Mystery and Mastery

We passed Mile Marker 483 as we continued along our way up the ICW into South Carolina, which for us was the halfway point between our destination of Portsmouth, VA (MM 0) and our departure from Fort Pierce, FL (which was MM 966).  In the two weeks we had been cruising, we had already learned a lot and were rapidly gaining confidence.  Every day brought something new, whether it be a discovery, a challenge, or learning a new boating skill.  We were digging deep into memory (more than a couple decades for me, only one for Dave) to past boating experience, but it helped that there was still some element of familiarity.  Things like the proper way to tie off a cleat, rigging fenders, reading a nautical chart, or understanding what the different buoys and markers meant quickly came back.  In the end you can read and watch videos all you want, but ultimately the only we you get good at any of this is to do it.  Again and again. 

We were also mastering See Level in particular.  Boats are not all the same, and the only way to learn the vagaries of your own is by doing it with your own.  As a catamaran, we ride more level and don’t get the side-to-side rolling action that single hulls get.  But the tradeoff is we have two hulls for currents and wave ‘chop’ to effect.  Two engines 18’ apart steers differently than a single.  Boats have different drafts, which can dictate which route you take on the ICW or if you need to time your transit at high tide.  Then there’s the air draft, or the height of the boat, which determines which drawbridges you can get under without requesting an opening.  We have a low air draft of only 15’, which means we can get under a lot of bridges.  But it also means that without a fly bridge sitting up high, Dave has more limited visibility of how close we are when docking and must rely on me to feed him that information as he gets a better ‘feel’ for the boat.  Currents, wind direction (even though we’re not a sailboat we are affected by wind), and of course the weather all have to be considered and every day these factors come together in a different way.  That’s what this first trip up to Norfolk was for – to learn and get familiar.

One of the other big things we’ve quickly learned is to expect the unexpected and adapt, as sometimes the ‘challenge’ is really more of a problem.  Boats are mechanical, so things break.  Or stop working.  Or, as I related in the previous blog, they make mysterious noises.  (see  And you can’t exactly just call someone in or run out to the parts place down the block.  Rather, you have to be prepared to deal with whatever the Boat Goblins throw your way – and they can be quite mischievous.   In the case of our mystery noise, Dave had spent hours determining what it was NOT and we could let it ride.  My update is that we have not heard the noise since before we arrived in Charleston, SC.  I will take a moment here to say how flattered I was that several of you thought I actually did know what it was and had written a Who Shot JR cliffhanger.  I’m neither that smart nor that strategic in my blogging.  BUT, I have subsequently come up with a leading theory: TOADFISH!   The male toadfish, to be exact, famous for their loud mechanical-sounding mating call.  Saw something mentioned in a fellow cruiser’s posting, and when I checked it out – it’s what our noise sounded like.  So apparently we were chasing after the sound of a lovelorn Oyster Toadfish doing their best to get another toadfish to swipe right.

Here’s a link to a recording of their mating call:

But no sooner did we solve one mystery than another arose. 

We had a lovely trip from Beaufort SC to Charleston.  We were treated to a mini-airshow, with a couple Marine Corps jets out of nearby Parris Island doing some training overhead, conducting fast and slow passes along the river, near-vertical climbs, and stationary hovers.  The sound of military jet noise was something we had not heard in a long time (little did we know what was to come).  Along the Ashepoo River and the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff (I love saying those names – sounds like it should be a dog breed) were sunny shorelines of grass and wetlands, numerous dolphin sightings (oh, look – more dolphins!), and pelicans by the dozens dive-bomb fishing all around us.  The final leg was Elliott’s Cut, a very picturesque and VERY narrow channel lined with large homes, and then we were in busy Charleston Harbor, where we planned to stay for a couple days.  Our spot at the marina was deep in an inside fairway lined on either side with large expensive boats and it was a rather tight fit, leaving us wondering how in the world we were going to get out as there was no room to turn around.  We had timed our arrival at slack current – meaning right when the tide is changing so there is very little current and Dave parallel parked like he’d been doing it for years.  Dave hooked us up to the shore power, and with a loud CLICK! the breaker tripped.  He reset it and CLICK, it immediately tripped again.  He tried a few other things, including plugging the power cord into a different pedestal. 


