Sailors Return From the Islands

Rob Temple
Sailors Return From the Islands

Ever stroll out on the dock on a bleak November day, watching the south-flying migratory birds and wish that you too could just chuck it all for a few months and head south to warmer climes?

  For more than thirty years I gave in to that overpowering urge and pointed my bowsprit to South Florida and the Bahamas.  And no matter how many times I had made the trip down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (a.k.a. “The Ditch”), it was a new adventure every  time. 

That’s why I was excited to see the return of Meander this past weekend.  The 35-foot S-2 sloop belongs to Bob and Brenda Kremser who have spent the past two summers living aboard at the Community Square dock.  Last November they caught  the urge and, along with three other Ocracoke sailboats, headed south for the Bahamas via the ICW.

Bob is retired from careers as an accountant and building contractor in Memphis.  Brenda is a semi-retired portrait photographer.

The Kremsers purchased their boat in Rockland, Maine twelve years ago and sailed her down to Belhaven, North Carolina.  In the summer of 2010, they brought her to Ocracoke where Bob took a seasonal job with the National Park Service as a visitor use assistant at the Ocracoke campground.  He’s now beginning his third season in that position.

Having heard from many folks (myself included) what an interesting trip the waterway provides between here and South Florida, they finally decided to go for it.  And although they had been to the Bahamas before, this is the first time they’d done it in their own boat, which anyone who’s done it will tell you is an entirely different experience.

When I asked them what they enjoyed most about the cruise they both said it was the people they met along the way such as the woman in Beaufort, S.C. who waved them over to her dock and invited them to tie up for the night.  She had heard about an organization called “Courtesy Dock” made up of waterfront residents who wish to make dockage available for free to transient cruisers.  But when she looked into it she found that it costs $40 to join.  She thought it odd to pay $40 just to give away free dockage and decided to go it alone as a free agent.  Later, in Nassau, they happened to meet some professional yacht captains who invited them to a lavish “welcome home” party they were hosting for one of their group.

Like most cruisers taking the waterway south for the first time, they were quite impressed with the Waccamaw Swamp in South Carolina.  A highlight for Bob was crossing into Georgia waters and suddenly entering warm weather.  Brenda was even more impressed by the sudden change in water clarity when they reached South Florida.

These same phenomena were mentioned by Henry Plummer who made the trip down in 1913 and described it in his famous book, The Boy, Me and the Cat .  Plummer, his son and their pet cat cruised south from New England to Miami in a catboat via the intracoastal waterway and although many sections were yet to be dug, forcing them to run offshore between inlets, many other sections, such as the Waccamaw Swamp were exactly as they are today.

An even earlier trip through the ditch was made by Nathaniel H. Bishop in 1878 and written up in his fascinating book, The Voyage of the Paper Canoe.  That’s right—he made a solo trip down the ICW in a home-made kayak constructed of heavily varnished paper!

Although I haven’t made the trip in my own boat for five years now, I often sign on as crew for friends taking their boats south.  Each time I make the passage or talk with people like Bob and Brenda who have recently made it, I compare the changes with my memories of past trips and with the accounts of Plummer and Bishop.  And, while I’m usually saddened by the changes wrought by encroaching development, I’m still impressed at how much of it has remained unchanged like the Waccamaw and the vast salt marshes of Georgia.

The Kremsers’ account of their Bahama cruise stirred similar conflicting feelings in me.  G.P.S. chartplotters, cell phones, the internet and the large numbers of fellow cruisers have certainly added to the safety and convenience of Bahama cruising, but I have fond memories of trying to get an RDF fix on a rolling deck and piloting into strange new harbors with only Harry Kline’s pen and ink sketches in his Cruising Guide to the Bahamas for guidance.  Even so, Bob and Brenda assured me, the recommended approach to Hope Town harbor is still described by the modern guides as using a narrow street as a range by keeping it in line.  Some things never change.

When I asked them if they planned to go back they enthusiastically said they do but probably not this year since they want to sell their house first and they’re a little undecided about whether or not to trade up for a bigger boat.  Experienced sailors that they are, they are well aware that every boat is a compromise.  What you gain in storage capacity you give up in maneuverability and economy.  I read somewhere long ago that the best boat to go cruising on is the one you already own.  Many people make the mistake of saving up to make a downpayment on the biggest boat they can buy, only to end up burdening themselves with financial worries that put a cloud over the whole experience.

Another trend that I’ve observed is the increasing number of sailboats on the waterway that never remove their sail covers.  They just seem to be resigned to motor until… when?  Do they ever put their sails up?  Do they even know how?  The sounds of the Carolinas and Georgia and the Indian River in Florida offer some of the best inland sailing on the planet.  The people I’ve observed who get the most enjoyment out of cruising are the ones who are in no hurry.  Unfortunately, more often than not, I’ve been on a tighter schedule than I’d prefer on my last several passages, even to the point of sailing offshore to save time. So  I was glad to hear the Kremsers say that they took their time on the return trip, visiting friends along the way.  

I already knew the Kremsers were real sailors and Meander is no slouch.  Over the past two summers on any given evening you could look out over the sound  at sunset and most likely you’d see my little schooner out there but I don’t count since I’ve usually got paying passengers aboard.  On many of those evenings you might see two other local boats under sail: usually Jack Whitehead on his Pearson 32 and Bob and Brenda taking friends out on Meander. They used to smoke me sailing upwind but last month I installed a new centerboard.  So... we shall see!


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