Thursday, May 26, 2022

No rest for the weary

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Camp LeJeune firing range and headed for Beaufort Inlet. We should be anchored just after sunset; this notwithstanding the fact that I was up at 3:15 this morning to catch a 5am flight out of Tampa. Louise has already relieved me once while I went below to sleep.

After last I posted here, we did indeed press on all the way to Charleston Harbor, dropping the hook near Commercial Anchorage B in our usual spot (map) at 8:20, right around sunset. We had a favorable tide coming in, although I was driving right into the sun. We enjoyed the view of the city from afar, knowing we would not be going ashore.

Sunset over The Battery, Charleston, SC, from our anchorage.

As much as we would have liked to go right back outside for the run to Winyah Bay in the morning, the tide cycle would have us pushing against a heavy flood to get out. That same tide cycle meant, however, that we'd have good water through all the major trouble spots on the ICW north of Charleston, and so in the morning we instead headed to Winyah Bay on the inside. We had the hook down in a familiar spot on the Western Channel just off the ICW (map) before dinner time, and after dinner I changed the main engine oil, somewhat overdue on account of tweaking my shoulder and getting COVID.

In the morning we rode the tail of the flood the rest of the way into Georgetown, where high tide let us run right into the harbor and tie up at one of the city's free day docks (map). It was a surgical strike; I had two eBay packages to drop in the mailbox, and then I rode the e-bike down to the Piggly Wiggly for sorely needed provisions. It's a lousy store, but they had most of what we needed. We were back off the dock an hour and a half later and making our way back out of the harbor. We had forgotten from our first visit what a fun stop this is, and made note to come back again when we're not in a rush.

Vector at the free public dock on the Georgetown Harborwalk.

The morning provisioning stop meant we had to make a somewhat early end to the day, dropping the hook before 4pm at an oxbow of the Waccamaw River near Enterprise Landing (map), the last decent anchorage for many miles. We had a favorable tide the entire day. The river here is idyllic, if too buggy to eat outdoors, and we had a pleasant night.

Peaceful anchorage at Enterprise Landing.

Friday we made our way through Myrtle Beach and Little River, where we would have preferred to go right back outside. Sea conditions were unfavorable and so we continued our slog up the ICW, ending the day at an anchorage called Tina's Pocket (map), that looks like it's smack in the middle of the Cape Fear River but is actually surrounded by shoals. In 30-40mph winds, the river was a bit choppy, but we had a nice dinner on board and a mostly comfortable night.

A large but fairly empty container ship headed upriver to Wilmington, from our anchorage on the Cape Fear.

Saturday I was hoping to stop at the state park just north of there for what was reported to be $4.50 diesel, only to learn that the pumps were inoperative, and the price had jumped more than a buck, to $5.70, just a day earlier. COVID really threw off our timing to get any kind of break on fuel, and I am bracing myself to pay $6 in Chesapeake when we get there. Instead we passed by the park and continued to Wrightsville Beach, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot in Banks Channel (map).

We had the anchor down before 3:30, and splashed the tender. We went ashore for an early dinner at Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill, one of our long-time favorites. We knew it would be packed on a Saturday and were seated before 5. This was our first dinner out since Pass-a-Grille, three and a half weeks earlier, although I did pick up three take-out meals along the way. We took advantage of our new (but likely short-lived) "super immunity" to eat indoors with the maskless hordes. It felt good to finally be out and enjoying ourselves.

Starlink satellite terminal, perched temporarily atop the dinghy on the boat deck.

Sunday and Monday were sheer downtime. I had ambitions to maybe knock off a couple of projects, and to be fair I did make progress on fabricating a mount for our new Starlink satellite terminal. But we were both exhausted after three weeks of nonstop running and the effects of the virus, and apparently I needed the downtime. The boat, of course, always has ideas of its own, and I did end up replacing a generator impeller that failed when we ran it in the morning. I'm glad it failed while I was still on board and not while I was away. Mostly we relaxed with our laptops, watching videos on our new lightning-fast Internet.

This section of 1-1/4" PVC pipe will become the permanent mount. You can see where I "machined" a detent inside using my Dremel to engage the latch; the acorn nut secures a bolt whose head fits the slot that will keep it from rotating.

Sunday we had hoped to tender ashore for another dinner out, but the weather became suddenly uncooperative, and I ran ashore for a pizza from Vito's and a six-pack from the market, making it back on board just as the heavens opened. We did make it to the Bluewater Grill on Monday, a long tender ride but a nice change of scenery. Also, it's near the post office and I needed to drop off another package.

Another pizza atop our pandemic insulated carrier.

Our reason for being in Wrightsville Beach for several days was my need to fly to Tampa, and Tuesday after lunch Louise dropped me at the dinghy dock where I got a Lyft to the diminutive Wilmington International Airport, just nine miles away. I had an uneventful pair of flights, even if I had to to the OJ-Simpson (can we even say that any more?) through the terminal in Charlotte to make my connection, between gates that felt a mile apart.

Good friends Ben and Karen picked me up at the terminal in their swoopy Tesla and whisked me away to Seasons 52 nearby, for dinner and a couple of much-needed glasses of wine. They also put me up (and put up with me) for two nights, and lent me their Mini Cooper again to get around to my appointments on Wednesday.

Ought to be enough for video streaming.

I'm happy to report that my crown replacement went well, even though the temporary proved a bit difficult to remove. And while I was in town I also scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor I had seen just two months earlier, at Costco. My vision has changed rapidly in just those two months, which I am attributing to prednisone side-effects, and I was worried it might mean something serious. The good news: no serious medical issues with the eyes. The bad news: the vision change is likely permanent. On the plus side, I no longer need reading glasses, at the expense of some distance vision in my right eye.