“Hmmm,” he says, staring at the inverter. “There’s a leakage fault.”

As far as I’m concerned anything to do with a ‘leak’ on a boat cannot be good.  Except for maybe…. Nope.  Never mind – that’s not good either.  Any kind of ‘leak’ is definitely a problem. 

“Are you saying we have water leaking into the electrical system?” I ask. 

“No, more like electric current leaking into the water.”

That didn’t sound much better at all, and I envisioned my dive-bombing pelicans getting electrocuted.  Thinking he’s reassuring me, Dave adds “But we have DC.”

Good heavens!  We’re gonna need to use the Damage Control gear?

“DC – as in Damage Control?!?” I ask.

“No, as in Direct Current.  It looks like we don’t have AC.”

“We don’t have air conditioning?”

“I didn’t mean AC as in Air Conditioning.  It’s AC as in Alternating Current.”

“So…we do have air conditioning?”

“No, the AC runs on AC.”

This was quickly becoming an AC Acronyms routine – AC as in Abbot & Costello.  Once again, Dave spent a couple hours troubleshooting to find the source of the problem, but could not.  Ultimately, it meant that we didn’t get to downtown Charleston as we waited around the next day to see if a marine electrician could make it out on such short notice (he ultimately couldn’t).  But having spent a weekend in Charleston in November when we first started our boat search, so didn’t feel like we were missing out. We had plenty of power to run what we really needed (except air conditioning) between the solar panels, generator, and what I now know is the DC power, we decided to continue on our journey – especially since temps were supposed to be mild for the next week. 

That's a lot of pelicans.
A Pelican Review Committee as we pass under a bridge.
Uh-oh. He's bigger, so he wins. The good news is that he doesn't have a barge attached. This was in Elliott's Cut, shortly before arriving in Charleston Harbor.

We left at first light the next morning.  We were both a little nervous about having to back down about 100 yards along the narrow fairway lined with boats, turning around in a narrow basin, and then having another 100 yards to maneuver between more boats on either side before getting out to more open water.  Dave had never driven backwards that far in such tight quarters, and a boat going backwards is not as maneuverable.  I had a scary worst-case image of us pinball-machining our way out of the marina.  I was the designated ‘lookout,’ as well as She With the Boathook and Fender To Push Us Off of Anything.  Since I would be looking backwards, I feared getting port and starboard mixed up and we had an extensive discussion on communication; if I said ‘go more to port’ would that mean to the port side of our boat, which was now to the right since we were going backwards, or would that mean the port side relative to the direction we were traveling which would be to move over toward the left and what was actually the starboard side of our boat?  In the end, we decided to stick with ‘go more right (or left),’ but after talking about it so much I could also see me forgetting what we had finally decided on.  In the end, none of it mattered as we cast off our lines and Dave took it straight down the middle, spun her around on a dime, and straight down the middle for the remainder and we were on our way across Charleston Harbor, passing Fort Sumter in the early morning light.  Another lesson learned and confidence gained!

Next stop: Georgetown, SC.  The first leg was a study in contrasts as we passed Isle of Palms and Goat Island (no goats to be seen, by the way).  On our right were newer luxury mega-homes with private docks.  Their backyard view from the pool or manicured garden (or both) was the other side of the ICW with its smaller, older, beachier homes with some scattered funky ones that looked more like they could have been part of a former Hippie Colony.  Once past that the view was once again natural grasses and wetlands.  As a bonus we were able to watch our niece Lizzy’s graduation from USC being live-streamed from the LA Coliseum

I give up...what does this mean?
Pretty sure this is a re-purposed life boat, not exactly known for comfort and luxury.
Weird place for a snack bar, out in the middle of nowhere. Dave wanted to stop when he saw the hot dog sign, but then realized they weren't open.
The wonders of technology: watching our niece's USC Graduation livestream while traversing the unspoiled wetlands on the other coast.

