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Adventures of Avalon Part 1

This blog is about the boat voyage my uncle and I took from North Myrtle Beach, SC to the Florida Keys along the Intracoastal Waterway upon his 46-foot yacht, Avalon, from March to June, 2013.


You can find the original blog here: http://theadventuresofavalon.blogspot.com/



Avalon, my home for the next three months

Friday, March 15, 2013

To the marina


I took a plane to Wilmington, NC, today and began a journey south that will, Lord willing, end in The Bahamas in early or mid April. For now my uncle and I are living on his 46-foot yacht, Avalon, in the Barefoot Marina in North Myrtle Beach, SC. In about a week we will begin cruising south along the Intracoastal Waterway that is now right outside the back door of the boat. Learning boat talk has been the biggest challenge for me for now. The difference between the bow and stern, port and starboard are simple enough, but don't ask me what means what beyond that. Uncle Ken is giving me a crash course in boating that is more difficult than most college courses I took. Some of it has sunk in, but experience will be the most trying teacher.



Saturday, March 16, 2013

If men weighed the hazards of the sea...


Some things have happened. While living on this boat, I am also doing all I can to continue coordinating with the team of Rambling Spirit magazine, which is really a story for another time. I am also trying to squeeze in preparations for my trip to Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day in July, but that as well will have to take a back seat for now. For now priority number one is being my uncle's crew on Avalon. Internet connection is, well, low quality and inconvenient -- but it'll have to do. I'm connected through my phone's mobile hotspot and can only open a tab at a time, but that's all I need. Sometimes I think I left at the wrong time, especially as I recall the many loose ends I left back home that I'm now trying to tie up electronically.


Many distractions involving doubt, regret and worry often keep me from focusing on my role on Uncle Ken's boat, but the time to embrace a great opportunity is never just right, and you'll always find yourself making other sacrifices in the process. If you think too much about the sacrifices, the opportunity slips you by. That's what I had in mind when I decided to come aboard Avalon. The boat voyage to The Bahamas will be amazing, and everything else I plan to do at this time of my life will come along at the right time. If you want to live life to the fullest, you just have to make it happen.


"If men weighed the hazards of the sea, none would embark." -   Juana Ines de la Cruz



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning the ropes


Well, the weekend is over and I'm getting used to the routine of living on a boat, so I can now set some time aside to catch up with some other items on my list. Those loose ends, or untied lines, that have been making my head sway, are starting to finally reach a calm on this peaceful waterway. I'm learning a lot about boats, things that will probably prove useful for the rest of my life. But life is still life, and this isn't all a vacation. We work on Avalon a good number of hours each day as we prepare her for our voyage to The Bahamas. In the meantime this marina in North Myrtle Beach is her safe haven, as it is mine. I just hope I don't get too comfortable as we will be leaving in no more than two weeks.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Hakuna matada


I'm well into my first week on Avalon, and I've learned how to do some simple tasks like fill up the fresh water tanks, lower the anchor, drop lines off the boat, and work the breaker -- which we use quite often to conserve energy. Uncle Ken and I went food shopping in the beginning of the week, and we're spending more time fixing things and checking things on the boat, and less time on the beach and in the resort towns around us like land lovers do. (Who am I kidding, I still am one!)

I'm still learning things about life on a boat, and I now see that there is more than a lifetime of things to learn. I can only accumulate so much of what my uncle teaches me. I never knew that stepping on a boat is like stepping into a foreign country, with a foreign language, laws and all. Getting used to a new lifestyle can take some time. Everything down here is how I'd hoped it would be. I just don't have my home conveniences, but that's what wanted: a change in lifestyle. In this setting I refuse to worry. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, two months on the ocean will give me a broader perspective of things, and make all my worries go away for good.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Can't get too comfortable


Well, the best way to learn is through experience and immersion. Today was quite a productive day on the boat in that regard. We fixed and filled the hydraulic pump and mounted the water pump in a tight crevice down in the engine room, a.k.a. the dungeon. Then we continued cleaning the transom door that used to be filled with water due to a crack in the sealant. We also cleaned up the fly bridge, and tied lines around the boat to get ready for departure. If all goes as planned, on Friday we'll be taking the boat to Grande Dunes about five miles down the waterway just as a test run.


