Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Familiar territory

We are anchored off Fort Matanzas, near the mouth of the Matanzas River south of St. Augustine, Florida (map). This is a familiar stop, as we also stayed here on our last pass through this part of the ICW. We had hoped to get a bit further, but we got a late start this morning, making the 11:30 opening at the Bridge of Lions.

We had a very nice cruise yesterday from the St. Johns River down to St. Augustine. We had arranged to meet our friend Mark, who just happened to be driving past this part of Florida on his way home from Miami, there in the afternoon.  It is often said that the worst thing you can have on a boat is a schedule; meeting Mark in St. Augustine meant weighing anchor in the morning and pushing against the outgoing current on the ICW.  The current in that first stretch is wicked fast -- under one bridge it gets up to nearly six knots between the fenders, and it was running five when we came through, so we crawled past at barely three knots.

The current progressively weakened and we crossed the hump when we entered the Tolomato River, where we were now riding the outgoing tide downstream for a while.  That did not last long; the tide changed and we were then fighting the incoming current the rest of the way.  Still, we made better time than I had figured, and we dropped the hook before 3pm, well ahead of our 4:30 meetup.

That turned out to be quite fortuitous.  We anchored not far from the free dock at Vilano Beach (map), another familiar stop from our last pass through, figuring to use that for picking Mark up, and also to tie up the dinghy while we all went to dinner.  After we got the hook set, we dropped the tender to get it ready; I knew it would take some fiddling to get the motor started after sitting up on the deck, unused, since we put it back up there in Yorktown at the beginning of October.

In the process we got to use our new non-metallic winch cable for the second time, and also the crane scale I bought to weigh the dinghy, scooters, and anything else we lift.  The dinghy, by the way, weighs just under 600 pounds as it sits in the chocks, with half a tank (~4 gallons) of fuel.  The davit is rated for 800, so we are only at 75% of capacity.  The fancy AmSteel Blue winch cable is rated for over 4,000, but it still makes me nervous to see 600 pounds hanging from what looks like string.

After getting the tender splashed and squared away it only took a few minutes to get the two-stroke to light off, in its usual cloud of greasy blue smoke.  So far, so good, but before casting off for an engine run-up to clear all the gunk out of it, I went to check the steering and found it frozen solid.  I spent the next hour or so on my knees in the back of the tender, hands covered in a concoction of marine grease and PB Blaster, trying to free the corroded steering mechanism.  Between copious amounts of PB Blaster and whacking the end of the control rod with a four-pound engineer hammer, I eventually managed to free it up, while Mark waved at us from the dock a quarter mile away.

I was able to get the steering system back together and working just in time to pick him up at the appointed 4:30.  The backup option was to weigh the anchor and drive Vector over to that same dock.  It's plenty big and beefy enough for us, with ample water depth, but there is a four-hour time limit, so we'd be looking at having to re-anchor in the dark, after dinner and maybe a glass of wine.

Mark treated us to a lovely dinner at Raintree in St. Augustine, and we enjoyed an after-dinner cocktail at "Beaches" right at the Vilano pier on our way back to the boat. This morning after picking up bagels for breakfast, Mark took us to the Publix to reprovision before continuing on his way.  The day started in heavy fog, and it still had not lifted by the time we were heading back to the boat in the dinghy at 10:30.

Notwithstanding the fog, we wanted to have the current against us when we arrived at the Bridge of Lions -- its a tricky bridge with the current behind you. Noon would be ideal, close to slack, but the bridge does not have a noon opening, and so we weighed anchor to make the 11:30.  That meant we were pushing against current all day again.

We had originally figured to be in Vilano Beach two nights, so we could also catch up with friends in Jacksonville.  They had a schedule conflict, though, and so we opted to move along.  With a relatively early start today, we realized it would be possible to make it to Palm Beach in time to move my eye doctor appointment up by a week (the doctor is only there on Tuesdays) and catch Blossom there before they continued south, but only if we keep moving aggressively every day.

This stop made for a short day today.  We could easily have gone another twenty miles, all the way to sundown, unfortunately, there are simply no stopping options in that stretch of the ICW.  We'd have to go another dozen miles further, which would mean anchoring well after dark.  There's a marina nine miles from here, but we did not think shaving an hour and a half from the next three days was worth dropping eighty bucks.

And so it is that we will get under way first thing tomorrow morning, with the goal of putting 50 miles under our keel each day for the next four days.  If we can manage it, that would put us in New Smyrna Beach tomorrow night.  We still have most of a day's buffer, in case we encounter weather, bridge delays, or other unforeseen circumstances.

Tomorrow morning there is a launch scheduled from the cape.  The Coast Guard has been announcing the closure of the hazard zone all day.  If it goes tomorrow, we may catch just the upper part of the track, depending on what obstructions lie east of us on the ICW.  Personally, I'm hoping for a scrub, because we'll be on the Mosquito Lagoon Friday morning, where we'll get a better view.


  1. How long did it take you to get comfortable with anchoring your boat and leaving it at anything other than a buoy/slip/dock? I would think a river would be especially nerve-wracking given the constant current.

    I must also admit I've become slightly obsesses with this blog because you're living an experience I find enviable and fascinating. I even figured out how to get my own "live" updates on you via the website. Is that stalking?

    1. Tough to answer, because I was not keeping track. Our first several anchorages we did not leave the boat, except for some puttering around in the dink still in sight of it. So we had some time to develop experience with and confidence in our ground tackle. And whenever we anchor, we try to remain on board for a while to make sure the anchor has set well and we are not moving. When anchored in reversing currents, we like to be aboard for the first couple of changes, again to make sure the anchor is not breaking out. I confess I am still a bit nervous when well away from the boat during a reversal. Then I use Marine Traffic on my phone to keep tabs on the boat at anchor, so I can see if it is starting to drag. Self-stalking, perhaps?


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