After our mishap in Wachapreague we were ecstatic to be docked in Hampton, Virginia. Land! Showers! Cold beers! No more worrying about the anchor dragging. No more inlets of hell. Life was good! The passage was nothing extraordinary, but we did have a few hiccups along the way. First, a twenty-foot piling was drifting exactly where we wanted to go, then a lightning storm as we entered Chesapeake Bay, and lastly, maneuvering beside a giant cargo ship on its way out at midnight. By this point we were getting used to the hazards and strangely it all started to seem normal. Outrunning another storm? Navigating debris and ships in the middle of the night? Yep, sounds about right. Just another day on S/V Talaria. The only new surprise by the time we got to Hampton was a sharp crackling beneath the hull.
Once we turned the engine and instruments off, the triumphant relief of making it safely to the marina was about to settle in, but was interrupted by a noise coming from underneath the boat. Snap, snap, snap, snap. It was a consistent loud crackling we’d never heard before. “What the hell is that?” Romain asked worryingly. Was it from the grounding? Did we push the boat too hard? There’s no way I thought to myself, and said to Romain it must be something in the water. For newbies like us every strange new noise triggers our internal alarm. Sure enough, a quick online search and voilà, snapping shrimp! Turns out they’re all over the East coast. Some people have told us they’re crabs, while some say they’re shrimp. Either way, we didn’t break the boat and that’s all that mattered.
The next morning, we refueled, got a pump out, and comfortably tied up into our slip for a few days of relaxing before we would begin our journey down the ICW. Except, once again, plans didn’t seem to turn out the way we had hoped. Hurricane Matthew was brewing and projected to hit the Carolinas. Although Romain and I wanted to continue heading further South we made the smart decision – a true rarity it seems – to stay put. It proved to be the right move and ten days later, without any damage from the hurricane, we untied our dock lines and made our way into the fog towards Norfolk. We’d finally begin our journey down “the ditch.”
When Romain and I got hold of the idea to do this sailing trip we often got the question, “You’re going to take the Intracoastal Waterway, right?” With a subdued hint of you’d be crazy not to take it. Considering our very limited sailing experience we immediately reassured our more experienced sailing friends we would indeed be taking the ICW. We were well aware it involved lots and lots of motoring, but despite this awful truth we’d heard people actually enjoyed it and found the cruise down to Florida pleasurable.
Now having completed a decent stretch of the ICW, my questions is, how could anyone ever enjoy it? It was absolute torture. Complete soul sucking hell. You can’t sail. You’ve got hundreds of bridges that need opening, or if they’re fixed bridges, then you have to worry about fitting underneath. Worst of all, it’s shoal. Very shoal. I never in my life would have thought I’d prefer uncomfortable ocean passages to intracoastal shallow waters, but I honestly had a panic attack or threw some kind of crazy fit every day – multiple times per day in fact – while on the ICW. Obsessively watching the depth sounder drove me insane. Slowing motoring to our near grounding all day, every day induced so much stress I couldn’t stand it. Top that off with daily arguments, navigation worries, boat leaks, boat rodents, and continuous moments of finding something else broken. This was far from a pleasure cruise; it was becoming a tiresome nightmare. I seriously began to question the whole trip. Neither one of us seemed to be enjoying it. Not to say there weren’t great moments, but those highs were so quickly wiped out by such lows that I wondered if this was worth it at all.
We were rushing down the ICW in an effort to make up for the time we lost in Hampton, so we pushed hard to get to South Carolina. Each day was exhausting and something new seemed to break or go wrong. The first sign of things to come was the bilge pump going off every half hour. This, of course, had to happen in the middle of the night. We tried to identify the source of the leak but we were too tired and couldn’t see a thing. I remembered hearing something about leaking stuffing boxes on other boats and thought maybe that was our issue as well. Only problem was I had no idea what or where it was. We tried to get some sleep but the bilge pump woke us up every hour, until finally in the morning light we found the stuffing box and as I suspected, it was leaking. Trying to tighten it was impossible, so we had to wait until we could find a mechanic.
