Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Georgia on my mind

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of Blackbeard Island and coming up on the Sapelo Sound entrance. Our destination is St. Catherines Sound, and an anchorage somewhere along the Bear River.

Fort Clinch to starboard as we departed St. Marys Inlet.

Notwithstanding my prediction that the flood would catch up to us on our inbound transit of St. Simons, the tide change was later than predicted, and we pushed against it all the way to the anchorage. We skirted well to the north to clear the ongoing massive Golden Ray work site. They are down to the last three sections of hull, and it looks like the VB-10000 is poised to lift the next section shortly, with the cables hooked up and under strain.

Winds were 20 out of the south and gusting higher when we arrived. That meant our preferred anchorage to the north, up the Frederica River, which is open to the south, would be a bad choice, and we instead turned south, dropping the hook in a familiar spot off the Jekyll Island Pier (map). A large crane barge was spudded down nearby, and I called the towboat to make sure we were out of the way.

The VB-10000 hooked up to the next hull section. This photo belies the true size of the wreck.

Even with the protection of the island, it was pretty lumpy, and we had the occasional wake from a go-fast boat on the ICW or an enormous RoRo leaving port, but it was a mostly comfortable afternoon and night. We had a nice dinner on board, watching a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the nearby park and beach. We were well positioned to run right back out the next morning to continue north.

Yesterday morning, however, two out of three ocean forecasts were no-go, with conditions looking much better today instead, and so we opted to just wait another night. With the winds no longer out of the south, we weighed anchor at the afternoon slack, and headed up the Frederica, dropping the hook in the corner of the special anchorage there (map), between Lanier and St. Simons islands.

Our neighbor off Jekyll, a spud barge with workboats coming and going, pushing up against the side.

We splashed the tender and I went ashore at the historic Gascoigne Bluff Park just to walk around a bit. Town is too far to walk, and with no need of a grocery or other services, there was no need to bring the e-bike ashore as I did on our last visit. I fueled up the tender at the marina on my way back, picking up the gate code so we could go to dinner.

We returned to the marina at  dinner time, tied up at the fuel dock, and walked to the Coastal Kitchen, which we remembered as quite good from our visit back in December. Unlike then, the place was very busy, and we had to settle for counter seating in order to be outdoors. Still, the paella was quite good, and we returned home satisfied, decking the tender upon arrival.

Post-prandial sunset over Lanier island, from the pilothouse.

This morning we weighed anchor at the start of the ebb and headed out to sea. I snapped a few last photos of the Golden Ray, which I hope will be gone entirely when next we pass by here, on our way out. With five feet of tidal help, I cut the corner across a shoal well before our usual turn, cutting a good three miles off today's trip.

Between yesterday and today, I've made a dozen or so phone calls trying to resolve our stabilizer problem. I still don't have a firm plan, but I have learned a couple of things, chief among them that I really need the special $400 tool to remove the torque pin, or I risk making the problem bigger. So now I am on the hunt for a yard or technician along our route who already has that tool.

The view astern departing St. Simons sound, with the Sidney Lanier Bridge at left and the Golden Ray at right.

In the meantime, we are working our way toward Savannah, where we have friends and where we are very familiar with the lay of the land. We are in no rush to get anywhere in particular, now that we are out of the "hurricane box," and we'll loiter here until I either solve the problem, or have a firm plan to fix it further north.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Finding Nemo in Fernandina Beach

We are under way northbound in the ICW, coming up, shortly, on Nassau Sound, en route to Fernandina Beach. (Update: I started typing this two days ago; we're now in the Atlantic en route to St Simons Sound.) Winds are 20kt gusting to 30kt on the port beam, but so far Otto is holding his own. The stabilizer fins are pegged trying to keep us level.

Jaxsonville from the new transit center (left), on our penultimate day. I rode here to pick up from an Amazon locker.

We had a pleasant and productive final week in Jacksonville, but it was past time to be moving on, and in fact we extended our stay by a day just so I could wrap up a project that had the house in shambles. Of course, we could not even get off the dock without another project getting added to the list, which is why the list never goes away or even gets any shorter.

Monday we weighed anchor just before slack tide and headed downriver to an old standby, the city marina at Metropolitan Park. Dockage is free, with a nominal three-day limit, and for the last several years, power has been free, too, since the credit-card metered power system is out of whack. We pulled in to the inside face dock, which is pretty much the only place that still has enough depth for us, and tied up more or less where we were exactly a year ago.

Vector at Metropolitan Park. Empty as usual.

We have 100' of power cord, but none of the pedestals within that distance was working. I checked five of them. Since at least one had been working a year ago, I marched ashore to see if the credit card system was working. No dice. We finished tying up and I got out my tools and meter and set out to find out why the power was off.  In the process, I found a working pedestal all the way at the west end of the dock, and, fortunately, the spot was empty. We dropped lines, moved 150', and that's where we ended up (map).

Jax is full of colorful murals. This one is near the transit and convention centers.

Just in the nick of time, too, because the temperature had been climbing all morning, and by the time we finished tying up, it was 95° and still climbing. We were very glad to have a full 50 amps of power to run the air conditioning. The heat wave lasted three days, but we were very comfortable. As usual, Louise also took advantage of power and water to get all the laundry done.

