The Waiting Game

 

The weather window that was supposed to open up for us for this evening isn’t panning out but the good news is it looks like tomorrow night will be favorable for an overnight gulf stream crossing.  We are keeping an eye on things…

The sailfish fountain in downtown Stuart, FL

It’s a common situation in cruising.  And extremely common on these crossings from Florida to the Bahamas this time of year.  The boat is loaded to the gills, the course has been set, the crew is excited and ready…  But the winds and seas must cooperate.  According to our weather router, Chris Parker at www.mwxc.com things will settle down tomorrow but there may still be a “lingering swell”  that may make for “uncomfortable travel” until tomorrow afternoon.

I’m still waiting on a package that was supposed to arrive today but is now expected tomorrow.  The moment I have it we will set out!

We left the slip today and are now back in the mooring field on a ball waaaaaaaaay on the far side of the field.  It’s a long hike by dinghy back and forth to the marina so we’re really hoping everything goes well with our departure tomorrow.

Capt Frank
S/V Mavis

 

Almost Time to Go!

Our relaxing days at Sunset Bay Marina are winding down fast as we make our final preparations to depart for the Bahamas!  We’ve enjoyed our time here.  After the formidable journey down the coast, just being in one place for a while has been something we’ve appreciated.  Add to that having our car, unlimited access to dining and shopping and we found a much needed sense of normalcy.  Soon we’ll say goodbye to this special place, our car, unlimited water and power and the other comforts of home as we head back out to sea and get back into cruising mode.

Presently we are waiting to see if we will get a weather window to cross the gulf stream tomorrow night.  It’s all up to the front that is passing through the area.  This is a serious stretch of blue water and we need the conditions to be just right.  Our fingers are crossed.

As you may know, a major concern for us making this trip has been our ability to operate our business on the go.  We need reliable data.  Lots of data.  And it needs to be relatively high speed and low latency.

In talking to other cruisers bound for the Bahamas both in person and online we discovered a company called Island Wifi that offers excellent 4g LTE service throughout the Bahamas.  After speaking with Leo Tripp, I was confident that they provide this much needed data.   For an unlimited hotspot plan we are paying $75 per month.  And unlike “unlimited plans” at home, we won’t get throttled after we use a certain amount of data.  I hear the service is very good.  We received our hotspot yesterday.  Between our international service with Google Fi and this new device we should be pretty good to operate our business from the Islands of the Bahamas.

Our Island Wifi Hotspot

We’ve been stocking up the ship’s stores with dry goods, canned food and shelf-stable items.  JWe’ve made what we hope will be our last run for meats, fruits and vegetables.  The boat is sitting lower in the water with all these provisions aboard.

Cans, cans, and more cans… Where do we put all these cans?

Things are starting to feel very real and I find myself full on anticipation much the way I did before we left home to begin this grand adventure… You can read about that HERE.  There’s so much to do!

A few days ago my mind was reeling…  I was feeling a little anxious about about being prepared for the trip.  It was another beautiful day with lots of sunshine and a warm breeze so Cindy and I decided to relax on the bow and have a relaxing afternoon cocktail.  Heck, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?  Shortly after our relaxation began I managed to drop my phone overboard…  It slipped from my hand, bounced on the deck in SLOW MOTION and began to tumble and spin until it entered the water with a rather depressing “bloop.”  Mavis was due for a last minute pre-departure bottom cleaning so I called our diver Shane who retrieved my phone.  Even though it still worked for a while…  It’s toast.  I hope to have a replacement device in hand by tomorrow… 2/14.  Argh!

A few days ago we got Willow’s pet import permit from the Bahamas Department of Agriculture.  Yesterday I took her in for her final vet visit just before departure.  Her health certificate is complete and Willow now can legally enter the Bahamas.

Cindy, on the other hand cannot.  She is still waiting for her passport.  We used an agency to expedite the process and we expect it to arrive at the marina tomorrow.  Talk about cutting it close…

Crossing from Florida to the Bahamas this time of year can be challenging.  The trade winds blow strong from the east (where we are going) and there are frequent cold fronts that bring strong north winds.  When crossing the gulf stream you really don’t want any north component to the wind as this can create large, dangerous waves.  Mavis is a tiny, light ship so we pick our days at sea carefully.

On the 15th we need to leave this slip that we have called home for the last month.  If we can’t depart directly for the Bahamas, we plan to return to the mooring field and wait for a weather window to cross.

We’re using Chris Parker from the Marine Weather Center https://mwxc.com/ to provide us custom weather forecasts and routing for the crossings to and from the Bahamas as well as while we are over there.  As a pilot, I’m pretty comfortable understanding and interpreting weather data but it’s good to have a professional on our side.  We’re still new at this, after all and winter, despite what many think, is NOT an ideal time to visit the Bahamas.  The winds frequently blow hard and the water temperatures are only in the low 70s.  There’s a lot of deep blue water out there… But we don’t plan on waiting until spring to arrive in the Bahamas.

Our route from the St. Lucie Inlet to Grand Bahama

Speaking of Spring…  This trip has been awesome so far and we have much adventure ahead of us in the Islands but before you know it, it will be time to point Mavis north again and head HOME!  We have completely adjusted to life in this tiny home of ours but it’s going to be amazing to be back in our enormous house with our family and friends.  I’m getting anxious to make some business moves and get back to my comfortable office.   We’re also looking forward to being back on the Great South Bay and on Fire Island.  We are even planning to do a bit of cruising over the summer… Nothing like this crazy trip but maybe a few weeks up at Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.  But heck, we are seasoned cruisers now… We could end up in Newfoundland. 🙂

I got to catch up with another old friend, Keith last week.  and we also had a fantastic visit with Cindy’s uncle Mike and his better half Rena.

Cindy and her uncle Michael in Hollywood

Today we signed a contract for Mavis’ slip for the summer on Long Island.  We’re happy to announce that we’ve selected Sunset Harbour Marina in Patchogue for the season.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been out here almost 5 months already…  It’s exciting to think about being back in our home waters!  See you at the Tiki Bar.

Capt Frank
S/V Mavis

 

 

 

 

Dock Life at Sunset Bay

Over the last two months we’ve settled in very nicely at the Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage in Stuart, FL. In our last blog post I explained that we were floating comfortably on mooing ball #32 out in the anchorage. We were getting used to life out there and had adjusted to the the dinghy trips, power and water conservation, and being detached from land. But when a slip opened up a few weeks ago we grabbed it without hesitation!

We now occupy slip A29 and we’re getting spoiled with being able to hop on and off the boat when we want to. We are also loving having solid access to the marina’s excellent WiFi. Being on shore power is pretty awesome too. In general, life is much more “normal” now that we are tied to land. It’s not quite as peaceful and serene in the marina but I’m not complaining. It’s like having a waterfront apartment.

The view down A dock where Mavis now lives. The sunsets here are fantastic.

Sometimes when I’m out on a walk, I have to pinch myself when I realize I’m warm and in shorts and flip flops in January.  I usually spend my winters dreaming about being able to go boating.  It feels great to know that we have successfully extended our boating season!

Did I mention how fantastic the sunsets are here?

We’ve had a few more visitors on board since our last update. Rob (aka Babou) came to visit in early January. An official member of the crew, Rob was on the boat’s maiden voyage, helping us sail our girl home from Deltaville, VA to Oakdake, NY last spring. That brave guy was aboard when I was just getting to know Mavis and learning how she handled, finding what was broken, and figuring things out in general. He’s been my best friend for almost 30 years now and it was so good to see him. We are working on getting him back down here with his less-salty wife Mary who’s also a dear friend. She doesn’t share Rob’s love for sailing and boating but now that we are on a dock I think she might actually enjoy “glamping” for a few days.

One of the three musketeers needs a tan.

Rob’s a great friend and he doesn’t need much to be comfortable on board. He stayed with us for about a week and before we knew it, it was time to bring him back to the airport.

It was awesome having Babou back on board.

Our little starboard guest cabin is getting lots and lots of use and this makes us happy! Rob was only gone a few days before our next guest, my daughter Sophia arrived.

Our little starboard guest cabin is getting lots of use!

My father was also in Florida so he came by and for the first time I can recall, all cabins were occupied. The weather for Sophia’s stay wasn’t great with strong winds, lots of clouds, and high temps only in the high 60s most days but we still had a good time with her. We caught up with my sister who lives nearby and Sophia got to have a nice family dinner with her father, her grandfather, her aunt and three cousins as well as her evil stepmother Cindy. It really was great to see her. I hope she’ll visit us again soon but her work and school schedule make it difficult.

