Recognizing the end.

  
There are certain situations in life when an end is not clear.  Times when you are gifted with multiple roads to take and all the road signs are labeled “Lofty, but within reach.”  There’s no one who knows the details like you do, knows the intricacies of the problems, the victories of the solutions, the nuances of the memories. There’s no one to say stop, no one else to make the decision. It’s in these moments that one finds a sense of complete freedom, a real time understanding that we indeed write our own story.  One also feels a sense of overwhelming and at times debilitating fear and can easily get caught in a web of “what if’s”. 

Today was not our first experience of this type of life situation on our SoulTide adventure, this kind of crossroads, but it felt the most significant.  And once we had made our decision, elements began to fall into place like so many keys fitting into locks. 

After finding irreparable damages inside of our engine block, we decided to haul our girl SoulTide out in Charleston and give her a well deserved break.  After all, she wasn’t even favored to make it out of Virginia and look at how far she took us. 

It was heartbreaking to leave her, to leave our home and our boat life.  We will miss the quiet hours spent sailing, the incredibly kind (and often very silly and gregarious) souls we met along the way, the dolphins.  I will miss cooking for Clay, making coffee and orange juice in the morning for us while SoulTide is on a major tilt.  I will missing reading our guidebooks to Clay, learning about the water and her landmarks as we passed through them. I will miss the sound of rain inside the boat, the sound of Clay singing or calling a bridge for an opening. I will miss watching Clay fish for dinner with an incredible sunset developing around him. 

I know Clay will miss our SoulTide terribly until we can get her home again.  He will miss sailing.  He will miss navigating, watching wind and weather patterns and searching tirelessly for the best anchorages.  He will miss running aground, I’m sure, and I think he’ll really missing getting us off a grounding.  He will miss the freedoms, the solitude, the quiet.  

We are incredibly lucky to have had these experiences and incredibly grateful that the one thing we won’t have to miss from this trip is each other. We are heading home together, with memories and stories we can cherish forever.  Until the next adventure…

Storms don’t last forever.

{spoiler alert} We made it! 1,244 nautical miles and two months later, we reached the Florida Keys.  A lot to catch up on…last we talked, we were still in Georgia with a south heading. 

After discovering quicksand islands, our next stop was Kilkeny Marnia tucked up in Kilkeny Creek, GA. A bare minimum kind of marina, with old wooden docks, outdoor showers and a handful of friendly locals and tubs of live bait.  Once anchored, near a boat called SoulMate, Clay took off with Chad, a pole and a bucket full of live shrimp in search of dinner.  I stayed back in the warmth of our Little Buddy Propane Heater and was gearing up  for some yoga when I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming desire to take a nap.  Not one who takes naps often, the notion seemed odd to me and I remember thinking what a strange feeling to suddenly come over me.  As I was heading to our bed, thinking I might not even make it there before falling asleep, a very quiet voice in my head whispered “the heater”.  I knew I should turn it off before taking a nap so with the last bit of energy I had, I reached through the all ready settling sleep to clip the heater off.  Almost instantly, I felt alert again.  Without realizing it, I had probably saved my own life by clipping off that heater prior to laying down.  We still haven’t found where the propane was leaking from but traced it to a malfunction with the low setting of the heater.  It was a frightening moment and a great reminder to stay aware and safe.  The following day we tied back up to the marina for water and diesel and caught a quick ride into town for light provisioning, the highlight of the which was a 24 variety pack of beer called Tacklebox, sure to top anyfisherman’s list.   The marina is located just adjacent to a pre-civil war era plantation style house which was a treasure to explore along its perimeter while Clay fueled up SoulTide.  

  

  

  

When Henry Ford purchased this property after the war, he had the tiny doors you see put on either side of the walls where cannons had blasted holes through. He wanted to keep a reminder of the destruction the war had caused.

 

Study sesh for the kid.

Georgia has some of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen.

 

Our next major stop was at Jekyll Island, GA. We were forced to stop for a large weather system moving through with high winds and rain. After getting settled, we borrowed bikes from the super hospitable people at the marina and took a ride around, under large sagging oak branches adorned with Spanish moss and little white birds. We were seeing the island during its dead season and everything was either shut down or empty: the putt putt golf course, the water park, the convention center; the hotel parking lots and the main restaurants sat empty. Creepy.  

  
   

    

 

For months before our trip even began, Clay knew for sure where his favorite spot would be. He described it as some kind of Mecca, a destination that ruled over all other destinations, where Bud Light flows like water, the Redskins are always winning and Florida Georgia line plays a concert, live 24/7/365.  After leaving Jekyll Island we made it to this ultimate destination and probably could have ended our trip there: The Florida Georgia Line.

    

Fernandina Beach treated us great. We waited out another weather system here and spent time showering, doing laundry, riding our bikes around for a self guided eating tour of the town, and doing hot yoga (which felt incredible).

