Annapolis for the Day

May 17, 2023

I can’t recall if I’ve blogged about Lil Sudden’s inverter. Both Lil Sudden and Saga had inverters installed to help our power situation. Unfortunately, Lil Sudden’s inverter had a manufacturer defect and they had to ship it to Tennessee. Since then, they’ve been limping on limited power unless they were plugged in on the dock. Well, after months without their inverter, one was scheduled to be sent. Annapolis was the location selected to have it sent to so we altered our travel plans and headed for Annapolis.

Thanks to recip benefits from our boating club membership, we were able to stay at the Eastport Yacht Club for a discounted rate (it’s usually $4/foot for dock space in Annapolis).

We took a few hours and walked around the historic area of the town, then returned to the boats to watch the weekly sailboat race. The water was covered in sailboats with their bright sails unfurled.

Unfortunately, the inverter delivery was delayed and it was now expected to arrive next Tuesday (it is currently Wednesday).

The next morning, we decided it would be best to continue on with our plans and then get a rental car from another location and drive to Annapolis when it arrives.

The Sinking Island of Tangier

May 10, 2023

Tangier is a remote island accessible by air or sea. The narrow streets are traveled mostly by bicycles and golf carts and are dotted with small homes and shops. Stepping foot onto the island is like stepping back in time.

John Smith was the first European to explore the island in 1608 and the people made their livelihood by crabbing and oystering.

Since the 1850, the island’s landmass has been reduced by 67% and is expected to be lost in the next 50 years, if not sooner. This is due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

We anchored near a long sandspit on the south end of the island. Surrounded by crab traps, we found a clear spot to settle in for the day. Michael and I kayaked to the beach and enjoyed a nice stroll in the sand.

Later, we took the dinghy into town. As we first approached, we passed hundreds of crab traps that dotted the water’s surface. Following a narrow channel, we arrived in town surrounded by small shacks and docks on the water and finally reaching land.

While strolling around, we did notice that many of the homes have gravestones in their front yard. This is due to:

  • Closer proximity of burying a loved one allowed the grave to be more easily cared for and visited.
  • Placing the grave close to the home reduced the risk of grave-robbery, which was a common problem in the 1800’s.
  • Animals were less likely to dig up graves when in such locations.
  • Higher ground near a home was less likely to result in a casket being floated to the surface by rising tides.

The locals also speak a distinctive dialect of Southern American English which many believe is what the original colonists may have sounded like.

We did find a Sea Hawks fan identified with a sticker on their golf cart.

While the water was calm during the day, we had a horrible experience at night. The wind blew over and the waves were rolling. As all three boats were rafted, we kept rocking and banging against each other. The option of untying and moving away wasn’t an option as we were surrounded by crab traps and didn’t want to risk getting a line caught around a propeller. Instead, no one slept while we kept adjusting fenders and lines. Any opportunity to drift off to sleep would be interrupted with the banging of lines against the hull, splashing of water between the boats, or fenders rubbing. The video below doesn’t due the experience justice.

5 am and sunrise couldn’t come soon enough. Once there was enough light to see, we all untied, pulled anchor, and left for our next stop.

The Land of Dragons

March 26, 2023

It’s finally time to leave Beaufort. The original plan was to visit New Bern, but that requires a little backtracking. Instead, we decide to hit Oriental.

During our voyage, a storm rolled in. Lighting struck, thunder roared, and the rain was pouring. We were in a small channel with nowhere to stop. Our only course was to push through. The Coast Guard announced that the storm would pass in another 20 minutes so we kept trudging. As we approach our destination, a bolt of lightning strikes between us and Coda, so close you could feel it. Thankfully, the storm passed just as we were preparing to dock in the town of Oriental.

Oriental, NC is known as the sailing capital of North Carolina. It was settled in the 1870’s by Louis Midyette “Uncle Lou.” The United States Post Office Department established a post office and Lou was named postmaster of what was then known as Smith’s Creek. Lou’s wife Rebecca thought the town needed a better name and found the nameplate from a sunken ship “Oriental” on the beaches.

