Cruising Stories

Bonding on the Boat

September 2018

We were surrounded. On our left, a fishing boat protruded from the dock. From the right, a strong gust of wind shook the American flag on the fly bridge. Tall wooden pilings formed boundaries on either side.Our slip at Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo, NC, was narrow and complicated. Using the bow thruster, my dad turned the boat to back in. I stood on the bow with a looped spring line wondering how I was going to lasso it over the first piling. Ahead, a nervous dockhand watched from the fixed pier.He motioned us forward. I prepared to throw as my dad maneuvered the thruster, but we began to drift away from the dock toward the fishing boat. The bow thruster roared as my dad fought against the wind, which was too strong. A powerful breeze carried us closer and closer until our stern was inches from hitting the other boat's bow.My brother was asleep on the coach inside the cabin. My mom, who was standing watch from the cockpit cradling her injured shoulder, called for him, Get a bumper!My brother came outside dazed and yelled back, It's a fender! Stop calling it a bumper! But he rubbed his eyes and ran to haul one out from under the fly bridge stairs.The owners of the other boat ran to their bow expecting a crash. The wind picked up, and my dad seemed to lose control of the thruster. I saw his scared face from the bow where I was still waiting, holding the useless spring line. Like a car accident or forgetting lines in a play, it was one of those moments when you wish time travel was real so you could try again. Memories of the last three days flooded back as I wondered how we got here.

Day 1: Crisfield, MD

Our journey began when my dad's captain's license finally arrived in the mail. To earn his license, he had endured a physical, a vision test, a drug test, CPR and a first-aid class and six written exams. Over the years, as my dad logged his 90 hours of sea time, our family took extensive family trips on sailboats, then motorboats and our 2017, 59-foot Prestige, Sababa. I loved a lot about those trips: gaining wind on the water, shuffling through rocky sands of uninhabited islands, strolling cobblestone streets under a blazing sun. But I also thought about sibling rivalries, petty fights and other things that happen when you stuff a family of five into tight quarters for a few weeks. When we docked at our home port, we were always surprised to find everyone had made it, that nobody was left floating somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay.Still every captain needs a crew, so in July we packed our bags and began a two-week trip to the Outer Banks. This year featured my mom, suffering from a shoulder injury that was only relieved if she lay very still on her back, and my brother, 16 and uninterested in anything but his Nintendo Switch. My sister was away at camp. That left me, who had a boating license but had also forgotten everything about boating, to take on the responsibilities of first mate.This year, I was determined to be a major contribution to our crew. The morning of the trip, I dragged myself out of bed and yawned over my father's shoulder as he taught me to start the generator, switch to general power, turn on the radar, thruster and chart plotter and set a course. We pointed the boat in the direction of Crisfield, MD, and engaged autopilot.Docked and settled in Somer's Cove Marina, we watched Nights in Rodanthe, a film that takes place in the Outer Banks, excited for picturesque sights and culture. The movie turned out to be depressing. As wild horses galloped on the beach and the credits rolled, my mom blew her nose. My brother laughed at her.

Day 2: Norfolk, VA

Motivated by the hope of seeing wild horses in Corolla, we continued to Norfolk. My brother brought in the lines as we pulled away from Somers Cove and went back to sleep, leaving me to coil them and put away the fenders. We weren't adapted to life on a boat yet and acted like we would at home. After the inconvenience of docking and setting out, my brother slept and played video games. I read a book and flipped through social media. My mother had no choice but to spend most of the trip resting on her back. We docked at Waterside Marina by a Ferris wheel that glowed rainbow at night and toured the Nauticus museum and maze of cabins and machinery in the belly of the Battleship Wisconsin. On the museum walls, rows of white-capped sailors grinned from picture frames. Together in crisp matching uniforms, they pulled long lines and chains, landed planes and heaved barrels of gunpowder back in forth in impeccable assembly lines. The stakes on Sababa weren't quite as high. I thought about calling up to the fly bridge, where my dad was trying to concentrate on steering around crab pots, and ask him how to tie different knots then untangle all the accidental ones I got stuck in the long lines. In a rumpled T-shirt, I yelled commands at my brother, who was spilling tortilla chip crumbs around the cabin and couldn't hear me through his headphones. Family is messy, but a crew must work together. We weren't there yet.