Little by little I'm getting a feel for things, and Uncle Ken has just enough work for us to do each day. I'm starting to like this lifestyle. Of course, my uncle has also thrown in quite a few perks and bonuses here and there. Today he let me drive his BMW, and we ate lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. I write this entry at night with great contentment and a reasonable, healthy weariness. I have to remind myself not to get too comfortable because the hazards of the sea still await us. The journey south will come with its own charms, but life won't be as easy based on what I've heard.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Starting to free the imagination again



How does one begin writing about a new life? I know I won't be living on this boat forever, and I even have to admit that much of the baggage from my old life has been carried over into this one. But that's besides the point. I sense things about my very being, or at least my perception of such things, beginning to change.


Today was another productive day. We fixed the kitchen table, which Uncle Ken called "the most dangerous thing on this boat" since it was wobbling like crazy, then we sealed up the transom door, and we made sure everything worked well with the anchor. We also saw Oz, the Great and Powerful. Talk about stories that awaken the imagination. To go into all of the ways that movie inspired me would take me too far away from the subject of this blog, so let's just say it added to the fresh perspective on life that this trip is giving me. That's really all I have today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

First outing a success


Uncle Ken said he's been waiting for this day for four months. We finally got the boat in good enough condition to take her out on a test run. Not that it wasn't in sufficient condition all along. It's just as most experienced captains know; a boat is hardly ever in perfect shape, and if you putter around making sure everything is just right just because you have the time (or because you're looking for an excuse not to take her out), you'll find yourself never venturing out of the harbor.


So I spent the morning getting one last thing out of the way --  sending out my freelance writing voucher for the month -- and after that my uncle and I prepared Avalon for her longest trip in over 20 years, down to Grande Dunes -- a wealthy development surrounded by a high class golf course. Want to know how wealthy the people who live there are? They have their own bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway:



Boating past this development, at first I felt like I was somewhere between the Southwest and Arabia. Well, geographically, I guess you can say I was, but the South has little if any connection to Southwestern or Arabian architecture; and that's what baffled me about these houses. They seemed to meld the two styles seamlessly. The smooth facades, elaborate outdoor staircases and open plazas resembled the mosque-like structures of Arabia; and the adobe colors, especially the red tile roofs, resembled Southwest homes. You can even say the arches around the buildings suggested some Roman villa influence.


But then I noticed the authentic southern plantation architecture of the homes: long porches, a plethora of flora, balconies, an abundance of windows. And all of this was just from observing the back of the homes, the view from the waterway. It was an eclectic style for sure, but the homes were anchored in a very subtle Southern influence. It was a very unique presentation displayed on this northern edge of the subtropics.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Enjoying life at our hailing port


The weekend has been rainy or cloudy, but we still decided to make the best of it. There's a time to work, a time to play, and a time to just relax. Choppy waters and rain aren't the best conditions for boating, but it's all just fine if your boat has a TV, because then you could just watch the Planet Earth BBC documentary on Blue-ray. Our work the past few rainy days has consisted mainly of plotting our course through South Carolina and Georgia with the Intracoastal Waterway guidebook and Active Captain, a free website that provides a NOAA map for boaters. 


The Intracoastal Waterway (above) runs from the Chesapeake Bay all the way down the East Coast, then up the west coast of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. We will be taking it down to Miami, and from there we'll shoot off to The Bahamas.



Alabama Theater, right down the road at Barefoot Landing, is below. It has variety shows, plays and good wholesome family entertainment. We won't be going there, but it's still cool to have nearby.



Below is the House of Blues. It's across the parking lot from Alabama Theater, and looks like an abandoned warehouse from far away, but apparently it's a hub for lovers of the Blues. The building was featured in the movie The Blues Brothers. About a week ago, the line to get in twisted around the entire building.



So the next week in these parts will be pleasant, as we prepare for departure.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Plotting our route


Stay on the Intracoastal Waterway sounds like easy enough direction. That is until you take a look at the nautical charts of this waterway, which meanders through shallow marshes, crosses massive sounds and has rock piles and shoals all along its banks.


On the other hand, the ICW is the most popular way to cruise up and down the East Coast.  So how hard could it be? Well, Uncle Ken and I say better safe than sorry. The most difficult part of plotting our route is the fact that every guide we use seems to offer different information, and only after careful study do we notice how they all work in sync. Dozier's Waterway Guide, Open CPN, and Active Captain are the three guides we're using now, pre-departure. Once we're ready to leave we'll also use our GPS, sonar, radar, and Spot system, which allows people to track our journey via email.


