Browsed by
Category: Our Journey

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Preparing + Provisioning for 3 Months in the Bahamas

Just a fraction of our total provisions

It’s crunch time! We’re making lists and checking them twice, and no we’re not getting ready for the Christmas holiday. We’re getting ready for our first jaunt out of the country and into Bahamian waters! That means for this family of five, we’re shopping and storing all kinds of food and other items to use while we are there. But why? Don’t they eat in the Bahamas? Don’t they have grocery stores? Yes!

It will take two days to arrive at our proposed first destination, Nassau, Bahamas. It’s always a good idea to have extra food on board for a passage, since it takes time to get where you are going and get acquainted with the nearby stores. But what we have heard and read about the Bahamas is that their food is expensive! We’ve heard cruiser horror stories of a single bell pepper costing $8.00, and a few meager vegetables costing as much as a entire cart full back home.

Friends of ours, a family of three cruising the Bahamas currently on their sailboat, s/v Sandflea, gave us some interesting advice. He said,

“Go to the store and don’t come out until you’ve spent $1,000.”

He warned us of small jars of peanut butter costing $9.00, a simple loaf of bread for $6.00 and a package of Oreos for $12.00! We’ve read especially that snack foods can be very expensive so we were told to be sure to bring your own with you. (Check out all the adventures of s/v Sandflea here!)

We’re planning on exploring the breathtaking islands in the far Bahamas first then possibly making our way back to the Abacos. We don’t want to rush, so we’re expecting to use up the remaining months of cruising season in the Bahamas (2-3 month trip) before finding a protected nook to wait out hurricane season, most likely on the east coast. So our food buying has been based around this number- at least 8 weeks of provisions.

We were able to make one trip to Sam’s with the help of a friend’s car
Getting it on board is not the easiest!

So what are we storing and where do we store it? Besides the non-food items like sunscreen, bug spray, motion sickness medicine (as well as a medical kit with bandages and other medicines), toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaners, we are storing mostly non-perishable items plus some cold items in our freezer. Our freezer doesn’t truly freeze so we’re not stocking up on fresh meats. Our freezer is currently stocked with a ridiculous amount of cheese in all forms(shredded, bar, sliced), a little turkey sausage and butter (with a bag of ice on top). Our fridge holds the rest of the butter, lots of eggs, fresh vegetables and a little meat, as well as condiments.

For those who wants more detail, here are some amounts of things we have stowed:

Non-perishable:

  • 15 boxes of cereal (variety)
  • 3 boxes of pancake mix
  • 4 canisters quick oats
  • 2 bottles of honey
  • Peanut butter, 6 jars of crunchy and 5 of creamy
  • 3 packages of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 16 Tetra paks of Almond milk
  • 29 cans of fruit (variety)
  • 5 large jars of unsweetened applesauce
  • 5 packages of raisins
  • 1 large bag of almonds
  • 2 large family size boxes of Ritz crackers plus a box of saltines
  • 9 cans of chicken breast in water
  • 19 cans of black beans
  • 16 cans of corn
  • 7 cans of baked beans

This doesn’t include staples like flour, sugar, rice, juice, other canned meats and vegetables, plus a few packages of cookies, graham crackers, dried fruit, chips, and granola bars.

Plus perishable items like:

 

  • 5 dozen eggs
  • 9 boxes of butter (4 sticks in each box)
  • 2 half gallon containers of cold Almond milk

We also have a large gear hammock stocked with fresh produce: a bag of apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, plus avocados, onions, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and spaghetti squash. In the fridge we keep carrots, sliced cantaloupe and broccoli.

You can quickly tell what is important to us! Peanut butter, butter, beans, fruit and cereal! Every family will have their own things that they like and want to have while cruising.

Counting, sorting…
I have the best helper!
Moving the rice into zip lock bags

So where do we store all this food? We have a good amount of storage on our boat, but it’s an art to learning where and how to store things safely and easy to get to.

Under the cushions on our settees, there are lids that open to deep lockers where we store almost all of our non-perishables. We have storage under both our settees on either side of our table.

