June 16, 2024  

Adventures of the Damn Yankee
Ahoy shipmates! Here's your chance to experience sailing the Caribbean! Our guest writer aboard the Damn Yankee provides a weekly narrative relating the adventures of life at sea. Join the crew aboard the 36' Catalina as her First Mate recounts the exploits of a couple who have moved into the lifestyle many dream of living. Insightful and compelling, Gwen Schuler will keep us posted in a series of articles and photographs as she and her husband Jim set sail for adventure. Dock here regularly!

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Lord of the Reefs
Installment No. 14
One Particular Harbor
Installment No. 13
Lucayan Marina Village, Bahamas
It’s Better in the Bahamas
Installment No. 12
The Bahamas
The Crossing
Installment No. 11
The Florida Keys

Changing Channels
Installment No. 10
Wrightsville Beach, SC

Follow in our Wake
Installment No. 9
Beaufort, N.C
Into the Ditch
Installment No. 8
ICW, The Ditch, Virginia
Down by the Waterside
Installment No. 7
Norfolk Harbor, VA
Mileage, Majors and Norfolk
Installment No. 6
Norfolk Harbor, VA
Installment No. 5
Zahniser's Marina, Solomons Island, MD
Portlights and pianos, Boat Show Week
Installment No. 4
Annapolis, Maryland
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
Installment No. 3
Great Oak Marina, MD
There's a glitch
Installment No. 2
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Let the Adventure Begin
Installment No. 1
Fairlee Creek, Maryland

Changing Channels
Within hours the rain pelted harder. The wind blew sharper and the water turned an unctuous black.

