Ode to Dad…In honor of "Fodder's" Day:

April is ended, May is half gone
Time for the crew of Cayenne to move on
We have been overwhelmed by your hospitality
Because being with Dad is the best place to be
You have driven us places we wanted to go
Celebrated (and treated!) at Cinco de Mayo
Fixed a nice comfy bed with a big fluffy pillow
And a view of your “neighbors,” the ducks, through the window
When our boat had a boo-boo, you gave us the keys
And we drove up to Charleston with AC and ease
We ate special Dad dishes, like pasta with pesto
We wolfed down shrimp salad and crab with great gusto
There was homemade sangria with sweet Triple Sec
Which we sipped with contentment on Janet’s front deck
Turning forty was easy, with Dad standing by
Armed with mountains of presents and coconut pie
In addition to all of the fabulous grub
There were nice long hot showers and a soak in the tub!
Then you packed up your seabag and jumped on the boat
For two sun-filled days of adventure, afloat
And we talked and we chatted and looked at the scenery
Took pix of each other and wildlife and greenery
Yes, being with Dad is the best place to be
Whether I am with him, or he is with me
And I’m not sure which role is the one I love best:
Being his host, or being his guest!

Lassie (and Eunice) Save the Day

The day after Barry’s birthday found us anchored in an tenuous place. Unprotected, exposed to thunderstorms and winds, we were near the eastern shore of the miles-wide Alligator River. Ashore, we could see an old abandoned ferry landing, a beach, and a few houses, one of them in ruins.

We’d chosen this spot out of desperation, looking for a way to rendezvous with old friends. This was plan C.

Plan A seemed simple: Eschew the Intracoastal Waterway and enjoy some sailing inside the Outer Banks, stopping to see Gretchen and Bill at Manteo on Roanoke Island. We hadn’t spoken in about ten years, but Gretchen was surprised and delighted when I called her on the phone. Roanoke Island was the location of the 16th century “Lost Colony,” which still doesn’t explain how such good friends ended up in the “lost” category in our address book.

But we’d overlooked the fact that the channel past Roanoke Island was a mere five feet deep, despite assurances from our cruising guide (“do not use for navigation”) that it was seven feet. Sigh. Back to the ICW “ditch.”

Plan B was a nice marina on the ICW, where we could tie up and invite our friends for breakfast on Cayenne. According to the cruising guide (“do not use for navigation!”), it had eight feet. But on the way there, we overheard a dismaying radio transmission.

“This is Daisy Dee, calling the Alligator River Marina. How deep is the water there?”

“Five and a half feet,” came the cool reply from the marina.

“Oh! That won’t do!” cried the perky voice of Daisy Dee. Unheard on the radio, there was an expletive on Cayenne.

And so on to Plan C, where we hoped to simply find someplace, anyplace where we could dinghy ashore and have Gretchen and Bill pick us up with their car. Hence our open roadstead in the Alligator River.

I got into the dinghy with trepidation as Barry and I set out to reconnoiter. Surely the ferry landing was too high, too rotten. Surely the marsh surrounding it was impenetrable, full of snakes and bugs. Surely the beach was private and guarded by ferocious dogs. We’d had a bad experience five years ago with something like that, and had been particularly cautious about dinghying ashore ever since.

But unlike our previous experience, this one was a snap! Just out of sight from Cayenne was the perfect public boat launch ramp where we could land without trespassing, or, more importantly, getting our feet muddy. We secured the dinghy and went looking for a pay phone to alert our friends of the change in plans, but we were miles from nowhere. How could we possibly let our friends know where to meet us?

Along came Lassie, literally, to save the day. A large collie started barking from the house next to the boat landing. “Lassie! It’s all right,” called her owner. “She’s never bitten anyone.” Instead of grabbing Barry’s hand and trying to flee, as I usually do with strange dogs, we moved closer and started chatting. The next thing I knew, Eunice was inviting us into her home to use her telephone.

Her family had lived there for over fifty years. Her parents still lived next door, and she even explained the derelict house, saying, “That’s Paw-Paw’s old place. We have to get the fire department over here one of these days, get that old thing burned down.” Living next to the boat ramp didn’t bring much traffic, since she explained, “Nobody ever uses it.” Little wonder, since six inches of water is only enough for kayaks and (every fifty years or so) a couple of crazy sailors trying to get ashore.

