Big Water

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.

The Loop II

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.

Campbell Creek
Campbell Creek Friends

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.



Campbell Creek NC
Campbell Creek II

 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!

Alligator River Bridge

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.

bottom paint
New Bottom Paint

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”

Rinse and Repeat

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”

The Circle of Life

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. 

Neuse River Crossing

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.

Campbell Creek ICW
Campbell Creek Hosts

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!

Mixing the Sticks

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. 

As always, today we Eat Life.


The Loop

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) new Continue reading “The Loop”

Winter on Shangri-La

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.

Winter in Beaufort NC
Ice on Shangri-La

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.

Bridge Windows Frozen
Frozen Isinglass

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.

Beaufort Shrimpers
Beaufort Shrimpers Iced in

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. 

Docking –

Next time you walk down the dock or stare over the rail at the pretty boats nestled

Grand Banks at rest
Shangri-La safely at the dock

snugly in their their berths, consider how it all came about.  In the past that 18′ open bow was a snap to bring in.  She’d slide right up to the dock and hug the rub rail.  Toss a few lines to the cleats and day is done.  Go get the truck and trailer and get on down the road.  In bigger marinas where we launched I always had to linger and look at the ‘big boats.’  Those 30 footers with fly bridges and big wide sterns.  Not once did I ever give any thought to how they got there.

Docking is one of the top 3 topics around docktails at the end of the day.  Maybe #1 unless someone brings up what kind of anchor to use.  We talk about marinas we like, tides and currents.  Dock hands that help, and places you are all alone.  We talk about slip widths and water depth.  We discuss approaches in detail and how the wind will “walk yer boat back out into the channel before you can say “ahh crap.”  We trade stories about this nick and that gouge, those props with the polished edges and that stain on the stern. . . Continue reading “Docking –”

It’s the People II

Been a while.  We’ve been here and there making waves and making friends.  For the second time I am driven to note what an amazing journey this has been.  Over 1,800 nautical miles, more than 30 marinas and the love just keeps coming.  We thought this adventure would be about destinations.  Awesome pictures of quaint towns and sunsets.  It’s not.

The small towns and cities along the waterways are indeed a treat.  Eye candy mixed with Southern charm that surrounds us as we walk the streets, duck into mom and pop restaurants and visit with folks along the way.  But it’s not just the scenery.  In fact, the scenery is only a backdrop for a personal drama so full of gracious welcome it sometimes actually hurts to leave.

In Captiva, when Jan got hurt.  We were surrounded, not in the novel way surrounded is used.  But literally surrounded physically by men and women who focused on us and our challenge to make things happen.  When we needed a dock RIGHT NOW and they were there.  The names I wish I remembered. Those five men who met us at the dock and insisted “Go, be with your wife, we got this.” It gave me chills to think about leaving Shangri-La with perfect strangers.  Barely nudged against the dock in raging winds and heavy seas.  But we did.  We left.  And when we returned our home was safe and secure.  Tied in by professionals who knew what they were doing.  Many of whom we never saw again. Continue reading “It’s the People II”

Okeechobee Gone

Destination, Clearwater Florida.  Our goal is to make it up the west coast of Florida and visit friends in the Tampa area.  There are three routes.  Down through Key West and up across the Gulf of Mexico, coming in near Naples. Or, with a bit of luck, one can sneak through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and hug the Everglades around the bottom of the mainland.  The third option is the Okeechobee Waterway.

Okeechobee map
Okeechobee Waterway Map, click to enlarge

At over 150 miles long, with 5 locks and a massive lake in the middle, it’s unlike anywhere we’ve been so far.  We’ve driven down by car to the St. Lucie Lock to see how it works and talk about how we would enter, maintain control and exit the lock.  We got to see a few boats go through and this helped alleviate some of the mystery.  With this excursion under our belt we begin the trip.  South from Vero Beach to Stuart FL, where we take a hard right off the ICW and head up the St. Lucie River.  Away from the ‘big water’ boats on the ICW.  We’re feeling rather out-of-place at first.  Lots of runabouts, water skiers and small fishing boats zipping about in all directions.

The channel through this area isn’t all that wide and we have to concentrate a bit harder to be sure we don’t get distracted.  After several hours, the river narrows and we begin the actual trip across.  Our goal is to make it to that first lock before they close at 4:30 PM.  If we don’t, we’ll spend the night anchored out below the lock and dam.  Jan nails the schedule and before 4 PM we are nudging our way into a cavernous box.  It is a bit intimidating.  Shangri-La has a lot of momentum and my worry is keeping her ‘quiet’ while getting close enough to the lock wall where we will grab the lines hanging down over the side.  I leave the girls (Pam and Sarah, our pet names for the Port and Starboard engines) idling, in case we lose control. Continue reading “Okeechobee Gone”

Uh Oh!!

In the course of human events. . . 

The Windlass. Rope pulley on the left, chain gypsy on the right

When we started this adventure, the biggest argument against it from our families was – what if you get hurt??  How will you get help? Legit points for sure. Lots of things can happen.  A slip, a fall, machinery, ropes, motors and more.  But we are careful. We think things through and we stay safe. . .

Until now.  Anchored out for a few days in Roosevelt Channel alongside Captiva Island we’d been buffeted the entire time by high winds.  One day we decide we will move to the coast, up near Venice, FL, and continue on our way to Clearwater.  We’ve already made the 3 day trip across the state, through the 5 locks of the Okeechobee Waterway to Captiva. We’re pros.  We got this.

Early on the morning of Sunday, February 26 we were going to make our way out of the channel and head north.  The wind is over 30 knots and the water in the channel has blown out, leaving a lower than low tide.  We call a tow service to confirm we can safely exit the channel and head out into the waterway separating Captiva from the mainland.  “No problem, they keep that channel dredged.”  30 minutes later we are at the final marker indicating the entrance / exit of the channel.  And we’re stuck.  Back away, try another path.  Nothing.  We keep stubbing our toe trying to get over the sand bar.  We have no choice.  We fall back into the bay alongside another trawler, also waiting to get out. Continue reading “Uh Oh!!”