'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

1 Comment

The Long Stretch Between

(Sorry, no pictures. I have them, but one of the realities of cruising is that the internet service you find is wat you have – and this one in Vero Beach FL won’t allow me to upload photos!)

When we began this trip, I had envisioned that the blog would become something of a travelogue. A day-by-day (or at least a week-by-week) description of what we saw, thought, felt and wondered about.  Instead, it’s become more a record of my irregular inspiration. I’ve written when the mood struck and a topic presented itself – often as a result of a semi-dream state in the wee hours of the morning.

The problem with relying on the sleep fairy for blog ideas is one of memory. I’ll wake – or nearly wake, or dream I’m waking – but I’ll be in no condition to write down the idea the sleep fairy left me, nor will I have anything to write with and on, and anyway it’ll be dark so I can’t see to scribble…. And that’s a shame, because I know there have been some wonderful blog post ideas that are forever lost to the vagaries of my middle-aged memory.

But such is life. Rest assured that there have been some incredibly scintillating posts, real corkers, and you’d have absolutely loved reading them, sharing them, quoting them at office parties and swank soirée of every description.  

Really – that good.

What I’ve been left with instead is the bare highlights. When something really significant happens, like detached retina or near-death in an inlet, you hear about it, but the three days we spent wending our way slowly through the beauty of the Georgia marshes gets barely a nod, and I haven’t even mentioned most of South Carolina. 

Now in fairness to Georgia, the beauty of the ICW in that stretch doesn’t translate well to the written word. I’ve heard many people lament that that stretch of the ditch is deadly dull. “There’s NOTHING THERE!!” (emphasis mine) they lament.
And I suppose that’s true, if your definition of “something” is humans and the mess they make. But the marshes are quiet and soft and the air is sweet. The Great Egrets and Brown (and White!) Pelicans are abundant and a joy to watch in their feeding antics, the Dolphins are frequent visitors in their hunt for food and playmates, and there’s an energy to the marsh that lowers the blood pressure more effectively than Prozac ever dreamed. 

Cumberland Island, too, is lovely, and if the weather had cooperated, we’d have spent a couple days there, but we were forced out by a Norther that made the only anchorage untenable after only a couple hours ashore, and we have not one picture of ruins, horses, armadillos and deer who hardly know or care what humans do around them. Magical, it was, and we plan to return some day.

South Carolina was – well – a strain. The waterway is clogged with McMansions right down to the water, each more pretentious than the last, yet in the next mile decay and poverty are more prominent than the pelicans.  

Charleston has gorgeous architecture, it’s true, and it’s one of those places that many find delightful. “So much to DO!”, they cry, yet we found grid-lock, urban sprawl and overdevelopment at its worst, and the subtext of racial tension and a distrust of strangers (eye contact while walking down the street? Certainly not!) had us longing for open water long before we were able to seek it. We won’t be back there if we can avoid it.

But then there was St. Augustine, FL – the perfect antidote to Charleston. An old city, steeped in history, with lovely architecture, illogical streets and wonderful pedestrian ways. Yes, the downtown is horribly touristy – carefully designed to separate the visitor from their money – but there is a color and a vibrancy to the town and a welcoming energy in the people that lets you forgive that aspect. 

And let me tell you, they know how to light up the town for Christmas!

Add to that a lovely cruiser community, with many snowbirds like us choosing to make the harbor their winter home, and three days wasn’t long enough by half. We’ll be back on one of our migrations, I’m sure.

And one other thing that Florida has? Water.

Ever since leaving Norfolk, VA, we’ve had our eyes and ears glued to the depth sounder. Sionna needs 4 ½ feet of water to operate, and for comfort we’d prefer more. Below 10’, we become nervous, as the bottom can come up quickly. It makes for a tense and tiring day, and it was that way from Norfolk (mile 0 on the ICW) all the way to St. Mary’s, Georgia around mile 885.  

But now we’re south of all that. The canal here is deep, approaching 20’ most of the time, and if it’s sometimes narrow (50’ or so), it’s often straight, and it slopes at the edges enough that watching the navigational markers with an occasional glance at the depth is enough, and we can relax a bit. Vero Beach, where the boat is tonight, is sheltered, cozy and safe, and so welcoming to cruisers that it’s nick-named “Velcro Beach” in honor of all the sailors who came for a night and stayed for a lifetime. And it’s warm.

Did I mention that it’s warm? As I write this it’s 85 degrees on Christmas Day, and Nicki went for a swim in the pool this evening to cool off. On Christmas. That still seems like a miracle to this northern boy.

Such are the thoughts of a cruiser on this lazy, 80 degree winter evening. We’ll get you some pictures next time.


Holiday Wishes from The Two of Us!

It’s Christmas Eve.

Our original hope/intent had been to take Sionna all the way from Maine to Bradenton Florida for Christmas. What with one thing and another and a couple of unexpected surguries and all, we ended up almost 6 weeks behind the plan (remember, “Cruiser’s plans are written in the sand at low tide”!), so instead, Sionna is moored safely in Vero Beach, FL, watched over by another cruising couple we met there, and her humans have traveled by land to Bradenton.