Karen served up a fantastic dinner of home-made pasta with home-made tomato sauce, of which I had too many helpings. This along with the home-made sourdough that she first brought out at breakfast time. There was also way too much wine involved, and I forced myself to go to bed at midnight to get at least a few winks before my 3:20am Uber to the airport.

Eating chez Karen is a lot like dining in a fine restaurant.

Meanwhile, Louise has been holding down the fort here aboard Vector, and, among other things, keeping an eye on the weather. Yesterday and today were the two good days for an outside passage, with the seas becoming untenable tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Together we decided it would be preferable, with my scheduled early morning arrival, to get under way as soon as I was home and grab today's window to Beaufort, rather than take two days to slog up the inside.

We very nearly had to wave off when my flight from Tampa was late enough that I again had to do a mile-long sprint through Charlotte to make my flight to Wilmington. I made it on the plane just a few minutes before they closed the door. Everything in Tampa had been closed when I boarded my flight (even the TSA did not open until 4am), and I was hoping for coffee in Charlotte; I had to be content with with the few ounces of airline coffee I got on the flight.

This enormous flamingo sculpture is being installed at TPA. When finished it will look like you are under water with it; the shimmer on the floor from the "water" is already working.

My Lyft back to the dock involved a quick stop at the Amazon locker, where parts for the Starlink project were waiting, and Louise met me on the dock with a backpack full of provisions she picked up at the market. We had the tender decked and were under way at 9:35, which was impressive considering my plane was wheels down just an hour earlier.

Pushing to get outside was the right decision. Conditions are great and we've having a nice ride, and being outside meant I could get some shut-eye even under way. We'll be anchored in a familiar spot off the Coast Guard station tonight, well-positioned to make our commitments in New York three weeks hence. We're going to keep up the pace, because we can end up waiting in Cape May or Atlantic City for several days waiting on weather to make New York Harbor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Gone to Carolina

We are under way in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore Pritchards Island, roughly abreast of Beaufort, SC. We left Port Royal Sound this morning intending to make Charleston Harbor tonight, but winds which were forecast to be on the starboard quarter are, instead, on the nose, making for a bumpy ride. We have bailout options at St. Helena Sound and the North Edisto River, and it remains to be seen if we will tough it out and go the distance.

Sunday we came in from offshore at St. Catherines Sound on an incoming tide, and rode the flood all the way upriver to where it stops, at the headwaters of the Bear River, the junction of Cane Patch Creek and Buckhead Creek. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot a short distance from the Florida Passage (map).

That put us a stone's throw from our good friends John and Laura Lee, but I again tested positive under way. Even though we are both past the nominal end of infectiousness per CDC guidelines, the positive antigen test gives us pause to spend any time with friends. We had a nice dinner and a quiet evening on board, enjoying lightning fast Internet from space, as the Starlink now seems to be "roaming" properly. We got a glimpse of the total lunar eclipse before it was obscured by cloud cover.

We got an early start yesterday morning, to transit the infamous Hell Gate at high tide, and then make our way into Delegal Creek, where there is a 3'-4' bar at the entrance. We tied up at the fuel dock at the Delegal Creek Marina (map) to bunker 300 gallons at the relatively good price of $5.25. We dropped lines and skedaddled back out of the creek 45 minutes later, with the tide dropping just a foot. We cleared the bar with plenty of depth to spare.

Back on the ICW before lunch, we continued our northward journey through Savannah. Seldom do we pass through Savannah, our old stomping grounds, without stopping, but we're on a mission. Louise checked the outside weather and determined we could make a passage today, and I consulted the charts to determine that we could make Charleston on a long day. That would catch the schedule up a bit and give us more breathing room.

Sunset over Georgia from our anchorage on the Bear River.

Normally when we are trying to make miles and we have a good window, we'll do an overnight passage. That lets us do in one day what normally takes us 3-4 days. And we had just come to the point of doing outside passages again, after my heart surgery, on our northbound jaunt from the Keys. But COVID has wound back the clock, and we're again restricting ourselves to daylight running. That sets a firm limit of 15 hours or 90-ish miles; Charleston Harbor is 90-ish miles from Savannah on the outside.

Going outside from Savannah means running out the Savannah River, and this morning that would have been ten miles against two knots of incoming tide from the last reasonable anchorage. Making Hilton Head by the end of the day looked good, but we'd be arriving at the very shallow Fields Cut, just north of the river, at a low tide of -0.8', basically impassable for Vector. Instead we opted to race down the Savannah River on the outgoing tide yesterday afternoon.

Our plan was to check out a possible anchorage behind Tybee Island, near the mouth of the river, which would have made for an easy departure this morning, with a backup plan of continuing to Hilton Head via Calibogue Sound. Ocean swell wrapping around Tybee made that option untenable, and instead we picked our way across the bar at low tide and headed for Calibogue. At least I had the current with me in both directions, as the tide changed while we were in Tybee Roads.

That push got us all the way to Skull Creek by the end of the day, ironically having us run right past $4.99 diesel. Oh well. Not worth waiting for that fuel dock to open back up this morning. We continued on to the last anchorage before Port Royal Sound, a spot called Seabrook Landing, and dropped the hook (map). We had a quiet night.

With a very long 11-12 hour day to Charleston today, it would have been tempting to weigh anchor in the early hours. But there was that pesky tide again. It's ten nautical miles from the ICW to the northbound turn out of Port Royal Sound. At 7am, that would have been against an incoming current of 2.2 knots. We opted instead to weigh anchor at 8:30, where we had just 1.7 knots against us at the start, and a slight following current just before we made the turn. That means dinner at sea and an arrival after sunset, but Charleston Harbor is an easy entry in the dark.

