Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lake "O"

I am typing under way in the middle of Lake Okeechobee, the freshwater heart of Florida (map). Winds are NW at 20 and the lake is uncomfortably choppy. We'll be back in protected waters in a couple of hours, and in the meantime I'm making the best of it by catching up on email and updating the blog. The conditions on the lake are keeping the usual flotilla of weekend fishermen away, and we have the lake to ourselves.

Thursday morning we made the short run to Eau Gallie, dropped the hook right outside the harbor, and splashed the tender. It was a short dinghy ride through the harbor to the backyard dock of new friends Bill and Mary, who were hosting old friends Pauline and Rod as they made their trek from Miami to Green Cove Springs. We enjoyed meeting Bill, Mary, and her brother Larry and we spent the morning chatting in their home.

Vector anchored off Eau Gallie harbor, with the Eau Gallie causeway in the background.

By the time we finally got out with Rod and Pauline it was lunch time and we drove out to Long Doggers on the beach for lunch. We swung by Publix on the way back to the house to load up on provisions. It's something of a cruising maxim that you never pass up an offer of a ride to the supermarket. We enjoyed catching up with our Aussie friends. We may yet see them again, depending on how soon their boat gets splashed and how late we get back to the east coast. They are thinking about crossing the lake and taking the boat either to Destin or Demopolis.

As I was catching up on Facebook on our short cruise to Eau Gallie, I found a message from some other boating friends, Gayle and Bill, who had read my post and wanted to let us know they were in Eau Gallie harbor. After we left the dock we putted across the harbor to Spiraserpula, their sailing catamaran, and spent a short while catching up. We had already committed to a schedule for the west coast, or we would have stayed longer and perhaps had dinner. They're heading south after Eau Gallie, and we agreed to try to connect somewhere in southeast Florida later in the season.

We passed this spud barge in the ICW, being pushed by two small workboats on either side of its stern. It's doing derelict recovery, with several ex-sunken hulks on deck, and the still-floating white cruiser tied to the port side.

It was past 3pm by the time we had the tender back on deck and weighed anchor, and so we only made it another 11nm south, dropping the hook in the ICW off marker 24 (map), about the last place where depths outside of the marked channel permit us to anchor. The short day means a few longer ones on the rest of our trek to Tampa Bay.

Friday thus was a slog down the ditch. While the Indian River is quite wide through here, it's very shallow, and the ICW is a dredged channel only a couple hundred feet wide. Normally Otto-the-autopilot is quite capable of keeping us in a 200'-wide lane, but we had considerable crosswind all day, and I had to "steer" using heading mode rather than let Otto make the turns. He kept wanting to run us off into the weeds on the green side. The weather was otherwise perfect, and we ended the day at anchor off the Jensen Beach Causeway (map).

Approaching St. Lucie Lock. If you look closely you can see the water level in the lock chamber as it pours out through the slightly open gates. Opening the gates like this is how the Okeechobee locks are operated, rather than by valves.

Yesterday I had hoped to weigh anchor first thing and get a nice tidal push down to "the crossroads" before the tide change, and then an upriver push up the St. Lucie. Mother nature had other plans, throwing a huge thunderstorm at us, and we ended up staying put until it passed. We didn't weigh anchor until 9:45, and then I had over a knot of current against me on the ICW to the crossroads.

The late start and the adverse current aced us out of any chance of crossing the lake yesterday. Instead we tied to the dolphins outside the Port Mayaca lock for the night (map), our first time on a dolphin tie-up. It was a bit challenging catching two dolphins in 20-knot crosswinds, but we managed. That same wind held us off the dolphins all night, so we didn't have to go crazy with fenders. It was a relaxing cruise, other than the skinny bit just west of Stuart, over familiar ground. We did push against over a knot of current from lake runoff.

In the lock chamber after the lift. You can see the water pouring through the dam in the background.

In the time it's taken me to type and upload photos, we're now in the rim canal on the southwest side of the lake. In a couple of hours we'll be through the Moore Haven lock and into the town of Moore Haven on our downhill run. We'll stop for the night somewhere between the Moore Haven and Ortona locks. With luck, we'll be in St. Pete on the 14th, and I've reserved a mooring ball there.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Space Coast

As I type, we are southbound in the ICW, just south of Cocoa, Florida. That's a long way from my last post in Jacksonville; a lot has transpired and I've been pressed for time to post. I'll try to catch up here, including our whirlwind trip to Disney, which, ironically, is only some 50 miles due west of here.

The castle in its holiday finery.

When last I posted, we were just about to drop lines at Metropolitan Park. We had a very pleasant and short cruise upriver, on the flood, to the Ortega River, arriving very close to high tide of about a foot. This was by design, as there is a shallow bar across the mouth, and we had just a foot under our keel as we cleared over it.

We steamed upriver through two drawbridges and tied up at Lambs Yacht Center (map), where we had reserved a week to make our pilgrimage. When we arrived we discovered we'd been assigned to a dock with a covered walkway, so we first stopped at the fuel dock to offload one scooter.

