Sunday, June 22, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

We pulled into Noank, CT at the very end of May, to end the best couple years of our lives.  After tying up the lines for the last time, we quickly transitioned to logistics mode, and had a busy three weeks of work.

First order of business was to move off Navigator.  12 dock-cart-loads and three inches of extra freeboard later, all our stuff was off the boat, and she got a thorough cleaning and a few minor repairs in preparation for transfer to her new owner, Ron.

We'd love to keep Navigator forever, but unfortunately the realities of our new jobs in California and the economics and timing of the move make it impossible for her to get the love she would need from us.  So we are excited that she'll be going to a great new owner who intends to cruise her again.  We had a great day with Ron, as well as Barnaby (a marine surveyor) as we went through Navigator's systems and intricacies in preparation for transfer.  It felt just like a change of command, but without the uniforms!

Next, at least one of us needed to rejoin the Coast Guard so we could start the logistics to perform our cross-country move.  So Chris headed over to the Coast Guard Academy in New London and swore to defend the Constitution, etc, which restarted the clock on his military service and allowed us to start planning our move.  It was surreal to put on the uniform again...but he only needed to do that for about an hour, sign some papers, and then get back to the business of moving!

Then it was time to tackle our storage area in Groton, CT.  Before our sabbatical we had placed everything not traveling with us aboard Navigator into storage (furniture, winter clothes, etc).  Over the past couple years we often discussed the storage area...what it would be like to see all our piles of junk after living so freely for years, or why we even kept that stuff if it obviously wasn't important enough to take with us.  Well, when we opened the storage locker after 2 years, Kellee's face tells the story!  So, with some much appreciated help, we moved all the stuff into a Penske moving truck and got ready for our drive to California.

One really nice thing about having a couple weeks of transition was that we were able to see our family and friends and catch up on lost time.  We had a great time seeing everyone, and helping out around the houses on various projects. We even got a little bit of beach time in - but it was much colder than the tropical water we've been used to!  

But now the calendar has caught up to us and our departure day has arrived; it's time to hit the road on our new lives.  Are we excited about our new jobs and getting back into the groove of normal life?  Unfortunately, the answer is no.  But we do love the Coast Guard, and although it might not be as fun as seeing the world from the deck of a small sailboat, it's still a great way to spend our time.

The past two years of adventuring and being with each other has been the greatest thing we could have done. We wish more people could, or would, adjust their lives so that their priorities are on what really matters, even if it's just for a short time.   We've learned so much about the world, each other, and ourselves, and we've got a whole new outlook on life, particularly what it means, or what you need, to be happy.

So this marks the end of the Navigator Blog.  Thanks for following our journeys and we wish you the best in your own adventures, wherever they may take you.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Outside Noank, CT

We left City Island in very light winds and a favorable current and mostly drifted our way eastward in Long Island Sound.  It was Memorial Day weekend and the sun was out, along with every person owning a boat in the local area.  The radio chatter was constant, we were repeatedly waked out by power boats in a hurry, and had to pay attention to several sailboats tacking about in the light winds.  At the end of the day, we nudged our way into a tiny little cove called "Eaton's Neck", home of a Coast Guard Station and a perfectly protected anchorage for the night.  We grilled out for the last time and watched a pretty sunset.  We will miss this.

The next morning had wind!  It was a down wind run, but we poled out the jib and ran wing and wing for awhile and the wind increased in the afternoon, so we were able to make it all the way into Old Saybrook just as the sun was setting.  Our friend Eric passed us in his SeaTow boat, while towing another boat, and we admired his speed.  We stayed in Old Saybrook a few days, waiting out a wind shift and nasty front before gearing up for the final leg of our journey.

We had a great time on pizza and brownie night with the Dussaults, Dustin was a fantastic helper and loved "taking a tour" of the boat.  Chris tackled some varnish so Navigator will be looking her best and we liked the hamburgers from Jack Rabbits so much, we went twice!  The front that passed had us bouncing around the dock strong enough to need more fenders, so Kellee "borrowed" some that were not being used further down the dock and they did the trick.  We put them back, tied off even better than they were before.

