01 November, 2009

Snails on a Turtle

Location: West Hartford, Connecticut
Position: N 41 47.06 W 072 45.66

Rachel is in a slip in Isle of Palms, South Carolina and we’re in a rental car driving up to Connecticut. Headed up the interstate highway at 70 mph we find ourselves reflecting on the differences between travelling by land and by sea. We just spent over two months getting Rachel from New England down to South Carolina, and now we’ll be making the return trip in 15 hours.

As we speed north in our rental car we recall looking out from Rachel’s cockpit at turtles sitting on rocks and logs, plopping into the water as we passed by along the Waccamaw and Pasquatank Rivers. From the car, even if there were turtles, we wouldn’t be able to see them at the speed we’re travelling. It’s all relative….

Q: What did the snail say when it was riding on the turtle?

As we cross the narrow, tame, and shallow upper Cape Fear River in North Carolina we remember the morning we sailed down its lower reaches. It’s turbulence and fast moving current created eddies and whirlpools as we sped along at 7.2 knots (just over 8 mph).

A: “Wheeeee!!”

Passing a sign that points the way to Wrightsville Beach we remember the huge dolphin that swam up to play in our bow wave as we sailed down from Beaufort, North Carolina (pronounced “bow-furt”). His nose reached out beyond Rachel’s bowsprit while his tail was right next to her hull, probably around 7 feet long. Julie spent the longest time standing on the bowsprit watching him. He kept looking up at her, too, as he swam and played.

We pass another sign telling us we’re entering the Pamlico Sound Watershed. It’s sunny, warm, and still here. Far different from the day we left Ocracoke Island bound for Oriental in the blowing rain. We had to clear the shallow Ocracoke entrance channel directly to windward, pounding into the waves and taking green Pamlico Sound water over the bow. Intracoastal Waterway

Driving over the upper reaches of the Potomac River, upstream from Washington, DC we see a river that, if navigable at all, would require a canoe or kayak to weave between the shallow rocks. We are reminded of one of our problem spots on the Chesapeake. The Potomac River flowing into the Bay causes a lot of turbulence and steep, choppy waves, especially when the wind opposes the ebbing tide. This is where the wooden dinghy we built in our basement first broke during a night passage to Mobjack Bay. Different, but just as scary as the political turbulence in the US Capital. Hmm. On second thought, maybe the Potomac isn’t so bad as all that ….

We cross the Delaware Bay Bridge (paying one of many annoying tolls along the way) and remember our glorious sail up the Delaware Bay and through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal to the C & D CanalSassafrass River on the Chesapeake Bay with the wind and tide in our favor all day.

Along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Throughway our sightseeing is interrupted by toll booths, large trucks, and annoying drivers. How different it is rushing along in this semi-organized chaos than when we sailed past Atlantic City on that lovely moonlit night! Silently rocking along looking at the giant wind generators, all the lights from the tall buildings, and watching Harrah’s of Atlantic City become a building-sized video screen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzkrbnByY-k&feature=related).

We pass New York City, looking at the tall buildings in the distance. From here in a car you can’t really even see the City – certainly not as intimately as we did from Rachel’s deck as we sailed the East and Hudson Rivers.

One thing we have been pleased to notice as we continue to travel north is the awesome colors of the autumn leaves. The leaves have turned since we left New England a couple of months ago. The reds, yellows, and oranges become ever more vibrant as we approach New England. Lately, most of the scenery we’ve seen from Rachel has been cypress swamps and marsh grass – different, and every bit as beautiful in their own ways – but these New England autumn colors … wow!

Woven throughout all of this are thoughts of old friends with whom we travelled, new friends we made along the way, and friends we haven’t seen in a while who are either behind or ahead of us in our travels. These friends, the ones we haven’t yet met, and the moments of solitude we enjoy - whether alone during a solitary night watch or together like we are most of the rest of the time - are the real highlights of our life aboard and are precious to us.
Spending the night in the Dismal Swamp, North Carolina
All in all we agree that we prefer travelling on Rachel over travelling by car. We have more time to think, to look, to consider, to relate. You know that whole “it’s not the destination, it’s the trip” thing? Well, it’s true. At least for us. Some may look on our life as slow and boring – “how can you stand to sail all day and only travel the same distance you can in less than an hour in a car?” We actually like – really, really like - being “snails on a turtle” and can’t wait to get back aboard Rachel to resume our slow passage further south.