Saturday, May 8, 2021

Let Loose From the Neuse That's Kept us Hangin' About

Then Thursday night the bike sold. And that was it. The last thing holding us on land.

Goodbye Oriental NC

Stuff sold: check. Covid shots: check. Friends hugged goodbye: check. Boat as safe as we can make her: check.

Two sailors, one dog, one big sailboat, ALL IN on this new adventure together.

On Friday morning the winds started early. With our coffee cups in hand, we watched in horror as the water levels started free-falling and threatened to strand Minerva in the mud again. We abandoned our coffee, Lance fired up the motor and started removing lines. There were a few stubborn lines. Jen, a friend and fellow sailor, got a splinter in her finger while helping us free one of them, and donated a little blood to the boat. Last superstition handled: with the sea gods appeased (thanks Jen) we were on our way, off into the Neuse River...

Where we were met with strong headwinds and a nasty little 2' chop. Oh well. No sailing for us today. Good thing Lance and our favorite mechanics have been dishing up all the lovin' on Minerva, the new transmission and well-serviced engine hummed along happily. We fought our way up the angry Neuse River and into the protected waters of the ICW then onto the the Bay River, Goose Creek, the Pamlico River, and up the Pungo River to Belhaven NC. Altogether we covered 42 miles of rivers and ICW.

As we were leaving the Neuse River behind Lance sang a line from AC/DC's song Back in Black: let loose from the noose that's kept me hangin' about. And I sang it all the way to Belhaven.

Goose Creek, the ICW, leaving the Neuse River

For those of you that aren't from the East Coast of the USA, ICW stands for Intra Coastal Waterway. It's a series of barrier islands, lakes, and rivers that were connected by canals long ago to make one long navigable waterway connecting small villages to the sea and thus to profitable business ventures. It goes from Florida to the Chesapeake and is a great way to make relatively safe short hops without committing to the open ocean weather conditions. The government dredges it to 10' regularly but it shoals up quickly, so a sailor isn't guaranteed to find 10' even if remaining meticulously in the channel. There are several bridges and each has its own set of rules about opening. All of this requires constant research and attention. Minerva needs 6'2" of water not to scrape her belly in the mud and 55' of air not to bump her mast. We have scurfed our fair share of ICW mud, and although the bridges we have encountered thus far are all clearly marked at 65' it looks like we will crash into every one. From the deck it's absolutely terrifying to look up at the mast and the underside of bridges - one sailor told me he just doesn't look; can't look up, his heart stops every time. I laughed when he said it, now it happens to me.

Belhaven NC as seen from our anchorage just outside the G11 marker

We landed in Belhaven NC just ahead of a parade of thunderstorms. We dropped the new Mantus anchor in 11' of water, set it well and paid out plenty of scope. We were expecting big winds the next day it was time for it to prove its trustworthiness. I set the anchor drag alarm at 100', and mirrored the chartplotter to the ipad so I can take the anchor watch screen to bed and monitor it obsessively throughout the night.

As soon as we were anchored the first rainstorm washed over us. And rinsed our deck clean. What timely and friendly service!

The green circle represents the anchor drag alarm, if we move outside of the circle alarms go off. As you can see the Mantus is holding us well, and as the wind shifts Minerva makes a half circle around the anchor.

Chloe hasn't embraced her lawn pee patch yet so for now we need to run her ashore for breaks. I can do this from the stand-up paddleboard on peaceful waters but I can't make headway with the dog on the board if the winds are high.

At the moment we still have two dinghies aboard, our porta-bote with an electric Torqeedo motor and the rubber inflatable that came with Minerva and a big outboard. Eventually there will likely be only one, we're not sure which setup we'll keep yet. For now we wanted to take the rubber dinghy out, since we haven't played with it much, and since it's a short ride to the town's dinghy dock the Torqeedo could use a test run too. It has been 3 years after all since it last got any real exercise, now is as good as anytime. Best to bring the oars, too, just in case.

Hiding out from rainstorm #2 on borrowed chairs

Although the wind had already started kicking the second storm hadn't released rain yet. We landed at the dinghy dock just ahead of the second storm, and hid out from the driving rain, thunder and lightning under a storefront awning with some Adirondack chairs we snagged from the patio. The storms on the East Coast this time of year are fierce and frequent, but usually short-lived. We had time to run hurry back to Minerva before the third storm hit, and settled into our floating home to enjoy a home-cooked meal and a spectacular sunset.