One of our settees
The lockers where we store our food

We also have a tall locker in the “hallway” before entering the girl’s v-berth, where we store some food items, white vinegar and the many diapers and wipes we keep on board.

We are the rarer breed of cruiser in that we have two small children and an infant on board. That means a lot of diapers. We keep diapers for Haven (1 year old) Hannah (3 years old) for night and nap time and even for our oldest (6 years old) occasionally for nighttime.

On board we have stocked over 1,500 wipes, over 250 infant diapers and almost 60 pull-ups! I’m hoping this is enough!

 

 

It’s a lot of work: shopping, carrying bags back in the dinghy, wiping all cans clean of salt water and removing labels, stowing and keeping track of what’s on the boat. But it’s fun too! We’re gearing up for an experience, an adventure that we will remember forever!

{For those who want to know how we calculated how much food we needed, we used this spreadsheet here.}

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

 

Walking in Norfolk, Virginia

There have been a few stops along our journey cruising down the east coast of the United States, that my husband and I have paused long enough from traversing the constant challenges of this new way of being, to sit and stare at each other in amazement and ask “how did we get here?”

It was only one year ago. Only one year ago that the thought of sea, sand, salt and wind came into our hearts. The idea that God had more; more life existed just beyond the edge of our comfort zone. Just beyond the edge of the familiar. Something we couldn’t name, but only imagine. Something waiting for us to discover.

And now here we are. A family of sojourners on the sea.

Discovering the sea

Nearly five months in; just over 1,000 miles traveled and we’re still new and often clumsy, like toddlers learning how to walk. We’ve slowly made our way down Florida’s east coast, and now we’re preparing to leave the States for the first time as cruisers. Bahamas bound!

But what is our purpose here? What is the reason we call this boat home? What is the reason our sights are set on distant islands? Is it a selfish pursuit as some thought before we left? Is it dangerous as others claimed? Are we missionaries? Are we on a sabbatical? Are we running away from our responsibilities? We’ve heard it all.

The truth is, this wasn’t our dream. This wasn’t something we planned, or thought of, or dreamed about as the years of our life ticked by. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it was an idea birthed in us by God. An idea that sprouted and grew when it seemed leaving everything behind was against all common sense.

It was only 11 months from conception to reality. 11 months from hearing God whisper to unpacking boxes on a sailboat in Virginia.

Our little floating home

 

Our purpose at the beginning of this journey and our purpose now is to follow God wherever he may lead. To live our lives in reckless pursuit of the knowledge of God and to abandon our lives to what we discover in that pursuit. Living and traveling on a sailboat was the path God placed before us, and we followed. In doing so, we had to cling to our faith with each new step, and little by little, we saw evidence of God’s hand in the process. From the selling of our houses, to the finding of our boat, to the timing of our leaving, God was leading us deeper into trust in him, and expanding our vision of who he is.

Throughout the first few months planning this adventure, God spoke to me about Abraham. His story spoke loudly to me. God told him, “Go, and I will bless you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised him a purpose for his going, an outcome Abraham could not fathom at the start of his journey. But he believed God and became God’s friend (James 2:23). But first he had to obey and go.

Abraham’s story is my story. It’s the story of all people who are willing to believe God. To believe God can and will do incredible things for those whose hearts will trust him.

For me (Brittany), time away from all that is familiar has forced me to draw my comfort from other places. It has forced me to look at my weaknesses and required me to accept the things that are difficult, but I cannot change. This isn’t easy. I can’t change the way some may feel about our decision. I can’t tell them when we’ll be back because I do not even know that myself. I can’t reassure them that we’ll never get hurt, either. Cruising is not always easy. But I am using this time to draw deeper into God’s word, and I know with certainty that my purpose is rooted in exactly that. The more I meditate on his truth, with the beauty of his creation all around me, I am filled with a single minded mission: to tell others the story that God is telling. His story is a story for all of us, and it is overwhelmingly good. It’s his story, his purpose that I am on a mission to discover- in his word and in this journey. And everyday he writes a little bit more: Another gorgeous sunrise. Another day when a stranger becomes a friend. Another port left, and another one reached.

