welcome to our blog!

This blog tells the story of our 22-month sailing journey from Oakland, California, to Bristol, Rhode Island, aboard our beloved Bristol 32 sailboat, Ute. Please feel free to browse through the archives (partway down the sidebar to your left) to see pics and read stories of our adventures in North America and Central America . (Sorry the first 3 months of the trip are missing - they vanished somewhere in an internet cafe in Mexico - but all you're missing is CA, Baja and Western Mex).

If you're trying to track us down now that we're landlubbers, try us at uteatlarge at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

at the 2nd Dismal Swamp lock, the lock master collects conch shells from all the cruising boats reporting back from warmer climes, so we had to make a contribution on Ute's behalf! Our molluscan offering was from the very first conch we ate in sunny Guanaja, Honduras. Now it will grace a small garden in North Carolina....I wonder if any of its companions hail from Guanaja too?

reality check

What was truly surprising about our trip through the Great Dismal Swamp was how much it brought our Panama Canal transit to mind. Much like Panama, we spent today motoring through an almos-pristine, moist, thick, seemingly impermeable jungle in a thousand shades of green. We kept our eyes on the branches overhead and the shores and were rewarded with fleeting glimpses of wildlife: muskrats, turtles, tanagers, and....get this....a baby BLACK BEAR right next to the boat! (so cool). At some point we entered a marvel of engineered, not natural, beauty: a lock. much smaller than the ones in Panama, but same concept. We loved it. And after about forty miles of motoring, lo and behold, it was back to salty open water as we emerged into one of the planet's busiest shipping lanes, surrounded by buoys, warnings, warships, giant wharves, cranes, the whole nine yards. It's both lovely and a little jarring to have a swampy heaven all to yourself, only to be sworn at in Russian by a cranky tugboat driver two hours afterwards. Thanks, Panama, for preparing us for all of this....!

So now we're tied up in Norfolk, surrounded by hustle and bustle and tourist traps aplenty. Our brief foray into town today revealed Virginians to be among the friendliest bunch of any along the way. We'll spend a day or two here, then it's back on the road for some more northing!

Allen helpfully points out as osprey's nest

the Dismal Swamp is sort of a throwback to another time....it was started in the 1700's by George Washington and his cronies and dug mostly by slave labor, and used heavily in the Civil War to transport troops and more. It's pretty amazing. The Army Corps of Engineers does its best to maintain a dredged channel of at least 6 feet deep, but as funding has oscillated over past years, so has the depth. Lucky for us, we saw 8-9 feet throughout and didn't run aground once! But there was one morning the dredge team was out clearing the way right ahead of us.. It reminded me of riding the schoolbus right after a snowstorm, and having the snowplow working ahead of the bus, clearing the way.

here's how "thrifty" (read: cheap and with some screws loose) we've become on this trip - I drained a can of cranberries to make muffins the other morning, and couldn't bring myself to throw away all that perfectly good cranberry juice syrup, so I saved it and made two fake Cosmos later that day with vodka and a lime. and you know what? they were pretty damn good too....

shots from the Waccamaw

we've had a fix on Buster for awhile now, so we always know how far away he is.....we're getting closer every day!

we've passed under - and through - so many cool bridges on this trip....some lift up, some swivel, some rise up, one was even on pontoons and just floated on out of the way! Some have required intricate timing; other are open all the time. The funniest part was how many times we stopped rush hour traffic and made dozens of cars wait ten minutes just so lil' old Ute could pass on through. too fun!

the crew at Anchor Marina.....thanks again y'all!

The highlight of Anchor Marina was the restaurant, "Captain Poo's" - which happens to be one of our many nicknames for Buster. gotta love it
I'd tell you more about this sewing gig, but as you can see, it's a black project...
another couple weeks of our lives were spent staring at this pile of metal.....trying to do sewing work amidst the deconstructed engine was, as always, a barrel of monkeys

Monday, July 30, 2007

the Not So Dismal Swamp

Phew! Finally, some internet access! It’s been too long…..evidently Americans are greedy with their technology…it’s funny to us that we routinely used wifi access while bobbing amidst remote islands in the Caribbean….but can’t get a connection here in the U.S. for all the tea in China.

I’m posting this from the North Carolina Welcome Center on the NC/Virginia border, where they are decidedly ungreedy and provide a computer for visiting boaters to use, along with a free dock to tie up to, and bathrooms and showers. That might not sound like a lot of excitement to you, but free docks are practically unheard of in the U.S. – in fact, most marinas charge anywhere between $30 and $100 a night just to tie up. So we were thrilled when we tied up for free at Elizabeth City last night, and here this afternoon! We're in the heart of the Great Dismal Swamp, which is a lot more great than it is dismal, in our opinion. What a beautiful place...maybe when we have more time online we'll subject you all to a history lesson about the Great Dismal...but we'll let you off the hook today due to time constraints!

