Wed 18 Apr 2012
Anchored Sister's Creek near Jacksonville, FL
[photo: Flagler College, St. Augustine (we left the memory card out of the camera for today, so no pics to show!)]
Another restful night passed and we undertook preparations to make the 0700 opening of the Bridge of Lions, which runs on a restricted schedule so as not to inconvenience the motorists during rush hour times. Once again, I underestimated the benefit and timing of the current and we were making between 6 and 7 knots almost the entire way to our intended anchorage. Reaching the St. John's River, however, that same ebbing tide worked against us for about 20 minutes when we had to go up-current to Sister's Creek.
My buddies back in Punta Gorda will be happy to know that I used some of our oft-discussed strategies for bucking a current and they worked well. We were able to catch up to a sailboat that was motoring ahead of us and going faster, simply because he chose to stay in the deep water where the current was running the fastest against him.
Just before getting to the St. John's, we came close aboard the Stad Amsterdam, a square-rigged sailing vessel that was launched in 2000 for the niche charter trade. She is a gorgeous vessel. Shortly thereafter, we passed through the bascule bridge guarding Sister's Creek and looked for our intended anchorage - one recommended by participants on the web site, Active Captain.
I must humbly report that despite moving slowly and carefully, I ran us aground at 1220 when the depth went from 10 feet to 4 feet in a matter of seconds. You would think I could just back off at that point, but I think the combination of the current and wind had spun us around to the point where I didn't truly know where the deeper water was.
I tried to pivot off using rudder and propeller thrust, but it didn't get better, so I stopped. I knew the tide was almost at a low and would rise again in a few hours, and since this is the general spot we want to stop, I elected to let the tide do the work while we rested. One of us is keeping a watch above to see when we do float free.
Had this been more than 1 foot above low tide, we would not want to find out what happens when the boat is sitting on its flat wing keel and rudder several feet above the water level. I suspect strong wind or a large wake could topple the boat off its marginally stable perch and that would likely not be pleasant. To prevent that, I would have immediately brought an anchor out to deep water (I know generally where it is) and tried to use the boat's winch to pull us off.
Well, at 1600 we floated free with the rising tide. We moved about 200 feet and then anchored in 8 feet of water near low tide. As we floated off the mound, we went from shallow to really deep in seconds. Now for the rest of the story: Knowing we were waiting a few hours for the tide to change, I dropped the dinghy off the davits, put down the swim ladder, donned my rubber water shoes and got in the water to scrub the waterline, which was filthy. It took over two hours to clean the topsides (hull above the waterline) and scrub the waterline. I must admit it is a lot easier standing in chest deep water than leaning over a dinghy to do it. It was not quite the restful afternoon that we had anticipated, but all worked out fine.
A little comment about unexpected problems: it is very easy for one or the other in a couple to say something in snippy way that triggers the other person to react badly. Bad feelings can quickly escalate from there. It has happened to us as it does all couples, but I am very happy to report that we have both been very calm about any potentially tense situations and that makes a world of difference.
Before dinner, we took Clyde ashore to the launch ramp/park across the waterway about 200 yards from our anchorage. Diane put a double harness on him and kept control the entire time. He wasn't all that thrilled, but it was nice to get us all off the boat to enjoy a little walk. Dinner was the simplest we have had yet (hot dogs, sauerkraut, and macaroni salad), but still very tasty.
We planned the next few days and it will be Fernandina Beach, Cumberland Island (now into Georgia) and then Jekyll Island. This is a good time to note that we will have taken 20 days to get out of Florida, when we could have driven to that same spot in less than 6 hours by car from our home in Punta Gorda. That is the cruising life!
Tue 17 Apr 2012
Mooring Ball at Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine, FL
When the wind died down several hours after dark, the anchorage became very comfortable and we slept soundly. After a week of eating whole grain cereal, low-fat milk, and fresh fruit, I made us a fried egg sandwich with a slice on bacon on top. It was quite good and not too caloric compared to many breakfasts one could have.
We talked about our next stop in St. Augustine and the fact that there is a much more extensive fort to visit there, so we decided to leave early for the short trek north. I had originally thought the ebbing tide would cause us, very near the inlet, to have a very foul current for a long time. It turned out to be a modestly foul current, but only for a short time. What I had not realized is that the ebbing tide at St. Augustine's inlet would be very powerful and it started carrying us along at great speed before long. At a power setting that might normally give us 5.3 knots, we were doing 6.6 to 7.0 knots much of the time. Needless to say, our short trip was even shorter than expected.
