Friday, December 4, 2009

1000 miles south. Arghh!

The blog has not been updated recently as our four week, 1000 mile journey south with children has been a tiring experience. But now we are in Florida and can slow down, here is a review of the last month.

Travelling by car through the Fall from the Thousand Islands in Canada south to the Chesapeake Bay we were awed by the golds, reds and oranges of the autumn.
Back on Seraphim in Pleasure Cove Marina, Bodkin Creek near Baltimore we experienced an unexpected series of gear failures. Travis, the Dockmaster sympathised, “The hits keep coming.” Without Travis and Geoff (the boat yard manager’s) help and kindnesses I think we would have given up.

After ten days of all kinds of yacht work including the main sail re-re-re mended and the bottom anti-fouled, (plus a re-newed passport for Jack,) we set off on a three day spin from the north of the Chesapeake Bay to the south, via Deltaville, where we bought charts for the Pacific from British yacht Foxglove. For months we have been chewing the debate on whether to go through the Panama Canal, or not.

Hyperthermia and Hot Water Bottles.

Next a brief stop at Norfolk to visit friends our Ocean Cruising Club “parents” Greta and Gary, and new friends Ronnie and Frank. Four other Ocean Cruising Boats were on the dock, all going our way. The cold drove us on fast through Great Bridge to Buck Island, from Virginia into North Carolina and Albemarle Sound into Alligator River.

Most of the first two weeks John spent on the verge of hyperthermia. Marty, a pilot friend complained of the atrocious weather he had endured running south, nevertheless, his email concluded that the next day it had improved, sunny and clear, at 37,000 feet.

Heading back down the route we had come up in May and June, we motored with a fleet of over twenty boats across Albemarle Sound, with the odd optimistic sail up in Pamlico Sound.

In 03 we had spent weeks in Belhaven fixing Moonshine in Axon’s boatyard where we’d met Larry and Jean. Larry had just retired from a high profile Government position. Also, six years ago Rob’s Marina was an abandoned, run down shell where we sheltered during a storm. Now it’s condominiums hoping they’ll sell before the first paint peels. In June this year we had missed Belhaven, In early November, with time and tide against us, I insisted we stop to see Larry and Jean again. Skipper was grumpy. This half day stop meant a re-work of his meticulous tide and passage plan for the next three days. His mood was dispelled when Larry and Jean treated us to a picnic lunch, after which Larry drove us to a supermarket. Supermarkets and laundries on the ICW can be a challenge, so we were grateful. (The Museum in Beaufort, NC no longer offers a free car for two hours to cruisers. Few marinas now have courtesy cars because of the insurance.)

Larry’s good deeds were rewarded by the boys locking him out of his car which was parked in the Pungo District Hospital car park. Larry was up against the clock, students would be filling his lecture hall in one hour. John dinghy-ed Larry back to his water front home. Meanwhile, I ran to the Hospital Emergency Room . James was hunting through piles of shopping. In quick succession, a fire ant stung his wrist, and then a wasp had stung his neck. Ice and pain-killed, he was fine but it rattled me. Clambering and stunts on the yacht, we are alert to the dangerous, and contain them, but the sundry perils of land lubber life are limitless. A few days later John nearly rattled when James chewed through the sacred DVD power cable (which luckily fused, phew!) And the other notch in James incident belt? John had to unbolt the companion way ladder to release James’ trapped leg …well, maybe we’re not so savvy about all yacht japes.

Blackbeard’s Backyard

Jack was 5years old on 7th November and James 3 on 15th. On Jack’s Birthday the Seraphim crew set off on a Treasure Hunt with Captain Manley. He and the boys were in full regalia. Captain Manley conducts three hunts a day in the summer, but on this November afternoon we had him exclusively.

The boys armed with detailed, and historically researched treasure maps were led by Manley 40 steps north, and 21 south, (90 Jack steps) to discover numerous clues such as a noose, an arrow, a mallet, a logbook, and finally a large X in the sand under which they dug for … a chest with treasures.

Double dibs, Manley entertained Mummy and Daddy with his extensive knowledge of Edward Teach, Anne Bonny et al. Highly recommend.