The weather system passed, we kept heading south.  Our anchorage for the night was gorgeous, a small oxbow behind an island off the ICW called Pine Island. Not long after we fell asleep, I woke up feeling uncomfortably squished.  I gave Clay a gentle push, telling him to get on his side of the bed.  He responded, “Fine, I’ll just go up to my side.” For a moment, I laid there thinking what an odd response that was…go up to his side? As the thought began to take shape, I felt Clay shift a bit and then whisper, “I think we are aground.” For the next 45 mins our boat began to tilt, slowly at first and then more aggressively as the water receded at a higher rate, until we were on our side at a 45 degree tilt with nothing but mud under us.  Items on the high side of the boat were falling from their places behind the wood railings, sliding out from their cubby holes and out from under nets until there was a whole pile of things (plants, books, heaters, plates) and us, mingling on the low side of the boat.   The wind had kept us away from the out going ride and we ended up high and dry.  They say there are three types of boaters: those who have run aground, those who will run aground and those that lie about it.  We seem to flip flop between the first two categories often.

Taken at what would have been “level”.

   

Sunset in Titusville, Fl where Clay quit smoking! Still going strong!

  

Our first night where we felt like we had really made it. Walking up to a Florida bar, Squid Lips!

  

16 man band killing it, guy on the bongos was crushing french fries between solos.

  

Our girl being brave in the face of gale force winds. We abandoned her and went to the library and pie shop. Eau Gallie, FL

    

Opposite of boat life

    

Chadsworth and Soultide

  

Morning ritual of pulling the anchor.

 

“United States Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Florida. Break.”

    Edit   

First fish! We breaded it up in crushed Raisin Bran and made a chipotle aioli. yum!

    

Beach run for the girl.

  

water line from brown and murky to blue and clear.

 
  

submarine!

    
Our stretch from Fernandina Beach to Fort Lauderdale seemed to drag on forever. Clay’s sister and her husband live in Fort Lauderdale and the promise of a comfy bed and
hot showers and great company probably made that stretch seem much longer than it was.  Or maybe it was the terrifying band of severe weather that moved in and wouldn’t let up.  Or maybe the seemingly endless number of low clearance bridges with their untimely openings that we could never get to on schedule.  Maybe a lot of all three.  By the time we had reached 10 nautical miles above Fort Lauderdale, we were exhausted, everything was soaked and starting to harbor mold, the weather was getting worse, morale at its lowest.  We made our last bridge opening in the first hours of nightfall, in the lull between two weather systems.  Seeing our incredibly gracious hosts pull up in a Jetta with cold beers on ice felt nothing short of spectacular.  We spent the next seven days drying out and enjoying some land time, swapping sailing stories and eating great meals.  Certainly one of the highlights of our trip. 

Tornado and severse thunderstorm warnings all day.

  

Everyone knows something about fishing and it all seems to be wrong.

    

Clay in the engine room for the big ship his sister and her husband work on. Their engine room is bigger than our whole boat.

  

A grilling extraveganza.

  

Florida’s version of street cats!

   

live bluegrass with a tiny guest

  

engine troubles

    

 

With the gift of some pretty rad fabric in Fort Lauderdale, I made curtains for our boat!

 

an iguana is hiding in there

  From Fort Lauderdale we made a run to No Name Harbor at the very top of the Florida Keys, where many cruisers wait for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas.  It’s got great all around protection and is the first time we were able to go swimming!     

No Name Harbor

  

    
    

While looking for a protected anchorage in preparation for the next wind storm, we checked out a small key called Boca Chita. I snapped these photos and only later figured out that this was probably a Cuban refugee boat.

  

    

Big motor yacht that had run aground at low tide. It looked like the captain had decided to wait it out in the shade of his boat. That little speck to the right is the dinghy he was sitting in.


We finally found a spot with northern protection along an undeveloped stretch of mangroves at the top of Barnes Sound.  We sailed into our anchorage just as the sun was setting, Clay at the helm singing and dancing to Jimmy Buffet.  Quick showers on deck and soon dinner was going, hatches open to catch the evening breeze.  I saw the first one, an unassuming single mosquito.  I wasn’t nervous, I don’t even think I said anything about it to Clay.  Rookie mistake.  

Within ten minutes, just as dinner was being served, our entire cabin was overrun with mosquitoes, angry and determined ones. I couldn’t even take a bite of my food without also catching a mosquito in the process.  We were sure that they would move on after an hour or so, this is what we’d seen before.  But as the minutes went by, the more mosquitos arrived until Clay finally yelled, “Get under the blankets and tuck in all the sides!” Huddled in the tropics under our blankets meant for cold weather, we couldn’t breathe or see but we could hear the growing buzz of hundreds of hungry mosquitos until it drowned out all other noises.  And there we stayed for another few hours.  Finally, having had enough and starting to sweat, Clay climbed out from his protective barrier prepared to face the swarm.  He popped into the dark cockpit, as it was well into night by then, clipped on the spotlight and shined it into the cabin.  At least a hundred mosquitos had landed on my blanket where I was still hiding, crying from terror and exhaustion and lack of oxygen. Another hundred were buzzing around the cabin, another hundred in our v-berth, countless in the cockpit and surrounding the boat.  We had to move.  Like some kind of hero, Clay shouted down to me to stay covered and that he was going to get us somewhere safe.  I heard the engine grumble to life and the anchor pulled on board.  I waited until I could feel the wind created by our movement before climbing up into the cabin. And so we went, through a pitch black night in unfamiliar waters to try and get away from the nightmare we were living in.  As Clay navigated, I hunted down and terminated hundreds of mosquitos that had harbored in the lower spaces of our boat.  A few hour later we reset our anchor and tried to fall asleep amid phantom buzzing and ghost sightings of mosquitos that thankfully were no longer there.

