anchorcover2I started our cruising life uneasy about and uninterested in anchoring.  This was very much opposite Bryan’s attitude as he wanted to stay on the hook every single night.  I would much rather stay at a marina….close to amenities and resources.  Much of the beginning of our cruising life was spent this way, out of necessity, for different reasons. Either our head was unusable and being replaced, being on the hard while the rudder was replaced, or waiting out a hurricane.  So, I guess I just got used to staying at marinas with their pools, laundry facilities, free wifi and showers.  It seemed to make life pretty easy and convenient. However, this comes at a cost of anywhere between $.40 (we have only seen this price once….it is pretty incredible!) to $2.50 per foot plus electricity.  Staying at marinas will quickly drain any cruising kitty, so anchoring, in my mind, was just an unfortunate financial requirement.  Upon entering the Chesapeake Bay, however, the world of anchoring really opened up to us and my attitude towards anchoring has completely changed. Along the ICW, there are very few places to anchor and feel comfortable, but in the Chesapeake the water is wide open and options are endless.  We have gone from anchoring around three times a week to almost the entire week.  The only reason to come into a marina now is for the necessity of doing laundry, getting gas, diesel, and fresh water, and provisioning (although all of these things could be accomplished at anchor with the use of ‘Al’ our dinghy, but I am not yet skilled enough to do them!!)

When I think about what changed my attitude towards dropping the hook, it consists of the beautiful scenery, the experiences while at anchor, and the independence and self-reliance that comes when you are “on your own.”  I also think the more comfortable temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately have helped with this change of heart.  While traveling the ICW in the summer, the heat is unbearable at times.  When at anchor, we would have to shut ourselves in our 38 ft boat in order to cool off with the AC. After traveling all day with a 3 and 4 year old, you can imagine this is not what we wanted to do when we got to an anchorage!  Now, we are able to enjoy the cockpit at anchor and the girls are enjoying their backyard, “bow”.  Here are some of our favorite anchorages in no particular order.

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We arrived to Oxford mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the town.  We anchored next to the marinas and dinked around the corner to a beach.  This was a great afternoon playtime/relaxing time.  We then checked out the other side of the town. There was a very convenient dinghy dock and we walked into “town.”  This consisted of the library, maritime museum, playground, and local store.  We bought fresh crab meat at the store and Bryan cooked the best crab cakes that night.  We had crab omelettes the next morning.  The playground was right on the water…..I think this might have been the best view from a playground so far.  As you might not know, we have visited the playground in EVERY town we have been to, so I have a lot for comparison!

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Price Creek is located north of Charleston near Bull Island.  We anchored here after leaving Charleston and dinghied to the beach.  This anchorage was beautiful and we were all by ourselves.  I remember the breeze being so welcomed from the summer heat and we collected lots of shells on the beach.  It was also our first attempt at anchoring that went without any drama of shifting currents or strong winds.

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This was our first stop after getting back on the boat after repairs in Southport. I think we were so giddy to be back on the boat, we loved everything about this anchorage.  As soon as we got there, the girls and I jumped in the water for a swim.  We ended up staying here for three days.  We anchored on the back side of the beach.   There was a dinghy dock and a short walk across the street to the beach.  This beach had the clearest water I have seen on the Atlantic Coast.  The water looked like the water in the Keys.  Avery got googles and was able to see fish underwater for the first time and this is her top spot on our cruise so far.

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Annapolis truly is the sailing capital of the east coast….there are sailboats everywhere!  We caught our first mooring ball in the city mooring field.  There were so many boats all around us and lots of action.  It was interesting “boat watching” as boats came and went.  There is a dinghy dock at the end of each street and everything is very accessible.  It was a cool experience to be among the action and Leslie was able to feed ducks from the boat one morning!anna2

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We loved this anchorage so much that we stayed an extra day.  We anchored on the San Domingo Creek, considered to be the back door to St. Michaels (no marinas located on this side).  We met another boating family with 2 and 4 year old boys and spent an entire day on a nearby sandbar….no joke a full 8 hours on a little sandbar catching crabs and minnows.  I wish they were making their way down south with us….the kids and adults had a great time together! The town was easily accessible and we even found a company that rented bikes with a bike trailer for the girls.  We spent another day riding around town and visiting the Maritime Museum.  There were thirteen other boats anchored with us at one time during the three days we stayed here.  The weather, scenery, and company was very memorable.

