Savannah to Fort Lauderdale…ish

As the waves were a bit high outside the Savannah river, we decided to continue down the ICW that day and anchor for the night just past Thunderbolt, GA (you can never disrespect a town when their name makes you think of Zeus). Then, after a deep, real night of sleep we pressed on down the ICW to Brunswick, where the waves were smaller and the channel somewhat wider. When we arrived at the channel, however, we had to anchor for an hour or so, as the tide was still against us, and we wanted to use all the force of the full ebb to help shoot us out into the ocean.

Upon weighing anchor and narrowly avoiding contact with a freighter that was inexplicably not employing its running lights, we headed down the channel past a lighthouse that I could only assume was Sauron’s albino brother. This enormous tower bathed whatever it touched in a blinding white light, completely ruining our night vision and prompting me to look around carefully, half expecting to see Frodo and Sam cowering in the bottom of our cockpit. That aside, we had an uneventful journey out onto the ocean, beginning our intended longest journey yet, from Savannah to Fort Lauderdale 380 miles away.

If you have been reading at all consistently up to this point, then it should not surprise you that things did not go as we had planned. We blessed our luck throughout Thursday night and most of Friday, as 20 knots of wind from 120 degrees off our stern sped us southward along our course. It finally became boring to count the number of times our speed topped 7 knots as we did so routinely throughout Friday, and John even hit 8 a couple times(and that with a reefed mainsail). Our luck took a turn for the worse, however, as we neared Cape Canaveral and Poseidon decided that our experience on the ocean had been a bit too positive and undertook to spice it up with a bit of mortal peril…He succeeded

Our splendid gps weather managed to spot the three storm cells in our area long before they hit us. We initially tried to head offshore, but we soon found that the storms had all changed directions and that we wouldn’t be able to avoid one of the cells on its new course. We decided instead to split the other two storm cells and head for shore, and it was here that our real problems began. We managed to skirt the storm cell north of us without incident, but the storm to our southeast was behaving thoroughly erratically, heading first north, then southwest, then east, and finally, as such things are wont to do, turned northwest and stayed directly on course, heading inexorably for our little boat like a methamphetamine-infused bull.

Realizing that we were, to put it poetically, “screwed”, we threw on our storm gear, engaged the autopilot, and watched the flashes of lightning from literally every direction light up the sky like an artillery barrage. We unplugged the gps and turned on the radar, hoping thereby to preserve our most useful navigational aid in the event of one of those(by my count) several million lightning strikes hitting the boat. As the relatively innocuous ball of light on our radar touched the boat, however, our world slammed sideways, bowled over by the crush of wind and rain that felt like the remorseless hand of Aeolus easing our mast head not so gently towards the water. John, realizing that the autopilot couldn’t hold up under that kind of pressure, jumped out on deck into the torrential downpour and fought to keep the rudder straight. I, looking thoroughly hardcore in my foulies, but also a bit toasty because I was, in fact, not actually outside, kept shouting instructions to John that he tried to follow while undoubtedly cursing my “advice”, given, as it was, from the warm, dry interior of the boat while he was almost swimming outside in rain and 45 knots of wind.

After about half an hour the storm cell finally passed and we all crawled out to survey the damage. John, who looked remarkably like a half-drowned cat noticed before the rest of us that the main had been blown out, and so we had to drop it and continue on using only the genoa and our motor. As we approached Cape Canaveral, however, our worst fears flared into being as the engine sputtered and died. We had run out of fuel. Getting fuel was not a problem. We had two five gallon jugs of diesel that would be more than enough to get us into Cape Canaveral. No, the problem was bleeding the engine.

If you recall reading about our time in Catskill, NY and Norfolk, VA, you may remember that our talent for bleeding the engine is about as pronounced as our penchant for interpretive dance. If this is the case, then you will no doubt be expecting me to tell you how we drifted for four straight days before we got our hateful spawn of an engine started again. It will then no doubt surprise you to hear that it took us not four days, not two days, but only about twenty minutes to bleed that thing. Not only that, but having turned the diesel from the fuel tank to the engine off and forgotten to turn it back on, we had to bleed it again, and finished doing both in under an hour. This frustrating task finally accomplished, we limped down the canal to Harbortown Marina in Cape Canaveral for what I considered to be a wholly well-deserved rest.