Clay hiding from the mosquitos .

 

mosquito netting. not so rookie anymore.


We woke up the next morning and waited out a gale at Gilbert’s Marina.  The tiki bar was rocking with live music in the evening and the next morning we headed south with full sails and no engine, the sound of which was replaced by me learning to play the harmonica.  A great day.

   

Our destination was a free slip generously gifted to us by a family friend.  On arrival though, we saw the dock was completely exposed to the northwest sitting on the bottom end of a wide open bay. Against our better judgment, we stayed and had a great afternoon of snorkeling around.  

 7 pm. Like a train in the distance, we could hear the wind pick up.  We felt the water respond, building up against the momentum of the wind, creating a slight chop.  

9pm. The winds amped up quickly and the waves followed suit. Clay checked on everyone before going to bed: Chad secured at the end of the dock, SoulTide secured with lines off all side bow and stern, spring lines for additional support. We tried to sleep.

Midnight: Unable to sleep because of the violent thrash of SoulTide against the pilings, the 2′ waves  slamming into her side and the 30knt winds whipping the bay into a frenzy, we watched episodes of The Office and tried to ignore the sounds around us.  Being on SoulTide at this point is like being on a wild horse.

4am: Clay checks on Chad and sees that Chad isn’t fairing well.  His back cleat had been ripped out and he was flipped over and sinking.  Our third set of oars and oar locks gone.  It was time to get off the boat. 

4:30am: Clay and I make it off our wild horse of a boat and on to the dock.  The only way to save Chad was to lay on the dock and drag him through the water, handing him under the other thrashing boats lines.  We do this successfully and are able to get him right side up. 

7am: The forecast is calling for the same winds for the next 24 hours so we pack a bag, secure SoulTide as best we can, hop the fence to the marina and walk into town. Meanwhile, Clay is sending a distress text to his mom in Key West: please come save us.

life jacket in case of deep puddles. no sleep for 24 hours here.

starbucks sleeping

By that afternoon, we had arrived in Key West, showered and took a nap.  Things were looking up.  We had a great evening in el compartemiento de Anne, watching the Super Bowl and eating the best damn nachos I’ve ever had. Highlight, for sure.

bike ride scenes around Key West

  

a sign.

  
    

We (Clay, myself, SoulTide, Chad) all survived the storm and kept heading south, thinking we were going to make it to Key West within a week. This is Clay celebrating make it to Long Key, which is the furthest south we got to in SoulTide.

    

puffer fish!

  

With less than ideal conditions in the lower Keys, we decided to head north early and enjoy some time in Key Largo where the weather was great!

  

Shower rig on the rig.

 

One of my favorite days of the trip was a day outing in Key Largo.  The backstory for this top notch day begins way back in White Stone, Va where talk of warm weather days spent lounging on white sandy beaches drinking fruity cocktails had solidified my desire to move on to a boat in the dead of winter.  That tropical image had kept my spirits high well into the belly of our trip, after days and days of wearing my parka and ski pants as we crossed four state lines, the miles between us and home increasing but the outside temperature always staying the same: cold.  So once we had arrived in the Keys, I was beyond ready for the white beaches and fruity cocktails and honestly willing to settle for tan beaches and Bud Light if it meant warm weather and lounging.  After several days of gale force winds and countless hours stuck on the boat, Clay and I began to wonder what it was all for and I, lamenting about the lack of sandy beaches, demanded to know when and where we would be finding one.  Clay nonchalantly said “Sandy beaches? There aren’t any Sandy beaches in the Keys.” 😳 Upon realizing he had crushed a very vivid tropical paradise dream, he quickly started forming a plan to find that paradise, or something close to it.  The southern Keys were forecasted to continuing gales and low temps but the northern Keys were slotted to be at least 10 degrees warmer and provide much better protection.  And so north we went, back to Tarpon Basin and it’s incredible protection, free dinghy dock, bait shop, manatees and a dolphin that was 27′ long (I swear!).  Clay’s mom and Mike drove up to meet us and after a stop in at what is probably the best marine consignment shop on the eastern seaboard (one at which neither Clay or Mike can resist stopping at) we drove to John Pennekamp State Park.  We laid on a sandy beach, had a lovely picnic, went snorkeling, read books and showered (✨🎉✨).     

What’s a perfect day in the Keys without a Key Lime Pie tour?

    
    

Really doing something here with this tiki vibe!


  
Holidays are hard to celebrate when you live as close as we do: always together whether on land or boat, and made additionally difficult when your girlfriend has expectations that are impossible to guess or achieve and always involve elements of surprise; also, we are broke. But Clay, always trying to please, snuck off to Kmart under the guise of picking up a bucket for the boat and decorated Valentine’s Day style while I was on a run. It was the perfect amount of quirky and surprise. ❤️
   

We are heading back home now…more adventures are already happenin, faster than I can write about them! New blog already in the works…goodbye until then!

old friends, new dangers

We are finally back on our journey after the latest engine situation. We thought the cylinder head was cracked but, on our first full day in Beaufort as Clay started pulling our girl apart, we found it wasn’t so bleak as that.  There was definitely some work required where old bolts had rusted through and others had seized so badly they refused to come out no matter how much heat, WD-40 or swearing Clay threw at them. He spent a full day in and out of the engine compartment, multiple trips to the hardware store (which required getting in the dinghy, rowing it to shore, getting on a bike, riding a mile up the road to the most exstensive, locally owned hardware store ever, and then back again). It was a dark evening, weather and morale wise. 

