5/14 – Monday – Wake up @ 10:30AM. We decided to get some rest and keep the car another day. Steve is hoisted up the mast to retrieve the main halyard, which I failed to tie down while washing the sails before winter storage last summer. NOTE: If you ever hoist someone up the mast, PAY ATTENTION TO THE WINCH! You only need 1 or 2 wraps of halyard to provide enough friction to keep him up there. I just stared straight up at him and didn’t realize I was putting a massive bird’s nest in on the winch. About 35′ above the water, with pretty significant waves from NY ferries, Steve clutches onto the mast to remove his weight, while I fix my F-up. The job is done and Steve is pissed. Not a great start, but better than my neighbor (below).
Steve cleaned the boat and Boompa and I went to West Marine at 5th Ave and 37th St for sail repair materials. Danny Zettle and his wife Corey met Steve to see the boat before dinner at Harley’s.
Let me take a moment to explain the best bar I’ve seen in 23 countries and more U.S. cities. Located in Hackensack, NJ (remember Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out”), next to the only river in the U.S. to ever spontaneously catch on fire. Harley’s is an Irish pub with a grass colored ceiling and shingles on the walls. One open room (roughly 45’ x 35’) with a rectangular bar in the center (I’d guess 22’ x 13’). The food is outrageously good in quality and volume for the price. They have my favorite salad and the biggest and best pork chops I’ve ever had, by far. You can get both with a side of steamed veggies and a big plate of fries for a whopping $15. A dart board off to the side, good music, some TVs and local Jersey bar flies for entertainment, and Irish decorations set the scene. But the star of the show is the barkeep (also the best of the best). Mick McWhiggin is the most Irish person you can imagine. Chipped-tooth smirk, short dark-red hair, and laser eyes that show he knows more than he’d ever tell. Mick pours the best Guinness I’ve had so far and he says he’s done alright in Guinness pour competitions back in Dublin. You would think he’s straight off the boat from his thick authentic accent, but he stopped working as a commercial fisherman 28 years ago when he moved to the U.S. and started working at Harley’s.
Danny doesn’t tell Mick that I’m coming and instead tortures him with a guessing game of the mystery guest. Mick says I am the last person he would have guessed. He told me “I’ll see you when I see you” the last time I saw him, but he was surprised it was only 9 months later. Dinner is a riot and Steve realizes my tall-tales about New York and New Jersey have at least some merit. At 9PM, after way too much Guinness and Mick Specials (I think it’s Baileys with Jameson on top), Steve and I try to help Boompa navigate to some Walmart, somewhere in New Jersey to find batteries. We keep missing the turn off and go through the same jug-handle intersection enough times that Boompa notices there are Wendy’s everywhere in Jersey. Alas, Walmart is found, conquered, and we go back to the marina.
5/15 – Tuesday – I leave the boat at 7AM to bring back the rental car, which is due at EWR (15 miles away) at 8:36AM. At 8:08AM, I stop at McDonald’s in Newark to ask for directions to the Airport. The car is returned at around 8:18AM and I take public transit back. I then go say bye to New York with some 2 Bros pizza, a coke, and a cigarette. The last thing I see before walking back into Port Authority Bus Terminal is a big sign advertising for The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. Something about the advertisement grabs my attention.
The boat is prepped like a prepper would have it and we finally take time to relax, have a burger and Guinness/cider (try it before you judge), and watch the Manhattan windows catch on fire, like the intro to Ninja Turtles II, with the setting sun.
After dinner we depart from my slip and honk the fog horn as requested by our waiter. He walks over and waves us goodbye. The batteries on my boat are no good and our lights dim out. Not good for an evening ride through one of the busiest ports on Earth. We head back to the marina and I am back at Walmart in the middle of the night for the 3rd time, this time via taxi.
5/16 – Wednesday – More sleepJ The boat is really ready this time. Well sort of. After breakfast, we take off down the Hudson and I continue straightening up the cabin, you know, because I’m anal-retentive like that. And also because in a sh!t-storm, you want things a certain way.
As we swing around the lower tip of Manhattan and wave to Lady Liberty, we head west through the Narrows and I start sewing the UV cover on the Genoa (foresail). Freedom Tower is coming along. It’s the tall one on the left, shown below.
First attempt at sewing. It takes a lot of force (finesse, I find out later) to get through the dacron and UV material.
Starting to figure it out.
A couple hours later, the sail is in pretty good shape and we are in the ocean. We take shifts, cook food, and sail through the night out in big blue. Steve gets sea sick.
5/17 – Thursday – This is a long day. I wake up around 8:30AM and take the tiller.
