Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Happy New Year

We are anchored in a familiar spot, just off historic Fort Matanzas near the Matanzas River Inlet (map). It's been a whirlwind week with good friends aboard, and, as predicted, I did not have time to post. So settle in as I try to catch you up.

Wednesday morning, the dockmaster came around to inquire about our departure; as I surmised, boats were starting to arrive with reservations for the bowl game. He was relieved to learn we were making ready to drop lines. We shoved off right at slack and pulled around to the pumpout dock to take care of business. The pumpout was effective, but was the type I had to hold in place for the entire process rather than latching on to the fitting we have for the purpose.

Vector at Jacksonville Landing.

It was a very short cruise upriver from there to Jacksonville Landing, where we snagged the last  spot big enough to fit Vector (map). The two westernmost docks had been posted "No Docking" for whatever reason, we presume due to the fireworks show, so we were happy to get a spot even though it was right in front of Fionn McCool's, which we worried might be noisy.

Once we were tied up and confident that we and the boat were pretty much ready for guests, I walked a couple of blocks to the nearest barber to get my mop cut. We normally do this on board ourselves when at anchor, but I missed the opportunity and now it was way past due. The barber turned out to be in the CSX headquarters building, and I had to present photo ID and have a picture taken for a visitor badge to get to the shop. It was the most secure haircut I've ever had.

Haircut security. How Tomorrow Moves.

Ben and Karen rolled into town right about 4pm in their ever-so-cute Mini and we met them at the ProPark garage attached to the downtown Hyatt Hotel, just a short walk away. This was the closest garage I could find that actually allowed overnight parking, for a daily rate of $15. Shortly after dropping them off yesterday, we got a text letting us know that the credit card machine there was kaput, so they scored free parking for the week, a nice anniversary surprise (and happy anniversary, Ben and Karen).

Karen and Ben are now veteran high-end cruise ship passengers, having by now spent literally months on Crystal Cruises' pair of luxury liners, where Ben has been invited multiple times to teach seminars to the other passengers -- a good gig if ever there was one. So to make them feel at home we appointed their stateroom with a welcome card, some chocolates on the pillows, and my best attempt at making "swans" out of the towels. We don't have any white towels, so they got brown swans, but, hey, this ain't Crystal. It cracked them up, which was the goal.

Welcome Aboard, Mr. & Mrs. Willmore!

We had opted to tie up at the dock to make getting guests and their luggage aboard easier, but as long as we were there, we also used the opportunity to walk to dinner at the excellent Indochine a few blocks away. That left me with a conundrum: could I have a couple of drinks with dinner, or would we be shoving off for the anchorage in the evening?

Earlier in the day I had chatted with another boater on the dock, who'd been there over a week, notwithstanding the nominal three-day limit. He allowed that no one had boarded or bothered his boat in any way, which was one of our concerns given several reports of such in the on-line cruising reviews. Our other concern was the three-day limit, since we'd already been at another city dock, but it was clear that was not an issue here. With so many boaters nearby, we decided we'd be fine spending the night on the dock, so I had permission to imbibe.

As seen from the second floor. The docks are not secure from over-inquisitive passers-by or opportunistic vagrants.

The Landing was abuzz with workers getting ready for the big New Years party, which made it eminently clear to all of us that we wanted to be off the dock before the party started. We did have breakfast at the Village Cafe and wandered around the complex in the morning before shoving off; they do a great job with the holiday decorations.

Holiday decorations at Jacksonville Landing.

At slack water we dropped lines and headed upriver, stopping in short order to wait for two trains to pass over the railroad bridge. Once through we headed for a spot near where we had spent three days a couple of weeks earlier, in front of the Baptist Hospital (map). I had looked at the charts and done the trigonometry and decided this was our best option for seeing the fireworks show. We had a relaxing afternoon aboard.

In the evening we all piled into the tender and headed ashore at yet another free city dock, Brooklyn Landing. From there it is a pleasant walk to the upscale Five Points neighborhood, where we had a very nice New Years Eve dinner at Derby on Park, which Louise and I had sampled earlier on the scooters.

Fire-dancing in a unique venue.

