After five weeks in Manhattan we departed in the late afternoon for Norfolk. The 40 hour journey a familiar one at this point. The conditions were favorable and I passed the time experimenting with some fashion photography with our friend Anderson who Luke had invited along. It was later in the evening by the time we reached Fort Mason and because of an approaching Tropical Storm named Nestor, we ducked into Mill Creek and dropped the hook.
It was a good spot to weather the heavy winds and rain for the following day with gusts hitting 35 knots. The following morning we were faced with an armada of snowbirds in the intracoastal. The first railroad bridge out of Norfolk there were about 15 boats of various types and sizes all jockeying for position.
When we finally reached the great locks it was a similar pile-up and it wasn’t until the second round of passage that we were able to make our way through. While hovering well in the channel we ran aground for a few moments so for anyone southbound, keep slightly to the port side on approach to the locks – there’s shoaling about 200 yards out. Fortunately great lock is less than two feet drop and it takes less than 15 minutes for the drop, however they have to time it with a subsequent bridge making for a real mess with so much traffic.
Quite a lot of negotiated passings in narrow canals followed until we reached Coinjock where the staff was wonderfully accommodating as usual, getting us fueled up almost immediately. It was so busy boats were rafted up; double-parked yacht-style. The next morning we didn’t bother rushing out and by the time we were up at 8, most of the dock was empty.
We motored all day into the darkness until we were just before the second to last unlit channel where we anchored just a lightning storm grazed us to the north. The next morning was bright and fresh in the North Carolina waters and we passed through Goose Creek and into Beaufort, passing some sailboats and being passed by faster motor yachts. As we approached town we realized conditions had improved on the Atlantic and it made sense to revise our plans and head immediately out to sea and make for Charleston. Fortunately we were able to get a reservation across the bridge at Patriot Point, since the large downtown docks were full up.
Sunset was as glorious as the sunrise as we approached the frying pan shoals. Just after midnight as I stood watch, I made the mistake of assuming the red light in the distance was the shoal channel marker and continued to look for the green light. Upon closer examination of the charts I realized the channel markers are not lit and the red light was a marker much further south. Using the spotlight and radar I was able to locate the green can and erring towards port, slipped through the very narrow passage unscathed.
We dropped Anderson in Charleston and waited again on some heavier winds offshore. An acquaintance from Provincetown was moving an 80 Hatteras and after chatting about the conditions made his way to meet up with us for a drink at the Harbor Club. While we run around 8 knots, burning about a gallon per nautical mile, he moves at around 20 knots, burning 140. We left Charleston in the evening on Sunday, staying close to shore out of the gulf stream and ran the next 50 hours to Fort Lauderdale, non-stop.
Greg ran from Charleston to St. Augustine on Monday, stopped for fuel and a night’s rest and then passed us in the evening on Tuesday as we approached Lauderdale. We weren’t at the dock on the New River until around 3AM, which is fine by me – running the river in the wee hours means less traffic and a very chill arrival.
Now begins some repairs and upgrades. The brightwork (exterior, Mahogany railings and rub-rails) need refinishing, a new WiFi system, batteries and soft-goods are all in the plans.
People often ask if we pass through storms. Like inquiring a solider if they’ve seen any action. The first storm we passed through on the Atlantic, which I had watched brewing for some hours, was anticlimactic: hardly any wind, placid seas with perhaps the largest rain drops I’ve yet to witness.
Tonight, along the same northbound route up the Eastern seaboard, we could see lightning storms brewing to the West, over Georgia and South Carolina and to the East over the open Atlantic. As we made our way towards Beaufort, NC, I took watch from Luke at 1 AM, and the Western front was upon us.
The sails were up as the prevailing winds were as predicted, from the south, shifting around from the west, filling our starboard headsail and adding some much needed stability in a mixed port-side, following sea. My mom and aunt were not faring as well as we’d all hoped and the seasickness patches were compounded with Dramamine to keep them in a deep sleep as we rocked and rolled northward in a classic, dark and stormy night.
As we entered the tempest, the winds worked their way around to the bow, climbing from relaxing 7 knots to guest nearing 30, the shifting direction luffing the sails, but a slight course correction allowed me to keep them somewhat to port. At one point there was a loud thud on the upper deck and amidst the rain and lightning I cautiously climbed past the tender to secure the main boom shackle which had come loose – a dangerous thing, having a massive steel boom swinging about the deck while the ship pitches nearly ten degrees each side.
