Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Let the northing begin.

We are under way northbound on the ICW, bound for Fort Pierce and Vero Beach. Today would have been a lovely day to run outside, but we need to stop in Vero, and going out at St Lucie just to come back in at Fort Pierce actually adds four miles to the trip for little advantage.

Shortly after my last post we arrived at the Port Mayaca lock. The lake has come down a foot since our last crossing, and Port Mayaca just opened both sets of gates and let us drive through unimpeded. That put a bit more than a knot of current behind us through the lock and all the way under the highway bridge to the dolphins, which makes for interesting steering through the narrow lock chamber. They closed the upstream Tainter gates after we passed through.

It was just after 3pm when we cleared the lock, too late to make it anywhere beyond the lock area itself, and we decided to tie to the dolphins. I asked the lockmaster for permission, which is standard practice at federal locks. He replied that the dolphins "just are," belong to the Corps of Engineers (as does the lock), and that lockmasters do not give or deny permission to use them. That was a new one on us, but we took the "we do not deny permission" part to heart and headed over to tie up (map).

Bow tied to the upstream dolphin. Highway bridge and lock in background.

These are, in fact, the very first dolphins to which we had ever tied up, back when we passed through in the other direction a little over three years ago. We had, then, enough confidence to try it, but we had not perfected our technique. Since then we've tied up to several other sets of dolphins as well as a number of federal mooring cells, and now it's no big deal. We arrived just ahead of a thunderstorm that had been chasing us, and the front hit just as we were getting secured. We managed to finish and duck inside just before the rain.

The lock closes for the day at 5pm (last lockage is at 4:30), and once that time came and went, we figured we'd be alone all night. We were wrong; around 7pm, after we had finished our dinner, an old Carver showed up coming westbound. I had the impression they did not realize the lock would be closed. We had already turned VHF 13 off for the night, so I don't know if they tried to call. When we first saw them, we turned that radio back on. They had a long PVC pipe poking down into the water braced from their railings, which I assumed to be a jury-rigged depth sounder, and an enormous waste pumpout hose coiled on their foredeck.

They circled around in front of the lock for a while, and passed us twice in both directions, before heading over to one of the other dolphins, in a case of what we like to call "Hey! Look what Zog do!" (after a Gary Larson comic with that caption). The two guys on the boat did a lot of head scratching and finally got the bow secured catawumpus against the dolphin with a couple of lines. They were fortunate the storm had already passed, and there was no current through the dam with the gates closed.

We decided to leave VHF 13 on overnight now that we had neighbors who might call the lock first thing in the morning. And thus we heard, just at sunset, a 72' Marlow in the lake hailing the lock. We had a nearly flat-calm crossing, but by nightfall the wind had picked up and the lake was under a small craft advisory. After he hailed them a couple of times I called him on the radio to give him the bad news: the lock was closed for the night and would not open until 7am.

Stern lying alongside downstream dolphin. If you zoom in you can see one of our orange fenders holding us off. Line in photo is a spring, keeping us from moving forward.

There's no protection on the lake side other than the lock fenders themselves, and we watched them on AIS driving around looking for some kind of comfortable spot. They ultimately spent the night anchored behind the dolphins, and we knew they would be miserable (confirmed the following day by the St Lucie lockmaster, who spoke with them). Had we inadvertently been stuck on that side, I think I would have taken my chances tying up to the inside of the fenders, and asked forgiveness in the morning. I'm not sure why they had continued across the lake so late in the day; they ought to have stopped in Clewiston.

The winds responsible for the small craft advisory continued to build throughout the night and all the way through Friday, and we were very have glad to have made our crossing on Thursday. Running the canal in the wind was no picnic either, but we had varying amounts of protection, and the water was calm. We just missed a lockage at St. Lucie lock, and ended up dropping a hook in the basin, more or less where we spent the night on the way up, rather than station-keep in the wind while they turned the lock around.

