Thursday, October 29, 2009

"On The Road Again"

Willie Nelson has always been one of our favorite singers and songwriters. His way of expressing emotions through song seems to convey a perfect emotion for a perfcet setting or period of time. Thusly, when we decided Bella Luna had been sitting still for too long (6 months), we thought of Willie Nelson's song, "On The Road Again"! And like that song says, we.... "just can't wait to get on the road again"!

Ever since returning home, we've been working on Bella Luna's appearance--poor thing, she looked really weary after going 7000 miles in 11 months with only minimal care. All her exterior teakwood has been completely refinished--professionally too, thank goodness! The interior teak paneling and flooring were given fresh coats of polyurethane as well. Two new stern canvases were added, keel work was done to repair a hairline crack, both sets of props were polished and recalibrated, and her hull was touched-up and buffed/polished to a rich blue shine. When we bought the boat in October of 2007, she didn't look nearly as pretty as she does now! And through Louis's many Cabella's credit-card points, we even purchased two new folding Schwinn bicycles--complete with their own pretty black carrying bags! Now that's special!

So this time around we're coming out of Pellitier Creek in Morehead City and heading south--south to Florida and the Keys. We plan on doing the St. John's River in northern Florida before coming home for Christmas. Then after the holidays, we'll return to the boat and head for the Keys--joining other friends there for a couple of months. When we leave Morehead City, we'll be traveling with another couple, Lisa & Jim Favors aboard their boat, "Kismet". Lisa is an expert with blogging and will help me post pictures here this time around---which should be fun for me too! And if all goes well, Bella Luna will not be back for six months this time--returning in April. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Final Blog--We've Crossed Our Wake!

(We have been home now for eight days. Last Thursday, I was literally in the final stages of writing this last blog when I hit a wrong key and deleted the whole story. Sadly, all attempts at retrieving it failed—even with the expert assistance of our daughter, Geni. So this will be an attempt at recreating that blog before all my memory fails!)

We left Georgetown Saturday morning, in a lot of wind, headed for our final night at anchor with “C-Life” and their family at the Oxbow cut-off just south of Myrtle Beach. Passing through the Waccamaw River on our way up, we saw the most concentration of ospreys on this trip we’d ever seen and heard of two alligator sightings. The Waccamaw River is a coffee-brown, rich-tannin, cypress filled, narrow passageway—very unusual, but very picturesque. We had a wonderful evening rafted together—with Kay & Robert grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and Louis making his ice cream and signature grilled Twinkies—and in fact, Robert said, “If it gets any better than this, please let me know!” Amen, Robert.

So Sunday we pulled into Barefoot Landing at North Myrtle Beach just in time for Louis and me to grab a quick lunch/salad at T-Bones—a must stop for any overnight boaters there. After lunch, we walked around the fun shops and enjoyed a beautiful, warm afternoon. There were two mega-yachts right there at Barefoot Landing with us, one being 110 feet long and its owner was one of the members of the band called “Hootie & the Blowfish”—such a pretty boat too.

On a “drizzly” Monday morning, we said good-by to “C-Life” and headed out solo for the North Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. That would be our home for the next week. I needed to do several loads of wash and we had plans to get together for dinner with our dear friends that evening, Ann & BJ Maynard who live near-by,—which we did do and had another hilarious several hours together “catching back up” with our long time friends. Thanks, you two—we can’t wait for the next time to get together!

Just after lunch Tuesday, Geni and our four grandchildren came to visit us—it being their Spring Break. For the next three days, we had a fast paced, fun-filled time together. We had a room just beside us at the Holiday Inn reserved for them, and the grandchildren took turns sleeping on the boat at night with us—the boys one night, the girls the next. In those days, we went to see the IMAX movie, “Under the Sea” in 3-D, we spent half a day in Ripley’s Aquarium (which is fabulous), we went shopping (how do you like your “Wheelies” Clay?), we saw the endangered blonde and golden tigers, we visited with the Creeches’ grandchildren, we ate Mexican and Mongolian food and lots of pancakes and ice cream, and we went to Calabash with “Nightingale” and “C-Life” one night for seafood (all 15 of us!). However, Geni, Gail and I will not be eating tartar sauce for quite a while—we all got sick from it!

We can’t believe how much our grandchildren have grown since we last saw them at Christmas. HT is now 13, so smart and taller than I am—unbelievable. Clay at 8 is sprouting too—and lost a tooth on board one night, much to our surprise and delight. Katie is 5 ½ and reading on a level far beyond her age (big words too)—she starts kindergarten this summer! And our precious sweet Taylor at 4 tries so valiantly to keep up with the others—and is doing a great job at that—she came home covered with “boat bites” on both shins! We so enjoyed having them on the boat with us, cramped as we were though with all our stuff.

Friday, Geni had planned all along to go back to Oxford with her boys for soccer games on Saturday. Catherine, who had planned on coming to Myrtle Beach on Thursday afternoon, would be staying with us for the next few days with her girls. Good planning for all. But during the time Geni was with us, Catherine and Travis got a “full price” offer on their just listed house in Cary. The problem arose when the contract stipulated they move out by May 22nd—and thinking the market would be slow, they hadn’t even begun looking for another house! They had no house to move into—yipes! So, with us trying to help out with the situation, we changed our plans and kept Katie and Taylor to give Catherine & Travis a few precious days alone to go house hunting. Having already done fun things with all the grandchildren, we decided to head back to Morehead City—forgoing our plans to drag our feet in returning home and skipping a few days in Wrightsville Beach with friends. (We’ll definitely catch up with those fun people later on this summer!) Catherine could meet us Sunday afternoon at our marina and take the girls back to Cary. Everyone was happy with that plan—most of all, us!

So Friday noon, we said good-by to Geni and the boys and Myrtle Beach, got refunds from the Holiday Inn and the marina, threw off our lines, and headed the 30 miles or so up to Southport—to spend the night with Kay & Robert, now Gold Loopers—congratulations are in order! We had an easy trip—the winds seem to slow down a bit, and the girls enjoyed being on the boat—especially since they were getting a “long boat ride” and their cousins weren’t! Taylor took a long nap in my lap up on the flybridge and Katie surprised us when she didn’t—boat rides have always put our children to sleep!

