Vinni – Norfolk to Carolina Beach

 

After five unforgettable weeks in the Chesapeake Bay, we’re ready to make sail southwards towards Charleston, where we will haul Capri on land October 1st. She’ll be on land for a month or so, while we go golfing with Marshall and Debbie in New England – not so much for the golf, but mainly to see “The Colours” (which are supposed to be unique). After that, we’re going to be babysitters for 2 weeks for our grandchildren, Frida and Viggo, in San Francisco, while their parents are out having fun in Barcelona and on a cruise in the Greek Islands.

Carsten has spoken often about showing me The Outer Banks at Cape Hatteris. A sailing area for the gods is what he has promised. He thinks that we can come in from the Atlantic side through one of the inlets. Cape Hatteris, for those that don’t know it, is infamous, and known as “The world’s largest ship graveyard”. Yes, it is possible to come in through one of the inlets, but the water depths are just too shallow for Capri. Now if she were a fishing dinghy…………………….

So we’ll go back down through the ICW from Norfolk, a route we know well since we came up it. On to Albemarle Sound and then southwestward in behind Cape Hatteris.

But it looks like we won’t see the Outer Banks this time around. We studied the charts minutely and there is a bridge right at the start that is only 45 feet high. Our mast is 61 feet and the bridge doesn’t open so there is no way we can go under it. Cape Hatteris will just have to wait until next year. Carsten was really depressed and it took a couple of hours and a couple of glasses of red wine before he was back in a good mood. The end result is that we’ll be sailing back to Charleston the same way we came up last year. This didn’t change my mood though, since I’m been looking forward to sailing the ICW again and experiencing the wonderful nature and landscape.

Other challenges begin to show up – minor challenges (we think), but as time passes they become more serious (more about this later). We upped anchor at Yorktown early evening on August 15th and are planning to sail overnight to Norfolk because it is too far for at daysail if we are to make it through the lock before it closes at 3:30 pm. But we made good time and were at the mouth of Norfolk harbor at 4 in the morning and ended up circling around for 3 hours simply because we did not want to sail through Norfolk harbor in the dark (this is a very, very busy harbor).

At sunup we entered Norfolk. From the harbor mouth, through the harbor and up the river to the lock is about 35 nautical miles. Here on the east coast of the US, it is normal that there are long channels from far out in the Atlantic into harbours that lie deep in bays or up rivers. These channels are 15-20 nm long and their length is due to the many reefs that line the coast of the US.

During our night run, we heard our bilge pump start a couple of times. Whenever that happens the first thing you do is stick a finger in the bilge water and taste to see if it is salt or fresh. Fresh water means the leak is from the on-board fresh water system, which is irritating, but not life threatening. Saltwater means there is a leak from outside and that is truly serious – if not contained the boat can sink. Unfortunately, we are in the Chesapeake, where the water is still mainly fresh, so tasting it didn’t tell us anything.

At first we were quite calm about it. We have, in the past experienced that water hose has leaked and the clamps need to be tightened. Since we didn’t hear the bilge pump all the next day, we assumed that it was just some water from the sump that had worked its way into the bilge and activated the sensor. 65 nautical miles after upping anchor in Yorktown, we reached the lock at Great Bridge, got through before it closed and tied up to a little free (yep – free!) dock just across from the marina we had stayed in with Lars and Bente (and paid $80 for the night).

The next morning everything is peace and quiet, not a ripple disturbs the water as we glide slowly down the Albemare and Chesapeake Canal. The trees stand alongside the river like Palisades and mirror beautifully in the water. Condensation fog lies lightly on the water, giving the morning a surreal effect. Oh how I love being back in the ICW.

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early morning

 

Capri meets her fate in the brown waters of the river and once again we get a “moustache” on our bows. I really hope we can polish this off when we get to Charleston – it doesn’t become her. The brown colour is from the water, it is tannin, which comes from the masses of rotting vegetation on the bottom of the river. It doesn’t look good in the river – it doesn’t  look good in our toilet when we flush. It was a lot more exciting to flush out in the Atlantic where the water was blue and fluorescent at night.

