Friday, February 24, 2017

Twiddling our Thumbs in Titusville

The forecast leaving St Augustine called for rain. And then rain. Followed by rain. Our reasoning for leaving with such a horrendous forecast was, well, if you are going to sit inside your boat doing nothing, you might as well be driving down the ICW and making progress south. We certainly weren't going out in the ocean. The winds were going to be 25 - 35 knots in every direction.

So, on Wednesday morning at 6:36 am (the default time that my phone alarm is set for), we woke up and prepared for a wet departure. Much to our surprise, the 'sunrise' came in between showers and Junie was able to drop our mooring lines without getting drenched. In fact, the high winds that we were expecting just were not there. Looking at the weather radar, it appeared that we were in the 'eye' of a large low pressure system with only 3 - 5 knot breezes instead of the predicted strong winds. We will definitely take that.

Our plan for the day was to make it to Daytona and anchor just below the first set of twin bridges. Again, thinking we were in for northeast winds of over 30 knots, it seemed like a good spot. And, there is a park between the two bridges where we could take Tilly. The trip was uneventful. Eventually, it rained. Poured down rain. It made me feel very good about having re-treated our canvas with water repellent just prior to leaving Charleston. We were cozy and dry under the full enclosure and, not too surprisingly since it is the middle of winter, mostly alone as we traveled down the waterway. The wind was consistently mild and from the south - not the predicted northeast.

We passed some beautiful spots. The area around Matanzas Inlet was serene and quiet in between the rain showers. We saw several pods of dolphins starting immediately after dropping our mooring and continuing throughout the day. Tilly just loves that. Some of them were, literally, right next to the cockpit as we motored along.

Daytona twin bridges off our stern.
Just before the weather turned snarky.
We arrived at Daytona fairly early and, with our luck still holding out, the rain let up long enough to drop the anchor. Unfortunately, the wind was rising (still from the south) and it was against the current moving through the anchorage. SeaClearly was having a hard time settling on the anchor. We spent 20 minutes waiting and jostling ourselves around until we could get properly set. Quickly, the weather had deteriorated to the point that we would not be able to drop the dinghy to take Tilly into the park. She was not happy. We kicked back, made dinner and got ready for early bed. We set the anchor alarm on Drag Queen pretty tight since were were anchored stern-to the bridge.

Before midnight, the anchor alarm was screaming! Very few things make me fly out of bed like an anchor alarm going off. Turns out that the northeast winds had finally showed up and spun us 180 degrees and stretched us to the other extreme of our anchor chain - 200 feet from where we started and enough to trigger the alarm. We were still holding just fine (kudos to our Rocna anchor) but it took me a while to be convinced and go back to bed.

Next morning, we were up and out as soon as it was light. Fast forward through a quiet trip along the ICW to the George Mussen Memorial Bridge. It is a bascule bridge (which means that it needs to open for something as tall as SeaClearly) that opens on a schedule. When I called on the radio, the bridge tender said, "I'm opening in 3 minutes if you can get up here captain." We sped up, got there right on time and I dropped the shifter into reverse to hold position while the bridge opened. We heard a weird thunking, sucking sound. Probably not good. When we motored up again to pass through the now-open bridge, SeaClearly was shaking like a - OK, this is an old saying from some good old boys in my past - shaking like a dog passing peach pits. We stumbled through the bridge and then drifted to a stop downstream to find out what happened.

I shifted from forward to reverse several times. Junie kept us in the channel while I went down and checked the engine for anything obvious. We drifted in neutral for a bit and then I hit reverse lightly and SeaClearly coughed up a chunk of sticks that floated out behind us. Apparently we had sucked them into the prop when we reversed to stop for the bridge. The shudder went away immediately and we were on our way.

Our next adventure for the day came just north of Titusville going under another bridge which I thought I needed to call for an opening but, as we approached, it appeared that it was opening - or closing - no, wait - neither. Half of the bridge was open. Hmm. A call to the tender confirmed that, indeed, only half the bridge was open and it was stuck that way. We had a 40 ft horizontal clearance with an angled bridge section hanging over it. Our choice if we wanted to squeeze through. Imagine driving a UHaul truck under a railroad crossing with the gate 2/3 of the way up and you will get the picture. I wish I could have had that picture of us going through to see how close it was - I think. Junie wouldn't look.

My little Martin BackPacker guitar
got me into the boaters lounge jam.

We arrived at Titusville Municipal Marina mid-afternoon and, after considering the weather forecast and the lack of potential offshore travel, we signed up for a slip for a week. We backed SeaClearly into B81 and settled in for a stay.  Last night after showers, we stumbled on some guitar players (and one dobro player) in the boaters lounge so I went back to the boat and got my Martin BackPacker guitar and joined in for a while. That was fun.

