23 June, 2018

On the road again


Date: 22 June, 2018
Location: Confluence, Pennsylvania
Subject: On the road again

We've been in Blacksburg since early May with the exception of a few road trips in the area. Now it's time to get back on the road. We've done a few "shakedown cruises" in the new RV and are pretty happy with it. Just like a boat, there are some things we really like about it and there are some things we wish we liked more. There are always compromises to be made when you try to fit a living area for two people into such a small space.

Our ultimate destination this summer is Nova Scotia, Canada. We'll spend over a month there but right now we're just meandering through some areas we haven't visited before.
If you click on the picture to make it bigger you can see some little yellow dots in the river, they are kayaks!  It's THAT far down!


Our first stop was New River Gorge National River. The views are amazing from the top and the bottom and we've really enjoyed walking the trails, one of our favourite things to do.

One trail eventually led us to a long, narrow spine of rock far above the gorge where we had a specacular view of the New River Gorge bridge. It spans 3,030 ft and is 876 ft high. We had a lovely panoramic view of the gorge, too.















We like to dawdle and have no schedule, giving us time to stop and explore any little interesting things that pop up along the way.

Yesterday we came REALLY close to running over Bambi, a tiny fawn with it's spots still on right in the middle of the road. Poor thing was terrified! If we hadn't been going slow he would have been a goner. That would have been terrible!

We are currently camped at an Army Corps of Engineers campground near Confluence, PA. It's on the Youghiogheny River (pronounced "yahk-ah-GAY-nee"). We love these Pennsylvania pronounciations (for example, "Schuylkill" is pronounced "sKOO-kl")!!

We came here because our house batteries are not charging when the engine is running and we wanted to plug in for the night to get a good charge on them. Just like on Rachel, Mark is troubleshooting and is confident he can come up with a fix.

Tomorrow it's off to Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania, home of Punxsutawny Phil, the world-famous weather predicting groundhog – you may remember the movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Maybe we'll see if we can watch that tonight so we know what to look for when we get there.

23 April, 2018

Bog balls, burgers, and beetles


 Location: Sumter National Forest, Brick House Campground, South Carolina


It was still cold in Blacksburg, so we decided to take a “shakedown cruise” in the new RV. We just aren't having much luck getting warm this spring! Last night here in South Carolina it got down into the upper 30s. Sheesh! We have had some lovely weather and warmer nights than this but the cold nights are not much fun, even if we do have a heater. What a pair of wusses!

Heading south: Had a lovely visit with Mark's mum in Greensboro, North Carolina for a few days, helping her with chores and shopping, and enjoying each other's company.

Further south: We spent 4 days with some ex-cruising friends (they are no longer cruising but they are still our friends :), who have made Beaufort (“bow-furt”), NC their home. We always enjoy our time with them and our walks around this lovely town. We spent some quality time just hanging out, cooking, and sampled several bottles of wine with our friends. Since we're planning to go to Nova Scotia next summer, we also made plans to travel with them for about 10 days to Grand Manan Island in August while we're both up in that neck of the woods. That should be a fun time.

Even further south: We ended up having another great visit with Mark's son and his family over the weekend near Burgaw, North Carolina.



Yet further south: Still a bit chilly, so we were on the move again. We just happened to get in touch with some other still-actively-cruising friends who also just happened to be spending the night at Osprey Marina on the Waccamaw River. Always looking for opportunities to get together with old friends, we headed down to meet up with them.


We decided to splurge for lunch and ended up at the Socastee Station restaurant in Myrtle Beach. It turned out to be a great choice. It just so happens that Monday is $5 burger day - what luck! We had a great waitress who recommended their “bog balls” as an appetizer. Curious, and always ready to try regional fare, we had to give them a try. So we split an order between the 4 of us. Yum – good decision! Apparently, “chicken bog” is a local delicacy consisting of chicken, rice, sausage, and “other stuff that's secret”. “Bog balls” are simply chicken bog rolled into balls and deep fried - what's not to like? They were accompanied by a secret spicy “dippin' sauce” and made for a really tasty (though not necessarily healthy) appetizer.