Day 3-4: Manteo, NC

We woke at 6 a.m. to brave the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The trip to Pirate's Cove Marina through a series of no-wake zones, locks and bridges could take up to eight hours. We had to be in Manteo, NC, by 3 p.m. to pick up our rental Jeep. Losing interest in the water, our imaginations were already settled in the Outer Banks driving over dunes, licking frosting off doughnuts, inspecting horse prints in the sand.When we reached the Great Bridge Lock, I woke up my brother to help. He lay down on the couch and assured us he'd stagger up when the light on the lock turned green, permitting entrance through the first gate. From the fly bridge, my dad gave instructions for tying up to the side of the lock. My mom begged my brother to come out and listen. My dad threatened that he wouldn't be allowed to practice driving for a week if he didn't help, but he refused to budge. When the light turned green, he rose and tied up his line. He held it loosely with a blank bored expression. I pulled my line tighter to hold us in place.What's wrong with you? I asked him. He didn't even look at me.Our interactions usually went like this. From a young age, my little sibling's job was to irritate me. Growing up, we bickered and stole toys and told on each other. At home, we could squabble and cool off, continuing the conversation and the rest of the day as if nothing had happened. On the boat, we were stuck together. Trivial family arguments got in the way of efficiency and risk-free docking. Arriving at Pirates Cove Marina, we were annoyed and unprepared.Sensing several potential problems, the dockhand directed us into a wider slip, and when the boat was close enough, he hopped onboard. He caught the stern lines and secured them to the dock. He hurled the spring and bowlines over the pilings, tightened and tied them. My brother and I watched, jumping out of his way. By himself, the dockhand accomplished the job of an entire crew.I saw my dad's disappointed face and knew we had failed him. To add to our misery, the marina had no pump-out, and our holding tanks were full. Using the bathroom at the marina was difficult. At low tide, the boat was too far from the fixed pier. Forced to use a slippery stepstool, we could not easily get off the boat.But it was almost 3 in the afternoon, and our Jeep and the scenic sites of the Outer Banks were waiting for us. We shook it off and left for the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, where the famous siblings took their first flight. We drove to the quaint town of Duck and wandered the boardwalk, eating popular Donutz on a Stick. Worn out, we used the bathroom at the marina and went to bed.The next morning, pumping out became an urgent matter. Nervous to maneuver through the shallow Manteo channel, my dad watched YouTube videos detailing where to hug the green markers, where to make a sharp turn, which areas to avoid. Pulling out of our slip, we were all alert, now aware of the stakes. It was time to act like a crew.My brother and I followed captain's orders as my dad instructed us how he wanted the lines. To make the return easier, we left the stern and spring lines with loops for the pilings intact. My dad was prepared, and we made it to the pump-out station without running aground. We had made it through one obstacle, and now the final test loomed before us. On the way back through the channel, my brother and I scampered back and forth, anxiously rearranging lines, double checking cleat knots and loops, while mom relayed messages from dad on the fly bridge. Silent with concentration, we approached the slip.Three anxious dockhands remembered us and awaited our arrival. My dad slowly backed in. I threw the spring line over the piling. To my amazement, it stuck. I turned; my brother had done the same. He threw his bowline, and when I struggled, he came to my side and threw it over for me. I tensed and prepared to save us from whatever peril we faced next, but we were settled in the slip. The dockhands hadn't moved from the pier. The man who had helped us during our failed attempt told us Good job. Good job.I'm so proud, my dad said in the cabin. The four of us smiled, wordlessly congratulating each other on a job well done. We helped each other off the boat and headed to our Jeep. Every crew needs some vacation time. At Jockey's Ridge State Park, we hiked the largest sand dune on the East Coast. At the peak, hang gliders floated across the sand with views stretching 10 miles in every direction across the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. In the evening, we watched The Lost Colony, a historic re-enactment show that has been playing on Roanoke Island since the 1930s.During pirate-themed mini-golf, we shared a laugh like seasoned mariners when the captain bellowed, Raise the starboard port! Recognizing his mistake, I realized that I did understand boating. I had listened to my dad talk about boats for 10 years. I had learned to turn on chart plotters and electricity, fuel up the boat and pump out the holding tanks, set out lines and fenders (not bumpers). We all knew our way around a boat. We learned to fail and try again and eventually discovered that teamwork got us safely in the slip.

