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Month: December 2016

Cost of Cruising: Our December 2016 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our December 2016 Budget

Where we stayed in Charleston Harbor for one week

What a month we have had! It has been our first full month of traveling, and we have been so excited to be able to travel this month with the family aboard s/v Totem, encouraging and experienced world sailors! It has been a month of challenges, interesting new places, and wonderful new people. Here is what it cost us, a family of five aboard a 47′ sailboat, to cruise for the month of December. Overall, we spent less than last month, but we are eager to lose the marina fees in January, now that we are in warmer climates!

A gorgeous December sunset in Charleston, SC

All amounts are in US dollars

Dock fees- $1,006.15 Ouch. We were not planning on spending this much at marinas. Partly to blame was the cold. We wanted to plug into shore power from time to time so we wouldn’t have to run our generator constantly to keep our heater going. It was often freezing, overcast, foggy or damp so the marinas also offered us a way to do laundry consistently too. Half of this was just for one marina in Charleston, SC which we stayed at for one week as a way to relax and take a break from travelling.

Groceries- $673.48

Eating out- $87.76

Diesel- $111.55

Gas- $11.00

Phone service- $83.24 This is for one phone with unlimited data so we can have more reliable and unlimited internet.

Hostgator blog service- $12.74

Medical co-sharing payment- $465.30 Our current form of medical insurance while we are in the US (See Samaritan ministries for more information).

Laundry- $31.50 One marina offered free laundry and we found that the marinas that did charge, charged much less than laundromats.

INavX- $35 A navigation app for our iPad.

Navionics charts- $49.99 Charts of the USA for the INavX app.

Books- $3.09 A few books from a local library’s books for donation (Basically you can take a book as long as you donate a small amount to the library, typically .50 for paperback books, and 1.00 for hardback books) and a little spent on my Kindle.

More winter gear- $59.47 We were not fully prepared for the lasting cold! It’s one thing to be cold, it’s another to be cold and have the wind on your face while you’re at the helm for several hours at a time. We went to Walmart and bought 4 more pairs of thick gloves, 2 scarves, more socks for the girls, and a warm head wrap.

Cold! Before we bought scarves, we used fabric I had on board

Sightseeing- $44.00 While in Charleston, South Carolina we visited the U.S.S Yorktown, an air craft carrier, which also included a visit to a battleship destroyer, and a submarine. We spent nearly 4 hours looking at some amazing history and didn’t even finish the entire tour. The best part was all the kiddos got in for free and it was located next door to the marina we were at- just a walk down a dock!

Bottom cleaning- $120.00 While in Coinjock, NC, we hired a diver to scrape clean the bottom of the hull (the underside of the boat). What a difference it makes! We saved diesel and made better time in the water after we did this.

Boat maintenance- $11.00 A huge difference from last month, we didn’t do as nearly many boat projects and didn’t need as many things fixed. When we did, we used what we had on board as best we could.

Presents for the girls- $44.08 As a family, we’re finding our own rhythm as far as which traditions we want to keep and which we want to trade for new ones. We didn’t celebrate Christmas this year, but instead I gave Marlee and Hannah presents to celebrate our first overnight passage. It gave them something to look forward to and kept them busy. That was about one third of this amount. The other two thirds of this amount includes gifts I went ahead and bought and am saving for events in the next few months. I also like to have surprises on the boat, hidden away in case of a rainy day.

Total cost for December = $2,849.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Suffice to say, taking the ICW all the way from Norfolk to Charleston was not plan A.  I think we are on plan E or F by now, but that is what weather will do.  Every time we’ve been near an inlet (a channel that leads to the ocean) the weather has been less than ideal.  Instead of waiting for good weather we just took the ICW to our next port.  The ICW is pretty safe, weather wise, but there are plenty enough hazards along the way that are unique to this route.

Rain delaying our departure from Beaufort.