Meanwhile, I had a serious project on my plate that had been waiting for a large empty dock, to wit, installing our new saloon flooring. Long-time readers may remember that I had a mad scramble in DC a couple of years ago to replace our very nice woven vinyl floor tiles with some very cheap sheet vinyl seamed together with packing tape. This was on account of our very elderly cat, who had some bladder issues in the saloon, and the result was getting under the tiles and into the subfloor.

The old Union Station, once the crossroads of Florida, preserved as part of the convention center.

The cat passed away a year ago this week, and while we miss her (and the pets who preceded her) terribly, I do not miss cleaning up after her or spending hours in emergency clinics fretting about her. The need for the ugly and much too dark flooring (I had to take pot luck) having passed, we promised ourselves to replace it whenever the pandemic allowed. That required a dock with a shipping address where we could have an 8.5' long roll of flooring delivered.

An attempt at a historic exhibit outside the convention center. An old first class sleeper/lounge car with historically inaccurate markings.

We were finally able to make that happen in St Petersburg when we docked at the yacht club. But with only two days at the dock, and six heavy batteries to also deal with offloading from the boat, I did not have time to do the cutting work for the floor. Also, it's a busy dock and I'm not sure what space I could have commandeered to do it. We stuck the roll  down the engine room hatch and strapped it to the escape ladder, leaving just enough room to escape.

I knew the dock at Metropolitan Park would be large enough for the work, as well as devoid of traffic, and so I dived right in to the project. That involved removing all the furniture from the room, including two tables that are bolted in place, as well as the step leading up to the galley. We spent our whole stay at the park crammed into the pilothouse, and even much of the galley was inaccessible, as Louise's chair was right in the middle of it, taking up most of the floor space.

Cutting in progress. New flooring on dock, with old flooring above it as a template.

After sweeping whatever dirt I could off the dock, I unrolled the new flooring upside-down, then placed the old flooring, pieced back together, upside-down on top of it as a template. I marked the outline and then cut out the new flooring using a scissor. While I initially had some concerns, I was able to cover the whole saloon in one uninterrupted piece of material, by canting it just a few degrees from perfectly fore-and-aft. That would not work with many patterns, but this commercial flooring is made to obscure slight misalignments.

The project two took full days, one on either side of a road trip. I did the rough cut and placement on day one, and final trimming and replacement of furnishings two days later, which gave the material a full day to "relax" into position. We're very happy with the way it turned out.

"Rough cut" in place, as seen from the galley. Pretty close. You can see the furniture stacked on the settee at right.

Shortly after arriving at the dock, after we had a chance to cool off in the air conditioning a bit, we put the scooters on the ground. There is virtually nothing within walking distance of the park, and I will say that, in 95°, you can take away "virtually." We planned to ride to dinner, and we just left them on the pier for a couple of hours, rather than take them over to the parking area. After all, the place was deserted.

Just before we left the anchorage, I went ashore and rode the Skyway across the bridge to downtown and back. Here is one of the forlorn Southbank stations.

While I was getting a head start unbolting furniture, I spotted a police officer walking down the pier toward the bikes, and I stepped outside ready to explain why they were there. It turned out that he was concerned they were stolen and abandoned there, apparently an occasional occurrence here. He was very congenial, had lots of questions about boat life as he is considering one in retirement, and gave us his cell number since the park is on his regular beat. We were very happy to meet Sergeant John of the Jacksonville (Duval County) Sheriff's Office.

Dining options are still limited in this part of town, and nearby Intuition Ale Tap Room, which we knew to have a nice deck, is dark Mondays. Instead we rode to an old favorite, Indochine, downtown, where we knew there was no outside dining, but also knew the place would be mostly empty, a good start for our return to indoor dining. It was quiet, as we predicted, and tasty as always, if a little unsettling eating indoors at a restaurant for the first time since Bimini, over a year ago.

This whimsical NB/T-friendly sign adorned both restrooms at Indochine.

Tuesday afternoon I took a brief break from the flooring to watch the SpaceX launch. Still visible at over 100 miles away, but not nearly as impressive as the night launch was. An hour later I again paused my efforts so we could run over to Hertz to pick up our rental car. Not knowing if I would be able to leave the scooter, we rode two-up on one bike, and it was a miserable 20-minute ride in the heat. As it turned out they let us stash the scooter in their repair bay for the night, and we were off and running in our spiffy Nissan Rogue just before closing time.

After dessert the club brought us this tiny ganache with a very impressive bit of pyrotechnics on the plate. I could not get the camera out in time to capture it. Everything else on the plate was edible.

Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary (I'm almost certain the official list says the appropriate gift for eighteen years is "flooring"), and so after cleaning ourselves up a bit at home, we drove across the river to the Epping Forest Yacht Club, which you may recall was unable to accommodate us when we anchored nearby. Dinner was excellent, the restored A. I. DuPont mansion and grounds were lovely, and they even found us a table in enough shade that we were comfortable in the breeze, even with the temperature still in the high 80s.

Shortly after returning home, we got our anniversary fireworks display. Some sort of event at the baseball stadium, and this was my view from my relocated computer station while the saloon was torn up.