Earlier in the day we did our best to stay in the gulf stream, using the current to increase our normal 8-10 knot speed to nearly 13. The navigation computer doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that this boost doesn’t stay with us and arrival predictions are modified as our speed slows. A teasing mid-day arrival shifts into the night the next day and I feel for our ladies hunkered in the belly of the ship, perhaps second-guessing this particular voyage.
By evening we were approaching the coast of North Carolina and began to feel it’s protection from the northerly wind. While checking the upper deck for loose lines following the heavy winds, I spotted a distictive fluke in the distance, headed our way. I called to Linda and Mom and despite their weakened state, they rushed with me to the bow to watch two, small, spotted dolphins enjoying the energy put out by our bulbous bow. This was the first time I’ve seen this particular behavior. The larger animal rode steady while the smaller swam circles around its cohort. The evening light, clear Atlantic waters and these beautiful creatures made for a magical moment. [see the end of the included video for a clip of this]
Everyone was happy to have a good night’s rest and we left about 9AM, considerably later than our previous trip, after sleeping in a bit. Following the same route, we ended up anchoring in a shallow tributary of the Pungo river. I wasn’t sure we’d be into Coinjock in time to fuel that afternoon but arriving about 3:30, there was plenty of time for 2,600 gallons of diesel and some world famous rib-eye, plus a case of mango salsa. We followed two Flemings out the following morning and made our way into Norfolk in the early afternoon, docking at Waterside marina for an early dinner.
The next 36 hours we ran up the coast. Leaving early put us into the Hudson well before our intended dawn cruise past the statue of liberty. Thick fog blanketed the coast, but fortunately the harbor was fairly clear and we all agreed the run in at night, with the Statue of Liberty and city lit up, was magical, more so than it would have been the following, grey and rainy day.
This winter passed quickly, as the summer once did. Growing up in the NorthWest I was always biding time through the cold months and longing endlessly for summer. The first day of frost in fall left me in a funk, in contrast to those late winter, early spring days that would tease the long, warm days of summer, spent exploring the creek or driving the jeep into the mountains.
After our first trip out and the mess with the hydraulic lines, we were looking forward to some spear fishing and visits from a few friends. Paul and Tyler flew out we staged at Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale for the crossing. We had hoped to leave earlier, but as it has become the norm, we were scrambling with last minute repairs and provisions, knowing we would be away from American supply chains for at least a month and with many hungry mouths coming and going.
Tyler and Mike were to meet us in Nassau, but with a one-day weather delay, I was able to stall their flight from Grand Cayman at no charge, which was perfect. It seems no trip can be without some sort of issue, and on the way over the diesel fuel lifting pump, which draws fuel from the main tanks for the generators, decided it had enough of its mundane task. We docked at Atlantis and Luke booked a flight back to Florida for the emergency replacement part. The rest of us did our best to manage this trial with a visit to the water park and aquarium.
Then we were off across the banks where we spent the better part of a week anchored at Bitter Guana, tendering to our favorite local activities and charging up the dive tanks for some cave diving.
The next week Pat, Lisa, Todd and Donna flew directly into Staniel Cay. The weather for their annual trip was less than perfect but fortunately they are the type of people to find joy in any activity, even if it’s moving the boat to avoid an atypical southwest wind. We did get out to a reef on the banks for a day for some spear fishing but the wave action was a little rough, making it a challenge to free dive and limiting our catch. Luke found two massive lobsters and I had great luck with the lion fish, so there was plenty of seafood for a decadent night of surf and turf with our favorite from Bush Brother’s Provisioning: the Wagyu strip steak.
A couple of days were optimal for the Hobie Tandem Islander and it was a real experience watching the couples sail down the coast in azure seas, propelled solely by a light, Bahama breeze.
Next on the docket, my best friend Joe modified his return from New Hampshire to stop off for six days. We immediately had him in a wetsuit, snorkeling in sub-optimal condiitons, which made subsequent snorkels seem comparitively simple. We enjoyed Thunderball Grotto at high tide again – not something recommended for the novice or anyone who isn’t substantially athletic. The cave ceiling is sharp and precariously low at high tide, resulting in dangerous surfacing if you dive below. A couple were shooting very unique wedding photos in full dress and tux in the deep blue cavern.
