Chucktown

Chris and I had high expectations for our stop in Charleston, and I’d say they were definitely met. Prior to our departure, we were so busy getting “Firefly” and “Bug” ready to go that we barely took the time to scope out the possible stops along ICW. Honestly, the only part of the ICW I knew I wanted to hit was Charleston.

We had originally thought we were going to hit Charleston on Thursday (the 19th), and I got my hopes good and high, but because of nasty storms and the timing of the tides, we realized it was going to be Friday (the 20th). I spent that afternoon more than a little upset; I was pretty excited about the prospect of a hot shower and a big city full of restaurants and culture. But, on that Friday, we had a short, sunny journey from our anchorage on Dewees Creek to the Charleston Maritime Center on the Cooper River. The marina was a bit bouncy, but was within walking distance of all the good stuff in the city and had an incredible view. A tradeoff we were comfortable with.

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After showering (yay!), we walked to “Husk,” Sean Brock’s Charleston southern-revival restaurant that is extremely highly-rated. After seeing Sean on a show on Netflix called “The Mind of a Chef” I had made lunch reservations for us (it was impossible to get dinner reservations). We had pig’s ear lettuce wraps, pork rillettes, pork belly with faro verde, shrimp and grits, and a cast iron skillet of bacon cornbread (mayhaps we ate a whole pig?). And a nice glass of wine for me and a Pluff Mud Porter (local beer that we loved) for Chris. Mwah!

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We hit a couple bars (including Amen Street, a raw bar with oysters and clams) in town that evening and enjoyed ourselves quite thoroughly. Chris dragged me to a terrible dive bar (I was pretty grumpy about this), after which I was pretty much ready to hit the hay. However, on our way back to the marina, we thought we’d stop at a Walgreens to get some things, and out of the blue, we heard someone say “hey, don’t I know you?” Turns out, Nick Falk (former drummer for one of our favorite bands of all time, Old School Freight Train, and current drummer of The Rigs) was in town to play a gig and was at the Walgreens at the same time we were. He recognized Chris! Turns out, his band was in town to open for the Wood Brothers. He had already played his set, but he very kindly added us to the guest list and we got to see most of the Wood Brothers set! Chris and I both had an absolute blast at the show, and very much enjoyed getting to see Nick again. I went from grumpy to elated in about point-six-seconds.

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Me, Chris, Nick!

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The Wood Brothers!

Saturday morning was also amazing, in that we got to go to the Charleston Farmer’s Market. We got fresh veggies and eggs (if these things are not refrigerated to begin with, they’ll keep for a bit without refrigeration, which is good for us!). We also got breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Chris had a Roti called a “Wakey Bakey” which was apparently good enough to mention. It was a beautiful day and was very pleasant to meander around the market. I was so excited to get fresh food and good coffee that I’m pretty sure I prattled on about it for the remainder of the day.

Then, we met up with Pete and Gail, good friends of the Johnsons, Chris’s aunt and uncle (Hi Pete and Gail!). They sail and are currently retired in Charleston. They took us to Holy City Brewery (home of the aforementioned Pluff Mud Porter) and then to this amazing place called the Tattooed Moose, where we had probably the best meal of the stop. We had a lot of fun hanging out with them and are very grateful they took some time out of their lives to hang out with us!

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Gail, Me, Chris, Pete!

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We went to another place (The Blind Tiger) for a drink and talked to a very nice couple around our ages for a while.

On Sunday, we had coffee at a really cool spot called Caviar and Bananas and then met Mallory, a good friend’s brother, for lunch at a bar called The Griffon. He is an experienced sailor and we picked his brain for a bit (Hi Mallory! Hi Blaine!). We also had a Harris Teeter within walking distance so we spent that evening provisioning (Read: bought more beer).

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Mallory, Chris, Me!

Monday, we got our outboard engine serviced, picked up our mail (which I had forwarded to Charleston), and then walked around The Battery, which is an area on the water filled with historical mansions and cannons. It got pretty chilly the last couple days we were in town, but we still had a great time.

