And we’re off!

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Yay!  We’ve cast off the dock lines to begin our fourth trip south to the Bahamas!  After taking last winter off, we are both VERY excited.  It’s like being a newbie again, but much less nerve-wracking since we have a better idea of what we’re doing.

What’s the plan for this cruising season?  A combination of ICW and outside hops (when the weather permits), revisiting some favorite spots for longer stays, and exploring uncharted territory.  We’re hoping to visit some places in the Bahamas we haven’t yet been to – Long Island, Cat Island, maybe the Raggeds.  And last but certainly not least, we’ve finally decided we’re ready to tackle what will be our longest non-stop journey to date: we’ll be returning to Connecticut from the Bahamas via Bermuda!  Yikes!

If you want to know exactly where we are on any given day, you can click on the “Where is Pegu Club” link on the right side of the page.  So come along for frequent posts of what will undoubtedly be many adventures this season on the mighty Pegu Club!

Canvas (part three) – some final projects before we cast off the dock lines.

We still had some canvas work to do before we could head south, but after completing the dodger we knew it would all be easy-peasy by comparison.

The top priority was a new bimini.  The bimini goes over the helm in the cockpit to protect the helmsman from the sun and rain.  I completed one right before we left in 2018 and immediately knew I wanted another crack at it.  I just wasn’t happy with how it looked.  Fortunately, switching our canvas color from navy to toast gave me the perfect excuse to try it again.

It’s amazing how much more experienced I’ve become with sewing canvas.  When I did the first bimini, it took well over forty hours and I struggled the whole time.  But this one?  I whipped it out in less than half of the time, sewing with confidence the whole way.  It was SO much easier than the dodger, and we’re very happy with how it looks.

Once the bimini was finished, it was time to sew the connector.  Jeff has been advocating for a connector between the dodger and the bimini for quite some time, and although I really didn’t think it was necessary, I finally agreed just so he’d stop pestering me about it.  I thought it would be easy, but I hit a major roadblock partway through.  I couldn’t get the measurements to work according to the Sailrite video.  We made five or six trips from the clubhouse to the boat to test fit, and as the number of trips increased, so did the volume of my muttering given that I didn’t want to make the damn thing to begin with.  Finally we came up with a theory that resulted in the connector being WAY too large, so I trudged back to the clubhouse one last time to shorten it, hoping I wouldn’t make it TOO short.  Phew!  Success!

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Finally, after at least triple the anticipated hours, the connector was finished.  I’m not crazy with how it looks, so I’ll probably try again next summer.  However, I’ve admitted to Jeff that having a connector is AWESOME!  It provides SO much more protection in the cockpit from the sun and rain, and we can leave the boards out of the companionway on rainy days.  He was right.  Mark the date!

To round out the cockpit canvas, I sewed some weather cloths to give us more privacy and some protection from sea spray.  We’ve seen many of them with the boat’s name along the side and I really wanted to do that, but we ran out of time.  That will be a project for next summer.

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Last but not least, I sewed some seat covers for the Porta-bote.  Whoever was the genius that decided to design the dinghy with black seats should be summarily fired.  The seat covers were extremely straight forward, consisting of hemmed material and velcro, and they’ve worked out very well so far.

Phew!  When we were finished, Jeff mentioned that our friends on Lone Star and told him that we had done a TON of canvas work this summer.  Looking back at it, I realized they were absolutely right.  A mainsail cover, interior cushions, two throw pillows, a dodger, bimini, connector, weather cloths, and dinghy seats.  All of this plus a part-time job at Shenny, driving the launch and working at the t-head.

By the time I was finished, I was more than happy to put everything away one last time so that our friend Jeff from S/V Infinity could take it home and use it over the winter.  There will be a few canvas projects next summer, but for now I’m glad to be closing the sweatshop’s doors for the season.

Canvas (part two) – a new dodger and mainsail cover.

With the interior cushions complete, it was time to turn our attention to a new mainsail cover and dodger.  I had made a mainsail cover several years ago before we started cruising, but it was navy blue.  While that color works great in southern New England, we discovered it’s hot as hell down south.  In fact, when we were in the Chesapeake during Covid summer it was almost too hot to touch.

