Archive by Author | Kay

Off the Dock and into a Harbor with No Name

August 8, 2022: Day 1 to Day 3

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain

It started out well enough – perfectly, in fact. We were up early, ready to go on a hot Wednesday morning. There was no one on the dock for farewells or bon voyage. We said a quiet goodbye to Dock 500, released the lines and retrieved the power cord. Phil backed Catmandu out of the slip as if it were a Fiat, as one dock friend once remarked. Fenders up, we were on our way a half hour early.

Phil releasing the lines on Dock 500

Three bridges later, we were crossing the turning basin where cruise ships live and heard a loud wap-wap-wap sound from the engine. Phil’s face fell. After years of owning a small sailboat with a terrible gas engine (the Atomic Bomb), he was used to breakdowns at the beginning of a voyage. But instruments looked good, and the noise stopped quickly so Phil went below while I kept us on course.
“Everything looks fine,” he said. “Let’s keep going.”

Kay at the helm, fighting motion sickness but functional.

So we did. It was an eight-hour motorsail to our first waypoint at No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. (Motor sailing means we kept the engine on while we raised the head sail, to keep our speed up in light winds blowing directly from our point of sail.) It was rougher than anticipated and hard to stay on course. With a forecast of two-to-three-foot waves and 10-15 knot winds, we thought it would be smooth sailing. It was not.

Phil at the Helm

Strong currents and gusty winds kept us on our toes and my motion sickness kept me from being an energetic co-captain. I took the helm when needed, but Phil did most of the driving. He kept to himself the concerns he was feeling about the engine performance and the constant stream of white exhaust coming from our stern. He didn’t want to worry me.

Cape Florida Light to the east of No Name Harbor

We planned to stay two nights at No Name Harbor because we could. We have no deadline to get to Marathon, where a slip is waiting. We swam, took exploratory dinghy excursions, and slept under the stars when it got too hot in the v-berth. We had a spectacular sunset and moonrise the first night a we grilled veggie burgers for dinner. The gin and tonics flowed and we were completely relaxed.

Kay in the dinghy at No Name Harbor, Catmandu in the background.

There were several boats around us, all with Latino crews onboard. It seems to be a Spanish speaking area, but it was a weeknight, and the music wasn’t too loud. However, the servers at the Boaters Grill restaurant were (too loud). The yelling in Spanish was deafening at times. We had gone ashore for a nice restaurant meal the second night, but it was less than satisfying. The restaurant is overpriced and has no vegetarian options. The power went out a couple of times. “I guess it’s a lot like Cuba,” Phil said after the lights dimmed a second time.

Stiltsville houses in Biscayne Bay. These were built offshore in the 1920s, partly to escape prohibition laws.

Thursday night we ran the air conditioner for a short time but ended up sleeping in the cockpit again under a bright full moon – the Sturgeon Moon. It was idyllic until a rain shower drove us indoors at 4 a.m.
We pulled the anchor at 8 a.m. and headed out of the harbor, following our breadcrumb trail from two days earlier. As we were navigating through the channel markers out to Hawk Channel, we noticed a lot of white exhaust smoke. The engine was struggling, and when we tried to throttle up, it did not respond. Cue the Star Trek Scotty voice: “She’s not responding to helm, Captain.”

With 48 miles to go, and no protected anchorages along the way, we had a decision to make. Put up the sails and keep going, or turn back and get the engine checked out. I mentioned that we have no deadline on this trip, and that is a factor. With the prospect of light winds and sketchy engine performance, we turned around. We are sitting at anchor in No Name Harbor, waiting for the mechanic to call. Not a great start, but there is a breeze and swimming is in our future. Phil seems at ease with our decision. “There’s no one I’d rather be stranded with,” he said, and I feel the same.


The news was not good. One of our four cylinders has no compression, the head gasket may be bad, there may be damage to the cylinder caused by an overheating problem months earlier. It may be a bad fuel injector. No matter which option it is, we have to pull the cylinder head to properly diagnose it. The mechanic, Mario, was certain there was nothing else to be done. Phil asked about alternatives, and Mario pointed up. “Sail?” he said.

We have a towing plan that is “unlimited,” but actually there’s a limit of $3,000.00 so a tow to Marathon would be $11,000, just $8,000 out of pocket. Um, no. Phil called the mechanic back, got recommendations for repair marinas to try, and quickly reached a dead end. Marinas are full, they are hard to get to with our 5’6” draft, or they don’t do engine repairs. We kept trying until we ran out of options. We went swimming.

Sunset, with the open-air bar, The Cleat, shown on the left.

After dinner, we heard live jazz music coming from the open-air bar that overlooks Biscayne Bay. As we sat in the cockpit watching the sun set, a single dolphin swam by, doing three perfect arches and a tail slap to let us know he was there. Tomorrow, we will solve our problems. For tonight, we have strains of muted trumpet and piano, a sunset punctuated by silent lightning, and our own private dolphin show.

Once CLODS, Now Liverboards

Don’t look over your shoulder; you’re not going that way.
— Anonymous

I can barely remember living in an apartment, and I haven’t lived in a house for more than 17 years. I once owned a condo in Stratham, New Hampshire. I loved the back deck facing the woods, and looked forward each year to the parade of wild turkey chicks as they passed my picture window. The trees changed colors, dropped their leaves and held remnants of snow in their limbs. In spring, they sprouted pale green buds and started over again.

A wild turkey on my deck in New Hampshire.

I am nostalgic for my New Hampshire home, but I’m not going back. I live on a boat now. Yes, Florida is hot, but you don’t have to shovel heat or brush it off your car.  Each morning, I poke my head out the companionway door to feel the breeze off the water and decide whether to have my coffee in the cockpit. We wash dishes by hand, fill our water tanks, empty our waste tank, cook by propane stove, and have cocktails outside. At night, we fall asleep to gentle rocking.

CLODS are cruisers who have to leave their boats temporarily and live on land. This happens when boats need repair or when the cruisers are between boats. It’s an acronym for Cruisers Living on Dirt. We were CLODS because we dreamed of being cruisers, and planned to move onto our boat when our lease was up. When I told my best friend in New Hampshire that we were going to buy a bigger boat and live on it, she said, “Kay, what’s a liverboard?” I had told her we would be live-aboards.

The main salon of our Catalina 380, with the V-berth door open. We have a larger cabin in the stern, a galley, and a head with a stand-up shower.

Our living quarters are small, but in that lack of space, there is freedom. It’s a freedom from stuff. The transition to the new boat involved getting rid of stuff ­– furniture, clothing, knick knacks, dishes, pots, appliances and pictures. Some things were harder to let go of: a clock my sister got me at a vineyard we visited in California; gifts given to me by my children, like the little snow globes with kittens inside; the sweet Hummel angel given to me at age 14 by my dearest friend as I was about to move away. (I kept the little broken angel; I couldn’t part with it.)

A little flute-playing Hummel angel, with a broken flute.
Snow globes with kittens.

