Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Headed for the Conch Republic

We are under way in the Hawk Channel, bound for Man of War Harbor in Key West. We're just passing Boca Chica and I can see the control tower, radome, and hangars of the Naval Air Station. We'll be hunting for a spot to drop the hook, since all the marinas in town are sold out, and we'll probably have a few sporty tender rides to shore through the choppy harbor in our future.

Saturday evening we dropped the hook south of Rodriguez Key, as close to shore as we could tuck (map). It was a bit bouncy through dinner but we had a comfortable night. Sunday morning we weighed anchor and have an uneventful cruise to Boot Key in Marathon, where we dropped the hook in a familiar spot southwest of the harbor entrance (map), amid a small flotilla of sailboats.

The area west of Boot Key Harbor is a customary stop for us on our way through the Keys, because there are not a lot of other options, but it is seldom comfortable, and we usually stay one night, run ashore for dinner, and leave first thing in the morning. In addition to being open to swell from any direction from S through WSW, all the traffic coming and going at Boot Key passes fairly close aboard, and the wakes are non-stop and miserable all day long.

On this stop, we wanted to visit some friends staying in the harbor, and so I called the marina an hour or so out to see if they had a mooring ball available. That's worked for us exactly once, in the shoulder season, and we stayed for several days, but with only 14 balls that fit Vector, seldom is one available, and this time was no exception. Not that picking up a ball without the thruster would have been a picnic, but at least we could have spent a few comfortable nights.

Rodriguez Key is a popular anchorage, as evidence by this bit of old line we brought up with the anchor.

It's legal to anchor inside the harbor, too, outside of the moorings and the channel that runs around them, but we know from experience that if the balls are full, there will not be any spots for Vector to anchor. We resigned ourselves to a bumpy evening; our friends were unavailable for dinner, and we agreed to meet up for lunch on Monday instead. It was too chilly Sunday to want to run in to Sunset Grill and eat on the patio, so we just had leftovers on board. By bedtime, the wakes had subsided, and we were left with just some swell from the south.

Yesterday morning we awoke to the swell increasing. We knew yesterday would not be a good travel day, but it was also not a great day to be anchored in this spot. I got a little work done in the morning, and just before noon we tendered in to Castaways to meet Julie and Glen for lunch on the patio. In all our times coming to Boot Key (nine or ten, last I counted), we never even knew this place was here, tucked away down a long side channel.

The food was decent, they had some nice drafts, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up. Glen and Julie are long-time Red Cross friends, and I last saw Glen, briefly, in St Thomas on a hurricane relief operation there. They are also accomplished sailors, having been all over the world, and Julie has written a couple of best-selling books on their travels.

They are newcomers, however, to power cruising and the inland waters of the US, and much has changed in the cruising world since they sold their sailboat. We enjoyed sharing some of our more recent cruising (mis)adventures with them, and catching up on life in general. With any luck, we will see them again as we both travel up the coast and the Hudson to start our respective loops this year, us to the Down East Circle loop, and them to the Great Loop.

By the time we got back to Vector the swell out of the south was nearly intolerable, and with some effort we decked the tender and got back under way, on a day we had earmarked as unsuitable for pleasant travel. I could see on the chart that we had just enough daylight to make the three-hour trek around the west end of Munyon Island and into Newfound Harbor, which would be protected from the south.

Under way in the Hawk Channel we needed a photo to accompany our application to join a yacht club. That's pandemic hair -- neither of us has had a professional cut since February.

Sure enough, as soon as we rounded the end of the islands and past the tony Palm Island Resort, the water blissfully flattened out. My NOAA chart showed a narrow channel that carried 7-8' all the way to the inner harbor, and we arrived at a tide of +1.4' on the NOAA tables, which should have been a very comfortable run. Nevertheless, we ran out of water before reaching even the turnoff to the outer anchorages.

We made an about-face, and proceeded back to a spot where the "deep" (7'+) area was 650' wide, and much wider than that for shallower draft, and dropped the hook (map). Even though it is permitted, it's never my first choice to anchor in a spot where boats might normally be navigating at high speed, so we left our "cruise ship lights" on all night for safety. We had a very calm and comfortable night, even with the handful of wakes from passing fishing boats.

Had we been able to make it all the way into the harbor, we might have spent another night or two. There are a couple of waterfront eateries around Big Pine Key, and there's a hardware store and some other services in walking distance from a place to land the dinghy. That was less appealing with a 2.5 mile tender ride, and anchored in a high-speed thoroughfare, and so this morning we weighed anchor with the outgoing tide to make our way to Key West.

How long we remain in Key West will depend, in large part, on whether we can find a comfortable spot to anchor with a fairly easy tender ride to town. Hardware, marine parts, groceries, and, of course, plenty of outdoor dining, are all easily available in Key West, mostly a short walk from the dock. And, we're clandestine Conchs, so we get a discount all over town.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Say goodbye to Hollywood

We are under way southbound in the Hawk Channel, visually indistinguishable from the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the Florida Keys. To our starboard is Elliott Key, and to port is open water, interrupted periodically by lights marking the reefs.

We ended up spending a full four nights in Hollywood. It felt reasonably safe to be there, with Broward county being only a little higher in infection rates than Palm Beach, a spread-out environment, and plenty of outdoor eateries with good spacing and safe practices. The weather was perfect and we went ashore nightly for dinner.

The broadwalk [sic] was moderately busy, and the beach had a fair number of sunbathers, swimmers, and even beach volleyball players. The city has allowed the broadwalk eateries to push their seating further out, which, in places, has pedestrians spilling into the bike lane, contributing to an illusion that things are as busy as normal.

That illusion is shattered, however, when walking past the enormous Margaritaville Resort. Most of the hotel windows are dark, the tiki bar fronting the broadwalk is shuttered, the ground-level pool is closed, and only the second-floor Landshark Bar and Grill seems to be open for service. Likewise the historic Hollywood Beach Resort, which has often seemed to us like the inspiration for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney, is even more crypt-like now.

