Sunday, October 31, 2010


Swansboro, NC  34°41.07N | 77°7.289W
Steam rising off the water at sunrise in Swansboro, NC.
It was a bitter cold dawn in Swansboro. Dozens of small fishing boats buzzed around us on our way out of the harbor where we immediately fell behind an enchanting little catamaran named simply Ming. The boat was moving so slowly and deliberately, that we hailed him on the radio to see if perhaps he had timed his pace to make the bridge opening.

"No, I'll get there when I get there," said the disembodied voice.

It was tempting to pass Ming, but as we watched his movement, like some aquatic Pied Piper, we fell under his spell. All morning we kept pace, very slowly, just on Ming's stern as he moved left and right of the channel, seeking and usually finding the best route.

Our brush with the Ming dynasty.
Late morning, I was at the helm, sounding the depths with our two depth meters, a modern Mark Twain-ing that's tedious and nervewracking, keeping an eye on Ming's deliberate movement and keeping my own counsel, my goal always to avoid the shallows and a potential grounding, the fate of two boats we passed today. 

At one point, I was tense and tired from staring at the depth meter and referring to the GPS when I looked up at the vista before me.

I realized that with my nose down I was missing some of the Earth's great splendor. The moon overhead, marshes sprawling just off to port, stately Southern homes to starboard.

But nose down is how I've spent a lot of my life. These panoramas are no less stunning than the ones I left behind in the Outer Banks but how often have I failed to enjoy them. Our planet does not tuck her magnificence under a bushel. It takes some real effort to miss it, and yet ...

A few minutes ago, Chip said, "Sunrises and sunsets are ridiculously beautiful. I feel stupid for missing them most of my life. What was I thinking?"

Midafternoon I passed Ming in hopes of timing the last two bridges just right. We missed the first one by 10 minutes and had to wait another hour. Just as the bridge was about to open, I looked back to see Ming ghost up and respectfully take his place in line behind a row of sailboats waiting to pass.

Our day ended with a harrowing 30-minute wait at the Figure Eight Island Bridge, a wait that seemed much longer, in a strong current pushing us toward the bridge in heavy traffic. I throttled back, did a couple of 180s, pirouetted, did a pas de deux with another sailboat, backtracked and finally went through in a nail-biting rush of little recreational boats flitting under my bow, too close on the heels of a slow-moving sailboat ahead, straight into an unexpectedly shallow channel leading to our destination.

Exhausted after an 11 hour day, we anchored on our third try in a sketchy current running opposite a stiff wind in Wrightsville Beach, sending all the boats at anchor willy nilly -- and one bumping right into another upwind, its owners frantically trying to intervene.

As we were settling in, we looked up to see Ming tooling slowly into the now-calm anchorage, quietly dropping his hook in the glory of a technicolor sunset.

Wrightsville Beach, NC 34º12.39N | 77º48W

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Just Ducky, an Island Packet 35, passing us on the ICW.
Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W

It would have been a short, sad story: "Cruising adventure lasts only one week. Couple sinks boat at anchorage in Beaufort. Film at 11."

It's the kind of thing you think about when you hear a scraping bump in the night, but it was only a shift in the current, the chain dragging, the anchor resetting.

I can just imagine Cara Mia rolling her eyes. "I've done this hundreds of times. What are you worried about?" That's what you get when your boat is more experienced than you are.

We were pleasantly surprised that the "storm" turned out to be nothing. Raising the anchor at sunrise, I forgot to tighten the clutch. Lesson learned? We'll see.

The passage was a short 24-mile hop to Swansboro, NC, a town that looked no great shakes from the water. Turns out the docks were an effective cloaking device for a charming town lacking only picket fences to be something Hollywood might conjure.

And just up the street from the marina, there lies a perfect little Irish pub with a marginal tap offering (beer snobs) but excellent food and sweet atmosphere.

Pleasant surprises. This is our life now.

Swansboro, NC  34°41.07N | 77°7.289W

Mysterious time traveler talking on cell phone spotted in 1800s mural. Swansboro, NC. 

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

CARA MIA: Population 2

Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W

Living aboard reminds me a lot of living in Manhattan.

I know, that's 8,008,276 more people than we have onboard, but, wait, I can explain.

When you step outside your door in the city, you have to be prepared to react to whatever comes your way. No two days are the same; no two days require the same skill set.

On any particular day you might stumble into a parade, a crime scene, an outdoor concert, Lady Gaga, anything. Once when I was walking from my apartment on 7th & Chelsea to my office uptown, I passed a block where all the street signs were printed backwards. They were filming a movie and I suppose they wanted to flip the orientation. It really flipped mine.

Living on a boat, I find myself wondering what the day will bring. Even though we stayed in Beaufort again today, waiting out "FALL'S FURY," we faced an arsenal of new challenges and hopefully added a few new skills to the quiver.

