Friday, January 5, 2018

Hunkered down in Palm Beach

We are anchored in a familiar spot, just north of the Royal Park Bridge in Palm Beach, across the channel from the West Palm Beach city docks (map). I've been looking forward to a stopover here in West Palm Beach, but the temperature has been in the forties since we arrived, and we only ventured ashore once, for dinner last night.

"Clematis by Night" and holiday lights in downtown West Palm Beach. C-c-c-cold.

Friday night found us anchored just upstream of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam (map), across from the very familiar Corps of Engineers campground and docks. The docks are inexpensive and include power, but Vector exceeds the length limit. It was a quiet night.

CoE campground, where we stayed more than once in Odyssey, and docks, as seen from our anchorage.

Saturday we awoke to fog and the tugs and barges of a dredging operation locking through and passing us close aboard. With only a short couple of hours to Stuart, we might have had a lazy morning, except that there is a shallow section just downriver of the Palm City Bridge that we can not pass at low tide, and so we needed to weigh anchor at 9am.

That made for a high-tide start, and by the time we finished locking down, we had the river current and a bit of tide behind us for a fair run. We hit the shallow section at just about a foot above low water, and we had mostly a full foot under the keel the whole way. We dropped the hook just south of  Arbeau Point, in anticipation of north winds, across from the Stuart city mooring field (map).

Locking down at St. Lucie lock. The mirrored windows gave me a view of our mast and anemometer.

We splashed the tender shortly after arriving, and I tendered ashore to walk around town, scope out parking options for the rental car, and see what had changed in the two years since our last visit. The free dinghy dock in Shepard Park is unchanged, although a short section of wall is now reserved for a historic vessel to pick up tours. The park has new restrooms, a welcome change, as well as an impressive play structure.

A few restaurants in the downtown district have changed hands, and I saw first-hand the hurricane damage that has the nearby city docks closed for repairs. I easily found parking just across the highway from Shepard Park. And I enjoyed strolling the downtown and some of the Riverwalk, where I ran into a wedding party taking photos under the highway bridge over the river. We returned ashore for dinner at one of our old favorites, Casa Bella, just a short walk from the park.

Sunday morning we went to get the car, which involved having Enterprise pick us up at the park. We arrived to an Enterprise office nearly entirely devoid of cars, and we were the only patrons. I was pleasantly surprised when the rate turned out to be lower than I had booked. And from the Enterprise office we proceeded directly to ... shopping.

Tender full of provisions. 15 gallons of motor oil are below the other items.

We've been ruminating for some time about where to head after our haulout and stabilizer work in Fort Lauderdale. The cruising season is ticking away; hurricane season ended a month ago and we have just five months left before hurricane season 2018 is upon us. With the boat not really ready for either a transatlantic crossing or a South America circumnavigation, but itching to get a little further afield than the eastern US, we've been contemplating a return to the Bahamas and quite possibly further into the Eastern Caribbean.

Feeding this particular urge is my recent experience in St. Thomas. That part of the Antilles, from Puerto Rico around through the BVIs and beyond, was very hard hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria. The islands are recovering and rebuilding, albeit slowly. Now, more than ever, they need the revenue that tourism, including visiting yachts, brings. At the same time, the spectacularly beautiful beaches, and anchorages, that are normally crowded beyond measure are relatively empty and inviting.

The decision to go in that direction is not final. There is much work to be done on the boat before it can make the voyage. But one thing is clear: if we are not ready for it, it won't happen. And so it is that we are provisioning for a six-month cruise, which will take us all the way through to hurricane season, wherever we may be at the time. If we don't have the provisions, we can't leave the US, whereas if we have the provisions but wave off the voyage, well, we'll just not be shopping for a while.

We hit, in rapid succession, Target, Aldi, a beverage store, and Walmart, all open on New Years Eve. And we returned to Shepard Park with the trunk full to the gills and goods spilling over into the back seat. I managed to fit almost all of it in the tender in one trip, including 16 gallons of motor oil.

