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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!