As I write this, I’m sitting at Brenda’s kitchen table looking out over her back yard. The maple tree is bare, the last of its leaves long fallen, the bird house in its branches long empty. The ivy trailing along the fence is still green but everything else is grey. Or brown. Or grey. And… what is that white stuff on the ground?
We’re back in Ontario, at my sister’s place in Guelph, after a month of unrelenting travel. We’ve been on delivery, moving the boat from New York to Florida in stages as the weather has allowed.
After an easy summer in the peaceful Bras d’Or Lakes, the Atlantic seaboard of the United States was a bit of a shock. First and foremost, there’s the ship traffic. If possible, these waters are busier than they were when we travelled through them 13 years ago. At one point, as we were sailing at night past Atlantic City, we were tracking three tug boats, half a dozen big fishing boats dragging nets, several cargo ships making their way to and from New York City, a Coast Guard boat, and a handful of other sailboats trying to make their way south through all of this.
One thing that has changed, and it has made sailing in busy waters much less hair-raising, is the advent of AIS—Automatic Identification System, which is now the main way to avoid collisions. We still run our radar regularly—not all boats have AIS—but we now have all kinds of information on the ones that do. By clicking on the little triangle that shows up on our chart plotter, we can find out the name of the boat—very useful if you have to hail them—the type of boat, its direction and speed, and sometimes its destination. So you know if that white light on the horizon is a 648-foot cargo boat, a cruise ship, a fishing boat, or a tug boat pulling a train, as they call a series of barges. The system even tells you if the train is on a short or long line—sometimes the barges are as much as a mile behind the tug boat.
Curiously, Coast Guard boats don’t show up on AIS, but I guess if they’re looking for illegal activity, they don’t really want to announce their presence. It’s funny, in Canada, members of the Coast Guard seem like friendly, helpful people who are there to assist if you get into trouble. In the States, they seem to take border patrol more seriously. We often hear Coast Guard helicopters hailing boats and questioning them, and once we had to skirt an area where Coast Guard boats were engaging in firing practice. Do Canadian Coast Guard boats even have guns? I’m not sure.
But the Coast Guard’s bold presence is nothing compared to the many fighter jets that screamed over our heads on this journey. Sorry—we have lots of pictures of where they were two seconds ago but only one actual glimpse of a jet to share with you. Those things are fast! We spent two memorable nights at anchor in the Alligator River waiting out weather, which is one of the places these jets practice manoeuvres. They would streak out over our boat then shoot straight up in the air and disappear in the clouds. A minute later, they’d come screaming back. It was pretty neat—our own private air show. Okay, it was neat during the day time…
The further south we travelled, the quieter the coastal waters became. On the last leg of our journey—a five day passage from Beaufort, North Carolina to Florida—there were very few other boats around. We had a peaceful sail—warm, sunny days, star-filled nights, with the full moon to light our way. Oh yeah. That’s why we do this.
We made landfall at Ponce de Leon Inlet and spent a leisurely Saturday motoring along the Intracoastal Waterway to Titusville, where we are keeping the boat while we’re home for Christmas. All along the way we could see evidence of the havoc wrought by this year’s hurricanes. Smashed up docks, sunken boats with just their masts sticking out of the water, boats washed up on shore, most of them abandoned now. It’s a very sad sight.
It was sunny and 80 degrees when we left Florida just a week ago, with a nice cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. It took us three days of driving to cover the 2,000 miles it had taken us a month to travel by boat. We still wake up in the night and wonder where we are. On passage? Is it time for my watch? Are we at anchor? Why is the boat so still? Wait, we’re in a bed. What motel is this? What city are we in?
Oh yeah. We’re in Guelph. And that white stuff on the ground is a skiff of snow. Sure it’s cold here, but we’re getting used to it. And to tell the truth, I’m okay with sitting still for a while.