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s/v Far Niente - Cruising Log
Spring 2015 - The Florida Keys
At long last
04/26/2013, Marathon, FL

Well it is about time, is it not?

To answer a few inquiries I recently received; no we did not sail off into the 3rd world without internet access.

The truth is I got really lazy about posting regular updates to the blog this winter. I had plenty of boat projects to keep me busy, some consulting work, and plenty of great times at the Harbour Cay Club (HCC) in Marathon, FL where Far Niente was (and currently is, but more about that later) berthed. It just did not seem worthwhile or exciting to write "I scrapped 40' of teak today in preparation for new coats of Cetol." Or "The %^&*@#-ing holding tank vent is clogged!" You get the idea.

We enjoyed some really nice weather in the early winter and then some unseasonably cool weather in March. Friends and family came down to visit and we almost always had something to do or a place to go. All in all the weather here beat the weather in even central and north Florida for most of the winter, little alone the weather points further north.

In April we headed north up the Gulf coast of Florida to visit family and explore a bit. We sailed out of Marathon and made stops outside the Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island, Fort Myers Beach and Venice. Then after a week visiting, we headed back south to the Keys as we cannot transit the Okeechobee due to low bridge height/mast height. We planned to sail back down to the Keys and stop in either Key West or the Boot Key side of Marathon.

Along the way (leg from Fort Myers Beach to Marco Island) I noticed a problem with the alternator. Given that it is the original alternator the factory installed on the boat back in '99 and now has over 2000 hours on it, we decided to head back to HCC and get it replaced before sailing back north to South Carolina. It clearly needs rebuilt but will wait until we get back to South Carolina, our northern most destination this summer.

We now wait on the correct replacement alternator (the wrong one was ordered) to be shipped and hopefully installed early (Monday?) next week. As the chorus goes in my favorite Eric Stone song "It'll be ready tomorrow."

Speaking of Eric Stone. Eric has moved to Islamorada and now performs throughout the Keys. I saw him 3 times at Salty's this season.

So, once we are up and running again we will begin to move north toward South Carolina, weather permitting of course.

Christmas in The Keys
12/21/2012, Harbour Cay Club, Marathon, FL

PHOTO ABOVE: Far Niente tied off at the Harbour Cay Club.

Nothing says you are a cruiser like sailing down and spending Christmas and New Years in the islands, or in our case the wonderful Florida Keys. I am really looking forward to working on my tan on Christmas Day with a glass of rum punch versus say, an egg nog by the fireplace. But that's just me.

Our arrival and the Harbour Cay Club (HCC) was proceeded by a 31 hour, 225 nm off shore passage from Vero Beach, FL to Marathon via the Hawk Channel. This plan required us to navigate the northern portion of the Hawk Channel at night, which we did back in winter 2010/2011. You have to have faith in your chart plotter/navigation system as many of the channel marks are not lit. It was especially dark Wednesday night as the moon set just as we passed the Miami commercial inlet. We really wanted and needed to get to HCC by Christmas, as it appeared weather was coming in right on our stern as we motor sailed south along the Florida east coast. The front came in this morning and we enjoy 25 knot north/northeast winds as Far Niente is tied off at HCC.

Here are the details of our transit legs down to HCC.

St. Augustine to Daytona Beach
Distance: 47.4 nm
Move Tine: 7:34
After 3 days of fog, and one day of celebrating our cruising friend Bill's 70th birthday, we looked forward to a straightforward leg. Some 47 nm later, we anchored just after 4:00 pm right off the ICW in the Halifax River, just south of the Halifax Harbor Marina and north of Red '44'. As we were getting ready to sit down and relax, a very strange sound blasted from my iPhone. I picked it up and found an Emergency Weather Alert on the screen. "Tornado Warning for Daytona Beach." I pulled up the weather radar app on the phone and sure enough, a very nasty line of thunderstorms was clipping along and headed toward our location. By 6:00 pm most of the primary squall nastiness had passed south of us towards where, we learned the next morning, there were 50 some homes severely damaged by wind and perhaps a tornado. Forecast for the next day was more of the same with storms forecast to arrive in early afternoon. We opted to head to New Smyrna Beach and tie up dockside. It was a short 12 nm ride and we could leave in morning once other transient boats depart the marina to make room for us.