  Then came the Monday special – an 8oz. grilled burger on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onions, and a mess of fries (“chips” if you're from England) – all included in the $5 price! We all rolled out of there feeling more than sated!!




We finished this part of the trip off with a series of stays in US Forest Service campgrounds, most of them free. One was right on the Intracoastal Waterway at McClellanville, SC. We have passed by it several times in our boats. Lots of fun watching the boats passing by. 


 The campground we're in now has a $5 / night fee, but with our America The Beautiful Senior Pass we're in for half price – a whopping $10 for 4 nights. Livin' large!
 Finally warm enough to start heading north: We came across a North American Trail Ride Conference (http://natrc.org) holding it's South Carolina Derby trail riding competition here in Sumter National Forest. We had an opportunity to meet the organizers and several of the riders as we hiked the shared trail system this weekend.
And our biggest find so far this trip was seeing a dung beetle in action! They roll dung into a ball and then roll it along with their hing legs on top of the ball and push it along, backwards, with their front legs (video below).  It looks remarkably like a bog ball !!? Yikes!





20 March, 2018

No Sails!


Location: Near Deltaville, VA

Subject:  No sails?

Hold onto your hats! Those whacky Rachels are at it again!!

Let's set the scene. They've just returned from Florida after selling Rachel the catamaran, and are sitting in a two bedroom flat at their friends' house near Deltaville, VA. It's cold outside and they seem slightly bored. Perhaps it's because they have no sails to adjust, and no boat jobs to do. Let's listen in....

“Now that we've sold the boat what are we going to do next?” she asks.

He replies “I dunno. Move back into the house?”

“Okay.”

(Two days pass during which initial plans are made to move back into the house at the end of April)

“You know, I hit my head in Houdini, too.” he says, looking bored again.

“Yes.” she says, “I remember.”

(Two more days pass – he's been looking around on the Internet for potential replacements for Houdini the Toyota)

“Feel like taking a road trip down to Myrtle Beach to check out a 2007 Winnebago View 23J and see if we like it? That vintage is smaller than the newer ones we've seen.”

“Okay” she says “but we're just going to look, right?”

“Of course, darling.”

(Two more days pass - you may be able to sense where this is going – they drive a Wanda-load of boat stuff down to Blacksburg and drop it off, then head down to Myrtle Beach)


 “Wow. This is in really good condition – it looks almost new.”


“Wow. I like this layout.”

“Yeah. And the 5-cylinder diesel has more power than the Toyota.”



 "Right. And I love the bed in the back and the slide out dinette that creates so much more living space.”






(The excitement builds. They are starting to sound like an advertisement)


“YES! And the big fuel tank would give us a lot more range!”





“YES! And the 6' 5” headroom means I wouldn't have to listen to you whining about hitting your head any more!”

“YES! And it has cruise control! And comfy seats!”




“YES! And a guest bed for the grandkids!”




“YES! And a shower stall I can stand up in!”

“YES! And a 3-burner stove and a big fridge!”


“YES! And it only has 47,000 miles on it!”

“YES!!” 

 “OH, YES!!!”

(Uh oh...what's that smell? Could it be the acrid scent of boat money burning holes in pockets?)

“Let's buy it!”

“Okay!”

And they do. As they're driving back to Deltaville they stop for an overnight visit with their newest granddaughter, Celia Rose, born last December, and her family.


“Wow! She's even more beautiful than her pictures!”


“And absolutely precious!”

“Can I hold her?”

“Ooh! Me, too! Can I hold her, too?”










(Two more days pass – we rejoin our spendthrift friends back in the flat near Deltaville – they don't seem to be as bored now)

“You know, I was awake in the night thinking..”

“Always a dangerous proposition.” he interjects

“.. about moving back into the house. We just spent all that money on the RV, and we're going to be doing a lot of traveling this year. Maybe we should rent the house again instead of moving back in. We could really use the income.”

“Okay.”

(See how congenial they are? :-)

(Closing scene: it's a warm, sunny spring day. The camera pans to a distant View bouncing jauntily down a back country road.)

“Beep beep!”

<scattered applause>



So here we are near Deltaville, staying a bit longer with our friends, helping them with painting and wiring and cooking and doing dishes and pouring wine and whatever else they need us to do as they remodel their kitchen.

