Are we in Florida yet?


Apologies to those I’m about to offend, but the ICW is boring as ___. Flashes of pretty, the odd dolphin, aren’t enough of a tradeoff for the monotony of motoring day after day along narrow channel. If the weather was fine, it might cross into the realm of pleasurable for a short stretch, but in conditions we’ve had these miles are just something to get over with. To answer the question in the title: no, not in Florida yet! But Charleston for Christmas, along Totem’s slow path south down the ICW, is going to be great.

So foggy we couldn’t see from one mark to the next

Waking to temperatures in the 30s is getting old. But it’s Jamie has taken the overwhelming brunt of the chill, standing for hours and hours on end at the helm. Hand-steering is the  norm: partly because the autopilot isn’t a good match for curvier stretches of the ICW. It’s also more tuned for offshore use, and tends to fish around too much for the narrow channels. But these factors are trumped by our failing spray dodger. You can’t see through it any more, so punching buttons for +1 / -1 on the autopilot while gazing out from a more protected spot isn’t an option. Meanwhile, Niall and I had a good laugh when we learned the itchy/sore spots we developed on our feet weren’t actually some fungus or infection, but a product of cold exposure (check) and poor circulation (lots of sitting around the boat while motoring).

The bridge tenders are often a treat to talk to

Shoaling (we draw 6′) and bridges (with everthing stripped, we’re 64’4″) take patience and awarenss. South of Beaufort SC, the ICW water level is tidal (above, it’s influenced by wind): when Totem’s rig is too tall, we wait. We had to wait for THREE HOURS one day, and still needed to rig up the full kit of ballast to get under, but at least we fit.

Pretty scenery, and pretty weird spec McMansions along the ICW

The weather has changed our eating habits, too. Salads normally feature, and being back in the land of mid-latitude veggies means bingeing on lettuce and other greens that were harder to find in the tropics. But now the cucumbers and tomatoes purchased in Beaufort are languishing because, well, they’re cold and cold is not very appealing. Instead it’s soups, stews, casseroles… basically anything we eat to keep warm! There’s something in the oven every day, because an uninsulated boat oven is a pretty good proxy for a heater on board.

Did I mention the rain? Horizon level…Totem still in “induced heel” mode.

Is this whiny? That isn’t my style, but I’m also not going to paint a rosy picture of what’s been an uncomfortable stretch. Ultimately though I’m an optimist and believe it’s a choice to be happy, to find it wherever you are. In that vein, although these last couple of weeks haven’t made me a fan of the ICW, there are plenty of bright spots.

sailboat anchored
The marshes look on fire in early morning light

Like the day we lingered in Carolina Beach to see old friends Frank & Karen from Tahina Expeditions. We first met in Tahiti, later hung out with in Australia, and last said goodbye to in Thailand nearly three years ago.

Long history of card sharking with the Tahina crew

Beaufort, NC’s Homer Smith Marina offered unexpected hospitality. We picked it because it was the cheapest dockage in Beaufort where we could plug in to run our space heater overnight. Homer Smith came with a helping of friendly assistance, free laundry, a loaner vehicle, and offers to help with propane or whatever we needed. Shrimpers offload their catch here, and sell to the public, but the manager wouldn’t let us pay for the 2 lbs of fresh Carolina shrimp I wanted (thank you Matt, they were so sweet!) and gave us a free night when weather delayed our departure. The guys sorting shrimp in the shed pretty much made my day, joking around with each other and warmly answering my questions.


The SSCA’s cruising station hosts in Beaufort, Normandie and Michael, treated us to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, where over horchata and margaritas (oh sweet memories!) we traded stories and discovered we had been in the SAME ANCHORAGES at pretty much the SAME TIMES, back in 2009 and 2010 in Mexico! It is a small, small cruising world — for real. (Normandie writes women’s fiction, and I love–LOVE–that she nails descriptions of cruising and sailing. I mean, of course she does! But that’s unusual to find in books that aren’t about sailing per se.)


dsc02924We’ve had a good time with the Rockhopper crew, who leapfrogged us after Oriental, and sent back reports on bridge height and shoaling that were a great help for anticipating where we’d have issues to anticipate as we followed in their wake. Suzanne isn’t big on personal pictures so we took one of our feet instead!

There’s something about the sight of spanish moss hanging from trees cropping up as if a sign we’d crossed some invisible line in South Carolina. Spanish moss and frosty weather seem incongruous: this bodes well for warmer days ahead. Until then, Jamie’s cockpit lounge wear includes wears a one-piece fleece suit under a full set of foul weather gear, plus a hat and ski gloves that Frank passed along. Our hamster, Mochi, builds herself an igloo from cotton wadding and an old sock. We hibernate below deck as much as possible. We cuddle up together to watch a movie and share body heat in the evenings. We have actually used a hot water bottle at night.