A friend gave me some good advice for dealing with the precious artifacts of a life on land: Take a picture of it and let it go. Slowly, the apartment began to empty out. We sold some things, gave some to charity, and gave away items we could have sold if we’d had more time. One middle-aged Latino came to look at our kitchenware and ended up with an entire pickup truck of furniture, appliances and dishes. From his limited command of English, we got the idea that he was in the midst of a divorce and had to furnish his bachelor pad. He got it all for free. Just before moving day, we took the few things we were keeping to a rented storage unit (most cruisers have one).

On Saturday, Oct. 6, we left my two cats in the apartment while we motored to the new slip in Hollywood, Florida, a 6-hour journey down the Intracoastal Waterway. We had left Phil’s car at the marina so we could return for the cats and the final cleaning. I took just one picture that day, and I barely remember the trip itself. I know the wind was blowing hard from the east and we broke two stanchion bolts with a hard bump into the fuel dock when we were trying to leave. I felt responsible for that, since I should have been fending off as we pulled away instead of wrapping up the bow lines. With only two people on board, it’s hard to be in the right place all the time.

The only photo from our trip to the new slip is this one of Capt. Phil Decker at the helm.

We had some trouble backing into our new slip because the canal is very narrow, and the slips are not spacious. The east wind was blowing harder by then, and we gently bumped the bow of the boat next door, but no damage was done. Our neighbor, Joe, was extremely gracious and helped us with the lines. I was about to have my own problems with that wind, and the storms it was driving onshore.

After the boat was secure, we drove back to Port Royale to clean the apartment, gather up the cats and head back to the marina in our separate cars. The cats are mine; I’ve had them since they were tiny kittens. Phil has always been understanding of my need to keep them with me, and of my responsibility for their lives. The truth is, he would rather not live with cats, and the care of them is my duty, not his. I packed them into two carry boxes – one plastic cat carrier, and one cardboard carrier we had gotten from the vet for a hurricane evacuation.

It was getting late, and we were exhausted, so Phil volunteered to finish the cleaning as the cats and I took off in my Prius for our new home onboard. The cats cried all the way to the marina, fraying my nerves. Just as we got to the parking lot, it began to rain and I heard the familiar sound of wind through the sailboat rigging. It did not occur to me that the wind would be blowing the boat off the dock, making an unsafe gap over the water. I was about to find out.

It was dark on Dock 5, as the marina was in the process of replacing the dock lights. I found a dock cart and loaded the two crying cats in, along with a case of catfood and the new litter box. As I approached the boat with my load, the skies opened up and rain poured down on me, the cats, and – to my horror – the cardboard cat carrier. Now I pictured the gap between the dock and the boat swallowing my cat as the cardboard gave way. I would have no way of finding her, let alone pulling her out of the water and onto the boat.

Maggie is a “substantial” cat.

So, the first order of business was getting the heavier female cat (Maggie) on board in her carrier before it fell apart. It was high tide, and the wind was getting stronger as the squall passed overhead. I pulled on the dock line to get the boat closer, but the wind kept pulling it back. I couldn’t step aboard with the carrier because I had to hold the bottom so she wouldn’t fall out. Out of sheer will power, I pulled the boat close, and as it started drifting away from me, I threw the cat carrier onto the cockpit cushion, hoping the poor thing would land upright. It didn’t. It leaned dangerously into the cockpit table at an angle. But she was on board and not in the water.

Cat number two (Max) was even harder. Even though the carrier had a handle, and was sturdy, it was heavy and awkward. I tried several times to pull the boat in, and the wind pushed it away. I was soaked and I could hear Maggie crying from her soggy cardboard box. Max was desperately trying to escape from the carrier in my hand, and I pulled hard on the dock line to get the boat close enough to shove the box into the cockpit. I got it on board, but the carrier was perched dangerously close to the edge of the catwalk as the wind pulled it away.

Max, sometimes known as the “cat-hole.”

I decided the other items could wait until Phil arrived. I took a big step from the dock and got one foot under the cat carrier before the boat drifted away and I hung on to the bimini with my other foot hanging behind me. I shoved the carrier into the cockpit and it fell sideways – hard – onto the deck. Max stopped complaining for a tortured minute and I opened up the companionway. One at a time, I carried the cats onboard and released them from their boxes. I closed the hatch with the wooden slats and sat down inside.

“We’re home,” I said out loud. Then I put my head in my hands and cried. It was relief, exhaustion, and regret. “What have I done?” kept coming to mind. The animals were wandering around, exploring, and were finally quiet. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to text Phil to let him know I was home safe. Then I realized my purse, and my iPhone, were outside in the dock cart along with a case of cat food cans and the litter box.

Cats sleeping on the settee onboard.

The rain was stopping as I ventured out again, but the tide was high and the dock looked like a long leap away in the dark. As I wondered how to get off the boat without going swimming, a neighbor came down the dock and asked if I needed help. As he took the items out of the dock cart and handed them up to me, he introduced himself and welcomed me. He was an angel named Patrick.

Marinas are full of characters and interesting travelers, old salts and new cruisers. There are the bachelors on boats (the “BoBs”) who divorced and lost their homes to ex-wives and children, and the families with children whose weekly laundry flaps from the lifelines. There are experienced captains who live aboard here between assignments of bringing mega-yachts to their owners around the islands. There are sailing couples who walk their dogs every morning and evening. We know their dogs’ names before we know theirs.

Marina people form a community like no other I’ve experienced. If you need help, or company, or a simple gathering around someone’s BBQ, you’ll find it. When a boat comes in, multiple residents rush to the dock to catch the tossed lines. Patrick was no different; he just came along exactly when I needed help.

By the time Phil arrived, I had the litter box set up, the cats were eating, and I was calm. We had a drink and I told him the story. He’s a patient listener, even when I go on and on with detailed complaints. When I was done, he was quiet for a minute, then he made me laugh with the phrase we always use when life on board is anything but idyllic. “Living the dream!” he said. Then he made us another round of drinks.

Max, shown here on his way to the swim platform, has adjusted well to boat life.

Finding Caretta and Bringing Her Home

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
–Henry David Thoreau 

I am sitting on my boat in front of the laptop. It’s a bright summer day, and the sun is warm on my back where it shines down the companionway. Phil is at his office, but I was given a furlough from work and stay pretty close to our pier. Yes, we live on our boat now. We spent almost five years in a small apartment by the water, with our old 27-foot Catalina sailboat tied to a nearby dock. We built up our savings, made great friends, and lived our lives.

We shared a dream of moving aboard a sailboat and cruising through the Keys, the Bahamas and beyond. Of course, we needed a bigger boat. So, in 2019, we started shopping for a boat. We knew we wanted another Catalina, but would consider a comparable Jeanneau or Beneteau. Our search took us all over South Florida, from Marco Island to Port Charlotte to Port St. Lucie.

Mañana, a Catalina 380 for sale in Marco Island

In February we found Mañana in Marco Island on the west coast of Florida. She was a gorgeous, well-loved Catalina 380 that could have been ours. But in truth, we weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger and because of our delay, we lost it. I was heartbroken. It reminded me of losing the first car I tried to buy. I lost that, too, because I was too slow to offer a cash deposit. It was a 1971 Toyota Celica, teal with a white racing stripe. I’m still bitter.