For one, there is a lot of shoaling (shoaling is when a normally deep area is silted in by stray currents making it too shallow transit easily).  The further south we go the worse shoaling seems to get, perhaps because there are fewer barges to blast the channel deep enough.  There is a great resource for cruisers which alerted us to most of the problem areas, www.activecaptian.com.  Before the start of the next day’s run I quickly jot down all of the hazards noted on Active Captain for our route such as missing markers, shoaling, and bridges that open on schedules.  When approaching a shoaling area we slow down and take it slow, most of the time other cruisers would note which side of the channel to stay on to get deeper water.

Perspective (left) and Solstice (right) both ran aground, shortly before we ran aground.

 

The camera is level, we hit bottom and the current spun us sideways and pushed the boat over.

Current is another issue, again the further south we go the stronger it gets, this is because of the tides.  From South Carolina to Georgia the difference between high tide and low tide gets bigger and bigger until its about 8 feet in Georgia.  This massive amount of moving water results in very strong currents which can either give you a boost (extra speed) or slow you down.  If you’re lucky you can time the tides to always catch the boost, most of the time the difference gets split.  For example, on our run from Wrightsville Beach, SC to Southport, SC, we had a 3.5 knot current against us at Snow’s Cut, and a 4 knot current with us just past there.  Considering the cruising speed of our boat is only 6 knots, the current makes a huge difference!

The ICW channel is identified with green and red markers on the left and right side of the channel, respectively.  Sometimes the markers are close together and sometimes they are far apart, sometimes you can’t even see the next marker without binoculars.  Rain and fog affect your ability to see the markers, we tried to avoid travelling on days when weather would hinder our ability to see the markers.  While the advent of GPS and electronic charts allows you to see your exact position without needing to see the markers, it is still wise to validate what is on the charts by locating the markers with your eyes as sometimes the markers move frequently, particularly in the aforementioned shoaling areas.

That being said, we did leave on a day with pretty thick fog, the forecast showed it burning off by 9AM however it wound up sticking around until 1PM!  We were travelling with Totem and they led the way, using their radar to validate there were no obstructions ahead.   However, when we came up on an area that experiences bad shoaling (and thus the markers move frequently), we wound up treading water until a boat came along with local knowledge of the channel location and we followed them through.

Talking to Totem on the radio.

 

Is that a bridge?? The clearance on this one was too low for Totem, we wound up going on without them.

 

Our buddy boat. Totem, just ahead of us.

Bridges can be an issue for some boats.  Our boat has a “bridge clearance” of 62 feet, meaning we can go under any bridge that is more than 62 feet high, although we prefer more than 64 feet!  Most bridges are designed to be 65 feet tall at high tide while others are 64 feet, but the tide, wind and weather conditions affect this.  Was there a recent full moon?  Are winds pushing the water north or south?  Has there been a lot of rain?  Bridges typically have a “tide board” posted so you can tell how much room there is to pass under.  A few of the bridges we went under showed 63 feet, some as high as 67 feet.  Totem, one of our buddy boats on this part of our journey, has a bridge clearance of 67 feet, they had to take some interesting steps to make it under some of the bridges!

The very first 65 foot bridge we went under in Norfolk. We all inched under it hoping we would clear!

Then there are the opening bridges, which sometimes run on schedules that are difficult to meet perfectly.  You might wind up treading water for 30-60 minutes waiting for the next opening.  Learning how to stop the boat and keep it stopped, accounting for wind and current, is a skill we’ve learned a lot about on this trip!

One of the many, many bridges we went through along the way.

Anchoring isn’t always easy.  Most of the ICW is a narrow, dredged channel that you can’t just pull off of without running around.  Our first day on the ICW, we anchored in an area off the channel and ran aground in the middle of the night when the wind shifted.  Since then, we’ve learned to plan our anchorage for the next day, and identify “bailout” anchorages along the way should we not make as good of time as we planned to.  Even then, some anchorages are small or shallow, or have poor holding (the surface at the bottom doesn’t hold an anchor well).  You have to choose your spot carefully to avoid crab traps, swinging into a shallow area when the tide shifts, swinging into other boats.  One night in particular we had to worry about swinging into a sunken sailboat!