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On Tuesday, we headed out. I cried when we were pulling away from the city… it was such a welcome stop to me after so many days in remote anchorages and making do with canned food and no showers. I think if I were ever to live in a city, Charleston would definitely be in consideration. It seems so young, vibrant, healthy, and “in.” Every single person we came into contact with was kind and helpful. The food is great, the beer is great, the views are great. It’s hard to capture the feel of the city in words, and even harder in pictures (mainly because I’m a terrible photographer).

We are definitely planning on stopping again in Chucktown on the way home. Chris wanted to add some thoughts about some of the feelings that served as a kind of backdrop to our time in Charleston as well, which are below:

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As we made our way through the approaches in Charleston Harbor (a stirring sight for beer-thirsty and food-hungry sailors) we sighted a small island with a fortress, “Shutes Folley” and “Pickney’s Castle,” respectively. There was a French flag flying from the small fortress and it took me a moment to realize why. While walking down Calhoun Street in Charleston, we had a similar moment when we realized we were standing next to First Emmanuel AME. In both instances we were struck hard with the reality that in many ways we have been insulated from during our travels. What can you say in the face of madness? As we write, we are sitting at anchor in Beaufort, SC after having enjoyed a delicious-if-unorthodox Thanksgiving meal of saltines, salami, and smoked trout. And wine. We are very lucky, and very thankful for the opportunities afforded and taken that have led us to this safe harbor. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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PS-  We celebrated Thanksgiving in Beaufort, SC. We’ll be in Georgia within a day or two…Carolinas, it’s been real.

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Charleston or Bust!

Hello and greetings from Charleston, SC!  Since Swansboro, NC we’ve been out on the trail just about everyday, all day. Did a few 50 mile-ers, passed by all sorts of weird and interesting stuff, anchored out in some wild and remote creeks, and met all sorts of great folks. Our time in Charleston has been so full I think we’re gonna save the juicy tidbits for a later post. Here’s a few anecdotes of what we’ve been up to between here and there.

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Spent a fun afternoon is Swansboro hanging out with the Brooks, family friends of Ryan’s. I very much enjoyed hearing embarrassing childhood stories about my beloved.

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Did a little lite rain motoring.

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heeeeeeeeeeeeeyy

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After stopping in Wrightsille Beach and hanging out with Ryan’s Aunt Diane, who kindly cooked a homemade dinner and let us use the washing machine (thanks Diane!), we witnessed a baptism on the shores of “Snow’s Cut,” on our way to the Cape Fear River.

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Mast rainbow

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Anchored in Calabash Creek, just over the South Carolina border.

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Motoring through the South Carolina low country was surreal. We were in a large bay, about half again as big as Mobjack Bay back home, you could see trees on the shore of the mainland about 3 or 4 miles away, but the whole bay was filled with marsh grasses 4 or 5 feet tall. It felt like we were driving the boat through the African savanna! As we came out of the bay we passed this tow- it was about 1/4 mile long and consisted of about 10 barges carrying dredging equipment. The scale of it was unreal.

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While tied up to the free town dock in Southport, NC, we heard this guy in a canoe calling out that his paddle had just broken. There’s a fair amount of tidal current in Southport, so he seemed a bit perturbed. Anyways, I hopped in the dinghy and towed him to the dock, then rowed him out to his boat so he could get his keys so he could get another paddle. If you think I look silly towing a canoe with “Bug,” then it looked even more silly with two grown men in our tiny dinghy.

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Graham’s Creek, I rowed up the marsh and took a picture of Ryan and “Firefly.” This was a pretty cool anchorage…we saw wild boars, heard a dolphin swimming around us at night…and then the wind and tide shifted against each other and “Firefly” couldn’t decide whether to face into the wind or into the current, so she sometimes did a little of both, or one, or the other, all night. We didn’t get much sleep.

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We hauled up the genoa for a little motor-sailing down the ditch behind Myrtle Beach.

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Goin’ through a bridge…I feel pretty baller stopping traffic in the pursuit of leisure, lassitude, and languor.

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Breakfast did not look like the picture on the packaging…I had fun riffing on this all day.

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The journey so far! We’re having an absolute blast in Charleston, we’ll let you know what we’ve been up to soon! Thanks for following along.

 

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Ryan snagged this one while I was trying unsuccessfully to snag a fish…no photo editing required.