On arriving into Southport, just like we’ve done so many times, we pulled into a slip right beside “C-Life”. But this time was very bittersweet—Kay and Robert have finished the Loop and we won’t be together daily like we’ve been for months now. We are so close to home now also and finishing our loop as well—everything feels sadly different. But we were all so happy to see one another again—had it only been three days since we had been together—seemed longer! Our girls quickly got off the boat and had a great time running barefoot in the Creeches’ front yard and playing with all of “Miss Kay’s” wonderful yard toys and her sandbox. It was such a pretty afternoon—we got to visit again with Debbie and Buddy Barnes (hurry up and buy a boat!) and we were treated to pizzas by the Creech family—Katie and Taylor eating almost a whole one themselves! After the girls took baths in Miss Kay’s tub, we all walked back down to our boats and quickly fell into bed. Kay and Robert haven’t moved from their boat back into their house yet—wanting to extend the experience as long as possible—understandably so. We thank Kay & Robert and Sharon & John for their continued hospitality—next time we’re together, it’ll be up our way!

Before we left Myrtle Beach, Geni had taken me to the Dollar Tree and I had loaded up on craft supplies for Katie and Taylor to keep them busy during our three days of cruising. Knowing full well that spotting the occasional ospreys and dolphins would not keep their attention for long, I was determined that they not do anything “electronic” while on the flybridge and being underway. With our flybridge looking like a schoolhouse art room, we all were happy at the amount of time the girls took using their creativity and imagination. Consequently, the girls never got bored and we now have several “pretty pictures” as lasting mementos of our final two days on the Loop.

So we left Southport (and our now life-long friends) Saturday morning and headed for Topsail Island—a long day’s travel through several bridges which needed openings—to Beach House Marina. We got there with ease and pulled into a nice slip—Katie quickly reading the sign for the near-by Dairy Queen. For the next hour all we heard from the girls was, “When are we going to Dairy Queen?”! After a disappointing seafood dinner at a near-by recommended restaurant, we walked over to the DQ for a promised dessert—color both girls and Louis happy! Again, bedtime was easy and early.

Sunday, April 19th, was to be our last day on the Loop—if everything went as planned. We had an easy time getting away that morning from Surf City on Topsail Island and the girls were happy doing their crafts—by now all well worn and used. We came through Swansboro feeling so comfortable in our familiar surroundings—we felt we could almost close our eyes and make it back safely the rest of the way to the Coral Bay Marina. And as fate would have it and as we crossed under the Cape Carteret Bridge, (we later learned) we had a witness to our coming home that day. Liz and Bob Stagg were at that moment coming over the bridge in their car and saw us as we were coming under them—they honked and waved at us, but not looking for them, we didn’t hear or see them at all. As unexplained and wonderful things have happened to us all along the way, that was a very befitting and special thing to happen to us on our last day—the Staggs were the first Looper couple we ever met and they have been such an inspiration for us all along our journey. We’re so honored to call them special friends but we never seem to have enough time together because there’s always so much to talk about!

We traveled another few miles up the so familiar waterway and just before we were to make our port turn off the ICW and head into our marina, we stopped the boat and Louis put up our gold Looper flag (thinking of you, Margie & Larry) signaling that we had finished the Loop. And at 1:56 pm the afternoon of April 19th, 2009, we crossed our wake—our journey now complete. Realizing that we had told our family and friends we were coming in the following Saturday and thus thinking that only Catherine would be waiting for us at the dock, we rounded the corner and were treated a wonderful surprise at our slip. Lo and behold, joining Catherine, were Kay & Robert & Debbie—shouting and jumping up and down with excitement and waving a yellow poster, with champagne and “gold medals” in hand & honking a very loud air-horn over and over! Precious things, they had driven up from Southport to properly welcome us home—Looper style! Louis and I couldn’t believe they were in Morehead City, but knowing them as we do now, of course they would have wanted to have been there when we crossed our wake. We had a marvelous time on the dock clinking glasses and toasting each other—all of us saying several times, “Wow—what a ride!” (We insisted that they all three stay with us overnight at the house, but they declined and drove back home.) Both Louis and I felt it was a perfect ending, albeit early, to our year-long journey.

Since being home, many people have asked us basically the same two questions: “What was your favorite place?” and “Would you do the trip again?” One we can answer, one we can’t. After nearly a year of traveling almost 7,000 miles; going through 163 locks; making our way through eighteen (!) states and two provinces of Canada; crossing the Georgian Bay, the North Channel, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades; spending five weeks in the Florida Keys—we couldn’t possibly say which place was our favorite, they were all so unique and different. Every day and every region was wonderful and special—we saw spectacular things few of our family and long-time friends will, sadly, never see. We were “wowed” almost daily—I tried to document most of them here. And in answer to would we do the trip again—“you bet” we say, “in a heartbeat!” And we’re not selling our charts or the boat anytime soon either.

So, what have we learned on our journey?
*First, we learned things about both Louis and me that we thought, after 40 years of marriage this year (!), were impossible not to know—we both admit a year is a long time to constantly be together 24/7 in a small, confined space. I remember someone we met at our first rendezvous in Charleston telling me that, and I didn’t believe her then—but she was right.
*Second, we learned not to load our boat down with excess “stuff’ ever again! We wound up using the second stateroom as an attic/pantry—limiting our enjoyment of having an extra room for guests and cluttering up our boat—shamefully so. We had almost 175 pounds of charts, maps, guidebooks, etc. that we did need with us on a daily basis, but we had way too much excess of clothes and canned goods, a few tools and linens. We found out we really did have easy weekly access to shopping (love Wal-Mart!) and we found out we could do very well with limited amounts of clothing—like everyone else, we would wear it, wash it, put it in the “clean” pile, and put it right back on! It was embarrassing when it took three long, back-breaking days to unload “Bella Luna” with things some of which we hadn’t even touched in a year!
*Third, we learned that it was all the many people who “made” our trip—not the places we went to, as we had thought would. We met so many kind and generous people all along the way both on land and on the water whom we’ll never forget—beautiful faces all along our amazing journey. And we’ve met a whole “boatload” of wonderful Loopers whom we now call “family”—special friends we’ll have for a lifetime. They have helped us, guided & led us, laughed and cried with us, and enriched our lives in too many ways to list here now or ever. We treasure those faces and friendships immensely and can not imagine our trip without any of them.
*Fourth and lastly, we learned how lucky we were to ever be able to take this trip. Even more so now, we realize how fleeting the years are and by “slowing down”, as we tried to do daily, how quickly time is still passing us by. We both knew we had maybe ten “good” years left to be able to physically do this particular and sometimes exhausting trip. When planning this over a year ago, we were both lucky enough to have good health; we both had good energy and lots of enthusiasm; we both wanted an extended adventure; and both of us had the time and good fortune to afford a long journey of this type. We were not afraid of the unknown or our inability, we were excited! Our children and grandchildren were at “good places” in their lives—we were too. We were lucky and blessed; we knew it and were so thankful for it all. If we were ever going to do the Loop, we needed to do the trip before any of the above changed. So, taking advantage of it all, off we went saying, “We have no schedule and we’re sticking to it!” We were very lucky indeed.