Jeff and I had MANY discussions about what color we should switch to.  He wanted tan, but I was decidedly not a fan until I found a shade I liked on a Shenny friend’s boat.  Unfortunately, he sold the boat last fall and couldn’t remember exactly what the color was called.  So we ordered about ten shades of tan samples from Sailrite to see if we could narrow it down.  I didn’t want anything too tan, but Jeff didn’t want anything too light.  We settled on Toast, and while at first I still wasn’t convinced, I’ve since decided that he was right. We’re both VERY happy with it.

Making the mainsail cover was relatively easy, particularly since I had done it before.  The challenging part was the lazy jack slits.  Despite my best efforts at measuring, they were off enough that Jeff needed to move the lazy jack hardware.  Once that was complete though, the cover looked great.  Now it was time to tack our hardest canvas project to date: the dodger.

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One mainsail cover – check.

A dodger is installed at the front of the cockpit to help keep wind and rain out of it.  Our old dodger frame was crooked and we had decided we preferred the added height, width, and depth of the Sailrite dodger frame, so we were truly starting from scratch.  One of the keys to a good looking dodger is a rock-solid pattern, so we spent several days making the frame and pattern.  It was VERY challenging with height changes and curves, but we finally decided it would be ok (we hoped).

Next, our good friends Jeff and Denise from S/V Infinity came to our rescue once again, allowing us to use their house as a canvas workshop while they went on vacation.  Yes, this was the same vacation that we were supposed to go on, but we knew we simply did not have the time given the projects we hoped to accomplish this summer, so we had VERY reluctantly decided to pass.  Instead I switched shifts with one of my co-workers, and we had four solid days to put our noses to the grindstone and knock most of the dodger out.

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Getting ready to sew the main window.

We worked as a team, following the Sailrite video step-by-step, and by the end of day four we were back at Shenny putting the dodger on the frame with bated breath.  Hmm.  It looked good, but we had a pretty substantial wrinkle along the side from excess material.  I posted for advice on the Sewing on Boats Facebook page, then we took it off the frame and sewed a dart.  Back on the frame it went.  Much better!

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Marks where we want to make our fix to remove the large wrinkle.

So were we finished?  Heck, no!  We wanted to be able to roll-up the main window for better ventilation.  Off came the dodger from the frame.  Back on the frame it went.  

Now were we finished?  No way!  The main window was much smaller than we had anticipated, leaving us with two large blind spots on the port and starboard side.  We needed to insert two fixed windows.  Jeff didn’t think it was necessary, but I insisted.  Off came the dodger from the frame so we could make the two fixed windows.  Back on the frame it went.  Jeff agreed that the visibility was now much better.

How about now?  Noooooo.  One of the things we liked about the Sailrite frame was that it had horizontal hand holds along the sides.  We still needed to make the cut outs for the handholds.  Off came the dodger from the frame.  Back on the frame it went.  

Why couldn’t we do all of this at once?  We felt once we made the cut for the roll-up window it might change the dodger shape a bit, so we wanted to wait to pattern the fixed windows until the roll-up was finished.  Then we thought the fixed windows could change the shape a bit for the cut-outs for the handholds, so we waited to pattern the cut-outs.  Was it necessary?  Maybe not.  But after putting in about sixty hours and spending a lot of money on the kit, we weren’t going to screw it up with a roll of the dice.  

Taking the dodger on and off wasn’t as simple as it sounds.  We needed to be very careful not to scratch the Strataglass, which is what the windows are made out of.  At $153.95 for a 54″ x 55″ piece, we preferred not to mess it up immediately.  We ended up with one small scratch which wasn’t too bad given how often the dodger was manhandled during the sewing process.

After the handhold cut outs were complete, were we finished?  YES!  Time for celebratory cocktails!

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We’re going to move the fasteners on the center bottom to stretch the material out a bit more, but otherwise it looks great!

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We added the two fixed windows on either side of the center window. As you can see, before we put them in the blind spots were huge.

