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June 17, 2003
On The Road (Finally)

We’re driving south on I-75 with our van packed full of our belongings as we write our first journal entry. The decision to take off and sail for a year or more was an easy one.

The tough part is doing the mundane things you need to do to leave your old world and start a new life. Canceling bank accounts, selling cars, health insurance issues, renting our house and much more. Initially, this was going to be an attempt to simplify our lives but right now our lives are full of decisions. Technical gadgets are a way of life now for our society but how much of that do we want or need on the boat? Most are not necessary but they sure can make communication and gathering information a lot easier. We decided on a laptop with CD-RW/DVD drive, camcorder, digital camera, cell phones and Delphi XM satellite radio. The boat is equipped with GPS, radar and single side band radio. So much for simplicity. Space considerations dictate what and how much you can have on board. It is real important to have a good stowage plan which enables you to get to things quickly and easily. This makes for some hard decisions about what you can bring as every item on a boat needs its own place or you invite chaos.

Our plan of quitting work and setting sail for a couple years sounds romantic and adventurous to many. It’s when we mention that we’ll be doing it with our twin three year old boys that make most jaws drop and that thought of envy disappear.

Lucky for us, Thomas and Patrick are very easy-going and adaptable. It should be interesting to see how they do offshore. We plan to have safety netting on the lifelines and they will always have their life jackets and safety harness on when they are on deck. Space on the boat is limited so they were only able to bring a few of their toys. Books, educational CD’s, puzzles, scooters and fishing poles to name a few. We’ve tried to explain to them what we are doing but we don’t think they have any idea. Their main concern is what they’re doing in the next 5 minutes. It shouldn’t be too long now before they get a feel for what our lives are going to be like. How old do you have to be to take a dingy ashore to go buy a newspaper for Dad?

Getting our house in order and things packed away or thrown away took much longer than anticipated. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you start emptying drawers that haven’t been touched in many years. We worked every day for a full month to get our house ready for the renters. If it was just the two of us it would have been easy but when you have toddlers running around undoing everything you just did it can be quite frustrating.

Our last two weeks were chaos. Patrick stuck a rock up his nose the day after our Kaiser insurance ended; Pierre found out he’s going to need a root canal. Saks called saying someone just tried to charge $800 on our credit card. Fortunately, we got through all that and are finally on the road to the boat.

Victoria is a Lord Nelson 41 built in 1983. She’s a 41-foot traditional cutter rig with fairly heavy displacement and a long keel. She tracks very well in a seaway. For those who haven’t experienced it, sailing on a heavy displacement, long keel boat is a different ride than on most fiberglass production boats. Although there is a little loss in performance, the trade off is a wonderful ease of motion and a boat that tracks so well that you hardly have to steer it. Aesthetically the boat looks a lot like the more familiar Hans Christians. She has a 6 foot bow sprit. It’s equipped with a wind generator, solar panels, a self-steering vain and a 50 hp BMW engine. She’s not going to win any races but we should have a safe steady ride. She was built in Taiwan and has exceptional overbuilt teak joinery work down below. She also has teak decks which are in need of several weeks of overdue maintenance. We have a lot of small projects to do but the two main things are to bring back the bright work and maintenance on the teak decks (i.e. replace bungs, fix exposed screws).

June 21, 2003
Port Royal, SC

We’ve spent the past 4 days trying to get our boat packed efficiently. Each day we bring a few more items from our van to the boat. We still have several boxes to bring aboard. It is a slow process.

Our new Avon 10 ft hard-bottom dinghy and life raft were delivered to the boat a couple days ago. We were excited to try out the dinghy and our new Nissan 8 hp engine. When we tried to mount the engine on the dinghy it didn’t fit. We called Avon and discovered that there is a flaw with their new dinghy’s. The transom is too thick and about 80% of the outboards on the market won’t fit. Our only hope now is to find an old transom plate and see if that will allow the engine to fit. The Avon representative advised us that there is a shop in Charleston which might be able to help us.