Savannah part 2

Jeni left early the following morning(Tuesday, November 13th, for those keeping track) and we were all sorry to see her go. We spent our morning making full use of the Westin’s bath complex. We must have spent 4 hours that morning just trying out the various amenities. We worked out for the first time in probably months, which resulted in John injuring himself within half an hour, and the rest of us experiencing paroxysms of corporal agony over the next two days as our bodies rose in indignant rebellion at the preposterous notion that they might be called upon to do more than remain wholly sedentary, with only the occasional pull of a line to remind it that it is not, in fact, dead yet. This pain was fortunately ameliorated, however, by the steam room’s soothing heat, and after a nice long shower we finally felt prepared to face the rigors of our day. We went in to Paula Deen’s restaurant first and had a splendid fried chicken meal that provided just the nutrition that we needed to recover from our strenuous workouts. We then hoped to walk around Savannah, but only made it as far as City Market before the weather stopped cooperating with us and the sky opened up.

Fortunately, we were able to hop on Savannah’s free public transportation, the Dot, which showed us a good bit of the city and got us up to Forsyth park, where we got out and walked around a bit. Savannah really is a beautiful city, with numerous public parks, and Forsyth is the largest and probably nicest of them all. It was here, too, that we discovered a fun fact about our dear compatriot, Ellen. She can’t jump. Describing the full grace and beauty of her motion would be far too difficult here, but if you know her, the next time you see her just ask her to jump up on a bench for you. We are in the process of training her and she has, at the time of this writing, successfully jumped the height of a curb, but I can guarantee amusement.

That night we went out in Historic Savannah, and met up with a friend of John’s from college, Nicole, who showed us around the city a bit. We arrived back at the boat very late at night(or very early in the morning, depending on your perspective), as we are wont to do prior to long stretches of sailing, and arose the next morning with enough time to shore up our insurance work, reserve a place for our boat in the Dominican Republic, and still catch the tide down the Savannah River.

Savannah, GA Part 1

We set out the next morning for Savannah, heading back out on the ocean and sailing overnight all the way down to the Westin Hotel’s Marina. Now, let me take a moment to explain that decision. While $2 a foot a night isn’t the cheapest place we’ve stayed, it was the cheapest feasible in Savannah, and we have never received so much for the price. All 5 of us had access to their free shuttle or bicycles to get to their bathhouse, where we could enjoy their fitness center, sauna, hot tub, steam room, and the nicest showers I have ever seen anywhere, all complementary. We could also use their driving range if we so chose, free of charge. We celebrated this discovery by taking a shower as quickly as possible and heading into town for some incredible food at Blowin Smoke BBQ. The brisket almost made me wish that I’d grown up in the south(almost), and when combined with the fried pickles and onion rings that we got as appetizers, it was one contented, if slightly bloated Dustin that headed down to check out the old historical district. That night, Ellen, Pieter and I went to see Skyfall, an experience that I urge each and every one of you to replicate. It was so incredibly enjoyable that I came out positively giddy from the experience.

Upon leaving the theater we had a few hours to kill, and searched yelp to see what was open at 10 on a Monday night. As it turned out, there was a bar right around the corner named the King’s Inn. It was ignominiously placed, with its door opening on a back parking lot, and next to a store of…questionable morality. I have never actually felt concern for my safety going into a bar, but this looked like just the type of establishment where even the devil might feel out of place. Nevertheless, we swallowed our terror and walked in, ready to bolt if we were suddenly accosted by huge southerners in leather jackets. There are several things that you should know about the King’s Inn. It is a place that, while friendly, is precisely as sordid as it looks, mostly because it has “dancing girls”(yes, we are fairly certain that that is exactly what it sounds like) on weekends. As it was a Monday, however, and karaoke night, we played pool through a very tame night of horrible singing performances that might have occurred at any reputable Irish bar you care to name, had the singers not been standing about 3 feet in front of the dancing pole. Most of the singers were predictably horrible, screeching out their lines(having apparently mistaken tonality for volume), but one woman, Wanda, was head, shoulders, and probably elbows above the rest.

