In 2015, we completed the Great American Loop on the Estrellita, a 6,000 mile, 364-day cruise around the eastern half of the U.S. Our blog is the story of this wonderful adventure. By reading and looking at the photos, we hope you are inspired to spend more time on the beautiful waterways of our country.
We actually met our schedule of casting off on April 5th!! The weeks leading up to our departure were extremely busy with boat refurbishment work on engine room, electronics, plumbing systems, furnishings and finishes. One of our biggest challenges was rebuilding our windlass with parts that were being shipped in from New Zealand during the last week. We held our breath after reinstallation, but it operated smoothly when winching up the anchor for the first time after completing the work. Whew! On top of all the boat work (which was quite enjoyable), we spent a good bit of time getting ready for our nephew and wife to move into our house for the time that we will be gone. Thank you Gene and Kristen for taking care of our house and allowing us to leave with no worries. Deciding what to pack onto the boat for all seasons was interesting, but we were extremely pleased with the storage room. We have included a few pictures of preparations for departure on our home page.
As you can imagine, the toughest part of departure was saying goodbye to family and friends. Everyone was very excited for us and expressed their loyal friendship with words of affirmation and prayers. We had family see us off of our home dock on the morning of the 5th and then made our way to Toler’s Cove Marina, where we spent the night and had the opportunity to say goodbye to some friends in Mt. Pleasant. We were overwhelmed by their excitement for us and we count ourselves blessed to have such wonderful friends. Thank you Pastor Buster Brown for blessing us and our trip with a special prayer. We will greatly miss all of our family and friends, but hope that this blog will help us keep in touch with all of our loved ones.
We are now 4 days into our trip and I am writing this entry anchored in beautiful Calabash Creek, just south of the North Carolina border. We have already met and spent time with some other cruisers who are heading north from their time in the islands, and as we had heard, meeting and spending time with fellow cruisers is a highlight indeed.
We will continue to keep our blog updated with some pictures here and there to allow you to see some things that may be of interest. Please respond to us. We look forward to hearing from all you and keeping up with events in your lives. God Bless, Burke and Stel
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” Proverbs 19:21
After a calm night of sleep anchored in beautiful Calabash Creek, we woke up on Thursday morning to a faint smell of diesel fuel. Uhm! Down into the engine room I go, even before my coffee, and put my body into places and positions that bodies are not meant to go. After an hour or so of trying to trace the source of these fumes with mirrors and flashlight, I find some fuel seeping from a few sections of the welds on my port fuel tank. This was discouraging to see, but over our time on boats, Stel and I have come to realize that the many components and systems packed into a very small area will fail occasionally, especially those continually exposed to a salt water environment. I was hoping, especially with all of the work we had recently done on the boat, that we would have a few trouble free weeks. But, it’s a boat, and we have learned to expect the unexpected, and then try and deal with it calmly and patiently.
But take heart, one of the greatest things about the cruising life is that you are typically traveling with other travelers who are extremely kind-hearted and willing to help out with any kind of problem or hardship. We were fortunate to be anchored along side Randy and Sue, a couple from Beaufort, NC (former nuclear engineer and wife) who came over to take a look and help develop a solution. They offered us a tube of “JB Weld”, a fast curing epoxy putty that works miracles on patching holes and cracks in fiberglass and steel. I spent about 4 hours bent over an engine applying this product to a few suspect areas of the fuel tank, hoping that it would resolve the problem until we took more permanent action. We will keep you updated on how it works out. I have the word “Cummins” permanently imprinted on my chest now from leaning across the engine for so long.
We woke up this morning to a fresher smelling cabin and a much better attitude as we waved goodbye to our helpful friends who were heading off-shore, had our morning coffee and toast, and then pulled our anchor for a relaxing cruise up to Southport, NC. If you have never visited Southport, it’s a beautiful little boating town on the Cape Fear River. It is definitely worth a visit, by boat or car. We are at the marina tonight and will get groceries and wash some diesel-soiled clothes in the morning. Hoping all is well at home.
