The Nautical Adventures of Captain Kitty and Her Crew
. . . or what I did on my summer vacation


by Les Rothman, Autumn Saga, NT37-054

Part I


In the grand nautical literary tradition, of fact and fable, spanning the ages from Homer’s Ulysses and Trafalgar’s Lord Nelson, and Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey to the more contemporary exploits of Joshua Slocum and Ric Gordon, I shall endeavor to explicate, in the entirely too limited medium of the written word, the five month cruise of Captain Kitty and her crew, aboard the good ship Autumn Saga.

The initial, superficial planning for this expedition began, as most do, some few years prior to its actual embarkation. Following upon retirement from the labor force, of both my wife and myself, and following upon a cruise to the Bahamas which showed quite unambiguously that we, two, could, indeed, live for lengthy periods of time, without any sacrifices, on our 32 foot Nordic Tug, it came to pass that, six months later, we purchased a 37. We both had wanted, for some years, to cruise up the east coast as far as Hartford Connecticut, where family resides. We thought we’d stop, along the way and take part in the Northeast Nordic Tug Rendezvous in Essex, Connecticut, in July. Having already cruised, at various times, aboard both private yachts and small ships, three of the Great Lakes and the northern Long Island Sound, as well as the Erie Canal and Hudson River, this was the extent of our current desires. We had planned to depart in early spring, around April 1st, for, in spite of the warnings that it would rapidly get cold after leaving Florida that early in the year, the vessel we had could well handle anything we might encounter. We had, after all, discovered Nordic Tugs some years ago, on a cruise in Alaska. The only hitch in our plan was that we still had, in our loving care, the last of many cats and he was nearing 16 years old and had never been aboard ship. Thus, interspersed with our sadness, was relief when he had the temerity to die, in the fall of 2004. Now, cruise planning could take place in earnest.

With no other serious obstacles to over come, we decided to head north on or about April 1st, 2005. No damage at all was sustained by either our home or vessel during the late season storms of 2004 and Autumn Saga was completely checked out, serviced and upgraded, as desired, during December and January of 04/05. Some time in February, 2005, we received an invitation to attend a wedding of the son of very long time friend’s of ours that we knew as a couple before they ever had any children. The wedding was to take place on May 7th, in Lutherville, Maryland, which is just a few miles north of Baltimore. O. K., we thought, we’ll go on the boat and, if we don’t get that far north by then, we’ll rent a car and go from wherever we happen to be. Around the same time, the Southeast Nordic Tug Owners Association, of which I am a founding member, was trying to come up with a location for the annual owner’s rendezvous. The hurricane damage sustained by Florida’s marinas the previous autumn was making this very difficult. A date and location was finally established, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, April 15th – 17th. As we were to be heading north prior to that, we again decided that we could rent an automobile, leave Autumn Saga where ever she might be, and drive south to the rendezvous.

Approaching the end of March, while working in our garden, my wife discovered an emaciated, seemingly terrified, small gray cat living under our deck. It took her almost two weeks to coax that creature out with offers of “real” food to supplant its diet of lizards. A few days later, with Ms Kitty now on our screened lanai, I invited her into our home. I thought she was about six months old, so small did she appear. Now things were getting complicated. Just a few days before we were to depart on Autumn Saga, my wife took the cat to our veterinarian. For nearly three hundred dollars, we found out that Ms Kitty weighed seven pounds, was at least a year old, had already been neutered and was otherwise healthy. Although she probably had had all of her immunizations, too, we did them again. At this point, we decided to abandon our planned April 1st embarkation, as things were getting just too involved. My wife canvassed the surrounding neighborhood but could find no one who had “lost” a cat. She did discover that this particular cat had apparently been abandoned and was wandering from yard to yard, a survivor. During the two weeks in which she had entered our life, we found she was completely house broken and very clingy and dependent. We decided to drive to the SENTOA rendezvous and left MS Kitty in the house for three days. When we returned home, she had apparently been very lonely and reattached, to our laps, bed, etc., immediately. We then decided to drive to the wedding which would take us away for about eight days. We secured the services of a “cat sitter” who came by daily to give both physical and emotional TLC. During our drive north, we visited a number of places where we planned to stop during the cruise, to reconnoiter marinas and other support services that might be needed. We also visited family in Yorktown, Virginia who are also cat lovers and who offered to take Ms Kitty, if we could not keep her. When we returned from Lutherville, on May 9th, we decided that we best get underway by May 15th. What to do with Ms Kitty. My wife decided, against my initial demur, that Ms Kitty was to come with us or go to “Pet Rescue.” Having had at least eight cats in our lives before, I was very skeptical of the plan. First, we had to establish that she would ride without fuss for long distances in an automobile. Not a single cat in the past would ride five minutes without raising “hell on wheels.” Ms Kitty rode to Jacksonville and returned without any complaint, 77 miles each way. The first time we took her aboard Autumn Saga, while we were provisioning, we let her loose to explore the boat at the slip, but no engines were started or motion induced. The second time, just two days later, she rode equally well in the car. This time, I started the main engine and the generator and we left the slip, fueled up two tanks, pumped out the black water holding tank and returned to the slip. She was totally at ease. Ms Kitty was going cruising.