Sunset over Pantego Creek, from our anchorage just outside Belhaven NC

As we approached Minerva floating peacefully on her anchor in the between-rain light, the river splashing onto my back as the inflatable beat into the choppy waves, it hit me hard. This is our life now. This life that we have dreamed and struggled and sacrificed so much to pursue, and this is our first night on the hook, we're really on our way to... somewhere.

We finally did it.

The new Andersen winch shines in the post-rain light

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Every new beginning

As I watched Loretta pull away with her new family my eyes threatened to leak. She's been our home and refuge for 4 years. What started out as simply a method to help us obtain our Forever Boat became a new way of living - land cruising - a delightful surprise we hadn't originally planned but ended up embracing.

In our four years together, Loretta has delivered us to some amazing places. Originally there were only 4 things on our "to do" list while we hunted down the boat of our dreams. The Florida Keys, those parks in the middle of the country (we didn't even know their names yet), Niagara Falls, and the Smithsonian.

What actually happened is... every new friend we met along the way added to our list. And soon the 4 things on our list became pages and pages of things to see and we were having such fun two years flashed by before we got around to seriously boat shopping again.

Here are a few of my favorite memories of our full-timing adventure.

The manatees of the Florida Keys are very friendly and surprised me by swimming right up to my paddleboard and wiggling their whiskers like vaudeville villains

The bleached trees on the beaches of Forks, WA are huge, haunting and plentiful

The pebbles of Lake McDonald at the lower levels of Glacier National Park are every color of the rainbow

We spent our first night as full-timers at a Harvest Host winery in Paso Robles, CA, in a field full of fascinating bunnies which were quite active at sunset. We had a bet going on which of our furry family members would bolt to chase bunnies first, in the end the sun went down first and everyone relaxed when the bunnies were out of sight.

At Foster's Big Horn restaurant in Rio Vista CA your meal is supervised by representatives from all around the world. I ordered a salad.

Sunset in Willcox AZ, coyotes sing at the property perimeter and roadrunners flit through the campground

Saguaro cactus in Scottsdale AZ contribute to the surreal vistas of the SouthWestern desert

Chloe at the Grand Canyon's South Rim. She has no fear of heights and nearly scared us to death by dancing along the wall anytime she thought she could get away with it.

Camping on the Natchez Trace Parkway offers little internet or cell coverage, so on workdays I holed up in the Meriwether Lewis room of the local library, surrounded by the history of the Lewis & Clark expedition

Of all the places we stayed, Elks Lodges made for some of the best memories. We were welcomed like family at most any lodge across the country and Forks WA was one of our favorites.

Dragon Lights in Albuquerque

Christmastime with Elks in Tavernier

The world famous Betty of Abbeville, LA, the hostess with the mostest. Every afternoon RV guests migrate to her patio, and instant friends are made over homemade tasty shared treats, beverages and stories from the road.

The rides of Moab Utah left us begging for more. Until about noon when we went begging for cold beverages.

We found the best service could be had at truck stops where technicians wrench from the pit underneath. Driving over the pit is not for the faint of heart.

Staging in Murphy NC for a day's ride at the Tail of the Dragon

Working from the RV on a city street allows for some great people-watching. This mother was waiting for her daughter to walk around the corner from school, and apparently the little brother was done waiting. This led to the most epic temper tantrum I have ever seen.

Roswell NM is all about the aliens

Niagara Falls was amazing. We did get soaked, in spite of the ponchos. What we didn't expect was the power required for the tour boats to keep us in place at the foot of the waterfall against those currents.

We found a lobster restaurant we could bicycle to from our RV park in Maine, and got to pick our own lunch, which was prepared right there. Doesn't get any fresher than that!

Montana big skies, approaching Yellowstone National Park

Cutting up with Leiloni (my sister's childhood friend from our hometown of Lincoln CA). Leiloni loves to research history and introduced us to some of the local lore in Old Colorado City where the historians dress in costume of locals from days gone by and tell their own stories in first person.

Introduced my favorite little princess to her first smores around the campfire in Littleton CO, which turned her and her Mom into sticky smores monsters. So what does a marshmallow-covered princess monster sing? Let It Go, monster-style. Of course.

