Cruisers’ Thanksgiving in St. Marys

With the anchor up at 6 am on Thanksgiving morning, we were back on our typically rushed schedule to cover 35 statute miles by a deadline: the 1:00 pm cruisers’ potluck Thanksgiving dinner in St. Marys, Georgia.

Luckily, the day’s journey wasn’t nearly as brutal on the ICW as the previous day’s trip on the ocean. The sun was out, there were dolphins swimming around the boat, the cats started looking happy again (even Celia made a rare venture out on deck), and we managed to eke into The St. Marys River at 12:45 pm with potatoes boiling on the stove and about 40 anchored boats in view.

bill grace charlie st marys thanksgiving

Bill, Grace and Charlie, on our way to St. Marys, Georgia

celia hideaway sailing with cats turf to surf

Celia, bravely sitting in the cockpit

As the story goes, St. Marys’ Thanksgiving potluck tradition began 12 years ago when a group of cruisers pulled into the river to wait out a nor’easter. When they started looking for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving together, a local sailor named Charlie Jacobs offered to cook up a turkey for the cruisers, and the owners of the Riverview Hotel offered up their restaurant lounge so everyone could gather there.

And ever since, this tradition has continued, still hosted by the Riverview Hotel and its owners Jerry and Galia Brandon, bringing hundreds of cruisers from nearby and afar together each year to celebrate.

riverview hotel st marys georgia

Potluck Thanksgiving at the Riverview Hotel

For us, Thanksgiving was made particularly special not only because we got to meet so many cruisers in one place, but because we got to meet up with so many cruising couples our age, with whom we stretched the restaurant’s patience by staying long after clean-up, gabbing away about our experiences and our plans. And then, deciding we weren’t quite done with each others’ company, we created an impromptu, moving after-party that involved boat-hopping in our dinghies from shore to Rode Trip to Serendipity to Hideaway. In the process, we managed to empty all three boats’ liquor stashes, pick up Scott and Kim from Anthyllyde, convince Matt on Serendipity they should adopt a cat, make macaroni-and-cheese for 10 people and discover that our wee little Catalina 34 is actually a lot roomier than it looks.

And, funnily enough, at no point in the evening did anyone acknowledge that it was Thanksgiving or attempt to announce what they were thankful for on this day.

Maybe the holiday itself wasn’t important to note, or maybe, like me, those around me didn’t feel the need to remind themselves out loud what they had to be thankful for.

On this particular Thanksgiving Day, we were living life as though we were nothing but thankful for every day we had. And it seemed as though we were all so obviously grateful to be together at that time, in that place, and at this time in our lives.

Perhaps “thanks” just didn’t need to be said. It was simply felt very deeply.

hideaway st marys georgia

rode trip st marys georgia

Brian (Rode Trip), Jessica & Matt (Serendipity) and Bill

rode trip serendipity hideaway thanksgiving st marys georgia

Jessica, Tasha, Grace, Bill and Stephanie on Rode Trip

Turkey Trot: Sailing from Charleston, SC to Lanier Island, GA

With two more New Yorkers on board Hideaway for the week, we attacked our mission to get south for Thanksgiving with double the fervor.

Having left charming Charleston (made slightly less charming for being unseasonably cold) with our friends Bill and Grace, we decided to take advantage of the temporary crew and do an overnight jump south on the Atlantic Ocean. The mission at hand, other than “get warm,” was to get to for their famed annual cruisers’ potluck Thanksgiving dinner, an event that has become a legend amongst sailors heading south each year.

With 4 competent crew on board, I think we all hoped that the burden of nighttime watches would be lessened. But, as it happened, with record low temperatures and rolling swells, that wasn’t the case. At one point, when my watch overlapped with Grace’s watch, she came up on deck wrapped in so much clothing that all I could see was her eyes. And after sitting in frozen silence for an hour, she said slowly, “I don’t think I ever really believed people when they said they were cold. Now I think I know what it feels like. It’s awful.” I would have laughed. But I was too cold. So instead I buried my face in my scarf.

grace atlantic ocean st marys thanksgiving

Grace at the helm on her first night watch.

We were all relieved to have a break on Wednesday night, when we pulled away from the seas towards the ICW and towards Lanier Island, Georgia, to anchor. We needed a hot meal and a full night’s sleep before taking on the last 35 statute miles to St. Marys, which we needed to get to by 1:00 pm to make Cruisers’ Thanksgiving.

Lanier Island turned out to be the perfect stop-off between Charleston and St. Marys. It offered a calm anchorage, hot showers at the rate of $25 per boat and an impressive menu at the Morningstar Marina’s Coastal Kitchen, where the owner Jeff must have judged us to be hearty enough to drink tequila, as he brought us several shots on the house. He wasn’t wrong.

jeff coastal kitchen georgia

Jeff, owner of Coastal Kitchen, with my hangover in hand

I cursed Jeff’s generosity just a little, though, when Ryan woke me up at 6 am on Thanksgiving morning to up anchor. And then I cursed myself when I remembered the night before I had insisted boldly that I should pull up our 44-pound Rocna and 120 feet of chain myself, just so I could prove to myself that I am capable. We don’t have a windlass on Hideaway (as Ryan says, “The anchor’s replaced my gym membership.”), so this was no small challenge.

Though I was half asleep when I climbed out onto the foredeck, I woke up quickly and with a lot of wheezing and grunting as I fought to pull up what felt like 1000 pounds of chain, inch-by-slow-and-painful inch. And then I got an additional boost to my early-morning cardio workout when the anchor was freed and Ryan shouted that we were drifting quickly in the 2-knot current, which meant I needed to pull up our chain even faster so we could drive forward without fear of dragging the anchor and chain back overboard again.