One evening a small sailboat anchored nearby and we were hailed by voices with thick french accents. A group of recent college grads from Quebec were on a week long sailing trip and had scored a Mahi Mahi earlier in the day. They invited us over for a meal and we all agreed that Wanderbird’s kitchen and dining area would be more appropriate for 7 people. Luke and I prepared the fish in a light, white wine reduction and we enjoyed regailing tales of sailing and other worldly adventures.
After Joe’s visit Luke had a couple friends from Florida visit and we continued to explore, moving around just north of Big Major, otherwise known as the famed Pig Beach. While lunching at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, our friend Miguel introduced us to Misha and Brennan from Seattle, who he had met on the plane. They were traveling on a vacation they had won on a TV show and we enjoyed hosting them for sunset cocktails and dinner on the Wanderbird. Leery of motoring back between the islands in the dark, we prepared a guest cabin for a good night’s rest before their long trip home.
We worked our way back to Florida stopping for a night in Nassau and a night at the Berry Islands in a tumultuous little channel conveniently just south of Hoffman’s Cay, where we explored the large, inland blue hole and relished jumping from the cliffs and swimming hte warm and surprisingly salty water.
The trip west was smooth, with a night’s stop in Bimini and smooth crossing with 3-4 foot, short period waves typical in the Gulf Stream. Back on the New River I prepared for a trip out to California and Dallas for work and wedding, while Luke settle into Southern Florida life: a balance between minor ship repairs and socalizing.
The weather in the Northeast continued to worsen, with strong northern winds bringing freezing temperatures to Norfolk. After biding our time through a couple particularly nasty storms, we made our way south on the ‘inside’, cruising along the system of rivers, canals, locks and waterways called the Intracoastal and somewhat affectionately referred to as ‘the ditch’.
Running this route keeps us out of the notorious Cape Hatteras and allows us a stop at Coinjock for cheap diesel and the purportedly famous prime rib. Needless to say the fish special with green curry was quite good.
Navigating the narrow and shoal ridden ditch is a challenge in a boat with 7-foot draft even though the locals claim that the hefty barges passing day and night are 10-12 feet, we dragged our keel a number of times.
At the notorious Alligator river, where I wrote earlier in the year about running aground, we were behind two very slow sail boats which were running dangerously close to the shoals well within the marked channel. We notified them on the radio and squeezed by at their insistence, in the worst possible spot. This quick passage put us steaming hard for the open bridge and saved us waiting on the next opening.
Another anchoring on the Neuse river that night and morning run through the canal into Beaufort was a rare, late fall day that felt more like spring. We secured a slip and OneWheeled to an excellent lunch and then prepared for an overnight to Charleston.
The weather was in our favor that night and around noon, we docked behind the massive, triple mast sailing vessel Adix. They like to pack them tight at the Charleston City Marina, with the stern flag pole extending nearly over our bow and their colors licking the bird’s bulb!
Thanksgiving was upon us and I flew home to Oregon to surprise my family while Luke did some improvements and repairs, including starting the daunting task of replacing the air conditioning compressors. It seems the previous three, installed just three years earlier, had all failed, likely due to improper installation; either a fouled fluid line or power grounding causing corrosion.
I had a few days after my return to provision and explore Charleston, a beautiful city, and we finally found a restaurant that exemplifies everyone’s tendency to call this city a foodie town. Magnolia’s had southern, homestyle cooking with subtle twists and an elegant flair. Highly recommended.
A series of heavy rains, lightning and wind passed through and we were stuck on board for several days, watching the weather closely, looking for an opportunity to move further south, if not all the way to Fort Lauderdale.
Finally a reprieve gave us a chance and we planned a route to Cape Canaveral where we thought we might opt to duck back into the Intracoastal and make the last 140 miles inside. We left at 1AM after Luke had secured the engine room and took roughly 4 hour shifts through the night, the following day and next night.
The winds were from the North and Northeast for the better part of the second day and third night so we rolled out the starboard headsail and for a while, the mainsail as well. Now we can comfortably say ‘yes we do’ when people ask, do you use those things as they stare quizzically at what is perhaps the only trawler with sails.
The predicted, growing winds in Southern Florida had pushed back to Sunday which gave us a solid window to reach Fort Lauderdale, so now, as I type this, it’s just after midnight and we’re just under 5 hours from the port entrance. Running up the New River early, before any weekend traffic should make it nice and easy, with a slack tide, albeit low.
Definitely first on the agenda: O-B Breakfast House, after securing the lines of course.