To be clear, this is the tip of the iceberg. We did more shopping before we returned the car, and we'll do still more in Fort Lauderdale, to include the inevitable Costco run. We have a spreadsheet, which includes, for example, 720 twelve ounce cans of beer. (Last time, we ran out of beer before we left the Bahamas, and paid dearly for Bahamian beer to make up the shortfall.)

After the giant shopping run, we were both too pooped to take the half-hour drive to our tentatively planned NYE event, a park celebration culminating in 9pm fireworks in Port St. Lucie. Instead we had a casual stroll through downtown Stuart and stumbled into the bar at The Gafford for dinner. As befits the old farts that we've become, we were back aboard by 9pm, and Louise was sound asleep well before the ball drop. I toasted alone with a glass of wine, and enjoyed what I could see of various private fireworks in several directions from inside the cabin, as it had become too cold and windy to want to be on deck.

13 gallons of oil stored in the bilge under the engine room sole.

The weather got progressively worse, and we bundled up to go ashore on New Years Day. We had more shopping to do, and I also needed to get the seven gallons of used oil from the recent change off the boat. We made another pilgrimage to Walmart for the purpose, en route to the New Years Day party at the home of long-time friends Alyse and Chris in Vero Beach. They always put out a huge spread, so we came hungry but left full. We made another quick grocery stop on the way home for some refrigerated items we could not pick up earlier, and I filled two Jerry jugs with gasoline for the tender.

Tuesday the car was due back, and I had figured to return it a bit early so we could weigh anchor and get under way. But Monday evening we learned that Boston denizens and cruising friends Erin and Chris were coming to town to pick up their boat from storage at River Forest, which we had passed on Friday. We tentatively planned to meet up Tuesday evening, providing their travel went well, the boat was not a wreck, and the weather cooperated to let us ashore.

That gave me a more leisurely morning, to steel myself for getting ashore in rain and 20-knot winds whipping the St. Lucie up into a froth. After coffee I donned my motorcycle rain pants, rain coat, and waterproof riding boots, grabbed an empty backpack for some last minute grocery shopping, and loaded up the trash and recycling to go ashore. Knowing it would be like this, we had taken the sewing table that Louise is donating to charity ashore and loaded it into the car the day before.

It was a bit of a rough ride but I did not ship any water nor even really get splashed; the boots were overkill. I managed to get the table dropped off and other errands done in time to make a stop at a different Walmart en route to the car rental. I had figured a small handful of items, but this store turned out to have some items the other one did not, and I ended up with eight giant bags of trail mix, four bags of chocolate squares, a bottle of wine, plus the veggies I had been sent to get. The backpack alone was insufficient. The car rental was a zoo after the holiday, with cars everywhere, in stark contrast to our pickup.

My experience getting ashore and back in the worst of the winds suggested we'd be OK returning for dinner (the morning grocery items were in the event we needed to remain aboard). Chris and Erin met us at Shepard park in their rental car, and we headed across the bridge to one of our old stand-bys, Uncle Giuseppes Lil Bit a Brooklyn. We had a great time, polishing off two bottles of Sangiovese and closing the place down. It was great reconnecting, and we hope to see them in the Keys before our crossing.

Good times at Giuseppes.

Seas were calmer on our ride back to the boat, and we decked the tender for a quick departure in the morning. It was a great visit in Stuart, and we could easily have spent another week or more there, but we needed to keep moving.

Wednesday we weighed anchor and proceeded downriver to the ICW. Seas were too rough outside and so we made the right turn onto the ICW and retraced a familiar route to Jupiter and on to North Palm Beach, where we had figured to anchor in Little Lake Worth, across from Old Port Cove, another familiar stop.

Look closely to see the amount of mud we brought up from the bottom in Stuart.

Unexpectedly, we made very good time, with favorable current, high tailwinds, little traffic, and some serendipitous bridge timing. It was just 3pm when we hit the last bridge at North Palm Beach, and we decided to just keep on going all the way down to West Palm Beach instead. We dropped the hook here Wednesday just before cocktail hour. Conditions here were too snotty to want to ride the tender, so we left it on deck and had a nice dinner aboard.

