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.
In Hilton Head. Jason the dock master coming to us on the eve of hurricane Mathew and telling us he had to go, he had a family to take care of and he lived on the island. We were left alone having done all we could to secure our home against the coming storm. A man came down as we were leaving the boat, gave me his card and said, “I’ll keep an eye on her.” And he did. Texting us with updates and letting us know she’d come through the storm in fine shape, days before we could get back on the island.
On our way back north in May we stopped again at Shelter Cove. Jason was there. We’d stayed for the month of October with no power or water. He remembered us. And greeted us like family when we pulled in. It was emotional beyond description. We made it. Together. He is one fine dock master and we will always stop there on the way through.
Nick at Barefoot Landing. We stopped for a weekend and he cajoled us into staying for the month of August last year. We had a grand time. A few weeks ago, we were meeting up with boating friends in Brunswick, GA. Leaving the parking lot riding in their car, we see a man trying to flag down a delivery truck. Upon approaching him, I recognize Nick, now the captain of a vessel docked there, waiting for parts. It was like a prodigal son coming home. We laughed and cried with joy to see him once again. Over the last year we’ve stayed in touch, ‘where are you?, how are you?’ via text and emails. Here he was, in another state – at the docks of course.
On our way north from Georgia to Hilton Head we learned that Dustin our dear friend who not only trained me on handling Shangri-La but also married Jan and I was nearby. He was moving a boat north in the ICW. Throughout the day he kept in touch while we traveled offshore towards the same destination. Our guardian angel watched over us and made sure we got into the inlet safe and sound. Who does that??
In Beaufort, SC we grabbed a ball for a few nights. Upon checking in, two charming ladies greeted us and immediately offered information about where to go, where to eat what to do. They acted like we’d been there ten times already. We hated leaving.
Back at our home port in Southport, NC we spent a few weeks catching up with friends from last year. It was like a class reunion. Doug and his team at the marina treated us like royalty. And the good friends we’d met last year were right there, anxious to get caught up on news and family updates. It was like we never left.
So many grand folks at all the wonderful places we’ve been so far. Nearly all of them so anxious to help and encourage us in our first year aboard. But that’s only half the story. Along the way fellow boaters have blessed our home with impromptu visits, “hi how you doin’?” greetings and unheard of gracious friendship. For boaters it’s apparently an unwritten rule that no one goes forth alone.
Take docking. It seems like every time we come to dock there is someone from another boat standing by. When a new vessel comes into a marina, even if there are dock hands available, captains and mates pop out of their boats and meander toward the slip. Eager to grab lines and help in any way. Greetings follow and the process starts all over again. “Where you from? Where you going?”
Jan and I have become so accustom to this process the first thing we do when we see a boat coming in is scan the docks for help. If it looks like there is none, or the dock hand is hustling down from the office we head for the slip. I think we’ve tied off 50 boats. And 50 different people have grabbed our lines to do the same. It’s like a massive team of players connected by one goal, a safe landing. And there is only one team. Not two. We’re all on it. And we didn’t even know it.
On the way up towards Beaufort this summer we stopped in Swansboro, NC. Nothing special. Just a face dock in front of some restaurants downtown. Around sunset some folks came to the dock in two fishing boats for dinner in town. We got to talking on the dock. By 8PM we were all in the salon regaling each other with stories of how we met, where we’re from and on and on. It was after midnight before they made their way back to their boats. Eight people we’d never met turned a quiet evening into an absolutely joyful event.
People. Bound by one thing. Love of the water. Not just a visit for a week, but loving every minute of being on the water. Appreciating the unique pleasure of moving about without traffic (ok weekends can get sporty in some places) just enjoying the freedom. But it’s more than that. Anyone reading this who is considering a life aboard, or even a few months a year should know that it’s not the journey. It’s the people.
I’ve said it before about the couples. And they come in all configurations. But they are a couple. A team. Jan says it this way. “When we’re under way, Lee is Captain. What he says goes. When we’re docking or dedocking, I’m the boss” And it’s so true. We have to trust one another 100%. No arguing, no negotiating. We don’t have that kind of time. Especially in the close quarters docking Shangri-La. What Jan says goes. Always. I have to trust her unconditionally because I cannot see the stern of the boat. At all. She relays commands, “come port, straight – slow her down. . .” and I do exactly what I’m told. Because that’s the only way it can work.
Watching other teams come in, it is a joy to see them working together to get to the finish line safe and sound. The bond necessary to make this work is so far out of what I ever expected. Teamwork. Locking through with the boat tugging lunging here and there. Neither one of us able to leave our station and go help the other. Depending entirely on each other to do their job and keep us safe. It’s euphoric.
Each day we are traveling, after getting the boat secured we do a review. Tied in or anchored out we go over everything that happened. Celebrate the really good moves and deconstruct the bad ones. It’s cathartic. No arguing, no blame no fault-finding. What could I/you have done different to make this go better? Could we have made it better or did we truly nail it this time? Either way we make sure we go through all the steps to make sure the next time is even smoother. Did we make this process up? No.
Visiting with other boaters we learned this valuable lesson from them. We watch these teams get ‘er done with grace and respect. Knowing full well the wind, or current or tides were fighting their every move. They say hanging wall paper together is the fastest road to divorce. Try handling your home in a 30 knot wind where we can hardly hear each other. Backing into a slip with 4 inches of clearance on either side. While 3 fellow boaters and the dock master wait patiently for us to get it right.
But when we’re in, safe and sound those fellow boaters will without hesitation tell us “Great job! Smooth as silk!” All the while I’m wondering if I have enough Acetone to take that piling stain off the stern. Great people urging us on. Encouraging us. Helping us every single (there is no exception) day we’ve been out here. Yes, it’s the people, not the journey.
God bless all of those who’ve been so very kind to Jan and I along the way in our first year. Eat Life.