On Tuesday, June 29th, we started our journey to Urbanna, VA. Our plan to stay in Urbanna for July began as Steve’s idea. He wanted to be closer to family for the Fourth, to see his grandparents (who live 15 minutes from the marina), and just to dock in a new place for once. I remember him calling me early this year and basically asking something along the lines of, “if you’re available, will you come with me?”. I think this was a big step for us, but also something fun to look forward to, especially since we still weren’t sure how COVID was going to be this summer. Now, here we are in the month of July, and on our first long sailing trip together.
The first day was an adventure. We came in that day from being out of town the night before, got our stuff together, made a quick lunch, said “see ya later” to our friends at our home marina, and set sail. We left around 1:30pm, 30 minutes later than we had planned. We were a little worried at first, having S winds predicted and getting N winds instead (due to the temperature difference between the water and land creating a small atmospheric pressure differential), but they quickly changed as we got into the Bay. There were rain clouds over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel that gave us amazing winds. We were headed to the Concrete Ships near Kiptopeke on the Eastern Shore. I had never heard of them before, neither had a lot of people I know that have lived in Virginia forever.
So here’s a little backstory on the Concrete Ships:
There used to be a ferry that carried shipping containers to and from the Eastern Shore. A train would bring them to the beach, and they would be unloaded onto the ferry. However, it was hard to transfer them with rough waters, so they made concrete ships and sunk them. This created calmer waters because they blocked a lot of the wave action. This is no longer in use and there is now a community pier and dock for everyone to enjoy the amazing view.
One of the coolest things that happened on our way? We saw a sea turtle! Steve asked if I could use the binoculars that I was using to try and find the Concrete Ships when en route, to see what something was in the water. As soon as I turned Steve exclaimed: “That’s a turtle!” The turtle then blew water out and dove back under the water. We were on a high for a while, I might even say we still are, from this sighting! I think this was one of my favorite things that happened on this trip, or ever. We still can’t believe it. The turtle was huge. It’s back had to be at least the size of the helm. Steve scrambled to grab his phone and snap a picture, but the turtle was faster than us. Once we get our GoPro setup then hopefully we’ll be able to catch these magical moments, including the frequent dolphin sightings!
Once we made it to the ships we had to navigate around the crab pots. It wasn’t so bad finding a spot. We dropped anchor and started working on the dingy. We had sailed with it under the boom the whole way, so we didn’t need to blow it up, but we did need to get it in the water. We used the main halyard to lift and lower it and the motor. Steve jumped on from the side of the boat, then I climbed down the back ladder with Buoy in my arms, dropped her down to Steve, and got in myself. We got to the beach and Buoy was thrilled to see land. She hadn’t been on long trips yet, especially not overnights, so she was so excited to use the bathroom. We ran around with her, trying to get some energy out so she’d sleep good that night, and visited the pier. It was beautiful. There were lots of people around, admiring the ships, waiting for the sunset, playing with their kids or walking their dogs. We headed back, made dinner, and went to bed.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but going to bed with the sun and rising with it during the summer is better than not. We got to see the sun rise and feel the day get warmer. We also were able to see the light change from dawn to dusk.
The morning of the 30th we set out from the ships around 6:20am. We motored for about a half mile and got closer to shore and dropped anchor again. This time we were so close that we, Buoy included, swam to shore. It was right near a lookout tower and still in viewing distance of the ships. It was serene. Buoy was so excited to run around, and I was just happy to be there. A swim in the ocean at 7am? Are you kidding me? That is my dream, and there I was, living it.
The most entertaining part? Buoy found the crabs. Once she spotted one she couldn’t stop chasing them. Now let me tell you something about our dog. She loves chasing things, but chasing is about it. We’re convinced that she really just wants to make new friends. So, she tried. She would run full speed at one, stop really fast before she got to it, and you could see the crab put its pinchers up. Buoy would try to paw at it or nip at them, but would quickly pull back. There was a stand off in front of us (multiple times!) between Buoy and a crab. It. Was. Great.
What wasn’t great? Well, Buoy didn’t love the idea of swimming away from shore and into the ocean. We think she didn’t realize the boat was where we were headed, so getting her to follow us back was tough. If you’ve ever swam with a dog you know that swimming next to them is recommended. Because of the way they paddle, their paws can very easily hit you, and with that, their nails. She found Steve and climbed on his back, so he was treading water with her on him. I swam over to pull her off of Steve and back to swimming solo. It wasn’t until Buoy and I made it to the boat ladder that I realized that Steve’s ear was bleeding. I knew he would be scratched up, because I had gotten a couple too and she didn’t climb on me nearly like she did him. First injury on day two! (At least we made it a whole day before getting hurt.) I patched him up and all is well now, except that Steve looks a little like a pirate.