In June we found Caretta, a Catalina 380 in sail-away condition that was almost, but not quite, in our price range. We would have missed it if we hadn’t loosened our pricing limits in the search engine on At the same time, the seller dropped his price below $100,000. We drove to Stuart, met the owner and fell in love with the boat. Walking away from the dock that first afternoon, after a comprehensive tour of Caretta and all of her upgrades, I said to Phil, “I think that’s our boat.”

The original ad for Caretta in Boat Trader

What followed was a series of emailed negotiations that I found uncomfortable and embarrassing. Phil managed to get the price down to $89,500, which the seller called, “Close enough for government work.” To pick up the boat, we decided to drive to Stuart in my car, leaving Phil’s car at our apartment. We arranged for our good friends, Ben and Mari to accompany us on the trip south, so we would have extra hands on an unfamiliar vessel. It turned out to be a very good decision when trying to dock Caretta for the first time.

On Friday night, there was last-minute drama. We had booked a hotel room for one night and had dinner at the tiki bar. Other patrons at the tiki bar were in on the drama, as we waited for word. The owner did not have the money in his account and would not let us take the boat until he did. We couldn’t ask our friends to drive up from Fort Lauderdale if we weren’t sure the transaction would take place. On our end, we had the financing, but had to wait for the insurance binder. The finance company wouldn’t transfer the money until insurance was verified, so it was nearly 6 when we got the call from the owner. “Caretta is yours,” is all he said.

Phil, Kay, Ben, Steve Dublin, Mari – and Caretta at Steve’s dock.

There was applause all around the tiki bar when we announced our news. We called our friends and they offered to drive the 90 minutes right then. Two hours later, they arrived at the same hotel and found us still at the tiki bar, celebrating. Tomorrow was moving day.

Steve Dublin had owned Caretta since at least 2005, nearly 15 years. There’s a plaque in the salon that says the boat took second place in the 2005 Fort Lauderdale to Key West race, and Dublin had the same picture in his home office. So I know it was a sad day for him, even though we had given him about $10,000 more than the “blue book” value for the boat. When I remarked at how clean it was, he said, “It was my baby.” I could see the pride in his face and felt his loss.

He met us on the dock at 9 the next morning. Steve Dublin had belonged to our sailing club once upon a time, and Phil was the current commodore. We took pictures with the club burgee, and Steve and his wife handed off the lines. They stood for a long while on the deserted pier watching us motor toward the bridge.

Motoring toward our first bridge.

The trip from Stuart to our apartment near Pompano Beach took about 90 minutes by car, but it’s a two-day journey by sailboat. To make the trip even slower, there are around 23 bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway, and each one opens twice an hour. As we approached each bridge, we had to call the bridge tender on the VHF radio, then wait for the scheduled opening.

The first bridge was tricky because there was a train bridge close to the drawbridge, and a strong current. Since our mast is 62-feet high, and the highway bridges are 65 feet, it looks like a close call as we slide underneath. I’ve seen Phil doing the sign of the cross for extra assurance. We made it through just fine, and I took a turn steering on the other side.

Our route from the Dublins’ dock to the Intracoastal Waterway.

Just past Manatee Pocket, which is a popular anchorage opposite the St. Lucie Channel, we turned right to join the ICW. It would have been much faster to keep heading east and sail the boat on the open ocean down to Hillsboro Inlet. But we had never sailed such a large vessel, and even with extra hands on board, it was too risky to take that route.

Phil was driving as we turned into the waterway, and the boat grazed the bottom in a spot where the charts indicated we had 14 feet below us. It was just a quick brush through light sand, a momentary slowdown, and on we went. It was a reminder that our draft had increased from 4’6” on the old boat to 5’4” on the new one, and that shoaling was always a possibility near ocean inlets.

Mari, Phil and Ben, underway.

With six bridges behind us, we arrived at our marina for the first night. It was close to a couple of good anchorages near Peanut Island in West Palm Beach, but it was July in Florida, and we wanted the air conditioning that a marina could provide. Trying to pull into a narrow slip in reverse on an unfamiliar vessel was a challenge. With the help of Ben fending off the yacht next door, we managed to inch our way in and dock. Unfortunately, the air conditioning would not operate, and Phil had to call Steve, the former owner. With instructions on bleeding the water lines, Phil managed to get it going (while sweating buckets!) and we all headed to the outdoor bar for rum drinks and dinner.

Captain Phil at the helm.

The next day would bring us through 17 bridges, past wildlife refuges, two ocean inlets, and traffic jams of power boats. It was hot and sticky, but we had a steady breeze while we were moving. Waiting for bridges could be miserable, but we were lucky in most cases and motored right through. Occasionally, a bridge tender would hold the bridge open a minute or two as we caught up to the boat traffic going through. By late afternoon, we started to see familiar sights and approached our home port, Port Royale, just south of Pompano Beach. We arrived at cocktail time, but we still had a road trip in front of us, so no drinks for the moment.

Pulling into our slip, we could see the huge difference in size between our old Catmandu and Caretta. Catmandu, a Catalina 27, was parked in her slip next door, so Caretta – at 38 feet – looked like the big brother. Caretta’s mast towered about 20 feet above the mast of Catmandu. Despite the size difference, we had no problem docking, tying the lines and securing our new boat next to our old one.

Catmandu on the left, docked next to Caretta, on the right.

What I remember about our drive back to our cars in Stuart was both laughter and sadness. Laughter – because Phil’s Chrysler Sebring made hilarious croaking noises with every bump in the road; and sadness because I couldn’t forget the lonely figure of Steve Dublin standing at his empty dock watching Caretta cross under the bridge without him.

Last Legs

A farmer has to cross a river in a tiny row boat. He has a goose, a fox, and a sack of grain. He can’t leave the goose alone with the fox or with the grain. He can only fit one item in the boat with him. How does he get across the river?

I could never bear to tell the ending of our journey to Fort Lauderdale, but it has been over 16 months since the last leg of our trip, and it’s time to finish the story. I have it in my head that I have cursed Catmandu by leaving the last chapter unpublished. She hasn’t been herself since I stopped writing. Our friends, Dan and Jaye Lunsford, called it “The Curse of the Blog.” So, here’s the ending – or maybe another beginning.

* * *

When we arrived at Vero Beach City Marina in January of 2014, we rafted up with Robin’s Nest, a 25-foot derelict sailboat that looked like it would sink at any moment and drag Catmandu to the bottom. I had to climb aboard the derelict to attach lines, being careful not to step where I might fall through. I was hoping the slimy creatures hanging from the light blue hull would not jump ship and attach to Catmandu. Poor Catmandu was probably ashamed to be rafted up or associated in any way with Robin’s Nest, and we had left her there for three weeks, until we could have a three-day weekend to get her home to Fort Lauderdale.

That chance came on Valentine’s Day, a Friday night with a full moon. We made a pact not to exchange gifts, but together bought a red heart-shaped box of chocolates to bring with us, and a box of our favorite red wine. Boxes of wine are a boon for boaters, who don’t like to have glass aboard.