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Sun Worship

Hello! Ryan here. 

I wrote the following post a couple days ago in Oriental, NC but didn’t get a chance to post it.

Since then, we ended up staying an extra day in Oriental due to extremely icky weather. Yesterday, we set out from Oriental and decided to bypass Beaufort in favor of putting in some extra miles. We anchored out on Spooner’s Creek, which was strange (read: HUGE mansions right up on the water all around the anchorage). This morning, we left at 7AM, timed the tide/current perfectly, and quickly made 20 miles to Swansboro. I am currently posted up at a place called Bake Bottle Brew drinking a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout poaching Wifi. 

Anyways, the following post is what I wrote in Oriental and is entitled “Sun Worship:”

When Chris and I decided to turn our little Firefly into a home, I immediately knew I wanted to take care of our power needs with solar energy. I worked for a biofuel company for a while a few years back (and learned a ton about green energy options), but didn’t truly become obsessed with solar until Chris and I watched the new version of Cosmos when it came out on Netflix (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it). Neil Degrasse Tyson managed to make it abundantly clear to me: The sun throws energy at us constantly, and for free. It’s not going anywhere (or if it does, we’ll go with it). Solar energy is truly our greatest, cleanest, most abundant energy-related resource.

People who are way smarter than I am have recently managed to create cost-effective methods of harnessing the sun’s energy, which for us meant it was extremely accessible.

I was leaning towards implementing a truly portable solar system for Firefly- Goal Zero has some pretty cool stuff I was drooling over. Chris, however, wanted living on Firefly to be a little less like camping and more like living in a home. And I’m really glad he won me over. At the recommendation of a fellow Regent Point Marina slipholder (Thanks Mike!), we checked out a company called Renogy. They sell extremely affordable solar systems that are DIY installable, which are more permanent than the Goal Zero products.

We sat down to calculate our energy needs (we tried to over-estimate), which were fairly minimal. We knew we’d want to power our iPhones, a laptop, a VHF radio, a handheld GPS, a few lights, and maybe some small, personal fans. We decided we’d need about a 100 Amp-hour battery, and then that we would need 100-watts from a solar panel or panels. We bought two 50-watt panels and a controller (which controls how much energy flows from the panels into the battery how fast) from Renogy for less than $300.

Chris figured out a way to mount the panels on the stern rail of Firefly (and he built the mounting system himself!). The panels have two positions: engaged, or not. We simply tied a stopper knot into some thin line and pull on it and cleat it off to pull the panel into the “engaged” position. Simple systems= less that can go wrong. So, Firefly now has wings (how appropriate!).

The biggest problem we ran into was that the wiring that came with the panels wasn’t nearly long enough to reach down to where the battery was going to live. So Chris had to actually learn to splice wires. We bought the correct guage wire, heat shrink terminals, and he basically added line to the system. He also figured out where fuses needed to go and in what order all the components needed to go (panels into controller, controller into fuse, fuse into battery, battery to outlet, etc).

Another decision Chris made was to keep everything in 12v DC power instead of putting in an inverter and switching everything to AC. For those of you who don’t know a lot about electric (which we didn’t before this project), DC power is what you have in your car when you use a “cigarette lighter” style car charger. AC power is what you have in your house. This allows us to use a lot less energy. It’s my understanding that we use AC power in our homes, etc because it travels over longer distances much better than DC power. Not an issue for us here on Firefly.

After Chris made that (very good) decision, I set out looking for 12v everything. I found a 12v charger for AA and AAA NiMh rechargeable batteries, which has been super useful. I found a 12v charger for my laptop. I bought a 12v USB adapter, which we use to charge our phones, the Kindle, and to plug in these cool USB LED lights.

As I write (from Oriental, NC… we stayed an extra day because the weather decided not to cooperate), Chris is working on wiring in an overhead dome light and another 12v socket.

Sunny, wonderful day in Oriental.

Even though we’ve really only had 3 sunny days so far on this trip (today is day 13), we’ve had more than enough power to keep everything running.  We definitely over-estimated on solar panel size/battery need.

And when the sun is shining, that’s when we charge the things that take up the most energy. When it’s not, we don’t.

