Travelling My Way

By Tom Neale, 1/9/2009


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When you travel by boat along the US east coast, you pass places of great beauty, places rich in history, places wild and desolate—all places to savor. And you do savor them. We’ve traveled up and down the east coast by water more times than I can count. Our roads are the ICW, the oceans, the bays and sounds and the rivers. Our coastal trips have ranged from New England waters down through the Florida Keys.  Our boat is a motorsailer, and our trips are slow. Typically, if you’re lucky with few storms and breakdowns, a trip from the Chesapeake Bay down to Miami will take around three weeks. While occasionally we can afford a marina, we usually anchor each night in some remote spot, immersed in the quietness and the uniqueness of the area.  We relish the sights, smell the smells, sense the essence of our surroundings. We appreciate that the climate changes, that the seasons change, that the waters change, that currents run swift and sometimes not at all. It’s a magnificent cruising ground to travel.

A Road Stop on the ICW

Sometimes we also travel up or down the east coast by car. It’s seldom a matter of choice. It’s usually a matter of necessity—a need to get from spot A to spot B in the time you can do it on I-95 and other highways.  From the lower Chesapeake Bay to north Florida takes a little over 11 hours, if you push it. To get to Miami, add another 6 or 7 hours.  Zip. It’s over. It’s done. You’re there. Yes, it’s a lot faster. You seldom worry about whether you’re going to arrive at wherever it is you’re going.  But on the water, you don’t care. You’re having so much fun just going.

If you’ve never made the trip by water, you have not a clue what you’re missing as you race down the highway.  It’s a totally different existence. Instead of feeling the wind in your face, you only sense it crashing against your windshield and hear air rushing past the car—if the radio’s not playing too loud. Instead of smelling the marshes, you smell the “new car” smell or the “old musty car smell” (that’s mine).  Instead of worrying about the weather, you fiddle with the air conditioning adjustment, assuring that the temperature is just right.  Instead of stopping in a quiet cove or creek at night, you rush on, high on the 70 MPH hope that you can do it all today. Instead of being intimately in tune with nature, you blindly follow the lines down the tarmac, barely noticing the signs flipping by. Instead of carefully applying the ancient art of navigation, you just go straight except when some voice from the car GPS jars you from your broken-line fixation and alerts you with the command to turn right one mile ahead.

There are benefits to highway travel.  You don’t have to worry about the weather unless it’s raining hard or snowing. And if it is, there’s usually no problem in pulling off for a while in a rest stop, restaurant, or motel—unless you’ve executed a high speed precision skid first, into the bank, or somebody else has done the same into your beautiful piece of chrome and glistening sheet metal. You don’t have to worry about running aground. You only have to worry about running into a semi at a combined speed of perhaps 120 mph. You don’t have to worry about your anchor dragging when you stop and rest at night. You only have to worry about whether there are bed bugs in the motel, should you choose to break up the trip.  You don’t have to worry about stocking the boat with enough supplies. You only have to worry whether the restaurants are half way decent and whether that funny thing in the bottom of your glass of water is what it really looks like.

Chez Nous Heads Down Her Highway

When we’re rushing down I-95, we’re acutely aware of these differences. We don’t do it by car unless we’re in a rush, and let’s face it, all of us are in a rush sometimes, whether we want to be or not. And so we’re happy that we have this option. But while we’re exercising it, we’re constantly reminded of the way it is—and of how much better it is to do it in our boat.  When we cross bridges over small rivers we always look at their names on the signs. They read like a song to us. Rivers like the Neuse and Cape Fear, PeeDee, Savannah and Satilla. And we see in our minds those rivers, large and swift and proud where the ICW crosses them along the coast or where we actually travel them, riding with them.  We notice as we pass through swampy areas that we are passing through great watersheds that spread out as they near the Atlantic forming beautiful marshes and deep swamps before they blend with the ocean.

Tom’s Tips About Traveling by Boat

1. Many people today are accustomed to the car GPS telling them exactly where to go. It’s like you don’t need a clue about what you’re doing. They then make the same assumptions as to GPS usage when they’re on their boat. This is a serious mistake. Being on the water is totally different than following highways. On the boat you still need to check in with your paper charts, note your lat/long on paper, and exercise prudent seamanship, which includes ancient as well as modern techniques of navigation. But hey, on a boat this is fun.

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We pass exit signs displaying familiar names like Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, Savannah, Brunswick, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  Each one of these and many more remind us of inlets that allow us to travel on the Atlantic Ocean, always there, always inviting.It’s an option we have when we travel on the water. If we exercise this option wisely it speeds up our trip. It can be like a short cut or a by-pass because there are fewer adverse currents and no bridges and no shoals which require waiting for high tide.  And it lets us take our hands off the wheel. We can put it on auto pilot, sit back and relax. And while we always have to be intently on watch, there are fewer things to watch out for. There are other boats and ships, yes, but they are going in slow mo compared to the cars and trucks on I-95. And then, there are the whales and turtles and dolphin and flying fish. The sounds are those of the swish of the bow through the waves, the wind in the sails, the occasional gulp or splash of a whitecap breaking off the stern. And there is the feel. Instead of the bumpety bump and clackety clack of the feel of the road, there’s the soothing feel of the swell, rolling in from thousands of miles away, maybe from off Africa, maybe from the stormy north eastern Atlantic, maybe from off the Mediterranean.  They lift the boat and lift your spirits. And the smell? The smell of the ocean is, in my view, like no other in the sense of cleanliness and well being it brings.

 Maybe the highway gives you more options, but I much prefer the options of traveling by boat up and down the coast. Maybe the highway gives you more creature comforts as you manipulate the adjustments for your leather form-fitting seat or fiddle with the climate control, but I prefer the sense of accomplishment of a voyage completed. If you’ve never tried it, think about doing it someday. You don’t have to do if for years and years like we have. You can do it for a vacation, a sabbatical, a retirement cruise, or get tidbit tastes on long weekends. You can do it in a fast boat or a slow boat. You can do it in your boat or a friend’s boat. But do yourself a favor and check out our kind of travel.

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