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it really is only brown because of the tannin

It is much like a fairy tale to sail down the ICW. Along the water the trees stand with the roots naked and exposed to the water. The banks are being eaten away by the wakes of all the motorboats that wash the sand away from the roots. Sadly this means the trees die and we have to be careful to navigate our way around tree stumps and floating logs. Crickets and frogs provide a cacophony of background music whilst hawks, eagles and buzzards circle overhead. Whenever we go by the red or green buoys, there is always a nest on top and the birds in the nest screech and caw, telling we are not welcome and to move on.

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Further down the river we sail along the edges of The Great Dismal Swamp, through marshland and sump. This is truly unique, I know of no other places where this type of landscape can be experienced. Tall grasses sway in the wind, low naked trees dot the banks. It all looks untouched and impenetrable. My thought go to those slaves that escaped their masters using this swamp as their getaway route. I simply lack the words to adequately describe how fascinating this landscape is and can only hope that our pictures can convey the ambience.

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yes – it really does look like that

The ICW is not only unknown amongst Danes but also amongst many Americans. Some have heard about it but never experienced it. They have no idea what they are missing out on. Carsten had heard of the ICW, but hadn’t truly realized just how big an experience it is.

We sail of the close confines of the river and into the more open North Landing River, where the winds freshen and our aerometer says 25 knots. This is not what our forecast had said and we start wondering just what the weather gods have in store for us.

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Even in here the winds are strong

Hurricane Harvey, category 4, is just around the corner. We’re used to sailing in fresh wind from Denmark, but it is a challenge to keep Capri in the narrow channel under these conditions. Don’t be fooled by the pictures – the river may look wide – but the channel is only the middle part of it and right outside the channel, the water is only a foot or two deep. The channel is frequently only 30 yards wide, just enough for a couple of barges to pass each other.

What do we do when we meet one of these barges? We call them on the VHF and advise him that we have a 7.5 foot draft, meaning we can’t go outside the channel. Usually he comes back saying: “ need 8-10 feet of water.”  Yes sir – now what? These skippers are local and know the ICW like their own pockets – so they know exactly where there is some room just outside the channel markers and tell us to either hurry down to them and go a bit to starboard or else slow down and wait til he comes up to us and we can then pass. They guide us over the radio and up til now every has gone well.

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Big mama just passed us in a narrow part of the channel

I’ve begun to wonder why we haven’t heard anything form our bilge pump. Since it hasn’t turned on, that must mean the leak was from our watermaker, which ran the night before last and hasn’t been turned on since. I look over at our electrical panel and see, to my shock, that the bilge pump switch is at “off” – it is supposed to always be “on”. I turn it on and immediately the bilge pump starts up – this time it runs for a long time before it has emptied the bilge (and the sump). One of us must have switched it off by accident when we were flushing the watermaker – I won’t point an accusing finger – but suffice to say it could never happen to me.

Now the hunt for the leak begins in earnest. Carsten is crawling around on hands and knees throughout the boat finding nothing. We’re still taking this calmly and wait until the next time the pump starts to see just how much water is leaking in. A little over a half liter an hour. That’s too much. Suddenly Carsten remembers that there is a possible ingress point at the propeller shaft. There is a seal (a so-called blackjack) there. Carsten pulls the engine box apart and finds the leak – yep, the blackjack is leaking. He comes up in the cockpit and gives me the bad news – Capri needs to be hauled out and that as soon as possible. Carsten is really pissed, because he had the blackjack changed just before we left Denmark – no way it should be leaking already.

Looking through our pilotbook, Carsten found a small boatyard in Belhaven which we should reach sometime tomorrow. Carsten called and despite it being Sunday, they answered and we made an agreement that they will haul Capri as soon as we get there. Later that evening, we get a text message from them asking how we are doing.

We make it into the Alligator River after 80 nautical miles of sailing and anchor up behind a small island on the other side of the bay from the marina we were in when we came up the ICW earlier this summer. That was the marina that promised us 8 feet of water but only had 6 feet. I plowed our way in and out through the sand – never again. Anchored up, we realized that we hadn’t heard the bilge pump in a couple of hours – checking we realized it had crapped out. Nothing for it – we now started pumping out using the hand pump in the cockpit. SHIT! Fortunately, we had changed the hand pump before leaving Denmark so it worked and quite effectively at that. But this means that we have to set the alarm clock for every hour during the night so one of us can get up and pump the bilges dry. I can’t get to sleep so I end up doing most of the pumping.

