“This is the United States Coast Guard North Carolina with a Hurricane update. . .” When you live in North Carolina, these words over the VHF radio can make your hair stand on end. The morning can look just like the picture above. 24 hours later it can be anything but calm.
We’ve been through Mathew in Hilton Head, SC. It was 10:30PM before we left Shangri-La to fend for herself . We were sick. Just six months after moving on-board and here we were in the direct line of a hurricane. Words could not describe our angst.
Fast forward to September, 2019. Tucked into our adopted home here in Beaufort, NC we know we’re still in range of some walloping storms. Cape Hatteras, just 30 miles northeast of us is the #1 place for landfall for hurricanes churning up the East Coast. And here comes Dorian. Wobbling between a Cat 1 and a Cat 2 – she is taking her own sweet time making her way north. So what’s the plan? Where do we go? Do we pull out and have Shangri-La put “on the hard?” (lifted and placed in stands on a marina property) Or do we flee? At 9 knots, outrunning a big storm is a lot like playing baseball with a blindfold on. You may stay inside the fence, but making good choices and catching a ball would be sheer luck. One can never really predict in which direction these storms will move.
Wow. Just wow! In our 3 years aboard Shangri-La we never were so busy as the last several months. At this point I could go into detail on so many, many adventures. Instead, the highlights of the last half of our adventure. On April 1 we docked back in our home port of Beaufort, NC. And for the next several weeks between personal business, family business and just decompressing – we’ve been dialing it down.
The Loop was an amazing adventure for sure. Locks, long voyages, cute towns and the best part – so many wonderful people who can’t wait to help out, join in and make the journey the adventure of a lifetime. And that’s the story. Yes, we traveled for 13 months covering over 6,000 miles. Yes, we had an incredible number of one-of-a-kind adventures. So will those who follow and so did those who went before us. But most inspiring, we will cherish the journey forever. Truly forever. So many great moments.
The highlights? Busting up the Chesapeake Bay in what was supposed to be one foot waves. Thank God it was a head sea. A half dozen times we buried the anchor in the face of a rowdy bay. Anchoring in the Hudson River – people asked us, “who anchors in the Hudson?!” We did. Jan found a spot called Saddle Bags off the main channel and we had a wonderful night on the hook. Dragging anchor in Tawas Bay – where we woke to a swimmer knocking on the hull “mister, mister your boat is moving. . .” Indeed we were. Sitting proud in barely 5′ of water right in front of the hotel. We gave serious consideration to renaming Shangri-La the Drag Queen after that night.
Or our trip up to Alpena, MI from Tawas, MI where we broke dishes we didn’t know we had and watched a bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce play spin the bottle sans top across the salon floor on a raging Lake Huron. Jan sat on the floor while I sat at the lower helm and listened to wine glasses smacking each other to pieces in the rack behind my head. We only made it to Harrisville where we hooked up with Eddie and Linda on a 36 Grand Banks. A couple who have become fast and dear friends for life. With them we crossed under the mighty Mackinaw Bridge and spent the night at Beaver Island. The next day, we left for Door County, Wisconsin. Crossing on a truly beautiful day. When we got to Washington Island, we began our leisurely trip down the peninsula where we lollygagged along for over a month enjoying the spotless, charming villages along the Wisconsin’s thumb along with our new found friends.
Then crossing from Sturgeon Bay to Ludington. “You’re not going is this fog??” we were asked as we slipped the lines. Yes, we’re going in the fog. Fog happens when there is no wind. And we needed to cross nearly 100 miles of Lake Michigan that trip. It was so calm I almost fell asleep at the helm. We only saw one boat on the radar. It was an incredible trip – all alone just the rumble of Pam and Sarah in the mist. We’ll never forget that day.
So, now what? Leaving land heading into The Big Water. Offshore. Out of sight of land. Usually longer days. What do we do? Do we just stare at the water? I mean seriously – once we get offshore what is there to do? Play Scrabble? We could. . .but being new we don’t – yet. Think about it; a 5-10 hour day rumbling along in the deep blue.
Each boat crew has their own regimen. Ours is pretty straightforward. First, since we love being offshore we are constantly on the lookout for wildlife. Things like dolphins and sea turtles. Flying fish and jelly fish. We’ve even seen otters well offshore. One time coming up from Georgia to Hilton Head Jan jumped back from the railing up on the bridge and exclaimed “SHARK!! HUGE SHARK!!” Indeed, swimming right up against our port side was a massive shark with a red tinted dorsal fin. He didn’t stay long but he sure left an impression.
