Goodbye NWC, Hello Gottschalk!

The time had come to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people at Northwest Creek Marina in New Bern. As much as we would have liked to stay there permanently, the daily 2 ½ hr round trip commute to Camp Lejeune for Conor just wasn’t sustainable. We had to wait until the middle of September for many reasons, mostly because Conor had so many field ops this summer that we didn’t have enough time to make the three day trip. The good news was that because we waited, Conor’s parents were able to fly out from Washington state and help us make the journey!

DAY 1:

We left our marina around 8am on Saturday, Sept 16. The bimini and headsail were back up (thanks for the scare, Hurricane Irma), the water and diesel tanks were filled, our fridge was stocked, and our course was plotted. We were as ready as we were ever going to be! Not going to lie, I was pretty nervous. This was our first big trip with a destination, not just going out to sail around the Neuse River in familiar territory.

We said our goodbyes and cast off, heading south to Oriental. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, with 8-10 knots of wind and not a cloud in sight. The trip was going to take around five hours, and we just had to get to our transient slip for the night before five, so we put up the sails and enjoyed the day. This was my in-laws’ first time on a sailboat, and I think they caught the bug 🙂

The wind and chop started picking up around noon, so we pulled in the sails and motored the rest of the way to our spot. It was an adorable little marina called Whittaker point, the dockhouse is below:

Whittaker

As you all know, docking completely stresses me out, but with four people instead of two, it made a world of difference! The transient slip ended up being $1.50 per foot, so around $60 for us to stay the night (with power hookup). Like staying in a hotel, only you get to sleep in your own bed!

DAY 2:

This was our longest travel day, about nine hours. We needed to motor along the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) for over 30 NM and make it to Swansboro by 5pm. This was our first time on the ICW, and although we prefer sailing to motoring, it was an awesome way to see the Carolina coastline. And let me say, traveling by boat for 9 hours is wayyyyy different than traveling by car. The time flies when there is so much to see! At one point we were surrounded by a pod of at least twenty dolphins enjoying their morning feed, even little baby ones! I caught this cute moment of my in-laws that morning:

inlaws

The channel markers were super easy to follow, though it did get a little tricky around Morehead City. There was a ton of boat traffic and giant shipyards we had to navigate around. The channel also gets pretty narrow in some spots, and you have to always have an eye on your depth meter and the nav system. We didn’t run into any problems until we were in sight of Casper’s Marina, the dock we were staying at for the night. It finally happened: we ran aground. Whoops! There is a saying among boaters that there are two types of people: sailors who have run aground, and sailors who lie about having run aground. It is an inevitable consequence of boating, and I, for one, will openly admit to it!

In our case, there was an unmarked shoal closer to the ICW channel markers than we knew about. As we were heading in, we got a radio call from Casper’s Marina telling us about it, but by then it was too late! We got stuck. BUT my amazing husband, the ‘boat whisperer’ got us free somehow with a combination of reversing and wiggling. Although it was a stressful five minutes, it is just one more boating experience we can check off the list.

DAY 3

The last day dawned early, because we needed to enter New River before the tide dipped too low. We left Casper’s at 6:30 am as the sun was coming up. Today was the day we would see our new home!

Thanks to our friend/previous owner of the boat, Bob, we knew that there were a few tricky spots to navigate through as we left the ICW and motored up New River.

Tricky spot 1: “You WILL run out of water if you don’t enter the intersection of New River and the ICW at high tide.” Yep, even though we made it to the junction with plenty of time to spare, I still nervously watched the meter drop to as little as .5 ft of water underneath our keel at one point! But we didn’t run aground, yay!

Tricky spot 2: Stone’s Bay: Just after going under the Snead’s Ferry Bridge, there is a giant shoal you have to go alllll the way around before going north. Know what else doesn’t help? 20-25 knot winds and massive chop on the water. It is really no wonder why we were the only boat out that day.