Installment No. 10 -- Wrightsville Beach, SC

"Remember little lady, don't aim for the head. Watch now…"
I watched.
The dockhand's tossed line spiraled perfectly dropping into my outstretched hands. It's 7:15am.
"You have yourselves a good trip. See you on your way north next spring."
"I'll remember and thanks." I shout from the bow as Jim backs the Damn Yankee out of our slip at Beaufort Docks.
"Come on back now." he calls.
The current is not quite slack. The water swirls around the hull running at .5 knots. But it submits to Jim's sure hand as he throttles forward. Time enough for me to send the dockhand an enthusiastic wave relieved that his voice is back and he harbors no grudge over my nearly strangling him. Easily maintaining my footing on the wet deck I follow his progress down the dock until he turns and disappears between two motor yachts.
"Just wait until next year," I whisper suddenly anxious to redeem myself. Redemption would have to wait. Jim and I would travel many miles before we would be returning here.
The Damn Yankee's lines coiled and ready to stow, I step over the coaming into the cockpit for my first cup of coffee.
"The dock master likes you," Jim announces.
"What dock master?" Bent double over the lazaret, busy stowing lines, I am barely listening.
"He just tossed you our lines."
I jerk my head in Jim's direction and drop the lazaret lid somehow managing to spare my hand. Jim winces at the bang.
"Sorry," I mumble patting the fiberglass. "That was the dock master?"
"Oh, yes." Jim laughs. "Seems you made quite an impression." He laughs louder. "Says he wouldn't want to play against you in horseshoes."
"I thought he was a dockhand," I feel my cheeks flush, "not that it makes any difference."
"You did fine. I guess I forgot to tell you to factor in the dockhand's height."
"Thanks a lot."
"The dock master actually said you throw great…for a Yankee woman!"
A tart response escapes me. Instead, I opt for more coffee and head below away from Jim's broad grin. Now, just wait until spring.
The waterfront recedes in the distance. Norfolk, now Beaufort and so many cities to come; it is funny how similar the quays all look from the proper drift.
The Damn Yankee motors along past Morehead City and underneath the Atlantic Beach Highway Bridge.
Our coffee cups refilled, we drink in silence. Another week is ending. Two hundred miles into the ICW and we've another sound to cross. It is another Friday. It is cold.
"Ray says Swan Point Marina at around mile 245 is a good stop," Jim says.
Quickly turning five pages ahead in "The Intracoastal Handbook," I nod. Nearly forty-five miles headway today, five pages seemed a good run to me.
There are no odometers on a boat. Mileage was now measured in clicks of the chart plotter and the numbered pages in our chart books. Recording engine hours maintained a loose corroboration. The waterway itself offered its own verification in the form of mile markers interspersed in five-mile increments. I found myself following our progression on wooden stakes weathered gray with mile numbers painted in black. Such a simple numbering process appeared primitive but proved accurate. Within days I could gauge five miles of time and distance with a mathematical exactitude that would have thrilled my high school trigonometry teacher.
Gliding past the array of pilings erected along the ICW in varied states of repair and design, it occurred to me that the prototype for Tinker-toys evolved from this project. I'd have to look into that.
Across Bogue Sound the water lightened to refract a vivid aqua under the noon sun. Despite the cold, my spirits soared. Cups of hot soup and thick ham sandwiches warmed and revived us.
"We'll be in Wrightsville Beach tomorrow."
"Is it warmer there?" I asked.
"God, I hope so." Jim answers yanking the sleeves of his sweatshirt to cover his hands.
"Next year, gloves." I pronounce wiggling my numb fingers.
"We've made good time. We'll be in before three o'clock." Jim glances at the sky. "It's damn cold. Even the sun's not much help." He pulls up the zipper on his foul weather jacket.
Were we having fun yet?
Tied up in Swan Point Marina's haul-out slip despite an early morning reservation could not quell my pleasure at the welcome rush of hot air from the portable heater blowing over my frozen feet. The Damn Yankee's heating system was taking a sabbatical. Too many shrimp had chosen to take up residence in the heater's strainer. And Jim had cleaned out said strainer one time too many.
Twenty minutes later, feeling able to walk I stuffed my laundry bag with towels and ventured off the boat in search of the laundry room while Jim checked in.
Picking my way over the dock I managed to avoid spraining an ankle or tripping over the rail used to haul out or launch boats. I step over piled hoses and an odd toolbox lying open across the dock. I edge around a rusted bike all the while absorbing these new surroundings. Definitely a rural setting bringing to mind, Mayberry" meets "Deliverence."
The two men behind the counter are friendly and helpful though, directing me toward the back of the office/store past the welcome warmth of a wood-stove. I pause for a moment to let the heat seep into my fingers.
Set in front is an oil cloth covered table complete with a checkerboard laid for a game. The best vantage to observe the play is held by the head of a long dead moose whose black eyes gleam. I suspect he hasn't missed a game in years.
A stack of well perused NRA magazines teeter precariously on the edge of a chair. For seconds, I consider a quick trip back to the boat for my camera. My friend Carolyn will never believe I'm standing in the middle of this setting. But my laundry bag is digging into my shoulder. So I shoot the moose a grin and shake my head in disbelief before turning down a hallway to locate a washer and dump my load.
"Gwen, did you start…" Jim calls. "…there are no dryers," he says as he enters the room.
"No dryers, you didn't notice?"
I follow the wave of his hand. "Not until now," I answer. "Damn! It's too late and too cold to hang towels."
That is how Jim and I ventured into Sneads Ferry, N.C. and discovered the "Pit Stop" Laundromat and Sports Bar. A truly civilized concept I surely would have missed had we not given up our own washer and dryer to reside on our boat. A man could indulge in a game of pool and sip some suds while his laundry wallowed in the same. Since only men populated the bar, I could only deduct that men were responsible for laundry in Sneads Ferry. My conclusion was further reinforced by the marina's eagerness to supply Jim with a car and map with printed directions. I had no desire to break any laws so I let Jim finish his beer and fold the dry laundry while I sauntered over to the drug store for a copy of Vanity Fair magazine.
"I don't get mad. I get even." Jim whispers in my ear. "Up and at 'em. Wrightsville Beach today. Let's go."
"It's too early. Go away," I grumble.
"Oh no. The towels are clean, dry and folded. It's time to go."
"All right." I open one eye. I can't see my hand in front of me. "I'm getting up." I pull the pillow over my head.
The engine rumbles to life and vibrates me out of my warm bed. I feel around for my clothes in the dark. Since I'm wearing the same sweats from yesterday I've only to remember in what order I took them off. In less than a minute I'm ready to go. This time I take an extra minute to brush my teeth. Shrugging into my foul weather jacket I head topside to find Jim has already released the bow line.