Smart birds flying SOUTH.
Smart birds flying SOUTH.

A few hours ago, Totem tied up at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. Welcomed by the dock staff and one of the liveaboards on arrival, with an expansive facility decorated to the hilt for the season, this is going to be a sweet spot for a holiday week….and it’s forecast to be in the 60s and 70s again!




44 Responses

  1. Brrrr! I hear you on the ICW being a tad boring. At first we were in love with the marshiness, but how many days can you look at it as you slowly motor past? On our way to the Bahamas from NYC last year, we wound up settling down in Savannah. Getting ready for phase 2 of the Bahamas run in the coming days. Wishing you all a merry Christmas and some warmer weather in Charleston!

    1. I hear you Monica! The marshes really are gorgeous, but day after day hand steering through them gets so old. Have a great run to the Bahamas and a merry Christmas!

      1. Behan-enjoyed meeting you and your awesome family at the Annapolis SSCA gam. We are a little ahead of you being in North Palm Beach for Christmas. We had a rough ocean passage from Charleston to Fernadina Beach a couple weeks ago. We are in a Marina as our boat dog/crew member is ill with cancer and we are getting her treatment here. But the anchorage in North Worth Lake is very nice! As you come South maybe we can make contact!

        1. Hi Ann, great to hear from you! Sorry your stretch to Fernandina was rough. Hope your furry crew is feeling better. We hope to be down that way by late next week, will get in touch!

  2. We take no offense, the ICW is as boring as ___. We met Normandie and her husband in 2014, while in Beaufort. Such nice folks. Love her books too. We arrived in Florida a couple hours ago. We are so thankful.We have loved the time we have gotten to spend with you the past few weeks. I hope it is the beginning of a long friendship.

  3. Oh, I feel your pain! Greg and I just spent two weeks in RI and MD, and it was not warm! I just got home to southwest FL last night, and it’s so much better down here. When do you guys think you’ll make it to FL? I head back to work Jan 4, so if it’s before then, let me know!

    1. I think we’ll get to JAX before the end of the month, but not further south that fast. We would love so much to see you and Greg! Will let you know when we are closer to the S. Bunks on Totem anytime you’re in range.

  4. Wow, I sympathize with you. That is dreary cold! It sounds like the kind of cold that soaks into one’s very bones. Got to stay warm and dry to stay healthy. I’d be considering stapling some insulation batts to the inside of that hull, for sure. 😉 Boats are like most RVs; not meant for colder climes.

    1. We’re hoping to just get to warmer places fast instead of spending time and money on cold-weather proofing Totem. We do actually have insulation on most of the hull below the waterline, thanks to a winter in Sydney Australia.

  5. I say “Jump Out”, after Christmas, and zoom! You are warm again. I folllowed your path last January, and until Charleston, it was cold, outside was cold but QUICKLY got warm. Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

    1. Mr. Watchful can’t help but stay in the cockpit if I’m at the helm on these challenging stretches, so might as well keep one of us warmer. Kids would not be up to this.

  6. Lovely photo journal entry! I’m with Monica. Hope you get to do a little Savannah on your way. Really looking forward to the Cuban editions of your log! Gettin’ down dere! Almost to where the weather suits your clothes. (Though it sounds as though Jamie’s got proper attire for the trip! Fair winds, my friends!

  7. Hi guys,

    Yes, the scenery can get boring. But moving a boat such as yours down the ‘ditch’ is a fantastic display of white-knuckle seamanship that few can appreciate until they actually do it. I find it impressive that you and yours do it with such grace. My hat is certainly off to you. Goodonya!

    Behan, tell Jamie I found some decent mil clear vinyl (54″x9′) at the Walmart on Whitemarsh island in Savannah. It is ridiculously cheap. There’s even a strip on the outside of the packaging so that you can feel it. It’s not real thick, but it’s not too thin either. I’ll send you a pic.

    As a quick fix on a pop-up camper that I had, I cut out the vinyl windows leaving about three quarters of an inch around the edges. I installed the new vinyl with some vinyl adhesive until I could get home to my sewing machine. That would at least keep you out of the cold wind.

    On a related note, Coleman makes a small catalytic heater that runs on propane and is suitable for indoor or outdoor use. I think I spent about 35 bucks on mine. How I wish it wasn’t waiting for me in Texas.

    Anyway, I’m glad to know that you guys are safe and warm. Enjoy the holidays!