Finally we break out!! After spending the night in Tonawanda, NY we leave the cut from Black Rock locks. 11 days humping it through the Erie Canal we’ve finally made it to the Great Lakes. Just before making the bend around to the lake the air turned cool and crisp. We could smell the big water. We both had tears in our eyes as we made that final turn to Lake Erie.
Now we can hustle it up a bit and get offshore and let Shangri-La put on some speed (ok fine, it’s 8-9 knots) and stretch her props. The Lake Erie run was unlike anything we expected. First Buffalo. Where we met other Loopers and Harbor Hosts who went out of their way to assist us. Including grocery runs and a ride to the bus station where one day we hopped a bus to Niagra Falls. Once again, the incredible community of boaters was there for us.
Dawn breaks – geeze did I really write that? Anyway, an early start today, we’re going outside! The next leg of the trip is to head out into the Atlantic Ocean and make our way up the New Jersey coast to New York. It’s a long trip for us so we have two choices – run into the night, making the turn into the Hudson to our chosen anchorage at Sandy Hook, or stop at Atlantic City. Duh, we all know how that turned out. Across from the casinos is a quiet bay where we can anchor. The channel into the anchorage is so narrow, the fishermen pull their lines so we can pass. Once again we are treated to a serene evening, the lights of Atlantic City, about a mile away and us, hovering over the hook enjoying another tranquil evening.
Day 2 OUTSIDE. It didn’t get rough and it didn’t get ugly. We had a beautiful run up the coast. It was easy to understand the term ‘down to the shore’ when we’ve heard it from folks in NY City. Beautiful sand beaches the entire way up the New Jersey coastline. Making the turn into Sandy Hook, we dropped our hook in a lovely bay – the only boat in sight.
During dinner, I caught something out of the corner of my eye passing in front of our windscreen. A massive tug and barge used for dredging was literally running over our anchor line. Leaping up, I got on the radio and asked if the captain was lost. “Nope, just looking for a place to spend the night.” He anchored out several hundred yards away – but that first look as he passed so close pretty much finished off the few hairs I had that were lacking grey. Continue reading “The Loop III”
And we did. It’s been a wild ride for sure. Leaving Beaufort, NC on March 1 we began the trip north. So much to this adventure and so many wonderful people along the way. Our first days on the water included a tranquil trip up the Alligator River, anchoring out for a fantastic evening in a calm bay.
Next, traveling up the Pamlico River, we visited with new friends Beth and Rip who let us stay at their dock on Campbell Creek and invited us into their beautiful home for an evening of boat talk, snacks and a cold beer. The next morning, we’re off again.
The weather, being Springtime, was as expected – changing every day. Our trip across our old friend Albemarle Sound was in 30 degree sleet with a driving wind. For only the third time aboard Shangri-La we chose to move inside and enjoy the warmth of our cabin while the sleet pummeled the bridge above us. The first time we did this was bringing the boat down from Chesapeake, VA when the winds were head on and the seas were breaking over the windscreen. Albemarle – gotta love it!
Coinjock is our next stop. Back at the dock where we spent that first night on the water what seems like so very long ago. Next stop is Atlantic Yacht Basin where we took possession of Shangri-La back in May of 2016. Good friends Chuck and Kelsey Grice greeted us along with dock hands that remembered our first days there getting our home ready and moving in. They put us in a covered shed which gave us some breathing room to do some outdoor maintenance. Good thing too, on day 3 when we woke to 3″ of snow on the outer docks. Did we leave too early?? We’d learn we had as we traveled north.
Since we’d now been two years since buying Shangri-La, she was due for a bottom job. Power wash and paint with new bottom paint. While we had her out we had the trim tabs removed and the stern patched and sealed where they had been bolted on. They didn’t work and we really don’t need them. The folks at Atlantic Yacht Basin are wonderful tradesmen and did a great job getting our home ready for another season.Continue reading “The Loop II”
It’s not whether you are going to get wet, it’s when. Living aboard and moving about means getting across the water. We make every effort to plan our trips during good weather. Rain isn’t a factor as we can stay dry inside or under the bimini up on the bridge, if the wind is playing nice. But sometimes the best laid plans . . .they just don’t work out. Our luck has held out on the open ocean. And frankly, being the ocean, it takes a good while for it to build into anything ugly if we start out in good weather. Not so for sounds, and bays.