But for now all we have are charts and written descriptions of our route, which could paint the wrong picture if you're not careful. After debating whether we should take Avalon out for another test run, we decided the winds, gusting over 35 mph, were too strong today. So we drove down to Georgetown, SC instead to get a real-life visual of our first stop. It was about an hour drive, and about 50 nautical miles on the ICW. The small town has a narrow but manageable inlet off the Sampit River, which is very wide. Driving over the river I felt a sense of motivation thinking that we'll be navigating that majestic body of water in just a few days.


Sampit River

From Georgetown, our next stop would be Charleston, SC, a distance of about 56 miles taking the inside route of the ICW. From Charleston we'd follow the Stono River to the Wadmalaw River, and from there we'll pick up the Coosaw River, and eventually end up in Beufort, SC, which may be our anchorage on our third day out.

These details may not mean much to you, but sharing them with you is like sharing a revelation because it took Uncle Ken and I hours to find our way through the ICW maze on the charts we're following. 


A picture of the nautical chart of Charleston, SC. Photo courtesy of www.nauticalcharts.com

We're still searching for a good anchorage for our fourth day. Maybe Brunswick, GA, 130 miles? We'll keep you posted. Much of it depends on the weather. If it's fair, we could be going out on the ocean for the entire length of Georgia. Yeah buddy! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another successful test run


We took the boat out for about three hours today, and are just about ready to head south. The winds were about 10 to 15 mph, not too strong to go out and just strong enough to give me some experience steering in the wind. We also practiced turning the boat around and got familiar with her response time. The weather was cold, in the 40s, and on top of the wind the three hour test run was quite exhausting. It's been unseasonably cold down here since the day I got here. They're saying the warm weather won't come until April. But that's okay because we'll be far south of here by then.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Almost ready


Finding a place to anchor after Beufort, SC could really be difficult. We were looking at anchoring off of Thunderbolt, about 43 miles from Beufort, but we'd like to go further than 43 miles that day. We could be wasting a good amount of daylight if we stop in Thunderbolt, GA. But the next port city, Brunswick, GA, is 130 miles from Beufort, which is definitely too far to go in one day.


Our only other option is to anchor somewhere in the Georgia marshes between Thunderbolt and Brunswick. Uncle Ken and I spent a few more hours looking for a good anchorage between those two points, found a few that may be good and then just concluded the best way to find out is to see what the spots are like when we get there. And that was the end of that. We were going to go out for another test run today, but it was once again too windy, with wind gusts up to 21 mph. So we did some errands, and then went to a Bass Pro Shop to find line for our fishing rods, and get some pointers from the experienced fishermen there. We'll be fishing for wahoo and mahi mahi.


You may be thinking, when will you be leaving already? Well, preparing for such a long voyage takes some time. But we will definitely be leaving some time next week. Only last-minute provisions are left.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Making last provisions


So our designated day of departure is Tuesday, April 2. If the weather is fair, we could be traveling on the ocean all the way from Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL. We're now making final provisions; we went big-time grocery shopping today and tomorrow we'll fill up the fuel tanks. Today was an errand day, and it had to be, but it's a bit of a shame because the weather's so beautiful, it would have been the perfect day to take the boat out. But now we're stocked and just about ready to go.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Boat life


We filled up the four fuel tanks today and then worked on the engine a little. Everything needs to be in tip top condition before leaving. Things have been pushed back a little, but we should still be leaving some time next week.


Staying on a boat doesn't mean vacation. I certainly have had my time to relax, and will have more time to do so once we reach The Bahamas, but this new adventure has come with its share of work.


On the other hand, it's different kind of work. It doesn't involve sitting at a computer all day writing mundane local news stories. Working in the engine room, learning how to steer the yacht, fixing things here and there on the boat, making last minute provisions before we leave, these are all a welcomed change in lifestyle.


So it seems like whenever we set a date of departure we just tend to jinx things. From now on we'll just play it by ear. When we do leave though, I'm now hearing that we'll be riding on the ocean for the majority of the route, at least to Jacksonville, if the weather is good enough. I've been studying the ICW routes for weeks now, only to find out that that route is just the backup plan. But then again, considering how the weather has been, rainy and windy, there's at least a 50 percent chance that we'll be taking the waterway most of the way down to Florida. Also note that if we do take the ocean route we'll be cruising through the night since apparently there's no place to anchor in the ocean. Yeah buddy! Gitterdone, skipper!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wouldn't mind staying, but gotta get going


The Exuma Cays are perhaps the most isolated islands in The Bahamas, and that's our final destination. The water between the islands is only a few fathoms deep at their deepest, and filled with tropical fish. Thinking about the place makes the wait worthwhile.


