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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Adventure From Land To ICW And Back
May 12, 2016

hen they bought their boat her main feature was that she was still floating. That was the beginning of a journey that, 2 years later brought her crew down the ICW.

Chris Smith and his wife Ryan Babarsky, new to cruising, stopped in Oriental on their way South last fall and again on their way home this spring. That’s when TownDock.net touched base with them about living an adventure that others dream of.

First, by way of introduction, Chris and Ryan.

Chris Smith and his wife Ryan Babarsky. Having spent a few days in Oriental on the way south in November, they stopped again on the return trip at the town’s new town dock in late March. Far more than a trip down the ICW, they describe a journey that began three years ago, on land.

He’d been raised in New Jersey, and learned to sail in small boats – Sunfish – on visits to Long Island Sound.

She grew up in Loudoun County, in Virginia horse country, just outside Washington, DC. They met in college at William & Mary. He was a biology major; she majored in English. They settled in Gloucester, Virginia where he was working as a biologist breeding oysters in an aquaculture operation. Ryan was working for a firm as a database analyst.

And then in the fall of 2013, they bought the boat, a 50-year-old 26-foot Pearson Ariel. A classic sloop, she has an 8-foot beam, draws 3 feet 8 inches, and weighs about 6,000 pounds. The Ariel was designed by renowned naval architect Carl Alberg in 1961. Their boat was hull #412, built in 1966. When they took ownership it was almost 50 years old and a “project.”

They had the boat hauled, started saving money, and did the “project” work themselves.

This couple re-named their 1966 Pearson Ariel, hull 
#412, Firefly.

Chris explained, “We bought her in the fall of 2013 and had her hauled out. She spent 2 years on the hard. We stripped the hull down to the gelcoat, did new paint, new rigging, a new rudder, and ended up after a lot of sanding and grinding. She had an inboard diesel, but it wasn’t working, so we took advantage of the well in the boat and installed an outboard engine.”

With money saved and the boat restored, they were ready for their first cruise down the ICW – destination, the Bahamas or the Keys. Ryan quit her job in October of 2015 when Chris managed to obtain a 6-months leave of absence. They gave up their rented home and put all their household goods and furniture in storage. On October 27 the young couple set out on an expedition others just dream about.

This would be quite an adventure, especially for Ryan. “I had not been on a sailboat before I met him.”

When asked, “Have you been converted?” she replied, hesitantly, “I don’t know if I’m converted yet; I’m still a novice.”

The Pearson Ariel 26. Specs: LOA: 25 ft 7 in, Beam: 8 ft 0 in, LWL: 18 ft 6 in, Draft: 3 ft 8 in
Ryan was surprised that living in a small space was not as difficult as she thought it would be, even if it meant a hammock swing stored groceries in the “parlor” of their living quarters.

“We bought the boat with the idea of taking such a trip, but we had no idea of what the reality of such a venture would be.”

Of this new experience, she said, “There were some things that were surprisingly easy. I thought living in a small space would be a problem, but it was not. On the other hand, I am a control freak and dealing with uncertainty that comes with weather was a big challenge for me.”

In particular, she recalled, “It was scary in the Chesapeake when we left and we had not learned patience yet.”

When they made a stop-over in Oriental in November, snowbirds were roosting in all the available slips. “The weather was not good.” Chris says, ‘We anchored in Greens Creek. Knowing that we were going to be here a couple of days waiting for the weather to clear, we kept our eye on the HarborCam. As soon as we saw a boat depart, we slipped in and got that spot.”

Reading in the “parlor” helped time pass when in port.

Ryan said, “Even waiting out the weather, it was beautiful here, and we met a lot of nice people.”

The nearby waters she remembers less fondly. “The Neuse is one of the scariest waters for me. When we were heading down, we had to head right into the wind. We probably should have just waited.”

Chris spelled out what could make the river and Pamlico Sound act up. “There is just a lot of open water here, from all the way out in the sound. I understand it’s 30 miles to Ocracoke and that’s a lot of space for the wind to build. In North Carolina, the open stretches were intimidating for us.”

Downtime in Oriental for cruisers usually includes a trip to the Bean to chat with sailors, even those retired from the Navy like Harry Jordan.

Ryan and Chris’s next notable stop was Charleston, a city whose charm made an impression. So did some of the more out of the way settings farther south on the ICW, for a range of reasons.

“Some of the sounds in Georgia were unexpected, especially out in the remote places, but it was beautiful there,” Chris said, while also recalling, “We ran into strong currents in Georgia. I had difficulty figuring out what the current was going to do when the wind seemed to be coming from all different directions.”


Keeping to their original plan, the crew of Firefly left Fort Lauderdale for the Bahamas on New Year’s Day. “About 2 hours out, we started having motor problems. We were motor sailing to make better time, but we decided it might be better to turn around and go back to Fort Lauderdale. We were pretty disappointed about that,” Chris recalled.

But Fort Lauderdale proved to be a highlight of the trip. Ryan reached her 30th birthday there. The couple had earlier met another cruising couple from Nova Scotia while in the Palm Beach area. 
“We went to a raw bar, had some drinks, and then came back to Firefly with the couple from Nova Scotia. Like us, they had tried to get to the Bahamas. They changed their minds too and headed for Fort Lauderdale.”