“God is more anxious to bestow His blessings on us than we are to receive them” – St. Augustine
We had boat church yesterday morning with the reading of our daily devotion, discussion and prayer time, then left Carolina Beach State Park Marina at about 9 and cruised north up the ICW for about 6 hours to one of our favorite anchorages called Mile Hammock Bay within the Camp Lejeune Marine Base. It’s a large man-made reservoir just off of the water way that’s approximately 10′ deep and within a short dinghy ride to a beautiful sandy barrier beach between our anchorage and the Atlantic. The water here is an emerald green and much clearer than what we are used to in the Charleston area. At this time of year, there are usually 10-15 boats anchored in the reservoir, so it is usually a great time to meet other cruisers. The reservoir was built for the Marines to use as a training area, so you will often be entertained by maneuvers taking place in and around the reservoir. Tranquility is sometimes at risk if the Marines decide that they will practice night maneuvers with rubber attack boats, dive teams and helicopters. When we woke up at about 7 this morning, we looked around the basin and saw that ALL of the other boats had already pulled anchor and left. We wondered whether other boats had received an evacuation notice that we had not gotten, possibly due to a live fire exercise in the area. We saw Marines on edge of the water and decided that coffee and toast were not a priority. We pulled the anchor and headed out to avoid the risk of being a convenient artillery training target.
It was a beautiful 2 hour cruise to Swansboro, NC, known as “The Friendliest City by the Sea”. It is a beautiful little Colonial port built on fishing and boat building, and like so many other North Carolina coastal towns, it is experiencing a rebirth within its historic and waterfront areas. We will probably sit it our here until this cold front blows through. We look forward to digging out our rain gear tomorrow and riding our bikes to all of the waterfront shops and restaurants. That is a direct quote from my first mate.
Had a great time in Swansboro with some new friends from Kansas, John and Pat , who pulled up into the slip next to us in a 53′ Carver, Satisfaction. We immediately developed a friendship as we traded tours of our boats, had lunch and toured the town of Swansboro together. The weather got crazy during our first night there with very strong winds, strong enough to cause Satisfaction’s stern line to break way at about 2 in the morning. During the peak of the storm, Stel just happened to wake up, look out the window and see the stern of their boat drifting out into the river. I threw my pants on, grabbed a flashlight, jumped off our boat in a driving rain and started banging on the bow of their boat to wake them before the remaining lines popped. Fortunately everyone woke up enough to throw the necessary lines and regain control. Adrenaline was pumping for all of us, so getting back to sleep was a challenge. The friendship had deepened with the shared experience.
The next morning, the weather had calmed down enough that we said farewell to our new friends as they cast off from Casper’s Marina and headed for New Bern. The previous night we had gotten a great surprise call that our grandchildren would be brought by their other grandparents to our next destination, Morehead City! It was a short 2 hour slow cruise. We docked up at the Sanitary Fish Market Restaurant dock, which was only $25 per night if you ate a meal at the restaurant. No problem with that! We had lunch there, did some touring about town and visited one of the best marine hardware stores that we have ever been to. Our grandkids came later that afternoon and the reunion was sweet, as usual. They are now 3 and 5, so the boat is a big adventure to them. We had them spend the night, girls in the bow and the boys in the stern. We all could not have had any more fun! We woke up to a very chilly morning, but it makes snuggling with your grand-kids in boat bunks that much better. We went to the town’s best known breakfast joint, Pete’s Diner, and then came back to the boat for dinghy driving lessons and some tutoring on how to lower and raise the anchor with the windlass. We want to take every opportunity to teach them the love of boating, just as our parents did.
Surprise, surprise, another cold front is on the way, packing more wind and rain. We had somewhat of a weather window to leave Morehead City, so we hugged our grandchildren goodbye and cruised to the River Dunes Marina which is slightly northeast of Oriental, NC. Unfortunately, it involved an extremely rough ride on the Neuse River, which tested the Estrellita and our nerves like no other cruise to date. After about 2 hours of 6 foot slop, we pulled into River Dunes, a welcome sight and relief.
Even though we often feel that this dream trip is a little piece of heaven, we are trying to resist the urge to think that way. We know that God has called us into a relationship with Him and to let that be our ultimate treasure. We are called to handle the things of this world loosely and look forward to the reality of our eternal heavenly home. 1 Corinthians 2:12. God bless and have a JOYFUL EASTER!
From the time we pulled into our slip at River Dunes on the evening of Good Friday, until Monday at noon, it poured and blew…and blew hard! It was a great place to be for this weather event, since about 15 boats didn’t have the option to go anywhere. The marina has an exercise room, nice shower and steam room, hot tub, great restaurant and courtesy car. During the cold, rainy nights we snuggled into our bunks with good books and movies downloaded on our laptops. We were able to reserve the courtesy car to go to church on Easter Sunday and then to find a grocery store to stock up on provisions that we knew we would need for upcoming anchorages. On Monday morning, the sun finally broke through the clouds and people actually started to poke their heads out of their boats, giving us the opportunity to meet some fellow boaters and attend a cruiser’s dinner on Monday night. After a great dinner there was a bon fire and some musical entertainment thanks to John from Sloop John Dee ! Everybody was looking forward to getting back at their helms in the morning with the anticipation of making about 30 miles of progress and then possibly meeting up again in the Pungo River. By the time we pulled out of our slip on Tuesday morning, we had spent 4 unplanned nights at River Dunes Marina due to this crazy spring weather!
