Day 183 - Palm Beach, Florida
21:55 hrs - November 30th, 2007
Ocean Sailing

We set off early from St. Simons Island with Florida on our minds and with preparations complete, and after listening to the weather one more time, we were excited to be heading back into open ocean.  In 3 days and 2 nights we will cover almost 300 miles and be halfway down Florida’s east coast, to Palm Beach.  We had great wind and as we sailed along we became entertainment for the local dolphins that raced over and then, when they tired of us, raced away again as quickly as they had come.  We had rolling hills of blue water that rose up into white toped waves that threw out rainbow sprays and then subsided again as they made their way across the ocean.  Silvery flying fish skimed across the surface going about their day, hinting at the frantic activity just below the surface.  And the ocean got on with doing what oceans do, as it moved ceaselessly around the planet, revealing and reflecting infinite shades of light and color.  The ocean doesn’t have time to stop and wait till we’re ready for whatever performance it chooses to bring us, it expects us to be ready and if we’re not, it will simply push and shove its way under, around and over us as it attends to its essential business.  Every now and again colliding waves crash beside us dumping water into the decks and then they disappear as if nothing happened. 

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It really feels like the sea has a personality, like it’s observing us, playing with us.  And sometimes it just feels like we are getting in its way.  With only 2 of us onboard we take equal turns to watch at night, keeping a look-out for our ocean navigating neighbors.  I’m good at staying up late so I take the 9pm to 3am shift and Neville who has always been a morning person takes the 3am to 9am.  At this time of year it gets dark at around 5:30pm and the sun doesn’t appear again for about 14 hours, so that’s 14 hours of darkness in a large ocean that we are obliged to share with the giants who live and work here, like tankers, container ships, cruise ships, and tugs who pull their cargo behind them on alarmingly long, and invisible at night, cables.  On a clear night without any weather, with everyone showing the appropriate lights we can see and identify each other easily and navigate accordingly.  On my 1st night watch it was a clear moonlight night and every boat I saw was well lit and far off on the horizon, but on my 2nd night, I had 2 cruise ships, 4 container ships and a tug towing a very long load on even longer line, who having hailed me on channel 16, politely asked if I could alter my course so he could pass in front of me as he was heading into port.  During most of this I had enough weather to make visibility an issue, so I was glued to channel 16, the radar and the AIS information on the GPS, and by the end of my watch I was exhausted but ecstatic. Being responsible for the life and safety of your sleeping crew, particularly when the sleeping crew is your husband, is a very mind focusing thing, and I had managed it, all under my own steam without incident knowing that not so long ago a night watch like that would have terrified me.  Neville had a horrible watch after me that night, with zero visibility rain squalls and even more ‘traffic’ because we were getting closer to land, but Neville as always handled it all with calm efficiency despite being drenched and tired.  We sailed into Palm Beach to summer like temperatures and deep blue skies but now that we’ve been anchored in civilization for a few days we are looking out to sea again for our next passage south.   Oh, and for those of you keeping fish catching score, the fish are still totally winning!!

Day 179 - Saint Simons, Georgia
19:15 hrs - November 26th, 2007
Weather Window

Another day of motoring south down the ICW. The only difference between this day and all the others, was that much of the morning was spent navigating channels, rivers, shoals and narrow creeks with near zero visibility. As one cruiser astutely observed, and broadcast for all those to hear on VHF channel 16 (the channel for hailing and emergencies only), "damn, this fog is as thick as clam chowder!" It puts a whole new perspective on sailing, navigating solely by way of an 8" LCD chartplotter screen. With Catherine standing at the bow shouting-out sightings of navigational markers, boats and the occasional dolphin, we steered our way south. I felt like I was playing some elaborate sailing simulation game. The boat seemed to hover, not making any headway, even though our speed-over-ground was 5 knots. The only indication of our location in the world was a little black animated triangle in the middle of the chartplotter display.

Well, needless-to-say we arrived at our destination today in one piece along with 12 other sail boats that all jostled down the ICW together. Today could have been our last day in the ICW as tomorrow we plan on sailing 282 nautical miles down to Palm Beach Florida by way of the ocean. We've been waiting for the perfect weather window and it opens tomorrow - 15 to 20 knot winds from the northwest to northeast (behind us), clear skies, 65 - 70 degrees and three to four foot swell - in other words, perfect conditions to sail down the coast. We'll shove-off tomorrow and will sail nonstop, day and night, with an estimated arrival in Palm Beach on Thursday afternoon. If we stay in the ICW, it would take us over a week of motoring to accomplish the same distance. We've readied ourselves and Dream Time for the offshore passage - life jackets out, Jack lines attached (safety lines on the deck to clip harnesses to if you leave the cockpit), jerry cans lashed down along with our inflatable boat, engine checked, diesel topped-up, route planned, fishing rod out, charts out - yes, we're ready for some open ocean sailing - finally!