We drove up from Ft. Lauderdale in the afternoon, stopping first to drop off our rented car at our new slip on Isle of Venice. It seems impossible that two drivers and one car are not enough to manage a shuttle, but it’s true. We need two cars, one to leave at the takeout point and one to take us north to Vero Beach. At the end of the boat trip, we would have one car in Ft. Lauderdale and one in Vero, so we would have to go north again to retrieve the other car. (Thinking about these logistics reminds me of the word puzzle about the farmer, the goose, the grain and the fox. As far as I know, there is no way to cross that river in the tiny rowboat without endangering the grain or the goose.)

Saturday we tanked up and motored out of Vero Beach. The wind was against us in the morning, but by afternoon it was a strong and steady northwest breeze. Since we were sailing south in the wide Indian River, we could put up the genoa and sail. We sailed on a broad reach for most of the afternoon with a full genoa – and at one point, we were going 7.4 knots. For Catmandu, that’s speeding.

We spent the night in Manatee Pocket, a large anchorage that marks the beginning of the Okeechobee Waterway. It heads west to Florida’s largest lake. In Manatee Pocket, there were many boats anchored, but no manatees. The sunset was remarkable and the moon nearly full. I wished this were my life again: living aboard, sailing and anchoring in a different spot each afternoon, spending most of my time outside on the water.

Manatee Pocket just before sunset.

Manatee Pocket just before sunset.

We started out early on Sunday. We had a long way to travel, and many bridges. For those who don’t know, bridges generally open just two times every hour, and if you’re just a minute too late, it’s a half hour wait until the next opening. We hoped to reach Loggerhead Lantana Marina, but bridges slowed us down quite a bit. We crossed Hobe Sound and came to Jupiter Inlet where we motored past the dark red tower of Jupiter Light.

Jupiter Inlet Light, and Phil.

Jupiter Inlet Light, and Phil.

In Lake Worth we experienced the worst “waking” incident of the whole trip. The boat traffic was amazing. There were hundreds of boats, mostly power boats moving at very high speeds. Our little sailboat was bounced around from multiple directions, and the water was choppy from boats going too fast. One large boat pulled up way too close to us on our starboard side and then took off with its three large outboard motors roaring. The wake was huge and came at us like a tidal wave. Catmandu leaned over dangerously and I saw the mast swing down toward the water. It knocked me off the seat, dumped everything off the starboard shelf onto the deck below, and – worst of all – knocked over our cooler. We lost all of our ice, which is our only refrigeration on board.

Yes, I remember the name of the boat. It was Timber. So, Timber, here’s a maritime lesson you should learn: You are responsible for your wake. If you had injured us or caused any damage, you would have to pay. Please, power boaters, be considerate of sailboats and watch your wake.

We made it to Palm Beach that night and anchored south of the city. We were one of two sailboats in the anchorage, and after the chaos of Lake Worth, we loved the solitude. We could hear live music from a city park and enjoyed the nice sunset and the almost-full moon.

Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse. We've climbed this one.

Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse. We’ve climbed this one.

There were some concerns, though. The engine seemed to quit at every bridge. It started again, reluctantly, but only ran well at slow speeds. On Monday, we passed Hillsboro Inlet and were faced with four more bridges before we got to our slip in Fort Lauderdale.

In Lake Boca, the engine failed completely. While I lounged on the deck and watched the party going on all around us (poor me), Phil was below, working on the engine. He installed a new electronic ignition, but it didn’t solve the problem and 20 minutes later, it quit again. Phil got it started, and the boat limped along at low speed into the afternoon.

Phil saw two manatees at Oakland Park Bridge in the fading light. We were almost home, but had to stop for another bridge. While I was spying my own manatees off the bow, Phil saw two real manatees and pointed them out. I wasn’t quick enough to see them and mine turned out to be coconuts. The engine was barely going, fading and rallying half-heartedly as we limped along through the highly populated canal.

Just a mile or so past the bridge, the engine quit and would not start again. We raised the mainsail and I tried to sail a little while Phil worked on the engine, but the wind was nearly still and the sail useless. We dropped the anchor. We had motored and sailed the 31-year-old boat for nearly 1220 miles from Annapolis, and three miles from our final destination, she refused to go on. She was on her last legs.

I can’t say enough about the towboat drivers for TowBoatUS. From the pair of ill-fated North Carolina rescuers who towed us from their own broken boat through the Alligator-Pungo Canal in the dark, to the skilled solo captain who came to rescue us in Fort Lauderdale, these guys are good. They go the extra mile, so to speak, and I have seen them skillfully bump the sailboat gently into a slip, stern first, and never endanger a piling. It’s remarkable.

Shortly after we anchored in the waterway, a police boat came by just to be sure we weren’t staying there. The towboat came five minutes later, helped us raise the anchor and put on the tow bridle. He opened the Sunrise Bridge for us, and we were on our way. However, we had never been to the slip by water, and only by land during the day. It was full dark by then, and we didn’t know where we were going. With the tow boat driver’s local knowledge, and Phil’s GPS coordinates, we made our way to the right canal (among many canals) and overshot our slip by a few hundred yards.

“Oh, no problem,” the tow captain said, “I’ll just do a 360 here and get you back.” In the narrow canal, with mega boats on either side, he managed to make a U-turn with us in tow, return to the right slip, and nudge us into place. We could only help by attaching our lines to the pilings and pulling Catmandu, stern-first, up to the dock. We were home.


Catmandu in her new slip on Isle of Venice in Fort Lauderdale.

Except that we had left a car in Vero Beach. “Not tonight,” Phil said. “We’ll get it in the morning.” We got into the rental car and went to our apartment. Finally, our home and our boat were in the same city. With the engine out of order, our travels were over for the time being.

Don’t think Catmandu became an abandoned derelict like Robin’s Nest. Every weekend, Phil tried one repair after another, getting closer each time to solving the mystery of why the engine quit and wouldn’t start again. Personally, I think she was just tired and needed to rest. She gave all she could and nearly got us there but couldn’t go one more mile. Exhausted after 1200 miles, she deserved a quiet respite and she got it.

Meanwhile, Phil is planning weekends on the water, looking at charts of Miami and south, dreaming of a week in the Keys. We are bound to venture out soon, and so this isn’t the last blog post. I’ll never forget the trip south on the ICW, when we had to arrive somewhere down the line every day. But now, we have nowhere special to be and can truly explore the warm waterways and anchorages that surround us. Maybe we will see dolphins and even manatees. Surely we will see spectacular sunsets fringed by palm trees; we will feel warm ocean breezes and enjoy the tropical beauty of our new home. Catmandu will sail again.


June 14, 2015: Catmandu is still having trouble. We’ve been out for weekends but can’t stray far from home because the engine is unreliable. Last May, we planned a long weekend in Biscayne Bay, but around the first bridge, the engine started sputtering and we turned around. Recently, we planned to visit Lettuce Lake a few miles north and had to sail the last half mile. The engine quit and wouldn’t start again. Finally, many repairs and new parts later, we thought it was fixed and took the boat to Loggerhead Marina a few miles south of here. We were ecstatic! The boat is fixed! But coming back, just before the 17th Street Bridge, the engine quit again. We put up the sail and barely made it under the bridge. We had to drop the anchor. TowBoat came to get us.