The following morning though, the sun rose and the engine started right up; I’m not sure which one of those Clay loved most. As fate would have it, just before we left the Lady’s Island Marina, we saw our friend Jason coming into the creek.  We met Jason a mere four days into our journey, on the north end of the Dismal Swamp, when a shortage of bridge space required us to raft up to him. His stories of lobstering in Maine, 20′ waves off the coast of New Jersey without a life jacket and plowing through locks single handed had us in awe.  He was a staple in all of our stories since. We were delighted to be reunited and stuck around an extra evening to catch up and watch the Redskins lose. 

After leaving Beaufort, we anchored right above Savannah, GA nestled in between two grassy islands.  Dolphins were playing against the shore and would occasionally come by to check us out.  Because we wanted to bypass Savannah in the early morning with a favorable current and less water traffic, we had chosen to anchor earlier than usual, around 3:30.  This left plenty of daylight for extracurricular activities like fishing for Clay and exploring for me.  The island on the north side of the creek was a sand beach that ran up to a deep set barrier of grass and looked perfect for a late afternoon yoga session. With no houses or boats for miles, the symphony of the land had a chance to shine: dolphin splashes every few minutes, birds calling to each other, soft lapping of the water against the boat. The time was right.  With my yoga mat tucked under one arm and the VHF in the other (safety always, then fashion) I popped into our dinghy and paddled over to the island.  My landing was firm and as I stood up in Chad (the dinghy) I could see a great sandy path leading to the island’s plateau.  In my excitement and total lack of experience with islands that usually stay under water 12 hours a day, I jumped from the dinghy with both feet and immediately sunk 1′ into the ground.  In an effort to catch myself, I was able to rip one booted foot from the ground and took a gigantic step forward in hopes of finding solid ground.  No such thing existed there or anywhere within 100 yards.  I didn’t know this yet though so I kept going and I kept sinking, deeper and deeper until I was thigh deep in what felt incredibly close to quicksand, speculation of course because I’ve only heard about quicksand back in elementary school.  It was from this very distant, very small memory file full of so many other things from elementary school like addition and subtraction, spelling and animals, where I pulled up the image of a cartoon guy in a cartoon jungle in a cartoon pool of quicksand.  He’s neck deep and looks concerned but he’s got ahold of a plank of wood and is saving himself from certain quicksand death by clinging to it.  I always wondered, even as a young child, where the heck that plank of wood came from because that seemed just too convenient and here I was, waist deep in quicksand and there were no planks in sight.  Luckily, in my haste to jump into exploring, I left my yoga mat behind and instead took along the paddle, an image that reiterates landing on the island, standing up and immediately jumping off onto land, paddle and all; no time to switch gear, no time to check for quicksand. I dropped to all fours, paddle laid horizontally across the ground and I army crawled back to the safety of Chad, dragging my mud filled boots behind me, each knee sinking deep before slurping its way back out for the next “step”. I rolled into Chad and pushed the shore, covered almost entirely in mud and sand, soaked from the elbows down. 

Now every time Clay sees a small mound of mud or patch of grass sticking out of the water, he yells “Ooo look! An island!”. 😑  

 

Don’t ever give up. 

It’s hard to write updates when things aren’t going great. Our diesel engine is acting a fool and so we are stationary in Beaufort, SC while Clay tries to get a handle on it. Lucky for us, this town is one helpful person after the next, mostly retired cruisers who remember what it was like to be us: just a couple of kids having an adventure on a shoestring budget. We were welcomed with open, understanding arms by Steve at the Lady’s Island Marina, where he offered us a close anchorage, free dinghy access to the marina facilities which include a workshop and showers (amen, hallelujah), and unlimited smiles and spirit lifting jokes about cruising life. We are forever grateful for Steve and his hospitality. 

  
 “Living on a boat is just working on your boat in more exotic locations.” – Steve  

It’s been awhile since you’ve had an update and for the longest time I contemplated telling you about our last couple weeks starting from the present and going backwards or from the beginning and working forwards. I think I contemplated this so hard I gave myself a migraine which still lingers and is another reason our stay in Beaufort has been a good one: I finally ran out of procrastinating excuses and am forced to write, bad news and all. 
My last post left off at the end of our window fiasco and we were waiting for the next big rain storm to see if our windows would hold dry. THEY DID and have continued to hold steady, even through hard and cold downpours. It’s a huge victory to know it can rain at night (or while we are away from the boat or while we are on the boat cooking dinner) and we will stay dry. It’s a victory hard to understand by those who haven’t experienced a leaky boat – those who have and hear of our success, smile generously and applaud our efforts. That feels like a victory too.  
 
  
From Belhaven, NC we sailed (literally) down the Pamlico River while listening to the Redskins game (intermittently, because signal was spotty). It was a wonderful afternoon, with sunshine and snacks, football and favorable winds.  

