05/12/2007/3:16 pm, Lake Worth, FL
Florida is a strange kind of a place. Mind you, this is a purely personal opinion based on one trip down the ICW. The northern part is interesting and mostly friendly; this last stretch has been interesting yes, but in a different way. There is not as much diversity in the rivers and land cuts, and the steering is mostly straight ahead, looking from marker to marker. We passed under far more bridges on Tuesday, including the PGA bridge right beside a lovely looking golf course - and right around the corner from where Tiger Woods reportedly keeps his boat.
We passed the 1000 statute mile point about 11:30 on Tuesday so we toasted the milestone and ate some chocolate!
We passed more estate style properties - but mostly without the property. Many filled almost the whole lot. Several had huge screened in portions of the yard. We are not talking screened in porch - we're talking screened in yard! To be fair, we also passed many lovely homes with beautiful landscaped gardens. In places, little canals ran off perpendicular to the ICW and they were lined with palm trees and houses and docks. Most of the land along this stretch of the waterway is highly developed - gone are the marshes and wild areas, although the wonderful assortment of birds is still present, and Jim spotted another alligator.
Most of the boats around seemed to be powerboats, and most with fishing apparatus, some of them very expensive, others simple runabouts. On the weekends, the fisherfolk roared past us in their fast boats, or sat in their little boats just off the channel.
The ICW is a narrow channel that runs down the centre of the rivers and is sometimes silted in. We bumped on a shoal going around a corner - at Jupiter Inlet. The buoys are frequently moved to indicate deepest water, but still there are sometimes shoals that run right across the channel. The good thing is that they are mostly sand so they are not damaging, and can often be backed off or plowed through. We even hit one in the dinghy as we crossed the Indian River in our futile effort to find a dock at Fort Pierce.
We have noticed that cruising powerboats almost always slow down to pass us, while local powerboats rarely do. Cars do not stop to allow pedestrians to cross, and people don't wave as often. Just as in Fort Pierce, here in Lake Worth we found a distinct lack of enthusiasm about making it convenient for anchorers to come ashore. We feel a bit like we are riffraff that they'd rather keep off their land. It is a strange approach for a town with expensive homes and cars and the kind of stores where we cruisers can spend a lot of money.
Soon after we arrived in the anchorage here, we dinghied over to the Old Port Cove Marina to visit Mary and Blair and find out where the dinghy dock was. They told us there wasn't one - the marina doesn't really encourage people to come ashore. Really! We asked about a dinghy dock close to a grocery store, and Mary gave us directions. We set off in the indicated direction, trying a channel or two before we found the right one, because of course it wasn't marked. There is no dock. The procedure is to run the dinghy up on a tiny sand beach beside a bridge. If there are lots of other boats, which there were when we got there, one must jump out and wade ashore. The dinghies must be locked to a wire running along a fence - because theft is apparently common here. Then one climbs the bank, crosses the highway and walks to the grocery store. I could not believe it. If we were in the Bahamas, I'd laugh and think it part of the charm. Here in this city where boats costing millions of dollars are moored, and where hundreds of cruisers set off to cross the Gulf Stream, it was annoying, ridiculous and beyond my understanding.
I made a call to the marina this morning to inquire how much they charge people at anchor to come ashore to do laundry and have showers, and where we should land our dinghy. The gentleman's reply was: "We don't allow that, ma'am." Their ad in the boating books says "providing spectacular service since 1972". When I said this did not seem like spectacular service to me, he said they offer services only to people who come into their slips. I tried one more question: "Would you please tell me where it IS possible for me to do laundry? I'm sure you would have that information since you must get lots of calls like this." The answer: "No ma'am. I have no idea and you are this only person this year who has asked that question." Amazing. We asked at the North Palm Beach Marina where we went for fuel and the answer was the same. No services offered and no idea where they might be offered. There were a couple of Laundromats one time but they closed.
Jim will tell you in another posing about his bizarre experience getting fuel.