And the treats played on. Three days after Jack’s Hunt we were holed up in South Habour Village Marina, North Carolina sheltering from Tropical Storm Ida which thankfully stormed north of us to Norfolk. It was reported as a “perfect storm“, clashing with another system.

A very wet playtime came together with the location, two children’s museums. Just north of us the excellent Wilmington Children’s Museum, and south the not so special Myrtle Beach Children Museum. Outstanding hamburgers and chocolate brownie sundae at Fuddruckers made up for the underwhelming museum.

Planes Trains and Fire Truck

As requested, (insisted) for their Birthdays Jack had a chocolate airplane with chocolate icing, and James a yellow cake (orange flavour) fire truck with yellow icing. Made by me, decorated by the skipper, undiscovered talent, don’t you think? A new Melissa and Doug train set and Playmobil kits kept them engrossed for miles, and miles. With no space and ambitious young train drivers John and I have to be highly inventive train track creators. Toys are best when they come in big boxes, but pack into a small space, such as train tracks, DVDs and the Play Mobil airplane and submarine.

On we motored to Barefoot Landing, Charleston, Fenwick Island and Beaufort pronounced Bewfort in South Carolina. Both towns were named in the early 1700s after the same aristo, Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort.

“Where Ever You’re Going, I’m Going Your Way”

The100th Anniversary of lyricist/sing Johnny Mercer’s death saw us by passing Georgia and “Moon River”, the first dance at our Wedding. We sailed past Georgia overnight - out of the Beaufort SC inlet and in at the St Johns, down to St Augustine.

Accentuate The Positive Eliminate the Negative

Was one of Mercer’s most popular songs. We had to hold that mind in the cold, damp grey days when the engine noise hour after hour, and children’s noise hour after hour became wearing and caused war-ing. Cooped up because it was too cold and wet for them to play on deck, the cabin seems to shrink by the hour.

Survey of the Playgrounds of the East USA, (specialising in swings and slides)

Southern Spain, the Caribbean, north east America, and now the south east. Nil points to Beaufort NC but bonus points to Beaufort SC’s ICW-side playground which was highly inventive and five minutes from the anchorage.

Whereas on our first trip we could sit and relax taking in the breathtaking marshlands and winding rivers of Georgia, not so with children. Playgrounds became our focus.

Florida. Yeaha!

After three days on the boat, the boys were bouncing off the decks. Hence a half hour stop at New Smyrna, on a dock alongside an excellent castle playground made from wood, and of course being near NASCAR town Daytona, tyres. A whistle stop to vent steam.

And on south to Titusville where the playground was above average, but the players less so.


If not quite our rainbows end, it was a good stop. Near Cocoa Village Marina there is a quaint area of shops including a vast hardware shop (Travis and Co.) and a park with a playground. Who needs more?

The village was decorated for the Christmas Tree Lighting and Space Coast Boat Parade - elf houses, ice rink and all the trimmings.

What an amazing day. “Our” space shuttle, Atlantis, flew over in the morning. In the afternoon a bouncy castle and fun slide appeared in the park. During the evening power boats turned into glittering beauties. Bands played. Choirs sang. The boys roasted marshmallows for Smoors over a bonfire. AND Father Christmas lit the tree before visiting the playground. (See previous Thanksgiving and Sonic Boom, blog entry.)

The sun is shining. The temperature is rising. The foul weather gear is packed away. Shorts are replacing jeans. Seraphim is moored in Vero Beach , then we are taking a berth in Fort Lauderdale, whilst John’s mother joins us for Christmas.

In the New Year? The Abacos in the northern Bahamas and maybe Cuba in February, but who knows, “there’s such a lot of world to see“.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sonic Booms and Thanksgiving Gifts

Photo credit NASA

9.40am (EST) we heard the sonic boom from space shuttle Atlantis as it flew over the space coast to land in the Kennedy Space Centre. Atlantis, "our" shuttle which we saw take off on a previous mission in May. Although a small dot speeding across the clear blue sky, it was thrilling.

We had taken a berth in Cocoa Village Marina, near Cape Canaveral, because of bad weather, an epic laundry load and Thanksgiving shopping at Publix (my favourite supermarket.) However, we could only afford one night.