Surprise tricky spot: This one couldn’t have been planned for. The Onslow bridge decided to malfunction just as we got to it, and it wouldn’t open. Do you know how hard it is to try to keep a boat in one place while you wait? The channel was narrow, the current was pulling the boat forward, and the wind was NOT our friend. Again, Conor the hero did an AMAZING job as we waited an extra half an hour for the problem to be fixed and the bridge to open. I’m seriously in awe of his captain skills, and his calm under pressure. I need to practice my steering a bit more to get on his level.

After all of this, the feeling of arriving at Gottschalk Marina was indescribable. I felt SO proud of us and happy we made it in one piece. It is crazy to think that back in June we hardly had any idea what we were doing when we bought the boat. Now, we’ve completed a multi-day journey all on our own! The best thing we ever did was jump right into this with both feet, and be okay with being outside of our comfort zones. There is really no better teacher than experience.

And as we navigate this great adventure, we will also be adding another crew member soon 🙂

announcement

 

Love,

Taylor and Conor

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Wake Up and SAIL!

After waiting around for what seemed like forever, we FINALLY had a break in the weather on Thursday. And you know what that meant, right? WE WENT SAILING!

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Scout was so excited!

Words cannot describe how awesome it was to wake up with the sun shining and a perfect 5-8 mph breeze. Even more incredible was the fact that within 30 minutes, we were off the dock. We’ve gotten pretty quick at stowing stuff away that might turn into a flying projectile while we are underway. From waking up to out on the water in under an hour—definitely a perk of living on our boat.

We didn’t have a destination in mind, we just wanted to get out and see if we remembered everything from our lessons with Mark a few weeks ago. We were pleased to discover that it felt like no time had passed. I’m really glad we waited for a good weather window, though, because we were able to feel very safe and in control of our vessel the whole time. It did wonders for our confidence. Conor does better at the helm than I do (still over-correcting when I steer) but I enjoy trimming the sails and running the lines more anyway. Not the typical setup for a husband/wife team, but we make it work, and I think we are settling into a good rhythm together.

We did some upwind and downwind sailing on the Neuse River for most of the day, and headed back to the marina a little after 3pm. After being so relaxed for most of the day, it was time for the part I dreaded—docking. It is one thing to dock when a professional is standing over your shoulder giving you directions, but quite another when you’re trying it on your own. We have one of the trickiest slips in the marina, and you have to do a 3 point turn while surrounded by boats on all sides. To top it off, the wind is always pushing us the opposite way that we want to go. Long story short, we ended up doing a rather hair-raising 280 degree turn by mistake, but thank god we didn’t hit anything. We went back in our slip just fine with a little more experience under our belts and the knowledge of what not to do next time. The first one was always going to be the worst one, but we had to get it over with, like ripping off a bandaid.

But getting out on the water felt so good, and we can’t wait to do it again. It felt like freedom. Everything we needed was right there with us, and the water let us go in any direction. I’m hoping we can escape again in the next couple of days, but the forecast is looking pretty poopy. Might have to be patient for a little while longer. In the meantime, we’ve been super busy with boat projects while Conor has been on leave, including putting up our lifeline net around the boat! I’ll let you know how that’s going on my next post.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

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Um, isn’t it supposed to be summer?

Bareboat Cruisers

Guys, 8 weeks have already passed since we left California! We packed so much into those two months that they’ve gone by in a blink. I remember getting on our boat for the survey and sea trial, feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared as I looked at control panels, VHF radios, navigation equipment, and most of all the sheer amount of lines running back to the cockpit needed to actually sail.

Being pushed so far outside of our comfort zone on a constant basis has been exhausting; none so much as during our back-to-back, crash-course sailing lessons. SO much information was thrown at us as we got certified as Bareboat Cruisers. I just had to keep reminding myself that it was like riding a bike—scary and tricky at first, but you only have to go through the learning curve once. If you can push through, you’ll have the skill for life, and nothing can take it away from you. I’m dreaming of the day when sailing becomes effortless for us, but that will only come with practice. Right now, it is hard remembering all the little things, and we are stretched taut mentally and physically until we dock again. At least living on the boat has started to become more automatic as we settle in. It happened so gradually that it took a while to realize that I’d stopped bumping my head on things, or needing to ‘experiment’ with the control panel switches to turn the right lights on.