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Day 178 - Wahoo River, Georgia
14:38 hrs - November 25th, 2007
Southern Charm

We've spent the last five fabulous days in Savannah - a beautiful, vibrant city full of history, character, wonderful architecture and southern charm. When we arrived, before we had even secured Dream Time to the dock, a friendly local fisherman welcomed us with a bucket load of fresh shrimp. The next night, whilst debating what we should eat, another local gave us two fresh Black Drum fish - so fresh in fact that the tails still vigorously flapped as he filleted them for us. Everyone seems friendly and laid back here. Even the lady who joined us at a bus stop, spreading the good word of God and all the benefits of accepting him into your life, didn't offend or bother us. Perhaps Catherine and I are just more relaxed than we were in New York, but we bantered with her until our bus came - hell we're cruisers, what else are we going to do? That's the whole point of cruising isn't it? To welcome new experiences and meet people that you normally wouldn't have the time or the opportunity to meet. We gave the lady genuine smiles and threw her a wave goodbye as we passed her in the bus, wondering what she thought of our heathen lifestyle. The thing is, we don't really care much what people think of what we're doing. We've been identified as "boat people" more than once, I guess it's a combination of our cloths, our wild hairstyles and the fact that a 90-year old woman with a walking frame could easily overtake us on the sidewalk. Our pace is slow and we try to soak in as many experiences as we can along the way. Spanish-moss hangs lazily from most trees in Savannah complimenting the easy way of life there. We spent our days wandering down cobblestone streets exploring the many historical buildings, picturesque squares and a few movie sites, including the location where Forest Gump chowed down on a box of chocolates and the Mercer house from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We ended our last day in Savannah drinking coffee and eating generous portions of southern "pah" at the coffee shop where John Cusack once sat.

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Day 169 - Charleston, North Carolina
17:25 hrs - November 16th, 2007
Frog Blog

Charleston South Carolina, home of Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler, the fashionable and quite tricky 1920’s dance ‘The Charleston’ and happily for us, the new home of our Sea School professor and invaluable mentor Frank Silvestro. With his artist wife Karen, ( and their Son Tyler they relocated here from New York about the same time that Neville and I set off on our maritime adventure. They have found their own little Garden of Eden here, complete with snakes. They have all manner of critters wandering around just beyond their property line, from snakes and alligators, to really big unpleasant insects, which I suppose make good eating for the snakes and alligators!  Frank and Karen invited us to stay in the ‘frog’, not the hopping variety, but a southern traditional guest accommodation, a “finished room over garage” and given that the overnight temperatures here are still in the 30’s, and I have a limited number of warm socks onboard we eagerly accepted. It was so great to spend some time with New York friends again, but this time with all of us in new surroundings.

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With all of us feeling our way around in our new lives, trying to work out what we need, what we don’t, and where to put everything!  With our new lives, Frank and Karen in a place that seemed such a world away from their old hectic New York life, and us in our tiny floating island never knowing where or when tomorrow is going to be, we had the best fun!  Frank even introduced us to an unfamiliar but southern tradition, of shooting large and unnecessary firearms at menacing paper targets for no particular reason.  Enormous fun once you get over the shock of it all, and you can even buy your favorite firearm at the end if you like, all good 2nd amendment fun.  Frank also put us in touch with the Director of Sea School in Charleston Captain Pierce Guyer, Commander, USCG (Ret.) who by way of showing Sea School’s support for our journey, very generously gave us a parachute sea anchor which when deployed provides knockdown and capsize protection in disastrous weather conditions, we sincerely hope we never have to make use of it but it could be a life saver if we do. Thank you Captain Pierce Guyer and Sea School Charleston, and big giant kisses to Frank, Karen and Tyler!

Day 164 - Sandy Island, South Carolina
07:12 hrs - November 11th, 2007
Beach Party

Last night we anchored up the Thoroughfare Creek behind Sandy Island. True to its name, Sandy Island was indeed, a very sandy island. A 30-foot high sandbank shielded us from the cold northeasterly wind and provided the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two. With drinks, a bag of cheesy sausages, Lawry's Seasoned Salt, marshmallows and two telescopic forks, we rowed across to the beach, gathered wood and lit the perfect bonfire. Watching the sun set behind Dream Time, snuggling together on a blanket in the warmth of a crackling fire, we cooked sausages and toasted marshmallows long into the night. Save for Catherine's singed lower lip (never try to suck all the gooey marshmallow from a hot fork - no matter how delicious it looks) we had the perfect night. This is what cruising is all about.