I initially thought that someone had turned the real music back on when Wanda, a petite, graying woman of about 50 who was missing several teeth, walked up to the microphone and began singing. She had this beautiful, rich, full voice that left us entirely dumbfounded and entranced, so much so that we stopped playing pool and applauded when she finished singing. Wanda also proved to be an unlikely pool shark, playing only one-handed, but sinking shots with impunity. She was, in short, a fascinating woman, and we had a blast hanging out with her.

Myrtle Beach and Charleston

We pressed on down the canal from Beaufort Monday night until we arrived Tuesday afternoon(different from other Tuesdays only in it being Election Day) at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. There isn’t much around the MBYC except a “little redneck bar”(their description) across the street with pool tables and(this was important) tv’s. We were all curious to see what kind of reception we would meet at a southern redneck bar(we being 4 young college kids and 3.5 liberals), so we went over shortly after dinner and found the place to be an absolute pleasure. The few patrons there were perfectly amiable to us, although the few snippets of conversation that we heard on their political views convinced us not to celebrate wildly each time Obama won a state, and certainly not when Romney gave his concession speech, and Obama his victory speech(with the exception of very discreet, low fist bumps).

We traveled about 4 miles the next day to a marina on the other side of Myrtle Beach, and for our activity that night we went to the Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood, where we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet of primarily steak and crab legs that left us decidedly sick to our collective stomachs, as we probably ingested enough food to keep us comfortably satisfied for about 3 days.  That cultural experience behind us, we pressed on for Charleston the next day, only running aground once and having to kedge ourselves off by hammer-tossing our anchor into the channel and winching ourselves free. That aside, we made for the ocean for a much less stressful nighttime sail and made it to Charleston the following morning, admiring Fort Sumter as we entered the harbor.

Even though we were exhausted, we wanted to see the town, so we walked around for a while, enjoying the architecture of Charleston(yes, Ellen was with us, seeming for all the world as if it was an open-house) and went in to the city proper to check out the University of Charleston, which, incidentally, has an absolutely beautiful campus(Ellen wanted to join a tour that we saw, but ebullient and youthful as we are, we can’t really pass for high-schoolers anymore). We then walked down to the City Market, which was really the only disappointment in Charleston. I don’t know what the market used to be like, but it has become excessively generic, with the same kitschy jewelry, hats and coffee that you can get anywhere in the country. In exploring the area around the Market, however, we did find a Chicago-themed bar, Mac’s. Mac grew up only a few miles from my high school, and we couldn’t very well leave without having a beer or two and curse our luck that we couldn’t be in such a marvelous establishment to watch the Bears play on Sunday.

Jeni flew down to Charleston and met us the following morning, and we moved the boat to the other side of Charleston before walking back across town for brunch at the Hominy Grill, recommended by my brother, Bliss. Bliss is generally trustworthy as a food critic, and he proved no less on that Saturday afternoon. The Hominy Grill does glorious things with food, among them the shrimp and grits, which, while expensive, were absolutely divine, and fried chicken on a biscuit with gravy, which tastes just as delicious (and healthy) as it sounds. We spent the rest of the day exploring the southern and eastern sides of Charleston, checking out the Battery and Whitepoint Gardens, and of course patronizing Mac’s for another beer. We awoke the next morning bright and early and set off on the Ocean again for an overnight jaunt to our last stop in the real south, Savannah, Georgia.

The ICW at night, and Beaufort, N.C.

We got up early the next morning to head out and were extremely perturbed to hear that not only could we not get a pump-out anywhere in Elizabeth City, but we would not be able to find a pump-out for at least 60 miles along our route. The reason this so concerned us was that our holding tank was already full, and not wanting to repeat our geyseric apocalypse from Eagle Island, this left us in a gastronomically uncomfortable situation. Fortunately, our fears were unfounded, as we came across the nice folks at Alligator River Marina, maybe 14 miles later, who were more than happy to pump our holding tank for 15 bucks. Given the severity of our situation, we decided that this extortionate fee was acceptable, and none the worse for wear, we pressed on down the ICW into the night.

