Ok, yes we love to travel. And we have moved around – a lot. But where do we stay? What’s it like parking in a marina? Is it like a floating RV park? Are there clean bathrooms, a lounge, sushi bar? What else is involved? For folks who have camped in nicer campgrounds such as state parks or privately owned parks you have a hint of what goes on. You live in your camper or tent and spend most of the time outside if you can. When nature calls you go to up to the log cabin bathhouse. Here you can enjoy a hot shower with your camping friends. Then there’s bonfires at the campsite and hopefully a beach nearby. Our family did it for many years and we loved camping.
Being in a marina has many similarities. With some twists. First we have hot water, 2 heads and showers on the boat with fresh city water from the dock. Our power comes from a pedestal supplying 50 amps to run A/C, washer/dryer, TV, computers and ice maker as well as keeping the house batteries charged. Most of the boat such as head pumps and lighting, is on a 12v system. So, not unlike a camper, once we are plugged in we’re good to go.
During hurricane Mathew when we were at Hilton Head we had no power for weeks. We ran the generator to keep the batteries up and provide AC power for the air conditioners and outlets. I still work 9-5 from the boat so I need to be able to get computers up and running and connect to the internet. The generator takes care of all of that when we’re away from the dock.
When we are on the dock if we feel like getting out we typically will walk up to the facilities, but we can also use the heads on Shangri-La as we have 60 gallons of holding tank. Twice a month we pump the tank out, much like you do an RV. We can go much longer, but prefer to always keep a reserve in case we get a wild hair and decide to take off for a weekend or company drops by and we need the tank space.
So far, not much different than that KOA or the state park. Now the fun stuff. We never leave the water. Boat wakes, storm surges, river currents, wind and tides mean we move nearly all the time. Mostly ever so subtle but sometimes, like last week with 50 mph winds, we move a bit more. Just a rock and a roll during those events. Puts us to sleep like a 2×4 up side the head. We love the constant motion. In fact, when we’re off the boat for a while we both feel a bit weird that the ground isn’t moving. Every 12 hours each day we ride up and down with the tides. In places like South Carolina that can be eight feet in each direction. Here in Beaufort, NC it’s closer to 3-4 feet each cycle.
So the scenery changes with each rise and fall. It also means we have to pay attention to the lines attaching us to piling and docks. We usually need one tide cycle to get the lines right. The goal is keep the boat off the dock floating between the dock and the pilings. At the same time trying to not get so loose that a tidal current, winds or boat wakes would push us into the docks. Especially the stern. Our swim platform is teak strips that would snap like toothpicks if we hit with any force going backwards. Jan has become a linemaster. She’s great at calculating the needed slack so we don’t wake up with the bow hanging in the air, the lines groaning against the cleats as the tide falls.
And then there’s the culture. Marina culture is where the difference is profound. Take a hard right turn into the land of gracious folks all looking out for one another. All the time. We’ve shared docks with people from Kentucky, Ohio, Delaware, Ontario, Washington – and every state on the coast including Texas. People with kids on board being home schooled, retirees in their 70’s and everything in between. All focused on one thing – enjoying the journey.
Docking, discussed in an earlier blog, is usually a community event. Whenever a new boat arrives at the marina, like magic they emerge. Fellow boaters and dock hands show up to help out. Grabbing the lines and tying us off as Jan instructs which cleats to tie onto. It’s a blend of science and art. Depending on the currents, wind (that dang wind) and tides we are often trying to dock in moving water or blustery conditions. The key is to get the boat secured enough to shut it down and then adjust everything once we’re able to get off and dial it in. Interesting point, rarely will the helpers on the dock give advice. They all know it’s up to the crew to get the boat safely to the dock. They help as they can, but unlike that 18′ runabout, no one is going to pull 20 tons to the dock so all of that must happen from the helm. Yet once the lines are tossed and cleats are snugged the ‘review’ begins in earnest. Some soft ribbing when deserved and an atta boy when we nail it. Teamwork. On and off the boat.
“Something on your boat is broken, you just don’t know it yet.” It’s a signature line for one of the forum contributors we follow. And he’s right. Things wear out, varnishing needs to be done and so much more. So it’s in the marinas where we do maintenance. Think of it as a pit stop for your house. The engines need oil changes, filters and fussing. Finishes outside are always looking for another coat of varnish. Appliances hiccup and need attention. Every couple of months we have a diver come and clean the hull, check the zincs and replace any that are worn down. Just like that home in the neighborhood we need to take the time and keep things in tip top shape. Two things are most important to making this possible.
First, we need to be in a marina that allows us to do work on the boat, some don’t but most do. Second we need to provision the boat and that’s done while in marinas. A marina with a street address for shipping is a big deal. Parts and supplies we order on-line need a real street address. And no, they don’t all have one. Often times on the weekends one might catch Jan sanding and varnishing teak outside while I’m in the engine room installing parts, filling batteries or doing preventative maintenance. These are things we typically do not attempt at anchor as we don’t want to compromise a perfectly running ship for one where I’ve dropped the new engine start/stop solenoid over the side while opening the box out on the bridge.
But how do we move all this stuff to the boat? Dock carts. Basically two wheeled wheel borrows for moving heavy things from the parking lot down the ramps to the docks and the boat. All day long there is a procession of dock carts. Groceries, laundry, trash – and parts all get moved back and forth to the marina office area in dock carts. The steady thrum of the cart along the dock boards always gets a quick glance. “New anchor, ‘eh?” “Yeah, seems we never had anything on the tag end to stop it from running all the line out. . .” Heavy emphasis on “we.” If you watch long enough you can learn a lot by spying what’s in the carts.
Socially, there is nothing quite like docktails. One night we may be having snacks aboard a sailboat from the northeast, the next day dinner with folks from Kentucky. Discussions seem to have a distinct set of rules. No politics, ever. In fact most conversations are usually about the places we’ve been, the places we want to go and the adventures along the way. Seasoned sailors have some amazing stories of events they’ve experienced along with a ton of great advice. And much like a bunch of guys regaling each other about that last fishing trip, as the night goes on the waves get higher, the sand bars more shallow and winds blow even more fierce.
But wait, there’s more. Today we had dinner up at the captains lounge (that area in the marina offices where boaters can hang out and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or a spot of wine.) The dock masters had rustled up some pork tenderloins, sweet potatoes and some stew cooked earlier in the week by a fellow boater to feed the resident sailors. At least twice a week they’ll come knocking on the boat as Bobby did today. “Dinner’s on us, cookin’ up some pork for y’all.” Me, “What time is dinner?” Bobby tilting his head, “Noon.” Me, “What time is supper?” Bobby, “Supper is when y’all git home after work.” Me, “What time is lunch?” Bobby, “Ain’t no lunch.” And so we continue to learn the rules of the south among folks that cannot do enough to make us feel welcome.
During the big blow the other night, myself and other boaters were up a couple of times checking our lines to be sure we’re tied in good. Rain will cause the lines to stretch. We’re also checking nearby unoccupied boats to ensure they too will survive the wind and waves unharmed. That’s what we do. That’s what they do for us. We all wake every day loving what we’re doing. We Eat Life.