Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elizabeth City NC to Morehead City NC – The Epiphany of quality time!

A seemingly common character- istic of the migrant sailors we have met along the way is that everybody is striving to get somewhere. The normal conversation starters when encountering a new person, is where are you from and where are you going. Names and boats enter in the conversation at some point, but usually only after the first two points have been sufficiently clarified.

While Pat and I also have specific destinations in mind, I realized this week that we are truly blessed because we don’t have to worry too much about timing. Many of our fellow travelers have a finite amount of time to cruise before they have to return to other obligations, of family or work or both. Understandably they need to “get there” so that they can enjoy their destination for as long as possible, before they revert back to being land people. Pat and I on the other hand can take as long as we like because we are already home!

On Thursday last week we were entering the upper reaches of the Pungo River from the Alligator to Pungo Rivers Canal. The canal is a narrow 20 mile long aquatic bowling alley of a waterway where a gutter ball could mean a call to the tow boat. Straight down the middle is the only marginally safe water for its entire length as even 20 feet from the centerline there are many places with only a covering of water. Even in the middle there are numerous sunken tree stumps so you often feel ghostly tendrils of something touching the bottom of the boat as you pass over. For those of us used to deeper water it is a very eerie sensation!

The forecast was for 10-15 knot SW winds with gusts to 20 and a few showers. Wave heights were forecast to be 1-2 increasing to 2-3 later in the day; all in all it seemed pretty benign. What we came to appreciate however was that in the very shallow waters of the ICW, a 15 knot wind from an unfavorable direction can have a very significant effect on water levels and wave heights. In a matter of 15 minutes the water went from relatively flat to short period teeth rattling 2 footers. Of course as we struggled with the wheel to keep the bow within 30 degrees of our heading the rain started and the buoys disappeared into the murk. Thank goodness for GPS and radar because we were able to feel our way towards the marks and stay in deep enough water to keep our keel off the bottom.

When we arrived at the River Forest Marina in Belhaven about 90 minutes later, we were met by a coterie of wet and shaking sailors who had exited the same canal earlier in the day and had experienced even worse conditions. Since the conditions were forecast to deteriorate further over the next 24 hours, we resigned ourselves to sitting tight for at least one day. The one day ended up being 3 days of fog, high winds, severe thunderstorms and tornados before we felt there was a good enough weather window to make the hops across Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River. At the end of the third day, the cabin fever amongst the migrant community was pretty evident, so by the following morning the exodus from the docks began at first light, and we were told later that by 8:00 AM the marina was deserted.

Progress and movement are synonymous, so when I sat down to write this week’s installment, I was somewhat at a loss as to what to talk about. Since the beginning of the week we had only moved from mile 51 of the ICW at Elizabeth City to mile 205 at Morehead City, which means that we have only traveled a grand total of 154 statute miles this week (~130nm). With the exception of the week we took off in Halifax earlier this autumn, the past week established a new low on the progress meter…. Or so I it seemed at first blush.

As I stewed on how to describe a scant 154 miles of waterway, Pat in her usual calm manner, started to remind me of the people we had met and the adventures that we had experienced over the past 7 days. We have been aground, caught in a blinding squall, saved a guy from drowning and shared a drink or two with new like minded friends as we baby stepped deeper into the south. Pat’s words triggered one of those flashes of the obvious where I realized that we were actually accomplishing in spades what we had set out to do when we embarked on this voyage.

For a large part of my life, my work instilled a discipline to always set and strive towards an objective. Success was defined not only by hitting the mark but also by the degree of ambition or chutzpah that was used to set the objectives in the first place. Personally I could accept that coming close, but failing to achieve an outrageously ambitious objective was better than overachieving on something I felt was ordinary. While the rewards of being “successful” are pretty obvious, there are costs that may not be as easily identified. For me one of the hidden costs has been the subconscious reflex to always set targets, and then obsessing on them, even when setting a target is not really necessary….like how many miles we are covering next week!

I’m discovering that it takes an enormous amount of discipline to focus on the now. Not to be confused with alertness and awareness of our surroundings, which is of paramount importance for safety, focusing on the now is about making the most of the present. Years ago when I was an instructor for the Dale Carnegie courses, I used to coach people on the value of making lemonade out of lemons, and yet somehow I seem to have missed my own lesson. For now I’ll concentrate less on how far we are going, and spend a little more time on reflecting about where we have come from. I’m told by more experienced cruisers that eventually I will pass a threshold of consciousness where time will be measured on a scale of weeks and months rather than days, hours and minutes….maybe that will be my next objective……..

Today we are sitting in Morehead City. The forecast is for something the locals call a Canadian Clipper to blow through here in the next 24 to 36 hours. Apparently it is a nasty dry cold front that originates in Canada and brings high winds and very low temperatures. The forecast low night is for 29 Fahrenheit which coupled with 30 knot winds should produce some interesting conditions. Pat and I are warm, dry and we have all the comforts of home including Oprah at 4:00PMso why should we be in a hurry. We’ll let you know where we end up next week, next week!

Have a great week, I know I will, even if I have to repair the head!

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Anonymous said...

With the channels so narrow - what happens when you run into northbound traffic? Is that traffic non-existant at this time of year?


Pat & Addison said...

I can count the cruising boats we've passed heading the other way on the fingers of one hand. Two sail boats is not a problem, but we've had a few uncomfortable meetings with sport fishing boats. The sport fishes draw very little water so they tend to operate in a straight line which means they can cross the channel randomly. The biggest problem is from semi displacement cruisers who think that a slow pass is 10knots. Its incredible the amount of water a 50 foot cruiser can kick around when they pass you at 10 knots and 50 feet away!!