Thursday, April 1, 2010

Snowbirds Fly North

I think that is an apt title, as that is what snowbirds do, and although I didn't exactly fly south, my trip down was hampered by cold weather which brought on a lot of stops, but in comparison it does seem like I am flying north. Or as my friend Sven would say, zooming.

Over the course of the past few days I have put some miles behind me, some over new territory, I avoided the interior of Georgia on the way down, but could not avoid it on the way north, thanks to the weather, and some of it tracking back over the course I followed south. On Saturday I left Dernandina Beach and put Florida behind me. I set off a bit late after walking Spook and refueling, and I was in the company of Galena, a Beneteau 36 out of Ontario, that was one of the boats in the pack I sailed with out of St Augustine. We made for Georgia, and held a fairly good pace for the early part of the day, motor sailing through the southern part of Georgia, and winding up and across as the ICW does there. Larry and Roberta were some where behind me having stopped the night before 10 miles shy of Fernandina, but I figured they would catch me sooner or later.

By early afternoon we were at Jekyll Creek, and Galena pulled off, expecting thunderstorms, but I kept on going as the weather seemed to be holding and thanks to the wind and current I was making good headway. Jekyll Creek is one of those areas on the ICW that sailors dread, and one of the reasons I skipped Georgia on the way down, at low tide the channel there gets very narrow, and, extremely shallow. As fate would have it, what time do you think I arrived there? At low tide of course. I was still under sail as I entered the creek, and as I made my way through it, I could feel the rudder vibrate the way it does when the boat is in very shallow water and the prop seems to cavitate. I was watching the depth guage, and keeping my fingers crossed. Its not like it would have been a disaster if I got stuck, the tide goes out, and it comes back in, so refloating would have happened, but, the question would have been when. That would be the big problem if I were to get stuck, just how much time would I waste waiting on the tide to float me free. All that worry was for naught, even though I felt the boat ooze through the silty bottom a few times, I never did get stuck, just slowed a bit by the mud, and then I was into deeper water. Well, ok, I was actually floating and not sitting in pudding.

Out of Jekyll Creek and into the St Simon sound, where another familiar boat, Patina out of Annapolis, pulled off for the night. They asked if I was stopping, but there was 4 or 5 more hours of daylight, and the rain hadn't started yet. So I sailed on. 40 minutes I heard Roberta on the radio calling the marina on St Simons Island, and shortly after that she called me on the phone. I told her I was going to keep going until I either ran out of daylight, got caught in a downpour, or made it to the anchorage I had picked out on the chart further on. As it turned out, it never rained, I made great time, and I didn't stop at the primary anchorage, I made it further, in daylight, to an anchorage about 6o nautical miles from where I started. What a day.

I drifted on anchor that night in a creek that had a strong current, and I figured that the Bruce was having trouble holding in the mud, even though I knew it should do really well in the thick bottom goop. Aftetr the alarm went off for the 10th time I went up and dropped the CQR, wich does not do so well in mud, but I figured just by sheer weight of the anchor and the all chain rode I would hold, and I did. When I got up in the morning I had a beautiful sunrise, and I was soon hauling up the Bruce anchor, and what a suprise I found. Out there in the middle of nowhere, in a forgotton creek in the center of Georgia, my anchor had dropped right onto an abandoned crab pot and got fouled. No wonder I dragged, who would have figured that there would be something like that right where I decided to drop the hook. It took a bit to get it untangled, and then I pulled the CQR and was off again.

The morning was beautiful, and as I sailed along I got a bit of sun, and had a pretty uneventful day. I put down some miles, but due to some adverse currents I did not have the pace of the day before. But what I did have was luck, even if I didn't have the tide. I came to the second choke point in Georgia, another shallow, narrow cut in the ICW aptly called Hell's Gate. It was low tide again, and I used the same logic as before, if I get stuck the tide will come in and float me free. The channel in Hell's Gate was not well marked, one of the channel markers had come free of it mooring and was washed up on shore, and I shot the middle of the channel as best as I could figure it to be. I was really pushing through mud, and I could feel the tiller stiffen up as I pushed through the slop that made up the bottom of the channel. I came really close to getting stuck, but as before Arden pushed through, and then the tiller freed up as I cleared the worst of it. Off again, and before long I was having to decide if I was going to try and catch the draw bridge at Causton Bluff and get to the border before dark, or if I was going to stop and anchor with an hour or so of daylight. Common sense prevailed, and I pulled in to Herb Creek and dropped the hook.

I had a great night on the anchor, this had to be one of the best anchorages I have been in on this trip. Good holding, extremely protected, the only thing I was lacking was internet. Oh well, sometimes you can't have it all, and this night I did have it pretty good.