Do not anchor, something…something… seems important?

 

Sunken sailboat at the Inlet Creek Anchorage, NC.

There aren’t many opportunities to sail on the ICW, and so many days of running the engine results in wear and tear, such as this broken copper lug that prevented us from starting the engine.  Then a few days later the nut backed itself off the same lug and caused our instruments to malfunction.  Maintenance is a fact of life on a boat!

Despite all of the challenges we faced, this has been a beautiful journey and full of God’s wonder!  We’ve seen dolphins, eagles, sunsets, sunrises and buffleheads.  We’ve met generous and interesting people who have blessed us in many ways, and it’s only the beginning of our journey!  By now we’ve left for Jacksonville, FL, stay tuned for a post about our stay in Charleston, SC!

Leaving Wrightsville Beach, NC, I’m not sure why I was so happy!

 

She’s just always happy!!

 

The girls huddled up next to the engine room blower fan for some warmth.

 

Swinging on a bench at Homer Smith’s marina, Beaufort, NC.

 

Us on a chilly day down the Alligator River Canal!
Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

How do your kids like living on the boat? It’s the one question we get asked more times than not. Before we left, when we were seriously considering making this leap with our three girls, ages 5, 3 and 9 months (although the youngest wasn’t even born at the time we were considering this lifestyle) we read, with great relief, that as far as cruising goes, the younger the children were, the better. We heard from others what our common sense had already confirmed: young children adapt well to the cruising lifestyle.

However, for me it wasn’t just about if my children would adapt to living in a smaller space (not an issue) or if they would enjoy traveling (I knew they would) but for me, the choice to live and travel with my children on a boat went much deeper. The truth is, in the months before we began considering changing our lives and the lives of our girls, something was growing in me. A jealousy, born from love, for my children’s time and for their hearts began growing in my own.

Back on land, we had a rich network of neighborhood friends and a faith community for the girls to grow up around. We lived in fact, with one of those families. Friends were literally, just a few steps away. Weekends were incomplete without an evening at a friends house, sharing a meal, sharing our lives well into the night, and without these days and weekends and families we would not be who we are today, but still…there was this growing yearning to have my children, my family, all to myself.

It seemed a bit selfish of me. Why would I want my kids all to myself when they have this healthy space of friendship and activities to occupy their days? And what about “me” time? I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, not at all, but when I began to look into the Father’s heart, my longing started to make perfect sense.

You see, God, the Father, wants his children all to himself, he loves them so. He takes pleasure in them. He delights in them. He wants their affection. He wants their hearts. He wants your affection, your heart. He is jealous for you. He wants to keep you close.

And so we are made in his image.

It is so easy for our children’s affections to stray- to electronics, to friends, to other parents, to toys, to the next latest-and-greatest. There is so much in this world grabbing for their hearts, and far from innocently at that. In fact, this world is trying to pull our children just a little further away so mamas and daddies won’t be the strongest influence over their lives. So when Mike and I discussed traveling with our children, the thought of being on a boat with my family all to myself, with our time to all ourselves with little to vie for their attention, sounded like the perfect path for us.

Is it always easy? Not at all. This life is not always picture perfect. There are times they are literally bouncing off of these small walls and the space seems like it’s closing in on me. We are in each other’s lives and spaces 24/7 and that sometimes makes for short words and hurt feelings. Sometimes I need a moment to just be alone, and that isn’t always possible or easy. But we have to talk and reconcile. There is no room for pretending here, so at the very least, my children will learn what it means to be real. They will learn that mama and daddy are real, and that we love them. They will witness the ins and outs of daily life and relationships, and not be excluded from it.