In closing, I’ve been thinking for a year now “in blogs”. When we’d see or experience something worthy of remembering, I was constantly figuring out how to word it for a lasting memory here. Writing these blogs was very time consuming, yet all the feedback (even from people we’d never met!) made it worthwhile—I was surprised by those who read it, and crushed by those who I thought surely would, and who didn’t. But along our route I found a long, brown sign which I bought (while Louis was off with the guys!) and Kay & I proudly placed it in the salon of “Bella Luna”. It simply says what we believe our fantastic journey was all about from beginning to end—and one I thought befitting to “wrap up” this last blog. So in a fond farewell and summary of all we have been witness to and accomplished in this marvelous, exciting, and rewarding year, I end and complete my journal with:

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breaths away.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

South Carolina--Almost Home!

(This is a long one, folks, sorry!)
It was so hard to believe that while we were in Savannah, Georgia the land just across our narrow river was South Carolina! So it wasn’t far that we had to travel Saturday morning to cross the “state line” into South Carolina—in fact, it was only just minutes. But in those last few minutes of being in Georgia, we saw a truly spectacular sight—two bald eagles sitting on top of the same pole side-by-side—we’ve never seen that before on this entire trip, so it was very special. We also saw another owl sitting on a dead low-lying tree out in broad daylight—I must read up on owls when I get home—I always thought they were nocturnal birds.

So on our way up the ICW to Beaufort on that pretty day, we passed Windmill Harbor Marina in Hilton Head and talked about raising our gold Looper flag because that’s where we bought our boat. But on “thinking it through”, we realized we hadn’t actually started our Loop from there, nor had our boat been renamed or provisioned for the Loop at that point. We had just bought a beautiful and rare boat there in the fall of 2007 and we were still hoping to be taking the trip the following spring—which we were lucky enough to actually do. So our battered and dirty white Looper flag still flies proudly on our bow waiting for our port turn off the ICW into Pelletier Creek, when the poor piece of fabric will finally come down.

We got to Beaufort, SC, early enough in the afternoon for me to get 3 loads of laundry done in the nice municipal marina’s facilities there. We’re still with “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and all of us walked up the street just from the marina after cocktails on the boat that evening for a delicious dinner of fancy pizzas—we love pizza and these were different shaped and delicious! Sunday mid-day, Gail, Kay and I took off to explore some of the cute shops and galleries along the two-block section of waterfront downtown Beaufort. We got back to our boats just before a huge rain storm hit us—and it continued throughout the night blowing and rocking our boats—thankfully we were tied up to floating docks!

Monday morning, just at “first light” and very early for all of us, we left Beaufort headed for Charleston—the wind was expected to really kick up and we wanted to get into our next marina before late afternoon. By the time we got into the harbor of Charleston and rounding the Battery, the wind was howling and the waves crossing the bay were at least 5 feet—not a pleasant boat ride, but we were headed in the right direction and had the waves behind us! After getting all three boats safely secured to floating docks, we had a big pot of homemade vegetable soup for dinner that had been simmering all day on “Nightingale”—the weather had turned really cold and the soup was just perfect for us all—delicious too. Thanks Gail! Tuesday morning we had an early lunch at a nearby deli and took the totally packed, 345-person ferry out to the island of Fort Sumter for a very cold and windy (we were freezing!) tour of that famous place. Fort Sumter was where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the famous and very crowded straw market in downtown Charleston—which had all the curtains pulled down because of the wind and cold—a sadly different sight from the last time we were there. Tuesday night we went to Hank’s for dinner—another delicious and trendy spot.

Wednesday, my dear cousin, Carol Shropshire, drove the two hours to and fro from Columbia to Charleston to visit with us for the afternoon. We were so excited she was coming and bringing her son, Colin, too!! We had a wonderful four hours together—having lunch at a fabulous French bistro, “Rue De Jean”—just off King Street; spending time with Colin and his precious girlfriend of 3 years, Virginia; and helping Colin out in a most embarrassing dilemma he had gotten himself into—his car getting towed during lunch! Life is interesting and continually full of surprises, isn’t it Carol?! I’m looking forward to spending more time with my precious cousin later on this summer—one short afternoon together just wasn’t enough by any means.

Wednesday night for dinner (on Colin’s excellent recommendation) Kay & Robert, Gail & Gene, and Louis & I walked up to Jestine’s Kitchen. Seeing the line of hungry patrons wrapped around the street told us all we needed to know—this place was going to be another delicious “local” spot. And delicious it was—southern cooking at its best. We all chose something different as our meats and our choices of vegetables were varied too—I had chicken livers, collard greens, and okra gumbo—wow!! Definitely worth another visit when we’re in Charleston!

It was still so windy on Thursday morning when we left Charleston. We left on slack tide, hoping the wind would calm down during the ebb, but were disappointed when it hadn’t. We’ve had fierce winds for almost three weeks now—and it makes our dockings difficult too. We were headed for Georgetown that morning—Louis and I think we’ve been there before, but neither of us can remember when—CRS disease strikes again! Along the way we saw two alligators—always thrilling and scary too. One of them was especially large—yikes! We also spotted several eagles and many ospreys—with six pairs of eyes constantly on the lookout for wildlife, it’s hard to miss anything along our route!

