Sunday, January 15, 2023

Old stomping grounds

We are under way in Tampa Bay, bound for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) northbound to Clearwater. We've just wrapped up a nice week in St. Petersburg, and we'll be back there again before we leave the area.

Vector in St. Pete, tucked in between Spa Beach, the Pier, and a small breakwater.

Last Saturday we had to wait out the morning at Manasota Key in order to get back over the bar. I took the tender to Chadwick Park, which has no dock, but I found an old piling to tie up the tender so I could get in a walk through town. That landing option will allow us to get to a better dining venue next visit. Around 1pm we had enough tide to get out and we weighed anchor for the short trip up the GIWW to Venice.

With one more day still before the Albee Road Bridge was scheduled to close, we made it a short day and booked a night at the casual Venice Yacht Club (map), where we had a nice dinner at the outdoor tiki bar. This was the last place we had stopped on our way south earlier this year before becoming symptomatic with COVID. We were both glad to have a short day, because even at high tide we had a lot of shallow water through Venice, including a spot we had to jog around where the storms had caused a landslide into the canal.

Quite a few beachgoers at Englewood Beach.

While we were having dinner we learned the club does a nice brunch on Sunday, served plated nowadays since the start of the pandemic. So we walked back over to the tiki bar when they opened at 10 and had a nice breakfast before getting under way. After all the angst about getting through the Albee Road Bridge before they closed Monday, the gulf was flat calm on Sunday and we went right out the inlet after departing the club, thus bypassing the bridge altogether.

We had a lovely cruise in perfect weather, and ideal conditions for coming back in at a new-to-us inlet, Longboat Pass. We can't use either of the inlets in Sarasota, and so our decision to go outside meant skipping that stop and a free night at either of the yacht clubs there. Longboat pass turned out to be easy and plenty deep at 9', and after threading our way through the weekend traffic we re-joined the GIWW and continued north to a familiar anchorage in Cortez, across the channel from Bradenton Beach.

Running the ditch through Venice. These buoys mark a new shoal where the bank collapsed.

The Cortez anchorage was more crowded than ever, and we had to squeeze past numerous boats and couple of wrecks to drop the hook almost to the fish plant (map), which later became moderately odoriferous, in a deep spot where the holding was a thin layer of sand over rock. Still, it was good enough for light conditions overnight, and we splashed the tender and headed to the Bradenton Beach dinghy dock to find dinner. We ended up on the patio at The Bridge Tender, which turns out to be a huge Green Bay Packers hangout, and the fans were already congregating. We finished up before the game started, thankfully.

Timing our departure Monday morning for the Cortez Bridge opening on a positive tide gave me time for a little walk in the morning. On my way ashore I stopped by to say hello to friends Amy and David on Selah Way, who were anchored across the channel in Bradenton Beach on their way south. I was back at Vector with the tender on deck in time for the 11:15 bridge lift.

Tiki bar at the Venice Yacht Club, with some festive holiday lights still lingering.

We had a pleasant cruise across Tampa Bay. I was hoping to update the blog, but I spent most of the time on the phone lining up doctor appointments and scheduling visits. We were in St. Pete by 2:30, and with perfect weather for it, dropped the hook in our secret spot behind the small breakwater off Spa Beach (map). Even though the state has slapped St. Pete on the wrist and told them to stop enforcing their illegal anchoring ordinance in the harbor, they are apparently still harassing boaters by now claiming the marina extends to the breakwall. We opted to avoid the discussion, at least for now.

At dinner time we splashed the tender, landed at the yacht club courtesy docks, and walked over to Red Mesa Cantina for dinner with our friends Steph and Martin. It was great catching up with them. We had hoped to cross paths with them somewhere in New England as we were coming down from Nova Scotia, but we missed the end of their cruising season by a couple of weeks. After returning home I watched the Falcon 9 launch, impressive even from 120 miles away. Too far, however, to see the booster land.

Sunset over Venice Inlet on our walk out to the point.

Tuesday's errand agenda including dropping of twenty pounds of obsolete AIS at the UPS store to send to a buyer overseas, and a grocery run to Publix. Those two places happen to be separated only by a decent Italian joint, Gratzzi, and so we just made it a trifecta and had dinner in the middle of errands. The sidewalk dining is sort of charmless, but we're doing our best to stay outdoors with the latest surge.

 Even though we had carefully anchored outside the harbor to avoid any police encounters, we had a visit from SPPD marine patrol Wednesday morning. He wanted to know when we were moving along (Friday, it turns out), and in hindsight, I should have refused to answer his questions. Instead I ended up explaining that we were outside his ability to enforce anchoring limits, and that, in fact, we were in exactly the place the last guy said we could be. After that he tried to tell me that no one can live aboard their boat in city limits unless they are at a marina, which is simply false.

If you look closely you will see lots of Packers attire at the Bridge Tender.

He could not cite his own municipal code but told me I could look it up. I asked him for a card, and after he left I looked up the code, wrote up the whole sordid affair and sent it to the gaggle of attorneys and executives making up the anchoring coalition, bracing for yet another battle. In a stunning development, however, he returned twenty minutes later to apologize and tell us he had been mistaken and that we were legally anchored.