Day 5: Corolla, NC

After climbing all 220 spiraled steps up the Corolla Lighthouse, we let the air out of the Jeep's tires and drove on the beach. Past sunbathers, warm waves and quiet houses, we drove off the sand roads following mounds of horse droppings. And there they were: three wild horses with long black manes chewing the grass in someone's lawn. It wasn't quite the image Nights in Rodanthe had instilled in me of horses galloping beside our Jeep, manes flowing in the wind, as they reared, kicking up and whinnying. I like to end a trip with reflection, perhaps an epiphany or two, but what I felt wasn't so dramatic. My mom's shoulder hurt, but she was pointing out horses, asking if we wanted to follow more mounds of manure. My dad, I knew, would rather be watching Wimbledon but instead was driving a Jeep on back roads, because he planned these vacations for us, our family. My brother opened a bag of Sour Patch Kids and offered to share. I looked forward to watching our last Outer Banks sunset as a crew who had unlocked the secret of working together and now would get along, at least until the next trip.

Related Articles
Women Take to the Water In Boating Groups & Clubs

It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. Do you know where your wife, mother, daughter or sister is? She might be at the Chicago Yacht Club, launching off in a learn-to-sail lesson in the summer series that’s part of the Women on the Water Program.  Or, if she’s in the Florida Keys, you could find her relaxing ashore after a day casting about in a Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! tournament. Or maybe she’s cruising the Intracoastal Waterway in North Myrtle Beach on a pontoon boat with friends, all members of Freedom Boat Club’s Sisters group. 

Nationwide nowadays, many groups and clubs are oriented specifically toward female boaters. Some are exclusively for women, others are clubs within co-ed clubs, and still others are part of century-old all-inclusive organizations that now offer opportunities for the ladies.

“A boater is a boater; it’s anyone who loves being on the water. Still, for many years and often today, boating is viewed as a man’s sport. That’s changing as more opportunities become available for women to get out on the water,” says Mary Paige Abbott, the past Chief Commander of the U.S. Power Squadrons, rebranded as America’s Boating Club with 30,000 members — 30% of them women. The century-plus-old organization opened its membership to females in 1982.

Women making waves in boating isn’t new. New York-born Hélène de Pourtalès was the first female to win a medal sailing in the 1900 Olympics. Helen Lerner, who with her husband Michael and friend Ernest Hemingway founded the Bahamas Marlin & Tuna Club in 1936, recorded a women’s first record catch of a swordfish off Nova Scotia. In 1977, Betty Cook landed a first-place finish in the powerboat world championships held in Key West. These examples are extraordinary but only exceptions to the rule that boating is a male-dominated sport. 

Today, the tide is turning. Take sports fishing for example. About 36% of Americans who went fishing last year were women, an all-time participation high, according to the 2021 Special Report on Fishing by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing involvement in recreational angling and boating.


Why not? That’s what led Betty Bauman to start Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! in 1997. Since then, this organization of which Bauman is founder and chief executive officer, hosts weekend seminar series dubbed the No-Yelling School of Fishing, as well as tournaments throughout Florida and abroad. To date, Bauman has empowered more than 9,000 women to sportfish.  

“I attended ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, the world’s largest sportfishing trade show) when I had a public relations agency. The American Sportfishing Association’s director asked in a speech why weren’t more women in fishing? After all, as he pointed out, the sport wasn’t reaching some 50% of the potential market. I thought to myself, women don’t want to feel uncomfortable or get yelled out. So, I came up with a way to teach women the basics. How to tie knots, how rods and reels work, and how to make value assessments when fishing, not just following what their husbands yell at them to do or going down in the galley to make sandwiches,” says Bauman.

Women learn differently from men, and that’s the benefit of learning boating skills with and from other women. Just ask Debbie Huntsman, the past president of the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA).

“My husband and I were taking a learn to sail class years ago. I saw another boat in the distance and asked the instructor, who was a man, what I needed to do to be sure we didn’t have a collision. He answered that it was just like going down the aisle at the supermarket with a shopping cart; you just know not to hit another cart. That didn’t do it for me,” Huntsman tells. 

