Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mr. Spock has gone AWOL

Listening to "Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez


Aye (also Aye-Aye)  The sailor's way of saying "yes" or "I understand."  In common use in English ashore as well as aboard ship in the 16th century, it has two possible sources; one, the Old French je or o je (yes, that say I); and the other, the more likely early English yie, yes. -From Origins of Sea Terms by J.G. Rogers

We had a bit of a scare the other day that had nothing to do with sailing, and yet could greatly affect our ability to sail...at least in the short term.  

The wallet went missing.  Gone.  Nowhere to be found.  



A friend had stopped by the boat the evening before. As she was leaving she offered to drive me to the less expensive grocery store that was a bit of a hike to get to.  I had the wallet then.  I know I did because I paid for the groceries.  What happened after that is where things get a bit fuzzy.  

Drake was at the cafe using their internet.  Was he there before I got back from the store?  Yes, which means he had already paid for a coffee.  I joined him, but didn't get anything because the shop was about to close.  Did I have the wallet then?  I don't know.  

Packaging was disposed of and groceries were put away.  Shit!  I took the trash out.  Did the wallet get thrown out with the sea of cardboard and plastic?  Was it left at the grocery store?  Put in a random pocket?  Did it fall in the water as I climbed aboard?  

All these thoughts were going through my head as I trekked back to the grocery store (sorry, no wallet here), checked the cafe (nope), and rifled through every random piece of clothing and bag that any sort of a pocket.  
The very real possibility that we would not find the wallet and that oh-so-important card inside started to become a reality, but instead of completely losing my cool I was reasonably calm.  Why?  Because we have a backup.  

Being prepared is just part of living on a sailboat, especially while cruising to far off places.  Before leaving almost a year and a half ago we made lists of every spare part and tool aboard Paragon, then systematically went over those stores to see if we had the proper amount.  Did we really need three hammers? (no)  Were there enough spare belts for the auto pilot? (yes)  Were three oil filters enough? (no)  

Then, based on an offhand comment from a friend, we turned our focus to finances.  We had been so intent on the gear part of our preparations that we had entirely neglected to think of a backup plan in regard to money.  What would happen if we lost our card?  Or it was stolen?  Or there was a security breach that was beyond our control?  

We immediately remedied the situation and transformed one of my accounts into the backup account.  It was a completely separate account, with card, that would always have a reserve of emergency funds for a worst case scenario.  There were no links to our main account, which meant damage control if our primary card was compromised, and we also had an easy option to transfer in funds if necessary.  

That foresight meant that now, despite the possible inconvenience of having to deal with a stolen or lost card, we still had the ability to access funds.  We had piece of mind.  

As I started to lose hope of ever finding the missing wallet I decided, no matter how random or unlikely it might be, to search every locker and drawer I had touched in the last twenty four hours.  That is what led me to empty the fridge that I had stocked up the night before after the trip to the grocery store and...

Hallelujah!

At the very bottom, nestled next to the mushrooms, was our little Star Trek themed Tyvek wallet.  I am certain that the entire marina heard my whoop of joy as I snatched if from the most unlikely of places.  

As we sat in the cockpit, enjoying a celebratory cocktail and admiring the moon, I couldn't help but protest to Mr. Spock that the fridge was not a logical choice for keeping a wallet.  

A full moon in the marina in Tórshavn

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Welcome Back Cotter

Listening to "Hotel California (Spanish Mix)" by the Gipsy Kings


Shrouds - The major side stays of a mast.  (16th century) The term as used ashore came from the shipboard sense; the shrouds were heavily wrapped for their protection from the elements.  The derivation of the word is somewhat uncertain, but it is probably Old Norse, scruth, for wrapping.  -from Origins of Sea Terms by J.G. Rogers

Today was a productive day.  It started a bit late (I blame it on the festivities of the previous evening), but a lot has been accomplished.  We had hoped to spend the winter here in The Faroe Islands so that come spring we would be in an optimal position to sail to northern Norway.  This beautiful place has also seduced us with it's striking landscape, captivating history, amazing hiking and, most of all, the people.  We have met so many cool people here - some real friends - that we looked forward to spend the winter getting to know them better and hanging out.  

