It was with extreme relief, mild exhaustion, and childish giddiness that we arrived at the boatyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. The boat stayed on the trailer and the trailer stayed attached to the motorhome all the way. I could hardly believe it! Now that the boat was at the water and ready to be put in, surely my “real” journey could begin, right? WRONG.
I should have known better. The process for putting a sailboat in the water is rather straightforward. The boat goes in a sling on a lift. The lift brings the boat to the water. The boat is lowered into the water and the sling is removed. The mast, rigging, and sails are prepared and assembled, and then the mast is lifted and attached to the boat. Simple right? WRONG. During this process, the boatyard snapped off what’s called the windex on the very top of my mast. It’s a vital piece of equipment that measures wind direction. It’s essential to sailing, and we could not sail without it.
Of course they were happy to correct their error and replace it. To fix it required going up in a lift 34 feet to the top of the mast to swap the part. Not a big deal. Right? WRONG! The new part arrived the next day at the same time a tropical depression brought high winds, historic flooding and tidal heights of biblical proportion. The wind, flooding, high tides and super moon phenomenon lasted one week. No one could go up in the lift to change my windex until the storm passed.
NINE days later, winds abated, the windex was fixed, and the skies turned blue. We were finally able to head out! We pulled out of the marina and pointed our bow south along the Intracoastal Waterway. Our first day was exciting and very interesting. The area we were in was full of military (mostly Navy) and commercial traffic. There were warships, tug boats, barges, Coast Guard Boats, yachts, sailboats, and fishing vessels. The traffic was heavy at times and the channel was narrow. The first day we had 8 bridges that needed to open to accommodate our mast height and one lock that we needed to go through. The lady that ran the lock told us of an abandoned marina further along that we could stay at for free that night if we were interested. It sounded pretty interesting, so we headed for the abandoned marina as our first mooring. Surely we were on our way now, right? WRONG!
In the morning, we woke up to Hurricane warnings on our marine radio and an urgent phone call from the experienced sailor who had put up my mast, rigging, and sails. He knew where we were headed and the day we left. He also knows these waters well and knew that we were heading into the Carolina Sounds near the outer banks. One more day of sailing and that’s where we would be. The Carolina Sounds and the Outer Banks are quite unprotected, and if the storm were to hit, we’d be sitting ducks. He highly recommended that we turn around and go back north 15 miles to Chesapeake, Virginia, to the Atlantic Yacht Basin. The Basin is a haven for boaters on the Atlantic coast during hurricanes. It’s located 17 miles inland and is one of the most protected stretches of water for hundreds of miles. If a hurricane was going to hit, we’d have our best chance there. I wasn’t about to argue or second guess a man who has 30 years of sailing these waters under his belt, so we turned around and headed north.
We weren’t the only ones fleeing to the Atlantic Yacht Basin. Boats of all sizes and from all directions were headed there, and we were able to secure one of the last few slips available. It was a fascinating place to ride out the storm. We were surrounded by beautiful yachts and sailboats of all sizes, and we were quickly adopted by the rest of the yachting community. We were invited on board several yachts and were given lessons on everything from navigation to weather forecasting. One thing I’ve learned already is that experienced sailors LOVE to give us inexperienced sailors all the advice they can think of. Fortunately, this inexperienced sailor is very appreciative!
With a careful eye on the reports coming from the National Hurricane Center, we were thrilled to see that Joaquin decided to head further east. She still decided to give us plenty of wind, rain, and flooding, and she caused us another full week’s delay. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned so far from all of these experienced sailors, it’s that the sailing life is all about avoiding bad weather and not running aground. So in that sense, so far so good!