Yesterday was something of a catch-up day. I had numerous phone calls to make regarding work during our upcoming haulout. I also needed to get a bunch of things ordered on-line while we have a good, but ephemeral, delivery address, at the boatyard. I also spent hours working on the latest problem, a diesel leak at the main engine lift pump. The part to resolve that is now on its way to the boatyard.

While things were still quite rough in the morning, by mid-afternoon the wind had laid down considerably, and we splashed the tender and went ashore for dinner, preceded by a short stroll down Celmatis street downtown. We wore our winter coats for the dinghy ride, and music from shore got louder as we approached.

The oft-photographed Jupiter Lighthouse, wearing bows for the holidays.

It turned out to be the weekly Clematis By Night concert in the park. But with temperatures in the low forties, the venue was nearly empty. Seats and tables were easily had, and the food trucks had no lines. The band was quite good and playing a number of my favorites, but it was too cold even bundled up to linger very long. We settled on burgers at Grease for dinner; the band was still playing when we returned to the tender.

Our entertainment yesterday and today, if perhaps a bit of schadenfreud, has been listening to a Nordhavn 60 a couple of miles up the lake, working with TowBoat to get their anchor off the bottom. They tried for hours yesterday, including using a diver, and today they came back with a bigger towboat, more divers, and more equipment. You may recall we watched a similar episode play out on our final day in Charleston.

In this case, the skipper had dropped anchor square in the middle of a marked obstruction on the chart, Rybovich Reef, which is a "fish haven" of artificial construction. One description of the reef says that it "consists of a variety of materials deployed between 1991 and 2004, including concrete pyramids and reef balls, ledges with lime rock boulders, a 60ft  barge, limerock boulder piles, and a row of trommel screens." In other words, exactly the sort of things that would mercilessly snag an anchor.

An underwater view of Rybovich Reef, showing a trommel screen.

The skipper in this case is a professional delivery and training captain who works often with Nordhavns, and so I am surprised he missed the hazard on the chart. To be fair, I don't know what chart system is installed on that vessel and how easy it is to see such hazards; they are crystal clear on my NOAA raster and vector charts. He did tell TowBoat that he has anchored in that area many times without incident, which dumbfounded me.

We are scrupulous about avoiding charted underwater anchoring hazards. Immediately north of us is a marked cable area ("anchoring restricted") and yet I count no fewer than 19 boats anchored there right now. You might be able to anchor in such an area a hundred times without incident, but the law of probability will eventually have your anchor hooked on a high-voltage power or telephone cable. If you're lucky, your windlass is powerful enough to bring it to the surface where you can get a line under it and release the anchor. If not, someone is going diving.

Today we are still in the clutches of this winter weather and are once again staying warm in the cabin. We've run the generator two or three times as much as usual keeping the boat comfortable. We'll go ashore for one final dinner this evening and continue south tomorrow.

This has been a particularly difficult day, and posting here has been something of a diversion for me. Late last night I learned that a good friend of many years, from my years in San Jose, passed away yesterday from pneumonia. She complained she had gotten the crud just before New Years, and the next thing I heard was that she was in the hospital fighting for her life. Rest in peace, dear Carolyn. We miss you.

Tomorrow I will have driving the boat to keep my mind occupied, and then we need to focus on our haulout Monday morning. The realities of being in a boat yard will keep us from the funeral, but our thoughts will be in San Jose and with her parents, who are very good friends of ours.

When next you hear from me we will be in Fort Lauderdale. We may or may not still be on the hard; it will be a while before I can come up for air.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Rough ride on Lake O

I am typing underway across Lake Okeechobee. Today's forecast was for winds N at 7kt and light chop, but what we have instead is winds N at 15-20 with fifteen miles of fetch giving us two foot breaking seas on a short period. It's been a rough ride since we left the protection of the rim canal.