The 1990-founded NWSA is a group of national and international women sailors. It supports its members via everything from a library of instructional videos taught by women, for women, to its annual conference, which features hands-on workshops and on-the-water coaching.

“I think women tend to be more meticulous in their learning. They want to know all the moving parts and why they move. They want to do it right and do it perfectly whether men are onboard or not. That’s what I see,” says Karen Berry, VP of operations at Freedom Boat Club (FBC) of the Grand Strand, in Myrtle Beach, SC.

FBC offers free boating training and safety education to all members, including those in the 2017-founded Freedom Boating Diva program, which Berry helped to launch. The group is now called the Freedom Boat Club Sisters group, and 40% of the clubs nationwide now have a Sister component. Members enjoy time on the water together, training activities, social events and boatloads of camaraderie.


More so than a one-and-done class, many women-centric boating groups and clubs feature ongoing and year-round events. A good example is Women on the Water, a club within a club run by the Chicago Yacht Club’s (CYC) Women’s Committee. The group’s Friday night learn-to-sail series in Sonar 23s only takes place during the summer. The rest of the year, the women (an eclectic group of boating-oriented 20-somethings to 70-plus-year-olds, singles and marrieds, professionals and retirees) meet monthly for educational programs, networking events and happy hours.

“We’ve done everything from a sunset powerboat tour to admire the architecture of the Chicago skyline to a cooking class taught by the club’s pastry chef. During the pandemic, we continued to meet virtually. We had the female president of the U.S. Naval War College speak. We met some of the crew of the Maiden Factor, which is sailing the world to promote women’s sailing, and we had one of our own speak — Maggie Shea, who raced in the 2020 Olympics. The fact that our events fill up and sell out almost immediately tells you there’s a need for this,” says Nancy Berberian, head of the CYC’s Women’s Committee.

Similarly, the nearly four-decade-old Women’s Sailing Association (WSA) at the Houston Yacht Club hosts a residential women’s sailing camp. The Windward Bound Camp, one of the first of its kind in the nation, organizes racing, educational and social events throughout the year.  

“Our sailing socials allow time on the water with other women in a non-competitive environment.  Yearly, we organize a ‘Sail to High.’ Yes, we wear lovely hats and gloves on the sailboat and dock at someone’s home for tea and trimmings,” says Jane Heron, WSA president.

More recently, Women on the Water of Long Island Sound (WOWLIS) was born, made up currently of more than 250 women from 14 yacht clubs in Connecticut and New York who love to sail, race, learn and socialize. 

“It started as a Supper Series, as a way to connect women across our venues,” says Cathleen Blood at WOWLIS. “Now, there is regularly held one-design racing on Ideal 18s, team and fleet racing events, chalk talks and clinics, summer regattas, frostbiting in the spring, and an annual winter meeting to plan for the year ahead. 

To participate in most of these events, you must be a member of one of the yacht clubs. In this way, it’s all about getting clubs to commit to training and get more women on the water. There’s a real advantage. Say there’s a race I want to sail. I’m never stuck for crew. I have a pool of over 200 women, whether I know them or not, I can ask. We’re all united by a shared love of sailing.”


Chicago Yacht Club’s Women on the Water

Freedom Boat Club Sisters Program

Houston Yacht Club Women’s Sailing Association

Ladies Let's go Fishing

National Women’s Sailing Association

Women on the Water Long Island Sound

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Exploring Antigua by Land and Sea

The beautiful island of Antigua was our destination for a short Caribbean getaway. Having visited many of the Caribbean islands, we were looking forward to exploring a new tropical locale and experiencing the wonderful local charm, culture, vistas and beaches. In fact, this Eastern Caribbean island boasts 365 beaches: one for every day of the year!

My travel companions for the week included my husband Jim, brother Anthony and sister-in-law, Amanda. Always a great group to travel with (our last adventure together led us to Greece, Italy and Croatia), so I knew a fun week filled with laughter was in store.

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Jim and Jen on the catamaran

As we peered out the airplane window on the approach to Antigua, we were instantly mesmerized by the pure turquoise blue waters and rolling green hills, and eager to get out on the water.