Most of the restaurants on the broadwalk proper are open for business, and we enjoyed meals at our old favorites Sapore di Mare and The Taco Joint. We were able to tie the tender up at Five o'clock Somewhere, the ICW-frontage bar for Margaritaville, which is also shuttered. Our final evening we tried the award-winning burgers next door at local institution Le Tub.

A quiet part of the broadwalk at night. I was trying to capture the holiday lights.

We had nightly companionship from a lonely drum fish, who at one point was so close it sounded like someone was banging on the keel with a mallet. It was otherwise quiet at our end of the lake, and I spent the days getting some work done around the boat and trying to clean up a bit from the last big project push.

Knowing we were headed for the keys, and also that we did not want to risk going ashore anywhere in Dade county, we opted to avail ourselves of the last accessible Walmart to stock up on a few provisions. That involves a tender ride down to our secret landing in Hallandale Beach, just a few hundred feet from the store. We loaded up a backpack and a large shopping bag, plus I carried a gallon jug of motor oil in each hand on our way back to the dinghy.

I'm sure I don't need to remind everyone that there was an armed insurrection at the US Capitol while we were in Hollywood. But the initial reports coming in on-line sent me to the television, and I fired up our gyro-stabilized satellite dish for the first time in weeks. This normally sounds like aliens landing on the roof, but all we got was silence after switching it on.

A quick investigation revealed it was tripping its DC power breaker shortly after being turned on. We shut it down and found instead a couple of over-the-air TV news stations for the duration, and the following morning I dragged out the collapsible ladder and ascended the mast to have a look. The problem, or at least a side-effect of it, was immediately apparent once I got the EMI cover off the board - a blown capacitor which had exploded quite violently.

I won't bore you with a lot of technical details here, other than to say that I'm going to try to source a replacement capacitor, and if that alone does not fix the dish, the whole thing is getting scrapped. And I am hoping to do this within the next week or so, because there is no point in continuing to pay monthly for a TV service we can't tune. The positioner board is on my workbench, and the ladder folded up on deck.

Guts of the sat dome. My screwdriver is just holding wires out of the way. Blown cap is just below the two empty Molex connectors.

As a side note here I will mention that this is an older system, which came with the boat. It can only tune DirecTV, and only the old SD channels. For that privilege we pay around $1,300 a year, and that's the cheapest package available. All so that we can get news, weather, and occasional entertainment only when we are offshore more than about a dozen miles, in the Bahamas, or in a handful of inland locations where there is simply no cellular Internet. When in cell coverage in US waters, we use our unlimited Internet service to get news, weather, and entertainment.

If the dish can't be salvaged, we will simply turn off the service. We have no interest in spending money and labor on replacing it with a more modern system, one that could perhaps receive HD channels, or use a different service such as Dish. We would, instead, put the money from the subscription into a streaming service and pay-as-you-go Iridium bandwidth for offshore news and weather.

Our final night in Hollywood, we came back from dinner to find the low battery light on, started the gen, and within two minutes had to shut it down because Louise could hear there was no water flow. Fortunately we shut it down before it shut off automatically due to overheating; that shortened the amount of time I spent in my skivvies hovering over the engine replacing the impeller. Actually replacing the impeller now takes me less than one minute, but draining the coolant, opening the heat exchanger to remove all the old impeller shards, and refilling the coolant takes anywhere from five to fifteen, depending on how hot everything is.

Yesterday morning before departure I had to drop an eBay sale in the mail, and I went ashore at the nearest mailbox. It turns out all the mailboxes in Hollywood have been secured to only open about an inch, and neither the Hollywood Beach Resort nor the Hollywood Marina, where I stopped for gas, would mail my package for me. I ended up running all the way down to Hallandale Beach again, where the post office is walking distance from the secret landing. It also has a parcel drop inside a 24-hour lobby, good to know.

New York Times Covid map. Miami-Dade is very dark.

We weighed anchor at lunch time and made our way south through Aventura, Sunny Isles, and Miami. We seldom come through here without stopping, either at Maule Lake or Miami Beach, often for several days. But the Dade county Covid numbers are through the roof, and we decided we would just not risk going ashore in the county for any reason. That made for a frustrating day with bridge timing, having to putt along at 1100 rpm for a half hour to slow for one bridge, and then run up to 2200 rpm for a half hour to catch the next one.

We made it into Biscayne Bay, rounded the western corner of Key Biscayne, and dropped the hook in the busy anchorage (map) outside of the even busier No Name Harbor. In the harbor is a nice Cuban restaurant, The Boaters Grill, where we had lunch a decade ago on our training cruise, and now there is another counter restaurant with plenty of nice open-air seating at the basin, too. But we remained true to our convictions of not landing in Dade, and we had a nice dinner aboard.

Before I wrap up the post, I will mention the bow thruster, which I've brought up a couple of times recently. It's still broken, with the replacement ready to install on my bench. After the yards in Palm Beach county told me it would be weeks before we could get in, we considered contacting yards in the Fort Lauderdale area, of which there are many.

Most of the yards are up the New River, which is old hat to us now, but is a dicey proposition without a working thruster. The river is narrow and busy, with numerous drawbridges that require station-keeping. For this reason, all the big girls -- yachts longer than about 90' or so -- get towed up and down the river, with one towboat in front and one astern. The going rate for that is $1,000 per trip.

Dinner sunset from our anchorage off No Name.

There are a few yards between Lauderdale and Hollywood, and long-time readers may remember we had to stop at one (which we will never use again) to replace a broken seacock. I could have called a few of those yards to see if one could get us out long enough to replace the drive leg.

In the end, we decided that now is not the time to do this work. Case numbers are rocketing skyward from the unconstrained behavior of many over the holidays. We expect this to continue from New Years celebrations until at least the middle of January if not longer. And boatyards are excellent breeding grounds, with dozens of workers having to work in close proximity to one another, contractors, and sometimes customers.