Along with provisioning for ourselves, we were faced with providing for Ms Kitty. We had cruised, in past years with our golden retriever, a wonderful intelligent companion who required twice daily terra firma jaunts for both toilet and exercise. He never once, however, put himself at risk and responded to simple verbal instructions in a manner that parents could only dream about for their children. Now we were with a feline whose acquaintance we had just recently made. We knew from experience that we did not have to take her off the boat which simplified both her toilet needs satisfaction and her exercise requirements. Kitty litter in a regular size litter pan was placed in our shower stall and a round rubber cover with very fine drain holes was placed over the shower drain to mitigate the possibility of litter getting into the gray water tank. We, of course, provisioned with dry cat food and a plastic food/water dish that would not slide when on the carpeted floor. We’d both had read about and heard directly of the trauma of cruising cats falling over board with some lost at sea. Taking all the advice we could afford, we acquired an appropriately sized PFD, a harness, a leash and a net with a long handle such as fisherman use to scoop up a hooked fish. These were all placed in strategic locations for rapid deployment, if needed.

We embarked from our “home port” on the Ortega River, south of downtown Jacksonville, on a bright, sunny 60*F. Sunday morning, May 15th, 2005. By prior arrangement, made at the Nordic Tug April meeting in Fort Lauderdale, we rendezvoused with another 37 Nordic Tug and enjoyed a favorable current as we cruised through Jacksonville and down river, turning north at the ICW junction with Sisters Creek. Ms Kitty was calm and curious and when the seaway became a bit vigorous, she found her way to the lowest most stable place in the boat, in the bow stateroom, over the keel.

This fellow cruiser, a retired physician, had purchased his vessel in Washington State, cruised down the Pacific Coast to Long Beach, California and then had his vessel transported overland to Texas. From there, he crossed the Gulf of Mexico, attended the Fort Lauderdale confab and cruised north with plans to join us. He had grown up on Sailboats, with his parents, on the Pacific Ocean and was more than a competent mariner. His new wife of three years also enjoyed the experience and was a quick learner. However, he had one peculiarity which rendered our joint cruising plans ultimately untenable. To be polite, he was, in my estimation extraordinarily “frugal.” This meant that he avoided marinas, except to get water and fuel and do laundry, no matter the conditions, failed to appreciate major land marks because of the cost, never ran his A/C regardless the temperature and avoided eating ashore. After he skipped both Savannah and Charleston, claiming that he’d do them on the way south, I asked him what he’d think of me, if I was driving up the California coast, his home state, and skipped San Diego, San Simeon and Carmel. His reply was that he “would think I was in a hurry.” Another time, when provisioning forced him to a shore side tie up in Beaufort, S.C., he and I took a walk around town, which I had done before. It was southern summer hot and I asked him if he would like to stop and get an iced coffee. He declined and we entered a purveyor of such. Then I asked him if he would like one if I paid for it. He quickly accepted. We both enjoyed the drink and the rest of the foot tour. Additionally, he refused to cruise at velocities above six knots as he had accurately calculated that he was then consuming only about one gallon per hour of fuel. While he planned to be out cruising for six years, my time frame had me returning to Jacksonville by the end of October. Another aspect of this cruiser, which had no direct impact on us but was, nevertheless, of note, was that his vessel looked like a “junk wagon” both inside and out. His upper deck was piled high with an off shore life raft, kayaks, two external fuel tanks containing both sixty gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline and other items I do not recall. All around the hull of his boat were ten various sized and shaped fenders which were kept in place all of the time. He had bolted hand holds, seemingly at random, especially around the stern. Garden type lights, with there own built in sun charged photo electric cells, he had attached to his rails, which gave some light at night. We were invited aboard a few times, once to watch a movie while at anchor. The interior was, from our point of view, a total shambles with gear all spread everywhere. There was no obvious place to sit or stand. The helm was equally crowded. He admitted that his draught was now five feet when the spec draught for the 37 N.T. is 4’1”. I could not live comfortably this way on land or sea. I must state that both of these individuals were very nice, helpful, sea knowledgeable, friendly people, although his hearing defect made radio communication very difficult and he was loath to allow his wife to handle such, unless he was completely occupied with another task.

