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Monday, February 3, 2014


Frying Pan sunset

It’s only been three weeks since we left our sister boat, Sara Jean, in Islamorada, FL, but already Eric and I champing at the bit to get aboard our own sweet Willadine. The forecast looks promising with only a 20% chance of rain and temps in the 50s and 60s. We figure the snow, which fell and accumulated to four inches on Wednesday, will be well gone by Friday, this being the South and all.

We set off down our hard frozen driveway, over the eighteen-inch snow berm the plow left and strike out over dry road. It’s well below freezing still, but we just know from the forecast that it will be warming up to at least forty and then no cooler overnight. I’m wearing my long johns and have packed a wool sweater and an extra set of long johns in my bag. I hate to be cold and even fifty is cold to me, but the forecast calls for well above fifty and even up to seventy on Sunday.

The sun is beaming down on us and by the time we hit Little Washington, I’m stripping off layers. It’s going to be gorgeous we just know it. We are so excited to see our little boat, the marina and the river. Even if there’s no wind (there wasn’t much in the forecast) we’ll be happy to putter out to our little anchorage in the Frying Pan and just hang out there all weekend. It’s a beautiful spot, just one little house in the small bay and the Frying Pan a ring of marsh with water in the middle, a nice barrier from the swell of the larger river.

Things begin to get a little dicey when we pull off the highway onto Kelly Rd. It’s pretty icy still, with patches of clear road and some patches still covered with snow. Right at the entrance to the marina, the snow is still very deep and we begin to slide a little making the turn. The Toyorolla makes the turn fine, but we begin to worry about getting Willadine out of her parking space. As often happens, we are worried about entirely the wrong thing.

The marina lot is covered in several inches of snow and the shady side of Willadine is very slick on top, apparently having melted and then frozen again. It’s still freezing, no sign of a melt yet, but we’re unconcerned. It’s sunny and within an hour of our arrival, the snow begins to melt in the sunny spots. This is much-needed encouragement because Willadine’s cockpit has become the host for a very large snowdrift. The snow is piled up nearly to the cabin top and is three inches deep on the cockpit floor, but it doesn’t look like that big of a deal to brush out. 

No biggie, right? Just a little soft snow...

I suggest Eric make use of the tiny plastic dustpan to start scooping while I go to see Conway Potter, our marina owner, to borrow a shovel.

Conway is one of the great blessings of our lives. He is one of the sweetest, nicest people I’ve ever met. He always has a smile and a few minutes to chat. He’s free with local knowledge and never fails to give us good advice. I find him in the garage, at his workbench, and he tells me with a shy grin that he’s been “crabbin’.”

“You have?” I ask, puzzled. I know he likes to fish, but I didn’t think he was into commercial crabbing.

He laughs and says, “Come see!”

On his workbench are two perfect orange crabs, mounted in fighting position on two pieces of driftwood.

“Oh,” I say, “Those are incredible! I love the color.”

“Oh no,” he says, shaking his head and chuckling, “These aren’t done. That’s what they look like after they’re cooked.”

I can tell he thinks I’m a nut-job, but he knows me by now and treats me with generous indulgence. On a bench in the back of the shop are the finished mounted crabs. They are absolutely beautiful; each one a perfect work of nature enhanced by Conway’s amazing artistry.

Conway's Crab (the photo does not do it justice, at all)

“Each one has nine layers of paint,” he explains, “starting with all white to cover the orange and then different shades of green, gray and blue.”

The crabs are miraculously lifelike with shiny black eyes, bright blue under the carapace and perfect spiky shells. They are at least as handsome as they were in life, in my opinion, although I’m sure the crabs would disagree. Off to the side is a small pile of driftwood, which I happen to know he collected himself from a special place up in the Albemarle River.

“This one’s going to make a lamp,” he tells me, holding up a particularly lovely piece of driftwood with a curved branch on one side. I can imagine the soft glow of a lamp on one of those crabbies and decide on the spot that it would be a perfect gift for my mother, who loves this sort of thing. Then I remember that Eric is waiting for the shovel, so I bid Conway farewell and head out with the shovel.

Eric is very happy to see the shovel, because the plastic dustpan is in pieces from hacking away at the ice-hardened snow. It’s pushing three o’clock now and I begin to get nervous about getting the boat trailer down to the ramp. I have nightmarish visions of the trailer sliding down the ramp and out to sea, taking Conway’s pick-up truck with it. In spite of the forecast, I don’t think it’s hit forty degrees. The shady spots are still pretty frozen. Up in the cockpit Eric asks if I want to fill the water jugs, which we usually do before we launch. Because I’m nervous about whether we can even get her across the parking lot to the ramp, I suggest we wait and do it at the dock. Eric agrees.