The spectacular tree in the Grand Floridian.

I expected to pay a daily rate, plus the day rate for a 30-amp power outlet, but they gave us a prorated monthly rate instead, plus power. We normally require a 50-amp connection, but since we were not going to be there, all we needed was a little power to run the battery charger. Ironically, they only had 50-amp outlets on this dock, and I had to rummage around and find our single-50-to-dual-30 adapter in order to use our 30-amp inlet.

Monday morning we gathered up all the things we'd need for a four-day stay in an unfurnished RV (linens, cups, plates, utensils, food, and the all-important coffee pot, as well as various DC power adapters), and in the afternoon we rode the three miles to the Cruise America franchise, which happened to be a Goodyear auto service shop.

The door of our RV. We thought the graphic of a dog on the window was a humorous touch...

Pick-up hours are 1-3pm and, silly me, I thought it would be ready at 1. They had no shortage of rigs, with maybe ten or so on the lot. "We just need to clean one and then send it out for propane." We ended up sitting around in the customer lounge at the dealer until nearly 2pm, when we finally rolled out. A quick stop back at the marina to drop off the scooter and load up all the previously staged items -- two dock carts full -- and we were on our way to Orlando.

...but even the window itself was a graphic. The door has none.

I had hoped for a daylight arrival, but the delay at the dealer had us arriving just after dusk, and we backed into our camp site in the dark. Much simpler in a 25' class-C than it was in Odyssey, although I miss my backup camera. We were in the same section we'd stayed in on all our previous visits, so it was all very familiar. We had to back to an exact spot in the space to allow both the power cord and the water hose included with the rig to reach, stretched, as they were, in opposite directions.

Pretty base-case, but livable for a few days.

Even with the delay, we got settled in to the space in plenty of time to catch the boat across the lake to the Contemporary Resort, where I had made dinner reservations at the upscale California Grill. This is, perhaps, the best place to start one's Disney dining experience, because it immediately sets the tone for how much everything else will cost, and the other restaurants will seem reasonable by comparison.

One of the perks of dining at the California Grill is being able to watch the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from their rooftop deck. I had expected we'd already missed them, but it turns out Disney has added a spectacular 9pm show, and we had a great view on a perfect evening. The show happened between our entree and dessert courses; perfect timing.

The fireworks show, as seen from the roof of the Contemporary. The photo does not do it justice.

What we had remembered from our very first visit to Fort Wilderness, Disney's own campground, is that the wait for a bus to get from your campsite to the transportation terminals at either end of the property can seem interminable, and returning from dinner Monday night confirmed that. Fortunately, I was able to cram our two folding bicycles into the luggage bay of the RV, and I set those up Tuesday morning and we used them for the rest of the visit. Sunday evening I had spent a bit of time airing up the tires and getting all the brakes and shifters working, with the help of some WD-40.

Posing in front of our favorite ride.

Tuesday afternoon we went over to Hollywood Studios and spent the afternoon and evening there, dining at Mama Melrose's in the park. I was very disappointed to learn that the over-the-top Osborne Family Lights for the holiday season were discontinued a couple of years ago. Many of the facades along the "New York Street" that hosted them are also gone this year, making room for the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge attraction. I'm very glad we had the chance to see them when they were there.

"Sunset Seasons Greetings," the new holiday fanfare at Hollywood Studios.

In its stead, Disney has created a holiday-themed show along "Sunset Boulevard" that re-purposes the numerous "snow" machines, and uses the Hollywood Tower Hotel (the exterior of a great drop ride) as something of a giant, 3D projection screen for a variety of illusions, including turning the entire structure into an enormous gingerbread house.

Gingerbread tower.

Wednesday afternoon we went to the Magic Kingdom, which was open late that day. We enjoyed seeing the redeveloped FantasyLand, and Space Mountain is just as fun as ever. This is the first time we rode the campy Jungle Cruise in the holiday season, where it gets re-purposed into the even campier "Jingle Cruise." We more or less skipped the fireworks show, since we had a great view of it Monday night. The park was more crowded than I expected; I think some families kept their kids from school beyond the Thanksgiving break.

Main Street on a holiday evening.

We did leave the park at dinner time to have dinner at Citrico's in the Grand Floridian. There's no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom, so we customarily leave to have a glass of wine with dinner. Before heading back to the Magic Kingdom to finish the evening, we took in some of the holiday decorations in this grand dame of Disney hotels.

The enormous gingerbread (really) house in the Grand Floridian. Inside it is a counter selling treats.

Thursday we ruminated about going to another park, perhaps Epcot. We had three-day tickets; as Florida residents a three-day (the smallest resident ticket) is less expensive than even a two-day regular ticket. We ultimately decided to save the extra day for another time (it's good for six months, and we can add an extra day for twenty bucks) and, instead, have a more relaxing day at Fort Wilderness followed by an afternoon on The Boardwalk and evening at Disney Springs.

One of our favorite parts of the hotel, the balcony orchestra playing tasteful holiday music as background.

