Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Missed connections

We are under way southbound in the ICW, on the Indian River just abreast of the St. Lucie nuclear generating station as I begin typing. It's a gloomy day with lots of crosswind, but Otto is handling it well, freeing me to type.

Sunday afternoon we pulled off the ICW in heavy chop and squeezed in between two spoil piles in the Indian River and dropped the hook (map). I selected this spot because it was the southernmost point we could reach in daylight where we could also get ashore for dinner, being just across from a waterfront restaurant in Palm Bay.

Vector at anchor in the Indian River, as seen from our dinner table.

The spoils did not provide much relief from the southerly fetch, but conditions gradually improved through the afternoon, and we decided to brave the chop to go ashore. We landed at the "dock" of the Lazy Turtle Riverfront Grill and Tiki Bar, which itself was a challenge. The dock is really a walkway out to a riverfront overlook with a few bar stools and a counter, without any thought for boats docking. A trio of short ladders extend down from the dock for the purpose, but you have to duck under the railings, which have no gaps. Also, the water is just 18" deep.

Ascending the steps from the dock lands you in the Tiki Bar, where a live band was playing. We walked through the restaurant to the patio on the other side, where a much more subdued solo steel drummer was playing. The inside dining room turned out to be white tablecloth, fancier than I expected. The food was decent, the steel drum pleasant, and the temperature acceptable behind the wind screens set up for the purpose.

The dock at Lazy Turtle, with Flux nose-tied.

In the morning we weighed anchor and set out for Fort Pierce, where I had the West Marine set aside the fuel filter I needed to finish the dinghy repair. That meant getting ashore at the city marina, and we anchored in the closest spot, a familiar anchorage south of the causeway (map). I figured to race ashore as soon as we arrived, to get my part before a forecast storm moved in.

Somewhere under way the forecast changed to move the storm back well into the evening at a lower intensity, and we call our friends Alyse and Chris in Vero Beach to see if they wanted to meet us ashore for a cocktail or a bite. After a little back and forth, we agreed on an early meet-up at 4:30, at the closest restaurant to the dock. They offered to drive me the mile and a half to West Marine for my part.

We had the anchor down by 3pm, in a tight squeeze among the other boats. Right after setting the hook we had some discourse with a Frenchman on the next boat, who was certain we were much too close (we were not). Ultimately he decided he could "wait and see." Perhaps he lacked confidence in his own tackle.

The gathering storm. Red lighting in the distance is where we would have been when it hit.

As we were preparing to drop the dinghy, another check of the forecast revealed yet another change, this time in the opposite direction. The storm was now forecast to arrive while we would be ashore finishing dinner, and with a vengeance. Reluctantly, we called our friends back and waved off our get-together. They are not only boaters, but also licensed captains and boating educators, so they understood completely. We left the tender on deck.

It was the right call, as the storm arrived even earlier than the latest forecast. Vector got a much-needed rinse, and we had a nice dinner on board, which Louise had started preparing first thing in the morning before we made arrangements to go ashore. As the wind ramped up into the high 20s and clocked around, I kept an anchor watch in consideration of our neighbor's concerns, but it quickly became clear that we were both well-set and our circles did not overlap at all. We came closer to the boat on the other side, an unoccupied dilapidated sailboat on a permanent anchor.

By the time we went to bed, both the rain and the winds had stopped altogether. But overnight the winds picked back up and were again in the high 20s in the morning, and we opted to just spend another day, in the hopes that I could find a time to get ashore for my part and not have to re-order it further south. By lunch time winds had laid down just enough for me to pick my way across, and I grabbed my backpack and set out for the dinghy dock.

"Spin" e-scooters. $1, plus $0.35 per minute - 1/4 mile at top speed.

I was fully expecting to hoof it the 1.3 miles from the dock to West Marine, and in fact we even discussed loading the e-bike into the tender. (I decided against that because I was expecting to have a rough tender ride, and the time savings is minimal between loading, unloading, setup, and breakdown). In the year since our last visit, I had forgotten completely that Fort Pierce has dockless scooters, even though I had included that fact in my blog post for exactly this reason. This blog is really our own note-taking system (in case you wondered why lots of mundane uninteresting facts end up here), or as we are fond of saying, we blog to remember and drink to forget.

Upon re-discovering the electric scooters, a different vendor from our last visit, I downloaded their app and unlocked a scoot. The round trip to West Marine cost about seven bucks, money well spent given where I am in my cardiac recovery. After picking up my filter I walked across the street to Aldi to restock some needed provisions. We're not usually Aldi shoppers, where every item has just a single brand, but they had everything on our list and my pack was full when I walked out.

"Pizza Brewery" with a covered patio in the lee. Perfect.

I was pretty successful in picking my way across and back in the tender, holding to the windward shore most of the way, so we decided to give it a try at dinner time as well. We got a little wet from the spray but we had a decent meal at Sailfish Brewing, with a couple of drafts, a small pizza, and a salad. It was very comfortable on their patio, on the leeward side of the building. Returning after dark we opted to leave the tender in the water overnight, which proved to be a mistake. We ended up hip tying it at 3am after hearing it bashing into the swim platform.

