Saturday, December 20, 2008

Florida isn’t exactly a remote nation, but it’s not like home either. For one thing, on this last day of fall, I’m wearing shorts. I don’t need to huddle in bed at about 7:30, so sometimes am awake even at 9:30, like tonight!

For another, now we have to deal with where to put all the thick winter stuff, the socks, polypro and comforters. My vote is Goodwill, but maybe not too hastily. I remember, at the West Palm Beach Greens Market on a 40 degree January Saturday, seeing women in furs and ski clothes. Their dogs dressed funny too, including a dachshund bundled in a jacket that look like a frankfurter bun, and something 4-legged in a fitted yellow slicker.

You know you’re in Florida when there are sidewalks, with curb cutouts, and bikes accessorized with drink holders, cell phone holders, rod holders, even trailers, which are a step up from shopping carts for the some, perhaps including me, one of these days. Anyhow, I'm taking notes just in case!

Our little folding bikes have emerged. We can cover lots of ground on them, and even more on public transportation. This time I notice just a few more people like me (white, female, not quite young) on the buses, though not on bikes. Or it that just hope?

Here in the Palm Beach area, there are megayachts along Lake Worth, larger than the properties they’re docked in front of. They have aircraft lights, and could be confused with phone towers. I think I’m using the wifi connection of one of those megayachts now.

Inshore are bands of communities from the 30s, 40s, 50s, pock-marked with perkily-named gated communities from more recent booms. Fast-moving squads of weed whackers and leaf blowers roam the sidewalks, and the tinted windows of many cars make it hard to know if we pedalers/pedestrians can safely pass before them. Move further inland and you’ll be in big-box-store land. Could be Omaha, or San Diego, but it’s Florida, where one might buy and transplant a huge banyan tree (via barge) for $155,000.

In the papers are two stories. Florida is making a positive but controversial move towards Everglades respect and restoration by agreeing to purchase a huge parcel of land from US Sugar, although there are many challenges. But also, a thousand people, including all the local politicos, attended the funeral of yet another shooting victim, a hard-working young man who left behind six children and a pregnant wife.

I wish it were more remote.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Moving South

Just over the Georgia line, finally, a day in which we removed our gloves during the afternoon. I didn’t wear my waterproof pants either. Nights are still in the 30s, but our nests are fully feathered and I’m feeling the warmth just over the horizon (or is that the loom of Savannah?). A lovely anchorage in an unnamed creek off the Bear River; a few quiet moments in the few daylit minutes left, listening to the birds in the marsh, whose voice boxes ratcheted and wound down like a pinball machine, then to an airplane droning past, and to gunfire in the distance, automatic, Doug said.

This stretch of the waterway is full of ‘alerts’ mostly about shoaling in the dredged cuts that connect the rivers, so we’re extra-careful. I like going at low tide, because I believe we’re sure to get off when the tide comes in, and I have that feeling longer. Doug says he’d rather not run aground in the first place, but he too wants ‘insurance’, so in his world it would always be halfway into the flood. At high tide, I get nervous, he gets happy.

The prospect of visiting our friends Lynn and George, off St. Catherine’s Sound, for Thanksgiving was enticing, but a shoal at the mouth of her creek made me anxious. We arrived nearby at the middle of the ebb, and used the luxury of spare time for a calming reconnoiter. It took half an hour to dig out the Avon and blow it up, mount the outboard, and load our kit, which includes a little fish finder/depth sounder suction-cupped to the transom.

We spent an hour zigging around checking our possible routes. Then, cautiously, but now with some assurance, and the added insurance of the rising tide, we did the deed.

At the dock we checked the electronic chart, to find that what we had done was exactly what we would have penciled in as the optimum route. This was despite some apparent changes in both nearby shoals. Lovely as the vast sea of marsh grass is, and it's one of my favorite landscapes, it's hard to get your bearings there. If that crabber moves his floats before we leave, especially the blue one, I'll miss them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

That's one of the reasons these early days are called shakedown cruises.