Disney Springs is a good deal larger than its predecessor, Downtown Disney, but still very similar. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Mexican restaurant, strolled around a bit, and even took a boat ride over to the Old Key West Resort, which turns out to be entirely encompassed within Disney's own timeshare system. There is now an enormous balloon ride that goes up some 400', but it was not operating when we wanted to take it (we saw it up later in the evening, when we were ready to leave).

Balloon ride and Disney Springs, as seen from the boat to the Key West resort.

Friday morning we had to check out. We might easily have moved the RV to the day lot, as we've done in the past, and spent the day in a park, but that would have made cleaning and returning the RV by its 11am deadline Saturday a challenge. Instead we opted for a relaxing morning at our campsite, followed by the tank-dumping ritual. Cruise America wants the rigs returned with empty tanks and the valves open, or you get hit with an exorbitant dump fee.

More gingerbread in the lobby of the Boardwalk resort.

It's not legal, of course, to drive around with your dump valves open, and I won't do it. But we did take advantage of our full-hookup site to empty the tanks and rinse them out. I let them drain as much as possible and then closed the valves before we disconnected everything. When I fueled the rig at the gas station next to the rental place, I used a plastic jar to empty out the last few ounces before returning the rig with the valves open, as mandated.

One of the things we love about Fort Wilderness is the over-the-top decorations people set up in their sites. This is less than a third of what was in this single camp site alone.

We spent Friday afternoon driving back to Jacksonville, with a stop at an outlet mall en route to pick up some more shorts and polos for yours truly, who goes through them at an alarming rate (boating, it turns out, is hard on your clothes). We were home in time to ride the scooter to dinner in the trendy Avondale neighborhood, just a few miles from the marina.

While we were in Avondale for dinner Friday, we learned that they were having the neighborhood holiday street fair there on Saturday. We spent Saturday morning emptying, cleaning, and returning the RV, and the afternoon putting everything away and getting the boat back in seagoing shape. In the evening we returned to Avondale to check out the festivities and have dinner. What struck us was that the block party on the closed-off streets was exactly what Disney is trying to emulate on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. We prefer the real-life version. It was very much aimed at families and children, so we just wandered around taking it all in.

Holiday fair on St. Johns in the Avondale neighborhood. Everyone was having a good time.

Sunday morning marked the end of our pre-paid week, and we ruminated about just extending for another week since we had such a good deal, and the neighborhood was fun. But the weather for an outside passage south was looking perfect, and we decided to drop our lines Sunday morning and head straight out to sea, for an overnight run to Port Canaveral.

We left on the outgoing tide to have a nice push downriver. The Metropolitan Park docks, where we had stayed just before heading upriver, were packed solid for the Jaguars game, and the sheriff had two patrol boats in the river. The weather was gorgeous and we had a nice run downriver.

We did a last-minute weather check just as we approached the final anchorage, near the junction with the ICW. The National Weather Service issues marine forecasts on a schedule, and the latest had just come out. That forecast informed us that we'd be better off waiting another day, and so we dropped the hook in our usual spot, off-channel in the river. I'm sorry we did not know an hour earlier, when we could have stopped in dinghy range of downtown.

The yacht Le Grand Bleu from our anchorage. That's a 65' yacht on its aft deck as a "water toy."

Monday the weather was perfect, and we weighed anchor shortly after the tide changed from flood to ebb. We ended up racing down the river at nine knots, and we even had a dolphin escort for a short while. The price I paid was having to negotiate a "rage" at the inlet, wherein all the water racing out of the river met the opposing easterly wind and seas, forming enormous breaking waves. I had to pick my way through carefully until we were well out in open ocean, where it was the forecast two to three feet from the northeast on a seven second period.

Our dolphin escort downriver, perhaps a half dozen of them.

It turns out, though, that we left a bit too early. I did not expect it, but we had between a half knot and a full knot of push behind us on our southbound journey, and what I expected to be an 11am arrival at Canaveral inlet steadily decreased until it was reading around 8am. Nothing wrong with arriving in broad daylight at 8am, except for the fact that my watch ends at 3am, and having to be up and fully functional around 7am is challenging, and presents the risk of decision-making on insufficient rest.

Sunset over Florida. Clouds on the horizon make it look like an ocean sunset.

We ended up reducing RPM to 1400 early in the evening, pushing the arrival time back to 9:15 or so. It was a clear night with a nearly full "super moon," which made for easy nighttime driving; I hardly needed to leave the pilothouse. Moonless or cloudy nights, by contrast, have us going outside every 15-20 minutes to scan the horizon.

Super Moon rising. Best my cell phone could do.

We arrived yesterday morning at Canaveral inlet as predicted, a little after 9am. Just before 10, we were tying up at the free wall at Rodney Ketcham Park, at the very western end of the harbor (map). We docked literally 200' from where we paid over a c-note per night back in 2014, at the Ocean Club Marina right next door. End to end, this passage was the exact reverse of our very first overnight passage three and a half years ago, departing from Ocean Club and ending at the very same anchorage in the St. Johns River. We've come a long way since then.