That at least gave us a good story to tell at our weekly Wednesday lunch group at the club, where it was great to reconnect with everyone. With lunch thus being our big meal for the day, we planned on snacks for dinner, which worked out well for meeting Clearwater friends Karen and Ben, who were coming downtown for a performance event, for evening cocktails. A busy social day.

Vector and the St. Pete Pier complex, see from Spa Beach.

Thursday I finally had picture-perfect weather for a long walk, after first taking a spin around the Vinoy basin in the dink, still full of moorings which are still, inexplicably, closed.  I strolled the length of the pier, as well as much of Beach Drive to see what had changed. We ended up there at Birch & Vine for dinner, taking advantage of the very generous gift certificate we received from our California friends at Christmas.

Friday morning we moved to the yacht club docks (map) in anticipation of a serious cold spell. It was blowing 30 when we weighed anchor, and I had to come alongside in two thirds of that in the basin. It was great to be tied up as the temperature plummeted throughout the day. In the evening we were invited to join a bunch of local friends to celebrate Martin's birthday at the club.

Dinner under the heaters at Birch & Vine in the Birchwood Hotel.

Yesterday was even colder than Friday, with the mercury not climbing past 50 until well into the afternoon. We never left the boat until dinner time, where, in hindsight, we should have planned for take-out. We figured at 5:30 we'd find plenty of outside dining with heaters, but even at 5:30, every such place was packed and had a wait list. We ended up having Thai indoors at Lemongrass, which at least was not very crowded.

This morning was equally cold, and we lingered at the dock until checkout time to run the heaters. But that will be the last of it for a while, and tomorrow things should start to warm up. The engine room will give us plenty of warmth when we stop for the night. Update: We're anchored in a familiar spot in downtown Clearwater (map) and will head ashore shortly to meet our friends.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Kicking off 2023

Happy new year, everyone. We are under way northbound in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, bound for Tampa Bay. We've been slow rolling with no real agenda, but the Blackburn Point Bridge, still ahead of us, will be closed to navigation for a week starting Monday morning, and we want to be through it by Sunday afternoon.

Lobby tree at the Banyan Hotel -- the tree skirt caught my eye, a Red Cross shelter blanket, one of thousands distributed here.

After my last post, from Lake Okeechobee, we had our calmest crossing of the lake ever, and made such good time that we were in Moore Haven at 2pm. That meant we could press on to an anchorage rather than spend $52 for the night in a town with no real services, and so we continued all the way to the Ortona Lock.

Flux tied up at the Shady Gator in Ortona, the "Real Florida."

Had we stayed in Moore Haven, we at least could have walked to the pizza joint for dinner, and passing that up sent me to the maps while en route, to see if there might be anything we could walk to from, say, the downstream boat ramp or maybe the campground dock at the Ortona Lock. I found a place called the Shady Gator, but it was too far to walk.

The very comfy patio furniture at Shady Gator.

But wait... a close inspection of the satellite view revealed it was actually on a tiny canal. Photos on their Facebook page showed a small dock adjacent the patio, and so we chose to stop before the lock, where we tied to the upstream dolphins (map) for the night, right at the entrance to the canal. A half mile dinghy ride through the mangroves brought us to their lovely patio and we enjoyed decent meatball subs and a couple of beers in cushy patio chairs. 

This ancient oak is the signature feature of the property. 

In the morning we locked through and continued west. About two miles past the lock we passed a dead manatee floating in the canal, and we called the US Fish & Wildlife hotline to report it. After passing us around to three different offices, it was almost an hour before the on-call manatee biologist called back, and she wanted a photo. Sorry, not turning around. They eventually sent a boat.

Not much to the menu, but it was fine.

Locking through Ortona the morning of New Years Eve meant we'd be in downtown Fort Myers for the holiday, and I quickly grabbed the last downtown dinner reservation on Open Table, a spendy hotel restaurant in the swoopy Luminary Hotel, crossing our fingers there would be some way to land the tender. The city marina, where we used to land, has been condemned and the docks are closed and fenced. The two other marinas in town were destroyed completely.

The sign says it all. We arrived just as it started.

I had heard that the courtesy dock adjacent to the Oxbow restaurant was still accessible, with unclear ownership and no restrictive signs. In the course of hunting around on Oxbow's web site and Facebook page, I learned there would be fireworks at midnight over the water. Uh oh.... this could be a real problem for anchoring. There had been nothing in the Local Notices to Mariners about fireworks or a security zone.

Ladder truck set up for the ball drop behind the main stage, one of three around town.

I spent the next hour trying to track it down. Coast Guard Sector St Pete transferred me to Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach, who knew nothing about it and told me they would not be enforcing any zones. They called the sheriff who said the same thing. Fort Myers PD knew nothing and transferred me to the fire department. The fire department dispatcher had no information either. Eventually I gave up and decided we'd take our chances.

"Girl Band" act that turned out to be from the School of Rock. Pretty good.