In the morning my dad called for the 5am wake up, and at day break I was off again. As luck would have it that was all for nothing, I was 7 minutes late for the Causton Bluff Bridge opening, and I had to waste 53 minutes anchored waiting on the next one. Once the bridge opened I was off, and on my way again. There was nothing really remarkable about the trip this day, I motorsailed, made pretty good time, and by 1030 I was clear of Georgia and into South Carolina. Up through the ICW, several rivers, the Calibogue Sound and then up to the Port Royal Sound and the Beaufort River. Beaufort, SC was the next stop, and I pulled in to the municple marina around 430 to top off on fuel and go out on the hook. The dockmaster there was great, as as they weren't too busy, he let me stayed tied up while I got Spook off for a walk, and then gave me the passcode for the facilities there. As I went up to shower he and I talked a good bit, mostly about Beaufort history and the Civil War, and before I knew it, he basicly tols me to stay over night. As`I was walking back from my shower I bumped into the crew from Galena, they were tied up there, and then I got a call from Larry and Roberta, they had sailed outside from St Simons and were just getting in.

This morning I got another wake up call, and I had to get moving quick to make the last opening of the Lady's Island Bridge, if you don't get through before 7 you're not getting through until after 9. I made it through the bridge at 0645, and day was breaking as I sailed for the Coosaw River. I didn't see the bridge open for Roberta and Larry, so I figured they did not get through before 7. Lo and behold, about an hour later I saw that familiar catamaran nose around the last bend behind me, and here comes Symmetry. They trailed me all the way until 1030, when Larry was finally able to overtake and pass me. I was travelling over familiar ground now, alot of memories on this leg of the trip for me, past Sam's Point where I had anchored before and gpot great pictures of Arden, past Ross Marine where I refueled, got stuck on the dock and baked bread while I froze. We pulled up short in Wappoo Creek, the current that we fought all day shorted us on the bridge opening by 20 minutes, and we were going to have to wait 2 1/2 hours until the next one.

I made popcorn as I waited, read my book and got a bit more sun. I knew that once the bridge opened I was going to have to boogie, I needed to get across Charleston Harbor and up to the Ben Sawyer bridge before dark. Once again it is a matter of restricted hours, the bridge is closed from 7 to 9, and there was no way I could get up in time and underway to make a 7 mile run for the bridge before 7am. So I plowed on, and slipped into the ICW on the north side of Charleston harbor just as the sun set. I made it to the bridge and was through by 8pm, just as darkness fell, and then I was picking my way to Isle of Palms in the dark by my GPS track from the trip south. I was in and tied up at the dock by 930, tired, sunburned and ready to call ity a day.

Over the past 4 days I have made 244 miles north, from the top of Florida to the lower 1/3 of South Carolina. It has been a long 4 days, but easy sailing for the most part. I feel a bit driven to get north, and try to figure out what I will do once this trip of mine is over. Tomorrow I set out early again, the goal is Georgetown, maybe even Buskport if I am lucky and ride the tides, and maybe, if the weather is good, Friday will be an outside day taking me all the way to North Carolina.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poised to Leave Florida

I left St Augustine at day break this morning, after my new alarm clock, my dad, called to make sure I was up around 5am (I was) and I made my morning carafe of coffee and started to get the boat ready to go. I checked the engine again, oil and coolant were good, no leaks, nothing loose, and I hauled the dinghy aboard to deflate and stow it. What a pain in the butt that is. I almost went in the drink twice as I pulled it over the lifelines, the wind was pulling on it almost as hard as I was, but in the opposite direction.

As`soon as the sun was up I was off, North bound again, and making good time. I have to say I was the first boat out this morning, and I was alone for the first hour and a half, and then the exodus caught me. I was passed by 3 boats that were north bound and that I recognized from the marina and the anchorage, and there were another 3 trailing behind, but catching up quickly.

Around 11 or so that group of three boats caught up, and after letting the first 2 pass, I dropped in behind S/V Heron, which belonged to Tom and Margaret, out of Maine. Heron is a Westsail 32, very similar to Arden, and I had met Tom and Margaret yesterday at the marina. We spoke for some time yesterday, and it was good to travel with them today.

I had luck on my side again today, the voyage was 62 statue miles, and I thought it would take around 12 hours. I figured on making Fernandina Beach sometime around 7pm. For once the tides and currents were really in my favor, and we never really did run into an opposing current or tide. There are many inlets that indent the Florida coast, many of them are not navigable, but, they all influence the ICW with the in flow and outflow of tides. If you catch it right, you can get pushed by an incoming tide, or pulled by an outgoing one, and you might get lucky where the inlet influence overlaps and catch a slack tide. We did all of the above today. When we made it to where one inlet stopped pushing, we rode on a slack tide, and then got pulled by the outgoing tide of the next inlet. I don’t think my speed today ever dropped below 4 knots, well except in the current of the St john’s River, which has a very strong current of its own, and at one point I almost hit 10 knots. I was not able to sail at all today, the wind was on the nose all day, and, it was blowing pretty hard, 20 kts and then some all day. It was definitely not a day to sail out on the ocean, I probably would have been soaked, exhausted, and lucky if I would have made Mayport by dark.

So instead, I headed up the ICW, and made 52.9 nautical miles in 9 hours and 25 minutes. I was in Fernandina Beach by 5 pm, on the anchor and stowing gear.