A fellow sailor

It required faith to leave. It requires faith to remain. There is much ahead, but we can only take one step at a time.

So far, we have been rewarded with sunsets akin to wildfires, playful dolphins leaping right before us, friendly faces, humbling generosity from others, and moments when we knew the presence of God was with us. We are challenged and inspired to be a family that can work together better, traveling the emotional seas of raising children, being a wife or husband and maintaining our own identity and space with grace and love.

I look forward to the connections we will make with people, cruisers and locals, people who we are always on the lookout to encourage and tell God’s story to. Connections that encourage us too. Connections that could turn into life long friendships.

We are grateful to be on this path. It is one that we hope to be on for a long time. We pray often that God will direct our steps, and we are confident that he is doing just that, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some may be thinking, do you need to sail around the world to follow the call of God? Of course not. You must hear his voice for yourself, walking in relationship with your Creator. He could speak to you in an office cubicle, in a minivan, at school, or at your kitchen table.

But…

There is something wild about God. He lives in the deep places; the places only arrived at by faith. He isn’t far away, but he isn’t safe either. He often calls his people to follow him, where he is, to places mysterious, perhaps dangerous, but always full of wonder. That is where we want to go. To the unknown places where there is more of God to be revealed. More exquisite beauty, more people to connect with, more creatures to marvel at, and more of everything that God wants to share with us.

 

Thank you for following us on our journey! Connect with me on Instagram @familyatsea or on Facebook! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Cruising with our friends on m/v Wanderer

We left Fort Matanzas, taking one day at a time, and made our way south down Florida’s east coast, relishing the slow life. We anchored for one night in Daytona, then stopped for a day in Titusville, a quick rest in Melbourne then on to Vero Beach.

Stretching our legs on land

In Titusville, we were close to the Kennedy Space Center and debated paying to go visit, but with two adults, three kids, two cab rides and food- the price for an outing with the family quickly became cost prohibitive, so we did what we are learning to do best- find what’s free.

After stopping in Titusville for a few groceries and some frozen yogurt, our next stop was Vero Beach. The town touted a free public bus system, a beautiful beach, parks and fun playgrounds. We couldn’t wait to explore.

The first afternoon we arrived, we went straight to the beach. We were so pleased to find it was only a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the beach front. Upscale shops and restaurants lined the beach front streets. The water was sparkling deep turquoise and blue. The sound of the waves was absolutely intoxicating. We had finally found the beach! Coming down the east coast of the United States, this was only the second time we had visited a real beach- the last was in Virginia! It had been way too long since we had a large expanse of shore to run, walk and play. To really feel our feet sink in the sand and tickle our toes. To breathe in such fresh ocean air. There is nothing like it.

The beach!!

We knew right away we really liked this little beach town. Almost everything we needed was a 10- 15 minute walk away, which we have found is rare. Most communities here in the US aren’t made for people who need or want to walk. Upon coming into a port town, we’d look up the nearest grocery store or market. Typically they would be about a mile away, sometimes less, but sometimes even more than that. Since we don’t have a car, that’s at least one hour of walking there, then an hour of walking back, while carrying groceries back too. It became a frustrating reality: most places were just too far away to walk.

But walking is something I have grown to love. Really love. When putting my two feet to the earth, one in front of the other, finding my way to the nearest store or park, I realize I am free. I am free in a way all the drivers I pass can never be. I am not above them or above the traffic, I am beneath it. I can slip by all the noise, the lights, the lines of cars, waiting, waiting, and I can go when everyone else must stop. I can be slow when everyone else must be fast. I can notice the trees, the flowers, the rocks under my feet as I go past. I don’t miss them the way the cars do. I can hear the birds overhead, notice the cracks in the old brick building, feel the wind across my face. I get to know a place this way. I get to feel it. I get to walk across it, being fully present.

I don’t think I’ll ever want a car again.

