Earl Punctuated our long stretch of travel on the ICW from Charleston to Elizabeth City like a bloated double-spiked comma rolling along the South East US. Fortunately, it was just a comma, not a period, nor exclamation mark.
We pulled down all of our canvas and stuffed it below decks as we motored up past the Elizabeth City bridge in search of shelter on the river. We encountered some folks with a deep canal from the river in front of their houses, tying up their boats.
"Would you all be willing to rent us a spot for the night?" I asked as we approached.
"I won't rent you a spot, but you're welcome to stay," the owner replied. Thanks to their kindness, we tied up to the safest spot south of Dismal Swamp.
Stripped down and tied up:
And that is where we had our hurricane party. Earl was a swing and a miss - the winds hardly peaked above 40 knots where we tied up. They did blow off the odd bugs which swamped us in their tens of thousands along the Alligator River, making the task of stowing our canvas a little more miserable than should be expected.
The generosity and kindness we experience here in the coastal South is amazing - sometimes even surprising. Everyone we meet along the river greets us and is happy to talk. There seems to be more time here for long conversation under shady trees and the ubiquitous benches that line the waterways of the towns along the river on this stretch of North Carolina coast. We are enchanted and delighted daily, and the local folk are genuinely happy to share in our enjoyment.
Dragon Eggs are scattered around Oriental:
The nights are cool, even chilly now. The days are still hot, but with a pleasant breeze. It is easy to forget the swirling hurricanes offshore which seem to pressure us north. They cut short our time with friends we made in Oriental. If you find yourself in Oriental, be sure to go by the M&M restaurant on Sunday for breakfast. Afterward, head over up the street and check out the Hawaiian print shirts Douglass and Matt sell on the corner. Oriental is a gem for sailors - if you're afloat you owe it to yourself to put your hook down there for a time.
It seems less and less likely that we are going to go much further north this season. We're on the edge of the NC/Virginia border, and starting to look for places to put down for the winter.
I didn't want us to leave Abacos, where we spent languid days rafted up to our friends aboard schooner Keewaitin. I'm not a buddy boater, but that isn't what we were doing anyway. The endless days, cool breezes and long nights with our favorite beverage - lemoncoconade, talking and enjoying the starry nights until well into the mornings, washed off much of the indignities we suffered ashore in Lauderdale this last time. I managed to forget being boarded and harassed by US Customs on the way out of the States. The forty hour trip out seemed a mere trifle. The flickering illusiveness of living for and within the moment was within grasp.
Then it was over. We untied from Keewaitin and set out north, set for a four day trip to round Hatteras. The wind died after the second day and we drifted for nearly a week, before we adjusted our destination to Charleston.
Now Charleston isn't what I'd been told the South was like. It kicks ass on a variety of levels - but you must study it before understanding how to hit all the happy hour specials. You can get a few quarts of fine ale in you for under $10 before 8 pm, if you are careful with your route. I recommend investigating Brew Works on King St.
We hardly spent time on the boat for the week we were there: successful city cruising!
Oh yeah, there's a lot of history and stuff there. And parks, fountains, benches, libraries - learn all about it on the Wiki. We saw the aquarium, slave museum, gunpowder magazine, the USS Yorktown and a submarine; you have to just look at the photo blog to get an idea of the place. We even caught a Harry Potter -themed filk performance at the library.
The food is epic, and not too overpriced. Watch your weight. It helps to sit through a vacation rental presentation or two, in order to get the swag and free tickets to the local attractions.
Now we are heading North through swamp and marsh on the ICW.
A Fountain in Charleston:
We are eager to go out and meet up with our friends on Keewaitin again in Abacos. It's getting hot, humid and uncomfortably wedged in hurricane season here. After hanging with them, we're off to New England.
This last month was overburdened with physical and mental activity and events. Sadly, we lost our rat Tika to a tumor. She survived surgery but died in recovery. I built new sail covers for the boat with the help of my friend Carlos, before he and his husband moved off to Canada, where we hope we will see them later in the year. Later I had a crushing headache for days after a dock we were staying at did some damage to our paint after the landlubber owner of the dock moved our boat in such a way that it rubbed up against a poorly installed swim ladder. Oh the times. We also stayed with our friend Brandi and her kids up in Lighthouse Point while taking on supplies.
We've tried to leave for Bahamas two times, being turned back by weather. This is not unusual for us, as the forecasting this year has been less than accurate. We're going to try again today.
The tug of Stocking Island - Alec's Birthday Party:
We stuck ourselves velcro-like to the beaches around Elizabeth Harbor in George Town for the past month. Finally, finally we had sun and good weather. Our friends on Thursday's Child felt the inexorable pull to return to the States and departed between a couple cold fronts. On the last few days of our stay, the crew of Keewaitin, a beautiful schooner out of Nassau hung out with us. They also had a young Madison aboard, so it seemed reasonable to mix 'em all up.
The folks aboard Keewatin: Tina, Brock, Allen and (for one evening we visited) Paul gave us a deeper insight into cruising in Bahamas and - since the water was tolerably warm - actual, real life snorkeling. We all went out to the cut off Elizabeth Island along with our friend Terry from Lillie Mae and finally found some epic coral. Words can't describe it, but we don't have a decent underwater photography solution! If you are reading this, own a waterproof camera business and want to sponsor us, we'll dedicate every underwater photo post we make to you in exchange for a decent underwater shooting solution!
Our favorite parts of George Town and Elizabeth Harbor:
Exuma Markets: fine variety of food including fresh veggies at prices that weren't much higher the Ft. Lauderdale
The Swing on Volleyball Beach.
Coral at Fowl Cay Cut.
Jumping off the dock at Hamburger Beach.
The bubble bath waterfall on the Sound side of Stocking Island
The density of cruising boats making it much easier to find and make new friends.
The view from Monument and monument beach.
The underwater clay we found
Doing art projects on the beach
The audio-visual movie experience we had on our friends' boat one night.
Cheap Rum - especially the Mango flavored stuff that smells like a French bordello
The little cave on the point of Elizabeth Island
If we come this way again next year, we need to add to our gear:
swimwear without sunblock damage
masks that don't leak and snorkels that actually reach the kids' mouths
an outboard that actually works
way more sunblock - this is odd, since we so rarely even got to see the sun the past few months
I'm seriously considering an engine-driven reverse osmosis water maker, but they are more than a little expensive. Also, I have to admit that I am feeling the strong attraction to roller-furling jib equipment, in spite of my innate distrust for that kind of machinery. In any event we'll need a new jib and new sail covers, as ours are in tatters and patches.
Even now, after weathering countless cold fronts that we were consistently assured from expert meteorological testimony were aberrant and soon to be finished, we are still hiding out for a nasty double front coming through this week up at Lee Stocking Island around the Marine Research Center. It's almost May and the trades aren't steady enough to plan longer trips, with cold fronts coming through once or twice every week. Enough already!
Hanging out with Eric and Jen and the visiting dive instructors at the Marine Research Center was like reuniting with long lost friends. Had we only been here just a month before?
Ahead is the sail to Nassau, where we hope to meet up with the folks from Keewaitin agin.