We weighed anchor first thing Wednesday morning to catch the last of the flood up the Caloosahatchee. I'm sorry we did not get to spend a little more time there; with the holiday, we barely scratched the surface, and we did not have time to try to connect with friends in town. If slack tide was not so early, we might have gone ashore for breakfast.

Vector anchored in LaBelle, with the river so calm it is reflecting our holiday lights.

As it stood, we arrived at the Franklin lock on the last of the flood. Once past the lock, the current only runs downstream, and we had perhaps a half knot against us the rest of the day. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed a very nice cruise upriver to LaBelle, where we anchored just upriver of the bridge, between the channel and the right descending bank (map).

The LaBelle bridge at sunset. City docks are visible under the bascule at left.

The LaBelle Bridge is an old metal-grate bascule bridge that gets a lot of heavy-vehicle traffic, including farm equipment and semi-trailers. It is, hands-down, he noisiest bridge we've encountered, and we were very close. Fortunately, it was little-used overnight. This is a very rural part of the state, "the real Florida" as locals like to say, and LaBelle is what passes for a big city here.

The city maintains a set of docks, complete with power, water, and trash collection, free to use for up to three days. They are very nice, having just been completely reconstructed in the last few years. Sadly, the depths at the slips are not maintained, and it's already silted in to less than four feet, so unusable for Vector. Instead, we tied the dinghy up there. There are also dinghy docks at a city park on the other side of the bridge, and some at another park across the river, so plenty of opportunity to get ashore.

Main Street, LaBelle. Wish we had more warnings like this one in Odyssey.

Our early departure in the morning had us arrive in LaBelle mid-afternoon, and I made a solo excursion into town for provisions. I walked a little over a half mile to the intersection of FL-80 where I picked up a couple of bagels from the Dunkin' Donuts and groceries from the Dollar General Market, the first time I've been into one of Dollar General's new full-on grocery stores. I also stopped into Save-a-Lot grocery, Dollar Tree, and Goodwill.

We returned ashore in the evening and walked the quarter mile to Forrey's Grill. We both had the excellent soup and salad bar along with a draft beer. We saw a few holiday decorations on our walk, and enjoyed meeting Katherine and Craig, aboard a Greenline down-east, at the city dock. When we returned to Vector we found the large oak in the park across from us nicely lit, although we had to wait until the Klieglights at the tennis courts went off to appreciate the view.

Tree in the city park across from Vector.

Yesterday we weighed anchor and continued upriver, uplocking at the Ortona lock and again at the Moore Haven lock, which put us in the lake. We proceeded south along the Rim Canal to Clewiston, our planned stop for the night. The last time we stopped in Clewiston we exited the lake to spend the night at Roland Martin's marina, which also has a restaurant. Having no need of marina services, we opted this time to spend the night on the lake side of the dike.

First gator of the trip, in the Rim Canal. He submerged just as I was trying to snap this.

Our guide suggested we could tie up to a free dock near the boat ramp, but upon inspection the dock was well-used by fishermen launching and retrieving their boats; Vector would literally take up the whole dock and then some.  We opted instead to tie to the dolphins along the canal (map). We had an easier time of it in less wind than at Port Mayaca, and this time I got some photos of the arrangement. The dolphins are over 100' apart, so we had perhaps 30' of line out each end of the boat suspending us in the middle.

The view astern...

... and ahead.

We could easily have dropped the tender and run around the corner to the Tiki Bar at the marina, as the lock gates were open at both ends. But our recollection from our two meals there last visit was that the food was just OK, and, as tiki places go, this one is nothing to write home about. It just happens to be the only restaurant in Clewiston. Instead I grilled a couple of fillets that I had picked up at the Publix back in Cape Haze, and we had a nice dinner at home after a beer up on the flybridge, where we had a view all the way across the lake. The lake was quite calm yesterday; it seems we are a day late.