A tree we found walking through a neighborhood

Every other day, after doing chores on the boat, we’d slather everyone with sunscreen, load up our backpack with hats, water and snacks and zip to the dock in our dinghy ready to walk to the beach. One day we stopped at a little pizzeria near the beach. A perfect afternoon!

Dancing!

Marlee’s sand castle
Being buried

We live a slow, unhurried life dictated by only two things: our desires God has put in us and the weather. Some people have told me that’s a little too much freedom. We don’t know where we’ll be next week or what we’ll be doing. We don’t have a schedule, no one to meet, no deadline. We’ve had to remind ourselves of this as we’ve traveled. We’ve had to remind ourselves to relax, take a breath, and not to rush. But switching to this frame of mind instead of the one we came from, the one most people encounter, takes a little practice. Learning to lean on God, our instincts, and the changing winds does not come naturally.

Sometimes I worry that the slowness is really just aimlessness. Do we really know where we’re going? Stopping for a few extra days (or weeks) in one place always feels a little scary. Will we ever pull up anchor? But in time I’m learning how to really enjoy each moment for what it is. Staying still, traveling, stormy winds, calm seas, having fun or washing laundry. And I’m still learning.

The slower life is not always the easier life either. Pulling up anchor in the middle of the night, waking up to stormy winds blowing your belongings off the deck, groceries soaked by the salt spray as you dinghy back to the boat…it’s all part of it.

But braving the challenges and relaxing into this slower way of life has been more than worth it.

The sunrise one morning over Riverside Park

 

 

 

 

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

Goodbye St. Augustine

After nearly a month, we finally left St. Augustine behind, ready to continue further south and venture into new areas. We didn’t intend on staying in St. Augustine for that long. It was the longest we had stayed anywhere since traveling. By the third week, I was feeling the drive to go.  The slow draw to remain comfortable was feeling very uncomfortable and my wandering heart was ready to say goodbye. St. Augustine wasn’t the place for us and we both knew it.

The main impetus to our delay was the recertification of our life raft. Our boat came with a life raft, a piece of emergency safety equipment intended to use if our boat sinks, but its recertification date had long expired and it needed to be updated. Getting it recertified meant that we could know, for a certainty, that it would work when we needed it, and that the provisions included with it were fresh. This is a huge expense, but a necessary one.

When you think of a life raft, most likely you’re thinking of a large yellow inflatable inner tube, the kind you might see in movies like Captain Ron, but true life rafts are nothing like those. In fact, they are quite impressive! It has a tent to keep the sun and rain off, stabilizers around the bottom, a door that can roll up or close and drinkable water on board. This one can hold six adults, so it would be plenty of room for our family.

A picture of the life raft we have on board, fully opened

It took a couple of weeks and a long drive into Jacksonville, but we finally got our life raft, updated and ready to attach to our deck in case of an emergency. Hopefully, we will never have to use it, but we have peace of mind knowing that it is there.

One of the best treasures we found in St. Augustine was not a particular place, but people! Erica and Scott and their two children had become good friends, so when they asked if we would like to travel with them south at the end of the month we said yes! Unfortunately, the day we were to leave was the beginning of another cold snap, but that day finally came for us to pull up anchor and follow m/v Wanderer down the ICW. Our first stop: Fort Matanzas. (Follow Erica and Scott “The Boat Fam” on IG @theboatfam and YouTube!)

Hello m/v Wanderer

It felt good to be moving again. It felt good to feel the power of the engine and the movement of the boat through the calm water. It felt good to gather my girls in the cockpit and help them with their school workbooks while we ate snacks and watched for dolphins. It felt good to help Mike at the helm, watching the horizon in front of me, feeling the wind in my face and seeing the changing landscape pass by me. It felt good to be traveling. And by the afternoon, we were at our destination- an anchorage near a hundreds-of-years-old fort.

Fort Matanzas is on an island and is part of the National Park Service. From their website, “Coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World. As part of this struggle, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach…” We were looking forward to visiting this monument, but sadly the ferry service taking visitors to the fort was closed when we arrived. Even though we could have easily driven our dinghy to where the fort was, that was actually a violation, since you could not step foot on the island without being accompanied by a park ranger!

