Friday, January 12, 2024

Going north to go south

We are back underway, downbound on the St. Johns River, bound for the coast and points south. As the St. Johns is one of the few navigable rivers in the US that flows north, we are, for the time being, northbound. We will resume our generally southbound journey when we reach the ICW in a few days.

We rented a golf cart one pleasant evening with Stacey and Dave and drove around the historic district to see the lights. This was one of the more nicely decorated homes.

We had a lovely stay in Sanford. What we had originally planned as a one-month stay ended up morphing into a full seven weeks, owing in part to a one-week excursion to California, and in larger part to me being down for the count for over a full week due to whatever crud I picked up on the plane.

Sanford is one of those places that can easily suck you in. A combination of inexpensive dockage, a dozen or so restaurants a short walk from the dock, groceries and other services easily accessible, and a packed community events calendar conspire to overcome the wanderlust that motivates many cruisers. Indeed, the majority of marina denizens seem never to leave the dock, and one wonders if some of them cruised in for a short stay and then never left.

Draft beers at Hollerbach's German restaurant with Stacey, Dave, Liz, and Gary. That's our friend Eckhard at right; we wanted to catch him perform before we left town.

The additional draw for us, of course, was the ability to spend the holidays with friends, who also provided us with fantastic home-cooked holiday meals. And I would be lying if I did not admit that easy access to their car for errands further afield was convenient. Even so, we were ready to leave by New Years. Other than that pesky cold, and a big unfinished project which it had deferred.

That project involved relocating the tender battery and re-routing all the electrics, a big job that included cutting holes and then painting them first. We couldn't really leave with the tender all torn apart, and by the time I was fit enough to finish it up, I had to dance around the weather. The tender is all back together now, even if I did not get to installing the new steering cable I bought while we were in town, a separate project that will now need to happen at some later stop. I'm sorry to say that several other projects I intended to tackle in Sanford are also similarly deferred.

I relocated this battery box and its mess of cables to the enclosed compartment under the seat., to move weight forward and get it all out of the weather.

While we were in Sanford we made the decision to go to the Bahamas this season. Regular readers will remember that our last Bahamas cruise was cut short by the pandemic, and we've been biding our time waiting to return.  The time to be positioning for that is now, and we set Monday of this week as our departure date, for a leisurely cruise downriver and along the coast to position ourselves for an early February departure.

That was not to be, as no sooner had we made those plans than a huge storm system was forecast for Tuesday, the one that just clobbered the whole east coast, with high winds and possible tornadoes. Even though we prefer to be at anchor than at a dock for high winds, we opted to remain in port so that we had an escape option in the event of a tornado warning. Thus we delayed our departure to Wednesday.

I hauled myself out of bed at 02:15 to catch the first United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur launch, on the first moon shot from US soil in half a century.

I thought that would leave us a nice leisurely cruise downriver, perhaps stopping at the state park and maybe another couple of pleasant anchorages, and ending with our customary overnight stop in our nominal home town of Green Cove Springs before landing back at the Florida Yacht Club, all before the scheduled closure for maintenance of the FEC railroad bridge in Jacksonville on the 22nd. Alas, it was not to be. We have another storm forecast for tonight with possible tornadoes, and after only one day back on the river we decided to expedite our arrival at the yacht club to be tied up for the storm.

Wednesday was, in fact, a leisurely day. After getting the scooters back on deck and checking out with the office, we had an easy three-hour cruise back downriver to the River Forest oxbow anchorage in DeLand (map). We did have a tense moment as we approached the partly dismantled remains of the Whitehair bascule bridge, which, on our upriver journey in November, we had to have opened in the fog. The crane doing the demolition is on a spud barge that is taking up most of the navigation channel. We figured we had about three feet on either side as we squirted through with a knot behind us; I drove from the flybridge, which I otherwise only use for docking and locking.

Squeaky. Louise set the fenders and I drove from upstairs, in case the following current got us cattywampus.

In a plan that was hatched at the very last minute during tearful goodbyes, we tendered back to the boat ramp at the Ed Stone park adjacent the bridge, where Dave and Stacy met us in the car and drove us into town for one final meal together. We are going to miss our weekly dinner dates.

Louise snapped this shot from the pilothouse as we squeezed through the gap.

Yesterday morning we were still in "leisurely" mode when we weighed anchor after 9am. It did not take long, though, before we were discussing options for tonight's tornadic storm. Fortunately, with over a knot behind us, no traffic on the river, and an early enough start, we figured we could just make Palatka by the end of the day, and all the way to the yacht club today. It meant forgoing the leisurely cruise and the other stops, but it's the wise choice,  and we ended yesterday tied up again to the free dock at Corky Bell's (map) in East Palatka.

I had to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the water, so the best I could do was spin around and snap this view astern right after we cleared.

We got an early start this morning, and as I am typing the rain has already started, and visibility is down to a half mile. We'll be arriving to the yacht club at half tide falling, which will make for an interesting arrival. On the plus side of all this, our early arrival here means we might catch our friends Erin and Chris aboard Barefeet, who are departing Lambs Marina on Sunday and are themselves headed to the Bahamas.

In our final days in Sanford, while we still had access to a car, we made a pilgrimage to Costco, two Walmart runs, and stops at Aldi and Winn-Dixie to provision for the Bahamas. We still have more to get, including a gross or so of beers and 15 gallons of spare gasoline, as well as the fresh items that we will get just before the crossing. We may be sitting a bit lower in the water now. Oh, and the lake came down 8" since we arrived, so we had just a foot under the keel in a few spots.

The trees on the patio at Celery City Craft Beer were very festively lit for the holiday season.

We'll be in Jacksonville for a few days, trying to catch up with friends, doing more provisioning while we have a free dock, and taking care of some of those unfinished projects. It's cold this far north, so we are highly motivated to get back to the coast and turn south again.

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