Once again, this blog post is tragically behind schedule. Unlike most bloggers, I actually hate to write. I procrastinate until the point of giving up and then finally I get tired of hearing my dear husband ask when I’m publishing another post and I give in. It takes me forever to get my thoughts into words and living in a tiny space with someone who conducts phone meetings a mere 8 feet away isn’t a peaceful way for me to organize my thoughts. Needless to say, if you are one of the folks who read these blog posts, thank you for your patience!
At the completion of the Erie Canal, we stopped in Catskill, NY. Angie and I hopped off the boat leaving Shane behind with Rhythm where there were projects to be finished while I returned to MN for work and Angie to her cozy home she’d left behind a month before. We (Angie and I) had left our cars parked at the marina in Jefferson Beach, MI, so we rented a car for the long drive to retrieve them. Returning to the point where we began our journey felt a bit defeating and odd considering that it took us a month to get to our destination by boat and only 12 hours by car to get back to the start. As we wizzed down the freeway at speeds greater than we’d experienced in some time, we reminisced about the stops we’d made by sea and how different they appeared on land.
There were many transitions to living on a boat that I’d expected. Living without the daily conveniences that we can so easily take for granted was a given but there is a peace that comes with boat life that I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t even realize it was a thing until I was at a gas station filling up my car for the first time in a month. As I stood there with the gas nozzle in my hand, an anxiety came over me and I became aware of all of the noise and activity that had been missing since our transition to boat life. While the gas pump was filling up my tank with fuel, it was updating me with the daily news. A car alarm was going off in the background, cars were whizzing by and sirens blared in the distance. The person behind the register was informing the patron on pump number 3 that they could come inside to pay when they were finished and the bass from a nearby car was thumping loud enough to feel in my chest. The peacefulness of the fairly mundane days of travel were immediately replaced with the “everyday” life I’d temporarily left behind.
After my two week return to MN for work, I packed my bags, left Loki with Angie in MN and started my day of planes, trains and automobiles heading back to Catskill.
I found Shane and Rhythm in better shape than I’d left them and excited to welcome me back. Hop-o-nose Marina had cleared out quite a bit since I’d left and was considerably quieter now but we were happy to see another sailboat roll in the last night we were there. Dwight & Amanda were on their way south and headed for Jamaica. We invited them aboard for the customary happy hour and had such a good time we continued on into the marina restaurant for a fun night over dinner. We waved goodnight and did what all cruisers do, said we’d see them again soon!
Down the Hudson and out to sea…
The weather had been cold in Catskill while I was away so Shane invested in a kerosene heater to keep the boat extra warm. This proved to be not one of his better purchases but I’ll get back to that later. In the meantime, we enjoyed the massive amounts of heat it kicked out while we were tied up to the dock waiting to leave. After an Uber drive around town to gather groceries, fuel and ice, we had one last long, hot shower and set out before sunrise the next day to head to Croton on the Hudson, NY. It started out uneventfully and as the day rolled on, the wind picked up from the North. We were motoring, so the wind wasn’t much of an issue but combined with the afternoon tidal current it made for some very interesting waves and as we funneled from the wider river into narrow passage, it got rocky on the boat. I went below to retrieve a snack for the captain and noticed that the new kerosene heater was leaking fuel all over the floor. I’d assumed it was just a bit that had been in the reservoir so I sopped it up with paper towels, grabbed the snacks and returned to the cockpit where I mentioned the spillage to Shane. He assured me that we should be fine as long as the heater remained upright and went below to lodge it in a corner where it wouldn’t tip over. A good idea in theory but we were on a sailboat. A vessel not known to remain upright.
The wind continued to pick up. We bounced around as did the heater and it’s full tank of kerosene. At this point, Shane went below to handle the situation, which had gotten out of hand. He removed the tank, cleaned up the spillage and per my request, moved the whole mess (including the heater) up to the cockpit to air out the cabin. We secured it in the corner of the cockpit with bungie cords as we prepared our approach to the marina. We’d had plenty of experience with docking since we left Michigan and Shane’s mad skills would soon be put to the test. This was by far the most “challenging” docking situation we’d been in. With the wind funneling down the river, the waves had grown large enough to draw out the local wind surfers who were having a great time leaping from one wave to the next just outside of the marina. We had to cross them to get to the entrance which had some protection from the waves but not the wind. The dockmaster was there to greet us and catch our lines as were two other gentleman from the marina. It was a bit of a circus as Shane couldn’t hear any of the conversation between the dockmaster and me and could only see us using many hand gestures as we yelled to one another over the howling wind. With that, he assumed that he was being waved off and started to reverse leaving us all confused and the guys on the dock pulling at the dock lines while he tryed to reverse us out of there… in the crazy wind. He ended up backing into a slip adjacent to the original one and the entire crew ran around the other side to once again, grab the dock lines and keep us from drifting into the large boat next to us.