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Day 163 - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
21:38 hrs - November 10th, 2007
Thank You

Once in a while you might be lucky enough to meet someone who will spin your perspective around, today we had the honour of meeting one of those people.  Patrick, his wife and his 6 year old son live on a trawler in South Carolina, and we met Patrick as we meet most people these days in a conversation stuck up easily between boating folks on a marina dock, then he offered to drive us into town via the local Starbucks, yippee!  We stopped in for some over priced caffeine and started chatting.  Patrick turned out to be a career soldier who had joined the Marines when he was 17, someone who chose to enlist and then chose to re-enlist when his time was up.  He is now retired, not because of his advancing years, he can’t have been that much older than Neville and I, but because in 2004 he was injured in an ambush attack while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. He had always been thrilled by the challenges and palpable dangers of his chosen profession, and spoke of his time in the service with pride, but it almost killed him, and he has been profoundly impacted by his experiences both physically and psychologically. He has been awarded the Purple Heart Medal twice and was interviewed and featured in the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11 while recovering in an army hospital in Kentucky.  I had such a deep sense of humility when we spoke to him as I tried to get a sense of what he had been through, knowing that I never could.  He is one of the lucky ones, he came back alive, he has a family that loves him and takes care of him, and he has made sense of the Veterans services so he can get all the help he wants when he wants it,
and he is grateful for everything.  Thank you Patrick and To All Veterans - Thank you and Welcome Home.

Day 161 - Cape Fear, North Carolina
21:38 hrs - November 8th, 2007
A Cold Front

Don't let the pictures fool you - the blue skies, dolphins, clear turquoise waters, it looks warm and tropical right? Well, it's not. We've had frost warnings for the last few nights and the cabin temperature in the morning has been a teeth chattering 40 degrees, we're wearing practically all the fleece and thermal cloths we brought with us. Yesterday Catherine was wearing no less than eight layers. She spent most of the day clutching a hot water bottle and making loud "burrrr" noises. So, it would seem we have not made enough southerly to avoid the cold clutches of winter. Tuesday, along with our friends John and Bobby Jo from Don't Look Back (who, by-the-way, we first met in Mystic over five months ago) we weighed anchor in Cape Lookout after a two-day 'vacation' and rode the strong ocean northwesterly winds as far south as we could possibly go in a single day. With a reefed main sail and partially furled genoa, we ploughed through the cold Atlantic at 7.5 knots. Surfing and playing off our bow waves, dolphins entertained us along the way - it warmed us just a little. We made it to Wrightsville Beach by nightfall and spent a fabulous evening with my parents who drove up from Florida to offer a couple of cold cruisers a warm meal and hot shower. Today we motored through the ICW to mile 310 - Cape Fear. It's just as cold here as it was in Cape Lookout, so we'll continue south tomorrow, through the ICW, as fast as our little 50hp Yanmar will allow.

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Day 155 - Beaufort, North Carolina
08:40 hrs - November 2nd, 2007
Golfcarts & Hurricanes

Having navigated the Dismal Swamp and an alligatorless Alligator River, we found ourselves in Pantego Creek and the town of Bellhaven, and we discovered golf cart shopping! We came ashore to the local marina and on enquiring about local shopping options we were told it was quite a long walk, but that they would be happy to let us borrow one of their golf carts to get there. We cheerfully accepted and after getting some basic directions, we set off fearlessly in the general direction of groceries. With a name like Bellhaven we were expecting a sleepy little village scene with other merry golf carting shoppers, but before we knew what was happening, we found ourselves driving at golf cart speed (about 10mph) on the hard shoulder of the local highway in rush hour traffic, without another golf cart in sight! The grocery store was about 3 miles away so our hair-raising shopping expedition took quite a long time, and I still have no idea why (or even if) it’s legal to drive a golf cart on a highway, but apparently in this part of the south it is! It was a little frightening to be in a golf cart on a highway in the first place, but with no lights, seatbelts or doors come to that, and then add to that, the fact that it was starting to get pretty dark and the battery indicator light started to blink mockingly on empty.

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We were a sorry sight driving back to the marina, getting slower and slower with our faithful battery giving us its last breath, the whole time both of us trying to appear to be normal folks who did this sort of thing all the time, meanwhile Neville is pulling over once again, to let another 18 wheeler go past! Then to cap it all off, the local Sheriff passes us on the other side of the road, we watched carefully as his eyes followed us as he went by, with a Sheriff sort of look that conveyed a certain exasperation, Neville threw him a friendly wave. 

Our next stop was a peaceful and golf cart free anchorage on the South River with an abandoned town, Luckens. We had our 2nd dolphin sighting on the trip so far there, our first was off Tangier Island where they swam off our bow. The bay was empty, other than our dolphin friends, and idyllic.  It was the night before Halloween so we went ashore to find the spooky abandoned town, but found only a small graveyard which lay on a little hill overlooking the bay facing the sunset.  It seemed to be entirely cut off from the world with no roads or buildings anywhere, just endless forest and some fiendish Halloween mosquitoes, one of which gave Neville the biggest bite he has ever had.  Next it was onto Beaufort, to hideout till Hurricane Noel goes by with its associated windy wet weather, so we can continue on our way south.  Today it’s been windy and rainy as was promised, but we are safely tied up at a secure dock and may even go to the movies tonight to find out what the rest of the world has been up to since we’ve been gone.