Everybody was looking forward to getting back at their helms in the morning with the anticipation of making at least 30 miles of progress toward the entrance to Albermarle Sound. We were looking for some relief from marina fees, so we anchored in Dowry Creek for two nights, enjoying some time doing boat projects and reading. At this particular location there was no cellular signal nor wifi, so we were back to the basics and had the opportunity to enjoy solitude and simple living. Stel worked on making some jewelry and I installed a new light fixture and added some length to my anchor line.
On Friday, we had a nice crossing of the Albemarle, with the exception of the exit from Alligator River, where there was a slight conflict between my charts and my chart plotter. I was cruising along with a couple of boats behind me and about fourteen feet between me and the river floor, when bump!! My props hit the bottom, which immediately takes your stomach into your throat. I pulled back into an idle and slowly but surely eased my way back into the channel. Fortunately, no vibration, so no obvious damage done. Humility has a way of finding its way back into your life on a frequent basis out here.
We approached Elizabeth City at about 2pm and found some free dockage at Jennette Brothers, a boat-friendly food processing plant right in the middle of the little town. Stel and I were anxious to do some site seeing, so we tied up securely and ventured out on foot. Thunderstorms were expected later in the afternoon, so we kept an eye on the radar with our phones. The local theater company was opening a performance called 8-Track Music of the 70’s that evening, so we purchased tickets and then went out to dinner at the Cypress Creek Grill. There were many friendly town folks (obviously products of the 70’s) at the restaurant, excited about going to the show just a few blocks away, so we finished our great pasta and salad dinners and away we went with the crowd. Only 20 minutes into a great production, the power went out and warnings were given announced about incoming tornadoes! The staff ushurred everyone to the bottom floor for safety. We were about 5 blocks from our home on the water, so needless to say, we were getting a little anxious about the Estrellita. At least 2 tornadoes tore up surrounding neighborhoods and did damage to boats of fellow Loopers, but the storms finally passed enough to allow us to make a run to the boat through the remaining rain. We ran down darkened streets through ankle deep water and finally made it back to the dock only to find out that the entry area had been locked up tight. We faced climbing over a 10 foot fence, but Stel wasn’t ready to face handcuffs and jail time this early in the trip. We sloshed back to town and found the Carolina Restaurant still open – with people huddled around candles and trying to get the status of their loved ones. We discovered why they named this town the Harbor of Hospitality. Even in the midst of these town people dealing with their own storm issues, they were as helpful as they could be to our effort to get back to our boat. With local and creative fence entry techniques, we eventually got back into the dock area at mid-night and found that Estrellita had weathered the storm pretty well. God is Good!
We are presently making preparations to pull the lines and head north through the Dismal Swamp Canal. More to come with hopes of calmer weather!!
On our way north on the ICW, we had to make a choice between two routes as you leave the Albemarle Sound on your way to the Chesapeake Bay. Route 1 is through the Virginia Cut and Route 2 is up the Dismal Swamp Canal. Since the guaranteed depth of the Canal is only 6 feet, many deep-draft boats elect to go Route 1, missing the historic and scenic Canal. Fortunately our draft is only 3’9″, so Stel and I made the decision to go through the canal knowing we had two fair weather days ahead of us. George Washington and Patrick Henry were both partly responsible for the concept of connecting small inland towns of NC and Virginia with larger cities for the purpose of trade and extraction of valuable lumber within the swamp, mostly cypress and juniper. In 1793, construction began on both ends of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and was completely dug by hand. As we cruised through the 22 mile canal, barely wide enough for 2 boats to pass, it was amazing to think that most of the labor to dig the canal was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. The 2-day adventure reminded me of some of the Disney World wilderness riverboat type rides, especially with all of the wildlife that we enjoyed along the way.