March 27, 2023

The town is small, yet quaint. There is one major road that houses small shops. The local marina has a small hotel with an unheated pool. That was a hard pass as it was already cold. No need to jump into a cold pool. There’s also a small tiki bar and restaurant nearby. We arrived a day too late and missed a dragon burning, bluegrass live music, and Shrimparoo-fest.

We strolled the streets, played at the park, entered the shops, and just enjoyed the scenery. In the evening, we had a Chinese feast in honor of the town’s name.

One thing I do enjoy are the Wisteria flowers that are in bloom. When the wind blows, you can smell them in the air. The sunrises over the water are also lovely. I’ve been able to go jogging in the morning and was fortunate to catch the sunrise.

I also love how the town embraces their name and decorates everything with dragons.

Dinghy Queen (McClennanville, SC)

March 16, 2023

In the morning, I’m looking for things to do in town and stumble upon a restaurant (TW Graham and Co) that just posted they have fresh softshell crab. Guess what I’m eating for lunch?

Only problem is, we need two dinghies. For safety sake, Captain Boris and Matt are staying with the fleet while everyone else goes to town, which means I have to drive the dinghy. Sad emoji. Crying emoji.

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I’m a bit wary of driving the boat and dinghy by myself. My primary concerns are if something happens or I get lost. Before you think that these fears are irrational…Have you met me? I get lost going around the block. This is my superhero skill: if you ever want to get lost, take me along and I will make it happen!

Well, if I want crab, I have to get over my fear and make this happen. I pile all the kids into the dinghy and we head to the dock. Anxious and nervous, we make it there in one piece. Looking back, I don’t think that it was that bad, but don’t tell anyone.

Some interesting things about McClennanville: it’s a small shrimping town with VERY CHEAP FUEL, a small street of shops, old churches, and a 1,000 year-old oak tree. There’s even little plaques around town with planets spaced to scale of the solar system.

Michael Tree-Climber Hodak races for the tree to see how high he can get while I’m threatening him to not go any higher as we don’t have time for an ER visit. I swear, that boy loves climbing trees more than he likes eating cereal, and he LOVES cereal.

We stop for lunch and I get my crab. In all my excitement, I forgot to take a photo of my food. You’ll just have to image two delicious fried soft shell crabs and a very happy me.

It’s finally time to head back. The kids returned earlier with Steve so it’s just Barb, Tonia, and myself. I’m feeling a bit more confident in my dinghy driving abilities and we head back to the boat.

The boat comes into view and the kids are having fun kayaking around. I slow the dinghy down and move towards them so Tonia can take a few photos.

I’m getting closer to our boats and see the men shouting and waiving at us. They must be cheering for me. Yea me! I’m making it back in one piece and feeling good. I can drive a dinghy!

But I guess that’s not what they were shouting about. I’m getting too close to land and it’s shallow. Boris is already known for his sandbar landing skills and I don’t need to follow i his footsteps. I quickly veer to the right and safely get the dinghy back.

Next time I should stay in between the red and green stick thingies (yes, I know they are channel markers).

Disaster Strikes at Monkey Island

March 9, 2023

As mentioned in my previous post, there’s an island near Beaufort, SC called Morgan Island, but is better known as Monkey Island.

4,000 rhesus monkeys infected with Herpes B inhabit this small space. Even though we aren’t able to set foot on the island, we wanted to cruise by in hopes to catch a glimpse of a monkey.

Coda went ahead to the next destination (he didn’t want to get bit by a monkey and turn into a zombie) while Lil Sudden and Saga took a small detour to try and spot some monkeys. I was pretty confident we wouldn’t become zombies.

Boris manned the helm while I searched the coastline with binoculars; however, the lush vegetation made it difficult to spot anything. Just as I was about to give up, I noticed a mamma and her baby high up on a tree branch close to the beach. Boris radioed over to Lil Sudden so they could see it too.