As soon as the sun is up, we are on our way. First item is to go through the Alligator River bridge. We call the bridge watch for an opening and as we pass through we ask for a weather report. Lying at anchor, we don’t have WIFI and therefore no internet. Bad news, we’ll get close to 30 knots of wind the next day. At those wind speeds it is possible to sail a boat with as deep a draft as Capri in the narrow confines of the ICW, so we’re thankful that we will have her hauled out.

Despite the leak, we enjoy sailing through the desolate Alligator River – Pungo Canal. The pictures speak for themselves.

After 45 nautical miles, we reach Belhaven and meet the boatyard owner by the agreed upon buoy next to the channel. We wonder where in the world this boat yard is, since we can’t see a yard. The boatyard owner has come out in his motorboat and on the side it says: “Tow Boats US”. So apparently he does towing also and helping people who are aground or need other assistance. That was why he sent us the text message last night asking if we needed help pumping Capri out. He explains that we will be sailing up a small creek to get to the boatyard. Carsten told him 3 times yesterday, when they talked on the pone that we have a 7.5 foot draft and will that be a problem?  No problem according to the owner on the hone – there will be 9-10 feet of water and they have a lift that can lift 30 tons (Capri weighs 12 tons). In other words – we have nothing to worry about.

At the same time he told us that Capri will actually be safer in the yard, since they have forecast winds of over 60 knots for the next day. 60+ knots is hurricane strength and they expect a tropical storm with hurricane strength gust to pass through the next couple of days. So we have no choice but to follow him up the little creek and past a menagerie of sunken old steel apparatus.

We’ve only sailed 100 yards before Capri goes aground. He doesn’t understand it, since there is lots of water (he claims). But we’re fast aground so he puts a tow line on us and we end up being dragged 500 yards through the muck. Our depth gauge shows nothing deeper than 6 feet and at one point it is showing just under 5 feet. Poor Capri. We are both frustrated as hell. Finally we make it in, after abusing the hell out of Capri. The son, who is taking over the boatyard after his father, looks at Capri and can’t understand why his father lured us in here.

First they want us in the lift with the stern first, but we say “no way”, because we are worried about our rudder. It takes 5 persons to haul Capri in, bows first. Now they can’t get the lift belts under Capri since she’s standing firmly on her keel. We capitulate and turn Capri around, all while being very careful of her rudder. After getting her in, the owner realizes that he can’t lift Capri because her Targabar, solar array will hit the lift before they can get her completely out of the water. The lift simply isn’t big enough. Carsten had told him several times on the phone that Capri is 40 feet long, 13 feet wide and has 7.5 foot draft and a targabar and solar array. Apparently he simply didn’t listen.

So we drag her out of the lift an turn her for the 3rd time. Now they realize that Capri’s forestay will hit the lift. It’s getting dark and the rain is coming down in bucketfulls. We agree that we need to wait until morning. We manage to just lift Capri enough that she will “hang” just above the ground, but still be in the water. We stay aboard but are terribly frustrated. Another night without sleep. I’m ready to cry because I feel totally powerless. I’m so pissed at the owner for bringing us in this situation that I could spit in his face while he stood there making small talk and joking. Had he told us the truth, we could either have turned around and gone back to Norfolk or continued straight on to Beaufort where there is a yard that can take us. Too late now to try for either Norfolk or Beaufort – nobody in their right minds sails the ICW with our draft at night.

The owner now suggests that he can tow us out into the ICW and we can then sail to Beaufort the next day. Carsten looks at him incredulously and says angrily, never, ever will he sail out into a hurricane – what the hell are you thinking?

The son stops by the next morning as agreed at 8:30. It is clear that he is feeling bad about the situation. He says he’s going for a cup of coffee at the office and will be back soon. Good enough. An hour alter, we’re still sitting on the boat waiting. By now I’ve lost all respect for their “professionalism”, or rather their lack of it. I get the feeling that would rather we simply got the hell out of there, because it has dawned on them that they can deliver what they have promised. Their staying  in the office is something I interpret as a “sit-down strike”. Finally Carsten calls them and asks when they are planning to come to the boat.  “it’s raining” is their response. Now even Carsten monumental patience is at an end. We’ve managed to get internet at the yard and have checked 3 different weather forecasts, all of them promise reasonable weather the next day. Carsten contacts the boatyard in Beaufort 65 nautical miles away and makes arrangements for them to haul Capri. He also orders a new Blackjack over the net for delivery directly to the yard. Plan B is now operational so Carsten goes up to the office and asks for us to be towed out so we can get to another marina, spend the night and then leave for Beaufort early the morning after. The tropical storm apparently has turned out to sea earlier than expected so while we’ll get wind – it won’t be of hurricane strength. Looks like we dodged the bullet.