This morning's winds were only a bit lower than yesterday, but with our business in Fort Pierce finished, we got under way, where the stabilizers are giving us a mostly comfortable ride. Our sights are set on a familiar anchorage in Hobe Sound. It's a beautiful spot, but ever since being struck by lightning there, we are always a little on edge.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Back in the warmth

We are under way southbound in the ICW, on a very short run from Cocoa to Palm Bay, Florida. The last few days have required a lot of attention to the helm cruising inland, and this is my first chance to update since we were offshore en route to St. Simons Sound. I actually started this post yesterday, but that, too, was a short cruise and I only got halfway through.

Immediately after I posted here, we were outside the 3nm limit, and we started to discharge our waste. Within less than a minute I realized nothing was pumping at all, which is never good. With the tanks nearly full, we'd have to make a beeline for a marina with a pumpout as soon as we arrived. Usually followed by a very unpleasant changing of the pump.

Falcon-9 launch as seen from Mosquito Lagoon. Best my little Fuji could do.

The pump did not sound broken, so on a hunch, I got out my 3-pound engineer hammer and gave a few taps on the check valve in the engine room, the couple of 90s in the pipe, and the through-hull, and I also operated the through-hull valve a couple of times. That did the trick and we were back in business; perhaps the divers in Little River inadvertently wedged some barnacles in the outlet when they were cleaning the hull.

Just as I was finishing with the pumpout we drove straight into a dense fog bank and ended up running the horn for an hour or so. In the middle of that we were overtaken by the Nordhavn 50 Grey Goose, a boat we've crossed paths with numerous times. The current owners have only had it a couple of years and we were able to update them a little on some history.

All that remains of the Golden Ray incident. The large crane is removing the environmental barrier.

Our good friends aboard Barefeet have been in Brunswick for a while, docked at the Brunswick Landing Marina, and we were hoping to connect with them. But our arrival time to the sound meant we'd arrive at the marina after closing and in the dark. The forecast for Sunday was for winds around 20 knots all day (escalating to gale force overnight), which would ace us out of docking then, too. We thought we could anchor in a familiar spot on the Frederica River if they could use the courtesy car to come meet us at the Country Kitchen there, but they turned out to be closed for New Years.

With no way to connect for at least two days and riding out a windstorm in the interim, we reluctantly decided to wave off, and hope to connect further south. Instead we set our sights on an anchorage near where the ICW exits the sound to the south (map), for decent protection from the southerlies. As we came into the harbor we passed the enormous environmental barrier from the Golden Ray salvage, being dismantled by a huge crane.

Sunset over St. Simons Sound.

We got an early start Sunday, both to get ahead of the worst of the winds, and to have a full eight feet of tidal help to get through the shallow section behind Jekyll Island. Not wanting to also cross St. Andrews Sound in high winds (and thus heavy seas), we planned to stop in the diminutive anchorage near the Jekyll Island docks. Perhaps we could even get ashore for dinner or to enjoy some of the island; it's been a very long time since we visited.

While there was a little room for us in the anchorage, there was no protection from the relentless wind, and it was unclear there was enough room for the scope we'd need for storm anchorage. Getting ashore would be dicey, and the nearest restaurant was closed for the holiday. We opted to take our chances with St. Andrews Sound before the wind got any worse, and continued south, with the option to turn around if need be.

Passing through Kings Bay submarine base. Boomer on left, security boat with 50-cal keeping an eye on us at right.

The sound turned out to be manageable, and at a very high tide level I was able to cut the big corner and shorten our stay a bit. We then had an uphill trip most of the way to Fernandina Beach. Hoping to have just enough lee to get ashore, we anchored in a new spot south of the mooring field, where we found enough room to put out storm scope (map).

Our choice of anchorage made for a just-tenable dinghy ride to shore, where we paid the $3.99 landing fee and walked through town in search of an outside table. We found one at the Amelia Island Brewing Company and had a pleasant early dinner, in short sleeves for the first time in quite a while. The town was nicely dressed for the holidays.

Max wind 59mph. 41mph while a new arrival was trying to anchor.

We returned to Vector through decent chop and left the tender in the water for the night. I was running out of anti-inflammatory meds, and had calls in to the doctor hoping to get them refilled in town on Monday. By 11pm the winds started ramping up into the 30s, but it was clear we were very well set on 7:1 storm scope. I folded all the furniture on the aft deck, and the tender had a bit of a wild ride, but we went to bed without worries. At 5:30am we were awakened by a spotlight shining through the stateroom portlight, and went upstairs to investigate.

The spotlight turned out to be a yacht that was trying to anchor next to us in 40mph of wind. At that hour, we could only imagine they had dragged in another area and came over here in search of better holding. They did not stay, and we never saw them again. But glancing at the anemometer display, we noted that sometime in the previous hour, the winds had reached 59mph. That's storm force, or what used to be called "whole gale." That might explain the itinerant yacht. We did not budge.

Our plot for our stay in Fernandina. Smile in NE quadrant was the overnight windstorm.

Monday came and went with no progress on the medication front. It was too rough and chilly to want to bash our way ashore for dinner, so we decked the tender in anticipation of an early start, and had a nice dinner on board. In the morning we weighed anchor, which was well buried in the bottom, and headed south for the St. Augustine area.

We got lucky with the tides, and made it all the way to Vilano Beach in a long day. We dropped the hook in our usual spot (map) and tendered ashore at the public dock to find some dinner and walk to the Publix for more provisions. We ate at old standby 180 Vilano; the town was very quiet. We made a note for the future that Puccini's Pizzeria, right next door to the Publix, has lots of outside tables and serves beer.