Is it the heat? Is the boat just afraid of bridges? Or is it the Curse of the Blog? Now, we will find out.



This entry was posted on June 14, 2015. 2 Comments

Solo Trek

St. Augustine to Titusville, January 6 – 7, 2014

This is Phil, and I’m taking my first turn at writing the blog! Kay has shouldered the entire burden for the whole trip so far. I sailed solo out of St. Augustine for two days in early January, so this one is up to me.

Backing up a little bit, we had run out of vacation by the end of October. I had to find a desk with internet connection to work for awhile and work until I earned more time off. I knew that Cinderella was going to stop in St. Augustine, so that is where Catmandu tied up for more than two months: St. Augustine Municipal Marina. I became a Florida resident. I got my driver’s license, registered to vote, and got Florida stickers for Catmandu and Catnip (the dinghy). Kay flew back to New Hampshire, and was unceremoniously and unfairly laid off from her job as soon as she got home.

Time passed. I rented an office in town, and became fast friends with many people through the St. Augustine Cruisers’ Net. Then, our besties Dan & Jaye Lunsford invited us to their epic 30th anniversary party aboard the pirate ship Black Raven on January 4!

Kay and I had to go. It was a long trip from New Hampshire, but we needed to make it happen. It was the perfect opportunity to finally get ourselves south to final destination of Fort Lauderdale. Just before, Kay moved out of her condo, put it up for sale, packed up her two cats in her Saturn Ion and drove down to St. Augustine. She picked me up and then we both went to Fort Lauderdale and rented an apartment, left the cats, and drove back to St. Augustine on 1/4. We had a fantastic time on Saturday night, and spent Sunday on the mooring, recovering and getting the boat ready to sail south.

pirate party

Pirate-y Aftermath!


Dan and Jaye Lunsford’s Pirate Party even made the website!

Monday morning came. I tanked up with gas and water, motor sailed south. It rained for the first three hours, but I tried to stay mostly dry. I had a big northeast wind at about 20 knots, and I was able to make better than 6 knots with the genoa fully unfurled.


matanzas inlet

Matanzas Inlet

I always check the cruising guides, like On The Water Chart Guides and the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net, for the latest ICW trouble spots. They had both indicated shoaling (shallow water) at the Matanzas Inlet, just 20 miles south of St. Augustine. The ICW typically shoals around the inlets due to the constant flow of water and sand between the sea and the waterway. However, I followed others’ advice of trusting the buoys as they are placed and adjusted by the Coast Guard and not the electronic chart plotter. I zigged and zagged through the inlet and did not run aground – even though my chart plotter said I was sailing on land for several hundred yards (a situation which makes a sailor’s butt pucker). The larger sailboat behind me did a 180 when they got to the inlet until they figured out that they could follow the path I had shown.

The wind was still howling at 5:30 at night, so I anchored with the 35 pound big honkin’ anchor (“BHA”) and 70 feet of chain just south of Daytona Beach. The flags were banging on the shrouds so loudly I had to take the flags down. The weather turned cold. I bunked down in the cabin next to stove while heating a big clay flowerpot to disperse the heat.

 January 7

The forecast low temperature for Daytona Beach was 41 but it was only 32 degrees when I got up in the morning. I didn’t have warm winter clothes since they were still in my storage unit in Annapolis. So, I made hot coffee and put on all the clothes I had. There were no gloves so I wore some ski socks I found on my hands. The wind was still strong and it was extremely hard getting the anchor back on the boat. The regular way to get the anchor onboard is to have your partner (Kay) motor up to the spot just above where the anchor is set. Then the bow person (me) muscles it up onto the bow. Because the anchor is straight down, it should then pop right out of its muddy set on the bottom. It is almost impossible to pull the whole sailboat up by hand by the anchor rode under 20 knot winds.

Improvising, I motored up beyond where the anchor was. I put the engine in neutral, and scurried up to the bow and pulled up as much anchor chain as I could. When the anchor rode was taut again, I wrapped the chain around the cleat and scurried back to the cockpit. After the first round trip, my hands were so cold I could hardly move my fingers. I had to spend 15 minutes warming my hands each time before I tried again. It took me four tries, going back and forth, before the anchor finally broke free of the bottom. It felt like hockey season in Minnesota.

The temperature did not get above 42 degrees the whole day, but I stayed active and hydrated and made the best of sailing solo. I enjoyed unexpected inspiring views of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, and relaxing New Smyrna Beach. Then came the wide open waters of the Mosquito Lagoon. I saw about a dozen dolphins and a medium-sized turtle but no manatees. Fifteen miles out from my destination of the Titusville Municipal Marina, I saw the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building on Cape Canaveral getting larger and larger on the horizon.


The Haulover Canal

At the Haulover Canal, I left the Mosquito Lagoon and entered the Indian River just north of Titusville. Kay was waiting for me at the Titusville Municipal Marina, which is very close to Cape Canaveral. We tied up Catmandu in a slip around 1530 hours, had a hot Italian dinner at a local restaurant, and then Kay drove me back to our new apartment in Fort Lauderdale.


Destination: Titusville Marina, near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.


This entry was posted on February 28, 2014. 2 Comments

Cursus Interrupta

 “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

― Marilyn Monroe

The Interrupted Journey
– The morning I returned to work, after renting a car, flying to Boston, and taking a bus to my own frozen Saturn at the Portsmouth Transportation Center, the president of the company called me into his office. They had gotten along just fine without me during my five-week leave of absence. He said it “made no sense,” from a business standpoint, to keep me on staff. They let me go. I had spent nearly $400 to leave Phil and get home to my job and I was there for twenty minutes.

I have come to believe, like Marilyn, that it happened for a reason. It was the biggest favor they could have done for me. I was pretty sure I would eventually rejoin Phil in Florida, but my long-range plan was to save some money, get my 2013 tax refund, and then decide when to move. It would have been a six-month process and we would have been alone, 1500 miles apart. But now, I had to move quickly.


Condo for sale!

Decisions came fast: rent the condo, sell the condo, stay until Christmas, move before Christmas, get rid of furniture, get help with cleaning and painting. I had to go through every room, every closet, every box, and keep only what was dear to  me or necessary for life in a new place. (If you have not done this lately, I urge you to start. It’s not something you want to leave for your heirs after you’re gone.)

There was one decision I couldn’t make by myself. I had to be sure Phil really wanted me to come to Florida and live with him. We had talked about it while we were coming south on the ICW. But I had to be sure, because there would be no going back. When I asked, “Are you sure?”, he didn’t hesitate for a second. “Yes,” he said. “Please come to Florida.”

For the next two months, I was job hunting long-distance and trying to sell my furniture and belongings. Every day, I tried to consolidate my stuff, pack dishes, throw out clothes, and get my condo ready to sell. I had lived there for six years, but it was a large space and I had somehow filled it. In all, I gave away more than 10 “lawn and garden” bags of clothing to Goodwill. I donated three computers, three televisions, two bookcases and odds and ends of furniture to the Epilepsy Foundation. There was so much to do.

