The cruising lifestyle is obviously very transient. What is hidden within it, is that we are always saying good-bye. As we made the decision to move on to New Zealand, we say a final farewell to so many great friends, and, sadly, a final good bye to my mom, before we fly out to New Zealand. (Ted)
We left York River in mid-September intending to spend a few days at Solomons getting our new flybridge upholstery fitted, then return to spend the remainder of September before starting to head south in October.
We had a nice run up to Fishing Bay about 30 miles north, and anchored for two nights, as a bit of weather passed through. Unfortunately the wind hadn’t quite abated when we left and we had a miserable few hours beating into a head sea and 15-20kn winds. We were dreading getting to the mouth of the Potomac which can be horrible in these conditions, but luckily the weather improved and the afternoon segment was much nicer.
When we arrived at Calvert Marina, our friend Stephanie was waiting to catch a line, and after we’d settled in, she returned to tell us that Bob had received some bad news health wise, and they were having to reassess their plans to be somewhere where he could receive the treatment he needed to. This was a big shock to us, Bob is healthy and only a few years older than us.
The boys from Canvas Connections arrived the next day to fit one of the Stidd helm chairs and the new flybridge sofa. They took the other Stidd chair away, and also took the chair backs to be recovered. We had committed to a week at Calvert’s, to get the upholstery finished and to spend time with Bob and Stephanie. Of course this included a Patriots game on Sunday night, as well as a visit to the nearby Amish market which was fascinating with home baked goods, organic fruit and vegetables, and the horses and buggies parked up behind the stalls.
In September of both 2017 and 2019 we had hauled the boat out at Washburns Yard at Solomons, right next to Calvert’s. So we called in one afternoon to say hi to Linda, Eric, Kevin, Gary and Ricky. Ricky also had a major health scare earlier in the year but told us he had just got the all clear from the doctors, which was great news. Both previous visits we had been lucky enough to catch the Solomons Art Festival at Anna Marie Gardens just up the road from the marina. And we caught it again this year, so walked up to the beautiful sculpture park and wandered around the market stalls. There were a lot fewer this year, and of course everyone was wearing masks, but we managed to see Eric and Cathy from Washburns do their usual music set.
Our friends James and Darlene on Sabbatical, a Selene trawler, were also around but isolating as James had eye surgery scheduled for the following week. So we chatted with them from the dock.
A couple of days before we were due to leave Solomons to return to York River, we got an email from our shipping agent in NZ. He advised that there was a slot available on a freighter departing Newport Rhode Island in mid-October, and would we be interested. This was a game changer for us. Firstly the price was the best we’d been able to get since first making enquiries in April to ship Southern Star home. But just as compelling was the shipping location of Newport. This meant only travelling about 350 miles north from where we were, rather than 900 miles south to Florida, still in hurricane season and at the time with five storms or TD’s swirling in the Atlantic. So we confirmed we would make the trip to Newport, and would take the shipping slot he’d offered us.
The weather showed a good window opening up at the end of that week which would mean doing three quick days of 40, 50 and 60 miles to get to Cape May at the bottom of New Jersey, where we would leave early Friday morning to make the 206 miles (about 30 hours) to Block Island just south of Newport.
Our first stop was Annapolis, as we still were waiting on the last of the flybridge upholstery, which Christine at Canvas Connections offered to deliver to Annapolis where she was doing work on Roam. So we pulled into a slip next to Roam, where Christine brought our backrest, and we had a farewell dinner with our dear friends Clark and Michelle. It felt quite surreal to think we wouldn’t be seeing them again, at least until we return to the US to see family, or if they ever make it to NZ.
On our way out of Annapolis the next morning, we talked to Devon on Pura Vida, our kiwi friend who was on his way back south, and who also has US visa problems. He was putting his boat on the hard at Herrington Harbour, while he travels to Turkey to reset his visa. At least he is one friend we have a reasonable chance of seeing again in NZ at some point.
The next day we cruised on to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and pulled up to the dock at Schaeffer’s where our Delaware friends Mark and Megan drove out from Wilmington to buy us dinner. It was lovely to see them again. They are always so enthusiastic and interested in our travels and plans, and have become very good friends. They promised to come to New Zealand to see us.