So we are with family for the holiday, off the boat and sleeping in a bed that doesn’t move for the first time in four months – a strange feeling, to say the least!

Here’s hoping that you, gentle reader, are as comfortable as are we. That you are held by family and friends, are warm, well fed, and appreciative of all the blessings this crazy world we live in can provide. Yes, it’s scary and crazy too, but it can be wonderful, all the same.

Merry Christmas, however you choose to mark the occasion!

Blessings, Keith & Nicki

Sionna with her “big sister” Scout.


On Arriving

At what point does a transient – whether by car, plane, foot or boat – determine that they have “arrived”? How do they know? If traveling and moving on have been your purpose of existence for 4 months, how and when do you transition to staying and growing roots?

Thus was the (admittedly existential) discussion over rum punch aboard the good ship Sionna the last couple of nights. Attempting to answer the question, “Are we there?”

Since long before we moved aboard the boat in August, people have been asking us where we were headed and what our plans were. And our short answer has always been a variation on two ideals: “South” & “Someplace warm”

So what is “South”? And what is “Warm”? From Maine you could say that pretty much anything is “South”, but of course we meant “far enough south that it rarely or never gets colder than the number of years I’ve been alive”. Far enough south to be warm.

Boston doesn’t cut it. (31 F as I write this)

New York City isn’t even close. (Also 31 F)

Charleston, South Carolina regularly dips into the 40’s several days a month in the winter. And in case you’re not aware, neither of us is in our forties anymore.

There was a quantum shift for the crew of Sionna when we reached St. Augustine, Florida. It wasn’t a conscious thing, so much as a sudden, unexplained lack of a drive to keep moving. We still have places to be and things to see farther south, but suddenly the urgency was gone.

We’d stopped needing to run away from winter. We’d arrived.


The Art of Sailing – or not…

We are sailors at heart.

And by “sailor” I mean we are two people who chose to buy a sailboat specifically so that we could use the sails to propel the boat from place to place, day-in and day-out. 

We knew when we started this trip south that we’d have to use the engine more than we’d rather. In Maine, the engine was used to leave the mooring sometimes (when it was too crowded to feel confident of not hitting another boat), to maneuver for anchoring, and to return to the mooring, sometimes.  In our first season of sailing Sionna, we used about 12 gallons of diesel fuel in 4 months of local sailing – and we sailed a LOT.

But the ICW is a different kettle of fish. Some areas are through what looks like an open bay, yet even then, it’s as likely that a channel has been dredged through relatively shallow water, and you need to follow the marks that define that channel. 

Lots of water? Think again. Outside the channel, it’s 3-8 feet at best.

But we have learned the joys of motorsailing.  It’s a combination of motoring and sailing, with one or more sails up and drawing, helping Mr. Diesel do his job.  It’s not quite sailing, of course, but it does at least feel kinda like it, and it also improves our fuel mileage significantly. Sionna’s little 24 horsepower engine normally burns about .6 of a gallon an hour at moderate power settings, but with the Genny (large headsail) pulling, that drops to about a quart.  For comparison, some of the motor yachts we’ve met – not awfully big ones – are burning 8 to 10 gallons an hour.  Yikes!  Glad we don’t have their fuel bill.

Motoring under the bridge the leads to Brunswick, GA.

We’ll write a bit more shortly about the last couple weeks of moving south through Georgia. It’s been a mix of  rare lovely days and long stretches of cool, damp, windy and rough, and its reminded us again that you can’t always plan your experience: Mother Nature always bats last.  

Still, those hours of warmth and sun, while the folks up north are seeing their first snow storms and single-digit temperatures? Priceless. We wouldn’t trade it.


November – The Month in Numbers 

It’s that time again! With November behind us, we look back at the expenses – both routine and extraordinary – that taxed the resources, tickled the palette, and marked our progress through the ICW southward. Enjoy! 

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of November, 2016 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland.

1 – The number of SECOND retinal detachments experienced by the crew of s/v Sionna.

1 – the number of non-emergency surgeries experienced by the crew in order to re-attach same. This one looks more likely to succeed.

$7580.00 – The Bill for the second surgery, which I was asked to sign off on before being admitted to the hospital. 

$0.00 – The amount we are responsible for this time, because we have health insurance (albeit with a high deductible) through that nasty socialist program, the Affordable Care Act. Otherwise we’d have to sell the boat.

104 – Days since leaving Rockland

57- Days underway since leaving Rockland

17.25 nm (nautical) – Average miles covered per day underway

22.7 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in November

101 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

*9.1 nmpg (10.5 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in November, including sailing days

14.4 nmpg (16.7 smog) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

885.5 nm (1017.8 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

1457 nm (1675 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

316 nm (363 sm) – Miles to Bradenton, FL (straight line).