Then it's off to Blacksburg around Easter weekend to haul back the final load of stuff from the boat, drop off Wanda the Honda, and take care of a few other things at our house. After that we're saddlin' up and headin' south in the View until May. It's become apparent that it's much too cold for us up here in Virginia. And, anyway, we could use a good shakedown cruise.

Keep an eye out for us – we shouldn't be too hard to spot since, for the first time ever, we've decided to spring for personalized license plates: “NO SAILS”.

26 February, 2018

WHACK!!


Location: Vero Beach, Florida

“I'm going to put the kettle on.” Whack! “OW!!”

“Pass me that towel please.” Clunk! “@$^$^&*!!!”

“Let me just grab my cap.” Bonk! “AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!”

This has been Mark's life, several times a day, every day, since we moved aboard Rachel last October and headed south.

It turns out that Rachel is about an inch too short for Mark and he turns out (not unexpectedly <g>) to be a slow study. Even after living aboard for four months, he's still hitting his head. He adjusts and bends lower, gets used to it, then, as soon as he has his shoes on, or is wearing a cap, or the boat moves, or he simply isn't paying attention, he whacks his head again. Doorways, handholds, hard bimini corners, light switches, overhead teak trim – none have cause to feel left out. There are only three places in the boat in which he can stand upright – the main salon by the door, and the two hulls amidship – but only if he stands in just the right place and doesn't move. We thought he'd get used to it over time, but, unfortunately, that's not how it's worked out. So we've reluctantly decided to put Rachel on the market before Mark sprains his neck or suffers a concussion. She's been a great boat, and we're really happy with her – except for this one issue and it just doesn't seem to be getting any better.

After spending a fun month in Fort Myers Beach, we decided to head back across Florida again on the Okeechobee Waterway and put Rachel on the market. We are back in Vero Beach on a mooring and have advertised Rachel on a free sailboat listing web site as being for sale by owner. She's been listed for less than a week and we've already had about 20 contacts, 4 visits, and one repeat visit. We are cautiously optimistic.

“Well, what's next?” you might ask. Watch this space, 'cause were waiting to see what happens, too!

Everyone is asking us if we'll get another boat. Our answer is “almost assuredly” - we love sailing and cruising and know we'll miss all our cruising friends. Last time we sold a boat, we managed to hold out for...hmmm … less then a year? Really? We have no idea how long this particular boatless period will last, but we do know we'll eventually get another one. We're not actively looking, but we'll keep our eyes open as we travel about and see what comes to us.

In any event, we'll still keep RVing – we're thinking about heading up to Nova Scotia this summer – and we'll still do months-long immersive trips to other countries like we did last winter in Vietnam. So our itch to travel and see new places and meet new people will continue to be scratched, and we'll continue to share our experiences with you all via these Khronicles.

We're also going to take the upstairs of our house off the rental market and move back in this spring. It'll be nice to get all our stuff out of the basement and have an actual house to knock about in. Eleven years ago in April we moved aboard Rachel full-time, and we haven't had a “home base” since, except for one winter a few years ago. When visiting Blacksburg, we've had to stay with friends or family, or live in Houdini (our little Toyota RV) in our front yard or in friends' driveways. We love our traveling lifestyle and don't plan to give it up any time soon – we just want a home to come home to whenever we're ready to come home.

Whack! “DOH!!”

Mark & Julie

PS – March 6 - After a record breaking short time on the market (one week to contract, and less than another week to closing) Rachel has been sold! Her new owners Kevin and Diane will take her to a boatyard in a few days and put her to bed for the spring and summer. Then they'll head back down from the Vancouver, BC, Canada area and start their new “snowbird” cruising lifestyle. We wish them all the best and hope they meet as many wonderful friends as we have!





10 February, 2018

Friends, etc.

Location: Fort Myers Beach, Florida
Position: 26 27.275 N 081 56.374 W


After our last posting about crossing the Okeechobee we received lots of emails and calls from friends who were either in Western Florida or would be there in the next couple of months. They all wanted to get together with us while we were over here. So even though the weather has been cold and windy we have been warmed by this outpouring of friendship. We managed to connect with almost all of them over the last 2 months. Some of them we hadn't seen for quite a few years.