"What time is it anyway? It's too dark below to read the clock."
"Around 5:30." Jim says stepping aboard. "You want to pull that stern line in? Oh, and get the running lights."
"Five thirty, why!" I drop to the cockpit seat. "I would have folded the towels back on the boat where no one could see."
I caught just the ghost of Jim's smile as he lowered his head to put the engine into reverse.
"Leaving now, we'll have the tide with us for the next few hours."
As usual, Jim was right. We rode the tide through the waters of a series of bays, Chadwick, Alligator, and Waters while the sound of rolling surf echoed from beyond the sand dunes. There was no wind but the water remained distinctly aqua and the day warmed considerably.
The Damn Yankee made the hourly opening of the Wrightsville Beach Highway Bridge. Within fifteen minutes we were pulling alongside the transient dock at Seapath Marina where I surprised Jim and myself when I cleated the spring line with a mere flick of my wrist.
"Very nice," said the young dockhand as he caught the stern line Jim tossed.
I stood quietly basking in the deck hand's admiration feeling absolutely grand. Plus, I was wearing shorts.
Wrightsville Beach feels like a beach town. The odor of French-fries and seafood drifts on the air.
"This could be summer," I say. "I like it." Smiling, I lift my glass and gaze out over the water. Relaxing into my chair on the restaurant porch I watch boats of all size and description vie for their space in the channel. Sail or power they weave their way through the basin and around each other.
"It's a little bit Chesapeake, a little bit Jersey, but they speak slower and the accent I'm hearing is distinctly southern."
Jim nods, waves his hand to include the view. "I wanted you to see this." He finishes his beer and orders another. "Ray and I would sit across from here over at the Bridgetender Restaurant after a day at the plant and just watch the boats and enjoy being on the water."
Mention of another friend we had left behind brought the usual twinge but the thought that Ray had shared the same view, enjoying a drink brought him closer for just a minute and dulled the ache. I followed Jim's gaze to see the restaurant he visited every time he had business in this area. It looked just like he had described.
"We could have walked over the bridge," he said.
I shook my head. "I'm glad I'm here. And it's warm." I respond reaching for the calamari.
"How about Italian tonight?" Jim asks leaning across the table.
"We're not eating aboard?"
"Not tonight, tomorrow."
"Okay." I was wise enough to obey the captain's decision.
Still feeling full from a fabulous dinner the night before and sleeping past seven, even steady showers couldn't dampen my sense of well being. The coffee was hot and ready. My foul weather jacket kept me dry and warm. A light wind pushed the Damn Yankee on her way.
Within hours the rain pelted harder. The wind blew sharper and the water turned an unctuous black.
"That's Bald Head Island behind us," Jim comments.
I turn. Sharp wind slashes my face. The pricks of rain sting. Terrain and water are indistinguishable. The weather has definitely deteriorated.
"We're in the Cape Fear River now," Jim announces.
"That explains it," I respond swiping my sodden bangs out of my eyes. My previous well being is all but washed away.
"We've lost the current." Jim says tweaking the wheel in the direction of the next red marker which is barely visible through the current downpour. "This will be a ten mile slog," he continues.
I blew out a breath then indulged in a long sigh. I did not like the Cape Fear River. Aptly named, I decided. A primeval landscape passed slowly beyond the dingy water. Dusk colored tree trunks stood shadowed against a murky sky. Thick branches either curled into the water defeated or reached high resisting the inevitable to plead like unanswered supplicants. Gooseflesh pebbled my arms. I hugged myself. I rubbed my arms. It didn't help. Apprehension rose along with the chill traveling up my spine. This was an altogether eerie place. Leaning over the lifelines to port I searched through the drizzle for the land cut.
The rain continued. Darkness would come earlier tonight and it was nearly full dark at five thirty when we pulled past the red and white lighthouse into the enormous basin at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club.
Tired and wet after nearly ten hours of relentless rain, Jim's expression remained grim as we approached what we hoped was the correct dock. From the bow I struggled to read its letter but the sign was obscured by a mega-yacht.
"This is the right dock Jim," I shout, waving my arm and pointing off to starboard.
He leans forward over the wheel with his hand cupping his ear. But the Damn Yankee is gliding in the right direction.
To starboard lays the Casa Blanca.
"Jim," I yell, "Ray and Betty are here. See." I point again.
Jim sends me a dismissive wave. He's focused and intent on docking the boat. I am sure he never noticed the Casa Blanca.
Somewhere we had crossed into South Carolina. I never noticed when we did.
I throw the soaking wet line to a dockhand and don't flinch when the residual spray hits me in the face. I feel better already. Ray and Betty are here.
"Your friends had us put you on this dock," said the dockhand. "They're waiting for you in the restaurant. Welcome to Myrtle Beach Marina."
I would learn the dread of farewells is readily dispelled by the delight of eager greetings. Familiar faces always held the capacity to warm and welcome.
After hugs all around we sat down to dinner.
The Damn Yankee, Casa Blanca and Cut'Em were comfortable traveling together again. Another week passed in days of singular succession.
Monday, we three left Myrtle Beach under sunny skies to navigate the Pine Island Cut. Bundled against the forty degrees chill we ran the twenty-eight miles alone. No toots from powerboats, no need to throttle back while they passed to starboard or port. The Damn Yankee and company could maintain both speed and course.
As we passed under the bridges a few men rigged out in hooded sweatshirts lifted gloved hands in greeting before reverting back to their fishing.
The evening found us at Wacca Wache Marina eating on board.
Jim and I were discovering the gifts of the unexpected.
Always were those special places that catch you unaware and are all the more appreciated. Georgetown, S.C. is one such place. A small southern town off the ICW on the Sampit River, we tied up at the long pier at the Georgetown Marina and proceeded to walk to town. The green of gardens greeted. Oaks draped in Spanish moss stood sentry while white painted houses with long piazzas sat just beyond.
Brick fronted stores with sparkling glass windows lined the main street. Street lamps of wrought iron lent an air of old word elegance. Easy to imagine a much earlier time, I thought as I stood reading soldiers' names on a Civil War monument plaque. And we had the whole of an afternoon to explore.
Jim indulged me traipsing through the requisite antique and gourmet shops until the ache in his feet finally transmitted itself to his face. Time to head back to the boat. I had nearly forgotten it was Election Day.