 We anchored just north of Morehead City, a bit more industrial than the creeks we’ve been used to anchoring in. Feeling exhausted and unsure about our anchor set near a major bridge, we were discussing a very short list of far fetched alternative options when Clay yelled “Look! Dolphins! What a great omen! We are anchoring here.” I was so excited I almost fell off the boat, we anchored and had wine and cheese on the stern. It was a good night. 
From Morehead City, we made an early run to Swansboro and decided to anchor early in order to provision, send postcards and pay bills, as well as get out of the torrential downpours that kept rolling through. We motored up to Swansboro’s town dock, a very well maintained floating dock that is available to transient boaters who want to come ashore for a few hours to eat or shop. Approaching the dock was our first experience of how crazy ridiculous the currents are in this part of the ICW. We had to approach twice after our first attempt saw us a few feet short of the dock with a first mate who’s legs are too short (or fear is too great) to make the jump from bow to dock.  
 
 

Clay washing dishes

 
Provisioning is not convenient to the waterfront so we started towards the grocery and hardware stores, hand in hand. While in line at the post office, Clay sweet talked a gentleman into giving him a lift to the hardware store, about a mile further. The kindness of strangers has truly been a gift during our trip. Groceries were bought, postcards were sent and just as the sky really opened up, we arrived back at our boat. Anchoring in the rain is not a fun activity so we milked our time at the dock with a few beers at the waterfront bar. Our anchorage in Swansboro was in a fairly commercial area surrounded on three sides, like being cradled with a “[” of civilization. The top “arm” was lined with a small row of waterfront restaurants and bars, the backbone a low clearance bridge, and the bottom “arm” a small jut of land on which a shrimping operation sat. A shallow but steadfast anchorage. Just before sunset, I saw a sailboat set anchor not too far from us. I watched as a young woman hoisted the anchor from its locker and heave it over the side while a man at the helm backed down on the anchor line. I smiled, thinking, “That’s what we look like.” Eventually, these two sailors made their way over to our boat and we had the pleasure of meeting Emma and Casey, the owners of a lovely sailboat named Stout. A few drinks while sharing our experiences rounded out nicely an otherwise damp but productive day. We’ve been running into these waterway friends often; it’s been fun to see how their adventure is unfolding! 

strange pink house with UPS truck stuck in boardwalk driveway

  

From Swansboro, our goal was to make a run to Wrightsville which in Clay’s words would be “the longest distance a man has ever traveled in one day.” This is not entirely accurate although after leaving in the predawn darkness and running for thirteen hours, it felt exactly like that. A more than full day of missing all four bridge openings by mere minutes, in the wind and rain, ended with us climbing into a super fluffy bed in a gorgeous beach front house. One of Clay’s childhood family friends graciously offered their beach rental for us to use and what a incredible treat it was! We woke up Christmas Eve morning and decided that since we weren’t going for gift giving this year, we would make an inspired Christmas Eve dinner. We took inventory of the things we needed for a blowout dinner and caught a ride into the mainland.    

before

 

after

 
  Christmas morning we woke up cozy and comfy and to two stuffed stockings. Buying gifts for each other is difficult when you live on a boat with your partner and all trips are usually joint trips. That meant we got creative with the little sentiments we did gift each other: Clay found a homemade jar of pickles at the hardware store, organic sunscreen and silicone wrapped wine glasses {no spills, I love them) from West Marine and chocolate caramels from the grocery store he popped into for the rack of lamb. I found a redskins koozie at a grocery store and regifted my sunglasses case for his pair that really needed it. What’s more than the gifts though were the memories we made on Christmas: Clay waiting patiently for me to sweat my way into several different wetsuits, Clay putting me immediately in where the big dogs surf and telling me to paddle fast and jump up quick, me taking a face full of water and surfboard and declaring I was too afraid to continue, Clay realizing I needed more instruction and less “getting pitted”, me finally catching a petite baby wave on all fours. Our little Christmas was a success.  
    
    
  
From Wrightsville, we made a run down to Little River, where my grandparents have lived for as long as I can remember. It was surreal coming into town by sail when I’ve seen it from the road for so many years. Our stay was full of home cooked food, lots of laughing and equal amounts of my grandpa swearing at the iPhone and Clay figuring out there were such things as “beer sheds”.   

Bike riding tradition I almost got left out of. 🙂

 

 

Little River Swing Bridge

 

Veg soup warms even the most frozen of sailors

   

   We left Little River on New Years Eve with a batch of homemade veggie soup, $20 worth of fireworks and hope that the sky would clear and the temps would rise. Those things didn’t happen. Instead, we found ourselves in the strangest anchorage we’ve seen yet, far from civilization. With the winter weather in full swing, all of the trees in our little nook of an anchorage had lost their leaves and all that was left behind were patches of grey Spanish moss drooping off of twisted and knobby tree limbs. The trees in that area grow right up out of the water, creating an echo that went for miles and a very eerie environment where all we could hear were the slight movements of the water. Although far from seemingly everything, we were not alone. When we first entered the bend, we saw a large white cross coming up out of a moss covered tree stump. Around the second bend, we found a partially sunk vessel caught in a ticket of vegetation. We saw there was writing on the cross but couldn’t make out what it said so with just a handful of minutes before true dusk set in, we climbed into Chad (our dinghy) and paddled across the creek to investigate. We were able to get enough information off the cross to find a news article from early summer and discovered that a man had drown there after jump off his boat into the water. We took a moment of silence for his soul and paddled back towards the boat in a contemplative silence. The water can be such a wonderful place to play and travel but demands constant respect and proper safety measures. Any activity or simple task can turn deadly, quick and without warning. This was a sobering reminder of that.   