It was blowing 25 when we entered the lock, and at the upper level it was a bit of work getting over to the windward wall, where they wanted us. We were out of the lock just past noon, and in plenty of time to stop for some of the cheapest fuel in Florida, at American Custom Yachts just downstream of the lock. Winds were over 30 as we arrived abreast their docks, and fueling is done in a long slip, rather than a face dock. Fortunately, the fueling slip was in the lee of a large shed; I lined the boat up and shot into the slip when a brief lull came by.

Our neighbor, trying to tie to one of the dolphins. You can see the jury-rig depth sounder tube and the waste hose (!) on deck. Once they tied up, they laid pretty much just like this all night.

They have a limit of 500 gallons per customer, which was just as well because this was one of the slowest dispensers we've ever used, at right around 8 gallons per minute. It took a little over an hour to take on all 500 gallons, at just $2.45 per gallon. That will easily take us into the Carolinas and Virginia, where fuel should be less expensive than Florida.

We were happy to have an hour's break out of the wind, giving us another hour's worth of tidal help for the skinniest stretch of the whole waterway: the section of river from the lock to where the river forks into north and south branches. We passed a series of dredges, pumps, and pipeline working on fixing this problem, but they've just started and it was no help for us. Dancing around the equipment in 35-knot winds was the order of the day.

Arriving in the Stuart area, our usual anchorage at Arbeau Point was pretty choppy. In addition to being uncomfortable, we were certainly not going to be able to get ashore from there until the wind laid down on Saturday, and so we continued north into the North Fork, past our old haunt at Apex Marine, and dropped the hook in the elbow between Britt Point and the mainland (map). That was much more comfortable in the northeast wind, and we figured we could even get ashore for dinner at one of our old standbys, The Deck. Alas, they are shuttered, and we ended up throwing on some pasta at the last minute.

Saturday morning the wind had dropped and shifted to the east, and we weighed anchor for the one-mile trip back to our more usual digs at Arbeau Point (map). From here it's a short tender ride to the nice bulkhead at Shepard Park, where it is an easy walk to town. We ended up spending three nights at this spot. Knowing Stuart would be busy on a pleasant Saturday evening, we made a reservation at Spritz Bistro, which we knew from our last visit had outside tables on the lee side and in the shade.

On our way into Stuart we spotted this sailboat that had apparently dragged across the anchorage, self-deployed its foresail (now in tatters), and wedged itself against someone's dock. The homeowners were trying to fend it off.

We also dined at old standby Casa Bella, closer to Shepard Park, which has set up a few outside tables in what used to be their parking lot. And on our final evening we tried out Cafe Martier, which opened a couple of years ago in the old Post Office Arcade. The arcade once housed an actual speakeasy, and the cafe has attempted to cash in on that history by outfitting the restaurant and the staff in vintage prohibition-era regalia.

Sunday I went ashore with a large shopping list, not realizing that it was a holiday and Publix, among other stores, would be closed. I dropped off an outgoing package at the post office and made a pilgrimage to the local independent hardware store in search of soda maker repair parts first. The hardware store was open, but out of stock on what I needed.

That more or less prompted us to stay an extra day, and yesterday I hauled the e-bike ashore for the grand circuit of West Marine, Home Depot, Lowes, and Walmart. I returned with proper glue to repair the dinghy, a bike-load of provisions, the repair parts I had been seeking, and even a whole replacement SodaStream machine, in the event my repair was unsuccessful.

On my trips into town I passed this sign in front of a safe company. The safe at the bottom is very convincing trompe l'oeil; I had to be right next to it before I realized it was not an old safe.

I am sure there is some corollary to Murphy's Law that says that a repair will only be successful once you've already purchased a replacement, and so by threat of having a brand new, working machine on hand, the $5.86 worth of parts I bought at Lowes did the trick, and our old SodaStream Source is once again working. We're going to hold onto the replacement machine, along with its receipt, for a couple of weeks to make sure the repair sticks, and, if it does, we'll return it to a different Walmart further along.

My other project for our stay was to pull the old VHF radio off the dinghy. This decade-old radio, which came to us attached to the last used dinghy we bought, has been aging poorly in the elements. A few days ago the antenna bulkhead connection on the back of the radio, which appears to be made of pot metal and is badly corroded, broke off completely, trapping the broken piece in the connector at the end of the antenna cable.