The waves are big and Steve is still sea sick. Boompa and I sail through the growing waves (4-6 foot waves feel like 8-10). Boompa goes down below to take a nap around 11AM. Boompa gets sick and he and Steve share the bucket. The waves immediately start growing (6-8ft) and I ask Steve, who hasn’t slept in 2 days if he can help me on deck. The waves have a short period due to bad wind position and sailing back toward shore will put us in an orientation that will allow waves to easily come over the back of the boat. We are about 25 miles off shore at this point.
We “heave to” (google it) and stay in this position for about 3 hours trying to make radio contact. A clam fisherman forwards info for us to SEATOW, who says they won’t come out. We find out later there is a clause in their agreement (Boompa and I are members) for bad weather, so they don’t have to help us. The Coast Guard hears our situation and asks if we need assistance. I am reluctant, but our senior passenger cannot keep his daily meds down and weather is not forecasted to improve for 24-36hrs.
We try heading toward the Coast Guard to save time. The motor is more helpful than the sails for the direction we are heading and we do a lot of surfing. Surprisingly, very little water gets in the boat. It was actually a beautiful day aside from the choppy waves beating the hell out of us. We follow the Coast Guard for about 2 hours until the motor gets swamped by the following seas and dies. We continue sailing and surfing for another 3 hours. Boompa is getting very dehydrated and needs to get on land. A tow-strap is hooked onto the forestay connection and we are dragged behind the super-boat (40ft CG Cutter) for another 5 miles like an inner-tube before the line snaps. Steve and I wait for the mast to land on us. Luckily the carabineer failed and now our only concern is the jetty rocks 50 feet away that the waves are pushing us toward. The super-boat does a James Bond move and slips between us and the rocks. The two of us drift toward the rocks as they tie us to their starboard side. They are very competent and we start moving in about 20 seconds. A few minutes later we are in the CG harbor docking. It is 1:30AM and the only place to stay is the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City next door. I eat a filet mignon, drink a beer, and pass out on the hotel floor.
5/18 through 5/22. The room only cost $99, so we ask to book again. The cost for another night is $512. We go to a marina across the water instead.
After draining the water out of the carburetors bowl, the motor runs like a champ. We have to get back on the ocean for another 30 miles before we can duck into the Deleware Bay. Our route changes from an open ocean voyage to the intra-coastal waterway. There is a small-craft advisory for the next 4 days and we sleep on the boat, eat at the local restaurants, and meet two cool sailors heading the opposite direction. Both pretty much retired, Farol is a badass photographer (showed me some sweet resources for photo editing), and Larry teaches college journalism classes. He and Steve play guitar and he introduces Steve to Tom Rush. They are hilarious characters, inspire us, and give us great advice. For example: when you go on a first date, take her to McDonald’s. If she agrees to go on a second date, take her to McDonald’s again. If she agrees to go on a third date, take her somewhere nice. Priceless information.
Kammerman’s Marina is awesome and has very cool people. Ed is about as salty as it gets and advises on waiting for good weather. We check out the Boardwalk, eat world renowned cheese steaks at the White House Sub Shop, and look across the water at the Golden Nugget. It haunts me, because that was the last thing I saw advertised before leaving NYC. Steve and I go back to the Golden Nugget to find whatever it is that it wants to give me. I see the folly in their bar of gold give-away and decide to play some blackjack instead. I come out two-fifty ahead. $2.50. I watch the other gamblers and realize that no jackpot is as good as good health. I decide to start taking better care of my body immediately.
5/23 – Wednesday – 6:00AM. The fog is so thick that we can’t see boats passing our marina. We hit the water around 10AM and can see over a mile in each direction. Once we get into the open ocean, the fog consumes us and we see only a couple hundred yards. It is in and out through the afternoon and we don’t have any close encounters. We arrive at Utch’s Marina in Cape May before dark.
5/24 – Thursday – Head up the Delaware Bay with warnings of heavy traffic. We see 30 boats in as many miles. At night, towers in the horizon look like buoys right in front of us. One of the channel markers I pass turns out to be a giant ship. Steve takes the tiller around midnight as we go into the C&D Canal. It looks like you are driving down a two-lane with street lamps every 500ft and I go to sleep.
5/25 – Friday – 6:30AM Steve wakes us up to help figure out a shallow approach to the docks. No offices so we head down the Chesapeake a few more miles. The sun is beaming. Lunch and cold beer are consumed. We gas up and head to Annapolis. The I-97 Bridge is something to behold.
Steve makes fun of me for my bridge fetish. I have a makeshift “bimini” and the tiller is tied. I play guitar, Steve plays ukulele, and we make up songs about bridges, tuna pizza, and “piss on yo’ jet ski”.