"The fog's supposed to burn off by ten," Ray says. He doesn't look convinced.
"Let's hope so." Jim answers scanning the river.
No sun penetrates the opaque white rising from the water. I can barely make out the stern of Cut'Em directly in front of the Damn Yankee's bow.
"Nothing to do but wait," Jimmy comments before boarding his boat.
"Do you think we'll be able to leave later? We could maybe do a short day," I suggest.
"Don't know yet." Jim answers. "I was hoping to make Charleston by Thursday."
Nearly four hours later and we had slipped the lines heading down river using our radar. Heavy pennants of vapor drifted skyward with torpid slowness. We still managed over thirty miles before anchoring in Graham Creek.
We heated some soup and crawled into the v-berth dropping off to sleep in minutes.
Jim and I declared Charleston, S.C., our midway point on the Intracoastal. Now, here we were. The city lay waiting. Sunshine, shorts and Charleston, we were both exuberant as we jumped from the Damn Yankee's deck to the dock at Isle of Palms Marina outside of Charleston.
"We'll have the car by two. Can you be ready by then?" Ray asks.
"I'm ready now," I blurt.
"Alright," Ray laughs. "I've got a feeling you'll love Charleston."
I surely did. Pride of the past fused with present pragmatism to insure preservation for the future. Charleston offered us much to absorb in a too short space of time.
Pirates and patriots strolled the Battery. Freemen and slaves assembled in the Market District for vastly diverse reasons. Sitting in one of the restored taverns drinking through the heat of the day, you can hear the whispers of ages past intrude.
One can luxuriate in color. A pastel spectrum of pink, saffron and violet cloak the great antebellum houses. Greens in variegated shades abound in gardens and spill from window boxes. Unfamiliar flowers fill the air with scent even in November. Amazing. South Carolina's palmetto palms sway in a light breeze. I can't believe I'm here.
"Jim, I want to come back here next year, stay at least a week."
"If we spent a week everywhere you wanted we'd be on the ICW for six months! We'd also run out of money."
So much for the beauty and romance of Charleston, the clip clop of the horses hooves over the pavement deafened my muttered oath.
"We'll come back for a few days next year," Jim pats my hand. "I'd like to see Fort Sumter and Patriot's Point Naval Museum."
"That will work." I say, ever obliging.
A second good-bye to the doctors, schedules and golf at Hilton Head beckoned.
Crossing Charleston Harbor I reflected on the seeming ease with which we had sold the house, left the kids, moved aboard, set off on this adventure; it was the farewells that nicked at my emotions. Ray and Betty, Jimmy and Alice, how many more would there be? I set my sights on the next marker and swallowed my coffee through the tightness in my throat.
The Damn Yankee's next port would be Beaufort, S.C. (pronounced Beau-fort) but before we would lie at anchor in Ashepoo River at Rock Creek for a night.
The familiar measurements of time and space dissipated. Surroundings constricted to the serpentine flow of the water under a limitless view of the sky. Destinations lured to entice us forward, destinations always fifty miles ahead.
Beaufort, S.C. held us captive an extra day but not because of its deep harbor and lovely mansions or the many restaurants 300 yards from our boat. Fog, drenching rain and heavy winds reigned in a furious display of dominance that kept us below to read or ponder the influence of the elements. We recognized the jurisdiction of the weather, now we were beginning to accept it.
Thirty-nine degrees, sitting in the cockpit with two throws tucked under me I verify markers as we cross Port Royal Sound. I am always cold. But today Jim has the hood on his sweatshirt pulled tight.
"We are headed south?" I crave reassurance as a shiver takes control of my body.
"If I'm reading these charts right we are." Jim says meeting my gaze. "How about some tea."
"That might help." I grit my teeth and throw off my blankets to go below and stoke up the burner.
Marginally warmer after two cups of scalding tea I watch South Carolina's low country slide by in the cinema-scope motion I remember seeing in movie theaters as a child. Grasses in tawny and hazel hues stretch to the horizon and beyond swaying in careless ease. Miles of marshland crisscross wide sounds while the rivers meander to terminate in narrow creeks. I am gently lulled into a dream-like trance.
"We're in Georgia, Gwen. Were you napping?"
"Of course not. I was thinking."
"Thinking," Jim looked skeptical, "about what?"
"That we're spinning out time…each day, each hour seems to last longer out here…doing this."
"Could be," he gave the wheel a pull lining up the range markers. "…spinning out time; I would call it cruising slowly. Palmer Johnson should be only two miles ahead. Did you know they greet their guests each morning with a newspaper and a box of fresh donuts?"
"Mmmm, fresh donuts, you say…"
"We've got a dinner invitation aboard Tomlin II," Jim announces as he steps below.
"Tom and Lynn are here? That's great. Have I got time to shower?"
"Sure," Jim answers. "We're staying tomorrow. I've got to change the engine oil again."
I didn't quite manage to hide my dismay at the Norfolk visual that flashed into my mind.
"Hey." He put up a hand. "I'll be finished before noon. Then we'll head into Savannah with Tom and Lynn. How's that."
That was exactly the right thing to say. What with losing a day in Beaufort for weather we had decided to bypass Savannah this trip. Now, we wouldn't miss it, all thanks to Jim's care in scheduling the Damn Yankee's maintenance.
Cobbled streets line Savannah's waterfront. Brick fronted shops and taverns beckon. We succumb to beers and burgers before venturing up the stone steps into the heart of the city. Cosmopolitan in scope with a liberal dose of the bohemian, both sophistication and the whimsical are celebrated in Savannah.
Elegant squares of green are canopied by the leafed, sweeping branches of great live oaks. Mansions whose brick has mellowed to deep claret adjoin brownstones washed dove-gray or crème. Intricate curls of wrought iron extend across porches and stretch up the front steps.
Charleston and Savannah are cities to be walked. Walking is the currency of admission. All the senses are engaged in an onslaught of sights, sounds and scents. Our countries past and present merge. It is a gift to be relished.
Jim and I, Tom and Lynn happily walked miles. There were still corners not turned and streets not taken. But I was satisfied. I knew we would return again. And next trip, before aching feet could protest we would savor the cities' intricacies from a comfortable seat in a horse drawn carriage to cover a wider area.
"Damn Yankee, we've got a broken water pump. We'll head to Kilkenny Marina, over."
"Damn Yankee will tuck in behind you."
"Negative, Damn Yankee. No need. Lynn and I will be fine. We'll catch up later." "You're sure, Tomlin II."
"We're sure. See you down the line. Tomlin II standing by 16."
"I don't like leaving them. But, Tom's right. They should catch up in a few days," Jim said.
"I would have liked us to travel together. It's less lonely."
"I know. Let's hope they catch up."