While I return the shovel, Eric brings the truck around and starts hitching her up. Happily, he has no trouble driving on the icy snow and the boat slides off her trailer amenably, now that she has new slippery carpet on her trailer bunks. All is well. As is our habit, I go aboard to ready the boat while Eric hoses down the trailer and fetches the car so we can unload our stuff into the boat. Unfortunately, the cockpit is a skating rink, with a good quarter inch of ice on all surfaces. I throw a bucket of water on it, but it only seems to exacerbate the problem. I try brushing with a broom and begin hacking at it with the broom handle to little effect. My mind quickly solves the problem.

“Eric,” I say, “Do you have an ice scraper in the Toyorolla?”

He grins at me. “You bet.”

I chip away at the ice rather effectively, musing about how this is one tool you really don’t want to have to carry on your boat, at least I sure don’t. But it does the job.

By the time we leave dock, the sun is down behind the trees. It’s cold on the water with the wind in our faces, but we’re so happy to be out on the water we don’t even care. I’ve got my two extra layers on and my hat with my hood up so I’m pretty comfy. My feet are wet and chilled, but I’m willing to overlook this. We make our way out to the Frying Pan with some elation. The sun will be near sunset as we anchor and we are excited to sit back and enjoy it with a glass of wine and a snack.

On the way into the little bay, we see a strange surface on the water ahead. Nearing it, we can see what it is. I dive below for the camera while Eric slows down the boat so I don’t miss it. It’s ice. The creek has been frozen.

We laugh this off, reassuring ourselves that it’s not going to freeze at night, according to the forecast and so it will all thaw by tomorrow. Eric throws out the anchor, I back down and set it and we turn to watch the sunset. Eric is still standing on the bow when I hear him say, “We’re screwed,” in a rather forceful way.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, looking around for what might imminently sink the boat or otherwise wreak havoc.

“We forgot the water,” he says, bursting out laughing.

“What about the emergency water?”

“We used it up on Sara Jean. Did you bring a water bottle?”

“No, I left it in the car.”

We shake our heads at our stupidity and decide to watch the sunset and then motor back to the dock. I feel at fault in this for not filling the jugs when Eric suggested it, but Eric assures me that we will have fun at the dock anyway. The important thing is just being on the boat, spending time on the water. You can see why I love Eric so much. He’s a wonderful partner.

Back at the dock it’s still very cold, but we go below, fire up our little propane heater, defrost and drink our cold Cabernet. Even though it’s only about 7:30, we hit the sack. It’s too cold not to, even with the heater. We have one down sleeping bag and two lighter weight ones and it’s cold. Eric has gone to bed without socks or a hat (the forecast, you know) and he suffers with the cold for several hours before digging around for a hat and socks. Still, it’s cold. The sleeping bags shift over us when we roll over and leave freezing gaps. When we finally decide to get up, Eric uses a fingernail to scrape ice off the inside of the skylight above us. So much for a low of forty, it’s twenty-one degrees. The cockpit is thick with rime ice and the creek has frozen around the boat. 

We have to laugh, because we can’t believe it. We can see our breath inside the cabin. It’s freezing. Still, we remain in good spirits, although Eric is exhausted from lack of sleep and suffering a bad headache. I suggest we drive to Bath for a hot breakfast (and good hot coffee too) at The Country Kitchen. He readily agrees. We order spinach omelets with hash browns and a biscuit and linger over our coffee.

It’s still cold outside, but by the time we leave, it’s noticeably warmer. Not warm, but warm-er. And the sun is blazing cheerfully overhead. In the parking lot, the snow is beginning to melt. The cockpit is drying out so I take a walk around with my camera and have some fun with the ice and an old fishing boat on stands in the yard.

The sun is so cheerful, I just want to bask in it a little, so Eric putters around stowing things while I lie back in the cockpit and soak up rays. For the first time, I feel comfortably warm, although I am still decked out in my four layers, coat and hat. It feels so good. It’s all been worth it. When I sit up to get a drink, I see the clouds moving in from the SW. They don’t look too bad, just sort of scattered, but we can see some darker clouds behind it and we haven’t forgotten the twenty percent chance of showers. We decide we’d better get going while the going is good.

I cast off the docklines while Eric drives us out to the Frying Pan again. We are just rounding the far dock when I see the rain on the water. At first, it’s just a light shower, barely a misting, but by the time we get the anchor down it’s raining in earnest. We are still hanging onto the forecast in our minds, calling for seventy degrees the next day. Unfortunately, there is an increased chance of rain with that too. We hope it will be a sixty percent chance of sun, but we’re resigned to our fate by now. After all, it is just February first, what did we expect?