The Brooklyn Landing dock, which could easily accommodate Vector, is right next to a city park that occupies the space underneath the massive Interstate 95 "Fuller Warren" bridge. This space is used for the Riverside Arts Market each Saturday, and includes a stage of sorts adjacent to the River Walk, with terraced seating. As we walked back to the tender, an ad-hoc troupe of fire dancers was just starting their performance, and we sat and enjoyed the show for a while.

This performer hula-hooped with her ring of fire.

When the performers took a break we headed to the dinghy and back to Vector, where we awaited the midnight ritual with a hilarious round of Cards Against Humanity. We asked Ben and Karen to bring their deck for just this reason, and I'm glad they did. Ben won the game just shy of midnight, when we retired to the aft deck to watch the fireworks. The weather was still pleasant enough to enjoy the deck in shirt sleeves, cocktails in hand.

The fireworks were pretty spectacular, with synchronized displays launched from the Acosta bridge right in front of us and a barge stationed near the Main Street lift bridge just downriver. We could see people lined up along the bridges and waterfront to watch, and we were joined by perhaps a half dozen boats in our part of the river. We had very nearly the best seats in the house. Of course, I blasted the air horn at the stroke of midnight as well.

New Years Day found us not particularly hung over, and we weighed anchor for the seven-hour cruise to St. Augustine, were we picked up a mooring at the municipal marina (map). We've been through the area several times but have never taken a mooring here; with guests we wanted convenient access to downtown, and we're glad we were able to get a ball. It was a short tender ride to the dock, which, in turn, is an easy walk to most of the historic downtown.

Under way to St. Augustine. Karen Nace Willmore photo.

With such a long travel day, we wandered over to one of our old standbys for dinner, the A1A Ale House, just across the street from the marina. St. Augustine has some spectacular holiday lights at this time of year, and in addition to having a great view of some from the boat, we opted to walk around the downtown area in the evening and take them in. We left most of our exploring, though, to the following day.

Holiday lights of St. Augustine from our mooring. My phone won't focus in this light.

We had talked about the possibility of moving along toward Daytona Beach after a morning in St. Augustine, but the consensus was that everyone wanted to spend at least a full day in this historic town, so we extended our mooring for a second night.

We spent the day wandering around the downtown. Karen and Ben are both prolific photographic professionals, and Karen is also an accomplished yogini, and one of their pastimes involves Ben capturing Karen in graceful asanas in interesting settings. And so it was that we stopped at three or four locations for an impromptu photo shoot, including the historic Ponce de Leon Hotel (now part of Flagler College), the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, and Villa Zorayda.

Karen at PdL hotel. Ben Willmore photo.

Louise took this off-angle shot of the process. It's in the 50s here; the pile on the right is everything that *was* keeping Karen warm before this pose, including her shoes. Ben is off-frame to the left, and beyond him a group of incredulous tourists.

We also wandered past any number of cheesy tourist attractions and waved at the cheering hordes of tourist-tram passengers as they rumbled through town. In all, a thoroughly enjoyable day on the town. We returned to Vector briefly before heading back to town for dinner at Casa Maya, which was delicious. Unfortunately, on a crowded holiday weekend, we ended up waiting the better part of two hours for a table; at least we had comfortable seats and cocktails in hand.

Off to the stockade with them! I wanted to close these fully, but they are pinned in place...

We returned home fairly late and started the generator to get some heat while charging the batteries. Since no cruise blog post would be complete without at least one bit of drama, the generator had barely run 15 minutes when it quit; a quick check suggested it had once again shredded its seawater impeller, and without enough battery to comfortably last the night, I spent an hour in the engine room over a hot generator changing the impeller and getting all the shredded bits out of the heat exchanger. A process that was not enhanced by having consumed several Negra Modelos shortly beforehand. I was too engrossed to notice if our guests were annoyed or amused.

Hull #1 of the Dashew FPB-64 waiting for the bridge just off our mooring before dinner.

Now with just a single day before we needed to rent a car and get our friends back to Jacksonville, we all opted to forego the full-day cruise to Daytona Beach, where we'd have but a single late evening to enjoy the town, in favor of a short river cruise and a quiet anchorage on the Tolomato River north of town. We dropped our mooring shortly after the 11am checkout time and waited for the 11:30 opening of the Bridge of Lions.