All the visiting was interspersed with some great places. Here are the highlights:


Cayo Costa State Park, an awesome, quiet, and beautiful anchorage. A lovely beach on the Gulf of Mexico, up close and personal with several manatees, we saw our first crocodile, and spent hours here walking the trails (when it wasn't cold and windy).

Crocodile

After sitting for a long time snapping away we managed to get this great picture of a manatee


 In Don Pedro State Park we ran across an alert "watch pig" guarding the building behind it.  Yes, it really is alive...but asleep!
 In Punta Gorda, we got to visit friends we met in Honduras who are now Cruisers Living On Dirt (CLODs).  
 We dinghied around the canals, checking out all the cool Christmas lights, attended a performance of Scrooge, and visited the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, an awesome, kitschy, and up-close wildlife rehabilitation center for exotic animals. Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my! 
 They even drove their powerboat down to visit us in Cayo Costa for the day and brought lunch (on a day that wasn't windy and cold)!
 We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary – we're still best friends, and still in love.







Banyan tree 

Friends from Virginia now living in Florida, invited us to spend Christmas with them and their family. We had a wonderful time (we were inside when it was cold and windy).

 While in Sarasota we went to the Ringling Circus and Art Museums which were both amazing. Even though the circus is closed down now there are apparently still many circus families living in the area.

 Did we mention that the weather was really cold and windy? We decided to head south rather than go any further north, where it would be even colder and windier. Now we are at Fort Myers Beach on a mooring. 

We're enjoying walks on the beach, walks in parks, lots of Happy Hours in the plethora of bars here, and a great bus system to assist us in our efforts to explore and shop. Several old cruising friends are also in the mooring field for us to hang out with and more land friends keep popping in for lunch from nearby locations. What a fun couple of months!

We are so blessed to have so many good friends. The weather has also taken a turn for the better and now, (FINALLY) it's around 80 every day, 60 at night and not so windy. Woohoo!!

10 December, 2017

Okeechobee Waterway


Location: Ft. Myers, Florida
Position: 26 39.457 N 081 52.638 W

Up through this past week we've been traveling over familiar ground. We've already been up and down the East coast via both the ICW and the Atlantic Ocean multiple times. After a night in Stuart (when we last wrote) we set off on a new adventure. We decide to take the Okeechobee Waterway and cross to the West coast of Florida via Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the US (after Lake Michigan). Okeechobee is a Seminole Indian word meaning Big Water. We will be negotiating 5 locks, 6 opening bridges and be traversing some very shallow water.



The limiting height is a 49' railroad bridge at Port Mayaca on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Our masthead is 46' above the water (we think) and the water levels in the lake are currently fairly high. This means we may only have a foot or so of clearance when we go through. We call ahead to the lock tender who knows the daily water levels and bridge clearance. He tells us that today's clearance is 48.65 feet. We're pretty sure we're less than that , but we've never actually measured. Because we are not certain, we take it very slowly, hopefully allowing us enough time to stop and back away before anything breaks, although we're not really sure about that strategy either. Julie is laying on the coach roof looking up so as to, theoretically, tell Mark if it looks like we'll hit. We are happy to report that the tip of
our flexible VHF antenna (the tallest thing on the
boat) is definitely less than 48.65 feet. We know this because the VHF antenna didn't touch the bridge as we went under. Phew.

After the railroad bridge, we spend our first night in the canal just East of Lake Okeechobee tied between two dolphins. Not the aquatic mammal sort of dolphin. Nor the "mahi mahi" / "dorado" fish sort of dolphin. No, this particular sort of dolphin is several pilings bound together that can be used as a place a tug or barge (or even a sailboat!!) can tie up while waiting for the lock. We call ahead to the lock tender and ask permission to tie up for the night so we can get an early lock-through. He says "sure, enjoy your night" – really nice guy, the same one we've been talking to about the railroad bridge height. While we're getting settled, we manage to misjudge the distance between the dolphins. We get the bow line tied off, but it's too short to allow us to back up to the other dolphin at the stern. So Mark lowers the dinghy, Julie breaks out the "really, really long line" and we get it set up so all we have to do is slip the lines in the morning. Nothing to it.