So here are a few numbers to throw at you. So far I have sailed 1703.1 nautical miles on this trip of mine, that is 1958.56 statute miles. I have been sailing for 4 months now, 129 days since I left Maryland, and 93 days since I seriously got underway and left Manteo. I have covered more ground in the past week and a half than I did in the entire month of February, when I was bebopping down through Florida. I am now back in Fernandina Beach, the place where I entered Florida after a 22 hour sail from South Carolina. I will leave Florida in the morning, and unfortunately, it looks like the weather on the ocean is not going to be good for sailing to SC, so I will slog through Georgia on the North bound leg. (128 miles via ocean, 150 miles via the ICW. On the ocean I sailed it straight, 22 hours, but on the ICW I will make at least 2 stops in GA, perhaps more if the tides nand currents conspire against me) I have no idea when I will have internet again, or, how long my cell service will last once I head into Georgia. It looks like there is a lot of barren marshland on this leg, so I have no idea how cell service will be. Worst case scenario, I will be back online when I get to Beaufort, SC, where I will probably break for a day or half day and rest.

As a footnote: the pizza I made was surprisingly good, not bad considering it was a crust mix, I substituted cheddar for mozzarella, and the only meat I had aboard to put on it was canned ham. I was either that hungry, or, it wasn’t half bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stir Crazy in St Augustine

As I mentioned the other day, I was stuck in St Augustine for the past few days, and in ways, it was fortunate I was.

I was changing my fuel filters early Wednesday morning when I noticed water dripping from my exhaust, not something that should be happening , at all. I checked things out, and my exhaust, which is a water jacketed pipe, was leaking internally, and could have potentially ruined my engine. As luck would have it, and perhaps thanks to a bit of oversight from above, I caught the problem in time., and, thanks to the bridge being closed, I was still in St Augustine, and had access to a welding shop that could and did turn the job right around. I had to walk about a mile and a half carrying this 70lb pipe to them, but it wasn't bad, and, I am sure I needed the exersize. What was bad though, when I got the new pipe installed and was running the engine, I noticed that the pipe had a few pin hole leaks in the welds, so I had to remove it, hike back out and back again, carrying this pipe the whole time. Quite a good bit of walking, and my shoulders are still sore from carrying the pipe. The good news is that the exhaust is now fixed, the old pipe was not only leaking, but over 50% obstructed with rust and scale. Now the engine is not on the verge of being flooded with water, and, it is running cooler as well.

Last night out on anchor we had one heck of a storm, and let me tell you, the anchorage south of St Augustine marina is a mess, I drug anchor last night, and when I was raising the anchor to relocate, I found that my anchor was fouled on some old abandoned anchor and chain. From the looks of it, when I dropped anchor it bit into the old chain and never dug in, and during the blow last night that old chain and anchor broke free. Once again I was extremely lucky, but I did not sleep all that well after that.

This morning I motored in, got a shower in the marina, and then Larry and Roberta treated me to breakfast. We went to a Greek restaurant that was close, but we had an all American breakfast, Larry and I had pancakes and Roberta had an omelet, nothing too Greek about any of that, but it was good and not too God awful expensive. On the way back from browsing around downtown I heard that the bridge was opening at 10 (over with), 1030 (over with) and 1130. I wanted to refuel, but there were 3 other boats in the queue, so I went through the bridge, anchored where I had anchored on the way south, and then ferried in my jerry cans to refuel. I am now topped off, and regardless of which way I go, outside or inside on the ICW, I should be able to make it to South Carolina on the fule I have. With the weather as it is, it looks like I will be inside tomorrow to Fernandina Beach, and maybe, hopefully, outside from Fernandina to Beaufort. From there it is about 4 or 5 days to North Carolina, if I go on the inside. Again, weather and wind permitting, I will do as much as I can outside, that should cut down the total miles and the number of hours and days travelling. I am thinking I am 12 days out from Elizabeth City, but maybe, just maybe I can cut that back down to 9 or 10 days. 60 miles a day, 690 miles on the ICW.....

I have gotten the boat squared away, all the parts and supplies are stowed, and I am thinking about trying to make pizza tonight for dinner. Who knows, maybe I will, I'll let you know how it turned out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Retracing Steps

Its been a few days since I posted, so once again it is time to play catch up.

I have been, as Sven would say, zooming northward. Because I have not been stopping for days at a time in each port, I have made in 3 days as much progress north as it took me two weeks to do on the south bound leg. I am following the same route I took headed south, so I am most certainly retracing my steps, and the track on the GPS is like my trail of bread crumbs. It is definitely time for me to get back up to where I call home, and I have been pouring on the throttle to do so. However, that all came to a screeching halt yesterday when I got to St Augustine, the Bridge of Lions is now finished, and they are dismantling the temporary bridge, so the channel is closed to boat traffic until Saturday, at the earliest. I suppose there could be worse places to be stuck than St Augustine, but, here I am, itching to get home, and I am sitting still. In 3 days I will be stir crazy, and I sure hope the progress on the bridge goes as announced.

