Circumstances change and the time had come for a good friend to sell his sailboat, a beautiful Landfall 38. Always up for an opportunity to mess about on boats, we accompanied Jim to the shores of the Neuse River to prep his boat for sale.

Beth drove our new van, while Jim and I brought a load of tools and cleaning supplies in his car.

Making the experience more challenging was the unknown of bringing along Jim's six month old puppy. We need not have worried, Chika only needed a little encouragement to get aboard the first time. After one shot, she was jumping on and off the boat like an old pro. She quickly learned to relax in the shade of the bimini when she wasn't taking trips to the dock to defend the marina from pesky mallard ducks.

After a long day of boat scrubbing, the three of us agreed that dinner at Captain Ratty's in town sounded better than cooking our own dinner. Soft shell crabs were in season, so I was a happy camper!

Typical summer weather brought evening thunderstorm activity. We were lucky to get an after dinner walk in before the raindrops fell. New Bern is one of those special southern towns with well-preserved buildings that weren't destroyed in the civil war.

Here's a view from one of the marinas in town. The old schooner is used to deliver Christmas trees during the holiday season.

Each fall, the town puts on a "ghost walk," where historic homes are opened to visitors. Docents in period garb explain the history of the families that built the homes. We have attended several times and can throughly recommend the experience. It makes for a fascinating evening. This is one of the homes I'd love to see inside.

Another day of cleaning and the boat looked good so we all headed back to the Triangle.  Still in the new engine break-in period for our van, we followed the blue highways home. The highway lines on the map weren't the only blue things around. Not far from the marina we stopped at Nelson's Blueberry Farm. Putting the van refrigerator to good use, we filled it with twelve quarts of fresh berries!
Only a week later, Jim and I were back at the marina to ready the boat for a marine survey. Similar to a home inspection, a marine surveyor checks the integrity of the hull, deck, rigging, engine, and boat systems. Still winterized, we had to reconnect the plumbing systems, then clean and fill the freshwater tanks.

With temperatures reaching 100 Fahrenheit, we were relieved when the sun dipped below the horizon.

Making the evening even better, friends Earl & Karen on s/v Temptation invited us over for conversation. Earl had prepared a pitcher of our favorite Bahamian cocktail, the goombay smash, to accompany a tray of coconut cookies reminding us of time we had all enjoyed together at Green Turtle Cay.

Potential buyers and the marine surveyor joined us the next morning for a trip to Duck Creek, the nearest facility able to lift the boat out of the water. Backing into the slip, two big slings, attached to a travel lift, slipped under the boat. Lifting her up, it became apparent that the wind generator would not clear one of the big beams on the travel lift.

Undeterred, the marina staff used a pallet and forklift to remove enough of the generator to enable raising the boat.

What could possibly go wrong with this procedure?

The creative marina crew solved the problem and finished lifting the boat without incident. Nobody even dropped a tool in the water.

After a successful relaunch, the boat and crew sailed back to Northwest Creek to wrap-up the survey. The surveyor was thorough, spending a full eight hours inspecting all the boat systems. He was very complimentary of the way the vessel has been maintained. That came as no surprise to those of us who know Jim.

Our final day at the marina was spent cleaning up from the sail and making some minor adjustments to the boat. With the boat shiny and secured in her slip, we headed home.

Although we were exhausted from the heat, we did stop for a treat.

Google Maps showed that Main Street's Ice Cream Cafe was only a short detour from route 17.  Located in the tiny town of Vanceboro, the cafe was like walking back in time. Tin ceilings, friendly service and good ice cream will have us coming back. Gunsmoke was even playing on the TV for entertainment while we waited.

It is always satisfying to see projects completed and a boat ready for new adventures. I appreciate the opportunity to help a little. We didn't know the outcome when we left, but hope the sale goes through and works out for everyone.

New Beginning

Friday was an exciting day for us as we picked up our new 2018 Pleasure-Way Lexor TS camper van. Two feet shorter than our old Plateau TS, it is easier to park, but has less storage space.  New tech features, the best of which is capturing energy from the sun with three solar panels, should allow us the flexibility to camp without having to plug-in for electricity! 