"We're cutting this day short, Gwen. It's freezing. See if you come across an anchorage within the next five miles."
"But it's just past noon."
"And if I crawl under our blankets within the next hour I may be thawed out by nine tomorrow."
I begin paging ahead. It was slow going. My hands were numb.
"Well, we missed Kilkenny with Tom and Lynn at mile 613. We've got Walburg Creek at 619 by St. Catherine's Island or if you can make it, Cattle Pen Creek at mile 625."
Jim steps from behind the wheel and picks up the book I was studying. "I wish I were in a Cattle Pen surrounded by warm animals right now."
"Then Cattle Pen it is?" I ask.
"That's it, Cattle Pen. We'll be anchored by two."
I wondered if we would freeze to death that night.

The cold front stalled over Georgia and got colder.
Up and running the ICW by seven each morning, I knew those minutes just waking up while I was still snuggled under the covers would be the warmest I would be all day. But this was an adventure, wasn't it? Somehow, I never expected this cold.
Delayed five days, Jim quietly fumed. I talked about survival and happily set up house. And enjoyed the long, hot daily showers.
"I can't believe you've been here five days. I thought you'd gone." Coreen from the Karuna pulls me into a warm hug.
"It's the weather," I answer. "I kept expecting to go. It just got colder. I've barely been off the boat except to shower."
"And do laundry…" laughs Coreen.
"On Thanksgiving," I chime in.
We're enjoying the moment and each other. I am sorry I didn't bundle up, take the time to walk down the dock to see Coreen. We met nearly a week ago in the laundry room when she returned from a short trip and found all the machines in use…at 10:00pm! Thankfully my laundry was tumbling around in the dryer. By the time I had them folded we were friends.