So after all of that, are we happy with it?  Definitely.  The dodger turned out SO much better than we thought it would.  Frankly, we were shocked.  I was afraid it would be a wrinkled mess and it definitely isn’t.  Would we do it again?  We’d rather not.  However, given that we have more time than money, it was a no-brainer for us to give it a try.  The frame and materials alone were $1,700, and we were able to make changes and customize it as we went along.  The labor for a professional canvas maker would have easily been another $4,000.  So despite the sweat, angst, and occasional gnashing of teeth, we have no regrets.  Future canvas projects will seem easy-peasy compared to this one!

Canvas (part one) – new interior cushions.

Pegu Club came with a navy blue sail cover and dodger and green interior cushions.  The dodger and cushions were reaching the end of their lifespan when we bought her back in 2015, but we inserted new foam in the cushions and limped along with the dodger before it all gave up the ghost towards the end of last summer.  The cushions were tearing, Jeff was bottoming out on the settee from the wimpy foam, and the dodger leaked like a sieve.  So we knew coming into this year that we would be doing quite a bit of sewing on the Sailrite this summer.

I’ve blogged about our Sailrite before – it’s a fantastic machine and has more than paid for itself.  Sailrite has excellent step-by-step videos on YouTube.  Even if you haven’t sewn before, you can definitely do your own canvas work as long as you start slow (I recommend a tote bag) before working your way up to more complex projects.  Since it had been a few years since I’d sewn anything, I started by making a handful of totes to get used to the feel of the machine again before getting to the cushions.

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These Sunbrella totes hold up much better than the giveaway boat show totes.

Having made cockpit cushions already, I knew making interior cushions wouldn’t be too difficult.  The hardest part was going to be deciding what fabric we wanted to use.  Pegu Club is our home, and this was going to be a great opportunity to put our personal stamp on her decor.  We’ve always gravitated to a mid-century modern style, so after ordering several sample pieces it turned out to be a relatively easy decision.  The only tricky part was that the material was striped.  I had never sewn with stripes before, and I knew it was all-too-easy for it to end up mismatched.  We were going to have to be careful to make sure everything was lined up.

Lucky for us, we were able to use our good friends’ Jeff and Denise’s house to go on a sewing binge.  We drove up there on a Friday with all of our supplies and foam and took over their living room and dining room for the weekend.  We were SO grateful – we never could have sewed them on the Shenny picnic tables.  The cushions were simply too large.

We used the Sailrite “30 minute box cushion” pattern for three out of four of the cushions, although at well over 30 minutes per cushion, there was clearly some creative licensing going on by Sailrite in choosing that pattern name.  The fourth cushion was a traditional box cushion because it was angled due to the shape of the hull.  Jeff W. was a huge help to my Jeff when it came time to cut the foam, and I think he was amused by my occasional teeth-gnashing and seam ripping.

We had a few hiccups that we were able to improvise fixes for, but by mid-morning Sunday we were all driving down to Shenny for the moment of truth: would they fit?  Although I measured at least five times before we headed up to Jeff and Denise’s house, I was still pretty nervous that they wouldn’t.  So you can imagine how thrilled we all were to discover that they fit perfectly, the stripes matched up, and the foam provided plenty of support so that Jeff no longer bottomed out when he sat down.  Yes!

Even though we’ve had them now for well over a month, I still come down the companionway steps and think about how much I love this pattern.  Well worth the effort it took to make them, the cushions reflect our personal style and has made Pegu Club feel even more like our home.

Old cushions:

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New cushions:

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Yes, we have a dinghy problem. Dinghy #6.

I swear we were perfectly content with our 8′ Walker Bay hard dinghy with the flotation tubes (also known as dinghy number five).  Purchased in the fall of 2019, we had easily dragged it onto rocky beaches, it went fast enough to keep us happy with our 2.3 hp outboard, and we had successfully and easily towed it to and from the Bahamas twice.

And that right there was the problem: we had to tow it.  The Walker Bay took up most of the room on the foredeck, and we have set our sights on going farther afield (details to come in the future).  We needed a dinghy we didn’t have to tow, and we still didn’t want an inflatable.  That’s how we ended up with dinghy number six, the ugliest dinghy I have ever seen in my life: the Porta-bote.

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Unpacking the new dinghy.
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The 10′ porta-bote put together (from Google images).