Wednesday morning we got an early start for the 2.5-hour drive down to Wildwood, where we had a lovely visit with good friends Kathleen and Tom. Kathleen had literally just been released from the hospital the previous day after brain surgery to relieve a bleed. They were happy to have the company, and we spent over two hours just sitting in their living room catching up. But with the car due back at 4:30 we could not linger.

I dropped Louise back at the boat before zipping back to Hertz stag to drop off the car. I made a couple of shopping stops on the way home, and we ended up at Intuition Ale for dinner via scooter. It was far, far busier than it had been a year ago, when we had the rooftop deck to ourselves. The food is nothing special, but they brew a nice draft, and it's one of the only downtown joints with outside dining.

On my excursion to the Amazon locker at the brand new transit center, complete with Skyway terminal, I discovered they have route/schedule/platform signs just like an airport or rail terminal. Jax has a good transit system.

Thursday marked three days at the dock, the nominal limit here. But the rules have been very loose, and we noted another boat had been there over a week. With only three boats in the whole marina, we opted to stay another day so I could wrap up the flooring project in comfort. We would otherwise have had to anchor another night, since we could not really get under way with the furniture stacked everywhere.

Trimming the material to a tight fit from my initial rough cut was a tedious process that took a few hours, but it came out pretty nice. After a little bit of working it into all the corners I put the free-standing and bolted down furniture back in place, save for the dining table, which we are looking to modify with folding free-standing legs so it can be out of the space altogether when it's not in use. It was nice to have air conditioning while I was working, even though the heat wave had mostly broken by then. We ended the day on the patio at Blue Fish in the trendy Avondale neighborhood, a favorite of past visits.

Jax also now has docklesse-scooter rentals and designated drop spots. This one is at the transit center. 

Friday morning Louise went for her first professional hair cut in over a year (and yours truly, the stand-in stylist, could not be more relieved), and as soon as she returned we decked the scooters for a slack-tide departure to the pump-out station on the river side of the dock. We wanted the slack water to tie port-side-to, where our fitting is located.

Alas, it was not to be. After starting the engine I immediately got a stabilizer fluid level alarm, and this is not something that can be ignored. A brief investigation revealed a significant leak at the port actuator, and we had lost perhaps a cup or so of fluid into the bilge. Interestingly, that amount hardly registers on the sight glass, so we could not say if it all came out while we were at the dock, or if it has been building slowly over many days.

Pretty good sized leak. I needed a magnet to hold the sorbent in the right place.

After determining the problem was not critical, I put some sorbents around the actuator and topped up the fluid and we again started the engine. Prudence might have suggested waiting another day, but we'd already stretched the black tank an extra day and we needed to pump out even to remain at the dock. By this time I was backing out of the marina in significant ebb current, but we made it out into the river without incident. I did have to tie to the pumpout dock starboard-side-to, but the hose just reached with careful positioning of the boat and bringing it in through the starboard freeing notch.

The culprit. Failing seal around the actuator rod.

After pumping out I did a more thorough inspection of the actuator, cleaned up the easy-to-access part of the spill, and added more sorbents. With our hurricane deadline rapidly approaching, we decided to monitor the situation and continue north, effecting repairs after clearing out of the hurricane box. That let us continue to tonight's destination, Fernandina Beach, where we hope to connect with friends Stephanie and Martin, who arrived yesterday from St. Pete.

Update: We arrived as planned just before 6pm, dropping the hook in a familiar spot (map) across the channel from the city marina. I had to knock off typing early on, as the channel of the south Amelia River gets tricky in a number of places, and especially with those winds. The wind, at least, kept all the amateurs off the water; we had passed them all stacked up at the Sisters Creek free dock mid-day after turning off the St. Johns. When they all started moving again yesterday, at least two of them ran hard aground at the aforementioned tricky spots.

Among the more obscure places for a mural, these two figures adorn silos on the industrial waterfront. Mathews bridge in background. Lighting was not great.

As soon as we had the hook set, we splashed the tender and bashed our way ashore to meet up with Martin and Steph aboard Blossom. They were on the outside face dock, and while it would have been convenient to just tie to their swim step, it was being pounded by waves, so we continued around to the $4 dinghy dock in more protected water. Just as last time, the office was closed and we found no one to take our money.

We arrived at Blossom to also find friends Bob and Dori from Liberdad, moored just two spots away. We enjoyed cocktails and snacks aboard before heading out in search of dinner, and it felt almost normal. In stark contrast to our visit here a year ago, the town was packed, including some sort of outdoor concert along the main street, and none of us was comfortable eating indoors in such an environment. After a couple of false starts, we ended up on the deck at Akari Sushi. We finished uncharacteristically late for us, and went straight to the tender after dinner for a chilly ride back to Vector. At least the seas had laid down and it was an easy ride.

A festival atmosphere at some kind of music event on Centre Street. 

Yesterday would have been a perfect day to make the passage we are doing right now, but I wanted time to work on the stabilizer problem, and maybe come up with a plan to effect repairs, including where we might need to head. The spilled fluid had made its way into four different bilge compartments, all difficult to reach, and I spent hours with sorbents on the end of a 2'-long grabber tool cleaning it all out. I also pinned the port fin and took it out of service, in the hopes of reducing the leakage until we can make repairs.