A good thing that happened on day two: we put up our solar panels! Woohoo! This was a huge project of ours that we’ve been wanting to get done for a while. Not only is it eco-friendly and saves us money when we’re docked, but this allows our battery to charge while the sun is out, and therefore lets us charge our computers and phones without draining it. We are, to say the least, PUMPED about this.
We passed a lighthouse, maneuvered through more crab pots, and made it to the East River of Mobjack Bay. Our original plan was to blow up the paddle board and swim with Buoy on the board to shore. Well, the board has a leak, so that didn’t happen. We got so hot working on cleaning up and organizing some things down below that we decided to just go for a swim. We did a fresh water rinse and that was our shower! Not going to lie, it was so nice. Being in the sun, enjoying the water, still in our bathing suits; it felt like a movie scene you see of the sailors showering on their boat, but it wasn’t a movie- it was our lives! I sometimes just cannot get over the fact that this is where we live, and that we get to do it together. It’s such a sweet phase of life.
Because we couldn’t go to shore, we kept the turf pee pad out for Buoy in hopes that this would be the day she used it. I said “potty” or “bathroom” every time she was around it, because we already say that when we take her out on a normal day. She didn’t use it that night, fingers crossed for the next day!
We actually set an alarm the night before to be sure that we woke up in time to leave at 6am. We had to set out that early in order to not fight the tide the whole way out of the East River. All went smoothly until we tried to get the jib out.
It kept getting caught, no matter how much Steve or I pulled it. So, Steve investigated as I manned the helm. Apparently, the halyard for the jib was wrapped around the car that helps the jib come out, so motor sailing began. The good thing about sailboats? They don’t use that much fuel when motoring, and they have another means of movement than a motor. The jib will have to be worked on when docked, and anchoring again just wasn’t in the cards for us that day. Our goal was to make it to Urbanna, and that’s what we were going to do.
Motor sailing still helped us make good time. We hung our feet off of the starboard side and had some breakfast (nutrigrain bars and dried mango – breakfast of champions). Doing that always puts things into perspective. It allows us to just enjoy being there on the water,
Things got a little more exciting once we were within an hour of the marina. I fell asleep in the cockpit for probably 15 minutes and when I woke up I could see on Steve’s face that something was wrong. I looked over and on the other side of the water were dark clouds, rain storms, and lightning. We quickly adjusted, decided we should be able to make it in an hour or so, but would probably get hit with rain. We absolutely did get caught in a squall. There was one point that it felt as if the boat was completely on its side. Obviously it wasn’t, but gravity is the damndest thing on a sailboat. Buoy was our biggest concern. Although we have netting on, it’s only on one side. We haven’t fixed the starboard side yet, and that’s exactly where she wanted to be the whole time the storm was on top of us. We ended up putting her down below, which she was not happy about. We did let her back up once things calmed down a bit. Although, she decided then was the perfect time to go to the bathroom, on the midship hatch, on my left foot. Very funny, we know, but geez did I have more things to do than worry about her peeing on my foot. We were just glad she went.
Long story short, the waters that I could once look over and see our destination had turned into a grey blur. They don’t call it “stormy grey” for nothing. Everything was grey, the sky, the waters, us. It was absolutely wild, and honestly, a bit scary. Sailing around and living aboard sounds lovely and like a dream, but not everyone talks about the hard stuff, the scary stuff. You have to fight to stay above water constantly, and have the knowledge of how to do so. Wind, while typically your friend, quickly becomes your enemy. You have to breathe it all in and just have faith that you and your crew will make it through and do what needs to be done to come out fine on the other side of the squall. We did. The adrenaline was high. We took the main sail down, reefed it, put it back up again, took it down once more, and finally made it to port without any issues. Afterward? We were hungry and exhausted, but I think that’s expected of any day on the water – we just came off of our adrenaline high this time too.
Needless to say, this trip was eventful. We had the best time, regardless of the injuries and mishaps and squalls. It was us on the water, and we loved it.
Next week we’ll be talking about all the projects we had to work on before leaving and all the projects we have planned for July. We’ll also include a tour of the boat since so many people were interested in it! We hope you’ll stick around.
May the winds be with you,
P.S. from Steve: One of the most anxiety inducing parts of boating in general and sailing in particular is docking. Out on the water, things are very spread apart and it’s very difficult to hit anything. When docking, however, you’re actively aiming for unmoving wooden pylons or decking but planning to miss them by the slimmest margins.
Most boaters know this. So what do most boaters do when someone is coming in to dock? Watch, of course! We had an audience for our first water entrance to the Urbanna Town Marina, and that always raises the stakes. Just remember: slow is steady, steady is fast!
P.P.S. from Skye: Everyone complimented “the captain” on how well he docked, and mentioned that they were very impressed. Anxiety may have been high, but Steve clearly does pretty well under pressure.