Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

We are tied up at Beach Marine, along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Jacksonville Beach, Florida (map).  We had a very short but challenging run here this morning from last night's digs, at the free docks on Pine Island off Sisters Creek, also along the ICW just north of the St. Johns River (map).

Yesterday's cruise in the Atlantic from St. Simons Sound to the St. Johns was picture-perfect.  Notwithstanding the 4' sea forecast, conditions were so calm that Angel made it through the whole day without tossing her cookies, a first for an all-day ocean passage.  As we approached the St. Johns entrance we also had a bit of live entertainment.

The first was an oil tanker anchored several miles offshore, who called the Coast Guard to inform them of lifeboat drills.  This tanker had the sort of lifeboat that is launched off the back from a ramp some ten meters above the sea, sort of the ultimate free-fall thrill ride.  While we did not actually see the boat slide off the ramp, we did see the before-and-after, which was impressive enough.

While this was going on we heard a Skymaster aircraft on whale-protection duty call a couple of fishing vessels to inform them of a Northern Right Whale in the immediate vicinity.  We could see the plane orbiting, and I would estimate from our radar range to the involved fishing vessels that the whale was just about a mile from us.  I am sorry we did not actually get to see it (but we did see more dolphins than usual -- maybe four or five dozen).

We had a favorable current up the ship channel, but that same current made docking at the unstaffed free docks very challenging.  Captain Gary trained us well, though, and even in a good 1.5 knots of cross-current I was able to get the boat close enough to the dock for Louise to get the lines on.  No thanks to the dozen or so folks fishing from the docks, clearly posted "No Fishing From Docks."  They seemed annoyed that a recreational boat might actually be using the recreational boat dock for docking.

We were secured alongside before 4pm, and set about figuring our plans for today.  Initially I had thought those would involve heading another 15 miles upriver to Jacksonville proper, where there are three free city docks and where we though we could have a nice New Years dinner and perhaps spend three nights (the limit on the free docks).

By coincidence, our friends Rod and Pauline on Two by Two happen to already be at one of the aforementioned docks, the lone one with electric power (a $9 per day charge, collected automatically by a meter).  We knew this dock was reserved (and not free) for "special events" and they let us know that tomorrow is such an occasion, with a football game in the adjacent stadium.  It was unlikely there would even be room for us, and if there was, we'd have to cough up $50 for the day, along with the electric charge.

The dockmaster there also manages the other two docks, and he allowed that all docks were likely to be full up for the holiday, and Rod had already observed that the one closest to the restaurants was already full.  In such circumstances, boats are required to "raft up" per city rules, to make room for everyone.

We didn't want to spend an extra $50 to be on a dock with a bunch of water-borne tailgaters, nor did we want to "raft up" with strangers and have folks traipsing across our boat in post-party drunken revelry tonight, and so we decided that New Years is perhaps not the right time for us to visit Jacksonville in our boat.  We'll save the visit for a return trip when we can have three quiet and pleasant days at the nice dock with power, and also explore further up the St. Johns river without any time pressure to be moving south. We're sorry to miss another opportunity to visit with Two By Two, but know we will see them again.

Today would have been another perfect day for an outside run, but the next inlet down the coast, at Saint Augustine, is tricky, and impassable for boats such as ours in all but the best of conditions. Forecasts are imprecise, and we could not risk running several hours to St. Augustine only to find the inlet impassable -- the next entrance would be an overnight run.

That left the ICW south as our alternative, and we opted to shove off at 8am this morning to have favorable tide and current.  The current under the Atlantic Boulevard bridge, north of here, is notorious, and with today's spring tides, it ripped through at 5 knots on the flood and 6 knots on the ebb.  Slack is a very short interval, with current going from +2 to -2 knots in the span of just over an hour.  We made it through with two knots against us this morning and were happy to have it.

In order to get out in time, we had to leave the dock with a knot or so of cross current again, this time in the other direction and pinning us to the dock.  It took several tries before I could get the boat far enough from the pilings to avoid ripping the lifeboat off the side, and then I had to power out into the channel at full throttle, but we made it without scraping anything.

Between getting off the dock and making it under the Atlantic bridge, today was some of the most challenging helmsmanship I've faced.  By contrast, docking here at Beach Marine was a cakewalk, and according to Louise I impressed the dockhands.  I was a little miffed, however, as they had told me on the phone they had plenty of water for our boat, but when low tide came around, at -0.8', we were on the bottom and about 2" or so dry below the waterline.  The place across the ICW had been honest and told me they only had 6' MLW in the channel and at the docks.

We ended up walking over there this evening, as they had the nicest restaurant in walking distance, appropriately named Marker 32.  It would have been a much shorter walk had we stayed there -- from here, it was a mile and a quarter over the bridge (and 65' up and down).  There are a pair of restaurants here, too, but they are basically burger and deep-fryer joints, and we wanted something a bit nicer for our last meal of 2013.

Tomorrow we will again shove off at 8am, before the place even opens, to have the best water going south.  It's 30 miles to the next stop, Saint Augustine.  That city has become decidedly cruiser-unfriendly of late, so we shall see where we end up berthing for the night.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like so much fun. Would have been great to see the whale but so many dolphins is pretty exciting to me too!


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