Unfortunately the word has come down from Denmark that our visa has not been extended.  (Though The Faroe Islands are autonomous, Denmark handles certain aspects of foreign affairs and defense, including visas.)   Technically we can stay until the first week in September, but with the fall storms starting to brew here in the north Atlantic we need to get out in the next week or two.  Last summer we stayed just a bit too long in Greenland and paid for our delay with tempestuous and storm-tossed seas for most of the sail to Iceland.  This is something we do not care to repeat.  

Now that we are preparing for our departure in earnest we are turning a sharp eye to every section of Paragon.  The diesel tanks have been filled,the oil has been changed, the staysail has been taken down to be stitched up (by hand...yay!), and every line, nut, bolt, and cotter pin is being checked.  

I will be the first to say that checking the whole rig kind of sucks.  It's uncomfortable and somewhat tedious.  Seriously, I'm hanging upside down off the bowsprit checking the bobstay, climbing around the mast and boom, and closely inspecting every single attachment point and piece of hardware for cracks and loose fittings.  This, however, is probably one of the simplest things that can be done to prevent disaster from striking.


While I was fitting a lock-washer onto a loose bolt on the bowsprit, I heard Drake gasp as he called me over.  See if you can find anything missing on this turnbuckle.


Need some help?  Here is her sister.


That's right.  The cotter pin is missing entirely from the top of this turnbuckle.  The only reason it was not able to turn, and possibly loosen the wire on this shroud, is because the cotter pin on the bottom bolt was still intact.  (For those unfamiliar with a turnbuckle, it is a piece of hardware that regulates the tension on the wires attached to the mast.  These wires, called shrouds and stays, support the mast and keep it from tumbling down.)


Such a simple thing to replace now as we sit in a protected harbour, but if missed the consequences could be catastrophic.  It makes me wonder what else is missing so, with renewed vigour, I continue my inspection of Paragon.  Let's hope there aren't any more surprises!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A little cod to keep me warm

Listening to "Left Me In A Hole" by Yonder Mountain String Band


It is almost freezing outside, with snow predicted later in the week, but I'm curled up in the salon with a cup of tea and feeling toasty warm.  We aren't hooked up to shore power and blasting the electric heater, nor are we running the diesel boiler heater and burning through fuel.  No.  The cabin is filled with a warm, dry, and quiet heat due to a little green marvel softly simmering in the corner...our wood burning stove.

When Drake was renovating Paragon in North Carolina, one major concern was warmth.  We were going to be taking the boat further north than she had ever been before, and she was ill prepared to keep us cozy in frigid temperatures.  Insulation was installed in every conceivable area, but there was also much talk about heaters.  We wanted multiple heat sources to give us a certain amount of flexibility, but also so that our backups had backups.  In the end Drake decided that a wood burning stove was an absolute must as one of the heaters.  He felt that it would not only be a good heat source, but loved the ambience it would add as well.

Now, a fire on a boat is usually one of the worst things imaginable...in fact, several people have done double takes when we inform them that we have a wood burning stove on a boat.  However, there is a long tradition of wood stoves on boats and with good reason.  Boats can be damp, bone chilling dens of condensation, but the naturally dry heat of a wood stove counteracts the dampness and replaces it with a wonderful warmth.  Add the fact that it's the perfect place to dry wet clothing and I was sold!

We were prepared for what we imagined would be a taxing installation, but had no idea that the most difficult part would be to find an appropriate stove.  With the explosion of the tiny house movement there were quite a few stoves built for small spaces, but many of them failed to take into account the special needs of a boat.  Not only did it need to fit into an extremely specific space, but it also has to be thoroughly secure in the worst storm conditions.  A fifty-five pound cast iron stove flying through the cabin was the stuff of nightmares and drove us to do as much research as possible.  

What followed was much like the story of Goldilocks, but instead of three bears it felt like there were forty.  Each stove we found had some little aspect that rendered it inoperable for our purposes.  If they fit the space, then the door was on the wrong side.  If the door was on the right side, then the legs were too delicate to adequately secure the weight.  If the legs were sturdy enough then stove wasn't recommended for marine environments.  It was enough to drive us mad until...

The little cod.  

We chose the green porcelain enamel

The little cod is a little marvel made by Navigator Stove Works, Inc. in Washington State.  As stated on their website it is "An old favorite along the Canadian coast.  Built for hard usage in boats and small cabins.  Styled to reflect the traditions of life at sea."  They have several stoves whose cute names belie their durable construction, including the Sardine and the Halibut, but the Little Cod checked all of our boxes.  It fit our space perfectly, the short legs could be firmly attached to a base and also kept the center of balance low, the door could be on either side, a porcelain enamel coating was offered to protect the stove from rust, and there was even an optional glass front so the fire could be seen.  