   
  
From our desolate and kind of scary anchorage, we made a run for Charleston, SC. Our experience of Charleston was clouded greatly by the onset of a three day long migraine for me coupled with super rough wind and wake conditions. We were happy to leave port and look forward to seeing the city again in a different light soon.

Finally, we are caught up. Thank you all for keeping up with us!  

 

Trust fall.

As we came back into our home port after a quick afternoon sail, I took my place at the bow of Soultide.  My job there is to lasso the piling on the starboard side and cleat it off to secure the boat.  I patiently waited as Claiborne honed in the nose of our girl and watched my piling get within range as we glided silently into our slip.  “Ive got it!”, I preemptively yelled as I reached out for the rope.  The boat, in a sudden fit of independence, stopped all forward motion and kept just far enough away from the piling to keep it out of my immediate reach.   Not a problem, I thought to myself. I turned my head towards the stern where I could see in my peripheral Claiborne cleating off his lines (successfully).  I called back, “I missed the line so I’m going to do a trust fall into the piling!”  The silence that followed my declaration instantly translated in my mind as trust falling into the piling was a great idea and that I had his full support.  It never occurred to me that his silence could mean he was assessing if he heard me correctly, as well as comprehend what trust falling into a piling actually entailed, and then taking a hasty inventory of the ensuing and likely injurious consequences that such an activity would most certainly result in.  While these calculations were ticking in Clays mind, I was delightedly and without any thought to possible negative outcomes, beginning my trust fall. 

When you are on a boat and apply pressure to an outside secondary, stationary object, you (and the boat) move and the object stays still.  This is common sense, of which I appear to have very little.  I bent at the waist and covered the distance that my arms couldn’t, just barely getting my palms to the piling.  This felt like definite success for two seconds until I felt the boat begin to move away from the piling, responding to the force of my palms landing.  I was just short of enough grip on the piling to where I couldn’t push once more to get myself upright again and so I gripped as hard as my little fingers would and stretching my upper body as far as I could. And then I started screaming. “CLAIBORNE, IM GOING IN!!” I shrieked, knowing I couldn’t grip anymore, feeling I couldn’t stretch my upper body an inch more and seeing the gap between the boat and the piling get wider and wider. I could almost hear his trust-fall-mind-calculation-thought-bubble pop as he watched one possible outcome take shape right before him and he sprang into action.  He reached me just as my fingers were finally slipping completely off the piling and felt his arms wrap around my waist just as I felt my upper body started for the cold creek water below.  Pulling me safely back over the lifelines he whispered, “That was a terrible idea.” 

In many ways, this year has been all about  trust falling. Closing my eyes and trusting that the universe would be there to catch me, trust falling into magical cabins and wonderful friends, home cooked meals and art projects, the man of my whole entire heart and the trip of a lifetime.  The most important aspect of a trust fall isn’t about falling or catching, it’s about the in between. It’s after you’ve fallen, taken an action on faith and before you are caught.  It’s the letting go, the trust.  That’s where the magic happens.  

I am planning on trust falling right into 2016, which sounds far less dangerous than into a piling.   Happy New Year, readers! See you on the other side! 

180 degrees south

We’ve got to avoid meeting like this, days behind and so much to catch up on. 

We are currently crushing the Neuse River, about to pick up Adams Creek. Our guides warned this part of the trip rivals the Albermarle Sound for most aggressive but so far it’s been cake: I’m down in the cabin curled up with some apples and peanut butter, updating you fine people and not being even one ounce of wretched, which is typical for any crossings that are less than flat. 

Claiborne at the helm with a snack of his own. He’s happy and you know that because he is singing and dancing.


Speaking of wretched, let’s talk about the Albemarle sound…
We left our anchorage outside of Elizabeth City early on Wednesday, hoping to be in favorable conditions for as much of the day as possible. Our plan was to get across the Albemarle Sound and to the mouth of the Alligator River before noon, at which point we’d be in the protection of the river and we could make our run as long or as short as we wanted.  The morning started out fair but by about 9 the wind picked up and the waves followed suit.  I started to feel sick. Five hours later we came to the Alligator River Bridge, where we had a lovely bridge opening with a wonderful bridge tender. I don’t have pictures of any of it because I was five hours deep in the worst sea sickness I’ve ever had and was being too wretched to do anything else but complain. Three hours later, we were still getting rocked in the middle of the Alligator River.  Clay was over being at the helm, I was over feeling sea sick and our anchorage wasn’t close and the river wasn’t letting up.  Finally, after eight and a half hours, the wind 
let up, the waves died down and our anchorage was in sight. We could not have been more happy or exhausted throwing the anchor for the night.  

cloud city

  

I asked Clay to express his overall feelings about the Albermarle Sound.

  

Then I asked him to express his overall feelings about leaving that day behind.


The bottom of the Alligator River gets very narrow and funnels into a canal like existence that runs for a few miles.  Some of the best scenery we’ve seen so far was along this canal, with our bald eagle count topping out at 10. No alligators though, as much as I wanted every clump of grass to be one. 
   
    
 
 
With leaking windows and bruised morale from the beating we took on the Alligator River, we made plans to stop in Belhaven for the evening – luckily, Clay’s dad lives not far from the water and was more than excited to have is stay. We arrived in port Thursday afternoon wet, dirty and tired but a few hours later found us dry, clean and curled up in a king sized bed. 