Vector tied up at Ketcham Park. Those are storks on the grass. The dock in the background is where we stayed previously.

One of the things you have to do when you run offshore east of Cape Canaveral is check the rocket launch schedule. The launch safety zone extends far offshore, much too far to go around. Launch safety zones are often published in the Local Notices to Mariners, but schedules change frequently and it's best to check with USAF Range Safety directly; by the time you get close enough to the cape to hear announcements, it's a long way back to a different inlet.

And so it was that I learned just before departing Jacksonville that the Space Station resupply mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon-9 was scheduled to launch from SLC-40 this Friday afternoon, with the booster returning to the SpaceX Landing Zone just five miles away. I'm always up for a rocket launch, but the possibility of seeing the booster come back and land was even more inviting. We decided we'd stick around on the Space Coast until Friday's launch.

We arrived in port to find no cruise ships, a rarity. But the Norwegian Breakaway docked soon after we did, on a round trip Caribbean cruise from New York. This was the "Orlando" stop, and she stayed until 9pm.

I spent a bit of time with the charts during our passage, figuring out the best place to anchor in the Banana River to get a view of the landing, if at all possible, and studying the security zones. With no restrictions posted on the free dock, we figured to just stay there until the time came to pass through the lock and anchor in the river for the show. Last night we walked the mile and a quarter to the handful of restaurants near the port and had dinner at Fish Lips.

This morning when I checked the launch schedule again, I learned that it had been rescheduled for no earlier than the 12th, where it would be a night launch rather than the afternoon affair scheduled for Friday. While we had been willing to wait an extra two days in Canaveral for the launch, waiting a full week was not in the cards, and so this afternoon we dropped lines and proceeded west through the lock.

View back toward the Space Coast from the lock. A Carnival ship is in port, and in the distance to the left can be seen the SpaceX launch complex.

I'd much rather make my way south from Port Canaveral on the outside, coming back in at Fort Pierce or St. Lucie, but the ocean forecast is not amenable for that anytime in the coming week. In order to keep making progress, we opted to continue inside, down the ICW. Which is how we find ourselves here.

By coincidence, we heard from our Australian boating/RVing friends last night that they have arrived back in Florida and are making their way up to Green Cove Springs by car, stopping to spend tonight and tomorrow with friends in Eau Gallie. We were lamenting that we'd had to leave the Jacksonville area before they returned and were wondering how we could find a way to get a visit in, so this is perfect timing. We're hoping to connect with them tomorrow sometime as we pass through Eau Gallie.

Update: We are anchored in the Indian River, just north of the Pineda Causeway (map). We dropped the hook just before sunset. We are just an hour from Eau Gallie and we have arranged to meet our friends for brunch in the morning.

Sunset from our anchorage. Pineda causeway bridge to the left.

I had hoped to get the blog posted shortly after anchoring. But when I fired up the generator to warm up the grill for dinner, the generator quit after running just three minutes. A quick check revealed nothing catastrophic, so we made dinner with the batteries and I set to work on it after dinner when things had cooled down a bit. I had figured it to be the impeller, as this generator has a voracious appetite for them, but it turned out to be a broken fan belt. I had a spare, but it was a fight to get it on, as the alternator bolts are in a nearly inaccessible place and had been torqued by a gorilla.

All is quiet now and I can finally wrap up. I actually started putting this post together at sea, editing most of the photos, and uploading them while I still had connectivity in the first half of the passage. I had hopes of writing some of the text, too, but seas became progressively rougher throughout the night, and I ended up spending my watch on more mindless pursuits, which is sometimes what it takes.

There is no escaping Mickey at Disney.

In the morning we'll weigh anchor and make the short run to Eau Gallie for brunch. I expect we'll end the day somewhere in the neighborhood of Vero Beach, and by Saturday night we should be in Stuart.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Happy Holidays, and Road Trip!

We are in Jacksonville, Florida, currently at the free city docks at Metropolitan Park (map). Long-time readers may remember we stayed here a couple of years ago. On this visit, as on that one, the normally pay-per-hour power is on full-time, and we put a scooter on the ground to run errands. There's water here, too, and we filled the tank and did some laundry before a water main broke, leaving us dry.

Jacksonville at night, from our anchorage near the hospital.

After my last post we moved upriver at slack to a familiar anchorage, at the intersection of the St. Johns and the ICW (map). It was too late in the day to go further, but we needed a more secure and comfortable anchorage than where we stopped after coming in from offshore. In the yard across from us was the 371' yacht Le Grand Bleu, presumably having work done. I'm sorry I did not get a photo.

Sunset at sea on our overnight passage.

Saturday morning on the flood we weighed anchor and cruised upriver to downtown Jacksonville. There was room at what's left of the free city dock at Jacksonville Landing, but we knew it would be noisy right there in front of Fionn McCool's on a Saturday night, and we opted instead to continue through the railroad bridge and anchor in another familiar spot, near Baptist Hospital (map). We had anchored here two years ago as well, after finding an ear-splitting music festival at Metropolitan Park.

