Monday, May 31, 2010

Out to Sea to Beaufort, North Carolina

It was a long three day passage off shore from Brunswick, Georgia to Beaufort, North Carolina. Chris Parker, our weather Guru, had promised us a good weather window and in some ways it was. One way it wasn't was smooth! The waves were confused at times and threw our boat around a bit and sometimes more than a bit. This was accentuated by a lack of wind at times. When we had the sails up and filled, the boat wouldn't roll as much.
Our first night neither of us slept much and the next day we just took turns at watch while the other lay down. I used all of our pillows to make a snug spot on the bed. It was cool enough at night so we used our fleeces for the first time and our fleece blankets. Luckily the squalls we saw were way off in the distance and we had fair weather the whole trip - and a beautiful full moon. It was a thoughtful moon as it waited for several hours after sundown to appear. That way we had a few hours of incredible stars.
We had an unplanned buddy boat with us. Right after we exited the Brunswick inlet we noticed a boat on our AIS readout behind us. They stayed there for three days, four to seven miles behind. Only a number registered on our AIS system, not a name, so we didn't call them on the VHF. AIS by the way means Automatic Identification System and we have both a receiver and broadcast Class B type (as did they). Few sailboats and cruisers have these but almost all commercial traffic does. It's made our life easier, especially at night, because we know which way the other boats are going and how close they will come to us. And of course, they "see" us!
The second night was particularly rough and getting out of bed for my late night watch I was thrown into a close encounter with our door. SO it now looks as though I'm a battered wife. Scott's comment "The beatings will continue until the morale improves". So it was lovely to see the sun come up and know we were on our last leg heading for Beaufort. This was now the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend SO every boat in the area was exiting the entrance channel that morning. It seemed like a free for all exercise. Cries for assistance from the Coast Guard filled the air waves and one of the problems was evident to us. A boat ahead was marked by a column of black smoke. A nearby captain went to assist and was discussing the situation with the Coast Guard (while two tow boat rivals raced each other to the scene hoping for salvage rights). The first questions are how many on board and are they wearing life jackets. Our helpful captain replied. There are two souls on board and neither are wearing life jackets. Well it was a Sunday and do souls need life jackets? Happily the two remained mortal and managed to put out the fire. Still a lot of excitement for two exhausted cruisers - ourselves.
We had hoped to anchor off Beaufort but it was crowded and due to strong currents, it is recommended to use two anchors. That was all too complicated for us at that moment and we pulled into Beaufort Docks Marina and tied up. Much to our delight on the next dock was another Nauticat, "Dragon Lady", which we last met at the Nauticat Rally near Baltimore in 2004. Small world!
Bryce and Helen invited us over to their boat for drinks later. They are still working, Bryce is a Psychologist specializing in Marriage Counseling and Helen is a pediatric nurse. They are going to start up a side business operating an innovative week long cruise on their boat with four hours of marriage counseling a day. The couple will sail/motor during the day with them on the boat and then sleep in different bed and breakfasts at night. What a great idea! And they seem wonderful people to do this. Check out their blog at - maybe you know someone who would be interested.
That's their 40 foot Nauticat shown here and second from top and their picture is just under it to the right. I'm shown at the top with my black eye. The last two shots are of one of the historic homes downtown plus "Scott Free" at the dock.
We managed to clean up enough to go out to Sunday brunch at the well known Beaufort Grocery Restaurant. What a reward for the long trip to pig out on crab cakes topped with poached eggs Benedict! And pecan pie for dessert - don't feel sorry for us, right.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Historic Brunswick

Brunswick and the Brunswick Landing Marina are great! We remember both fondly from our last visit and haven't been disappointed this time. After refueling we tied up the boat at dock 9 next to Beth & Art on "Adagio". We got to know them over the next few days and had a

lovely Sunday evening with them on our boat before they left to return to Maine. The very attractive cruiser's lounge shown here is unique in our experience. There are two TVs with Direct TV cable, comfortable seating, book exchange and a FREE laundromat (four washers and dryers)!!! Although the transient rate is expensive, the monthly rate of $11 a foot makes this a really top place to spend some time.

In addition each dock (there are at least 12) has it's own covered deck with a big gas BBQ and benches. We've met a number of cruising couples who make this almost their home port. This big facility is booked for the summer hurricane season. Georgia in general has a really good safety

record and you are way up the river and off on a narrow tributary here. This has floating docks and tall cement piers. If we hadn't promised our family to be up nearer them in the Chesapeake we would have probably left the boat here.
Each morning we took a long walk around the area admiring the parks, beautiful homes and stately trees.