The following morning, when we came ashore to meet Gretchen and Bill, our plans went off without a hitch. We exchanged hugs and greetings, then got into the car for a visit to Manteo and Nags Head. And as we drove away from the launch ramp on Old Ferry Landing Road, there was Eunice, waving from her house, and Lassie, who barked a friendly hello as we passed. Thanks, Lassie.

Put another log on the fire, Bubba!

Out in Cayenne’s cockpit, we’re more likely to be listening to the marine radio than the stereo. Back when we sailed on Puget Sound, that was the case for both Brian’s Nereid and our Northern Crow, but what heard there and what we hear here are very, very different.

Radio communications in Puget Sound are pretty limited, for recreational boaters. We make short, clearly enunciated calls to friends or marinas on Channel 16, move our brief conversations to a “working channel,” and then sign off. We make jokes about the yahoos on powerboats whose conversations go, “Vessel ahead, this is vessel astern! Is that you?” “Vessel astern, this is vessel ahead! Yeah, it’s me! Is that you?” But at least the yahoos do their chattering on working channels, rather than on 16.

Down here, the yahoos are known as “Bubbas.” And they do their chattering right on Channel 16. “Hey Bubba! This is Bubba Bubba! I’m over here, and the fish are pretty bad! How are the fish over there?” Once, I heard a guy out of the blue on Channel 16 ask the world, “Does anybody know what the weather’s going to be in the (Gulf) Stream tomorrow?” Not a word of identification, and who the heck was going to answer him at midnight, anyway?

Since we don’t know anyone on other boats around here, it was a bit of a surprise when someone hailed us by name on the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. Turned out it was the big ugly powerboat behind us, just telling us to slow down so he could pass us quicker. That’s like those people who get behind you on the Interstate and flash their lights at you to get over. I once had a idiot who did that to me when I was in the right lane already — did he think I should be on the shoulder, or just not allowed on the road at all?

Some of our more interesting interactions by radio have been with bridge tenders. When we took the boat out for the first time from Seabrook into Lake Pontchartrain, we discovered that we had to call the bridge tender on the radio, rather than using a horn to get his attention. That was a problem, because we didn’t know what channel he was monitoring, and the chart didn’t indicate what the bridge was called. You can’t just turn on the radio and say, “Hey, you on the bridge up there!”

Once we figured out that it was the “Seabrook Highway Bridge,” we were able to call him. Using proper radio protocol, we hailed him with “This is the sailing vessel Cayenne, approaching from the waterway, and we’d like to request an opening.” His answer, spoken in a Cajun patois, was “Jest a minute, and I git dis bridge open fuh yew!”

When we left New Orleans and headed for Florida, bridge communications got weirder. The next time we went through a bridge, we were behind a couple of other boats. Obviously, they’d already contacted the bridge tender, so we thought there was no need for additional radio chatter. Wrong! As we passed under the open bridge, he blew his horn five times (the signal for “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! I’m closing the bridge on you!”) and on his loudspeaker, demanded to know if we had a VHF radio. When we responded via the radio, he gave us a talking-to. So much for avoiding idle chatter, Puget Sound style.

In Venice, Florida, there were three bridges, and we had to figure out which was which. We called the “Venice Street Bridge,” and the bridge tender responded, a bit huffily, “This is the MAGNIFICENT Venice AVENUE Bridge.” When we were under that one, I swept off my hat and gave him a formal bow, rather than just the customary small wave of the hand.

A few bridges later, the friendly bridge tender called us on the radio after we went through. “Have a nice day, Cap’n (on this side of the country, they call anybody with a boat “Cap’n.”). Your next bridge is the Mmmmfffa Mmmmmfffa.” Now, I should have responded with, “Did not copy. Please say again all after ‘next bridge.'” But I assumed he said, “Palm Avenue,” so I pulled up Microsoft Streets and Trips to confirm it. There was no Palm Avenue anywhere on this side of the state! I was panicking as we approached the bridge, about to resort to, “Hey, you on the bridge up there!” Suddenly reading my mind, the bridge tender called us on the radio. “Red sailboat approaching from the north, this is the Tom Adams bridge.” Oh! That’s what he meant!