As we watched Atlantis, enthralled, Cheryl who works at the marina waited on the dock with a message, a gift from berth holder John Wilson. Concerned that it was too cold to be on the hook, he paid for an extra night for us so we could watch the Christmas Boat Parade in comfort. This extra night was matched by the marina, two extra nights for free. Thanksgiving gifts and an indulgent treat which makes all the difference. John and I were deeply touched by such unexpected generosity. It brought a tear to my eye.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Heading South down the ICW

We are heading south after returning to Seraphim in the Chesapeake.

It's been a gruelling trip with lots of bad weather and numerous repairs but the excellent staff at the Pleasure Cove Marina near Baltimore kept us going. Read our post about them on YBW here.

Currently we are in the Cape Fear area motoring down the ICW.

...coming soon Chesapeake to the Carolinas and the boy's birthdays.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Time to head south again

In addition to family gatherings and catching up, we rose at speed to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, flew kites on Coburg beach and were awed by the breathtaking fall colours. In the last two days fall has turned to winter with snow on the ground, time to head back to Seraphim and south, again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Niagara Falls

On our journey from the USA to Canada we took the boys to see the thunderous Horseshoe Falls at Niagara. Magnificent.

Friday, September 25, 2009


We are taking a road trip to Port Hope, Canada to visit Nicola's relations and her mother who is flying in for three weeks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not always easy

Buoy 61. Spa Creek. Annapolis

Seraphim is being fixed: engine, dinghy outboard, heating, mainsail, bimini and life raft. It’s all here and it’s easy. On Monday 7th September, Labour Day Weekend, the equivalent of our August Bank holiday and the last perceived weekend of summer,
Seraphim and her crew took a buoy in Annapolis. After three very tough weeks which brought on the “we-want-to-give-it-up blues”, it all began to get better.

Friday 21st August to the end of the month.

Hurricane Bill came through, thumped the Canadian Maritimes and blew out. From our safe marina in the Catskills Mountains the Seraphims motored back down the Hudson River to overnight at 79th Street Boat Basin.

Early the next morning, with the strong (ebb) tide going our way it was south along the west side of Manhattan, taking in some more spectacular views. Passed Battery Park, around the tip of Manhattan - then Wall Street, up to the East Side, South Street Seaport, under the Brooklyn Bridge, passed the United Nations and to Hells Gate, which since John had timed the tides was exhilarating but not hellish.

A couple of hours out of Manhattan, our first stop was the enchanting City Island which seemed like a little England to us. A Fish and Chip shop and pubs which actually looked inviting, not the usual fake blahs. A place to stay a while but with Newport in our sights, it was onwards. An invigorating sail revived our energies jaded from anxiety over Hurricane Bill. It was then the weather radio brought reports of tropical storm Danny and the news radio reports of Senator Edward Kennedy’s death.

Danny was an unstable system and potentially much more unpredictable than Bill. I thought of JFK’s words, or a dodgy paraphrase there of, we don’t do this because it’s easy.

For Hurricane Isabel in 04 we did not move and hoped she would miss us, she remained on track right up the Chesapeake. A direct hit. (The full account is here under Hurricane Isabel in the Archives.)

A year later, in the UK we prayed hurricane Ivan would miss Moonshine in Grenada. Ivan stalled around St Lucia, zig-zagged, and turned towards Grenada. A direct hit. We now get out of the way. Newport, Rhode Island and the rest of Long Island Sound were abandoned as we returned to New York. Danny was upgraded to Hurricane strength. Two in two weeks, enough already.

The grey, rainy trip around NYC echoed our mood. Fortunately a buoy became free just after our arrival at 79th Street Boat Basin, grateful thanks to the God of Buoys. Pedro, the charming laconic dockmaster greeted us and took care of us. I had not realised the Boat Basin has featured in several movies such as “You’ve Got Mail.”

That evening a vital part of Seraphim’s engine water pump failed. After dark the dinghy outboard died. (The spare had been lost overboard) Enough already. We had discovered it was not possible to row against the 3.6knot current in the Hudson. It was not safe to stay on the buoy without a dinghy. In the dark and wrung out we took Seraphim alongside to the 79th Street dock where we were still rolled through the night by the wakes but onto uber fenders.