I left Cocoa on Monday morning around 8, I was up with the sun, but I let Spook run around the park there and dumped my trash, taking it kind of slow that morning. I was tied up at the public dock, and didnt have to use the dinghy, so I was taking advantage of it. There is a publication called Skipper Bob's that gives tips and pointers for the ICW, and when I had been looking at it with Larry and Roberta on Saturday, I was amazed to see that the public dock at Cocoa was in 5 feet of water. When I got there I crept in, not wanting to run aground, but all was good, I was able to tie up and secure the boat no problem. The docks there all have signs that say you are not allowed to tie up for more than 3 hours with your dinghy or your boat, but last time I was there I spoke to a few of the boat residents, and they said no pone ever checks the docks, and in the foul weather we had Sunday night, no one did.

Monday I motorsailed, I was holding a good average of over 6 knots as I went past Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, and then once I got to Mosquito Lagoon the wind picked up and I was fairly racing up to New Smyrna Beach. The plan was to hold up in New Smyrna, but, the ocean was still raging, seas of 4-5 feet and winds 25 knots plus, so I decided to keep going. I was under sail as I approached the Coronado Beach Bridge, and I was 7 minutes early for the opening. Most bridges on the ICW open on request, this bridge opens every 20 minutes if there is boat traffic. So I swung up into the wind, made a few PB&J sandwiches, and just did loops in the channel waiting for the opening. When the bridge sounded its horn and started to open I swung Arden around and began to head for the bridge, and wouldn't you know it, we got a huge gust of wind and I was going way too fast for the bridge. I let the jib and main sheets fly, but I was still holding too much speed, with no room to turn and bleed it off. So I threw her into reverse and held on as the propeller dug in to slow me down, and I don't think I breathed until I cleared the bridge and was through to the other side, it was close, really close, and for a moment I was sure I was going to hit the span with the mast.

When my heart began to beat again, after it dropped out of my throat, I got all the sails under control and headed for Daytona. I was only about 15 miles south of there and I figured I’d be there by 6pm or so. I made good time, and was back at Loggerhead Marina by 5:45, and I hailed them on the radio and got no answer. There was a stiff wind and a current running when I pulled in, and docking by myself was tough, but I managed to get Arden to the dock and tied off. I called the number on the marina sign, and got an answering machine, so I gave up on trying to get permission to dock, there was no one there to give it or deny it, so I just figured on staying. I called a few friends of mine I had met when I was in Daytona before, and we made plans to meet at the bar for a few drinks and catch up on things. I grabbed a shower, got cleaned up and headed for the bar. It was good to see friends I had made along the way, and we had a good evening, and before long the bar was closing (they close at 10 when business is slow) and I was headed back down to Arden. As no one was really there in charge of the marina, I stayed tied up and went to bed. The original plan was to meet my friends and then go anchor out, but heck, if they weren’t going to have anyone there from 5pm to 7am, I figured I’d stay and then cast off before daylight. So I stayed tied up to a dock for the 2nd night in a row, not something I have been able to do much on this trip, and got in a good nights sleep.

Tuesday came, and I was away from the dock just before daybreak and headed north again. The goal for the day was St Augustine, and I figured that I would be there late afternoon at the latest. Once again I was motor sailing, but as the day wore on the wind shifted, so I had to take down the sails as the wind was right on the nose. When I got to Flagler Beach I saw a guy running out onto his dock as I approached, it was Joe Barefoot, a resident there that has been following the blog. We yelled greetings across the ICW as I slowed, and he said he has been following the blog and my progress on the trip, and was glad to see that I did make it to the islands. After a bit I picked up speed, and headed on, but it was cool to actually meet someone that has been following me.

I paused for lunch just north of Flagler, and then I was off again, headed for Matanza’s Inlet and the current and the shoaling there. Just before I reached Matanza’s I had 2 dolphin play with the boat, they followed me for about a mile or so, surfing my wake and blowing hard when they broke the surface right beside the boat. I got a lot of great pictures of them, and then they broke away and went back to feeding. I love seeing the dolphin, they are so graceful and beautiful, and it really picks me up when they run with the boat as these two did.

When I got to Matanza’s I was prepared to bump bottom, the channel shoals up bad here with the way the current runs, and on the way down I did bump over 3 sand bars. By now Spook was out on deck again, and just as I was trying to get her to lay down in the cockpit, knowing how she reacts to hitting the sand bars (for some reason it terrifies her, and she gets panicked when we brush bottom) when we bumped hard. She went into a tizzy, running up and down the deck and for a minute I was worried she was going to go over in her panicked state. I got her to go down below, but that was it for the shoals, and before long she was ok and out on deck again.

It wasn’t long before I was approaching St Augustine, and the bridge master at Crescent Beach bridge confirmed that the Bridge of Lions was indeed closed until Saturday.

