11 April 2017 | St Augustine, FL
Beth / jacket and socks on the water, but the sun shines
We've had 3 days of motoring up the ICW, experiencing many of the pleasures of the cruising life even in this short time.
To our surprise, going up "the ditch"has been more enjoyable than we expected! By times, we have been in the midst of the line of boats that head north at this time of year, but mostly we have managed to separate ourselves a bit so we're not having to watch our position relative to other boats as well as keeping an eye on the navigational aids. We've gone under 65' fixed bridges and quite a number of the small bascule bridges that still exist here. Most of them open on request, a few on a fixed schedule. We call the bridge on VHF channel 9 (our charts tell us the name of the bridge) e.g. "Haulover Canal Bridge, Haulover Canal Bridge, this is northbound sailing vessel Madcap requesting an opening." The answer usually comes back, "Come on ahead Cap'n. I will open when you get close." Sometimes he or she will say, "When the boat behind you catches up I will open for both of you." and we slow down and linger a bit. The bells sound, the barriers come down, the spans open and we motor through, giving a wave and a "Madcap clear, thanks for the opening." The bridge master will usually come back with, "You're welcome, cap - have a great day" It's a lovely little bit of courteous conversation. High powered motor vessels often call to say, "Madcap, Madcap, this is Lucky Ducks on your stern. I'd like to make a slow pass to port" and we reply, "Come on ahead." So far this year, the boat traffic has been almost entirely considerate and polite. We have been waked only once by a motor boat powering by at full speed, causing us to rock and roll even when we quickly adjust course to cut across the wake instead of wallowing in it.
We pulled off at Cocoa to stop the first night, enjoying our first "Anchor down Dark 'n' Stormy" of the season, dining on roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, onion, peppers and sausage that I popped in the oven as soon as we stopped. First thing in the morning we took advantage of the stillness to put on our sails. Now we look like a proper sailboat again, and can pull out the Yankee or the staysail whenever the wind allows us to do a bit of motor sailing.
On Sunday we passed dozens of little fishing boats and pontoon boats and folks casting fishing lines out from the banks. This waterway is so well used by local families as well as by transient boaters. A number of sailboats were tipped up into the mangroves - left there by the hurricane, and apparently uninsured, which makes removal complicated. We looked across at the huge structures of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre where the marvels of NASA coexist with the wildlife of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and we anchored just off the channel at New Smyrna Beach. It's a pretty little anchorage, but the no see'ums were vicious and drove us not only inside, but with lights out and under the bedcovers earlier than we would have liked. Our screens are effective against larger bugs but these little biters are awful.
Monday was a long day - we covered 69 statute miles (60 nautical miles) , but we got some good lifts by current at times. For some reason, the ICW is measured in statute miles, while boaters measure every other distance by nautical miles. We were concerned by depths at Ponce de Leon and Matanzas inlets, but there was no trouble at all. We passed by Ponce Inlet at almost high tide and at Red 18 we saw the lowest depth of 8.8, no problem for our 6' draft. At Matanzas, later in the day, they have been dredging and laying pipeline so even though it was almost low tide, the lowest we saw was 9', and small nun buoys marked the way clearly around the dredge and through the curving channel. Jim usually calls Boat US (with whom we have our towing insurance in the US) for local knowledge on tricky areas, and they have always been really helpful. Without those worries, we just enjoyed the scenery. Huge estates sit cheek by jowl with modest bungalows; long docks stretch out with fishing boats raised, some with hammocks slung and chairs placed to catch the sun. Pelicans soar across the water and splash noisily down for dinner; egrets stalk their prey from the shallows - and from docks and precarious footing on dock lines! Ospreys chirp and fly up to the treetops with fish clutched in their talons. The smooth backs and dorsal fins of dolphins rise and fall as they fish around us.
We arrived in St Augustine in good time, pulling into a slip at the City Marina. We'd have preferred a mooring ball but they had informed us the day before that there were none available to accommodate our draft. That is unusual, but we opted to splurge on a slip rather than anchor downstream. It was time for laundry and fuel and stretching our legs.It turned out that the Marine Trawler Owners Association was having a rendezvous and the place was full of trawlers. We pulled in to a slip on the North dock just by the Bridge of Lions, and I have to say that it was very pleasant being there. We can be found much more frequently at anchor or on a ball, but there is an undeniable convenience in being able to have power and be able to just walk off the boat and up the dock to all the services on offer.
And that is where the wonderful synchronicity of cruising really showed up. When I came into the lounge after my shower, I found Jim chatting with Barbara Hart, whose name I knew from the Facebook Group " Women Who Sail", and from the SSCA bulletin. As part of a great rambling conversation about boats and people and hurricanes and travels, she mentioned Laura (Thistle) who is planning to go up to NS this summer. Sure enough, as I did my laundry in the morning, who was loading clothes into the next one? Laura! We exchanged stories and boat cards and will meet again I know. We had chatted with Kathy (Seeker) as we travelled, and she wrote to say they would be in touch. Alex (Banyan) messaged us that they were in Fernandina Beach and maybe we could meet up. It turned out that I missed seeing the "Seekers" and the "Nightingales" but Jim enjoyed a chat with them, and we will miss Banyan too because they are getting underway earlier than we hoped.
With my work of laundry, and Jim's nastier work of oil changes and diesel top-ups done, we walked through town enjoying the beautiful architecture of St Augustine, the tourists and the locals, the shops and music and bars. Founded in 1565, St Augustine is a truly beautiful old city. It is the oldest continually occupied European city in the US, and its Spanish military history is easy to see. On past visits, we have visited the Castillo de San Marcos and Flagler College - in what was once Henry Flagler's grand Ponce de Leon Hotel - and we have strolled up and down tree lined streets admiring beautiful old houses and gardens. This time, we contented ourselves with a shorter look around, popping into the A1A for coconut shrimp and mohitos before going back down the dock to watch the moonrise and stow things away for an early departure the next morning.
We are off on some short hops now - to Fernandina Beach to meet up with friends, and onward and northward from there.