For my brother, this trip was not just an ordinary vacation. While it was my first time visiting the island, my brother has incredibly fond memories of trips to Antigua during the 1970s as a child, traveling with his grandparents, affectionately known to us as Meemah and Deedah. This week was an opportunity to share with us one of his favorite places in the world.

Anthony decided the best way to explore the island was by land and by sea. The first part of our trip was spent touring the island with a local driver and tour guide named Elvis, who is a native Antiguan living in one of the six parishes on the island with his wife and children. When Anthony spotted him on the beach wearing a Yankee cap, he knew this was the tour guide for us. Anthony and Elvis instantly bonded (even discovering they shared a birthday) and together planned our extraordinary excursion.

Our tour of the island started with a visit to St. Johns, the capital city of Antigua. While part of the town is geared toward the large cruise ships that help support the local economy, St. Johns retains its charm, filled with farmers markets, stalls and local restaurants. Amanda was immediately enchanted by one of the young local shopkeepers selling souvenirs with his mom.

The next stop was Betty's Hope, one of the earliest sugar plantations dating back to 1651. The sugar mills are beautifully preserved, and we learned about the large role these sugar plantations played in Antigua's history. While enjoying the scenery at Betty's Hope, Elvis surprised us with homemade sandwiches and rum punch. A delightful snack to recharge us for the next stop -- Devil's Bridge in the Indian Town National Park.

antigua - cruising with members - marinalife
Jim, Jen, Amanda, and Anthony

Devil's Bridge is a natural stone arch that was carved from the rocky coast by the constant pounding of waves. Locals say its name comes from surges of water that snatch away people who stray too close to the edge. The area around the arch features several natural blowholes that shoot up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Jim and I stayed far from the edge, Anthony ventured out close to the bridge for a unique photo opportunity. Later in the week, we would have a chance to see this incredible rock formation from the ocean.

We continued to travel up the rolling hills to Shirley Heights Lookout, first used during the Revolutionary War as a signal station and lookout for approaches to English Harbor. It is truly one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen.

Having reached the highest point in Antigua, it was time to get back to sea level. Our next stop centered around Nelson's Dockyard, a working Georgian-era naval dockyard, designated as a world heritage site in 2016. We delighted in exploring the dockyard and gazing over the beautiful yachts and sailboats moored at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.

Driving through the lush dense greenery of the rainforest led us to an Antigua delicacy the black pineapple. On the side of the road just outside the rain forest, we stopped at a local fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor while she carved us a fresh black pineapple, known as the sweetest in the world. It definitely lived up to its reputation.

The final stop on our island tour was my favorite -- a chance to taste the island cuisine! Elvis called ahead of our arrival and requested a platter of local foods for us to sample. We arrived at Darkwood Beach Bar & Restaurant and were immediately welcomed by the staff.

antigua - cruising with members - marinalife
Darkwood Beach Bar

After selecting a table near the beach and ordering the national beer of Antigua, Wadidli (another name for the island itself), we had the privilege of hearing Elvis' story, learning more about his life and family, and even calling his wife to thank her for the yummy sandwiches. Then we feasted on fungee and pepperpot, a hearty meat stew with eggplant, pumpkin and squash, as well as local Caribbean lobster, curries and roti. All in all, an amazing way to end a spectacular day. We said goodbye to Elvis, exchanging addresses and knowing we had made a friend for life.

After exploring Antigua north to south and east to west, we opted for a catamaran tour to circumnavigate the island as our next adventure. The morning was spent pleasantly motoring in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea around the north side of the island. Before we knew it, we were sailing along in the open Atlantic Ocean passing by Long Island, also known as Jumby Bay and a popular destination for celebrities.

After a wonderful morning on the water, we anchored in a protected cove for a stop to swim, snorkel and eat lunch near Green Island. It was a perfect destination for Amanda's first snorkeling excursion. After spotting a large sea turtle, magnificent coral reefs and exotic fish, we enjoyed a lazy swim near the beautiful powdery white sand of Green Island Beach.

Following a traditional lunch of jerk chicken, rice and plantains, we continued our journey around the island down to the southern tip to experience English Harbor and Devil's Bridge from the water. It was even more extraordinary from this vantage point.