Carnival liner in port, seen in our wake.

The cruise upriver was pleasant and interesting. We passed a Carnival cruise ship in port; here in Jacksonville the cruise terminal is a long way from town. We also passed the Independence, of American Cruise Lines, docked at a repair yard with her sister ship, American Star. We had just seen the Independence a week ago in Charleston, so she just came out of service. I had to chat with the crews, as they were planning to jockey them around just after we passed.

American Star and Independence at the shipyard.

After we settled in to our anchorage we splashed the tender. It was a beautiful day so after lunch we headed ashore to the free dock at Riverside Park. The Saturday Arts Festival was in full swing and we enjoyed walking around. A handful of high-zoot food trucks made us regret having had lunch aboard. A youth orchestra was playing on the concrete stage under the I-95 bridge. We're glad this nice entertainment space mostly survived the Irma flooding.

Youth orchestra on stage at the Arts Fest.

Monday we had a visit from friends Steph and Martin, who were on their way from their new home in St. Pete to Myrtle Beach for Thanksgiving. We had a nice lunch with them in the upscale cafe in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum is closed Mondays, but the MOCA cafe is open. Once again there were some wonderful food trucks in the park across the street.

Musicians and dancers at the weekly festival.

Having conceded that we'd be having Thanksgiving dinner in Jacksonville someplace, after lunch we walked to the Hyatt hotel on the riverfront, which I remembered from my Christmas research two years ago as having a nice holiday meal service. We were somewhat surprised to find the entire first floor, which had contained the lobby, registration, the restaurant, and a nice cocktail lounge entirely walled off. Registration was being conducted at the coat check for the second floor ballrooms, and a makeshift restaurant and cocktail lounge had been created in one of the ballrooms.

Approaching Jacksonville from downriver. Main Street lift bridge directly ahead.

When Irma hit this part of Florida it created record flooding on the St. Johns river. The river raced through downtown Jacksonville, flooding anything along the riverfront to a depth of four feet. Much of the ground level of Jacksonville Landing was damaged, and the first floor of the Hyatt was destroyed. Most of the Landing docks were also destroyed or damaged; what's left is in bad shape, but there is room for a couple of cruising boats.

Typical damaged section of the concrete floating docks. Some were swept away altogether.

We happened to drop in to Ruth's Chris steakhouse one evening just to dine on their reasonable happy hour bar menu, an easy tender ride from our anchorage. While there, we learned they were doing a full turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, and although it was sold out, we put our name on the waiting list. The very next day they called me back and we scored reservations for 4:45.

The luxury yacht Kismet has been moored on the riverfront since we arrived.

We were already here at the dock when Thanksgiving rolled around, and had figured we'd scooter across the river for dinner. But it was pouring rain all day, and we ended up doing Uber/Lyft instead. We had a very nice meal, and Ruth's Chris even made little leftover to-go boxes for everyone, so we have another turkey dinner last night.

The big thing we had to get done here in Jacksonville was to get the new scooter properly licensed and registered in Florida. So last week I rode down to the Clay County Tax Assessor's office in Orange Park, paperwork in hand, to get it done. With an out-of-state purchase, they actually want to see the bike and verify the VIN.

Vector anchored off the Baptist Health center.

I was at the counter for nearly an hour, owing mostly to the fact that I wanted to get some credit for fees already paid on the scooter that was stolen. That made for an out-of-normal-process transaction for the clerk, and she struggled to get it all through the byzantine computer system. Ultimately my fees went from $220 down to about $120. Sadly, VECTOR 1 is gone forever now, and I had to settle for VECTOR 3 as the new license plate. which will come in the mail. I have a regular motorcycle plate in the interim.

The very next day I rode right past the tax collector and another ten miles further to Green Cove Springs, where we "live," to pick up the mail from our mail service. I knew there was a fire extinguisher in the bundle (a result of the massive Kidde recall) so it was a lot cheaper and more convenient to pick it up in person.

Our "home," St. Brendan's Isle mail service.

In between holiday meals, on-scooter errands (including provisioning the boat), and spending a little time in town, I've been getting some projects done. The cheap eBay-sourced wireless remote control I installed on the windlass a few years ago was getting intermittent, most likely due to the very cheap buttons wearing out, and I replaced the whole control unit with a different inexpensive model from Harbor Freight.

I also re-strung the port pilothouse blind, whose cord failed spectacularly during the passage. We had these same blinds on the bus for nine years with nary a problem, but on the boat the little stainless steel pins that the cords pass over tend to rust over time (yes, stainless can rust) in the salt air, and the rough rusty patches take their toll on the cords. This is the fourth one I've had to re-string; I'm getting pretty good at it.

Vector at the dock at Metropolitan Park.

With the new scooter on the ground I was also able to install ground-effect lights and auxiliary turn indicators in the otherwise empty light sockets on the fairing (US regulations have the manufacturer abandoning the fairing sockets for stalk-mounted units on the handlebars). I had done both of these projects on Chip and was happy with the increase in visibility.