"Airstream Row" office park in Vilano Beach.

Under way to St. Augustine I finally reached someone in the cardiologist's office to renew my script and send it to the Walgreens in Daytona Beach, within walking distance of the dock. And thus we weighed anchor in time for the 0830 opening at the Bridge of Lions, sailed past downtown St. Augustine, and had a smooth run down the inside to Daytona. Under way I called the Halifax River Yacht Club there and snagged a slip on our reciprocal "one night free" arrangement. We were tied to the dock (map) before the tide dropped enough to make it difficult.

The yacht club had an outside table available on the deck and so we opted to have dinner there instead of walking to town. We were literally the only patrons eating on the deck, despite the dining room being rather busy. There is no mystery why Florida is dark red on the case count map. Now that we are back in the warmth, we'll avoid inside dining altogether. We're also able to slow our pace down a bit; this is the reason we've been rushing to Florida since our visit in Charleston.

Our anchor came up sideways in Vilano Beach and wedged in the roller. We drove through St. Augustine and beyond like this until I could get a break from the helm to go out and free it.

I hoofed it to Walgreens and the gas station in the morning, and we were off the dock before noon with enough tide to make the harbor exit easy. With the morning already gone, I figured on a short day to New Smyrna Beach, where there is a free dock, with a decent anchorage for backup. Under way, however, the Coast Guard started making security zone announcements for a rocket launch; a quick check of the schedule revealed a Falcon-9 launch at 4:49. In striking distance of a view of the pad, we decided to pass NSB and continue as far into Mosquito Lagoon as we could get before launch time.

As we passed the NSB anchorage, we spotted Grey Goose, with a dive boat alongside. Captain Mark shared that they had lost their anchor and were hoping the divers could find it. The root cause was side-loading of the stainless anchor swivel. There was a similar swivel aboard Vector when we first got the boat, and long-time readers may recall we removed it early on for exactly this reason. They are a weak link in the ground tackle system, and have a tendency to fail at the worst time. I can only imagine what such a failure would have done in the 59mph winds we experienced just a couple of days earlier.

Many boats at the yacht club had "dressed ship" for the upcoming change of command ceremony Vector is at left, and Memorial Bridge in the background.

We have never anchored in the Mosquito Lagoon, because it is almost entirely too shallow for us outside of the marked channel. Motivated by the launch, I pored over our newer, more detailed charts, and found exactly one spot where we could exit the channel in the lagoon. That exit led to a small pocket of deeper water, and we were able to make it there (map) and get the anchor set by 4:30, in plenty of time for the launch.

It was a perfect viewing spot. We could see all the way to the pad and the entirety of the rocket. It lit off right on time and we watched it rise past the tower and head downrange. We could see the burn all the way to MECO, but we were too far away to see the booster return. The shock wave and roar reached us, nearly 18 miles away, a full minute and a half after liftoff.

Our home club burgee adorning our table at dinner. Both these glasses are plastic, as was the china, since the deck overlooks the pool.

Nary a boat passed us all evening or overnight, and we had a dark and quiet night. Well, mostly quiet -- a drum fish under the boat sang the song of its people all evening, serenading us through dinner. We had a short day planned for Friday, just two hours to Titusville, so we had a relaxed morning and a late start. Before we weighed anchor we were passed by Grey Goose, sans anchor. At $225 an hour for the diver, there was only so much searching Mark was willing to buy. Eventually someone anchored in NSB is going to haul up a very expensive stainless B├╝gel anchor.

We weighed anchor shortly thereafter and headed for Titusville, where we made plans to meet up with good friends Dave and Stacey, who are docked in Sanford but have a car and were willing to make the 45-minute drive. We arranged for a late lunch (really, early dinner) at Pier 220, which has a dinghy dock, and we dropped the hook in a familiar spot just south of the causeway (map). By the time we arrived, winds were N at 15-20, but the causeway afforded us decent protection.

The little downtown festively decorated.

That was fine for Vector, but the dock for Pier 220 is on the north side of the causeway, and as we passed the end of the land and rounded the fishing pier, we found ourselves bashing into steep two footers in the dinghy. It was, I think, the roughest tender ride we've ever had. Making matters worse, just as we pulled up near the slips, the engine died, and we soon found ourselves being blown over toward the rip-rap shore, with me paddling like crazy to try to get within reach of something.

A man at the bar (we assume) saw our predicament and came over to help; Louise was able to throw him a line and he pulled us over to the dock, averting disaster. I looked for him later to buy him a beer, but he was gone. A quick check revealed we were out of fuel, however I had put a gallon in while we were in Daytona (hence the gas station stop), and this was the first time we'd used the tender since. Somehow, most of that gallon disappeared over the course of two full days.

Sunset from a very peaceful Mosquito Lagoon.

We had a nice long meal over a couple of beers with Stacey and Dave; it was great to catch up with them. Afterwards, they drove us to the gas station so I could put another gallon in the tank, thus preserving our "emergency" gallon we keep in the back of the dink. The seas had laid down a little since we arrived, and we made it back to Vector without too much bashing. However, the tender again died just as we arrived, this time with an overheat warning. I was able to restart it and get alongside before we blew all the way to Cocoa. I disconnected the fuel tank after we decked it, to keep from losing any more fuel.