Well - enough of the rant. The weather is hot and sunny. The anchorage is spacious. The lights on the buildings around sparkle and twinkle. Our SSB is working well enough to allow us to listen to Chris Parker give his morning weather report and answer questions of cruisers who sign on to his service. We got a call on the VHF radio this afternoon from David Allester - formerly of Little Gidding (a sister ship of Madcap). He is in Florida, playing about on his nephew's boat. David and Eileen (Quinn) are friends who have encouraged us since we met them in Belleville when they first returned from cruising, and it was great to hear his call. We picked up a load of needed (or would that be wanted?) items at the West Marine store. In fact we borrowed a little fold up box on wheels from Mary and then decided it might be practical to have one of our own. They were handy for toting jugs of engine oil and diesel, and that other liquid - the one we drink.
We did the last of the provisioning at the Publix store this morning. I'm happy to report that the people there were really helpful and friendly. The prices were reasonable enough and we are now fully loaded. We have tried to find a happy medium of having onboard what might be more difficult to find in the less developed Cays of the Abacos and Exumas, without getting caught up in a frenzy of carrying everything we could possibly need for the whole trip. The stores in Marsh Harbour apparently have everything we would find on the mainland. Jim and I love to experiment and eat what is available locally so we'll carry some staples and leave the rest open to possibility. We have our quarantine flag to hoist when we get inside Bahamian waters and before we have checked in. We have the Bahamian courtesy flag for after that, our passports, money to pay the entry fee, and enough food to make sure we don't starve. We may be wearing grubby clothes and be a little unkempt, but tomorrow we'll swim in crystal clear water, do the washing in a bucket and hang it on the rail.
The weather report for tonight is favourable for a sail across the Gulf Stream to the Abacos so our plan is to head out with Strathspey around 10 or 11 pm. A number of boats have left this anchorage to head out near the inlet so as to be ready for an easy trip out after dark, and we will do the same shortly. The wind will be up and there will be some waves but Chris Parker the weather guru says it will be a rare opportunity to sail across rather than motoring. We'll do it at night so we land during daylight. If the wind seems too strong when we get out there, we'll turn around and come back in. Otherwise we should be nicely tucked into Great Sale Cay by this time tomorrow afternoon.
I'll do a posting afterward to let you all know how it went. If you don't see anything here for a day or two, it just means that we have not yet found a wifi connection. Unfortunately the Winlink position report system is on the blink again so that's not reliable.
03/12/2007/8:18 pm, Fort Pierce, FL
I've had a week of amazing "people" experiences - some on my way back to rejoin the Madcap journey, and some along with Jim after we headed south again together.
On Wednesday, I flew to back to Jacksonville - no delays or other complications - yeah. Our friends, Steve and Sandi, picked me up at the airport and took me to their home in Fernandina Beach. As you will know from Jim's posting, he and several other friends enjoyed their hospitality over Thanksgiving, and it was my good fortune to spend a couple of days with them. Friends of theirs were traveling down Daytona way on Friday so I could get a lift with them - it looked to me like a perfect sequence of events, and indeed, this was one of those times where "going with the flow" really worked.
Sandi and Steve and I ate and drank, talked and walked, and had a very good time getting to know each other better as they introduced me to Amelia Island and shared their extensive knowledge about cruising and the Bahamas. Our dinner conversations made me think, and our kitchen conversations made me dream. They are among the rare people who exhibit genuine and expansive warmth - going right back to the day we first met them in Baddeck, NS. I felt immediately at home in their lovely house, was able to walk to the beach where the waves were rolling in, and even borrowed some capris from Sandi to feel a little more southern than my northern travel wardrobe allowed. I really do like Amelia Island and its residents. Jim and I will both come back here for a visit in 2008, and we eagerly anticipate meeting up with Sandi and Steve in the Abacos in another month or two.