Though my arms and shoulders were sore, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting the anchor up, and I made a mental note to volunteer to pull up the anchor more often so I could keep up my strength. After all, it’s important that both Ryan and I know how to do all the jobs required to keep Hideaway afloat and safe. It isn’t sensible to have important jobs that only one of us knows how to do, if the other is also capable. What if Ryan hurt himself or was incapacitated and I didn’t know how to set the anchor or pull up the anchor?

By pulling up the anchor myself, I learned the intricacies of one more job on the boat and I gained confidence in myself as a sailor.

Next time, though, I might forgo the tequila the night before.

lanier island georgia anchorage

Anchorage between Lanier Island and St. Simons Island, GA

Anchorage between Lanier Island and St. Simons Island, Georgia

Lanier Island, Georgia

Photo Essay: Charleston, South Carolina

Tasha’s View

With our friends Bill and Grace from New York staying on board Hideaway with us for a week, we thought it was only fair to slow down the sailing a bit and finally see some of Charleston before rushing off to the next port.

And this was what I saw with them:

king street charleston sc

The historic buildings of Charleston make you feel like you’re somewhere outside the U.S.

market charleston sc

The crafts and wares at the Charleston Market make for fun shopping.

charleston sc

These little gems are found all over the city.

charleston sc mules

You know you’re in a tourist town when there are horses and carts.

tasha hacker charleston sc fountain

I’m not sure these two sailors are appropriately dressed for this swanky city.

charleston sc cemetery

Even the gravestones are cute.

powder magazine charleston sc

Getting in some culture: touring the Powder Magazine Museum.

powder magazine 2 charleston sc

We learned a lot about the history of Charleston here.

Ryan’s View

While Bill, Grace, and I toured Charleston, Ryan stayed on board Hideaway at Pierside Boatworks on the Cooper River to oversee the installation of our new water heater, to discuss with a Raymarine technician what was going wrong with our auto-helm, and to figure out why our brand new electrics were shorting out on us.

So, while our guests and I were out exploring and learning that Charleston was once a walled city to protect itself from Spanish attack, Ryan learned that 1) there was nothing wrong with our auto-helm (we were just over-powered and should reduce our sails in gusty winds), and 2) our electrician back in New York, though a nice guy, was certifiably incompetent.

It turned out that all of our electrical problems led back to our Port Washington electrician — let’s call him Tony — who ran wiring for all our new boat gadgets (WiFi booster, chart plotter, anemometer, and lights) from the top of our mast down to our bilge and — rather than run wires to a connector box that was out of the water in a high and dry place, as common sense would have — he connected all our wires, unsealed, to a box that sat in our bilge…immersed in water. Now, I’m no electrician, but even I know water and electricity do not mix.

And, unfortunately, since Tony cut the wires short at the bilge, there was no way to extend the wires out of the bilge without replacing all the original wiring (which would require removing the mast again), and therefore Ryan needed to find a way to lift the wires out of the water and at least attempt to keep them dry in order to prevent more shorts and blown fuses.

The result of all this learning was 1) a makeshift solution using a piece of plastic (intended to be the cats’ food mat) to lift and hold our wires out of the depths of our bilge, and 2) a new-found determination to learn to do our own electrical wiring.

It turns out that paying someone to do a job doesn’t guarantee at all that they know what they’re doing.

So, because of all this, Ryan’s day in Charleston looked like this:

ryan horsnail hideaway turf to surf

Ryan and Bill, taking Hideaway up the Cooper River.

naval ships cooper river charleston sc

Naval Ships on the Cooper River, Charleston, SC.

raymarine autohelm

Raymarine Auto-helm, undergoing testing.

corroded connector box

Corroded connector box, removed from bilge.

ryan horsnail hideaway bilge turf to surf

Ryan, discussing in-mast wiring problems with electrician.

hideaway bilge turf to surf

New solution – wires suspended out of bilge water by plastic

Sailing with Cats: 3 fun feline frills

Living on a boat, you get used to life without a car. We transport groceries on our bike handlebars and we frequent shops that are no further than walking distance from the port where we’re moored or anchored.

But anytime someone we know comes around with a car, we pounce on the opportunity like a frisky cat on a can of tuna. Which means that rather than treat our friends Bill and Grace to fruity cocktails on board Hideaway after their long drive to see us, instead we dragged them on a trip to Petco in Charleston, South Carolina.

Which is how our sailing cats, Charlie and Celia, came to benefit from these amazingly practical purchases:

1. The Litter Kwitter


I have coveted this Litter Kwitter kit (with DVD, shall I add) ever since I first saw this creepy cat’s face in a Skymall Magazine 5 years ago. As amused by the idea as I was, though, I could never actually bring myself to order a cat toilet training kit by mail. It just seemed wrong. I mean, does this cat not look like he’s thinking, “After I take this crap, I will get revenge by shredding your shoes”?

But, when I saw this box on the shelf at Petco, I knew it was meant to be. I could just see our cats peeing and pooping in the head, leaving our boat litter-free and smelling like a daisy. How amazing would that be?! So there you have it. You’re looking at Hideaway’s 8-week pet project for the Bahamas. I can’t wait to tell the cats.

2. Pet identification tags

charlie tag sailing with cats

charlie tag2 sailing with cats

Did you know you can purchase pet tags and get them engraved on the spot at Petco? No mailing involved. Genius! And since Charlie has recently taken to jumping off the boat and making a run for it whenever she sees land, it seemed like a good idea to get tags made with our contact info on them. Just in case one of our naughty kitties tries to run off with a tomcat.

3. Pet costumes

charlie hideaway sailing with cats

I know it was wrong, and I should not be sharing this abuse, but in my defense there was a Clearance Rack at Petco, which included some outdated Halloween costumes like this “Navy Sailor Cat” outfit. How could I resist when it was only $4?! Please send my apologies to PETA.