There we sat, letting the current slowly carry us while we watched the monkey in the tree. When we were finally ready to continue on our trip, Lil Sudden calls over: their dinghy tow line got sucked under and is now tangled around their propeller and shaft.

Both boats quickly drop anchor and Boris gathers his dive gear to swim over, hoping to untangle the line and be on our way. Unfortunately, Lil Sudden informs us that there may be damage as there is water inside.

Boris dives down, discovers that not only is the dinghy line caught, but there is also a line from a former crab trap wrapped around. The current is picking up and he is unable to untangle the lines.

Current continues to pick up and Boris is unable to swim back. I lower the dinghy and head out to tow him back. He grabs onto the side, but is too heavy and I am unable to return to the boat. I continue to veer left with the current while the boat is on our right. He tries to switch sides, but are unsuccessful. Finally, he removes the gear and throw it into the dinghy and I finally manage to get us back to Saga.

It is decided that Lil Sudden will operate on one engine (with Saga following) to a local marina and see if a mechanic can assess the damages. While at the marina, Boris does one final dive and has success! He is unravels the tangled lines from the shaft, but Lil Sudden still has needed repairs, but I’ll let Lil Sudden continue their story on their blog.

While we waited for a decision on what to do, the Hodaks had a paper airplane flying contest.

We are able to finally leave, but not able to catch up to Coda and decide to anchor for the night. We will catch up tomorrow and hopefully reach Charleston.

America’s Oldest City

February 18, 2023

This day had two events that were terrifying.

First: I have to wrestle a boat and ball

We arrived in St. Augustine Saturday early evening and reserved a mooring ball in the heart of the old town. Securing to the mooring ball is its own story.

The wind was extremely strong and they recommended using two lines to secure the boat to the ball. As we approached, I’d grab the mooring ball line and strung my two lines through the loop. This was a huge challenge as the boat is moving around from the wind, the rope is being pulled tight, the lines are getting tangled around the anchor (trying to do two lines is hard), and I feel like I’m wrestling the boat. Once I think I’m set, I realize I had the lines on the rails and had to release both lines and try again.

The second try, I cut myself when the line I’m holding suddenly pulls tight and slams my hand into the hull. The cut isn’t bad, but I’m bleeding everywhere. Boris is trying his best to get the boat steady, but I’m still having to physically pull the boat to the ball (with Boris’ assist) as we are bouncing around. I am finally successful and we are secure.

Second: The dinghy tried to sink itself

At the end of the evening, we prepare to take the dinghy back to the boat. All six of us get into the dinghy, just like every other time, but this wasn’t an ordinary night.

The strong wind produced strong waves that started to splash into the dinghy. The little bilge pump couldn’t keep up and we were filling up with water. Wave after wave we are getting fuller and fuller. We all start leaning forward to reduce the weight in the back that’s getting flooded, which causes are faces to meet the waves. Finally, we reach Lil Sudden and all pile out. Wet and cold, we wait for the dinghy to empty out (bailing with a bucket) and return to our boat to clean up.

Our takeaway lesson: make two trips on very wavy windy days.

We at least got to tour the Oldest House that day. The González-Alvarez House is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial house in St. Augustine, Florida. The site has been occupied since the 1600s, but the current house dates to the early 1700s.

February 19, 2023

St Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European established settlement in the US. It was founded in the 1500’s by Spanish explorers to protect its Gulf Stream shipping route and solidify its claim to Florida.

Ding Ding Ding. That’s the sound of the Old Town Trolly. 22 stops around the Historic Saint Augustine. We’d hop on, get to an interesting destination, and hop off to take a tour. Hop back on and onward to the next interesting site.

Some of the sites we visited include

  • Castillo De San Marcos
  • Fountain of Youth
  • Old Jail house, old store, and old school
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not
  • Old City Gates
  • Distillery
  • Winery
  • Chocolate Factory

Wooden forts were originally constructed, but in 1672, the stone fort of Castillo De San Marcos began construction. Due to its unique stone walls, the structure never fell in battle.