Another historic exhibit at the convention center, this one more accurate: Atlantic Coast Line 1504, a 4-6-2 Light Pacific.

That work and a few hours of research filled the day and aced me out of finishing my blog post, or going ashore to wander around, as is my wont. I did, however, wrap up in time to head back ashore for early cocktails again aboard Blossom, hoping an earlier start toward dinner on a pleasant Saturday evening might yield more options. This time it was calm enough to tie right up to their swim platform and step aboard.

With them was long-time mutual friend and training/delivery captain Jim, whom they have hired to help them bring the boat up the coast to New York. The five of us ended up at a nice patio table at local favorite Cafe Karibo, with an eclectic menu. Jim left for a walk after dinner and the four of us chatted aboard Blossom for a while before we headed home. A very nice visit all around.

Departing Blossom after sunset, our "cruise ship" lights showing the way. Photo: Stephanie Morris

While there was absolutely no notice of this in my usual maritime communication channels, the Coast Guard was making announcements all evening about a security zone at Canaveral for a rocket launch, and a bit of digging revealed another Starlink mission blasting off at 2:42am. I'm normally asleep then, but I happened to awaken just ten minutes before launch, and I staggered up to the flybridge just a minute in advance. Once again I could see the first and second stages well downrange, but could not glimpse the first stage reentry burn.

Today's passage weather deteriorates in the late afternoon, and so we departed as early as we could to have a favorable tide at both ends. As it turned out, we had such a good push out St. Mary's Inlet, that we will now beat the flood at St. Simons. I've slowed a bit, and we'll putt into the ebb for the first half of the approach channel until the tide catches up to us. We should have the anchor down just a bit after 3pm. So far we've had a comfortable ride on just one fin, which, just like Nemo's, is working a little bit harder to compensate.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Jacksonville downtime

We are anchored in a very familiar spot that we like to call "the suspicious boat anchorage" (on account of an "incident" during our first visit here), adjacent to the Baptist Medical Center between the Acosta and I-95 bridges in downtown Jacksonville, Florida (map). This is actually our second stay in this spot since my last post here, two full weeks ago.

When we first arrived here, we had no particular plans, but we did not really expect to be here into a third week. And so I have been putting off blogging until we were again under way, where I can always count on a big block of uninterrupted time to write. But now I find myself with two dozen photos and a lot of things to update, and so I am taking advantage of some rainy weather to get caught up, lest I find myself even further behind.

As I wrote at the end of my last post, we had a fair tide on the St. Johns and came all the way here on our passage from St. Augustine. We had seen no cruise ships either drifting or at anchor on our passage, and surprisingly we saw none at the docks coming upriver, either. On our last visit, there was one at the cruise docks, but also one at a random industrial dock as well. The industry is starting up again, but not here in the US, and I think the lines have all moved their ships to more favorable waters.

Downtown Jacksonville as seen beyond the colorful lights on the Acosta Bridge.

As we approached downtown, we were a little disappointed that our frequent neighbor, megayacht Kismet, was not at her usual berth between the Hyatt and the Main Street Bridge. Perhaps she is still out cruising, or perhaps the bulkhead is closed on account of the construction of the new docks replacing the former Jacksonville Landings docks. A large crane and spud barge for that project are just under the bridge. We passed the docks and they are nearly finished, but there are no gangways to shore yet.

We normally have this anchorage all to ourselves, but we arrived to find another trawler already here, although it appeared to be unoccupied. We ended up dropping the hook in a slightly new spot just a hair upriver of where we are now (map). After a long passage, we opted to keep the tender on deck and just eat aboard. In the evening, the new lighting system on the Acosta Bridge, which they were just testing on our last visit, treated us to a rainbow of color; it has been several different colors since.

The current is wicked here, just under two knots at max during spring tides, but the holding is good and we don't worry about the boat swinging up and down river twice a day. With that kind of current, though, we know very well that we will go to the end of the chain in both directions, and so when our swing circle got much smaller overnight, we knew we had snagged on something.

Northbank from our anchorage. Our first night here, shown, the Florida Blue building was bathed in blue light for some reason. It's been bright white ever since.

That has been a problem for us while weighing anchor in the past, and so before things got any more fouled, we weighed anchor the very next day at slack water, about 1:30 in the afternoon, to re-set in a different spot. In a stroke of timing, the other boat left shortly before we weighed, and so we moved back to our more usual spot and dropped the hook once more.

After getting settled into our new digs, we splashed the tender to explore the waterfront and find some dinner. We set our sights on the brand new floating docks on the south bank, in front of the Friendship Fountain. This was previously a short water-taxi-only dock that has now been lengthened to accommodate several boats, on Jacksonville's generous three day stay limit. Sadly, depth alongside was between five and six feet, just a bit too shallow for Vector. Still, a good dinghy tie-up.

I expect that the much longer docks on the north bank, at what is now called Riverfront Plaza (basically a big lawn where the Landings stood), with plenty of depth, will be open by the time we return to Jacksonville. The city is already making good use of the plaza, with a Thursday night concert series that we heard from the anchorage. Yesterday it was the terminus of the Black Lives Matter 5K, which briefly had the Main Street Bridge closed to auto traffic as we strolled to dinner.

