Cruising cold


I dreamed of high latitude cruising, inspired by stories like Dave & Jaja Martin’s book about wintering over with their family in Iceland and Norway, and tales of Cape Horn by classic and modern cruisers. In soft focus imaginings of our future afloat, Jamie saw palm trees… I saw glaciers. Tropical latitudes are a fine place to start.

This past month, my romantic ideal of cold-weather cruising had a rude awakening. We anticipated the chilly weather as much as we could, choosing to pay the big bucks at Capital Yacht Club so we could plug into shore power and run a space heater down below. The cost of mooring isn’t in our budget, but off-season rates at CYC eased the decision. No regrets: they made us feel like family, access to the city made it easy to get the most from our stay, and we really wanted to be reasonably warm.

Taking Q&A after presenting at CYC. Thanks John Stuhldreher for the photo!

There were a couple of fun little idiosyncrasies from our snug berth in the Washington Channel: like “knocking fish,” which actually made us a little concerned at first. It sounded like someone was tapping, LOUDLY, on the outside of the hull. We genuinely suspected divers at first and went looking in the water around Totem. No divers: just active fish eating bottom growth, later christened the Zombie Catfish for their relentless effort. Them there was the daily parade of military helicopters running just over mast height along the no-fly-zone waters around us, between various bases and the White House.

Helicopters, sometimes jets, frequently in numbers. All.The.Time.

November rolled at a steady beat. Friends cracked the opportunity for us to visit the White House, garnering a private evening tour at the West Wing and EEOB (our efforts through conventional channels failed). UNFORGETTABLE. No cameras allowed, but a few permissible spots to snap pics with a phone.


Interior pics from the EEOB; outside the West Wing entrance; in the White House press room.

My three-decades-and-counting friend Suzi flew out from Louisville to visit. It’s a testament to what kind of friend she is that she didn’t flinch at the suggestion that maybe she should bring a warm sleeping bag for her bunkbed. DC cooperated with a stretch of beautiful weather, but we made a pact to meet somewhere warm next time.


It hasn’t even been that cold. Just a lot colder than we’ve been in a long time. Many nights in the 30s; a few lower, a bunch warmer. We ran the space heater. There was more baking and roasting (our oven is basically a heater: the ONLY time I’m glad the Force 10 isn’t insulated). My parents sent the kids fleecy blankets.

Back in October, when we met up with Andy & Mia from 59 North in Annapolis, they talked about how they love high latitude cruising. The colder it got, the more I remembered they don’t have a heater or insulation on their boat, Isbjörn. It doesn’t stop them. Swedes have a saying, related Andy, that “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” He’s got a point (they’re also booking berths for a Leeward Islands trip in April…keeping it balanced!). So we bundled ourselves: I knitted a hat. We layered up. SOCKS were worn. Well, sometimes. There were a couple of keyed gates between Totem and street level, but I still couldn’t get the kids to wear shoes when they did the ten minute shuttle to let in visitors… chilly weather or not.


But DC often gave us spectacular days of bluebird skies and warm sun, too.

Walking in a park near Georgetown. Shoes optional.
Happy reunion with grad school classmate Nick, meeting his wife Mem

CYC’s easy access to the dozens of museums and monuments along the National Mall, only a ten-minute walk away, was a gift. A leisurely stay meant we could see places at a slower pace, and enjoy them without feeling like we had to cram everything in.

African American Museum of History and Culture: exhibit with Medal of Honor recipients
We are asked if they are twins almost daily.
DC fishmarket on the waterfront near Totem
Note to self: crying in public not easier when surrounded by throngs on Veterans Day.


We expected to be southbound sooner but fronts brought weather that would create nasty conditions in the Potomac, so it wasn’t hard to decide to wait. Meanwhile, friends who are former (and future) cruisers invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them in Charlottesville, so when it was well and truly cold (nights in the 20s) we had a home warmed with friendship, kittens, and lots of blankets.



Serious connection with the Waters family (aka the Calypsos)

Our stay between DC and Annapolis added up to two months. Two months. Goodbyes are never easy. And here, some were a little harder than usual. Friends I’ve had for years through the interwebs extended to awesome in-person-reality. I try to keep perspective, knowing we’ll almost certainly meet again, but it’s started up an ache that had was laid to rest for a while. (Cindy nails this feeling perfectly with her article in Spinsheet this month, free to read online.)

the Majestics…
the Morning Glorys…
The Fezywigs…
more Fezywigs…
…the Otter’s Nests.