"Listen, you and Jim join us for drinks today before dinner."
"Sounds good to me," I agree.
I just wish I'd known, we could have had dinner together," Coreen said.
Once more, I thought I should have taken that walk down the dock.
Seated and comfortable deep inside the Karuna's saloon, Jim and I, Coreen and Bill sipped wine and quickly made up for lost time.
"Coreen and I should make the Bahamas sometime in January. Where is it your staying again," Bill asks?
"Lucayan Marina Village, they've got a great deal long term," Jim says.
"That sounds like a plan." Bill lifts his glass. "I think we'll join you, that is if I can get in with my seven foot draft."
"It's doable. You'll have to come in on the tide," Jim said.
"Come in on the tide…" I whisper with a glance around the Karuna before returning my gaze to Coreen and Bill. That is exactly the right term, for them, for this boat.
I sit up straighter, turning the stem of the wine glass between my fingers.
The pirate and the lady welcoming guests aboard their Kato Sealark Ketch, circa 1968. A venerable wooden ode to time-honored sailing tradition; Karuna is a narrative and a poem. Karuna represents both vow and commitment as together, Bill and Coreen, set off to discover their own adventure in paradise. Suddenly, I knew that they would, "come in on the tide" to join us in the Bahamas.

Beyond St. Simons Island lay Jekyll Island, exclusive resort inhabited by the Astors, the Morgans, the Pulitzers, the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. Lifestyles of the rich and famous was not yet correct terminology when they migrated to build on these banks. I gazed fascinated as the Damn Yankee cruised slowly by magnificent "Newport-style" homes framed by towering palms.
Wheeling gulls swooped over the rocky crags and wind-swept dunes of Cumberland Island. Remote, evoking a timeless beauty, I had barely time to absorb the scene before me when we had entered Northern Florida waters.
"You can take off your sweatshirt now, Gwen. We're in Florida."
I jerk my head in Jim's direction. I can hear the excitement in his voice.
"I'll be damned," I say. "There's a sign. Look." I point starboard.
Sure enough, like an unexpected surprise there is a sign. I watch for a full minute, just to be sure, before heading below for two Coronas. I even take the time to cut lime slices.
"We're in Florida!" I'm shouting but I don't care. I wave like a fool at the pleasure craft whizzing by. Jim laughs. I take off my sweatshirt. We are in Florida!