The ICW is a terrifying, treacherous waterway to navigate in the dark. Given the time of year, we have more hours of darkness than daylight, and in order to plug away at miles and avoid the Ocean’s irritability in the wake of Sandy, going overnight was our only option. The ICW is quite wide at many points, sometimes allowing as much lateral movement as the Erie Canal and more with plenty of depth. At other times, however, it resembles the ditch that you dug in your backyard as a kid, though it is perhaps not as well marked for navigation. Nighttime navigation therefore requires two conscious parties. One, the driver, must remain calm and essentially trust the navigator’s instructions and follow them as the word of any god you care to name. The driver’s aforementioned deity, the Navigator, gets the exhsausting task of stressing about everything, whether it be the half-revealed shadows that look like logs, or steadily decreasing depth without any explanation. They then get tamp it down, and calmly provide the driver clear, concise instructions as if they have unquestionably factual knowledge about every inch of the canal, rather than jabbering in fear like a terrified monkey. They do have at their disposal a spotlight that fortunately shines quite brightly. Its one drawback is that it runs out of battery in an hour or so, no matter how sparingly you use it. For those of you familiar with the concept of “night”, you will no doubt remark that it lasts rather longer than an hour. In this you are, unfortunately, correct, which is why we have a charger in the cabin that we have to plug into the spotlight for just about every minute that we are below decks, allowing us to remain a step ahead of that pesky battery.

We miraculously made it through the night without hitting anything more substantial than the nice, sandy bottom(and that slowly), and arrived in Beaufort, N.C.(pronounced Bo-fort, not to be confused with Beaufort, S.C., pronounced Bew-fort, because southerners like to make Yankees look stupid) on Monday morning. We only stayed a couple hours, but remained long enough to refuel and check out the maritime museum. As Beaufort was apparently Blackbeard’s headquarters, and his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge sunk nearby, it was actually far more interesting than it sounds, although we were all too tired to do much more than stumble around, half reading the written portions, and snickering like 4th graders at the southern accents around us.

The Dismal Swamp Canal and Elizabeth City

As we had heard both from the marina and from our boating friends who were keeping an eye on our boat from their hotel rooms, the boat was totally fine. We had a lot of work getting everything set up, but overall, we came through just about completely unscathed. We also Went out in Norfolk Thursday night, little realizing how demanding an undertaking that would be. We wound up spending the entire night with a guy in the Navy named RZO(a little unsure of the spelling on that one), who showed us a great time around town. When I say we were out the whole night, I am, of course, referring to the barest edge of sunlight that began creeping up over the horizon as we left I-HOP for the boat. We awoke rather painfully a few hours later and started down the Intracoastal Waterway(hereafter referred to as the “ICW”, because typing out “Intracoastal Waterway” every time is a long and frustrating task that requires more patience than I feel like exhibiting).

We decided to take an alternate route down the ICW, and I couldn’t have been happier with the decision. We took the Dismal Swamp Canal(the oldest locking system in the United States, and once part of George Washington’s private property), and I am not certain whether I have ever seen a more beautiful sight. We have seen some pretty cool real estate on this trip, from the gorgeous islands of the North Channel to some truly beautiful stretches of the Erie Canal, but the Dismal Swamp Canal had an inexplicably powerful emotional impact. Even I, doing my best to remain emotionally distant and view the world through a comforting veil of cynicism found myself almost choked up. The western side of the Canal is a national park and is therefore, for the most part, completely untouched, while the Eastern bank is similarly wild, apart from a very few stretches where a nearby highway shatters the secluded illusion provided by the overhanging autumnal foliage. We tied up that first night next to a random picnic area that was adorable, even in its simplicity.

After freezing our tails off all night, wondering why on earth North Carolina felt like Vancouver, we got up to a mist that had descended on the water. I’m sure you’re getting tired of this repletion, but I’ll only make one more mention of the Dismal Swamp’s beauty, because the view that I experienced that morning was just maybe the most awe-inspiring that I’ve ever seen. The fog was just beginning to dissipate when the sun began appearing through the clouds. Everything had a dream-like quality about it, and while that moment of perfection didn’t last long, I was left entirely speechless, having forgotten to breathe for several seconds.

