We return to our Ft Lauderdale “home,” a berth in the Robert Derecktor Shipyard and within hours are amidst a new flurry of boat work—a bit of a boom hydraulic problem to solve, necessitating a spot of repainting, plus a smidgeon of toe rail work, a touch of gelcoat repair, a splash of watermaker pump work and a heavy dose of battery replacement. Which means a goodly stack of greenbacks scattered Bob Derecktor's way. While Derecktor’s sure knows how to charge, they also know how to get boat work done fast and right.
Ten days later we begin the slog back North. We’re running up the Florida coast, day sailing and night anchoring at what we can now—on this our fourth Miami/New York run—call our usual haunts. West Palm, Ft Pierce, Ponce de Leon inlet, St Augustine. We enter Georgia for a two-day respite to meet up with Bahamas cruiser friends and to walk Cumberland Island’s lush forest trails and seemingly infinite strip of beach.
We decide to skip Savannah and save some days, hoping thereby to garner time to sail Maine this summer. (Note that even retirement is overscheduled.) Instead we investigate Hilton Head Island, which to our mind resonates Stepford: the environment serene, well ordered, kempt down to the last blade of grass; the color scheme—homes, restaurants, churches, supermarkets, public buildings—an unrelenting repetition of beige, tan, oatmeal or sand, accented solely by drab dark- brown. As if some founding father decided the even tiniest splash of orange might induce tachycardia in the long-term resident. Shopping centers are set far back from the roads with uniform signage: the same beiges bordered in the same brown. TJ Maxx could be Neiman Marcus; McDonalds, Midas Muffler. It takes us less than an hour in a rental car to get the monotonous drift of the place. We decide to drive another hour and have lunch in Hilton Head’s converse—quirky Savannah.
On to Charleston, which feels like coming home, so much so that we actually buy one—a condo in Folly Beach, a funky, rapidly gentrifying nearby island. It’s a townhouse with private dock and boat hoist, sitting on a tidal creek (AKA marsh, used to be called swamp) with views of undulating grasses and tranquil channels that meander out to Charleston Harbor and the beaches. Though we’re buying it as investment/rental property—who knows—when these alarmingly creaky bodies finally propel us out of the physically demanding sailboat life, Charleston—charming, historic, passably cultural, with its slew of top-notch restaurants—might be a fine place for us to fritter away winters.
In the Charleston City Marina LULU is once again parked on the Megadock, which seems a pretentious misnomer since we see many boats in the 40-foot range tied up. But then again they could be mere fillers, or possibly even fenders, between the 150 footers.
The buzz among the marina staff one day, all day, is that Brittany Spears is arriving at any moment to board her yacht, Lady Brittany. “Will she be ushered in or sneaked in by helicopter, seaplane, limo or speedboat?” the dockhands speculate. No one at all seems to be quitting work and heading to the bars. We, on the other hand—certain we couldn’t tell Brittany Spears from a forsythia bush—we head out for dinner.
Returning at 9:30, we’re stranded outside the gate without the keypad numbers but are saved by Paul, a burly guy sporting jeans, a sweatshirt and ponytail. Ambling down the dock we talk boats, hurricane holes and far-flung islands. Then Paul Ponytail tells us he’s Lady Brittany’s captain—and a scruffier crewman we’ve yet to see. He says Brittany herself will arrive around 11, not fashionably, but deliberately, late, hoping for quiet and as little fanfare as possible—which I reckon means an entourage of some 50 and their attendant luggage borne down the long dock on 25 golf carts.
“If she wants anonymity so bad why doesn't she name the boat "Fred?" asks Gary.
We don’t wait up for her.
North Carolina comes next on the chart. In rapid succession we make overnight stops in Georgetown, Cape Fear and Wrightsville Beach, then stop again in adorable Beaufort, which, at least from a restaurant standpoint, we think we know well. But then riding around the three-block square “downtown” in the marina courtesy car we find something brand new: a storefront BBQ joint in a small strip center. It’s—especially for Beaufort—unusually hopping with arriving and departing cars. Always a good sign, and one that turns it from a mere Sighting to a Must Stop.
Rodney’s is one of those old-time local dives the likes of which Tony Roma’s regularly puts out of business. I make a culinary faux pas—getting us only the fried chicken. We scarf it down in the car; it’s fresh—maybe even local—chicken: hot, pleasantly spicy and doesn’t score too, too high on the Artery Constriction Chart.
I nixed the ribs using a lot of silly excuses: we’re late returning the car; who wants to eat sloppy stuff in the car; they can’t be evaluated because the hacking up is done in the back. But mostly I don’t feel up to the necessary inquiry: what are the Regular, what are the Vinegar and what on earth are Tomato Sauce ribs? The truth is menu selections have become the lowest point of my clearly privileged life.
Back onboard I realize it’s a case of You Got Old, Lady. Another time, and without all that shilly-shallying, I’d have ordered all three kinds. Full racks, not half. And polished them all off in the car.
I view this as a seismic and thoroughly unpleasant transformation, a makeover that needs a redo. On a less mythological scale, I know it’s just another Restaurant Regret. Though possibly permanent, since I don’t think we’ll be returning to Beaufort for a good long while—by which time this non-homogenized, single-store operation will have been swatted from the gastronomic landscape—either by Tony Roma or by the Rodney kids’ disinterest in continuing the tradition.