We left the C&D Canal in the dark the next morning to catch the current down the Delaware River. We had the most amazing run, doing 9 knots at one point on an almost flat river. We have never seen the Delaware in those conditions, and have always fought current and chop the whole journey. We even managed to time the slack tide going through the Cape May Canal, and docked at South Jersey Marina in time to take a walk into town.
Our weather window had remained intact, and we left Cape May around 8.30am, again in relatively flat conditions, with wind and a slow swell behind us all the way. The run up the New Jersey coastline was uneventful, other than several encounters with New Jersey fishermen, who generally don’t answer their radios, and if they do, sound either drunk or asleep, and always rude. We were on a collision course with one, who didn’t respond to my calling him, but did finally answer Ted’s call, and he told us he was turning away from us, so we turned away from him to give us more room, but he actually turned towards us, so we had to make a sharp turn to avoid him. We heard him later on the radio with another fisherman getting confused again about what direction he was turning. Our friend Jerry on Grace of Tides later told us the fishermen will never answer a radio call from a female!
Towards the end of the day, we saw whales a long way off, and overnight we had dolphins playing in the bow wake. Sunrise came up over Long Island, still great conditions, and we were about two hours out from Block Island when we saw whales again, but this time really close. We slowed the boat right down, and they came closer, breaching and slapping their pectoral fins. They were massive and stayed around us for a long time. Ted got some video, but it didn’t do justice to the experience. Amazing to see this only about 25 miles offshore from New York.
When we called the Block Island Harbormaster, she directed us to a private mooring as the public mooring field was full for boats our size. It was a Saturday night, so it was busy. Very different from our last visit to Block Island in late October 2018 when it was deserted and all the moorings had been lifted for the winter. Block Island has a large internal harbour called Salt Pond which is entered via a narrow channel. The harbour is deep, with probably 200 plus moorings, plus some marinas and still plenty of room for boats to anchor. On Sunday we moved to another mooring closer in, as there was some bad weather due on the Tuesday night. The harbour emptied out and there were only a handful of boats left.
On Monday we took our tender into the public dock and walked up to the village on the island. Not quite as many tee shirt shops as Cape May, but very much a seaside town, with ice cream shops, fudge and salt water taffy shops, and lots of restaurants. A ferry runs daily between Newport and Block Island which in season brings in hundreds of day trippers each day. On Tuesday we walked the other direction to a gorgeous beach, which had lovely multicoloured pebbles, rounded smooth by the ocean.
A sailboat came in on Tuesday evening and took a mooring next to us which worried me with the predicted winds of 50knots coming overnight. Sure enough, I couldn’t sleep when the winds woke me around 2am, and spent three hours on watch, while we swung around on our mooring. The next afternoon the winds were still around 30kn and we were astonished when the boat next to us let their mooring go, and sailed out of the harbour. We could see the ocean swells from inside, the waves would have been 12 feet, and we watched them bounce out the inlet, still towing their dinghy. They ended up turning around and coming back in, the dinghy had flipped over and we were happy to see them pick up a mooring further away from us.
That night our generator started leaking fuel, and although we had planned to stay up to a week at Block Island, we had to find a marina to go to plug in. Ted had already been in touch with a marina about coming in the following week, so we contacted them the next morning and they could accommodate us. We had a rollie ride in the residual 6 foot swells from the storm for the 20 mile trip up to the west passage at Rhode Island, until we got some protection.
Our marina was at Wickford which is a lovely little New England town. The marina was a score with a great off season rate, and floating finger docks both sides, which meant we could give Southern Star a really good clean ready for her trip.
The day we arrived, I asked a guy walking down the dock about Wi-Fi access and he pointed at me and said “Jenny?” It was Bryan from Mermaid, who we met last year at Solomons. Turns out this is their home marina for the summer, and he and Sherri came over for a drink and offered us a vehicle which we took advantage of to do a final shop for some items we wanted to put on the boat back to NZ. They are Patriots fans, and we’d planned to watch the game with Kansas City, but just learned that players on both teams have tested positive for Covid, so the game was postponed. We still enjoyed a football evening with them, and all watched the delayed Patriots game the following evening.
