Casting Off and the First Few Days
We actually met our schedule of casting off on April 5!! 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 less 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 of 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 homepage.
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 cast off of our home dock on the morning of the 5th and then made our way to Tolers Cove Marina, where we spent the night and had the opportunity to say goodbye to some friends in Mount 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 four days into our trip and I am writing this entry anchored and 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
Realities of the Cruising Life
After a calm night of sleep anchored in beautiful Calabash Creek, we woke up on Thursday morning to a faint smell of diesel fuel. Ugh! 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 wasThis was discouraging to see, but over our time on boats, stale and I have come to realize that the mini components and systems packed into a very small area will fail occasionally, especially those continually exposed to a saltwater 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 wereWe were fortunate to beWe were fortunate to be anchored alongside 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 aThey 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 four hours bent over and 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 thisWe woke up this morning to a fresher smelling cabin and a much better attitude as we waved goodbye to our helpful friends who were headed 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
Facing Marines at Camp Lejeune
Day 8 and 9 – 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 nine and cruised north up the ICW for about six 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 waterway 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 to 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 common 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 seven 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 two 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 out 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 and 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 is 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 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 grandkids 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 north east of Oriental, NC. Unfortunately, it involved an extremely rough ride on the Neuse River, which tested the Estrellita in 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. I Corinthians 2:12. God bless and have a JOYFUL EASTER!
Conclusion: We are Weather Magnets
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 find a grocer 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 bonfire 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 thanks 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 the 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 Wi-Fi, so we went 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 links 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 number 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 2 pm and found some free dockage at Jeanette Brothers, a boat friendly food processing plant right in the middle of the little town. Stel and I were anxious to do some sightseeing, 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 70s” 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 70s) 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, announcing incoming tornadoes! The staff ushered everyone to the bottom floor for safety. We were about five blocks from our home on the water, so needless to say, we were getting a little anxious about the Estrellita. At least two tornadoes tore up surrounding neighborhoods and the 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 end with people huddled around candles and trying to get the status of their loved ones. We discovered why they named this town the Hharbor of Hospitality. Even in midst of the storm, with 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 help and creative fence entry techniques, we eventually got back into the dock area at midnight and found the 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!
Dismal Swamp Canal
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 decisions 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 the Disney World wilderness riverboat yep 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 8 feet in a matter of 15 minutes. Before we finish the Loop, we will have gone through over 150 locks. One down, 149 to go! We spent the night at the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center, which is part of a national park. By the time we got there, we had to raft our boats, 3 deep, to accommodate all the boats that wanted to spend the night. Unfortunately, we were on the outside, so we 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.