Cruising with us on a boat, they will have the world at their fingertips, their sisters as their best friends, and us to be there to guide them through everything they will see, hear and experience. We will guide them through school, through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships and through every exciting milestone in their young lives; we will be their witness, their guide, teacher, cheerleader and friend.

So how do my children like living on a boat? My children are amazing. Already Marlee is stepping out and learning how to make friends fast, not being as shy as she was as a toddler. Hannah is growing up, little by little, and learning how to do all sorts of new things. They are meeting all different kinds of people. They get to see beaches, ships, boats and wildlife all around and in the water. They get to visit museums, parks and playgrounds. And they get us, all to themselves, reading, learning, talking, playing.

They love it.

 

 

 

 

A Bald Eagle and a Birthday on the ICW

A Bald Eagle and a Birthday on the ICW

On December 8th we left Coinjock, a little stop with a dock and restaurant, on our way South, after getting some provisions and paying a diver to clean the bottom of our hull. We were headed for an anchorage in Alligator River. It was a beautiful day, cold but with the sun peeking through the overcast sky. It was also my birthday and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it: out on the water with my family.

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The dock at Coinjock

A few things happened today: we lost service on our phone (which we wouldn’t get back for days), we passed mile 100 on the ICW and we saw an amazing sight!

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Even an overcast sky is beautiful

p1000634We were making good time; the cleaning of our hull was proving to be well worth the cost. Partly through our day we were hailed on the radio by our friend Bill on s/v Solstice traveling ahead of us. Look at the marker on the port side, he said- it’s a Bald Eagle! It was a little too far away to see, but we quickly grabbed our binoculars.

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Sure enough, with an incredible zoom on our camera and good binoculars we were able to see a magnificent sight! A proud looking Bald Eagle posing on top of a navigational marker! Beautiful- what a treat!

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The night’s activity: frosting cupcakes!

That night in the secluded anchorage in Alligator River, we made carrot cake cupcakes for my birthday. So how do you make birthday cake on a boat knowing no one is going to help you eat it? To start, I only used half the package of cake mix and halved all the ingredients. It made exactly ten cupcakes. Then, we only frosted four, one for each of us (Haven wouldn’t be eating one). The girls eagerly frosted their own! The unfrosted cupcakes that were left we simply ate as “carrot cake muffins” for breakfast the next morning!

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In only a couple of days we would be at our first major port: Beaufort, North Carolina, where we would learn that our plans are truly not our own!

 

You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground

You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground

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Captain Mike at the helm

The day started out blustery and cold and didn’t get much better. But we were excited to officially pass mile zero on the ICW; it meant the prospect of warmth! We were even more excited to be traveling with two other boats, s/v Solstice and s/v Totem. Although Solstice and Totem had become world travelers neither of them had traveled the ICW before so it was new to every single one of us. What a caravan we made: a seasoned family of world cruisers, a solo world cruiser and a young family completely new to the cruising life!

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bringing up the rear with s/v Solstice and s/v Totem in the lead
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s/v Solstice

Everyone always asks me if I’m enjoying myself. The truth is, I feel like a little kid. Everything is new. Look! The huge navy ships, the buildings and condos, everything made more magical by Christmas lights and wreaths strung everywhere. And over there! Eroding shorelines and the birds that live there! I’m beginning to share the wonderment of my children; that sparkle that fills their eyes whenever we take them to see something, anything, new.

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So much to see!
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Christmas in the city

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The beginning of our journey would prove to be challenging. To start it was cold, and although we have a dodger and a bimini which helped greatly, the wind still swept right over the dodger and onto our faces when we were standing at the helm. There was no getting around that. And there were the many bridges, and one lock, that dot the beginning of the ICW. I can’t even remember how many bridges we went under in total, after a while it was “just another bridge.”