Daytona Beach to New Smyrna Beach
Distance: 12.7 nm
Move Tine: 2:13, 3:00 total with grounding
At just after 7:00 am our call to New Smyrna Beach (NSB) City Marina was made. They weren't sure if there was space as none of the other transient boats had yet departed. We received a call back about 9 am and told us they had room, so we hauled anchor and motored south. To get to NSB you must transit a cut to avoid going into the Ponce deLeon inlet. It is notorious for being shallow and tides here run 3-4'. Our departure time put us in the cut just before low tide. Great. Just as we cleared Red '2' we saw shoaling down to only inches under the keel but it quickly deepened and we motored south at a speed that would allow us to catch the 11:20 am opening of the Coronado lie t bridge. As we approached the point where the cut joins the Ponce inlet (another area notorious for shoaling) we proceeded slowly with a course mid-way between Red '18' and the Green/Red lateral mark. There was a second red bout just east of '18' indicating more shoaling and I planned to pass it well east to avoid the shallow water. Suddenly, bump. Stop.

In mid channel, with about 6" above low tide we had run aground. I immediately tried to reverse but my experience has been once you get the full keel on the ground you are immobile.

Now if this had been any other day we would have waited until 3 pm when the tide was back up another 1.5 ' and float off. But the reason we were here in the first place was the specter of the early afternoon thunderstorms with possible tornados. I promptly called TOWBOAT U.S., a MUST HAVE towing insurance and service for every boater. The tow boat and captain arrived a mere 15 minutes later. He quickly sounded the area to find the best way to pull Far Niente off the shoal. We attached the tow harness to Far Niente and the tow boat pulled the bow 90 degrees. Suddenly Far Niente was off the shoal only to hit ground again as the tow boat tried to pull Far Niente into the deeper water in the channel. After another maneuver by the tow boat and we were free again.

We processed the paperwork as we waited for the noon opening of the Coronado lift bridge. We tied off at the NSB City Marina at 12:15 pm.

New Smyrna Beach to Cocoa Beach
Distance: 45.3 nm
Move Tine: 6:29
We arrived Cocoa Beach at 3:45 pm and dropped the Rocna in 10' of water just south of the 65' bridge that connects the mainland to Merritt Island. The sun was out, the storms were gone and for the first time since we arrived in Florida, it was warm enough to take shoes and shirt off. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and a cold frosty libation sitting of the deck. Finally feels like Florida. Off to Vero Beach tomorrow.

Cocoa Beach to Vero Beach
Distance: 47 nm
Move Tine: 6:47
We planned a few days at Vero Beach City Marina on a mooring. This is a very popular place for cruisers to stage from. So popular that it is one of the only places we have moored where as many as 3 boats share one mooring. I called and made our reservation and asked about space but could not secure any guarantee we'd enjoy our own 'ball'. We arrived around 2:00 pm and swung into the fuel dock for diesel and a pump out. I put on 75 gallons of diesel and learned we had mooring #27 which was empty. Excellent. I did not really want to approach and then try tie off to another vessel when the owner/captain was not on board.

We planned on staying 3 nights so we could provision mail Christmas gifts and wait on weather. There looked to be an opening on Wednesday and we started thinking about a nonstop transit to Marathon to arrive before Christmas and beat a major cold front pushing down from the north. We really like the whole Vero set up and experience but we did not want to get stuck here as so many do. Hence the nickname of 'Velcro Beach',

Vero Beach to Marathon (HCC)
Distance: 225 nm
Move Tine: 30:49
The stars aligned and we had our weather window.

We departed Vero right after sunrise, motored south 13 nm and hit the Ft. Pierce inlet just a bit before slack tide. Great timing; the currents here (ebb/flood) run up to 3.5 knots and in the past have made for some interesting entrances from the Atlantic when we experienced wind against the tide. Once out in the Atlantic winds were very light and out of the south. Yani was cranking away and we made 7.3 knots as we traveled south about 3 miles off the Florida coast. We were hoping the forecast wind shift to the east would occur so we could raise and carry sail.

Wind moved to the southeast mid-afternoon as we approached the Lake Worth inlet. But it was very light. Seas were a calm 2'-3'. It is at this general latitude where south bound vessels start to experience the northerly Gulf Stream current. It comes very close to shore here and can reach 2 knots. We saw 1-1.5 knots northerly and we slowed down proportionally. Far Niente pressed on south and the wind built a bit, but not enough to overcome the Gulf Stream current.

We hit the Ft. Lauderdale (aka Port Everglades) inlet at dark and were thankful that the usual parade of massive cruise ships exiting the port was not happening. We pressed on south toward Miami. Once in Miami we encountered quite a bit of traffic including in bound and out bound cargo ships and a slew of large motor yachts anchored just off the coast lit up like small cities. We slalomed through the traffic and proceeded toward the Biscayne light as the moon set and the wind built. Now south of the Gulf Stream's current, we picked up speed and made 7.5+ knots. The Hawk Channel was dark as can be and we navigated by chart plotter and radar. By day break we were abeam of Key Largo and the wind started to fall off a bit but the seas were quite confused. We proceeded southwest through the Hawk Channel in seas as rough as we have yet experienced. Fortunately it was sunny and warm, so the rolly beams seas were almost tolerable. At 2:00 pm after close to 31 hours, we were greeted at the docks of HCC by several of our friends; both HCC members and some fellow cruisers we met in past seasons.

