On Sounds, Rivers, Bays, and Creeks

Aboard a small sailboat, the winds and seas define the experience. Waves are children of the winds, and the winds are capricious. When talking with other sailors, it’s interesting to see the breadth of different feelings towards different bodies of water. What the weather is doing on any one day colors your perception of place…we met many folks who had uncomfortable days on any one stretch of the ICW, where we had benign sunny skies and following winds. Of course the opposite is true as well. We recall with trepidation stretches which others remember with fondness.  During our trip South, we were fortunate to have settled weather during the majority of our open-water crossings (Chesapeake Bay not withstanding). Sailors speak of the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound with a shiver, we had uneventful crossings southbound. Anchorages suffer the same fate, Pine Island, Grahams Creek, Long Key were incident pits trying to break our stuff. In settled weather, they are bucolic and serene.

Before we left, Jim Wagner of Regent Point Marina showed me a poster on the wall of his office. It reads “The superior sailor uses his superior judgement to avoid using his superior skills.” Discretion is the better part of valor. It’s taken me just about the entire trip to really learn this. That being said, if you wait for superior conditions, you will never leave the dock. So when NOAA was calling for SW 10-15 kts, 1 foot seas on the Albemarle, we knew we couldn’t wait for much better (Despite the foreknowledge that NOAA almost always underestimates, or so it seems to us anyway).

We made our way North up the Alligator River and through the opening bridge. That was our first hurdle of the day, the bridge doesn’t open in winds of 35 mph or more, or on the bridge tenders discretion. We’ve heard tales of the bridge not opening in 25 mph winds…which would necessitate a 20 mile beat to windward back to the nearest protected anchorage. We were very relieved to have light winds and an open bridge. As we negotiated the river mouth, and raised our now habitually double-reefed main, the winds and seas began to pick up as expected. The truth of it is, even 1 foot seas are rather uncomfortable aboard our little boat. As we got out into the middle of the Albemarle, the wind shifted to the west, apparently funneling down the east-west axis of the sound. This set up a cross sea, with a chop from behind us from the Alligator River, and seas rolling down the length of the sound. Winds were the forecast 15 kts, but the gusts were enough to plunge the rail in the water even with our tiny scrap of sail up. “Firefly” likes to sail leaned over, no doubt. We motorsailed on, and after about an hour and a half of white knuckles and held breaths we got under the lee of some headlands about 8 miles distant, enough to check some of the larger waves. As we entered the Pasquotank River, the winds increased to 20+ kts, but by then we were in protected waters and “Firefly” put her shoulder down and fairly flew through the chop. We dodged crab pots disguised among the whitecaps. We joked and laughed in the lulls, happy to be safe. We tied up at the free docks in Elizabeth City, and fairly ran for a burger and some beers.

Experiences like this have given me a new-found understanding and respect for the small boat voyagers I consider my heroes. I can’t imagine taking a small boat in the ocean, and yet the allure is still there. Perhaps someday. Perhaps on OPB’s (Other People’s Boats) (or Other People’s Blogs). We are expecting North winds for a few days, so we have some time to leisurely make our way up the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Elizabeth River, and prepare for what will surely be a memorable sail up the Chesapeake Bay, and home.


A Bug’s Life

We’ve written several posts detailing our many adventures aboard “Firefly,” and now I’d like to share some of our adventures in and around our dinghy, “Bug.”



Chris and I built “Bug” ourselves, which was simultaneously stressful and amazing, if that makes any sense. Chris wrote a post back in October with some of the details, but at that point, we hadn’t even splashed her yet.

Chris and I picked a John Welsford design called “Scraps” for three reasons: 1. She’s pretty! 2. She’s small! 3. The plans said it would take about 18 hours to build (Ha!)! It took us at least three times that, mainly accounting for newbie errors, lack of proper tools, possibly exhaustion, etc.

Real quick, we used 4mm plywood for the topsides, 6mm plywood for the transoms and bottom. We used 1×1’s (ripped down to a slightly smaller size) for the gunwales and frames. We got all the materials at Lowes. We lofted the pieces on some marine plywood, cut out out the parts, put everything together, glassed it, painted it, and Chris added some corner braces.