But here is how our ASA 104 class went: much more smoothly than our first! Aka our engine worked perfectly and I’m not deep cleaning the boat this week. What did we go over this past weekend?

  • Cruise planning
  • Boat systems (diesel engine, batteries, GPS, etc)
  • Routine maintenance
  • Emergencies
  • VHF radio
  • Docking and anchoring under power
  • Advanced sail trim
  • Sailing/reefing under difficult conditions
  • Dinghy operation
  • Navigation and weather
  • Chart plotting

That’s just what I can think of off the top of my head right now. WHEW! Now that it’s over, I am so so happy that we did it. It probably would have taken us a year to ‘baby step’ our way on our own to get to the level that our instructor pushed us to in just 4 days. Now we need to practice as much as we can and as often as we can to get our confidence up! (But to be honest, we’ll probably take it easy this weekend and catch our breath for the first time since May 1)

Love,

Taylor and Conor

104

Our First Sailing Weekend

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog post all week, but circumstances from our 2nd day on the water have had me scrambling to get life back in order! Here’s what happened.

On Saturday, we had our first sail on At Last with our ASA private instructor Mark Fields. It was mostly review for us, almost identical to the US Sailing weekend class we took in San Diego two years ago. We had to repeat 101 with ASA because unfortunately US Sailing qualifications don’t transfer between programs! Plus, our US Sailing class had been on a 22 ft keelboat, and this time our 101 class was on a 38 ft sailboat, so it was good to go back to basics. We had very light winds as we went over parts of the boat, rules of the road, and sailing physics. Conor was at the helm while I worked the sails, and I think the biggest victory was when he docked us back into our slip perfectly! Our 100 question multiple choice test at the end was a breeze, and I think our first lesson did a lot to get our confidence up.

Sunday: This lesson was to get our 103 certification (Coastal Cruising) and the day started off great. I was at the helm while Conor worked the sails, and we went from almost 0 wind to over 25 knots! Mark talked us through everything and helped us remain in control of our boat. It went from terrifying to a roller coaster kind of fun as the boat heeled over and cut through the waves. The exhilaration crashed through me while I white-knuckled the wheel, and my only thought when the winds died back down was, I can’t wait to do that again.

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The sailing part of the day ended on such a high note, but then we turned the engine on to motor back to the marina. I felt it sputter and whine, and then diesel smoke started pouring out of the companionway and up into the cockpit. I’m proud to say that no one panicked. I killed the engine and then Mark went below to try and figure out what went wrong. The manifold on our engine had snapped, a malfunction that no one could have predicted (even a very experienced sailor), so exhaust filled our aft cabin instead of mixing with the intake water and exiting out the back of the boat. We were dead in the water.

Luckily, we had seen Mark’s friend out sailing a few hours before, so he radioed Chuck and asked for a tow. I was so thankful that our first ’emergency’ on the boat was accompanied by an instructor, so we got to see how to handle everything in a calm and safe manner. We got 103 certified, and learned how to get our boat towed as a bonus!

Back at the fuel dock reality hit. The boat would be unlivable for the next two days while the fumes aired out, it needed to be deep cleaned, our engine didn’t work, and we had no power hookups (no A/C!). Conor had to go back to Virginia that night because he had a Monday morning class, so Scout and I checked into a hotel. The next morning, I rolled up my sleeves (figuratively—it was 90 degrees, of course I was in a tank top) and got to work.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were filled with phone calls, cleaning, scheduling, and repairs. Our mechanic is coming in about 30 min with the replaced engine parts to get us back up and running in time for our 104 Bareboat class with Mark this weekend. The best part of this disaster was seeing firsthand how caring and helpful other boaters are. I had so many offers to stay aboard other boats, people checking in on me hourly while At Last was stuck at the fuel dock, offers of snacks and cold drinks, and advice or a sympathetic ear. My gratitude was met with a chuckle and, “We’ve all been there.” I guess I’ll just have to pay it forward.

Love,

Taylor and Conor