As I wrap up typing, we've already passed the first bail-out option, and, unless seas get worse, we will probably press on the whole way to Charleston. We should ride into the harbor on the last of the flood. It's a coin toss right now whether we will go back outside in the morning and head to Winyah Bay, or continue up the ICW, timing the various shallow spots along the way.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Out of the box

We are under way in the Atlantic Ocean, offshore of the Georgia coast. It is our second offshore day in a row, but with Louise still under the weather and not up to an overnight, we're merely avoiding the shallows of the Low Country rather than shaving any time off our journey. Still, it's more relaxing, and affords me time to write.

Friday morning we left our anchorage at Pablo Creek with the tide, figuring on a relatively short run to the free dock at Sisters Creek, just the other side of the St. Johns River. We were nearly out of water, and clean laundry, and we knew there was a spigot at the dock. We could have avoided this situation had we filled the tank at the dock in Moore Haven, but with the lake shallow, we were reluctant to add nearly two tons of weight in the forward end of the boat.

Sisters creek would have been a very early stop, meaning we have to make up mileage later. We also prefer to have shore power for the laundry, to run the dryer, which at today's fuel prices was going to cost close to $50 on the generator. So under way toward the St. Johns I spent some time looking again at docking options in Fernandina Beach, some 20 miles further

Sunset over the Low Country from our boat deck, docked at Oyster Bay Yacht Club.

A berth at the city marina there would run $142, making the generator seem like a bargain, but I wanted to see if there were more reasonable alternatives. And it is then that I discovered that the Oyster Bay Yacht Club, just a couple of miles off the route, had recently joined the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs, thus offering us a free night of reciprocal dockage. I called and they were able to squeeze us in, but warned us of high current.

Having left on an outgoing tide from Pablo Creek, we had an uphill run most of the day, but we found the Sisters Creek dock full as we passed by, so we counted ourselves lucky. We arrived to Lanceford Creek just past slack, which also put us at dead low tide, and we threaded our way into the creek between a pair of shoals. We did not have good soundings in the marina basin, and I promptly ran aground mid-channel after entering from the creek. The good water (by which I mean a foot under keel) turned out to be close aboard to the docks, and after backing off and probing our way forward we eventually arrived at our T-head (map), where there was plenty of water.

We were tied up by 2:30, which left plenty of time to fill the tanks and get the laundry done. I also set up the Starlink terminal, which had refused to come online at Pablo Creek, in the hopes that pointing at the sky all day and overnight would cure its ills. (It was claiming to be outside of its registered service address, even though I have purchase an extra feature that allows it to do just that.)

Vector on the dock at Oyster Bay Yacht Club, Fernandina.

At dinner time I masked up and walked over to the clubhouse to find some dinner. I texted the menu back to Louise, and we both ended up with burgers from their "all day" menu, with the more formal dinner options being either too heavy or less convenient for carry-out. The club had copious covered outdoor dining, an outdoor bar, and a nice swimming pool and deck, and we look forward to returning when we both feel up to eating out.

In the morning we dropped lines at high slack, with the extra six feet of water making the departure much less fraught than had been our arrival. The outgoing tide delivered us quickly to the junction of the ICW and the St Marys River. We had figured to continue north on the ICW, but as we were coming up to the river, Louise did a quick re-check of the passage weather, and we made the decision to hop outside instead, coming back in at St. Simons Sound. It was a bit weird to come in there and not see a single vestige of the wrecked Golden Ray or its massive salvage operation.

Aiming for a fuel dock today that might have sub-$5 diesel, we bypassed our familiar anchorage in the Frederica south of the causeway, and instead continued up the Mackay, under the causeway, and to an anchorage at the junction of the Frederica to the north (map). This particular spot showed on the Starlink map as still available for new service, and while we were offshore I changed our service address to a Publix supermarket nearby. The terminal came online right away after setting it up. I grilled some lamb chops for dinner.

The outdoor bar on the lovely deck at the yacht club.

The cheap fuel turned out to be fictional, and it would have been a challenging dock anyway, and so instead of continuing up the ICW this morning, we instead back-tracked to the sound and right back out the inlet for another offshore run. The extra mileage from the anchorage made the offshore route nearly five miles longer, but the current is more favorable and it's certainly much more relaxed out here. The plotter says we should have the anchor down just before dinner time.

Yesterday's other project, besides getting the Starlink working, was to replace the keyboard on my laptop. The new keyboard, shipped from Hong Kong, had been a bit of a pleasant surprise in the mailbox when I ran out there from Vilano (I expected shipping to take longer). I've replaced a lot of laptop keyboards, but this one took the cake for level of difficulty.

I was expecting the keyboard alone to be a replaceable unit, but it turns out it is permanently married to the upper case, and, moreover, the base of the keyboard is actually the substrate to which all the other components are mounted. The replacement included the top case, and I had to carefully remove the battery, speakers, main board, cooler, fan, ports, and screen all individually and relocate them to the new substrate. I did not count them all, but I would estimate five dozen tiny screws.

I took this photo of the innards of my laptop so I would not lose track of where everything went. I had to consult it a few times.

The hardest part was relocating the trackpad, which had been installed with about three square inches of strong double-adhesive tape, the sort that holds your cell phone together. It took 15 minutes with a spudger and a thin sliver of plastic to get it out. It was in the middle of that process that I lamented that I should have shipped the whole machine to Hong Kong for warranty service. In the end it all worked when I put it back together, and I once again have a working keyboard.