But this is a sailing blog. I was headed back to St. Augustine, and Catmandu, and Phil. I finally said goodbye to my two sons, my New Hampshire friends and my mother in Connecticut. There were tears, and sadness, but I was “advancing confidently in the direction of my dreams,” and I felt strongly that my future was with Phil.

In late December, I arrived in St. Augustine after two 12-hour days on the road with my two cats, my poor little car stuffed to the ceiling. Phil met me at the pet-friendly motel, and after a breakfast with our cruising friends, Dan and Jaye, we headed south to our new apartment in Fort Lauderdale. Yes, we left the boat behind on a mooring in St. Augustine.

It felt strange to be moving into an apartment, but with two cats and Phil’s need for reliable internet service, there was really no choice. We found a place with palm trees and swimming pools, and the January weather was hot and sunny. Phil swam on New Year’s Day.


New Year’s Eve at Fort Lauderdale Beach.


One of the local restaurants had a disco ball on a pole, set to drop at midnight. But it got stuck and finally dropped at around 12:03.

Phil swimming at our new apartment on New Year’s Day.

It would be a few weekends yet before we could get the boat down the coast. At around 6 mph, St. Augustine is 5-6 days from Fort Lauderdale. It would involve a logistics nightmare of renting cars,  dropping one car at the takeout point and driving to the put-in, then going back to get the car at the northern end of the route. Don’t worry if you didn’t follow that. It makes my head spin.

We are together, and it does feel like a dream. We’re happy. Sometime in the future, we want to be cruisers: To live on a larger boat, cruise the islands, explore the aqua Caribbean waters. It’s a good dream, and we will go confidently in that direction. But for now, we are CLODS: Cruisers Living on Dirt.





This entry was posted on February 27, 2014. 3 Comments

Colors of the Sea

None of them knew the color of the sky.
Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them.
These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white,
and all of the men knew the colors of the sea.
Steven Crane, The Open Boat


It is cold. An unusual snap of winter grips North Florida but doesn’t extend to Fort Lauderdale. It’s two different climates. Ours is controlled by the Gulf Stream, warm, tropical, breezy and did I say warm? So on January 24, with the boat safely tied to a pier in Titusville, we head north for another installment of our “get the boat to Fort Lauderdale” saga. The marina had informed us that we had to move Catmandu to a different slip, so we decided to move it to a different slip 100 miles south. For me, the cold wind would be a surprise.

We rent a car in Fort Lauderdale and drive two cars north to the marina in Vero Beach. We drop the rental car there, make arrangements for a mooring, and continue 84 miles north to Titusville. We remembered to bring the boat cushions with us, because we had been sleeping on them at home. My furniture is in hiding somewhere between New Hampshire and Florida, with an expected delivery date still a week off. Sleeping on sheets on the floor gives us the world’s largest king size bed but it is a little hard on my hip bones and shoulders. On our last trip, we had borrowed the boat cushions for the apartment. So, we park the car in Titusville, load cushions and provisions onboard, and get ready to set off in the morning.

It has been a while since I’ve spent the night on Catmandu and I feel a sense of homecoming as I step into the cockpit and then down the ladder to the salon. It is cozy here, a little cave of warmth and comfort. It looks, smells, feels like home. We curl up in the v-berth and sleep.

Rain falls during the night, and the face-chilling drizzle continues into the daylight as we carry our steaming coffee cups up to the cockpit. I have to go back down to grab a foul-weather jacket. Our “foulies” are both warm and waterproof. With no help from dockhands, we cast off lines and back out of the slip, round the point to the east and turn south into the ICW.

The water is slate-gray and choppy, and the sky is overcast. The standing joke – “I think it’s getting brighter!” – really works today as the rain lets up and the clouds separate, revealing patches of blue. We can sail here! Phil pulls out the genoa and we motorsail most of the day, speeding along at over 5 knots (a real speed-fest for Catmandu!).

Pelicans are everywhere!

Pelicans are everywhere!

Coming to the first bridge of the day, we experience what a cold front really is, as the wall of wind comes in from the west and suddenly spins the boat around. As we wait for the bridge opening, we feel the air get noticeably colder and the bank of clouds to the west overtakes our patches of blue.

Dominating the landscape as we head south is the huge Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. It is by far the largest thing on the horizon for many miles. It was built in the late sixties to house the Saturn 5 rocket used in Apollo missions, and is today the largest 1-story building in the world. Just to give a sense of the hugeness, in the picture below, note that the stars in the US flag are each 6 feet tall.

The  Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

The Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

Our anchorage for the night is in Melbourne, and we find a spot on the west side of the ICW. The skies cleared and we enjoy drinks in the cockpit as the sun sets and the moon rises. We put out the BBQ grill and make a late dinner. I think this is the life; I want to be on the water as the sun sets and fall asleep in the gentle rocking motion of a boat at anchor. This feels like home.

We are seeing manatee warning signs, but no manatees.

We are seeing manatee warning signs, but no manatees.

The next day is bright, clear and warmer. We set out early and make boat breakfast on the way. We have to make it to Vero Beach in time to get the car, drive back to Titusville and drive home to Fort Lauderdale – a very long trek at the end of the day.

We have traveled 1,000 miles on the ICW. Note the color of the water.

We have traveled 1,000 miles on the ICW. Note the color of the water.

We begin notice changes in the water. The deep gray-blue changes here and there to a lighter blue, and we start to notice an aqua hue. Then a light green color shows up in swirls and eddies. I am staring at the water, fascinated by the colors.

A cold front blows in and changes the water to green.

A cold front blows in and changes the water to green.

What causes the color of the sea? It could be depth, or shells on the bottom, or the color of the sand. Maybe it is as changeable as the sky, reflecting the gray of rain or the clear blue of cloudless days. I prefer the aqua of the Caribbean, and remember swimming off of Cable Beach in the light blue-green water where we could look down and clearly see our feet.

I don’t want a scientific explanation. That might ruin the fascination. Let the colors of the ocean be ever-changing and mysterious.


Home, Again

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.   – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I am home now in New Hampshire. I realize I have missed my favorite season here, when the air gets crisp and cold, and trees put on their fiery display. The view off my deck is of October gone, and winter coming on.


My deck. Note the unnecessary wasp spray in the lounge chair. At 28 degrees this morning, wasps are fast asleep somewhere else.

Once we made the decision to make it to St. Augustine, we felt better about the whole trip. We would end up where we wanted to be, and there was no stopping us. We arrived in Brunswick, GA after two nights at anchor and checked into Hidden Harbor Marina, managed by friends of Phil’s. The next morning, we were off at 8am to start two marathon days that would bring us to Florida by Halloween night.

We stopped for fuel at Jekyll Island. As we were filling up, Phil cracked a joke and the dock attendant promptly dropped his iPhone into the water. “Dang it,” he said. “That’s the third one I’ve dropped here.” The dock hand told us we had just traversed the dangerously low passage into Jekyll Island at the most risky time, low and falling tide. We had gone slowly, picking our way through the shallow channel but never touching bottom. Others would have waited for higher water, but our 4.5-foot draft hasn’t slowed us down at all (well, except for the one night on the mud flats of Rock Creek).

