The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Monday, April 30, 2012

Alive, and Well...

We did it!  Today, some 363 days after we set out on the adventure, we “crossed our wake” where we began the Loop, in Morehead City, NC.  We arrived here today with our friends on Boreas.  To our surprise, Sweat Pea was in port, and Dale and Jim were on the dock with champagne and gold balloons to greet us.  We downed the champagne right after we replaced our white Looper flag with the gold one that signifies our completion. 
On the dock...done!
The balloons and champagne courtesy of Sweet Pea!
We made short work of 2 bottles of nice Champagne
Check out my First Mate's laugh... we replace our white flag with the gold Looper flag.
We travelled the last 26 miles feeling more than just a little bit wistful.  Carrie and I talked about many of the places we have been, but more, the people we’ve met along the way.  We have travelled a little over 6,000 miles, through 17 states and Canada.  We’ve passed through huge cities like New York and Chicago, and small ones like Apalachicola, Florida and Iuka, Kentucky.  We’ve enjoyed them all.
We’ve met people from all walks of life who made the journey special, both boaters and non-boaters.  Some we feel will become life-long friends.   Our collection of “boat cards” (business card from other boaters) numbers over a hundred.  Some of these folks we saw only once, others a few times, and still others many times.  They all shared part of the experience, and I wish I could mention each one.  But the Admiral and I agreed to try and keep it short, so we limited ourselves to eight boats and crews we just had to mention.  So, in no particular order…
Boundless-Sarasota, Florida- Actually, that was the name on our beloved Once Around when we purchased her a little over a year ago.  But who’da thunk we’d become such good friends with the previous owner Tom and his lovely lady Elaine?  Gold Loopers themselves, they have been there for us all year with suggestions, warnings, information and even a car when we were in port in Sarasota.  They have a new Boundless now, and we hope to see them on the water someday.
Tom and Elaine of Boundless, with Carrie and me at the Field Club in Sarasota
Boreas (rhymes with glorious)-Midland, Michigan- We first met them in the panhandle of Florida and crossed the Gulf with them and others.  They have been our travelling partners since Key Largo.  Reformed sailors, they know more about weather than most Loopers and saved our butts at least once on the St. Johns River.  Julaine is a sweet lady, and I know Fred must have been an Eagle Scout in a prior life.  He is always the first one on the dock to jump in and lend a hand with whatever needs doing.
Fred and Julaine, from Boreas (no, that's their dinghy, Boreas is a 42 Carver!)
Godspeed-Slidell, Louisiana- The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I don’t know how it happened, but Carrie and I just flat hit it off with Billy and Pam (and of course, Sugar Baby, their Labrador) from the first time we met them in Norfolk.  We crossed wakes with them many times in Canada and later in the rivers.  When we heard that they had turned for home from Mobile towards New Orleans, we knew we would not see them again (this trip) and felt a pang of loss.  Someday we’ll catch up with them.
The Godspeed crew...Pam, Billy and Sugar Baby
Blue Highways-Galveston, Texas- We first met Terry and Lauren in Myrtle Beach at the 2010 AGLCA Rendezvous the year before we started the Loop.  They were planning to do the Loop then, and we were sorry we would not be doing it that year with them.  Imagine our surprise when we saw them again at Norfolk a year later, and they were just getting re-started.  We enjoyed a Yankee game with them and several great stops on the Erie and Canada.  They split their time between their power boat and their sailboat.  We’ll keep an eye out for both when we get back on the water.
Our Texas buddies, Lauren and Terry on Blue Highways
Something Special-Ontario, Canada- We met Sid and Evelyn the first port they stopped in…twice.  First in Cape May when they purchased their boat, and second in Killbear a month or so later after they had provisioned it at home in Canada and actually started their Loop.  Sid is a riot as any Looper who knows him will tell you.  Evelyn is as sweet and nice as Sid is nuts.  It works, and we enjoyed every port we shared just a bit more for them being there.
Sid and Evelyn from Something Special...and they are!