Yesterday offshore we crossed the magic line of 31° north latitude, putting us officially out of the "hurricane box" two weeks ahead of our deadline. Yet we can't slow down, because I have a new deadline to be in Wrightsville Beach in time for my flight back to Tampa for dental work. We are still on track, but we need to put in a full day on the water every day between now and then. As I wrote earlier, we're on a delivery trip.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

On a delivery

We are under way northbound on the Tolomato River, part of the ICW, north of St. Augustine, Florida. We've had 30mph winds on the starboard beam pretty much since we got under way, and winds have been high for the past several days. We had a few relaxing days of quarantine downtime in St. Augustine, but we're once again on a schedule.

This morning's test. Crap. No dentist for me tomorrow.


After my last post we dropped the hook in a familiar anchorage near Merritt Island, across the river from Cocoa, Florida (map). Unlike our last stay here, we did not go ashore, and our motivation for stopping here was to be near services in the event either of us took a turn for the worse. As it happens, we both continued to improve, and Saturday morning we weighed anchor and got back under way, notwithstanding our distaste for moving the boat on weekends, when the traffic is horrible.

Just exactly what kind of work is being done to this bridge on the Indian River? Shoveling guano, apparently.

We put in another long day, passing Titusville and the Kennedy Space Center, crossing the Haulover Canal and pushing through the Mosquito Lagoon to New Smyrna Beach, another town where, if the need arose, we could access services. We dropped the hook in a familiar anchorage just south of downtown (map), but again remained quarantined aboard. Fierce winds blissfully kept the traffic to a minimum.

Sunday we weighed anchor and passed through Daytona without stopping, thus passing our last yacht club free dock of the season.  Back when I made the dentist appointment I had figured this yacht club to be a good launching point for our trip back to St. Pete and I had even reserved a car here, which I cancelled a couple of days earlier. We ended the day at a familiar and peaceful anchorage off Fort Matanzas (map). The last of the weekend rabble-rousers frolicking out at Matanzas inlet whizzed past us on their way home as we were eating dinner.

Sunset from our peaceful anchorage at Fort Matanzas.

Monday we continued two hours into St. Augustine, where we bunkered 200 gallons of fuel while we could still find it under six bucks, at the diminutive Cats Paw Marina. I had already drawn 20 gallons from our reserves to get us to St. Augustine. Afterward, we proceeded to the Municipal Marina, where we had reservations later in the week, for a pumpout. Both the fueling and the pumpout involved minimal interaction, and we were in the phase where this was permitted so long as we were masked.

Fort Matanzas bathed in sunset light. Inlet is to the left.

We had pushed to St. Augustine Monday in the name of keeping as many options open as possible for our joint dentist appointment, which was scheduled for tomorrow morning. We wanted the buffer in case we needed to continue to Jacksonville or Fernandina for fuel, but with that behind us we opted to remain in this area until today's marina and car reservations rolled around. We cleared through the Bridge of Lions and headed for our preferred anchorage, in Vilano Beach (map).

We're now past the CDC-recommended quarantine period, and the dentist office agreed to see me if I tested negative on a home antigen test. Unfortunately, tests often remain positive long after symptoms and infectiousness go away, and I again tested positive first thing this morning, so we had to wave off. As I wrote in my last post, the dentist, who only works two days a week to begin with, is off next week, thus pushing my crown out almost another two full weeks. Louise has cancelled her cavity filling altogether, as that's easy to do almost anyplace.

Vilano Beach Sunset.

With all the unanticipated eating aboard that we've done over the past two weeks, we needed to re-provision, and so Tuesday afternoon we splashed the tender and I went ashore to stock up at the Publix, just a short walk from the dock. I took the pizza carrier with me and picked up a pizza from the decent joint, Puccini's,  right next door on my way back, and Louise was relieved to have a night off from cooking, the first since the similar pizza mission in Moore Haven. She's still feeling under the weather, even though I am mostly recovered.

Vilano is trying to preserve these 50s-era motel signs. The "motel" is now apartments.

Among the many side-effects of our unexpected isolation is that I ran down to the last few tablets of my pericarditis med, which I had figured to refill in Stuart. Also, we were down to our last test kit, and so yesterday I hauled the e-bike ashore and rode over to Walgreens. The script was spendy, but four test kits turned out to be covered by insurance.

This morning I tested right after my first coffee. After the positive result I immediately called the marina to cancel, and they were very understanding when I told them it was due to COVID. The rental car allowed an electronic cancellation, and I had to call our hotel for tonight in Pinellas Park to see if I could get my Hilton points back, as we were past the deadline. Again, they were very understanding.

This brand new building, under construction the past two years, is made to blend in, in Art Deco style. I don't know what it will contain.

That left all our immediate business handled except for one major item. Back when we were still in Treasure Island I ordered Starlink. With shipping taking anywhere up to 2-3 weeks, we could not count on having the terminal sent to either Fusion or the Yacht Club, and so instead I had it sent to our mail service in Green Cove Springs, reasoning we could just pick it up on our way across the state to St. Pete in the rental car.

I was in the pharmacy aisle in Publix to restock our pandemic OTC meds, and ran into this. The green ones are people. More protein than the yellow ones. I'm told.

With the trip and the rental car now eliminated, we needed to address how to get the terminal. I'm not sure what this weighs, but SpaceX charged me fifty bucks to ship it in the first place. Beyond that, it's a logistical challenge to nail down a delivery address somewhere north of here to have it shipped. And finally, we're already past halfway into the 30-day trial return period, and I'd really like to test it before I can no longer send it back.