Today's assignment: anchoring.

We practiced using the windlass (electronic winch that feeds out and pulls in the anchor) yesterday by running out all the chain onto the dock -- all 200 feet of it -- and marked every 50 feet with zip ties, so we'll know how much chain we have out.

There's a lot of science and finesse to anchoring. I was feeling neither. Isabella, our last boat, didn't have an electric windlass, so typically I had the helm and Chip was up front manning the anchor. In this case we switched positions. Before leaving the dock, we worked out some hand signals, huddled up, high fived and headed out.

We trolled up and down the crowded anchorage in front of Beaufort Docks trying to find the perfect spot to squeeze in. It's a little like trying to park in a full parking lot that doesn't have lines. Everyone's parked all willy nilly.

Our first attempt was an epic fail. The lock kept flipping over onto the anchor chain stopping it every five feet or so. I needed to loosen the clutch a little bit. Lesson learned, but not before drifting into the channel with a big-ass motor yacht coming in.

We trolled some more and some more and finally chose a sketchy spot near our friends on Zero to Cruising. This time the feed went smoother. The anchor locked in at only 50 feet, and we let out another 50 for the night.

This little creek has a running current that will be shifting 180 degrees during the night plus the wind is predicted to shift from south to north and kick up about 3 a.m. Add to that some thunderstorms coming our way, and we're settling in for a long, restless night.

So maybe we don't ride the subway or hail a cab. We don't take the Staten Island Ferry or wear sleek Italian leather shoes, but every day's a new day. Am I making new neuron paths in my brain? I sure hope so.

And just in case you think our bad TV movie is flagging, we woke this morning to a rainbow. Not a standard issue rainbow but a full horizon to horizon rainbow, a double one.

What, no helium balloons?
Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W


I never enjoyed "chores" so much.  photo by Chip
Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W

Land rhythm is slowly dripping out the ends of our fingers. Each hop away from our home dock takes a little more of the jangle out of our nerves.

I go to sleep now when I'm sleepy, without worrying about what time that is. I wake about the same time the sun comes up, shocking for someone who could make it through the first round of a sleep contest with teenagers.

We spend hours a day caring for the boat that cares for us, doing chores that on land might seem like drudgery but afloat seem almost sporting.

Our perspective on mileage has been completely recalibrated. Traveling 50 miles in one day is stellar, a real accomplishment.

Since we left Rock Hall in April, we've followed a trail of our own bread crumbs left behind over the last 10 years. Each port has brought up memories of where we were on our path to the water. Beaufort represents the last of those bread crumbs and fittingly so.

The last time we were in Beaufort, three years into our 5-year plan to sell everything and sail away, it was a calculated getaway from the beach and wine shop to put some dates on paper. That was March 2008, and it was the first time we nailed down our end plan.

And when we did that, we were staying in this hotel:

Right off our stern. Unplanned, of course.

Part of the rhythm of living on the water is falling into the ranks of boat people. In Oriental we joined the the band of water dwellers that flit along the edges of continents, popping onto land only when necessary and embracing fellow travelers as family.

Pierre, with Pearl II in the background.
We weave in and out of peoples lives as we all head south, each at our own pace. In Oriental Pierre on Pearl II chatted us up at the coffee shop, and he was on the dock to greet us when we arrived in Beaufort. Fortunately for us, we got to meet his wife Kathy and laugh about the challenges of living onboard.

This morning the lovely folks on Syarda were untying as we passed by. They were a little further up in years than we are and just adorable, happy, jovial even.

They seem almost as excited about our launch as we are and gave us a hardy wave and a honk as they crossed our stern.

Syarda from Useppa Island, Florida, passing by.
"Call us if you come our way!"

We will, Syarda, if the new rhythm of our lives carries us there.

Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W

Sailor Chip, going ashore with the laundry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Geese headed south from Beaufort.
Oriental, NC  35°0248N | 76°6948W

There's an undeniable seduction in living close to the elements, the wind, waves, currents and tides dictating when and where I can go and how long I can stay. It taps into something ancient and primal, stirrings deep in my reptilian brain.

My body is relearning the language of nature in a way that completely sidesteps conscious thought. 

Yesterday,  I felt like someone had dropped a 100-pound pillow on top of me. I just wanted to curl up and take a nap. My brain said, "Need coffee." Nature said, "Storm coming." 

Today I woke to the sound of geese winging their way south and was filled with longing, a long dormant desire to follow them south. How is it my instinct and a goose's instinct would be the same? Because we are both animals, or just that me and my feathered friends have been skyjacked by Jimmy Buffett?

We set out on our continued plod south this morning knowing we were headed into some weather but also knowing there was more coming, and we preferred to sit it out in Beaufort, NC, only 21 miles away.