Tilly slurping up the disgusting water
from the bucket at the dog park.

The AC is on to dry out the boat. There is a dog park right next door. This morning we did laundry, engine oil and transmission fluid changes, flushed the watermaker to keep it fresh (in expectation of actually using it), ran the fuel polisher  and cleaned up the boat. The weather from Chris Parker, our weather guy, is not promising. We may not get a chance to cross to the Bahamas for weeks. We will keep working our way south in hopes of catching a window to cross. In the mean time, life is good.

The park is immediately adjacent to the marina. Nice!
SeaClearly - waiting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

St Augustine for the second time

We have noticed a change in our attitude this year. We don't seem to be in much of a hurry. Sure, we are still moving south bit by bit. But we don't mind the delays as much. We don't feel the urgency that pressed us forward on our previous trips. I guess we were so afraid that we wouldn't get around to all of our sailing dreams that we pushed pretty hard. This trip, it's OK if we just have to sit and wait for weather. We can take the ICW (which we are still not fond of but it is not quite as insane in the middle of winter) and make small progress as we can. It will all still be there later. Overall, a pleasant attitude.

This is a Flashback Photo from 2013.
That is Carolina Moon in front of us going
through the bridge at Sister's Creek.
The bridge has since been removed and
replaced by a high-rise span.

And so, we have stayed in St Augustine for three days. We came through here on our first Bahama trip in 2013 under the mentor-ship of Bejay and Michael on Carolina Moon. We thought of them many times along the way, especially as we ate at Pizzalley the other night.

Bejay and Michael took us under their wing after we met them in Charleston, through Fernandina, all the way to St Augustine. Their advice was much appreciated and we have sailed, traveled and visited with them since. We wish them well and wish they were here.

It was an uneventful trip down from Jacksonville except for the constant attention demanded by the ICW for the first 25 miles of the trip. There are numerous areas of shoaling within the channel so high tide and chart checking are mandatory.

The only bridge that has to open to let us pass is in downtown St Augustine. It only opens on the hour and half hour. The mooring field for the marina is just on the other side of the bridge - which makes for a painful wait if you miss the bridge opening by 2 minutes and have to paddle around looking at your destination. When we left in the morning, we thought we would arrive at the Bridge of Lions - yes, it does have lions at each end - for the 2:30 opening (another positive of ICW travel with no traffic. You can predict your travel time. As long as you successfully avoid the shoals).

We rounded the last bend, with the bridge still maybe just a little too far in the distance, at 2:26 with the hammer down and calling the bridge on Channel 9.

"Bridge of Lions, Bridge of Lions, this is sailing vessel SeaClearly".
"Bridge of Lions, Go ahead SeaClearly"
"Good Afternoon, Sir", I said, hoping that courtesy would help. "We are a 42 foot sailboat southbound and would like to make that 2:30 opening"
"Alright SeaClearly. You will have the tide on this opening"
"Roger that. Thank you."
The Bridge of Lions from our south field mooring ball.

Yes! We are making the 2:30! His comment about the tide indicated that we would have the tide pushing us and, therefore, got to go first before the northbound traffic passed through the bridge. Less than 10 minutes later, we were picking up a mooring.

We dropped the dinghy, went to town and - what else - got gelato. Tilly was happy to run around a new town. We had Roux, our big chocolate Lab last time we were here and we sure thought of him. We have seen dolphins regularly here and Tilly has gotten good at spotting them.

Flagler College. Used to be someone's winter home.
While we were hanging around St Augustine, friends Bo and Joyce on Dream Catcher were offshore on their way down to St Augustine from the Myrtle Beach area. We got together with them today and walked St Augustine on the Cruiser's tour - West Marine, Sailor's Exchange (the coolest nautical has-everything used boat parts store / junkyard - not meant in a derogatory way), Flagler College and Georgies Diner (excellent gyros).

Not too shabby. Now part of the college.
Also, not shabby.

Tomorrow morning, since the weather isn't letting us out into the ocean, we will go south on the ICW again towards Daytona and then on to Titusville. We can provision from there and be staged and ready to head either further south in Florida or across to the Bahamas when a window presents itself. Or, we can just sit in Titusville and go to the dog park. We'll see what Tilly says.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Overnight to Florida

For years, we have heard about a Free Dock at Sister's Creek just south of Jacksonville, Florida. It always seemed a little too good to be a true story - floating concrete docks, water at the dock, stay up to 72 hours, park and boat ramp next door. If you are moving down the Intra-Coastal Waterway and are cheap like us, this is really sweet.