Instead, we stopped with our friends to a nearby sandy shoreline and explored.

Fort Matanzas

Easy does it!
Light is good for the soul

It was cold but the sun had finally shown brightly. The light was warm and refreshing. The beach was open and inviting. The children ran and inhaled fresh salty air. It was good for everyone, and a great first day of traveling after having been still for so long.

Wild and free!

Where will our journey lead us?

In the morning, we’ll pull up anchor and set out again. We’ve come so far now, and as we head farther south, this question keeps coming to the surface of our hearts: where will our journey lead us? Where is God directing us and why? There is so much goodness in God’s natural world, so many wonderful people we’ve met so far, but there is more our hearts long for. We long to be fully saturated in the will of God, and to help others know the wonderful truth about him. We long to glorify God by finishing the work he has for us to do.

We don’t want to waste this time he’s given us. There is too much at stake. Since our moving aboard in November, we have learned one thing: we are not content to be tourists. We have been given this beautiful gift of time and travel, and we want to know that we have spread the knowledge of him around the landscape of this earth like a fragrant aroma slowly spreading itself throughout a whole house. But how will that be accomplished? What form will that take?

As our journey continues, so does the shaping of our desires. As the miles keep passing, so does the time that we know is so short. As our days are filled, so are our hearts in his word. And so we ask…

Where will our journey lead us?

 

 

 

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

This spot on the water marks the place we’ve been the longest anywhere since we started our journey south. It’s a funny feeling. I was getting into the groove of daily travel. Waking in the early morning, pulling up anchor and setting out to a new place, the accomplished feeling of once again dropping that anchor in a place your eyes have never wandered, wondering what each new day will hold. Here, where our boat has bobbed and swayed for two weeks, we’re getting to know the waters, the times of the tides. We know when the current will be rushing past and when it will rest beside us. There is a comfort in this familiarity, in knowing where you’ll be that night when your head hits your pillow.

And oh, those sunsets.

sunset in St. Augustine

We decided to break from traveling with our friends on Totem when they turned to dock in Jacksonville, as we had our sights set on St. Augustine. I met a family who lived in St. Augustine, through Instagram, who also lived on a boat and had two boys, the same ages as our girls! They were kind and generous, the kind of people we’ve encountered over and over again so far, the kind of generosity you feel you could never repay. They invited us to hang out with them and allowed us to send our packages (items we ordered for our boat) to their marina. Since meeting them, we’ve been able to share several days together, letting our kids romp and run, and even sightseeing the city of St. Augustine together.

welcome!

Our new friends, Erica and Scott, raved about their home city, so we couldn’t wait to discover what this historic town had to offer. I had no idea that St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, established in 1565!

what are you looking at??
a gorgeous view on our walk

On one occasion, Mike and the girls joined our new friends on a visit to an Alligator Farm! The kids raced down the walkways, taking in the unusual animals and watching the huge alligators feed.

a playground! And look who’s caught in the web!
slightly terrifying!

The alligators were all too eager for feeding time. A little creepy if you ask me!

the view from Crave

This sweet family even watched Marlee and Hannah one day so Mike and I could enjoy St. Augustine on our own. We ate at a hip little food truck, called Crave, with superfood wraps and a view!

This city is thick with history. Walking along its streets, old impressive buildings tower over roads of modern cars whizzing past. Bronze plaques are posted often in front of houses, street corners, and buildings signifying a place of historic importance. Tour trolleys roll by, leaving bits and pieces of the tour guides voice as it trails off. On nice days, people are walking and biking throughout the city streets, and with a bike rental shop nearby, why not?

the Lightner Museum

On our family outing to historic downtown, we visited the town square, America’s oldest parish, and wandered through rows of unique shops.

the historic town square

The girls, of course wanted to visit a beach, so one day we loaded everyone in the dinghy and motored to a nearby shoreline. We quickly realized it was more shell than shore, but the girls didn’t mind, and we had a fun time soaking in the sun and letting the girls explore the natural world.

beach day!