Vector is branching out. Seen as we walked to a Thai place for dinner.

One reason we started out with this new dock is that we had ordered a number of Amazon items to a locker at the transit center in Southbank. The transit center is also a stop on the free Skyway, which is now running again. A couple of those items were sorely needed and had been waved off when Amazon botched their delivery in Titusville.

Receiving an Amazon delivery, especially when we are someplace where we will stay for a few days, is often a harbinger of major project work, and this delivery was no exception. Three items in particular were of pressing concern, to wit (and in order) special locking washers for the driveline, a new cell phone, and a project box for the tender radio. Louise also replenished her critical supply of batting, and ordered a new floor lamp for her seat in the saloon.

For at least the last year, I have been tightening the nuts holding the propeller shaft coupler to the transmission output plate each and every time we get under way. It's become part of the pre-departure list, just like adding fuel to the day tank and checking the engine oil. Ever since replacing the transmission damper plate two years ago, I have found it impossible to get these nuts to stay put.

The pleasant Riverside Park, not by the river side, which I passed on my way to the dentist.

Probably the only reason they did not require daily tightening before that project, is on account of some serious thread lock compound that I had put on the nuts after one came off entirely, off the coast of New Jersey in bumpy seas. At the time I found all six nuts loose, which I finally mentally connected with the loud clunk every time I engaged astern propulsion.

The problem with using this kind of thread lock, however, became apparent during the damper project, wherein several of the threaded studs simply backed out of the shaft coupler when we tried to remove the nuts. Since the whole shaft was going to be moved back to complete the project, we didn't care if we had to destroy the studs, and that's exactly what we needed to do for a few of them. We replaced all the studs, nuts, and split washers when we re-assembled.

The split washers and a good amount of torque more or less worked for nearly a year. But after numerous cycles of vibration-induced loosening followed by re-torquing, the split washers lost their grip, and I wanted a better solution than just replacing them, in what would likely be an endless semi-annual cycle.

Not sure who this Fish and Wildlife officer ticked off to draw traffic detour duty for a construction closure.

After some research and a lot of advice, much of it suspect, from social media, I decided to try wedge-locking washers, and I went with the name brand that started the technology, Nord-Lock. It only took a few minutes to replace all six split washers, but it took me nearly an hour to apply the specified 86 pound-feet of torque to each nut. That's mostly due to the difficulty immobilizing the shaft each time with the boat still in the water. We've moved the boat five times since installation, and they seem to be doing the job.

The new phone was a bigger project. I am not a new-every-two kind of person, and this is one reason. I was very happy with my last phone, an original Google Pixel which I bought as a factory return. But the phone's vibrator quit before even reaching the two year mark, and I missed a lot of calls and messages before I figured out it wasn't working. Despite the fact that I dislike using an audible ring, I was willing to live with the lack of vibration, and just put it on audible on a low setting and added a couple of alerts to my smart watch.

More recently, however, the battery has been dying far too quickly for the phone to be usable. An app I loaded for the purpose tells me the capacity is just ten percent of original. After it died on me at inopportune moments several times, forcing me to carry one of those external battery packs everywhere, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get a new(er) phone.

With no headphone jack, I needed an adapter. And now, I am again officially an Apple customer. The only Apple product I own.

I ordered a refurbished Pixel 3, which lacks a dedicated headphone jack but has the maritime advantage of being water resistant, and was very excited to learn that I could just transfer everything from my old phone to my new one en masse by connecting them with a cable. Ha. That would require the old phone to stay powered up long enough for the transfer, since the cable uses the port normally used for charging. After three failed attempts on nominally full charges, I conceded defeat and fell back to the old-fashioned way.

That involves downloading everything to the new phone over-the-air. Most user data comes over intact, but apps re-install from scratch, and many (most?) lose their user settings, authentication, and customization in the process. Suffice it to say it took me the better part of two full days to get everything working on the new phone. Now, however, I can go through a whole day without it dying, and I have my vibration back.

I did take the opportunity to ditch several apps I no longer use, and update a few things. One such swap involved ditching LastPass in favor of BitWarden as my password manager. LastPass, after getting me hooked on the free version (just like a drug dealer), decided unilaterally a couple of months ago that free users could use it on computers or mobile devices but not both. I had been meaning to find a replacement that worked on all my platforms, and the phone update forced the schedule. BitWarden is a bit less tightly integrated, but it's free and does the job.

The Riverside Arts Market yesterday. Under I-95. We only bought an ice cream.

One of the things I was determined to do here in Jacksonville was to make long-overdue appointments with a dermatologist and a dentist. I picked one of each out of our various insurance directories that were a short walk from the Brooklyn Landing dock, just across the anchorage from us and a favorite place to get ashore for dinner at the nearby Five Points neighborhood. Imagine my surprise, then, when I swung by the dock a day ahead of time to find it posted as docking only allowed during the weekly Riverside Arts Market, Saturdays from 10-3. The gate at the top of the gangway is now padlocked.

