…with apologies to Judith Viorst… Our story of a bad day.
Sometimes you have a day where things go from bad to worse. Luckily, my dog Honey always rises to the occasion.
Anchoring With A Dog On Board
One of the greatest challenges and joys of cruising with a dog is finding places to take her off the boat. Every. Single. Day.
You see, lots of cruisers don’t get off the boat when they travel. They choose an anchorage that will keep them safe overnight. Or that is not far off their travel route so they can get an early start. And they just hang out on the boat.
Sometimes we find it challenging to take Honey off the boat. We only travel 30-50 miles each day. And there are large swaths of the waterway that have no safe places to walk a dog.
For instance, in northern North Carolina, most anchorages near the Intracoastal Waterway are in snake-infested marshes with no dry land. And some quiet anchorages are surrounded by private property festooned with no trespassing signs.
That’s why we were so thrilled to discover a new anchorage on the May River across the Calibogue Sound from Hilton Head, South Carolina.
The May River was lovely. Much less crowded than our usual Hilton Head spot. And our anchorage was within sight of a boat ramp with access to a lovely little dog-friendly beach.
After exploring our charts, we decided to take a long dinghy ride to explore—first to Palmetto Bluff (it’s really pretty but it feels like a zoo where you watch rich people in their natural habitat) and the next day to Bluffton.
A Lovely Day in Bluffton, South Carolina
The marine forecast announced a small craft advisory. And with the wind opposing the current, we got a little damp on the 3-mile trip to the Bluffton City dock. But we took it slow while Honey enjoyed watching the dolphin mamas swimming with their babies a short way off.
When we arrived at the floating dock, we tied off our dinghy with the bow pointing into the current. Just like we always did. And we set off to explore the town.
Bluffton was burned by Union troops during the Civil War—save two local churches. So it wasn’t a terribly old town. But it was pretty.
We passed many pet-friendly restaurants before dropping in at Bluffton BBQ. It was hard to resist after a couple leaving the restaurant as we walked by with Honey stopped us to rave about their meal.
Is it a good idea to take restaurant recommendations from strangers? In this case, yes.
We visited a local bakery to buy some delicious 12-grain bread. And we finished our day walking around the busy farmer’s market.
Honey was a gem. She politely greeted other dogs we passed on our walk. And every person who stopped to pet her got a large dose of her golden charm.
But Honey would soon face a huge challenge of her patience. In fact, we all would.
Where’s The Dinghy
I’ll admit it. I feel a little vulnerable when we take the dinghy somewhere and stay away from the boat an entire day.
Is our boat okay back at anchor? And will the dinghy still be there waiting for us?
So I was horrified but not entirely surprised when we arrived back at the Bluffton public dock and didn’t see our dinghy where we had left it.
What I did see was our fuel tank, oars, and life jackets lying on the dock. So it hadn’t been stolen.
Finally, Mike looked closer and said those dreaded words, “The dinghy is sunk.”
Sure enough, it was tied off at the bow and the stern. But it (and the outboard engine) were entirely underwater.
Time for all of us to be tested.
Saving The Dinghy
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While Mike went down to the dock to figure out next steps, I poured a drink into Honey’s collapsible travel water bowl. I dropped my backpack on the park bench and clipped the handle of Honey’s leash to it.
Before heading down to help Mike rescue our boat, I turned to Honey and said, “Be a good girl. We’ll be right back.”
The floating dock was out of sight of the park bench where I had left Honey. I asked every person who walked down to the dock to take a picture or to watch us curiously, “Hey, did you see a golden retriever sitting near the park bench?”
Some said yes. Some said no (Isn’t it crazy? There are actually people who don’t notice every dog!). I took the “no’s” to be a good sign that Honey was not whining anxiously about us leaving her behind.
Mike tied a line to the sunken engine and managed to wrestle it onto the dock while I sat on his legs to keep him from falling in. Yes, really.
By the time the downtown police officer on duty at the nearby farmer’s market made it down to make sure we were okay, we already had a plan to free the dinghy from where it was caught. With Office Harman’s help, the three of us dragged it up onto the dock.
So now we’re stranded three miles from our boat. The sun is falling. And we’ve got to take emergency measures to save the outboard engine or risk that corrosion will damage it permanently.