Update: We've just locked down at Port Mayaca and are happy to be in the calm waters of the Okeechobee Canal. Tonight we should be anchored just upriver of the St. Lucie lock, which will make for a short run to Stuart tomorrow. We'll anchor in Stuart, and I have a rental car booked for Sunday to take us up to Vero on Monday to visit friends. We'll return the car Tuesday and weigh anchor for Palm Beach.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Holidays from Sunny Florida

We are anchored off Lofton Island, across the channel from Fort Myers, Florida (map). We dropped the hook here yesterday afternoon, and tendered ashore for Christmas dinner. We wanted to explore a bit more of the town while things were actually open, so we opted to spend a second night here tonight.

Tree in the park near Ft. Myers waterfront.

After two pleasant nights in Sarasota, we dropped lines Saturday morning to continue southbound. We had thought to perhaps stop in Venice for a night, just because every time we pass through I think it would make a nice stop. With no anchorages, we are limited to just a single marina there with adequate depth, the Crow's Nest. When I called, however, they had no space for us, although the offered to put us on the fuel dock from 5pm to 8am.

Vector behind art at City Island Park, Sarasota.

That's not the sort of pleasant visit we wanted, especially at $120 a night, and so we opted to pass it by, and we set our sites on the familiar anchorage at Manasota Key, where we could get to a nice beachfront joint for dinner. Looking ahead on the route, however, I realized that the cheapest fuel in Florida was just a few miles further along, at the Cape Haze Marina.

With a very shallow entrance channel, and low tide being in the morning, the only way we could possibly get fuel there would be on an afternoon arrival, and so we set our destination for the day to be an anchorage just beyond the marina. As it turned out, when we arrived abreast the marina we still could not have any confidence about making it in and out their skinny channel, and with literally dozens of small boats zipping in and out on a warm holiday weekend, we reluctantly steamed past without stopping.

Lights in the park, Sarasota.

That gave us a bit of an early arrival at our chosen anchorage, in a small basin within a housing development near Cape Haze (map). Our guide said that if we were willing to make an unconventional landing it was possible to get ashore at a small bridge over an adjacent canal, and access a grocery store and other services. Perfect, as we had only one day's worth of milk left.

We splashed the tender and I went ashore while Louise made phone calls.  At idle speed of four knots, it was a long ten-minute trip up the canal. As I was pounding a stake in the ground near the bridge to tie up, and preparing to clamber up a drainage pipe to reach the road, a canal-side resident came strolling down the bulkhead to offer me a dock to tie to instead. I pulled my stake and drove about three houses further down the canal.

Vector in the basin at Cape Haze.

It was very nice of Moe to offer me the use of his floating dock. He has a sailing cat tied up behind the house, nicely decorated for the holidays, and we chatted for a few minutes about cruising the west coast and interesting stops. I mentioned I heard about a pizza place nearby and he said it was good and that we could use the dock again in the evening if we wished. Cruising is a lifestyle, and cruisers are often quick to help other cruisers, one of the things we enjoy about it.

After a short walk of a quarter mile or so I found a gas station with a well-stocked C-store, but I continued beyond to the very nice Publix grocery for my milk, where I also picked up a few other items. On the way I passed the pizza joint, Lil' Tony's, which looked fine and had draft beer, and in the same plaza is also a bank and a UPS store, which makes this a superb anchorage in my book. We returned in the evening for pizza and beer, and came home with half a pizza leftover.

Sunset from the anchorage, Cape Haze. You can see our holiday lights on the bow.

Sunday was Christmas Eve, and the waterway was chock full of Floridians in small boats out enjoying the holidays with their grandchildren, visiting no doubt from some snow-bound state. Even in our anchorage we heard several children ashore shouting in near-disbelief as a handful of dolphins surfaced around Vector while they fed, and surely everyone who lives along this water is used to dolphins on a daily basis.