Another thing that’s happened on this trip is that the rhythm of our lives has started coinciding more with the rhythm of the sun, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. We’ve gone to bed around 8PM and gotten up around 5AM lots of times. It just seems so natural to go to bed after it’s been dark for a while. And, we want to be under way while we have the light, and either at anchor or docked by the time it gets dark.

We have also been using a “solar shower” when we’re at anchor. You fill the shower with water and leave it in the sun to get warm. Then you hang it up (in our case from the boom) and wallah! You have a warm shower.

I’ve never been more grateful for a sunny day at any other time in my life, and I think that’s a good thing.

Navigating Firefly

Ryan and I are sitting at “The Bean” in Oriental NC, “Firefly” is sitting snug at the free town dock…if you click this link within the next 18 hours or so you’ll be able to see us, to the left of the big red shrimp boat, blue mainsail cover.

Let’s see, I have no idea what the date or day is, but since we last spoke we left Elizabeth City, crossed the Albemarle Sound in benign conditions, entered the Alligator River and stayed at the Alligator River Marina, which is a combination roadside gas station/marina. It’s pretty reasonably priced and there’s somewhat of a lack of decent anchorages around there, so we decided to “treat yoself.”

From there we continued down the Alligator River (through the bridge) and entered the Alligator-Pungo canal. Despite having to motor all day, it was warm and beautiful out, first day without rain in a while. Also, fighter jets were doing flybys. I was super pumped, as you can see in the video. They must have flown by 10 or 15 times.

We anchored that night just outside the end of the canal, up the Pungo River in a quiet little cove that we had entirely to ourselves. All the big boys with their deep drafts bounced around just outside the channel, and we sat pretty. Granted the big boys have showers, indoor cooking, and refrigeration, but we gotta take what we can get.

Our friends on Elara recommended the Garmin BlueChart app for the iPhone, and frankly, it has made our lives 1000x easier. Navigation on “Firefly” was a fairly old-school affair, we hand plotted courses on paper charts, measured off distance runs using DR (Dead reckoning, essentially we’ve been travelling N for 20 min at x knots, we should be here…ish.) We are running a program on the laptop called “SeaClear” to double check ourselves in tricky spots, but we don’t feel comfortable bringing the laptop out in the cockpit

Pic of Sea Clear

We have a wee USB GPS dongle that plugs into the computer, you can download NOAA charts for free, and SeaClear (also free) gives you a blip with your location! Pretty nifty, but computers don’t like to get wet I hear.

The Garmin App lets us double check everything just by glancing at the phone…also apparently “location services” aka the GPS in an iPhone doesn’t use data! Who knew?!! It does chew up battery, but we have solar power a-plenty.

Anywho, with our new found confidence and ability to double and triple check our navigation, we left the Pungo River anchorage at dawn, made our turn south at Bellhaven, crossed the Pamlico River to the Goose Creek canal…

…which after playing tag with the barge “Beaufort Belle,” dumped us out into the Bay River, and we poked our noses out into the Nuese to see what it looked like. Things looked good so we kept cooking all the way to Oriental. It was about 54 miles, which is pretty good for us. Of course the wind built the last two hours or so, right on the nose. It wasn’t exactly rough, but motoring into the wind and chop got pretty uncomfortable, lots of spray and every ten minutes or so a larger set of waves would almost stop the boat’s forward progress. We made it into Oriental, slipped under the bridge (45 ft clearance…benefits of being small) and settled the boat down in a nice quiet anchorage, all to ourselves. We spent a day rowing back and forth between town and the boat, and this morning snagged an opening at the free town dock. Life is good.

The local marine supply in Oriental has loaner bikes for boaters, so we hopped on and made a supply run to Walmart, which recently ran the old local grocer out of town.

What else have we been you using to get from A to B you ask? Assorted navigational literature and inherited legacy devices!

Ryan, Skipper Bob, Waterway Guide, Chartbook, Handheld GPS, VHF Radio

That little handheld GPS, along with many other boat-related paraphernalia is a gift from the Johnsons, thanks guys! It’s been getting a ton of use, mostly to tell what speed we’re going. It’s been great in figuring out where the engine is most fuel-efficient.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we leave for Beaufort. Thanks for checking in!

