Now that our Loop is done, we head back up the familiar ICW to Norfolk VA to undergo a five week boat and human upkeep period. But the trip is not without some boating drama.
Clicking on the Google Map button below will open the map in a separate window. There you can zoom in/out, and clicking on the icons will bring up pictures and more info on the various places along our route
It’s been two months since we crossed our wake in St. Augustine, thus completing The Great Loop. Time to get back on the Blog Horse. I found myself at a bit of a loss as to what to write about. Not that we haven’t had adventures, but more that my brain was still processing everything – the past 13 months of travel, the present travelling the ICW up to Norfolk, and the future plan for the rest of 2023 and early 2024.
It’s been some interesting – and sometimes unexpected – emotions now that we’ve moved on to the next phase of our KDSeefari adventures. There’s the feeling of accomplishment and achievement; what had been theoretical and the nidus for this major lifestyle change almost three years ago is now a reality. Every time I see that gold burgee waving waving at me from the bow, I smile inside. It’s not just that we can check the box next to ‘Do The Great Loop,’ but rather it reminds me how much more confident and competent we’ve become in the last year. I feel gratitude for all the fellow Loopers we met and travelled with along the way – the fun, the stories, the support, learning from and teaching others. There’s the joy and lightness of living a much simpler lifestyle, and feeding the soul with new places, history, and cultures.
So the last couple months have been a time to reflect on all the past few years has meant to us and for us. We’ve been shifting our daily paradigm, and it’s been a little surprising how grounded we have become in the every day work of ‘doing the Loop.’ We’ve had to think a little harder now that we have ‘done the Loop.’ And it’s also been a time to ponder ‘what’s next?’ But in the near term, we needed to get out of the south before hurricane season started.
Our Travels: On the Lam from Hurricane Season
April 14 - May 21, 2023
Our fourth time on the Atlantic ICW, it now felt like a familiar route through our own neighborhood. We set a goal of exploring some places in more depth with a slow cruise up the coast, and thus Life After The Loop began April 14 when we left St. Augustine. After a night on a mooring ball at Fernandina Beach stopped at St. Simons Island, GA, a repeat from our very first trip north when we were still learning the boat and finding our groove. This time around we could enjoy it more as we weren’t ruminating the entire time there about All Things New Boat, starting with scootering into town under a canopy of grand oaks and Spanish moss with the spring scent of jasmine all around.
Kilkenny and its rustic charm was another familiar stop. How can you not love a place where the owner comes down and apologizes for not being there to catch your lines because he had gone home to make lunch for his 91 year old mother? We walked under the 200 year old oaks, then basked in the peacefulness of the Georgia marshlands as dolphins swam by.
At Isle of Hope, it was an easy Uber into Savannah for a day exploring the rich history and culture of this city. There was the third oldest synagogue in the US, Byrd’s Cookies (we weren’t impressed), yet another Gen Lafayette’s Farewell Tour placard, the search for Forrest Gump’s bench in Forsyth Park (no longer there), and the lovely southern architecture and glimpses of lush gardens through ornate wrought iron fences. At noon, we heard the competing bell tower concerts from several churches.
By chance, we were in Beaufort SC the weekend of the Marine Corps Air Show and had a 360° view of the Blue Angels from the comfort of our boat deck sitting on a mooring ball. Okay, and periodically getting waked by the armies of small boats passing by. The town was as charming as always. A horse-drawn carriage tour was not only informative, but quite entertaining. We learned about the Great Skedaddle early in the Civil War, when all the wealthy plantation owners fled in a panic after Union forces easily took out the defenses at the mouth of the Beaufort River. Their homes and furnishings were abandoned, as were thousands of slaves who suddenly were essentially if not officially free. The Union used many of the mansions as hospitals and officers quarters for the remainder of the war. Abolitionist organizations moved in to set up schools for the former slaves and aid them in becoming self-sufficient in what was known as the Port Royal Experiment. We also heard how much the locals disliked Barbra Streisand (and can hold a grudge) when she was there filming Prince of Tides.
BOAT DRAMA, part 1: We anchored out in Steamboat Creek near Edisto SC the next night, the only boat amidst the dolphins and surrounded by marshland. On the final leg to Charleston the next day, we had our first Boat Drama Encounter. We were about a mile behind a line of boats entering Elliott Cut, a channel connecting the Stono River with Wapoo Creek right before entering Charleston Harbor, when the lead boat came on the radio saying he had snagged something at the just inside the narrow entrance and was tethered. The VHF explodes with chatter from other boats, including a small barge warning that he was coming through from the other direction and needed to know if he could get past. The Coast Guard is monitoring the channel and chimes in to see if anyone needs assistance. First Guy manages to get unstuck and the three other sailboats now cautiously proceed into the cut, not knowing what might be lurking beneath the surface. Meanwhile, First Guy discovers he has some damage when he gets to the bridge, and asks Nice Guy Trawler also waiting for a tow. (Note: this is actually way harder than it might seem and is best left to professionals unless it’s a dire situation.) We enter uneventfully and proceed toward the bridge. But by the time we arrive, there several boats waiting for the opening, including the Nice Guy Trawler trying to tow First Guy and it’s not going well. Four or five boats are doing random circles, trying not to crash into each other. We are low enough in clearance that we pass under the drawbridge with it down, so hug the edge of the channel to get around this herd of cats. One guy backs down right in front of us, Dave to throttles all the way back and gives warning blasts on the horn, tow dudes are struggling with lines, and radio is going nuts as we finally skirt the chaos and escape to the other side of the bridge. I can only imagine what an aerial view must have looked like.