We proceeded north on the ICW and turned east at the Fort George River [G73] and anchored off the Kingsley Plantation, where we went ashore and toured the historic site. We then continued north to Fernandina Beach, reached at 1600. Responding to a falling barometer, the wind had increased substantially and I was going to tie up in the City Marina, but there was no room for us. He wanted to anchor so we made our way to the Bells River and dropped the hook, about 500 yards apart. The other captain came over by dink and at 1930, when he departed, we had dinner. As night came on, I estimated that the S.E. wind had increased to about 20 knots. At that point, I had had relatively little anchoring experience, even though I have been boating for more than 20 years, preferring marinas both for the security of a land tie up and the opportunity to walk around, see the sites and get some exercise. In spite of my fears that the anchor would drag or the rode part, 50 feet of chain and 200 feet of nylon, the Delta held and my only half sleep in the salon lounge, with Ms Kitty keeping me company, on anchor watch throughout the night, was for naught. It did tremendously increase my confidence in my ground tackle, which was to be tested a number of times on this cruise. The next day, I tied up at the city marina and planned some light house keeping and personal R&R. He and his wife, accompanied by my wife cruised over to Cumberland Island for a tour directed by my wife; we’ve been there numerous times. They returned Louise to Saga, anchored out again, then returned to shore and we had our first and only dinner together in a restaurant.

The next morning, we together continued northbound, passed Kings Bay submarine base and crossed the Georgia state line, where we found anchorage near Jekyll Island. We had taken a long route inland, with much shoaling, and one soft grounding, that added at least five miles and more than an hour to the trip, because the other captain wanted to avoid crossing St. Andrews Sound. Using Skipper Bob’s Anchorages along the ICW, we chose a spot on Jekyll Creek, just south of the bridge that looked to me to be in the marked channel. However, other boats were already anchored there. I gave into “superior knowledge” and joined them. CAVEAT EMPTOR! We put the dink in the water and went to shore. Very rapidly, a storm was building from the west. I know the south’s summer weather and was able to prevail on the other three to return to my dink and then the mother ships. Just as we got back the rain began. Then a tow boat with barges came by and complained loudly, via VHF, that we were all in danger anchored there blocking the channel and should leave. About 15 minutes later, the coast guard came by and ordered us all to leave. The storm was now rather serious and my dinghy was tied behind my vessel. As it is carried above on the boat deck and is not easy to hoist in less than ideal conditions, I had to tow it. We all weighed anchor in the gathering darkness and driving rain and made for Jointer Creek, a wide deep noncommercial water way. I was limited to five knots towing the dinghy and was the last to arrive. My radar was near essential during this transit. After a while the storm abated and we had drinks and dinner. Then the four vessels, after chatting on the radio, spent a quiet evening on the hook.

As usual, I arose before 0600 to the sound of a purring Ms Kitty. The weather was fine. After our morning routine, which included loading the dink, was completed, we headed north, crossed St. Simons Sound and turned into the Frederica River. Here it began to rain quite seriously. We anchored in total calm, by the fort. After the rain abated, three visited the Fort by dinghy; the price of admission was being food for swarms of mosquitoes. That evening, after dinner aboard, we went over to the other vessel to view the movie, Phantom of the Opera. Then we returned to Autumn Saga for a peaceful night’s repose.