Time to enjoy the ambiance of Marathon and HCC. We are happy to be back here for a 3rd season.

Our Winter 2013 Southern Tour Begins
12/07/2012, Mooring #30, St. Augustine Municipal Marina

Our Winter 2013 Southern Tour Begins

Departure/Arrival: 1:25 PM Dec-5 Port Royal / 2:20 PM Dec-6 St. Augustine
Distance: 172 nm (130 nm offshore, 42 nm ICW)
Time: 24:55

It appeared as if we had a 24 hour window to make our way to Florida. If we missed it we ma have found ourselves in SC for another week or more.

So we left. Which is what you always need to do if you want to go somewhere.

Timing was perfect (as I had planned) and we caught the Beaufort River ebb tide and roared toward the mighty Atlantic Ocean at 8.5+ knots, although Yani the Yanmar had a lot to do with that. Wind you ask? What wind? The river and Port Royal sound were glass smooth and we trekked along we saw countless porpoises feeding in the ebb.

South of Tybee Island about 9 miles off shore we dodged a few freighters headed to Savannah. The sea was still very calm, the sun set and we had a nice warm meal in the cockpit before the dark rolled in. Cloud cover built and blocked out the moon.

Motoring south we employed our radar to make way as it was so dark no horizon was visible except back north. It was just like sailing in the fog.

Around 2:00 am we were 92 nm out of Port Royal and the ocean swells began to build. We had a bit of wind now, sporadic in speed and direction. Somewhere out of the S or SE to ESE and from 5 -10 knots. Yani kept plugging along. The swells started with about 2-3' and 7-10 sec period. As we progressed south toward the St. John's River (Port of Jacksonville, FL) the easterly swells (on the beam I might add) built to 3-6' and the period shortened. It made for a very lumpy ride.

Approaching the St. John's River we heard 2 freighters call Jacksonville Pilots. We eaves dropped on the conversation and learned both of these freighters would board pilots and enter the channel at 7:30 am. Which of course was our ETA. So we headed out to sea and slowed down planning to enter the channel right behind these freighters.

As we entered the St. John's River channel, which passes the Mayport Naval Air Station, we encountered the river ebb tide. Meanwhile the sea swells proceeded on our stern (we had turned to the west) and collided with the ebb tide to create some impressive steep, short waves. Yani was full throttle and making 5-6 knots while the 13 ton Far Niente was being tossed about. To the rear of us I spotted what appeared to be a U.S. Navy Vessel about 2 miles behind us. Who needs a roller coaster?!

Once inside the jetty things calmed down and we motored up the St. John's toward the intersection where we jumped in the ICW and headed 35 miles south to St. Augustine.

We made the 2:00 pm opening of the famous Bridge of Lions and were secured to a ball in the mooring field of the St. Augustine Municipal Marina.

I fast forwarded to 5:00 and we cracked open a couple Coronas. It was sunny and St. Augustine with a nice 68 degree breeze. Time to relax and get caught up on some lost sleep.

Summer is Winding Down
08/31/2012, Dataw Island Marina, SC

PHOTO ABOVE: Sign at Cracker P's on Lubbers Cay in the Bahamas. What a great little place.

Blog posts have been noticeably absent since June. Sorry, just too dang much happening since we sailed into Port Royal.

Following the slog up the Florida coast in June we finally made it to Port Royal, SC. Took care of several things while we were docked at Port Royal Landing Marina, which, by the way, is an excellent place to stop if you are traversing the waterway either north or south. Facilities and staff are top notch. West Marine, dining, grocery and liquor stores, and pharmacies are all in short walking distance. Downtown Beaufort proper is a a few miles further down the road.

Planned seasonal maintenance and upgrades is high on the agenda while we stay in SC. Much of that needs to be done with the boat out of the water and on the hard. So we cruised up the Beaufort River to Dataw Island in August and pulled Far Niente. Bottom cleaning and painting, new exhaust and scupper hoses, hull waxing are all on the to do list before we relaunch. We are definitely heading for the Keys in early winter so it was nice to see Issac skirting well to the west.

With Far Niente on the hard we are taking time to visit family and friends in Michigan, Illinois, etc. The 76 degree days and 50-60 something nights have been a welcome relief from the sweltering SC summer.

As I get more time, I'll post some more photos from our adventure in the Bahamas.

In the mean time, college football season is upon us. Two words: GO DAWGS.

Plan "B"
06/13/2012, Conch House Marina, St. Augustine, FL

PHOTO ABOVE: Graphical shot of our course over 45 minutes waiting for a serious T-storm to blow through. Though not shown on the chart, the Conch House Marina is on the eastern side and our final location is on a T-head at the end of "C" dock.