ABC…not as easy as 1-2-3

Cruisers often talk about provisioning for the Bahamas before leaving Florida, but no one ever mentions booze provisioning for the Carolinas when you’re in Virginia.

We’ve been plum out of rum, vodka and wine pretty much since Norfolk, Virginia, and it isn’t for lack of trying to find some. We’ve asked strangers all over North and South Carolina to point us to the nearest liquor store. And we always get, “You mean the ABC? It’s about 15 miles up the road. Take a left at the Hardee’s…”, and so it goes with the driving directions, which are of little help to us, as we wander around town on foot.

It turns out “ABC” isn’t some juvenile-sounding liquor store chain; it’s short for “Alcoholic Beverage Control,” which, apparently, is the product of an 1892 vote in favor of prohibition, after which the government set up a dispensary system in the form of state-owned, strictly controlled liquor stores. So the idea of controlling alcohol consumption in North and South Carolina is a historical institution, which adds to the quaint, colonial feel to the area. Unfortunately for cruisers, though, these ABC Liquor Stores are often nowhere near a town center.

But ABCs aren’t the only interesting relic of state government in the Carolinas, either. On this trip so far, we’ve learned that:

  1. Pump-outs aren’t subsidized in North Carolina. We paid $17.50 to get our holding tank pumped out, which was a surprise, since in New York and most other states, pump-outs are free.
  2. The NC Coast Guard requires boaters to keep a written record of the dates and locations of all pump-outs done in North Carolina. The USCG checks this any time they board your boat, which seems to happen often along the ICW.
  3. The Coast Guard requires that the valve on a boat’s macerator is not just closed, but has a wire tied around it. Eh? The presumption being that if someone were to accidentally disassemble our settee, then accidentally reach inside our locker and accidentally open the valve, expelling waste into the harbor, they would fail because of the wire so fastidiously tied around the valve? Really?

In any case, I blame bureaucracy for the fact that by the time we reached Charleston, we were pretty much a dry boat. And we were definitely in need of a drink after the previous day’s trio of fiascos: 1) we ran aground in the middle of the ICW channel at low tide, 2) the 31-foot Ben Sawyer Bridge was incorrectly listed in our guidebook as being 65 feet, which meant we got stuck for 2 hours waiting the bridge to open, and 3) since the bridge didn’t open until sunset, we had to navigate the 10 last miles to Charleston with a flashlight in the dark trying to steer clear of barges, unlit markers and bobbing lobster pots.

ryan horsnail hideaway turf to surf icw run aground

Ryan, frustrated by being stuck in the ICW channel

intracoastal waterway ben sawyer bridge

View of our anchorage spot, while waiting for the Ben Sawyer Bridge to open

sailing with cats hideaway catalina 34

Charlie, wondering how we could run aground here

But we persevered in the dark because were in a hurry to get to Charleston and prepare the boat for the arrival of our friends Bill and Grace, who were going to spend a week with us on Hidewaway sailing south. It took all of Saturday to get ready, scrubbing down the interior, doing the laundry, ordering a new hot water heater (ours broke in North Carolina), vacuuming the rugs, and converting our “junk room” back into the guest room it was originally intended to be.

There was just one, last, evasive chore on our list: stock up on liquor. And this was crucial because everyone knows it’s just plain impolite to have guests on board and not offer sun-downers.

So, the search was on. After a greasy brunch of fried flounder with fried oysters and French fries with a side of fried macaroni and cheese at The Variety Store, we were ready to take on prohibition. And, as it turned out, the Variety Store had a well-stocked ABC Liquor Store next door. So we checked off that last chore before Bill and Grace arrived to start their vacation in the adorable city of Charleston.

And what better way to see Charleston than to go out on the town with a group of sailors on a Saturday night to celebrate 3 milestones: Ryan’s 40th birthday, our 1-month cruising anniversary, and 1000 miles of travel on Hideaway?

With Matt and Jessica from s/v Serendipity and our friends Bill and Grace, we hit up the Southend Brewery for drinks and carried on the evening to Magnolia, a white tablecloth restaurant with stellar food where we got looked up and down with disdain because, though our scruffy foul-weather jackets were acceptable casual-wear in every port we’d been to so far, they were anything but acceptable in swanky Charleston. Women, despite the cold, were decked out in short skirts, sequins, big hair and high heels. And men wore freshly pressed shirts, chinos, leather belts and hair gel.

We stuck out so much that when we asked a stranger on the street if she could recommend a nice wine bar, her response was, “Well, you could try Bin 152 around the corner.” Then, looking us up and down, she said, “But not dressed like that.”

So we drank until our presence got as loud and unclassy as our clothing. Then we dragged ourselves back to Hideaway, where a nightcap turned into a dozen and the evening wrapped up sometime around 4 am with me hugging Jessica with drunken affection, Grace psychoanalyzing cruising couples, the guys smoking cigars up on deck and, most likely, our live-aboard neighbors grumbling about the noise…with the exception of a lone college kid live-aboard named Steve who came over and joined in the shenanigans.

If partying with 20 and 30-somethings is the proven method for fending off your 40s, then I can say for sure that Ryan had a good run at preserving his youth this weekend.

Meanwhile, classy, traditional Charleston may have learned the lesson that owning a yacht doesn’t necessarily make you fancy, or even classy.

southend brewery charleston south carolina

Jessica, Matt, Bill and Grace at Southend Brewery, Charleston, SC

The Variety Store Jessica, Matt, Ryan, Grace and Bill at Magnolia, Charleston, SC

magnolia restaurant charleston south carolina

Tasha, Grace, Ryan, Jessica, Bill and Matt celebrating Ryan’s birthday at Magnolia

celia sailing with cats hideaway turf to surf

Celia and Jessica on Hideaway

5 best boat gadgets not made for boating

It occurred to me the other day that the best boat gadgets we have on Hideaway are not actually marine specialty items. And it made me wonder what other handy tools and toys might be out there, lurking on boats or in backpacks, waiting for me to discover them.