Other than docking in marinas, or navigating very tight fairways and channels, running the boat without the thruster is just no big deal. We're not doing a lot of docking these days anyway, so living without the thruster for another few weeks is not much of a hardship. We'll try to find face docks to take on water, and we'll continue to run offshore to discharge waste. If there is someplace we really need to dock, we'll time it for slack water and minimal wind and I will do it the old-fashioned way.

Tonight we'll be anchored off Rodriguez Key, near Key Largo. We have a nice pork tenderloin for the grill, and we'll enjoy our first night in the keys surrounded by turquoise water. Tomorrow's leg will take us to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, where we hope to catch up with long-time good friends Julie and Glen, who are taking some time there in advance of doing the Great Loop this season.

Monday, January 4, 2021

A new book for a new year

We are under way in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of Boynton Beach, FL as I begin typing. We're just angling back in aggressively to get out of the gulf stream, having angled out to the three mile limit to take care of business.

After eight years, Vector gets a new log book. Old one, left, needed blue tape to reinforce the spine years ago.

We hope you all had a healthy and happy holiday season, as we did. The Palm Beaches turned out to be just the right place to be, and we spent a full 17 days anchored in the same spot. We mostly had great weather, and I think there was just a single day when we did not get off the boat at all. Otherwise we tendered ashore daily.

Happy New Year! At Batch, not long after sunset.

I sometimes ran errands during the day, either on foot or on the e-bike, and usually we tendered ashore together in the early evening for a stroll and dinner. By dining around 5:30ish each evening, we usually had no problem scoring a well-spaced outdoor table, and enjoyed happy hour pricing almost everywhere.

New Years day we ate at City Cellar in Rosemary Square, where we had a balcony table ovelooking the Wishing Tree, which put on a show for us over dinner.

We did have a couple of wild and woolly days at anchor, including Christmas afternoon, when the winds ramped up and the temperature dropped to the lowest point during our stay. We walked to our early Christmas dinner bundled up and ate our meal at Hullabaloo on a sidewalk table in the low 50s. The prime rib special was delicious and the whole street had a festive holiday atmosphere.

Boxing day was cold and windy all day and we had a quiet day on board. I did what I usually do on such days: started several projects around the boat. In two and a half weeks I chipped away at the backlog, and I also took the opportunity to list a bunch of stuff on eBay.

This sign was near the host stand at Hullabaloo, where we had our Christmas dinner.

In no particular order, while in Palm Beach I replaced the ceiling lights in the quilt studio and the galley with newer, brighter LED items, in favor of the boat's original fixtures that I had relamped early on with LED replacement lamps. I also added an LED step light in the saloon for safety, as the lighting project meant we could no longer use the heretofore anemic fixture in the wet bar for that purpose. I rebuild the galley faucet, and I added a much-needed power outlet in the master stateroom, letting us retire an extension cord that had been draped over the head of the bed since we moved aboard.

New Years Eve moonrise over Palm Beach.

As a side effect of this latter project, which took two days, I was able to add another receptacle in the engine room for a permanent cord-reel trouble light, and one in the workshop, where previously I had to run extension cords from another room when I needed power. The step light project afforded me the chance to put some automatic courtesy lights in two very dark corner cabinets as well. Speaking of cabinets, I replaced all the cabinet knobs and drawer pulls, which were pretty corroded after 17 years.

This impressive banyan tree, possibly the inspiration for the Wishing Tree, sits in front of the Norton Museum of Art. The non-native banyan thrives in the Palm Beach area, and there are a number of impressive examples around the civic center.

One of the big projects was the replacement tender seat. After noodling on it for a couple of days, I realized that I could get away with drilling and tapping only four holes if I was willing to offset the new seat a half inch to one side. I bought a set of metric taps at Home Depot and spent the better part of a day getting the seat installed. I took the old one apart, which revealed the source of the problem: adhesive used to assemble the multi-part foam had failed, disintegrated, and migrated through the vinyl.

Yesterday we went ashore for brunch at waterfront saloon E.R. Bradley's before decking the tender and motoring over to the south public dock to take on water. We timed our arrival for slack for easy docking without the thruster, and spent the afternoon filling the tank and getting laundry done. We ended up running the generator a full six hours yesterday just to run the dryer.

Also outside the Norton, in a reflecting pool, Oldenburg and van Bruggen's Typewriter Eraser Scale X, which long-time readers may remember I also encountered at the National Gallery in DC.

I zipped over to Publix on the e-bike for one last provisioning run, dropping an eBay sale in the mailbox en route -- all the eyeball lights I had removed from the galley. We made it off the dock just a hair before it became too shallow to maneuver, turning the harbor into chocolate milk before just catching the 2:15 opening at Flagler bridge.

Riding along the waterfront on the way back to the dock I passed this Quinceañera group.

We retraced our steps back to our usual spot across from the Sailfish Club (map) to stage for today's passage, and had a quiet dinner on board. We wanted to be close to the inlet, since the turn of the tide was at 6:20 this morning. I was up at 5:45, and we were underway by 6:10, just making it outside at slack water.

Sundays the 500 Block of Clematis is closed off and becomes a street dining experience. Hullabaloo in on the left.

With a full water tank and empty waste tanks, we're good for another three weeks at anchor. That's good, because we're going to be extra cautious about isolating as we pass through Broward and Dade counties, which are very dark right now on the covid map. Monroe County, which comprises the Keys, is actually a little better than Palm Beach County, and so we are figuratively holding our breath until we get there.

I have to say that the number of people here in Florida who are behaving as if there is no pandemic at all is frightening, and we are trying to give them all a very wide berth. That can be difficult: we came back to the dock after dinner a few nights ago to find a stranger in our tender, with his buddy on the dock taking photos. Neither was masked. I had to chase them away, and then we had to get in our own dinghy without knowing if any surfaces had been contaminated.