As we passed McClellanville, both Louis and I held our breaths—that’s where we spent three unscheduled, nasty and rainy days in the fall of 2007 tied up to a shrimp dock when we were bringing the boat back and we lost the port engine. Thankful that we had made it past that small fishing village, shortly thereafter we pulled into Boat Shed Marina in Georgetown and were glad we got alongside our floating docks before the really bad winds blew in. Is it ever going to stop blowing?! I’ve thought numerous times about Liz & Bob and their battered and torn Looper flag—poor things, they had bad winds most of their entire trip!

After cocktails and a surprise “birthday party” for me on “C-Life” (thanks Gail and Kay!), we headed down the street several blocks to River Road Restaurant for dinner. To our delight, we ran into Lyn and Scott Edwards from Durham there at the restaurant—what a treat to see them! We had a delicious dinner and walked back to our boats under another full “bella luna”—a beautiful night—I’ve lost track of the number of beautiful full moons we’ve seen on this trip!
Friday morning we woke up finding Kay and Robert’s middle son, John, and his wife, Sharon, and their 3 children, Kylie, AJ, and Ivey, who had come in late the night before. Most of them will be making the final leg of this trip with the Creeches—it’s great fun having children along! We’ll have Geni and our four grandchildren coming in this Tuesday while we’re in Myrtle So Friday night, Louis and I were “alone” for the evening—a rarity for us. Kay and Robert had the whole gang onboard and Gail & Gene had left earlier that morning bound early for Myrtle Beach—they’re shuffling their car along for a while and it is still in Brunswick, GA. We decided to take Carol’s recommendation for Georgetown and go uptown to The Rice Paddy for dinner.

Many people ask us about the Loop, “What’s your favorite city?” or “What’s your favorite restaurant?” We have so many favorites on both questions that it’s really hard to name a particular one for either. But in my estimation, The Rice Paddy in Georgetown definitely ranks in the upper three—and it’s surely the best restaurant I’ve been to since coming back to the boat after Christmas. We didn’t have reservations and were lucky to get in on a Friday night (what did we know?!). With Natasha as our waitress, we were treated to the best low country food to date—all prepared and served to perfection—I was in Heaven it was so delicious. The best shad row I've ever tasted. We can’t wait to get back to that marvelous place.

So now it’s Saturday night and we’re rafted together with “C-Life” in tranquil Oxbow Creek in the coffee-brown and tannin-rich waters of the Waccamaw River—just 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach. We got here about noon and have had a wonderful, lazy afternoon surrounded by ospreys. (We’ve never seen so many ospreys in one stretch of traveling—needless to say, the ospreys are thriving in the Waccamaw River!) Kay and Robert fixed hamburgers and hot dogs, complete with all the fixins’, and Louis made another batch of ice cream with grilled Twinkies, chocolate sauce and cherries—his signature dish on the Loop! Yum. And it’s a bittersweet night for Louis and me as well. We realize this will be the last night of anchoring and being rafted with Kay and Robert—they have been our constant companions and dearest of friends for so many months now—how will we ever be able to leave them? Like Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow!”

Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, we’re headed to Barefoot Landing for one night, then moving over to the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club on Monday for a few days with our children—beginning Tuesday. I hope to get this blog posted there tomorrow. We also hope to see Ann & BJ Maynard in Little River for a while before our children get here—and after that, who knows what we’ll be doing, but it will be fun and we’ll be with our precious family. So I’m thinking/knowing this will be my last posting until we leave Myrtle Beach and head for an overnight in Southport and then on up solo to Wrightsville Beach for a couple of days. Draging our feet, we may spend a night or two in Swansboro. Then finally, we’ll let “Bella Luna” take us home. If all goes as planned, we should be leaving North Myrtle Beach sometime around the 20th and be in Morehead City that last weekend in April.

The Old North State, here we come—at last!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Georgia On Our Minds

There’s not that much to see and little tourism along the ICW of Georgia—with exception to the Island Areas of St. Simons, Brunswick, Jekyll, Sea Island, and Savannah. We traveled mainly through beautiful, deserted, brown-turning-green marshes, seeing the occasional small areas of gorgeous coastal homes—I’ve been taking pictures of the really spectacular ones. In addition, there are only five bridges we have to go under throughout the whole state of Georgia—amazing! So Sunday night when we tied up at Kilkenny Marina (up a pretty creek) there was nothing much more there than just that marina and a whole lot of tide—the restaurant which had been closed will reopen April 15th. But we were able to get a handful of live shrimp and try our luck fishing off the side of the boat—Kay catching and releasing the only small catch. Go Kay!

Monday, we passed the pretty lagoon area of “Moon River” just south of Isle of Hope—named from the same song written by Johnny Mercer (a local hero) and musical score added by Henry Mancini—made forever famous by Andy Williams singing at his very best. Gail and Gene, “Nightingale”, had the song on their boat and played it for us as we went by that very place—so special for us all—we won’t forget that day ever! Monday, we had hoped to get reservations at Thunderbolt Marina—Louis hearing (and it was confirmed!) that they gave fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts to the transient boaters every morning. When we found out they had very limited transient space on that particular day, our plan #2 was easily put into place. We wound up stopping just a few miles short of Thunderbolt at Isle of Hope Marina—a very nice and very accommodating marina—plus they had a courtesy car and a courtesy van (perfect for six people!)—much better for us than complimentary doughnuts for sure! “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and “Bella Luna” all three signed up for the van (which we got for 6 hours!) and took off for West Marine. a liquor store, and a grocery stop. Plus, we wanted to drive the short distance over to Savannah and check out the public dock for available space—hoping to get our three boats there Tuesday by noon. We planned to spend several nights there. After finding an empty dock, we headed back to Isle of Hope for dinner at a wonderful, local, hot-spot—Driftaway CafĂ©. ( This restaurant has to be one of my most favorite places on the whole trip—everything was seasoned just right, the portions were perfect, we loved the atmosphere, and the wait staff were all so pleasant. We even called our “Looper Restaurateur”, Phil, and told him he must add this excellent place to his list!