We arrive at the sailing capitol of the U.S. It’s like driving in New York, except on the water and the cars are million dollar yachts. The motor dies at the same moment we tie off in a slip that obviously belongs to someone else. The marina is already closed, so we try to figure out why the motor died. The motor won’t crank and gas is spewing out of the back. We call T-Pool. This is more than enough information for him to know what’s happening inside of the outboard. He tells us to tap on a certain spot on the motor with a screwdriver while cranking the motor. The leaking gas stops, the motor fires up, and we don’t have another problem. Thanks Pool. We go to a marina across the water because there are many open slips. The marina attendant puts diesel in our gas tank and tells us they have no empty slips. Boompa talks to him in his office and he gives us a slip.
5-26 – Saturday – We ask the marina attendant if he knows any marinas closer to downtown Annapolis. He says, “You can take your dinghy across the water if you have one.” He sees the gas can in my hand and says, “Of course you have one.” We move to a different marina (Annapolis City Marina) walking distance from the Naval Academy.
The museum is a crucial investment of our time with info about wars and boats. Prisoners of war were allowed to build ships out of any available material in the jail cells. Beautiful ship models are carved out of beef bones using glass shards and rocks. Some of the models were made by teams of prisoners, taking more than two years to complete. We also see a relative of ours (Adm. Andrew H. Foote) who served in the Civil War. I call my friend, Eric Zawacki, to give him an update on our trip and see how Jersey is treating him. He says he is in Annapolis for the night and invites us to eat dinner at his daughter and son-in-law’s house. Good food, good people, good times.
5-27 – Sunday – Boompa reserves a rental car (he has an eye appointment in TN and doesn’t want to get stuck somewhere on the water and miss it) for Tuesday. We stay at ACM for another two nights. We decide 50% of people in Maryland are douche bags. Our waitress is nice. Our bartender is a prick. A gas station owner is really cool. The gas station attendant is a dick. The bank teller starts out nice, but grows tired of us and stops being friendly. They act like New Yorkers, but there is no hurry. In Maryland’s defense, we only stayed in marinas on the Chesapeake. Strange culture though.
5-28 – Monday – Last full day in Annapolis. We find Boat Yard Bar and Grille. Cool place and the people aren’t stuck up.
5-29 – Tuesday – Early breakfast at Boat Yard. I have a breakfast pizza with 6 eggs with bacon on a wheat crust. Boompa’s rental car is late and the Hertz guy is a dick. Big surprise. Steve and I walk for a few miles and find a tiller handle at a marine store. We then walk around the shady parts of Annapolis with a tiller handle each. The people are nice on this side of town. We attach the beautiful new wooden handle and head south. The seas are rough and we only make it 10 miles before anchoring about 30 minutes before night. There is a storm closing in fast. The anchor is set minutes before the wind starts howling. We button up the cabin and eat a delicious chicken and dumpling canned dinner. Steve pulled up the table. Classy. The storm gets a little hairy, but is over in an hour.
5-30 – Wednesday – Hot sun, no wind. It feels like we will never leave Maryland. We stop before a draw bridge and Steve and I get into a small argument about hitting the dock. We are really sick of MD. There is a sign that says they charge 3x the normal rate for docking on the fuel dock. We skidaddle and go under the raised draw bridge. We make it another few miles and anchor for the night in front of more super mansions. Tomorrow we want to GTFO of MD.
5-31 – Thursday – A day for the books. 7:15am, we take off. Best case scenario, we somehow sail 44 miles as the crow flies (more like 54, zig-zagging) before dark to make the Maryland border. If we averaged 5 knots, it would take us about 11 hours. We are on a broad reach most of the morning and really learn how to “steer the waves” a.k.a. surf. The theoretical hull speed for my boat is about 6.3 knots. While running from the wind and surfing waves we hit 7.8 knots. Later, we hit 8.2 knots. That is wicked fast for a Catalina 27. We roll into a marina south of the VA border around 8:30PM. We sailed 80 miles. Our course looks like it was planned on a computer. Perfect day and cheeseburgers and beer for dinner. Fairport is the name of the town. If you ever get a chance to stay at the marina, do it. Smells like shrimp, but cool people and a cool place. $20/night for the slip and we are looking for work in the morning.
6-1 – Friday – We wake up early to look for work. The boat yard recommends talking to the owner of our marina, a one-legged man with a Virginia accent that sounds Cajun. Roy says there is no work today, but can’t get his boat lift engine to start. He offers us the job of fixing it. We bypass a faulty power check (as had already been done on the lift engine next to it) and it runs fine. Roy gives us $40, which pays for our slip. We meet one of Roy’s employees, Ryan, who trades us a case of beer for a microwave we are getting rid of. We go to Ryan’s friend’s house to drink beer and see how they do it in VA.
