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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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We left Southport exactly three weeks ago.  While we awaited All In to get repaired, we traveled through 10 states in our little yellow rental car that actually grew on us.  Not only have we had the chance to see and experience some awesome places during this time, we have also been able to visit with  family.  We owe a huge thanks to a number of family members who have extended a hand during our temporary “homelessness”.

The Brennan family (Bryan’s aunt and uncle) in New Jersey offered their vacation home in Vermont and we took them up on their offer.  We traveled to New Jersey  (pit stop in Washington DC) to visit with them for a couple days before making it to Vermont.  While in New Jersey, the girls got to play with their cousins they have never met and swim in the pool.  It was such a nice visit and a great initial step to unwind from our travels.  We then drove to Vermont for a 9 day stay in Manchester.  We filled our days with picking blueberries, picnics, story walks, craft time at the library, farmers markets, breweries, making fly fishing rods at the museum, visiting a goat farm, and lots of playing outside.  Vermont is absolutely beautiful and we are so thankful for this opportunity to visit.  Thank you Brennan family!!!

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We then drove back down to the south with a stop over in Harrisburg, PA.  We were only in Harrisburg for a day, but enjoyed the walking bridge to City Island and the downtown area which was covered in dinosaurs for an art exhibit.  We were welcomed in Fort Mill, SC by the Davenports (Bryan’s sister and family) for a week.  This was such a fun visit with the cousins and we got to celebrate Cori’s birthday!!!  The girls absolutely LOVE their three cousins, Ella, Cole, and Grant.  Not much entertaining is needed when we are with them since they all play together and make a mess together!!  It has been incredibly hot, so we could not play outside as much as we would like, but we still made the most of it by making a homemade slip n slide.

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Upon returning to Southport, we did not exactly know what to expect.  I had terrible visions of awful smells, rodent dropping and cockroaches crawling around after being in the boat yard.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the boat just as we left it with no remnants of any creatures (at least yet!)  After one more night in a hotel, we were able to move back aboard, unpack, clean up, and be put back in the water.  It feels sooooo good to be back at home after three weeks on the road.

 

onthemove

It has been exactly one month since we moved out of our house in Beaufort, SC.  During this time, we have stayed in 6 different hotels or homes totaling 12 nights, docked in 5 different marinas/docks totaling 13 nights, and only anchored 5 nights in different locations (a source of embarrassment for Bryan) .  We have crossed 8 different states either by way of our boat or rental car.  We have definitely been on the move…it feels like a continuous road trip since we have yet to get settled.

We were planning on being “on the move” most times, but had envisioned meandering through coastal towns on our boat, staying out at anchor most nights and cooking our own food on the boat…living what we thought would be a simple life.   Being on the move this much can be an adjustment for adults (at least it has been for me!), so for two little girls it has be quite an adventure.  As we roll with the different directions our life is taking us, so have our girls.  So, what exactly have they been doing this past month?

Using their imagination-We have few toys, so it gives them little choice but to use their imagination.  So far we have had pirates and monsters onboard the boat and numerous Peppa the Pig games have been played.  Baby(she does not have a name) and Clifford have also been on a number adventures created by the girls.  It amazes me the games they create between themselves and at times can go on for hours…..definitely an advantage of having each other to play with!

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Crying and FightingYes, we have had LOTS of crying and fighting.  I know pictures can be misleading with everyone smiling and happy, but I don’t typically snap a photo of the girls fighting and me pulling my hair out trying to intervene.  I believe this just goes with the territory for this age.  A day does not go by that I do not hear “Avery hit me or Leslie pinched me”, followed by crying.  We work out each fight as it comes and cherish the times of happy play!

Chores-Leslie has been the only one to pick up and enjoy chores; Avery requires a little more prompting.  Leslie helps me dry the dishes each time I do them, which is after every meal on the boat.  When we get more settled, I hope to have some more structured chores for them and get Avery involved too!!

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Reading-Avery has a set of Bob Books and has begun to read them.  I caught her reading one to Leslie the other afternoon.  Of course, we also do daily reading with both of them and have attempted to start “Boat School”. But, this is temporarily on hold while we are displaced.  I have lots of books stored all over the boat, plus their kindles have books we can access online.