Crossing the Neuse River in wind blowing 20-25 knots and gusting to 35 knots, little choppy waves tossed us up, down, around in the washtub of shallow water. Some wind, some waves, not enough to keep us in port, not enough to scare us, just enough to make an easy passage of 21 miles seem more like 60.

After a gusty slog down the ICW to Beaufort, Chip executed a masterful 3-point turn pulling into a slip at Beaufort Docks, and I went below to post our arrival on Facebook.

Minutes later, I checked back to find a comment from our friend Jeff White, former DJ at 99.1 The Sound in the Outer Banks, who now lives in California: "Ask for Jeb Brearey. He's the dockmaster, and he also happens to be my uncle."

Didn't the world used to be bigger?

Chatter on the VHF today recommended lying about the number of crew onboard, since Beaufort Docks gives out a free beer token to each crewmember.

"Tell them 8 or 9. You got someone in the engine room, somebody sleeping below. Just don't go over 10, they'll start getting suspicious," heard on Channel 69.

We opted, as usual, for the truth and left with four tokens.

Today, a day without tears, I couldn't help but think it's fortunate that nasty weather came around on our fourth day and not our first. Just as we are getting ourselves together, the weather has started falling apart.

Beaufort, NC  34°42.911N | 76°39.815W

BLOG LOG: Our fellow cruisers Mike & Rebecca on Zero to Cruising got photos of dolphins that we saw a few hours later but once again failed to photograph. Mike also aptly points out that we are in BO-fert, not BUE-fert, which is in South Carolina.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Oriental, NC  35°0248N | 76°6948W

Today we opted for a layover day, a short respite after an arduous 7-day frenzy of leave-taking preparation and two long days of slogging down the Pamlico.

My goals for the day:
  1. Sleep late
  2. Don't cry 
It's a good thing this blog starts with the successful accomplishment of a 10-year goal lest I look like a pitiful failure.

Despite my best intentions, my eyes popped wide open at 5:45, not just a fleeting blink of consciousness but full on, uncharacteristic wakefulness.

We had hoped to take a day of rest but realized our chore list was rather long, starting with a good scrub down for Cara Mia.

Then, with a squall on our heels,

photo by Chip
we set out to meet the people of Oriental. That squall soon overtook us, and we had a 30-minute walk in an utter deluge, which makes me wonder why only children and crazy people go out in the rain. The rest of us could learn a little something from them about spontaneity and childlike joy.

Our mission was to stock up on spare parts for the engine at one of the few Yanmar parts outlets along the coast. We spent well over an hour with Lucille at Deaton Yachts identifying which tiny engine parts were the right ones. She patiently tracked down every part we needed, including one that is being shipped on ahead -- and, just when she thought we were done, we remembered that 5/16" line we need for our topping lift. All during the tedious process, Bill was waiting behind us. Despite several offers, he declined to play through. Instead it was apparent he was vicariously coming along on our $600 spending spree and, for that little while, hitching his wagon to our dream. 

Bill kindly drove us back to the boat, waited while we scrounged around gathering our used equipment -- and then drove us, still dripping, to the consignment shop. That's where Cindy took over. She registered our radar dome, portable autohelm, boom break and a box of hinges to be sold on consignment. We told her we would walk back to the boat to retrieve a small Fortress anchor to sell as well, but Cindy would have none of that. 

"Tonight is sushi night at M&Ms, so just bring the anchor to me there," she said. "M&Ms is a lot closer to the harbor!"

Okay, this is a town with great folks, but no tears yet, right?

Well, back there right after I woke up too early, we walked across the street to Oriental's notorious gathering spot, The Bean, where the posted speed limit is 15 but seems slower.

The barista, June, told us that sometimes she gets carried away looking out at the view of the harbor and burns the coffee.

"I spent too much of my life not getting carried away," she said.

For 28 years, June worked, not as a barista, but in the IT field, until one day, eight years ago, she realized she wasn't having fun any more.

"That's when I started over. I moved to Oriental, and this is the only job I've ever had where I look forward to going to work on Monday mornings."

We told her about our similar life reboot.

"Oh," she said, "You are going to love your new adventure. Some of the best people on earth are water people, I see it every day."

I think June is probably right. I would only add that the people on the edge of the land are pretty awesome as well.

It's June's fault I teared up before 8 a.m.

Today: 0 for 2

Oriental, NC  35°0248N | 76°6948W

Monday, October 25, 2010


Engelhard, NC  35°509N | 75°989W

Sailing into the sunrise out of Engelhard, NC.
The happy flow of our lives is so corny that I feel compelled to leave out a lot of the sappy details. For instance, yesterday I was embarrassed to include the part about the rising sun striking the water, scattering a million sparkling Tinkerbells in our wake. And later?  Dolphins kept popping up around us, sometimes one, sometimes two, shoulder to shoulder.