Leg Details

Time: 8:49
Distance: 62.4 nm

What was plan "A"?

We were heading straight for Port Royal, SC from New Smyrna Beach, FL, a trip of about 200 nm and some 36 hours +/-. We exited the Ponce inlet in what can only be described as very benign weather conditions on an out going tide and still had a bit of excitement with 4+' ocean swells out of the southeast colliding with tidal flow. After this experience, I don't think we'd tackle this inlet except under anything other than perfect weather conditions.

Once out in the Atlantic we had 10-15 kt winds out of the SE and 2-4' swells with an 8 second period. We motored sailed and the combination help push us north at an average speed of 8 knots.

About 3:30, 6 nm south of St. Augustine the USCG issued a severe marine weather alert for waters just north of St. Augustine, including the possibility of water spouts. Both the on board radar and NWS radar images we could pull down off the 3G network showed a major line of thunderstorms from St. Augustine to GA-SC border. This is where Plan "B" was born.

The first challenge was entering the St. Augustine inlet. Experienced FL boaters know there are NO CHARTS for this inlet because it constantly changes and the marks get moved all the time. We were aware that there was a major dredging project underway to make the entry channel out into the Atlantic deeper. Thank God for that.

I called TOWBOAT US and sought the most up to date information on the channel and the marks. We were lucky as we were on a rising tide with the wind out of the SE. From a distance of a few miles the dredge was readily identifiable and it help immensely in locating the channel. Adhering to the advice given by the TOWBOAT US captain, we followed the red marks in without incident. As we cleared the channel the thunderstorm marched toward us. We needed somewhere to 'park' fast.

My first call was to the St. Augustine City Marina to see of any moorings north of the Lions Lift Bridge would be appropriate for a 45' sailboat drawing 5'. Nothing was available. Next I called Conch House Marina which lies just south of the inlet. The channel to the marina is well marked, when you can see it. My radio conversation with the marina office was oh so typical.

"We are going to put you in slip C-8." Great. Where in the %^*& is slip C-8? Next the wind and rain came, hard. Visibility dropped dramatically. Then the lightning. Conch House radioed me back to say they called the dock hand back into the office as he could not assist our docking with lightning striking in the immediate area. At this point I could barely see the marina, little alone the mysterious slip C-8. Where to go now? The chart indicated some water that could accommodate our 5' draft east and south of the marina proper.

Suddenly a radio transmission from the vessel 'Gale Force' who was docked at the Conch House Marina. Captain Tom could just barley see us standing on his fly bridge even though we were less than 100 yards away. Most importantly, Tom knew the waters out in front of the marina and gave us detailed information on where we could go to ride out the storm without running aground, hitting a mooring or old pilings. His local knowledge and counsel was invaluable. Our thanks go out to Captain Tom on 'Gale Force'.

We did figures 8's (as the chart above shows) for about 40 minutes in driving rain, 25-35 kt wind and lightning. Then a break in the storm and a call back from the Conch House Marina. Conch House changed the slip assignment and gave us a T-Head dock right off the area where we rode out the storm. About 4:30 pm we were tied off.

That was Plan "B".

Weather continues not to cooperate with our plans to head north. Yesterday's off shore weather was very accommodating for our planned trip and conditions are changing rapidly and off shore winds are forecaste to clock around to the NE and increase in velocity over the next several days. Seas 4-6'. Our planned course to the Port Royal channel is basically NE. As they say, "Gentlemen don't sail to windward."

Time to work on an ICW plan to move north at least until off shore winds clock back east and south again.

Dodging Thunderstorms in the Florida ICW
06/08/2012, New Smyrna Beach, FL

Not much exciting to post about. Weather this week was awful; thunderstorms everyday, around the clock.

We left Ft. Pierce and headed to Vero Beach City Marina for fuel and a pump out. Spent the night on one of their moorings and relaxed. Tuesday we headed for Cocoa, a nice little stop over point we have visited before.

We dropped anchor south of the bridge after battling a major thunderstorm as we motored up the Indian River. Ventured into town the next morning for coffee, brunch, etc.

We hauled anchor around 1:00 pm and motored up a calm Indian River to Titusville. Picked up a mooring and 15 minutes later were slammed by a thunderstorm.

Wednesday at 7:30 am we headed up the Indian River, crossed the cut at the Haulover Canal and motored up the ominously named 'Mosquito Lagoon'. Again we get hammered by a major storm, but this time we we were on there northern edge of it and only saw 30+ knot gusts.

Before noon we were tied off at the New Smyrna Beach City Marina.

We are planning on staying here a few days to visit friends and enjoy running our AC.

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