We had a bit of entertainment after locking down at the Franklin Lock. The lockmaster had been calling a couple of center consoles asking if they were waiting to lock up, with no response. As we exited the chamber we could see everyone in the two boats was donning life jackets, a sure indication they intended to lock through, and I called the lock to tell them that.  The lockmaster, clearly annoyed with them, told us "they've been here before and they know the rules. I'm closing the gates." Don't mess with the lockmasters.

This van was our clue. Next act is on stage.

After passing the lock the storm damage became progressively more pronounced. Numerous boats were ashore deep in the mangroves, having been picked up by the surge and deposited there. Anchorages along the waterway were littered with sunken wrecks. Waterfront homes had roof and ground-level damage, but were mostly intact. We arrived to Fort Myers and had the hook down in our usual spot (map) before 3pm, probing our way in at dead slow in case we encountered debris (we did not). A handful of other boats in the anchorage gave us some comfort regarding the fireworks.

New Years Eve was the perfect occasion to crack open the home-made limoncello gifted us by our friends Dorsey and Bruce aboard Esmeralde. Delicious.

At dinner time we splashed the tender and made our way to the dock at Oxbow. We found no restrictions and a couple of other dinghies tied up, and we had no issues. We were ready to tell the Oxbow folks, if necessary, that we had reservations at the hotel, which is under the same ownership, but clearly Oxbow is paying no attention to the dock. With a half hour before dinner, we decided to stroll the town.

We had perfect seats for the fireworks, and as a bonus, not downwind like most of town.

We did not get far before running right smack into the start of the giant New Years street festival. We scored a nice outside table at Cabos Cantina to soak in the festival atmosphere and abandoned our plans at the stuffy hotel place, canceling my Open Table reservation with just minutes to spare. After dinner we strolled the entire festival, stopping for ice cream and then sitting in on some music performed by the School of Rock right in town. We watched the fire department hoist the ball to be dropped at midnight with their ladder truck.

My camera does not do justice to fireworks. But I liked these reflections.

With almost four hours to go till midnight, and having taken in the entire festival, we returned to Vector for the evening, where we could still hear the music. Just before midnight I ascended to the flybridge and was able to just catch the ball drop through the sparse trees of Lofton Island as the fireworks began. Those awakened Louise, who joined me shortly after midnight, and we took in the whole show from the best seats in the house. We sounded the Kahlenbergs when the fireworks ended.

Things were pretty smoky toward the end.

While it was very nice to be in Fort Myers for New Years, and it was wonderful to see the town rebounding from the devastating effects of Ian, our real motivation for stopping here was to connect with friends in town. They were available for lunch on Monday, which gave us Sunday as a free day. I took the tender out to explore, ending up back in town for a much longer walk into some of the more damaged areas. I was more than a little surprised to see setup in full swing for the annual boat show, delayed from November and minus the in-water exhibits. We ended up back ashore for dinner on the sidewalk at Capones.

In the aftermath, downtown Fort Myers is in a cloud of smoke.

Monday we met our friends Laura and Ben at the dock and strolled over to the Luminary Hotel for a nice patio lunch at Ella Mae's Diner. It was really great to catch up with them, and they were in very good spirits considering what they have been through with Ian. After lunch they very graciously drove us over to Publix for a few groceries and dropped us back as close as they could get to the dock. The boat show fence was already in place and security was only letting vendors in, so we had to talk our way past.

What used to be the Legacy Harbor Marina. The waterfront restaurant at right, Joe's Crab Shack, has already reopened despite a good chunk of the building being destroyed.

Our mission in town thus accomplished, and access to shore basically unavailable due to the show setup, we were ready to leave Tuesday morning. However our planned next stop, just two hours away, was the St. Charles Yacht Club, where we wanted to use our free night. Among other things, we needed a pumpout, and most of the marinas through here are closed. The club is closed Monday and Tuesday, and so we booked for Wednesday night, giving us an extra day in the Fort Myers anchorage. At dinner time we went ashore to Oxbow, right at the dock.

This expensive yacht has its weight scrawled on the side for the removal crews.

Wednesday we weighed anchor after lunch to have enough tide to get through the shallow channel to St. Charles. We squeaked through with just a half foot under the keel and were tied alongside (map) by 3pm. That was enough time for me to enjoy some time in their very nice pool before dinner. We ate in the screened-in patio of the main dining room, but that turned out to be a mistake, as the food was sub-par, and Louise's fish was so overcooked she left it on the plate and they ended up comping us half the bill. Next time we'll try the outdoor tiki bar with a more casual menu.

Legacy Harbor from shore. These boats were all afloat before the storm, which picked them up and deposited them here on dry land. $4M Outer Reef at left was liquidated by the underwriter for $500k and likely needs relatively minor work. Enormous crane in foreground is at work daily.

After dinner Ben and Laura joined us for cocktails in the otherwise deserted bar, and we closed the place down. In the morning I had a seven mile e-bike ride out to Walgreens and back to drop off a FedEx package. We waited till 2 to drop lines in order to have enough tide to depart. That was enough time to get us through the Miserable Mile with relatively little traffic, and we dropped the hook off St James City at the south end of Pine Island (map) for protection from the northerlies. Pine Island was hit hard, and we could see a flurry of recovery construction ashore; in better times we would splash the tender and head in for dinner, but with nothing open we ate aboard.