So What Did You Do In Bluffton, Honey
After folding our dinghy (yes, thank goodness we have a folding dinghy) we dragged all 84 pounds of it up a slippery ramp at dead low tide. And I went to tend to Honey while Mike walked off in search of an engine mechanic who could help us save the outboard.
After failing to find a marine technician anywhere in town, Officer Harman introduced Mike to some men prepping their engines for an upcoming NASCAR race (yes, that is the most small, southern town sentence I’ve ever written). They helped Mike pull the spark plug and flush fresh oil through the engine.
Meanwhile, Honey and I waited near the dock with all our gear while I researched pet-friendly hotels within walking distance in Bluffton. And explained to curious strangers what was happening.
I also introduced Honey to tourists from as far away as the United Kingdom who were suffering from doggo withdrawal.
By the time we were all reunited, the sun was falling fast. It was too late to rebuild the dinghy to test the engine. And it seemed like a bad bet to assume the engine would start at all, much less that it would keep running all the way back to Meander. In the dark.
So after stashing all our boat gear, we walked over two miles to the Holiday Inn-Express.
Ahh, Home At Last
Honey was on her best behavior in the hotel lobby while I checked in. I’m always conscious of the fact that not all traveling dogs create a good impression in public. And I’m very grateful when Honey is a very good girl.
Of course, after a long day sightseeing, the excitement of the dinghy sinking, and the two mile walk to the hotel, Honey had little energy left. The desk clerk got a flirty little tail wag but thankfully Honey was too tired to pull her way over for a boisterous greeting.
I worried that it would be difficult to keep Honey off the furniture since we didn’t have our usual sheets to cover it with. But it was no problem. Honey feel asleep on the floor and barely stirred until morning.
The next day, we checked out early to begin the long walk back to the dock. Mike wasn’t looking forward to dragging the dinghy motor two blocks back to the waterfront. But a kind tour guide with a golf cart gave Mike a ride and wouldn’t accept a dime from us in thanks.
I hope the customers waiting for their tour gave him a big tip. Because he certainly had quite a story to tell them about the crazy cruisers he helped.
Getting Back To Meander
We owe a debt of gratitude to May River Excursions (click the link to see some stunning pictures of the area in their header).
One of their captains, Buddy, was the person who saved our life jackets, oars, and fuel tank from being lost when our dinghy sank. Their owner gave us permission to store our 56 pound engine and gear behind his shop so we wouldn’t have to lug it all the way to the hotel to keep it safe. And Captain Steven took us and our boat back to Meander along with his golden retriever crew, Marsh and River.
We reluctantly said goodbye to the May River and headed north to Beaufort, where we settled in for a month to work on various boat jobs, not the least of which was fixing the outboard so we could return to anchoring.
Lessons For Boating Or Adventuring With Your Dog
I know some of our long-time readers are homebodies. But even when you have no intention of going on an adventure, adventures have a way of finding you.
So here are the lessons I’ve learned regarding Honey’s (and our) “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
- Teach your dog to stay calm without you even if you think you’ll never leave their side. You don’t have to sink a dinghy to appreciate this advanced skill. Dealing with a flat tire or moving day are adventures that anyone might face with their dogs.
- Always carry water for your pup. Not only was Honey hydrated all day, I used some of her water to do a fresh water rinse of the engine.
- Make time for fun, even in the middle of stress. After rescuing the dinghy, I made time to play fetch with Honey. It eased tension for both of us.
- Train your dog to feel comfortable away from home even if you hate to leave it. We never planned to stay in a Bluffton hotel. But once it happened, we were glad Honey had stayed in hotels before.
- Take pictures, no matter how crazy things get. Wouldn’t this post be a lot more fun with pictures from our day?
Probably the best lesson we learned is that the worst day on a boat is better than the best day in an office. Especially if you don’t work in a pet-friendly office.
Sometimes you just have bad days (did you read about our worst day ever on the water?). But when you share them with the ones you love, they’re not nearly as “Terrible, Horrible, No Good” as they could be.
Note: I originally wrote this post in 2018 when it happened to us but never published it. In the comments for my 2018 year in review post, several of you mentioned you’d like to read the full story. Just thought you would want to know the dinghy is safe and sound and so are we.
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Your Turn: Have you ever had a bad day where you really counted on your dog to come through for you? How did they do?