The legs are sturdy and can be secured

Stainless steel "sea rail"
Over a year after installing the wood stove, we find ourselves unexpectedly spending the winter in Iceland and this is the Little Cod's time to shine.  She keeps us warm on these increasingly cold nights and, as an unexpected bonus, helps us to meet people.  

Drake and I have taken to spending time at a local cafe, Café Retro, that is a stone's throw from Paragon.  The couple who own it are extremely nice, former boat owners themselves, and happen to make some of the best soup I have ever tasted.  Ever.

Carrot Curry Soup with homemade bread
In the course of our conversations, heating came up and we mentioned that we had a wood burning stove.  Several days later, while sitting in a corner table at the cafe, a man came up to us and asked if we needed some wood for our stove.  Grinning at our looks of surprise, he told us that he is a carpenter with a wood shop within walking distance of Paragon.  The owners of Café Retro had told him that we were in need of wood and he mentioned that he had a dumpster full of untreated scraps that he would be happy to let us take.  



The next day we gathered our large duffels and headed down to the shop  The carpenter was not there, but his coworker let us in and could not have been nicer.  We went into the back room, under the watchful eyes of the office dogs, and found more wood than we could possibly carry.  We chatted with the gentleman as he helped us fill our bags and marveled at our good fortune.

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The wood, mostly cut up, and waiting to be brought down below
Now, with the wood locker full to the brim, Paragon has become our toasty warm oasis in the dark Icelandic winter night…



Thursday, October 3, 2013

There be gods here


Listening to "Walking On A Dream" by Empire Of The Sun


The voyage has stopped...at least for the moment.  Drake and I find ourselves in Reykjavík, Iceland where we will *possibly* be staying for the winter.  The first two weeks here were tumultuous to say the least.  We had planned for Iceland to be a pit stop on our way to Ireland and, therefore, were poised to take off as soon as the first weather window presented itself.  The first couple of days everyone was simply recovering from the beating we received on the journey over from Greenland.  Fierce winds and big seas plagued us, and making landfall had never been so sweet. 

Stormy days


However, as the days passed with no good window in sight, we began to wonder if we had simply stayed north a bit too long.  When does a risk become too risky?  One afternoon we suddenly realized that we were talking about sailing off into the remnants of a hurricane...and stopped.  We unclenched our guts and admitted that leaving Iceland at this particular time of year meant sailing off into weather that posed an unacceptable risk to us.  How many people tried to keep to a schedule and ended up instead courting disaster?  So, despite our best intentions of reaching Ireland this year, we have decided to stay in Iceland.  



We have moved from Brokey yacht club where we first landed and are now staying in an extremely protected corner of the Reykjavík harbour just off of the maritime museum.  Besides being in a spot that is extremely sheltered we also have an auspicious neighbour, the Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn.  It was involved in all three of the Cod Wars with Britain, towed almost 200 ships to safety, and is credited with saving countless crews from sinking or grounded ships.  Every day we look out and see its magnificent hull to our port side.

Our neighbour Ódinn



We've also begun to explore our new neighbourhood.  Just down the street, to our initial delight (and my thighs horror), is an amazing homemade ice cream shop.  Within walking distance of Paragon.  And open late.  Every. single. night.  (this could be bad…)



The library with free, if slow, wifi is ten minutes away, as are numerous grocery stores.  A wonderful internet cafe, with fresh baked bread and FAST wifi, is five minutes away.  I've also discovered the coolest resale/antique store ever which may occupy many a rainy afternoon.

The library

Frida Frænka Antiques


There are more galleries than I could explore in a year, not to mention amazing street art and sculptures.  





Things are not completely settled here.  Drake and I will be heading over to Immigration on Monday to see if we are able to extend our initial entry visa and stay the winter.  We are hoping they will understand that we intended to leave, but were waylaid by the weather.  We have no intention of becoming one of those cautionary tales you read so often on the forums or various news channels.  Could we have left and made it to Ireland?  Perhaps yes, but the alternative was not a risk we were willing to take.  I'd rather live to tell the tale...

