Thursday, July 4, 2013

Big Fish, Little Pond-Traveling Up the Eastern Seaboard

Current Location: Annapolis, Maryland


Unfortunately my attempts to update the blog recently covering our adventures in the San Blas Islands, Portobello and other beautiful destinations in Panama have been futile.  Again this will have to wait for a later date or the publication of the book I intend to write. Like our meandering travels on a sailboat at an average of 5 knots, writing this book may prove to be go slow going, but by God, it will be done!

The previous blog entry left off in Key West, Florida where we began our sail up the Eastern Seaboard of the good, old U-S of A.   I had forgotten how different cruising is here versus foreign countries.  One huge obvious difference is that well...…life is EASY!!  Excuse the baseball metaphor, but in terms of convenience and luxury, it's like going from the minor leagues to "The Bigs", "The Show" get the picture.

Our time sailing up the Eastern Seaboard was a mixture of sailing "on the outside", aka in the ocean and meandering up the Inter-Coastal Waterway (this resembles the California Delta with inlets and small rivers).  I am amazed at how different this coastline is from the West Coast.

While sailing offshore we were often in 30 feet or less and soon got in the habit, borderline obsession, of watching the depth sounder.  Having a fin keel means that we draw 6 feet 9 inches which seems to be a lot for this coast line.  The challenge was navigating back onto shore in the many inlets.

Unlike the Pacific side, there are very few wide open bays to sail into and drop the hook.  Of course, Knee Deep captain and crew chose many stops that were labeled "do not attempt to navigate without local knowledge". This problem was resolved by making a quick phone call to Tow Boat USA who would inform us of the depths and areas to avoid or the occasional, "Nope you're not going to make it in here. Keep going to the next inlet. We found that there were plenty of places to stop and the inlets having enough depth for us.

 With that said, when navigating the ICW ("on the inside"), we were in anywhere from  7 to 15 feet and ran aground at least 3 times. There's nothing like puttering along in a sailboat and having that sinking (not literally) feeling that you are now at a complete stand still, perched atop a sandbar or muddy shoal. We managed to get ourselves off time and time again, which usually entailed me jumping up and down on the boom which was swung out over the side of the boat. This is a strategy used to tip the boat over and extract the keel out of the mud (and what you resort to when you don't have a Tow Boat USA membership...the equivalent of AAA for cars).

However, when we were REALLY stuck, Ben would enact the "We Need More Tipping!" strategy.
This involves using a line from the mast, tying an anchor to it and use the dinghy to drop the hook in the water well off the side of the boat.  At this point, Ben recruits a power boater into our shenanigans and requests they pick up the line with the anchor and DRIVE! Sure enough, Knee Deep pops out of the mud and we are on our way again.

In the above scenario, we were traveling with some fellow cruisers who attempted to tow us off to no avail, yet hung around for emotional support.  Thanks Buddy!

Now in the deeper Chesapeake Bay, Knee Deep has hopefully found a new home amongst a population of people who LOVE to sail!  Ben is dying to go out and race her having complete confidence that she would kick some East Coast butt!!

Navigating the ICW can be quite picturesque and at times quite boring!!


There are many beautiful homes along the way!
Another issue with navigating the ICW are the many bridges. Many swing open on a schedule or upon a request when you radio the bridge tender. Our first bridge (not this one) was fixed and in true Floating Frat House form, we weren't quite sure of our mast height. When we inquired with the bridge tender he replied, "Looks like you'll make it. I think you've got at least 3 feet". We held our breath and sure enough we cleared it!! 

As we meandered up the ICW, we were joined by my niece, Gaby, who had just graduated from Cal, Berkley. I'm still questioning my sister's decision for funding her visit as a graduation present for her hard work.  In addition, I question Gaby's sanity for accepting it!  The boys were ecstatic to have their cousin aboard! We visited many little, tiny po-dunk towns on our way up to Annapolis and she was a trooper to tolerate the boring ports of call we showed her.  As we docked in the thriving metropolis of Coinjock, North Carolina, she looked down at her colorful Hawaiian shorts and said, "I think my pants are the most exciting thing happening in this town!"