Yes, we're getting anxious to leave already, especially with all the unseasonably cool weather, wind and rain here in SC, but taking a boat down the coast isn't the same as flying or driving down it. It's much more involved. While living on the boat, every now and then I get a little cabin fever and decide to take a walk. The beach and resorts are starting to fill up with spring break vacationers from the Northeast, and many Southerners are taking their weekend trips here. I can tell just by their southern drawl that they're from around here. I think I'm starting to acquire bits of the dialect.


Lemey tell ya su'en. Muddy river water and sweet sweet tea is all the good living I need.


I've always loved country music, and down here it's like I'm right in the middle of that culture. As I was walking past the House of Blues this evening, a cover band singing Carrie Underwood reminded me of that reality. Yeah, I know, she's kind of borderline pop, but still. You know what I mean. So shut yow mouth, y'all. I can get used to this, even though we are leaving the area soon. Be sure of it. I'd love to stay here, but I also want to boat down the coast to The Bahamas.Oh well, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Pardon the cliche.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What I love about the South


Some people said they want pictures of where we've been, but we haven't left port yet, so all I can give are pictures of Barefoot Marina and the area around it. 


Thus, here's a picture of Barefoot Golf Course and some homes along the Intracostal Waterway. Barefoot Golf Course has a scenic walk along the waterway surrounded by Southern Pine forests, wide open vistas and posh homes and condos.


Like I said in an earlier post, I'm just enjoying North Myrtle Beach for the time being. Easter Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea was packed with vacationers and "C and E" Catholics, but that only made it a more lively experience. Everyone was friendly and in a singing mood. I don't know if it's just because I'm here during a holiday season, or if people around here, including the vacationers, are always just goodhearted. It is a resort town, and you're not going to be in a bad mood if you're in a place with so much always going on. In the Northeast, it seems like people are always just angry. Cursing is almost a colloquial part of the NJ dialect. Here it definitely is not that way. Southerners are almost always worry-free and offering a smile. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true. You'd have to live in the Northeast all your life and never really come down to the South to really notice it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dolphins on the waterway


The question "When are you leaving?" can be taken the wrong way. It's not like the person asking wants you to leave. They're usually just excited about the adventure you're about to embark on ... right?


Captain Ken and I have received the question so many times that we're beginning to wonder why people are so curious. Well, for the record, every time we even entertain the thought of leaving port, something new pops up that causes a delay. It's never anything alarming. We just want to make sure the boat is in the best condition possible before heading out, because you never know what could happen on the long, isolated parts of the waterway or in the open ocean.


Something interesting happened in the marina today. For the first time that anyone we talked to knows about, two dolphins came into the waterway right by the marina, right outside our boat actually.


So life in the marina has its comforts and a few surprises every now and then. When we embark the comforts will be fewer for quite a while, but I'm sure there will be many more surprises. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Weather and other determining factors


We've heard from several people who've lived here a while that this has been the coldest spring for North Myrtle Beach for as long as they can remember. That's not a reason to complain though because I'm from New Jersey, and the weather is still better than there.


We're watching the weather each day because our route depends on it. If it's clear and calm, we'll go down the coast via the ocean route. If the weather is at all unstable though, we'll take the Intracoastal Waterway. The word is that The Bahamas is having unseasonably cold and windy weather too. But it can only stay that way for so long, right? Let's hope so. The last thing we'd want is to get there to find out that Bimini Harbor, our designated arrival point in The Bahamas, is too windy to get into.


So another day of working around the boat and watching cormorants dive for fish on the waterway is nothing to complain about. Aside from that, we also met a few relatives, Don and Jan, for lunch today at Wild Wings Cafe. Seeing them was an encounter with Southern hospitality and also some down-to-earth familiarity, probably because Jan is also from New Jersey. In fact, not too surprisingly, I'm probably seeing more New Jersey license plates here than any other license plate except SC. It's like New Jerseyans are going viral.


