A week ago we were at the start of the ICW and entering the Great Dismal Swamp and now we’re in Savannah, halfway to Miami, our jumping off point to the Bahamas. Sailboat travel can be so comically slow, but looking back now it all seems like such a whirlwind. We’ve seen five states in the last two weeks. Not too bad for 7 knots maximum speed!
The Great Dismal Swamp was one of the narrowest portions of the ICW so far—so narrow, in fact, that we hit a couple of tree branches with the windex (at the top of the mast) on our way down. Transiting our first lock was a lot easier than I’d expected.
The lock master (is that a thing?) was very chatty yet professional and immediately put me at ease. He even blew the conch for us, which was an unexpected treat. (For a minute I was afraid he was going to ask us to name the tune he’d played, but thankfully we were off the hook on that one.) Apparently people returning from the Bahamas on the ICW bring him conch shells (you can see them on the steps of his adorable little white clapboard office in the photo below) and he learned to blow them. The next lock wasn’t quite as entertaining. The guy there told us how much he hates New York. Um, thanks! And made fun of the other guy for playing the conch. Of course, this was done in a very charming Southern way that made it all seem okay somehow.
We were treated to a pretty fantastic array of fall colors on our first day of the Great Dismal Swamp, which surprised us both. Who knew they had fall down South too?
We spent the first night tied up at the Great Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. It sounded a lot more exciting than what it was: basically just a rest stop for cars and boats, crushing the impression we had of being so far away from civilization. Not that we cared much—we were exhausted. We made dinner and hit the sack early, bundling up for a cold night. In the morning, there was frost on the decks. Brrrr!!
And then before we knew it, we were through the Great Dismal Swamp and sailing across the Albemarle Sound and down the Alligator River, where we spent Thanksgiving. Rich cooked a gigantic chicken on the grill and I baked an apple-pear pie. We have a lot to be thankful for this year. We feel so lucky to be living our dream. It was a great moment to reflect on that as we sat at anchor enjoying our yummy Thanksgiving feast, with our only company another boat anchored off our stern. It was a beautiful night, though we definitely missed our family and friends.
We spent a few more nights at anchor before getting close to Beaufort and the coast. One memorable night we anchored off of what I like to call Mosquito Island. Duck season is in full swing in North Carolina and we could see a bunch of guys in a boat behind a duck blind (don’t worry, I’d never heard of them, either) and hear the pop, pop, pop of their shots in the air. We giggled when a little flock of ducks flew directly over them and not a shot went off. Score one for the ducks!
After the duck hunters went home, we were sharing some prosecco and watching the sunset when a swarm of mosquitoes joined us in our cockpit. This swarm was so massive that the mosquitoes were bouncing off of our faces as we tried in vain to ignore them. I hightailed it down below, leaving poor Rich to haul in the crab pot he’d dropped trying to catch our dinner. (Nice wife, huh?) By the time he came down below, I’d killed about 20 of the little monsters that’d come down into the cabin with me. Before the night was over, we probably killed another 20. Unlike the urban mozzies that we know and love, who know to shut up for a minute so they can sneak up on you in your sleep, these guys’ buzzing was so loud and incessant that the noise was making me crazy and they simply could not be allowed to live. They were also surprisingly dumb about hiding out. When I went looking for them, they just sort of sat there buzzing as if they had no idea that there were creatures with opposable thumbs who could deliver them to their maker. Sorry, mosquitoes. (Not really.)
We saw our first dolphin just outside of Beaufort, pronounced Bo-fort, North Carolina (not to be confused with Beaufort, pronounced Byoo-fort, South Carolina). It felt like a good omen. Also, it never ceases to amaze and delight me that we can call up on our VHF and get bridges to open up and stop traffic for a few minutes (like we did with the one above in Beaufort).
When we decided to go offshore from Beaufort, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina, the pace picked up quite a bit. We were able to cover about 250 miles in 36 hours, something that would have taken us five days on the ICW. Amazing how much faster you can travel going in a straight line nonstop versus weaving around on the ICW and having to stop by sundown, which is painfully early now that we’re into the winter months and the sun sets around 4:30. We were lucky to crank out 50 miles in a day that way, which sounds so laughable when you think about how quickly you can travel by car. Just to give you an idea, when we got to Portsmouth, Virginia, our friend Michelle told us it had taken her six hours to get there by car. Guess how long it took us by boat? Five days!
It was beautiful sailing (er, motoring! Haven’t had a lot of wind in the last week or so), with seas so flat you could see the stars reflected on their surface. And did I mention that it was blissfully warm? No gloves! Water temps were in the mid ’70s and we were sailing in T-shirts when the sun was up, which felt soooooo good after weeks of sailing in tons of layers and foul weather gear. We saw a bunch more dolphins and lots of cool birds, and the fishing was great. Rich has been dying to catch something for our dinner since we left. I was down below early one morning, when Rich suddenly slowed the boat down. I popped up to see what was wrong and Rich said, “I caught a fish!” He’s learned a lot since that first fish on our way to the Azores, which was a gory bloodbath. This time, he quickly dispatched our poor victim and had him cleaned and filleted in no time. We made fish tacos for lunch that day.
Going offshore is still a challenge for me. It’s beautiful out there and I’m getting more and more comfortable with it, but I think I’m still rattled from our experience crossing to the Azores a year ago. Not to mention that I’m prone to seasickness. We had no wind and pretty flat seas coming out of Beaufort, but the slight waves that were rolling at us from the side sent me down below to put on another scopolamine patch. I think that’s going to be part of the prep for going offshore from now on, though I’m open to other seasickness remedies if anyone cares to share them. I’ve heard ginger capsules can help. Maybe I’ll try that next time?
When we realized that we’d be hitting Charleston at night, we started slowing ourselves down so we could enter the inlet in daylight hours. But slowing ourselves down to kill eight hours just seemed silly when we crunched the numbers and saw that in a few more hours we could get to Tybee Inlet and Savannah. So on we went, listening to the weather forecast, which promised a little bit of wind out of the northeast to help get us there. Alas, that wind didn’t materialize and we ended up stopping in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to refuel. The cool thing about stopping in Hilton Head was that Rich’s mom, Lydia, was able to join us for the last day of sailing (okay, motoring) to Savannah.
The forecast was for very little wind again, but we figured we could motor offshore and come in through the Tybee Inlet, making it to Delegal Creek marina near Lydia’s house on Skidaway Island by that afternoon. But the fog was so dense that we wound up taking the ICW instead, very slowly because we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us at times. Eventually the fog lifted and we were treated to a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 70s. Hard to believe it’s December! We stopped for lunch at Tubby’s Tank House in Thunderbolt, which is a funky little hole-in-the-wall with great seafood and a fun open-air patio. A few hours later we were tucked into a slip in Isle of Hope, a few hours’ sail from Delegal.
The next day we sailed to Delegal. Lydia and the dock master, Billy, were there to catch our lines. Everyone had warned us about the current coming in here and I was a little nervous, but Rich effortlessly guided us in like the pro that he is. So now Mata Hari is all tied up and secure in her new home. We’ll be here for the next month working on boat projects, like the dinghy that Rich is building, installing solar panels, finishing the dodger, and fixing all the little things that broke while we were getting here. Yep, we’ll be working on our boat in paradise!