Sometime after we left the bar, a live band showed up at Pier 220, and that was our evening entertainment. Fortunately, it was music we liked and, at a distance, not unpleasantly loud. I spent much of the evening studying tender manuals and looking at sources for various parts that might need replacing. I found a West Marine on Merritt Island across from Cocoa, with a dock within kayaking distance of an anchorage, and in the morning we weighed anchor for a short three-hour cruise, dropping the hook as close to shore there as depth would allow (map).

I spent the whole afternoon in the tender taking apart the fuel system. I eventually discovered that the fuel filter/water separator cartridge had rusted through, making a pinhole leak. It was leaking enough to empty a gallon over two days, which simply evaporated because there was no evidence it ever left the tender, but not enough to prevent the engine from drawing fuel out of the tank. The overheat alarm on the way home was most likely due to entrained air in the fuel causing the engine to run lean.

Hall of shame photo. I neglected this filter. I had to remove the entire assembly, mount and all, and take it down to the workbench to get the cartridge off.

I solved the problem by simply removing the unit from the fuel line. It's an optional accessory; there's a fuel filter on the engine and a screen in the tank. That meant we could again run the tender without worrying about it stranding us, and we went ashore at dinner time to see if West Marine had a replacement (they did not) and find some dinner. Unlike its neighbor Cocoa Village across the bridge, Merritt Island is a dining wasteland. We walked to Carrabba's, which had a half dozen outside tables, but a giant party was taking up the whole patio. We ended up at Tijuana Flats, a counter-service place that at least had two outside tables and three beers on draft.

This morning we weighed anchor and headed south, without a clear idea of where we'd stop. After spending a half hour with Google Maps and the chart, we've set our sights on a spot between two spoil piles across from a waterfront restaurant. Winds are again in the 20s, and we're hoping we can get ashore.

Update: We are anchored in the Indian River, between two spoil piles and across from the Lazy Turtle restaurant in Palm Bay (map). In the morning we will continue south toward Vero Beach and Fort Pierce. There is no weather window for an offshore run for at least a week.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Happy New Year

We are under way in St. Catherines Sound, bound for sea and thence to St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, Georgia. It has been an enjoyable trip down the ICW, much less stressful than our first couple of times owing to better tools and skills. That said, it's still a lot more work to get this big boat through the low country than to run offshore, and since we have the weather for it today, we're making our break. We have a temporary moratorium on overnight trips while I continue to recover from heart surgery.

We have not been ashore since departing Charleston, notwithstanding my prognostication that we might be in Hilton Head for New Years. In actual fact, we made much better time than I had allowed for, pushing all the way through the really shallow stuff around the Ashepoo-Coosaw cutoff at the end-of-day high tide and dropping the hook in the Combahee River inlet, right off the Coosaw (map), just after sunset.

That had us whizzing past Hilton Head in Calibogue Sound mid-day on Thursday. We had been lukewarm on stopping there anyway, with Omicron keeping us out of anything too crowded, and so we had been hoping for, but not counting on, a festive atmosphere we could enjoy from a distance, with perhaps some more holiday lights, maybe some music or even fireworks.

Sunset at anchor on the Combahee.

With none of that guaranteed, and a slip at the marina running $195 a night (regular rate -- I never even got as far as asking about the holiday), adding an extra day to the mix was the final straw, and we opted to just keep going. The tide let us get as far as an anchorage on the New River next to Turtle Island (map), near Daufuskie Island, just before Fields Cut, another notorious shallow section. I would have loved to run the cut at the end of the day at nearly high but still rising tide, but the cut empties into the Savannah River where there is no place to anchor. Despite a reversing current of two knots, it was one of the calmest anchorages we've seen.

Once we knew we would pass up Hilton Head, I looked into spending New Years Eve in Savannah. The city had festivities planned for the riverfront, culminating in fireworks, and we knew from experience that we'd be able to distance there, or even just take it all in from our own deck. Unfortunately, the city docks, where we have stayed in the past, have been closed due to damage since October. Repairs are not yet complete, and the city dockmaster informed me that she was allowing 3-hour tie ups at the dock for the holiday, but only until 5pm.

There's really no good place to anchor on the river, and even if there was, the city dock is the only place to land a tender. The two private marinas nearby seldom have space on weekends, and again it would be $200 with no guarantee we could safely do anything at all. Thus, as much as we would have enjoyed it, we again decided to simply press on ahead. We weighed anchor early yesterday on a falling tide, in order to still have a few feet of help getting through Fields Cut. That put us in the Savannah River just as a large ship was passing the cut upriver, and I had to make a hard right and run outside the channel buoys until he passed.

Dolphins seldom play in our bow wave for long -- we're too slow -- but it's always fun to see.

The early start had us passing through Thunderbolt well before lunch, and we set our sights on a familiar anchorage in Kilkenny Creek, the last decent stop before St. Catherines Sound. With the Marker 107 restaurant further up the creek closed for the holiday, this time we only poked into the creek far enough to be out of the wakes of ICW traffic and dropped the hook (map) around 4:15.

