Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Traveling North - 11 March, 2016
Up until now on our trip, we have pretty much had our choice of anchorage spots. We have chosen to run long or to stop early, based on how we
have felt. There have usually been good anchorages every few miles, certainly no more than ten miles apart.
But we are in upper South Carolina now, about to enter North Carolina. From here to Oriental, the choice of anchorages gets more difficult. Good
anchorages can be twenty miles apart - which for us can mean up to four hours, depending on tides. We have to be much more careful about
when we choose to start and when we choose to arrive.
In addition, a lot of the openings to the ocean along this stretch of water are "shoaling," which means that the incoming and outgoing tides deposit
a lot of silt and sand along the sides of the openings. This silt and sand builds up along the path of the Intracoastal Waterway and can create
tricky navigational problems. We want to make sure that we go through these areas with as much water under our keel as possible, so we have to
work around the currents and tides.
The other problem with heading north is that the scenery can get boring. We are not talking "interstate boring" where you might go five or ten
minutes without seeing a billboard or an interesting exit. We are talking three or four hours of staring at dunes, houses, the chartplotter and the
depth finder. You can't read effectively, because the channel is narrow enough that you have to adjust course periodically, even when using an
autopilot. You can't zone out, for the same reason. About the only thing you can do is sit at the helm and worry.
Worry is endemic to owning a boat. There is always something that "might" be a problem, so you need to watch out for it. There is always a
system that is not working at 100 percent, so you are trying to figure out how to work around it. Even if everything is operating correctly, you need
to be thinking about what to do if someone gets hurt, if some thing breaks unexpectedly or if some piece of information is about to coming flying
over the Interwebby.
I know all of these problems exist in "the real world," but the problems are magnified by the facts that you are transient and that you are not
connected to the grid. Consider a very simple problem. You are at home this evening and you spill a pan of hot soup on yourself. Your skin starts
to blister and you are in great pain. So, you pick up your cell phone, dial 911, give the operator your address and, five minutes later, a team of
medical para-professionals is on their way to pick you up and take you to the nearest emergency room.
Now, consider that same scenario, but you are in a boat, in an anchorage, somewhere between Florida and Virginia. Yes, you can still call for
help, but you don't have an address. You have a location. Yes, a team of para-professionals will still be sent, but they will have to arrive by boat
or helicopter and a lot of smaller organizations don't have those resources, so they will have to come from farther away. Yes, they will still take you
to an emergency room, but it may not be the closest, since boats and helicopters take different routes than cars and ambulances.
Add in the extra problem of not being the person injured, but the one left behind and the problems multiply. Stay with the boat or go with the
patient? Move the boat to someplace closer to shore or stay anchored and wait for help? Leave the pets or take them with you, hoping to find a
place to stay ashore with them?
There are ways to mitigate risk, but no way to remove it. You can ignore the risk and hope that it doesn't occur - which works 300 days out of the
year. Maybe 400. But eventually, something will happen and, if you haven't planned for it, thought it out and developed a process, you are going
to be in trouble.
In a lot of cases, the simple solution is to stop and get the boat into a safe place. Then you can figure out a plan to correct the problem. But that
is not going to work all the time and relying on it is foolish. I've talked about local knowledge in the past and one branch of "local knowledge" is
listening to other cruisers and figuring out what they did or didn't do in an emergency. In fact, there are even books and "cruiser courses" to help
you think about what you would do in any given emergency.
But knowing I have a plan is not going to stop me from worrying. So, from the North Carolina border to Portsmouth, you can count on one thing.
I will look like I am worrying.