We enjoy chatting with the lock tenders – they always seem to have good stories. Like the fellow who told us about the automatic manatee sensors on the lock doors. Apparently, if the sensor is triggered by a passing manatee while the doors are closing, they reverse themselves and open so the manatee won't get squished. The operator can't override this automatic safety behavior until it's tried and failed to close three times in succession, adding about an extra half hour to the locking. When that happens during the last lock-through of the day and delays quitting time, he says "that dang manatee is no longer your friend".

We hope we'll be able to finally get some sailing in crossing the lake. We lock through and get out on the lake at about 8am, but there's no wind. We're in a big open place where we can sail, but there's no wind. The deepest spot we see is 10 feet deep so when the wind kicks up it can get very choppy Sigh. So we motor.....again! Just as we're almost across the 25 mile lake passage and are in a narrow, rocky, dredged channel, the wind picks up. Sheesh! We now have wind, but we can't sail in such narrow quarters. And so it goes.

We make the turn from the lake back into the canal and – Holy Molies! - there are loads of little islands in front of us! Has the canal shoaled in? Can we even get through here? We slowly nose our way in and find 17' of water! These are all floating islands of some sort of aquatic plant (turns out to be water hyacinth, an invasive species from South America), one little island even has a 4 foot tall heron standing on it! How strange – we weave our way through them, not wanting the plants and roots to get caught on our rudders or in our propeller. Gradually, they diminish until they're all behind us. Another first for us.

The Moore Haven lock is partially broken and is only opening on our port side. We manage to squeeze our 14' beam through a surprising small seeming 25' opening and lock through. Night 2 of our journey is spent tied to the Moore Haven town dock.

A strong cold front is scheduled to pass through this weekend (8-9 December), and we've read that there's a free dock at LaBelle, a small town on the western portion of the canal about 25 miles from Moore Haven. We pull in and learn that there are 8 slips with wifi from a nearby library, water and electricity – all for free. There's a "3 days in, 8 days out" policy posted on the bulkhead.

Our first day ashore we learn that there's a Christmas parade, a "Christmas in the park" with vendors, food, and a Santa Claus, followed by a Christmas boat parade, all on Saturday. Unfortunately, Saturday would be our 4th night. Julie calls the dock master and asks if we can stay a 4th night so we can attend the festivities. "Sure!" he says.

Our second night there we attend a food truck rodeo in the park. There are 8 different "lunch wagons" offering everything from wings to Mexican to French / Mediterranean to hot dogs to ice cream to BBQ to Greek – and it all smells and looks wonderful. We choose the French / Middle Eastern truck and bring our delicious lamb and chicken laden pitas back to Rachel for a night off from cooking and doing dishes. Yum!

Our third night there a big power boat named "Fiddlin' Around" with 4 guys on it literally squeaks in between the pilings two slips over from us. We help them tie up and after a while, one of them comes up on deck with a fiddle and starts playing Christmas carols and we start singing along. They are doing all the waterways in the US and travel 1 week together out of every month on this, their third boat. The first was a pontoon boat that sank somewhere along the TenTom Canal. We never learned what the second boat was or what happened to it. The fiddle player has a "small plane" they use to fly in to wherever they happen to be cruising. They turn out to be really nice guys and a lot of fun. We regret seeing them go the next day.

So now it's parade day. Unfortunately, after a week or more of 80 F days, our cold front is coming through and the low for tonight will be about 40 degrees F. It's already cooling off quite a bit – everyone is in jeans and wooly jumpers and attendance seems way down at the park. The vendors are pretty much standing around talking amongst themselves and the line for Santa is only about 3 kids deep. It's a shame, because we've really come to like this little town.

The parade participants, like any Christmas parade we've ever attended, toss candy and treats out to the bystanders, especially the kids. When we realize that the treats also include little mini "Moon Pies" we agree that we are definitely in the south. And here's a first for us – they're also tossing out packages of fireworks! With no kids around us we score 4 Moon Pies, 3 packages of "Whistling Chaser" fireworks, a piece of hard candy and a hot chocolate flavored lollipop. What a haul!