And then we saw an octopus…

Mike first spotted it. It was lurking around the edge of shore where the marsh grass met the water. It was reddish and sleek looking, just how you might imagine one to be. Mike ran back to the dinghy to grab the camera. Knowing how shy wild animals can be, I assumed it would be gone before Mike came back with the camera, but not only was it still there, it seemed to turn in our direction and soon began swimming straight toward where we were standing!

An octopus!

It slithered its way up toward the sand, just a couple feet from where we stood, as we excitedly watched its every move. It’s arms curled and uncurled as it moved toward us. Mike stepped into the water to get a closer picture, and immediately sank in thick, dark black mud. You couldn’t tell it was so sludgy underneath the beautiful water. Then the octopus turned again – for Mike! It was swimming toward him! Now, we didn’t believe the octopus could seriously injure any one of us, but we certainty wanted to give it room, so Mike quickly tried to walk back on shore, which he found he couldn’t! His shoes were stuck in the soft black sandy mud under the water, and as he pulled his feet out, he cut his foot on the many, many shells that littered the area. This silly octopus! We got to see it up close and in full detail, but we’ve never met a wild animal who was so curious and got us into so much trouble!

Mike got his shoes, with difficulty, and he limped back to the dinghy, calling it a day. Later, we realized that the video camera was turned to ‘on’ and recorded the whole fiasco!

After some research at home, we learned that octopi are the smartest invertebrates on the planet. Looking back at our adventure with this little creature, I am totally convinced. Next time we see an octopus, I think we’ll just let it swim on by, knowing now how curious and intelligent they are!

 

An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

It seemed like just another day, but docking in Sister’s Creek near Jacksonville Florida was a huge day for us. We had just finished our first ocean run from Charleston, South Carolina. We couldn’t believe we were in Florida! We hoped only warm weather awaited us.

We stayed at a free dock in Sister’s Creek off of the St. John’s River. It was a beautiful spot, with not much around. We pulled up to the dock, with difficulty because of the strong currents, but were greeted by two men, strangers who had come to help us tie our dock lines. After the second try of pulling up to the dock we were able to secure our lines and relax. We were only one of three boats tied to the dock and by far the biggest. How grateful we were for the stranger’s help! We soon met them then settled back into our boat for dinner.

We were anxious to explore the area. The dock and attached piers attracted many fisherman. At the end of one of the docks was a small parking lot attached to a playground and bathrooms. A couple of short trails and that was it! But we were right next to a fun playground which also had trash cans, so at the very least we could throw our trash away during our stay here and the girls could run out their built up energy. It was quiet and beautiful and in my book, besides not being near any stores, it was perfect.

 

We soon learned the free dock was actually in the site of an ecological preserve called Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. All around us were different birds snapping up fish in the marsh grasses, gracefully flying over the surface of the water or walking along the shorelines over mountains of shells. Egrets, Herons, Brown Pelicans, Sea Gulls, and even Osprey were regular sights.

 

 

One thing that quickly came to our attention was the amount of trash littering this otherwise beautiful place. Not just a wrapper here or there, but dozens and dozens of bottles, lightbulbs, cans, Styrofoam and other trash gathered around the fishing piers, the effects of the Hurricane Matthew. Mike hates seeing land degraded and destroyed, so he soon decided that while we were there, we would clean it up!

People that noticed were very thankful and we felt like we earned our stay at the free dock. But as we were getting ready to leave for St. Augustine, Florida, our engine decided to quit. It wouldn’t start at all! I know we live on a sail boat, but sailing requires the right amount and angle of wind, plus space. The ICW doesn’t fare well for either. The ICW is often narrow and shallow, and not conducive for safe sailing. So we needed a working engine, and for that we needed a part from a store. With no car and no store in walking distance, how were we going to leave?

Then we met Nancy and Browne. They are an amazing sweet couple, former cruisers, who go to the free dock everyday to hand out newspapers and ask if anyone needs a ride to the store. We were so grateful for a few free rides they gave us! The kindness and abundant generosity of strangers on this journey has continued to humble us and amaze us.