Much of the time between Galesville and Charleston has been a struggle to adapt the volume of our ‘stuff’ to the volume of storage available on the boat. I talk a good game about living clutter free, but I seem to have two of everything from the double life we've lived for the past decade, except a place to put it now.

We’ve made good progress, but still every day finds us looking for something, shuffling things around, repacking, and leaving little piles of treasure next to a dumpster (‘closer to a good home here’). You can only move some of this stuff so many times before it makes that one-way trip over the rail no matter how handy it might be some day or how much it once cost or who gave it to you. In its way Arion, at 35’ long and 9’2” beam, had a better mix of useful storage options than Galivant's deep vats in the cockpit and chopped up shelves with small doors in the cabin.

I'm trying to remind myself: each thing that occupies space 'just in case' keeps something else away, something like clarity and lightness of spirit. But my fist sometimes just won't open!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Great Bridge and beyond

But enough about stuff.

We got to the lock at Great Bridge just as a big low was moving up the coast. I had a momentary twinge about being stuck between a lock and a drawbridge on Election Day, in case something displeased the natives about the results. However the ability to walk, even in the gusting, pouring rain, across a dangerous highway, to the library (wifi), grocery (milk, pork chops), Radio Shack (they didn’t have it) and hardware store (sink stopper) was great.

We met and bonded with another Valiant 40, #122 Tamure, formerly Francis Stokes' Mooneshadow. We're #124. Instead of six degrees of separation, we found about six nodes of connection in the first ten minutes. I wanted to rustle through all their lockers to see what was where, but I mostly refrained. There was enough inspiration out in public.

On the third day of the low, the wind stopped blowing the water out of Currituck Sound and we were on our way again, in the middle of a great pent-up herd of boats: “3 motor, 13 sail” on our bridge opening, and as many again on the two successive openings. Sometimes the VHF chatter is excruciating, all this excessive politeness and idle comment. Reminds me of AM talk radio, only less interesting.

Mostly Doug drives, to keep me from wandering out of the channel, and to get better meals. It's a real treat to steam under the 65' bridges without even looking up, much less creeping cautiously through like we did on Absolute with her 64 foot masts topped with things we didn't want to wipe off!

Waterway miles are statute (land) miles, not nautical, and we seem to only get about fifty of them in on these short days. But that’s okay. There’s something tiring about standing around doing not much, all day long, and 7:30 to bed doesn’t seem excessive. I’ve even started reading again, working through a two-foot backlog of magazines. Then there's about 60 pounds of books, snuck aboard bag by bag, presently counterbalancing the batteries.

We even sailed a little, on the Neuse River, in a line with the rest of our herd, as the 'motors' wove their wakes between us. I love the Carolina rivers - they're so beautiful when the weather's fine, and this day it was fine. We were looking forward to a night in Beaufort NC, had a friend to visit with and everything, but a weather window should not be denied either. So we stopped for fuel, motored out the Beaufort channel, turned southwest and set the sails. Dophins, moonlight, the horizon clear before us, also very fine.

To Galesville


Took us two hours to get to the West River on October 30– a cold northwest wind blew us down there, and that first night was a brisk 42 degrees in the cabin at sunrise. The natives of Galesville are very friendly, accommodating to the visitor and great cooks! We have officially broken the forcefield of our dock in Annapolis.

Two weeks later, we’re in Charleston, SC and children sail past in shorts, seemingly unintimidated by the river scooting them along at 3 knots. The storm drain covers are made in America, too!

What kind of blog?

Now that we’re no longer worried about getting out of town, or getting the house rented, or the cars sold, or freezing in the Chesapeake, I’m going to start worrying about getting this blog going. This is definitely a learning-by-doing experience. I hope to lure Doug into the process, but for now, it’s a one-woman show.

What to write about? Well, I’ve been touched to see how many of my ‘write-a-letter-a-day’ letters and postcards from earlier trips have survived. So I’ll just write some more of them, on a computer and without an envelope this time, and try to add more pictures (once the digital camera’s battery charger catches up with me!). Read them if you want to, or hit delete. That’s how the WWW gets its energy. But the most energizing thing of all would be if you write back, comments, questions, suggestions – I’ll need it all!