We didn’t have very far to go that day, as Elizabeth City was only a few short hours away, and we arrived around 2pm. This gave us plenty of time to stroll through town, an architectural juxtaposition of southern chic and abandoned suburbia. While the downtown was cute, we had to use most of our afternoon working on the boat, much of which involved me sitting at the top of the mast, running a new main halyard and attaching our new wind indicator to replace the one that apparently blew away some time before. It’s quite an enjoyable perspective, sitting 45 feet up and enjoying the view that such a vantage point affords you. It became rather less relaxing when John began playing his favorite game: “how much can I rock the boat”. As even small motions from the boat result in exponentially greater movements at the top of the mast, this game precipitates wild oscillations, forcing me to sit clinging to the mast like a koala bear as I make a 7-foot arc across the sky.

Washington DC part 4: Sandy

Needless to say, the weather did not permit. When we awoke Monday morning and found numerous road closures in addition to widespread flooding and massive winds, our zeal faded somewhat. Upon calling the marina and hearing that everything was fine, the docks were in place, and the boat wasn’t going anywhere, our zeal fled entirely, and we settled ourselves in for two days on Caroline’s couch. I am not sure I have ever partaken in such a marathon of movie and television watching. Having started the day with the thoroughly abysmal “The Vow”, the quite good “Our Idiot Brother”, and the classic “Dazed and Confused”, we turned to a thoroughly cheesy, but unquestionably engaging stimulus, The OC.

For those of you unfamiliar with The OC, it follows the lives of several wealthy, socialite families in Orange County, California(one of whom is, fittingly, named Sandy), and the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who infuses their lives with fistfights and copious amounts of awkwardness. It is, in short, complete trash, but oh what positively addicting trash it is. As we watched the vast majority of the first 27-episode season, I rediscovered a strong trait that I can keep dormant, so long as I stick to action and sci-fi movies. I am unable to deal with awkwardness on TV. As every other scene in the OC involves some revelation or confession of admittedly contrived delicacy, I found myself hiding my head underneath blankets for roughly a quarter of each 40-minute episode, much to the amused annoyance of Ellen, Pieter, and Caroline, who all seemed entirely unfazed by the palpable symphony of discomfort that infused every episode.

Lest we forget that there was a hurricane going on outside, it is probably also of note that during this spree of television watching, our Facebook newsfeeds were being constantly updated with indications that the world was ending just a few miles north of us. The flooding and outages that affected DC and Virginia were nothing like the maelstrom that hit New York and New Jersey. We were treated to the sight of wind and rain whipping down the street as we sat inside over Monday and Tuesday, but all it seemed to do was strip the trees and scatter litter throughout town. We certainly never felt like we were in any danger. Finally on Wednesday the weather had calmed and the roads were clear enough for us to drive back to Norfolk and discover what had become of the boat.

Washington D.C. part 3: The Wait

I should have perhaps explained our rush to get back to DC. We drove as fast as we could back to Jeni’s apartment for a Halloween party of immense proportions. This party caused some moral challenges for us. Coming up with costumes when all you have are the same basic shirts and shorts combos that you’ve been wearing for the last 5 months is a difficult proposition, made more so by our frantic rush. Ultimately, we went with the most commonly worn of our clothes and added bright orange pfd’s to present ourselves as the “Redneck Yacht Club”, a reference that just about no one got, because none of our friends listen to country. The party was absolutely enormous, however, making the orange pfd’s somewhat unwieldy in the throng, and I was absolutely staggered by the sheer number of guests. There must have been two-hundred people there.

We stayed at Pieter’s friend, Caroline’s apartment in Virginia all weekend and awoke on Saturday to make brunch(well, they awoke to make it, I awoke to eat it). Ben and another friend of their’s. Amy came by, fully expecting what any normal person would for brunch. Eggs, bacon, maybe some boxed pancakes if you’re feeling particularly industrious. However, few normal people have seen Ellen and Pieter with access to a full kitchen. Bacon certainly made an appearance. As, however, did spinach and goat cheese quiche, thrown together(kinda literally) by Ellen, while Pieter complemented the savory flavor with his own offering, Grand Marnier french toast(actually, though).