Algonquin-Toronto, Canada- The friendship that developed between the four of us is really quite remarkable.  We didn’t actually cruise together that much.  We met at Norfolk, once in Oxford, MD, again in Cape May, NJ, and didn’t cross wakes again until Marco Island, Florida.  We crossed to the Keys together and finally got some extended time in Key West.  But, we stayed in touch with Garth, Kathy and Zeke (an amazing Portuguese Water Dog) from the time we met…and shared the little green water bucket’s adventures around the Loop.  The Algonquin crew had a rough year, to say the least.  But their attitude towards life was evident each time we saw or spoke to them.  I know we will cruise again together one day.  That European river thing sure sounds cool…
Zeke (on the left), then Garth and Kathy on Algonquin
Jolly Tolly-Dawsonville, Georgia- Captain Ron and Jan the Pump Out Queen- From the time we met them in Delaware City to when we last saw them in Key Largo, we laughed.  They raised four boys and have the emotional battle scars to prove it.  Their sense of humor is as warped as Carrie’s and mine, and a close friendship developed quickly.  Their home is near my daughter Carla’s soon-to-be in-laws, so we have another reason to return to Georgia.  I’m pretty sure the adventures of Jolly Tolly and Once Around will collide in the future.
Georgia on my mind...Ron and Jan on Jolly Tolly
And finally…
Moonstruck-Port Charlotte, Florida- Doug and Judy met us at the 2010 Myrtle Beach Rendezvous when all four of us were Looper wannabees.  We stayed in touch over the next year, and re-connected in Norfolk for the 2011 Rendezvous…only this time we brought boats!  We ran as wingmen for several months, from New York to Alabama.  Doug and Judy opened their home to us for a New Year's celebration. They caught up with us again on the water before we left eastern Florida, long after Moonstruck had completed her Loop.  They have become good friends…remarkable when you consider how much guff I give “Cupcake” (Judy).  Doug, Where U At?
Judy and Doug on Moonstruck
And, how about the crew of Once Around?
First of all, we are thankful to a few folks who were instrumental in our being able to realize this dream, my business partners Bobby and Dina (my daughter), who have held down the fort at the office.  Held down the fort hell, they’ve been running the place better than if I were there!  Also thanks to our other two kids, Carla and Leo who held down the house…at least I think it is still there…We can’t thank all of you enough.
So, what did we learn?
Primarily, I think I slowed down enough to realize it is not really the destination, it is the journey that is important.  Something I am going to try and remember when I get back to the world.
Also, we know we will never be quite the same as before we had this adventure.  We’ve learned a lot about boating, and a lot about each other.  As to boating, we know there is much more to learn.  But, that’s part of what makes boating so much fun.  I suspect the same may be true about knowing there is much still to learn about each other.  That’s what makes life fun.
We’ve also learned a lot about America, and its people.  For too long, we have watched the crud on the evening news and felt like that was the way things were everywhere.  Truth is, there are a lot of good people doing good things every day in this country.  This year we saw acts of kindness we might have thought were a thing of the past.  Not so.  Americans are a good and special people.  (And Canadians are pretty cool, too, Eh?).
So, what now?
When we started this trip, “Plan A” was to buy a boat and sell it at the end of the trip.  “Plan B” (after we fell in love with Once Around) was to ship her home at the end of the Loop.  Well, we’re now on “Plan C”, which is to take her to Northwest Creek Marina in New Bern, North Carolina.  That will be her home for…a while…you see we really like the boating out here, and the Loop just gave us a little taste of it!  We hope to be able to visit the east coast a few times a year between now and retirement.  Or who knows…”Plan D”…???
As we were pulling into Morehead City today, we were listening to our favorite Kenny Chesney album, “Lucky Old Sun”.  It is full of songs that warm a boater’s heart.  However, today one struck us as timely and dead-on.  It is called, “I’m Alive”.  I think we’ll end this post, this blog, and this adventure with these words:
So damn easy to say that life’s so hard
Everybody’s got their share of battle scars
As for me, I’d like to thank my lucky stars
That I’m alive, and well

