Wednesday, May 20, 2020


We are underway in the Atlantic Ocean, having escaped the greater Jacksonville area after exactly one full month in town. We still have ten full days to make our way out of Florida and north of Jekyll Island, Georgia to comply with the conditions of our insurance policy, but today's weather looked near-perfect, and, even though weather remains good for a few days, the ebb tide will be getting later and later.

Vector, looking quite suspicious anchored in front of the hospital. Photo: Eric Udell

As it was, we dropped lines after noon, as the tide changed, which means we'll only get as far as the St. Marys River inlet today. We could get all the way to the Carolinas if we wanted to run overnight, but with no compelling weather or schedule reason to do so, we'd just as soon not mess with our circadian rhythms. Running overnight is efficient, but there is a price to be paid. We'd have to follow the curve of the coast in any case, since the conditions deteriorate further from shore.

Shortly after my last post, as we were all settled in to our snug anchorage, the rail bridge lockdown ended, and, as expected, our neighbor weighed anchor, along with three other boats that had anchored upriver of the I-95 bridge, and they all headed for the bridge. Of course, by this time, the tide had changed, and they were now all pushing downriver against the current. I'm wondering how many of them had carefully timed their departures to have a fair tide the whole way, but failed to check the bridge closures in the LNMs.

We had a pleasant week at anchor, and we tendered ashore almost daily to get a little bit of a walk. We also did a little "dining out," which for us now consists of counter service or takeout restaurants with outdoor patios having well-spaced seating. Here in Florida, restaurants have re-opened, seating up to 50% of their indoor capacity, and having table service. Neither indoor dining nor table service feels safe to us.

On one of my tender excursions I passed Kismet with her "patio" extended. Looks like it was set for waterfront dining, a sign owners or guests are aboard.

So now we find ourselves patronizing an entire genre of restaurants we have heretofore forsaken: "fast casual." For example, we ate for the first time at a Burger Fi, where I was able to order our meals at a counter wearing my mask, and then be seated at an outdoor table. Here they bring your order to you, but that is the extent of interaction with servers. It felt relatively safe, so long as service staff were also masked.

By the same token, we've done an about-face at some establishments that seem to have the right service model, but where staff were not wearing appropriate gear. We made a return trip, for example, to the Burrito Gallery, where we previously had ordered take-out, and had a beer and chips on the patio. When it became clear to us that the staff were not taking protective measures seriously, we opted to go elsewhere for dinner. That turned out to be Venezuelan restaurant Arepa Please, who set up a table for us on the sidewalk even though they had been stowed for the day.

My Amazon order arrived at the locker Wednesday. While I first attempted to get within walking distance by tendering up a nearby creek, my progress was blocked by a small local dredging operation and I had to retreat, returning instead by e-bike from a further dock. One of the items I ordered was a cover plate for the 6" hole I had cut for the cats to access their potty; seeing the hole every time I came up the stairs was making me sad. The cover plate makes me less (but still) sad, and will allow us to use the cabinet for something else.

Shot from the bridge I was trying to reach. The creek is completely blocked.

One of our shore excursions was a trip all the way back to the Metropolitan Park dock, where some friends of Cherie and Chris had docked on their way upriver to Sanford. We agreed to meet up for a beer on the roof patio at Intuition Ale house a short walk from the dock. We again did the opposite-ends-of-a-table social distance approach, and we again had the patio to ourselves. We actually got a bite to eat before the meet-up, even though, honestly, the food there is not really worth it, unlike their beer, which is great.

It was great meeting Jeanette and Eric, as awkward as it was to do so at a distance. A day or so later they passed us in the anchorage on their way upriver, and captured a couple of nice pictures of Vector. I did the best I could to return the favor with cell-phone shots of Terrapin.

Our last few afternoons and evenings in the anchorage were filled with dolphins. Dozens of them were swimming the anchorage and, umm, cavorting. I'm sure some of our marine-biologist friends and family can straighten us out on this, but we're guessing it was mating activity, although perhaps it was just play. It did not seem like feeding. The St. Johns might as well be filled with chocolate milk -- that's pretty much what the visibility is like -- so you really only get to see the dolphins on the surface.

We were treated to dozens of dolphins frolicking in the anchorage daily. This one is mid-breach.

While we were perfectly happy to be in that anchorage, a number of things conspired to drive us back to the dock at Metropolitan Park. For one, the watermaker pump that I had sent out to Minnesota to be rebuilt was en route to our mailbox in Green Cove Springs, so even though we were just there, I wanted to get a scooter on the ground and make another pilgrimage.