To bring our travelogue up to speed: we left St. Simon’s, Virginia with a loose plan to sail offshore to Beaufort, NC. Plans changed about 300 miles into the trip when we spent a sleepless night dodging what seemed like a ring of lightning closing in on us from all sides. The decision to head back into the ICW went along the lines of “to hell with this, we’ve had enough lightning for one trip” and the time and tides synchronized to make it easy to get back inside in northern South Carolina. After a quick and painless entrance through a well-marked inlet, we were, once again, putt-putting up the Intracoastal Waterway, looking forward to amenities the open ocean can’t offer, like sleeping together at night, cooking real meals, and stopping for treats like ice. Truth be told, I am loving all this time on the ICW. The scenery is amazing, and it’s really a rich cultural experience – in fact, coming from California, South Carolina seemed every bit as strange and exotic as Panama to us.

Our first night back in the Ditch was one of our favorites so far – we dropped the hook outside a wee town called Bucksport, on the Waccamaw river (some parts of the ICW are naturally occurring rivers, and other stretches are entirely man-made canal). Surrounded by thick cypress jungle and swamp, it was Carboniferous-era primordial marsh meets the Everglades with a touch of Deliverance thrown in. The best part was the smell – yes, it sounds peculiar – but the forest and the swamp smelled fresh and sweet, especially in the early morning as we weighed anchor just after sunrise.

The next couple nights found us anchored in remote niches along the waterway, invariably near enough to shore to get assaulted by bugs, but also close enough to smell the forest and hear the nightly serenade of the frogs and cicadas. It was ICW business as usual until we crossed the North Carolina border and…whoa….where’s all that smoke coming from? Oh, shit. Kiki was having issues, it seemed. We threw out the anchor at the side of the channel so we could turn her off and investigate (another advantage of being in the ICW – you can do that!). Lo and behold, the coolant reservoir was empty, and when we fired her back up she was guzzling fresh water almost as fast as we could fill her.

To make a long story short, this little mishap led to two fun-filled weeks in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And by fun-filled I mean hot, expensive, stressful, sweaty, and filled with cussing. It wasn’t all bad, though – far from it, in fact – we met some fantastic people, were astounded by their generosity, and got her up and running again with a whole new set of haskets and a resurfaced head. For those of you that are boaty or mechanically inclined, feel free to email us for details, but suffice to say we were happy to get it fixed. I blame it on the lightning, not only just because I am commited to doing so now, but because the offending gasket (it took us most of the two weeks figure out what the problem was, by replacing everything else) was one we had to mess around with when we pulled the transmission in Ft. Pierce. Granted it was rotted out anyway, but now we have Mr. Lightning as the Ultimate Scapegoat.

The folks at Anchor Marina in North Myrtle Beach deserve all your nicest thoughts and best karma vibes, as they bent over backwards – and bent some rules too – to help us get back on the road again. We couldn’t have dreamed up a nicer bunch of people, and they saved our butts. Thanks to everyone there, especially Laura and Guy. You rock!

We were back on the aquatic road again as of last Tuesday, under yet more time and budget pressures than before but nevertheless happy to be safe, repaired, together, and underway once again (and with some new friends, to boot). At this point, our goal has been pared down to getting the boat to Connecticut, in one piece, at some point, without having to sell our bodies on the street. That said, we are having fun along the way – when your maximum traveling speed is six miles an hour, you can’t help but stop and smell the roses, no matter how rushed you may be.

Since Tuesday, we've covered 300 more miles and are a mere 30 miles from the Chesapeake, which thrills us no to end! We've passed well inside notorously scary places like Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, while enjoying fantastic scenery and peaceful nights at anchor. Hopefully, we'll be in the Norfolk area tomorrow night, where we'll get the latest weather info and make some decisions about what the next leg will look like.

We'll post more soon, with pics hopefully. Thanks to all or your blog readers who are sticking with our trip, even though it's a little less exotic and adventurous than it was a couple months ago. We appreciate you! Hugs, UTE

Monday, July 16, 2007


yup, we are still stuck in tha South....the boat gods have demanded further sacrifices of time and money....so we're doing some work on Kiki in North Myrtle Beach....sorry we've been so out of touch but we are sort of in the middle of nowhere, and right now I'm using the email at a Kinko's about 8 miles from the boat, and they are charging us about the same amount of money I spent on a year of college to use this silly machine. The south is funny. They really do drink lots of iced tea and eat biscuits with gravy. and they do talk funny. most folks are pretty nice. Nobody walks anywhere, in fact we mince around in our sneakers in constant fear of being arrested for indecent pedestrianlike behavior. you must have a car to survive here. they do like their beer, and we're pleased to report the local marina offers some sort of different fried food for free each evening, which explains the substantial waistlines we've seen around here, and the fact that ours are growing to match. the locals are colorful, to be sure - in fact I thought there was a really active transsexual/drag queen population, but I've since been informed that they are just powerboat wives who've had lots of facelifts and wear cruisewear with pride. my bad. we'll learn. We've already gotten some canvaswork gigs to pay the mechanics bills and the local boatyard people we've been working with have been nothing but helpful, and have gone out of their way to make us comfortable. we'll try and update soon......but suffice to say we are having a good time, and hope to be out of here fairly soon. and it is, admittedly, a beautiful place to be stuck. photos to follow. cheers, UTE

Thursday, July 05, 2007

biggest best beach bliss

Cumberland Island

Brickhill Creek

anchoring in the middle of a field of marsh grass is still trippy for us...especially when horses are grazing nearby.....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Georgia on my mind.....