It’d be easy to add up all the pain
And all the dreams you sat and watched go up in flames
Dwell on the wreckage as it smolders in the rain
But not me, I’m alive

And today you know that’s good enough for me
Breathin’ in and out’s a blessing, can’t you see?
Today’s the first day of the rest of my life
And I’m alive and well
I’m alive, and well

Stars are dancin’ on the water here tonight
It’s good for the soul, when there’s not a soul in sight
This boat has caught its wind and brought me back to life
Now I’m alive, and well

And today you know that’s good enough for me
Breathin’ in and out’s a blessing, can’t you see?
Today’s the first day of the rest of my life
Now I’m alive, and well
Yeah, I’m alive, and well

OK, I can’t bear it!  I just have to say this one more time… remember… Life is Good…and Boating is Fun!
Frank and Carrie
Once Around
April 30, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stuck in Southport...but that's OK

Thursday’s weather was even worse than projected.  The wind howled, and the crews of Once Around, Boreas and cbay did the prudent thing…we stayed in port.  We had planned to visit Bald Head Island using the ferry to get out there, but the inlet was so whipped up, we decided even that wasn't a good call.  So, the Admiral and I had a pretty quiet day.
The wind calmed somewhat on Friday.  cbay departed heading north.  The Admiral had charmed a young guy who worked at the marina into loaning us his car for the day, so we and Boreas’ crew drove the ferry for Bald Head Island.  Julaine and Fred had visited Bald Head Island before, and enjoyed showing Carrie and I around on our rented golf cart.  The Admirals really liked checking out the beach homes.
The harbor at Bald Head Island

The house of the day on Bald Head Island
We found our way to the far end of the island, which is the point of Cape Fear.  Cape Fear came by its name honestly.  It is a mariner’s nightmare. 
If this sign doesn't says it all...

...this photo taken at the point should!

My First Mate got a little carried away with the seagulls...apparently she never saw Alfred Hitchock's, "The Birds"...kinda spooked me, really.
Afterwards we went to the lighthouse (Old Baldy), which stood guard over this coast for many years, starting in 1817.  It is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina.  It is no longer in use, but the view from the top is still pretty spectacular.
"Old Baldy"
A view of the harbor from the top
We returned to our boats after provisioning at (my favorite) Walmart.  I am hoping that is the last Walmart I will visit on this trip…we’ll see.
Saturday we ran another 42 miles up to a marina near Wilmington, NC, called Harbor Village.  It is a great facility and a nice stop, but far from town.  We never left the boat.  But as usual, the sights along the way were entertaining!
Some unexpected barge traffic greeted us early...
This guy passed us!
No comment...
...lots of comment...just kidding...
The house of the day...NOT!
The real house of the day
For you, Nonie
Sunday we cruised to Swansborough, NC, to a marina called Dudley’s.  It is pretty rustic, but the price is right and the people are friendly.  They provided us with a ride into town to have dinner at the Riverside Steak and Seafood.  When you are here you have to stop in, order any meal that comes with a salad, or just order a salad.  No, not for the salad, for the sweet potato muffins!  They are absolutely outrageously tasty.  We ordered a dozen to take back to the boats, and Boreas insisted on taking their half…can you imagine?  Seriously…those muffins are awesome!
Tomorrow, unless we’ve ticked off the boating gods somehow, we will “cross our wake” when we reach Morehead City, a short hop of only 25 miles or so.  We started the Loop there 363 days ago.  My First Mate has been getting kind of nostalgic these past few days.  OK, maybe she's not the only one.  When Sid from Something Special  (who is down in Georgia somewhere) called us a day or two ago to say farewell, she broke into tears.  We are both feeling it…and “it” is hard to explain…maybe I’ll try later…

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where the Hell are all the Atlantic Seals?

