Anxiously Awaiting . . . A Thanksgiving Short Story
This is a short story about waiting for loved ones at Thanksgiving. I am again behind in getting a post out about our recent travels and will remedy that soon. We are spending Thanksgiving in chilly Hilton Head, South Carolina and have had a good trip through South Carolina so far, but you’ll get that information later. First, a story:
Thanksgiving has many memories for me, but I think one of the enduring feelings of Thanksgiving is anxiously waiting for loved ones. Being the youngest of six, I spent many of my growing up years waiting for siblings to return home for the holiday, be it from college or from new homes in other states. We lived in West Virginia, so there was always the concern of the weather turning bad for the trip over the mountains in the northeastern part of the state. As the expected arrival time grew closer, my trips to the front window in our living room would grow more frequent. My sister, Frances, and I both went through a phase in our childhood when we would gallop through the house like a horse on four legs. On one of my four-legged jaunts to the window to see if anyone had arrived yet, I tripped on my hooves and fell straight down on my mouth. This resulted in knocking one of my front teeth loose enough that it eventually “died” and turned brown. Fortunately, its adult replacement was not far behind, so the brown tooth condition didn’t last for too many weeks. My mother will still occasionally refer to the time when I had my “dead tooth.” Everyone arrived safely that year, but I don’t much of what happened right after the accident! It all turned out well.
Another time we waited in great anticipation for siblings driving back from New Jersey to arrive, and the weather reports were not great. After a somewhat anxious day at the homestead, we were relieved when the crew pulled in. I can still hear my sister, Christine, telling us that she knew she was back in West Virginia while listening to the road conditions being reported on the radio by a county sheriff. His report ended with the statement, “… so drive careful, the roads is slick.” They don’t test for grammar in the police academy.
There were even episodes of family members sliding off of slippery roads during the trip in. Thankfully, no injuries to humans resulted from the incident, but it was unnerving to hear about, and even more unnerving for those involved!
So it is not surprising that Thanksgiving always holds that element of waiting for safe arrivals. Although we are not home with family this year, I know exactly who in my family is traveling where and when. I am compulsively looking at the radar maps and using the weather apps we use for sailing to check conditions in the appointed travel areas. Instead of running to the front window to confirm a safe arrival, I find myself scanning my email every five minutes around the expected arrival time for the promised confirmation of a journey safely completed.
This year I experienced the sailing equivalent of this anxious anticipation. We’ve been traveling periodically with our friends on sailing vessel Magnolia … not every day and every location, but we make a point of overlapping our stays and likely will continue to do so for a while. Last week we got ahead of them by a couple of days, but we had planned to try to meet up for Thanksgiving. As anybody up and down the eastern seaboard knows, the weather this week has not been pretty thanks to the winter storm and associated fronts. Even more so than driving, that makes travel by boat very challenging. Frank and I got Eleanor Q in to our designated meeting place by Monday and hunkered down in a marina to sit through the winds, storms and then cold. We kept looking at the weather forecasts and fretting, knowing that our friends had about 65 miles between them and us and not the greatest conditions. (Keep in mind, sailboats travel at about the speed of a bicycle.) Safety always being first, we prepared ourselves to spend Thanksgiving alone knowing that they wouldn’t make any unwise decisions to get here (always understood and agreed upon by friends on the water.) On Tuesday, much to our surprise, they altered their itinerary and skipped a planned stop in order to barrel on through, get ahead of the worst weather yet to come, and to make our Thanksgiving rendezvous. But conditions Tuesday were already deteriorating and I returned to my process of checking radar maps and weather apps. Then we would look to see if their radio signal was showing up on our GPS system. Finally, we saw them show up on the map a few miles out and then heard them hail the marina on the radio. The winds were really starting to blow and the rain was coming down harder. Frank put on his rain pants and jacket and went to assist with docking. I stood in the cockpit and peeked out of the enclosure watching for them to round the corner, navigate the fairway and make a safe landing in their slip. I was ten years old and standing at the front window again… waiting and watching with some anxiety. And then they were in and all was right with the world again.
Wednesday I waited for word of another sibling to complete a several hour trek in less than ideal conditions. And when I got the much awaited email that she had arrived safely, I gave thanks and settled into a contented feeling of really being able to enjoy the holiday… and with all my teeth intact.
May the anticipation of the day be rewarded with joy and contentment. Happy Thanksgiving.