To bolster or rather bulk up our crumbling energies we breakfasted at Nicks (Broadway and 77th) on the finest Eggs Benedict’s, served by Angelica who even after forty years in New York retains her thick German accent calling customers “Darlink” and “Sweethaaart“. (Think the “goyles” in the Kitkat Club in Cabaret).

The Seraphims know the Garment District of Manhattan well, it is the area around the American chandlery, West Marine. I mentioned the incongruity of the location to Ed, the manager, who replied 37th and 5th have all you could need: clothes, marine shop, porn and psychics, and our canteen “Main Noodles” around the corner.

After too many visits to West Marine Jack insisted on visiting “Encore”, his name for Concorde. On display near the Hudson River next to Aircraft Carrier, Intrepid.

After a final visit to West Marine to secure a dinghy outboard and with a spare water pump holding the engine problem, Seraphim bid farewell to New York in the same early morning light in which we had arrived, three weeks before.

And the breakages continued.

The New Jersey coast is ugly in all ways. There are few harbours and the inlets to reach them can be treacherous. The ocean floor is twenty metres deep for at least five miles out which forces an ocean of water to pile up into confused, short waves causing the boat to slam down. Uncomfortable and exhausting at best. Our trip north had been a rare window of calm.

En route north to New York the weather had been benevolent, an overnight sail took us from Cape May to Sandy Hook. However the journey south in what was considered a good forecast, a north east wind, was gruelling. Only 100 odd miles seemed a 1000 perpendicular. The mainsail ripped. We don’t do it because it’s easy.

In a mere 15 knots the entrance to half-way point Atlantic City was perilous. The anchorage was untenable and we were forced into taking a place on a dodgy dock at Kammerman’s Atlantic City Marina.

In the evening, projected light displays cover the nearby casino tower blocks. From the gambling Mecca it was a slog onto Cape May where the anchorage is beside a Coastguard Boot Camp. Reveille at dawn, marching and more marching and taps at sundown.

Weeks earlier, in 90 degrees in early August, waiting for weather on our voyage north we took in Cape May’s seaside town. It's an $8 taxi away from Utches marina which is 20 minutes by dinghy from the anchorage. The taxi driver boasted of the “old” Victoria houses, all artfully decorated to lure Bed and Breakfast guests.

Leather skinned dragons who reminded me of the Iguanas in the Bahamas guarded the beach and demanded $5 per adult. The lizard eyes fixed on us. Our polite request for a 10 minute paddle with the children was met with a $10 “tag” fee or a no. I hoped what wasn’t already shrivelled soon would be. On the bash south from New York we did not leave the anchorage.

Finally the end was in our sights but the crashing and rolling as the Atlantic ocean clashed with the entrance of the Delaware River produced some of the worst conditions we have experienced…until we entered Baltimore. Scores of motor boats regardless of the damage their wakes caused, powered out into the Bay leaving yachts thrown around and children and loose items sent flying . My contempt for stinkpots sank to new depths.

We don’t do this because it’s easy.

We anchored in Canton, a suburb of Baltimore, with a huge Safeway and a West Marine within five minutes and a playground within 10. Easy.

The nearby Inner Harbour in Baltimore has a great deal to see if you are willing to pay $15 to park the dinghy for 5 hours, or the yacht at $1.25 per foot overnight. (Evidently the buses from Canton are cheap and frequent, but extra hassle with children.) After a brief explore and a visit to Hilarie, a fellow Solomons Island Hurricane Isabel survivor, the Seraphims were left out of sorts to find we had a court summons for illegally parking our dinghy. 18,000 miles and several capital cities, this was a new one. A spotted “yuf” (possibly related to the Cape May Dragon) and his pal Goofy drove up on a golf cart, the Department of Transportation ... Spotted yuf was indifferent to our complaint, however, Goofy came up with the bright idea of just pay $1.25 a foot for our 8 foot dinghy, that would be cheaper … Good bye Baltimore. The expensive Aquarium, the Maritime Museum, Science Museum and all could wait.

Taking a buoy in Annapolis was like coming home. It claims to be the sailing capital of the East coast (as does Newport, Rhode Island.) And there beside us was the Heart of Texas, cruisers whom we had last seen five years before in Luperon, Dominican Republic when I was ten days pregnant with Jack.

Here we are in Annapolis where it is easy.