Friday, December 30, 2005

Had a great week in Vero Beach, aka Velcro Beach. Lots of boats get that far and either plan to stay for the winter or just get caught up with the free bus service to the malls, the congenial atmosphere, the weather, and the reasonable cost. For ten bucks a day on a mooring, rafted with a couple of boats containing your new best friends, you can watch the porpoises frolick, and head in to the dinghy dock where you can nudge your way in between the other 45 grey inflatables. It was a great place to spend a week, warm up, tidy up, get some jobs done, and celebrate Christmas.

We decided early on that we had the best raft in the harbour. All three of us decorated for Christmas, and there were only about three or four boats out of all the rest that bothered with lights. Nancy D. was the only boat sporting flags! They spelled Merry Christmaz, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.
Evenings were spent sitting in the cockpit, having drinks chatting back and forth with the folks from Vixen and Freya. We all agreed that all our friends and family have a warped idea about our lifestyle. As Alan put it (read this with a Glaswegian accent), "they think we're swanning around down here, taking it easy." We all thought it would be instructive to let you know about the daily routine.

Alan is up at the crack of...well, sometime after dawn: a reasonable time to start using modest power tools. He spent the better part of the week shifting his rig further outboard so that his decks wouldn't flex in a stiff breeze. This involved creating or discovering new leaks in the cabin top.

Paul spent the first three days at the mooring dealing with plumbing (dirty work) problems. Paul doesn't like plumbing problems, particularly those that include holding tanks. Paul had plumbing problems up the yingyang - the galley sink also packed it in. The day we left, their laptop also retired.

Randy hooked up a radio remote mike that doesn't work (just tries to transmit everytime you connect it). Alan and Randy were hauled up their respective masts to do little jobs, and their respective nether bits went numb. Anne and Denise and I kvetched about the difficulty involved with every job on a boat: in order to accomplish it (electrical, plumbing, carpentry) it always involves tearing the boat completely apart.

Everything involves tearing the boat apart. I decided to scrub the mouldy bits in the forward cabin, and as soon as I started shifting books off the shelf, I discovered that there was mould in more places than those I could just see! And water! Ho ho! Who knew? So that meant all the cushions had to be dragged outside (heavy as hell, and heavier when WET), scrubbed and dried in the sun, and the whole interior of the forward bunk had to be scrubbed out. It's lovely and clean and smells less like it did before.

That was the day after I decided to tidy up my clothes locker and discovered that the new deck washdown pump had been leaking salt water into the back of my locker with every use. Three loads of laundry later, that was all sorted out and the connection rebedded.

Denise and I are learning to drive our dinghies. I'm glad I'm doing this while Tom's not here, because it involves inelegant procedures, and some profanity. This morning, Randy thought I was cursing at him, when I thought I was being perfectly clear about directing my comments to the pseudo-gear shift that purports to have three separate places for forward, neutral and reverse. I have come to the conclusion that "neutral" is

Did I mention the fruit flies? Mangroves on the shore seemed to provide an endless supply, which we've also hauled along with us to Fort Pierce. So we've been sitting in the cockpit, waving our hands over our drinks, fishing the little buggers out, and reviewing the desperate condition of our boats, our belongings, and our equipment. Combine all that with temperatures well into the 20's, clear blue skies, good friends, good wine, good food (except the bbq's got one element that's toasted, so you can only cook one steak rare in 20 minutes), and you can see that this lifestyle is really only for the incredibly tough and resilient. Skills. You've got to have skills. I'm picking them up as I go.

Next, we're sailing outside to Lake Worth - skipping a ton of bridges - then on to Fort Lauderdale where I hope we'll pick up Tom. Sailing! We haven't had the sails up for weeks. They're probably mouldy.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

We're missing everyone at home, but this is definitely an experience that is not to be missed. First, minimal Christmas shopping and wrapping and stressing. Next, we're warm. And the next best thing to being with family is
lucking out at the marina and rafting with two boats and meeting great new people.

We'll have Christmas dinner today with Anne and Alan from Scotland and Denise and Paul from North Carolina. First, they're all coming here for a glass of wine and appetizers, then we'll head to Anne and Alan's boat (biggest table) with our roast lamb and tons of other food and wine and goodies.

