Saturday, June 29, 2013

Music Jam in Portsmouth, Virginia

Dyad, Simple Life and Salty Paws at Portsmouth dock
It was a long day of motoring along the ICW as Simple Life made her approach toward the free dock at Great Bridge, Virginia. Joe peered anxiously through binoculars to see if there was enough space along the rickety dock for an overnight tie up. It was late afternoon and there were no anchorages nearby. He spotted a huge unpainted aluminum motor vessel that resembled a ferry from a distance. Joe adjusted the lenses and read the name... DYAD. "Guess who that is? It's Dyad from the Cruisheimer's Net!" It seemed that we'd finally caught up with one of the voices of the single sideband radio Cruiseheimer's Net Dave and Kathi aboard their motor vessel Dyad. Kathi designs and maintains the Bigdumboat website and Dave is the chief developer of Open CPN navigational software see both at As we approached the dock they introduced themselves and assisted us with our lines. Kathi later invited us to join them for sundowners aboard Dyad along with the crew of Salty Paws, Jim and Bentley. Salty Paws, a large sailing catamaran was docked directly in front of Dyad but, was obscured from our view due to Dyad's enormity (a Passage Maker 48).

Dave of MV DYAD
Since installing our SSB radio a few years ago as one of Simple Life's numerous upgrades for long distance cruising it seemed that both Dyad and Salty Paws were fixtures on the airwaves. We'd participate in the Cruisheimer's Net by checking into 8152KHz at 8:30 AM on weekends. On Saturday and Sunday mornings during the summer sailing season in New England we monitored broadcasts while listening intently and memorizing boat names during morning check ins hoping someday to connect with those who were already cruising full time. Two of those memorable voices who also volunteered their time as net controllers were Dyad and Salty Paws. After monitoring their check ins and taking note of their numerous ports of call we felt as though we already knew these cruisers and we looked forward to meeting the people that went with the voices.

Bentley and Jim of Salty Paws
Michele, Dave, Bentley and Jim performing in the park
For some reason, when cruisers get together work lives are rarely the topic of conversation. Though, we did discuss art and music. Jim Austin of Salty Paws is a professional photographer and both he and Bentley are musicians! Dave also plays guitar along with Kathi on the percussive egg. The following day, after our arrival at the free dock in Portsmouth, Virginia, Jim invited me to play my bodhran (Irish drum) with the band. I was thrilled, I'd brought my drum along on this trip with hopes of getting together with other musicians. When I asked where we'd be playing they said that they usually performed in the park area adjacent to the dock in Portsmouth. Jim said that they primarily perform for fun and camaraderie and that occasionally they open their case and collect enough money to buy the band a few beers! The music ranged from traditional sea shanties to folk rock pieces such as Freight Train along with an original song written by Bentley on the banjo.
After reflection upon this new cruising experience we felt a delightful sense of renewal. At least for now all of the hardship and trials along the way seemed trivial and distant. The new friendships and connections we build within this cruising community enrich our lives and reward us with new adventures and episodes of fulfillment.

Photos by Joe Boulay

Friday, June 28, 2013


I just wanted to check in with my faithful followers and explain why I haven't blogged since June 1.  I have received numerous messages asking about our whereabouts. We are still out there cruising and did not sink. I needed to update my operating system and couldn't find a Wifi signal during our travels that was reliable enough to update the system. All of my updated software failed. Fortunately, I was able to update the system today and new blogs should be posted soon. Thank you for checking in on our travels. Much has happened aboard the Simple Life since my last blog at Okracoke Island and I will be posting within the coming days. Thank you for following our blog.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Okracoke Island, Outer Banks

     The Island beckoned, the weather cooperated and the crew of Simple Life decided to divert off course from the ICW toward Okracoke, a remote barrier island south of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Okracoke is accessible only by boat or plane and is the most isolated of all the islands along the Outer Banks. It is also the least populated island with under 1,000 residents who reside in Okracoke Village. The remainder of the 17 miles of low lying land has been designated part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as well as a national park thus preserving its natural beauty and protecting it from development and exploitation.