Back at anchor, with water tank filled, we boil water and have tea, which is exceedingly soothing and pleasant and we have hot boat stew for supper. A can of rice and beans with a can of Margaret Holmes (our favorite brand) collard greens is a fine repast. Neither of us regrets our decision to go boating in winter. It’s totally worth it.

Sunday morning we are completely socked in with a dense fog. Eric chirps brightly about how it’s going to burn off and be sunny and seventy, but by now, I’m skeptical. I lounge around the boat all morning while Eric works on the electrical panel. After lunch, we nap and when we wake up there is some hint of blue coming through the fog overhead. An hour later, it’s bright and sunny, and although not quite seventy (or even sixty?) it’s much cheerier and more pleasant than it’s been all weekend. A light wind comes up and we gleefully hoist full sail. We sail out just past the green marker when the little breeze dies and leaves us bobbing in the river. We don’t even care. We sailed so our weekend is complete. Eric laboriously scrapes the old peeling finish off the wood of the stern rail seats while I bask in the sun and admire the glassy water all around us. We have to motor back to the dock, but we don’t care. At least we’re not freezing anymore.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Four Nights and Five Days of Harrowing Bliss

Our Route, North Creek to Atlantic, NC

Every time we've left the dock at Potter’s for the past eighteen months, we’ve admired a neighbor’s boat on the way past.  Contessa is a white-hulled, ketch-rigged beauty with a curvaceous shear line and a sexy, no-nonsense center cockpit.  Several times, we’ve kayaked around her, all but stroking her clean gel-coat finish in our admiration.  Every time we pass her house, in the car or the boat, we peer into the carport to see if her people are there.  In all this time, we’ve only seen them once before and we had no time to stop that day.  This past weekend after an eventful and dramatic time sailing, we got to meet her people, at last.
We arrived at the boat early on Thursday, excited about two extra days of sailing.  After looking at the forecast we sailed downwind farther than we’ve been before, crossing the sound at the mouth of the Neuse River, a place notorious for hazardous weather and some treacherous sailing.  We made it all the way into Turnagain Bay, through a cut to West Bay:

Cut from Turnagain Bay to West Bay

and through another cut and under a bridge to a protected anchorage in Thorofare Bay.  We did not use our motor once, we sailed the whole way, just the way we like it.

Thorofare Bay Bridge, Cedar Island, our second bridge of the trip

Unfortunately, the “protected” anchorage in Thorofare Bay was also infested with mosquitoes.  This is an ongoing argument between us.  I always prefer the more rolly, breezy anchorages (rocks me to sleep and soothes the hot flashes) and Eric opts for the “protected” ones, in case of a stronger blow.  In his defense, the night before we had been so rocked in our unprotected anchorage that we were several times shaken awake by the rolling.  We spent a miserable night in Thorofare Bay being tortured by mosquitoes and were very happy to get out of there when dawn finally came.

We were so relieved when dawn came

The northeast wind held and we sailed off the anchor and over across Core Sound to the Core Banks.  We ran aground looking for a way into a tiny island called Dump Island.  Eric jumped over the side, grabbed Willadine’s bow and pulled her free and into what little channel there was.  We threw the anchor down in about two feet of water (we love our shallow draft boat!) and paddled over to the spit separating the sound from the Atlantic.  Ominous clouds gathered as we speed-walked to the sea, stuck our feet in (I would have gone all the way in, but the threat of rip currents was reported as very high and the surf was roiling in front of the dark cloud bank moving our way.)  We all but ran back to the kayaks and paddled back to Willadine.

After a light rain shower, we motored across the sound to Eric’s friend’s house in Atlantic.  As we admired his beautiful new house, the wind came up and the sky cleared and we took off in high spirits.  The wind had shifted just enough to the east so we could make a course back the way we came and by the time we entered West Bay again, we were running downwind to North Bay.  We anchored there on the backside of Cedar Island, looking across the narrow land to the Ocracoke Ferry landing.  As usual, we had the whole bay to ourselves, not even a fisherman to disturb our solitude.  Eric declared it his favorite anchorage so far.  We considered trying to hack through the marsh grass and hike to the restaurant, but abandoned the idea in favor of grilling some bratwurst we’d brought in the cooler.  After a long day on the water, that barbecued sausage was hot, salty and delicious.