We had seen a boat docked there when we first arrived on Tuesday, and there are no fewer than three boats docked there right now (Sunday). So enforcement is either spotty or nonexistent, or maybe just on a complaint basis. Nevertheless, we did not want to test the waters on a planned four-hour medical excursion ashore, so Louise dropped me off at the dock instead and returned to Vector. I hopped the low gate just as thousands have done before me (this dock has a history).

Flux, and several other boats, at the Brooklyn Landing dock during Arts Market hours. You can see the gate open at left.

I got a fairly clean bill of health on both visits, although the dentist office is refusing to do a regular cleaning because they want me to have a "deep cleaning," which is code for scaling and root planing. I'm not ready to go that route (sometimes the gums recede even further rather than reattaching) and so I am back in the market for a second opinion and, preferably, a regular dental prophy. We're not sticking around, so that will have to happen at a later stop.

The tender radio project also took the better part of a day. The radio we used to have on the tender, which came to us attached to the last tender and which I moved to the new tender, finally succumbed to salt corrosion, with the antenna connector literally falling off the back of the radio. This has been a long time coming; that connector was starting to go bad when I moved the radio two years ago, and I had to cut the cable and splice it at the time. That was not a fixable problem, and the old radio ended up in the trash.

Replacement radio mounted in its weatherproof box, with weather cover over the face.

Long time readers may recall I have a spare, working, high-zoot VHF radio complete with built-in AIS receiver that I removed after a lightning strike took out its NMEA output ports. Those are unneeded on the tender, but this radio is black (the old one was white), and quickly overheats in direct sunlight. To combat that, and also enclose the antenna and other connectors for more protection against salt spray, I bought a weathertight junction box as a housing for the radio. Cutting the face hole and wire gland hole, mounting the box, and re-connectorizing the antenna cable took a few hours, but it came out nice and all is working again.

How it looks powered up, from the driver seat.

With our principal errands out of the way, we decided to take a little cruise upriver and check out one of our new reciprocal clubs, the Florida Yacht Club, and take advantage of our one night's free dockage. So last Saturday we weighed anchor before the wind got too bad and cruised just four nautical miles to their docks (map). We arrived with just enough tide to maneuver to the dock, with mere inches under the keel. Fortunately, it's all soft silt down there.

The mic mount was a great way to cover the holes from the old navigation lights, which I removed during the project.

The club was welcoming and very nice. We put my scooter on the ground and I made a run to Walmart and some other essential stores. We had a nice dinner on the patio of their main dining room, and afterwards I strolled the extensive grounds, which include a croquet pitch, pool, ten tennis courts, and a sailing center in addition to the historic clubhouse and the marina. In the morning we decked the scooter and then walked back over for brunch, while we waited on enough tide to leave the marina.

Vector at the FYC docks.

Being, as we were, just 15 miles from Green Cove Springs, our "home," we opted to continue our cruise upriver at least that far. That would let me pick up our mail in person, offsetting our fuel by a few bucks, and also get us a bit closer to our good friends Cherie and Chris, on the chance we might be able to connect. The late start waiting on tide, however, had us pushing into the ebb hard, with a projected arrival late in the day.

As reciprocal dining guests, the club adorned our table with a miniature version of our home club's burgee.

Instead we decided to stop early, and pulled into Doctors Lake, where we dropped the hook a little bit past the US-17 bridge, just a short ways outside of the no-wake zone (map). On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the lake was very busy with jet-skis, pontoons, center consoles, and all manner of other go-fast day boats, but we were not bothered too much, and it was calm and quiet after sunset. We had a nice dinner aboard.

From our flybridge we had a view of downtown in the distance, particularly pretty at night. Historic FYC clubhouse at left.

Monday we weighed anchor on a favorable tide and finished the short trip upriver to Green Cove Springs, where we dropped the hook in a familiar spot not far from the city docks (map). Those docks are being expanded, and perhaps the next time we are up this way, we might even be able to dock Vector.

Vector at Green Cove Springs, as seen over the expansion work on the city docks.

We splashed the tender and headed ashore at dinner time, in the hopes that we would find someplace open with outside dining. Alas, the town is more or less as we left it a year ago. The billiards bar, oyster joint, and Mexican place are all open for inside dining, and the Italian place is still take-out only. We wanted a glass of wine with dinner, so we ordered Italian take-out and brought it home to Vector.

Tuesday I hauled the e-bike ashore and made the pilgrimage to our mail service, St Brendan's Isle, on the outskirts of town. I would normally take the tender ashore at Governor's Creek for a shorter bike ride, but the chop was heavy, and I wanted to see what was new in town, so I landed at the city dock and rode the whole distance. Nothing new at all, but I stopped into the nice hardware store and picked up a brush for the BBQ. After picking up our meager mail, I stopped at Winn-Dixie to load up on groceries before heading back.

Hard to capture, but the Ace Hardware was enormous, and had almost as much space dedicated to sporting goods and clothing as hardware.

That would have been the end of our visit, except we had arranged to meet up with Chris and Cherie Wednesday afternoon, on account of their work schedule. With nothing interesting in town (although I did find the BBQ joint near Governor's Creek had a couple of outside tables), we opted to just finish our Italian leftovers from the enormous servings we took home Monday.