Phil took my picture, in my usual docking position on the bow, handling the bow line.


During fueling, I wait on the bow to handle the bow line. My job is to get the line from the dock hand, take it off the cleat, wrap it neatly and make my way back to the cockpit, picking up the fenders as I go.


We crossed St. Andrew Sound and into the Cumberland River. We crossed the state line into Florida before noon, and motored past the last of the deserted creeks into more populous areas. On Wednesday night, we anchored at the Amelia River and were attacked without mercy by swarms of little gnats – “No see-ems” that left us itchy and drove us inside. Phil put a mesh screen on the forward hatch. We left early the next day, knowing it would be a 10-hour day that would bring us to St. Augustine. It would be the last cruising day of our trip.

I took the helm on the Guana River, which was narrow but not terribly shallow. The homes were getting larger and more beautiful by the mile. Soon we were passing mansions served by private, two-story docks with spiral staircases.


Along the Guana River, the large houses were beautifully landscaped, and even the docks showed a level of affluence we hadn’t seen farther north.


A two-story dock adorned with a large fish. The docks and piers were getting more elaborate.

After the St. Johns River, I began to recognize the names of bridges. I lived in Mayport when my ex-husband was in the Navy years ago. We passed under Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.  As I was driving, I was watching the chart plotter when we entered a narrow channel. I noticed that the chart showed our position on dry land. Then I was really confused. “Phil, this shows the water ends up here!”

“What? Oh, no! I think we sailed off the end of the chart,” he said. “Did we pass Jacksonville?”

“Yes, back on the St. Johns River.” Our chart chip had run out. Luckily, Phil had the next chip and quickly installed it. Back on the water, we continued into the hot afternoon. Just past the St. Augustine airport, Catmandu’s engine started slowing down and revving up. It nearly quit several times, but always recovered. We started making plans for what we would do if it stopped. Just a few more miles to go! Phil knows this Atomic 4 intimately. “Dirty fuel filters or water in the gasoline,” he guessed. “Or, sticky valves. I’ll give it some Marvel’s Mystery Oil.”

The mystery oil made the engine run a little better, and we kept on. We had to slow down to keep the engine happy, and I let Phil drive so he could monitor the ailing motor. I kept thinking, don’t quit now! We are so close!

We spotted St. Augustine light after crossing under the Vilano Beach Bridge and crossed the St. Augustine inlet. I called the Bridge of Lions, so afraid I would slip up and call it by our nickname, the Bridge of Loins. It opened and we motored into our new home in slip 67 of the Municipal Marina. On the dock, there was a Cruisers’ Happy Hour. After tying up, we walked over to the party with our box of wine. We were welcomed like old friends, and met some new friends. One of the cruisers said, “St. Aug gives you a big hug when you arrive here.” We felt as if we had arrived at our home.


The view from our new home.


It was Halloween, and several boats had decorated for the occasion.

St. Augustine is a wonderful town, the oldest in the country. It is steeped in history. On our dock is a pirate ship, the Black Raven, and pirates walk by us on the pier, sporting tri-corner hats and long curved swords. It’s not because it’s Halloween. They dress like this all the time.


The Black Raven, crewed by pirates.

We played the part of tourists for the next two days, visiting the St. Augustine light and taking the Red Train tour around town. We climbed to the top of the light, all 219 steps. Here is Phil at the top.


My captain, at the top of St. Augustine Light.

I had rented a car to drive to Savannah on Sunday, so I could catch a plane to another plane to a bus to home. It would be an ordeal, but I travel well and don’t mind. We had one last night at Maria’s on the waterfront, where we fed the catfish and watched a giant Great Blue Heron on the nearby marker. I didn’t want to think about leaving the next day. I wanted to stay.


Our sunset view of boats on their moorings. There was a rainbow in the sky as we watched the sun descend.

The next day, Phil got up with me at 5:30 and walked me to the rental car. We kissed goodbye and I drove away. I’ll be back one day, but I don’t know when. I’ve been there, in my thoughts, ever since. This is not the last blog, just the last one for a while. I blinked back a few tears on my way to Savannah, but Phil didn’t see them.

Now, I am home, sitting at my dining room table. In spite of two purring cats by my feet, it is lonely here. For five weeks, I lived on a 27-foot sailboat with a wonderful man. We traveled 900 miles in 33 days. Catmandu was my home, for a brief, special time.

Home is where the heart is. I left mine in St. Augustine.


This entry was posted on November 5, 2013. 5 Comments

Night Visitors

 “What mystery is the sea, whose stirrings speak of a hidden soul beneath.”

Herman Melville


Lone pelican on a piling at sunset.


Our days in Georgia are spent motoring through winding creeks, watching the depth. Phil is singing Country Western songs: “Shoaling, shoaling, shoaling (Rawhide)” and “Back in the Channel Again.” The weather has finally turned warmer and we have sun every day. Our first stop after our night aground is Skull Creek Marina, where we share the dock with big awkward pelicans and one Great Blue Heron who wasn’t afraid to perch about six feet away in the dusk.


Birds perched, one to a piling, at Skull Creek Marina.

Queen Bess Creek is our anchorage for the following evening, and presents us with an incredible sunset. We sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down.


A watercolor sunset, Queen Bess Creek, Georgia.

We have less than a week left of our time together, and only two days until we get to our agreed-upon stopping place, Brunswick, GA.

“I feel so badly that we didn’t get you to Florida,” I say quietly. “I still think we could have made it.”

I can see he is thinking. “How many miles is it from Brunswick to St. Augustine?”

We go below and check the chart book. “It’s a hundred and ten,” I say. “Two long days.”

The wheels start to turn. Then the wheels come off of Plan C, and suddenly Plan B is a possibility. We will be in Brunswick on Tuesday. We can be in St. Augustine by Thursday night. Phil’s face lights up.

“We can do it!” He is so excited, I can’t bear to remind him that I just bought a non-refundable ticket home from Savannah. I’ll worry about that later. We are happy.

The next day, a dolphin breaches right off our port bow and lingers alongside us. It’s a good omen. We pull into our anchorage at Queens Island, in view of the red and white striped Sapelo Island Lighthouse. Dolphins are swimming around the mouth of the creek, and Phil catches a fin in a photo. Finally, some evidence. And another sunset to remember.


Sunset from our anchorage at Queen’s Island, Georgia. Here, we had night visitors.

The night is warm and clear. Since there’s no moon, the stars are brilliant and the Milky Way is visible above us. Phil lies on his back in the cockpit looking for shooting stars, but my attention is drawn to the water. I hear soft rippling sounds, as if someone is dangling her feet in the water. I peer into the dark ripples, but can’t see anything. Then, from just a few feet away, I hear a loud huff. It scares me; it is strangely human, as if someone is letting out an exasperated sigh.

“What is that?” I whisper. We are quiet for a while, listening. Another huff, farther off, breaks the silence.