There’s a song that says something about living in New York, but not so long that it makes you hard. After a month at Chelsea Piers I understand what that means. The location is prime but the wave action, which they warn you about explicitly, is incessant, calming slightly in the evenings. It was so bad that our bowline, which we didn’t realize was against a steel piling, broke under the constant friction. The rest of our lines saw a year’s worth of wear in the 30 days there.
I also realized I’m a west coast boy at heart. The city is amazing, vibrant, intense and frustratingly agro. As we made our way up and down the west side bike path there seemed to be more electric board devices daily, clearly to the chagrin of the cyclists barreling down the path at top speed, their huffs and curses not restrained and their middle fingers occasionally thrown, all while blowing past the ‘yield to pedestrians, it’s the law’ signs. Even a leisurely ride down the Hudson is an angry affair for a native New Yorker.
Being along the west-side bike path was ideal for us; with the OneWheels we could travel anywhere in the city in less time than it would take to Uber, Taxi or take the subway, given the 20 minute walk to the station from the pier.
Between work and some maintenance, we spent the time exploring Manhattan and living like natives, getting to know friends and new acquaintances and flying through the city on the OneWheel. One day I pushed the limits of the board, riding from Chelsea Piers, at about 23rd, up to 110th, cruised some dirt, wooded trails near the Blockhouse, an old fort and the second oldest structure in the park, and wound my way all the way back, racking up about 14 miles in the process and ending with 15% charge.
There were the typical tourist sites as a few people visited, but the highlight was time spent with friends: Jacob’s extended visit, Broadway on the Hudson with Bob Eichler on the beautiful sailing vessel Altair, a going away cocktail party for him on Wanderbird, meeting the very talented Mike Ryals, running into TJ and Jason randomly and hosting Graeme and Daniel and their rambunctious son Jackson who was enamored with the boat, particularly the anemometer, used to measure wind speed. I certainly can’t say I knew what that was when I was 4!
As hurricane Michael made its way around Florida and headed for the SouthEast we departed New York, out the harbor as we had arrived around 3 months earlier and up Delaware Bay, through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (C&D) and down the Delaware towards Washington DC to meet Luke’s mom, Carol Anne and her boyfriend Jim for a few days site-seeing. After a full night and day, with Michael about to make it’s way just south of us, we ducked into Middle River and set anchor with as much protection as we could find, given that a passing hurricane can mean dramatically shifting wind directions.
At ten PM I stood up top and looked around at the peaceful waters and still shoreline and I understood fully the phrase ‘calm before the storm’. At 2AM I woke to the sound of heavy lapping and wind whipping the lines. I headed to the flybridge to make sure things were secure and the winds were sustained at 35 with gusts reaching 50 knots but the anchor was holding solid and things were secure. With the anchor alarm set to go off if the boat moved from a specified zone, we drifted back to sleep and woke to sunny skies and calming seas.
Having posted on Facebook about this, I heard from my High School buddy Chad. As we would be in Annapolis the next week, we planned to meet.
Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial made for an impactful but not exactly uplifting first day. The next day was the Hirschhorn Contemporary Art Museum and the American History Museum followed by a get-together with our good friend Dave, his friend of 40 years and a couple of Carol Anne’s former students, one from High School and one from Camp Mead-O-Lark, both successful and delightfully personable.
Back down the Potomac, we briefly brushed the bottom in the middle of the channel, which was a surprise, but the Potomac, while navigable, isn’t a deep vessel river. An overnight put us right outside of Annapolis and in the morning we discovered the rigging company had not arranged a slip for us, so we scrambled to find a spot in Chesapeake Harbor Marina until things were sorted out in back creek, where we had the sails rigged. In the interim, Chad took us on a tour of Annapolis Naval Academy which was a real treat. I never imagined I would witness people saluting Chad – it’s a wonder he survived the high school hijinx he, Liam and Jeremy got into, let alone being thrown off a snowy, mountain cliff on an innertube behind my dad’s truck, but that’s another sordid tale.
With the head sails back in place we departed Annapolis for Norfolk, down the Chesapeake over night. With the wind at our backs and a following sea, we were finally able to test them out. We launched the out-riggers and rolled the sails out. The wind filled them both and seemed to even out the shifting caused by the seas driving at us from behind. We sailed into the night as the seas grew from a foot to about four and in the early morning we rolled them up and prepared for what was sure to be an adventurous turn west, putting those four foot seas hard at our beam.