So now I sit in a cafe, pet the dog who has meandered over (this is one of the reasons I LOVE Europe!!!), and look forward to exploring my new home.  

Home for now and ready to explore!


p.s.  While we were traveling in Greenland I was having a lot of trouble gaining access to my blog.  I have a back log of posts that I will begin to upload, but I will most likely mix in more recent posts from Reykjavík as well!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Whales, sails, and puppy seas


Listening to "Time and Tide" by Madison Violet


Day 1

I thought I would feel better than this, but I'm still battling with sea sickness.  The conditions as we left Lunenburg were lovely, but the moment we got around the protection of the harbour the rolling seas began and then got worse.  Huge swells that seemed to swallow Paragon...far enough apart that they never crashed on deck but instead rolled us from side to side.  

Wishing I felt better
20˚ to port.  25˚ to starboard.  10˚ to port.  20˚ to starboard.  15˚ to port.  Up down up down.

And sloppy.  While going from side to side, the stern is moving back and forth.  It feels as though an entire sea of golden retriever puppies is coming at us.  Floppy, unsure, and coming from every direction the waves playfully loll and pounce.  There is no malice intended, but they still trip me up.   

I'm keeping watch, but my first dinner didn't quite stay in place.  Let's just say that it wasn't as delightful the second time around.

Things are not quite as dire as they have been though.  At least I'm able to get up and keep watch.  I'm eating lying down in my bunk (sitting at the dinette does not quite work), but when I get up to go to the head or grab some gear I am no longer hit with an instant and intense wave of nausea.  My first offshore trip I was sick for eleven days.  The second I was down for four.  The last one was two and this time I've been up and about almost immediately.  Perhaps there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Day 2

It's interesting being out here with no contact.  My phone has been put on hold, there is no wifi, we do not own a satellite phone, and the VHF is really for hailing or emergencies.  I am occupied only with my thoughts and companions.  

Already a prolific dreamer, I find I lose myself in elaborate daydreams.  I remember books I have read, conversations I have had.  The wind is light, which means that we are running the engine, and the diesel fumes turn my stomach every time they are blown into the cockpit.  Don't think about it.  It's all in your head.  I snort because I know this is bullshit.  There are few things I despise more than throwing up and I cannot believe my mind would abandon my body with such blatant treachery.  Nonetheless I take deep breaths and try to think of anything but the rolling boat.  

Ever the playful optimists, a pod of dolphins surrounded the boat today and made me forget any cares I may have had.

Day 3

Whale!  There was a humpback (or perhaps fin) whale that breached the surface and then dove with its tail smacking the water.  Then, with its body underwater, the tail resurfaced and flipped up and down, smacking the waves while we watched in breathless excitement.  I am in awe.  It is ethereal, wonderous, breathtaking, and magical.  I feel that if I ever reach a point where a seal or dolphin or whale ceases to bring a sense of wonder and elation to me then I am as good as dead.  Gazing at this giant I am suddenly and fiercely protective...and thankful.  Thankful that it has shared itself with us, if only for a moment.

Photo courtesy of Eanna Ryan
The funny thing is I had just finished my watch and Eanna was settling into the cockpit.  My head had just touched the pillow when he shouted "WHALE!  THERE'S A WHALE!".  Drake and I both jumped out of the settee and were on deck so quickly that Eanna joked "In the future, if there is ever a fire aboard Paragon, I won't shout fire.  I'll just scream that there's a whale and you guys will come running."  

Day 4

There is a steady wind from the southwest that is propelling us forward at a reasonably comfortable pace and motion, but I feel a bit ragged.  I should be feeling better, but after a couple of days of vomiting my stomach feels like it's been roughed up with a cheese grater.  Even though this time has been better than any other, getting sick so often takes a toll.  When I'm moving around the boat on my way to or from a watch I still don't have that overwhelming sense of nausea and vertigo, but I've been sick enough times to build up a general sense of malaise.  

I can't shake this metallically taste in the back of my mouth...if only I could start fresh from THIS point I think I would be much better.  I've been popping antacid tablets with the hope that they will settle the fire in my belly.  To pass the time I begin to make up ads for the antacid companies in my head.

•You thought you were still young enough to pile jalapeños on your food.  You were wrong.  TUMS!
•Settle the fire in your belly.  TUMS!
•Today Ur Mucho Sick.  TUMS!