Having dined like Hapsburg royalty for most of the afternoon, we went to Ben’s and watched game 3 of the World Series. Due to the large quantity of Californians in our DC crew, we did the same on Sunday Night at Jeni’s, where we watched the San Francisco Giants complete their sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Needless to say, some people(Ben and Pieter in particular) were giddy with joy, while others(Ellen in particular) were bored almost to the point of weeping.

I also found myself in a slight verbal altercation that night with a Patriots fan who unfortunately made his feelings known to me and apparently disagreed with my characterization of Tom Brady as (to paraphrase politely) a smarmy, conceited, self-indulgent prat, who chokes in big games against Eli Manning. Some heated words were exchanged, but it was all in good fun, and we prepared ourselves that night to head out early the next morning, Monday the 29th, to drive back to the boat…weather permitting.

Norfolk: Preparing for the Snor’eastercane

Waterside Marina wound up being perfect for our purposes. Located back in the Elizabeth River and almost completely surrounded by a fixed dock, waves during the hurricane were essentially a non-issue. The most dangerous aspect of the marina was the floating docks, only kept in place by their pilings. The boats would be fine if the water rose up to 7.4 feet. If the water rose to 7.5 feet, however, the docks, and our boats with them, would float away to God knows where. With the storm surge predicted up to as high as 7.3 feet, we were within the safe range, if only just. Fortunately, the marina workers were diligent in tying the docks down, which would at least prevent them from getting very far. We were assured that so long as we tied our boat securely and reduced our wind-catching ability as much as possible, there was truly nothing else we could do.

As we planned to spend the weekend back in DC before coming back to Norfolk for the Hurricane, we spent all of Thursday and most of Friday preparing for Sandy by removing our bimini and dodger, dropping our sails(which wound up being a much longer process than it seems, having discovered that our genoa halyard was jammed), and adding all kinds of lines to the dock to keep us from going anywhere. We also went over the engine and replaced the filter for the fuel-water separator, which had been giving us grief. I decided to do this fairly early on on Thursday, guessing that it might take more time than the advertised 15-20 minute changing time in the manual. Unsurprisingly, I was right, and this minor replacement ended up being a multi-day process as(in what is fast becoming a worrisome trend) bleeding the engine took absolutely forever.

We must have poured diesel down and pumped diesel through every conceivable hose, filter and tank, with the only result being our legs, feet and hands being completely covered with diesel, and the engine being just as unwilling to start as if we had replaced the diesel with applesauce. John and I ended up switching off on working with it, each replacing the other when the latter’s rage grew to manic levels, and the profane, apoplectic threats we directed at the engine became loud enough to disturb people 3 docks away, many of whom came over to inquire whether someone was being murdered. Nevertheless, very late on Friday we finally finished working with that pestilential booby-trap that Yanmar inexplicably calls an engine, and got on the road back to DC, 3 hours away.

Sailing the Chesapeake to Norfolk

We pulled out of Annapolis Monday evening and anchored maybe two miles away in Fishing Creek, where we enjoyed a perfectly calm night watching the zen Buddhism documentary “Shooter”, featuring Mark Wahlberg. We got up early the next morning and started down the bay, only to begin spewing profanity as a south wind picked up to about 15kts and remained that way for approximately thirty hours. This forced us to beat back and forth literally from one side of the bay to the other all that day, that night, and most of the next day. I would guess that over our roughly 120 mile sail south to Norfolk, we probably actually sailed 180 or so miles. The only other notable aspect that I can recall of that sail was the book, Ms. Remorse, that I read. We acquired this book in DC, and as it was a short read, I blew through it in a day or so. The book…impacted me so strongly that I wrote an Amazon review for it. I’ll say no more here, but if you feel compelled to learn more about this very well-intentioned addition to the American literary canon, use this link.

Late Wednesday afternoon we finally made it just outside of Norfolk and anchored in Willoughby bay, just across from the naval base. Aside from being the perfect anchorage, we also got to spend our first couple hours there watching Coast Guard helicopters conduct training exercises and dropping swimmers into the bay maybe 300 yards away. As the night wore on and darkened we all retired below to continue our tribute to the great thespjian, Mark Wahlberg, by watching “The Italian Job”. After a calm, uneventful night we got up and made the short 16 mile motor to Norfolk proper and our haven from the Hurricane, Waterside Marina.