Our insurance policy dictates that we are north of the state of Georgia by the end of June. We had heard great things about the cruising in the NorthEast and we were anxious to start heading that direction. We had planned to travel as far as Virginia to have the bottom painted and some other work done but after weeks of stalling from the yard there, we heard from a friend that a wooden boat had fallen apart on the rail system they use for haul out and their schedule was jammed up as a result.
We resorted to a local search and Fort Lauderdale Marine Center, a massive, local facility, indicated they had the capacity to take us in. We worked our way up the narrow, New River and hauled out for what was supposed to be a few days repair, but as is typical, ended up being almost two weeks.
With the bottom freshly painted in vibrant blue, minor cracks in the foredeck repaired and improvements to the air handling and the water cooling system, we prepared to head north, having heard the conditions had been mint for the last week.
The night before we left, some workers were finishing some painting and rain was threatening so the yard moved us to a covered dock. We were excited to be tied up next to Beothuk, a 102 foot VRIPACK we have admired for years. The crew and captain were quite friendly and offered a tour, but we were scrambling to depart.
By Sunday afternoon we were ready and spotted the ‘big suck’, our name for the Jungle Queen, a hefty stern-wheeling tour boat that plows up and down the New River a couple times a day. We threw off the lines and jumped into the queue behind her, headed for open seas.
Listening the the radio, we could heard the ‘JQ’ calling for bridges and courteously noting to the bridge tenders that there were two to pass, with Wanderbird just behind. This made for quick and efficient passage under the three bridges needing to lift for us to reach open waters. At a couple points there were unexpected currents from small, merging side waters, one pushing us right towards a large, black and gold yacht. It’s a harrowing trip down the river but Luke was calm as ever under the pressure, though I kept a hand on a bumper, just in case.
We traveled through the night and the next day, with a decent wind at our backs, we thought we might try the head sails. Wanderbird has two, hefty sails that mount from the foredeck to the mast. Quite unusual for a trawler of such weight and very often the focus of many a passing sailor to yell ‘do you use those things?’
Once out in the Atlantic we proceeded north and about an hour into the trip we heard sailing vessel Altair call for a bridge opening. Our friend Bob’s beautiful 97 foot sloop headed for the same destination. Once again, the coincidence of finding friends on the seas – what a pleasure. Try as we might though, we weren’t able to establish radio contact but we weren’t too worried, knowing we would see them in New York.
We launched the poles, also useful in rough seas as passive stabilization, and I manned the tension line while Luke rolled the furlers. Having never done this, I kept the tension too snug and the webbing loop that holds the corner of the sail to the out-rigging poles broke. Now we were at full stop, in the open Atlantic with a wild line fluttering in the wind.
The dilemma now: how to thread a line from the upper deck through the extended pole in the open ocean. Fortunately the seas were placid and I’m always up for a climbing challenge. I crawled out to the end of the pole over the cobalt blue water, grabbed the free line, and fed it through the pulley. I was about to shimmy my way back when Luke suggested I simply jump in and swim back.
I’m not sure why, but I have an irrational fear of swimming in wide open waters. I swam nearly every morning in the Bahamas and often several times a day. When the dive ladder fell to the sea floor with sharks swimming about, I didn’t hesitate to dive down and retrieve it. But for some reason, in this open water, which is far more deserted of life, it makes me nervous. I also anticipated it being cold.
I dropped into the sea to find it was nearly 80 degrees, granted we were in Florida, but we had been running nearly 24 hours, I expected the waters to have cooled significantly. Fortunately the Gulf Stream was carrying warm Caribbean waters to my advantage.
We traveled through the day and by evening we entered the harbor at Beaufort, North Carolina and quickly found a spot to anchor. The next morning we cruised up the foggy river, following the same intracoastal route we had taken south roughly six months earlier.
The ‘ditch’ as it’s called by boaters, is a mix of rivers, bays, lakes and quite often, very narrow, shallow canals that run up the east coast. At times we’ll be running with less than a few feet of water below the keel and only a stone’s throw on either side a person could wade, less than knee deep!
Navigational charts do their best. We have two systems on board, a series of Garmin screens, on which we had run updates before departing, a newly updated TimeZero computer system. As we cruised through the Alligator river we discovered that all charts are not the same. Relying on the Garmin, which had repeaters in the upper flybridge, which has far better visibility for these conditions, we suddenly ran aground. With the Wanderbird’s bulbous bow resting heavily on a sandbar, I ran around turning on all the water, hoping to reduce our draft, while Luke worked her back and forth, full throttles in reverse. After a few, stressful minutes, we broke free, tried again, in what we thought was the channel, only to get hung up again.
After breaking free with the same tactic, I ran down to the TimeZero computer and compared the charts, referring to the Active Captain notes – a very useful community driven system that allows individuals to GPS based notes directly on the charts.
Using some kind individuals comments from a similar experience we navigated our way through a poorly marked channel and found an anchorage for the night. The next day we ran to Coinjock, fueled and stayed the night. As we headed towards Norfolk we encountered the only lock along this stretch, a quick and easy lift or drop of less than a few feet. As I prepared the lines my phone rang and it was our captain-friend from Fort Lauderdale. With my hands full, I was unable to answer, but a few moments later I heard someone calling my name. There, aboard a beautiful Feadship, was Jonathan.
He provided us a great tip about a little bay right near the entrance to the sea where we staged a few things before heading into the Atlantic again, bound for Manhattan. Another 40 hours: a two full nights and a full day. At 4AM I woke to give Luke some rest. He pointed at the screen and said ‘wake me when we get here’ – a spot outside the wiggles, a curving channel that runs into New York Harbor. In my bleary eyed state, I replied ‘OK’ and set to out watching for passing ships and distant markers.
So focused on navigating was I, that I ran us right into the harbor and it wasn’t until I saw the statue of liberty that I realized I had better wake Luke!
Our friend Bob with his beautiful sailing vessel Altair was waiting at our favorite dock in New York. We worried the currents make for a tricky docking experience but Luke matched the current perfectly and we eased up against the pilings for a gentle landing. Paul and a friend arrived a couple days later and we spent the next couple weeks enjoying all that Manhattan has to offer, including pride week.
While back in Florida we ordered two OneWheels. As we ride them around, everyday except those when we are at sea, we are constantly stopped by people asking what they are, and how they work. About half the enquiring folks think they look like great fun while the other half comment on how they would likely break their necks if they tried one. It’s become a great way to explore and a useful mode of transportation without taking nearly as much space as our electric bikes. Cruising through Central Park, crossing from pavement to grass and dirt trails is like snowboarding in the forest, in the city and one of my new favorite past-times.