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.