A TASTE OF ADVENTURE

OF OUR FAVORITE CRUISERS CONFESS TO LOCAL FAVORITES

You d have to live under a rock to miss the recent emphasis on .all things local: Local politics, locally grown food, local artisanal wares. Paying attention to what s close to home is all the rage, and since we bring you exotic, far-flung adventures in every issue, we thought why not mix some local expeditions into our Adventure Issue to remind our readers that big surprises can be just around that nearby bend? We asked five frequent Yachting contributors and world voyagers to tell us about the adventures they loved that were not too far from home. Island Time

1 NOT-SO-DISMAL CRUISING

A passagemaking legend tackles another extreme in the serene ICW.

The high-pitch cry of an osprey pierces die early morning mist. We take in die enveloping jungle-like forest that abuts our anchorage. A bald eagle looks with disfavor at the osprey poaching on his turf while a beautiful egret hunts for breakfast, and we pause for a moment, savoring die timeless ambience. This is unusual musing territory for us and our FPB 83, Wind Horse. We are used to remote country, and anchorages without soundings: Far away, hard-to-reach destinations like Greenland and Svalbard lie in our wake. But this July we are anchored at the southern entrance of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and it is just the opposite. Instead of having to passage thousands of miles, braving storms and the threat of arctic ice, the swampnorthern entrance is a short hop from Norfolk, Virginia. And yet, it casts a wild spell.

We are ostensibly taking it easy this cruising season. Rather than returning to the Arctic, as was the original plan, weopted to explore the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), a first for us. At 83 feet overall length, Wind Horse might seem a bit large for these narrow channels and thin water, but she maneuvers easily and draws just five feet. Working her into and out of tight spots is the ex-sailorequivalent of sailing onto the anchor at Falmouth Harbor during Antigua Race week. In short, ita buzz.

The mist is clearing, and with coffee mugs in hand we winch in our oversize Rocna anchor. Wind Horse nudges forward, as we keep one eye on the course ahead, the other on the depth finder.

Surveyors first plotted this area in the 17th century, and in 1763 one George Washington visited, looked with favor on the area and conceived the idea of a canal to connect Norfolk, Virginia, and the Chesapeake to North CarolinaAlbemarle Sound. As president, with real juice, Washington worked with Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry to get the ball rolling, and by 1793 construction had started on the canal.

The channel twists, turns and narrows. A brilliant yellow-green deposit coats the surface, making chaotic swirling patterns as we pass through. Water depth varies from five to seven feet as we enter the Dismal Swamp Canal proper. Our crew is completely transfixed by the beauty as we move along at six knots. We are miles into the Dismal Swamp before we recognize that there is no room to turn around. Among overhanging trees, shallow banks and constricted channel width, if we were to backtrack it would mean literally reversing down the entire distance.

Although Wind Horse is of shallow draft and svelte displacement (just 44 tons), she still feels the drag of the narrow waterway. You can see the lily pads sucking down ahead of us as the water level drops and then springing back up on our passing. Occasionally there is a thump as our passage disturbs bottom debris.

Halfway along there is a visitor center with dock space for several yachts. We stop, have a look and settle in for the evening.

The next day brings more of the same haunting passage, until late in the afternoon when we arrive at a set of locks used to control water level within the Dismal Swamp Canal.

A 45-foot sailboat enters, and then we are ushered in. We have advised the lockmaster that there are just two of us aboard, and a line handler does a quick, professional job with bow arid stern lines. Currents within the lock and on entry and egress are minimal, and boat handling is relatively simple. A few minutes and we are under way for Norfolk.

The Dismal Swamp has been the highlight of the ICW for us. We only wish weallowed more time for exploration. There appear to be numerous branches that are traversable by dinghy or small yacht. Maybe next year wetake another crack at it.

 Whale Song

2 BENDING TIME IN THE BAHAMAS

Travels through a place that forgot time.

As a child, my first boat trip beyond the Long Island Sound was to the Abacos, and I ve been in the Bahamas as a yacht captain, boating journalist or tourist at least once every year since. You d think by now I d be jaded, or at least longing for more diversity, so what is it that always lures me back?