Until this year, all my boating was done on the west coast in California.  Out there we have seals and huge sea lions.  So, for the past 11½ months we have been waiting to see “Atlantic seals”.  Apparently there is no such thing.  And believe me, that is another plus for east coast boating!  Maybe it’s God’s way of a trade-off:  We get sea lions out west, they get alligators out here.  Who knows?
When our boat was on the rivers up near Sacramento, we would only see an occasional sea lion, usually sitting on a buoy marking the channel.  It was kind of fun, and the kids especially thought it was cool.  Later we moved the boat to the San Francisco Bay, and ultimately to Southern California, where the seals were more than an isolated sighting, they became a nuisance.
For example, in San Francisco, they actually took over an entire dock at Pier 39, one of the city’s premier facilities.  San Francisco, being what it is, abandoned this perfectly good dock so as not to upset the sea lion population (and the PETA folks, no doubt).  We saw the same kind of thing in Monterey and Morro Bay, when we took our boat down to Southern California a few years ago.  It was seals run amuck!
Now alligators are no picnic, and I am not sure I would trade them for seals if I could.  However, I really think seals do more damage than alligators.  At least back here (in some states) they hunt alligators…in California we protect the sea lions.  I’m not sure who we are protecting them from or who is supposed to protect us and our boats from them.  The fishermen also hate them because they attack the salmon on the fisherman’s line and destroy it before they can reel it to the boat.
The worst problem I have personally witnessed was in Newport Harbor.  There, the boat owners have had to resort to all kinds of methods to try and keep the huge sea lions (some males weigh as much as 850 pounds!) off of their boats.  They get pretty creative.  Nevertheless, the damage these monsters do is tremendous.  Here are a couple of photos of the creative ways boat owners use to try to keep the sea lions from destroying their boats or swim steps in Newport Beach Harbor:

This sailboater used PVC creatively constructed to ward them off his sailboat

This power boater tied chairs and buckets on his swimstep

Once, on a return trip from Santa Catalina Island, we moored in Newport near our friends John and Linda on Poseidon.  During our cocktail hour dinghy cruise around the harbor with them, we were hit several times by motion activated rain-bird sprinklers that were placed on the docks near the sterns of several yachts.  This was yet one more creative method to ward off the sea lions!
Below is a video showing what can happen when a bunch of these mammoths find their way on to your boat!

One night after our dinghy ride around the harbor, we had dinner aboard Poseidon.  Linda is a great cook, and John is a fantastic bartender and host, so Carrie and I left Poseidon to return to Testa Dura feeling full…and also feeling no pain.  I am not sure if that is the night the Admiral went in the drink while stepping from the dinghy to the swim step on Testa Dura or not...but I digress.  Forgetting about the seal problem, we left the dinghy in the water tied off alongside the big boat and were asleep as soon as we hit our pillows.
In the middle of the night, we were rudely awakened by a very loud barking, very close to our boat.  Damn!  Was that a sea lion on my swim step?  Worse yet had one crawled into my dinghy which I so carelessly left tied alongside?  I stumbled through the boat and cautiously entered the cockpit.  I sneaked over and tentatively peered over the top of the transom, and seeing nothing, turned to the port side expecting the sea lion to be lounging in my dinghy.  But the dinghy was empty.  Whew!  The barker must have just been just passing by…
Relief flowing over me, I turned to return to the safety of the salon, when up from the swim step stood the largest sea lion I had ever seen.  We were maybe three feet apart and face to face.  I'm not sure who was more frightened.  He barked loudly, and simultaneously, I screamed like girl in a B horror movie!  The next thing Carrie heard was a huge splash.  She yelled, “Are you OK?”
So, next time one of you east coast boaters sees a picture of a “cute” seal or sea lion.  Just remember…alligators might be no picnic…but they rarely board your boat and sink it!