Yesterday a pair of sailboats showed up here at the dock, and one of them was none other than the unlucky soul who lost his anchor in Charleston. I had interacted with them a bit on Facebook; we enjoyed meeting them in person. They also lost twenty feet of chain. Their pulpit now sports a shiny new Rocna which they had to pick up at West Marine. The anchor they lost was a Bruce, like ours, no longer made and now Unobtainium.

Our old friend American Constellation, anchored off Green Cove Springs.

We've been scratching our heads a bit about where to go from here, now that our errands here are done. We need to end up in Fort Lauderdale within a month or so, where our new stabilizer fins will be waiting for us and where we know someone who can get our watermaker back up to snuff, long overdue. And we may or may not make a detour across the lake to the west coast first.

Somewhere in all of the discussions I mentioned that I would like to maybe get in a visit to Disney while we're here in Florida, and because Steph said she might be interested, I ended up spending a full day doing the research. Complicating things is the fact that the cat is so old now that we prefer not to kennel her, so we wanted to bring her with us.

Downtown, from the Ortega River drawbridge. I had to wait for the span on my way back from Green Cove Springs.

I surprised even myself when, after hours of juggling pet policies and the exorbitant $50/day pet fee at any of the very few Disney resorts that even allow them, I discovered that the absolute best way to take a pet to Disney and still stay on-property is the way we've always done it: at the campground. And a Cruise America motor home, plus campsite fees, turns out to be far less than any of the pet-friendly resort hotels. On the east coast, our pickup options were Jacksonville, Delray Beach, and Miami.

And so it is that we are just going to extend our stay here in Jacksonville for a week, rent an RV, drive to Orlando, spend a few days with the mouse, and drive back. It's perfect timing, because the spectacular holiday lights and decorations at Disney should mostly already be in place. We pick up the rig tomorrow, and return it on Saturday.

Tied up at a busy dock for the Riverside festival. Vector and downtown in the background.

In a few minutes we will drop lines here and head for a private marina. We're already past the stay limit at the free city dock, and there is no one here to watch over things. We found a reasonable slip in the area for a week, and when we return we'll shove off and anchor in the river someplace until the outside weather is good for heading south.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Farewell, Charleston

I am typing in the Atlantic Ocean, about 15nm off the coast of Cumberland Island, Georgia. We've been out of Internet coverage since about 7:30pm last night, off the coast of South Carolina outside of Port Royal and Beaufort. I spent part of my watch last night editing photos and get them ready for upload here, but typing on watch in the dark is more difficult for me.

Corner of King&Queen, near where we had one of our final meals in town, at 82 Queen.

We ended up spending over a full week in the anchorage across from the City Marina. Our commitment had been to remain until Sunday morning's service at the Unitarian Church of Charleston, where Louise had joined the choir in my absence. Short on tenors, she really wanted to help them out Sunday. I enjoyed the service, and hearing her sing, and we made good use of the five extra days to wrap up our visit in Charleston.

That meant we could have left Charleston on Monday, except the weather on the Atlantic has not been conducive to it. For Vector, even going to Savannah means an outside passage, due to a couple of shallow stretches on the inside route. With a seven-foot tide swing here, we can navigate them close to high tide, but that requires a lot of fiddly timing that makes what ought to be a two-day trip into three or four days. We try to avoid it if we can.

So we remained in our snug anchorage until the weather settled. When it did, we got a very nice window that was good all the way to Florida, and we seized the opportunity, which is how this morning finds us off the coast of southern Georgia, on our way to Jacksonville.

When last I posted here, we were still at the dock, preparing to leave. We very carefully timed our departure for slack tide Tuesday morning, when we awoke to a cruise ship tied up to the dock, the brand new American Constellation. We filled the water tank, took the last of the trash and recycling off the boat, singled up lines, and disconnected the power cord, all per our usual pre-departure checklist.

The American Constellation, the newest and largest ship plying the ICW for American Cruises.

Things went off the rails, however, when I finished my startup checklist and started the main engine. Louise normally stands on the aft deck during or immediately after start-up to make sure we have water flow from the exhaust, and this morning she immediately reported back that we had no flow. This is an emergency of the first order and I very quickly shut back down.

For the unfamiliar, a marine wet exhaust system relies on seawater being pumped into the hot exhaust a short distance downstream of the engine, so that the exhaust can continue on its way through the rest of the boat in hoses rather than pipes. Cooling the exhaust this way makes for a cooler engine room, a cooler boat, a safer exhaust system, and less noise and smoke at the stern. The cooling water first cools the engine itself, by way of a heat exchanger, and is pumped from the sea by a rubber-impeller engine-driven pump.

No water from the exhaust meant that neither the engine nor the exhaust system was being cooled. A cold engine can run for a long time that way, maybe several minutes. But the hot exhaust will quickly burn through the hose system or fiberglass muffler that carries it out of the boat. This can start a fire and/or sink the boat, and to prevent just such a disaster we have a high-temperature alarm on the exhaust system, which sounds in the pilothouse if the hose gets over 170°F.

One of our final sunsets from our aft deck.