Sure enough the boat was rolling hard for an hour until we came into the protection of the James river and set anchor near our next port-of-call, Portsmouth, Virginia. In the morning, the winds were diminished but still pushing off the dock, along with a bit of current. We threw a bowline to the dockmaster who secured it to a piling and attempted to apply power on the line to pull us around. This failed to bring us in so threw a second line to the dock and once secure, used the stern winch to haul the boat into the dock. Certainly not the easiest landing!
We found someone from a local yard to watch the boat and ensure the power remained on and headed to California to catch up with Paul and Jacob for Halloween in Los Angeles and our friend Nick’s birthday just north of Ensenada in Mexico. Ten days later, we were back at Tidewater Marina to discover that two of our three air conditioning compressors have failed, so now, we wait on replacements as the temperature has fallen from a high of 80 several days ago to a high of 47 today. Thankfully the heat still works!
Hopefully we’ll be moving south again with a week or two – those mid-eighties temperatures in Florida are sounding very enticing right now!
Luke and I headed back to Washington for a few weeks to catch up on things at home while I had a short film to shoot with the fine people at Olympia Film Collective. We left the boat tied to a dock in Marblehead, Massachusetts with the intention of having the brightwork done – the name given to the wood railings and rub rails. We had issues arranging the work we wanted done so Luke flew back across country to move the boat slightly north to Salem.
When we returned in early August the power had been out for a couple days and the battery bank was fully depleted. Letting this happen is very bad for the health of the batteries but fortunately we have plans to replace them shortly.
Some local workers finished a few minor repairs and buffing half the boat and we headed north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire with my best friend Joe aboard. It was a perfect day with calm seas as we weaved our way through the mess of lobster traps that litter the east coast.
Coming into Portsmouth with Joe was a treat as he grew up in the area and had boated out to the Isle of Shoals many times in his youth. The tide was ebbing which made for a slow run up the river to Badger Island, but we discovered this current was far better than the alternative for docking, as a flooding tide pushed the boat hard off the dock.
Over the next week we would watch the boat snug against the dock as the tide moved out and it was pushed out firm against the lines in the flood. The first shift our lines were a little loose and the boat was a good four feet out from the dock, secure, but quite a jump to shore!
Joe and his family were incredibly accommodating and we reveled with them, celebrating Joe’s brother’s birthday and hosting brunch and dinner on the boat.
While it felt like we were with close family, Maine was calling and we made an eventful departure from Badger Island as our friend Jacob joined us from back home. I thought we might run a looped line near the stern but Luke thought the spring would suffice as the last line. With the tide pushing us hard out, the stern immediately swung out hard and we had to cast off fully as the boat was in danger of being swept into the bridge.
Luke made a couple passes to pick me up from the dock and at one point, without a clear view of the situation, insisted I jump. Knowing, even with my long legs, I could not make that distance, I faltered and ended up in the swift moving river, just for a moment.
On the third try he was able to get the stern within a few feet and I was on board. We motored north, once again weaving through a maze of buoys marking lobster traps. The prop on Wanderbird is thankfully well protected and we believed it posed little danger for fouling from these traps. We would test this theory into the night as the buoys failed to dwindle off shore and the sun set for a long, overnight run north.
In the early morning hours the number of traps thickened significantly as we approached the first islands off Maine. Eventually we resolved to the fact that the prop was not in danger and began to pass over the buoys without harm.
By mid-day we anchored off Eagle Island where our friends Stephen and Michael have a summer cottage or cabin – the definitive title is still pending. Our friend Bob just happened to be sailing south and anchored in the bay next to us, arriving just 20 minutes after us. We picked Bob up and went ashore so Stephen could give us a walking tour.
About 15 families live on the island, most of them descending from one family who have lived there for over 200 years as I recall. At the end of the day we bought some lobsters trapped by a local fisherman and retired to the Wanderbird for a very memorable dinner.
The next morning we headed for shore to say goodbye to Stephen and as we approached a floating dock, an elderly woman came running. My instinct was that she was waving us off, telling us the dock was private. As we approached we realized she was trying to warn us of a rock in the area and she was the most delightful personality.
She thanked us for anchoring on that day, for the afternoon prior her extended family had held a memorial for her seafaring husband. She said the presence of the boats, just off the coast of their summer cottage, had been a real treat.
A half day’s run and we reached Bar Harbor. We anchored off the edge of the town mooring field and the next morning the fog lifted, giving way to perfect weather for hiking Acadia National Park’s, granite speckled mountains, though on the west coast, we’d hardly call them hills.