“Dolphins breathing!” Phil whispers, and we hear another one. They are all around us in the dark water, and as I scan the surface, I see a reflection of our cockpit lantern in a round circle. An eye. They are watching us, too. Like so many moments of this adventure I’m on, this is an experience I will never forget. We sit for a long time under the stars, listening to the breathing of dolphins.

This entry was posted on November 1, 2013. 3 Comments

Faith Heeling

There are two types of cruisers on the Intracoastal Waterway – Those who have run aground, and those who will.” – Attributed to Mark Doyle, author, On the Water Chartguides

Leaving Charleston, we find fewer and fewer grand homes along the waterfront, and a gradual return to wild places. I am becoming more confident in steering and can help spell Phil for a few hours at a time. I have the GPS chart plottter, the charts, and a quick yell (such as, “It’s getting shallow here!”) will bring him to my side.

We plan to anchor at Rock Creek, 47 miles south of Charleston. Thankfully, I am not the one driving as we turn off the ICW and enter the creek. Our cruising guide cautions us to watch for shoaling and a shallow place near the trees, so we plan to drop the anchor in 18 feet of water just short of the trees. Like a dog who circles before lying down in the grass, we need to circle our anchor spot to be sure we have sufficient depth when the current swings us around. “She swings like a monkey,” Phil says.

We are just making the first turn when the depth sounder switches from 18 feet to 5 feet. Phil reacts quickly, slowing the boat, but before we can reverse, the depth sounder registers a 3, and the boat comes to a full and sudden stop. Oops.

Catmandu needs 4.5 feet to float, so we were hard aground. Phil puts the engine in reverse and tries to wiggle us out, but she won’t budge. The next plan is to “kedge,” a new word for me. He explains that he can put the heavy anchor in the dinghy, row out to deeper water and drop it in. Then, with a line running back to the boat, he can “kedge” us off the mud by pulling the boat toward the anchor.

I am getting a little worried, but Phil is not at all, and goes about readying the anchor, climbing into the dinghy and rowing away. He drops the big anchor and then rows the dinghy back to the boat, carrying the line. Wrapping it around the winch, he starts to pull. As the line tightens, he pulls harder. I wish I could help, but all I can manage is to look more and more worried. The boat doesn’t budge.

If you’re going to run aground, it’s best to do so in a rising tide. Eventually, the water will come back and float your boat. It’s 5 o’clock, and the tide is falling. The water is rushing out of the creek all around us and the boat is starting to make strange creaking noises. I must have looked panicked, because Phil says suddenly, “It’s going to be all right.”

In my mind, the boat was about to settle into the mud on its side, and nothing would keep the water from rushing in. Having seen “The Guardian” the night before, I am imagining a red Coast Guard rescue copter lowering a basket for us, and the rest of our trip cancelled as Catmandu becomes salvage. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but I’ve never been on a boat that was slowly settling on the bottom, and I begin to notice that we are not quite upright.

“What’s going to happen?” I ask.

“We will probably heel (lean) to starboard as the tide goes out,” Phil explains, “but when it starts to come back in after 7pm, we’ll gradually be upright again.”

I do have faith in his experience and ability, and he knows the boat well from 13 years of ownership. But I am looking around for help, and spot a small shrimping boat a few hundred yards away. “Can they help us?” I ask.

“There’s nothing they can do. We are stuck.” he says. “We might as well have a drink.”

I have to laugh at that. He has a way of making everything okay. The boat is heeling badly, but Phil seems able to walk around the tilted deck, take pictures of the sunset, and descend the crooked ladder to make gin and tonics. We sit on the deck (on the high side) and look down into the dinghy. “Maybe we should sleep in the dinghy tonight.” At least the dinghy will be level.

I am upright; the mast is not.

I am upright; the mast is not.

As we are drinking and trying to balance on the high side of the cockpit, Phil tells me he once tried to anchor in Cocktail Cove on the coast of Maine and couldn’t get the anchor to hold after three tries. On the fourth try, he hooked the anchor in 11 feet of water. From fatigue after a long day of fighting the coastal Maine waters, he considered it a good anchorage and went to bed. The tide in that area was nine feet. By the time morning came, the boat was on its side, the fresh water tank was emptying out of the galley faucet, and they were walking on the bulkheads to get around. Using the head was out of the question. They waited for the incoming tide, and the boat floated free and upright.

Sunset, from the crooked Catmandu.

Sunset, from the crooked Catmandu. The backstay, at the top of the photo, should be vertical.

“Let’s have dinner, and watch a movie,” Phil suggests. I think he’s enjoying this. I need to have a little faith, relax, and go along. So I get out the iPhone and take a few pictures. When we carefully pick our way down the tilted stairs, I settle into the settee and lean back. It’s like being in the dentist’s chair.

Looking, a little askance, at the sunset.

Looking, a little askance, at the sunset.


Looking forward, through the dodger.

Looking forward, through the dodger.

Phil checks the tilt-o-meter: 34 degrees! He offers to cook dinner, but I don’t see how. The stove is tilted beyond its gimbel, and the dinner plan was tacos! I can just see tomatoes and lettuce shreds dropping everywhere from tilted bowls, and hot taco fillings spilling in our laps. “Okay, but not tacos!” He fries up a couple of veggie italians and we eat them in bread.

As we settle down into the settee, Phil rigs a bungie cord to hold the laptop on the table, and we lie back, literally on our backs. He looks over at me and smiles. “Living the dream!” he says. My laughter probably sounds a little hysterical.

Phil, atilt.

Phil, atilt.

As we are watching Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest, the boat is making creaking and groaning noises. The yacht lamp is lit, and leans at an angle over the computer. By the time he gets up to make Jiffy Pop, the boat is starting to right itself. We set the alarm for midnight so we can adjust the anchor when high tide comes.

The yacht lamp is hanging straight up and down,

The yacht lamp, and the fruit hammock, are hanging straight up and down.


“Hello! Are you okay in there?” Someone hails us from outside. Phil climbs out into the tilted cockpit to find the shrimp boat just off the stern. They understand that there is nothing they can do to help, but they offer us their leftover ice. They had been on a “shrimping date,” and saw our plight. “You’re on the edge of a mud flat,” the man says. “When you go out, be sure to back out.” Phil explains that he has a kedge anchor out, and the man says, “Oh, okay. You know what you’re doing.” (I’m glad to hear it.)

At midnight, we get up and hope the boat is floating free. Phil gets out on deck first. I hear him say, “Oh!” Right behind him, I climb into the cockpit and gasp. Over the stern rail, in the light of our little hanging lantern, I see grass. Grass? Yes, marsh grass. We have not only floated free, but we have floated into the marsh grass on the opposite shore. Luckily, the anchor is holding and we are afloat. All we have to do is get to the middle and adjust the anchor. I’m driving, and Phil pulls the anchor and drops it again in a better spot.

We go to bed. The next morning is cold but bright. We can’t wait to get out of there. On the way, I see what a brilliant, beautiful sunrise we have. Phil is looking at it, too. “Did you ever see the Poseidon Adventure?” he asks. Oh, yes.

There’s got to be a morning after.




This entry was posted on October 30, 2013. 6 Comments