It starts with Island Time. Heading east from the already-relaxed tempo of South Florida, minutes fall, uncounted, into hours. But here s the thing: Island Time has zones. Beyond a 200-mile radius from Fort Lauderdale —not ironically the farthest most boats travel in a day —those hours fade into just morning, afternoon and tomorrow.

With that pace of time accepted, stress and worry are all but impossible. It takes two days to acclimate once past the casinos, restaurants and shops that cater to the hurried crowds in that first Island Time zone.

The payoff is enormous, literally. More than 700 islands and thousands of small cays provide Bahamians dry land comparable in size to Connecticut, but those islands are strewn among grassy sounds, shallow sand flats and mile-deep inland seas across an area about the size of Colorado. Yet the well-traveled waters from Nassau to Harbour Island and up through the Abacos circumscribe an area that is not much larger than Maryland, leaving four-fifths of the islands all but untouched by tourists or time.

On any given day in those southern Bahamian waters, I ll find the sapphire, topaz, jade, emerald and aquamarine equivalents to the colors of the mountains of Vermont in autumn or the splendor of a Rocky Mountain lake at sunrise. Motoring through Pike s Creek in Exuma, diving at Conception Island, looking out from Columbus Point on Long Island s Cape Santa Maria (named by the explorer, not for him), my list of favorite spots is long. Even the deep waters that penetrate the Bahama Banks are a rich iridescent indigo I ve not seen in any other ocean. That beauty exists farther north but is less appreciated until the hour of day no longer matters.

Undoubtedly, though, it s the people who draw me back year after year. I ve simply never met an unpleasant Bahamian. People live and work here with smiling faces and cheerful attitudes. This is particularly so beyond the cruise-ship terminals and places reached by frequent commuter flights in the northern Bahamas.

Think of this: In most travel destinations tourists arrive in airplanes or cruise ships. Yachts of any size are an oddity. But in many Bahama settlements the majority of tourists arrive by boat, and conversely, most Bahamians are boaters, divers and fishermen too.

In fact, as I travel the far reaches of the Bahamas I m often asked to make reservations for dinner, not in order to choose an hour for seating but to specify the entree. This gives the proprietor s brother, uncle or cousin time to catch the dish I want. That s about as far in advance as people plan here, where time truly is defined by seven divisions of a week, not 24 divisions of a day.

So what brings me back year after year? It starts with Island Time.

3 UP A LAZY RIVER INTO YESTERDAY

Old Florida can still be experienced by the intrepid.

 Dismal Swamp Canal

FloridaSt.Johns River is one of the few rivers in the United States that Hows north. Perhaps itthis contrarian attitude, the way it meanders in the opposite direction of most others, that has preserved a way of life long ago faded from the American scene.

My crewbrief exploration of  the St.Johns began in downtown Jacksonville, 15 miles from the ICW. We had taken advantage of the free-floating docks at Jacksonville Landing, the riverside marketplace, to serve as our base for visiting this busy, modern city. But since we had come to see something of Old Florida, we continued upstream, making a stop along the Ortega River for fuel and a glimpse of the renowned Huckins yard. Its docks were lined with legendary boats, some old and some more recently built but all displaying a timeless beauty.

Leaving the Ortega, the commercial scenery turned residential, and the river seemed as wide as the Chesapeake Bay, creating ideal conditions for the many sailboats we saw as we motored for Green Cove Springs, 17 miles south. We tied up at the floating town docks and walked through the attractive city park to find the mineral spring, known by locals as the Fountain of Youth.” Years ago the spring was surrounded by hotels for the many guests that flocked to it for rumored medicinal qualities. Today it feeds a public swimming pool before flowing into the river.

Green Cove Springs is emblematic of so many small American towns hit hard by suburban sprawl, strip-mall shopping centers and big-box stores. Beautifully restored 19th century homes surround the downtownhalf-empty commercial district, its lonely shopkeepers hoping for better days. But even in its present state, life here offers a sense of quality and quiet thatoften unfamiliar to visitors from other parts.

We headed 30 miles upriver toward the town of Palatka, where we had made reservations at the Quality Inn Motel & Marina. Palatka is clearly an old river town, but with a population of 10,000, it is quite lively, thanks in part to Georgia Pacificpulp and plywood operation. An expansive riverside park is part of a major redevelopment project, complete with new town docks.