The Sunshine State where it is warm and not cold. The next week would be a breeze. Jim and I were both giddy with excitement! Over tropical drinks at Fernandina Harbour Marina's waterfront bar our words tumbled over each other. The experience of doing the ICW; its sounds and rivers, tides and currents, desolate in places breathtaking in others, the waterway became part of us. We would carry its lessons. We would add more next year.
Once more, weather held sway. Morning drizzle and high winds presented an extra day in Fernandina.
The soap box derby went on as planned. Light rain did not dampen the children's excitement or the adult's enthusiasm. Jim and I cheered right along with the community. I had never watched a soap box derby. We walked away holding hands and smiling.
Heavy swags of evergreen canopied the main streets. We were approaching the Christmas holidays. I had not given them a thought. For that Saturday, Jim and I allowed ourselves to be caught up in Fernandina's version of the holiday rush. We peered at the glittering offerings in display windows. We poked through shop after shop filled with a glorious kaleidoscope of color. Jim never complained; he never faltered. I loved it!
The day cleared, got warm bringing a clear, star-filled night. The tree lighting, Christmas carols and fireworks Saturday night could have been held for us. Jim and I both felt like it had.
From Fernandina we followed the ICW by Amelia Island on through Sawpit Creek just past St. Augustine to Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor. More Christmas decorations to admire and a complimentary highball glass, we were on our way again.
The waterway still stretched ahead. A continuation of channels to cross, markers to follow, scenery to enjoy but nearing the end made us all the more anxious to put those last miles under the Damn Yankee's keel.

"Gwenie, I've got your line. Jim, there's a launch tonight. We can watch from here."
Captain George Fletcher has our lines secured before Jim has the Damn Yankee's rudder straight in the slip.
"George, good to see you, man," Jim steps over the lifeline and extends his hand.
"Come on over to the Reel Deal. I've got a cold one ready."
"Sounds great," Jim says falling in behind George as they head down the dock. George is fueling up. George fuels up often to run his 50 ft. Post sportfish down the ICW to Florida each year. I look at the Damn Yankee with renewed appreciation.
Lagging behind, I hurry to catch up. George sweeps me into a breath-stopping hug. It is so good to see him.
Today, our trip takes on a solid reality. The Damn Yankee and the Reel Deal lay yards apart after a decade of discussions. Together now, we have fulfilled another segment of our plans. This segment is especially sweet.
The launch is an awesome sight. A fiery trajectory into the sky, the astronauts would quickly lose sight of earth. I had lost sight of the Chesapeake weeks ago. But we carried the memory with us.
Dinner out in Ft. Pierce with George and his crew brought a happy coincidence when Lynn and Tom from Tomlin II walked through the restaurant doors. Excited hugs and introductions moved us to the bar where Jim and I perched on stools to catch up with Tom and Lynn. A problem with a part delayed the Tomlin II for nearly a week. Then there was a trip back to Canada. No wonder we never caught up with each other. But, they were safe and we were enjoying drinks together now.
"A toast to timing," said Tom raising his glass.
"To coincidence," offered Lynn.
"To us," concluded Jim.
We all drank, and marveled.

"We've got holidays in Canada. After that, the Bahamas," said Tom.
"Good. Gwen and I will be watching for you. E-mail before you come."
"Will do," Tom says.
We stand in the parking lot of the Pelican Yacht Club waving Lynn and Tom on their way. Jim and I watch until the tail lights disappear around a curve in the road.

One more day, one more marina one more port of call; finally the Damn Yankee pulled into her slip at Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach. Jim and I had completed our Intracoastal run.
Now, we would wait for my brother-in-law and a weather window.
"Do you think we'll be here long enough to finish that case of Norfolk red wine," I ask?
"Possibly." Jim frowns. He pauses before crouching into the back cabin. "We'll open a bottle now, to celebrate."
"It'll have to breathe for a few hours…"
"I don't think so…" Jim uncurls himself with a grunt and reaches for two wine glasses before heading into the cockpit.
Following behind, I blink into the sunlight then shift my gaze to the bottle Jim is uncorking. I blink again; smile meets smile.
"Opus One, Jim?"
"This is a celebration, Gwen." He pours two glasses, hands me mine. He lifts his own and taps my rim.
"I can guarantee the Opus takes less time to breathe. And we don't have to wait any longer."
We drink. The wine is excellent bursting like liquid riches on the tongue.
Jim raises his glass again.
"To the Bahamas," he pronounces.
"To the Bahamas," I repeat and drink. "Jim, you do have another bottle of Opus One, don't you?"

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