Tuesday morning early, we left Isle of Hope in a swarm of relentless “no-see-ums” and headed to the public docks of Savannah—which do not take reservations—“first come, first served--as the sign said”. As we rounded the curve leading up to that dock there, we saw—to our dismay—a small cruise ship tied up in the very spot we wanted to be! Oh No! Robert tied up his boat in a small space and was quickly met by the Captain of the cruise ship. We soon found out that only twice a year do two cruise ships tie to this dock on the same nights—once in the spring and once in the fall. As luck would have it, we just happened to pick the one two-day period! So, being so good at this now, we settled for plan #2—we found a “marina” (just really a floating dock) only a few hundred yards from where we would eventually be for a few days—once the cruise ships left. But we would all have to pay a hefty price for that one night at $2.50 per foot. Yipes.

So now it’s Thursday, April 02, 2009—we have been in Savannah for two nights and will stay here another two, if we don’t get “run off” on these public docks by city officials. (So far, there have been no other boats wishing to use this dock.) We’re witnessing huge container ships coming right by us almost hourly into this busy port city and the small, green ferry boats taking people back and forth across this busy “highway”—we’re getting rocked by their passing (especially by the tugboat, "Diane"!), but not uncomfortably for any prolonged length of time. There’s a bad storm on top of us now—no one should be moving on the water now or tonight and probably not tomorrow morning as well. But since we’ve been here, we’ve taken a trolley bus tour of the historic district, been shopping in the quaint river front stores, been to several delicious restaurants (eating oysters and shrimp), and yes! Jane, we went to “Wet Willies” on your recommendation. You were right—the margaritas were absolutely delicious and I got a cup for you too—we’ll be back there, for sure, before we leave!

It’s now late Thursday afternoon and it’s raining hard and “we six” are sitting on our boat discussing our itinerary for the next few remaining weeks—I’m multi-tasking –listening to them, adding my two cents every now and then, and trying to finish this blog while our generator is running and I have power to this computer. (However, we have no wireless here at this dockage, so my posting will probably be when we get to Beaufort on Saturday.) We want our last big South Carolina stops to be in Beaufort, Charleston, Georgetown, and Myrtle Beach and we’ll hopefully be anchoring out some in between. Our girls and their children want to join us in Myrtle Beach over Easter week/ their Spring Break—having not seen any of them since Christmas, we can’t wait to see them all again!!

With Thursday being a total “wash” day of heavy rain, we decided to stay over in Savannah through Friday night—Friday was predicted to be beautiful. And beautiful it was, but high winds—good thing too, we had had over 3” of rain the day before and everything needed a good blowing off. We also wanted to experience “Mrs. Wilkes on Jones Street”—a 50 plus year old “boarding house” restaurant still going strong today which serves only weekday lunches from 11 to 2. So Friday morning off we went, expecting to have to wait in line about an hour for a place to sit at one of her only 8 big tables. Smelling the fried chicken wafting out the door every time it opened, we all were getting very hungry as we stood in line with about 100 plus people lining the sidewalk. Sure enough, after about an hour, we were finally “let in” and led to our table which was already filled with about 15 yummy dishes. This was to be a “family style” lunch and we were all ready to dig in!! Passing what-turned-out-to-be 25 dishes of meats, vegetables, salads, breads and desserts (unbelievable!) around the table quickly became work for the people in the middle of the table! But boy, was it ever delicious and worth the wait—we were told on two separate occasions from totally different people that this was absolutely the best restaurant in Savannah—forget the tacky Paula Dean’s—and they were so right. What a feast for the eyes and the tummy—we all left in acute pain—but all of us knowing we would definitely visit this place again!

After that so delicious lunch, we walked, so slowly!, through various gorgeous parks on our way back to the boats and stopped on purpose to see and appreciate the Cathedral of John the Baptist—a truly beautiful and historic Catholic Church which has just undergone a several million dollar renovation—a must see in Savannah, for sure. After a little bit of shopping too, late in the day we were back at “Wet Willies” for more margaritas & the crazy concoctions they serve & then the six of us went up on our flybridge to watch the sunset and the huge container ships passing. This being the first Friday of the month, the Westin Hotel (across the water from us) had fireworks at 9:30, which we all enjoyed tremendously. Saturday morning before we left, we were also able to enjoy just-as-they-were-setting-up the Street Arts Festival, which is held the first Friday “weekend” as well. We’ve had a great four days in Savannah—we’ll be back!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cumberland Island and St. Simons

We left Palm Coast Monday morning, March 23rd with “C-Life”. We were bound for an anchorage about 30 miles up the coast of Florida just north of St. Augustine called Pine Island. Traveling through marsh lands most of the day, we were almost at our turn-off for the anchorage when we saw a big, mature eagle sitting on the shore eating a freshly caught fish—we haven’t seen any eagles since leaving Marathon—so this one was very special for us all. As we turned into Pine Island, we found several other boats already anchored there—not to worry though, it was a big space surrounded by beautiful, brown marsh—another good pick from our Captains.

After a beautiful sun rising over the marsh, we left our quiet spot Tuesday morning and got back out on the ICW—going through the busy entrance of the St. John’s River with its huge container ships moving in and out of the port of Jacksonville. We decided this trip to forgo going up that river—maybe next time! We were headed for another anchorage behind Cumberland Island—a 17 mile long treasure of an island and a designated National Seashore Park. Just at the tip of Cumberland, we saw five “marsh tackie” ponies grazing on the green salt marsh of the island. These small, wild horses are believed to be descended from the Spanish ones left there over 200 years ago—back then, they were easily transportable in small ships and yet they were strong enough to do heavy work in the fields once they got to land. They reminded me so much of our native Shackelford ponies—I’m excited about seeing them again this summer!

Around 3pm that afternoon, we entered Georgia—only two more states to wind our way through before we reach North Carolina! We found a nice anchorage behind Cumberland Island, rafted again with Kay and Robert, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon—especially when we saw a nuclear Trident submarine coming into the King’s Bay Submarine Base facility with some of its crew standing outside on the hull! After the sun set, we enjoyed a pretty star-filled dark sky.