The stone, known as Coquina, is formed from seashells. The shell walls, when hit by cannon, would compress and absorb the shock. As a result, the cannon balls would bounce off or sink in a few inches.

We were able to tour the fort in time to see the cannon firing demonstration.

The Fountain of Youth is supposedly the location location where Ponce De Leon first saw Florida and discovered the healing waters as well as the Timucua village. We took a sip from the spring and toured the park. Interesting thing about the park is that the village outer wall had oyster shells imbedded to cut people who would try to climb the wall. The inside of the wall was smooth so children wouldn’t accidentally get cut. They also had peacocks that you could feed peanuts to.

We strolled past the old jail house, store, and school, but did not tour them. The jail house didn’t look like a traditional jail house. It was designed so it wouldn’t be an eyesore.

Once done with the tour, we walked through the old city gates and strolled along the cobblestone streets looking at shops and restaurants. The kids wanted to return to the boat and Matt had a friend who lived in St Augustine come out for a visit. We finished the night with a pub crawl and had dinner in an old ice plant.

February 20, 2023

When I was a kid, my parents took me on a tour around the country. One fun memorable stop was a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Turns out, the original Ripley’s was founded right here in St Augustine! Boris and I ventured in and spent a few hours looking at the amazing wonders of the world.

Have you ever heard of Whetstone Chocolates? They produced chocolate for Disney for a very brief period of time and then had a commercial division where they provided chocolate for the big three companies. They sold that division and now focus on local, handmade chocolate. We were able to tour the facility and sample a variety of chocolates.

The day was wrapped up with some mini golf, a stroll around town, a stop at Flager College, and a delicious dinner at the Conch House.

February 21, 2023

It’s our final day in St Augustine and there were a few tours remaining to see. Boris, Matt, and I toured a distillery that is now housed in the old ice plant (it also houses the restaurant that we ate at) and a winery. The distillery was interesting as it turns out the chiller is in Auburn, WA. I also enjoyed learning the health benefits of the grapes grown in Florida.

I thoroughly enjoyed St Augustine. There is a great deal of history here. We spent the perfect amount of time to leisurely explore the area.

The Most Dangerous Beach in America

February 15, 2023

According to Travel Lens, New Smyrna Beach is the most dangerous beach in America. Since 2010, there have been 32 shark attacks and 10 surf fatalities. It’s also a hot zone for hurricanes.  So we had to visit it!

But before I introduce you to New Smyrna, you have to hear about our final morning in Titusville.

We woke up bright and early to run a few errands and return the rental car. Boris drops me back off at the marina while he returns the car. I still need to fill our water tank and rinse down the boat (always take advantage of having access to fresh water).

Since I was doing laundry for the last couple of days, we had the water hose connected directly to the boat. This hose is necessary in filling the water tank. It’s my first time unscrewing the hose from the boat; it should be simple, right? Well, not for me.

I unscrewed the hose from the boat, the pressure regulator valve breaks and comes with the hose, detaching from the boat. I’m holding a hose, looking at this newly acquired white part that is now attached to the hose, and see hot water shooting everywhere!

Thinking quickly, the only solution I can think of is to screw the hose and the newly dislodged part back onto the boat and hope it sticks back on the boat (sounds reasonable right?). It doesn’t really work, but the spewing water is now a smaller stream (like a leaking hose from the faucet). This gives me the chance to run inside, turn off all water pumps, and have Michael get Matt to come rescue me (Boris isn’t back yet). Matt helps disconnect the hose and determine what broke so we can let Boris know what to buy to make the repair.

I finish my morning tasks: The water tank is full and the boat is rinsed off. We leave for a 5 hour trip to New Smyrna. Now that the boat is rinsed, it could use a good polishing and detailing, which involves leaning over the side while underway. I’m prone to accidents (see prior paragraphs on breaking the water pressure valve) and put on my inflatable life vest, informing Boris to keep an ear out for a splash in case I fall in.