Sunset under the Caloosahatchee Bridge from our table at Oxbow.

En route to and at our anchorage we could see the enormous construction project in the distance to rebuild the Sanibel Island Causeway. And today all along Sanibel and Captiva Islands we could see a lot of damage and a lot of blue roofs. Cabbage Key, one of our regular stops, came through OK and is open for business, but the timing was wrong for a stop.

Dolphins swimming in our bow wave on the Miserable Mile. We saw lots and lots of them yesterday and today.

Today's cruise has been something of a nail-biter, with many sections of channel shallower than charted and shallower than memory. Some of that is probably due to shifting sand from the storm, and some due to seiche in today's heavy winds. We've been passing southbound Loopers all day, including blog reader Tim aboard Moon Shadow, who hailed us on the radio.

I had to slow to allow these two ferries to cross, the only access to Don Pedro Island. They're very busy shuttling cleanup crews. If you zoom in you can see each tug skipper standing atop his pilothouse, using a small set of "monkey bridge" controls, to be able to see over the trucks they are carrying.

Now that it's January I can total up last year's travels. Even though diesel this year was higher than we'd ever paid previously, we still ended up with our longest-distance year to date, owing in large part to having completed the Down East Loop, which I summarized here previously. By the numbers:

Statute Miles7,500
Nautical Miles6,517
Up lockings25
Maximum elevation420'
Down lockings21
Tidal lockings5
Stops/Nights on free wall        17/24
Stops/Nights at anchor158/196
Stops/Nights at marina40/139
Nights on passage4
Nights on dolphins2
Engine hours1,107
Generator hours271
US States13
Canadian Provinces5

Because of the way I count back through the ship's log, the anchor stops include weighing the anchor and re-setting it in the same anchorage. The marina and wall stops do not include all the extra dockings for going to fuel and pumpout docks, or day-use docks where we did not spend the night, all of which adds up to perhaps another ten dockings.

After dinner I snapped this whimsical Gulf sunset photo of Louise on Englewood Beach, Manasota Key.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar spot off Manasota Key, near the community of Englewood Beach (map). We had just a half foot under the keel crossing the bar at the entrance, and we may have to wait until the afternoon to get back out tomorrow. We tendered in to the restaurant we remembered from a previous visit, since renamed, but their dock is long gone so we went around the corner to the White Elephant for fried beach food.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Closing out the year

We are underway across Lake Okeechobee, bound for the west coast of the state. The forecast says it will be in the 80s this afternoon and I will be back in shorts for the first time in quite a while. There's little wind today and the lake is as calm as I have ever seen it.

Monday evening we pulled off the ICW in Jensen Beach, south of the causeway, and worked our way in toward the south end of the city mooring field to drop the hook (map). That put us in the lee of the causeway and out of the relentless chop that had been behind us all day. We're too big for the moorings, making the city's whizzy new, but gated, dinghy dock unavailable, but we could get ashore at the boat ramp. It was raining and cold at dinner time so we did not even drop the tender, but we've made note of it for a future stop.

Last night's sunset over Lake Okeechobee from our aft deck.

That made for a short cruise Tuesday morning, and by noon we were dropping anchor in our usual spot off Arbeau Point, across from the Sunset mooring field (map). We had to squeeze in -- I have never seen so many boats in this anchorage, which on previous stops we've shared with only a few other boats. The moorings were also completely full, common at this time of year. Many unoccupied boats bespoke the holiday family visits that so many of our cruising brethren undertake, although this year I suspect many wished they had just stayed aboard.

When I had called the Lugger dealer under way in the morning, they told me UPS was scheduled to deliver my parts in the afternoon, and thus I took a chance and headed ashore with the e-bike for the five mile ride to arrive before closing time. I left enough time for stops at Staples for SodaStream cylinders and Chase for a bank errand en route. I arrived ashore to find more dinghies than I've ever seen at the free bulkhead in Shepard Park, reinforcing my observation about the anchorage.

After my other errands I arrived at Performance Power Systems a half hour before closing time, only to find the place nearly deserted, with the parts guy I had been dealing with gone for the day. The lone employee did find my parts in the delivery that had just arrived, but after fifteen minutes of struggling could not figure out how to get them into the parts inventory to bill me. I left my credit card number for the parts guy to sort out later.

Stuart goes all out for the holidays. I liked these festively lit palms.

The pair of thermostats cost me over two hundred bucks, but once I had them in hand I could see they were a pair of $15 automotive thermostats. One was still in a factory-sealed package from Honda. The other, a Balkamp item, was in a cardboard box and had been modified by Lugger, who over-drilled the hole to a larger size. The Lugger tech had told me about this when I originally talked to them, but of course they won't give you the size of the hole or the cross-reference part numbers.

