“[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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“Good morning all stations, this is Chris Parker on Bel Ami”

Chris Parker’s daily call on our Single Side Band radio has been as routine and welcome as our morning cup of coffee.  Chris is the Chief Forecaster for the Marine Weather Station.  He began forecasting the weather when he was 8 years old and turned pro after years cruising the Caribbean in his sloop Bel Ami.  He came to our attention when we were in Zihuatanejo Mexico.  After hearing of our plans to go through the Panama Canal, our bar companion (a cruiser who had been in the Caribbean) praised Parker’s thorough and insightful reports.  We began picking up his reports while still coming down the Pacific Coast (anyone can tune in for free).  After listening to his reports and his tailored recommendations to his subscribers, we began our own subscription in the fall of 2015.  For the last year we have listened avidly to his reports and called in with specific questions to supplement our other weather sources.  Just recently, we renewed our subscription.  For more information about his services see the link below.



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“Every new friend is a new adventure” Patrick Lindsay

While old friends and relatives have added joy and perspective to our East Coast travels, new friends and their kindnesses  have contributed renewed energy to our journey.  Bill Rand in Gloucester shared the waterfront that he has loved since childhood and in so doing breathed fresh wind into Elizabeth Jean‘s sails.  Mason and Catharine Newick opened their York home and feted us with our first soft shell lobster and hot showers (not necessarily in that order).  Andy Williams and Courtney DiBlasio toasted our arrival in Stonington Connecticut after securing a mooring ball close to the dock as we waited and watched Hurricane Matthew churn its way north.  Scott and Kitty Tamure hailed us as we headed to anchor north of Hell Gate.  Their tales of their two circumnavigations replenished our psychic cruising kitty.  For future tales of newfound friends watch for the upcoming post “Paying it forward on the ICW.”


Vice Commodore Rand shared a morning with us in Gloucester.


Andy and Courtney squeezed in a round of cheer with us on our Stonington arrival.  Andy also picked the brains of his cruising community for Long Island Sound hurricane holes as we headed south at the same time hurricane Matthew was heading north.


Catharine Newick in her York, Maine Kitchen with her nephew and our Seattle friend, Dave Carlson.


Our first Maine lobster of the summer, particularly succulent because they are “soft shells.”


Tamure’s invitation for cocktails was the first time since Florida, months before, that a sailing vessel with which we were sharing an anchorage asked us to swap cruising stories.  Their hospitality reminded us that plenty of adventure still lies ahead.

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Albatross on Eagle

Elizabeth Jean albatross

The resurgent eagle has stoically observed Elizabeth Jean‘s journey up and down the East Coast.  Albatross makes an infrequent appearance to celebrate Eagle’s return to our shores and waterways.

When Eagle comes flying into your life:

It is time to reconnect with your spiritual path. It’s time to listen too and heed your spiritual directives as well as your heart and to allow them both to lead the way for you at this time. When you can find yourself in this state of flight then all the doors will open and the directions you need to follow will be made clear. Like a beacon – your heart will follow the light.

If Eagle is your Animal Totem:

When Eagle is a part of who you are you carry the symbol of air, but have strong legs to walk on the earth and often live near the water for food. Through these qualities you can be guided to balance in all dimensions and achieve inner-growth. As you soar to spiritual awareness, you will remain well grounded in reality and can purify yourself with cleansing waters.

If Eagle has soared into your dreams:

If the Eagle is perched and looking at you it brings a message of self-examination and introspection. Meditate and look within.

If Eagle takes to flight it may symbolize your ability to rise above your current problems or position.

If the Eagle soars above it can be a symbol of your higher consciousness, or higher powers communicating to you, listen carefully to your intuition.

To dream of two eagles mating means that you have attained the spiritual goal you have been striving for. Your hard work has paid off.