       The decision to sail to the Outer Banks and back requires a good weather window. Okracoke's thread-like tendril lies east from the mainland across Pamlico Sound bordered on its eastern edge by the Atlantic Ocean. When looking at a chart Pamlico Sound is deceiving. It doesn't appear to be the expansive body of water that it is, but the Sound is the second largest fully enclosed body of salt water in the United States with Chesapeake Bay taking first place. Surprisingly, sailing Pamlico Sound feels more akin to making an offshore ocean passage. The mainland slips away within an hour or so and the Sound becomes a 360 degree unadulterated watery horizon line. It feels like being at sea and the near sea level island pops up rather suddenly on approach. Pamlico sound is shallow with most depths hovering around 15 feet. Because of the shallow depths a steep chop can develop with winds of 12-15 knots. It can become downright dangerous when winds increase to higher ranges. We saw the results of the what 20-25 knot winds can do as we neared the channel to Okracoke's Silver Lake anchorage after a blustery weekend. A sailboat with its flapping, tattered 
Sunken sailboat outside Big Foot Slough Channel
mainsail and jib still raised was aground and sunk on a shoal outside the channel. The channel into the Silver Lake anchorage is well marked, but must be followed since two and three foot shoals lie to either side.

Okracoke Lighthouse view from Silver Lake


     The village beckoned after dropping the hook in the uncrowded, idyllic harbor. Initially, we had difficulty locating the dinghy dock since it was obscured by a house boat, but after a few inquiries we were informed of its location and where to tie up. The village is ideal for strolling. Bars, restaurants, shops and a small grocery are within easy walking distance. All businesses are privately owned and there are no chains on the island. We'd read a few restaurant reviews and one that came highly recommended on Claiborne Young's Cruisers' Net was the Back Porch Restaurant with its signature seafood dishes and delightful eclectic cuisine. I was anticipating a night on the town and the restaurant sounded perfect. We also hoped to stop into one of the local pubs to listen to the island's own nationally acclaimed bluegrass band, Molasses Creek. Unfortunately, they were not scheduled to perform until Thursday evening at the Deepwater Theater and we'd planned our departure on Wednesday. We've enjoyed the bands' performances in the past and purchased several of their CD's during our last visit to Okracoke nine years ago.

         One of the best ways to explore Okracoke is on bicycles. There were numerous reasonable rental facilities in the village. We rented bikes for three hours to explore the village and ride out to the National Seashore. The beach was uncrowded and spectacular. It was voted the number one beach in the US in 2007. On the way to the beach we noticed a nearby roadside pub sign offering  $.50 raw oysters and $5.00 baskets of peel and eat shrimp! We knew where we were heading after the bike ride and beach visit.

     Wednesday morning dawned with clear skies and was pleasantly warm. Winds were forecast from the southwest, but at our departure time they still blew from the west. We hoped for a quick shift that would enable us to sail the entire 46 nautical miles from Okracoke to the town of Belhaven on the North Carolina mainland. After an hour of motoring into the wind it finally shifted to the southwest and picked up to 12-15 knots. The waves built up, but they were on our stern so we enjoyed a fast ride at over 7 knots for the remainder of the day.

     The trip to The Outer Banks was a welcomed "vacation" from our cruise north to find shelter during hurricane season. That may sound odd but, traveling along the ICW for days on end can become tiring and dealing with shoaling in so many areas can be stressful. It was fun to stop and enjoy Okracoke for a few days, recharge our batteries and not lose sight of what attracted us to cruising and why we have chosen this lifestyle. Sure it takes time to head off the beaten track and lose a few days of progress to the north, but as I always like to remind myself, "Not all those who wander are lost." (from The Riddle of Strider by JR Tolkien)

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Location:North Carolina