So here I am, anchored just south of the Bridge of Lions, twiddling my thumbs and waiting until Saturday. There is going to be a mad dash for the bridge on Saturday morning, there must be 20 boats here waiting to go, and I can only imagine the chaos as we all jockey to get through and continue on. If it weren’t for being stuck, I would be well into GA by Saturday, or even into SC if I were able to do a good bit of the run outside, so now I am fighting the feeling that I will be running behind. It is totally an internal and mental thing, but I definitely feel that I need to be up there by the first or second week of April, and barring any problems, it now looks like the 2nd week in April for sure.

I received an email from Tom down in Ft Lauderdale, things down there are going well, and he passed on greetings from Brooke and Sterling, and their 3 dogs. Tom was instrumental in my route planning for the trip over to Bimini, and he was glad to hear that I had made it over and back ok.

Now I will sit and wait, get a few more projects finished on the boat, maybe do a bit more touch up on brightwork, and try to occupy these next few days.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Compass Points North...and...Ferral Parrots

It has been a day or so since I wrote, so I have a wee bit of catch up to do.

On Friday morning the fleet of two (Symmetry and Arden) left the perfect anchorage and headed up to Vero Beach. It was a bit of a late start, I think it was around 10 or so, but we only had 15 miles to go, and there really was no rush. For once I took the lead, and as we left the protection of the anchorage we were soon in a really strong current that lead to the Ft Pierce channel. I looked back at Symmetry, and I think it was all Larry could do to keep her between the marks, the boat was crabbing sideways in the current, and I am sure Arden looked the same to them, as I was bucking the current and feeling it push and pull on the boat, it was definitely hard to keep a straight track.

Around noon or just a bit after we pulled into the Marina at Vero Beach, and it is a really nice facility. More mooring balls than slips, but very protected and really nice facilities. I topped off the fuel, I was a bit lower than I thought, taking on 37 gallons, and then I broke down and paid for a mooring. There is no open anchorage here, so to stay here you have to pay here.

I have never hooked to a mooring before, having always tied up or been on the hook, and I was suprised that each ball here had a tether, so it was much easier than I had thought. Heck, I even managed to snag the tether and get Arden secured on the first try. After than it was time to pump up my leaking dinghy, and get Spook ashore. We took a long walk, the neighborhoods here reminded me alot of Southport, NC - but a bit more tropical. I mentioned this to Roberta later, and she agreed, quite a similarity between the residential areas here. It was here that I encountered the ferral parrots, I heard a bird in the trees and thought to myself "now that sounds just like a parrot". Sure enough, it was an Amazon parrot, not sure exactly what breed it was, but definitely an Amazon. ( I had one once) Later on in the day I saw a few more, I am amazed they survived the cold snap of January, but, otherwise I am sure this is a perfect climate for them. Spook and I went down and went for a walk on the beach, and it never occurred to me that dogs were not allowed on the beaches here. A lifeguard came up and was really nice about asking me to leave, and as we walked to the boardwalk, I was telling him "I'm not from around here...". I had noticed alot of folks looking at me strangely as I walked down the beach with my dog, and tyhe lifeguard told me it was because they were jealous that I was daring enough to bring my dog to the beach. After getting Spook taken care of, and a bit of sun for myself, I returned to the boat and gave the engine a tune up, or valve lash adjustment. This is much like changing the spark plugs and distributor on a gas engine, it can dramaticly increase the performance of the engine and its economy. It didn't take all that long, and then it was in for a much needed shower.  Later in the evening Larry and Roberta treated me to dinner at a really nice pizza place, and that in turn reminded me alot of a place in Elizabeth City, Tony's, where I had been so many times with Gary and Alice. Quite a nice day, and a great way to end it.

Saturday was kind of a lazy day, I took Spook in and we went to the farmer's market where I got a few veggies for the trip north, and then it was back to Arden to clean up a bit and get a bit of a tan. Yes, I actually laid out and didn't burn, and I got quite rested and relaxed. I did laundry and read some, clipped Spooks toe nails and gave her a good brushing - she is shedding bad -  and then that evening there was a boater get together in one of the picnic pavilions there at the marina. A nice get together, met some really nice folks, and even met a guy that was familiar with my boat design, well the other brand of boat built on the same hull, the Roughwater 33, but to date he is the only person I have ever met that even recognizes the design. After the rendezvous I took my computer, the dead one, over to Symmetry to see if Larry could work a bit of magic on it, but he couldn't. That laptop is dead, and will require major surgery when I get back to someplace that has a computer shop.

This morning I was up before 5, and got everything set to go - hauled the dignhy aboard and deflated it, secured all the loose gear on deck, checked out the engine - and then it was off the mooring and underway. It was just at sunrise when I left, and what an incredible display it was. It didn't look like Roberta and Larry were up when I went by, so I gave them a call a bit later and thanked them for all their hospitality, and to find out if they were underway or not. My goal for the day was Cocoa, and they were going to go into a marina in Melbourne so they could top off with water. So it look like I won't see them until later on up the ICW, or sometime in Oriental.