As the sun started to dip low in the sky, we returned to the Caribbean Sea on the western side of the island watching a storm brewing in the distance. During the quiet sail back, each of us felt grateful for another magnificent day in paradise.

While traveling with your closest friends is always fun, my favorite memories of our time on this magical island were Anthony's reflections of his previous trips to Antigua with his grandparents, the excitement at sharing his favorite place with his new wife, and the joy that much of the island remained as he remembered it. We are already planning our next trip to Antigua!


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Join a Father & Son Trip up the ICW

Paul Kekalos - cruising - marinalife
Paul Kekalos and his father

"Might as well get going" said my dad as we stood on the dock, fresh out of things to prepare. I laughed to myself and replied, "Yeah, I guess we might as well." That conversation plays out in my head every time I set out on a boat a sign that all preparations are complete, and it's time to start the trip.

When my father asked me to help him deliver his Hatteras 40 from Charleston to Cape May via the ICW, I jumped at the chance to return to a special place in my life (I spent my summers in Cape May growing up) and spend bonding time with my dad. But I was not without apprehension. It would be my first trip on the ICW, his first in years, and the first on a new-to-him vessel. While I spend a lot of time on the water as a sailor, the twin diesels of the Hatteras were new to me.

As we were about to push off, dolphins showed up, easing the inevitable start-of-voyage jitters that accompany any trip. As we turned into Charleston Harbor and pointed toward the markers at the entrance to the first portion of the waterway heading north, our three dolphin friends escorted us through the channel markers. I took it as a good sign.

Starting Point: Charleston, SC

Charleston aerial - cruising - marinalife
Charleston Aerial | Pixaba

Estimated Mileage: 48 NM

We were warned that the first stretch of waterway was known for scattered shallow spots in the first few miles, but we found none. As waterfront homes of Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms slowly peeled away to reveal the quiet wilderness of the Santee Coastal Reserve, I thought, "This is the ICW I imagined. Pristine, undeveloped and peaceful."

In the coming days, I would learn this was only part of the story. We pulled into Georgetown for the evening, and our first day was behind us. With that came the simple lesson: the only way to get over the nervousness of a trip is to start the journey. We slept well that night knowing we had done so.

Leg 1: Georgetown, SC to Southport, NC

Estimated Mileage: 72 NM

Leaving Georgetown and heading north up the Waccamaw River, the previous afternoon's tranquility continued. The soft light over the marshlands showed that ours was the only wake in sight, save for a few passing southbound boats. It was an easy way to start the day. And then ... Myrtle Beach ... on a Saturday... in June. The morning peacefulness gave way to a bustling stretch of waterway filled with all sorts of people enjoying the day center consoles, water skiers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers, floating tiki bars. Mile after mile of developed waterfront checked our speed and changed our perspective.

Eventually, we cleared through the beautiful chaos of Myrtle Beach, crossed into North Carolina and preceded toward that night's destination, Southport, NC. This was our first time experiencing the wonderful ICW phenomenon of just pulling over to dock on the proverbial side of the road. We settled into the facing fuel dock at Southport Marina and marveled at how the ICW contains multitudes of experiences.

Leg 2: Southport to Beaufort, NC

Estimated Mileage: 83 NM

The weather was mostly settled with morning showers, and thunderstorms were predicted, but clear skies were forecasted for the afternoon. Only on Day 3, we still were under the misguided illusion that the schedule was ours to keep. We wanted to cover some ground today, so we ducked out of the well-marked and relatively easy Masonboro Inlet for an outside run up the Atlantic to Beaufort, NC.

As we approached the Inlet, a local Sunday morning sailing race was underway. Half the fleet made it out of the inlet with us before we heard on the radio that the race committee was recalling the fleet due to approaching thunderstorms. We debated staying inside, but the weather quickly passed us, and we rode the gentle swell up to Beaufort Inlet. It was good to get in the miles by going outside the ICW, but we realized that was not the point of this trip. Leaving the ICW, we missed the variety that the waterway provides. We stayed inside for the rest of the trip to enjoy the view.