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Me at the helm! Yes I’m cold
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Approaching our first opening bridge

There are different kinds of bridges: fixed and opening bridges that include swing, draw and lift. We went under several fixed bridges, and a few kinds of opening bridges like this lifting bridge shown in the picture above. Most of the bridges are on a schedule meaning they might open on the hour or on every half hour. It was helpful to know the schedule so that we could time our arrival with the opening of the bridge. Still, we had to hail the bridge-tender on the VHF radio and let him know we were intending to pass under the bridge. Not all boats can travel the ICW. For example, our friends on Totem held their breath once or twice hoping their mast was indeed short enough to pass under. When we didn’t arrive right on time to the bridge’s opening, we had to tread water and wait. It was a very interesting experience!

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The Great Bridge Lock

It wasn’t just a challenging day for us: keeping our eyes on the depth and width of the channel, watching the clock to time bridges, passing under bridge after bridge, and even a lock, but for our engine, affectionately known as “Big Red” (because it is big and red!) it was a rough day too. We pushed our engine a little hard to keep up with our traveling buddies. We began planning to meet a diver at our next stopping point so he could clean the bottom of our hull. We hoped a nice clean bottom would aid our time through the water, save diesel and help Big Red relax a little.

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The first 65′ bridge we went under

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Finally at our anchorage with Solstice…where we ran aground

So what would prove to be the most challenging part of our day? “Running aground” is cruiser speak for getting stuck in the mud. It means the water is too shallow for your keel and you sit lopsided going no where fast. This was one of Mike’s fears. The ICW is often shallow; there are many places where a 47′ boat with a 6′ draft can get stuck.

When all three of us finally arrived at our anchorage, Pungo Ferry, for the night, we quickly realized it was rather small for three sailboats. Totem decided to keep going to another location while we and Solstice looked around for a good spot to drop anchor. Right after we dropped anchor, Mike told me, we should drop a stern anchor. We’re going to swing around. But the gloomy rainy day offered little light and what little light we had was quickly fading. After procrastinating for some time, we gave up on the idea of a stern anchor and just said “If we run aground we run aground.”

It wasn’t long until a small squall came through and blew us around. We felt the boat heel then THUD. The keel’s thud from touching bottom shook the whole boat. The boat heeled and didn’t right itself. Crap. We had officially run aground. We sat there for a bit. It was dark. We had never dropped a stern anchor before or reset our anchor at night before and we really didn’t feel like trying it now. We radioed Bill on Solstice and as it turns out, he had run aground too. Not to worry he said, you’re not really a cruiser until you’ve run aground. We decided to embrace how out of control we were, go to sleep, and figure it all out in the morning.

And that’s exactly what we did. Thankfully the mud was soft and Gromit easily got unstuck as we maneuvered the boat in the first rays of light.

UPDATE!

Yup. We’ve done it again. Yesterday on our latest leg of the ICW, on our way to Wrightsville Beach, we came upon another shallow section of the ICW. Bill on s/v Solstice was ahead of us and another sailboat (one we did not know) was ahead of him. All of a sudden the unknown boat stopped, heeled and sat lopsided. Retreat! Retreat! We quickly slowed the boat down and began to turn around. We had heard reports of this shallow area ahead of time, but sometimes you just don’t know where the shallow spots really are until you go through it.

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It’s always concerning seeing a lopsided sailboat like this one
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Yup. We’re stuck
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Hard over from the inside

The pictures above were taken with our camera perfectly level. Notice the necklace on the wall, the doors open and cushions! Baby Haven was perfectly content (and safe) eating cheerios while we were stuck. Mike was amazing. He coaxed Gromit out of the sand and eventually we were off even before the first boat was. Apparently, NOW we’re really cruisers!

Letting Go of the Dock Lines and Are We Going to Cruise the ICW or the Atlantic Ocean?

Letting Go of the Dock Lines and Are We Going to Cruise the ICW or the Atlantic Ocean?