Ryan’s friend Tony was put in our path for a reason. Tony built a kayak a while back and paddled it from the Virginia/Maryland border to Charleston. He was heading to the Florida keys until a bolt of lightning landed so close to his kayak that it blew out his ear drum. He thought this was a bad sign and headed back. He financed his journey with work he found down the coast and had a lot of good advice. He also had a lot of equipment. In exchange for a keyboard that we no longer needed, Tony hooked us up with ridiculously useful tools, gadgets, books, and insisted that we take some dry-food. We got all kinds of goodies for our boat projects, comfort, and making money down the coast. Tony and Ryan are cool people.
Tony has a cool retro silver trailer next to a beautiful wheat field. We hung out getting drunk and playing music while a crazy storm came through the area. A yacht club nearby was wrecked by a couple of tornados. Good time to be away from the boat. Tony grilled chicken and smoked sausage. Mmmmmmmm.
6-2 – Saturday – I wake up around 3AM and can’t get back to sleep. I get out of the boat around 5AM to do some Kung Fu. It is awesome and I watch the sun come up, balancing on top of a piling on the dock. I sing in the shower and realize me and Steve can also play music. We wait for Ryan to get off work, but he must have been exhausted (he goes to work at 3:15AM) and we don’t see him. We leave him a really nice inflatable boat for his use or sale and take off for Deltaville.
No wind during the day makes for a tireless trip. Steve and I get into an argument along the way, work it out, and arrive at Deltaville around 9:00PM. The marina we park at is already closed and we look for someone that works there. No luck. We walk to a bar called CoCoMo’s and then walk around following music. We finally find the music on the other side of a river. No way to get across. We go to sleep and leave before the sun comes up.
6-3 – Sunday – Long day. Slow sailing and then the wind died. Hot sun, so Steve makes a bimini out of his marine pancho liner. Ballin. We are comfortable and don’t mind taking 15 hours to get to Norfolk. The Navy ships are cool. There are at least 30 aircraft carriers in a row. Next to them is the Port of Virginia and there are two huge ships with an estimated 2800 containers. A container, like the ones on the back of a semi, full of blue jeans is worth about $1M. There is a lot of money on these two boats. Forklifts look like cartoons and the guy playing the claw game is a rock star.
We arrive at the marina in Norfolk. Pretty sweet place. Much more space as compared to Maryland (think of Times Square on the water) and everything is clean. The part of the city we stayed in was as clean as a city in Germany. Steve and I walk to WacArnold’s on a less clean side of town. It’s great not eating boat cooked canned meals, although the gimble stove (swings as the boat rocks) I crafted out of some wire mesh and a copper tube makes cooking possible even in high seas.
The boat next to us just came from the Chesapeake. They are our age, on our size boat, starting from the same location, ending about 80 miles apart. We find out in the next few days we have stuff in common, too. They ask if we want to start a two-boat convoy to cross a section of the Atlantic. We are down.
6-4 – Monday – Andy is in the Coast Guard and has been dreaming about living life at sea since he was a kid (not unlike Steve). He even has a Hawaiian sling. He found a sailboat in New Jersey and tried sailing it down twice. He was alone both times and got rocked by the seas off the coast of NJ. This time he got a crew that he was able to keep until Annapolis. He called everyone he knew to help him complete the trip and found his old roommate, Chris, was able. Chris is funny as hell, a very educated and intelligent young man living in Chicago with a bunch of standup comedians. They crack us up and we find out we watch all of the same tv shows, adult cartoons, and Chris is one of the only people I’ve met travelling that knows about Zevon.
We leave after coffee and head into the Dismal Swamp. It’s beautiful and narrow, a nice change from the wide open bays and ocean. It looks like the Okeefenokee Swamp and I even see a deer swimming in the water. There are some floating logs and their ’68 Bristol is in front because of a shallower draft, so we have warning when obstructions are found. We pass some cool boats and arrive at our first lock. The lock tender is a really cool old dude that hails us on his conch shell. Apparently an old tradition is to bring tropical seashells when you travel back north. This guy has a ton of them and can play them like a jazz trumpet. We are impressed and its really cool being in a water elevator. We travel under his drawbridge and go 20 miles further to the next lock. This guy sucks. His first remark is asking us where our American flag is. With a former Marine and current Coast Guard riding with us, we wonder why the Army Corps of Engineers employee is so pissed. He has no conch shells.
When we pull up to Elizabeth City, there is a 4-piece jazz band playing on the dock. We pull up and (mainly because I didn’t grab the dock) smack the bow-sprit of our boat right into the ¼” thick steel sheer wall. Elizabeth City feels like a much smaller version of downtown Savannah without the oak trees. We walk down a highway riddled with fast food and stop at Mamasita’s Mexican Grille. The menu had great Spanglish, which I don’t think the locals knew was a joke. Two pitchers, lots of laughter, and a delicious meal later, we leave to find some more beer. There are really, really tiny beer cans at a gas station, so we grab a 12 pack. Back at the boat, we drink and laugh some more and wait for the occupied port-a-potty. Two hours later we check on the plastic shit house and realize that someone LIVES there! We say that we feel bad through our uncontrollable laughter. That is pretty rough.