Anchored in North Bay, in sight of the Cedar Island-Ocracoke Ferry

Winds started off light the next morning, but we sailed off anchor again (we love this!) and downwind back across the mouth of the Neuse toward Bay River.  Ominous clouds appeared around midday and by the time we were about a mile from Jones Bay, it was about as nasty as we’ve seen out there.  Eric thinks it was blowing fifty, although it didn’t seem that bad to me.  We were running with the wind, so you don’t feel it as much, but the sea attained a state that looked like giant fish scales with a pelting rain mashing down the waves.  Rumbles of thunder got louder and we began to see flashes.  We were making as fast as we could for the protection of the bay, running downwind with about three feet of headsail and making five and a half knots.  Our boat’s hull speed is six and a half, so this is outrageously fast for that little scrap of sail.

Dramatic, scary cloud

We had to shout over the rain, visibility reduced to a few hundred feet and we were thanking god for the GPS when lightning struck flash/boom very close to the boat.  We held our breath, but no more came.  We made it inside, soaked but exhilarated and Eric watched the anchor as the rain kept coming and we discovered several regrettable leaks in the cabin.  The next morning our bucket, left out in the cockpit overnight, was three quarters full of water.  We figured it had rained at least eight inches.

We enjoyed a rousing downwind run back home, sailing all the way into North Creek and celebrating our good fortune in having such fortuitous winds.  I was on deck putting out dock lines as we passed Contessa.  I heard music as Eric called out that someone was on board Contessa.  Luckily, we had time, so we stopped in and met Bill and Carol and heard all about the boat.  Turns out, she’s an Allied 36, one of only a few made and they’ve had her for some time.  We eagerly questioned them about her and when they inquired, we told them about our exciting weekend, including the near lightning strike.

“I’ll bet you’d have rather been anywhere else right then,” Bill said, shaking his head.

Eric and I sat stunned momentarily on their sofa.  Neither of us felt that way at all, we’d loved every minute and would rather be on our boat on the water than anywhere else in the world.  Of course, it was scary and humbling, but would we trade it for anything?  Never.  It’s totally worth it.  Dozens of mosquito bites and several sleepless nights were absolutely worth it.  We can’t wait to get out there again.  If you see my mom, just please don’t mention about the lightning, okay?  She worries about me enough.

Warm sunlight on sail

Monday, May 20, 2013

Laughing (Gulls) –Durham Creek, NC

Every once in a while, a whitecap breaks past Willadine with a whoosh, in between, the wind is a slight roar in my ears, competing with the grumble of the phosphate plant and occasional thunder.  We anchored here for a nap.  I wanted to keep going, but Eric was worn out from jet lag so I agreed to stop.  The thunderstorms were a little scary anyway.

Three birds perch on an old piling structure:  Two laughing gulls and a cormorant.  (If you click the link for the gulls, be sure to listen to the clip of their sound.  Guaranteed to make you laugh too!) The gulls are extremely elegant in their new breeding plumage and obviously feel rather superior as a result.  An argument breaks out, probably the cormorant acting curmudgeonly and trying to put the gulls in their place.  Back and forth, they complain:  Aw!  Ah!  Aw!  Ah!

Another gull comes and the cormorant gives him an indignant look, as if to say, “Heck with you, I was here first!”  The gulls commence laughing at him and he harrumphs and flies off.  The sun is peeking through the clouds.  I can feel its warmth on my arm.  A perfect breeze compliments it so that I feel completely comfortable and relaxed.

If Eric wasn’t sleeping, we’d have one of those moments when we look at each other and laugh like celebrities (or gulls), “Mwah, hah, hah!”  The main halyard taps on the mast in agreement.  We named the boat for Eric’s maternal grandmother (Monzelle Willadine) and we like to think her spirit rides with us.  If she were here, she would definitely be laughing at us because we cannot catch even one fish.  They fling themselves out of the water all around us, but never take the bait.  Monzelle would have filled the cooler by now.

Sunrise - Durham Creek

The next morning we sail off the anchor and back out to the river.  Dozens of crab pot floats dot the entrance.  Some of them have been co-opted for real estate by least terns, charming little gull-like birds, who watch us pass very close without flying off.  We get close enough to see the white triangles on their foreheads.  They are like miniature gulls, very cute, each riding its own float.  They’ll soon be gone north with the other migrants.  We’re thinking of going north too, to the Albemarle, new territory, new surprises, new wildlife.  Mwah, hah, hah!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Long Ago Voyage or The Next Best Thing

The next best thing to sailing is telling sailing stories.  This is a long one, so settle in.  I may even have to tell it in installments, so bear with me.

