Christmas in Stuart

A belated Merry Christmas from the crew of S/V Mavis.  We have been here in Stuart, FL for about a month now at the awesome Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage.  We’re settling in nicely here into somewhat of a normal life on board in Stuart.

Back in the summer when this trip was being dreamed up, I had identified this comfortable and very conveniently located marina.  Even in the early planning stages, it was clear that this would be an ideal place to stay put for a month or two after the trip down the coast.  Since being here we have not been disappointed!  We have everything we need here in Stuart including lots of really great restaurants.  We are enjoying eating outdoors most of the time and Willow is usually with us.  Stuart, unlike Vero Beach where we were before here, is a very dog-friendly city.

Although we had hoped to get a slip, our unexpected 18 day layover in Oriental, NC caused us to arrive late and all the slips were taken by the time we got here.  There’s now an 80 boat waiting list for slips!  So we grabbed a mooring ball instead and now call mooring #32 home. 

Mooring #32 at the Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage is home for now!

There are advantages and disadvantages to being on a mooring.  But perhaps I should explain what a mooring is for our less-salty readers.  A mooring is simply a permanent anchoring system that involves some chain or cable securely anchored to the seabed.  At the top of the chain or cable is usually a big floating ball and a line called a pennant to which boats attach themselves. 

These moorings are often organized into large fields that are spaced so that ideally, boats wont come into contact with one another when swinging around in the winds and currents.   The field here at Sunset Bay is well laid out and maintained and the anchorage is somewhat protected from wind and waves.  Most nights we sleep very comfortably here.   More on that later.

So what are the advantages of a mooring vs. a slip?  One huge advantage is price.  Our mooring is costing about half of what the slip would have cost.    I’d still prefer the slip but dockage bills really add up. 

Another advantage is privacy.  There’s nobody walking by on the dock and we get lots of fresh breezes out here.  There are other boats all around us but its nice being sort of detached from everything.  And speaking of being detached… 

There are some disadvantages too.  One is that we are not connected to shore power which means we need to be careful with our energy usage.  Even though our solar panel is getting lots and lots of sunlight down here, our house battery bank is small.  We haven’t had any trouble keeping the lights on and running and charging our laptops and phones but when we need more power for the microwave or something else we just use our generator.  We have used it once in the month we have been floating here.

Then there’s poop.  Mavis has a holding tank for all of the nastiness that happens in the single toilet we have on board.  Every few weeks or so, the Martin County pump out boat comes and empties us out.  It’s free and super convenient.  We don’t even have to be on board.  I just have to add us to the list and magically — our holding tank is empty when we return to the boat!

Another minor inconvenience is that there’s no hose out here with which to keep our water tanks topped off.  This means every couple of trips back and forth to the boat on the dinghy, I bring our 5 gallon jerry jug and dump it into our fresh water tanks.  It’s a pain in the neck but it seems to be working just fine.  We haven’t been showering on board but using the marina’s facilities instead so we really aren’t using much water.  It would be nice to be able to hose the boat down but the other day we were expecting storms and torrential rains so I got the deck cleaner and a brush out and gave Mavis a much needed scrubbing.  I just left the soap there and before long the rain came and washed the decks off.  The next morning, I woke up to sparkling decks.  

But the biggest inconvenience of being on a mooring, by far, is that every time we want to go to or from the boat, we need to get on the dinghy and take a 5 minute ride over to the marina’s dinghy dock.  If we didn’t have Willow on board it wouldn’t be so bad but she needs to get to shore often and it’s no fun taking her to the bathroom after the sun has set or when the wind is howling.  We are making it work though.  Getting in the dinghy has become routine… Sort of like getting in the car.  Most days we get off the boat in the morning and don’t return until the evening anyway.  

The dinghy dock at the aptly named Sunset Bay Marina.

The marina has a resort feel to it with a coffee shop and an excellent restaurant and bar right on the dock.  There are also chairs and tables on a large patio and deck area.  And it’s a great place to watch the sun set.  During the week, we often set up our “office” at one of the tables and find that we can operate just fine this way!  Our favorite table gets sunlight filtered by the palm trees and it just a few feet from the marina’s Christmas tree which fills the air with the scent of fresh pine.  It’s been weird listening to Christmas music and smelling that tree while sitting in shorts and tee-shirts but I’ve gotten quite used to it.

Sunset at Sunset Bay Marina

A few weeks ago I booked a flight back to New York with the intention of flying home to get one of our cars.  The flight arrived in Islip at 10:15pm and by 12:15, I was in our Honda heading south.  About 19 hours later I was back at the marina and exhausted.  I spent a few minutes in our big beautiful home before leaving to get back to our little floating home in Florida.  While there, I realized just how big that house is and confirmed my thoughts that we really don’t need that much house anymore.  