The boat business is kind of like the wedding business in that as soon as you add the word “marine” or “wedding” to words like “dishes” or “lighting,” the price triples. So, if I can find what I’m looking for in Walmart or online for a fraction of the “marine” price, I’m all over it. After all, plastic dishes are plastic dishes…they don’t need to be “marine” plastic dishes to be used on a boat!

If you have any favorite boat gadgets to share, please do! I’m always looking for great ideas. In the meantime, here is a list of my five favorite “non-marine” boat gadgets:

1) Coleman propane camping heater

coleman catalytic heaterThis one is at the top of my list right now because I’m cold. Simple as that. With temperatures getting down to the low thirties (Fahrenheit) at night, I’m ready to marry this thing, I’m so in love with it.

What’s so great about it? Let me count the ways…

  • It runs on camping stove propane, which is cheap and easy to find.
  • It’s small and easy to stow.
  • It heats up our entire 34′ boat.
  • There’s no open flame, so I don’t have to worry about it catching the boat on fire.
  • One can of propane lasts about 20 hours and costs about $2.

Concerns? My father insisted we get a carbon monoxide detector for inside the boat because he was worried the propane fumes would kill us. The $30 detector we bought in Home Depot takes a digital reading of carbon monoxide levels, rather than just sound an alarm when levels are high. And so far it’s shown absolutely no traces of carbon monoxide in the air as a result of using our propane heater. Zilch.

How much does it cost? $46.90 on During our five freezing days on board in Hurricane Sandy, I would have paid double this price.

2) Cobb portable BBQ grill and smoker

cobb grillDesigned for camping and BBQ picnics in the park, this grill uses charcoal rather than gas and can be placed anywhere on the boat – the cockpit, the cabin (though not recommended because of smoke), the deck, etc.

What’s so great about it?

  • It’s engineered to stay cool on the bottom and on all sides, apart from the lid. So, while the charcoal is burning, you can actually pick up the entire grill with your bare hands and not get burnt.
  • Food tastes better when grilled on charcoal rather than gas (in my opinion).
  • There are accessories for the grill, which allow you to steam food, make pizza and do other neat culinary things I have yet to try.
  • All parts can be bought separately. So when you accidentally dump the charcoal rack in the ocean along with the charcoal (ahem…yes, that was me), you can buy the rack on its own, for a small price.

How much does it cost? $139.21 on

3) Dyson cordless vacuum cleaner with DC charger

dyson hand-held vacuumRyan is kind of a neat freak, so without this handy little tool, he would be a much more difficult person to live with. But with our Dyson, most of our messes can be cleaned up in a jiffy. Cat litter on the floor? No problem. Bread crumbs in the galley? No problem. Cat hair on the cushions? No problem.

What’s so great about it?

  • A lot of hand-held vacuums don’t have enough suction power to clean up a large mess. The Dyson does. We even vacuum our floor rugs with it.
  • There are no vacuum bags to replace. You just empty the body of the vacuum and you’re good to go.
  • It comes with different attachments, both long and short, so it’s very versatile. It even has a bendy attachment, so you can get into those hard-to-reach places, like the back corners of storage lockers.
  • It’s rechargeable.
  • You can get a DC (cigarette lighter) charger, so you don’t need to use an inverter to plug it in on your boat. (Note: we had to contact Dyson in the UK to get a DC plug because they don’t sell them in the U.S.)
  • It’s small and easy to stow.

How much does it cost? Here’s the kicker – this one doesn’t fit into the “cheap non-marine” category, since it’s expensive at $329.00 on But it’s an item that never dies and has a 5-year warrantee (which we’ve never had to use). And if you’re at all OCD in the cleaning department, or you have a partner who is, this tool can be used to divert many a bad mood. Just sayin’.

4) Collapsible bowls with lids

Progressive International collapsible bowlsRyan thought these were gimmicky and pointless when I first bought them, but in reality, we rarely use any of our other dishes now because these bowls are so great for everything: eating meals, feeding cats, storing leftovers (they have lids), prepping meals (which is actually what they were designed for) and serving snacks. Plus, they collapse down to the width of a plate, so they don’t take up much room, which is always a plus on any boat.

How much do they cost? $14.88 on for a set of 3 (1 big, 1 medium, 1 small). They’re not as cheap as your run-of-the-mill plastic bowls, but they’re much more versatile and take up much less space.

5) Nesting pots and pans

tuff gear camping pots sailingtuff gear pots nestedtuff gear camping potsI bought this set of pots and pans in Russia over ten years ago, when I was living there teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer, so I had these loooong before I ever stepped foot on a boat. But they’re the one item in my collection that I’ve kept through all my travels and would not dream of backpacking without. And now it turns out this little set is our main cookery set on the boat. Talk about long-lasting!

I can’t find this exact make of camping pots online, which isn’t a surprise since I bought these in Nakhodka, Russia from a shop we volunteers used to call “the mafia store” because everything in it was so fancy and expensive that only the Russian mafia could afford it. I had coveted this set of pots for 2 years while I lived in Nakhodka, so when I was about to leave and go hiking through Siberia, I splurged and paid a whopping $100 for them. Bear in mind, I only got a $220-a-month stipend from the Peace Corps to live on, so this was a colossal splurge. And so worth it.

What’s so great about them?

  • You get three different size pots (one of them a rice pot) with two different lids, a frying pan and a strainer.
  • They’re lightweight and indestructible – these pots have been carried halfway around the world in a backpack, thrown into the backs of buses, bashed around a boat, and there’s not a single dent to show for it.
  • They pack up to the size of a single large pot, which saves a lot of space in our tiny galley.