We’ve learned to expect the unexpected and that you can’t be in a hurry when you are dealing with sailboats. We hope to get the dinghy taken care of on Monday and possibly depart north on Tuesday if the weather is favorable. Our primary destinations are the Chesapeake and up to Maine the latter part of the summer. In the fall we’ll look at our options.

June 25, 2003
Charleston Here We Come!

It’s the night of Wednesday, June 25th as Pierre and I do some last minute preparation for our departure to Charleston in the morning. We need to leave the dock by 6:30 a.m. in order to get through the Beaufort swing bridge by 7 a.m. If you don’t make it by 7 a.m. then the bridge won’t open again for 2 hours which would result in us arriving in Charleston after dark. I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of knowing we are finally taking off or over exhaustion but neither one of us can fall asleep. It is now 2 a.m.

I awake suddenly at 6:20 a.m. Pierre is sound asleep. I realize we never set an alarm and we have less than 10 minutes to get ready in order to make it through the bridge. I wake Pierre and he rises in a frenzy. He rushes on deck and immediately starts giving commands. Within minutes we are leaving the dock and heading towards the bridge. He can’t believe we overslept. He’s worried that we won’t make the bridge but that is for naught as we passed through with 8 minutes to spare.

A couple hours after we’re under way, Pierre realizes he is wearing my shorts and it doesn’t seem to bother him one bit. I’m not sure if it’s a positive or negative if your husband can fit into your shorts. 

Our trip to Charleston via the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) should take anywhere from 10-12 hours. There isn’t a lot of wind so we will have to motor most of the way. I don’t have a lot of experience on the ICW. Pierre has cruised the waterway many times and states running aground is the biggest threat. Our boat weighs close to 37,000 pounds and with its long keel it isn’t always a simple matter to get off the bottom once you go aground. The waterway starts in Norfolk, VA and extends to South Florida. It is comprised of sounds, rivers and canals. It is a great way to see part of the country that most people don’t even know exists. You can travel the entire waterway and never go out in the ocean. 

We are a few hours into our trip when Pierre asks me to take over the helm. He shows me where we are on the chart and tells me to follow the red and green marks closely. The marks are numbered and it is very important to pass them on the correct side or we could go aground. I seem to be following the marks well and have a little help as there is a sailboat ahead of us heading north also. Pierre is down below when I realize something isn’t quite right. I made the mistake of following the sailboat instead of paying close attention to the marks and ended up taking us off course by about an hour. As you can imagine, Pierre was not happy. I received a lecture about never following another boat. We had to turn around and had a close call with some shallow water but soon we were back on course with Pierre at the helm. I don’t think he was impressed with my navigation skills.

So far, my experience with sailboat racing has done little to help me in this cruise up the waterway. It has been many years, but in the past I used to be the sailing writer for the St. Petersburg Times. Back then, I had the opportunity to sail in many races but only a few were offshore races. Pierre on the other hand has delivered boats for over 20 years all over the world. I’ve only sailed with Pierre once on a trip from St. Thomas, V.I. to Bradenton, FL about 6 years ago. I would have loved to have sailed with him more but my job as a Physician Assistant didn’t allow for me to travel for the extended periods of time that it would take for him to deliver a boat.

I’m amazed at all the boats cruising the waterway. While we were passing through one of the narrow stretches, a tugboat pushing a massive barge appeared to be heading right for us. We inched over to the far side of the channel and allowed him to pass. 

We continue to motor since there is no wind. It is over 90 degrees. We’re both hot and tired but still have several hours before we reach Charleston. We are traveling at 5-6 knots. The boys are doing great. They don’t seem to mind the heat which is worse for them because they have to wear their life jackets constantly when they are on deck. They get excited when we see a few dolphins nearby. They have a pair of binoculars that always seem to be around one of their necks. Pierre didn’t realize he’d have such good scouting crew. 