I just expect to pay a markup of 100% for "marine" items that are really just re-branded auto parts, but 400% is really beyond the pale. Still, I had little choice. With no cross-reference ahead of time I'd have to tear the cooling system apart to try to identify them, and then there we'd be with the engine inoperative until we could source them. It's a racket. I have the numbers and hole size now, but will likely never need to replace these again. If either of them is even the root cause of the heater loop issue, which remains to be seen.

Still sealed $15 Honda thermostat and modified $15 Balkamp thermostat. $200 for the pair.

Even though it was already almost 5pm, I made a quick stop at Walmart on my return trip for a few items that are best sourced there, leaving the rest of the provisioning list for a later trip to Publix. I was back at Vector by 5:30, and after heaving the e-bike back aboard we turned right back around and headed for dinner. With a late start we went to the closest place, and old stand-by white tablecloth Italian place called Casa Bella. It's always been quite good, although on this visit I was disappointed with the veal, and I had stomach issues that had me down for the count all day Wednesday, so it may be off the list.

We'd hoped for just a single night in Stuart with a Wednesday departure after finishing the provisioning, but I felt so crummy we decided to just take an extra day. It was mid-afternoon before I felt good enough to go ashore and wrap up the grocery shopping at Publix, a decent walk from the dock. In the evening we walked to long-time favorite The Gafford for dinner, where we were able to dine comfortably outdoors. We both ended up with salads.

Yesterday morning things were back to normal, and we decked the tender first thing and got underway. I had to station-keep for a half hour at the St. Lucie lock, where the operators were their usual imperious selves. We've been through over a hundred different locks, most friendly and relaxed, but this one seems perpetually operated by, shall we say, jerks (because this is a family friendly blog). To be fair, they probably deal with a lot of inept boaters, but that's no excuse.

We passed this boat just before St. Lucie lock. No, it's not sinking; he's heeling it over with a giant water bag to get under a ~55' bridge. Port lights are submerged and the gunwale's awash.

We arrived at the Port Mayaca lock before 3pm. Typically we would tie to the dolphins on the canal side for the night, but with east winds, and very light at that, we decided to get the lockage out of the way and just anchor on the lake side. The lockmaster gave us a 45-minute wait estimate with a vessel under tow coming in from the lake, so we tied to the dolphins anyway to wait.

No sooner had I got the engine shut down than the lockmaster was calling us back to say the eastbounders were having issues and had tied to the dolphins on the lake side, so he would be turning the lock around immediately to get us and another westbounder through. We were on the dolphins just five minutes and I burned more fuel maneuvering than we saved by shutting down. We were in the lake a little after 3, and, with the lake high, we turned south past the dolphins to anchor (map).

Like most of the lake, the bottom here is a thin layer of loose material over solid rock. We got a set after a couple of skips and put extra chain out, which would be fine to hold us for the night. After getting settled we sat on the aft deck to watch the unfolding drama of the eastbounders, who were still tied to a dolphin. It was clearly a salvage, with a small motor yacht that had been submerged to mid-cabin and somehow raised being towed by a bow-rider ill equipped for the task. They had towed on the wire across the lake and were putting it on the hip to go through the lock, a fiddly process that would take a professional tow skipper about five minutes.

Salvaged boat being hip-towed into the lock. Note the canted scum line showing how far she sank.

After the show was over we went back inside to relax, but the anchor chain was scraping back and forth over the rocky bottom. On Vector that sound transmits through the chain and into the steel hull with amazing efficiency, where it then resonates throughout the boat. Not any sort of real problem, but we decided we did not want to listed to it all night, and so before sunset we weighed anchor and just tied to the dolphins (map), as we would have to do at lower lake levels anyway.

We had a sunset dinner on the aft deck for the first time in a long while. Another boat appeared from across the lake and anchored  across the channel from us, awaiting the morning's first lockage. By the time we finished dinner the lake was glass calm.

At this lake level we could take the rim route, which would take us past some different scenery here on our sixth or seventh crossing of this lake. It probably adds two hours and several miles to the trip, and some day I'd like to do it, even though we've spent time down there in the bus. But a couple of weeks ago the Corps of Engineers announced the route was impassable due to tussocks in the water, and while it may have reopened since then, we opted not to chance it. That gave me a good couple of hours in deep open water to type.

This facility has been an empty yard with a lift ways for years. Looks like it's finally accepting vessels.

Tonight we should be in Moore Haven, and we'll finish out 2022 under way toward Fort Myers tomorrow. We're hoping to anchor to visit downtown, where we have friends, but it's unclear if we'll be able to find a place to land the tender. All the marinas and most other docks were destroyed by Ian, and cleanup operations are ongoing.

We wish everyone a safe and happy New Year's, however you celebrate it. I'll talk to you again next year.

Monday, December 26, 2022

A Vero Merry Christmas

We are southbound in the ICW, headed for The Crossroads, where a right turn will take us to Stuart. Things are finally starting to warm up a bit here after two days of bitter cold (for Florida) temperatures. We lingered in the marina this morning until the last possible moment to run the heaters.

We found these tumblers with our avatars on them under the tree Christmas morning.