We had a very quiet New Years Eve at home, and it was so unseasonably warm that we even had our first cocktail out on the aft deck. Dinner out there was out of the question, as the bugs quickly drove us back indoors just as we finished cocktails. We had a nice dinner inside, and I can get away with saying we went to the saloon for New Years with only other boaters the wiser.

One of the characteristics of the marshy "low country" is that you can see for miles in any direction, and we were treated to small private displays of fireworks all evening from the surrounding developments, most at least two miles away. The city display downtown was not high enough to see over the trees. At midnight I sounded the ship's whistle, as I do every year, and that was the totality of the difference from pretty much any other night at anchor. Once the fireworks died down it was a very quiet and peaceful night on the hook.

Dolphins play off our bow in the Coosaw river.

One reason we pressed on to the Kilkenny anchorage, pushing against the tide from the "top of the hill" anchorage that we generally prefer, was to allow for the possibility of going offshore today. It's a long day, up to nine hours under way, but much easier than the two day slog down the ICW. The forecast was on the cusp of comfortable, giving us pause. This morning's weather check revealed it to be acceptable, and we weighed anchor with the turn of the tide and raced out of the sound with nearly two knots behind us.

We're now offshore, about three miles from the coast, and it is indeed acceptable, if not truly comfortable. We're making decent time, with the plotter projecting a 4-something arrival at St. Simons, better than my planned arrival a bit after 5. This will be the first time in two years that we will pass through St. Simons Sound without the hulking wreck of the Golden Ray as a major feature of the landscape. While the ship and massive removal crane are gone, the environmental barrier is still in place as crews continue to clean debris off the bottom, and we will still have to skirt around the security zone.

We are hoping to connect with some boating friends here, so we may linger for a day or so depending on their schedule, and then we will continue south. I expect that, when next you hear from me, we will be in Florida.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Holy City

We are under way southbound on the ICW, which right here where I am starting the post means upriver on the Stono. We had a lovely week in Charleston, celebrating the holiday with good friends. The weather has been perfect, and we really like Charleston, and it's tempting to stay, but more cold is coming, and we are continuing south.

Vector in her usual spot at the Charleston Maritime Center, with the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the background.

Last Monday we decided to ride the ebb on the Waccama all the way past Georgetown to the turn for the Estherville Minim Creek Canal, which had us anchoring after sunset in the last of the twilight. We dropped the hook in a new spot for us, just past the turn for the canal in the Western Channel of Winyah Bay (map). It was comfortable, but there was a little chop when the current opposed the wind.

The extra long day meant we could easily have made Charleston harbor by the end of the day Tuesday, if not for the fact that we arrived at Isle of Palms at low tide, and there is a section between there and the harbor where the depth is just five feet all the way across the channel. We turned off at Dewees Creek and dropped the hook in a quiet spot (map) for a comfortable night.

Vector's little Christmas corner. We also have some holiday lights and a wreath on the aft deck, and a few in the pilothouse.

Wednesday morning we got an early start for the two hour run to the marina to time our arrival at slack water. At high tide we whizzed right over the shallow spots, arriving in the harbor just in time to catch the last of the flood upriver to the marina. I did have to alter course for the enormous dredge Baltimore that was maintaining the 52' deep ship channel.

We were tied alongside in our usual spot (map) by 10:30. At check-in we asked about parking the scooters, since the construction of the International African American Museum, soon to open, has completely consumed the lot where we used to park, just off the ramp to the dock. They informed us they no longer have any guest parking at all, with what was left of their lot farmed out to staff of the IAAM and the Fort Sumter National Monument. We found an empty spot of concrete between the building and an electrical transformer and they agreed we would be out of the way there.

What used to be our parking, now the ground level of IAAM, as seen from the Maritime Center balcony. The life-size images embedded in the pavers are from this famous graphic of how to load a slave ship.

It being just the two of us on our first night in town, we rode out to an old favorite of ours, D'Allesandro's Pizza, for dinner. That actually ended up bookending our stay, since we returned last night for our final meal ashore. We spent most of Thursday getting things done around the house until our friends arrived in the evening, whereupon we rode a whopping three minutes down to the Harbourview Inn where they were staying. This is a very nice four-diamond property, and they very generously allowed us to participate in the wine and cheese cocktail hour each evening with our friends -- very classy.

The Pineapple Fountain on the waterfront.

Regular readers will know that we have spent a lot of time in Charleston, including a four month stay over the summer of 2017 wherein we experienced a total solar eclipse, a hurricane that flooded the city, the theft of a scooter, the complete rework of the soft top and mast, and, for me, a three-week deployment to the USVI for hurricane relief. In four months we more or less ate at every restaurant in town, and saw all the sights, and so a whirlwind "if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" tour of the city is never on our agenda.

Our walking tour guide had us photograph this map. The blue line was the tour and the pink the suggested return route.

Not so for our friends, of course, who were here on holiday and determined to pack as much into their four days in town as possible. And thus it was that I went on a number of tourist activities including a walking tour of the city, the tour ferry out to Fort Sumter, and Louise even joined in for the stuff that involved less walking. such as the tour of Magnolia Plantation, a drive out to Folly Beach and Sullivan's Island, and the Holiday Festival of Lights out at the James Island County Park, where once upon a time a decade ago we had stayed in Odyssey.

A very, very small piece of the Festival of Lights, which was quite good.