6-5 – Tuesday – Heading for the other side of the Albermarle Sound. Team Bristol ran aground and surprisingly continued to sail opposite of the bouys. We had great sailing and went through a swing bridge under sail. Very sketchy with only about 40’ of clearance. The bridge tender is terrified and impressed and the boats are nearly overlapping. We anchor at the end of the Alligator River in front of the Pungo Canal. The boats are hooked up in the dark and we anchor together.
6-6 – Wednesday – We wake up surrounded by crab pots after having nightmares about crab pots. We have amazing coffee brewed through the percolator and head through the canal. A log gets stuck in our prop, but no real damage. Got gas before Belhaven and started worrying about the motor and really hot water coming through the pisser. Folks there are really nice and after a cold drink decide the motor is ok. Started heading down the Pungo River and crossed Pamlico River and enter Gale Creek into the Pamlico Sound. It’s rough out there, but the gimble stove makes cooking dinner easy. We finally arrive in Oriental around midnight. The city dock was full, our friend’s almost landed on top of jetty rocks, and we went under a 43’ bridge. We thought the mast was 41’, and now we know it’s no taller than 42’. We anchored next to a pink boat which got us all excited.
6-7 – Thursday – We go to the city dock and double-park. There is a webcam at www.towndock.net/harborcam. The people in Oriental are extremely nice and give us tons of advice on fixing the holes drilled for the motor mount. The last owner must not have realized that there is a slight gap between the transom and interior wall, which when filled with water, drops straight into the old inboard motor housing.
Steve is already up the mast of a really cool old guy’s 20’ Flicka sailboat and I go across the street for ice cream. I have to get the mainsail repaired today. To get my genoa UV cover stitched in NY, it cost about $300. With less than $80, we are a little nervous. The guy from the marine store gives us ideas for the transom hole and gives me a ride to a sailmaker across town. The sailmaker is a true pro and 10 minutes and $20 later is giving me a ride back to the boat. He and his wife sailed down to Florida in ’78 with $20 and lived on the boat for 6 years. When they came back home, they had $40. Cool guy, wizard with sails, gave me some good advice: 3 things that ruin sails are UV, chafing, and flapping. He said when he sees a boat flapping its sails, he can see $20’s flying out the back.
We patch the boat with a ton of 5200 and try to follow all of the old people’s conflicting advice. After 7 hours of following their advice it is clear they will never stop. I tell them we are putting the motor back on and will not fix things that are not yet broken. We have a shower. I feel like a grown man who was just born. Since we expected to spend more on the sail and are planning on sailing for a long time, we have a good dinner at the marina restaurant. The burgers live up to their reputation. Amazing. Too many fries to eat, but we eat every last one. We sleep from 11PM til 2AM to start off into the night.
6-8 – Friday – The moon gives enough light to leave Oriental. The weather is looking bad, so the plan is to stop in Beaufort and wait for good weather. We pull over in the Beaufort inlet and Steve shimmies half way up the mast to screw in a loose spreader light. The boats are going slow enough to make this possible and we are back on our way. I am going to back Steve on his decision of whether or not to move forward. I am anticipating his response to be something along the lines of “We have to wait for the weather” which is fine with me. I ask him 3 times how he feels about it and he says he feels good about it. I find out later that he was just saying this because he didn’t want to be a drag. Not good. He knows how bad the weather is going to be for us. Andy’s boat is going faster than ours and the only reason for us to stay together is safety, which was the reason for the last 4 days of travelling together. It is decided that the weather is not threatening and we part ways. We stay closer to the shore and they go out into big blue.
Because the wind is directly in our face, we tack back and forth and the original 12 hour leg turns into a 25 hour leg. (Note to reader: wait for the fucking weather.) Around nightfall, I go into the cabin to get some rest and it sounds like I’m in a horror movie. The walls of the boat are twisting and creaking. The boat is listing because we are beating into the wind so I have to sleep on the little couch in the cabin. I am leaning up against the wall/hull and feel every wave on my back. The keel and bottom of the boat are slamming on waves every 4 seconds and it sounds like a tremor off the Kevin Bacon 90’s action/horror movie. The water is rushing past the boat walls as if I were hugging a giant water pipe. There is a charcoal hibachi grill under the bench that keeps jumping up and hitting the bottom of my bed. I walk up to the cockpit and tell Steve, “Dude, it is terrifying in here. Seriously.” Then I try to go back and get some sleep. The last thing I read was a rigging book. It is so dry and matter-of-fact that it echoes in my head: Failure to maintain adequate shroud pressure can lead to dismasting. That is some scary, factual shit! On the cusp of sleeping and day-dreaming I think about the rigging.