I love the marshes too although it is very hard to take a picture of them that shows their beauty (see how dull the photo is above).
The marina is located along a small river which borders this county seat town. Shrimp boats tie up along the riverfront park and then the marina stretches almost a mile.

The town center is just blocks away. It is studded with parks and broad avenues with center islands lined with more trees. The downtown has a lot of lovely brick commercial blocks, a theater, restaurants, antique stores, a big library and the public buildings common to a County seat. Scott met the charming robot in the theater. We're not sure where he was headed.

A Waterfront park has a covered farmer's market building (see below with striped awning), an old Victorian center and most fascinating (see the shot with Scott) a giant zylophone type instrument made from industrial pipes (picture way below). Lovely Colonial and Victorian homes line several long verdant streets. I couldn't help taking lots of pictures, a few samples shown here.

Brunswick was a very important part of ship construction during World War II. As the memorial says below 16,000 men and women labored here to build steel ships, 99 of them. They earned the name "Liberty Ships" and a model of them is displayed in the waterfront park.
They have their problems of course like any downtown main street area nowadays. There are too many empty storefronts and the now small prison close to the waterfront is supposed to get a huge renovation expansion. The townspeople are really fighting back. There are "Move the Prison" signs all over town.
We ate breakfast out twice, both excellent - there are at least 5 choices available downtown! One night we had dinner with Elena & Rick on "Moving On" and Lynette & Tom on "Por Fin" (see photo with us) at Fox's Pizza Restaurant. This retro gleaming attractive place with indoor and outdoor seating is very popular and no wonder. Our food was excellent and there is a good choice of draft beers. Good fact to know, happy hour is 4 - 5 PM. By an amazing coincidence Rick & Elena were with us on their old boat "Adagio" (second coincidence our neighbor here's boat name; not the same boat) on our last trip here five years ago. They've since bought a catamaran.
This morning we stopped after our walk at the shrimp boats and met Captain Diane. She sold us several pounds of shrimp right out of the hold. We hear that the shrimp is much better before it's had it's preservative bath. We'll let you know!
Another couple we've enjoyed here is Mary Jane & Art on "Break Away". They left this morning to make the trip north going inside the Intercoastal and if we hadn't gotten the good forecast from Chris, we'd be going with them. Instead we're leaving tomorrow morning for the three day trip to Beaufort, North Carolina. More to come in future blog entries.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

About Time!

It's about time you heard news from us! Rather than try and fill in the last month and a half since Deshaies, Guadeloupe (our last posting), we'll bring you up to date first. We're BACK (in the USA)! Specifically right now in Brunswick, Georgia at the Brunswick Landing Marina.

Scott Free motored into the Brunswick River on Friday, May 21 at 10 AM after a two night passage from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The weather was excellent and in many ways we would have liked to keep on trucking north, but we have had little wind since filling up with diesel in the Dominican Republic and even our Nauticat needs to be refueled occasionally.

Five years ago we sailed up this same river with our good friends Bill & Jeannette on "Myasotis" returning from the Bahamas. As then fishing boats welcomed us well out to sea and the St. Simon Island lighthouse also as we entered. Additional cheerleaders in the form of dolphins played around our bow further down the river. We could have done without the horse flies that attacked us for about 20 minutes but they haven't been a problem since.
The Brunswick Landing marina is a well protected friendly comfortable place to spend time. As we pulled up to the fuel dock everyone was in a flurry as a NCIS helicopter was landing at the end of the dock surrounded by police cars (see the picture above left).

They weren't there for us!Saturday we rented a car from Enterprise (our favorite as they pick you up) and drove up to Savannah for the evening. We've been in Savannah twice before, once tied up to the city waterfront for several days around Halloween. This time we jumped on the trolley tour around the city as occasional showers threatened, getting off to walk about at several places.

Weather reports from Chris Parker have been ominous as a extra tropical low is forming north of here and is expected to cause high winds (from 5 to 65 knots) and seas off the Carolinas Monday and Tuesday. So we've settled down for a few days. Movement north on the ICW is prohibited for us right now due to mid day low tides.

This is one of the prettiest cities we've been in. Scott especially often talks about buying a house here. Twenty three beautiful squares are surrounded by equally lovely homes. The huge live oaks with gracefully draped Spanish moss line every street or the center islands.