Thankfully, I never fell in, but I did the next best thing: I accidentally inflated my life vest. The Pull tab was pulled while I was leaning over the transom.

I’m sure you’re curious what it’s like inflating one of these. You first hear a hissing sound followed by the sound of plastic quickly un-crinkling (like inflating a folded up air mattress or pool float). As you’re looking around for the source of the sound, you notice, it getting tighter and tighter around your body and neck. When you finally realize what happened, the vest is fully inflated and you’re sporting the bright yellow lining that’s makes you visible to rescuers. It was slower than what I originally expected, I expected it to be like a car airbag. Luckily I had an extra CO2 canister so Boris helped me fold the life vest back up and replace the canister. My vest and I are now ready for more seaworthy adventures.

The rest of our 5 hour journey was peaceful. We saw manatees and dolphins and found anchorage near the The Grille at Riverview, just to the side of the green and red stick thingies (channel markers).

New let me introduce you to New Smyrna. It’s a little beach town that is well known for its soft, sandy white beaches…and shark attacks.

We strolled the brick lined streets, admired the quaint shops, bought a scoop of ice cream, and took a short stroll on the beach. The sand is really soft and felt nice squishing between the toes. The water wasn’t too cold, but we only went in ankle deep as it was getting dark and chilly.

Returning to the boat, it was dark and I kept hearing a sound. Turns out a couple of dolphins were sleeping next to us and would resurface every few moments to breathe.

When it rains, the diesel will pour… or something along those lines

The saying “When it rains, it pours” holds true time and time again. Truly, when life gives you a challenge it rarely gives you a singular event which will “teach you a lesson”. Instead, we can expect to have several events culminating in a grand finale of epic proportions.

Cue in a gorgeous, sunny, fun, Central Florida day. Lil’ Sudden is leading the charge, southbound on the intercoastal from our anchorage at Sailfish Point to the Tequesta/Jupiter Anchorage while we “brought the rear” in Saga at a leisurely 8.5 knots. Sun was shining, water was calm, wind was brisk just enough to keep the heat feeling like you’re not going to pass out from heat and humidity. Oh, and bugs were non-existent. One could say that things were JUST RIGHT. The plan has been to head out to the Blowing Rocks Preserve and spend the time there for a couple of days while we slowly work our way to West Palm Beach for some scuba and snorkeling adventure.

Queue in my first mate (pardon me, the Admiral) coming up to the bridge with a somewhat strange question “Hey, did we pass something strange because it smells like gasoline in the boat?” As a captain of a diesel vessel, many things go through your head. Did we go through a gasoline spill? Did the dinghy gas can spill over? Did someone fart? With all those questions in mind, I quickly tell my lovely wife/admiral/love of my life to watch the helm, with which she responds “But what do I do?”

So, to some of you this is not that much of a surprise. The Admiral does the Admiraling, while the Captain does the Captaining, and the two shall never cross over. We both grew up on boats, have owned boats for over a decade, big boats for the last 3+ years. I digress…

We went through a quick crash course of “the boat is driving itself on autopilot. Watch out for anything getting in front of us. If you have any doubt, just put the engines in neutral HERE and scream from the top of your lungs so I can race up to the fly bridge” As soon as the safety briefing was over and done with, I headed down to the engine room to check what might be this gasoline smell. What greeted me as a bilge floor covered with red substance and the port engine spraying stuff all over the place.

The analog fuel gauge on the engine had failed and started spraying diesel from the pressure relief valve on the face. At 70PSI, the spray was all over the port engine, the floor, and anything else you can imagine.