I originally wanted to call her “Inara” after one of the characters in the show Firefly, but as soon as we started putting her together, I knew she was a “Bug.”


The moment we knew she was a “Bug!”

Once we finished building and painting, we had to install oar locks and find some oars. Paul, the Boatyard Manager at Regent Point Marina, where we kept “Firefly,” gave us a tip about having oar locks in two spots: One for when one person uses the boat, another for when two people do. The weight distribution changes dramatically, so you have to be in a different spot while rowing in each case. Thanks Paul! Chris found oars at a marine consignment store.

I was pretty terrified the first time we tried to get into the dinghy; I was sure we’d swamp her. I couldn’t relax at all. The first time I had fun in “Bug” was when Chris took me for a moonlight row around Locklies Creek (right near Regent Point Marina) on a flat calm evening. We had been so stressed out trying to get ready for the trip, to move out of our house, etc. It was so nice to hear the oars moving through the water and to see the waterscape in the moonlight.

And so, “Bug” just fits on the cabin top when we need her to, and is very light and easy to tow. We’ve had our fair share of adventures in the little boat, that’s for sure!

“Bug” on the cabin top vs. being towed. When she’s on the cabin top, we have to do what we call “boat yoga” to get down the companionway. When we tow bug, if we hit any kind of big wave or wake, we always yell “Hold on Bug!” 

Chris is the primary rower; he’s been rowing since he was a kid. I’ve really only tried once, and it was pretty laughable. So I’m pretty much cargo.


“Bug” and her motor.

Landing the dinghy can be an adventure depending on where we are. When we were anchored in Lake Worth, the dinghy landing area was pretty crowded. We had been told that dinghies were being stolen and that we definitely wanted to lock ours to the poles provided. However, upon landing, the tide was up past the poles. So Chris had to lock the dinghy and climb a wall to get to the little beach. After first dropping off the cargo on dry land of course!

Chris climbs to dry land. Cargo snaps photos.

Another time also in Lake Worth, after having a rollicking time with the crew of “Calista,” we were rowing back to “Firefly” (again, when I say “we,” I mean Chris!) and one of our oars broke in half (they are collapsable so they’re built to come apart) by accident… this was at 4am in what I would call a light chop. Luckily, Giles, captain of “Calista,” had decided to dinghy over to make sure we made it alright. We pointed at our oar half and yelled to him, and he zipped over, scooped it up, and then towed “Bug” back to “Firefly.” Thanks Giles!

On a related note: We keep our oars on “Firefly’s” cabin top when we are underway. This one time, when we were getting ready to pull into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina on a windy, choppy, nasty day, I was frantically running around trying to get docklines and fenders set up while trying to talk to the dockmaster on the VHF to figure out where they were going to put us. I (in my frenzied state) accidentally knocked an oar, just enough for it to go overboard. Chris, at the tiller, saw this happen, leaned over, and managed to scoop up the oar while we were moving!  Later, the guys in the dockmaster’s office were like “nice catch, man.”


This photo shows where the oars live.

We’ve also had to use the dinghy in less-than-ideal rowing conditions. For example, when we visited my brother in Titusville, we had to row back to our boat in a quite a nasty chop (against the wind of course) in the dark. This was the first time I really thought we might capsize. I was screaming obscenities at every wave that soaked us (and we did get pretty soaked), AND we weren’t sure which anchor light was ours… so it took us longer than usual to get back to the boat and dry clothes.

One thing that can be a little difficult with a hard dinghy vs. an inflatable is that when “Bug” bumps into “Firefly” both boats can be harmed, and the noise wakes us up. This usually happens if we have any kind of wind-against-tide phenomenon. “Firefly” with her full keel prefers to face into any current. “Bug,” being very light, gets blown around by the wind. So, if the wind is against the tide, “Bug” will get blown into the transom.  In that case, we usually pull her up to our hip and tie her there with a fender keeping her from bumping.

The night we were anchored out in a gale in Long Key Bight, “Bug” alerted us to the fact that we were dragging. We weren’t really sleeping because the wind was so loud and the boat was swinging so much, but all of a sudden we hear “Bug” slam-slam-slamming against “Firefly.” Chris and I got up and Chris realized at that moment that we were beam-on to the wind and therefore dragging. So “Bug” was kind of our watchdog.

