Monthly Archives: December 2016

“Islands in a common sea” Anne Morrow Lindberg

“No man is an island,” John Donne famously pronounced. Not so, Lindberg respectfully disagreed (perhaps less famously). Lindberg believed that each of our isolation, as is the case with an island, is real. She, however, tempered her view by acknowledging the common elements that connect us. After more than three years of exploring islands and seas, real and metaphorical, we humbly favor Lindberg’s appraisal.

At times our physical isolation and separation from friends, family, and home raise questions about our connections. What remains of friendships left behind? Where is our home? To whom and what are we connected and by what ties?  In the end, are these connections even real?

At other times, however, our physical isolation concentrates our connectedness. Out of sight of land, under a full moon with dolphins riding our bow and coming astern to hear our voices, we feel magnificently connected, far beyond ourselves, hardly alone.

Three recent visits away from Elizabeth Jean remind us of the many things to which we are connected.

Over Thanksgiving weekend we joined Beth, Jean and Max (Jean’s fiance) at Max’s parents, Mary and Michael in Winston-Salem.  There we stitched together the first pieces of our extended family’s memory quilt.

In early December, we returned to our Northwest home and time with old and dear friends.  Within their embrace, we darned ourselves back into each other’s lives, leaving strong fabric where holes may have begun.

The window between Christmas and the New Year found us in Coronado (from where we departed the United States three years ago) celebrating the life of our good friends’ son tragically taken by the Oakland warehouse fire.  Amidst the grief have been countless examples of community’s healing touches and Nick’s strong and continued presence.  Most touching are his youthful friends’ commitments to bind Nick to their hearts, thoughts and deeds.

Perhaps our isolation is real; so too, most gratefully, are our connections.


The Bahamas: islands in their common sea.

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Night passage: A Haikku

Lung-filling gasps,

Near Elizabeth Jean’s hull.

Dolphin escort south.

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“To every season turn” Ecclesiastes 3

The winter solstice found Elizabeth Jean shaking loose her mooring lines and heading into the Atlantic Ocean.  A Polar Vortex had dominated North America during our annual Seattle visit.  Our friends’ warm welcome home more than made up for the cold weather, although Eric slept with his watch cap on the first few nights in the Northwest.  Hilton Head was balmy as we stepped off our return flight, but the wind soon switched to from the north and the cold prodded us to push south.  For two nights we motored.  The waning moon, rising after midnight, helped brighten our late night watches.  By noon on December 23, we were off Fort Pierce Inlet in Central Florida and shedding layers quickly.  We are stowing those layers and once again applying sunscreen.  We wish you all love and peace this season.

polar-vortex1This graphic illustrates the Polar vortex’s frigid effect in mid-December.  For more on this weather phenomenon see:

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“[T]he old dance of days in the Carolina marshes” Pat Conroy

We have passed many of our late fall days in, or moving to and from one Carolina marsh to another.  Following our escape from the Alligator River sand bar, we motored for two more days through North Carolina’s marshes towards Beaufort/Morehead City Inlet and the sea.  Drakka bid us farewell outside of Oriental, a small town on the ICW, where they were going for the holidays.  Dolphins welcomed Gypsy Soul and Elizabeth Jean to the open seas as we moved south no longer tied to our depth sounder or the magenta line.  Gypsy Soul said goodbye a short while later and headed in to Southport, North Carolina.  Dolphins once again joined Elizabeth Jean for our journey to Charleston’s marshes and then again as Elizabeth Jean slowly sailed through the night to Skull Creek Marina, the only marina in Hilton Head operating after Hurricane Matthew’s thrashing.


North of Beaufort on the map, Drakka pulled in for holidays with family.  We left Gypsy Soul as they headed in at Southport (just south of Wilmington on the map).  After a short stop in Charleston, Elizabeth Jean eased on down the road to Hilton Head near the South Carolina-Georgia border.


      After enjoying Carolina’s marshland, we are ready to depart for Florida at slack tide tomorrow.

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“Pan-pan, pan-pan:” Paying it forward on the ICW Part III

Pan-pan’s etymology is from the French for “break down.”  Three calls of pan-pan over the radio signify there is an urgency on board but, for the time being, there is no immediate danger to life or to the vessel.

Over the past three years we have heard numerous pan-pans.  In at least one case, we were in the vicinity and responded to such a call.  Now, as we completed our crossing of Albemarle Sound and sought to enter the Alligator River, Eulalie was on the radio calmly and firmly repeating “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan.  This is the Sailing Vessel Elizabeth Jean.”

In our newly acquired vocabulary, our situation had “escalated” and was quickly becoming “nautical.”


We were not alone.  Just as we were nearing the navigational buoys around the Alligator, the wind frenzied.  A cluster of vessels around the buoys signalled trouble.  Summer Wind, a forty foot ketch, was aground and Journey, a beefy motor yacht, was asking us to hang back as the latter pulled the former free.  The shoal then found and embraced Journey’s keel.  We sought to pass around her as our knot meter showed 25 knots of wind, the rain slashed and the shallow water roiled.

Now we were also aground, the waves making Elizabeth Jean with her six foot keel a hobby horse on the sand five feet below the waves.   Drakka and Gypsy Soul arrived; we advised them to keep moving.  They passed safely.

