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. 

Marina Life

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.

Marina View
Ft. Pierce Marina

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.   Continue reading “Marina 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”


It’s all about the weather.  We love it inside, traveling the twisting turning ICW that occasionally blows out into huge bays and sounds.  The traffic – every conceivable kind of boat, coming and going.  Being close to the scenery and smelling the marsh, the riverside cedars.  A friendly wave hello from front yards and docks along the way.  It’s quaint and we never feel hurried.  We don’t worry about the weather.  Strong gales can whip the bimini and rattle the eisenglass, but the water never gets rough.  2 – 3 foot seas in the sounds.  It’s easy sailing.

Southeast US Coast
Atlantic Ocean


Outside it’s different.  At the dock when we’re near an inlet the discussion sooner or later comes around to “going outside?”  “What kind of seas are expected?”  We listen intently to the stories, and there are many, where the forecast was for calm seas and it didn’t quite work out that way.  At best the predictions we’ve followed rarely get much above 30-40% accuracy for more than 24 hours out.  “Which App do you use?” is a common thread over docktails.  And there are many to choose from.  We’ve become weather watchers unlike any other time in our lives.  And it’s always, always about the wind. Continue reading “Outside”

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!!”

The Sounds – Noises


Living in the ‘dirt house’ as long-term boaters refer to conventional homes, we get used to the noises.  That creak in the hallway floor.  The whine of the air conditioner.  That vinyl siding creeping on nail heads as it warms in the spring sun after a cold night.  Dozens of sounds.  The way the wind rattles the porch light and makes the cover on the grill flap against the metal lid.  We get used to them.  We know them by heart.

And now – new noises.  I’ve slept in my runabout before.  Heard the creaking of the dock lines.  Barely, but it sounded ‘shippy’ to me so it was pretty cool.  Our first night in Coinjock I heard a different sound coming from the dock lines.  That noise they use in movies featuring old wooden ships.  A base level creaking, not some wimpy screech but rather a creak with smoker’s cough.  Low, slow, more like a growl.  The movies do a good job on it – or else they recorded real ships pulling against the dock piling and cleats.   Continue reading “The Sounds – Noises”


Be not afraid.  Easier said than done. After a lifetime of being on the water in small boats things were about to change – big time.  My runabouts, 14 and 18 footers got me through a lot of tough spots.  Spots I probably should never have gotten myself into.  Storms I could not even believe, including one wicked thunderstorm coming back from Charity Islands with my young son in the middle of the night. “9 foot seas” the Coast Guard told me when I called them at midnight to report we’d made it back to the dock. Wicked.  I thought I knew fear.

Now here we were, taking possession of a 34 thousand pound twin-engine 42′ long boat.  Home.  It was now our home.  Having sold everything we’re moving aboard and this is it.  All we have.  I pull up the hatch to the engine room and crawl down to survey the space.  It’s a factory down here.   Continue reading “Fear”

On The Hook

On the what?  First time we heard this term we were indeed confused.  After all, if something is ‘off the hook’ it’s a good thing, right?  So what on earth is ‘on the hook?’  Duh.  That means your swingin on your anchor rode (it’s not a rope if there’s a hook on the other end.)  And swinging it is.  Riding the hook is simply ‘at anchor.’  Well heck, I’ve been hookin it for 50 years on lakes all over Michigan. Been hookin in Higgins Lake, Burt Lake, a hundred other smaller lakes and rivers as well as Lake Huron.

No big deal.  Drop the hook and sit back and relax.  On a lake.  With no current. Without a fetch of 8 miles across the sound.  With no tide.  It is indeed a piece of cake.  I could anchor the Nightcrawler, our 18′ open bow runabout directly over the fish.  Every time.  Read the breeze, let out some rode.  Good to go.  A couple of things make it much more exciting now.  First, we’re 17′ out of the water to the bimini top.  With the eisenglass zipped in, we make a dandy sail.  Then there’s the bow.  On this particular vessel, our bow is an old school, a nearly vertical knife falling 4 and a half feet below the surface.  Like a giant rudder, only on the front. Continue reading “On The Hook”