I learned the hard way that the toilet or “head” in nautical terms is a delicate piece of equipment on a boat. As I was at the helm Pierre appeared on deck asking “who clogged the head.” I had helped Thomas on the potty earlier and didn’t realize that throwing one of his baby wipes in the head was going to cause so much trouble. We are still a few hours away from Charleston and now we can’t flush. Pierre brings out a small red bucket and said this will have to do until we can repair it. This isn’t such a bad option for the males on board but it is not so fun for me.

We arrived in Charleston around 7 p.m. and moored off the City Marina. After cooking some cheeseburgers, we sat in the cockpit and read the boys their bedtime stories while enjoying a beautiful, clear night.

In the morning we were able to have our dinghy and outboard motor picked up by the local Avon dealer who said he would try and alter our transom so the outboard would fit on it. This is the sole reason we are in Charleston. If he can fix it in a couple hours we will leave today. If not, we’ll spend the night and head out in the morning.

Our day was consumed with trying to find that pesky baby wipe that was clogging our head. We had to disassemble several hoses and part of the head and 5 hours later we found it. There is a saying in the marine world that states “Never put anything down a head that you didn’t eat first.” I think I learned my lesson.

June 27, 2003
Onward Toward Morehead City, N.C.

Friday morning we prepared the boat for our trip offshore. By noon we were on our way out the channel. The weather was clear and there was about 10 knots of wind which meant we would be able to put the sails up. I elected not to use anything for seasickness because the weather looked pretty good. That was a mistake.

The weather was nice but the seas were higher than I expected and after going down below to get something for the boys I began to feel sick. The large rolling waves rocked the boat and when down below I felt like I was in a washing machine as I was tossed around from side to side. I immediately came up to the cockpit and tried to fight off this sick feeling. Only three hours into the trip I found myself hanging over the lifeline feeding the fish. The boys were fairing much better. Thomas said he was scared of the waves and his wide eyes affirmed it but he sat quietly in the corner of the cockpit. Patrick proclaimed he was not afraid at all. 

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I thought I’d be cooking spaghetti and chicken breasts for our dinners. I didn’t want to go down below for anything but sleep. I didn’t eat anything for 32 hours. The boys and Pierre ate light.

Pierre and I decided to do 4 hour helm shifts during the night. My shift was from 10 p.m. - 2 a.m. Stars filled the sky but it was dark because there was no moon. The sea was black and the sounds of the waves and wind were magnified. I wondered what it would be like if I fell off the boat. It seemed like we were the only boat out here but occasionally, off in the distance, I could see the lights of freighters. I listened to music to help keep me awake but the last hour of my shift I could barely keep my eyes open. I set the boat on autopilot for short periods throughout my shift which enabled me to leave the helm for a few minutes at a time if necessary. We were averaging 6 to 7 knots.

I collapsed in my bunk like a medical resident coming off a 24 hour shift when Pierre relieved me. The boys slept soundly the entire night.

The rolling waves continued throughout the next day and I tried my best not to go down below but it’s tough when you’re dealing with 3 year olds who constantly need things. A lot of people pass the time reading on a sailboat but that isn’t an option when you’re seasick. I tried to read but it felt a lot like reading in a car on mountain roads. So if I wasn’t at the helm I was sitting in the cockpit trying to keep out of the sun and stay cool. The time passed slowly.

Thomas threw up once that day but otherwise he was fine. Patrick was very confident and seemed content. The boys passed the time looking at books, sleeping or hanging all over me.

By nightfall the waves had subsided and my seasickness had abated. It was midnight and we were about an hour and a half away from our destination of Morehead City, NC. The wind died down and we were motoring when Pierre accidentally bumped into the ignition key and it broke off in the ignition. If the engine stopped we would be in big trouble since there was no wind. Coming into a port at night is tough but this just added a little more excitement. We made it to the dock at Morehead City Yacht Basin by 1:30 a.m., about a half a day sooner than expected. Once we were tied up we were able to stop the engine and Pierre managed to get the key out with tweezers. Luckily we have a spare ignition key.

This day and a half offshore jaunt was a good experience for me. I would love to sail to the South Pacific but I’m not sure how I would do at sea for 30 days straight. A day and a half was enough for now.