The truth is, these bridge tenders probably get a little wacky, locked up in a little booth all day, watching us free spirits steaming by on our boats. The ones on the swing bridges probably suffer from a fear that the bridge will get stuck in the open position and they won’t even be able to get off. And yesterday’s fellow on an old pontoon bridge in North Carolina took the cake. He’d been unable to open the bridge due to low tide for a couple of hours, and there were a half dozen boats anchored in front of him, waiting. A boat called ahead to say he was coming down the waterway, and could the bridge stay open until he got there. “Aw, shoot, Cap’n, I can’t hold the bridge open unless I can see you. Can you put another log on the fire?” After we passed through the open bridge, I saw one last sailboat make it through. I guess he found another log after all.

Flying Fish and the Invisible River

After our struggles to make it down the west coast of Florida and around to Key West, our travels north have been far easier. We’ve made it the length of Florida in just two hops: Key West to Vero Beach and Vero Beach to Beaufort, South Carolina. On those two passages, we also started using a watch schedule, which has helped us get better rest — so my time on watch has been more relaxing, with more time to notice things on the water.

Growing up vacationing on the Atlantic coast, at places like Hilton Head, Chincoteague, Sandy Hook, and tiny Harbor Island, South Carolina. I’ve known about the effects of the Gulf Stream as long as I can remember. But the Stream, as it’s known, was always abstract, always “out there,” never something you could touch.

When Cayenne was sailing north from Key West, with Miami’s high rises in the distance, the knotmeter showed us traveling through the water at 6 knots. But Barry, standing behind the wheel, noted excitedly that the GPS showed us going almost 10 knots!

That’s when I looked at the water temperature. What had been 82 degrees Fahrenheit was now 85 degrees: We had found the Gulf Stream, the warm water that flows north along the U.S. east coast and then makes its way across the Atlantic to England. The water was not a different color, and there was nothing visible to indicate that we were in it. But finally, after all these years, I could reach out and touch the invisible river.

We’ve discovered another amazing thing on our last two passages up the coast. With all the water and sky around us, we notice every bird that goes by. But these were strange birds; they would appear as if out of nowhere, flying close to the water and then disappearing into the waves.

They weren’t birds at all, but flying fish! Sometimes we’d see one or two, but the most exhilarating thing was a whole school — or is that f lock? — of them, their silvery white bodies skimming the sky and then vanishing together into the deep blue waves. One of them missed the water and accidentally landed on Cayenne’s deck, but he managed to wiggle down to the low side of the boat and then back into the water.

My new game is timing them. It’s hard to do, because they never appear right where I am looking. By the time I catch one out of the corner of my eye, he’s been airborne for a second or two, and the longest I’ve counted is a thousand one – a thousand two – a thousand three. It seems like they fly forever, but really they’re just covering many yards of distance in a few seconds.

#44: We have guest poets (so I can take my birthday off today!)

From Roy, of Naples, Florida, in honor of Meps’ birthday celebration with her Dad:

So the boat is afloat in the IC moat
The birthday coming and you can dote
On the daughter dear who has no fear
Of waters wild or the Skipper’s beer.
So hoist one for us and sow the wild oat!

From Tom, of Olympia, Washington, in honor of our first passage:
The crew of Cayenne did compete
To complete a passage quite fleet
Downwind they flew
On a course straight and true
Arriving on time in St. Pete

Another one from Tom, about the ICW:
Tis true water shallow and murky
Makes a sailor feel just like a turkey
When the keel way down
Contacts the ground
And progress becomes really jerky

#42 & #43: Calamitous Key West

Tuesday afternoon, 3 pm:
The boat up ahead is bright yellow
And the driver is cool, calm and mellow
To our right is Key West
But our skipper is stressed
Being towed in by a Sea Tow fellow

Thursday morning, 2 am:
On a sailboat that’s lovely and red
A lady, asleep in her bed
Awoke to a thunk,
Leaped out of her bunk,
And cried, “That guy just hit us! Call Fred*!”

* Brian’s attorney and “charge d’affaires”