We picked up a mooring assignment and got settled in. We telephoned Adam, our friends' son, and he popped by in his runabout boat. We made plans to meet for dinner in town with his girlfriend, Renee, and then we got ready to go ashore with our bikes in the dinghy.
St. Augustine's downtown (at the W side of the Bridge of Lions) is extremely charming and beautiful, but it tough to get around by car or bike. This section of town is very old, so the streets and the sidewalks are extremely narrow. Walking or taking the trolley seems to be the best way to get around.
Nevertheless, we biked to the old fort, where we spent an hour enjoying the history and views from the ramparts. Then we biked/walked through much of the touristy shopping area concentrated near the marina/bridge, and eventually got away from the crowded narrow streets to areas where we could bike with less danger and apprehension.
It was quite hot in the sun, despite the strong breeze, so we stopped for a cold beer at an outside Cuban restaurant; it tasted very good! Our last mission was to find the local convenience store to get a quart of milk and some bread, and then it was back to the boat. We didn't get to rest long because we needed to leave again in an hour to go ashore with our "fancy" clothes and shower gear, get all cleaned up, and then meet Adam and Renee for dinner.
We have not been eating many meals out so far because it is expensive, and we realize that we eat healthier and less food when we cook on the boat. Tonight was an exception in that Renee (who works at that restaurant, Harry's) wanted us to try some really excellent (and rich) appetizers. Even sticking to a seafood soup and small entrees, we busted our calorie count for today. Come to think of it, though, we did not eat lunch at all, so we can't feel too guilty.
After a nice visit with our hosts, we left the restaurant and came back to Diva Di to relax, blog, and go to sleep.
Mon 16 Apr 2012
Anchored off Ft. Matanzas, FL
It turned out to be a very nice overnight anchorage in moderate weather and we both slept wonderfully. At 0700 we requested the first opening for the bascule (draw) bridge less than a mile north and started our day's run. As expected there was no sailing wind until halfway through, but the scenery along the way was intermittently interesting.
Once the wind picked up, we put out the headsail and enjoyed ever-increasing benefit from the sail. At one point, our nominal 5.5 knots at 2000 RPM became 7.2 knots with the wind and a fair (helping) current. That surely helped turn our estimated 10 hour run into just over 8 hours. I have also learned that arriving earlier than the initial estimate makes me a hero, and conversely, bearing the bad news that my optimistic arrival time cannot be met makes the admiral unhappy.
Because the wind was abaft us all day, I was smelling faint traces of gasoline, which could only come from the dinghy (with its gas tank and engine) or the spare gas can lashed to the aft deck. I assumed that it was the gas fumes escaping through the vent as the warm sun heated the tank. It was only after we anchored and tried to use the dinghy that I realized that the fuel hose near the engine connector had a small hole. Fortunately, within 3 minutes I was able to cut off the damaged inch of hose and reinstall the connector.
We stopped for fuel 45 minutes shy of arriving at the anchorage, and we are still averaging less than 0.6 gallons per hour. Our miles per gallon went up to almost 12 statute miles per gallon due to the benefit of the wind over the past few days. The anchorage we chose is just NW of the old Fort Matanzas which was built centuries ago to guard against attack of St. Augustine from the southern river approach. The Matanzas Inlet is just SE of us and the current rips through here pretty strong, but our anchor is holding well. At 1930, the tidal current reversed and our anchor is still holding.
After a 30 minute anchor watch when we first arrived, we lowered the dinghy and traveled up-current and upwind about a half mile to a nice little sandy beach to the SE. There were perhaps a dozen folks fishing, sunning, or swimming (the water is 76F) along a quarter mile stretch, but we had our section all to ourselves.
Diane really enjoyed lying in the fine sugar-soft sand and reading her book. Duane strolled thigh-deep in the water and then finally lay down in the shade of some pretty coniferous trees to read - that is until he realized he had forgotten his reading glasses. Oh well. It was a great time to just drink in the scenery and wonderful temperatures and thank God for all our many blessings.
Back at Diva Di, we found our slumbering cat who didn't seem to notice we were gone. Dinner was the same really yummy meal we had last night and then it was time to check email and blog. We don't consider it too much of a distraction, but we have a number of friends and acquaintances who are cruising right now, too, so we are following their adventures via the Internet.