After the leaking stuffing box was identified we then noticed our water tanks were getting low unusually fast. I started to question which days I had filled the tanks, thinking perhaps I forgot to fill them. Or maybe we were just using a lot of water? This seemed impossible; there was no way we went through an entire tank in one day. I was convinced we had a leak somewhere. Just as we were dealing with all the various leaking parts, the foot pumps started acting up. So from one boat project to the next, we took apart the foot pumps and found they both had holes. Another boat mystery solved. Things were breaking, but at least we were able to figure out why and how to repair them. Could be worse.
So we purchased a few rebuild kits for the foot pumps and reinstalled them, contorting ourselves into the most uncomfortable positions in the process. Squeezing our bodies into tight spaces while one of us tries to tighten a screw and the other tries to hold a flashlight seems like an everyday ritual now. On a good day we were tactically working as a team, on a bad day we were at each other’s throats; for this project it was thankfully the former. With the pump back in place we high-fived each other for another successful boat project completed. I picked up a bunch of plastic bags that we kept underneath the sink and suddenly I felt something warm and furry jump through my hands. It ran across my arm. I screamed bloody murder. A mouse! We have a mouse on the boat! It jumped across the companion way and into the quarter berth.
Fully alert we grabbed the nearest container we could find and tried to catch it, but it was too fast and crawled behind the control panel. Quickly we pulled out a screwdriver and opened the panel. Behind it we found the little creature staring at us, panicking for its life. It was honestly kind of cute, but this was going to be survival of the fittest. It was the two of us versus the mouse. We had to win. Not wanting to get too close to touch it, we anxiously tried to capture it behind the panel, but it was too fast and the mouse climbed up the side of the boat. Suddenly it was gone, somewhere inside the boat. Damnit. Now were stuck with a live-aboard mouse. Fantastic. Did I mention this was not a vacation?
Off to Home Deport for a big purchase of mouse traps; Talaria would become a very hostile environment for our new resident. Between the traps and the motion of the boat hitting the waves once we were back in the Atlantic, I was pretty confident there was no way this little guy would want to stay. Twice in the middle of the night we heard the traps go off, the second time a good amount of blood was left behind, but we still couldn’t find the mouse. By the time we got to Charleston to get a new propeller shaft and stuffing box, it either somehow escaped down the twelve-foot ladder or the second trap did its job and it died somewhere on the boat. To this day we still don’t know for certain what happened, but we haven’t found any remaining evidence that it’s alive on the boat.
Fast forward to a week later and we had another critter incident. This time Romain thought he saw a cockroach. I went nuts and bought every single trap, spray, poison available and armed the boat once again. Then one night I turned on the light in the head and saw a strange critter on the lamp. I immediately squashed it. One of the great new skills I’ve acquired since living on the boat is super sharp reflexes – flies, mosquitoes, they don’t stand a chance. I’m still not certain whether the squashed critter was a cockroach but the important part was that it was “taken care of.”
Between the bug hunting, rodent killing, and mystery solving boat troubles, we made it to Florida with lots of other fun mini-adventures. Looking back at the last three months it certainly wasn’t all bad, and we’ve been fortunate to meet and befriend incredible people along the way that have helped us tremendously. I never thought the trip would be easy, but it was so much harder than I ever imaged. To be perfectly clear, this was not a vacation. We pushed ourselves, our relationship, and our comfort levels every day. It was both physically and mentally exhausting, and sometimes we drove each other crazy along the way. Yet somehow we’ve managed so far.
It’s a challenge every day. Sometimes it’s the same challenges we’ve fought about before and sometimes they’re completely new hurdles, but we’re learning to tackle each one as a team. So far we’re both still alive, a lot smarter, and so much more competent than when we started. We’ve traveled well over 1,000 nautical miles by now and have seen the entire East Coast. Coming to that realization feels absolutely amazing.
So was it all worth it? Hell yes. And the best part is we still have so much to look forward to – Bahamas here we come!