Our friends Tom and Anita on S/V Lone Star have had a Porta-bote for many years so we were familiar with it, and other cruising friends of ours bought one in 2018 and were very happy with it.  So we waited for a boat show special and pulled the trigger on a 10′ model.

At 10’4″ long and 5 feet wide unfolded, the Porta-bote collapses to a width of 2 feet and a thickness of 8″.  With standup paddle board J-hooks that we purchased separately, we can store it against the hull on the outside of the boat.  We can also store it on the side deck, but that limits us to going forward on the opposite side of the boat.

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This is how it will look stored on the J-hooks.

It’s a bit heavier than the Walker Bay, but substantially lighter than the Achilles inflatable (dinghy number four).  It is every bit as tough as the Walker Bay, so we can drag it up onto sandy or rocky beaches without puncturing it like an inflatable.  And its sheer unattractiveness makes it an unlikely target for thieves.  It scoots us along very quickly with our 2.3 hp outboard, has much more room for groceries and supplies than the Walker Bay, and it’s a VERY dry ride.

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Jeff taking the Porta-Bote out on its maiden voyage.

We have yet to try setting it up on the boat, but we’ve been told by other people with 30′ sailboats that – with some practice – we can do it in a few minutes by lying it athwartship across the lifelines.  I’m sure there will be much swearing involved the first few times, but by the time we get to Florida we should be old pros at it!  In the meantime, after trying it out in our harbor, we can unequivocally say that it suits our needs perfectly.  It looks like dinghy number six will be sticking around for a VERY long time.

I can’t believe we used to do this every year.

Before we started cruising we had to haul out Pegu Club every fall and get her ready to go back into the water the following spring.  It was all we knew, so we had no idea what a gigantic pain in the ass it is until we didn’t have to do it while we were cruising.  As we worked on Pegu this spring, a very frequent refrain could be heard: “We’re NEVER hauling out in New England for the winter ever again.”

We had three weeks to get Pegu Club ready, but between Jeff’s schedule at Defender and the weather gods’ complete failure to cooperate, we went down to the wire.  Every speck of her interior needed a good cleaning – that alone took two days.  The bottom, propeller, and boot stripe were painted.  We installed a new, brighter anchor light and replaced the VHF coax cable and antenna.

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Jeff soldering connectors on the new VHF cable.

The engine was dewinterized, along with changing the gear box oil and engine oil/filter, air filter, alternator, impeller, and primary and secondary fuel filters.  Despite our best attempts to ensure the galley foot pump didn’t have any water in it over the winter, it cracked anyway, so we needed to replace that.  A new hand pump was installed in the head, and we replaced the broken light switch in there.

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It was taking forever to prime the hand pump, so Jeff had the brilliant idea to use our shop vac to suck the water into the hose. It worked like a champ.

Coir was prepped for the Nature’s Head composting toilet.  Items like cushions, clothing, and food were loaded onto the boat.  New connectors were installed on the AIS cable which we had to cut last September when the mast was removed (it’s a long story).

These were all things we expected to take care of (except for the galley foot pump, but it had happened to us once before so it wasn’t a complete surprise.)  But because it’s a boat, there were certainly some unexpected issues that cropped up.

When Jeff was working on the engine he discovered that the muffler hose was chafed so we replaced that, along with the hose that we had replaced in the Bahamas after IT had chafed.  The hose from the Bahamas wasn’t as robust as we prefer, so we wanted to install a better one.  When Jeff removed the muffler hose he cracked the muffler, but we didn’t realize it until we were test-running the engine and water started dripping out of the muffler.  Cue another trip to Defender to buy a new muffler.

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Boat yoga.

Pegu Club was in the water, but still in the travel lift slings, when we discovered that water wasn’t coming out of the exhaust like it should have been.  What the heck?  It had worked fine when we ran it for 10+ minutes on the hard, using water in a bucket for the raw water intake hose, so we knew it wasn’t the muffler.  We motored 100 feet to the wash down dock, and after some sleuthing we discovered that the raw water seacock had failed in the closed position.  We didn’t know it when we were on the hard, because the bucket method bypasses that seacock.  We have no idea how it failed (it was working fine when we hauled out and it was only 7 years old), but after a quick haul we had a new one installed.