I wake up. “Mike!” Steve calls my name. It’s dark and Steve is wearing rain gear. He tells me to come out there quick and furl up the genny. I put pants and a jacket on and pull it in as fast as I can. Steve’s voice tells me there is more wrong than strong wind. About 3 minutes later when we are situated, I look at him. “Lay it on me, what’s up?” He shines the light on the forward port lower-shroud. The braided stainless-steel wire looks like a hula skirt.
“What do you want to do?” he asks me. “Drop the main. We gotta motor in.” “Okay.” We drop it about 20 seconds later and start looking for an inlet. Steve remembers Ryan from Fairport saying, “If you ever lose a shroud, use a Halyard to limp back to harbor.”
There are no marked bouys on the next two inlets and New Topsail Inlet looks sketchy. The ICW book tells us it is shallow, so we try to call the Coast Guard for more info. The guy is half asleep and tells us there are no lit bouys. “Can we get in at night?” we ask him. “You can try.” Thanks dude. It is 7 miles away aka 1:30 away. The next inlet is 16 miles away and it’s about midnight. We call back the Coast Guard. Same dick waffle answers the phone and says, “I can’t tell you turn right and then turn left. You can call a salvage company to guide you and that will cost money.” What a dick bag. I decide we will go for another 2 or 3 hours and make for the Masonboro Inlet.
Lucy (our outboard motor) makes it through the waves and the night and delivers us to the river. We motor up while shining the pilings and channel markers with a small LED flash light. The GPS shows us in 8ft of water and we hit ground. Fast reverse, and we determine the shoal has moved. We wiggle into a small bay and drop anchor just before the sun peeks over the horizon.
6-9 – Saturday – We wake up on a little sand bar, but the wake from passing boats rocks us and we are able to float back into the river and motor down to Joyner’s Marina. Nice people, not too small, not too big. The miniature rock jetties seem strange for a marina with only 4 T-docks. As we approach the marina, which is just across from a bridge covered river, there is a definite color change from aqua-green to dark brown. There is a crisp diagonal line starting at the mouth of the river and coming all the way across to the entrance of the marina that makes it look like a thick cloud is always hovering on the south side of the river.
We try to track down a shroud and are directed to the local sailing guru, Kevin. Kevin says he thinks he can help us and to call him back Monday.
Bob tells us we can park next to him. Bob is cool, about 65, and is much more adventurous than we are. He trained special forces in the army for Vietnam. They sent him to live on a glacier for a week. They sent him to live in a jungle for a week. He said he got into the airborne because he was on a plane and they asked for volunteers and two of his buddies raised his hands. He pulled them back down, but it was too late. 101st, 82nd, 51st. He made 156 jumps. He’s travelled all over the world and showed us a picture of him, his wife, and son on a kayak in front of a glacier in Alaska. Bob helped us out a bunch, too. He and his wife Patty drove us into town to get pizza, drove us to TrueValue Island Tackle, and bought us about 40 AA batteries. He showed us how to use compound to clean up the hull and gelcoat. He sanded a part of the teak to show me how to prep it. Great guy. He and his wife walked us down to the beach, where you can drive your trucks and hundreds of people go to hang out by real bon fires and camp out. I resist the urge to go out and party because I am exhausted and am genuinely not in a gregarious mood. It’s a tough decision, but I don’t want to conjure up inauthentic charisma and put on a façade.
6-10 – Sunday – I sleep in late and feel great. We have a plan. We will motor out to a mooring, which are free, and figure out what we are going to do for the broken shroud. Bob takes us out to lunch the next day for some award winning seafood chowder. The potatoes in the chowder were just perfect. If you are ever in Carolina Beach, go to Michael’s Seafood Restaurant. Thanks again Bob.
Lucy did her job, but when we start up the motor to head out to the mooring, Bob points out that our outboard was not pissing like it should and then helped us take it apart. Symptoms pointed to a bad impeller. We suspected this earlier due a hot motor. In hindsight, we should have tried a little harder to see if there was a clog, because we may have messed up the lower unit.
6-11 – Monday – We try again to get in touch with Kevin. He says he’s busy and will call back tomorrow. We head down to a marine parts store to get a new impeller and place an order. Parts should be in by Wednesday. We walk around looking for work all day to no avail. Couldn’t even get a temp Joe Dirt job working at the local fair. Lady looked at me like I was nuts. We head home defeated and Steve buys a snorkel & mask to try to clean boats with. Bob recommends we try a bar at the pier to hang out at. Matt is there. Matt tells us about his life as a pro surfer and his many Italian restaurants. But most importantly, Matt tells us about filet mignon in his fridge at home. We are sold. His girlfriend isn’t real happy, but we are asked to stay and eat steak. Good night.