Leaving Beaufort, SC. You gotta love a hospital that
has a boat dock.

Our schedule to leave Beaufort, SC was driven by the tide schedule. We needed to run downriver to Port Royal inlet to go out into the ocean for an overnight run to St Mary's inlet at the Georgia-Florida line. Which meant waiting for the high tide to peak out and then ride the outgoing current. That didn't happen, on that day - Thursday 2/16 - until almost 1:00 pm. A little later than we like to get underway normally. However, it set up our timing to arrive at St Mary's on the inbound tide the next morning.

The weather forecast indicated that, from our location, we should be right on the bottom of a weather system. In fact, we had some crazy squalls go over us at anchor in Beaufort on Wednesday with 45 knot gusts. Not insignificant and an interesting couple of hours. The back side of that front should give us west winds for a good ride south. The weather guys are not always exactly correct.

But, they weren't far off. After an easy ride down to the ocean, we turned south into wind on our nose - again. If only we carried a wind-on-the-nose-sail. It was a bit snarky for a couple of hours but it started, slowly, to shift to the west winds predicted. Soon, we had a sail up to help the motor. By 9:00 pm, Junie (on the first night shift) cut the engine and we ended up sailing most of the night. The wind and seas started to mellow towards dawn. By the time we entered St Mary's it was a beautiful, calm morning. We weren't 50 yards past the south fork in the channel when dolphins showed up.

Sunrise on the ocean. I never get tired of that.

We had decided that we wanted to go to St Augustine, Florida again so we were going to take the ICW at least that far. By arriving at St Mary's first thing in the morning, we had some time and a rising tide so we just kept going. We wouldn't make it all the way to St Augustine but, by early afternoon, we could be at - wait for it - the Free Dock at Jacksonville!

SeaClearly - safely landed.
Of course, there are no dockhands at a free dock so we had to manage coming in with no help - something of a challenge for a short crew. But, we arrived right at slack tide and pre-set all of the lines and fenders. Junie, not one to jump off a boat without good reason, made the leap to tie us off and we landed gracefully. Naturally, since all went well, there was no one around to see it.

Excellent floating docks.

The Free Dock is exactly as advertised. Tilly loves the park. After an overnight trip in the ocean, we love being tied up and not having to worry about the anchor, the tides, etc. There is even an unofficial greeter couple - Browne and Nancy - that stop by to check on any cruisers that show up. We washed down SeaClearly (with the free water!), took care of a few boat chores, heated up some Shrimp Creole, decided we were probably going to stay here two days, and were in bed by 7:00 pm.

Tilly - after the bath.

Today, we relaxed a bit, worked a bit, took Tilly on walks. By the way, she still sucks at walks. She chewed through her harness so we switched her back to a training collar. I stopped to adjust the collar and took it off of her for a minute. She saw a drainage pond and took off. My first thought was, "Oh, great. We are in Florida. I'm going to have to jump into the pond and fight the alligators off of my dog." Fortunately, she just did one quick plunge then came back out. No alligators. She got properly fussed at and then had to suffer the indignation of a cold hosewater dock bath.

All turned around and ready to go.

We were sitting outside waiting for the midday slack high tide to turn SeaClearly around facing bow out for a next day departure. The creek is pretty narrow and shallow on the outside, especially at low tide (which it will be in the morning). Turning around would be difficult at that point.

While we waited, we met some new friends, Jack and Pat, who were just walking by. We ended up talking to them for 45 minutes and shared some stories. We mentioned that we needed to turn the boat around so, they helped us with the lines. Nice! And, now we are set to drive straight out.

Tomorrow morning, we should be taking off right after coffee. By tomorrow afternoon - St Augustine!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Off to the Bahamas!

Happy Valentine's Day! Also, the 5 year anniversary of the acceptance of our offer on SeaClearly. Hardly seems possible but what great adventures we have had with this great boat.

Christmas Day at the beach - Sullivan's Island
SeaClearly is underway again and headed south! We have been parked in St John's Yacht Harbor, on John's Island just south of Charleston SC, since late September. It has been an enjoyable time, a productive time and a memorable time. Daughter Emily and son-law Tyler recently relocated to the Charleston area so we got to spend a lot of time with them. It was nice to be able to drop by and have dinner, go see the Christmas lights, help with their new house projects or just sit around. Tilly loves to visit 'the cousins', their dogs Buddy and Elphie. We will miss being so close to them but we intend to be back in the fall.