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We stayed at Shackleford for two days.  While this might not have been the best anchorage due to strong currents, it was really neat to see wild ponies on the island.  There is also a wonderful beach to play and swim on, especially during high tide.  We were able to see the ponies up close and watched them walking on the beach from the boat.  We also explored other sandbars and found our first sand dollars.

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As we start back down the ICW, I’m hoping we might find some spots we missed on our way north.  The addition of Skipper Bob’s Anchorages to our boat library has opened our eyes to some more places.  Let us know if you are aware of some cool places to anchor along the ICW.  We would love to check them out over the next month.

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Travel days can be draining on the whole family, especially in the summer heat and in waters that require someone to constantly man the helm.  When we first started out, I tried to keep a “routine” during these days of having boat school, crafts, playing, and so on.  I soon found this does not work for our family.  I was exhausted and irritable at the end of the day and the girls were whiny. Travel days were starting to turn into dreaded days that no one was looking forward to.  I think I was planning too many things and no one was getting enjoyment out of it, plus did I mention the heat?  It was still is brutal and zapping everyone’s energy.  We all just wanted to sit in front of the fan.  So, it was time to change it up.

Now, we have a travel day fairy that comes the night before long travel days.  The fairy takes the girls’ toys and arranges them nicely on the table and brings out special snacks and movies.  One time, the fairy made a car wash out of their legos, another time paints were set out.   Instead of having a “planned” day, the girls are able to eat snacks, watch movies, play with toys, and generally do what they want (within reason).  Boy, has this made a HUGE difference.  The day starts out on a really positive note and everyone is much happier.  Sibling fighting is kept at a minimum and the overall mood of our family has improved.

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Avery woke up the other morning and exclaimed, “Mommy, the travel day fairy came!!  She left us treats (popcorn)!  And she did the dishes for you!”

The expression on her face was priceless!  It was just like Christmas morning, except there were no new toys, just rearranging their own toys.  Now we look forward to travel days and learning about the new place we will be visiting.  Of course, the boat is a mess at the end of the day but we have happy kids which makes a happy mommy!!

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We arrived in Norfolk, Virginia on August 20 with a certain amount of excitement to be leaving behind the narrow, restricted confines of the ICW and entering the open expanses of the Chesapeake Bay.  The Bay’s reputation of being fantastic sailing grounds with almost never-ending opportunity to experience picturesque anchorages and quaint coastal towns had us excited for what was to come.   Never would we have guessed that 17 days later we would have only traveled 50 of the Bay’s 200 miles and been stuck in marinas almost the entire time.

It was just a casual mention by our new friend Pete, a lifelong Chesapeake Bay sailor who, now in his golden years and travels by trawler, took a slip next to us at the marina in Norfolk.  “The only winds that will give you trouble on the Chesapeake are NE winds, and only once they reach 15 knots or so” Pete told us.  “I’ll keep that in mind” I thought to myself, happily knowing that since we’d left Beaufort in June, the prevailing winds had been from the southwest almost without interruption.

It’s as though the very moment Pete spoke those words, nature shifted.

It’s eerie almost.  We’ve not seen a SW wind since that day.  Every single day, 10 to 15 knot winds somewhere out of the northern quadrant.  Mostly NE.

And believe me, we’ve tried to test it.  After nearly a week in Norfolk, we moved on to Hampton for what we though would be one night, just so the girls could go to the Air and Space Center there.  The next day we’d travel north, to Mobjack Bay, then on to Deltaville, Reedville, pull a George Washington and cross the Potomac and finally make our way to Solomons.  (Side note:  The ONLY thing we’ve had so far on this cruise in the way of schedules or required destinations has been Solomon’s Island, as there is a marina there that stocks CNG, compressed natural gas, which is the fuel for our stove and oven.  We have to make it to Solomons to refuel for the next 8 months.)

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So we left the next morning, despite the forecast 10 knot NE winds.  After a few hours of slamming into three and four foot waves straight on the nose only seconds apart, making only 2 or 3 knots of progress an hour, and the eventual seasickness that set in on both of our babies, we turned around and limped back to Hampton.  We ended up staying there for 3 more nights before we’d see a day calm enough for us to attempt the next leg again.