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Fortunately, the broken seacock proved to be the last of the winter gremlins.  After tuning the rigging and putting the sails on, Pegu Club was ready for us to start sailing (and cruising post-Labor Day) on her again.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we had no idea what a hassle decommissioning and commissioning a boat is until we no longer had to do it.  Now that we’ve experienced the joy of not having to close Pegu Club up for the winter, we’ll be sure to be far enough south not to have to winterize if we decide to leave her again for several months.  Some things are a hassle no matter where you are: removing food, cleaning the boat, etc.  But letting the boat sit in freezing temperatures for months on end brings its own set of issues that we’d just as soon not deal with anymore.  Fortunately, we don’t have to!

Reflections on the winter – and looking ahead.

We’re back in Groton and getting ready to splash Pegu Club. Are we excited? Hell, yes! Are we glad we took the winter off? Yes – with some caveats. Did we learn anything from this experiment? Definitely.

Last spring we decided to take a boat break for the 2021/2022 winter cruising season. We were feeling burned out, and we wanted to step away from cruising for a bit so we wouldn’t get to the point where we never wanted to cruise (or even sail) again. Over the summer we thought that perhaps we would spend the next few years traveling on land in the winter and cruising in the summer.

By the time we left in September, however, I was ready to cruise south again. I even brought it up as a possibility to Jeff. But he wasn’t quite there yet, and we did have a fun winter planned, so we decided to stay the course and go to California.

A few months into our stay in San Diego, Jeff was also ready to go cruising again, so we enjoyed the rest of our winter knowing that we would move back onto Pegu Club in the spring and cruise south to the Bahamas again this fall. We spent a lot of time excitedly planning our boat projects for the summer, talking about destinations (both in the near future and the not-so-near future), and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for us when we cruise full-time.

So what did we learn from our winter away?  Boat vacations are VERY important.  It simply can’t be all boat, all the time. That just leads us hurtling full-speed down the road to burn out. We actually figured this out after our first year, but when Covid arrived, traveling away from the boat wasn’t really an option for us – a factor that contributed heavily to our desire for a break.

Now that we’ve entered a new normal (fingers crossed), we’re going to take at least two boat vacations each year, perhaps even three.  It doesn’t have to be for months.  It just needs to be a vacation. Towards that end, we’ve booked flights to Puerto Rico for a week in January, and we’re kicking around a road trip to Montreal and Quebec City next summer (ideally during Montreal’s International Fireworks Competition).

What else did we learn? We aren’t ready to give up living and cruising on Pegu Club yet – not by a long shot. But Jeff prefers occasionally staying in one place for a while at a marina so we can just step off the boat onto land and settle in a bit.  I like to move along a bit more frequently and generally favor anchoring.  So, with the experience that comes from being happily married for 22 years and counting, we’re going to compromise.

To start with, we’re spending this summer at Shenny.  We have several big boat canvas projects for Pegu that will be more easily completed at a slip.  Of course we’ll do some day sails and short getaways this summer, and we are taking two weeks in July to sail to Martha’s Vineyard with our friends from S/V Infinity.  But a big focus will be getting the sewing projects completed (and blogged about).  Jeff is working part-time again at Defender, and I’m going to be one of the launch operators and fuel dock attendants at Shenny.  So all of that will certainly keep us busy.  

Right after Labor Day we’ll start heading south, and we’re planning on several one or two week marina stays at some of our favorite places. We also want to keep it fresh, so we have a few brand new stops in mind in the U.S. and the Bahamas.  

Anything else? We don’t want to necessarily spend the next decade cruising back and forth between Connecticut and the Bahamas. We’d like to spread our wings a bit more, so we’re kicking around some ideas that I’ll share in the future. In the meantime, we’re having fun talking about it.

We feel refreshed, energized, and as enthusiastic as newbie cruisers. By that measurement, our winter away from Pegu Club – while way too long – was absolutely worth it. Now let’s see what comes next!

Palm Springs – among a select few spots at the top of our list – and back to Connecticut.

Our next stay after San Diego was four weeks in Palm Springs.  We’ve been to Palm Springs twice before and have always loved it, but this would be our longest stay by far.  Before we arrived we were thinking it could be a top contender for the “Can we live here someday?” sweepstakes.  By the time we reluctantly left, it was running neck and neck with Beaufort, SC.  We even briefly debated staying for an additional month, but logistically we couldn’t make it work.