Mermaid departed, and our friends Chris and Holly on N47 Paragon, came into their slip for a couple of days for some work. We had met them in New Bern earlier in the season.
We had been tracking the freighter which was going to take Southern Star to NZ, and saw it had departed Fort Lauderdale. Sure enough we were advised the next day that our load date would be Friday 16th at 1000, but we needed to be there at 0900.
In the meantime our wonderful friends Dee and Jerry on N68 Grace of Tides had joined us at Wickford Marina. We spent several lovely evenings with them during that week, and the day we loaded up, they drove over and collected us to take us back to Wickford. It was fantastic to have their support and friendship over what was a very stressful time for us, and we were very sad to say goodbye to them on Friday when we left them to check into our airport hotel in Providence. They say that NZ is on their bucket list and we really hope we will get to welcome them there at some point in the future.
It had been a crazy week, as once we knew our load date, we had to make flight bookings cross country to get to LA for our 31st October departure to NZ. Our first sector was from Providence to West Palm Beach in Florida, to say good bye to more wonderful friends, Bob and Mel on N57 Istaboa. They collected us and we spent two wonderful days relaxing with them, good food, good wine, good friends and of course some Sunday football.
While in Florida Ted got a call from his sister Jackie that his mother had a stroke and had been taken to hospital in Dallas. So instead of continuing to Oklahoma we flew to Dallas and rented a car to spend a few days there. Unfortunately Ted’s mum was now battling against lungs, heart and brain all shutting down, and it was a very tough few days for him sitting with her. Teds other sister Martyne and her son Riley arrived on Thursday and as only one family member could visit per 24 hours, she stayed with Judy while we drove to Idabel to be with Jackie. We got the call Friday afternoon that Judy had passed. The weekend was spent with just the family in a quiet celebration of Judy’s life.
On Monday we flew to California where Martyne’s husband Jeff picked us up. She and Riley had left Idabel the day before, and we spent two days with them in San Clemente. This included a visit to Nordhavn HQ in Dana Point, close to San Clemente where we were treated like royalty as they awarded us our 15,000nm pennant, together with tee shirts and caps. On Thursday Jeff drove us north to LA where we stayed two nights with Ted’s cousin Susan and her family. We had great family time with Joe doing a tri tip roast in his smoker for a wonderful farewell meal. Martyne and her family joined us too, and then Ted’s cousin Dave ran us to LAX on Saturday night to check in for our flight.
In the days when I worked for ICO and travelled all over the world, I would often pass through LAX. It was always under construction; it was always crowded and could be overwhelming. So it was surreal to go into the departures level and see almost nobody other than those checking in at Air NZ. Then we passed through what would normally be up to an hour long security queue, where there was one other person behind us. At the departure gates, our flight was the only flight departing. No planes waiting at gates, no shops or food places open. Finally our boarding call came, and we walked through the sky bridge and onto NZ005, not knowing when we will be returning to the US again.
We were initially disappointed when we made our decision, but we have discovered over the past four years that we are both resilient and have become used to adapting to changing plans and circumstances. We now have a marina berth booked for Southern Star at Gulf Harbour just north of Auckland. We have accommodation arranged with our good friend Gordon in Auckland, between the times we get out of the 14 day quarantine in NZ, and when Southern Star gets offloaded. And our friends Raoul and Cindy have just bought a 53 ft. sailboat and want to go cruising with us over the NZ summer.
So we won’t get to do another season in the Bahamas, or see Jamaica, or Panama, or Mexico, or French Polynesia. And we are sad about that. But we will have our beautiful boat down in NZ, where we can cruise, or locate somewhere for a while if we decide to work. And we have the South Pacific cruising of Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, and New Caledonia awaiting us. We have our friends Mike and Katie on Kya just across the ditch who we can go see when travel becomes possible between NZ and Australia.
Covid 19 changed everything for us. But life isn’t too bad and it’s onto the next part of our adventure.