How much do they cost? Well, it depends on the quality of pots you go for. I couldn’t find this exact set, but I did find a similar, high quality set made by GSI on for $98.96. I also found a cheap set made by Texsport for only $20.58 on

So, there you have it. Five of my favorite things on board Hideaway. (Other than Charlie and Celia, of course. And maybe Ryan.)

What are your favorite items (on your boat, in your backpack, or in your suitcase)? 

Sailing through North Carolina: A journey in 3 parts

Part 1: Smooth sailing (Oriental, NC)

Sailing North Carolina is getting better by the day. When we leave Oriental, it is 70 degrees and sunny, the wind is calm, I am wearing a t-shirt, and dolphins are swimming alongside Hideaway as we make our way towards Beaufort, North Carolina. This is finally starting to shape up to the kind of trip I imagined when we first decided to set sail for the Bahamas.

It looks like we’ve finally turned a corner with the weather and our grueling sailing schedule, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be putting on my sunglasses (rather than a hat and gloves) to head out onto the Neuse River.

As we unfurl our sails in the warm breeze, I am grinning, the cats are purring, the dolphins are frolicking and the boat is humming. In a word, this is perfect.

Part 2: Cruisers everywhere! (Beaufort, NC)

Taylor Creek Beaufort NC

Taylor Creek, Beaufort, NC

Turning up in Taylor Creek to see 20-30 other boats anchored is like turning up to a high school reunion – we keep pointing at boats we recognize, trying to recall the last time we crossed paths. A woman shouts from her cockpit, “Hey, Hideaway!” as we cruise by, as though she recognizes us from somewhere, too.

The town of Beaufort looks quaint and southern, with white picket fences and sprawling front porches lined with rocking chairs. The main street is only about 800 meters long, so the houses seem outnumbered by the boats in the harbor, which is probably what makes Beaufort such a popular cruising stop – it’s small, unpretentious and cute. And it’s welcoming to cruisers.

Motoring through the crowded creek, it is hard to concentrate on steering when I’m distracted by the dolphins swimming in the channel to my left, wild ponies grazing on an island to my right, and a reproduction pirate ship leaving the creek (apparently Beaufort hosts an annual Pirate Festival). I point excitedly to my left, then my right, and shout for Ryan to look at the wildlife while trying to maneuver through the crowded harbor without hitting anything.

The sun is still shining at 3:30 pm when we pull in (a new record arrival time for us). Ryan is pointing towards another Catalina 34, which has a wide open space beside it, roomy enough for us to drop anchor in. I am excited to see another Catalina, so I am visually cataloging all the similarities to our boat, including the cat lounging on deck, when a skinny, sun-tanned woman rushes up into the cockpit and yells something indecipherable at us in a southern drawl.

“How’s it going?” Ryan says to the Catalina lady, smiling and ignoring her unfriendly tone.

“There ain’t no room in hee-yer,” she says. “It’s awful tight and there’s a lotta boats.” She was standing defensively with one hand on her hip, the other holding a spatula.

“There’s plenty of room over here,” says Ryan, pointing to the empty space next to the Catalina.

“There’s a noreaster blowin’ in about 25 knots tonight so these boats’ll be swingin’ round,” she says. “There ain’t no room.”

“We’re not supposed to get 25 knots until tomorrow night,” Ryan says.

“Suit yerself, but this ain’t a good spot,” the Catalina lady says again.

“How long have you been here?” asks Ryan, which I know is his subtle way of asking, “Where do you get off telling people where they can and can’t anchor?”

“3 months.”

“That explains it,” Ryan mumbles under his breath. “You have a nice day now,” he says loudly, which in Ryan-speak is polite for “screw you.”

I could tell he was considering for a moment dropping anchor next to the Catalina lady, just on principal, but instead we moved on towards the back of the creek, where we happily drop anchor next to a boat who doesn’t mind having neighbors.

Then, not even five minutes after we cut the engine, I hear Ryan yell, “No WAY!”

I pop my head up to see who else is giving Ryan a hard time, and see a catamaran with the distinctive name “Oz” on the side. Unbelievably, Oz is our old mooring neighbor in Port Washington, New York. What are the chances?!

And as if running into Oz again isn’t enough excitement for us, I get a Facebook message from Jessica on Serendipity, who writes the blog MJ Sailing, and who I’ve never met before, saying “Hey, I think you just anchored right behind us!”

The next thing I know, we are on Serendipity, hanging out with a gang of young cruising couples, drinking wine, trading disaster stories, and trying to come up with a collective plan for getting to Charleston, South Carolina. We all agree it is way too cold to linger in North Carolina any longer.

The weather forecast shows a lethargic 5 knots of wind in the morning, and so we decide to take the “outside” route (the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the longer, more protected “inside” ICW route) to Masonboro the next day.

Part 3: Bad idea (Atlantic Ocean – Masonboro, NC)

tasha hacker hideaway storm

Sailing is North Carolina is not as warm as I thought it would be.

Someone should really advertise ocean sailing as the “secret to weight loss” in the backs of women’s magazines because I swear to you there is nothing you want to eat when you’re on a boat pitching from side to side in 25-knot winds and 6-foot swells.

It wasn’t some hair-brained idea to go out to the Atlantic Ocean, forgoing the protection of the ICW to get to Charleston. I assure you we studied our weather charts carefully the night before and worked out this route would be faster and more pleasant. The winds were forecasted to be 5-15 knots from the north, so they would be behind us, making for a smooth, if not boring ride. Or so we thought.

By about 11 am, the winds have crept from 15 knots up to a gusty 25 knots and it starts raining. Which means it is freezing cold, as well as windy. So we put out more sail and cut the engine, hoping to gain some speed, conserve our fuel and get out of the rain.

But by 12 pm, with the wind gusting up to 31 knots, the boat takes on a rolling, wave-surfing pitch that has Celia throwing up and cowering on a bathroom shelf, leaving Ryan and I feeling nauseous, cold and miserable.

