Sunday, May 2, 2021

Jacksonville downtime

We are anchored in a very familiar spot that we like to call "the suspicious boat anchorage" (on account of an "incident" during our first visit here), adjacent to the Baptist Medical Center between the Acosta and I-95 bridges in downtown Jacksonville, Florida (map). This is actually our second stay in this spot since my last post here, two full weeks ago.

When we first arrived here, we had no particular plans, but we did not really expect to be here into a third week. And so I have been putting off blogging until we were again under way, where I can always count on a big block of uninterrupted time to write. But now I find myself with two dozen photos and a lot of things to update, and so I am taking advantage of some rainy weather to get caught up, lest I find myself even further behind.

As I wrote at the end of my last post, we had a fair tide on the St. Johns and came all the way here on our passage from St. Augustine. We had seen no cruise ships either drifting or at anchor on our passage, and surprisingly we saw none at the docks coming upriver, either. On our last visit, there was one at the cruise docks, but also one at a random industrial dock as well. The industry is starting up again, but not here in the US, and I think the lines have all moved their ships to more favorable waters.

Downtown Jacksonville as seen beyond the colorful lights on the Acosta Bridge.

As we approached downtown, we were a little disappointed that our frequent neighbor, megayacht Kismet, was not at her usual berth between the Hyatt and the Main Street Bridge. Perhaps she is still out cruising, or perhaps the bulkhead is closed on account of the construction of the new docks replacing the former Jacksonville Landings docks. A large crane and spud barge for that project are just under the bridge. We passed the docks and they are nearly finished, but there are no gangways to shore yet.

We normally have this anchorage all to ourselves, but we arrived to find another trawler already here, although it appeared to be unoccupied. We ended up dropping the hook in a slightly new spot just a hair upriver of where we are now (map). After a long passage, we opted to keep the tender on deck and just eat aboard. In the evening, the new lighting system on the Acosta Bridge, which they were just testing on our last visit, treated us to a rainbow of color; it has been several different colors since.

The current is wicked here, just under two knots at max during spring tides, but the holding is good and we don't worry about the boat swinging up and down river twice a day. With that kind of current, though, we know very well that we will go to the end of the chain in both directions, and so when our swing circle got much smaller overnight, we knew we had snagged on something.

Northbank from our anchorage. Our first night here, shown, the Florida Blue building was bathed in blue light for some reason. It's been bright white ever since.

That has been a problem for us while weighing anchor in the past, and so before things got any more fouled, we weighed anchor the very next day at slack water, about 1:30 in the afternoon, to re-set in a different spot. In a stroke of timing, the other boat left shortly before we weighed, and so we moved back to our more usual spot and dropped the hook once more.

After getting settled into our new digs, we splashed the tender to explore the waterfront and find some dinner. We set our sights on the brand new floating docks on the south bank, in front of the Friendship Fountain. This was previously a short water-taxi-only dock that has now been lengthened to accommodate several boats, on Jacksonville's generous three day stay limit. Sadly, depth alongside was between five and six feet, just a bit too shallow for Vector. Still, a good dinghy tie-up.

I expect that the much longer docks on the north bank, at what is now called Riverfront Plaza (basically a big lawn where the Landings stood), with plenty of depth, will be open by the time we return to Jacksonville. The city is already making good use of the plaza, with a Thursday night concert series that we heard from the anchorage. Yesterday it was the terminus of the Black Lives Matter 5K, which briefly had the Main Street Bridge closed to auto traffic as we strolled to dinner.

Vector is branching out. Seen as we walked to a Thai place for dinner.

One reason we started out with this new dock is that we had ordered a number of Amazon items to a locker at the transit center in Southbank. The transit center is also a stop on the free Skyway, which is now running again. A couple of those items were sorely needed and had been waved off when Amazon botched their delivery in Titusville.

Receiving an Amazon delivery, especially when we are someplace where we will stay for a few days, is often a harbinger of major project work, and this delivery was no exception. Three items in particular were of pressing concern, to wit (and in order) special locking washers for the driveline, a new cell phone, and a project box for the tender radio. Louise also replenished her critical supply of batting, and ordered a new floor lamp for her seat in the saloon.

For at least the last year, I have been tightening the nuts holding the propeller shaft coupler to the transmission output plate each and every time we get under way. It's become part of the pre-departure list, just like adding fuel to the day tank and checking the engine oil. Ever since replacing the transmission damper plate two years ago, I have found it impossible to get these nuts to stay put.

The pleasant Riverside Park, not by the river side, which I passed on my way to the dentist.

Probably the only reason they did not require daily tightening before that project, is on account of some serious thread lock compound that I had put on the nuts after one came off entirely, off the coast of New Jersey in bumpy seas. At the time I found all six nuts loose, which I finally mentally connected with the loud clunk every time I engaged astern propulsion.

The problem with using this kind of thread lock, however, became apparent during the damper project, wherein several of the threaded studs simply backed out of the shaft coupler when we tried to remove the nuts. Since the whole shaft was going to be moved back to complete the project, we didn't care if we had to destroy the studs, and that's exactly what we needed to do for a few of them. We replaced all the studs, nuts, and split washers when we re-assembled.

The split washers and a good amount of torque more or less worked for nearly a year. But after numerous cycles of vibration-induced loosening followed by re-torquing, the split washers lost their grip, and I wanted a better solution than just replacing them, in what would likely be an endless semi-annual cycle.

Not sure who this Fish and Wildlife officer ticked off to draw traffic detour duty for a construction closure.

After some research and a lot of advice, much of it suspect, from social media, I decided to try wedge-locking washers, and I went with the name brand that started the technology, Nord-Lock. It only took a few minutes to replace all six split washers, but it took me nearly an hour to apply the specified 86 pound-feet of torque to each nut. That's mostly due to the difficulty immobilizing the shaft each time with the boat still in the water. We've moved the boat five times since installation, and they seem to be doing the job.

The new phone was a bigger project. I am not a new-every-two kind of person, and this is one reason. I was very happy with my last phone, an original Google Pixel which I bought as a factory return. But the phone's vibrator quit before even reaching the two year mark, and I missed a lot of calls and messages before I figured out it wasn't working. Despite the fact that I dislike using an audible ring, I was willing to live with the lack of vibration, and just put it on audible on a low setting and added a couple of alerts to my smart watch.

More recently, however, the battery has been dying far too quickly for the phone to be usable. An app I loaded for the purpose tells me the capacity is just ten percent of original. After it died on me at inopportune moments several times, forcing me to carry one of those external battery packs everywhere, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get a new(er) phone.

With no headphone jack, I needed an adapter. And now, I am again officially an Apple customer. The only Apple product I own.

I ordered a refurbished Pixel 3, which lacks a dedicated headphone jack but has the maritime advantage of being water resistant, and was very excited to learn that I could just transfer everything from my old phone to my new one en masse by connecting them with a cable. Ha. That would require the old phone to stay powered up long enough for the transfer, since the cable uses the port normally used for charging. After three failed attempts on nominally full charges, I conceded defeat and fell back to the old-fashioned way.

That involves downloading everything to the new phone over-the-air. Most user data comes over intact, but apps re-install from scratch, and many (most?) lose their user settings, authentication, and customization in the process. Suffice it to say it took me the better part of two full days to get everything working on the new phone. Now, however, I can go through a whole day without it dying, and I have my vibration back.

I did take the opportunity to ditch several apps I no longer use, and update a few things. One such swap involved ditching LastPass in favor of BitWarden as my password manager. LastPass, after getting me hooked on the free version (just like a drug dealer), decided unilaterally a couple of months ago that free users could use it on computers or mobile devices but not both. I had been meaning to find a replacement that worked on all my platforms, and the phone update forced the schedule. BitWarden is a bit less tightly integrated, but it's free and does the job.

The Riverside Arts Market yesterday. Under I-95. We only bought an ice cream.

One of the things I was determined to do here in Jacksonville was to make long-overdue appointments with a dermatologist and a dentist. I picked one of each out of our various insurance directories that were a short walk from the Brooklyn Landing dock, just across the anchorage from us and a favorite place to get ashore for dinner at the nearby Five Points neighborhood. Imagine my surprise, then, when I swung by the dock a day ahead of time to find it posted as docking only allowed during the weekly Riverside Arts Market, Saturdays from 10-3. The gate at the top of the gangway is now padlocked.

We had seen a boat docked there when we first arrived on Tuesday, and there are no fewer than three boats docked there right now (Sunday). So enforcement is either spotty or nonexistent, or maybe just on a complaint basis. Nevertheless, we did not want to test the waters on a planned four-hour medical excursion ashore, so Louise dropped me off at the dock instead and returned to Vector. I hopped the low gate just as thousands have done before me (this dock has a history).

Flux, and several other boats, at the Brooklyn Landing dock during Arts Market hours. You can see the gate open at left.

I got a fairly clean bill of health on both visits, although the dentist office is refusing to do a regular cleaning because they want me to have a "deep cleaning," which is code for scaling and root planing. I'm not ready to go that route (sometimes the gums recede even further rather than reattaching) and so I am back in the market for a second opinion and, preferably, a regular dental prophy. We're not sticking around, so that will have to happen at a later stop.

The tender radio project also took the better part of a day. The radio we used to have on the tender, which came to us attached to the last tender and which I moved to the new tender, finally succumbed to salt corrosion, with the antenna connector literally falling off the back of the radio. This has been a long time coming; that connector was starting to go bad when I moved the radio two years ago, and I had to cut the cable and splice it at the time. That was not a fixable problem, and the old radio ended up in the trash.

Replacement radio mounted in its weatherproof box, with weather cover over the face.

Long time readers may recall I have a spare, working, high-zoot VHF radio complete with built-in AIS receiver that I removed after a lightning strike took out its NMEA output ports. Those are unneeded on the tender, but this radio is black (the old one was white), and quickly overheats in direct sunlight. To combat that, and also enclose the antenna and other connectors for more protection against salt spray, I bought a weathertight junction box as a housing for the radio. Cutting the face hole and wire gland hole, mounting the box, and re-connectorizing the antenna cable took a few hours, but it came out nice and all is working again.

How it looks powered up, from the driver seat.

With our principal errands out of the way, we decided to take a little cruise upriver and check out one of our new reciprocal clubs, the Florida Yacht Club, and take advantage of our one night's free dockage. So last Saturday we weighed anchor before the wind got too bad and cruised just four nautical miles to their docks (map). We arrived with just enough tide to maneuver to the dock, with mere inches under the keel. Fortunately, it's all soft silt down there.

The mic mount was a great way to cover the holes from the old navigation lights, which I removed during the project.

The club was welcoming and very nice. We put my scooter on the ground and I made a run to Walmart and some other essential stores. We had a nice dinner on the patio of their main dining room, and afterwards I strolled the extensive grounds, which include a croquet pitch, pool, ten tennis courts, and a sailing center in addition to the historic clubhouse and the marina. In the morning we decked the scooter and then walked back over for brunch, while we waited on enough tide to leave the marina.

Vector at the FYC docks.

Being, as we were, just 15 miles from Green Cove Springs, our "home," we opted to continue our cruise upriver at least that far. That would let me pick up our mail in person, offsetting our fuel by a few bucks, and also get us a bit closer to our good friends Cherie and Chris, on the chance we might be able to connect. The late start waiting on tide, however, had us pushing into the ebb hard, with a projected arrival late in the day.

As reciprocal dining guests, the club adorned our table with a miniature version of our home club's burgee.

Instead we decided to stop early, and pulled into Doctors Lake, where we dropped the hook a little bit past the US-17 bridge, just a short ways outside of the no-wake zone (map). On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the lake was very busy with jet-skis, pontoons, center consoles, and all manner of other go-fast day boats, but we were not bothered too much, and it was calm and quiet after sunset. We had a nice dinner aboard.

From our flybridge we had a view of downtown in the distance, particularly pretty at night. Historic FYC clubhouse at left.

Monday we weighed anchor on a favorable tide and finished the short trip upriver to Green Cove Springs, where we dropped the hook in a familiar spot not far from the city docks (map). Those docks are being expanded, and perhaps the next time we are up this way, we might even be able to dock Vector.

Vector at Green Cove Springs, as seen over the expansion work on the city docks.

We splashed the tender and headed ashore at dinner time, in the hopes that we would find someplace open with outside dining. Alas, the town is more or less as we left it a year ago. The billiards bar, oyster joint, and Mexican place are all open for inside dining, and the Italian place is still take-out only. We wanted a glass of wine with dinner, so we ordered Italian take-out and brought it home to Vector.

Tuesday I hauled the e-bike ashore and made the pilgrimage to our mail service, St Brendan's Isle, on the outskirts of town. I would normally take the tender ashore at Governor's Creek for a shorter bike ride, but the chop was heavy, and I wanted to see what was new in town, so I landed at the city dock and rode the whole distance. Nothing new at all, but I stopped into the nice hardware store and picked up a brush for the BBQ. After picking up our meager mail, I stopped at Winn-Dixie to load up on groceries before heading back.

Hard to capture, but the Ace Hardware was enormous, and had almost as much space dedicated to sporting goods and clothing as hardware.

That would have been the end of our visit, except we had arranged to meet up with Chris and Cherie Wednesday afternoon, on account of their work schedule. With nothing interesting in town (although I did find the BBQ joint near Governor's Creek had a couple of outside tables), we opted to just finish our Italian leftovers from the enormous servings we took home Monday.

That gave me a chance on Wednesday to drop by the Elks Lodge to pick up my membership card. We renew this membership year after year just so that we can use it whenever we decide to return to RV living, where it had been a real lifesaver on quite a number of occasions. After leaving the Elks dock I headed to town to drop off some quilts at the post office before picking up our guests for the afternoon.

Pink Supermoon from our anchorage in Green Cove Springs.

We had a great time catching up aboard Vector. With all of us fully vaccinated, we finally exchanged hugs, and we even sat in the saloon for cocktails and dinner. After a couple of beers and way too many chips, Chris and I ventured back ashore to check in on their cat, Kiki, and pick up Mexican food we pre-ordered to bring back to the boat. As Mexican places go in these parts, La Casita is pretty good, and we enjoyed lots more conversation over dinner.