Imprinted in what is now our log book is some good advice about entries that will hold up to legal scrutiny.

As if to drive home the point that this is no laughing matter, we learned some full-time RV friends of ours both contracted the virus before Christmas (they are on the road to recovery), and some of our closest friends just tested positive, with their entire household at risk. A close friend's sister-in-law succumbed to the virus a week ago. And our place on the vaccine list is in the final ten percent of the population; we'll be lucky to be vaccinated by mid-year.

Aluminum dinghy seat pan drilled and tapped to fit the old hinges. New holes are 20mm left of old holes.

We celebrated New Year's Eve this year on Greenwich Time, just as I did for Y2K, having a nice early dinner on the sidewalk at Batch downtown. Southern cuisine is never my first thought for NYE, but they had comfortable seating and a nice menu, and they did a fantastic lamb chop special that would not have been out of place in Manhattan. We both managed to stay up to midnight local time to celebrate on board, where we got a few glimpses of fireworks in the distance.

Disintegrating foam and adhesive in old seat. The aluminum pan is going to recycling.

Yesterday's short cruise by way of the city dock was our first movement of the year. Considering we ended 2020 on page 299 of our nominal 300-page log book (it actually goes to 304), I decided the new year was a good time to start our second book. The first covered nearly eight years, starting January 23, 2013. Back then, among the myriad details we were dealing with as we got squared away on board, we ticked off the log book item by buying a nice bound record book with numbered pages at Staples.

It wasn't until months later that we realized that, between us, we had three very nice, if a bit antique, bound, numbered blank books leftover from our Bell Labs days. I was an engineer (Member of Technical Staff, in Labs parlance) in Illinois, and Louise was an intern in New Jersey. We likely overlapped at the Labs but did not know each other at the time. In any event, we had saved these now-unobtanium lab books for "some day" and then we completely blew it when the perfect occasion came along.

New latch holes are just a bit further apart than the holes on the old latch.

The end of Volume I provided us a second chance, and thus it is that Volume II of the log of m/y Vector is now a 40-year-old Bell Labs numbered notebook with slightly yellowing pages and the smell of a well-kept library book. It has the requisite permanent binding and sequentially numbered pages, and even has an admonishment inside the cover to do proper record-keeping, from an organization that prided itself on holding a US Patent for every single day of its existence. Volume I will be going into the archives.

Replacement seat installed. Looks fine.

In a short while we'll be entering Port Everglades, and searching for a spot to drop the hook in anchor-unfriendly Fort Lauderdale. We'll be working our way down the inside until the next weather window, so it's possible my next post will be under way along the keys after we exit at Miami.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar spot in the keyhole "slot" of South Hollywood Lake (map) in Hollywood, Florida, at the end of an overly long day. I had all the text above done for this post-- slow going, as I had to steer around numerous dive and fishing boats -- and was starting to position the photos when I had to stop on the busy approach to Port Everglades. Once inside we made a right turn and headed north along the ICW to an anchorage near Las Olas Boulevard.

Passing Hillsboro Light less than a mile offshore.

Back when I lived in the SF Bay Area and spent lots of time in San Francisco proper, I haunted the Union Square area enough to know that the cable car gripmen (drivers) and conductors called the stop across from the St. Francis hotel "Fantasyland," a la Disney. It's literally the first stop after the end-of-line turntable, where tourists line up, sometimes for hours, to board a cable car to ride across town. No one ever gets off the car at the St. Francis; you could easily walk the few blocks before you could possible board a car. And yet tourists will be waiting at Union Square to board a car that will never, ever arrive with room, even for one more person on the footboards.

Dinner sunset from our table at GGs, after a stroll on the Hollywood Broadwalk.

Well, this anchorage is now Fantasyland. Since the state outlawed anchoring in the entirety of the Middle River (our former preferred anchorage) years ago, the remaining three usable spots in town are always full. Last time we anchored in this spot, the FLPD made us move, and we were lucky to stay the night. This time there was simply no room.

And so, after coming several miles north from the inlet, we reluctantly turned around, abandoning our plans to stop in Fort Lauderdale at all, and headed to Hollywood instead, an hour and a half in the other direction, through three closely-timed drawbridges. It made for a ten-hour day, and we were bushed when we finally dropped the hook here.

A fuzzy picture of the unmistakable (to us) Miami Mermaid anchoring in North Lake.

We tendered ashore to an old standby, GG's, for dinner, where we had a lovely sunset on the deck. Midway through dinner the Miami Mermaid came into the anchorage for the night -- way back in 2009 we took our first trawler training on this vessel, and we anchored in this same lake on the first night, just as these folks did tonight.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Palm Beach Holiday

Warm wishes to everyone for a very happy holiday, whichever one you celebrate at this time of year. We are anchored at a familiar spot in Palm Beach (map), and we will be spending Christmas here. For the record, we made that decision shortly after arriving here, before the President announced his plans. We've already grabbed the good spots, though, so he'll have to settle for Mar-a-Lago and dining with the annoyed ghost of Merriweather Post.

Holiday show at Clematis street, with the Sand Tree in the distance behind the dancing fountain.

Not long after my last post, we arrived in Fort Pierce, where, after hovering for fifteen minutes waiting on a bridge opening, we dropped the hook in a familiar anchorage (map). There are not a lot of anchorages in Fort Pierce, and this one happens to have a decent, mostly open-air restaurant immediately adjacent. We splashed the tender ahead of dinner time and headed ashore in light rain to find plenty of covered outdoor seating available.

Sadly, once again, not a single restaurant staffer was masked, and we beat a hasty retreat back to Vector, where we heated up some leftovers. Among many gubernatorial responsibilities is that of signing death warrants, and it seems Florida's governor has taken this to heart. While the executive order prohibits the closure by local officials of any restaurants, it does not prohibit them from mandating masks for staff, and we knew we needed to keep moving until we landed someplace with such a mandate.