The second day we moved to a mooring at the request of the harbor master as a cruise ship came in to anchor not far from our original spot. At $35 per day, cash only, to be paid to the mooring’s owner, we were happy to be slightly closer to shore and more secure for our day excursions away from the boat.
One afternoon as we headed back to the boat, I spotted someone waving frantically from a boat in the distance. We motored our tender over to find two teenage girls on a dilapidated boat with a couple lobster traps on board. Their motor had died and one had started to swim to shore but thought the better of it against he ebbing tide and head wind.
We rigged up a towline and pulled them back to their mooring and they thanked us by offering some of their catch. Seeing as how our tender has seen better days, we thought it good to contribute to the sea-faring karma pool, as we may someday be on the receiving end of a tow, likely without any lobsters to offer our saviors!
We made our way south again, stopping for a few days in Portland, Maine and then on to Provincetown for a long weekend. It turned out this was perfect for a small bit of winds that passed through and our travel days were exceptionally calm and peaceful. We discovered the annual Labor Day White Party at Provincetown Inn and met new friends Jason and Adam from Connecticut along with their son Xavier and very kind and endearing friends Harvey and Carl who have been together more than twice the time Luke and I – 40 years!
Another calm day of travel put us into Newport Shipyard where a crew pulled the headsails and hydraulic furlers to be overhauled. Next stop: back to New York City.
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.
Perhaps it was a different tidal shift or more favorable weather – or it could have been the company, but the beach we found off Norman’s Cay was as picturesque as the finest postcard on the revolving rack at the best gift shop in Nassau. If it wasn’t for Paul’s penchant for routine, tracing the same pattern step-for-step, I may not have realized we had visited this beach before, only last time it was littered with garbage washed by the prevailing Eastern wind off Exuma sound and an excessively low tide had rendered the sand with an unpleasant odor.
The ocean has a way of constantly changing, both itself on the surface and the shores it touches. Paul’s two top company employees had joined us with their wives and we spent several days back on the northern Exumas, first anchoring between Allen Cay and Highbourne. We picked that spot because the winds were predicted to shift from the south and it provided better protection. That evening everyone decided they wanted to try Xuma, the restaurant on Highbourne, though as we made the crossing I worried they regretted the decision.
The only reservation available was 8:30 which meant a pitch-dark ride with a cross wind and a potentially treacherous run, part-way through the cut to reach the marina, or at the very least, a very wet ride. Donna was quick to realize that her seat, on the front, left of the rigid-inflatable tender, was the wettest and Lisa did her best to stay low in the bow of the boat. While we had the Garmin GPS to find our way, we found that the iPad with Navionics was better suited to work our way between the rocks and shoals that provided protection at the popular anchorage and before long we were winding our way between mega-yachts to the docks.
Dinner at Xuma’s was quality as expected but we were disappointed our friends couldn’t get the full experience of the view in the dark. The tender ride back was equally wet but everyone enjoyed the sense of adventure you get from successfully charting across a dark expanse, until we could find the lone, incandescent anchor light in a web of LEDs, then clamor off the dinghy back into the security of the Wanderbird at anchor.
The next morning the winds had indeed shifted and we made our way along the sound where we tried our hand at anchoring south of Norman’s, between it, Wax Cay and Boot Cay. We weren’t sure just how the Bird would shift in what we expected to be fairly strong tidal currents given the deep and narrow channel so we anchored slightly out from the crowd.
Luke and I dropped our friends at the beach and headed back down to Highbourne with the tender to fuel up. Along the way, as we cruised at top speed, two globs of dark, black ink shot up from the shallow water, nearly hitting us in the face! We circled around to see if we could tell what sea creature had fired a shot across our bow, but found nothing and speculated it was an octopus startled by our passing.
At the marina our tender continued to give us grievance and the fuel line broke. The helpful dock attendant gave us a rag to allow us to run the fuel line directly into the can, which worked surprisingly well and we made a quick stop at the boat for repairs before picking everyone up.
The sea floor in the area looked less than ideal with some rocks so the next morning I donned the free-diving kit and jumped in to have a look around. The current was indeed significant and it was a struggle to swim forward where the chain was along some rocks but the anchor appeared well seated. As I drifted swiftly past the boat, admiring the fish and terrain below, I saw two enormous antenna leering from a small cave. Our friend Dustin had instructed us to watch for this tell-tale sign of a lobster and this one looked to be large enough to collect free-diving, albeit about 25 feet or more below the boat in a strong current.