North Carolina: The Second Half
The land of hospitality has been good to us and we loved the extended time we spent in the northern part of the state. But now it was time to get moving a little more quickly. After all . . . it’s November and it’s getting cold! So we made tracks continuing down the ICW with fewer multiple night stops in an attempt to get some miles covered. This map shows our path through the state.
Again, the ICW is pretty far inland in some sections, and then further south in the state it runs more parallel with the coastline. Different parts of the ICW have very different personalities, and we saw those changes as we moved along. So let’s do the tour through North Carolina. We had left Edenton, traveled the Albemarle Sound again and then headed down the Alligator River. The extra excitement for our trip that day (and not the good kind) was right before we got to the Alligator River. We finally had some nice wind and decided to put the sails up for a while. We are always looking to sail vs. motor, but our other motivation for doing this was that we were getting a little close to the end of our fuel. Our gauges are no different than the gas gauge on your car, and if you don’t know EXACTLY how close the needle can get to “E” from years of testing, well . . . you know the feeling. We felt we probably had plenty of fuel left, but we couldn’t swear to it, so conserving diesel was very appealing. Anyway, we put up the sails and turned of the engine. Then, as we approached the inlet to the River, we went to turn the engine back on. Click. Nothing. Zippo. No starting engine. First rule – don’t panic. Frank, being pretty good with a diesel engine, set out to find a fix to the problem. I was at the wheel calmly thinking through next steps in the cockpit. There wasn’t much wind left, but I was plotting a tack and a big loop in the open water to stall for time if it came to that. We couldn’t keep heading for the narrow inlet with limited control of the boat. At the same time, I had found the number for TowBoat US (the boat equivalent to AAA) just in case. After about 5 – 10 minutes of safely drifting about, Frank got the engine started by jumping it with a screw driver. And the screw driver had black singe marks on it from the episode. And I asked him if that was dangerous. And I got the same answer I have gotten at other times I ask such questions: “It’s only 12 volts. It won’t kill you – just hurt a little.” Yeah, I’ll bet that’s not what the screw driver is saying about now!! Our chief mechanic (Frank) has checked and rechecked things many times and we haven’t had the problem since – it appears to be fixed, but we live with a shadow of a doubt and fear a repeat performance. She has been perfect since the, but we’ll have to decide if we’re comfortable living with the doubt. We took on fuel (110 gallons, in case you’re wondering – we can hold 140) at the Alligator River Marina where we considered tying up for the night. They are supposed to have some mighty fine fried chicken there which we’ve both had a hankering for. (Note to my edit-happy, grammarian family members: I know the correct grammar would have been “for which we’d both had a hankering,” but my justification is that if you’re using the word “hankering” in the sentence, correct grammar would seem a little weird – just sayin’. Love you! ) But the place is a truck stop. I’m not kidding – it’s a marina and fuel dock for boats on one side and a gas station and truck stop on the other side. Somehow, spending good money out of the “marina budget” to park at a truck stop all night didn’t seem so smart when you can anchor close by for free. So we skipped the fried chicken (took 20 minutes to cook and we were running out of daylight) and moved on.
After a brief overnight stay, we were up and out early the next morning heading for Belhaven, NC. We planned to meet up with our friends on Magnolia. They were stopped there for a repair and were very gracious to offer to cook us dinner since we’d had a travel day. Frank and I took a quick walk around town after arriving. An hour is more than enough time to explore Belhaven.
The next morning we said goodbye to the Bakers and Magnolia and headed to our next stop at River Dunes Marina just outside of Oriental, NC. Cruisers are always looking for a deal and River Dunes was one of three marinas with booths at the Annapolis Boat Show who were offering 2 nights for the price of one certificates, so certificate in hand, that’s where we went. What a beautiful facility! It is a huge housing community currently under development, and part of the thought of luring boaters is to show off the real estate. The place was very “civilized” – it was a little like being at a Golf Country Club except there was no golf course. The “boat house” (essentially the clubhouse) is a stunning building, tastefully decorated, with a restaurant/bar upstairs and front desk/lounge/pool room downstairs. The restaurant was not open as a full service venue, but they had a sign-up sheet for a “cruiser’s dinner” at 6:30 that evening. It was a set menu which sounded tasty and reasonably priced. Sure, why not? Another chance to meet people. There ended being 12 of us. When we went upstairs there were several small tables set up for the group. Then we spotted the “board room” with a large table for 12. Since the food was set up as a buffet, hey why couldn’t we carry our plates in there instead? After all, we all wanted to eat family style – that’s why you sign up for a “cruiser’s dinner.” The staff had no problem with our plan. The help there was limited for this teeny event, so we reset the table ourselves, found a pitcher and poured water around the table and generally treated it like we were in someone’s home. It was pretty funny. We had fun visiting and swapping stories and getting to know each other – all in all a very congenial evening. We enjoyed our two days there, taking advantage of the walking trails, the fitness room, the STEAM SHOWERS(!) and the laundry facility. They even had a courtesy car which we borrowed to go into the town of Oriental to pick up a thing or two. We had heard so much about Oriental, and it definitely has a charming, funky, nautical vibe to it that we’ll have to explore more extensively on another trip.