This festively lit tiki-bar boat circled the anchorage nightly when we anchored across from the Sailfish Club.

On our way to Fort Pierce we passed by (and passed up) another familiar stop, in Vero Beach, where we noted the marinas were full, and the city mooring field was making boats raft up. As if that might be a good idea in a pandemic. When we passed through Florida in the other direction in the spring, "rafting up" was considered a huge problem and had been prohibited.

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor early and headed south, looking to get out of Dodge ASAP, and figured to be anchored somewhere in Hobe Sound for the night. We had been so rattled by the dinner experience that neither of us thought to check the ocean weather before leaving to see if it had improved. We were already well past Fort Pierce inlet, with an incoming tide behind us, before we realized it would be a great day on the outside.

Vector tied up at the West Palm Beach day dock to take on water.

Fortunately, we had gotten an early enough start that a quick route calculation showed we could make Lake Worth Inlet in plenty of daylight if we zipped outside at St. Lucie Inlet instead, and that's what we did. We angled off gently, taking us outside the three mile limit just long enough to take care of business before angling back in to Palm Beach Inlet. We made a left turn once inside the lake, and dropped the hook in our usual spot immediately across from the tony Sailfish Club (map) to figure our next moves.

I should mention here that I am working on two problems (yes, I am always working on problems) that figure prominently in our current planning. The first is the seat cushion on the dinghy. I may or may not have mentioned it here before, but there is something weird about the glue they used in the composite foam that is causing it to break down and migrate through the vinyl covering, causing a sticky mess on the seat that will, among other things, ruin clothes.

Glue bleed-through on the seat, which also melted the clear vinyl we used to try to cover it.

This has been going on since the tender was new. At first we did not understand where it was coming from, thinking something sticky was spilling on the seat, and we kept cleaning it off. Once we figured it out, we thought we'd give it some time, to see if it would stop. And finally, I talked to the manufacturer's rep about it at a boat show, who told me they had changed the foam and we could get a replacement.

After the show we went back and forth numerous times about logistics, and at some point they stopped answering me. When communication finally resumed, we were working our way down the east coast and did not have a good shipping address. A couple of weeks ago, when it became clear we'd be heading to the Palm Beaches, at least temporarily, I asked them to send the replacement parts to their local dealer here.

West Palm is full of murals, and this one, on the telephone central office, speaks to me and my Bell System roots.

That dealer is a mile or so north of the inlet, as opposed to where we are now, nearly five miles south of it. If the seat parts were coming in soon, I wanted to go north first to pick them up before coming down here. As it turned out, again due to crossed signals, they had not yet even been sent.

The second problem I've been working is our cantankerous bow thruster. As we were weighing anchor in Melbourne, I tried to thrust to port, and instead of the sound of propeller cavitation, we instead heard the unmistakable scream of a runaway motor with no load. Operating to starboard did engage the propellers, and then the thruster continued to work in both directions.

Another relevant mural, off Clematis west of Quadrille.

There are only a couple of things that can cause this, and one of them requires the boat to be hauled out of the water to repair. Here again, the local haulout yards are north of the inlet, rather than down this way. So on Wednesday, Louise packed up a bunch of her quilt studio so I could get under the berth to have a look at the thruster.

It was unlikely to be a broken Gates coupling or a loose setscrew, but I had to check to be sure. As expected, those were in good shape, but rotating the drive by hand through a full revolution I could feel a spot where the teeth were slipping -- an internal failure in the sealed drive leg. This is the part that takes the vertical rotation of the motor inside the boat down to the middle of the tunnel and turns it into horizontal rotation to spin the propellers.

Shiny new thruster drive leg.

I immediately called all the yards around the lake, but they are all booked out to the last week of January. It looks like we will be running without the thruster for a while. I did find a replacement drive leg available on-line from a supply house and had it sent to FedEx ship-and-hold here, so I will have the part in hand whenever we can get hauled to replace it. Long time readers may know this will be the third replacement leg we've installed; it's a lousy design and they last only a few hours each.

Clematis Street is always festively lit.

We had a lovely and quiet couple of nights in that anchorage, and Wednesday evening we even enjoyed the soft music from a live trio playing at the club for some event, probably someone's holiday party. But with both reasons for moving north now off the table for a while, we weighed anchor Thursday morning to come here, stopping first at the free day dock in West Palm Beach to take on water. With no thruster the incoming tide made for a bit of a hard landing against the dock, but no harm done.

Looking toward West Palm over the Flagler Bridge from the Palm Beach side. A police cruiser was parked at each bridge into town... Traffic enforcement, or keeping the riff-raff out?

We spent a good couple of hours on the dock watering up and simultaneously running a few loads of laundry through the washer -- this is the single largest consumer of fresh water on the boat and will run the tank out in just a few loads, so we seldom do laundry when we are away from a spigot. I also hoofed it down to the Publix for a few provisions, stopping off at the bagel shop on my way.

We came in a bit before high tide and we left a bit after, since depth alongside is a bit tight. The current that helped us onto the dock when we arrived thus helped us off the dock when we departed. In just a few minutes we were settling in here at our customary spot. We are on the Palm Beach side of the lake here, though there is no access to shore, and we dinghy back to the same docks in West Palm.

Holiday light show featuring the Sand Tree.

We splashed the tender shortly after settling in, and headed ashore for dinner. We were quite relieved to see lots of masks on the street, and all restaurant staff masked at all the restaurants lining Clematis street. Well, save one: one heavily-bearded guy at American Craft Aleworks was unmasked, and has remained so every time we've passed there, in defiance of county ordinance. He circulates through all the tables and interacts will many customers; suffice it to say we will not be dining there.

Looking toward the dancing fountain in the same show.