Tilly - Boat Dog

St John's Yacht Harbor was also very good to us. It has an eclectic mix of people so, of course, we fit right in. There are a number of live-aboards so it has a family feel much like an apartment complex. There are the long-term residents, the short-term people with bigger plans and the transients that pass through and plant the seeds of discontent among the locals. For our stay, we fell somewhere between the short-term and transients. We actually bought a car when we first arrived at the marina so we could hardly claim to be 'just passing through'.

We met many great people at SJYH and are now chasing some of them south. (Note to Ron and Phebe on Jiibay Na Noodin: Your radio call from Warderick Wells made us jealous. We are headed south!)
Path at the marina

Check out all of the bikes along the rail.
And, the number of kids' bikes.

The long walk to the parking lot...

...under the bridge back to James Island.

New Mom and Dad with baby Lily.
We were a little slow starting this season because we were waiting for Lily - the first child of son Jeffrey and daughter-in-law Alyssa, the third grand-daughter! We took our new little car, a Ford Focus, and made the roadtrip to Denver to be there for the event. We had clear weather, good audio books and no issues the entire trip. We were happy to be hanging out in the waiting room with Alyssa's Mom and Dad when Lily arrived. We stayed for a few more days after the birthday and then headed back across the plains to the marina. And started the countdown to the Bahamas.
Proud Dad.

We have not been lazy while hanging out at John's Island. We had a bunch of boat chores lined up for ourselves to fill the idle hours.

  • Recovered cockpit cushions
  • Sail repairs - batten pockets, various stitching
  • Oh yeah, that hurricane - that visited both SJYH and the house in the Outer Banks
    • So, we had to strip SeaClearly and prep for extreme weather and potential damage
    • Tie her down and then leave - not pleasant
    • Drive to the Outer Banks (which was not supposed to get hit)
    • Arrange to have the roof repaired (because it did hit)
  • Refinish teak (an on-going process but it looks so pretty)
    • BTW, we took off all of the stainless steel rub rail to refinish the teak, backed it with butyl tape and replaced all of the screws - many, many screws
  • Trained Tilly (didn't work)
  • Made new fender covers
  • Endless polishing, treating, waxing
  • Re-plumbed the watermaker
  • Dental work, physicals, haircuts (yes, my ponytail is gone), and a perm for Junie

Despite having spent quite a bit of time on boat tasks and maintenance, we still had a crash list to wrap up before we could leave the slip. But, eventually, the list items were crossed off, every locker was full, the weather gave us a break and we were ready to go. We left the slip at almost slack tide on Saturday, February 11 - not a real graceful exit but I don't even count bouncing off a piling anymore. Our dock friends were there to see us off and wave us good-bye. Added bonus - dolphins came to meet us in the first 5 minutes of the trip.

We had decided that, since we hadn't moved for a while, we would take our first leg down the ICW to Beaufort, SC rather than immediately jump out of Charleston Harbor into the ocean. It turned out to be a good idea so we could come up to speed slowly.

We only traveled a few hours on Day One. The tides in this area are big and the margin of error in some stretches of the ICW is small. Consequently, timing the tides is crucial. For us, on this day, that meant stopping early and waiting for the next day to avoid running aground. We anchored in Steamboat Creek which is really nowhere. It was comforably deep, well protected, had vicious current but was a great stop. Tilly was forced to deal with the reality of peeing on the fake grass on the bow again but she adjusted well.

Tilly - not seeing land in her future.
Steamboat Creek is - well - a creek. With 7 foot tides.

We started out early Sunday and made a high-water run through all of the skinny spots and arrived in Beaufort in the afternoon. Beaufort is a cute little town with a nice waterfront park and a welcoming attitude towards boaters. Since the weather looks to be keeping us out of the ocean until Thursday, this is a good place to sit.
Dog-friendly restaurants...

...moss in the trees.

The swing bridge that opened for us when we arrived
coming from the north.

Every where we go, gelato.

However, equipment failure on a boat is a constant fear. It is why you are performing endless maintenance tasks, carrying spares and monitoring systems. But none of that effort will eliminate the possibility of the eventual failure of a critical component that leaves you in dire straits. This morning, our coffee press cracked. This, to me, is a show-stopper. There were no coffee presses, percolators or anything in the immediate downtown area. So, today, we walked three miles to a hardware store that was rumored to have such things and, indeed, scored their last coffee press.

And, in the interest of actually buying hardware, picked up a length of sturdy hose to use as a bobstay protector. Here in Beaufort (not just Beaufort) a strong current running against an opposing wind will leave you running up over your anchor chain. Having that chain rub on the bobstay (a steel cable that connects the bowsprit to the lower bow at the waterline) is bad. And noisy.

That's where we are. We are anxious to get back in the ocean. We expect to ride the tide down to Port Royal Inlet on Thursday afternoon and head for Florida. Can't wait.