And thus it was that we weighed anchor and pulled up to the free day dock at the Vilano Pier (map) at 9:45. We put a scooter down, I pushed it off the dock and the pier, and rode over to Green Cove Springs some 30 miles away. As long as I was out I made a couple of other stops as well, and I was back on the dock in two and a half hours. While we were hooking the scooter up to the crane a Vilano Beach official came by to sternly warn us about riding the scooter on the dock, but he relaxed when I explained that I had pushed it from the street.

Our take-out pizza from Puccini's. One slice removed. Dude, how hard is it to cut pizza?

We dropped lines a little after noon and headed north.  I spent the first couple of hours of the cruise surfing travel sites to book flights for my new appointment two weeks hence. Once north of Charleston the only airport till Norfolk is Wilmington, NC. If we want to keep our plans to be in New York for the second half of June, then Charleston is too soon. And making Norfolk in two weeks, while possible in good conditions, would be the kind of schedule that leads to mistakes -- it is said the most dangerous thing to have aboard a boat is a schedule.

Loaded up at the mail service. Laptop keyboard is in the backpack on the floorboard. Starlink terminal strapped to the seat. The rest of our mail is in the trunk.

So we are now on a schedule to make Wrightsville Beach, just ten miles from the Wilmington airport, in time for my trip. Things are more relaxed when only one of us travels; Louise will be managing the boat while I am away and thus we do not require a dock or power. It's a whirlwind trip and we'll only be there two nights before resuming our northward journey. The schedule that's brought us here, and what we have ahead of us all the way to New York, looks like a full day of moving every day. Professional skippers know this as "delivering the boat," and we're now, essentially, on a delivery trip.

Update: We are anchored just north of the Pablo Creek Bridge, in a deep off-channel pocket where the current splits around an island (map). Our late departure had us pushing against the current at the bridge, which is notorious for currents as high as six knots. As we passed under the bridge we saw a little over three knots against us. We had the hook down just in time for dinner.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Plague Ship

We are under way northbound on the Atlantic ICW, bound for an anchorage near Cocoa, Florida and with Vero Beach astern of us. It's been an eventful week, but I have few photos or accomplishments to show for it.

Sunday morning we dropped lines at the Venice Yacht Club just before they opened at 8 am. We made our way out via a different and slightly deeper route than the marked entrance channel, which we'll use henceforth, and back out Venice Inlet into the gulf. It was another calm day and we had a very nice passage to Boca Grande inlet, where we again used the swash channel shortcut.

In normal times we would have proceeded just another couple of miles to Cabbage Key, where we are fond of anchoring and tendering ashore for dinner at their restaurant. But you may recall we were racing to beat the lake level before it dropped too far for use to safely cross. We passed Cabbage Key at lunch time, where it was extremely busy with some sort of fishing tournament.

I had my sights set on an anchorage just off a marina with a fuel dock that my online sources said had some of the cheapest fuel on the west coast. Where "cheap" in this case is relative; I think it was around $5.12 all-in. As we approached the anchorage, I called the marina to double-check the price before pulling off into the anchorage, and in the span of a day it had jumped sixty cents. No thanks, so we continued on to a more familiar and protected anchorage in Fort Myers (map), making for a very long day.

The Lima (L) flag, flown by ships under quarantine. Not to be confused with the Quebec (Q) flag, which many think means Quarantine but is actually a request for Free Pratique.

Normally in Fort Myers we'd splash the tender and run ashore for dinner. However, what started out in the morning as, so we thought, allergies for Louise, which have been over the top lately, by late afternoon had turned into full-blown flu-like symptoms. Of course, in pandemic times, flu-like symptoms always bring up the possibility of COVID-19, and especially since we've had our flu shots. Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to quarantine aboard. We had a pleasant night and dinner on board.

I can't say why we did not think to start isolating completely from each other at that same moment.. The following morning things were worse, and we opened up one of our remaining test kits. The test was negative, which gave us a false sense of hope. By the end of the day, however, we were pretty certain, negative test notwithstanding. Worse, while I otherwise felt fine, I had developed a tickle in my throat that I often associate with the early onset of a cold.

With the lake continuing to drop, and me still feeling plenty well enough to drive, we continued all the way to Moore Haven, where we tied up at the familiar city docks (map). There are no hands on this dock so it was a contactless affair, as were the locks, where you pull up to the wall and grab lines that are already hanging there, so we did not worry about infecting anyone. I did have to step inside City Hall, wearing my N95, and push our $52 through the plexiglass window to pay for the night.

Caught a bit unprepared, we had nothing ready for dinner. I ordered contactless takeout from the only game in town, Joey's Pizza, which uses some payment site I've never heard of, but at least I could pay and tip online. I strapped our whizzy pandemic pizza carrier to the e-bike and ran down there for a touchless pickup, but I did have to step inside with my N95 to grab it.

Joey's Pizza and Subs. No one to infect as I pick up my carryout.

Tuesday morning we awoke to a minimum navigation depth across the lake of just 6.9'. I normally like to see 7', but the Corps of Engineers is very accurate with these numbers, and we had previously agreed that going across the lake, even if we had to do the shallow spots at dead slow, was preferable to 160 nautical miles around through the Keys. I had steeled myself for as low as 6.5' or so, so we dropped lines and made our way to the lock.

There were several spots in the lake where we saw just ten inches under the keel, which makes for high pucker factor. It's a real ten inches -- the bottom here is rock, not mud. I coasted over most of them out of gear, but we made it across without incident. Just as last time, the lake was so low the Port Mayaca lock opened both ends and had us drive through. We made it to the St. Lucie lock after closing time and dropped the hook in our usual spot in the upstream pool (map).