Myrtle Beach, SC to Southport, NC

The high Winds did not keep us in Georgetown, but they did cause us to alter our plans some.  We skipped anchooring out and made the run straight to Myrtle Beach on Monday the 23rd.  This was a 47 mile cruise, and we passed through the Waccamaw River, which my First Mate and I agreed, was one of the most beautiful stretches of the ICW we have seen.  We stopped for fuel and lunch at the Wacca Wache Marina.  They had decent fuel prices for Valve Tec diesel and an even better burger at “Hanna Banana’s” right there on their dock.
Cruising on the Waccamaw... high tide!
We pulled into the Marina at Grand Dunes in Myrtle Beach fairly late in the afternoon.  Matt was both dock hand and marina manager, and he was very helpful in both roles.
The Admiral was pretty excited about getting the new chair on board we had ordered six weeks ago in Fort Lauderdale.  It had been shipped to Julaine’s (Boreas’ Admiral's) aunt and uncles’s (Bonnie and Neal) home in Sunset Beach, about 25 miles away.  We were not sure just how we were going to get it to the boat.  Matt had actually offered to run down and get it the next morning on his way to work.  Now, that is above and beyond.  Turned out, Julaine’s family already had it loaded in their van, and it was on the way to the boat that day.  My Admiral was beyond excited.
Fred and I ponder the problem...
...and with Neal's help get the chair on board... the Admiral wasn't the only one happy!
When I asked Matt if he had any way I could dispose of the old chair, he told me to leave it on the dock next to my boat.  Sure enough, the next morning it was gone!
Neal and Bonnie retired to South Carolina ten years ago, but you wouldn’t know Neal is retired.  He works part time for two non-profits, a museum and a planetarium, both of which we got private tours of courtesy of Neal.  That was followed by a home cooked meal at their home.  Bonnie is a good cook, and we left there with full tummies.  She also gave Julaine some of the best chocolate chip cookies we’ve had on the Loop, which Julaine generously shared with us! 
On Wednesday we cruised north passing into North Carolina.  Neal was aboard Boreas for the ride, and Bonnie drove the route as we made 50 miles up to Southport, NC.  We are staying at the Southport Marina, a nice facility just on the edge of town.  The Admiral and I walked to the Post Office to mail some business papers home and met Jan and Rusty from cbay along the way.  They joined Carrie and I on Once Around later for cocktails.  The Boreas crew and their guests went into town for dinner, but the Admiral and I were tired and decided to lay low on the boat for the evening.
This gondola takes golfers to a tee on the other side of the ICW

The house of the day...
The most "overdone" house we saw.  The Admiral disqualified it.
My First Mate got nostalgic when we passed Barefoot Marina.  It was here 2 years ago we flew in for our first AGLCA Rondezvous. 
My First Mate saw this sign and wondered what gets measured???
Thursday our plan was to take the big boats over to Bald Head Island, only a very short hop.  Again the wind gods had other ideas.  The blustery wind is coming from the southwest, which is the exact wrong direction if you intend to go into the inlet at Bald Head.  Our backup plan was to take the ferry over there, but the ferry boards about two miles from here, and we have not yet found ground transportation to get there.  To be honest, the wind is blowing so hard I am not sure we really will be going anywhere.  The Admiral is blaming the wind for a sinus headache she is suffering and that will not improve if we spend the day out in the elements.
So, we are doing boat chores and catching up on the blog…

Sunday, April 22, 2012

South Carolina Low Country

As we left Charleston Friday morning, we had to dodge a few sailboats.  Evidently there is some kind of big deal race this weekend, and there were lots of sailboats (in our way) on our route out of Charleston.   OK, I used to race hydroplanes (many, many) years ago, and still miss the thrill of doing 90 mph kneeling down in a 13’ boat.  However, it escapes me how can they call what these sailors do racing?  I mean, they top out at the speed of a slow horse and aren’t even all going in the same direction!  And when you are a power boat, you must give them the right of way when they are under sail.  Unbelievable!  Get a motor!
OK, the previous rant was for the benefit of my friend and travelling companion for the past couple of months, Fred, on Boreas.  He is an (almost) reformed sailor.  Boreas is the name of the Greek god of the north wind.  To be honest though, some of the stories he and Julaine tell about sailing in races with 20-30’ waves on Lake Huron sound as adrenaline filled as my old powerboat racing days.  Still…
The 1530' "Megadock" at Charleston City Marina