{The window saga}: I’ve decided to dedicate a whole post to this because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow and that will be the final test as to if this new solution has worked. I think a detail of our troubleshooting may help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

 

Here is Clay inside another vessel with no windows except this thing isnt really supposed to have them, unlike our boat.


Our one night stop in Belhaven turned into 3 productive days. A hit to our timeline but, as advised by many, we don’t really have a timeline so it all worked out in the end. Great meals and a cozy home were a boost for morale as was our midday, mid-window install visit to Spoon River Restaurant in Belhaven, NC.  

  

To be continued…

The Rules.

We got the folk out of Norfolk yesterday.  Not before taking advantage of some Wifi, shower and laundry facilities, and filled up on diesel and water.  We go through quite a bit of water so Clay, after getting in trouble multiple times for hovering by the sink critiquing my dishwashing techniques, offered the Soultide crew a Dishwashing 101 course. This just meant showing me how to wash the dishes in dirty, somewhat soapy water and then rising them super fast. The old college try for our dishes from here on out. 

We were not sad to see the huge shipping containers disappear into our modest wake.  Those ships gave way to tugboats and soon we found ourselves at a double bridge (which was closed) with two tugboats and another sailboat. Waiting for a bridge to open is an active task. We had to keep our boat within the channel but out of the tugboats way and far enough from the bridge but close enough so when the bridge opened, we could scuttle on through.  We made lots of figure eights and big looping cirlces. Being courteous and safe means being on the radio with the bridge and with other boats, letting all parties involved know what your intentions are – apparently, we were the only ones with any manners. An approaching sailboat came in super hot, no radio to the bridge, and cut in front of us throwing a bunch of wake. The tugboats weren’t much better. Golden rule: always be nice and always be on your radio. No matter though, we made it through just fine and with all the waiting around, it was a prefect time to whip up some lunch. 

   
About a mile after the bridge, the ICW splits: The Dismal Swamp Route to the West and the Virgina Cut to the East. We chose the Dismal because of the promises of scenic views and less bridges to wait on.  

 
A few miles past the split, we reached the Deep Creek Lock, the start of the Dismal Swamp. We had missed the early afternoon opening so we dropped hook (anchor) about 100 yards from the lock doors and waited.  With approaching storm clouds, Clay set up our “rain tarp” and we hunkered down in the cabin to see what she would do. Side note: Clay and I delayed our trip by 3 days in order to rip out all the windows and redo them because of several leaks we had. This impending rainstorm was going to be the revealer of truth…would our windows hold tight? 

The wind started to pick up and we could hear the rain start to tap at the tarp. The rain came harder, rolling down the sides of the boat and across the window panes. And guess what are windows did not do? They did not hold tight.

At all.

 This is an important picture because it depicts another rule of the water: keep morale high. Here, Clay is physically sick, sniffling and coughing his way around the boat and our windows are leaking, at times directly on to him. As the First Mate, my job is to keep morale high…note the chocolate I left for him on the table. 
The rain stopped, the windows stopped leaking and the lock opened up for us. 

Ensue terrifying lock experience. Rule #3: always be honest. Tell as many people as you can how new you are to sailing and how terrified you are about what is going to happen. This rule worked well with the lock master, who heard my concerns, smiled, and clearly directed me to cleat off the bow line and relax.  

 Not relaxed. 

Watching the water rush into the lock is surreal.  So is looking back and seeing you are now 8′ above the water line where you had just been anchored.

 Survived. 

Our evening home was just inside the canal, in pretty much downtown Chesapeake. We rafted up to another sailboat as the mooring wall had already been taken up by two other boats and we found ourselves in the company of one very silly Captain Jason, a lobster man/marine mechanic/offshore sailor from upstate NY. He seemed to have a whole pile of rules that he liked to break or completely ignore, so this post is definitely not for him. 

  

We ain’t scared.

Day four is already here. Let’s play catch up …

Day 1: We eased. 

We left the house seperately, me having to stay behind and shower and pack last minute items, Clay heading to the boat to install windows. The morning was chilled but with undertones of warm air and sunshine, we knew it would be a gorgeous day for a departure.  Even still, I wore my Artic parka, which has become somewhat of a running joke: the warmer the weather, the tighter the parka is zipped.  

We had a soft departure for about four hours as we finished up last minute checklists and friends came to see us off, many of them coming in from the water.  
   
Leaving our home port was a surreal experience.  Watching the dock where we had spent so many days and nights working in the rain and wind (and some days bright blissful sunshine) felt more like leaving home than our actual home. 

The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful for our first day. Flat, a bit of wind, sunny day. We cruised on down to Gwynn Island, a childhood spot of Claiborne. 

  
Our first bridge opening went incredibly well! The way bridge openings work goes like this: you call the bridge on channel 16 on the VFH radio. “Gwynn Island Bridge, this is Soultide, come in.” You are pretty close to the closed bridge at this point so it’s a little nerve racking. The bridge comes back with what channel it’s on and then we say “Sailing vessel Soultide requesting a bridge opening. Over.” Confirmation from the bridge tender and the bridge begins to open. It was a great first victory of our trip.  Clay notes: we had 150′ of fishing line cleated off to the starboard side as we went through the bridge. Not kosher.