I’m enjoying getting to spend some time with my sister and my nieces and nephew.  Hoping to see them some more and take them sailing before we shove off for the islands.

Left to right… Cindy, Jessica, Alicia, Sophia, Haley, Stephanie and Papou
Papou (my father) relaxing in Mavis’ cockpit.
The Captain’s happy to see his daughter.

 

 

I’m hoping my son, Peter and Cindy’s daughter Samantha will visit us down here too… (Hint… Hint…)

I really meant it about the sunsets here!

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd.

I’ve started making final preparations to leave the safety and comfort of the marina to sail for the Bahamas. While the crossing won’t be our longest open ocean passage, it will take us farther “out to sea” and away from land than I’ve been before. In reality, it’s a pretty simple trip. After completing it, though, we’ll be able to call ourselves international sailors. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the challenge. Getting out of your comfort zone is critical if you want to broaden your horizons.

We have lots of provisioning to do. I need to do an engine oil change and go over all of Mavis’ systems but the boat is pretty much ready to go. Our screecher headsail was repaired by Mack Sails. We even had our bottom cleaned by a diver who got rid of the barnacles and slime that had begun to accumulate.

Aaah… It’s so nice to have a clean bottom. 🙂

The plan is to wait for a good weather window right here in our slip. We need a window where there has been and will be no north wind. Ideally, a southwest wind of about 15 knots would be pretty perfect. It’s important that we pick our window very carefully as we will be crossing the gulf stream, a river of warm blue water in the Atlantic Ocean. This river is about 25 miles wide and flows northward at around 2 to 3 knots. When the winds blow from the north (very common this time of year) you often get nasty conditions and monstrous waves out in the gulf stream. The stream is only about 10 miles from the shore here and sitting on the beach you can often see what they refer to as a parade of elephants marching along. These are the huge waves that form in the gulf stream. 10 to 20 foot seas are not my idea of a good time. Needless to say we will be very careful selecting our weather window.

Once a window appears we will sail from here at around noon to the St. Lucie inlet and hang a right turn once out in the Atlantic Ocean. Even though we are just about directly West of our first landfall in the Bahamas as West End, we need to get considerably south before crossing to compensate for the strong current we will encounter in the stream which will push us north. So we’ll sail south along the coast of Florida until we are about 10 miles south of the Lake Worth inlet in West Palm Beach where we will make a turn to the East and head out to sea. Our overnight passage will take us across the gulf stream and as the sun rises, we should be in the crystal clear waters off Grand Bahama Island where we will clear customs.

The fee to bring Mavis into the Bahamas is only $150 because we’re under 40’. Boats 40’ and longer pay $300. This fee covers our cruising and fishing permits for up to one year. Clearing into a country works more or less the same wherever you go. Upon arrival, you fly the yellow quarantine flag which signifies that your vessel has not yet cleared customs. The captain is the only person permitted to leave the vessel and takes the boat’s documents, customs forms, and passports for all crew and passengers to the customs and immigration office. We will also need to bring Willow’s import permit which we hope to have in place soon. After completing a customs declaration form they may or may not inspect the vessel. Then, once we are officially cleared in, the quarantine flag comes down and we fly the flag of whatever country we have cleared into as a courtesy. As I’m writing this I just glanced over at the Bahamian flag sitting on a shelf. This is getting real! We’re going to the islands!

The weeks we spent on the mooring were a very good test of our self sufficiency in preparation for departure next month. The solar panel worked flawlessly keeping the battery bank topped up. I practiced and refined the process of refilling our water tanks from jerry jugs brought in on the dinghy. We ran our refrigerator for weeks on end using propane. I feel confident that we will be comfortable anchored out in the pristine waters of the Bahamas but I have some reservations about our ground tackle. A boat’s ground tackle is comprised of anchors, chain, rode, snubbers, bridles, etc. It’s the entire anchoring system and it’s what keeps the boat where it’s supposed to be.

Time on the mooring ball helped us ensure all systems were go to be away from land for extended periods.

We’ve got two anchors aboard. The Danforth that came with the boat and the Rocna Vulcan that I upgraded to when we commissioned last spring. Mavis doesn’t have an anchor windlass. A windlass is a machine that is like a winch that makes raising and lowering the anchor easy. You just hit a button to raise and a button to lower. Aboard Mavis, we do things the simpler, old-fashioned way and drop and hoist our anchor by hand. The procedure for manually hoisting an anchor is usually to motor the boat slowly toward the anchor while hoisting the anchor rode up into the anchor locker. Ideally, this requires somebody at the helm and somebody on the bow. The somebody on the bow is usually Cindy but It should be me. This became our procedure because our old Westerbeke’s transmission was a little finicky and at the idle-slow speeds required to creep up on the anchor it needed a very precise touch that I had developed but I never got around to teaching Cindy that skill. It was hard to know when the boat was in gear and it would rattle a lot at idle speed. As a result, when we needed to get the anchor up, Cindy would scramble to the bow and point at the anchor. I’d putt up to it as Cindy worked out her traps by pulling the line and chain until the anchor was all the way up.  Because I didn’t want to make this manual job any more difficult by adding lots and lots of heavy chain, I skimped on chain and only went with about 25’. The rest of our anchor rode is 200’ of nylon anchor line. We dragged our anchor a few times in strong winds and I need confidence in our anchoring system so I’ll be heading to West Marine today to grab another 100’ of chain. It’s going to be more of a workout but we will sleep much better at night knowing we won’t wake up on the beach.

Also, because our new engine and transmission are silky smooth, there’s no longer an excuse for having to be the one at the helm. I’ll be the one on the bow going forward and Cindy will operate the boat.

We’ve met some really cool people here and made some good friends. Jim and PJ aboard the catamaran Hail Mary are heading to the Bahamas as well. We were neighbors in the mooring field and over the past month and a half have really enjoyed their company. Jim is a retired tugboat captain who built his own 64’ catamaran and sailed it to Hawaii. He’s forgotten more about all things nautical than I’ll ever know and he’s just a cool guy. His wife PJ is equally as cool and fun to be around. She’s a bit apprehensive about the crossing having experienced some rough conditions offshore but despite her concerns, she seems excited to be heading over soon. Together they make a great crew. They’ll likely sail over a few weeks before us but we hope to connect with them in the Abacos! We’re really happy to have met them.

Brunch with the crew of Hail Mary

We’ve had some business challenges out here and I’m realizing that even though the work is getting done, I’m not as effective out here as I am at my desk. I find it hard to work on complex projects that require me to lock myself away in my office for hours interruption free. I also just feel generally not “on my game.” I’m kind of looking forward to being able to sit in my spacious office and just work! I’m feeling like I need to reinvent myself and launch some new businesses ventures when I return in the spring. For now, I’m trying to keep the wheels on the bus and give thought everyday to what I want to be when I grow up.

Stay tuned for our continuing adventures.

Capt Frank
S/V Mavis #816

We Disappeared Again… Sorry!

Foggy morning near Dafuskie Island

It’s been a while since our last post and so much has happened so this will have to be another mega-catchup post.  Sorry.  I know I promised to try and post in smaller, bite-sized updates but I have been so busy keeping this boat moving down the coast that I haven’t had the kind of down time I need to get myself into “writing mode.”  In order to get the words flowing, I need at least a few hours of uninterrupted, quiet time with no distractions.  I haven’t been getting a lot of that time…  When I do, I find myself falling asleep!

So if you just want the short version… We are presently in Vero Beach Florida where it is a balmy 85 degrees.  As we entered Florida a crazy cold snap moved in and brought evening temperatures near freezing but all that is behind us now and we are floating on mooring ball #50 of the Vero Beach City Marina.  This morning we woke up around 6 due to some work interruptions and walked down to the beach and had a delicious breakfast before it got real hot!  If you just wanted to know where we were, that’s all you need.  We’re alive!  We’re happy!  And we’re in Florida!  You could also visit our live location tracker at https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=1b1155b91d8a00cbb9&hoursPast=0&showAll=no

But if you want the details… Here’s the boring catch-up post…  You have been warned.