We ended up at a sidewalk table at one of our favorites, Lynora's, and since then we've also been streetside at Kabuki, Grease, Kapow, and Rocco's Tacos, all of which have been behaving properly and felt safe to us. Rocco's has been off our list for a while, as the food is mediocre, but the pandemic sent us back for another try. It's off the list again. That first evening we determined that protocols were sufficient here for us to remain in West Palm for the holiday.

The Grinch circulates around downtown in his three-wheel Grinchmobile with music and lights, stopping for photo ops.

While we were strolling the more westerly blocks of Clematis we passed a sign in the window of bistro Hullabaloo advertising dinner on both Christmas Eve and Christmas, with a prime rib special getting top billing. They have plenty of outside seating and real chairs with backs (many patios now sport picnic tables or bar stools), and so I called later and made a reservation for Christmas dinner when they open at 5pm.

This sign caught our eye, at a casual Italian bistro.

We've enjoyed being on Clematis almost nightly. Similar to the Clematis By Night program and other events in the park throughout the year, the waterfront park is doing a wonderful holiday show, involving a holiday "tree" made entirely of sand, and a coordinated music/light show reminiscent of the Osborne Family Lights (and possibly using some of the same synchronized tracks). In fact the whole thing could give Disney a run for the money, it's that well done.

I passed Peanut Island in the tender on a warm Saturday and it was packed with boaters partying. No masks, of course, which would have covered more than the bikinis.

Last night we switched it up by walking from the south dock to Rosemary Square (formerly City Place) instead, dining outside at Il Bellagio. The property has remade its main courtyard and now features a splash-through dancing fountain as well as a "wishing tree" that looks similar to a banyan but its leaves consist entirely of fancy LED panels that make a spectacular light show.

The Wishing Tree in Rosemary Square.

Since settling in here, I've made two tender runs all the way back to Riviera Beach. The first was to pick up the thruster drive leg from FedEx hold, along with Amazon deliveries to a locker, both locations chosen back when we figured to be anchoring up near the tender dealer. And the second to get the tender seat parts when they finally arrived. I also made a big circuit on the e-bike, starting with the post office to pick up our mail at General Delivery.

My best attempt to capture the light show. The music is barely audible above the merriment.

The mail very nearly got returned to sender, because it turns out the downtown post office does not do General Delivery, even though it is explicitly listed as a service on the web site. Fortunately we got a delivery exception text and I was able to race over there and intercept it before it left. They were blasé about the web site error, which nearly cost us $13 and another week's delay on our mail.

The new splash fountain, with the tree behind. The kids in the middle were drenched in short order.

All's well that ends well, and after stuffing the mail in my backpack I continued my ride across the bridge to Palm Beach, my first visit there since we started stopping here. I made a loop down along Worth Avenue, which is sort of the Rodeo Drive of the east, along past the municipal beach, across the front of The Breakers, and back past Poinciana before crossing back at Flagler. I did pass some outdoor dining that looked nice, but nothing I saw in Palm Beach made me think we're missing much by not being able to land there.

The public beach, at the east end of Worth Avenue.

We had a clear night on the solstice, and were able to clearly see the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn low in the west. We would have had a much better view from someplace with less light pollution, but that was a small price to pay to be here for the holidays. West Palm Beach has a welcoming dinghy policy and we have access here to everything we need.

Vector at anchor in Lake Worth. Palm Beach at right, West Palm left. All the other anchored boats in this photo are actually in a cable area, technically illegal. Unenforced, and all good until you hook a 12,000-volt cable.

Trump arrived yesterday afternoon, but we are mostly unaffected here. We are north of the maritime security zone, and the bridge lockdowns don't affect us while we're anchored. In the distance we can see the blue lights of the USCG patrols, and we're getting more airplane noise as the Palm Beach International flight path is diverted to right above our heads for the duration.

Sunset view from Vector.

At the risk of offending our more northerly readers, it's been mostly in the 70s here since we arrived, and I've been in shorts for the first time in months, dining outdoors in short sleeves on occasion. Today it broke 80, but a cold front is moving in, and we will have to bundle up tomorrow for Christmas dinner, when it will be just 55 or so. That's really our lower limit for outside dining, but we really, really want to dine out for the holiday.

We're waiting on one more package, after which there is nothing really keeping us here, but we don't have any sort of plan moving forward. I still need to nail down a place to haul us out and change the thruster drive, which could be anywhere from here to Miami, and I also need to deal with the tender seat, which, after all the sturm und drang, does not fit on the existing mounts. That might suggest we remain close to the local dealer here until resolution.

A final gratuitous holiday decoration photo from downtown West Palm.

In any event, once we do finally decide to move along, we will be looking for a window to run to Fort Lauderdale on the outside. The gauntlet of poorly timed draw bridges from here to there on the ICW is something we try to avoid in any case, and with an inoperative bow thruster even more so, as it complicates station-keeping at the bridges. Plus we prefer to avoid docking for pumpouts until the thruster is fixed, making an offshore excursion every two to three weeks a matter of convenience.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Launch Hook

We are under way southbound in the Indian River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway through the "Space Coast" of Florida. True to its name, we've witnessed two orbital rocket launches since last I posted here. We're finally warm; it's pushing 80 today and we just passed the first bikini-clad crew we've seen in a long time.

Not long after uploading my last post, we arrived at the St. Augustine inlet. When we last came out this inlet, back in April, it was well-marked. Since then, the tropical storm season has been unkind, and all the seaward markers are missing or well off-station. We were thankful to have both a good track and a Corps of Engineers depth survey that seems to be mostly still accurate, and we had good water all the way in.

We made the right-hand turn and continued a half mile north to our usual spot off Vilano Beach (map). Long-time readers may remember that we like this spot because it is close to a free dock with easy access to a Publix grocery store and a handful of restaurants. On this pass, however, we remained aboard and did not even splash the tender.

We could easily have spent a couple of nights here, but it was still not warm enough for comfortable outside dining, we had one more day of good outside passage weather, and I thought if we kept moving we might catch at least one of the launches. So we weighed anchor first thing Thursday morning and shot right back out the inlet with a couple of knots behind us.