We needed to get off the waterway. We could not afford to be trapped upstream of any potential problem with the lock (they've had to close it at least once since the three-month maintenance closure at the beginning of the year), and we also wanted to be closer to civilization in case we needed a pharmacy, a doctor, or an ambulance. And so Wednesday we weighed anchor just after the lock opened and continued on to Stuart, which has all the services and plenty of dinghy landings. With no actual plans to land during our quarantine, we passed up downtown, cleared through the highway and railroad bridges and anchored in a bend of the river known as Hoggs Cove (map). Louise needed time to rest, recover, and regroup, so we had the hook down before lunch and stayed the whole day.

By this time I was still mostly asymptomatic, although perhaps I was not firing on all cylinders.  After having passed up possible fuel stops in Venice, Fort Myers, and the lake, I spent a good deal of the afternoon researching fuel prices. We're down to out last 50 gallons, not counting reserves, and we'll need to add fuel to even get out of our "hurricane box" by the June 1 deadline. I found relatively cheap fuel in the immediate vicinity of Stuart, the best we'd see until the Carolinas, and I made plans to put in 250 gallons. It was not until we were discussing the weighing and route plan ahead of yesterday's departure that we both suddenly realized we could not really fuel without breaking quarantine. Oh, perhaps I could get a fuel dock to agree to keep away, let us tie up and fuel ourselves, then take payment over the phone, but that was unlikely at any of the busy, lower-priced docks.

Creative pizza delivery. The NYC guys have hard boxes bolted to their bikes; I had to make do.

With me still feeling pretty good, and Louise up to the task of bosun work weighing and dropping anchor, we opted to get underway and do whatever northing we could on our remaining fuel supply. We chalked the extra ~$0.50 per gallon we'd likely pay for fuel up to the cost of the pandemic. We weighed anchor, proceeded downriver and made the left onto the ICW, but not before briefly touching bottom as I moved out of the way for a towboat pulling a disabled vessel  We were centered in the channel, but the best water is in a narrrow strip on the "wrong" (inbound) side.

With landing anyplace out of the question, we passed Jensen Beach, Fort Pierce, and Vero Beach without stopping. We dropped the hook in a small anchorage, new to us, between Vero and Wabasso next to Hole in the Wall Island (map). We were all alone; it was dark, peaceful, and quiet all night, with the only sounds the constant surfacing of dolphins feeding all around us. This morning I popped up to the flybridge at 05:40 to watch the latest SpaceX launch; while not as spectacular as further north, I still had a decent view as it cleared the treeline up until MECO.

We've been sleeping and eating in separate rooms since Tuesday. Louise used all her strength to clear enough space in the guest stateroom, er, I mean, quilt studio, for me to access half of the bed and enough of the head to brush my teeth and use the loo. This is my first stay in our own guest quarters, and I have to say it's been plenty comfortable. Natural airflow is even better than in the master. Under way she's been in the saloon while I'm in the pilothouse, calling her up only to supervise Otto while I run down to pee.

Louise should no longer be shedding as of today, per CDC guidelines, and in the meantime my mild symptoms have become more pronounced, including more sore throat, sniffles, and some sneezing. Occam's Razor said it's a safe bet that I have it, albeit a mild case, even though I tested negative yesterday. So as of this morning we are back in the pilothouse together, and we're looking forward to sharing a meal this evening, where we will belatedly celebrate our anniversary, which passed while we had to stay separated. Which Louise may not taste -- that went away for her a couple of days ago, although the rest of her symptoms are subsiding. This afternoon I tested positive, which seals the deal.

This boat ramp dock high and dry speaks to how low the lake is.

On the off chance that my symptoms will get worse, even though I too am on day four, today's cruise will end in an anchorage off Merritt Island across from Cocoa. We intend to remain quarantined and not land ashore, but, again, if we need a pharmacy or something more serious, we can access it there, as opposed to the more remote anchorages we could reach further north. We stocked the larder before leaving Pass-a-Grille, so we have plenty of provisions on board, and we're just now going through the meds we bought back in the Bahamas at the start of the pandemic.

We should be out of quarantine before we need provisions, or a pump-out, or to take on water. Sadly we'll have passed all of the yacht clubs where we could do that for free by then, but such is the way of things. Fuel is a slight concern, but we do have a 250-gallon reserve that can be accessed at the expense of listing to port, further with each gallon withdrawn.

The bigger fly in the ointment is our joint dentist appointment, across the state in St. Pete. I have marina, rental car, and hotel reservations, but we will literally both be just off the recommended 5+5 day quarantine. I don't know if that will be sufficient for the dentist office, so I am looking into where we can get PCR tests before leaving, in the hopes that they will accept negative PCRs on top of the quarantine. If they do not, we'll have to postpone by two full weeks, as the doctor is out the following week. That will mean flying into Tampa from someplace further north, making this a very expensive crown indeed.

We've been scratching our heads about how this came about. We're both fully vaccinated and boosted (I had to delay my second booster due to prednisone; it would have been scheduled next week), and we've been extremely careful, dining outdoors, masking in stores, etc.. As near as we can guess, Louise picked it up when she was in for her mammogram just a couple of days before departure. She remembers being in a little waiting room with an unmasked patient who had a coughing fit; Louise immediately stepped out into the hall to protect herself (prompting some very snippy commentary from the offender). We knew all these doctor appointments would be the riskiest things we did, but determined the benefits outweighed the risks, as they were well overdue.

Last night's sunset from our lovely and quiet anchorage.

One of our biggest concerns is whether or not we passed it along to our friends, whom we saw just before we left. We're checking in daily and thus far there have been no issues, but we remain concerned.  Louise has reported her case through her primary care doctor, but there does not seem to be any other contact tracing we need to do. We continue to follow the CDC guidelines, which are more stringent than Florida's.