At the moment, our boat is doing that weird dance that occurs when the current holds the boat in one orientation and the wind is pushing in a different direction. It is a bit unsettling, but goes away once the wind strength is overpowered by the current.
Time for bed; looking forward to a tour of the Fort by the National Park Rangers tomorrow.
Sun 15 Apr 2012
Anchored in New Smyrna Beach, FL
After a very restful night where the wind blew only moderately, we cast off the lines at 0650 and proceeded north. The winds were near 10 knots, but coming from directly astern so there was not enough to help. It was a somewhat boring ride for a few hours, and then the wind picked up a little and we could motor-sail a bit. That gives Duane something to do as he can then tweak the sheet (control line) to get the optimal sail shape and speed.
As a commentary about how cruising on a simple boat challenges you to manage resources wisely, Diane correctly noted that since we would have abundant sunshine, and failing that, abundant energy from the engine's alternator, she would defrost our tiny freezer during the early portion of the run. Once that was done, it would make the refrigerator compressor run harder until everything was nice and cold again, which consumes more energy. So, it makes sense to do that only when you are sure to have ample energy to recover. What a gal!
At one point, the ICW makes a sharp turn to the NE, and then the wind direction was what we call close-hauled for the sail had to be made as tight and close to the boat as possible. We were idling the engine, but still moving at 6.6 knots from wind power, which is pretty fast for our boat, especially using only the headsail. That very exhilarating run came to an end when we reached the "haulover" bridge across the haulover canal that NASA uses for the space center just to the east of us.
After the canal, we turned northerly again and for a long stretch we were in a fairly narrow section with numerous fish camps and mobile home parks on the E side and lots of small islands on the W. We passed many hundreds of people over a dozen miles and 90% were fishing. It certainly was an interesting bit of Americana. Unfortunately, we did not take any photos.
Once we got to New Smyrna Beach, the waterway was teeming with activity and the "free" town docks we planned to use were in a state of construction that meant we were not going to even attempt docking there. We chose a tight, but very pleasant anchoring location just off the channel with great protection from the SE winds that were blowing. I should mention here that the winds continued to build, as forecast, and we had our headsail pulling strong for much of the last half of the trip. That, plus a favorable current got us to our day's destination in 8 hours instead of 10.
After ensuring the anchor was well set, we got the dinghy off the davits and loaded in the bicycles. We got permission from the nice dock master at the city marina to land the dinghy and then took off to explore the town. The downtown area is just a few blocks from the marina and it is interesting. It definitely has that 1950s feel to it, and some establishments (like the soda fountain) go out of their way to replicate that look and feel. Even though it was only 1600 (4 pm), ALL the stores were closed, even the few eating establishments. It may be a city or county prohibition, or just economic sense.
With our 10 minute ride through the downtown complete, we headed south along the river against the wind until we decided we had seen enough. There were many homes on that road that were very nice and/or interesting in their architecture. We reversed the procedure with the bikes and dinghy ride and were soon eating the meal we prepared yesterday.
There was a lot of time spent with options for the next few days and finally concluded that we do need to make some miles again tomorrow to get to St. Augustine the day after.
Sat 14 Apr 2012
Cocoa Village Marina, Cocoa, FL
[photo: Cocoa village Playhouse]
Our choice to stay at the marina, and especially in this portion where we are protected from the strong SE winds, was a good one. The wind howled last night (along with a little welcome rain) and it continues to blow this morning. It is forecast to be mostly cloudy all day, so that will put a damper on the battery charging by our solar panels. We can easily go a day on just batteries and they will charge fully tomorrow when we are motor-sailing for 10 hours.
It is now 1500 and we are both pretty beat. The morning was completely overcast and very breezy so the boat was cool, although not cold. Before dawn, we were up and went over to start the laundry. The office/lounge wasn't yet open so I read on the veranda for a bit - very relaxing.
Diane suggested I make the meal for tomorrow since we might not get to stop until near dark. It is a delicious medley of onions, peppers, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and pieces of poached chicken all mixed with tortellini pasta in a homemade basil pesto we brought from home. It only took one large pot because you just cook in batches. It takes longer but makes for less fuss and easier clean-up.
While Duane was cooking, Diane had a one-hour workout trying to make the v-berth mattress up with sheets. She really was frustrated with it and all I could do was offer words of encouragement. After that there were the minor repairs to be done after securing the parts yesterday. That all went successfully and then we got the bicycles down from their current location hoisted alongside the mainsail cover. Having them up there frees up a lot of room in the aft cabin, but the first attempt to use them showed that it is more time consuming with them there. We will see what works best.