Stel and I have always heard about the lock systems that are common to this part of the country, and more frequently found in river systems of the northern states and Canada. We had never been through a lock until we entered the Dismal Swamp. The lock tender made the new experience easy and fun for us, with clear instructions and assistance with our lines. After entering the lock with 2 other trawlers, they flooded the lock and raised the water level 8 feet in a matter of 15 minutes. Before we finish the Loop, we will have gone through over 150 locks. 1 down, 149 to go! We spent the night at the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center, which is a part of a National Park. By the time we got there, we had to raft our boats together, 3 deep, to accomodate all the boats that wanted to spend the night. Unfortunately we were on the outside, so had to crawl over other boats to get to the dock. This was another first for us, but we found all the other cruisers to be very friendly and helpful. Within an hour of arriving at the park, all 16 of the cruisers met up in a picnic area for shared refreshments. A shared love of boating, nature and adventure makes it very easy to experience a sense of camaraderie with others in a very short period of time.
About one week after our departure from Charleston, I entered a blog post that mentioned waking one morning, not to the aroma of Dark Columbian coffee, but to the distinctive odor of diesel fuel. We discovered that we had a slow fuel leak in the port tank and we tried everything we knew to do to patch the tank enough to continue. We finally came to the conclusion that it was not fixable and that it was time to replace the fuel tank. Ugh! We started our research on where to have the work performed and after talking to a number of other local cruisers, we were pointed toward Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, VA.
So, here we are with the Estrellita in a covered boat shed. She is still sitting in the water, but completely covered by a 25 foot high work shed called the Machine Shop, one of about 15 impressive boat storage structures built over the water. We had never seen anything like this in the Charleston area. The Machine Shop is where they do the dirty work, which is exactly what it will involve to cut this old tank into little pieces and remove it from our engine room. For now, we are living on the boat in the shed. But, when the dirty work starts, we may need to temporarily move to a motel. We were told that it would take about 3 weeks to complete the work. This is not what we wanted to hear, but if we are to face serious repairs and a delay along the way, this is a great place for it. The repair yard has one of the best reputations on the east coast and all of the employees have treated us with a great deal of kindness and professionalism. As an extra bonus, the waterfront is beautiful and we are surrounded by great restaurants, grocery stores, shops and churches. We have already had some good laughs about our interesting living environment. It will be a good memory, for sure.
One of the benefits of being stranded in this area is that it is only about 20 minutes from Norfolk, which is where we planned to stop for a week to attend the annual Great Loop Association Rendezvous. It is a gathering of people who are presently on the journey, planning on doing the trip in the future, and those who have completed the loop. We rented a car and will be commuting to the event for the next 5 days. It will be a great opportunity to meet fellow ” loopers” and learn more about how to plan for the journey ahead.
We have been living on the boat for approximately one month now and loving our life on the water! There is no way to describe a “typical” day because, honestly, every day has been different! While most house-keeping chores take much less time, grocery shopping or doing laundry can take an entire afternoon! New challenges and surprises pop up regularly so we are learning not be too attached to a routine or a plan for the day! Weather is much more a factor in our daily life. Flexibility is a must and an “attitude of gratitude” goes a long way! Living in a condensed space is much simpler too – as long as we keep down the clutter and store our belongings away in their places! No room for dishes to pile up in the sink or space to leave tools lying around! What we do try to do is maintain a routine time of devotion reading and morning prayer! As a result we have grown more aware of how we daily depend on HIS guidance and constant provision!
Well, the leaky fuel tank was cut into about 15 pieces and removed from the engine room, one piece at a time. Messy job, but well done by the professionals here at Atlantic Yacht Basin. They made a template for 2 smaller tanks to replace the leaker, so the fabrication of the new aluminum tanks is underway. It will take about a week for the new tanks to be made, so Stel and I are doing miscellaneous boat projects as we practice patience. After the dirty work was done, we asked to be moved out of the machine shop and onto a face dock, where we could have fresh air, sunshine and a continuous parade of beautiful boats passing by. It’s great seeing all the boats coming and going, however there are risks to being in the middle of all the action. Yesterday, while I was running a grocery store errand and Stel was preparing lunch in the galley, she looked up to see a large Great Harbor yacht pulling into the dock in front of us to get fuel. From her viewpoint, it was towering over her, much too close for comfort. As a few excited words started flying between its crew members, Stel jumped up on the deck, but nothing could be done to prevent the crunch!! The wind had caught the stern of their boat and swung it into the starboard bow of the Estrellita! She handled the situation well but it is a helpless feeling when you are not able to do anything to prevent a collision with a boat of that size. Miraculously there was minimal damage to our railing and hull. The husband and wife crew could not have been more apologetic and willing to pay for the repairs. It could have been much much worse, so we are thankful for the outcome.