The next 30 minutes are a saga best illustrated by photo and followed up with generous application of butter and garlic. Lisa and Donna took care of preparing an excellent lobster appetizer while I worked on dinner and I think we all enjoyed being provided for, at least the first course, by the surrounding sea.
The next day we explored the aforementioned pristine beach and snorkeled the nearby drug-runner plane wreck which was quite a treat – alive with a plethora of aquatic inhabitants. A popular but highly recommended stop if ever in the area.
As evening approached we put forth the idea of trying the nearby MacDuff’s restaurant. The guidebook suggested either a walk around the airport to the west-facing beach or a short ride around the point where we could beach the tender. We opted for the latter and encountered small waves hiding a consistent smattering of rocks.
Once we had everyone wet, but onto shore, we were presented with the task of securing the tender for a couple of hours for dinner. Beaching it was out of the question and anchoring past the waves and swimming in would prove for a wet and uncomfortable dinner in the cool evening air.
Luke and I headed back around the point where a marina was under construction and we found a quiet corner to stash the boat and walk along the runway back to the restaurant.
After a pleasant meal we all proceeded back in the dark along the air-strip, myself now bare-foot having donated my flip-flops to Paul whose shoes had been left behind. Unsure about the sea conditions rounding the point, we tried to find a route to the beach on the leeward side and while searching, we stumbled upon a Doosan trackhoe which delighted Pat and Todd who insisted on getting a photo for their heavy equipment dealer, even while in the dark, wind-swept shores of Norman’s Cay.
As he posed for the photo, the ground gave way under Pat and he fell some eight-feed into a hole, thankfully filled with soft dirt. Once Pat had been pulled from the ditch we found our way back to the tender, loaded everyone up and skirted the shore, barely dodging the break along the rocks.
We wrapped up the trip by motoring back to Nassau where everyone wanted to make generous donations to the Atlantis casino, ride the not-so-lazy river and engage in the comforts of the massive Nassau resort.
It had been a rough week, the kind that seemed like a nightmare and as I’m scrubbing diesel off my hands and talking the police, no amount of pinching seems to do the trick.
We’d also run aground, this time in a more significant way. After fueling at the city dock (we highly recommend the fine people at Anchor Petroleum), I had cast off the lines, called ‘all clear’ and realized we had a significant list to the port side. Glancing down at the waterline, the growth on the hull was already visible and just then Luke looked down and confirmed my suspicion, the ebbing tide had left us stranded.
Fortunately the city didn’t have anyone else scheduled to fuel that afternoon – if they had it wouldn’t have mattered. No amount of coaxing was going to get Wanderbird into deeper water and back up the river to our slip.We left her there, ran some errands and returned up river to our temporary home by the 4th Ave bridge in the cover of dark.
Paul arrived the next day and we started the painful process of provisioning for a month-long-or-more trip. In addition Luke was caching parts for various repairs he hoped to make along the way. Software and computer updates for the navigation, bilge pumps the surveyor checked off as working but were in various states of repair and countless other tasks.
Late at night, on the eve of departure we finally made it to Whole Foods for provisioning. I’ve since decided that in the future, we need to save an entire day for that project. After loading three carts beyond capacity, and learning that they have ‘yacht boxes’ at the grocery store, we got back to the boat and I proceeded to empty every cupboard and food store in order to organize and re-stock in my own way.
A last minute schedule change put our guests, Damon and Gina, joining us in Fort Lauderdale rather than meeting us in Nassau, giving us a leisurely voyage to the Bahamas rather than a frantic run, which was ideal since Luke was now on antibiotics to fight off an earache and nasal infection.
We cast off at slack tide around noon, made our way out to the Atlantic looking at a forecast of calm seas and Westerly winds. This was one of those times when the forecast was way off. With winds from the Northeast clashing with the Gulf Stream we slogged our way towards the Bahamas at a mere 6 knots. This put us onto the bank in the dark and we chose a spot just south of our previous anchorage, off South Bimini, protected from the East and North.
In the morning I woke before the others, as usual, and headed up to wipe down the boat and consider breakfast. As I worked my way back from the bow a small sailing vessel was passing about 50 yards towards shore, standing on the bow were two figures whose wave was unmistakable: arm fully extended, moving from both the shoulder and elbow, a welcome the likes I have seen only once before from a passing vessel.