Mile Zero in Key West. It didn't take Chloe long to figure out those open-door bars were pumping out air conditioned air and we had to allow extra time as she tried to become a barfly at every door we passed.

Loretta at a Harvest Host winery in central California. Since it was after hours we had the corn maze all to ourselves. Chloe got the most scared of the three of us and raced around to beat us to the exit.

Loretta's new family is a retired couple who look forward to traveling around the country to visit their grandchildren. I think they will be good stewards and we hope they have many excellent adventures together.

We are now down to one motorcycle, one large sailboat and a whole heap of stuff that needs sorting onto the boat. Our floating adventure has never been closer. In the immortal words of Semisonic's song Closing Time...

every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

RVers say "see ya down the road" and they mean it. We do plan meticulously to end up together in places around the nation. I wonder if sailors have a similar saying. Maybe... see ya on the water?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Whirlwind crossing of the USA #5

We settled in at the Elks Lodge on the hills of Lake Havasu City and watched the weather go by on the other side of the lake. I'm so glad we persevered with the tailwind down the Tehacapi and across the Mohave, because the next three days pushed one crazy storm after another, and they were a lovely sight from our elevated and safe position on the other side of the lake.

Mohave Storms on the West side of Lake Havasu

When the wind let up we rolled on to Phoenix and stayed with the Elks of Tempe. It's a lively crowd and we enjoyed our own carefully measured out space at the bar where we shouted at one another to overcome the 6' space between us.

Dim sum @ Mekong Palace in Mesa AZ

One of the good things about Covid is the extra elbow room in dining areas. I am a huge fan of dim sum but do tend to get a little claustrophobic with the heavy carts rolling close to my table, the extra breathing space is deeply appreciated.

The next morning we caught up with a friend for dim sum, then we took our full bellies on the road to Willcox, AZ. The RV park is overrun with tumbleweeds, roadrunners and rabbits in the day and coyotes at night. Chloe got her walks in early and we didn't have to coax her in to the RV at bedtime while we were there. She's smarter than she looks.

Another beautiful desert sunset. Way to put on a show for us Willcox!

Our goal the next day was Las Cruces New Mexico, home of the best sopapillas in the nation. It would have been a short trip, put since the predicted winds didn't turn up and we were making good time, we kept on rolling through El Paso and into Van Horn TX. When we fell into bed we thought we had beat the coming windstorm, the next morning my phone woke me up with an ugly red screen and a blaring alarm... 75 mph winds were on the way to Van Horn bringing possible tornadoes. We downed our coffee quickly, hit the road and got as far as we could into Central Texas to hide. The safest spot we could find was in Abilene TX where we hid for a few days from the worst of the wind, and let the rest of it pass over us. They greeted us at the door with "sorry about the pool, the winter broke it, and the season isn't done with us yet, tie down anything you don't want flappin'." Which seemed like good advice so we pulled the slide in when it seemed prudent, and while it howled its hardest we baked brownies and binged Hulu.

The most Texas thing ever, horse lodging at the RV park, just look for the elevated fiberglass horse sporting the Lone Star paintjob

Good advice from longtime sailor Carolyn Goodlander, when storms are threatening... nothing calms worries like the smell of baked goods in the galley

Texas has a very casual attitude about masks and Covid in general, so we regretfully traded the fancy Texas restaurant steak dinner I'd been craving for some basic Door Dash from whatever chain was delivering and kept to ourselves. Once we got into the green hills of East Texas the rest of our ride was uneventful, we spun podcasts and gobbled up the miles.

Yep those are the RV connections way up in the front of the bus. It's impossible to turn around and come in from the wrong direction at this park to make the connections work - we'd end up going the wrong way down a narrow twisting road for many a mile, unable to pass the folks going the proper direction. It's good to be self-contained. Connections - bah! Who needs 'em?

Even Atlanta denied us its usual drama. It was smooth sailing into North Carolina.

It always pays to run with the trucks through big cities. They know which lanes to be in, and communicate with one another about road blockages, etc. We have saved ourselves frustration time and again by noticing when the trucks suddenly shift lanes and following suit. This particular shift happened on the way into Atlanta and saved us from old wreck carnage being cleaned up in the fast lane, we slipped in behind this truck and went around it smoothly.