We made it to Deltaville that day and actually had a beautiful sail.  Anchored in a creek by a marina.  Discovered a leak in the fuel tank. We’ll fix it later.  But we’d continue on in the morning as the forecast was for calm enough winds.  Our travels were going well the next morning as well, although at this point we were starting to learn that Hurricane Hermine was probably going to make its way up the East coast after making landfall in Florida.  So we’d need to cover as much distance as we could that day and the next.  We made the decision to put in a long day and go for Solomons.  The winds were going to be calm so let’s make some progress.

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As soon as we rounded the corner into the Potomac, the winds were 20 knots, right on nose, gusting to 25 knots.  Our second time turning around and heading back.  We anchored in Reedville where there is NOTHING for a sailing family that is low on groceries, but does have a menhaden processing facility for those that are interested.  Makes the whole town smell like fish.

The arrival of tropical storm force winds the next day prompted us to seek out a marina with good protection, which we found in the Ingram Bay Marina here in Heathsville, just a short boat ride away from Reedville.  That was September 2.

And here we are, September 5th, with a forecast of 15 knot winds out of the NW for tomorrow.  No way to make it across the mouth of the Potomac, whose waters are said to resemble a washing machine under certain conditions.  No chance of making it to Solomons tomorrow.  And Wednesday doesn’t look much different.  We’re having fun with the girls (Avery caught her first fish), but the feeling of being trapped is having an effect on us.  Add into the equation that Laura has now been offered some consulting work back in SC in mid-October and we suddenly find ourselves with a schedule and need to get moving.

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I say all this to make the point that we ain’t been moving much and it’s been frustrating.  And expensive.  Here’s hoping my next post describes days of great sailing, secluded anchorages, and happy purchases of CNG.

 

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The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway stretches 1240 miles down the east coast starting at Norfolk (mile 0) and ending at Key West (mile 1240).  We started at mile 536 in Beaufort and have made it to mile 0….a mini accomplishment in our book!  The terrain through these miles on the ICW is so vast from swamps with dead heads (floating logs) to crystal clear ocean water that is reminiscent of the Keys and most recently, the passing of battleships in the river.  The ride so far has been quite an adventure and the entry into Norfolk did not disappointment this tradition.

We arrived in the Elizabeth River which travels between Norfolk and Portsmouth in the afternoon and pulled into the Portsmouth town docks to catch our breath and determine our next steps.  We decided to stay at the Waterside Marina, which is located across the river in the heart of Norfolk.  As we pulled away from docks, we felt a jolt and then smoke started to roll out of the engine compartment.  Bryan was at the helm and I was in the cockpit at the time.  We immediately grabbed the girls who were down below and strapped on our life jackets, as well as cut off the engine.  With a call to TowBoatUS (again), we were instructed that it would be about 20 minutes until they would be able to reach us.  In the meantime, we were adrift in the middle of a MAJOR river with barges and navy ships traveling by. Oh and our VHF radio stopped working earlier in the day, so we had no radio contact except the secondary unit in the navigation station which is inaccessible due to the smoke in the cabin.  I have to say, in this moment, instead of tears, I kept laughing!  Quickly springing into action, we raised our sails to hold our position until TowBoatUS reached us.  Also, the Coast Guard was notified and came and checked in on us to make sure no one was in danger.  It was actually a pleasant sail back and forth in the river….Bryan was disappointed he was unable to dock the boat under sail (we will save this for another time!).  After about 30 minutes, TowBoatUS showed up and towed us to the marina where we stayed for a week determining our engine problems.

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It turns out we needed a new starter, which has since been installed, and we are now on our way again!  For those who do not know what a starter is (I had no idea), it is the electric motor that starts the diesel engine.  I’m definitely learning to roll with the punches and make the best of every situation.

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We were docked at a beautiful park that the girls were able to run around in and play in the water fountains, as well as meet some friends.

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And we met two lovely couples who were our neighbors for a couple days and shared some wonderful knowledge of their cruising experiences in the Cheasepeake, which has gotten us excited about exploring the area.  As an added bonus, we were able to see the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, pass by and it was immense.  The entire town of Portsmouth, on the opposite side of the river, was eclipsed by this enormous warship….the pictures really don’t do it justice.