Wednesday morning, Robert and Louis put our dinghies in the water and we went over to the Island to explore. There is not a bridge to Cumberland Island, so everyone visiting must come by boat. We wound up walking a long, lush, quiet, green nature trail through the woods filled with saw palmettos, palms, live oaks and pine trees, grape vines, and lots of moss up in the trees all leading to Dungeness—a massive four-story brick and tabby estate home (think castle!) built by the Carnegies at the turn of the century during the golden era. The Carnegies at one time had over 300 workers on this island, making it a fully self sufficient paradise for their family and friends to enjoy. Ice was even cut from the Hudson River in the winter and shipped by barge here and stored in an ice house on the island! Reportedly, it burned from arson in 1958 as a result of the shooting death of a poacher and the poacher’s family seeking retribution for the fatal shooting—never proven though. The four-floor ruins still stand today as a testament to the period in American history where the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies (among others) were all conspicuously enjoying their amazing wealth—the period before income taxes were levied. With a dozen or so of the wild horses grazing along both sides of the estate in the open fields, and an unobstructed view of acres upon acres of marshland, and even in a state of ruin, we got a quick glimpse into the lives of the fabulously mega rich of yore. Also, there was a very nice display in the visitor’s center showing pictures of what the home once looked like, plus other historical facts about the island and its many nationed inhabitants. Of recent, this is the secluded island which hosted, in the ever-so-tiny First Black American Baptist Church, the wedding and honeymoon of Carolyn Bessette to John F. Kennedy, Jr. I remember quite well the photograph of them leaving the small church—it’s hard to believe, even now, that they were actually able to pull it all off so secretly and away from the harassing press. We tried to get reservations for dinner at Greyfield Inn either night, but they were already full. While we were walking on the trail though, we played with two armadillos—they were not afraid of us at all—how fun!

We pulled up our anchors Thursday morning shortly after seeing another submarine coming out of King’s Bay which was headed out to sea. Surrounded by Coast Guard boats carrying machine guns on their bows and sterns, we stood in awe as having seen yet another sub—all the times Kay and Robert have been through this area, they haven’t ever seen a single one! It took a while to get the anchors up—they were covered in black mud—but we were underway earlier than we had planned. Good call, guys! There’s a bad cold front moving across the country and we want to be in a marina before the high winds get to us. Plus, we have to cross St. Andrew’s Sound—very tricky and sometimes treacherous. But just as we were approaching King’s Bay, a third submarine was quickly making its way through the waterway behind us. A heavily armored Coast Guard boat came up behind us with its blue lights flashing and told us to “move along quickly” past the King’s Bay facility—the submarine was traveling much faster than we were and the Coast Guard didn’t want us anywhere near that sub! In fact, if one of those subs is coming upon you and you can’t get away from it quickly enough, you are required to point the bow of your boat towards shore and maintain that position until the “coast is clear”! That’s three nuclear submarines we’ve seen in two days—a real record for most Loopers, for sure!!

Well, we did get through St. Andrew’s Sound even with me at the wheel! Louis was trying to secure us reservations on his cell phone, so I was driving—the boat bouncing up and down through the white-capped and “squirrely” chop. I can now see why boaters hesitate to cross this body of water—and thankfully we got through it just as the winds really picked up—if we had left an hour later this morning as planned, we would have had an uncomfortable ride. Glad that’s behind us.

We pulled into Golden Isles Marina at St. Simons Island mid-afternoon, and with the storm approaching, I quickly jumped off the boat to do laundry in the nice facility there. Gold Loopers, Lola and Larry from “Lola Marie”, were alongside us on the floating dock and asked if we four would like to join them in going to dinner at “Gnat’s Landing”—we immediately said, “YES”! So off we went in their car over the bridge later that afternoon to that great little restaurant—enjoying fresh seafood and Caesar salads—the place was very popular with the locals.

Friday, we borrowed the courtesy car at the marina and did errands—Louis and Robert trying to chase down a fuse we needed for our boat and Kay and I checking out and enjoying so much the historic Christ Church there on St. Simons. Surrounded by blooming dogwoods, azaleas, camellias and wisteria, this precious white-wood church was truly beautiful and serene—we could have spent hours just wandering through all the history in the adjacent gravesites, but time didn’t allow us that. We could have the car for only 2 hours, but we did manage to get in a fix at Burger King—yum! Later on that afternoon, Mary and Robert Drake, whom we met in Tarpon Springs, came to our boat for another interview. With Mary being the writer and Robert being the photographer, they both contribute articles for “Soundings” magazine and they wanted to do a feature article on us, the Loop, and “Bella Luna”—imagine that (!) and how exciting for Louis and me! With both of them being such experienced boaters (and sailors), we spent several hours chatting about our mutual experiences in and on the water—ours, however, can’t even hold a candle to going around the world like they did! Thanks go out to both of them for taking even more time with us—and in our excitement and by me not thinking, I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture of them taking our pictures! Sorry, Mary & Robert—can you send us one?! Later on that evening, eight of us wound up eating at the marina’s restaurant (Coastal Kitchen) and sadly, most of us were disappointed—expensive for what we were served.

We’ve had terrible wind now for three days. Saturday, the slow-moving cold front with predicted heavy rain, possible tornados, and winds of 60 mph still hadn’t come through our area but it was forecasted for late in the afternoon—so we decided to stay put another night safely tied to the marina. We borrowed the courtesy car again and went to the grocery and Chick-Filet. It’s a real treat for us all to be able to have lunch away from our boats—so any chance for us, we gladly take it and won’t feel guilty at all! We met another couple (new Loopers) on our dock yesterday from Ohio on an Endeavor, Gail and Gene Knight on “Nightingale”, and asked them to join us for dinner on our boat Saturday night. Kay and Robert came over too and all six of us had a great time—it was one of our latest evenings going to bed to date! The storm with 5 inches of rain finally barreled through all night long—thankfully, we had taken all our flags down and no one encountered any problems on their boats, except that we lost power on the dock early Saturday night and it still wasn’t on when we left Sunday morning. We loved having Melissa as our dock-mistress—she’s definitely one of the best ones we’ve had on our entire strip and she really knows the business. We left on a beautiful (but damp) Sunday morning with “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and were all headed about 50 miles further up Georgia’s coast and up a creek to Kilkenny Marina—in the middle of nowhere too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Working Our Way Up Florida

It’s hard to believe we left Ft. Pierce a week ago today (Sunday). The week has flown by so quickly, like all the others have, and this has been another great one, with very nice weather—albeit high winds—it’s March, for sure! We’re now on our third day here in a marina at Palm Coast—this area being just about equidistant (30 miles) between Daytona (to the south) and St. Augustine (to the north). I spent a couple of days earlier this week writing the previous blog about Sunday’s fantastic space shuttle launch when we were at Dragon’s Point, and today just realized I hadn’t caught “Bella Luna” up to where we are now. Opps!