We have been enjoying our time in Stuart.  There are lots of great restaurants and shops and now that we have our car we have easy access to anything we need.  I even joined Crossfit Jensen Beach and got my first workout in two months in.  It’s amazing how quickly one’s fitness level deteriorates!  I’m working on it but I feel weak…  I need to get my head in the game and maybe have a few less rum-drinks.

Last week, our friends Michelle and James flew in to visit and it was great to have them on board.  We don’t miss too much except for our friends and family and are expecting more visitors this winter.  In fact, we were thrilled to hear our beloved crew member Babou booked a flight down in mid January!

Dinner on board with friends.

The weather has been mostly pleasant with some days in the 80s and a few in the low 60s.  But that’s winter down here.  Every time I catch myself even thinking about complaining about “the cold” I remind myselff that it’s freezing back home in NY.  Yes, it still feels chilly to be out on a dinghy after dark in the wind and chop on those nights when it gets down into the 40s overnight but fortunately that doesn’t happen often.  In fact, most days have been pretty darn perfect.  

As you would expect, we’ve been to the beach a bunch!  There are lots of really nice beaches on Hutchinson Island, Jupiter Island and Singer Island and we are learning where the dog-friendly spots are.  Willow has taken up a new hobby.  She enjoys retrieving floating coconuts from the ocean and pulling their husks off.  No matter how many times I throw them back in, she is happy to swim out and bring them back to shore. 

One of the local beaches we recently discovered is called Bathtub Reef Beach.  The reef there is near shore which makes it a nice place to snorkel.  That reef also keeps the water calm and warm.

Some Beach. Somewhere.






Most nights have been very comfortable on board but Mavis is a light boat and as a result we hear every little wave slapping against her hulls.  I don’t even notice it anymore and enjoy it when the boat gets moving around but we DID have a pretty dramatic day on board last week.

Winds were expected to be in the high 20s with occasional gusts to 45 and 55 possible.  Most of the day the winds howled between 25 and 30.  We didn’t want to ride ashore in the dinghy because even though the winds would be behind us, coming back would be a wet experience and the winds were not expected to lay down until late that evening.

So we sat on board the whole day.  Willow really needed to get ashore to use the bathroom but she had to hold it.  We were sitting in the salon with the hatches open when Willow suddenly got up from her spot under the dining table and ran into one one of the guest cabins where she hopped up onto the bed and curled up in a tight little ball.  That’s odd, I thought and I went in the cabin to check on her…  Just as I got there I heard Cindy scream “something’s coming…”  I looked up and through the hatch I could see the sky had darkened quite a bit.  And then the wind started to pick up.  It was one — LONG and powerful gust that probably lasted about a minute and seemed to steadily increase in strength the whole time.  The hatches were pinned open by the intense winds but we managed to get them closed as the rain started.  The wind through the hatches had blown a mug and a pair or sunglasses across the cabin!  I went to the cockpit to have a look and that’s when I saw part of our screecher headsail coming unfurled near the top.  I ran forward, finding it hard to stand in the wind.  The kayak, which Cindy had lashed to the bow rail was in the air, straining against the lashings…  As I got to the bow, the screecher was partially open, flapping itself to shreds.  I managed to get the sail down but not before it sustained a 3 foot tear.  As I was doing this, Cindy was yelling something about the dinghy…  Which was tied to Mavis’ stern and flying around like a kite.  We are lucky the dinghy didn’t flip over because our new outboard motor would not like that but we did manage to lose our fuel jug, a lifejacket and a hand pump in the blow.  I’m hoping our sail can be repaired and will get it to the sail loft soon.  If not, replacing will cost a few thousand dollars…  Ugh.  BOATING.

When we finally got back to shore we saw the marina’s Christmas tree had been flipped and tables and chairs were rearranged.  I learned later that we weren’t the only boat that sustained sail damage and that a few minutes before the wind hit, the marina got a call warning them that 70 knot winds were coming.  It was pretty scary there for a few minutes!  I’m glad we were attached to a sturdy mooring. 

We spent Christmas at the marina.  There was a cruiser’s pot-luck dinner and every boat made a dish and brought it.  Cindy’s son, Steve and his wife Jenn live nearby and we got to see them too!  We talked boats and adventure with our fellow cruisers, FaceTimed with family and friends and before we knew it, the warmest Christmas we have ever had was over.