Today we made our last sail under sunny (but still chilly) skies, full canvas and dropped the anchor for the last time in West Cove of Fisher's Island.  Tomorrow we will motor over to Spicer's Marina and begin the next phase of adventures, but our adventures with Navigator are quickly coming to a close.  The beautiful weather allowed for some bonus drone flight time and we have been very impressed with its ability to bounce back after the crash.  One of the motors is a little wacky, and we did have a close call with the rigging, but it has been worth its weight in gold.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

New York City

After leaving Cape May, our plan was to head direct to New York City, but the weather forecasters seemed like they didn't have a good handle on the atmosphere that day, so we diverted to Atlantic City when foul winds arrived.

We stayed two days in Atlantic City waiting for the winds, and really enjoyed seeing all the streets from the game "Monopoly." We also walked around the boardwalks and saw the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Finally, we got our chance to head offshore (for the last time) to NYC, and we made it into Ambrose Channel around midnight, dropping anchor in a place we've both spent time on aboard our CG ships. On the next fair tide the following day, we headed into the Upper Bay and sailed by the Statue of Liberty, then rode a wicked flood current up the East River, through Hell Gate, and into Long Island Sound.  We found a nice marina in the Bronx where we've spent a couple days working on the boat, as well as taking a day to head into Manhattan.

In town, we spent some time at the Strand Book Store, and had lunch at Kellee's favorite place, Max Brenner's Chocolate Restaurant...delicious.  We also toured the 9-11 Memorial and just hit a few spots that we've enjoyed in the past like Chelsea and Union Square.

Today we're waiting for a fair wind to carry us into Long Island Sound and on to Connecticut...we plan to arrive in Noank, CT next Sunday to end the sabbatical.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cape May, NJ

We've really been making miles to the north over the past couple weeks, and the temperature definitely shows it! After leaving Elizabeth City, we transited the Dismal Swamp Canal, one of the oldest canals between Virginia and North Carolina.  We were able to make a cool time-lapse/aerial video montage from the trip that got reposted on some popular websites, however I crashed the drone during the last flight.

Luckily, it hit a few trees on its fall from the sky, so the landing wasn't too hard.  Unluckily, the landing was in the water.  However, after drying it out and leaving the vital parts in bags of rice overnight, we re-assembled the drone over the course of a couple days and she flies again!  Wonderful Chinese engineering.

Our next stop was a port call in Chesapeake, Virginia with our friends Rob and Leah, who took us out on their new sport fishing boat to a cool cove off the ICW.  It was a great feeling cruising the waters at 28 knots instead of our normal 4-5.  We also met their cute dog Otis, and returned to the Hibachi place we ate at nearly 2 years ago...I  just can't get over how the guy makes a volcano out of onions!

Since we're on the move up the coast and the clock is ticking, we wanted to close the distance to Connecticut to a reasonable distance for our last couple weeks of adventuring.  So, when the weather presented a good opportunity, we headed back to sea.  Correction: when the National Weather Service predicted a good opportunity, we headed back to sea.  The first day was great. The second day we got our butts handed to us in pretty snotty conditions off the Delaware Bay.  However, we made it into Cape May, NJ without too much trouble late yesterday, and all heavy weather was forgotten as we chowed on some Blue Plate Specials at a local watering hole as the wind howled outside and we caught up with our friend OG over dinner.

This week we'll do a few boat projects and await the next weather opportunity to head to New York City.  From there, its just a few short hops along Long Island Sound to the end point of this voyage: Noank, Connecticut, around June 2nd or so.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Elizabeth City, NC

Last night was the coldest yet, so we opted to spend the day here in the friendly E-city.  As we motored up the ICW yesterday, we passed the Coast Guard air station and saw several aircraft buzzing about, and there was a definite sense of pride.  That feeling continued as we visited the local museum which has a whole CG wing and we got to watch the footage from one of the rescue helicopters during their mission to save the crew of the Bounty.  It was strange, as we hadn't heard of the tragedy until we arrived in the virgin islands, we left the US in the wake of Sandy.  And now we're back, and two years of history has happened.  Where did the time go?  And did I mention it's cold?!