That gave me a chance on Wednesday to drop by the Elks Lodge to pick up my membership card. We renew this membership year after year just so that we can use it whenever we decide to return to RV living, where it had been a real lifesaver on quite a number of occasions. After leaving the Elks dock I headed to town to drop off some quilts at the post office before picking up our guests for the afternoon.

Pink Supermoon from our anchorage in Green Cove Springs.

We had a great time catching up aboard Vector. With all of us fully vaccinated, we finally exchanged hugs, and we even sat in the saloon for cocktails and dinner. After a couple of beers and way too many chips, Chris and I ventured back ashore to check in on their cat, Kiki, and pick up Mexican food we pre-ordered to bring back to the boat. As Mexican places go in these parts, La Casita is pretty good, and we enjoyed lots more conversation over dinner.

They had a pretty long drive back to their campground for the night at Rodman Recreation Area, along the never-completed Cross-Florida Barge Canal. And so we had more hugs over good-byes on the deck before sunset, and I dropped them back at the city dock. It was great having a nice, long visit in a manner more resembling "normal" for us, and we're grateful to them for making the drive down from Sanford in their swoopy Winebago Travato.

The SpaceX Falcon-9 burning bright some 100 miles distant.

While the overcast had looked a bit touch-and-go earlier in the day, Wednesday evening proved mostly clear, and I had a nice view of the SpaceX Falcon-9 Starlink rocket launch. I could see the booster flame quite clearly as soon as it cleared the trees shortly after liftoff, and I was able to watch, through my binoculars, all the way through MECO, second stage ignition, and well into the second stage flight. I diverted my eyes to see if I could catch any of the first stage return burns, but I could not, and that was the last I saw of anything. Not bad for a vantage point over a hundred miles from the launchpad.

The rocket passing just below the Pink Supermoon on its way to orbit. Blue circle is a camera artifact.

Thursday morning we weighed anchor and headed back downriver with the tide. It was a short cruise, as we anchored in the river just off the Epping Forest Yacht Club (map), on the grounds of the old Alfred I DuPont estate. This is another of our reciprocal clubs, and we were hoping to have dinner there. I'd been going back and forth with the club for over a week; they needed a "Letter of Introduction" from our club in St. Pete.

We did not get ashore, but we did have a spectacular sunset over NAS Jacksonville from our spot off Epping Forest.

They had not been very good about returning my calls, and so we were taking a chance by anchoring here (their marina is too shallow for us). When I finally got through, I learned their outside dining was fully booked Thursday evening, and the whole mansion was booked for a private event Friday, although we could eat at the casual poolside restaurant. We opted to book dinner on Tuesday, instead, when we will have a rental car, and so Friday morning we weighed anchor and came back here to be suspicious once again.

It got even better as the evening progressed.

We've been here ever since, and we've been back ashore for dinner as well as to pick up some more Amazon packages. Those included a replacement bungee anchor rode for the dinghy, to replace one that self-destructed in the weather, a replacement antenna stand-off for our SSB radio, which leapt off the boat one evening at anchor, and a Raspberry Pi kit to implement an ad-blocker on our network that will work with the Roku TV as well as our laptops.

I only used the outer bar of the new mount, to replace the piece lost overboard. New one is a different brand and thus a different color.

This last item was the result of finally having thrown in the towel on the KVH satellite dish. It's possible that I could have gotten it working with more concerted effort and maybe more parts, but its days would still be numbered, and we were paying over a c-note per month for basic DirecTV channels that we literally only used when we were far offshore. I elected to put some of those funds into streaming TV instead.

Raspberry Pi, right, installed in our tech cabinet. HP on left is the chart computer; the hokey USB coming out the front connects to a USB hub (upper right) to compensate for the USB port that fried during the lightning strike.

For the curious, I am running free software on the Pi called "Pi-Hole" that provides DNS service to our network, tossing requests for known ad sites into the bit-bucket. The Pi kit (board, case, and power supply) cost me $60 and is a more compact and energy-efficient solution than re-purposing one of the ancient PC carcasses I have laying around. As a side note, $60 now buys you a complete computer over 100 times more powerful than an IBM 360 mainframe from my college years.

This is the entire computer, minus the case. Just a single tiny board.

We're more or less done here now, but we have some dear friends in the middle of the state whom we want to see before we move along. We ran out of time to try to connect when we were southwest of them, in St. Pete, and we decided we'd just rent a car for an easy 1-hour drive from the Space Coast when we got there. I probably don't need to tell you how that went; by the time we got to the Space Coast, cars were scarce to non-existent and were pushing close to $200 per day.

Since then, I have been checking more or less every day from every stop for something that might work, and I found a brief dip in rates this Tuesday to Wednesday that is letting us grab a car for $85. That's three to four times what we are used to paying, but we are counting ourselves lucky, and I grabbed it. And so it is that, on our wedding anniversary, I will be either biking or scooting over to Hertz from the Metropolitan Park docks just before closing time. We'll use the car to go to the club for dinner, do a couple of errands, and make a whirlwind five-hour round trip to Wildwood on Wednesday before returning the car to Hertz.