Things didn’t get better when we were being dragged out – on the contrary. First Capri’s keel snagged a water hose they had lying on the bottom of their little channel, then the owner towed us hard aground as we turned a corner. He had to pull Capri back and forth any number of times before she finally popped free. In the middle of all this, he got his tow line wrapped on his screw. This was fast becoming surreal. Carsten and I could only look on as Capri got more and more abused. 3 more times, she was hard aground before, 1.5 hours later, we were out in the bay in enough water that we could make our own way. Now we are under our own power and we can feel the boat shaking. Is there something wrong with the propeller? Have we bent the axel with all our running aground? Is there something wrapped around the propeller?  We stop and put the prop in reverse then forward. Fortunately, the shaking stops.

We spent the night in Belhaven City Marina, a fine little marina with excellent facilities and even better service from Greg the Dockmaster. The next morning dawns fine and we set sail for Beaufort. Down the Pungo River to Pamlico Sound, a bigger, wider, deep sailing channel and then down Goose Creek, through more marshlands and sumps. Bay River is actually the mouth of the Neuse River and one of the few places on the ICW where we have seen boats under sail –otherwise it is all motor. Finally we slip down Adams Creek – a uniquely beautiful couple of hours and lay Capri alongside the dock at Jarrets Bay Boatyard – who will haul Capri tomorrow.

The “lift guys” are standing there ready at 8.00 a.m as agreed. They seem to know what they are doing. Very professionally, they bring Capri into the lift and haul her up in a crane big enough to lift Capri. No problems with the forestay or the targabar. They let Capri hang in the straps while the blackjack will be changed. Oops – a small crisis, despite what we were told on the phone – someone forgot to book a mechanic to change the blackjack. Shit – and now she’s just hanging there in the air.

 

What now? Fortunately, the boatyard owner comes to our rescue and moves a mechanic from another job to ours and an hour alter Capri is ready to go back in the water. In the meantime, Carsten has changed our zinc anodes and managed to cut off the last of the remnants of the fishing net that was wrapped around our axel (from Portugal). It had wrapped itself so tightly around the axel that the plastic line had melted into a solid mass. Now our “rope-cutter” (the knife that is mounted on the axel to cut stray ropes etc before they can grab hold of the axel) work effectively.

Repairs, spare parts and the lift altogether cost $1000 and a couple of overnights in the marina (another $125) – really shitty since we did replaced the blackjack before we Denmark. Once more we become aware of just how much wear and tear a boat gets when you go cruising. The blackjack is probably just worn out – since we came to the US, we’ve sailed almost exclusively on the engine – only 5 days of sailing with our sails. In the rivers and on the Chesapeake – it has all been engine.

Capri goes back in the water and we sail on to Morehead City, just beside Beaufort, anchor up behind a small island and stay here for 3 days because we have really ugly thunderstorms all day.

It has been our intention to go to sea and sail on the Atlantic between Beaufort and Carolina Beach, in order to bypass the New River inlet where we were hard aground when we were coming up the ICW. You will remember that we tried 5 times to pass this point before sitting irrevocably aground and needing towing assistance. We feel no urge for a repeat performance of this – so we’re better off going to sea.

The challenge with going to sea southward, is that often the wind is from that direction and certainly the waves (current) will be. There are also no “bail-outs” for a boat our size. The inlets are all too shallow – once out, we have to go all the way to Carolina Beach (and that is on the rumbline – the direct line), a total of 65 nm. There is no way we are going to try to enter this tiny inlet in the dark – we have to get there in daylight.

Unfortunately, things develop just as I fear. The wind is right up against us at 16-18 knots and the waves are 2-3 meters high coming right at us., and to top it all off – we have a 1.5 knot current running against us. We tack for 2 hours out on the sea and the wind keeps forcing us further and further out to sea. After the two hours – we’ve only managed to get 5 nm closer to our goal. I tell Carsten that this simply isn’t a go – because we are going to have to tack the entire way – we’ll have to sail much more than 65 nm and there is no way we can get there by dark. I suggest that we turn around and go down the ICW. He agrees.