We've had our big breakfast
with champagne and orangina, showers at the marina, and this afternoon (before we have to start cooking - some things don't change at Christmas, wherever you are) we'll go for a walk to the beach. In shorts.

Missing everyone. Tom tells me that he's going for a walk in the woods this afternoon in about 4 inches of snow. Stay warm everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Haven't worn my down coat in many days. Still wearing lots of layers, but there are times when we're showing flesh. Hands. Noses. Forearms.

Jekyll Island was a nice place to hang out and wait for Randy's sore throat and cold to improve, but I have to report that the Low Country Boil at the restaurant was a disappointment. Soggy potatoes, hunks of corn on the cob that had seen better weeks, boring sausage, but decent shrimp, which the Capt. loaded up on. I had a great bbq pork sandwich thingy. We got to listen to the same Jimmy Buffet CD (maybe it was an 8-track?) all the next day everytime I walked by the restaurant building, which also housed the loo and the laundryroom.

Beautiful liveoak trees are everywhere, and they're shedding acorns like nobody's business. We saw squirrels that must be full fit to bust. Walking around the marina area, we'd hear pings, bonks, ticks, little thuds -- acorns dropping on roofs, awnings, lids, sidewalks -- missed my head by a few inches once.

From what we could tell on foot, Jekyll Island seems to be mostly resorts, golf courses and conference centres. We had a lovely beach walk, our first!, on a looooong stretch of beach with lots of clamshells, pen shells and dead horseshoe crabs. Those things are really prehistoric looking. The marina was about a mile from a little strip mall with an interesting personality. It had a post office where I mailed off some parcels to my wee babbies at home, and about four stores that sold the worst awful dreck. I've come to the conclusion that there's a world-wide industry built up around guilt gifts that people buy when they've gone off on a business trip or a dirty weekend, and as soon as they know they're headed home, they buy this tacky stuff for their kids/wives/employees, cause they've been away, and maybe got in a round of golf, and everyone else has been stuck at home dealing with dustbunnies or faxes or whatever. Boycott the guilt-crap gift. Nobody really needs a pirate head carved out of a coconut. I almost bought one for Tom. Close call.

Our spot in the marina was close to a highway bridge, but it was the traffic under the bridge that was interesting. Shrimp boats going one way in the morning, and back again at night. Both ways, they were surrounded by clouds of gulls and pelicans, and as soon as the boats went under the bridge span, the birds seemed to get all confused, and they just hung on one side of the bridge, wheeling about, like 'where'd our boat go dude?', and the shrimp boat steamed off in full view. We also sat on deck and watch dozens of pelicans sitting on the water floating by in the current. In the mornings, you could see some of the fellas from other boats walking up the dock with their golf bags over their shoulders. And like several other marina bathrooms I've frequented, there's always a clandestine drinker who deposits their beer cans or bottles carefully in the trash in the ladies bathroom. Go figure.

I walked back up to the phone at the little mall the night of the 15 to call Tom and wish him happy birthday (he and Molly were eating vegan food and birthday cake lovingly prepared by sister Anna and Laura), and walked home to my dinner in the drizzle and dark with the spanish moss drooping spookily all down the dark road to the marina. After dinner Randy was feeling better, so we decided to take another walk in the drizzle and dark and see if we could find some greenery for a Christmassy display of some kind on board. It was such a Martha Stewart moment: decorating and theivery. Shears and flashlight in hand, we skulked around until we collected some stuff with red berries, some cedar with blue berries and some long leaf pine.

Next stop, Fernandina Beach, Florida! We were hoping that Florida would be the magic border to tropic temps, but we got rain, a hundred millimetres in 12 hours (broke records), honking winds, and a picturesque town flanked by huge pulp mills spewing dense fog lit up right nice by the sunset the next evening. We had a walk around town before it rained, and stopped for a beer. The bartender noted Randy's Port of Halifax logo on his vest, and said that he'd been in Halifax when he was in the Navy and was in a group that tried to steal the flags from the top of the Citadel. He said it was a bad scene, don't try it. Good advice. We drank Dirty Dog beer - Randy had a Tirebiter. We toured the very pretty part of town which included St Patrick's Parish Episcopalian Church. The driveway out front was lined with signs that said "Thou Shalt Not Park."