I'm pleased to report there have been no rainbows -- yet.

Schmaltziness aside, I set two goals for myself today:

  1. Make the 54 mile passage to Oriental, NC
  2. Don't cry
Is 50% an 'F'?

Our day started with the most gorgeous, surreal sunrise that packed enough power to provoke tears, but I prevailed. I was going to Oriental, and I wasn't going to cry. 

We turned south for a 9-hour trip through the notoriously sketchy Pamlico Sound:

The Pamlico: What nasty water?

All morning Cara Mia's good-old Yanmar plugged along through dead calm. Chip and I traded one-hour shifts at the helm so we could alternately do chores and learn how to use the radar (a damned fine invention).

Chip thawed bread for lunch using our new "microwave," formerly the floor of the old life raft:

The breakdown came soon thereafter. No, not the engine, not the boat, not Chip. You know who that leaves.

I was cleaning up after lunch and found a tiny farewell note from a tiny girl, who dropped by Engelhard yesterday to see us off. A girl we've been with since the first minutes of her 20-month life. Those miniature pencil marks (to which she had given her entire attention) clobbered me with the full meaning of goodbye.

"I was trying to go the whole day without crying," I blubbered.

To help pull myself back together, I pulled out the staysail. Some 8 knots of breeze had kicked up, and I was anxious to accomplish at least one of my goals. We raised the jib and picked up .2 knots. The wind was almost dead ahead. We dropped the canvas and motored on.

This was not our first approach to Oriental. We came down by car many times over the last 8 years to look at boats for sale and sometimes merely to revel in a community focused on sailing, wandering around as pretenders. Over those years, we've maintained virtual citizenship via the local, cheeky news site,, where Chip faithfully, daily peered through the harborcam, imagining adifferent life.

At 9 hours and 9 minutes, we were pulling into our slip in Oriental, when we heard someone nearby shout, "CHIP!!!"

The moment was captured on that harborcam Chip used to traffic:

A welcoming committee in Oriental? We don't know anyone here, and very few people knew we were sailing in.

We had three lines on the pilings before the shouters came running down the dock. With lines in hand, we turned to see Pete and Suzanne who bought our dear, old boat, Isabella.

"I can't believe it!" Suzanne said. "We never come to Oriental. Isabella is right across the water!"

Here came the tears again, this time I was not alone. Chip had joined me.

But wait! The guy on the boat across the finger dock, 6 feet away, shouted out, "Hey, I have a dinghy that's Island Packet beige!"

We looked where he pointed atop his trawler to see a beige Trinka dinghy the exact same color as our boat.

"My son just bought it."

Chip and I looked at each other. I haven't asked what he was thinking, but I was just thinking, no way. NOT POSSIBLE.

Chip asked, "Did he get it in South Carolina?"


"Did he buy it from someone named Marvin Day?" I asked.

"How did you know?"

Marvin Day was the owner of an Island Packet named Good Company, now known as Cara Mia.

Oriental, NC  35°0248N | 76°6948W

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Manteo  35°54.525N | 75°40.119W

Typically I would not endorse starting a blog with weeping, but in this case I'll have to make an exception.

At 6:40 this morning, we untied the lines and slowly pulled out of our home slip in Manteo, and that's when I started tearing up.

The waning moon got up early to see us off, and just as we headed under the Manteo causeway bridge, like some sort of weird portal, we entered the dawn of our new world.

In a continued stroke of our lives as a Hallmark movie, the moon and a big, corny piece of my heart stayed behind in Manteo.

And that's when the real weeping began, not in an austere, Ingrid Bergman sort of way, but more of a Meg Ryan, messy, he-just-didn't-want-to-marry-ME sort of way.

My wracking sobs were bubbling up from a deep bilge full of emotions: relief, sadness, nostalgia, excitement, profound joy and even a little fear laced heavily with exhaustion.

Last night, the seemingly unshakeable grip of the land had us pinned to the ground, right up to the midnight hour. As we were entering our route in the new GPS, it didn't respond like the manual said it should, not allowing us to save our route, perpetually, repeatedly. One time I zoomed in and the entire screen filled with capital A's and foreign symbols.

After four straight hours of repeatedly entering the waypoints (a lot of them), rebooting, cursing and questioning the premise of our entire future, the GPS warmed to us and faultlessly saved the route.

This morning we left Manteo on four hours of sleep, nervous, fidgety and lacking faith in ourselves and the GPS. Chip and the GPS performed flawlessly. I sat on the life jackets and wept.

I'm sitting here thinking how that seems an inauspicious way to begin our new life, but come to think of it, I guess that's how all new lives begin: pop out of the womb into a new world and then start wailing. All I did was add safety equipment.

Engelhard  35°509N | 75°989W