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The marina we stayed at in Norfolk, Virginia

It was a long three weeks at the dock in Norfolk, Virginia. Not because we weren’t enjoying our boat or the area or the people, but because I (more than my husband, surprisingly) was anxious to literally and figuratively “untie the dock lines” and trade the comfort of the marina for the wild unknown of travel.

But there was much to do to prepare to leave and now I am grateful for each extra day, hour and minute we stayed buying, repairing, improving, and provisioning. But in the midst of our preparing and planning we took time to enjoy the area around us and create family memories. We celebrated Hannah’s third birthday and enjoyed a couple of days (the only couple of days warm enough) playing at the beach.

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Hannah’s birthday morning, opening her present I bought months ago wrapped in a baby blanket.
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Our walk to the beach

As we prepared our boat to start traveling, filling settee lockers with cans of food, buying extra diapers and paper towels, there was one question constantly rolling around in our minds: would we travel the Atlantic Intracoastal waterway (ICW) or would we travel on “the outside?” (What cruisers call sailing on the ocean). There were pros and cons to each. Sailing on the ICW isn’t common; you have to motor, so the ICW takes longer and costs more because you’re paying for diesel along the way. The ICW is narrow at times and shallow at times, so it has it’s own concerns. Running aground isn’t much fun. The ocean, however, is wild, a little unknown and there the weather matters a lot. But could we handle an ocean “hop” as new cruisers? Would there be any other boat to travel with? As the temperatures keep falling, how much time do we want to spend cruising south along the coast? Heaters, marinas, and diesel all cost money, after all. We had these questions and many more.

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The view from the nearby park

As it turns out, one of our boat “neighbors” in Norfolk knew of a cruising family who, for the last eight years, was sailing around the world with their kids. A family on a boat named Totem. We knew of them as well and had eagerly read their blog when we were learning all we could about cruising. It happened that they were in Washington D.C, making their way to Norfolk after Thanksgiving. We got into contact with them and it was decided: we would stay in Norfolk longer so we could meet them. After meeting them we would decide where we would go and how we would get there.

It was during this time I began learning the often difficult lesson of waiting. I was anxious to begin our journey. It seemed becoming comfortable happened fast and I didn’t want to settle anywhere just yet, I wanted to go. It was difficult not being able to plan in advance; not knowing where we would be a week from now, not knowing if we would leave next week or in two days or if we would have the weather window we needed. But I learned and am learning, to let go of any expectations I might have had (and they are there) and just let it happen the way it happens. Resting in each moment, knowing that this is not only our story, but the story that God is writing for us, and when we get impatient we often miss out on his best.

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One of our last days in Norfolk

But then the day came. We had listened to the weather on the VHF radio each night that week and it seemed that that Thursday would be a good day to say goodbye to Cobb’s Marina. And it was. The rain had passed and the sun was out; it was beautiful, albeit cold, and we were ready. A new couple we had met on our dock helped us shove off and we were finally on the move. The wind in my face felt really good.

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Leaving the dock

We anchored that afternoon in the Lafayette River, an anchorage near the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, the marina where s/v Totem was staying. That night, over finger foods, we met them: Jaimie, Behan and their three kids. Full of warmth, experience, encouragement and advice, much like the other cruisers we have met so far, we loved being able to pick their brains and get to know another family who lives their life in such an unconventional way. We stayed in that anchorage for six days, walking to a nearby library for the kids to play, finding the local laundromat, and even being invited to the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club’s Christmas lights party.

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The Norfolk Yacht and Country Club in December
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A beautiful boat

When we learned that Jaimie and Behan were thinking of traveling south on the ICW, for lack of good weather on “the outside,” that confirmed for us which way we were to go. A friend of theirs, Bill on s/v Solstice, arrived at the anchorage also, so it was planned that all three of us would begin our journey together south.

I was ready.

Our next stop, leaving Norfolk and traveling the ICW! Bridges, a lock, rain, wind right on our nose, staying behind, and getting stuck in the mud…Stay tuned!