2002 Travel Notes
After cruising along the coast of Venezuela and its offshore islands for a few months, we began our cruise back to the states. We'd decided to come to the US east coast to take care of some long-avoided responsibilities. Along the way, during the next three months, we stopped at Blanquilla Is., Dominican Republic, West Caicos Is., Mayaguana Is., Conception Is., Cat Is., Little San Salvador Is., and the Abacos before making a five-day passage of 500 miles to Beaufort, North Carolina.
Atom's course through the Caribbean
While in the central eastern Bahamas we anchored several days off the pristine uninhabited Conception Island. The spacious anchorage was shared by about ten other sailboats enjoying the peaceful, calm, clear waters, and a perfect horseshoe-shaped white beach. Then one morning we awoke to a seaplane circling the anchorage at mast height. "What the hell?" I said as a 100-something-foot-long motor yacht headed straight for us and instead of anchoring in the empty deeper water area, dropped his anchor directly off our stern. As he paid out his anchor rode, the prevailing winds kept him from actually hitting us, but I was dumbfounded they would be that unconcerned and not give us just a little more space, particularly considering the noise they knew they would be creating running generators and speedboat. The seaplane then roared by and landed sending a shower of spray on our deck as he turned and taxied by to windward of us. Moments later a dinghy was launched from the ship and picked up its important passenger from the plane clutching two armfuls of fishing poles. All that day the seaplane came and went, apparently taking its owner to various fishing spots and sightseeing while the motorboat crew towed kids on skis in circles around our boat.
Conception Island before the invasion
"What's the circus all about?" I asked when one of the ship's dinghies passed by. "Don't you know this is the Continental Drifter, Jimmy Buffett's boat, and he's aboard right now," the man said in a way he might announce the 2nd coming of Christ to a packed church.
"I don't care if it's Jesus Christ himself," I said in the least exasperated tone I could manage, "Could you ask that rude bastard of a captain to respect our privacy and move over to that empty part of the anchorage."He replied that he was the hired captain. Needless to say, I was not invited over for happy hour.
Mei later asked me, "Who's Jimmy Buffett?"
"Just some corrupted ex-sailor who used to make good music and then apparently made too much money. Looks like a sign we're getting close to the States - we'd better get used to this kind of craziness."
Now, did I think they were harassing me intentionally? Of course not. Did I feel it was a dangerous way they conducted themselves? Not particularly - just annoying and a little amusing. It's unfortunate to actually meet our heroes. How could they ever live up to our expectations? I realize I don't own that or any other anchorage so I won't presume to say who has a right to use it. If I don't like my neighbors, I move on. That's the freedom of cruising.
(Note: Enraged Jimmy Buffett fans accused me of lying about my encounter with His Highness, saying it's all "BS". (I guess it doesn't matter that they weren't there.) It's also been suggested I have "anti-motorboat bias"! My God, does it show? So I've gone back and edited a few points above so even the most hysterical dimwit has a chance to interpret the events correctly. I guess once other folks read what's below I'll be hearing from the INS, mandatory insurance laws lobbyists, loony liberal civil rights attorneys, and the Taliban! So be it. I wouldn't want any of my favorite groups to feel left out.)
Arriving in Beaufort marked the first time Atom has been in the US in 15 years. Being out of country so long makes you notice how things have changed for cruisers here over the years. Not all is bad of course. In many ways it remains a great country to live in. Still, I was unprepared to see the increased number of motorboats, marinas, restricted anchorages and "no live-aboard" zones, and countless other regulations. Traveling now through US waters you're more often forced into high-priced marinas because there are fewer legal anchorages and public access to shore is blocked by private property. I had no idea many US marinas demand you buy insurance before docking. What the hell is that about? If you want to protect yourself from damage from my boat then buy insurance for yourself. Why should you force me to buy it?
You can see what being overseas for 15 years has done to my perspective on stateside life. Not to blame it all on the US - from what I hear, Europe is even worse. I can see I'll need serious reeducation to fit in here.
I was happily surprised to find Beaufort is still as cruiser-friendly a port you could hope to find in the states. There's a fine anchorage behind the town in Town Creek and another convenient anchorage directly off Front St. in Taylor Creek. There are stiff tidal currents in Taylor Creek (about 2 knots normally and up to 3 knots during springs) and it's sometimes crowded with moored and anchored boats. You may need two anchors down to keep from swinging into your neighbors here. There are no anchoring fees yet (and why should there be!) and the town has made an effort to welcome cruisers. There's a floating dinghy dock, free Internet access at the library four blocks away, and a couple of free courtesy cars available to sailors at the nearby Maritime Museum. You can use the cars for up to two hours a day to run errands to Immigration, marine stores, hardware and supermarkets, etc. in Morehead City. This is a town that still recognizes that even lowly cruising sailors spend money. Perhaps they have a sense of pride and dedication to maintaining an open seaport. Or maybe they just haven't got around to initiating the asinine city council restrictions like many other coastal towns have done.
