Sometimes you spend months (even years) planning trips and other times it just seems to happen out of the blue. That’s exactly what happened when I got the chance to travel around the USA for a month by boat. Yes…by boat. Not your usual mode of transportation round the land of stars and stripes, I know. I spent a month traveling around the beautiful southern states of Virginia and North Carolina, most of our time being out on the water, whilst stopping off at all kinds of small towns and islands on the way.
Our home for the month was a 32 foot ‘Wellington Ketch’. If you’re anything like me, it probably sounds like a different language (it did to me too) but essentially it was a pretty decently sized sail boat that around 8 of us ate, slept and travelled in.
I never would have thought about travelling the usa by boat, but it stole my heart and I’ll tell you a few reasons why:
As an English girl who grew up by the sea, water has always been a love of mine. On the boat, I had the chance to learn how to sail but also how to drive and steer the boat (also learning that avoiding crabpots and lobster pots are like playing a giant game of minesweeper!). But perhaps one of the most breathtaking moments was when we were crossing the pimlico sound.
It was the middle of a long 10 hour journey, the boat had been rocking back and forth, the sun was beating down and I looked around and realised I could see nothing but endless blue. Blue sky. Blue water. Nothing else as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful and breath-taking.
But more than the experience of being on the boat was the unique perspective of the United States that it gave me. I didn’t travel to the tourist hot spots but instead travelled to the the small towns of the south.
Enter Belhaven, in Jackson Mississippi, where we happened to dock up just in time for the 4th of July celebrations. As we headed into the town we were greeted by floats decked in red, blue and white with hearty smiles and southern drawls welcoming us to their festivities whilst handing us piles of candy. And then the multitudes of fireworks at dusk arrived alongside shouts and songs and dancing children and bearded men shooting off rifles into the night sky with the distant hum of music in the background.
Following the direction of the music, we stumbled into a celebration of glowing lights, shaved ice, corn dogs and dancing where the locals taught us the art of the ‘cupid shuffle’ and barn dancing. It felt like we had just walked into a movie.
In fact, the whole trip felt a bit like a movie. They all show the south as hospitable and warm where everyone knows everyone and that’s exactly what we found. We were invited to stay in the homes of those who lived in towns so small and friendly that no one bothered to lock their homes or their cars. Towns so typically southern that men in their checkered shirts sat in the back of trucks with their hats dipped over their faces, chewing on corn and telling us in thick accents about their ‘jacked up trucks’ (the pimped up version of open bed trucks!).
We were hugged, fed, watered and given beds for free by many. We were offered rooms in old hunting lodges and given welcome invites to use pools by the dockside. The people oozed love and friendship.
But alongside the comforting warmth that the locals gave us, lived the insane spontaneity of the trip. Imagine hearing music in the middle of the woods after dusk and following the sound only to find that there’s a karaoke taking place where they insist you join in. On obliging and picking a country song, they all begin stomping and singing along.
Or how about meeting a family that steals your heart and invites you to spend the end of your trip at their house helping them build a new boat, swimming in the lake after a hard day’s work and sipping on iced tea whilst laying on hammocks at night.
So I guess, for all the love in my heart for this trip, my advice is to never say no to a new adventure, let the locals guide you and opt for the more unusual mode of transport.