As we continue to get ready for departure, I'm finding it more and more difficult to find interesting things to blog about. Both Captain Ken and I expected to be half way down the coast by now. So if you're wondering when we're going to leave already, we feel your frustration. A common belief for boaters is that a boat is never really in good enough condition to leave for a long voyage, and when the captain finally does decide to leave port it's only because he's let go of his anxiety for the things he didn't get to take care of yet. We've about reached that point. Another successful day fixing little things around the boat is proof of that.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Getting used to maritime culture


Slowly but surely I'm becoming more familiar with the ways of the sea, maritime culture and the part that culture plays in the story of all of us. Much of this is because I have a living encyclopedia for an uncle in Captain Ken. In our cold and windy Barefoot Marina, he's told me stories made at sea -- some he was a part of, others that have made history. Either way, slowly those stories are becoming a new part of me.


Perhaps many already know the influence the imperial British Navy has had on a variety of popular expressions of our day. For example, being a part of the naval fleet for an empire upon which the sun never set, British sailors had it tough and were out at sea for months on end. Oftentimes they were enlisted against their will, especially when the fleets were short of crewmen. The British Navy would enlist young men and force them into the robust life of a sailor, but did promise to give them "three square meals a day", which referred to the table on which they ate, which had horizontal and vertical dividers that formed squares for each table setting to keep plates from sliding off the table when the boat was riding on the water. The table I write on within Captain Ken's yacht has a similar lip all along the edges that serve the same purpose.


Many of the British sailors had wives that they had to leave behind when the navy took them in. The ships went from port to port, but the sailors were carefully watched whenever their ships came to dock because many of the sailors were looking to escape at any chance they got. When they did come back to port, they couldn't be gone for long, and if the port they were at was their hometown they couldn't leave the ship at all. Many sailors made the argument that they just want to see their wives, which the navy thought was reasonable. So married sailors were allowed to invite their wives on the ship when docked at their home port. But conjugal visits were not allowed in the common quarters for sailors. So when a sailor and wife had their conjugal visit on the ship they'd stay on the gun deck between two cannons and cover the area over with a blanket. Thus, the child they'd have nine months later would be called a "son of a gun".


Every morning the sailors had to get up bright and early, and before they could even have the first of their three square meals, they had to shine the decks. The commander of the ship would thus wake up his crew shouting, "Rise and shine".


Nowadays, living on a boat is considered a luxury. My, how times have changed! I've spent a little under three weeks learning about the worry-free, hospitable lifestyle of the yachtees who live in the marina with us. Every weekend they invite their friends out to the boat, play some music and drink some wine on Saturday night, and then cook up some eggs and bacon on the dock on Sunday morning. We just received three bottles of wine from our neighbor this evening, just as a friendly gesture! After another day of working on the boat,  it was a very welcomed gift. Keep living well, yachtsmen, keep living well.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bad weather and tourists don't bother me


More and more boaters are heading back north after their winter journeys southward down the ICW, and in the meantime we're still experiencing winter-like weather for South Carolina here at Barefoot Marina. The past few days have been exceptionally cold, rainy and windy, not good conditions for boating, but a few venturous captains chose to brave the choppy waters anyway. Others chose to tie up at the nearest marina and wait out the stormy weather.


Today, while it was unseasonably cold, in the 40s, it was rather calm and dry -- so all the boaters who waited the storms out were found coming back up the waterway. The Barefoot Landing Bridge right upstream from us opened at least five times today already, which is probably the most times since I've been here. Watching the boats go by has become a hobby of ours, an occasion to take a short break from whatever work we're doing. Each boat is unique and tells its own story.


And they're not all yachtsmen and sports boaters. Occasionally we see a tug boat go by, or a commercial fisherman. It's always neat to see their hailing port painted on their stern; unlike the standard license plate it's always painted with aesthetic character. The commercial fishing boats and tug boats are always a welcomed sight from our standpoint, not only because of the rarity but also because they know how to slow down and don't rock our boat by speeding through the no wake zone around us.


Spring breakers are plenty around here at this time too. When Captain Ken first came here a few months ago he said he didn't see the need for a three lane highway for North Kings Highway. Now whenever we drive somewhere there's traffic at every stop light. But who can blame them for coming here for their vacation? There are attractions at just about every corner. That's just fine though. Our marina is still just like a peaceful neighborhood with a river in the back yard, so why do I care how many tourists come here? After all, I am one too.

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