Welcome to Coinjock, NC! The owners of this marina were so nice! They let us watch the NBA finals in one of their unrented cottages (the one restaurant was closed that night).

No traffic jam here in Coinjock!

As we anchored off of Yorktown, VA we were able to visit the "historic triangle" made up of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.  We had a great time learning about America's past, which covered, war battles, the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers, archeological sites and cannibalism. Needless to say the boys found these sites more interesting than their history books.

A historic home in Williamsburg, VA. Inside we found....soda vending machines!

Williamsburg, VA
Trying on some tri-cornered hats.

A re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence (see guys on balcony).

Boys marching off to war. I got a bit weepy thinking about my boys heading off to battle

Jamestown settlement. An active archeological dig is currently going on.

They found a skeleton of a 14 year old girl in the fort's kitchen.  The markings found on her proved that the Jamestown settlers turned to cannibalism to survive. This prompted questions from the boys like., "So if you were starving to death, would you want to just die or try to survive?"  or "Would you rather drown or starve to death?" Hello Dark Side!!

This the archeologist that discovered the original settlement of Jamestown while digging for artifacts in 1994. He lives on the property to be near his work.

Who said learning can't be fun? Especially when you are loading a cannon to take out......
.....your annoying little brother!!

We pulled into Annapolis, Maryland about a week ago with the realization that our adventure is now coming to an end (more on that later).  As this sinks in and becomes reality, the boys and I continue to clean up the boat and pack up our belongings, enjoying the lovely marina where we are docked (complete with 2 pools, restaurant, shuttle and workout room...the latter of which we have yet to visit). We have found a broker and hope to sell her and head home to settle in to "normal" life on land. Ben is currently delivering a boat from El Salvador to Panama and will return in a few weeks.  He was so excited as he packed his bag, to be paid to do something he loves so much!!

Our marina is filled with recreational boaters who have massive power boats and sailboat yachts.  We are getting used to the side long glances at our little, salty sailboat amongst these fancy giants!
I came to a funny realization the other day that at one point along this coast, we were no longer little fish in a big pond.  We are now the big fish in a little pond. Or maybe you could call it "cruising weirdos".  Let me explain....

While in Panama City there were sailors from all over the world, all going in different directions.  Many of our friends chose to do the "Puddle Jump" which is the sail across to the South Pacific, sometimes with a stop in the Galapagos Islands. This voyage entails sailing on the open ocean anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your sailboat. In addition, we met numerous people who had circumnavigated the world, sometimes on their second go around!! These people had conquered the Red Sea for God's sake!! See what I'm saying...we were very little fish in a BIG pond!

Now, that all has changed.  When people here read the stern of our boat with "San Francisco" printed on it, they inquire, "Is that where you are from?".

When we explain that we left there two years ago and sailed to the East Coast via Panama Canal the reactions are numerous and varied:

1. "The Bright Lights" reaction:  They light up like a Christmas tree and divulge that it is their dream to go cruising on their boat as well. Usually these are kindred spirits and we end up having a beer over some Q and A.

2. "Been There Done That" reaction:  These people comment with some nostalgia that they have been cruising and have their own story to tell.  They are also weird gypsy souls like us with whom we end up having a beer with and  swapping wild sailing stories.

3.  "The Zombie" reaction:  They simply nod their head and move on, leaving me to wonder if they heard the reply to their inquiry. They probably wind up drinking a wine spritzer  alone or with other Zombie like creatures.

4.  "Judge Judy" reaction;  Perhaps my favorite are the judgmental select few who react with, "You sailed on THAT thing from San Francisco?"  I actually have a special place in my heart for these naysayers, not sure why.  Maybe it is because I harbored those same doubts as we planned our trip; would the boat be big enough, sturdy enough?  Maybe I just feel sorry for their inability to think outside the box.  Who knows...but I don't take it personally. I rather sadistically enjoy it! These people are drinking whiskey sours amongst other similar boaters talking about bow thrusters and the new air conditioner unit they installed...correction someone installed for them. I am not sure if these people ever actually leave their slip (ok, cheap shot!).

