Sailing to Ocracoke – From Central Tennessee!

Rob Temple
Nick and Stacy Clark spending a rainy day on Ocracoke
Nick and Stacy Clark spending a rainy day on Ocracoke

A young man stopped into the shop a couple of days ago and I could tell he'd just stepped off a sailboat. 

We sailboat guys just sorta have a look.  Or is it an aroma?  Come to think of it, he was inquiring about a laundromat.  So, after giving him the bad news about no laundromat, I politely asked him which of the anchored boats in the harbor was his.

The Southern Cross 39' cutter.

Where'd he sail in from?

Nashville, Tennessee.

Surely he meant Memphis.  That's on the Mississippi River which, as every 3rd grade geography student knows, connects to the rest of the saltwater world via the Gulf of Mexico.

No, he meant Nashville!

Obviously this was not just another weekend blow-boater fresh in from Little Washington so I asked him if I could set up an interview for my so-called column, The Shipping News.  He kindly agreed to a meeting for later that afternoon and that's how I came to meet Nick and Stacy Clark and their four-year-old son Ethan. 

A couple of years ago while in their early 30s, Nick and Stacy began to wonder if life might have more to offer than a home in the 'burbs and a couple of nine-to-five jobs. It bothered them that the babysitter saw more of Ethan than they did so they decided that it was time for a break.

The idea of selling their house and traveling for a spell began to take hold of them.  How would they do it?  Buy a motor home and hit the road?  Or maybe even a boat!  They liked the idea of sailing off over the horizon even though neither of them knew anything about sailing.  

Putting first things first, they enrolled in a sailing school in South Florida to learn the fundamentals.  Then it was off to Massachusetts (of all places) to buy a 39-foot cruising sailboat which they arranged to have trucked to a lake near their Nashville home.

So how in the heck did they get from Nashville, Tennessee to Ocracoke? 

Leaving Old Hickory Lake on February 29, they cruised down the Cumberland River to Land Between The Lakes, Kentucky where they had to drop their mast for the low bridges of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.  When they finally reached the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama, they restepped the mast and proceeded to Carabelle, Florida.  There being no inland route between Carabelle and Tarpon Springs, they hired an experienced captain to join them on their first offshore overnight passage 

“Not,” says Nick, “to take charge, but rather to critique our handling of the situation.  It was well worth it too.  If he hadn't been along we would have done things just as we did but would have driven ourselves crazy wondering whether we were doing things right!”

From South Florida the Clarks stayed in the Intracoastal Waterway as much as possible, mainly to see the ever-changing scenery. Sailing up the coast offshore might be more direct and less complicated, but one part of the ocean looks pretty much like all the others.

There have been several highlights for the Clarks so far.  Perdido Key, Florida, their first saltwater anchorage after emerging from the hundreds of miles of river travel, was a big hit with the whole family.  Having time to get down to some serious reading was another.  They introduced me to two authors I'd never heard of but look forward to reading: John Kretschmer and Fatty Goodlander. These guys are obviously the current generation's version of Lynn & Larry Pardy or Eric and Susan Hiscock – the cruising gurus of my time. Another benefit they realized was the satisfaction of making decisions every day that really matter.  It's sort of a “fish or cut bait” world out on the water where you sometimes have to “sink or swim.” 

After about three months on the boat, Nick and Stacy began to realize that Ethan was in need of more interaction with them.  They had allowed themselves to get so caught up in the challenges of boat living that they hadn't always had time for the kid.  Once they realized this, they began to make it a point to set aside time to make the whole experience more rewarding for him.

During the interview my six-year-old daughter Mariah showed up and immediately began to hit it off with young Ethan.  Keeping in mind their fondness for activities that directly effect their well-being and their interest in having fun with their son, Mariah and I decided to invite them all to go clamming the following morning.  Turns out they'd never done that.  As expected, we all had a blast.

Nick and Stacy, who had never been to Ocracoke before, were impressed with the “laid back lifestyle” but were surprised at how crowded it is at this time of year.  Their plan is to sail back to Oriental to prepare for a winter cruise to the Bahamas.  Beyond that they are undecided 

You can follow their journey by visiting their blog:  I reckon I will.

Nashville to Ocracoke by 39' sailboat!  Who'd have thunk it?

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