It takes us 2 hours to get back because the winds and current have created really high “overfalls” high square waves and really confused waters at the Beaufort inlet. It looks like the sea is boiling. This is wild and it is difficult to even steer Capri. The 50-100 small fishing boats that blast around out here at full speed (and almost out of control) don’t make things any easier. A sailboat is hard aground at the inlet – 2 Tow Boat US are there trying to get him off. Suddenly there is a security message on the VHF that there is a dinghy floating free in the inlet, all the while another boat is being towed and a large freighter is be sheparded to sea by two tugboats. Total confusion reigns an it doesn’t get any better when we get into the ICW.

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Hard aground – tow boat working to get her clear

We’ve picked the  wrong weekend for this. Carsten suddenly remembers that this is “Labour Day” weekend, a holiday 3 day weekend and the last weekend before kids go back to school. Anything and everything that can float is on the water today. It is total stress steering Capri down the channels that are only 30-50 yards wide. The motorboats can sail most anywhere and don’t understand that Capri is locked in the channel. So they blast by at 25+ knots, throwing up huge wakes that toss Capri from side to side.

Despite all that it is great to see all these people enjoying being on the water. Beaufort and Carolina Beach lie right on the outer reef which means we are sailing only 1 nm from the ocean. I have a different experience sailing here this time from when we came up. Then the weather was against us – it rained and was cloudy and cool and we couldn’t enjoy the trip. This time we see beautiful houses lying one after the other – each with its own boat pier. What a marvelous place to live.

I’ve wondered why these homes only have a grill on the terrace and maybe a bench or a couple of chairs in the shade (where you can enjoy a G&T). Danes would have filled the terrace with chairs and tables, chaise-lounges etc. Americans are different, they grill outside and enjoy their steaks inside in the air conditioning.  After having experienced a summer here on USA’s eat coast, where the humidity chases everyone indoors, in cars, houses and Malls, I’ve a better understanding of why many American boats are air conditioned – with noisy air conditioners that irritate the rest of us at anchorages.

The weather gods are smiling on us this weekend and at low tide, small sand islands pop up all along the ICW. The locals know just what to do. Motorboats packed with umbrellas, cooler chests, grills, chairs etc show up and entire families make these small sand islands their own.

Wonderful.

 

We find a gem of an anchorage in a little basin owned by the military, but where we can anchor, but are not allowed to go ashore. The anchorage is only 2 nm form our next challenge, the New River Inlet where we went hard aground when we came up.

Bright and early, 6:30, next morning, we upped anchor and sailed out to meet our fate at 7 a.m. This is when it will be high tide at buoy 72B. the crew is very nervous. I’ve asked Carsten to helm Capri since it was him that was at the wheel when we went aground here a few months ago, so he will have the best idea of where we need to try to make the passage. He is so concentrated on steering that he doesn’t notice that the current has forced him just outside of the channel and we go lightly aground  – 1.8 meters of water. Suddenly, a big ship comes at us from the south and now we’re in the shit. But he takes in the situation, stops his ship while we back off the sand and manage to get through the inlet – with just over 7 feet of water, our keel touching the whole way.

High Fives all around. We made it and there really shouldn’t be any major challenges form here online to Carolina Beach. But you should never count your blessings before they arrive and we go aground twice more before we get to Carolina Beach. This time it takes us 3 tries before we get free – both time we are in the middle of the channel. Yep – the ICW is filled with challenges at low tide –  especially when you sail a boat with “long legs”.

Our last challenge for the day is in Carolina Beach. Capri has too deep of a draft to get into any of the marinas there, so we will drop the hook. Last time we hooked onto an anchor buoy, but this time we have decided to save the $20 per day and drop the hook.

We try 3 times to get our Mantus to “bite”. All three tries the anchor dragged when we backed down on it with 2200 revolutions on the engine. We always back down hard on our anchor – that way we are sure it holds and we can sleep easily at night. The bottom here is heavy silt and our anchor can’t get far enough down to bite into the hard bottom. This is the first time we have been unable to get our anchor to bite. So we catch a buoy, pay our $20 per night and now we can sleep well if we have to leave Capri to herself with the hurricane coming.

