The Outside Route

The view from Mavis’ cockpit at night.

I’m sitting here alone in the cockpit on yet another long offshore overnight sail.  As planned, we’ve been avoiding lots of the Intracoastal Waterway and are doing much more offshore sailing than we did on the trip south. In fact, we have taken a good chunk out of the return voyage to Long Island already. As of this moment, we have sailed about 2200 nautical miles since leaving Long Island at the end of September.

Cindy and Willow went to bed hours ago so it’s just me and Mavis now.  The winds are too light to move us along at an acceptable speed so we have been motoring since leaving Hilton Head some 14 hours ago. The mainsail is up but isn’t doing much. It’s dark. Very dark. There’s no moon and we are many miles out off the coast out of sight of land. I can see the sky is light in the area of Charleston but can’t see the shoreline. The light of the electronics and instruments cast a red glow throughout the cockpit and our navigation lights project a tiny pool of light around Mavis’ hull but other than this it’s complete darkness except for the sky which is full of stars.

I’m wishing I was able to see better right now because I just received a report that a container ship lost 16 shipping containers off it’s decks near here last week. Some of them have been found floating just below the waterline. Hitting one of those could easily hole us. I keep thinking about Robert Redford in “All is Lost.” and don’t want to end up that way. I’m keeping watch but I’m really only looking for other boats. The chances of us encountering one of those loose shipping containers is fortunately very small. There’s a whole lot of ocean surrounding our tiny little boat.

Container afloat off the Carolina coast.

A never ending parade of small waves roll by, gently rocking us. The conditions out here are really very calm with seas of about 2 feet. It’s like a calm day on the Great South Bay. In fact, I sort of keep forgetting I’m not in protected waters. The droning sound of the engine is remarkably hypnotizing and relaxing. I’ve pulled the throttle back to 1800 RPM and we are slowly putting along at around 5 knots. Any faster and we’ll arrive at the inlet too early. I’m hoping to safely and comfortably slide into Winyah Bay at the first signs of light and ride the flood tide into Georgetown.

We have about another eight hours or so before we reach the inlet. I’ve made myself a pot of coffee and gotten comfortable in my helm seat with my laptop. There’s not much to do but keep an eye on the gauges, manage our fuel and make sure the ship is on the course line I plotted. I haven’t touched the helm since we got out into the ocean. The autopilot is doing an excellent job maintaining course. Every few minutes I scan the horizon 360 degrees looking for the lights of any vessels that aren’t showing up on my screen. I see no traffic within 25 miles of our current position. Sometimes I go out on the deck and strain my eyes into the darkness… It’s impossible to see anything at all.  If we were unlucky enough to encounter one of those shipping containers I wouldn’t see it until we hit it.  It’s been hours since I’ve seen another vessel. A few ships were leaving Charleston as I passed by but they quickly went out of sight and dropped off my screen long ago.

We spent a few days in Hilton Head after another offshore overnight passage from St. Andrews Sound, GA. Arriving just as the terrible weather that was forecast began to roll in, we tied Mavis up at the Skull Creek Marina as the winds really picked up. We could feel the temperature dropping rapidly as the cold front came through. We had a few unseasonably cool — actually cold days in Hilton Head with temperatures dipping down into the lower 40s overnight.  We were glad to be at a marina so that we could take advantage of the unlimited supply of electricity and run our space heater. Even though it was rainy and cold, we were very comfortable on board. After running the engine to enter the inlet and arrive at Skull Creek Marina, there was plenty of hot water on board for me to take a much needed shower before heading out for dinner with friends.

One of the reasons we wanted to stop in Hilton Head was to visit our friends Chuck and Reneé.  These guys are really cool and they share our love of travel and adventure.  We did drinks and dinner out one night and they also had us over for a delicious home cooked meal.  During dinner we were discussing the strange fact that even though we have travelled up and down this coast for almost 2200 miles already we haven’t seen a single alligator.  As soon as dinner was over Chuck had us in his car and we went to a local park with a body of water that is crawling with alligators.  He was determined to show us an alligator but probably because of the ridiculously cold weather, the alligators that normally line the banks basking in the sun were not present.  We did see lots of signs warning park visitors not to feed the gators…  And I saw a big pile of what I’m pretty sure was alligator poo…  but no gators.

Don’t Feed the Alligators

I was resigned to the fact that I would not be seeing any alligators that night.  The sun was down and dusk was waning quickly when I saw a set of eyeballs and a snoot in the water.  As I reached into my pocket to grab my phone to take a picture this enormous alligator flipped its tail violently and swam into deeper water where he floated…   Judging by the size of the creature’s head, we estimate he must have been 7 or 8 feet long.

My terrible alligator Photo. 🙂

Cold is quite a strange feeling. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it. Having spent the winter in bathing suits and flip flops I think we got a bit thin-skinned. We still have many hundreds of miles of northbound sailing to do. I’m sure we will toughen up along the way. The weather is funny this time of year… Couple that with the fact that we are constantly changing latitude and it makes it difficult to know how to dress sometimes. People who live up north have a routine they do twice a year. In the spring, all of the sweaters, coats, and winter clothes get put away and the shorts, swimsuits and summer stuff comes out. We kind of did that on our way south. Because we took longer getting south than expected, winter was nipping at our heels all the way to South Florida. But when we arrived in Stuart and realized it was going to be in the mid seventies to low eighties every day, we put most of our cool weather clothing away into bins in our closet. Drawer space aboard Mavis is limited so we only (barely) have room to keep the stuff we actually wear out. Leaving northern Florida we already started to feel the difference in temperatures so we again did the switcheroo. I begrudgingly put away my swimsuits and shorts and replaced them with long pants. I’ve even been wearing socks… And underwear sometimes! It’s weird. As we continue north we are hoping that spring arrives and temperatures up north begin to warm up. I’m hoping to get back into shorts and flip-flops soon.

There’s not much else to report. The crew is happy. We continue to enjoy this grand, crazy adventure we are on. Cindy is still taking millions of photos and we are appreciating seeing every single sunrise and every single sunset from aboard our happy ship. Willow has been dealing with the long offshore passages very well. She still refuses to go to the bathroom on board. We are also really starting to get excited about being home soon. By the time we arrive we will have been on board about seven months and travelled about 3,000 nautical miles yet sometimes it feels like we just started our journey.


Arrival at Winyah Bay Inlet at dawn



We arrived safely in Georgetown, SC this morning, entering the Winyah Bay inlet on schedule at dawn. We’re expecting a full day of rain tomorrow so we’ll hang here until Saturday morning before continuing north. We are only about 50 miles from the North Carolina state line. Georgetown is a quaint little town but the gnats and noseeums here are ridiculous. You can’t be outside more than a few seconds without a swarm of them forming a cloud around your head. I’ve breathed a few in and I’m pretty sure I ate about 200 of them with my fish dinner. Protein is protein, I suppose. We are otherwise happy and comfortable on board thanks to screens and Deep Woods Off!

Capt Frank
S/V Mavis