Our cozy anchorage in New Smyrna Beach, looking north, before the Delta-IV launch.

Even though we had a good window all the way to Port Canaveral overnight, the security zone established for the rocket launches meant that was not an option. Our only other option south of St. Augustine is a "minor" inlet that we've never used before, Ponce de Leon Inlet. More commonly just called Ponce Inlet, it sits between Daytona and New Smyrna beach. I have a good Corps of Engineers depth survey for it, but it has such a terrible reputation that I nevertheless spent close to two hours researching it Wednesday evening.

A pair of sailboats motored out St. Augustine inlet not far behind us, and also turned southward. I overhead one of them giving advice to an incoming sailboat that was likely at the end of an overnight passage, and he relayed that he saw seven feet of depth in one spot. We'd seen nothing less than twice that, so I called the incoming boat and gave them more precise directions.

Not long after that, it occurred to me that these two southbound sailboats might not even be aware of the launch restrictions, and I called them to pass it along. They had not heard, and even though they were also aiming for Ponce, I think they had been considering Canaveral as a backup.

They would have learned soon enough, as the Coast Guard started making broadcast announcements about the security zone mid-morning. The first launch was scheduled for 6:30pm, and in the early afternoon we started hearing Coast Guard Range Control calling various boaters to ask their intentions and warn them away from the security zone; at least a couple of skippers seemed caught completely off-guard and flummoxed, I think at least one had to circle all afternoon.

ICW dolphins.

I'm not sure what would possess someone to decide to sail past Cape Canaveral without checking the rocket launch schedule, even if not subscribed to the Navigation Alert emails, as we are. Perhaps more baffling is how you can hear a half dozen announcements on the radio and still not be aware until you are called by name and instructed explicitly. I think some skippers are so inured to Coast Guard marine safety "Sécurité"  announcements that they don't even bother listening.

Meanwhile the two sailboats that had been behind us passed us slowly over the course of the day, and were perhaps one to two miles ahead of us as we closed in on Ponce Inlet. Somehow between my conversation in the morning with the other sailboat, my advice about range control, and maybe a couple of other exhanges during the day, these skippers decided I knew something they didn't, even though I had told them I'd not been through this inlet, and they asked if they could follow us in. They made a big circle to fall in behind us.

Before I could make my turn, a bright yellow SeaTow boat with its red and amber emergency lights flashing came racing into the inlet from sea. Among the numerous warnings I'd read about this inlet were inexperienced skippers running aground, and tons of fishing boats blocking the channel. His flashing lights gave me pause; I did not want to enter the jetties if he was responding to a disabled boat. So I called him.

Thankfully he was not en route to assist anyone. The flashing lights are only legal when engaged in "public safety activities," which would include towing or responding to a disabled vessel, but not heading back to the barn. Half these skippers are whackers who drive around with them on all the time, which more or less makes them meaningless. In any event, SeaTow here is so used to giving inlet directions that he gave me the rundown, even though I did not ask. He was mostly right, but my survey was more useful.

Christmas concert in Cocoa Village, put on by the Lutherans.

The inlet proved no big deal, and we made it through without incident, as did my two new charges behind us. We had made such good time that we arrived at the last of the incoming tide and with plenty of daylight, so rather than drop in the first usable anchorage, we continued south through the George Musson drawbridge, where we arrived just on time for a scheduled lift, and through New Smyrna Beach to a familiar anchorage just outside of town (map).

We were in quarters in plenty of time to have a relaxing view of the scheduled 6:30 launch, and while we were ruminating about whether to eat dinner before or after, the launch got pushed back to 8:09, settling the question for us. We had a nice dinner on board, and ascended to the flybridge just before liftoff.

On a clear night we had a great view of an impressive night launch of a Delta-IV Heavy. While nothing like a space shuttle or a moon shot, this is still one of the most powerful orbital launch vehicles in the world. Even here, some 40 miles from the launch pad, you can feel the pressure wave, albeit some four minutes after-the-fact, and we could see the rocket exhaust all the way to main engine cut-off some 70 miles downrange.

We had a pleasant and quiet evening, although we did have to re-set the anchor in a slightly different spot when the tide changed and we learned one of the, ahem, longer-term residents of the anchorage had 120' of rode out (in ten feet of water). It was the first night since leaving Maine where we did not have to run the heat in the evening.

A few of the decorated boats from the parade.

The next launch was scheduled just 15 hours after the first one. Apparently the 24-hour rule that I wrote about on one of our last launches is no longer in effect. Now in striking distance of the cape, we got an early start on the last of the tide, hoping to maybe catch the Falcon-9 launch from Mosquito Lagoon, where we could at least see the pad. There's no place to stop in the lagoon, so we'd need to watch under way.

By the time we were in the middle of the lagoon, we were making good enough time to get all the way through the Haulover Canal and into the river before liftoff, and I picked out a wide spot to stop. Before we could get there they pushed the launch back an hour, and I picked out a better wide spot near Titusville, and before we reached that one it was pushed back again to the end of the window. That let us get all the way to a familiar spot near one of our favorite restaurants, El Leoncito, the scene of much merriment during our first launch, when we met our good friends Cherie and Chris, as well as James and Maria.

At El Leoncito a decade ago. Good times. Photo: Technomadia

We pulled a short ways off-channel and dropped the hook on short scope to watch the launch. Mariner's call this arrangement, where an anchor is dropped for a mere matter of minutes or maybe an hour or two for some reason, perhaps to have a meal, a "lunch hook," so in our case it was a "launch hook." We did not even deploy the snubber.

We ascended to the flybridge where we had an awesome view; we could see the entire top half of the rocket, with just the lower half obscured by trees. The countdown made it all the way to T-30 seconds before it was called off, ending the attempt for the day. Knowing the next window was the following day at the same time, we pulled up our lunch hook and moved just a couple hundred feet, off-channel and behind a daymark, to spend the night and watch the next day.