    1. Thanks Phil! For now we have a little space heater that gets the main cabin to the upper 50s on cold days. Will check out that vinyl!

  8. On the brighter side, the cold & crappy weather will help you more fully appreciate the warmth you are heading for…
    Have a great Christmas and fair winds & warmth for 2017!

  9. It was so delightful actually to meet all you darlings in person when you were in Beaufort, NC. (And waving up to Suzanne Mummert!) Hoping our paths will cross again someday.

    I do wish we could have watched as you slid under the bridges at a tilt! Sea Venture’s mast may not be quite as tall as Totem’s, but I doubt the skinny Southern water would allow her 6’6″ draft to navigate the ICW on the way to Florida.

    Hugs to you all.
    (with a wave from Michael)

    1. I am so so glad we finally got an in-person meet Normandie! I just finished Twilight, love it — girls will read it next! A very merry Christmas to you and Michael.

  10. I just had 4 weeks on the hard with the most dishonest and unethical boat yard in the world. I’ll take your ICW and foggy cold, low bridges and the rhythmic sounds of your diesel droning and trade you my frustration! I wouldn’t force the bill on an enemy….. Merry Xmas! You’ll have another wonderful experience and Caribbean Sunshine in the new year. Life is good!

  11. Well I can understand your pain being on any kind of boat north of Central Florida in the winter. It must not be fun. I hear there are some low bridges in FL that are under 62′. Was researching Delo’s AMEL and that was one of negatives of owning one on the the east coast of the US was mast height. Hopefully you can time a cold front perfectly when you hit south Georgia or North florida and jump outside when you have a day of 20 to 30 knot west winds which switch to NW, N, and finally turn into a nasty NE wind over a few days. You could hammer out some serious miles in heavy winds but clam seas if done perfectly. If you need anything in Miami let me know. Will you be crossing to the Bahamas?

    1. No plans for the Bahamas, thinking FL–>Cuba. We are soooo not into “hammering out serious miles in heavy winds” if we don’t have to! Good way to break things! Appreciate the sentiment for making tracks fast though, and breeze from the W to keep seas down.

      1. Happy birthday Behan!
        I totally understand not wanting to break things. Just saying that with a nice west wind or NW wind you can hug the coast in very calm seas making some good miles before ducking into one of the inlets. This all works unless a low pressure went off Cape Hatteras producing a large swell. Lived my whole life in Florida fishing and surfing. I’m sure your boats draft is pretty deep and that isn’t always fun for the Bahamas. Depending where you leave FL you can always try and do a anchorage at one of islands on the Cay Sal Bank if its really nice out maybe at one of the blue holes. It is on the way to Cuba so I think your okay to anchor as long as you don’t go on land. Although Cay Sal can be crazy place as many cubans hole up there when trying to get to the states and illegal fishing boats don’t like being spotted. It is an amazing place though!
        There is also a wonderful couple with a super cute daughter just ahead of you in Jensen Beach,FL. They’re youtube channel is Sailboat Story. Maybe check out a video or two and you’ll see why people are flocking to their channel. I let them know you are right behind them and maybe they’ll slow down a bit to meet you guys.
        Have A Happy New Year!

        1. Hi JK- Bahamas don’t make sense for us because we don’t want to end up on the W end of Cuba…we want to finish up on the E end of Cuba. So we’ll go Keys –> Havana (prob.), then around the W end of Cuba, coastwise to the E. Bahamas first makes sense if we want to loop back to the USA… or down to the W Carib… but current thinking is to get to Grenada instead. But hey, plans change, you never know! We draw 6′, so we’d have to be cautious routing in the Bahamas, but I don’t think it’s a big deal.

          1. Happy New Year. That sounds like a good plan. Maybe from the Keys you can head over to Fort Jefferson before Cuba depending on weather. Visiting Cuba is a must as its already becoming developed quickly. Marina Gaviota-Varadero 80 miles east of Havana was just built with 1,100 med style moorings and 70 hotels. Many other large developments are on the way.
            Interestingly I mentioned you to sailboat story and for the first time I think a family sailing with kids hadn’t heard of SV Totem. They are friends with the crew on SV Grommit you’ve been sailing with.
            Sadly winter comes past to the east coast. Hope the Florida is treating you a bit better. Seeing your stopping for repairs for a few weeks does that mean you many be attending the Miami Boat Show in Feb.?