Meanwhile - back on the boat (on Thursday)- Jim had one of those horrible, terrible, very bad days. Apparently he used to ponder the question of whether he'd rather go aground or have sewage trouble.... having done both on the same day, he can now tell you - going aground is better! He woke up to a horrible smell that he tracked to about 4 inches of sewage in the bilge. Because he was on a schedule with Strathspey, he had to leave that alone till he stopped for the evening. It was while he was headed into an anchorage that he ran into a shallow bit and had his second bad experience of the day. Unfortunately for him, he was well and truly stuck and had to get Towboat US to come and haul him off. Thank goodness for that insurance we bought! Once afloat again, he followed a different path into the anchorage off Daytona (one mentioned in Skipper Bob but without enough detail) dropped the hook... and tackled the sewage problem. He cleaned it up as best he could, moved into the Halifax harbour Marina the next day and sought some extra help in problem solving. It turned out that the lid of the holding tank was not properly sealed. It is now well sealed - but we think there is still a problem with the vent. That will have to wait another day or two for a fix but everything is all cleaned up and disinfected and functional.
(A quick note on Skipper Bob: The book on ICW anchorages had been mentioned to us many times as THE reference book but we have not found that to be the case. It is important to check on the web for updates, check to see which boats have contributed the material - some may have more shallow drafts - and check other books to see if they mention the same anchorages. This one was not mentioned in any other books. We have found that the Dozier's Waterway Guide has excellent information, and we really like Managing the Waterway by Mark and Diana Doyle. The Skipper Bob business has recently been purchased by Dozier so perhaps future versions of the books will be more accurate.)
Jim earned a whole pile of brownie points for taking care of all that on his own while telling me there was no rush to hurry back. Maybe he was being kind and considerate... maybe he felt he could do without the eeeyouuu's and yech's I would have contributed to the situation.
While he was doing all the clean up, I was continuing my "meeting fascinating people" journey. We went to pick up come charts from Steve and Sandi's boat, Princess, ran into a couple working on El Rio and discovered that Bev grew up about ¼ mile down the road from my home in West Amherst, and then lived right across the street from Jim's family when he was younger. I passed her husband, Jean's, teasing test about the place they live now - Tidnish, NS. He tried to convince me that this place - along the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia - is Tignish, but when I refused to buy it and agreed to place big bucks on the spelling with a "d" he laughed and agreed that I really did know the place. How amazing it is to find this kind of connection by chance in a Florida boatyard. They are headed for the Bahamas as well so I know we'll have some good conversations when we meet again.
Dick and Tina, the friends I mentioned earlier, were driving to Orlando and had offered to take this guest of Sandi and Steve's to Daytona. We got along famously from the minute Sandi took me over to their house on Thursday for an introduction, to the time they dropped me off at Halifax Harbour Marina. It turned out that Tina and I have much in common - she is a Healing Touch Instructor and Practitioner, I have taken several of those courses and use the energy techniques in my own practice. We formed a quick and enthusiastic bond, and hardly stopped talking the whole way down. Dick's warm personality shone through every thing he said and every move he made, and I know we will be seeing more of these lovely people too.
Once the Madcap crew connected again, we headed out on an uneventful short hop to New Smyrna for the night. On Saturday, we continued our way along the ICW to Cocoa. The bridge openings were timed perfectly, the navigation was straightforward - although we needed to be attentive. Once anchored, we dinghied ashore to have a look for some groceries. No luck there, but we visited a little gourmet shop to pick up a few morsels. It was odd that no one we asked seemed to know much about food purchasing here. There was a big craft sale on - maybe the "askees" all lived elsewhere. In response to our question, one young man said he just moved there a month ago; I clamped my tongue shut on the words, "And you haven't needed to buy groceries yet??"
We had another great "people experience" here though. Some time ago, I received an email from Steve and JoLinn of "High Life" who have been following our trip on the website. They keep their boat in Rochester NY and are planning a trip down the St. Lawrence one day. In keeping with the excellent timing we have been enjoying, they were visiting their son and his fiancée in Orlando and drove over to meet us. What fun it was to pile into their van and go over to Cape Canaveral to Fish Lips for dinner. We ate delicious and fresh seafood and reminisced about sailing in Lake Ontario and dreamed along with them of the bigger trip ahead.
Next night was a bit of a different anchorage. We had planned to meet our friend, Chris, (from Calgary) who was visiting his mother (in Palm Bay) at Captain Hiram's along the ICW. It was all so simple until we checked on depths. The chart didn't look good so Jim called the marina and sure enough - it was a nogo zone for us. One of our books mentioned an anchorage just south of the Wabasso bridge just a few more miles down the way, so we crept out of the channel there, circled around a bit till we found a spot that seemed safe and deep, and dropped the anchor. We dinghied ashore, walked down a little road and were picked up a few minutes later by Chris and Jocelyn. Captain Hiram's was a great place to visit - open-air bar with good food, tropical drinks and loud music - just the perfect thing for a December evening. It was marvelous to connect again with Chris (too bad Donna was back in -20 degree Calgary weather!) and to meet Jocelyn.
On Monday, we continued on. We passed by large and expensive houses lining the banks of the ICW. Most have elaborate docks with powerboats hoisted up out of the water. Some are quite lovely - some are just big. We also passed mangrove islands (Jim discovered that the sulphury smell in the air in some of the places we've passed is from the red mangrove) that are home to many birds. We spied ibis with their white feathers and long bills, many herons standing motionless along the water's edge, ospreys perched in trees or swooping over the water, black (or were they turkey?) vultures hunched over in trees, pelicans both brown and white. Dolphins surfaced and dove again and again as they traveled beside us. I can never get over the sheer joy of seeing these creatures. At one moment, I had just been watching a couple of them not two feet away from the side of the boat. I looked up to see four white pelicans with their angular wings and pouchy beaks flying across the blue, blue sky. What a treat.
After a gentle day of easy cruising down the Indian River, our anchorage on Monday night was off G9 by Causeway Island, south of the Fort Pierce bridges. Fort Pierce is a bit of a disappointment. It would be a good place to leave from to head out to the Bahamas, but it sure isn't a good place to try provisioning from an anchorage. We didn't find a dinghy dock anywhere we looked, although we knew there must be one. We pulled into Harbourtown Marina for fuel and a pump out and were not impressed. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. The fellow who eventually took our lines was not at all helpful and moved at a snail's pace. Our depth sounder was registering less than a foot below the keel as we tried to find our way to the fuel dock that was not well marked, and had no one in sight to help out. We heard from other cruisers that they had a bad experience there too - I wonder if their rude encounter was with the same passive aggressive person with whom we dealt.
So, the provisioning will get done in Lake Worth. In the meantime, Jim changed the oil, changed the filter on our water filtering system, and entered the waypoints for our crossing to the Abacos (Bahamas) into the chart plotter. I tried to get caught up on this writing, and had some very good Skype conversations with folks back in Canada. It was sunny, breezy and lovely, and we were able to eat in the cockpit as we thought fondly of family and friends back in snowstorm land. Oops - sorry. I've probably invited a mass throwing of snowballs in this direction!!
29/11/2007/7:20 am, Fort Matanzas, Florida Mile 792
We crossed from Georgia into Florida, our final state on the Intracoastal Waterway on November 20, 2007. It has been a long trek to get here, but the Georgia portion of the ICW has been a highlight with great scenery and lots of bird and dolphin watching. The city of Fernandina lies just within the Florida border. What a stark contrast to pastoral Georgia. The harbour is busy and industrial, creating a first impression that I later had to revise. We took a mooring can at Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina at the cost of $15 a night. It is comfortable enough but there is a very strong current in the harbour. Beth is going to leave from nearby Jacksonville airport on Wednesday for a week to visit her mother who is in the hospital in Moncton, New Brunswick. That means I will be batchin'it for one week. I have decided, with some trepidation, that I will make my first stab at solo sailing when it comes time to leave Fernandina Beach in a couple of days. Our friends on Stratshpey have promised to keep an eye on me while underway and that provides me with reassurance - one of the great advantages of a buddy boat.
I decided to rent a car for while in Fernandina Beach so I can run Beth to the airport and get around the city. We have been anticipating this stop for some time now, since we met Steve Swanson and Sandi Eberle on Hillary, and Oyster 41 much earlier in the trip. We first encountered them on July 9th, back in Mont Louis on the Saint Lawrence but got to know them better while Madcap and Strathspey were anchored near Hillary in Baddeck Harbour at the end of July. They have a home near Fernandina Beach and invited us to meet up with them when our two boats made it to Florida. Lucky for us we have arrived during the American Thanksgiving holiday and Steve and Sandi have opened up their home to Blair and Mary of Strathspey, Jim and Jeannie of Estelle and me for Thanksgiving dinner. Not only that, but they have set aside two whole days to entertain us and show us the area. We have been amazed by the generosity of fellow cruisers throughout this trip, but Sandi and Steve's warmth, charm and hospitality has been truly incredible. As a result of touring Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island with them I revised my initial impression of the town. It has the feeling of community and permanence. It is more than just a summertime beach front town. There are several blocks of interesting boutiques and shops and wonderful homes on quiet residential streets. We also visited Tiger Point Marina where our hosts keep their other boat, a Hinckley Bermuda 40 named Princess. For those looking to keep their vessel on the hard in Florida after wintering in the south, Tiger Point Marina impressed me with its modern, well-maintained facilities and equipment. Moreover, Fernandina Beach is situated far to the west of the Gulf Stream and has been spared from the ravages of hurricanes and tropical storms that have so damaged other parts of the south. After passing much of Thursday touring the area, we spent the late afternoon and early evening at Steve and Sandi's home at Amelia Island Plantation. Sandi prepared a superb Thanksgiving meal with all of the traditional trimmings. As is my habit on such occasions, I enjoyed seconds of everything and retired from the table as stuffed as the turkey I had just eaten.
Friday - known as Black Friday - in the United States got off to an early start - 0800 hours. Many of the local residents were out and about in their pyjamas. The town celebrates Black Friday and the start of the Christmas shopping frenzy by having a pyjama party. Those so attired earn a discount at the local shops. After meeting Steve and Sandi at the marina dressed in our street clothes, we went for breakfast at a popular local restaurant called T Ray's in a nearby Exxon service station. It reminded me a bit of the Irving Big Stops back in the Maritimes, except much more compact and definitely not part of a big chain of eateries. I highly recommend this place for breakfast. It is where the locals go and for good reason. Heaping platefuls of good food, especially the biscuits, which I devoured though still full from the Thanksgiving feast the previous evening. After breakfast, we helped Strathspey and Estelle provision their boats for the crossing to the Bahamas - anticipated in the next couple of weeks whenever a weather window presents itself. I decided to wait until Beth returns before doing the same for Madcap, though I did make an exception to take advantage of the incredibly low Florida wine prices. At the end of the afternoon, Steve and Sandi picked me up after I returned the rental to Enterprise and took me back to the beautifully landscaped Amelia Island Plantation for the annual Christmas lighting party. It seemed strange to be dressed in shorts, standing under palm trees drinking hot apple cider and listening to Christmas carols - but I could get used to this. The place was alive with children and young families spending quality time together. From there we returned to Fernandina Beach and a local restaurant to help Mary (Strathspey) celebrate her birthday. Nine of us gathered for this special occasion - Blair, Mary, Steve and Sandi, Jim and Jeannie Lea (Estelle), Bruce and Nancy Montgomery (Seabird) and me. It was another wonderful time of conversation, celebration and good food. Blair played the pipes and toasted his bride and we all wished Mary the best of health and happiness in the year to come. How lucky was I to be in Fernandina Beach while playing the bachelor!!
All good things must come to an end and Saturday was the designated day for me to take Madcap out solo for the first time. After speaking with Strathspey on the VHF we agreed to leave around 9 am and start down the ICW toward an anchorage at Pine Island, some fifty statute miles distant. Most of the trip took us through marshland areas, but there were tricky spots near the St. John's River and again under the Wonderwood, Atlantic Boulevard and McCormick bridges where currents ran very strong, especially because of the full moon. Those areas required lots of attention and a powerful engine. Apart from that, the greatest challenge was staying alert on the wheel for nine hours without relief. You don't have the time to enjoy the countryside and the wildlife as you do when cruising with a partner. I was glad when we arrived at mile 765 of the ICW and the Pine Island anchorage. I anticipated how to drop and hook the anchor by studying other solo sailors I had observed and I am happy to report all went well. There were a number of boats in the anchorage at that late hour but fortunately I was able to find a spot without difficulty. It was late in the day and I was very tired so there was no opportunity to tour around the anchorage.
St. Augustine, Florida was the next stop. It is a popular spot for cruisers and there are a number of us here now, so we decided to leave Pine Island early the next morning (0700 hours) for the short trip (13 miles) to St. Augustine in time to find space to anchor. The biggest challenge I faced today as a solo sailor was to raise the anchor, secure it and get back to the cockpit before Madcap drifted into a neighbouring boat or to shallow water. Luckily the anchor came up quickly and clean so I did not have to take time hosing the chain and anchor before storing them. As they did the previous day, Strathspey led the way out of the anchorage and along the ICW followed by Madcap and Seabird. Having another boat take the lead makes the solo navigator's challenge much easier. Before we knew it, we were at Vilano Beach and approaching St. Augustine. Our plan had been to explore San Sebastien River for a place to drop the hook; however, as we were waiting to catch the next opening of the Bridge of Lions, we received a call from Seabird to say that they were going to anchor in the area next to us just north of the Bridge. There were a number of spots available at this early hour and the view of historic St. Augustine and the walls of the Spanish Castillo de San Marcos was appealing. Taking Seabird's lead, we quickly revised our plans and dropped anchor in this attractive anchorage. There is another area just below the Bridge of Lions that is more popular, but in my opinion the northern anchorage is preferable. Either way, you have to be prepared for the construction noise from the Bridge of Lions. There is a dinghy dock available at St. Augustine Municipal Marina just south of the bridge. They charge $10 daily for dinghy space but that gives you access to showers and laundry facilities.
Shortly after anchoring, Mary came by in her dinghy to pick me up to go into town for lunch and sightseeing. Blair stayed on Strathspey to repair its windlass which had broken earlier in the day. St. Augustine dates back to September 1565 when Spanish colonists landed making it the oldest continually occupied European settlement in North America. Sir Francis Drake attacked and burned this town in 1586. On November 25, 2007 however, the sun was shining, it was 80 degrees and the historic area of St. Augustine was a great place to wander - definitely having the feel of a Spanish settlement. We ate lunch at Columbia Restaurant, a popular eatery serving Cuban food. Its reputation is well deserved and I enjoyed a sampling of popular Cuban dishes - beans and rice, plantain, chicken, pork and beef. Following lunch, Mary and I wandered over to the Castillo de San Marcos. This fort dates its origins back to 1672. Over the years Spanish, British, American, Confederate and Union forces have occupied the fort. The walls of this stone fort were built of coquina, a shell-rock formation, quarried in the area. The National Park Service hires animators dressed in Spanish military uniforms dating back to 1702 when the fort was under siege from English forces. Spain successfully resisted the attack on the fort, but the English burned St. Augustine as they withdrew. The fort is well worth a visit. After touring it, we wandered over to an annual juried craft fair that was in its last day. The fair reminded me of the craft fair Beth and I visit every Christmas season at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, except it is held outdoors and I was dressed in shorts and a T shirt. The afternoon quickly passed and it was time to head back to Madcap for the evening. After going into town Monday morning for breakfast with Blair, the rest of our second day in St. Augustine was spent doing chores on Madcap - including cleaning the waterline to remove the "waterway moustache". The internet connection is good from the anchorage so I was able to touch base with Beth via Skype to find out how things were at home. Fortunately our daughter, Mary Beth, lives in Moncton so Beth has also had some quality time with her while visiting her mother and father.
I plan to meet up with Beth again in Daytona Beach so I started the trek there today. Madcap left St. Augustine and caught the 9:30 opening of the Bridge of Lions. Since it is about fifty miles to Daytona Beach, I decided to break the trip into two days. Stratshpey and Madcap pulled into this pretty little anchorage some thirteen miles down the ICW from St. Augustine. We are anchored under the ruins of Fort Matanza, another fort dating back to the days of the Spanish occupation of Florida. It is a little cooler today, but it is fun to watch the dolphins breaking the surface of the water and the eagles soaring in the sky above. It has been an experience to be solely responsible for managing this sailboat for the first time. I feel good for having done that but look forward to the return of my sailing partner. I am thankful for having had the company and friendship of other cruisers while batchin' it.