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.

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