So after finally getting to sleep Sunday night, (and I don’t want to miss mentioning Kay’s great day of fishing that very afternoon on the back of her boat—go Kay!), we left Dragon’s Point Monday morning and headed to the neat little town of Cocoa—we would stop just for a couple of hours for lunch. There’s a free city dock there at Cocoa, and “C-Life” wanted us to not miss that particular town. So we tied up to the dock (saw several manatees lazing just several feet from our boat), and walked through the nice park one block to “main street”. We were headed to Travis Hardware Store—an unbelievable two-story, whole-block long, brick institution. We saw things there we’ve never seen anywhere else before—from new wooden wagon wheels to sleds (imagine those here!), to every dimension of pipe, screw, nut, bolt, tool, and anything else you could ever need or want. I can’t imagine what their inventory must amount to—and if they don’t have it in stock, no one else does anywhere else around here for miles and miles! Louis and Robert had a ball and could have stayed there all day—Kay and I were greatly impressed too. But hunger called us all, so we went to the recommended Ryan’s Village Pizza for lunch—having the best pizza and strombolies on our whole trip to date! If we ever make it back this way, this will definitely be a stop for us.

After lunch, we walked back to our boats and headed just a short way up to Canaveral Barge Canal for fuel and an overnight—Harbortown Harbor Marina. We found fuel there for an inclusive $1.75—the lowest fuel “Bella Luna” has ever received—color Louis happy! “Sunshine” and “Blue Max” pulled in just a few minutes ahead of us into the marina—it was good seeing them again.

Tuesday morning, just as we left the marina at Harbortown, we saw our first alligator or croc—we couldn’t tell which—swimming alongside the boat in the canal—thanks, Kay, for spotting it! We got a quick photo of it too—the first one we’ve seen so far on our whole trip! We also passed under the Christa McAufille Memorial Bridge—so named for the woman astronaut who died when the space shuttle Columbia tragically broke apart and all aboard were killed. A somber reminder of just how dangerous space travel really is.

From Canaveral Barge Canal we were headed up by Titusville to an anchorage. On the way, we passed NASA’s huge assembly building where all the rockets and shuttles are stored and eventually “rolled” 3 miles out to the launch pad. Having “the largest doors in the world”, this building was awesome even from our far-away vantage point. A huge American flag painted on the outside of the building—110 feet x 209 feet vertically—was painted on its exterior. As reported in Skipper Bob, it took 6,000 gallons of paint just to paint 1 stripe on this American flag—imagine!! And then just a little later on, we came through another canal and took a hard left and saw behind us the rocket launch pad sitting out on a tip of land where the shuttle took off Sunday night! What fun it was to see firsthand that famous spot where all launches take place—even from 3 (?) miles away—I’ve seen it all before on TV—so recognizable. I took several pictures, but they were from far off and it wasn’t entirely a clear day—I hope they turn out. Next trip, I’m going to have a really good zoom camera!

We were headed Tuesday to an anchorage about 30 miles up the ICW, but fierce winds forced us to go another 20 miles further up to New Smyrna—it would have been miserable on anchor—making a longer day of travel for us than anticipated. We wound up tying late in the afternoon to a city dock marked “No Overnight Docking”—how funny. I have a picture of Robert & Louis tying our boats up right at the sign—but we really did need the comfort and safety of a land tie-up that night regardless of what the sign said! Robert hoped to get a new battery the next morning from the local Napa store—which he did get—and so we hoped his/our excuse would let us stay there overnight without any problems. As it turned out, no one came to chase us away and we stayed comfortable, snug, and secure for the evening. People walking alongside the park and talking with us continue to be so interested in our extended and year-long trip.

The next morning, after the old battery was hauled away and the new one installed, both boats headed off a short distance to downtown Daytona. Along the way, we passed one particular stretch of “fill islands” where we saw our old friends the white pelicans—hello again! These magnificent birds with their huge wing spans (imagine, 8 feet!) have been migrating with us since our days on the Illinois River, yet we haven’t seen them in a while. Along with these white pelicans, we also saw for the first time many beautiful pink spoonbills. Huge birds too and looking so much like flamingos, these birds were fun to see flying and fun to spot sitting in the marsh and up in the low-lying trees—pink is easy to spot. We’re told these birds don’t migrate too much further up the east coast—but they sure were plentiful here.

Soon we were arriving at The Halifax River Yacht Club in downtown Daytona. Early last summer we joined MTOA and The White Rocks Yacht Club in Rock Hall, Maryland with help from our boating friends, Robbin and Roger Seal—thanks again for a great evening with you! We were therefore able to have reciprocal privileges with other yacht clubs along the way and we really hoped to use this privilege as we traveled. Yet, here were on the last leg home and have just used our membership for the first time—boy was it a good place to begin! We had just tied up our boat there and got a call from Brantley and Brenda—they were on their way to Marathon and were just coming around Daytona. They drove to the marina, we got hugs all around—even from “Rudder”, and they brought us some Wilber’s bar-b-que—how great to have a “taste from home”! Thanks, B & BG—hurry and catch up with us—more good times ahead!!

We wound up staying two nights at the yacht club and all the time there, the members made us feel so welcomed—it was just like being in Morehead. The facilities at HRYC were pristine too—an inviting 88 degree pool, a spotless laundry (did 3 loads!), good cable TV, high speed wireless, a great “swap” library, a really nice shower facility—plus the fabulous restaurant/clubhouse was so delicious and wait staff were so pleasant that we ate 5 meals there! We met Commodore Lyn and his board of directors over drinks one night up in the clubhouse—a really super bunch of dedicated people—we can see why this club is so viable. Also, West Marine & other specialty shops (a chocolate factory, yea!) were so close by too—even the Jackie Robinson Ballpark was right across the street, although Spring Training doesn’t begin for another few weeks yet and we, disappointingly, weren’t able to take advantage of any baseball games. A lot of the HRYC members wound up traveling Friday morning, like us, up to Palm Coast for a rendezvous weekend there—they all wanted us to join them for more fun, food, and fellowship on their docks—making us feel even more welcomed.