I made a few phone calls today, spoke with Clay and Mary (from my trip down), they are in Marathin, FL and will be turning north soon, having had a good trip so far. I called SVen, they are wrapping up work in Ft Lauderdale and will be heading to Cuba in a week. I called Jim and John from Calvert Marina, and I got an email from David and Peg, who are enjoying their sailing in the islands.

I made pretty good time up to Cocoa, I averaged about 6 knots and made it here motor sailing in about 8 and a half hours. I had called Bill Knoight, a fellow I had met on the way down, and once I tied up at the town dock, he swung by and ran me over to West Marine for patches for the dinghy, and then over to a grocery for a few items. It was good to see him, and it seems he is doing well. I think it always rains in Cocoa, at least it does when I am here, when I arrived today it was pouring down and I am sure glad Bill was able to give me a lift.

So tomorrow I cast off again, I am set to go another 54 miles up to Ponce Inlet, where I will anchor and debate whether to wait for a weather window (I hope there is not a wait for that) or head up the ICW. The goal is St Augustine, and if I go outside it is just about 64 miles, not too hard a day if I get an early enough start. I hope I can do it on the outside and stretch my diesel supplies out a bit, but we will see what the weather holds and how impatient I am.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Turning North

Tuesday night I had dinner with Larry and Roberta - the rest of the boaters in the marina had left that morning and we had bid goodbye to David and Peg, Matt, they had followed John out and were headed for Cat Cay, and onward from there. Larry cooked steak on the grill, and Roberta had fixed fried potatoes and coleslaw, and so over a great dinner we discussed our route back to the States. Larry had planned on heading north to West Palm Beach, and had the same idea on the trip as I did. After a really nice evening I headed back to Arden, time to stow the gear and get ready to leave.

I woke to an overcast day, with daylight savings it was dark when I got up, fixed a quick pot of tea and then raised anchor. The sky did not look promising, but we were going, as this was the best window available until Saturday. The sun was rising as I l,inked up with Larry and Roberta just outside the marina, but thanks to the overcast all sunrise really amounted to was a lightening of the sky. The channel entrance and the ocean beyond were calm as we motored out, first time it had been like that in days, so it seemed out crossing would be easy enough, and probably done by motoring.

Clearing the channel we turned North West, and our two boats motored on and headed for the States. We passed a few power boats, some headed for Bimini, some headed for the US, and some heading out for a day of fishing. Soon we were in the Gulf Stream, and our speed picked up as we got a good push North. We had raised sail by now, picking up what little bit of breeze that had been forecast, and thanks to the northern current we were making about 7 knots. I am going to pause here for a second and back up a bit. Larry and Roberta sail a catamaran, and I did not expect to be able to sail with them for long, as catamarans are usually faster than a similar sized monohull, but Arden surprised me and we were able to keep up, at one point even gaining ground on them, I took a course that was a a fe3w degrees different than theirs, but was better sailing for Arden. The forecast was for light winds from the west and a 50% chance of rain as we approached the Florida coast. All things considered, this looked like it was going to be an easy crossing. As the morning wore on we made tremendous progress, and in about 2 hours Bimini disappeared from view, and we were out on the open ocean.

I read a bit as we sailed along, the Gulf Stream was a bit lumpy from the west wind but pretty calm compared to the sail to Bimini, and I was able to utilize the tiller lock and get a break from steering, checking the heading now and again to make sure I was tracking well. Things remained pretty calm and even, we had made great progress, and by 11:00 we had made just over 30 miles. I will mention here that the distance from Bimini to West Palm Beach is just over 76 miles, and we had figured that it was going to take a bit over 10 hours to get there. Around noon the winds began to pick up, and the we were in that 50% that got rained on. The seas began to pick up as well, soon the lumps formed into waves, and the waves grew in size. By one o'clock we were in good two to three foot seas, and the winds had increased to about 10 mph. We were on a beam reach, which is great for Arden, and I was able to ease off the throttle and sail more than motor. On we went, and the winds picked up even more and it wasn't too long before I had to ease off and then put a reef in, as Arden was holding a consistent 30 degrees of heel, and when a wave would pass her, there were times that we went past 45 degrees. I pulled up and reefed in, and in the process of that I lost sight of Larry in the rain and mist. Roberta kept in contact with me on the radio though, and soon I was off again, I had put the in the reef in good time, and just in time as well, because that light wind that was forecast was soon topping 25 mph. Arden was moving, between the Gulf Stream current, surfing the waves and sailing, I was averaging over nine knots, and at times was well over 10 knots. Thank God for a favorable current. I spoke to Roberta, they were by now a few miles ahead, the winds favoring their catamaran and they had picked up speed just as I had, more speed in fact, thanks to their hull design.