“He and I rode around the anchorage and invited everybody over to our boat to celebrate her birthday.’ Chris said, “We had ten people and a dog on our little boat for her birthday party. After the party, we hung out there with them for a week.”

“We made it to Long Key almost halfway down the Keys, but we were running out of time, so we rented a car to drive on to Key West to meet my folks.”

The time in Long Key provided one of those experiences that inhibited Ryan from making a full conversion to a life on the water. “When we got to Long Key, we anchored in Long Key bite,” she said “They were calling for high winds, but we thought we were pretty protected. Then they upgraded the weather to a wind advisory, then to a gale advisory.”

“We woke at 4 in the morning – actually, we were not sleeping in that wind – our dinghy was slamming against the side of the boat. We looked out and saw that we were going past a lobster pot, so we knew we were dragging anchor. We pulled the anchor and headed into the wind; – reset the anchor and put out all the rode we had.”

Soberly, recalling the high winds in Long Key, Chris noted, “It was not the best experience. If we had anticipated the amount of wind we were going to have, we would have put out more scope.”

Despite the weather related challenges and discomforts, there were upsides. The couple talked of meeting amazing people on this journey. Ryan said they had met friends for life. Chris noted, “Obviously you have something in common built in when you meet other sailors. Sometimes older sailors would take us in and give us advice and food.”

For instance, Chris said, “We have a very tiny dinghy; it looks silly when we are in it. In one stop, a guy saw us come in and asked, ‘You need to go the grocery store?’ Then he loaned us his brand new F150. People let us use their showers; people were very nice to us.”

Ryan reflected on these experiences. “I think that part of the appeal of the trip was long hours to spend on the boat with nature. We saw dolphins almost every day. I think for me, from going to sitting in an office all day, plus a commute, going from that, it’s hard to explain, but I feel a little more human out there.”

“People had told us that the trip would be extreme ups and extreme downs, and they were very right. Some days I felt terrified, but that was because of the weather. I do know we had a great time in Oriental back in November. I would like to visit some places again, like Beaufort, especially in the summer. One of the downsides was not enough time to see some cool places, a couple of times we had to make the decision to move on when were really didn’t want to.”

The couple pointed Firefly north on February 16 with a goal to be back in Gloucester by April 1, “because I need to get back to work,” said Chris. After Oriental that meant sailing up the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds which seemed a challenge. “Our boat is a little on the small side for long term sailing,” Chris said. “Weather is tough on this boat, but it is a perfect Chesapeake Bay boat.”

“We have no immediate trip plans when we get back,” Chris said, “but I am interested in long distance sailing.” Ryan was quick to add, “I’m not sure I am.” Chris said he was, “looking at maybe crewing on a long distance trip.”

Chris took stock of the past 6 months as well as the future.

“Despite the fact that our future sailing goals are different, this trip has brought us together in a deep way,” he said. “I think living in close quarters in sometimes stressful situations can either reveal cracks in a relationship or make it stronger, and in our case it is definitely the latter.”

Until then, he will go back to nurturing oyster larvae through their metamorphosis into oysters for sale to commercial oyster farms.

Chris spent part of Monday afternoon, March 21, preparing to take the long trip out into the Neuse, into the Goose Creek section of the canal, to the Pamlico River and Belhaven.

Technology has invaded and aided their travels. When they started, they worked with paper charts. Now, they rely on apps on an i-Phone. One use of technology was to install solar panels on Firefly capable of providing all necessary power without having to rely on an auxiliary generator.

One can follow their journey on their website blog, www.thebonnieboat.wordpress.com. Following is their blog posted by Ryan which mentions the stop in Oriental and details the installation of solar power.

When Chris and I decided to turn our little Firefly into a home, I immediately knew I wanted to take care of our power needs with solar energy. I worked for a biofuel company for a while a few years back (and learned a ton about green energy options), but didn’t truly become obsessed with solar until Chris and I watched the new version of Cosmos when it came out on Netflix (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it). Neil Degrasse Tyson managed to make it abundantly clear to me: The sun throws energy at us constantly, and for free. It’s not going anywhere (or if it does, we’ll go with it). Solar energy is truly our greatest, cleanest, most abundant energy-related resource.
As I write (from Oriental, NC… we stayed an extra day because the weather decided not to cooperate), Chris is working on wiring in an overhead dome light and another 12v socket.

Sunny, wonderful day in Oriental.

Even though we’ve really only had 3 sunny days so far on this trip (today is day 13), we’ve had more than enough power to keep everything running. We definitely over-estimated on solar panel size/battery need.

And when the sun is shining, that’s when we charge the things that take up the most energy. When it’s not, we don’t.

Another thing that’s happened on this trip is that the rhythm of our lives has started coinciding more with the rhythm of the sun, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. We’ve gone to bed around 8PM and gotten up around 5AM lots of times. It just seems so natural to go to bed after it’s been dark for a while. And, we want to be under way while we have the light, and either at anchor or docked by the time it gets dark.

Posted Thursday May 12, 2016 by Melinda Penkava

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