Waves over the Bow
Our best plans have on occasion found us on our way and conditions going utt buggly on us with nowhere to duck in. In the many sounds and bays along the coast there is typically a deeper area or channel one must adhere to based on the vessel draft. We like to stay in at least 10-12 feet of water whenever we can. This means ducking into what looks like a comfy oxbow or bay isn’t always an option. With nearly 5 feet of draft, hopping up and down on four foot waves in a six foot deep bay brings us a bit too close to the bottom for our comfort. So we stay out and plug along in seas that break over the bow. Continue reading “Rinse and Repeat”
Back to the start. In the beginning. . .it all began at Atlantic Yacht Basin. I remember asking my boss to see if she’d run by and give a boat the sniff test. One we’d found on-line that met our list of must haves. She lives nearby. That started it all. Today we’ve been back here in Chesapeake, VA at that same marina for two weeks now. Greeted at the dock by our brokers, Chuck and his wife Kelsey, along with some of the familiar faces we came to know when we were getting ready to begin this journey. Hugs and hello’s. Great to see you!! And it is.
I’ve written already about the many wonderful people we’ve met in our 22 months on-board Shangri-La. But to think we’ve stayed in touch with so many right from those first moments. It is an amazing circle. Text messages while we’re crossing Lake Okeechobee from a thousand miles away. “How you doing? How’s the crossing going?” Phone calls, text messages and emails on a nearly daily basis from a dozen people scattered across the western hemisphere. It’s crazy. We meet a couple in Southport who are now in Belize and we’re staying in touch. Never knew them before The Boat.
A couple who joined us tagging along from Fernandina Beach, FL to North Carolina. They’ve since moved back home to the west coast and yet we see their faces on line and stay in touch. It’s such a diverse group. Always interesting conversations catching up. Our little spell of Deja Vu here in Chesapeake was confirmation, we love this life.
The three day trip up here was varied in so many ways. We are now veterans on our new home. The day was beautiful as we motored up Adams Creek from our slip in Beaufort. The adrenaline pumping as it always does when we start another journey. There’s nothing quite like turning into the open water trusting our boat, our planning and our evolving skills to complete the day.
Jan had connected with a couple on Facebook who are Harbor Hosts for the American Great Loop Cruisers Association in Oriental, NC . They graciously offered their personal dock for our first night. A smooth crossing on the Neuse River took us up to Pamlico River. Just off the river is Campbell Creek. As we pulled into the creek on dead calm water we realized we were being knit into this boating community in ways we could never have imagined. Slowly, we idled up to the dock in front of their home and were met by Beth and Rip.
For the next several hours we were guests in their beautiful home where we shared our adventures and misadventures. Always with the water, the sea in common. We were one. As we walked back to Shangri-La we could not help but smile. Here we were, tied to a remote pier with some incredible people in a place so quiet – it was like time stood still. Day one is put to rest.
Day two began differently. We crossed Pamlico Sound to the Pungo River on our way to the Alligator River. Light winds and a bit of mist now and then made for a gloomy ride. Destination, Sandy Point just north of the Alligator River bridge. Here we spent the night anchored a quarter mile from shore, all alone. In this beautiful expanse of the river, nearly two miles wide, we felt the darkness wash over us as we sat outside enjoying the chilly evening. It had been a long day and yet we were invigorated by our travel. With our home gently rocking at anchor we called it an end to day two.
The Albemarle. On our way south, this was our first large body of water. It showed off with heavy winds in our faces and a good 2 foot chop. Today, she mixed it up a bit. No chop, but rather a quick rolling wave of around 2-3 feet. Every 4th or 5th one would wash over the deck depending on our angle of attack into the face of the wave. The temperature began to plummet. And then came the rain.
