Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mothers' Day Cruise

We are under way southbound on the St. Johns River, headed for "home" in Green Cove Springs. While we've had the scooter on the ground for the past three days, and I could easily have made another two-hour round trip to our mail drop, we really just needed a change of venue. Also, we have the potential to meet up (outdoors, masked, and at a distance) with good friends there.


Blue Angels over Jacksonville.

Three hours under way in easy water is a good opportunity to update the blog, even though I opined in my last travelogue that I would not be writing again until we left the area. Aside from the passing of the cat, which has far and away been the focus of everything here, there has actually been enough other activity for a report.


Our anniversary sunset.

I've mentioned here that our anchorage was adjacent to the Baptist Health hospital complex, and, in fact, the closest building was the heart center, which, among other things, hosted the rooftop helipad. For nearly a week there was zero activity on the pad, a testament to how the shutdown due to the pandemic has significantly lowered trauma numbers. And then, on Wednesday, we had three choppers in a single day. It was interesting to see the skilled pilots bring them in precisely, notwithstanding winds in excess of 15 knots.


The view toward where The Landings used to be. Odd to see it empty like this.

As in many major cities, the VFR helicopter flyway also follows the river, and Wednesday happened to be a banner day for other choppers, too, as we saw several Navy Seahawks, some civilian law enforcement, and a couple of USCG copters all running the river. Usually we see only one or two per day.


Superyacht "Aspen Alternative" docked downtown. We seldom have seen megayachts in downtown Jax (other than Kismet, which lives here), so two in the span of a couple of weeks is odd, especially now.

In the course of our time anchored at the hospital, we managed to get ashore at every dock. We enjoyed take-out from a nice Thai place in Southbank and a sandwich joint in the Ameris Bank building, and strolled several neighborhoods, including Five Points. The restaurants there have already re-opened and the street was too busy for our comfort. We zigzagged down the block in our masks, keeping well away from everyone. We had actually come ashore here to drop the old watermaker pump in the mail; I found someone to rebuild it for $75.


The marquee of the cinema in Five Points gave us a somewhat macabre chuckle.

I had run an equalization cycle on the batteries at the dock at Metropolitan Park, but after several days at anchor, it became clear we were still down on capacity. Worse, there is quite a cliff at the lower end, and equipment was shutting down on low battery before we could get the generator started. At some point I figured out that the battery manufacturer calls for an eight hour equalization cycle, but the charger only supplied four, so we wanted to get back to the dock and try again.

Thursday we weighed anchor at slack for the short trip downriver. Well, sort of. Earlier in the week, after a tide shift, we had heard a clunk, and the anchor started dragging very slowly upriver. We had figured it was just having trouble re-setting after the tide change, and we put out some more chain. After that, our swing circle became very small, usually a sign the chain has caught on a snag or similar underwater object. I was ready to have to give a mighty tug to get unstuck.


William Zorach's "Spirit of the Dance," outside the Cummer Art Museum. As adapted for the times.

What in fact had happened was that, in the course of several tide changes, we had wrapped the chain around the anchor flukes and tied it in a knot. The anchor came out of the water sideways, with a 50' loop of chain hanging down from it. It was a thing to behold, and, in hindsight, I wish I had taken time out to snap a picture. It is a testament to how thick and sticky is the mud in this river that the anchor was able to hold us at all in this orientation to the chain.

It took a full 35 minutes to untie the knot, making use of all three boat poles on board. Trying to haul up 100+ pounds of chain with flimsy recreational boat poles can be an exercise in frustration, and, in the end, we broke the expensive three-section expandable pole, and completely lost an expensive Shurhold pole over the side. This latter item floated just long enough to cause us to scramble around the deck trying to retrieve it, before sinking to the bottom. Of course, the railroad bridge closed while we were messing around, and we ended up station-keeping for another ten minutes before we could proceed.


The Acosta Bridge with it's fancy lighting turned on, as seen from Metropolitan Park. Not sure why the lights, which have mostly been off, are on. They do change colors.

Even though our plan to arrive at slack had been thwarted by the fouled anchor, we had no trouble tying up on the inside of the A-dock T-head at Metropolitan Park. I immediately got started on battery charging, and Louise did some more laundry as long as we had power and water. We had originally figured only to spend a single night, mindful of how busy things get on the weekends.

I put the scooter on the ground so that I could run across the bridge to the Amazon locker, where I had four shipments of watermaker filters sent. I also wanted to get to West Marine to see if I could replace one or both boat poles. Having the scoot on the ground let me run down to Indochine again for takeout on Thursday, which was delicious. They've opened their dining room since my last visit, but only a single table had patrons. It almost felt safe enough to eat inside.