Right after they had booked their flights and hotel, the task fell to me to make all the dinner reservations during their stay from among our favorites. Mindful that parking is difficult and expensive anywhere in town, I booked three places a short walk from their hotel -- Fleet Landing, Rudy Royale, and 5 Church -- and one favorite of ours on the outskirts of town, Rutledge Cab Company, that has its own parking. Of these only Rudy Royale was new to us; we never eat at southern cuisine places on our own, but they wanted the experience.

Carolers in the hotel lobby during cocktail hour.

Christmas dinner was buffet-style at 5 Church (which is changing its name to Church and Union next month), one of the few places in town open and serving the traditional flavors for the holiday. Had we known that omicron would rear its ugly head, I never would have booked a buffet dinner, but there was really no way to change it at this point. The restaurant itself felt pretty safe, and we masked up for the buffet trips and chose our timing carefully.

View toward the city from atop Battery Huger, Fort Sumter.

The weather got progressively warmer throughout the week, and by the final night we were able to sit up on the hotel's rooftop patio around one of the gas fire pits, enjoying the hotel's homemade cookies. It was a wonderful visit, and they left Monday morning after the Fort Sumter excursion, driving to Savannah. It turns out they are staying right on the same waterfront where we have docked in the past. The two of us rode to King Street for dinner at Mario's Italian Ristorante.

Sunset over Charleston from the Harbourview roof. St. Philip’s (Anglican) Church steeple at center.

We knew we would need a full day to recuperate before getting back under way, and so I had booked the full week at the marina. That cost nearly as much as a full month in Little River, but still the best deal in town at just $70 per day. Yesterday I used the downtime to make a whirlwind shopping expedition to Mount Pleasant, hitting Lowes to exchange the drawer slide, Walmart for provisions, and Staples to exchange two expended SodaStream cylinders.

Immediately after Colors at Fort Sumter, 161 years to the day after Major Anderson first hoisted the US flag over the fort.

This morning we decked the scooters for a slack tide departure. That will put us at some of the skinniest sections ahead of us at high tide at the end of the day; pushing through them will again have us anchoring at sunset, on one end or the other of the Ashepoo Coosaw cutoff (preferably the far end, in the Coosaw). At this rate, we might be in Hilton Head for New Year's, although we have no reservations for anything.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Back in the saddle

We are underway southbound in the ICW, somewhere in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as I begin typing. We've already been under way for over two hours, but the stretch through Little River and North Myrtle Beach is challenging and requires a lot of hand steering. We'd be avoiding all this on the outside, except the seas are not cooperative.

We arrived at the Little River inlet a little over two weeks ago in plenty of daylight to make the marina, and with the tide behind us, we opted to do just that, tying up in our slip at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club just before 4pm (map). The inlet was easy, but I was glad I had the advice of one of the skippers of the Big M casino boats, who run the inlet every day at all tide levels and sea conditions with an 8' draft.

With a late afternoon arrival, we opted to just walk over to Clark's Seafood and Chophouse, right next door to the marina, for dinner, where we shared a nice prime rib. This theme that would repeat itself twice more during our stay, when the weather was not conducive to riding the scooters. We put the scooters on the dock the following morning at high tide, when getting them up the ramp from the floating dock was relatively easy.

Vector at the dock at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, which is really in Little River. Best shot I could get.

We had several days of gorgeous weather, with outside temperatures in the 70s, and I immediately jumped in to my big outdoor project, which was to rebuild the windlass. This critical piece of deck gear has given us yeoman's service, lowering and raising the anchor over a thousand times since we bought the boat, and probably a couple hundred in the decade before then. Other than changing the oil once, in order to replace a clouded sight glass, and occasionally greasing the exterior parts, the windlass has never been serviced.

Notwithstanding that the service manual calls for a rebuild every 2-3 years and the windlass is old enough to vote, it might have made it all the way to drinking age if not for the fact that oil was very slowly weeping from the starboard lip seal and making a mess on the deck. I bought the rebuild kit back when we were in New York, to be ready whenever the opportunity arose.

The evidence of seal leakage that prompted the rebuild. Easier to see here with the gypsy removed.

The innards were actually in great shape, and I probably could have gotten away with just replacing the one lip seal from the outside. That said, it was overdue for a complete tear-down and inspection, and as long as I had the full kit I pulled every last piece out, even wiping down the inside of the case with a diesel-soaked rag to get the last of the old oil out.

I did have to do some prying and hammering, and at one point a heat gun was involved. I also spent a considerable amount of time trying to decipher and source the correct oil to refill the gearbox. I wrote up my tribulations and findings in this thread on a cruising forum, for anyone who wants more detail. I spent three days on the project, perhaps five hours a day. Our windlass should be set for another decade now.

All of the parts highlighted in yellow are the ones I replaced.

Somewhere in those three days I also found time to repair my old Google Pixel phone with parts that were waiting for me when we arrived at the marina. None too soon, because Louise's ancient S5 was on its very last legs. While we were here we made it to the Verizon store to get a properly sized SIM and move the account over. After resetting her old phone and flashing it back to stock I cashed it in at the EcoATM at the Kroger. Not that we needed the seven bucks, but at least the phone will get re-purposed or recycled.