We planned a whole week in Charleston to explore all this city has to offer. The Maritime Center is perfectly located, with its great view of the iconic Ravenel Bridge and the USS Yorktown across the way, but the tradeoff is it is not well protected if winds are from the east. Which they were one sleepless night, but it was still worth it for us. The nearby squirrel-infested Liberty Park was a hit with Roxy (but I doubt the feeling was mutual). The free downtown DASH bus was great for overall reconnaissance our first day there. We then hit all the attractions: toured Ft. Sumter and the USS Yorktown, went to Farmers Market and City Market, and walked through all the historic neighborhoods admiring the uniquely Charleston style. The best part, though, was a couple of special visits. We spent an evening with one of Dave’s former officers from his time in Bremerton, and our nephew Matt and girlfriend Katie drove out for the day and we did a Haunted Charleston Carriage Tour together.
While in Charleston, Mother Nature commenced several weeks of huffing, puffing, and trying to blow everything out to sea. High winds challenged our plans all the way up to Virginia. Fortunately the ICW offered some degree of protection from the relentless winds. Our ride up to Georgetown SC was punctuated by dolphins, dive bombing pelicans, and even a bald eagle eyeing us from atop a dock house. The following morning we entered the Waccamaw River, one of the most beautiful stretches of the ICW. Purple martins skimmed the surface all around us as we journeyed past the lush riverbanks. After easily passing through the infamous Rock Pile, we arrived in Little River SC. We ended up having to stay an extra day to get Roxy to a vet when she had 24 hours of vomiting, more than I ever thought a dog could barf. More than I’ve ever seen a kid barf, for that matter, and I’ve seen a lot of barfy kids. Finding a same-day appointment with a vet is one of the challenges of this lifestyle, but we succeeded and after some assisted rehydration she improved quickly. Never did solve the mystery of the origin, but it went away and stayed away so we’ll take it.
Roxy on the mend, it was onward to Carolina Beach NC mooring field, with its dog-friendly beach. There we were joined by True North, who we had been Loop-frogging with since way back in Cape May NJ. Weather dashed hopes for anchoring out after that, so instead we ran up to Swansboro and then tucked in at the other Beaufort for three days to wait out the nastiness.
Every time we stop in Beaufort NC we discover something new. During an afternoon scooter ride all around town, we stumbled across the Old Burying Ground, which dates back to 1731. The pamphlet provided told of the real life dramas surrounding some of the graves. There was the Little Girl who died at sea and was buried in a barrel of rum because it was how her heartbroken father preserved her body for burial at home. Or the woman whose father hid letters from her beloved, but reunited with him decades later as she lay dying. With more than a couple dozen of such stories in this one cemetery, one has to wonder how many similar tales have been lost to time.
Next we staged at Oriental NC with True North, then crossed a glassy and jellyfish-laden Pamlico Sound the following day to get to Ocracoke Island. Accessible only by boat, it is most famous as where Blackbeard the Pirate was captured and beheaded. We scootered all over the little island, with its abundant golf carts and beach houses, most of which seemed to be vacation rentals. We stopped at the Ocracoke Coffee Company and a wonderful local artisans shop, did a nature walk along the beach, and took the obligate historic lighthouse selfie.
From Ocracoke we moved to Manteo ahead of approaching weather. Shallowbag Marina was rather exposed to the northeast winds, and with short finger piers and high fixed docks it made getting on and off the boat challenging. But neither dog nor humans fell in, so we consider it a success, even if a frequently undignified one.
Time for the final push to Norfolk. We crossed the Albemarle Sound to stop for the night at Coinjock. Then with True North and Crew Lounge (another Looper we knew who had joined us at Coinjock) continued up the Virginia Cut. The other two were nearing their respective wake crossings on the Chesapeake Bay, so we bid them farewell and they continued on while we stopped at the free dock at Great Bridge just before the drawbridge, spending two days walking the park trails and learning some local history at the Great Bridge Battlefield and Waterway Museum.