Ken Fickett, builder of Great Harbour trawlers in Gainesville, joined us for dinner at nearby Corky Bell, and he urged us to continue farther up the river for a glimpse at what Old Florida looked like.

Advancing to Welaka, we found ourselves in a subtropical environment. Alligators and turtles shared the sunny riverbanks, water hyacinths filled the backwaters, and white egrets stood out from the shadows of the dark green vegetation. We tied up at the public town dock and found the sleepy town of 600 virtually closed for lunch.

Turning around because of our tight schedule, we left the next 60 miles to Sanford for another trip. According to Fickett and other locals, the St. Johns gets a lot more interesting and much wilder as it wanders through Lake George and Lake Monroe. But from what we had already experienced, we can vouch for the St. Johns’ability to offer time travel to a wilderness and Old Florida way of life that we thought had already disappeared.

4 BREAKING THE ICE IN ALASKA

Alaska! Grizzlies gobble salmon; whales breach and sound; glaciers loom large. Venture this far north in a boat and yourealize that tidewater glaciers shed ice into the sea. There it turns into hard floating rocks. A carpeting of smaller chunks may tinkle pleasantly against the hull, but, as we found out, itbetter to navigate clear of it anyway.

On a passage north from Petersburg, we kept the midnight watch. In calm air the water ahead glowed like burnished silver under the moonlight. Then odd lumps marred the smooth surface. Magnified through the binoculars a tail fin waved in our face and vanished. With the whale gone there was still something low and menacing there —growlers of’ice. By early morning we steered around jagged ice sculptures that glistened in the sun and thrilled everybody. The turn into Tracy Arm shifted the focus; the surrounding mountains plunged into the narrowing fjord with abandon. Around each corner yet another El Capitan look-alike shot streamers of meltwater from high up. An occasional waterfall roared into the sea close by. At Sawyer Island the previously scattered ice floes united and the way north to Sawyer Glacier looked like solid ice rubble. Soon the boat was jammed in it, our minds on the stabilizers that poke out from the hull a few feet under. A good whack against an underwater ice spur and theybend. The group in die hastily launched tender went ahead, weaving crazily in search of open leads. They soon returned with a prize —glacier ice for warm-up drinks! Around 10 p.m., in dim daylight, we wiggled out to Sawyer Island again. We waved to a couple of toughs camping on top of it, their kayaks hauled all the way up.

Some 10 major glaciers surround Glacier Bay. Many have now shrunk back onto the land, and only some can be approached closely by boat. Lamplughterminal snout croaked, creaked and groaned very audibly as we put Whale Song s bow near it. Underneath the sheer ice cliff melt, rivers roared, creating a current strong enough to hold the boat off. Around the corner, Johns Hopkins Glacier, a crenelated, scalloped frozen barrier under overbearing black peaks, was shedding enough ice to let us only halfway into the inlet. Fur seals, rare elsewhere, snoozed on many of the floes. Deep water washes right against Marjorie Glacier. It calved repeatedly, cannon booms preceding each avalanche of ice. McBride calved so much we had to anchor outside the inletbar. Our explorers returned shaken after barely escaping from a vicious eddy spinning jagged ice islands with the little boat caught in the middle.

This close shave cooled our ardor for personal ice encounters. Panoramas of glacier-capped mountains unfolded while Whale Song powered north along the shore of the Gulf of Alaska. We timed the swing into Lituya Bay carefully at slack water the tidal current in the narrow entry slot can reach 13 knots. In 1958 three trolling boats anchored in Lituya a few hours before a 1,700-foot-high tsunami exploded upon its waters. Miraculously the crews of two boats survived.

Icy Bay was all too true to its name. Whale Song barely made it through a line of floes over the bar and into an ice-free pool by Moraine Island. Only bush pilots can deliver guests to the summer fishing lodge there. In Prince William Sound the giant Columbia disgorged ice, which fanned out for miles. Whale Song powered westward where our best anglers would compete for salmon with hungry grizzlies. For those looking to experience cruisingrazoredge, come to Alaska and try bobbing and weaving with a berg.