We had a short but pleasant cruise, albeit in traffic, to Cabbage Key, a familiar stop for us (map). I had made dinner reservations thinking they might be crowded for the holiday, but we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. It's a casual affair, with dollar bills covering the walls and ceiling, but the food is tasty and the service friendly, and at dinner time it's very relaxed. Apparently you can't get near the place for lunch on the weekends. We climbed the historic water tower to the observation platform for a nice sunset view before dinner.

Vector from the patio at Cabbage Key. Useppa Island in the background.

The decision to have Christmas Eve at Cabbage Key meant a fairly long cruise on Christmas Day, made longer by dodging endless traffic and having to push our way up the Caloosahatchee against the tide. But the weather was gorgeous, and it's hard for me to complain too loudly about being passed by hundreds of boats full of women in bikinis. It was 82° when we dropped the hook.

Just a tiny fraction of traffic we passed on the "Miserable Mile."

The water here is shallow, and my two charts disagree about where the depth contours lie. TowBoatUS was passing through as we arrived and I got some advice and soundings from him; we are anchored in just 7' at low tide. But we're right across the channel from the city dock, and our draft prevents us from easily accessing the much larger anchorage across the river.

Vector anchored in front of Lofton Island, with the Edison Bridges in the background.

I had made Christmas reservations at The Twisted Vine, which was offering a buffet of all the traditional holiday flavors. It was just two blocks from the dock, and we strolled around the historic downtown a bit before our reserved time.

I can't speak to the restaurant's normal menu, but the holiday meal was excellent. They were carving prime rib just the way we like it, and there was also roast turkey, pork, fish, and the usual accompaniments. Salads and peel-and-eat cocktail shrimp were plentiful on the cold side. Our 5pm seating was near the end of the day (they closed at 6), and we very nearly missed the pumpkin pie, but our on-the-ball waitress snagged us two pieces from the last pies of the day just as they came out of the oven.

The Twisted Vine just after Christmas dinner.

We arrived back at Vector after dinner to find her lying perpendicular to the current; in the tide change she swung into the shallows and her keel was in he mud. We had to power out -- one quick blip of the throttle and she was free and lying to the current in short order.

Today has been something of a catch-up day. Between all the driving, route and holiday planning, tender operations, and family calls, we've not had much time to tend to business. I had a laundry list of phone calls related to our upcoming stops and never-ending boat maintenance, and I've been doing quite a bit of research as well.

This expensive Aere inflatable fender was floating near Vector when we returned from dinner in Sarasota. It's the second fender we recovered in this mooring field, the last one being a big orange ball.

This afternoon we rode the free trolley around downtown before having dinner at The Standard, adjacent to the Indigo Hotel. The trolley passed a Publix but there was nothing we needed after my quick stop in Cape Haze.

Tomorrow we'll weigh anchor in the morning and continue up the Caloosahatchee on our way to Lake Okeechobee. I expect to end the day in LaBelle. If all goes well we should be in Stuart for New Years Eve, and I've booked a rental car so we can drive up to Vero Beach on New Years Day to attend our friends' annual party; they invite us every year but we've never before been close enough.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A lovely week in St. Pete

I am typing under way in Sarasota Bay. We are southbound, after a nice week in St. Petersburg with friends. With a packed schedule I found no time to blog, so I am catching up now. When last I posted here, we were still in Lake Okeechobee, on the rim canal, headed for Moore Haven.

I had figured to possibly stop in Moore Haven for the night, which has an inexpensive town dock and a decent Mexican restaurant an easy walk away. It was Sunday, however, and everything was closed, so we elected to press on downstream after locking down through the Moore Haven lock.

Sunset over Ortona Dam, from our anchorage.

We ended up pushing all the way to the next lock, where we anchored just upstream of the Ortona Dam on the Caloosahatchee Canal (map). We were a stone's throw from the Corps of Engineers campground and a few campers watched us drop the hook. It was a long day, anchoring just before sunset, but we had a quiet night.

We could have thrown a ball as far as these RVs.