Finally, we were tied up. First thing on the agenda, getting the bloody kerosene heater off the boat! Yes, it briskly heated the boat to 150 degrees at the drop of a hat but was in no way designed to exist on a sailboat! We asked around to see if anyone had use for it and ended up gifting it to a nice man who told us he had a friend who’d been having a rough time and could really use some heat in his trailer for the winter. So it was a win/win. His friend would be warm for the winter and we would go back to safely shivering on the boat 😉
We stayed in Croton for the weekend which gave us a chance to catch up with our good friend Chas and his family who lived just a quick train ride south of the marina. Chas had lived on the east coast for as long as I can remember and we’d only seen him a few times in the last 30 years so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend some quality time together. We enjoyed some great food, beautiful scenery and most of all, excellent company!
We left Croton early in the morning with plenty of time to sail around the Statue of Liberty in daylight and head directly out to the Atlantic from the bay. The wind finally cooperated with us and came from a usable direction so we motor-sailed a good chunk of the day when we approached the very busy Hudson Bay. It wasn’t really the number of boats in the bay, which as you can see , look like they are nearly parked on top of one another, it was the speed at which so many of them were traveling that kept us on our toes!
After we rounded Liberty Island, snapped lots of pics and avoided collision, the wind picked up and we slalomed through the approaching vessels like a video game. Unfortunately, we were exhausted and not sure we were in the best state to attempt the Atlantic journey so we pulled into Sandy Hook Bay in search of overnight accommodations. We were lucky enough to snag the last mooring ball in Atlantic Highlands. This was our first time negotiating a mooring ball and the water taxi driver was more than happy to give me instructions which was great for me as I was the one grabbing the lines. Since our anchoring setup was not nearly ready for the challenge of the strong winds to come, we were grateful to have made it just in time to catch him before he left for the day! We decided get some rest overnight and head out the next day if the weather was agreeable. Little did we know, we’d be moored here for the better part of the week while we waited for a good weather window and Shane attended meetings.
Spending time moored in Atlantic Highlands was a great experience for us. We’d lived exclusively in marinas until now so mooring gave us a taste of life away from so many of the conveniences we’d been relying on such as unlimited power, water and hot showers. Before we left Michigan, we knew we had several boat projects that needed completing in order to transition from “liveaboards” to “cruisers”. This was the perfect time to see whether those projects were necessary or just conveniences.
Atlantic Highlands turned out to be a great place to stay. The town was charming and filled with great restaurants and a grocery store and laundromat within walking distance. Every morning we grabbed the first water taxi into shore for groceries or showers or just a chance to stretch our legs and take in the scenery. We grabbed an Uber and stocked up on some warm(er) clothing as the temps stayed in the 40’s and we were without power (or a kerosene heater) to keep the boat toasty.
After 5 days in a holding pattern, we crept out in the wee hours of the morning and headed out into the Atlantic. The weather was picture perfect until we sailed past Atlantic City, NJ with the sun set. We’d struggled with the fluky weather since we’d left Catskill and no matter how many apps and resources we’d consulted for forecasting, none of them seem to match up with that we had been experiencing. The winds were either stronger than expected or non-existent. They’d swing around to come from an entirely different direction than predicted and we were having trouble getting a good read on when to leave and what to expect. The approaches along the coast were shallow and our transducer (tells us the depth) had decided to die entirely on this trip so we were hoping to just do an overnight or two and hop on down the coast.
Again with the weather…
Around 4 pm, Shane checked the weather again which said we should be in for a great night of sailing with light winds out of the North-NorthWest until well into the next day. Unfortunately, our luck with the weather predictions was shot again and around 8pm the gale picked up from the East, the worst possible direction, at 30-35 knots sustained and the waves started building and making for a very uncomfortable ride. An hour later we were approaching the Delaware River entrance which is an alternate route that would take us to the northern end of the Chesapeake. Even though we were excited for our first overnight offshore, we were in serious doubt of these predictions and just didn’t trust that it wouldn’t get worse when we were exhausted and in the dark and had little or no choice of places to go. I have full trust in Shane and his skills as a captain but I am pretty green and not the best crew yet. If he’d had someone with him that had more experience, I’m sure he’d have continued offshore but being that I was his crew, he was trying to keep me comfortable and happy so he opted for what he thought would be the best route and we turned toward the mouth of the Delaware.