Things went entirely haywire the first time we dropped the hook. It has never happened to us before, we’ve begun to think that we’re getting the hang of anchoring, but once again – there is always something to learn. Carsten was at the wheel, holding Capris bows in the wind, while I was laying out the chain, concentrating on how much chain had gone out. Before we back down on the anchor, I check to see that the chain is stretched all the way out. Shit! I can see the chain is hard up against Capri’s hull

Capri must have turned in the wind while the current pushed Capri against the chain. I ask Carsten to back Capri very slowly and I can see that the chain just gets tighter and tighter. It is is obviously wrapped around the keel. Double shit!! What to do? Carsten says let out a bunch more chain and when we do, the chain drops down and we are free. These kinds of things happen when strong winds and currents are in opposite directions when you are dropping the hook. We’ve now had a learning experience and hope that nothing happened to the keel.

We’re in Marshall and Debbies fantastic beach house which we are enjoying to the fullest. The weather switches between wonderful days with sunny skies and thunderstorms. Capri is getting high pressure cleaned by the thunderstorms – but she also needed at good bath.

It is the middle of the hurricane season and we keep a wary eye on all the tropical storms and hurricane. Right now we are more than worried about Irma that is moving north towards Florida. If it turns north early, then we will get hit square on. We’ll have to evacuate, but about poor Capri? We’re more worried about her – if the worst happens. We’ll tie her hard up on the anchor buoy and hope for the best. I really hope that these hurricanes will turn and go out into the Atlantic.

Jose is the next hurricane is line and seems to have decided to head out into the ocean. Katia is in the Gulf of Mexico and will hit Mexico, not the US. The locals here are used to hurricanes and tropical storms – but we aren’t – especially category 4 and 5 hurricanes. We can thank England, Scotland and Norway for protecting us from the worst of those types of catastrophes, even though the past several years, storm surges have been rampant, even in Denmark.

Right now I feel that the hurricane are standing in line, waiting for a chance to hit us. It spoils my sleep. Carsten is taking much more calmly. We follow the weather closely on the hurricane center.

One last message about hurricanes before I send this out.

Irma, the worst hurricane in man’s memory, with winds of 300 kilometers per hour has already been given the name “The Beast”. The rest of you are probably also following it on the news.

What does that mean to us here at Carolina Beach? The forecast, so far, says winds of 50+ knots (storm)and gusts of 75knots (hurricane) Sunday night and all day Monday. No advisories have been sent out about stormsurges yet, but I’m sure they will come – it is only a question of how much water we will get. The surge and the winds are the biggest threat to Capri – the rain won’t bother her. We really hope that Irma is only a tropical storm when she hits us, because Capri might not survive a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. The last reports are at the forecasted path is now turning a bit west, but it is still unsure what will happen when she hits Florida. There is no doubt that the further west Irma goes, the better it is for Capri.

Capri has taken very good care of us so far on our trip and we will do everything we can to take care of her. There is no possibility for her to come on land here in Carolina Beach. The marinas are small and not deep enough – so that is also not possibility.

We’re convinced that Capri chances are best on the anchor buoy where she is. The buoy is attached by chain (replaced 5 years ago) to an enormous concrete block. We’ve attached Capri hurricane bridle directly to the buoy. Our bridle is 20 feet long and of elastic line that will stretch 4-5 feet.

We’ve spent the day derigging her, taking off her sails, bimini, lazybag etc. Everything that can be dismounted has been so and is packed away below deck. Everything else has been double lashed down. She looks completely naked. We still need our little dinghy for the next couple of days so we can get out to Capri and make sure everything is OK. Saturday, we’ll deflate “little Capri” and pack her away.

On Saturday we’ll also make the decision about ourselves. Will we stay or will we go inland? If Irma remains a tropical storm, we’ll stay, but if it is worse, we’ll go far away. We’ve already rented a car (you have to hurry or there won’t be any cars to rent). Just as with the anchor buoys – good thing we got one – the other nine have already been reserved.

Our biggest concern is Capri. It is a difficult decision to leave her to survive on her own. She’s not “just a boat”. She’s our home and Capri has her own soul. She is a member of the family. Our lives have been in her hands and she has taken good care of us.

We’ll keep you up to date via our mails.

 

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