Flowering magnolias scent the air and horse drawn carriages carry lucky princesses around. Statues and fountains abound. One of our favorites is the "Waving Girl" on the river shown here. She waved in every boat for over 40 years, at first in the hope that one carried her sailor lover (see picture above with closeup shot on the left).

One our stops was the City Market where Paula Dean has her Lady and Sons restaurant (we ate there on a previous visit - excellent). The Meinhardt Vineyards (Southeast Georgia's first Winery have a shop there where one can taste their wines - five portions for $5.35. They were delicious and we bought two desert wines, one plum and the other a fine sparkling port.

Dinner at 45 Bistro was one of the highlights last time so we revisited them at their new location in the Marshall House, a historic downtown Inn. The striking lobby welcomed us. We wished we could afford to stay there! Our beautiful and delicious meals were complimented by excellent friendly service. That's my rack of lamb shown here.
It was hard to call it a night and drive back to the boat, but we are we are confirmed early to bed and early to rise people. Tomorrow we're off to visit Jekyll Island.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nassau to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

These photos taken from the cockpit looking forward illustrate the contrasts in our life beautifully. The first two are on the shallow banks of the Bahamas as we motor in flat seas from Nassau to just north of Bimini. Then the third was taken as we entered Port Everglades inlet into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

We were traveling with our friends Ed and Benia on "Sea Angel", a Nauticat 44. We left Nassau at 9 AM and arrived the next morning at 7:30 AM. It was a windless passage with absolutely flat seas until we exited the banks and headed across the Gulf Stream but here the wind picked up only enough to fill our sails (but not to shut off the motor).

Ed had made reservations for both of us at the Municipal Marina up the New River in the center of the city. It was a great place and at $.63 a foot, a bargain! We tied up just after the 3rd Ave. SE bridge on the side of the river. Lovely paved walks line the river on both sides with parks making us one of the centers of attraction for the populace.

Really everyone was very nice and we enjoyed walking both on the river and around the shop lined streets.
We arrived on Sunday, Mother's Day so after settling the boats and cleaning up the four of us walked down Los Olas Blvd checking out the restaurants. We settled on a charming French Bistro and it was a great choice. What a great celebration; wine, excellent food and beautiful roses for Benia and I afterwards.
Scott and I were glad to get back to the U.S. before the oncoming northern front as we were flying out to California on May 13, returning on the 18th. Scott's Uncle Dan was celebrating his 100th birthday and 70th wedding anniversary, and our grandson Nick his 7th.!

Until the week before we hadn't been sure we'd make it back to the States in time to fly there. So last minute travel plans were made. One problem hadn't been anticipated. We don't have any "dress up" clothes on board! Scott needed a jacket, slacks and shoes and I needed an outfit and shoes.

So we rented a car and went shopping. Benia too needed a dress for a wedding so we spent a fun day together. My other problem was five months without seeing a hairdresser! I found one on line and emerged ready for any occasion! Especially since I've lost about 20 pounds due to a the bacterial infection you'll hear more about when I finish earlier postings!
Scott and I also had the opportunity to visit the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) headquarters. We met the Association Director, Judith Ross Mkam (on the right in their office below), and Administrative Coordinator, Dayanna Guerrero (on the left). The office is a lot smaller than when we last visited but they have managed to get everything well organized (and save the organization money). Scott and I are looking forward to the SSCA Gam in Annapolis in October and have volunteered to help.

Old friends Julia and Paul on "Coral Bay" surprised us by tying up behind us after a few days and we had they and Ed & Benia over our last night for the evening. Julia and Paul kindly watched our boat for us while we were gone. It was a lot easier leaving her as a result. And then we were off to California early on the 13th. More about that in another posting.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Beautiful Bahamas!