Coastal North Carolina
Beaufort, North Carolina
We stayed a month at Spooner's Creek near Morehed City to work stripping all the exterior teak and revarnishing Legacy, a Hans Christian 48 owned by Vaughan and Linda Taylor. By coincidence, Legacy is one of the boats I supervised the construction of in Taiwan in 1990 and was the first yacht we saw anchored off Beaufort as we entered the inlet. The Taylor's sail her frequently along the US east coast, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. If you're traveling up the ICW you can anchor in Spooner's Creek and land your dinghy at a little-known boat launching dock in the northwest corner of the creek from where it's a short walk to a major shopping center.
After cruising the rivers and sounds in the Cape Hatteras area, we made an overnight passage offshore to Masonboro Inlet and then sailed, with occasional help from our outboard motor, down the ICW to Charleston. We choose the ICW route after banging into persistent headwinds offshore, which was just as well since this section of the ICW, with it's winding tree-lined rivers, is a scenic cruising area. Try not to travel on weekends if you want to avoid the annoying speedboats and jet skis.A tip for newcomers to the ICW: keep at least a reefed mainsail up even when motoring as it will dampen the rolling when motorboats pass by.
As of mid September we were land traveling between South Carolina and Michigan with Atom moored in Isle-of-Palms near Charleston, SC for a few months. When the cold fronts began to be felt on the South Carolina coast this fall, we sailed Atom south to St. Simon's Island near Brunswick, Georgia, where we had a local customer's boat lined up to work on.
Most of the Georgia coast is an endless marsh filled with numerous navigable channels, marked and unmarked. Tidal ranges are up to nine feet and currents are often up to 3 knots. The charm of gliding through quiet muddy rivers, spotting sails seemingly floating over the marsh grass beyond the next river bend, is at times made damn near intolerable by the most annoyingly aggressive biting sand gnats I've ever encountered. Clouds of these gnats, no-see-ums, (call them what you will) can drive you out of your mind if you don't frequently spray yourself with repellents. Avon's Skin-So-Soft lotion (and a lit cigar in each hand!) seems to work best. Fine mesh screening is essential over all hatches - they fly right through normal mozzie screens. Sitting directly in front of a high-speed fan will also prevent them from landing on you.
I asked a local sailor how he tolerated the biting gnats. He wagged his finger at me in mock seriousness and said, "Oh hell, them's the only thing what keeps those Yankee tourists from movin' in permanently. And y'all just wait till spring when the biting flies are out - ooh boy." We decided to stay here awhile just to spite the annoying creatures - the sand gnats, I mean, not the locals. Actually, we've been made very welcome by everyone we met here and the insects are a sometimes only annoyance.
Earlier this year we decided to extend our stay in the states and began the process of applying for Mei's green card (US residency permit). We'd married a year earlier in Trinidad and I innocently assumed my wife could easily join me in my home country. Then we entered the nightmare of US Immigration bureaucracy. By the treatment we got you'd think I had married a daughter of Osama.
"Do you know the meaning of the word fraud?" the Detroit Immigration (INS) officer said threateningly after pointing out that Mei originally arrived with me on her US tourist visa and was now applying for a green card. This would be what is called a "change in status" in official terms, which is perfectly legal to do by filing the correct paperwork. Nevertheless, we were told by this petty bureaucratic minion behind the counter in the main waiting room that Mei should go back to Taiwan alone and wait two years for her application to be approved. Now, Detroit has the largest Middle Eastern community in the US and crowded behind us were some 200 Arabs within earshot. Even so, at this point I didn't give a damn what I said or who heard it.
"Do you know the meaning of the word incompetence?" I spat back at the bloody fool. "You've made us drive cross-country three times, file 75 pages of applications written in incomprehensible lawyer jargon, spend weeks gathering supporting documents from around the world, get a battery of medical tests and pay $850 in application fees. We have been sitting here two hours this morning watching you grant amnesty to 50 illegal aliens named Mohamed and now you think you're going to trip us up on a technicality? We have an appointment to get this green card and we're not leaving without it." Eyes across the room widened and the security guard stepped up behind me, but we did get a "temporary" green card for Mei before we left.