Okay, that's as far as I got.  You can clearly see that I have not, in fact, missed my calling for the advertising business...

Day 5

Last night we were hit by rough seas for a few hours.  It didn't last long, perhaps four or five hours, but it was violent enough to toss Paragon around and make sleeping almost impossible.  Every thing was strapped securely down, but the shelf holding the tea, coffee, and sugar broke and the containers flew across the cabin and sent their contents crashing down.  

At one point a huge wave crashed into the port side of Paragon with a resounding SMACK and flooded into the cockpit.  The zippers on the enclosure were partially open which ended up being a good thing. The force of the wave was so powerful that Drake thought it might have ripped that panel off if it had been entirely closed.  

My watch was to start at 2 a.m., right in the middle of the craziness, but I felt so sick that Drake took over and completed the watch for me.  I lay wedged in my berth, eyes squeezed tightly shut, and tried to think of anything but my heaving stomach.  

Morning arrives as though nothing has happened and there is a new excitement in the air.  We are close enough to St. John's that we are checking our milage to make sure that we won't arrive at the entrance to the harbour in the dark.  It is possibly the most beautiful day yet with calm seas and a mixture of sun and fog.  There has been quite a bit of fog on this leg of the trip which is a first for me.  At times it has been so thick that we can't see more than a boat length away and it almost feels as though we are not moving forward.  

Radar is our friend at this point.  I watch the radar and AIS and marvel that a massive tanker is slipping past just a couple of miles away, yet there is no indication other than the blip on the screen.  How do you sail these waters without radar?  We couldn't possibly avoid such a fast moving ship with this kind of visibility, and I cross my fingers that we will never have to try.  

Day 6

We're here because we're here because we're here!!!  Yesterday was the first day I didn't sleep most of the time I was off of watch so I'm a bit tired, but land is near and we're almost there!  Eanna was taking photographs and didn't want to stop, so he let me sleep an extra half an hour which was marvelous.  I rolled out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to discover we only had a little over an hour to sail before making the final turn towards the harbour in St. John's.  

It's been a lovely trip, but I think we are all ready to do some exploring on land.  This is also the first port of call that is completely new for Drake.  From here on out it is new territory for everyone!

Water spouts from the whales
We woke Drake up and everyone sat in the cockpit eagerly looking at the land that rose off of our port side.  Just in case we weren't excited enough, three whales starting surfacing near the boat...spouting water in huge puffs before diving back down.  Behind them another pod of dolphins popped up and I had to pinch myself to see if I was still dreaming.  There was a part of me that almost wanted to sail Paragon in a lazy circle all day to watch the whales and dolphins playing in the water.  Almost.  But not quite.  

Our first glimpse of St. John's

The lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour
We called the harbourmaster on the VHF, got information on where to dock, and slowly motored into the harbour and into our next adventure…

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Sorbet houses on a hill


Listening to "The Next Time Around" by Little Joy


It has been three months to the day since we undid the dock lines and pushed off from North Carolina.  Today I sit in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia finishing up some laundry and mourning our impending departure.  Tomorrow we leave for St. Johns, Newfoundland where we will do one last provision before waiting for a window to sail the longest leg of the trip (over 1,100 nautical miles) to Nuuk, Greenland.  

The view of Lunenburg from Paragon
It's an exciting prospect, yet I wish, WISH, that we had more time to spend in this lovely town.  The first day we sailed into this harbour it was grey skies with a steady drizzle falling, but all was sunny and colourful on land.  The houses of Lunenburg are painted like so many flavours of sorbet...LAVENDER! RED! BLUE! ORANGE!  On a grey day it brightens your mood, but on a sunny day it is spectacular beyond measure.  Added to this eye candy is a luminous green hill that rises behind Paragon which my eyes gobble up after the flat blue and grey monotones that make up a crossing.  

The view of Paragon from Lunenburg
The first day, though exhausted after four long days, we explored the local area with the help of a woman visiting from Toronto.  She showed us where the local liquor store was located, and also directed us to a pub Drake wanted to visit for dinner.  When he was last here he visited The Knot Pub with his friend Kevin and wanted to share this slightly off the beaten path establishment with us.  Sitting down to a cider and a plate of fish and chips I couldn't help but release a sigh and think "It's good to be home".  