530nm (610 sm) – Estimated actual miles to Bradenton

85.2nm (98 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in November

207 nm (238 sm) – Miles actually sailed in November

12 – Days actually underway in November

**16 – Nights in port (at the dock) in November

14 – Nights at anchor (free!) in November

$330 – Provisions*** purchased

$87.57 – Alcohol purchased (how embarrassing…)

$37.00 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$24.18 – charcoal for heating the cabin

$60.01 – Boat parts/tools purchased

$175 – Diver to fix prop vibration

341amp/hours @ 12 volts (4092 watt/hrs) – amount of solar electricity produced in November
*Note that this is half the miles-per-gallon we reported for the trip as a whole last month. That’s because we motor almost constantly now.

**My eye issue accounts for 16 of those – we usually anchor otherwise.

***Includes food, toiletries, paper products, etc. but not booze


City Mouse – Country Mouse

Cities. I just don’t get cities.

One of the side effects of my eye issues is that we’ve spent way more time in marinas – in cities – than we ever anticipated. 19 nights of October and 16 days in November were spent firmly attached to a dock, first in Hampton,VA and then in Charleston, SC. Quite aside from the unexpected expense, the feel of being downtown but aboard is simply different. The boat becomes an apartment that happens to have a very wet basement, but it’s otherwise very much like living on land.

But the experience has been a real eye-opener (Ha! “Eye opener” – get it?) in another way, too. We’ve learned something about cities, something we didn’t expect: They change people. Or perhaps they form people. Whichever it is, the humans who inhabit a city take on a character from their location even as the city takes on a character from them.

Our time in Hampton was the light side of that change. We found the people we met there to be welcoming, friendly, eager to chat, to connect, to look you in the eye and get to know you. There was the store owner who – when he didn’t have the sprouting seeds we were looking for – picked up the phone, found a source, then stood up and said “You ready?” 

Yes, he bundled us into his van and drove us across town to the garden nursery that had what we wanted! And once there, the lady behind the register saw us walk in and greeted us with “Were you looking for the bean seeds? I’ve got ‘em behind the counter so nobody else would buy them before you got here.”

Smiles, handshakes, eye contact and soft voices greeting every stranger of every race with “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” and “How are you?” With that little pause that gave us time to answer the question…. That was Hampton.

And not just Hampton. Belhaven North Carolina:

Oriental North Carolina: 

Bucksport, South Carolina:

Georgetown South Carolina: 

Little towns, yes, and friendly. Folks made a couple of yankees feel like their day was just a little brighter because we’d stopped by.

Then we got to Charleston.  

Charleston, South Carolina has a reputation for incredible architecture, and it’s well deserved. We love looking at architecture of all sorts, so we stopped just for that – Well, and an eye appointment.

(A quick aside: What’s not widely known – at least in the North – is that those old buildings evaded the torch of General Sherman’s march to the sea only because the residents lost their nerve (due to being hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned) and abandoned the city to the advancing Union troops. They call it the “Great Skidaddle” around here.)

The buildings in the historic district are lovely. The style is a fascinating mix of Antebellum mansion, Federal, Gothic and Greek revival. Zoning and building codes are carefully written to make preservation possible and modernization or replacement onerous, with the result that amazing amounts of money are poured into the shell of a building that one could push over with a sneeze. Property prices are astronomical, (We were told most of the buyers are European, Asian or Northern), and the city is growing by 15% each year. Gridlock is normal, infrastructure is stretched to beyond capacity…. 

And the people? Closed. Maybe they’re stretched too.

The first thing we noticed after we’d been there a few days was that we felt lonely. A marina (one of several) with 300-plus boats, and a high percentage of occupied boats, yet we were starved for some human interaction, some casual conversation – some connection. Walk down the docks, or down the sidewalks in town, and people coming the other way will wait until you’re just close enough for contact, then turn their head completely away from you to walk past. This isn’t just watching where they’re walking – they aren’t looking at their feet. They’re avoiding seeing us. We don’t exist.
And then we noticed something even more interesting. Interesting, and a little disturbing to this northern liberal. The Whites didn’t see us, but the Blacks did. Real smiles, real expressions of appreciation for the morning and our place in it, eye contact and casual greetings and doors held open…. those came from the people of color we met.  

And that’s also where we saw expressions of profound surprise when we met their eye and said “hello”. Shock, a moment of confusion, and then a grin and an enthusiastic burst of “Well good morning to you!” 

Somehow in seeing these beautiful dark-skinned people, we were crossing a line we never really saw, but they welcomed us over and met us right there with a crossing of their own. That never happened with the folks that looked like us.

There’s no moral message here, no great revealing of the secret to happy race relations or city living. God knows I wish there was, considering the current political climate in the USA. Whatever side of the ballot box you were on, you can’t help having the feeling that things are a little precarious in that regard.

 I know we’d love to stop in Oriental or Georgetown again, but not Charleston. We got my eye fixed and our prop tightened, and for that we’re grateful, but the city held only a sense of brooding discontent otherwise. 

Thank you, Charleston, for what you gave us. And good luck.