Our appointment was at 10:30 to pick-up the van at Carolina Coach and Marine, the only Pleasure-Way dealer in the state of North Carolina. The buying experience was refreshing. Our Lexor was open and ready for us in a covered delivery area with all the appliances prepped and running when we arrived. They had the van ready on time, it was exactly at the agreed upon price, and they didn’t try to sell us anything extra. Matt Horniman was our salesperson and we can endorse him, and the dealership, if you are looking for a recreational vehicle. After a test drive and a short walk-through, we paid for the van, then spent the rest of the day reading manuals and trying all the equipment to make sure everything worked. Their parking lot was our first overnight campground so we could get service in the morning if anything needed adjustment. Not finding anything wrong, other than a few pieces of velcro that came unglued, we departed the blacktop parking lot beside I-40 for more interesting places. 

With a brand-new engine, the manufacturer recommends varying the speed and staying under 55 mph for the first 300 miles. That gave us a great reason for taking back roads home. Just north of Statesville, we noticed a sign for Fort Dobbs Historic Site so, of course, we turned in to the parking lot.

Built in 1756 to house fifty men, the garrison based here defended the western frontier. Though the original structure is long gone, local materials are being utilized to reconstruct the buildings per the original plans. Modern tools are speeding the process. Spy holes were being cut in the white oak walls with a chain saw while we watched. Finishing is done by axe to preserve the look of the original structure. Dressed in period garb, a docent explained the history and future of the only site in NC preserved from the French and Indian War. Being the only visitors on a Saturday afternoon, we had all our questions thoroughly answered. We will be return someday to check on the finished building.

Winding through small towns, we had to stop and capture a photo in Harmony. We looked, unsuccessfully, for a barbershop. Those of you who know our other hobbies will understand.

Serendipity next led us to the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center in Yadkinville. Entering the Welborn gallery, artists greeted us at the opening of a creative weaving exhibit. The modern complex houses a theatre, restaurant, craft studios, the gallery and an outdoor stage. If you are in the area, check their website for current events and exhibits. Or you can just chance upon a gallery opening reception like we did!

An on-street parking experience showed that the length of the new van is just the size of a parking spot here in Yadkinville. The Sprinter wouldn't have fit in this space. We didn't notice until later that we had parked under a rainbow!

Our first night away from the dealership was spent at RagApple Lassie Vineyard where we were the only ones boondocking Saturday night in their parking lot. As part of the Harvest Hosts program, we enjoyed meeting the owners, hearing about the property, and tasting some wine. As is customary when staying at a host, we purchased a few bottles to drink later or give as gifts. 

Just after sunrise on Sunday, we woke to three cars, a truck and a trailer pulling in. About twenty minutes later we understood why, as a beautiful balloon began inflating behind us. Awake enough to grab a camera, I captured a pretty good photo. 

Our spot in the parking lot looked out over the woods giving us a glimpse of Pilot Mountain in the distance. We’ve seen the mountain on our many drives between here and Michigan, but had never actually visited there. Without a schedule, we decided to wander towards the mountain and see what Pilot Mountain State Park might offer. As we got closer, the distinctive round outcropping became apparent.

Passing an expensive RV Resort with full electrical, water, and sewer hook-ups, we proceeded to the little State Park campground where all the sites shared two water spigots. 

The State Park had nicely wooded sites while the big RV’s at the Resort parked together in an open field. We were lucky it was Sunday night as all the State Park sites had been full on Friday and Saturday. Sunday through Thursday there are lots of open sites available for those of us who don’t have work obligations during the week! 

Once we climbed the mountain, we could see the RV Resort down below.

Camping permits purchased at the park are a very reasonable $18 per night. The campground hosts were very friendly and recommended the most level campsites. Though they are all paved, the sites were originally designed for tents, so many of the driveways are at steep angles. 

The hosts live in a big fifth wheel trailer when volunteering here, but go exploring in a Lance camper mounted in the bed of their four-wheel drive truck outfitted for boondocking in the western states.

After securing our campsite, we drove up most of the mountain, then climbed 0.8 miles where we followed a trail around the base of the big cliff. The views were great and some of the Mountain Laurel was still in bloom. 

From the overlook, we could get a different perspective on the highway we’ve driven many times. Trails utilized stones from the mountain to make nice steps and to keep the soil from eroding away. 

Although entrance to the park is free, rangers warned us that it gets busy on summer weekends. Parking is limited, so the park limits entries to the number of parking spaces and turns people away when they are full.

Pilot Mountain, the town, sits at the base of the mountain. Parking in front of a combination craft store and laundromat, we walked the main street and found an old bank building filled with vintage metal and neon signs from gas stations and auto dealerships. 

Monday we wandered home stopping to check-out  a couple of small lakes along the way. We might return to Lake Reidsville Park to camp where we can also launch our sailing kayak.