Now, I am not from Nova Scotia, but I did spend a great deal of time in Montreal as a child and one of the things that I miss is whilte vinegar with french fries.  Ask for vinegar in The States and you'll most likely receive a puzzled look, a shake of the head, or perhaps a slightly dusty bottle of malt vinegar that hasn't seen the light of day, well, ever.  As soon as the waitress set down my plate she asked if I wanted vinegar with my fries which made me want to hug her.  I know.  I'm a cheeseball, but it's the little things that I miss about Canada.  Vinegar with fries, smarties, milk in a bag (you read that correctly) as well as my many friends and family.  So again...it's good to be home. 


The next day the boys decided they wanted to fly the new quad-copter (from this point on referred to as Harry) while I wanted to explore the town and perhaps take some photographs.  They went left while I went right and, I have to say, I think I got the better end of the stick.  Walking down Montague St. I stumbled upon the Ironworks Distillery located on the corner of Montague St. and Kempt St.  

The Ironworks Distillery
What a delight!  It's in a picturesque building that used to house a marine blacksmith's shop, but now produces spirits ranging from rum to flavoured vodka to fruit liquors.  When I walked in I was greeted by a lovely woman (and her dog, Phoebe!) who gave me a bit of the history of the place and guided me through a tasting.  I ended up with a bottle of the Rhubarb Esprit Liquor with which I'll make a celebratory cocktail when we reach Greenland.  Or perhaps Iceland.  Or Ireland.  Maybe all three...?




After leaving the distillery I wandered up the next street to get a proper look at some of the colourful houses and the gardens surrounding them.  Many have nameplates attached giving a brief glance into their age and original owners and, now that the weather is a bit warmer, the flowers everywhere are bursting into bloom.  I also felt such a sense of the areas history of shipbuilding and it's bond with the sea.  Every nook seemed to have something to do with the ocean from the anchor door knockers to a dory I found leaning on its side in an alley to a local sailmaker.  The whole area has such a salty feel that's intoxicating.





The afternoon was winding down and I headed back into town to meet up with Drake and Eanna at the restaurant near the museum.  Just in time for happy hour (hey, I'm happy!) I ordered a rum cocktail with local blueberry juice and, to my delight, some fresh mussels which are my absolute favourite!  Apparently they were someone else's favourite as well because not long after the mussels hit the table this little beggar appeared.  He came from one of the boats on the dock, but I think the smell of fresh seafood  was too much for him to ignore.  

The fresh mussels were to die for!
"You will bend to my will", he seemed to say.  Unfortunately he left disappointed.


Leaning back, I couldn't help but think I had found my mantra for this trip.  

"I wish I could stay longer…"

A sunset view of Lunenburg from the dinghy dock





Friday, March 29, 2013

Attack of the forty foot…Paris Hilton?

Listening to "Silence Is Golden" by Forro In The Dark


I sit at the dinette table listening to music, lulled by the rocky motion of Paragon and the sounds of Drake making pasta with clam sauce.  It’s cold cold cold outside and, what with the steamy boiling water and the heat from the hydronic heater, the windows have a foggy condensation that obscures the outside.  I take my hand, wipe a swath clear, peak out and see...a forty foot Paris Hilton running her hands through her hair and staring back at me.  

Well kids, we’re not in Oriental anymore.  

The last month was absolute madness.  I felt as though Drake and I were in a little red wagon  careening down the side of a mountain, desperately holding on and unsure of whether we would land triumphantly or crash and burn in a mini fireball.  We had a firm date (heh!) set for departure, crew scheduled, and notice given at the marina all the while looking at a to do list that never seemed to end but, in fact, seemed to expand by the hour.  Systems that had previously worked meticulously (for years!) suddenly gave up the ghost when sensing our demanding schedule and left us scrambling to diagnose and fix eleventh hour problems. 

Finally we reached a point where the things left on the list no longer prevented us from leaving and...

We left.

We left Oriental, North Carolina after several long years of work, sweat, despair, tears, setbacks, breakthroughs, and finally triumph.  

Originally our plan was to leave on the 15th of March which fell on a Friday, but in keeping with superstition we delayed a day and decided instead to leave the next day.  We used that Friday evening to have a gathering to get a chance to say goodbye to some of the amazing people we had met during our stay in Oriental.  Some who came we had known for years - one couple we had met just days earlier - but all had affected our lives in some way.  They came bearing gifts of wine, knowledge, charts, boat cards, well wishes, and good conversation...I have to say that both Drake and I were touched and so pleased to have been a part of this wonderful community.  