We weighed anchor Thursday morning a little after 10, and we were tied up at the Vero Beach City Marina (map) by 11:30. The adjacent slip, which we had been in on our last visit here eight years ago, was also empty and we had an easy time getting in unassisted. The finger pier had only a couple of cleats, and we had to secure the bow on the main dock. The pier was also less than two feet wide, and we had to dance around another boat's boarding steps to get on and off the dock.

Thursday was a warm and pleasant day, and after getting secured and checking in with the office, I walked through the Yacht Club, past the dog park, under the overpass, and past the Riverside Cafe. This restaurant has its own day dock, which I scoped out for some future visit to the nearby anchorage. I looped back to the marina past the performing arts center.

This palm has reached its limit under the Merrill Barber bridge.

At dinner time we walked next door to the Vero Beach Yacht Club, who were serving a very limited menu due to it being music night in the parking lot, where an enormous stage was set up for a Hall & Oates cover band called H2O. We ate on the very nice covered patio and were long gone before the music started; we learned the music involved a $30 cover charge, although we could hear it just fine over in the City Marina. The last time we ate here, arriving by tender, we also arrived on music night. We look forward to trying the full menu one of these days.

Friday was also warm and pleasant, at least during the day, and I took the e-bike out to check out our planned dinner venues for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners. The beach was busy with sunbathers and even a few people splashing in the water, belying what was to come just a few hours later. On the way back I scoped out the best walking route for Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Checking out Heaton's on a warm day. They assured me on Christmas all the shutters would be closed and the overhead heaters on.

At 3pm our friend Chris arrived to the marina with 70 pounds of fabric in tow, which Louise had delivered to their house. After getting the fabric aboard we rode out to their house for hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, and a lovely dinner. It was warm and pleasant enough that before dinner Alyse, Louise, and I all spent a half hour in their pool. By the time we were heading home, the temperature had plummeted more than twenty degrees.

We awoke to temperatures in the low 30s Saturday morning and we basically stayed inside the whole day, with Sunday being a repeat performance. I puttered around a bit and Louise did some sewing and laundry, but mostly we surfed the net or doomscrolled the storm hitting the rest of the country. Saturday evening we caught the last shuttle bus to the beach, for a bit of a shorter walk to dinner at the high-zoot Cobalt restaurant at the Kimpton resort. We walked home in our parkas, the better part of a mile.

Friday's temps kissed 80 and folks were on the beach in their suits.

We long ago stopped exchanging holiday gifts with anyone. Most gift giving is incompatible with a nomadic lifestyle in a small space. We made exceptions, of course, for the children in our lives, but they've all now grown into pleasant adults, and gifts are now reserved for life events like graduations and weddings. Yet nevertheless we found something under our tree this year, a pair of nautically-themed insulated travel cups sporting surprisingly accurate avatars of each of us. Thank you, not-so-secret Santa. We went through the cupboards to choose two other beverage containers to retire in accordance with our one-in, one-out rule, and I put them in the boater's grab pile in the marina laundry room.

At quarter to four Christmas day we walked down to the beach to get in line at the Ocean Grill, which was the only place I found serving a holiday menu. In the course of two phone calls and an in-person visit on Friday they had told me that, while they did not take reservations, we should expect a wait of only one to one and a half hours. Yet at 4:15 they gave us a seating estimate of 6:50.

Planned Christmas venue Ocean Grill. It was packed when we walked in to put our name on the list.

We had girded ourselves for a wait of up to an hour and a half, figuring to while the time at one of the hotel bars. But an hour beyond that was more than we wanted to wait, and so we walked back to the Kimpton, where I had made a backup reservation at their poolside restaurant, Heaton's, which was open-air but had screens and heaters. We were early even for that, so we sat in the very nice bar at Cobalt and had a drink.

It turns out that we could have continued sitting right there at the bar into dinner time and ordered from the full menu, and we would have done just that had we not just eaten there the night before, or had they any holiday specials on the menu. At the last minute we decided we'd prefer the more casual menu and the safety of outside dining over a bar that was getting more crowded by the minute. It was not a very festive experience, but the food was good and we were relatively warm. We were already back home when the text came in from Ocean Grill that our table was ready.

This sailboat sank in the city mooring field over the holiday. The owners were likely off someplace visiting relatives for the holidays.

It was still pretty cold when we got up this morning, but it's already risen into the 50s here mid-afternoon, and we should be OK without running the heaters round the clock. We should be in Stuart tomorrow, and with any luck the engine parts I've ordered there will be arriving in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Happy Holidays

We are under way southbound in the ICW after a few days of downtime in the Melbourne and Indian Harbour Beach area. We are headed for Vero Beach, where we have plans to meet up with some friends, after which we'll just stay put for the holiday. It's a bleak, gray day with a bit of chop, and we have the waterway mostly to ourselves.

Following an ultra-large container ship down the St. Johns. The photo makes it look smaller than it is.

We left the Marsh Island anchorage last Monday morning at first light, catching the very last of the ebb down to the ICW and then having the flood behind us as we turned south. An ultra-large container ship was passing the Blount Island Channel just as we were pulling out, and we had to hang back and follow it downriver.