Actually, that’s how I feel. Ryan, on the other hand, says he feels “alive.” Although I noticed “feeling alive” doesn’t make him any less enthusiastic to leave the helm when his watch is up.

If there is one thing I am grateful for, it is having an auto-helm to steer in these conditions while I ball up my hands inside my mittens and count the minutes until Ryan takes over.

Huh. The auto-helm appears to have died. There is a lot of beeping and a flashing message saying “drive stopped.” I think, like me, the auto-helm has just had enough. It refuses to hold its course in heavy gusts, and so Ryan and I spend the next 6 hours taking turns at the wheel, steering by hand until our shoulders are sore.

Trying to hand steer with gusts of 30 knots blowing over your starboard side feels a bit like trying to steer a car in a straight line while a battering ram drives into the right side of your car every 10 seconds. I force the wheel to the right, pushing against the force with all my might until it subsides and I can relax. Then I brace myself to fight it again in another 10 seconds. Then another. And I repeat the process for 6 long hours, rhythmically straining against the pull of the boat.

I keep thinking about the single-handed sailors of old legends, crossing oceans without auto-helms and I wonder how they survived.

And to top the day off, by the time we reach Masonboro Inlet, it is pitch black. So, we have the added challenge of maneuvering between the unlit channel markers in the dark, trying not to hit them while we bounce around in the waves. Ryan’s job is to scan the horizon with a flashlight while I stare out at the black water, feeling like I’ve gone partially blind. I can’t tell if the lights I see up ahead are 10 feet away or a mile away, which has me terrified of the things I can’t see and skeptical of my digital chart plotter.

Thankfully, we reach safety in the form of a dock at Seapath Yacht Club, which also offers a hot shower to cleanse our tired spirits. As soon as we are docked, I fold myself into the couch, turn on the propane heater and cease to move or speak. Ryan and I look at each other after a few minutes of silence and laugh one of those thank-god-THAT’S-over laughs, and give each other an exhausted hug.

“How about we take the inside route tomorrow?” says Ryan. I just nod.

In truth, we are feeling pretty proud of ourselves for surviving a grueling journey with our spirits still in tact. In the end, North Carolina doled out one-third sunshine, one-third friendships and one-third stormy weather. And if I had my choice, I’d take the first two-thirds and toss out the last.

But I don’t get to choose what gets thrown our way. Though I’m reassured that we can survive the storms, even if the experience is unpleasant. At the very least, we’ve come away from North Carolina with a little more confidence in ourselves and our boat.

Now, for more of that sunshine…

Celia hideaway sailing with cats

Celia, hiding in the head.

Outer Banks Marathon: With a little help from our friends

I have mentioned before that land schedules do not jive with sail plans. Yet I don’t think we’ve quite internalized this fact because we keep scheduling things like we still live in Manhattan. Luckily, with a little help from the universe (i.e. Facebook), the internet and the kindness of strangers, we’ve found we can sail and make our land schedules work (it just takes some creativity and help from friends).

Before we left New York in October, Ryan and I signed up for the Outer Banks Marathon in North Carolina, not knowing exactly where we’d be in the course of our travels on the weekend of November 11th. It might have been optimistic, but we made the commitment and then decided later to sail as far south as we could and find a way to get to the marathon once we crossed that bridge…or, well, those waters.

But on Thursday night, with the marathon quickly approaching, we worked out if we arrived in Oriental on Saturday, we would be a three-and-a-half-hour drive south of the Outer Banks, where we would need to be before 6 pm Saturday night. And, unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be many options for getting between the two.

So, I posted on our Turf to Surf Facebook Page that I was having trouble figuring out how to get to a car rental (there are none in Oriental) so we could then get to the Outer Banks Marathon. Within minutes, I got a response from Brittany at Windtraveler, who said she’d just emailed one of her blog followers in Oriental to see if they could help out. And help out they did!

It took some impeccable timing, a reliable boat, and a lot of help from two incredibly generous cruisers, Gretchen and Chris (s/v Alchemy) to make this schedule happen (almost) as smoothly as it did:

Saturday 11/11/12

  • 4:00 am – Pulled up anchor in Belham, NC and motor-sailed to Oriental, NC to arrive at marina for 12:00 pm.
  • 1:00 pm – Gretchen and Chris, never having met us before, dropped their boat repairs to pick us up from Whittaker Pointe Marina and entertain us with sailing stories while they drove us to our car rental in New Bern, NC (30 minutes away).
  • 1:30 pm – We headed for Kill Devil Hills, NC in our rental car.
  • 3:00 pm – Stopped at a gas station/diner for hot dogs, burgers and fries, and learned a cute southern term: having your hamburger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato and mayo).
  • 4:30 pm – Got pulled over and ticketed for speeding. Bummer. Bigger bummer: court date is 1/2/13 (the day after New Year’s!) in Manteo, NC. (Note to self: find NC lawyer to sort this out. And get Ryan to ham up his English accent to the police next time.)
  • 5:45 pm – Arrived to Outer Banks Marathon Expo. Picked up our bibs just before they shut at 6:00 pm. Whew!
  • 6:30 pm – Arrived to hotel in Nags Head, NC. Ate steak. Slept.