Our trip to Charleston was pleasant.  Our guest crew enjoyed himself, and to quote, "this is the most relaxing offshore trip I've ever had!"  The extra person helped us all sleep a little more, and made all the jobs easier and more fun, so much so that Chris got some good flying time in on the drone and some great aerial footage of Navigator.   Lots of wildlife on this trip, manatee, dolphin, turtles, even some sunfish and several birds.

The marina in Charleston had strong current (almost 3 knots!) so we slept until slack and then moored up, took showers and Kathy arrived in time for the fun.  We toured Charleston and ate some ridiculously good food.  We were so stuffed we didn't need to eat again until we arrived at the Cape Fear River.  That trip was light winds, but a nice if a bit chilly overnight with a few dolphin visits.

We had to get in before a front came through, and we just made it to a safe berth in Wrightsville Beach.  It started raining right after Kellee got back from a shoreside seafood place with yummy mahi tacos.  Crazy lightening and thunderstorms overnight but it cleared enough the next day to venture over to Wilmington by taxi.

Wilmington was a cool town to explore, we had a delicious lunch by the river and inadvertently walked into the middle of a street filming a scene for "Max Steel".  It was cool to watch the whole production for a few minutes, so we'll keep an eye out for when that movie comes out, maybe we'll see ourselves walking on the street!

We headed offshore again to Morehead City and that trip was wind-less, 60 mind numbing miles of motoring.  Not what the wind forecast and we got in later than planned so it was dark and the current was strong, so we opted to anchor until morning instead of finding a pier.  We had officially come full circle, back to familiar ground and there was a sense of accomplishment and also of anticipation.  Another milestone achieved.

Unfortunately, since Morehead City, we have motored 150 statute miles up the ICW with not a lot of wind, lots of crab pots and one night with a swarm of mosquitoes that left their little sperm dots of blue on EVERY surface and forced us to do a scrub down when we stopped for fuel in the small town of Belhaven.  This inland stretch of the ICW is not the way we came down and other than the drone of the motor, have enjoyed the rivers and swamps of coastal North Carolina.  We even passed CG Station Hobucken, which neither of us had ever heard of, and saw the crew out wrangling a tree out of the middle of the river to keep the waterway clear.

We arrived in Elizabeth City under darkening skies and ordered Papa Johns Pizza delivery to the dock just as the rain started.  I swear, pizza never tasted so good.  Today we biked the town and met a new friend, Ron, who has followed our journey on our blog and videos; he stopped by to say hello and deliver some delicious brownies and hopes to have his own Pacific Seacraft one day soon.

Tomorrow we enter the Dismal Swamp, another new stretch of territory that sounds ominous but looks pretty, and should be in Norfolk in a few days.  We're looking forward to seeing the Coles again, it seems like our rendezvous in Grenada was so long ago!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

St. Augustine, Florida

Today we depart wonderful Palm Coast and the awesome port call we've had with the Gaffeys. Our stomachs are full of wonderful, nay, ridiculous meals, and we've enjoyed the pool, nice weather, and great community of northeastern Florida.

During the past couple weeks, we've also visited the historic town of St. Augustine and walked around the oldest town in the USA.

Since we're also close to Cape Canaveral, we were able to watch a rocket launch into space, carrying a satellite.  The launch was really neat to see, especially how quickly it climbed into the sky.

We also picked up a radio controlled helicopter toy (a drone) so we're hoping to get some great aerial footage of Navigator as we move north.

Speaking of moving north, we'll head out to sea shortly to head to Charleston, SC, which is our next stop.  The winds are light, but that's ok - we're not in a hurry to get too far north.  Even the colder nights of North Florida were a bit shocking to our Caribbean system.

We also look forward to putting Kellee's Dad to work on the trip, since he will accompany us to South Carolina - there are a couple of sailboats for sale he'd like to look at in Charleston, and we are happy to have some crew!  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Palm Coast, Florida, USA

After departing Hopetown, in the Bahamas, we spent about another week moving west, slowly, amongst the Abacos Islands, exploring beaches and anchorages along the way.