Back to the boat, we installed our version of Christmas decorations, and Randy fixed the head. It had been filling with water when at rest, and after much discussion and head-scratching, the solution turned out to be to replacing the inlet valve with the old one that he took out the last time it was leaking. Works great now. Again, go figure.

Fernandina Beach to St Augustine, 62 miles. Got there just after a small plane had crashed just north of the city, and we motored by all the emergency vehicles on shore and wondered what had happened. Read the headlines the next day. Very sad.

We trekked up to the PO the next morning and were rewarded with a letter from Auntie Mary. Real mail is very satisfying! If anyone else sent us something, note that we did set up a change of address so that mail will be forwarded to us via Randy's friends in Fort Lauderdale. We stopped to use the phone at Flagler College. Stunning building, built as a hotel, and now houses one of the few pay phones in the known universe. Fella at the marina told us that Bell has taken out most of the pay phones in northern Florida. They weren't making any money on them apparently.

There are beautiful buildings and a nifty and very old downtown section - RMS thinks it claims to be the oldest city in the US - and after we walked around for a few hours, we were starved and ate at a not great place, but we were treated to some unique Christmas music: Bing Crosby's White Christmas, with a drum track added. Sort of a disco-y beat. Bing, ya never sounded so weird.

We took our rolly cart and made our way, the usual two or three miles, to the grocery store and spent a pile of money stocking up. There were tons of bargains for those with reward cards, so Randy took the bull by the horns, and went to the service desk and asked what it took to get a Winn-Dixie customer reward card. I don't know what he gave them for an address or contact info, but we got one and saved $37 bucks on wine and meat and other stuff. We waited almost a half-hour for a taxi to take us back to the marina (more stuff than the cart could handle), and we got a brother and sister act - she was driving, he was loading groceries, she was chewing on her fake nails, and he was telling stories about his recent arrest. "Who bailed you out?" sis asks. "My baby's momma," was the reply. Really. Turns out his baby's momma is currently pregnant, and he's hoping the baby comes close to Valentine's Day so he won't have to buy her a gift. Now there's family planning.

St Augustine to Daytona Beach, 52 miles. Quiet anchorage, lovely sunset off of Caribbean Jack's Marina.
Daytona Beach to Cocoa, 70 miles. Long day. Cruised by Cape Canaveral. Nothing going up. We did have a wild moment of glee when Randy spotted flamingoes. Pink? These birds were like bubblegum, Barbie accessory pink. We hopped around laughing. Checked the bird book later to find that Great Flamingoes are rare, and we probably saw Roseate Spoonbills, but hell, they were pink. We felt we'd arrived!

Less invigorating, but equally suggestive in terms of shifting geography, I was scanning the houses along the side of the waterway early in the morning, and saw two big SNAKES on the tile roof of some poor schmucks' dock house. Grey, all coiled up, but the bits that we could see appeared to be as big around as my arm, or bigger. There was a guy in a blue uniform poking about in the bushes by the house, and I wanted to scream at him "the ROOF, they're on the ROOF!!!!," but it seemed undignified, and we were probably out of range anyway. We also saw a half dozen bald eagles in the next mile or so, and many many ospreys, so maybe they'll get the snakes.

On a happier note, porpoises are constant visitors. They can scare the crap out of us when they surface right beside the cockpit. One surfaced as he cruised by today and blew a plume of spray that wet the deck in the cockpit. Porpoise hooligans?

Cocoa to Vero Beach, 54 miles. Nice little marina, crammed full of boats. Each mooring has a raft of two or three boats, and there's no anchoring allowed, it's that full. Good laundry, nice walk to the beach, nice temp - about 63 degrees (16-17) by 5:30 when we walked back to the marina to pick up the laundry. Clean sheets for Christmas! Supper is on the go, glass of wine is in hand, and we're ready to hang here until Monday and get some little jobs done around the boat, and celebrate the festive season, Florida style. We'll try to post again on Christmas day, and it looks as though the email is working okay here, so send news.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lovely stay on Isle of Palms. About sunset, I opened the hatch to go on deck, and startled a huge heron just about to land on the dock about six feet from my face. It was about the size of a skinny ten-year old with Batman wings. It took off again, right over my head. Close encounters. Other birds, less dramatic - a gaggle of grackles, I think -- had their breakfast and processed it and left it on deck the next morning. I had to go around with a bucket and a scrubbie.