Sunrise through a streaky window as we turn onto the ICW.

The early start and the flood tide for the first half of the tip had us arriving in Vilano Beach early in the day. We easily could have continued through St. Augustine and to the nice anchorage at Fort Matanzas, but we wanted to make a stop at the very convenient Publix and enjoy pizza at the restaurant next door, so we just made it an early day and dropped the hook in our usual spot north of the bridge (map).

We splashed the tender a little before dinner to do our grocery shopping and landed on the inside of the free city dock, tying up just in front of a giant pontoon passenger boat that had just arrived. We chatted with Captain Jimmy Hill, who explained that it was a new water shuttle service between Vilano and downtown St Augustine. The inside of the dock is technically now reserved for them, leaving only the outside face dock for pleasure craft. Signs to that effect were erected, but were blown away in Nicole.

This is the St. Augustine Water Shuttle. $15 each way, but you get tour narration as well.

We were tucked out of the way and he had no problem with us, but allowed that he's had a challenge with tenders from the numerous live-aboard boats that are now anchored immediately across the channel south of the bridge. We had noticed this large group of anchored boats as we arrived earlier in the day, many of which are anchored in the cable area. All of this is new since our last visit earlier this year.

Also changed since our last visit is the demise of the Airstream business park, which was down to just two trailers last time and now is an empty lot. And the pizza place next door to Publix has rebranded itself from Puccini's Pizzeria to Surfside Kitchen. We opted to stick with the pizza from the newly expanded menu, with a couple of drafts. The art-deco style building that has been under construction seemingly forever is nearly complete and will be a Hyatt Place hotel.

Daytona was where we started to see storm-damaged boats. Many ashore, like this one near the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and many sunk.

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor to catch the first opening at the Bridge of Lions after its morning rush hour lockdown. After making the turn at the inlet we had a fair tide most of the day. We found the shoaling at the Matanzas inlet to have migrated further into the channel and were happy to pick our way through with a bit of tidal help. We've done this enough times that we know where to find the depth, and I was able to update a clear path on a web site used by thousand of boaters to navigate the ICW. Several boaters have reported running aground here just in the last couple of weeks.

The early start meant we made it all the way to Daytona, arriving a day ahead of our reservation at the Halifax River Yacht Club. We picked our way through a shallow unmarked channel into a new-to-us anchorage across the river from the club and dropped the hook (map). We immediately tendered in to the yacht club docks and walked to dinner at Little Italy right on Beach Street. The food was decent but the servers were unclear on the menu, not knowing whether the special was lamb or veal, and serving an IPA after telling us it was not an IPA.

Beach Street festively decorated for the holidays.

Wednesday morning we weighed anchor and moved just a half mile across the river to the club, tying up before 10:30 in a familiar spot (map). That gave us plenty of time to do errands before our evening plans. Louise did all the laundry as per our usual marina routine, and I ascended to the boat deck to remove the battery from the tender. The battery hit end-of-life a couple of weeks ago, and I'd been having to start the tender the old-fashioned way, with the pull cord, for several days.

This whimsical fire truck decoration was outside the fire station. It was animated with the wheels going around

I loaded the battery into the e-bike, along with two dead Sodastream cylinders, and headed off to Walmart a few miles away. I traded the whizzy but dead AGM battery for a more conventional "maintenance free" flooded battery they had in stock, and also loaded up on a full list of provisions. Sadly they did not offer the cylinder exchange at this store so I returned to Vector with the same empty ones with which I left.

I was still working on getting the new battery into the tender when our friends Stacey and Dave arrived, having driven down from Astor, on the St. Johns River, where they are staying on their boat, Stinkpot. We had arranged to meet up here as it was our closest approach to Astor and the shortest drive for them. We caught up over cocktails aboard before wandering over to the club for dinner. It was a lovely evening.

Removing the old battery. This fuse block was stuck to the flat top of the battery with foam tape; replacement has vent caps and the fuse block could not sit flat on top like this.

I was ready to just relax after our friends left, but rain forecast over night had me scrambling back up to the boat deck to make progress on the battery. I at least needed to get things buttoned up to the point of covering the battery box, but I had to wait until the rain stopped Thursday to finish up. The new battery was different enough from the old one that my fuse block no longer fit in the box, and I had to fabricate some standoffs for the cover to finish the project.

With the errands done and the e-bike back aboard we were ready to shove off on Thursday when our welcome wore out. But NOAA issued a tornado watch for our area, and the weather was going to be too lousy to want to run the tender, so we called the dockmaster and extended another night. Only our first night was free, but the rate here is very reasonable. We walked to dinner at Thai restaurant Zen Bistro, which was quite good, carrying our umbrellas.

Lots of grounded boats looked just like this one in Bethune Park. Lifted by the surge and then set down in a bad spot when the waters receded. We've now passed at least a hundred destroyed boats.

Friday was slated to have two rocket launches in the afternoon, and we dropped lines after coffee for the eight hour cruise down to the primo viewing spot off the ICW in Titusville, where we dropped the hook (map) a half hour before scheduled liftoff, in view of the pad. By this time the first launch had been pushed back an hour, and the second scrubbed to Saturday.