When I last wrote, we were in Charleston, SC where we felt like we were finally getting into the South.  But about 300 miles down the line, as we crossed the Florida/Georgia border, a strong cold front moved into the south and brought strong winds and overnight low temperatures near freezing with a high temperature of only 55!  We had been slowly working our way south for almost two months and with the exception of a cold night in the Dismal Swamp, we had been pretty comfortable.   We had started to get our shorts and t-shirts ready but they would have to wait a few more days.  In fact, as I write this, it’s a humid 87 degrees but there’s a nice breeze.

The Catch Up…

Wednesday – Nov 21
We departed the Harborage at Ashley Marina in Charleston in the morning but we did not leave the dock before sunrise for a change!  Instead, we slept in until around 7:30, walked the dog, had some coffee and leisurely departed the dock around 8:45.  Just a few miles down the line, we needed to have the Wapoo Creek drawbridge open for us but like many of the bridges we have needed to transit on this trip, it does not open during the morning and evening commuter rush hours.  The first opening of the bridge was at 9:30 so I timed our arrival and after a few minutes waiting, we were cruising off into the South Carolina low country.  Expecting very settled weather with light winds overnight, our plan was to motor as far as we could before the sun set and then to find a place to drop the hook on the “side of the road”.  As the day went on, I spotted on the charts what looked like an excellent anchorage near a shrimp boat dock that I could dinghy Willow over to.  But as we got to the anchorage, the winds piped up quite a bit and what looked like a short dinghy trip on the chart looked more like a Poseidon Adventure when we got there.  It was looking less and less like an ideal location to drop the anchor.  It’s sometimes hard to visualize what places will look like from the nautical charts.  Google Earth really helps, but there’s no substitute for seeing the place with your own eyes.  So instead of bringing the dinghy to the dock, I decided to bring Mavis all the way in.  They sold fuel and beer and fresh shrimp there and they also allow overnight docking for just $25.  So we fueled up and bought three pounds of delicious fresh shrimp.  And by fresh, I mean ‘alive a few hours ago fresh’!  We cooked them up and filled our bellies before turning in for a comfortable night’s sleep tucked away behind the shrimping boats on a creek in the middle of nowhere.  I’ve never had shrimp anything like this before.  Simply incredible.

Super fresh jumbo shrimp!

Thursday – Nov 22 – Thanksgiving
We left the B&B Seafood shrimp dock at dawn and motored on through the marshland with the smell of Old Bay seasoning still in the air.  Today was Thanksgiving.  I had purchased a turkey breast but we didn’t end up cooking it until Friday.   For lunch we cooked up another batch of delicious jumbo shrimp.  Before long, we arrived at Hilton Head Island where we had reserved a slip at the Skull Creek Marina.  Cindy’s neighbor and childhood friend Chuck and his lovely wife Renee live on the island and Cindy sent him a text message saying that we would be passing through.  It turns out Chuck and Renee hang out on Skull Creek almost every night.  We got together with them for a few drinks and learned about life on Hilton Head.  The next day we got a quick tour of the island before sharing some more drinks and company.  Chuck and Renee are our kind of people and we had a fantastic time hanging out with them.  Chuck is an entrepreneur and business and personal development consultant.  He also has a way with words.  If you enjoy reading inspirational, motivational stuff that’s more than just “rah-rah you can do it!” check out Chuck’s Lemonade on Facebook.  We were honored when we learned that we had “Made Chuck’s Lemonade.”  Sitting at the helm for hours on end, I’ve had time to consider how the lessons I’m learning from sailing a boat down the coast translate into life at large.  Chuck seems to understand this stuff as well.  I’ve been contemplating writing a short book or a series of articles about my Lesson’s Learned at Sea and Chuck’s writings have convinced and inspired me to get started.

Who says you can’t cook a turkey breast in a holly-hobby oven?

Saturday – Nov 24
We left Hilton Head before the sun was up and motored out into Calibogue Sound in an eerie fog.  Visibility was at times less than 1/4 mile but for the most part we had better than 1/2 mile visibility which is around my limit for this kind of passage.  The fog was only forecast to hang around during the early morning but ended up staying with us most of the day.  Once again, our plan du jour was to motor south until we ran out of daylight and anchor the boat somewhere.   Crossing Calibogue Sound we encountered pod after pod of dolphin swimming along next to the boat, across our bow, behind us… Just everywhere for a while. 

One of the many dolphin who visited with us.

We meandered behind Dafuskie Island, and across the Savannah River into Georgia and continued on for a few more hours until we dropped the anchor in a bend on the Ogeechee River.  The tides and tidal currents in Georgia are pretty significant with a tidal range of about 8 feet and current running 3 knots in some places.  When your boat cruises at 6.5 knots, a 3 knot current can either get you going at 9.5 knots or slow you to 3.5…  Careful planning and timing is possible but not really practical because the ICW in Georgia goes through so many tributaries and inlets.  You just sort of have to take the average.  Sometimes you’re bombing along and other times you are creeping.  It all works out in the end.  The currents on the Ogeechee River where we anchored reverse with the tides and peak out around 2 knots.  I expected the current change but was surprised that our anchor didn’t handle the change as well as I would have liked.  As a result, our anchor drag alarm went off a few times over the night.  I don’t sleep very well when anchored in general but the strong currents freak me out.  If the anchor were to drag in those circumstances, we could easily go for quite a ride!

We passed this boat in the dense fog.  Looks like she was aground on a sand bar.

Sunday – Nov 25
After a very restless night on the anchor, we set out at dawn into another morning fog.  The fog was a bit thicker than it was the previous day but I knew that there was pretty much nothing for many, many, miles and was hoping to get to some civilization by dark.  As I set off into the fog, I realized I could see about 1/4 mile ahead and I had a clear view of both banks of the narrow waterway.  I also had up-to-date charts in our chartplotter and found that it was pretty easy to keep moving safely despite the fog.  At one point I realized I was only motoring at around 4 knots.  I guess I instinctively slowed down due to the restricted visibility…  Then I realized that running at our normal cruising speeds of 5.5 to 6.5 knots wasn’t really any less safe so I opened her up and we purred along.  A few times I encountered other vessels popping out of the fog but there was always plenty of time to adjust course without ever getting close.   A few hours later the fog lifted and we had a glorious, sunny and warm day as we motored across St. Catherine’s Sound down Blackbeard’s Creek into the Altamaha Sound, the Altamaha River and Buttermilk Sound.  We sailed past Savannah and finally arrived at the Morningstar Marina on Saint Simon’s Island where we walked the dog, ate a delicious dinner in the restaurant, and fell quickly fast asleep.

Monday – Nov 26
We left St. Simon’s Island at dawn and motored into a strong current hoping to make it into Florida to Fernandina Beach by sunset.  Our route took us past Jekyll Island where one of the single largest crimes in American history was perpetrated against it’s citizens…  Basically, a group of bankers gave themselves permission to create US Dollars out of thin air.  If you haven’t guessed, Jekyll Island is the birthplace of the Federal Reserve System.  If you’re into secret meetings, conspiracies, monetary policy or history,  you can learn more about this crazy and misunderstood nugget of American history  at https://www.marketplace.org/2015/10/20/economy/big-book/how-secret-meeting-jekyll-island-led-fed.

There’s also an interesting, classic book “The Creature of Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin which deals with the shenanigans that took place there in great detail.

Anyway, leaving modern monetary policy and Jekyll Island behind us, we motored on into the wind and current.  When it became obvious that we wouldn’t make it to Florida before dark, we elected to drop the anchor in Cumberland Sound just a few miles from the Florida border and just off the Cumberland National Seashore.  The winds were piping up but Willow needed to go to shore so I lowered the dinghy and took her ashore where the tides were low and exposed a fantastic beach full of cypress trees with their limbs, covered in Spanish moss making all sorts of arches and tunnels.  Willow took off, full of energy and ran until it started to get dark.  The currents were running strong and the winds were gusting into the 20s as Willow and I made our way back to the boat.  We were pretty wet when we got there.  The forecast was calling for the winds to die down overnight but again, the forecast was dead wrong.  The winds howled for hours gusting into the high twenties as we ate dinner, played a few games of Rummy 500 and finally went to bed.  The anchor was holding nicely and I thought despite the winds that I might actually get a good night of sleep on the anchor for a change.  Until…  Laying in bed, I was actually showing Cindy our position and how the anchor alarm works on the iPad which connects to our chartplotter when I saw us go from swinging in an arc around our anchor to cruising in a bee-line toward shore at 2 knots!