We were able to get the part made that we needed and the engine started with success! We stocked up on groceries and we were ready to head to St. Augustine to meet another boat family we had met online. But we will never forget the sunsets over Sister’s Creek and the beauty we witnessed there.

 

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

The trip didn’t begin as planned. We got the word from our friends on s/v Totem, whom we were traveling with, that we got our window of good weather to leave at dawn for our passage from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. We were expecting to stay in Charleston for a few more days, but when planning ocean passages, good weather is everything. As our friends on Totem like to say, “misery is optional.” So on our last day docked in Charleston Harbor, we provisioned and got our boat ready to leave.

We were up just before the sun the next morning, but what we saw we didn’t like: fog. Not just a little fog, but thick dense fog, the kind that forces you to stop in your tracks. And stop we did. We decided to wait until noon to give the fog time to burn off. Since the passage was only about 29 hours, we could leave that afternoon and still make it to Jacksonville before sunset the next day. It could still work, but deep down I was hoping someone would call the whole thing off and tell us to wait a few more days for more pleasant weather. No one did.

I was nervous about our first time on the ocean. While our boat had plenty of experience out on the open sea, carrying the previous owners on a circumnavigation, I had no experience. Would it be exhausting taking watches day and night, while watching three small children? Would the children like it? What would the waves be like? Would the darkness fall around me, with nothing but water surrounding me, and would I wish I was on land? All these thoughts and more swirled in my head.

Charleston Harbor as we left

Noon came and it seemed we would be able to leave after all. The fog was slowly beginning to dissipate. It still clung to the tops of bridges and buildings, but it was lifting off the water and our visibility was increasing. We untied the dock lines and motored out of the marina. Our trip began.

s/v Totem

It wasn’t long before we realized the fog had no intention of leaving. It grew heavier and sank down again in front of us, limiting our vision and creating a gloom around us. I was already nervous, but the fog seemed to echo my fears and I couldn’t get them to lift. Getting to the ocean required us to go through an inlet, one producing choppy waves that we were not expecting. We heard the ocean would be calm and fairly flat, so we didn’t worry too much about sea sicknesses, that is, until we went through this inlet. It soon became clear that we would need to worry about it, and so I gave myself and the girls a dose of medicine. With my stomach already upset, I would pass the next few hours praying for that medicine to kick in.

We have, literally, no pictures of the rest of that day because of my battle with sea sickness which the fog only worsened (how am I supposed to look out at the horizon if I can’t see it?) and because Mike was doing everything else. At this point, I truly could not see how this trip was going to be a success. I was not able to help him with anything, the girls or the boat, and we still had more than 24 hours left to go. I really wanted to turn around, find an anchorage and wait for sunshine, but knew that might not be a possibility. Weather was forecasted to only become worse throughout the week, not better. It was then I asked him, “Can you do this by yourself?” And when he answered “yes” I knew that we were in this. Together we were committed, and whether I felt great or terrible, I was going to embrace this time and knew that whatever happened, in the end I would be ok. And so I clung to the deck of the boat, tried to imagine a horizon and prayed.

We were following behind Totem and so our job was relatively easy: stay behind them, but the fog complicated the matter. We wanted to be close enough to maintain visibility of their boat, but not too close as to pose a problem. Luckily, our girls, drowsy from the medication, slept most of the afternoon and we had little other responsibility.

Eventually, I started to feel better. The fog still stuck to the ocean and sky like an ugly blanket, but I was beginning to have hope that things were going to get better. The waves were not difficult, but the motion of the sea still required an adjustment. The girls woke up and occasionally complained of an upset tummy, so we decided to turn on a movie for them, and it worked in distracting their minds from the boat’s rocking. With my newfound energy and our day light slowly fading, we decided to begin shifts so we could get in as many naps as we could through the evening and night.

Before we left, I thought that night on the ocean would be frightening. I assumed I would feel like a little girl being tucked into bed, begging for a night light to be kept on. But when what little sunlight we had began to drift away and night settled in, I was relieved. The darkness concealed most of the fog and we could even see a bit of light emanating from the horizon. It seemed, in a strange way, that the night brought more light than the day.