Lastly, if the Eagle is diving in, or consuming a kill, it may be a portent of danger or ruthlessness. Do not step on others to achieve your goals, and be warned that someone in your life may be willing to step on you to achieve theirs. http://www.spirit-animals.com/eagle/


Happy Eagle by Ravenari

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“The World Turned Upside Down” Old Scottish Ballad

Yesterday, Elizabeth Jean scudded past Virginia’s York River under a reefed Genoa with 25-28 knots of north winds. The York was the scene of the British surrender to General George Washington, the end of the colonies’ revolution, and the United States’ entry onto the world stage. Legend has it that the British Band played “The World Turned Upside Down,” a traditional Scottish Ballad, as the vanquished Cornwallis paraded his troops past the victorious Continental Army.

Two days ago on November 9th, we awoke to our own upended world. As we prepare to head south through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, we have some appreciation of how the British troops must have felt as they moved past people who shared a common heritage, but who were on the other side of a deep and bitter divide.


With centuries of history providing perspective, we can reflect on how Great Britain and the United States found common ground. In time, the two nations together unified to defeat fascism during World War II and rebuild a free and democratic Europe during the Cold War.
We, however, live in the present and do not have centuries within which to enjoy the fruits of our shared roots. How then do we navigate our immediate uncertain times and the chasm that separates us from our fellows?  Elizabeth Jean and her crew have watch words that serve as our compass as we travel. We turn to them now.

We live in joy. Now, more than ever, we will find and create joy in our lives. We will do so in the everyday moments—a brisk sail to a quiet anchorage—and the major milestones—such as daughter Jean and Max’s June wedding.
We surrender to this moment. Surrender has many meanings. Here we commit to live in the present even when we cannot help but worry about the future that may unfold. We do not surrender to that future’s inevitability.
We share our lives. We are now on a different adventure than the one that might have been. With those of like mind, sharing this adventure will be easy and a comfort. With friends and family on the other side of the divide, such sharing is essential if difficult. We choose to believe there are common values on which we can build the community and world in which we want to live.

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“Zen and the art of [sailboat] maintenance” Robert M. Pirsig

Working well, and caring “is to become part of a process of achieving an inner peace of mind,” according to Robert Pirsig whose description of maintenance in his book on traveling by motorcycle with his son, elevated maintenance, (properly performed), to a life philosophy.   At Stingray Point, near Virginia’s Rappahannock River mouth, it  helped to think we were achieving inner peace, rather than sanding, stripping paint, rebuilding leaking plumping, and otherwise getting Elizabeth Jean ready for our trip south to Florida.  Fortunately, the first week of November offered flawless clear skies as we prepped and painted.


The Rappahanock River is known for its quality boat work at a reasonable price.  We had professional help on installing new seacocks and resealing some windows and hatches, but we did much of the work ourselves.  The River is also strategically positioned for cruisers heading south as it is a day’s travel from the Chesapeake Bay’s Mouth or Norfolk and the beginning of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW).


Testing bottom paints for compatability.  No we are not changing colors.  Once we knew the brands were compatible we ordered red.


Our dinghy, Schooner, sporting her two tone look.  The green stripe is frog tape that will be removed leaving a very clean line.


She’s too sexy for her Tyvek suit.


The prop will be test driving some new fangled anti-foulant paint.


Seeing Elizabeth Jean gleaming in the late November sun, we think Pirsig had a point.  After “working well and with care” we proceed south with a sense of accomplishment and, dare we say, a touch more inner peace.

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Cousins: memories’ keepers

Before we had friends we had cousins. Both our parents had siblings living near us when we were young. Early family photographs show us celebrating various Thanksgivings and summer vacations with assorted Sullivan, Susen and Laschever cousins.

A number of our closest cousins have settled along our summer cruising grounds. Elizabeth Jean brought us to them and they, in turn, brought tales of growing up together as well as updates of their full lives.  A strong chin, winking eye, copper hair, or keen wit poignantly remind us of our parents’ closest siblings and our earliest years.

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