Copyright 2022 - Woods Designs, 16 King St, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL11 2AT UK
  • production Strider 24

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

We arrived in Newport News, and our Romany, on Oct 1st and spent the next few days in a frantic round of shopping for essential supplies from sleeping bags to tools to dinghy outboard to... We also had the bottom scrubbed clean of 18 months of barnacles and weed and made several attempts to get the engine running reliably. Eventually it worked well enough and we were off for a shakedown cruise, 150 miles north to the Annapolis boat show.

Lots of other people had the same idea, so the anchorage off the Naval Academy was crowded. I first visited Annapolis over 20 years ago. Then multihulls were considered lunatic fringe and freakish in the USA. 10 years ago when I first sailed the ICW I saw two other multihulls. Five years ago we saw one every few days. Now they are everywhere. 20% of the boats anchored at Annapolis were multihulls and, as we sailed south, we usually had one in sight and nearly always shared an anchorage with another catamaran (rarely a trimaran). Of course the boats we see are the ones being USED, not just stored in a marina (where monohulls still massively out-number multihulls).

In Annapolis we splashed out once again on an outboard mechanic who, this time, knew what he was doing and at last we had a reliable engine. Quite a relief as we knew we had probably 500 miles of motoring ahead before we get to Florida.

After leaving Annapolis we cruised the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake. Remote and little visited, we were always able to find a peaceful secluded anchorage. We had a great time: The weather was hot and sunny, which always helps.

We had grown used to Eclipse and Tucanu which are fantastic sailing boats, however Romany was the first real cruising boat I've had since my Gypsy, 10 years ago. So I was not expecting much, but in fact I was really pleased with the way Romany sailed. Even with old sails (new ones are on order) we could easily do 7-8 knots on most points of sail while one windy day, which we spent running downwind under genoa alone, we recorded speeds over 10 knots in flat water.

So, after 2 weeks sailing and 400 miles, we returned to Norfolk and the start of the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW). This runs the whole of the east coast of the USA and allows cruisers to get to Florida from New York without ever going out to sea. It's nickname is "The Ditch". We prefer to call the IcyW.

Norfolk is one of the biggest naval bases in the world and as we made our way upstream to the Dismal Swamp lock we passed under big bridges and dozens of warships.

The Dismal Swamp Canal is much more attractive than its name suggests. Entered through a lock, much less daunting than the last one we went through (not surprising - it was the Panama Canal!) we started down a man-made stretch (surveyed in part by George Washington) that led into a beautiful river with cypress tress on either bank.

A cold front passed through and the temperature dropped 30deg F or from 25C to 12C. It was not since Alaska, 4 years ago, that we have sailed in weather that cold. These fronts ruled our lives as we headed south. Not only would the wind go round to the north and increase, but it would get very cold. Fortunately the distinct line of cloud marked the fronts approach, we didn't need the weathermen to tell us when one was coming.

We weren't the only ones using the ICW. Apart from a steady stream of cruising yachts heading south it is still a major route for fishing boats and tugs, while even superyachts use it to avoid rounding Cape Hatteras. Despite its latitude (the same as Gibraltar) it was still bitterly cold (one night we had ice on deck). You can see my gloves, but only one of my two woolly hats and none of the three thick sweatshirts. Quite a contrast from Annapolis, 500 miles to the north.

Confusingly there are two towns called Beaufort on the ICW, the one in N Carolina pronounced Bowfort (as in bow and arrow), the one in SC pronounced Bewfort. Both have some lovely old houses dating back to the 1700's. Bewfort is also famous as the backdrop for many films; much of Forrest Gump was filmed here, his shrimp boat is still a tourist attraction as is the bridge he ran over (although in the film the bridge was in California, rather confusing!)

Romany had not been out of the water for 2 years so was in desperate need of antifouling and topside painting. Multihull friendly yards are few and far between, and it wasn't until St Augustine, 780 miles to the south of Norfolk, that we were able to get the boat lifted out and thus end phase 1 of our trip. It also marks the end of an era for Romany. Previously it was a white hulled boat with tired sails, now it would be yellow hulled with brand new sails.

More about that later in Part 2...