We'll move down to Metropolitan Park tomorrow at slack water. That will give us a full day to get settled in, and maybe run some other errands on the scooters. We'll be wrapped up before our three-day clock expires, and, barring unforeseen circumstances, we should be headed downriver on Thursday, either for sea, or for the anchorage near the ICW, depending on weather.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The oldest city

We are underway northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, angling gently out to the 3nm limit en route to Jacksonville from St. Augustine. It's been raining since before we weighed anchor, and forecast is for rain at least till dark -- an excellent reason to be on passage. Visibility is hovering around three miles, and occasionally the weather radio alerts to warn us of fast-moving thunderstorms, generally south of us.

When last I posted I said the current had been against us, and our arrival was projected after 5pm, but after we passed Matanzas Inlet we got a push from the last of the flood, and we crested the hill at the tide change and rode the ebb all the way into St. Augustine. We were so early for the 4:30 opening at the Bridge of Lions that I had to station-keep for twenty minutes in front of the city marina. We would have just anchored for the night south of the bridge, but there was no room between the mooring field and the cable area.

Time travel is a regular occurrence in St. Augustine. I'm not sure if these actors are from the Castillo or one of the numerous other historic sites around town.

We instead dropped the hook off-channel just north of the bridge (map), rather than continuing to our more usual stop at Vilano Beach. We were hoping to have weather to go outside, which would make Vilano a short detour, and after our last visit there found a dearth of restaurants, I thought a stop in town would make a nice change. I was also hoping to run into an online acquaintance with whom I've been communicating lately; they tied up at the city marine shortly before we arrived, having also started from Daytona in the morning.

We got the hook down just before the skies opened up, so we had a nice dinner on board, with the lights of the town as our evening backdrop. It rained on and off all night and then through the whole morning, and I was beginning to think I would not make it ashore at all. But the skies cleared by noon, and Louise-the-weather-geek informed me that I might have until 3 or 4 to explore without getting wet. I tendered ashore to the municipal marina, where landing a dinghy is $12 plus tax for a day.

We saw numerous tour boats, including the pirate ship, each making many excursions throughout our stay, often in the rain ("no refunds due to weather"). This tiki boat passed us close aboard four or five times.

Just as I landed at the dock I spotted my acquaintance Bob and his wife Ann coming back from walking their dog, Hoolie. We exchanged greetings and I spent about five minutes chatting. Bob is the author of a guide to the ICW and he regularly publishes electronic routes depicting the best depth along the way. I am part of his on-line posse of depth and trouble-spot contributors. It was great finally meeting them in person.

After getting my dinghy pass and key cards for the boater amenities, I made a large circuit of downtown. We're very familiar with St. Augustine, but I was on a mission: scope out potential dinner spots with outdoor covered seating, in case the forecast improved, and pick one for take-out in case it did not. Considering the weather had been lousy and we are still in a deadly pandemic, I was surprised at how busy the place was; the streets were packed, and popular restaurants had waiting lines even at 2pm.

I did not take many photos around town; I seldom do in a place I've already posted about on the blog. But coming up on Flagler College evoked a flood of good memories of being here with dear friends Karen and Ben, who used this building as a backdrop for their craft.

As I strolled the waterfront between the Bridge of Lions and the Castillo de San Marcos, I learned that what we thought was just sailing school between Vector and the city bulkhead was actually racing, the start of Race Week events. An E-Z Up along the bulkhead had an announcer calling the races over a PA, and perhaps Race Week accounted for some of the crowds I encountered.

In my quest for covered patio dining, I crossed through the courtyard of the Hilton Bayfront, where I stumbled upon a monument I'd never seen before. Brick steps of the Monson Motel are preserved here, with plaques dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther Kind and the 16 rabbis who were arrested here in 1964, demonstrating for civil rights and against segregation. The Monson, its restaurant, and its pool, like much of downtown St Augustine, was whites-only. The steps and plaques are unremarkable, but the rabbis' story is moving.

What's left of the Monson Motel. Plaque at left commemorates Dr. King; at right, 16 rabbis.

By the time I was ready to come home, the forecast had changed, pushing the rain back past 6:30. We agreed to return ashore at 5 for an early dinner to beat the weather. By the time we were back on shore, the rain had moved back even further and it was a gorgeous evening. I had figured on the A1A Ale House, which has a covered deck, but it was so nice out that we strolled instead to Nonna's Trattoria and had pasta at a sidewalk table. This part of Aviles Street is a bit further from the crowds east of Cathedral Place.

While we were sitting there, two different wedding parties walked past in all their finery, on their way from their receptions to one of the numerous historic sites popular with wedding photographers. I had seen two other parties doing exactly the same thing earlier in the day. Apparently, St. Augustine is a popular wedding destination.

Vector at anchor in the Matanzas River, as seen from the Bridge of Lions.

As I wrap up typing, we are ten minutes from the St. Johns inlet. We had to detour a quarter mile to avoid some type of dredging or salvage operation offshore. It's still an hour upriver to the first anchorage, and I'll use some of that time to get the photos in. We're early enough, and we'll have enough tide with us, that we may well just run all the way to Jacksonville before dropping the hook.

Update: We blew right past our usual post-passage anchorage just upriver of the ICW, riding the flood into downtown. I expect we will find ourselves in our usual downtown anchorage when we drop the hook just under two hours from now. Even with the extra distance, we'll be set well ahead of cocktail hour.