We did the grand tour of the island in the morning, walking the length and breadth of the place to find the grocery store. Just up the road from the marina, we asked a fella how far to the grocery store? He scratched his head, and said, why don't you take your car? We walked two or three miles to the store, and thought we might get a pile of groceries and take a cab back. No cabs on the island. We made minimal purchases and walked back. We saw one person on a bike, one jogger, the aforementioned retiree walking his dog, and a couple of people on the golf course. Everyone else was booting along in their vehicles. All on a beautiful sunny day, about 15 degrees. (At the risk of repeating myself, the mall-ification of small towns and cities is ubiquitous. The basic stuff -- groceries, gas, post office, library -- aren't available in the downtown and residential areas. Everything you need to do on a regular basis requires a vehicle. Downtown means bars, restaurants, coffee shops, fudge stores, souvenir stores, if it's a prosperous place. In smaller centres, the downtowns and waterfronts are literally empty. The mall, and the highway, that's where you've got to go. It's hell, or at least purgatory. Boycott the BLIP.)

All that reminds me that I really miss meeting my neighbours at the Stupor Store on Quinpool a couple of times a week. Having just dissed the location of the big stores here,I have to say, it's such a treat to be able to stock up on wine at the grocery stores (Black Opal Shiraz, 8 bucks, and this great stuff called Smoking Loon is about 8. The cork is printed round and round with "Whooh, Whooh, Whooh, Whooh, COUGH, Whooh, etc.). And all on Sunday, if you've a mind. As a matter of fact, there were a lot of church people at the neighbourhood Publix store last Sunday in Beaufort. Hats and dresses and suits, buying grits and Apple Jacks and Budweiser and Sunday joints. There was also a woman wearing a camouflage sweat suit. She bought the Apple Jacks.

Left Isle of Palms with another grand display of boat handling. Picture trying to rotate your car in your driveway when the gravel is flowing one way, and the street that you want to get to is flowing in another direction, and the wind is blowing in a third direction. Oh, and did I mention the megayachts parked all around you looking fragile and expensive? Captain didn't break a sweat, but there was a helpful guy on the dock who was sweating bullets. He kept dashing about offering suggestions. Randy just backed up, turned the boat, and we waved goodbye. Lordy, it's so satisfying to travel with a man with skills.

We didn't go far, having decided that we really did want to see some of Charleston, so we went through the bridge (you have to wait until it opens, or call them on the VHF and tell them to haul it on up for you - this is a regular feature most days), motored across the bay, anchored, lowered the dinghy, and had a great walk through Charleston. Lovely place, university town, lots of young people, lots happening downtown, beautiful buildings, beautiful things to buy (we didn't) lots of galleries, and a great post office, with character, and characters. It's so nice to talk to lovely people after days of enjoying lovely scenery all by ourselves.
By the time we got back to the boat it was just getting dark, and our butts were about to fall off after all the walking we'd done -- about 10 miles we figured. Slept well.

Charleston to Rock Creek (anchorage), 47 miles. One of many grassy, marshy, low country anchorages. There are brilliant sunsets, and while the sun is going down, the grass all around is alive with bird noise. It's as if you could hear dinner time and bedtime noises in hundreds of houses all at once. The skyline is a beautiful black silhouette of live oak trees.

Days are usually about eight hours of motoring through this low country grassland. There are fabulous stands of trees, all green: live oaks, long leaf pine and palmettos, and acres of tall yellow grass. We see porpoises all day every day now. Sometimes just their dorsal fins and tails, but once in a while they poke their heads out of the water and take a look at us. I love that.

Rock Creek to Beaufort, SC, 18 miles. The marina had a loaner car and we took a short drive to the Publix store (SUNDAY!) and stocked up big time, back in time to fetch laundry, and have a nice walk down the main street. Good secondhand bookstore, and the proprietor was full of southern welcome and charm. We had a beer and fried green tomatoes at Kathleen's Bar along with a bunch of guys smoking and watching some sort of sports thing. I think they call it football here.