With the windlass and phone projects behind me, I was eager to move on to the next project that was best done while at the dock: servicing the generator. In addition to the routine oil and filter change, it's overdue for a valve adjustment, it's leaking oil around the valve cover, and the coolant circulating pump, for which I bought a spare months ago, needs to be replaced. No better time than two weeks connected to shore power.

Arranged this way, the parts kit does not look intimidating (not shown: 3 lip seals).

Alas, it was not to be. By the end of the windlass project, I was experiencing some inspiratory chest pain, not unlike what sent me to the hospital in September, and again prompted testing a month later at Johns Hopkins. We gave it a couple of days to see if it was just from exerting myself hammering on the windlass, but when it got worse rather than better, I called my cardiologist and then we rode over to the hospital, just five minutes from the dock, which is the only place with the diagnostic equipment available on short notice.

After an X-ray, an echocardiogram, a CT scan, and some blood work, the unsurprising finding was inflammation due to the pericarditis, and a small amount of effusion. I'm pretty sure this is exactly what started happening in October that had my cardiologist ordering the tests that sent me to Johns Hopkins. But before I even got there, she put me back on the anti-inflammary drug Colchicine, and by the time I had the tests there was nothing to see. I tapered off the Colchicine three weeks ago, which was clearly too soon. I came home this time with scripts for more Colchicine as well as Naproxen.

The explosion of parts all over the deck is more telling. And this is before I even removed the motor and worm gear.

That regimen has me back at nearly 100% today, but there were several days where I was down for the count. I mostly sat in my easy chair and read, watched videos, or surfed the Internet, although on doctor's orders we went for a walk twice each day. We also managed to get out for dinner each night. By the end of last week I was feeling good enough to go out during the day and finish the errands on my agenda for this stop, making a whirlwind tour of Ross, Marshalls, the dollar store, Walmart, and the Wrangler Outlet. I also stopped into Lowes for more drawer slides.

Yesterday it rained all day and the temperature plummeted, so we decked the scooters first thing in the morning before the weather set in. On a rain day I felt good enough to tackle installing the fancy soft-close drawer slides, but of course one of the two broke as soon as I started. With no way to get back to Lowes, I satisfied myself with installing just one slide, and I'll have to exchange the broken one in Charleston.

Waiting on tests. We wore our N95s in the hospital.

In addition to loading up on things the scooters make easy, like a case of beer and nine gallons of motor oil, we also made a run to Goodwill, and dropped off some wrapped toys at the post office as part of Operation Santa. In addition to Clark's, we also enjoyed Cooper's Tavern, Casa Villa Mexican Restaurant, Mulligan's Sports Bar (good prime rib), and Chianti South, all in Little River, and Tuscana's, Hickory Tavern,  and Thai Season over in North Myrtle Beach. Somewhat disappointing were Pizelli's Italian Oven, Swing Bridge Pizza, and the Officer's Club, the on-premise joint at the marina that's a "club" for liquor license purposes.

During our stay we also had lunch at Barefoot Landing with one of Louise's quilting friends, Kathleen, and her husband Barry, and enjoyed meeting them along with Kathleen's sister Betty. Considering I was out of commission for a few days, it was actually a productive two weeks, with only the generator and couple of smaller projects left undone.

We were very lucky with the weather for our stay, mostly warm and pleasant during the day, although we did bundle up to ride to dinner. Some other parts of the country, of course, were not so lucky, with a tornado swarm devastating Kentucky and an enormous derecho, the likes of which have seldom been seen across the heartland. Many of our Red Cross friends are deployed to help, and we've made a donation to help out.

One of the Operation Santa toys was this set of five whimsical unicorns that came in a rainbow case.

We paid for a full month in Little River, even though we stayed just a little over two weeks. It's often the case that the monthly rate pays for itself in a little over a week. On the monthly rate, electricity is metered, and even though the marina had estimated we'd use about $50, it's been cold enough overnight and in the mornings that we ran through $85 running the heaters. We were happy to have the unlimited heat. We also dropped a pretty penny on a pair of dry-suit equipped divers -- the hull was very, very dirty.

Our friends arrive in Charleston for the holiday on Thursday, and our marina reservation there starts Wednesday. It's a minimum of two nights to Charleston on the inside, and so we dropped lines this morning just as the thermometer kissed 40. We've had the current with us for all but a half hour in the middle of the day, and right now we are whizzing down the Waccamaw at nearly eight knots. I expect to be tied up in Charleston at the afternoon slack, around 5:30 on Wednesday. I don't expect to get back here before then, and so it will be after the holiday when next I post here. We wish all our readers a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Between the Carolinas

We are under way in the Atlantic Ocean, more or less due west along the southwestern edge of North Carolina. The forecast was for calmer seas than we are finding, and we are bouncing over 2-3 footers on a shorter period than we like. It should improve throughout the day.

Sunset under way on the ICW, approaching Mile Hammock.

Friday we arrived to Mile Hammock Bay at Camp Lejeune a little after sunset and dropped the hook (map). Normally crowded, we shared the anchorage with just two other boats. The shoaling on the ICW just before arriving has not improved, and just as last year, we had to pick our way through. At least this time we did not touch bottom.

Passing through Camp Lejeune, numerous firing targets can be seen; here are a couple of armored personnel carriers. Firing practice occasionally closes the ICW.