The night became a comfort to me. The day was done. We had made it through our first daylight hours on the ocean. All that was left was the sunrise, and that brought me hope. And then, suddenly, Mike called out “a star!” And one by one tiny brilliant lights began to appear as the fog parted like a curtain parting before a show. Within moments the heavens displayed glorious hosts of light, stars and planets, each one a miracle. We truly were comforted by their presence, and knowing our Maker’s hand was behind them, our fears were calmed. We entered into that night with hearts full of awe.

As night fell, all we could see was Totem’s two lights ahead of us

Mike was down below, resting and I was alone on deck. I was on watch and that meant scanning the horizon to look for any other boats or structures, and to stay behind Totem. Unfortunately, our starry night was again soon shrouded by thick clouds and fears began to creep back in. I could barely see anything through the clouds. What if there was something just ahead of us that I couldn’t see? I fixed my eyes on Totem’s lights without wavering. We had charts and AIS and radar, but I knew they would also alert us if there was anything up ahead, of that I was sure.

All that was left to do now was to keep watch and stay awake. As I sat under the protection of the dodger, my eyes heavy, all I could think of to do was to sing praise songs to my God. I shuffled through old songs embedded in my memory, songs from childhood, from the churches I attended with my family and from my years in the youth group. I struggled to remember all the words from songs I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade, but the words and melodies came back to me, tumbling off my tongue, and I sang them out with only God as my audience.  Old songs and new songs, under that dark night sky, with nothing but water and fog, those songs meant more than they ever had. You called me out upon the waters… Now here I was, out on the waters, the great unknown, and just like the song goes, it was there I found him in the mystery, in oceans deep. That night became something beautiful and intimate, something words can’t really describe. His grace abounded in those waters, and he met me there, filling my soul and cleansing me from my fears.

Mike and I changed shifts and he spent the darkest hours of the night compelled, as I was, to worship the Creator of all things. I didn’t mean to sleep for five hours, but I did. Whether it was the medicine that made me so drowsy or the comfort of that bed after a challenging day, I don’t know, but Mike tried to wake me up sooner, without success. Finally about 5:30 in the morning I arose and relieved him of his watch. I would get to welcome the dawn.

dawn breaking

On the boat that morning I knew one thing: each sunrise is a miracle. Night is swept away, shadows rolled up like yesterday’s newspaper. The sun rose, an old day vanished, and with it the fog and challenges it held.

A miracle, a gift

Our second day on the water was just the opposite of our first. It was clear, bright and beautiful. The water was unusually flat and glassy. We were relaxed and rested, and we would be in Florida by dinnertime. We were thrilled!

Mike and Marlee on the bow gazing at the serene, flat waters
Our view of Totem on the glassy sea

The rest of the day we talked, read, took naps and I wrote in my journal. It was a perfect day. And soon we spotted land- Florida! Palm trees swayed on the shore and it was finally warm enough to put away our heavy jackets. We couldn’t believe we had made it to Florida!

Florida!

I’ll never forget our first time on the ocean, the songs in the night, the comfort of the stars, the brilliant breaking of day, the stillness that followed the turmoil. I’ll never forget how God met me there and revealed the beauty of the deep. It was there waiting for me all along.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

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!
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.

p1000593
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!

p1000617
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.

p1000624

 

p1000625

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!

p1000650
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!

p1000654

p1000659

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

p1000508
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!

p1000518
bringing up the rear with s/v Solstice and s/v Totem in the lead
p1000514
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.

p1000522
So much to see!
p1000526
Christmas in the city

p1000523

p1000539

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.”

p1000548
Me at the helm! Yes I’m cold
p1000537
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!

p1000551
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.

p1000544
The first 65′ bridge we went under

p1000545

p1000556

p1000563
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.

p1010254
It’s always concerning seeing a lopsided sailboat like this one
p1010261
Yup. We’re stuck
p1010264
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!