Beyond that, we needed to pump out, with our waste tanks nearly full, and I wanted to get another soak and conditioning charge on the batteries, which are still giving us problems. And we had two more packages sent to the Amazon locker, which would be an easy stop with the scooter on the ground.

One of those packages was a new spare impeller for the generator; I keep a minimum of two on hand. The impeller seems to go out like clockwork at about 310 hours, and if I'm lucky, it shreds on the morning run and not the evening one. I was lucky this time, and I had even already finished my coffee before I had to strip down and spend a sweaty half hour in the engine room next to an overheated engine. As I have written before, changing the impeller takes two minutes, but draining the coolant, opening up the heat exchanger, and fishing out the bits of shredded impeller is a much longer process.

One of my Amazon locker deliveries was this removable deck plate, for the hole in the flybridge ladder. I had to lop some off to make it fit.

So Monday morning at the tide change, we weighed anchor (uneventfully this time) and cruised downriver to the dock, stopping to pump out before tying up on the inside face dock (map). Since we last used it, the dockmaster had zip-tied the cam-locks for the rubber nozzle onto the hose, which made it unusable for us, since I need to insert our own right-angle adapter to make the hose reach, and reduce the suction head. I had to cut them, and then use some of our own zip-ties to make it right when I was done.

We spent two nights at the dock, so that after running an eight-hour conditioning cycle on the batteries, I could bypass them for a day, disconnect them all, and let them sit for 12 full hours, per guidance from Lifeline. I had called them for help in trying to recover them, so that I don't overdo it. They were very skeptical of our battery equalizer, and wanted to be sure we did not have a big delta between halves of the bank.

After sitting all day yesterday, we read open-cell voltages from 12.47 to 12.55. The good news is that the equalizer is mostly doing the right thing and keeping up (although I am still working on a plan to take it out of the system). The bad news is that the indication is that we have lost 20% of our battery capacity to sulfation. The Lifeline guys think some of this can be recovered with some very aggressive discharge/charge/equalize cycles. We'll need to be at another dock with power to make that happen, so that's a project for another time. In the meantime, we'll be using pandemic-cheap diesel to run the generator longer.

Terrapin passing us on her way upriver.

While the batteries were disconnected all day and we had to keep most of the DC gear powered down, I ran down to Green Cove Springs on the scooter. I picked up the mail, including my pump, and then stopped at Walmart to stock up on provisions. Louise was able to sew by bringing a table lamp down to the studio.

Fully provisioned and watered, and with our various package deliveries loaded aboard, we decided we'd grab this weather window while we still had favorable tide. And so, after some last-minute errands this morning, we loaded the scooter back on deck, and got under way with the start of the ebb. We again passed three idled cruise ships at various berths on our way out, all Norwegians. The Norwegian Gem untied her lines shortly after we passed and followed us out.

We shot out of the river with two knots behind us, and turned northward in slow-rolling two footers. And not long afterward, we were both overcome with sadness and grief. This is our first time in the ocean without Angel, who was our bellwether for sea state. Today's seas would have evinced only a mild complaint, sort of "I liked it better back in the anchorage," followed by spending the whole passage curled up on the settee next to Louise. Her absence was palpable; we are still getting used to it. Another reason, I suppose, to avoid an overnight this soon -- it will be even more noticeable alone on watch.

Vector in her spot near the hospital, as seen from the Brooklyn neighborhood.

Update: We are anchored in the Amelia River, part of the ICW, near Fernandina Beach, Florida (map). We've stopped here before, and tendered in to the town docks. They just reopened after a three year hiatus due to Hurricane Mathew, but without the incentive of going ashore for dinner, we find no need to tender in this evening. This, I'm afraid, has been and will be a theme for some time.

We were very surprised, coming around the corner from the St. Marys, to see a cruise ship docked in Fernandina. It's a smaller ship, Regent's Seven Seas Explorer, but still, this has never been a cruise port, and so it is a bit incongruous. She's tied up at a commercial wharf that likely services or serviced the local paper mill. Just a bit further south is our old friend Bella Vita, tied up near Fernandina Harbor. We can just see her mast and sat domes, but we know it's her from the AIS.

We had a good cruise, whizzing into the St. Marys just as we had whizzed out of the St. Johns. I did my engine run-up in the channel, and we raced past Fort Clinch at 11 knots. Having a following current at both inlets offsets the extra distance going via the outside route. It's nice to be out of Duval County (we're in Nassau county now), even if we are still in Florida. We'll have a nice dinner aboard, and leave in the morning on the ebb for points north, via the Atlantic.

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