Sunday 11/12/12

  • 4:30 am – Woke up to find we hadn’t packed warm enough running clothes for 40-degree temperatures. Why is it so cold here in the south?!
  • 5:00 am – Drove to Manteo, NC (race finish line) to catch 5:45 am shuttle to race start.
  • 7:00 am – Ryan started Outer Banks Half Marathon.
  • 7:30 am – Tasha started Outer Banks Marathon.
  • 9:00 am – Ryan finished Half Marathon, looking strong.
  • 11:50 am – Tasha finished Marathon, hobbling.
  • 1:00 pm – Showered and checked out of hotel. Went for big, wonderful post-marathon lunch at Tortuga’s Lie in Nags Head.
  • 3:00 pm – Drove back to Avis Car Rental in New Bern, NC.
  • 6:30 pm – Gretchen and Chris picked us up from New Bern, bringing us a fresh loaf of bread, which Gretchen made herself (how nice is that?!), and drove us back to our marina in Oriental.
  • 7:00 pm – Had drinks and fresh bread on board Hideaway with Gretchen and Chris. Compared Charlie and Celia to Gretchen and Chris’ cats, Hawkeye and Radar, and wished we could sail together and have kitty play dates.
hideaway turftosurf sailing blog

Gretchen and Chris, hanging out with us in the salon of Hideaway.

And so, thanks to Gretchen and Chris, we are now back in Oriental, reunited with Charlie and Celia. But, as it turns out, we have another land date rushing up on us. On November 16th, our Long Island boat buddies Bill and Grace are flying into Jacksonville, Florida with the plan to sail south with us for a week. (And Ryan and I are hoping this trip will entice them to come cruising with us sooner rather than later, wink, wink).

So, we’re rushing south again, in an effort to get warm and to see how close we can get to Florida before Bill and Grace arrive, though it looks doubtful that we’ll get as far south as Jacksonville. It may take a little more creative solution-sleuthing to make this one work, but I’m sure the universe will comply.

One of these days, we’ll probably have to learn to let go of our land schedules a little more if we hope to lower the revs on our new cruising life. But I guess I’ll just have to add that to my growing list of things we need to learn.

tasha hacker obx marathon

Running the Outer Banks Marathon

Motor-sailing the ICW: 8 lessons in 24 hours

We may not be in the Caribbean, but I am starting to have fun again. Which is good because I didn’t want to follow up a post called “Sailing Sucks” with one called “Sailing the ICW: The Great Dismal Journey,” or something equally miserable.

tasha hacker great dismal swamp

Navigating the Great Dismal Swamp.

Luckily, having gotten through the Great Dismal Swamp yesterday and to our free dock in Elizabeth City, North Carolina (the reputed “Harbor of Hospitality” which lives up to its name), we woke up this morning to sunshine, fair winds and calm seas. Okay, it’s still not bikini weather, or even 1-layer-of-clothing weather, but it will do.

And I can say that in the last 24 hours I learned a small number of new things, including:

1. Locks are kind of amazing.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through the Panama Canal (though we may do it one day), but going through the humble Deep Creek Lock was definitely cause for excitement… and a little graffiti.

ryan horsnail deep creek lockdeep creek lock

2. Auto-pilot is awesome. But I wish it would let me change course by half a degree.

Motoring through the extremely narrow and mostly straight Great Dismal Swamp for hours by hand would have been annoying, so having an autopilot was certainly appreciated. But our autopilot couldn’t keep us on a perfectly straight course. We had to keep adding and subtracting one degree every 3 minutes to keep from running into the shallows. I know, I know, I should be thankful to have an autopilot at all. #firstworldproblems

3. Motoring in a straight line for 6 hours is boring.

The Great Dismal Swamp was interesting for about the first hour, and mainly because it looked like a scene out of Apocalypse Now. But each hour following, the lack of wildlife and unchanging view of swamp trees got less and less interesting, though it still remained weird.

great dismal swamp nc va

4. Cruisers are a breed of folk all their own.

Having run into a fair few experienced cruisers now, and having never known they existed before, I am starting to see how this life offers a community the way any other lifestyle choice does. I always thought sailors were loners, but it turns out a lot of cruisers move around in groups, or make plans to meet up in the same places. And the further south we go, the more we keep running into the same boats. We also keep running into sailors who know other sailors we know.

My guess is that, as a cruiser, if you were to announce to your cruising friends that you were going to give up your sailboat to buy a house with a big lawn, garden and satellite dish, it would be just as shocking as if you announced to your suburban neighbors that you were going to give up your two-car garage, good school district and landscaped yard to buy a boat and sail off into the horizon. It’s just another way people have chosen to live, and they surround themselves with people who live similar lives. Who knew?!

5. Battery banks and amps will inevitably come up in conversation.

We went out for drinks and fried food in Elizabeth City with our British boat neighbors, Martin & Bridget on Shin Dera, and while I grilled Bridget about their washing machine on board (how is that possible?!), I overheard Ryan grilling Martin about their battery bank. It was a moment for gender stereotyping, yes, but I’ve noticed that any time we meet a new cruiser, one of the stock questions Ryan asks is how much battery power they have. And I’ve noted that the cruisers we meet always have a lot more battery power than we do. I’m starting to see now that Ryan covets bigger batteries at sea the way he coveted a bigger television on land.

6. Getting off the boat to sweat out my cabin fever makes me a more tolerable person to be around.

Elizabeth City is so hospitable to cruisers that not only do they meet arriving cruisers with a wine and cheese reception each night, but they’ve collaborated with their local gym, The Fitness Warehouse, to offer hot showers for $5, and a gym workout plus shower for only $10. We took full advantage of this opportunity and the world is a better place for it. Ryan and I can now exist on the same boat more easily for a few more days.

7. The cold weather brings out the CRAZY in our cats.

We went to sleep in 30-degree temperatures, bundled up in our thermal underwear, trying to ignore the wrestling match going on in the salon. I swear I heard clanking cooking utensils, as though Charlie and Celia were smacking each other over the heads with frying pans like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. And then, throughout the night, Charlie expressed her discontent by climbing onto our heads, then jumping on our chests, then running to the foot of the bed, then running back and jumping on our heads again. And when I would try to pet and soothe her, she would leap up and run to her food dish as though she thought 2 am was a good time to be fed. This pattern repeated itself all night until 7 am when we finally got out of bed, at which point the cats ran to where we were trying to sleep and promptly passed out in a serene slumber for 4 hours. I wondered if this was some kind of cruel justice for not having children.