With a great vibe and even greater weather, we made the most out of our stay.  Since we had a late check-in, we took the long way around the barn to get there from San Diego.  We went via Brawley so we could buy carne asada at Ramey’s and Jeff could see the Imperial Sand Dunes near Glamis for the first time.  The dunes are massive – often reaching over 300 feet high – and several movies have been filmed there, including Return of the Jedi.  

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Since Palm Springs was only an hour away from Joshua Tree National park, we took a day trip there and were both very pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed it.  The landscape was much more interesting than we anticipated, and we’d definitely go back again.

Joshua Trees:

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The Cholla Cactus garden was amazing.  I loved the way the light shining through them made them look as if they were glowing (it was better than the picture).  If we move to Palm Springs, I would absolutely plant some.  The cactus is also called “teddy bear cactus” and there are large signs warning people not to touch them.  I could definitely understand the temptation because they looked soft and fuzzy.  Note: they’re not.

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An oasis in Joshua Tree National Park:

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We also just enjoyed daily life, taking full advantage of the walking paths, parks for metal detecting (for Jeff), and local events.  I even spent one memorable Saturday learning how to flag at a Flagging in the Desert event.  Of course it’s obvious that I was a newbie compared to the second video with the people who know what they’re doing!

So what puts Palm Springs in the very top tier for places we’d be happy to live some day when we aren’t cruising?  It has great weather (obviously).  The city has a laid-back vibe with an all-inclusive population and fantastic mid-century modern architecture (which we love).  

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It’s large enough to have many things to do but not so big that it’s impersonal, and there’s no need to take the freeway to get everywhere.  There are tons of hiking and walking paths, plenty of parks, and it’s close enough to L.A. and San Diego for getaways without being too close.  Basically it checked almost every box we have, so we’ll see.  Who knows what the future will hold?

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But meanwhile, it was time to pack up the car and point the bow east (assuming a car had a bow, of course).  After one last visit with Lyn and Ken in San Diego and family in L.A., we were off to Phoenix where we had a great visit with my high-school friend, Wes and his wife.  

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Wes and I have been friends for 39 years!

The next day was the start of two 700 mile days so we could spend more time doing a “greatest hits” tour up the east coast.  60 hours after leaving Phoenix we were pulling into my uncle and aunt’s driveway in metro Atlanta for two nights. We hadn’t been to their new house yet, and it was great to see them!

After that it was off for a two night stay in Beaufort, SC (we can’t miss having our tomato pie):

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We took advantage of having a car this time to drive to Hunting Island State Park, less than 1/2 hour from Beaufort. It has a gorgeous beach – yet another reason why Beaufort remains neck and neck with Palm Springs

We also visited Wilmington, NC for the first time. It’s a detour up the Cape Fear River that we weren’t sure would be worth taking. After visiting, we decided that it most definitely is. What a fantastic downtown. It reminded us of a northeast city with the weather of the southeast (photos courtesy of Google):

A stop in Belhaven was mandatory (of course) and, once again, we took advantage of having a car by driving to Washington, NC to see if we might want to go there on Pegu Club (it would be a 30 nautical mile detour off of the ICW, up the Pamlico River). We loved the downtown area and will absolutely stop there again.

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Last but not least, we enjoyed a great stay in Delaware with our good friends Vanessa and Kurt. We also had the added bonus while we were there of getting together with more good friends – and fellow cruisers – Jay and Tanya from S/V Minx.

And now we have landed back in Groton, CT where we are busily preparing Pegu Club to go back in the water. Shore leave is days away from being over. What’s next? Stay tuned!

I’m the Captain now.

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One of the things I’ve really wanted to do for awhile is to get my Coast Guard Captain’s license.  I’ve been kicking around the idea of an occasional part-time or seasonal job to add a bit of structure to my day (fluffing up the cruising kitty is an added bonus), and I knew that I didn’t want to work in an office or do anything related to law.  If I was going to work, it needed to be connected with the marine industry, preferably outside.  With a Captain’s license I could drive a launch, a water taxi, a tour boat, do deliveries, etc., and I could do it in any state.  THAT’S my idea of the perfect part-time or seasonal job!  So once we arrived in San Diego, and we were finally going to be in the same place for awhile with solid internet, it was time to hit the books. Continue reading “I’m the Captain now.”