A bit sooner than we anticipated, we had a weather opportunity to get across the Gulf Stream to Florida, so we took it.  We spent two days and nights sailing from the northern Bahamas to Florida, and entered the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Cape Canaveral, Florida, at Ponce Inlet.

It was a bit sad leaving the islands behind, but time and tide wait for no man, so it was good to get across the notorious Gulf Stream with no drama.  We did one last round of celestial navigation so that Chris can finish off his video series along the way.

After that, it was a half day of motoring up the ICW to get to Palm Coast. Along the way, we hoisted the flags from all the countries we've visited from our starboard flag halyard - technically a breach of flag etiquette, but it was cool to see all the places we've been.  Shortly after, we arrived at Palm Coast Marina, where we were warmly greeted by Tom and Kathy, who quickly ushered us off our damp boat to their house - complete with pool, hot water, refrigerator, and real bed...unbeatable!

We spent a few days enjoying the relaxing compound as well as getting ready for Kellee's upcoming SCUBA instructor examination (she took the course in Grenada, but is now getting certified).  We headed down to Vero Beach for a 3 day examination, and Kellee passed with flying colors!  So congratulations to the latest PADI instructor! Quite an impressive feat.

This week we'll spend enjoying with the Gaffey's, exploring their new home, and next week it will be time to start moving up the east coast of the US - planning to arrive in Connecticut around the beginning of June, to end our trip.  Hopefully it won't be too cold as we head north - but we've broken out our cold-weather sleeping bags just in case!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Bahamas

After cruising 250 miles in the last couple of weeks, we have arrived at the northern end of the Bahamas chain, locally known as the Abacos Islands.  Dodging fronts and sailing in between, we have covered a lot of ground since leaving Puerto Rico and feel like we are on the home stretch.  Once we reach the mainland U.S. (sometime next week if weather allows), our pace will slow down as we cruise up the coast, but with the fronts reaching the Bahamas, the "cold" weather is already shocking our sun soaked skins.  Case in point: our primary method of showering on this whole trip has been the ever reliable, surprisingly effective and enjoyable solar shower-a dark colored plastic bag with a hose that the sun heats up for a free hot water shower, usually accompanied by a quick jump in the ocean first.  But the last week?  no way, its been chilly, or we've been sailing.

So our arrival in the picturesque village of Hopetown, first order of business was a shower, unlimited hot water, heavenly!  Next was groceries.  We walked out with fresh veggies for a mondo salad (haven't been running the cooler for almost two weeks because produce has been hard to come by), a quart of cold, fresh milk (UHT milk only goes so far), and a homemade key lime pie (because it's pie!).  Funny what you crave when you pull into civilization.

The Exumas (central Bahamas chain) was enjoyable, lots of little cays and beaches and snorkeling to explore.  Our favorite respite was a popular anchorage called Big Majors Spot, because the beachfront was home to a family of pigs.  Not just any pigs, swimming pigs!  The cruising guide offers you to take in your scraps and feed the friendly porcine, so friendly that we watched one of the behemoths try to jump in someone's john boat, we steered clear, that behavior would've scuttled us for sure.  They snorted when you fed them, squealed when you didn't and were a riot to behold.  The owners are genius, they get their pigs fed for free as a tourist activity.

The other cool spot within dinghy distance was the famed Thunderball Grotto, from the Sean Connery James Bond film of the same name.  What a cool spot.  From the outside, it looks like any other rocky cay, but duck under and through an opening and the fish swarm (including a monster barracuda and a sleepy nurse shark) and you enter shangri-la, a grotto where the sunlight shafts through holes in the ceiling of this tennis court sized cavern, and the view out the window to the coral garden beyond is utterly beautiful.  It was a jaw dropping place that totally lived up to its hype.