Mavis anchored in Cumberland Sound

We scrambled and got the engine started.  Cindy ran to the bow to tend to the anchor and I went to the helm to motor us into the wind to take some of the strain off the anchor line.  Communicating from the helm to the bow in the howling winds was difficult.  I’ve been saying I need to get a set of wireless headsets and this little debacle convinced me that it’s a safety item.  After finally getting the boat more or less over the anchor I ran forward and helped Cindy get the anchor aboard.  We had anchored a few thousand feet from a wreck that exposes at high tide and didn’t want to get snagged up in it so we motored about a quarter of a mile upwind and dropped the anchor once again where it grabbed immediately and held us until we departed…  Once again at dawn we motored south…  Tired and a bit cranky but happy to be entering Florida!

Tuesday Nov 27
Another long day of motoring south on the ICW brought us to Jacksonville Beach.  As the day went on I began looking for options to anchor.  After the rough night in Cumberland Sound I was actually also looking for a good marina where I could tie up to a dock, easily get off the boat to walk the dog and sleep without worrying about waking up somewhere other than where I went to bed.  We were also hoping to get to a grocery store because the cupboards were getting a little bare.  Cruisers use an app called Active Captain that is sort of like Yelp for boats.  It shows all sorts of marine services and anchorages and provides community-updated reviews, advice and information about various marinas and destinations.  I found a decent little marina along our route that was near a Publix.  We docked up, fueled up, and left Willow aboard while we walked to the supermarket and Ubered back with a few days worth of provisions.   

Wednesday Nov 28
Another early day for us.  We left at dead low tide from the marina and dragged our rudders through the mud because the water was BARELY deep enough to get through for much of the channel in and out of the marina.  Mavis is a very shallow draft vessel and we were able to make it out.  Most other sailboats of this size would have to wait for the tide to rise.  We motored along for another full day, spotting dolphin, pelicans, and other sea-birds.  Cindy was often perched on the bow, camera in hand, ready to take photos of the wildlife as we passed singing the old “Mutual of Omaha” theme song.  You older people may remember Wild Kingdom…   

That afternoon we made it to St. Augustine, where we had booked a slip for the night at the St. Augustine City Marina.  But before we could get to the marina, we had to pass through the Bridge of Lions’ drawbridge.  And now a bit about drawbridges.  There are about 144 bridges on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  About half of them are high-rise bridges with vertical clearances of around 65 feet.  The other half are “movable” bridges such as bascule (draw) bridges and swing bridges.  There are even some railroad lift bridges.  Now many moveable bridges open ‘on demand’.  As a vessel that requires an opening approaches, they contact the bridge tender on the VHF radio.  The tender opens the bridge and allow’s passage.  But some bridges have operating schedules…  For example, some bridges open every hour on the hour and half hour.   The bridge we needed to get under in St. Augustine opens on the hour and half hour but not at noon.  We were arriving at 11:35 so we had to wait until 12:30 for the bridge to open for us to pass.  While we putted around St. Augustine harbor we got great views of the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest stone fort in the United States.  We also watched the dolphin play.  Finally the bridge opened and we passed.  Immediately after the bridge was the marina and we went to the fuel dock to fill our tanks and get our slip assignment.  After fueling, we were given our slip number and the dock hand walked down to meet us and catch our lines.  

Flat calm waters made spotting the numerous dolphin easy.

I’m very comfortable handling Mavis.  Her steerable drive leg makes maneuvering easy but there are times that close-quarters handling gets me nervous.  The wind was blowing about 10 to 15 knots which isn’t a big deal but there was also a rather strong current running through the marina perpendicular to the slip I was supposed to back into.  As I left the fuel dock, I glanced at the trip odometer on the chart plotter.  If after all these miles I haven’t crashed the boat yet, I told myself… We would be fine.  

If I may say so myself, I rather expertly moved the boat into position, playing the boat against the winds and current and spun her around to PERFECTLY align her to back into our slip.  Satisfied and proud, I slipped the boat into reverse with a confident smile and watched her back between the pilings…  I don’t think I’ve never done a better job docking!  But as we drew closer the slip seemed a bit snug for us and I began to get concerned.  Reminding myself that the marina knew our beam was 14′ when they assigned the slip, I continued into the tiny slip where our stern immediately became wedged between the two pilings!  The slip, it seems, was just under 14′ wide…  After some sheepish apologies, the marina provided us another slip assignment.  I applied a lot of power to get unwedged and extricated us from between the pilings with a squeak and a pop.  We motored to our new assigned spot and tied up without any issues behind a tour boat S/V Freedom covered in Christmas lights and the Black Raven a (fake) pirate ship. 

 S/V Freedom in St. Augustine
Willow enjoyed St. Augustine

It was good to be back in St. Augustine and Willow was rather excited to be ashore so off we went to walk the city, explore the Castillo de San Marcos, and grab a few cocktails.  After a long walk through the old city we came upon “The Tini Martini Bar” which had outdoor seating overlooking the harbor.   We enjoyed watching the sunset and the libations before walking back to the boat and crashing.  It would be another early departure in the morning.

Chocolate martini, anyone?  Jackets were required for our night in St. Augustine!  The bar provided heaters and blankets.  Didn’t feel like Florida yet.
Willow making friends in St. Augustine
The Castillo San Marcos in St. Augustine

Thursday Nov 29
We left St. Augustine very early and Cindy wasn’t feeling great due to overindulging in chocolate martinis.  So I took Willow for her morning walk, warmed up the engine and left the marina with my first mate still in bed.  She woke up a few hours after departure as we motored along in glass-calm waters down the Matanzas River into the Halifax River where we saw lots of dolphin playing and feeding.  We arrived in Daytona Beach a few hours before sunset.  The Seven Seas marina wasn’t a fancy place by any far stretch of the imagination.  It was, however, one of the nicest places we have tied our lines because the people there were incredibly nice and good at what they do.  Shortly after calling them on the VHF, three dockhands appeared to assist us by catching our lines, helping us get turned around for an early departure and tied up for the night.  This marina seems lost in time.  It was like visiting Florida in the late 1970s.  From the paneling in the office to the friendly, laid back people and the fair rates for fuel and dockage this was a place from Florida’s past.  Long before the shores were dotted with condos and mega marinas, small family marinas like this were the norm.  I wonder if it will still be there on our trip back north.  It’s only a matter of time until it becomes yet another waterside condo complex.

Sunset at the Seven Seas Marina in Daytona
The aptly named Sunset Park in Daytona Beach

Friday Nov 30
Guess what?  We left early again.  Before the sun was up I had the engine warming while I walked Willow.  Cindy got us untied and we motored out into the tight little channel from the the marina to the ICW.  Just as we were leaving the marina Cindy asked “Where’s the dog?”  She does this frequently.  And usually, Willow is sitting under the helm seat, or in one of her favorite spots on the aft platform.   But today there was no Willow to be found!  It was still pretty dark and a large sign obstructed my view of the dock.  We were now in the narrow channel and there was a stiff current from the beam.  We figured that as she had in Oriental, she hopped off the end of the boat just as we were leaving.  We hoped that she was on the dock and not in the water.  I had no choice but to continue motoring down the channel away from the marina as it was too narrow to turn around there.  A few minutes later, someone called on the radio. “Catamaran that just left the Seven Seas Marina…”

“We are coming back for her!” I answered as the fellow boater confirmed for me that she was safe and on the dock.  A few minutes later, Willow was back on board and we were on our way south… Again!  

The standard plan for the day was in effect.  Keep motoring south until the sun goes down.  I had hoped to get to the Cocoa Beach area and we did!  I called a local marina or two and was shocked to hear that dockage would be $2.50 per foot for the night plus $15 for electricity.   I didn’t feel like paying those rates just to sleep and also didn’t want to anchor because strong winds were forecast and there were limited places to anchor out of the wind.  I found a marina on the chartplotter.  I’m going to leave the name of the marina out of the blog.  You’ll soon understand why.  I called the number listed for the marina and spoke the harbormaster.  I explained that we were looking for a place to tie up for the night.  He told me he had a spot for me but the easiest thing to do would be to approach his marina and tie up to one of the three sailboats just before the entrance.  This sounded different to me.  I inquired what the rates were and he said.  “I wouldn’t charge you for that.”  That sounded a bit strange too…   We tied up to one of the sailboats as instructed and climbed over her deck to take the dog for a walk.  What we found was like a scene from a post-apocolyptic movie.  