We had a quiet night devoid of amphibious assaults or Osprey tilt-rotor flights, and got an early start Saturday morning for Wrightsville Beach. Between unpredictable currents and picking our way through the several trouble spots, we just can't seem to get the bridge timing right, and we had to wait a half hour between Figure Eight Island and the Wrightsville Beach Bridge. We pulled off in a wide spot a half mile from the bridge and dropped a lunch hook.

Making the 3pm opening put us at our usual anchorage (map) at 3:20, which was fortuitous. We were most of the way to Wrightsville before we realized that this was the night of the annual holiday boat parade and fireworks, and we passed them setting up the fireworks just before the anchorage. There was plenty of room when we arrived, but by the 6pm start of the flotilla, you could practically walk from one end of the anchorage to the other without getting your feet wet.

Best my phone could capture of the flotilla. This is a Nordic Tug carrying Santa, being "pulled" by a pair of reindeer.

As we remembered from the last time we did this, the town was absolutely packed, with police directing traffic coming off the bridge onto the island. We went ashore very early for dinner, in the hopes of squeezing in to our favorite joint, Tower 7 Baja Grill, before the rush. We had a 20-minute wait, which we used to stroll the town.

Fireworks. We were glad not to be downwind; the crowd lining the bridge was enveloped in smoke by the end.

If we could have moved on from Wrightsville Beach Sunday or even Monday, we could have been out here in much calmer conditions. But I had Amazon shipments that did not arrive until mid-day Monday, and so we had a quiet day on board Sunday, leaving briefly for dinner at Jerry Allen's Sports Bar. Sports bars are never our first choice, but it was the only joint open on the island, and Louise found their hamburger to be excellent. The difference from the crowds on Saturday was striking; the town felt deserted Sunday and Monday evenings.

Monday after my packages arrived I headed ashore with the e-bike, stopping for groceries as well. By this time it was too late to get under way, and so we weighed anchor Tuesday with the tide and made the short two-hour run to Carolina Beach, a new stop for us, where we dropped the hook in a small anchorage in the harbor (map). We had to wait a couple of days for outside weather, and I wanted to do it here, where we could get ashore, rather than in Southport, where there is a dearth of usable anchorages.

Sunset at Carolina Beach. Harder to see the rust stains in silhouette :)

There are a couple of trouble spots on this short stretch, easy to handle if you know where they are and to go around them, basically outside of the marked channel. A sailboat ahead of us ran right into one, and we called them on the radio to give them some guidance. They got off under their own power and followed us through, and then we gave them the information on how to get charts overlaid with the Corps of Engineers surveys. At 6.5', they draw even more than Vector. They had planned to continue to Southport that afternoon, but after looking at the surveys they decided to anchor not far from us. It was very nice to meet Isabelle and Kevin aboard Festina Lente.

This "arcade" near the beach is mostly closed for the season. Beyond it, several carnival rides are stowed on their trailers.

Not unlike Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach is a summer beach town, and the season is definitely over. Most restaurants are closed for the season, but we had a very nice dinner at Havana's Tuesday, and decent Thai food at hole-in-the-wall Ida Thai, both a short walk from the town dock.  The dock is a long tender ride from the anchorage, nearly a mile in a no-wake zone, so a full ten minutes. There is also a closer dinghy dock, with access to nothing, really, other that the beach and a beachy coffee shop that, remarkably, was still open. They had a small retail section with some essentials, wine, and beer as well.

Sure sign the season is over: it's not worth the effort to collect the parking meters.

Timing the tide for the southbound run through Snow's Cut and the Cape Fear River is tricky, and yesterday we weighed anchor just at the end of the ebb for fairly slack water in the cut, and some push part way down the river. We pulled off-channel through a small cut between spoil piles to anchor for the night (map). We did have one really bad ship or ferry wake after dinner, but it was otherwise a mostly calm and quiet anchorage.

After the boys of summer have gone.

This morning we weighed anchor for a favorable tide and current at both ends, and made our way down river and out the inlet via a new channel for us, the Western Bar Channel, where we found no less than 10' of depth. We've never made this east/west run between Little River and Cape Fear, and going to anyplace further south is a southwesterly heading where the ship channel is the shorter route. Normally from Cape Fear we'd go at least to Winyah Bay in a day run, or overnight all the way to Charleston.

The very nice dinghy dock that only gets you to the beach or the coffee shop. Also public restrooms, trash, and recycling, which was handy.

We're headed instead to the Little River inlet, a new one for us, because I've made reservations at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club to take us up to the holiday. They had a great monthly rate, even though we'll be able to use just a day over two weeks, and it's an easy scooter ride to numerous services of which we have need. It's been a very long time since we had a couple of weeks of downtime at a dock, and I'm overdue on generator maintenance and overhauling the windlass, both of which require us to be tied up.

Nice breakfast menu at the North End Cafe. We did not try it, though.

Depending on how we feel when we get through the inlet, we'll either drop the hook for the night in the river at a familiar spot, or else proceed all the way to the marina another five miles further on. Despite the name, the marina is actually in Little River, SC, and we stopped there a year ago for fuel. The eponymous river is actually the dividing line between North and South Carolina.

Sunset from our anchorage on the Cape Fear, looking out over Oak Island.

While there is a chance I will be motivated to blog during our stay, perhaps to document some of the work, it's a safer bet that my next post will be underway southbound from Myrtle Beach, en route to our holiday reservations in Charleston.