I woke to dense fog in the morning, and was quite alarmed to see an enormous barge heading right for us on the AIS. It was over a hundred feet long and seemingly only a few feet away. I was just about to fire up the radar when I realized it was a pleasure boat with an incorrectly programmed transponder. I'm sorry I didn't get a screen shot of the AIS display.

Locking down at Ortona, with the CoE campground in the background.

Monday we got an early start through the dam in the morning as soon as the fog lifted, and made our way through the lower portions of the Caloosahatchee canal, locking down at the Franklin lock into the Caloosahatchee River. Retracing our steps from our first pass through the lake, we cruised downriver into Fort Myers, where we were hailed on the radio by blog reader and fellow cruiser Kevin aboard Take a Breath. We last saw Kevin at the Megadock in Charleston.

With plenty of outflow and a favorable tide, we had a good push downriver and we made it all the way through Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and the "Miserable Mile."  We anchored for the night just off St. James City at the southern tip of Pine Island (map), where we tendered in to the Waterfront Restaurant for a casual dinner.

Sunset over Sanibel Island, from our anchorage off St. James City.

Tuesday was another long day, cruising up the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). We steamed right past an old favorite, Cabbage Key, vowing to stop at the quaint Inn on the return trip, when we were less pressed for time. Instead we stopped for the night at another old standby, off Manasota Key at Englewood (map). While it is easy to tender ashore here for dinner at a handful of restaurants, the weather was unpleasant, and we had leftovers we needed to finish before arriving in St. Pete.

In our final big push on Wednesday, we slogged through Venice, with some of the shallowest water on the GIWW, and a no-wake zone the entire length of the city. By getting an early start from Englewood we were able to arrive in Venice at high tide and we had a foot under the keel in the shallow spots. At low tide it is impassable.

Bradenton Beach.

We ended Wednesday anchored just north of the Cortez bridge (map), which connects the community of that name to Bradenton Beach. This is a new stop for us, and we tendered ashore to Bradenton Beach's free dinghy dock and strolled the tidy little town before having dinner at the Amelia Island Oyster Bar on the pier. It was an enjoyable evening and I am glad we stopped here, although next time we'll try a different restaurant. The food was good but the place was charmless.

That left us a short three-hour cruise across Tampa Bay to St. Pete on Thursday morning. At one point I had to negotiate with a Coast Guard cutter who looked as if he was going to steam over us. He wicked it up to planing speed, which got him out of our way but also gave us an enormous wake to cross. Then he basically did donuts in the bay at full speed; I try not to think about how many tax dollars were coming out the exhausts.

Vector moored in the Vinoy basin.

We had booked a mooring ball at the Vinoy Basin, also called the North Yacht Basin, but we first proceeded directly to the fuel dock in the Central Yacht Basin to take on water and offload the scooters. While the water was filling, Louise started a load of laundry. Having enough water to do laundry during long periods of anchoring out can be a challenge.

Even though they are right next to each other, getting from one basin to the other is a long trip. After leaving the fuel dock and the central basin, it's necessary to travel out a quarter mile to clear the St. Petersburg Pier, then travel back the same quarter mile to the other basin. The pier that was here on our last visit, constructed in 1973 to replace the "Million Dollar Pier" that preceded it, has been demolished, and numerous crane barges are constructing a new pier.

This enormous but ugly 4-decker dinner boat came in to dock at the Vinoy one day.

The basin was mostly quiet and pleasant. We had some pile-driving noise on occasion, and the party music from the Vinoy hotel was loud one evening. We had a great view of the elaborate lighted decorations, including a color-changing tree, in North Straub Park (I could not capture a photo). And only a short dinghy ride ashore to easy access to all the restaurants along Beach.

While in town, we reconnected with long-time RVing friends Karen and Ben, who have just moved into their newly completed 1963 Flxible bus restoration/conversion. The bus is absolutely gorgeous, and we enjoyed getting the tour and spending some time over wine and cheese before enjoying some delicious home-made pizza. My paltry skills and so-so cellphone camera are no match for the photos that Ben and Karen, both professional photographers, have posted on the bus's very own Facebook page, so I didn't take any photos.