I must report that Ms Kitty had already totally acclimated to cruising. The only difficulty initially was her presence under foot when we were docking or anchoring. We solved this by shutting her in the master stateroom, at those critical times, so that we could attend to our tasks without fearing she might go out the open doors or get stepped upon. However, Ms Kitty was now getting her sea legs and becoming more adventurous. When I did my morning engine room checks, I would find, upon emerging from the hatch, her face staring into mine. Not infrequently, if my back was to her, she would pat me on my head. This was, at first startling, but soon became amusing. I was concerned that she might decide to jump down into the engine room to explore. However, she quickly learned the meaning of ”NO” and her body language indicated over the following weeks that she remembered such was not allowed. During the first week aboard, she would often retreat to her carrier, which we had left open for her in the second port side cabin. She soon gave this up completely and we put the carrier in storage under our forward queen berth. Young, healthy and used to the exercise she gets at home both in house and yard, she developed a routine every morning, after she had succeeded in awakening at least one of us, usually me, of dashing around the salon, up the pilot house steps and down the other side to the master stateroom. Then she would lie crouched in wait, as if on the hunt, and at some undetectable cue, leap forward again. She also would leap in attack mode at a variety of small stuffed animals my wife might throw to her. She began to stand on her hind legs to get a better view of things above her height. The most interesting thing we observed was that she began to do complete summer salts down the steps from the pilothouse to the salon. As we began to acquire insects on board at our anchorages she had another source of distraction. Large green flies, particularly, became her favorite target and I was very glad that she killed so many. Her favorite hunting ground for these was atop the navigation table, as the insects congregated at the pilot house windows. I was somewhat distressed that after she killed them, she ate them. One morning, having gone to bed with maybe a dozen flies buzzing around the helm area, I awoke to find five dead on the chart flat. I guess she had had her fill of protein.

The next day began in fog with a temperature of 69*F. and a steady barometer. Ms Kitty, awake even before this early riser, was sitting upon the helm flat catching and eating horse flies. With the morning routine completed, both vessels left the anchorage, cleared Sapelo Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound and came to anchor in Cane Patch Creek, east off the ICW nr R102. The four of us met aboard Autumn Saga to visit and to plan the next day’s cruise with the tentative destination of Hilton Head Island, We each ate dinner on our own vessel and spent a quiet evening.

An early rising and expeditious execution of the morning routine permitted us to depart the anchorage at 0737. We cleared the Savannah River before noon and reached our planned anchorage around 1430, just as a storm, predicted by NOAA, was brewing. We cleared R34 on the Cooper River and, following Claiborne Young’s positive description, turned into Bull Creek. My companion Nordic Tug followed us into this ICW tributary, as we proceeded up to what looked like a good place to anchor. The flood had begun about two hours before and was now driven by an east wind, as we dropped the hook in 20 feet, with our companion about 300 yards down stream. I let out about 140 feet of rode. The flow rate increased rapidly and the Delta held firmly. Autumn saga naturally swung with the current and we soon found ourselves facing 180 degrees from our initial heading. To our perhaps naïve amazement, we also found ourselves aground, most likely on a bar, since we were still basically in mid channel. I radioed our situation to the other Tug, the captain of which came over in his dinghy. I thought we could stay where we were as the tide, which would be high in about four hours, would, more than likely, float us free. However, I finally bowed to the other captains “superior” anchoring knowledge and experience and agreed to attempt to kedge off. He took our second anchor in his dinghy and set it about 200 feet into where we estimated the deepest water would remain at full low, which would occur over night. Then, with great effort both manually and mechanically, we began the struggle to free Autumn Saga. We finally succeed after about an hour and re anchored as thunder and pouring rain commenced. We then had dinner, a shower on the aft deck in the cold rain and then a peaceful evening as the storm passed by, while we slept. I still believe that waiting for the retuning tide to float us off was a superior plan, as we were upright when just past full low. The other captain later agreed with me and I think he just wanted to try this maneuver.