The thing that we hadn’t given much consideration to, was the fact that in those conditions (strong winds out of the East colliding with an outgoing current in the river) it would make for a very nasty approach. Along with the wind and current, there was a great deal of shoaling at the mouth of the river and again, we had no indication of our depth except for the charts which are always a bit “iffy” in a situation like that. Oh, and lest I forget to mention that this is also a busy shipping route so there are massive ships pulling in and out of this river as well. We can see them on our AIS but they can’t see us. So on a very dark night around 9pm we began surfing the waves to our approach and as the seas started to toss us around, we got ourselves tethered in cockpit. I was expecting a bit of jostling but nothing like what we experienced. After about an hour of being thrown around, Shane sent me below and yelled for me to close the companionway. For the next 5 hours, it was a nightmarish blur.
Every hour or so, Shane would yell toward the closed companionway “are you alright?”. I’d peek my head out, yell “what”, he’d repeat, I’d say “I’m fine!” and this went on all night. All I could think to myself was “make it end!!!” over and over. The engine was roaring and the diesel fumes were permeating the cabin and cockpit. We were both out of our mind exhausted but there was no rest for us that night. Everything in our little home was launched from where it was stowed. The new oven that we’d lovingly added back in MI was slamming back and forth on it’s gimbal because I couldn’t get the pin to latch. I was sure it was a total loss and I finally gave up even trying to get it in after being thrown into the oven over and over. Food, laptops and napkins were lying underneath overturned cushions and all of our tools had been thrown from their containers in the V-berth and were clanking with every smash of our hull. The 200ish ziplocks that I’d stocked up on for future use were conveniently full of static and clinging to every surface they could find. Every time I’d peek out of the companionway to check on Shane, it looked like something out of an action movie. The waves were enveloping the back of the boat and pushing us forward into a washing machine of oncoming waves. It was completely dark except for the glow of our instruments on his concentrated face. I’d retreat back to my hole, hang on for dear life and wait for it to be over. Finally, the worst part seemed to subside and we were back to the rocking motion that we’d had out to sea. I stuck my head out and asked where we were. “I had to go back out to sea. The boat kept getting turned around and there was a ship coming our way. I’m about three miles out and headed back for round two!” In my head I screamed ” NOOOO, I can’t do this again!!!” But I just teared up, retreated back down the steps and grasped the handrails waiting for round two to begin. I was absolutely terrified out of my mind as the night progressed and I was wondering why I’d signed up for this adventure!!
When I could see daylight, I peeked my head up to check on Shane. He looked like a zombie that had been on a 24 hour bender and what was once our tidy cockpit, now had soggy jelly beans stuck to everything, everything! Over hot coffee and banana bread, we both sat dazed as if to be in the middle of a dream. We apologized to one another, he for getting us into that situation and me for being a completely useless crew member for the whole event! We agreed that no apologies were necessary and we were simply happy to be holding hot coffee and pointing upright. We spent the next several hours tidying the boat and motoring up river and through the C&D canal while the adrenaline wore off. We made it to Chesapeake City, MD mid afternoon and took respite at the city dock. We had hot showers and collapsed in bed for a long nap. I woke Shane around dinner time just to get some proper nourishment into our very stressed bodies. Over dinner he asked me if I wanted to learn how to handle the boat in situations like that so that the next time, he would have a chance to take a break. I took a long pause and in my head I was thinking… this is one of those dim moments when a husband asks his wife how many more kids she wants to have just after she’s given birth. I thought the look on my face would have said it all as I sat in stunned silence but Shane said, “well?” I believe my exact answer was “hell no, I don’t ever want to be in a situation like that again!!!”
After a day of recovery, sleep, a visit to the local coffee shop and a few meetings for Shane, we set out again feeling very refreshed and ready for the next part of the journey which was a day trip to Annapolis, MD. Though we motored the whole way, I personally was just fine with the mundane nature of the journey after the excitement of the past few days. Besides, everything we had was soaked and needed a bit of drying out so the timing was great for that!