A power boat we will call Angel wrested Journey free after snapping one line in the attempt.  As she prepared to depart, Journey called over the radio and asked if we wanted her to try a rescue.  There was just one catch: we had to get our line to her as she was not going to risk another grounding.

Fortunately, our dinghy Schooner was in the water off our stern rather than lashed on our pitching deck.  The outboard was stowed, however, and Eric would again be rowing.  After testing his ability to make way, Eric rowed towards Journey.  Eulalie bent on another line each time Eric reached a line’s limit.

After Schooner had covered more than a half-a-football field of distance, Journey caught our tossed line.  The knots and line held as Journey muscled us off the bar.

Our timing couldn’t have been better, the wind pitched to 40 knots and the rain went horizontal.  Faithful Perkins responded to Eulalie’s throttle as we raced down the Alligator River.

“Elizabeth Jean, Elizabeth Jean” our radio called out.  Gypsy Soul was hailing us to report an anchorage ahead.

As suddenly as it had broken loose, hell subsided.  We nosed into the anchorage.  Almost as if nothing had happened, we rowed over to Gypsy Soul for pumpkin spice cookies with her and Drakka‘s crews.  ICW groundings and rescues had come full circle.


The calm after the storm; anchored on the Alligator River.

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Follow the magenta line: Paying it forward in the ICW Part II

As the yellow brick road is to Oz, the magenta line is to the ICW.  To reach one’s destination, one follows it.  While flying monkeys don’t swarm when a vessel strays too far from the line, we already knew the bottom can reach up quickly and grab the inattentive.  Unfortunately, the line does not appear on the water itself, but on our charts.  Still, all and all the line is a fair approximation of the channel’s center and deepest point.

Thus, on ICW day two we brushed the frost off Elizabeth Jean‘s dodger, motored steadily south into North Carolina, and kept our eyes on the magenta line.  The full moon rose as we finished anchoring in Camden Bay.  Gypsy Soul and Drakka joined us in the salon for cocktails and stories.  One account of riding out hurricane force winds in Annapolis taught us a new phrase.  Describing this wild ride, Gypsy Soul’s captain explained how the situation “escalated” when the winds snapped his dock lines and then became “nautical” as he rode out the storm in open waters over several days.

We discussed the next day’s transit of Albemarle Sound, a shallow water body, known to “escalate” when winds exceeded 15 knots.  Fortunately, our collective weather information predicted benign conditions, we even wondered aloud why the guides had so many cautions about Albemarle.


Steam rises off of the ICW as the morning sun begins to melt Elizabeth Jean’s frost coating.


This NOAA illustration shows the theoretical value of the Magenta Line for avoiding spoil areas and other shallow spots.  First added to charts in 1912, the government has not regularly updated the line.  In 2013, after receiving reports of groundings by boaters who followed the line into shoals, Coast Survey started to remove the magenta line from ICW charts.   After feedback from the boating community and further consideration, the government will continue using the line, but with more caveats.  For more information see:


Drakka’s  crew.  For Drakka’s unique take on cruising complete with magnificently whimsical illustrations see:


Gypsy Soul‘s crew.


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Paying it forward in the ICW (Part I)

Heading down the lower Chesapeake in early November, we considered our North Carolina passage strategy. We leaned towards transiting the Tar Heel State using the Intracoastal Waterway which we bypassed in the spring on our way north when a calm weather window opened for us to go outside around Cape Hatteras. Now, the forecast raised questions about an ocean passage and we decided to use the calmer inland weather to take the ICW.  One question remained, how had Hurricane Matthew and the other summer storms affected the Waterway.  It took less than twenty-four hours to begin to find out.

A railroad bridge and canal slowed our first day’s progress through southern Virginia. While waiting vessels moving south circled and we became acquainted with the vessels that would be in the ICW with us. Two, Gypsy Soul and Drakka would feature prominently in the upcoming  excitement.  With shorter daylight hours and the two hours spent waiting for bridge and canal, we knew we would not make the preferred anchorage at Coinjock. Our cruising guide identified a couple of possible anchorages in a series of ox bows around ICW Mile 28.

As we rounded a bend, we saw Gypsy Soul nose into the oxbow anchorage and promptly go aground in the spot we had hoped to spend the night.  We watched another sailboat pass on by and with light waning we circled back to see if we could help. Eric hopped in Schooner and rowed over to get their line. Once attached, Lal powered up Perkins, our faithful British diesel, and in concert with her crew pulled Gypsy Soul free. Drakka, with her shallower draft, probed the side channel in search of the the anchorage and it was Gypsy Soul’s turn to pull her friend free. It was clear that Matthew had removed one resting spot from the ICW.  As the sun set, Elizabeth Jean pulled off the main channel a short way further and anchored safely in eight feet of water. Gypsy Soul and Drakka soon followed.


Albatross-eye-view of the Great Bridge Lock.  Today the Great Bridge Lock is an important water link from Virginia south to North Carolina.  In Colonial days, the Great Bridge was a strategic link north to Norfolk.  In an early battle of the Revolutionary War, Colonial forces stymied a British march north leading to the departure of Governor Lord Dunmore and British power from Virginia.


Vessels cue up waiting for Great Bridge Lock to open.


We were still waiting for Elizabeth Jean to go down in the locks when we realized that she already had quietly descended  a foot or two and that the gates were opening to let us out.


Drakka rests at anchor in twilight’s serene glow following our excitement in the ox bow.


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