Going to the Library-The library has been such a fun place to visit and participate in different children’s activities.   Libraries typically have many children’s events going on throughout the week.  We have seen a play at the Georgetown library, participated in Storytime Olympics at the Bennington Library and completed a story walk with the Manchester Library.

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Visiting placesWhile still in Charleston we were able to visit many friends and family.  We also went to the movies (Finding Dory), rode on a carriage ride, and visited Charles Towne Landing. Since then we have visited the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C, a blueberry farm in Vermont, Vacation Bible School in Georgetown, Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach and dozens of restaurants.

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Eating.…lots of eating-My children eat all the time.  They get plenty of exercise, so we have not curved this eating, but they are habitual grazers.  We try to make this endless food eating healthy with fruits and vegetables, but chips and crackers are also consumed.  When I need to help Bryan with the boat, I always make sure they have a snack and a drink in order occupy them for a few minutes while I am away!

Playing on their Kindles-Both girls have a kids kindles and they enjoy playing games, reading books, and watching short videos.  While we are away from any Wi-Fi signal, they only have access to some of the apps and books.  The Daniel Tiger emotions game is their favorite right now and I have heard the songs endless amounts of times…..just wished they would practice the lyrics when they are fighting (take a deep breath…. and count to four)!!!

Making things-I have not had a chance to get out even half of my crafting supplies on the boat yet, so I am excited to start making more crafts when we get back on the boat.  So far the girls participated in a shark art contest by making a collage of a shark and of course daily coloring.  Avery has also been drawing pictures for her preschool teacher back in Beaufort since they are going to be pen pals.  The girls have also made cookies with their cousins and blueberry pie with the blueberries they picked.

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Meeting new friends-In almost every town we have visited, we have meet new people or reconnected with old friends.  It has been alot of fun see our friends kids who have never meet each other play together.  I have been impressed by the way they girls connect with other kids and start playing almost immediately.  If their is a child around their age, they seem to gravitate towards them.   They have also had the opportunity to meet many generous and kind people who have helped out along the way.

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Swimming-If it is a pool or a sandbar, the girls will be swimming.  Avery is a little fish and never wants to get out of the water.  She is learning to swim and just jumped of the diving board this last weekend.  We have been lucky to have been to so many places that have pools and it is has been an easy dingy ride to sandbars.

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Being outdoors-While on the boat, the girls will sit in the cockpit and help navigate or bring some of their toys to play with in the cockpit. While on land, we spend as much time as possible outside either playing games, swimming, at the playground, or walking around.  Today we had a fun experience at the local park on a storybook walk.

Overall it has been very rewarding to be with the girls each day over the last month.  It has also been tiring being on the move with a 3 and 4 year old, but I feel it is also tiring living with a 3 and 4 year old, it is just part of this time of our life.  Each days planning (which is usually done the night before!) revolves around activities that would be child friendly, but we also sneak in some adult fun too!  Just yesterday, between blueberry picking and story time, we went to a brewery!  When we are back on the boat, we will continue to plan each day with time for them to either explore in the dingy or in a town checking out the local community events.

 

navigational becons

We’ve been asked a few times how it happened.  How did we hit something with our boat that caused damage significant enough to require a haul-out and repair?  Some of the questions came from other boaters, who understand how it happens, but were just curious as to where it happened and looking for information about the area so that they might avoid a grounding themselves.  Other questions came from people not as familiar with boats and were trying to understand exactly WHAT went wrong that could cause your boat to hit bottom.  Others still, including the person who answered the phone at the insurance company, didn’t even understand what caused the damage, only that we hit SOMETHING.  So Laura thought it might be a good blog post to explain how it happened that day.

Before I go on, I should interject a saying I’ve heard about running aground while cruising in a boat.  It goes something like, “There are two types of cruisers…those who have run aground and those who are lying about it.”  Another one ends with “…those who have already run aground and those who will.”  Either way, the point is that it is a common occurrence if you spend enough time cruising. I even heard it referred to as losing your grounding virginity.  Do I sound like I’m defending myself already??  Ha!