The evening is topped of by the boat parade, which goes right behind our stern. It only consists of 3 boats but they are all very enthusiastic and circle 3 times, to make it look like there are more boats!

We wake up on Sunday morning to 40 degrees F with 36 degrees F and a frost warning predicted in LaBelle for tonight. Fort Myers forecast has tonight's low set at 43, a good 7 degrees F warmer, so we say goodbye to LaBelle and make tracks. After a pretty long, breezy, very chilly but sunny day we arrive at our anchorage at 3pm and sit in the cockpit in the sun, relishing the warming rays. We're on Florida's west coast now and look forward to doing some exploring. And, after tonight, things are supposed to be warming up – we sure hope so, because we are really looking forward to that, as well.

Stay warm, be safe, and remember - it's almost Christmas!





03 December, 2017

Catching Up

Location: Stuart, Florida
Position: 27 11.513 N 080 16.093 W

You're probably wondering where we are and what we've been up to for the last 5-6 weeks. Here's a quick synopsis.

we don't ever see our boat from this angle, taken
 from new hi-rise bridge in Beaufort, NC


This is what happens when you anchor
 in too shallow water
We left Broad Creek (near Oriental, NC) after several fun and work filled days with friends and scurried down to Isle of Palms, SC (just north of Charleston) to spend about 10 days visiting friends. We were able to stay at their dock as their boat was in the yard getting work done. We took this opportunity fix some leaks (re-bedding and re-gasketing hatches, stanchions, and lockers) to stem the tide of water we took on every time it rained. Unfortunately it involved removing the dinghy davits so it was a bit complicated and time consuming. Luckily we had great success and now are dry and snug in inclement weather. While there, we also rented a car and drove up to visit Mark's mom in Greensboro, NC. Nice visit, but too short for all of us.

Hurricane damage to shrimp boat
in Little River, SC

Next we stopped at John's and James Islands in SC (just south of Charleston) to visit more cruising friends for a few days.

Morning fog on the Waccamaw River, SC
Unfortunately this 2 week hiatus left us with encroaching autumn weather. Lovely days but cold nights, down into the low 40s F. This made for cold mornings as we were hauling anchor at 7am just after first light and anchoring just before sunset. We made tracks for Vero Beach, FL because we decided to try and make it there for Thanksgiving. After 7 pretty long days on the water we arrived. It was a great trip and we had a wonderful time despite the cold and the long days.

South Island floating swing bridge SC
Sign for bridge it swings out across the river,
we had to wait for it
We attended the annual cruiser Thanksgiving pot luck dinner, along with about 150 other cruisers. Great fun, food, camaraderie and music. As always when we stop in Vero we had more boat jobs, a couple of trips up the mast, a visit from a couple of amateur radio club members to get Mark off on the right foot for our ham radio installation, and, of course, shopping and more happy hours with friends both old and new.

We left Vero yesterday and spent the night in Ft. Pierce after having lunch with yet more old friends. Today we made a leisiurly trip to Stuart, except for all the huge wakes from the weekend yahoos (grumble grumble). From here we'll jump off into new territory – the Okeechobee Waterway and Florida's West coast.

Ashepoo River
A bald eagle welcoming us
 to the anchorage SC
Even though it sounds like all we've been doing is boat jobs and more boat jobs, we've been having a lot of fun, too. Reconnecting with old friends has been wonderful, as expected. And the new boat has been great, too. So far this trip we've done many things we weren't able to do on our old Rachel with her 6' draft. Those of you who have traveled the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) will know what we mean when we say we've done McClellanville, Hell Gate, Ashepoo / Coosaw Cutoff, and Little Mud River all at or within an hour of low tide. For you non-cruisers, these are infamous shallow spots where people regularly run aground. We've even spent the night anchored in less than 4' of water!





Chilly Morning

Cruise ship Independence passing us
 on a blustery day









Calm anchorage close to Florida border









White pelicans









Cleaning up Hurricane Irma
 damage at St Augustine









Sunrise in Daytona, FL









An osprey chowing down on a fish
glad that's not our boat!









Tricky maneuvering a hi-rise bridge, a railroad bridge
 and then a bascule bridge one after the other