6-12 – Tuesday – Need to get a shroud cause $40/night is getting expensive and the engine parts aren’t gonna be here until tomorrow. I ride the bike in a torrential downpour for 9.8 miles to get on the Wave public bus route towards Wilmington. 3 busses and I’m at WestMarine in Wilmington to use their workshop to build a shroud. Their “workshop” is a 6 foot bench with a tape measure and some spools of wire. They don’t have 5/32” 1×19. They don’t have 5/16” Norseman fittings. They don’t have what I need. The guy at the store knows a lot about boats and helps me get the parts ordered to be delivered next day at the marina. Saved about $100, too. He also planted the seed in my brain about delivering boats, which is what he did for a long time on the west coast. I bike around downtown Wilmington, which resembles all other southeastern cities such as Savannah and Charleston, eat delicious NY pizza and bus it back to the marina.
Matt calls and offers to pick me up. He invites us to eat pizza and his girlfriend wants to apologize. I am hesitant, but the arrangements have been made and pizza is waiting for us. What the hell. After hangin out for a bit we go to meet up with some of his employees and go to a bar. Matt is a little controlling toward the girls and their guy friend doesn’t like it. He and Matt start arguing and the door is shut on Matts toe and finger, hard enough to make them bleed. Matt punches the guy twice in the face, says some expletives and we go to hang out at the bar. A little excitement is a good change. We crash at Matt’s place again.
6-13 – Wednesday – We get back to the marina and after noon the motor parts are in. We spend most of the day putting it back together, and I have to ride back and forth 3 miles, three times to get everything we need, which isn’t enough. It starts getting messy and thankfully, we can’t get off the gear box without two unique, special tools that the mechanic does not have. We replace the critical parts, but one of the bolts holding the water pump housing onto the oil seal housing stripped out. SOL. We covered it with RTV and hope for the best. It’s late and we are tired. Low morale needs sleep.
6-14 – Thursday – Sleep is had and we feel better. Seems like containing all of our problems doesn’t solve them or make us feel better about them. We tell everyone that everything is ok as we watch our money supply dissipate and chance of getting home diminish. Not sure what to do about those situations except scream like a crazy old lady.
The shroud arrives and we are happy. We attach the motor and because the shroud is the correct size, we feel the need to celebrate. Besides, we can’t leave for a couple more days anyway due to weather. We pull up 7 crabs from our buddy’s traps and have a boil. I score a steam pot from the consignment shop in town, some Soul Seasoning, knock-off Cheese Whiz, Louisiana style hot sauce, and a six-pack of PBR. We eat crabs, collard greens, ramen noodles, and rice&beans until we are absolutely stuffed. Music is played, the boat is cleaned, and we go to sleep.
6-15 – Friday – The weather is looking good for tomorrow night and the wind is light enough today to tune the mast. After Steve comes down from attaching the new shroud to the middle of the mast, we carefully read several sets of mast tuning instructions. Turns out it’s not rocket science. It’s structural engineering. Good thing I have a masters degree in it J. It’s really not that hard and we overcomplicate it just because we have the time and want to feel good about something for a change. The mast is straight and tight. We do feel good and order a pizza. I find out that I need to do 4 things each day if possible to feel balanced: Kung Fu, learn Spanish, play music, and learn about sailing. That’s my life for the next few months at least.
6-16 – Saturday – Tonight we are going to leave for the last and biggest leg of our journey. After marina coffee (delicious) I do some stretching, Spanish on Rosetta Stone, and then we head into town on foot to get supplies. Steve brought the uke and we played enough music, so I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I need to by 3:36pm. $2.36 left, so we can get a cold drink before we head out. Bob, Patty, Randy, and Randy’s wife invite us to have burgers on Randy’s boat before we leave.
After a delicious “last supper” Bob gets his boat ready to escort us out of Snow’s Cut and into the Cape Fear River. The untested, rebuilt motor is a little nerve racking. If the gear box is not sealed well enough from the RTV, the seawater will destroy the motor instantaneously. We hook up the gas and battery and crank it. It locks up. We try to crank again. Nothing. Shit. Randy recommends we pull start it. I hold the motor with my foot and pull as hard as I can on the rope. The handle comes off and the engine does nothing. Shit. I tie a knot in the rope to keep the handle on and pull again. This time the engine putts a little. Awesome. We hit the crank while rapping on the carburetor and she starts up with a little hesitation. A little throttle adjustment and it runs great. Too great actually. I’ve never heard it run so smoothly and we come to the conclusion that FSM’s noodly appendage is propelling the boat. In the river, we say our goodbyes over the radio and headed for the ocean with a reefed mainsail. I take a nap while Steve takes us to the Cape Fear inlet. At the last bend of the river before the ocean we are close reached at 8 knots out of the river with the 2 knot current behind us. The boat feels like it is on ice. The tuning and balancing of the boat really showed a great improvement in performance. After we exit the inlet, the seas gradually pick up until we are seeing 5’ swells regularly. I wake up around 11PM and check the shrouds. I make some more adjustments, hold the loose leeward shrouds with bunjee cords, and we both stay up to sail through the night.