This morning it was blissfully cool in the anchorage, but it is brutally hot now and will remain so well into the evening. So we lingered in the anchorage for a late start, to have under-way air conditioning and stave off running the generator a bit longer. In the morning we'll continue north unless I am not up to driving, in which case we'll stay put. We're restricted to daytime running right now because my eyesight is wonky from the prednisone; I am very much looking forward to that subsiding in the next week or so.

As a final note I feel compelled to say: We are fine. All is well aboard m/y Vector. Well-wishes are always welcome, but we are not in need of any assistance, nor are we in any real danger. Not being able to go ashore for any sundries or meals is a pain in the butt, but we know that many, many people suffered far worse early in the pandemic. We continue to consider ourselves very fortunate, no matter how miserable we might, temporarily, be feeling right now.

You'll next hear from me in several days, when we are well past quarantine and have some kind of answer regarding the dentist. In the meantime we continue to plug along, at a somewhat reduced speed to stretch our fuel supply.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

On the move!

We are under way in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore of Longboat Key and headed for Venice, Florida as I begin typing. It feels good to be under way after over two months tied in one place, but now we are making a mad scramble to get across the lake before it's too shallow for us to cross.

This church was just two miles from us at Fusion. Made famous by Internet memes as the "church of the stunned chicken" and many other monikers.

Getting the organ recital out of the way, my MRI was completely clean. On my follow-up visit with the cardiologist, she basically cleared us to depart at our leisure and suggested that we need not schedule a follow-up, but rather message her through the patient portal if I needed to discuss anything or if anything else came up.

Their logo, shown here on the sign on Gulf Boulevard, suggests they know what they're famous for. A century ago when the church was built, the windows did not resemble eyes as they do today.

With the lake dropping rapidly, it might have been a smart move to wrap things up at that point and get under way at a more leisurely pace toward the lake. But with a potential two-month stop, we had scheduled several other medical visits, including eye and dental exams for both of us, teeth cleaning, and and even my five-year repeat of those plumbing inspections that are the bane of anyone over 50. I also needed to get the lesions that were found on my liver during the last ER visit diagnosed, by CT scan with contrast (they were benign). Those were already scheduled out to the 26th, the end of our second month at Fusion, and we decided to just linger the extra two weeks and finish what we started.

New settee cushions, in blue tweed Sunbrella to match the pillows Louise made years ago.

Things are seldom that easy, and our dental work dragged out until yesterday afternoon. Actually, beyond, since they removed an old crown a week ago and I need to return in two weeks to have the replacement installed; we'll rent a car somewhere on the east coast and drive the four hours or so back to Largo, adding a couple hundred to the cost, but still better than being stuck on the wrong side of the lake, or having to repeat the whole process somewhere further north.

Matching cushions for the upper helm chairs.

You may recall that we could not offload our scooters at the dock at Fusion because of a flight of steps leading down to the finger piers, and likewise we could not board them there, either. We made arrangements to spend our last few nights at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club's Pass-a-Grille location (map), and to avoid conflicting with any appointments, we moved the boat there Wednesday, making it just a day over two full months at Fusion. Even though we had a diver clean the hull at the beginning of the month, we developed enough new growth there that he had to come again yesterday.

Fortunately, the Pass-a-Grille club was just six miles from Fusion, and we were able to leap-frog the two scooters to get the boat and both scooters in the same location. In between errands I enjoyed their nice salt water pool, and we had our final dinner at the club last night with our friends Steph and Martin, who drove out from downtown.

The mast after removing the sat dome and adding the sat compass, on the starboard side of the "wing."

It's been a very busy month since last I posted. In addition to all the medical appointments, we had several lunches and dinners with various friends in the area. Good friends Karen and Ben were kind enough to lend us her very sporty Mini Cooper for my two trips out to Tampa, and we had the car for nearly two weeks, allowing us to get a bunch of old coolant to recycling, $80 worth of copper (old battery cables) cashed in, and several other errands that were too bulky or distant for the scooters.

New brushes (outer pair) for the thruster. Old brushes (inner pair) were definitely past done. Each brush is fifty bucks, and there are eight total in the motor.

On the project front and in no particular order, here's what got done;
  • Received the new flybridge cushions from the canvas place (stuffed into the back of the Mini!) and installed them, which involved adding new snaps to both the cushions and the seating.
  • Removed the KVH satellite TV dome and all its cabling, which I gave away on Craigslist.
  • Relocated the satellite compass from the flybridge coaming to the mast, displacing a GPS receiver.
  • Mounted the displaced GPS receiver to the flybridge console in place of the stubby VHF antenna that was obsoleted by our lightning strike.
  • Removed old, diesel-saturated insulation from under the generator platform, remediated rust on the hull, and painted.
  • Installed a small pump and pickup to remove rainwater from the tiller flat.
  • Installed new Class-A AIS transponder, after first repairing the defunct unit we received, in place of the older Furuno unit.
  • Installed seven new "cordless" cellular blinds in the saloon, replacing the older Bali corded models I installed eight years ago.
  • Removed, inspected, weighed, and re-installed the engine room fire bottle.
  • Finished the generator service including replacing the primary fuel filter.
  • Reinstalled the thruster motor for testing, then ordered and replaced the motor brushes for it.
  • Re-mounted the weather station on a taller mount for more accurate wind readings.
  • Made a more permanent mount for the emergency steering crossover valves in the tiller flat.
  • Cleaned up the engine room and relocated some spares to the tiller flat.
  • Replaced the aft deck chairs and rug, and one of the saloon ottomans.
  • Louise made tops, backs, and batting for 21 quilts.
  • Numerous projects too small to mention.
New "cordless" double-cell blinds in the saloon.