Beaufort to Wilmington River, 51 miles. We anchored just out of the ICW and across from some large and nasty condo developments. Sitting in the cockpit with a drink, a little sailboat came by and the old fella on the bow hollered at us, "we got turned around - which way's the ICW?" Randy pointed back up the river and indicated which markers to look for, and then the gent faced the cockpit and shouted "turn 'er around Nannie!" We got to thinking we'd seen this boat with the older couple aboard aground earlier that afternoon, and aground back up in NC. In the morning, when we headed back up the ICW, we saw them anchored smack dab in the middle of the channel, with a tug and barge combo bearing down on them blasting its horn. Nasty way to wake up. Haven't seen them since then, but we imagine they'll have lots of adventures to share after their trip.

Wilmington River to Cresent River, 60 miles. On the way into the anchorage, a porpoise followed the boat, and Randy felt him give the rudder a nudge before surfacing beside the boat and giving a little blow. Woke me up from my nap. Another quiet anchorage, all alone, grasslands of Georgia. Bird noises. Grits and baked chicken.

Cresent River to Jekyll Island. Lots of skinny (shallow) water, but we managed not to go aground. Going ashore for food! Low country boil. Sounds disgusting, but smelled really good when we walked by. (for an idea, see

We'll park here until the 16th, waiting for rain and wind to clear, and then, south, south, south.
Tomorrow, December 15, is Tom's 18th birthday. Feel free to send him a message at

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Quick backtrack. After I posted the blog on that lovely warm day in Beaufort, we went out for supper to celebrate Tom's birthday (early). We lucked into a really great spot called Aqua. Sort of an American tapas bar. Great fish, scallops, Kobe beef, a nifty bento box, grits (I loves grits), fresh tuna, and a creme brulee that nearly killed the boys. Go there if you're ever in Beaufort, NC. (In SC, there's also a Beaufort, but it's pronounce "Bewfurt.")

After Beaufort, we motored to Mile Hammock Bay. (The boat is just our damp motor home these days - the sails are basically fashion accessories. Good thing diesel prices are okay in this part of the country, about $2.25 or so a gallon. If you've got one of the mega motor yachts that fly by us on a regular basis, that might not be a comforting thought, but since we travel on average at about 7 knots, we burn a gallon an hour, and we put-put for about 8 hours a day, so we don't break the bank.) Nice quiet little cove, with about 10 other boats. Just an anchorage, no civilization to speak of unless you count the constant Warthogs and helicopter traffic from nearby Camp LeJeune, the largest Marine training base on the East Coast.

For the next day, the captain's log reads "Hairy ride through New River Inlet, heavy current, many shoals. Delayed by two bridge openings, several speed bumps." The speed bumps were the shoals . In Nova Scotia, it would be "crunch" - here it's an odd "bump, lurch, lift, plow, speed up and carry on." And repeat every hundred feet or so until you pass the inlet that's shovelling all the sand in from the ocean side. Resist the urge to go below and pour a drink.

So welcome to South Carolina. It's a lot like North Carolina, but NC might be better because it doesn't have Myrtle Beach. Both states have miles and miles of new construction on the canal and the beaches. It all looks pretty much the same, and it's almost all empty this time of year.

We tied up at "Dock Holidays" in North Myrtle Beach. A couple of weeks ago, Tom decided it was time for him to go home and visit his girlfriend, and his flight left from Charleston. When he booked it, that's where we hoped we'd be, but we landed a bit short. No problem, we'll rent a car, we said, and drive to Charleston, which is what we did, but whoo doggies, what a peck o' trouble it is trying to do business when you don't have a phone, a car, or a fixed address.

There are almost no functioning pay telephones anywhere in this part of the state. Not in restaurants, on the dock, in stores. There was a Hooters about a half-mile from the marina, and in desperation, I wandered through it, trying to get someone's attention and ask about a phone. No one was looking at me. I finally got a cheerleader/waitress to make eye contact and tell me "no ma'am" about the phone question, so I got the hell out. Tom said I should have asked for a job application.

I tried two other restaurants, and finally got a pay phone at the grocery store a mile from the marina. That was where we finally sorted out the car rental the next day, although we did have to go into the store to get a phone book. Trying to find a rental outfit that would come and pick us up was a challenge, given that taxi rides to and from rental offices at the Myrtle Beach airport would have tripled the cost of the car rental.