When we called ahead to the Annapolis City Marina, we were told that there was room for us right on the town wall. They call it Ego Alley as it’s where one docks their boat to be seen. We were parking there for the convenience factor as it would make hopping off the boat and exploring the city a breeze! We’d only been to Annapolis during the sailboat show where this area is filled wall to wall with docks and boats so I wasn’t really aware of what a tight approach we’d have. Again, Shane proved his ability to maneuver the boat like a champ and with a crowd of onlookers, he spun Rhythm around and slid her into the tiny spot between to very large vessels in front and behind us. I was sure we’d provide a different kind of show for the gawkers but I was relieved that we looked like experienced champs at that moment!
Two weeks had passed since I’d rejoined Shane and Rhythm. Our friend Angie and graciously offered to watch Loki for us so that I could make this journey with Shane and my time was up. We’d agreed that I would hop off and Shane would finish the trip down the Chesapeake as a solo sailor. He and Rhythm had clearly bonded and would take care of one another just fine without me. We spent two days in Annapolis before I caught an Uber to the airport for my trip home. Unfortunately, a large part of those last two days were spent dealing with the fuzzy farm of mold that had grown inside of Rhythm while we were camped out in NJ. While Shane was working, I tore the boat apart again and sprayed every nook I could reach with peroxide and vinegar. We washed all of our clothing, bedding and every porous object we owned in hopes of keeping the mold at bay for a while. We did get a chance to wander around in search of boat supplies and take in a few great meals as well. Annapolis never disappoints!
Three days solo at sea (by Shane)
After Aimee’s early morning Uber ride to the airport, I moved Rhythm out to
a mooring ball in Annapolis Harbor to prepare for a solo sail to
Norfolk, VA. I planned to get underway around 0500 for Solomons, MD.
I checked the weather for the umpteenth million time which was
predicted to build to 15-20 Kts out of the west with gusts to 25.
This sounded great as I would have wind out of an ideal direction and
with 2 reef’s in the main, I felt I would be sailing conservatively. I
awoke to lighter than expected winds and light rain. After
diligently checking the weather again and finding the forecast still
holding, I sailed off the mooring ball in the dark feeling like a pro.
Needless to say the weather man lied! After a beautiful sunrise and great sailing for a couple of hours, the VHF radio blew up with a gale warning out of the north. Within the hour I was hammered by 45 Knot winds with too much sail up and quickly
building, following seas. I scrambled to get my shit together but
could only manage to get to the headsail. The reefing mechanism for the
mainsail gave way and left me with the only option of letting the
mainsail lay against the rigging and spreaders like a really big white
plastic bag full of dog-shit and began a very fast sail surfing my way
to Zahniser’s Marina. Moral of the story… if you think you should do
something, like shorten sail, it’s likely too late.
After securing the boat with the help of a dock hand, in 30 knots of
wind, I took an inventory of the dumb ass mistakes I’d made which were mostly due to
optimism and procrastination. I smiled remembering it was still a
great sail. I’d learned plenty and gained more trust in Rhythm’s
seaworthiness. I also thanked Tim Carlson for teaching me to keep it
smooth in rough/tough conditions!! As I finished making the temporary
repairs to rhythm, the exhaustion set in. I checked my route and
weather for the next day. Very light to no wind was predicted so I thanked Neptune and
the Wind gods and fell asleep as the sun was setting.
Sailing to Norfolk from Solomon’s was nice and uneventful.
It began with some motor-sailing, followed by an overnight at Deltaville
Boatyard (Cleanest and Best Showers yet). After being away from Norfolk for the last 21 years, it was a serendipitous ending with the Chesapeake
Bay Bridge Tunnel and Little Creek Naval base in sight after perfect
sail south on a single tack for 8 hours.
After three days sailing down the Chesapeake, Shane arrived in Norfolk, VA. This is where we would have Rhythm’s bottom repainted for the salt water. Shane hung around long enough to have her hauled out and properly buttoned up before joining me in MN for Thanksgiving with our family. He had three successful days of travel and delivered Rhythm safely to her next temporary home for the month.
Looking back and writing about this part of our story from NY to VA, it did remind me of childbirth a bit. There was great excitement and anticipation, pain that has subsided with time and a feeling of love and pride for our accomplishments. I can also look back at that conversation that we had over dinner regarding the “next time” and say that I don’t look forward to it but I’m sure I’ll do much better when the time comes (but I still hope it never does).