6-17 – Sunday – The seas are constantly 4’ until 7PM. I got at most a combined 3 hours of sleep so it is a bit irritating. In these conditions, you can’t do anything right. Can’t use the bathroom, can’t cook, can’t walk around without loosing balance. The air is so salty, my hands turn white and my right eye constantly waters. I wait for Steve to wake up, cook some tasty sausage patties and make sausage and cheese whiz wraps. Yum. I crash out for 6 hours and take my time getting up. I make Ramen noodles and green beans and we split an oatmeal cream pie. Steve goes to sleep and the weather changes from good to perfect. With very little cruise control (rope tied around the tiller and two cleats) I am able to hang a fishing line off the back of the boat, call dad for father’s day, and play tons of ukulele. J I wake Steve around 1AM to celebrate passing Charleston, drink a cup of coffee, and have a smoke. We study star constellations and I work on my book as Steve sails us through the night.
6-18 – Monday – We should get home tonight. The weather is beautiful and we drag a line all day trying to catch a fish, but all we catch is chunks of kelp floating on the water. We pass some massive kelp beds where shade is provided for fish to hang out underneath, but I steer way to close and we get a huge snag and break the line. We pull in the pole and trade off turns sleeping to get ready for the night. Steve wakes me up as we pass Tybee and prepare to go through the shipping channel. There are some unlit channel markers and we try to judge which ships and barges are anchored and which are going through the channel. They look like miniature cities floating in the distance, but can move 4 to 10 times as fast as us, so it is imperative that we time the channel crossing well, as we have only the strength of the wind to rely on. We tack around to give a ship room to pass and there is a slight traffic jam as one of the large ships goes outside of the channel to pass another. Alas we cross and continue into the night. The rising crescent moon has a star just visible on the black edge so it looks like it’s inside.
6-19 – Tuesday – We should really get there today. The sun is coming up as we pass St. Catherine’s Island. The 2005 charts do not match up well with the current positions of the shoals so we are forced to cross sandbars Columbus style. We listen for breakers to avoid getting beached near the beach and whatever other horrible scenarios that go along with that. We hear what sounds like waves crashing on the beach, but we are between the sound and the beach, which is not good. The morning light shows waves crashing in front of us, behind us, and beside us and we are in 5’ of water. The GPS shows us already in the deep channel, so we know we are close. Dodging the waves like a video game, we finally hit the deep water and cruise into the St. Catherine’s Sound.
The wind calms to almost nothing, so now we are home free. With no force on the sails or rigging to speak of, the pin holding the mainsheet tackle flies apart. The retaining pin is found, but the pin has disappeared. As Steve searches through the boat for a replacement, I hold the block with one hand and the tiller with the opposite foot. A few minutes later, a replacement is found from the unused clew downhaul and it is nap time. I wake up and we are at anchor with the wind picking up. Half asleep, I take up anchor and start sailing in the weak wind. As I struggle to make progress up the winding, narrowing river, the challenge overcomes my fatigue and I see an opportunity to make the last 5 miles of the trip. T-Pool gets off work at 4pm and will help us dock at his house on the river.
The wind and tide becomes unfavorable and we are forced to anchor about a mile from our friend’s dock. We wait a few hours for the current to reverse. Patience has been learned throughout the trip and we enjoy taking time to do things other than A to B sailing. I throw a casting net off of the bow and Steve stretches and exercises a bit. After an undetermined nap, the tides are looking better so we give it a shot. Close-hauled, we tack up the 100’ wide river and around the last few bends. Steep edges allow us to get within feet of the grass between tacks. T-Pool gets in his boat to clear a space for us just as we round the last turn. It’s not beautiful, but we are able to dock gently under sail, which is a first for this boat. On the very last dock post of the trip, I finally get the quick-tie clove hitch right and we are home.
That night around 3AM, sharing the upstairs bed at our parents’ house, two things happen simultaneously. Stephen wakes up and looks at the ceiling, which has a steep angular portion, as many 2-story houses do. He thinks it is a sail, and comments on its nice shape, and then remembers he is no longer on a boat. He looks over at me, and I am sitting on the side of the bed with my feet on the floor, reaching into the darkness behind me. He asks, what I am doing and I say, “Damn. I was looking for the tiller.” At least it provides a good laugh at the breakfast table the next morning.
Awesome storyline, Mike! What an excellent trip.
Sehr gut geschrieben und lustig! 🙂