Monday, January 21, 2013

Chasing my Trail

Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental, NC, has declared Sweet Pea ready to go. That is good news for this cruise, which started last August and paused three months for engine work while winter's clock ticked away as Deaton proved themselves to be completely trustworthy. I must voice a special thanks to Eric Pittman and John Deaton for persisting in making things right.

Not too cold, not too windy, not too much current,
and not having nearly so bad a day as this
vessel near Lockwoods Folly, NC.
The forecast was for more than a week of light SW airs and warm temperatures. This January thaw sounded unlikely, but a gift is a gift. Still, this prudent mariner -- the guide books are always nattering on about how the prudent mariner seeks local advice, mistrusts any instrument, and is prepared for the seas suddenly parting -- lugged along full polar expedition gear, just to be sure. Ten-day weather forecasts, like the heartfelt advice I find myself giving to my offspring, may be completely wrong. Just ask them about that.

So, I left Oriental with high hopes for getting further south before the jet stream twisted back into its more typical wintry curves and pushed a bit of the arctic into the Carolinas. Except for one chill day when I looked like the Michelin man in my down parka and mittens, this mostly came true.

On this dash south to Jekyll Island, there was only one nasty surprise. The engine died suddenly on the approach to the fuel dock at Sea Gate Marina in North Carolina, leading to a bit of excitement as I crash landed into an empty slip. I heard lots of noise as I bulldozed a piling but Sweet Pea escaped without even a scratch on her nose, which makes me glad the slip was conveniently unoccupied. A bit of sleuthing showed the fuel tank's air vent was blocked, so for once I can't blame Mack Boring. Instead I blame whatever insect thought the vent would be a terrific place to settle down for a long nap.

Southport, NC, at one of many stops for fuel.
After that first surprise I looked for long landing spaces.
In the balmy breezes and optimism of last September I had wished for 20 day-sails to take me south in leisurely solitude. Forget day sails. My my new goal was to deliver Sweet Pea and myself to our destination in the least time and with the fewest mishaps. One lucky landing was enough for this trip.

This January's reality was completely different than poking along a smelling the salt marsh. For 11 days I hauled anchor at first light and motored at top speed all day, cheered by sometimes running with the current, rather than chugging relentlessly against the rushing tide. In a way it was like cruising under sail, sometimes you speed along and others you barely move, but with a lot more noise and frequent stops for fuel. 

Along the way I noticed a new line displayed on the chart plotter: a green-black dash. It forecast where I might turn and when I might blithely find myself driving across the chart's marshes and islands. It seemed to be beckoning me forward. After some puzzling I realized that I must have, on a previous cruise, saved the GPS breadcrumbs as a track, which was now displayed. The green-black was advice from my former self to guide me home. At first I thought how fortunate I was to have an experienced hand along. Someone to give an opinion about avoiding life's shoals.  It was the the local knowledge those guidebooks tout. 

The green-black advice was often bewilderingly wrong as was the GPS's chart.
Instead I created my own black and white reality.
However, after watching my previous track unfold over the last ten days, I understand why my offspring roll their eyes when I proffer advice based on experience. I found myself deviating from the saved track for all the right reasons. If in the past I had run this section at high tide I could hardly count on staying afloat in the same place at low tide. In the intervening years shoals had developed or vanished, navigational marks had moved. A diversion from the waterway to a snug anchorage might have made sense at the previous trip's sundown but was only a distraction at today's noon. 

Plus, the GPS condensed the breadcrumbs prior to saving them, eliminating small details like a last-minute swerve to miss a marker. Its electronic memory summarized the previous experience, reinterpreted it and then tried to tell me what to do. I wince at any similarities with my own brood.

In the end I viewed my strident previous opinions about how to proceed as a green-black bruise that might have been based on hard-earned experience, but really didn't apply to me in my situation. In a similar way, I think I'll bite my tongue the next time I'm inclined to give my grandson the benefit of my mind. Instead I'll be more careful to ask him what he thinks I might do to help in his situations.

The new view from Sweet Pea's back porch at Jekyll Island, GA.
Now Sweet Pea has once again become a seaside cottage at one of our favorite places on this planet. It is strange to drop back into the Jekyll Island Harbor community, see dear friends, and feel how quickly the years we were away have faded to memories. 

It was a grand two-year cruise even though it ended in an unexpected sprint for the finish line. By the law of all averages I should have frozen. Instead I marveled at the fortune of being underway and the enticing prospect of someday doing it again, but next time with a shorter call on Oriental.



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