We left the Ocean World Marina in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic around 10 AM after some frustrating time waiting for the Drug Enforcement Police to board our boat and give us the clearance to leave. We should have arranged for him to come the day before but didn't understand the procedure. It didn't spoil our memory of the great service and hospitality we received there from the staff.
We had good weather predicted for our passage and it was everything we expected and a little more positive wind. This was a perfect off shore trip for me. The sails were up on a broad reach with not much force so we had to use the motor often. This means the seas were pretty calm. The skies were clear and we enjoyed the day and night passages. There was almost no boat traffic the whole time!
After two nights at sea it was great to see our first stop ahead though. Lovely Mayaguana has a long reef enclosed harbor on the leeward side, Abrahams Bay, where we once spent an afternoon with Diane and Mitch Korbey on our way south five years ago. This time we snugged up close to the reef and jumped in the water almost immediately. The color of the water was incredible. Scott did more snorkeling than I did as he saw a shark after forty minutes and that cooled my enthusiasm. They are just nurse sharks and not dangerous, but my imagination takes a sinister turn.
The wind picked up during the afternoon and from across the length of the bay so it was very choppy during the evening. We were off the next morning for another overnight to Conception Island - a Bahamas national park with no development at all. This is a beautiful place with endless stretchs of perfect white beaches and we wished we could have stayed for much longer, but we felt we needed to keep moving while the weather held. It was a short hop over to Georgetown the next morning, the south end of the Exumas chain.
Here we met old friends Ed and Benia on "Sea Angel", a Nauticat 44 (that's them with us at the stern of their boat near the top left; Ed blowing the conch at sundown top right; and "Sea Angel" herself at the top left). We have known them for about six years since we spoke on the VHF off Connecticut. We were last together at the Nauticat Rally near Baltimore five years ago. This was a happy reunion and we celebrated with a great dinner at St. Francis Marina. Here they introduced us to Lisa, Jon and Johnny (their 12 year old son) on "Just Us" (that's them above right in their dinghy with the sign they made to put at the cruiser memorial on Wardrick Wells). We all decided to leave the next morning together for a trip up the Exumas to Nassau.
We followed Sea Angel like obedient little ducklings north to Staniel Cay, the home of the famous Thunderball Cavern. Sean, Scott and I snorkeled there on our way south years ago and it loved it. This is a popular spot with a good sized Marina, restaurant and bar. On the way "Just Us" and ourselves caught fish. Scott caught a 16 pound mahi mahi and they a slightly smaller Wahoo - both great eating. We all got together that night on "Sea Angel" for a great fish dinner - fish chowder Heather made using fish stock cooked with the frames, sauteed Wahoo from Lisa and tortellini salad whipped up by Benia.
Lisa was very nervous about snorkeling let alone entering an underwater cavern but with moral support from Heather and her family she triumphed! It is a spectacular sight both above and under the water. A large dome with several rooms, lit from above by an opening in the roof, that is reached at low tide with a little space above your head and at higher tides by swimming underwater. We timed it for low tide. Lots of beautiful fish gather around you looking for handouts. The snorkeling outside the cavern was also great.
Two other highlights are close by. The pigs at the Major Spot anchorage reign supreme over their island. Two big pink and two equally huge spotted pigs wait on the beach to greet any boater getting close. They swim out and circle your dinghy and sometimes look like they are going to jump in! We came prepared with chunks of bread and threw them as far away as possible. Birds join in on the mayhem.
The second scarier attraction is the feeding frenzy at the fish cleaning spot near the marina. There the fisherman clean their catches and throw the offal into the water for the sharks and manta rays. Wow! No one swims around this area. We also walked around the island and visited the two small grocery stores - one pink and one blue. That's Jon and Johnny in front of the blue one and the owner of the pink one and her small daughter in front of The Pink Store. She was weaving straw for the local craft items. That night it was "Just Us" hosting dinner aboard. They made terrific fajitas with all the fixings. That's Lisa, myself and Benia left to right celebrating above right.
From here it was an easy half day to Warderick Wells, part of the Exuma Marine Park. In order to reserve a mooring one calls the day before at 9 AM and puts in their name. The next morning, after confirming all reserved boats are on line, the moorings are given out in order of the time received. Sometimes you have to wait several days. We happily received mooring assignments in the north bay all together. This is such a lovely spot. We expected to spend several days here so Scott and I just hung around the boat doing some cleaning. Scott scoured the teak decks with salt water and I polished the inside. We were the hosts this night for dinner. I made spaghetti with bolognese sauce and Scott made homemade bread. Another fantastic evening - party, party, and more party!
The next morning our plans suddenly changed. On our morning weather report from Chris Parker we heard that a big northern front was threatening to head south and close down passages over to Florida for awhile. We needed to be in Ft. Lauderdale by May 12 at the very latest. Ed and Benia also needed to make the crossing. So in an hour we were all packed up and off to Nassau. "Just Us" decided to go with us. It was a long but easy passage over the shallow banks. We were tied up in our marina by 5 PM. After haircuts from talented professional Lisa for Scott and I, we all went out to dinner.
Sadly we had to part the next morning. Lisa, Jon and Johnny were staying in the Bahamas for another week or two. They threw off our lines and waved good-bye. We'll all get together at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall.