Sunday, May 9, 2021

Finding Nemo in Fernandina Beach

We are under way northbound in the ICW, coming up, shortly, on Nassau Sound, en route to Fernandina Beach. (Update: I started typing this two days ago; we're now in the Atlantic en route to St Simons Sound.) Winds are 20kt gusting to 30kt on the port beam, but so far Otto is holding his own. The stabilizer fins are pegged trying to keep us level.

Jaxsonville from the new transit center (left), on our penultimate day. I rode here to pick up from an Amazon locker.

We had a pleasant and productive final week in Jacksonville, but it was past time to be moving on, and in fact we extended our stay by a day just so I could wrap up a project that had the house in shambles. Of course, we could not even get off the dock without another project getting added to the list, which is why the list never goes away or even gets any shorter.

Monday we weighed anchor just before slack tide and headed downriver to an old standby, the city marina at Metropolitan Park. Dockage is free, with a nominal three-day limit, and for the last several years, power has been free, too, since the credit-card metered power system is out of whack. We pulled in to the inside face dock, which is pretty much the only place that still has enough depth for us, and tied up more or less where we were exactly a year ago.

Vector at Metropolitan Park. Empty as usual.

We have 100' of power cord, but none of the pedestals within that distance was working. I checked five of them. Since at least one had been working a year ago, I marched ashore to see if the credit card system was working. No dice. We finished tying up and I got out my tools and meter and set out to find out why the power was off.  In the process, I found a working pedestal all the way at the west end of the dock, and, fortunately, the spot was empty. We dropped lines, moved 150', and that's where we ended up (map).

Jax is full of colorful murals. This one is near the transit and convention centers.

Just in the nick of time, too, because the temperature had been climbing all morning, and by the time we finished tying up, it was 95° and still climbing. We were very glad to have a full 50 amps of power to run the air conditioning. The heat wave lasted three days, but we were very comfortable. As usual, Louise also took advantage of power and water to get all the laundry done.

Meanwhile, I had a serious project on my plate that had been waiting for a large empty dock, to wit, installing our new saloon flooring. Long-time readers may remember that I had a mad scramble in DC a couple of years ago to replace our very nice woven vinyl floor tiles with some very cheap sheet vinyl seamed together with packing tape. This was on account of our very elderly cat, who had some bladder issues in the saloon, and the result was getting under the tiles and into the subfloor.

The old Union Station, once the crossroads of Florida, preserved as part of the convention center.

The cat passed away a year ago this week, and while we miss her (and the pets who preceded her) terribly, I do not miss cleaning up after her or spending hours in emergency clinics fretting about her. The need for the ugly and much too dark flooring (I had to take pot luck) having passed, we promised ourselves to replace it whenever the pandemic allowed. That required a dock with a shipping address where we could have an 8.5' long roll of flooring delivered.

An attempt at a historic exhibit outside the convention center. An old first class sleeper/lounge car with historically inaccurate markings.

We were finally able to make that happen in St Petersburg when we docked at the yacht club. But with only two days at the dock, and six heavy batteries to also deal with offloading from the boat, I did not have time to do the cutting work for the floor. Also, it's a busy dock and I'm not sure what space I could have commandeered to do it. We stuck the roll  down the engine room hatch and strapped it to the escape ladder, leaving just enough room to escape.

I knew the dock at Metropolitan Park would be large enough for the work, as well as devoid of traffic, and so I dived right in to the project. That involved removing all the furniture from the room, including two tables that are bolted in place, as well as the step leading up to the galley. We spent our whole stay at the park crammed into the pilothouse, and even much of the galley was inaccessible, as Louise's chair was right in the middle of it, taking up most of the floor space.

Cutting in progress. New flooring on dock, with old flooring above it as a template.

After sweeping whatever dirt I could off the dock, I unrolled the new flooring upside-down, then placed the old flooring, pieced back together, upside-down on top of it as a template. I marked the outline and then cut out the new flooring using a scissor. While I initially had some concerns, I was able to cover the whole saloon in one uninterrupted piece of material, by canting it just a few degrees from perfectly fore-and-aft. That would not work with many patterns, but this commercial flooring is made to obscure slight misalignments.

The project two took full days, one on either side of a road trip. I did the rough cut and placement on day one, and final trimming and replacement of furnishings two days later, which gave the material a full day to "relax" into position. We're very happy with the way it turned out.

"Rough cut" in place, as seen from the galley. Pretty close. You can see the furniture stacked on the settee at right.

Shortly after arriving at the dock, after we had a chance to cool off in the air conditioning a bit, we put the scooters on the ground. There is virtually nothing within walking distance of the park, and I will say that, in 95°, you can take away "virtually." We planned to ride to dinner, and we just left them on the pier for a couple of hours, rather than take them over to the parking area. After all, the place was deserted.

Just before we left the anchorage, I went ashore and rode the Skyway across the bridge to downtown and back. Here is one of the forlorn Southbank stations.

While I was getting a head start unbolting furniture, I spotted a police officer walking down the pier toward the bikes, and I stepped outside ready to explain why they were there. It turned out that he was concerned they were stolen and abandoned there, apparently an occasional occurrence here. He was very congenial, had lots of questions about boat life as he is considering one in retirement, and gave us his cell number since the park is on his regular beat. We were very happy to meet Sergeant John of the Jacksonville (Duval County) Sheriff's Office.

Dining options are still limited in this part of town, and nearby Intuition Ale Tap Room, which we knew to have a nice deck, is dark Mondays. Instead we rode to an old favorite, Indochine, downtown, where we knew there was no outside dining, but also knew the place would be mostly empty, a good start for our return to indoor dining. It was quiet, as we predicted, and tasty as always, if a little unsettling eating indoors at a restaurant for the first time since Bimini, over a year ago.

This whimsical NB/T-friendly sign adorned both restrooms at Indochine.

Tuesday afternoon I took a brief break from the flooring to watch the SpaceX launch. Still visible at over 100 miles away, but not nearly as impressive as the night launch was. An hour later I again paused my efforts so we could run over to Hertz to pick up our rental car. Not knowing if I would be able to leave the scooter, we rode two-up on one bike, and it was a miserable 20-minute ride in the heat. As it turned out they let us stash the scooter in their repair bay for the night, and we were off and running in our spiffy Nissan Rogue just before closing time.

After dessert the club brought us this tiny ganache with a very impressive bit of pyrotechnics on the plate. I could not get the camera out in time to capture it. Everything else on the plate was edible.

Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary (I'm almost certain the official list says the appropriate gift for eighteen years is "flooring"), and so after cleaning ourselves up a bit at home, we drove across the river to the Epping Forest Yacht Club, which you may recall was unable to accommodate us when we anchored nearby. Dinner was excellent, the restored A. I. DuPont mansion and grounds were lovely, and they even found us a table in enough shade that we were comfortable in the breeze, even with the temperature still in the high 80s.

Shortly after returning home, we got our anniversary fireworks display. Some sort of event at the baseball stadium, and this was my view from my relocated computer station while the saloon was torn up.

Wednesday morning we got an early start for the 2.5-hour drive down to Wildwood, where we had a lovely visit with good friends Kathleen and Tom. Kathleen had literally just been released from the hospital the previous day after brain surgery to relieve a bleed. They were happy to have the company, and we spent over two hours just sitting in their living room catching up. But with the car due back at 4:30 we could not linger.

I dropped Louise back at the boat before zipping back to Hertz stag to drop off the car. I made a couple of shopping stops on the way home, and we ended up at Intuition Ale for dinner via scooter. It was far, far busier than it had been a year ago, when we had the rooftop deck to ourselves. The food is nothing special, but they brew a nice draft, and it's one of the only downtown joints with outside dining.

On my excursion to the Amazon locker at the brand new transit center, complete with Skyway terminal, I discovered they have route/schedule/platform signs just like an airport or rail terminal. Jax has a good transit system.

Thursday marked three days at the dock, the nominal limit here. But the rules have been very loose, and we noted another boat had been there over a week. With only three boats in the whole marina, we opted to stay another day so I could wrap up the flooring project in comfort. We would otherwise have had to anchor another night, since we could not really get under way with the furniture stacked everywhere.

Trimming the material to a tight fit from my initial rough cut was a tedious process that took a few hours, but it came out pretty nice. After a little bit of working it into all the corners I put the free-standing and bolted down furniture back in place, save for the dining table, which we are looking to modify with folding free-standing legs so it can be out of the space altogether when it's not in use. It was nice to have air conditioning while I was working, even though the heat wave had mostly broken by then. We ended the day on the patio at Blue Fish in the trendy Avondale neighborhood, a favorite of past visits.

Jax also now has docklesse-scooter rentals and designated drop spots. This one is at the transit center. 

Friday morning Louise went for her first professional hair cut in over a year (and yours truly, the stand-in stylist, could not be more relieved), and as soon as she returned we decked the scooters for a slack-tide departure to the pump-out station on the river side of the dock. We wanted the slack water to tie port-side-to, where our fitting is located.

Alas, it was not to be. After starting the engine I immediately got a stabilizer fluid level alarm, and this is not something that can be ignored. A brief investigation revealed a significant leak at the port actuator, and we had lost perhaps a cup or so of fluid into the bilge. Interestingly, that amount hardly registers on the sight glass, so we could not say if it all came out while we were at the dock, or if it has been building slowly over many days.

Pretty good sized leak. I needed a magnet to hold the sorbent in the right place.

After determining the problem was not critical, I put some sorbents around the actuator and topped up the fluid and we again started the engine. Prudence might have suggested waiting another day, but we'd already stretched the black tank an extra day and we needed to pump out even to remain at the dock. By this time I was backing out of the marina in significant ebb current, but we made it out into the river without incident. I did have to tie to the pumpout dock starboard-side-to, but the hose just reached with careful positioning of the boat and bringing it in through the starboard freeing notch.

The culprit. Failing seal around the actuator rod.

After pumping out I did a more thorough inspection of the actuator, cleaned up the easy-to-access part of the spill, and added more sorbents. With our hurricane deadline rapidly approaching, we decided to monitor the situation and continue north, effecting repairs after clearing out of the hurricane box. That let us continue to tonight's destination, Fernandina Beach, where we hope to connect with friends Stephanie and Martin, who arrived yesterday from St. Pete.

Update: We arrived as planned just before 6pm, dropping the hook in a familiar spot (map) across the channel from the city marina. I had to knock off typing early on, as the channel of the south Amelia River gets tricky in a number of places, and especially with those winds. The wind, at least, kept all the amateurs off the water; we had passed them all stacked up at the Sisters Creek free dock mid-day after turning off the St. Johns. When they all started moving again yesterday, at least two of them ran hard aground at the aforementioned tricky spots.

Among the more obscure places for a mural, these two figures adorn silos on the industrial waterfront. Mathews bridge in background. Lighting was not great.

As soon as we had the hook set, we splashed the tender and bashed our way ashore to meet up with Martin and Steph aboard Blossom. They were on the outside face dock, and while it would have been convenient to just tie to their swim step, it was being pounded by waves, so we continued around to the $4 dinghy dock in more protected water. Just as last time, the office was closed and we found no one to take our money.

We arrived at Blossom to also find friends Bob and Dori from Liberdad, moored just two spots away. We enjoyed cocktails and snacks aboard before heading out in search of dinner, and it felt almost normal. In stark contrast to our visit here a year ago, the town was packed, including some sort of outdoor concert along the main street, and none of us was comfortable eating indoors in such an environment. After a couple of false starts, we ended up on the deck at Akari Sushi. We finished uncharacteristically late for us, and went straight to the tender after dinner for a chilly ride back to Vector. At least the seas had laid down and it was an easy ride.

A festival atmosphere at some kind of music event on Centre Street. 

Yesterday would have been a perfect day to make the passage we are doing right now, but I wanted time to work on the stabilizer problem, and maybe come up with a plan to effect repairs, including where we might need to head. The spilled fluid had made its way into four different bilge compartments, all difficult to reach, and I spent hours with sorbents on the end of a 2'-long grabber tool cleaning it all out. I also pinned the port fin and took it out of service, in the hopes of reducing the leakage until we can make repairs.

Another historic exhibit at the convention center, this one more accurate: Atlantic Coast Line 1504, a 4-6-2 Light Pacific.

That work and a few hours of research filled the day and aced me out of finishing my blog post, or going ashore to wander around, as is my wont. I did, however, wrap up in time to head back ashore for early cocktails again aboard Blossom, hoping an earlier start toward dinner on a pleasant Saturday evening might yield more options. This time it was calm enough to tie right up to their swim platform and step aboard.

With them was long-time mutual friend and training/delivery captain Jim, whom they have hired to help them bring the boat up the coast to New York. The five of us ended up at a nice patio table at local favorite Cafe Karibo, with an eclectic menu. Jim left for a walk after dinner and the four of us chatted aboard Blossom for a while before we headed home. A very nice visit all around.

Departing Blossom after sunset, our "cruise ship" lights showing the way. Photo: Stephanie Morris

While there was absolutely no notice of this in my usual maritime communication channels, the Coast Guard was making announcements all evening about a security zone at Canaveral for a rocket launch, and a bit of digging revealed another Starlink mission blasting off at 2:42am. I'm normally asleep then, but I happened to awaken just ten minutes before launch, and I staggered up to the flybridge just a minute in advance. Once again I could see the first and second stages well downrange, but could not glimpse the first stage reentry burn.

Today's passage weather deteriorates in the late afternoon, and so we departed as early as we could to have a favorable tide at both ends. As it turned out, we had such a good push out St. Mary's Inlet, that we will now beat the flood at St. Simons. I've slowed a bit, and we'll putt into the ebb for the first half of the approach channel until the tide catches up to us. We should have the anchor down just a bit after 3pm. So far we've had a comfortable ride on just one fin, which, just like Nemo's, is working a little bit harder to compensate.


  1. Still loving following you two.... we've spent many Thanksgiving weekends at that convention center, parked almost under the interstate bridge in the bigassbus..... I used to make and sell soap for a living, and that was one of our regular stops on the circuit.

  2. People ran aground near Sister's Creek? I don't know if I am skillfully aware of the tricky spots, or blissfully unaware.


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