for a while. Close enough. After a thorough safety inspection they issued a “good as gold” certificate. Thankfully, at the end of October Keith had checked the expiration date on our flares (2004!) and replaced them. Otherwise, we’d have been issued a citation instead.

That evening we returned to a favorite anchorage from previous trips. Whiteside Creek, just a few miles north of Charleston, is a ribbon of deep blue washing between banks of golden marsh grass. The presence of only one other boat made for a peaceful night, although the captain woke up every time the tidal current switched to check that we wouldn’t snag our anchor buoy when we swung in the opposite direction.

 The excitement had died down, the cold front moved out to sea. All was well.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Uncommon Variety

November 8-11
Oriental, NC to Myrtle Beach, SC

We had a really wonderful time with Keith’s parents and they seemed to enjoy their snapshot of life on a boat on the ICW. Even though it was definitely chillier than they expected. Now that they are gone, we miss Mom’s help in keeping us on course and Dad’s photo documentation of our time together.

 Mom commented that it’s impossible to describe what the trip is like to people back home because every part of it is different. So here are pictures of just a few of the many things we did during their visit:

Floating through cypress swamps—nothing like what we call a swamp in Minnesota, but places of uncommon beauty where imposing trees with gnarled roots rise out of the water, thriving in the salty-fresh tides.

Dad's favorite photo from the entire trip
Passing by the fringes of restricted military bases with evidence of explosions and firepower.

Walking through historic waterfront towns where stately homes and churches lining the streets were built while our country was still a colony.

Visiting a maritime museum in  Beaufort, NC, that houses booty and remains from Blackbeard’s ship, the QAR (Queen Anne’s Revenge).

Drifting past waterfront golf-course developments with multimillion-dollar homes…then ramshackle cabins and docks.
This picture combines two of Keith's passions: golf and sailing (well, a sailboat wake)
Waiting—again—for low bridges that swing open on a schedule, on the half hour or on the hour. If you’re late, you’ll wait.
This bridge-tender requested $20 per picture—"just throw it up on the bridge as you pass by."

Oohing and aahing over pods of dolphins—is it possible to not feel joy when you see a dolphin dance?…

squadrons of pelicans who perfectly time seemingly awkward dives to gracefully scoop up darting fish...

plus gulps of cormorants sunbathing with outstretched wings…
and convocations of eagles perched regally in the tallest trees watching for dinner far below.

Yes, those are the terms for groups of those creatures. (Given the name of our boat, we should have known “squadron” a long time ago but just learned that bit of trivia.) Isn’t it great that God created such fantastic variety to delight us everywhere we look? With just a word, He could have created an average, utilitarian world. Instead He said, “Let there be beauty and humor and wonder and altogether-loveliness to reflect Me.” And there was.

As part of a regular squadron of transient cruisers, our journey continues through rivers, creeks, canals, and open sounds to the next places of uncommon beauty.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Heading South

November 2 - 7, 2013
Deltaville, VA to Oriental, NC

Sean and Maggie
November 2 turned out to be the day we’d been working toward. All systems go, we cast off and Pelican began her southerly migration.

The trip back home for the wedding was worth postponing our departure for a while, with chances to see lots of friends and family, especially our son Sean and his girlfriend Maggie. Afterward Keith’s parents drove us back to Deltaville and came on board to experience part of the ICW with us. They had joined us for different parts of previous journeys: Dad from Chicago to Mobile, AL and both through the Erie Canal and from Georgetown, Exumas, to Nassau in The Bahamas. 

The Dismal Swamp
Just south of Norfolk, ICW cruisers have two canal options: the faster, more commercial Virginia Cut preferred by most power boats or the more scenic and serene (read: slower) Dismal Swamp Canal. We chose the latter. The last time we had passed through the beautiful Dismal Swamp route, a range of early spring greens heralded the arrival of warmth. This time, the fall spectrum of oranges, golds, and reds floating onto our deck announced its disappearance.

The Dismal Swamp

At anchor
Weather pushed us south quickly. After a brief overnight at the city docks in Elizabeth City (leaving no time to enjoy its legendary hospitality to cruisers), brisk northeasterly winds served up a spirited sail down the Pasquotank River. The next two nights we buried our anchor, literally, in secluded, out-of-the-way creeks far from the reach of cell-phone coverage. Wildlife sightings so far have included a swimming fox, dolphins, bald eagles, and multiple birds. 

Alligator River swing bridge
Through winding rivers, narrow land cuts, and wide open sounds, between nautical markers, crab pots, and swing bridges, we continue on our way. Every moment trying to recognize and be grateful for the gifts of grace God offers us right there.

At the moment we’re tucked in at Oriental, NC, the “sailing capital of the Carolinas” near the southern end of the Inner Banks. The cook is happy—she’s had a break and restocked the galley. And the captain is thrilled with a new GPS antenna installed through a fortuitous Deltaville connection. Now we’re ready to keep heading south.

Oriental Marina