We also got rid of tons of stuff. Some went to various donation centers, but the bigger stuff or things too weird for Goodwill went on Craigslist or Freecycle, including all the old fluorescent fixtures from the engine room that I removed last month, a spare seat for Louise's scooter, an old marine cellular antenna, the old cellular shades, and a curtain rod Louise used for quilt photos. I sold a few things on eBay as well, including some of our larger All-Clad pieces that we bought when we first switched to induction but we never really used.

Weighing the fire bottle with the crane scale, to assure that no agent or propellant has been lost.

All told, and including the things I listed last month, it's been a very productive couple of months. Between the medical visits and the project work, I'm exhausted, so it was not the relaxing beach vacation one might imagine from the surroundings. To be fair, we did take some time off, and we enjoyed the company of friends. While piloting the boat can be, at times, hard work, it's actually a welcome change to have many uninterrupted days of cruising ahead of us.

Right on the money, reading, actually, a tad higher than on installation day (margin of error on the scale).

One of the numerous projects I mentioned above bears further discussion, to wit, the replacement of the AIS transponder. You may recall from my last post that the unit they sent me was DOA. It booted a couple of times to an all-black or all-white screen, and once I got it to stay running long enough to get it partly configured before it hung again permanently. Considering I bought it from a major marine retailer, West Marine, I thought it would be a simple matter to return it for a replacement.

New transponder installed and operational.

Ha. It turns out that West Marine's policy on all electronics, unless you buy their extended warranty plan, is that they are not returnable no matter what, and your recourse is to contact the manufacturer for warranty service. West Marine's web site showed the product had a one-year manufacturer's warranty, and the manufacturer's site claims it is three years. OK, not perfect, but I sent them a message.

Louise was thrilled to learn that this quilt she made ended up in the hands of this Ukrainian refugee in Croatia.

The manufacturer told me the units were discontinued in 2019 and seemed incredulous that West Marine was still selling them. They told me the unit had no warranty left at all and that I would have to get resolution from West Marine. West Marine then told me they would "reach out" to their contacts at the manufacturer to resolve the issue, and that's the last I ever heard from anyone. I disputed the charge on my AmEx, who promptly credited me the full amount and told me that things might change if the retailer could prove their case. I checked back with them yesterday; the case is closed and the refund is permanent.

New transponder (right) and the one it replaced.

In the meantime, faced with a piece of gear that no one wanted to take back or fix, and potentially being out over five hundred bucks, I decided I had nothing to lose by opening it up and seeing if I could fix it. Of course, there are "no user-serviceable parts" inside, and in this case, it was clearly never intended to be opened back up after leaving the factory; the case is a snap-together affair and I needed spudgers and guitar picks and a great deal of nervousness to get it apart. Inside were a mere three circuit boards, a stark contrast to our previous unit with a half dozen FRU's all encased in their own RF shielding.

Another perspective on the size difference. The older one also weighed several times what the new one does.

Knowing the symptoms (dark, blank, or scrambled screen) I zeroed in on the ribbon cable connecting the display/control board to the main board, and immediately found corrosion and/or oxidation inside the ZIF connector on the display board. Some fine sandpaper, a pencil eraser, and contact cleaner spray cleaned up the connector and the cable, and it's been working fine ever since. Not bad for a "free" unit that cost me only a couple of hours of work and a lot of agita with customer non-support. I've stowed the old Furuno as a backup, and connected it to power to keep its backup battery from dying.

The guts of the new transponder. ZIF socket at upper right was corroded.

As long as I am ranting about electronics, somewhere in all of this the keyboard on the laptop I bought just a year ago crapped out. By which I mean several keys just stopped working one day. Fortunately this was a couple of weeks before, rather than a couple of weeks after, the one-year warranty ran out. I bought it on Amazon, the "Chuwi" brand from China, and unsurprisingly they wanted me to ship the whole thing to Hong Kong at my expense, where they would repair it and return it to me.

Goodbye, Fusion Resort.

Faced with being without my laptop for perhaps two months or more, plus paying lots of shipping, I was able to persuade Chuwi to just ship me a replacement keyboard (at my shipping expense, $15) and I will replace it myself. It's anyone's guess when that might arrive (June?), so in the meantime I found a compact, backlit bluetooth keyboard on Amazon for six bucks (really). It's meant for iPads and thus lacks an Escape key, but that one's still working on the laptop, so I can get by.

Final sunset from our deck at Fusion.

Tonight we'll be on the fuel dock at the Venice Yacht Club, where perhaps we'll also have dinner, and in the morning we'll come right back out to the gulf for the run to Boca Grande inlet and then south on the ICW past Sanibel Island. Today's minimum navigation depth across Lake Okeechobee is 6.92', and we have our fingers crossed that it will still be above 6.5' by Tuesday, the day we actually cross. Once we clear the Port Mayaca lock on the other side of the lake, we can relax a little and stop pressing so hard.

Vector on the dock at Pass-a-Grille.

My dental work is scheduled mid-month, and I've booked rental cars in both Daytona and St. Augustine so we have options. Friends have offered us their guest room so we don't need to make a whirlwind day trip. We're on track to be out of FL well before our insurance deadline of June 1, and if we get some good windows, we might even be all the way to New York before our scheduled visits with family and friends toward the end of June (if not, we'll be docking someplace and taking Amtrak).

Update: We are docked at the familiar Venice Yacht Club, on the fuel dock (map). We arrived late enough to avoid messing with their operations and will be off the dock when they open at 8am. Now that we are back under way, I will be posting here more regularly, every few days when I get enough autopilot time to type. I promise it will not be another full month before the next update.