There were several hundred boats in the large marina basin.  Most of them were in serious disrepair.  In fact, I wonder if any of them had been anywhere in the past few years.  They all looked like derelict boats.  Many of them had garbage and laundry strewed about their decks.  There was an area with a few picnic tables and what appeared to be a campsite.  On some of the boats we saw people.  These were real “liveaboards”…  But not the yachty, cruisier-type liveaboards like us who have homes and cars and jobs.  This was a floating skid-row!

We saw a beautiful little girl playing on one of the boats, a particularly rough-looking powerboat.  As we walked Willow by she smiled and waved so we went over to let her see the dog.  She must have been about two.  Her blonde hair was unkept and knotty but she was adorable and happy. 

Behind her on the boat two women, each of which had to weigh about 350 pounds stood amongst (and on top of) piles of dirty laundry.  The older woman was holding a newborn baby and I think the other 350 pound woman was also her daughter!  We chatted for a while and she mentioned that her 6 year old daughter was off playing somewhere.  Indeed, I had seen another child running around the place.   I asked if they lived on the boat and she said yes.  If I’m understanding what I saw here the woman had an adult daughter and three children all living in squalor on a boat that must have been about 35 feet long!  As we said goodbye and walked back to our boat, Cindy expressed how sad she felt seeing people live that way.  I’m not heartless.  I don’t know what circumstances force people into living in those conditions but I know that having more and more children isn’t the answer.  I found myself thinking about this place all day after leaving there.  I’m still fascinated.  I need to learn more about this place!  Btw… Right next door, there were brand new vacation condos being built.  Some of the units were already occupied.

Saturday Dec 1
When we slipped away from the sketchy floating Bowery it was still an hour before sunrise.  We had lots of miles to cover because we wanted to make it to Vero Beach!  The cruise took us along Florida’s Space Coast.  We went under several NASA bridges, one of which is the Nasa Railway Bridge which is used to move rockets to the launch pads.  The weather was balmy and there was even enough of a breeze to allow us to take our our headsail for a bit.  It’s been a while since we have done any real sailing…  Hopefully soon!  But we arrived in Vero Beach, got fueled up and hooked up to our mooring ball.  We will be here for two nights before continuing on to Stuart.  While here, I got to visit with my sister Stephanie who lives nearby.  We had dinner with her and my two nieces and my nephew.  I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with them while we are in Florida!

Today we walked to the beach and into town.  Unfortunately, despite it’s 5 acre dog park, Vero isn’t a super dog-friendly town.  Having spent some time in Jensen Beach and Stuart, we know Willow will enjoy it there more.  

Breakfast at ‘Cravings’ in Vero Beach!

We watched dolphin swim around the anchorage, took long, hot showers and are ready to depart at sunrise for our short 30 mile trip to Stuart Florida where we will probably set up home base for a month or so!

Sorry again for the ridiculously long catch-up post!  I WILL TRY to keep it to smaller and more frequent posts.  Thanks again for coming along!

Capt Frank

Charleston, SC

It’s been a busy week of travel for us!  My apologies for not updating the blog but I’m happy to report that we have covered about 270 miles since my last post!  We are now in Charleston, SC at the Harborage at Ashley Marina for our second night.  We leave in the morning to continue South.

When I last posted we were in Morehead City, NC with plans to wait out some weather that was approaching.  We went to bed in Morehead fully expecting to sleep in and hang around for a few days but woke up the next morning and decided to go for it.  It was Cindy’s idea to press on and I wasn’t particularly impressed with Morehead City so off we went.

We have been very cautious with the weather but in reality, it would take some pretty serious weather to get us into any trouble while on the protected waters of the ICW.  Speaking of serious weather…  The tropical system we were keeping an eye on out in the Atlantic has fizzled out so it looks like hurricane season is behind us! 

So we left Morehead City and motored on to Swansboro, NC where we tied up at Dudley’s Marina — again expecting to stay a few nights until the winds and rain passed.  But again, the next morning we decided to push on and made it to Hampstead, NC where we took a slip at the very cozy and protected Harbour Village Marina for three nights while we actually did wait for some bad weather to move through.  But the highlight of our stay at Harbour Village was making some cool new friends, Penny and Ken.  While out walking Willow we met Penny who was also out walking her dogs.  Penny’s beautiful home is right on the marina and after chatting for a bit she invited us over for cocktails.  It was great to get off the boat and the more we got to know Penny, the more we liked her.  On our last night in Hampstead, we met Ken, Penny’s husband and went out to dinner with them.  Ken was as cool as Penny was and we really enjoyed their company.  We vowed to stay in touch as we left Hampstead and continued on South.  We are meeting such awesome people on this trip!

After another full day of cruising, we pulled in to the friendly seaside town of Holden Beach, NC.  This little beach town reminded me a bit of Fire Island with its long sandy beaches and homes on the dunes.  We took a walk on the beach with Willow and I was surprised when I came to the realization that despite all the time we have spent on the coast on this trip, the last time we were on an actual ocean beach was way back in Cape May, NJ on September 30!  We grabbed a bite at a local restaurant and tied Willow up on the back deck.  She stared through the glass doors at us while we ate.  We spent the night on the Holden Beach town dock with one other vessel.  When I checked in at town hall, I was given a little goody bag that included two pair of “Holden Beach” branded sunglasses, two water bottles, some literature about the town, and a few post cards.  It was nice to be in a town that appreciates having visiting cruisers.

Holden Beach, NC – Note the evidence of Hurricane Florence on the left side.

The next day we motored on, excited to finally cross the border into South Carolina.  As we slid across the border, we did our traditional border-crossing happy dance but this one was extra special because for a while there it didn’t look like we would ever leave Oriental!  But as Mavis’ new engine purred along though Myrtle Beach,  we admired the beautiful homes that line the ICW.  Finally we made it to the Waccamaw River where we tucked into a little creek near Enterprise Landing to anchor for the night.  We had passed a public boat ramp with a dock about a quarter mile before turning up into the creek and my plan was to dinghy Willow over to that ramp to use the bathroom before eating dinner and getting to sleep.   Due to the tidal currents running in and out of the creek, our boat swung about on our anchor rode and set off the anchor alarm a few times overnight.  I had set a tight radius on the alarm because the creek was lined with trees and if we dragged our anchor we would end up in the forest.   So not the most relaxing night but I suppose we need to up our anchoring game.  We are spending way too much money on marinas.

Beautiful homes line the waterway in Myrtle Beach, SC

The next morning I was up before dawn to get Willow into the dinghy and back over to the boat ramp.  With miles and miles of nature preserve surrounding us you would think there would be someplace sandy to land the dinghy on a beach but the jungle-dense forest grows right to the water’s edge.  I also hear the waters where we were anchored are home to some rather large alligators…  I can’t imagine returning to the boat to explain to Cindy that Willow had been eaten.  The boat ramp dock would do just fine.

It only took about 10 minutes each way to ride back and forth to the ramp and 10 minutes for Willow to pick her spot and get down to business.  Shortly after sunrise we were on our way again.

Early mornings are still a bit chilly in the Carolinas.

We motored all day and arrived in McLellanville, SC where we took a slip at the Leyland Oil Company dock.  This was a no-frills marina pretty much in the middle of nowhere but I was in no mood to deal with anchoring the boat being rather tired from the anchor alarm disturbing my sleep and a long day of driving the boat down the ICW.

Before dawn on the next morning we were motoring in light patchy fog and mist.  Visibility in some places got down to about a half a mile or so which wasn’t a problem but my concern was that if it got worse we might have to drop the anchor and wait it out.  Fortunately after few hours the fog lifted.  We motored through the South Carolina lowlands and saw only a handful of boats the whole day.  Most of the boats were local fishing skiffs.

We saw a few dolphin as we passed various inlets.  One came right up to our stern quarter and popped his head out and checked me out.  I keep trying to get photos of these guys but they are gone in a flash.  I’m waiting for a few of them to stay with us playing in our bow wake as they are known to do.

Bald Eagle in the South Carolina Low Country

When she’s not down below working, Cindy spends lots of time on the bow running around taking pictures of the various birds we are passing.  We are seeing lots of cormorants, herons and pelicans end even a few hawks and eagles!  She tells me she’s always dreamed of being a wildlife photographer.  We need to invest in a really good telephoto lens so that she can really do her Mutual of Omaha thing properly!

Cindy in Mutual of Omaha mode!