Throughout the day we really didn’t have much wind, but the conditions continually deteriorated to the point we both said, “Lets get downstairs.” Ironically – the last time we drove from the lower helm was crossing Albemarle Sound. Moving inside changed everything. We’d been running the generator since leaving the anchorage and our furnaces were keeping the cabin toasty warm. We both wondered why we hadn’t thought of leaving the bridge sooner. Of course back inside, Jan is distracted from her navigation duties by – THE STOVE. “Yeah, I could be baking something WHILE we’re moving if we’re both down here!” is written all over her face. She keeps glancing about. Cake? Brownies!! But alas, she returns to her First Mate role and begins checking maps and keeping us on course.
Finally we’re entering the North River. Where we will complete the circle. We eased up to the face dock in Coinjock, NC looking forward to a hot meal in the cozy restaurant at the docks. We’d gone a different route south in 2016. This time we came in from the west so this was now indeed ‘full circle’ when we tied in to spend the night. Eerie? You bet.
Day three we make the trip up the North River and the Virginia Cut over to AYB. And this is where I have to chuckle. There’s a few bridges that we need opened. On the way down in 2016 we were in freakout mode. “Do we call them now? Now? When? What if we miss the opening?!?” This time Jan has it down to the minute. At one point I said, “Not sure if we are going to make that 2:30 opening.” Boy, did I get the EYE. She cocked her head and said “When was the last time I got this wrong?” And she nailed it. As we made the last bend before the bridge and hailed them for the opening the bridge tender replied “I see you coming, just bring it on and I’ll have it open when you get here.” Which, in the world of waiting for draw bridges, is like winning the lotto. We have exactly 4 miles to the next bridge to catch the opening at 3:00PM. And again we nail it, just like Jan said we would. We may even get good at this some day.
Here at AYB we’re led to a covered slip where we can work on Shangri-La regardless of weather. We have a lot to do. We will practice lowering and raising the mast to be sure we can handle it. Jan is painting it and we’ll replace the navigation lights while it’s down. We’ll also install a new Davis weather station at the top of the mast to replace one ruined by hurricane Mathew. Jan said it today. “What ever did we do before we had so much to do?”
And it’s here, where it all began that Jan moved up to the next level. Sunday, we had decided to leave the slip and go around to the river. There, we would tie up to the fuel dock. We’d top off the diesel and fill the water tanks in preparation for the next leg of our trip. This time Jan would drive. I know she can do it. I also know how I felt leaving the slip from here that first day. Pretty much freaked out. Pins and needles is JV compared to what it’s like.
Our slip is deep. Inside this barn is a 50′ Trumpy in front of us, circa 1953. We have 60′ of dock behind us on both sides. She will need to keep Shangri-La in the middle as she backs out the lane. At low speeds, we can only maneuver with the transmissions. “Working the sticks” we call it. Jan backs out perfectly. She then performs the perfect pirouette and Shangri-La is now fully lined up in the back channel. Awaaaaay we go!
Docking seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world. It’s not. In this realm it’s all about momentum. And we have plenty to spare. Jan makes the turn across the river and working the sticks, idles us up to the dock like a true pro. Shangri-La barely kissed the pilings. Perfect. Her deck hand, not so much. I was so excited for Jan I failed to prep the deck lines. Doug the dock master is holding his hand out and me, I got nuthin. Scramble to secure the line, run it through the port and finally pass him the line. Epic fail. But I was so happy for Jan and her perfect docking, she forgave me.
What on earth is The Loop? Better if someone else describes that. You can learn about it here and more here. We’d not heard of it until we began talking with other boaters on the docks. It seemed interesting enough. After all, we really never envisioned ourselves in a dockominium – a boat that never leaves the marina. So we began digging. We learned all we could and made the decision last summer. We’re doin’ The Loop baby!! Our plans are set and now we’re even more convinced this will be an amazing journey. One we will likely only get one chance to complete. And now it’s getting close to lift off.
For six months now we’ve been tuning and tweaking Shangri-La. Lot’s of little things including, fridge repair, varnishing the bridge, varnishing steps to the bridge, new sink fixtures, new huge round bright red fenders (for locking and rafting) newContinue reading “The Loop”
Yeah. Who’da guessed it. We’ll sit here in Beaufort NC and prep for our adventure this summer – The Loop. Love the town. Love the people in the marina. Love the weather – wait. Avg winter temperature in coastal NC is 50 degrees.
We’re both from the north, Minnesota and Michigan. 50 degree winter days – we’re good. However, this winter has been beyond brutal. Our dock masters Jerry and Bobby have lived here all their long lives. This winter is one for the record books.