So we arrived here in Palm Coast Marina Friday afternoon, coming through some narrow parts of the Florida ICW dotted with dolphins, ospreys, pretty homes and docks—looking more and more like home—we’ve lost our pretty aquamarine water though. But thankfully we arrived just before small-craft-warning winds began to blow— getting into our slip with no problems. Robert and Louis rented a car (actually a pick-up truck, the last they had—Hi, Betsy!) for Saturday and Sunday—we all four needed a major grocery shopping trip. We also planned to drive back down to Daytona Saturday to go (the girls) to the famous weekend flea market there—(hello Barbara!) and the guys to West Marine, Boater’s World, Home Depot, etc—Louis and Robert needed a good McDonalds fix too. Kay and Robert have long-time cruising friends from the Chesapeake staying here at this marina for the winter on their boat, “@ Home”, Cathy and Jim Fisher, whom we will be spending some time with over the weekend—Jim is the Vice-President of MTOA. Sunday, Kay & I will have the car by ourselves & plan to do some “retail therapy”—Bealles is having a huge sale (50% off & then 50% off of that!)—we just can’t pass that up and we’ll take advantage of near-by Target and TJ Maxx too! After three nights here in this nice quiet marina, we’re off to St. Augustine & Jacksonville tomorrow—Monday, March 23rd. The weather has really cooled off as we have traveled up the coast to the top part of Florida—we’ve been in long pants and long sleeve shirts each day—I’m not so sure we’re headed in the right direction! I know it’s spring now and we should be headed home, but is it too late to turn around?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Space Shuttle Launch

My family was fortunate enough in 1958 to be able to build a beach cottage at Atlantic Beach, NC. It was a dream come true for my parents, who had always enjoyed “the beach” so much with their friends. It was right on the ocean and had no air-conditioning—not even window units! The cottage had wood floors, wood walls, and wood ceilings (our father loved heart-of-pine)—and it had old furniture from our recently deceased paternal grand-parents home in Raleigh. All the interior doors in our cottage were louvered to allow the mostly cool summer breezes to flow freely throughout the house—even the closets and bathrooms had louvered doors! When the breeze died, we all were miserably hot—consequently, I spent a lot of time outdoors—even at night. Times were different then. I was 10 years old when we moved into our cottage, my brother (Hi, Jay!) was 6.

Many-a-night with no such breeze, I would go out on our sundeck, lay down on the wooden benches and look up into the sky just trying to get cool—I would be too hot to slip between humidity-laden damp sheets and try to get to sleep—even then as a child! With nothing but hundreds of miles of darkness ahead of me and no town or street lights to get in the way, I would spot the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion’s Belt, The Seven Sisters, and could even pick out the occasional satellite—moving ever so slowly. Sputnik, maybe, I never knew. Little did I realize “way back then” that I would have a life-long affinity for the stars and “outer space”. But every one of those summers I was building on it as a very lucky child. Today, I still marvel nightly at those familiar stars plus enjoy the meteor showers in August and December and Haley’s Comet and Hale-Bopp—when they make their infrequent appearances. And through my enthusiasm (I’d like to think), even Louis early on came to appreciate the heavens—that’s one of the chief reasons we named our boat “Bella Luna”—beautiful moon. We both love star gazing!

I have always envied every one of the astronauts who have been privileged enough to have walked on the moon—I can’t imagine what they must feel these days looking up into the sky, seeing the moon, and telling their children/grandchildren, “I have walked up there!” How lucky those few people are. And in a salute to Jack Nicholson (one of my all time favorite actors ever), I have a “Bucket List” of my own. Among the top twenty on the list is that I have always wanted to be able to see a space shuttle launch or any launch, for that matter. And we realized about 10 days ago we just might be able to make that wish come true—barring any unscheduled delays on NASA’s part, we should be right in the area for launching. I don't know the reason, but we've heard that there will not be many more of these launches (maybe 8?), so if we're going to get to see one, we don't need to put it off much longer! We prayed that there would be no clouds or fog at our opportunistic time either!!

And so off we went this past Sunday morning, leaving Ft. Pierce. We were headed north about 30 miles towards Melbourne to hopefully find a good anchorage with an unobstructed view of the northerly sky—a space shuttle launch was scheduled for 7:43 pm that night. Robert on “C-Life” led us to a great spot sheltered from a hard blowing wind and we anchored—boy, is he a great leader—we were in a fantastic spot! We were ready by 4pm with new batteries in our cameras and videos charging—hoping so much that there wouldn’t be any delays on the launch, as so frequently happens. We had this one opportunity—one night to be in a close area for viewing.

We all were on “C-Life” and we had their TV on—the local stations faithfully cover each launch here as NASA is the largest employer for miles around the Cape Canaveral area. If there were to be a delay, we would immediately hear about it. But luck was with us—no delay. The countdown began—we all held our breaths and waited. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, “Liftoff, we have Liftoff!”, we heard from the TV. We all were hanging outside the sundeck’s curtains looking for the shuttle. Then, in an instant, a huge fireball appeared just over the treetops—and it kept climbing. Eureka—this was it!! “I can’t believe what I’m seeing and we are so close to it”, I kept yelling! Then we saw a smoke trail, the “fireball” got smaller, and with such clarity, we could see the actual shuttle sitting on the rocket boosters rotating. Unbelievable! And then within just a few seconds, the sound hit us (from 25 miles away we estimated) — we felt this wave of immense pressure going right through us. We were seeing it, hearing it, and feeling it—all the time trying to capture it on film and video. We saw the boosters separate and fall back to earth (really the ocean) and then so quickly, Discovery was now in orbit and just a pin-head size bright dot in the sky. The show was over—but boy, was it ever a good show—the best I’ve ever seen. NASA was pleased, the Creeches and Wades were pleased and so “over the moon”, and to say it was a thrilling experience would truly be inadequate.

We’re almost home now—we have about six weeks left of our year long trip taking us over 7000 miles. We have a sign in our boat that reads, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. Sunday night, March 15th, was definitely one of them—WOW. Thank you, NASA. TYJ.