We are in the town of Chesapeake, about 30 minutes from Norfolk, where the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association Rendezvous took place last week. It was a wonderful 4 day event with other cruisers involved in the same adventure. Their were about 150 people, mainly couples, who were there to learn about the first few legs of the trip which takes you from Norfolk, up the Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of New Jersey, into NYC, up the Hudson, through the Erie Canal, across Lake Ontario, through the Trent-Severn Waterway, into Canada’s beautiful Georgian Bay, down Lake Michigan to Chicago and then down the river systems of Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi. It was a busy 4 days, but lots of fun as we anticipated what was ahead, visited the boats of other cruisers and met many interesting couples from all over the country and Canada. The toughest thing about the week was seeing all of them leave Norfolk and start their journey up the Chesapeake without us.
But God is good! As a result of us being left in lower Virginia, our daughter Katie, her husband and our 2 grandchildren were able to drive to our location for a surprise Mother’s Day visit. They love the boat as much as we do, so we all spent Saturday enjoying marina life on the water. After treating us to a seafood dinner they spent the night on the boat with us! The only thing that could have made it better was to have our son Sam with us too! He has just finished his semester at North Greenville University and has headed toward Charleston to start his summer job. We missed you Sambo!
I have always shared Stel’s zeal to live aboard a boat with one condition – that it involved consistent movement across the water. The greatest joy of living on a boat is the adventure of moving from one beautiful waterfront location to another. This simple, but challenging lifestyle can offer a daily opportunity to see new places and meet interesting people as you move from one anchorage or marina to another. The alternative of being stationary can feel a bit constraining and frustrating, especially as we have seen hundreds of other boats passing by. But, with prayers for patience, productivity and opportunities for new friendships, we have learned to approach every new morning with a more positive attitude toward marina life. I am not sure there is another alternative while we wait for our fuel tanks to be replaced. Whether it has been a day of boat projects, visiting the marina laundromat, grocery shopping, site-seeing in our rental car, visiting a new church or going out to eat with cruising friends, we have stayed extremely busy and enjoyed just about every minute of our extended stay at the Atlantic Yacht Basin.
We have included a few pictures of our marina surroundings, a trip to Hampton to see old friends of the family, a trip to Ft. Monroe and to the Newport News Mariners Museum. Our new fuel tanks are now receiving a few coats of epoxy paint and they will start installing them tomorrow, the 20th of May.
During our visit to the Mariner’s Museum, Stel and I read this quote written on a placard in front of an old, but beautifully restored, Chris Craft cruiser. It made us smile. I hope you enjoy.
An auxiliary cruising boat is without question the most compact and ingenious arrangement for living ever devised by the restless mind of man – a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than like a fish or a bird or a girl, and in which the homeowner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to take them. Here the sprawling panoply of ‘The Home’ is compressed in orderly miniature and liquid delirium, suspended between the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky.
– E.B. White “The Sea and the Wind that Blows”
On Friday, May 24th, the Estrellita was finally whole again. Our mechanic, Bobby, worked 3 long and hard days this past week getting the 2 new fuel tanks back into their tight positions with fractions of an inch to spare. I had agreed to remove and reinstall the water heater and fresh water pump system, so I had some work yet to do, but it felt wonderful to actually see the end of the project in sight. We made plans to depart Atlantic Yacht Basin on Saturday morning after 3 ½ weeks of down time. I was a little nervous about receiving the final bill for all of the work that had been done, but I was pleasantly surprised that their invoice actually matched their original estimate. Wow, that’s a boating first for us! To any fellow cruisers, I can’t recommend a repair yard any more highly! All in all, we consider our time there to be one of God’s blessings as we learned more about patience, contentment and opportunities to invest ourselves in other people’s lives.
Stel used the last few days with the rental car to re-provision the boat and do some miscellaneous chores. The Memorial weekend weather forecast looked great, so our plan was to use the 3 days to quickly move up the Chesapeake Bay and catch up to some of our Looper friends before they make the offshore trek along the NJ coast and into New York Harbor. So far, so good! Our long days in the middle of the Chesapeake have been ideal, with clear blue skies and very calm seas. The many sailors in this area were not happy with the lack of wind, but it was perfect for us. We have cruised a total of 17 hours during the last two days and we are now anchored on a beautiful Mill Creek off of Solomons Island, Maryland. Our plan is to depart early Memorial Day morning, cross over to the east side of the bay to St. Michaels, and spend a day sightseeing.
- April 9, 2014
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- January 8, 2015
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- June 1, 2015