PS you can track us by clicking the “Where are They” tab at the top of the page.

Virginia in our Wake, Carolina on our Bow

Greetings from Elizabeth City, NC! All kinds of adventures since our last confession, we left Regent Point Marina one week ago on Oct 27th and sailed to the Severn River in “boisterous” conditions. Learned how to heave-to while reefing the main, saw dolphins surfing in our bow wave, hit 8.3 knots while surfing downwind, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Spent a day drying out in the Severn and made it down to the Poquoson River and anchored up Chisman Creek. Rowed our wee dinghy into a marina on Chisman searching for beer, and a stranger-to-us then lent us his brand new F150 to drive up to the store! Thanks Dave! His truck is bigger than our boat. Waited out a small-craft advisory another day in Chisman, and hit the road for Hampton Roads. We took great pains to stay out of the shipping channels, but seeing 600 foot container ships, naval vessels, barges and tugs was still somewhat unnerving. Anchored up the Lafayette River for the night and struck out again, navigated our first bridge opening, banged a right for Deep Creek and locked up 8 feet to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. Motored down the canal and rafted up with 8 other boats at the visitor center docks. Got up early and motored down the rest of the canal, locked down 8 feet into the Pasquotank River, passed through some other-worldly swamp in pouring rain, and popped out at Elizabeth City. Phew…that’s the short version. Along the way we’ve met a ton of very cool, kind, and helpful folks. Here are some pics, anecdotes, and some shout-outs to all the people who’ve been generous with their time and energy.

Sunrise on Chisman Creek. 0 photo editing. Seerusly.

Big ole smile, Big ole ship

Red Marker “36” Mile 0 on the ICW!

Scenic Elizabeth River

Selfie, Selfy, Self-ey?

DO THE DISMAL, the sign implored us

Drivin down the ditch, Swamp Style

-Oct 27th Sailing wing and wing up the Severn River under reefed main and working jib, watching the seas flatten as we pulled into the lee of Guinea Neck and anchoring under sail was a spectacular end to a somewhat stressful day on the Bay. Anchoring under sail makes me feel like a pirate.

-Nov 1st Upon motoring up the Elizabeth River, we got a hail on the VHF from the Elizabeth River Ferry that runs between Norfolk and Portsmouth, the skipper said he’s been reading this here blog and wished us a good trip! Ryan and I were giddy! Captain, if you’re reading this, your kind words gave us a huge boost after dodging tugs and barges, we smiled all the way to the Gilmerton Bridge!

-J&J on “Gemini” have been awesome to us, helped us raft up at the Dismal Swamp dock, helped us tie up while waiting for the Dismal Swamp Locks and bridges opened, and then we turned up again, like a bad penny, right next to them at the free docks in Elizabeth City. Gamely they took our lines and helped reign in the chaos of us docking.And gave us cold beer. And biscotti. Geez right? Thanks guys!

-Had a great, somewhat wild time with the good folks from “No Quarter” and “Steamboat” in the waterfront bars of Elizabeth City. “No Quarter” got the “Firefly” award of a bottle of Firefly for being smaller than us. Maybe. They certainly displace less at any rate. “Steamboat” gets the award for being a pirate ship, and crewed by good folks.

-We also need to thank all the folks at Regent Point Marina for their help and guidance in the run up to our departure- Jim, Paul, James, and Kenny, you guys really helped us out we can’t thank you enough! “Skipper Bob” has been awesome, and “Sea Clear II” is def way better than “OpenCPN.” Also, the oarlocks were in the wrong place. If anyone is looking for a marina on the lower Chesapeake, you couldn’t find a nicer one than Regent Point. It’s a special place.

-T on “Grace,” M on “Coconut,” thanks for all your advice and encouragement, we hope to see you again in the Spring!

-Jerd and Jess, we miss you guys alot, and your help is deeply appreciated and, well helpful. Thanks guys.

-Finally thanks to all of our parents whose assistance in the crazy run up to our departure was instrumental, thank you, thank you, thank you.

-We’re probably forgetting someone, so sorry, and thanks.

-Didn’t put names with boat names in here cause I’m internet-paranoid and didn’t ask anyone permission. I dunno, it made sense to me.