We waited out a front in Compass Cay, a small marina with pet nurse sharks and yummy burgers, but no showers.  The water here is unbelievably clear, and with a sand back drop on the shallows, the prettiest aquamarine.  We mentioned how we thought most of the Caribbean would be like this, small villages and pretty water, but really, most of the islands were volcanic, and steep, not a lot of shallow water.  All that shallow in the Bahamas makes for some tricky navigation, and we've had to use our skills to plot, plan and negotiate narrow passes and shallow shelves timed with some hefty current.  We tried going against the current in one pass and encountered a "rage" where the sea stacks up steep when the wind and current don't agree, so we pulled a u turn and opted to run up in the lee of the islands that day.  We also stopped in the small village at Black Point based on a recommendation from Snow Goose and were rewarded with some sweet coconut bread made by "Lorraine's Mom".  I actually had to go into her kitchen to pick it up and her whole house smelled like sweet bread.  It was delicious, only half the loaf even made it back to the boat.

All too soon, time was getting short, so we took advantage of some southerly wind to push northward, waved by Nassau as we sailed right on by and overnighted up to the Abacos.  We'll wait out this front, then spend a few days island hopping west and stage for our jump across the Gulf Stream when the weather looks good.  Then it will be time to put away the snorkel gear and pull out pants (what are those?) for our spring journey up the east coast.  I hear snow is still falling in the mid-atlantic, I sure hope it starts warming up fast!  It's going to take some adjustment being back in the States after being away for over a year.  The cruising will be different, less anchoring and more marinas, and we'll be spending more time ashore visiting the towns rather than snorkeling off the boat or walking the beach.  But, for the next week, we'll take advantage of the last of our tropical adventure and hopefully find one of those elusive sea beans we keep hearing wash up on shore here in the Bahamas.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Georgetown, Bahamas

We've been off the grid for a bit as we made lots of miles from the Turks and Caicos to the central Bahamas.  But after a couple weeks of making tracks we arrived in Georgetown today. 
A new challenge for us is dealing with variable weather…in the Caribbean the wind was almost always east. However, here, we have to deal with the cold fronts marching off the USA coastline, which makes the wind shift all over the place.  So we have to pay close attention to the forecast and make sure we get ourselves someplace safe for any violent wind that comes through.

That brought us to Rum Cay for a few days as we waited for a cold front to work it's way through.  There, we met the crews of Snow Goose and Plume, each heading south.  We traded stories and charts as we passed like ships in the night. Except it was during the day.

We also visited Conception Island, Mayaguana, and Long Island on our way to Georgetown, where we are today.  Today is a quick reprovision and water unload, and we'll set sail again tomorrow for the north.  Although we don't need a ton of groceries because we hauled in a huge Mahi Mahi yesterday…it will feed us for three days! 

Only a few more weeks and we hope to be in Florida, so we have to soak up the sun and surf while we can!  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

This week we made the long trek from Puerto Rico to the Turks and Caicos Islands, our staging point for a further departure to the Bahamas next week.

We left eastern Puerto Rico on Sunday morning, and had a nice 400 mile trip to Grand Turk, which took us 4 days and 3 nights.  This trip was particularly nice because we were "off the wind" so to speak…we didn't have to bash our way to our destination, but rather we freed the sheets and had a nice, low stress ride the whole way.  That's not to say it wasn't rolly, but it was still a nice break.

There are three major reefs along the path…Navidad, Silver, and Muchoir Banks.  They are all sunken islands, territorially belonging to the Dominican Republic but geographically related more to the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos.

The Atlantic Humpback Whale uses these banks to give birth each year, and on our last day we were lucky to see a baby humpback breaching alongside it's mother.  It was pretty small (but still huge), and it looked like it was learning how to breach, which was awesome to see. We didn't get any pictures - it was too cool to just watch!

We arrived in Grand Turk, checked in, and did two dives the next day in the crystal clear waters.  The islands aren't much to look at, mostly big sand bars, but the water is really clear.  We're on kind of a schedule now, though, so we moved on quickly.  Last night, we anchored 30 miles from land on Caicos Bank (you need daylight to navigate amongst the coral heads), which was a new experience for us.

Today we arrived in Provo, the populated center of the Caicos Islands.  We'll do a couple of dives tomorrow, then spend Tuesday getting water and groceries, then we're off to the Bahamas!

This was a huge eagle ray we saw next to the boat at anchor...