They had a pretty long drive back to their campground for the night at Rodman Recreation Area, along the never-completed Cross-Florida Barge Canal. And so we had more hugs over good-byes on the deck before sunset, and I dropped them back at the city dock. It was great having a nice, long visit in a manner more resembling "normal" for us, and we're grateful to them for making the drive down from Sanford in their swoopy Winebago Travato.

The SpaceX Falcon-9 burning bright some 100 miles distant.

While the overcast had looked a bit touch-and-go earlier in the day, Wednesday evening proved mostly clear, and I had a nice view of the SpaceX Falcon-9 Starlink rocket launch. I could see the booster flame quite clearly as soon as it cleared the trees shortly after liftoff, and I was able to watch, through my binoculars, all the way through MECO, second stage ignition, and well into the second stage flight. I diverted my eyes to see if I could catch any of the first stage return burns, but I could not, and that was the last I saw of anything. Not bad for a vantage point over a hundred miles from the launchpad.

The rocket passing just below the Pink Supermoon on its way to orbit. Blue circle is a camera artifact.

Thursday morning we weighed anchor and headed back downriver with the tide. It was a short cruise, as we anchored in the river just off the Epping Forest Yacht Club (map), on the grounds of the old Alfred I DuPont estate. This is another of our reciprocal clubs, and we were hoping to have dinner there. I'd been going back and forth with the club for over a week; they needed a "Letter of Introduction" from our club in St. Pete.

We did not get ashore, but we did have a spectacular sunset over NAS Jacksonville from our spot off Epping Forest.

They had not been very good about returning my calls, and so we were taking a chance by anchoring here (their marina is too shallow for us). When I finally got through, I learned their outside dining was fully booked Thursday evening, and the whole mansion was booked for a private event Friday, although we could eat at the casual poolside restaurant. We opted to book dinner on Tuesday, instead, when we will have a rental car, and so Friday morning we weighed anchor and came back here to be suspicious once again.

It got even better as the evening progressed.

We've been here ever since, and we've been back ashore for dinner as well as to pick up some more Amazon packages. Those included a replacement bungee anchor rode for the dinghy, to replace one that self-destructed in the weather, a replacement antenna stand-off for our SSB radio, which leapt off the boat one evening at anchor, and a Raspberry Pi kit to implement an ad-blocker on our network that will work with the Roku TV as well as our laptops.

I only used the outer bar of the new mount, to replace the piece lost overboard. New one is a different brand and thus a different color.

This last item was the result of finally having thrown in the towel on the KVH satellite dish. It's possible that I could have gotten it working with more concerted effort and maybe more parts, but its days would still be numbered, and we were paying over a c-note per month for basic DirecTV channels that we literally only used when we were far offshore. I elected to put some of those funds into streaming TV instead.

Raspberry Pi, right, installed in our tech cabinet. HP on left is the chart computer; the hokey USB coming out the front connects to a USB hub (upper right) to compensate for the USB port that fried during the lightning strike.

For the curious, I am running free software on the Pi called "Pi-Hole" that provides DNS service to our network, tossing requests for known ad sites into the bit-bucket. The Pi kit (board, case, and power supply) cost me $60 and is a more compact and energy-efficient solution than re-purposing one of the ancient PC carcasses I have laying around. As a side note, $60 now buys you a complete computer over 100 times more powerful than an IBM 360 mainframe from my college years.

This is the entire computer, minus the case. Just a single tiny board.

We're more or less done here now, but we have some dear friends in the middle of the state whom we want to see before we move along. We ran out of time to try to connect when we were southwest of them, in St. Pete, and we decided we'd just rent a car for an easy 1-hour drive from the Space Coast when we got there. I probably don't need to tell you how that went; by the time we got to the Space Coast, cars were scarce to non-existent and were pushing close to $200 per day.

Since then, I have been checking more or less every day from every stop for something that might work, and I found a brief dip in rates this Tuesday to Wednesday that is letting us grab a car for $85. That's three to four times what we are used to paying, but we are counting ourselves lucky, and I grabbed it. And so it is that, on our wedding anniversary, I will be either biking or scooting over to Hertz from the Metropolitan Park docks just before closing time. We'll use the car to go to the club for dinner, do a couple of errands, and make a whirlwind five-hour round trip to Wildwood on Wednesday before returning the car to Hertz.

We'll move down to Metropolitan Park tomorrow at slack water. That will give us a full day to get settled in, and maybe run some other errands on the scooters. We'll be wrapped up before our three-day clock expires, and, barring unforeseen circumstances, we should be headed downriver on Thursday, either for sea, or for the anchorage near the ICW, depending on weather.

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