In the spirit of the illustrating these reactions, here is a story from just this morning.

While in the marina office, getting my complimentary latte...yes, the marina offers tasty coffee concoctions for free...and as any true freeloading sailor would do...I cash in on it EVERY morning.

As I awaited the machine to finish my drink, a man dressed in a loud Tommy Bahama shirt, brand new topsiders and some sort of expensive wicker Panama hat burst through the door.
.....(I will admit to all of you recreational boaters who dress like this, cruisers, fisherman or any other person who has spent time on the sea get a chuckle out your wardrobe and have our own "Judge Judy" moments like:  "Dude, where are you going? Sailing or to play shuffleboard?"  or "Wow, those white pants are going to get REAL dirty when you fend off all the pilings surrounding your slip..cuz we know you don't know how to drive a boat"). But I digress......

He stomps into the vacant office and looks at me sitting on the couch reading the complimentary Sports Illustrated. I smile, he nods and frowns. I wander over to extract my free latte from the machine and he demands in a deep, firm voice, "Where is everybody?"

I reply, "I think Eric (the manager) is down on the dock helping someone."

Tommy Bahama inquires sternly, "Who are you?"

Smiling and comforted to realize I am not an employee and don't have to deal with this guy, "I'm Molly!"

"Well, can I ask you a question?"

I answer, "Sure! But I don't work here, I have a boat on the dock."

Tommy Bahama's demeanor quickly changes and says in a friendlier tone "Oh, sorry. There was a girl that worked here named Molly a while ago. I thought you were her."

Noting that my worn flip flops, torn shorts, unkept hair and coveting of the free latte could have tipped him off that I was a dockhand, "Nope, I don't."

"Ok. Well, where the heck is everybody? I need some ice!!"

I do not reply and wonder why he couldn't just grab a bag of ice out of the machine on the dock.

A conversation ensues about how he had traveled from Florida last year ALL the way up the coast with his 52 foot power boat, which mainly consists of me nodding.

Finally, Tommy asks, "What kind of boat are you on?"

I have grown quite accustomed to the this posturing and status competition about boats, so I plainly state, "a Catalina 38".

Mr. Bahama says with obvious disdain, "A sailboat? How long have you been here?"

I answer, "About a week."

"Where are coming from? The South Chesapeake?"

Molly grins saying, "San Francisco actually. We've been out for about two years."

"Oh" is all Tommy Bahama can muster. He turns on his squeaky, white heel and stomps out of the office to terrorize some poor marina employee into being a pack mule for his ice.

Grateful for my complimentary latte, I settle back on the couch and try to remember what day it was, hoping it was Saturday.......when the free bagels are served.


The end of a blog entry would not be complete without documenting the Knee Deep crews antics in another installment of the FLOATING FRAT HOUSE FOLLIES....

On a visit to historic Williamsburg, VA, members of the Floating Frat House were dining in an old, authentic tavern. Complete with candles for lighting, we sat in the old, rickety chairs and  were served by waiters in 18th century clothing, using Old English vocabulary.

A fiddler played an old colonial song in the middle of the room and the House Mother smiled at the ambience and secretly praised herself for giving the Frat Brothers the opportunity to experience history in this way, marveling at how much they must be learning!!

In that moment, J.P. proclaims, "I wonder if you covered up the top of that candle holder in the middle of our table, do you think it would blow up!??!"

Well, maybe they are learning more science than history....or how to be the Una Bomber.

PART 2...Earlier in the day, the House Mother had read off the authentic rules of Colonial times regarding children's behavior.  It went something like this:

"Children shall not erupt, sneeze or cough at the table, but if necessary shall do it quietly."

"A common punishment for misbehavior for colonial children was time spent in the town square stockades (the pillory)"

During the meal at the aforementioned tavern, The House Mother observes J.P. is about to sneeze.

He turns to her and says, ""I'll try to do it quietly. I'm trying to live like a colonial kid".


The old tavern where the Floating Frat House enjoyed a traditional colonial lunch.

Observe candle instead of electrical lights. Note: Ted Kaczynski on the left.

I wonder what these guys to deserve this? Also, did they really give noogies in the 18th century?