8. Sailing (rather than motoring) is actually fun.

This morning, after we departed Elizabeth City, I had the rare opportunity of being completely alone at the helm while Ryan worked at his computer down in the cabin, trying to stay warm.

Prior to this trip, Ryan and I have always sailed together, or together with friends on board, so even if I was at the helm, he was always nearby to either correct my mistakes or tell me what to do when I had no idea. And therefore I never really learned how to decide myself what to do with the sails. And I never really built the confidence to make any important decisions as a captain.

So this morning, while Ryan was engrossed and out of the way, I decided to take on the sails myself, without asking for help. And because Ryan wasn’t there to unknowingly interfere with my learning process, I actually learned some new things about Hideaway and grew to enjoy the experience of sailing itself, as opposed to sailing just to get somewhere.

It was wonderful. And liberating. With 18 knots of wind behind me, and the motor shut down, I finally figured out why people like sailing. It’s exhilarating to make a boat go somewhere under the sheer power of the wind and your control over the sails. Any mistake I made was immediately evident, and I could then fiddle with the sails to see if I could make the boat go faster, or smoother. And by the time my watch was up, and Ryan came up into the cockpit, I could ask him real questions that I needed the answers to about how the sails worked and what I could have done to go faster. I felt incredibly empowered and, for the first time, a little competent.

So, if I could make a plea to all you experienced sailors out there: if you are the more competent sailor in your partnership and your partner is reluctant to take the reins and make decisions themselves, I would highly recommend leaving your partner alone at the helm. And often. Make an excuse to go read, take a nap, or anything that gets you out of the cockpit. In doing this, you’ll encourage your partner to experiment on their own with what makes a boat sail well or not, the way you probably learned yourself. It will empower your partner and it will make you a happier sailor to know your partner is learning to be just as competent as you are.

I’ve always felt like the clumsy, bumbling crew on board our boat and have preferred to stay out Ryan’s way because of it. But I’ve never liked the feeling of not knowing what he knew, though I didn’t know how to learn what he’d learned. Now, I know. He just needs to leave me alone at the helm more. And, actually, long trips in cold weather make this possible – who knew the cold could be a good thing?!

If I do happen to fall head over heels in love with sailing one of these days (and not just traveling by boat), it will be because it offers me a challenge and a steep learning curve.

And I’d be a fool not to grab the opportunity to learn something new about sailing…and myself.

Elizabeth City, NC - Alligator River, NC

Elizabeth City, NC – Alligator River, NC

Sailing sucks…today

Sometimes sailing sucks – I’m not gonna lie.

Like today, when I woke up in all my ski gear, covered in cold condensation, dreading our departure from Norfolk in 40-degree temperatures with 25-knot winds on the nose, which we fought through for four hours in choppy, lunch-tossing waves to get to Mile 0, the official start of the Intracoastal Waterway, in…eh? Norfolk?

Yes, that’s right. We left Bay Point Marina in Norfolk, Virginia, and four hours later we arrived at the start of the ICW in Norfolk, Virginia. It was like we’d just gone to the base of Mt. Everest to run in place. On a sunny day, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded. After all, there’s that thing they say… “Focus on the journey, not the destination.” Right. Well, I’m guessing whoever said that probably had heat.

But all joking aside, we did do a little high-five with our mittens when we went past red buoy #36, marking statute mile zero on the Intracoastal Waterway (throughout the ICW, the buoys mark what statute mile, rather than nautical mile, you’ve reached to help you understand your location and how far you’ve gone). And we celebrated by breaking out a pack of hand-warmers, which Ryan thankfully picked up on our weekend in Vermont. Almost as good as popping a bottle of champagne

mile 0 intracoastal waterway

Buoy #36 – Mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway

The fun was just beginning, though. During our shifts down in the cabin, taking turns sitting with our tiny 12-volt hair-dryer heater, we desperately pored over the ICW guidebooks to work out how to hail the bridges, what times they opened, and whether we’d be able to get through the Deep Creek Lock before the end of the day or whether we’d have to anchor and wait until the next day to get through.

As it turned out, the bridges weren’t as straight forward as we thought. They had schedules, sure. But when we got to the Gilmerton Bridge for its scheduled opening at 3:30 pm, we found that it was closed because right behind it was another railroad bridge that wasn’t open. And it had a train on it, which wasn’t moving. So, we hailed the bridgemaster, if that’s what you call him (just a guess), and he said as soon as the railroad bridge opened, he’d open. And so we waited. And waited.

Waiting on a sailboat under motor in a canal that has a current involves literally going around in circles in front of the bridge, trying not to drift too far away and waiting for the moment you can rev your engine and go forward again. And in the freezing cold, this is a frustrating exercise because you just want to get to your destination. I know, I know… the journey. Whatever.

Eventually, after an hour passed and the bridge still hadn’t opened, we called the bridgemaster again to see if he had any info for us. And his response, if you can imagine an angry southern drawl, was, “Do you not see that train up there on the bridge?! I done tol’ you, when that train goes and the bridge opens, then I’ll open the bridge!” And so we waited some more.

The bridge did finally open, as promised, but we didn’t have time to get through the next bridge before it closed, so we pulled off into the Great Dismal Swamp to anchor (my favorite name so far…I love that Great and Dismal can describe the same thing).

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, reading this, that I really should not be spending my days sailing if I can complain this much.

But I don’t recount this day as one that completely sucked because I want sympathy, or pity, or because I’m having doubts about this great, long journey we’ve embarked upon.

I’m only telling it how it is because I believe it is important to acknowledge and give a respectful nod to the troughs of any great challenge, because it makes the peaks that much more rewarding.

My father always called these experiences “character-building.” I like to say that nothing in life that’s really worth doing comes easy.

And today was, quite simply, a reminder of that.