The radio can not be salvaged, but I was able to get the old bits out of the cable connector and refurbish it. I will either end up buying a replacement radio, or else an enclosure for the radio that I removed from Vector after the lightning strike. I spent a half hour disassembling the radio so I could separate the e-waste from everything else; there's not much inside of these nowadays.

Thus wrapped up in Stuart, we weighed anchor just before 10 this morning for the 10am opening at the Roosevelt Bridge. As we waited for the bridge to open with two other boats, the railroad bridge just past it went down, and that was it for the 10am opening. The bridge tender allowed that she would open the bridge as soon as the railroad bridge went up, and not make us wait for the 10:30 opening.

I often remove packaging from certain items before loading my backpack at the store. This was a box of 13-gallon trash bags. Mostly air. (We don't buy bags for trash, using our old grocery bags instead. These get used for shipping quilts; we suck the air out with a vacuum and they get a lot smaller.)

Ha. 10:30 came and went and the train had not even arrived at the bridge, which by this time had been down for a half hour. Several boats showed up for the 10:30 opening, of course, and several more showed up for the 11am opening. In the meantime I asked the tender to call the railroad; she told us the bridge would be open for only a few minutes before going down for another train. If she had not called, I am certain  the railroad would have just left it down.

We finally cleared the bridge at 11:05, after having waited, station-keeping, for 70 minutes. A full dozen or more boats were waiting when the bridge finally opened, as well as two on the other side coming westbound. Hands-down the longest we've ever waited for a bridge opening, and had we any clue, we would have just dropped the anchor for an hour.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar place, south of Causeway Island in Fort Pierce, Florida (map). We have plans to meet up with good friends Alyse and Chris tomorrow in Vero Beach, an easy cruise from here. Shortly we will splash the tender and head ashore at the city docks to find some dinner in town. This will be a new landing for us; I'm hoping we'll find a place where at least the servers are masked.


  1. I'd be interested in knowing if there is any decent shore access at your anchorage in Ft. Pierce. Looks like a great spot and we will be going through there next week...

    m/v Positive Latitude

    1. The city has a free dinghy dock with great access to the downtown area, maybe a dozen restaurants and a few shops, including hardware. The dinghy dock is on the bulkhead wall right in the center of the City Marina; you pass the fuel dock on the main fairway, head all the way back, and make a right at the wall. It has its own marker in Active Captain. From where we are right now, it's a 3/4 mile tender ride; I work my way across a ~2' shoal between two of the rip-rap breakwaters rather than divert north to the main entrance channel. Choose carefully; some of the gaps are bridged by awash rip-rap.

      This anchorage is only good if there is no southerly component to the wind, as there is a lot of fetch in that direction. In south wind we anchor on the other side of Causeway Island, and in west wind we anchor outside of Harbor Town marina, just south of North Bridge.

  2. You may be waiting for the railroad bridge in Stuart for a lot longer next time you pass through. A new railroad is planning to run 32 passenger trains a day through that ancient bridge in a year or two.

    1. This has been a topic of discussion in boating circles for several years now, since before the Brightline even began running. There was lots and lots of complaining about the FEC bridge over the New River in FLL, too, and, in the end, it was just a non-issue. The bridge goes down right before the train, the high-speed trains take less than a minute or two to cross, and the bridge goes up. So I am not worried about Stuart. FEC will have to actually staff the bridge, however; right now it is operated remotely, and so it lowers as much as 20 minutes before the train arrives. That's part of the Brightline (or Virgin, or whatever they are calling it now) deal. That said, progress has halted, and the Brightline has been shuttered since the start of the pandemic. They might not even make it.

  3. I had great confidence in you that you could repair the soda machine. Seems like if someone can take on battery projects, fly bridge wind detectors, blown capacitors, etc. then they can surely repair a soda machine. :) I know Louise is glad you were able to repair it. (Happy wife....happy life!) Your blog is so interesting to read. Thanks for all the details and maps along the way.

    1. Thank you. My full-time job is really Chief Engineer; they let me drive the boat as a sideline. Sometimes the appliances are more important than the running gear; we'd be dead in the water with no coffee maker :D


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