Almost daily, we learned new things about our feline crew member. A number of times, I noticed that my wife’s stateroom hanging locker door was ajar, with the automatic light aglow. My wife also complained about finding the cat in the bottom of her closet. Of course, I told her that if she would close its door properly, this would not happen. When I closed the door to her locker, it was hard to open. Sometimes at night, the glow of the closet light would shine in our eyes, awakening us. One does not want to drain the house bank of amps needlessly. My wife insisted that she always closed the locker door. I did not believe her since, once they are closed, it takes some effort to open them. My hanging locker was never open unless I was using it. I happened to be in the stateroom one day while my wife was at the helm. I observed Ms Kitty pulling on the hanging locker’s door, with her claws, until she finally opened it. Wow! I did apologize to my wife. Ms Kitty continued to open that locker door and climb inside when ever the impulse struck her. We tried about everything we could think of to stop this short of nailing the door closed. Then, who knows, she might have gone into my tool box and obtained a nail puller.

After breakfast and the usual morning ship’s systems checks, we continued north, under heavy leaden clouds, arriving 4-1/2 hours later at Beaufort, S.C. We’d been here before by automobile, but never by water. We elected to stop at the Sisters Island Marina, on Factory Creek, for two nights, a short walk over the bridge from the historical downtown. Our cruising companions chose to anchor just off of downtown. It was very nice to feel terra firma under foot. We walked to a nearby, highly recommended, Italian Restaurant, and had a pizza and Greek salad, perhaps the best I have ever had. We were able to reprovision, do laundry, catch up on the news of the world and take a shower with normal water pressure. We also exercised walking the old city with the crew of the other boat, already commented on, who came to the marina for one night to obtain water, fuel and do laundry, too. This was a very nice spot in every respect and I would go there again, if it was convenient to my itinerary.

Leaving, in near perfect cruising weather, we headed for one of the best anchorages we had yet to come across. However, a 45 minute detour was, promulgated by the other vessel’s captain in search of “cheap” fuel. On the Mosquito River, he located a beaten up, run down fuel dock and went to tie-up along side, with a two knot ebb. While we waited off shore, his wife reported to us by radio the total conditions of the venders, fuel deliver system and the difficulty in securing in that current. We let it pass. When he was ready, we left the Mosquito River and returned to the ICW. Northbound, at 1530, near statute mile 497, we went S off the ICW and entered Steamboat Creek. The weather appeared to be deteriorating as the barometer was falling. With depths around 18 feet, though with little wind protection, we both anchored, at 1610, MLW, past two sailboats, already at anchor. I took some bearings, talked by radio about the next day’s cruise, especially noting the challenge of the Elliott Cut. Now assured of the effectiveness of my Delta anchor, I rested comfortably, throughout the evening, in spite of 20 to 30 knots of wind. Dinner aboard was very good, as usual. Just before retiring, with the wind, driven by an approaching cold front high, decreasing and the sounder now reading 10 feet above its reading six hours previously, I checked the anchor which was taught as a violin “A” string; Saga had not moved.

Ms Kitty and I arose at 0600. Louise soon followed and we rapidly completed our morning routine. With the temperature now 58*F. and the wind variable at 5 knots, I was about to call the other vessel, when she passed us, radioing that we could easily catch up. We departed around 0715, caught the other boat in one half hour and headed toward our next, destination Charleston, another city we had visited a number of times by land. We exited Wappo Creek and entered the Ashley River at 1050 and headed down river. Everything, of course, was new to the other Nordic Tug and although he still refused to take a marina berth, so as to visit the city sites, he did head to Fort Sumter and found that he could anchor off and dinghy to this national historic park. We parted company there and continued ten miles northward where we secured an overnight berth at the Isle of Palms Marina, at 1230. After we had purchased 100 gallons of diesel and had lunch, we took an exploratory walk. I returned to Ms Kitty and the boat before Louise. Kitty and I were together on the aft deck when Louise returned and joined us. Later, while Louise prepared dinner, I showered and we all watched T.V. and went to sleep at 2300.