We shut down the engine, assessed the damage and decided that the best path forward is to continue to our journey to the anchorage on the starboard engine. Lil’ Sudden graciously backed us up and we kept going to our next destination. As we limped forward to our next anchorage, we got in touch with one of our great resources to help diagnose the issue. Charlie Smithwick from Smith & Wick Marine Diesel in North Palm Beach, Florida was able to quickly tell us that even the tiniest leak in fuel will cause the fuel pressure to drop dramatically. Only option was to plug the pressure gauge hose and remove the analog bits from the system. The engines are Cat 3196 with full ECM sensor suite and controls, so analog gauges are not truly necessary.

One would think that this is enough to cap off the day and the adventure has reached its peak, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Keep on reading our fellow mariner, much more is in store here.

As we sailed southbound down the intercoastal, we realized that Jupiter doesn’t offer many options for anchorage. With the tide going out, we decided to make a stop and anchor right across our destination. We overshot the anchorage and as we turned around, we realized that there is a sandbar trying to poke its head up out of the water. I quickly get on the radio to warn Lil’ Sudden to make sure that we are safe and clear of the obstruction. What I failed to calculate is that with one engine, going up current that is 3+ knots, and having a broadside wind from the starboard, out ability to overcome the push onto the sandbar to our port was impossible. Within seconds the bow caught the current, the wind pushed us sideways, and the rudders were unable to overcome the thrust of only having the starboard engine.

In less than 3 seconds, the boat shook, the engine shuddered, the back end kicked serious mud, and we ended up on the sandbar… yes, the same sandbar that I warned Capt. Matt to stay off of just moments before, the irony is not lost on me… trust me. I kicked the engine in reverse, just to be met with a quick shudder and the RPM dial reading ZERO. The situation was clear, we need to get off this sand bar and quick… the tide was still going out and we had nearly a foot to go until we hit the lows. Lil’ Sudden came around with a rope to help us get off the sandbar but that plan is quickly aborted because I feared that the props were dug in and we’d end up either bending the props, bending the shafts, or ripping the struts out of the boat as we tried to get us off the sand.

Plan B was quickly created, Lil’ Sudden would anchor out and then come back to assist with a rescue plan while the Saga captain assessed the situation.

As you can see from the look on my face about 3 seconds after I got into the water is that “we’re screwed”. I’m 6’2″ and the boat drafts 4ft from the factory… sooo yeah… you can do the math.

The two captains came up with a brilliant plan… one that is guaranteed to end with absolute success.

Why not have two guys try lift and move a 50,000 lbs vessel stuck on a sandbar, that is definitely going to work. OK, to our defense, we really had hope that it would work but looking back we were absolute nutcases thinking that this would work.

So the next step was to have an expert take a look and really tell us what we needed to do. He was happy to oblige with a quick snorkel dive and offered to clean the hull while he was at it as well.

Ultimately we accepted our fate that we will have to wait for the high tide to come in and for us to get off the sand bar. This fate is really hard to come to terms with though as every few minutes the bow is further up, and the starboard side is digging just a bit more in due to the current shifting the sands against the hull. luckily for us, we had the awesome crew of Lil’ Sudden making things a bit more bearable with a boat side dinner delivery.

I will be honest, with the bellies full, and great company, it was much easier to let the time pass and wait out the high tide scheduled at midnight… having a sleepless night was really not a happy thought but it was better than a few weeks at a boat yard doing repairs.

Unfortunately for us, the winds coming from the east were picking up and instead of 15 knot sustained, with 20 knot gusts, we were seeing 20-25 knot sustained winds to our stern. We quickly realized that with rising water we are being pushed further onto the sandbar by the wind. Every time we would wiggle out just a bit and start bobbing around, the wind would push us further onto the sandbar causing another serious issue. If we didn’t get off the sandbar by the high tide, we’d not be able to get off at all. With a quick Hail Mary, the next time the keel would start swaying we’d turn our engines on and we’d try to get out.

Fortunately for us it worked, and within minutes we were backing the Saga off the sandbar and into the anchorage with winds howling and the tides moving us around more than we’d like… but hey, we are doing The American Great Loop, what can be better than that? Not much to be honest!!

The next morning we looked out and saw the sandbar (to the far right) that we spent our brief stint on.