While we were visiting, the RV park hosted its lighted golf cart parade.

The bus is at an RV park in Clearwater, as Karen has considerable connection there, and it seems this was my week for long scooter rides to Clearwater. In addition to our visit to see the bus, we also met them in the area to take in the new Star Wars flick, ending up at Indian Rocks Beach for dinner. And I had to run an old pump up to Depco Pump in Clearwater, just a few blocks from where they are parked.

The pump has been sitting around in the parts bin since we bought the boat; it was the very last thing that broke on the last owner's watch, just before he handed us the keys, and I asked him to leave us the old one. This is the pump that moves seawater through all four heat pump heat exchangers.

I was pretty sure I could fix it, but nothing I did could persuade the end cover to come off. It turned out that some previous repairman had epoxied the cover on (in addition to the six screws) after replacing the impeller. Depco had to use a torch to worry it off. Once inside, we collectively decided the pump volute was in too poor condition to warrant repair, and I simply left it with them for disposal.

Approaching Sarasota on the northbound trip. Southbound we heard a sailboat hit the fenders while trying to pass through this bridge under sail.

We also connected with long-time California friends Stephanie and Martin. Or I should say, ex-California friends, as they recently moved from Redwood City in our old stomping grounds to the Old North East neighborhood, a short walk from downtown St. Petersburg. Long time readers may remember we cruised to the Bahamas alongside their boat, Blossom.

Since moving to town, they've joined the St. Petersburg Yacht club and were able to provide us with a guest pass during our stay. They've also joined the Mahaffey Theater, and we all took in a performance there, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a holiday-themed cross between circus and musical that we enjoyed very much. Stephanie's mom arrived in town during our visit, and joined us for the performance.

Christmas tree at the Vinoy hotel.

Between the non-stop visits and the never-ending boat maintenance, I had very little spare time. I did find myself with a couple of hours ashore after taking Louise to meet Steph for a girls-only lunch. I spent most of that time in the Vinoy hotel, the grand dame of St. Pete that was rescued from oblivion in the 90s. For half a century it was the winter playground of the well-to-do in the northeast, who came to Florida every year by train. "Snowbird" is by no means a recent construct.

We had quite a number of packages sent to Martin's post box, including the replacement water pump for the generator and the rebuild kit for the failing pump. I also had a fan belt delivered as a replacement for the spare I used when the belt broke. I found a better deal on the belt from Perkins than from anyone else, but they sent it in an enormous box. I spent our first morning on the ball replacing the generator pump.

Yes, this fan belt was the only item in the box, save for crumpled paper.

Our very last full day we borrowed Steph's car to make a provisioning run. I needed a dozen gallons of motor oil, as the main is overdue and the genny is due soon, and as long as we were out we stocked up on a number of items we typically only get at Walmart. We quite literally filled the dinghy, with barely a place for our feet.

What 13 gallons of oil and $200 of groceries looks like in a dinghy.

It was a full week, and we could easily have stayed another. For that matter, we'd enjoy cruising back to Tampa, or exploring some new places like Old Tampa Bay. But we've committed to a haulout date of January 8 in Fort Lauderdale, so when our week was up we dropped lines, headed to the fuel dock to re-load the scooters, pump out, and top up the water, and then steamed south across Tampa Bay.

Update: We are now on yet another mooring ball, at Marina Jack's in Sarasota (map), another familiar stop. I couldn't finish the post yesterday before we arrived, and after a couple of beers with dinner I lost my writing mojo. This morning I had to change the main engine oil, and also tighten the main engine fan belts. In a short while we will head ashore to explore a bit more of downtown Sarasota before dinner. We took the mooring for two nights.

Tomorrow we will continue south. If there's room, we might stop in Venice. We have Christmas Eve reservations at Cabbage Key, and tentative reservations in Fort Myers for Christmas dinner. It's a relaxed pace, and we'll likley spend two nights in Fort Myers before heading back across the lake.

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.