The marina in Georgetown was right smack along the downtown boardwalk of this small historic town.  We plugged into the shore power – and no problem!  Worked just fine.  Dave had all kinds of theories, having read blogs and forum posts about old vs new marina pedestals, inverters, and ELCI switches (I didn’t even want to ask him what that acronym stood for).  I was sticking with my theory of Boat Goblins.  Once settled, we made our way to the famous Independence Seafood, where the commercial fishing boats pull right up and unload their catch and cashed in on some very fresh shrimp and grouper.  Over the next two days, we enjoyed some lovely walks under a canopy of ancient oaks past homes dating back as far as 1750 and exploring the small downtown, which was only about three blocks long. The smell of jasmine was all around, or at least until the breeze changed direction and then the smell of the local paper mill was all around.  Personally, I prefer the former.  And of course, where you have giant trees you also have a thriving squirrel population, so Roxy was happy.

The streets of Georgetown were lined with oaks . Placards on the homes gave their dates, and the earliest we saw was 1750.
The picture really doesn't do this majestic beauty of an oak tree justice. It is the one to the right in the backyard, and it is towering.
Words we could all do well to live by.
Note the heron. He hangs out here regularly panhandling for fish.

The Waccamaw River had some beautiful scenery as we continued north, with forests on either side trimmed with Spanish moss and all kinds of shore birds hidden amongst the tall grasses.  We had read that alligators could be seen here, but we saw none (bummer).  We had a rude return to civilization passing through the quintessential touristy Myrtle Beach, with all the kitschy named bars, amusement parks, mini-golf, resorts, and giant signs advertising attractions lining both sides of the ICW.  We kept going to Little River SC, just north of Myrtle Beach.  We pulled into Lightkeepers Marina and barely had the lines set when we were warmly greeted by the people who lived in the boats next to us.  We plugged in and power worked just fine once again — guess it must have been something at the Charleston marina and would remain a mystery.  We took our neighbors up on their offer to join them at a local hangout that night, where one of them was playing steel drums as the evening’s entertainment.  We enjoyed dinner on one of their boats the next evening, and got an experienced rundown on anchorages and route planning for the rest of our trip through North Carolina.

Myrtle Beach rentals.
Saw these in a couple different places. This one was in North Myrtle Beach.
Took the Kayaks out for a spin while we were in North Myrtle Beach

The next couple days brought several new cruising experiences.  In Carolina Beach NC, we stayed on a mooring for the first time, which is essentially like anchoring by tying up to a permanently set anchor that someone official has placed.  This also gave us an opportunity for dinghy rides to the nearby public dock and walks on the beach with Roxy.  She decided she liked wet sand and rolling in washed-up stuff.  Oh joy!  And we decided we liked the peace of being out in the water with no docks and no other boats right on top of us.  The following day took us to Mile Hammock Bay anchorage, this time dropping our own anchor for the night.  This anchorage is well protected, calm, and peaceful –  except for the occasional large gun rounds being shot by the Marines as the nearby land is all part of Camp Lejeune.  Being a military base, the nearby shore was off-limits.  We could see people fishing from the dock there and using the boat ramp – but these were all card-carrying military who had base access.  The irony was that as retirees, we have base access and could have launched our dinghy from the boat ramp and taken it to the boat if we had trailered it the 15 miles through the base entrance, but we couldn’t make the 100-yard trip ashore starting at the boat.  Not that there were armed guards patrolling the shore or anything.  And not that there were any rules about tooling around in the anchorage with the dinghy, especially when it was dusk and all the fishermen had left.  And not saying that while tooling around the anchorage we would make a brief stop in the dinghy so that Roxy could do her dog duty, because the only sign we saw facing the water said dogs must be on a leash which seemed to imply that dogs were allowed to go ashore just not humans, but if they had to be on a leash then that leash had to be attached to a human on the other end, and so then which rule took priority the dog being on a leash or the no humans landing on the beach?  They really should clarify that. 


The view from our mooring at Carolina Beach, NC. The round white buoy you see on the right is anchored to a cement block. You (meaning me, while Dave drives the boat up to it with the remote) snag a shorter line attached to the top of the buoy with a boat hook and tie the boat to it. It's like anchoring using someone else's previously well-set anchor.
Sunset at Mile Hammock Bay. The surrounding shoreline is all part of Camp Lejuene.