After two days in the lap of luxury (not really, but it was one of the fancier places we had been), it was time to move along again, so we headed to Morehead City where we tied up at Portside Marina. Now, Denard, the owner of the establishment, is one of the nicest men you will ever hope to come across. The customer service is unprecedented. The rest of the story is that the current is VERY strong at the face dock and the miserable weather didn’t help much. We toughed out the rain in our fowl weather jackets and took a walk around town. We stopped to say hello to, who else, Magnolia. They were staying in a different marina and meeting up with some family. Then we grabbed dinner at the bar at the Ruddy Duck. The place was fun and comfortable and a good respite from the weather. We ended up having a nice chat with a couple next to us from Virginia, also cruisers heading south.
After a bit of a windy, bumpy night, we were ready to head out the next morning. The strong current and wind had other ideas. Both were pushing us flat against the dock. Frank had tried to prep me for the many ways that we would try to get off the dock. We bumped our way forward on the straight pier (no boats ahead of us) but couldn’t get off the dock. Our bumpers were almost torn off of the boat with the forward progress we made since they were firmly wedged between the boat and the dock. They were doing their job, but they were taxed beyond their usual duties. After almost 40 minutes of inching up the dock and my nerves getting pretty frayed, we were loose and underway.
Our destination for the day was an anchorage called Mile Hammock Bay which is part of the Marine Corps Base, Camp LeJeune. Although we have read reviews about the anchorage saying that it can be extremely noisy with military exercises and helicopters, we were fortunate to be there on a “day off” and it was peaceful and a very nice anchorage. Magnolia joined us there and we served them up some shrimp and pasta (procured in Morehead City at the Seafood Market).
The next day we were off to Wrightsville Beach, NC. The trip took on a bit of a competitive nature since there are a flock of boats all traveling the same skinny route heading for the same places. On this day, we also had several swing or draw bridges, and we had to time our trip with the bridge openings and the currents. If you get to the bridge too soon before an opening, you have a pileup of boats floating around in a small space waiting to get through. (The term goat rodeo pops into my head for some reason.) Every boat has a different idea of how to manage the wait. This is called “station keeping.” It felt a little like being back on the Garden State Parkway and jockeying for position at the toll booths. We were happy to get this day behind us. We made our way to Wrightsville Beach, NC by afternoon where we anchored up for the next two nights.
After a couple of nights in Wrightsville Beach, it was time to hit the road again, so to speak. We headed to our last stop in North Carolina, St. James Marina in Southport, NC, not far from Myrtle Beach. The marina rates through North Carolina were AMAZINGLY cheap as compared to the prices we saw in the Northeast over the summer, and the anchoring opportunities along the ICW are a little limited at some points, so marina it was. Now we started to see different personalites come out in the ICW. On our trip on this day, some parts of the ICW were fairly wide open waterways with one section even accommodating tanker traffic! Other parts were narrower. We have had a couple of canals connecting different rivers on some days. Now we were getting into more of the Myrtle Beach area meaning more condos, more golf courses, and more development in some sections. St. James is part of a golf course community and it was fun to walk around some of the neighborhoods and reflect on the old days of playing golf! (Eleanor Q had a detrimental effect on our golf games. We can live with that. Golf will still be there in a few years.) We landed at St. James that evening with our travel companions (yes, Magnolia). We have fallen into a bit of a leap frog arrangement with them: many days we overlap in a location intentionally, some days one will skip ahead of the other based on interests or (gasp!) schedules, but we will shadow each other south a fair amount of the way. This night we congregated at the Tiki Bar at the resort for dinner and live music. The weather was a little chilly for outside seating, but we bundled up and enjoyed the atmosphere to listen to some good classic acoustic rock.
We found lots of southern hospitality in North Carolina and throughly enjoyed our trip through the state . . . but now it’s time to get farther south. Next stops: Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina!