Leg 3: Beaufort to Belhaven, NC

Estimated Mileage: 50 NM

On a trip up the ICW, you discover it's anything but a highway. Leaving Beaufort, we noted how the waterway that we experienced thus far was a straight-line narrow cut with land close by on either side, often called the proverbial ditch. But the ICW also provides moments of wide-open beauty.Heading out of Beaufort and north up Adams Creek, the ICW gives way to the relative vastness of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Navigation aids are more spaced out, and the wind waves have more room to gather up. We traveled a short stretch of the Sound, pulled into beautiful Belhaven Marina for the night and found the sleepy but utterly charming town was a great place to stop.

Leg 4: Belhaven to Coinjock, NC

Estimated Mileage: 58 NM

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Norfolk's Busy Harbor | David Mark on Pixabay

Years of boating taught me that you seldom go five days without seeing weather that you'd rather not see. The past four days were pretty good weather-wise, so we were due for something else. Pulling out of Belhaven in light sprinkles and overcast skies, we entered the famed Alligator-Pungo River Canal. This is truly the ditch 21 miles of a virtual straight line that connects the Pungo and Alligator Rivers. It is narrow and long, and it helps to see where you are going.Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we navigated the canal with ease. But just as we emerged into the wide-open Alligator River, heavy rains and stiff squalls closed in around us. I'm always nervous with weather, but my dad has a measured demeanor, so he put me at ease. We picked our way from buoy to buoy and emerged from the storm just as we passed through Alligator River Swing Bridge and started across Albemarle Sound for the evening's destination, Coinjock Marina & Restaurant. Here I learned the real lesson of the day order the prime rib!

Leg 5: Coinjock, NC to Norfolk, VA

Estimated Mileage: 34 NM

On every trip, you reach a point where you've gone over the hump. With five days of ICW behind us, we hit that point and could sense a change coming. We left Coinjock and picked our way across the long, shallow Currituck Sound into Virginia. As we wound our way through the meandering and pristine North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, both of us were excited to make Norfolk that evening and enter the Chesapeake for our final stretch. Several bridges are on this stretch of the ICW, but our timing was good, and we passed each without much wait.

Sliding through the Great Bridge Locks, we approached Norfolk. The city and its surrounding waterways' bustle was an absolute eye-opener after the past few days. It made the pace of Myrtle Beach seem bucolic. We slept well, knowing that we had come to mile zero on the ICW safely.

Leg 6: Chesapeake Bay: Norfolk, VA to Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Estimated Mileage: 200 NM

If approaching Norfolk from the south is eye-opening, then traveling into the Chesapeake past the heart of the Naval docks is something else entirely. Mile after mile of grey steel. More naval ships that I'd ever seen in one place. Amazing! And just like that, you pass over Hampton Roads Tunnels, enter the Chesapeake and you're back to wide-open beauty.

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal - cruising - marinalife
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal | Lee Cannon on FLickr

Our time in the Bay was a bit rushed. I had to return to commitments at home, so we had to get in some miles now. The plan: proceed to Solomons for a night and then reach the C&D Canal. However, our optimistic timetable did not stop the Chesapeake from dealing us a few lessons along the way.

The Chesapeake does not care about your schedule. The weather was too crummy in Solomons to leave, so we wisely decided to stay an extra day. When we finally poked out of the Patuxent River, we realized the residual effects of the rain was still evident. The Bay delivered a wild ride, with wind, rain, short chop and limited visibility for a few hours. We pondered cutting our day short, but the weather lifted quickly. By the time we passed Annapolis, blue skies and flat seas surrounded us all the way to the C&D Canal. It was amazing how quickly and dramatically conditions on the Bay changed for the better.

Leg 7: Chesapeake City to Cape May, NJ

Estimated Mileage: 54 NM

After transiting the C&D Canal and entering the Delaware Bay for the final stretch, we were truly in home waters. But despite the time I spent on the Bay growing up, I had never navigated a boat down this tricky body of water. The Delaware is busy, with a narrow channel and many big working boats. We hugged the channel's edge as we made our way down the Bay leaving ample room for others.

As the bay widened out, we plotted our approach to Cape May Harbor. Our entry took us through the Cape May Canal and into the harbor, then on to the boats' summer berth, not far from where I had spent my childhood summers. With the trip virtually complete, we experienced the bittersweet feeling of nearing our destination. And the final stretch provided perhaps the best lesson of all: When you get the opportunity to bring a boat from one place to another with your old man, take it.

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