Anyway, we’ve been traveling on what is called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which is a series of man-made canals and natural rivers, creeks, inlets, sounds that are tucked in behind the land along the East coast.  The AICW runs from Norfolk, VA to Southern Florida and the idea is that you can travel much of the East coast in protected waters and have access to cities and towns, anchorages and marinas, attractions and culture as you travel.  It allows you to move as slowly as you like and saves you a lot of the preparation that is required for longer passages offshore.  It suits our needs right now as we grow accustomed to cruising life and work to get our processes and crew squared away.  The disadvantages of the ICW, however, are that most of it is narrow and shallow.  You also have to be incredibly vigilant at the helm because of the amount of boat traffic you will encounter.  There are navigation signs to follow very closely, and bridges to pass under, and tides and currents.  Honestly, it can get a little hectic, particularly on weekends, and even more particularly on holiday weekends….much like the July 4th weekend when we found ourselves entering the area behind all of the beaches of southern North Carolina.

The ICW has areas known for shoaling, which means that the sediment has shifted around and begun to build up in certain areas, making the water shallower and shallower year after year.  Areas that are known to experience lots of shoaling are ocean inlets, places where there is an access to the open ocean from the waterway.  Shoaling can be even more dramatic as a result of strong storms in the area, churning up the water, increasing wind and waves.  There are two inlets near Ocean Isle Beach, NC and Holden Beach, NC called the Shallotte Inlet and the Lockwood Folly inlet.  We slammed into the bottom at the Shallotte Inlet.

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A view of the Shallotte Inlet. The ICW is the narrow waterway that runs across the picture, near the top.

I was following the markers traveling north on the ICW, which means keeping the red markers to port (to your left) and the green markers to starboard (to your right).  The tide was outgoing as we approached the inlet, which really means that the inlet was an outlet at the time.  The tide was dropping and the water was rushing out to sea.  That’s a lot of water all making its way out to seathrough one narrow passage.  In other words, the water was moving fast.  We were loving it of course, because we were riding the current toward the inlet, moving fast without running the engine any harder or using any extra diesel.  Better gas mileage.  As we began to enter the area of the inlet, I was sure to align the boat between the markers, as I’d already read plenty of information about the regularly shifting bottom in these inlets.  It didn’t matter.  We slammed into the sand right in the middle of the channel.  Laura was standing on the steps when we hit, almost throwing her forward into the cabin.  I heard the girls scream down below and start to cry when all of the contents of our cabin fell off the shelf and onto the floor.  We hit so hard as a result of our increased speed that it felt like the boat was going to do a front flip, end over end.

When the boat settled into place, I checked to see if anyone was hurt down below.  Avery and Leslie were clinging to Laura and whimpering, but unharmed.  I went back to the helm and attempted to back off the shoal, turn away from it, even raised a sail and tried to lean to boat over so we might float off of it, but it was clear we were stuck.  Our TowBoatUS insurance that I’d purchased back in March now was certainly the best purchase I’d made, as uninsured towing can cost in the thousands, even tens of thousands of dollar range.  We hailed TowBoatUS on the radio and they came to our aid in no time and at no additional cost to us.  As we were pulled off of the sandbar, I attempted to steer the boat to safety, only to find that the wheel was locked up.  Only later, when I had a moment to breathe, would I be able to diagnose the problem as a bent rudder post that probably resulted when we were pulled from the sandbar.

So in the final analysis, was it my fault that we hit bottom even though I was steering directly between the navigational markers?  You damn right it was!  I am the captain after all, and everything that happens to “All In” is my responsibility.  But what could we have done differently?  Plenty.  For one, go slow.  With any uncertainty at all, going slow is always the prudent choice.  Reaction time improves, you’ll have extra time to assess the situation, and if something DOES happen, the damage will be minimized or even avoided.  Another thing we could have done was to stop and ask local boaters with specific knowledge of the area.  Even TowboatUS said that they’d be glad to assist people with navigation questions.  As it turns out, at the Shallotte Inlet, you should really hug the red markers on the mainland side of the passage.

So there you have it.  Not the story of the entire day of course…hitting the bottom was only the beginning of our day from hell.  We battled insane boat traffic and tremendous wakes as a result all day long while at anchor with no steering because of the bent rudder from the grounding.  Each wave and wind gust pushing us closer and closer to bashing into the docks on the side of the waterway.  The heat beating down.  I’d rather forget.  But that’s the way it happened and the reason our boat is now hauled out in Southport, NC for repairs, the reason we are now nestled into a mountain condo in Vermont (this ain’t so bad!) and the reason I’ve got all this time for writing a blog post.  We hope to be back on board sometime during the week of July 25.  Check back for updates!