Homes lining Charleston Harbor
Once through the sailboat maze in Charleston Harbor, we had an enjoyable 40 miles or so run north on the ICW.  It was overcast and a bit chilly, but my First Mate brought a couple of blankets up to the fly bridge so we didn’t have to put on long pants!  I think I can count on two hands how many times I had to resort to wearing long pants in the past year.  Today wasn’t even close.
The ICW home of the day

Kinda makes you wonder
The Admiral and I had a great chat on the cruise today about whether to re-outfit our “west coast boat”, the Testa Dura, when we get home in a few weeks.  It has been for sale this entire year while we’ve been looping.  I think I about had her convinced it was a good idea, when out of the blue our broker called and said all of a sudden he had three different parties interested.  Well, that would be a whole lot cheaper…
We arrived in McClellanville around 1 PM.  It is a little hole in the wall town with shrimp boats docked up the creek from where we are tied up at Leland Oil.  They just put in some new dockage with good power; it is a nice, quiet place to relax and spend a night. 
The "Not-So-Megadock" at McClellanville

One of our neighbors for the night

And another neighbor

McClellanville's Shrimp Fleet
The Admiral and I had been working on some problems with our chart plotter with Garmin over the phone this past few weeks.  We decided today was a good day to try and get to the bottom of the three problems we had been experiencing.  Short version:  After 2 hours of us tag-teaming their technical folks on the phone (OK, mostly the Admiral was on the phone), we think we solved one problem, potentially solved another (should know tomorrow), and the third…well, evidently we have to send one of our units back to them after we complete the loop so they can work on that one.  Oh well…
We left McClellanville Saturday morning for a nice 28 mile leg to Georgetown, SC, arriving there around lunchtime.  One of the Garmin problems seems to have been corrected, but we are still having trouble getting our AIS targets to show on the chart plotter.  This used to work perfectly so we are pretty sure it is a setting somewhere…
Georgetown is a nice little town, but we hit it on a bad weather day.  Other than a trip to Walmart for provisions, during which we got soaked to the skin just running to and from the car we borrowed, we pretty much laid low most of the afternoon.  Every boater in port was taking the opportunity to use the laundry facilities, so we just “chilled” on Once Around.  The storms broke in the early evening, and we walked into town (only 3 or 4 blocks) to Portofino, a pretty fair Italian restaurant.  The six of us (Boreas crew and their guests, Tom and Barb) enjoyed a long and relaxing dinner.
We had only planned to stay one night in Georgetown, then anchor out a night or two between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach.  But with the weather system hitting the east coast pretty hard, we don’t need to be swinging on a hook.  We decided to stay a second night in Georgetown and try and do a little shopping and sightseeing.  Nice idea, bad timing.  On Sunday the historical district on Front Street was dead.  Very few shops were open.  We did wander around town and had lunch at a little cafĂ©, but otherwise it was a bust.  Well, maybe not entirely a bust.  The Admiral did find a little store open that had hand-made dolls which were constructed of old quilts.  Her thoughts turned to our granddaughter…and future granddaughters…and before I knew what was up, we had purchased not one, but two of the dolls.  She has named them “Ethel” and “Pearl”, after her grandmothers.  Grandma Carrie can’t wait to get them home and show them to Lia.
A very quiet (on Sunday) Front St., Georgetown, SC

Bet your supermarket hasn't got this selection of grits!

left to right:  Pearl and Ethel
So all in all, it was a quiet day.  The weather looks to be improving and tomorrow we hope to anchor out at Thoroughfare Creek, a cruise of only 17 miles from Georgetown, then on to Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday.