07/17/2013, Charleston, SC
July 15, 2013 - Charleston
We stayed in Downtown Charleston for almost a month. The marina, Charleston Maritime Center, is right in the middle of everything. The Maritime Center houses the Fort Sumter Museum and the Aquarium. To the right and left of the marina are freight docks that handle the huge car-carrier ships as well as cruise liners and other cargo ships. In addition, leaving from our harbor, were all the tour boats, water taxi and tall ship cruises. It all makes it a very busy and interesting marina to stay in for a full month. It is also 2 blocks from the grocery and hardware stores. The best part of staying there though was that we were within bike riding distance of all of Charleston. We took some wonderful evening (and some daytime, but it's hot) rides through all the quaint neighborhoods of Charleston. It's a lovely, historic town with almost every house displaying a placard designating it an "Historical Building." Being from California, it's hard to imagine that most of these buildings have been standing since the 1700's. I can only imagine how much work has gone into keeping them erect. I guess that's why the town seems to be populated by attorneys and doctors and most of the For Sale signs belong to Sothebys.
We have put ourselves on a budget (thanks to the Heatherington's idea) of spending no more than $20 per day eating out. There are so many wonderful eating places in Charleston that it not only affects our budget, but our waistlines suffer as well, so this budget idea is a good one. Our daily challenge is to find the best "Happy Hour" and try to keep it all under $20 for both of us. And it's a fun challenge as well. One of the places we found was The Roof Top Bar. From there, one can see all of Charleston from the air. It's a wonderful view. As I made my circle looking out over the rooftops, I counted 12 church steeples , with most dating back to the 1700 & 1800's. There are even a few from the 1600's as well. I'm not sure how many churches there are in this town, but they don't call it "The Holy City" for nothing.
As usual, we have had what Charlestonians call "the worst weather". We do seem to bring it with us wherever we go. It is very hot, extremely humid and the only relief is when the rain comes down in buckets and drops the temperature about 4 degrees. Our latest experience was a storm that brought a southeasterly wind of 20+ knots. The marina is open to exactly that direction and the swells coming into the harbor were monstrous. The picture I have included here shows the "Miss Grace" bouncing while tied up to the dock. We were doing the same, but I couldn't get off the boat to take a picture. As a result the wind and waves did break one of the stern cleats right off taking some teak trim with it. Bummer!
We did meet some wonderful people in this marina who we count as new friends well met and hope to meet up with them again as we all go south for the winter. One couple that we met, Carla & Rick, from Montana, have been cruising for 6 years and were heading home for a brief stay. Rick's hand and wrist started to swell and he lost the use of it. So, off to the doc he went, MRI, then exploratory surgery to find the problem. Even the doc was shocked to find a purple 2 inch-long spine from a sea urchin buried in the center of his wrist. Needless to say, Rick has no idea where that even came from. Go figure.
Over the 4th of July weekend, we rented a car so that we could go see the outlying areas as well as check out a recommended "Hurricane Hole" up the Cooper River. We particularly wanted to go and see what sort of surfing beaches they have off the barrier islands nearby. We went to Isle of Palms, north of Charleston on the ICW. It was a great day, a great little beach town (a bit on the posh side) and pretty good surf (mostly wind waves, but rideable). We went bodysurfing for about half an hour after which we were totally thrashed and came home for naps. They say cruising gets you out of shape quickly. The next day, we went south of Charleston to Folly Beach. This beach faces directly East and the waves are quite a bit better. Again, about half an hour was all we could manage and had to take the 3rd day off for a rest. We enjoyed it so much, we decided that when our month of rent was up, we would go and anchor in the Folly River. It's a short dinghy ride and a 5 block bike ride to the beach. Getting to the Folly River from Charleston turned out to be quite adventurous. When we reached the junction of the Stono River and the Folly River, it was medium tide. When I called the Dockmaster at one of the marinas nearby, he said, "Don't even attempt to enter the river except at high tide." So, we anchored out in the Stono River for the night and waited for high tide the next day. Well, the next day brought 20+ knot winds. We went anyway, saw waves breaking over the Stono Inlet (out to the sea), made our turn into the Folly River which was less than 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep and tried not to let the wind carry us sideways out of the narrow channel. When we got inside safely, we followed the red markers into the estuary until they just ran out. The map said that we would be in 5 feet of water (way too shallow for comfort) if we continued on, but we saw a whole marina full of sailboats and figured that they must have gotten in somehow. Another call to the Dockmaster, who told us that dredging had cleared out the channel and to ignore the charts (a scary thought). He was right and we made it to our current location, in the middle of the Folly River about 300 yards from the dinghy dock and our beloved surfing. Whoo hoo!
I forgot to mention that the reason we can now perch in the middle of a river during high summer heat and humidity is because we "bit the bullet" and purchased 2 portable generators (one wasn't enough) to start the air conditioner. It was quite an extravagance and I'm hoping to make sure we don't go into any marinas for 3 months to make up for the cost of the darn things. But, I must say, I'm sure glad we did it because it is 91 degrees today with 73% humidity (feels like 100 degrees). I think we'd be spending way more money on airline tickets to San Diego to cool down if we hadn't bought them. As it is, we are cozy in the bowels of Mariah with a cool temperature of 85 degrees, but no humidity.
We plan to stay here for a week or two and then mosey our way along the ICW to find more surf. We have decided not to go to the Chesapeake at this point as it is also very hot and quite a long distance. We have a very good "Hurricane Hole" picked out and are just enjoying this beautiful area for the time being.
06/14/2013, Hilton Head, SC
I can't believe that it's been a month since I wrote my blog. Where has the time gone? Where have we gone? I am writing this blog while side-tied at Skull Creek Marina on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Quite a distance from Key West, in both flora fauna.
We left Key West with Heidi and Bill on Act III, but quickly out-paced them as they decided to sail and we stayed with using our engine. We are still constrained by needing to be in port in time for work on Monday, so we hurry from one spot to another while our boat buddies are able to meander at will. No complaints though, as John's work allows us to do this at all. In Key West, we talked to Larry at West Marine who told us that he once was in the Gulf Stream and it gave him 6 extra knots of speed. We were awestruck and assumed that it was his lucky day. But as we passed Miami, we got into the Gulf Stream ourselves and saw three knots. About 50 more miles out, we were shocked to see that we were getting five and half knots extra. We were going 13 knots...way better than our usual seven or eight (see picture at the top showing both speeds. Top gauge shows our speed over the water and the one on the bottom right shows our speed over the ground...or with the Gulf Stream help). We were thrilled to be making such great headway and hoped that we could stay in it for a long time. On Sunday morning, we had to calculate where to start heading for shore in order to get to a marina by nightfall so that John would be available for work on Monday morning. We chose the entrance to Jacksonville and headed that way all day long. We entered the St. John's River and found a marina perched right inside the jetty and decided to stay there. Supremely bad idea! Apart from the rocking and rolling from huge cargo ships passing by, we had our first introduction to tidal currents. Because the tides can fall 7-10 feet every 6 hours, water rushes by to keep up with the schedule. Most of the week that we were there, we saw enough of the current racing past us that waves were breaking over the bow of the boat. So, we're rocking fore and aft with the current and side to side with the ships. We actually experienced some sea sickness working at our computers. Ugh! We were so glad to leave there at the end of the week as we headed for Brunswick, GA. One good thing though was that we rode our bikes to the beach and found waves. Okay, they were pretty small, but we were able to body surf them just fine. First body surfing since leaving San Diego in October, so we were blissfully happy. Re-sets the wah, if you know what I mean.
Brunswick, GA is at the 31st Parallel and is the requirement of our insurance that we stay above that latitude during hurricane season (June 1 to November 1). Whoo hoo! We are now legal. We anchored in a lovely bay between St. Simon's Island and Brunswick. It is so picturesque with marshes and forests and very little civilization. We took an adventure dinghy ride over to the town of Brunswick, about 8 miles away. Of course, we left at high tide and returned at lower tide. Well, we only dragged our prop through mud once, but it was a good drag. John envisioned having to surfer paddle our way out, but the oars were just barely usable. Fortunately, the mud was soft and did no damage to the propeller. Whew!
The next move took us to Savannah. We did an overnight trip and could not find accommodation in the town of Savannah. We found a marina about 8 miles before Savannah where we stayed for a couple of nights before moving out into the Herb River to anchor for a whole week. Oh, it was so lovely there. Mariah sat in the middle of this little river with houses and their docks on one side and marsh and trees on the other. Quite "Great Gatsby-ish." It was quiet and just wonderful. We swam, dinghied around to check out other rivers and marinas and even had a couple of other boats join us in the anchorage. Thunderbolt Marina, where we stayed for the first two nights and the last two nights, was so kind to let us park our dinghy there to go to town. We rode the bus into Savannah and spent a wonderful day being tourists. Savannah is just beautiful...gentrified is the word I would use. Beautiful old trees, parks everywhere, a huge river with container ships going by and incredibly friendly people.
While in San Diego last summer, we bought a used life raft for $500 from someone at the yacht club thinking we got a great deal. Then we learned that they have to be Certified every 3-5 years and this one was out of compliance. Well, you don't want to rely on a life raft that hasn't been certified because by the time you need it, it had better work. Within a few blocks of the marina, we found a company that certifies life rafts. Amazing find in that we contemplated having to ship our life raft off and it weighs about 70 lbs. River Services even came to pick it up at the marina. Sad to say, when they inflated it, it would not hold air for the required 24 hours and could not be Certified. All we could do was trash it. Very sad and a waste of $500. A new one costs $3000! Sigh...there's always something, eh? Anyone wishing to contribute to a worthy cause...
From Savannah, we went to Hilton Head Island and stayed two nights at the South Carolina Yacht Club, which can only be reached by going through a Lock. Incredibly, when they built the yacht club 25 years ago, they decided it would be better to build and maintain a Lock rather than dredge the harbor. So, every boat that comes and goes (including the kids' Opti sailboats) has to douse sails and come through the Lock. I've included pictures of this lock in my emails. The harbor inside is surrounded by huge houses and a small gated community. Very posh...and then there was Mariah docked right in front of the yacht club. Hehe!
So, tomorrow we set off for Charleston with the possible plan to stay there for a month or two. The weather is getting severley hot and humid and unless we are plugged into a marina power source, we can't run our air conditioner. Marinas can be very expensive if paid at a nightly rate ($75 per night), but are manageable if paid at the monthly rate ($800). If we keep "marina-hopping" we are tied to the nightly rate, so we may stay in one place for July and August, the hottest months. Then travel in September and October. Stay tuned as the saga continues.....
05/14/2013, Key West
We are planning to leave Key West on Thursday, heading for Savannah, GA, Charleston, NC and then to spend the summer in The Chesapeake Bay. In my last blog, I told you about a couple that we had met from New Hampshire. They have become our "best buds" and will be our new "buddy boat" going north. Heidi & Bill on "Act III" have had 5 years experience cruising mostly in the Caribbean as well as the whole Northeast USA. Typical of the type of people out cruising, we met them two days before John's departure to get his teeth fixed in San Diego, and they chose to stay in Key West to make sure that I was okay alone on Mariah. And what a God-send they have been. John took all the good weather with him when he left for San Diego as we had thunderstorms every day that he was gone, only to have the sun return when he did. On Tuesday of that week, rain threatened, but Heidi and I decided to go into town to do some errands with plans to ride our bikes. We left quickly hoping to miss the rain that looked imminent. Let me explain...when it rains here, it generally rains for 10 minutes at a time, so going in on the dinghy with dark skies wasn't unusual. We got half way in when the heavens opened up with huge tropical rain drops. By the time we got to shore, we were completely drenched. I mean wringing wet. And the rain still came with the addition of thunder and lightning. Well, we couldn't very well ride our bikes with lightning, so we went across the street to the Thai restaurant, dripping wet, and were offered a seat outside (yes, in the lightning). We found a little table in a protected corner, ordered hot tea, saki and soup and proceeded to wait out the storm. In the meantime, John was watching the storm unfold on his computer from San Diego and giving us reports of when we could venture outside. As it turned out, we sat there for 4 hours, watching lightning hit within 100 yards from us and the wind so strong that it knocked down all the palm trees on the patio. When we did finally get back to the boat, we found out that Bill on Act III had clocked the wind at 60mph and had seen lightning strike a boat about 100 yards from Mariah. Thankfully, our boats were fine, but I was so glad that I wasn't riding out the storm alone on Mariah. I think I would have freaked. We did talk to the couple on the boat that got hit by the lightning and they said that all their electronics got "fried." Lights, pumps, batteries, GPS, radar...everything. They were towed the next day to Ft. Lauderdale for months of repairs. Rule of thumb...always moor near a boat with a higher mast than yours. Yikes!
We did buy a brand new West Marine dinghy...long story, but suffice it to say that it was purchased at the 11th hour as we had no way to get back to Mariah because when John tried to pump up the old dinghy "enroute", the back section of the seal fell off and into the pontoon. He had to stuff his hand into the hole while I drove furiously for shore so that we wouldn't sink before we could get our new motor off. The good news is that we are no longer "dinghy challenged" and now scoot around in our new dinghy with our new motor. No more whining...just screaming around the bay on full plane and arriving mostly dry.
Did you know that Key West once seceded from the United States? Yessiree! In 1982, the Border Patrol set up a highway checkpoint at the base of the Keys. It so slowed traffic that it nearly shut down the tourist trade on the island. To protest, Key West decided that if the Border Checkpoint was on that side of the Keys, then the Keys must not be inside the US. So, they declared themselves autonomous. This lasted for two days whereupon they surrendered to the Coast Guard. And this action resulted in the checkpoint being shut down. Lucky for us, we were here for the 30th Anniversary of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration. This celebration included a "Drag" Race down Duval Street (and it didn't include cars), a Captains meeting for the "Bloody Battle," and "The Bloody Battle." We paid $49 each to ride aboard one of the Tall Ships, "The Appledore", on which we cruised the harbor engaging in fire hose battles with about 15 other ships/boats. The Coast Guard usually participates, but did not this year due to the "Sequester" of the budget funds. We all had a great time getting thoroughly soaked by the generator-driven fire hoses on all the boats.
Back to Heidi & Bill of Act III...we have so enjoyed getting to know this couple. They are very similar to us and we have made fast friends. Heidi and I are sure we were separated at birth, so similar are our approaches to life and the things we like to do. But John and Bill must have been conjoined twins. They are both "propeller heads", always discussing how things work and the "why" of it, getting into the deep details of all things mechanical or musical or scientific or..or..or. They get so lost in their conversations together that they forget where they are and it is left to Heidi and myself to bring them back to earth. Yesterday, the guys dropped us off at the Publix grocery store (they had rented a car) and went to the auto parts store. When they returned to pick us up, they went to the wrong Publix and sat waiting for us to come out. Eventually, they looked around, got their bearings and figured out that this store was a different color, and where did the Radio Shack go, and where the heck were they? So, they called to ask us if we knew there were two Publix stores in town. Heidi and I found this absolutely hysterical and are still laughing about it. The guys just don't see the humor.
As you can imagine, Key West has been great fun. We ride our "circus" bikes all over the island and get smiles from everyone who sees us. They are great conversation starters and have introduced to us many locals who give us great information about where to go and what to see. We also take our dinghy into the Key West Harbor Dinghy Dock to enjoy Happy Hour, oysters and Boce Ball. We've listened to Jazz, eaten wonderful ice cream, ridden the Pedicabs and, best of all, people-watched both the locals and the tourists. We are sad to have to leave, but know that more adventures await us at our next ports of call.
04/18/2013, Key West
April 17, 2013
Instead of making for Marathon, we, together with Sea Vu Play, decided to go to The Dry Tortugas because the weather was perfect, we had a long weekend available to us and the trip would only take 24 hours. Wow! Paradise...blue/green crystal clear water, turtles, fish, dolphin and a fort with a full 360 degree MOAT! Fort Jefferson...look it up if you have a chance to get some really great pictures.
I have included one here, but, really, look it up. It is amazing. It is called the Dry Tortugas because there is not a drop of fresh water to be found and it is a breeding ground for a couple of species of turtles. The fort built a complicated system of cisterns to capture rain water, but they have all crumbled now. We spent a glorious weekend snorkeling and exploring the fort before heading for Key West.
While we initially planned to go to Marathon, we had to stop in Key West to spend the night. We were told by the Dry Tortuga Ferry captain that we should stay in Fleming Key in Key West, so off we went. And we have been here ever since. The heck with Marathon, this is another slice of heaven. The city had so many problems with boaters that they set up a "mooring field" so that every boat is attached to a buoy, no anchors allowed. It only costs $18 per night and includes bathroom facilities, laundry room, free internet, free holding tank pumpouts and free parking at the dinghy dock. The only thing they don't offer is water, so until we can get our watermaker working, we have to leave our buoy and go to Key West Harbor to fill up about every 2 weeks. If we were to get a slip in Key West Harbor it would be about $3.50 per foot per night ($145 per night). The only down side to this mooring field is that you have to "dinghy in" to get to shore and the ride is quite difficult. We consider ourselves "dinghy-challenged" as our motor only works when it feels like it and our dinghy is very old and soft. The wind blows 15 to 20 everyday so our trip to shore is a very wet process, definitely an "E" ticket ride. We don our swim suits for the ride in and then change our clothes (sometimes shower) before going into town on our bikes. Last week, we gave up on the motor and bought a brand new Yamaha 8hp that works flawlessly. But the dinghy is still sub-par and we will have to fix that as soon as we can afford it. So, we are out in this open water bay called Garrison Bight with about 50 other boats of all kinds, some permanent" liveaboards" and some "transients" like us. We have met a couple that lives in New Hampshire and have been cruising each winter for 5 years. They have just returned from wintering in Panama and are heading back up to New Hampshire for the summer. Another couple lives in New Jersey. They were on their first long venture outside of the Chesapeake and spent all winter coming south visiting all their friends along the way. Since our next adventure involves spending the summer in the Chesapeake Bay, we picked their brains ad nauseum, finding out where to go, what to see, and where to ride out any wayward hurricanes. We meet the most amazing people who are so filled with the spirit of adventure (and they're mostly even older than we are...go figure), that we just can't wait to experience the places that they have seen.
But, back to Key West. Key West is like Mission Beach in high summer...cubed. There are at least 2 huge cruise ships in port every day and hundreds of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and trolley services, all servicing an area about 4 miles wide by 2 miles long. The harbor is filled with charter boats for every activity possible from fishing, glass bottom kayaks, para-sailing to kite-board lessons and snorkel trips. And each activity lasts four hours because the ships leave port every afternoon at 4pm. Then, there are the locals mixed in...most seem to be "rode hard and put away wet," to quote my friend Jan. Many are down and out and have landed up here after hard times at "home." It's a place where you can forget your troubles and have a lot of fun (drinking is a favorite past time and the bars are very busy and great people-watching spots).
We invited Karen & Mark Hallquist from Sea Vu Play to go snorkeling with us at one of the nearby reefs. I first suggested that we take a snorkel charter for only $35 each. John said, "But why pay, we have our own boat." So off we went out to Sand Key, one of the snorkel reefs. All told, it took us 3 hours to get there and 3 hours back with about an hour of snorkeling in between. The wind was blowing 20-25 knots, the seas were choppy with small craft warnings out. In reflection, we decided that $35 didn't seem like very much money after all. But we did enjoy the snorkeling and the adventure and scenery. It was a lovely day.
We have recently discovered "Happy Hour" in the local bars. Don't know why it took us so long, but we have met some really interesting "locals." Last night, it was Charlie, a boat captain who takes care of a family's pride and joy and skippers them around whenever they come to town or he takes their boat to the Virgin Islands so that they can come and play on it for a little while. He's lived here all his life, one of his sons is part of the "Police Horse Brigade." I think we saw him last weekend while we were riding our bikes around the island and taking my cell phone for a lovely swim. Sigh...a new cell phone should arrive any day now.
John will be flying into San Diego from April 20th to May 4th to get some crisis dental work done, so if you're in the area, give him a call and catch up. I will be staying aboard Mariah - all by myself - holding down the fort. So, if any of you want to spend a week in Key West with me, let me know (by email as my phone is dead). I am in the process of learning all the things that are normally John's responsibility - using the dinghy, checking the electrical, water and holding tank levels. It's a good exercise. Maybe one day, I can teach him to cook, clean, do laundry and buy groceries. Ha!
Alas, we all have to begin our migration north to get out of "hurricane country" (oh yeah, what about Sandy??) by June 1st. We will leave as soon as John gets back from San Diego and the weather permits. In the meantime, I shall enjoy every day here in Key West, swimming, snorkeling, enjoying "Happy Hour" and our evening ocean bath...heaven!
03/25/2013, Venice, FL
We left Bear Point Marina early on Friday morning when the wind was calm. John performed magic getting us out of our slip as there was very little room to maneuver. The dockmaster told us there was no way to turn around and we would have to back up out of the canal before being able to turn around. Well, Mariah has a full keel and backing up is just not in her bag of tricks. She can back up, but due to the keel in relationship to the propeller, she pulls to the left when going backwards, resulting in a turn rather than a straight line. But John defied the dockmaster and actually did manage to make the turn right out of the slip without even coming close to the charter boat across the way called "1 Cold Mil", presumably the cost of the brand new boat. We were away and off we went into Florida waters. Finally! Of course, the water didn't turn blue immediately, but when we got to our anchorage, Fort McCree Cove, there was a very big difference. We suddenly started to see people having fun on the water, something we hadn't seen all the way through Texas, Lousianna and Alabama. Maybe it was just Spring Break, but there were jet skis, Hobie Cats and little fishing skiffs running circles around us as we left Pensacola Bay bound for Port St. Joe.
Port St. Joe is the jump off point for any boats going south. We just loved it there. Most of the boats in the marina were "live-aboards" in the process of going south or north. There was a mixture of people like us who haven't a clue and several "old salts" who have done it all. We got so much wonderful information about how to make the jump down to Clearwater (ocean passage of 30+ hours) and whether the wind was right or the "chop" wrong or..or...or. The next weekend, we set out for Clearwater with our buddy boat friends on "Sea Vu Play." They are the people that we met in Galveston and we have hopscotched one another ever since. They were waiting for us in Port St. Joe and it was wonderful to travel with another boat on such a long overnight passage. We each took lots of pictures of each other's boat at sea, so we finally have some nice pictures of Mariah under sail (see picture with this post).
We arrived in Clearwater in time to celebrate my birthday. Oh, what a wonderful present! Blue/green water, white sand beaches, Clearwater Yacht Club and their wonderful Tiki Bar. Heaven! The weather was wonderful, the yacht club members were amazing and our friends were with us to enjoy it. We spent the whole week there, riding bikes on the boardwalk, walking on the beach (water still too cold), and meeting wonderful people at the Tiki Bar. This is what cruising is about. We have waited a long time to get the real feel of cruising.
Last Thursday, after work, we left "Sea Vu Play" to get their autopilot installed and did an 8 mile jaunt down the ICW to a lovely little cove in Redington. Friday afternoon, we did another 8 miles after work to Pass A Grille where we anchored just off the channel to St. Petersburg. Saturday morning, we left for a long day of ICW cruising in an attempt to get to Cabbage Key in Charlotte's Harbor. When we started out at 7am, we were looking at 17 bridges in 12 hours. Below is a list of the bridges and what we had to do to get through them:
Welch Causeway Bridge - opens each 20 minutes only - if the timing is wrong, you do "donuts" in the ICW canal.
Treasure Island Causeway Bridge - opens on demand
Corey Causeway - opens each 20 minutes only
Pinellas Bayway Northern C Span -opens each 20 minutes only
Pinellas Bayway Southern E Span - opens each 20 minutes only
Ana Maria Island Bridge - opens on the ½ hour only
Cortez Bridge - opens on the ½ hour only
Siesta Key Bridge - opens each 20 minutes only
Stickney Point Bridge - opens on the ½ hour only
Blackburn Bridge - on demand but call early because the bridge tender has to walk out to the middle to open it
Albie Road Bridge - on demand
Hatchet Creek Bridge - on demand
Venice Ave Bridge - on demand
Tamiami Trail Bridge - on demand
Monasota Bridge - on demand
Tom Adams Key Bridge - on demand
Boca Grande Causeway Bridge - each 15 minutes only
However, when we got to the Venice Ave Bridge, the bridge tender asked how far we were going and did we realize that Boca Grande Bridge was closed until Tuesday for repairs? Huh? But that is our last bridge and our only way out of the ICW?? So, we turned around, told the Venice Bridge tender that we loved his bridge so much, we wanted to go through it again, and retreated back to Venice where we are now enjoying the locals. Venice seems to consist of retirees; lots of "old folks" clothing stores, art galleries, a theater for live plays and several banks (always a sign of old people with money). Not much Spring Break happenings here. Somehow, we fit in very well. Yikes!
All these bridges in about 50 miles. You can see why we like going out into the ocean whenever the weather allows it and why the ICW can be difficult. But when the weather makes it impossible to make progress, the ICW allow us the keep moving south, so we're thankful for it.
With luck and good weather this next weekend, we hope to make the jump to the Keys, to a place called Marathon that is said to be friendly to boaters and not nearly as expensive as Key West. We are hoping that "Sea Vu Play" can accompany us.
03/06/2013, Orange Beach, AL
March 5, 2013
We are finally on the move again. I can't believe its March and we're still not in Key West. And I invited friends to meet us in Key West for Christmas. Oh well, I guess it will have to be next Christmas.
We left Mandeville last Friday with our lovely new mizzen sail, our new "stackpack" or sail pack and our fabulous Dodger/Bimini that I talked about in the last blog. But instead of a Dodger/Bimini, we got this amazing enclosure that adds a whole extra room onto the boat...a place to go to be alone when we really need it (I've enclosed the picture of our pimped up Mariah). It also protects us from the wind and boy, did we need that this last weekend.
So, we left Mandeville at 7am and made our way across the northern end of Lake Ponchatrain to the Rigolets (locally known as The Rigglies), where we wound our way through canals and bridges until we got out to Lake Borgne. We had the choice to stop at Rabbit Island for the night, but it was only 2pm and it seemed like a waste of a good day to stop so soon. Off we went to the next possible stopping point, Cat Island (I never did learn what's with all the animal islands). The wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph from the NW, so we put up our mainsail to keep the rolling and pitching at bay as we motored along the ICW, which at this point, is more like a huge lake...mostly open water. With the wind blowing that hard, the waves were quite choppy and without the main, we would have been really uncomfortable. With the sailpack, the main went up so easily that John now likes to take it up and down anytime he feels like it. It is an amazing improvement as the sail just drops into this "sack" and you don't have to stand on the foredeck trying to corral it and tie it up while the wind is howling down your neck.
Because the wind was at our backs, the usual anchorages at Cat Island were unacceptable as we would be at the effect of both the wind and the waves all night long. So, we determined that we had to go around the back side of the island, an extra two hours. As it turned out, the sun set (and a lovely sunset it was, green flash and all) and we raced for the back side of the island in the pitch black of night with only our GPS to show the way. Not the ideal way to enter unknown waters. Of course, after all that work and time, the wind changed while we were sleeping so that we had a horridly bumpy night...even worse than the Isthmus at Catalina Island in California. Oh well, we took off on Saturday in the same kind of weather, and made our way to Dauphine Island, just before the entrance to Mobile Bay. We had to go around the back side of the island again, but this time it was done in the daylight and the wind did not change, so we had a very pleasant night at anchor in 20 mph winds.
Day 3, we set out early again with the intention of getting to Pensacola by nightfall. We were crossing Mobile Bay with "small craft warnings" being announced by the Coast Guard. Well, we had been in them for two days already, so we figured it wouldn't be any different. And it really wasn't, except that halfway across Mobile Bay, our engine quit. Dang! How could this happen after spending five weeks in New Orleans and lots of money getting it fixed? We were able to start it again and motored for awhile before it quit again and then overheated. Yikes! Same problem as before, no water coming out of the outtake valve. Jeez! Fortunately, we are in a sailboat and the wind was at our backs...and we have a sailpack...so out of the enclosure John went and raised the mainsail and set the jib/Genoa (the sail on the very front of the boat). We were sailing! Whoo hoo! This is what Mariah was made to do. 20 mph winds? No problem, 3 foot seas? No problem. And it's so nice and quiet. Wonderful. We sailed thus across the rest of Mobile Bay and right on into the ICW. That's the canal that's about 200 feet wide with barges often coming the other way. Well, what the heck? What choice did we have? We entered the ICW on sails only and cruised quite nicely for about 3 miles when the wind died. We were still moving with the two mph current in the ICW, but knew that we couldn't continue that way because there were some curves up ahead. Checking the map, we saw that there was a marina up ahead with a restaurant called Lulu's. Turns out Lulu's is a tourist destination as it is owned by Jimmy Buffet's sister, Lucy. It is a bit "Disneylandish", but great fun, good food, and once again, a great place to get stuck.
That was Sunday, and no repair yards were open, so we went to the bar and had a good stiff drink...a Margarita, of course. I mean, it is Jimmy Buffet land as we were reminded by his music playing ALL THE TIME. No complaints though, it was a fun venue. On Monday, we called our wonderful mechanic back in New Orleans who gave us a couple of clues. As it turns out, the problems were easy to fix:
1. Our engine "Kill Switch" had backed itself out and had "killed" the engine. We will need to put a spring on the back of it so that it prefers to stay shut instead of open. In the meantime, when we shut the engine off, John has to go down into the engine room and manually shut it. Lucky him, eh?
2. Apparently, according to the mechanic, when a sailboat is in heavy seas, the sea strainer (which was the cause of the problem in the beginning) can get an air bubble in it. One just needs to prime it, get the air bubble out, and it's all fixed.
When all this was tested by running the engine at high speed while sitting at the dock (you have to trust your dock lines for that), we decided that we could resume our trek towards Pensacola. So, this morning, we took 3 hours off work (because the wind prediction for this afternoon is for 30 mph winds) and motored down the ICW to a lovely marina called Bear Point Marina. It is very funky with old docks and pilings. The entrance was narrow and the docking quite hair-raising with the winds now up to 20 mph. It was a bit like Captain Ron, for those who've seen the movie. Run the boat down a channel and slide it into the slip, except the "slip" is really just a space between two sets of pilings. No worries, I only hit one of them, but only with the fender board. Whew!
We are only about 300 yards from the Florida border. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it is quite momentous for several reasons. First, it means that I can try fishing with my Florida fishing license. Wish me luck. I've never fished in my life and I can tell by John's reaction, that I have very high expectations of the fun factor involved. Second, the water should start turning blue again. Hard to believe, but we have not seen blue water since we left San Diego. All water anywhere near the Mississippi River is mud-brown. I never put it together, but names like Brownsville are not surnames around here. Some of the barges are called Brown Water and the like. And of course, you can't see anything in the water. I'm surprised that the fish and dolphin can even see their way around. And third, just being in Florida seems so much closer to Key West than Alabama even though it's only 300 yards difference. Go figure.
We will stay here to wait out the crazy winds, about 2 days, then make our way to Pensacola. We have great weekend weather coming and we want to get to Panama City by Sunday night where we will spend the workweek. This trip requires going out to sea because the bridges between Pensacola and Panama City are not high enough for our 60 foot mast to go under. So, good weather is critical...no small craft warnings allowed on this part of the trip.