My reply was half-hearted, mostly from shock. A moment later the radio crackled to life with the words ‘Velocir, Wanderbird, come in’.
It couldn’t be! What are the odds? Over a month had passed since meeting this lovely family of farmers from Ohio in the Northern Exumas over 100 miles away and now here they were, arriving in the same spot, a day apart in a chain of fortuitous chances that brought us together.
We made plans to congregate and do some fishing. Dustin was a farmer, with no prior fishing experience, but had taught himself and his girls to fish, in order to feed his family.
Late morning the next day we picked Dustin up and headed out, first to some grassy seabeds to find conch for bait, then to a rocky, coral area where we found a large school of Bahama Chub cruising around. After a some attempts at spear fishing we positioned ourselves over the school and resorted to the slightly more laborious method of cutting chunks of conch and hand-line fishing, or as the fish seemed to interpret it:free lunch.
After some trial and error we found that smaller pieces of bait, positioned well on the hook would snag us our dinner and ended up with 7 fish, one lobster and a about 12 welp, a type of sea snail.
Converting freshly caught fish into read-to-cook fillets requires some skill and Dustin, having taught himself over the last couple months, set at the task while I willingly provided a glass of his favorite rum, Krakin. The scent of fish drew the sharks we had seen earlier to the back of the boat. Being circled in this way certainly added a level of excitement to the dinner preparations and I was glad he waited to clean the fish until after Luke and I had done a quick cleaning of the bulbous bow and waterline as a couple of reef sharks had joined the docile nurse sharks for the chumming. A local in the harbor told us these were Bull Sharks, but I’m pretty convinced they were the former.
Back at the Wanderbird we joined Erin, Sierra, Morgan and Gina to cook up a feast. Dustin went to the messy task of cleaning the bounty with the skill of someone who had lived off the sea for months while Erin showed me a simple and delicious recipe for the fish, using ghee, salt, pepper and Bahamanian Ginger White wine. While I wasn’t up for eating the Welp, I have to say I did try the broth and it was phenomenal.
We talked into the night of family, the fortune of experiences, of increasingly connecting with other beings emotionally, physically and mentally, and when it came time to say good night they left us with a gift a local artisan had carved: a wooden dolphin with the date and location where we’d met written on it’s stomach.
Our first gift – from strangers with a willingness to wave and experience something unique, something blessed. Different families leading different lives, coming together and connecting.
Barrington, Rhode Island to Fort Lauderdale :: the Delivery
We set out from Barrington on Friday, December 1st as a cold front made it’s way to the region. We’d had a couple days of beautiful, sunny weather but knew it couldn’t last. New England in fall is rarely this forgiving.
Just before dawn we headed down the river and into Long Island Sound, cruising through the night in the wide open waters. At dawn we could see the New York City skyline peering through the fog to the south as we turned West long enough to fuel up in Norwalk, Connecticut.
By mid-day we were cruising past the city and saw over an hours delay just before the Manhattan bridge while the president’s helicopter was standing by along the river. Eventually it and two Osprey VTOL aircraft departed and we were able to see Lady Liberty at sunset.
Another over-nighter and full day brought us to Norfolk, Virginia – a military town where it seemed half the Navy fleet was docked. The Lincoln, Truman and George Washington were three of the carriers I recall passing on our way up the river. We found space at a transient dock and departed the next morning up the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW).
Through a lock that lowered us barely a few feet into the channel, we continued to Coinjock Marina where we chatted with the lovely owners of the Nordhavn Emmanou. We’ve been following their progress to Florida on the Marine Traffic app ever since.
Another day cruising the ICW put us on the Neuse River where we found a calm anchorage spot for the evening and the next morning, after a quick flight on the DJI Mavic Drone, progressed through another channel to Beaufort, North Carolina. We spent the day provisioning and running errands and departed early back to the Atlantic for a run down to Charleston, SC.
Mike, the previous captain of Wanderbird has been along for the ride and show us the boat and needed to fly back for a wedding, so we docked at Patriot’s Point and explored Charlotte for a couple days despite what everyone says was unusually cold weather. Being on the end tie has it’s disadvantages when the wind kicks up, but was nice when the holiday boat parade went by and we were able to watch with the Aqua Hot furnace running!
As I write this, Wednesday, Dec 13, having waited an extra day for the winds to calm; we’re now on a 50 – 60 hour run to Fort Lauderdale, where we are lucky to have finally found a transient slip on the New River.