Corona cruising

On the AICW at Mile 12, transients at the Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge, VA on April 16, 2020

Last fall we drove NAUSET, our Nauset 28 Downeaster from the Chesapeake to Florida and, for several reasons the trip ended at the Palm Cove Marina in Jacksonville Beach. Last September, prior to leaving the Chesapeake, I scheduled cataract surgery…both eyes…for the first three weeks of this May at an eye clinic in Baltimore that I have been going to for more than thirty-five years. During the first week of March we flew to Jacksonville on an, as usual, packed full flight, took an Uber to the Palm Cove Marina, moved back aboard and spent several days getting NAUSET ready for the trip north.

Although the new Corona Virus was making an appearance on the evening news, in Jacksonville Beach life was normal. At the marina boats were coming and going and the large dry-stack facility was launching and recovering. Marker 32, the excellent restaurant and wine bar adjacent to the marina, was open and full every night. On Beach Blvd., in front of the marina, traffic was heavy and the Publix Supermarket, West Marine and the other businesses and all the fast food joints along the boulevard were busy.

On March eleventh we left Palm Cove and started the uphill, northbound, run to the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore. In Baltimore NAUSET would be a condo-on- the-water while my vision was improved. Prior to leaving the marina I called the eye clinic and my appointments were still scheduled, cataract procedures still being done.

Working our way north through Georgia we had great weather, high water in all the shoal areas and company, we were far from the only northbound cruisers. At the Jekyll Harbor Marina on Jekyll Island there were seven or eight transients on the long face dock and most of us ate dinner in the Riverhouse, the restaurant in the marina. In the morning we rode a couple of the marina’s bikes over to the beach and the islands shopping and restaurant area for breakfast. Everything was open. Everything was busy. There were people walking the beach.

A week after leaving Palm Cove, we were enjoying several days of South Carolina low country rest, relaxation and good food at the Safe Harbor Beaufort Marina (formerly the Beaufort Downtown Marina.) At the marina, the dock master put us next to another Nauset 28, a boat from Maine named “North Ender.” There are not a lot of Nauset 28s and comparing notes and boat looking was fun. When we arrived in Beaufort, both the marina and at least the downtown, historic, part of the city were the way they would have been on any of our previous twenty-five or so waterway cruises: lots of people and boats, northbound snowbirds coming and going, the restaurants full, reservations needed at the good ones.

By the time we left, the full force of the pandemic had arrived: shelter in place, face masks, social distancing, take out only at restaurants, hording—store shelves stripped of toilet paper, soap, paper towels, Spam (Spam?) and a lot of other things. And the weather had deteriorated. A chain of deep low-pressure systems had started tracking across the country from northern California, Oregon and Washington to Texas and on to the Carolinas, Virginia and the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. The lows and their trailing cold fronts brought seemingly endless small craft advisories and warnings, the odd gale warning, frequent rain and overnight lows in the forties, occasionally dipping into the thirties. The lousy weather dogged us all the way from Beaufort to the Chesapeake.

On March nineteenth, three days out of Beaufort, we were approaching Southport, North Carolina, when the raw water pump on our Yanmar diesel decided that it was no longer required to actually pump water. I called Zimmerman Marine inSouthport, told them what had happened and we limped into the Southport Marina. The marina was fully open. In the town of Southport: the restaurants were take out only, most of the other businesses were open although the groceries and supermarkets were stripped bare, Uber and the Oak Island Taxis were running and few people were wearing face masks or actually socially distancing. Because of complications caused by the pandemic, ordering a new raw water pump and some other necessary parts, getting them shipped and actually getting everything installed and checked out kept us in the Southport Marina for sixteen days. Five days before we left, the Southport Marina essentially closed. We were allowed to stay on the dock while we finished our engine work, plug in to the shore power (it was cold) and use water. But the heads, showers, laundry, ships store, etc. were all closed. The fuel dock was open, selling fuel to transients, and most nights there were a few transients, mostly snowbirds with nowhere else to go, tied to the face dock.

A day or two before we left Southport, I again called the eye clinic in Baltimore. Cataract procedures were still being done and I was still on the schedule.

On the eighth of April, we reached the Atlantic Yacht Basin, Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway mile 12 in Great Bridge, Virginia and just south of Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay. At the AYB the first order of business was diesel fuel and the drop in oil prices brought on by the pandemic had finally reached marina fuel pumps. In Florida diesel had been $3.31 per gallon, at Jekyll Island, Georgia $3.28, at Beaufort, South Carolina $3.06, in Southport, North Carolina $3.09. At the AYB it was $1.98 and expected to go down. The second order of business was a fast walk to the nearby shopping center in search of TP, the dwindling onboard supply was in danger of becoming a problem sooner rather than later.

Six days after we reached the Atlantic Boat Basin the reason for the whole mad Corona Cruise North ended. I received an email from the eye clinic—cataract surgery, considered by the State of Maryland to be both voluntary and nonessential, was being suspended until further notice and I should reschedule, possibly in the fall or next spring. We had been loitering in Great Bridge because
in Virginia most marinas were open and transient snowbirds were allowed to move
around, stay on their boats and use shoreside facilities. But, in Maryland recreational boating had been shut down, all we would be allowed to do was to take the boat to a marina or boatyard, tie it up and leave. Our condo-on-the-water in Baltimore had become a fantasy.

We booked a flight home from Baltimore and continued north to Deltaville and then on to Campbell’s Jack’s Point Boatyard in Oxford, Maryland. Jack’s Point has been NAUSET’s home base for the last five years. During our one working day at Jack’s Point, we arranged to have the boat hauled and dry-stored for the duration of the Pandemic and on April twenty-eighth we flew home. Our flight was surreal, the terminals were empty, there was no line at security and there were just eight passengers on the plane. A safe social distance was no problem, either in the terminals or on the plane.

Hopefully we’ll be able to spend a good part of August, September and maybe early October aboard NAUSET, six or eight weeks of warm, mild weather boat time would be really nice.

Bill Hezlep
At the house and not aboard M/V Nauset