We arrived in Charleston on Sunday afternoon and after getting settled in here at the marina we took a long walk around town to do some exploring.  Charleston is a really interesting city with a cosmopolitan downtown area with great restaurants and shopping.  After a few hours of exploration, I was getting hungry.  We wanted to enjoy an early dinner out but with Willow with us our options were limited.  We had read about an amazing place called the Low Country Bistro and when we passed it, Cindy went in to inquire about any outdoor seating.  They told us that we could sit with the dog outside on the veranda but in order to get up there we would have to carry Willow through the restaurant and up the stairs because according to local health department law, her feet couldn’t touch the floor.  

So I scooped up Willow like a little lamb and Cindy opened the door for me.  As I entered the restaurant holding the dog, a few of the diners looked up from their meals to see what must have looked rather strange to them…  “You ordered some meat?” I asked the hostess as we made our way up the stairs and out onto the veranda where we enjoyed some great cocktails and a delicious meal under the palmettos and the stars.

At the Low Country Bistro in Charleston, SC

Today I Ubered around getting propane refilled and a trip to the supermarket.  Cindy took advantage of the marina’s laundry room and we have clean bedding and clothing again!  It’s amazing the things you appreciate when cruising.   The things you take for granted at home feel like luxuries out here.  Even though we have all the basic things we need, it still feels a bit like camping sometimes.  We have a small fridge, a small oven and two burner stove, a small double kitchen sink, and small countertops…  The operative word here, in case you missed it… Is small.  But we are making do just fine aboard our cozy boat.

Mavis and crew at the Harborage at Ashley Marina in Charleston

This evening we took another long walk around town with the dog.  We did about 6 or 7 miles taking in all of the interesting local architecture and stately southern homes. 

Tomorrow we don’t have to leave at the crack of dawn for a change!  There’s a bridge that has to open for us just two miles from here and the first opening is at 9:30.  So I’ll get up, top off our water tanks, warm up the engine and prepare for the day and leave here around 8:45 to be sure we are at the Wapoo Creek Bascule Bridge with plenty of time to spare.  From there we will motor as far as we can comfortably get and anchor somewhere on the North or South Edisto River for the evening.  I’ll be sure to find a spot with plenty of room to swing around on our anchor rode and I’ll set a wide radius on the anchor alarm! 

We hope to arrive in Beaufort, SC on Thanksgiving.  Today I did a little provisioning run and got a whole turkey breast that I think we will be able to cram into our “Holly Hobby oven.”  We miss our friends and family but are enjoying this trip and are thankful that we have been able to pull this off!

That’s all for now.  Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Capt. Frank

On the Road Again!

Cindy and Willow beneath the nipples of Poseidon!

After a few weeks of drama in Oriental, we pulled away from the dock this morning to continue our adventure.  Because the run I had planned for today to Morehead City was only about 25 miles, I set my alarm for 7am.  Usually on travel days we are up before the sun but I wanted to get some extra sleep and there really was no rush.  I planned to wake up at 7, jump into some clothes and walk up to the Piggly Wiggly to grab a few last minute provisions before pulling off the dock around 9am.  Although my alarm was set for 7, at 6:30 our phones all started BLARING that horrifying alarm tone that says a tornado is coming, a nuclear event has happened, or Donald Trump wanted to test the presidential alert system.  That alarm tone gets my blood pressure up every time and I guess the resulting adrenaline rush is to be expected but when I opened my phone to see an amber alert for a missing or abducted child named Destiny, I couldn’t help but be a little grumpy.  I’m not heartless.  I truly hope that Destiny is okay and I wish her and her family the very best…  But I don’t want to be awakened that way ever again unless our personal safety is on the line.  (I’m kidding of course.  If there was anything I could do to help I would.)

Anyway, after waking up I found myself full of energy and had coffee, was dressed and out the door to go the the market by 7.  We were expecting a very cold overnight with lows close to freezing.  In reality I don’t think we got anywhere near that cold but the lower 40s was cold enough.  We have a single, small space heater on board and it kept us comfortable but as I opened the cabin door the cold, fresh air reminded me once again that we need to keep moving south.  North Carolina’s winters are mild but not mild enough.

I ran to the market and back and upon my return to the boat found our friend Henry on the dock near the boat.  His home is very close to the marina and I suppose he wanted to see us off.  Again, we are meeting such nice people on this trip.

We didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to Steve and Claudia from S/V Brynlee who were our neighbors while we were at Sailcraft and as I walked toward their boat Claudia came running over with a huge smile and hugs.  She seemed as excited for us as we were!  Steve popped out of his boat and Claudia, Steve and Henry all helped us with our lines as I STARTED OUR ENGINE 🙂 🙂 :).  

The winds were a bit tricky this morning with periods of calm and puffs and gusts of 18 knots.  The canal we were on off Whittaker Creek is a bit narrow and I had to concentrate on getting out without smashing anything.  Cindy went to the bow of the boat to help fend us off and make sure we got clear of Brynlee and as we slowly motored away from the dock I found myself singing to myself  “On the Road Again…”   I also found myself missing Oriental already.  Surely, I thought, we would return again soon.  

And then, I heard Steve’s friendly voice say “Frank.  I think you forgot something.”  And I looked back to see Willow sitting comfortably by his side.  Ah, Crap!  I guess with all the moving around of the lines she hopped off at some point before blast-off and nobody noticed.

As I put the boat into reverse to rescue our pup who was now looking a bit concerned to be left behind, a strong puff of wind moved our bow out into the middle of the canal.  ARGH!  It was going to be such a graceful exit…  After some more maneuvering and lots of help from our friends, Willow was back on board and we were on our way again. 

As we exited Whittaker Creek into the Neuse River I moved the throttle forward and enjoyed the feeling of Mavis’ new engine purring away in her compartment.  The winds were perfect for sailing at about 20 knots right on the beam but it would only be a few miles to cross the Neuse and I had an engine to break in.  I needed to take careful note of Mavis’ performance at various engine RPM settings and having a sail up would throw those numbers off.  I was instructed by Stanley at Beta Marine to vary our RPMs every so often during the first 10 hours or so and I ran the boat at varying speeds all the way to Morehead City.  It was a bit cold and mostly cloudy.  The winds were about 15 to 20 but I was comfortable in the cockpit.  Mavis’ cockpit can be fully enclosed by Isinglass which makes a little greenhouse out back.  It’s our Florida room.   So I put on some tunes and motored down the intracoastal while Cindy danced on the bow and took pictures of everything passing by.

It’s nice to be seeing more and more palm trees.  We’ve even spotted some Spanish Moss.  I guess we are finally really getting into “the south.”  As we passed some of the homes I found myself wondering about the people who lived in them.  What does this person do for a living?  What do they look like?  Does Destiny live in that house?

Approaching the marina in Morehead City we saw a pod of dolphins swimming along.  This was pretty cool to see and I understand that from here on south there are stretches of the ICW where we may see more dolphin than people!

Dolphin in Morehead City, NC

I don’t mean to make light of a serious situation with Destiny.  I’m pleased to report that after her abduction, she has been found and is safe with her mother.  Her abductor has been arrested.  But now I feel kind of guilty for not getting out of bed this morning to look for her.  I just pictured myself wandering around the marina calling “DEEESTINNNNY….”  No.  Being on board Mavis for 6 weeks has not changed me.  I’m still an asshole.

3 year-old Destiny has been found!

But, this asshole is going to the Bahamas!  Very slowly.  Presently, we are at the Morehead City Yacht Basin where we will stay two and possibly (but hopefully not) three nights waiting for some crappy weather to move through.  We are being overly cautious because we aren’t in a hurry and would rather not be uncomfortable.

Speaking of crappy weather that can make you uncomfortable…  Every day I check with the National Hurricane Center to see if there’s anything brewing out in the Atlantic.  Although peak hurricane season just ended, it’s still fairly common to get hurricanes into November.  There’s a tropical depression out there that has about a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 5 days and I don’t like the predicted path.  We’ll keep an eye on it.

I’m keeping an eye on this.

We are in good spirits and anxious to continue south.  Being able to overcome our challenges and continue on has made us stronger and even more determined to manifest our dreams.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.  

Capt Frank

It’s Alive!

This morning, Darrell took care of final connections of our fuel system, raw water cooling, calorifier lines to our hot water heater and cabin heater, and exhaust system.  We filled her up with transmission fluid, engine oil, and coolant and then, with very little fanfare and the turn of a key, Mavis’ new engine roared to life!