Amazon Locker "Garnet." Safely outdoors, and fairly easy to reach.

The marine forecast had turned lousy when we arrived, with wind and rain forecast all weekend. We reasoned that this would keep the normal mayhem at bay, and with the railroad bridge closed until 2pm daily for maintenance, we decided to just stay at the dock until today. That let us FreeCycle all our remaining cat items, including the fancy automatic litter box, her carrier, and some unopened food and litter. It was all making us cry every time we ran into it, and we're glad it all went to a good home.


Vector by herself, left, at the end of the dock, with sunset over the city. Jax fireboat dock in the foreground.

On my couple of trips out of the marina, I noticed that Intuition Ale House, a short walk away, had re-opened. I've been craving a burger for a while, the last one having been at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club nearly two months ago. With order-at-the-counter service and a big open-air patio on the roof, we reasoned that if the place was not busy, we could safely eat there, notwithstanding our intent to stay out of restaurants for the foreseeable future.

Even though it was Friday night, normally busy, we had the entire patio nearly to ourselves. Only one other table, perhaps 20' away, had patrons, a video crew wearing UFC passes. I learned later that, of all the places in the US, Jacksonville hosted yesterday the first spectator sporting event of the Covid era, just two blocks from us at the Veterans Memorial Arena. There were no spectators, just crew, press, and participants. I passed two staff buses making their way through the empty city streets on my way to West Marine.


This Faux-Deco mural of the downtown waterfront adorns the patio wall at Intuition Ale.

Also on my way to West Marine, I passed through the trendy Avondale neighborhood, where we have enjoyed dining many times in the past. All of the restaurants were open and serving on their patios. While the outdoor venue is safer than indoors, it looked to me like too many unmasked people far closer together than made sense. But it made me a bit wistful.

West Marine is near our old digs at Ortega Landing Marina, and I looped through the parking lot. The marina is packed, nearly every slip full, and although I'd heard the clubhouse is closed, the pool and hot tub are open and were in use. Unlike our last visit, the parking lot was completely full and cars were parked in the overflow lot.


Fuzzy, distant shot of Jax Fire on the Acosta Bridge and on the water.

Friday I noticed the city's big fireboat, normally quartered downriver, heading upriver and then hanging out downtown and spraying its water cannons into the air. As I peered through my binoculars I also saw several firetrucks parked on the Acosta Bridge, with an enormous US flag suspended between two ladder trucks. A quick search revealed it was for a Blue Angels flyover, in honor of first responders. We made it up onto the flybridge in time to catch them make their big pass over the city; no maneuvers, but smoke on, and with the usually idle plane #7 flying alongside.


Blue Angels over Jacksonville.

We are going to continue isolating at home, walking in uncrowded places, and eating on board or in open-air venues away from other people. While this has been our plan for some time, I have since come across an article that explains well the underlying science behind that decision, penned by Erin Bromage, who is an Associate Professor of Infection and Immunology at UMass Dartmouth. The article is available on his personal site, here, but the site-builder he's used is so bad that we had trouble loading it completely. My good friend Charles has made a PDF of the article, here.

Other things we are doing: Quarantining our purchases for three days or wiping them down with 70% isopropanol, measuring our O2 saturation twice (or more) daily, and wearing masks at all times when inside of buildings, and outdoors when in proximity to others. We're also being religious about hand washing.


At dinner one night, this appeared on our aft door. It took us a while to figure it out -- a small, rectangular aperture in the pilothouse had turned Vector into a Camera Obscura. This is an image of the sun, near sunset.

Today as we approached the Main Street lift bridge, I could see through my binoculars that the Chart House was doing a land-office business for Mothers' Day brunch. Many of the patrons appeared to be getting on in years. A few minutes later, as we waited for the railroad bridge to open, I could see that River City Brewing Company was also open and serving indoors. If these two examples are any indication, I think we are going to see a post-Mothers'-day wave of cases in the next two weeks.

We should be anchored in Green Cove Springs well before cocktail hour. We'll be remaining aboard this evening, but tomorrow I will take the e-Bike ashore and make another run to the mail drop, where more watermaker parts await me. GCS is an uncrowded town, and I expect we'll be able to safely stroll for exercise, and perhaps eat takeout, from any of several places, in the lovely park.


The supermoon rises above the Isaiah Hart Bridge.

Update: We are anchored off the city dock in Green Cove Springs, Florida (map). We'll be here for a few days before heading back to Jacksonville, where I have more items en route to the Amazon Locker. After that, we will be looking for a weather window to head north on the outside, before the hurricane season exclusion of our insurance policy takes effect.

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