Perhaps the INS feels frustrated that their incompetence contributed to the holocaust of 9/11. They certainly haven't done anything to correct their mistakes. Christ, the INS even mailed a visa extension approval to the leader of the hijackers, months after he was dead! So now they make up for it by denying entry to my wife who is from Taiwan, a democratic US ally standing up for itself against Communist China.
I was surprised to hear Americans in denial of what amounts to a declaration of war from sections of the Muslim world against the West. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were murdered in the most hideous and cruel ways imaginable on 9/11 and numerous other attacks since the 1970's. Still, we hide behind a self-deluding idealism. We act as if the 19 hijackers were not emboldened by our weakness and enabled and supported by their governments and hundreds of thousands of fanatic Muslims worldwide. We prefer to think this is not a war. If we just refuse to accept it, maybe it will all go away. So what if it was just by the merest chance that our capital building was not wiped out by the 4th plane; that our economy was crippled and we've lost our freedom from fear of terror attacks.
We can't believe millions of Muslims want to see our culture of liberalism wiped out. The appeasement crowd believes our enemy is merely a handful of disadvantaged, possibly misguided extremists provoked by the West's imperialism and lack of cultural sensitivity and that we need only negotiate our way into their benevolent favor. In this utopia if you treat people "fairly" they will treat you fairly in return. Will this thinking work any better with Islamo-fascists than it did with Hitler's Germany? The sad truth is that Islam has renewed its age-old war on the West. No matter how well-intentioned we are, appeasing these murderers is cowardly and suicidal. Hand wringing and self-criticism in the face of homicidal maniacs will get you nothing but another load of burning jet fuel down your back.
Meanwhile, our moral equivalency brigades have us all mouthing false platitudes about how Islam is a peaceful religion. We're told we mustn't further offend those whose ideology is based on hate and intolerance. Apparently, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the dozens of other terrorist attacks on Westerners around the world in recent years was not a loud enough wake-up call. Shall we defend ourselves by letting terrorists roam free while going on the defensive trying to guard every possible target? While we're at it, why not stop fighting crime by emptying the prisons, barricading ourselves in our homes and putting a policeman in front of every shop and home in the country. Now that most of us in the West have lost our own religion and replaced it with the cult of socialist liberalism, will we be surprised when one day we too are forced to bow down on the prayer rug and bray to Allah or have our heads cut off? Those who feel so threatened by Western religious institutions and traditional morality might try to recognize the far bigger threat to their hedonistic lifestyle, and work instead to encourage Muslims to clean out the mosques of their venom-spewing psychopaths, free their women from mental and physical bondage, drop the "we are victims" mentality and learn to get along with their neighbors on the planet.
Today we have civil rights lawyers and politicians giving terrorists the tools they need to kill us by protecting them with the same rights normally reserved for those who act within the rules of the civilized world. While demanding full civil rights for our enemies to take advantage of, we do not notice our most important freedoms have long since been lost. Is anyone concerned about freedom from frivolous lawsuit, freedom to run small businesses without excess bureaucracy and freedom from over-taxation? What about citizen's rights taking back seat to the criminal's rights? All this and much more has been given away piece by piece by people who want the government to regulate and protect them from everything except the terrorists. We're convinced that drilling oil in the arctic wastelands is more harmful than pouring our money into the hands of terrorist-sponsoring states like Saudi Arabia. Unless you're living self-sufficient on your boat off some South Seas atoll, you can't expect to have it both ways.
I know most cruising sailors are liberal minded and horrified at my insensitivity, but I don't bend to every shift of popular morality. No group, right or left, can legislate my conscience. As a cruising sailor with many libertarian views, I love and appreciate my freedom as much as anyone. However, I'd expect some freedoms to be restricted during war. If war means striking back at terrorists wherever they may be, then get on with it. What's the point of refusing to recognize or "profile" the enemy, causing a prolonged low-level bloodletting on both sides? If you're not willing to fight to win, regardless of the horrors that entails, can you expect the fight to ever end? When the war against Islamo-fascists is won, I'll expect and demand the civil rights citizens can afford to grant each other in peacetime.Though I might be tempted to think I have some inherent freedom to sail about the world unmolested, it was actually a gift given to us all by generations of sacrifice by those men willing to fight for a decent, civilized world.
To end my rant on a more positive note, I try to keep in mind that whether we fight in earnest or half-hearted, in the long term there seems little chance that the ignorant dark side of man will overcome the trend toward enlightenment. There will be setbacks as the barbarians lay seige to the gates of civilization. Just as the Dark Ages eventually came to an end, these current and future asaults too will pass.