The outboard died, refused to restart and the strong ebb of Maine’s York River was carrying us out to sea. I hailed a couple on a motorboat and they quickly had us in tow to safety. The woman wanted to know how much of Maine we had seen apart from the coast and before I could answer she was offering her car. “Take it for as long as you like, go exploring!”
Mentioning other plans, we politely declined the offer but exchanged phone numbers so I could call her if I should need the name of a mechanic to look at our outboard. Two hours later I had stripped, cleaned and reassembled the motor when she called anyway. “Sure you don’t want the car? We also have a motorbike. I’m texting you a photo of it, you can take it and go up to the mountains!”
Scenes like this are some of the best memories of a seven-month cruise along the U.S. Atlantic coast. My wife and I crossed in early 2010 from France with a definite plan in mind. We wouldn’t lay up in the southern Caribbean during hurricane season and then follow hundreds of cruising yachts through the Panama Canal – instead we would lay a course north to the USA.
We knew America quite well from previous visits but this would our first time seeing it from the deck of a sailboat. Apart from the great scenery and wonderful places to visit along the shore, the genuine welcome and friendliness of everyone we met made the trip worthwhile. Complete strangers gave us their trucks to make supermarket trips easier, then took us into their homes for dinner and the all-important laundry. In North Carolina a man who had recently sold his boat insisted we use his vacant mooring. In Florida we were guests on private dockage just one quarter mile off the ICW, and to cap it all off, Lantana-based sailor Tom Dwyer offered to help us pilot the yacht across the Bahama Banks as far as the Abacos. Who could refuse?
I have seen data that suggests over eighty million Americans take part in some type of recreational activity on the water. This obviously places the USA in a league of it’s own and indicates that many of you have more than a passing interest in boats. But I also felt than many people were just pleased to meet a couple who had sailed across the Atlantic to come visit. We had been warned that popular spots like Annapolis, MD in the early fall, or Newport, RI around July 4 would be crowded. But we never lacked space. We also met surprisingly few other foreign-flagged boats.
Neither was it all blue skies and fair winds. Avoiding crab pots took some getting used to and navigating a couple of currents like New York’s’ Hell Gate and Woods Hole, MA felt like going down a poor mans’ Niagara Falls. With our seven-foot draft and sixty-four feet of mast, transiting the ICW between Norfolk, VA and Beaufort, NC was never going to be easy. In fact, each fixed bridge was a white-knuckle experience I won’t be repeating.
As I write this, we are on passage between the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. It was sad to leave the United States but the islands are calling. So if any of the great people we met are readers of All at Sea, thank you all for showing us such a great time.
Christopher Slaney is a television producer and writer who is sailing a circuit of the Atlantic with his wife Nirit onboard their Wauquiez 43 Passepartout.