At the border between South and North Carolina is a complex called South of the Border - it's a restaurant, amusement park, RV park, motel, fireworks superstore, gas station; quite the spectacle. There's no missing it from the freeway, I think it might really be something to see in non-Covid times. Apparently there's even a crocodile park in there somewhere. We gawped at it as we rolled on by, and immediately afterwards we crossed the border into North Carolina and it started raining on us. Of course.

As we approached the bridge in New Bern, the last proper city before Oriental, Bohemian Rhapsody came on the radio. We head-banged our way into town, where friends were waiting for us at the dock and Minerva rested in her slip, beckoning us on to the next leg of our adventure.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Eastward Ho!

Northern California missions accomplished: plenty of loving lavished on family, medical attention received, trailer packed with scuba and boat gear, belongings deemed unnecessary for the foreseeable future sold. With tears in our eyes and a jaunty wave goodbye we pulled away from family and eased Loretta onto the freeway.

Kayakers paddle through the mooring field at Morro Bay

Each morning we were greeted by sunning vultures in the tree next to our campsite

First stop: Morro Bay for some camping time with the SoCal cousins. This is another one of those beautiful little towns I've often travelled through on my way to somewhere else but never stopped to study before. It's an adorable town with thriving waterfront restaurants, boat services and lots of kayakers paddling about. We pedaled around Morro Bay by bicycle and later explored the surrounding hills by motorcycle.

We sold Betty in Northern California, so all our riding for a while will be two-up

Avila Beach is just a short motorcycle ride from Morro Bay

Then we turned Loretta East. There are some notable Spring storms between us and Minerva so we'll be running and ducking to avoid the worst of them on our way across.

The landscape becomes quite surreal in Arizona.
These strange formations greeted us on our way into Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Loretta was reunited with the motorcycle trailer for the next lap.
This is how we roll.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Evil Genie Mascot of 2020

This photo was taken at anchor in the South River just outside Oriental NC, just hours before Tropical Storm Isaias attacked us. It was the reddest, most beautiful sunset I've ever seen followed by one of the fiercest displays of nature I've ever encountered. If 2020 could be summed up in one picture, this is it.

2020 really, truly, sucked. But the 2020 shitshow has been tempered here and there by little dollops of joy. Much like WW Jacobs' story about the Monkey Paw, or the fables of the genie who grants (sort of what you asked for but not quite) wishes, 2020 has been the year that gave little and took back too much. If 2020 had a mascot it would be an evil genie.

If you haven't read the fable of the Monkey's Paw, definitely do that.
Preferably in front of the fireplace on a stormy night. Here's a link.

After years of searching we found our dream boat. The escrow process of actually buying it completely stripped the joy from the process.

We made the upgrades as intended and they were fabulous, and add real value to the boat as well as comfort and safety margins for us. We found a whole bunch of repair work we weren't expecting. The traveling kitty took a real hit. Oh well, due to lockdowns we weren't going anywhere anyways.

Covid is scary. We spent most of the year doing boat repairs in a little village that's relatively safe from Covid because we see the same 12 people all week, and because the townspeople generally take the pandemic seriously. We have made lifelong friends and they have become like family. Someday we can actually safely hug.

We skipped our "December in the Keys" RV trip to come directly to California to get some medical attention on Lance's foot. Being home early meant I could support family battling serious illness and ultimately a death. Had we not high-tailed it early we would been in less of a helpful position. My heart goes out to anyone trying to navigate our medical system right now.

Peaceful sunset on the Sacramento River, the windmills of Rio Vista are calm for the moment

I've been struggling to find meaning in 2020; the lesson to be absorbed.
Here's what I've got so far:

Seize the Day. It was already my life motto, this year simply reminded me. None of us know how much time we have left.

Be sure the people I love know it. This means they deserve more than half-hearted responses and occasional glances over the top of a cell phone, the lesson of 2020 is: Be Present.

Stop the millions of joy-robbers on their way in: social media, negative news feeds, screen time in general, the loud guy spouting politics at the campground. This thing about Being Present is that Present needs to be a place where I actually want to Be.

As for the weight on my shoulders? I need to do what I can and lay the rest down. Seriously, if I can't fix it I shouldn't be carrying it around so I need to stop allowing it free rent in my head and on my back.

Lance's foot is healing well and after that we will be sorting our things and heading back to Minerva. The lessons of 2020 were hard earned and will travel with us.

Already I've modified Chloe's walking route to avoid the crazy politics-shouting fisherman at the other end of the RV park.