North Carolina Hospitality: Elizabeth City and Edenton
Elizabeth City is a popular cruisers’ stop along the ICW. They call themselves the Harbor of Hospitality – and they are, particularly Monday through Friday. We arrived on a Saturday. The Visitor Center is not open weekends and the late afternoon cruisers reception that we had heard so much about doesn’t take place on weekends, either. Our little pack of floating wanderers (many of us who met at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center) decided to have our own welcome reception, borrowing the city’s tent. It was another lovely evening of socializing. On Sunday I (Ems) wandered up to the Methodist church . (You know, if I had just let you finish reading that particular sentence, there wouldn’t have been any need for me to specify which one of us walked to church, I suspect.) I was welcomed warmly before I even got in the front door. A lovely couple, Al and Dianna, adopted me for the morning. Turns out they have a son who lives on his boat in Charleston (SC) who has sailed to the Bahamas a number of times. The service and the music were very nice (a church that still has a pipe organ – hooray!) Al and Dianna offered to play tour guides around town that afternoon, telling me about an Arts and Crafts show at the local school. I declined the tour, but did take them up on the ride back to the docks where they came and met Frank and some of the other gang.
Three of us couples walked to the art show and enjoyed a well prepared comfort meal in the cafeteria. Then we proceeded to stroll around the city admiring the historic houses. As we were walking back, Frank’s radar went off. His ears perked up and his nose started twitching like a blood hound. “What is it???” we all wondered. His instinct told him there was ice cream close by. Sure enough . . . just a little further up the road we spotted the Dairy Queen he had been detecting. How does he know?
We spent Halloween in Edenton. Fun things that made it apparent that it was Halloween: 1) “Silence of the Lambs” was playing on the TV in the laundromat. 2) They had “safe trick or treating” in the downtown district with local business, police and EMTs handing out the candy. (The police officers couldn’t be in costume, but one female officer had a stuffed black cat attached to her shoulder.) After having dinner in a local restaurant with a perfect view of the Halloween festivities, we walked to the classic, local movie theater to see Capt. Phillips. If you don’t know, that’s the true story about the tanker ship captain who was abducted by Somali pirates and then rescued by the Navy Seals. Tom Hanks is great in it, but somehow it felt a little odd to get to the end of the movie and say, “Okay, let’s go back to the boat now.” No pirates in North Carolina.
The next day we enjoyed exploring town even more. There are many historic structures in the town. One story is about the Edenton Tea Party at the Barker House. Seems that the famous Boston Tea Party sparked outrage in Edenton, and the women’s group that met regularly for tea took a stand and decided to boycott tea in support of Boston’s act of defiance. Britain was used to people protesting, but in the 1700s it was MOST unusual for a women’s group to take a political stand of this sort and word got back to Britain and created quite a stir.
One of our favorite things about Edenton was meeting our new friends Gil and Barbara. They are Edenton locals, sailors and graduates of cruising to the Bahamas. While we were sitting in the harbor, Gil sailed by on his Sunfish. We struck up a conversation as he lithely maneuvered the little sailboat back and forth by Eleanor Q while chatting. By the end of the discussion he had invited us to his home for fresh oysters roasted over an open fire. (‘Tis almost the season – I am definitely changing the word “chestnuts” to “oysters” this year. Luckily that night, Jack Frost was not nipping at our noses.)
We met him on Wednesday and the invitation was for Friday. On Friday I decided to attempt to make an apple pie to take with us and Frank worked on some boat projects.
So on Friday night, Gil picked us up and took us to meet his wife, Barbara, and to visit at their home. Their 31 foot sailboat, Barbara Jean, is in a slip right behind their house. Gil designed and built the boat himself and the two of them sailed it to the Bahamas. Not a detail was overlooked on that boat! After our tour, we sat at a table in front of a fireplace in their home and ate oyster after oyster after oyster! They have a metal grate on a swivel in the fireplace. It just swings right out, oysters go on the grate, it swings back in over the fire and voila! You have wood roasted oysters! Gil just kept bringing pan-fulls of them to the table and we kept on gobbling them up! We seriously went through a half a bucket of them. There was still a half bucket left, but we cried uncle! They shared their cruising stories and experiences with us and we learned more about each other. It was a delightful evening. Again, individuals showing simple acts of kindness to other people = big deal! That evening is what we’ll probably take away from Edenton more than anything else. And we hope to meet up with them again on our way back through.