I was immediately impressed with how quiet the new engine was.  Even with the engine compartment open she was a bit quieter than the old Westerbeke was all buttoned up!  And once I closed the compartment and let the soundproofing do it’s thing I was really happy!

Willow approves of the new engine.

We did some testing while tied up to the dock and Darrell gave our installation a final once-over and certified her good to go.  Working with Darrell Foster has been a real pleasure.  From our first handshake to completion of the job he has done everything he has said he would, when he said he would.  I find it incredible that he also completed the job well below his estimate even though I had added a new fuel filtration system which cost several hundred dollars and required additional time to install.  I can’t say enough good things about this guy.  He’s a rare gem in the marine service industry.

The wind was blowing around 20 knots and suddenly we had a working boat again.  I kind of wanted to head out and hoist the sails but it was getting late in the afternoon and we had a motor to try out so instead of sailing we motored out of the Whittaker Creek into the Neuse River and ran the engine at various RPM settings taking notes about the boat’s speed in the light chop.  Our old transmission had a slightly different gear ratio and our new engine revs considerably higher.  As a result the propeller currently installed on Mavis is not perfectly matched to the rest of the system but it works just fine.  Once we get to Florida I may investigate installing a more efficient propeller but so far, I’m pleased with the performance we are getting.

Happy Captain taking the new engine for a test run on the Neuse

All of the local marinas were flooded during Hurricane Florence and as a result just about none of them have working laundry facilities.  It was a minor inconvenience when we were only going to be here for a few days but we are going on three weeks now and running out of clean clothes.

Yesterday Cindy made another new friend while walking Willow.  Cindy got to talking with Karen who has lived here for 18 years with her husband Henry.  She’s an artist so they had lots to chat about but after talking for a bit, Karen invited us to dinner at their house and even offered the use of their washer and dryer!  What planet are we on?  Everyone here is just so happy to help each other out.  People go out of their way to stop and chat.  Cruisers walking down the street are routinely picked up by locals and dropped off at their boats.  After a few weeks here we already feel like locals.  This is such a great little town.  If they could just do something about those hurricanes…

Tonight we went to dinner at the Toucan restaurant at the Oriental Marina and Inn.  We were joined by Karen and Henry (the couple who graciously volunteered their washer and dryer) and their neighbor and friend, Steve.  Karen and Henry keep their sailboat on the creek where we are presently docked.  We enjoyed talking about Oriental and (of course) boats.  And after talking to Steve for a bit, I wasn’t too surprised that he too was a sailor with a boat on Whittaker Creek.  I like this town!

It’s hard to believe we will be leaving Oriental after all!  Things were looking pretty crappy there for a while and the future of our adventure was seriously in doubt… But now we can continue with our reliable new engine.  There is some weather coming in for Monday night into Tuesday or Wednesday with some more gale force winds possible.  The plan for now is to leave here tomorrow morning and do a short 5 hour run to Morehead City where we will pull into another marina for a night or two before continuing.

We’ve come to love Oriental in our longer than expected layover here so leaving will ironically be bittersweet.  I’ve said it before but I can’t say it enough.  The people here are amazing.  It seems like almost all of the 900 residents of this little town are sailors.  Many of them, like us, came here by boat.  Some never left.  Others came back and bought homes.  We will definitely return to Oriental…  But we hope not until the spring on our way back north!

0.9 hours on the new engine.  Fuel and water tanks are full.  Just a quick provisioning run to the Piggly Wiggly in the AM and we are OFF!  Stay tuned.

Capt Frank

The Operation Begins

Today was a big day.  Darrell Foster, our amazing mechanic arrived early to begin taking out our old engine and control panel.  To be clear, Darrell is not the original mechanic we started working with here in Oriental.  He’s a retired Coast Guard mechanic and this guy is not playing around!  About 2 hours after he arrived the old engine was hanging from a crane and set on the ground.  Then he took off to get the new control panel and wiring harness.   A few hours later, the new panel was installed and everything is set for the new engine to be installed on Friday.

About two hours into the project the Westerbeke is out!

Although, I thought his estimate on the number of hours this job would take was unrealistic, according to Darrell, we are way ahead of schedule so far!  This makes me pretty happy because barring any major issues with the installation, I expect that we will come in on time and under budget which in the marine world is absolutely unheard of.  The new engine is slated to be installed Friday morning and I’m really looking forward to feeling Mavis’ new engine come to life.  After the engine was removed, Darrell said “NOW you’ve got yourself a sailboat.”  I took a moment to contemplate that.  I love sailing and have been known to resist the temptation to just turn on the engine.  But when you’re traveling over 1,500 miles, you kind of need to keep moving.   Generally, I try to maintain a boat speed of better than 5 knots and if I’m not getting that from the wind I’ll switch on the motor.  Many people don’t know this but the vast majority of the Intracoastal Waterway is just not sailable.  You really need to motor day after day for 8-plus hours a day to get anywhere on the inland waterway.  It is narrow and quite tricky in spots.  There’s just no room to sail and travelling by night is asking for trouble unless you are intimately familiar with the local waters.  There’s way too much to hit out here.  Once I have developed a level of confidence in the new powerplant, I plan to jump out into the ocean and hoist the sails.  Cindy and I both miss the magical feeling of sailing along with no engine making noise and burning fuel.  Whenever I sail any distance at all I feel like I’m getting away with something.

Speaking of burning fuel.  Our new engine is expected to burn just 1/3 of a gallon an hour at cruise speeds.  I was pretty amazed that the old Westerbeke could go on about a gallon an hour.  If these numbers are anywhere near correct, the new engine will effectively triple Mavis’ range on engine power!  With 36 gallons of fuel on board, we could travel on the engine alone for 600 to 700 nautical miles without refueling!  Even if we end up consuming a whopping 1/2 a gallon an hour we could go  400 to 500 nautical miles.   I’d be happy with that.  This would mean that here, on the Intracoastal we could motor for days without having to fuel up.

Mavis’ fuel gauges have always been incredibly unreliable.  As a pilot, I’ve been trained to largely ignore fuel quantity indicators and know what my fuel consumption is.  When I realized that the new panel wouldn’t fit in the hole for the old panel without some modifications, I elected to remove the fuel gauges.  At some point in the future, I’ll install some modern fuel quantity sensors and tie it all in with our chart plotter.  Until then, I need to keep track of how many hours I’ve run on each of our two tanks between fill ups.

Our new Beta Marine panel installed at Mavis’ helm.

As I do every day, I spent some time reviewing the nautical charts for the voyage ahead.  We are 140 nautical miles from the South Carolina border.  Here on the ICW where 50 miles takes us from sunrise to just about sunset it will be three full days of breaking in the new motor before we can do our next “New State Dance.”  It’s about 460 nautical miles (on the ICW) to the Florida-Georgia border.  Sailing on the ocean shaves of some miles.  The other very significant advantage of sailing “outside” vs. “inside” is that when coastal cruising on the ocean the boat is moving forward 24/7.  On the ICW we run from sunrise to sunset and then find a place to anchor or dock.  So by sailing offshore and taking shifts at the helm we can easily cover 100 to 150 miles in each 24 hour day vs. 40 to 55!  Why spend time sitting on the anchor when the boat can (and in my opinion SHOULD) keep on sailing?  And if the wind is cooperating, there’s no need to run the engine, racking up hours, making noise, burning fuel and putting out fumes.  Mavis, like most sailing catamarans is capable of sailing considerably faster than she can motor!

We’re not sailing on a schedule but I would like to make up some miles.  I’ll be able to relax once we are safely set up at our Florida headquarters in Stuart, at which time I plan to fly home and get one of our cars.  Once established in Florida, I also need to start getting some workouts in.  I’ve lost an insane amount of not easily gained muscle mass in the past month of inactivity!  I have also lost a lot of what little cardiovascular capacity I had!  I ran about 3/4 of a mile yesterday at a casual pace and was shocked to find myself winded.  I hope it all comes back as quickly as it went away but I don’t think it works that way!

Sunset at Lou Mac park in Oriental, NC

It’s been balmy here in Oriental!  Today was 82 but most days have been in the mid to high 70s and only getting down to the high 50s at night but this will change Sunday…  We are expecting highs in the 50s and lows around FREEZING for a day or two.   We need to get SOUTH!