All was peaceful and calm as we went to sleep, leaving the hatch and portlights open because it was one of those perfect nights.  I was instantly asleep — and then instantly awake an hour later by the sound of Ospreys pounding the air above us. Not the ospreys of the feathered kind, but the Ospreys of the large military aircraft kind.  Seems the anchorage was right under the path for some nighttime training.   They passed low enough to make the boat shake, all the while occasionally firing off some kind of concussion rounds that you could feel more than hear.  All this ruckus caused Roxy to come flying down the ladder into our cabin – or rather failing to fly and more like crash landing into the starboard hull.  Dave went topside to watch what he could, while I was curled up with Roxy on the floor of our cabin trying to console her.  She’s not normally afraid of thunder or fireworks, but apparently military bombing runs cross a line for her.  Fortunately the exercise only lasted about 45 minutes, and the rest of the night was quiet. 

We left early the next morning, because we had heard through the Facebook grapevine that a nearby swing bridge we had to go through was having work done starting at 0800 every day that required a crane to partially block the passage, narrowing it to about 20’.  Since we are 18’ wide that didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, so we wanted to make the 0700 opening.  Once through that, we had about 15 mi that was still Camp Lejeune, as evidenced by all the warning signs about possible unexploded ordnance or live fire.  And then there was the Tank Cemetery, appeared to be used for training and target practice – not exactly scenery we would have anticipated in our cruising adventures.  But even with rusted out tanks, it was still beautiful wetlands, dolphins, and birds in abundance.   

Why we had to get an early start: they move the big floating crane on the left over to work on the bridge, narrowing the opening to about 20'. Since we are 18' wide, that's a little tight.
Can't say this was on my radar as a possible hazard of boating.
Or this. The good news is that the lights weren't flashing. And does anyone have AM radio on a boat???
Another 'didn't expect to see.' Guess we now know what all the live shooting and unexploded ordnance is about. These were two of about a dozen tanks that must be used for training and target practice at Camp Lejeune.

We didn’t have far to go beyond the boundaries of Camp Lejeune to get to our day’s destination of Beaufort, NC.  It was an easy, pretty trip until we got within a couple miles of the marina.  Then all hell broke loose in the sense of small fishing and pleasure craft that seemed to be swarming from all directions.  They zipped in and out, crossing in front or worse yet STOPPING in front of us, fishing right in the channel underneath a narrow bridge passage.  It felt like a video game with things coming at us from all sides.  We were relieved to arrive at Town Creek Marina without having run someone over.  We tied up with the assistance of the helpful dockhands, hooked up to shore power, and CLICK!

Uh-oh.  The Goblins were back….

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4 thoughts on “Mystery and Mastery”

  1. Julie K Swedback

    You to make an amazing team. I would be totally worthless! You’re an incredible storyteller, Karen, and I love your sense of humor and wit.

  2. Marge Sagstetter

    So fun to journey with you up the east coast! I would be interested to know some of the details about living on a boat. How do you get groceries? How far in advance do you plan your trip? The ENTIRE thing (so you know when to hook up with friends and family) or just a few days in advance? Are you getting your mail as planned? (!!!) etc. What is your favorite part and least favorite part of living on a boat? That kink of stuff.

    Thanks for sharing your life with all of us and good luck with the electrical gremlins! Be well and safe.

  3. Nocturnally Serene

    Oh those frisky sea critters and their strange noises! Growing up on a sailboat we had similar experiences, luckily in the marina we could compare nighttime noises with neighbors and agree it was Mother Nature in full swing. So happy your issue was simply amorous toadish. Don’t need the stress of missed sleep from unresolved mystery noises. Love the blog, the photos and sharing your adventure! Need more Roxy photos

  4. Linda, Maryland "Mom" moving to Pgh

    Love reading about your adventures! And, as a former English teacher, your writing is excellent.

    I’m in the middle of my own adventure, packing boxes and boxes of stuff to give to charity from my almost 80 years as well as “stuff” from my mother and her aunts and my paternal grandmother! Closing on my Annapolis house is Friday, but the lovely new owners, returning to Maryland from SpaceX in CA, are letting me live here until my Longwood at Oakmont apartment is ready — except for the new kitchen — on July 15th.

    Do you have an ETA for the Norfolk area? If it’s before I leave, I might be able to drive down to meet up with you.

    For all the USNA friends: Carlos del Toro, USNA ’83, was just named SecNav. Did anyone know him?

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