Top three bucket list item checked off the list!

One of the things I was REALLY looking forward to on our road trip across the U.S. was going to the Grand Canyon.  Jeff and I have never been, and it was absolutely a bucket-list item for me.  Well, Jeff’s (fortunately) brief bout of atrial fibrillation while we were in the Colorado National Monument temporarily derailed our plans.  We discussed going to the Grand Canyon as we drove back east, but hotels at the park filled up literally a year in advance, so a March visit wasn’t going to be an option.  However, we were able to snag a reservation for two nights at the end of February at one of the cabins at the Bright Angel Lodge.  In the end, I think it worked out better than if we had gone in October as originally planned, or even March.

I’ll admit to having second thoughts the night before we left our AirBnB in Palm Springs.  We were going to get up before sunrise, and we were looking at at 450 mile drive.  But we decided to seize the day and dragged ourselves out of bed when the alarm went off.  We were greeted with a pink mountain view from the sunrise as we left the rental, and after a quick stop at Swiss Donut to fortify ourselves for the trip, we hit the road.

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The road conditions on I-40 as we neared Flagstaff were appalling.  We’ve never experienced roads that bad anywhere – even in New England during the winter.  I’m talking craters the fell like the size of a VW Beetle.  A quick Google search confirmed that we weren’t imagining it.  I found this picture online, and although it’s from 2017, this is how it looked in stretches along the way.  Anyone who claims an infrastructure bill isn’t needed should take a drive along I-40 in Arizona:

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After dodging and swerving our way along the interstate, Jeff and I looked at each other and said, “I sure. hope this is worth it.”  It was.

Our cabin was a stone’s throw from the edge of the Canyon so after getting our key we brought our duffel bags to our room.  We hadn’t yet seen the Canyon yet, and Jeff made me laugh when he said, “Don’t peek!”  We dropped off our bags and made the short walk to the rim so we could see it together at the same time.  Wow!

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Pre-covid, the Grand Canyon was the second most visited National Park with around 6,000,000 visitors annually.  During the prime tourist season, the place is absolutely jammed.  But February is the least popular month to visit with around 1/3 of the number of visitors compared to October (when we originally planned to go).  And we absolutely reaped the benefit.

Although we prefer not to be this close to snow, seeing it in the Canyon was a treat:

 

It was chilly with highs in the upper 40’s, but the sun was strong so we were comfortable with our cold weather clothes.  Hiking was off the table with an elevation of 7,100 feet, but we were able to fully enjoy both of the rim roads (Desert View and Hermit), pulling over at all of the viewpoints.  In fact, unbeknownst to us, Hermit Road is closed to all vehicles except for the visitor buses from March 1 – November 30th.  When was our primary day to sightsee?  February 28th.  Perfect!  The lack of crowds meant that we even had some of the viewpoints to ourselves for a while, which is simply unheard of as the main tourist season kicks in.  Our delayed trip truly worked out for the best.

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I loved the huge mesa in the distance:

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Meet Hank. My best friend, Lyn, is crocheting these bears and I had to have one. He appeals to the kid in me, and I think we all could use that occasionally. You’ll be seeing him from time to time as we travel. Yes, Jeff is very patient:

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Overall, I would say that a two night stay is perfect if you just want to see the views and aren’t planning to  hike.  The first night is your arrival day, the second night gives you the whole day to sightsee, and then you leave.  Jeff said that the Grand Canyon was one of those places where the word “epic”, typically overused, is actually appropriate.  The scale is almost unimaginable.  At one point we thought we saw a bird flying in the canyon, only to discover that it was actually a helicopter!

That being said, I think we both preferred some of the other parks we’ve been to a bit more, like Colorado National Monument or Rocky Mountain National Park.  Their slightly smaller scale made them feel a bit more accessible, if that makes sense.  Regardless, we’re both glad that we made the effort to see it.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the views are amazing.

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