Next, we’re off to the Lookout Point anchorage, an excellent staging ground for the 24-hour rounding of frequently malevolent Cape Hatteras. We get a perfect weather window, which makes the passage almost a non-event. Underscore the almost.
The first leg brings low wind from directly behind. A preventer tethers the boom, while the mainsail slaps and flaps non-stop, making a significant racket. Along with this abrasive serenade, following seas keep us rolling back and forth, though fortunately today’s waves are relative pipsqueaks.
Once we turn north, the rolling stops. Hoping to sail, with the wind now at our rear quarter, we unfurl the sails. Though LULU’s mendacious wind meter reads 25, it’s really far too frail to sail, so we motor on, hoping for a change.
We get it.
Just at dinnertime I’ve got the cockpit table stupidly decked out in glass dishes and below an uncovered pan of short ribs bubbling in the oven and brimming with—what else?—extra sauce. That’s when the sky turns black, the wind rockets around north and blasts up into the high 30s, instantly heeling LULU over to 40 degrees. The sails are, of course, still full out.
Gary jumps to the wheel and heads into the wind so as to reef the main. Meanwhile, I sheet in the genny as fast as I can to prevent 170 feet of genoa sheet from whomping into the deckhouse and doing its favorite thing—biting off big chunks of gelcoat. Impossible to reef with the wind now at 42 knots and equally impossible to venture below to improve my—let's call it lackadaisical—battening. We ride it out, waiting to reef when the bluster drops below 25. While Gary throbs with adrenalin, I worry about the gravy overflowing the pan, hitting the propane flame and setting the whole boat on fire. Or, just about worse, having to clean a globally greasy, gravy-encrusted oven
Since LULU can take most anything the elements mete out, it’s a matter of Gary toughing it out at the wheel, of some nerve-wracking minutes for the two of us and a true test of the stove gimballing.
The good news is Gary holds, LULU holds up, the dishes hold to the non-skid placemats. And the stove performs magnificently, spilling not a drop of fatty gravy. On the other hand, the stuff on the salon floor shoots starboard—the ditch bag, the life jackets and our butcher block carving board, which clearly belonged somewhere else. One of the board’s corners thwacks into the oak-veneer sofa base. I'm handling this philosophically, telling myself its actually sort of a cute dent and will provide a permanent memory of Hatteras's nasty temper.
Conditions soon calm down, though, unlike me, Gary is too pumped to even eat dinner, which occurrence last happened when he cut molars. We travel through a calm night, taking two-hour naps and two-hour watches. At 7AM we enter the Chesapeake Bay, find the first available hole to drop the hook—roughly comparable to pulling over to the side of the road—and collapse into what is supposed to be a decent sleep but becomes merely another two-hour nap. The “road” we’ve chosen turns out to be Route 95, the passing cars Jet Skis and Donzis.
We continue on our groggy way to Norfolk, a tedious 25 miles and four hours down the Elizabeth River. Safely berthed in a marina, LULU not even hosed down, we down some welcome glasses of wine, dine on leftovers and fall into bed at 7:30, to sleep 12 straight hours, despite the Memorial Day rock concert in full blast a hundred yards away.
Why Norfolk? Not to see the string of parked Navy warships in their vaguely menacing amplitude, but because in Ft Lauderdale we bought and installed a new watermaker pump that began smoking like a teenager two hours out of port. That has meant we can't make water and puts us in marinas—our least favorite cruising mode—every few nights. In Norfolk an official factory representative is to certify the pump faulty and exchange it promptly.
That’s the plan. Not factored was are the long schlep into Norfolk, our tired-of-this-trek grouchiness, the holiday weekend lag and the fact that nobody—at least no boating body—ever performs as promised.
After three nights in an expensive, holiday-emptied marina, our pump is certified defective and we’re just about certifiable when we learn the exchange pump was never ordered. We opt not to wait another three days but rather to press on to New York, sending (we pray) the replacement home. We leave, still unable to make water and feeling altogether stupid as the realization dawns: chucking the old/new pump overboard and buying a brand new one would have been a cheaper and more efficient—plus we’d have missed some cafeteria-equivalent dinners.
Of these, King’s Chinese Restaurant was the standard bearer. King’s chose us and not vice-versa—it was, other than Tommy Malone’s Pub, the only thing open on Memorial Day evening. Our greeter was a wispy haired man with an unusually large personality for a Chinaman, which he used frequently to cover up the truth: he was the only one there. YukYuk (as we took to calling him during our interminable stay) was Maitre D, bartender, waiter, busboy, sushi roller— maybe even cook. Dinner took a lifetime—Confucius's. While he made sushi and regaled a flurry of newcomers at the bar, our dishes lingered in the kitchen turning from once-hot to lukewarm to downright chilly. None of YukYuk’s eventual serving flourishes kept us from sending it all back.
But YukYuk chuckled last because, despite his gaudy assurances, the returned dishes were hardly hot off the wok; clearly, they'd been microwaved. We didn't have the what-all to wait him out for new ones. Nor any assurance we'd actually get them.
Running a close second in this mediocre meal marathon came The Bier Garden—aptly named, that is, far more funereal than German.
In the next days we’ll be off to Ocean City, Atlantic City, Sandy Hook and, at last, New Rochelle—where we'll pass the summer largely in a marina! But home is, after all, home