I slipped and slid my way down the frosty dock to return our key cards before we slipped the lines on Monday morning. Mallards floating alongside, heads snuggled in their wings, cracked an eye at me as if to say: shouldn’t you should be tucked in somewhere warm? Yes. Soon enough.

On our way south from DC, it’s a motorboat ride to the bottom of the Chesapeake.


Wool I bought in St Helena earlier this year is now a beanie (cable knitting level, achieved!).


Sheep posing in St Helena

We’re looking a little bogan, with our no-longer-clear “clears” on the dodger held on with duct tape. That’s a job for another venue.


We have a pace, now. Niall takes the SATs this weekend in Norfolk. He’s scheduled to take the ACTs the following weekend in Charleston. So in a hop and a skip (and weather permitting), we’ll be a significant distance south. Cross your fingers for us that the conditions are favorable for a mellow passage around the Cape Hatteras ahead. In fact, make it calm enough please for Jamie to be able to keep reading Alexander Hamilton… with our without the fleece one piece.


21 Responses

  1. Glad to hear you survived! 🙂 And good luck to the SAT/ACT taker!

    So btw, I’m moving to Toronto, Canada in the next few weeks, and my bf and I are planning a visit to Cuba in late January as it’s so easy to do from there/ it’s even colder in Toronto in January than DC in November. 😉 I’ll point out some stars for you guys if we actually manage to be in the same country at the same time!

      1. It’s either Varadero or Havana, we aren’t sure yet. I’ll drop you a line once plans are finalized! 🙂

  2. Clothes maketh the cruiser (love the hat)? I found keeping a boat warm impossible so chose either lots of ventilation and suitable clothes underway or having a dehumidifier running when on shore power. Today I’m perspiring buckets in Fiji so wet by other means…

  3. The kids are growing up so fast – perhaps if they could slow down a bit I would have a few less gray’s…

  4. Glad that a little bit of St Helena is keeping you warm 🙂 Quite impressed that you also knit – what next?! Safe sailing Totem and may you always stay out of the grip of Jack Frost.

    1. hahahaha I’m kind of a lapsed knitter, Sharon!! Used to knit a lot before we went cruising. Need to find things I can knit in the tropics…

  5. I love the bare feet in the chillly woods! And the opportunity to meet you and your beautiful family. I wish you safe travels ahead to warmer waters and wish Niall luck on his tests. Thank you for being so welcoming to me and Joe, two hearts cruising virtually through your writing.

  6. Glad you’ve had such a wonderful stay in DC/Annapolis. We moved from DC/Annapolis to Southport, NC this time last year and sailed down the intracoastal. Very few boats, especially down the Dismal Swamp Canal. Not sure if it has reopened since Matthew but if so and your draft permits, absolutely gorgeous. Not to mention all of the cool little towns. Alligator-Pungo River sunset burned into our memories- so quiet and beautiful. Beats the heck out of rounding Cape H in my humble opinion, though your timing may not allow. Hope we get to see you sometime on the water. Allen & Linda Dobbs, S/V Big Papa Lulu

    1. We hoped to sail outside but ooks like we’re going down the ICW, as we are lower than we thought and weather is not cooperating with Hatteras. We will take Albermarle-chesapeake canal instead of Dismal – better suited to our 6′ draft. Can’t wait to see Alligator-Pungo!

  7. Just checked out CC with Charlie and there you were in the magazine that was sitting on the table in the admissions office. I think those photos were taken right after you made breakfast for us on Totem in West Harbor. Good luck on the Sat & Act Niall!

    1. LOVE IT! How fun Wendy! Let me know if you want to talk about CC anytime. Yes, I think that was the interview we were scrambling back for after visiting you!

  8. I’m glad to see you guys were able to spend some good time in DC–and you still just skimmed the surface. I wish we’d been there to take you all in tow to our favorite haunts–it’s really a great city. Also want to say nice job on the hat and I’ll bet the hedgehog was cool! Adios amiga and enjoy your passage south.

  9. To bad you guys are leaving the area! Greg and I will be in Baltimore coding family later this month… Good luck to Niall while testing, and enjoy the warmer weather down south!

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