After breakfast, with the morning routine completed, we left the Isle of Palms Marina at 1110, with a temperature of 61*F, a mostly clear sky and calm wind. Heading north our tentative destination was McClelleanville. It became very hot but we did not cruise with the A/C on. We telephoned the marina, Leland Oil Company, listed in the BOAT/US directory, and reached the manager, who said that he was, at that time, in Charleston and that we should just go in and tie up and he’d see us later. [Note: On this voyage, the cell phone was used much more frequently and perhaps was more useful than the VHF radio.] Now that we were cruising alone, I picked up boat speed trying to average 8 knots. We reached McClelleanville, at 1415 and found ourselves among a large fleet of commercial fishing boats and just a handful of yachts. At least one fisherman came in for fuel and I told him, to his angry unhappiness, that the manager would return later, as I was told. When all was settled, we fueled up, best prices we had seen in many a mile, and had a very enjoyable time visiting with the manager and the locals around the marina. We walked around this attractive, southern, low country town and ate at a family run restaurant to which we had been directed. There, we met a couple currently living in Charlestown, who was aboard a small sailboat just off our bow. We returned to the marina and visited aboard Autumn Saga. We discovered that they had lived in both a section of N.Y.C., in which I had grown up, and in Cleveland, Ohio, where I met and married my wife. Before retiring at 2200, I checked the chart for next days run to Georgetown S.C. The weather was predicted to be good and we were now three days ahead of our “schedule.” [Note: In this small, out of the way spot, as throughout all of South Carolina, we had excellent reception of National Public Radio and the programming was superior to that which we receive at home in Gainesville. It was also superior to that received in the metropolitan areas of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.]

While Ms Kitty had become more acclimated to our routine, seeking the comfort of the forward state room when we started the engine in the morning and emerging when she heard it go to idle, as we prepared to end the day and secure for the evening, she also learned to stay out from under foot and to not go outside of the cabin. Thus, we became more relaxed about having the doors shut. Even when we were at anchor or at a slip and invited her to join us on the aft deck, she would simply lie at the door and look out. Once in a while, if we physically brought her out with us, she would remain for a short time and then withdraw to just inside the aft salon door. Additionally, when initially we had gone to sleep, she would find many different ways of awakening us before we wanted to do so. As time passed, she adopted to our morning schedule. As I was usually up and about first, she and I would go to the salon, where I would refill, if needed, her food and water dishes and start the coffee brewing. Once Louise was on deck and we had begun breakfast, Ms Kitty did her wild cat routine, racing around the cabin, fighting with small stuffed animals and leaping up the stairs and doing summer salts down them. Then she would lie on her back with her feet up in the air to have her zebra striped belly petted.

Leaving McClellanville at our usual morning departure time, we headed for Georgetown, S. C. Coming into the city, I thought I had a clogged head and tied up at Hazzard Marine. It was Friday afternoon and they were busy but would try to help us when they could. In the mean time, a phone call from our now far behind cruising partners led to a consult about the head and using his suggestion of adding detergent and doing repeated flushing, we cleared the problem, We told the marina we did not need assistance and instead signed up for a mooring, with a planned two night stay. We had a radio contact with another Nordic Tug and invited them to come by and visit but they had other plans. We ate aboard and watched the passing scene until darkness brought us in to watch T.V. The next day, we launched the dinghy to both explore the harbor and then to tie up at the dinghy landing and walk around town. This is another one of those must see towns for both land and sea tourists and it clearly deserves the fine reputation that it has. We spent another night on the mooring. Then, on the following day, after another harbor cruise via dinghy, as no marina dockage was available, we moved a short distance out of downtown to the Georgetown Landing Marina, where we happened to meet up with a South Carolina Power Squadron rendezvous. We secured a slip and, with not a little difficulty, during a 3 knot ebb, tied up. The Master of another Nordic Tug, who was with the S.C. U.S.P.S group came to help with lines. Quite frankly, he appeared to know nothing about line handling or securing a vessel in adverse conditions and failed to do what I asked of him and thus was less than useless. The next morning, we had a lay day during which it rained continuously. By telephone, I obtained a rental car from Hertz Home Edition, who picked me up the following morning. On May 31st we packed and left Autumn Saga and the three of us made our first trip home, a six hour drive, after a two week boat cruise.


Copyright © 2008 SENTOA • Last Update October 2, 2008 • Questions? Contact the SENTOA Officers.