So, how do we handle -ugly wind chill and 10 days of 20-30 mph winds? What do we do when the pipes feeding the dock spigots freeze up tighter than Hudson Bay? We deal with it. Shangri-La is blessed with heat pumps that cool in summer and heat in winter. I still work every day here aboard our home via the internet so there’s no leaving the boat. We usually only run one of the heat pumps during the day. If it gets ugly we run two of them. Our cabin is a comfy 68 degrees. Outside the wind literally howls. Not like the winter breezes I’m used to back up in Michigan. It howls down the Newport River straight into our marina with the force of a runaway freight train. It will knock you overboard if we’re not careful outside on the icy deck.
The wind is racing through the sailboat rigging nearby. You’d think this was a Steven King movie we’re living in. Day after day. And yet we are warm and snug as a bug. And how does our home handle it? Well it depends. The heat pumps use sea water for their heat transfer. This means whether on A/C or heating there is a pump in the man cave that runs – pumping sea water throughout the system. The water temp outside is 36 degrees. Each heat pump (there are three) has sea water flowing constantly when any one of them is calling for heat. Late last week we were starboard to a ferocious wind of 30+ mph. Outside temp was in the 20’s. The discharge where the water returns to the sea, just above the water line was freezing. The wind chill was so intense the water couldn’t get outside the fittings without freezing. It started to freeze back inside the engine room.
We needed heat in the engine room to get things moving. I fire up the generator and pull all the sound insulation covers off to let the heat from the diesel generator radiate throughout the engine room. The lines thaw and the heat pumps continue their work, keeping us toasty. Meanwhile out on the dock. . .
All of the slips are provided with fresh city water via a PVC piping that runs just under the deck of the floating dock. The pipes burst. Actually they explode. The main line down the docks looks like someone took a sledge-hammer to the PVC piping. Now what? We have heat but no water? Not quite. We carry between 200 and 300 gallons of fresh water on board. One of Jan’s jobs it to be sure we ALWAYS have water. She’s already topped off the tanks before the BIG FREEZE and we have fresh water on board. For many other boaters it’s a struggle. Many smaller boats carry very little water. We have 4 other boats with folks living on board. Carry water, whatever you need to do to replenish the tanks. We’re fine with plenty on board.
Then it got really cold. The harbor began to freeze over. No one could remember ever seeing ice in this area. At one point the entire bay was frozen. So surreal. Sailboats are anchored out nearby, stationary in the ice. Shangri-La just sat there. Unable to move left or right, forward or back. It seemed so odd. We’re so used to the gentle rocking, drifting on the lines in the slip. And now we’re iced in. How weird. And still the wind howls.
All along, everyone is doing the same stuff day after day. Heading up with laundry, visiting with the dock masters in the lounge and the biggest treat – dinner. Probably 3-4 times a week either the dock masters or one of the resident boaters will supply dinner, the noon meal. From fried chicken to fresh shrimp – the hits just keep coming. It’s a community event every week. Day after day. With home made deserts and fine southern cooking that rivals the best restaurants. And, we still go up to the bridge every day when I get off work for a cocktail.
I realized whom I had married one evening when we were up on the bridge, surrounded by isinglass that was hammering in the wind, the Bimini top bucking like a chained dog at a food truck cook-off. Jan was chomping on a piece of ice. I couldn’t believe it. Negative whatever wind chill and she’s calmly chomping on ice in her drink. “I’m a Viking, what did you expect?” she says. I’m chilled to the bone just watching this.
Finally, we got a thaw. The harbor ice cleared out and the contractors have replace the water mains. We connect Shangri-La back to the dock water and life goes on. Sort of. While I’m inside prepping pork chops for the grill, we realize we have no water. What? I go out to check and find the water was shut off at the dock. So, I turn it on to watch a geyser erupt from the transom where the water line connects to the boat. Seems the brass fitting had frozen during the deep freeze. Cracked and spewing water all over. Some friendly boater had seen the leak and shut the water off. Jan will fill the tanks back up with the fresh water hose. Me? I’ll run to Ace Hardware this weekend and get parts to replace the spigot.
We’re in a winter for the record books and loving it. Will we do it again? No way. We’re done with cold, but nature has dealt us a surprise and we have no choice – but to Eat Life.