We were all nicely settled in and I was noodling on how to get ashore later to pick up takeout from El Leoncito, given that the docks we used previously were destroyed, when the announcement came through that they would hold off another day, for a 48-hour delay. We were willing to wait a day, but not two, and so we again weighed anchor and continued on our original planned route to Cocoa. We had a brief delay at the Nasa Causway bridge, whose tender was AWOL; I made several radio calls and a whistle signal before eventually reaching them on the telephone.

What little I could capture of the festival without wandering into the fray.

Cocoa is another place where the town docks were destroyed a few years back. They've been working on rebuilding and the new docks just opened this year, including a long face dock for overnight transient use and a few small slips for day use. The free face dock, complete with water and power, is too shallow for us, so we pulled into the nearby anchorage (map) and dropped the hook.

We splashed the tender and headed ashore for dinner, making a beeline for the new day slips. These are inexplicably posted "No dinghies"; I am thinking that the city wants to keep them open for visitors and not filling up with the dinghies of long-term squatters in the anchorage. We didn't want to take up valuable space on the face dock, which still had room for another transient, and so we pulled around to some smaller cleats behind the day docks. There is no obvious dinghy dock.

This being Friday night in a very busy town, we grabbed the first spot we saw with outside tables; a nice second-floor deck at Ryan's Pizza and Pub, overlooking the harbor. We had a nice table away from the crowd, and we enjoyed our shrimp dinner and draft beer. On our stroll around town afterwards, we stumbled into an outdoor Christmas concert in the park.

While we were still offshore, on our way to Ponce Inlet, we messaged back and forth with Chris and Cherie about connecting somehow. They were camping at Gamble Rogers State Park in their spiffy new Travato camper van, and they even snapped a distant photo of Vector as we passed their camp site three miles offshore. There was really no way to connect at Ponce, but they let us know they'd be driving to Melbourne on Sunday, and we could maybe meet up there.

Vector, left, three miles offshore. At right is a shrimper. Photo: Chris Dunphy

It's only a couple of hours from Cocoa to Melbourne, which meant we had a full day to kill before any meetup. With the Falcon-9 launch rescheduled to Sunday morning, we opted to stay right where were were, in Cocoa, and leave Sunday after the launch. Saturday I tendered over to Merritt Island to run errands at UPS and get some groceries at Publix, and I got a couple of projects done around the house.

In the evening we tendered back ashore to Cocoa Village in search of another outdoor dinner, a bit early to beat the Saturday crowds. It turned out to be holiday festival time -- the lighted boat parade was scheduled for 6:30 -- and the park and most of the town were crowded. We found a tapas place a bit away from the crowd, and asked for an outside table, which they were reluctant to provide since it had been raining all afternoon.

We were already seated, alone on the patio at a damp table, waiting for menus, when the realization dawned on us that the hostess had not been masked, and that, come to think of it, none of the staff we could see inside was masked either, from the bartender to the manager to the servers. We caucused briefly as we waited for the server -- our rules are strict: we'll only dine "outdoors," and the restaurant staff must be practicing good protocol for a viral pandemic.

We agreed to give them a chance: if the server arrived masked we would stay. But when she came out bearing two menus and a basket of chips, unmasked, we waved her off, stood up, and walked away. The server appeared a bit miffed. Florida has no state mask mandate, and an all-business-open-entirely rule. Several counties are mandating masks for restaurant employees, but this is not one of them. This is the first time since the start of the pandemic where we've encountered deliberately unmasked food service staff.

Best I could do for the Falcon-9 carrying SXM-7.

We continued walking and ended up at a nice outside table at Pub Americana, where we observed the entire staff to be following mask protocol, just as had been the case at Ryan's. Two nights of pub food in a row would not be my first choice, but those sorts of dining considerations went out the window for us long ago. At least the burgers were good and they had a nice selection of drafts. Cuisine is now irrelevant; our restaurant selection now goes by outside air, masks, and distancing. Lesson learned for us: in Florida, we need to scrutinize and/or ask directly what the restaurant's mask and sanitation policies are.

We got to see a few of the nicely lit boats on our way home, and some of the festival, which looked fun but less than safe to us. We learned that, by leaving today, we're missing the Hanukkah parade and BMX event (no idea why those are together). This morning the Falcon countdown once again stopped at T-30, but after an hour's delay they finally lit it off, and we had a pretty good view once it cleared the buildings.

Update: While I was hoping to load the photos, add the links, and get this post uploaded after dinner last night, I just did not have it in me. And so I am again typing under way, en route from Eau Gallie to Ft. Pierce on the ICW. We have 15-20 knots of wind on the starboard bow, so we're crabbing a full 10° and making just five knots.

We reached the Eau Gallie neighborhood of Melbourne before I could finish this post, and dropped the hook in our usual spot near the free town dock (map). We were stunned to find just a single other boat in the anchorage, an unoccupied small sailboat, where on previous visits there'd been a half dozen permanent denizens. We splashed the tender, and headed ashore with two weeks' worth of recycling loaded aboard, which I spent several minutes depositing item-by-item into the bin at the park through its tiny orifice.

Technomadic meetup redux, on the patio at Squid Lips. Photo: Chris Dunphy

Cherie and Chris met us on the dock, and we walked next door to old standby Squid Lips for a very early dinner. They have nicely spaced tables on their sandy beach, and the large tables make it easy to keep a good separation. We very much enjoyed catching up over a couple of beers and some decent beach food. The live music was low enough we could still talk comfortably; ironically it was louder in the anchorage when we got home.

Tonight we should be anchored in the neighborhood of the Fort Pierce inlet, and tomorrow we'll continue our southward trek in search of comfortable temperatures in relatively safe-feeling surroundings. I'm not entirely optimistic, but at least we're back in the land of ubiquitous outdoor venues.