With the rising winds I was working hard at the tiller keeping Arden on course, and the rain mixed with spray as we plowed through the waves. I was holding 9 knots easily, and I realized that Arden is a very wet boat. She does not ride easily in these conditions, riding the waves or following them, she plows through them, keeping the decks awash constantly. We were fast approaching the coast, and soon I saw a freighter ahead on the horizon, the only one I had seen all day. By 3:30 I had land in sight, the skyscraper hotels and condos of Palm Beach were in sight and I knew that this day would be over soon. Roberta called on the radio, they were just about to enter the channel, and were as it turns out only 5 miles ahead. I was right on course, and ended up sailing directly into the channel, it is amazing how the GPS has simplified navigation. I lowered sail as I entered the Palm Beach channel, and soon I was in calm waters and headed for the anchorage.

I looked for Larry and Roberta, and did no see them in the anchorage I had stayed in on my way down, so I radioed over and learned they were in an anchorage just south of me. So without consulting a chart, I headed that way, and after turning into what I thought was the ICW, I ran aground. Hard. I went below and got my chart out for the ICW, and it turns out that the 3 green markers I followed were not marking the same channel, but were marking different points of different channels. I tried to motor off and reverse course, but that was not working, so I waited a bit for the tide to come in a tad more, and then I raised sail, sheeted in hard, and with Arden heeling over I broke free and sailed around to were they were anchored. I was there in no time, and as I lowered sail and dropped the hook we compared notes about the crossing. We`had sailed a total of 81.8 miles in just over 10 hours, and we all considered that very good progress for a day. I think given the window we had to cross we did quite well, I don't think I could have spent another day in Bimini, knowing I needed to start north and getting a bit antsy about it all. We were all exhausted, so we did not get together that evening, and after a quick dinner and cleanup, I was bedded down and asleep fairly fast.

There was a beautiful sunrise Thursday morning, and I was up and making breakfast as the day broke. We had agreed to set off fairly early, and as soon as breakfast was over we got underway. The weather reports did not sound good for a sail outside on the ocean, the west winds had turned north north west, and there was a northern swell running as well. That was making for 5 to 6 foot seas, not something I, or Larry and Roberta, was up for this morning. So we turned up the ICW and headed for Ft Pierce, and the first of many bridges. I think we went through 6 draw bridges yesterday, but luckily we did not have to wait long at any of them. As we were passing through Jupiter Inlet I noticed that the tone of Arden's exhaust had changed, and the engine was running a bit warmer than normal. I eased off on the throttle, but I knew something was wrong. I radioed up to Larry and Roberta, and told them that I was going to have to stop and check her out. I was really apprehensive about what might be causing the problem, so I anchored and began to check out the cooling system. As it turns out there was nothing wrong with either the raw or fresh water side of the coolant system, but rather, a piece of scale had clogged a water port in my muffler. Arden's exhaust system is, for a large part, regular steel, and over time she will build up scale inside the muffler. One of those pieces of scale had clogged the water outlet, and as I fired her up to check water flow through the heat exchangers, it must have let go, I heard a poof and a pop, and when I looked out there was a huge ring of carbon on the water, and my exhaust was back to normal. I checked the temp of the engine, it was back to normal, so I was soon underway again.

I motored on again, and as with yesterday, Larry and Roberta were now 5 miles or so ahead. I poured on the throttle, and by the time we reached our agreed upon anchorage, I was within a mile of them. We anchored last night in Coconut Cove, Larry had not anchored there before and Roberta called me about it. I had anchored there on the way down, just about 3 weeks ago, and I told them what a great and protected anchorage it was. By far, it is the best place I have anchored during this entire trip, a small cove, well off the beaten path, and extremely protected. The holding here seems to be very good, and I would rate it as a 9 as far as anchorages go. The only draw back is that there is no where really to land and get Spook ashore, but I did what I had done during my earlier stay here, once the dinghy was inflated I motored over to a dock on a property where the house that was there had been demolished, and the property was vacant. After getting Spook ashore and a good walk completed, I was invited to dinner aboard Symmetry again. This time I brought Spook, and she was well received, Larry and Roberta are dog people, but are sailing with their cat, as their dog is staying with one of their children.

This morning we are taking it easy after 2 long days, we are going to head up to Vero Beach, where they are going to re provision, and I am going to refuel. They plan to stay there 2 nights, and I am torn on whether I should stay and go to the farmers market on Saturday, or if after refueling and a good days rest I should head north more tomorrow.

I am definitely north bound now, I am sailing on waters I have sailed through before, and in ways I am saddened by the fact that the adventure, although not over, is now taking place over territory I have been through before. I feel a bit apprehensive about my return north, I am not sure where or what I am returning to, but it is definitely not to what I thought it would be when I left.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Island Time

Sunday night was a pretty interesting and heart stopping for me, I went out to Arden to get some things to throw in for the barbeque we were having at the marina, and when I got out to the boat, I wasn’t on board for 5 minutes before something just seemed out of place and I looked out of the companionway, only to see the shoreline going by at an alarming rate. I first thought I was just swinging on the anchor, but, I wasn’t, I was drifting on the anchor and fast. Up into the cockpit I went, started the engine and got her in gear, and then proceded to haul in the anchor rode. The chain on the rode had tangled in the flukes of the anchor, and had pulled it free. Even though it scared the heck out of me, it could not have happened with better timing, as just a few minutes prior I was ashore and in the marina. Arden would have grounded for sure, and I would have been in some very dire straights, but good fortune smiled on me once again. I got her back in position, and put out both anchors, and called in to say I would be skipping dinner ashore. I spent the rest of the evening aboard, monitoring the GPS very closely, but she did not budge and seemed to be holding quite well. I am actually really fortunate that things worked out as they did, because later in the night the winds picked up and blew us all over, and had I drug anchor while sleeping, the result could have been very bad indeed.