Back at home, Beth started making new fitted sheets for the couch and settees that fold down to become our bed. Socker, the ever helpful cat, was in the middle of the action as usual.

Spring Update: Robots, Birds, Deck, and Van Gone

It has been a while with no exploring, so thought we should post an update.

After retrieving the van from Florida, we turned it in to a dealer and ordered a new one. This will have a smaller footprint, solar panels and lithium ion batteries to facilitate off grid adventures in the future. They are popular right now, we ordered it in February and the factory said to expect a five month lead time.  We'll post all about it when it arrives. It will be based on a Dodge Ram Promaster, not another Sprinter Van, so we might need help coming up with a new name.

Here's what we've been up to in the meantime...

We helped out with a local high school robotics team for the sixth year in a row. Team 900, the Zebracorns, had another good season on the FIRST Robotics circuit. Beth put in six day weeks from January through May, insuring that students could get to the lab. Between bus runs, she worked on a haptic feedback system to help drivers understand time without having to take their eyes off the field. I was fortunate to accompany the team to all four competitions and help the students learn event photography. Noah even took time out from NC State to travel to all the in-state competitions as a volunteer, so it was fun to spend some time with him. The team made it to the State competition at Campbell University and won several awards including the District Chairman's Award.  The programming team pushed new boundaries being one of the first teams in the country to  implement ROS for control of the robot.

The great students and mentors posed for a picture during the Palmetto Regional in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
We, and our equipment, match the stripes on the team's zebracorn mascot.

Harmony was a big part of the spring as well. Heart of Carolina A Cappella is honored to be the NSC champion chorus for 2018. Delivering singing valentines was fun, as usual. We did a big concert with the amazing GQ and have done two fundraiser concerts for charities. The new moto is Harmony for All, and we have ladies singing with our, formerly all men, ensemble. Eight part harmony presents new challenges, but can be fun.
Back at home we've been fixing up the backyard. With holes in the liner patched, the waterfall is flowing and our little pond holds water again.

When Beth wasn't working in our yard, she was preparing publications for the Chapel Hill Garden Club Spring Garden Tour. They had a great weekend of tours and donated a big check to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.

Decking that was rotting has been replaced and we cleaned, stained, and sealed the boards that still had some life left in them.

Found a screen room kit at Costco and can now enjoy the deck without become fodder for the local mosquito population. The 350 bolts went together faster than we expected. Kudos to the kit designers.

Having the deck cleaned up we've been watching the backyard wildlife. This tufted titmouse is a year-round resident.

Not sure of the name of this visiting songbird. Let us know in the comments, if you are familiar with it.
Foxes are living in the neighborhood! This is one of two viewed from our deck. They don't seem to mind us watching them as long as we stay still. The click of the camera shutter, caught this one's attention.

We hope you are all enjoying spring and are looking forward to new adventures this summer.

Amtrak, Pelicans, Savannah & Wildlife

With our camper van in Florida and us in North Carolina, good friend Jim Thompson agreed to go on a quick trip with me to bring the van home. That allowed Beth to continue helping the Zebracorns, our favorite high school robotics team.

Amtrak's Silver Star offered overnight service from Cary, NC to St Petersburg, FL at a reasonable price. Being a train fan, I'd always wanted to take a sleeper car and this offered a good excuse.

The train rolled in, on schedule, about 9:20 PM when we were greeted by our friendly porter.

The tiny roomette had everything we needed; two chairs, power, cup holders, a table, sink, toilet, and space for luggage. All this in a 3'6" x 6'8" space. When we were ready, our porter converted it to bunkbeds, each with a window.

The next morning, he reversed the process and we enjoyed the view from our tiny private compartment. It actually made the camper van seem spacious. Fresh coffee was brewing just down the hall and we had blueberry muffins and granola along to go with it. Unfortunately, dining car service is no longer a part of this train. The replacement lounge car food isn't very good, so I'd recommend bringing your own food.
Although the train didn't get any closer to St Petersburg than Tampa, Amtrak provided a bus that delivered us across Tampa Bay to our destination.

Mom was there to greet us and we had a good visit. Borrowing her car, we drove down to Rotunda where we picked up the van from sailing buddies Wayne & Jill. They were kind enough to keep svIntuition in their driveway for us.  Catching up with them over a vegan lunch at a new local restaurant was fun. Back at their home, Jim got to meet the same alligator that Beth & I met when we visited in November. He seems to have picked out a spot  in the sun just outside their pool fence. After checking that we were on the opposite side of the fence, we picked tangerines in the backyard. Fresh citrus was a real treat. Thank you Wayne & Jill!