Lots of dolpins in the Indian River, and occasionally they will play briefly in our bow wave. If you look closely there are five in this photo.

Launches never get earlier, and with the launch now squarely in the dinner hour, I opted to grill up a steak a little early so we could be done eating before the launch, in case it got even later. We had a great view of the twilight launch, at least for about 40 seconds until the rocket disappeared into low clouds. Still an impressive sight.

SpaceX SES 03b mPower mission blasts off from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral.

It would have been great to just remain another day for the next launch, but we wanted to stop at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club, and the dock was unavailable Sunday on account of a lighted boat parade. They are closed Monday, and Tuesday would have been too late, owing to a need to pump out our holding tanks. Thus we made our reservation for Saturday, and weighed anchor in the morning for the fairly short cruise. We still got to see part of the launch, as the rocket cleared the tree line and again disappeared into the clouds.

Nicely decorated Eau Gallie Yacht Club, which is really in Indian Harbour Beach, from our slip.

We arrived early enough to the dock (map) that I was able to run down to the shopping center on the e-bike for some provisions. We had a nice dinner in the club dining room, after which we got to see quite a number of lighted boats departing yet a different lighted boat parade, of which there are, apparently, three in a row here in the Banana River.

Some boats leaving the lighted boat parade Saturday night.

As if having dinner in the fancy dining room was not enough (in hindsight the casual and less expensive poolside grill would have been a better choice), we ended up going right back Sunday morning for the sumptuous and very reasonably priced brunch buffet. We knew it would be raining at dinner time and opted to make this our main meal of the day.

Before brunch we used the pumpout, which required priming the pump with city water pressure. I hope they have a good backflow preventer. We also ended up walking back to Publix to pick up an item I had left behind at the store. After brunch we shoved off in 20kt of wind and had a very short cruise around the causeway island to drop the hook in the lee of the Eau Gallie Causeway (map), where we had a comfortable, if rainy evening. By nightfall three more boats arrived seeking the same lee, including a nice 50'-ish Selene.

More dolphins on our next leg. These two were playful.

Normally an anchorage like this is a one-night-stand for us, just a way station as we continue along the ICW. But we found ourselves with several days to kill before we were due in Vero Beach, where the only availability our good friends Alyse and Chris had was this Friday. There are not a lot of stops between here and Vero, where anchorage is scarce and the dock is spendy. So we opted to linger here for at least another day.

I spent the day finalizing holiday plans, ordering thermostats for the main engine at a later stop, and lining up someone to make us a new anchor snubber. The one we have now is badly chafed and ready to part at any moment. I was able to find someone in Vero to do the work, but she needed me to bring her the materials, and no one in Vero had any 3/4" line. At dinner time we splashed the tender, landed at the causeway boat ramp, and walked to PizzaVola, next door to the same Publix we visited the day before.

Badly chafed snubber after removal. This is where it rubs against the chain at anchor.

I was all set to weigh anchor yesterday morning and move along, perhaps just a short distance to downtown Melbourne, or maybe a bit farther to Sebastian. In what can only be described as serendipity, while I was scrolling the map to look for possible landings and dining options, I noticed that there was a discount marine supply right across the river from us that had not come up in any of my actual marine supply searches, for reasons known only to Google. It turned out that they had the line I needed and were just a half mile from a boat ramp where I could land the tender.

With another rainy evening forecast, Louise opted to ride with me for a walk, and we left for the ramp just before lunch time. We bought enough line for two snubbers and some cleaning chemicals and headed back to the tender at the very nice Ballard Park. We again opted to make lunch our big meal for the day, and while there is a waterfront dock-and-dine joint right there in Eau Gallie Harbor, we ended up going back across the river to the yacht club. A giant draft beer with lunch sealed our fate, and we just stayed another night south of the causeway. The wind shifted to the south and it was a bit less comfortable than it had been.

New snubber demonstrating my abysmal marlinspike skills.

We had reserved the marina in Vero starting Friday, but this system moving in that is going to freeze the entire country will bring with it high winds that will last all day. The slips at Vero Beach are narrow and poorly fendered, so we moved our arrival up to tomorrow so we can dock in calmer conditions. This morning we weighed anchor to get most of the way there today.

Update: We are anchored in the Indian River in between a couple of islands (map), one of the few usable anchorages for us between Melbourne and Vero. We're just four miles from our berth for the holiday, and in the morning we'll make a lazy start and head over. As soon as we had the hook set we dropped the tender so I could go out and change out the snubber, and not a moment too soon. It took me ten minutes or so, and after we had the anchor properly snubbed I made a quick excursion to sound out a shorter entrance to the anchorage, where I found depths of eight feet all the way in.

Installing the new snubber on the bow shackle, halfway through mousing the clevis.

This will be my last update until after the holiday. Whatever and however you celebrate, we wish all our friends, family, and readers a very happy holiday season. I will try to post at least once more before the new year, and I have no clue where we will be to ring that in.