          2. You guys do know you are the “Rock Stars” of sailing!
            You guys are lucky one of the parents aboard Trio Travels didn’t suffer a heart attack meeting you guys. Also love the videos from Follow the Boat in Thailand.
            I think 75% of the time I get a reply from Delos is when I mention you guys as they have this habit of sneaking in a very short clip of you guys in their videos! I’m sure you’re in many more clips thats I’ve missed. You do need to send them a message that hanging the Delos longline / net float above Totem’s in Chagos is just plan disrespectful.
            Sad lyJosje left the boat as it would be quite interesting for Karin and Brain and Josje and Brady to have kids at the same time on a boat.
            Well sorry your east coast trip was not so great due to winter arriving. Amazing the difference a couple of months makes in enjoying all the little east coast towns that are now cold and empty.
            I thought maybe you guys might of had some speaking arrangements for the MBS.

            Jonathan Kaany

          3. LOL re: rock stars! I am grateful for the chance to encourage others to live differently. Too funny about Delos sneaking in the short clips! I get a kick out of hearing from people who catch them. And I hear you re: what a difference a few months makes…oh well, we loved the extended weeks in DC. A tradeoff. No engagements for MBS but plans for Cruisers U in April, in Annapolis.

  12. Hi Behan,
    We still haven’t met but I’m sure we’ll cross paths in upcoming months in the Bahamas or points south. My husband, Chris, has met both you and Jamie and Jamie helped him quite a bit in assessing S & Os of our boat Temerity – in fact, Chris says please tell Jamie that he and a friend got the arch and solar up and he’s putting in a new bilge pump, so thanks Jamie!
    I couldn’t stand the cold, don’t know how you’re doing it but I know it will make the warmth very welcome. We are in Coconut Grove temporarily finalizing (my new terminology) boat projects and provisioning. Hopefully, we’ll make it out of here in about a week for the Bahamas! See you there.
    Happy Holidays!
    btw – Temerity was just about the only boat on the outside coming down from the Chesapeake about a month or so ago.

    1. Hi Laura- love that everything is trucking along on Temerity! Coconut Grove sounds great. We’ve decided to skip the Bahamas this time around… will go from FL to Cuba. Too bad but can’t get everywhere! Hope you had a good passage south from the Chesapeake.

  13. Hello Again…I can understand your frustration; however it looks to me like you have found what makes the trip interesting. You have taken the time to talk with local people and appreciated all the differences in the scenery and felt what makes it a challenge at times. We used to like to spend time walking in places like Charleston and Buford, SC and Jekyl and St. Augustine and Fernandina and the exercise felt so good after sitting so long. I look forward to following the rest of your adventures. I hope some day you get to the Bahamas, especially the Abacos. I have enjoyed knowing that you have been in “our neighborhoods” these past several months.

    1. Thanks Abigail- meeting people along the way is, appreciating scenery–that’s what it’s all about! I wish we could have done it in better weather, the better to appreciate both, but I wouldn’t have traded the month in DC. Your neighborhood has been awesome. 😉

  14. Since I haven’t been on a sailboat in decades, I don’t qualify to post here–but in a couple years I will. Since you just arrived in Jacksonville, I am prompted to write; my wife and I will attend a Blinded Veterans Convention there next year in August. I plan on taking open ocean lessons there preparing to captain a 96′ schooner when it is completed in 2018. This will be a radical twin keel model designed for Vanuatu and other shallow water island hopping trips. What I want to find out is, who in Jacksonville is the best contact for private training in large sailboats? I’ve written to two marinas and don’t get any replies.

    I LOVE getting experience vicariously through your blog. Thanks.

    BTW, yes I’m legally blind which means I can’t read signs except with binoculars. But I can sail as long as reading is restricted to the desk with a large screen monitor.

    1. Hi Phil, we JUST arrived in Jacksonville so that’s the kind of local knowledge I just don’t have. I suggest giving the marinas a call instead of emailing them and asking them for referrals- sometimes it’s just a lot more efficient to talk live.

      1. I agree with “talking” being more efficient sometimes, but I find that dropping in face to face and chatting is 10x more informative than a phone call. I’ll try calling around, though; thanks. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trollin’ sailing blogs until I get afloat again. As an aside regarding home schooling, my wife and I were arrested for doing that in 1982. Our grandkids are approaching school age; maybe we’ll sail off with them and try your model of homeschooling…

        1. Oh I’m sure face to face is even better, but sounds like that’s not an option for you. Yikes, arrested for homeschooling! I bet there’s a good story there.

  15. I just found your article about the boring ICW. I would agree, it is not too exciting, but as a mind of mediitation I love this channel “races. I like the idea, that nothing really hapens and I could dream the whole day…

    1. Deep appreciation for the meditative angle! Although with our concerns around shoals and air draft, it was hard to be really meditative… more like ‘oh shit is that ripple ahead another sandbar?’

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