Reluctantly getting ready to leave, three familiar looking idiot lights greeted me upon starting the van. After saying some choice words, a quick call to Sarasota Mercedes-Benz landed us an appointment that afternoon. By three-thirty we were at the dealer where they diagnosed a failed wheel speed sensor on the passenger front side. Fortunately, the sensor was in stock and could be replaced that afternoon. At about $200 for the part and $300 in labor, we were happy that it was covered under the Sprinter powertrain warranty. The service department tried to charge us, and when I questioned it, verified with a manager that it wasn't covered. Luckily, I had the warranty booklet in the glove compartment which clearly listed the front wheel speed sensor as a covered part. The service department then agreed, and we were on our way at no charge.  It pays to read your manuals and question the dealership!

Looking at the weather forecast and our schedules, we decided to spend another day relaxing in Florida before making the trip home. We had a good time visiting with mom and dad and I was able to show Jim some of the parks around Largo.

With both Jim and I being amateur photographers, we stopped at the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary for some up-close encounters with Pelicans and other recuperating seabirds. Located in Indian Shores between two condominium complexes, it is easy to miss.
Jim brought a real camera, while I carried my iPhone 6. Packing supplies and bedding for the van trip didn't allow for my big camera bag.
With their own beach access and a nice Gazebo facing west, the Seabird Sanctuary has a tiny slice of paradise.

Sunday morning, my sister called and asked if I'd seen the news yet. We switched it on and learned of the terrible train accident in South Carolina. This is the very same train we had ridden three nights earlier. Our sleeping car was the one directly behind the car that folded in half. We feel awful for the engineer and conductor that were killed and everyone else that were injured.

After that sobering news, we said farewell and headed off in the van. After seven hours of driving in the rain, we opted to stop for the night in Savannah, Georgia. Their visitor's center parking lot has overnight parking for small RV's. Normally $8 for 24 hours, the lot is free on Sunday nights. Nestled between museums and the Savannah School of Art and Design, it is a great spot from which to explore the city. You can walk to anywhere downtown or, if walking isn't your thing, tour busses depart from the lot next door. 
We arrived on Superbowl Sunday, so walked across the street to "The Distillery" for a good dinner and some game viewing. Not being big football fans, we retired to the van and were asleep before the game ended.

Update 2/2018: Several people have reported that the Visitor's Center has posted "No Overnight Parking" signs. This is a sad development.

 The next morning we even had a towable RV with us in the parking lot. Their airstream trailer matched the stainless steel railroad passenger car in the museum. After the required two cups of morning coffee, we headed North crossing the Savannah River on the modern Talmadge Memorial Bridge which offered great views of container ships, auto ships, the city and the port of Savannah. Too bad there wasn't a place to pull over at the top.

South Carolina greeted us as we descended onto the marshland surrounding Route 17. Noticing a sign for the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center, as we zoomed past, our interest was raised. Continuing a bit further, we noticed a second sign, and turned left to see where it led.
Additional signs lead us to the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. After checking out the road to insure it looked "van friendly" we set out on a four mile adventure. Signage and even an AM radio broadcast provided information about stops on the drive. While Jim was able to get some bird photos from the van, we did venture out onto a few short trails. One even ended in a bird blind constructed by local boy scouts. We will definitely return here with photography equipment when we aren't rushed for time.

Inside the Visitor's Center we enjoyed a short movie showing the history of the area. Photos were on display from a contest held last year - and they were impressive.

Dioramas displayed the wildlife that inhabits the refuge.
Displays allowed much closer observation of animals than one might want to be in the real world.
These recently hatched baby gators were well done.
By dinner time, we were in North Carolina where we picked the small town of Aberdeen for our stop. Home of the Aberdeen & Rockfish RR, we were pleased to find a local restaurant open on a Monday night. After ordering, I ran across the street and shot a couple of photos as the sun was starting to enter the golden hour. The RR Headquarters is in the historic building beside the caboose.
This old caboose sits beside the passenger station where the train no longer stops. We had seen it from the Silver Star only a few days before.

After enjoying Crab Cakes at the Double Eagle Bar and Grill, we left the tiny town serenaded by a carillon coming from the wooden Methodist Church.

We arrived home a couple hours later without incident. I'd met a deer in my Mini Cooper only a week earlier, so was scanning the woods after sunset.  I truly appreciated Jim taking the time to go down and back. It turned a chore into a fun adventure.