Sometimes in life, your choices are clear.  You make decisions and the predictable happens.  Other times you seem to be on some mysterious road that winds around until you begin to wonder where the heck you’re going.  If you’re like me, you just hang on and enjoy the wild ride.  

I had no idea where I was going when I gamely volunteered at a fundraiser for an organization that provided art classes to adults with physical disabilities.  Along with the other volunteers, I stood in a line as we took turns holding up the items while the auctioneer called out for bids.  I held up a vacation stay at a bed and breakfast, an oil painting, a hand built clay vase.  It was a jovial group and we were having fun watching the dollars rack up for the organization.  In front of me in line, a young girl of about ten turned around and asked me what item I had.  It was a piece of jewelry.  She admired it.  I asked her what she had and she slowly turned her card around.  It was a glass blowing class.  I smiled and said how fun that would be.  She looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness, “You should buy this.”  I laughed and said I wished I could, but I couldn’t afford the five hundred dollar price tag.  She was adamant.  “You should buy this,” she said very firmly.   

Her insistence made me uncomfortable and I was relieved when it was her turn to climb onstage.  The auctioneer started the bidding at $500.  A hush fell over the auditorium.  No bids.  The auctioneer raved about the school, the art of glass blowing, the fact that the instructor had been an assistant to world famous glass blower Dale Chihuly.  She lowered the starting bid to $400.  Silence.  The little girl turned her head and looked at me.  It was too much, there was no way I could pay that much, no matter how cool it was.  I averted my gaze.  The opening bid came down and down and down until finally it was just a hundred dollars.  The little girl glared at me.  Incredibly, there were still no bids.  I cleared my throat, raised my hand and bid.  Uncontested, I won that class for a hundred dollars.  And, the little girl was right.

But it turned out that this was a just little detour on the trail.  I fell madly in love with the instructor, who taught us to wear socks on our arms to prevent burns and whose sweaty t-shirt made me swoon.  But, alas, he did not fall for me.  He did, however, have a friend, and he was anxious to set us up on a blind date.  Disappointed, but curious, I agreed to meet Darrel next to the big brass pig at the Pike Place Market.  He was surprisingly attractive, with a shock of dark hair falling over his forehead and a bubbling energy.  And he liked me.  On our second date, he confessed that he had a boat and I was thrilled.  Then he said it was for sale.  I protested.  I nagged and cajoled until he took me to see her.  It was all over then.  I was smitten.  Her name was Skybird and she was a CT 37(similar to a Tayana) with a sexy dark green hull, warm teak decks and brass-lined portholes.  She was thirty-seven feet of fiberglass magic that could take you anywhere.  After a few weeks, I persuaded Darrel to let me pay off the mortgage with my divorce settlement and we made arrangements to move her to Bainbridge Island where we could happily live aboard.  I would keep my job in Seattle and commute on the ferry.  I had never been happier.

We scrimped and saved and worked on Skybird for two years and then finally threw off the dock lines and headed for the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We had timed the weather perfectly and enjoyed a single tack to the southwest, which took us two hundred miles offshore.  I was in heaven.  We saw no other boats, no sea birds, nothing.  It was our little boat, the sea and the sky and that’s all.  The wind was steady and we made easy headway.  The sea was relatively calm, so one day when I was off watch, I went below for a quick shower.  I was just rinsing off when Darrel called out with great excitement.  He said there was a plane coming and I thought that was very odd because the planes we saw were at forty thousand feet, nothing but a vapor trail.  Darrel called again very urgently, so I hauled my dripping naked self up on deck without grabbing a towel, just as a Coast Guard plane cruised very slowly past about 200 feet over us.  We gaped.  I could almost see the face of the pilot as he went by.  We stood there in our little cockpit, stunned, as the plane made an abrupt turn and headed back our way again.  I ducked below for a towel, but that didn’t stop the Coasties from make two more passes.  Darrel and I laughed and laughed.

Several uneventful days later, we came in sight of San Francisco Bay.  The weather had held and it was clear and a bit hazy, but there was no fog.  We were as thrilled to be making landfall as we’d been to get away from land.  As we headed toward the opening to the bay, we saw something big in the water ahead.  It looked like a rock sticking just out of the water.  Darrel shook his head and said it couldn’t be a rock because we were too far from shore.  It looked like a mostly submerged Volkswagon Beetle.  A few seconds more and we saw a head poke up and the whole thing disappeared.  It was a turtle, an unbelievably large sea turtle.  We reverently thanked it for the welcome and sailed on into the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge (no small thrill!) and into Sausalito for a quick stop to re-provision before heading out to our next stop, San Diego.