Capt Frank

 

Mavis is On the Move… (Kind of)

No captain ever wants to find his vessel in tow behind an assistance towing boat.  But here we are getting dragged from the Oriental Inn and Marina to Sailcraft to begin the process of putting in Mavis’ new powerplant.

It was blowing about 25 knots right on the nose and it was a short but rather unpleasant trip.  Still I found myself happy to be “out on the boat.”  Captain Aaron of SeaTow Crystal Coast was a pro and helped get us docked up better than I could have with our engine running.  We are now tied up at our new home marina for the next few days.  We are right next to the crane which will be used to hoist Mavis’ old engine out on Wednesday.  Then I’ll immediately get to cleaning out the bilge and possibly painting in preparation for the new engine being installed on Friday.

Mavis next to the crane that will be used for our engine swap.

Today we did a major provisioning at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket who offer free dockside pickup and drop off in the pig mobile.  How we can spend over $250 on groceries for two people is beyond me.  Sometimes it’s not easy or convenient to get provisions so when it is, I think we go a little overboard.  It’s good to have a boatload of fresh fruits and veggies and plenty of meats.

The Piggly Wiggly offers free dockside drop off and pickup in the Piglet Shuttle!

We have been doing lots and lots of walking here in Oriental.   The town is really beautiful but everywhere you look there’s evidence of hurricane damage.  Other than walking, I haven’t been doing much physical activity at all.  I feel myself getting weaker.  I need to get to a gym.  I could do bodyweight exercises but I just don’t and I’m not sure why.  Maybe tomorrow.

Walking down hurricane damaged streets in Oriental

That’s it for now but I’m trying to update the blog frequently as I promised I would.  Cindy and I are happy and looking forward to continuing the voyage as soon as I’m satisfied that the ship is ready to depart.  Stay tuned for more… And boaters,  do not forget to renew your Sea Tow memberships!  It’s one of the greatest values in boating and after years of paying the annual fee, I’ve finally been able to take advantage of their fine services for today’s dock to dock tow.

Town docks trashed by hurricane Florence

Goodnight from Oriental.

Capt Frank

And Now… We Wait.

Long before Mavis developed her recent engine trouble I had looked into the costs of repowering her.  I had checked out various diesel options as well as the less desirable (to me) option of repowering with a gas outboard.  Some people do it and are very happy but we plan on long range cruising and I think diesel is a must.  I had decided that when it was time to repower Mavis, we would go with a Beta Marine 30 which is a Kubota Diesel engine marinized by Beta Marine.  These engines have an incredible reputation for being smooth, efficient, and dependable powerplants.

Cindy and I at Beta Marine, US Headquarters

I had no idea we would be putting an engine into Mavis while traveling down the ICW but imagine my surprise to learn that we broke down about 10 miles away from Beta’s USA headquarters…  So today, Stan Feigenbaum,  one of Beta Marine US’ founders came to our marina and scooped us up for a visit to their Minnesott Beach, NC headquarters for a look at our new engine and (of course) to finalize the exchange of funds.

Stanley took lots of time showing us around his warehouse of new engines and we discussed our particular engine, the installation ahead, breaking her in, our first oil changes, etc.  He confirmed for us that the mechanic we had selected to do our installation was respected, reputable, and capable of getting the job done.

We’ve been in Oriental over a week now and it’s starting to feel like it.  This is a great place to be stuck but we are itchy to get going.  The people here are amazing.   We go out for several walks a day to keep Willow occupied and to stretch our legs.  The local supermarket, Piggly Wiggly #1 even has Boar’s Head cold cuts!  This may not seem important but from the Chesapeake down to here the cold cuts have been what Cindy and I lovingly refer to as ASS MEAT.  It’s nice to have access to good meats.

The Inland Provisioning Company is a few steps away from our boat and the people there are super nice and they go out of their way to accommodate the parade of boats making their way south on the Intracoastal.  They’ve got some meats, fresh greens, even unwashed fresh eggs.  Cruisers on many boats prefer their eggs unwashed because they don’t require refrigeration.  So even though it feels weird, we have a dozen eggs sitting on a shelf here on board even though we have a perfectly good fridge about 10 feet away from it.  I suppose chickens don’t pop out refrigerated eggs.  I also remember being in a Super Walmart in Mexico and seeing cases of cases of unrefrigerated eggs stacked high in the middle of the store.  Turns out, it’s kind of a a USA thing putting eggs in the fridge.

We’ve noticed that the dogs here in Oriental are largely FREE RANGE animals.  They all have homes.  They’re all wearing collars.  But many of them are allowed to roam around.   I think it’s kind of cool but Cindy worries about them getting run over.  So what happens is we walk down a block and a dog will run off the porch or the yard of a home and say hi to Willow.  Sometimes they walk with us for a while before going home.  Other times they stick around for a quick sniff and that’s it.  But Oriental seems like a great place to be a dog…  Or a human… Except.

The shrimp are delicious here.  The shrimping fleet is right off our bow!

Except for the hurricanes.  The Carolinas have a giant bullseye painted on them for any tropical stuff forming in the Atlantic.  And Oriental, being coastal and situated on the Neuse River, gets it hard when it comes.

Everywhere we look there’s evidence of what happened here about 50 days ago.  There are piles and piles of debris on the front lawns of many homes.  The street itself in some places has been completely destroyed with huge 7′ chunks of asphalt having been moved by the intense power of the floodwaters.  In our marina, the laundry room was submerged so the washer and dryer don’t work.

Some of the local businesses have reopened.  Some haven’t.  I think some never will.   And we are still about 70 miles or so from Wrightsville Beach which took the direct hit.

We have met some really cool and interesting people here in Oriental but my faves, by far, are fellow cruisers Kit and Dace on their absolutely gorgeous 50′ trawler, Sea Traveler.   Stuck together in Oriental while we figured our stuff out and they upgraded electronics, we shared a few great meals and some much needed drinks with this couple before they left us behind today and continued south without us.  They’re a bit older than us and I got a glimpse of what Cindy and I will probably be like a few years down the road.  I also got some inspiration and sage advice from Kit about my career.  I tend to reinvent myself every 10 years or so and I’m way overdue for the next chapter of my professional career.  I learned more from Kit than he probably knows.  We really enjoyed their company.

Kit and Dace aboard Sea Traveler

The past few days have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  We have gone from living the dream and getting closer and closer to the tropics to thinking about how to haul the boat and get home to thinking we might be able to fix the engine after all to deciding to buy an engine and forge forward.  There were moments — ok days where I lost my positive outlook but I had Cindy there to remind me that we are not the kind of people to give up on our dreams.  I don’t know what I would do without this amazing crazy person by my side.  Somehow, I’ve got her convinced that I know what I’m doing and can Captain this boat to Florida and maybe the Bahamas…  I better figure out how that’s happening.  🙂

Even though we aren’t going anywhere soon,  every day I pore over the charts planning the next legs of our adventure.  It’s amazing how close everything looks on the chart.  Today I considered that for every hour we travel on I-95 when driving, its about a day of boating — and we have not been cruising every day due to weather, exploring, or… engine troubles.  But now that we are south of Cape Hatteras and will (hopefully) soon be underway, I plan to make some significant progress south.  We aren’t in a rush.  But when I look at the charts and see the sheer number of miles ahead, I feel motivated to start knocking them down.  I don’t think I fully appreciated what a 1,500 mile boat trip was but I guess I’ll be more prepared for the trip home in the spring.

Aside from our friends and family, I’m not missing much.  I expected to.  It’s just not happening.  Our bed on board is very comfortable but a bit firmer than our super-thick pillow-top mattress at home.  We have our technology, a few laptops, phones, iPads.  Some clothes…  I find myself wondering what the heck we have this large home full of crap we don’t need back at home for.  I think it takes a trip like this to realize what you really need — and what you don’t.  I recommend that if at all possible, everyone try to cut themselves off for a few months.  And just as I say that, I realize how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to pull this off.

Our cozy bed on board.

For now, we are sort of just waiting to be towed over to the marina where we will be doing the engine swap.  Once the old engine is out, I’ll have some work to do cleaning out the bilge from 15 years of oily mess and I’ll probably paint the bilge but then I just sort of have to try and stay out of the way until its time to begin sea trials on the new engine.

Thanks for being interested enough in our journey to keep tuning in for updates.  I’ve heard from lots of people who are getting into the blog and that keeps me wanting to write.  

Capt Frank
S/V Mavis #816