Daylight savings time has come, and as usual my internal clock is all messed up. It seems to me it was not long ago that we changed the clocks in the fall, and I remember complaining to a friend of mine just how messed up the time changes get me, it takes me a good while to adapt to the new time, and she and I were both down about how the days were getting shorter and winter was fast approaching. Now it is some months later, and spring is finally on the way, so it is not nearly as traumatic a time change, but it does kind of underscore for me just how long I have been out and about on this trip of mine.

I have spent the past few days doing odd boat work jobs, the day before yesterday I helped Matt straighten out an electrical problem on his Beneteau 285, and today I worked with David on his refrigeration and fuel system. It is really a good feeling being able to help them out with their problems, Matt has had electrical issues for some time on his boat, and it really boiled down to the fact that some time ago some one put a redundant wire in there that bypassed all of his battery switches, and his batteries were constantly dying. I found the problem, eliminated it, and then went through his electrical system and made sure everything was ok. He was truly relieved to have this problem resolved, it has plagued his boat for some time, and it would strand him at the most inopportune times. Afterwards, he took me to breakfast at Capt Ron’s, a near by breakfast stop that is a a favorite of the locals and tourists alike, and I saw pictures on the wall of a distant relative of mine, Ernest Hemingway. More about that later.

Yesterday I helped David get the fan for the refrigeration on Journey repaired, it started as a fairly straight forward job, we were going to simply replace the fan with a spare he had, but true to my inquisitive nature, I had to disassemble the fan to see why it wasn’t working. Come to find out, there was a wire that had come off a circuit board on the inside of the fan, and as the spare was not quite as large as the original, we repaired the broken one, and reinstalled it. I also helped David change his fuel filters, and went over how to properly bleed his fuel system after a filter change, or, if for some reason the boat ran low on fuel or had a fuel problem. I think this gave Dave a much better understanding of how the engine worked, and will potentially help him out down the road.

Afterwards I went for a swim, and snorkeled a bit in the marina, there are all kinds of tropical fish right around the pilings and under the boats, and it was much like dropping into the saltwater reef fish tank that I had many years ago. There were Damsel fish, and Tangs, a few Wrasse, and there are Amberjacks all over. Matt went spear fishing not long after and he spent a good few hours in the water, and pretty much came up empty handed, he hit a few, but the type of spear he was using requires the user to be very close to the prey, and it just didn’t turn out to be his day. He did manage to spear what he thought was a skate, but it turned out to be a small stingray, so when he got up to the dock I got it off the spear and let it go. The last few nights we have seen Bull Sharks swim in to check out if there are any scraps from the fish cleaning tables, it seems these same 3 sharks do this every evening, they have become accustomed to having a free meal in the evenings, and we have had the pleasure of watching them cruise for dinner.

Last night we had another boater get together at the marina, it was the last night that all of the group that we have formed will be together, today many of the boats here will set sail for islands further east, and those of us that are heading back west will be leaving tomorrow. I will say goodbye to David and Peg shortly, they have been very kind to me, and I will miss their company. I am sure we will bump into one another again, no matter where on the east coast I end up, they will be passing my way on their way back to Annapolis. Matt is leaving as well, and I will miss his company too, he is a very interesting guy, and a good sailing partner, and I will certainly moss his fresh out look on things. There is a couple here from Oriental, NC, Larry and Roberta, and I think it is only our 2 boats that will stay until Wednesday, when we will begin our journey back to more northern reaches. It is the current plan for us to sail out together, but as they are on a catamaran, I am sure they will out pace me very shortly, but, we will have radio contact, and I think our initial goal of Palm Beach is the same.

As`for Ernest Hemingway, somewhere down the family tree, there is a branch that goes over to the Hemingway family. I know that my great aunt Mary was related someway, somehow, and I know that my mother could clear that up for me and set me straight on just how related we are. But the connection is there, and I am now in one of his more favored haunts, he spent quite a good deal of time here in Bimini fishing, and appearantly drinking as well. The marina we are based out of is across from the remains of the Complete Angler, a famous restaurant that he was known to frequent, and his picture is in the restaurant where Matt and I had breakfast just the other day.

So here we go, some of us are continuing our journeys and adventures, and some of us are starting that trek back home. I am certainly glad to have met the folks I have, and to have made such fast friends, but it will be bittersweet as well, leaving these friends behind as I return to the real world here shortly.