Our ride was a good one and fairly strenuous at times due to the strong wind and the surprising hills. The downtown area and the park south of the bridge are really nice, but the rest that we saw was not all that impressive. The streets are very narrow and the sidewalks are both narrow and mostly broken up. That is not to say we don't like it here; it just wasn't a friendly place to ride for us.
Back at Diva Di, I got out our water hose and filled the water tanks, then started scrubbing the decks. We have no idea how the boat gets so filthy. An hour of that and I was ready for a break. Diane is already napping.
We enjoyed appetizers and drinks on the veranda at the marina building while Jack got the grill going. Part way through, Mike from the marina took us to tour his 35 foot catamaran. It is always a good idea to see other boats and what you like and dislike about them.
Duane steamed the asparagus in a foil pouch on the grill and then added the marinated flank steak. Back on Jack and Elise's boat, we added some potatoes and a green salad and had a feast (but with moderate portions - scale at the supermarket says I am down 5 pounds so far and I feel like it).
We said our goodbyes and Diane and I remarked how we had been together with them numerous times back home, but never got to know them like we did over these two short days. It was great.
Fri 13 Apr 2012
Cocoa Village Marina, Cocoa, FL
Well, the actual wind strength and direction was not quite as forecast; it was stronger and more southerly, so our anchorage location was not the best, although here we only had a choice of this anchorage or a marina. We can't afford to make this cruise if we have to stay in marinas more than one-quarter of our time.
As I type this, it is just after 0300; I have been wide awake since 0130 because the boat has been rockin' and rollin' since we went to bed at 2100. The anchor is holding fine and it isn't dangerous or scary, but just uncomfortable.
I have used some of this time to crunch more numbers (hey, it is something I enjoy doing) and it looks like we are slightly behind a pace that will get us to Penobscot Bay, Maine a few weeks before the halfway point in time. We both have no desire to average longer days underway, so it just might be that we elect to leave the boat in storage somewhere in the Carolinas on the way back. That option has lots of drawbacks, but it might be better than rushing this cruise.
We had a very enjoyable short run today with the wind off our starboard quarter and that allowed us to run the engine at a more fuel sipping power setting while still maintaining over 5.5 knots on average. Cocoa appeared after just 3.5 hours and we got settled into our slip at Cocoa Village Marina, which we highly recommend. The daily rate is not bad and the facilities are very nice (with the exception that there is no pool). Backing into the slip with the winds was a challenge, but we handled it pretty well with the very important assistance of the dock hand. Diane is getting back her boat skills s she gets to use them every day.
After settling in, our good friends from Punta Gorda, Jack and Elise, strolled over from their boat to visit. It was a great time and then we set about with boat chores and preparing for a chauffeured vehicle to take us to get boat parts and food. Cocoa is a nice town, with mostly working folks (as opposed to the numerous retirees we see at home in Punta Gorda). We were pretty successful and after stowing our booty, we went aboard Jack and Elise's Hatteras for Happy Hour.
A short stroll took us to the cute downtown area (like a miniature version of Stuart) where we dined at Thai Thai and loved it. [Marinas, restaurants - what is happening to these people?!] On the way from their boat, a gust of wind carried Duane's SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Assoc.) hat off his head into the water and out of reach. I have lost my SSCA hat irretrievably twice in the past, so Diane and I just laughed and remarked that I just wasn't meant to have an SSCA hat. Jack said it might just wash ashore later, but I insisted we ignore it and go to eat. As Diane and I were relaxing in the cockpit several hours later with a nightcap, Jack sauntered up with my wet cap that he had retrieved from the shoreline. What a guy!
Tomorrow, we will stay here again to avoid having to anchor in an unfavorable spot in the strong forecasted winds. Then we expect to make a loooong (10 hour) run up to New Symrna Beach on Sunday. Talking to Jack, who has boated up and down this coast a fair bit, there are not that many good places for a slow boat to stop after a reasonable day's run, especially if you are trying to seek shelter from winds for an anchorage.
In that vein, our friends, John and Marilyn, are selling their beautiful sailboat to get a power cat (also quite beautiful) that will go over twice the distance in the same time as our boats. That will allow them to make, say, 50-60 mile runs between more desirable ports and then stay two days there, rather than what we are doing. Considering that this ICW cruise is almost exclusively motoring, their choice makes a lot of sense.