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We would love to get to Annapolis before we turn back south, but our short term sights are set on Solomons (halfway up the Cheasepeake) where we will get our CNG tank switched out.

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When we first made the commitment to our live aboard dream three years ago, we had a 1 year old and I was 7 months pregnant.  We did not have the exact plans, but a vision of what we wanted, so we began the process of saving, downsizing, and making all decisions based on achieving our cruising goal.  We set an arbitrary date of June 2016 as a “departure” date.  On June 15th, we cast off and the adventure began.

As I reflect on the last years of planning and then pushing away from the dock, it resembles having a baby.   As many say, you are never really prepared for a baby and the same rings true for committing to full time cruising.  You get pregnant and begin to prepare for 9 months for this little bundle of joy to enter into your life.   Finally, that day comes and you have a precious little baby in your arms and then the true adventure begins…something you could have never expected when you were dreaming and preparing for your sweet baby. The unimaginable love you feel for someone else, the complete exhaustion you have never felt before, and the change in yourself for the better are all outcomes of a baby entering your life.

So, let me be real….we jumped into our current life with both feet.  We quit our jobs (a job I loved).  We sold our house.  We sold our things (we do not have a storage unit).  We literally went All In.  There is no turning back or second guessing. This is REALLY SCARY.  And it has taken me time to adjust, the same way it did when I had my first child.  Life has changed drastically.  Not only are we living in a tiny space, but we are traveling constantly (in the heat) and I have become a “stay on the boat mom”.  It is alot to take in….. and I admit I have had my moments of “holy crap…what did we do?”  Plus, despite making this life changing decision, it may come as a surprise that I have a difficult time with change.  Yet, I seem to crave change at the same time. We could have taken baby steps at first, such as moving onto the boat and dock it at a marina for awhile in order to help make the adjustment before beginning to travel.  Or we could have taken trips out for more than a night at a time with our girls before we moved aboard.  Or we could have kept our home, so we would have a landbased house to come back to if needed.  But no, we were determined to jump in with both feet, not giving ourselves any “outs” and we are are currently experiencing the highs and lows of this decision and transition period.  Very similar to the feelings during the first few months after we had our first child….not know what is normal and if I was doing things “correctly”.

So, I find myself in a middle place between an old life and a new life.  The place of adjustment. During this time, I have experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows…..the extreme opposites of emotions.  The good times are characterized by happy children, exploring new places, and meeting new people.  The experiences with people, both my family and others we have crossed paths with, have created some wonderful memories already.  The Street family in Shallotte who opened up their home to us during our time of distress; the Brennan’s who gave us a place to stay in Vermont while we had our boat repaired, the Bakers in Oriental who we shared cruising stories with, the owners of Spoon River who treated us to tasty treats in their restaurant on a hot day in Belhaven; and Dana at Port Discovery in Elizabeth City who came and saw us off with a sweet gift as we departed are just a few of the people have meet along the way.  The kindness exhibited by these people and friendships made would not have happened if we did not jump into this new life.  Being able to watch my children experience the nature of wild horses on the beach or learn about sick sea turtles in the Sea Turtle Hospital has been amazing.  Working together as a family to solve problems and live simply and purposefully is completely rewarding.

Yet at the same time one of the biggest challenges during this time has been my children.  We have some really tough days of fights between the two of them and downright tantrums.  Sometimes I can’t decipher between this being normal behavior of 3 and 4 year old sisters or is it the adjustment to a new life that causes the behavior.  Both of them want Mommy’s attention all day long and are extremely needy.  Between the hot temperatures and the demandingness of the girls, I am emotionally and physically drained many most nights.  Boat issues also come and go, but when we have a problem with the boat, it has been a demanding experience for all involved.  We have written about the experience of running aground, but more recently we had an experience entering Norfolk and our engine began to smoke.  We quickly pulled the girls into the cockpit as the smoke came rolling out of the engine.  The Coast Guard and TowBoatUS came to our rescue.  We are all fine and currently trying to diagnosis our engine problem, but in a moment like this one, fear I have never felt rushed through my body.

Only time will tell if the choice we made to jump all in with no out’s was the right decision.   I seem to think this was the course our family was meant to take and the challenges are making us stronger and making us grow as a family unit, but we will see!

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