Remembering that we'd done quite a bit of work in our four months at the dock, including cleaning out the sea strainers, and that we had a diver clean the sea chest literally the day before departure, filling it and all the through-hulls and pipes with compressed air, we started the engine back up and ran it a full minute to see if it was just air entrapment and loss of prime. Still no flow.

Reluctantly, I called the marina on the radio to let them know we could not leave the dock (the marina has been full every night, turning away over a hundred boats last month, and we knew they needed the slip), and that it would take me at least two hours to diagnose and repair the problem. And to be prepared for the possibility that we might be stuck overnight, if not longer.

Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing more than the "usual suspect": a shredded impeller in the seawater pump. These impellers don't like sitting in one spot for long periods (we did run the engine monthly), and a big hit of air trapped in the line from the diver meant it likely ran dry for a second or two. The pump has to come off the engine to replace the impeller, and all told it's about a two hour job. I have an entire spare pump which can knock a half hour or so off that, in case I need to do this at sea, but tied to the dock it made sense just to finish the job.

Vector at anchor, as seen from the Megadock.

By the time we were done and confident the pump was working and there were no water or engine oil leaks, we had a wicked current against our stern and we were still coming up to max ebb. We called the marina back and pleaded for a 2pm departure (well past the noon check-in for new arrivals), which would at least cut the current in half, down to a manageable knot or so. They agreed and we settled in for another couple of hours.

As the marina has been quite full these last few weeks during the annual southbound migration, so has the anchorage. We looped all the way through it once before settling on a spot near the southeast end, still within reach of the marina WiFi, and about the closest we could get to the dinghy dock, which is still a long slog around the back of the marina.

This anchorage is notorious for fouled anchors; numerous wrecks litter the bottom, along with remnants of old moorings, lost anchors and chains, and other detritus. We thought briefly about deploying a trip line with a marker buoy, but that has its own liabilities in an anchorage like this. Instead we just picked a spot closer to the channel (and outside the designated no-light-or-ball required anchorage) in 30' of water and hoped for the best.

We got a good set and put out 120' of chain, a 4:1 scope, the least we'll do in this kind of current. Other than a couple of inexperienced sailors who anchored too close to our swing circle and subsequently had to move, we had no issues. The current and wind had us mostly "fill in" our anchor circle over the course of nine days, reminding me of those computer-graded tests you had to take with a #2 pencil.

Filling in the circle.

I used the extra nine days productively to get a few projects done. I got under the helm and installed the interval delay timer for the wipers and a knob/switch to adjust the interval; the single switch activates all three wipers. While I had part of the gear out of the under-helm cabinets for access, I also did a major clean-up in there, properly securing the numerous spare electronic items that have accumulated there. My "man cave" is once again easily accessible.

New interval wiper control, alongside three existing wiper switches.

Many of the days at anchor were extremely cold, and we had to run the reverse-cycle heaters. The salon unit kept tripping its breaker, so I also ended up cleaning the sea strainer once again (yuck) as well as back-flushing the unit's heat exchanger. Sadly, that did not fix the issue, and we'll need to have a refrigeration technician look at it. We just used one of our little electric fan heaters in the salon in the interim.

Sailboats everywhere leading to the start of the regatta. The ones with sails down are anchored.

The weekend found us in the middle of a sailing regatta, with the starting line just upriver from us, near the bridge. Several classes of boats had separate starts, all started by firing the yacht club cannon. We knew about the regatta, and had met the cannoneer, because we had a beer at the Yacht Club on Friday evening. The entire anchorage was a swirling maelstrom of racing yachts, jockeying into position for the start, and then some cutting through the anchorage in the course of the race. Several passed Vector close aboard.

A race boat passes us close aboard.

Shortly after leaving the dock we got another couple of packages in the mail. We intended to dinghy ashore to get them, so we were surprised when one of the dockhands showed up in the pumpout boat (Bow Movement, sister boat to The Grateful Head) to deliver them to us in the anchorage. I have to give the City Marina an A+ for customer service. One of those packages contained my new silver/silver-chloride reference electrode.

The diving service that cleaned our hull in Charleston (twice, which in hindsight was not enough) reported that they thought our anodes were not doing their job, as indicated by the amount of growth they had accumulated. They tried very hard to convince me to have them replace our fairly new aluminum-alloy anodes with zinc ones. This made little sense to me; aluminum-alloy anodes are more effective than zinc, and tech divers are not necessarily experts on galvanic protection.

The way to know for sure is to measure hull potential, which requires a voltmeter and a "reference electrode" suspended in the salt water outside the boat. We had this test performed on our first yard visit over four years ago, since we had done lots of electrical work and changed the anodes. But we have not been tested since changing over to aluminum alloy anodes during our haulout last year at Snead Island.

With my shiny new reference electrode in hand, I was able to make several measurements of hull potential at various points around the boat, with the electrode close aboard and also with it perhaps 15' from the boat. I consistently got a reading of -.907v at all locations, right in the middle of the recommended range for steel boats. I'm not sure why the anodes are accumulating growth, but I'm not going to worry about it with these readings.