After a couple of months on board, we'd managed to forget that Cell Phones Rule the World. I went into the ladies washroom at the marina, and noted another pair of shoes in the stall next to me. The toilet flushed, and then a woman's voice said Rally? or Reely? or something like that, so I figured she thought I was her friend, and I said, um, no. And then she said, so they pulled you over, did they? And I thought, what the hell? She stayed in the stall, and the one-sided conversation continued until I left the room. She couldn't stand up and pull her pants up because she was holding her cell phone. Could the person on the other end hear the toilet flush, I wondered? At a gas station on our way back from Charleston, a zaftig and voluble blond with real big hair got out of her red BMW and talked non-stop to the air in front of her face all the way to pay for her gas, and back to her car. We assumed an earpiece. It was surreal.

Also surreal was the outlet mall across the road from the Walmart where we got the car. Shop, shop, shop, til you barf, it's Christmas, y'all! Walmart every four or five miles, Hooters every two or three miles, discount beach wear and tourist trash every quarter mile (Ladies bathing suits - $29.95!! Sunglasses - 25 cents!! - TShirts - 10 for $12!!!!), enough franchise restaurants to seriously alter the size of your butt and those of all your friends and family, more golf courses than you can shake a stick at, funlands, miniature golf, superslides, Nascar theme parks, lawyers offices, fireworks stores, Food Lions, Harris Teeters, and the occasional Piggly Wiggly, and some ugly stuff too. The whole Grand Strand made us feel as if we were too much in the world, and we were very happy to relinquish the Hyundai rental, get back to the boat with lots of supplies and get the hell out of there.

Myrtle Beach people were really nice though. Except maybe at Hooters.

But we did deliver Tom successfully to the Charleston airport on Monday morning, and after a long day of backtracking two and a half months of sailing and motoring, he made it back to Halifax. He's happy to be home, but tells me it's cold there. Ha! We expect to see him again onboard sometime in January.

Next stop, Georgetown, SC, which we'd driven past coming and going on our way to the airport. We saw a really big turtle, actually just his head, swimming up the Waccamaw River. At first we thought it was a snake, but thank you, no, it was a turtle. We anchored in the small harbour, and in the morning, launched the dinghy without Tom's help (we felt so self-sufficient - there are things that are so much easier when you're 6'3" and have no creaky bits, but the oldsters managed in any case) and had a wander round town looking for exotic stuff like a propane fill-up. No luck. We did get a hose and some washers, but like most everywhere else, the library and the post office have moved out to mall land, and the Myrtle Beach postcards are still in my pocket.
At the hardware store, they had an incredible array of hunting and fishing supplies. Our very favourite thing, and we've seen a lot of camo baby clothes in the last month or so, was a camouflage cell phone holder. Made my day.

We're currently holed up at the Isle of Palms Marina. Left an anchorage at Awendaw Creek early this morning, and that was a weird night. It was a current against the wind situation, and we skated around as the wind changed direction and the tide turned, and you just never knew what you'd see when you looked out the port. Anchor held just lovely though, and we spotted an American Oystercather (bright red bill) and I thought I saw an alligator, but I really can't say for sure. Lots of big sticks in these parts.

We'd hoped to spend the afternoon in Charleston, but the Ben Sawyer Bridge at the entrance to Charleston doesn't open in winds over 25 mph, and they were honking at about 40 during our approach and it was pouring rain just to add some atmosphere, so we turned in at Isle of Palms, and Randy executed a tricky bit of driving in strong winds and current, and got some admiring nods from the dock audience. There's always fellas hanging about with a keen eye for disaster.

Tonight it's hot showers, Pussers, the IPod is jazzing the place up, and I might even indulge in laundry. Then, south again. We could be in St Augustine in about 8 days, so get those cards and letters in the mail today!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Quick note: rather than send a pile of emails, here's the info for our mail drop - They will hold our mail for 30 days. Who knows when we'll get there, but we should be there before Christmas.

General Delivery
Please hold for R. Sherman/S.Brown - S/V Nancy Dawson
St. Augustine Post Office
99 King ST
Saint Augustine, FL 32084-9998

Free Web Counter