When we pulled into the marina in Tavernier in mid-January, we both noticed that Bug was looking pretty beat-up. So, one day when we had some time, we decided to do some repairs.

Before Pics

We pulled off the old corner braces, made new ones, covered them in epoxy this time, then repainted. We also added some cleats, and then the sailing rig (Chris linked to a video of him sailing “Bug” in high winds an earlier post).

After Pics

She’s looking pretty good these days!

I must say, when I look at “Bug” I am always filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Not only has she been completely necessary on this trip, but I think she is beautiful. My husband put at least 3x more hours into building her than I did, but having had any part at all definitely gives me a strong emotional attachment to her.

One more story: I ordered lettering for her transom before we left. It simply said “bug.” All lowercase, same font as “Firefly.” I thought it was super cute and I was really excited about it. We hauled all our boat and trip related stuff out to “Firefly” before we left, and somehow the lettering got lost.

Over the course of the trip, we’ve realized that it can be hard to see our boat name when we tow “Bug.” She gets in the way a bit (she’s such an attention hog!). So, recently, I decided to re-order letting for her. This time it would say “bug T/T Firefly.” (T/T means “Tender To”). That way, people would know who we are! I ordered it a while ago, and expected it when we got our mail forwarded to us in Palm Coast, FL. We got the package, and I was all excited and then… the lettering wasn’t there. At all. I still don’t know what happened to it. Instead, I had a jury duty summons.

It seems the universe wants “Bug” to have a blank transom!


The Long Road Home

New Smyrna, Palm Coast, Pine Island, Fernandina, Fredericka River, Crescent River, Cattlepen Creek, Wilmington Island, Bull Creek, Factory Creek, Wappoo Creek, Five Fathom Creek, Bucksport Plantation, Calabash Creek, Southport, Big Lollipop Bay, Goose Creek, Beaufort City Docks. Pheew! Since last we spoke we’ve been pushing hard, trying to bank as many miles as possible to get home by April 1. Where our trip down was a languorous meander, our return has been more of a delivery. From here in Beaufort, NC we have about 250 miles and several large bodies of water ’til we’re home! At this point we’re both pretty ready to get back to Virginia, we’re looking forward to a full size kitchen, regular bathing, and seeing family and friends. At the same time, we’re sitting at the dock, it’s a beautiful Spring day here, and we know it’s going to be tough jumping back into dry-land existence. Despite the increased pace of the journey home, we’ve been fortunate to meet some very fine folks and have enjoyed many gorgeous mornings-afternoons-evenings-nights on the water.



Off Watch



Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine


We had a couple cold mornings in Georgia…Spent a few days holed up in the marsh waiting for some contrary winds to die down enough to get across St. Catharine’s Sound. Wind against tide down there is serious stuff skipper!


Crescent River, Georgia


Lots of current down there in Georgia.


Wanted: A Shower


Southport, NC


This right here is a seal, hanging out on some mud. I’m pretty sure they don’t have seals in North Carolina, and yet here this guy is. I guess they have seals in NC? Extremely advanced animatronic facsimile?

Beaufort, NC has been very cool. When we skipped it on the way down, everyone was like “whaaaaaaat!?” Highlight? The marina has a courtesy car you can use to get groceries and the like. Check out this old warhorse:

25865669335_76bdb3baf8_cTotally sweet right? I like not having driven for a while, and then getting in an ancient over powered station wagon with loose steering and dodgy brakes. It was awesome. So we stuck our heads in the local marine consignment and met a guy who just bought a Pearson Ariel! The first sister-ship of the trip! She’s anchored right down the creek from where we’re tied up! Awesome!


Firefly’s Sister Ship!


Finally, if you’ve been enjoying our blog and are interested in expanding your nautical-blog-horizons, check out https://siximposserousthings.wordpress.com/ We met these guys (who are from right across the river from us in VA!) down in Key Largo while dodging a line of thunderstorms. Very cool folks. Tomorrow, if we can get out this slip without crashing in all this current, we’ll head north for the Neuse! See you on the other side!…of the state line!…knock on wood!