BOAT DRAMA, part 2: We had to merge from the dock into a long lineup at the bridge as we got underway, through the bridge opening and headed for the lock. Normally the boats tie to just one side of the lock, but this morning they were lining both sides and we entered as the 13th of 14 boats, tying up on the rarely-used starboard side of the lock. They had to turn away two boats, but one didn’t seem to understand that they were waving him off from entering, ending up against the lock gate. Attempting to back out, he somehow started powering forward with left rudder, so he’s now headed across to the port side of the lock and straight for the midships of a Hinckley, where the couple is scrambling to grab boat hooks and fenders. He must have panicked and did the boating equivalent of hitting the gas instead of the brake, and his bow anchor is looking to impale the Hinckley midships. Suddenly a guy off a sportfisher two boats up runs along the lock wall, jumps onto the Hinckley, grabs a fender on the fly and stuffs it between the two boats just in time. The sailboat bow ricochets off the fender and points to the starboard side of the lock, still moving and looking like he’s going to pinball down the lock. Somehow Hinckley Captain and Fearless Fishing Guy snag a couple of his lines and reel him in to raft up to the Hinckley. Crisis heroically averted.
The Hinckley couple could be seen calmly reassuring the clearly rattled older gentleman who was single-handing the sailboat – how’s that for grace? Then he gets on the radio to ask the lock master if they want him to exit first since he’s the only one rafted. Much to the relief of every other boat in the lock, the lock master responds with ‘NO SIR! I want you to stay right where you are until everyone else is out of the lock and we will tell you when to go!’
With so much within walking distance, we had a really enjoyable few days at Waterside Marina in downtown Norfolk. The Chrysler Museum’s glass collection was amazing, we took in a baseball game, and had front row seats on our bow deck to a concert by a great classic rock cover band right there at Waterside.
Five weeks of human and boat upkeep
May 22 - Jun 26, 2023
Then on May 22 we pulled into the very familiar Little Creek Marina in the East Beach neighborhood of Norfolk. This has been as close to a home port as we’ve had over the last two years, and we were welcomed by several of the liveaboards and staff there that we’ve come to know. We rigged for an extended stay and settled in.
First up was a three-generation Boys Weekend for Dave. With his brother Chuck, Chuck’s son-in-laws and two young grandchildren, they embarked on a road trip to NYC to attend a couple Yankees games and explore the city a bit through a child’s eyes. Along the way, they attended son Scott’s Air Force promotion ceremony and then he joined them in NYC. It was an adventure-packed four days, and Dave had a blast.
The next week was our Human Upkeep Period. Months before I had scheduled annual checkups, dental visits, vet appointments, eye exams, haircuts, and anything else we needed all into a week. We rented a car and knocked them all out. The rest of the weeks were spent making a dent in our long list of boat projects. Dave had a bunch of electronics upgrades, new toys to install, and routine engine maintenance. I had my own projects, mostly in the deep cleaning, repairing, and organizing realms. We also did a major purge of ‘stuff,’ from spare/used boat parts to clothing to galley to recreational equipment. It’s surprising how much little stuff you can gather even in the limited space of a 50’ boat. But we did find time to relax with daily walks on the nearby beach, movies, seeing family and friends, and just enjoying a book or podcast on one of the many rainy days we had. We settled back into our local routines: Wednesday morning Klassic Donut, Saturday East Beach Farmers Market, and regular walks to nearby Cova Coffee.
The time in Little Creek, which feels a bit like home after so many stays, has also been the opportunity to continue processing all those emotions. One I didn’t expect is feeling a little adrift. We spent a year planning, a year prepping, and a year doing The Loop, always with a clear route ahead. Suddenly there is no road map, no lane lines; we took the off-ramp and are now in a place with many crossroads from which to choose. While I may smile inside when I see that gold burgee, I was surprised to feel a tinge of sadness to have finished our Loop. I think this is not so much for the actual looping. Rather it is the loss of the Looper community and the many friends we made along the way. When True North and Crew Lounge continued on at Great Bridge, I realized this was the last of our good friends with whom we would be travelling. Almost all had finished their Loop. Now it meant no more spontaneous docktails, no radio banter while underway, and no looking for familiar boats as we pull into marinas. Looping had been a year-long neighborhood block party, and now we’ve moved to the other side of town.
But like the popular saying ‘not all who wander are lost,’ not all who are adrift are off course. And a tinge of sadness makes us look for ways to take what we have experienced and morph it into what we can in the future. All those crossroads before us are options and opportunities, and we’ve been busy planning our next couple years of cruising. We may have moved from the neighborhood, but we haven’t gone far. We are still active in the Looper community, contributing in online forums and social media and occasionally seeing a Looper in our travels this summer and fall. We stay in touch with many friends and know we will see them again, whether it might be in the Bahamas next winter for those still with boats, or future adventures on land. We talk all the time about short and long term plans, relishing in the breadth of possibilities.
For now, we love this life and look forward to continued cruising adventures. First up is a summer and early fall on the Chesapeake Bay. We will see lots of old friends from many eras of our lives, and maybe even find a whole new cruising community along the way. The next chapter starts as soon as we drop the lines and depart Little Creek, and we’re certain it’s not going to be the denouement.
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- No of Days: 72
- Travel Days: 19
- Miles Traveled: 850.2 (739.3 nm)
- Nights at anchor/mooring balls: 7
*Pops is what the family affectionately called Dave’s dad. He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked. This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.