The other delivery was our mail from our box in Green Cove Springs. Ironically we will be nearly there in another day or so, but we had items in the mail that we needed. I was happy to find in there a nice gift from Lila, whom we met in Fort Lauderdale back in July. Lila decided she wanted to raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, and she made lovely little pennant banners as thank-you gifts to those who donated.

Of course we made a donation, and if you will permit me a brief digression, Lila's project still brings a tear to my eye when I think about it in the context of our own disaster relief work. As I have written here before, a substantial portion of donated funds for disaster relief go to the logistics of transporting, housing, feeding, and caring for relief workers, most of whom are themselves volunteers.

Our homemade banner proudly on display.

When we are on relief assignment, we're issued debit cards which we use for transportation, meals, and other incidental expenses. There's a daily maximum allowed, with suggested amounts for meals and the like, but we hope to spend less than the maximum if possible. For example, when I was in St. Thomas, most of my meals were provided by FEMA on board the ship where I was housed; I spent almost none of my meal allowance during my deployment, with the exception being while I was en route.

Anyone who has ever worked for me on a deployment has heard my stewardship lecture. I remind everyone that the funds on that debit card come from people just like Lila, a little girl who just wanted to help disaster victims rather than have a new toy for herself. They don't come from the government, or some magic pot, or even the amorphous "budget," and spending them indiscriminately disrespects the donors like Lila. While Lila raised funds for a different agency, it's all of a piece, and I am so thankful there are children like Lila, and parents who instill the values of caring for others in this way.

While we were at the dock for a full four months, it took being at anchor to finally get us out to two things we've been trying to do for quite a while. The first was dinner with new friends Bill and Ann, who live on a nice motor yacht at the marina. Ann and Bill work different shifts, and so they only ever get to eat dinner together one or two nights a week. We met them months ago but it took us this long to find a time that worked for everyone.

The other was a city tour by bus. Charleston is chock-full of walking tours (the city is really ripe for them), but Louise generally can't do a walking tour. And there are spendy horse-drawn carriage tours, but naturally they can only cover a few blocks; you need to take four of them to take everything in, and the tour routes are assigned to carriages randomly at the last minute, so it's a challenge to get four different ones.

Our busy anchorage. I counted 28 anchored boats one day. Two of these boats are stuck with fouled anchors.

On our very last day in town we had a nice brunch at Eli's Table and then made our way to the visitor center to board a small bus for a 90-minute city tour. The driver/guide was quite the character, and even having been in the city for four months, we saw and learned about several things previously unknown to us.

That morning the outside weather forecast was still questionable, but by Wednesday evening it was clear we'd have good weather all the way to Florida overnight on Thursday. We made our preparations to leave on the morning ebb, which would mean a high-current tie-up at the Megadock to board the scooters. But I had a great deal of apprehension about weighing anchor.

That's because two boats just upriver of us in the anchorage had tried to depart in the last couple of stays, but were stuck fast. A diver was due to arrive before slack tide in the morning to see if he could un-foul them. We weighed anchor just as the diver was arriving; fortunately, it came up mostly clean.

Weighing anchor. Cruise ship American Constellation in the background. The sailing cat just to the left was stuck, his anchor fouled.

To be fair, one of those boats dropped its hook almost right on top of the hazard marker in the online database warning everyone the area was foul. He paid the price -- his anchor dropped deep inside a wreck and the best the diver could do was cut his chain close to the wreck. The other boat dropped a hundred feet away and was fouled on some chain; he was able to get off with only a lightening of his wallet. We ended up going out the inlet with him, a large sailing cat with a mast too tall for the ICW.

We were able to tie up briefly on the inside of the Megadock, where we again found American Constellation, back from its ten-day cruise (its smaller cousin, Independence, made an overnight visit earlier in the week). That gave us a port-side tie, bow-in to the current, and we loaded the scooters without drama. I had to jury-rig some lifting tackle for my new scooter, but otherwise it hoisted and stowed on the deck without issue. We had some concerns because the tail trunk is not detachable as it was on Chip, which we generally hoisted trunk-less.

The Battery, Ravenel Bridge, and USS Yorktown.

We were at the dock just 45 minutes and then headed for the inlet on a gorgeous fall day. Views of The Battery with the Ravenel Bridge and the USS Yorktown were spectacular, and of Fort Sumter nearly so except for the sun behind behind it.

Fort Sumter, site of the shot heard 'round the world, with the park ferry docked.

We've had a great passage, with calm seas and clear skies, and a nice counter-current push from a Gulf Stream eddy. This latter has caused us to have an ETA to the Jacksonville jetties right at max ebb; I keep dropping the throttle back to try to arrive with a bit less current against us.

Update: As feared, we arrived right at max ebb. With the ship channel 50' deep, the surface turbulence was manageable and we made the inlet and pressed upriver a mile and a half to the first safe spot to drop the hook. We're anchored on a "lunch hook" until the tide changes before making our way upriver to our anchorage for the night.