 
We anchored a little south of Gwynn Island, in a small inlet at Moon, Va. A generally sleepless night after such an adventurous day; plus, I was worried about our anchor dragging.  She didn’t though and has continued to do a fantastic job of keeping us put. (We have a Rocna, good for all types of bottoms.50′ of chain and 100′ of rope. Huge points for Clay figuring out what anchor we needed with the appropriate amount of rhode. We get to sleep because of his hard work.)

Day 2: We explored. 

Clay remembered an old lighthouse he loved to see as a young lad so our goal for the morning was to go check it out.  The Wolftrap Lighthouse is about 6 nautical miles from where we anchored in Moon, Va so we started early.  About 15 minutes into our morning sail, as I was dropping cheese puffs all over the cockpit, we ran hard aground coming through the Hole in the Wall.  Running aground is like a fender bender but the guy you hit is invisible.  Luckily, Soultide was able to pull off the ground using her sails and we were soon underway again.  The Wolftrap Lighthouse was incredible.  Out in the middle of the bay, run down…I do wish I could’ve climbed up and explored the inside.  


Our lighthouse run had gone well into the afternoon so we decided to head inland to a harbor Clay had worked with a few years ago.  A tiny, rural harbor inside the shallowest channel we’ve seen yet – absolutely worth the risk of running aground again though. Horn Harbor was pretty quiet except for some hardcore fisherman types who were settling in for a weekend of fishing. Norm, the harbor master, was incredibly hospitable, helping us drag 100′ of garden hose from the club house to the boat to fill up water. He even offered us an open slip to dock in for the night and a place to shower in the morning. We loved our night in Horn Harbor, Va.  

   
Day 3: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

An early start out of Horn Harbor plus favorable weather meant we cruised hard for 8 hours straight. It was a great day in the sort of open waters, Clay brought out the banjo as I navigated Soultide, I danced, we lunched and then we got to Norfolk.  

   
Norfolk. Norfolk, Va is the most crazy, overwhelming place to experience from the water. Of course, we didn’t really get that at first.  


 As the ships got bigger and closer our comfort levels got lower until the whole experience came to a boiling point with us sandwiched between a 1,200′ shipping vessel and a navy police boat. Clay did a terrific job of handling the situation as best he could, I did a fantastic job of freaking out. 

 We were relieved to find our anchorage, make some dinner, and settle in for the night. 

Day 4: Hail. 

It’s Sunday and that means football. Portsmouth offers several anchorages and a few free places to dock (all towered over by these gigantic naval vessels). We docked up for a bit in a little cove for the late morning. Clay worked on boat maintenance and I trekked to the closest grocery store. Lesson learned: buy conservatively.  I trekked the mile and a half back weighted down with a 25 lbs backpack and a gallon of water in each hand. Overall, it was a lovely walk through the historical area of Portsmouth. The afternoon found us anchored out at Hospital Point and taking the dinghy in to the local marina for dockage.  We walked a few blocks to the nearest sports bar and had a great time watching the Redskins beat da Bears. Back on the boat, I was thinking about how much I’ve learned in the last four days, how happy I am, and how lucky I am to be on this incredible adventure with such an incredible man.  

   
  

Weekend Do: Get lost.

Some of the best days are free of timelines, destinations, or expectations. The hardest questions you’ll have to answer might be “Should I turn left here?”, “Should I stop for some local honey (wine, soup, flowers)?” And in these days, the best answer is always “Why not?”. These are wandering days and these are the days when you can most easily touch the magic in every moment.

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A conversation in yoga

It’s been a tangible day. One of those days when the memories and compromises and emotions you have dug into become so raw that all sensory input is amplified. Routine pathways carved within your neuron network fire without direct stimulation and spark feelings and images long since stored away to flash like new across the present moment. And you find yourself in power hour yoga, just barely recovered from the conversation on the phone and the tears it brought.

I can’t do this right now but I’m going to. I will feel better. Focus on the breath, in and out.

Feel free to sigh whenever you need to, feel free to let it go. Notice what you are holding on to and then let it go.

I can feel my chest tighten and my temples begin to pound. If you start crying, Allyson, it’s not going to be good. Breathe in and out.

The tears came anyway. Welling up and finally spilling on to my mat. The room became obscured and fuzzy as the tears kept coming. I just kept moving. Pose after pose. I could feel myself shifting through the familiar sensations of one of these “attacks”. Anger, jealousy, isolation. These were real sensations and yet the only outward stimulation was a simple phrase meant to comfort: let it go.

From Extended Side Angle, transition into Warrior ll, go for it! the pain only lasts for 5 seconds and then it eases and disappears.

It’s true, 5 seconds and the pain is gone. Is that how it work in real life as well? Could I have just breathed through 5 seconds of sensation and reacted less or not at all? Could I have been more patient, more kind, more understanding?

We don’t think we are strong enough to do things but really that’s just the resistance within the mind.

I always felt that I wasn’t strong enough to change my behavior, that I needed others to change before I could commit to something as simple as breathing for 5 seconds and then reevaluating the situation. I felt that every blowup was the one in which to prove I wasn’t wrong, that I wasn’t the sick one. And in reality, every time was the time in which my mind resisted the idea of compassion, the idea of love and patience, the evidence that I was in need of help.

what are you holding on to? Let it go.