Steve and Jenn came over for Christmas

We plan on staying here in Stuart for a while and aren’t sure where we are off to next.  All of the marinas from here to Miami are full for the season and we have a new issue…  Cindy’s passport is expired and the government is presently shut down.  We are hoping to be able to make the jump to the Bahamas but if we don’t I’m still okay.  The objective for Operation: Southern Migration was to extend our boating season and escape the Long Island winter.  We have been successful!  Anything else we get is a bonus.  We are contemplating sailing over to the gulf to check out Florida’s west coast.

That’s pretty much it for now. 

Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of S/V Mavis.


We Bought a Boat!

Anyone who knows us well will tell you that for years we have had a dream of sailing off to explore new places and to escape the New York winters on a cruising sailboat.

We’re pleased to announce that we just took a huge step toward making that dream a reality with the purchase of a sailing catamaran!

The dream of doing long range cruising had been sort of put on the back burner for a few years. We were taking care of Cindy’s mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s which made it very difficult to take a vacation, nonetheless sail away for weeks or months at a time.  When her mother sadly passed away last September, there was suddenly one less excuse to not do it now.

As small business owners we can effectively work from anywhere we have solid internet service.  And  as cellular data coverage has been steadily improving over the years, the places we can work from have increased pretty dramatically. So there’s another excuse shot down.

Then, of course, there’s finances. Purchasing, maintaining, and running a cruising boat is not an inexpensive undertaking. I had been searching and fantasizing for years looking at all sorts of boats. Monohulls, catamarans, even trawlers and tugs. Cindy really doesn’t like the way monohull sailboats heel when underway. We sailed a Catalina 25 together for many years and I agree that cruising on a 10 to 25 degree bank gets old.  We both really love the interior space and flat-sailing that catamarans offered… But they’re pretty expensive. We had catamaran dreams and a modest monohull budget.

Our dream cats are the Fountaine Pajots, Leopards and Lagoons in the 40 to 44 foot range.  Not only are these quite expensive to purchase, but operating them would be out of our budget unless we sold everything… And we’re not quite ready to abandon land life entirely just yet.

I had discovered, in my internet searches a small catamaran called a Gemini, with their most popular model being the Gemini 105mc. These little 34’ cats featured a single diesel engine, shallow draft (as little as 18” with the boards and rudders up) and a narrow beam by catamaran standards of just 14’ which means they fit in most normal marina slips. Inside are three staterooms, a large airy salon and a full head with shower. The master stateroom features a queen sized bed, a deep closet and lots of drawers. The aft staterooms are a little snug but two people can definitely sleep in them… if they really like each other.

It was late fall and my plan was to find a boat down in Florida, purchase her over the winter, stay on board getting her shaken down and then to sail her back home in the spring. I had found a number of boats to look at and was about to head down to Miami when I came across a listing in Virginia. It was for a boat a few years older than the ones I was looking at but the price was right. So on a whim, Cindy and I hopped into our car on her birthday, December 17 and drove 8 hours south to Matthews, Va to check her out.

What we found was basically what I expected. We had looked at number of these boats and this one was pretty much the same.  It had about 800 hours on the diesel and had some gel coat spider cracks which the Gemini is notorious for.  There was no air conditioning but it had the factory cockpit enclosure which was in excellent shape.  The interior was clean so we made an offer subject to survey and sea trial.

Mavis in the ice at Deltaville Marina.
s/v Mavis in the ice at Deltaville Marina.

The holidays were upon us so we had to wait until after Christmas for the survey and sea trial and in the days leading up to the big day, the Deltaville VA area experienced record low temperatures which caused many of the creeks and rivers in the area to freeze solid. I was later told the last time this happened was about 40 years ago.

Somehow things worked out and we were able to get out on the boat and we concluded our sea trial and survey. The surveyor found a few areas of wet core near the bow and there were a few minor things but no real surprises or show stoppers. We renegotiated the price for the survey findings and sent a wire transfer and just like that. We owned a 2003 Gemini 105mc.

Mavis being power washed after haul out.

Presently named M/T Pockets (an apt name for just about any boat), she is being recommissioned as s/v Mavis.  With the boat about 500 miles away from home, getting the many projects done means a 7 hour drive each way.  We have done this a few times already and had her hauled out at Deltaville Boatyard where she will stay on the hard until her launch in early April.  We hope to have her sorted out and shaken down for the sail home in the spring which will take us up almost the entire length of the Chesapeake Bay, through the C&D canal to the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, past Cape May and out into the Atlantic Ocean for the straight shot to Fire Island Inlet.

Stay Tuned.

Capt Frank