Saturday morning dawned clear and chilly, and we pushed off of the dock at Sailcraft Marina for the last time with Adam, the first crew of the trip.  We had met Adam earlier in the year and had been exchanging emails, and the occasional chat over coffee, since our first meeting.  When Drake and I discussed wanting to have crew Adam was one of the first contenders.  With a background in both racing for fun and recreational sailing, he impressed us with his competence, confidence, and personality-wise he seemed as though he would be a good fit.  

A last sunrise over Whittaker Creek


Motoring out of Whittaker Creek we passed the sleepy marinas and began the three day journey up the Intracoastal Waterway to Norfolk, Virginia.  Our first big destination was New York City and the original plan was to head up to Ocracoke, wait for a weather window, jump out of Oregon Inlet, then head offshore straight to New York.  In a perfect world it would take us about three and a half days to get there, but in the event of inclement weather we had several places (Cape May or Atlantic City) where we could tuck in to wait out the storms.  Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy had created such shoaling in the inlet that it was now impassable with the Coast Guard reporting a depth of two feet or less.  

Another option was to motor to Beaufort, NC, await a weather window, and then go around Cape Hatteras before heading North.   Thankfully, due to some good advice and common sense on our part, we decided that route was just not worth the risk.  For those not familiar with this particular area, Cape Hatteras is known as the graveyard of the Atlantic and with good reason.  It is the meeting place for the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the South Atlantic Bight and also where the South flowing Labrador Current and North flowing Gulf Stream collide producing rough seas and dense fog.  Add in the Diamond Shoals, which extend for up 14 miles or more offshore, and the frequency of Nor’easters which scream down the coast with alarming frequency at this time of year and you have a recipe for disaster.  Combining the opposing currents, storms, and potential for rough seas seemed foolish when we still needed to complete shakedown sails on some of Paragon’s systems.  Finding out that a key element didn’t work while motoring/sailing along the ICW could be inconvenient...finding it out off of Cape Hatteras could be deadly.  

So Intracoastal Waterway it was. The first day was a bit of a push since we had to motor almost 65 miles to reach our first anchorage.  Several people had told us that we MUST stop at Coin Jock Marina, but in order to fit that into our time line we had to make some serious miles on the first day.  This was not such a difficult task with three people aboard.  Anyone who has traveled the ICW on their own knows that even simple things like grabbing lunch or going to the bathroom can be difficult...pulling over is not really an option, so things must be coordinated carefully.  Splitting time at the helm between Drake, Adam, and I meant that everyone had a chance to rest, eat, nap, and marvel at the root beer coloured water that was a result of tannins leaching from the surrounding trees.  Drake even had a chance to climb the mast to get a bird’s eye view of our journey.

Drake hanging out on the spreaders

As dusk neared we pulled into a lovely and deserted anchorage.  On the way in we passed two free standing trees on the edge of the little bay and I was delighted to discover that what I assumed were leaves actually turned out to be birds perched on every branch.  Combined with a spectacular sunset it made the first anchorage of our journey magical.



The next day was easier and we reached our desired destination in Coin Jock just as the Marina was closing its doors.  The man working that evening, JD, was even kind enough to wait an extra moment or two to catch our lines as we pulled up to the dock.  Many a cruiser had insisted that we must (MUST!) stop here because, despite its tiny size and remote location, the restaurant had wonderful prime rib.  I have to disagree with them.  It wasn’t wonderful...it was some of the best prime rib I have ever had.  Anywhere.  Should you happen to find yourself within a day or two of this little hamlet I strenuously recommend a detour to enjoy the hospitality and fabulous food.  (Did I mention the complimentary homemade chips they set on the table?  To. Die. For.)

The lovely Coin Jock Marina and Restaurant
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

Leaving early the next morning we headed on to Norfolk for what we thought would be an easy day.  It was misty and a bit colder with rain showers slowly soaking us, but our spirits were high and the heater down below did a wonderful job of defrosting our wind-chilled cheeks.