From Fernandina it was just 15 miles to Cumberland Island, just over the border into Georgia. We'd been told Cumberland was an ICW "must-see" - and we weren't disappointed! Georgia is home to several beautiful barrier islands like Cumberland, but most have been developed over the last few decades. One thing that makes Cumberland unique is that it's 85% federally protected parkland, and the remaining 15% is comprised of properties that have been handed down over several generations, and will eventually be turned over to the park service. There are no roads, and the only access is by boat. Its complex barrier island ecosystem is delightfully intact and it proved to be a land of salty, summery juxtapositions: we sat in our cockpit and watched dolphins swim around the boat, then looked up to see wild horses grazing where the marsh met the forest nearby, and flocks of ibises and egrets roosting in giant live oaks as a backdrop. We were able to anchor snugly into a little oxbow of a very curvy creek on the west side of the island, just about 100 feet from the edge of the marsh grass. It's still strange to us to navigate this labyrinth of wetlands and creeks that are filled with saltwater, and whose currents reverse with the tides! It's like no other place we've traveled, but if our charts are any indication, these saline riverscapes will seem completely par for the course by the time we've done a couple hundred more ICW miles.

Just down the creek from us was the Plum Orchard plantation, a beautiful mansion built by the Carnegies. The NPS was nice enough to build a little dock there so we'd have a place to get onto the island by dinghy. We devoted Saturday to walking the 6 miles across the island to the beach and back. The trail there was great, although rather heavily traveled by bloodsucking insects. We started out in a beautiful forest of live oaks festooned with Spanish moss, which gave way to oaks and palms, which gave way to a pine forest, which gave way to huge, rolling, living-sculpture dunes on one of the prettiest beaches we've seen on the whole trip. The broad, gently sloping beach was totally deserted, and the rolling surf was, according to the weather summary we heard on the radio later, a user-friendly 84 degrees. Heavenly!

After a couple dreamy nights at Cumberland we weighed anchored and putt-putted up to where we are now, St. Simon's Island (still Georgia). In case you're wondering why we're taking our sweet time after professing to be out of time and money, it's because the offshore weather is dragging its feet in providing us with a good window to head north. And the inside route (ICW) north of here is rumored to be more hassle than it's worth, with few viable outlets to the sea for the next hundred miles or two. So we're waiting out weather - nothing new there! - hoping that Thursday will bring weather conducive to an offshore jaunt for Ute.

We have tons of fun pics from the last week, but it might be awhile until we get to post them: right now the boat is twisting and turning on her anchor as a casualty of the war between wind and current. what does that have to do with our internet connection? Well, we're picking up a weak wifi signal from a nearby marina, but it only comes through if the wireless antenna - which must be placed on deck for proper reception - is pointed directly at the marina clubhouse. That means while one of us is on the computer, the other one has to stand out in the cockpit, antenna in hand, and point it in the right direction. the problem is compounded by the fact that it rains about every 15 minutes. So, we thank you - as always - for your patience, and we hope to get more photos up soon! (Public networks are much harder to find in the USA than they were in Central America, because everybody has internet at home, I guess).

More soon - cheers, UTE

like ships passing in the night...

After leaving beautiful Ft. George Island, we pulled into Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, for a couple days. Not only was it a perfect spot to wait for our repaired autopilot to (hopefully) catch up with us, but we had the great good fortune to overlap there with our friend Robert Halverson (dad to Julie, Grandpa to Baby Graham!). To say that 'timing is everything' on this trip is surely an understatement. Robert was in town for work but generously carved out some time to hang out with Ute, and even let us enjoy the amenities of his hotel, which was a big treat for us.......we could see Ute from the pool and from the room.....major bonus! We three were content to pal around the town and be tourists for a couple days, sampling the local seafood, pawing through totally useless trinkets in overpriced shops, and making a late night run for ice cream, which we gorged ourselves on while watching baseball at the hotel. He even drove us all over town to find some parts for Ute. what a trooper! Thanks Robert!!

As is typical of our current lifestyle, we were totally wowed by the very normal parts of Robert's everyday life, and vice versa. He was blissed out to come hang out on Ute on a sunny afternoon, whereas we were stoked to take advantage of the Hilton's air conditioned business center to catch up on our emails!

Our trusty rusty crewmember, Otto the Autopilot, arrived safe, sound and lovingly reconditioned on Thursday....we are so happy to have him back from the lightning doctor!