We cruised south along the Matanzas and then turned onto the San Sebastian, new ground for us, which runs up the west side of downtown St. Augustine. We went as far upriver as possible, to the fixed bridge that carries US 1, before turning around and retracing our steps back to where we started, making the 1pm opening of the Bridge of Lions.

Angel, uncharacteristically deigning to look at the camera from her perch on the helm chair. Karen Nace Willmore photo.

Our plan had been to drop the hook near Vilano Beach, where we knew there was a free dock to get everyone and their gear ashore. But as we approached the Usina Bridge north of the inlet, we decided instead to head a bit further up the Tolomato and drop the hook a short distance from Cap's on the Water, a restaurant in Usina Beach with a dinghy dock (map). It was a very pleasant anchorage, and we were lucky to catch the last meal at Cap's before they closed for renovations.

That left us with a 20-minute cruise yesterday morning to the aforementioned dock at Vilano Beach (map). We've tendered to this dock any number of times, but this was the first time we landed Vector there. It worked out well for offloading the gear, and Enterprise met us at the dock to take us to our rental car. Karen snapped a couple of parting photos before we left.

Vector and her crew at the Vilano Beach pier. Karen Nace Willmore photo.

It was less than an hour back to Jacksonville by car, leaving time to stop on the way at Ducky's Express Car Wash to photograph the giant floating "rubber" duck there, featured in Roadside America. We had Karen and Ben back at the garage in Jacksonville before noon, leaving them plenty of time to get home to the St. Petersburg area in time to celebrate their anniversary.

Giant floating rubber ducky. Ben Willmore photo.

On our way back to Vilano Beach, we opted to make a short detour to Green Cove Springs to collect our mail, and we also stopped at the licensing office to see if we could register our dinghy, whose Delaware registration is just expiring. We waited for fifteen minutes before giving up -- the free dock has a strict four-hour time limit, and we did not want to push our luck. On our way out of town we could see Two by Two, with our friends Rod and Pauline aboard, from the road, but we had nary a minute to stop. As it was we got back to Vector a bit past the deadline, but no harm done.

We shoved off from the dock and went all of a quarter mile before dropping the hook in a familiar spot just north of the bridge (map), returning to the dock in the tender at dinner time. We had figured to go to an Italian place we found online, as long as we had a car, but Google and Yelp led us astray, and we never found it. We learned later that there are a slew of geocoding problems in the St. Augustine area, and the Enterprise was similarly mis-located (we knew where it was, of course, having picked the car up there) as was the place we tried to go for bagels this morning.

Karen's mom baked cookies, and Karen hand-lettered the label, another one of her many talents. We just finished the cookies this morning and it pained me to toss the box.

After fueling up the rental car as well as one of our jerry cans for the tender, we ended up eating just a block from the dock at Casa Benedettos, a place so good we'll be sure to remember it for next time, as it's just a short walk. We also used the car to schlep groceries the few blocks from the Publix supermarket to the dock, even though that is also walking distance. We parked for the night in the free public spaces near the pier (48 hour limit), another reason for choosing Vilano Beach over downtown St. Augustine for the purpose.

This morning we returned the car by way of a brief stop at West Marine and the furtive search for the bagel place (we ended up getting our bagels at Dunkin Donuts instead, which has decent bagels for a donut joint). Enterprise had us back at the dock by 11:15, and we made ready to get under way.

It's been blowing 15-20 steadily all day, with gusts into the 30s. We glanced out the inlet as we passed, to see eight to ten foot seas rolling in. Even inside we had some chop, but I'm happy to have the option. As we passed the San Sebastian, a pair of CBP boats were heading downriver from their base, and I found myself wondering if they were planning to head out into the maelstrom.

Customs and Border Protection, in their wicked-fast boats, headed downriver.

Today was a short cruise, just 14 nautical miles, but this is the last decent anchorage before Daytona Beach some 30+ miles to the south. Tomorrow we'll weigh anchor in the morning and end our day somewhere between Daytona and New Smyrna Beach. We're overdue for a longer-term maintenance and R&R stop, and we're headed towards Stuart or Palm Beach, either of which should meet that need.

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