The last twenty miles of the ICW just south of Norfolk has quite a few bridges (and one lock) that have to be traversed, but our timing was almost perfect and we arrived at the N&S RR Bascule Bridge #7 (usually open) and the Gilmerton Lift Bridge before its rush hour restrictions.  Throughout the day the Gilmerton Highway Bascule Bridge opens at specific times, but for three hours both in the morning (6:30 - 9:30) and evening (3:30 - 6:30) they are closed for commuting traffic which means if you arrive at 3:45 PM you have an almost three hour wait.    

Pulling within sight of the bridges just past 3 PM, we had already mentally dropped the hook in the anchorage that lay a mere five miles beyond in Portsmouth just across from Norfolk.  Adam had told us about his many problems and delays while dealing with the Gilmerton Bridge, especially with all the recent construction, but that had ended and we felt confident.  

The lift bridge was not the problem this day...it was the railroad bridge.  Noticing it was closed as we approached, we hoped that whatever train was about to cross would hurry up and pass so we could make it through the next bridge before the 3:30 deadline.  When no train approached, and with our window swiftly closing, we talked to the tender at the Gilmerton Bridge who told us the #7 was temporarily out of order but that they were doing all they could to find someone to fix it and he wasn’t really sure what was going on since it wasn’t really his bridge and he really did wish us the best and a very good day to you.  Or something like that.  It was all very nice while being completely noncommittal.  

Thus began our wait.  Three turned into four, then five...and as the six o’clock hour approached with no bridge opening in site we started to seriously look at anchorages in the area.  Sundown was just over an hour away and we didn’t want to be caught circling in the dark.  The one other boat that had been waiting, a giant tug, finally gave up and turned around and we finally conceded that we should do the same.  

Circling as we wait for repairs to be finished
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

As Drake turned Paragon around our VHF suddenly sprang to life.  

“#7 is opening, #7 is opening!”, the bridge tender shouted, and I am certain he could hear our whoops of excitement all the way from his control room.

Because of the long delays the Gilmerton Bridge tender opened his lift bridge, even though the rush hour restriction was not over, which allowed us to motor through and drop the hook in Portsmouth just as the sun was setting.  

The rosy glow of our first city anchorage


Drake, Adam, and I spent the next day wandering around Norfolk and picking up some extra provisions.  The whole area was remarkably easy to get around using a mixture of their light rail, water taxi, and cabs.  It also felt wonderful to get a chance to walk and explore a new area after being on the boat for several days.

Riding back on the water taxi

Rowing out to Paragon in the anchorage after a lovely day

The next morning, a Wednesday, dawned cool and breezy as we decided on the next move.  We had planned on leaving, but the weather looked a little unpredictable and we wavered; go today or possibly be delayed for almost a week.  

This is the point where we allowed something that should not have come into play affect our decision. 

 A schedule.  

Schedules have no business influencing voyage planning while sailing.  Sure, in the most abstract form they can be considered, but as a friend of mine said, “When I’m sailing you can choose the place or the time, but you can’t choose both.”

Adam had a plane out of JFK in New York on Sunday, so with that in mind we pushed off late Wednesday morning and headed out to sea.  Drake felt that we had a good chance of making some miles before tucking in to Cape May to await better conditions.  The rest of the afternoon went fine as we motored out of Norfolk and then, with sails up, we headed north into the night.  Things rather went downhill from there.


Motoring out of Norfolk
(photo courtesy of Adam H.)

On Thursday winds clocked to the North and increased until they were sustained at 30 knots with gusts up to 38.  Thirty-five miles offshore and unable to make much progress, Drake realized we would never be able to reach Cape May before sundown and decided to hove to.  We remained hove to off and on for the next 36 hours...making progress when we could in the 10-12 foot seas.  

During this time Adam was amazing.  My old nemesis, seasickness, had returned with a vengeance and I was violently ill for several days and unable to do much except wish for a swift and painless death.  He stepped up and attacked every new challenge with a steadfast hand and quiet confidence that was impressive.  In the midst of our sea trial, and with several things not quite working as they should, he kept a sense of humor about things that were beyond our control.  

As winds subsided and, remarkably my seasickness began to dissipate, we realized that we would be able to sail into Atlantic City before sunset.  A new course was set and we motored into the channel with plenty of time to spare.

Anchored in Atlantic City, NJ

Now I sit here at the dinette and, as the boat turns at anchor, occasionally see a giant Paris Hilton splashed on the side of the illuminated high rise casino.  I look around, shake my head, and think, "We're not in Oriental anymore…"